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 Wed, 02 Sep 2015 14:43:12 +0000 MEMO en-gb Stopping the temporal and spatial division of Al-Aqsa https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/blogs/politics/20791-stopping-the-temporal-and-spatial-division-of-al-aqsa https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/blogs/politics/20791-stopping-the-temporal-and-spatial-division-of-al-aqsa Dr Mousa Abu-MarzoukThe Israeli occupation has closed the doors to Al-Aqsa Mosque from 7.30am to 11.30am, during which they prevent worshippers from entering the mosque. This is being carried out in light of Arab silence and Palestinian preoccupation with projects that only deepen the divide; projects that separate us, not unite us.

The occupation has closed the doors to Al-Aqsa Mosque and is trying to prevent our presence in Al-Aqsa and legally prosecute those who are stationed in Al-Aqsa and Al-Awqaf employees. There has also been an increase in the storming of Al-Aqsa, led by the terrorist Miri Regev, the Israeli Minister of Culture and Sport and the Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, Ze'ev Elkin.

The Israelis believe that the current state of the Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims allows them to take such measures that aim to divide Al-Aqsa in terms of time. What are we doing about this? Jerusalem is the compass of our nation, its political kiblah, and the source of its pride and dignity.

There must be media, political, and social campaigns to confront the Zionist plans on an individual, collective and factional level.

On a Palestinian level, Al-Aqsa needs to be attended to by Abu Mazen and Fatah in order to mobilise the Palestinians for this cause. What the Israelis are effectively doing is tearing up the Palestinian arena and dividing it; will anyone respond to this?

Al-Aqsa is the first kiblah of the Muslims, the third holy mosque, a beacon for Arabs and Muslims and the source of their sovereignty and concern. Will Arab and Muslim leaders take action to stop Al-Aqsa Mosque from suffering the same fate as Al-Ibrahimi Mosque?

Will the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, Al-Quds Committee, Al-Azhar, kings, presidents, leaders and emirs all take action to thwart the Zionist plan to enforce the temporal division of Al-Aqsa? If the Zionists succeed, God forbid, this will be a prelude to spatial division and the beginning of the construction of a temple or synagogue in the Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard.

There are still people stationed in Al-Aqsa and they will not allow the Zionists to implement their plans; not now and not ever. They act as the armor and fortress of Al-Aqsa and are a source of honour and pride for their nation. We are counting on them and await their victory. They will ask you: “When will this happen?” Say, “perhaps it will be soon.”

Translated from Qudsnet, 2 September, 2015

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Dr Mousa Abu-Marzouk) frontpage Wed, 02 Sep 2015 13:57:38 +0000
Gaza gets a connection: Grooms attend weddings via Skype https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20790-gaza-gets-a-connection-grooms-attend-weddings-via-skype https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20790-gaza-gets-a-connection-grooms-attend-weddings-via-skype Skype logoIn one of the wedding halls in the Gaza Strip, bride Salwa Reziq is sitting alone on stage her groom is nowhere to be seen, he works in Qatar and, because of the ongoing blockade on the Strip, is unable to attend his wedding.

Everything in the wedding hall seems ideal except Salwa, 24, who is sitting without her groom, Khalid Reziq, 29, who is watching the wedding via Skype.

Salwa has been engaged to her cousin Khalid for one year, awaiting his return to Gaza, however, she lost hope and decided to organise the wedding alone and then travel to Khalid when the crossings are open.

“I feel sad for marrying my daughter off to her cousin without his attendance,” mother of the bride Sameera, 49, said. “We waited for him to come back for a long time, but in the end, we decided to take this decision.”

Such wedding celebrations have become common in Gaza due to the almost continuous closure of the Rafah Crossing, which is the main terminal for the more than 1.8 million Gazans to the outside world.

Egypt closed the crossing in July 2013 when General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi carried out a military coup against the first-freely elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. It is now only open sporadically.

Rana Yaghi, 25, said she was forced to organise her wedding knowing her husband would be unable to attend as he works in Saudi Arabia.

“It is shocking and saddening when the wedding ends and you go to your father’s home again, not to your husband’s home,” Yaghi said. “We waited for one year and then decided to take this decision. The siege causes much trouble for us.”

Huda Faris, 23, said she couldn’t fully enjoy her wedding because her parents, who live in Kuwait, were unable to attend. “I had never imagined I’d get married without my parents being present, without holding my father’s hand,” she said.

“We waited and waited, but decided to organise the wedding without them,” she added. “My brothers attended my wedding, but that was not the ideal wedding I had planned for.”

Thousands of Palestinians have been living in diaspora for decades. Huda’s father is working in Kuwait and could only watch the wedding party via Skype. “It was not like a wedding party,” she said, “it was like a conference to exchange old memories when we were together.”

Sheikh Hassan Al-Jojo, head of the Sharia Court which registers marriages and divorces in Gaza, said that many engagements are being broken off because of the difficulties couples face in uniting and crossing the border.

Israel has imposed sever restrictions on the movement of Gazans since 2006, when Hamas won the Palestinian general elections.

Since then, Egyptian authorities have closed the Rafah Crossing.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Wed, 02 Sep 2015 13:52:14 +0000
Abbas will not run to become president of PLO Executive Committee https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20789-abbas-will-not-run-to-become-president-of-plo-executive-committee https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20789-abbas-will-not-run-to-become-president-of-plo-executive-committee Mahmoud AbbasPalestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will not run for the position of president of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), he has said.

In remarks to Quds Press, Secretary of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council Amin Makboul revealed that Abbas informed members of the movement’s Central Committee of his decision. The elections are due to take place in the coming weeks in Ramallah.

Makboul added: "Although members of the Executive Committee asked him to reverse the decision, the president’s personal desire was not to run for presidency." Abbas did not clarify who will be chosen as his successor, saying only that "the movement will look into the decision and take a position at the right time.”

Also read the interview with former Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath: Abbas asked us to prepare for his departure.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Wed, 02 Sep 2015 12:29:37 +0000
Egypt army to flood Gaza tunnels with water https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/20788-egypt-army-to-flood-gaza-tunnels-with-water https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/20788-egypt-army-to-flood-gaza-tunnels-with-water Gaza tunnelsEgypt’s military will flood the area along the border with Gaza with water, in a new bid to destroy underground tunnels between Sinai and the Palestinian territory, a Palestinian security source told Anadolu Agency.

“The Egyptian army has begun to build huge pipelines along the border with the Gaza Strip,” the source said.

He said the project “aims to destroy underground tunnels by filling the area with water.”

There was no comment from Egyptian authorities on the report.

Blockaded by Israel since 2007, Gaza used to receive much-needed supplies through the network of smuggling tunnels on its border with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

Since the 2013 military coup against President Mohamed Morsi, Egyptian authorities have cracked down on the smuggling tunnels along the border with Gaza.

Egypt claims the tunnels are used in militant activities inside Sinai.

Last year, Egyptian authorities began to establish a buffer zone in North Sinai’s city of Rafah along the border with Gaza following a spate of militant attacks against army and security forces.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Wed, 02 Sep 2015 12:21:31 +0000
1,325 people killed in Iraq in August: UN report https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20787-1325-people-killed-in-iraq-in-august-un-report https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20787-1325-people-killed-in-iraq-in-august-un-report Iraq has suffered a devastating security vacuum since June of last year, when the Daesh militant group overran the northern city of Mosul.At least 1,325 people were killed in August in ongoing violence across war-torn Iraq, according to a monthly report issued Tuesday by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

Of these deaths, 318 were registered in capital Baghdad alone.

The monthly death toll, the report noted, included 585 civilians and 740 Iraqi security personnel, including members of pro-government militias.

According to the same report, another 1,811 people -- including both civilians and military personnel - were injured over the same period.

In July, 1,332 people were killed and 2,108 injured across the country, according to UNAMI.

Iraq has suffered a devastating security vacuum since June of last year, when the Daesh militant group overran the northern city of Mosul before capturing additional territories in both Iraq and neighboring Syria.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Wed, 02 Sep 2015 12:18:27 +0000
Blair, Gaza and all that gas https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/europe/20786-blair-gaza-and-all-that-gas https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/europe/20786-blair-gaza-and-all-that-gas File photo of Tony Blair with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuOf all the bizarre encounters the Palestinian conflict has generated, Tony Blair’s four meetings in Doha with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal must surely rank as among the oddest.

Here was the Quartet’s Middle East envoy breaking the Quartet’s own rules about not talking to Hamas until it recognises Israel - rules that Blair and Jack Straw enforced as prime minister and foreign secretary by pressing the EU to declare Hamas a terrorist organisation. Two of the four meetings were held before Blair resigned as envoy.

Here was Blair, the man linked in mind, body and soul to the military coup in Egypt (he said the army intervened "at the will of the people" to bring democracy to Egypt) attempting to mediate between Hamas, Israel and Egypt - the two countries that have kept a stranglehold around Gaza’s neck. The Egyptian leader has been an even more zealous enforcer of the blockade than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In a British context, Blair’s dialogue with Hamas took place as his supporters accused the left-wing candidate in the Labour leadership race, Jeremy Corbyn, of making Labour unelectable if he became leader. Corbyn had advocated talks with Hamas and Hezbollah - a crime of which the man who won power three times was a repeat offender.

Blair did not just talk to Meshaal. He invited him to London, offering him a specific date in June, on which the current prime minister, David Cameron, must have agreed. This is the same prime minister who has strived and failed, so far, to publish a report branding the Muslim Brotherhood presence in Britain as extremist. Bizarre.

And yet Blair kept going, even after the existence of the talks was revealed by Middle East Eye. In the last few days he has still been pushing the deal in Cairo. Why?

His motivation is not obvious. It is surely not out of any belated humanitarian concern for 1.8 million Gazans. As prime minister and peace envoy, Blair had provided Israel with valuable international cover for one operation in Gaza after another. Nor can it be out of any love for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. He regards Islamism as an ideological enemy. To borrow Peter Mandelson’s words, Blair is intensely relaxed about helping dictators with grievous human rights records, in the Emirates, Egypt and Kazakhstan, countries that share his conviction that Islamists must be wiped off the political map.

Blair told Hamas he had secured the agreement of three of the five potential partners to a deal that would open up Gaza’s borders in exchange for an unlimited ceasefire - the Saudis, Emiratis and Jordanians. But without Israel and Egypt, no deal could be said to exist.

After four meetings, Blair and Hamas discussed the possibility of continuing the ceasefire that is currently in place in exchange for an immediate opening of all borders and the immediate payment of the salaries of all government workers in Gaza. These two steps would be followed by talks about a seaport, an airport and the reconstruction of the enclave.

Everything else was off the table: Hamas did not agree, as Blair had been pressing them, to any form of words about political negotiations being the way forward, or anything that would reanimate an Oslo process now considered to be dead. Hamas would only agree to a continuation of the ceasefire, not a hudna with a minimum stated time limit. The ceasefire would only affect Gaza, not the West Bank, where Hamas said resistance against the settlers and the Israeli army would continue; the proposed deal would have had no bearing on a prisoner exchange.

Meshaal took a rain check on the offer of a trip to London. Hamas told Blair they would only take this process forward if it had the backing of Israel and Egypt. That Blair has failed to achieve, and the process is regarded to have reached a dead end, sources told MEE on Tuesday.

In Israel itself, the talks had its backers, mainly, although not exclusively, outside the government. The most notable convert was Naftali Bennett, the head of the far-right Jewish Home party and current education minister, who said a week after fighting began last summer: "The army can wipe out Hamas. We have a strong people which is telling the leadership: 'Do whatever it takes to get it over with'." Now, he has changed his tune. He told Channel 2 recently: "Egypt and the Palestinian Authority [PA] want things to be bad in Gaza so that we will continue fighting; it is good for them ... But at this stage I am against it. The situation is that Hamas is there."

There were others. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin; Yisrael Katz, the transportation and intelligence minister; Yuval Diskin, the former head of Shin Bet; Shaul Mofaz, former defence minister; Yair Naveh, the former deputy chief of staff of the Israeli army; and Efraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad, have all expressed support for talks with Hamas, direct or indirect.

Netanyahu and the government itself remain staunchly opposed. This can either be because Netanyahu cannot accept a deal in which Hamas remains as an active combatant in the West Bank, or because he never intended to reach a deal in the first place. The process of reaching a deal with Hamas was always going to be more inviting to him than the result. The process would mean Hamas having an incentive to keep things quiet, and Netanyahu also would be responding to pressure from citizens in southern Israel. The result would mean abandoning a policy to isolate and weaken Hamas, of which he has been one of the most effective enforcers.

On this, Netanyahu cannot be accused of inconsistency. He makes no distinction here between which brand of Palestinian leader he is dealing with - one who recognises Israel or one who does not. Netanyahu’s record on the national issue is clear: talks never reach a conclusion. They are never anything more than a way of buying time.

He is not alone. If a deal were to be secured that allowed Hamas's 50,000 government workers to be paid, it would be over Mahmoud Abbas's dead body. As the International Crisis Group argues in its latest report, the PA has much to lose from ending the blockade and little to gain.

Since mid-2013 when nearly all the tunnels under the Rafah border with Egypt were closed, the PA’s revenue that Israel collects on goods going into Gaza on its behalf has greatly increased. The report quotes a minister in the national consensus government - appointed by Fatah and involved in Gaza’s reconstruction - who attributes primary responsibility for the stasis to the Palestinian president’s office, which, he said, “has no intention of rebuilding Gaza or taking responsibility for it”.

The signals from Egypt are just as bleak. In June, the head of the Egyptian intelligence was all smiles as he met a delegation from Hamas, and the Rafah border remained open for that week. That was before the attack on 1 July by Sinai fighters, for which Egypt blamed Hamas. The latest signal was the abduction of four members of Hamas' al-Qassam brigades travelling through North Sinai, which Hamas blames on the Egyptian military - not the Islamic State (IS) group.

Who gains from this brief interlude of talks? Obviously, the Quartet’s conditions for excluding Hamas from negotiations have now been breached, as has the EU declaration on Hamas as a terrorist organisation. Blair irritated the Swiss, who see themselves as the chief conduit for negotiations with Hamas, even more than he did Mahmoud Abbas.

However it styled its war on Gaza last year, the Blair talks are a sign that Israel does not want to repeat the experience, at least any time soon. Hamas has become the address to go to in Gaza, and preferable to any available alternative, certainly preferable to the chaos of militias competing with each other to fire rockets off at Israel and the prospect that one day IS could inherit Hamas’ mantle. Exiled Fatah strongman Mohamed Dahlan’s efforts to buy himself back into favour in Gaza by funding weddings has largely been at Abbas’s expense.

For Netanyahu, Blair may have been useful in testing the waters, but it looks as if he has reached his limits as a go-between. For Egypt, the opening of the Rafah border would mean surrendering its chief foreign policy card. There are no signs it is prepared to do this.

Which brings us back to Blair. What was in it for him? This has everyone scratching their heads. But there are some clues.

Last year months before the start of the Doha talks, an academic with access to Khaled Meshaal was approached by Israelis at a conference in Europe. They wanted him to pass on a specific request. If British Gas developed the gas field in Gaza Marine, (a field between 27 and 33 km off the coast of Gaza thought to contain a trillion cubic feet of gas) would Hamas attack it? The academic wanted to know who was asking the question - the Israeli government? No, the reply came: “It was Tony Blair.” The academic refused to pass the message on and told them Tony Blair should contact Meshaal himself.

