Archive for April, 2016

Turkey sticks to condition that Israel lifts siege on Gaza in return for normalizing relations

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Turkey has not given up its condition to lift the Gaza siege in return for normalizing relations with Israel, Turkish Presidency Spokesman Ibrahim Kalın said Monday, adding that the two sides have not reached a final agreement yet and that talks would continue over the coming weeks.

Al- Araby al- Jadeed news agency cited a source familiar with the Turkish foreign ministry as saying that Israel has accepted two out of three of Turkey’s conditions, including to publicly apologize for what happened in the Mavi Marmara incident and to pay $20 million in compensation for the activists’ families.

Israel has also agreed to facilitate the access of Turkish ships to the Gaza Strip to deliver aid.

Ankara also demanded that the electricity situation in Gaza improve by sending a power generating ship. According to the source, the Israeli delegation did not object to the Turkish demand but asked for more time to consult with the government in this regard.

The Turkish foreign ministry said on Friday that the negotiating teams from both sides have agreed to rapidly reach a deal on normalizing ties after talks in London.

“The teams made progress towards finalizing the agreement and closing the gaps and agreed that the deal will be finalized in the next meeting which will be convened very soon,” the ministry said in a statement.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/24966-turkey-sticks-to-condition-that-israel-lifts-siege-on-gaza-in-return-for-normalising-relations.

Druze youths protest in Syria’s Suweida

14/04/2016

BEIRUT – Students have been at the forefront of a recent protest movement in Syria’s Druze-populated Suweida province calling for comprehensive reforms in the regime-controlled region.

The newly-formed “You Broke Us” campaign called for Suweida residents to hit the streets early Thursday afternoon, the latest protest organized by the movement making a raft of social and economic demands that implicitly blame the government with mismanaging the province.

“You Broke Us” announced its public presence on March 13 in an opening statement in which it vowed to organize a “long-term protest” until its demands to help “build a better future for the province” were met.

The organization’s manifesto is not overly political and does not take any firm stance on the regime’s presence in Suweida, similar to a previous grassroots movement that briefly held a series of protests in the fall of 2015.

Instead, “You Broke Us” lists eight main problems it says are blighting the lives of the province’s residents: rampant corruption, poor electrical services, declining provision of fuel and heating gas, the firing of state employees who refuse military service, the fixed salary of state employees amid the inflation wracking the country, high prices for basic commodities, increased lawlessness, and poor healthcare.

Although the campaign has avoided anti-regime rhetoric, it launched an implicit broadside against local government figures in a March 22 post, saying: “We send a message to the concerned dirty and corrupt authorities that the people soon will direct their judgments against you, O criminals.”

So far, the student-led civil society movement’s protests have focused on the dismissal of public teachers who refused to sign-up for state military reserve service, a heavy-handed regime move that ran contrary to Suweida residents’ long-running opposition to conscription in the Syrian army to potentially fight in far-off battlefronts.

The first student protest over the matter was held on March 1 in front of Suweida’s Department of Education amid a heavy presence of security forces. Although the sit-in came over a week before the official launch of “You Broke Us,” the group has since claimed it organized the demonstration.

In the ensuing weeks, “You Broke Us,” dozens of students have gathered five subsequent times for marches and sit-ins, all of which were peaceful in nature and were not brutally suppressed by regime forces, as other protests in the early days of the Syrian uprising were.

Their latest protest on April 12 went beyond the local situation, with “You Broke Us” organizers saying the rally was in response to the situation in not only Suweida, but the country as whole. The call for action for the sit-in railed against “injustice, corruption and the violation of the rights of young people.”

Although Suweida is under regime control, a number of grassroots movements have sprung up in the past two years to protest decreasing living standards in the Druze-populated province.

In the fall of 2015, the short-lived “We Are Being Strangled” movement organized a series of protests, one of which turned into an unprecedented show of anger on September 2 when demonstrators went as far as storming the provincial government’s local HQ in Suweida.

Two days after the protest, the leader of the fiercely independent Sheikhs of Dignity Movement—the most powerful group challenging regime authority in Suweida—was assassinated by a massive car bombing in the provincial capital.

The Sheikhs of Dignity never made any official statement of support for the “We Are Being Strangled” movement, and the group has also remained mum on the recently-formed student protest group.

Although the Sheikhs of Dignity and its armed affiliates insist they are neutral, they have struck increasingly challenging positions against the Syrian government, and have announced they seek self-security.

Source: NOW.

Link: https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/NewsReports/566869-druze-youths-protest-in-syrias-suweida.

