Archive for August 21st, 2012

China and Russia to vote in favor of Palestinian UN bid

UNITED NATIONS (BNO NEWS) — Both China and Russia, two of the five permanent members of the United Nations (UN) Security Council, will vote in favor of Palestine’s request to become a UN member state, although the bid is unlikely to succeed.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday handed over an application to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to request a full UN membership for Palestine, which currently has observer status. Ban later sent the request to the President of the Security Council as per the provisions of the UN Charter.

Any application for a full membership is considered by the Security Council, which decides whether or not to recommend admission to the 193-member General Assembly. If it does give a recommendation, the Assembly would then have to adopt a resolution.

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi voiced Beijing’s support to grant UN membership to the Palestinian people. “We support efforts to achieve the two-state solution through political negotiations so as to establish, on the basis of the 1967 borders, an independent Palestinian state that enjoys full sovereignty with East Jerusalem as its capital,” Yang was quoted as saying by the DPA news agency.

In addition, the Interfax news agency cited a source from the Russian delegation at the UN General Assembly as saying that Russia will also support the Palestinian request. “If this issue is put to a vote, we will support it,” the source said.

Both China and Russia are permanent members of the UN Security Council. However, the United States earlier said it would veto a Palestinian bid to seek a full UN membership and urged them to return to peace talks with Israel. If a veto is used by any of the permanent members, the UN Security Council would be unable to recommend admission to the General Assembly.

About 120 out of 193 countries have currently recognized the State of Palestine and those are seen as possible supporters if the UN General Assembly votes on the issue. If the UN Security Council resolution to recognize Palestine is approved, Palestine would become the 194th member of the United Nations.

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Source: WireUpdate.

Circassians flee Syria strife for Russia homeland

August 21, 2012

NALCHIK, Russia (AP) — Natai Al Sharkas’ great-grandfather killed his Russian commanding officer and defected to the enemy.

The ethnic Circassian swells with pride at the thought of the century-old act. Natives of what is now Russia’s Caucasus region, Circassians fiercely resisted the Russian czarist conquest that ended in the 1860s after decades of scorched-earth warfare, mass killings or expulsions that some historians and politicians consider genocide.

The carnage forced many — like Al Sharkas’ ancestors — to seek refuge in what is today Syria. Now carnage in Syria is driving many back to their homeland. This spring, Al Sharkas joined hundreds of Circassians fleeing war-torn Syria for this remote Russian region of soaring peaks and lush forests. In the coming months, thousands more are expected to arrive in Kabardino-Balkariya, a Caucasus province the size of Maryland with a population of less than 900,000, two-thirds of which is ethnic Circassian.

“We are planning to stay here for good,” Al Sharkas, 35, said as he sat under fragrant fir trees at a Soviet-era resort hotel where many of the Circassian immigrants have sought shelter. “That’s the decision we made a long time ago and it’s been accelerated by the events in Syria.”

Circassians were widely dispersed in the Russian expulsions. An estimated 2 million live in Turkey, another 100,000 in Syria and other sizable populations are in Jordan and the United States. But their sense of ethnic unity remains strong and the pull of their homeland compelling.

Al Sharkas’s great-grandfather Koushoukou, his brother and two cousins were forcibly drafted and sent to the Russian-Turkish war of the late 1870s. They had to fight Ottoman Turks — fellow Muslims whose sultans supported Circassian resistance and provided refuge for hundreds of thousands of them. After killing his officer in Bulgaria, Koushoukou joined the Turkish military and ended his life in Damascus — part of Ottoman Turkey at the time.

Al Sharkas, which means Circassian in Arabic, used a network of family connections, along with Facebook, to find relatives in Kabardino-Balkariya and other parts of Russia. He encourages his Syrian relatives to follow him to the Caucasus, although now, because of the fighting, it hardly seems possible. “They are trapped there as it is almost impossible to even leave their neighborhoods,” he said.

Assmat Yahya, a retired electrician from a Circassian village in the Syrian-controlled part of the Golan Heights, also found relatives in the Caucasus and plans to stay in Russia with his wife. They left their seven-bedroom house in April after hearing that both opposition fighters and Syrian forces were approaching their town and now live in one of the cramped rooms in the hotel in Nalchik, the Kabardino-Balkariya capital. “I’m here not because of the war, although it triggered the return,” the gray-haired 63-year-old said. “We want to live here with our relatives.”

