Archive for January 3rd, 2017

After Aleppo’s fall, Hamas finds itself resisting Tehran as well as Tel Aviv

Wednesday 28 December 2016

The fall of Aleppo to Iran-backed pro-government forces has brought a bubbling conflict between Iran and Hamas to the boil, with the former making thinly-veiled threats to cut off the Palestinian group.

The threats came from Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, a member of the Iranian Foreign Affairs and National Security Committee, in the wake of increasing solidarity from Hamas to Aleppo.

In an interview last week with the reformist Qanun newspaper, Falahatpisheh made clear there would be material consequences if Hamas did not change its position on Iran’s role in the region, not least its intervention in Syria.

If Hamas does not reconsider the “inconsistent positions by its leaders,” Tehran will be forced to turn to “the most detested of available options” – turning to other Palestinian factions such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, said Falahatpisheh on 21 December.

The tensions between Hamas, the most renowned anti-Israel movement in the region, and Iran are significant, as Tehran legitimizes its foreign policy through its “Axis of Resistance” against Israel and the United States, which includes Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Currently, the sphere of influence of the resistance extends from the Indian subcontinent to the borders of Israel,” Falahatpisheh said.

The harshness of the senior Iranian official’s tone underlines the depth of the crisis in relations. Falahatpisheh accused Hamas of continuing to “support terrorist groups working under the umbrella of the Syrian opposition”.

He described Hamas’ current stance as “hostile,” and saw the group as moving out of Iran’s sphere of influence.

Falahatpisheh demanded Hamas not forget that Syria was, in his words, “a leader in the resistance, and much of its misfortunes are now due to this position”.

Hamas’ support for Aleppo

“We are following with great pain what is happening in Aleppo and the horrific massacres, murders and genocide its people are going through, and condemn it entirely,” read a statement from Hamas at the height of the bombardment of Aleppo.

The movement asked those whom it described as “wise, free and responsible in the ummah (global Islamic community) to act promptly to protect civilians in Aleppo and save those who are still alive”.

It also called on international, human rights and humanitarian institutions around the world to intervene immediately to “stop these dreadful massacres, stand by the children, women and elderly of Aleppo and save them from death and destruction”.

Ahmed Youssef, a senior Hamas figure and former foreign relations head, told al-Khaleej Online that his group would not change course – not least after what happened in Aleppo.

Youssef said the group’s position reflected that of the Palestinian public, who themselves have suffered similar brutality during Israel’s repeated assaults on the Gaza Strip.

He was adamant that Hamas would continue to stand in solidarity with Syria and condemn the killing of civilians there.

During Hamas’ recent parade commemorating the movement’s 29th anniversary, civilian Gazans and Qassam Brigade soldiers alike were seen carrying banners in solidarity with the people of Aleppo.

Hamas-Iran tensions

On the issue of Iranian-Hamas relations, the Iranian outlet Qanun threw in its own two cents: “It seems that Hamas moved away from Iran a long time ago.”

“This can be clearly seen from what is taking place in Syria. All of this is occurring at a time when leaders of the movement deny the existence of any differences of opinion between Tehran and the movement.

“In reality, however, their actions contradict their words.”

“Its financial relations with the Arabs are the reason behind the incoherent positions among the movement’s leaders,” Falahatpisheh said, going as far as to add that the “Israeli lobby” was influencing the group’s position.

He accused a “current” within Hamas of “seeking to save Daesh under the label of the Syrian opposition”.

There are also tensions within Hamas’s leadership over Iran’s influence on the group’s direction, which were made public through information leaked to the London-based pan-Arab al-Sharq al-Awsat daily.

The leaks came from a meeting of senior Hamas leaders, where a leading commander of Hamas’s military wing expressed his concern over growing Iranian influence due to its financial and military support for the group.

Salah al-Arouri is a founding commander of Hamas’ military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, and the movement’s preeminent figure in the West Bank.

According to the leaks, he accused Qassem Soleimani – leader of the Quds Force, the elite branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) – of trying to weaken the Qassam Brigade’s allegiance to Hamas and attempting to absorb them into the Quds Force.

