Archive for November, 2014

Syrian air raids kill at least 21 in IS-held town

November 09, 2014

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government helicopters and warplanes carried out a series of airstrikes overnight on a northern town controlled by the Islamic State group, killing at least 21 people, activists said Sunday.

The air raids struck the town of al-Bab in Aleppo province late Saturday and lasted through early Sunday morning. The Aleppo Media Center activist collective and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights both reported the attacks.

Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman said there were 10 strikes in total, including seven so-called barrel bombs dropped from helicopters. He said at least 21 people were killed and more than 100 wounded.

The Aleppo Media Center put the death toll at 30, with 85 wounded. Differences in casualty figures are common in the chaotic aftermath of attacks in Syria. President Bashar Assad’s air force routinely bombs towns held by the Islamic State group, as well as areas controlled by mainstream rebel brigades.

A U.S.-led coalition also is conducting an aerial campaign against the Islamic State group and other extremists in Syria. Washington says it does not coordinate its airstrikes with Damascus. The international coalition has recently focused much of its firepower on Islamic State fighters attacking the predominantly Kurdish town of Kobani on Syria’s northern border with Turkey. The extremists launched an offensive against the town, which is also known as Ayn Arab, in mid-September. After making initial gains in Kobani, the Islamic State group’s assault has slowed to a bitter grind.

Abdurrahman, the director of the Observatory, said Sunday that more than 1,000 people have been killed in the battle of Kobani, including 609 Islamic State militants. The toll also includes 363 fighters from the Kurdish militia known as the YPG, as well as 24 civilians and more than a dozen Syrian rebels.

In southern Syria, meanwhile, Islamic rebel brigades and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front seized the town of Nawa from forces loyal to Assad, the Observatory said. “Nusra and the rebels control the whole town and the area around it,” Abdurrahman said. “The Syrian regime pulled out because they are weak there.”

Activists say more than 200,000 people have been killed in Syria since protests against Assad spiraled into violence in 2011. United Nations envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem on Sunday in Damascus, the SANA state news agency reported. It said the two men discussed several issues, including the envoy’s recent initiative on establishing local cease-fires as a way to try to halt the fighting in the country.

A Syrian state newspaper on Saturday criticized de Mistura for pursuing his idea of local truces, saying he deviated from the “limits of the international mission” with which he was entrusted.

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Children in Aleppo Forced Underground to Go to School

By Shelly Kittleson

ALEPPO, Nov 6 2014 (IPS) – Winter has not yet hit this nearly besieged city, but children are already attending classes in winter coats and stocking hats.

Cold, damp underground education facilities are less exposed to regime barrel bombs and airstrikes but necessitate greater bundling to prevent common seasonal viruses from taking hold in a city from which most doctors have fled or been killed.

Only one perilous route leads out of the city and northwards to the Turkish border and better medical care, if required.

On the way to an underground school IPS visited in late October, the children must necessarily pass by shop fronts blown out by airstrikes, a few remaining signs advertising what used to be clothing, hairdressers’ or wedding apparel shops with the ‘idolatrous’ images spray-painted black by the Islamic State (IS) when they briefly controlled the area, before being pushed out by rebel groups.

The jihadist group is still battling to retake terrain in the area, with the closest frontline against them being in Marea, an estimated 30 kilometers away from opposition-held areas of eastern Aleppo.

They must also witness the destruction wrought by the regime, which is trying to impose a total siege on opposition areas and which would need to take only a few kilometers more of terrain to do so.

Even if they only live a block away, the children are forced to walk by buildings entirely defaced by barrel bombs, floors hanging down precariously above the heads of fruit, vegetable and sweets street vendors. A pink toilet and part of a couch are still visibly wedged between the upper, mutilated and dangling levels of one such building on their way.

A few of the children in the co-ed primary school seem shell-shocked, but many smile and laugh readily on the crowded wooden benches stuffed into the cramped, cold spaces. Two boys at the front of one of the rooms sway back and forth with their arms around each other’s shoulders, singing boisterously.

Some of the rough walls have been painted sky blue or festooned with holiday-type decorations to ‘’brighten the children’s spirits’’, one of teachers says. A few comic-strip posters have been pasted in the corridor.

