Archive for May, 2015

Israel’s Netanyahu races to form narrow coalition government

May 06, 2015

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was racing against the clock Wednesday to put together a governing coalition or else face an almost unimaginable scenario by which he would be forced out of office.

Netanyahu was holding furious consultations with the hawkish Jewish Home Party in order to secure a narrow 61-seat majority in the 120-seat parliament. If he fails by the end of the day, President Reuven Rivlin must appoint someone else the task of forming a coalition.

After Netanyahu’s Likud Party won March 17 elections with 30 seats, it seemed he would have a relatively easy time forming a coalition. But talks stalled this week when Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman unexpectedly stepped down and announced his secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party was joining the opposition. That left Netanyahu dependent on Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, a former aide who has a rocky relationship with Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has secured deals with three partners controlling 53 seats. They include Kulanu, a centrist party focused on economic issues, and two ultra-Orthodox religious parties. Fuming over the deals giving ultra-Orthodox parties ministerial power over religious services, Bennett is driving a hard bargain. Slated to serve as education minister, Bennett is now demanding the job of justice minister for a party member.

The Jewish Home party is linked to the West Bank settler movement and unlikely to push for Netanyahu’s ouster, a move that could open a potential path to government of the more dovish Zionist Union. Even if, as expected, they reach a deal, Netanyahu would have a thin majority, leaving him vulnerable to extortion from any individual coalition lawmaker.

A narrow coalition would have a difficult time passing economic reforms favored by Kulanu. It also would be averse to Palestinian peace moves and likely favor expanded settlement construction, putting it on a collision course with the international community.

Likud officials concede such a government would not be effective or last long, raising speculation that Netanyahu will ultimately reach out to the Zionist Union and its leader, Isaac Herzog. He insists on serving as the opposition leader.

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Protests highlight troubles of Ethiopian Jews in Israel

May 04, 2015

JERUSALEM (AP) — When Israel secretly airlifted waves of Ethiopian Jews in the 1980s and 1990s, saving them from war and famine in the Horn of Africa, it was celebrated as a triumphant show of unity for the Jewish people.

Thirty years after the first large groups of Ethiopians arrived, few in the community are celebrating. Israel’s black Jewish minority is plagued by poverty, crime and unemployment, and their brewing frustrations over racism and lack of opportunity have boiled over into an unprecedented outburst of violent anti-police protests.

The unrest has laid bare the struggles of absorption and the rocky attempts of the state to integrate them into a society for which they were ill-prepared. Caught off- guard, Israel’s leaders are vowing to respond to the community’s grievances.

President Reuven Rivlin said Monday the outcry “exposed an open, bleeding wound in the heart of Israeli society.” “We must look directly at this open wound. We have erred. We did not look, and we did not listen enough,” said Rivlin, whose largely ceremonial office is meant to serve as a moral compass.

On Sunday, protesters shut down a major highway in Tel Aviv, hurled stones and bottles at police and overturned a squad car. They were dispersed with tear gas, water cannons and stun grenades. More than 60 people were injured and 40 arrested in the second such protest in recent days, and demonstrations are expected to continue.

The unrest followed video that emerged last week of an Ethiopian Israeli soldier being beaten by police in what appeared to be an unprovoked attack. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Monday with community leaders and with the soldier who was attacked, telling him “we’ll have a change a few things.” Closing the gaps in Israeli society, however, will be a difficult task.

Ethiopian Jews trace their ancestors to the ancient Israelite tribe of Dan. The community was cut off from the rest of the Jewish world for more than 1,000 years. Under its “Law of Return,” Israel grants automatic citizenship to any Jews. In the early 1980s, after a period of debate about recognizing the community as Jews, Israel covertly began to bring in thousands of Ethiopian immigrants. In 1991, thousands more came in a secret airlift carried out over two days.

The new arrivals struggled greatly as they made the transition from a rural, developing African country into an increasingly high-tech Israel. Over time, many have integrated more into Israeli society, serving in the military and police and making inroads in politics, sports and entertainment. Some prominent community figures speak Hebrew without a trace of an accent and are indistinguishable from other Israelis in everything but skin color.

Overall, however, the Ethiopians are an underclass. Many complain of racism, lack of opportunity and routine police harassment. About 120,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel today, a small minority in a country of 8 million. Many older Ethiopians work menial jobs — men as security guards and women as cleaners and cashiers. They live with their families in rundown city neighborhoods and impoverished towns with high rates of crime and domestic violence.

