Archive for January, 2013

U.N. resolution on Syria vetoed

Oct. 4, 2011

DAMASCUS, Syria, Oct. 4 (UPI) — Russia and China Tuesday vetoed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned Syria’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

The proposed resolution included a call for an immediate end to alleged human rights abuses by the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad, the United Nations said in a release.

In Syria, activists said four people were killed Tuesday in clashes between government security forces and military defectors in Talbiseh, near Homs, Voice of America reported. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in London, said at least one those killed was a civilian.

The fighting Tuesday followed days of security operations in Rastan, during which activists say government forces arrested as many as 3,000 people to track down dissident soldiers.

It’s estimated 2,700 people have died in anti-government protests in Syria since mid-March.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, France, Gabon, Germany, Nigeria, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States voted in favor of the draft Security Council resolution. Brazil, India, Lebanon and South Africa abstained.

A veto by any one of the council’s five permanent members — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — is enough to block any resolution.

The proposed wording condemned “the continued grave and systematic human rights violations and the use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities.” It called for all sides to reject violence and extremism and for the creation of “an inclusive Syrian-led political process conducted in an environment free from violence, fear, intimidation and extremism, and aimed at effectively addressing the legitimate aspirations and concerns of Syria’s population.”

After the veto, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said his country does not support Assad’s regime but that the draft resolution was not the way to achieve a peaceful resolution of the crisis. He said most Syrians desire a gradual political change, not an abrupt overthrow of the current government, and the resolution failed to adequately factor in the impact of extremists organizations in the country.

Chinese Ambassador Li Baodong said his country was greatly concerned about the violence in Syria but the resolution would only complicate matters. He said the threat of sanctions would not resolve the conflict in Syria.

French Ambassador Gerard Araud said he was disappointed in the vote, which he said came after repeated attempts by the co-sponsors to work out acceptable wording.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the countries that did not back the resolution would have to answer to the Syrian people. She said it was a “ruse” to suggest passing the resolution would lead to military intervention in Syria.

Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari of Syria said the resolution revealed some Western countries’ desire to undermine his country’s authorities.

Source: United Press International (UPI).


Two ministers relinquish foreign citizenship

Oct 04, 2011

AMMAN (JT) – Two Cabinet members applied to relinquish their non-Jordanian nationalities at the concerned embassies, a government official said.

Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications and Government Spokesperson Abdullah Abu Rumman said the step taken by Minister of Water and Irrigation Mohammad Najjar and Minister of Culture Jeryes Samawi on Monday “was made to abide by the [new] Constitution, which prohibits Jordanians who have another nationality from holding ministerial posts”, according to the Jordan News Agency, Petra.

Under the amendments made to Article 75 of the Constitution, which went into effect Saturday, “no person can become a deputy, senator, minister or a high-ranking official if he/she holds dual nationality”.

In a press conference yesterday, Abu Rumman said Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit has informed all ministers who hold dual nationalities to rectify their statuses according to the Constitution, Petra reported.

Senator Talal Abu Ghazaleh was the first to resign his seat as he holds Bahraini citizenship, along with his Jordanian nationality.

Source: The Jordan Times.


Netanyahu narrowly wins Israeli election

January 23, 2013

JERUSALEM (AP) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his hard-line allies fared far worse than expected in a parliamentary election Tuesday, likely forcing him to reach across the aisle to court a popular political newcomer to cobble together a new coalition.

While Netanyahu appeared positioned to serve a third term as prime minister, the results marked a major setback for his policies and could force him to make new concessions to restart long-stalled peace talks with the Palestinians.

More than 99 percent of the votes had been counted by Wednesday morning and results showed the hawkish and dovish blocs were split about evenly. Netanyahu’s most likely partner was Yesh Atid, or There is a Future, a party headed by political newcomer Yair Lapid that showed surprising strength. Lapid has said he would only join a government committed to sweeping economic changes and a resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians.

Addressing his supporters early Wednesday, Netanyahu vowed to form as broad a coalition as possible. He said the next government would be built on principles that include reforming the contentious system of granting draft exemptions to ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and the pursuit of a “genuine peace” with the Palestinians. He did not elaborate, but the message seemed aimed at Lapid.

Shortly after the results were announced, Netanyahu called Lapid and offered to work together. “We have the opportunity to do great things together,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying by Likud officials.

Netanyahu’s Likud-Yisrael Beitenu alliance was set to capture about 31 of the 120 seats, significantly fewer than the 42 it held in the outgoing parliament and below the forecasts of recent polls. With his traditional allies of nationalist and religious parties, Netanyahu could put together a shaky majority of 61 seats, results showed. But it would be virtually impossible to keep such a narrow coalition intact, though it was possible he could take an additional seat or two as numbers trickled in throughout the night.

The results capped a lackluster campaign in which peacemaking with the Palestinians, traditionally the dominant issue in Israeli politics, was pushed aside. Netanyahu portrayed himself as the only candidate capable of leading Israel at a turbulent time, while the fragmented opposition targeted him on domestic economic issues.