Syrian regime jet downed near Aleppo

Wednesday, 06 April 2016

A fighter aircraft belonging to the Syrian government was shot down by a surface to air missile on Tuesday, Syria’s SANA news agency has reported. Pro-regime media sources said that the pilot of the Sukhoi-22 was captured after his jet was downed in the town of Eis, near Aleppo.

No Syrian faction has claimed responsibility for bringing the fighter down. However, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, rebels from Al-Nusra Front were responsible.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/24867-syrian-regime-jet-downed-near-aleppo.

Palestinians in Israel launch new Islamic movement

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Arab Israeli politicians yesterday announced the formation of a new party called Al-Wafaa and Al-Islah (Gratitude and Reform), AlKhaleejOnline.com reported. Sheikh Husam Abu Leil, the chairman of the new party, said in a press conference held in Nazareth: “We announce the birth of Al-Wafaa and Al-Islah party as a political, popular and non-parliamentary party based on Islamic values.”

“We reaffirm sticking to our national principles, as well as to undermining all plans aiming to expel us from our homeland. We pledge to help all our people in the occupied land.”

AlKhaleejOnline.com said it expects the party to be the political cover for the Islamic Movement which was banned in November last year. Many of the new party’s leaders were members of the Islamic Movement, including Abu Leil who was the second deputy head of the movement.

The party will not run for seats in the Knesset.

When asked whether the Israeli government might ban his party like it banned the Islamic Movement, Abu Leil said: “All of us, in occupied Palestine, are being targeted by the ruling institution [Israeli government].”

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/24967-palestinians-in-israel-launch-new-islamic-movement.

Will Jordan ban the Muslim Brotherhood?

Author Osama Al Sharif

April 6, 2016

Two incidents in March have heightened tensions between Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood Group (MBG) and the government to the point of raising speculation about the future of the 70-year-old Islamist movement.

In the first incident, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the MBG’s political arm, received notice March 13 from the governor of Aqaba ordering the closure of its office in that port city to comply with a court order. The closure was based on a complaint by the Muslim Brotherhood Society (MBS), an offshoot founded last year by disaffected MBG members, regarding a legal dispute over ownership of the property. It is the first time the IAF has been involved in a dispute between the MBG and the MBS.

Following the MBS’ registration in March 2015, the government asserted that the MBG lacked legal registration. It was therefore prevented from holding public rallies and other events. The MBG insisted that it has had a known legal presence since its establishment in the 1940s. In the second incident, on March 31, the governor of Amman informed MBG officials that because their group was not officially registered, they were prohibited from holding internal elections to select Shura Council members and a general overseer.

It remains unclear whether the government is moving closer to banning the MBG or whether it is forcing it to limit its activities to the IAF, which has been officially registered as a political party since 1992. The government’s actions follow parliament’s adoption in March of a new election law, which all Islamist parties in the kingdom had welcomed. The IAF boycotted the 2013 local elections to protest the one-person, one-vote electoral system, which had been in place for decades and has been removed in the new law. Under the old law, voters could only cast their ballot for a single candidate, even if there were multiple parliamentary seats available in their district. Now a voter can cast a number of votes equal to the number of available seats in his district.

Khaled al-Kalaldeh, Jordan’s minister of political development, denies that the government is considering banning the MBG. He told Al-Monitor, “The government is dealing with this issue with restraint knowing the weight of the group and its party on the popular political scene.” Kalaldeh admitted, however, that there might be pressure from certain political centers inside the government that want a confrontation in light of recent divisions within the Islamist movement.

He also emphasized that forbidding the MBG to hold internal elections is based on the legal complaint made by the registered MBS, which has claimed that the MBG is illegally using its name. “The fact is that the [MBG] is not a legal entity, and this has nothing to do with any government position,” Kalaldeh asserted.

The MBG has been struggling with internal divisions for years. In 2013, a group of moderate members calling for bold reforms launched what became the Zamzam Initiative. They opposed the movement’s decision to boycott elections and wanted the MBG to sever its historical ties to the main group in Egypt. In addition, they called on the MBG to focus on national issues and to act as an opposition in the political system. Having been repeatedly rebuffed by the hawkish leadership of the MBG, the members behind Zamzam, who were later expelled from the MBG, decided to form their own movement. On March 26, the Zamzam leadership unveiled plans to establish their own political party to contest legislative elections expected to be held later this year.

Irhail al-Gharaibeh, general coordinator for the Zamzam Initiative, told Al-Monitor that he expects the government to dissolve the MBG, because it is not registered in Jordan, and defended the decision to prevent the group from holding internal elections. “It has no legal structure, and if the group insists on holding elections, then the authorities must intervene and take action,” Gharaibeh said.