Their children have made gains, but overall, the younger generation is still struggling. A 2012 study by the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute said that 41 percent of Ethiopian Israelis lived below the poverty line, compared with 15 percent for the overall Jewish population. The average income of Ethiopian Israelis was about two-thirds of their Jewish counterparts. Just 5 percent had college degrees, compared with 28 percent for the broader Jewish population. According to Israel’s Prison Service, one-fifth of the inmates in juvenile facilities are Ethiopian Israelis.

Ethiopian Israelis also allege repeated discriminatory slights and, at times, outright racism. In the late 1990s, it was discovered that Israel’s health services were throwing out Ethiopian Israeli blood donations over fears of diseases contracted in Africa. Some landlords have also refused them as tenants, and accusations have been raised that Israel has deliberately tried to curb their birth rates.

“Anyone who attended the protest yesterday experienced at one point in their life humiliation based on nothing but skin color,” said Mehereta Baruch-Ron, a Tel Aviv deputy mayor of Ethiopian descent, who added that police did not believe she was a city official and blocked her from joining the protest. “We have had enough. It is time to do something.”

Job Goshen, an Ethiopian Israeli social worker who works as a job counselor, said the problems stem from decades of well-intentioned but flawed policies. He said that while the government encourages Ethiopians to enter the labor force, it also imposes unnecessary job requirements that make it difficult for them to get hired. He said a truck driver’s license, for instance, requires a computerized “theory” test that poorly educated Ethiopians struggle to pass.

“Most of the older Ethiopians don’t have the education. But they have other abilities that are not taken into account,” he said. “As a result, they are stuck in the same jobs — services, security, cleaning — and they don’t get ahead.”

Younger Ethiopians are better equipped for the work world, he said, but also face their own unique challenges, especially after completing compulsory military service. Unlike their other Jewish counterparts, Ethiopians do not have parents and siblings who can steer them toward university studies or good jobs after leaving the army. Many come from large or broken homes and must support their parents or younger siblings. Goshen said that while he has not experienced overt racism, his friends, relatives and clients all have.

Fixing these problems will be a long process that will require the government and the community to work together. “It has to come from both sides,” he said. “The government can’t impose a solution. It has to consult with us.”

Shlomo Molla, a former lawmaker of Ethiopian origin, said hope for change lies with the generation born in Israel and less intimidated by the establishment. “I call upon these young people to continue resolutely, so that perhaps they might succeed where my generation failed,” he wrote in the Maariv daily. “The next stage of this battle should be civil disobedience. We should stop enlisting in the army, not join the police, and stop paying taxes, because if the state doesn’t take its citizens into account, the citizens are also permitted not to take the state into account.”

Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, told reporters Monday that “the fight versus racism and discrimination is a universal one. Obviously, people have a right to demonstrate peacefully, and we encourage the Israeli authorities to deal with the issues.”

The images of black Israelis clashing with police have drawn comparisons to the unrest in the U.S. following deadly altercations between police and black men or boys. But Fentahun Assefa-Dawit, executive director of the advocacy group Tebeka, said there were few similarities. He said Ethiopian-Israelis have a different set of issues related to integration into Israel’s modern, fast-paced society — as opposed to maintaining a distinct subculture.

He called on Netanyahu to make Ethiopian absorption a keystone of his new administration, which is expected to take office in the coming days. “Before it is too late, we call on the prime minister to take the matter into his own hands,” he said. “In four years, I would want to see this prime minister say ‘I’m glad I did’ instead of ‘I wish I had.'”

Associated Press writer Cara Anna at the United Nations contributed to this report.

Kobani still a ghost town, months after liberation from IS

May 01, 2015

SURUC, Turkey (AP) — The battle for the Syrian border town of Kobani was a watershed in the war against the Islamic State group — Syrian Kurdish forces fought the militants in rubble-strewn streets for months as U.S. aircraft pounded the extremists from the skies until ultimately expelling them from the town earlier this year.

It was the Islamic State’s bloodiest defeat to date in Syria. But now, three months since Kobani was liberated, tens of thousands of its residents are still stranded in Turkey, reluctant to return to a wasteland of collapsed buildings and at a loss as to how and where to rebuild their lives.

The Kurdish town on the Turkish-Syrian border is still a haunting, apocalyptic vista of hollowed out facades and streets littered with unexploded ordnance — a testimony to the massive price that came with the victory over IS.

