Inter Press Service » Middle East & North Africa http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 31 Jul 2015 08:33:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.6 UAE Described as Pioneer in the Field of Renewable Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/uae-described-as-pioneer-in-the-field-of-renewable-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uae-described-as-pioneer-in-the-field-of-renewable-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/uae-described-as-pioneer-in-the-field-of-renewable-energy/#comments Tue, 28 Jul 2015 22:27:58 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141778 Shams 1 Concentrated Solar Plant. Credit: Inhabitat Blog/cc by 2.0

Shams 1 Concentrated Solar Plant. Credit: Inhabitat Blog/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 28 2015 (IPS)

When the government of Kenya hosted a U.N. Conference on New and Renewable Sources of Energy in Nairobi back in 1981, one of the conclusions at that meeting was a proposal for the creation of an international agency dedicated to renewable energy.

After nearly 28 years of on-again, off-again negotiations, the first-ever International Renewal Energy Agency (IRENA) was established in 2009.Described as energy efficient and almost car-free, Masdar City aims to prove that cities can be sustainable, even in harsh sun-driven environments as in UAE.

The distinction to host that agency went to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), described as one of the pioneers of renewable energy.

On more than one occasion, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has singled out the UAE for its relentless contribution towards the U.N.’s ultimate goal of Sustainable Energy for all (SE4ALL).

The United Arab Emirates has been “a strong supporter of renewable energy”, he said, with its key initiative to locate IRENA in Abu Dhabi.

Currently, the UAE hosts not only IRENA, described as the first international organisation to be based in the Middle East, but also the Dubai Carbon Center of Excellence (DCCE).

The DCCE is a joint initiative between the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) and the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy aimed at promoting low carbon in Dubai.

IRENA is headed by Director-General Adnan Z. Amin of Kenya.

The concept of SE4ALL takes on added importance in the context of the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda, which will be adopted by over 150 political leaders at the upcoming world summit meeting in September.

The new development agenda is expected to be one of the world body’s most ambitious endeavours to eradicate poverty and hunger by 2030.

But the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will be an integral part of that agenda, will also include SE4ALL.

In keeping with SDGs and the U.N.’s development agenda, IRENA is pursuing and supporting international efforts to double the share of renewable energy by 2030, according to a new roadmap launched by the agency back in 2013.

The secretary-general is convinced sustainable energy “is among the most critical issues of our time.” 

One out of every five persons has no reliable access to electricity, he pointed out, and more than double this number – 40 per cent of the global population — still relies on biomass for cooking and heating.

“This is neither equitable nor sustainable,” says Ban.

According to the United Nations, energy is central to everything we do, from powering our economies to empowering women, from generating jobs to strengthening security. And it cuts across all sectors of government and lies at the heart of a country’s core interests.

Renewable energy is primarily energy that comes mostly from natural resources, including sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat.

A prime example of an energy efficient project is Masdar City located in Abu Dhabi and built by Masdar, a subsidiary of Mubadala Development Company, with the majority of seed capital provided by the Government of Abu Dhabi.

At the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week in January 2013, which included an international conference on renewable energy, delegates and journalists were taken on a guided tour of Masdar City.

Described as energy efficient and almost car-free, the project aims to prove that cities can be sustainable, even in harsh sun-driven environments as in UAE.

The entire city is powered by a 22-hectare field of over 87,777 solar panels on the roofs of the buildings. And cars have been replaced by a series of driverless electric vehicles that ferry residents around the site.

The design of the walls of the buildings (cushions of air limit heat-radiation) has helped reduce demand for air conditioning by 55 percent.

There are no light switches or taps — just movement sensors that have reduced electricity consumption by 51 percent, and water usage by 55 percent.

In December 2012, the 193-member General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring the Decade for Sustainable Energy for All which runs through 2024.

Without electricity, the resolution stressed there was a need “to improve to reliable, affordable, economically-viable, socially-acceptable and environmentally-sound energy sources for sustainable development.”

Last year, the United Nations, along with UAE, co-hosted the Abu Dhabi Ascent in support of the 2014 Climate Summit in September.

The consultations focused on several key issues, including the increased the use of renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency, reducing emissions from transportation, and deploying climate-smart agriculture.

The discussions also focused on initiatives to address deforestation, short-lived climate pollutants, climate finance, resilience and improving the infrastructure of cities.

Accompanied by UAE’s Special Envoy for Energy and Climate Change, Sultan Ahmed al Jaber, Ban helicoptered to the Shams Power Plantwhich opened in 2013, and which is a concentrated solar power (CSP) station with 100MW capacity.

Described as the largest single-unit CSP plant in the world, Shams 1 will generate enough electricity to power 20,000 homes and covers an area of about 2.5 square kilometres.

According to current plans, there will be two other similar plants, Shams 2 and Shams 3.

The secretary-general flew to Dubai to meet with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Prime Minister of UAE and ruler of Dubai.

Thanking the UAE for its support of United Nations humanitarian efforts in Syria, Ban commended the Arab nation for its investments in renewable energies.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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UAE Cracks Down on Religious Extremismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/uae-cracks-down-on-religious-extremism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uae-cracks-down-on-religious-extremism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/uae-cracks-down-on-religious-extremism/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 14:26:08 +0000 Jane Grey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141748 By Jane Grey
NEW YORK, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

The United Arab Emirates is cracking down on hate crimes with tough legislation that prescribes up to 10 years in prison or the death penalty if convicted of “takfirism” or Sunni Muslim extremism, according to the text of the decree distributed by the official WAM news agency.

The new law includes provisions to “safeguard people regardless of their origin, beliefs or race, against acts that promote religious hate and intolerance” and also “makes it illegal to discriminate against individuals or groups on the basis of religion, caste, doctrine, race, colour or ethnic origin.”

Islam is the majority religion in the UAE, with a division of approximately 85 percent Sunni and 15 percent Shi’a.

The nation’s Constitution already provides for freedom of religion in accordance with established customs, although Islam is the official religion.

The new legislation has received broad support from UAE academic and experts. The chairman of the board of directors of Emirates Human Rights Association (EHRA), Mohammad Salem Al Kaabi, said that the law allows the people of 200 nationalities in the country to “live in peaceful co-existence”.

“I think the existence of such laws is an urgent need for all countries, especially amid many messages of concern that incite racial hatred on social networking sites,” he told The National.

The Islamic European Council (IEC) also hailed the move and called on the governments of Islamic countries, members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and member states of the United Nations to follow suit in order to activate U.N. Resolution No. 65/224 on Combating Defamation of Religions.

In a statement, D.r Mohammed Al Bashari, Secretary-General of the IEC, said that under the rapid regional and international changes that threaten global peace, it has become necessary to pass a law criminalising the defamation of religions in all the Islamic countries.

The Anti-Discriminatory Law also prohibits any act that would be considered as insulting God, his prophets or apostles or holy books or houses of worship or graveyards.

Writing in The National, Dr Hasan Al Subaihi and Taryam Al Subaihi, journalists and political/social commentators, note that “Religious discrimination was – and still is – a worldwide problem. The Arab world has had its fair share of internal conflicts because of religion, and many of these fights go far beyond the struggle between Shias and Sunnis.”

To name just a few, they said, the Middle East has communities of Alawites, Berbers, Copts, Druze, Kurds, Jews, Yazidis, Assyrians, Shias and Sunnis.

“The new anti-discrimination law issued by President Sheikh Khalifa has put into writing what the people and leadership of the UAE have practised since before the birth of the nation and what is, in fact, not only part of the UAE culture but also the religion of Islam: tolerance.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Mideast Arms Build-up Negative Fallout from Iran Nuclear Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/mideast-arms-build-up-negative-fallout-from-iran-nuclear-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mideast-arms-build-up-negative-fallout-from-iran-nuclear-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/mideast-arms-build-up-negative-fallout-from-iran-nuclear-deal/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 21:02:36 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141731 In an exercise, a Kuwaiti F18 Hornet fighter aircraft stages an attack on Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS St Albans. Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States. Credit: Simmo Simpson/OGL license

In an exercise, a Kuwaiti F18 Hornet fighter aircraft stages an attack on Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS St Albans. Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States. Credit: Simmo Simpson/OGL license

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

The nuclear agreement concluded last week between Iran and six big powers, the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany, is threatening to trigger a new Middle East military build-up – not with nuclear weapons but with conventional arms, including fighter planes, combat helicopters, warships, missiles, battle tanks and heavy artillery.

The United States is proposing to beef up the military forces of some of its close allies, such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, with additional weapons systems to counter any attempts by Iran to revitalise its own armed forces when U.N. and U.S. sanctions are eventually lifted releasing resources for new purchases.“Even though the agreement was just signed on July 14th, countries are apparently already jockeying to see what U.S. conventional weapons they can get out of the deal." -- Dr. Natalie J. Goldring

All six countries, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), are predominantly Sunni Muslims as against Shia Iran.

According to one news report, the administration of President Barack Obama is also considering an increase in the hefty annual 3.0-billion-dollar military grant – free, gratis and non-repayable – traditionally provided to Israel over the years to purchase U.S weapons systems.

The proposed increase is being described as a “consolation prize” to Israel which has denounced the nuclear deal as a “historic mistake.”

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Senior Fellow with the Security Studies Programme in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS although the nuclear agreement with Iran is likely to aid nuclear nonproliferation efforts, it may also result in a dangerous increase in the proliferation of conventional weapons to the region.

“Even though the agreement was just signed on July 14th, countries are apparently already jockeying to see what U.S. conventional weapons they can get out of the deal,” she said.

On the other hand, the longstanding sanctions against transfers of major conventional weapons, missiles, and missile systems to Iran will continue for several years under the nuclear agreement, she pointed out.

Even so, Gulf states and Israel are reportedly already lining up for more weapons from the United States.

As usual, their argument seems to be that the weapons are needed for their own defence, she added.

“But who are they defending against? Is the presumed adversary Iran, which remains under a conventional weapons embargo? And who has the military advantage?” asked Dr Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

According to The New York Times, she said, Iran’s military budget is only about a tenth of the combined military budgets of the Sunni states and Israel.

The Times said the Arab Gulf nations spend a staggering 130 billion dollars annually on defence while Iran’s annual military budget is about 15 billion dollars.

Israel spends about 16 billion dollars annually on its defence, plus the 3.0 billion it receives as U.S. military grants.

Nicole Auger, Middle East & Africa Analyst and International Defense Budgets Analyst at Forecast International, a leading U.S. defence research company, told IPS the Times figures are pretty much on target.

Furthermore, she said, the Sunni dominated nations (read: Gulf states) and Israel have strengths that their Iranian rival does not.

“Despite Iran’s manpower advantage and large arsenal of rockets and missiles, the GCC combined and Israel have far greater air power capabilities, not to mention superior aircraft platforms,” said Auger, author of International Military Markets, Middle East & Africa.

The modern, Western hardware purchased through the past decade stands in direct contrast to the ageing inventory of Iranian forces, she added.

Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States.

Israel’s air force is equipped with F-16s, Saudi Arabia, with F-15s and Eurofighter Typhoons, UAE, with F-16s. Kuwait, with Boeing F/A-18C Fighters and Qatar, with Dassault-Mirage 2000-5, eventually to be replaced with the Rafale fighter plane both from France.

Auger said Iran’s most modern fighter is the MiG-29, delivered in the early 1990s.

The rest of the fighter force includes aged U.S.-supplied F-14s, F-4s, and F-5s, as well as Russian-supplied Su-24 attack jets and Dassault Aviation Mirage F-1AD fighter-bombers.

But most of them have remained grounded for lack of spares due to economic and military sanctions by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

Dr Goldring told IPS it has to be acknowledged that the United States and its negotiating partners have secured an important agreement with Iran, which should make it more difficult for Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

This agreement should also significantly reduce the likelihood of a U.S. war with Iran. The agreement is a good deal for the United States, its negotiating partners, its allies in the Middle East, and Iran, she added..

Still, the U.S. government is once again contemplating providing highly sophisticated weapons to Middle Eastern nations, even though some of the prospective recipients have horrendous human rights records and questionable internal stability.

Continuing to sell our most modern weapons and technologies also makes it more likely that U.S. military officials will soon be testifying before Congress that they need new weapons systems because the current technologies have already been dispersed around the world, she noted.

“We’ve seen this script before. This approach ignores the risks posed by weapons transfers, and increases the risk that our military personnel will end up fighting our own weapons,” said Dr Goldring.

She pointed out that the prospect of increasing conventional weapons sales as a result of the Iran agreement “looks like a sweet deal for the arms merchants, but not for the rest of us. “

It’s long past time to break out of the traditional pattern of the U.S. government using conventional weapons transfers as bargaining chips.

