Archive for December, 2014

Israel arrests more from Jewish extremist group

December 21, 2014

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police have arrested four Jewish activists from the extremist Lehava group opposed to Arab-Jewish coexistence.

The arrests are part of a clampdown on the fringe organization, which has become a symbol of rising anti-Arab sentiment. Police spokeswoman Luba Samri says the arrests took place on Sunday in five different cities throughout Israel. She says that along with the four arrested, four other activists were detained and then released.

Last week, police arrested 10 Lehava members, including its leader, on suspicion of racist incitement and calls to violence. The group has sought to break up Arab-Jewish couples and has waged campaigns to prevent Jews and Arabs from working together.

Three Lehava members were indicted last week on charges of torching a bilingual Hebrew-Arabic school in Jerusalem last month.

Blow to Israel: EU court removes Hamas from terror blacklist

2014-12-17

By Danny Kemp

Luxembourg

The Palestinian Islamic militant group Hamas must be removed from the EU’s terrorism blacklist, but its assets will stay frozen for the time being, a European court ruled on Wednesday.

The original listing in 2001 was based not on sound legal judgements but on conclusions derived from the media and the Internet, the General Court of the European Union said in a statement.

But it stressed that Wednesday’s decision to remove Hamas was based on technical grounds and does “not imply any substantive assessment of the question of the classification of Hamas as a terrorist group.”

The freeze on Hamas’s funds will also temporarily remain in place for three months pending any appeal by the EU, the Luxembourg-based court said.

Hamas, which has been in power in the Palestinian territory of Gaza since 2007, had appealed against its inclusion on the blacklist on several grounds.

The judgement comes hours before the European Parliament overwhelmingly backed the recognition of a Palestinian state “in principle”, following a series of votes on the issue in EU nations that have enraged Israel.

Hamas’s military wing was added to the European Union’s first-ever terrorism blacklist drawn up in December 2001 in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States.

The EU blacklisted the political wing of Hamas in 2003.

“The General Court finds that the contested measures are based not on acts examined and confirmed in decisions of competent authorities but on factual imputations derived from the press and the Internet,” the court said.

Instead, such an action had to be based on facts previously established by competent authorities.

– European Parliament vote –

Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers were removed from the list in October after an almost identical judgement.

The lawyer for Hamas, Liliane Glock, said she was “satisfied with the decision”.

“Every decision since 2001 imposing restrictive measures, including on the armed wing, have been annulled. I believe that this judgement shows the whole world that it exists and is legal,” Glock said.

Lawmakers approved the motion by 498 votes to 88 with 111 abstentions, although it was a watered down version of an original motion which had urged EU member states to recognize a Palestinian state unconditionally.

The motion said the parliament “supports in principle recognition of Palestinian statehood and the two state solution, and believes these should go hand in hand with the development of peace talks, which should be advanced”.

The vote came hours after a European court ordered the EU to drop the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas from its terrorism blacklist on technical grounds.

The socialist, greens and radical left groups in the European Parliament had wanted an outright call for the recognition of Palestinian statehood.

But the center-right European People’s Party of European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, the leading group in parliament, forced them into a compromise motion linking it to peace talks.

“There is no immediate unconditional recognition (of statehood),” EPP chief Manfred Weber said.

But his socialist counterpart Gianni Pittella insisted it was a “historic decision” and a “victory for the whole parliament”.

Several European parliaments have passed motions urging their governments to recognize a Palestinian state in recent weeks in a bid to pressure Israel to relaunch the moribund peace process.

France, Britain, Spain, Ireland and Portugal have all passed votes to that end.

Sweden has gone even further, officially recognizing Palestine as a state.

Hamas was founded in 1987 shortly after the start of the first Palestinian intifada, or uprising, and was inspired by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

There is a growing impatience in Europe over the failure to make progress in the Middle East peace talks.

Netanyahu demands EU immediately restore Hamas to terror list

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday demanded the EU immediately restore Hamas to its terrorism blacklist, after a European court ordered the Palestinian Islamist group’s removal.

“We are not satisfied with the European Union’s explanation that the removal of Hamas from its list of terrorist organisations is a ‘technical matter’,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

“We expect it (the EU) to put Hamas back on the list forthwith given that it is understood by all that Hamas — a murderous terrorist organisation, the covenant of which specifies the destruction of Israel as its goal — is an inseparable part of this list,” he said.

Hamas, which has been dominated Gaza since 2007, had appealed against its inclusion on the blacklist on several grounds.

It hailed the court’s decision as a “victory.”

Israel and Hamas fought a bloody 50-day war in July and August which killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 73 people on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=69332.

