Archive for March, 2014

Settlers destroy solar panels in south Hebron hills

Thursday 27/03/2014

HEBRON (Ma’an) — A group of settlers from the illegal outpost of Mitzpe Yair on Thursday attacked and destroyed solar panels belonging to a Palestinian community in the south Hebron hills, locals said.

Witnesses told Ma’an that the settlers destroyed three out of five solar panels providing electricity to the small village of Khirbet Bir al-Idd.

The attackers fled before villagers arrived at the scene.

Local officials filed a complaint at an Israeli police station, where officers said they would search for the attackers.

Villagers told Ma’an that settlers frequently attack their property in an attempt to get them to leave the land so nearby Israeli settlements can be expanded.

Settler outposts in the south Hebron hills have an adverse effect on local Palestinian communities through a combination of physical violence and restrictions on movement.

Located in Area C, Palestinians in the south Hebron hills suffer from extreme electricity and water shortages and face violent intimidation from the Israeli army and radical settlers.

Less than 1 percent of Area C has been planned for Palestinian development, while some 135 settlements and over 100 outposts have been built in the same area.

Source: Ma’an News Agency.


UN: 5.5 million Syrian children affected by war

March 11, 2014

BEIRUT (AP) — The number of Syrian children affected by the civil war in their homeland has doubled in the past year to at least 5.5 million — more than half the country’s children — with devastating effects on the health, education and psychological well-being of an entire generation, the United Nations children’s agency said Tuesday.

The conflict, which enters its fourth year this month, has unleashed massive suffering across all segments of Syrian society, but the impact on children has been especially acute, according to a new report by UNICEF. Malnutrition and illness have stunted their growth; a lack of learning opportunities has derailed their education; and the bloody trauma of war has left deep psychological scars.

“After three years of conflict and turmoil, Syria is now one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a child,” the agency said. “In their thousands, children have lost lives and limbs, along with virtually every aspect of their childhood. They have lost classrooms and teachers, brothers and sisters, friends, caregivers, homes and stability.”

“Millions of young people risk becoming, in effect, a lost generation,” UNICEF said. Since the conflict began, thousands of videos and photographs of bloodied babies, lifeless children and bombed out schools in Syria have provided stark images of the war’s impact on children. But in many ways, figures provide perhaps the clearest indication of how sweeping an effect the conflict has on their lives.

UNICEF said that more than 10,000 children have been killed in the violence, which would translate into the highest casualty rates recorded in any recent conflict in the region. Of those who have survived, thousands have been wounded, lost their home and schools, and seen family members and friends killed. That trauma has left around 2 million children in need of psychological support or treatment, the agency said.

Almost 3 million children are displaced inside Syria, while another 1.2 million have fled the country and now live as refugees in camps and overwhelmed neighboring communities where clean water, food and other basic items are scarce.

On the education front, UNICEF said that nearly half of Syria’s school-age children — 2.8 million and counting — cannot get an education because of the devastation and violence. More than 2 million of those who should be in classes remain within Syria’s borders, as education and health services collapse and classrooms are bombed or used as shelters and military barracks. Another 300,000 Syrian children are out of school in Lebanon, along with some 93,000 in Jordan, 78,000 in Turkey, 26,000 in Iraq and 4,000 in Egypt, agency officials said in Geneva.

Many are forced to grow up fast: One in 10 refugee children is now working, the agency estimates, while one in five Syrian girls in Jordan is forced into early marriage. Inside Syria, boys as young as 12 have been recruited to help the rebels, some as fighters and others in a support role, the U.N. report said.

Syria’s conflict began in March 2011 with largely peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad. Facing a brutal government crackdown, protesters eventually took up arms and the country descended into a civil war that has killed more than 140,000 people so far.

Two rounds of peace talks in Switzerland early this year between Assad’s government and Syria’s main Western-backed political opposition group broke up without making any progress, and there are no immediate plans for another session.

On the ground, meanwhile, the fighting has shown no sign of slowing down. On Tuesday, three suicide bombers blew themselves up in a local administration building in the Kurdish town of Qamishli in northeast Syria, killing at least five people, state media and a Kurdish official said.

