Archive for June 21st, 2014

PLO to seek membership of international bodies

28/04/2014

RAMALLAH (AFP) — The Palestine Liberation Organization’s central council on Sunday adopted a plan to pursue attempts to join 60 United Nations bodies and international agreements.

The council, under the auspices of president Mahmoud Abbas, “affirms the need for the Palestinian leadership to continue membership of UN agencies and international conventions”, the Palestine People’s Party secretary general Bassam al-Salhi said in a statement.

The council also said Israel was to blame for failed international and US efforts to find a negotiated settlement to the Middle East conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspended faltering peace talks last week after the PLO and Hamas agreed to work together to form a unity government, in an historic move to end years of bitter political rivalry.

The struggling peace talks took a nose dive at the end of March when Israel reneged on a pledge to release two dozen Palestinian prisoners.

Last November the Palestinians cast a UN General Assembly vote for the first time and claimed the moment as a new step in their quest for full recognition by the global body.

Most of the 193 members of the General Assembly applauded Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour as he voted for a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

The Palestinians became observer state members of the United Nations a year earlier with an overwhelming vote in favor.

The Palestinian mission cannot vote on UN resolutions but, under UN rules, it and other observers such as the Vatican can vote in elections for judges on international courts.

Israel maintains its position that the Palestinian Authority is not a state and the Palestinian Authority fails to meet the criteria for statehood.

Israel and the United States have lobbied strongly against UN recognition of the Palestinians, arguing that a separate state can only be achieved through direct bilateral negotiations to end the decades old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But the Palestinians have also joined UNESCO, the UN cultural agency, and voted there.

Israel and the United States withdrew funding from UNESCO because it allowed Palestinian membership and subsequently lost their voting rights on the body.

Early this month Abbas signed membership applications for 15 UN agencies and international treaties, beginning with the Fourth Geneva Convention, which defines humanitarian protections for civilians in a war zone.

“This is not a move against America, or any other party — it is our right, and we agreed to suspend it for nine months,” he said at the time.

Source: Ma’an News Agency.

Link: http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=693413.

Palestinian rivals to try again for unity deal

April 23, 2014

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah agreed Wednesday to form a unity government and hold new elections — a potentially historic step toward mending the rift that has split their people between two sets of rulers for seven years.

Following the announcement of the deal, hundreds of people took to the streets in Gaza to celebrate. Crowds hoisted Palestinian flags and posters. “I hope it will be real this time,” said Asma Radwan, a 33-year-old schoolteacher who came with her two young sons. “I came to say ‘thank you’ to the leaders. But don’t disappoint us like the past. Seven years of division is enough.”

It remained unclear how the plan would succeed where past attempts have repeatedly failed. It also added new complications to U.S. efforts to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Both the U.S. and Israel condemned the agreement.

In an initial response, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a planned meeting for Wednesday evening between Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators. Israel and the West consider Hamas a terrorist group. Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, has killed hundreds of Israelis in bombings and shootings over the past two decades.

Abbas “needs to choose between peace with Israel and an agreement with Hamas, a murderous terror organization that calls for the destruction of Israel,” Netanyahu said. In a statement, Abbas said “there is no contradiction” between reconciliation and his efforts to reach a “just peace” with Israel. He said Wednesday’s deal would help Palestinian negotiators achieve a two-state solution.

Hamas seized Gaza from Abbas’ forces in 2007, leaving him with only parts of the West Bank. Both sides have become entrenched in their territories, setting up separate governments and their own security forces.

The division has been a major obstacle to Abbas’ goal of establishing an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, with east Jerusalem as the capital. Israel captured all three areas in 1967. The split is also seen by many everyday Palestinians as a tragic mistake.

The two sides planned to form an interim government within five weeks. Presidential and parliamentary elections should be held no sooner than six months after the government is formed, said Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas government.

Similar agreements have been reached in principle in the past. But they were never implemented due to deep differences and an unwillingness to cede power. Hamas, for instance, employs tens of thousands of civil servants and security forces in Gaza, and it is in no rush to relinquish control to a centralized government led by Abbas. The group has also seen its popularity plummet, making elections risky.

