Archive for July, 2018

Israeli settlers commit more arson in occupied West Bank

July 28, 2018

A group of extremist Jewish settlers have set fire to Palestinian property in the village of Jaloud on the outskirts of the occupied West Bank city of Nablus, Quds Press has reported.

Witnesses said that the settlers set fire to Palestinian farmland as well as a house in the area, which was severely damaged. At least 2.5 acres of wheat was also burnt. The settlers also cut down dozens of Palestinian-owned trees in the area. No fatalities were reported.

This is the latest in a series of attacks by Jewish settlers against Palestinians and their property in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.

On Thursday, a Palestinian youth was killed by Israeli occupation forces after he allegedly stabbed three Jewish settlers in an illegal settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180728-israeli-settlers-commit-more-arson-in-occupied-west-bank/.

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2 Italian artists leave Israel after arrest over mural

July 30, 2018

JERUSALEM (AP) — Two Italian artists, arrested over the weekend for painting a large mural of a formerly imprisoned teenage Palestinian protester on Israel’s West Bank separation barrier, left Israel on Monday, their lawyer said.

The two artists — Jorit Agoch and Salvatore De Luise — were arrested on Saturday in the West Bank city of Bethlehem after spending days creating the mural depicting Ahed Tamimi, a prominent Palestinian protester imprisoned by Israel for eight months for slapping two soldiers.

They were caught in the act and, along with a Palestinian, arrested for vandalism, according to police, who said they tried to flee the scene. The artists were held in two separate detention facilities and on Sunday, Israel canceled their visas and ordered them to leave the country within three days.

Their lawyer, Azmi Masalha, told The Associated Press that Israeli authorities did not pursue any criminal charges. Beyond ordering their departure, Israel barred them from entering the country again for 10 years.

A spokeswoman for Israel’s immigration authority did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Tamimi, 17, was arrested in December after she slapped two Israeli soldiers outside her family home. Her mother filmed the incident and posted it on Facebook, where it went viral and, for many, instantly turned Tamimi into a symbol of resistance to Israel’s half-century-old military rule over the Palestinians.

In Israel, she is seen by many either as a provocateur, an irritation or a threat to the military’s deterrence policy. Tamimi’s case has drawn international attention and she received a hero’s welcome when she was released from prison on Sunday.

The lawyer, Masalha, said the artists drew the mural in a sign of “solidarity” with Tamimi. Masalha said he viewed with suspicion the artists’ arrest when there are countless works of graffiti on the separation barrier and questioned the timing so close to Tamimi’s release.

“They were arrested on the fourth day of carrying out this graffiti painting despite the fact that there is an observation tower of the military there and they were under this observation point from the first day and it’s interesting as to why this incident occurred on the fourth day,” he said.

Masalha said diplomatic officials from Italy were involved in securing the artists’ release. Three recent posts on an Instagram account believed to be Agoch’s had a photo of the mural in progress, a photo of an Israeli police vehicle and a black and white handwritten note reading: “Free thank all of you.”

The two artists left Israel on a Monday morning flight to Naples, Italy.

Israel adopts racist Jewish nation-state law

July 19, 2018

Israel passed a law on Thursday to declare that only Jews have the right of self-determination in the country, something members of the Arab minority called racist and verging on apartheid, Reuters reports.

The “nation-state” law, backed by the right-wing government, passed by a vote of 62-55 and two abstentions in the 120-member parliament after months of political argument. Some Arab lawmakers shouted and ripped up papers after the vote.

“This is a defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the history of the state of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset after the vote.

Largely symbolic, the law was enacted just after the 70th anniversary of the birth of the state of Israel. It stipulates that “Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it”.

The bill also strips Arabic of its designation as an official language alongside Hebrew, downgrading it to a “special status” that enables its continued use within Israeli institutions.

Israel’s Arabs number some 1.8 million, about 20 percent of the 9 million population.

Early drafts of the legislation went further in what critics at home and abroad saw as discrimination towards Israel’s Arabs, who have long said they are treated as second-class citizens.

