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 Sun, 04 Oct 2015 10:51:06 +0000 MEMO en-gb Egypt's coup regime has devastated its own people in Sinai https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/inquiry/21428-egypts-coup-regime-has-devastated-its-own-people-in-sinai https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/inquiry/21428-egypts-coup-regime-has-devastated-its-own-people-in-sinai Asa WinstanleyA new report by Human Rights Watch has cast light on the scale of the Egyptian dictatorship's crimes against its own people in the Sinai region.

The report on forced evictions in the Egyptian town of Rafah says that "at least 3,255" homes, businesses and other local buildings have been demolished by the military since it came back to full power in the coup of July 2013. Innocent people have been forced to move out of their own homes, often at extremely short notice and with little or no compensation in return.

The report opens with a moving quotation from one of the local people who has suffered at the hands of the military in this way, reflecting on what she lost: “I myself used to make food and tea for the soldiers and they came and sat in the shade of our olive tree when the sun beat down on them... My mother told me: 'The tree is your responsibility. I fed you from it and raised you on it. Even in times of war, we lived from its oil when nobody could find food.' Now there’s nothing I can do but hold the tree and kiss it and say, 'Forgive me, mom, what can I do.'"

The town of Rafah sits near the border with Palestine, close to the Gaza city of the same name. Historically, these two places were one city, but as the saying goes, these people did not cross the border, the border crossed them.

The Israeli siege on Gaza, most viciously enforced since 2007, has meant that underground tunnels have often become a lifeline to provide basic provisions and supplies all-too-often denied by Israel's clinical and sadistic punishment siege which is intended to put Palestinians "on a diet" in revenge for voting the wrong way in democratic elections back in 2006. The tunnels have also been used by Palestinian resistance factions to bring in weapons in order to defend the small coastal territory from Israeli attack.

But since the Egyptian military came back into direct power in the July 2013 coup, it has cracked down on the tunnels more than previous administrations, destroying and closing off many of them through flooding.

The coup of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was brutal, and has brooked no dissent. Protesters were literally shot off the streets, with more than 800 being murdered in one day in August 2013. One of the consequences of this bloodshed has been an unfortunate flowering in the activities of armed insurgent groups in the Sinai.

Initially known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, one particularly deadly group has now sworn intelligence to the so-called Islamic State, renaming itself the Sinai Province. It is this group that it's though was responsible for a deadly attack in October last year in which 28-31 soldiers (reports varied) were killed.

While this group is of course a genuine threat, the response of the Egyptian state has been nothing short of collective punishment against the entire civilian population of the area. Not only will this make things worse, but the way they have gone about it makes it seem little more than a pretext to get away with things they wanted to do anyway.

Satellite imagery examined by Human Rights Watch and published in the report shows that entire areas of Rafah have been bulldozed and blown-up by the army in order to make way for a "buffer zone," between Egypt and Gaza.

The Egyptian military and its propagandising media outlets claim this is because of "terrorists" smuggling in weapons from Gaza which are then used to attack Egypt. But there is no evidence whatsoever of this.

Indeed, Hamas, the Palestinian resistance group which controls Gaza has repeatedly made its antagonism towards both al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State clear in words and deeds. Islamic State declared war against Hamas earlier this year and Hamas has fought against it and prevented it from taking root in Gaza, as I reported in May.

While Hamas and other resistance factions have used the tunnels to bring weapons into Gaza, there are no credible reports that show weapons have gone in the other direction as the Egyptian regime has claimed. And considering the state of outright war between Hamas and Islamic State, the claim makes little sense.

What does seem clear, however, is the fact that the Egyptian regime, with the encouragement and military aid of the US, is wanting to do Israel's bidding in the region.

As Sisi is quoted in the report: “When we take security measures in the Sinai, those measures confirm our sovereignty over the Sinai, which is part and parcel of Egyptian territory. We will never allow anyone to launch attacks from our territory against neighbours or against Israel.”

As my colleague Ali Abunimah has put it: "Sisi’s subservience to Israel is certainly an extension of the anti-Palestinian policies adopted by Egypt’s ruling elite since the two countries made peace in the 1970s. But Sisi, in particular, owes a debt of gratitude to Israel lobby groups including AIPAC, which urged the US administration of President Barack Obama to back his coup regime."

The enforcement of these powers' cynical self-interest will only boost the malign interests of groups like "Islamic State" in the long run. Only the return of democracy to Egypt could begin to put things right.

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

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Asa Winstanley) frontpage Sun, 04 Oct 2015 10:20:53 +0000
Abbas and the Palestinians have no choice but reconciliation https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/blogs/politics/21427-abbas-and-the-palestinians-have-no-choice-but-reconciliation https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/blogs/politics/21427-abbas-and-the-palestinians-have-no-choice-but-reconciliation Mahmoud AbbasThese days we are going through a great deal of uncertainty when it comes to the escalation of political turmoil and internal strife regarding the Palestinian situation. It is even more complicated given the Arab states’ neglect of the Palestinian issue and Israeli violence in occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank. Recurrent aggression against the Gaza Strip exacerbates the suffering imposed by the siege and lack of reconciliation.

Mahmoud Abbas’s speech at the UN did not provide any solutions for the internal Palestinian strife nor for its position on both the regional and international stage. The speech did not provide anything new and did not exit the general framework of explaining the status quo. It failed to hold Israel completely responsible for its actions in the Palestinian territories. It was perhaps an indication that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is no longer able to maintain control of the Palestinian arena; an indication that the PA fears that the territories will be transformed into chaos that will be difficult to control. This would in turn threaten Israel’s security, which is an outcome that neither Abbas nor any country in the region would want. In truth, everyone seeks to ensure Israel’s security.

What complicates the situation further for Abbas and what forced him to rewrite his speech is the open neglect that was evident in Obama’s speech; the US president did not mention the Palestinian situation at all. This stems from the reality that the US will hold presidential elections in a year’s time and the Obama administration does not wish to anger the pro-Israel lobby. The president is well aware that Netanyahu will not accept any US proposal at this point and that both parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, wish to avoid angering their Jewish supporters for fear of losing campaign funds and votes.

In this case, what could possibly be left for Abbas to bet on? The peace process, in which he has placed his energy and trust, while claiming that he did not know that which Yasser Arafat was sure about at Camp David, has taken more than twenty years. The result of this process today is loud and clear: it is not only Mahmoud Abbas who has failed but also Benjamin Netanyahu, who ensured that the talks failed with every government. They failed because Israel did not want them to succeed and the Israeli government does not want peace.

Abbas failed on the domestic front with his own Fatah movement first and foremost when the party became divided and had numerous disagreements under various leaders. This is definitely true when it comes to the conflict in Gaza. It is as clear for all to see that a conflict is taking place among the different factions on the ground. If the situation in the West Bank were the same as in Gaza, we would say that Fatah has failed in its job of holding people together. In truth, Abbas failed in maintaining a consensus and sense of unity among the Palestinians and this has weakened the Palestinian struggle in the face of the occupation.

How can we possibly find a way out of this unfortunate situation? The Palestinians are weak on more than one level and they are affected by various Zionist, regional and international realities. There are many variables that Abbas is either not aware of or does not want to acknowledge and they require nothing more than a moment of truth from the Palestinian leader himself. He needs to make sure that there are no longer any obstacles standing in the way of true Palestinian unity based on partnership and strategy, which will place the cause at the top of the list of priorities for the Palestinian people.

Mahmoud Abbas must realise that 80 years marks the end of a journey and that he has not succeeded with his attempts at achieving peace on the basis of a two-state solution. He now needs to take a step in the right direction and work towards creating a new Palestinian reality. He must ask the Palestinian people to choose new representatives on this basis, as this is the honourable outcome for both him and the people. Will he do it? Will he straighten the path and turn a new page in his political life? Will he take the step that is needed and the one that will be remembered in Palestinian history and geography?

Translated from Alresalah, 1 October, 2015

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Mustafa Al-Sawaf) frontpage Sun, 04 Oct 2015 10:37:35 +0000
Palestine's rock-climbing community on the rise https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/blogs/culture/21426-palestines-rock-climbing-community-on-the-rise https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/blogs/culture/21426-palestines-rock-climbing-community-on-the-rise Palestinian Rock ClimbersPerched on a ledge atop a sheer rock face, Nassar Dalloul looked out over the Ein Qiniya valley and let out a roar. "Don't just sit there, man, a goat could come and kick you off!" shouted Will Harris, the climbing guide, only half-joking.

Dalloul, 24, had made it to the top of the Sagur (Eagle) climb, one of 17 routes to the top of the 12 metres of limestone rock. Responding with a chuckle, Dalloul rearranged his rope, lowered himself over the side and bounced back down the Sagur in seconds.

"It's awesome," he said, back on the ground. "You can really push yourself and push your body."

Dalloul first tried climbing six months ago, after a friend told him about Wadi Climbing, the first company to develop rock-climbing sites for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. He has been going on outdoor trips most weeks since.

"I kept going. I couldn't stop," he told Al Jazeera, grinning. "It's about improving your level every week."

The countryside around Ein Qiniya village, with its ascending olive terraces and boulder-strewn hills, was the first site chosen by the young American duo behind Wadi Climbing. Harris and Tim Bruns, both 23, considered starting a climbing company in Palestine two years ago after visiting during a study-abroad programme in neighbouring Jordan.

"Visiting Palestine, we saw the lack of recreational activities, but the huge potential for outdoor climbing," Harris told Al Jazeera. "We visited during our final year of university to do feasibility studies, [and to] talk to entrepreneurs and NGOs, just to see if it was possible."

They moved to Ramallah in July 2014 and founded Wadi Climbing, which began taking groups of Palestinians on climbing tours at the start of this year.

"People love trying new things here," Harris said. "We've been doing these trips for about eight months now, and we've had almost 1,000 people come out with us."

Around 70 percent of the climbers have been Palestinian, he added, while nearly half are repeat climbers.

"Our mission is to build a Palestinian climbing community," Harris said.

Wadi Climbing has received support and equipment from a number of sources. Many of the shoes and harnesses being used were gifted by climbing gyms in Colorado, United States, and they recently received a significant quantity of climbing gear from a European donor who wished to remain anonymous.

Over the past eight months, a climbing community has started to take root in the occupied West Bank.

This month, Wadi Climbing was running a programme for intermediate climbers. In addition to weekly outdoor climbing trips, the group of seven Palestinians has signed up for a range of extra group fitness sessions, including yoga and CrossFit, designed to complement their climbing and strengthen the community ties.

Suheil Zoabi, 25, from Jerusalem, was on his fourth trip this year, saying was drawn by the social aspects as well as the climbing.

"The guys are amazing and nice to hang out with. We have fun; we enjoy our time. We're not just climbing all day - we're chilling with friends and socialising," he told Al Jazeera, adding he would like to see more outdoor recreational pursuits in the occupied West Bank.

Fractured geography and security concerns in the West Bank are two of the reasons for the relative lack of outdoor activities for Palestinians. The vast majority of climbing infrastructure in the area has been developed by Israeli climbers in Area C. Many of the sites are located in and around settlements, which are not easily accessible to Palestinian climbers.

"Sixty percent of the West Bank is Area C, under Israeli control, where a lot of Palestinians don't feel fully comfortable - either subconsciously or full-consciously - walking around outside," Harris told Al Jazeera. "Projects like ours really promote Palestinians enjoying nature here and the beautiful landscape."

Zoabi agreed that rock climbing was a great way to use the natural landscapes in the West Bank for recreation. "People are stuck here, without access to the sea," he said. "So with these types of activities, you make more efficient use of what the people have."

Wadi Climbing is now focused on its next goal: establishing the first indoor climbing gym in Palestine.

"That's the way we can grow the community so much more," Harris said, "So that's the big goal."

Reprinted from Al Jazeera.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Nigel Wilson) frontpage Sat, 03 Oct 2015 12:20:22 +0000
Even the blind do Karate in Gaza https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21425-even-the-blind-do-karate-in-gaza https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21425-even-the-blind-do-karate-in-gaza Gaza's blind children doing KarateEXCLUSIVE IMAGES

As you enter the hall of Al-Mashtal Stadium in Gaza City, it is good to see boys doing karate. You will be surprised to learn, though, that the youngsters are all blind.

Karate is a very popular sport in the Gaza Strip, the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. There are many championships every year across Palestine.

The idea of involving visually-impaired and blind people in karate came from Captain Hassan Al-Ra’ei. Speaking to MEMO, he said that he suggested the idea to the administration of the club and it was approved.

“We started with five youngsters,” said Hassan. “It was a very strange idea and it looked impossible at first glance, but when the five achieved yellow belt status the families of other blind boys were encouraged to bring them to join in.”

Karate is beneficial for the blind, insisted Hassan. “Blind people have limited access to entertainment facilities and always feel lonely. However, being involved in this rigorous sport, they become more involved in the social life at the club and mix more with others.”

His message to stakeholders and organisations working with the visually impaired and blind is that they should support karate as much as possible, as well as those who get involved.

In closing, Hassan said that he is planning to start new training courses for blind ladies in the same club, but he stressed that this needs much effort and external support.

Images by MEMO Photographer Mohamed Asad.

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noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Sat, 03 Oct 2015 12:07:52 +0000
More symbolism at the UN, but is it enough for Palestine? https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/21424-more-symbolism-at-the-un-but-is-it-enough-for-palestine https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/21424-more-symbolism-at-the-un-but-is-it-enough-for-palestine The Palestinian flag flies for the first time at the United Nations headquarters after a flag-raising ceremony in the Rose GardenOn Wednesday, 30 September, the Palestinian flag was raised for the first time at the United Nations headquarters in New York after the General Assembly voted overwhelming in favour of the move earlier in the month. “This is a day of pride for Palestinians around the world,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “It is a day of hope. It’s a reminder that symbols are important.” He added his wish that the raising of this flag might give rise to the hope among the Palestinians and the international community that Palestinian statehood is achievable.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reflected a similar sentiment, proclaiming that the flag-raising was an omen: “The day of raising the flag over the state of Palestine is coming soon. Over Jerusalem, the capital of our state of Palestine.” According to Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour, it was a significant step because it provided Palestinians with a “beacon of hope” in an otherwise bleak Middle Eastern landscape.

Raising the flag was indeed a meaningful step, albeit purely symbolic. The flag itself is a symbol of the Palestinian people’s struggle and the significance of having it flying at the UN - the very same institution that voted to partition mandate Palestine 68 years ago - cannot be overlooked. Israel was one of only eight countries to vote against the flag-flying measure, calling it a “blatant attempt to hijack the UN”.

For the Israeli government, this was another example of UN bias; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has highlighted repeatedly the supposed “singling” out of Israeli violations by the international body. He responded to the UN report on last year’s Israeli war against the people of Gaza by pointing out that the UN Human Rights Council had passed more resolutions against Israel than against North Korea, Syria and Iran combined. Ron Prosor, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, commented that, "The Palestinians have moved the battlefield to the United Nations."

In a sense, Prosor is correct; Palestine’s battle for statehood is taking place in the UN. In 2011, Palestine joined the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as a full member. A successful bid gave de facto recognition of Palestinian statehood at the UN General Assembly in 2012. This made Palestinians eligible to join the International Criminal Court, stoking fears that Israel could find itself in The Hague facing war crimes charges.

In recent years symbolic gestures of support for a Palestinian state have been coming in thick and fast from countries all over the world. Today, 136 of the 193 member states of the UN and two non-member states recognise the State of Palestine.