How curious. Blair privately claims he got involved in the talks at Hamas’ request - as a result of a letter Hamas sent to UN peace process envoy Robert Serry. But his interest in the gas off Gaza’s coast predates that. British Gas Group are clients of JP Morgan, for which Blair was paid as a senior advisor.

This field is, in the words of the Foreign Office, by far the most valuable Palestinian natural resource. Revenues from its output were estimated in 2007 to be worth $4bn. Ariel Sharon was always against its development, and when he pulled out of Gaza, British Gas signed a memorandum with the Egyptian company Egas to sell it there in 2005.

The deal was cancelled a year later when Blair intervened at the behest of then-Israeli premier Ehud Olmert. Thirty times as much has now been discovered in a field off Egypt. Who knows what the fields of Gaza could contain. No conflict? Plenty of interest.

David Hearst is editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye. He was chief foreign leader writer of The Guardian, former Associate Foreign Editor, European Editor, Moscow Bureau Chief, European Correspondent, and Ireland Correspondent. He joined The Guardian from The Scotsman, where he was education correspondent.

This article was first published on the Middle East Eye.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (David Hearst) frontpage Wed, 02 Sep 2015 12:12:33 +0000
Women’s bank deposits in Saudi reach $16bn https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20785-womens-bank-deposits-in-saudi-reach-16bn https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20785-womens-bank-deposits-in-saudi-reach-16bn Abdul Rahman Al-Zamil stressed the importance of the Council of Chambers’ role in providing and presenting work opportunities to women.

The value of women’s bank deposits in Saudi Arabia has reached $16 billion, the president of the Council of Saudi Chambers revealed yesterday.

Speaking at the Second Saudi National Businesswomen Forum, Abdul Rahman Al-Zamil said: “The development in the vital and strategic sectors we are witnessing in Saudi Arabia opens greater horizons for investment, especially in light of the ambitious plans and investments adopted by the Kingdom which are currently being executed. The value of these investments has reached tens of billions of dollars across the various sectors.”

Adding: “Women’s investments are an important partner that must play a greater role in the structuring and building process.”

He expressed his hope that the forum would contribute to “the exchange of expertise and cooperation amongst businessmen and businesswomen in order to develop and improve the female investment sector. This sector can greatly contribute to the country’s economic development and increase the number of job opportunities for women, especially in light of the rise in female unemployment rates which have reached about 32 per cent in remote areas, while male unemployment rates are five per cent.”

Al-Zamil also mentioned the establishment of a coordination council for women’s work within the Council of Chambers. He said that he hopes the council will play a major and supportive role alongside the Ministry of Labour by providing suitable work opportunities for women. He also stressed the importance of the Council of Chambers’ role in providing and presenting work opportunities to women.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Wed, 02 Sep 2015 12:15:18 +0000
Dahlan visit raises concerns about foreign control over Egyptian media https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20784-dahlan-visit-raises-concerns-about-foreign-control-over-egyptian-media https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20784-dahlan-visit-raises-concerns-about-foreign-control-over-egyptian-media Mohamed DahlanThe recent visit of Mohammed Dahlan to Egypt has sparked controversy about his role as head of a UAE channel which is funding Egyptian media outlets with the intention to control and influence them. The disgraced ex-Fatah “strongman” has been a frequent guest in the Egyptian media due to his apparent huge investment projects in media projects which support the current regime in Cairo.

Reports have emerged recently which suggest that the UAE is channelling new funding to the Egyptian media in an effort to counter Saudi influence. According to well-known columnist Wael Abdel Fattah writing in Al-Tahrir newspaper, the Emirates government has pumped nearly $1 billion into the Egyptian media through Dahlan in order to control it and strengthen its role in supporting the army’s agenda.

Saudi Arabia, claimed Abdel Fattah, has given the same amount to Egypt through Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in a bid to control what he described as the Egyptian “mind, perceptions and ways of life”. Such competition, he added, is part of a silent cold war between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to extend their influence in the Arab region.

Meanwhile, Egyptian TV presenter Syed Ali criticised Dahlan’s visit to Egypt. “He does not have any political status to be received in this way,” he claimed on Monday. “Newsweek said that Dahlan is mediating peace between Egypt and Ethiopia, which was denied by the Egyptian foreign ministry, so someone must explain the purpose of his visit to Egypt.”

Hundreds of activists expressed anger at Dahlan’s visit to Cairo, which included holding a seminar at Al-Youm Al-Sabee newspaper. The protesters argued that Dahlan does not represent the Palestinian people or their cause. “He brings ruin to every country he visits and intervenes in their policies like he did in Libya through his arms dealing,” said one, who asked to remain anonymous.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Wed, 02 Sep 2015 12:09:38 +0000
341 documented cases of human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza this year https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20783-341-documented-cases-of-human-rights-violations-in-the-west-bank-and-gaza-this-year https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20783-341-documented-cases-of-human-rights-violations-in-the-west-bank-and-gaza-this-year Palestinians being detained by Israeli forces [file photo]The Independent Commission for Human Rights of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah has said that it has documented 341 human rights violations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by Palestinian authorities since the beginning of this year.

The announcement came days after the publication of a report by Addameer in the West Bank in which it detailed the involvement of the Palestinian Authority’s security services in acts of torture against detained activists from various Palestinian factions. This was confirmed by another report issued by the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in Britain.

In its statement issued yesterday, the foundation demanded that those involved in crimes of torture are held accountable for their acts by bringing them to a fair trial. The demands also included releasing citizens who are detained without legal justification and ensuring that they are not subjected to physical abuse or deprived of their liberty.

The independent body stressed the need to ensure appropriate treatment and compensation as well as a proper physical and psychological rehabilitation for those who were subjected to torture. It also outlined mechanisms to ensure that detainees are not subjected to human rights violations in detention centres.

According to foundation: “Torture is a serious violation of the right to physical integrity, which is guaranteed by basic Palestinian law and the relevant international conventions and treaties. Torture is a crime against humanity whose prosecution should not be barred by any statute of limitations.”

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Wed, 02 Sep 2015 12:04:46 +0000
Morocco’s prime minister calls for wide participation in local elections https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/20782-moroccos-prime-minister-calls-for-wide-participation-in-local-elections https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/20782-moroccos-prime-minister-calls-for-wide-participation-in-local-elections Morocco’s prime minister, Abdelilah BenkiraneMorocco’s prime minister called on Tuesday for the people of his country to participate in the local and regional elections to be held later this week. Abdelilah Benkirane made his plea during an election rally in Fez.

He explained that his Justice and Development Party is working with its allies on political and constitutional reforms which, it is hoped, will overcome issues which constrain the political process, such as rampant bribery and corruption. Friday’s elections, he stressed, should help to complete the kingdom’s democratic process and enable all citizens to participate in the political life of the country.

The Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) won Morocco’s parliamentary elections for the first time in 2011 and formed a government which was approved by King Mohammed VI in January, 2012. Benkirane’s government has 13 ministers, 11 of whom are from the PJD, including one woman.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Wed, 02 Sep 2015 12:02:00 +0000
Abbas asked us to prepare for his departure, reveals Shaath https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/resources/interviews/20781-abbas-asked-us-to-prepare-for-his-departure-reveals-shaath https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/resources/interviews/20781-abbas-asked-us-to-prepare-for-his-departure-reveals-shaath Nabil Shaath


Nabil Shaath is a senior member of the central committee of Fatah, the Palestinian National Liberation Movement. He has revealed that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas asked the movement’s leadership recently to “arrange its affairs so they are not taken by surprise when he leaves this world and meets his creator.” However, during an exclusive interview with Arabi 21, Shaath insisted that this does not mean that Abbas wants to leave politics: “He just wants us to be ready for all possibilities.”

The interview comes at a time when change is becoming ever more necessary within Palestinian politics. Calls for a meeting of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) have proven to be controversial, with accusations of excluding certain factions in order to ensure that Fatah retains its hegemony. The need to reform the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) is also recognised in order to make it more inclusive.

According to Shaath, President Abbas wants to “regain the legitimacy of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” Given that a major player in Palestinian politics like Hamas is not represented within the PLO, and there have been enormous difficulties in getting Fatah and Hamas to reconcile for the common good, this could be an impossible task. Shaath believes that Hamas is “still hesitant on the issue of achieving Palestinian unity” and that “the price” of indirect negotiations between Hamas and Israel is the occupation’s “domination” over the Gaza Strip.

The following is the text of the interview:

There is talk that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is determined to leave politics; is there any truth to this?

President Abbas has spoken about this on many occasions, but this does not mean he wants to leave politics. He wants to remind us that he is over 80 years old and so Fatah must put its affairs in order so that it is not taken by surprise when he leaves this world and meets his creator. As such, Abbas’s continuous threats do not mean that he wants to leave politics, as he is committed to the national work to which he has dedicated his life; it means that he has reached an age that, according to him, should push us to be ready for all possibilities.

What are the most important arrangements that the president is working on regarding the PLO or Fatah?

They include holding the seventh Fatah conference, electing a new Central Committee and a new Revolutionary Council, and adopting a new political programme; these are the first steps. President Abbas has a specific vision in this regard which I will not talk about. It will be discussed during the Central Committee meeting. He wants to regain the legitimacy of the PLO, which has always been the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. In order to do so, he wants to hold a PNC meeting. He also seeks to achieve Palestinian national unity, but he believes that Hamas is not serious about this as it does not accept all of the alternatives proposed. The president certainly wants to end the Israeli occupation but he believes that it is no longer possible to achieve a free, independent Palestinian state through the peace process he has sponsored since the 1980s. As such, there is a need to look for a new framework and new actions in order to liberate Palestine; he proposes this all the time and in every place.

In the light of this, what is the president’s vision for the future of the Palestinian people?

Abbas feels that the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and activating the right of return has become elusive due to the current Israeli leadership and Zionist settlement strategy. He believes that the matter has become very difficult and so we must first restructure ourselves and arrange our affairs before employing strategies that can change this reality. This is the reason for our international action against Israel so that we can confront it everywhere, including the International Criminal Court (ICC), etc. This is not only his ambition; we all share it.

President Abbas insists on holding a PNC meeting, while the President of the council, Salim Zanoun, has stressed that “an extraordinary session cannot be held”; how can the two be reconciled?

Reconciliation occurs when we strive to have all members attend, and so the meeting will not be an extraordinary session, but a normal one. The difference between the normal and extraordinary session is the attendance of the members, and we are now working in order for everyone to be present.

What are your alternative arrangements in the event that the Israelis prevent some members from reaching the PNC meeting venue in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank?

There is the electronic alternative known as the video conferencing system, which is used for the Palestinian Legislative Council. However, before resorting to this, we will contact our friends everywhere in order to pressure the Israeli occupation authorities to allow the PNC members from Gaza, Amman and Cairo to attend the conference.

How do you perceive Hamas’s position on holding this meeting?

Hamas is still hesitant with regards to the issue of achieving Palestinian unity and this is very clear. I am not accusing the movement of not wanting to achieve unity at all, but I do believe that it has considerations and calculations that are more related to the Arab situation than the Palestinian situation. The occupation will not allow the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza or both unless we put up a big and long fight. The indirect talks between Hamas and the occupation, which is what Hamas is calling it, will not change anything. The price of this will be Israel’s domination over the Gaza Strip by not allowing any breach of the upcoming truce and through close security monitoring of everything going on in Gaza. Therefore, I stress that there will be no Palestinian state without Gaza and there will be no Palestinian state solely in Gaza.

If Egypt and Jordan do not want the meeting to be held in their territories, what can we do? We must meet in Palestine. Without Palestinian unity, it will be difficult for us to achieve independence and establish a Palestinian state.

Why don’t the obstacles hindering the PNC meeting drive the call for the elected PLC to resume its work and solve this problem?

Hamas has a large majority of the PLC seats and this reflects its position from [the election in] 2006. Therefore, there is a problem of members moving between Gaza and Ramallah and we will face the problem of having to communicate via video conferencing. It is worth noting that between 2006 and 2007 (the year of the division) it had been using video conferencing. In this regard I would like to ask why video conferencing can be used for the PLC but not by the PNC.

On BBC Arabic, Mohammad Dahlan accused Abbas of seeking to arrange the PA in a manner that suits him, his sons and those close to him. What do you say to this?

Mohammad Dahlan can say whatever he likes, but ultimately there is the PNC and it decides. In fact, there was an opportunity to achieve unity before talk of the PNC, but Hamas thwarted this. Abbas wanted to achieve unity before the PNC in order to agree on a new PNC and form a national unity government that would elect the new PNC and new PLC, and this is the logical solution because the results of the elections would be reflected in the make-up of the new government. This would achieve a PLC and cabinet that expresses true Palestinian national unity.

What about the next Fatah Central Committee meeting? What is the main agenda for this meeting?

This meeting is important, serious and historical because it will, to a large extent, determine the form of the seventh conference, which will be held on 29 November. There are many important and sensitive issues that will be discussed and decisions will be made in this regard during the meeting to be held on Monday. The Central Committee Preparatory Group will present its vision for the political programme, national structure and a structural programme for the movement. We will also present the structural organisation to the members in attendance at the conference in terms of numbers, not names, i.e. determining the number of members from a military background, from popular organisations, etc.

Fatah is preparing for its seventh conference and it is clear that President Abbas is pushing you to prepare for the movement’s future in light of his departure for any reason. Who is your strongest candidate to replace Abbas?

There is no one candidate at the moment and it is not democratic to have a single candidate. At the time, we will choose a candidate from within the organisational framework of the movement, such as from the Central Committee or from the Revolutionary Council. The movement’s conference is coming up and whoever is chosen will be supported by Fatah in any upcoming presidential election, whether for the presidency of the Revolutionary Council or the PA. Fatah’s new Central Committee and Revolutionary Council will present what it decides during Fatah’s upcoming conference and then a new president will be chosen.

What if you, Dr Nabil Shaath, is chosen by Fatah to be the PA president?

If I am chosen, I would agree. Throughout my life I have been charged with many things and I have never backed down from my responsibility. However, I am not the only person who can do the job. There are many alternatives and the people must choose. If I am chosen, I will assume the position.

What about the position of vice president?

This requires a PLC meeting because it is the party responsible for this. For now, the PNC can recommend this, but this is not possible for the PA unless it completely transitions into a Palestinian state and its PLC becomes its PNC. This requires the election of a new PNC.

Are you in contact with Hamas?

Of course; I have never stopped communicating with Hamas or with any other faction. I always insist that we find the middle ground between us in order to liberate our country. I have never considered the movement to be the enemy. Hamas is a Palestinian faction and an integral part of the Palestinian fabric, but it must step up to reunite this country.

Translated from Arabi21, 1 September, 2015

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Arabi21) frontpage Wed, 02 Sep 2015 11:52:00 +0000
Over 3 million Iraqis currently displaced https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20780-over-3-million-iraqis-currently-displaced https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20780-over-3-million-iraqis-currently-displaced A Yazidi fighter in Iraq [file photo]The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has said that over 3 million Iraqis have been internally displaced from January 2014 through to 30 July, 2015.

According to IOM’s Iraq Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM)  87 per cent of these displayed Iraqis are originally from three governates: Anbar (40 per cent of displayed persons) Nineva (33 per cent), and Salah Al-Din (14 per cent).

IOM’s Iraq Chief of Mission Thomas Lothar Weiss warned that displaced people in Iraq are even more vulnerable in the intense summer heat, noting that his organisation is working in cooperation with the UN Humanitarian Country Team, humanitarian partners and government authorities to provide shelter, health care and psychosocial support.

