Archive for August 9th, 2012

Security forces storm schools in Syria

Wednesday 21 September 2011

BEIRUT: Syrian security forces moved against several schools around the country Wednesday and detained students who demonstrated against President Bashar Assad’s regime, while troops shot dead at least four people in central Syria, activists said.

The Local Coordination Committees, an activist network, said dozens of students were detained in the southern village of Jassem. Also, security forces surrounded several schools in the Damascus suburbs of Harasta, Arbeen and Zamalka.

Students have been demonstrating against Assad’s regime since Sunday, the first day of the school year.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces killed three civilians in the central city of Homs and one in the nearby town of Rastan.

It reported that the bodies of three other people who disappeared last week were also either found or handed to their families by authorities in the northern province of Idlib and the central region of Hama.

President Barack Obama called on the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Syria because of the deadly crackdown. He told the UN General Assembly Wednesday, “There is no excuse for inaction.”

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country is considering sanctions and is coordinating its policy with the US Turkey neighbors Syria and is a key trading partner.

Turkey’s state-run Anatolia news agency quoted Erdogan as saying. “We never wanted things to arrive at this point, but unfortunately, the Syrian administration has forced us to take such a decision.”

The Syrian uprising began in mid-March, during the wave of protests in the Arab world that toppled autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. President Bashar Assad has responded with a brutal crackdown that the UN estimates has killed some 2,600 people.

An amateur video posted online showed people running away in a street in the town of Qusair near the border with Lebanon as cracks of gunfire could be heard. A man could be heard shouting “they are shooting at students in the city of Qusair.”

Another video showed the funeral of a school teacher identified as Jihad Haji who was said to have been shot by security forces. Young mourners could be heard chanting “there is no God but God, Assad is the enemy of God” as they carried his coffin in the areas of Waer near the central city of Homs.

The Associated Press could not independently verify the videos or the accounts of violence. Syria has banned most foreign journalists and restricted local media during the revolt.

Source: Arab News.

French military medics head to Syrian border

August 09, 2012

PARIS (AP) — A team of French military doctors headed to the Syria-Jordan border on Thursday to set up a mobile hospital to treat refugees fleeing Syrian violence by the thousands.

The medics aim to be operative by the end of the week and to perform up to 10 surgeries a day on those wounded in fighting, said Col. Gerard Dosseh before boarding a flight at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport.

He was among some 25 medical personnel on the team, which is bringing about 20 tons of medical equipment to Amman, Jordan, and then to a site a few dozen kilometers from the border. France, Syria’s onetime colonial ruler, has been in the forefront of diplomatic efforts to end fighting in Syria, which has sent some 250,000 refugees fleeing to neighboring countries, and to press for a democratic transition. But as fighting intensifies, concern is focusing on the growing refugee crisis as Syrians spill out of their homeland.

“There will be many wounded who have crossed the Jordanian-Syrian border, those wounded by gunfire who will need surgery,” Dosseh told AP Television News. The Italians have also set up a field hospital in northern Jordan near the Syrian border that started operating in early July.

The French move comes as diplomatic efforts to halt the war in Syria remain stymied, with Russia and China using their veto power to block U.N. Security Council resolutions that would increase pressure on President Bashar Assad.

France, presiding over the Security Council this month, is hoping for a diplomatic breakthrough. Paris has called for a ministerial meeting Aug. 30 in New York to be devoted mainly to the humanitarian situation but also meant to show support for Syrians and concern for regional stability, the Foreign Ministry said this week. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who will lead the session, is traveling to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey starting Aug. 15.

These soft steps aren’t enough for former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who interjected himself this week into the Syrian crisis with a call for France to take action as it did in Libya, where he triggered the momentum for an international coalition to back rebel fighters who ultimately killed dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Sarkozy spoke this week with the president of the opposition Syrian National Council, Abdelbaset Sieda, and called for “rapid action” on Syria, according to French media reports. It amounted to a dig at Socialist President Francois Hollande’s handling of the Syrian crisis. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told RFI radio that such quick moves are “easy to say, very dangerous to do.”

Arab Parliament recommends freezing Syrian, Yemeni memberships

Sep 20, 2011

Cairo – Members of the Arab Parliament, which is made up of 88 members from different Arab countries, recommended on Tuesday freezing Syrian and Yemeni memberships until bloodshed ends in the two countries.

The parliament recommended freezing the Syrian membership and halting work at the body’s headquarters in Damascus if authorities do not implement swift reforms and release all political prisoners.

Members of the parliament called on the Syrian government to withdraw the army from all cities, end bloodshed, form a national unity government and allow media and international delegations to enter the country.

At least 2,700 people have been killed in government crackdown on anti-Bashar al-Assad protesters in Syria, according to the UN’s human rights organization.

The parliament also called for suspending the Yemeni membership until stability returns to the country. More than 70 people have been killed there since Sunday, with government forces opening fire on protesters calling on President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.

It called on the Arab League to suspend Yemen’s participation and take a firm stance from those who reject the Gulf-brokered deal, which aims at ending the crisis in the country.

In 2004, the 22 members of the Arab League agreed to send four representatives each to take part in the Arab Parliament.

Source: Monsters and Critics.

Lebanon to hold conference to encourage investment in Libya

Sep 21, 2011

Beirut – Lebanon said Wednesday it would host a conference in November to encourage investment in Libya, news reports said.

The meeting would ‘promote investments in Libya and to stress the importance of joint cooperation to build a better future,’ Lebanese President Suleiman said.

