Inter Press Service » Middle East & North Africa http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 28 Aug 2014 11:19:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 The Darker Side for Gays in Lebanonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-darker-side-for-gays-in-lebanon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-darker-side-for-gays-in-lebanon http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-darker-side-for-gays-in-lebanon/#comments Sun, 24 Aug 2014 17:21:57 +0000 Mona Alami http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136306 Gays partying in Beirut. Credit: Mona Alami/IPS

Gays partying in Beirut. Credit: Mona Alami/IPS

By Mona Alami
BEIRUT, Aug 24 2014 (IPS)

In a country where civil liberties remain the prerogative of the powerful and wealthy, the Lebanese gay scene is to be treaded carefully.

The recent arrest of 27 members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community shows that those not so lucky – those belonging to the more vulnerable tranches of society – are always at risk of experiencing the darker side of Lebanon.

On August 9, a raid targeted Hamam Agha, a popular public bath in the hipster Hamra area in the capital Beirut. Of the 27 men arrested, “there are still 14 non-Lebanese in detention, in spite of the fact that the judge has ruled they should be released,” says Ahmad Saleh, an activist from Helem, a Beirut-based NGO, advocating LGBT rights at parliamentary level.Article 534 of the Lebanese penal code states that any sexual intercourse “contrary to the order of nature is punished by imprisonment for up to one year.” The obscurely-worded article has been repeatedly used to crackdown on the LGBT community in Lebanon.

Article 534 of the Lebanese penal code states that any sexual intercourse “contrary to the order of nature is punished by imprisonment for up to one year.” The obscurely-worded article has been repeatedly used to crackdown on the LGBT community in Lebanon.

This month’s incident was not, unfortunately, isolated. In 2013, security forces raided Ghost, a gay nightclub in the Dekwaneh suburbs of Beirut. Four people were arrested during the raid and were subjected to physical and verbal harassment. In a similar case a year earlier in the Burj Hammoud popular area – another Beirut suburb – 36 men were arrested in a cinema and forced to undergo anal probes.

According to researcher Lama Fakih from Human Rights Watch (HRW), men often arrested on unrelated charged are subjected to anal testing if suspected of being gay. “However there are no real statistics,” she points out. The tests also violate international standards against torture, including the Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Lebanon has ratified, according to HRW.

While anal probes have been banned by former minister of Justice Antoine Kortbawi, they are still used by the police, or as a threat to force detainees to admit their homosexuality, explains Saleh.  According to HRW, two people have been subjected to anal probes since the directive was enacted last year.

While the struggle to change the law continues in Lebanon, the country has scored points in terms of the advocacy of legal rights. In January 2014, Judge Naji El Dahdah of the Jdeideh Court in Beirut dismissed a claim against a transgender woman accused of having a same-sex relationship with a man.

The judge stressed that a person’s gender should not be based on their personal status registry document, but on their outward physical appearance and self-perception.

In 2012, the Lebanon Medical Association issued a directive to put an end to the practice of anal examinations supposed to detect homosexuality.

The Lebanese Psychiatric Society issued a statement in early 2013 saying that: “the assumption that homosexuality is a result of disturbances in the family dynamic or unbalanced psychological development is based on wrong information.”

And in 2009, Judge Mounir Suleiman of the Batroun Court decided that consensual relations could not be deemed unnatural.

In addition to advances made on the legal front, the Lebanese public has become more aware of gay rights thanks to changes in mentalities and the promotion of creative works focusing on gay issues.

The media and the art scene have been challenging social norms. Wajdi and Majdi, two gay figures from a comedy TV show called La Youmal, have popularised the image of the LGBT community in Lebanon. Popular TV host Paula Yacoubian has also defended gay rights in Lebanon in a tweet. Mashrou’ Leila, a famous Lebanese rock band, has discussed homosexuality in Lebanon in its songs and last year a Lebanese movie called Out Loud featured five young Lebanese engaged in a group marriage. The movie was nonetheless banned in Lebanon by the censors.

“Youth are becoming increasingly aware of gay issues,” says activist Ghassan Makarem.  Compared with other countries in the region, Lebanese have far more liberal views than their counterparts as shown in a 2013 Pew Research Centre study. Some 18 percent of the Lebanese population believe that homosexuality should be accepted in society, compared with Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia where over 94 percent of the population view homosexuality as deviant.

However, Makarem adds, “despite recent positives, being gay can still mean being the subject of discrimination, from a legal standpoint, especially for those without the right connections or wealth.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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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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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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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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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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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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Egypt’s Poor Easy Victims of Quack Medicinehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/egypts-poor-easy-victims-of-quack-medicine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=egypts-poor-easy-victims-of-quack-medicine http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/egypts-poor-easy-victims-of-quack-medicine/#comments Sun, 10 Aug 2014 16:41:18 +0000 Cam McGrath http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136026 Many pharmacies and herbalists in Egypt prescribe their own 'wasfa' (secret drug or herbal elixir). Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

Many pharmacies and herbalists in Egypt prescribe their own 'wasfa' (secret drug or herbal elixir). Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Cam McGrath
CAIRO, Aug 10 2014 (IPS)

Magda Ibrahim first learnt that she had endometrial cancer when she went to a clinic to diagnose recurring bladder pain and an abnormal menstrual discharge. Unable to afford the recommended hospital treatment, the uninsured 53-year-old widow turned to what she hoped would be a quicker and cheaper therapy.