The escalation of fighting in Anbar between the Islamic State militant group and Iraqi forces have contributed to the growing waves of internally displaced people in Iraq.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Wed, 02 Sep 2015 11:47:39 +0000
UN receives $1.77 billion donated for Syrians https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/20779-un-receives-177-billion-donated-for-syrians https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/20779-un-receives-177-billion-donated-for-syrians The UN has received $1.77 billion out of the $2.65bn pledged for the Syrians during the donor conference held in Kuwait earlier this year. The details were revealed by UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien on Tuesday during his speech at the fifth meeting of donor states, also in Kuwait. He noted that 7.5 million Syrians have been displaced internally, while 4 million others have sought refuge in other countries.

Meanwhile, the head of the Kuwaiti NGO International Islamic Charity, and the UN envoy for humanitarian affairs, Abdullah Al-Matouq, hailed the participation of Switzerland as a new member of the group of big donors. He also noted the participation in the conference of countries hosting large numbers of Syrian refugees.

Al-Matouq warned that the crisis might outrun the abilities of the donor states and humanitarian aid agencies to make any significant impact. The fact that the conflict is now entering its fifth year without a solution, he said, is a “shameful stigma on the human conscience.”

Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Khalid Al-Jarallah said that the UN reports show that more than 220,000 Syrians have been killed, with more than a million others wounded in the fighting.

In three donor conferences held in Kuwait in 2013, 2014 and 2015, $3.8 billion was pledged by donors.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Wed, 02 Sep 2015 11:41:47 +0000
US ready to support Tunisia politically, economically and militarily https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/20778-us-ready-to-support-tunisia-politically-economically-and-militarily https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/20778-us-ready-to-support-tunisia-politically-economically-and-militarily US flagUS Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA), Ann Patterson, has expressed her "appreciation for the major role" played by Ennahda to achieve a successful democratic transition in Tunisia and to save the country from sliding into unrest similar to that witnessed by other Arab countries.

In a press released published by Ennahda yesterday, Patterson was speaking during a meeting with the movement’s head Sheikh Rashid Ghannouchi in Tunisia on Monday. Patterson asserted: "The United States’ readiness to provide political, economic and military support for the Tunisian government, which will improve the standard of living and economic situation of the Tunisian people.”

The meeting was also attended by US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour Tom Malinowski, Ennahda foreign relations official Dr Rafik Abdul Salam; advisor to the movement's head Lutfi Zaytone; and member of the People's Congress Meherzia Labidi.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Wed, 02 Sep 2015 11:31:19 +0000
Yemeni president asks Saudi Arabia for more weapons https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20777-yemeni-president-asks-saudi-arabia-for-more-weapons https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20777-yemeni-president-asks-saudi-arabia-for-more-weapons Abd Rabbuh Mansur HadiYemen’s president in exile has asked Saudi Arabia for more weapons to help with the fight against the Houthi rebels in his country. Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi made his request on Tuesday for extra support for the Yemeni National Army and the Popular Resistance in Ta’ez, Anadolu has reported.

President Hadi told Saudi Chief of Staff General Abdul-Rahman Bin Saleh in a telephone call that intensified airstrikes against the “coup militias” and continued cooperation are required to liberate the area around Ta’ez. He hailed Saudi’s support to-date, not least with the Arab coalition led by the Saudis.

For months, there have been clashes between the National Yemeni Army and the Popular Resistance on one side, and the Houthi militias backed by troops loyal to ousted Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh on the other.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Wed, 02 Sep 2015 10:49:08 +0000
MB supports refugees fleeing oppression in their countries https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/20776-mb-supports-refugees-fleeing-oppression-in-their-countries https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/20776-mb-supports-refugees-fleeing-oppression-in-their-countries The Muslim Brotherhood has announced its deep concerns and full support for the refugees who are obliged to “flee the oppression of their rulers, looking for new destination where they find freedom and dignity,” Alamatonline.com has reported.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the group thanked all countries that have hosted these migrants and afforded the basic needs for these “oppressed and tortured” people.

The group also called for all countries and international organisations to offer aid and assistance to these refugees, as well as to facilitate the surmounting of all obstacles facing them, especially after the inability of international powers to stop the continued oppression in their countries of origin.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Wed, 02 Sep 2015 10:44:58 +0000
Egyptian authorities take over five publishing houses https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/20775-egyptian-authorities-take-over-five-publishing-houses https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/20775-egyptian-authorities-take-over-five-publishing-houses Egyptian authorities have taken control of five publishing houses thought to belong to the Muslim Brotherhood, an outlawed organization in the country, Alamatonline.com reported a senior lawyer saying yesterday.

The publishing houses:

  • Dar Al-Ifta
  • Arab Media Centre for Research and Publishing
  • Dar Al-Fadilah
  • Iqraa Institute for Publishing
  • Horouf For Publishing and Distribution

Lawyer and Secretary-General of the government committee tasked with confiscating Muslim Brotherhood property, Mohamed Aboul-Fotouh, said all the branches of the publishing houses across the country were taken over by the Ministry of Culture.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Wed, 02 Sep 2015 10:34:41 +0000
In Morocco, reform is the electoral challenge https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/africa/20774-in-morocco-reform-is-the-electoral-challenge https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/africa/20774-in-morocco-reform-is-the-electoral-challenge [File photo of a woman voting]Among the Arab Spring developments, Morocco has positioned itself as an exceptional political experience in the region. The monarchy, Islamist-led government and opposition parties and groups have generally agreed on the strategic narrative that sacrificing stability — via demanding regime change — risks not only overturning the political square but also changing the current geopolitical map completely. As a result, Morocco has been portrayed as a flagship of a state initiating political change without giving up the benefits of socio-economic stability.

The 2011 constitutional amendments had led to the election of a new government, but local elections have been delayed several times. Instead of 2012, they are now taking place this month. One key reason for the delay is that political parties feared a large Justice and Development Party (PJD) win. Despite the demographic, geographical and political differences, opposition parties in particular deemed the PJD’s emphatic parliamentary win and increasing popularity to be a likely boost for another local and regional victory. Thus, they kept calling for the elections to be delayed, especially to prevent the polls from coinciding with major governmental reforms, such as creating a fund for supporting widows and orphans.

A second reason is that the extended regionalisation project lingered in the corridors of the specialised parliamentary committee. It finally saw light in May, after lengthy discussions and diverse amendments dealing mainly with the number of regions, the kind of powers to pass on to the regional councils, the way that the powers would be passed on, the educational level of the regional presidents and the regional councils’ transparency and accountability. All of these issues are pending while checks are made to see if regional limitations will persist.

Administratively, Morocco is divided today into twelve regions. For each region, a governing council is to be elected on 4 September. As a further step in a larger decentralisation approach to solve territorial disputes, regional councils are endowed with a number of powers to initiate economic, infrastructural, social and cultural reforms.

Yet, despite the paramount importance and great expectations of the regionalisation project, no benchmark has been set on each regional president’s educational level or number of mandates. This, though acknowledging the illiteracy levels in Morocco, allows experienced, often corrupt, candidates to lead whole regions for long periods. Regional presidents can be pushed to step down, if the given procedure is followed and the given administrative court takes the decision in due time.

In the coming elections, the main challenge is to extend and rectify the reforms that the government has carried out. Before the second version of the Islamist-led government, political discourse was based on highlighting the importance of stability for reform. Both majority and opposition politicians commonly used to claim that there would be no stability without reform, or no reform without stability, meaning that hampering reforms or failing to concretise them in fact jeopardised stability.

Today, stability is no longer a challenge, at least in political discourse. Thus, the whole focus in the forthcoming local and regional elections is shifting towards reform.

Reform is determined by a number of factors. The first is the wider context across the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region. Characterised by regression, counter-revolutions and foreign intervention, different Islamist experiences have been forced to halt bloodily or to step back.

It is possible that the current elections were perceived as closure for the Arab Spring democratic outcomes. Up until the recent change in the Saudi leadership following the death of King Abdullah, Moroccan politicians generally feared that foreign pressure would lead Islamists to suffer the fate of the Ennahda Party in Tunisia, if not worse. That is why the UAE’s Dhahi Khalfan’s tweets against Moroccan Islamists received wide condemnation. Thus, Morocco needs to send a glimmer of hope for the rest of the Arab Spring countries that public advocacy can generate reform and improve socio-economic situations.

The presence of Islamists at the head of the government can also influence reform. Although it is true that the PJD has faced stiff opposition and harsh criticism of some of its decisions — and the Istiqlal Party withdrew from its first cabinet — the party has persevered towards finishing its five-year mandate. With local and regional elections, the PJD is expected to lead a number of city and regional councils. This will not only encourage political actors — including the monarchy — to accommodate their presence, but will also allow PJD candidates to gain more public trust for the party by localising and broadening the reforms and changes that the government has been implementing.

The third factor for reform is the quality of candidates. True, all PJD list heads are graduates, with 20 per cent of them holding PhDs. Yet, 70 per cent of the 140,000 candidates are participating in elections for the first time, and many of them are illiterate or corrupt. With insufficient experience and inadequate education or transparency, meeting reform challenges requires more political awareness and managerial training, otherwise the same parties that promise reform will be its main obstacle.

The fourth factor is the forthcoming parliamentary election. Political discussions and expectations are looking at the 2015 local and regional elections as a public referendum on government reforms and a practice run for the 2016 parliamentary elections. Political parties compete for local government seats with eyes on parliamentary seats and national cabinet posts where key decisions are taken. It is not just government or opposition popularity which is under scrutiny, but also, and more importantly, the public will to support reform and participate in determining its pace.

In a nutshell, despite its decisive importance, the Moroccan socio-economic fabric may be rocked, not by the absence of stability, but the presence of unsteady political reforms, indications of regression and ongoing corruption. With political parties presenting unqualified candidates for local, regional and national elections, they risk instilling a sense of despair, strengthening counter-reform projects and increasing public opposition to the “reform within stability” narrative. For many parties, reform has to start from within.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Abderrahim Chalfaouat) frontpage Wed, 02 Sep 2015 10:29:12 +0000
Yemen’s warring parties urged to enable emergency aid https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/20773-yemens-warring-parties-urged-to-enable-emergency-aid https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/20773-yemens-warring-parties-urged-to-enable-emergency-aid International Medical Corps

Yemen’s warring parties have been urged to enable desperately-needed emergency humanitarian assistance for civilians trapped in Taiz.

International Medical Corps issued a call September 1, for relief agencies to be granted “the humanitarian space needed to get emergency aid to civilians” in the country’s third largest city.

According to Chris Skopec, International Medical Corps’ Senior Director for Emergency Preparedness and Response, “to save the lives of those innocent civilians caught up in the fighting, emergency relief organizations operating in Yemen, who practice strict neutrality in the conflict, must be given the space needed to assist those in urgent need.”

The conflict has placed an immense toll on Yemen’s health care system, which is understaffed and under-resourced at a time when the demands on emergency and lifesaving care are increasing by the day.

International Medical Corps focuses on relieving the suffering of those impacted by war, natural disaster and disease, by delivering vital health care services that focus on training. In Taiz, the organisation supports hospitals and clinics, providing clean water and medical supplies.

It also provides mobile medical and nutritional care and distributes emergency supplies to conflict-affected populations from Aden in the south to Sana’a in the north. International Medical Corps is one of the few international humanitarian relief groups still operating in Taiz.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Wed, 02 Sep 2015 09:44:54 +0000
Israel asks Egypt to stop efforts to monitor Israeli nuclear facilities https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20772-israel-asks-egypt-to-stop-efforts-to-monitor-israeli-nuclear-facilities https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20772-israel-asks-egypt-to-stop-efforts-to-monitor-israeli-nuclear-facilities Israels Dimona nuclear research facility Israel has demanded that Egypt halts its efforts to put forward a resolution requiring Israel to subject its nuclear facilities to international inspection. The motion is expected to come up for a vote at the general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA) in two weeks, senior Israeli officials said.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper on Tuesday quoted Israeli sources (who declined to be named) as saying that an Israeli delegation headed by ministerial envoy Yitzhak Molcho conveyed this message to the Egyptian authorities during a visit to Cairo three weeks ago.

The newspaper said that Molcho, along with National Security Advisor to the Israeli prime minister Yossi Cohen, met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and other officials to discuss the issue.

According to the paper, Israel believes that the Egyptian foreign ministry has been leading efforts to open Israeli nuclear facilities to international supervision for years.

The sources added that the Egyptian position has caused in recent months in relations between the two countries.

A senior Israeli official said that Israel expects Egypt to change its policy in this regard as a result of the close security and intelligence cooperation between the two countries, which has been on the rise since President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi came to power.

The newspaper reported that Israeli envoys made it clear during their meeting in Cairo that Israel is not pleased with Egyptian efforts at the IAEA and that these efforts do not reflect normal relations between the two countries, adding that these moves will not succeed because Israel will deter them as it did in past years.

Israel became angry with Egyptian efforts in May when the Egyptian foreign ministry submitted a draft resolution at the United Nations in non-proliferation conference in New York. So far, Egyptian efforts have been foiled a result of joint Israeli, British and American efforts.

The draft resolution, entitled “Israel’s nuclear capabilities” calls for Israel to open its nuclear facilities to United Nations observers and to hold an international conference on nuclear disarmament in the Middle East.

Although the draft resolution is non-binding to the UN Security Council, Israel fears it will cause great political damage to Israel and draw international attention to its as-yet undeclared nuclear capabilities.

The sources said that Israel has launched an international campaign to thwart the Egyptian’s efforts since July, and expects their attempts to fail as they have previously.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Wed, 02 Sep 2015 09:29:15 +0000
UN: ‘Gaza could be uninhabitable by 2020’ https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20771-un-gaza-could-be-uninhabitable-by-2020 https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20771-un-gaza-could-be-uninhabitable-by-2020 houses and buildings destroyed by Israeli airstrikes

The Gaza Strip “could be uninhabitable by 2020,” news agencies reported the UN warning yesterday.

In a report published for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) the nearly decade long Israeli siege on the Strip along with last summer’s Israeli military assault which demolished most of the enclave’s vital infrastructure were given as reasons for the potential disaster.

“The social, health and security-related ramifications of the high population density and overcrowding are among the factors that may render Gaza un-liveable by 2020, if present trends continue,” the report said.

It added: “Reconstruction efforts are extremely slow relative to the magnitude of devastation, and Gaza’s local economy did not have a chance to recover.”

“There is no time for meaningful reconstruction or economic recovery after eight years of a devastating Israeli economic blockade.”

Commenting on the report, UNCTAD's Mahmoud Elkhafif said: “The fact that electricity is not enough, that a number of hospitals have been destroyed, the fact that there is no drinking water enough, it is just what any rational human would (not) doubt what's going to happen.”

He added: “I mean, we had had a study before the destruction of 2014 indicating that Gaza will not be livable in 2020, it's not that things stayed as they were in 2020 but they got much, much worse in 2014."

In 2014, the Israeli occupation carried out a massive offensive on Gaza that resulted in the death of about 2,260 Palestinians and wounded more than 11,000 others.

It also destroyed more than 18,000 homes, hospitals and other facilities.

“In another sign of the deteriorating conditions on the ground,” the UNCTAD report said “that in the year 2000, 72,000 people depended on food aid, but now that number has risen to almost a million.”

It added: “In Gaza, unemployment is as high as 80 per cent.”

