Archive for February, 2014

Spain supports Palestine’s statehood ambitions

Oct. 6, 2011

PARIS, Oct. 6 (UPI) — Spain said it backed the Palestinian initiative for statehood following a nod from UNESCO, though the effort is still up against Israeli allies in Washington.

The 58-nation executive board of the U.N. Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization gave its initial approval on a 40-to-4 vote with 14 abstentions for Palestinian membership. Full membership must be approved by the 193-nation General Conference.

The Palestinian government has observer status and ambitions for full membership at the United Nations are part of a statehood initiative launched by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during the U.N. General Assembly last month.

The European Parliament, in a September resolution, said lawmakers viewed the Palestinian bid for statehood as legitimate.

The Spanish government was quoted by The Daily Telegraph newspaper in London as saying it “anticipates” that it would vote in favor of Palestinian ambitions “if the vote takes place and no common European position has been reached.”

France, which abstained from the UNESCO vote, said now wasn’t the time for Palestinian to embark on its own, saying two-track negotiations with Israel were favored instead. Israel, for its part, said membership at UNESCO wouldn’t do the Palestinians any good.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a statement, called the action at UNESCO “confusing.” Washington spoke out strongly against Palestinian statehood.

Source: United Press International (UPI).



Luxembourg announces boycott of 8 Israeli companies, including 5 Banks

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Luxembourg’s general pension fund (FDC) has decided to boycott five Israeli banks due to their illegal activities in West Bank settlements.

The Israeli website Walla reported that the state-affiliated pension fund of Luxembourg has decided to boycott all major banks in Israel.

The website pointed out that despite the small size of the state of Luxembourg in Europe; it constitutes a major hub in the world’s investment and finance.

The FDC’s website published an “exclusion list” of about 60 companies around the world describing their practices as unethical. Among these companies are eight Israeli institutions, including Israel’s major banks – Israel Discount Bank, Bank Hapoalim, Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot, Bank Leumi and First International Bank of Israel.

Two companies are also on the list; Elbit Systems Ltd and Africa Israel Investments Ltd, both based in Jerusalem.

The FDC explained this boycott on the grounds that these companies “support the construction of illegal settlements in occupied territories.”

The European boycott campaign against Israel has been on the rise urging Israel to look at ways to combat it. Israel has demanded European countries enact laws prohibiting the boycott of Israel in the future.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Canada puts sanctions on Syrian oil

Oct. 5, 2011

OTTAWA, Oct. 5 (UPI) — Sanctions imposed against Syria by the Canadian government prohibit economic activity related to the country’s oil sector, the foreign minister said.

Syria is facing near-universal condemnation for its crackdown on the uprising against President Bashar Assad. The United Nations estimates around 3,000 people were killed during the unrest, which began in mid-March.

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird announced sanctions on Assad’s regime that put travel bans and asset freezes on members and supporters of the regime. Additional measures ban the import, purchase, acquisition, carrying or shipment of petroleum or petroleum-related products from Syria.

“The push for political change has claimed thousands of lives with no sign the violence is letting up,” Baird said in a statement. “We are committed to working with our international partners to pressure President Assad to step aside.”

Syria had exported crude oil to European countries. The 150,000 barrels of crude exported each day provided Damascus with around 30 percent of its revenue.

The U.N. Security Council was unable to pass a resolution against Syria because of vetoes from China and Russia. The United States said, because of the veto, it was “quite a sad day.”

Source: United Press International (UPI).


Syrians in remote tented settlement feel abandoned

February 22, 2014

NORTHERN SHUNEH, Jordan (AP) — Every day at dawn, teenager Sultan Ahmad al-Saleh gets up and starts work, 12 hours in the fields picking vegetables in this remote corner of northwestern Jordan. It’s what he’s been doing for the past three years, ever since he was 14 years old and his family fled here to escape Syria’s civil war.

The boy and his family are part of a nearly forgotten pocket of Syria’s refugee crisis — some 1,200 families who have ended up living in squalid, impromptu tent communities in the Jordan Valley. Until recently, they have lived below the radar among the 1.2 million Syrians who have flooded into Jordan since the conflict next door began in early 2011.

The majority of those refugees have moved into Jordan’s towns and cities, many of them impoverished but able to reach facilities and access aid from the United Nations and other international groups. Jordan also has two organized encampments near the northern border with Syria. The largest of them is Zaatari camp, with a population of 120,000, where refugees are under direct care of the United Nations and the Jordanian government. In total, international aid reaches about 595,000 registered refugees.

But the approximately 7,000 Syrians living here, half of them children, have been largely scraping by on their own. Most of them are farming families from Syria’s central provinces of Hama and Homs, both heavy battle zones between rebels and government forces. Hoping to find livelihoods, they fled to Jordan’s breadbasket, in the northern Jordan Valley near the border with Israel, to work on the area’s vegetable farms.

Over time, with their growing numbers, five separate tent camps have cropped up, isolated down long dirt roads, with no health care or schools and little access to U.N. food aid. Only in the past year have U.N. agencies begun reaching them with some supplies.