A local Muslim sheikh claimed religious incantations, and a suitable donation to his pocket, could cure the cancer. But when her symptoms persisted, Ibrahim consulted a popular herbalist, whose wasfa (secret drug or herbal elixir) was reputed to shrink tumours.

“I felt much better for a few months and thought the tumour was shrinking,” she says. “But then I got much worse.”

When she returned to hospital the following year, tests revealed that the tumour was still there, and the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. Moreover, the herbal mixture she was taking had caused her kidneys to fail.“Successive [Egyptian] governments have done a poor job at both regulating the medical sector and educating the public on health issues, leaving Egyptians unable to afford their country’s two-tiered health care system vulnerable to ill-qualified physicians, spurious health claims and quackery” – Dr Ahmad Bakr, Egyptian health care reform lobbyist

Egypt is a “minefield” of bad medicine, says paediatrician Dr Ahmad Bakr, a health care reform lobbyist. He says successive governments have done a poor job at both regulating the medical sector and educating the public on health issues, leaving Egyptians unable to afford their country’s two-tiered health care system vulnerable to ill-qualified physicians, spurious health claims and quackery.

“Our health care system is deeply deformed,” Bakr told IPS. “It’s not just a matter of low funding and corruption, ignorance (pervades every tier of) the health system, from government and doctors to the patients themselves.”

He says Egypt’s lax regulation and poor enforcement has created room for unqualified doctors to perform plastic surgery out of mobile clinics, peddle snake tonic on satellite television, and dabble dangerously in reproductive health.

It is estimated that one in every five private medical clinics in Egypt is unlicensed, and thousands of medical practitioners are suspected of using false credentials or having no formal training.

“There are a lot of so-called doctors who practise medicine in Egypt,” says Bakr. “They mostly work out of small clinics, but you’ll even find them in the most prestigious hospitals.”

The incompetency goes all the way to the top.

In February, Egypt’s military announced it had invented a device to remotely detect hepatitis C – along with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), swine flu and a host of other diseases. The device, which is said to work by detecting electromagnetic waves emitted by infected liver cells, is based on a fake bomb detector marketed by a British con artist.

The military also claimed that it had invented a revolutionary blood dialysis machine that can cure hepatitis C, AIDS and even cancer in a single treatment.

“I was shocked when I saw these incredible claims were being made with barely any clinical evidence,” says Dr Mohamed Abdel Hamid, director of the government-run Viral Hepatitis Research Lab (VHRL). “With any new medical treatment you should perform peer-reviewed, double-blind clinical trials before announcing it.”

Critics say Egypt’s government contributes to a climate of medical irresponsibility. State media routinely exaggerates health threats and feeds public hysteria, while the knee-jerk reactions of government authorities – including high-ranking health officials – are coloured by popular sentiment and political motives.

Reacting to the global swine flu pandemic in 2009, overzealous parliamentarians passed a motion to slaughter all of Egypt’s 300,000 pigs.

There was no evidence that pigs transmitted swine flu to humans, nor had the virus been detected in Egypt. But officials, swayed by the Islamic prohibition on eating pork, appeared to seize the opportunity of a like-named virus to rid the Muslim-majority nation of its swine.

“The pigs were kept almost exclusively by poor Christian zebaleen (rubbish collectors), who used them to digest the organic waste,” says Milad Shoukri, a zebaleen community leader. “Thousands of families lost their livelihoods to this absurd decree, which had no scientific basis.”

Global pandemics such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), avian flu and the latest contagion, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), have presented golden opportunities for Egypt’s myriad quacks and swindlers to fleece the uninformed masses.

“With each health scare we see the same patterns,” says Cairo pharmacist Amgad Sherif. “People panic and throw science out the window. The low level of education and high illiteracy among Egyptians makes them susceptible to believe even the most ridiculous medical claims.”

When a swarm of desert locusts descended on Cairo, enterprising charlatans took out ad space in local newspapers offering a “locust vaccine” to anxious citizens.

Not surprisingly, the injected serum, which turned out to be tap water dyed with orange food colouring, offered no protection against “locust venom”. But it did leave duped households poorer, and at risk of blood contamination or hepatitis C infection from jabs with unsterilised needles.

“The people doing this only care about getting money from people who don’t know any better,” says Sherif. “They know nothing about medicine and do not follow even the most basic hygiene practices.”

In one popular scam, people claiming to be state health officials troll low- and middle-income neighbourhoods offering costly “preventative medicine” for infectious diseases. The fake medical personnel, dressed in lab coats and wearing official-looking badges, administer bogus vaccinations to unsuspecting families.

“Sometimes they give people injections – who knows what’s in them,” says Sherif.

Health officials say the sham physicians create confusion that affects legitimate health campaigns, such as Egypt’s national door-to-door polio eradication campaign.

Egyptian authorities have also found themselves in a cat-and-mouse game with thousands of “sorcerers”, whose superstition-based folk medicine draws desperate working-class patients suffering physical and psychological ailments. The self-proclaimed doctors and faith healers are particularly difficult to catch, say prosecutors, because they tend to work out of rented apartments and advertise mostly by word of mouth.