The state news agency said the blasts at the Hadaya Hotel killed five people, but a Kurdish official at the scene said at least seven people died, including four women. The hotel in the center of Qamishli has functioned as a municipality building, said Joan Mohammed, who spoke to The Associated Press by phone. The area has been the scene of heavy fighting recently between Kurdish gunmen and members of the al-Qaida breakaway group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Mohammed said several people wearing explosive belts and firearms shot dead the guards outside the building, walked in and hurled grenades before blowing themselves up. One of them was caught before he detonated his belt and was being questioned.

He said the dead included two employees and two visitors. He added that 15 people were wounded. “The building is in the center of the town and is usually very crowded,” said Mohammad, adding that Kurdish fighters in the area were “on high alert” following the attack.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but suspicion immediately fell on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Militants from the group have been fighting Kurdish gunmen for months in northern Syria in battles that left hundreds of people dead.

Kurds have carved out their own territory in the country’s northeast, declaring their own civil administration in areas under their control amid the chaos of the civil war. But Kurdish militias continue to battle Islamic militant fighters in an offensive that has accelerated in recent months.

Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Syria, making up more than 10 percent of the country’s 23 million people.

Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut, Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, and John Heilprin in Geneva contributed to this report.

UNRWA to employ fresh graduates from Gaza

12th of March 2014, Wednesday

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) – The UN’s Palestine refugee agency has decided to temporarily employ 210 fresh graduates from the Gaza Strip, says a spokesman of the director of UNRWA operations in the central Gaza Strip.

Khalil al-Halabi added in a statement that 210 alumni who graduated in 2013-2014 from Palestinian universities would be hired for nine months at UN-affiliated schools in the Gaza Strip. He added that $1 million donated by the Islamic Relief of Saudi Arabia has been allocated to the temporary program.

Al-Halabi highlighted that UNRWA started to distribute aid in cash to families whose properties sustained damage as a result of the snow storm Alexa in mid-December. More than 1,000 families will receive cash.

Source: Ma’an News Agency.


Hamas slams ruling banning the movement in Egypt

Tuesday, 04 March 2014

Hamas criticized on Tuesday an Egyptian Court’s ruling to ban the group’s activities and close its offices in Cairo.

A member of the Islamic Resistance Movement’s political bureau; Ezzat Al-Resheq said in a brief statement posted on Twitter: “The decision is political which targets the Palestinian people and their resistance”.

The movement’s spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said the court’s decision proves Egypt has abandoned its role to support the Palestinian steadfastness and resistance; stressing that Hamas will not retaliate despite this decision which he described as “unjust and unfair”.

“Our goal and our weapons will remain towards the Israeli enemy,” he said.

Egyptian advocate Samir Sabri sent an urgent appeal to Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour; Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim and Prime Minister; Ibrahim Mahlab, demanding they ban the group’s activities and to list it as a terrorist organisation; claiming that many countries around the world have already done so.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Domestic violence cases spark protests in Lebanon

March 08, 2014

BEIRUT (AP) — Nada Sabbagh received a brief, chilling telephone call from her son-in-law last month telling her: “Come to your daughter. I am going to kill her.”

Sabbagh said by the time she arrived to her daughter’s home in Beirut, her husband had kicked, punched and beaten her with a pressure cooker, leaving her mortally wounded and bleeding on the floor. “I walked in and started jumping in shock then begged him to let me take her out,” Sabbagh later recounted. She said he responded by saying: “I will not let her out. I want her to die in front of you.”

Manal Assi’s husband, Mohammed Nuheili, was detained shortly afterward and is still being questioned by authorities. It remains unclear if he has a lawyer and he could not be reached for comment. The killing of Sabbagh’s daughter is one of three domestic violence slayings in Lebanon in recent months, drawing new attention to women’s rights in this country of 4 million people. Although Lebanon appears very progressive on women rights compared to other countries in the Middle East, domestic violence remains an unspoken problem and the nation’s parliament has yet to vote on a bill protecting women’s rights nearly three years after it was approved by the Cabinet.

“If a woman does not have authority in her house, how can she take an authoritative post (in government)? It starts here,” said Maya al-Ammar, an official with a Lebanese women’s rights group Kafa, Arabic for “Enough.” ”If you don’t remove (domestic) violence and the woman can’t become the ruler of herself, she will not be able to be able to take a decision-making post.”