Netanyahu’s goal of a broader coalition will force him to make some difficult decisions. Concessions to Lapid, for instance, will alienate his religious allies. In an interview last week with The Associated Press, Lapid said he would not be a “fig leaf” for a hard-line, extremist agenda.

Lapid’s performance was the biggest surprise of the election. The one-time TV talk show host and son of a former Cabinet minister was poised to win 19 seats, giving him the second-largest faction in parliament.

Presenting himself as the defender of the middle class, Lapid vowed to take on Israel’s high cost of living and to end the contentious system of subsidies and draft exemptions granted to ultra-Orthodox Jews while they pursue religious studies. The expensive system has bred widespread resentment among the Israeli mainstream.

Thanks to his strong performance, Lapid is now in a position to serve as the kingmaker of the next government. He will likely seek a senior Cabinet post and other concessions. Yaakov Peri, a member of Lapid’s party, said it would not join unless the government pledges to begin drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the military, lowers the country’s high cost of living and returns to peace talks. “We have red lines. We won’t cross those red lines, even if it will cost us sitting in the opposition,” Peri told Channel 2 TV.

Addressing his supporters, a beaming Lapid was noncommittal, calling only for a broad government with moderates from left and right. “Israelis said no to the politics of fear and hatred,” he said. “And they said no to extremism and anti-democracy.”

There was even a distant possibility of Lapid and more dovish parties teaming up to block Netanyahu from forming a majority. “It could be that this evening is the beginning for a big chance to create an alternative government to the Netanyahu government,” said Shelly Yachimovich, leader of the Labor Party, which won 15 seats on a platform pledging to narrow the gaps between rich and poor.

Although that seemed unlikely, Netanyahu clearly emerged from the election in a weakened state. “We expected more seats in the parliament,” Danny Danon, a senior Likud member, told the AP. “But the bottom line is that Benjamin Netanyahu is the next prime minister of Israel.”

Under Israel’s system of proportional representation, seats in the 120-member parliament are allocated according to the percentage of votes a party gets. As leader of the largest party, Netanyahu is in the best position to form a coalition and be prime minister.

The results were shocking, given the steady stream of recent opinion polls forecasting a solid victory by Netanyahu and his allies. Netanyahu appeared to suffer because of his close ties to the ultra-Orthodox and perhaps from complacency. Many voters chose smaller parties, believing a Netanyahu victory was inevitable.

Tensions with the United States, Israel’s most important ally, also may have factored into the thinking. President Barack Obama was quoted last week as saying that Netanyahu was undermining Israel’s own interests by continuing to build Jewish settlements on occupied lands.

Netanyahu has won praise at home for drawing the world’s attention to Iran’s suspect nuclear program and for keeping the economy on solid ground at a time of global turmoil. In his speech, Netanyahu said that preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons would remain his top priority.

But internationally, he has repeatedly clashed with allies over his handling of the peace process. Peace talks with the Palestinians have remained stalled throughout his term, in large part because of his continued construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The Palestinians want a halt to settlement construction before talks begin. Netanyahu says talks must start without any preconditions.

Obama has had a turbulent relationship with Netanyahu, and the two leaders could find themselves on a collision course in their new terms. The Obama administration said that regardless of the results of the election, the U.S. approach to the conflict would not change.

“We will continue to make clear that only through direct negotiations can the Palestinians and the Israelis … achieve the peace they both deserve,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney. In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague urged Obama to make the Middle East peace process his top priority. “We are approaching the last chance to bring about such a solution,” Hague warned.

Netanyahu himself has only grudgingly voiced conditional support for a Palestinian state, and his own party is now dominated by hard-liners who oppose even that. A potential coalition partner, Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home Party, which won 11 seats, has called for annexing large parts of the West Bank, the core of any future Palestinian state.

While Lapid advocates a softer line toward the Palestinians, his campaign focused on economic issues and it remains unclear how hard he will push Netanyahu on the issue. Lapid’s positions also fall short of Palestinian demands. Most critically, he opposes any division of Jerusalem. The Palestinians seek the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, for a future state.

The Palestinians viewed the election results grimly. “If he brings Lapid into his government, this would improve the image of the Netanyahu government in the eyes of the world. But it won’t make him stop building settlements, particularly in east Jerusalem,” said Mohammed Ishtayeh, a senior adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas.

In all, 32 parties contested the election, and 12 won enough votes to enter parliament, according to the exit polls. Netanyahu now has up to six weeks to form a government.

Aron Heller in Tel Aviv, Daniel Estrin and Ian Deitch in Jerusalem, and Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.

Syrian forces escalate offensive in Homs

January 26, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Syria’s army unleashed a barrage of rocket and artillery fire on rebel-held areas in a central province Friday as part of a widening offensive against fighters seeking to oust President Bashar Assad. At least 140 people were killed in fighting nationwide, according to activist groups.

The United Nations said a record number of Syrians streamed into Jordan this month, doubling the population of the kingdom’s already-cramped refugee camp to 65,000. Over 30,000 people arrived in Zaatari in January — 6,000 in the past two days alone, the U.N. said.

