Inter Press Service » Middle East & North Africa http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 27 May 2015 23:20:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Iran Sanctions Regime Could Unravel with Failed Nuclear Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/iran-sanctions-regime-could-unravel-with-failed-nuclear-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iran-sanctions-regime-could-unravel-with-failed-nuclear-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/iran-sanctions-regime-could-unravel-with-failed-nuclear-deal/#comments Tue, 26 May 2015 23:29:12 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140816 Representatives from Iran and the P5+1 pose for photos after talks concluded in Lausanne, Switzerland on April 2, 2015. Credit: US State Dept/public domain

Representatives from Iran and the P5+1 pose for photos after talks concluded in Lausanne, Switzerland on April 2, 2015. Credit: US State Dept/public domain

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, May 26 2015 (IPS)

Internationally supported sanctions against Iran could begin to crumble if talks over Iran’s nuclear programme fail to produce a final deal, according to Germany’s envoy to the United States.

“The alternatives to the diplomatic approach are not very attractive,” said Ambassador Peter Wittig Tuesday.“The alternatives to the diplomatic approach are not very attractive." -- German Ambassador Peter Wittig.

“If diplomacy fails, the sanctions regime might unravel…and we would probably see Iran enriching once again as it has done before the negotiations started,” said the diplomat during a panel discussion in Washington at the Atlantic Council.

The sanctions that have ravaged the Iranian economy face far less risk, however, if Tehran were seen as responsible for the failure, according to the United Kingdom’s envoy to the U.S.

“If there is not a deal because the Iranians simply will not live up to [their obligations] or [fail to] implement…then I think we carry on with the sanctions regime and in certain areas it may be right to try to raise the level of those sanctions,” said Ambassador Peter Westmacott.

But Westmacott agreed with his German counterpart that if Iran were not to blame, the sanctions regime could fall apart.

“At the same time, if we were to walk away or if the [U.S.] Congress was to make it impossible for the agreement to be implemented…then I think the international community would be pretty reluctant, frankly, to contemplate a ratcheting up further of the sanctions against Iran,” he said.

“A number of countries” already “don’t respect” sanctions and are buying Iranian oil, he added.

Looming Deadline

Ahead of the June 30 deadline for reaching a final deal, Iran will resume the negotiations with representatives from the P5+1 or E3+3 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) Wednesday in the Austrian capital of Vienna.

Talks with Iran over its controversial nuclear program have been ongoing since 2003, when France, Germany and the United Kingdom (the E3) began to engage Iran in an attempt to limit its nuclear programme.

Iran contends its programme has always been peaceful. The United States intelligence community has assessed that Iran was previously working towards mastering the nuclear fuel cycle, but has not restarted a nuclear weapons program.

“It’s a political decision for them. Not that they don’t have the technical wherewithal, the technical competence, because they do,” said the U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper March 2 on PBS’ “Charlie Rose” show.

Although Iran and its negotiating partners have made several historic diplomatic strides since an interim nuclear agreement was reached 2013 in Geneva—notably the ongoing high-level direct contact between previously hostile Tehran and Washington—the talks have yet to produce a final deal.

It’s unclear how much progress has actually been made in the complex private negotiations since a preliminary framework agreement was declared on April 2, but the parties are currently in the drafting phase.

The French ambassador to the United States, Gerard Araud, wasn’t optimistic here Tuesday.

“It’s very likely that we won’t have an agreement before the end of June or even (right) after,” he said.

“Even if we get the best deal … afterwards, you will have to translate it into the technical annexes, so it may be … we could have a sort of fuzzy end to the negotiation,” he added.

High Stakes

While domestic politics in the key capitals of Tehran and Washington could ultimately prove to be the greatest barriers to a final deal, all sides seem to be waiting until after the deadline to make more moves.

But patience is running thin among key Iranian and American lawmakers, who have made no secret of their opposition to the talks. If no deal is reached by Jun. 30, the door to a wave of domestic criticism in both capitals will once again be wide open.

Peter Jenkins, who previously served as the U.K.’s permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations, told IPS that even if Iran were blamed for the breakdown of the talks, it wouldn’t end up totally isolated.

“I doubt the non-Western world will be ready to believe that the blame for a break-down lies solely with Iran,” said Jenkins.

“They will suspect that some of the blame should be ascribed to the U.S. and E.U. for making demands that go well beyond the requirements of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. So those of them that have been applying sanctions may break away,” he said.

“In the West, however, most countries will believe what the U.S. instructs them to believe and will continue to apply sanctions if required to do so by the U.S.,” he added.

As for an impending blame-game, Jenkins said the stakes are too high for everyone to submit to a complete breakdown at this point: “I think it much more likely that they will make a herculean effort to cobble together an agreement over the ensuing weeks.”

“Both sides have so much to gain from an agreement and so much to lose if they squander all that they have achieved to date,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Terror Groups May Be Winning Digital War on Extremist Ideologyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/terror-groups-may-be-winning-digital-war-on-extremist-ideology/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=terror-groups-may-be-winning-digital-war-on-extremist-ideology http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/terror-groups-may-be-winning-digital-war-on-extremist-ideology/#comments Tue, 26 May 2015 21:10:07 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140813 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 Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 26 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations is quick to point out the increasing pace at which digital technology is racing across the world.

Six out of every seven people are armed with mobile phones – and more than three billion, out of the world’s 7.1 billion people, have access to the Internet.In February, ISIL posted a polished, 50-page guide online called “The Hijrah to the Islamic State,” that instructs potential recruits how to make the journey to its territory – including everything from finding safe houses in Turkey, to what kind of backpack to bring, and how to answer questions from immigration officials without arousing suspicion.

Still, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warns that while advanced technologies are accelerating progress, there are also emerging threats.

“Extremist groups are using social networks to spread their hateful ideologies,” he told a Digital Forum in South Korea last week.

And despite the wide digital divide, he said, information and communication technologies (ICTs) are fast shaping the U.N.’s future sustainable development agenda.

“Our food agency uses mobile phones to help farmers set prices. Our relief operations communicate emergency information over online networks. And our messages go directly to the global public over Twitter and Facebook,” he said.

But there is also an increasing downside to the wide use of Twitter and Facebook: the world’s terror networks have been more adept at spreading their politically-loaded messages of hatred and religious extremism through the use of modern communication technologies – and keeping one step ahead of the governments pursuing them.

Ambassador Samantha Power, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told the Security Council last month that groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and Al Shabaab are using the latest tools of modern technology to boost their cause.

“ISIL is showing increased sophistication in recruiting young people, particularly in virtual spaces,” Power said.

She said the group disseminates around 90,000 tweets each day, and its members and supporters routinely co-opt trending hashtags to disseminate their messages.

Nick Ashton-Hart, executive director of the Internet & Digital Ecosystem Alliance (IDEA), a Swiss non-governmental organisation (NGO), told IPS winning the digital argument, with those whose objective is the destruction of open, pluralistic societies, is a challenge.

“But online or offline it always has been,” he added.

Winning that argument requires demonstrating that secure, pluralistic societies have a better future to offer. “With respect to digital security, frankly, we are failing,” he said.

“Just look at basic international cooperation to protect people in their daily lives, from crime, fraud, and identity theft – as well as crimes like terrorism.”

The United States, he pointed out, has a backlog of more than 11,000 requests for legal assistance on all kinds of crime from the law enforcement officials of countries worldwide – and it is far from alone.

The international mutual legal assistance (MLAT) framework is simply not fit for digital purpose, said Ashton-Hart, the senior permanent representative of the technology sector to the U.N., its member-states, and the international organisations in Geneva.

Powers said ISIL even reportedly developed a Twitter app last year that allows Twitter subscribers to hand over control of their feed to ISIL – allowing ISIL to tweet from the individual subscriber’s account, exponentially amplifying the reach of its messages, Power said.

In February, ISIL posted a polished, 50-page guide online called “The Hijrah to the Islamic State,” that instructs potential recruits how to make the journey to its territory – including everything from finding safe houses in Turkey, to what kind of backpack to bring, and how to answer questions from immigration officials without arousing suspicion, she said.

“And it’s not just ISIL that is aggressively targeting children and youth – but al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, and other groups,” Power told delegates.

Last week, ISIL released a 34-minute video, purportedly from its recluse leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in which he appealed to Muslims to either join ISIL or carry out attacks in their home countries.