“Middle Eastern countries need to reduce their stockpiles of conventional weapons, not increase them,” she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Despite ISIS Ascendancy, U.S. Public Wary of Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/despite-isis-ascendancy-u-s-public-wary-of-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-isis-ascendancy-u-s-public-wary-of-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/despite-isis-ascendancy-u-s-public-wary-of-war/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 13:59:52 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141722 Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

As the Islamic State, known variously as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, consolidates its hold over parts of Iraq and Syria to the degree that it has in many ways become a functioning state, the U.S. public remains divided over any intervention involving ground troops, a new survey shows.

Sixty-three percent said they approve of the U.S. military campaign against ISIS, with just 26 percent disapproving of the campaign, an increase since President Barack Obama’s first ordered airstrikes against militants in Iraq in August 2014 (when 54 percent approved).

However, only 30 percent said the U.S. military campaign against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria is going very well or fairly well, according to the poll conducted by the Pew Research Center.

Forty-nine percent said they would oppose the deployment of ground forces against Islamic militants, with 44 percent in favour.

Although the recent murder of five U.S. service members in Chattanooga, Tennessee was dubbed an “ISIS-inspired attack” by the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, it remains unclear what, if any, connections the gunman may have had to terror groups or what his motivation was.

But U.S. officials say they are worried about the threat of ISIS on U.S. soil. Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum Wednesday, FBI Director James Comey claimed the Islamic State now eclipses al Qaeda, and has influenced a significant but unknown number of Americans through a year-long campaign on social media urging Muslims who can’t travel to the Middle East to “kill where you are.”

“It is a very different model,” Comey said. “By virtue of that model it is currently the threat we are worried about in the homeland most of all. ISIL is buzzing on your hip. That message is being pushed all day long, and if you wanna talk to a terrorist, they’re right there on Twitter, direct-messaging for you to communicate with.”

An estimated 3,400 Westerners have traveled overseas to join ISIS in its quest to establish an Islamist state in Iraq and Syria, according to counterterrorism officials. At least 200 Americans have gone or attempted to travel to Syria, although no one knows how many sympathisers they may have within the United States.

“There are thousands of messages being put out into the ethersphere and they’re just hoping that they land on an individual who’s susceptible to that type of terrorist propaganda,” John Carlin, the assistant attorney general heading the Justice Department’s national-security division, told CNN month.

But according to analyst Emile Nakhleh, writing for IPS last September, “ISIS is primarily a threat to Arab countries, not to the United States and other Western countries.”

“Some Bush-era neo-cons and Republican hawks in the Senate who are clamouring for U.S. military intervention in Syria seem to have forgotten the lessons they should have learned from their disastrous invasion of Iraq over a decade ago. Military action cannot save a society when it’s regressing on a warped trajectory of the Divine – ISIS’ proclaimed goal,” he wrote.

“As long as Arab governments are repressive, illegitimate, sectarian, and incompetent, they will be unable to halt the ISIS offensive. In fact, many of these regimes have themselves to blame for the appeal of ISIS. They have cynically exploited religious sectarianism to stay in power.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Security Council Defies U.S. Lawmakers by Voting on Iran Nuke Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/security-council-defies-u-s-lawmakers-by-voting-on-iran-nuke-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=security-council-defies-u-s-lawmakers-by-voting-on-iran-nuke-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/security-council-defies-u-s-lawmakers-by-voting-on-iran-nuke-deal/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 22:06:29 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141659 The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2231 (2015), following the historic agreement in Vienna last week between the E3+3 (France, Germany and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union; plus China, Russia and the United States) on one hand, and Iran, on the other, on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear programme. Credit: UN Photo

The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2231 (2015), following the historic agreement in Vienna last week between the E3+3 (France, Germany and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union; plus China, Russia and the United States) on one hand, and Iran, on the other, on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear programme. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 20 2015 (IPS)

When all 15 members of the Security Council raised their collective hands to unanimously vote in favour of the recently-concluded nuclear agreement with Iran, they were also defying a cabal of right-wing conservative U.S. politicians who wanted the United Nations to defer its vote until the U.S. Congress makes its own decision on the pact.

By U.N. standards, in a relatively early morning nine a.m. vote on Monday, the Security Council gave its blessings to the international agreement crafted by its five permanent members – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, plus Germany (P5+1) – which was finalised in Vienna last week after months of protracted negotiations.“Some people just can't accept the fact that we are in an increasingly pluralistic and complex world in which the United States simply cannot assert its will whenever and wherever it feels like." -- Stephen Zunes

Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and Coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, told IPS the United States is the only one of the seven signatory countries (P5+1 and Iran) where there is serious opposition to the agreement, which a broad cross-section of strategic analysts worldwide recognise as the best realistically possible.

“Some people just can’t accept the fact that we are in an increasingly pluralistic and complex world in which the United States simply cannot assert its will whenever and wherever it feels like,” he added.

Successful negotiations require compromises from both sides rather than simply capitulation by one side, said Zunes, who has written extensively on the politics of the Security Council.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, one of the prime negotiators of the agreement, responded over the weekend to demands by some U.S. Congressmen that the United States should take political and diplomatic precedence over the United Nations – even on an agreement that was international, not bilateral.

“It’s presumptuous of some people to suspect that France, Russia, China, Germany and Britain ought to do what the (U.S.) Congress tells them to do,” he said during a TV interview.

“They have the right to have a vote,” he said, “but we prevailed on them to delay the implementation of that vote out of respect for our Congress, so we wouldn’t be jamming them,” Kerry added.

According to the New York Times, Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, a ranking Democrat on the panel, sent a joint letter to President Barack Obama last week asking him to postpone the Security Council vote until the U.S. Congress has taken its own decision.

Norman Solomon, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy, told IPS “it’s often a difficult concept to get across to many members of Congress, but the U.S. government can’t run the world — and sometimes official Washington can’t even run the U.N. Security Council.”

This comes as a shock, or at least an affront, to Republicans and quite a few Democrats on Capitol Hill who may never use the word hegemony but fervently believe that the U.S. is a light onto all nations and should not hide that light under such a dubious bushel as international law, he pointed out.

“In this case, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or scream at the dangerous U.S. congressional arrogance that is seeking to upend the Iran deal,” said Solomon, who is also founder and coordinator of RootsAction.org, an online action group with some 600,000 active supporters.

Historically, U.S. government policies have been responsible for a great deal of nuclear proliferation in the world, he said.

“Washington still won’t officially acknowledge that Israel now possesses nuclear weapons, and U.S. leaders have turned aside from any and all proposals to seek a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East,” said Solomon.

On Monday, the 28-member European Union (EU) also approved the Iran nuclear deal paving the way for the lifting of Europe’s economic sanctions against Tehran.

“It is a balanced deal that means Iran won’t get an atomic bomb,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. “It is a major political deal.”

The permanent representative of Britain to the United Nations, Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, expressed similar sentiments Monday when he said “the world is now a safer place in the knowledge that Iran cannot now build a nuclear bomb.”

Solomon told IPS the United States is among the leading countries that have promulgated commercial nuclear power in dozens of nations, steadfastly denying the reality that nuclear energy for electricity generation is a major pathway for the development of nuclear weapons.

“We have seen no acknowledgement of this fact in Washington’s high places, let alone steps to move the world away from such dangerous nuclear-power extravaganzas,” he said.

The Iran nuclear agreement now on the table is one of the few big diplomatic achievements that the Obama administration can legitimately claim some credit for, he argued.

But many of the most chauvinistic forces in Washington, he noted, are now doing their best to undermine it.

“In the context of the United Nations, as well as in political arenas of the United States, this dynamic should be fully recognised for what it is — a brazen attempt by, frankly, warmongers in the U.S. Congress to rescue their hopes for war with Iran from the jaws of a peaceful solution.”

After the vote, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Security Council Resolution 2231, adopted Monday, will ensure the enforcement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iran nuclear agreement.

He said it establishes procedures that will facilitate the JCPOA’s implementation, enabling all States to carry out their obligations contained in the Agreement.

“The resolution provides for the eventual removal of all nuclear-related sanctions against Iran. It guarantees that the International Atomic Energy Agency will continue to verify Iran’s compliance with its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA.”

The United Nations, he assured, stands ready to provide whatever assistance is required in giving effect to the resolution.

Zunes told IPS as nuclear treaties between the United States and the Soviets demonstrated, you can be geopolitical rivals and strongly oppose the other’s system of government and still recognise there is such a thing as a win/win solution on arms control.

Most agreements regarding nuclear weapons have required reciprocity, but none of Iran’s nuclear-armed neighbours — Israel, Pakistan, or India — will be required to eliminate or reduce their weapons or become open to inspections despite the fact that they continue to be in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions regarding their nuclear programmes, he added.

And none of the other nuclear powers, including five of the six nations that led the negotiations, will be required to reduce their arsenals either.

“Any notion that Iran could somehow be gaining an unfair advantage through this agreement is utterly absurd,” declared Zunes.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: Iran Deal Has Far-Reaching Potential to Remake International Relationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-iran-deal-has-far-reaching-potential-to-remake-international-relations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-iran-deal-has-far-reaching-potential-to-remake-international-relations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-iran-deal-has-far-reaching-potential-to-remake-international-relations/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 12:14:41 +0000 Arul Louis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141650

Arul Louis, a New York-based journalist and international affairs analyst, is a senior fellow of the Society for Policy Studies. He can be contacted at arullouis@spsindia.in.

By Arul Louis
NEW YORK, Jul 20 2015 (IPS)

The Vienna agreement between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council acting in concert with Germany has the potential to remake international relations beyond the immediate goal of stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Courtesy of Arul Louis/ICFJ

Courtesy of Arul Louis/ICFJ

Its impact could be felt at various levels, from United States engagement in the Middle East to the interaction of the competitive global powers, and from the economics of natural resources to the dynamics of Iranian society and politics.

President Barack Obama has invested an inordinate amount of political capital on the deal, challenging many in the United States political arena and Washington’s key allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia in hopes that a breakthrough on Iran would be his presidency’s international legacy along with his Cuba opening.

Obama is gambling on the nation’s war-weariness after the Afghanistan and Iraq wars that took a total toll of 6,855 casualties and, according to a Harvard researcher, is costing the nation at least $4 trillion. He presented the nation with a stark choice: War or Peace.

“There really are only two alternatives here,” he said, “either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically, through a negotiation, or it’s resolved through force, through war.”Even if Washington and Tehran don't recapture the closeness of the Pahlevi era, the U.S. will increase its options in the Middle East, a region posing a growing to the world threat from the Sunni-based Islamic State or ISIL.

Though the deal has been denounced by Republicans and some Democrats, and, earlier, the opponents had taken the unprecedented step of inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make their case before Congress, Obama expects to carry the day. Even if Congress votes against the agreement, Obama reckons the opposition will not be able to able to get the two-thirds majority to override his threatened veto.

Obama’s Iran legacy, if it works according to plan, will not have the impact of Richard Nixon’s opening to China, but it still could mark the end of 36 years of virulent hostilities. Even if Washington and Tehran don’t recapture the closeness of the Pahlevi era, the U.S. will increase its options in the Middle East, a region posing a growing to the world threat from the Sunni-based Islamic State or ISIL. Right now Washington is hamstrung by unsure Sunni allies in the region.

Already in Iraq, the U.S. and Iran have been working with different elements on parallel tracks against ISIL. Obama has been blamed for pulling out U.S. troops from Iraq, although it was largely in keeping with his predecessor George W. Bush’s timetable, and for failing to reach an agreement with Baghdad on stationing some troops beyond the pullout deadline. These have been mentioned as factors leading to the rise of ISIL.

Now, there is a chance for Obama to redeem himself through the cooperation of Iran, even if they will not go to the extent of a formal agreement.

In the other ISIL flashpoint to the west of Iraq, there seems to be implacable differences on Syria. Tehran stands firmly by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Washington considers the irreconcilable foe of peace in that civil war ravaged country. Bridging this gap even if by face-saving measures would be the true test of a diplomatic shift.

The Iran nuclear issue takes the inevitable colour of a Shia-Sunni conflict. In the first place, the unspoken impetus for Tehran’s nuclear ambitions was Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and the threat from its Sunni fundamentalists against Shias.

Now Pakistan’s stock will rise in Saudi Arabia and other Sunni nations as hedge, a Sunni-dominated nuclear power ranged against Iran, which they mistrust.

Add to this mix Israel, which has developed an unlikely alliance with Saudi Arabia. For Israel, the threat comes from fears of the millenarian trends among some Shia Muslims that could cancel out the insurance that Jerusalem, sacred to the Muslims, provides and Teheran’s venomous, ant-Semitic rhetoric.