Arouri also protested in the meeting against the pressure Soleimani was putting on the group to pledge complete loyalty to Tehran in the same way Islamic Jihad had done when their general secretary, Ramadan Shalah, led a delegation to Tehran and pledged an oath of allegiance to the Iranian regime.

Relations between Hamas and Iran deteriorated sharply following the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011. The following year, the group’s leadership left Damascus after being based there for more than a decade. Their funding was reduced drastically shortly thereafter.

“Our position on Syria affected relations with Iran. Its support for us never stopped, but the amounts [of money] were significantly reduced,” a senior Hamas official said in 2013.

In response to this turn of events, Iran ramped up funding for other Palestinian groups, most notably the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Islamic Jihad moves closer to Iran

Islamic Jihad has staged its own show of force in Gaza in recent months in a rally including its military wing – the al-Quds Brigades.

Shalah, quoted in the al-Sharq al-Awsat leaks as criticizing Iranian influence, spoke via video link at the October rally, saying: “[Iran] is the only country which commits to the unending support of the Palestinian cause”.

Islamic Jihad has had their own tensions with Iran over Syria for the past two years, but have recently changed tune and become one of Iran’s most vociferous Palestinian proxies.

Earlier this year, Shalah led a Palestinian Islamic Jihad delegation to Tehran and met with Soleimani.

“The defense of Palestine amounts to a defense of Islam,” Shalah said, adding: “The Arab states did not support the popular uprising in Palestine and will never support it since it contradicts their leaders’ agendas. Iran is the only state that supports the intifada and the martyrs’ families.”

Soleimani pledged to provide $70m in annual assistance to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad after the visit, which could explain their change in direction.

JPost reported that the move could be seen as a snub to Hamas following the 2015 visit by the movement’s political chief Khaled Meshaal to Iran’s arch-rival Saudi Arabia, which appeared to mark a significant warming of relations with the Gulf state.

At the end of his interview, Falahatpisheh said that Tehran “does not see Hamas as the whole of the resistance.

“If Hamas continues its current political direction in obstructing things, then Iran will develop new relations with other Palestinian groups without seriously harming the resistance.”

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/after-aleppo-s-fall-hamas-finds-itself-resisting-tehran-well-tel-aviv-1017030317.

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Being Gaza’s first international student

December 15, 2016

While I was studying my bachelor’s degree in the Islamic University of Malaysia I told my Palestinian friends that I want to do my master’s in the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG), they told me this is impossible. They said they were unable to enter the Strip even though they are Palestinians.

I kept this childhood dream in the deepest part of my heart; it was my ambition to complete my master’s in IUG. After my bachelor’s degree I returned to Turkey and began work. A couple of years later I felt ready to continue my studies.

I was eager to complete a master’s degree which I could really enjoy and sink my teeth into, not just study for the sake of saying I have obtained this new certificate. I knew I would not be able to find what I was looking for in Turkey and Europe was too cold for me, America’s approach to studies also ruled it out.

It was then that I received a letter from a friend in Gaza, when I explained my dream of studying in Gaza the only response I received was “why not?”. So I applied. I also got in touch with a member of the faculty of IUG who had studied in Turkey and had a love for the country.

My application reached the university rector and he replied: “Turks are our brothers, they were with us throughout our struggles; send her acceptance letter.” The university’s plan to have a program for international students started with me.

Before I applied for a visa to Egypt I asked the Turkish Embassy in Cairo to obtain permission for me to enter the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing. They told me that I had a 50 per cent chance of being accepted because this was the first case of its kind. I kept my faith in God and, two months later, I received a call telling me that I was permitted to travel.

The permission given to me meant I could pass through the Rafah crossing when it was open, so when I applied for a visa to Egypt and heard the crossing was to be opened I rushed to make it on time. I arrived in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, and headed to Arish. The journey was difficult but once I arrived in Gaza that didn’t matter.

The weather in Gaza was different to that in Egypt; by just crossing the border I sensed a change. Gaza hugs you with a warm welcome. Its people were wonderful and made me forget the terrifying journey I’d made to get there.

A group from the university and a friend came to pick me up from the border crossing and we headed straight to the campus.

