Archive for August, 2012

Hamas Leader on Personal Visit to Amman


By Qusai Ja’roun

AMMONNEWS – The Head of Hamas’ political bureau Khaled Meshaal on Thursday arrived in Jordan coming from Syria on a personal visit.

A source close to Meshaal told Ammon News that the Hamas leader’s arrived in Jordan to visit his mother, who is ill.

Thursday’s visit is the second of its kind since the expulsion of the Hamas leadership from Jordan in August 1999, the latest visit was in 2009 when Meshaal came to Jordan to attend his father’s funeral.

Meshaal has been the main leader of Hamas since the 2004 assassination of Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, and heads the political bureau of Hamas in Syria, where he has been headquartered since 2001.

Minister of Interior Mazen Sakit said on Thursday that Meshaal was allowed to enter Jordan for a limited time upon his request to visit his sick mother.

Source: Ammon News.

Syrian rebels advance in town along Iraqi border

August 23, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian rebels waged fierce battles with regime troops in a town along the Iraqi border on Thursday, capturing a string of security posts and the local police headquarters despite heavy government shelling and airstrikes by warplanes, activists said.

Taking full control of al-Bukamal, located in the eastern oil-rich province of Deir el-Zour and across the border from the Iraqi town of Qaim, would expand the rebel foothold along the frontier with Iraq. The border crossing point has been in rebel hands since last month, although government troops have remained in control of much of the town, activists say.

The opposition already controls a wide swath of territory along the border with Turkey in the north as well as pockets along the frontier with Jordan to the south and Lebanon to the west, which has proven key in ferrying people and material into and out of the country.

Rebels have been fighting troops for days in al-Bukamal, but over the past few hours have taken over several checkpoints, the main police station and the local command of the Political Security Directorate, one of Syria’s powerful intelligence agencies, according to Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

He added that government troops are still control of the border crossing point leading to Iraq. “There is an attempt to take full control al-Bukamal,” Abdul-Rahman said. The Local Coordination Committees activist group said warplanes bombed al-Bukamal, but Abdul-Rahman said the jets were flying over the town and struck nearby areas, not the town itself.

Abu-Omar al-Deery, an activist in the provincial capital of Deir el-Zour, said by telephone that there are “fierce battles” in al-Bukamal and that “the Free Syrian Army is trying to liberate and clean the city.”

There was no immediate word on casualties. The main battle fronts in the past month have been in the capital, Damascus, as well as the northern city of Aleppo, where regime forces have struggled to stamp out a rebel offensive that began last month and succeeded in capturing several neighborhoods in the city of 3 million people.

In a report released Thursday, the human rights group Amnesty International said artillery and mortar fire and airstrikes by government forces in Aleppo are killing mostly civilians, including children. It said air and artillery strikes against residential neighborhoods are indiscriminate attacks that seriously endanger civilians.

Amnesty said that during a 10-day fact-finding visit to Aleppo city in the first half of August, Amnesty investigated some 30 attacks in which more than 80 civilians, who were not directly participating in hostilities, were killed and many more were injured.

Amnesty said that among the dead were 10 members of one family, seven of them children. Their home was destroyed in two airstrikes on Aug. 6. It said bodies of mostly young men, most of them handcuffed and shot in the head, have been frequently found near the local headquarters of the powerful Air Force Intelligence, which is in a government-controlled area.

Activists say more than 20,000 people have been killed since Syria’s crisis erupted in March last year. The uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime began with largely peaceful protests but has since morphed into a civil war that has spread to almost all areas of the country.

In the Damascus suburb of Daraya, the Local Coordination Committees activist group said government shelling killed a mother and her five children. It said the six were members of al-Sheik family and had fled from their hometown of Maadamiyeh to escape the violence.

An amateur video showed the five children draped in which shrouds with their faces showing during the funeral. The body of the mother was all covered.