Israel bars nuclear whistle-blower from emigrating: media

Jerusalem (AFP)

Oct 6, 2011

Israel’s supreme court on Thursday barred nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu from emigrating on the grounds he still poses a threat to state security, Israeli media reported.

Vanunu, under orders to stay in Tel Aviv and not to speak to journalists, “has proved several times he can not be trusted and does not respect the letter of the law,” supreme court judges said in turning down his appeal.

The prosecution charged he posed “a real danger to the security of Israel,” while the judges stressed the 56-year-old former nuclear technician had contacts with unspecified “foreign elements.”

Vanunu served 18 years behind bars for disclosing the inner workings of Israel’s Dimona nuclear plant to Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper in 1986.

He was released in 2004 but banned from travel or contact with foreigners without prior permission. He has since been sanctioned more than 20 times for breaking the rules.

Israel is widely believed to be the only nuclear-armed power in the Middle East, with between 100 and 300 warheads, but it has a policy of neither confirming nor denying that.

The Jewish state has refused to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or to allow international surveillance of its Dimona plant in the Negev desert of southern Israel.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Israel_bars_nuclear_whistle-blower_from_emigrating_media_999.html.

In Lebanon, Syrian newborns risk statelessness

December 19, 2014

BEIRUT (AP) — Nearly 30,000 Syrian children born as refugees in Lebanon are in a legal limbo, not registered with any government, exposing them to the risk of a life of statelessness deprived of basic rights.

It is a problem that is replicated, to varying degrees, in nations across the Middle East where more than 3.3 million Syrians have found safe haven from the intractable civil war in their homeland. The life of a stateless person is a life without a nationality, without citizenship, without the basic documents that establish an individual’s identity and give him the rights accorded everyone else. Without a birth certificate, identity papers or other documents, even basic things like getting married, going to school or finding a job can be next to impossible.

“If you can’t prove your nationality, it means you can’t get legal documentation, can’t cross borders legally, can’t enjoy any other basic rights that citizens of a country are entitled too,” said Isabella Castrogiovanni, a senior child protection specialist with UNICEF. “So the consequences are obviously huge.”

The United Nations launched a major campaign last month to try to end statelessness for an estimated 10 million people around the world within 10 years. Syria’s civil war is one of the major trouble spots, with more than 3 million people fleeing to neighboring countries to escape the bloodshed. For Syrian refugee women who give birth, acquiring the legal documentation with the local government is a chief concern. And yet, an estimated 70 percent of the 42,000 children born to Syrian parents in Lebanon since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011 remain off the books, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

That figure only relates to the 1.1 million refugees registered with UNHCR. Lebanese officials estimate there are another 500,000 unregistered Syrians in the country. It is not known how many children have been born among that population, but whatever the number, they likely have an even lower rate of registration.

The daily hardships of life as a refugee keep many Syrian parents from registering their newborns: no money, no documents, little time off from work. The process is complicated, with multiple steps that require travel from one government office to another, money for fees and, most importantly, a slew of documents. Without the parents’ marriage license, for example, the birth of a child cannot be registered. But many Syrians had to flee their homeland on short notice and so left legal papers behind, or their papers were destroyed along with their homes.

At a natal clinic in a run-down neighborhood in south Beirut on a recent dreary December morning, around a dozen Syrian mothers with children in tow sat on green plastic chairs waiting for a checkup with the resident midwife. Most of the women said they were aware of the need to register their newborn, but only around half of them had.

Outside, one mother named Khawla from the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria cradled her newborn son in her arms as her curly-haired two-year-old, Mohammed, stomped around the damp pavement. “It took us eight months to register Mohammed. We’re thinking we may not register him,” she said, nodding at her baby boy, Yousef, asleep in a bundle of clothing in her arms. “My husband works from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day in a grocery store, so he doesn’t have time to go through the whole process. We’re waiting for a miracle to register Yousef.”

For another young mother, who gave her name as Zeinab, the barrier to registering was with the paperwork required by Lebanese authorities. “I want to register my two youngest,” she said. “The problem is they asked for documents from Syria, but we can’t go back.”

Both women declined to give their last names out of fear of causing trouble with Lebanese authorities. In Lebanon, the process begins when the child is born and new parents receive a birth notification from an authorized doctor or midwife. The parents must then take that, along with their own identification cards, to the local mayor to get a birth certificate for a small fee.

Then they have to register the birth certificate with a local government department handling family status records. Finally, they must register it again at another office, the provincial personal status department. Each of those steps has its own fees.

