Middle East Monitor - Creating New Perspectives Bringing you the latest and up-to-date news from the Middle East. We go one step further, facilitating a better understanding of the issues facing the Middle East. https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/component/content/frontpage Mon, 08 Feb 2016 03:43:04 +0000 MEMO en-gb Algeria's parliament approves draft constitutional changes https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/23779-algerias-parliament-approves-draft-constitutional-changes https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/23779-algerias-parliament-approves-draft-constitutional-changes Abdelaziz Bouteflika Algeria’s parliament on Sunday approved a raft of draft constitutional amendments, which - among other things - will limit future presidents to two terms in office and officially recognise the language of the country’s sizable Berber minority.

The changes were approved with 499 MPs voting in favour, two opposed and 16 abstaining.

Passage of the amendments required the approval of 454 out of 606 lawmakers.

"This will usher in a new political and constitutional era for Algeria," President Abdelaziz Bouteflika - whose ruling National Liberation Front proposed the raft of amendments - said in a message to parliament.

Sunday’s parliamentary session was boycotted by 89 members of the 606-seat assembly.

Most importantly, the new amendments will reintroduce a presidential term limit of two five-year terms in office.

They will also see Amazigh - the language of Algeria’s Berber minority - recognised as an official language, while retaining Arabic as the country’s first language.

Furthermore, the changes will require the president to henceforth nominate a prime minister from among the party with the largest parliamentary presence.

Article 176 of Algeria’s current constitution states that the president can introduce constitutional amendments without putting them to a public referendum - as long as he has the consent of three-quarters of parliament’s two chambers.

He can only do this, however, the charter adds, as long as Algeria’s constitutional court rules that the proposed changes "will not affect the general principles that govern Algerian society; human and citizens’ rights and freedoms; the country’s system of checks and balances; or constitutional institutions".

Last month, the constitutional court gave Bouteflika the green light to put the proposed changes to a parliamentary vote rather than a public referendum.

Since coming to power in 1999, the 78-year-old Bouteflika has presided over two previous constitutional amendments.

The first was in 2001, whereby he made Amazigh a national - albeit informal - language, while a 2008 constitutional change abolished presidential term limits altogether, allowing Bouteflika to successfully run for a third term in office in 2009 and a fourth in 2014.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Sun, 07 Feb 2016 17:23:04 +0000
Airstrikes by unidentified warplane kill four in Eastern Libya https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/23778-airstrikes-by-unidentified-warplane-kill-four-in-eastern-libya https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/23778-airstrikes-by-unidentified-warplane-kill-four-in-eastern-libya Libya has remained in a state of turmoil since a bloody rebellion - part of the 2011 'Arab Spring' uprisings [file photo]At least four people, including a mother and her child, were killed by airstrikes carried out Sunday by an unidentified warplane in Libya’s eastern city of Derna, according to officials and eyewitnesses.

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A local official told Anadolu Agency that the aircraft had carried out a number of dawn raids targeting the coastal city’s Bab Tobruk district.

"Four people were killed in the strikes, including a mother and child," the official said.

According to the same source, two members of the Mujahideen Shura Council, the city’s de facto ruling body, were also killed in the airstrikes.

Libya has remained in a state of turmoil since a bloody rebellion - part of the 2011 "Arab Spring" uprisings -- ended in the ouster and death of longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

Since then, the country’s stark political divisions have yielded two rival seats of government, each with its own institutions and military capacities.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Sun, 07 Feb 2016 17:20:24 +0000
Kurtulmus: Turkey took in 3 million migrants https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/23777-kurtulmus-turkey-took-in-3-million-migrants https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/23777-kurtulmus-turkey-took-in-3-million-migrants Numan KurtulmusTurkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said on Sunday that Turkey had no choice but to take in 3 million migrants of Syria and Iraq so far.

Speaking during a live program on a TV channel in Istanbul, Kurtulmus also accused the western world of watching the migrant crisis silently.

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"We have taken in 3 million migrants of Syria and Iraq [so far], but there is no other place for these people to go to," he said. "[The alternative is that] they will die under the bombardments and Turkey will contribute to this oppression by just watching like the western world does."

Stating that Turkey could not say "no" to the war victims, Kurtulmus added: " We do not have such an option. Or else, we would leave nearly all of those people to death."

Syria’s devastating civil war, now in its fifth year, has left at least 250,000 people dead, according to the UN.

Turkey, which has taken in around 2.5 million Syrians since the war started in 2011, hosts the world’s largest refugee population.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Sun, 07 Feb 2016 13:42:47 +0000
Jordan decries Israeli plan to build Western Wall 'prayer plaza' https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23776-jordan-decries-israeli-plan-to-build-western-wall-prayer-plaza https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23776-jordan-decries-israeli-plan-to-build-western-wall-prayer-plaza file photo of the Dome of the Rock, inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque CompoundJordanian officials are calling on Israel to halt plans to build a new "prayer plaza" at Jerusalem's Western Wall, located in the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Jordan's official Petra News Agency on Saturday quoted Communications Minister Mohammad Momani as saying that the proposed plaza would violate the site’s Islamic heritage.

Sacred to Jews, the Western Wall is situated in East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which for Muslims represents the world’s third holiest site.

Both Jordanian and Al-Aqsa Mosque officials say construction of the proposed prayer plaza would damage the Umayyad Palaces, a seventh-century Islamic archaeological site.

The Petra News Agency reported Thursday that Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, the Jerusalem-based director of the Awqaf (the Jordanian foundation responsible for the upkeep of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites), had written a letter to the Israeli authorities calling for management of the Umayyad Palaces to be handed over to the Awqaf.

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Israel has already erected temporary platforms at the site of the proposed prayer plaza, which will be set up next to the retaining wall of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound - known to Jews as the "Temple Mount" and considered sacred by both faiths.

The planned plaza is intended to provide a space at the Western Wall in which Jewish women can read the Torah (the Jewish holy book), as Orthodox Jews are opposed to the presence of women in the main areas reserved for prayer.

Since Israel’s 1967 occupation of Jerusalem and the West Bank, Jordan - via the Awqaf - has been responsible for safeguarding and managing Jerusalem’s Islamic heritage sites, especially the iconic Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Since then, a "status quo" has been maintained at the site in which non-Muslims are prohibited from performing prayer activities.

Amid mounting tension over access to the site and accusations that Israel was altering this status quo by allowing groups of Jews - in increasing numbers - to visit Al-Aqsa, Jordan and Israel agreed last October to a US-backed deal to install surveillance cameras to monitor activity inside the mosque compound.

Until now, however, the two sides have failed to agree on how to install the cameras and on who should be able to control the video feeds.

On Sunday, Israeli daily Haaretz quoted Israeli officials as saying that a solution may not be found before the Jewish Passover holiday in April, when large numbers of Jews usually visit the flashpoint site.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Sun, 07 Feb 2016 13:27:06 +0000
Hamas, Fatah to discuss Palestinian reconciliation in Doha https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23775-hamas-fatah-to-discuss-palestinian-reconciliation-in-doha https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23775-hamas-fatah-to-discuss-palestinian-reconciliation-in-doha Moussa Abu Marzouk Hamas and Fatah representatives are set to meet in Qatari capital Doha on Sunday to discuss implementation of a reconciliation deal signed in 2014 between the rival Palestinian movements.

"This meeting will aim to establish viable mechanisms for applying the reconciliation agreement," Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip Sami Abu Zuhri told Anadolu Agency.

The Hamas delegation, he said, would be headed by leading group member Moussa Abu Marzouk.

The Fatah delegation, meanwhile, is expected to be headed up by leading Fatah member Azzam al-Ahmed.

Last week, Jamal Muhassan, a member of Fatah’s central committee, told Anadolu Agency that Fatah officials had recently held several informal meetings in Turkey and Qatar with their Hamas counterparts.

In April of 2014, Hamas and Fatah representatives signed a long-awaited reconciliation agreement that called for the formation of a Palestinian unity government tasked with overseeing Palestinian legislative and presidential polls.

Although the unity government was unveiled two months later, it has yet to take on a governing role in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, while the relationship between Hamas and Fatah remains beset by a host of outstanding differences.

Also Read: Qatar meetings will identify main issues of Hamas-Fatah reconciliation

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Sun, 07 Feb 2016 13:22:10 +0000
EU slams Israeli West Bank land seizures, home demolitions https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23774-eu-slams-israeli-west-bank-land-seizures-home-demolitions https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23774-eu-slams-israeli-west-bank-land-seizures-home-demolitions EU Member States flagsThe EU has slammed recent Israeli activity in the occupied West Bank, saying it threatened to undermine the viability of a future Palestinian state.

The EU’s External Action Service (its diplomatic wing) issued a statement on Saturday criticizing the Jewish state’s recent confiscation of 154 hectares of fertile Palestinian land in the West Bank - the largest seizure since 2014 - along with last week's demolition of several Palestinian homes near the West Bank city of Hebron (Al-Khalil).

"In the past weeks there have been a number of developments in [Israeli-controlled] Area C of the West Bank which risk undermining the viability of a future Palestinian state and driving the parties yet further apart," read the statement.

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It added that the home demolitions were "particularly concerning, both because of the extent of the demolitions and also the number of vulnerable individuals affected, including children".

The statement also noted that many of the homes demolished by Israel had been donated by the EU, going on to stress that the EU’s humanitarian work in the area was in compliance with international law.

The EU has been locked in a protracted dispute with Israel since it implemented new regulations prohibiting goods exported from illegal West Bank settlements from being marketed as "Made in Israel".

The row escalated last month when EU foreign ministers passed a resolution endorsing the new regulations and describing Israel's construction of Jewish-only settlements on confiscated Palestinian land in the West Bank as "illegal".

Israel has responded by accusing the EU of applying "double standards" and has threatened to bar it from playing a role in any future negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.

Also Read: West Bank road project puts Israel and EU on collision course

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Sun, 07 Feb 2016 12:46:58 +0000
Artillery fire from Yemen kills 2 in Saudi Arabia https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23773-artillery-fire-from-yemen-kills-2-in-saudi-arabia https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23773-artillery-fire-from-yemen-kills-2-in-saudi-arabia File photo of Houthi rebels operating a tank in YemenA Saudi soldier and one civilian have been killed by cross-border shelling from war-torn Yemen, according to Saudi Arabia’s official news agency.

Late Saturday, the Saudi Press Agency quoted an Interior Ministry spokesman as saying that one soldier had been killed when an artillery shell - fired from Yemeni territory - struck a border patrol in the kingdom’s eastern city of Dhahran.

On the same day, Saudi civil defense authorities tweeted that a foreign resident of the country had also been killed when a shell fired from Yemen struck the southwestern city of Najran.

Border cities in southern Saudi Arabia have come under fire from Yemen since Riyadh and its Arab allies began a massive air campaign aimed at driving the Shia Houthi militia from Yemeni capital Sanaa, which it captured in late 2014.

According to the UN, more than 5,800 people have been killed in Yemen - about half of them civilians - since the Saudi-led coalition first began its air campaign in March of last year.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Sun, 07 Feb 2016 12:44:42 +0000
Israeli minister: Egypt flooding Gaza tunnels at our request https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/23772-israeli-minister-egypt-flooding-gaza-tunnels-at-our-request https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/23772-israeli-minister-egypt-flooding-gaza-tunnels-at-our-request children walking on a flooded area between Egypt and GazaIsraeli Infrastructure Minister Yuval Steinitz has said that Egypt’s new policy of flooding the tunnels between the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula with seawater had come at Israel’s request.

"Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is flooding the tunnels on his country's border with the Gaza Strip with water based on a request by Israel," Steinitz said at a seminar held Saturday in the southern city of Beer Sheva, according to Israel Radio.

"Security coordination between the two countries [Israel and Egypt] is better than ever," the minister said at the seminar, at which participants discussed the relationship between the two neighbors.

In recent months, the Egyptian army has begun flooding the network of cross-border tunnels linking Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula to the Gaza Strip with seawater.

Subject to a years-long blockade by Israel and Egypt, the Hamas-run Gaza Strip had come to depend on the tunnel network to import desperately-needed commodities, including food, fuel and medicine.

Steinitz is particularly close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and is a member of the latter’s influential security cabinet.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Sun, 07 Feb 2016 12:39:46 +0000
Forbidden love tales in Israel... https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/23771-forbidden-love-tales-in-israel https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/23771-forbidden-love-tales-in-israel BorderlifeHow can a two-year-old novel become a best seller? Censorship is the short answer. The most important question is, however, why would the “Jewish democracy” censor a love fiction between a Jew and non-Jew?

The banned book Borderlife was based on a love story between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man. According to Haaretz newspaper, the novel was recommended in 2015 for Hebrew high school literature classes by “a professional committee of academics and educators, at the request of a number of teachers.”

The Israeli Ministry of Education rejected the fiction work for fear it would corrupt young Jewish minds. In explaining its decision, the ministry wrote “Intimate relations between Jews and non-Jews threaten the separate identity.” The Israeli Education Ministry wrote that “young people of adolescent age don’t have the systemic view that includes considerations involving maintaining the national-ethnic identity of the (Jewish) people and the significance of miscegenation.”

In layman’s terms, the educational authorities in the only “democracy” in the Middle East wanted to protect the fledgling Jewish minds from the plague of assimilation and intermarriages between people of different races. Wasn’t this what Adolph Hitler had advocated for the Aryan race?

But in an Orwellian love is hate doublethink, Dalia Fenzig, the head of the Israeli ministry committee that decides the Hebrew Literature matriculation reading list, told Israeli Army Radio: “The (love fiction) book could incite hatred...”

Fenzig further implied that Israeli societal racism rendered the book unfit for Israeli students. “Many parents in the state school system would strongly object to having their children study the novel,” she said.

Shlamo Herzig, the ministry’s head of literature studies that recommended the book was more forthright in addressing Israeli structural racism: “The acute problem of Israeli society today is the terrible ignorance and racism that is spreading in it.”