Parliament criminalizes reporting on corruption


AMMONNEWS – The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) condemned the recent adoption of Article 23 (A draft law for the Authority of Anti-Corruption presented by the executive power) by the Jordanian Parliament, which criminalizes publishing information about corruption with a fine of 30,000 to 60,000 Jordanian Dinars (approx. US$42,000 to US$84,600). The article was approved by 56 members out of the 96 who attended the session, which was held on the morning of 27 September.

Under Article 23, “Whoever unlawfully spreads, publishes, refers or helps in the publication of news by any public means about any person accused of the crimes of corruption which is mentioned in Article 5 of this law and that leads to defamation, impacts on his dignity or targets his personality, will be punished by a fine not less than 30,000 Jordanian Dinars and not more than 60,000 Jordanian Dinars.” This means that journalists, bloggers and activists in Jordan will risk prosecution and a steep fine for publishing any news or information about corruption.

ANHRI pointed out that “the adoption of this article by the Parliament is not only considered to be an attack on freedom of expression and gagging of journalists, but is also a violation against the rights of citizens to circulate information on corruption, which must be shared with public opinion as it affects all classes of people directly.”

“This oppressive article that was adopted by the Parliament is considered to be an endorsement for corruption in Jordan. It does not provide any benefit to the people in Jordan. On the contrary, it aims to protect some people in power and could provoke suspicions of corruption against them,” said ANHRI.

“The adoption of this article by the Parliament is shocking, particularly since the main role of the Parliament is to represent the people and express their interests, limit corruption and curb it. This legislative addition makes us wonder because by adopting this article, it went from guarding against corruption to condoning it. The Jordanian authorities must reevaluate the issue of adopting and applying these arbitrary legal restrictions,” ANHRI added.

Source: Ammon News.

Syrian civil war shakes Damascus-Beirut ties

August 22, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — The Syrian civil war has spilled over into Lebanon, bringing with it sectarian street clashes, mob violence and general government paralysis in Beirut.

But it was the dramatic arrest earlier this month of a former Lebanese government minister and prominent supporter of Syria’s embattled president that has suggested the conflict may be causing Lebanon to slip further away from Damascus’ long domination.

The bloodshed in Syria has drawn Lebanon deeper into the unrest — a troubling sign for a country that has gone through its own 15-year civil war and has an explosive sectarian mix as well as deep divisions between pro- and anti-Syrian factions, many of which are armed.

The chaos could give Sunni Muslim fighters in northern Lebanon more leeway to establish supply lines to the rebels inside Syria in their battle to oust President Bashar Assad. Tensions and intermittent fighting in the northern Lebanon city of Tripoli continued Wednesday following two days of clashes between pro- and anti-Assad groups that killed at least six people and wounded more than 70.

In New York, United Nations political chief Jeffrey Feltman told the Security Council Wednesday that as the crisis in Syria continues to deteriorate, “the situation in Lebanon has become more precarious and the need for continued international support to the government and the Lebanese Armed Forces increasingly important.”

Feltman said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed concern about two-way arms smuggling across the Syrian-Lebanese border, which poses risks to both countries and violates a council resolution that ended the month-long war in 2006 between Israel and Hezbollah, which dominates Lebanese politics.

Seventeen times bigger than Lebanon and four times more populous, Syria has long had powerful allies here, including the Iran-backed militant Hezbollah group that now dominates the government. For much of the past 30 years, Lebanese have lived under Syrian military and political domination.

That grip began to slip in 2005, when former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in Beirut. Widely accused of involvement— something it has always denied — Syria was forced to withdraw its troops. But the killings of anti-Syrian figures continued and opponents of Assad’s regime say he has maintained his influence through allies who now control the government.

All this made the Aug. 9 arrest of former Information Minister Michel Samaha all the more shocking. Samaha, one of Syria’s most loyal allies in Lebanon who has long acted as an unofficial media adviser to Assad, was plucked from his bed at dawn by special police forces who burst into his summer mountain home. Within hours, various leaks began emerging that Samaha had confessed to having personally transported explosives in his car from Syria to Lebanon with the purpose of killing Lebanese personalities at the behest of Syria.