But a more immediate issue for Israel is Tehran’s support for the Palestinian Hamas and the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah. The sanctions against Iran limited its potential financial and material backing for these organisations and the flow of funds after sanctions are lifted could boost Tehran’s adventurism, directly and through proxies, Israel fears.

On the global diplomatic front, the Iran deal is a break from the incessant U.N. Security Council squabbles that have hobbled it as issues like Ukraine, Syria, the South China Sea and assorted hotspots in Africa burn. Russia and China showed they could work intensively with the West. Moscow even earned plaudits from Obama for its role in facilitating the deal.

Russia and Iran share some common interests in places like Syria, Central Asia and the caucuses. An unbridled Tehran could more effectively cooperate with Moscow in these areas.

Economically, Russia, like other oil producers, may be hit by falling oil prices, but the diplomatic congruence and future arms sales could compensate.

For the European Union and China, the deal opens up business opportunities in a nation with tremendous economic potential along with lower oil prices.

Iran has the fourth largest known reserves of oil and its current production of 1.1 million barrels could soar to four million within a year. For most of the developing world, further reduction in oil prices will be a great help, even as it increases political and social pressures in some oil-producers.

The picture for India is mixed . It has been paying for Iranian oil imports in rupees while it has been exporting limited amounts of machinery and chemicals. The bilateral trade is in Iran’s favor and is estimated at about 14 billion dollars, with Indian imports at about 10 billion and exports at about 4 billion.

Now India may be able to buy more oil, but it will have to pay in rupees and its exports will have to compete with the rest of the world. With the prospects sanctions going away, India is already facing Tehran’s truculence in oil and gas and railway projects they had agreed on.

The Chabahar port project remains the strategic cornerstone of India’s ambitious engagement with Iran The port on the Gulf of Oman would give India access to Afghanistan and Central Asia bypassing Pakistan.

Chabahar is also a counterweight to Beijing’s Gawadhar project in Pakistan that would provide another sea outlet for China, Afghanistan and Central Asian countries.

On the nuclear nonproliferation front, the Iranian agreement chalks up a small victory after North Korean blatantly developed nuclear weapons. The world has been unable to confront Pyongyang diplomatically or militarily because of its mercurial nature leadership that borders on the insane.

For the Iranians themselves, the deal could ease up their lives and bringing back some normalcy. The bigger question is how it would play in the dynamics of Iranian politics. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei approved the deal, but he has since expressed mistrust of the West in keeping its end of the bargain. That may be rein euphoria and send a message to the moderates.

Would the deal lead to a lessening of the paranoia among the religious and nationalist elements in Iran and in turn strengthen the moderates and push the present day heirs of the ancient Persian civilisation towards a relatively liberal modernity? If that were to happen Iran would have truly emerged from the shadows of international isolation.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Myths About the Nuclear Deal With Iranhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/the-myths-about-the-nuclear-deal-with-iran/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-myths-about-the-nuclear-deal-with-iran http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/the-myths-about-the-nuclear-deal-with-iran/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 22:05:19 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141644 EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini with with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and American Secretary of State John Kerry at the Palais Coburg Hotel, the venue of the nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria on July 9, 2015. Credit: European External Action Service

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini with with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and American Secretary of State John Kerry at the Palais Coburg Hotel, the venue of the nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria on July 9, 2015. Credit: European External Action Service

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

The single biggest misunderstanding about the nuclear agreement with Iran is that it is a bilateral deal with the United States.

Not true.“Beware of American and Israeli politicians and commentators who claim this agreement will enable Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, or that if the U.S. Congress rejects the deal, more negotiations will deliver a better one. Sticking this non-proliferation pudding back in the oven at a higher heat is more likely to get us all burned." --
Dr Rebecca Johnson

The agreement involved the U.N.’s five big powers, namely, the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, plus Germany (P5+1).

But still, right-wing conservatives and U.S. legislators want to dissect and delegitimise an international agreement, whose clauses include the phased removal of U.N. sanctions on Iran.

The Security Council, where the P5 have veto powers, will meet next week to adopt a resolution and thereby give its blessings to the agreement.

But pro-Israeli groups and some members of the U.S. Congress want it delayed, arguing the United States should take political precedence over the United Nations.

At a press conference early this week, Wendy Sherman, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and a member of the U.S. negotiating team, told reporters: “Well, the way that the U.N. Security Council resolution is structured, there is an interim period of 60 to 90 days that I think will accommodate the congressional review.”

And it would have been a little difficult, she said, “when all of the members of the P5+1 wanted to go to the United Nations to get an endorsement of this since it is a product of the United Nations process, for us to say, ‘Well, excuse me, the world, you should wait for the United States Congress.’”

“The proof of the Iran nuclear deal will be in its results,” Dr Rebecca Johnson, director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy and member of Princeton University’s International Panel on Fissile Materials, told IPS.

“I’ve spent time talking with American and Iranian scientists, diplomats and also human rights defenders. None of us is naive about the hurdles still to be overcome, and yet we are convinced this agreement is a positive step forward – and much better than more years of stalemate and hostility,” she added.

“But we also have to be honest that preventing nuclear proliferation and promoting human rights doesn’t stop with that. We welcome that Iran was one of 112 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) states parties to sign the humanitarian pledge initiated by Vienna this year, to ‘fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons’.”

Dr Johnson said “multilateral negotiations to ban nuclear weapons as well as efforts to rid the
Middle East of all nuclear and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have to keep going forward if we want to avoid further proliferation and nuclear threats in the future.”

Responding to the strong negative reactions from Israel, Hillel Schenker, Co-Editor, Palestine-Israel Journal, told IPS that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to think the deal between the global powers and Iran is “the end of the world.”

His house organ, the Yisrael Hayom freebie, financed by the right-wing Las Vegas-based casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who is active on both the Israeli and American political playing fields, greeted the deal with the headline “An Eternally Disgraceful Deal”.

The leaders of the opposition, on the other hand, have declared that the agreement is a “bad deal”, only criticising Netanyahu for ruining Israel’s relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama and the U.S. government.

“What we are actually witnessing however is the failure of Netanyahu’s policy of fear, and the triumph of President Obama’s policy of hope,” Schenker added.

He also said, “Netanyahu was nurtured in a home dominated by his father, the late Prof. Benzion Netanyahu, whose analysis of the Spanish Inquisition led him to conclude that no matter what we, the Jews and the Israelis, do, the whole world will continue to be against us, and we can only rely on ourselves.”

This approach, he argued, is totally contrary to the approach of the founding fathers of modern Zionism, all of whom understood the importance of creating alliances with global powers.

Dr M.V. Ramana, a physicist and lecturer at Princeton University’s Programme on Science and Global Security and the Nuclear Futures Laboratory, told IPS the confrontation with Iran has been built up with very little evidence open to the public, allowing for all kinds of claims to be made.

“I hope that this deal will put an end to such Iran-bashing. In any case, I think the deal is an important step in the right direction,” he said.

The next step is for all the countries in the region to accept the same nuclear limitations as Iran – in particular, Israel, he added.

“It is high time the international community turned its attention to Israel and demand that the country eliminate its nuclear arsenal and the nuclear facilities that allow it to manufacture nuclear weapons,” said Dr Ramana, author of “The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India” and a member of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and the International Panel on Fissile Materials.

Dr Johnson told IPS that negotiations, like baking, involve craft as well as science – getting the timing as well as the ingredients right is crucial.

She said diplomatic persistence made the time right for this deal to be brokered, but Americans, Israelis, Iranians, Arabs, Europeans and the rest of the world have to commit to going forward or it won’t succeed.

“Beware of American and Israeli politicians and commentators who claim this agreement will enable Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, or that if the U.S. Congress rejects the deal, more negotiations will deliver a better one,” she warned.

“Sticking this non-proliferation pudding back in the oven at a higher heat is more likely to get us all burned.”

She said such erroneous claims just feed into the hard-line minority in Iran – rump factions close to former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – that would also benefit if this deal is rejected.

“I don’t think those commentators are so naive that they actually believe their criticisms of the deal. They don’t want Iran to come in from the cold because – for whatever political or financial reasons of their own – they have a vested interest in stoking outdated rivalries and continuing to demonise and isolate Iran.”

She also said sanctions are a blunt instrument of coercion, usually causing most harm to the most vulnerable – women and children – and playing into authoritarian cliques who want to suppress human rights and democracy.

“It will be a tragic lost opportunity if these U.S. and Iranian hard-liners succeed in derailing this constructive nuclear agreement,” she declared.

Schenker told IPS said Netanyahu’s entire political career has been based on fear-mongering, and the need for “a strong leader” to confront the dangers.

In the recent election, this was typified by his last minute declaration that “the (Israeli) Arabs are going to the polling stations in droves, being bused-in by left-wingers.”

But during his past three terms, the ultimate source of fear was the threat of the Iranian bomb, which was picturesquely presented at the U.N. General Assembly session two years ago, and with his speech before U.S. Congress last year.

The headline in today’s Ma’ariv daily (Friday, June 17), is that “47 percent of the Israeli public favour a military attack on Iran following the signing of the agreement”, despite the fact that virtually the entire leadership of the Israeli military and security establishment is opposed to such an attack.

The survey results are clearly the product of the fears generated by Netanyahu and his allies, and much of the mainstream media commentators. However, alternative, calmer voices are also being heard, Schenker noted.

Many Israeli observers wonder why Netanyahu thinks he can still go against the entire international community, with the aid of his Republican allies in the U.S., given that they have no chance to overturn a presidential veto of any obstructionist resolution that they may pass.

As President Clinton once said after his first meeting with Netanyahu back in 1996, “Who does he think he is? Who’s the superpower here?”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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In Search of Jobs, Cameroonian Women May End Up as Slaves in Middle Easthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/in-search-of-jobs-cameroonian-women-may-end-up-as-slaves-in-middle-east/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-search-of-jobs-cameroonian-women-may-end-up-as-slaves-in-middle-east http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/in-search-of-jobs-cameroonian-women-may-end-up-as-slaves-in-middle-east/#comments Wed, 15 Jul 2015 14:14:15 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141594 The lack of jobs after graduation frequently pushes Cameroonian girls into searching for work opportunities, sometimes overseas and sometimes with horrific consequences. Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom/IPS

The lack of jobs after graduation frequently pushes Cameroonian girls into searching for work opportunities, sometimes overseas and sometimes with horrific consequences. Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom/IPS

By Ngala Killian Chimtom
YAOUNDE, Jul 15 2015 (IPS)

Her lips are quavering her hands trembling. Susan (not her real name) struggles to suppress stubborn tears, but the outburst comes, spontaneously, and the tears stream down her cheeks as she sobs profusely.

The story of this 28-year-old’s servitude in Kuwait is mind-boggling. Between her sobs, she tells IPS how she left Cameroon two years ago in search of a job in Kuwait.

“I saw job opportunities advertised on billboards in town. The posters announced jobs such as nurses and housemaids in Kuwait. As a nurse and without a job in Cameroon, I decided to take the chance.”"We were herded off to a small room. There were many other girls there: Ghanaians, Nigerians and Tunisians … [then] bidders came and we were sold off like property" – Susan, a young Cameroonian women who escaped from slavery in Kuwait

With the help of an agent whose contact details she found on the billboard, Susan found herself on a plane, bound for Kuwait.

She was excited at the prospect of earning up to 250,000 CFA francs (420 dollars) a month. That is what the agent had told her, and it was a mouth-watering sum compared with the roughly 75 dollars she would have been earning in Cameroon, if she had a job.

“We work in liaison with companies in the Middle East, so that when these ladies go, they don’t start looking for jobs,” Ernest Kongnyuy, an agent in Yaounde told IPS.

But the story changed dramatically when Susan, along with 46 other Cameroonian girls, arrived in Kuwait on Nov. 8, 2013.

“We were herded off to a small room. There were many other girls there: Ghanaians, Nigerians and Tunisians,” then “bidders came and we were sold off like property.”

Susan was taken away by an Egyptian man. “I think I got a taste of hell in his house,” she says, tears streaming down her cheeks.

She would begin work at five in the morning and go to bed after midnight, very often sleeping without having eaten.

Very frequently, she tells IPS, the man tried to rape her but when she threatened to report the case to the police, she met with a wry response from her tormentor. “He told me he would pay the police to rape me and then kill me, and the case wouldn’t go anywhere.”

Cut off from all communication with the outside world, Susan says that she found solace only in God. “I prayed … I cried out to God for help,” she recalls.

Susan’s is not an isolated case. Brenda, another Cameroonian lucky enough to escape, has a similar story. She had to wash the pets of her master, which included cats and snakes.

“I was sharing the same toilet with cats … I called them my brothers, because they were the only “persons” with whom I conversed.”

Pushed to the limits, both girls told their employers that they were not ready to work any longer. Brenda says that when she insisted, she was thrown out of the house.

