Archive for July 19th, 2014

Gazans crowd streets, restock during brief truce

July 17, 2014

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Gaza residents crowded banks, vegetable markets and shops Thursday, taking advantage of a brief cease-fire that offered the first respite from 10 days of fierce fighting between Hamas and Israel, while the conflict looked set to resume within hours.

The truce was briefly thrown into doubt when Gaza militants fired three mortar shells toward Israel after the truce took effect at 10 a.m. (0700 GMT, 0300 EDT), but it appeared to be an isolated incident, and Israel did not respond.

Gaza City, a virtual ghost town for the past 10 days, returned to apparent normalcy within minutes of the start of the truce. Streets were jammed, motorists honked horns and Hamas police directed traffic at busy intersections.

Crowds of hundreds formed outside banks, with people jostling and shouting to get to ATM machines. In an outdoor market, shoppers filled plastic bags with fruit, vegetables and freshly slaughtered chickens.

The rush to restock signaled that Gaza residents don’t expect a quick end to the fighting. Egypt renewed cease-fire efforts after its initial attempt collapsed earlier in the week, but the demands of Israel and Hamas remain far apart.

“‘The situation is likely to get worse because there is no clear way out of it,” said Moussa Amran, 43, a money changer in central Gaza City. Israel accepted Egypt’s initial call earlier this week to halt all hostilities, but Hamas rejected the idea because it does not want to return to the situation before the outbreak of fighting. An intensified Egyptian border blockade of Gaza over the past year, combined with long-running Israeli restrictions on access, had severely weakened the Islamic militant group.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri insisted in an interview with The Associated Press that the cease-fire deal was still alive and expressed frustration that “Palestinian factions” — a clear reference to Hamas — had not agreed to it.

Hamas’ agreement is crucial to any such truce, but its demand that the blockade be eased significantly is likely to be rejected by Israel and Egypt because it would strengthen the group’s hold on Gaza, where it seized power in 2007.

Thursday’s temporary truce, brokered by the United Nations, came after Israel carried out nearly 2,000 air strikes on Gaza over 10 days and Hamas fired more than 1,300 rockets into Israel, reaching the country’s economic and cultural heartland. The cross-border fighting has so far killed more than 230 Palestinians and an Israeli, according to officials.

Fighting continued early Thursday in the lead-up to the cease-fire, with the military saying it foiled an attack by 13 militants who sneaked into Israel through a tunnel from Gaza. Israeli aircraft struck the fighters at the mouth of the tunnel some 250 meters (820 feet) inside Israel, near a kibbutz.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, said the military believed at least one militant was killed in the strike and that the remaining fighters appeared to have returned to Gaza through the tunnel.

Footage released by the military showed a number of individuals creeping slowly toward what appeared to be a hole in the ground. A separate shot showed an explosion from an airstrike on the tunnel entrance.

Lerner said the militants were armed with “extensive weapons,” including rocket-propelled grenades. Hamas’ military wing said all its fighters returned safely even though the group was targeted by Israeli warplanes.

It was the second time militants attempted to sneak into Israel in this round of fighting. Last week, four fighters were killed when they infiltrated Israel from the sea. The military also said 15 rockets were fired at Israel Thursday morning, including toward areas in the center, some 90 kilometers (55 miles) from the Gaza Strip.

In fighting early Thursday, Israeli aircraft struck 37 targets, including the homes of senior Hamas leaders Fathi Hamad and Khalil al-Haya, the military said. Three people were killed by a tank shell that hit a house in the southern town of Rafah, the Hamas-run police and Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra said.

The Gaza Interior Ministry had earlier said that 30 houses were struck in the Israeli raids. Four people were killed and a 75-year-old woman died of wounds suffered the day before, the ministry said. A senior Hamas official said the group’s deputy leader, Moussa Abu Marzouk, met with Egyptian officials Wednesday night to present Hamas’ demands, which were also delivered to Jordan and the U.N. The official said Hamas wants countries other than Egypt to be involved in forging an agreement to end the fighting, a sign of the militant group’s mistrust of Cairo.