While such gestures are important and demonstrate how far the Palestinian cause has come, the situation on the ground remains the same as before, if not worse. The West Bank is fragmented by settlements, checkpoints and a concrete wall which has cut off East Jerusalem, the envisioned capital of an independent Palestinian state, from its West Bank hinterland. Meanwhile, the Gaza Strip continues to be strangled by a blockade that prevents it being rebuilt after suffering three major Israeli military offensives since 2008/9 as well as almost daily incursions. The moves within the UN and elsewhere - whether condemnations, resolutions, recognition or flag raising - have not stopped Israel building ever more and bigger settlements in the occupied West Bank and did not stop last year’s war against the Palestinians in Gaza.

“The Palestinian Authority [PA] gained non-member observer status at the UN in November 2012, but nothing of substance on Palestine has happened at this forum since then,” said Nur Masalha, a Palestinian writer and academic. “For this impotent international organisation the question of Palestinian statehood remains virtual.” Crucially, he added, the PA, which pinned its hope on this UN ceremony, remains deeply wedded to security cooperation with the occupying power. “This reality which makes it impossible for the PA leadership to mobilise any effective international support for Palestine.”

For Azzam Tamimi, a Palestinian-British academic and author, the flag-raising gesture was meaningless. “What the Palestinians need from the UN is an acknowledgement of its historic role in dispossessing us," he insisted. "Our quest is not for another failing Arab state with a meaningless flag and useless institutions, but for the return of a homeland that was stripped from us.”

In Ramallah, hundreds of Palestinians watched the ceremony on television. I was there for the 2012 UN vote as it was broadcast live in the main square to a jubilant crowd, but 3 years on and symbolic recognition of a Palestinian state, one which has none of the components which actually make-up a state (control over borders, land and airspace, for example), seems like a farce. Palestine may well be a state on paper but concrete measures such as sanctions on the occupier and the severing of trade ties, including arms exports, are needed before a genuinely sovereign and independent Palestinian state can come into existence.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Jessica Purkiss) frontpage Sat, 03 Oct 2015 12:02:59 +0000
PA cracks down on protests against Israeli assaults on Al-Aqsa Mosque https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21423-pa-cracks-down-on-protests-against-israeli-assaults-on-al-aqsa-mosque https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21423-pa-cracks-down-on-protests-against-israeli-assaults-on-al-aqsa-mosque File photo of Palestinian protestors clashing with the Palestinian Authority Security Force [PASF]Palestinian Authority (PA) security services cracked down on Palestinians who took to the streets of the West Bank city of Tulkarem on Friday in solidarity with Al-Aqsa Mosque, Felesteen newspaper has reported.

Eyewitnesses said that undercover security officers attacked the protestors, who set off from Othman Bin Affan Mosque after the Friday prayer. The officials, it is claimed, tried to confiscate the flags and posters used in the demonstration, but the protestors refused to hand them over, and continued to chant “Allahu Akbar (Allah is the Greatest)”.

The PA security services, the witnesses said, arrested 18 protestors and beat at least 10 others. One man had his leg broken during the incident.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Sat, 03 Oct 2015 11:36:21 +0000
With the rise of settler terrorism, can Israel still be described as a rational political actor? https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/21422-with-the-rise-of-settler-terrorism-can-israel-still-be-described-as-a-rational-political-actor https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/21422-with-the-rise-of-settler-terrorism-can-israel-still-be-described-as-a-rational-political-actor File photo of Israeli settlers entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on September 9, 2015, under the protection of Israeli forcesBenjamin Netanyahu’s long pause as he addressed world leaders at the UN General Assembly in his inimitably disdainful manner will probably be the first image that comes to everyone’s mind in a conversation about Israel and its growing irrationality. As tempting as it is to focus on the cartoonish image of Netanyahu on the international stage, Israeli irrationalism goes beyond the idiosyncratic behaviour of one person, even if that person is the country’s prime minster.

In what appear clearly to be signs of growing concern, Saudi Arabia has called for Jewish settlers to be blacklisted as terrorists. In an appeal to the UN the Gulf monarchy now joins the European Union and the Palestinian Authority trying to find ways to combat the routine violence carried out by Israeli settlers in occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank. At the very least, there should be recognition of the problem for what it is: acts of terrorism against Palestinians by Jewish religious extremists.

The dangerous spike in settler attacks in Jerusalem is the culmination of decades of Israel’s culture of impunity, discrimination, Judaisation policy and, above all, complicity with non-state Jewish and Evangelical Christian extremists in their efforts to alter the religious, social and cultural fabric of Jerusalem. Well-funded and highly orchestrated plans to expedite the coming/return of the Messiah have transformed marginal religious zealots into a political force.

Israel’s democratic cloak has been successful in concealing the extent to which this noxious marriage between religion and politics is endangering the country’s ability to behave rationally. After all, if it was serious about ending the conflict under parameters already agreed upon - which include returning East Jerusalem to the Palestinians - it would not allow its own religious fanatics to compromise peace, and offer tax breaks to messianic Jewish congregations in Jerusalem.

These decisions and the inability to control settler-terrorism, shatter an implicit narrative about violence in the Middle East, which in many respects is no longer sustainable. It’s impossible to maintain the position, as Israel regularly does, that violence perpetrated by Palestinians is largely driven by apocalyptic, messianic motives unconnected to any socio-political context, while at the same time hold the view that violence perpetrated by Israel is largely driven by political necessity and genuine existential threats, posed by people with an apocalyptic and messianic world view.

The distinction matters because there is great political utility and propaganda value in holding the position, common to many commentators, that Israel is a rational actor fighting against irrational forces. This is a convenient Orientalist misrepresentation, distorting perceptions of legitimate and illegitimate violence. Too often these relics of Orientalist stereotypes, about Muslims and Arabs in particular, are appropriated to justify unjustifiable violence. This is typified by legions of Israel’s supporters, who contend that its devastating use of force against its enemies, such as the onslaught on the civilians of Gaza last year, is a sensible and rational response of a country trying to survive in a “tough and crazy neighbourhood”. They maintain that in order for Israel to ensure its military primacy against “people who love death more than we - the civilised - love life”, Israel must be willing to “out-crazy” the “crazies”. Israel’s “craziness”, they insist, is grounded on realist considerations. It’s a mind-set that even has its own military manoeuvre called the “Dahiya doctrine”.

There’s a long tradition of supposedly rational behaviour of this kind in politics, where mindless “craziness” is deployed in the service of apparently rational objectives, most notably in the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US in 1945. There are many other examples. Netanyahu also showed similar logic in a recent tweet where he declared a “war on stone throwers”; yes, a war on Palestinian stone-throwers, who will now be in sharp focus within Israeli crosshairs following the permission granted to the Israel Defence Forces to use deadly snipers against Palestinians throwing stones.

Despite the craziness of these policies, we are meant to believe that they emanate from rational actors pursuing rational objectives through means that are, at worst, controversial and not irrational. It’s certainly a contentious point but not one that I’m keen on labouring here. What is more interesting, judging by the rise in settler attacks against Palestinians in East Jerusalem, is a different kind of craziness that’s emanating from Israel; one that moves the country into the position of an irrational actor; where theology supersedes tangible political goals and obligations under international law are trumped by sacred text fused with a sense of God-given entitlement to the “land of Israel”, no matter what the political cost. It’s a scary prospect indeed, considering that we are talking about a country with nuclear weapons, but it’s a prospect that needs consideration because of its grave potential consequences.

Contentious as it may sound, the Zionist state’s behaviour is more typical of an irrational actor pursuing irrational objectives. Such objectives, which conflict with international law, buck the recognised political process and so are, to say the least, irrational. It’s a kind of insanity that is displayed by other faith groups whose goals and objectives are totally irrational and completely at odds with their own co-religionists, let alone the international community.

The notable difference, however, is that mindless zealots springing from other faith communities are not assisted by powerful friends, unlike Israel. Those wishing for an apocalyptic end and striving frantically to set the scene for the coming of the messiah and the Armageddon, normally represent no social and political constituency; nor do they usually sit in a democratically-elected parliament to influence government policy on matters affecting local, regional and global stability. In Israel, though, they do.

Israel’s political landscape is wrapped in all kinds of extremism; from xenophobic secular nationalists to religious zealots. Add to that mix the unquestioning support from millions of Evangelical Christians in America and Europe, and the potential for disastrous consequences do not bear thinking about. The inherent conflict between the state of Israel and the land of Israel has gone through a slow but nonetheless dramatic transformation, with the state now playing its part within a cosmic drama prophesising redemption of Israel and the coming of the messiah.

It’s no secret that the very foundation of Israel was made possible through the fusion of a number of powerful elements. Nationalism, of course, and, more importantly for the sake of this discussion, powerful theology that had been dormant until Zionism saw the political benefit of its resurrection. It wasn’t until Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967 that religious currents morphed into a more powerful force, emerging as they have into a political actor, which the state has to reckon with.

A number of factors have contributed to settler-terrorism but, arguably, none more so than the growth in the number of Israeli soldiers from a religious background. There’s been a massive “theologisation” of the Israeli army, as one historian has noted: “There are now entire units of religious combat soldiers, many of them based in West Bank settlements. They answer to hard-line rabbis who call for the establishment of a Greater Israel that includes the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

The percentage of officer cadets who are religious has grown 10-fold since the early 1990s. This is down to Bnei David, established in 1988 as Israel’s flagship preparatory programme for orthodox Jews heading for the IDF. In the early 1990s, orthodox Jewish men accounted for 2.5 per cent of military graduates. Since then, that figure has grown to more than 25 per cent. In some combat units, they make up as much as 50 per cent of new officers, roughly four times their proportion of Israel’s population. The upward trend, coupled with a parallel decline in the number of combat soldiers and officers coming from secular families, is changing the face of the IDF dramatically.

IDF personnel are often photographed while praying; the picture of a Jewish man in front of his tank or artillery piece, dressed in his IDF uniform with a prayer shawl draped over his shoulders, is now one of the iconic images of an Israeli soldier. It is a powerful example of how militarism blends with religious piety. The IDF can no longer be said to be exclusively a tool for the defence of the Israeli state; it is equally an instrument for seizing “the land of Israel” from its indigenous inhabitants.

This begs the question, will the army remain loyal to the state? There are very good reasons to be concerned about the stated goals and intentions of the growing number of religious Zionists now serving in the army. As noted in the Guardian, these highly motivated soldiers could turn the traditionally secular IDF into an ideological instrument and create conflicts about a duty to obey the rabbi or the commanding officer.

Amos Harel, a military correspondent for Haaretz, asked, “Has the IDF become an army of settlers?” This is not just a question of importance for Palestinians in Jerusalem; it is equally a serious issue for Israel itself. Could the IDF be relied upon to evacuate Jerusalem and West Bank settlements - as they did in Gaza in 2005 - with battalion commanders being, increasingly, religious?

Harel notes the potential for mass disobedience in the face of such orders, making many Israeli politicians and senior officers to pause for thought before ordering soldiers to take actions against Jewish communities in the territories.

It’s highly presumptuous to believe that Israel remains a rational actor despite the madness of its policies. It’s possibly less so to believe the opposite; that Israel has indeed become an irrational actor within the international political system holding quasi-political objectives that cannot be reconciled with international law and the international community. Israel’s inability to rein-in the Jewish settlers and risk an unimaginable conflagration that answers the prayer of the zealots in its midst is a clear indication that, at the very least, it doesn’t have the will to do so and - worst case scenario - that Israel’s will and capability are perfectly in step. That is, indeed, a chilling thought.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Nasim Ahmed) frontpage Sat, 03 Oct 2015 11:28:57 +0000
Like Brezhnev in Afghanistan, Putin will fail in Syria https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/resources/commentary-and-analysis/21421-like-brezhnev-in-afghanistan-putin-will-fail-in-syria https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/resources/commentary-and-analysis/21421-like-brezhnev-in-afghanistan-putin-will-fail-in-syria MEMO CommentaryPresident Vladimir Putin's decision to launch airstrikes against targets in Syria has effectively changed the rules of engagement in the war-torn country. In the long run, this may well be the most serious miscalculation that the Russian leader has made in his whole career.

In some ways the gamble is strikingly similar to Leonid Brezhnev’s invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. Current attempts by the Kremlin to justify the airstrikes as part of the global “war against terror” have failed to allay fears of an unfolding Russian occupation of a predominantly Muslim country.

While many in Syria absolutely reject Daesh/ISIS and its deviant practices, they will not under any circumstances be throwing rice or flowers onto their newest invaders, if and when ground operations begin. In fact, the public endorsement by the Russian Orthodox Church of the strikes and its description thereof as a “holy war” have given a whole new dimension to the conflict in Syria. No sooner had the church Patriarch Kirill given his blessings to the operations did social media activists across the Middle East call for Muslims to go to Syria’s rescue in the same way that they had rescued Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Back in 1979, the Soviet Union was “invited” to prop-up an unpopular client state in Afghanistan. On the eve of the invasion most of the countryside, as in today’s Syria, was in open rebellion. The communist government in Kabul carried out a brutal campaign against its own people during which more than 27,000 Afghans were executed.

Bashar Al Assad’s response to popular demands for reform has been very similar. Having lost control over four-fifths of Syrian territory he has also “invited” the Russians to come to his rescue. This, of course, was after the combined mercenary forces of Iranians, Afghans, Iraqis and Lebanese-Hezbollah fighters had failed to prevent the country’s territorial and military meltdown.

Significantly, the Western alliance bombing of Daesh/ISIS targets for more than a year has not changed the situation on the ground either. The chances of the Russians doing any better, even with the best of their air power, are remote.

As it now stands, Moscow’s military intervention has set it on a collision course with Saudi Arabia and Turkey; both have condemned the operation. Syria, like Afghanistan in the 1980s, is thus fast becoming a theatre for a global confrontation, with numerous state actors trying to secure their own geo-strategic interests.

Alexander Rahr, a prominent German expert on Russia, pointed out that although Washington and Moscow both see the need to act against Daesh/ISIS, they act in line with their different priorities. “We see different priorities in Syria,” he explained. “The Russian priority is to prevent this critical region of the Middle East, Syria and Iraq from going under the control of the Saudis and of the Gulf States who are very close to the US.” Rahr believes that while Saudi Arabia is trying to reduce the influence of Iran in the region, Russia is for a strong Iran, as a counterweight to the Saudis.

Even the Israelis have joined in on the act, threatening to intensify their own airstrikes in Syria. They are positioning themselves to grab more territory as Syria disintegrates. Hence, we are witnessing the emergence of an undeclared, unholy alliance between the Russians, Iranians and regional players like Israel and Egypt.

As the battle lines are drawn Egypt’s position is noticeably ambivalent, to say the least. Unlike the Saudis who helped to install and keep him in power, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi refuses to call for Assad’s departure. In a recent interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer he ducked the question repeatedly on whether Assad should go, claiming instead that he fears the disintegration of the Syrian state and the fall of its weapons into the hands of extremists. The undeclared subtext of this is his paramount concern for Israel’s security.

All told, nothing in the present web of alliances and counter-alliances suggest that a political solution is within reach in Syria. Russia’s involvement endorsed by its Orthodox Christian establishment alongside Iran and supported by Israel will only enflame the situation. Whatever the reason behind it, Russia is now well and truly trapped in the Syrian quagmire. Sooner or later, Putin will have to commit ground troops if he wants to avoid a long war of attrition that will drain his already ailing economy.

Whether he makes that fateful decision to commit ground troops or not, the fact remains that Russia is now perceived as an invader and occupier. Vladimir Putin seems not to have learnt anything from Brezhnev’s misadventure in Afghanistan. For this, he is likely to pay very dearly.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Dr Daud Abdullah) frontpage Sat, 03 Oct 2015 11:23:42 +0000
UN suspends humanitarian intervention in Syria https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/21420-un-suspends-humanitarian-intervention-in-syria https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/21420-un-suspends-humanitarian-intervention-in-syria Steffan de MisturaThe United Nations on Friday suspended its planned humanitarian operations in Syria because of an increase of military activities in concerned areas of the war-torn country.

UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura’s office said it would now seek the implementation of a cease-fire agreement in the concerned areas.

Syrian regime and opposition forces had agreed to a cease-fire agreement in September, according to which the cease-fire is expected to be enforced in the city of Zabadani in the Rif Dimashq province near the Lebanese border and the towns of Kefraya and Fua, both of which are located in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province.

The cease-fire is meant to allow food and medical supplies to be delivered to civilian populations in the three areas.

"The UN calls on all concerned parties to fulfill their responsibilities in the protection of civilians and reach the necessary understandings in order to implement this agreement as soon as possible," Mistura office said in a statement on Friday.

"The Syrian population in these affected areas is waiting for this agreement to be implemented so that the needed humanitarian assistance can be provided to end their long-standing suffering," the statement said.

Syria’s devastating civil war, now in its fifth year, has claimed more than 250,000 lives, according to UN figures, and caused a security vacuum that paved the way for extremist groups such as Daesh to gain a foothold in the region

Is it too late to end the #SyrianCrisis and save the #SyrianChild?Will we #TurnBackTheBoats and let #Syria Drown ?...

Posted by Middle East Monitor on Wednesday, 30 September 2015
noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Sat, 03 Oct 2015 11:18:52 +0000
Barrel bombs kill 100 in Syria, including women and children https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21419-barrel-bombs-kill-100-in-syria-including-women-and-children https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21419-barrel-bombs-kill-100-in-syria-including-women-and-children File photo of the damage caused by a barrel bomb attack on Aleppo's Al-Bab neighbourhood on May 30, 2015More than 100 Syrians, including women and children, were killed on Friday by barrel bombs dropped by the Syrian air force on two districts in the city Aleppo. The area is controlled by Daesh/ISIS.

Local sources told Anadolu that 80 of the victims were killed by Syrian regime helicopters in the north-west of Aleppo. The other 20 were killed when regime forces targeted a market in the city. The same sources claimed that the areas hit by the bombs were residential and some distance from Daesh/ISIS positions.

The dead and wounded were taken to Al-Manbaj Hospital, the main hospital in the neighbourhood.

#Syria - over 240,000 have been killed in the conflict so far, including almost 12,000 children!Expand the infographic to view more facts.Image by The White Canvas

Posted by Middle East Monitor on Wednesday, 26 August 2015
noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Sat, 03 Oct 2015 11:15:30 +0000
Iran has rockets ‘to attack Saudi Arabia’ https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21418-iran-has-rockets-to-attack-saudi-arabia https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21418-iran-has-rockets-to-attack-saudi-arabia File photo of an Iranian mobile missle launch platform, during the 2015 Army Day paradeIran’s Brigadier-General Morteza Qurbani has revealed that there are 2,000 rockets waiting for the orders of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to attack Saudi Arabia, Fars news agency has reported.

“Iranians must not be afraid of the enemy threats,” said the head of the Revolution and Defence Museum. “We won the war with Iraq with the least military equipment, but if Khamenei gave his orders today to attack Saudi Arabia, we have 2,000 rockets ready to set off from Isfahan.”

Qurbani, who is a close aide to the commander of Al-Quds Brigade, General Qasim Suleimani, added: “When the war with Iraq started, Saddam Hussein said he wanted to have lunch in Al-Mahmarah and his dinner in Al-Ahwaz, then to head for Tehran. However, we stopped him and liberated our cities from the Iraqi occupation at that time when we were suffering from a strict siege.”

He explained that the lines of defence for the Iranian revolution are today in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. “We are ready to carry out the orders of Khamenei and move anywhere he wants.”

Iran-Saudi relations have been difficult since the Iranian revolution in 1979. They deteriorated further after the start of the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, with the Sunni government in Riyadh sensing an increased threat from Shia across the region.

Earlier this week, the Saudi-led Arab coalition seized an Iranian ship carrying weapons to Houthis in Yemen.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Sat, 03 Oct 2015 11:10:29 +0000
Yemen cuts diplomatic relations with Iran https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21417-yemen-cuts-diplomatic-relations-with-iran https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21417-yemen-cuts-diplomatic-relations-with-iran Riyad YassinYemeni Foreign Minister Riyad Yassin has announced that his government has broken-off diplomatic relations with Iran, media reports claimed on Friday.

Yassin said that his country should have ended its relations with Iran a long time ago. He accused its embassy in Sana’a of offering all kinds of aid to the “anti-legitimacy rebels”, noting that it has been an “operation point” for the Houthis.

This news came just days after the speech by President Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi at the UN General Assembly. The Yemeni leader accused Iran of seeking to destroy his country.

“We are involved in the battle of defending the country and its legitimacy in order not to fall in the hands of Iran, which has big ambitions, including the control of Bab-el-Mandeb Strait,” the president told the gathering of world leaders in New York.

Hadi blamed the Houthis, who have been supported by Iran, for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. “You might know the size of the humanitarian tragedy and the suffering of my people under the siege of the oppressive militia, which is continuous in destroying the country.”

The breaking-off of diplomatic relations with Iran came 24 hours after Bahrain gave Iranian officials 72 hours to leave the Gulf country.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Sat, 03 Oct 2015 11:00:08 +0000
Iran mobilises forces on Syrian border ahead of ground operation https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21416-iran-mobilises-forces-on-syrian-border-ahead-of-ground-operation https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21416-iran-mobilises-forces-on-syrian-border-ahead-of-ground-operation Iranian Revolutionary GuardsUS military experts have apparently told Fox News that additional Iranian forces had arrived in Syria in advance of a ground operation supported by Russian airstrikes in the country, Palestinian newspaper Al-Resalah reported on Friday. The experts did not reveal the numbers of the forces involved.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported Lebanese sources on Thursday saying that hundreds of Iranian troops had been heading to the Syrian border for the past ten days. They said that these troops are preparing to take part in a ground operation in the north of the country. Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia is also preparing to take part in the operation, it was claimed.

The sources said that the ground operation is to be carried out by Syrian government troops supported by the Iranians and Hezbollah, with air cover provided by the Russians.

According to Russian Interfax news agency, however, an Iranian diplomatic source in Moscow insisted that Tehran has no need to send troops to Syria, but added that there are Iranian military advisers already in the country.

This news came just days after the start of Russian airstrikes in different parts of Syria. The Syrian opposition said that the Russians targeted its positions, although observers claim that the Russians have also hit Daesh/ISIS targets in Al-Raqqa in the north of Syria.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Sat, 03 Oct 2015 10:52:27 +0000
Clinton calls for safe passage and no-fly zones in Syria https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/21415-clinton-calls-for-safe-passage-and-no-fly-zones-in-syria https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/21415-clinton-calls-for-safe-passage-and-no-fly-zones-in-syria Hilary ClintonWould-be US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called on Friday for the establishment of safe passage and no-fly zones in Syria as an attempt to solve the refugee crisis, Alamatonline.com has reported.

Speaking to a local American TV station in Boston, Clinton said that she personally supports this idea in an attempt to stop the “humanitarian tragedy on the ground and from the sky.” She also called for having a chance to evaluate what is going on in Syria.

Speaking as part of her political campaign, Clinton said that there is a need for more pressure on Russia at the moment. It’s a “very dangerous game” that Russian President Vladimir Putin is involving himself in, she claimed. “It is clear that he is seeking to support the Syrian regime and to widen the Russian existence in Syria and the Middle East.”

The Obama administration has refused to establish no-fly zones in Syria. A White House spokesman said recently that the president has not changed his position because a no-fly zone requires a lot of logistical effort to protect it.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Sat, 03 Oct 2015 10:48:46 +0000
10 Palestinians wounded as Israel hunts settlers' killers https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21414-10-palestinians-wounded-as-israel-hunts-settlers-killers https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21414-10-palestinians-wounded-as-israel-hunts-settlers-killers Israeli soldiers on patrol in Nablus todayTen Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire in the West Bank on Saturday during a raid by troops hunting the killers of a Jewish settler couple, Palestinian police and medical sources said.

Palestinians protesting against the raid in the territory's main northern city of Nablus hurled stones at soldiers, who responded with rubber bullets, tear gas and live ammunition, the sources said. The Palestinian Red Crescent said "10 people were wounded by live rounds to the legs or stomach," and "four others were wounded in beatings" by security forces.

Tensions have soared in the West Bank since the settler couple were shot dead in their car in front of their four children on Thursday evening. Rabbi Eitam Henkin and his wife Naama, both in the 30s, were buried in Jerusalem on Friday.

Israel has launched a huge manhunt for the gunmen, and deployed troop reinforcements to maintain order following revenge attacks by settlers.

Palestinian police said Saturday's violence began when "dozens of Israeli soldiers in military vehicles" entered an eastern neighbourhood of Nablus, one of the largest cities in the West Bank. Palestinian sources claim there were at least 50 settler families who took part in the aggression to seize Palestinian land.

"They arrested eight people and conducted searches, entering properties by force and causing damage," the police said. An Israeli military spokeswoman said she was unable to comment on the raid.

Apprehensive of rising tensions between settlers and Palestinians after Thursday's shooting, the Israeli army said it had deployed "four battalions in order to prevent an escalation of violence in the area adjacent to the location of the attack". Palestinian news agency Wafa said a 35-year-old man was shot in the leg by settlers near Bethlehem, and police said settlers had stoned a number of cars and set fire to olive trees.

And in the Palestinian village of Beitillu, assailants torched a car and spray-painted "Revenge Henkin" in Hebrew on a wall, the army said, adding that nobody was hurt.

Report by AFP.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Sat, 03 Oct 2015 10:36:36 +0000
UK government acts to stop councils divesting from Israeli occupation https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/21413-uk-government-acts-to-stop-councils-divesting-from-israeli-occupation https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/21413-uk-government-acts-to-stop-councils-divesting-from-israeli-occupation UK flagThe UK government has said it intends to change legislation in order to prevent local councils divesting from the arms trade and Israeli human rights abuses.

Announcing the plans, a Conservative spokesperson said that “Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, alongside Labour-affiliated trade unions, are urging councils to use their procurement and pension policies to punish both Israel and the UK defence industry.”

The spokesperson continued: “Hard-left campaigns against British defence companies threaten to harm Britain’s £10 billion export trade, destroying British jobs, and hinder joint working with Israel to protect Britain from foreign cyber-attacks and terrorism.”

The proposed amendment to legislation will be aimed at stopping councils from incorporating the concerns of human rights campaigners into their pension and procurement policies.

According to Communities and Local Government Secretary Greg Clark, such a step would be a challenge to “the politics of division.”

The language used by the Conservatives, including the claim that divesting from companies complicit in Israeli atrocities “poison[s] community relations”, mirrors the rhetoric of pro-Israel lobby groups.

Clark added that “divisive policies undermine good community relations, and harm the economic security of families by pushing up council tax.” Cabinet Office Minister Matthew Hancock said: “We will…prevent such playground politics undermining our international security.”

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Sat, 03 Oct 2015 10:27:54 +0000
490 days of hunger - An audience with Mohamed Soltan https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/palestine-events/21412-490-days-of-hunger-an-audience-with-mohamed-soltan https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/palestine-events/21412-490-days-of-hunger-an-audience-with-mohamed-soltan 490 days of hunger - An audience with Mohamed Soltan

Mohamed SoltanIn the wake of Egypt’s ousting of President Morsi, thousands of pro-democracy protesters were arrested.

Mohamed Soltan, a 27-year-old US-Egyptian dual citizen and human rights activist, was arrested in September 2013 when police was searching for his father. After going on a hunger strike for 490 days to protest his unjust detention, in May 2015, he was released and sent back to the US.

At this event, Soltan will speak about his experiences and give a first-hand account of what scores of political prisoners continue to endure in Egypt.

The event will be chaired by Reprieve, an organisation of committed human rights defenders. Founded in 1999 by British human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, they provide free legal and investigative support to some of the world’s most vulnerable people: British, European and other nationals facing execution, and those victimised by states’ abusive counter-terror policies – rendition, torture, extrajudicial imprisonment and extrajudicial killing.

6pm-9pm, 14 October 2015
Imperial College London
Huxley Building, South Kensington Campus, SW7 2AZ

FREE ENTRY, but you must register online.

Eventbrite - 490 days of hunger - An audience with Mohamed Soltan

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Wed, 14 Oct 2015 17:00:46 +0000
‘The Narcicyst’: An Arab raging against the machine https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/resources/interviews/21411-the-narcicyst-an-arab-raging-against-the-machine https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/resources/interviews/21411-the-narcicyst-an-arab-raging-against-the-machine Yassin AlsalmanEXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

“Hip hop is a school,” says Yassin Alsalman, better known by his MC title of “the Narcicyst”, or simple “Narcy”, “it’s a school that taught me a lot about myself outside of the school environment. I didn’t have to pay for any books, I didn’t have to listen to somebody lecture me, I chose who to listen to and it helped me build my career and my identity.”

Now in his thirties, Narcy was born in the UAE to Iraqi parents who had fled from Basra several years earlier. As a child, he moved from the Middle East to Canada, where he grew up amongst a diverse immigrant population. Harbouring an interest in music from a young age, it wasn’t until his second year at university studying for a Political Science degree that Narcy felt compelled to begin making music of his own – partly in response to the surge of public scrutiny on Arabs and Muslims in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in New York.

“[9/11] really sort of shook the core of how people perceive both Muslims and Arabs, and in general brown people,” he tells me during a meeting preceding his performance at a concert in central London. “Not that it was anything new, but it definitely sort of blew the microscope up and made it a lot more specific about how we targeted people.”

Disillusioned with Politics, Narcy switched to majoring in Communication Studies in an attempt to make sense of public discourse in the wake of the 2001 attacks. It was this discipline, ultimately, that both taught him how to produce sound and put him in contact with other like-minded individuals intent on making their voices heard through the medium of music. Most of all, his music was an attempt “to reconstruct an identity that was being hijacked”, making use of “old Iraqi samples, old Iraqi drums, old Arabic samples” over which he would rap in angry, prosaic verses.

His 2009 track P.H.A.T.W.A, which attacks the racial profiling of Arabs and Muslims at airports for “security reasons”, is a prime example of Narcy’s directed and lyrical anger; in the preamble of the music video, he emphatically states to his friend that “Iraq is the new black”. Indeed, Narcy is quick to point out the link between black sub-culture and musical genres such as hip hop and rap, which as he claims, are vehicles that were born out of the identity crisis suffered by African Americans: “Black America needed a voice to counter the voice that was countering them – it’s just a culture that allows you, it created a template for people who needed to express themselves freely without having to defend themselves.”

These days, however, Narcy says his music is “less reactive and more proactive”; he is more interested in drawing attention to the potential for hope and change in the world than angrily fighting back against the system in the way he used to. Ever the cynic, his outlook for the future nevertheless contains glimmers of optimism, especially when it comes to empowering people to take control of their own narratives and identities.

“As for the world, the world is going to go on,” he intones pragmatically, “there’s going to be misrule, there’s going to be abuse of power, you’re not going to be able to change that system… the only way to [change things] is to come together with a group of people and create.”