The newcomers are mostly families, women, children and elderly who fled from southern Syria, said Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She said the UNHCR was working with the Jordanian government to open a second major camp nearby by the end of this month.

Many of the new arrivals at Zaatari are from the southern town of Daraa, where the uprising against Assad first erupted nearly two years ago, the Britain-based Save the Children said Friday. Five buses, crammed with “frightened and exhausted people who fled with what little they could carry,” pull up every hour at the camp, said Saba al-Mobasat, an aid worker with Save the Children.

The exodus reflected the latest spike in violence in Syria’s civil war. The conflict began in March 2011 after a peaceful uprising against Assad, inspired by the Arab Spring wave of revolutions that toppled leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, turned violent.

Despite significant rebel advances on the battlefield, the opposition remains outgunned by government forces and has been unable to break a stalemate on the ground. In Lebanon, the leader of the Syria-backed Lebanese Hezbollah group, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, said Friday in a speech that those who dream about “dramatic changes” taking place in Syria should let go of their fantasies.

“Particularly those who were expecting the fall of Damascus,” he told supporters, adding that military, political and international developments point to the futility of such dreams. Activists said the army recently brought in military reinforcements to the central province of Homs and launched a renewed offensive aimed at retaking patches of territory that have been held by rebels for months.

An amateur video posted online by activists showed rockets slamming into buildings in the rebel-held town of Rastan, just north of the provincial capital, Homs. Heavy gunfire could be heard in the background.

Another video showed thick black and gray smoke rising from a building in the besieged city. “The city of Homs is burning … day and night, the shelling of Homs doesn’t stop,” the narrator is heard saying.

Troops also battled rebels around Damascus in an effort to dislodge opposition fighters who have set up enclaves in surrounding towns and villages. The troops fired artillery shells Friday at several districts, including Zabadani and Daraya, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, said regime warplanes carried out airstrikes on the suburb of Douma, the largest patch of rebel-held ground near Damascus. Other video showed devastation in the Damascus neighborhood of Arbeen, following what activists said were two airstrikes there. A bleeding, wounded man can be seen being helped out of the rubble of the destroyed building. The videos appeared consistent with Associated Press reporting on the fighting.

Last month, the UNHCR said it needed $1 billion to aid Syrians in the Mideast, and that half of that money was required to help refugees in Jordan. The agency says 597,240 refugees have registered or are awaiting registration with the UNHCR in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Some countries have higher estimates, noting many Syrians have found accommodations without registering, relying on their own resources and savings.

In Turkey, U.S. officials announced that the United States was providing an additional $10 million in assistance to help supply flour to bakeries in the Aleppo region. Nancy Lindborg, assistant administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, said the aid would help provide daily bread for about 210,000 people for the next five months.

She said that with the new assistance, the United States was providing a total of $220 million to help Syrians. “Too many people — an unconscionable number of Syrians — are not able to get daily bread, in addition to other supplies,” Lindborg told journalists after a visit to a Syrian refugee camp near Turkey’s border with Syria.

In a rare gesture, Syria’s Interior Ministry called on those who fled the country during the civil war to return, including regime opponents. It said the government will help hundreds of thousands of citizens return whether they left “legally or illegally.”

Syrian opposition figures abroad who want to take part in reconciliation talks will also be allowed back, according to a ministry statement carried late Thursday by the state SANA news agency. If they “have the desire to participate in the national dialogue, they would be allowed to enter Syria,” it said.

The proposed talks are part of Assad’s initiative to end the conflict that started as peaceful protests in March 2011 but turned into a civil war. Tens of thousands of activists, their family members and opposition supporters remain jailed by the regime, according to international activist groups.

Opposition leaders repeatedly have rejected any talks that include Assad, insisting he must step down. The international community backs that demand, but Assad has clung to power, vowing to crush the armed opposition.

More than 60,000 people have been killed since the conflict began, according to the U.N. Activists also said two cars packed with explosives blew up near a military intelligence building in the Syrian-controlled part of the Golan Heights, killing eight. Most of the dead were members of the Syrian military, the Observatory said.

The Syrian government had no comment on the attacks, which occurred Thursday night in the town of Quneitra, and nobody claimed responsibility for them. Car bombs and suicide attacks targeting Syrian troops and government institutions have been the hallmark of Islamic militants fighting in Syria alongside rebels trying to topple Assad.

Quneitra is on the cease-fire line between Syria and Israel, which controls most of the Golan Heights after capturing the strategic territory from Syria in the 1967 war.

Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.

Islamists and the Jordanian King at Loggerheads Over Elections

by Adam Nicky

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Muslim Brotherhood set to boycott parliamentary elections

With just three days left ahead of Jordanian parliamentary elections, King Abdullah and representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party the Islamic Action Front (IAC), who are boycotting the election, are on a collision course ahead of the vote.

After failing to attract the Islamist movement to run in the polls, which he promotes as fruit of the Arab Spring, King Abdullah this week appeared to have given up on the IAC. The pro-Western monarch accused them of seeking to establish a “religious dictatorship” and said he didn’t trust the Islamists.