The classes run from 9 in the morning to 1 in the afternoon during the week, one of the instructors – Zakra, a former fifth-year university student in engineering – told IPS.

Zakra, who now teaches mathematics, English and science at the school, said that she gets paid about 50 dollars a month. All of the school’s 15 teachers are women wearing all-covering black garments. Some cover their faces as well, some do not. IPS was told not to photograph them in any case, because many still have family members in regime areas.

‘’The school opened last year,’’ Zakra said, ‘’but then stopped between October 2013 and July 2014, as the barrel-bombing campaign made it too dangerous for parents to send their children to school,’’ even to underground ones.

The young teacher said that she plans on leaving at some point to continue her studies in Turkey but was not sure when, primarily due to economic reasons.

Older students are mostly left to their own devices, because this school and others like it only provide for those ages 6 to 13.

The head of the education department of the Aleppo City Council – who goes by the name of Mahmoud Al-Qudsi – told IPS that some 115 schools were still operating in the area, but that most of them were former ground-level flats, basements or other structures.

Only about 20 original school buildings were still operating, he said, from some 750 in the area prior to the uprising.

Syrian government forces have targeted educational and medical facilities in opposition areas throughout the conflict, and efforts are made to keep the locations secret.

Those preparing for the baccalaureate – the Syrian secondary school diploma – study at home, he said. They then come to centers on established dates to actually take the exams in late June and early July. Word is spread of where they will be held via the Aleppo Today television channel, which broadcasts out of Gaziantep, and posters are put up around the city to announce the times and places.

Turkey, Libya and France currently recognize the baccalaureate exams, Qudsi noted, but ‘’French universities only accepted five of our students last year.’’

Most of the curriculum remains that approved by the regime, but ‘nationalistic’ parts praising the Assad family have been cut and religion classes now teach that ‘’fighting against the Assad regime is a religious duty.’’

‘’We also want to change the curricula, but we can’t right now. We want it to be a Syrian-chosen one – one designed and wanted by all Syrians – but we can’t do that now, given the situation,’’ said Qudsi, ‘’and we obviously don’t have the money to print new books.’’

Most of the low salaries the teachers receive are necessarily funded by various international and private associations because the city council just does not have the funds, he noted.

The council, ‘’was only able to pay the equivalent of 70 dollars each for the entire academic year but the teachers were happy about it nonetheless, since it shows that we appreciate what they are doing.’’

Qudsi was also adamant that even the most fundamentalist parents had not interfered with their teaching.  ‘’We are all in this together. Their children attend our schools, too.’’

The barrel bombs stopped entirely for a number of days earlier this autumn after rebel forces closed in on the Aleppo air defense factories where the crude bombs made of scrap metal and explosives are assembled by regime forces. The bombing has since resumed following regime gains.

On arriving at the scene of one such attack in late October, IPS saw a body pulled from the rubble by the civil defense forces before they rushed with flashlights around the block to get to the other side of the collapsed building, where three young children had been trapped underneath the rubble. All were later found dead.

Families were crowded on the steps outside of other buildings down the street, and flashlight beams illuminated the faces of clutches of frightened children, an adult or two nearby in the dust raised by the concrete slabs brought down in the impact.

The schools at least give the children a chance to focus on something other than the destruction and death surrounding them, Qudsi told IPS, and ‘’are the only chance of Syria having any future at all.’

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).

Link: http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/children-in-aleppo-forced-underground-to-go-to-school/.

Hamas creates ‘popular army’ in Gaza to confront Israel

Sat Nov 8, 2014

The Palestinian resistance movement Hamas has announced the formation of a “popular army” in the besieged Gaza Strip to counter the Israeli regime’s aggression.

A spokesman for the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said at a ceremony at the Jabaliya refugee camp on Friday that “the first section of the popular army for the liberation of al-Aqsa and of Palestine” would consist of 2,500 recruits.

Hamas said the new force is tasked with confronting any future Israeli aggression, particularly against the al-Aqsa Mosque in East al-Quds (Jerusalem).

Mohammed Abu Askar, a Hamas official, also noted that individuals over 20 years old could sign up “to be prepared for any confrontation” with Israel, adding that the popular force has been created “at a moment when the al-Aqsa Mosque is subject to serious Israeli violations.”

