Archive for February 14th, 2015

Turkish charity donates winter clothes to Gazans

25 January 2015 Sunday

A Turkish charity on Sunday – in cooperation with a Palestinian NGO – distributed winter clothes to underprivileged families in the Gaza Strip and others who were affected by last year’s devastating Israeli onslaught.

Ahmed al-Najjar, who heads the Peace, Solidarity and Relief Society NGO in the Gaza Strip, said that his organization collaborated with the Turkish Aziz Mahmud Hudayi charity to distribute the winter aid.

The number of families that have benefited from this three-phase program so far is 850, with the first phase costing $50,000, al-Najjar said.

He added that an additional 1,000 families would benefit from the program by the completion of the other two phases.

Alia Abu Zaid, one of the beneficiaries, told The Anadolu Agency that the aid “has eased some of her burden.”

“My husband is unemployed, and I received clothes for my youngest son; now he is happy and warm,” Abu Zaid, a mother of nine, said.

Palestinian resistance factions signed a cease-fire deal with Israel on Aug. 26, ending a 51-day Israeli military onslaught on the Gaza Strip in July and August.

The Israeli offensive left more than 2,160 Palestinians dead – the vast majority of them civilians – and some 11,000 injured.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/153773/turkish-charity-donates-winter-clothes-to-gazans.

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Kurds celebrate ousting Islamic State fighters from Kobani

January 26, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — Jubilant Kurdish fighters ousted Islamic State militants from the key Syrian border town of Kobani on Monday after a four-month battle — a significant victory for both the Kurds and the U.S.-led coalition.

The Kurds raised their flag on a hill that once flew the Islamic State group’s black banner. On Kobani’s war-ravaged streets, gunmen fired in the air in celebration, male and female fighters embraced, and troops danced in their baggy uniforms.

The failure to capture Kobani was a major blow to the extremists whose hopes for an easy victory dissolved into a costly siege under withering airstrikes by coalition forces and an assault by the Kurdish militia.

For the U.S. and its partners, Kobani became a strategic prize, especially after they increased the number of airstrikes against IS fighters there in October. “Daesh gambled on Kobani and lost,” said senior Kurdish official Idriss Nassan, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

“Their defenses have collapsed and its fighters have fled,” he told The Associated Press from Turkey, adding that he would return to Kobani on Tuesday. Kobani-based journalis Farshad Shami said the few civilians who remained had joined in the celebration. Most of the town of about 60,000 people had fled to Turkey to escape the fighting.

Several U.S. officials said they couldn’t confirm that Kurdish fighters have gained full control of Kobani, but added that they have no reason to disbelieve the claims. A senior U.S. official said the Kurds controlled most of the town and have consolidated control particularly in the central and southern areas. The official said Islamic State militants still have a considerable presence in outlying areas around Kobani and are still putting up stiff resistance to the Kurds in those pockets outside it.

U.S. Central Central Command estimates that 90 percent of Kobani is now controlled by Kurdish forces. Kurdish officials and activists said Kobani was entirely in Kurdish hands, with only sporadic fighting on the eastern outer edges where the militants retained some footholds.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighters of the main Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, where searching houses in the eastern suburbs of the town and dismantling and detonating bombs and booby-traps left behind.

Capturing Kobani would have given the IS militants control of a border crossing with Turkey and open direct lines for their positions along the frontier. Now, it is a grave psychological loss for the extremist group, which has been dealt a series of military setbacks in both Syria and Iraq, particularly at the hands of the Kurds.

Last month, Kurdish fighters in Iraq retook the strategic town of Sinjar that had been home to many of Iraq’s minority Yazidis. The focus is now expected to shift to several hundred villages around Kobani still held by the militants. Kurdish activists said they expected the fight for those to be easier than for the town itself.

In September, Islamic State fighters began capturing about 300 Kurdish villages near Kobani and thrust into the town itself, occupying nearly half of it and sending tens of thousands of residents fleeing into Turkey.

But the once-nondescript town with few resources quickly became a centerpiece of the international campaign against the Islamic State group. TV crews flocked to the Turkish side of the border and trained their cameras on the besieged town, plumes of smoke rising from explosions. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared it would be “morally very difficult” not to help Kobani.

The U.S.-led air assault began Sept. 23, with Kobani the target of about a half-dozen daily airstrikes on average. More than 80 percent of all coalition airstrikes in Syria have been in or around the town.

At one point in October, the U.S. air dropped bundles of weapons and medical supplies for Kurdish fighters — a first in the Syrian conflict. Dozens of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces joined their brethren in Kobani, bringing in heavy weapons that neutralized the Islamic State group’s artillery advantage.