In a newspaper interview with the Telegraph, Israeli book author Dorit Rabinyan talked about the real fundamental issue for banning her work.

“My book’s only ‘harm’, if you want to call it that, is that a young (Israeli) person may get another perspective on Palestinians to the one they’re being exposed to by politicians and the news ... he’s a Palestinian and a full human. That is the power of the book and the reason for it to be banned.”

It is worth noting that the book’s author is anything but an ardent Zionist. She espoused the racist Zionist ideology that gave her Jewish parents the right to emigrate from Iran to live on land stolen from native Palestinians. This is while, like most Zionists, she rejects the right of those Palestinians to return to their homes.

Not surprising, the whole fiasco was very likely engineered by the ex-American, Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennett who previously said such things as “when Palestinians were climbing trees, we already had a Jewish state” and “I’ve killed lots of (Palestinian) Arabs in my life, and there’s no problem with that.”

Bennett sees his educational role, “in the only ethnocentric diplomacy” as the national custodian to ensure Jewish blood remains pure and Palestinian-free, even in fiction tales.

In the face of blatant Israeli ethnocentric racism against non-Jews, the onus is on Jewish civil rights organisations, especially those advocating equality in the US and Europe to speak up against Jewish racism in Israel.

Jewish organisations cannot demand justice and equality when in the minority, while supporting a government perpetuating inequality under a self-proclaimed Jewish state majority.

Mr Kanj (www.jamalkanj.com) writes regular newspaper column and publishes on several websites on Arab world issues. He is the author of “Children of Catastrophe,” Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America. A version of this article was first published by the Gulf Daily News newspaper.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Jamal Kanj) frontpage Sun, 07 Feb 2016 12:32:24 +0000
Hundreds of Syrian Turkmens enter Turkey https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/23770-hundreds-of-syrian-turkmens-enter-turkey https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/23770-hundreds-of-syrian-turkmens-enter-turkey According to the Turkish Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), nearly 600 families have taken refuge in Guvecci camp near Yayladagi, a border town in the Hatay province of southern Turkey [file photo]Some 2,000 Turkmens have crossed into Turkey Saturday after fleeing attacks from Russian and Syrian regime forces in northwestern Syria, according to the Turkish disaster agency.

The displaced were fleeing Russian and Syrian attacks of Turkmen Mountain in Syria Bayirbucak.

According to the Turkish Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), nearly 600 families have taken refuge in Guvecci camp near Yayladagi, a border town in the Hatay province of southern Turkey.

The officials said the more migrants would be allowed into Turkey in the coming days.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Thursday that more than 5,000 Turkmens and Arab refugees had been accepted into Turkey in the last week alone, following the airstrikes.

Predominantly Turkmen areas of northwestern Syria have been under attack by regime forces - backed by Russian air power - since November of last year.

Recent attacks in these areas have displaced thousands of Turkmens, a Turkic ethnic group concentrated mainly in Syria and Iraq, prompting many to seek refuge in southern Turkey.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Sat, 06 Feb 2016 14:30:39 +0000
Egyptian doctors decide to submit resignations en masse https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/23769-egyptian-doctors-decide-to-submit-resignations-en-masse https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/23769-egyptian-doctors-decide-to-submit-resignations-en-masse An Egyptian doctor examines his patientDoctors at Matariya Teaching Hospital decided Friday to submit their resignations en masse to the Minister of Health if an alleged police assault on doctors is not investigated, Almesryoon.com reported.

The doctors announced that they would go ahead with their resignation if the policemen involved in an assault on two doctors were not investigated.

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The doctors at the Matariya hospital have held a week-long strike after low-ranking policemen reportedly assaulted two doctors at the hospital in January.

According to Almesryoon.com, the doctors will wait until 12 February for the assembly of the Doctors Syndicate, a statement issued by the resigned doctors said.

However, the doctors said that they would resume running the reception and emergency departments, but work in all other departments would be halted.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Sat, 06 Feb 2016 13:02:38 +0000
UK hacked drone feeds to watch as Israel bombed Gaza https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/inquiry/23768-uk-hacked-drone-feeds-to-watch-as-israel-bombed-gaza https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/inquiry/23768-uk-hacked-drone-feeds-to-watch-as-israel-bombed-gaza Asa WinstanleyThe latest revelations from the documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden once again concern Israel.

Glenn Greenwald's site The Intercept revealed last week that American and British spies have managed to hack into the visual feed of the Israeli drones and F16 fighter jets that regularly bomb the civilian population of Gaza.

The programme is based on the island of Cyprus, and its code name is "Anarchist". It dates as far back as January 2008, at a time when Israel was bombing Gaza in an attack which killed and injured Palestinian civilians, including at least one child.

The GCHQ base on Cyprus intercepted Israeli drone feeds and sent the information back to the UK and to their allies in the NSA. Images published by The Intercept even show several video stills in which the wings of recognisable Israeli drone models are viewable, as well as radar maps of occupied Palestine.

It's unknown if this hacking is still ongoing. But these revelations are another sign of how fraught the military and intelligence relationship is between Israel and its ostensible Western allies.

The US arms Israel to the tune of billions in military aid every year, and the British government allows an arms trade worth millions to flow there. As previously published Snowden leaks showed in 2013, the US even has a broad agreement to share "raw sigint" with Israel – that is to say intelligence which has not been checked or redacted.

However, other Snowden leaks show that Israel is one the US's top priorities for counter-intelligence operations along with, Iran, China, Russia, North Korea and Venezuela. In other words Israel, supposedly one of America's top allies, is considered by US intelligence agencies to be one of the top spy threats to the US, ranking right alongside the countries considered the worst enemies.

A report in the Wall Street Journal in December shows that Israel is still massively targeting the US in its spy operations, and so the NSA still considers it an import counter-intelligence target.

This is not the first time Israeli drones have proven vulnerable to signals interception and hacking. As the The Intercept notes, Hizballah was able to perform an ambush of Israeli occupation forces in Lebanon in 1997 thanks to intercepted video footage nabbed from Israeli spy drone feeds. The incident was supposed to lead to the signals being encrypted.

But something which struck me in the new leaks was just how weak Israel's protection of its drone feeds still is. Although the signals are now scrambled, they use an outdated technology that Sky TV used to scramble its analogue satellite TV signal, a leaked GCHQ manual shows.

GCHQ was able to de-scramble this using a simple and freely available open-source tool called AntiSky – which was written 22 years ago. Hardly the sophisticated technology which Israel likes to portray itself as developing.

In 2005, Hizballah was still intercepting Israeli drone footage. Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallh revealed in 2010 that Israeli spy drones had been monitoring the movements of assassinated Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, and flew over the area on the day he was killed. Nasrallah argued that Israel had been behind the murder, with the motive of igniting a sectarian war in Lebanon. He released the footage itself at the same time.

In 2013, a Heron 1 Israeli drone was actually hijacked briefly by hackers, likely from Iran or Hizballah, before Israel managed to destroy it.

After all of this, it's important to remember one thing: the western "allies" spied on Israel for their on malign interests – just as Israel spies on the US for its own malign interests. According to the Intercept report, "US and British spies had a virtual seat in the cockpit" as Israel bombed Gaza.

In other words, they literally watched as Israel bombed Palestinian children to death.

One striking fact about the NSA and GCHQ's motives for intercepting Israeli drone footage was that it was partly about the arms industry. They reportedly wanted to see Israel drones (exported throughout the world) "in action" in real time. A pretty sickening thought.

The Israeli arms industry regularly boasts that its products are "battle tested". In other words, Palestinians are human test subjects in a gross industry of death.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London and an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Asa Winstanley) frontpage Sat, 06 Feb 2016 11:51:54 +0000
Israeli movement calls for separating 28 Palestinian villages from Jerusalem https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23767-israeli-movement-calls-for-separating-28-palestinian-villages-from-jerusalem https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23767-israeli-movement-calls-for-separating-28-palestinian-villages-from-jerusalem File photo of Jewish protestors outside one of the Muslim entrances to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compoundNew Israeli movement Save Jewish Jerusalem has called for the building of a wall encircling 28 Palestinian villages in East Jerusalem in order to preserve the city’s Jewish identity, Israeli newspaper Maariv reported on Friday.

According to Quds Press, which reported on the news published in Maariv, Save Jewish Jerusalem was set up by the former Cabinet minister Haim Ramon, alongside a number of former political, security and military officials.

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Rising tensions in the Occupied Territories have led to dozens of deaths and hundreds of clashes.
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Maariv noted that the movement does not belong to a certain political faction.

The manifesto's authors explain that by removing some 200,000 Palestinians from the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, the city’s Jews will constitute more than 80% of its residents, and the percentage of Palestinians will drop to less than 20%, from the nearly 40% today.

After the villages' separation from Jerusalem, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and other security agencies would operate in them the way they currently do in the rest of the West Bank, according to the manifesto.

Read: Most Israelis support unilateral disengagement in West Bank

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Sat, 06 Feb 2016 11:42:35 +0000
Most Israelis support unilateral disengagement in West Bank https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23766-most-israelis-support-unilateral-disengagement-in-west-bank https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23766-most-israelis-support-unilateral-disengagement-in-west-bank File photo of a settler raising an Israeli flag on a Palestinian home they forcefully entered and took over, in Hebron, near the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque [Jan 2016]Head of the Israeli Zionist Camp Yitzhak Herzog proposed a unilateral disengagement plan from the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, Anadolu reported on Friday.

The proposal was made two weeks ago in the National Security Research Institute in Tel Aviv University.

The Jerusalem Intifada?

Rising tensions in the Occupied Territories have led to dozens of deaths and hundreds of clashes.
Learn more about the Jerusalem Intifada

Based on vote results published by the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, Anadolu said the plan had received much support from Israelis.

The Israeli newspaper said that 65 per cent of the Israelis that took part in the vote voiced their support. However, 35 per cent rejected the proposal.

According to the vote, 75 per cent agreed that efforts should be made to hold a regional security conference which would include “moderate” Arab countries. This was rejected by 25 per cent of those asked.

In addition, 68 per cent of the voters agreed on facilitating the life of Palestinians under Palestinian Authority control and to strengthen security cooperation in efforts to move towards a truce.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Sat, 06 Feb 2016 11:38:11 +0000
Looking behind Riyadh’s desire for a more active role in the Syrian conflict https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/blogs/politics/23765-looking-behind-riyadhs-desire-for-a-more-active-role-in-the-syrian-conflict https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/blogs/politics/23765-looking-behind-riyadhs-desire-for-a-more-active-role-in-the-syrian-conflict Samira Shackle

When the US formed its anti-Daesh coalition in September 2014, Saudi Arabia was one of the first Arab countries to join. From the very beginning of the conflict, the kingdom’s position was clear: Bashar al-Assad must go. It soon mounted several air strikes on Syria. This direct action warned quickly in March after the kingdom launched its intervention in Yemen, an involvement that has extended far beyond Saudi Arabia’s expectations.

Now it appears that Saudi Arabia wants to take a more active role in the Syrian conflict once more. “The kingdom is ready to participate in any ground operations that the coalition may agree to carry out in Syria,” military spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asiri told al-Arabiya TV. "If there was a consensus from the leadership of the coalition, the kingdom is willing to participate in these efforts because we believe that aerial operations are not the ideal solution, and there must be a mix of aerial and ground operations."

Asiri did not specify the numbers that could be involved, but other officials told journalists that thousands of special forces could be deployed, possibly in coordination with Turkey. The Russian military said that it has "reasonable grounds" to suspect that Turkey is making intensive preparations for a military invasion of neighbouring Syria. The Turkish foreign ministry declined to comment. Turkey and Saudi Arabia reportedly set up a military coordination team a few weeks ago.

Both Saudi Arabia and Turkey have long been committed to the removal of Bashar al-Assad, and believe that the civil war in Syria will not be concluded in a political settlement without further military pressure on the Syrian regime. The Saudi offer to send ground troops will be discussed when the US convenes a meeting in Brussels next week of defence ministers from the anti-Daesh coalition. For its part, Saudi Arabia is frustrated with the reluctance of its western allies to increase military support for the opposition – a fragmented mix of groups that ranges from liberal secularists to extremists linked to Al Qaeda. US Defence Secretary Ash Carter welcomed the Saudi offer, saying that increased involvement from other countries would help the US to battle Daesh.

During the five years of the Syrian war, Middle Eastern and Western governments have given money and weapons to rebel groups. But boots on the ground would mark a major strategic shift. What impact would Saudi ground troops have in Syria? It would certainly step up the international action in Syria, which has already to a great extent descended into a proxy war between competing interests. Some analysts have suggested that the presence of Saudi ground forces might send a message to Russia, currently carrying out airstrikes in support of Assad, and force them back to the negotiating table (the latest round of UN-brokered talks collapsed with little progress towards resolving the conflict). In recent days, Russian airstrikes have enabled government forces to take back several key areas of Syria.

The US has long refused to send its own ground troops into Syria, calling instead for a regional army to stabilise the region. Yet questions must be asked about Saudi Arabia’s motivations. It is impossible to view the conflict in Syria in isolation from the regional tussle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Iran, like Russia, supports the regime, providing not just financial backing but also military personnel. The Saudi intervention in Yemen was partly due to anxiety regarding Iran establishing a foothold in a neighbouring country. Saudi action in Syria will, to a large extent, be motivated by the desire to send a message to its rival.

This is nothing new; the Gulf states and Turkey have long seen the Syrian conflict as one part of a wider regional struggle with Iran. Until now, they have armed rebel groups rather than going for full scale military intervention – partly because so many resources have been tied up in Yemen, but perhaps also in recognition of the dangers of continuing to escalate the conflict.