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Wed, 02 Sep 2015 09:08:33 +0000
Latin America, neo-imperialism and Palestine https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/resources/reports-and-publications/20770-latin-america-neo-imperialism-and-palestine https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/resources/reports-and-publications/20770-latin-america-neo-imperialism-and-palestine Latin America, neo-imperialism and PalestineDownload the full transcript of the address by Dr Guillaume Long at the MEMO international conference: Palestine & Latin America in the 21st century.

This address was delivered on August 22nd 2015, in London.

Dr Long is the current Ecuadorian Minister of Culture and Heritage, and president of the International Relations Commision of Alianza PAIS (ruling party). He was minister of Knowledge and Human Talent.

He started his political career as the president of the Board of Evaluation, Accreditation and Quality Assurance in Higher Education (CEAACES). He holds a PhD in International Politics from the Institute for the Study of the Americas, University of London.

Click here to download the document.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Dr Guillaume Long) frontpage Tue, 01 Sep 2015 17:07:51 +0000
Family Day at Newbury's Arabian Horse Racing https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/blogs/culture/20769-family-day-at-newburys-arabian-horse-racing https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/blogs/culture/20769-family-day-at-newburys-arabian-horse-racing Rasaasy in the Emirates Equestrian Federation International Stakes


THEY call horse racing “The Sport of Kings” and during my time in Britain I have certainly always associated it with Royalty. I ran into Queen Elizabeth II during my first visit to Ascot a few summers ago, and am used to seeing some of the richest people in the world during my trips to race tracks. The sport generates more than £4 billion a year for the UK economy, much of it through betting, and many of the most famous meetings are as much a part of the High Society “season” as Wimbledon or the Henley Regatta.

Top hats off, then, to His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, deputy ruler of Dubai and the Minister of Finance, who is doing so much to democratise the sport. He is the mastermind behind the annual Dubai International Raceday at Newbury, the historic racecourse close to the Berkshire town which has been hosting meetings since 1905.

While there are still plenty of wealthy race goers who turn up at Newbury, it was the Skeikh’s intention to get thousands of more modest punters through the door. He has achieved this by not only letting people in for free, but by handing out free “goody bags”, and offering draw prizes including family holidays to Dubai and a Citroën C1 car.

Sartorial elegance is always very important at British race meetings, so there was a prize for the most impressive children’s hat, and best dressed lady. Sixteen local schools competed in the Arabian Rainbow painting competition: one that challenges youngsters to come up with an original “Newbury Races” design using acrylic paints on model horses. It has already earned upwards of £50,000 for West Berkshire schools.

“It’s not what you’d normally associate with horse racing at all,” said David Hughes, a father-of-four whom I met at Newbury at the end of July. “You think of it as a rich person’s sport, but this weekend it’s the complete opposite.

“I’ve been able to get my entire family into the meeting for free. The children have been given free gifts, and have a chance of winning more prizes, while participating in different activities – from face painting to ‘selfie’ competitions. It’s a fantastic day out. Watching the horses in action has been particularly enjoyable. They’re amazing.”

Despite showers and a brisk wind, an 8000 plus crowd watched eight races with horses from 12 different countries. Organisers said simple Arab values – and especially support for the family – were at the heart of the Sheikh’s generosity.

British children could be seen having body art applied to their palms and arms by Henna artists – a practice which is typical throughout the Arab World. Among them were three sisters – Jess, Tilly and Emily Wilshire – who said they would do it again. “Today has been a magical day,” Emily enthused.

His Excellency Mirza Al Sayegh, director of the Sheik’s Office said: “We love to see grandparents, parents and children all coming together, in a classically Arab manner. For many of the children, it’s often the first time they’ve attended a horse race. It would be wonderful if we could inspire them to become jockeys or trainers.”

The Newbury races are, in particular, a flagship event for some of Europe’s best Purebred Arabian horses. Mr Al Sayegh added: “The race is a formidable showcase for Arabian horses, which are an iconic symbol of romance, pride and beauty. They are another powerful aspect of Arab heritage and culture which the crowds here can get to know.”

Newbury has had close links with Arab racing since the mid-80s, when the first Dubai International Arabian Race meetings were held there. Jockeys, trainers and all others involved view such meetings as “parties”, as they share the event with all the spectators.

It has all proved such a success, that the concept has spread abroad. Mr Al Sayegh explained: “The Dubai International Arabian Races now extend to many countries beyond the UK but the Newbury race day remains very special to Sheikh Hamdan.”

Julian Thick, the head of Newbury Racecourse said, “The event has moved around our calendar in recent years, but now that it has returned to its traditional successful slot on the fourth Sunday in July we are looking forward to building on the excitement that the fixture generates in the local area as a family event that should not be missed.”

Unlike Ascot, it might not provide a chance to see the Queen, but with the best aspects of Arab culture on display, there is no doubt that Newbury is rapidly turning into a must-visit for ordinary racegoers everywhere.

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noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Nabila Ramdani) frontpage Tue, 01 Sep 2015 15:48:35 +0000
Lebanon's Islamists welcome Berri's national dialogue initiative https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20768-lebanons-islamists-welcome-berris-national-dialogue-initiative https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20768-lebanons-islamists-welcome-berris-national-dialogue-initiative Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker, Nabih Berri

Lebanon’s Islamic Group expressed its support for the protests held against the “the political elite’s indifference towards citizens’ hardships.”

The group’s political bureau issued a statement yesterday welcoming the initiative presented by Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri in which he called for holding a national dialogue to find a solution for the crisis that has hit the country. Berri noted that the national dialogue he called for would not replace the state’s institutions and the government.

The Islamic Group stressed that it is important that the government continues to work in light of the presidential vacuum and the stalemate that hinders the parliament’s activities. The group called on the prime minister to activate the role played by the cabinet council and its meetings so as to ensure that the state’s institutions continue to operate and protect the country from a political vacuum and collapse.

The statement demanded that radical solutions be adopted in order to resolve the country’s crisis and stressed the need to elect a new president soon, noting that this is key for Lebanon to get out of the crisis.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Tue, 01 Sep 2015 14:45:36 +0000
The latest attack on Jeremy Corbyn is only half the story https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/blogs/politics/20767-the-latest-attack-on-jeremy-corbyn-is-only-half-the-story https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/blogs/politics/20767-the-latest-attack-on-jeremy-corbyn-is-only-half-the-story Jeremy CorbynThis morning, The Jewish Chronicle published a story with the headline ‘Jeremy Corbyn campaigned for Israeli embassy car bombing pair’, stating that the Labour leadership candidate had been “a leading activist in the campaign for the release of two people who were jailed for their involvement in the bombing of a Jewish charity building and the Israeli embassy in London.”

The two people in question, Jawad Botmeh and Samar Alami, were found guilty in 1996 of conspiracy to cause explosions in the UK, following car bomb attacks two years previously outside the Israeli Embassy and Balfour House in London which injured 19. Both maintained their innocence throughout and, though losing appeals, were subsequently released early on parole.

The paper describes Corbyn as having “repeatedly raised the case in Parliament as part of the long-running campaign to overturn their convictions as a miscarriage of justice”, as well as having “signed five early day motions in support of their case between 2002 and 2006”, and supported Botmeh in a subsequent employment dispute at London Metropolitan University.

The article was written by the paper’s staff journalist Marcus Dysch, his ninth piece on Corbyn in the last two weeks. Dysch’s approach is sometimes too much even for editor Stephen Pollard, such as the reporter’s recent description of Deir Yassin as merely an “alleged” massacre.

At a similar time to Dysch’s report going live, an item on the same topic appeared on the pro-Israel blog Harry’s Place (which has been smearing Corbyn for years). The story itself, however, appears to originate with a post published on Sunday by a blog called ‘Denry’, whose author now prefers anonymity, but who previously blogged under the name of Sam Green.

This would appear to be the same Sam Green who in 2014 wrote for right-wing magazine Standpoint about a complaint he had made to the BBC, regarding coverage he deemed unfair to Israel. Green also shared details of the case with BBC Watch, an affiliate of Israel advocacy group CAMERA.

Corbyn’s support for Botmeh and Alami is a matter of record. But it comes as no surprise that The Jewish Chronicle, and the others, have neglected to mention some rather key aspects of the case – including the fact that Amnesty International were among those who questioned the convictions.

In their 1997 annual report, Amnesty International stated that “the pre-trial investigation gave rise to concerns that the charges may have been politically motivated.” In 2001, Amnesty repeated its concerns that the pair had been “denied their right to a fair trial”, and said “crucial questions” remained “unanswered”, including “the role of the various intelligence services, the actions of the Israeli embassy including in the investigation, and the nature of the initial police investigation.”

In 2000, The Guardian reported how “the avowed innocence of Samar Alami and Jawad Botmeh...have become a cause”, while a year later, the paper described the case as “a cause célèbre among civil rights groups.” The paper noted how former cabinet minister Lord Gilmour was one of Alami’s sureties, and that in addition to Corbyn, support also came from MPs Harry Cohen and Tony Benn – “as well as Jewish and Arab activists.”

Others who supported the pair over the years included Paul Foot, and Gareth Peirce who, a 2004 interview noted, had “campaigned on behalf of Samar Alami and Jawad Botmeh, whom she believes were wrongly convicted.” In 1999, Peirce addressed a 200-strong public meeting at the House of Commons in support of the pair. Even the Daily Express described the pair has having “gained far-reaching support” from various groups.

From the very beginning, as Robert Fisk wrote in 1998, the trial was widely seen as “a very puzzling affair.” Two years ago, a piece in the London Review of Books on the employment dispute referred to by The Jewish Chronicle, noted how “Botmeh and Alami’s convictions have widely been branded as unsafe.”

Even at Westminster, Corbyn was hardly alone when it came to concern about the pair’s case. The five EDMs that he signed accumulatively attracted the support of a further 71 MPs (including Labour, Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru, and even a Conservative). The most popular of those EDMs secured 43 names alone.

In addition, the primary sponsor of all five was not Corbyn, but former Labour MP John Austin (Corbyn, along with others, was a co-sponsor of the most recent). You can find the relevant EDMs online in chronological order here, here, here, here, and here.

Almost a month ago now, I wrote how the Corbyn campaign had already become a parody of itself. That does not appear to have dissuaded the die-hard mud-slingers – but encouragingly, it has also failed to make much of an impact in support for his leadership bid.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Ben White) frontpage Tue, 01 Sep 2015 14:53:59 +0000
Israel extends media blackout on deadly arson attack developments https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20766-israel-extends-media-blackout-on-deadly-arson-attack-developments https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20766-israel-extends-media-blackout-on-deadly-arson-attack-developments Settlers set fire to a Palestininan house, damaging the neighbouring property [pictured], and killing an 18-month-old baby and injuring others

The Israeli authorities extended the ban on Monday on media coverage of developments in the deadly arson attack which took place in Duma in July.

Jewish settlers set fire to the Dawabsheh family home during the attack in the village near Nablus in the occupied West Bank. Eighteen month old Ali Dawabsheh was burnt to death and his father Saad has since died of his injuries. The baby’s mother and brother are still in hospital after suffering serious burns in the incident.

The Israeli police issued a statement this week banning the media from publishing any details or developments related to the investigation until the end of September. An initial one month press embargo was issued on 31 July.

See also:

Palestinian baby burned to death in West Bank attack

Palestinian baby's father also dies from settler attack

Israeli forces storm the house of murdered toddler Ali Dawabsheh

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Tue, 01 Sep 2015 14:31:08 +0000
The discussion absent in Europe regarding the refugee crisis https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/20765-the-discussion-absent-in-europe-regarding-the-refugee-crisis https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/20765-the-discussion-absent-in-europe-regarding-the-refugee-crisis Hossam Shaker

Fifty thousand refugees have arrived recently in Europe and many more are on the way. They include Palestinians reliving their original catastrophe — the Nakba of 1948 — as they search for shelter. Hundreds, even thousands, have lost their lives in the process.

Until 2011, nearly half a million Palestinian refugees lived in Syria. It was generally understood that they were living the most stable lives compared to their compatriots. Yarmouk, the largest Palestinian refugee camp outside of Palestine, was described as “the capital of the Palestinian Diaspora”, and it basically became a residential extension of Damascus before it was turned into a scene of ruin, death and hunger by the Syrian conflict.

The tragedy that hit Syria has dispelled all illusions, though, with the realisation that the Palestinian refugee communities are actually extremely fragile and very quickly pay the price for any turbulence and crises in the host countries. This has happened before in Lebanon, Kuwait and Iraq.

Compared to the masses of refugees now flocking to Europe, the tragedy of the Palestinian refugees fleeing from Syria has its own characteristics. This lies in the fact that they are forced to endure a new “exodus” and suffering as they seek a place of safety, even though their homeland is little more than an hour’s drive from their refugee camps. The Palestinian families must make the long, perilous journey across borders, coasts and mountains, meeting the outrageous demands of the greedy, criminal gangs of human traffickers in order to reach Europe.

However, Europe is so preoccupied by the refugee crisis that it does not care about the essence of the problem that created it. As far as the Palestinians coming from Syria are concerned, the issue is fairly clear, so why doesn’t the European Union work towards the most logical and practical solutions, such as returning them to their own land, at least temporarily? Why is such a discussion missing from Europe’s meetings held to figure out ways to contain the crises on its borders?

Over a third of a million Palestinians, many of whom are refugees driven from their homes and camps, live in Europe. We are witnessing new chapters in their suffering; these human beings whom the Israelis have forbidden from returning to their land from which they were expelled in 1948 and 1967. They are not even allowed to visit their country, in a clear violation of international laws and conventions.

Logic dictates that we empower the Palestinian refugees with their legitimate right to return to their land and homes, which are nearby. If not, they will continue to be forced to look for safe havens across continents after disaster-ridden journeys. There is no doubt that a huge part of the responsibility for this lies with Europe, which created the historical conditions that resulted in the tragedy of the Palestinian people in the first place.

EU officials talk about the importance of linking aid to Eastern European countries with their willingness to accept their share of refugees, and there are even those who call for linking negotiations about joining the European Union to the countries’ treatment of refugees. Isn’t such discourse also required with the “Israeli partner” which benefits from many European economic, educational and military privileges and treaties?

Why is Europe unable to even think about using its influence to put pressure on the Israeli government to activate the Palestinian right of return, which was endorsed by UN General Assembly Resolution 194? The Palestinians, many of whom still have the keys to their homes in occupied Palestine, have the right to live in their homeland. The routes to their cities, towns and villages are well-known to those who want to ask about them, and maps are readily available.

If the European Union and the international community do not address the core of this issue by reviving and implementing the legitimate Palestinian right of return, then thousands will continue to head for Europe and many will die along the way. Which of these two possibilities does the EU and the rest of the world prefer?

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Hossam Shaker) frontpage Tue, 01 Sep 2015 14:26:59 +0000
‘Complicated’ security and political situation in Algeria https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/20764-complicated-security-and-political-situation-in-algeria https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/20764-complicated-security-and-political-situation-in-algeria James Robert Clapper

The director of Algeria’s Al-Ra’ed Centre for Studies, Suleiman Shnin, has expressed his belief that his country is heading towards a “complicated security and political situation”, Anadolu agency reported on Monday.

Analysing the repeated visits of the American officials to his country, Shnin said he expected Algeria to become a “strategic [US] ally in the war on terror,” citing the security and political “ambiguity” surrounding the visits of the officials.