An Egyptian judicial official told pan-Arab newspaper Al Arabiya that despite attempts to prosecute sorcerers for swindling and fraud, most cases are dropped when the sorcerers reach a settlement with their victims. “There is almost one sorcerer for every citizen,” he concluded.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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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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Latin America Closes Ranks in Solidarity with the People of Gazahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/latin-america-closes-ranks-in-solidarity-with-the-people-of-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-closes-ranks-in-solidarity-with-the-people-of-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/latin-america-closes-ranks-in-solidarity-with-the-people-of-gaza/#comments Thu, 07 Aug 2014 23:57:37 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135992 A Jul. 2 march in Caracas in solidarity with the Palestinian people and against Israel’s attacks on Gaza. Similar protests, with signs reading “We are all Palestine”, have been held in other Latin American capitals since Jul. 8. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

A Jul. 2 march in Caracas in solidarity with the Palestinian people and against Israel’s attacks on Gaza. Similar protests, with signs reading “We are all Palestine”, have been held in other Latin American capitals since Jul. 8. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Aug 7 2014 (IPS)

Latin America is the region whose governments have taken the firmest stance in support of Gaza in face of the battering from Israel, withdrawing a number of ambassadors from Tel Aviv and issuing harsh statements from several presidents against the attacks on the Palestinian people.

But some experts say that paradoxically, this solidarity has kept this region from playing a decisive role in the international attempt to curtail or resolve the conflict.

“It would be good to take advantage of the geographical distance and the relations with the people of the Middle East to curb the confrontation,” Elsa Cardozo, former director of the Central University of Venezuela’s School of International Studies, told IPS.

Latin America “also has the authority of being a region free of religious conflicts or conflicts revolving around the existence of nations, which puts it in a position to pronounce itself, for example, with respect to Israel’s horrendous attacks on civilian Palestinian targets,” Cardozo said.

But “its militant a priori side-taking undermines the region’s authority to pressure the two sides, because that authority isn’t gained by being biased but by condemning every action of each actor that violates basic rights,” she added.

Since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on Jul. 8, bombing the Gaza Strip, the governments of Argentina, Mexico, Nicaragua and Uruguay have issued statements condemning the bombing, and the Foreign Ministries of Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Peru recalled their ambassadors from Tel Aviv for consultations.

As far back as Israel’s Operation Cast Lead against Gaza in late 2008, the governments of Bolivia and Venezuela broke off ties with Tel Aviv, while Cuba severed relations in 1973 and Havana has been at diplomatic loggerheads with Israel and has offered open support to the Palestinian liberation movements.

On Jul. 29, four of the five presidents of the Mercosur (Southern Common Market) released a statement during a summit in Caracas “vigorously condemn[ing] the disproportionate use of force on the part of the Israeli armed forces in the Gaza Strip, force which has almost exclusively affected civilians, including many women and children.”

The declaration also included a condemnation against any attacks on Israeli civilians, and was signed by presidents Cristina Fernández (Argentina), Dilma Rousseff (Brazil), José Mujica (Uruguay) and Nicolás Maduro (Venezuela). President Horacio Cartes of Paraguay, another member of the bloc, abstained.

Map of Latin America with few countries coloured white (indicating that their governments have not openly expressed solidarity with Palestine). Credit: Telesur

Map of Latin America with few countries coloured white (indicating that their governments have not openly expressed solidarity with Palestine). Credit: Telesur

During the first four weeks of the war on Gaza, at least 1,830 Palestinians, three-quarters of them civilians, and 67 Israelis, including 64 soldiers and three civilians, have been killed, according to statistics gathered on the ground.

In this region, marches and protests in solidarity with Gaza and the Palestine cause have been held in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Venezuela and other countries.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa cancelled a trip to Israel and Palestine scheduled for later this year, saying that his country “has to continue to denounce this genocide that is being committed in the Gaza Strip.”

On Jul. 29, Bolivian President Evo Morales announced that his country was putting Israel on its list of “terrorist states” because of the “genocide” and inhumane attacks on the civilian population in Gaza.

On Aug. 4, Mujica, the president of Uruguay, also described the offensive against the people of Gaza as “genocide”, while his foreign minister, Luis Almagro, said the government was reassessing “our diplomatic relations with Israel.”

“Everyone has the right to defend themselves, but there are defences that have a limit, that you can’t do, such as bombing hospitals, children and the elderly,” Mujica said.

Maduro also spoke out harshly against the Israeli offensive, describing it as a “horrible massacre. Those who compare it to the genocide experienced by the Jewish people themselves at the hands of the intolerant right whose maximum leader was [Adolph] Hitler are right.”

In addition, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua announced Aug. 6 in Cairo that Venezuela would ship 16 tons of humanitarian aid to Gaza via Egypt, and send funds for the purchase of 15 ambulances, as well as 240,000 barrels of fuel for the rest of the year, based on agreements that will be managed by PetroPalestine.

The minister’s trip to Cairo had the aim of coordinating the aid, reiterating Venezuela’s commitment to the Palestinian population, visiting refugees who have fled the bombings into Egypt, and reasserting his country’s offer to take in Palestinian children orphaned in the last month.

Kenneth Ramírez, president of the private Venezuelan Council of International Relations, told IPS that Venezuela, one of the world’s largest oil exporters, “can contribute to the development of the fossil fuels in Palestine and to transforming them into opportunities for development of the Palestinian people.”