“At that time I was frail, I was actually dying and I didn’t know where to go.” After trekking for two days, she found the Central African Republic’s embassy and slept for two days in front of it before she was rescued.

Susan was locked in the boot of a car and taken to the agent who had brought her from the airport.

“Events moved so fast and I found myself spending one week in immigration prison and an additional three days in deportation prison,” she says.

When both girls were finally put on a flight bound for Cameroon, all their property had been seized, except for their passports and the clothes they were wearing.

The scale of the problem is troubling. According to the 2013 Walk Free Global Index of Slavery, about three-quarters of a million people are enslaved in the Middle East and North Africa.

The report indicates that for the past seven years, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have been ranked as Tier 3 countries for human trafficking and labour abuses. Tier 3 countries are those whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards in human trafficking and are not making significant efforts to do so.

Apart from Africa, people from India, Nepal, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, etc. … “migrate voluntarily for domestic work, convinced of the employment agencies’ promises of lucrative jobs,” said the report.

“Upon entering the country, they find themselves deceived and enslaved – within the bounds of a legal sponsorship system.”

Susan and Brenda are now back home, but they are suffering from the trauma of their horrible experience in Kuwait.

The Trauma Centre for Victims of Human Trafficking in Cameroon has been working to bring relief to the women. “We try to make them feel at home,” says Beatrice Titanji, National Vice-President of the Centre.

“They have been exposed to bad treatment. They have been called animals. They have been told they stink, and when they enter the car or a room, a spray is used to take away the supposed odour … I just can’t fathom seeing my child treated like that,” she told IPS.

She called on the government to investigate and prosecute the agents, create jobs and mount guard at airports to discourage Cameroonians from going to look for jobs in the Middle East.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Nuclear Deal Takes U.S.-Iran Ties Out of Deep Freeze – Partly, at Leasthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/nuclear-deal-takes-u-s-iran-ties-out-of-deep-freeze-partly-at-least/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nuclear-deal-takes-u-s-iran-ties-out-of-deep-freeze-partly-at-least http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/nuclear-deal-takes-u-s-iran-ties-out-of-deep-freeze-partly-at-least/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 17:15:29 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141571 U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets one-on-one with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif amid nuclear talks in Vienna on July 1. Credit: State Department

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets one-on-one with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif amid nuclear talks in Vienna on July 1. Credit: State Department

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Jul 14 2015 (IPS)

A historic deal on Iran’s controversial nuclear programme was announced today during the early morning hours in Vienna over a decade after talks between Iran and world powers began.

“This deal demonstrates that American diplomacy can bring about real and meaningful change — change that makes our country, and the world, safer and more secure,” said U.S. President Barack Obama from the East Room of the White House “This is the beginning of what could be a process of the U.S. and Iran developing a better and more normal relationship. I don’t expect that to be instant…but you have to begin some place, and it’s a good beginning.” -- Gary Sick

“Put simply, no deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East,” he said.

The “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA), drafted during 18 consecutive days of intensive negotiations in the Austrian capital by Iran and the P5+1 (US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany), freezes Iran’s nuclear programme for the next decade in exchange for gradual sanctions relief.

The agreement “establishes a strong and effective formula for blocking all of the pathways by which Iran could acquire material for nuclear weapons,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association.

“When implemented, the P5+1 and Iran agreement will establish long-term, verifiable restrictions on Iran’s sensitive nuclear fuel cycle activities—many of these restrictions will last for 10 years, some for 15 years, and some for 25 years,” he added.

New era

“With courage, political will, mutual respect and leadership, we delivered on what the world was hoping for: a shared commitment to peace and to join hands in order to make our world safer,” Iran’s top negotiator, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, said Tuesday in a joint statement issued in Vienna with EU High Representative Federica Mogherini.

“This is a historic day also because we are creating the conditions for building trust and opening a new chapter in our relationship,” he added.

The deal was made between Iran and six world powers, but direct U.S.-Iranian engagement—jumpstarted after a historic phone call between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and U.S. President Barack Obama in 2013—proved to be the key ingredient of success.

This is not the first time Tehran and Washington have cooperated.

Iran’s assistance—led by Zarif when he was ambassador to the U.N.—proved crucial to the U.S. mission to establish a post-Taliban government in Afghanistan.

But it is the first time since the 1979 Iranian revolution that Tehran and Washington have negotiated during an extended period of time, openly and directly at the highest level to bring about an internationally sanctioned accord.

“That’s what they mean by confidence-building measures,” said Gary Sick, a former national security official and Columbia University scholar who has been studying U.S.-Iran relations for decades.

“This is the beginning of what could be a process of the U.S. and Iran developing a better and more normal relationship,” he added. “I don’t expect that to be instant…but you have to begin some place, and it’s a good beginning.”

12 Years in the Making

The process that led to the deal has taken more than decade.

The Europeans, known then as the EU-3 (France, Germany, UK), began the negotiations with Iran in 2003 before the U.S., along with China and Russia, finally joined the talks in 2006 and formed the E3+3 (or P5+1).

It would take five more years of on-and-off talks, threats of war, “crippling” sanctions, sabotage, assassinations, cyber warfare, and a change of presidents in Tehran and Washington before an interim agreement was finally reached in 2013.

The U.S. and Iran have been enemies since 1979 when Iranians brought down their U.S.-backed monarch in a domestically supported revolution premised on the notion of independence from foreign exploitation.

Throughout the negotiations, chants of “Death to America” from Iranian hardliners and its supreme leader’s public disdain for the U.S. continued.

During the final round of talks in Vienna, while Iran’s foreign minister posed for photographs at one-on-one meetings with the U.S. Secretary of State—their nation’s flags side-by-side behind them—Iranian hardliners burned American flags at the government-sponsored Qod’s Day festivities.

The U.S. government meanwhile made no secret of its enmity with Iran.

The State Department has officially listed the Islamic Republic as a state sponsor of terrorism every year since the Iranian revolution. Both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations have repeatedly issued threats of war and imposed sanctions that have severely damaged Iran’s economy.

“[D]eception is part of the DNA,” said Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, the U.S.’s top negotiator until Kerry stepped in, during testimony aimed at convincing Congress to delay imposing new sanctions on Iran in 2013.

Although Democratic President Obama adopted a softer stance than his Republican predecessor, some congressional hawks have also maintained a hard-line stance on Iran.

Iran is a “pariah nation” determined to acquire nuclear weapons to deploy “against us and our allies,” wrote GOP presidential candidate Lindsay Graham in the Wall Street Journal in May.

Nothing, however—not Zarif’s public outrage after the U.S. released “fact sheets” following the 2014 accord that he said “underplays concessions” to Iran and “overplays Iranian commitments,” nor vitriolic displays of anti-Americanism in Tehran, or the Israeli prime minister’s ongoing campaigning against deal—pushed either side away from the negotiating table.

Critics voice discontent

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been warning about an impending Iranian nuclear weapon since 1995, called the deal “a bad mistake of historic proportion” today.

“Our concern, of course, is that the militant Islamic state of Iran is going to receive a sure path to nuclear weapons,” he said, adding that Iran, which he has repeatedly likened to the Islamic State—a terrorist group operating in Iraq and Syria—would get a “jackpot of cash bonanza of hundreds of billions of dollars.”

But the accord will likely face its harshest criticism in the U.S. Congress where lawmakers have 60 days to review it after the official date of submission.

Influential Republicans have already threatened to block it.

“This ‘deal’ will only embolden Iran – the world’s largest sponsor of terror – by helping stabilize and legitimize its regime as it spreads even more violence and instability in the region,” said House Speaker John Boehner in a statement.

“We will fight a bad deal that is wrong for our national security and wrong for our country,” he added.

President Obama vowed, however, to veto any bill that delays its implementation.

“This is not the time for politics or posturing,” he said Tuesday. “The world would not support an effort to permanently sanction Iran into submission.”

The Iranian parliament, which has expressed consistent criticism of the negotiations, will also review the deal though no timeframe has been set.

Rapprochement?

Even before the final deal was announced, officials on both sides were already hinting that a successful conclusion to the talks could lay the groundwork for further US-Iranian cooperation.

“It’s clear to me that if an agreement is successfully reached, satisfactory to everybody, a conversation might be able to begin,” Secretary of State John Kerry told the Boston Globe three days before the deal was announced.

“[The] #IranDeal is not a ceiling but a solid foundation,” wrote Foreign Minister Zarif on Twitter the day the accord was announced. “We must now begin to build on it.”

But while official statements from both countries have become increasingly suggestive in the last two years, hopes for a Nixon-to-China historical replay between the long-time adversaries are likely premature.

“Thirty-five years of mistrust and hostilities cannot be resolved through only the nuclear issue,” Hossein Mousavian, who served as the spokesman for Iran’s nuclear negotiating team when Rouhani was its chief, told IPS.

“A deal is a success and big step toward lessening tension…but the wall of mistrust is so thick that breaking it down would take some years,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Syrians: ‘Biggest Refugee Population From a Single Conflict in a Generation’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/beleaguered-syrians-comprise-worlds-biggest-refugee-population-from-a-single-conflict-in-a-generation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=beleaguered-syrians-comprise-worlds-biggest-refugee-population-from-a-single-conflict-in-a-generation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/beleaguered-syrians-comprise-worlds-biggest-refugee-population-from-a-single-conflict-in-a-generation/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 20:51:00 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141510 A child stands amid the rubble of what was once his home, after an aerial bombardment on the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria. Credit: Freedom House/CC-BY-2.0

A child stands amid the rubble of what was once his home, after an aerial bombardment on the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria. Credit: Freedom House/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 9 2015 (IPS)

Barely 10 months ago, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said the refugee population from Syria had reached the three million mark. Today, the latest data from the field show that the number has passed four million.

“This is the biggest refugee population from a single conflict in a generation,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in a statement on Jul. 9.

"I took [my son] to the field hospital in Tafas. They tried to help him but couldn't, since the appropriate equipment is not available in Syria. He needed to go to Jordan for treatment." -- Murad, the father of a 27-day-old baby injured in a barrel bomb attack in Syria
“It is a population that deserves the support of the world but is instead living in dire conditions and sinking deeper into abject poverty.”

Midway through its fifth year, the Syrian conflict that began in March 2011 has reached catastrophic heights, and yet shows no sign of abating.

What started out as mass demonstrations against long-time ruler Bashar al-Assad now involves multiple armed groups including fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

A quarter of a million people are dead, according to estimates by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. A further 840,000 are injured, with many thousands maimed for life.

And as U.N. agencies struggle to cobble together the funds needed to heal, house and feed millions who have fled bullet-ridden towns and demolished cities, the exodus just keeps growing.

A UNHCR press release issued Thursday said Turkey is hosting 1.8 million Syrians, more than any other nation in the region. Over 250,000 of these refugees are living in 23 camps established and maintained by the Turkish government.

Other countries in the region that have opened their doors to scores of families fleeing the fighting include Lebanon (currently home to over 1.7 million Syrians), Jordan (hosting 629,000 refugees), Iraq (249,000) and Egypt (132,000).

In every single one of these countries, health and infrastructure facilities are quickly nearing breaking point as the hungry, sick and wounded arrive in droves.

On Jul. 9 Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned that Jordanian hospitals are groaning under a huge patient burden, including numerous Syrians injured by barrel bombs.

In the last two weeks alone more than 65 war-wounded patients turned up at the emergency room of Al-Ramtha hospital in northern Jordan – less than three miles from the Syrian border – where MSF teams have been working with the Jordanian Ministry of Health to provide emergency care to refugees.

The medical humanitarian organisation has called repeatedly for an end to the use of these deadly, improvised weapons, which are typically constructed from oil drums, gas cylinders or water tanks filled with explosives and locally-sourced scrap metals dropped from high-altitude helicopters.

Due to the wide impact radius of barrel bomb attacks, victim often suffer wounds that are impossible to treat within Syria’s borders, where many health facilities have been reduced to rubble in the past five years.

“More than 70 percent of the wounded we receive suffer from blast injuries, and their multiple wounds tell their stories,” Renate Sinke, project coordinator of MSF’s emergency surgical programme in Ramtha, said in the statement released Thursday.

Dr. Muhammad Shoaib, MSF’s medical coordinator in Jordan, added, “A significant proportion of the patients we receive have suffered head injuries and other multiple injuries that cannot be treated inside southern Syria, as CT-scans and other treatment options are limited.”

One of the patients at Al-Ramtha Hospital, the father of a 27-day-old child who suffered head injuries as a result of shrapnel from a barrel bomb, recounted his family’s plight, which mirrors the experience of millions of civilians caught in the crossfire of the deadly conflict.