In a statement, Shnin said that other international and regional officials have visited Algeria in addition to the American personnel.

“Nothing about the reasons for the visits has been declared,” he said, noting that the visit of the Chief of US National Information Department James Robert Clapper was the most important. Clapper is a security advisor for the US president.

Also significant, said Shnin, were the visits from the president of Mali and several Libyan officials.

Based on remarks of US Secretary of State John Kerry regarding Algeria’s role as a “strategic ally in fighting terror”, Shnin said that “we deduce that this is an American desire to develop the Algerian role” in the fight against terror in the region.

Shnin also gave special attention to the visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif amid media reports about a potential political solution for the Syrian issue, with Algeria as a possible host country for the safe exit of Bashar Al-Assad.

“Amidst of all what is going on, we, the Algerians, have no sources of information as our officials only produce briefed protocol remarks that are not longer than two lines,” he said.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Tue, 01 Sep 2015 14:02:59 +0000
Israeli energy stocks drop after Egyptian giant gas field discover https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20761-israeli-energy-stocks-drop-after-egyptian-giant-gas-field-discover https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20761-israeli-energy-stocks-drop-after-egyptian-giant-gas-field-discover Gas tanker sea ship

Israeli energy shares fell yesterday a day after Italian energy group Eni SpA announced the discovery of what is potentially the largest natural gas field in the Mediterranean off the coast of Egypt.

Israeli media described yesterday as a black day for Tel Aviv’s energy shares.

Israel’s the Marker magazine reported that the stock exchange index for oil and gas was down 7.6 per cent.

In a statement, Eni SpA said the newly discovered field could potentially hold 30 trillion cubic feet (850 billion cubic metres) of gas in an area of about 100 square kilometres (40 square miles).

“It's the largest gas discovery ever made in Egypt and in the Mediterranean Sea and could become one of the world’s largest natural-gas finds,” the firm said. The field is located at a depth of 4,757 feet (1,450 metres) in the Shorouk Block.

If the estimates are correct, the Zohr gas field would be significantly larger than Israel’s biggest field Leviathan, which is approximately 621 billion cubic metres.

In response to Eni’s announcement, Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said that the discovery of the gas field in Egypt's territorial waters should act as a wake-up call for Israel to finalise an agreement on its own sizable reserves in the Mediterranean Sea.

“The discovery of the huge gas field in Egypt is a painful reminder that while Israel wastes time with the final approval for the gas road map, and delays the processes, the world is changing before our eyes, including ramifications for Israeli export options,” Steinitz told Army Radio.

“We must approve the gas road map and strengthen the Israeli gas industry,” he said referring to a cabinet-backed deal to develop Israel’s Tamar and Leviathan reserves.

Avi Bar-Eli, an analyst at Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, said the discovery could harm the chances to develop Israel’s own Leviathan field on time, due to the fact that Egypt was supposed to be a major customer for the gas.

However, Member of the Knesset Shelly Yachimovich of the Zionist Union, who opposes Israeli gas companies and the government’s actions, said the discoveries prove that advancing Israel’s gas outline is not an issue of national security.

“It turns out that Egypt does not need our gas, and the government must now require the creation of a logical and sane outline, without fictitious panic and imaginary security explanations,” Yachimovich said.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Tue, 01 Sep 2015 13:34:09 +0000
Abadi’s reforms and the storm brewing in Iraq https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/20760-abadis-reforms-and-the-storm-brewing-in-iraq https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/20760-abadis-reforms-and-the-storm-brewing-in-iraq Tallha Abdulrazaq

Haidar Al-Abadi, Iraq’s Shia prime minister, recently introduced a raft of reforms with much aplomb to try and calm increasingly angry voices from the Iraqi people. Although largely Sunni protests had already erupted prior to these in 2012, they were brutally suppressed by Al-Abadi’s predecessor, current Vice President Nouri Al-Maliki. While the murder of peaceful protesters by the virulently sectarian Al-Maliki led to the uprising of Iraq’s Sunni dominated provinces, and eventually opened the door for the so-called Islamic State (Daesh) to re-enter the Iraqi arena in force, these protests have broad based Iraqi Shia support and appear to have already won concessions from the government. The reforms passed almost three weeks ago largely abolished various extraneous government posts, including Al-Maliki’s shared vice presidency, and promised to tackle the corruption of officials and ministries.

However, several disturbing events have since taken place that cast doubt upon the sustainability of these achievements. First and foremost among these developments are the threats made by officials fearing to be exposed and brought down by their corruption. Al-Maliki recently stated that any attempt to prosecute him for his years of mismanagement, embezzlement and corruption whilst holding the country’s top position will result in him exposing officials involved in serious crimes, including assassinations and murder. This threat was made with particular reference to a parliamentary investigation into the fall of Mosul to Daesh forces last year, and suggestions regarding Al-Maliki’s culpability for the biggest disaster yet inflicted upon the post-2003 Iraqi order. Rather than seeing these threats as further evidence of Al-Maliki’s knowledge and subsequent silence over serious and heinous crimes and ordering his arrest, Iraq’s political class, marginally less corrupt than Al-Maliki himself, seemingly took his threats seriously and folded.

On the subject of murder and violence, demonstrations in Basra have been called off after organisers received threats from Iran-backed Shia militias that they would disperse them with deadly force. Silencing these protests using extreme force would undoubtedly alienate the Shia populace which the Shia power holders rely upon and who have obvious and close links to these militias. Nevertheless, the mere threat of force is enough to deter many demonstrators who have seen what these militiamen are capable of doing to Iraqis. After all, the wanton murder of Iraqi Sunnis and the destruction of their lives, homes and businesses would be a familiar sight to normal Shias who access news sources other than the state media, and are painfully aware of the furthering sectarian schism occurring in their country as a result of the warped politics of their political elite. Moreover, hints of the violence that can be unleashed against them have already been demonstrated, when government forces forcibly dispersed protesters in the province of Babil, wounding seven demonstrators.

Whilst the sectarian Iraqi government felt comfortable slaughtering Sunni demonstrators throughout 2013 and beyond, they know that using too much force on their Shia coreligionists will cause them to lose the positions of power that have made them grow fat and rich at the expense of common Iraqis for the past 12 years. They can try to paint any and all Sunni dissenters as Daesh sympathisers and members and largely get away with it, but what will they say about the Shia protesters? It would be a tall story indeed to claim that the Shia are somehow crypto-Daesh fanatics masquerading as Shia. As such, and to avoid a wider confrontation, the militias and complicit officials acting from the shadows have decided to kill off the brains behind the demonstrations instead. Just yesterday, four protest organisers were assassinated across three Iraqi provinces. Khalid Al-Ukaily was shot dead outside his home in Baghdad, Musallam Arrukabi and Waleed Atta’i were both killed in the southern city of Nasiriyah, while Sheikh Sabah Al-Karmoushi was murdered in Basra after his car was rigged with explosives. Although they are dealt with differently, it is clear that Shia dissent is as intolerable as Sunni dissent.

Al-Abadi also needed to fall back on religious support to maintain his thrust to push through his reforms. Shia’s highest religious authority, the Persian Najaf-based Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, had to personally give his endorsement to Al-Abadi’s reforms in order to avert a Shia-on-Shia potential civil war. This is a disturbing development, as many will remember that it was Al-Sistani’s fatwa, or religious edict, that provided the religious impetus for the formation of the sectarian Popular Mobilisation Units militia. In an unstable, confessional political system such as Iraq’s, having a senior religious figure constantly interfering in and directing politics is dangerous, particularly as the reforms actually reduced Sunni representation in government. Furthermore, Al-Sistani is arguably making these moves as he is concerned that the Iranian clergy are trying to supplant his authority as the leading Ayatollah. He had plenty of other opportunities to issue strongly enforceable edicts against corruption and violence, yet did nothing more than issue the occasional loosely phrased condemnation, if that.

All of these political and social developments obviously cannot be separated from the ongoing war against Daesh. The Iraqi government and wider political process lost its legitimacy a long time ago, but it is now also losing the support of those who kept its bloated corpse propped up on the throne of power. In late May, Al-Abadi announced that Ramadi, the capital of the Anbar province in the Western Iraqi desert, could be recaptured from Daesh forces “in days”. It has been many days, indeed months, since that announcement and in the meantime the self-proclaimed Caliph of Daesh, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, must be laughing at the feeble attempts of the Iraqi regime to dislodge him even with the help of dozens of advanced countries including the United States. This is not the first time that the Iraqi authorities have been left with copious amounts of egg on their face. Prising Tikrit from Daesh’s grasp, a city defended by a couple of hundred fighters versus a force of 30,000 Shia militiamen, took about a month and a half after an overly optimistic announcement that it would be liberated within 72 hours.

With the continuing failure to deal with the Daesh crisis even after bombastic promises, as well as continued rampant corruption and a seeming slowing down of Al-Abadi’s reforms amidst continuing protests, the Iraqi political process is in danger of finally collapsing. If the government mishandles the protests and continues to allow the targeting of its organisers, they may have a bigger problem on their hands than just Daesh.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Tallha Abdulrazaq) frontpage Tue, 01 Sep 2015 13:03:52 +0000
US army demands Shia militia leave Ramadi https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/20759-us-army-demands-shia-militia-leave-ramadi https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/20759-us-army-demands-shia-militia-leave-ramadi US soldiers in Iraq

US forces in Iraq yesterday demanded the Shia Popular Mobilisation Crowd to leave the Sunni dominated city of Ramadi in the Anbar province.

An officer in the Anbar Police Command Lieutenant Colonel Abdul Sattar Halbusi said US forces stationed in Habbaniyah airbase, 25 kilometres east of Ramadi, issued a warning to the popular crowd militia to leave the strait east of Ramadi within 24 hours.

Halbusi told the Anadolu Agency that the Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades refused to leave the area.

He revealed that American advisers and military commanders reject the popular crowd’s presence in Ramadi for fear of sectarian violence against the city’s Sunni residents.

The US insists the Iraqi government withdraw allied popular crowd militias from Sunni areas recaptured from Daesh.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Tue, 01 Sep 2015 12:54:40 +0000
Does America really value democracy in Egypt? https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/americas/20758-does-america-really-value-democracy-in-egypt https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/americas/20758-does-america-really-value-democracy-in-egypt John Kirby, Rear admiral in the United States Navy

On 18 August, John Kirby, a spokesman for the US Department of State, condemned the human rights violations that have been taking place in Egypt as part of its war on terrorism. Despite his condemnation, though, Kirby also emphasised that America will continue to stand by Egypt.

In furtherance of this, US Secretary of State John Kerry accepted an invitation to Cairo recently in order to search for a middle path that would enable Egypt to continue its war on terror while also preserving human rights. This requires a great deal of strategic thinking so that trust can be built between the government and the people.

America’s lacklustre approach to maintaining the peace in Egypt has shocked activists lobbying for human rights and democratic values; many have given up on their hope that the US will help to implement a more ideal version of democracy, which it has tried to spread across the world. This is not the first time that people have been disappointed at America’s stance on Egypt, because the entire region is currently caught up in the chaos of foreign interference in domestic affairs simply so that foreign policy agendas can be implemented. In fact, the US has not supported democracy in Egypt since its pro-revolutionary sentiments in 2011, when it stood with the will of the people.

Since then, every American attempt to enable the implementation Egypt’s nascent democracy has been a blow to public relations. Democracy is not, however, Washington’s primary concern; it has demonstrated time and again that it has no problem about relegating democratic values to second place in order to protect America’s interests and position in the world. Brett Stephens, an expert on Arab affairs and President Obama's Middle East policy (Foreign Affairs, September-October 2015), put it succinctly when he described the US stance by saying that Americans value democracy and hold it dear but that it also instinctively threatens US interests in the region.

By taking the above factors into consideration perhaps we can identity the reasons for America’s current position on Egyptian events and why US national interests do not coincide with Egyptian democracy at the moment. The status quo does not reflect well on Obama or his administration; he has tried to implement the liberal values of the founding fathers and yet he failed to criticise the Mubarak regime in his famous 2009 speech, which prompted activists to protest in Cairo. Many human rights activists in Egypt view democracy as the inalienable right of everyone and mobilised themselves when the US president failed to criticise overtly the tyrannical nature of the Mubarak regime.

Egyptian journalist Abdel Halim Qandil emphasised later that one needs to understand that the US position on democracy in Egypt is not of Obama’s doing but belongs to his then Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates. Gates emerged from a meeting with Mubarak, saying that US aid to Egypt would not be enough of an incentive to improve its human rights situation.

The short-lived US honeymoon in support of democracy ended with the coup on 30 June 2013. Obama wasted many chances to help Egypt towards genuine democracy after the ouster of elected President Mohamed Morsi and the massacre in Rabaa Al-Adawiyya Square. We now know that what binds US-Egypt relations is hanging by a thread as the coup overlaps with the absence of democracy.

The US administration has long refused to call the military takeover in Egypt a coup because if it does it will have to suspend all economic and military support to the regime in Cairo. Nevertheless, there was a storm of protests from lobbyists and human rights activists in the US who were able to prevent the shipment of some military hardware to Egypt. Overall, though, there has been no change in policy. According to American journalist Paul Gitengeiger, the US shipped $150 million worth of arms and $170 million worth of Apache helicopters to Egypt in October 2014 alone.

Obama admitted recently that he is gravely embarrassed by his lack of support for democracy and the democratic process in Egypt. There is no need for any journalist to clarify or shed light on this issue because it is clear. Jen Psaki, Director of Communications at the US Department of State, said recently that it would not be possible for Washington to halt its economic support to Egypt given the depth and long-standing nature of US-Egypt relations. She expressed the US government’s belief that the ongoing political friction in Egypt will come to an end and that a civilian government will eventually be appointed. American interests in the Middle East have been largely focused on leading the coalition against ISIS, the violence in Yemen and, of course, reaching an agreement with Tehran on Iran’s nuclear programme. The question of democracy in Egypt is, therefore, at the bottom of the list of US priorities.

In February this year the ban on arms exports to Egypt was lifted following the formation of the Arab coalition against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Many law centres have shamed the US government for overlooking the basic principles of national security and the insistence by Congress that Egypt has to be classified as a democracy before receiving its share of US aid.

John Kerry submitted a request on 12 May last year asking for Congressional approval for Egypt to receive US aid in order to protect America’s interests in the region. Although Congress believes that the secretary of state’s request ignores the legislators’ basic requirements for foreign aid, some still believe that it is important for Egypt to remain Washington’s partner in the Middle East because it has a direct role to play in regional stability and maintaining peace with Israel. The government in Cairo is also almost always ready to participate in counter-terrorist operations when asked to do so by the US, as well as curb the proliferation of nuclear weapons, work towards supporting American military endeavours and ensure safe navigation in the Suez Canal.

No doubt Kerry’s letter will have relied on the old argument that Egypt has long been a democracy, and while there are very few good things to be said about the status quo in Egypt, the following points will have been emphasised in an effort to paint a better picture: despite its undemocratic ways the Egyptian administration has increased the number of women in parliament; protected the Copts and allowed them to build a church for their martyrs in Libya; improved the environment for international investments; and, finally, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi was the first Egyptian president to visit the Christian community on one of its religious holidays.

It is clear that the geopolitical situation in the Middle East is threatening US interests in various ways but the placing of all bets on America’s potential to implement or influence democratic processes in this way is a lost bet in itself. Egypt will continue to be at the centre of this troubled region, but that does not mean that we should throw our hands up in despair because of the way that America chooses to commit to the values of democracy.