“I am not worried about the Islamists winning in the elections. I am worried about pluralism and an exchange of power” that might result from such a victory, Abdullah said in a January 13 interview with the French magazine L’Observoire. He also expressed concern about how much change such a victory would bring to the country.

Meanwhile, the state-controlled media has been leading a smear campaign against the Islamist movement ahead of the polls.

Jordanian officials point out that the January 23 elections will lead to the creation of the country’s first parliamentary government. The king would name a prime minister to form a government that includes members of parliament, and retain the right to name and dismiss the prime minister.

Jordan elects its parliament every four years to choose 150 MPs in the lower house, while the king appoints the upper house with 50 senators forming the legislative authority. It remains unclear how many MPs would join the new government, but lists of candidates show former officials and businessmen leading the race in the absence of powerful opposition.

Wary of the possible negative effects of an Arab Spring in Jordan, Abdullah’s spokesmen argue that gradual reforms are safer in a country surrounded by major powers struggling for Mideast interests.

“The region is facing an uncertain future. We don’t know where Syria is heading and countries that saw change in the Arab Spring are suffering,” a senior government official told the Media Line.

“The king is determined to go ahead with his vision of reform. He has said that his son will not inherit the monarchy as he did,” the official added, referring to opposition demands that the king relinquish his constitutional powers that allow him to form governments.

Over the past two years, Abdullah endorsed amendments to the constitution, including that the king can sack the parliament only once in four years and the government must resign after parliamentary elections, and he established an independent electoral committee that promised fair and free elections.

The opposition accuses the king of procrastinating and exploiting the Syrian storm to block fundamental change.

It wants quick reforms including trimming the king’s powers, separation between authorities to shield judicial authority and the parliament from government interference, and a fair elections law.

“The so-called concessions, including the constitutional court, etc….[are] like a camel that gave birth to a mouse. We expected too much and got so little,” Kathem Ayash, a member of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood Shura Council, the highest governing body of the group, told The Media Line.

“This is an arrogant attitude. The state says we give you this little and we have to be happy for it. We will not take part in this political process,” he added.

The Islamist movement said this week it plans to organize a major rally in downtown Amman against the elections, but vowed not to hold protests on election day, a sign it might not be acting as strongly as expected.

The highly publicized polls are expected to do little to defuse tension between maneuvering authorities and stubborn opposition, said political analyst and researcher Mohammed Imran.

“Jordan will remain in the same place as two years ago, when the Arab Spring started. The kingdom is headed to the unknown in such a situation,” argues Imran.

Islamist movement opponents say the group’s bark is bigger than its bite, accusing Shura Council President Abdul Latif Arabiyat, IAF party leader Hamza Mansour and other senior Islamists of failing to live up to their status as the biggest opposition party in the kingdom.

“Street protestations look more like a formality than a genuine expression of anger by the public. The Islamist movement has been treading so carefully that they are becoming powerless,” said Rami Rafeeq, a leader from the Jordan professional association.

Other opposition groups including some leftist parties have insignificant support.

Besides the planned election boycott, the Muslim Brotherhood has been enduring its own internal strife. Some party leaders say it supports peacefully achieving political rights and recently some said they are not seeking to overthrow the regime.

A melting pot for immigrants from around the region, Jordan has survived the bloody ripples of the Arab Spring that have occurred in other Arab countries.

King Abdullah takes his authority and powers from a general belief among the seven million inhabitants that the royal family is the safest option for a country built by refugees from what is today Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Armenia, Chechnya and elsewhere seeking safety.

However, young opposition activists from Jordan University’s student council say they want better than their parents had, insisting the king must face the inevitable and change.

Copyright © 2013 The Media Line. All Rights Reserved.

Palestinian protesters evicted from West Bank site

January 13, 2013

JERUSALEM (AP) — Palestinian protesters who pitched tents at a strategic West Bank site to protest plans to build a Jewish housing project there were evicted early Sunday, police said.

Palestinian activists erected tents in the area known as E-1 on Friday saying they wanted to “establish facts on the ground” to stop Israeli construction in the West Bank. The Palestinian activists were borrowing a phrase and a tactic, usually associated with Jewish settlers, who believe establishing communities means the territory will remain theirs once structures are built.

Palestinian activist Abdullah Abu Rahma said the protesters hoped to repitch their tents to continue their protest. “Today, we will see if we can return,” he said. Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police evicted about 100 protesters from the site early Sunday morning after a court decision authorizing their removal. He did not know which court had allowed the eviction.

Haaretz reported that the eviction was carried out despite a temporary High Court injunction preventing it. Rosenfeld said no arrests were made during the half hour operation and that no injuries were sustained on either side. He said the tents were not dismantled and that a decision on that would be made later in the day.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday evening ordered roads closed leading to the area and had the military declare a closed military zone and shut off access. Netanyahu’s office said that the state was petitioning the Supreme Court to rescind an earlier injunction blocking the evacuation.