Clauses that were dropped in last-minute political wrangling – and after objections by Israel’s president and attorney-general – would have enshrined in law the establishment of Jewish-only communities, and instructed courts to rule according to Jewish ritual law when there were no relevant legal precedents.

Instead, a more vaguely-worded version was approved, which says: “The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment.”

Even after the changes, critics said the new law will deepen a sense of alienation within the Arab minority.

“I announce with shock and sorrow the death of democracy,” Ahmed Tibi, an Arab lawmaker, told reporters.

Netanyahu has defended the law. “We will keep ensuring civil rights in Israel’s democracy but the majority also has rights and the majority decides,” he said last week.

Israel’s Arab population is comprised mainly of descendants of the Palestinians who remained on their land during the conflict between Arabs and Jews that culminated in the war of 1948 surrounding the creation of the modern state of Israel. Hundreds of thousands were forced to leave their homes or fled.

Those who remained have full equal rights under the law but say they face constant discrimination, citing inferior services and unfair allocations for education, health and housing.

In Ma’alot-Tarshiha, a municipality in northern Israel which was created by linking the Jewish town of Ma’alot and the Arab town of Tarshiha, there was anger among Arab residents.

“I think this is racist legislation by a radical right-wing government that is creating radical laws, and is planting the seeds to create an apartheid state,” said physician Bassam Bisharah, 71.

“The purpose of this law is discrimination. They want to get rid of the Arabs totally,” said Yousef Faraj, 53, from the nearby Druze village of Yanuh. “The Israelis want to destroy all the religions of the Arabs.”

Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, called the law a bid to advance “ethnic superiority by promoting racist policies”.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180719-israel-adopts-racist-jewish-nation-state-law/.

Israel weapons found in Daesh arms depot

July 18, 2018

Israeli-made weapons have been found among a cache of arms belonging to the terrorist group Daesh.

The discovery was made by Syrian government troops in the south of Hama province, during a large-scale military operation to clear the area of mines, Sputnik reported citing Syrian sources.

The depot, which was found in the town of Aqrab, contained Israeli-made bombs and assault rifles, pistols, as well as other military hardware including Kalashnikov machine guns, mortar shells and sniper rifles.

Syrian Army engineering units are said to have found the depot while clearing out Aqrab of booby traps, ammunition and weapons left by Daesh.

A similar discovery is reported to have been made last week, when Syrian government forces found a huge cache of Western-made arms in Daraa. The depots were identified as the Syrian Army launched an offensive in Daraa.

Israel’s support for the terrorist group has been closely tracked since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011. A report released last year by an Israeli intelligence bureau suggested that in confronting Iran, the interests of Daesh and Israel could converge, making them temporary allies.

Last year, a UN report confirmed that Israel gave aid to armed extremists in Syria. It found that there had been a significant increase in interaction between Israeli soldiers and individuals from members of the Syrian opposition forces.

The friendship appears to be more than just the arming of rebel forces by Israel. A member of the Israeli Knesset has even accused Tel-Aviv of buying oil from Daesh.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180718-israel-weapons-found-in-daesh-arms-depot/.

Syria war shifting gears as it enters eighth year

2018-03-13

BEIRUT – Syria enters its eighth year of war on Thursday, free of the jihadist “caliphate” but torn apart by an international power struggle as the regime presses its blistering reconquest.

The conflict that started on March 15, 2011 as the government of President Bashar al-Assad cracked down on mostly peaceful protests is raging on relentlessly and getting more complex.

According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, nearly 354,000 people have been killed in seven years. More than half of Syria’s pre-war population of 20 million has been displaced.

International efforts have consistently failed to stop one of the deadliest wars of the century: hundreds of children are still being killed and thousands of people forced from their homes.

Assad, who once looked on the brink of losing the office he has held since 2000, was given a new lease on life by Russia’s 2015 military intervention and is sealing an unlikely recovery.

“Today, the regime controls more than half of the territory. He holds the big cities… it’s clear that he has won,” said Syria analyst Fabrice Balanche.

The government’s latest operation to retake the ground it lost in the early stages of the war is being conducted in Eastern Ghouta, at the gates of the capital Damascus.

