Archive for August, 2012

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.

UN: Algeria’s Brahimi will replace Annan in Syria

August 17, 2012

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Lakhdar Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister and longtime U.N. diplomat known as a strong-willed, independent broker, has agreed to replace former Secretary-General Kofi Annan as peace envoy to Syria, the United Nations announced Friday.

Brahimi, who served as a U.N. envoy in Afghanistan and Iraq, formally accepted the post and will resume efforts to find a diplomatic solution to Syria’s crisis, said Eduardo del Buey, deputy spokesman for Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

“The violence and the suffering in Syria must come to an end,” del Buey said. “The Secretary-General appreciates Mr. Brahimi’s willingness to bring his considerable talents and experience to this crucial task for which he will need, and rightly expects, the strong, clear and unified support of the international community, including the Security Council.”

Annan announced earlier this month that he would resign on Aug. 31 as joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, after failing to broker a cease-fire as the country descended into civil war. The U.N. says at least 18,000 people have been killed since March 2011.

Brahimi will travel to New York and then Cairo in the coming days. Speaking to The Associated Press by telephone from Paris, Brahimi said “I realize it’s an extremely complicated and very, very difficult mission.” He said he hopes military intervention isn’t necessary, and that talking about a military option is akin to admitting diplomatic failure.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed Brahimi’s appointment, saying he “will continue the pursuit of an end to the conflict and a peaceful transition in Syria.” “My message to special envoy Brahimi is simple: The United States stands ready to support you and secure a lasting peace that upholds the legitimate aspirations for a representative government of the people of Syria,” Clinton said. “And to the Syrian people: you are not alone. The international community remains fully committed to a Syrian-led political transition leading to a pluralistic political system representing the will of the people.”

Brahimi, 78, who emerged last week as the leading candidate to replace Annan, brings a long record of working in the Arab and Islamic world. He served as Algeria’s foreign minister from 1991-93 and joined the United Nations in 1994, where he served in a variety of high-profile posts until he retired in 2005.

As an Arab League envoy, Brahimi helped negotiate the end of Lebanon’s civil war. Several U.N. diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said Brahimi had delayed taking the job as Syria envoy because he wanted a signal of support from the council. What kind of support Brahimi wanted remains unclear.

Gerard Araud, the French U.N. ambassador and current Security Council president, has called the special envoy post something of an “impossible mission” and said he could understand why someone would take their time before deciding to take it.

Annan said when he announced his resignation on Aug. 2 that the Security Council’s divisions prevented the united approach needed to stop the fighting in Syria. Russia and China have used their veto power three times to block strong Western- and Arab-backed action against President Bashar Assad’s regime.

On Thursday, Araud announced that the Security Council had agreed to end the U.N. military observer mission and back a small new liaison office that will support any future peace efforts. The 15 council members agreed that international efforts to significantly reduce violence and end the Syrian government’s use of heavy weapons — conditions set for possibly extending the observer mission — had failed.

Expectations for what Brahimi can accomplish should be lower than they were for Annan, whose mission suffered from unrealistic hopes, said Richard Gowan, associate director of the New York University Center on International Cooperation. Still, Brahimi is the right kind of negotiator for the job, he said.

“Brahimi has an incredibly strong reputation around the U.N., but is also well-known for not taking orders from the big powers or worrying too much about media attention,” Gowan said in an e-mail. “This may be just what is needed in Syria now: a hardened but independent mediator, who will stick with diplomatic efforts even if he faces a lot of criticism for failing to cut a deal fast.”

Brahimi is a member of the Elders, a group of former world leaders working for global peace that includes Nelson Mandela. Last week, Brahimi issued a statement through the Elders on Syria, where he last visited while on a delegation with the group in 2010.

“Syrians must come together as a nation in the quest for a new formula,” he said. “This is the only way to ensure that all Syrians can live together peacefully, in a society not based on fear of reprisal, but on tolerance. In the meantime, the U.N. Security Council and regional states must unite to ensure that a political transition can take place as soon as possible.

“Millions of Syrians are clamoring for peace. World leaders cannot remain divided any longer, over and above their cries.” Brahimi’s long U.N. career took him to countries like Haiti, Yemen, Sudan and South Africa, where he led U.N. efforts to oversee democratic elections that brought Mandela to power.