In addition, in the United Nations, where it is a candidate to a non-permanent seat on the Security Council for the 2015-2016 period, Venezuela “can contribute to international efforts that could bring about a change in the current dynamic, but to do that it should avoid taking biased stances in this conflict,” Ramírez said.

Milos Alcalay, a former Venezuelan ambassador to the U.N., pointed out to IPS that “in the global organisation, Latin America has always supported the establishment of two states, since 1947, one Israeli and the other Palestinian, unlike Arab countries, which wanted only one state to be formed.

“Unfortunately that balanced position is being pushed aside, and the opportunity for an understanding with all of the parties in the conflict is being lost,” said Alcalay, who is also a former deputy foreign minister.

Latin America “should send a message that it mourns all of the dead, that it condemns Israel’s military actions and the provocations by extremists opposed to it, always with the aim of achieving and bringing about a ceasefire and a path to peace,” he added.

“There aren’t any valid state interlocutors left to mediate, in large part because they are actors who failed in their attempts at mediation and who have taken polarised positions with respect to the conflict in Gaza,” Andrés Serbin, president of the Buenos Aires-based Regional Coordinator of Economic and Social Research (CRIES), told IPS.

Given the failed mediation by the states and the U.N., “the alternative is that of civil society actions. The first efforts focus on early warning systems and prevention, and given the escalation of violence like what we are now seeing in Gaza, initiatives of citizen diplomacy and campaigns aimed at reopening the dialogue,” Serbin said.

Summing up, Ramírez said “Israel cannot continue the war with Hamas without eroding its international legitimacy; and Hamas can’t keep playing with fire, because the permanent division of the Palestinian factions will not help bring about a Palestinian state.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez /Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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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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OPINION: Israeli Peace Activists Grapple with Dilemmahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-israeli-peace-activists-grapple-with-dilemma/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-israeli-peace-activists-grapple-with-dilemma http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-israeli-peace-activists-grapple-with-dilemma/#comments Thu, 07 Aug 2014 12:03:42 +0000 Pierre Klochendler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135981 “Strong together, we love Israel and trust the army” banner in Jerusalem. Credit: Pierre Klochendler/IPS

“Strong together, we love Israel and trust the army” banner in Jerusalem. Credit: Pierre Klochendler/IPS

By Pierre Klochendler
JERUSALEM, Aug 7 2014 (IPS)

“Strong together, we love Israel and trust the army” – while a tentative truce takes root, banners adorned with the national colours still dominate cities and highways across the country.

Calling for unquestioned patriotism and solidarity, the embrace is a bear hug in the minds of those who question the merits and morality of Israel’s latest onslaught on Gaza.

It is tough to subscribe to the credo of peace when nationalist emotions are exacerbated by plaintive sirens and the deafening sound of Iron Dome missiles slamming incoming rockets, when rational judgment is mobilised for the war effort and crushes rational assessment of the effect of war.

War is the antithesis of peace is a tautology. Challenged by war, Israeli peace activists grapple with dilemma.... ordinary Israelis took refuge in the safety net of their emotions, seeking comfort in national anxiety, pronouncing moral judgment on the “sanctimonious” critics at home who contest the axiomatic assertion proclaimed time and again that “the Israel Defence Forces is the world’s most moral army”

A war, when launched, must be won. Yet this war results neither in victory nor defeat, is not a war to end all wars, but a war to avoid the next war by means of deterrence, maybe. In war, there is only loss, and losers, peace activists reckon.

If war will not have solved the conflict – it contains the seeds of the next round of violence – peace will, they assert.

But when the cannons roar, peace is silenced.

Stressing that there is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Peace NGO Forum called for a ceasefire and a resumption of the negotiations towards a two-state solution on Day 22 of the operation.

The Peace NGO Forum is an umbrella platform for Jewish and Palestinian civil society organisations dedicated to peace within a two-state solution to the conflict. The partner organisations, which include the women’s peace coalition Bat Shalom and the Combatants for Peace movement, partake in networking, capacity-building and joint demonstrations,

The belated statement generated by the Israeli wing of the forum exposed the dilemma: “Israelis reserve the right to self-defence and deserve to live in security and peace, without the threat of rockets fired at them and enemy tunnels dug into their midst.”

And so, at its height, the war was justified, enjoying quasi-consensual approval ratings among Jewish Israelis. Social media brimmed with racist, intimidating, “Kill Arabs”, “Kill leftists” comments.

“No more deaths!” On Day 19 of the operation, 5,000 Israelis joined a rally organised by pro-peace civil society organisations. The emblematic Peace Now movement was absent, as was the liberal Meretz party. The protestors dispersed after rockets were fired at the Tel Aviv metropolis.

Succumbing willingly to the 24 hours a day news coverage on TV, ordinary Israelis took refuge in the safety net of their emotions, seeking comfort in national anxiety, pronouncing moral judgment on the “sanctimonious” critics at home who contest the axiomatic assertion proclaimed time and again that “the Israel Defence Forces is the world’s most moral army”.

Left-wing Israelis counter that self-righteousness is intrinsic in such proclamation.

“How can you not identify with our national pain when we’re under threat” is a blame often levelled by right-wingers against fellow Israeli peace activists.