Government and allied forces have waged an intense air and ground offensive on the rebel enclave, killing more than 1,100 civilians — a fifth of them children — in an assault whose ferocity has shocked the world.

Deadly barrel bombs and suspected chemical munitions have been dropped on civilian areas, forcing families to cower in basements and turning entire towns into fields of ruins reminiscent of World War II.

– ‘Scramble for Syria’ –

The past few months had seen the death of the Islamic State group’s “caliphate”, an experiment in jihadist statehood that temporarily gave rival forces a shared goal and shifted the focus away from Assad’s fate.

The proto-state IS declared in 2014 in swathes of Syria and Iraq it controlled was gradually defeated by a myriad different forces, and 2017 saw the caliphate’s final collapse.

The organization that once administered millions of people still has a few fighters hunkering down in desert hideouts, but its territorial ambitions have been dashed.

“It is very difficult for IS to get its feet back on the ground,” said Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

He warned that jihadists would retain the ability to carry out spectacular attacks and suicide bombings.

As they invested forces and equipment in the war on the jihadists, world powers were also staking their claim to increased influence in the region.

After foreign militaries finished wresting back one IS bastion after another, parts of Syria that had seen a relative lull in fighting became the focus once again.

“What we are seeing is the scramble for Syria right now,” said Landis.

“The main trend is going to be the division of Syria” into three blocs, he said, with the lion’s share going to the regime, which is backed by Russia and Iran.

– Faltering talks –

US-backed Kurds hold oil-rich territory in northeastern Syria covering 30 percent of the country and a motley assortment of Turkey-backed Arab rebels are carving a third haven in the northwest.

“Turkish and American influence on the ground, inside of Syria, will continue to spread,” predicted Nicholas Heras of the Center for New American Security.

“In this way, 2018 will continue the trend of consolidating Syria into zones of control, even as Bashar al-Assad’s forces make gains in some areas of the country,” he said.

The regime is now bent on breaking any resistance in Eastern Ghouta, which lies on the capital’s doorstep, within mortar range of key institutions.

Balanche predicted that the rebel enclave will not hold out very long and that evacuation deals will be reached.

“For the regime, 2018 is the year it fully retakes Damascus and its agglomeration,” said Balanche, a visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

UN-sponsored talks in Geneva as well as Russian-brokered negotiations in Sochi have failed to raise any credible prospect of a political solution to the conflict.

The assault on Ghouta marks one of the seven-year conflict’s darkest episodes, with the international community apparently powerless to stop the bloodshed.

It has left the United Nations virtually speechless, with its children agency UNICEF issuing a blank statement last month to demonstrate its outrage at the carnage in Ghouta.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=87652.

Turkish-backed rebels poised to encircle Afrin city after days of swift advances

MAR. 12, 2018

AMMAN: Turkish-backed Syrian rebels are moving to “surround and isolate Afrin city,” the eponymous capital of a Kurdish-held enclave that has been the target of a months-long military operation, a rebel spokesman told Syria Direct on Monday.

Free Syrian Army fighters “are now on the outskirts of Afrin city,” Suheil al-Qasim, the spokesman for Failaq a-Sham, a rebel faction participating in the Turkish-backed offensive on Afrin canton, told Syria Direct on Monday.

Ankara-backed rebels seized control over a series of “strategic hills” overlooking Afrin city in recent days, the spokesman added.

Less than two kilometers currently separate Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions from Afrin city, following three days of swift advances against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Afrin is the capital of an eponymous canton in northwestern Aleppo that is mainly governed by the Kurdish-led Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the YPG. Ankara considers both groups to be offshoots of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency inside Turkey for decades.

On January 20, Turkey launched a military operation dubbed “Operation Olive Branch” in coordination with allied Syrian rebel groups with the stated goal of “eliminating terrorists” near Turkey’s border with northwestern Syria.

FSA factions supported by Turkish airstrikes and artillery fire seized the Kurdish-held enclave’s entire border region with Turkey from YPG fighters by early February, Syria Direct reported.