The online recording, the New York Times reported, was translated into English, French, German, Russian and Turkish, “an unusual move suggesting that the group was hoping for maximum exposure.”

According to the United Nations, some 600 million people were victims of cybercrimes two years ago.

And U.N. experts estimate these crimes will cost the global economy about 400 billion dollars every year.

Ashton-Hart told IPS the main global crime prevention treaty, the Convention on Transboundary Organised Crime, is starved of the funding necessary to fully implement it.

“Senior judges in the Hague tell me they cannot get the cooperation they need in basic digital evidence-gathering integral to prosecute monstrous crimes, in some cases the most grave crimes in existence.”

“If the international framework that ISIL want to tear down cannot manage these fundamentals, how can we expect to win the broader argument over extremism?” he asked.

He also said creating the practical measures that underpin trust between societies in basic law enforcement and baseline cybersecurity is not optional “and yet we still have more than 200 processes related to these issues without any structured, effective coordination between them to ensure sustainable, win-win outcomes.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Accusations of ‘Apartheid’ Cause Israelis to Backpedalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/accusations-of-apartheid-cause-israelis-to-backpedal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=accusations-of-apartheid-cause-israelis-to-backpedal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/accusations-of-apartheid-cause-israelis-to-backpedal/#comments Sun, 24 May 2015 16:24:49 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140792 Azzum Atme checkpoint border crossing from the West Bank into Israel, where hundreds of Palestinian labourers cross into Israel each day using Israeli buses. These labourers already face long delays at the checkpoint and if they are banned from Israeli buses their trips will take even longer. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Azzum Atme checkpoint border crossing from the West Bank into Israel, where hundreds of Palestinian labourers cross into Israel each day using Israeli buses. These labourers already face long delays at the checkpoint and if they are banned from Israeli buses their trips will take even longer. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, May 24 2015 (IPS)

A  decision by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) to segregate buses in the occupied West Bank has backfired after causing an uproar in Israel’s Knesset, or parliament, and political damage on the international stage.

This came as Israel faces mounting international criticism over its land expropriation and settlement building in the West Bank, and other forms of discrimination levelled against Palestinians.

Israel’s new extreme right-wing government is also being attacked on the domestic front with liberal Israelis, and Israeli NGOs involved in human rights, accusing the government of damaging Israel’s image and values.“The EU is Israel’s biggest trading partner and the threat of economic sanctions on Israel is a language the Israeli government understands far more than empty threats from the Americans who never followed any criticism of the Israeli government with any action” – Prof Samir Awad, political scientist at Birzeit University

Israeli settlers in the West Bank have been waging a campaign to prohibit Palestinians, particularly labourers who work in Israel, from using their buses in the occupied West Bank for over a year, saying that they represented a security threat, refused to give up their seats for Israelis and expressed sexual interest in Israeli women.

Last week, approval was given for buses to be segregated but after the backlash the plan was quickly scrapped.

However, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon quickly denied that segregation or racism had anything to do with the issue and that the decision to ban Palestinians from Israeli buses had only been based on “security” needs.

Neither has Ya’alon given up on the plan. He intends to instruct the IDF to come up with a new plan to cover all 13 crossing points from the West Bank into Israel.

This development came simultaneously as European Union foreign policy head Federica Mogherini paid a 24-hour visit May 20-21 to Jerusalem and Ramallah in an effort to push the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward, stating that Europe wanted to play a more prominent role in the process.

But behind Mogherini’s visit was growing approval within the European Union for more pressure to be exerted on Israel to stop expropriating land from the Palestinians to build more illegal Israeli settlements and enlarge current ones.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry was on the defensive following its perception of bias from the European Union.

“The Israeli government will not be pressured by the European Union into making any concessions with the Palestinians in regards to the peace process,” said a spokesman from Israel’s Foreign Ministry – who insisted on remaining anonymous due to “ongoing problems at the ministry”.

“If the EU exerts one-sided pressure on Israel, without putting any pressure on the Palestinians, the situation will backfire because it will allow the Palestinians to avoid direct negotiations with us at the negotiating table,” the spokesman told IPS.

“Any future peace negotiations will have to involve face to face talks between the Palestinians and us. We will accept nothing less.”

Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, quoting a mediaeval biblical scholar, instructed all Israeli diplomats not to apologise for Israel’s occupation, stating that “all of the land (meaning East Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories) belonged to Israel.

As Israel finds itself painted into a corner politically, Palestinian and Israeli analysts have been debating whether there would be any European pressure on Israel and whether that pressure would have any effect.

Political scientist Prof Samir Awad from Birzeit University, near Ramallah, believes that the European Union will be able to successfully pressure the Israeli government, despite its extremism.

“The EU is Israel’s biggest trading partner and the threat of economic sanctions on Israel is a language the Israeli government understands far more than empty threats from the Americans who never followed any criticism of the Israeli government with any action,” Awad told IPS.

“EU pressure on Israel will also be buoyed by the fact that a number of EU countries have officially recognised a Palestinian state while others have recognised a state in principle and are critical of Israel’s continued occupation and land expropriation in the West Bank,” added Awad.

However, political analyst Benedetta Berti, a research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, is not convinced that the European Union will succeed in pushing Israel to any negotiating table.

“If we look at their record so far there has been a lot of rhetoric but not much actual action. So far, 16 out of the 28 EU ministers have told Mogherini to go ahead with labelling settlement goods exported to Europe,” Berti told IPS.

“It hasn’t happened yet as they have to get 20 of the 28 EU ministers on board for that and due to the divisions in the EU over Israel I’m not sure that it will happen in the near future,” explained Berti.

Meanwhile, an Israeli rights group has accused the Israeli authorities of being indifferent to attacks on Palestinians by Israeli settlers and security forces.

“Most cases of violent crimes against Palestinians not only go unpunished – but often are completely ignored by the authorities. Even when criminal investigations against soldiers accused of such offences are opened, they almost always fail,” said Yesh Din, a volunteer organisation working to defend the human rights of Palestinian civilians under Israeli occupation.

The groups said that approximately 94 percent of criminal investigations launched by the IDF against soldiers suspected of criminal violent activity against Palestinians, and their property, are closed without any indictments. In the rare cases that indictments are served, conviction leads to very light sentencing.

“Moreover, Palestinians who attempt to file complaints about crimes committed against them face staggering obstacles in their way. The complete absence of military police stations open to the Palestinian public in the West Bank, for example, makes it literally impossible for Palestinians to file complaints directly with the military police,” stated Yesh Din.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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U.S. Hosts Arms Bazaar at White House Arab Summithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/u-s-hosts-arms-bazaar-at-white-house-arab-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-hosts-arms-bazaar-at-white-house-arab-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/u-s-hosts-arms-bazaar-at-white-house-arab-summit/#comments Fri, 15 May 2015 18:24:13 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140656 U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry chats with Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia on Mar. 5, 2015, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, before the two and their counterparts attended a meeting of the regional Gulf Cooperation Council. Credit: U.S. State Department/public domain

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry chats with Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia on Mar. 5, 2015, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, before the two and their counterparts attended a meeting of the regional Gulf Cooperation Council. Credit: U.S. State Department/public domain

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 15 2015 (IPS)

When the United States sells billions of dollars in sophisticated arms to Arab nations, they are conditioned on two key factors: no weapons with a qualitative military edge over Israel will ever be sold to the Arabs, nor will they receive any weapons that are not an integral part of the U.S. arsenal.

But against the backdrop of a White House summit meeting of Arab leaders at Camp David this week, the administration of President Barack Obama confessed it has dispensed with rule number two.“This raises some major questions about the seeming lack of arms control in the region and the potential risks of further one-sided procurement of advanced weapons by GCC states." -- Pieter Wezeman

According to Colin Kahl, national security advisor to Vice-President Joe Biden, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) flies the most advanced U.S.-made F-16 fighter planes in the world.

“They’re more advanced than the ones our Air Force flies,” he told reporters at a U.S. State Department briefing early this week, without going into specifics.

The six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia – which participated in the summit were, not surprisingly, promised more weapons, increased military training and a pledge to defend them against missile strikes, maritime threats and cyberattacks from Iran.

An equally important reason for beefing up security in the region is to thwart any attacks on GCC countries by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“I am reaffirming our ironclad commitment to the security of our Gulf partners,” President Obama told reporters at a news conference, following the summit Thursday.