Egypt, the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, has often served as a mediator between Israel and Hamas. But Hamas does not trust Egypt’s current rulers, who deposed a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo last year.

Egypt’s new leaders have since launched a sweeping crackdown on Hamas, shutting down a network of smuggling tunnels along the border that were the Islamic militant group’s key economic lifeline — and weapons supply route.

The official spoke of condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the diplomatic steps with the media. Also Thursday, a Jerusalem court indicted a 29-year-old and two 16-year-olds in the death of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, whose charred body was found after he was reported kidnapped. According to the indictment, the suspects went out for a “man hunt” that ended when they “cruelly” killed Abu Khdeir.

The indictment said the suspects carried out the crime in revenge for the deaths of three Israeli teens last month and that they killed Abu Khdeir “solely because he was an Arab.” The suspects are also accused of attempting to kidnap a seven-year-old Arab boy a day earlier.

The indictment said Abu Khdeir was strangled, beaten and burned to death while he was unconscious. The death led to days of clashes between Palestinian protesters and police in east Jerusalem and elicited widespread international condemnation.

Goldenberg reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City contributed to this report.

Hamas launches Hebrew website

13 July 2014 Sunday

Qassam Brigades, the military arm of the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas, said it has launched a new website in Hebrew.

It added in a statement on Saturday that the website contains videos, breaking news and reports about ongoing Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip.

The brigades said the website also contains speeches, statements and photo albums of the victims of the Israeli operations in Gaza.

It called the website “Empty Field of Stalks”. The brigades gave the same name to its resistance to the ongoing Israeli onslaught on the Gaza Strip.

At least 165 Gazans, mostly civilians, have been killed and hundreds injured since Monday in a series of Israeli airstrikes.

Israel’s military offensive, dubbed “Operation Protective Edge,” is ostensibly aimed at ending rocket fire from Gaza.

Gaza-based resistance factions, meanwhile, have continued to fire rockets into Israel – without causing any fatalities thus far – in response to the unrelenting Israeli attacks.

Source: World Bulletin.


Gaza death toll hits 172, Israeli cabinet calls for escalation

14 July 2014 Monday

A Palestinian man died in the early hours of Monday of wounds he had sustained in an Israeli airstrike on Sunday.

“The man had sustained injuries during an Israeli strike on his house in eastern Gaza City,” Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qodra told Anadolu Agency.

He added that 30 other Palestinians were wounded in separate Israeli airstrikes on the coastal enclave late Sunday.

The latest fatality brings to 172 the total number of Palestinians killed in Israeli airstrikes since late Monday.

Some 1260 Palestinians have also been wounded in the Israeli aerial attacks.

Some 560 Palestinian houses have been flattened in Israeli airstrikes since Monday, according to Palestinian authorities.

“The Israeli military operation has completely destroyed 560 houses in the Gaza Strip and left 12,800 others partially damaged,” Palestinian Minister of Housing and Public Works Mufeed Al-Hassayna told Anadolu Agency on Monday.

Israel has launched a military operation – dubbed Operation Protective Edge – with the stated goal of ending rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

Since then, Israeli warplanes have staged hundreds of airstrikes on the besieged enclave – home to around 1.8 million Palestinians – while ground troops remain amassed on the borders in advance of a possible ground assault.

Gaza-based resistance factions, for their part, have continued to fire hundreds of rockets into Israel, some of which have reached Tel Aviv, in response to the ongoing offensive.

Around 208 Israelis were injured in rocket attacks from Gaza, according to Israel’s national emergency response service.

No Israeli fatalities have been reported thus far.

Israel cabinet goes for escalation in Gaza

A minor Israeli cabinet decided during a one-hour meeting late on Sunday to maintain military escalation against the Gaza Strip, an Israeli source said.

The source told Israel’s channel I that the cabinet had decided to step up the military campaign in Gaza in order to destroy the infrastructure of the Gaza-based resistance movement Hamas.

Referring to Egyptian efforts to bring about a ceasefire in Gaza, the source said Egypt would be the only country allowed by Israel to mediate this ceasefire.

A senior leader of Hamas, meanwhile, referred earlier to Qatari mediation, saying Qatar had delivered a message to Hamas from the U.S. about the movement’s terms for agreeing to a ceasefire.

