The Syrian regime’s crimes against children is met by silence in the Arab world

By Nehad Ismail

Most Arab States and Arab media have chosen to remain silent about the brutal crackdown by the Syrian regime against the unarmed civilian protesters. The international stance has been disappointing but the shameful Arab silence is baffling. The impotent Arab League had given the green light for the no-fly zone over Libya and supported the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 which called for the protection of civilians in Libya. Yet the same Arab League has not taken any steps to protect the civilians in Syria.

If we exclude Alarabiya, Aljazeera and Asharq Alawsat, most Arab media kept quiet about the crimes of the Damascus regime.

Silence of the Jordan opposition

Even activists who instigate weekly protests in Jordan to demand reforms are very quiet about the massacres in the Syrian city of Dera’a which is a few kilometers away across the northern border of Jordan.

Well-known so-called vociferous opposition figures in Jordan who demand reforms and more democratization are in denial about the mayhem in neighboring Syria. Why when it comes to Syria have they suddenly transmogrified into Trappist Monks? This silence is explained by the fact that the Syrian regime has for decades been able to portray itself as the last citadel of Pan-Arab Nationalism projecting itself at the forefront of the so-called “rejectionist front”. This sort of stuff has been swallowed whole by the gullible Arab Street.

Crimes against children

The mutilated body of Hamza al-Khateeb, the 13 year old boy was returned by Bashar al Assad’s security forces to his family last week in Saida near Dera’a. The body was subjected to brutal beatings and extreme forms of physical torture such as cuts, burns, laceration, bruises as a result of whipping by cable and electrocution. The London Sunday Times reported on Sunday May 29th that “his eyes were swollen and black; there was a deep, dark burn mark on his chest. His neck was broken and his penis cut off”. The pictures of Hamza sent shock waves throughout the Middle East.

To add insult to injury, the Syrian Security thugs arrested Hamza’s father Ali al-Khateeb and forced him to tell the state media that his son was tortured and killed by Islamic extremists. The regime recruited doctors in government hospitals to say they had not seen any signs of physical abuse. How low can a frightened regime stoop to hide its crimes?

Last week the body of Murshed Aba Zaid, 18 was returned to his family. News Agencies reported that Murshed was shot in the face by Bashar’s thugs outside his home in Izraa north of Dera’a, he was taken to hospital for treatment but the security forces snatched him from his hospital bed. When his body was returned to his family last week, they found his neck and nose were broken and showed signs of burns. His abdomen had a huge scar.

Human Rights Watch reported that Syrian detention centers are the worst in the world for the mistreatment of detainees where torture is routine. Amnesty International reports that detainees were forced to lick blood off the prison floor and some were forced to drink from the lavatory bowls.

Yet despite the grisly murders by the Syrian regime; the Arab League remained silent. The Arab regimes remained silent. In the meantime, Walid al-Muallem, the Syria Foreign Minister had the chutzpah to chide the Arab ambassadors in Damascus for not condemning the US and EU for imposing sanction against certain individuals in Syria. None of the Ambassadors dared to remind the Foreign Minister of the Syrian regime’s crimes against the Syrian people. I haven’t heard a single condemnation from any Arab government or official.

Arab and international response has been slow and feeble. With a few exceptions (Qatar and Saudi Arabia) most Arab regimes and media remained silent. There has been no official protest about the collective punishments meted out such as the cutting off water supplies and electricity.

On May 16th the London Financial Times reported that Nick Harvey the UK Armed Forces Minister said it was “highly likely” that the ICC, the International Criminal Court would seek the arrest of BASHAR AL-Assad over his role in the violent crackdown on protesters. Whereas Hamas remained embarrassingly silent, Iran and Hezbollah decided to defend the Syrian regime. The Arab League’s silence is interpreted by many as backing a murderous regime and giving it the green light to continue with its brutal abuse of the Syrian people. We should not expect much from the international community either.

Russia and China are known apologists to the Damascus murderous regime. President Barack Obama has issued a mild reprimand which the Syrian brushed aside with contempt.

Source: Ammon News.


Saudi Arabia gives $400 mln cash grant to Jordan

June 04, 2011

AMMAN: Saudi Arabia gave Jordan a $400 million cash grant that will improve the country’s fiscal stability after extra social spending earlier this year widened the budget deficit, Jordan’s finance minister said.

Mohammad Abu Hammour told Reuters the cash grant will be channeled to infrastructure projects and capital expenditure which had been curtailed in a 6.369 billion dinar ($8.98 billion) revised budget last February that allocated more funding to a $650 million social package.

The Saudi grant would help Jordan consolidate its finances to ensure a robust upturn and maintain a 2011 budget deficit target at 5.5 percent of gross domestic product despite a soaring oil import bill and extra social costs.

Protests that have swept across North Africa and the Middle East reached Jordan and pushed the authorities earlier this year to introduce a social safety net to mitigate the impact of food inflation that many blame for the eroding standard of living among lower and middle class Jordanians.

“This will reflect positively on the level of services granted to Jordanians and will help to overcome some of the difficulties faced by the budget,” Abu Hammour said.