Two days later, a military court indicted Samaha, along with Syrian Brig. Gen. Ali Mamlouk, of plotting to carry out terrorist attacks inside Lebanon. Mamlouk, who was appointed last month by Assad to head Syria’s National Security Bureau, was indicted in absentia on charges he furnished the explosives to Samaha.

According to a senior Lebanese police official, Samaha confessed after he was confronted with audio and video footage taken by a double agent using a camera-equipped pen. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations.

The case stunned many in Lebanon, where political assassinations have occurred with impunity for decades. While Syria has been blamed for many of the killings, no one has been held accountable. Syria’s allies in Lebanon — including Hezbollah — were mostly silent following Samaha’s arrest, apparently believing that the evidence against him was solid.

“I think the policy (in Lebanon) has been shifting away from alliance with Syria,” said Ayham Kamel, a Middle East analyst at the Eurasia Group in London. “The Syrian regime has been under intense pressure, so its allies in Lebanon have recalibrated.”

Syria’s opponents in Lebanon cited the Samaha case as proof that Damascus was trying to incite sectarian strife in its neighbor to deflect attention from its own problems, and they called for the Syrian ambassador to be expelled.

In unusually bold comments by a Lebanese head of state, President Michel Suleiman said he expected Assad to explain the situation. “When any relationship with a foreign entity harms Lebanon, we end it. And when the relationship is again in Lebanon’s interest, we reinstate it,” Suleiman said in an apparent reference to Syria. His comments were published in the Lebanese media.

Analysts say Suleiman is aiming to be the new face of a more independent Lebanon, taking advantage of a weakened regime in Syria. Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who heads a government dominated by Hezbollah and pro-Syrian groups, said he isn’t taking sides in the Syria crisis, adopting a policy of “disassociation.” Critics say that has led to a general government paralysis in which authorities are afraid to take sides when it comes to Lebanon’s feuding pro- and anti-Syrian camps.

Mikati commended the security operation that resulted in Samaha’s arrest, saying it saved Lebanon from “major disaster.” “The Syrian regime’s allies are shrinking. The Lebanese government, which was ‘Made in Syria,’ was among the regime’s last allies, and they seem to be losing even that,” said Hadi Hobeish, an anti-Syrian lawmaker.

Syria accuses Sunni groups in Lebanon of trying to establish a supply line to Syrian rebels across Lebanon’s northern frontier, bringing across fighters and weapons. The Lebanese military has been deployed along the porous border area to try to prevent the smuggling efforts, but if Beirut turns against Damascus, such operations could become easier to carry out.

Even Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group backed by Iran and Syria, has sought to distance itself from the turmoil in Syria. When Shiite clans abducted scores of Syrians in Lebanon last week in retaliation for a kidnapping by Syrian rebels in Damascus, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said the mayhem was out of the group’s control.

Analysts say Assad still has the tools and the allies he needs to stir up trouble in Lebanon. “I don’t think the Syrian regime has fully lost influence in Lebanon,” said Kamel, the Eurasia analyst. “But definitely it has less ability and even willingness to intervene on the same level in Lebanese politics,” he added.

Hanin Ghaddar, managing editor of the Lebanon opposition website NOWLebanon, said Lebanon is at a significant crossroads in its relationship with Syria. “Assad’s aura in Lebanon is fading,” Ghaddar wrote last week.

Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the U.N. in New York.

Star Witness: Top Syrian Media Host Abandons Assad For The Truth


For 15 years, Ola Abbas presented the news on Syrian state television and radio. After spending months reporting President Assad’s lies and distortions about the uprising, she finally became the first media broadcast host to defect. Now she sees herself as a missionary for the truth.