The leader added that his movement had not received any “serious” proposals in this regard, noting that the movement is only getting ready to counter a potential Israeli ground operation in Gaza.

Source: World Bulletin.


Jordanians angered by Israel’s war on Gaza

Elisa Oddone

July 16, 2014

AMMAN, Jordan — Jordanians have raised their voice against the Israeli offensive on Gaza that has so far killed over 200 Palestinians and one Israeli, with protesters taking to the streets, members of parliament (MPs) planning to head to the Gaza Strip and King Abdullah II warning of “the dangerous escalation” of violence in the area.

Israel’s week-old Gaza Strip barrage followed an escalation of hostilities that began with the arrest of hundreds of Hamas supporters by Israeli forces in the Israeli-occupied West Bank following the kidnapping of three Jewish teenagers who were later found dead.

A Palestinian youth was then abducted and burned alive in Jerusalem, in an alleged act of retaliation by far-right Israelis.

Jordanians have since then taken to the streets, calling on the government to expel the Israeli ambassador to the kingdom, shut down the embassy, cut all relations to what protesters have defined “the Zionist entity” and revoke the peace treaty with Israel. But actions against Israel seem unlikely.

“Jordan will neither expel the Israeli ambassador nor shut down the embassy,” Jawad Anani, former deputy prime minister and foreign minister, told Al-Monitor. “This demand always arrives whenever there is an Israeli action that angers Jordanians. We cannot do that, as we need to maintain lines of communication with the Israelis despite Jordan’s current very cold relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.”

At a rally led by the Muslim Brotherhood on July 9, protesters attempted to storm the Israeli Embassy, but were prevented from reaching the diplomatic mission by Jordanian forces. Six people were arrested and then released shortly after.

Asked about the reasons behind the protest, Sheikh Hamza Mansour, leader of Jordan’s Islamic Action Front, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in the kingdom, told Al-Monitor that Jordanians and Palestinians were one and the same people, therefore, “If you are killing us in Gaza, you are killing us everywhere.”

“If this continues, Jordan’s streets, from Aqaba to Ramtha, would stand up to their defense spontaneously without planning or mobilization from anyone,” he said.

Following an emergency meeting called by the Palestine Committee in the lower house of parliament last week, 20 Jordanian MPs announced they would head for Gaza in a display of solidarity and support with Palestinians suffering under “Israeli aggression.”

“This is a message to America, Europe, the [UN] Security Council and the international community that Israel’s domination and arrogance is unacceptable and cannot be left without questioning and punishment,“ MP Yihya Saud, head of the Palestine Committee in the Lower House and organizer of the initiative, told Al-Monitor.

Saud stressed the MPs will act independently of the Jordanian government and planned to reach Gaza from the Rafah border crossing between the southern Gaza Strip and Egypt.

But Egyptian authorities denied the Jordanian MPs access to the enclave amid security concerns on July 14, Saud said, adding that Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh was due to discuss the request with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry, though signs for an agreement were “thin.”

Anani, who was first a negotiator in the discussions that led to the Israel-Jordan peace treaty in 1994, said there have been violations to the accord over the past two decades.

“There were infringements on issues regarding treatment of refugees according to the international law and the abolishment of the borders between Jordan and the West Bank as we did not recognize the Israeli legitimacy as occupier in these territories.”

The former royal court chief said that tension between Israel and the Palestinians has always had a direct repercussion on Jordan and as long as a peace agreement was not reached, there would be instability in the kingdom and in the region overall.

“Attacking civilians in Gaza and accusing Hamas of the teenagers’ kidnapping, despite Hamas’ denial and lack of evidence, has led to anger. We are still living the Arab Spring and people in the streets are not accepting this violence. This affects the security of everybody in this part of the world and in Jordan especially,” Anani said, downplaying the chance of an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza.

“The Israelis are reluctant to enter Gaza by land with troops as this would lead to casualties among their lines, something that they cannot afford politically right now,” he said.