But he left the GCC leaders disappointed primarily because the United States was not willing to sign any mutual defence treaties with the six Arab nations – modeled on the lines of similar treaties U.S. has signed with Japan and South Korea.

Still, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Kuwait (along with Pakistan) are designated “major non-NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) allies.”

Kahl told reporters: “This administration has worked extraordinarily closely with the Gulf states to make sure they had access to state-of-the-art armaments.”

He said that although the U.S. has not entertained requests for F-35s, described as the most advanced fighter plane with the U.S. Air Force, “but keep in mind under this administration we moved forward on a package for the Saudis that will provide them the most advanced F-15 aircraft in the region.”

Taken as a whole, Kahl said, the GCC last year spent nearly 135 billion dollars on their defence, and the Saudis alone spent more than 80 billion dollars.

In comparison, the Iranians spent something like 15 billion dollars on their defence, said Kahl, trying to allay the fears of GCC countries, which have expressed strong reservations about an impending nuclear deal the U.S. and other big powers are negotiating with Iran.

Still, arms suppliers such as France and Britain have been feverishly competing with the United States for a share of the rising arms market in the Middle East, with continued turmoil in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen.

Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher, Arms and Military Expenditure Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told IPS that GCC countries have long procured weapons from both the U.S. and several European countries.

Qatar is probably the one country in the GCC where U.S. military equipment makes up a low share of its military equipment and instead it has been more dependent on French, British and other European arms, he pointed out.

Last year, Qatar ordered a large amount of new arms from suppliers in Europe, the U.S. and Turkey, in which U.S. equipment was significantly more important than it had been in the decades before in Qatari arms procurement.

“None of the GCC countries has been mainly dependent on a single arms supplier in the past four to five decades. The U.S., UK and France have long been the main suppliers to the GCC, competing against each other,” he added.

In an article last week on the GCC summit, William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and a senior advisor to the Security Assistance Monitor, described it as “an arms fair, not diplomacy.”

He said the Obama administration, in its first five years in office, entered into formal agreements to transfer over 64 billion dollars in arms and defence services to GCC member states, with about three-quarters of that total going to Saudi Arabia.

He said items on offer to GCC states have included fighter aircraft, attack helicopters, radar planes, refueling aircraft, air-to-air missiles, armored vehicles, artillery, small arms and ammunition, cluster bombs, and missile defence systems.

On any given day, Kahl said, the United States has about 35,000 U.S. forces in the Gulf region.

“As I speak, the USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group is there. The USS Normandy Guided Missile Cruiser, the USS Milius Aegis ballistic missile defense destroyer, and a number of other naval assets are in the region,” he said.

“And we have 10 Patriot batteries deployed to the Gulf region and Jordan, as well as AN/TPY-2 radar, which is an extraordinarily powerful radar to be able to track missiles fired basically from anywhere in the region.”

The mission of all of these forces, he said, ”is to defend our partners, to deter aggression, to maintain freedom of navigation, and to combat terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.”

Still, in the spreading Middle East arms market, it is business as usual both to the French and the British.

Wezeman told IPS Qatar has acquired the Rafale to replace its Mirage-2000 aircraft which France supplied about 20 years ago.

The UAE has been considering the purchase of Rafale to replace Mirage-2000 aircraft procured about 10 years ago from France.

Similarly Saudi Arabia has in the past decade ordered British Typhoon combat aircraft and U.S. F-15SAs, just like it ordered British Tornado combat aircraft and U.S. F-15Cs in the 1980s and 1990s.

Oman has recently ordered U.S. F-16s and British Typhoon aircraft to replace older U.S. F-16s and replace UK supplied Jaguar aircraft.

“The same arms acquisition patterns can be seen for land and naval military equipment. It would be a real change if the GCC countries would start large-scale procurement of arms from Russia and China. This has, however, not yet happened,” said Wezeman, who scrupulously tracks weapons sales to the Middle East.

He said access to certain technology has occasionally been one of several reasons for the GCC countries turning to Europe, as the United States tried to maintain a so-called ‘Qualitative Military Edge’ for Israel, in which it refused to supply certain military technology to Arab states which was considered particularly threatening to Israel.

He said for a while the U.S. was not willing to supply air launched cruise missiles with ranges of about 300 km to Arab states. Instead Saudi Arabia and the UAE turned to the UK and France for such weapons and the aircraft to integrate them on.

However, the U.S. has now become less restrictive in this regard and has agreed to supply certain types of cruise missiles to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Finally, what is particularly interesting is that U.S. officials once again emphasise the military imbalance in the Gulf region when mentioning that GCC states’ military spending is an estimated nine times higher than that of Iran (figures which are roughly confirmed by SIPRI data).

“This raises some major questions about the seeming lack of arms control in the region and the potential risks of further one-sided procurement of advanced weapons by GCC states,” he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Press Freedom Groups Denounce NSA Spying on AJ Bureau Chiefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/press-freedom-groups-denounce-nsa-spying-on-aj-bureau-chief/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=press-freedom-groups-denounce-nsa-spying-on-aj-bureau-chief http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/press-freedom-groups-denounce-nsa-spying-on-aj-bureau-chief/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 18:14:45 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140601 A slide dated June 2012 from a National Security Agency PowerPoint presentation bears Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan’s photo, name, and a terror watch list identification number, and labels him a “member of Al-Qa’ida” as well as the Muslim Brotherhood. It also notes that he “works for Al Jazeera.” Courtesy of the Intercept

A slide dated June 2012 from a National Security Agency PowerPoint presentation bears Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan’s photo, name, and a terror watch list identification number, and labels him a “member of Al-Qa’ida” as well as the Muslim Brotherhood. It also notes that he “works for Al Jazeera.” Courtesy of the Intercept

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, May 12 2015 (IPS)

Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan doesn’t deny that he’s had contact with terrorist groups. In fact, it would have been rather difficult to do his job otherwise.

But the fact that Zaidan is a respected investigative journalist and the Islamabad bureau chief for Al Jazeera didn’t seem to faze the U.S. National Security Agency, which not only spied on him, but went as far as to brand him a likely member of Al Qaeda and put him on a watch list.“This is the reality under which we live. Government agencies are relatively autonomous and attempts to control them are ludicrous." -- Bob Dietz of CPJ

The revelations emerged late last week as part of the thousands of classified documents leaked by former NSA employee Edward Snowden.

“Given that Pakistan has been consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, the news of Zaidan’s surveillance further adds to the fear, restricting press freedom,” said Furhan Hussain, manager of the Digital Rights and Freedom of Expression programme at Bytes for All, a Pakistani human rights group.

“Equally alarming, in this case, is the fact that by compromising the information of respected journalists, such spying also weakens the safety of their sources and media networks,” he told IPS. “Zaidan’s communications intercept took place through the invasive gathering and analysis of his metadata, a technique which has been frequently responsible for drone-led non-transparent persecution of hundreds of people.

“While it is often claimed that the state of Pakistan has failed to effectively protest against these violations, it may also be important to raise questions about the possible role of the state in facilitating the NSA to access vast amounts of data of those residing within its borders, in the context of its third-party SIGINT partnership.”

Other press freedom groups said the case was just one more in a long-running pattern of civil liberties abuses.

“Given the flood of disclosures over the past two years about the NSA’s vast range of mass and intrusive surveillance techniques and targets, it is unsurprising, but nevertheless shocking, that the intelligence agency thought it appropriate to use its capabilities to spy on an eminent journalist,” Carly Nyst, Legal Director of Privacy International, told IPS.

“This case is illustrative of the grave dangers of allowing security services to exercise immense powers in the absence of proper scrutiny. By placing members of the media, who themselves play an essential accountability role, particularly in areas of conflict, under surveillance, the NSA has undermined the very values it is charged with promoting – security, democracy, and free flow of information.

“Without democratic accountability, spy agencies will continue to sacrifice civil liberties in the name of strategic gain, without sparing a thought to the critical journalistic freedom caught in the cross hairs,” she added.

It’s not the first time the NSA has targeted Al Jazeera. Based on leaked documents, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported in 2009 that it had hacked into the news agency’s internal communication system.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, NSA whistleblower Russell Tice claimed in 2009 that in fact, the agency makes it a point to target journalists and news agencies.