It is essential for the US to coach Egypt and lead it towards democracy through dialogue. More importantly, what is needed is for Egypt to humble itself for democracy. The war on terror requires many people to share power in the governmental system. For the successful Implementation of the American model in the Egyptian context, we need human rights organisations and lobbies to play a significant role in the dialogue between the US and Egypt by demanding the following:

1. For Egypt to remove the Muslim Brotherhood from its list of terrorist organisations because the US, which has not hesitated in the past to label random organisations as “terrorists” has found no reason to place the movement on such a list.

2. For America to commit to the implementation of the democratic process in Egypt and do what is necessary to promote a sense of understanding to build Egypt.

3. For those who are concerned about the human rights situation in Egypt to play an active role in America’s role in the country’s development and work to influence the agenda at hand. Among the items on this agenda should be changes to the newly-adopted terrorism law in Egypt, which went beyond the UN definition of an act of terrorism being an action that causes death and serious injury to a state, individual or organisation, while also taking people hostage. By contrast, the Egyptian government has defined terrorism in a way that criminalises any opposition political action and makes it punishable by law.

Many lobbies responded to the above law by emphasising the need for concise principles when it comes to law-making in order to prevent misuse and for people to be fully aware of what constitutes a crime in the eyes of the state and the law. In short, this law requires re-drafting so that terrorism is defined according to the international definition.

There is no doubt that the intention behind launching such a law in Egypt was to eradicate the Muslim Brotherhood. Hence, it is negligent of America to promote democracy in Egypt only when it suits its own national security interests. We are right to ask if the US really values democracy in Egypt, or if it is just a convenient tool to use or discard when it suits Washington to do so.

The Egyptian government will not do anything that does not fulfil the terms of its peace agreement with Israel and its so-called war on terror. As such, we cannot call what is happening in this loose state “democracy” by any means. Having said that, those who are placing their bets on America’s success when it comes to this matter should not hold their breath, because US calculations ignore the legitimacy of Islamic movements and the sacrifices that they have made both before the coup and afterwards, particularly in Rabaa Al-Adawiyya Square.

Translated from Al Jazeera net, 23 August, 2015.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Abdullah Ali Ibrahim) frontpage Tue, 01 Sep 2015 12:50:34 +0000
Nearly 150,000 Syrian students to attend school in Jordan https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20757-nearly-150000-syrian-students-to-attend-school-in-jordan https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20757-nearly-150000-syrian-students-to-attend-school-in-jordan Syrian refugee childrenJordanian officials have said that hundreds of thousands of Syrian students are to attend schools in Jordan on Tuesday. The students will be exempted of fees and costs of books and other expenses, Anadolu Agency reported.

The Secretary General of the Jordanian Ministry of Education Mohamed Al-Akour said: “Tuesday is the start of the school year and 140,626 Syrian students (11 per cent of all students in Jordan) are to attend schools.”

He said that the number includes 25,561 students from the refugee camps and that they would be treated the same as the Jordanian students.

Akour added that 99 Jordanian schools have begun working on two shifts in order to accommodate the Syrian students, noting that some classes for Syrian students will include up to 85 students.

About 1.3 million Syrian refugees live in Jordan, including 750,000 who entered the country before the Syrian revolution.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Tue, 01 Sep 2015 12:40:02 +0000
The EU takes the opportunity to encourage further bloodshed https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/blogs/politics/20756-the-eu-takes-the-opportunity-to-encourage-further-bloodshed https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/blogs/politics/20756-the-eu-takes-the-opportunity-to-encourage-further-bloodshed EU Member StatesThe European Union is employing the same dissociation tactics utilised by governments and media to speak about the ramifications of violence while negating the role of foreign intervention. The intentional manipulation of the UN resolution that justified NATO’s destruction of Libya is no longer an issue for the EU.

Instead, European leaders are now preoccupied with the escalating number of people attempting to seek refuge in countries across the continent. Ahead of talks to be held on 14 September in Brussels, EU leaders have called for action “to defend the dignity of migrants”. However, the right-wing sentiment engulfing the union, militarised approaches to the issue and the construction of barriers on borders to prevent migrants from seeking refuge point to one stark truth: it is quite possibly preferable, as far as EU leaders are concerned, that those escaping persecution and atrocities in their own lands perish before they reach what they had hoped would be safety.

The recent discovery of 71 decomposing corpses in an abandoned truck in Austria and the widely-circulated photos of drowned Syrian children, have unleashed a wave of passive compassion and simultaneous brutal resentment. Considerable segments of Europe’s population are unmoved by the horrors, thus facilitating EU leaders’ impunity with regard to participation in foreign intervention under the guise of “saving people”; this is the accepted euphemism for regime change, push-back policies and excessive focus upon smuggler networks. All serve as a veneer for Europe’s continued colonial endeavours. However, diplomacy has made it possible for the EU to maintain its duplicitous stance and ensure that more families become displaced or face annihilation.

For all the rhetoric about maintaining migrants’ dignity, the EU has been consistently clear in its racist, xenophobic attitude. As long as people seeking refuge perish away from the Mediterranean or any of Europe’s borders, EU leaders will remain ensconced safely within their roles of oppressors and feign limited benevolence when facts explode in their faces. When corpses become too obvious, it is time for serious action. That includes further efforts to “bring democracy” to countries singled out for destruction, ensuring soaring death tolls of civilians and refusing refuge to people escaping the consequent mutating violence.

Hence the EU focuses on secondary concerns, such as trafficking networks and border controls, in order to sustain violence and a degree of control that prolongs humanitarian catastrophes. In turn, the EU garners support from a large percentage of the population which aligns itself with the exclusionary politics preached and practiced by the West. Encouraging other trajectories becomes a plausible option, allowing international organisations some respite from their criticism and condemnation discourse. In the background, however, the cycle of further plunder of resources and domination continues, creating more victims with absolute impunity.

Meanwhile, Germany, France and Britain — all of which have played major roles in ensuring death and displacement in the Middle East and North Africa through their foreign policies — are insisting that Southern European countries embark upon “better processing of migrants”. According to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, “Those who do need protection should be integrated more quickly into our life, while those who don’t should he sent home quickly.” One might well ask to what “home” displaced and persecuted people should be returned to. Clearly, the EU is uncomfortable with offering refuge but, true to its character, has no qualms about participating in what to all intents and purposes amounts to mass murder.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Ramona Wadi) frontpage Tue, 01 Sep 2015 12:37:34 +0000
Hamas calls for ‘real partnership’ in Palestinian decision-making https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20755-hamas-calls-for-real-partnership-in-palestinian-decision https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20755-hamas-calls-for-real-partnership-in-palestinian-decision Head of Hamas Political Bureau, Khaled Meshaal

The head of Hamas’s Political Bureau, Khaled Meshaal, has called for “real partnership [between Palestinian factions] in political, military and security” decisions ahead of several meetings of the Palestinian National Council to choose new members of the PLO executive committee, Alkhaleejonline.net reported on Monday.

In a meeting in Doha, Meshaal said: “We need democracy and elections in order to build our institutions, as well as a real partnership,” noting that everyone has to bear responsibility regarding issues such as Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem, lands occupied in 1948, and Palestinians in diaspora.

During the meeting, Meshaal revealed that he had spoken to the head of the PNC Salim Al-Za’noun and reiterated the importance of national unity amongst Palestinian factions, telling him that “the world will not respect us unless we are united.”

Meanwhile, Meshaal said that the latest communications with the Israelis are in the interest of the Palestinians and that the image of the Israeli occupation is retreating on the international arena. “The persistence of the Palestinians will oblige the world to respect us,” he added.

Meshaal also thanked Qatar for hosting the Palestinians, saying: “We are grateful for those who are [helping] us.”

The PLO executive committee is to hold meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday to form the preparation committee that is to organise the PNC meeting on 15 September.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Tue, 01 Sep 2015 11:56:39 +0000
Attempts to take PA to international courts over allegations of torture https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20754-attempts-to-take-pa-to-international-courts-over-allegations-of-torture https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20754-attempts-to-take-pa-to-international-courts-over-allegations-of-torture Israeli prison

Palestinian rights group Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association accused last week the Palestinian Authority (PA) of torturing political prisoners, Quds Press reported yesterday.

Director of Addameer Sahar Francis told Quds Press that: “Torture and violations against political prisoners during detention and interrogation was proved.”

Describing the forms of torture, she said: “The prisoners are placed in very painful positions. Then, they are hit and insulted and their screaming is heard. They [PA security services] use well-known torture methods, which contradict the anti-torture agreement the PA has become a member of.”

Francis said that the period between 2005 and 2009 witnessed the “most violent” torture against prisoners, when four prisoners died. She said that there was no question regarding the torture. Adding that cases of torture decreased after 2009 but are still prevalent.

Addameer recently filed a complaint against the PA to the UN anti-torture commission after the PA joined the international agreements.

University student Salam Al-Araouri, 23, told Quds Press that he was arrested in Ramadan, one and half a months ago, and he was severely tortured. “While blindfolded, I was hit all over my body and I was hit severely in my head until I became unconscious. This happened to me three times,” he added.

Other former prisoners narrated similar stories.

The Arab Organisation for Human Rights, based in London, described the headquarters of the PA intelligence services in Bethlehem as a “slaughter house” used for torturing prisoners.

It called for the UN secretary-general and the ICC prosecutor to dispatch teams to visit PA prisons, mainly the headquarters of the intelligence services in Bethlehem, Jericho and Nablus in order to investigate the daily crimes committed there.

The PA denies accusations of torture. No PA official could be contacted for comment.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Tue, 01 Sep 2015 11:30:08 +0000
Turkey’s Red Crescent spends $345 million in aid for Syria https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/20753-turkeys-red-crescent-spends-345-million-in-aid-for-syria https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/20753-turkeys-red-crescent-spends-345-million-in-aid-for-syria Syrian refugees fleeing war by entering Turkey.

The Turkish Red Crescent Society has spent nearly $345 million in aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey and Syria since the crisis began in 2011.

The president of the relief agency, Ahmad Lutfi Akar, said in a statement on Monday that his agency does not discriminate in providing assistance on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity or language.

Akar pointed out that the Society had lent a helping hand to those in need in many countries around the world, including as Iraq, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, and some African countries.

The agency provides assistance to the poor and victims of disasters, as well as refugees from Syria whose numbers have swelled to about 2.5 million.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Tue, 01 Sep 2015 11:12:11 +0000
Jordan closes Islamic TV channel in Amman https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20752-jordan-closes-islamic-tv-channel-in-amman https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20752-jordan-closes-islamic-tv-channel-in-amman Flag of JordanJordan’s Al-Yarmou television channel, based in Amman, said on Monday that the Jordanian authorities had stopped it from broadcasting, Quds Press has reported.

According to a statement released by the channel, the government’s Information Committee went to the studios of the channel without forewarning and closed them.

The channel, which is close to the Muslim Brotherhood, expressed its shock at the government’s “surprising measures”, reiterating that it had obtained all the required licenses for its work.

The studios that were closed are all privately owned and were simply hired out by the channel.

Al-Yarmouk said that it considers its closure as part of the Jordanian government’s attempts to “supress media freedom”. It also stressed that it had respected all the laws and systems in the country regarding the work of mass media.

It is believed that the closure of the channel is part of a complicated legal dispute between the Muslim Brotherhood and a new NGO holding the same name, through which the new NGO is to take over the property of the original group.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Tue, 01 Sep 2015 10:53:18 +0000
Israeli minister: Palestinian women who saved injured boy from Israeli soldier should have been shot https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20751-israeli-minister-palestinian-women-who-saved-injured-boy-from-israeli-soldier-should-have-been-shot https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20751-israeli-minister-palestinian-women-who-saved-injured-boy-from-israeli-soldier-should-have-been-shot Israeli Minister of Culture, Miri Regev

The Israeli army should have shot a Palestinian family from the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh who saved an injured child from being arrested during the village’s weekly demonstration against the illegal confiscation of their land, a minister said.

Israeli Minister of Culture Miri Regev said that the unarmed protesters should have been shot. Regev called on Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to change the army’s policy on the use of live-fire because of the “humiliation” the soldier endured.

“We need to decide immediately that a soldier that is attacked is permitted to return fire. Period. I call on the minister of security to put an end to the humiliation and change the open fire regulations immediately!” Regev wrote in a Facebook statement.

“Anyone who tries to harm Israeli civilians and soldiers needs to know his blood is in his head,” Regev continued, using a Hebrew expression to convey that the Palestinians who assaulted the soldier are fair game for shooting.

On Friday an Israeli soldier tried to detain 12-year-old Mohammed Tamimi, leading to a fierce scuffle with his mother, sister and aunt. The incident was captured on video by Bilal Tamimi, a local Palestinian journalist.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Tue, 01 Sep 2015 10:38:36 +0000
Israel closes Al-Aqsa for sixth day https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20750-israel-closes-al-aqsa-for-sixth-day https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20750-israel-closes-al-aqsa-for-sixth-day Al-Aqsa mosque

Israeli authorities have banning Palestinian worshipers from entering Al-Aqsa Mosque for the sixth day, while Israeli police and army escorted extremist settlers who toured the Muslim holy site and perform Talmudic prayers, Quds Press reported yesterday.

In the morning, Israeli troops imposed a security cordon around the mosque and prevented Palestinian women from entering it. Meanwhile, Palestinian worshipers protested in front of Al-Silsilah Gate, one of eight gates of the mosque, against the Israeli measures.

The worshipers and officials, including Sheikh Raed Salah, warned that Al-Aqsa is facing the most dangerous stage of aggression against it.

They said that the Israeli occupation is planning to impose a time division in the mosque, based on which, Muslims and Jews will have fixed schedules for their visits and prayers inside the third holiest site for Muslims.

Quds Press said that 22 Israeli settlers were escorted by heavily armed troops into the mosque’s courtyards in the early hours of yesterday.

Adding that two Palestinian youths identified as Sannad Abu-Sneineh and Mohamed Al-Hashlamoun were arrested and taken to the investigation centre in the Old City.

Israeli Special Forces assaulted Palestinian women at the gates of the mosque, news reports said.

Meanwhile, the Awqaf Department in Jerusalem said that Israeli police told five Al-Aqsa Mosque guards to go to the Israeli investigation centre.

They called this a “provocative” measure against Al-Aqsa Mosque and its guards.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Tue, 01 Sep 2015 10:00:30 +0000
UN chief regrets sentencing of Al-Jazeera journalists in Egypt https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/20749-un-chief-regrets-sentencing-of-al-jazeera-journalists-in-egypt https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/20749-un-chief-regrets-sentencing-of-al-jazeera-journalists-in-egypt UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moonThe United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has expressed deep regret over the Egyptian court’s decision to uphold the sentencing of three Al-Jazeera journalists.

In a statement issued on Sunday evening by his spokesperson in New York Estefan Dogrec, Ban-Ki-Moon expressed deep regret over the sentencing of journalists Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste (in absentia), as well as others.

“The Secretary-General recalls his earlier appeals for their cases to be resolved expeditiously and in accordance with Egypt’s international obligations to protect freedom of expression and association and in full observance of due process guarantees,” the statement said.

The three journalists are accused of spreading false news and harming national interest.