In a display of support for the Palestinians in Gaza, around 300 protesters filled the square in front of the Kalouti Mosque in west Amman after Friday prayers on July 11 and the Ramadan special evening prayers on July 15, a few blocks from the Israeli Embassy. Al-Monitor attended both rallies.

Riot police were deployed but no incidents were reported during the rallies.

Banners depicting the Nazi swastika next to a Star of David and reading “Jordanian government, shut down the Zionist embassy, kick the ambassador out,” and “The road to Palestine is through gun barrels not a Zionist visa” could be spotted at the rally.

Degoul, a 46-year-old Jordanian residing in New York, but currently on a visit to the country, said he joined the protest to support the Palestinians amid the ongoing “massacre.”

“What we are seeing is a premeditated murder conducted by the Israeli government on the people of Gaza without any balance between what happened and what Israel is doing. Gaza has no airplanes or tanks,” he said.

Student Marwa Daher, 17, who has distant relatives in Palestine, told Al-Monitor the current state of affairs was partly the result of people not raising their voices loud enough for the Palestinian cause.

Similar protests took place in several cities across the country in Karak, Irbid, Tafileh, Mafraq and Jerash, protesters said at the rally.

On July 10, Jordan’s King Abdullah warned against the “dangerous” escalation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, during an official visit to Washington.

Following a meeting with US Vice President Joe Biden, the king said the recent developments hampered the resumption of the Palestinian-Israeli talks based on the two-state solution, and the ensuing “vacuum” would lead to more violence.

Anani said the Israelis were showing no signs of wanting peace.

“The Arab Spring has given the Israelis a green light to keep ignoring the mutual peace and occupying more land. They are encouraging settlers to build new settlements, they are attacking the Holy Shrine in Jerusalem. This is not acceptable. What the Palestinians do in retaliation of violence, the Israelis do continuously on a daily basis,” he said.

Source: al-Monitor.


Child marriages rise two-fold among Syria refugees in Jordan


AMMAN – The number of child marriages has doubled among Syrian refugee girls in Jordan because of poverty and fear of sexual violence, international agencies said on Wednesday.

Save the Children, in a report, “Too Young to Wed,” said children marrying in Syria before the country’s conflict erupted in 2011 accounted for 13 percent of all marriages.

But “early and forced marriage among Syrian refugee girls in Jordan has doubled since the onset of war,” according to the report.

It said 48 percent of them were forced into unions with men at least 10 years their senior.

“Child marriage is devastating for those girls concerned,” said Saba al-Mobaslat, Save the Children’s country director in Jordan.

“Girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence than their peers who marry later, and they have much more limited access to sexual and reproductive health, putting their young bodies at extreme risk if and when they become pregnant.”

Figures from the UN children’s agency UNICEF show that among Syrian refugees in Jordan, the rate of child marriages rose from 18 percent of all marriages in 2012, to 25 percent in 2013.

Latest figures show this rate jumped to 32 percent in the first quarter of 2014, UNICEF said on Wednesday.

Jordan, home to more than 600,000 Syrian refugees, allows girls under the age of 18 to marry with court approval.

Government figures show that 735 marriages of Syrian girls under 18 were registered in 2013, compared to 42 in 2011.

“As refugees, Syrian families are reliant on dwindling resources and lacking economic opportunities,” said the Save The Children report.

“At the same time, they are all too aware of the need to protect their daughters from the threat of sexual violence,” it said.

“Given these pressures, some families consider child marriage to be the best way to protect their female children and ease family resources.”

UNICEF’s Jordan representative, Robert Jenkins, likewise warned that girls who marry before 18 are at increased risk of abuse and of medical complications during pregnancy.

“They also have more limited economic opportunities due to loss of schooling and can get trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty,” he said.

Mobaslat said the repercussions of forced marriage can be physical as well as mental — and even fatal.

“The consequences for girls’ health of engaging in sexual activity while their bodies are still developing are devastating: girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than fully-grown women,” he said.

Source: Middle East Online.