Numerous analysts have long suggested that a decisive end to the conflict in Syria will not come without a ground invasion of some sort. The counter-argument, of course, is that sending ground troops risks increasing the bloodshed further, throwing another element into an already overcrowded battlefield. The Saudi offer may be welcomed by some of their coalition powers, but there is also undoubtedly concern about Tehran and Riyadh being involved in so many confrontational situations across the region. If this tension erupts further, it could be the most destabilizing event in the region yet.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Samira Shackle) frontpage Fri, 05 Feb 2016 17:28:03 +0000
The week in pictures https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/in-pictures/23764-the-week-in-pictures https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/in-pictures/23764-the-week-in-pictures The last 7 days in pictures.

DUBAI, UAE: Wingsuiters walk through the desert.

LUXOR, EGYPT: Doing the rounds and delivering milk.

RAFAH, GAZA STRIP: A Palestinian man collects the gravel which falling from trucks loaded with cement after it entered through the Kerem Shalom crossing in Rafah, to sell to customers.

GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP: Gone fishing.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 05 Feb 2016 16:29:48 +0000
Is Gaza paying the price of the Cypriot-Israeli-Greek alliance? https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/23763-is-gaza-paying-the-price-of-the-cypriot-israeli-greek-alliance https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/23763-is-gaza-paying-the-price-of-the-cypriot-israeli-greek-alliance Dr Saleh Al-Naami The Israeli, Cypriot, Greek summit held in Cyprus’s capital city, Nicosia, is another example of how Tel Aviv’s predictions regarding its gas discoveries on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea were realised. Tel Aviv had predicted that its huge gas discoveries in what it claims to be its “economic waters” would reinforce its geostrategic position, as well as its regional status. It also predicted that it would enable Israel to deepen its strategic partnership with the countries forming the Arab “axis of moderation”.

Cyprus and Greece agreed in the summit to market Israeli gas in Europe by transporting it through a large pipeline that would link Israel’s gas fields to Greece. From there, it will reach countries interested in importing it.

According to media reports, the cost of establishing this pipeline, which will be started soon, is about $6 billion.

Further suggestion of the serious steps being taken by the three countries in the context of their cooperation is their agreement to link the Israeli, Cypriot and Greek electricity networks. This ultimately aims to allow all three countries to rely on a joint electric network.

The tripartite summit and the resulting historic agreement occurred after a series of bilateral meetings between Netanyahu, Nicos Anastasiades and Alexis Tsipras in Tel Aviv, Nicosia and Athens.

Despite the fact that the summit was held in Nicosia, it was clear that Tsipras, who represents the radical left-wing in Greece, was the keenest on strengthening relations with Israel, as he visited Tel Aviv twice in less than two months.

Some Israeli commentators believe that Netanyahu will use the tripartite summit as a means of pressuring Turkey to back down from some of its conditions to normalise relations with Tel Aviv, especially in terms of the conditions for the export of Israeli gas through Turkey.

Arad Nir, Israel’s Channel 2 international commentator, says that Netanyahu is telling Erdogan that Israel could get things done without Turkey and that the regional atmosphere for Tel Aviv is much better than the international atmosphere is for Ankara.

Professor Arye Mekel, a prominent researcher at Bar-Ilan University and former ambassador to Greece, said hostility towards Turkey is a common denominator amongst the countries that formed the alliance, which they announced last Thursday in Nicosia.

According to Mekel, Israel used the strategy of hinting to Cyprus and Greece that it would improve its relations with Ankara at their expense to convince the Cypriots and Greeks to strengthen their strategic cooperation with Israel.

It is clear that Israel used the fact that the Greek and Cypriot decision-making circles and political elites see Turkey as their top enemy to their advantage.

An indicator of Israel’s predictions being fulfilled in terms of its relations with Greece is the fact that the EU Greek representative led the opposition against the proposal to label goods produced in Jewish settlements in the West Bank when selling them in Europe.

It is worth noting that the Israeli minister of defence met with his Greek counterpart, Panos Kammenos, in Athens last week, and that on Wednesday, the Greek and Israeli governments held a joint meeting in occupied Jerusalem under the leadership of Netanyahu and Tsipras.

The new regional alliance also includes countries that did not participate in the meeting, including Egypt. It is important to note that the Egyptian-Cypriot-Greek summits held over the past two years compliment the summits which Israel participated in.

It is clear that Israel is interested in isolating Turkey economically and politically after establishing this four-party alliance.

The question that arises here is: Will the Gaza Strip, once again, pay the price of regional considerations? Has the four-party alliance drawn the curtain on the possibility of lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip once and for all?

It is difficult to answer these questions because there are many people within the Israeli elite who believe that lifting the siege on Gaza is in Israel’s best interest, as it reduces the chance of a new confrontation.

Translated from Al-Resalah, 5 February 2016.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Dr Saleh Al-Naami) frontpage Fri, 05 Feb 2016 15:26:18 +0000
America decides: the Syrian people must leave, not Assad https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/americas/23762-america-decides-the-syrian-people-must-leave-not-assad https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/americas/23762-america-decides-the-syrian-people-must-leave-not-assad Abdul Wahab BadrakhanAmerica has revealed its choice and biases over Syria: it is saying no to the Syrian people and yes to Bashar Al-Assad; no to Saudi Arabia and Turkey and yes to Russia and Iran. The game of nations and powers supports injustice in Syria. The priority is the fight against terrorism, as they define it, but with a political solution like that being prepared through the Kerry-Lavrov understandings; no one should wonder where extremism comes from, because these understandings are laying the foundations for the new terrorism of the post-Daesh period.

On 23 January, America erased everything that was said by its officials, including Barack Obama, about the Damascus regime that lost its legitimacy, and that Assad must resign as there is no future as president for him. It even crossed out the Geneva statement which no longer exists, as the Russians and Iranians wanted. America dropped the mysteries and delusions that surrounded the Vienna statements, and gave in to Russian interpretations of UN Security Council resolution 2254. The alleged political solution, according to Kerry’s diktats to the opposition, is based on what the regime, its supporters and sympathetic “tame” opposition want, and what the Iranians and Russians want. That was the end result of the Vienna operation which coincided with statements suggesting that America still differs with Russia on the departure of Assad, but Kerry’s meeting with the opposition in Riyadh showed that America and Russia finally agreed that “the Syrian people must leave”.

Thus, there is no solution at all except a call for surrender that will cost more lives and more destruction. What Kerry is proposing to the opposition is the threat of a military takeover, in which the US will not intervene and will not help them to face. America’s non-involvement will be its tacit approval. He had no diplomacy in his speech, but rather a blunt announcement that America had made up its mind and decided on a coup against the Syrian people with no guarantees for them. So there is going to be no political transition, no transitional government, no full power government, no blaming or holding the regime accountable if negotiations fail, and no support for the opposition whether it goes to negotiations or not. All the previous notes do not constitute preconditions, according to the American secretary of state who agreed with his Russian counterpart for negotiations without preconditions. There could be no stranger or more brutal introduction for negotiations that aim to end a bloody conflict as those convened in Geneva about Syria.

For those still wondering about the post-nuclear deal stage and asking if Iran will change, there is a very clear answer: America has changed; America has changed to the point of showing an uglier face than the one it had during its Vietnam War era. It did all that was expected of it, and all the doubts that its allies and friends had about its positions have been realised: the US was never a friend of the Syrian people, but was deceiving them. It was using them as a slogan for negotiating with the Russians. It had no strategy so it adopted Moscow’s strategy. It did so after the scandal of the chemical weapons, and repeated it, continuing to do so despite the boycott. It actually breached that boycott all of a sudden to summon the Russian role to the point that it became a direct intervention, as if it was America’s deputy in Syria.

In the months prior to the Vienna meetings, Washington kept quiet and let the Russians and Iranians tackle their crises on their own. When it intervened, it was to help them and not to oppose them. The Russians and Iranians focused on redirecting the mission of UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura, with the US ignoring the fact that he had already made up his mind and is biased towards the regime, Russia and Iran; and that he is no longer comfortable with what he hears in Riyadh, Ankara or Doha. When Obama expressed his opinion, mocking the opposition, he was aware that de Mistura was about to change the make-up of the opposition that was readily accepted by Russia and Iran in negotiations, depending on long talks he held last spring in Geneva with Syrian committees and individuals. Those talks led to considering the so called opposition to be a very small part of the conflict had it not been for the fighting factions which were at that time taking control of areas originally held by the regime, and that any negotiations must include a wider range of “opposition” to that offered by the coalition or the coordination committee.

Thus, the Russians insisted on air strikes against opposition groups, not just Daesh. They were supposed to take into consideration what it meant for representatives of these factions to be present at the Riyadh conference, where they expressed their will to take part in a political solution, and also expressed the wish of those countries supporting them to end the conflict peacefully. The assassination of Zahran Alosh, a senior official of Jaishul Islam, and other assassinations that followed the conference and continued even while resolution 2254 was being issued, demonstrated that the Russians want to provoke the military opposition to Assad and push it to withdraw from any negotiations; this would leave the political opposition alone and weak, and susceptible to pressure, whether through de Mistura or the Russian conditions of which Kerry stressed US approval.

Since the beginning, Russia, Iran and the Syrian regime have decided that there is no place for logic in the crisis, and the games being played right now are putting negotiations at stake; it is as if the internationalisation of the conflict in Vienna and then the UN Security Council did not move things forward, but maintained the status quo under Assad’s tyranny. In fact, the opposition considered the Russian manoeuvres as a clear recipe for early manipulation of the issue of political transition, with the aim of breaking through the opposition delegates or inventing an alternative opposition, leading to tripartite negotiations; or even bilateral talks between the genuine opposition on one side and the regime and its “tame” opposition on the other. The intention of the Russians, it is believed, was to sabotage the negotiations from the beginning, knowing that the US would not exert pressure on behalf of the opposition but would do everything to satisfy Moscow, either on the pretext of fighting Daesh or something else that would reveal Washington’s real intentions.

It’s becoming clear now that the opposition’s analysis of Russia’s positions was naïve, and it was betting on America being strict, but someone was always saying, “Look for the American-Russian understandings”, a stark warning that there must be a missing link that will appear at a critical point in time. That point was the approaching date of the negotiations. Throughout the previous weeks, Moscow could not possibly have been able to act in this way and be against resolution 2254, as well as commit almost daily massacres against civilians in opposition areas in Syria, and completely cover blockades and barrel bombings, without any American objections. This lack of US intervention is based on understandings that have been agreed between the two sides. There has never been any real difference in the positions of Washington and Moscow towards the fighting factions, or any differentiation between moderate groups and terrorists. Their positions were almost identical at times, as they both used starvation to put pressure on the people and gain concessions from the Syrian opposition before they even began negotiations.

This was Kerry’s mission, in the name of understandings, when he warned the opposition that their only opportunity to gamble and lose in Geneva might lose even more if they were driven by emotions to disable negotiations. The opposition was told that joining negotiations was the lesser of two evils, as they will get a chance to voice their opinions and talk about their visions and needs, and that only their presence can force the regime into negotiations which it dreads and has always evaded. They were told that only then can Washington help them; but if they boycott negotiations, they will be doing the regime a favour and will put an end to any American role that may lessen the severity of current conditions.

The Palestinians were told the same thing in order to get them to negotiate, and they did so even though they were sure that the Americans would let them down, and that’s exactly what happened. However, it is very sad but true that people who are surrounded with injustice from all sides cannot afford to miss any chance to improve matters, even when it looks so obviously like an illusion.

Translated from Alkhaleejonline, 29 January, 2016.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Abdul Wahab Badrakhan) frontpage Fri, 05 Feb 2016 14:38:52 +0000
More than one third of Syria’s Palestinians have been displaced https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23761-more-than-one-third-of-syrias-palestinians-have-been-displaced https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23761-more-than-one-third-of-syrias-palestinians-have-been-displaced Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria

More than one third of the 500,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria have been displaced by the ongoing conflict, a new report has revealed.

The Action Group for Palestinian Refugees in Syria said the refugees were displaced after their camps were either subjected to air raids or caught up in clashes.

The semi-annual report said that more than 71,200 Palestinian refugees have reached Europe after Syria’s neighbouring countries prevented them from entering their lands formally.

The report, which addresses all aspects of the issue of Syria’s Palestinians, focuses on a number of indicators of living conditions such as demographic and economic indicators and human rights violations.

The report covers the condition of Palestinians in all refugee camps in Syria as well as in areas where Palestinians are concentrated in the country. Addition it outlines their situation in the countries where they have been displaced after the war, such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Brazil and Europe.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 05 Feb 2016 14:26:04 +0000
Calls to include Palestinians of Syria in donor conference https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/23760-calls-to-include-palestinians-of-syria-in-donor-conference https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/23760-calls-to-include-palestinians-of-syria-in-donor-conference Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany with David cameron at the Supporting Syria and the Region conference 2016

The needs of Palestinian refugees in Syria should be taken into consideration during the donor conference being held in London, Palestinian rights groups said yesterday.

In a memorandum which was sent to the Supporting Syria and the Region conference, the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) and the Action Group for Palestinians of Syria in London demanded the issue of Palestinians in Syria be included in the funding and relief programmes that the conference will adopt.

The memorandum outlined the humanitarian, living and legal conditions of Syria’s Palestinians at home and in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, and provided extensive statistics on the numbers of displaced persons and their distribution in neighbouring countries as a result of the ongoing war.

PRC stressed the importance of treating refugees in accordance with international law, and the need to secure their living conditions and humanitarian needs so as to ensure they have a decent life until they return to their homes in Palestine.

British Prime Minister David Cameron hosted the conference in London, and it was attended by the leaders of 70 countries and representatives of the United Nations and the European Union.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 05 Feb 2016 14:06:05 +0000
Al-Khatib calls for Israel to stop attacks against Umayyad Palaces https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23759-al-khatib-calls-for-israel-to-stop-attacks-against-umayyad-palaces https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23759-al-khatib-calls-for-israel-to-stop-attacks-against-umayyad-palaces Umayyad Palaces site, southwest of Al-Aqsa Mosque

Director of the Jerusalem Endowment and Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib has called on the Israeli authorities to stop the continuing attacks on the Umayyad Palaces, southwest of Al-Aqsa Mosque.

