Inter Press Service » Humanitarian Emergencies http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 23 Aug 2014 08:26:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Obama Mulling Broader Strikes Against ISIS?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/obama-mulling-broader-strikes-against-isis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-mulling-broader-strikes-against-isis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/obama-mulling-broader-strikes-against-isis/#comments Sat, 23 Aug 2014 00:06:55 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136289 President Barack Obama meets with National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice and Tony Blinken, Deputy National Security Advisor, in the Oval Office, Aug. 1, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama meets with National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice and Tony Blinken, Deputy National Security Advisor, in the Oval Office, Aug. 1, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Aug 23 2014 (IPS)

This week’s video-taped beheading of a U.S. journalist by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has spurred renewed calls for President Barack Obama to broaden Washington’s military efforts to strike the terrorist group, including in Syria.

While Obama himself has long resisted pressure from neo-conservatives and other hawks to intervene more directly in Syria’s civil war, senior administration officials suggested strongly in the wake of ISIS’s grisly execution of James Foley that expanding U.S. military intervention across the border was indeed on the table.The administration’s strategy will depend on co-operation from Sunni-led Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, which have withheld support from Iraq under Maliki.

The most pointed remark in that regard came from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, who until now has been considered one of the strongest opponents of any expanded U.S. military role in the region, particularly in Syria where ISIS has emerged as the strongest among the rebel groups fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

“To your question, can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organisation which resides in Syria,” Dempsey said in answer to a reporter’s question, “the answer is no. That will have to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially at this point a non-existent border.”

Asked whether the Pentagon was indeed considering striking ISIS in Syria, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, who described the group’s potency as “beyond anything that we have seen” and a “long-term threat” to the U.S., said simply, “We’re looking at all options.”

Similarly, in a briefing with reporters in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, where Obama is currently vacationing, his deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes echoed that position.

“We’re actively considering what is necessary to deal with that threat, and we’re not going to be restricted by borders,” he said, noting that the beheading was considered by the administration to constitute a “terrorist attack against our country. …If you come after Americans, we’re going to come after you wherever you are.”

The tougher line on ISIS, whose sweep from bases in eastern Syria and al-Anbar province in western Iraq through much of northern and central Iraq in June and subsequent advances into Kurdish-controlled territory earlier this month stunned officials here, comes in the wake of some progress by the administration in addressing the crisis.

On the military front, the nearly 100 U.S. airstrikes, which were carried out over the past week in co-ordination with Kurdish pesh merga and U.S.-trained Iraqi special forces, appear to have succeeded in pushing back ISIS forces from much territory they had gained in the Kurdish region and in depriving the militants of their control of the huge Mosul dam.

On the political front, the resignation of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his replacement by Haider al-Abadi broke a long-standing deadlock in Baghdad and, at least theoretically, opened the door to the formation of a less sectarian government in which the minority Sunni and Kurdish communities will gain a real share of power.

The administration clearly hopes that such an outcome will persuade many Sunnis – including mainly secular former Baathist officials and military officers – who have been allied with ISIS in the latter’s campaign against Maliki to break the militants, much as they did against ISIS’s predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), during the so-called “Anbar Awakening” movement in 2006-7.

“Baathists want the ouster of Maliki to regain some of the stature and political participation that they’ve been denied since the fall of Saddam Hussein,” Human Rights Watch Iraq specialist Letta Tayler told foreignpolicy.com. “And that’s a very different goal from setting up a caliphate…”

Of course, the likelihood that such an outcome can be achieved will depend heavily on the cooperation – or at least acquiescence – of other key external players besides the U.S., of which Iran is considered the most important given its influence with the various Shia parties that have dominated Iraq’s government since the 2003 U.S. invasion.

In addition to Iran, however, the administration’s strategy will depend on co-operation from Sunni-led Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, which have withheld support from Iraq under Maliki and largely failed to vigorously enforce laws and international sanctions against those of its citizens who have provided financial and other support to Al Qaeda, its affiliates, and, more recently, ISIS.

Washington has been encouraged by the favourable reaction to Abadi’s appointment from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia — who, like Jordan’s king, appears increasingly alarmed by ISIS’s expansion — and hopes it will be followed by efforts to persuade key Sunni tribes in Iraq to break with the militants and participate in a new government in Baghdad.

Much the same approach applies to its strategy against ISIS in Syria, where it faces a much trickier situation given U.S. opposition to the Assad regime, whose forces, however, are increasingly seen here as the only significant barrier to ISIS’s expansion there.

Western-backed “moderate” rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have steadily lost ground to both government forces and to ISIS, as well as other “jihadi” groups, over the past year and have become increasingly marginal to the conflict.

While Obama last month pledged 500 million dollars in new assistance, including military aid, for the FSA to fight both the regime and the jihadi groups, officials have said the vetting and training of new fighters will take many months to complete and, even then, is unlikely to be able to be able to tilt the battlefield in any substantial way for the foreseeable future, if at all.

Thus, the primary battlefield beneficiary of U.S. strikes against ISIS in Syria is likely to be Assad, a prospect that cannot please Sunni-led allies, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which, despite their new concerns about the threat posed by ISIS, have invested heavily in the Syrian president’s ouster.

Nonetheless, the administration is likely to push hard on its allies to co-operate in weakening ISIS in Syria, as well as Iraq, mainly by cutting off private external funding of the group and sealing porous borders that have been used to infiltrate ISIS fighters and recruits into Syria.

To gain their co-operation, Obama may have to offer key concessions, such as accelerating aid and supplying more advanced weaponry to non-jihadi groups, and supplying additional guarantees to Gulf states that feel threatened by any rapprochement between Washington and Tehran.

To defeat ISIS, according to Dempsey, military means will not be sufficient. “(It) will come when we have a coalition in the region that takes on the task of defeating ISIS over time.

“It requires a variety of instruments, only one small part of which is airstrikes,” he said. “I’m not predicting those will occur in Syria, at least not by the United States of America. But it requires the application of all the tools of national power – diplomatic, economic, information, military.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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Israel, Hamas Set to Escape War Crimes Chargeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/israel-hamas-set-to-escape-war-crimes-charges/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israel-hamas-set-to-escape-war-crimes-charges http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/israel-hamas-set-to-escape-war-crimes-charges/#comments Fri, 22 Aug 2014 21:08:27 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136286 A view of the remains of structures hit by Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip, Aug. 6, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

A view of the remains of structures hit by Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip, Aug. 6, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 22 2014 (IPS)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a rare moment of political candour, lashed out at Israel last week, questioning its “respect for the principles of distinction and proportionality” – particularly in the context of the civilian death toll that kept rising to over 2,000 Palestinians, with more than 75 percent civilians.

“I expect accountability for the innocent lives lost and the damage incurred,” he warned."The impunity of Israel and the United States are a license for every country to violate humanitarian and human rights laws that are fundamental to civilisation." -- Michael Ratner of CCR

That “accountability” has to come only before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague where both Israelis and Hamas militants are liable for war crimes – even though only two civilians died in the Hamas rocket attacks against Israel. But the chances of either one of the warring parties going before the ICC are remote.

Asked about a possible ICC intervention, John Quigley, professor emeritus at Ohio State University, told IPS one should not be asking whether Israel can be brought before the ICC.

“The ICC does nothing against states. It prosecutes individuals. So the question is whether Israelis could be brought before the ICC,” he noted.

One way is a Security Council resolution, said Quigley, author of ‘The Statehood of Palestine: International Law in the Middle East Conflict.’

But according to most U.N. diplomats, any such resolution will be vetoed either by one, or all three Western nations – the United States, Britain and France – who traditionally throw their protective arm around Israel, right or wrong.

Quigley said, “If a state is a party to the Rome Statute, then its nationals can be prosecuted in the ICC.”

Israel is not a party to the Rome Statute that created the ICC.

“However, the ICC has jurisdiction based on the territory where a crime is committed. So if an Israeli commits a crime in a state that is a party, the ICC can prosecute that Israeli,” said Quigley, author of ‘Genocide in Cambodia and The Ruses for the War.’

Beyond that, said Quigley, if a state is not a party but files a declaration conferring jurisdiction on crimes within its territory, then anyone who commits a crime in the territory of that state may be prosecuted.

That is the basis on which the ICC has jurisdiction over Israelis who commit crimes in the territory of Palestine, because Palestine filed such a declaration in 2009, he added.

The obstacle is that the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, says the Palestine declaration was not valid because Palestine was not a state in 2009.

Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, told IPS there is a desperate need to hold Israel, its leadership and military officials accountable for the international crimes Israel is committing today in Gaza, and for the crimes it has committed in the past in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel itself.

“Along with Israeli officials, the aiders of abettors of this ongoing criminal conduct should be in the dock as well,” Ratner said.

This, he said, would include especially officials of the U.S. and other countries who, knowing that Israel is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, continue to give it the means for doing so, said Ratner, president of the Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights.

A story in the London Guardian last week said the ICC was under Western pressure not to open a Gaza war crimes case.

Julian Borger, the Guardian’s diplomatic editor, wrote that in recent days, a potential ICC investigation into the actions of both the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and Hamas in Gaza has become a fraught political battlefield and a key negotiating issue at ceasefire talks in Cairo.

“But the question of whether the ICC could or should mount an investigation has also divided the Hague-based court itself,” he wrote.

An ICC investigation could have a far-reaching impact, he said, pointing out it would not just examine alleged war crimes by the Israeli military, Hamas and other Islamist militants, but also address the issue of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories, for which the Israeli leadership would be responsible.

In an exchange of letters in the last few days, Bolger wrote, lawyers for the Palestinians have insisted that Bensouda has all the legal authority she needs to launch an investigation, based on a Palestinian request in 2009. “However, Bensouda is insisting on a new Palestinian declaration, which would require achieving elusive consensus among political factions such as Hamas, who would face scrutiny themselves alongside the Israeli government.”

Ratner told IPS the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in referring Israel to the U.N. Human Rights Council, said Israel was in deliberate defiance of international law.

“While she also referred Hamas for indiscriminate firing of rockets, that violation pales compared to the massacre Israel has carried out,” Ratner added.

Her condemnation also was aimed at the United States for providing the weaponry Israel is employing in its assault on Gaza.

“The High Commissioner is right: Israel is deliberately violating the laws of war and has boasted of it,” he said.

After the second war in Lebanon in 2006 in which Israel flattened the Dahiya civilian neighbourhood of Beirut, an Israeli general said Israel will use disproportionate force against any village that fires upon Israel, “causing great damage and destruction.”

Ratner said by failing to hold Israel accountable in large part because it is protected by the United States, it is making a mockery of the Geneva Conventions and international law.

“The impunity of Israel and the United States are a license for every country to violate humanitarian and human rights laws that are fundamental to civilisation,” he said.

Ratner argued that the United Sates is too powerful and the chances of an ICC investigation, much less a prosecution, are remote. Even were the court by some miracle to launch an investigation, it would never, because of U.S. pressure, result in a prosecution. But this does not mean Palestinians and their allies should stop trying, said Ratner.

“Every means to expose and hold Israel accountable and demonstrate the bias of our international system is important,” he added. “The effort is clearly terrifying Israel because Israel knows the criminality it is engaged in.”

So, if the ICC is not really a means to hold Israel and the U.S. accountable, then efforts should be doubled to hold Israeli and U.S. officials accountable through universal jurisdiction in every national court of every state, he noted.

Many countries have jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity no matter where committed and even if the perpetrator is not in the country.

“The goal is to make Israel the pariah state it ought to be for committing these crimes, to make its officials unable to move outside the country and to ultimately send a message: Enough! It is saddening at this moment to see horrendous crimes committed hourly and watch the governments of many states stand by or enable,” he added.

“Our hope to hold Israel accountable should be in the outpouring of opposition to these crimes by citizens throughout the world. Ultimately, the courts will need to act,” declared Ratner.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Violations of International Law Denigrate U.N.http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-violations-of-international-law-degenerate-u-n/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-violations-of-international-law-degenerate-u-n http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-violations-of-international-law-degenerate-u-n/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 14:54:49 +0000 Somar Wijayadasa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136241 The U.N. flag flies at half-mast in memory of staff killed during the most recent Israeli air strikes in Gaza. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

The U.N. flag flies at half-mast in memory of staff killed during the most recent Israeli air strikes in Gaza. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Somar Wijayadasa
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

The United Nations was founded “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights.

To meet that objective, the Preamble of the U.N. Charter provides “to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained”.Since the Second World War, these good and evil countries have waged hundreds of wars in which nearly 50 million people have been killed, tens of millions made homeless, and countless millions injured and bereaved.

The United Nations has played a major role in defining, codifying, and expanding the realm of international law – which defines the legal responsibilities of states in their conduct with each other, and their treatment of individuals within state boundaries.

Historically, violators of international law are not only the countries branded as evil and belligerent but also countries that preach democracy and human rights. That undermines the efforts of the United Nations to maintain law and order.

Since the Second World War, these good and evil countries have waged hundreds of wars in which nearly 50 million people have been killed, tens of millions made homeless, and countless millions injured and bereaved. No part of the world has escaped the scourge of war. The countless mechanisms enshrined in the U.N. Charter to resolve conflicts by peaceful means have been rendered useless.

Let’s forget Hiroshima, Vietnam, Korea and a few other major disasters. Let’s look at what happened after the Cold War ended in 1989, and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 – leaving the United States as the only superpower.

The mass murders in Rwanda and Sudan proved that neither the United Nations nor superpowers wished to intervene. Wars in the Balkans, and fragmentation of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia are now forgotten history.

The U.S. and NATO authorised bombings in Kosovo and Serbia in the 1990s. The Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen is over. International law was violated in all these instances, and these countries now are in disarray.

The United States has been criticised for turning away from internationalism by abandoning the Kyoto Protocol, ignoring the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, repudiating the Biological Weapons Convention, repealing the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, refusing to sign the Treaty establishing the International Criminal Court, and condoning the continued Israeli violence against Palestinians in occupied territories.

In 2011, following the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration embarked on a strategy of unilateralism, disregarding the U.N. and international law. Worst of all is its military strategy of “pre-emptive strikes” which defies the U.N. Charter by allowing the U.S. to use illegal force against other states.

Despite U.N. opposition, the Bush administration took a series of unilateral actions. The most damaging was the war in Iraq waged on bogus claims of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and the war in Afghanistan.

After a decade of devastation, the expectations of democracy, freedom and human rights have vanished – and there are no winners in these wars despite continuing mayhem and casualties.

U.S. President Barack Obama revealed that the two wars have cost U.S. taxpayers over one trillion dollars. A study by American researchers (including Noble Laureate Joseph Stieglitz and experts from Harvard and Brown), estimate that the costs could be in the range of three to four trillion.

A major challenge to international law today is the U.S. policy of using aerial drones to carry out targeted killings.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) estimates that as many as 4,000 people have been killed in U.S. drone strikes since 2002 in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Of those, a significant proportion were civilians.