Jordan’s Brotherhood bets on economic plan to improve its image

José Ciro Martínez

July 13, 2014

AMMAN, Jordan — On July 6, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm in Jordan, held elections for its Shura Council. The recent vote for the party’s main legislative body received wide coverage, a product of the well-known disagreements between self-described “hawks” and “doves” within the IAF. Less newsworthy but potentially more significant was a July 2 news conference announcing the party’s economic blueprint for Jordan, which Al-Monitor attended. It was the most extensive policy proposal put forward by the Ikhwan since the early 1990s.

Prepared over a two-year period, the plan is part of a broader overhaul of the IAF’s image. Although full details will be released before the next parliamentary elections as part of an overarching policy document titled “The Jordan of Tomorrow,” the timing of the announcement offers some insight into the IAF’s current predicament.

Since Oct. 5, 2013, the IAF has faced what may well be its most serious challenge since its founding. The Zamzam Initiative launched by leading moderate Muslim Brotherhood figures disenchanted with the IAF has raised the specter of a damaging internal rift. Zamzam disagrees with the IAF’s confrontational stance with the regime and eschews its traditional focus on political reforms and regional affairs. In contrast, it promotes a more moderate, conciliatory approach, including non-controversial institutional reforms and inclusive national dialogue.

Meanwhile, sources within the IAF told Al-Monitor their belief that the regime was backing Zamzam to perpetuate discord within the Muslim Brotherhood, as part of a broader campaign to discredit the organizations since the military coup in Egypt in July 2013.

Calls for reform within the IAF have only increased since three of Zamzam’s leading members were expelled in late March. Just last month, an unsanctioned summit attended by over a hundred dissenting members in the northern city of Irbid declared a “popular uprising” against the IAF’s leaders. Their main demands included a change to the current leadership through a consensus election and the exclusion of “elements of aggravation,” within the party.

In light of brewing internal divisions, the economic strategy is the IAF’s newest attempt to foster party unity while bolstering popular support. In the press conference announcing the proposal, IAF Secretary-General Hamza Mansour said, “This strategy is not specifically for the Islamic Action Front, … the strategy is for the country.”

The move to policy comes after a time in which the IAF’s major figures have toned down their anti-government rhetoric and minimized their public appearances. Following the Brotherhood’s surprising victory in elections for the Jordanian Teachers’ Union, there has been wide speculation around the IAF’s political strategy. Its economic blueprint illustrates what may become the party’s new approach, a tedious but necessary focus on public policy issues.

At the IAF news conference, Mansour hinted at this change of strategy, “The party has dealt with economic issues in the past, through electoral statements and the press, but this is the first time we treat the problem by way of a systematic analysis.” The proposal is not about scoring political points but, “to diagnose reality and offer recommendations.” Copies of the strategy have been sent to the Royal Court, the prime minister and the parliament and will soon be placed on the IAF’s website.

In an interview with Al-Monitor, Suleiman al-Shiyab, head of the IAF’s economic team, worked through the econometric analysis in the soon-to-be-released policy document. He delineated the often neglected sectors that were put under the microscope: fertilizers, garments, pharmaceuticals and the aluminum industry. All 12 of the country’s governorates were examined, weaknesses identified, strengths highlighted and opportunities outlined.

Shiyab was careful to stress that the blueprint is bereft of ideology: “The study is scientific: We used official reports released by the government and reputable international organizations,” he said. “Over 81 sectors were examined. Our team included 65 experts from academia, the private sector and former state officials, most of whom do not identify as Islamists.”

Shiyab was careful to stress the IAF’s goals in releasing the report, “The citizenry’s quality of life is decreasing while costs are increasing. The challenges for Jordanians are becoming more difficult with every passing day.” Yet the impetus behind the announcement inevitably emerges: “We are tired of the government claiming that the opposition is just about slogans and scoring political points.” He proudly said, “We are the first political party to release a detailed economic blueprint, now the government and the people can see clearly that we, too, can offer concrete solutions.”

IAF political official Murad Adayleh reiterated the party’s efforts, embodied in the blueprint, “to both clarify the current economic predicament and help solve it,” in an interview with Al-Monitor. Given the government’s tenuous relationship with the opposition, he said he was not surprised that the IAF has received “no real response from the executive branch, positive nor negative.”