Civil rights activists say that a woman is killed every month by their husbands on average in Lebanon, while thousands are subjected to physical or verbal abuse every year. In the past, it used to be taboo to openly speak about such family issues. Some used to claim that their daughters died after they fell in order to avoid what could be seen as “shameful.” Today, however, the death of a woman at the hands of her husband gets extensive coverage by local media and has sparked widespread awareness campaigns online.

“We are not doing anything shameful. We are not harming anyone,” said a Lebanese domestic violence survivor who only gave her first name as Bahiya out of fear of reprisals. “We probably reached this point because of the word shame.”

Bahiya described how her husband of nearly 20 years regularly beat her with his hands and a stick. She once went to the hospital after he grazed her with a gunshot. With the help of Kafa, she was able to get a divorce recently and won custody of her four daughters.

The woman recounted how once after fleeing to a police station, an officer there told her that she faced merely “a family affair.” Many Lebanese women also see the laws in this Arab country as discriminating against them. Lebanese women married to foreigners cannot pass their citizenship to their children and husbands. The country’s personal status law, which deals with cases involving divorce or inheritance, is implemented according to the person’s religion and their faith dictates their fate. Some young women under 18 get kidnapped by their future husbands and get married with the help of religious clerics against the will of their parents.

The same goes for politics. There is no quota for women in parliament or government ministries. Women now hold just four seats in the country’s 128-delegate. Lebanon’s newly formed government has only one female Cabinet minister.

Activists are urging Lebanon’s parliament to approve a new law regarding domestic violence at its first meeting after a legislative subcommittee approved it last year. Ghassan Moukheiber, the general rapporteur of the parliamentary Human Rights committee, said the reason the law has not been approved is because parliament has not met since a previous Cabinet resigned in March last year. Lebanon was run by a caretaker Cabinet until last month.

Moukheiber said he expects the draft to be unanimously approved once parliament meets. “I look forward for the voting of this bill because it is going to be a very important and meaningful step toward stopping all sorts of violence against women,” Moukheiber told The Associated Press.

Some Sunni and Shiite Muslim clerics have criticized the proposed law, however, saying it dismantles families. On Saturday, about 5,000 people marched in Beirut to demand protection for women and urged the parliament to vote on the domestic violence law.

“We came down to the street because we want a law to protect us. We tell the state we want a law quickly,” hundreds of women chanted. But for Sabbagh, the damage of domestic violence has already been inflicted on her family. She said she could only be happy that her daughter’s two children were at school at the time of the killing and did not see their mother’s bloody, beaten corpse.

“My heart is boiling like fire,” Sabbagh said. “My daughter was not an insect. She was the light of my heart.”

Lebanon’s political system sinks nation into debt

March 05, 2014

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese politicians are looking for tens of millions of dollars in aid at a Paris conference on Wednesday with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and world diplomats to help their country cope with a flood of refugees from neighboring Syria’s civil war. But while authorities plead for cash, Lebanon’s house is hardly in order.

Despite a mounting humanitarian crisis brought on by over a million Syrian refugees and a ballooning debt of $60 billion — one of the highest in the world compared to gross domestic product — there is little sign of reform for the collapsing economy in a country where a dysfunctional democracy has been marred by nepotism, corruption, and warlord-style governance ever since the 15-year civil war ended in 1990.

There is hardly any urgency among the country’s lawmakers and politicians, who took nearly a year to agree on a new government after the prime minister resigned last March. The parliament, which seldom convenes, has not voted on a budget for eight years, letting the Cabinet simply write its own. Lawmakers have never met to discuss government policies to deal with the refugee influx that has strained social services including education, health and electricity to their limit.

Still, lawmakers manage to award themselves rising salaries and perks that extend long after they retire or die. Rather than legislating, parliament members act primarily as service providers to a narrow group of people, based on their sect and family affiliation, not the public at large.

“We are an oligarchy, not a democracy,” said Ghassan Moukheiber, a Christian lawmaker from central Lebanon. Although Lebanon is often cited as a rare example of democracy in an autocratic Arab world, key decisions are made outside of the parliament and even the government. They are in the hands of a small group of people who gained political power because of immense wealth or by commanding a powerful militia during the civil war that was largely fought between the country’s Christian and Muslim sects, Moukheiber said.