The Israeli public which, in its overwhelming majority, is at the centre and right of the political spectrum, charges that the country is falling victim to ‘victimology’, the victim-focused coverage of the conflict.

Supporters of the peace movement see respect for “human rights as our last line of defence”, as Amnesty International director Yonatan Gher put it in the liberal daily Haaretz on Wednesday. They object to the disproportionate reaction of the military. Israel must understand the weakness inherent in its own military might, they suggest.

The mainstream’s assumption is that peace activists too often give in to ‘the mother of all tautologies’ – that “war is hell” and “evil” and, in essence, a war crime. Any sign of soul searching that this war is not just is resented as vacillation and unwanted self-flagellation.

Peace activists hold Israel’s policies in the occupied Palestinian territories as the source of evil.

The 47-year occupation, most Israelis argue, reduces their predicament to a simplistic imagery, because the occupation does not justify the hatred of Israel professed by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, and the repetitive cycle of violence. The occupation continues because peace is unattainable, they stress.

“Try,” retort peace activists, “We’ve proven enough that we’re strong enough to take a risk for peace.”

Israelis have been stuck in this perennial debate for 14 years.

During this time, they have experienced a flurry of conflicts with no end in sight: the 2000-2005 Palestinian Intifadah uprising, the 2006 Lebanon war against Hezbollah, onslaughts on Hamas in Gaza in 2006 (“Summer Rains”), 2008-2009 (“Cast Lead”), in 2012 (“Pillar of Defence”), and now.

Disillusion and despair are all the more potent that, during the years of the Oslo_Accords, a process of mutual reconciliation engaged both Israelis and Palestinians towards tentative recognition of the other’s pain.

With the ensuing confrontations, both people quickly backpedalled to the existential, elemental, dimension of their conflict.

In adversity, it has become necessary for both Israelis and Palestinians not only to exclude any identification with the other’s pain but also to inflict pain on the other as the sole way to assuage one’s pain and deter the other from inflicting pain.

What, however, unifies the overwhelming camp of war supporters and the dedicated ranks of peace supporters is the acknowledgement that the reality is complex.

Mainstream Israelis realise that their argument that an assessment of the situation requires not being focused solely on the body count in Gaza is a lost cause.

Peace activists understand that the threat that triggered Israel’s operation is tangible, but also the direction in which its outcome might be leading, its consequences and implications for Israel, and, by correlation, for the Palestinians and for peace between the two peoples.

Their ideal of co-existence grinded by years of wars, peace activists reject the focus on suffering if it only serves the hackneyed precept that, on one hand, in war, the end justifies (almost) all means, or, on the other, that war cannot be justified.

They draw fine lines between exercising a legitimate right of self-defence against an unwarranted act of aggression and ever greater use of force, and between the morality, rights and laws of war and the wrongs of the Occupation.

And now that the war seems over, they hang their hope on the realisation by their national leaders that they will urgently initiate a bold diplomatic move towards peace with the Palestinians, and will not let the same amount of time since the previous operation be wasted lest the same, recurring, reality blows up in both peoples’ faces.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Hezbollah Tacitly Accepted for the Sake of Lebanese Stabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/hezbollah-tacitly-accepted-for-the-sake-of-lebanese-stability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hezbollah-tacitly-accepted-for-the-sake-of-lebanese-stability http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/hezbollah-tacitly-accepted-for-the-sake-of-lebanese-stability/#comments Tue, 05 Aug 2014 12:21:32 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135941 Poster in Lebanon's Beqaa of Hezbollah 'shaheed' killed in Syrian conflict. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Poster in Lebanon's Beqaa of Hezbollah 'shaheed' killed in Syrian conflict. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
BEIRUT, Aug 5 2014 (IPS)

Concerns about supporting a national army collaborating with a ‘terrorist organisation’ in Lebanon have in recent times been superseded by threats inherent in growing regional conflict.

The fact that Hezbollah, officially designated as a ‘terrorist organisation’ by both the United States and the European Union, no longer conceals its involvement in the fighting across the Lebanese-Syrian border makes little difference.

When traveling through the eastern Beqaa Valley, posters of Hezbollah ‘shaheed’ (‘martyrs’) of the Syrian conflict vie for space with those of popular Shia imams and the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah.The fact that Hezbollah, officially designated as a ‘terrorist organisation’ by both the United States and the European Union, no longer conceals its involvement in the fighting across the Lebanese-Syrian border makes little difference.

In one seen by this IPS correspondent on a recent trip to the area, Nasrallah’s face and that of another Shia political leader flank that of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, with the writing ‘’this is what heroes are’’.

On July 26, the ‘Party of God’ announced in a statement that Nasrallah’s nephew, Hamzah Yassin, had been killed performing his ‘’jihadist duty defending holy sites’’, implying he had lost his life fighting in Syria.

The United States and other nations’ support for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) has long served as a bulwark against excessive volatility in the small but confessionally-diverse Middle Eastern country. At the same time, care has been taken to prevent it from becoming so strong as to pose a threat to its southern neighbour and strong U.S. ally – Israel.

Hezbollah, sworn enemy of the ‘Zionist entity’ (as it refers to Israel), continues to claim that its more powerful arsenal is for its struggle against Israel, even as ever more of its means and men are directed at fighting rebel groups in Syria.