In Afghanistan, Brahimi served as the U.N. envoy both before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States and after a U.S.-led force ousted the Taliban. In Iraq, he helped piece together the interim government that took power in 2004, following the U.S.-led war that ousted Saddam Hussein.

Brahimi served as Annan’s special advisor on conflict prevention and resolution. He also headed independent panels that reviewed U.N. peacemaking efforts and security worldwide. During Annan’s six-month tenure, the Syrian government and its allies did at least agree to his six-point peace plan. The plan included a cease-fire leading to a Syrian-led political process to end the crisis. While Annan singled out the regime for failing to take steps to end the violence, as required by the peace plan, he also blamed the opposition’s increasingly militant tactics for dooming his plan.

Araud last week defended the need for appointing another special envoy to Syria. “We simply can’t let down the Syrians and say to these people ‘Go fight and come back when you are done with your fighting,'” he said. “Maybe the special envoy will be useless in the first week or in the first weeks, but at least there will be somebody to seize every opportunity to find a political solution.”

Associated Press writers Angela Charlton in Paris, Aomar Ouali in Algiers, Edith Lederer at the United Nations and Julie Pace in Washington contributed to this report.

Hamas: Abbas ignored Palestinian aspirations

Friday 23/09/2011

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Hamas said Friday that President Mahmoud Abbas’ proposals to the United Nations failed to address Palestinians’ aspirations, party spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.

The official told Ma’an that by recognizing Israel and seeking UN membership for a Palestinian state on 22 percent of historic Palestine, Abbas “decreased” Palestinians’ rights.

“The solution is to go back to comprehensive national dialogue and to achieve reconciliation and unite the Palestinians,” Barhoum said.

Abbas submitted a bid for full UN membership to UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Friday for a state on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, signed a reconciliation agreement with Abbas’ Fatah party in May, but formation of a unity government has stalled over a leadership row.

The mood among the Palestinian leadership in the Gaza Strip contrasted starkly with the West Bank, where celebratory fireworks, loud cheers, whistles and applause erupted as Palestinians watched Abbas make the biggest speech of his presidency.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said earlier Friday that Palestinians should not beg for a state. Liberation of Palestinian land should come first, he said.

Without a guaranteed “right of return” to land lost in the 1948 war which led to the creation of the Jewish state, “what is happening at the United Nations harms the dignity of our Palestinian people”, Haniyeh said.

The outcome and potential side-effects of Abbas’s statehood bid are far from clear.

“He (referring to Abbas) depressed us, I was expecting more. I was expecting him to say that if peaceful resistance fails, there would be armed struggle,” said Hakim Abu Karsh, a lawyer living in Gaza.

Another Gaza resident, Mohammad Antar, said that the speech was very emotional.

“The speech showed strong emotions, was convincing, strong. Palestinian people should react, locally and in the diaspora,” he told Reuters.

Palestinians in Gaza, unlike their West Bank residents, gathered inside homes and cafes to watch Abbas speech.

Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said that despite the fact that Abbas’ speech accurately described Palestinian suffering, it failed to provide the proper solutions.

“Abbas’s speech was an emotional one that succeeded in describing Palestinian people’s suffering but he failed in determining the solutions when he tied his going to the United Nations with negotiating with the Israeli occupation despite his stressing that negotiations have failed in the past,” he said.

The United States has vowed to veto the move at the Security Council.

Source: Ma’an News Agency.

Defected premier: Syrian regime near collapse

August 14, 2012

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Syria’s defected prime minister said Tuesday that Bashar Assad’s regime was near collapse and urged other political and military leaders to tip the scales and join the rebel side.

“The regime is on the verge of collapse morally and economically,” Riad Hijab told a news conference in his first public comments since leaving his post and fleeing to Jordan with his family last week. Hijab is the highest-ranking political figure to defect from Assad’s regime.

He said he felt “pain in his soul” over the regime’s shelling and other attacks on rebel strongholds as the government stepped up its military offensive. Activists say more than 20,000 people been killed in the struggle since March 2011.