The announcement comes as the resistance movement and the people of Gaza are angry over the recent Israeli aggression against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the al-Aqsa Mosque.

On Friday, Palestinian protesters held a demo at the Qalandia checkpoint, Beit Lahm and al-Khalil (Hebron) to express their anger at Israel’s decision to deny Palestinians under the age of 50 entry into the holy al-Aqsa Mosque. The Israeli regime’s troops used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.

Earlier in the day, Tel Aviv deployed some 1,300 soldiers in and around the occupied Old City of al-Quds to suppress Palestinians protesting Israel’s violations in the al-Aqsa Mosque.

The mosque has recently been the scene of clashes between Palestinian worshipers and Israelis.

Israel closed the al-Aqsa Mosque compound to Muslim worshippers a day after a 32-year-old Palestinian, Moataz Hejazi, made an attempt on the life of Yehuda Glick, an American-born Israeli settler, on October 29.

The Israeli rabbi ran campaigns for expansion of Israeli access to the mosque.

The al-Aqsa compound, located in the Israeli-occupied Old City of al-Quds, is a flashpoint holy Islamic site. The location of the compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, is the holiest site in Judaism. The mosque is Islam’s third holiest site after Masjid al-Haram in Mecca and Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina, Saudi Arabia.

Over the past decades, Israel has tried to change the demographic makeup of al-Quds by constructing illegal settlements, destroying historical sites and expelling the local Palestinian population.

Source: PressTV.

Link: http://www.presstv.ir/detail/2014/11/08/385192/hamas-forms-antiisrael-popular-army/.

Jordan recalls envoy to Israel over al-Asqa Mosque clashes

Wed Nov 5, 2014

Jordan has recalled its ambassador to Israel and moved to lodge a complaint at the United Nations amid attacks by Israeli troops on Palestinians at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in East al-Quds (Jerusalem).

On Wednesday, Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur asked Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh to recall the Jordanian ambassador, Walid Obeidat, from Tel Aviv in protest at what he described as Israeli violations in al-Quds and the holy sites there.

The Jordanian prime minister also instructed the country’s delegation at the UN to file a formal complaint with the UN Security Council against Israel.

The al-Aqsa Mosque compound, located in the Israeli-occupied Old City of al-Quds, is a flashpoint holy Islamic site. The location of the compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, is the holiest site in Judaism. The mosque is Islam’s third holiest mosque after Masjid al-Haram in Mecca and Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina, Saudi Arabia. Jordan is the custodian of the al-Alqsa Mosque compound.

Earlier on Wednesday, dozens of Palestinians suffered tear gas inhalation and at least 20 were injured when Israeli forces fired rubber bullets and hurled tear gas canisters during clashes with Palestinian worshipers at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Several Palestinians, among them a minor, were also detained.

Israel closed the al-Aqsa Mosque to Muslim worshipers on October 30, after a 32-year-old Palestinian, Moataz Hejazi, was accused of making an attempt on the life of far-right Israeli rabbi, Yehuda Glick, on October 29. Hejazi was killed during an Israeli raid on his home in the Abu Tor neighborhood.

Tel Aviv then imposed restrictions on male worshipers, allowing only those over 50 into the holy site.

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian national unity government, warned that the Israeli move amounted to “declaration of war.”

Source: PressTV.

Link: http://www.presstv.ir/detail/2014/11/05/384902/jordan-recalls-ambassador-to-israel/.

Gov’t cracks down on IS on Facebook and Twitter

Tue 14 October / Oct 2014

AMMAN, Jordan (The Washington Post) — A young man dressed in brown prison garb entered the defendant’s cage in Jordan’s newly empowered state security court and listened politely as an intelligence officer he had never met began testifying against him.

“Sir, I apologize for the interruption, your Excellency, but this is my first time before a court, and I am unsure of the correct proceedings or my rights?” the defendant interjected.

The man in the cage late last month was Wassim Abu Ayesh, 20, a Jordanian from the city of Irbid who was arrested in August and charged with “promoting terrorist ideology and propaganda through social media.” Specifically, the prosecutor alleged, Abu Ayesh had posted an Islamic State YouTube video on his Facebook page — a crime now punishable by five to 15 years in prison.