At the same time, it seems to be gaining ever more influence in Lebanon’s policies and military.

Yezid Sayigh, senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, told IPS that Hezbollah ‘‘is believed to have a lot of influence on the military intelligence [directorate] in particular –which would make sense as it is the most sensitive agency and the agency that would, potentially, monitor Hezbollah.’’

On the fact that Hezbollah moves fighters and weapons across the border, Sayigh said that ‘’Hezbollah has a lot of de facto power; it acts autonomously on these issues. They must have some sort of agreement that allows them to bring back their dead and wounded, for example,’’ or ‘’it may be that they move them through corridors no one, including the army, is allowed to enter.’’

Sayigh noted that compared with the LAF, Hezbollah ‘’has heavier, longer-range missiles.’’

However, the LAF will benefit, he said, ‘’if the current development programme goes through’’, because ‘’significant quantities of more up-to-date weaponry, transport systems and so on’’ will be available to them.

In January, Saudi Arabia pledged 3 billion dollars in aid and the International Support Group for Lebanon promised at a Rome conference in June to provide more training, among other support.

However, Hezbollah’s key strategic advantage remains ‘’its superior organisation, intelligence, battlefield management and the close relationship between its political and military leaders,’’ which is what the LAF lacks, according to Sayigh. ‘’It is also thought to have a lot of say in the choice, recruitment and promotion of Shia officers in the army.’’

In relation to border control and weapons smuggling in certain areas by Syrian rebel groups, he noted that ‘’once Hezbollah accepted the deployment of the police in its own strongholds in southern Beirut, it became possible for the army to deploy more extensively along the northern and eastern border, and be somewhat more effective.’’

The effectiveness of the LAF is further weakened by such problems as the soldier-to-general ratio, which according to a paper published earlier this year, stands at just under one general for every 100 soldiers, compared with the U.S. army, which in October 2013 had one general for 1,357 soldiers.

The more efficiently organised non-state actor has instead been called a ‘’jihadist’’ organisation, and describes what its fighters dying in the conflict in Syria are doing as their ‘’jihadist duty’’.

Asked to comment on whether Hezbollah is comparable to Sunni jihadist organisations, Sayigh said that ‘’it is an Islamist organisation’’ but ‘’it has accepted that it cannot construct an Islamic state in Lebanon.’’

Sayigh noted that ‘’to the extent that they are mobilising Shia fighters from Iran or from Iraq to go fight in Syria, we do witness a growing form of Shia jihadism, the idea that people are going to fight in defence of the Shia doctrine, to protect Shia shrines. There is a growing sense of, if you like, Shia jihadism,’’ but ‘’Hezbollah stands out for working within a much more careful political and military framework.’’

He said, however, that ‘’they are increasingly recruiting from outside of their own ranks,’’ showing a ‘’higher level of mobilisation among the Shia community. Whether or not these people get paid is unclear.’’

Mustafa Allouch, head of the Tripoli branch of the Future Party and former MP for the city, said instead that ‘’a lot of money is being paid.’’

‘’It is said that Hezbollah provides 20,000 dollars for a ‘martyr’ buried openly, and 100,000 if the parents agree to bury him without a funeral,’’ he said.

In relation to the United States and its financial support for Lebanon overall, Sayigh said ‘’there seems to have been a strategic decision to continue to cooperate with the Lebanese government, the Lebanese army, and other agencies even when Hezbollah is in a coalition government.’’

‘’The country is fragile and in deep economic trouble,’’ Sayigh pointed out, ‘’and the U.S. decision has been to ‘’avoid overburdening the Lebanese system to breaking point.’’

However, a local employee of a U.N. agency expressed concerns to IPS – on condition of anonymity – that de facto authorisation in many areas comes from Hezbollah and not the government itself.

Nevertheless, the army can point to some achievements in the past few months. In December 2013, LAF was given a mandate to keep order in the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli amid rapidly escalating violence. In a visit to the city in July by IPS, overall calm prevailed and many of the sandbags, tanks and troops deployed earlier in the year were nowhere to be seen.

When asked what the major factor was that led to the calm, Allouch said that ‘’when you have a political agreement to withdraw all gang leaders,’’ citing arrest warrants issued for Alawite community leaders accused of crimes, which led to their escaping across the border to Syria, ‘’you can achieve things. The military is simply imposing what the political agreement was.’’

He noted that, although Hezbollah could be compared in many ways to a ‘’gang’’, there could be no talk of the Lebanese army ‘’confronting Hezbollah militarily’’.

‘’It would end in civil war. And the Lebanese army itself would not hold, given the situation in the region. Hezbollah is not a local issue, it is a regional one.’’

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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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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Iran, One Year Under Rouhanihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/iran-one-year-under-rouhani/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iran-one-year-under-rouhani http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/iran-one-year-under-rouhani/#comments Mon, 04 Aug 2014 13:36:18 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135916 Rouhani greets a crowd in Lorestan Province on Jun. 18, 2014. Credit: Iranian President's Office

Rouhani greets a crowd in Lorestan Province on Jun. 18, 2014. Credit: Iranian President's Office

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Aug 4 2014 (IPS)

When Hassan Rouhani was declared Iran’s president last year, large crowds gathered in the streets of Tehran to celebrate his surprise victory. But while hope for a better life persists, Iranians continue to face harsh realities.