For the moment, the government remains tepid in its response. In comments to Al-Monitor, Minister of State for Media Affairs Mohammad al-Momani, a government spokesman, said, “The IAF’s plan will be sent to concerned ministers and the relevant committees. Their suggestions are very much welcomed.” Momani denied alleged government meddling among the Islamists, “We treat the IAF like any other political party. They are part of the national fabric.” “We will give answers to IAF’s strategy if required,” he said. “We hope this signals a more meaningful engagement in public affairs.”

Does the government prefer an Islamist turn toward economic policy debates? At the moment this remains unclear, although IAF members insisted that they would not abandon their traditional emphasis on political reforms. In comments preceding the news conference, Mansour said, “Economic progress should be preceded or accompanied by real political reforms.”

Close examination of the proposed blueprint, obtained through confidential sources by Al-Monitor, reveals a more complicated picture. The econometric analysis is extensive, as is the detailed examination of the problems that ail the Jordanian economy. The goals are also laudable: comprehensive development, optimal utilization of natural resources and lowering poverty rates.

Less clear are the concrete measures needed to reach these objectives. Beyond increasing economic growth to reduce Jordan’s bulging deficit, specific policy recommendations, especially regarding sensitive budgetary issues, remain sparse.

When pushed on this point, Shiyab said it should come as no surprise. “The blueprint is part of a six-year effort. The next step will be identifying the types of projects that can make our assessment and vision a reality.”

The IAF’s elections for the Shura Council seem to confirm its new approach. Economic issues will be placed front and center. By electing Abdul Mohsen Al-Azzam over previous President Ali Abu Sukkar, the IAF appears to be adopting a more conciliatory tone. Although hawkish in his positions, Azzam is dovish in his vocabulary; his first remarks focused on external threats to Jordan and the need for national unity.

While the message of the Shura Council election has been assessed as directing a “message of peace” toward state organs, the ultimate goal may be to minimize internal party divisions while moving the arena of debate toward the economy.

As Jordanian citizens continue to suffer the consequences of economic mismanagement — decreasing growth, higher inflation and rising inequalities — the IAF appears to believe that this is a debate it can win.

Source: al-Monitor.


Qatar proposes the establishment of a commercial port in Gaza

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Qatar has proposed the establishment of an internationally-supervised commercial port at the Gaza Strip as a temporary solution to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people until they establish their independent state along the pre-1967 borders.

Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Attiyah made the proposal during the meeting of Arab foreign ministers that was held in Cairo on Monday to discuss the steps that will be taken by the Arab League to confront the brutal Israeli aggression on the people of Gaza.

Al-Attiyah said that the international community should find guarantees that would enable the Palestinian Authority to pay salaries to Gaza’s employees, who represent more than 50,000 families.

“This requires Arab diplomatic action that should depend on Arab influence at the international level,” he said.

On Monday, Egypt proposed an initiative for a ceasefire in Gaza.

According to a statement issued by the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Egyptian initiative states: “Israel shall cease all hostilities against the Gaza Strip via land, sea, and air, and shall commit to refrain from conducting any ground raids against Gaza and targeting civilians.

“All Palestinian factions in Gaza shall cease all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel via land, sea, air, and underground, and shall commit to refrain from firing all types of rockets, and from attacks on the borders or targeting civilians.”

The Egyptian initiative also called for the opening of crossings “and the passage of persons and goods through border crossings shall be facilitated once the security situation becomes stable on the ground.

“Other issues, including security issues shall be discussed with the two sides.”

On the method of implementation, the Egyptian foreign ministry said: “It has been decided to initiate implementation of the de-escalation agreements at 9am on July 15, 2014, pending the implementation of a full ceasefire within 12 hours of the announcement of the Egyptian initiative and its unconditional acceptance by both sides.”

Over a week ago, Israel launched a military operation on the Gaza Strip, labeling it “Operation Protective Edge” and alleging that it aims to stop rockets fired from Gaza towards Israeli towns and cities.

The Israeli military attack has resulted in more than 200 Palestinian deaths and the injury of more than 1,390. Some 80 per cent of those killed in the Israeli offensive are civilians.

Source: Middle East Monitor.