For years, Jordan’s security apparatus has closely surveilled threats posed by the country’s large refu­gee population, homegrown militants and radical Islamists, especially after Iraqi operatives bombed three Amman hotels in 2005, killing 60 people. There have been both crackdowns and soft-power attempts to encourage moderate expressions of Islam.

Now, the pro-Western monarchy is responding to the rapid rise of the Islamic State in neighboring Syria and Iraq with a tough, recently amended anti-terror law, enacted in June by King Abdullah II, a close U.S. ally. Fearing contagion, Jordan has announced that it will not tolerate any open activity, recruitment or support for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

“Our position is that it is not okay to wave ISIS flags,” said Mohammad Al Momani, minister of state for media affairs. “It is against the law, and you will be arrested.”

The Islamic State and its supporters “will not find a hospitable environment in Jordan,” he said.

A Jordanian human-rights activist and legal advocate, Taher Nassar, said the June amendments to the country’s 2006 anti-terror law have given authorities a “blank check” to arrest dissidents and Islamists alike without charges, and to expand crackdowns beyond suspected terrorists to include government opponents.

“Under the new anti-terror law, any phrase, photo or video shared online can be construed as ‘inciting terrorism’ no matter what the content actually is,” said Nassar, whose clients include a journalist and six opposition activists facing terrorism charges at the state security court for comments posted on their Facebook pages.

As many as 2,000 Jordanians have fought in Syria over the past three years, according to estimates by the London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization — not only for the Islamic State, but also for various religious militias as well as the Free Syrian Army. In recent months, small, scattered demonstrations of support for the Islamic State have taken place in Amman, Zarqa and Maan, where masked youths have waved homemade Islamic State banners.

According to Islamists and their attorneys, between 60 and 90 Jordanians have been arrested for alleged ties to the Islamic State under the new anti-terror law. So far, only 11 have been referred to the security court.

Of those, the case of Abu Ayesh, the accused Facebook poster, was the first to be heard.

In this opening session, presided over by three military judges, the first witness was Mohammed Youssef Ibrahim, an officer with Jordan’s General Intelligence Department.

The defendant was represented by Moussa Abdallat, a feisty defense attorney for Islamist movements, who wore a rumpled suit and stained tie. The courtroom was empty, except for guards and a couple of foreign journalists.

The trial got underway with the defendant, Abu Ayesh, swearing that during his many interrogation sessions, he repeatedly told the intelligence officers: “I am against killing and I am against the Islamic State in Jordan.”

He added that while in prison he was handed a statement written by his interrogators and made to sign his name without reading it.

Attorney Abdallat: “Did Wassim or did Wassim not tell you that he was against killing and against the Islamic State in Jordan?”

The intelligence officer paused, looked at the ceiling, and answered, “I don’t remember.”

The defense told the judges that the video in question was not made by the Islamic State.

Attorney Abdallat: “In Wassim’s ‘confession,’ did he or did he not tell you that the video in question that he put on his Facebook page had to do with the Abu Ghraib prison [in Iraq] and the abuses by the Iraqi government there and was not in fact a pro-Islamic State video?”

Agent Ibrahim: “I am not sure.”

Attorney Abdallat: “‘I am not sure?’ Is there not a big difference between a video about Shiite abuses against Sunni Iraqis in Abu Ghraib prison and a video promoting the Islamic State? Did he not say this?”

Agent Ibrahim: “I do not remember.”

Attorney Abdallat: “Did you, personally, see his Facebook page? His Twitter posts?”

Agent Ibrahim: “I do not know how to use Facebook or Twitter.”

Attorney Abdallat (incredulously): “Then how do you know my client promoted Islamic State propaganda on Facebook?”

The intelligence officer said he never questioned the defendant and had only read the case file of evidence assembled against him. The defense attorney demanded to see the file. The intelligence agent replied, “It is classified.”

The judge reminded the attorney, “You know intelligence department files are classified.”

After this exchange continued for another 10 minutes, the defendant pleaded not guilty. The judge said the trial would reconvene later in October.

Source: al-Ghad.

Link: http://www.alghad.com/articles/830572-Jordan-cracks-down-on-Islamic-State-on-Facebook-and-Twitter.