But the newly arrived Syrian Circassians have run into bureaucratic hurdles in Russia. Because Russia allows foreigners to stay for only three months without a residence permit, al Sharkas and other Circassians from Syria recently had to travel to Abkhazia, a breakaway Georgian province that Russia recognizes as independent, to obtain entry stamps allowing them another three-months stay. Without residence and work permits, they will have to leave the country when their visas expire.

Circassians’ historical grievances with Russia are strong. The arrival of thousands of refugees from Syria could add fuel to a growing movement to force Russia to recognize the 19th century killing and expulsions of Circassians as genocide. Circassians are pushing the issue ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, where Circassian fighters surrendered to the czarist forces in 1864. Circassians say some of the Olympic facilities are being built over mass graves of their ancestors.

“Sochi is our open wound,” said Vahit Kadioglu, head of the International Circassian Association in the Turkish capital, Ankara. “We expect recognition of the massacre from the Russian government.” In 2011, the pro-Western government of neighboring Georgia recognized the killings and deportation of Circassians as genocide and called on the West to boycott the Olympics. Russian officials say the decision was motivated by political tensions between Russia and Georgia, which fought a brief war in 2008, and dismissed the claims.

“There was no genocide of the Circassians, it was a normal historical process,” said Valery Kuzmin, a Foreign Ministry ambassador-at-large responsible for the Sochi Games. But the governor of the Russian province that will host the games has recently acknowledged the expulsions. “This land has not belonged to the Russian Empire, it belonged to Caucasus nations, to Circassians,” Alexander Tkachyov of Krasnodar province, which was once almost entirely Circassian, said in early August.

Al Sharkas’ father, Shawkat Achemez, says that’s not good enough. He wants the Kremlin to admit to mass killings and ethnic cleansing. “Millions have been expelled from this territory,” he said. “That’s what they have to admit.”

When the Soviet Union forced an alliance with Syria in the late 1960s, some Syrian Circassians came back to the Caucausus to visit or study. But genuine repatriation became possible only after the 1991 Soviet collapse because the Kremlin softened strict Soviet-era rules on obtaining Russian citizenship.

Some 1,500 Circassians have returned to the Caucasus since then, according to Circassian community leaders in Russia. In 1998, the Kremlin facilitated the repatriation of some 200 Circassians from Kosovo after they were attacked by ethnic Albanians.

The region they have come back to is afflicted by violence, too. The Caucasus republics are plagued by an Islamic insurgency that spread from Chechnya’s separatist wars. A brazen 2005 raid of Islamists on Nalchik left 130 people dead, and Kabardino-Balkariya still experiences occasional small clashes.

Despite the violence, Circassians say they feel comfortable in their ancestral homeland. Hamzeh Labeeb, a native of the Syrian city of Homs, came to Nalchik in 2002 to study at a local university — and decided to stay.

“They’ve always treated me like their own,” said the bespectacled 29-year-old computer engineer. Meanwhile, locals think that their arrival benefits Russia. “They possess cultural values we lost in the Communist era,” said Vladimir Kaskulov, general director of the hotel chain in Nalchik that hosted more than 150 Syrians free of charge.

Laura Mills in Moscow and Irem Karakaya in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this story

Japanese journalist killed covering Syria fighting

August 21, 2012

TOKYO (AP) — A Japanese journalist has been killed in Syria while covering the civil war there, Japan’s government said Tuesday.

Mika Yamamoto, a veteran war correspondent with The Japan Press, an independent TV news provider that specializes in conflict zone coverage, was killed Monday in the northwestern city of Aleppo, said Masaru Sato, a spokesman with the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo.

Sato said the 45-year-old was hit by gunfire while she and a colleague were traveling with the rebel Free Syrian Army, which is trying to topple the regime of President Bashar Assad. A video posted on YouTube on Monday by an activist in Syria shows the body of an Asian woman inside a van wrapped in blankets with only her face showing.