UCLA believes that “The U.S. policy instigated in 2006 is violating universally recognized customary international law on numerous counts: failure to discriminate between military and civilian objects, indiscriminate attacks, extrajudicial executions, attacks against places of worship.

“Ironically, the drone strikes could actually be classified as ‘international terrorism’, since they appear to have been often intended to coerce the civilian population and to influence the Pakistani government.”

Another major obstacle to peace in the Middle East and world security is the Israeli Occupation and expansion of settlements in occupied territories – acts that undermine International Law.

According to Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention — to which both Israel and the United States are signatories — prohibits any occupying power from transferring “parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

Also, a landmark 2004 decision by the International Court of Justice confirmed the illegality of the Israeli settlements.

Since 1948, the U.N. has passed scores of resolutions declaring that all Israeli settlements outside of Israel’s internationally recognised borders are illegal but they have been blatantly ignored by Israel.

Condemning the recent Israeli attacks on homes, schools, hospitals, and U.N. shelters in Gaza that killed thousands of innocent civilians – a gross violation of the Geneva Conventions – U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that “Israel was deliberately defying international law in its military offensive in Gaza and that world powers should hold it accountable for possible war crimes.”

Pillay said she was appalled at Washington consistently voting against resolutions on Israel in the Human Rights Council, General Assembly and Security Council.

Another inconspicuous violation is the application of “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) approved by the U.N., in 2005, which is now subtly used for regime changes.

The U.S. and NATO invoked R2P for military intervention in Libya on the pretext of a “no-fly zone” but ended in regime change. Today Libya is fragmented and is in the hands of rebels, forcing United States to evacuate its embassy staff and other foreign personnel in Libya.

The U.S. attempted to invoke the R2P mechanism in Syria even though there was no proof that the Assad regime killed its own people with chemical weapons.

President Obama was about to wage a war against Syria when a last-minute solution was found by the Russians to avert the war by removing Assad’s chemical weapons.

But the U.S. and its allies showed no interest in invoking R2P in the case of Darfur or in Israeli aggression against Palestinians in Gaza, where over 2,000 civilians were killed.

And no one is screaming to invoke R2P in East Ukraine despite the fact that already over 2,000 Ukrainians have been killed by Ukrainian military forces.

The United Nations has not played a fair role when invoking the Responsibility to Protect.

In 2002, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established with a mandate to consider genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression. But it is unfortunate that ICC mainly focuses on criminal cases in Africa, without looking at so many breaches of the law elsewhere.

The United States is not a signatory to the ICC but it cannot escape from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) where cases can be initiated by one state against another.

Actions of many powerful countries prove that they are sticking to the Rule of Power instead of enhancing the Rule of Law.

For over 200 years, America has been a devout apostle of equality and freedom – defending peace, democracy, justice and human rights. It is in this sense that a few former U.S. presidents believed in peace and not war.

President Truman said, “The responsibility of the great states is to serve and not dominate the peoples of the world” and President Kennedy said, “Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.”

It is inconceivable that America, today, with its democratic history and unrivaled power, constantly violates international law instead of morally guiding the world towards peace, justice and prosperity.

Such actions not only erode the prestige of the United States and violate the U.N. Charter, but also undermine the effectiveness of the United Nations.

Somar Wijayadasa is a former Representative of UNAIDS at the United Nations.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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TNT and Scrap Metal Eviscerate Syria’s Industrial Capitalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tnt-and-scrap-metal-eviscerate-syrias-industrial-capital/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tnt-and-scrap-metal-eviscerate-syrias-industrial-capital http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tnt-and-scrap-metal-eviscerate-syrias-industrial-capital/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 17:53:37 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136210 Member of Aleppo civil defence team searches for survivors after barrel bomb attack, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Member of Aleppo civil defence team searches for survivors after barrel bomb attack, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
ALEPPO, Syria / GAZIANTEP, Turkey, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

Numerous mechanics, tyre and car body shops used to line the busy streets near the Old City of Syria’s previous industrial and commercial hub.

Now car parts, scrap metal, TNT and other explosive materials are packed into oil drums, water tanks or other large cylinders from regime areas and dropped from helicopters onto civilian areas in the same city, in defiance of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2139.

In the days spent inside the city in August, IPS frequently heard bombs throughout the day and night and visited several sites of recent attacks on civilian areas. Locally organised civil defence units could be seen trying to extract survivors from the rubble, but often nothing could be done.

Roughly six months ago, on February 22, the U.N. resolution ordered all parties to the conflict to halt the indiscriminate use of barrel bombs on populated areas. The Syrian regime has instead intensified its use of them.An Aleppo local council official told IPS that of the some 1.5 million people living in the city previously, there were now fewer than 400,000, with most of those who have left in recent months now internally displaced.

Human Rights Watch released a report in late July saying that it had identified ‘’at least 380 distinct damage site in areas held by non-state armed groups in Aleppo’’ through satellite imaging in the period from October 31, 2013 to the February 22 resolution, and over 650 new impact strikes on rebel-held areas in the period since, marking a significant increase.

One of the deadliest days of recent months in the city was on June 16, when 68 civilians were killed by aerial attacks, according to the Violations Documentation Center in Syria. The centre also noted that in the five months between February 22 and July 22, a total of 1,655 civilians were killed in the Aleppo governorate by aerial attacks.

An Aleppo local council official told IPS that of the some 1.5 million people living in the city previously, there were now fewer than 400,000, with most of those who have left in recent months now internally displaced. He said that every month the number of people in the area is re-counted for food supply and other requests to donors given the huge displacement under way.

The only road heading towards the Turkish border in rebel hands is now in danger of falling to the fundamentalist Islamic State (IS) – previously known as Islamist State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – even if the armed opposition groups manage to keep government troops at bay.

Regime forces are trying to inflict a siege on Aleppo’s rebel-held areas to force them into submission, as they have done to other cities in several parts of the country.

The removal of the jihadist IS group from large sections of territory not under regime control has been entirely due to the fighting by the rebel groups themselves, and it is likely that many will face brutal execution if the group enters the city again – a prospect the regime seems to be favouring.

Barrel bombs are not dropped on IS forces or on the territory held by them, and until recently there were few cases of any sort of attack at all by regime forces against IS-held areas.

A local activist from IS-controlled Jarabulus, now living across the border in Turkey – after coming under suspicion of “speaking negatively of IS” within the community – told IPS that since the jihadist group had taken control of the city, ‘’there has not been a single attack on any part of it’’ by the regime.

The TNT-filled cylinders dropped by Syrian government forces have in recent months instead been destroying the few productive activities that had remained in a city formerly known worldwide for its olive oil soap, textiles and other industries.

Aya Jamili, a local activist now living in Turkey, told IPS that the few Aleppo businessmen who had tried to keep their operations up and running through the years of the conflict had in recent months either moved their equipment across the border or just moved whatever capital they had available and started over again.

Much activity needed for day-to-day survival in the city has moved underground. Underground structures have been renovated by civil defence units into shelters, which also served to hold the festivities marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in late July. Any large gathering in the streets would have been likely to attract the attention of the regime.

People who can have moved to basement flats, as have media centres and bakeries, which work at night to avoid being targeted.

Produce is brought in from the countryside and stands sell melons and tomatoes in the streets nearer the regime ones. Because barrel bombs cannot be precisely aimed, there is too large a risk for the regime of dropping them close to its own side, so these locations are deemed ‘safer’.

Nevertheless, there is still the constant risk of snipers and large sheets of bullet-scarred canvas have been hung across some of the streets to minimise their line of vision.

The once bustling, traffic-clogged streets farther away resemble for the most part desolate wastelands.

On the way out of the city, two barrel bombs were dropped in quick succession near the neighbourhood through which IPS was travelling and, just as the driver said ‘’the helicopters only carry two each, so for the moment that’s all’’ and sped onwards, a third, deafening impact occurred nearby, shaking the ground.

Further down the road, signs indicating the way to ‘Sheikh Najjar, industrial city’ are shot through with bullet holes, an apocalyptic scene of crumbling buildings behind them.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Public Offers Support for Obama’s Iraq Interventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/public-offers-support-for-obamas-iraq-intervention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=public-offers-support-for-obamas-iraq-intervention http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/public-offers-support-for-obamas-iraq-intervention/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 23:50:31 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136199 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

Despite rising criticism of his foreign policy– even from his former secretary of state – U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision last week to carry out airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) militants in northern Iraq enjoys relatively strong public support, at least so far.

Over half (54 percent) of respondents in a poll released here Monday by the Pew Research Center and USA Today said they approved of the airstrikes, which appear to have helped reverse some of the gains made by ISIS fighters against Kurdistan’s pesh merga earlier this month.The survey comes as the administration broadened its air campaign against suspected ISIS targets in northern Iraq and rushed arms and other supplies to U.S.-trained Iraq special forces units and the pesh merga.

Thirty-one percent said they disapproved of the strikes, while 15 percent of the 1,000 randomly selected respondents who took part in the survey, which was carried out between Thursday and Sunday, declined to give an opinion.

The poll found major partisan differences, with self-described Republicans markedly more hawkish than Democrats or independents, although a majority of Democratic respondents said they also supported the airstrikes.

However, a majority (57 percent) of Republicans said they were concerned that Obama was not prepared to go “far enough to stop” ISIS, while a majorities of Democrats (62 percent) and independents (56 percent) said they worried that he may go too far in re-inserting the U.S. military into Iraq three years after the last U.S. combat troops were withdrawn. Overall, 51 percent of respondents expressed the latter fear.

That concern was felt particularly strongly by younger respondents, members of the so-called “millennial” generation, whose foreign-policy views have tended to be far more sceptical of the effectiveness of military force than those of other generational groups, according to a number of polls that have been released over the past two years.

Thus, while respondents over the age of 65 were roughly equally split between those who expressed concern about Obama doing too little or going too far, more than two-thirds of millennials said they were worried about the U.S. becoming too involved in Iraq, while only 21 percent voiced the opposing view.

The survey comes as the administration broadened its air campaign against suspected ISIS targets in northern Iraq and rushed arms and other supplies to U.S.-trained Iraq special forces units and the pesh merga, the Kurdish militia whose forces proved unable to defend against ISIS’s initial advances that took its forces to within 35 kms of Erbil, Kurdistan’s capital.

When Obama last week announced Washington’s renewed intervention in Iraq, he stressed its limited aims: to protect Iraqi minorities, notably thousands of Yazidis besieged by ISIS on the slopes of Sinjar, against “genocide”, and Erbil, where the U.S. has a consulate and hundreds of personnel, including dozens of U.S. military advisers, part of a much larger contingent dispatched to Iraq in June after ISIS conquered Mosul, the country’s second-largest city and routed several divisions of the Iraqi army.

Obama also said Washington intended to protect “critical infrastructure” in the region, which he did not define further at the time. In a letter to Congress released Sunday, however, he declared that ISIS’s control of the strategic Mosul dam, which is Iraq’s largest and supplies much of the country with water and electricity, constituted a threat to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

“The failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians, endanger U.S. personnel and facilities, including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services to the Iraqi populace,” the letter asserted.

Indeed, U.S. warplanes and unmanned aircraft, operating in co-ordination with the pesh merga and Iraqi special forces, repeatedly struck ISIS positions there in the last few days. By Monday evening, the pesh merga and Iraqi government forces said they had successfully retaken the dam.

The initial success of the U.S. air campaign – 68 airstrikes have been carried out to date, according to Washington’s Central Command (CentCom) – follows Thursday’s resignation of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a critical step, in the administration’s view, toward establishing a less-sectarian government capable of reaching out to disaffected Sunnis who have joined or co-operated with ISIS without necessarily sharing the group’s extreme and violent ideology.

Obama has long insisted that U.S. military assistance to Baghdad would be calibrated according to the degree to which its Shia-led government was willing to compromise with the Sunni and Kurdish minorities.

U.S. pressure helped persuade Maliki to step down in favour of Haider al-Abadi, a fellow-Shiite and Dawa party leader who Washington hopes will be more willing to share power with both Sunnis and Kurds. But experts here give as much or more credit to Iran – the latest example – along with critical role played by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is considered by the U.S. to be a terrorist group, in rescuing the Yazidis and bolstering the pesh merga — of how the growing threat posed by ISIS to the region’s various regimes has upset its geo-political chessboard.

The initial success of both Obama’s military intervention and his role in removing Al-Maliki will likely help counter the steadily accumulating chorus of attacks – mostly by neo-conservatives and Republicans – on his foreign-policy prowess.

Even some in his own party, including, most recently, his former secretary of state and presumptive 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, have complained that he should have provided more support to “moderate” factions in Syria’s insurgency earlier in that country’s civil war and that he was too passive for too long in responding to ISIS’s advances in Al-Anbar province earlier this year.

But the latest survey, as most others released over the past year, suggest that Obama’s caution reflects the public mood, and especially the sentiments of younger voters, as well as the Democratic Party’s core constituencies.

In addition to asking whether they feared Obama would either do too much or too little in countering ISIS in Iraq, the pollsters asked respondents whether they thought the “U.S. has a responsibility to do something about the violence in Iraq.”

Overall, 44 percent answered affirmatively, while 41 percent said no, and 15 percent said they didn’t know.

Those results marked a major change from when the same question was posed in July. At that time 39 percent said yes, but a 55-percent majority answered in the negative, and six percent said they didn’t know.

While the change may be attributed to the sense of increased threat posed by ISIS to the U.S. itself, much of the news media coverage since the beginning of August focused on the plight of minority communities, especially Christians and Yazidis, threatened by ISIS’s latest campaign.

The percentage of respondants who believe the U.S. has a responsibility to take action in Iraq is significantly higher than the percentages that took the same position when the U.S. intervened in Libya and when Obama said he was prepared to conduct military action against Syria after the chemical attacks.

Detailed surveys about foreign-policy attitudes conducted over the past decade have suggested that U.S. respondents are most likely to favour unilateral military action in cases where it could prevent genocide or mass killings.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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Trauma Kits and Body Bags Now Fill Aleppo Schoolhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/trauma-kits-and-body-bags-now-fill-aleppo-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trauma-kits-and-body-bags-now-fill-aleppo-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/trauma-kits-and-body-bags-now-fill-aleppo-school/#comments Sat, 16 Aug 2014 17:44:11 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136168 A central Aleppo street after a barrel bomb attack, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

A central Aleppo street after a barrel bomb attack, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
ALEPPO, Syria, Aug 16 2014 (IPS)

Volunteer civil defence units operating here in Syria’s largest city careen through crater-pocked routes of precariously hanging, pancaked concrete where barrel bombs have struck.

Greyish dust blankets the dead, the alive and the twisted steel jutting out.  The panicked confusion immortalised in innumerable photos – with bloodied survivors raking desperately through the rubble for loved ones – is granted a modicum of order by the arrival of the rescue teams, in their distinctive white hard hats and black knee pads and boots.