“I think Rouhani has done a very good job,” Hassan Niroomand, the 62-year-old director of a steel company in Tehran, told IPS.“There are certain factions within the regime that are not comfortable with the way things are moving forward and are trying to make it as hard possible for Rouhani to achieve his goals.” -- Ali Reza Eshraghi

“He does not have all the power, but he has taken advantage of what he can control and I am hopeful,” said Niroomand, citing Rouhani’s handling of the nuclear negotiations, his universal health insurance initiative, and his leadership style.

“He knows how to deal with extremists who are trying to make Iran another Afghanistan,” he added.

Not all Iranians share Niroomand’s positive assessment.

“Everyone says he is better than [former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad], but I don’t see a difference,” said Fariba Hosseini, a 39-year-old part-time student who is currently unemployed.

“Prices are still high and girls are being bothered again about their veils,” she said, referring to Iran’s morality police who have taken to the streets in the sweltering summer heat to ensure women comply with clothing regulations.

“I don’t think life will get better,” she said.

Rouhani, a centrist cleric and former advisor to the Supreme Leader who was inaugurated one year ago today, promised to improve the economy, solve the conflict over Iran’s nuclear programme, and de-securitise the political environment.

Had his Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif failed to achieve the historic interim nuclear accord with world powers in November 2013, and had negotiations toward a final deal broken down, many more Iranians might share Hosseini’s pessimistic view.

But while Iran’s economy continues to limp due to previous governmental policies and sanctions, slight improvements have kept people looking forward to the future.

“Rouhani and his team’s efforts to reduce sanctions on Iran through the nuclear talks has so far prevented the further cutting of Iranian crude oil production and exports,” said Sara Vakhshouri, an energy expert and former advisor to the National Iranian Oil Company.

“The [sanctions relief] has not had an immediate significant effect on the economy, but it has certainly had a positive psychological impact on the people,” she said.

Iran’s oil exports, which fund nearly half of government expenditures, were slashed by more than half in 2012 following the imposition of stringent U.S. and EU sanctions targeting Iran’s oil and banking sector.

Iran’s currency, the rial, went into freefall, dropping by more than 50 percent in October 2012.

But since November’s interim deal, which halts Iran’s nuclear programme from further expansion in exchange for moderate sanctions relief, the rial has strengthened and inflation is down by more than half from over 40 percent a year ago, due in part to improved governmental policies.

The temporary sanctions relief on Iran’s petrochemical exports and the unfreezing of some of Iran’s assets abroad have also positively impacted the economy, according to Vakshouri, who noted that Rouhani has changed investment regulations to attract more international investors.

But potential investors will maintain their distance until the energy-rich country’s release from the strangulating sanctions becomes certain.

Meanwhile, international human rights organisations have decried the rise in executions since Rouhani took office, while the sentencing of journalists and activists who were apprehended during the Ahmadinejad era for political reasons continue under Rouhani’s watch.

Domestic news media has become more openly critical of the government, but a number of reformist-minded journalists have been detained in recent months.

Iran’s Culture Minister Ali Jannati made headlines last year when he said Iran’s ban on social networks including Facebook and Twitter should be lifted, but while he and Rouhani have publicly criticised the Islamic Republic’s control over people’s personal lives, leading conservative factions retain their hold on Iranian society.

The shocking Jul. 21 arrest of a Washington Post reporter, Jason Rezaian, with his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, also a reporter, has led many to speculate that domestic political infighting has resulted in the 38-year-old Iranian-American being used as a pawn.

The location of Rezaian, an Iranian resident, remains unknown despite outcry in the U.S. from the State Department and multiple rights-focused organisations.

Iran does not recognise dual citizenship and no charges have been announced.

Analysts have argued that Rezaian could have been detained to embarrass Rouhani ahead of the resumption of talks in September.

“There are certain factions within the regime that are not comfortable with the way things are moving forward and are trying to make it as hard possible for Rouhani to achieve his goals,” said Ali Reza Eshraghi, a former editor of several Iranian reformist dailies.

“Jannati summed the situation up well when he said that the only thing that has changed in Iran is the executive branch,” Eshraghi, the Iran project manager at the U.S.-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting, told IPS.

Yet Eshraghi points out that while Rouhani may have no control over the judicial and legislative branches, he has proven adept at closed-door negotiations.

“Rouhani and his team have a modernising agenda, but they are not pursing it through radical statements or intense pressure on their political opponents. He is quietly negotiating and making pacts,” he said.

While Eshraghi sees the election as having energised activists to pressure Rouhani to force change despite his inability to do so, he also believes average Iranians remain patient.

“People have modest expectations, they are realistic about Rouhani’s ability to achieve his goals,” he said.

It remains to be seen how long Iranian patience will last, especially if the Rouhani government fails to secure a nuclear deal resulting in substantial sanctions relief.

Thus far Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has maintained his distaste and lack of trust of the U.S., has voiced support for Iran’s negotiating team. But while Iran seeks a final deal on the international stage, the domestic negotiating front appears to be getting tougher.

“Jason was trying to colorise the very black and white frame that Western mainstream news media has used for Iran,” said Eshraghi.