Abbas, meanwhile, could face international isolation and the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid if he joins forces with Hamas. International donors withheld aid during a short-lived Palestinian unity government elected in 2006 and 2007, before the Hamas takeover, due to concerns that the money would be diverted to Hamas.

A key test will be whether the sides can agree soon on a caretaker government of apolitical technocrats. Squabbling over the government’s composition has derailed past reconciliation attempts. Still, changes in the region have given each side an incentive to try again, even if a full agreement seems unlikely.

Hamas has been weakened since a military coup in neighboring Egypt last July. The coup toppled the Islamist government of President Mohammed Morsi, Hamas’ most important ally. Egypt’s new military government has cracked down hard on Hamas, closing a system of smuggling tunnels that provided Hamas with a key conduit for weapons and tax revenue. The Egyptian pressure and a longstanding Israeli blockade have plunged Hamas into the worst financial crisis of its rule, making it difficult to pay the salaries of its employees and sinking its public standing.

Abbas, on the other hand, has achieved little during nine months of U.S.-brokered peace talks with Israel. Those talks are set to expire next Tuesday, though the sides have been searching for a formula to extend the negotiations.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. was “disappointed and troubled” by the Palestinians’ announcement. “It is hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist,” Psaki said, referring to Hamas.

Palestinian analyst Nasim Zubaidi described Wednesday’s agreement as a “marriage of convenience.” He said both sides were “forced” into each other’s arms, with Abbas hurt by the failure of peace efforts and Hamas’ financial struggles.

Even so, he said, it was far from clear whether they would go through with the deal. “Both have signed, but they are using the tactic of ‘let’s wait and see.’ Abbas will wait and see how things will go in the peace talks, and Hamas will see how it goes with their problems in Gaza.”

Ultimately, it will be difficult to merge two rival ideologies and two rival security forces into one, Zubaidi said. Wednesday’s reconciliation deal is the latest attempt by Abbas to send a message to Israel that he has other alternatives. Abbas has also hinted in recent days that he might dismantle his self-rule government and saddle Israel with the huge financial burden of taking care of more than 4 million Palestinians in occupied lands.

These latest moves may be aimed at building leverage to pressure Israel to agree to favorable terms for continued negotiations. But they could also signal a new approach if the talks really do collapse.

Yet Abbas’ decision also risks triggering a tough Israeli response. Hardline Israeli leaders quickly condemned the unity deal, and several called for Netanyahu to halt the peace efforts. Israel’s Channel 10 TV said Netanyahu would meet with his Security Cabinet on Thursday to discuss a response. It also said that future meetings between peace negotiators were in doubt.

“The Palestinian Authority has become the biggest terror body in the world,” said Naftali Bennett, head of the hardline Jewish Home Party. “Israel needs to be clear,” he added. “No talks with murderers.”

Adding to the tensions, an Israeli airstrike hit the northern Gaza Strip, missing its target but wounding at least three bystanders, Palestinian officials said. Medical official Ashraf al-Kidreh says the airstrike targeted two men riding a motorcycle, but that the missile missed its target and wounded a 50-year-old man and two daughters.

The Israeli military confirmed the failed airstrike, saying “a hit was not identified.” Gaza militants fired a barrage of rockets at southern Israel soon afterward, the Israeli military said. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

Associated Press writers Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, and Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Palestinians rally for solidarity with Israel-held prisoners

2014-04-17

RAMALLAH – Palestinians gathered across the West Bank and Gaza on Thursday for rallies of solidarity with Israeli-held prisoners, as peace talks near collapse after Israel refused to free long-serving inmates.

To mark Prisoners Day, thousands were expected to demonstrate in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has his headquarters, and hundreds took part in early rallies in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip late Wednesday.

“We won’t forget our prisoners — prisoners first!” read banners in Gaza City as demonstrators set off from mosques across the besieged territory.

The prisoners row caused a new deadlock in US-brokered peace talks at the end of March, just a month ahead of their deadline, when Israel reneged on its commitment to release a fourth and final batch of Palestinian inmates.

The Palestinians retaliated by seeking membership of several international treaties, breaking their own commitment under the talks which US Secretary of State John Kerry launched in July.

“Prisoners Day has extra importance this year,” said the Palestinian Prisoners Club head, Abdel Al al-Anani.