When IPS arrived on the scene a few moments after the explosion of one such barrel bomb in early August, the men were already there, looking for survivors amid the rubble. One stood ready ear glued to his walkie-talkie, eyes darting between onlookers he was trying to keep at a safe distance and the sky – the first barrel bomb is almost always followed by another within 10-30 minutes, targeting would-be rescuers.One [rescue worker] stood ready, ear glued to his walkie-talkie, eyes darting between onlookers he was trying to keep at a safe distance and the sky – the first barrel bomb is almost always followed by another within 10-30 minutes, targeting would-be rescuers

The Hanano civil defence centre in eastern Aleppo is a repurposed school, its corridors dusty and empty except for a few firemen’s boots airing out, a broom, and a few morale-boosting posters of the civil defence men in uniform.

Body bags and trauma kits sit alongside fuel for Bobcat excavating and rubble-clearing equipment, pickaxes with USAID logos on them, drills and boxes of firemen’s suits, propped up against chalkboards still bearing the marks of lessons once taught in them.

Many of the men are in their twenties, clean-shaven, former university students. Khaled Hijjo, a former law student in his mid-twenties and head of the centre, told IPS that the rescue and fire teams work in two shifts: 12 hours on, 12 hours off.

At the moment there is only one medical specialist at the centre, he said, so this specialist is on call 24 hours a day. The man, who did not give his name, said he had worked for the Syrian Red Crescent even prior to the 2011 uprising and subsequent violence, but that he had no time to train the other men in basic first aid.

Correct carry and extraction procedures prevent aggravating injuries, including paralysing spinal injuries, and the heavy equipment received has proven vital to remove rubble and save those trapped underneath.

For the past four months, the rescue workers have been receiving a salary from the government-in-exile and courses from a number of foreign bodies and governments.

Entry-level first responders are given a salary of 175 dollars, while the heads of the various centres instead receive 200, civil defence chief and former English teacher Ammar Salmo told IPS, adding that 21 members of the team had been killed by barrel bombs while on duty.

When the bombs bring down entire buildings, ‘’many are trapped and nothing can be done. There are five still alive in one area that we know of, but there is no way to get them out’’, one local media activist told IPS, saying he felt helpless, and that taking pictures of the dead and wounded had ceased to make him feel useful

Though many of the local media activists have been given expensive cameras and satellite equipment and attended training programmes funded by Western nations in southern Turkey, virtually none of them seem to have had any basic first aid training.

Given the extremely severe shortage of trained medical staff left in Aleppo after the repeated attacking of medical facilities by the regime, the civil defence teams play an even more vital role in saving lives.

Ambulances donated from abroad and brought in through the sole supply road still under rebel control into the city go with the first responder team in central Aleppo, while those injured in the surrounding countryside are taken in cars to the nearest first aid centre. Communication is possible only via walkie-talkie, because there is no mobile phone reception.

A training centre was recently established inside Syrian territory but outside of the city, where team members were attending 20-day training sessions a few at a time, said Salmo.

He added that more civil defence centres were currently being set up in the Idlib region further to the west, and that it was proving easier to manage them than those in Aleppo, because many of the men ‘’were regime defectors and are more familiar with how institutions work.’’

He said the deputy chief of civil defence was a former regime general, and that four other former generals are currently working with them.

Of the instructors at the training centre, Salmo told IPS,  ‘’five are defectors from Assad’s forces, including a general teaching how to deal with barrel bombs and fire, and two doctors serve as medical experts to train the men in first aid.’’

The group has experienced some minor problems with some of the armed groups. One team member also told IPS that some of the heavy equipment had been ‘’borrowed’’ for a day by a Free Syrian Army group a few weeks earlier, but that they had promised that they would return it soon.

‘’We’re trying to solve the matter through dialogue,’’ he said.

When asked whether the group had had problems with the more extremist groups such as the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra, he scoffed, saying ‘’Jabhat Al-Nusra doesn’t need our things. They already have enough money.’’

No fire engines or other emergency vehicles could be seen in the immediate vicinity of a civil defence centre near a front line where IPS spoke to Salmo, who said that the teams had to be careful.

‘’Once you are seen as more organised,’’ he noted, ‘’you’re also seen as more of a danger to the regime.’’

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Burning the Future of Gaza’s Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/burning-the-future-of-gazas-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=burning-the-future-of-gazas-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/burning-the-future-of-gazas-children/#comments Sat, 16 Aug 2014 16:34:22 +0000 Khaled Alashqar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136164 Soundus, a young girl being treated in hospital for injuries from Israeli shelling of Gaza (August 2014). Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Soundus, a young girl being treated in hospital for injuries from Israeli shelling of Gaza (August 2014). Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

By Khaled Alashqar
GAZA CITY, Aug 16 2014 (IPS)

“My child became blind and lost the ability to speak, his dad died and his three brothers are seriously wounded. He still has not been told about the loss of his dad,” says the mother of 7-year-old Mohamad Badran. 

Mohamad is in hospital for treatment after being seriously injured in Israel shelling of Gaza. “My only way to communicate with him is by hugging him,” his mother adds.

Israeli air attacks and shelling in Gaza have left more than 1,870 dead and thousands injured. They have caused damage to infrastructure and hundreds of homes, forcing a large number of families to seek shelter in schools run by the U.N. agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA).Some of the children have suffered serious injuries which cannot be treated in Gaza due to the limited medical infrastructure and capacities caused by the Israeli blockade.

In a news note, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that Israeli airstrikes and shelling have taken a “devastating toll … on Gaza’s youngest and most vulnerable.” It said that at least 429 children had been killed and 2,744 severely injured.

Some of the children injured have suffered serious injuries which cannot be treated in Gaza due to the limited medical capacities caused by the Israeli blockade.

According to UNICEF, about 400,000 children – half of Gaza’s 1.8 million people are children under the age of 18 – are showing symptoms of psychological problems, including stress and depression, clinging to parents and nightmares.

Monika Awad, spokesperson for UNICEF in Jerusalem, told IPS that 30 percent of dead as a result of the Israeli military attacks are children, and “UNICEF and its local partners have been implementing psychosocial support programmes in Gaza schools where refugee families are sheltering.”

”We have a moral responsibility to protect the right of children to live in safety and dignity in accordance with U.N. charter for children’s rights,” she added.

However, the acute psychological effects of the Israeli attacks Gaza that have emerged among children, such as loss of speech, are among the biggest challenges that face psychotherapists.

Dr Sami Eweda, a consultant and psychiatrist with the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (a local civil society organisation working on trauma and healing issues), told IPS: “When the Israeli war against Gaza ends, psychotherapists will grapple with many expected dilemmas such as the cases of the murder of entire families and the murder of the parents who represent the central protection and tenderness for the children. Such terrible cases put children in a state of loss and shock.”

According to Eweda, “we first need to stop the main cause of these traumas and psychological problems, which is the Israeli war against Gaza, and then begin an emergency intervention to support children’s health and treat traumas and severe psychological effects, including the loss of speech, which is considered as one of the self-defence mechanisms for overcoming traumas.”

Throughout the Gaza Strip, where entire neighbourhoods such as Shujaiyeh and Khuza’a have been destroyed by the Israeli invasion and heavy bombardment, access to basic services is practically impossible.

Displaced children in a UN-run school in the Shujaiyeh neighbourhood of Gaza (August 2014). Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Displaced children in a UN-run school in the Shujaiyeh neighbourhood of Gaza (August 2014). Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

People in these areas have been suffering difficulties in accessing drinking water and have been living in an almost complete blackout since the Israeli shelling of the power station which was the sole source of electricity in besieged Gaza.

Social Watch– a network of civil society organisations from around the world monitoring their governments’ commitments to end poverty and achieve gender justice – Thursday called on the international community to declare the Gaza Strip an “international humanitarian disaster zone”, as requested by Palestinian NGOs.

“The unrestricted violation of international law and humanitarian principles adds to the instability in the region and further fuels the arms race and the marginalisation of the issues of poverty eradication and social justice that should be the main common priority,” said Social Watch.

“The recurrence of these episodes in Gaza is the result of not having acted before on similar war crimes and of not having pursued with good faith negotiations towards a lasting peace,” it added.

In a press release, Save the Children, the world’s leading independent organisation for promoting children’s rights, said: “Children never start wars, yet they are the ones that are killed, maimed, traumatised and left homeless, terrified and permanently scarred.”

“Save the Children will not stop until innocent children are no longer under fire and the root causes of this conflict are addressed. If the international community does not take action now, the violence against children in Gaza will haunt our generation forever.”

In an interview with IPS, Save the Children’s spokesperson in Gaza, Asama Damo, said: ”We call for a permanent ceasefire and for lifting the siege on Gaza to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid and basic services to children.”

“We also need the international community to intervene to end the catastrophic humanitarian situation and fight the skin diseases that are widely spreading among the refugees at UNRWA schools due to overcrowding and congestion.”

According to UNRWA, 87 of their schools are being used as shelters by the refugees, half of whom are children under the age of 18. Ziad Thabet, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Education in Gaza, told IPS:

“Israel deliberately targeted educational institutions and the education sector in general; large proportion of those killed and wounded are children and school students. Many schools and kindergartens were attacked.”

In the current disastrous situation in Gaza, it seems not only that the burnt bodies of Gaza’s children are the heritage of war, but also that their educational and health future is being burned.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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South Sudan Heads towards Famine Amid ‘Descent into Lawlessness’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/south-sudan-heads-towards-famine-and-descends-into-lawlessness/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-sudan-heads-towards-famine-and-descends-into-lawlessness http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/south-sudan-heads-towards-famine-and-descends-into-lawlessness/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 10:17:08 +0000 Andrew Green http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136125 A woman living in a displacement site in Mingkaman, South Sudan, grinds grain that she received from humanitarian agencies during their monthly food distribution. More than 1.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting in South Sudan and many are now dependent on aid agencies for food, shelter and protection. Credit: Andrew Green/IPS

A woman living in a displacement site in Mingkaman, South Sudan, grinds grain that she received from humanitarian agencies during their monthly food distribution. More than 1.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting in South Sudan and many are now dependent on aid agencies for food, shelter and protection. Credit: Andrew Green/IPS

By Andrew Green
JUBA, South Sudan , Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

Another deadline has passed. But instead of bringing about peace, the leaders of South Sudan’s warring parties have allowed the country to continue its slide toward famine.

Sunday was the deadline for the delegations of President Salva Kiir and his former deputy turned rebel leader Riek Machar to present a final proposal for a unified transitional government that would end eight months of conflict.

Instead, the weekend brought more fighting.

Each new clash exacerbates the country’s already-desperate food security situation. The international community has warned that famine could arrive as early as December. At least 1.1 million people are facing emergency food shortages. And – until fighting actually stops – aid agencies do not have access to tens of thousands of people who need their help.“Attacks on civilians and destruction and pillage of civilian property lie at the heart of how this war has been fought.” -- Skye Wheeler, a researcher with Human Rights Watch

There are no indications from the field that the clashes will stop any time soon. On Tuesday, during a visit of the United Nations Security Council to South Sudan, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power shared reports they had received “of more arms being brought into this country in order to set the stage for another battle.”

Meanwhile, in early August, a local militia group operating outside the command of either of the two forces tracked down and executed six aid workers in Upper Nile state, near the country’s border with Sudan. They chose their targets based on ethnic affiliation, perpetuating the tribal divisions that are driving this conflict.

By the time the two sides finally get to work in Addis Ababa, they may be drafting a solution to a situation over which they no longer have any control.

The now eight-month conflict began as a political squabble between Kiir and Machar over who would control the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement party. But it quickly stoked ethnic tensions as it moved across the eastern half of the country. Human rights violations became one of the grim hallmarks of the violence.

“Attacks on civilians and destruction and pillage of civilian property lie at the heart of how this war has been fought,” Skye Wheeler, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said in an interview with IPS. Patients have been shot in their hospital beds and people sheltering in a mosque and at U.N. bases have been massacred. At least 10,000 people have been killed and 1.5 million more displaced.

Even as violence has become the norm across large swathes of the country, the targeted killings of aid workers and other Nuers living in Upper Nile state’s Maban County may have marked the transition to a more volatile stage in South Sudan’s conflict.

Maban, which hosts tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees, had been relatively untouched by the fighting. But that did not stop a local militia, calling itself the Mabanese Defence Force and with no obvious alliance to either side, from executing the Nuer civilians.

The U.N. Mission in South Sudan warned in a press release that Maban was now at risk of an “ongoing descent into lawlessness” – a lawlessness that, in the absence of a legitimate peace deal, could easily spread to other areas of the country as communities decide to exact their own forms of justice.

“We’ve seen how abuse has driven further violence and more abuses during reprisal attacks directed against civilians,” Wheeler said. The weekend brought reports that another armed group was on the march in Maban, this one to exact revenge for the killings earlier in August.

The consequences of the Maban murders could be further reaching.

The people living in the conflict regions – as well as tens of thousands of displaced – are almost completely dependent on the U.N. and non-governmental organisations for food, shelter and protection.

Humanitarians were already dealing with access issues amid the ongoing fighting, as well as funding shortages. The U.N. estimates aid agencies will need 1.8 billion dollars to reach 3.8 million people before the end of the year. So far they have raised just over half.

And while the situation does not yet meet the technical criteria to be declared a famine, “there is extreme suffering,” Sue Lautze, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation country director, told IPS.

If aid workers become targets, the suffering will get much worse.

In Maban, a team from Medair, a humanitarian group currently providing emergency services in South Sudan, is responsible for operating clean water stations and running other health and hygiene services for the 60,000 people, including Sudanese refugees who live in the Yusuf Batil Camp, as well as members of the surrounding communities. Country Director Anne Reitsema said in an interview with IPS the attacks showed a “total disrespect for humanitarian actors.”

Following the attack, Medair temporarily pulled some staff members out of Maban, though leaving enough people to continue their operations. It’s too early to say when they will return, but Reitsema cautioned that the attack “makes it very hard for us to do our work.” The problem is, there is no one else to do it.

All of this – the increasing violence, the possible famine and another missed deadline – can be used as points “to shame” the two parties into an agreement that finally sticks, according to Jok Madut Jok, an analyst with the Sudd Institute, a local think tank.

It’s already happening. During her visit to Juba, Power said, “We do not see the urgency that needs to be brought to these negotiations.” And the international community has raised the threat of economic sanctions once again.

It’s a strategy that has not yet worked – the United States and European Union have already sanctioned a military leader on each side of the conflict. But neither has anything else the local and international community has tried. Which is why Jok expects more deadlines may come and go without anything being accomplished.

“The peace talks are about what each one of them hopes to walk away with from the peace talks, rather than peace, itself,” he told IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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No Victors or Vanquished in Brutal Gaza Conflicthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/no-victors-or-vanquished-in-brutal-gaza-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-victors-or-vanquished-in-brutal-gaza-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/no-victors-or-vanquished-in-brutal-gaza-conflict/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 21:04:11 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136114 A Palestinian searches through the rubble of his home destroyed by Israeli strikes in Khuza'a, southern Gaza Strip on August 6, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

A Palestinian searches through the rubble of his home destroyed by Israeli strikes in Khuza'a, southern Gaza Strip on August 6, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 13 2014 (IPS)

As the dust – and the gunpowder – settles after the month-long devastating conflict in Gaza, there were apparently no victors or vanquished.

