Archive for April, 2014

Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood maintains grassroots support

March 31, 2014

Osama Al Sharif

In the first true test of its influence and popularity following last year’s dramatic events in Egypt, Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood celebrated with its March 27 electoral victory the kingdom’s largest professional union in what observers described as a free and fair election. Islamist candidates and their allies won more than 70% of the seats in the 100,000-strong teachers union across the nation. Their opponents — nationalists and leftists — were unable to snatch this important association from the Islamists for the second time in three years.

The results stunned both the government and delighted supporters. Since Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi was toppled by the army, the Jordanian government had worked to undermine the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan. Although no punitive measures were taken against the movement, which has been active in Jordan since the 1950s, the Islamists were exposed to harsh and arguably sometimes unwarranted attacks by pro-government columnists, who accused the Brotherhood of foreign allegiance and of harboring an authoritarian agenda. The Islamists, in turn, accused the government of waging a campaign to demonize them.

But the movement was shaken by recent regional events, including Saudi Arabia’s decision to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. Its fall in Egypt and banning by a number of Gulf countries, along with the Islamist-led opposition in Syria’s failure to defeat the Damascus regime, have increased the Brotherhood’s isolation in Jordan. While there are no indications that Jordan was about to follow Saudi Arabia in banning the movement, the general perception by the public was that the Brotherhood’s popularity and ability to mobilize the street had been undercut. But last week’s teachers union election shattered that view.

Minister of Political Development Khaled al-Kalaldeh admitted in press interviews that there is now no “parallel to the Islamists” in the political arena. His statements underlined what many observers have always believed: that the Muslim Brotherhood remains the only organized group in Jordan that has genuine influence over the public.

But those who believed that the Islamist movement was weakening had a good argument, too. The Muslim Brotherhood had led public protests when the Arab Spring erupted in 2011. It organized weekly demonstrations and allied itself with nationalist and leftist groups and parties. But its ability to mobilize tens of thousands of Jordanians was tested many times.

In spite of the major political events that swept through Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Syria, Jordanians remained wary of destabilizing their country. The youth movement was unable to rally Jordanians and today is politically dead. The alliances between the Islamists and others had collapsed almost a year ago, leaving the Muslim Brotherhood the only opposition in the public domain. Although hard-liners were now in control of the movement, it became apparent in the past few months that they chose to reduce their public activities and tone down their anti-government rhetoric.

The Brotherhood’s leadership did not want to antagonize the regime or give it reason to take action against the Islamist movement. When a Jordanian judge was gunned down last month by an Israeli soldier at the Allenby Bridge, thousands of angry Jordanians protested near the Israeli Embassy in west Amman. Islamist participation in that event was deliberately low profile.

It could be that the government had miscalculated in choosing not to interfere, believing that the Islamists had lost their public base and that the teachers union elections could go either way.

But a few days after the polls, the Islamists contested another important election: the contest for the council of the University of Jordan Students Union. Here, the reaction was different. The Islamists complained that their candidates had been subjected to a wave of terror and intimidation and accused “outlaws” of interfering in the voting process.

There were clashes on election day, but the Islamists prevailed there as well, winning over 45% of the votes. In a rare conciliatory message to the government, the Consultative Council of the Muslim Brotherhood issued a March 28 communique praising the state’s position in regard to the free elections of the teachers union.

Such messages between the Islamist movement and the government appear to underline the tense but steady relationship between the two sides. King Abdullah, who has been critical of the Muslim Brotherhood, has also resisted pressure from within the royal court to take action against the movement. He understands the unique historical rapport between the regime and the Brotherhood, one that has survived for decades.

The question now is whether the Islamist movement ends its boycott of legislative and municipal elections in light of its recent gains. A former moderate overseer of the movement, Abdel Majid Thneibat, had called on the Islamists to end their self-imposed political isolation. There are no upcoming parliamentary elections, but the government has promised to amend a contentious election law this year.

When it participated in past legislative elections, especially between 1990 and 1993, the Muslim Brotherhood emerged as the largest bloc in the Lower House. One of its moderate leaders, Abdel Latiff Arabiyyat, became the speaker for three consecutive terms. He told Al-Monitor in a recent interview that this feat is proof of the popularity of the Islamist movement in Jordan and its moderate course. He added that throughout its history, the movement has allied itself with the Jordanian state, which gave it a “special status” in society.

