Archive for November, 2015

Palestine welcomes EU decision to label settlement products

Thursday, 12 November 2015

The Palestinian Authority’s Minister of National Economy, Abeer Oudeh, has welcomed the EU decision to label Israeli settlement products sold in the European market. She praised the EU decision as “a step in the right direction” towards de-legitimising the products of Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land occupied since 1967.

Oudeh called on the EU to speed up the process of implementing the decision so that the labeling will be clear for EU consumers as soon as possible. She pointed out that settlements produce more than 146 types of goods in various sectors; they are usually labelled “Made in Israel”, which is inaccurate and misleading as Israel has no sovereignty over the occupied Palestinian territories.

The EU decision came after three weeks’ of deliberations and attempts by the Israeli government to block the move. Israel Radio reported that it is likely that the decision will apply to fresh fruit and vegetables, honey, olive oil, wine and cosmetics.

On 26 April, 2010, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas approved a law banning products and services produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The law provided for settlement produce to be replaced by Palestinian products in order to support the local economy and provide a better marketing opportunity for Palestinian businesses.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Fatal Jordan police compound shooting took place in canteen

November 11, 2015

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — A shooting rampage at a police training center that killed five people, including two American instructors, took place in a canteen in the compound, the Jordanian government spokesman said Tuesday.

Monday’s shooting also killed a South African contractor and two Jordanians who worked as translators for the foreign instructors at the facility. Six people were wounded, including two Americans. Officials have released few details, but government spokesman Mohammed Momani said Tuesday that the attacker, a Jordanian police captain, opened fire in a dining hall. The assailant was killed by security forces, Momani has said.

Images circulating on social media showed three large pools of blood on the floor of a room with at least two tables, one of them bearing plates of food. It was not clear if there was a political motive to the shooting spree.

Concern has swirled in pro-Western Jordan over possible revenge attacks by Islamic militants since the country assumed a high-level role in the U.S.-led military campaign against the Islamic State extremist group, which controls large areas of neighboring Syria and Iraq.

The government has not released the name of the attacker. A former parliament member, Suleiman Saed, has said security forces told him a relative, 29-year-old police Cpt. Anwar Abu Zaid, was the assailant. Abu Zaid’s family has said he was not an extremist.

The two Jordanian translators were to be buried later Tuesday and Wednesday. Translator Awni al-Akrabawi, 44, worked at the training center for the past three years and had close ties with his American colleagues, said a relative, Khairallah al-Akrabawi.

Al-Akrabawi, a father of four, had lived in the United States for more than a decade and spoke fluent English, said his relative, a former parliament member. His funeral was to take place Wednesday to enable U.S. relatives to reach Jordan, Khairallah al-Akrabawi said.

The U.S. State Department has said the two Americans killed in the attack worked for DynCorp International, a major military contractor, in a program funded by the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement. The two wounded Americans are also civilians, the State Department said.

The two dead American instructors were both from Florida, according to a statement released by Florida Gov. Rick Scott. He identified the men as Lloyd Carl Fields Jr., of Cape Coral, and James Damon Creach, of Tampa.

Scott said he was “heartbroken” to hear of their deaths “while providing police training to increase safety in the region. “Both men served as law enforcement officers and will be remembered for their service to protect others,” he said.

Thousands of police officers from the region, including the Palestinian territories, have undergone training at the Jordanian-run center on the outskirts of the Jordanian capital of Amman.

Tunisian opposition wants to criminalize normalization of relations with Israel

Friday, 13 November 2015

The Popular Front bloc in the Tunisian Parliament submitted a legislative initiative on Wednesday for a draft law to criminalize the normalization of relations with Israel.

According to Ahmad Al-Seddik MP, the bill fits into the policy and position of the Popular Front to “immunize” Tunisia against any attempt at foreign interference. “Particularly by the Zionists,” he told reporters, “as their influence is growing.” Although he expects some other political parties to try to kill the bill, he stressed that it is an initiative to “confirm Tunisia’s support to the Palestinian people.”

Two marches have been organized by the Popular Front since the start of the Jerusalem Uprising last month to protest against the Israeli aggression and the settlers’ incursions at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The Popular Front is a coalition of political blocs which includes eleven Tunisian parties. Founded in 2012, it won 15 seats, out of 217, in the latest election.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Luxembourg: ‘We’ll help reconstruct Gaza’

Monday, 09 November 2015

The Luxembourg government and UNRWA will be working to assist in the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and to push the process forward, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said.

In a press conference held in Gaza, Asselborn also stated: “I believe that this is clearly a humanitarian issue and is considered one of the top issues for the Palestinian people. We must not only be satisfied with reconstructing Gaza.”

“I heard that more than half of Gazans are under 18 years old. However, it’s impossible to find a job here even if people complete their studies and this is very negative.”

Asselborn also expressed his discontent regarding the confrontations carried out by the Palestinian youth in Jerusalem and Hebron, and stressed that violence should not be encouraged; rather, there should be calls to end it.