According to Gharaibeh, the divisions within the MBG are long-standing, but they resurfaced following the events of the Arab Spring. “We wanted to have flexibility in political action and to avoid the mistakes of the past,” he said. “But the conservatives rejected our efforts, and we as reformers had to take action through what we call conciliatory democracy.”

Gharaibeh warned that the Islamist movement in Jordan could collapse if it fails to adapt and that it should break from its ideological trenches and accept competition based on merit rather than tribe. He reiterated the decision by the Zamzam Initiative to contest future elections as a moderate Islamist party.

Ali Abu al-Sukkar, former chairman of the MBG’s Shura Council, dismissed speculation that the government’s recent decisions might eventually lead to banning the group. “Practically and historically, we had a good working relationship with governments, and we were never extreme in our policies,” he told Al-Monitor.

Abu al-Sukkar described the present relationship as tepid, but said it would never result in a total break. “The rise of the Islamist movement in the region has raised fears here, and the presence of Daesh [the Islamic State] has created a fear of Islamist parties,” he said. Abu al-Sukkar also said the MBG will hold its internal elections before the end of this month, regardless of the government’s position.

Meanwhile, the MBS has announced its intention to participate in this year’s parliamentary elections, but has not yet filed for a political party license. On April 3, its Shura Council adopted a unanimous decision to end years of political boycott, which began with the 2013 IAF election boycott.

The fragmentation of the Islamist movement is already having an effect on society. On March 30, the Teachers Association, the largest professional union in Jordan, held general elections and the results clearly revealed the MBGs waning popularity. The group’s candidates lost ground to independents, who won 56% of the seats on the union’s central committee.

These results will be used by MBG critics to point to its exaggerated influence on the Jordanian electorate. The real test, however, will be how the IAF performs in legislative elections in competition against the two new planned Islamist parties. Meanwhile, as the government’s legal siege against the MBG continues, the group’s big showdown, its internal elections, awaits the end of this month.

Source: al-Monitor.

Link: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/04/muslim-brotherhood-group-jordan-government-tension.html.

France slams Syrian parliamentary elections

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Syria’s parliamentary elections in government-held areas on Wednesday are a “sham” organized by “an oppressive regime”, France’s foreign ministry said. “France denounces this sham of an election organized by the regime,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Romain Nadal said in a daily briefing on Wednesday.

“They are being held without campaigning, under the auspices of an oppressive regime and without international observation,” he added.

Nadal said viable elections could only take place after a political transition and new constitution, stressing that only elections as part of a UN resolution that paves the way for a transition in the country would be valid.

Nadal said millions of Syrians were forced to abandon their areas and did not participate in the elections.

The United Nations announced Tuesday that it does not recognize the vote.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/25010-france-slams-syrian-parliamentary-elections.

Romania: Former Mossad agents arrested on suspicions of espionage

Wednesday, 06 April 2016

Four Israeli citizens are being investigated on alleged charges of espionage, Romanian sources reported this morning. Romania Insider reported that the four are being investigated on charges of spying on the Chief Prosecutor of Romania’s National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), Laura Kovesi Codruta.

Two of the suspects are former Mossad agents Avi Yanus and Dan Zorella, who are co-founders of intelligence firm Black Cube.

Israeli reports noted that former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan has cooperated with Black Cube and was an honorary president of the firm until his death last month.

According to sources in the Romanian prosecution, Zorella and Yanus, along with other Black Cube employees, including Ron Weiner and David Geclowicz, organised a group that committed cyber attacks against the head of Romania’s National Anticorruption Directorate.

It has also become evident that these two former agents, who are still under arrest, also hacked into the emails of three of Codruta’s close aides.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/24874-romania-former-mossad-agents-arrested-on-suspicions-of-espionage.

Russian sappers with robots to clear mines in Palmyra

March 31, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian combat engineers arrived Thursday in Syria on a mission to clear mines in the ancient town of Palmyra, which has been recaptured from Islamic State militants in an offensive that has proven Russia’s military might in Syria despite a drawdown of its warplanes.

The Defense Ministry said the sapper units were airlifted to Syria with equipment including state-of-the art robotic devices to defuse mines at the 2,000-year-old archaeological site. Russian television stations showed Il-76 transport planes with the engineers landing before dawn at the Russian air base in Syria.

Sunday’s recapture of Palmyra by Syrian troops under the cover of Russian airstrikes was an important victory over Islamic State militants who operated a 10-month reign of terror there. Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the military’s General Staff said Russian military advisers had helped plan and direct the Syrian army’s operation to recapture Palmyra.

He said Russian warplanes had flown about 500 combat missions from March 7 to March 27, striking 2,000 targets around Palmyra, including artillery positions and fortifications. The Russian jets also hit IS militants as they tried to flee toward their strongholds of Raqqa and Deir el-Zour, Rudskoi added.