And this is exactly what he has been doing; he has recently come together with a group of other artists and performers to form a collective who work together to draw attention to important issues and raise awareness about each other’s work. As part of such collaborative processes, Narcy is due to publish a comic book, entitled World War Free after his recently released album and illustrated by Dubai-based illustrator Ashraf Ghori. It is this kind of artistic and intellectual cooperation that Narcy feels establishes the cornerstone of a potential new world order, one based not on arbitrary state borders and control but on international solidarity and a collective sense of humanity:

“As corny as it might be, I don’t think we’re from anywhere,” he stresses. “I think we’re from Earth, right – so starting to think about internationality. There’s two levels to that: you could try to build a tribe and become landless and stateless; or you could really just start thinking open-mindedly and realising that there are borders that exist but those borders are just political and social. If we eliminate those borders between each other, mentally, creatively, then we start building an international community that collaborates and exists together and eventually that would be big enough where world governments won’t be able to counter that identity.”

It’s a bold plan, and one that, he tells me, relies on the control and manipulation of information.

“I think the thing with my generation and the generation that came after me is that information to us is so fleeting – it’s 140 characters, Snap Chat, Instagram – you just let go of it and it goes into the ether… it all becomes fleeting pieces of information. I think as a generation we have to step back and start re-analysing how we intake info and realising how to create media and learning how to create media and using it to its full capacity to start controlling our own narrative.”

Taking control of the narrative, however, is no easy task, and Narcy is pragmatic about the necessity of working with, rather than against global corporate and capitalist culture – in order to ultimately undermine it from within.

“I think it’s really important to embrace the way of the world and work within that to spread messages,” he asserts. “So the next project we’re doing is actually a pop-up shop that will travel around the world in different locations where we have merchandise that we sell that has the artwork of those artists and we take a percentage of that profit and give it to whatever cause we deem [worthy] for that time. But also people start wearing the messaging on their clothing and walk around, start having conversations with different people – so when you wear a “Same Shit Different Saddam” t-shirt you might get stopped by someone who asks what does that mean, and that sparks a 45-minute conversation with them… It’s about hitting people on multiple platforms at once – punch them in the faces any time you can, but creatively, not with your fist.”

Ultimately, however, this citizen of the world is aware that there are certain rules and constraints that must be abided by, but nevertheless optimistic about their ability to be subverted. “Look at [the world] like a game,” he says conspiratorially, “you’ve got to plug yourself in to get to the next level.”

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Emmanuela Esposti) frontpage Fri, 02 Oct 2015 16:10:23 +0000
Hamas: Russia’s interference in Syria is unacceptable https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21410-hamas-russias-interference-in-syria-is-unacceptable https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21410-hamas-russias-interference-in-syria-is-unacceptable Sami Khater, Hamas’s political bureau Russia’s interference in Syria is unacceptable, member of Hamas’s political bureau Sami Khater stressed, calling for Russia’s role in Syria to be a product of consensus and popular acceptance.

In an interview with Quds Press, Khater said: “As an international force, Russia should have been cautious in the role it plays in Syria and make sure that its position received popular consensus and acceptance from the Syrian people. There is no doubt that such intervention will negatively affect the Palestinian cause because it will distract from the Israeli occupation’s heinous violations against the Palestinian and the Islamic sanctities as well as the Christian sanctities.”

He reiterated his movement’s commitment to the reconciliation as a national option, saying: “Our national position is a position eagerly seeking to achieve reconciliation as it is a national necessity. Until now, the Palestinian Authority’s behaviour, especially that of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, has not been positive. However after his recent speech at the UN, there have been signs of his intention to make an effort in this regard. We are waiting for what he can offer and we will deal positively with any endeavour to achieve national reconciliation, as achieving unity is a national obligation. Therefore, no Palestinian official should stand in the way of national unity.”

As for whether Hamas had any other options in the event that the reconciliation remains hindered, Khater said: “Of course we will not allow for the unjust blockade imposed against the Gaza Strip since 2006 to continue. We are making every effort and using all our energy to reach a solution to these problems imposed on us by the occupation. This does not clash with our efforts to establish a Palestinian political system and a Palestinian strategy to confront the occupation.”

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 02 Oct 2015 15:48:51 +0000
Morocco to boycott Swedish companies over support for Polisario Front https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/21409-morocco-to-boycott-swedish-companies-over-support-for-polisario-front https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/21409-morocco-to-boycott-swedish-companies-over-support-for-polisario-front Flag of MoroccoThe Moroccan government decided to boycott Swedish companies yesterday following the government in Stockholm’s “determination” to support what is known as the “Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic”, established unilaterally by the Polisario Front.

Communication Minister and government spokesman Mustapha Khalfi told a press conference in the capital Rabat, “We are heading towards a boycott of Swedish companies according to the principle of reciprocity after similar campaigns to boycott Moroccan companies.”

This was Morocco’s response to what the minister described as “attempts to recognise the alleged republic” without revealing the details of the recognition and when it would take place.

Khalfi added that since the Swedish have now boycotted Moroccan companies and launched one campaign after the other in this regard, “We will face these measures which are no longer limited to Swedish territories, as they include many other Moroccan companies.” Sweden, he explained, has declared an economic war on Morocco in calling for a boycott of Moroccan companies as well as foreign companies that have relations with Morocco. “It is not only a political position,” Khalfi insisted.

The Moroccan official added that the foreign minister met his Swedish counterpart, Margot Wallstrom, several times in the UN headquarters over the past few days, and expressed Morocco’s “outrage” regarding Sweden’s “assault” on the North African state’s territorial integrity.

Furthermore, the foreign ministry called the Swedish ambassador in Rabat on Tuesday to protest against the Stockholm government’s intention to recognise the Democratic Sahrawi Republic (SADR).

It is worth noting that the authorities in Casablanca have already blocked the opening of a branch of IKEA, the Swedish furniture store, which was scheduled to open last week, citing a lack of the necessary permits.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 02 Oct 2015 15:28:35 +0000
Washington to withdraw Patriot missiles protecting Turkish border with Syria https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/21408-washington-to-withdraw-patriot-missiles-protecting-turkish-border-with-syria https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/21408-washington-to-withdraw-patriot-missiles-protecting-turkish-border-with-syria The Pentagon, USAWashington has confirmed that as scheduled in October it will be withdrawing American Patriot missiles deployed in Turkey in the summer of 2013 to protect it from potential rockets fired from Syria despite the developments in the country, the Pentagon has revealed.

Department of Defence spokeswoman, Laura Seal, said: “We continue to anticipate the completion of the process of withdrawing these missiles in October.”

The US and Turkey announced in August that the missiles deployed by NATO in 2013 to guard Turkey against potential rockets from Syria would be withdrawn.

Washington justified this withdrawal by saying they were necessary for critical modernisation upgrades. Germany also announced that they intend to withdraw their Patriot batteries as well.

NATO can still count on the Spanish battery deployed in January 2015 in the southern city of Adana.

According to the US Department of Defence, the Patriot assets and personnel can return to Turkey within one week if needed.

Patriot missiles are capable of destroying tactical ballistic missiles in the air, as well as cruise missiles and aircrafts.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 02 Oct 2015 15:26:19 +0000
Russian church’s declaration of holy war in Syria sparks calls for jihad https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21407-russian-churchs-declaration-of-holy-in-syria-sparks-calls-for-jihad https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21407-russian-churchs-declaration-of-holy-in-syria-sparks-calls-for-jihad Russian fighter jet airforce

The statements made by the Russian Orthodox Church describing the war being fought by the Russian army in Syria and its role in protecting the Christians in the region as a “holy war” has sparked a wave of angry Arab responses and statements on social networking sites. Such statements have reached the point of declaring a jihad in response to the Russian statement.

Others have predicted the nearness of the Dabiq battle (the Apocalypse), which indicates the end of time.

Church’s blessing for war

The Russian Orthodox Church’s public affairs department quoted the Church’s Patriarch Kirill blessing the Russian forces’ fight in Syria, saying: “Russia took a responsible decision to use military forces to protect the Syrian people from the woes brought on by the tyranny of terrorists,” adding that the “Orthodox people have noticed many acts of violence against Christians in the area.”

Russia Today quoted the head of the Church’s Public Affairs Department, Vsevolod Chaplin, saying: “The active position of our country has always been connected with protection of the weak and oppressed, like the Middle East Christians who are now experiencing a real genocide. Any fight against terrorism is moral; we can even call it a holy fight.”

Annihilation of Syrian Muslims

On his part, Syrian journalist Faisal Al-Qassem criticised the military operations carried out of the Russian Air Force in Syria, accusing them of “annihilating Syrian Muslims” referring to the Russian Orthodox Church’s description of this as “a holy war”.

In his post on Facebook, Al-Qassem said: “A few days ago, the Russian president opened the largest mosque in Moscow, then he sent his planes to Syrian to annihilate the Syrian Muslims under the pretext of the Russian church leaders describing this as a holy war.”

Calls for jihad

Activist, Khaled Hamdi, tweeted: “The Russians are burning our Syria, the Jews are desecrating our Jerusalem, the Majoos (fire worshippers) are emptying our Iraq of Sunni Muslims, and our leaders are killing our free youth.”

“Our world is on the verge of exploding in anger and jihad. The toughest fighters are those who have nothing to lose, and our youth are so.”

He added: “Jerusalem is besieged, blood is being shed in Egypt, Syria and Iraq, justice in our countries is a thing of the past, and our youth are longing for jihad. Beware to the secular Russians from our Muslim youth who long to fight them and beware of the Zionists from the jihad that is coming; a jihad that their allies prevented us from carrying out. It seems that Syria will be the meeting point and from there we will return to Jerusalem.”

Saudi academic, Mohammed Al-Hadeef, described Western intervention in Syria as “a religious war” declared against the Sunni Muslims in order to make them a minority in their countries.

In a tweet on his Twitter account, Al Hadeef said “Orthodox Russians, Persians (unspecified religion), Catholic and Protestant Westerners, and Israeli Jews are fighting Sunni Muslims. If this isn’t a “religious war”, then what is?”

Al-Hadeef also said that the West now view the Sunnis in Syria as a minority that must be integrated despite the fact that they are the people of the country.


On his part, Syrian opposition member, Bassam Jaara said: “The Orthodox Church’s call for a holy war in Syria warrants a declaration of jihad. The Orthodox Church described Putin’s battle in Syria as ‘holy’, meaning a crusade war… A ‘holy’ war requires a call for jihad.”

See also:

Putin insists that no one has the right to ask Assad to resign

Kerry: US would welcome Russian military action in Syria if aimed at Daesh

Putin: Russia provides military, technical support to Iraq and Syria

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 02 Oct 2015 14:39:28 +0000
The week in pictures https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/in-pictures/21406-the-week-in-pictures https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/in-pictures/21406-the-week-in-pictures The last 7 days in pictures.

GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP: Palestinian children take part in a protest against Israeli raids on Al-Aqsa Mosque.

GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP: A member of the Palestinian 3run Gaza team practices his parkour skills on a building in preparation for the 'Gulf Monster', the first Arab parkour competition in Qatar in November.

NEW YORK, US: The Palestinian flag flies for the first time at the United Nations headquarters after a flag-raising ceremony in the Rose Garden.

ESKISEHIR, TURKEY: Whirling dervishes perform during a ceremony marking the 808th anniversary of the birth of Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi.

KHAN YOUNIS, GAZA STRIP: Palestinian farmers gather dates during the annual harvest.

MADINA, SAUDI ARABIA: Muslims pose for a picture as they visit the Masjid Al-Nabawi where the tomb of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) is located.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 02 Oct 2015 14:53:57 +0000
Ya’alon: If it weren’t for our presence, the PA would collapse https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21405-yaalon-if-it-werent-for-our-presence-the-pa-would-collapse https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21405-yaalon-if-it-werent-for-our-presence-the-pa-would-collapse Moshe Ya'alon, Defense Minister of Israel“If it weren’t for the Israeli army’s military activity in the West Bank, the PA would have collapsed like it did in the Gaza Strip,” Israeli Minister of Defence Moshe Ya’alon said.

The statement was made during a celebration held at the Ministry of Defence headquarters in Tel Aviv marking the Jewish holiday, Sukkot. He also said: “The PA relies on Israel for security and economically.”

He considered Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech before the UN General Assembly yesterday as “full of lies and incitement and he avoids responsibility”.

“The PA, which threatens not to implement the Oslo Accords, is the one who violated it after it was signed.”

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 02 Oct 2015 14:34:33 +0000
Netanyahu threatens to continue Israeli attacks on Syria https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21404-netanyahu-threatens-to-continue-israeli-attacks-on-syria https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21404-netanyahu-threatens-to-continue-israeli-attacks-on-syria Israeli Prime Minsiter, Benjamin Netanyahu. [File photo]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to continue attacks on Syria during his address to the UN General Assembly.

Netanyahu said that Israel will continue to act to prevent the transfer of strategic weapons to Hezbollah from and through Syrian territory.

Netanyahu attacked the nuclear deal between the global superpowers and Iran, saying that Iran would be able to produce a nuclear bomb under this deal, because if Iran doesn’t change its behaviour, the most important constraints will still be automatically lifted by year ten and by year 15. That would place a militant Islamic terror regime weeks away from having the fissile material for an entire arsenal of nuclear bombs. “Now just imagine what Iran will do after those sanctions are lifted,” he added.

He also said that Israel will not allow Iran to break in, to sneak in or to walk in to the nuclear weapons club. “Israel will do whatever it must do to defend our state and to defend our people,” he stated, and it will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

“Israel will not permit any force on earth to threaten its future,” Netanyahu added in his speech.

He claimed that he is prepared to immediately resume direct peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority without any preconditions whatsoever, but that Israel expects the Palestinian Authority to abide by its commitments.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 02 Oct 2015 14:13:51 +0000
Philip Hammond fails to deny claims Britain helped put Saudi Arabia on UN Human Rights Council https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/21403-philip-hammond-fails-to-deny-claims-britain-helped-put-saudi-arabia-on-un-human-rights-council https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/21403-philip-hammond-fails-to-deny-claims-britain-helped-put-saudi-arabia-on-un-human-rights-council British Foreign Secretary, Phillip Hammond

Britain has been accused of playing a key role in Saudi Arabia’s election to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) through a secret vote-trading deal carried out between London and Riyadh to ensure that both countries obtained membership.

The election of Saudi Arabia to one of the UN’s most respected institutions two years ago caused international astonishment, as the Kingdom is widely regarded as having one of the worst human rights records in the world.

Secret Saudi cables passed on to Wikileaks indicated that it was Britain which had initiated negotiations by asking the Saudis for support.

“The delegation is honoured to send... the enclosed memorandum, which the delegation has received from the permanent mission of the United Kingdom asking it for the... backing of the candidacy of their country to the membership of the human rights council (HRC) for the period 2014-2016, in elections that will take place in 2013 in New York.

“The ministry might find it an opportunity to exchange support with the UK, where the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would support the candidacy of the UK to the membership of the council for the period 2014-2015 in exchange for the support of the UK to the candidacy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Another cable said that Saudi Arabia had transferred $100,000 for “expenditures resulting from the campaign to nominate the Kingdom for membership of the human rights council for the period 2014-2016”. It remains unclear how the money was spent.

The Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, failed to deny that the Government had helped to get a state which carried out 79 executions in 2013 – three on people convicted of offences committed before they were 18 – into the UNHRC.

Mr Hammond told The Independent: “All sorts of people approach us and indeed this week all sorts of people have been approaching us about upcoming votes for different posts and we always listen politely to them and we always tell them the same thing: that we consider candidate on their merits... make our decisions in due course and we do not reveal either before a vote or after a vote our voting intentions or how we voted.”

Membership of the UNHRC had enabled Saudi Arabia to spread its influence. Three months ago Faisal bin Hassan Trad, its UN envoy, was appointed to chair a team, giving him the responsibility for appointing of specialists.

A day before his appointment was announced, Mr Trad denounced a UN report calling for member states to end the death penalty. A few weeks later, Saudi Arabia advertised for eight new executioners.