There is no electricity or clean water, nor any immediate plans to restore basic services and start rebuilding. While grateful for the U.S. airstrikes that helped turn the tide in favor of the Kobani fighters and drive out IS militants, residents say their wretched situation underscores the lack of any serious follow-up by the international community in its war against IS.

“First, Islamic State fighters were holed up in our home and then the American planes bombed it,” said Sabah Khalil, pointing from across the border in Suruc, Turkey, to where her family house in Kobani is now a pile of crumpled cement.

“Who is going to help us rebuild? That’s what everyone is asking,” she added, sitting on a stone outside her tent, soaking in the spring sun as children in tattered shoes played nearby. For four ferocious months, Kobani was the focus of the international media after IS militants barreled into the town and surrounding villages, triggering an exodus of some 300,000 residents who poured across the border into Turkey.

The battle for Kobani became the centerpiece of the campaign against IS. Dozens of TV crews flocked to the Turkish side of the border and from a hill, trained their cameras on the besieged town, recording plumes of smoke rising from explosions as the U.S.-led coalition pounded IS hideouts inside the town.

In late January, the Kurdish fighters finally ousted the Islamic State from the town — a significant victory for both the Kurds and the U.S.-led coalition. For IS, which by some estimates lost around 2,000 fighters in Kobani, it was a defeat that punctured the group’s image and sapped morale.

But the price was daunting. Today more than 70 percent of Kobani lies in ruins. More than 560 Kurdish fighters died in the battles. About 70,000 of the refugees have returned to the town and surrounding areas, some only to pitch tents outside their destroyed homes, according to Aisha Afandi, co-chair of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD.

With no outside help, the Kurdish fighters use primitive tools to dismantle mines and booby traps left behind by IS militants. The rotting bodies of dead fighters are still trapped under the rubble, and as the weather gets warmer, there are concerns of spreading disease.

Afandi said an appeal for international donors and Kurdish communities everywhere will be launched at a Kurdish conference on Kobani, due May 2 in the mainly Kurdish-populated city of Diyarbakir in Turkey. There are also plans to transform parts of the town center into a museum, she added.

“It is important for future generations to remember the history th at was made here,” she said over the telephone from Kobani. Three times a week, when Turkish officials open the gate at the Mursitpinar border crossing for a few hours, refugees trickle back into Kobani.

On a recent day, a few dozen people carrying suitcases and bags were at the gate, waiting to cross. Vans loaded with mattresses and other belongings were lined up on a dirt road. At the nearby Arin Mirxan camp in Suruc, named after a female Kurdish fighter in Kobani who is said to have carried out a suicide bombing against IS militants in October, the hopelessness is on full display.

Ali Hussein and his mother Zalikha Qader sit next to each other in the camp, eating roasted pumpkin seeds and wiling the time away. In nearby “Tent Number 3,” Shahin Tamo, 21, takes care of his 7-year-old brother Sarwan, a skeletal child with large eyes who suffers from a serious neurological condition. They are here with their parents, two brothers and two sisters. Their Kobani home was looted and burnt.

“Everything is gone. Our house, my education, my future,” Tamo said. “Who will compensate that?” At least once a day, camp residents go out to the main street to greet a procession bringing in fallen Kurdish fighters from inside Syria.

The bodies, in simple wooden coffins draped in the Kurdish red, white and green-color flag, are the tragic toll of still ongoing fighting back home between the main Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, and IS militants in areas around Kobani.

“Your blood will not go in vain!” the refugees shouted in Kurdish.

Al-Qaeda linked groups clash with ISIS in Golan Heights

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

A number of Syrian rebel groups, including the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Nusra Front, yesterday clashed with jihadists linked to the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Golan Heights, AFP reported a monitor and an opposition spokesman saying.

Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP that rebel groups fought ISIS-linked Jaysh Al-Jihad in the border town of Qahtaniya in the southern province of Quneitra.

“These are key battles, because ISIS now has a presence in Syria’s south and because they are close to the ceasefire line with the Golan,” said Abdulrahman. “This is the first time these groups have clashed with each other,” he added.

Abdulrahman said 12 rebels were killed and Jaysh Al-Jihad lost seven fighters. “Fifteen members of Jaysh Al-Jihad were also taken hostage,” he said.

The clashes took place as Israel announced that two mortar rounds fired from Syria struck northern parts of the Golan Heights, without causing casualties.

Israeli forces later stated that the mortar fire was the result of errant “spillover” from the conflict, and not a deliberate attack.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/18331-al-qaeda-linked-groups-clash-with-isis-in-golan-heights.

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