In a letter of protest sent Thursday to the head of Jerusalem police, Khatib demanded that the Israeli authorities halt the excavations and end the destruction of Arab and Islamic heritage sites.

He called for the removal of the makeshift metal roof set up in the centre of the Umayyad Palaces site. He also called for removing the metal and wooden platforms set up to expand the area designated for Jewish prayers next to the Mosque’s Western Wall.

“The Israeli police should remove all Judaization labels and pillars that have been entered into the site, and stop the Jewish religious prayers and parties,” Khatib said, calling for the Umayyad palaces to be returned to Jordanian Islamic Waqf.

The Israeli authorities decided last week to expand the platforms.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 05 Feb 2016 13:44:07 +0000
Trudeau: Canada to move cautiously on lifting Iran sanctions https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/23758-trudeau-canada-to-move-cautiously-on-lifting-iran-sanctions https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/23758-trudeau-canada-to-move-cautiously-on-lifting-iran-sanctions Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said yesterday that Canada will not rush to lift its sanctions against Iran, despite calls to “scrap the measures quickly so Canadian companies can compete for contracts”.

Last week, Canada confirmed for the first time that it is planning to lift the sanctions it imposed on Tehran, saying that companies should be allowed to export there.

The US, EU, and other major countries have also lifted some of their sanctions against Iran after an agreement was reached last month between Iran and global superpowers after Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear programme.

Trudeau told reporters in Calgary, where he met with oil industry leaders, that the deal had helped “dampen” Iran's nuclear capabilities, but added that there were still significant concerns around what he called the “country's state sponsorship of terrorism and abuse of human rights”.

He added: “We're going to be very careful and thoughtful, working and coordinating with our allies in the way that we move to reengage and lift sanctions on Iran.”

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 05 Feb 2016 13:36:54 +0000
Swansea council slams pro-Israel group’s legal action as ‘attack on democracy’ https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/23757--swansea-council-slams-pro-israel-groups-legal-action-as-attack-on-democracy https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/23757--swansea-council-slams-pro-israel-groups-legal-action-as-attack-on-democracy BDS movementSwansea Council leaders have “rubbished claims” by pro-Israel advocacy group Jewish Human Rights Watch that the council has abandoned a motion passed in 2010

Council Leader Rob Stewart said that “recent statements by the Jewish Human Rights Watch misrepresent entirely the motion passed by council in 2010 and the situation now. The motion has absolutely nothing to do with Jewish human rights or with any issues of race or religion.”

According to Stewart, “Jewish Human Rights Watch has recently instigated a potentially costly legal process in order to try and get the council to rescind a motion from 2010 which it disagrees with. That is an attack on democracy. The council is a democratic organisation and as democratically elected politicians we believe in free speech and freedom of expression. The motion was correctly submitted, debated and voted upon - that is how democracy works.”

The councillor also pointed out that the council motion had no bearing on the council procurement policy. “This is evidenced in the fact that non-commercial considerations are ignored during the council’s procurement processes for goods and services.”

He added: “The Council had no option other than to respond to these untrue and unfair claims but will not be able to make any further comment due to on-going legal proceedings.”

Jewish Human Rights Watch, who have also pursued legal action against Leicester City Council, declared in early December that Swansea City Council had performed a ‘U-turn’ in response to their legal claims, but did not give any details.

Then in January, the group boasted that they had ‘made history’, and that Swansea Council had “offered to rescind its BDS motion.” The press release has since been removed from its website.

Responding to the latest developments, Jewish Human Rights Watch has now vowed to pursue a Judicial Review of Swansea City Council’s 2010 motion.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 05 Feb 2016 12:51:45 +0000
Israel’s deputy foreign minister: Palestinians are 'under the influence of ISIS' https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23756-israels-deputy-foreign-minister-palestinians-are-under-the-influence-of-isis https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23756-israels-deputy-foreign-minister-palestinians-are-under-the-influence-of-isis Tzipi HotovelyIsrael’s most senior diplomat has claimed that Palestinians are "under the influence of ISIS."

Tzipi Hotovely made the remarks in an interview with Mehdi Hasan on Al Jazeera English’s show 'UpFront', to be broadcast this Friday.

During the interview, Israel’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs was asked 12 times if she personally supports a Palestinian state, repeatedly choosing not to answer the question.

Asked to respond to Israeli intelligence reports that Palestinian violence is linked to the “bleak reality” of occupation, Hotovely rubbished such claims, instead pointing the finger at “very hard incitement of the Palestinian Authority.”

She also suggested that Palestinian society is coming “under the influence of ISIS.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently also Foreign Minister, making Hotovely effectively the country’s most senior diplomatic representative.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 05 Feb 2016 12:27:02 +0000
Hebron's ancient handicrafts' struggle for survival https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23755-hebrons-ancient-handicrafts-struggle-for-survival https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23755-hebrons-ancient-handicrafts-struggle-for-survival Five generations of the Natsheh family have now worked with glass and ceramics in Hebron.EXCLUSIVE IMAGES

For many centuries, glassware and ceramics have been produced in the West Bank's industrial heartland of Hebron. It is thought that it was the Phoenicians who first developed glass-blowing in the Middle East, but that today's industry in Palestine probably originates from the Roman period.

Prior to the First Intifada, which began in 1987, several workshops were active in Hebron but only one of them survived the sustained closures that Israel enforced during the famous uprising. Although one new workshop opened in the city during the 1990's the industry has never recovered.

Hamdi Tawfiq Natsheh manages Hebron's family-run 'Natsheh Glass and Ceramics Factory', a role that was passed down via his father and his grandfather - who began working with glass in the city some 150 years ago.

"I began watching my grandfather and father when I was only 7 years old and learning from them. This is hard work and it take years to perfect."

The family's current workshop was opened in 1976 and Natsheh says business was good at first but now times are hard:

Is this the Third Intifada?

Rising tensions in the Occupied Territories have led to dozens of deaths and hundreds of clashes.
Are we witnessing the Third Intifada?

"This business needs peace, political peace. We relied on tourism for our sales but hardly anyone comes to Hebron now. With the current situation in Jerusalem we are seeing only one or two visitors a week."

The family have worked hard to build an international market for their products and it is these exports, according to Natsheh, that are now sustaining the business. Around 75% of all the workshop's products are currently being produced for export.

Few cities within the 1967 occupied lands have suffered more than Hebron. It remains the only city in the West Bank in which Israeli settlers occupy parts of the centre of the Palestinian city. Although the Natsheh workshop is situated at the northern entrance of the city, well away from the Old City area which is occupied by settlers and a permanent Israeli military presence, most tourists still avoid the city all together.

Despite the difficulties, it is clear that Hamdi Natsheh is justifiably proud of his family business and its products, yet also concerned about what the future may hold:

"We don't want to lose these crafts - they represent Palestinian history, but today we cannot encourage young people to learn these skills because they see no money and no future in the business."

Images by MEMO photographer, Rich Wiles.

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noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 05 Feb 2016 12:12:06 +0000
The missing data on the Palestinian revolt https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/debate/23754-the-missing-data-on-the-palestinian-revolt https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/debate/23754-the-missing-data-on-the-palestinian-revolt A woman uses the kuffiyeh as a mask to protect her identity during intifada clashes in the occupied West BankOn Wednesday, Palestinian youths from a village in the northern West Bank attacked Israeli Border Police officers outside Damascus Gate, in Occupied East Jerusalem, killing one and wounding another. The three assailants were killed on the spot.

With nearly daily bloodshed, most news agencies have been using ‘copy and paste’-style paragraphs to provide context for readers. Here are three such summaries, taken from reports of Wednesday’s attack by Reuters, The Associated Press, and AFP.

“It was the latest in a spate of stabbings, shootings and car-rammings by Palestinians that has killed 27 Israelis and a U.S. citizen since October. Israeli forces have killed at least 155 Palestinians, 101 of them assailants according to authorities. Most of the others have died in violent protests.” (Reuters)

“Since mid-September, 27 Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks. At least 154 Palestinians have died from Israeli fire, including 109 Israel said were attackers. The rest have been killed in clashes with Israeli troops.” (The Associated Press)

Is this the Third Intifada?

Rising tensions in the Occupied Territories have led to dozens of deaths and hundreds of clashes.
Are we witnessing the Third Intifada?

“The wave of violence has killed 26 Israelis, as well as an American and an Eritrean, according to an AFP count. At the same time, 164 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, most while carrying out attacks but others during clashes and demonstrations.” (AFP)

These three paragraphs vary, but they all share some troubling similarities, evidence of how – even unthinkingly – coverage of an anti-colonial revolt is being distorted by a narrative that is shaped and promoted by the Israeli government and its allies.

Israel’s assertions about Palestinian assailants are repeated without even a ‘balancing’ counter-claim, despite the fact that in many cases, the circumstances in which Palestinians have been killed are disputed. As Gideon Levy wrote recently: “Israel executes people without trial nearly every day.”

Israeli forces’ use of lethal violence to suppress anti-occupation protests is barely mentioned. Reuters wrote that “most” of the other Palestinian fatalities “died in violent protests”, which both removes Israeli agency and also manages to infer blame on the part of the protesters themselves.

Finally, in contrast to Palestinian fatalities, the Israelis killed by Palestinians are not categorised in any way at all – not even ‘civilian’ or ‘military’. Nor are we told what proportion of Palestinian attacks took place inside the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).

But the information is there, for anyone who wants to look for it.

Don’t mention the occupation

According to the Israel Security Agency (ISA), otherwise known as Shabak or Shin Bet, over a three month period (October-December), there were a total of 1,170 “attacks” by Palestinians (excluding Gaza), which included stabbings, shootings, and vehicle rammings. (Note that around 75-80 percent of these “terror attacks” were firebombs, typically synonymous for a Molotov cocktail.)

Revealingly, a mere 14 of these attacks – about 1 percent – took place inside the Green Line, the internationally-recognised division between Israel and the OPT. With regards specifically to stabbings, just 12 from a total of 85 such attacks occurred within Israel ‘proper’. Thus, according to the ISA, 86 percent of stabbings have happened in the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

This pattern is supported by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), whose website features what is described as “a list of major terror attacks against Israelis.” Out of a total of 143 separate attacks listed by Israel MFA as occurring in the four-month period October-January, just 21 of them – 15 percent – occurred within the Green Line; the rest, 85 percent, took place in the OPT.

Israel MFA’s list of 143 incidents includes 81 in which uniformed members of Israel’s security forces were either the target of the attack, or suffered casualties. The list also reveals that at least 69 soldiers, police officers (including Border Police) and settlement guards were wounded October-January, in addition to three fatalities (two soldiers and a Border Police officer).

The ISA has also stated that half of all Israelis moderately or severely injured in October were “members of the security forces.”

Suppressing protests – where’s the coverage?

As mentioned, Western media coverage has glossed over, misrepresented, or simply not reported, the routine violence being used by Israeli occupation forces to suppress Palestinian protests – protests by civilians living under a 49-year-old military regime.

Over a two-week period, October 1-14, the Palestinian death toll reached 31 with “at least 17 [of those killed] shot dead at demonstrations.” By the end of November, Israeli occupation forces had killed 39 Palestinians purely in the context of protests and raids.

In addition, over that two-month period, Israeli forces shot 4,192 Palestinians with either live ammunition or rubber-coated metal bullets. Thus on average, Israeli occupation forces shot almost 500 Palestinians every single week, suppressing protests and in raids, during October-November.

UN OCHA and Al-Haq data shows that in the four months October-January, Israeli occupation forces killed more than 50 Palestinians and injured approximately 14,000 in the suppression of protests and during raids. This extraordinary number is simply not reflected in most media coverage of the revolt.

Why October 1?

As Israeli journalist Amos Harel wrote a few days ago, the Israeli army “dates [the current round of violence] from the October 1 murder of Eitam and Naama Henkin, near Nablus.” It is obvious that this timeline serves Israel’s purposes – but why is it accepted so unquestioningly by journalists?

In the first five months of 2015, Israeli occupation forces killed 11 Palestinians and wounded a further 933 in the OPT. By the end of August, 26 Palestinians had been killed over the previous eight months by Israeli forces and settlers, with a further 1,372 Palestinians injured.

Over ten days in July, 7 Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli occupation forces and settlers: a 21-year-old Palestinian shot dead “when he picked up a stone to throw” at soldiers; a 52-year-old father shot in his own home; three members of the Dawabsheh family; and two Palestinian teenagers shot dead while protesting the fatal arson attack in Duma.

But no one speaks of a ‘wave of violence’ when the fingers on the trigger are wearing Israeli army uniforms; it is the violence of the occupied that begins chronologies, not that of occupation forces or the colonists they protect. Yes, there has been an uptick in violence since the beginning of October – but it has not come out of the blue.

Palestinian lives (or deaths) are labelled ‘assailants’ or ‘violent protesters’. Israelis are just – Israelis. We are not told that 6 out of 7 stabbings (or alleged stabbings) carried out by Palestinians have taken place in the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, whose indigenous inhabitants have spent half a century under colonial, military rule.

We are not told how many of the Israeli casualties were members of the occupation forces, or settlers living in West Bank colonies. The timelines do not begin with the murderous attack on the Dawabsheh family, or the shooting to death of Falah Abu Maria; they do not even take into account the Palestinians killed and injured throughout the year, up to October 1.

The thousands – thousands – of Palestinians shot by Israeli occupation forces go unmentioned. If it was the other way round – if thousands of Israelis had been shot by Palestinians over four months, you can be sure it would merit a mention in the news agencies’ ‘context’ paragraphs.