“The prisoners issue has become one of global significance, since it is the reason that peace talks have almost collapsed,” he said.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said in a statement: “The plight of the prisoners reflects the plight of the Palestinian people as a whole.”

A one-day hunger strike was being observed by inmates to mark the annual show of solidarity with the nearly 5,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, Palestinian prisoners affairs minister Issa Qaraqe said.

Around 30 of them have been held being bars since before the 1993 Oslo autonomy accords with Israel, said a Palestinian legal rights NGO, Adalah.

Israel has so far released 78 of the 104 prisoners it pledged to free during nine months of peace talks, most of them imprisoned since before the Oslo accords.

But it refused to free the final batch, using it as a bargaining chip to convince the Palestinians to extend negotiations until the end of the year.

The Palestinians demand their release before any discussion of an extension.

But Islamist group Hamas, which governs Gaza, opposes all negotiations with Israel and regards the Palestinian Authority’s meetings with its sworn enemy as “illegitimate.”

“We are sending a message to the Palestinian negotiators: forget this farce, the futile negotiations, and come back to the resistance which freed prisoners,” a Hamas member said in a speech at Wednesday’s rally.

In June 2006, a group of Hamas and other militants snuck into Israel through a cross-border tunnel, seized Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and took their prisoner back to Gaza the same way.

He was released on October 18, 2011 in exchange for 1,027 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

According to Israeli rights group B’Tselem, Israel is holding 4,881 Palestinian prisoners, including 175 in administrative detention where they can be detained without charge for renewable six-month periods.

Of that number, 183 are minors, B’Tselem says.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=65456.

Jordan releases anti-ISIL Salafi leader

17 Jun 2014

Areej Abuqudairi

Amman, Jordan – Jordanian authorities have released Salafi leader Assem Barqawi, better known as Abu Mohammad al-Maqdesi, after having served a five-year prison sentence on allegations of jeopardizing state security and recruiting jihadists to fight in Afghanistan.

His release came as a surprise to some after the escalating war in Syria has presented big security challenges to neighboring Jordan, especially amid an increasing number of Jordanians joining jihadist groups inside the war-torn country.

“We did not expect his release. We thought he would be interrogated and held further,” Mohammad Shalabi, better known as Abu Sayyaf, head of the Jordanian Jihadi Salafist Movement told Al Jazeera in a phone interview.

Experts and Salafists, however, say that releasing Maqdesi, who has been very critical of violence committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), serves Jordan’s interest as the movement has achieved gains in neighboring Iraq recently and added to Jordan’s security woes.

“Maqdesi is a supporter of al-Nusra front, one of the fighting groups in Syria, which unlike ISIL, does not have any ambitions to take over the region,” said Hasan Abu Hanya, an expert on jihadist movements.

“He is the mentor and father of our curriculum,” Abu Sayyaf told Al Jazeera.

“There is a pressing need for a mentor like him at this time of bloodshed. He is very concerned about the blood of Muslims being shed and their souls and honor,” Abu Sayyaf added.

In a recent statement published to his website, Tawheed, the leader condemned ISIL and called it “deviant” and called on jihadists to follow “the right [path] and stop the bloodshed”.

According to Abu Hanyah, there are more than 2,000 supporters of ISIL in Jordan – an alarming number for the Jordanian authorities.

“If some 4,000 ISIL members turned Mosul upside down, it is very dangerous for Jordan to have such numbers of supporters, given how violent and experienced the movement is,” he said.

Jordanian officials’ concern has been exacerbated after Iraq reportedly pulled out its forces from the Jordanian border on Sunday.

During a meeting with parliamentarians dedicated to discussing the challenges following the situation in Iraq, Jordanian Interior Minister Hussein Majali said that Jordan had built-up its military presence near the Iraq border by sending gendarme forces and additional security forces.

Maqdesi arrived at his house in Rusaifa town in northern Jordan, which is home to the Salafist movement, yesterday. He refused to give media interviews, but will soon issue a statement, according to Abu Sayyaf.

His lawyer, Majid Liftawi, believes his client is not guilty of any terror charges.

“It was all because of his political beliefs and writings,” he said.

Source: al-Jazeera.

Link: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/06/jordan-releases-anti-isil-salafi-leader-2014617121457552506.html.