Zaidan was targeted under the ominously titled SKYNET programme, which monitors bulk call records and searches the metadata for particular patterns.

“It’s this kind of big, sweeping data gathering that worries us the most,” Bob Dietz, Asia programme coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, told IPS.

“If someone were to track my behavior and all the people I’ve come into contact with over the last 20 years, I imagine I would come up on some sort of chart ranking very high,” he said wryly.

Dietz doesn’t expect the situation to change anytime soon, regardless of who occupies the White House.

“This is the reality under which we live. Government agencies are relatively autonomous and attempts to control them are ludicrous…whether or not there are laws protecting us,” he said.

Thomas Hughes, executive director of the London-based ARTICLE 19, said his group is deeply concerned by the Zaidan spying revelations.

“According to statements from Al Jazeera and colleagues from other networks, Zaidan is a journalist of longstanding professional reputation. Surveillance of journalists has a serious chilling effect on freedom of expression, impeding the crucial role journalists play in uncovering wrongdoing and holding governments to account for their actions,” he told IPS.

“Compromising the confidentially of sources also seriously undermines the ability of journalists to perform their work and potentially endangers the wellbeing and safety of those sources.”

Indeed, as noted by the Intercept, which broke the allegations, Zaidan’s reporting focused on the Taliban and Al Qaeda, including several high-profile interviews with senior Al Qaeda leaders.

In strenuously denying the allegations, he patiently explained, “For us to be able to inform the world, we have to be able to freely contact relevant figures in the public discourse, speak with people on the ground, and gather critical information.

“Any hint of government surveillance that hinders this process is a violation of press freedom and harms the public’s right to know,” he wrote in a response to the Intercept. “To assert that myself, or any journalist, has any affiliation with any group on account of their contact book, phone call logs, or sources is an absurd distortion of the truth and a complete violation of the profession of journalism.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Analysis: Global Politics at a Turning Point – Part 2http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/analysis-global-politics-at-a-turning-point-part-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=analysis-global-politics-at-a-turning-point-part-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/analysis-global-politics-at-a-turning-point-part-2/#comments Sun, 10 May 2015 11:35:42 +0000 Prem Shankar Jha http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140542

Prem Shankar Jha is an eminent Indian journalist based in New Delhi. He is also the author of numerous books, including The Twilight of the Nation State: Globalisation, Chaos, and War (2006). In this two-part analysis, he puts the April nuclear framework agreement reached between the United States and Iran in context.

By Prem Shankar Jha
NEW DELHI, May 10 2015 (IPS)

In the following months, reports of the use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces multiplied. The most serious was an allegation that the Syrian army had used sarin gas on Mar. 19, 2013 at Khan al Assal, north of Aleppo, and in a suburb of Damascus against its opponents. This was followed by two more allegations of small attacks in April.

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Prem Shankar Jha

Seymour Hersh has reported that in May 2013, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan visited Obama, accompanied by his intelligence chief, and pressed him to live up to his “red line” commitment to punish Syria if it used chemical weapons.

But by then U.S. intelligence knew, and had conveyed to Barack Obama,  that it was Turkey’s secret service, MIT, that had been working with the Nusra front to set up facilities to  manufacture sarin, and had obtained two kilograms of the deadly gas for it from Eastern Europe, with funds provided by Qatar. Obama therefore remained unmoved.

Israel’s role in the planned destruction of Syria was to feed false intelligence to the U.S. administration and lawmakers to persuade them that Syria deserved to be destroyed.

On May 13, 2013, Republican Senator John McCain paid a surprise visit to Idlib on the Syria-Turkey border to meet whom he believed were moderate leaders of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Photos and videos posted on the web after the visit and resurrected after the rise of the Islamic States (IS) showed that two of the five leaders whom he actually met were Mohammed Nour, the spokesman of ‘Northern Storm’ an offshoot of the brutal Jabhat Al Nusra, and Ammar al Dadhiki, aka Abu Ibrahim, a key member of the organisation. The third was Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, known as the ‘Caliph of the Islamic State’.“Israel’s role in the planned destruction of Syria was to feed false intelligence to the U.S. administration and lawmakers to persuade them that Syria deserved to be destroyed”

The visit had been organised by Salim Idris, self-styled Brigadier General of the FSA, and the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF), a U.S. not-for-profit organisation that is a passionate advocate for arming the ‘moderate’ FSA.

McCain probably did not know whom he was meeting , but the same could not be said of Idris and SETF, because when McCain met them, Nusra was already on the banned list  and Baghdadi was on the U.S. State Department’s list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists, with a reward of 10 million dollars on his head. What is more, by then he had been the Emir of IS for the previous six weeks.

As for the SETF, investigations of its connections by journalists after the McCain videos went viral on the internet showed a deep connection to AIPAC.  Until these exposure made it ‘correct’ its web page, one of its email addresses was “syriantaskforce.torahacademybr.org”.

The “torahacademybr.org” URL belongs to the Torah Academy of Boca Raton, Florida, whose academic goals notably include “inspiring a love and commitment to Eretz Yisroel [Land of Israel] .” SETF’s director was also closely associated with AIPC’s think tank, the Washington Institute of Near East Policy (WINEP).

When Obama ‘postponed’ the attack on Syria on the grounds that he had to obtain the approval of Congress first, Israel’s response was blind fury.

Obama had informed Netanyahu of his decision on Aug. 30, four hours before he referred it to Congress and bound him to secrecy. But Netanyahu’s housing minister, Uri Ariel, gave full vent to it the next morning in a radio interview, saying: “You don’t have to wait until tens of thousands more children die before intervening in Syria.”

Ariel went on to say; “When you throw gas at the population, it means you know you’re going to murder thousands of women, children indiscriminately. [Syrian President Bashar Assad] is a murderous coward. Take him out.”

Netanyahu reprimanded Ariel because he did not want Israel to be seen to be pushing the United States into war, but by then there was no room left for doubt that this is exactly what he and his government had been trying to do.

For, on Aug. 27, alongside U.S. foreign minister John Kerry’s denunciation of the Ghouta sarin gas attack, the right-wing daily, Tims of Israel, had published three stories quoting defence officials, titled ‘Israeli intelligence seen as central to US case against Syria’; IDF intercepted Syrian regime chatter on chemical attack’; and, significantly, For Israel US response on Syria may be a harbinger for Iran’.

The hard “information” that had tilted the balance was contained in the second story: a retired Mossad agent who refused to be named, told another German magazine, Focus, that a squad specialising in wire-tapping within the IDF’s elite ‘8200 intelliogence unit’ had intercepted a conversation between high-ranking officials discussing the sue of chemical agents at the time of the attack.

The similarity of method between this and the earlier leak to Der Spiegel makes it likely that it too was part of an Israeli disinformation campaign designed to trigger a fatal assault on Assad.

Obama gave his first hint that he intended to reverse the [George W.] Bush doctrine while talking to reporters on a tour of Asia in April 2014: “Why is it,” he observed, “that everybody is so eager to use military force after we’ve gone through a decade of war at enormous cost to our troops and our budget?”

He unveiled the change in a graduation day speech at West Point on May 28, 2014. “Here’s my bottom line”, he said. ”America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will. The military that you have joined is, and always will be, the backbone of that leadership.

“But U.S. military action cannot be the only – or even primary – component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.

“And because the costs associated with military action are so high, you should expect every civilian leader – and especially your Commander-in-Chief – to be clear about how that awesome power should be used.”

Obama’s choice of venue was not accidental, because it was here that Bush had announced the United States’ first strike security doctrine 12 years earlier.

Obama’s repudiation of the Bush doctrine sent a ripple of shock running through the U.S. political establishment. Republicans denounced him for revealing America’s weakness and emboldening its enemies. But a far more virulent denunciation came from Hilary Clinton, the front runner for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2016.

“Great nations need strong organising principles”, she said in an interview with The Atlantic, “’Don’t do stupid stuff’ (Obama’s favourite phrase) is not an organising principle.”

Netanyahu got the message: he may have lost the U.S. president, but Israel’s, more specifically the Israeli right’s, constituency in the United States remained undented. No matter which party came to power in the next election, he could continue his tirade against Iran and be guaranteed a sympathetic hearing.

Since then he has barely bothered to hide his contempt for Obama and spared no effort to turn him, prematurely, into a lame duck President.