The haphazard conditions of refugee life add complications. If the parents married as refugees in Lebanon without getting the proper papers, the process hits a dead end. If a woman gives birth without an authorized midwife or doctor, she can’t even get the birth notification that starts the process.

“We’re getting to the stage where awareness about it is more widespread, but the procedures are a bit difficult to understand … and there are barriers that cause people problems,” said Jocelyn Knight, the protection coordinator for the International Rescue Committee’s office in Beirut.

“I think just because of the number of steps involved, it can be quite daunting for new parents and they’re not really sure what to do.” The U.N. refugee agency and non-governmental organizations have been pushing to raise awareness among Syrian refugees across the Middle East of the need to register their children.

The situation is markedly better in Jordan than in Lebanon, for example. There, UNHCR says 70 percent of Syrian babies have been registered. U.N. officials say progress has been made in the past six months to raise awareness in Lebanon.

“If you think in terms of the hope for these children to go back to Syria one day, if and when conditions allow, not having any legal document will make them like ghosts going back to their country,” UNICEF’s Castrogiovanni said.

Hamas stages military rally to mark anniversary

December 14, 2014

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Islamic militant group Hamas displayed rockets and other heavy weapons Sunday during a rally marking the 27th anniversary of its founding.

It also launched a drone that prompted Israel to scramble fighter jets in a precautionary measure, the Israeli military said. Several thousand people attended the show of force in Gaza City, a lower turnout than in previous Hamas anniversary rallies.

The group’s leaders watched from a stage, including former Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who brandished an assault rifle and flashed a V-for-victory sign. Sunday’s march came three-and-a-half months after the end of a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas. It was the third and bloodiest round of fighting between the two since late 2008, with some 2,200 people killed on the Palestinian side and 72 on the Israeli side.

Despite claims of victory by both Israel and Hamas, the fighting failed to resolve underlying conflicts that contributed to the summer war. Israel says it launched the operation in response to nonstop Hamas rocket fire. Hamas said it was fighting to lift an Israeli-Egyptian border blockade first imposed on Gaza after the Islamic militant group violently seized the territory from forces loyal to the Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007.

With Sunday’s weapons display, Hamas appeared to be sending a message to both Israel and the residents of Gaza that another round of fighting is an option. Hamas also released a video with brief narration purported to be from Mohammed Deif, the shadowy leader of the group’s military wing and the target of repeated Israeli assassination attempts.

Israel tried to kill Deif in an August airstrike on a Gaza City home that killed one of his wives and two of the couple’s young children. Deif’s fate has remained unclear, though Hamas said at the time that he had survived.

The man in the recording identified as Deif said, “We will return to them (Israelis) with fighters that they cannot fight and will drive them out … God willing.”

Palestinian Cabinet member dead after Israel clash

December 10, 2014

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — A Palestinian Cabinet member died Wednesday after a scuffle with Israeli troops during a West Bank protest, and images of an Israeli officer grabbing the 55-year-old by the throat before he collapsed quickly stirred Palestinian anger at a time of badly strained relations with Israel.

An autopsy has yet to determine what killed Ziad Abu Ain, but Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called him the victim of a “clear crime” and a “barbaric act.” He decreed three days of mourning for the minister, whose portfolio included organizing protests against Israeli settlements and the West Bank separation barrier.

The incident threatened to further inflame tensions between Israel and the Palestinians. Calls grew for Abbas to suspend security coordination with Israel — a policy that has become the cornerstone of relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the absence of peace talks.

Abbas met with officials from his Fatah movement and the Palestine Liberation Organization late Wednesday to consider a response and said all options were open. In the session, Abbas held up a photo of the Israeli officer grabbing Abu Ain’s throat. Palestinians circulated the photo on social media under the hashtag #ICantBreathe — drawing a link to the death of an unarmed black man after being placed into a chokehold by a white police officer in New York.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said the military was ready to investigate the incident jointly with Palestinian officials, and an Israeli pathologist was to attend an autopsy, along with Palestinian and Jordanian doctors.

The United States called for a “swift, fair and transparent” inquiry into the incident. “At this difficult time, we continue to call on both sides to work to lower tensions and prevent an escalation of violence,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini urged restraint, amid fears the minister’s death could lead to a further deterioration in Israeli-Palestinian relations, already at a low point after failed U.S.-led peace efforts.

Ban said he was “deeply saddened” by the death, while Mogherini said “reports of excessive use of force by Israeli security forces are extremely worrying.” The Israeli military said it was sending two battalions of soldiers and two companies of paramilitary border police to the West Bank as reinforcements.