Israel, despite its high-tech military force and so-called “pinpoint bombings”, failed to achieve its ultimate objective: annihilate the militant group Hamas."Israel's military, economic, political and diplomatic pressures can stave off the Arab tsunami for some time, but not for long." -- analyst H.L.D. Mahindapala

Instead, it killed mostly civilians, while destroying homes, schools, hospitals, universities and U.N. shelters – acts of potential war crimes that may be investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has described the death toll and destruction as “staggering.”

According to preliminary information, nearly 2,000 Palestinians have been killed – almost 75 per cent of them civilians, including 459 children, he added.

“There were more children killed in this Gaza conflict than in the previous two crises combined,” he told a U.N. news conference Tuesday.

In contrast, the Israeli death toll included 64 soldiers and three civilians, according to Israeli military figures.

“What has been the political value of this fight?” asked Vijay Prashad, George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and professor of International Studies at Trinity College in Connecticut.

He told IPS Israel finds itself isolated and most of the world is disgusted by the carnage, with sympathy for the Palestinian cause at an all-time high.

“The outcome on the political level is as yet unclear. It depends entirely on how the Palestinian leadership behaves,” said Prashad, a Middle East political analyst and author of ‘Arab Spring, Libyan Winter.’

H.L.D. Mahindapala, a former Sri Lankan newspaper editor and a political analyst based in Melbourne, told IPS Israel has lost its earlier monopoly of power to dictate terms in the region.

The Palestinian response through primitive tunnels has proved that they are a force to be reckoned with, he said. For instance, Israel boycotted talks in Egypt and Hamas forced them to come back by firing rockets and threatening its security, he pointed out.

“Israel was baffled and beaten by the network of tunnels,” said Mahindapala.

The ingenious network was built first as self-defence to beat the Israeli ban on goods. Later it became the best defensive/offensive mechanism which Israeli failed to dismantle despite its claim of ‘mission accomplished’, said Mahindapala, who has been closely monitoring the politics of the Middle East for decades.

Meir Sheerit, a former member of the Israeli parliament’s foreign affairs and defence committee, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying the network of tunnels was an intelligence failure on the part of Israel.

“I don’t think our intelligence knew how many tunnels were dug, the location of the tunnels, or how many of them were planned for assault,” he said.

According to Ban, more than 300,000 people are still sheltering in schools run by the U.N. relief agency UNRWA, and in government and private schools and other public facilities, or with host families. At least 100,000 people have had their homes destroyed or severely damaged, he added.

And according to Israeli military sources, Hamas launched about 3,488 rocket and mortar attacks since the conflict began on Jul. 8 compared with 4,929 Israeli military strikes, primarily with U.S.-supplied weapons, against targets in Gaza.

In an op-ed piece in the New York Times last week, Ronen Bergman, a senior political and military analyst for the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, said, “If body-counts and destroyed weaponry are the main criteria for victory, Israel is the clear winner in the latest confrontation with Hamas.

“But counting bodies is not the most important criterion in deciding who should be declared the victor,” he said. Much more important “is comparing each side’s goals before the fighting and what they have achieved. Seen in this light, Hamas won.”

Hamas also waged an urban campaign against Israeli ground forces, inflicting at least five times as many casualties as in the last conflict, and successfully used tunnels to penetrate Israeli territory and sow fear and demoralisation, said Bergman, who is writing a history of the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad.

The final verdict will depend largely on the outcome of any agreement reached after the peace talks in Egypt.

Prashad told IPS the Gaza war was “asymmetrical and disproportionate.”

This means that tactically there is no question that the main suffering and destruction is on the Palestinian people and on their enclave in Gaza, he pointed out.

The United Nations has made it clear that Gaza’s infrastructure is entirely destroyed, including hospitals, schools, businesses, power, food storage and supply.

“It is a humanitarian catastrophe. So on this level, Israel has won. It has made life unlivable for the Palestinians,” he said.

Israel says that its war aim was to destroy Hamas. It turns out, however, that it has destroyed Gaza once more, he added.

Prashad also said it would be an important gesture to make a full commitment to the ICC and to fully back an investigation to the nature of the war. It is to the benefit of the Palestinians that such an assessment is made, he added.

Mahindapala told IPS, “What the military strategists must realise is that it is not only Israel that is facing defeat but also its greatest ally, America.” If Israel fails, he predicted, the U.S. goes down with it.

“Israel’s military, economic, political and diplomatic pressures can stave off the Arab tsunami for some time, but not for long,” he added.

He said the U.S. and Israel are both in decline and how they propose to manage the new realities without a nuclear holocaust is the next big question.

Israel’s left-wing liberals are too minuscule and weak compared to the conservative hawks, and the main issue is not how Palestinians are going to live in occupied Israel but how Israel is going to live surrounded by a sea of Arabs, he added.

He pointed out the Arab world also must face the new realities. Islam too is facing its biggest challenge.

The crisis in the Islamic world is the crisis of adjusting to the 21st century. It is in transition and the Arab Spring was the first sign of breaking away from Arabic medievalism linked to oppressive authoritarianism. Both go hand in hand, he noted.

“The crisis is in the clash between traditional medievalism and modernism,” declared Mahindapala.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Putting the Littlest Disaster Victims on the Caribbean’s Climate Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/putting-the-littlest-disaster-victims-on-the-caribbeans-climate-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=putting-the-littlest-disaster-victims-on-the-caribbeans-climate-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/putting-the-littlest-disaster-victims-on-the-caribbeans-climate-agenda/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 18:04:41 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136077 Students of Buccament Government Primary School in St. Vincent receive gifts from sixth graders at the Green Bay Primary School in Antigua following the terrible flooding that occurred in Dominica, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Christmas Eve 2013. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Students of Buccament Government Primary School in St. Vincent receive gifts from sixth graders at the Green Bay Primary School in Antigua following the terrible flooding that occurred in Dominica, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Christmas Eve 2013. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Aug 12 2014 (IPS)

Children are often the forgotten ones when policy-makers map out strategies to deal with climate change, even as they are least capable of fending for themselves in times of trouble.

According to David Popo, head of the Social Policy Unit at the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). “Very often when we speak about poverty reduction we are not seeing children, children are invisible in terms of development.“If we fail to build resilience to adapt to those potential impacts now, we will risk consigning our future generations of Anguillians, and the entire OECS region, to an irreversible disaster." -- Anguilla’s Environment Minister Jerome Roberts

“And it’s not just St. Lucia but especially throughout the wider Caribbean,” Popo told IPS.

He cited the findings of a recent UNICEF-facilitated workshop that showed climate change has a litany of negative consequences for children, in areas such as education, poverty reduction and other forms of social development.

The OECS Rallying the Region to Action on Climate Change (OECS-RRACC project) is supporting St. Lucia through the establishment of a Geographic Information System (GIS) platform that will enable the mapping of water infrastructure for improved management and delivery services to consumers.

Popo said such a platform must make provision for the impact of the findings on children, who often appear to be overlooked when disaster mitigation plans are being considered.

“This instrument, this GIS platform has to be able, in addition to mapping the infrastructural facilities throughout the island, I think it’s very important as well to have some very strong correlations with respect to what happens to people and especially our children,” he said.

“We can very well imagine the impact in terms of schooling, education, health and the other related impacts within the unit of the household especially in areas which are impoverished and impoverished households…If there is no water in the house, the parent cannot send the child to school.”

The RRACC Project is a joint effort by the OECS Secretariat and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to assist Eastern Caribbean States in various ways relating to climate change.

The UNICEF Office for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean in an analysis titled “Children and Climate Change in the Small Islands Development States (SIDS) of the Eastern Caribbean” said trends in the Caribbean during the last 30 years are already showing significant changes to the environment due to climate change.

It said the results of climate change are all expected to negatively impact children and families due to lost/reduced earnings for families from loss in the agricultural, fishing and tourism sectors; threatened environmental displacement – 50 percent of the population live within 1.5 kilometres from the coastlines – increased vector- and water-borne diseases; and family separation due to migration because of challenges in some countries.

David Popo, head of the Social Policy Unit at the OECS. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

David Popo, head of the Social Policy Unit at the OECS. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The analysis also cited the loss of classroom time for children due to emergencies during the storm season; that fact that the rights of children were not addressed within most emergency plans/policies; the psychological toll of constant fear of natural disasters; and further family separation and migration.

UNICEF said children, as an especially vulnerable group, will bear a disproportionately large share of the burden.

Anguilla’s Environment Minister Jerome Roberts told IPS the region’s response to the climate change challenge must involve children, adding it will be judged by history.

“If we fail to build resilience to adapt to those potential impacts now, we will risk consigning our future generations of Anguillians, and the entire OECS region, to an irreversible disaster,” he said.

“As minister with responsibility for education and the environment, it will be remiss of me not to emphasise the need to ensure that Anguilla provides quality climate change education.

“Our approach must encourage innovative teaching methods that will integrate climate change education in schools. Furthermore, we have to ensure that we enhance our non-formal education programme through the media, networking and partnerships to build public knowledge on climate change,” he added.

Roberts noted that as a small island, Anguilla is very susceptible to the potential impacts of climate change, droughts, flooding and the inundation of the land by sea level rise.

“We are aware that the threat from climate change is serious, it is urgent, and it is growing,” he said, commending those educational institutions that have already established school gardens for themselves and their communities and encouraging those in the process of doing the same.

“I am aware that some students have learnt about the fragility of their environment by participating in such initiatives. In fact, conservation projects allow children to acquire first-hand knowledge on the delicate nature of their environment,” Roberts said.

“I therefore applaud and encourage other schools to be creative and to develop similar or even more innovative schemes related to climate change and environmental management in their schools.”

Popo stressed that climate change is not going away and the impacts are predicted to be worse going forward.

“All of us are aware of the occurrences of recent climatic events: the drought in 2009, Hurricane Tomas in 2010 and, of course, the more recent Christmas Eve storm in 2013, which apart from bringing to the front a number of our development issues, signaled the need as well for capacity building and planning for the accompanying negative impacts on our islands’ resources,” he said.

A two-year-old child was among more than a dozen people killed when a freak storm ripped through the Eastern Caribbean, destroying crops, houses and livelihoods in its wake in three of the world’s smallest countries – St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Dominica —on Dec 24, 2013. A 12-year-old child was also washed away in the flooding and remains missing.

The storm dumped more than 12 inches of rain on St. Vincent over a five-hour period — more than the island’s average rainfall in a month. This triggered massive landslides and the cresting of more than 30 rivers and streams.

Hundreds of houses were destroyed. In addition, 14 bridges were washed away, and the pediatric ward of the country’s main hospital was left waist-high in water.

Sonia Johnny, St. Lucia’s ambassador to the United States, said her island was battered by torrential rains for 24 hours, interspersed with thunder and lightning.

“As one little boy said, we thought it was the end of the world. Nobody in St. Lucia had ever experienced such heavy rains before,” Johnny said.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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OPINION: Islamic State in Iraq: Confronting the Threathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-islamic-state-in-iraq-confronting-the-threat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-islamic-state-in-iraq-confronting-the-threat http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-islamic-state-in-iraq-confronting-the-threat/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 17:23:15 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136075 By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Aug 12 2014 (IPS)

The Islamic State’s territorial expansion and barbaric executions in Iraq and Syria are a gathering threat and must be confronted. American air bombardment, however, is the wrong course of action, and will not necessarily weaken ISIS or DA’ISH, as it’s known in Arabic.

As a senator, President Barack Obama called George W. Bush’s intervention in Iraq a “dumb war” and promised to end it if he won the presidency. It would be tragic if Obama, in the name of fighting the Islamic State, waged a “dumber” war.In Iraq, the political vacuum, which Maliki inadvertently engineered, contributed to the recent rise and success of the Islamic State.

The Obama administration maintains that its humanitarian intervention and air campaign are aimed at protecting U.S. personnel and preventing human suffering and possible “genocide.” According to some media reports, the U.S. has ordered the evacuation of some of its personnel in Erbil. Yet the administration’s argument that the airstrikes against Islamic State positions near Irbil were requested by the Maliki government, and are hence justified, is unconvincing.

Much of the Islamic State’s anti-Shia and anti-Iran rhetoric may be traced to the conservative, intolerant Hanbali School of Jurisprudence, which underpins Salafi Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia. The Islamic State’s ideology justifies the use of violence in the fight against Shia Islam, Iran, the Shia-Maliki government in Iraq and the Alawite Assad regime in Syria.

While the al-Saud regime publicly loathes the Islamic State and correctly views it as a terrorist organisation, Saudi leaders do not necessarily abhor its message against Iran and the Shia. A similar situation prevails among the Sunni al-Khalifa regime in Bahrain.

In Iraq, the political vacuum, which Maliki inadvertently engineered, contributed to the recent rise and success of the Islamic State. Many Sunnis with a privileged past under Saddam Hussein support the group because of its opposition to Maliki’s Shia-centric authoritarian policy of refusing to form a more pluralistic and inclusive government.

Many Shia, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, have criticised Maliki’s clinging to power. Sistani has called on the Iraqi people to “choose wisely,” urged Maliki to leave office, and blamed the prime minister for the deteriorating conditions in the country and, by implication, the territorial successes of the Islamic State.

In Syria, the ongoing bloody civil war has given the Islamic State a golden opportunity to fight a non-Sunni regime, especially one that is closely aligned with “Safavi” Iran and its perceived surrogate, Hezbollah. A combination of financial and monetary war loot, contributions from other Sunnis (especially in the Gulf), and initial arming by certain Gulf states, has helped the Islamic State fight effectively against the Syrian regime, the Maliki government, and more recently against the Kurdish Peshmerga in northern Iraq.

Many of these Sunni Muslims view the call for a new caliphate as a return to the Middle Ages. It certainly does not address the endemic economic, social, and political deficits that threaten the future of the region. According to media reports, many Sunnis this past week refused to declare allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a mosque in Mosul despite his call for their loyalty.

Mainstream Sunnis also view the public executions of soldiers and other Islamic State opponents as barbaric and thus repulsive. The Islamic State’s harsh treatment of women and non-Muslim minorities is equally appalling. The application of harsh Sharia punishments or hudud in Syrian and Iraqi areas under Islamic State control has also been condemned by the international community.

The Islamic State and the West

Western countries view the Islamic State as posing three principal threats: a possible collapse of the Iraqi state; increasingly bloody sectarian violence across state boundaries; and continued recruitment and training of potential jihadists coming from the West.

Of the three threats, recruiting Western jihadists should be the key concern for Western security services. Once these young jihadists return to their countries of origin, they would bring with them battle-hardened experience and a radical ideology that rejects Western democratic pluralism.

Jihadist groups have exploited violent sectarianism to spread their message. Regimes in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere have also cynically promoted sectarianism in order to divide their peoples and stay in power.