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

* The first part of this two-part analysis can be accessed here.

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Analysis: Global Politics at a Turning Point – Part 1http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/analysis-global-politics-at-a-turning-point-part-1/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=analysis-global-politics-at-a-turning-point-part-1 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/analysis-global-politics-at-a-turning-point-part-1/#comments Sun, 10 May 2015 10:53:11 +0000 Prem Shankar Jha http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140539

Prem Shankar Jha is an eminent Indian journalist based in New Delhi. He is also the author of numerous books, including The Twilight of the Nation State: Globalisation, Chaos, and War (2006). In this two-part analysis, he puts the April nuclear framework agreement reached between the United States and Iran in context.

By Prem Shankar Jha
NEW DELHI, May 10 2015 (IPS)

President Barack Obama’s Nowroz greeting to the Iranian people earlier this year was the first clear indication to the world that the United States and Iran were very close to agreement on the contents of the nuclear agreement they had been working towards for the previous 16 months.

In contrast to two earlier messages which were barely veiled exhortations to Iranians to stand up to their obscurantist leaders, Obama urged “the peoples and the leaders of Iran” to avail themselves of “the best opportunity in decades to pursue a different relationship between our countries.”

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Prem Shankar Jha

This moment, he warned, “may not come again soon (for) there are people in both our countries and beyond, who oppose a diplomatic solution.”

Barely a fortnight later that deal was done. Iran had agreed to a more than two-thirds reduction in the number of centrifuges it would keep, although a question mark still hung over the timing of the lifting of sanctions against it. The agreement came in the teeth of opposition from hardliners in both Iran and the United States.

Looking back at Obama’s unprecedented overtures to Iran, his direct phone call to President Hassan Rouhani – the first of its kind in 30 years – and his letter to Ayatollah Khamenei in November last year, it is clear in retrospect that they were products of  a rare meeting of minds between him and  Rouhani and their foreign ministers John Kerry and Muhammad Jawad Zarif that may have occurred as early as  their first meetings in September 2013.

The opposition to the deal within the United States proved a far harder obstacle for Obama to surmount. The reason is the dogged and increasingly naked opposition of Israel and the immense influence of the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC) on U.S. policymakers and public opinion.

Both of these were laid bare came when the Republican party created constitutional history by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address  a joint session of Congress  without informing the White House, listened raptly to his diatribe against Obama, and sent a deliberately insulting letter to Ayatollah Khamenei in a bid to scuttle the talks.

Obama has ploughed on in the teeth of this formidable, highly personalised, attack on him  because he has learnt from the bitter experience of the past four years what Harvard professors John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt had exposed in their path-breaking  book, ‘The Israel lobby and American Foreign Policy’ in 2006.“Quietly, and utterly alone, Obama decided to reverse the drift, return to diplomacy as the first weapon for increasing national security and returning force to where it had belonged in the previous three centuries, as a weapon of last resort”

This was the utter disregard for America’s national interest and security with which Israel had been manipulating American public opinion, the U.S. Congress and successive U.S. administrations, in pursuit of its own security, since the end of the Cold War.

By the end of 2012, two years into the so-called “Arab Spring”, Obama had also discovered how cynically Turkey and the Wahhabi-Sunni sheikhdoms had manipulated the United States into joining a sectarian vendetta against Syria, and created and armed a Jihadi army whose ultimate target was the West itself.

Nine months later, he found out how Israel had abused the trust the United States reposed in it, and come within a hairsbreadth of pushing it into an attack on Syria that was even less justifiable than then U.S. President George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq.  And then the murderous eruption of the Islamic State (ISIS) showed him that the Jihadis were out of control.

Somewhere along this trail of betrayal and disillusionment, Obama experienced the political equivalent of an epiphany.

Twelve years of a U.S. national security strategy that relied on the pre-emptive use of force had  yielded war without end, a string of strategic defeats, a  mauled and traumatised army, mounting international debt and a collapsing hegemony reflected in the impunity with which the so-called friends of the United States were using it to serve their ends.

Quietly, and utterly alone, Obama decided to reverse the drift, return to diplomacy as the first weapon for increasing national security and returning force to where it had belonged in the previous three centuries, as a weapon of last resort. His meeting and discussions with Rouhani and Iranian foreign minister Zarif gave him the opportunity to begin this epic change of direction.

Obama faced his first moment of truth on Nov. 28, 2012 when a Jabhat al Nusra unit north of Aleppo brought down a Syrian army helicopter with a Russian man-portable surface-to-air missile (SAM).

The White House tried to  pretend that that the missile was from a captured Syrian air base, but by then U.S. intelligence agencies were fed up with its suppression and distortion of their intelligence and  leaked it to the Washington Post that 40 SAM missile batteries with launchers, along with hundreds of tonnes of other heavy weapons had been bought from Libya, paid for by Qatar, and transported to the rebels in Syria  by Turkey through a ‘rat line’ that the CIA had helped it to establish, to funnel arms and mercenaries into Syria.

A day that Obama had been dreading had finally arrived: heavy weapons that the United States and the European Union had expressly proscribed, because they could bring down civilian aircraft anywhere in the world, had finally reached Al Qaeda’s hands

But when Obama promptly banned the Jabhat Al Nusra, he got his second shock. At the next ‘Friends of Syria’ meeting in Marrakesh three weeks later, not only the   ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels that the United States had grouped under a newly-formed Syrian Military Council three months earlier, but all of its Sunni Muslim allies condemned the ban, while Britain and France remained silent.

Obama’s third, and worst, moment of truth came nine months later when a relentless campaign by  his closest ‘allies‘, Turkey and Israel, brought him to the verge of launching an all-out aerial attack  on Syria in September 2013 to punish it for “using gas on rebels and civilians in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus.”

Obama learned that Syria had done no such thing only two days before the attack was to commence, when the British informed him that soil samples collected from the site of the Ghouta attack and analysed at their CBW research laboratories at Porton Down, had shown that the sarin gas used in the attack could not possibly have been prepared by the Syrian army.

This was because the British had the complete list of suppliers from which Syria had received its precursor chemicals and these did not match the chemicals used in the sarin gas found in the Ghouta.

Had he gone through with the attack, it would have made Obama ten times worse than George Bush in history’s eyes.

Hindsight allows us to reconstruct how the conviction that Syria was using chemical weapons was implanted into policy-makers in the United States and the European Union.

On Sep. 17, 2012, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the highly-reputed German magazine Der Speigel, had learned, “quoting several eyewitnesses”, that Syria had tested delivery systems for chemical warheads   at a chemical weapons research centre near Aleppo in August, and that the tests had been overseen by Iranian experts.

Tanks and aircraft, Der Speigel reported, had fired “five or six empty shells capable of delivering poison gas.”

Since neither Der Speigel nor any other Western newspaper had, or still has, resident correspondents in Syria, it could only have obtained this report second or third-hand through a local stringer. This, and the wealth of detail in the report, suggests that the story of a test firing, while not necessarily untrue, was a plant by an intelligence agency. It therefore had to be taken with a large pinch of salt.

One person who not only chose to believe it instantly, but also to act on it was Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On Dec. 3, 2012, Haaretz reported that he had sent emissaries to Amman twice, in October and November, to request Jordan’s permission to overfly its territory to bomb Syria’s chemical weapons facilities.

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service.

* The second part of this two-part analysis can be accessed here.

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Israel Slammed Over Treatment of Palestinian Children in Detentionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/israel-slammed-over-treatment-of-palestinian-children-in-detention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israel-slammed-over-treatment-of-palestinian-children-in-detention http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/israel-slammed-over-treatment-of-palestinian-children-in-detention/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 08:15:29 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140450 Palestinian children, no matter how young, are often victims of mistreatment in Israeli police and military detention facilities. Photo credit: UNICEF/El Baba

Palestinian children, no matter how young, are often victims of mistreatment in Israeli police and military detention facilities. Photo credit: UNICEF/El Baba

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, May 5 2015 (IPS)

Palestine’s ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, has sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council demanding that action be taken against Israel over the abuse of Palestinian children after they have been arrested by Israeli security forces.

“Every single day and in countless ways, Palestinian children are victims of Israeli human rights violations, with no child considered too young to be spared the oppression being meted out by the Israeli occupying forces and extremist settlers,”  wrote Mansour. “These crimes committed against our children are intolerable and unacceptable.”