Israel announced it is moving forward with the E-1 settlement after the U.N. recognized a de facto state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in November. Palestinians say E-1 would be a major blow to their statehood aspirations as it blocks east Jerusalem from its West Bank hinterland. Palestinians are demanding these areas, along with Gaza, for their future state.

Activists said they wanted to build a village called Bab al-Shams at the site. The construction plans drew unusually sharp criticism from some of Israel’s staunchest allies including the U.S. who strongly oppose the E- 1 project.

Israeli officials have said actual construction on the project may be years away if it ever gets off the ground, while Israeli critics have questioned whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu actually intends to develop E-1, or is pandering to hard-liners ahead of Israel’s Jan. 22 election.

In a separate incident Saturday, the Israeli military said soldiers shot at a Palestinian who “tried to infiltrate Israel” from the West Bank. The military said soldiers called on the man to stop, then fired warning shots in the air, and finally fired at his legs when he refused to stop.

Palestinian police said he later died of his wounds. It was the second shooting death on the borders with the Palestinian territories in two days. On Friday, Palestinian officials in the Gaza Strip said a man was shot and killed near the coastal territory’s border fence. The Israeli military said he was part of a group that rushed the fence to damage it.

Winter storm brings more misery to Syrian refugees

January 08, 2013

ZAATARI, Jordan (AP) — A winter storm is magnifying the misery for tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing the country’s civil war, turning a refugee camp into a muddy swamp where howling winds tore down tents and exposed the displaced residents to freezing temperatures.

Some frustrated refugees at a camp in Zaatari, where about 50,000 are sheltered, attacked aid workers with sticks and stones after the tents collapsed in 35 mph (60 kph) winds, said Ghazi Sarhan, spokesman for the Jordanian charity that helps run the camp. Police said seven Jordanian workers were injured.

After three days of rain, muddy water engulfed tents housing refugees including pregnant women and infants. Those who didn’t move out used buckets to bail out the water; others built walls of mud to try to stay dry.

Conditions in the Zaatari camp were “worse than living in Syria,” said Fadi Suleiman, a 30-year-old refugee. Most of Zaatari’s residents are children under age 18 and women. They are some of the more than 280,000 Syrians who fled to Jordan since the uprising against President Bashar Assad broke out in March 2011. As the fighting has increased in recent weeks, the number of displaced has risen.

About a half-million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries including Turkey and Lebanon to escape the civil war that has killed an estimated 60,000 people in nearly two years of fighting. Wet and wintry weather across the Middle East has made conditions miserable for refugees in those countries as well — even flooding two camps in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley after a river overflowed its banks.

Several large pools of standing water — including one nearly the size of a football field and about 4 inches deep — have spread in the Zaatari camp. Children clad only in plastic sandals waded in despite the frigid water. An old woman wore plastic bags on her feet as she walked to pick up some food.

“Zaatari is sinking,” said a refugee who gave his name as Abu Bilal from the southern Syrian town of Dara’a, across the border. The 21-year-old father of two toddlers said his tent has been flooded for days, and when he appealed for help, he was turned away by both the U.N. refugee agency and the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization, which administer the camp.

His family of five lives in a neighbor’s cramped cloth tent, which already houses eight people. “We’re desperate. We need a solution fast,” said Abu Bilal, who wore a red and white checkered scarf on his head for warmth. “People’s reactions may get out of hand, especially if they see their child fall ill or even die. They could do something that nobody will be able to control or blame them for.”

Like most of the refugees interviewed in the camp, Abu Bilal asked to be identified by his nickname because he feared retaliation against relatives still living in Syria. Suleiman complained that life in the camp was “one misery after the other as the international community sits idle, doing nothing to help us get rid of the tyrant Assad.”

He worried that the winter storm was serious enough to “kill children and old people.” A woman who gave her name as Um Ahmed and whose tent was also flooded said her 9-month-old daughter died at Zaatari recently. She blamed the cold, saying the girl suffered from acute diarrhea and vomiting. Camp officials, however, have not attributed any of the deaths to the cold.

A 37-year-old refugee, who gave his name as Abu Samir, said he complained to camp authorities about the conditions — and asked if those in the flimsy tents could receive one of the 2,500 trailers donated by Saudi Arabia — but the officials only dug a drainage hole that did little to draw away the water from his and other sodden tents.

Another who called himself Abu Abdullah griped about the length of time needed to meet even the simplest needs and joked bitterly that a request for diapers for his two young sons required a signature from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Ali Bibi, a liaison officer with the U.N. refugee agency in Jordan, said the group was in the process of finalizing plans for distributing the Saudi trailers. But he added that the international community’s financial support to Syrians — both those displaced internally and those sheltering in neighboring countries — was “less than modest” in response to a recent appeal.

Last month, the U.N. said it needed $1 billion to aid Syrians in the region, while $500 million was required to help refugees in Jordan. The UNHCR says 597,240 refugees have registered or are awaiting registration with the agency in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Some countries have higher estimates, noting many have found accommodations without registering.