“At 9:00 a.m., a barrel bomb hit our house in Tafas […]. When I heard the news, I dropped what I was doing and I ran to the house as fast as I could […]. I saw my little boy. He was quiet and his head seemed to be injured. I took him to the field hospital in Tafas. They tried to help him but couldn’t, since the appropriate equipment is not available in Syria. He needed to go to Jordan for treatment,” Murad, the boy’s father, told MSF staff.

“It took us one-and-a-half hours from the time of injury until we arrived at the border, and some more before arriving in Ramtha. Now, all I want is for my baby to be better and go back to Syria.”

It is families like these that comprise the bulk of Syrian refugees, the highest recorded since 1992 when Afghan refugees reached an estimated 4.6 million, says the U.N. Refugee Agency.

Indeed, the figure from Syria could well be even higher than field reports suggest, and does not include the roughly 270,000 asylum applications by Syrians in Europe. A further 7.2 million people are displaced inside Syria itself, in remote or heavily embattled regions.

Worse, officials say, is the apparently inverse relationship between emergency needs and humanitarian funding: with the former constantly rising, while the latter shrinks.

UNHCR and its partners had requested 5.5 billion dollars for relief operations in 2015, but so far only a quarter of those funds have been received.

The World Food Programme (WFP), tasked with feeding about six million Syrians inside the country and in the surrounding region, is facing a massive shortfall, and warned last week that unless immediate funding became available, half a million people could starve.

There is also the very real possibility that over 1.7 million people will have to face the coming winter months without fuel or shelter.

As aid supplies dwindle, desperate and impoverished families are sending their children out to earn a living – according to a joint report released this week by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Save the Children, three quarters of all refugee households surveyed reported that children have become breadwinners.

Against the backdrop of soaring poverty rates, these findings are perhaps not unexpected. An estimated 86 percent of refugees outside of camps in Jordan, for instance, live below the poverty line, while a further 55 percent of refugees in Lebanon are living in “sub-standard” shelters, according to the refugee agency.

While world leaders oscillate between political and military solutions to the crisis, Syrians are faced with a choice: death by shrapnel at home or death by starvation abroad?

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Child Labour: A Hidden Atrocity of the Syrian Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/child-labour-a-hidden-atrocity-of-the-syrian-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-labour-a-hidden-atrocity-of-the-syrian-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/child-labour-a-hidden-atrocity-of-the-syrian-crisis/#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2015 21:19:16 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141417 Aboudi, 12, spends his evenings selling flowers outside Beirut's bars. His parents are stuck in his war-torn hometown Aleppo in Syria. Credit: Sam Tarling/IPS

Aboudi, 12, spends his evenings selling flowers outside Beirut's bars. His parents are stuck in his war-torn hometown Aleppo in Syria. Credit: Sam Tarling/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 3 2015 (IPS)

In a conflict that has claimed over 220,000 lives and injured a further 840,000 people as of January 2015, it is sometimes hard to see beyond the death toll.

What started as a confrontation between pro-democracy activists and the entrenched dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, Syria’s civil war is today one of the world’s most bitter conflicts, involving over four separate armed groups and touching numerous other countries in the region.

“I feel responsible for my family. I feel like I’m still a child and would love to go back to school, but my only option is to work hard to put food on the table for my family." -- Ahmed, a 12-year-old Syrian refugee in Jordan
With millions on the brink of starvation and displaced Syrians now representing the largest refugee population in the world, after Palestinians, scores of lesser-known war-related atrocities are jostling for space in the headlines.

On Jul. 2, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Save the Children released a joint report highlighting one of the hidden impacts of the Syrian crisis – a rise in child labour throughout the region.

In a press release issued in Jordan’s capital, Amman, Thursday, the agencies warned, “Syria’s children are paying a heavy price for the world’s failure to put an end to the conflict.

“The report shows that inside Syria, children are now contributing to the family income in more than three quarters of surveyed households, In Jordan, close to half of all Syrian refugee children are now the joint or sole family breadwinners in surveyed households, while in some parts of Lebanon, children as young as six years old are reportedly working.”

“The most vulnerable of all working children are those involved in armed conflict, sexual exploitation and illicit activities including organised begging and child trafficking,” the release stated.

Before the outbreak of war four years ago, Syria was considered a middle-income country, providing its people a decent standard of living and boasting a literacy rate of 90 percent, according to UNICEF data.

By the middle of 2015, however, four in five Syrians were living below the poverty line and 7.6 million were classified as internally displaced persons (IDPs).

With whole cities and towns emptied of residents, businesses and industries have collapsed, sending unemployment rates soaring from 14.9 percent in 2011 to 57.7 percent today.

The U.N. Refugee Agency estimates that about 3.3 million people have fled the country altogether and now live in camps or makeshift shelters in neighbouring states. Women and children comprise over half the refugee population.

The vast majority of those who remain inside Syria – over 64.7 percent – are classified as living in “extreme poverty”, unable to meet the most basic food or sanitary needs.

Thus, experts say, it comes as no surprise that children are becoming breadwinners, taking to the streets and selling their labour in a range of industries to help keep their families alive.

As 12-year-old Ahmed, a Syrian refugee in Jordan, pointed out in interviews with UNICEF, “I feel responsible for my family. I feel like I’m still a child and would love to go back to school, but my only option is to work hard to put food on the table for my family.”

Entitled ‘Small Hands, Heavy Burden: How the Syrian Conflict is Driving More Children into the Workforce’, the report notes that an estimated 2.7 million Syrian children are currently out of school.

With few education opportunities and dwindling humanitarian rations, these children now either comprise, or are at risk of joining the ranks of, a veritable army of child workers.

“In Jordan, for example a majority of working children in host communities work six or seven days a week; one-third work more than eight hours a day,” the report noted. “Their daily income is between four and seven dollars.”

Quite aside from representing an irreversible interruption to their education, cognitive development, and – almost certainly – limiting their chances of securing better jobs later in life – the child labour epidemic is harming young people’s bodies.

Save the Children estimates that “Around 75 percent of working children in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan reported health problems; almost 40 percent reported an injury, illness or poor health; and 35.8 percent of children working in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley are unable to read or write.”

In this climate of conflict, with the specter of hunger haunting countless families, every industry is considered fair game.

In the Bekaa Valley, for instance, landowners who used to pay a daily wage of 10 dollars to migrant agricultural workers now pay kids four dollars a day, often for performing the same tasks alongside their adult counterparts.

In urban centers, garages, workshops and construction sites are “popular” employers, with 10-year-old Syrian boys hired on a full-time basis to do carpentry, metal work or motor repairs in cities across Lebanon.

Street work represents one of the most dangerous occupations for children, with a recent survey of two major Lebanese cities identifying over 1,500 child street-workers, of whom 73 percent were Syrian refugees.

These kids earn an average of 11 dollars a day, either begging or hawking, while illicit activities like prostitution could earn a small child up to 36 dollars in a single working day.

UNICEF says child labour “represents one of the key challenges to the fulfillment of the ‘No Lost Generation’ initiative”, launched in 2013 with the aim of putting child rights and children’s education at the centre of the humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Funding For Desperate Palestinian Refugees Under Threathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/funding-for-desperate-palestinian-refugees-under-threat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=funding-for-desperate-palestinian-refugees-under-threat http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/funding-for-desperate-palestinian-refugees-under-threat/#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2015 00:05:49 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141397 UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, who says that unless someone steps in to alleviate the financial crisis facing the U.N. agency, “ it is innocent refugees who will again suffer”.  Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, who says that unless someone steps in to alleviate the financial crisis facing the U.N. agency, “ it is innocent refugees who will again suffer”. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
JERUSALEM, Jul 3 2015 (IPS)

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) faces a severe financial crisis which could see core services to desperate Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank halted unless donors step in before the end of September.

“Currently we have a deficit of 101 million dollars and, as things stand now, UNRWA will struggle to function after September because we don’t have enough money to fund even our core activities for the last few months of the year,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told IPS in an exclusive interview.

“However, following a number of stringent austerity measures already in place, we should be able to continue with life-saving, emergency services to the end of the year,” he added.“As things stand now, UNRWA will struggle to function after September because we don’t have enough money to fund even our core activities for the last few months of the year” – UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness

Due to the financial crisis, the contracts for 35 percent of the 137 internationals employed by UNRWA will end by Sep. 30 without further extension or renewal. The U.N. organisation has taken these steps to reduce costs while trying not to reduce basic services to Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank.

“UNRWA is facing financial crises on all fronts. Broadly speaking we have two sources of funding,” Gunness told IPS. “We have our general fund which funds our core services such as education, health relief and social services. Then we have our emergency funds which are for Gaza and the West Bank because there is a blockade and an occupation respectively.

“We’re also dealing with more than 400,000 displaced people in Syria, the 45,000 refugees who’ve fled to Lebanon and the 15,000 who’ve escaped over the border into Jordan.”

Following Israel’s devastating military campaign against Gaza in July and August last year, UNRWA launched a reconstruction initiative, worth 720 million dollars, at the international reconstruction conference in Cairo in October last year.

Part of the money was for rental subsidies for those Gazans whose homes were so damaged that they were uninhabitable and needed a roof over their heads, and part of it was for reconstruction.

“In February this year, we had to suspend that programme because there was a 585 million dollar shortfall. Due to the deficit not one single home in Gaza has been rebuilt, so there is a real crisis in regard to reconstruction,” said Gunness.

Last year in Syria, UNRWA launched an appeal for 417 million dollars but only 52 percent of this money was received. The shortfall forced the organisation to reduce its six cash distribution programmes from six to three.

Cash distributions have become one of UNRWA’s major emergency response programmes in Syria due to so many U.N. installations being bombed and destroyed as a result of the civil war raging there, thereby crippling its normal means of helping refugees.

With the money received for Syria, UNRWA was only able to distribute an average of 50 cents per refugee per day.

“Imagine trying to survive on 50 cents daily. It is almost impossible and although our donors have been very generous, they have not been generous enough,” said Gunness.

In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees from Syria rely on UNRWA for various things, including rental subsidies so that they can have a roof over their heads.

“We had been giving out a 100 dollar monthly rental allowance. This gets you very little in Lebanon, which is an expensive country,” Gunness told IPS.

“When I was last in Lebanon I visited a Palestinian refugee family in the poverty-stricken Shatila camp in Beirut. They were paying 200 dollars a month to live in a room 20 feet by 20 feet [6 metres by 6 metres] with a tiny bathroom and kitchen.

“Their rental subsidy was cut at the end of June and I suspect that family is now living on the street. This is the reality of the crash crisis for just one family of refugees from Syria who have been made homeless.

“And this is only one story that relates to the emergency funding UNRWA receives,” Gunness added.

“In relation to the general side of our funding, what we’ve seen over the years is a gradual increase in the structural deficit of our general fund which has led to the current deficit of 101 million dollars.”

UNRWA’s monthly running costs are 35 million dollars. This includes the salaries of 30, 000 staff members, 22,000 of whom are teachers, as well as the distribution of basic necessities for refugees such as food.

“So, unless someone steps in to alleviate the crisis, even tougher decisions may need to be made in the next few weeks and it is innocent refugees who will again suffer,” said Gunness.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Syrian Refugees Face Hunger Amidst Humanitarian Funding Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/syrian-refugees-face-hunger-amidst-humanitarian-funding-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrian-refugees-face-hunger-amidst-humanitarian-funding-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/syrian-refugees-face-hunger-amidst-humanitarian-funding-crisis/#comments Thu, 02 Jul 2015 19:33:21 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141398 Syrian children outside their temporary home, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

Syrian children outside their temporary home, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jul 2 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations’ food aid organisation, the World Food Programme (WFP), said on Jul. 1 that up to 440,000 refugees from war-torn Syria might have to go hungry if no additional funds are received by August.

WFP, the world’s largest humanitarian agency dedicated to fighting hunger, provides food every month to nearly six million people in need in Syria and the surrounding region.

“Every time we take one step forward, we fall ten steps back. I have given up the hope that we will ever live normally again. I know the world has forgotten us; we’re too much of a burden." -- Fatmeh, a Syrian refugee who fled to Lebanon three years ago
Though the agency received 5.38 billion dollars in 2014, the continuing emergencies in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere mean that needs now far outpace available funding.

From assisting an estimated 2.5 million refugees last year, limited funding has forced the organisation to scale back its operations, with the result that just 1.6 million refugees are currently receiving rations.

A United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report published in March 2015 revealed that an estimated 3.33 million refugees have fled Syria since 2014, making Syrians the second largest refugee population in the world, after the Palestinians.

The cuts come at a time when Syrian refugees are spending their fourth year away from home, unable to celebrate the annual Ramadan festival, one of the most important religious occasions celebrated by Muslims worldwide.

The upcoming winter may leave up to 1.7 million people without fuel, shelter, insulation and blankets.