"Every single day and in countless ways, Palestinian children are victims of Israeli human rights violations, with no child considered too young to be spared the oppression being meted out by the Israeli occupying forces and extremist settlers” – Riyad Mansour, Palestine’s ambassador to the United Nations
The letter, sent on May 1, followed the detention of a nine-year-old boy, Ahmad Zaatari from Wadi Joz in East Jerusalem, who had been detained on the night of Apr. 28 for approximately eight hours by Israel police after they alleged that he and his brother, 12-year-old Muhammad Zaatari, had thrown stones at an Israeli bus.

Allegations of the mistreatment of Palestinian children while in Israeli police and military detention facilities in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank are not new.

“The ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised throughout the process,” said the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in a 2013 report titled Children in Israeli Military Detention, which recommended that 38 changes be made after consulting with Israeli authorities.

However, in February 2015, UNICEF released an update reviewing progress made in implementing the report’s 38 recommendations during the intervening period, which found that “reports of alleged ill-treatment of children during arrest, transfer, interrogation and detention have not significantly decreased in 2013 and 2014.”

In an April 2015 report on ‘Children in Israeli Military Detention’, rights group Military Court Watch (MCW), which monitors the treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention, said that “at least 87 percent of UNICEF’s recommendations lack effective implementation and the ill treatment of children who come in contact with this system still remains ‘widespread, systematic and institutionalised’.”

Defence for Children International Palestine (DCIP), a Palestinian human rights organisation specifically focused on child rights has been reported as saying that “Palestinian children are treated as mercilessly as adults. Most troubling are brutal beatings, other forms of torture and prolonged isolation in solitary confinement.”

According to DCIP, unlike Jews, Palestinian parents cannot accompany their children when interrogated, and there are cases of children even younger than 12 arriving at interrogation centres shackled, blindfolded and sleep-deprived.

Most experience physical abuse amounting to torture before, during and after interrogation, and “almost all children confess regardless of guilt to stop further abuse,” said DCIP, adding that the children are often forced to sign confessions in Hebrew which they cannot read or understand.

“Similarities in the situation in East Jerusalem and the West Bank exist because of the inevitable tensions that arise due to the prolonged military occupation,” Gerard Horton from MCW told IPS.

“You can tinker with the system as much as you like but unless the underlying causes are addressed the situation will remain the same.

“Most Palestinian children are arrested near Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. If you insert 500,000 settlers into occupied territory and the security forces’ job is to protect them, this inevitably results in the local population being terrorised,” added Horton.

Meanwhile, Israel was harshly criticised in a report of the board of inquiry regarding incidents during last year’s Gaza war released by U.N. Secretary General Bank Ki-moon on Apr. 27.

The board of inquiry concluded that Israel was responsible for the death of 44 Palestinians, and the injuring of 227 others, when they carried out seven attacks on six U.N. sites in Gaza where Palestinian civilians were sheltering.

Ban condemned the shelling attacks with “the utmost gravity” and said that “those who looked to them [U.N. shelters] for protection and who sought and were granted shelter there had their hopes and trust denied.”

According to Chris Gunness, spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the United Nations provided the Israelis with the exact locations of the U.N. facilities where the civilians were sheltering.

“The U.N. inquiry found that despite numerous notifications to the Israeli army of the precise GPS coordinates of the schools and numerous notifications about the presence of displaced people, in all seven cases investigated by the Board of Inquiry when our schools were hit directly or in the immediate vicinity, the hit was attributable to the IDF [Israel Defence Forces],” said Gunness.

However, the U.N. Secretary General also criticised Palestinian groups for putting some of the U.N. schools at risk by hiding weapons in some of them.

“I am dismayed that Palestinian militant groups would put United Nations schools at risk by using them to hide their arms. However, the three schools at which weaponry was found were empty at the time and were not being used as shelters,” said Ban.

Israeli diplomats put pressure on the United Nations not to release its findings into the war until the Israeli authorities had conducted their own investigation into alleged human rights violations. In September last year, Israel opened investigations into five criminal cases, including looting.

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed during the Gaza conflict. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed by rockets and attacks by Hamas and other militant groups.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Video of Police Beating Black Soldier Sparks Protests by Israel’s Ethiopian Jewshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/video-of-police-beating-black-soldier-sparks-protests-by-israels-ethiopian-jews/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=video-of-police-beating-black-soldier-sparks-protests-by-israels-ethiopian-jews http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/video-of-police-beating-black-soldier-sparks-protests-by-israels-ethiopian-jews/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 23:46:14 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140447 Hundreds protest police brutality in Jerusalem, April 30, 2015 Credit: Screen capture/Facebook

Hundreds protest police brutality in Jerusalem, April 30, 2015 Credit: Screen capture/Facebook

By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, May 4 2015 (IPS)

A video that caught an Israeli police officer and a volunteer shoving and punching a black soldier in uniform outraged members of the Ethiopian Jewish community and set off a clash Sunday between Ethiopian Jews and police in central Tel Aviv.

Thousands took part in the Sunday protest over the incident, including many non-Ethiopian Israelis. Police met the crowd, which froze traffic along a major highway, with water cannons and tear gas.

Some 13 people were injured and two policemen were reportedly suspended on suspicion of using excessive force.

From the video, caught by a security camera, the soldier, Damas Pakada, a member of the Israeli Defense Force, appears to be pushing a bicycle. Two officers approach him and after a brief interaction, attack him, push him to the ground, punch him, and appear to put him in a headlock. The officers look to weigh about twice Pakada’s slim size.

Pakada was initially accused of attacking the officer and arrested, only to be released once the surveillance video of the attack was uploaded to social media.

Fentahun Assefa- Dawit, executive director of Tebeka – Advocacy for Equality and Justice for Ethiopian Israelis, says that this was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but not an isolated incident.

The only thing unique about this incident, he said, is that it was caught on film. Young Ethiopian Israelis being attacked by police and then falsely accused of crimes is an all-too common scenario, he said.

“You can imagine, if there were no footage, what would have happened to this soldier?” asks Assefa-Dawit rhetorically. Pakada would have been put in jail with a record for assaulting a police officer following him around for the rest of his life.

The clashes reflected widespread frustration in the Ethiopian community which, three decades after it first arrived in Israel, has become an underclass plagued by poverty, crime and unemployment.

“Anyone who attended the protest yesterday experienced at one point in their life humiliation based on nothing but skin color,” said Mehereta Baruch-Ron, a Tel Aviv deputy mayor of Ethiopian descent. ‘We have had enough. It is time to do something.’

Shlomo Molla, a former lawmaker of Ethiopian origin, said his generation failed to make a change and that hope lies with the younger generation who were born in Israel and are less intimidated by the establishment.

“We should stop enlisting in the army, not join the police, and stop paying taxes, because if the state doesn’t take its citizens into account, the citizens are also permitted not to take the state into account.’

Children of the older generation of Ethiopian Jews speak fluent Hebrew, study in universities and serve in the army alongside native Israelis. But despite such gains, the younger generation is still struggling compared to other Israelis.

As the video of the beating went viral, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set up a meeting with the young soldier. “I was shocked by the pictures,” he told Pakada.” We cannot accept it, we will change things.”

“Maybe good things will come out of this difficult situation.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: The West and Its Self-Assumed Right to Intervenehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-the-west-and-its-self-assumed-right-to-intervene/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-west-and-its-self-assumed-right-to-intervene http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-the-west-and-its-self-assumed-right-to-intervene/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 16:31:34 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140445

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the West, led by the United States, has taken on itself the right to intervene in the affairs of others and, in the case of the Arab world, has created situations that justify subsequent military interventions which have had a high cost in both human and financial terms.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, May 4 2015 (IPS)

The ‘West’ is a concept that flourished during the Cold War. Then it was West against East in the form of the Soviet empire. The East was evil against which all democratic countries – read West – were called on to fight.

I recall meeting Elliot Abrams, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State during the Ronald Reagan administration, in 1982. He told me that at the point in history, the real West was the United States, with Europe a wavering ally, not really ready to go up to the point of entering into war with the  Soviet Union.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

When I tried to explain to him that the East-West denomination dated back to Roman times, long before the United States even existed, he brushed this aside, saying that the contemporary concept was that of those standing against the Soviet Empire, and the United States was the only power willing to do so.