Jordan hoped to cut the budget deficit to 3 percent of gross domestic product by 2013, Abu Hammour said.

Jordan was also hoping its future alignment with the Gulf Cooperation Council which last month welcomed Amman’s future membership could bring financial benefits for its struggling economy.

The kingdom has traditionally had close business and economic relations with the oil rich region and businessmen hope better access to Gulf markets could boost Jordanian exports while easing labor restrictions could reduce unemployment.

The economy relies heavily on aid and remittances from a large expatriate labor force working in the Gulf.

Despite uncertainty from current unrest in the region, Abu Hammour said that he was confident and the outlook for the economy was “very positive” with more investment and tax incentives in the pipeline to attract higher foreign direct investment and regional capital inflows.

The government still maintained a 3.5 percent growth target his year, in line with IMF projections, seeing economic recovery gathering momentum, Abu Hammour said.

Source: The Daily Star.

Lebanon Palestinians scrap border march

June 04, 2011
By Mohammed Zaatari

KFAR KILA, Lebanon: Palestinian officials announced Friday the cancellation of a mass march to the Blue Line following a refusal by the Lebanese Army to allow Sunday’s planned demonstration along the southern border.

The authorities’ decision to turn the area next to the Blue Line into a “closed military zone” prompted organizers to postpone Lebanon’s next large-scale pro-Palestinian protest, party officials said.

“There won’t be anything for Sunday. There won’t be a protest march Sunday,” Yasser Azzam, a Hamas official and organizer of the march, told The Daily Star.

Azzam said the decision had been made by the “preparatory committee of the return [to Palestine] march” after it received word that the army wanted to avoid a repeat of the May 15 Nakba march, which saw Israeli forces kill 11 protesters and wound hundreds more at Maroun al-Ras, next to the Blue Line. “We have been informed by official Lebanese sides that the Lebanese Army has a desire to maintain peace in the south and keenness to avoid a repeat of Nakba Day. That is why the Lebanese Army declared the border area a ‘closed military zone,’” Azzam said.

“Palestinian refugees, who insist on the border as a protest site, have refused to select an alternative venue for the event,” he added.

It had been suggested that protesters might instead descend on Khiam, a small southern town which housed a notorious Israeli prison during the occupation of the south, although this now appears unlikely.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, whose mandate includes monitoring the cessation of hostilities along the Blue Line but who were not invited by the Lebanese Army to help prevent violence on May 15, said that it was ready to assist in keeping the peace during any future protest march.

“At this time we have no official confirmation about such a demonstration in our area of operations.

Moreover, any questions on security of public demonstrations should be addressed to [the Lebanese Army] as they have primacy on security and law and order matters,” UNIFIL spokesperson Neeraj Singh told The Daily Star.

“We are in constant contact with [Lebanese Army] on this matter. They keep us informed and we welcome the steps taken by army to ensure peace and security in the area.”

Israel had stepped up its border patrols in anticipation of Sunday’s march and began harsh talk warning protesters against approaching the Blue Line a second time. Lebanon’s Army also beefed up security in the south ahead of the weekend.

“We always urge the parties to be very cautious in any activities along the Blue Line because of its sensitivity and we ask that they exercise utmost restraint in responding to any developments along the Blue Line and that they should use UNIFIL’s good offices to address any potentially escalatory situation,” Singh said.

The peacekeeping force has launched an investigation into last month’s deadly incident, the worst of its kind since the end of fighting in August 2006.

Both Hamas and Fatah representatives in Lebanon have vowed to continue protesting their right for return, including rallies Sunday inside refugee camps.

Abu Ramez Mustapha, PFLP-GC official in Lebanon, claimed that the march had been postponed for just one week and that the step to delay was taken for “merely Lebanese necessities.”

A senior Fatah official, Munir al-Maqdah, called for March 14 to lend its support to future protest marches.

“Let this group help us because we reject settling [Palestinians in Lebanon]. We don’t agree to live in the diaspora; the suffering of 63 years is enough.”

Maqdah added that demonstrators sought no confrontation with the Lebanese Army. – With additional reporting by Patrick Galey

Source: The Daily Star.

Lebanon bans vegetable imports from Europe

June 04, 2011

BEIRUT: Lebanon ceased vegetable imports from all European countries Friday, following a recent outbreak of the deadly E. coli virus, which has led to the death of at least 19 people so far.

“I’m announcing the halt of vegetable imports from Europe temporarily until the picture is clearer, and I have signed the decree this morning,” said caretaker Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan Friday.

The new strain of E. coli virus, mainly found in cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce has been linked with kidney failures.

Hamburg, Germany is said to be the place where the virus first broke out.

The European Union Friday slammed the Minister’s decision.

“Any total embargo on European vegetables is disproportionate,” Frederic Vincent, the spokesman for health at the European Commission, told AFP.

Hajj Hasan said the ban posed “no risk of shortages on the local market,” as Lebanon could count on its own production and that of neighboring Jordan and Syria. He added that Lebanon actually imports very little vegetable produce from Europe.

An adviser to the minister, Salah Hajj Hassan, told The Daily Star that European vegetable imports made up only one or two percent of the local vegetable market.