The figure for those executed by the Saudi state has risen to 137 this year, more, it is claimed, than those carried out by Isis. A Shia human rights activist, Ali al-Nimr, faces death by crucifixion after being convicted of taking part in an anti-government protest aged 17.

Amnesty International UK’s head of policy and government affairs Allan Hogarth said: “If the UK is doing back-room deals with Saudi officials over human rights, this would be a slap in the face for those beleaguered Saudi activists who already struggle with endemic persecution in the Kingdom.”

This news was first published by independent.co.uk.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 02 Oct 2015 11:56:51 +0000
As Saudi and Iran trade political insults over hajj deaths, focus on the loss of life https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/21402-as-saudi-and-iran-trade-political-insults-over-hajj-deaths-focus-on-the-loss-of-life https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/21402-as-saudi-and-iran-trade-political-insults-over-hajj-deaths-focus-on-the-loss-of-life The Hajj pilgrimage to the city of Makkah is one of the five pillars of Islam. [file photo]

During the final days of this year’s hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Makkah last month, two large waves of pilgrims converged on a narrow road. The crowding was so severe that it caused people to suffocate and eventually to start trampling one another in their desperation to get clear. According to officials in Saudi Arabia, at least 769 people died and 900 were injured, but the governments of India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Iran have all disputed this, claiming that the real figure is far higher. The volume of people making the pilgrimage was not unprecedented; in previous years, more than 3 million have travelled to Makkah without any major problems.

Able-bodied Muslims are required to make the five-day pilgrimage once in their lifetime if they can afford it, and each year is a logistical challenge for Saudi Arabia, the country which is home to the two holiest sites in Islam. This year, there were around 2 million pilgrims from 180 different countries on the hajj. People from all over the world were killed in this human tragedy on an enormous scale.

In addition to questions over the death toll, with individual countries saying that the total of their citizens killed far exceeds the number supplied by Saudi Arabia, there have been complaints over delays in foreign diplomats being allowed access to the victims. In particular, the tragedy has fed into the bitter animosity between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran. The two countries are embroiled in a regional cold war, backing opposing sides in the wars in Yemen and Syria. Iran has, perhaps predictably, been leading the international criticism of the Saudi government.

Indeed, Tehran has alleged that the overall number of hajj deaths is more than 1,000. It has been confirmed that 464 Iranian pilgrims died in the crush, and much of the political recriminations have centred on Iran’s wish to take the bodies home promptly. This week, the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamanei, warned of “harsh” measures if the Saudis do not repatriate Iran’s dead promptly. His comments were broadcast on Iranian state TV: “The Saudi government is not carrying out its obligation to repatriate and in some cases shows slyness. The Islamic Republic of Iran has so far showed self-restraint, observed Islamic decency and brotherly respect in the Islamic world, but they should know that Iran’s hand is superior to many others and has more capabilities. If Iran wants to react to disturbing and sinister elements, their situation will not be good.”

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir responded by accusing Iran of “playing politics” with the tragedy. He called on the Islamic Republic to wait for the outcome of an investigation ordered by King Salman.

Even apart from the contentious question of burying the dead, the tragedy raises serious questions about Saudi Arabia. Much of the kingdom’s international legitimacy in the wider Muslim world rests on its ability to administer the holy sites; one of the king’s titles is “custodian of the two holy places [Makkah and Madinah]”. The significance of this role for Saudi Arabia inevitably means that the human tragedy of the hajj deaths is also a political event. And equally inevitably the incident has prompted outrage as well as an outpouring of grief, accentuated by the deaths of 100 people earlier in the month when they were hit by a falling crane at the Grand Mosque. Perhaps aware of international accusations of incompetence, Saudi officials have blamed the pilgrims for the crush, suggesting that some moved “without following instructions by the relevant authorities”. They are keen to avoid the charge that Saudi Arabia is incapable of using its wealth to manage the holy sites efficiently and safely.

Iran’s anger about the huge loss of life amongst its citizens is legitimate, as is the call for bodies to be returned promptly. But it is also clear that the republic is seeking to exploit these questions over Saudi Arabia’s legitimacy in order to undermine its regional rival. The aim is to paint the kingdom as a country so dysfunctional that it cannot ensure the safety of worshippers in the Muslim world’s holiest cities.

This was not the first such disaster during a hajj, although it was on a greater scale than previous incidents. There was a similar event linked to overcrowding in 2006, and a very serious one in 1990. Of course, the stampede was caused partly by the numbers of people – there is no logistical challenge quite like the hajj anywhere else in the world — but there were other contributing factors too: an ongoing construction boom in Makkah, poor communication and insufficient emergency planning. The response from Saudi officials to blame the victims only serves to prove allegations of a lack of accountability. Nevertheless, as political recriminations are traded, the huge loss of life must remain in focus, if only so that steps are taken to prevent another tragedy during future pilgrimages.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Samira Shackle) frontpage Fri, 02 Oct 2015 11:53:19 +0000
More diplomatic concessions at the UN for Israel’s existence https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/blogs/politics/21401-more-diplomatic-concessions-at-the-un-for-israels-existence https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/blogs/politics/21401-more-diplomatic-concessions-at-the-un-for-israels-existence The UN General Assembly

Fabricated claims of UN bias against Israel continue to fuel Israeli media reports covering this year’s UN General Assembly. As Mahmoud Abbas played the usual game of fluctuating threats mellowed into diluted warnings, Israel embarked upon its own predictable propaganda tactic to portray international leaders as being intent on ignoring regional violence to shift focus upon “Israel’s conduct”.

Omitted from the colonial narrative was the fact that leaders criticising Israel’s belligerence are still openly supportive of its expansionist, colonial agenda, as evidenced by the usual selective discourse and separation of historical factors, combined with the financial, economic and military ties that the international community has with Israel. (Not to mention that the Israeli government has consistently demonstrated oppressive tools and surveillance measures to other countries, armies and police departments, ready to be exported — at a tidy profit to Israel — both ideologically and practically.)

There was no deviation from the usual jargon about the establishment of a Palestinian state upon the fragments of Palestinian territory which remain unoccupied and colonised by Israel. This was despite it being known full well that Israel’s colonial expansion will eventually eliminate any possible hypothesis about Palestine’s existence from a purely geographic point of view apart from anything else.

While UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hailed the raising of Palestine’s flag at the UN as a symbol of “hope”, only activists raised the dissonance between a symbolic piece of material fluttering in the breeze and the harrowing reality that leaves little opportunity for even imagining a Palestinian state, given Israel’s dominance, Palestinian Authority acquiescence and international collaboration. History is obliterated at an international level to introduce new forms of mass oblivion.

Brazilian President Dilma Roussef’s opening speech contained a mild criticism of Israel’s continued illegal settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories and insisted that “we can no longer delay… the creation of a Palestinian state, coexisting peacefully and harmoniously with Israel.” Qatar’s representative, Amir Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, spoke against delays in addressing “the occupation” and insisted that the establishment of a Palestinian state “requires an Israeli partner for peace.”

President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi of Egypt remained within the comfortable 1967 borders as the means of “resolving this conflict and empowering the Palestinian people to exercise their right to self-determination”. However, he had the audacity to say this even as Palestinians in Gaza risk complete isolation through his government’s policy of flooding and destroying “lifeline” tunnels in collaboration with the PA in Ramallah.

According to South African President Jacob Zuma, delays in a resolving “the Palestinian question” will result in “no longer having a piece of land to justify the two-state solution.” It is, however, unacceptable that international leaders still fall upon the excuse of justifying a two-state compromise which is nothing but a cover for Israel to complete its colonisation process. The lenience expressed by the international community should be enough to put a halt to Israel’s manipulative agenda. Yet, Palestinian leaders themselves continue to subjugate themselves to Israel and its international supporters by failing to assert their history.

It is humiliating to have the international community discuss Palestine as a perpetual last resort in order to justify and ensure Israel’s colonial existence, when every country should be clamouring for its dissolution. However, it is far more degrading for the Palestinians to be misrepresented constantly by people and entities seeking to legitimise their pathetic and increasingly ineffective structure through misplaced priorities dictated by Israeli and international interests.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Ramona Wadi) frontpage Fri, 02 Oct 2015 11:06:23 +0000
Bahrain recalls ambassador to Iran and dismisses Tehran's charge d’affaires https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21399-bahrain-recalls-ambassador-to-iran-and-dismisses-tehrans-charge-daffaires https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21399-bahrain-recalls-ambassador-to-iran-and-dismisses-tehrans-charge-daffaires Flag of Bahrain

Bahrain yesterday recalled its ambassador from Tehran and declared the Iranian Charge D'affaires in Bahrain, Mohammad Reza Babaei, a “persona non grata”, giving him 72 hours to leave the country, a statement issued by the Bahraini Foreign Ministry revealed.

The statement read: “The Kingdom of Bahrain has decided to call back its Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mr Rashid Saad Al-Dossari, and declare the Iranian Charge D’affairs, Mr Mohammad Reza Babaei, persona non-grata and who has to leave the country within 72 hours.”

The Bahraini ministry also said that it took this measure against Iran “for its recurrent blatant violations of all international norms, laws and conventions as well as the principles of good neighbourliness, mutual respect and for its unacceptable encroachment on the independence and sovereignty of the Kingdom of Bahrain.”

The decision was made “in light of Iran’s continued interference in the domestic affairs of the Kingdom of Bahrain without a legal or moral deterrent, and in view of its evil attempts and practices through which it aims to fuel sectarian sedition and impose its hegemony on the entire region through villain tools and means that are not restricted to its senior officials ‘defamatory statements’,” the statement continued.

The ministry accused Iran of tending to “support sabotage, terrorism and instigation to violence through misleading media campaigns and support for terrorist groups with smuggled weapons and explosives, training or harbouring of the criminals, who are at large in an attempt to evade justice.”

This decision was made a day after the Bahraini Interior Ministry announced it arrested “several terror suspects and escaped convicts in terrorism cases,” as well as “uncovering more than 1.5 tonnes of explosive materials and a large bomb-making factory in two separate locations in a residential area south of the capital Manama.”

A statement by the Interior Ministry said: “After investigations, those arrested were found to have close links to terrorist elements in Iraq and Iran,” but the ministry did not disclose the number of those arrested or their affiliations.

Bahraini-Iranian relations are experiencing political tension because Manama accuses Tehran of interfering in its internal affairs and supporting the “Shia” opposition in the country.

Last July, the Bahraini Ministry of Interior announced it had thwarted an attempt to smuggle high-grade explosives, automatic weapons and munitions into the country by sea, the weapons were thought to originate from Iran. Five Bahrainis involved in the operation were arrested, some of whom had been trained in the Revolutionary Guard camps.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 02 Oct 2015 11:03:13 +0000
Palestinian prisoners have the will to persevere in the face of the oppressor https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/21398-palestinian-prisoners-have-the-will-to-persevere-in-the-face-of-the-oppressor https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/21398-palestinian-prisoners-have-the-will-to-persevere-in-the-face-of-the-oppressor Dr Fayez Rasheed

There are 17 Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli prisons. Altogether, almost 5,000 Palestinians are being held by Israel, including 20 women, 230 children and a number of elderly men. They are all subject to the worst types of cruelty and torture in prison. According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society in Ramallah, 95 per cent of Palestinian prisoners are suffering from a form of torture from the moment they are arrested until they are transported to Israel’s many detention and interrogation centres. Some have been sentenced to life imprisonment while others are serving sentences of more than 30 years. Over 1,000 of the Palestinians in Israeli jails are ill; 160 have chronic illnesses, including cancer. Eighty are being held under arbitrary administrative detention, based on a law left over from British Mandate days.

Israel is still holding 30 “old prisoners”, the term describing those who were imprisoned prior to the Oslo agreement, even after having released three batches of such prisoners. This was done in agreement with the Palestinian Authority but Israel is now refusing to release the fourth batch.

The Palestinian prisoner struggle is focused mainly on improving their conditions from the time of arrest, which are very harsh. They live in overcrowded conditions with limited freedom and nutrition; face a lack of adequate medical attention; and are prohibited from receiving books, listening to programmes on the radio and watching television. In addition, medicine is often tested on prisoners, as a result of which many suffer from chronic conditions and permanent disabilities. It is also very difficult for families to visit them, as the Israeli prison administration puts wire mesh between visitors and prisoners.

One of the most dangerous tactics used by Israel against Palestinian prisoners is to torture them psychologically by keeping them locked-up under administration detention; this is open-ended and can be renewed at random. The prisoners are never charged with any crime nor brought before a court. Israel has broken its pledge to stop such administrative detention in the agreement made with Egyptian mediation and continues to use it. Mental illnesses are common amongst prisoners held in this way.

The statistics show that since 1967 more than a million Palestinians in the occupied territories have been arrested and detained by Israel. This means that every Palestinian family in the West Bank and Gaza Strip contains at least one person who has been detained and experienced such conditions and treatment.

Since 1967, more than 200 Palestinian prisoners have been killed in Israeli custody. Women detained during their pregnancies have been forced to give birth under harsh conditions in a “hospital” room in prison. They are supervised by a nurse and the new-born child stays with its mother.

Israel regularly subjects Palestinian prisoners to collective punishment. There have been numerous occasions when the prison authorities have brought in the border police to attack the prisoners with machine guns, tear gas and other weapons merely because the detainees demand better conditions. Not one week passes without the guards storming the prisoners’ cells in one Israeli prison or another.

Despite this, Israel promotes itself as a democratic state while the world at large believes this myth and turns a blind eye to the issue of the Palestinian prisoners. Indeed, we saw, for example, that they focused their attention on the capture of one Israeli soldier on active duty in an occupation army, Gilad Shalit. When the Palestinians captured him, many world leaders called for his release in order to return to his family, because they missed him. The whole world heard of his story and he was eventually released in a prisoner exchange. However, who in the world has uttered a word about the Palestinians prisoners? Do they not have families who miss them?

Regardless of Israel’s oppression, neo-fascist plans and methods, and its numerous attacks on them, Palestinian prisoners have been able to turn their prisons into schools which have boosted their loyalty and affiliation to their people and national cause. The prisoners have become more convinced of the justice of their cause and more insistent on achieving our nation’s goals of freedom, dignity, return, self-determination and the establishment of a sovereign independent state. Despite political division, the Palestinian prisoners are united in their desire to achieve national unity in their confrontation with the enemy and its aim to break their will.

Although the prisoners are a card to play in talks about reconciliation, the tactic has had little success. This has upset many of the prisoners, some of whom have resorted to using the only weapon in their hands to achieve their demands: the hunger strike. It is fairly certain that if a Jewish prisoner was to go on hunger strike anywhere in the world it would become an international issue, such are the double standards at play in international relations. The Palestinian prisoners have done nothing wrong; they have simply defended their people and just national cause against a brutal military occupation, which is their legitimate right. This is why the issue of the Palestinian prisoners must become the focus of the Palestinian people and Arab world; the organisations concerned with Palestinian and Arab affairs must promote their cause in the international arena. This is the least we can do for them; we have a duty to give their cause the attention it deserves.

A new Israeli report revealed that the judgements issued by Israeli courts against young Palestinians who have risen up in Jerusalem and the occupied territories are very harsh and discriminate between Palestinian stone-throwers and armed Jewish settlers, most of whom do not even appear before a court no matter what their crimes are. This refutes the claims made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government that the courts are “lenient” with Arab stone-throwers, and that they issue military sentences against Israelis who attack targets in the occupied West Bank. In their opinion, these are harsher sentences.