At about 7:30 p.m. on July 11, Ola Abbas sat down at her laptop in her apartment in southeast Damascus and summoned her courage. She then compressed her rage, which had been building up for months, into 187 words that have changed her life.

At about 10 p.m., she clicked “Send” and posted her message on Facebook. In it, she explains that she now sides with the Syrian rebels and no longer supports Syrian President Bashar Assad. She fled to Beirut the next day and to Paris a week later. Everything has changed since then.

Abbas, 38, was the face and voice of the regime. For 15 years, she presented the news on Syrian state television and radio. Most recently, she spent more than a year telling Syrians that there was no uprising, that the rebels were merely armed terrorists determined to sow chaos, that there was an Israeli-Saudi-Western conspiracy against her country, and that Assad was the protector of the country’s sovereignty.

She presented all these statements to her country. Today, she says she never meant any of it.

Her escape has dealt yet another blow to the regime, and one that is difficult to explain. The firm, smoky voice that listeners had come to love and that is now no longer to be heard on the radio is that of an Alawite who benefited from Assad’s regime throughout her life — and who is now providing insights into the inner workings of the Syrian propaganda machine.

Forced To Lie

Abbas meets with us in an austere, cell-like room in the southern part of Paris. The 10-square-meter (108-square-foot) room is sparsely furnished with a table, a bed and three chairs borrowed from her neighbor, and a bookshelf with an English-language book on it, which she cannot read.

Abbas articulates her words carefully, underscoring the sentences that are important to her by opening her eyes wide and making dramatic gestures, leaving no room for debate. She has retained her announcer’s personality, honed and perfected for 15 years. The content has now changed.

Bashar Assad is a criminal, Abbas says, a monster who is slaughtering his own people. She describes the state-owned media as his vicarious agents, both dependent and obedient. She cuts short any attempt to reproach her by slicing her finger through the air, as she chain-smokes hand-rolled cigarettes.

She says that she had made up her mind that she was against the regime within the first few months of the rebellion, especially after government forces opened fire on peaceful protestors; but she remained silent out of fear.

She drove to work every morning through downtown Damascus to the state television building. “I often sat crying in my car. The thought of having to read Bashar’s messages every day almost broke my heart,” says Abbas.

Like Assad, Abbas is a member of the Alawite religious minority, and thus part of the Syrian elite. Her parents were writers, and her mother, the president of the Arab Writers Union, is a firm supporter of Assad. Abbas’s fiancé is also loyal to the regime.

Only close friends and colleagues knew about her plan to flee the country. It was rarely discussed, she says, and when anyone did talk about it, it was only in hushed tones in a storage room at the office, out of range of the intelligence service’s microphones. The Syrian media have kept silent about her disappearance.

Inklings Of The Truth

For a long time, Abbas told herself that everything would turn out for the best. Whenever Assad appeared in public, she says, she hoped that it was to announce his resignation. But the opposite happened, and things only got worse. With each new instruction that arrived in the offices of the state television and radio network from the Information Ministry, Abbas says, her conscience felt increasingly guilty.

The word “demonstrators” was prohibited in the media from the start. Soon there was no longer just talk of “people who are going into the streets to cause chaos,” but also of “armed groups,” “conspirators” and, finally, “extremists, Islamists and terrorists.” The uprising was dubbed a “conspiracy” and the revolution a “crisis.” As the rhetoric escalated, so did the conflict.

Abbas had gotten used to the fact that none of what her friends were reporting from Daraa and Homs, the centers of the uprising, could be mentioned on air. Neither could the reports she saw every day on Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya.

She obediently quoted SANA, the Syrian state news agency, which she says gets its information directly from the information office at the presidential palace. She also became accustomed to the friendly nods of the information minister, whom she repeatedly encountered in the hallways at the station. She played along.

Soon notes were posted at the station with the names of singers like Fadl Shaker and Assala Nasri, whose music was no longer to be played. At a certain point, live conversations with listeners were no longer permitted because they couldn’t be controlled.