People were surprised that I’d come from abroad to study at their university and I heard time and again: “You’ve honored us.” Everyone made me feel at home in my new surroundings.

When I enrolled in my courses lecturers were very accommodating going through the subject matter in both English and Arabic to ensure I understood. They also help me improve my Arabic language skills. I struggled at first, at home I’d learnt Quranic Arabic, here they used a more colloquial dialect which I didn’t fully comprehend at times.

People’s hospitality means I am never worried about what I was going to eat, I am regularly invited to people’s houses, everyone is so hospitable and generous. Occasionally I find a restaurant and enjoy eating out. The food throughout the Strip, from Rafah, in the south, to Jabalia, in the north, is great.

I am now staying in Jabalia, approximately 20 mins from Gaza City which was home to my university. Unfortunately, I don’t drive so it wasn’t a short trip for me. I had to use three modes of transport to get to university including a shared minicab.

I had been warned about the cost of rent and the high cost of living which had been compared to prices in Istanbul, but I am finding life in Gaza is cheaper than that in Turkey. The area looks dated, like my hometown of Diyarbakir looked in the 1990s. But this is an amazing feat for a city that has survived three wars. The beauty of Khan Yunis and Rafah made me reminisce about life in Turkey but the Gaza air and the olive, lemon, date and palm gardens all brought me back to appreciating the beauty of my surroundings.

The beautiful fields weren’t the only relaxing aspect of life in Gaza. During my free time I often go to the beach to enjoy the sea breeze and watch the waves crash onto the shore. There are also a large number of charities and organisations that support the community, orphans and victims of war. Sports complexes are numerous in the Strip so there is always something to do but nothing beats running along the beach.

Things were different for me the first time I experienced the bombardments. On my first night in Gaza there were two rocket attacks. I could feel my body freeze. By morning I had recovered and when I told my friends about my experience they laughed, it was nothing they told me, they’d experienced 76 in one night!

I quickly learnt to do as Gazans do when there’s a bombing.

Once I was in class and 35 rockets attacked the area. I had had plans to have dinner with my friend’s family and these were plans I didn’t cancel. We ate under bombardment. This is daily life in Gaza and even babies are getting used to the sounds and situation.

When I’d call to check on my friends following the bombings they’d reply with surprise: “This is normal, we are used to this, don’t worry.”

I have now been in Gaza for more than 40 days, my Arab language skills have improved significantly, and because of the delicious food on offer my waistline has also been affected!

Every day I love Gaza more and am thankful I’m here.

I’ve never felt so much peace in all my life.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161215-gazas-first-international-student/.

New Cabinet in Lebanon vows to ‘preserve stability’

December 18, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — A new 30-member national unity Cabinet headed by Prime minister Saad Hariri was announced Sunday in Lebanon nearly two months after a new president was elected, and the premier vowed that his top priority would be to protect the country from the effects of the civil war in neighboring Syria.

The Cabinet includes most of the country’s political groups, including the Shiite militant Hezbollah, which holds two seats. It was to hold its first meeting on Wednesday. Speaking to reporters shortly after the Cabinet was announced, Hariri said his government’s priority would be to “preserve the stability that is prevailing in Lebanon amid fires that are spreading around the region.”

He said his government would work to “isolate our country from the negative effects of the Syrian war” and would seek international help in dealing with the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled into Lebanon.

Lebanon is home to some 1.2 million Syrian refugees, or a quarter of the country’s population. The Syrian war has spilled over into Lebanon on several occasions over the past five years, with clashes and bombings that killed scores.

Lebanese are sharply divided over Syria’s war. Hariri has been a harsh critic of President Bashar Assad’s government, while Hezbollah has sent thousands of its fighters to back the Syrian leader. Hariri, who served as prime minister for 14 months until early 2011, began working to form the new Cabinet in early November, days after the country’s newly elected president, Michel Aoun, asked him to do so. The new government must still be approved by parliament.

A Christian leader and strong ally of the Shiite Hezbollah group, Aoun was elected president by parliament on Oct. 31, ending a 29-month presidential vacuum in Lebanon. His election was made possible after Hariri endorsed him for president, based on an understanding that Aoun would then appoint him as prime minister.