The country’s sectarian-based political system is enshrined in the power-sharing agreement that ended the civil war. According to the Taif Accord, the parliament and Cabinet must be half Muslim and half Christian. An unwritten agreement reached after Lebanon’s independence in 1943 ensures that the president is a Christian, the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament is a Shiite Muslim.

Defenders of this system say it is the only way that 4.5 million people from 18 recognized sects can co-exist. Critics say it perpetuates nepotism and the power of warlords, many of whom have become government ministers, lawmakers and leaders of political parties with well-known sectarian affiliations.

“They don’t like the institutions such as the parliament meeting too often and competing with them in running the country,” Moukheiber said. Indeed, most lawmakers stay away from the imposing 1930s parliament building in downtown Beirut.

Since the current parliament of 128 lawmakers was elected in June 2009, the lawmakers have met 21 times — an average of 4 times a year. They passed 169 laws, many of them related to raising government and civil servants’ salaries, receiving foreign aid and amending the election law, according to data collected by Information International, a Lebanese policy research institute in Beirut.

There is no national health care plan and no nationwide electricity grid, because lawmakers are buying personal loyalty with state funds, said Sami Atallah, the head of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies that has been monitoring and documenting governance in Lebanon.

Many lawmakers run profitable businesses alongside their parliamentary positions. Many make millions in construction and real estate. They own shopping malls, apartment buildings, nightclubs and receive a cut from monopolies on telecommunications, gas, cigarettes and other commodities.

In 2013, lawmakers met only twice and passed two laws. One of them was to extend their mandate for 18 months, pushing back elections. On Wednesday, Lebanon’s leaders will meet with Kerry, international diplomats and bankers seeking help. The International Support Group for Lebanon was created in September, when Kerry pledged more than $100 million in American aid for Lebanese communities that are hosting Syrians who have fled their homeland.

It’s a fraction of the money Lebanon needs. “International donors are not going to compensate Lebanon for lost economic activity due to the war in Syria, no matter how significant they may be,” said Ayham Kamel, an analyst with the Eurasia group in London.

The last time Lebanese parliament ratified the budget set by the government — at 10 billion Lebanese liras ($6.8 billion dollars) — was in 2005. Due to political bickering between the two major political blocs, lawmakers have not voted on the budget since then. In the past two years, the government did not even bother sending the budget to the parliament. It simply doubled the amount of the 2005 for the budget — a flagrant violation of the constitution.

Once elected, members of parliament get a monthly salary of $7,400, fully paid health insurance, tax exemptions on a vehicle and four policemen each on full government salary. Other perks include airplane tickets, a diplomatic passport for the lawmakers and their families and a pension of up to 75 percent of the salaries, which is transferred to their spouses after their death.

The pensions of the 310 retired lawmakers and the spouses of 103 deceased ones alone chip $20 million annually from the budget. There’s hardly any outrage in public. Although there were small protests against the extension of the mandate of the current parliament last year, most Lebanese are resigned to the warlord-style governance.

A handful of parliament members who take their jobs seriously say the salaries barely cover their expenses, much less support their families. “If we were paid for passing laws only, they’d be high,” said Kazem Kheir, a Sunni Muslim lawmaker from the north. He said most of his days are spent working in the community, solving problems for people, finding them jobs, often settling their hospital bills, driving from one house to another to attending funerals and other social functions.

“The salary is hardly enough to fill my car with gas every month,” Kheir said.

Al-Ghannouchi calls Egyptian court ruling against Hamas ‘oppressive’

Wednesday, 05 March 2014

Head of the Tunisian Islamic party Ennahda Sheikh Rashid Al-Ghannouchi strongly criticized on Tuesday an Egyptian court’s decision to designate the Palestinian Islamic resistance movement Hamas a “terrorist organization”.

Commenting on the court ruling, Al-Ghannouchi told Quds Press news agency that: “It is an oppressive decision issued by an oppressive regime.”

Earlier on Tuesday, the Egyptian Court for Urgent Matters in Cairo designated Hamas a “terrorist organization” based on claims that it is linked to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which the interim Egyptian government designated a “terrorist organization” in December of last year, and that the Palestinian movement took part in recent security disturbances in Egypt.

The court banned the movement and imposed an embargo on all its properties in Egypt.

Source: Middle East Monitor.