‘In the short term, (Libyans) expect us to continue protecting civilians, helping them maintain security and facilitating the transfer of humanitarian aid,’ he said.

In 2003, Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi cut off diplomatic relations with Lebanon over the disappearance of a Lebanese Shiite cleric 25 years ago in Tripoli.

Lebanese officials believe that Musa al-Sadr disappeared in Libya after an argument with Gaddafi. Libya insists that al-Sadr and his two aides left on a flight to Rome at the end of their August 1978 visit, but Italy denies that he arrived.

Suleiman arrived in New York Tuesday to attend the annual session of the UN General Assembly. Lebanon holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council until the end of the month.
The council last week deployed a UN mission to support Libya’s transitional authorities and unfroze assets to fund reconstruction and development.

Source: Monsters and Critics.

Jordan woos Gulf tourists


Europeans, Americans stay away amid unrest, prompting search for replacement; tourism from Gulf Cooperation Council grows.

A promotional campaign urging visitors from the Gulf to visit Jordan appears to be paying off for the Hashemite Kingdom, whose hotels and attractions have been struggling with a drop in tourism from Europe and America.

Although Jordan has been relatively quiet, unrest elsewhere in the Middle East has frightened travelers and caused tourist arrivals from Europe to the Hashemite Kingdom to drop by over 17% in the first eight months of this year to 400,000 from 483,000 in 2010. The number of visitors from North and South America declined by 13% to just 125,000.

But, according to data obtained by The Media Line, at least 26% more visitors from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which includes oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait, states came to Jordan in the first eight months of 2011, compared with the same period last year.

With its economy rattled by unrest, a growing import bill and interruptions in the supply of natural gas imported from Egypt, Jordan needs tourism earnings more than ever. The International Monetary Fund cut its forecast on Tuesday for the country’s economic growth to 2.5% this year from a previous 3.3%.

Foreseeing that the tumult of the Arab Spring would likely deter Western visitors, Jordan’s Tourism Ministry moved to compensate by encouraging more Arabs to visit, especially from the GCC.

Jordan’s top attractions include the ruins of the ancient city of Petra and the Red Sea resort of Aqaba, which was named Arab Tourism Capital of 2011 by the Arab Tourism Ministers Council. The designation has helped it draw some of the tourism away from the volatile, shark-invested resorts in the Egyptian Sinai coast. It has fewer strictures on liquor and the intermingling of the sexes than many of the conservative Gulf kingdoms.

According to a report from the Jordanian Ministry of Tourism, some 827,132 tourists from the Gulf visited between January and August this year and spent more than one night in the country. In contrast, just 658,197 came in the same period last year. Nearly seven out of eight of the Gulf country visitors came from Saudi Arabia (718,000), which was almost twice as much as the previous year.

Just over half of the GCC visitors arriving in Jordan last year were “transit tourists,” who spent no more than a few hours in the country on their way to Syria or Lebanon. The Tourism Promotion Authority launched “vigorous efforts” to entice these kinds of travelers to stay for a real vacation. Jordan has been hoping to capitalize on its image of a relatively calm country amidst turbulent unrest to draw visitors.

The number of tourists from African countries also grew, with 17% more arriving in the first eight months over the 8,786 in the same period last year. The Tourism Ministry data also showed an 8% increase in tourists from Asia and the Pacific, with 189,327 arriving so far this year.

The report cited the decline from the West as “not significant under the circumstances” and could be adjusted quickly when stable conditions return to the region.

Anti-government protests have largely subsided in Jordan. Over the weekend, a million-man march was called in Amman to protest in front of the Israeli Embassy amid a rising tide of anti-Israeli demonstrations in the Middle East. While only 300 showed up, Israel chose to evacuate its embassy.

Weekly demonstrations demanding political reform erupted in Jordan earlier this year, but were milder that protest movements elsewhere in the Arab world. Key drivers of unrest have included unemployment, high living costs and corruption, but a consensus has emerged in demands for political reforms. King Abdullah, a key US ally in the region, has promised reforms and amendments to the constitution in a bid to snuff out protests.

Tourism to Jordan surged last year, according to official figures released in January, with overnight visits up to 4.55 million from 3.78 million in 2009 and visitors spending a 2.42 billion Jordanian dinars ($3.4 billion) in the process. But according to the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Jordan saw a dramatic 27% drop in visitors in May preceded by a 20.5 % drop in April.

That stands in contrast to global trends: Worldwide international tourism rose 4.5% in the first half of this year to 440 million, 19 million more than the same period last year, according to the latest update of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer. Tourism to the Middle East was down 10.8%.

Alternatively, the recently released Maplecraft Terrorism Risk Index showed that travel to Jordan is not without its risks. But it noted that the protests have been “scattered and small in size.”

“Jordan is one of the top-10 most water scarce countries in the world. This condition is exacerbated by an increasing population and water intensive sectors such as agriculture and industry. Furthermore, climate change is expected to result in higher temperatures and less rainfall, making water scarcity an important issue to consider in the future,” the report said.

“It was clear that this was the tourism capital of Jordan. There were lots of Saudis and their families there,” Gary Bregman, a tourist from a Western country who had recently visited Aqaba, told The Media Line. “The cafes were packed. They had real liquor stores, nicer than any I’d seen in the rest of the world, and massage parlors. It was clear you could do things in Aqaba you couldn’t do in other cities in Jordan.

“There were lots of Arabs vacationing and there was no reason not to. It is nearby, easy to get to and there is something interesting for them to do,” he added.

Source: The Jerusalem Post.