Three other Egyptian defendants also received a similar sentence for helping the Al-Jazeera journalists. Two further defendants were acquitted.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Tue, 01 Sep 2015 09:31:53 +0000
Strategic dimensions of the relationship between Israel and Iraqi Kurdistan https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/20748-strategic-dimensions-of-the-relationship-between-israel-and-iraqi-kurdistan https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/20748-strategic-dimensions-of-the-relationship-between-israel-and-iraqi-kurdistan Israeli prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu

Israel tried to provide a simple explanation for what was uncovered by Britain’s Financial Times two days ago, which confirmed that 75 per cent of the fuel imported by Israel comes from Iraqi Kurdistan. The Israelis claimed that this is part of their desire to strengthen the abilities of the autonomous government in Erbil so that it can continue its war against Daesh. Yisrael Hayom (“Israel Today”) newspaper, which is close to the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and is considered to be his mouthpiece, tried to make the set-up look like an indirect Israeli contribution to the international campaign against Daesh, by funding Kurdistan’s war efforts.

The truth is that the strategy being followed by Israel in its strong relationship with Iraqi Kurdistan goes far beyond the war against Daesh. That is used as an excuse to justify the partnership, with Israel aiming specifically at employing its relations with Erbil to improve the regional and strategic environment, especially in light of recent transformations across the Middle East.

Israeli interests

Its keenness to cooperate with the Kurds and interest in strengthening the economic and military abilities of Iraqi Kurdistan come as Israel is mainly interested in enabling the Erbil government to secure the terms and conditions that will help it to declare its independence from Baghdad. No other country but Israel shows such enthusiasm for the concept of turning the region into a state; it is launching political, diplomatic and media campaigns intended to secure international recognition of Kurdistan’s independence from Iraq.

It was Netanyahu who announced Israel’s support for the “aspiration of the Kurdish people to achieve self-determination and to establish their independent state.” On 22 June last year, his then Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman did not hesitate to contact his US counterpart, John Kerry, and urge him to change America’s position on the independence of Kurdistan, on the grounds that Iraq is already more or less divided (Haaretz, 29 June 2014). Because of his good relationship with US President Barack Obama, Netanyahu has instructed Israel’s former President Shimon Peres to try to influence Washington and convince it to announce its explicit support for the independence of the Kurdish region.

According to Maariv (9 May 2015), due to the depth of Iraqi Kurdistan's reliance on Israeli support for the idea of independence from Iraq, the regional government sent its political advisor Dr Nahro Zagros to Tel Aviv for discussions with senior officials about the political support which Israel can provide to the Kurdish movement. Again, the aim is to secure international recognition for its independence from Iraq.

In return, Zagros went out of his way in an interview with Maariv to talk about Kurdish solidarity with Israel. There is no doubt that Tel Aviv is betting on the role to be played by the future Kurdish state in creating a profound positive shift in the strategic and regional environment with regards to Israel. The logic at play is that a Kurdish state north of Iraq will be the nucleus for a bigger Kurdish state that can later annex the Kurdish areas in Syria, Turkey and Iran.

The extended Kurdish state will enable Israel to kill a number of birds with one stone, as the supposition is that the new state will continue the historic approach of Kurdistan towards its alliance with the Zionist state. It will have a strategic partnership with Tel Aviv, thus reducing the latter’s isolation and increasing its room for manoeuvre in terms of influence across the region. Thus it was not wrong for military affairs commentator Alon Ben-David to assert in Maariv (30 June 2015) that a Kurdish state made up of parts of Iraq, Syria and Turkey would represent “a dream ally for Israel.”

The announcement of such a state would reduce the risk of an "eastern front" along which Israel could be attacked. International recognition of Kurdistan as a state would be the de facto announcement of the break-up of Iraq by international consensus.

There is no doubt that a large Kurdish state would guarantee Israeli interests in Syria, even as the conflict therein is ongoing. The division of Syria into ethnic and sectarian cantons, with the Kurds ceding to Kurdistan, would be Israel’s favoured result, as it would liquidate the state of Syria and the threat it poses to Israeli hegemony. This achievement will be even more beneficial for Israel in the event of a regional consensus on the creation of an Alawite statelet on the Syrian coast.

It is clear that a Kurdish state allied with Israel will enable Tel Aviv to work easily in the heart of Syria, especially if the scenario it presents of Sunni Islamist groups using areas within Syria to counter Israeli influence is realised. What’s interesting is that the successes achieved by the Kurds in Syria in facing Daesh has made a lot of Israelis believe that they can rely on them to block the risks that Israel may be exposed to after the collapse of the Assad regime.

For example, General Ravin Erlich, Director of the Centre for Intelligence Heritage and Terrorism Studies, thinks that, apart from the Kurds, there is no local power that Israel can rely on in the face of Sunni Jihadi organisations; the performance of Kurdish fighters proves the need for a Kurdish state in north Iraq and Syria (Mekor Rishon, 26 June 2015). Then there are the situation assessment reports issued by Iroshlim Centre for the Study of Society and the State, headed by Israeli diplomat Dore Gold, which detailed the strategic returns Israel would gain from dividing Syria.

Besieging Turkey and Iran

One of the reasons pushing the Israeli security elites to speak publicly about their enthusiasm for a Kurdish state is their belief that it would contribute to the besieging of both Turkey and Iran.

General Uzi Dayan, head of the National Security Council and a former commander of Israeli Military Intelligence, has spoken previously about the important role of a Kurdish state in besieging Ankara and Tehran on the grounds that such a role reduces the ability of the two countries to pay full attention to the conflict with Israel. It is worth noting that Israel has utilised the Kurdistan region to work against Iran, with foreign media revealing that the Mossad spy agency has used Kurdistan as a base to carry out covert operations against Iran's nuclear facilities.

Israeli support for the Kurdistan region is not limited to buying oil, but extends to broader economic cooperation. On 19 November last year, for example, Maariv revealed that Israeli companies invest heavily in Kurdistan, especially in energy, construction, communications and security. All such companies operating in the region, it claimed, are run by senior military and intelligence reservist officers, headed by General Danny Yatom, the former head of Mossad.

Roots of the relationship

The relationship between Israel and the Kurds in northern Iraq dates back to the late sixties, and came about as part of the "periphery alliance" strategy adopted by Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion. It was based on closer ties with regional states, and ethnic and religious minorities in conflict with Arab states, which have an effect on the conflict with Israel. Due to Israel’s fears about Iraq's future role in the conflict, it has been keen on keeping confidential the details of its relations with the Kurds, who are in conflict with the central government in Baghdad.

In his newly-released memoirs, former deputy head of Mossad Nashik Nafoot says that the agency worked on the training and arming of Kurdish fighters led by Mustafa Barzani. He pays particular attention to the Kurds having played a central role in helping Israel to displace the Jews of Iraq in late 1969, when they were transferred from their homes towards the borders with Iran, which had a covert alliance with Israel, before being transferred to Israel.

Nafoot’s testimony has a special importance, because he was the one in charge of managing and developing this relationship for Mossad. He pointed out that he retains personal relations with many Kurdish leaders, including the current President, Massoud Barzani.

In short, in the absence of a unified Arab strategy, Israel is trying to recruit the regional shifts and the raging identity conflicts as tools to help it bring about more breakthroughs in the Arab world, in a manner that best serve its own strategic interests.

Translated from Al jazeera net, 26 August, 2015.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Dr Saleh Al-Naami) frontpage Tue, 01 Sep 2015 09:10:21 +0000
The right of return; a forgotten issue https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/guest-writers/20747-the-right-of-return-a-forgotten-issue https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/guest-writers/20747-the-right-of-return-a-forgotten-issue Dr Ghada KarmiNo issue has been so much at the heart of the Palestine cause, or so resistant to resolution, as the right of return. Palestinians world wide see it as the basis of their case. Enshrined in international law and historical precedent, it has acquired an almost sacred quality for Palestinians, an untouchable right that no one can dispute. Generations of refugees have been reared on the expectation of return to their homeland. Their position derives not only from natural justice, but is also underpinned legally by UN Resolution 194, passed by the General Assembly in December 1948. It called on the newly-formed Israeli state to repatriate the displaced Palestinians “wishing to live in peace with their neighbours... at the earliest practicable date”, and to compensate them for their losses. A Conciliation Commission was set up to oversee the repatriation of the returnees. Though never implemented and frequently ignored since then, Resolution 194 has remained the legal basis for the “right of return”.

Yet, far from this fundamental plank of the Palestinian case being recognised as such and forming the core of any final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ignoring it has become the norm in political discourse. It simply either does not feature any more, or if it does, it is mostly as a bargaining chip in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. The marginalisation of this fundamental right is not new; it started soon after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, when the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) began to consider the possibility of setting up “an authority” on any liberated part of Palestine. Prior to that date, Palestine’s total liberation had been the PLO’s aim and this would mean the return to the homeland of all displaced Palestinians. By the late 1970s, though, the idea of partial liberation had developed into the aim to create a Palestinian state. In 1988, the independent “State of Palestine” was declared by the PLO on the 1967 territories, confirming the official Palestinian acceptance of the two-state solution that has been with us ever since.

In 1992, at the Madrid peace conference that followed the Gulf war, a so-called multi-lateral track was established without reference to the refugees. After protest by the PLO the issue was included, but Israel insisted it would refer only to those displaced by the 1967 war, and not those displaced in 1948 when the state was created. The whole thing came to nothing in the end, largely due to disagreement with Israel over definitions. The 1993 Oslo Accord took UN resolutions 242 and 338 as its basis, both of which deal with the refugee issue obliquely, and make no reference to Resolution 194. The issue was relegated along with others to “final status talks” between Israel and the Palestinians which have never been held. Palestinian acceptance of the Oslo terms, as well as the two-state solution, inevitably excluded the right of return, though this was never admitted explicitly. Talks at Taba between the two sides in January 2001 were a slight improvement; the Israelis offered a recognition of Israel’s moral and legal responsibility for the refugee exodus of 1948, but there would be no right of return to Israel, and the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries was brought up as if it were an equivalent issue.

A certain official prevarication about the Palestinian right of return first became apparent in 2002, when the Palestinian Authority is reported to have proposed dropping it as “an obstacle in the talks”. By 2011, when the revelations about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process between 1999 and 2010 were published by Al-Jazeera and the Guardian newspaper, it became clear that the Palestinian leadership was indeed prepared to cede the right of return in its negotiations with Israel. They agreed that only a token 10,000 refugees and their families would return there, and that Israel could not be expected to compromise its Jewish character by taking in any more. These offers were made without authorisation from the Palestinian people, let alone the refugees; in fact, Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told George Mitchell, US envoy to the peace talks, in 2009, “On refugees, the deal is there.”

To assert against this background of appeasement that the right of return is the sine qua non of any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem is viewed today as “unrealistic” and old-fashioned, even an obstacle to peace, as if the passage of sixty-seven years had disqualified the Palestinians from entitlement to their homeland. Israel, conversely, shows no such ambiguity in its perennial and unambiguous rejection of the right of return. Through this process, the Arab discourse about the right of return has become deliberately vague, responding to Israel’s anxieties. The latest obfuscation of this right, supposed to lure Israel to the negotiating table with the Arabs, is the Arab peace plan, first devised in 2002. The plan included an ambiguous clause about the return of the Palestinian refugees, but without specifying whether refugees were to be "returned" to Israel or to the Palestinian state that would be created. No details of numbers of returnees or mechanisms for their repatriation were provided, but the plan spoke of achieving “a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.”

When Israel was founded in May 1948, many Western states saw it as a moral and necessary act to compensate Jews for the damage inflicted on them by Nazi Germany. A faraway country, Palestine, in a backward region, mostly under Western control and without the capacity to resist, must have seemed an ideal refuge for the stricken European Jews. As all Arabs know, in this euphoria of settling the post-war Jewish refugees and at the same time solving the centuries-old “Jewish question” which had plagued Europe and its Jews, the West ignored the cost to the native population of Palestine.

The resulting tragedy for the Palestinian people has been documented endlessly; despite Israeli propaganda to the contrary, this was both inevitable and predictable, given the determination of Israel’s founders to create a state for Jews in a land that was not Jewish. They recognised from the beginning that they would have to reverse Palestine’s demography, by converting the existing Arab majority into a Jewish one. As Yoram Bar Porath put it bluntly to the Israeli daily, Yediot Ahronot, on 14 July 1972, “There is no Zionism, colonisation or Jewish State without the eviction of the Arabs and the expropriation of their lands.” Rafael Eitan, Israel’s Chief of Staff, told the New York Times on 14 April 1983, “The Arabs have no right to settle on even one centimetre of Eretz Israel.”

This thinking inevitably caused the flight and expulsion in 1948 of between 750,000 and 900,000 native Palestinians, three-quarters of the total population of Mandate Palestine. A third of them had already been evicted by Jewish militias before Israeli statehood was declared, in line with Zionist strategy, and it was this Palestinian dispossession that formed the background to Resolution 194. Israel rejected UN demands root and branch, even though the terms of its admission to UN membership required adherence to UN resolutions, including 194. When the UN Mediator for Palestine, the Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte, who was appalled by the refugees’ plight, tried to push for repatriation in line with Resolution 194, dissidents from the Irgun terror gang under Menachem Begin (who later became Israel’s prime minister) assassinated him in September 1948. Nothing since has succeeded in shifting Israel’s opposition. In sixty-seven years, it has not repatriated a single refugee or even apologised for its deeds in 1948, demanding instead that the refugees settle in other states and find compensation from international funds.

There is no doubt that this Israeli obduracy, supported by powerful Western states, has persuaded many in the Palestinian leadership to compromise on the right of return. And no wonder; every serious peace plan since Resolution 194 has foundered on the refugee question. Today, the refugee camps appear to be a permanent feature of the Arab countries in which they were established. The refugees and their descendants number some 5.8 million, living in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, as well as across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, suspended in an anomalous existence, all too often without rights or a future. By what logic could the displaced Kosovans be repatriated in 1999, or the displaced people of Bosnia-Hertzogovina be offered return and compensation under a strict international administration with built-in monitoring, while the Palestinians remain in limbo?

Watering down the right of return, and pandering to Israel, is not the way to solve the problem. Only solutions that can reconcile the right of Palestinian return with the existence of an Israeli Jewish community which, whether we like it or not, now exists and has acquired rights too, can succeed. The two-state solution, currently promoted, cannot do this. There is only one solution for this sixty-seven year old impasse that addresses the rights of Palestinians, Israelis and the needs of justice. Difficult as it is to envisage, only a unitary state in Israel-Palestine can encompass the returning Palestinians and ensure the continued existence of an Israeli Jewish community, however egregious their presence in that land.

Neither side can win the war over exclusive ownership of historic Palestine. Israel’s attempt to do so has only caused unending conflict and suffering for Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world. The UN made Israel and must now unmake it, not by expulsion and displacement as in 1948, but by converting its aggressive and hate-filled legacy into a future of hope for both peoples in one state. If that happens, the Palestinians’ right to return will have been fulfilled.

Ghada Karmi’s latest book, ‘Return: a Palestinian memoir’ is published by Verso.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Dr Ghada Karmi) frontpage Tue, 01 Sep 2015 06:00:00 +0000
The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984 https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/media-review/book-review/20746-the-arab-of-the-future-a-childhood-in-the-middle-east-1978-1984 https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/media-review/book-review/20746-the-arab-of-the-future-a-childhood-in-the-middle-east-1978-1984 The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984 Author: Riad Sattouf
Publisher: Metropolitan Books
Published: October 2015
Paperback: 160 pages
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-1627793445

Review by Nahrain Al-Mousawi

A 2014 bestseller in France before being translated this year, Riad Sattouf’s The Arab of the Future is the first part of a graphic memoir tracing Riad’s early childhood and spanning countries as diverse as France, Libya and Syria. The son of an intellectual pan-Arabist Syrian father and French mother a young, Riad bore witness to the social conditions that have distinguished Libya and Syria under their various authoritarian regimes.