By early January, more than 1,000 Islamic State fighters had been killed and much of its heavy weaponry destroyed. The group continued to invest in resources, bringing in hundreds of reinforcements. Activists said these included many teenagers and even children, signaling a shortage in its forces.

The group made a last stand in the past few weeks, unleashing more than 35 suicide attacks in recent weeks, activists said. But the advancing Kurdish fighters could not be stopped. Nassan said coalition airstrikes intensified in recent days, helping the Kurds in their final push toward IS positions on the southern and eastern edges of Kobani.

The U.S. Central Command said Monday it had carried out 17 airstrikes near Kobani in the last 24 hours that struck IS infrastructure and fighting positions. Shami, the Kurdish journalist, said the remaining IS militants in eastern Kobani vacated quickly, leaving behind fresh food and heavy weapons.

“Their morale collapsed,” he said by telephone as celebratory gunfire echoed in the background. Gharib Hassou, a representative of Syria’s powerful Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, based in Southern Kurdistan, said most of the militants fled to the IS-controlled town of Tal Abyad to the east.

“There are a lot of dead bodies … and they left some of the weapons,” he said. Rami Abdurrahman, director of the Observatory, also confirmed Kobani was entirely in Kurdish hands. He said the Kurdish force was led by Mohammed Barkhadan, the Kobani commander of the main Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG.

Barkhadan, a well-known militia commander, led an offensive in 2013 that ousted Islamic militants from the northern Syrian town of Ras Ayn, Aburrahman said. Retired Marine Gen. John Allen, the U.S. envoy for the international coalition fighting the IS group, had predicted in November that Kobani would be a defeat for the extremists.

The militant group “has, in so many ways, impaled itself on Kobani,” he said in an interview in Ankara with the Turkish daily Milliyet. There also was joy across the border in Turkey, where Kurds set off fireworks and performed a traditional folk dance to mark the victory by their brethren in predominantly Kurdish Kobani. In Istanbul, police used tear gas and pressurized water to break up pro-Kurdish demonstrations in the city.

Shami said it was a triumph for the “entire world” that had come to Kobani’s rescue. “It is a historic victory, when a small town like Kobani defeats a formidable criminal force like Daesh,” he said.

Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor in Washington; Suzan Fraser in Ankara; and Bram Janssen in Irbil, Iraq, contributed to this report.

Food enters Syria’s besieged Homs city after local deal

16 January 2015 Friday

U.N. aid workers have started delivering food to tens of thousands of people trapped in a besieged district of Homs city in Syria following negotiations with warring parties, officials said on Friday.

In the absence of a nationwide peace deal, relief groups have tried to get localized agreements with fighters on all sides of the conflict to get convoys through to people in battle zones.

The United Nations did not give details of the Homs agreement but local opposition activists told Reuters there was a temporary ceasefire.

Food was sent to Al Wa’er on Thursday, Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the U.N.’s World Food Programme, told journalists in Geneva.

“Following extensive negotiations between parties to the conflict, a first convoy carrying 8,500 family food rations were delivered to the besieged area of Al Wa’er,” — enough food for about 42,500 people for one month, Byrs said.

Two more convoys over the coming days will deliver food to 75,000 people, she added, 30 percent of the estimated quarter of a million people the United Nations says are trapped in besieged areas across Syria.

A U.N. official in Geneva said that the WFP rations were aboard an 18-truck convoy that also delivered some medical supplies and non-food items from other U.N. agencies.

Al Wa’er has witnessed an intensification of shelling and heavy clashes which prevented all access for humanitarian deliveries, WFP said in a statement.

Al Wa’er has been cut off for nearly two years by government forces, opposition activists say. Syrian state media said last month that aid was delivered to Al Wa’er “almost every month.”

The U.N. peace envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has said he wants to start focusing on brokering “freeze zones,” or local truces, in the northern city of Aleppo rather than a peace plan for the whole of the divided country.

“This is why … we have put on the table the proposal of a freeze of heavy fighting in Aleppo, and eventually the return for a united, reconstructed Syrian city as it used to be because it is a symbolic microcosm of all of Syria,” De Mistura told a news briefing in Geneva on Thursday, saying that Islamic State rebel forces were “only 20 miles away from Aleppo”.

More than 200,000 people have been killed in Syria’s conflict, which began in March 2011 with popular protests against President Bashar al-Assad and spiralled into civil war after a crackdown by security forces.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/153129/food-enters-syrias-besieged-homs-city-after-local-deal.

2,100 Syrians tortured to death in regime prisons

Saturday, 10 January 2015

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Friday that 2,100 Syrians had died in the prisons of the Syrian regime in 2014. The signs of torture appeared on many of their bodies, the observatory said.