An Associated Press reporter who had worked with Yamamoto and who viewed the video confirmed her identity. Yamamoto had covered the war in Afghanistan after 2001 and the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq from Baghdad as a special correspondent for NTV, according to Japan Press’ website.

In the YouTube video, Capt. Ahmed Ghazali, a rebel fighter in the northern Syrian city of Azaz, says the Japanese journalist was killed by regime forces in Aleppo. “We welcome any journalist who wants to enter Syria,” Ghazali says. “We will secure their entry, but we are not responsible for the brutality of Assad’s forces against the media.”

Expressing frustration that the international community has not intervened in the Syria conflict, which activists say has killed more than 20,000 people since March 2011, Ghazali says he hopes the journalist’s death will encourage international action.

“I hope that these countries that have not been moved by Syrian blood will be moved by the blood of their people,” he says. Ghazali also said two other journalists were captured by Syrian government forces in Aleppo, including a reporter with Al-Hurra TV named “Bashar.”

A statement from Springfield, Virginia-based Al-Hurra said the video referred to correspondent Bashar Fahmi and his cameraman Cuneyt Unal. The company has not been able to reach either man since they entered Syria on Monday morning.

“We are currently working to gather more information about their status. The safety and wellbeing of our journalists is of utmost concern to us,” the statement said. Yamamoto’s body has been transferred to Turkey, where Japanese consular officials were providing assistance, Sato said.
Associated Press writer Ben Hubbard in Syria contributed to this report.

Biden to meet Jordan king in Washington

(August 20th 2012, Monday)

WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden on Monday was to meet King Abdullah II of Jordan, a key US ally in the Middle East that has seen an influx of refugees from the conflict in neighboring Syria.

The two were scheduled to meet at 4:15 pm (2015 GMT) at the vice president’s residence in the US capital, the White House said, without providing further details.

Some 150,000 Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring Jordan since the start of the March 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

The uprising and the government’s brutal crackdown have increasingly come to resemble a civil war, with 23,000 people killed, according to a Syrian human rights group. The United Nations puts the figure at around 17,000.

Copyright © 2012 AFP. All rights reserved.

Jordan protests Syrian shelling that wounded girl

By DALE GAVLAK, Associated Press
(20th of August 2012, Monday)

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Jordan has sharply protested to Syria for artillery shelling that wounded a girl in a border village and panicked other civilians, Information Minister Sameeh Maaytah said Monday.

The Syrian ambassador to Jordan rebuffed a summons to the Foreign Ministry to receive a written protest, sending his deputy instead, officials said.

Late Sunday, four shells landed in Jordan’s north during clashes between the Syrian military and rebel forces on the Syrian side, wounding a 4-year-old girl. She was reported in fair condition Monday. Four others were treated briefly after suffering panic attacks, Maaytah said.

Maaytah said Jordan denounced the incident and “will ensure this does not happen again.” He did not say how.

Last month, Syrian troops killed a 6-year-old Syrian boy fleeing to Jordan with his family.
Maaytah said the government summoned Syrian Ambassador Bahjat Suleiman to hand him the letter of protest late Sunday.

Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said on his Twitter account late Sunday that the ambassador declined to report for the meeting, claiming he was busy. Judeh said a “stern warning” was given to his deputy. The text of the letter was not made public.

The affair underlines growing tensions between the two neighbors against the background of Syria’s civil war.

More than 150,000 Syrian refugees are in Jordan. The presence of thousands in a squalid desert tent camp near the border is seen as an embarrassment to Syrian President Bashar Assad, illustrating that people are fleeing his military’s onslaught against his own people.

Jordan tries to avoid angering its more powerful neighbor, but tensions are a constant in the relationship.

Syria opposes Jordan’s alliance with the United States and its 1994 peace treaty with Israel. Jordan is a critic of Iran, Syria’s main ally in the region.

Copyright © 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Airstrike kills 8 in Syria town near Turkey border

August 18, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — A Syrian warplane on Saturday bombed a small town partially controlled by anti-regime fighters near the Turkish border, killing eight people and wounding at least 20, the latest escalation in the use of air power by President Bashar Assad’s government in the Arab nation’s civil war.