WFP is fully funded by voluntary contributions from governments, companies and private individuals. The organisation reports that its regional programme in the Middle East is currently 81 percent underfunded and requires 139 million dollars to help Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and Iraq through September 2015.

“Just when we thought things couldn’t get worse, we are forced yet again to make yet more cuts,” WFP Regional Director for the Middle East Muhannad Hadi said in a press release Wednesday. “Refugees were already struggling to cope with what little we could provide.”

The humanitarian funding crisis began in 2013, when the number of Syrian refugees receiving food assistance from WFP dropped by 30 percent.

Food parcels were downsized in October 2014, following a WFP announcement in September that they have no funding available in December 2014 for programmes in Syria.

Ertharin Cousin, executive director of WFP, appealed to the United Nations Security Council and member nations in April 2015 for more funding.

“When we announced the reductions in Jordan our hotlines were overwhelmed. Thousands of appeal calls come in each day. Calls from families that have exhausted their resources and feel abandoned […] by us all,” she said. “One woman told us, ‘I cannot stay […] if I cannot feed my children.'”

A fundraising campaign in December 2014 raised enough funds for WFP to carry on its programmes through December, but in January 2015, WFP cut the amount of money in electronic food cards provided to refugees from 27 dollars to 19 dollars.

Starting this month, the value fell to just 13.5 dollars.

This is not the first time WFP has faced a funding crisis. In 2009, aid operations in Guatemala, Bangladesh and Kenya faced reductions in supply of food rations due to a lack of funding. In 2011, a similar situation occurred in Zimbabwe.

When faced with funding shortfalls, WFP suspends programmes and only provides aid to the most vulnerable groups – pregnant women, children and the elderly.

International efforts to relieve suffering caused by the Syrian crisis culminated in the Jun. 25 Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) that called for 5.5 billion dollars to fund the needs of host governments, United Nations agencies and NGO aid operations in the area.

According to the Financial Tracking Service (FTS) of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), only 25 percent of the appeal has been met.

“This massive crisis requires far more solidarity and responsibility-sharing from the international community than what we have seen so far,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres in a Jun. 25 WFP press release.

“But instead, we are so dangerously low on funding that we risk not being able to meet even the most basic survival needs of millions of people over the coming six months.”

The United States has contributed over 609 million dollars to the effort, representing 26.4 percent of the total pledged. The United Kingdom follows behind with a contribution of over 344 million dollars.

A WFP interview with Syrian refugees in Lebanon captures the refugees’ desperation:

“Every time we take one step forward, we fall ten steps back. I have given up the hope that we will ever live normally again,” said Fatmeh, a refugee who fled to Lebanon three years ago, in the WFP interview.

“I know the world has forgotten us; we’re too much of a burden. They’ve given up on us too.”

The crisis in Syria began in 2011 after security forces killed several pro-democracy protestors. Unrest followed with demands for President Bashar al-Assad’s resignation, to which he responded with violence.

The situation worsened with the rise of the armed group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in northern and eastern Syria. The country became a battleground between four forces – Assad’s pro-governmental forces, Kurdish fighters, ISIS, and rebel fighters eager to overturn Assad’s regime.

In the midst of the violence, Syrians are faced with a crumbling economy. The UNDP report revealed that four out of every five Syrians lived in poverty in 2014, and almost two-thirds of the population was unable to secure basic food and non-food items necessary for survival.

The death toll in Syria reached 210,000 by the end of 2014, with 840,000 people wounded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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High Hopes in Iran as Nuclear Talks Head Into Final Roundhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/high-hopes-in-iran-as-nuclear-talks-head-into-final-round/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=high-hopes-in-iran-as-nuclear-talks-head-into-final-round http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/high-hopes-in-iran-as-nuclear-talks-head-into-final-round/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 21:07:03 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141334 Iran's lead negotiator and foreign minister, Javad Zarif, was greeted by a cheering crowd back home in Tehran after a framework for a final nuclear deal was reached Apr. 2 in Lausanne, Geneva. Credit: ISNA/Borna Ghasemi

Iran's lead negotiator and foreign minister, Javad Zarif, was greeted by a cheering crowd back home in Tehran after a framework for a final nuclear deal was reached Apr. 2 in Lausanne, Geneva. Credit: ISNA/Borna Ghasemi

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

A final deal on Iran’s nuclear programme wouldn’t only make non-proliferation history. It would also be the beginning of a better life for the Iranian people—or at least that’s what they’re hoping.

Iranians, who are keeping a close eye on the talks, which resumed Saturday in Vienna amidst the looming June 30 deadline, believe that significant economic improvements would result from a final accord in the near term, according to a major new poll and study released here last week.“It may take a while, but the aligning of Rouhani's promises with the people’s expectations regarding the resolution of the nuclear issue will give him more tools to pursue his other agenda items regarding cultural and political opening and economic liberalisation.” -- Farideh Farhi

Majorities of the Iranian public expect to see better access to foreign medicines and medical equipment, significantly more foreign investment, and tangible improvements in living standards within a year of the deal being signed, according to the University of Tehran’s Center for Public Opinion Research and Iran Poll, an independent, Toronto-based polling group working with the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland (CISSM).

Asked how long they believed it would take for changes resulting from a deal to materialise, 61 percent of respondents said they would see Iranians gaining greater access to foreign-made medicines and medical equipment in a year or less while a similar number—62 percent—thought they would see “a lot more foreign companies making investments in Iran” in a year or less.

A slightly lesser 55 percent thought they would see “a tangible improvement in people’s standard of living” within a year.

The poll—based on telephone interviews with over 1,000 respondents between May 12 and May 28—found strong support for a nuclear deal, but that support appears to be contingent on the belief that the U.S. would lift all sanctions as part of the deal, not just those related to Iran’s nuclear activities, and that economic relief would come relatively quickly.

The timeframe for and extent of sanctions removal remains, however, a major obstacle in the negotiations, the exact details of which are being kept private while talks are in progress.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—who holds the final say on all matters related to the state—reportedly demanded in a major speech Tuesday that all U.S. sanctions be lifted as of the signing of a deal, a demand that could further complicate the negotiations.

“While there is majority support for continuing to pursue a deal,” said Ebrahim Mohseni, a senior analyst at the University of Tehran’s Center and a CISSM research associate, “it is sustained in part by expectations that besides the U.N. and the E.U., the U.S. would also relinquish all its sanctions, that the positive effects of the deal would be felt in tangible ways fairly quickly, and that Iran would continue to develop its civilian nuclear programme.”

He added that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani might have “difficulty selling a deal that would significantly deviate from these expectations.”

Tempered expectations

A 34-page study conducted by the New-York based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) also found that civil society, which continues to support the negotiations even while criticising the government’s domestic policies, is hopeful for an agreement that will end years of sanctions and isolation.

Of the 28 prominent civil society members interviewed by ICHRI between May 13-June 2, 71 percent of respondents expect economic benefits from an accord, citing increased investment and oil revenues, and gains to employment, manufacturing, and growth.

However, one-fifth of those expecting economic gains believe these benefits could be lost to ordinary Iranians due to governmental mismanagement.

In fact, a significant number of the civil society leaders were skeptical of the Rouhani government’s ability to deliver tangible results from a final deal to the general public.

Thirty-six percent of the interviewees expected no improvement in political or cultural freedoms, citing either Rouhani’s lack of authority or lack of willingness, while 25 percent of all respondents said they expected economic benefits to reach only the wealthy and politically influential.

“Mr. Rouhani is not in control,” Mohammad Nourizad, a filmmaker and political activist told ICHRI. “Whatever he wants to implement, he would first have to seek permission from the Supreme Leader’s office.”

“The expectations we have of Mr.Rouhani do not match his capabilities,” he added.

However, 61 percent of the respondents still believe a deal would grant the Rouhani administration the political leverage required to implement political and cultural reforms.

“It may take a while, but the aligning of Rouhani’s promises with the people’s expectations regarding the resolution of the nuclear issue will give him more tools to pursue his other agenda items regarding cultural and political opening and economic liberalisation,” Farideh Farhi, an independent scholar at the University of Hawaii, told IPS.

“He will still face still resistance and competition but there is no doubt he’ll be strengthened,” she said.

While the ICHRI’s civil society respondents expressed a greater degree of scepticism and nuance than the general population surveyed by the CISSM, a substantial majority in both polls argued that sanctions were significantly hurting ordinary Iranians, an effect that would only increase if no deal is reached.

“[Failed negotiations] would cause terrible damage to the people and to social, cultural, political, and economic activities,” Fakhrossadat Mohtashamipour, a civil activist and wife of a political prisoner, told ICHRI.

“The highest cost imposed by the sanctions is paid by the people, particularly the low-income and vulnerable groups.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Journalists Pay the Price in Egypt’s Crackdown on Dissenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/journalists-pay-the-price-in-egypts-crackdown-on-dissent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journalists-pay-the-price-in-egypts-crackdown-on-dissent http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/journalists-pay-the-price-in-egypts-crackdown-on-dissent/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 18:25:00 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141308 U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets then Egyptian Minister of Defence General Abdul Fatah Khalil al-Sisi in Cairo, Egypt, on November 3, 2013. Credit: U.S. Department of State

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jun 25 2015 (IPS)

The Egyptian government is holding a record number of journalists in jail, a press freedom group said Thursday, despite promises to improve media freedoms in the country.

A prison census conducted by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) at the start of this month found that Egyptian authorities were currently detaining at least 18 journalists in connection with their work. This is the highest number since CPJ began recording data on imprisoned journalists in 1990."The al-Sisi government is acting as though to restore stability Egypt needs a dose of repression the likes of which it hasn't seen for decades, but its treatment is killing the patient." -- Joe Stork of HRW

The group says that the government led by President Abdelfattah el-Sisi, who won nearly uncontested elections in May 2014, has used the pretext of national security to crack down on human rights, including press freedom.

The United States remains the country’s largest benefactor. Although the Barack Obama administration sent a critical report on Egypt to Congress last month, it still recommended that Washington continue sending 1.3 billion dollars in mostly military aid.

Asked whether the U.S. should use this aid as leverage to demand reforms, Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s programme coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, told IPS, “We would like international policy makers and institutions to insist on respect for press freedom and the complete end to ongoing censorship as conditions for bilateral and multilateral support.

“They also should speak out against ongoing press violations in both public statements and private communications with the Egyptian government.”

In an ominous sign that authorities are increasingly focusing on the internet to quash dissent, more than half of the jailed journalists worked online.

Six of the journalists in CPJ’s census were sentenced to life in prison in a mass trial of 51 defendants.

Several others are being held in pretrial detention, and have not had a date set for a court hearing. One of those is Mahmoud Abou-Zeid, who was arrested in August 2013 while taking photographs of the violent dispersal of a sit-in in support of deposed president Mohamed Morsi, in which hundreds of Islamists were killed. He has been in pre-trial detention since then and has not been formally charged.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), a primary weapon in the crackdown is the “terrorist entities” decree issued on Nov. 26. It defines “terrorist” in extraordinarily broad terms: in addition to language about violence and threats of violence, the law covers any offence that in the view of authorities “harms national unity” or the environment or natural resources, or impedes work of public officials or application of the constitution or laws.

A “terrorist” is anyone who supports such an entity – support that can include “providing information.”

Foreign reporters have also been targeted. A year ago, on June 23, 2014, an Egyptian court convicted three Al Jazeera journalists and 15 others for their alleged association with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

While the White House complained at the time that the verdict “flouts the most basic standards of media freedom and represents a blow to democratic progress in Egypt,” it did not cut off aid.

The three Al-Jazeera journalists, all of whom had previously worked for mainstream international news media, were Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, Australian Peter Greste, and Egyptian Baher Mohamed.

They were detained after a raid on their studio in the Marriott Hotel in Cairo and charged with membership in the Muslim Brotherhood and fabricating video footage to “give the appearance Egypt is in a civil war.” The three were initially sentenced to seven years in a maximum-security prison, with an additional three years for Mohamed for possessing a spent shell he kept as a souvenir.

Other defendants, mostly students, were accused of aiding the reporters in allegedly fabricating the footage. While two were acquitted, most were sentenced to seven years in prison; those tried in absentia were sentenced to 10 years.

Fahmy, Greste and Mohamed are finally out of prison, though Fahmy and Mohamed still face a new trial on the same charges of supporting the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood.

“The trial was a complete sham,” according to Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

In a scathing report issued on March 6, HRW marked al-Sisi’s first year in power by noting that arbitrary and politically motivated arrests have soared since al-Sisi, then defence minister, seized power in July 2013 from Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed al-Morsi.

“The al-Sisi government is acting as though to restore stability Egypt needs a dose of repression the likes of which it hasn’t seen for decades, but its treatment is killing the patient,” wrote Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director.