On January 26, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated a simple truth: “as oppressed peoples have demonstrated throughout the ages, it is human nature to react to occupation.” Disappearing the violence of occupation and misrepresenting the Palestinians’ anti-colonial revolt is to be expected from Israeli authorities; but the media should not be helping them.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Ben White) frontpage Fri, 05 Feb 2016 11:23:52 +0000
US holds Russia and Assad responsible for Syria crisis https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/23753-us-holds-russia-and-assad-responsible-for-syria-crisis https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/23753-us-holds-russia-and-assad-responsible-for-syria-crisis Josh Earnest, White House spokesman

America holds the Assad regime and Russia responsible for the ongoing crisis in Syria, a senior US official said yesterday.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said: “We have long expressed our deep concerns about the way in which the Assad regime has continued to target innocent populations in opposition-held areas inside of Syria.”

“And that’s been a sticking point in the talks. It’s been, understandably, a source of significant concern that’s been expressed by opposition representatives in these talks. And those concerns are well-founded. And we hold the Assad regime primarily responsible for that.”

US State Department spokesman John Kirby also stated that Washington “would like to see Russian military activity in Syria be dedicated and focused exclusively on Daesh, and not on the opposition groups.”

“We're certainly seeing at least in the very recent past, you know, discordant messages,” he said. This is in reference to Russia’s claims that it wants to see a political process move forward and a ceasefire but it continues to support Assad in bombing civilians.

According to the Syrian National Coalition, more than 1,730 civilians have been killed since Russia began airstrikes in Syria in late September.

Kirby added that US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov discussed the Geneva talks during a phone call on Wednesday night, in which Lavrov “reaffirmed the importance of finding a political solution to this conflict and to working towards a ceasefire.”

The Geneva talks, sponsored by the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, were temporarily suspended on Wednesday and are expected to resume on 25 February due to intensified fighting in the country.

In his response to claims that Saudi Arabia has expressed its willingness to join the international alliance to fight Daesh in Syria by sending ground forces, Kirby said that he had no knowledge of these claims, but said that the US wants its partners in the alliance to look for ways to do more and contribute more.

During an interview with Al-Arabiya TV yesterday evening, Saudi military spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Al-Asiri said Riyadh “is ready to participate in any ground operations that the coalition may agree to carry out in Syria.”

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 05 Feb 2016 11:13:21 +0000
Netanyahu: MKs who visit martyrs’ families should be reprimanded https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23752-netanyahu-mks-who-visit-martyrs-families-should-be-reprimanded https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23752-netanyahu-mks-who-visit-martyrs-families-should-be-reprimanded Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister

“Members of Knesset who go to comfort the families of terrorists who murder Israelis are not worthy of serving in the Knesset of Israel,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

He called on Knesset Speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein to examine what steps can be taken against the MKs. Netanyahu’s statements came after three members of the Arab Union Party met with the families of martyrs whose bodies Israel refused to release.

The victims’ families invited MKs to meet with them however only three MKs accepted the invitation; Jamal Zahalka, Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas.

Yisrael Beitenu chairman MK Avigdor Lieberman said the visit was “proof that Joint List MKs in general and specifically those from Balad are representatives of terrorist organisations in the Knesset.“ He reiterated his demand to expel them from the Knesset as well as the state of Israel.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 05 Feb 2016 11:09:57 +0000
Israeli report criticises ‘failures’ in fighting Gaza’s tunnels https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23751-israeli-report-criticises-failures-in-fighting-gazas-tunnels https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23751-israeli-report-criticises-failures-in-fighting-gazas-tunnels smuggling tunnel in Gaza

An Israeli report criticised what it referred to as the Israeli army’s “failures” in combatting the Palestinian tunnels and thwarting the digging operations in the areas separating the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian territories occupied in 1948.

Israeli State Comptroller, Joseph Shapira, noted the presence of “gaps and failures, some of them serious, in preparations to meet the threat of the tunnels and in dealing with them,” in the years preceding “Operation Protective Edge” and during the offensive.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had threatened to “hit Gaza harder than during the 2014 war” in light of reports indicating the Israeli settlers’ growing fears of the underground tunnels in Gaza.

In statements he made during a conference for Israeli diplomats on Sunday, Netanyahu said: “In the event we are attacked from tunnels in the Gaza Strip, we will act very forcefully against Hamas, and with much more force than ‘Operation Protective Edge’.”

Israeli military, political and settlement sources have expressed their concern recently that the Palestinian resistance will use the tunnels to attack Israel and hit targets along the Gaza border.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 05 Feb 2016 10:57:51 +0000
Jordanians reach boiling point https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/23750-jordanians-reach-boiling-point https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/23750-jordanians-reach-boiling-point King Abdullah II of Jordan

The media has given a lot of attention to the positions expressed by King Abdullah II on the event of the donor countries’ conference in London. They focused particularly on two phrases: the first is about Jordanians reaching boiling point and the second is about making a qualitative change in the Jordanian approach to the Syrian refugees and perhaps even further than this.

Observers and journalists understood from the first statement that Jordan is on the verge of instability and that the King is afraid that the chaos spreading across the region over the past five years will move into Jordan. Others believed that the relationship between the hosting community and the refugee community, i.e. the Jordanians and Syrians, has reached a dangerous turn. I do not know how many people read the King’s statements as a cry of protest to the international community’s lack of support for Jordan, which shouldered the lion’s share of the Syrian refugee burden.

I believe that with his speech to the foreign parties, the King wanted to send a loud message to the donors mainly; it was not directed at the Jordanian public or the Syrian refugees. However, we are in the era of communication, so no interview or statement, regardless of the language, is made without being made public immediately across the world in various languages. If the international community does not understand the essence of the King’s message, then I believe the doors of Jordan will be open to many possibilities.

In his message, the King addressed the biggest challenge facing Jordan, in terms of security and stability; i.e. the worrying economic-social challenge. It is true that this challenge has other causes that came before the Syrian crisis and the spread of the refugee phenomenon, along with its known burdens, but it is also true that the presence of 1.3 million Syrians in Jordan has escalated and exacerbated this challenge. It has turned this challenge in to a source of threat if a helping hand is not extended to Jordan, sooner rather than later.

If the King directed his message to the international community, and especially to the international donor countries, then the echoes of his cry must have reached the neighbouring wealthy countries that have spent and continue to spend tens of billions of dollars left and right, but curbed their spending when it came to helping Jordan. This is not understandable especially in light of many senior officials in Jordan and in these wealthy countries constantly praising the close and exceptional relations between the two sides, as well as the mutual interests and strategies.

Jordan is relying heavily on the conference in London and what it may result in and lead to. When I say relying, I do not only mean a wad of cash that they may provide in the form of “emergency aid”, but more than that. Jordan is relying on a medium and long-term strategic plan in which the international community commits to a concept of “partnership” with Jordan in order to preserve its security and stability on one hand, and to reinforce its role as an effective partner, as well as enable Jordan to shoulder the great burdens of the refugees in the country and amongst its people.

I do not believe that Jordanians reaching boiling point means that Jordan is on the verge of a major explosion or on a mine that can explode any second, neither on the surface nor under the surface. This is cited by the actions in Jordan. It is true that the economic hardship is pressuring the Jordanians and that there are many factors of instability in Jordan, but it is also true that Jordan has succeeded in managing the crises that hit the country and surrounded it. It is not likely, at least in the near future, that Jordan will get caught up in the unconstructive chaos in the region, contrary to what some have concluded from the King’s statements.

I find that the King’s statements and strong warnings are an opportunity to remind everyone of the need for Jordan’s diplomats to think outside the box. Dealing with the refugee portfolio must not remain within the equation of “donors and receivers”, as the ceilings and limits of such equations are known and, at their best, they will only postpone the crisis and manage it rather than resolve it. A balanced diplomatic attack must be launched against the Moscow-Damascus axis in order to work on normalising the situation in south Syria beginning with encouraging local reconciliations and providing mediation and ending with seeking opportunities to create “mutual safe zones” that prevent more Syrian refugees from entering Jordan. This would also encourage at least some of those in Jordan to return to their homeland. There is also a need to provide secure channels to deliver humanitarian aid to the Syrians on the other side of the border.

Such a scenario requires intensive political and diplomatic efforts. However, what gives a sense of optimism regarding the success of this is that it is aligned with the Vienna-Geneva path, the Russian-American agreements, the special relationship between Amman and Moscow, and the line of communication that has not been severed between Amman and Damascus. More importantly, this scenario is the one that best that serves the interests of Jordan and its people and preserves its security and stability.

The problem of Syrian asylum in Jordan is purely a Jordanian problem but this does not undermine or devalue the matter as a regional and international problem, as we did not cause it or escalate it. We are the ones suffering the consequences and are shouldering the burden. Now we must turn every stone in search of a radical solution for this problem, as sedatives will merely alleviate or numb the feeling of pain and suffering. Only solutions stemming from the national interests will benefit the people and last on the ground. So will we try to think out of the box this time?

Translated from Addustour, 4 February 2016.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Oraib Al-Rantawi) frontpage Fri, 05 Feb 2016 10:19:02 +0000
Does the media fuel conflict in the Middle East? https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/guest-writers/23749-does-the-media-fuel-conflict-in-the-middle-east https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/guest-writers/23749-does-the-media-fuel-conflict-in-the-middle-east Thembisa FakudeThe growth of locally-based television channels is beginning to counter the narrative that has dominated the media coverage of the Middle East. Some television programmes depicting a normal life are gradually breaking the staple coverage of war and carnage. However, the ongoing conflict has prevented new entrants to journalism with different perspectives from working in the region. Consequently, more experienced journalists who have been stationed in the region are being recalled to work at the new channels. Unfortunately, most of these older hands insist on working according to their brief from their previous stints covering the region. Furthermore, the younger and newer journalists who do make it to the Middle East are not able to travel freely for research and newsgathering purposes. Understandably, the region is full of cynics who are suspicious of strangers due to the brutality of the mukhabarat (intelligence officers) from several countries who operate in the region.

Furthermore, the lack of investment in media logistics inhibits proper coverage. Technology has enabled many media institutions around the world — particularly television — to broadcast live as soon as stories break. In the Middle East, where broadband capabilities are still struggling, expensive satellite transmission is still the most dominant means of broadcasting. Moreover, most broadcast technicians are based in Europe, which means that regional media organisations are forced to wait for these skills from overseas when big stories break. This reality continues to pose challenges for news coverage, especially in English, of events in the Middle East. Consequently, most news organisations rely on news agencies for their coverage. Al-Jazeera English is the only global English news channel that has the capacity to broadcast and run with the story as it breaks. The reliance on news agencies like Reuters, Agence France Presse (AFP) and Associated Press (AP) by many local news organisations encourages lazy journalism. Too many journalists simply package their daily stories based on the footage provided by these agencies. Very few, if any at all, spend time researching and capturing their own footage; agencies remain the first point of call. That attitude deprives the region of the opportunity to showcase the human stories.

Does the media fuel conflict in the Middle East?

The broadcast of video footage prepared by extremist groups is on the increase. Every gruesome act is accompanied by a video tape or posting online describing those who carried it out and explaining why. What most social scientists and media analysts are asking is, to whom is the message directed? There are a number of young people from around the world who have reportedly left their countries to join extremist groups, particularly in Syria. The internet is usually blamed or mentioned as the main platform that is used to recruit and attract such youngsters to the Middle East. Images of AK47-wielding young fighters swearing to kill in the name of religion have become commonplace on our television screens.

Perhaps there is an element of fame that comes with these videos being shown on television, and maybe some degree of celebrity status within extremist circles comes into the equation. It is, therefore, not far-fetched to assume that those who harbour and support the extremists’ ideology will be attracted by such images and might be inspired to join their ranks.

The challenge within most newsrooms is whether or not to broadcast these images. The logical argument is obvious; the extremists are using the media to further their objectives so such images must not be broadcast. However, there is another imperative in journalism — the public’s right to know — that journalists cannot ignore; they simply can’t unilaterally withhold stories and images from the public domain. Given that the broadcast of these images is often driven by an increase in media competition, the use of exclusive footage is too hard to resist for many broadcasters. Most news organisations disregard basic rules about broadcasting certain pictures and videos; the rule of thumb has been, if it bleeds it must lead.

War reporting is shorthand for great journalism and has therefore attracted many aspiring journalists to the Middle East. Extremist organisations like Daesh provide the right material in terms of visuals. This raises the question of whether there are links between the populism of radical organisations and the media. What will happen to these organisations if the cameras are directed elsewhere and they are thus deprived of media exposure? What will happen if the cameras focus on other news in the region? Realistically speaking, the attitude of foreign journalists means that it is probably never going to happen.

Indeed, the engagement of foreign troops in the Middle East has seen the expansion of state-owned news organisations like Russia Today, CCTV and France 24 among many others. These organisations have brought new elements to news prioritisation and headlining. They highlight news featuring their own countries’ role in the conflict. Under the terms of its operating licence, the BBC World Service is not supposed to represent British national interests exclusively, and yet it is used by the foreign and commonwealth office in London as some kind of soft power tool. The BBC’s editorial lines reflect certain national and political positions unapologetically. The recent debate about the terminology used to describe Syrians trying to get into Europe en masse created interesting discussions within various newsrooms around the world. Eventually, some media organisations adopted a position which reflected their national interest in the debate. Al-Jazeera English went against the consensus of the other big four international news broadcasters and insisted on referring to the displaced Syrians as refugees instead of migrants. Bias and the over-politicisation of television coverage of global events has led to heightened media cynicism in the Middle East. The skewed and uneven reporting on important stories has led to apathy towards the traditional media in the region, particularly television.

The general attitude of governments and civil society in the Middle East towards journalists is one of the greatest obstacles in covering news in the region. There are strict requirements and long lists of permissions and legalities required for filming and newsgathering; failure to fulfil them can and does result in journalists being arrested. Some governments require individuals to get a journalism licence over and above a university qualification and employment offer. This makes it very difficult to be an independent journalist in some places in the Middle East.