“We have asked the international community to step up and support the Syrian refugees with better infrastructure, like trailers and prefabricated units, to deal with harsh winter elements,” Bibi said.

Late Tuesday, Jordan’s state TV reported that after a regional official visited the camp. 70 families were evacuated from tents to a different location. The World Food Program said it is unable to help 1 million people who are going hungry inside Syria.

WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said the agency plans to provide aid to 1.5 million of the 2.5 million Syrians that the Syrian Arab Red Crescent says are internally displaced. But the lack of security and the agency’s inability to use the Syrian port of Tartus for its shipments means that a large number of people in the some of the country’s hardest hit areas will not get help, she said.

“Our main partner, the Red Crescent, is overstretched and has no more capacity to expand further,” Byrs said. The stormy weather also added to the plight of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, where there have been torrential rains and flooding throughout the country. Private and public schools in Lebanon were closed Tuesday and Wednesday, when the storm was expected to be at its peak.

Two Syrian refugee encampments in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley were immersed in water after the Litani River flooded. Dozens of Syrian refugees left in search of alternate shelter along with their soaked and muddy belongings.

Hiam al-Hussein, a 23-year-old from Syria’s war ravaged Homs district of Baba Amr, was among a group of refugees who were sheltering in an open garage near the flooded al-Faour encampment. “We had brought along with us a couple of mattresses, some carpets. Everything is gone now,” she said, wearing a sweater, pajama pants and a pink scarf.

“God help the women and children. The river flooded last night and suddenly everything around us was swept away and swimming in water,” said Abdullah Taleb, a refugee from the northern city of Aleppo who arrived in Lebanon three months ago with his wife and two children. “It’s a nightmare we are living — a nightmare.”

In the eastern Lebanese town of Marj near the Syrian border, refugees reinforced flooded tents, and some were blown away in the wind and rain. The small settlement of about 40 tents donated by a Saudi charity and set up in cooperation with the UNHCR houses mostly women and children.

“You tell me, is this a life?” cried a middle-aged woman who gave her name as Ghalia. She fled with her son to Lebanon after her husband died in shelling of the Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun last year.

“We’ve been driven away from Syria by the war and we cannot afford rent prices in Lebanon. We have nothing but the clothes we brought with us to this tent, and now look at us!” she said as water seeped into her tent.

Imad al-Shummari, head of the al-Marj municipality, said authorities were working with the refugees to reinforce their tents and provide alternate shelter, as well as distributing heaters and extra blankets and other needs.

“We had flooding in many areas,” he said. Lebanon has about 175,000 Syrian refugees, according to U.N. figures, although the Lebanese government estimates the number at 200,000. Most are in schools and apartments, but a few are staying in tents they pitched near the Syrian border.

The cold and rainy weather also was causing problems at camps in Turkey, and tragedy struck at one site. Fire spread through several tents at the Suleyman Shah refugee camp, killing two children and injured four other people, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. A 5-year-old child died at the scene, while a 15-year-old died later of his injuries in a hospital.

The fire apparently was caused by the refugees’ illegal use of electricity that is provided for radiators for the tents, said Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay. Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority, which oversees the refugee camps, said authorities have been preparing for winter conditions since August. An official from the unit in charge of the preparations said all refugees were given winter boots, warm clothing, coats and blankets in November.

Almost all of the tents were either revamped for cold weather or replaced with ones able to withstand winter conditions, he said. All tents have heaters, according to the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of government rules.

Despite that, Mohammed al-Abed, a 30-year-old Syrian in Turkey’s Yayladagi camp, said conditions were “cold, wet and miserable.” Temperatures were close to freezing, he said, adding that the tents were equipped with heaters but that bathrooms and lavatories were about 300-500 yards (meters) away.

“Often there’s a long line of people, including freezing children, waiting in the cold to use the bathrooms,” he said. “There is no hot water. People are getting sick, especially the children. There are lots of coughing, infections and people with colds,” he added.

“It’s a miserable situation, but I am ashamed to complain because we’re much better off than our brothers trapped in Syria,” he said, citing conditions at the Atmeh camp on the Syrian side of the border.

“At least we are better equipped with some heaters and blankets. They have nothing, no heating, no electricity. Nothing.”

Associated Press writers Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan; Mohammad Hannon in Zaatari, Jordan; Hussein Malla in al-Faour, Lebanon; Zeina Karam in Beirut, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and John Heilprin in Geneva contributed to this report.

Chefs offer their take on Jerusalem

January 04, 2013

LONDON (AP) — Two London-based chefs with roots in Jerusalem one day. The next, poster boys for peace.

Such has been the reaction to “Jerusalem,” a bestselling cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi, an Israeli, and Sami Tamimi, a Palestinian, built on their memories of a shared city and its delicious food. “Regardless of all the trouble, food is always there,” Tamimi said.

The men run gourmet delis and restaurants in London and have written an earlier cookbook together. They were known not for politics, but for saving some chic London neighborhoods from culinary boredom with Mediterranean-based recipes infused with fresh, exotic flavors.