As the Islamist movement celebrates its recent victories, it is also sending conciliatory messages to the regime. Knowing that it still enjoys popular support might encourage it to contest future legislative elections. The regime, on the other hand, will be thinking hard about its next step. Fear of the Islamist movement has not gone away, but Jordan’s assessment of its role and contribution to the political process is different from that of its neighbors.

Source: al-Monitor.



Jordanians urge Israel ambassador out

Sat Mar 29, 2014

Jordanian protesters have taken to the streets to demand closure of the Israeli embassy in Amman following the killing of a Jordanian judge by Israeli soldiers.

During a protest in the Jordanian capital after Friday Prayers, demonstrators called for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from the country.

They also called on the Jordanian parliament to annul the 1994 peace deal with  Israel.

The 38-year-old Jordanian judge, Raed Zaytar, was shot dead on March 10 by Israeli soldiers at the border with the occupied West Bank.

Jordan’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour called the shooting a hideous crime, for which Israel was “completely responsible.”

“Jordan has pressured Israel to formally apologize. Jordan is now part of the probe into the shooting,” Ensour said a day after the shooting.

Israeli authorities claim that the judge was shot for trying to grab an Israeli soldier’s weapon after crossing into the West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed regret over the death of the judge.

The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah has also condemned the killing saying it was a “shooting at close range” by Israeli troops.

Source: PressTV.


Jordanian parliament gives the government a week to expel the Israeli ambassador

Thursday, 13 March 2014

The majority of the Jordanian House of Representatives voted yesterday to seek the release of soldier Ahmad Adakkamsh, who has been sentenced to life imprisonment, the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from Amman and recalling his Jordanian counterpart from Tel Aviv.

The majority of attendees agreed on the demands that were raised during the discussion of the members of the House of Representatives who were discussing the issue of the death of Judge Raed Zeiter, but other members of parliament protested against these demands.

The parliament approved, with a majority, the request of the Jordanian Attorney General to file a case against the commander of the Israeli army, which was done on Tuesday.

The parliament has decided twice to expel the Israeli ambassador from Amman and recall his Jordanian counterpart from Tel Aviv, as well as two requests that were previously made for the release of Adakkamsh.

The House of Representatives rejected the proposal of MP Musa Abu Sweilem to reopen the offices of the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas in Jordan.

The MPs have given the government until next Tuesday to implement the parliamentary recommendations, threatening to topple it if it does not comply with the MPs’ decisions.

The parliament demanded the release of Jordanian and Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, informing the MPs about developments concerning the issue of martyr Zeiter, holding a thorough investigation and bringing killers before the International Criminal Court, imposing a Jordanian-Palestinian control over the Palestinian side of the border crossings, and taking the initiative to achieve reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

Israel expressed regret for the killing of the Jordanian judge, who is of Palestinian origin, by its soldiers on Monday. Zeiter was killed on Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan.

Following this incident, Jordan witnessed many demonstrations and events condemning the execution of Zeiter, where participants and protesters demanded cutting ties with Israel.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Tunisia scholars launch anti-Israel campaign

Wed Apr 2, 2014

Scholars from Tunisian universities have launched a campaign against any normalization of cultural and academic ties with Israel, Press TV reports.

The campaign started in the capital, Tunis, as university scholars, public figures and intellectuals signed a charter to prohibit ties with Israelis.

Fawzi Aloui, a scholar from the University of Tunis, said that there should be a ban on “any attempt to create official or unofficial channels of communication with Zionists under the pretext of scientific research, cultural studies or academic coordination.”

The campaign has been hailed by students and ordinary citizens who call for the criminalization of ties with Tel Aviv.

“We are teaching important values to our students. There is a Zionist enemy that would be never recognized. The isolation of this regime is possible,” Mohamed Naceur from the University of Jendouba told Press TV.

Tunisians have frequently condemned the passive attitude of some countries in the region towards the Palestinian tragedy in the occupied territories.

Last month, Tunisians held a demonstration in the capital against Israeli crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The protesters torch Israeli flags and chanted anti-Zionist slogans, calling for a national protest against Zionism.

Source: PressTV.