According to CPJ, the president is soon expected to sign into law a draft cybercrime bill, framed as anti-terrorism legislation, which allows law enforcement agencies to block websites and pursue heavy prison sentences against Internet users for vaguely defined crimes such as “harming social peace” and “threatening national unity.”

“The potential implications for bloggers and journalists are dire,” the group says.

The bill has been endorsed by the cabinet, and is awaiting el-Sisi’s approval to come into law.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Security Council Action on Gaza War Crimes a Non-Starterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/security-council-action-on-gaza-war-crimes-a-non-starter/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=security-council-action-on-gaza-war-crimes-a-non-starter http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/security-council-action-on-gaza-war-crimes-a-non-starter/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 21:23:38 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141293 Scenes of the aftermath of the devastating Gaza conflict, which took place during the previous summer. 14 October 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Scenes of the aftermath of the devastating Gaza conflict, which took place during the previous summer. 14 October 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

When a U.N. panel released a 217-page report accusing both Israel and Hamas of possible war crimes committed during the 50-day conflict in Gaza last July, the chances of Security Council action were remote because of the traditional U.S. commitment to stand by Israel – right or wrong, mostly wrong.

Israel carried out over 6,000 air strikes killing 2,251 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians, while the more than 6,600 rockets and mortars fired by Hamas killed six civilians and injured 1,600, according to the report.“When Israeli officials are put in the dock, U.S. officials ought to be right in there with them. Their conduct is inexcusable." -- Michael Ratner

“The death toll alone speaks volumes,” said the report by a two-member panel chaired by U.S. jurist Mary McGowan Davis and which included Doudou Dienne, a lawyer and former senior U.N. official from Senegal. “And the scale of the devastation was unprecedented.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the report as “flawed and biased”.

But at a briefing Tuesday, U.S. State Department Spokesperson John Kirby refused to comment on whether the Security Council or the International Criminal Court (ICC) would act on the U.N. report.

Kirby told reporters the United States challenges “the very mechanism which created” the panel, which was appointed by the Human Rights Council, of which Washington is a member.

“We’re not going to have a rebuttal to it. We’re certainly going to read it, as we read all U.N. reports. But we challenge the very foundation upon which this report was written, and we don’t believe that there’s a call or a need for any further Security Council work on this,” Kirby said.

Asked about a possible referral to the ICC, he said: “We do not support any further U.N. work on this report.”

Told about the United States welcoming a similar human rights inquiry on North Korea while rejecting an inquiry for Gaza, he said: “Because we’ve long said – and you know that we reject the basis under which this particular commission of inquiry was established because of the very clear bias against Israel in it.”

The question that also remained unanswered was: if the United States thinks the report is biased against Israel, does it also mean it is biased against Hamas?

“I’m saying that we object to the report,” Kirby reiterated.

Asked if the United States objects to the entire report, he said “to the foundation upon which the commission was established, and therefore the product that resulted from that work.”

Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, told IPS that once again, as it was true in the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on Gaza, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry report on last year’ s Gaza war was devastating regarding Israel’s commission of war crimes.

He said 65 percent of the 2,251 Palestinians killed were civilians and international legal requirements of distinction and proportionality were ignored.

“Yes, the report also condemned Palestinian armed groups but the overwhelming majority of the crimes were laid at the feet of the Israelis. And now what?” Ratner asked.

“Once again the U.S., Israel’s primary war-crime enabler, ostrich-like, ignores the evidence of Israeli crimes and continues to give it billions so that more crimes can be committed,” Ratner said.

“When Israeli officials are put in the dock, U.S. officials ought to be right in there with them. Their conduct is inexcusable,” he declared.

Balkees Jarrah, Counsel, International Justice Programme at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS the ICC now has a mandate over serious crimes dating back to June 13, 2014, committed on or from Palestinian territory.

Such crimes, he said, include indiscriminate attacks on civilians, whether committed by Israelis or Palestinians – including abuses during the 2014 conflict in Gaza.

The court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, is currently conducting a preliminary examination to determine whether to pursue a formal investigation.

With an ICC probe now possible, Israel and Hamas must show that they are willing and able to credibly investigate serious allegations, and hold accountable those who violated the laws of war, he said.

“The U.N. Gaza report makes clear that neither side is currently doing that,” said Jarrah.

Ratner told IPS: “Again, we will see the Security Council not take any action as U.S. vetoes are always a looming threat. But the crimes of Israel and reporting on them remain.”

The next stop, he pointed out, will surely be the ICC and this week, if all goes as planned, Palestine will submit its documentation of three sets of crimes: settlements, war crimes and treatment of prisoners.

“Israel of course will do nothing except scream that Palestine is not a state—an argument already lost,” he added.

The prosecutor can of course look into the rockets coming from Gaza into Israel as well, and it is likely that if she opens a preliminary investigation into Israel’s conduct, she will also look at the Palestinians .

While there is no real doubt regarding violations of the laws of war by Israel, and how the Gaza assaults were carried out, there will be counter arguments by it about proportionality and the like, he noted.

However, when it comes to settlement activity there is no counter-argument Israel can make. It’s an absolute war crime for which there is no defence. Ultimately, the ICC to have any legitimacy will need to take on the issue, he added.

“Let’s hope for the people of Palestine the court does it sooner than later,” declared Ratner.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Israel’s Deadly Game of Divide and Conquer Backfiringhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/israels-deadly-game-of-divide-and-conquer-backfiring/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israels-deadly-game-of-divide-and-conquer-backfiring http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/israels-deadly-game-of-divide-and-conquer-backfiring/#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2015 06:36:03 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141150 Gazans celebrate "victory" over Israel following last year’s war. Now, desperate to maintain the calm in Gaza, Israel has been conducting intermittent, off-the-record indirect talks with Hamas, which it describes as a “terror organisation”. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Gazans celebrate "victory" over Israel following last year’s war. Now, desperate to maintain the calm in Gaza, Israel has been conducting intermittent, off-the-record indirect talks with Hamas, which it describes as a “terror organisation”. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Jun 16 2015 (IPS)

Israel’s deadly game of divide and conquer against its enemies could be coming home to roost with a vengeance, especially as the Islamic State (ISIS) grows in strength in neighbouring countries and moves closer to Israel’s borders.

Desperate to maintain the calm in Gaza, Israel has been conducting intermittent, off-the-record indirect talks with Hamas through U.N., European and Qatar intermediaries despite vowing to never negotiate with Hamas which it describes as a “terror organisation”.

Israel helped promote the establishment of Hamas in the late 1980s in a bid to thwart the popularity of the Palestinian Authority-affiliated Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) which was then also regarded as a “terrorist organisation” and the most powerful and popular Palestinian political movement.

But Israel’s indirect support of ISIS-affiliated Syrian opposition groups could be an even bigger gamble.“Despite ISIS ultimately being a threat to Israel, it currently fits in with Israel’s strategy of weakening the military capabilities of Iran and Syria, both enemies of ISIS, the same way a previously powerful Iraqi military had threatened Israel”

As the Omar Brigades calculated, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) responded by attacking Hamas military targets in the coastal territory because they hold the Gaza leadership responsible for any attacks on Israel.

“Israelis, we learn, are essentially being used as pawns in a deadly game of chicken between Hamas and these Salafist rivals,” said Alison Kaplan Sommer, a columnist with the Israeli daily Haaretz.

“The Salafists refuse to abide by the informal truce that has kept the tense quiet between Hamas and Israel since the Gaza war – and Hamas is not religious and fundamentalist enough for their taste.

“Firing rockets into Israel serves a dual purpose for them. It makes a statement that they are true jihadists, unlike the Hamas sell-outs who abide by truces – and it also happens to be an excellent way for them to indirectly strike back at their Hamas oppressors. Why, after all, go to the trouble of attacking Hamas when you can so easily get Israel to do it for you?”

Israel’s dual policy of covertly supporting ISIS-affiliated Jihadists in Syria in a bid to weaken Israel’s arch-enemy Syria has taken several forms.

U.N. observers in the Golan Heights have released reports detailing cooperation between Israel and Syrian opposition figures including regular contacts between IDF soldiers and Syrian rebels.

Israel is also regularly admitting wounded Syrian opposition fighters to Israeli hospitals and it is not based on humanitarian considerations.

Israel finally responded by saying the wounded were civilians reaching the border by their own accords but later conceded it was coordinating with armed opposition groups.

“Israel initially had maintained that it was treating only civilians. However, reports claimed that members of Israel’s Druze minority protested the hospitalisation of wounded Syrian fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front in Israel,” reported the Global Research Centre for Research on Globalisation.

The last report distributed to U.N. Security Council members in December described two U.N. representatives witnessing Israeli soldiers opening a border gate and letting two unwounded people exit Israel into the Golan Heights.

The Syrian ambassador to the United Nations also complained of widespread cooperation between Israel and Syrian rebels, not only for treatment of the wounded but also other aid.

U.N. observers remarked in a report distributed last year that they identified IDF soldiers on the Israeli side handing over two boxes to armed Syrian opposition members on the Syrian side.

Despite ISIS ultimately being a threat to Israel, it currently fits in with Israel’s strategy of weakening the military capabilities of Iran and Syria, both enemies of ISIS, the same way a previously powerful Iraqi military had threatened Israel.

When the United States began operations against ISIS, a senior Israeli high command seemed reluctant to give any support and called the move a mistake.

It was easier to deal with terrorism in its early stages [ISIS] than to face an Iranian threat and the Hezbollah, he said. “I believe the West intervened too early and not necessarily in the right direction,” he told Haaretz anonymously.

“Israel is pursuing a policy that in the long term will ultimately be self-defeating. In a bid to divide Syria, Israel is supporting ISIS but this will backfire in that ISIS is growing in strength and destroying societies in its path and it will eventually turn its sights on Israel,” Professor Samir Awad from Birzeit University, near Ramallah, told IPS.

It is possible that ISIS could topple future regimes that Israel is hoping for support from, including Syrian rebels who hinted at a peace with Israel once Syrian President Bashar Assad is toppled.

Jacky Hugi, the Arab affairs analyst for Israeli army radio Galie-Zahal who confirmed on the Al Monitor website that Israel was taking the Syrian rebels side in the fighting, had a warning.

“We should stop with the illusions – the day ‘after Assad’ won’t bring about a secular liberal ruling alternative. The extremist organisations are the most dominant factions in Syria nowadays,” said Hugi. “Any void left in Syria will be seized by them, not the moderate rebels.”

According to political analyst Benedetta Berti of Israel’s Institute of National Security Studies, Israel is closely monitoring its northern front, specifically the Golan Heights.

“Israel believes that there is no current threat from the rebels as they are too busy with the Syrian war,” Berti told IPS. “However, if we extend the time frame, then the situation could change when Syrian rebels may want to attack Israel from the northern borders.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Israel, Hamas Escape U.N.’s List of Shame on Attacks on Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/israel-hamas-escape-u-n-s-list-of-shame-on-attacks-on-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israel-hamas-escape-u-n-s-list-of-shame-on-attacks-on-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/israel-hamas-escape-u-n-s-list-of-shame-on-attacks-on-children/#comments Mon, 08 Jun 2015 23:59:39 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141029 A Palestinian student inspects the damage at a UN school at the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip after the area was hit by Israeli shelling on July 30, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

A Palestinian student inspects the damage at a UN school at the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip after the area was hit by Israeli shelling on July 30, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 8 2015 (IPS)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, reportedly under heavy pressure from the United States and Israel, has decided not to blacklist the Jewish state in an annex to a new U.N. report on children victimised in armed conflicts.

Perhaps in an apparent attempt to be even-handed, he has also excluded Hamas, the Palestinian militant organisation which battled Israel in a 50-day old conflict in Gaza last July.“Facts and consistency dictated that both be included on the list, but political pressure seems to have prevailed." -- Philippe Bolopion of HRW

But an Arab diplomat told IPS any subtle attempt at comparing the two is “far off the mark.”

According to the United Nations, some 557 Palestinian children and four Israeli children were killed, while 4,249 Palestinian children and 22 Israeli children were wounded in that conflict in Gaza.

“It is inconceivable why the secretary-general should be caving in to political pressure, and more so, since he is on his way out,” said the Arab envoy.

“Is he planning to run for a third term in office?” he asked sarcastically.

Ban ends his second term as secretary-general in December 2016 and is rumoured to have plans to run for the presidency of his home country, South Korea.

Nadia Hijab, executive director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told IPS that Ban Ki-moon clearly succumbed to U.S. and Israeli pressure by not naming Israel or Hamas in the so-called “List of Shame” despite urging by rights groups such as Human Rights Watch.

What this whole episode demonstrates, however, are the limits of the “both sides” approach when applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she said.