The London-based SOHR stressed that the real number is much more than the 2,100 because that figure is only of those families who received bodies and death certificate from prisons.

UN investigators said in last March that they suspected there are war criminals in the units of the Syrian regime army and the armed militants involved in the ‘civil war.’

They added that they were investigating reports of torture, killing and the starvation of prisoners inside the prisons of the Syrian regime. They said there were top intelligence officers on the list suspected perpetrators.

SOHR said that 76,000 Syrians were killed in the war during 2014, while the UN said that more than 200,000 have been killed since the beginning of the conflict.

A group of former war crimes prosecutors commissioned by Qatar to investigate possible war crimes in Syria reported in November 2014 that they had proof of systematic torture and killing of 11,000 Syrians inside the regime’s prisons.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/16265-2100-syrians-tortured-to-death-in-regime-prisons.

Hamas declares opening of Gaza seaport

Adnan Abu Amer

February 4, 2015

Tyler Huffman

The siege on Gaza is tightening and living conditions deteriorate day by day. Voices are speaking out about the possibility of an implosion because of a lack of any glimmer of hope for Palestinians in light of the continuing closure of crossings and the lack of reconstruction.

Amid these disastrous conditions, Alaa al-Batta, the spokesman for the Palestinian Governmental Committee for Breaking the Siege in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “The commission will launch ships from the Gaza port to a number of countries. A ship is prepared to carry patients and students, to be the first vessel departing from the port in the next two months. We have begun the necessary procedures in preparation for building the seaport that will connect the Gaza Strip to the outside world. We have received approval from several countries to begin implementing maritime trips.” He did not name the participating countries.

Al-Monitor learned from government sources in Gaza, who spoke on condition of anonymity, that Turkey, Cyprus and Greece were ready to receive ships coming from the Gaza port.

On Jan. 29, 2014, Palestinian factions in Gaza called for supporting the first maritime voyage from the Gaza port, and to challenge the siege imposed by Israel. Gaza is closed off, deprived of transport and communication with the outside world, resulting in a disastrous situation for thousands of patients, students and humanitarian cases.

Al-Monitor visited the Gaza port, where a banner was hanging that read: “The Port Authority: Gaza International Port.” Written beneath it was: “Project to establish Gaza Port facilities.” There were two additional banners that indicated a departure lounge and an arrival lounge.

Hamas has long fought for the completion of the port, and the issue was included in cease-fire negotiations during the Gaza war in July and August 2014. The movement engaged in tough talks with Israel, under Egyptian auspices, to obtain preliminary approval for establishing the seaport, but it was not achieved.

Hamas knows well that the port’s operation — which was technically inaugurated Jan. 25 — should pass through legal and political procedures with Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), so that the Gaza Strip can connect with other ports on the opposite shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Yet, Israel’s refusal of the terms of the truce pushed Hamas to make a unilateral decision — in agreement with the various factions in Gaza — to open the port on Jan. 25. This could provoke Israel, and no one knows how the latter will react to the departure of the first ship from Gaza without its consent.

Immediately after it was announced that work had begun to open the port on Jan. 25, Gaza’s residents responded with varied comments. While some welcomed the move, others wondered how the port could operate without agreement from Israel and the PA. For his part, Ismail Radwan, a Hamas leader and former minister of religious endowments, told Al-Monitor, “Opening a seaport in Gaza is linked to the truce agreement concluded after the last war, yet the occupation was not committed to implementing the agreement. We call on the countries of the world to send ships to break the siege on Gaza and inaugurate a maritime route to the Gaza Strip.”

Meanwhile, Ashraf Abu Zayed, the spokesman for the Popular Commission to Break the Siege, told Al-Monitor, “The commission has agreed with contractors to carry out construction work, to actually start establishing the port. It will be Gaza’s window to the world, in light of the ongoing Israeli siege on Gaza. We’ve been in touch with a number of European ports, and they’ve expressed willingness to deal with the Gaza port.”

“We’ve contacted the French and Dutch port authorities to secure the $43 million they committed to the port project,” Abu Zayed said. “The costs for the waterway preparations that are currently underway are minor amounts, gathered from businessmen and foreign aid convoys that arrived to Gaza in the past.” He also confirmed that several European states — including Turkey, Greece and Cyprus — were prepared to receive ships through the waterway.

Abdul Fattah Abu Shakr, head of the economics department at An-Najah National University, said France and the Netherlands had pledged $43 million to establish the Gaza port. These two countries had announced that they will finance the seaport’s construction works and train the port’s workers in 2000, before the Al-Aqsa Intifada erupted.