Part of a long line of autobiographical graphic narratives or “auto-graphics” such as Persepolis and Baddawi, The Arab of the Future provides a child-eye’s view of both personal familial adventures and public social phenomena. In fact, the child witness in the graphic coming-of-age narrative has often functioned as a figure for exploring the relationship between private familial experiences and the public upheavals in which they are enmeshed. A role that Riad’s work certainly fulfills.

While Riad’s father takes teaching posts that have him stumbling across the region with obnoxious enthusiasm, Riad provides a glimpse of his new homes’ idiosyncrasies and hardships through a child’s eyes and a sparse, simple drawing style. In Libya, the family lose their university housing to squatters who invoke Gaddafi’s ban on private property. When it comes to groceries, they must contend with jostling crowds just to buy unripe bananas and Tang.

As soon as they land in Syria, they fulfill an age-old ritual in the region: since Riad’s father didn’t do military service, he bribes army officers at the airport to re-enter the country without jail time. A stroll through his father’s village involves wading through rubbish, as well as taunts and attacks from the village children who heap anti-Semitic vitriol upon him because of his blond hair and “foreign” looks. In the same ancestral village, he witnesses something he has never seen before: at the family home, the women sit in a separate room and eat the men’s leftovers. In both countries, the images of Gaddafi and Hafez Assad are plastered everywhere.

From destitute, marginalised villages, to anti-Semitism, patriarchy, food shortages and the omniscient gaze of the “Dear Leader” staring out from city walls and billboards, the distinctive marks of burgeoning crisis are captured by little Riad as his father attempts to reconcile him with his Arab heritage. But it isn’t just the young Riad’s blond locks that set him apart - it’s his French mother, his fine European toys and his father’s long estrangement from his homeland. His father’s plans for his son’s integration seem as unsuccessful as his own, since he appears just as much an outsider as the rest of his little family.

Riad’s father is often forced back to France with his little family in tow, where people appear richer and livelier to Riad, but where he contends with other issues - his grandfather’s creepy misogyny and strange children at his rural school. Even so, his father is bent on returning to the Arab world, with high-flown pan-Arabist ideals, as he tries to convince himself and his family their dreams are within reach.

Except for a few scenes, Riad’s mother is unfortunately a neutral character, a backdrop figure who intervenes with brief, bland comments and questions once in a while. One could presume she’s the burdened and long-suffering partner to a disillusioned and pompous man, but it’s hard to detect much from her blank expression and unassuming comments.

The much-awaited second volume was published in French this summer, taking off where Riad left off in the mid-80s, and using the same colour-coded scheme to signal the country of narration (yellow for Libya, blue for France, and pink for Syria). The ex-columnist at the satirical Charlie Hebdo has produced a work that is more sensitive and earnest than his biting, sharp-edged commentary at the weekly magazine. Unfortunately, the first book ends too abruptly, signaling to the reader that there’s more to come. (“To be continued” seems hastily tacked on at the end). Thus, one hopes that the second volume is translated into English soon, so we can once again follow little Riad as he learns to tell a story, revealing himself to be a sharp interpreter of his surroundings by transforming his vision into a social and personal document of crisis and resilience.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Nahrain Al-Mousawi) frontpage Mon, 31 Aug 2015 14:13:46 +0000
‘You stink!’ protesters promise 'surprise' if Lebanese government fails to meet demands https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/20745-you-stink-protesters-promise-surprise-if-lebanese-government-fails-to-meet-demands https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/20745-you-stink-protesters-promise-surprise-if-lebanese-government-fails-to-meet-demands Image from August 25th as protestors clashed with security forces in front of government buildings in Beirut, LebanonTens of thousands of protesters all over the world were on the streets at the weekend in support of the people of Lebanon and their anti-government demonstrations. From London to Washington DC, the Lebanese and their supporters came together in support of the demand for government resignations and structural change. The internal grievances that led to the demonstrations were catalysed by the Lebanese government’s inability to solve the crisis over the disposal of rubbish in the country, prompting the worldwide “You Stink!” campaign.

The streets of Beirut were crowded with families while events and stalls conjured up a festival-like atmosphere at the demonstration. Some banners were demanding the downfall of the regime; some called for increased accountability and transparency; and yet others expressed contempt at the lack of action and incompetence shown by the state over the past three decades. Various humorous and artistic approaches were taken to resistance against the government system which, although built on sectarian lines, has actually managed to unite people of all backgrounds due to its incompetence. Snap parliamentary elections have been called for and there is a demand for the interior minister to be held accountable for excessive force by the police, which has been reported widely during the protests.

The organisers of the “You stink!” campaign have given the government until Tuesday to meet citizens’ demands. They promised Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s government a “surprise” if it doesn’t, reported Lebanon’s Daily Star.

One demand is the resignation of Environment Minister Mohammad Al-Mashnuk. He announced earlier this week, and has repeated several times since, that he has no intention of giving up his duties, although many would argue that he has already done so, judging by his consideration of outsourcing responsibilities for Lebanon’s growing rubbish mountain to a private company. The charges quoted by private waste management companies were too high for the government so the cabinet failed to reach an agreement on the issue last Tuesday at a meeting from which the Hezbollah and Christian Maronite representatives walked dejectedly.

In response to the ongoing demonstrations, Lebanon’s security forces have used water cannons, tear gas, live ammunition, batons and rubber bullets against protesters; hundreds of ordinary people have been injured. Deputy Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), Nadim Houry, called on the Lebanese authorities to take immediate measures to ensure that there is no repeat of the violence used against protestors in downtown Beirut three days ago. Despite his pleas, the police were beating both men and women and using water cannons and violence to disperse the crowds in the city’s Riad Al-Solh square last night, making several arrests in the process. HRW urged the government to hold the perpetrators of violent attacks accountable.

Last week, Lebanon’s state prosecutor, Samir Hammoud, tasked Judge Sakr Sakr, who has jurisdiction over crimes committed by the security forces, to investigate the violence. Critics contend that such an investigation should be more independent, effective and transparent.

“Lebanon has an unfortunate habit of opening investigations into violence by security forces but never concluding them,” claimed HRW’s Houry. “The judiciary needs to show that it can rise to the occasion and hold accountable those responsible for excessive violence.”

HRW has documented three cases where protesters have been wounded by security personnel firing rubber bullets at close range; the resultant injuries required hospital treatment. Many protesters have experienced breathing problems as a result of the tear gas used by police. One female activist helping to organise the protests said that a police officer beat her on the head.

The Skeyes Centre for Media and Cultural Freedom documented nine cases of violent attacks against journalists on 22 and 23 August, and identifi9ed most of the attackers as security personnel. Nada Andraos, a journalist from local LBC TV, told HRW that members of the security forces hit her and her photographer with a stick and sprayed them with a hose. Beating journalists covering a protest is unlawful and an indefensible attack on press freedom.

“It’s long overdue for Lebanon to get serious about holding its security forces accountable,” Houry explained. “The authorities need to deliver on their promises of effective investigations and accountability, or the laws that are supposed to protect the Lebanese people from abuses and ensure respect for basic rights will have no deterrent effect.”

Latest caricature by Carlos Latuff on calls for #Lebanon's Prime Minister to resign over garbage collection!Read about...

Posted by Middle East Monitor on Wednesday, 26 August 2015
noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Henriette Johansen) frontpage Mon, 31 Aug 2015 14:01:07 +0000
For the third time, Haftar’s forces fail to control Derna https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/20744-for-the-third-time-haftars-forces-fail-to-control-derna https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/20744-for-the-third-time-haftars-forces-fail-to-control-derna Renegade Libyan General Khalifa HafterLibyan fighters affiliated to the Shura Council of Mujahideen in Derna on Sunday faced an attack carried out by fighters affiliated to General Khalifa Hafter aiming to control the city, Almesryoon.com has reported.

The Derna fighters were defending the city from the side of Wadi Abu-Dahak, to the south of Al-Mena.

A military source affiliated to the Derna fighters said that Haftar forces retreated to their bases in the west of the city, leaving six dead from the clashes.

Almesryoon.com reported that this is the third time that Haftar’s forces have attempted to control Derna in the east of the country, resulting in dozens of causalities.

Meanwhile, the Derna fighters gained control over Al-Fatayeh Fodder Factory and its surroundings in the east of the city after clashes with ISIS fighters.

Derna fighters are still fighting a number of ISIS militants on the eastern coast of the country.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Mon, 31 Aug 2015 13:28:16 +0000
After delay, classes begin at UNRWA schools in Gaza https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20743-after-delay-classes-begin-at-unrwa-schools-in-gaza https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20743-after-delay-classes-begin-at-unrwa-schools-in-gaza Around 251,000 students went back to 257 schools in the Gaza StripEXCLUSIVE IMAGES

The Gaza Strip’s new school year began on Monday at schools run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) after a one-week delay due to a boycott by students’ parents.

Last week, the new academic year officially kicked off in the blockaded Gaza Strip.

The parents of students enrolled at schools run by UNRWA, however, had refused to send their children to class, citing acute overcrowding.

“Around 251,000 students went back to 257 schools in the Gaza Strip,” the UNRWA Students’ Parents Union declared in a statement.

“Studies will be temporary for ten days until the capacity of classes is reduced to the previous quota [38 students per class],” the union added.

UNRWA’s Arab employees’ union, meanwhile, has said that UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl planned to visit Gaza on September 9 to discuss the agency’s recent decisions.

Responsibility for schooling in the blockaded Gaza Strip is divided between the Palestinian Education Ministry and UNRWA.

One aspect of the UN agency’s mandate is to provide the children of Palestinian refugees displaced by the Israeli occupation with education.

According to the Education Ministry, some 1.2 million Palestinian students went back to school last week, including 700,000 in the occupied West Bank and 500,000 in the blockaded Gaza Strip.

Images by MEMO Photographer Mohammed Asad.

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noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Mon, 31 Aug 2015 13:12:52 +0000
Youth foundation issues call to end siege of Syrian town https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20742-youth-foundation-issues-call-to-end-siege-of-syrian-town https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20742-youth-foundation-issues-call-to-end-siege-of-syrian-town Smoke rises above Qudsaya [image by Lens Dimashqi - dimashqilens.com]A Syrian NGO, the Jafra Foundation, has issued an urgent appeal for intervention to end the siege of Qudsaya town, north-west of Damascus. With food and medical supplies running dangerously low the organisation warns that “Every passing hour draws Qudsaya’s population closer to humanitarian catastrophe.” Below is the full text of their press release.

Approximately 250,000 persons remained trapped inside Qudsaya town, located 27 kilometres northwest of Damascus city. Since July 18th, 2015, the Syrian government has closed the road to Damascus, preventing both persons and goods to pass checkpoints into or out of the area.

According to most recent statistics, 230,000 IDPs are living in the area struck by this most recent siege, with approximately 5-10% of the population representing the host community and 70% of the IDP population comprised of females. Around 30,000 Palestinian persons are trapped inside the area, including families from Yarmouk Camp, Khan Eshieh Camp, and other Palestinian camps and gatherings around Damascus.

At present, Jafra Foundation is extremely concerned for those trapped inside the area. Since July 25th, 2015, food has disappeared from the markets and bread is especially unavailable. Medical supplies have also disappeared from the market. Electrical outages exceed 20 hours daily, directly affecting water pumping into the main water system. This has forced most to rely on water trucking services, which are extremely expensive, costing upwards of $15 USD or 3,500 SYP weekly. These prices are far too costly for a large IDP community without income generating prospects.

Most families in the area are reliant of humanitarian relief to provide for their sustenance. At present, no convoy has been allowed to enter the area for 44 days; those allowed to leave (limited to governmental employees and students) are only permitted to bring in small quantities of food through governmental checkpoints. Many families have been split by the recent siege, as prior to July 18th, 2015, people had been allowed out of the area but have not been able to re-enter Qudsaya town. The last food distribution in the area took place in late March/early April of 2015, provided by Jafra Foundation, targeting those most vulnerable 850 families (including a small percentage of host community families).

Jafra Foundation urges all concerned authorities, parties, NGOs, legal associations, civic organizations, and international actors to intervene immediately to end the siege of Qudsaya and allow safe passage for humanitarian actors into the area to serve the suffering population. Every passing hour draws Qudsaya’s population closer to humanitarian catastrophe. Please contact the Jafra Foundation to support in provision of these most urgent basic needs for those most vulnerable, besieged persons trapped inside Qudsaya town.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Mon, 31 Aug 2015 13:06:06 +0000
Egypt announces discovery of 'largest' gas field ever found in the Mediterranean https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/20741-egypt-announces-discovery-of-largest-gas-field-ever-found-in-the-mediterranean https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/20741-egypt-announces-discovery-of-largest-gas-field-ever-found-in-the-mediterranean Gas transport shipThe Egyptian Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources announced on the discovery of the “largest” natural gas field ever found in the Mediterranean Sea.

The ministry said in a statement that the Italian company Eni made the discovery in the area of Shorouk in Egyptian waters.

The Egyptian Minister of Petroleum Sharif Ismail said that data revealed "original reserves estimated at 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (equivalent to about 505 billion barrels) which covers an area up to 100 square kilometres."

The statement says that the discovery is the greatest achieved in Egypt and in the waters of the Mediterranean, and is likely to be "one of the largest natural gas discoveries in the world."

The Egyptian minister added that “the new discovery was drilled in waters 1,450 meters deep and reached a depth of 4,131 meters to penetrate the hydrocarbon layer, with a thickness of about 2,000 feet (equivalent to 630 meters) of limestone rocks,” noting that Eni will complete drilling activities early next year by drilling three wells in order to speed up the process of developing the discovery over stages, taking advantage of the existing infrastructure.

According to the ministry’s statement, the process of developing the field would take around four years and it will “significantly contribute to meeting the needs of domestic consumption of natural gas.”

The minister noted that this discovery is one of the positive outcomes of the oil and gas agreements signed in the past two and a half years – 56 agreements worth $13 billion in investment.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Mon, 31 Aug 2015 13:03:18 +0000
Egyptian TV anchor describes British ambassador in Cairo as ‘ill-mannered’ https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/20740-egyptian-tv-anchor-describes-british-ambassador-in-cairo-as-ill-mannered https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/20740-egyptian-tv-anchor-describes-british-ambassador-in-cairo-as-ill-mannered Ahmed MusaVIDEO

Well-known Egyptian television anchor Ahmad Musa has sparked controversy by speaking out against the British ambassador to his country.

During his TV programme I take responsibility, aired on Al-Mihwar channel on Sunday, Musa said that: “The British ambassador in Cairo is insolent, lacking in taste and knows nothing about diplomacy and ethics.”

He went on to say: “We salute the Foreign Ministry for summoning him. Either he talks well about Egypt or he gets hit on the head with diplomacy.”

He pointed out that Western states are the ones who violated Egyptian sovereignty and that the rest of the world should stand up to them “whenever they intervene in our internal affairs”.

The Egyptian government has summoned the British ambassador John CassonJohn Casson who said he was 'shocked and concerned by the sentences' at the retrial of the three Al Jazeera journalists.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Mon, 31 Aug 2015 12:51:01 +0000