“We are the untold story of the Syrian crisis,” said 48-year-old Abu Ahmad, a farmer who fled here with his wife and five children from the Syrian village of Maan, near Hama. “The world seems to have forgotten about us.”

He wiped off his sweat with a red-checkered headdress under the scorching heat of the arid valley. He’s worried that his children are missing out on an education — and most importantly, about his family’s health. “If I, my wife or any of my children fall gravely ill in the middle of the night, we may die before anyone gets here to help us,” he shouted.

In total, about 2.3 million Syrians have fled the three-year old Syrian conflict, seeking shelter in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq, according to UNHCR figures. As in Jordan, most have moved into established communities or in organized camps, especially in Turkey. But in a few places, like near Lebanon’s border with Syria and in the Jordan Valley, thousands still end up in self-made, informal camps.

In the largest of the Jordan Valley camps, home to around 2,000 people, tents are clumped together in a gully between a steep line of Jordan’s mountains and the Jordan river, forming the border with Israel. The refugees have received tents from the U.N., but have to pay rent to the Jordanian farmers on whose land they’ve set up and pay for the electricity that has been strung out to them and the water supplies being shipped in.

On a visit the past week by The Associated Press, children, some as young as four, played barefoot in the dust. Some slid down a gravel hill on a torn-up plastic bucket near a trash dump. A five-year-old girl named Rima clutched on two wooden sticks she called her doll as she watched the boys play.

Few of the kids attend school, and most work in the fields with their parents. “Life has no meaning to me,” said al-Saleh, the 17-year-old. “When I am off work, I get bored to death because I have no school and there isn’t much to do around this ghost town anyway.”

His friend, 16-year-old Saleh Khaled Mohammad, who also works in the fields, said: “My life has been totally wasted.” “I had wished to be an agricultural engineer, but I dropped out of school when I was in the ninth grade a year ago and it’s difficult for me to go back now because I have to work to provide for my family,” said the boy.

Both said they earn about 10 Jordanian dinars, around $14 for a day’s work, and they work six or seven days a week — half of it goes for rent and the rest is barely enough to pay for utilities. Ali Awad, a 12-year-old also doing farm work, said he envied boys his age who “enjoy a normal childhood.”

“They can access Facebook, they have cell phones, football playgrounds and can go swimming,” he said. “But look at us. We have nothing here except the mountains and farms,” Volker Schimmel, an urban planner with the U.N. refugee agency, said 95 percent of the 7,000 Syrians living in the Jordan Valley camps now receive UNHCR assistance, including food coupons and cash assistance. But the agency is trying to improve other areas, including children’s accessibility to education and ending child labor.

Jordanian teacher Mohammad Marahleh and his wife have volunteered through UNICEF — the U.N. agency helping refugee children — to give informal weekly classes to children in the largest valley settlement.

It’s part of an effort by UNICEF and the independent charity Save the Children to provide informal education for some 30,000 refugee children in Jordan who are not eligible to go back to school because they have missed months of classes, sometimes even years, because of the conflict, said UNICEF communication officer Melanie Sharpe.

“Clean up the dust off your feet and come in,” he shouted as some 70 refugee boys filtered into a classroom under a white plastic tent. He said his wife gives lessons to a similar number of girls. “I volunteered because I felt bad seeing these children wasting their time playing, instead of going to school,” he said. He said there were dozens of other children whose families refuse to let them attend his classes and insist that they go back to a proper school.

On a hill overlooking the settlement, Jordanian farmer Raafat Madahneh, 18, stood watching the refugees. “Although they compete with us for jobs, we feel bad for them, help them and share our food and water with them,” he said.

Syria rebel commanders reject leadership shakeup

February 19, 2014

BEIRUT (AP) — The former leader of the Western-backed Syrian opposition’s military wing on Wednesday rejected his recent dismissal, and along with more than a dozen senior insurgent commanders severed ties with the political opposition-in-exile, further fragmenting the notoriously divided rebel movement.

The statement from Gen. Salim Idris comes two days after the opposition Syrian National Coalition announced that Idris had been sacked as head of the Supreme Military Council and replaced by Brig. Gen. Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir — an experienced, moderate field commander from southern Syria. The move was widely seen as an attempt to restructure the military council and to persuade Western allies to boost their support for mainstream rebels trying to oust President Bashar Assad.

Moderate opposition fighters have been eclipsed over the past year by ultraconservative Islamic groups and extremist factions that have emerged as the most powerful brigades on the rebel side. But the move also holds the potential to further fracture rebel ranks and sap what little strength the military council currently has.

In a video posted online Wednesday, Idris said that after consulting with forces inside Syria, he and the 15 other signatories of the statement were breaking ties with the council and the opposition’s political leadership.

“We stress that all that emanates from them does not concern us in any way,” he said, reading from the statement. Sitting at the head of a table and flanked by men dressed in fatigues, Idris said he has been asked to overhaul the rebel military leadership, and called on all rebel forces on the ground to rally under his command. He also accused some members of the political and military opposition of making decisions based on “individual and personal interests.”