Israeli killed in West Bank shooting

Jerusalem (AFP)

April 14, 2014

An Israeli was killed and two others wounded in a shooting near the southern West Bank city of Hebron on Monday, the army said.

The incident at the start of the Jewish Passover holiday was the first deadly attack on an Israeli in the occupied West Bank since the start of the year, and came as tensions were soaring over the near-breakdown of US-brokered peace talks.

“Fire was opened at Israeli civilian vehicles on Route 35, near Hebron, and we’re conducting widespread searches for the perpetrators… An Israeli civilian was killed in the attack,” a spokeswoman told AFP.

A separate army statement said two other Israelis were wounded.

The man who was killed was a police officer from the town of Modiin in central Israel, an Israeli security source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The policeman’s wife and nine-year-old child were wounded and transferred to hospital. Three other children were in the vehicle, according to Israeli military radio.

Israelis in another car said they saw a man wearing a helmet and firing a Kalashnikov assault rifle on the side of the road, it said.

Dozens of army vehicles fanned out into nearby Palestinian villages, and a security barrier was erected at the main entrance to Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank, according to an AFP photographer.

The flashpoint city of Hebron is home to nearly 200,000 Palestinians. There are some 80 settler homes in the center of town housing about 700 Jews who live under Israeli army protection.

The Palestinian Hamas movement ruling Gaza, and fellow Islamist movement Islamic Jihad praised the attack, linking it to recent unrest in the flashpoint Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem’s Old City.

“Hamas praises the heroic Hebron operation and considers it a result of the (Israeli) occupation’s oppression and crimes against our people and holy places, including the Al-Aqsa mosque,” a statement said.

Islamic Jihad released a similar statement, hailing the attack and linking it to “settlers appropriating the blessed Al-Aqsa mosque.”

But neither group claimed responsibility for the attack.

— Clashes in Jerusalem —

On Sunday, Israeli police arrested five people after Palestinians clashed with security forces at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

Police said “stones and Molotov cocktails” were thrown at officers, who responded using stun grenades and entered the compound.

An AFP journalist said Hamas members were among the protesters.

The compound, in the walled Old City, houses the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques, and is the third most sacred site in Islam.

It is also the holiest place in Judaism, venerated as the site where King Herod’s temple stood before it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

Clashes frequently break out there between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.

Muslims are intensely sensitive to any perceived threat to the status of the compound and many believe Jews are determined to build a new temple on the wide esplanade.

Jews are not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, but often try to enter the compound.

Monday’s shooting took place as the seven-day Jewish Passover holiday began.

In September, an Israeli soldier was shot dead by a suspected Palestinian gunman in the center of Hebron during the week-long Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

Nine Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since January 1 in the West Bank, where around 350,000 Israelis live in settlements considered illegal by the international community.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have meanwhile been trying to save collapsing US-backed peace talks, and were scheduled to meet again Wednesday with US envoy Martin Indyk.

Source: Space War.


Israel launches cutting-edge satellite to spy on MidEast adversaries

Moscow (Voice of Russia)

Apr 11, 2014

Israel’s Defense Ministry has successfully launched Ofek 10, a next-generation satellite that will provide highly-targeted surveillance of specific locations – such as Iran’s nuclear sites.

“We continue to increase the vast qualitative and technological advantage over our neighbors,” said Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon at the launch at a test site in central Israel, Israeli media reported.

“Our ability to continuously reach new levels of accomplishment, as with this launch, is what allows us to live a productive and prosperous life. Blessed is the state, and its people.”

Ofek 10 is the seventh Israeli satellite currently in space, and the first launched by the Defense Ministry since its predecessor, Ofek 9, four years ago.

But it functions in a fundamentally new way – instead of automatically sweeping through vast swathes of territory with its cameras, it can momentarily switch between different locations.

This is due to the fact that its operators can alter the orbit of the 330 kilogram satellite between 400 kilometers and 600 kilometers from the Earth’s surface in its 90-minute circumnavigation of the planet, while zooming in to take high-resolution images of objects as small as 18 inches across.

“The satellite has exceptional photographic ability,” said Ofer Doron, CEO of the Israel Aerospace Industries’ Space Division, which was responsible for developing the satellite. “It’s designed to deliver very precise, high quality images under all conditions.”