This report, published by Haaretz newspaper earlier this week, is part of a series of reports and academic studies published over the past two decades which highlight the racist nature of the Israeli judicial system. Even in minor civil cases, such as traffic violations, for example, there is a big difference in how Arabs and Jews are treated by the courts. In recent weeks, Netanyahu has called for the maximum possible sentences to be given to Palestinian stone-throwers, even if they are minors. In July, the Knesset passed a law making the punishment for stone-throwing anywhere between 5 and 20 years in prison. Salutations to our prisoners.

Translated from Al-Sharq, 1 October, 2015.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Dr Fayez Rasheed) frontpage Fri, 02 Oct 2015 10:21:12 +0000
Commemoration of Israeli attack on PLO headquarters in Tunisia https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/21397-commemoration-of-israeli-attack-on-plo-headquarters-in-tunisia https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/21397-commemoration-of-israeli-attack-on-plo-headquarters-in-tunisia Israeli fighter jet airforce

A number of organisations and association in Tunisia commemorated the Israeli attack on the PLO headquarters in Bin Aroos, south of the Tunisian capital, 30 years ago.

Dozens of members of the National Committee for Supporting Arab Resistance and Fighting Normalisation, Tunisian Human Rights League, Tunisian General Labour Union, and the Popular Front, stood in front of the memorial in the city of Hammam Chott. They chanted slogans such as “Palestine is Arab; no to sell out solutions” and “with our blood and souls, we will protect Palestine”.

On 1 October 1985, Israeli planes launched an airstrike against the PLO headquarters in the city of Hammam Chott in the state of Bin Aroos. This resulted in the death of 50 Palestinians and Tunisians and caused the destruction to the city’s residential areas.

During this commemoration, statements were distributed by the participants condemning normalisation with Israel and demanding that it be outlawed in the Tunisian constitution. The statements also praised the UN decision to raise the Palestinian flag on Wednesday at its headquarters.

The Tunisian Human Rights League and the Tunisian General Labour Union issued a joint statement saying that “the failure of the successive governments following the 17 December 2010 Revolution to outlaw normalisation is a disappointment to the Palestinian cause and the democratic movement in Tunisia.”

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 02 Oct 2015 10:18:33 +0000
Russia not planning airstrikes in Iraq, says Lavrov https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/21396-russia-not-planning-airstrikes-in-iraq-says-lavrov https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/21396-russia-not-planning-airstrikes-in-iraq-says-lavrov Sergey Lavrov. [File photo]

Russia is not planning to expand air raids to Iraq, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said yesterday, a day after Moscow carried out its first airstrike in Syria.

"We are not planning to expand our airstrikes to Iraq. We were not invited, we were not asked, and we are polite people, as you know. We do not come if not invited," Lavrov told a press conference at the United Nations.

On Wednesday, Russian warplanes struck targets inside Syria for the first time. Moscow, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, says the jets hit Daesh positions. The US and its allies expressed concerns about reports that strikes were targeting non-Daesh opponents of Al-Assad.

A US-led coalition has been striking Daesh in Syria since September, building upon an aerial campaign already hitting the terrorist group in Iraq.

Lavrov said that Russian airstrikes were targeting only Daesh and affiliated terrorist groups.

"This is the same position which the Americans are taking," he said. "The representatives of the coalition command have always been saying that their targets are ISIL, Al-Nusra and other terrorist groups. This is basically our position as well. We see eye-to-eye with the coalition on this one," he said using another acronym for Daesh.

Regarding who Russia considers as terrorists, Lavrov said: "If it acts like a terrorist, if it walks like a terrorist and if it fights like a terrorist - it is a terrorist."

According to the Syrian National Coalition, the main Western-backed opposition group, the Russian airstrikes resulted in the deaths of 36 civilians, including five children. The areas targeted by Russia were free of any Daesh or Al-Qaeda presence, the group's chief Khaled Khoja said in New York on Wednesday.

"The Russian occupation will be met with a liberation movement from the Syrian people. We have the right to do it," Khoja said, adding that the Free Syrian Army is prepared to confront the Russian "occupation".

Lavrov said Russia does not consider the Free Syrian Army a terrorist group.

"We believe that the Free Syrian Army should be a part of the political process," he said.

Syria’s devastating civil war, now in its fifth year, has claimed more than 250,000 lives, according to UN figures, and made the country the world's single-largest source of refugees and displaced people.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 02 Oct 2015 10:09:42 +0000
Malaysian PM slams Israel on 'systematic dehumanisation' of Palestinians https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/48-asia/21395-malaysian-pm-slams-israel-on-systematic-dehumanisation-of-palestinians https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/48-asia/21395-malaysian-pm-slams-israel-on-systematic-dehumanisation-of-palestinians Mohammad Najib Abdul Razak

The Malaysian prime minister today condemned Israel for what he called its "systematic dehumanisation" of Palestinians, saying the situation risked becoming a "catastrophe".

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Najib Razak stressed that there was a need to "permanently address the injustice" suffered by Palestinians since 1948.

"Decades of impunity and the systematic dehumanisation of Palestinians has culminated in increasing violence, increasing illegal settlements, and increasing violations of rights," said Razak.

"If the world continues to turn a blind eye to their sufferings, we risk another catastrophe in the occupied Palestinian territory," he said.

"We will also fail to uphold the right to self-determination, which was at the very basis of the United Nations when it was created 70 years ago."

Razak called for Israel to return authority over the Al-Aqsa Mosque to King Abdullah of Jordan, whom he called its legal custodian.

Jordan administered the mosque until the 1967 Middle East War.

Razak added that it was Israel’s duty to help Muslims from around the world visit the site.

He also announced that Malaysia would accept 3,000 Syrian refugees over the next three years to help alleviate the current Middle East crisis, saying the international community should be pushing for new solutions to it.

"The millions fleeing are people - like us," he said. "They should concern us all. We must respect our common humanity."

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 02 Oct 2015 09:35:42 +0000
Algeria to keep Libya border closed until a peace agreement is reached https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/21394-algeria-to-keep-libya-border-closed-until-a-peace-agreement-is-reached https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/21394-algeria-to-keep-libya-border-closed-until-a-peace-agreement-is-reached Algerian flagAlgeria has postponed opening the three land crossings with Libya due to what has been called "the absence of central government capable of controlling borders", a diplomat said yesterday.

Algeria-Libya land border crossings are:

  • Debdeb
  • Tarat
  • Tinalkoum

A source from the Algerian Foreign Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Algeria welcomed Libyan politicians and tribal leaders days ago, informing them that borders will not reopen until Libyan parties reach a consensus on the land border situation, or a peace agreement that ends the division in the country.

“Algeria raised, with influential political and tribal personals who visited Libya this month to discuss borders and humanitarian crisis in southern Libya, the idea of consensus between Libyan parties about crossings, but they didn’t agree on this matter,” the source continued.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 02 Oct 2015 09:34:58 +0000
Israeli calls for settlement expansion in response to Abbas’ UN speech https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21393-israeli-calls-for-settlement-expansion-in-response-to-abbas-un-speech https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21393-israeli-calls-for-settlement-expansion-in-response-to-abbas-un-speech Iillegal Israeli settlements

The Israeli government should expand settlement construction and accelerate its pace in response to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech at the UN General Assembly, Hebrew TV reported the Yesha Council saying yesterday.

"The man who denied the Holocaust, that the PA under his leadership has brought wild incitement against Israel to unparalleled heights, and whose entire existence is possible, thanks to the presence of Israel and the IDF in Judea and Samaria, again threatens us with a gun without bullets," the Yesha Council said in statement.

"Abbas brazenly threatens Israel, which protects him from Hamas, and demands to freeze the settlement enterprise, otherwise he would not fulfil his part in the Oslo Accords. The Israeli government must announce in a loud and clear voice that it does not heed the threats and will continue building throughout the land of Israel without any freezing or hold any negotiations with an instigator and inciter, until he fundamentally changes his tune," the council statement added.

Ahead of Abbas’s speech, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon announced that "there is not, nor will there be, a freeze in settlement construction, given that our legitimacy to settle the land has come under attack."

The Yesha Council is the umbrella organisation governing illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 02 Oct 2015 09:17:26 +0000
Layal Al-Kayaje and the silence surrounding torture in Lebanon https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/21392-layal-al-kayaje-and-the-silence-surrounding-torture-in-lebanon https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/21392-layal-al-kayaje-and-the-silence-surrounding-torture-in-lebanon lebanese soldiers

Last week, Human Rights Watch released a report on the detention and torture of Palestinians resident in Lebanon. The Lebanese army released a statement on 22 September that Layal Al-Kayaje was arrested a day before, accused of lying about being raped and tortured by military intelligence officers during her detention in 2013. There were no specific legal charges against Kayaje from a court and her location is being kept a secret; neither her friends nor her family are able to contact her.

She was, apparently, arrested for posting a status on Facebook under a pseudonym in support of Ahmad Al-Assir during the clashes between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army on one side and Sunni militant groups on the other. The latter were opposed to Hezbollah’s strict control over southern Lebanon, and the Lebanese army’s support for the Shia militia, facilitating its illegitimate authority in the area. The Sunnis feel that they have been marginalised.

During her five day detention, she was allegedly raped and tortured. When she was released, she started to prepare a legal case against military intelligence and went to a doctor to be examined and provide evidence of her rape. However, the doctor, as well as her lawyers, refused to get involved in the case as they feared for their safety; they recommended her to keep quiet, as the consequences of pressing charges against the army could be serious.

Kayaje’s support for Assir was during his political infancy, when she, like many other Sunnis in southern Lebanon, believed that he was offering much-needed protection to the community in Saida from Hezbollah. "Assir was a shaikh who was defending all people, especially the Sunnis," she said in an interview, when she broke her silence two years after the attack. "It started as a peaceful movement, but when Assir’s calls were not answered, the movement took a wrong turn and it became more violent. At the beginning, I supported Assir because I believed that he was doing the right things; that’s when many people started to be against me."

She claims that her arrest was actually due to a confrontation with the son of a Lebanese military intelligence official. He knew she supported Assir, who insulted his father publicly, so he went to her workplace in a drunken state and started to insult her. She then received threats from a Hezbollah-affiliated family and was arrested; it wasn’t due to the Facebook posting. She ensured that she had no affiliation to Assir: “I only supported him theoretically and had nothing to do with the activities he used to plan. The only contact I had with some of Assir’s people was in my shop.”

There was no evidence of her being involved militarily with Assir, although such accusations were made against her. “When they arrested me, they searched my phone and did not find anything related to Assir. They tried to make me confess to the charges but I didn’t.” Like many Sunnis in southern Lebanon, her support for Assir only came out of frustration at being marginalised by Hezbollah. Like Kayaje, many believed firmly that he was the only way out.

Speaking out in the local media about her ordeal has led her to re-arrest. With nobody being able to contact her, Kayaje’s condition is unknown.

Although the report was only written based on her words in the interview, and Human Rights Watch were unable to verify her case due to the lack of evidence available, when putting her case into context it has to be said that the Lebanese army has a record of torturing prisoners. It is common for women to be raped in detention centres, which is where Kayaje alleges that she was raped twice by two members of military intelligence. Not only is rape a routine form of political violence, but prisoners, especially women, are also forced to perform sexual acts in return for basic needs, such as food and water.

Prisoners are usually beaten, denied access to medication and filmed while being humiliated; some of the videos have been leaked. One of the more recent videos leaked in June shows a man in a flooded prison cell being beaten with a green rod and kicked in the head while his arms and feet were tied. There was also another leaked film which showed men in a caged room, with their arms and feet tied while being systematically beaten.

The case of Kayaje is not unusual; it represents wider corruption within the Lebanese system which allows systematic abuse of prisoners to occur. The international community needs not only to push for Kayaje’s release, but also for the institutional violence and torture within Lebanon to be addressed. Those who are conducting and condoning the systematic torture of prisoners must be held accountable. The silence surrounding this state of affairs must be broken.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Diana Alghoul) frontpage Fri, 02 Oct 2015 09:09:17 +0000
Qaradawi participates in Saudi embassy celebration https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21391-qaradawi-participates-in-saudi-embassy-celebration https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21391-qaradawi-participates-in-saudi-embassy-celebration Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars

Saudi Arabia celebrated the 85th anniversary of the National Day of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Qatar on Wednesday in the presence of Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Bin Khalifa Al-Thani; the Chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, and a number of diplomatic and media figures.

Saudi Ambassador to Qatar Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al-Aifan hosted the celebration.

The presence of Al-Qaradawi was notable, especially after the Arab Spring revolutions and the overthrow of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Al-Qaradawi has also been sentenced in absentia to death by an Egyptian court.

Observers see Al-Qaradawi’s presence in Saudi National Day celebration in Doha as one of the manifestations of the Saudi policies during King Salman’s regime, in terms of not taking a hostile attitude towards the Muslim Brotherhood which, once again, confirms the discrepancy between Saudi and Egypt in dealing with this issue.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Fri, 02 Oct 2015 08:40:37 +0000
Scandal under the United Nations flag https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/blogs/politics/21390-scandal-under-the-united-nations-flag https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/blogs/politics/21390-scandal-under-the-united-nations-flag Hossam Shaker

Students arriving at the school gates to find them closed in accordance with instructions from the United Nations – a scenario that was very close to happening at the beginning of the current school year, remedied at the last minute by individuals within the international committees.

The background to this incident is the fact that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has been complaining that the international community does not uphold their financial obligations, resulting in a suffocating debt crisis that almost caused the closure of the network of schools managed by the agency in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan for over 60 years, as well as a number of other austerity measures. Preparations were made to postpone the school year and to keep students stuck in the alleyways of their miserable camps spread across the four countries. The parents were told at the last minute that the shocking decision had been reconsidered, but UNRWA has said they cannot guarantee another academic year for the children until further notice.

Can this be any more absurd? The scandal occurred with almost no noise or objection, even though disabling UNRWA would ignite an immediate humanitarian, social and economic crisis amongst the Palestinian refugee community, which is already at breaking point in the Gaza Strip, Lebanon and Syria.

UNRWA is one of the most important operators of the Palestinian work force and provides various vital educational, professional, health and relief services to five million refugees whose land, homes and resources were stolen from them by the Israeli occupation authorities. I must clearly state that what happened earlier this year was a heinous manipulation of an entire nation’s morale, which, in any case, threatens to blow up the entire Palestinian community from within. Let us imagine that this were to happen in beautiful Switzerland, the country of UN Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl, and that his three sons could not attend school because international powers are simply unwilling to pay for this basic right. It would be nothing short of a scandal.

However, who really believes that the international community is unable to resolve a financial crisis similar to the one suffered by one of its agencies? How could the UN and the Bretton Woods institutions push generations of Palestinians into a quagmire of programmed ignorance and rampant diseases in such a blatant manner? Don’t these risks mean that the fate of the Palestinians is to face more hopelessness and discouragement, and won’t such circumstances simply push Palestinian refugees to undertake dangerous journeys in search of the necessities of life?

Because the international community does not care about moral urges, a Palestinian documentary team produced a short film explaining the story. In the film, a student leaves his home in the refugee camp and heads to school; he finds the door closed, painted with the UN colours and a sign that says the school was closed down due to a financial deficit. The story does not end here; the student’s shock leads him to a four-wheel drive driven by masked individuals who take him on an unknown suicide mission. The film’s message is clear: the inability of the international community to commit to its obligations to UNRWA will push generations of Palestinians into the lure of armed extremism. This film is very clever because it appeals to the international community with what it understands.

The dilemma is not in the ignorance and impoverishment of generations of Palestinians, rather in terrorism and extremism and the fact that these issues are the single priority for the international agenda in this part of the world, over and above simple human rights.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Hossam Shaker) frontpage Thu, 01 Oct 2015 15:15:53 +0000
Cairo University bans lecturers from wearing niqab https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/21389-cairo-university-bans-lecturers-from-wearing-niqab https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/21389-cairo-university-bans-lecturers-from-wearing-niqab Cairo University entrance

Cairo University, one of Egypt’s oldest institutes of higher learning, has barred lecturers from wearing the niqab (full Islamic face-veil) in class.