The high number of sorties flown in support of the offensive on Palmyra demonstrated Russia’s ability to provide strong backing to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s military despite a partial pullout of Russian combat jets from Syria earlier this month. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the drawdown should help the Syria peace talks that began in Geneva, but he has vowed to continue fighting IS and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.

A Russian- and U.S.-brokered cease-fire in Syria that began on Feb. 27 has largely held, but the Islamic State group and the Nusra Front have been excluded from it. Rudskoi said the truce helped the Syrian military intensify its operations against those two rebel groups.

While some Russian warplanes were sent back home after a heavy-duty service in the air campaign that began on Sept. 30, the Russian military have deployed new weapons at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia, the heartland of Assad’s Alawite minority. The Russians tested their latest helicopter gunship, the Mi-28, for the first time in combat.

Rudskoi emphasized that the Russian jets used precision weapons to avoid any damage to Palmyra’s archaeological treasures. He said Russian sapper teams will now have to search more than 180 hectares (445 acres) of both historic and residential areas in Palmyra for mines. He added the job is even more difficult because, along with standard military mines, the area is littered with a large number of booby traps and other self-made explosive devices.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Thursday urged other nations to join the effort of clearing Palmyra from mines. Rudskoi emphasized that the seizure of Palmyra had strategic importance due to its location at the junction of major highways.

“The restoration of the Syrian army’s control over Palmyra will make it significantly more difficult for the bandit groups to regroup and move their resources between Syria’s northern and southern regions, and it will also significantly weaken their capability around Damascus and Aleppo,” he said.

He added that losing areas rich in natural resources will hurt rebels’ ability to buy weapons and ammunition and pay their forces. The operation to recapture Palmyra highlighted Russian military deployments to the front lines to assist the air power.

Russian television stations showed reports Thursday about Alexander Prokhorenko, a Russian military officer who helped direct Russian airstrikes around Palmyra. He died when he was surrounded by IS militants.

Prokhorenko became the fifth serviceman killed in action in Syria, according to Russian statements. A Russian pilot whose plane was downed by Turkey in November was shot dead as he was parachuting down, a marine was killed on a mission to rescue the pilot’s crewmate, a military adviser serving alongside the Syrian army died in shelling by militants and another soldier was killed on a reconnaissance mission. One soldier at the Russian base killed himself, officials said.

A senior tank officer and several artillery officers were among the Russian servicemen whom Putin recently awarded with medals for their valor in Syria.

Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.

Jordan arrests Syrian Islamist activist

[10/16/2011]

AMMONNEWS – Two Syrian political asylum seekers sheltering in Jordan say authorities here have arrested a Syrian Islamist activist.

They say Abdul-Salam al-Shuqairi was seized by Jordanian security six days ago from his shelter near the northern Jordanian-Syrian border.

They said Wednesday they did not know the reason behind the arrest.

Jordanian government officials declined comment. The refugees spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by Jordanian security.

Al-Shuqairi, 37, is a native of the restive southern Syrian town of Daraa, where the uprising began. He escaped to Jordan a month ago and was staying with 185 other Syrian refugees in a northern shelter.

Source: Ammon News.

Link: http://en.ammonnews.net/article.aspx?articleNO=14118.

Some Jordanian prisoners to be released in Hamas-Israel deal

[10/13/2011]

AMMONNEWS – Some Jordanian prisoners in Israeli jails are set to be freed under a deal struck this week between Hamas and Israel to swap hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for the Israeli captive soldier Gilad Shalit.

According to political activist Maysara Malas, former head of the National Committee for Prisoners in Israel, the number of Jordanian prisoners to be freed is not yet known.

Malas told The Jordan Times yesterday that he received confirmed information that some Jordanians in Israeli prisons will be included in the agreement announced Tuesday between Gaza’s Hamas Islamist movement and the Israeli government, adding that there are currently 24 Jordanians behind bars in Israel.

According to the activist, the prisoners, whom he said were imprisoned for political reasons, are serving various terms, with one inmate having been incarcerated since 2000.

An official at the foreign ministry told The Jordan Times that the ministry has not received official information about the release of Jordanian prisoners.

On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in Jerusalem that the deal to swap prisoners was “finally summarized and both sides signed”, Reuters reported.

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas confirmed that it only remained to conclude technical arrangements for the exchange in the coming days.

The breakthrough pact came after many failed negotiations to free Shalit since he was captured in 2006.

The agreement calls for the release of 1,000 Palestinians in two stages, the first involving 450 to be swapped for Shalit, with the remaining 550 to be freed later.

Source: Ammon News.

Link: http://en.ammonnews.net/article.aspx?articleNO=14127.