Consequently many foreign journalists parade themselves as tourists to avoid stringent media laws. This has led to the proliferation of the “fixers”, a group of individuals who have connections within different societies and facilitate newsgathering on behalf of broadcasters and foreign journalists. Fixing has become one of the most prestigious occupations in the Middle East. Some fixers are journalists who are unable to meet the criterion for working in the profession. Most, though, are not journalists at all, but individuals who are politically well-connected, or in some cases simply drivers who can converse in a foreign language.

The reliance on fixers who have no journalism and professional background in newsgathering is compromising the quality of journalism and coverage of the region. They are not just facilitating interviews and driving journalists to hot spots; they also attend press conferences, take notes in Arabic and basically produce copy for journalists who are afraid to venture outside their offices. This has, unfortunately, compromised the quality of news production. The Middle East is an overly-politicised environment so there is a need to vet the fixers before employing their services for journalism purposes. Failure to do so presents unnecessary challenges, particularly the possible manipulation of the coverage of events.


The stereotypes about the region from both the journalists’ and their global audience perspectives dictate editorial choices in coverage of the Middle East. Furthermore, the advent of national broadcasters has added a new dimension to news coverage. Journalists report to targeted audiences who expect certain type of news; in most cases it is about the wellbeing and progress of their national interests. Having said that, journalists also have the responsibility to educate their audience.

Another important factor is that international television news organisations tend to cover events that attract many viewers. This audience becomes accustomed to certain types of narratives about the story in question; they watch and follow its progression in full expectation of a consistent narrative. This, in turn, creates stereotypes and most journalists find it hard to change certain jargon in the middle of an ongoing story even when there is a need to change the narrative.

For example, even after learning that Kurds are often Sunni Muslims, most journalists continue to compare Kurds and Sunnis in the Middle East as if they are mutually exclusive. Hence, journalists will stick to the script to save face, even at the risk of misinforming their audience. The major ongoing stereotype about the Middle East and Islam can only change if the media give a more equal degree of coverage to other important stories. Until then, the image of the region in the West will remain unchanged and this will also affect the interaction between ordinary people in both.

Finally, good journalism thrives when there is a combination of education, professionalism and good socialisation. Most fixers employed by media institutions in the region are often lacking in these essentials. There is an overwhelming sense of nationalism and sectarianism in the Middle East; even some qualified journalists battle to balance their professionalism with their religious and political inclinations, and the random employment of fixers without proper checks and balances does not help the situation. All of these factors combined help to fuel conflict across the region. As things stand, it is hard to reach any other conclusion.

Thembisa Fakude is the Head of Research and International Relations at Al-Jazeera Centre for Studies, a Directorate of Al-Jazeera Media Network.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Thembisa Fakude) frontpage Fri, 05 Feb 2016 10:37:33 +0000
Tunisian President warns against military intervention in Libya https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/23748-tunisian-president-warns-against-military-intervention-in-libya https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/23748-tunisian-president-warns-against-military-intervention-in-libya Tunisian President,  Beji Caid Essebsi

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi warned on Thursday of the consequences of any military intervention in Libya, stressing the need for the countries considering such action to consult with Tunisia and other neighbouring countries, a presidential statement said.

According to the statement, Essebsi made the remarks during a meeting with heads of diplomatic missions and representatives of regional and international organizations held in Tunis to celebrate the New Year.

“The President of the Republic has pointed to the uniqueness of Tunisia’s situation, being a neighbour with Libya, which has become the scene for terrorist cells and home to Islamic State [Daesh] threats,” the statement read.

President Essebsi stressed that the only way to bring an end to the Libyan conflict is through inter-Libyan political unity. The international community must support the efforts of the unity government, he said.

Despite the difficulties in Libya, Essebsi said that Tunisia “will not close its borders to its Libyan brothers”.

Media reports have suggested that military intervention in Libya by an international coalition could be imminent.

However, US Secretary of State John Kerry ruled out military intervention in Libya in the near future on Tuesday.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also said that his country has no intention in militarily intervening in Libya.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 05 Feb 2016 10:17:30 +0000
Italy summons Egyptian ambassador over student's death https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/23747-italy-summons-egyptian-ambassador-over-students-death https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/23747-italy-summons-egyptian-ambassador-over-students-death Giulio Regeni, a 28-year-old Italian graduate

Italy’s Foreign Ministry has summoned the Egyptian ambassador to Rome to express concern regarding the discovery of the body of an Italian student who went missing in Cairo on 25 January.

The Italian Foreign Ministry has demanded the Egyptian authorities form a joint investigation committee, which would include Italian experts, to uncover further details about the student’s death.

Giulio Regeni, a 28-year-old Italian graduate studying for his PhD at Cambridge University, went missing on the fifth anniversary of the January 25 Revolution. His body was found on Thursday lying on the side of a Cairo highway showing signs of torture.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry on Thursday tried to downplay the summoning of its ambassador, releasing a statement that said: "The purpose of this action might be to inquire about something, to request a meeting, to deliver an invitation or express discomfort for one reason or another."

In a related development, the Italian Minister of Economic Development Federica Gwede unexpectedly left Cairo on Thursday. It was not made clear whether the minister had cut her visit short due to the death of the Italian student.

Egypt’s initial investigations ruled out a political motive behind the student's murder.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 05 Feb 2016 10:08:10 +0000
US welcomes Saudi 'boots on ground' offer in Syria https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/23746-us-welcomes-saudi-boots-on-ground-offer-in-syria https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/23746-us-welcomes-saudi-boots-on-ground-offer-in-syria US Secretary of Defense,  Ashton Carter

The U.S. defense chief Thursday welcomed reports about Saudi Arabia’s willingness to deploy troops in Syria, noting that he would discuss the issue with his Saudi counterpart in Brussels next week.

During an interview with al-Arabiya TV on Thursday, Saudi military spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asiri said Riyadh “is ready to participate in any ground operations that the coalition may agree to carry out in Syria”.

“That kind of news is very welcome. I look forward to discussing that with the Saudi defense minister next week -- that and other kinds of contributions that Saudi Arabia can make,” Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told reporters at at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

Carter is going to meet defense ministers of 26 countries, which are part of the U.S.-led coalition countering Daesh in Belgian capital Brussels.

The U.S. defense chief acknowledged that the Saudi government has indicated willingness to do more in the fight against Daesh.

“I should mention also Saudi Arabia has indicated a willingness to take the lead in marshaling some Muslim-majority countries,” he said, noting that the Saudi government would contribute to the fight against Daesh significantly.

Carter said that the Netherlands also pledged to support anti-Daesh operations in Syria last week, in addition to the Dutch government’s existing contributions to the campaign in Iraq.

“You see others stepping up, and the reason why I'm going to Brussels next week is to bring the full weight of the coalition behind accelerating the defeat of ISIL [Daesh],” Carter said.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 05 Feb 2016 09:55:53 +0000
The Israeli ambassador affair should concern us all, not just Tel Aviv https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/23745-the-israeli-ambassador-affair-should-concern-us-all-not-just-tel-aviv https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/23745-the-israeli-ambassador-affair-should-concern-us-all-not-just-tel-aviv Alastair Sloan

Daniel Taub, the former Israeli ambassador in London, has been named as the subject of an investigation into possible sexual abuse of minors and homosexual affairs that threatened Israel's national security. The news was broken by the tenacious blogger Richard Silverstein – after Israeli newspapers only reported that a “European ambassador” was under suspicion. Silverstein has been mauled online by defenders of Taub but, as usual, is holding up well and standing by his allegation.

Following Silverstein's scoop, the Guardian's Peter Beaumont in Jerusalem picked up on the story, although he declined to report on the exact nature of the allegations. Haaretz and Ynet have also reported on the case, with Haaretz correspondent Amir Oren claiming that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knew about the scandal last summer.

The Metropolitan Police are said to be investigating the involvement of at least one minor, after a complaint by a police officer who says he witnessed a trail of male adults and possible minors entering the embassy late at night. Taub claims that the accusation is vindictive and denies the presence of any children; the visits, he maintains, were “therapeutic”.

Coming to the end of his four year term in London, the married ambassador reportedly bragged to colleagues that he expected to remain in Britain on a special one -year extension. It appears, though, that he was recalled to Tel Aviv as a direct result of these allegations.

The Israeli foreign ministry has investigated and closed the case, but it now seems to have been re-opened. The primary concern of the Israeli government is that the visitors to the embassy were not registered, and that MI5 appears to have been aware of the arrangements. Ambassadors engaging in extramarital relationships are prime targets for blackmail, which would be of great concern to the Israeli security services. Taub was also inexperienced; his appointment in 2011 was resented by the Israeli diplomatic service, which noted that someone who had never held an ambassadorial role before was getting a very important posting.

This is a controversial situation and it is important not to presume guilt ahead of innocence, but the facts raise concerns and speak to a far wider problem. It is not the first time that an Israeli ambassador has been linked to accusations of child abuse, nor is Israel unique in hosting sexual controversies at its embassies. London's Arab embassies, particularly those from the Gulf, are hives of abuse, particularly affecting domestic workers often trafficked from their home countries. In early 2012 I learned of a particularly abhorrent episode of sexual abuse at a Gulf embassy, which cannot be named for legal reasons. The victim was terrified to speak out for fear of deportation. The Foreign Office was also embarrassed when allegations of abuse at both the Libyan and Sudanese embassies surfaced last February, generating two court cases. The Court of Appeal in London ruled that diplomatic immunity should not apply after two Moroccan nationals, cook Fatima Benkharbouche and domestic worker Minah Janah, were sacked and claimed unfair dismissal, failure to be paid the minimum wage and that they were forced to work impossibly long hours. Ms Janah also claimed arrears of pay, racial discrimination and harassment.

Diplomatic immunity, tacit collusion with the host government and a tendency to withdraw the ambassador as soon as allegations are made has created an environment in which embassy staff operate in a parallel legal dimension, not only with respect to British law, but also that of their home country. The ruling on the Libyan and Sudanese embassies is the exception and by no means the rule.

The British parliament first guaranteed diplomatic immunity to foreign ambassadors in 1709, after Count Andrey Matveyev, a Russian resident in London, claimed to have been subjected to abuse by British bailiffs. The Congress of Vienna, held in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars and designed to quieten centuries of European violence, established the first instance of international law which allowed diplomats to get away with whatever they so pleased. These rules were designed to stop ambassadors being attacked in times of war, and today operate on a quid pro quo basis; don't touch our ambassadors, and we won't touch yours.

Scandal after scandal in both London and Washington have seen reported instances of drug smuggling, kidnapping, abuse of staff and alleged sexual assaults, all of which is quietly hushed up. This has nothing to do with espionage, which would be a half-decent excuse for a foreign power. This is about people of power abusing their privilege to conduct activities that any ordinary person can clearly see are wrong. If Arab and Israeli ambassadors are getting away with it in London, I wonder what our ambassadors are getting up to abroad? Ambassador Taub's current difficulties should concern us all, not just his bosses in Tel Aviv.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Alastair Sloan) frontpage Thu, 04 Feb 2016 17:09:45 +0000
‘Difficult to continue Geneva talks without ceasefire,’ insists UN https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/23744-difficult-to-continue-geneva-talks-without-ceasefire-insists-un https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/23744-difficult-to-continue-geneva-talks-without-ceasefire-insists-un Syrian rebels in combat

A spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday that it is impossible for the Geneva talks on Syria to go ahead without a ceasefire in place, Anadolu has reported.

Farhan Haqq made his comments in New York following the killing of three aid workers in rural Aleppo during a military operation carried out by the Syrian regime. “We deeply regret this incident and remind once again all parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and humanitarian workers,” he said.

“There have been reports of intensified fighting and air strikes in Aleppo governorate in recent days,” explained Haqq, “and UN agencies have received reports of the displacement of thousands of people from towns in the north-east of the area over the past two days.”

He pointed out that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is “extremely concerned” at the intensification of fighting and its impact on the civilian population, and continues to monitor the situation closely.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Thu, 04 Feb 2016 16:55:22 +0000
Herzog’s 'separation peace plan' is a fallacy to gain Israel more time and impunity https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/blogs/politics/23743-herzogs-separation-peace-plan-is-a-fallacy-to-gain-israel-more-time-and-impunity https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/blogs/politics/23743-herzogs-separation-peace-plan-is-a-fallacy-to-gain-israel-more-time-and-impunity Ramona WadiWhatever rhetoric Israel decides to use within the context of the Jerusalem Intifada, the underlying concept remains consistent. Following his initial calls for separation of the Palestinians from their homeland, which revealed a plan as sinister as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s overt violence, opposition leader Isaac Herzog has promoted his hypothesis during a meeting in Rome with US Secretary of State John Kerry.

The premeditated incitement proposed by Herzog, which complements Israeli state violence and expansion, builds upon two premises: security concerns and the “fight against radical Islamic terror”. As both narratives form part of the international agenda, it is likely that Herzog’s “separation peace plan”, as described by Israel National News, and opposition to the two-state paradigm, which is upheld through the diplomatic variation of negotiations, will garner support.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Herzog urged Kerry to “stop with the big words” before adding, “Our citizens are being murdered and we must engage in the separation process that will serve as the basis for the reality of the two-state solution vision.” The opposition leader also availed himself of the opportunity for a brief rant against the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which is “gaining focus around the world” while emphasising that “Israel cannot wait for lengthy diplomatic negotiations.”

The metaphor of waiting has served both the Palestinian Authority and Israel well. In the case of the PA, its compromises and dependency upon the coloniser have been excused perpetually through the alleged predicament of waiting, while eliminating its wilful participation in the process. Israel, on the other hand, has employed the discourse of waiting depending upon opportunity. It will not hesitate to expand its colonial presence at any given time, yet will extend the process in order to remain within the parameters constructed for its impunity. The reason for this is simple; the international community has failed to deal with Israel as an illegal colonial presence in Palestine.