The day’s events began around mid-morning when several dozen Palestinians, including Abu Ain, marched from the West Bank village of Turmus Aya toward an unauthorized Israeli settlement outpost, Adei-Ad. They planned to plant olive tree saplings on land belonging to one of the villagers, who has repeatedly been barred from reaching his property by Israeli troops citing concern about frictions with the settlers, participants said.

Several dozen soldiers and members of the paramilitary border police blocked the marchers, firing tear gas and stun grenades, according to Palestinian witnesses and members of Yesh Din, an Israeli rights group that joined the protest.

Eventually, marchers and troops faced each other, scuffling and shouting. Abu Ain, who was at the forefront of the group, told reporters: “We came to our Palestinian land to plant some olive trees and they attacked us immediately. No one threw a stone or attacked them, but this terrorist army is attacking us.”

At one point a border policeman grabbed the Palestinian minister by the throat and pushed him, according to an Associated Press photographer. Other witnesses said a soldier also pushed a rifle butt into Abu Ain’s chest.

Several minutes later, a pale-faced Abu Ain was seen sitting on the ground, then leaning back against a large rock, his right hand clutching his heart. A bystander tried to help him, patting his back and getting him to sit up, before Abu Ain slumped backward.

An aide, Abu Sassaka, said an Israeli soldier administered first aid to Abu Ain before protesters carried him away. An ambulance later took him to Ramallah Hospital and he died en route, Abu Sassaka said.

The Israeli daily Haaretz quoted relatives of Abu Ain as saying he suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure. The Israeli military said that about 200 “rioters” had gathered in Turmus Aya and that troops prevented them from reaching Adei-Ad, using “riot dispersal means.” That typically means tear gas and stun grenades.

Yesh Din, the Israeli rights group, said the Palestinian protest had been peaceful. An attorney for the group, Shlomy Zachary, “reported to a senior army official that IDF soldiers were exercising extensive force against Palestinian civilians without any justification,” the group said.

Earlier Wednesday, Yesh Din appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court on behalf of four villages surrounding Adei-Ad, demanding that the military enforce long-standing orders to dismantle such unauthorized settlements. Adei-Ad is one of dozens of such outposts set up by settlers across the West Bank without government authorization, though a number have been retroactively legalized.

The international community considers all settlements, including those sanctioned by the government, to be illegal. The settlements are built on occupied lands the Palestinian seek for a future state.

Meanwhile, a Palestinian activist said he hoped the #ICantBreathe hashtag would draw more attention to Abu Ain’s death. “What is happening here is no different from the discrimination against blacks in America,” said Mahmoud Hreidat.

Abu Ain headed a Palestinian Authority department dealing with Israeli settlements and the Israeli separation barrier, and had the rank of Cabinet member. Previously, he served as deputy minister for prisoner affairs.

A member of Abbas’ Fatah movement, Abu Ain had spent several years in Israeli prisons. He was arrested in the United States in 1979 and extradited to Israel two years later, according to a nephew, Baha Abu Ain. In Israel, he was sentenced to life in prison for being a member of a cell that planted a bomb that killed two Israelis. Abu Ain was released in a 1985 prisoner swap.

During the second Palestinian uprising in 2002, he spent a year in administrative detention without trial or charges.

Two Israeli parties join forces against Netanyahu

December 10, 2014

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s opposition Labor party said Wednesday it is joining forces with a former government partner in a bid to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the country’s coming elections.

Labor leader Isaac Herzog announced the alliance with Tzipi Livni of the Hatnuah party amid a hard-hitting critique of Netanyahu’s free-market, pro-settler policies, which have seen increasing Israeli economic inequality and a breakdown of the peace process with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

“Six years of Netanyahu and there are still no answers,” Herzog said. “The time for change is now.” Standing side-by-side with Livni under a banner proclaiming “Together We Win,” Herzog said that if he and the Hatnuah leader formed the next government, they would rotate as prime minister — Herzog for the first two years, Livini for the second two years.

Opinion polls give the joint Herzog-Livni list about 24 seats in the 120-seat Knesset — slightly more than their current total. That’s two or three more seats than polls give Netanyahu, though he retains the option of joining forces with the nationalist Jewish Home Party. That would give him a bloc of 35-40 seats — probably enough to be asked by Israel’s president to try to form the next government.

Former Likud lawmaker Moshe Kahlon remains a potential kingmaker in any coalition-building scenario. Known for his combination of egalitarian economics and a relatively hard line with the Palestinians, he has so far given few indications of which bloc he prefers — Netanyahu’s or Herzog’s.

The elections are set for March 17.