The Reagan presidency changed the course of history, because he was against multilateralism, the United Nations and anything that could oblige the United States to accept what was not primarily in the interests of Washington. The fact that United States had a manifest destiny and was therefore a spokesperson for humankind and the idea that God was American were the bases of his rhetoric.

In one famous declaration, he went so far as asserting that United States was the only democratic country in the world.

After the end of the Cold War, President George W. Bush took up the Reagan rhetoric again. He declared that he was president because of God, which justified his intervention in Iraq, albeit based on false data about weapons of mass destruction (Abrams was also by his side). Now it turns out that he has an indirect responsibility for the creation of the Islamic State (IS).“The [Ronald] Reagan presidency changed the course of history, because he was against multilateralism, the United Nations and anything that could oblige the United States to accept what was not primarily in the interests of Washington”

All this starts in Iraq.  The first governor at the end of the U.S. invasion was retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner who did not last very long because his ideas about how to reconstruct Iraq were considered too lenient. He was replaced by U.S. diplomat Paul Bremer.

Bremer took two fateful decisions: to eliminate the Iraqi army, and to purge all those who were members of the Baath party from the administration, because they were connected to Saddam Hussein. This left thousands of disgruntled officers and a very inefficient administration.

Now we have learned that the mind behind the creation of IS was a former Iraqi colonel from the secret services of the Iraqi Air Force, Samir Abed Al-Kliifawi. The details of how he planned the takeover over of a part of Iraq (and Syria), have been published by Der Spiegel, which came to have access to documents found after his death. They reveal an organisation which is externally fanatic but internally cold and calculating.

After the invasion of Iraq, he was imprisoned by the Americans, and there he connected with several other imprisoned Iraq officers, all of them Sunnis, and started planning the creation of the Islamic State, which now has a number of former Iraqi army officers in its ranks. Without Bremer’s fateful decision, Al-Kliifawi would probably have continued in the Iraqi army.

What we also have to remember here is that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was rendered useless by the Cold War, and many saw its demise. However, it was given the war against Serbia as a new reason for existence, and the concept of the West, embodied in a military alliance, was kept alive.

According to a report by scholars with the ‘Costs of War’ project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies, the terrible cost of the Iraqi invasion had been 2.2 trillion dollars by 2013, not to speak of 190,000 deaths. If we add Afghanistan, we reach the staggering amount of 4 trillion dollars – compared with the annual 6.4 trillion dollar total budget of all 28 members of the European Union – for “resolution” of the conflict.

One would have thought that after that experience, Europe would have desisted from invading Arab countries and aggravating its difficult internal financial balance sheet. Yet, Europe engaged in the destabilisation of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, leading to the explosion of Jihadists from there, 220,000 deaths and five million refugees.

In the case of Libya, under the prodding of France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and the United Kingdom’s David Cameron, both for electoral reasons, Europe entered with the aim of eliminating Mu’ammar Gheddafi, then leaving  the country to its destiny. Now thousands of migrants are using Libya in the attempt to reach the shores of Europe and Cameron has decided to ignore any joint European action.

For some reason, Europe always follows United States, without further thinking. The case of Ukraine is the last of those bouts of somnambulism. It has invited Ukraine to join the European Union and NATO, prodding a paranoiac Putin (with the nearly unanimous support of his people), to act to finally stop the ongoing encirclement of the former Soviet republic.

The problem is that Europeans are largely ignorant of the Arab world. A few days ago, Italian police dismantled a Jihadist ring in Bergamo, a town in northern Italy, arresting among others an imam, or preacher, No Italian media took the pain to ascertain which version of Islam he was preaching. All spoke of an Islamic threat, with attacks being planned on the Vatican.

If they had looked with more care, they would have found out that he preached the Wahhabi version of Islam, which is the official version of Islam in Saudi Arabia, and which consider all other Muslims as apostates and infidels. This is very similar to IS, which has adopted its Wahhabi version of Islam, but is a far cry from equating Wahhabism with terrorism – all terrorists may be Wahhabis but not all Wahhabis are terrorists.

Saudi Arabia has already spent 87 billion dollars in promoting Wahhabism, has paid for the creation of 1,500 mosques, all staffed with Wahhabi imams, and continues to spend around three billion dollars a year to finance Jihadist groups in Syria, along with the other Gulf countries. This has made Assad an obliged target for the West, and he has succeeded in his claim: better me than chaos, a chaos that he has been also fomenting.

Now the debate is what to do in Libya and NATO is considering several military options. The stroke of luck this time is that U.S. President Barack Obama does not want to intervene. However, with the 28 countries of the European Union increasingly reclaiming their national sovereignty and seldom agreeing on anything, a military intervention is still in the air.

Meanwhile, thousands of refugees try crossing the Mediterranean every day (with the known number of deaths standing at over 20,000 people) to reach Europe, thus strengthening support for Europe’s xenophobic parties which are exploiting popular fear and rejection.

It is a pity that, according to United Nations projections, Europe needs at least an additional 20 million people to continue to be competitive … but this is politically impossible. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Q&A: Comprehensive Ban on Nuclear Testing, a ‘Stepping Stone’ to a Nuke-Free Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/qa-comprehensive-ban-on-nuclear-testing-a-stepping-stone-to-a-nuclear-weapons-free-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-comprehensive-ban-on-nuclear-testing-a-stepping-stone-to-a-nuclear-weapons-free-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/qa-comprehensive-ban-on-nuclear-testing-a-stepping-stone-to-a-nuclear-weapons-free-world/#comments Wed, 29 Apr 2015 17:28:36 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140382 Gamma spectroscopy can detect traces of radioactivity from nuclear tests from the air. Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream/CC-BY-2.0

Gamma spectroscopy can detect traces of radioactivity from nuclear tests from the air. Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 29 2015 (IPS)

With the four-week-long review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) underway at the United Nations, hopes and frustrations are running equally high, as a binding political agreement on the biggest threat to humanity hangs in the balance.

Caption: Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream

Caption: Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream

Behind the headlines that focus primarily on power struggles between the five major nuclear powers – the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China – scores of organisations refusing to be bogged down in geopolitical squabbles are going about the Herculean task of creating a safer world.

One of these bodies is the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), founded in 1996 alongside the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), with the aim of independently monitoring compliance.

With 183 signatories and 164 ratifications, the treaty represents a milestone in international efforts to ban nuclear testing.

In order to be legally binding, however, the treaty needs the support of the 44 so-called ‘Annex 2 States’, eight of which have so far refused to ratify the agreement: China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea and the United States.

This holdout has severely crippled efforts to move towards even the most basic goal of the nuclear abolition process.

Still, the CTBTO has made tremendous strides in the past 20 years to set the stage for full ratification.

Its massive global network of seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound and radionuclide detecting stations makes it nearly impossible for governments to violate the terms of the treaty, and the rich data generated from its many facilities is contributing to a range of scientific endeavors worldwide.

In an interview with IPS, CTBTO Executive Secretary Dr. Lassina Zerbo spoke about the organisation’s hopes for the review conference, and shared some insights on the primary hurdles standing in the way of a nuclear-free world.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What role will the CTBTO play in the conference?

"Right now 90 percent of the world is saying “no” to nuclear testing, yet we are held hostage by [a] handful of countries [...]." -- Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO)
A: Our hope is that the next four weeks result in a positive outcome with regards to disarmament and non-proliferation, and we think the CTBT plays an important role there. The treaty was one of the key elements that led to indefinite extension of the NPT itself, and is the one thing that seems to be bringing all the state parties together. It’s a low-hanging fruit and we need to catch it, make it serve as a stepping-stone for whatever we want to achieve in this review conference.

For instance, we need to find a compromise between those who are of the view that we should move first on non-proliferation, and between those who say we should move equally, if not faster, on disarmament.

We also need to address the concerns of those who ask why nuclear weapons states are allowed to develop more modern weapons, while other states are prevented from developing even the basic technologies that could serve as nuclear weapons.

The CTBT represents something that all states can agree to; it serves as the basis for consensus on other, more difficult issues, and this is the message I am bringing to the conference.

Q: What have been some of the biggest achievement of the CTBTO? What are some of your most pressing concerns for the future?

A: The CTBTO bans all nuclear test explosions underwater, underground and in the air. We’ve built a network of nearly 300 stations for detecting nuclear tests, including tracking radioactive emissions.