At first glance, it may seems as if Israel is facing diplomatic pressure to resume negotiations, following France’s warning that it would recognise the Palestinian state in the absence of Israeli agreement to proceed with the two-state compromise. Recognition of Palestine, however, has proved to be little more than a symbolic stunt that has failed to offer any formidable change for Palestinians. Settlement expansion, despite recognition, has continued without concrete efforts to halt the colonisation process. Palestinian civilians are being murdered following Netanyahu’s authorisation of sniper fire and the state’s lenience towards extrajudicial killings. France, in particular, has revelled in playing its duplicitous role, seeking compromise from Mahmoud Abbas regarding the unity government in order to appease Israel, while churning out efforts at an international level which will ensure the veneer of a stalemate, thus giving Israel further incentive to bolster its presence and intentions.

No matter how much Herzog may try to promote the separation plan as the basis for a two-state scenario, the level of cohesion regarding the intentional procrastination reveals the fallacy of such talk. The current uprising will, unfortunately, continue to be manipulated in order for Israel to glean further benefits — notably more time to act with impunity — thus providing another premise for the increased oppression of Palestinian civilians and, in turn, safeguarding both Israel and the international community from scrutiny, as is portrayed clearly by the unfolding events.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Ramona Wadi) frontpage Thu, 04 Feb 2016 16:34:26 +0000
Tunisia lifts nationwide curfew https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/23742-tunisia-lifts-nationwide-curfew https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/23742-tunisia-lifts-nationwide-curfew protest in Tunisia

Tunisia has lifted a nationwide night-time curfew imposed last month following protests and violence, the country's Interior Ministry said.

In a Thursday statement, the ministry said the curfew was lifted "in light of improvement of the security conditions" in the country.

Tunisia was racked by protests and violence in the worst unrest since a popular uprising unseated autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Thu, 04 Feb 2016 16:12:46 +0000
Abu Khdeir’s killers jailed https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23741-abu-khdeirs-killers-jailed https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23741-abu-khdeirs-killers-jailed Palestinian teenager, Muhammad Abu Khdeir

An Israeli has been sentenced to life and another to 21 years in jail for the brutal murder of Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a court ruled today.

Abu Khdeir's family had been seeking life sentences for both defendants but their attorneys claimed their actions had been influenced by a third killer, 30-year-old Yosef Ben-David.

Ben-David, believed to be the group's ringleader, has confessed to the killing along with the two minors, but has so far escaped conviction pending a last minute psychiatric evaluation.

Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old from Shuafat in occupied East Jerusalem, was kidnapped and murdered by the three extremists in July 2014.

All three confessed to beating the teenager unconscious before pouring flammable liquid on him and setting him alight. An autopsy later confirmed that the teen had been burned alive.

The court also ordered the culprits compensate the Abu Khdeir family with 60,000 Israeli shekels ($15,350).

Abu Khdeir’s death sparked international condemnation and placed pressure on Israel to bring Jewish extremists to justice. Many critics said such attacks were the result of total impunity for Israelis who attack Palestinians.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Thu, 04 Feb 2016 16:03:53 +0000
Rodney Dixon QC on the Mavi Marmara case and seeking justice at the ICC https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/resources/interviews/23740-rodney-dixon-qc-on-the-mavi-marmara-case-and-seeking-justice-at-the-icc https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/resources/interviews/23740-rodney-dixon-qc-on-the-mavi-marmara-case-and-seeking-justice-at-the-icc Rodney Dixon QCEXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

In November 2014, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda held that there was a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes had been committed on board the Mavi Marmara ship, but concluded they were not of sufficient gravity to warrant a formal investigation. It was the first time the ICC had refused to open an investigation when requested to do so by a States Party.

The Mavi Marmara led the six vessels of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla aid convoy that attempted to break the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip on 31 May 2010. The boats were in international waters when Israeli naval commandos approached by helicopter and speedboat, boarded the Mavi Marmara and killed nine people on board, seriously injuring a number of others. A United Nations fact-finding mission later revealed that five of the people on board were shot in the head at close range.

For the families of the victims and the activists on board, the Prosecutor’s decision was disheartening and did little to alleviate concerns that Israel continues to commit war crimes with impunity. It was a relief, therefore, when the decision was appealed and the Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC directed Bensouda to reconsider her decision. “We argued on behalf of the Comoros and the victims that her reasoning in finding that the case was not serious enough was fundamentally flawed, as we set out in our application for review of the decision, and which was granted by the Chamber,” says Rodney Dixon QC, the barrister who is representing the vast majority of passengers on board the six ships, the ship owners and the Government of Comoros. The Mavi Marmara was registered in the Comoros, a State Party to the ICC, who referred the case.

“The way in which she decided this matter was erroneous as a matter of law and fact,” Dixon continues, explaining there were many aspects of the case Bensouda overlooked. “The Pre-Trial Chamber noted that she had reached conclusions prematurely without actually conducting an investigation. That’s the whole purpose of the investigation, to determine whether there’s sufficient evidence and the Prosecution had ahead of that taken a particular view on the evidence.”

“As was argued before the Chamber, it was improper for a prosecutor to proceed in that way; no reasonable prosecutor should do that,” he adds later, reflecting on Bensouda’s decision. In the past Bensouda has drawn attention to the limits of her jurisdiction over Israel and Palestine. Palestine became a formal member of the ICC in April last year but investigations can only go as far back as Israel’s July 2014 assault on Gaza dubbed Operation Protective Edge. Yet throughout the case she has had jurisdiction over Comoros. “On behalf of the victims we have stressed that the Prosecutor should seize this opportunity, that’s what proactive prosecutors could do, they look for ways to use the law most effectively to promote justice and the Prosecutor has this unique chance to act if she wanted to and she shouldn’t waste that valuable opportunity,” says Dixon.

The case is now at a critical point – Bensouda has been directed to reconsider and everybody is awaiting her decision. She can refuse, but Comoros could again seek a review.

Since Bensouda first refused a formal investigation, international bodies, organisations and lawyers have helped gather evidence that could be used in a formal investigation. “She’s had a lot of the work done for the Prosecution that could be relied – the Prosecution has received a solid and compelling package of evidence. Based on that the Prosecutor should launch an investigation without having to expend unnecessary resources and she could call on many other organisations to help her if resources were an issue. On behalf of the victims we sincerely hope that she does now finally open an investigation,” says Dixon.

Specifics, such as the fact that the ships were attacked in international waters, raise the gravity of the case. But the attack on the ships shouldn’t be separated from the wider context in which it took place. “You can’t isolate this artificially from what’s happening in the wider conflict and the occupation and the blockade of Gaza. That was a forceful argument that we advanced in the review, that you can’t view this is an incidental, separate event. It’s clearly connected to the wider conflict and blockade,” says Dixon. He added: “That this conflict is in that part of the world is undoubtedly serious enough to warrant the ICC’s attention.”

One of the arguments made by the legal team representing the Mavi Marmara victims was the wider impact of the crimes if Israel was not held accountable. “We argued in the review that by not investigating these cases the ICC forgoes the rare opportunity to seek to deter similar, future attacks,” says Dixon. The Prosecutor’s failure to start the investigation before Protective Edge occurred – the July 2014 Israeli war on Gaza which killed over 2,000 Palestinians, mainly civilians – meant the “deterrence factor” was lost: “The fact that she could have been actively investigating the IDF for the attack on the Flotilla might have had an impact on whether the IDF were prepared to conduct the 2014 operation in the way that they did.”

If the case is re-examined Bensouda only has jurisdiction over what happened on the ship, not for what happened when the people on board were taken to Israel, detained and interrogated, because they were no longer on Comoros territory. “But as a matter of general criminal law you can always use surrounding evidence that’s outside of the jurisdiction to prove what’s happening within the jurisdiction,” says Dixon. “Even though the commanders were not on the ship they could still be held responsible for what happened on board. And you could certainly examine the contextual circumstances to understand the plan and the policy behind the attack. The Prosecutor could consider the wider evidence as being relevant to how and why the crimes were committed.”

Justice can also be pursued in national courts. Last year a Spanish judge pressed the government to pursue legal proceedings on behalf of the three Spanish passengers that were on board the Mavi Marmara, whilst in Turkey a criminal trial in absentia has begun. UK police have been asked to investigate the case and exercise universal jurisdiction regarding torture and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions to arrest those involved when they travel to the country, according to Dixon. That said, cases at the ICC attract more international attention, and the Prosecutor can seek co-operation through states and the Security Council to arrest people wherever they travel.

Fatou Bensouda has been criticised for only investigating inside Africa and her failure to examine the Mavi Marmara case has not dispelled any of these criticisms. “I think it does affect perceptions and the integrity of the court when there is strong compelling evidence that should at least be investigated and that is refused,” says Dixon, “particularly where, as the judges said, this was an operation that gained significant international attention, there were two UN reports and investigations on it.”

“It is most important that there’s consistency and transparency in the decisions being made about whether to investigate a particular situation or not and that these decisions can be scrutinised by the Court.”

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Amelia Smith) frontpage Thu, 04 Feb 2016 15:06:02 +0000
Will Egypt’s road map open the Rafah crossing or keep it closed? https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/africa/23739-will-egypts-road-map-open-the-rafah-crossing-or-keep-it-closed https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/africa/23739-will-egypts-road-map-open-the-rafah-crossing-or-keep-it-closed Former Fatah leader, Mohammed Dahlan

Former Fatah official Sufian Abu Zaida announced during his participation in a seminar held in Gaza City on 8 December 2015 that the Egyptian authorities had a road map to open the Rafah border crossing and resolve the crisis once and for all.

According to Abu Zaida, who is close to former Fatah official Mohammed Dahlan, the road map includes achieving reconciliation within Fatah first, followed by a national reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. It also involves forming a unity government that will control and manage matters in Gaza, including the crossing and border security, and holding presidential, as well as PLC and PNC elections.

This is the first time the Fatah official has said this and it seems to be true, as no denial was issued by the Egyptians or Palestinians. In addition to this, I do not believe that Abu Zaida could invest or fabricate such a matter that involves the Egyptian government. It is worth noting that he has repeated his words on two occasions. What is stranger is that this important statement passed quietly without stirring a Palestinian political or media discussion, and no one paid attention to it. Even the factional committee concerned with the crossing crisis did not give it any attention or respond to it in any manner.

The Egyptian road map simply means that there will be no complete opening of the crossing nor will there be a radical resolution to the suffocating crisis suffered by the people of Gaza without an internal Fatah reconciliation, i.e. a reconciliation between Abbas and Dahlan, followed by a national reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas or Abbas and Hamas. This basically means that they have disregarded or ignored the reconciliation agreement brokered by Egypt itself, which did not address the idea of a Fatah reconciliation, despite its importance. It also did not mention handing over the reins of power to Hamas or restoring legitimacy in Gaza, as Mahmoud Abbas always says.

It is worth remembering that the reconciliation agreement signed in Cairo in May 2011, i.e. during the rule of the Military Council which is now back in power in a newer form, stipulated a number of matters for their reconciliation including the formation of a national consensus government, the meeting of the PLO’s top leadership, the resumption of the PLC’s duties, resolving Gaza’s crisis, including its reconstruction, and merging institutions to create conditions conducive to holding full elections.

In the security context, for example, the agreement spoke of keeping the security situation as it is while gradually merging 3,000 members of the former security agencies associated with the PA into the existing security agency in Gaza. It also mentioned the formation of a higher security council by means of consensus that would make the necessary reforms, after elections are held, and re-merge the security agencies in cooperation with an Arab security committee, the backbone of which would be Cairo.

Matters changed after the coup in Egypt, as the new Egyptian leadership closed the crossing in order to suffocate and weaken Hamas. The Egyptian leadership also repeatedly called for the need for the “legitimate authority” to supervise the crossing, as well as the borders between Gaza and Egypt, with a coy reference to the reconciliation agreement and its mechanisms, especially with Cairo abandoning its responsibilities as the broker. Meanwhile, President Mahmoud Abbas totally obliterated the basis and foundations of the reconciliation with his constant talk of Hamas surrendering to the PA, or what he describes as restoring legitimacy in Gaza.

Simply, frankly and clearly, the blockade and the closure of the Rafah crossing has been used to blackmail Hamas and force it to surrender to Egypt’s and Abbas’s conditions by completely leaving power. In return, Abbas will kindly waive his condition of Hamas handing over its weapons, even if for a specific duration. Abbas ignored the equation that the Islamic movement agreed to after the April 2014 Al-Shati agreement, which included its acceptance and improvement of the famous Tunisian equation, which involves leaving government and remaining in power or authority and in the institutions in general.

Truth be told, despite the presence of a military political trend in Gaza that is not keen on the reconciliation and is looking for just the illusion of the PA’s return as well as a means to resolve Gaza’s problems without making any political or security concessions, the majority of the Hamas leadership, especially abroad, is serious and open to the reconciliation. They are willing for the government in Gaza to oversee the partnership and for institutions to carry out their duties without marginalising or excluding any party, given the fact that Hamas possesses the same legitimacy possessed by Abbas, as the constitutional term of the president and PLC have ended.

Therefore, after Abbas’s approval and openness, or rather his involvement in the blackmail of Hamas with the issues of the crossing and the siege in order to force Hamas to give in to his conditions, and his abandonment of the spirit of the reconciliation agreement and the concept of partnership in general, the Egyptian leadership proposed a new condition that is undoubtedly a complete and explicit blackmail of Abbas.

Cairo knows that Abu Mazen and a large part of the Fatah and PA leadership are rejecting reconciliation with Dahlan in any form. They also officially issued a firm response to this last November when Cairo attempted to gather the two sides together. They also responded to Egypt and Dahlan’s leaks promoting the idea in an official statement from Fatah, issued by its Central Committee, considering the Dahlan issue to be completely over and even criminal, accusing him of using political funds abroad to achieve personal and partisan political goals.