“I was powerless to stop the injustice,” he said, speaking in front of the rebel flag. He called on “honorable leaders” in Syria to defect. “Syria is full of honorable officials and military leaders who are waiting for the chance to join the revolution,” he said.

“I urge the army to follow the example of Egypt’s and Tunisia’s armies — take the side of people,” he added. Hijab said he was now backing the rebels, but gave no clue on his plans. There had been speculation that he would travel to the Gulf nation of Qatar, which is one of the rebels’ main supporters.

Gaza: Egypt opening border ahead of Muslim holiday

August 14, 2012

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Egypt on Tuesday opened its border with Hamas-ruled Gaza for a three-day period ahead of a major Muslim holiday this weekend, but imposed tight restrictions on who can travel and did not say whether it would resume normal border operations.

The government in Cairo closed the border Aug. 5, shutting down the Rafah passenger terminal and — according to Egyptian security officials — sealing more than 100 cross-border smuggling tunnels. The move came after Islamic militants in Egypt’s Sinai desert near Gaza killed 16 Egyptian troops at a border post near Israel.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s government has suggested the assailants had help from Gaza, a claim Hamas denies. The Egyptian restrictions raised tensions between Morsi and Hamas, both members of the region-wide Muslim Brotherhood and presumably sympathetic to each other.

The Hamas interior minister, Fathi Hamad, has demanded that Morsi reopen the Rafah crossing quickly and suggested the new Egyptian president was acting like his predecessor, the staunchly anti-Hamas Hosni Mubarak who had backed Israel’s tight blockade of Gaza’s borders.

“We suffered from the unjust regime of Mubarak that participated in the Israeli blockade of Gaza,” Hamad wrote in comments posted on his ministry’s website. “Why should we suffer now, in the era of Egypt’s revolution and democracy?”

Addressing Egyptian leaders, Hamad called for a different policy. “Palestine should be considered a priority,” he wrote. “If you are not doing that, you have to correct your course.” Last week, Egypt began allowing stranded travelers to return to Gaza, and some 4,500 have so far made the trip, according to Gaza border officials. On Tuesday, Egypt for the first time allowed some border traffic from Gaza, but only for a select few — Gaza students registered at foreign universities, those with residency abroad and medical patients.

Gaza border official Maher Abu Sabha said two-way traffic will continue for three days, in the run-up to the weekend’s Eid el-Fitr holiday, which caps the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. The limited opening is meant to relieve some of the pressure on Gaza, but also suggests that there is no imminent decision by Egypt to resume normal border traffic.

Amani Salman, 34, and her four sons were waiting on the Gaza side of the border, hoping to cross into Egypt en route to their home in Qatar. Salman said she had been scheduled to travel on the day after the attack and was forced to cancel her plane tickets, at a cost of $1,800.

She said she had hesitated for years to visit her family in Gaza because of the precarious border situation, but decided to risk the trip after the change of government in Egypt. “This year, I thought it will be better, but it was the same,” she said. “We love Egypt and we were very happy for their new president. We are not asking for much, just to be treated as humans … It’s a mistake to punish Gaza.”

Associated Press writer Ashraf Sweilam in El Arish, Egypt contributed reporting.

Abbas makes statehood bid at UN

Fri Sep 23, 2011

Acting Palestinian Authority Chief Mahmud Abbas has officially submitted his bid for the UN recognition of a Palestinian state to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Abbas handed over the request in a folder adorned with the Palestinian eagle crest on the front to Ban Ki-moon on Friday shortly before addressing the UN General Assembly.

The UN secretary general opened the folder briefly to study it.

Addressing the General Assembly, Abbas said that he decided to request for UN membership of his state after Israel smashed all efforts to reach a peace through talks.

“All of these sincere efforts and endeavors undertaken by international parties were repeatedly smashed against the rocks of the positions of the Israeli government, which quickly dashed the hopes raised by the launch of negotiations last September,” he said.

He also described the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands as the main cause of the collapse of peace talks, adding that the PA is ready to return to negotiations if Tel Aviv halts its settlement activities.

Abbas received a standing ovation for his speech.

He also called on the Security Council to immediately approve full Palestinian membership at the UN, saying the time has come for Palestinians to be given the right to be called citizens of their own state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to address the UN General Assembly after Abbas.

Source: PressTV.