The Islamic State’s rejection of existing boundaries between Iraq and Syria indicates that the artificial borders set up by the colonial powers under the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916 are no longer functional. Colonial demarcation of state borders in the Levant (especially Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine), North Africa, and the Persian Gulf was implemented without meaningful consultations with the populations of those territories.

After WWI, colonial powers either ruled some of these territories directly or by proxy through pliant autocrats and potentates. In an interview with the New York Times this past Saturday, Obama acknowledged this reality and added, “what we’re seeing in the Middle East and parts of North Africa is an order that dates back to World War I [which is] starting to crumble.”

The “crumbling” of state boundaries has started in Iraq and Syria under the Islamic State’s religious veneer of the caliphate, but it will not stop there.

Call for Action

Many Sunnis who support the Islamic State do not agree with its terrorist ideology, religious fervor, intolerant theology, or vision of a caliphate. Their opposition to specific regime policies in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere drives their support of the Islamic State. Combating this gathering threat, therefore, should come from within the region, not through airstrikes or drone targeting, which Obama also acknowledged in the NYT interview.

If the Islamic State’s threat is destined to damage Western interests and personnel in the region, Western countries should take several comprehensive steps to thwart the threat.

First, Western law enforcement agencies should pay closer attention to their own nationals who show interest in joining the jihadists in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere in the region. They should partner with their Muslim communities at home to address this phenomenon.

These agencies, however, should not target these communities surreptitiously or spy on them. Community leaders should take the lead in reaching out to their youth and dissuade them from volunteering to do jihad regardless of the cause.

Second, the United States and other Western countries should impress on Maliki the necessity of forming a more inclusive government, which would include Sunni Arabs, Kurds, and other minorities. Maliki should heed Sistani’s call and step aside.

Once the Sunni community is provided with a legitimate, honourable, and fair avenue to pursue their economic and political aspirations, they would abandon the Islamic State and similar jihadist groups.

Had Washington reacted more effectively to the recent successes of the Islamic State and urged Maliki to form an inclusive government, there would have been no need for the current air strikes.

Third, following Mailki’s departure, the West should provide sustained military training with commensurate appropriate weapons for units of the Iraqi military, Sunni tribes in al-Anbar Province, the Kurdish Peshmerga, and the Syrian opposition. A weakening of the Islamic State requires the end of Nouri al-Maliki’s rule and the demise of Bashar al-Assad.

Fourth, as radicalism and terrorism have also spread south toward Jordan, Palestine, and Gaza, it is imperative that the ceasefire between Israel and Gaza be extended and the Gaza blockade lifted.

The war in Gaza is not about Hamas, Israeli protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. Palestinians in Gaza cannot possibly live freely in dignity, peace, and economic prosperity while languishing in an open-air prison with no end in sight.

Fifth, it’s imperative for the Sisi regime in Egypt to halt the political arrests and summary trials and executions of Muslim Brotherhood leaders and supporters. It should provide the MB the necessary political space to participate in the country’s political life. The regime’s recent banning of the Islamist Freedom and Justice political party is a step in the wrong direction and should be reversed.

Emile Nakhleh is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

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U.S. Avoided Threat to Act on Israel’s Civilian Targetinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-avoided-threat-to-act-on-israels-civilian-targeting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-avoided-threat-to-act-on-israels-civilian-targeting http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-avoided-threat-to-act-on-israels-civilian-targeting/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 00:13:29 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136064 A Palestinian man salvages items from the rubble of his home destroyed by Israeli strikes on a building in northern Gaza Strip. Aug 7, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

A Palestinian man salvages items from the rubble of his home destroyed by Israeli strikes on a building in northern Gaza Strip. Aug 7, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Aug 12 2014 (IPS)

United Nations officials and human rights organisations have characterised Israeli attacks on civilian targets during the IDF war on Gaza as violations of the laws of war.

During the war, Israeli bombardment leveled whole urban neighbourhoods, leaving more than 10,000 houses destroyed and 30,000 damaged and killing 1,300 civilians, according to U.N. data. Israeli forces also struck six schools providing shelter to refugees under U.N. protection, killing at least 47 refugees and wounding more than 340.The administration’s public stance in daily briefings in the early days of the war suggested little or no concern about Israeli violations of the laws of war.

But the Barack Obama administration’s public posture during the war signaled to Israel that it would not be held accountable for such violations.

A review of the transcripts of daily press briefings by the State Department during the Israeli attack shows that the Obama administration refused to condemn Israeli attacks on civilian targets in the first three weeks of the war.

U.S. officials were well aware of Israel’s history of rejecting any distinction between military and civilian targets in previous wars in Lebanon and Gaza.

During the 2006 Israeli War in Lebanon, IDF spokesman Jacob Dalal had told the Associated Press that eliminating Hezbollah as a terrorist institution required hitting all Hezbollah institutions, including “grassroots institutions that breed more followers”.

And during Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” in December 2008 and January 2009, the IDF had shelled a school in the Jabaliya refugee camp, killing 42 civilians. The IDF’s justification had been that it was responding to mortar fire from the building, but officials of the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) who ran the school had denied that claim.

Given that history, Obama administration policy makers knew that Israel would certainly resort to similar targeting in its Gaza operation unless it believed it would suffer serious consequences for doing so. But the administration’s public stance in daily briefings in the early days of the war suggested little or no concern about Israeli violations of the laws of war.

On Jul. 10, two days after the operation began, State Department spokesperson Jan Psaki was asked in the daily briefing whether the administration was trying to stop the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, as well as the firing of rockets by Hamas.

Psaki’s answer was to recite an Israeli talking point. “There’s a difference,” she said, “between Hamas, a terrorist organisation that’s indiscriminately attacking innocent civilians…in Israel, and the right of Israel to respond and protect their own civilians.”

After four children playing on a beach were killed as journalists watched on Jul. 16, Psaki was asked whether the administration believed Israel was violating the international laws of war. She responded that she was unaware of any discussion of that question.

Psaki said that “tragic event makes clear that Israel must take every possible step to meet its standards for protecting civilians from being killed. We will continue to underscore that point to Israel; the Secretary [of State John Kerry] has made that point directly as well.”

The IDF shelled Al-Wafa Rehabilitation and Geriatric Hospital on Jul. 17, claiming it was a response to launches of rockets 100 metres from the hospital. Psaki was asked the next day whether her failure to warn the Israelis publicly against bombing the hospital had “made any difference”.

She said, “We’re urging all parties to respect the civilian nature of schools and medical facilities….” But she refused to speculate about “what would’ve happened or wouldn’t have happened” had she issued an explicit warning,

On Jun. 16, two days before the ground offensive began, the IDF began dropping leaflets warning the entire populations of the Zeitoun and Shujaiyyeh neighbourhoods to evacuate. It was a clear indication they were to be heavily bombed. IDF bombing and shelling leveled entire blocks of Shujaiyyeh Jul. 20 and 21, citing rockets fired from that neighbourhood.

Kerry was recorded commenting to an aide on an open microphone Jul. 20 that it was a “hell of a pinpoint operation”, revealing the administration’s private view. But instead of warning that the Israeli targeting policy was unacceptable, Kerry declared in a CNN interview that Israel was “under siege from a terrorist organisation”, implying the right to do whatever it believed necessary.

State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said on Jul. 21 that Kerry had “encouraged” the Israelis to “take steps to prevent civilian casualties”, but she refused to be more specific.

On Jul. 23, Al Wafa hospital was hit by an Israeli airstrike, forcing the staff to evacuate it. The IDF now charged that it had been used as a “command centre and rocket launching site”.

Joe Catron, an American who had been staying at the hospital as part of an international “human shield” to prevent attacks on it, denied that claim, saying he would have heard any rocket launched close to the hospital.

On the same day, three missiles hit a park next to the Al Shifa hospital, killing 10 and wounding 46. The IDF blamed the explosions on Hamas rockets that had fallen short. The idea that three Hamas rockets had fallen short within such short distances from one another, however, was hardly a credible explanation.

The IDF also appeared to target facilities run by the UNRWA. On Jul. 23 and 24, Israeli tank shells hit Palestinian refugees at two different school compounds designated as U.N. shelters, despite intensive communications by U.N. officials to IDF asking to spare them.

An attack on a U.N. refugee shelter at Beit Hanoun elementary school Jul. 24 killed 15 civilians and wounded more than 200. The IDF again claimed a Hamas rocket had fallen short. But it also claimed Hamas fighters had fired on Israeli troops from the compound, then later retreated from the claim.

At the Jul. 24 briefing, Harf read a statement deploring the Beit Hanoun strike and the “rising death toll in Gaza” and said that a UNRWA facility “is not a legitimate target”.

Harf said Israel “could do a bit more” to show restraint. But when a reporter asked if the United States was “willing to take any kind of action” if Israel did not respond to U.S. advice, Harf said the U.S. focus was “getting a ceasefire”, implying that it was not prepared to impose any consequences on Israel for refusing to change its military tactics in Gaza.

On Jul. 25, a reporter at the daily briefing observed that the hospital and schools had been targeted despite reports confirming that there had been no militants or rockets in them.

But Harf refused to accept that characterisation of the situation and repeated the Israeli line that Hamas had used U.N. facilities to “hide rockets”. She said she could not confirm whether there were rockets in “the specific school that was hit”.

The IDF hit another UNRWA school sheltering refugees at Jabaliya refugee camp Jul. 30, killing 10 and wounding more than 100. The IDF acknowledged it had fired several tank shells at the school, claiming again that mortar shells had been fired from there.

That was too much for the Obama administration. White House spokesman Josh Earnest called the attack “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible” and even made it clear that there was little doubt that Israel was responsible.

Even then, however, the administration merely repeated its call for Israel to “do more to live up to the high standards that they have set for themselves”, as Earnest put it.

On Aug. 3, the IDF struck yet another refugee facility at the Rafah Boys Prep School A, killing 12 refugees and wounding 27. The IDF said it had been targeting three “terrorists” riding a motorcycle who had passed near the school.

“The suspicion that militants operated nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians,” said Psaki.

But that criticism of Israeli attacks was far too restrained and too late. The IDF had already carried out what appear to have been massive violations of the laws of war.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. He can be contacted at porter.gareth50@gmail.com

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

 

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Swamped by Rising Seas, Small Islands Seek a Lifelinehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/swamped-by-rising-seas-small-islands-seek-a-lifeline/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=swamped-by-rising-seas-small-islands-seek-a-lifeline http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/swamped-by-rising-seas-small-islands-seek-a-lifeline/#comments Mon, 11 Aug 2014 18:16:06 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136060 Raolo Island in the Solomon Islands is one of the many places threatened by sea level rise. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Raolo Island in the Solomon Islands is one of the many places threatened by sea level rise. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 11 2014 (IPS)

The world’s 52 small island developing states (SIDS), some in danger of being wiped off the face of the earth because of sea-level rise triggered by climate change, will be the focus of an international conference in the South Pacific island nation of Samoa next month.

Scheduled to take place Sep. 1-2, the conference will provide world leaders with “a first-hand opportunity to experience climate change and poverty challenges of small islands.”For low-lying atoll nations particularly, the high ratio of coastal area to land mass will make adaptation to climate change a significant challenge.

According to the United Nations, the political leaders are expected to announce “over 200 concrete partnerships” to lift small islanders out of poverty – all of whom are facing rising sea levels, overfishing, and destructive natural events like typhoons and tsunamis.

“We are working with our partners – bilaterally and multilaterally – to help resolve our problems,” said Ambassador Ali’ioaiga Feturi Elisaia, permanent representative of Samoa to the United Nations.

“You don’t have to bring the cheque book to the [negotiating] table,” he added. “It’s partnerships that matter.”

The issues on the conference agenda include sustainable economic development, oceans, food security and waste management, sustainable tourism, disaster risk reduction, health and non-communicable diseases, youth and women.

The list of 52 SIDS covers a wide geographical area and includes Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bahrain, Nauru, Palau, Maldives, Cuba, Marshall Islands, Suriname, Timor-Leste, Fiji, Tonga and Vanuatu.

The conference is expected to adopt a plan of action, also called an outcome document, ensuring some of the priorities for SIDS. A preparatory committee, co-chaired by New Zealand and Singapore, has finalised the outcome document which will go before the conference for approval.

Responding to a series of questions, Ambassador Karen Tan, permanent representative of Singapore to the United Nations, and Phillip Taula, deputy permanent representative of New Zealand, told IPS SIDS have “specific vulnerabilities, and the difficulties they face are severe and complex. The small size of SIDS creates disadvantages.”

These can include limited resources and high population density, which can contribute to overuse and depletion of resources; high dependence on international trade; threatened supply of fresh water; costly public administration and infrastructure; limited institutional capacities; and limited export volumes, which are too small to achieve economies of scale.

They noted that geographic dispersion and isolation from markets can also lead to high freight costs and reduced competitiveness. SIDS have limited land areas and populations concentrated in coastal zones. Climate change and sea-level rise present significant risks.

The long-term effects of climate change may threaten the very existence and viability of some SIDS, Tan and Taula said in the joint interview. “SIDS are located among the most vulnerable regions in the world in terms of the intensity and frequency of natural and environmental disasters and their increasing impact. And they face disproportionately high economic, social and environmental consequences when disasters occur.”

These vulnerabilities accentuate other issues facing developing countries in general, such as challenges around trade liberalisation and globalisation, food security, energy dependence and access; freshwater resources; land degradation, waste management, and biodiversity.

Asked how many SIDS have been identified by the U.N. as in danger of being wiped off the face of the earth, they said no such assessment has yet been undertaken.

However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released its fifth assessment report (AR5), and its Working Group II has recently issued its contribution to that, on ‘Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability’.

The report warned that small islands in general are at risk of loss of livelihoods, coastal settlements, infrastructure, ecosystem services, and economic stability.

For low-lying atoll nations particularly, the high ratio of coastal area to land mass will make adaptation to climate change a significant challenge.

Some small island states are expected to face severe impacts such as submergence, coastal flooding, and coastal erosion, the report added. These could have damage and adaptation costs of several percentage points of gross domestic product (GDP).

The report notes the risk of death, injury, ill-health, or disrupted livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones in small islands.

However, the WGII report also notes that significant potential exists for adaptation in islands, but additional external resources and technologies will enhance response.

Asked if there will be a plan of action adopted in Samoa, they said the outcome document will highlight the challenges that SIDS face and actions that SIDS and their partners will take to address these challenges.

“The theme of the conference, sustainable development of SIDS through genuine and durable partnerships, recognises that international cooperation and a wide range of partnerships involving all stakeholders are critical for the sustainable development of SIDS.”

As host, Samoa has made it clear that “no partnership is too small to count but what is essential is that they have clear targets, outputs, planned outcomes and timelines.”

Meanwhile, Afu Billy, capacity building volunteer at Development Services Exchange in Solomon Islands, told IPS the experiences that would be shared during the conference will be invaluable for small island states as they learn from each other how they are dealing with these issues and also learn from the international community on how they too are addressing these priorities of SIDS.

The fact that the conference will be bringing together governments and non-government stakeholders, including the private sector, provides a learning opportunity and one that will pose collaborative efforts on how everyone can work together in partnership to assist SIDS.