Despite this, Cairo proposed the condition of reconciling with Dahlan to tell Abbas if he wanted to achieve a political, economic and morale victory against Hamas and force it to surrender and give in to resolve Gaza’s crises and lift the siege, including opening the crossing, then it must do the same with Dahlan. Egypt is sending the message that the road to Gaza not only passes through the necessary reconciliation with Hamas, but also through a forced reconciliation with Dahlan that would put Dahlan back onto the scene, perhaps even as a serious candidate, in the eyes of his regional sponsors, Cairo and Abu Dhabi, to succeed Abbas.

We cannot deny the fact that reconciliation within Fatah is important and required because a large part of Fatah feels weakened and marginalised, especially those in Gaza. Resolving Fatah’s political conflicts must be in a partisan and democratic manner. As for the criminal accusations, they certainly belong in the just, independent and unpoliticised judiciary. However, it is not logical to link opening the crossing or the national reconciliation to the partisan reconciliation, specifically between Abbas and Dahlan.

The national reconciliation is also required, needed and urgent to achieve partnership without exclusion or a stronger and weaker party. This must be paired with honest and honourable implementation of the reconciliation agreements and understandings, of course by means of an unbiased and honest mediator by a party other than Cairo, as it abandoned its role and mediation and also refuses to allow any other party to carry out the dirty work. Despite this, the lack of a national or partisan reconciliation should not justify, in any case, the closure of the Rafah crossing or its use to blackmail Palestinian leaderships in the PA, Fatah or Hamas.

In short, the Egyptian road map to open the crossing includes unrealistic and even impossible demands. It is worth noting that opening the crossing in a regular and periodic manner for humanitarian purposes and emergencies, only requires Egyptian political will and decision, and this must not be associated, under any circumstances, with the developments and results of the internal Palestinian actions and movements. As for the permanent opening of the Rafah crossing, it must be linked to a necessary national reconciliation that practically occurred since the Al-Shati’ Agreement at the hands of the Palestinians themselves after Cairo abandoned its role and sponsorship, and the lack of any other party willing, or capable, of doing the job.

Translated from Arabi21, 3 February 2016.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Majed Azam) frontpage Thu, 04 Feb 2016 14:59:43 +0000
Jerusalemite family threatened with eviction granted appeal https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23738-jerusalemite-family-threatened-with-eviction-granted-appeal https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23738-jerusalemite-family-threatened-with-eviction-granted-appeal Supreme court of Israel

The Israeli High Court this week approved a request by a Jerusalemite family to appeal the eviction ordered issued to them by the Israeli Magistrates' Court in 2014.

A hearing is now due to take place on 8 September before a panel of three judges. An injunction placed by the court will remain in place until the conclusion of the proceedings.

Justice Mini Mazoz, who preliminarily considered the Ghaith-Sub Laban family’s appeal request, indicated that the family had strong arguments which require the previous decisions to be re-examined. Mazoz further indicated that the family's appeal raises serious questions regarding the alleged abandoning of their house and the decision to evict the family.

The decision comes in contrast to the findings of both the magistrates' and district courts who ruled in favour of the family's eviction under the claim that they had abandoned their house.

The decision to grant the family the right to appeal comes in light of an international campaign by the family and a group of activists to pressure the Israeli government to stop the family's eviction and cease the forced displacement of Palestinians through evictions and house demolitions

Nora Ghaith-Sub Laban said: "All the efforts to pressure the Israeli government and involve foreign diplomats are paying off. Israel knows that the world is watching and this can change the outcome, not only in my case, but hopefully it can put an end to Israel's policies of displacing Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. These efforts should continue.”

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Thu, 04 Feb 2016 14:44:29 +0000
Blind Gazan sees no limit in sight https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23737-blind-gazan-sees-no-limit-in-sight https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23737-blind-gazan-sees-no-limit-in-sight Blind Gazan works as car repairerEXCLUSIVE IMAGES & VIDEO

In spite of being blind, Raed Al-Reefi’s disability has not stopped him from continuing to make a living through car repairs. Al-Reefi suffered a stroke to his eye.

The 37-year-old, who supports his family of six, told MEMO that he returned to work after losing his eyesight, as he did not lose his insight and continued working at his repair shop.

Two workers help Al-Reefi by completing the melding and cutting the iron. However he is still able to fix the bodies of cars.

Losing his eyesight has made completing his job more difficult as auto body repairs are very specific and sometimes boil down to just a few millimetres. His disability does however cause his work to take days longer than it did before.

Raed has tried to seek treatment in a number of other countries, and despite the high costs, he is still hopeful that he will see the light of day once again and be able to continue his work, see his children and go on with his life normally.

Images by MEMO photographer Mohammed Asad.

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noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Thu, 04 Feb 2016 12:44:41 +0000
Qatar meetings will identify main issues of Hamas-Fatah reconciliation https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23736-qatar-meetings-will-identify-main-issues-of-hamas-fatah-reconciliation https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23736-qatar-meetings-will-identify-main-issues-of-hamas-fatah-reconciliation Head of Hamas’s political bureau, Khaled Meshaal

The Hamas-Fatah meetings taking place in Qatar will identify the main issues of mutual reconciliation, Editor-in-Chief of the Qatari Al-Sharq newspaper Jaber Al-Harami said.

Senior Hamas and Fatah delegations are due to meet in Doha on Saturday to discuss the deadlock in the mutual reconciliation.

Speaking to Al-Resalah, Al-Harami said: “The preparation meetings will decide a meeting between Hamas chief Khalid Meshaal, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah Chairman Mahmoud Abbas,” noting that the aim of these discussions is to “break the ice” between the two movements.

Al-Harami said Qatar proposed the discussions hoping to finalise previous efforts. He also said that the Palestinian cause is in urgent need for the reconciliation of the two largest factions.

Fatah hailed the Qatari efforts to forge reconciliation with Hamas however media reports point at PA acts which aim to undermine efforts leading to lifting the Israeli-led siege which has been imposed on Gaza since 2006.

Al-Harami said that any positive results in the reconciliation talks “must be reflected in the improvement of life” in the Gaza Strip.

He said: “There are external and internal sides attempting to undermine the Qatari efforts, mainly regarding electricity.” He reiterated that there are Arab sides rejecting the Turkish efforts to lift the siege on Gaza as part of a potential deal between Turkey and Israel.

He said that Qatar and Turkey are closely cooperating to ease the life of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, mainly by lifting the siege. He noted that Qatar knows very well that there is a regional and international pressure to maintain the siege on Gaza, adding that this would not affect efforts to remove it.

Egypt still has a great role to play in the Palestinian issue despite the fact it has given up its “historical” role, Al-Harami explained.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Thu, 04 Feb 2016 12:18:06 +0000
France considers military intervention in Libya https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/23735-france-considers-military-intervention-in-libya https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/23735-france-considers-military-intervention-in-libya ISIS Soldiers

The French government said on Wednesday that it is considering military operations against Daesh in Libya should the appropriate conditions be fulfilled, Anadolu has reported.

Spokesman Stephane Le Foll said that the required conditions are the formation of a Libyan government in the capital Tripoli, a subsequent request from the government for a military operation by France and, as happened in Mali, an international resolution for such an intervention.

The media in France has said recently that Daesh has been trying to control Libyan oil supplies. The group is building up its power continuously, it has been reported, mainly with new members from North Africa. The UN believes that Daesh has between 2,000 and 3,000 fighters in Libya.

According to Anadolu, France has not yet carried out any military operation in Libya, but it has been making reconnaissance sorties over the border from its military base in Niger.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Thu, 04 Feb 2016 12:12:18 +0000
Pentagon: Only 10% of Russian airstrikes target Daesh in Syria https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/23734-pentagon-only-10-of-russian-airstrikes-target-daesh-in-syria https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/23734-pentagon-only-10-of-russian-airstrikes-target-daesh-in-syria The Pentagon, USA

Only ten percent of Russian air strikes in Syria have targeted Daesh, a Pentagon spokesman said on Wednesday.

“It is very clear that Russia is not targeting the so-called Islamic State [Daesh] with its airstrikes. Their offensive operations, their strikes, are in support of Bashar al-Assad and his regime,” said Army Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for the US-led coalition against Daesh.

“That is the focus of Russian airstrikes,” he said, adding that whoever the regime is fighting is the target of the strikes.

The US military official refused to comment on reports that Russia has deployed four advanced Sukhoi Su-35S Flanker-E aircrafts to Syria, saying the US is aware of these reports, but is not in a position to confirm them.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Thu, 04 Feb 2016 11:54:14 +0000
Turkey praises Tunisian transition to democracy https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/23733-turkey-praises-tunisian-transition-to-democracy https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/23733-turkey-praises-tunisian-transition-to-democracy Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu praised Tunisia’s democratic transition during his meeting with Ennahda leader Sheikh Rashid Ghannouchi on Tuesday.

The pair met at the central headquarters of the Justice and Development Party in the Turkish capital Ankara and discussed the current developments in the region, Ghannouchi said. He said Davutoglu praised the Tunisian model for change adding that the political elite have showed wisdom which helped protect the country from the fate of the rest of the Arab revolutions.

Ghannouchi expressed his gratitude to Turkey for standing alongside Tunisia, and called on the Turkish state to encourage businessmen to come to invest in his country. He also extended his congratulations to the prime minister for the huge victory achieved by the Justice and Development Party in the recent parliamentary elections.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Thu, 04 Feb 2016 11:39:42 +0000
US, France accuse Assad of seeking military solution in Syria https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/23732-us-france-accuse-assad-of-seeking-military-solution-in-syria https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/23732-us-france-accuse-assad-of-seeking-military-solution-in-syria Syrian President, Bashar Al-AssadThe United States and France have accused the Syrian government and Russia of seeking a military solution for the Syrian crisis.

“The continued assault by Syrian regime forces - enabled by Russian air strikes - against opposition-held areas, as well as regime and allied militias' continued besiegement of hundreds of thousands of civilians, have clearly signalled the intention to seek a military solution rather than enable a political one,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement yesterday.

“It is past time for them to meet existing obligations and restore the international community’s confidence in their intentions of supporting a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis,” Kerry said, addressing the Syrian regime “and its supporters.”

“During this pause in the talks, the world needs to push in one direction - toward stopping the oppression and suffering of the Syrian people and ending, not prolonging, this conflict,” he added.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has also condemned the Syrian regime forces’ attacks on Aleppo, the largest city in northern Syria.

“France condemns the brutal offensive by the Syrian regime, with the support of Russia, to encircle and asphyxiate Aleppo and its hundreds of thousands of inhabitants,” Fabius said yesterday as talks in Geneva aimed at securing peace in Syria were suspended until 25 February.

“France fully supports the UN special envoy’s decision to suspend negotiations to which neither Bashar Al-Assad’s regime nor his allies clearly want to contribute in good faith, thus torpedoing peace efforts,” he added.

Forces loyal to Al-Assad yesterday claimed to have severed the last opposition supply line to Aleppo.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Thu, 04 Feb 2016 11:37:41 +0000
Lavrov: Syria airstrikes will continue until ‘terrorists’ defeated https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/23731-lavrov-syria-airstrikes-will-continue-until-terrorists-defeated https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/23731-lavrov-syria-airstrikes-will-continue-until-terrorists-defeated Sergey LavrovRussian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Wednesday that his country will not stop its air strikes on Syria until armed groups, such as Jabhat al-Nusra, are defeated.

“Russian strikes will not cease until we really defeat terrorist organisations like Jabhat al-Nusra. And I don’t see why these air strikes should be stopped,” he said at a news conference in Oman’s capital Muscat.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that Russia should stop bombing opposition forces in Syria now that UN-led peace talks have started.

Lavrov said it would be difficult to impose a cease-fire unless Syria’s border with Turkey was secured to prevent smuggling and the movement of fighters.

Sweden: Russia targets Syrian opposition to undermine it in peace talks

He added that his country has “pragmatic ideas” regarding the cease-fire process and noted that they have spoken with Washington which heads the Syria support group. These ideas would be discussed during the International Syria Support Group meeting which is due to commence in Munich on 11 February, Lavrov added.

UK accuses Russia of trying to create an Alawite state for Assad

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Thu, 04 Feb 2016 11:30:37 +0000
UN concerned about Al-Qeq’s condition https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/23730-un-concerned-about-al-qeqs-condition https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/23730-un-concerned-about-al-qeqs-condition UNEXCLUSIVE VIDEO

United Nations announced on Tuesday it was “deeply concerned” about the quick deterioration in the health condition of Palestinian hunger striking journalist Mohamed Al-Qeq who is being held in an Israeli jail.

The UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Assistance and Development Aid for the occupied Palestinian territories, Robert Piper, said he is “deeply concerned about the continued practice of administrative detention in Israeli jails and detention centres.”

He added that he “is alarmed by the rapidly deteriorating health of Palestinian administrative detainee Muhamed Al-Qeq, who is on hunger strike in protest against the arbitrary nature of his detention and ill-treatment.”

According to data from the Israeli Prison Service, he said, there were 527 Palestinians, including one woman and five minors, who are held under administrative detention in Israeli prisons at the end of November 2015. Palestinian NGOs put the number at 650.

Piper’s spokesperson, Farhan Haqq, said: “Piper reiterated the United Nations’ long-standing position that all administrative detainees - Palestinian or Israeli - should be charged or released without delay. All allegations of ill-treatment must also be independently and promptly investigated.”

Al-Qeq was put in administrative detention for six months; a system of endless and renewable imprisonment without charge or trial.

In protest against his detention, Al-Qeq started a hunger strike which has now gone onto its 72th day. His health situation has deteriorated and led to him being hospitalised and risking organ failure. His lawyer said his legs have been chained to his hospital bed.

To date he has lost 35 kilogrammes and has had a mild stroke. Israeli officials began force-feeding him yesterday.

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noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Thu, 04 Feb 2016 11:29:43 +0000