The minister had entered the Gaza Strip for a short visit to meet with ministers from the national unity government in Gaza via the Beit Hanoun crossing.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Syria’s swimming sisters find new home in German waters

November 10, 2015

BERLIN (AP) — Sarah and Ysra Mardini pull bathing caps over their long, black hair and slide into the water, disappearing among the throng of swimmers with powerful, practiced strokes.

Two months ago the sisters were swimming for their lives, after jumping off an inflatable boat that began taking on water carrying refugees to Greece. Now they are ploughing down the length of a pool built for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin that has become a home away from home for two young women, who were once among Syria’s brightest swimming stars.

“Everything was good,” said 20-year-old Sarah. “That was before the war.” After the conflict began, the Mardini family moved around to avoid the fighting and tried to ensure their daughters could keep on swimming. Ysra, now 17, even represented Syria at the short-course world championships in Turkey in 2012. But as the war intensified fellow swimmers drifted away.

“We were 40 or 50 swimmers, and now we are maybe 10 or 7 swimmers in Syria,” said Sarah. “We want to have a future. I want to be in college, I want to be an international swimmer and my sister too. But if we stay there we will not reach that because the situation is not OK in Syria.”

The Mardini sisters eventually left Damascus in early August, joining a fresh wave of Syrians who had given up hope of seeing the conflict end soon. The sisters traveled to Lebanon, then Turkey, where they paid smugglers to take them to Greece.

Turkish coastguards drove their boat back on the first attempt. The second time they boarded a small inflatable dinghy at dusk. Within a half hour it was taking on water, hopelessly overloaded with people, most of whom couldn’t swim.

As evening winds churned up the Aegean Sea, all bags were thrown overboard to give the small boat a chance to stay afloat. When that wasn’t enough, Ysra, Sarah and three others who were also strong swimmers jumped into the water in order to give the boat more buoyancy.

“I was not afraid of dying, because if anything happened I could swim to arrive at the island. But the problem was that I had 20 persons with me,” said Sarah. “In Syria I worked in a swimming pool to watch people not drowning, so if I let anyone drown or die I would not forgive myself.”

For three hours they clung onto ropes hanging from the side until it reached shore on the Greek island of Lesbos. In the weeks-long overland trek that followed, strangers gave them clothes, while others stole from them. Friends were arrested at borders and expensive tickets proved worthless, as authorities refused to let trains full of refugees cross borders.

Eventually, the sisters made it to Austria and then Germany. Shortly after arriving in Berlin a local charity put them in touch with the Wasserfreunde Spandau 04, a swimming club based near their refugee shelter.

The club has embraced its newest recruits, putting them straight into a daily training routine. Sven Spannekrebs, their coach, says the sisters are making amazing progress, though he is realistic about their prospects as athletes. “They can swim at the highest level for the Arab world, but there’s a difference to Europe because of the training conditions,” he said.

Ysra, who specializes in butterfly stroke, is aiming high. “Maybe when I learn German I will start school. I want to be a pilot,” she said. “And with my swimming I want to reach the Olympics.” Her older sister, meanwhile, is battling bureaucracy to bring the rest of the family to Germany. In the pool, she prefers long-distance swimming.

“It seems to me that I have balanced my life,” said Sarah. “We can’t do anything good in our life if we don’t have swimming.”

Venezuela names square in capital after Arafat

Friday, 13 November 2015

A public square in the capital of Venezuela has been named after Yasser Arafat. A bronze statue of the late Palestinian president was unveiled in Caracas on Wednesday, on the 11th anniversary of his death.

The unveiling ceremony was attended by senior Venezuelan officials as well as Arab and other foreign diplomats. The Palestinian Ambassador to Venezuela, Linda Sobh, praised the country’s pioneering role in the Palestinian cause, especially in seeking to achieve Palestinian rights and independence, as well as exposing Israeli violations of international laws and conventions.

The Mayor of Caracas, Jorge Rodríguez, expressed Venezuela’s pride in commemorating one of the historical icons of national liberation in the land of liberator Simon Bolivar. He stressed Venezuela’s moral and revolutionary commitment to adopt the Palestinian cause in all national and international arenas as a firmly rooted policy, following in the footsteps of the late leader Hugo Chavez, under the man continuing his journey, President Nicolas Maduro Moros.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Product-labeling plan by Europe deepens Israel’s isolation

November 11, 2015

JERUSALEM (AP) — The European Union’s decision Wednesday to start labeling Israeli products made in the West Bank delivered a resounding show of international disapproval over Israel’s expansion of Jewish settlements and raised the pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to renew peace efforts with the Palestinians.

Israel condemned the measure as unfair and discriminatory, but it appeared helpless to stop its growing isolation over the settlement issue and its treatment of Palestinians. Relations with the EU in particular have deteriorated in recent years due to disputes over the settlements.