That changed with the publication of “Jerusalem,” as observers took note of their unusual partnership. An Anglican minister used the chefs as an example of interfaith dialogue in a commentary on the BBC’s influential Today program. The New Yorker piled on with a profile titled “The Philosopher Chef.” Britain’s Daily Telegraph featured the partners on its news pages — no recipes attached.

Suddenly it wasn’t just about how much garlic goes into hummus. It was about them. “We’ve been very successful at attracting (attention),” Ottolenghi said. “We didn’t go out there declaring a political stance. All we did is say, this is the food that we like.”

The book contains a mixture of Palestinian and Jewish food, and the authors occasionally discuss what bothers them about their hometown, with its largely Jewish west and predominantly Arab east. “We would both like to see the city divided more equally between its peoples so it’s not a one-sided story as it is at the moment,” Ottolenghi said. “And it’s controversial. People can be offended or upset. But I don’t think they are, and I don’t think (they) should be.”

Their lucrative collaboration, built around five establishments carrying the Ottolenghi name, would have been harder to pull off in the city that gives the book its title. There is little social interaction between Jews and Palestinians in Jerusalem, and business partnerships are very rare.

London was a different story. Perhaps largely because of its postwar history of appalling cuisine, the city was ready for them. Unlike other European countries that find it hard to stray from celebrated local specialties, London has long been willing to experiment, offering a welcoming home to this political odd couple.

Their establishments quickly gained attention with a high-flying crowd that wanted the staff to know their names when they picked up their cappuccino in the morning or their seared tuna at night. They don’t prepare comfort food in the traditional sense, but it is certainly comfortable to those whose food horizons are open to offerings such as roasted eggplant with feta yogurt, caramelized onions, crispy kale, sumac and lemon zest or chargrilled fillet of English beef with sweet coriander-mustard sauce

The company now employs some 200 people, a dozen of whom were beavering away recently at their London test kitchen and bakery tucked into the arches that form the base of a railroad bridge in the borough of Camden. While trains rumbled overhead, flour-covered bakers stacked pastry circles and rolled out breadsticks one by one under a corrugated steel roof.

Ottolenghi moved to London in the late 1990s after escaping a career path to academia and began to work as a pastry chef. In 1999, while riding his scooter, he happened upon the elegant deli Baker & Spice, and found all the things he loved: Fresh greens, rotisserie chicken and a California feel.

Tamimi had created the concept, and the two bonded over their love of food. Ottolenghi ended up working there, and when he started his own place in 2002, he asked Tamimi to join him. The men, both 44, never met in Jerusalem, but they have shared interests. Their recipes trace their adventures, like the time Tamimi and a childhood friend crept onto the roof of his friend’s house to snatch the figs laid out to dry. The roasted sweet potato and fresh fig salad recipe evokes this memory.

Joan Nathan, author of “Jewish Cooking in America,” says she was drawn to the book’s personal touch. The book isn’t the definitive work on the region’s cuisine, she says, pointing out for example that the famed Palestinian chicken dish Mousakhan is not included. But she says that doesn’t hurt its appeal. Nathan, who lived in Jerusalem in the 1970s, likes the way the book encompasses both east and west.

“It struck a chord with me,” she said. Though the two men stress their book is about food, they expected people to talk about its context. Politics touches everything in — and about — Jerusalem. Even food is contentious. There have long been arguments, with political overtones, about the origin of that Middle Eastern staple, hummus, with both Arabs and Jews claiming credit.

The chefs would prefer to prepare and enjoy hummus rather than analyze its history. But they know it’s impossible to avoid politics. “It’s always in the background,” Tamimi said. “You can’t really ignore it.”

Israeli cave: World’s first factory?




Archaeologists say Paleolithic production line made cutting tools by the 1000s; Qassem’s inhabitants were possibly early form of Homo sapiens.

In a cave not far from where thousands of Israelis work in hi-tech companies in the Afek Industrial Zone, their Paleolithic ancestors were engaged in some of their own cutting-edge innovation and manufacturing.

Indeed, the people who produced the thousands of knives and other tools in Qassem Cave between 200,000 and 400,000 years ago may have been the world’s first industrial workers, says Ran Barkai, who with two other Tel Aviv University archaeologists, Ron Shimelmitz and Avi Gopher, has been excavating the site.

Their findings, based on the examination of more than 19,000 stone implements produced and used by the cave’s inhabitants, appear in the October issue of The Journal of Human Evolution.

The people of Qassem Cave not only developed what appears to be the earliest system of mass production but engaged in other activities that Barkai and his colleagues describe as modern, such as parceling off their limestone habitation into areas dedicated to specific activities like butchering and eating. That pushes back the date for many practices by tens of thousands of years.

“We must be a bit cautious, but if what we found is what we think it is, it means modern human behavior and modern Homo sapiens appeared earlier than anyone thought before,” Barkai told The Media Line. “Tool production, the use of fire, hunting and meat-sharing practices – these are behaviors that are practiced usually by modern humans.”

Man’s ancestors were making simple stone tools in Africa at the time, but in Qassem Cave the inhabitants set up stone age production lines, as evidenced by the huge number of implements found by the archaeologists  Until now, the earliest instances of mass production date back to no more than 40,000 years ago.