One day the secret police came and took away a colleague who had filmed a pro-Assad demonstration in way that made it obvious that hardly anyone was there. Abbas hasn’t seen him since. And still she said nothing.

Deciding Between Angels And Devils

When images of the massacres in Houla and Masraat al-Qubair began turning up, images of murdered women and children, and when she started hearing reports about the brutality of the Shabiha militias, she decided to act.

She posted her message, received anonymous threatening phone calls that same evening, packed up her documents and a small amount of money and fled. Friends have sent her the bare necessities, including some clothes and the red pants she likes to wear.

She has talked herself into a rage and, for the first time, she becomes emotional and says: “At a certain point, everyone has to decide between the devil and the angels. I did it, even if it was a little too late. I was driven by my conscience, which, after all, is what separates us from animals.”

Abbas is the first broadcast media host to defect. She might not be the last. She says she knows other journalists in the state-owned media who are sympathetic to the opposition but are still holding out.

She speculates that perhaps it’s because they are unwilling to leave their families or give up a relationship, as she did. Or perhaps they are afraid of what will happen once Assad is gone.

Meanwhile, the dictator is also losing support among those who speak on his behalf. In any case, few people believe what’s reported anymore. Now that the fighting has spread to Damascus, Syrians know that their country is embroiled in a large-scale rebellion.

Stuck In Limbo

In Paris, after being the face of the regime for years, Abbas has now become the face of the revolution. She sees herself as a missionary whose goal is to spread the truth.

She sees Paris as a temporary solution. She doesn’t know her way around, keeps getting lost in her own neighborhood, eats almost all of her meals in a Syrian restaurant around the corner, and speaks little French.

She can’t go back. The secret police would arrest her immediately, she says, and she would be forced to confess, in front of a live camera, that she is a terrorist and that foreign powers paid her to harm Syria. Abbas is familiar with such videos because they’re the ones that are played on state television.

She is waiting for the day when Assad is overthrown. Once that happens, she says, she wants to go back immediately and work as a journalist. “I believe that I can help my country in that way,” Abbas says.

2 Killed in Zarqa Brawl


AMMONNEWS – A fight in Hashemiyah district in Zarqa on Saturday escalated, resulting in the death of two people and the injury of two others.

Medical sources told Ammon News that two people were pronounced dead at the hospital after sustaining gun-shot wounds.

Security forces cordoned off the area in an attempt to contain the clashes, which lasted until Saturday night.

Tribal leaders in the area intervened to contain the incident and prevent possible escalation in violence after the death of two people.

An investigation was launched into the incident.

Source: Ammon News.

Jordanian prisoner in Israeli jail goes on open hunger strike


AMMONNEWS – After 17 days a Jordanian prisoner in Israeli jails refuses to eat to protest the Israeli authorities repeated refusal to allow his wife and children visit him.

Ala’a Hammad, a Jordanian prisoner in Israeli occupation jails since 2006, is serving a 12-year sentence, has been held in Israeli jail since 2006.

The Palestinian prisoner society said in a statement on Monday that Hammad told its lawyer during a visit to Gilboa jail that his wife’s repeated requests to the Israeli embassy in Amman to visit him were always denied.

The society, meanwhile, noted that the Israeli administration in Gilboa jail had transferred 17 detainees to Megiddo jail.

Source: Ammon News.

Students Forced to Pledge Distance from Political Parties


AMMONNEWS – University students receiving ‘Makruma’ scholarships were asked to sign a pledge not to join memberships of any political parties and not to conduct any political activities on university campuses.

The Higher Coordination Committee of the Jordanian National Opposition Political Parties on Monday blasted the move to force students to sign such pledges, stressing that such a stipulation violates principles of freedom and obstructs the development of democratic and political life.

Students who receive ‘Makruma’ scholarships allocated for underprivileged areas noted that they were asked to sign a pledge not to participate in political activism inside university campuses.