The conference will also create a space for civil society organisations (CSOs) to have an independent voice and also for governments to hear their views, she noted.

This may create further collaborative initiatives between governments and CSOs for sustainable developments in the SIDS.

Asked whether she expects any concrete outcome, Billy said the idea to form partnerships among all stakeholders including the governments to assist SIDS to do things for themselves “is one outcome that we anticipate the conference delivering.”

Any plan of action that the conference adopts should be inclusive of all stakeholders, she added.

“There should be emphasis on SIDS doing things for themselves to ensure sustainable development and that stakeholders and partners are seen as ‘friends’ who come to their rescue when they get bogged in a ‘rut’ but then let’s them carry on with what they are doing after being ‘rescued’”.

This is to alleviate or minimise donor dependency but also promote sustainable development.

“We expect better and stronger official development assistance (ODA) to be directed on development effectiveness rather than on a dominant aid effectiveness approach,” she said.

“Finally, we expect that the issue of reducing corruption and increase transparency at all levels will be an overarching subject at the Conference and sound recommendations to alleviate corruption will be adopted and incorporated into the Plan of Action,.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Aleppo Struggles to Provide for Basic Needs as Regime Closes Inhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/aleppo-struggles-to-provide-for-basic-needs-as-regime-closes-in/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aleppo-struggles-to-provide-for-basic-needs-as-regime-closes-in http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/aleppo-struggles-to-provide-for-basic-needs-as-regime-closes-in/#comments Mon, 11 Aug 2014 06:37:41 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136044 Syrian boy carries bread back from underground bakery in severely damaged opposition-held area of Aleppo (August 2014). Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Syrian boy carries bread back from underground bakery in severely damaged opposition-held area of Aleppo (August 2014). Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
ALEPPO, Syria, Aug 11 2014 (IPS)

The single, heavily damaged supply road remaining into the rebel-held, eastern area of the city is acutely exposed to enemy fire.

All lorries with wheat for the areas’ underground bakeries, soap for hygiene purposes, and fuel for vehicles and generators travel by this route. While snipers focus on this road and other frontlines throughout the city, regime barrel bombing is meanwhile steadily, painfully reducing the rest of the city to rubble.

Although many areas are now under the control of the more moderate Islamic Front, Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra helps provide for basic needs in some areas where the underfunded Syrian National Council-linked administration is unable to do so.While snipers focus on this road [the only remaining supply road into the rebel-held, eastern area of the city] and other frontlines throughout the city, regime barrel bombing is meanwhile steadily, painfully reducing the rest of the city to rubble

IPS watched as members of the armed group handed out metre-long rectangular blocks of ice, after they slid down a metal shaft to armed men waiting to give them to inhabitants waiting nearby who have been without electricity and running water for months.

‘’They’re good people,’’ said one inhabitant of the city, who nonetheless had been arrested by them for undisclosed reasons a few months back. ‘’They’re friends.’’

In private, however, many Syrians will say that they are not happy with the group, though it is ‘’not anywhere near as bad as ‘Daeesh’ (the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS).”

Inside the Aleppo city council offices, bright red filing cabinets and a new coat of white paint mark a sharp contrast with the crumbling buildings and concrete slabs hanging precariously above streets where those left continue to go about their daily affairs as best they can.

‘’We have been hit many times, but we need to show that we will keep rebuilding,’’ one employee said.

Council chief Abdelaziz Al-Maghrebi, a former teacher and manager at a textile factory, walks with a limp from what he says was an injury from a tank bomb never properly treated.

The council has civil registry, education, legal affairs and civil defence directorates – and an office for electricity, water, sewage, and rubbish – but often receives no money from the ‘government-in-exile’, said Mohammed Saidi, financial manager of the council.

‘’The amount of money depends on the month, and no money was received from the SNC in July.’’

However, Saidi stressed, all reports of siphoning off of money by members ‘’are false’’.

Private donors and foundations play a large part in the council’s budget as well, and ‘’funding depends on the project proposals that are accepted’’, he said.

One of the recent proposals was for underground shelters, which the head of the civil defence directorate – established at the council only recently after long acting as an entirely volunteer force – told IPS had been granted four months ago, and 16 of which had since been built.

For medical needs, doctor Ibrahim Alkhalil, head of the Aleppo health directorate for rebel areas, said that as doctors and hospitals continue to be targeted, the location of medical facilities ‘’has to be kept confidential and change frequently’’.

The doctor, who is Syrian but who spent most of his professional career in Saudi Arabia and only came back after the uprising started, noted that everything was in short supply or lacking entirely: antibiotics, water, electricity and trained staff.

He added that the lack of maintenance for vehicles and the terrible road conditions meant that many people were dying simply from being unable to reach the few existing medical centres.

Moreover, the local council can afford to provide funds only to some medical facilities that do not receive any from other donors, council chief Al-Maghrebi told IPS.

Alkhalil pointed out, however, that no amount of supplies would solve the main problem if ‘’the regime isn’t stopped from killing and injuring in the first place.’’

A truck with lights switched off to avoid attracting regime aircraft attention often makes its way through the streets of a central neighbourhood at night, calling out ‘haleeb’, ‘haleeb’ (‘milk’).

A number of children in the area have been hit by snipers while crossing a street now ‘protected’ by a bullet-riddled sheet of canvas meant to reduce visibility.

In another area, Salahheddin – the ‘first liberated area of Aleppo’ and the very name of which retains a sort of mythical status in the eyes of some – children laugh and play soccer in the empty street near the frontline after nightfall. The blood of a boy hit by a sniper recently still stains the ground nearby.

Despite the constant risk of government snipers, IPS was told, near the frontlines was often the ‘’safest place, since it is too close to regime areas for them to drop barrel bombs on.’’

IPS was asked by a freckled, red-haired boy barely out of his late teens now working for a local Muslim, ‘’Why have you come here? What is there left to say?’’

The boy works to get charities abroad to help his organisation provide 50 dollars per month to the neediest widows and orphans of those killed in the fighting and for food packages.

A barrel bomb outside the charity’s offices killed a good friend and co-worker about 15 days ago. Sandbags are now stacked in front of windows and, according to another volunteer, over half of the staff left immediately after the incident, either for other parts of the country or for Turkey – or they simply no longer come to the office out of fear, a niqab-clad woman also working at the organisation said.

The charity has an underground bakery with which it normally provides bread to those in need, but its equipment had broken down a few days prior to IPS’s visit. It was unclear when it would be fixed, whether the spare parts needed could be brought into the city, and whether the regime might soon take the one road left in.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Nepal’s Poor Live in the Shadow of Natural Disastershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/nepals-poor-live-in-the-shadow-of-natural-disasters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nepals-poor-live-in-the-shadow-of-natural-disasters http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/nepals-poor-live-in-the-shadow-of-natural-disasters/#comments Mon, 11 Aug 2014 03:45:19 +0000 Naresh Newar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136032 A poor Muslim family in the Habrahawa village of the Banke district in west Nepal has little means of recovering from natural disasters. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

A poor Muslim family in the Habrahawa village of the Banke district in west Nepal has little means of recovering from natural disasters. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Naresh Newar
BANKE, Nepal, Aug 11 2014 (IPS)

Barely 100 km north of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, the settlement of Jure, which forms part of the village of Mankha, has become a tragic example of how the country’s poorest rural communities are the first and worst victims of natural disasters.

Barely a week ago, on Aug. 2, a slope of land nearly two km long located roughly 1,350 metres above the Sunkoshi river collapsed, sweeping away over 100 households and killing some 155 people in this tiny settlement with a population of just 2,000 people.

“The majority of natural disaster victims have always been [from] the poorest communities and the tragic incident in Jure is an unfortunate reminder of that fact." -- Pitamber Aryal, national programme manager of the U.N.’s Comprehensive Disaster Risk Management Programme in Nepal
According to the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS), the country’s largest humanitarian agency, the death toll from last week’s disaster ranks among the worst in the history of this catastrophe-prone South Asian nation.

With so many dead, and fears rising that the artificial lake – created by blockages to the river – may burst and flood surrounding villages, experts are urging the government to seriously consider mapping out hazard areas across the country and integrate the management of natural disasters into its national economic and development plans.

Such a move could mean the difference between life and death for Nepal’s low-income communities, who are often forced to live in the most vulnerable areas.

When disasters strike, these groups are left homeless and injured, stripped of the small plots of agricultural land on which they subsist.

Poorest suffer worst impacts

Steep slopes, active seismic zones, savage monsoon rains between July and September and mountainous topography make Nepal a hotbed of disasters, according to the World Bank.

Over 80 percent of the country’s 27.8 million people live in rural areas, with a quarter of the population languishing below the poverty line of 1.25 dollars a day.

The poorest of the poor, who largely rely on agriculture, typically live on steep slopes under the constant shadow of landslides, or in low-lying flood-prone areas, and have virtually no resources with which to bounce back after a weather-related calamity, says the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

“In many cases, communities that live in high-risk areas tend to have higher levels of poverty and as a result, do not have the ability to relocate to safer areas,” Moira Reddick, coordinator of the Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium (NRRC), told IPS.

Most homes are abandoned in the flood-prone Holiya village in Nepal but poor families often return to them in the aftermath of natural disasters. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

The NRRC, a collaborative body of local and international humanitarian and development aid agencies acting in partnership with the Nepal government, have long advocated for disaster risk reduction (DRR) to be incorporated into the state’s poverty reduction strategies in order to better provide for vulnerable communities and “minimise the impact of disasters” Reddick added.

“The majority of natural disaster victims have always been [from] the poorest communities and the tragic incident in Jure is an unfortunate reminder of that fact,” Pitamber Aryal, national programme manager of the U.N.’s Comprehensive Disaster Risk Management Programme in Nepal, told IPS.

In the last three decades, landslides have resulted in 4,511 fatalities and flattened 18,414 houses, affecting 555,000 people, according to official data.

Forced to take risks

Nepal: Fast Facts

According to the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR):

• Nepal faces several types of natural disasters every year, the most prominent being floods including glacial lake outburst flooding (GloFs), drought, landslides, wildfires and earthquakes.

• Nepal ranks 11th in the world in terms of vulnerability to earthquakes and 30th in terms of flood risks.

• There are more than 6,000 rivers and streams in Nepal. On reaching the plains, these fast-flowing rivers often overflow causing widespread flooding across the Terai region as well as flooding areas in India further downstream.

• Another potential hazard is Glacial lake outburst Flooding (GloF). In Nepal, a total of 159 glacial lakes have been found in the Koshi basin and 229 in the Tibetan Arun basin. Of these, 24 have been identified as potentially dangerous and could trigger a GloF event.

• Out of 21 cities around the world that lie in similar seismic hazard zones, Kathmandu city is at the highest risk in terms of impact on people. Studies conducted indicate that the next big earthquake is estimated to cause at least 40,000 deaths, 95,000 injuries and would leave approximately 600,000 – 900,000 people homeless in Kathmandu.
With little help from the government, civil society is struggling to provide necessary services to the affected population.

Dinanath Sharma, DRR coordinator for the international NGO Practical Action, told IPS that his organisation has made several attempts to move communities to safer locations, but their efforts are thwarted by the lack of a comprehensive relocation plan that offers both secure residence and economic viability.

“We will not move anywhere unless the government finds us a place that is fertile and good for our livelihoods,” a Muslim farmer from the remote Habrahawa villagein the Banke district, 600 km southwest of the capital, told IPS.

This simple demand is heard often throughout Nepal’s numerous villages, particularly in those that sit on the banks of the Rapti River, one of the largest in the country that has been the source of major flooding over the past decade.

Although floods have affected over 3.6 million people in the last decade alone, according to the government’s National Disaster Report for 2013, villagers continue to return to their ancestral homes where they at least have access to fertile land and water, which enables them to eke out a living.

“Where can we go really? How can we abandon our homes here and go to a new place where there is no fertile land?” Chitan Khan, a farmer from the Khalemasaha village, also in the Banke district, told IPS.

Several families told IPS they sometimes temporarily relocate to villages far from the river during the monsoon season, but always return when the rain subsides. Khan is already stockpiling food in a safer place, but he is resigned to the fact that the annual floods will wash away half his food stores in the village.

According to the ministry of home affairs, floods and landslide cause 300 deaths and economic damages of about three million dollars annually – adding to an already precarious situation in Nepal, where an estimated 3.5 million people are food insecure, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

History repeats itself

For those familiar with Nepal’s vulnerabilities, the government’s unwillingness to establish comprehensive DRR programmes is nothing short of baffling.

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), for instance, has been studying and analysing the fragile mountain ecosystem across the Himalayas in Asia’s central, south and eastern regions for the last 30 years.

One of its observations included the Sunkoshi Valley’s vulnerability to water-induced hazards due to a weak geological formation and steep topography, made worse by frequent and heavy rainfall.

The lack of an appropriate monitoring and early-warning system, however, resulted in a tragedy on Aug. 2 that could easily have been avoided, experts say.

In response, the government has created a high-level committee to seek solutions for longer-term disaster preparedness, said officials.

“There is definitely serious discussion now on how to reduce vulnerability of [poor] communities and the only way to do that is to relocate them with a comprehensive economic programme,” Rishi Ram Sharma, director general of the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM), told IPS.

To ensure the safety of villagers, the government must create intensive geological studies to map the dangerous areas, which could also help to also identify the safest places to relocate whole villages, explained Sharma, who now heads the newly created disaster preparedness committee.

Local aid workers told IPS the government’s emergency response, coordinated through the army and police force under the supervision of the home ministry, was efficient but that rescue workers faced challenges in reaching remote villages due to a combination of difficult terrain and heavy rainfall.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Qualified Backing for Obama’s Iraq Interventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/qualified-backing-for-obamas-iraq-intervention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qualified-backing-for-obamas-iraq-intervention http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/qualified-backing-for-obamas-iraq-intervention/#comments Sat, 09 Aug 2014 00:37:12 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136022 President Barack Obama meets with his national security advisors in the Situation Room of the White House, Aug. 7, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama meets with his national security advisors in the Situation Room of the White House, Aug. 7, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Aug 9 2014 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama’s authorisation of limited military action in northern Iraq, announced in a national television address late Thursday night, has so far received support – albeit highly qualified in some cases — from across the mainstream political spectrum.

While Republican hawks have welcomed the move in hopes it may presage a much broader regional intervention in Syria, as well as in Iraq, many Democrats expressed worries that the decision, unless strictly confined to its “humanitarian” objectives, could become a “slippery slope” into a new quagmire just three years after Obama extracted the last U.S. combat troops from Baghdad.“Airdrops of relief aid will save Yezedi lives, but airpower cannot determine Iraq's political future.” -- Harvard Prof. Stephen Walt

“We know that our military intervention will not alone solve the long sectarian and religious conflicts in Iraq,” said California Rep. Loretta Sanchez in reacting to the announcement. “It is essential we avoid mission creep because our men and women in uniform cannot endure another war in Iraq and nor can the American people.”