“The EU decision is hypocritical and constitutes a double standard,” Netanyahu said, adding that Israel had been unfairly singled out. Speaking from Washington, he said, “The EU should be ashamed.” Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and began settling both areas shortly afterward. The Palestinians claim both areas as parts of a future state, a position that has global support.

The international community opposes settlement construction, saying their continued growth undermines establishing an independent Palestine alongside Israel. Today, nearly 600,000 Israelis live in the two areas, almost 10 percent of the country’s Jewish population.

Israel’s centrist and dovish opposition also supports the idea of a Palestinian state, saying a separation is the only way to preserve Israel’s Jewish majority. While Netanyahu has endorsed this “two-state solution,” critics say he has done little to promote it.

The EU decision is “dramatically adverse to the idea of moving toward peace with our neighbors,” opposition leader Isaac Herzog told reporters in New York. Another opposition lawmaker, Tzipi Livni, said Israel could thwart the Europeans’ move if it shows it is serious about pursuing peace. “We need the right policies. We don’t need public diplomacy and we definitely shouldn’t yell at them that they are anti-Semitic,” the former foreign minister said on her Facebook page.

EU officials described their decision as technical, saying it merely clarified existing policy. Lars Faaborg-Andersen, the EU ambassador to Israel, said the 28-nation bloc does not recognize lands captured in 1967, including Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, as Israeli territory. “This is something that also happens to be the view of 99 percent of the international community,” he said in Jerusalem.

The EU has taken other steps to protest settlement construction. A free-trade policy with Israel does not apply to settlement goods, and a landmark technology-sharing agreement does not allow EU funds to be spent beyond Israel’s pre-1967 lines.

The economic impact is likely to be minimal. While the EU is Israel’s largest trade partner, settlement products account for less than 2 percent of Israel’s 13 billion euro ($14 billion) exports to Europe each year. But the move is highly symbolic.

Once implemented, European consumers will be able to read on the label of most products — including agricultural goods, olive oil, cosmetics and wines — that were produced on Israeli settlements. Although such products will not be banned, Israel fears the labels will be a political stigma and could lead to a fuller boycott.

On Tuesday, Cabinet Minister Yuval Steinitz accused Europe of “disguised anti-Semitism.” Officials avoided such language Wednesday, but the reactions were swift and angry nonetheless. The Foreign Ministry accused the EU of taking an “exceptional and discriminatory step” inspired by an international anti-Israel boycott movement. In a first step, it summoned the EU ambassador to convey its objections and suspended the meetings of several bilateral working groups with the EU.

Israeli officials noted the decision came amid a two-month wave of violence, which has been characterized by dozens of seemingly random Palestinian stabbing attacks, and would weaken any incentive for the Palestinians to return to negotiations. Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon called it a “shameful step that grants terror a prize.”

Avi Roeh, chairman of the Yesha settlers’ council, said “this attempt to isolate us or differentiate us from the rest of Israel won’t succeed.” He said the biggest victims would be the estimated 80,000 Palestinians who risk losing their jobs if the businesses that employ them in the settlements are hurt.

The violence began in mid-September with clashes at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site and quickly spread across Israel and into the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A total of 12 Israelis have been killed, mostly in stabbings, while 77 Palestinians, 50 of them said by Israel to be attackers, have died.

Israel accuses Palestinian leaders of inciting the violence. The Palestinians say it is the natural result of nearly 50 years of Israeli occupation. Some 60 percent of the West Bank, including all Jewish settlements, is under full Israeli control, heavily constricting their hopes of developing an economy and building a state.

“I highly appreciate what the EU countries did on the products of the Israeli colonial settlements,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told a summit in Saudi Arabia. The last round of U.S.-brokered peace talks broke down a year and a half ago, and President Barack Obama recently acknowledged there probably would be no more talks, much less an agreement, in his term. In the past, he has said the continued settlement construction raises questions about Israel’s seriousness for peace.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said before the EU announcement that the move “shouldn’t come as a surprise” as Israel continues to expand settlements. “This underscores the urgent need for Israel to change its policies with regard to settlements,” he said.

While running for re-election early this year, Netanyahu said he would not allow the establishment of a Palestinian state on his watch. He has backtracked on that, and at a White House meeting this week, he reiterated his support for a two-state solution but again gave no indication on how to move things forward.

On Tuesday, he raised the possibility of unspecified “unilateral” Israeli steps. Dore Gold, the director of Israel’s Foreign Ministry and a Netanyahu confidant, said several suggestions were raised with the White House. He declined to elaborate.

Israeli opposition lawmaker Yair Lapid, a former finance minister who supports the two-state solution, called the EU move a disastrous step that would only strengthen extremists on both sides. He said it sent a message to Palestinians that they do not need to negotiate to get what they want, while it would reduce Israelis’ faith in international mediation.

“If this is meant to be a wake-up call, it’s counterproductive,” Lapid told The Associated Press. “They just pushed back the possibility of negotiations and separation.”

Casert reported from Brussels. Alon Bernstein and Ian Deitch in Jerusalem, Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, Edith M. Lederer in New York, and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this story.