A statement issued by the Opposition Political Parties’ Coordination Committee on Monday cited receiving notice from the ‘National Campaign for Students’ Rights’ noting that Makruma students were asked to sign the pledge.

The Committee requested clarification from Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit during a meeting last Saturday, at which Bakhit noted that he had no knowledge of such a decision.

Source: Ammon News.

1200 Students Returning from Libya, Yemen to Enroll in Jordanian Universities


AMMONNEWS – Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research on Wednesday said that 1,200 Jordanian students returning from study abroad in Libya and Yemen will be admitted into Jordanian Universities.

Higher Education Minister Wajih Oweis will announce in a press conference on Wednesday the standards that the Ministry will adopt in implementing the Royal ‘Makruma’ scholarships to enroll returning students into Jordanian Universities.

Ammon News learned that the Ministry will administer a comprehensive exam for first, second, and third year students for evaluating the fields of study that students will be enrolled in.

Fourth year students will be admitted into programs without examination.

990 students studying in universities in Yemen registered their cases with the Ministry, of them 664 students are studying medicine.

Meanwhile, 166 students returning from Libya also submitted applications for admission into Jordanian universities, of them, 110 are medical students.

Over 375 of the students who returned from Yemen and Libya as a result of the ongoing developments there have achieved 85 percent or above in the Tawjihi (General Secondary School Certificate) Examination.

Source: Ammon News.

Salafi Detainees Abused in Jordanian Prisons ~ lawyer


By Amal Ghabayen

AMMONNEWS – Jordan’s special military tribunal has repeatedly wronged and been gravely unjust towards members of Salafi Islamist movements, a legal expert on Islamist movements said on Tuesday.

Musa al-Abdullat, an attorney defending the cases of over 100 Salafists has spoken out against the State Security Court’s oppression.

Abdullat said during a press conference Tuesday evening that Salafists have faced grave violations of human rights, torture, and indignity, particularly those tried in the aftermath of the Zarqa clashes in April.

In exposing the double-standards practiced by the State Security Court (SSC), Abdullat indicated that SSC has been trying the Salafists on charges of committing violence and inciting strife, while it has failed to arrest or bring any of the ‘thugs’ involved in violence against protestors throughout the kingdom since the beginning of the year to trial.

He added that the testimony of a number of the security officers in the SSC’s court sessions supported the Salafis and contradicted other testimonials which were at odds with what was said before the public prosecutor since the investigation.

Al-Abdallat said that some of the Salafis had been arrested from their homes without an arrest warrant or inspection, revealing that a number of the security personnel had raided their homes ‘savagely’ and some of them had tampered with belongings within houses.

Al-Abdallat displayed video clips of the Zarqa events that in his view pointed to the innocence of the Salafis of terrorist charges.

On his part, the Chairman of the Popular Committee for Defending Detainees Muhammad al-Hadid claimed that Salafi detainees had been beaten and tortured, and indicated that they had been undressed and photographed inside prisons by members of the Public Security Department.

Lawyer, Majid al-Fatawi, spoke of the suffering of the families during the court cases since most of them were not allowed to attend, and they were forbidden from sitting under the canopy in front of the prison, even though most of them came from provinces far from Amman.

Al-Fatawi said that excessive violence had been used to arrest the detainees and firearms employed to open the doors of houses. Security personnel had also, according to al-Fatawi, entered bedrooms without respecting the sanctity and privacy of homes.

The spokesperson for the Committee, Wissam al-Amush, also known as ‘Abu Abida,’ noted that 150 families were being punished and are suffering from the detention of their sons, adding that what happened in Zarqa was no more excessive than what happened at the Interior Ministry Circle in March, or the Nakhil Square in July.

He continued that most of what happened in Zarqa was no more than a brawl between the Salafis and the ‘thugs’, saying they refused to divide people into first-class and second-class citizens, since such a division would only bring disarray and tension.

Source: Ammon News.