European vegetables are usually found in high-end supermarkets and restaurants, Salah Hajj Hasan said.

Lebanon is considered to be a net-exporter of fruits and vegetables, only importing the produce during times of unseasonably dry weather.

“Each shipment that arrives to Lebanon after this decision will not be allowed to enter because we still do not know the severity of the disease or how much it has spread,” said Hussein Hajj Hasan. The minister said that despite Europe’s high level of inspection, the source of the virus remains unclear.

Salah explained that after some painstaking deliberations yesterday about the issue, ministry members decided that the best way to clamp down the still unknown sources of the virus would be to impose a total embargo.

Zuheir Berro of the consumer watchdog group, Consumers Lebanon, lauded the ministry decision, endorsing the ministry’s choice to take “pre-emptive action” against a possible outbreak.

Europe repeatedly stops Lebanese produce from entering its ports, he points out, so Lebanon should be allowed to do the same.

Regarding a vegetable shipment which arrived yesterday, Hussein Hajj Hasan said that the ministry has taken samples to be tested for any bacteria.

In an interview with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, he called on citizens to make sure that vegetables are thoroughly cleaned with fresh water.

Source: The Daily Star.

Jordan Islamists, leftists unite against corruption

By Randa Habib (AFP) – Jun 1, 2011

AMMAN — Opposition Islamists and leftists in Jordan have joined forces in an improbable partnership against corruption, as the government faces a crisis after two ministers resigned over a graft case.

Despite their different ideologies, the Muslim Brotherhood and leftist parties last week formed a National Reform Front (NRF) led by former prime minister Ahmad Obeidat.

“The NRF’s priority is to create a national reform strategy to put the country on the right democratic track and to fight corruption, including in political life,” said Obeidat, who is well respected by Jordanians.

“Tyranny and corruption are Jordan’s main problems. Fighting corruption starts with reforming the regime itself.”

Mohammad Masri, a researcher at University of Jordan’s Center for Strategic Studies, said “all Jordanians agree on the need to fight corruption, which affects their lives that are already burdened with an economic crisis.”

“It was the same situation in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria, where corruption was a key element in creating uprisings,” Masri told AFP.

The justice and health ministers resigned last Thursday after top businessman Khalid Shahin, jailed for corruption, was allowed to leave prison for medical treatment in the United States.

Shahin and three others, including a former minister, were sentenced last year to three years in jail over graft payments as part of a $2.1-billion project to upgrade the Jordan Petroleum Refinery Company, which runs the kingdom’s sole refinery.

In February, the government allowed Shahin to travel to the United States — but there was an outcry in Jordan when, in April, he was spotted in a London restaurant.

“The issue of Khalid Shahin has become a symbol of how the government deals with corruption: there is no accountability and the corrupt are protected,” Masri said.

On Wednesday, journalist Alaa Fazzaa was arrested for allegedly “undermining the monarchy and the constitution”. He had published a report online that accused senior officials of helping Shahin leave the country.

King Abdullah II ordered Fazzaa’s release from jail, according to the palace, but it was still unclear if the case against him had been dropped.

“Jordan suffers from squandering public funds and corruption, which are two sides of the same coin,” said economist and former minister Samir Tawil.

“The country’s foreign debt is now $17 billion (11.8 billion euros), while it was nine billion dollars in 2003, despite revenue of four billion dollars from privatization, and increased taxes.”

Tawil added: “People are wondering what happened to the $12 billion. Those suspected of corruption must declare how they acquired their wealth.”

For Masri, Jordanians “want to see the corrupt behind bars”.

“There are many rumors about corruption. Everything should be investigated by a commission of senior and well-respected judges,” he said.

The king urged the government last Wednesday to “protect the innocent victims of slander and hatred”, including members of his family.

Prime Minister Maaruf Bakhit said Thursday that “the government will take the necessary legal measures against all those who accuse officials of corruption without proof.”

Since January, Jordan has been facing a protest movement demanding political and economic reforms, and an end to corruption.

Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved.

Libyan children to receive treatment in Jordan


AMMONNEWS – The first group of Libyan children who have been injured during the current unrest sweeping the north African nation will arrive in Jordan next week to receive treatment at Jordanian hospitals.

According to Executive Director of the Jordan Private Hospitals Association PHA, Abdullah Hindawi, a total of 100 Libyan children will receive free treatment and medical care at a number of private hospitals in the Kingdom.

He said the children will arrive in four batches and will be flown by the Royal Jordanian Air Force in cooperation with the Royal Medical Services.

Hindawi added that the injured children were selected by a special Libyan medical committee in coordination with the PHA.

Source: Ammon News.

Eitan Appointed Envoy to Libya’s Rebel Council


AMMONNEWS – Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh on Wednesday appointed Fawaz Eitan to be the Jordanian commissioned envoy in Benghazi.

Eitan will serve as Jordan’s first diplomat to Libya’s rebel-led National Transitional Council.

Al Eitan will leave Jordan the next few days, official souces said.

The Foreign Ministry’s decision comes a week after Amman recognized the National Transitional Council as the “legitimate representative of the Libyan people.”

Source: Ammon News.