Obama’s announcement capped a week in which forces of the radical Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) made sweeping gains in northern Iraq, coming within as little as 45 kms of Kurdistan’s capital, Erbil, and triggering a new flood of refugees from predominantly Christian and other minority communities that had been protected by the Kurdish peshmerga militias which withdrew in the face of ISIL’s onslaught.

Particularly dramatic was the plight of tens of thousands of Yezidis, followers of an ancient religion tied to Zoroastrianism, who fled to Mt. Sinjar to escape ISIL’s forces and have been besieged there for days without adequate supplies of food and water.

In his remarks Thursday, Obama cited their plight as one of two main justifications – the other being the protection of the several hundred U.S. diplomatic and military personnel who are based in the Kurdish capital — for his decision to authorise the deployment of U.S. warplanes both to carry out “targeted strikes” against ISIL positions “should they move toward [Erbil],” provide relief to the besieged Yezidis “to prevent a potential act of genocide,” and increase military aid to both the peshmerga forces and Iraq’s army.

He announced that U.S. aircraft had already begun providing “humanitarian airdrops of food and water” on Mt. Sinjar and was consulting with other countries and the U.N. on how best to alleviate the situation, presumably by working with Turkey to open a land corridor for the Yazidis to reach a safe haven across the border.

The Pentagon subsequently announced that it carried out two rounds of air strikes against ISIL targets Friday.

Obama’s actions were offered qualified praise by Republican hawks who have harshly criticised the president for months for not doing more, including using air power, to bolster Iraqi government and Kurdish forces in the face of ISIL’s initial takeover of most of Anbar Province and its subsequent sweep into much of northern Iraq, including Mosul, the country’s second largest city.

“The President is right to provide humanitarian relief to the Iraqi civilians stranded on Mount Sinjar and to authorise military strikes against forces that are threatening them, our Kurdish allies, and our own personnel in northern Iraq,” said Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham in a joint statement. “However, these actions are far from sufficient to meet the growing threat that ISIS [another name for ISIL] poses.”

Calling for a “comprehensive strategy to degrade ISIS,” the Senate’s two leading hawks added that it “should include the provision of mitiary and other assistance to our Kurdish, Iraqi, and Syrian partners who are fighting ISIS, …U.S. air strikes against ISIS leaders, forces and positions both in Iraq and Syria; (and) support to Sunni Iraqis to resist ISIS.”

“And none of this should be contingent on the formation of a new government in Baghdad,” they added in a slap at the administration’s insistence that U.S. military aid to the Shi’a-dominated government currently headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki be calibrated according to the degree that any new government – whose composition is currently the subject of intense negotiations in Baghdad — demonstrates its commitment to sharing power with the Sunni minority from which ISIL derives its popular support, as well with the Kurds.

But in his remarks Thursday night, Obama insisted that he would stick to his conditions for providing more assistance to Baghdad.

“Iraqi leaders need to come together and forge a new government that represents the legitimate interests of all Iraqis, and that can fight back against the threats like ISIL,” he said. “Once Iraq has a new government,” he added, “the United States will work with it and other countries in the region to provide increased support to deal with this humanitarian crisis and counter-terrorism challenge.”

He also tried to reassure Democrats, as well as a war-weary public, that his latest decisions would not result in a major new military commitment. “As Commander-in-Chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq,” he stressed. “The only lasting solution is reconciliation among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi security forces.”

That declaration did not reassure some, however. While virtually no one criticised the mission to aid the besieged Yezidis, the decision to carry out air strikes was greeted with considerably less enthusiasm among many Democrats and critics of the 2003 Iraq war.

“When we bomb ISIS, which is a horrible group, we have to realise that we are heading down the path of choosing sides in an ancient religious and sectarian war inside Iraq,” warned Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, key sponsor of a resolution that was approved last month by a 370-40 margin in the House of Representatives that requires Congress to authorise any sustained deployment of U.S. combat troops to Iraq.

“The impulse to aid the Yezidis is understandable, but the commitment to help them could easily become open-ended and drag the United States back into the Iraqi quagmire,” Harvard Prof. Stephen Walt, a leading foreign policy “realist”, told IPS. “Airdrops of relief aid will save Yezedi lives, but airpower cannot determine Iraq’s political future.”

While conceding that he, too, was “nervous about what could be the next step that could lead us to get more deeply involved,” another prominent realist and a former top Middle East analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency, Paul Pillar, the administration’s decision to use airpower against ISIL to defend the Kurds – even if it was billed as protecting U.S. personnel in Erbil – was sound.

“I think the administration is on defensible ground by using lethal force to prevent further inroads against the de facto Kurdish state …while not getting any more deeply immersed in the intra-Arab conflicts in the rest of Iraq that have sectarian dimensions and that can only be a lose-lose situation for the United States,” Pillar told IPS.

“There clearly is a slippery-slope hazard that we have to be mindful of, and all indications are that the administration is very mindful of it.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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Israel Bites Hand that Feeds, U.S. Feeds Hand that Biteshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/israel-bites-hand-that-feeds-u-s-feeds-hand-that-bites/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israel-bites-hand-that-feeds-u-s-feeds-hand-that-bites http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/israel-bites-hand-that-feeds-u-s-feeds-hand-that-bites/#comments Thu, 07 Aug 2014 15:50:55 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135987 Samantha Power (left), United States Permanent Representative to the U.N., speaks with Ron Prosor, Permanent Representative of Israel, in the Security Council Chamber after the Council held a midnight emergency session on the conflict in Gaza, Jul. 28. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Samantha Power (left), United States Permanent Representative to the U.N., speaks with Ron Prosor, Permanent Representative of Israel, in the Security Council Chamber after the Council held a midnight emergency session on the conflict in Gaza, Jul. 28. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 7 2014 (IPS)

There is an age-old axiom in politics, says a cynical Asian diplomat, that you don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

But that longstanding adage never applied to Israel, which although sustained militarily by the United States, has had no compunction at lashing out at Washington if the U.S. is ever critical of illegal settlements or human rights violations in the occupied territories."The U.S. government has continued to serve as an enabler for Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza." -- Norman Solomon

Although its military survival depends largely on all the U.S. weapon systems at its command, Israel lambasted the United States last week, unofficially describing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s support for a peace plan in Gaza as “a strategic terrorist attack.”

Angry at the remarks, State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki countered: “It’s simply not the way partners and allies treat each other.”

Still, the United States, per its usual norm, continued to absorb the punches thrown by Israel – right or wrong – in a veritable act of political masochism.

“If one is to parody a metaphor,” the Asian diplomat told IPS, “while Israel continues to bite the hand that feeds, the United States continues to feed the hand that bites.”

Despite the vitriol from Israel, the administration of President Barack Obama was quick to supply some 225 million dollars in ammunition and spares to Israel as emergency aid last week to bolster its defences in the month-long conflict with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

The conflict is now under an extended 72-hour truce.

William D. Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, told IPS, “If the Obama administration had wanted to exert leverage during the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza, it could have threatened to cut off military aid until the Israeli government ceased disproportionate attacks that killed large numbers of civilians.”

Instead, he said, the U.S. administration re-supplied Israel with ammunition in the midst of the conflict.

Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, told IPS, “The U.S. government has continued to serve as an enabler for Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza.”

He said the humane rhetoric from the Obama administration functions in tandem with huge U.S. military and intelligence help from Washington.

Last month, as the latest Gaza crisis escalated, the White House flashed an unmistakable green light for Israel to massacre — and keep massacring, said Solomon, co-founder and coordinator of RootsAction.org, a 450,000-member online activist group based in the United States.

The bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Israel has combined tragedy and farce in gruesome ways, he noted.

Both governments have regularised the matter-of-fact killing of civilians in Gaza as though they were nothing more than incidental to the geopolitical agendas of those two dominant military powers, said Solomon, author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death”.

At last count, about 1,875 Palestinians, including 426 children, were killed in the conflict– virtually all of them with U.S supplied weapons.

In contrast, the Israeli death toll was 64 of its soldiers and three civilians.

A preliminary survey by international organisations says the Israeli bombings destroyed some 37 mosques, 167 schools, six universities and more than 10,000 homes in Gaza.

Addressing the General Assembly Wednesday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said international humanitarian law clearly requires protection by all parties of civilians and civilian facilities, including U.N. staff and U.N. premises.

Ban said perhaps nothing symbolised more the horror that was unleashed on the people of Gaza than the repeated shelling of U.N. facilities harbouring civilians who had been explicitly told to seek a safe haven there.

“These attacks were outrageous, unacceptable and unjustifiable,” he added.

“Our U.N. flag must be respected and assure protection to those in need. U.N. shelters must be safe zones, not combat zones. Those who violate this sacred trust must be subject to accountability and justice,” he added.

Ban also pointed out that in the most recent case of shelling of a U.N. facility, the Israelis were informed of the coordinates 33 times.

On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regretted the civilian casualties but blamed it all on Hamas.

“Every civilian casualty is a tragedy, a tragedy of Hamas’s own making, ” he added.

Hartung told IPS although Israel has its own production capacity – particularly in areas like drones – the military is heavily dependent on U.S. aid.

From F-16 fighter planes to bombs and ammunition, the Israeli attacks on Gaza prominently featured weapons made in the United States and paid for by U.S. taxpayers, he pointed out.

In all, he said, the United States has provided over 25 billion dollars in military assistance to Israel in the 2000s — all in the form of grants that do not need to be paid back.

And while countries like Canada, France, Italy and Germany have supplied some military equipment to Israel, their sales are dwarfed by the equipment provided by the United States, Hartung added.

Solomon told IPS, “From Obama, no amount of discreet handwringing or personal dislike of Netanyahu has made an appreciable difference to the Israeli government.”

He said it can count on Washington to supply a steady stream of platitudes about seeking a broad solution via a peace process.

Directly aided and abetted by the U.S. government, Israel has opted for an ongoing iron fist — truly terrifying for the civilian population of Gaza, said Solomon. This U.S.-Israeli mode of operation remains highly functional in terms of diplomatic cover, military help and intelligence aid. In human terms, for Palestinians, the results continue to be catastrophic, he declared.

Before 9/11, he said, the scholar Eqbal Ahmad voiced a truth that is more cogent and crucial than ever: A superpower cannot promote terror in one place and reasonably expect to discourage terrorism in another place. It won’t work in this shrunken world.

Ahmad has passed away, but those words from him remain very much alive. They are true, and they condemn the U.S. role as enabler of Israel’s mass killing, said Solomon.

More than a decade ago, as the war on terror was gaining momentum, Martin Luther King III spoke at a commemoration of his father’s birth and asked: “When will the war end?…We all have to be concerned about terrorism, but you will never end terrorism by terrorising others.”

Today, the wisdom of his statement serves as an indictment of what Israel does in Gaza — and what the United States does to help Israel do it, declared Solomon.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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U.N.’s “Responsibility to Protect” Another Casualty in Gazahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-n-s-responsibility-to-protect-another-casualty-in-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-s-responsibility-to-protect-another-casualty-in-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-n-s-responsibility-to-protect-another-casualty-in-gaza/#comments Mon, 04 Aug 2014 23:56:28 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135932 A Palestinian student inspects the damage at a U.N. school at the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip after the area was hit by Israeli shelling on Jul. 30, 2014. At least 16 civilians, including several children, were reportedly killed and more than 100 people were injured. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

A Palestinian student inspects the damage at a U.N. school at the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip after the area was hit by Israeli shelling on Jul. 30, 2014. At least 16 civilians, including several children, were reportedly killed and more than 100 people were injured. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 4 2014 (IPS)

When world political leaders met at the United Nations back in 2005, they unanimously adopted a resolution affirming the principle of “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P), aimed primarily at safeguarding innocent civilians from war crimes, genocide, mass atrocities and ethnic cleansing.

Since 2006, the 15-member U.N. Security Council (UNSC), the only international body empowered to declare war and peace, has reaffirmed this principle in several military conflicts, including Sudan, Yemen, Mali, Libya, South Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire and the Central African Republic – and in some instances even authorised military intervention.The U.N. Security Council has only issued a "presidential statement" - far removed from a legally binding resolution either condemning the civilian killings or insisting on both warring parties to end the conflict.

But despite the killings of over 1,800 Palestinians, mostly civilians, in the current conflict in Gaza, the UNSC has remained tight-lipped – and in hiding.

Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies, told IPS the United States often speaks of its “special relationship” with Israel “but it has a special responsibility to ensure there is accountability for alleged war crimes.”

He said Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, “has done so much to advance the cause of mass atrocity prevention, but she should lead the Security Council in ensuring that civilians in Gaza get the protection they are entitled to under international law.

“The Israeli government appears to have declared war on U.N. schools and shelters that are housing displaced civilians. Deliberately bombing such places is a war crime,” said Adams.

The UNSC, he said, “must ensure that there is accountability and uphold its responsibility to protect.”

But so far the Council has only issued a “presidential statement” – far removed from a legally binding resolution either condemning the civilian killings or insisting on both warring parties to end the conflict.

According to figures released by the Gaza Ministry of Health, nearly 1,810 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed in the three-week old conflict while the Israeli death toll is 64 soldiers and three civilians.

The Israelis have been accused of bombing six U.N. shelters, including three U.N. schools, where Palestinians have sought safe haven.

Israel has argued these bombings were a reaction to the Palestinian military group Hamas firing rockets from nearby schools.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has remained cautious in his comments so far, blasted the last attack on a U.N. school as “a moral outrage and a criminal act.”

“Nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children,” he said.

The U.S. State Department was equally critical of the attack on schools.

State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said “the suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians.”

Adams told IPS the responsibility to protect applies everywhere and at all times.

“A stateless Palestinian child has as much right to protection from war crimes as an Israeli citizen of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem,” he said.

In an op-ed piece last week, Adams said the distinction between military and civilian targets is central to international humanitarian law and must be adhered to, regardless of where a conflict is occurring, or whom it is occurring between.

With ongoing rocket attacks on Israel and unrelenting retaliatory airstrikes in densely populated parts of Gaza, both Hamas and the Israeli government appeared to be potentially violating the fundamental laws of war, he noted.

Navi Pillay, U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said, “If civilians cannot take refuge in U.N. schools, where can they be safe?”

“They leave their homes to seek safety – and are then subjected to attack in the places they flee to. This is a grotesque situation.”

In a statement released Monday, the spokesman for the secretary-general said Sunday’s attack is yet another gross violation of international humanitarian law, which clearly requires protection by both parties of Palestinian civilians, U.N. staff and U.N. premises, among other civilian facilities.

United Nations shelters must be safe zones not combat zones, he said.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) have been repeatedly informed of the location of these sites.

“This attack, along with other breaches of international law, must be swiftly investigated and those responsible held accountable. It is a moral outrage and a criminal act,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman also said the secretary-general is profoundly dismayed over the appalling escalation of violence and loss of hundreds of Palestinian civilian lives since the breach of the humanitarian ceasefire on Aug. 1.