The afternoon airstrike, reported by activists in the area as well as the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, was one of at least two that took place on Saturday. The increased use of airstrikes by the regime is taking its toll on civilians, and, in the eyes of activists, is evidence of its insensitivity to civilian casualties as it battles for survival against the rebels.

The regime’s growing use of warplanes also comes at a time when western powers are looking into suggestions for militarily enforcing a no-fly zone in northern Syria. Russia rejects the idea. The airstrike on the town of Manbej in the Jarablous area came hours after a government announcement said Syria welcomed the appointment of former Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi as the U.N.’s new point-man in efforts to halt the civil war.

The announcement was made by the office of Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa, which also denied Arab media reports that al-Sharaa had defected to the opposition. Al-Sharaa “did not think, at any moment, of leaving the country,” the statement said. The regime has suffered a string of prominent defections in recent months, though Assad’s inner circle and military have largely kept their cohesive stance behind him.

Brahimi, the new U.N. envoy, takes over from former Secretary-General Kofi Annan who is stepping down on Aug. 31 after his attempts to broker a cease-fire failed. His appointment comes as U.N. observers have begun leaving Syria, with their mission officially over by midnight Sunday.

In Syria, activists and the London Observatory could not say what was the intended target of the lone air force MiG-25 when it rocketed Manbej, which has a population of some 40,000. The wounded were treated in field hospitals in the town and in clinics across the border in Turkey.

A second airstrike earlier in the day targeted the northern border town of Azaz, where more than 40 people were killed and at least 100 wounded in an airstrike earlier this week, according to international watchdog Human Rights Watch. Activists said Saturday’s bombs hit an open field. There were no casualties.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a televised interview that his country has rejected foreign intervention in the form of a militarily enforced no-fly zone for government aircraft in northern Syria — an idea he said was mentioned as a possible option by U.S. officials last week.

“That would be a violation of sovereignty if this included areas (in) Syrian territory, as well as a breach of the United Nations charter,” Lavrov told Sky News Arabia in the interview Saturday. “There are initiatives by the (U.N.) to provide aid to refugees in camps on the territory of Turkey and Jordan and other countries as per the international humanitarian law,” he said in a transcript provided by the Abu Dhabi-based Arabic-language station. “But if they are trying to create safe zones and no-fly zones for military purposes by citing an international crisis — that is unacceptable.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said that Washington and Turkey were discussing a range of steps including a no-fly zone over some parts of Syria as the Assad regime increasingly uses its air force to attack rebels.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the Associated Press last Monday that he is confident the United States could successfully enforce such a prohibition of flights, but that plans for a no-fly zone were “not on the front burner” despite persistent calls from rebel forces that they need the added protection.

In other violence Saturday, regime forces shelled rebel areas across the country, including the southern province of Daraa, the northern region of Aleppo, Deir el-Zour to the east and the suburbs of the capital, Damascus, activists said. They said at least 15 people were killed in the Deir el-Zour area.

Also Saturday, 40 bodies were found piled in a heap on a street in the Damascus suburb of al-Tal, according to the Observatory and another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees. The suburb saw days of heavy fighting until regime forces largely took over the area earlier this week.

The 40 had all been killed by bullet wounds, but their identity was not known, nor was it known who had killed them, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, the head of the Observatory. “It is not clear if they were civilians, army defectors or soldiers,” he said. Also unclear was whether they had been killed at the place where the bodies were found or if residents had collected the bodies there.

A series of hostage-takings by Syria’s rebels has touched off retaliatory abductions of Syrians in neighboring Lebanon and raised worries Lebanon could be dragged deeper into unrest. Lebanese security officials said Saturday that five more Syrians were abducted in Beirut’s southern suburbs overnight. It was not clear who carried out the latest abductions, but earlier kidnappings were carried out by the al-Mikdad clan, a powerful Shiite Muslim family in Lebanon.

The al-Mikdad clan says it has snatched a number of Syrians and a Turk in Lebanon in retaliation for the abduction of their relative, Hassane Salim al-Mikdad, by rebels in Syria.

Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan, and Brian Rohan in Cairo contributed to this report.