Apart from Israel, other countries that operate surveillance satellites include the US, Russia, China, France, Italy, Britain, South Korea, India, Japan, Ukraine and Iran.

Of these nations, Iran poses the greatest threat to security in the eyes of Israeli officials, who have repeatedly insisted that Tehran is on the verge of developing a prototype nuclear weapon. Israel also says it plans to use the new satellite to monitor hostile militant groups, presumably such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

In fact, for security reasons, Israel launches its satellites to the west, and not to the east, sacrificing payload, but making sure that no technologically sensitive debris fall on the territory of its rivals, particularly if any satellite fails to reach orbit and plunges to Earth.

But Ofek 10 avoided this fate, and has already begun relaying visuals and information from orbit. It is expected to become fully operational within three months.

Source: Space War.


Jewish settlers clash with Israeli police

April 08, 2014

JERUSALEM (AP) — Dozens of Jewish West Bank settlers clashed with Israeli security forces on Tuesday, hurling stones and bottles at the officers in one of the most serious confrontations with militant settlers in years.

The violence was sparked when large numbers of Israeli police and paramilitary units arrived to the settlement of Yitzhar in the northern West Bank to carry out a court-ordered demolition of several structures in the early morning hours. They were met by a crowd of settlers who tried to thwart the building removal.

“They were doing everything they could in terms of preventing units from working there and at the end, it turned into a full-scale incident,” said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. He said police dispersed the settlers using stun grenades and other non-lethal weapons and that six police officers were injured slightly by the stones.

Rosenfeld said the rioters also tore down a small military encampment located near the settlement. Israeli Channel 2 TV reported that gasoline was poured around the tents but that none of the soldiers stationed there was injured.

The incident comes after suspected settlers twice this week slashed the tires of cars belonging to military personnel visiting Yitzhar, one of the most militant settlements, whose residents have repeatedly been involved in clashes with Palestinian farmers.

Following the attack on the cars, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would act with “zero tolerance,” calling the act “reprehensible,” while his defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, called it “terror for all intents and purposes.”

Yaalon said Tuesday’s violence would be treated with “utmost gravity.” Netanyahu instructed his defense minister to act against the “outlaws,” according to a statement from his office. Gadi Shamni, a former military general who served as commander over the West Bank, said Israel lacked political will to properly battle settler violence.

“They call it terror but they don’t fight against it as we know how to fight against terror,” he told Channel 2. The rampage comes as Israel and the Palestinians are attempting to get U.S.-mediated peace talks back on track, which appeared in recent days to be headed for collapse. After Israel failed to carry out a planned prisoner release, the Palestinians retaliated by signing letters of accession for 15 international conventions.

Under the terms of talks renewed in July under heavy U.S. pressure, Israel had promised to release 104 long-held Palestinian prisoners in four groups. The Palestinians said they would suspend a campaign to sign up the “state of Palestine,” recognized by the U.N. General Assembly as a non-member observer state in 2012, for as many as 63 U.N. agencies, treaties and conventions.

On Tuesday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned the Palestinians that the prisoner release will not happen as long as they pursue what he called a “provocative” bid to join U.N. agencies.

Lieberman also accused the Palestinians of breaking the terms of the U.S.-brokered peace talks, saying they should “pay a price” for this. Lieberman said the final prisoner release was off the table unless the Palestinians reversed course on the U.N. bids.

“We are in favor of negotiations but the previous offer about releasing prisoners doesn’t exist anymore,” Lieberman told Israel’s Army Radio on Tuesday. “Whoever broke the rules has to bear responsibility … therefore the previous offer is not relevant anymore.”

Mohammed Ishtayeh, an aide to Abbas, said on Monday that the letters of accession will not be withdrawn and that the step is irreversible. He said the Palestinians were ready to widen their bid. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Malki said Arab foreign ministers would convene in Cairo on Wednesday to discuss the breakdown in talks and Abbas will ask them for political and financial support.

The crisis in talks has also spurred U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has made more than 10 trips to the region in his attempt to secure a deal, to say the U.S. would rethink its mediator role.

Kerry originally hoped for a peace deal by April 29. But after months without progress in the Mideast negotiations, he lowered his sights, saying he sought a framework deal by that date. In recent weeks, negotiations focused on reaching agreement on extending the talks into 2015.