French parliament to vote on Palestinian state

November 12, 2014

PARIS (AP) — France’s National Assembly will vote this month on a largely symbolic resolution in favor of recognizing a Palestinian state, hoping it could help end the decades-long conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, officials said Wednesday.

Approval by the lower and more powerful chamber of parliament would send a signal to President Francois Hollande’s Socialist government, which has the final say. Hollande supported “international recognition” of a Palestinian state on the campaign trail two years ago, and parliamentary leaders have recently consulted Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on the matter.

The National Assembly will vote on the resolution Nov. 28. The Senate will vote on a similar one floated by the Communist Party on Dec. 11. Government spokesman Stephane Le Foll suggested on Wednesday that even if parliament supports recognition of a Palestinian state, France would only act as part of a broad international effort to help end years of violence and conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

“The government’s responsibility is not just to recognize a state — a Palestinian state. It’s to make sure that it’s recognized on an international scale,” he told reporters. He cited a two-track approach: A debate in France’s parliament on the matter, and a French diplomatic commitment to reach a resolution on the issue at the U.N. Security Council.

In an online briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal noted a recent “deterioration of the situation” in Jerusalem, Palestinian territories and Israel, saying France will “have to do what it takes” if peace negotiations don’t resume or fail. He didn’t elaborate.

Last month, British lawmakers voted in favor of a similar, symbolic vote, and Sweden became the biggest Western European country to outright recognize a Palestinian state — prompting a protest from Israel, which swiftly withdrew its ambassador from Stockholm.

Jamey Keaten contributed to this report.

Israel approves 200 new homes in east Jerusalem

November 12, 2014

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli authorities gave preliminary approval Wednesday for construction of 200 new homes in a Jewish area of east Jerusalem, a move likely to ratchet up already heightened tensions in the city.

The decision came shortly before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was to arrive in neighboring Jordan on a mission aimed at restoring calm in the Holy Land after weeks of unrest. Much of the recent violence has stemmed from tensions surrounding a sensitive holy site revered by Muslims and Jews. The collapse of U.S.-brokered peace talks, Israel’s bloody war last summer in the Gaza Strip and continued Israeli settlement construction in east Jerusalem have added to it.

Brachie Sprung, a spokeswoman for the municipality, said city officials approved 200 homes in the Ramat area. Sprung said the approval was just a preliminary stage of the planning process — meaning construction would be years away.

She also said city officials approved an additional 174 homes for construction in an Arab neighborhood. Any Israeli construction for Jewish areas of east Jerusalem risks setting off a diplomatic firestorm — especially in the current fragile environment.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in 1967 and annexed the area in a move that is not internationally recognized. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as their capital. The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty in the area and opposes settlement construction. More than 200,000 Jewish Israelis live in developments like Ramat that ring east Jerusalem to help cement Israeli control.

The Israeli announcement came before Kerry was to arrive in Jordan and meet King Abdullah II and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the situation in Jerusalem. There was no immediate plan for Kerry to travel to Israel.

Under a longstanding arrangement, Jordan holds custodial rights over Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, including the compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. Visits by Jewish worshippers to the site have raised concerns among Muslims that Israel is secretly trying to take over the site. The tensions have boiled over into violent demonstrations and deadly violence. Abbas accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week of leading the region toward a “religious war.”

In the latest unrest, an attack against a mosque in a West Bank village earlier Wednesday ignited a fire that destroyed its first floor. Faraj al-Naasan, the mayor of the village of Mughayer, north of Ramallah, blamed Jewish settlers for the blaze.

Israeli police also said someone threw a Molotov cocktail at an ancient synagogue in the Israeli-Arab town of Shfaram late Tuesday night, causing light damage. Also Wednesday, Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian leader serving a life sentence in Israel for his role in the Palestinian uprising last decade, was sentenced to a week in solitary for calling for more violence and for the Palestinian Authority to stop its security cooperation with Israel. Israeli media interpreted that as a call for a third Intifada, or Palestinian uprising.

Meanwhile, an Israeli border policeman was arrested in connection with the death of a Palestinian demonstrator near Ramallah in May, police said. Israeli security forces said they used only rubber bullets to disperse the protesters, but Israeli media reported that the border policeman may have used live ammunition.

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