Cairo University President Gaber Nasser said the decision was aimed at “improving communication” between lecturers and students.

The niqab, which covers a woman’s entire body from head to toe, is worn by women of ultraconservative Muslim backgrounds.

In Egypt, however, it is only worn by a small minority of women.

“It is forbidden for members of the teaching staff in all faculties -- or their assistants -- to deliver lectures while wearing the niqab,” the university said in its decision.

The ban, which went into effect on Tuesday, is expected to prompt a public outcry in Muslim-majority Egypt.

In 2008, Egypt saw heated public debate over the wearing of the niqab when Al-Azhar University, the country’s highest seat of religious learning, banned the outfit citing security concerns.

Egypt has been roiled by turmoil since the military ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi -- the country’s first freely elected leader -- after only one year in office.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Thu, 01 Oct 2015 15:13:28 +0000
Russian political supremacy in Syria https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/europe/21388-russian-political-supremacy-in-syria https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/europe/21388-russian-political-supremacy-in-syria Abdul Sattar Qassem

Russian support for the Syrian regime has not stopped since the start of the events in Syria. Russia has not stopped providing political and diplomatic support for the regime. Russia even used its vetoing power in the UN Security Council to defend the regime. It is difficult to image the regime surviving this entire period without Russian and Iranian support, and it is also difficult to imagine the opposition’s and militias’ survival without the Arab, Turkish and western support. However, Russia has been very cautious in its tone and continued its support quietly without noise or threats, and it proved its strong presence on the military and diplomatic levels.

Russia is now stepping up its measures and actions in support of the Syrian regime under the umbrella of the war on terror. By doing so, it is breathing life into the Western diplomacy which is gradually becoming aware of its failure in Syria, forcing it to start rethinking a solution that restores peace in Syria and perhaps in Iraq as well.

It seems that Russia’s calculations regarding the Syrian issue are more practical and accurate than those of the West because they are linked to, not overtaken by, the wave of hostility and hatred. Russia’s calculations were not random or impulsive, nor were they motivated by Arab whims or internal Arab hatred. They remained characterised by caution until the Russians assessed the situation to be suitable for them to take a leading position in Syria, and now they are leading matters and the Western countries are now trying to catch up with them.

There are factors that helped the Russians take the opportunity to prove their strong presence not only in the Syrian arena, but in the Arab Muslim region as a whole and in the international arena. Such factors include the following:

First is the failure of the war on terrorism. Westerners, Europeans and Americans were unable to defeat terrorism since the invasion of Afghanistan. Instead, terrorism spread across the entire world and has reproduced in a cancerous manner, making it so that no country in the world does not worry about potential terrorist acts in their territories. The obsession with terrorism haunts both the people and the governing political systems. The Western countries have reaped disturbing negative results from their war on terror and now, after all these years of chasing terrorists, they are less safe and feeling less reassured. This makes the Russian approach to terrorists stronger in terms of logic and more acceptable in the international arena.

Russia has said on more than one occasion that terrorism stems from a sense of injustice, oppression and the sense that the Western countries are taking advantage of people and countries. It suggested the establishment of equality amongst the people as the best way to reduce and eliminate terrorism.

As an alternative to the Western vision, Russia is now raising the slogan of combatting terrorism, but not by means of foreign troops, rather by strengthening local armies that fight terrorism. This is because these armies are more capable of dealing with the internal affairs than foreign armies. This means that Russia prefers to back the Syrian and Iraqi armies to beat the terrorist organisations in the two countries.

The second factor is the failure of the Western coalition in its war on Daesh. Despite the fact that this coalition, led by the US, has been launching airstrikes on Daesh for over a year, it has not achieved any tangible results. Daesh is still strong on the ground and is capable of achieving military progress from time to time in Iraq and Syria.

Many doubt how serious the US and its allies are about the war, as they may want Daesh to remain strong in order to justify future military measures, such as ground military intervention, the elimination of the political government, etc. If Russia says that it is working on combatting terrorism, then the West and their Arab and European allies have failed, and therefore they cannot confront Russia’s approach.

Thirdly, Russia is not interested in a new Cold War with the US and it is fully aware that the US is not interested in this either, especially under the current circumstances. America is suffering from major economic and financial problems and is also suffering politically and diplomatically because the international arena has somewhat narrowed.

Therefore, Russia prefers to take quiet actions, without calling attention to itself or flexing its muscles in a move unfamiliar to them in order not to provoke the Western countries. The Western countries generally are not interested in engaging in a competition or conflict with Russia in order not to sustain more losses, or at least to avoid a long list of secondary concerns that distract it from the national interests and concerns of its own people.

The fourth factor is the Europeans’ distraction with the two issues of terrorism and refugees. Europe is very busy at the moment with terrorism, which is posing an internal threat, and with the influx of refugees. The Europeans are feeling the danger of terrorism more than the Americans due to its geographical proximity to the Arab world. They are now bearing the burden of the Arab refugees who are flowing in by the tens of thousands.

The Europeans are concerned for their social fabric, which may be influenced by other cultures and infiltrators in the ranks of the refugees. Therefore, the Europeans do not have predispositions to go along with the US policies, which are sometimes aimless.

Fifthly, the Europeans and Americans have not yet formed a clear vision for Syria that can be implemented on the ground. Since the beginning, they have been hesitant in their measures to overthrow the regime and in providing military support for the armed and terrorist groups.

The West does not want Bashar Al-Assad to remain in power, but they also do not want an Islamist rule to be established in Syria. They are unable to find an alternative to the regime and the opposition, so they continue to be hesitant and unsure. On the contrary, the Russian vision is very clear and is in line with international law.

Since the beginning, the Russians stuck to the people’s right to self-determination and to choosing their leaders, and have maintained that President Bashar Al-Assad remains in power by the will of the people and that he will depart with this same will. The Russians stood in the face of those calling for the fall of the regime, as they had a strong excuse supported by international acceptance, making the Russian argument stronger than the Western countries’.

The sixth factor is Russia’s awareness that America is not interested in participating in a war in Syria. The US has failed in its wars in general. It failed in Afghanistan, Iraq, its war on terror, its airstrikes on Daesh, and the American people are not inclined to support new wars in the region, especially in light of the financial crisis that still has not gone away.

The Americans have paid the price dearly, both in the form of lives and money, in fruitless wars, and they emerged unvictorious and without achieving their announced goals. It is not easy for an American president to justify a new war in Syria to their people. The Russians are aware of this and therefore have predicted that increasing their military support for the Syrian regime will not drag the US into a confrontation in Russia, neither in Latakia nor in any other place. The Russians feel that America is, to a large extent, restrained by its repeated failures and by its people’s position, which rejects more wars.

Seventhly, the US made deals with Arab countries playing important military, security, arming and financial roles in Syria. A number of Gulf countries specifically are still contributing to the fuelling of the internal war in Syria. These same countries are defending the establishment of a democracy in Syria while they themselves lack democracy and have tribal political governments that belong in the dark ages.

America’s deals with the Arab countries have harmed the American argument in the international arena because those who defend democratic values must defend them everywhere, not in some places and not in others. This always raises the question: Does the US really want to establish a democracy or is it using democratic values to achieve personal interests, not out of interest or care for the people? As evidenced by the American policies in the Arab region, America was not too far from supporting Arab tyrannical regimes, and it had, in the past, headed to Syria to participate in the war against Saddam Hussein in Kuwait. What made tyranny acceptable at that time, but unacceptable at other times; the lack of principles in establishing international relations.

The Syrian regime was unable to resolve the battle in Syria in its favour and the war is still rabidly ongoing, the price of which is being paid by the Syrians. All of the Russian and Iranian support over the past years did not enable the regime to achieve victory and Syria still suffers from continuous destruction. Since the beginning, the Russians have been talking about the importance of dialogue amongst Syrians, considering it the only way to stop the war and bloodshed. The Arabs and the West were not convinced by this argument and preferred to stick to the departure of Al-Assad as a precondition for starting dialogue. The positions are starting to change now due to the spread of terrorism and the influx of refugees, and the Western countries, along with Turkey, are reconsidering their previous positions. We are starting to hear statements different to what we had heard in the past.

It is important that the Russian policy took advantage of the developments, including the support of some Western countries for some terrorist organisations in order to force the search for a resolution for the Syrian conflict. They have justified their growing support for Al-Assad based on the policy of containing terrorism. Of course the Russians are interested in eliminating terrorism, just as the Europeans are, due to a large number of Muslims in Russia, as they may be influenced by terrorist ideology and may cause trouble for Russia.

Russia is intensifying its military efforts in Syria in order to push the European countries and their Arab supporters to encourage internal dialogue. Russia hopes that its policies in Syria will pressure the armed groups to accept dialogue with the presence of Al-Assad at the negotiations table and to cut financial and military aid to Daesh in both Syria and Iraq.

The logic of power has been historically stronger than the power of logic and it is possible for the Russian strength to change the logic of the warring parties in Syria and the foreign forces participating in the Syrian arena. If the West is not interested in a confrontation and Russia is not interested in pushing matters to the edge, then it is highly possible for the various parties to succeed in holding internal Syrian dialogue that will produce a result accepted by everyone.

Therefore, it is possible that power and strength will achieve what political and regional policies and balances were unable to achieve and may restore stability to the Arab-Syrian region. Power is sometimes necessary in order to bring wisdom to minds and to search for solutions to problems via practical means far from intolerance and the complete exclusion of others.

Translated from Al Jazeera, 29 September 2015

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Abdul Sattar Qassem) frontpage Thu, 01 Oct 2015 15:04:38 +0000
Israeli security summons Hamas leader in the West Bank for questioning https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21387-israeli-security-summons-hamas-leader-in-the-west-bank-for-questioning https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21387-israeli-security-summons-hamas-leader-in-the-west-bank-for-questioning Hassan YousefIsraeli security on Wednesday evening called on the leader of the Hamas movement in the West Bank, Hassan Yousef, to question him in a military camp near Ramallah.

Yousef said in remarks to Turkey’s Anadolu news agency that “the Israeli security has summoned me this evening [Wednesday] to meet with investigators from the Israeli General Security Service, Shin Bet, on Thursday at the Israeli Ofer military camp”.

Yousef said the step marks Israeli efforts to intimidate him and thwart his movement’s support for Al-Aqsa Mosque in light of Israeli attempts to divide it.

Yousef said he expects anything and everything from the Israeli authorities, including the possibility of him being detained.

Yousef is a senior Hamas leader in the West Bank who has been arrested several times by Israeli security forces for leading the movement’s activity in the West Bank.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Thu, 01 Oct 2015 14:39:10 +0000
Iran and Saudi: An open conflict or an agreement that preserves the interests of all? https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/21386-iran-and-saudi-an-open-conflict-or-an-agreement-that-preserves-the-interests-of-all https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/21386-iran-and-saudi-an-open-conflict-or-an-agreement-that-preserves-the-interests-of-all The Hajj pilgrimage to the city of Makkah is one of the five pillars of Islam. [file photo]

The conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia has escalated in the past few days due to the catastrophes that have taken place during Hajj and the death of hundreds of pilgrims, especially Iranians.

Officials in Iran and Saudi Arabia have exchanged accusations as to who is truly responsible for what has taken place during the Hajj season and how best to deal with the aftermath of this disaster. However, it is important to note that the source of conflict between the two countries does not revolve around the question of Hajj exclusively, on the contrary, the disagreements between the two stem from disagreement surrounding the regional climate and the events taking place in the Arab and Islamic world in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Moreover, the ideological, religious and political disagreements that exist between the two countries, which have been portrayed in the media, can be found everywhere around the world, especially in the Muslim world or any place where Muslims are widespread.

Unfortunately, this conflict, despite it being categorised as political and tied to the two countries both regionally and internationally, often takes on a religious front both ideologically and nationally. This is due to the fact that Iran is one of the most important countries in the Islamic world and the only one that exclusively adopts Shiism. It is a country that identifies as Persian despite the fact that there are many other ethnic minorities and religious groups living there. As for Saudi Arabia, it advocates that it is the guardian of Wahabism and that it is the sole active Sunni state in power due to its role as the custodian of the two holy mosques in Mecca and Madina. Saudi Arabia is home to tens of Islamic institutions and possesses massive economic resources due to its petroleum resources. The general façade of Saudi Arabian (state) identity is Sunni although the country itself is home to all types of sects and schools of religious thought and while it is not the largest Muslim nation, it still serves as the home base for global Islamic cooperation throughout the globe.

The relationship between Iran and Saudi was not always tense, especially during the reign of the former Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi when many trust-based relations took place in regards to many regional and international issues and their joint approach to dealing with the US, Britain and France. The two countries also stood together in opposition to Nasser’s government in Egypt. Relations between Iran and Saudi only took a turn for the worst after the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the victory of Khomeini’s revolution. There have been two exceptionally calm periods during the presidencies of Hashemi Rafsanjani and Dr Mohammad Khatami, which confirms that the root of the problem is not sectarian, religious, or national, but has more to do with politics and the status quos in the Arab-Islamic world.

The relationship between the two countries took a downward spiral within the last ten years after the American occupation of Iraq and the increased presence of Iranian influence in the country. There is also the development that took place in Lebanon after the assassination of President Rafic Al-Hariri and the Israeli attacks on Lebanon in 2006. Finally, tensions escalated in light of the recent developments in Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, the Arab revolutions and of course the agreement surrounding the Iranian nuclear deal between Tehran and the P5 + 1. Then, of course, there is the recent catastrophe that took place during Hajj.

Today, these relations are undergoing their worst period despite the fact that the US administration and American President Barack Obama have been working for quite some time to improve the relationship between the two countries, especially after an agreement was reached surrounding the Iranian nuclear programme. Obama seeks to pacify issues and conflicts within the Middle East so that he can focus on other issues.

Yet, it appears that all efforts that are aimed at getting the two parties to meet at the negotiations table have yet to succeed. The fear is that the conflict will escalate anew and that it will be affected by sectarian, religious and nationalistic values, which means that we could find ourselves in the midst of a Sunni-Shia-Arab-Persian civil war that could go on for tens of years. This is the biggest catastrophe of all.

Is it possible to search for political solutions between the two countries that are based on shared values and interests, as well as respect for religious and ethnic diversity in the region? Would it be possible to work together to bring an end to the numerous conflicts within the region or will hate and wars continue for some time?

It is within the interests of both countries and the entire Arab and Islamic world to stop this conflict because we are all paying the price. What we require is a political solution and to meet at the negotiations table to search for political solutions. Who will dedicate himself or herself to this mission before it is too late?

Translated from Arabi21, 30 September 2015.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Qassem Qaseer) frontpage Thu, 01 Oct 2015 14:15:46 +0000
Human rights activist: ‘Egyptian regime kills its opponents’ https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/21385-human-rights-activist-egyptian-regime-kills-its-opponents https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/21385-human-rights-activist-egyptian-regime-kills-its-opponents Dr Huda Abdel Moneim

A member of the former Egyptian National Council for Human Rights Dr Huda Abdel Moneim condemned the Egyptian authorities for killing four youths in Alexandria.

Abdel Moneim said on Facebook: “Extrajudicial killings have become an approach to get rid of the regime’s opponents because we live without law or accountability.”

Every day someone is killed in and outside prison because they reject the military coup, she added.