“Yes, absolutely, both sides violate international law in their indiscriminate attacks on civilians, with the harm done to civilians far greater on Israel’s side. But only one side is occupying the other,” she pointed out.

It is ironic to reflect that had it not been for the Israeli occupation, said Hijab, Hamas would not exist today; it only came into being in 1987, after 20 years of Israeli occupation.

“In short, there would be no list of shame at all on this issue without Israel’s occupation,” she declared.

James Paul, who monitored U.N. politics for over 19 years as executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, told IPS the U.N.’s human rights programmes and policies have often been subject to pressures and censorship by powerful member states.

He said reports concerning Israel or referring to abuses by Israel have been especially exposed to such pressure from Washington.

The latest example, the report on ‘Children and Armed Conflict’, confirms this sorry pattern and damages still further the U.N.’s reputation in the turbulent Middle East, he added.

In spite of well-documented and consistent rights abuses of children, taking many forms, it appears that the secretary-general has decided to censor the draft and let Israel off the hook, said Paul.

“No wonder High Commissioners for Human Rights have had such short tenures, while the whole human rights enterprise at the U.N. is tarnished,” Paul said.

He asked: “Who is thinking about the ability of the U.N. to take leadership in the Middle East conflicts or to defend children in other sensitive zones?”

Luckily, he said, the truth is now well-known and Washington’s censorship will no longer keep it from the attentive global public.

When Ban decided to remove Israel and Hamas from the list, he was rejecting a recommendation by his Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui of Algeria, who included both in the annexed list of non-state actors and rebel groups accused of repeated violations against children.

Philippe Bolopion, U.N. & Crisis Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, expressed disappointment over Ban’s decision to override the advice of his special representative by removing Israel and Hamas.

It is a blow to U.N. efforts to better protect children in armed conflict, he said.

“Facts and consistency dictated that both be included on the list, but political pressure seems to have prevailed. We expected better from a Secretary-General who promised to put ‘human rights up front’,” Bolopion said.

In the body of the report itself, Ban was critical of Israeli actions, specifically during the Gaza conflict.

“I urge Israel to take concrete and immediate steps, including by reviewing existing policies and practices, to protect children, to prevent the killing and maiming of children, and to respect the special protections afforded to schools and hospitals,” Ban said.

“An essential measure in this regard is ensuring accountability for perpetrators of alleged violations. I further urge Israel to engage in a dialogue with my special representative and the United Nations to ensure that there is no recurrence in grave violations against children,” he added.

At a press conference Monday, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric faced a barrage of questions on the secretary-general’s decision to exclude Israel and Hamas from the list.

“Was he under pressure from the United States? What is the rationale for keeping Israel and Hamas out of the list? Does the annex carry the same weight as the report itself?

Dujarric told reporters: “I don’t think anyone was taken on or off.”

The report, he said, is the result of a consultative process within the house. Obviously, it was a difficult decision to take. The Secretary‑General took that decision, he said.

“But, I think what’s important to note is that the report that was shared today is much more than a list.

“It has a large… large report outlining issues raised [like] the shocking treatment of children and the suffering of children that we’re seeing throughout conflict zones including what happened in Gaza and other parts of the State of Palestine.”

“I think in the body of that report, the Secretary‑General expresses his deep alarm at the extent of grave violations, unprecedented and unacceptable. So, I think I would just… I would encourage everyone to not focus so much on the list, but on the report as a whole. And the report, as I said, is much more… much more than the list,” Dujarric said.

Responding to the charges in the report, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, said Ban was right “not to submit to the dictates of the terrorist organizations and the Arab states, in his decision not to include Israel in this shameful list, together with organisations like ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.”

However, the United Nations still has a long way to go, he said.

Instead of releasing thousands of reports and lists against Israel, the U.N. must unequivocally condemn the terrorist organisations that operate in the Gaza Strip, he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Fishing and Farming in Gaza is a Deadly Businesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/fishing-and-farming-in-gaza-is-a-deadly-business/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fishing-and-farming-in-gaza-is-a-deadly-business http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/fishing-and-farming-in-gaza-is-a-deadly-business/#comments Mon, 08 Jun 2015 12:50:57 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141020 Gazan fishermen Ibrahim Al Quka and his brother Sami Al Quka, who had his hand shot off by the Israeli navy even though he was within Israel's restricted fishing zone. Credit: Mel Frykberg

Gazan fishermen Ibrahim Al Quka and his brother Sami Al Quka, who had his hand shot off by the Israeli navy even though he was within Israel's restricted fishing zone. Credit: Mel Frykberg

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Jun 8 2015 (IPS)

Three Palestinian fishermen were injured last week after Israeli naval forces opened fire on fishing boats off the coast of al-Sudaniyya in the northern Gaza Strip, bringing to 15 the number of farmers and fishermen shot and injured by Israeli security forces recently as they attempted to earn a living.

The Israeli navy limits Gaza’s fishermen to a three nautical-mile zone off Gaza’s coast. However even fishermen within that zone have come under fire and been shot, injured and killed or had their boats destroyed or confiscated.“Gaza fishermen have come under fire and been shot, injured and killed or had their boats destroyed or confiscated … Gazan farmers trying to access their agricultural fields … are also regularly shot and injured, and sometimes killed”

As most of the shoals are further out to sea, Gaza’s fishing industry has been decimated and thousands of Gazans deprived of a living and unable to support their families.

Gazan farmers trying to access their agricultural fields within Israel’s 500 metre to 1 km buffer zone next to Israel’s border are also regularly shot and injured, and sometimes killed.

Gaza’s decimated economy has been further damaged by Israeli limits on Gazan exports to two of its biggest markets, the occupied West Bank and Israel.

Agricultural produce and manufactured goods used to underpin the coastal territory’s economy before Israel and Egypt enforced the Gaza blockade.

After last year’s war between Hamas and Israel, one of the conditions for a ceasefire was the easing of the blockade.

While Israel has allowed some goods to be exported from Gaza, this is insufficient to rejuvenate its economy.

Analysts and political commentators have repeatedly warned that Israel’s continued siege and restrictions on Gaza could destabilise the region further, leading to more violence and possibly a new war.

Destruction in Gaza following last year's war between Hamas and Israel. Credit: Mel Frykberg

Destruction in Gaza following last year’s war between Hamas and Israel. Credit: Mel Frykberg

A report on the situation by the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee of the Office of the Quartet Representative was released after a meeting in Brussels on May 27.

“Over a year on from the breakdown in talks between Israel and the Palestinians, there is still no tangible political horizon in sight,” stated the report.

“The last year has repeatedly presented us with reminders not just of where the flashpoints and difficulties persist, but also that in the absence of a political horizon, the vacuum quickly fills with animosity and violence.”

The report outlined how the removal or reduction of Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement, trade and access remained essential to securing economic growth.

“Movement and access restrictions, both physical and regulatory, hinder economic development in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and affect nearly all aspects of Palestinian life.”

Employment in Gaza and its economy would be boosted by Israel easing the blockade while the private sector would be strengthened. These in turn would reduce tensions and contribute to Israel’s security needs.

The failure of Hamas and Israel to reach any agreement is further aggravated by the stalemate within the Palestinian unity government due to the inability of Hamas and Fatah to reach consensus on jointly governing Gaza and the West Bank.

The rivalry between the two groups has delayed international aid, without which no reconstruction, redevelopment and economic growth in Gaza can take place.

The Office of the Quartet Representative pointed out five development areas that need to be focused on to improve the situation in the ground – an effective Palestinian government, movement and trade, reliable infrastructure, investment and sustainable land usage.

Meanwhile, Israel is continuing with new plans to relocate thousands of Bedouins in the West Bank and Israel after the move received the green light from Israel’s Supreme Court.

Some 7,000 Bedouins from the central West Bank, most of them situated east of Jerusalem, and 450 in southern Hebron will be “relocated” by force.

The forced removals have been accompanied by coercive measures such as the demolition of buildings and infrastructure on the grounds that they were built without permits, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

However, in area C of the West Bank, which comprises 60 percent of the territory, very few permits are issued by Israel’s Civil Administration, which controls the West Bank, because most of the land has been appropriated for Israeli settlement expansion.

“The Bedouins and herders are at risk of forcible transfer, a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as multiple human rights violations,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

Bedouins in Israel’s Negev settlement within the ‘Green Line’ can also be forcibly relocated after the Israeli court rejected their appeal to be allowed to stay.

“This court is not the address for creating chaos,” stated Justice Elyakim Rubinstein recently in rejecting the appeal of Bedouin residents of the unrecognised Negev settlement of Umm al-Hiran, reported the Israeli daily Haaretz.

In the ruling, Rubinstein noted that the residents – who are slated to be evicted, and whose houses are to be demolished to make way for the construction of the Jewish town of Hiran – have been living in this place for 60 years, after moving to the Nahal Yatir area in 1956 at the orders of the military governor, and that the eviction and demolition of the 50 or so structures they built will affect the lives of hundreds of people.

Despite this, the judge said he believed that the eviction was reasonable and proportional due to the fact that the land in question was owned by the state and that buildings were erected without permits.

However, the Umm al-Hiran residents argued that they were the victims of discrimination and that their property rights were being infringed.

Jews were able to obtain property rights to land on which they had settled but the Bedouins’ right to land on which they had settled was never formalised.

Edited by Phil Harris

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8.2 Million Iraqis In Need of Emergency Humanitarian Assistancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/8-2-million-iraqis-in-need-of-emergency-humanitarian-assistance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=8-2-million-iraqis-in-need-of-emergency-humanitarian-assistance http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/8-2-million-iraqis-in-need-of-emergency-humanitarian-assistance/#comments Fri, 05 Jun 2015 04:28:10 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140987 Credit: Iraqi Yazidi refugees receive help from the International Rescue Committee/Credit: DFID-UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

Credit: Iraqi Yazidi refugees receive help from the International Rescue Committee/Credit: DFID-UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 5 2015 (IPS)

As fighting drags on between Iraqi armed forces and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), millions of refugees caught between the warring groups are in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

Speaking at an appeal launch at the European Parliament in Brussels Thursday, Lise Grande, U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, said the international community required at least 500 million dollars to cover the immediate needs of 5.6 million Iraqis until the end of the year.

In total, the European Commission estimates that about 8.2 million Iraqi people are in need of some form of emergency assistance, from food rations to medical supplies. That number could reach 10 million in the next six months.

Since January 2014 close to three million people have fled their homes in a conflict whose frontlines change with frightening regularity, experts say.

“All segments of Iraqi society – Yezidi, Christian, Shabak, Turkmen, Shia, Sunni and Kurd – have been affected by the violence,” Assistant Secretary-General Kyung-Wha Kang said on Jun. 4, in a statement on behalf of Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien.

“Families have had to move several times to stay one step ahead of the horrific violence sweeping across whole regions of the country. Others do not know where they can find safety, caught in a sectarian divide that is not their making,” he added.

Add to this some 1.3 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from previous bouts of violence, as well as approximately 250,000 Syrian refugees seeking shelter in Iraq, and the scale of the required humanitarian operation becomes frighteningly clear.

Refugees are believed to be scattered across some 3,000 camps where basic services are either woefully inadequate or simply non-existent. Food supply chains have been interrupted, hospitals reduced to dust and schools converted into makeshift shelters for civilians on the run.

The situation for women and girls is particularly disturbing, with reports of abduction, systematic sexual abuse and enslavement becoming increasingly common. According to the U.N., the rule of law has completely broken down, and mass executions and rape are a daily reality for thousands.

However, the needs of the Iraqi people and the availability of humanitarian funding appear to have a negative correlation.

“Humanitarian partners have been doing everything they can to help, but more than 50 percent of the operation will be shut down or cut back if money is not received immediately,” Grande warned on Thursday.

Already 77 health clinics on the front lines of the fighting have been forced to close due to the funding crunch, and food supplies for over a million people have been reduced.

On Jun. 2, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that health agencies alone required over 60 million dollars to cover their operations until the end of 2015.

WHO officials said that IDPs were at risk of communicable diseases like measles, hepatitis and other water-borne diseases, and reiterated the need for early-warning systems, immunisation drives and awareness among refugee populations on how to prevent the spread of epidemics.

“With the arrival of summer and temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius in the southern and central parts of Iraq, WHO is very concerned about the risks faced by IDP populations and their extreme vulnerability to outbreaks, including cholera and hepatitis,” stressed Jaffar Hussain, head of WHO’s operations in Iraq, at a press conference in Geneva Tuesday.

Currently, health officials are working without the necessary infrastructure, personnel or supplies. Grants that have so far allowed the WHO to run mobile health clinics are expected to run out in June, adding another layer of urgency onto an already deadly situation for millions of Iraqi people.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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