Olive Branch factions advanced towards the canton’s capital along two major axes over the past week after capturing cities and villages southwest and northeast of Afrin city.

Today, roughly six kilometers separate the two FSA salients. By joining the two frontlines, Olive Branch forces would encircle Afrin city as well as large swathes of countryside to the east.

Syria Direct contacted Nouri Mahmoud, official spokesman for the YPG, on Monday for confirmation of Operation Olive Branch advances. He said YPG fighters inflicted “heavy losses and destroyed military vehicles” belonging to the Turkish Armed Forces, but did not elaborate on the advances.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported “rapid advances” by the rebel factions of Operation Olive Branch on Monday, claiming that 1,100 square kilometers of Afrin were “cleared of terror threats” since the operation began in January.

Coinciding with the latest advances by Turkish-backed rebels, pro-government militias that entered Afrin in support of the YPG last month withdrew from the canton, the state-funded news outlet Russia Today reported on Sunday.

YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud did not confirm that pro-government militias withdrew from Afrin canton, but said that the fighters were “evading their duties.”

“The groups belonging to the Syrian Army are not capable of protecting the unity of Syrian territory,” the spokesman said.

‘Brink of catastrophe’

Olive Branch forces are now closing in on a capital city teeming with displaced people, as tens of thousands of residents are taking shelter there after fleeing ground battles, shelling and Turkish airstrikes elsewhere in Afrin in recent weeks.

Afrin city and its surrounding villages are now home to 800,000 people, one canton official told Syria Direct. YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud claimed “more than one million Syrian citizens” are currently in Afrin. Syria Direct could not independently verify either statistic.

“The city is overcrowded with a huge number of displaced residents who came here,” a member of Afrin’s Executive Council told Syria Direct from inside the city on Monday. He asked to not be identified by name as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

In the first two weeks of the Turkish military operation alone, up to 30,000 residents fled their homes, with the majority seeking shelter in Afrin city, Syria Direct reported at the time.

Now, civilians in the enclave’s capital are fleeing deeper into the city center after FSA forces reached the outskirts, two residents on the ground told Syria Direct on Monday.

Some Afrin residents are taking shelter underground, resident Jano told Syria Direct on Monday. He said he fears “a massacre” if Turkish airstrikes hit the packed urban center. Jano asked that his full name and personal details not be published, fearing reprisals if Turkish-backed rebels seize the area.

“The city is on the brink of catastrophe,” he said.

Resident Jano and the council member said some Afrin city residents are fleeing towards the Kurdish-held countryside to the east, but both estimated that most residents remain in the city center.

“It is difficult to leave as the roads leading out [of the city] are being bombed,” the council member said, adding that Turkish air and artillery fire struck the outskirts of Afrin city on Monday. The Kurdish news outlet Rudaw reported Turkish airstrikes near Afrin city on Monday.

Syria Direct contacted the Kurdish Red Crescent on Monday for statistics regarding Afrin city’s current population and rates of displacement, but were told that those figures were not available.

A report by Anadolu Agency on Monday claimed that YPG fighters are barring civilians from leaving the city and accused the Kurdish militia of using civilians as “human shields.”

The same report added that YPG “shelters are largely located in Afrin’s city center.”

Source: Syria Direct.

Link: http://syriadirect.org/news/turkish-backed-rebels-poised-to-encircle-afrin-city-after-days-of-swift-advances/.

More civilians leave Syrian rebel enclave as army advances

March 12, 2018

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian TV says another group of civilians has left the rebel-held enclave of eastern Ghouta outside Damascus through a corridor established by the Syrian army The state-run TV broadcast footage showing a small group of men, women and children it says left the town of Madyara on Monday. The town was captured by Syrian troops on Sunday.

Syrian government forces split eastern Ghouta in two amid rapid weekend advances, dealing a major setback to the rebels and threatening to exacerbate an already dire humanitarian situation at the doorstep of the country’s capital.

The advances also cut off key towns of Douma and Harasta from the rest of the enclave, further squeezing the residents inside them. The U.N. estimates nearly 400,000 civilians are living under a crippling siege in eastern Ghouta.

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