“Today four youths were killed in Alexandria and they are: Ammar Mohammed Abdul Majid Mohamed, Mohamed Ahmed Yousef Amory, Hamada Mohammed Fateh El-Bab and Mohammad Hamdi Abdel Wahab Zaid.”

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Thu, 01 Oct 2015 13:56:52 +0000
Game changers in Syria signal new strategy https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/21384-game-changers-in-syria-signal-new-strategy https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/21384-game-changers-in-syria-signal-new-strategy Daesh militants

Recent developments in Syria have hinted at a possible shift to a much more conservative defense-focused strategy on the part of the Syrian government and its allies. The deterioration of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), Hezbollah’s possible withdrawal to defensive lines, and increased Russian support are all signs of a new approach in the Russia-Iran-Syria camp, perhaps even favoring the temporary de facto partition of the country.

The fall of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA)

The SAA, and larger Syrian government, has seen dangerous internal division this year resulting in the effective takeover of wartime decision-making by Iran via the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Damascus in an effort to keep the Syrian government afloat.

Pro-government forces have launched few offensives in recent months and have instead been forced to focus on repelling the numerous attacks on its territory. The government faces pressure on various fronts: from Daesh forces in central Syria and Hasakeh, Jabhat al-Nusra and allies near Latakia and in Aleppo and continued efforts by the Southern Front to encroach on Damascus and Deraa. Assad’s forces also lost a second provincial capital in March of this year when Jabhat al-Nusra and other jihadist fighters overran the city of Idleb.

This succession of defeats and military pressure has allowed public opinion in government areas to decline, as well and likewise military morale and capability. SAA forces struggle to defend non-contiguous areas of control and have faced a number of recent military defeats. The month of August even saw reports of protests in pro-government areas over the performance of the army and the failure to oust opposition forces that continue to besiege government towns. The crippling of the Syrian army the war’s extended stagnation has seen an increase in the use of Hezbollah forces and other non-SAA fighters.

The future role of Hezbollah in Syria

Rumors have been circulating on the future role of Hezbollah in the conflict, as well as a revealing public address by leader Hassan Nasrallah in which he expressed concern of overextending in Syria.

On 22 September, the Daily Star, a Lebanese daily newspaper published an article citing an anonymous Hezbollah diplomatic source who said that following the fall of Zabadani, expected to happen soon, Hezbollah would be limited to defending their positions and would not take part in any assaults on rebels inside Syria.

The article was quickly taken down - possibly for accuracy or verification - possibly for the potential political and military repercussions. Whether accurate or not, the statement poses an important question - what would happen on the ground if Hezbollah did withdraw to defensive positions and cease further assaults?

With the decay of the SAA, Hezbollah has stepped up in Syria as the primary pro-government fighting force. The Lebanese group has an estimated 6,000-8,000 fighters with operations expanding outside of the Qalamoun region on the Syria-Lebanon border to most theaters of combat in the country. Analysts agree that Hezbollah’s extensive efforts in Syria have cost the group dearly in lives and resources.

On 25 September, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said that the group’s truce with Syrian opposition forces reached in Zabadani was not due to the group’s military impotence, but rather to accomplish other objectives – the transfer of Shia populations under siege in Foua and Kefraya. When Nasrallah was asked on Hezbollah’s continued commitment in Syria, he responded that he, “wished [that] the war in Syria didn’t happen and the youth weren’t exploited…We would rather be confronting Israel instead.”

As of now Hezbollah has two options in Syria: to push deeper or cling to their spoils. Based on Nasrallah’s statements, the latter appears more likely. With the possibility of yet another war with Israel on the horizon, the group will be looking to reorganize and redistribute resources away from further expansion in Syria. Deeper entrenchment in the chaos in Syria shows little opportunity with substantial risks. With Qalamoun secured and supply lines to Damascus and Homs open, retaining territory will be the main objective. Russian and Syrian fighter jets can continue the war with fewer costs while more ground resources are focused on holding defensive lines.

There is little doubt that Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria played a vital role in prolonging Assad’s survival this long. If Hezbollah is considering halting offensive operations, it means that: 1.) There must be an effective plan in play led by Moscow to prop up Assad or 2.) The war is shifting in favor of Assad. Most analysts have dismissed the second option. Therefore, the withdrawal of Hezbollah forces from the front offensive lines would signal a potential strategy overhaul in the Damascus command center between Russian, Iranian, and Syrian military leaders. A new strategy based on holding territory, stabilizing areas of control, and renewed diplomatic efforts.

Renewed Russian interest

This month intelligence and news reports revealed a significant uptick in Russian involvement in the conflict, both in terms of military hardware and advisors (some claim even fighters). An air force base is being developed in Latakia for Russian use and advanced weaponry including tanks, APC’s, and fighter jets have been shipped. Reports indicate daily shipments of supplies arriving at Syrian government air bases.

If Hezbollah does plan to shift focus to defense, it would be counter-intuitive to assume that such a major decision was coordinated without the input of Russia and Iran. Russia’s increase in support to Assad would likely be to compensate for a less active role by Hezbollah.

As a subtle division appears in European policy towards the conflict, namely the fact that leaders David Cameron and Angela Merkel spoke of the possibility of Assad remaining in power, Russia has a window of diplomatic opportunity to bolster Assad’s role as a leader in the fight against terrorism.

One of Assad’s first acts after the uprising began was to release radical jihadists and ideologues from prisons to flood the opposition. The rise of Daesh and other salafi jihadist groups played into Assad’s plan to position himself as the stable alternative to radical Islamists. Putin took to the international stage this week to reiterate this and paint Assad as the necessary partner for combatting Daesh, “We believe it’s a huge mistake to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian authorities, with the government forces, those who are bravely fighting terror face-to-face.”

Russia’s objectives in Syria are clear. But with a severely weakened SAA, a likely less active Hezbollah, and a seemingly stagnant conflict with little chance of territorial advances on the ground, Russia is seeking to improve conditions in the realm of international diplomacy to defend her interests, namely acceptance and support of her strongman in Syria. Meanwhile, Russian equipment will try to outdo American anti-ISIS efforts, while at the same time weakening areas of opposition without overextending Assad’s strained ground forces.

These rapid and sudden developments in Syria suggest that major strategic changes are in the making. Given recent setbacks, it is in Assad’s interest to switch to a defense-focused strategy aimed at holding territory and continuing to weaken the enemy from afar. Losing territory and fighting on multiple fronts is no longer sustainable. The government cannot afford to overextend forces as the conflict’s balance continues to slip against Assad. Leaders in Moscow and Tehran need Assad to remain in power and Russia’s new boldness in the region (increasing cooperation with Iraq as well) may well change the game.

John Yager is the co-founder and director of humanitarian projects for Global Crisis Relief, a newly formed NGO dedicated to serving Syrian refugees in the Middle East.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (John Yager) frontpage Thu, 01 Oct 2015 13:54:44 +0000
Factions: Abbas insists on ‘monopolising’ Palestinian decision https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21383-factions-abbas-insists-on-monopolising-palestinian-decision https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21383-factions-abbas-insists-on-monopolising-palestinian-decision Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas

Palestinian factions played down Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech at the UN General Assembly which he delivered yesterday, Palestinian Al-Resalah newspaper said.

Hamas official Yahya Musa said: “Abbas’s threats to end Oslo are old and he cannot commit to them… He begged for meetings with the Israelis, Americans and the international movements in a show of weakness in his speech.”

He continued: “This reflects Abbas’s political bankruptcy. He does not have alternatives or strategies for the future… He cannot stop security cooperation with the occupation or take the side of the Palestinian resistance.”

Musa said Abbas was giving Israel and America “a new chance to undermine the Palestinian cause”, adding that he feared the Palestinian cause is facing more deterioration.

Meanwhile, Hussein Mansour, member of the central committee of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said that Abbas’s speech “fell far too short of Palestinian hopes.”

He also said that Abbas left the door open to retreat from his decisions. “He did not commit to the Palestinian decisions which were issued by the [PLO] Central Council and had a national consensus, including halting security cooperation with the occupation,” Mansour said.

Mansour condemned Abbas’s calls for the Israeli occupation to begin peace talks while not discussing Israeli crimes, mainly in the Gaza Strip, which has been under a crippling siege for eight years.

He stressed that Abbas commits only to his own vision, which more than 90 per cent of Palestinians object it, describing him as a “dictator”.

Islamic Jihad official Khader Habib said that Abbas has to commit to his pledges if he wants to prove his credibility.

“His speech is different than previous speeches,” Habib said, “Abbas clearly announced he would not commit to deals with Israel… But this needs to be translated on the ground,” calling for the international community to take up its responsibility.

Senior leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine Talal Abu Zarifa said that Abbas’s speech fell short of Palestinian expectations. “It should have been more serious and Abbas should have clearly announced disengagement with the Israeli occupation.”

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Thu, 01 Oct 2015 13:39:31 +0000
Syrian opposition chief slams Russian-Iranian ‘occupation’ https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21382-syrian-opposition-chief-slams-russian-iranian-occupation https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21382-syrian-opposition-chief-slams-russian-iranian-occupation Khaled Khoja

Khaled Khoja, head of the Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition, which opposes the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, has called on the international community to condemn what he described as the “Russian-Iranian occupation” of the war-torn country.

At a press conference held late Wednesday in New York, Khoja described the adoption of measures to protect civilians as a “necessary step” towards the establishment of a “transitional stage” in which al-Assad would not play a part in the governance of Syria.

According to Khoja, Russian airstrikes carried out Wednesday in western Syria had resulted in 36 civilian casualties.

“It’s clear to the world that Russia’s claim of intervening to fight the Daesh militant group is just an excuse to prop up a regime that has lost legitimacy,” Khoja asserted in New York.

“The Syrian regime now controls only 14 percent of [Syrian territory],” he said. “We must reassert the right of the Syrian people to liberate their land from dual Russian-Iranian occupation.”

Russian warplanes on Wednesday struck targets inside Syria for the first time, according to statements by the Russian Foreign Ministry.

On Tuesday, Khoja had urged the international community to impose a no-fly zone in the war-weary country with the aim of saving civilians, who, he said, were suffering “genocide” at the hands of the Assad regime.

Syria’s devastating civil conflict, now in its fifth year, has claimed more than 250,000 lives, according to UN figures, and made the country the world's single-largest source of refugees and displaced people.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Thu, 01 Oct 2015 13:28:43 +0000
Pentagon chief: Russian action in Syria is pouring petrol on fire https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/21381-pentagon-chief-russian-action-in-syria-is-pouring-petrol-on-fire https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/21381-pentagon-chief-russian-action-in-syria-is-pouring-petrol-on-fire US Secretary of Defence, Ashton Carter

US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter has said the United States is concerned over Russia’s “contradictory position” in Syria and that the Kremlin’s decision to conduct airstrikes at the request of Bashar Al-Assad is “tantamount to pouring gasoline on the fire”.

“It does appear that they were in areas where there probably were not [Daesh] forces, and that is precisely one of the problems with this whole approach,” Carter said during an afternoon press conference at the Pentagon.

Carter confirmed that US military officials will meet with their Russian counterparts during the coming days to discuss the Russian actions in Syria.

Carter also said the US has continued its own coalition-based strikes despite Russia’s warning that the US and its allies steer clear of its warplanes.

Carter stressed that efforts to dismantle and defeat the Islamic State should be pursued in parallel to a transitional political solution in Syria.

The Syrian regime earlier revealed that President Bashar Al-Assad has directly asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to intervene militarily in Syria.

The statement from the Syrian presidency came after the Russian Air Force waged violent airstrikes in the countryside surrounding Homs and Hama.

Several sources in Hama and Homs reported that dozens of civilians were killed and others wounded in the Russian raids.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country’s support for Al-Assad will be limited to air strikes and will not include ground action, and that Russia’s military intervention in Syria will be “temporarily”.

Putin said the only way to combat “international terrorism” in Syria is to “take preventive steps and liquidate insurgents and terrorists in the areas they control without waiting for them to arrive to our homes.”

Meanwhile, the Syrian National Coalition announced its opposition to the Russian raids on the armed opposition sites.

A member of the coalition’s political committee, Ahmed Ramadan, said that: “Russia is waging its aggression outside the international community, the UN Security Council and the Arab League will by responding to the illegitimate regime’s call for intervention and in contravention of the Geneva statement it had signed which calls for a political solution to the Syrian crisis.”

In his interview with Gulf Online news site, Ramadan called on “the Security Council and the Arab League to convene urgently to discuss the Russian offensive on rebels positions”, noting that the Russian raids on Tuesday have caused the death of 36 civilians.

The Russian intervention will increase the pace of terrorism, he added.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Thu, 01 Oct 2015 11:48:26 +0000
Muslim scholars warn that Russia is paving the way for military intervention in Iraq https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21380-muslim-scholars-warn-that-russia-is-paving-the-way-for-military-intervention-in-iraq https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21380-muslim-scholars-warn-that-russia-is-paving-the-way-for-military-intervention-in-iraq Daesh militants

The Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq (AMSI) has warned that any foreign intervention in the Middle East will harm the interests of its people, dispel future generations and escalate violence in the region.

In a statement issued on Wednesday AMSI criticised the alleged quadripartite agreement between Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq to forms a joint committee to exchange intelligence aiming to target Daesh and limit its activities.

Quds Press reported as saying that Russia sent military crews and 28 warplanes to Syria, and began aerial surveillance missions using unmanned aircrafts over the Syrian territory in order to provide direct support to the government of Bashar Al-Assad in exchange for the establishment of military bases

The statement warned that Russia intends to pave the way for similar operations to intervene in the Iraqi affairs.

AMSI also pointed out that these alliances come in the context of competition between major powers for influence and to settle accounts with each other.

“It has become blatant that all those countries take the presence of [Daesh] as an excuse to intervene in the region and steal its resources,” the statement added.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Thu, 01 Oct 2015 11:34:40 +0000
Hundreds of settlers attempt to seize Palestinian land in Nablus https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21379-hundreds-of-settlers-attempt-to-seize-palestinian-land-in-nablus https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/21379-hundreds-of-settlers-attempt-to-seize-palestinian-land-in-nablus Israeli settlers

More than 50 Israeli settler families and hundreds of youths gathered yesterday on Palestinian land near the West Bank city of Nablus calling for it to be annexed it to their illegal settlement, Felesteen newspaper reported.

The Palestinian land is located between two illegal settlements known as Itmar and Alon Moriah. The settlers called for building a settlement on the land because the settlement firm Hatmona bought it from its Palestinian owners 40 years ago.

Several Israeli officials and members of the Knesset took part in the gathering, including Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan, Member of the Knesset Miki Zohar and Oren Hazan.

The settlers said they would remain on the land until the Israeli government agreed to confiscate the land to build a settlement.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Thu, 01 Oct 2015 11:33:14 +0000
Egypt signs deal with Kuwaiti firm to search for oil in Iraq https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/21378-egypt-signs-deal-with-kuwaiti-firm-to-search-for-oil-in-iraq https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/21378-egypt-signs-deal-with-kuwaiti-firm-to-search-for-oil-in-iraq Flag of Egypt

Egypt has signed a partnership deal with a Kuwaiti firm to search for oil in Iraq, AlkhaleejOnline reported a senior minister saying yesterday.

Egyptian Minister of Petroleum Tariq Al-Mulla said that according to the partnership deal the Kuwait Energy conceded 10 per cent of its ownership of an area in Basra, southern Iraq.

This deal activates the agreement which was signed during the conference held in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh aimed at bolstering the Egyptian economy.

Kuwait Energy was established in 2005 and it has been working as a private sector firm to search and produce oil and gas in the Middle East and North Africa.

noreply@memonitor.org.uk (Middle East Monitor) frontpage Thu, 01 Oct 2015 11:12:45 +0000