“His arrest ironically indicates that there are certain factions inside the country who are very happy with that framing.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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Politics Complicates Education in Lebanon’s Refugee Campshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/politics-complicates-education-in-lebanons-refugee-camps/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=politics-complicates-education-in-lebanons-refugee-camps http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/politics-complicates-education-in-lebanons-refugee-camps/#comments Fri, 01 Aug 2014 09:20:38 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135870 Syrian refugee schoolchildren being taught in the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Syrian refugee schoolchildren being taught in the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
BEIRUT, Aug 1 2014 (IPS)

The Shatila Palestinian camp has no library, nor does adjacent Sabra or Ain El-Hilweh in the south. And, after recent statements by Lebanon’s foreign minister, some fear that the thousands of Syrian refugee children within them will soon have even slimmer chances of learning to read and write.

The United Nations stated earlier last month that Syrian refugees would total over one-third of Lebanon’s population by the end of 2014, and that at least 300,000 refugee children were not enrolled in school.

In early July, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said that no assistance should be given to Syrian refugees as “all this aid – be it food, shelter or health care – encourages Syrian refugees to stay in Lebanon, while what we want is to encourage their speedy exit.”“The overcrowded breezeblock camps are filled with school-age children from across the [Lebanese-Syrian] border, suffering from psychosocial disorders, nutritional problems and limited possibilities for enrolling in Lebanese educational institutes

During his time as energy minister in the previous government, Bassil had said that Syrians should be seen as a “threat to the safety, economy and identity of the country.”

Tangled electrical wires droop dangerously low and posters of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad are prominent alongside those of Palestinian ‘resistance’ leaders and ‘martyrs’ in the Lebanese capital’s camps, where refugees are said to have initially been welcomed.

Lebanon’s security forces do not enter the 12 officially registered Palestinian camps in the country despite withdrawal from a 1969 agreement granting the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) control over them.

Several Syrians told IPS they feel more comfortable there than they would in areas controlled by Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside the Syrian regime and whose political wing is part of the government.

With 10,000-20,000 having arrived since the conflict began, refugees from Syria now outnumber the original inhabitants of Beirut’s Shatila camp, set up in 1949 to shelter stateless Palestinians.

The overcrowded breezeblock camps are filled with school-age children from across the border, suffering from psychosocial disorders, nutritional problems and limited possibilities for enrolling in Lebanese educational institutes.

There than the capacity of the public school system capacity, the most obvious hurdle for refugee children, says Fadi Hallisso, co-founder and general manager of the Syrian-run NGO Basmeh & Zeitooneh which works in the camp, is that Syrian public schools teach in Arabic while their Lebanese counterparts use either French or English.

Destitute or missing parents leading to the need to work or beg to survive, transport costs and war-induced trauma are other factors at play, and the problem is compounded by nutritional deficiencies.

A UNICEF study found earlier this year that severe acute malnutrition had doubled in certain parts of the country between 2012 and 2013. It noted that almost 2,000 children under the age of five were at risk of dying if they did not receive immediate treatment, while even milder states of malnutrition stunt children’s physical and mental growth.

Basmeh & Zeitooneh has set up a school in Shatila for about 300 students using the Lebanese curriculum taught by Syrians and Palestinians, who are paid between 400 and 700 dollars a month, according to Hallisso, “which no Lebanese teacher would be willing to work for.”

The facilities have been newly renovated and are in a building with a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) clinic and dispensary on the second floor.

The organisation is trying to get funding for a small library where the children can come, read, consult reference works, use computers and find a space open to them with generator-powered electricity.

Maria Minkara, who works with Hallisso, told IPS that it would be open to both Palestinian and Syrian schoolchildren and that not a single library exists in the entire area housing tens of thousands of inhabitants.

Many of the children, she noted, live in dark, unhealthy environments, cut off from the power grid with no physical space in which to study. A walk through the crowded camps makes this obvious.

The Joint Christian Committee for Social Service in Lebanon, another organisation working with refugees, recently succeeded in obtaining permission for about 120 Syrian refugee children from its school in the Ain El-Hilweh camp near Sidon to return to Damascus for their 9th grade and Baccalaureate exams, Executive Director Sylvia Haddad told IPS. Over 83 percent of them passed, she said.

Haddad admitted that several students’ families had refused to allow their children to go back to Syria out of fear of the regime, but said that “’they are regretting that decision very much now.”

Stressing that all politics and religion were kept out of the instruction of refugee children, Haddad said that questions on the curriculum being used by the group were referred to Abu Hassan, a Palestinian inhabitant of the camp who in the manner of militia fighters in the region uses an alias preceded by ‘Abu’ (‘father of’).

Abu Hassan said he had fought in the Palestinian ‘resistance’ in the past but declined to say with which faction, and denied that any pro-regime rhetoric was contained in the textbooks.

Abu Hassan was allowed to accompany the students to Damascus and back, but recent changes in Lebanese law make it harder for Palestinians fleeing Syria to enter Lebanon. Amnesty International published a report last month denouncing the restrictions, which require ‘pre-authorisation’ from the government or a residency permit.

Regulations regarding Syrian refugees also changed at the beginning of June, limiting entry to those coming from areas near the Lebanese border where fighting is under way and stipulating that refugees who cross back into Syria forfeit the right to return.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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