“For many years, archaeologists linked the systematic production of blades to the Late Paleolithic period in Europe 30,000 or 40,000 years ago, and to Homo sapiens, and to such practices as cave paintings,” Gopher said in a statement issued by Tel Aviv University. “This gives us a glimpse into the daily life of the earliest cave people.”

Located about 12 kilometers (8 miles) east of Tel Aviv in the Samarian foothills, Qassem Cave is typical of the area, where caverns are created as acidic water dissolves the limestone rock that predominates the area’s geology. Originally an underground cavern, geological shifts created an opening that enabled the cave to be inhabited for 200,000 years before closing up again.

The cave and its industrial secrets remained lost to the world, the technology employed in it over the millennia never again used or replicated, as far as archaeologists know. The cave was revealed again when construction workers accidentally re-opened it 10 years ago it as they were widening a highway.

Barkai said the mass production of tools was facilitated by the technology developed by Qassem’s inhabitants. They developed cutting techniques that made very efficient use of their raw material, flint blocks, to produce tools with very little waste. They also turned out semi-finished products that could be turned into a completed tool with very little additional work.

The tools they made were highly specialized, designed for the various stages of hunting and butchering. Barkai said that long before place settings were invented, Qassem’s inhabitants may have been using knives as personal implements for eating. But the cave men (and women) of Qassem also had shared the use-and-throw-away culture of the modern era as well.

The tools they made were of very high quality – Barkai says examples he has in his lab look as sharp as new – but Qassem’s inhabitants didn’t trouble to reuse them or sharpen them as their peers did. That could be the reason that Qassem’s denizens needed to produce so much, he speculated.

“It appears they used these knives as expendable tools. They used them for a very short while for a very specific purpose, then for the next stage of work they would produce more,” said Barkai. “We know that the cave was surrounded by very rich outcrops of flint, so they had constant supply of raw material around them and they had very good tools to produce cutting tools quickly and efficiently.”

Who were Qassem’s inhabitants?

Barkai and his colleagues aren’t quite sure, but they speculate that they may have been a very early form of Homo sapiens, that is modern man. If true, that would push back the earliest known evidence for Homo sapiens, which now has records up to 200,000 years ago – at the tail end of the Qassem era.

The only direct evidence of who the cave’s people were is some teeth that have been uncovered and show a resemblance to those of modern humans. But the technology itself provides indirect evidence of how they had advanced intellectually and technologically.

“They had the capability of transmitting knowledge and technical skills, which were quite sophisticated,” Barkai said. “I have no doubt they used language.”

The team is by no means done with Qassem Cave. Barkai estimates there is another decade’s worth of excavating to do at the site, with their top goals of finding skeletal remains of the inhabitants that would give them more insight into who the inhabitants were and to better understand how different functions were assigned to different places in the cavern.

Source: The Jerusalem Post.


Teachers protest at UNRWA’s Gaza City headquarters

Wednesday 05/10/2011

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Thousands of teachers on Wednesday protested at UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City over the dismissal of a union official, a Ma’an correspondent reported.

The Local Staff Union called for the general strike on Wednesday, the second such action in a week, to protest at UNRWA’s suspension of the head of the union, Suhail al-Hindi.

Hamas sources said the UN agency had accused Hindi of meeting with Hamas political officials.

Buses took some 7,000 teachers employed at UNRWA-run schools to UN headquarters in Gaza city where they held a sit-in, calling for an end to “UNRWA political punishment of employees.”

“Death rather than humiliation” read a banner held by striking teachers. “Deception, lying and hypocrisy have become the core values of UNRWA,” read another.

The strike affected all of UNRWA’s 243 schools in Gaza.

Hindi told the teachers he would stand against “oppression and injustice” but added that Palestinians saw UNRWA as a symbol of the cause of refugees and that its role should be preserved “until the Israeli occupation is removed.”

UNRWA was founded in 1949 to serve refugees in Gaza, the West Bank and Arab countries after hundreds of thousands were displaced from Palestine when Israel was created. The agency’s most recent mandate extends to June 30, 2014.

Chris Gunness, UNRWA’s chief spokesman in Jerusalem, said disputes should be resolved internally and not through actions that undermine agency operations and services to refugees in Gaza.

“UNRWA is extremely concerned about the impact of further strikes on the education of 220,000 children in our schools, children whose right to education is being denied,” he said in a statement.

Earlier this week, Hamas accused UNRWA of trying to create a “parallel authority”.

“The Palestinian people cannot accept the punishment of an employee of the head of the employees union just because of his participation in a regular community activity,” said Taher al-Nunu, spokesman of the Hamas-led government in Gaza.

Hamas lawmakers often criticize UNRWA’s education policies and some accuse it of trying to teach material that encourages normalization with Israel or educates pupils about the Holocaust.

Islamist radicals opposed to mixed-gender activities are believed to be behind arson attacks on UNRWA-run summer camps.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Source: Ma’an News Agency.