The resurgence in fighting has only exacerbated the man-made humanitarian and health crisis wreaking havoc in Gaza. Restoring calm can be achieved through resumption of the ceasefire and negotiations by the parties in Cairo to address the underlying issues, he added.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Will Climate Change Lead to Conflict or Cooperation?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-lead-to-conflict-or-cooperation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-climate-change-lead-to-conflict-or-cooperation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-lead-to-conflict-or-cooperation/#comments Mon, 04 Aug 2014 18:26:46 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135923 In conflict-prone regions such as Darfur, violence is sometimes blamed on climate change. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

In conflict-prone regions such as Darfur, violence is sometimes blamed on climate change. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 4 2014 (IPS)

The headline of every article about the relationship between climate change and conflict should be “It’s complicated,” according to Clionadh Raleigh.

Director of the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, Raleigh thinks that researchers and the media have put too simplistic a spin on the link between climate change and violence.“It’s just appalling that we’re at this stage 100 years after environmental determinism should have been rightly dismissed as any sort of framework for understanding the developing world,” -- Clionadh Raleigh

In recent years, scientists and the United Nations have been increasing their focus on climate conflict. The debate ranges from sensational reports that say the world will soon erupt into water wars to those who do not think the topic is worthy of discussion at all.

Much of the uncertainty over the connection between climate change and armed conflict exists because it is such a fledgling area of interest. According to David Jensen, head of the U.N. Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Environmental Cooperation for Peacebuilding programme, the relationship between climate change and conflict began receiving significant U.N. attention only in recent years.

“While the debate on this topic started in 2006-2007, there remains a large gulf between what is discussed at the global level and in the Security Council, and what is actually happening at the field level,” he told IPS.

A body of peer-reviewed literature on climate change and conflict has recently begun to emerge, but scientists have discovered that the link between climate change and conflict is more complex than they expected.

“A number of studies have found a statistical link between climate change and conflict, but they tend to focus on a specific area and cover a short time period,” Halvard Buhaug, director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo’s Conditions of Violence and Peace department, told IPS. “The challenge is to determine whether these studies are indicative of an overarching, more general trend, which hasn’t been documented yet.”

Much of the nuance behind the climate conflict correlations is lost when technical scientific reports are spread to a wider audience.

Buhaug told IPS that “parts of the public debate on climate change and violence are accurate, but there is an unfortunate tendency, whether by researchers or the media, to exaggerate the strength behind the scientific research and under-communicate scientific uncertainty.”

“In some media reports, phrases like ‘may’ are turned into ‘will’ and the future is portrayed in… gloomy shades.”

Following is a sampling of the back-and-forth debate taking place in the scientific community:

A prominent study by Burke etal. (2009) concluded that rising temperatures would lead to increased battle deaths in Africa. It predicted that if current trends held, increased temperatures would cause 393,000 extra battle deaths in Africa by 2030.

According to Buhaug (2010), the prevalence and severity of African civil wars has decreased since 2002 in spite of increased warming, defying Burke’s hypothesis. In his study, he found no evidence of a correlation between temperature and conflict.

Hendrix and Salehyan (2012) found that extreme deviations in rainfall, whether it was more rain or less rain than usual, are positively associated with all types of political conflict in Africa.

Benjaminsen et al. (2012) found little evidence for claims that rainfall variability is a substantial driver of conflict in Mali.

In 2013, Hsiang, Burke and Miguel published a meta-analysis of 60 studies on the subject in Science. They found that the majority of studies from all regions support the conclusion that climate change does and will lead to higher levels of armed conflict.

In a response in Nature Climate Change, Raleigh, Linke and O’Loughlin (2014) criticized the above study for using faulty statistics that ignored political and historical drivers of conflict and overemphasized climate change as a causal factor.

The debate over whether climate change exists and is human-caused has long been settled by scientists. The debate over whether it will impact armed conflict goes on.

A deeper understanding of the connection between climate change and conflict requires a careful examination of the drivers of violence and the role of the environment in individuals’ livelihoods.

Cullen Hendrix, assistant professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, told IPS that the relationship between climate and conflict is mediated by levels of economic development.

Climate conflict is most likely to occur in rural, non-industrialised regions “where a large portion of the population is still dependent on the natural environment for their income and sustenance,” he said.

In most sub-Saharan African countries, more than two-thirds of the population is employed in agriculture. A change in climate conditions could have negative impacts on stability. However, researchers would emphasise that it is important not to jump to conclusions and assume that climate change will necessarily lead to conflict.

“Almost all of us would acknowledge that other factors such as political exclusion of persecuted minority groups or economic inequalities or weak central government institutions matter more [than climate]” Hendrix told IPS. “But that’s not the same as saying that climate doesn’t matter.”

When asked about the biggest lessons learned during his time with UNEP, Jensen had a similar take. “When you’re trying to rebuild communities and livelihoods, you can’t just focus on a single stress factor like climate change, you have to be looking at multiple factors and building resilience to all kinds of shocks and stresses…including climate change but not exclusively.”

Hendrix expects the next generation of scientific work to examine how drought, floods, desertification and other climate change phenomena could impact conflict “through indirect channels such as suppressing economic growth or causing large-scale migration from one country to another.”

In post-conflict situations and fragile states at risk of climate conflict, governance and land distribution have emerged as key considerations.

“Clarity on land and resource rights is one of the key prerequisites to reducing vulnerability and supporting livelihood recovery,” Jensen told IPS.

Clionadh Raleigh, who is also a professor of Human Geography at the University of Sussex, believes that government land distribution policies are often the real source of conflict, but their impact is obscured by the climate conflict debate.

“If you were to ask somebody in Africa ‘what are the conflicts about here?’ they might readily say something like land or water access,” she told IPS. “But land and water access are almost entirely determined by local and national government policy, so they don’t have almost anything to do with climate.”

Certain leaders have attempted to blame climate change for the consequences of their own disastrous policies, according to Raleigh. Robert Mugabe has blamed Zimbabwe’s famines on climate change, instead of his own corrupt land reallocation policies.

Omar al-Bashir blamed the Darfur conflict on drought instead of the government’s shocking political violence against a large chunk of its population.

While climate change itself is a topic of utmost importance, is it even worth it to talk about its connection to armed conflict? Raleigh doesn’t think so.

“It’s just a simplistic, nonsense narrative that the climate makes people violent,” Raleigh told IPS.

She believes the climate conflict debate falls into a trap called environmental determinism, a school of thought that asserts that climatic factors define human behaviour and culture. For example, it assumes that a society will act in a certain way depending on whether it is located in a tropical or temperate region.  Environmental determinism gained prominence in the late 19th century but soon declined in popularity amidst accusations of racism and imperialism.

“It’s just appalling that we’re at this stage 100 years after environmental determinism should have been rightly dismissed as any sort of framework for understanding the developing world,” Raleigh told IPS.

Buhaug believes the climate change and armed conflict debate does have merit, since most scientists are careful to not ascribe too much causal weight to one particular factor.

However, he does worry that “there is a tendency in research, but especially in the communication of research, to ignore the importance of political and socio-economic conditions and the motive and agency of actors.”

Raleigh, for her part, wishes the whole debate would just go away.

“People have an often mistaken interpretation of what’s going on at the sub-national level, on the local level within African states and developing countries,” she told IPS. “And they just assume that violence is one of the first reactions to societal change, when it is far more likely to be cooperation.”

Environmental cooperation occurs at both the inter-state and local levels, according to Jensen. At the local level, “in Darfur, we see different groups coming together to co-manage water resources.” At the trans-national level, “there’s a lot of talk about water wars between countries, but we often see the opposite in terms of much more cooperation between states over shared water resources.”

Following this line of thinking, the U.N. has tried to expand the climate conflict discussion from focusing on problems to exploring new solutions.

In November 2013, it launched a new website for experts and field practitioners to share best practices in addressing environmental conflicts and using natural resources to support peacebuilding, Jensen told IPS.

Climate change will most likely wreak havoc on the natural world and it may create the conditions for increased violence, but environmental scientists and practitioners agree: the future is not determined.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at joelmjaeger@gmail.com

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In Pakistan, Militants Wear Aid Workers’ Clothinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/in-pakistan-militants-wear-aid-workers-clothing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-pakistan-militants-wear-aid-workers-clothing http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/in-pakistan-militants-wear-aid-workers-clothing/#comments Fri, 01 Aug 2014 18:40:42 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135878 Fearing the presence of militants, personnel from law enforcement agencies keep a strict watch on camps set up by relief groups in the Bannu district of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IP

Fearing the presence of militants, personnel from law enforcement agencies keep a strict watch on camps set up by relief groups in the Bannu district of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IP

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Aug 1 2014 (IPS)

Muhammad Tufail, a 22-year-old resident of Mardan, one of 26 districts that comprise Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, has recently become a volunteer aid worker.

Moved by the plight of nearly a million refugees fleeing a military offensive in the North Waziristan Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which began on Jun. 15, Tufail now spends his days distributing food rations and medical supplies to beleaguered residents of huge camps for the displaced.

Tufail tells IPS that he and other volunteers see to the needs of some 10,000 families on a daily basis. “We cannot leave our people in distress,” the young man says with conviction.

“We have been keeping a strict eye on the relief camps organised by some jihadist outfits. We want to make sure they are not used for the recruitment of civilians for terrorist activities.” -- Akram Khan, a police inspector in Bannu
His passion is admirable, but the organisation he works for is dubious at best. Known simply as the Al-Rehmat Trust (ART), this charity group is widely considered a front for the outlawed Kashmir-based Jaish-e Mohammed (‘the army of Mohammed’ or JeM).

Banned in Pakistan since 2002, JeM is today a designated terrorist organisation, and stands accused of orchestrating the 2001 Indian Parliament attack.

Though the group itself has been lying low since 2003, its huge membership reveals itself during times of national crisis as efficient and well-endowed providers of relief.

“We were the first to start rescue efforts when a massive earthquake hit northern Pakistan in 2005,” Tufail tells IPS proudly. “Our volunteers rescued people from the debris and saved their lives.”

“I have devoted my own life to serve the people from this platform because ART serves people selflessly,” he says confidently.

It is this very gumption – expressed by scores of impressionable young people who serve these front groups – that have officials and law enforcement personnel extremely concerned about the influence of terrorist organisations during times of trouble.

“We have been keeping a strict eye on the relief camps organised by some jihadist outfits,” Akram Khan, a police inspector in Bannu, home to the majority of the IDPs, tells IPS. “We want to make sure they are not used for the recruitment of civilians for terrorist activities.”

Still, he is concerned that the sprawling camps, filled to beyond their capacity with desperate, vulnerable and traumatised civilians, provides a perfect recruiting ground for terrorists dressed as aid workers.

“The displaced are in need of monetary and social assistance”, which jihadist elements are more than willing to provide, he says.

“The nation is already experiencing hard times due to soaring terrorism – we can’t afford to allow militant groups to grow at the cost of displaced people,” he adds.

Yet this is exactly what appears to be happening, political analyst Dr. Khadim Hussain, chairman of the Baacha Khan Trust Education Foundation, tells IPS.

Besides JeM’s charity wing ART, the Jamat ud-Dawa (JuD), a missionary-style front group for the feared Lashkar-e-Taiba (‘army of the good’ or LeT) has also been active in relief efforts, rushing to the aid of those displaced by natural or man-made disasters, and winning the hearts of many who see the government’s emergency response as inadequate, he says.

The Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF), also believed to be a front group for the LeT, has been providing medicines and foodstuffs to thousands of families who don’t know where their next meal will come from.

“We were the first to reach Bannu and start relief work because we couldn’t bear to see our Muslim bretherin in crisis,” Muhammad Shafiq, a volunteer with ART, tells IPS.

Shaukat Ali Mahsud, a displaced man with a family of seven to care for, says he is “thankful to both the organisations for their sincerity and devotion”.

“These people are helping us. They are not terrorists, they are just very good Muslims,” he tells IPS, adding that he personally knows dozens of families who have received life-saving support from volunteers with one of the many groups believed to be charity wings for terrorist outfits.

“We will never forget their help in these trying times,” he asserts.

Government turns a blind eye

Several major players in the world of geopolitics – including India, the United States and the United Kingdom – have designated groups like JeM and LeT as “deadly terrorist organisations” and accused them of waging proxy wars in Indian-occupied Kashmir.

Due to heavy international pressure, both groups have been keeping a relatively low profile, but the massive humanitarian crisis caused by the government’s efforts to wipe out the Taliban from their mountainous stronghold on the Afghan border has brought JeM and LeT back into the limelight, Muhammad Shoaib, an analyst at the University of Peshawar, tells IPS.

“These outfits, with the help of the state, have carefully maintained their welfare wings to prove that they are more than just militant formations,” he states.

The allegation that major terrorist groups enjoy government support is not new, and takes on added weight during times of national crisis.

For instance, numerous secular NGOs eager to commence relief operations among the displaced have been unable to secure the required ‘No Objection Certificate’ (NOC), a document issued by the government as proof that a particular programme or activity is authorised by the state.

Jawadullah Shah, who heads the Rural Health Foundation, hasn’t been able to secure an NOC despite submitting an application to the government on Jun. 18. He says the delay is preventing his organisation from carrying out aid work.

On the other hand, he tells IPS, ART has been actively working with the affected populations without any hindrance.

“The government, as well as army officers, are extremely cooperative; it has been smooth sailing,” according to ART volunteer Shafiq.

Meanwhile, the JuD, which stands accused of orchestrating the 2013 attack on the Indian consulate in Jalalabad, western Afghanistan, is also extremely active in the aftermath of disasters, despite being branded a terrorist operation by the United Nations Security Council in 2008.

The Pakistan government says there is no evidence linking the group with terrorist activity.

“We are running hospitals, schools and colleges for the poor people in Pakistan,” Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, founder of the JuD who has been accused by the Indian government of plotting the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, tells IPS.

“Helping displaced people is our foremost duty. We sent relief goods worth over five million dollars to flood-hit areas of Pakistan 2010 and we have so far sent supplies worth two million dollars to Bannu,” he adds.

The FIF, believed to be closely aligned with the LeT and the JuD, is also playing a major role.

“We have deployed 500 volunteers to Bannu. We dispatch 10 trucks with relief goods almost every day,” FIF’s chairman Hafiz Abdur Rauf tells IPS.

Though the displaced are grateful for the assistance, experts and officials are determined to stamp out what they see as militant groups infiltrating vulnerable populations and recruiting foot soldiers from their midst.

Hussain, of the Baacha Khan Trust Education Foundation, does not mince his words when describing the systematic recruitment operation: “As we have witnessed during disasters like the earthquake in 2005, the military operation in Swat in 2009 and the floods in 2010, these groups use charity work to win the hearts and minds of Pakistani people by creating ‘soft corners’ of moral and economic assistance.”

Instead of allowing the radicalisation of displaced people, the government should be de-radicalising the militants to achieve lasting peace, he tells IPS.

The very simple and effective strategy pursued by militant groups must not be allowed to continue unchecked, he adds.

“The war against militants currently being waged in the northern province will be meaningless if other militant entities are allowed to grow with impunity at the same time,” Hussain concludes.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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