According to Lebanon’s sectarian-based power-sharing system, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Muslim Sunni and the parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim. Hariri is the son of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a billionaire businessman and influential politician who was assassinated in 2005 in Beirut. Several Hezbollah members are being tried in absentia for the killing by a U.N.-backed tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

Jordan praises ‘historic’ UN Israel settlement vote

24 December 2016 Saturday

Jordan on Saturday welcomed the “historic” UN Security Council resolution demanding a halt to Israeli settlements, saying the momentous vote paved a way for a two-state solution.

“This historic decision expresses the consensus of the international community on the illegality of Israeli settlements and reaffirms the Palestinian people’s historic right (to live) in Jerusalem and its historic lands,” Jordan’s information minister Mohammad al-Momani said Saturday.

Some 430,000 Israeli settlers currently live in the West Bank and a further 200,000 Israelis live in east Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as the capital of their future state.

The resolution demands that “Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”

It states that Israeli settlements have “no legal validity” and are “dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-state solution.”

Momani said the resolution reinforced the historic position of Jordan — one of the few Arab states to have diplomatic ties with Israel — on the need for a two state solution.

The Middle East peace process has been comatose since a US initiative to re-launch peace talks collapsed in April 2014.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/182180/jordan-praises-historic-un-israel-settlement-vote.

Death toll in Karak attacks rises to 14, including four terrorists

By Rana Husseini

Dec 19,2016

AMMAN — Four terrorists were killed in a security operation in the southern governorate of Karak on Sunday after 10 people were killed in attacks, including four police officers and three gendarmes.

Two civilians and a Canadian citizen were killed, while 22 other civilians and police officers were injured when four gunmen stormed the southern city and fired at security and civilians before heading to the Karak Castle, official sources said.

Government Spokesperson Mohammad Momani told The Jordan Times that the Kingdom will remain resilient against attempts to disturb its stability and security, extending Jordan’s condolences to the Canadian government over the loss of the Canadian national.

Momani and the Public Security Department (PSD) said all the civilians who were trapped in the Karak Castle when the terrorists withdrew there were freed following a five-hour rescue operation.

Security forces evacuated people who were residing near the Karak castle, a resident who preferred anonymity, told The Jordan Times.

“The forces closed all main entries to the town and asked residents to stay at home and follow security instructions,” the resident said.

Several videos that circulated on social media on Sunday purported dozens of residents carrying armed weapons and “pledging to help security forces to fight the terrorists.”

Other video clips captured armored vehicles and gendarmerie forces as they entered the city heading to the castle.

A second witness, a 23-year-old accountant, said four men entered the city with a vehicle and clashed with police.

“They were firing randomly and many people were injured,” the eyewitness told The Jordan Times over the phone.

“I hid under a vehicle to avoid the flying bullets but several people were injured from the fire exchange between the suspects and the security forces,” the eyewitness, who preferred anonymity, said.

He added that the suspects then headed to the castle and took hostages there. Momani said there were no hostage taking, but rather people were trapped and then freed.

“Several security forces and sharp shooters surrounded the castle, while helicopters hovered over the ancient ruins,” he added.

The PSD issued a statement earlier in the day saying that the incident occurred when a police unit responded to a fire alert that erupted in a house in Qatraneh to the north of Karak.

“Unidentified assailants fired at the officers, injuring two of them then fled in a vehicle,” the PSD statement said.

Shortly afterwards, the statement added, the terrorists shot at a police patrol in the Karak governorate followed by more shots at a police station when they took refuge in the castle.

He said Special Forces have surrounded an area in the southern city where 10 of the suspected attackers were entrenched in.

Addressing a Parliament session earlier in the day, Prime Minister Hani Mulki said there was no information on the attackers, describing them as “outlaws”.

He said the incident started in Qatraneh town, north of Karak, when the unknown assailants opened fire from a cafe’s rooftop at a police patrol. Later on, he said, they targeted other patrols in the governorate.

Source: The Jordan Times.

Link: http://jordantimes.com/news/local/death-toll-karak-attacks-rises-14-including-four-terrorists.

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