Most of the other men in the video could not be immediately identified, but among the statement’s signatories were regional front commanders. It was not clear what impact Idris’ break with the council and the political opposition abroad would have, or whether the rift caused by the general’s dismissal could be mended.

But the Coalition sought to head off any dispute over the council’s leadership, issuing a statement late Wednesday reaffirming al-Bashir’s appointment. It also confirmed that al-Bashir was assuming his new duties immediately.

Still, Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, described Idris’ move as a potentially significant development. “He appears to enjoy the support of a wide range of senior commanders whose zones of command cross Syria,” Lister said by email. “Until the dust settles, this essentially leaves Syria with two military opposition councils,” — one under Idris and another al-Bashir.

And the longer the division continues, he said, “the more dangerous it could be for the long-term viability of the SMC.” Idris was named the head of the Supreme Military Council shortly after it was formed in late 2012. During his time in command, Idris, a secular-leaning moderate, was criticized by many in the opposition for being ineffective and lost the confidence of the U.S. and its allies, particularly after Islamic extremists seized a weapons depot from moderate rebels.

Washington and its European allies have long tried to mold the Council’s Free Syrian Army into an effective partner inside Syria. But the loose umbrella group was always seen as weak, with Western and Arab allies dithering over whether to give them powerful weapons. The group eventually fell into disarray and in the past year has been overshadowed by more powerful Islamic groups and the rise of al-Qaida-inspired extremist factions.

Inside Syria, meanwhile, an official with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent said aid workers have evacuated 11 more people, mostly Christians, from besieged areas in the central city of Homs. Khaled Erksoussi, head of operations for the Red Crescent, said the 11 left rebel-held districts in Old Homs that have been under government blockade for more than a year. Government and rebel fighters are battling for control of Homs, Syria’s third largest city.

More than 1,000 people have been evacuated from Homs since a humanitarian truce went into effect on Feb.7.

Associated Press writer Zeina Karam contributed to this report.

Syria drives rebels from site of alleged killings

February 18, 2014

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government troops have regained full control of a village in the central province of Hama after ousting rebels accused of killing dozens of people there, state media said as activists reported army reinforcements in the south on Tuesday.

State news agency SANA said government troops took control of the village of Maan on Monday after destroying the last “hideouts of terrorists, who came into the village and committed a massacre.” Syria refers to rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad as terrorists. The nearly 3-year-old conflict has become increasingly sectarian, pitting Sunni Muslim rebels against Assad’s government that is predominantly Alawite, a sect of Shiite Islam.

Opposition activists have also reported sectarian killings in Maan earlier this month. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 40 people, mostly members of the minority Alawite sect had been killed when hard-line, anti-Assad Islamic fighters overran the village Feb.9.

In southern Syria, the army was reinforcing its positions in an effort to dislodge rebels from the area near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Rami Abdurrahman, the Observatory’s head, said there is heavy fighting in the hilly area just south of Quinetra city, the capital of the province known by the same name. He said the army is bringing more tanks, heavy artillery and troops to the region that has been under control of hard-line Islamic rebel groups for months.

The government’s apparent showdown with the rebels in the south comes a day after Syrian opposition named a news military chief. Brig. Gen. Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir hails from southern Syria and was an army commander in Quinetra until 2012 when defected to the opposition.

The Observatory also reported heavy government shelling of Yabroud, the last rebel-held town near Syria’s border with Lebanon. Yabroud is located in the mountainous Qalamoun region. Government troops, backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters have been on a crushing offensive there since early December, trying to sever a main thoroughfare for rebels from Lebanon.

Hamas rejects intl. forces in Palestine

Sun Feb 16, 2014

The Palestinian resistance movement, Hamas, has expressed its opposition to the idea of international troops being stationed in a future Palestinian state under a deal between the Israeli regime and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

“From time to time we hear people making offers during the negotiations, primarily about the idea of an international force following the retreat of the (Israeli) occupier,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement released on Saturday.

He added that the presence of an international force in a future Palestinian state would be “just like the Israeli occupation.”

He further urged US Secretary of State John Kerry and others to revise their positions, stressing that Hamas would not let anyone undermine its rights.

This is while the Israeli regime insists on keeping a military presence along the Jordan Valley that runs down the eastern flank of the occupied West Bank, bordering Jordan. However, the Palestinians have rejected such an idea.

“This so-called Kerry plan was put together by the Americans and the Zionist entity to eradicate the Palestinian cause. We will not let such an agreement give away our people’s rights,” Zuhri said, calling for “a united front of factions to reject the talks and their outcome.”

Earlier on Saturday, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh slammed the talks and said the Palestinian resistance movement would not be bound by any deal with Israel.

“The so-called American framework is not binding for us,” he added, referring to the US framework for the negotiations.

The US secretary of state is planning to unveil a framework document as part of the US-brokered talks between Israel and the PA.

Since the resumption of the direct talks, Palestinians have also objected to a number of other issues including the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East al-Quds (Jerusalem).

Source: PressTV.