Hatem Abu Shaaban, an engineer and a Palestinian National Council (PNC) member, said in a report published in late 2014 that the operation of the port would provide 2,000 jobs, helping to reduce unemployment in the Gaza Strip. It would also increase revenue for the government, remove Israel’s hands from Palestinian imports and exports, attract businessmen from abroad, revive tourism, facilitate the movement of people to and from Gaza, and strengthen foreign relations with all countries of the world.

Hamas is well aware that Israel will not stand idly by if the Gaza port opens without security monitoring. The Israelis say that the Gaza port, if opened, would become a sanctuary for Iranian and Turkish ships. Moreover, they will not be able to control all the borders of Gaza, nor ensure that weapons and fighters not smuggled into Gaza.

Just hours after the Gaza war ended last Aug. 26, prominent Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahhar was asked if he expected Israel to prevent the operation of the port. “The Palestinian people will build the seaport and the airport without seeking permission from anyone. If anyone attacks our port, we will respond by bombing their port. And if anyone attacks our airport, we will bomb their airport,” he answered, referring to the rockets launched by Hamas toward Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport.

The PA has refrained from commenting on Hamas’ efforts to open the Gaza port. However, a senior official from President Mahmoud Abbas’ office, speaking to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, said, “The PA is cautious of any effort that will separate Gaza from the West Bank, paving the way for the establishment of a mini-state outside the independent Palestinian state. So long as the port’s opening has not received official approval from the consensus government and the PA presidency, it will further the separation between Gaza and the West Bank — even if it succeeds in lightening the siege on the Gaza Strip.”

It seems that Hamas is moving forward to lift the siege on Gaza by all means possible after the cease-fire talks with Israel came to an end, and relations with Egypt were strained and the PA failed to open Gaza’s crossings to the outside world.

All of this may mean opening the door to a confrontation between Hamas and Israel, calling to mind the Turkish Mavi Marmara incident in 2010.

Source: al-Monitor.

Link: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/02/hamas-open-gaza-port-israel-reaction.html.

Palestinians hurl eggs at Canadian foreign minister’s convoy

January 18, 2015

JERUSALEM (AP) — Dozens of Palestinian protesters hurled eggs and shoes at the convoy of the visiting Canadian foreign minister Sunday in a show of defiance toward Canada’s perceived pro-Israel stance.

John Baird was visiting Ramallah to meet Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki when demonstrators pelted his convoy. The Palestinian protesters also held signs reading: “Baird, you are not welcome in Palestine” and “Baird, Jerusalem is our capital.”

Baird later brushed off the protest, saying “I was in Mike Harris’ cabinet for four years. I got a lot worse.” Baird served from 1999-2002 as Minister of Community and Social Services in conservative Ontario Premier Mike Harris’ government, implementing controversial policies to cut welfare rolls and crack down on fraud.

Baird defended his government’s support for Israel, calling it “the only liberal and democratic state in the region.” Canada has been one of only a few Western countries to stand by Israel as it has come under fierce international criticism over deadlocked negotiations with the Palestinians, the recent Gaza war and settlement building.

Canada opposes the Palestinians’ attempts to reach statehood without direct negotiations with Israel as well as their recent bid to pursue war crimes charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court.

“We take the view that a peace process, progress is best made at the negotiating table and not through unilateral actions on the other side. We’re proud of that position, we believe it’s the best one and don’t apologize for it,” Baird said.

Activists from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party earlier had called for a boycott of Baird because of Canada’s Middle East policies. “This person backs up the Zionist movement,” protester Abdullah Abu-Rahmeh said. “This person diminishes the rights of our people, takes part and backs up building of settlements. We tell him that he’s not welcome.”

Baird is in the region for five days of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials. In a statement, Baird described his meeting with Malki as “cordial and constructive” and said it included “candid and frank exchanges on areas where we differ in opinion.”

Alluding to the ICC, Baird said he asked Malki to “strongly reconsider the consequences of moving forward with any action that may be counterproductive to a negotiated solution” with Israel. “A desire for a future of peace, prosperity, stability and security for both Palestinians and Israelis must drive both parties toward direct negotiations,” he said. “Today, we reaffirmed our will to work together on these matters at this crucial time.”

In a later meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Baird suggested there was a double-standard at work at the ICC, and that Palestinian militant groups would not be held accountable for attacks on Israel.

“In the current situation, terrorist organizations are not held accountable, and have a win-win situation — whether by terrorizing Israel’s citizens, or making claims against Israel when it defends its citizens. It is for the international law to clarify what a state can do in order to defend its people from terrorism.”

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