Our international monitoring system has stopped horizontal proliferation (more countries acquiring nuclear weapons), as well as vertical proliferation (more advanced weapons systems).

That’s why some [states] are hesitant to consider ratification of the CTBT: because they are of the view that they still need testing to be able to maintain or modernise their stockpiles.

Any development of nuclear weapons happening today is based on testing that was done 20-25 years ago. No country, except for North Korea, has performed a single test in the 21st century.

Q: How do you deal with outliers like North Korea?

A: We haven’t had official contact with North Korea. I can only base my analysis on what world leaders are telling me. [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov has attempted to engage North Korea in discussions about the CTBT and asked if they would consider a moratorium on testing. Yesterday I met Yerzhan Ashikbayev, deputy foreign minister for Kazakhstan, which has bilateral relations with North Korea, and they have urgently called on North Korea to consider signature of the CTBT.

Those are the countries that can help us, those who have bilateral relations.

Having said this, if I’m invited to North Korea for a meeting that could serve as a basis for engaging in discussions, to help them understand more about the CTBT and the organizational framework and infrastructure that we’ve built: why not? I would be ready to do it.

We are also engaging states like Israel, who could take leadership in regions like the Middle East by signing onto the CTBT. I was just in Israel, where I asked the questions: Do you want to test? I don’t think so. Do you need it? I don’t think so. So why don’t you take leadership to open that framework that we need for confidence building in the region that could lead to more ratification and more consideration of a nuclear weapons-free zone or a WMD-free zone.

Israel now says that CTBT ratification is not an “if” but a “when” – I hope the “when” is not too far away.

Q: Despite scores of marches, thousands of petitions and millions of signatures calling for disarmament and abolition, the major nuclear weapons states are holding out. This can be extremely disheartening for those at the forefront of the movement. What would be your message to global civil society?

A: I would say, keep putting pressure on your political leaders. We need leadership to move on these issues. Right now 90 percent of the world is saying “no” to nuclear testing, yet we are held hostage by the handful of countries [that have not ratified the treaty].

Only civil society can play a role in telling governments, “You’ve got to move because the majority of the world is saying ‘no’ to what you still have, and what you are still holding onto.” The CTBT is a key element for that goal we want to achieve, hopefully in our lifetime: a world free of nuclear weapons.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Middle East Conflicts Trigger New U.S.-Russia Arms Racehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/middle-east-conflicts-trigger-new-u-s-russia-arms-race/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=middle-east-conflicts-trigger-new-u-s-russia-arms-race http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/middle-east-conflicts-trigger-new-u-s-russia-arms-race/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 15:30:56 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140332 The U.S. Navy variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, conducts a test flight over the Chesapeake Bay. The F-35 programme includes an unusual arrangement with U.S. allies under which sales of the aircraft will begin as it is being deployed with U.S. forces. Credit: public domain

The U.S. Navy variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, conducts a test flight over the Chesapeake Bay. The F-35 programme includes an unusual arrangement with U.S. allies under which sales of the aircraft will begin as it is being deployed with U.S. forces. Credit: public domain

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

The escalating military conflicts in the Middle East – and the month-long aerial bombings of Yemen by an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia – have triggered a new arms race in the politically-volatile region.

The primary beneficiaries are the United States and Russia, two of the world’s largest arms suppliers, who are feeding the multiple warring parties in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and most recently in Yemen.We keep repeating the same mistake, which is to assume that our foreign policy decisions will not be answered by our adversaries. Time and time again, we’ve been proven wrong in this regard." -- Dr. Natalie Goldring

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a senior fellow with the Security Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS “once again, the Middle East seems to be mired in an arms race.”

The New York Times, she pointed out, recently published a provocative article titled, “Sale of U.S. Arms Fuels the Wars of Arab States,” mentioning several potential U.S. arms sales to the region in the near future.

“But this isn’t likely to be the whole story,” she added.

In all likelihood, said Dr. Goldring, if the proposed U.S. sales go forward, the Russian government will use them as an excuse to supply its clients with more weapons.

“It’s an easy cycle to predict — the United States makes major sales to clients such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or the United Arab Emirates. Then Russia sells weapons to Iran and perhaps Syria with the argument they’re simply balancing U.S. sales. And the cycle continues,” she added.

The six-member Arab coalition engaged in bombarding Yemen is led by Saudi Arabia and includes the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt – all of them equipped primarily with U.S. weapons systems.

The jets used in the attacks inside Yemen are mostly F-15s and F-16s – both front line fighter planes in Middle East arsenals.

The London Economist says ”oblivious to the unfolding humanitarian crisis,” Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, described as a billionaire member of the Saudi royal family, is offering 100 super luxury Bentley cars (one each) to the fighter pilots participating in the bombing raids inside Yemen.

Last week, Russia announced it was lifting a five year voluntary embargo on a long-pending sale of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, which is accused of arming the Houthi rebels under attack by Saudi Arabia and its allies.

The Saudi coalition, which temporarily halted the aerial attacks last week, resumed its bombings over the weekend.

As the Wall Street Journal reported Monday, the air campaign has transformed Yemen into a battlefield for broader contest over regional power between Shiite Iran and Sunni Muslim countries led by Saudi Arabia.

There were also reports the Russian government has offered to sell advanced surface-to-air missiles to Iran, providing Tehran with a mobile system that could attack both missiles and aircraft.

The system, the Antey-2500, apparently has the capacity to defend against – and attack – ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and fixed-wing aircraft.

Meanwhile, Russia has also continued to be the primary arms supplier to Syria, another military hot spot in the Middle East.

Historically, virtually all of the weapons systems in the Syrian arsenal have come from Russia, which decades ago signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with Damascus ensuring uninterrupted supplies of arms from Moscow.

The civil war in Syria, which has cost over 220, 000 lives, is now in its fifth year, with no signs of a settlement.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) recently released data that showed the United States was still the world’s leading arms exporter.

In the most recent period its data covered, 2010-2014, the United States accounted for 31 percent of the world’s transfers of major conventional weapons. Russia was in second place with 27 percent. No other country accounted for more than 5 percent of arms sales during this period.

According to the New York Times, U.S. defence industry officials told Congress they were expecting within days a request from Arab countries “to buy thousands of American-made missiles, bombs and other weapons, replenishing an arsenal that has been depleted over the past year.”

And Qatar is planning to replace its French-made Mirage fighters with U-S.-made F-15 jets.

Dr. Goldring told IPS one particularly troubling aspect of recent press accounts is the consideration of potential sales of the U.S.’s new F-35 stealth fighter, one of the most advanced, to countries in the Middle East.

“We’ve seen this tactic before. First, U.S. policymakers want to sell our most sophisticated fighter aircraft. Then they turn around and say we need to develop new fighters because the current technology has been distributed to so many countries.

“If we want to preserve our military forces’ technological advantages over potential adversaries, we need to show more restraint in our weapons transfers,” she added.

The F-35 programme already includes an unusual arrangement with U.S. allies under which sales of the aircraft will begin as it is being deployed with U.S. forces.

“We shouldn’t compound this error by considering even wider sales of the F-35,” Goldring said.

Meanwhile, France is negotiating the sale of its most sophisticated fighter plane, the Rafale, to the United Arab Emirates.

Ironically, as these potential sales were being negotiated, countries have been meeting in Vienna to develop implementation plans for the Arms Trade Treaty.

The Arms Trade Treaty calls on countries to be more reflective before making weapons sales decisions, taking into account their potential effects on human rights and humanitarian concerns, and considering factors such as the effect of the transfers on peace and security, among other issues.

“Middle Eastern suppliers and recipients alike desperately need to do this sort of reevaluation. Unfortunately, the recent reports suggest that it’s ‘business as usual’ in the Middle East,” declared Dr. Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

“For years, I’ve written and spoken about the ‘fallacy of the last move’ in U.S. foreign policy. We keep repeating the same mistake, which is to assume that our foreign policy decisions will not be answered by our adversaries. Time and time again, we’ve been proven wrong in this regard. It’s likely to happen again in this case.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: Arab Youth Have No Trust in Democracyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-arab-youth-have-no-trust-in-democracy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-arab-youth-have-no-trust-in-democracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-arab-youth-have-no-trust-in-democracy/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 07:24:40 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140315

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, writes that from a high point in the aftermath of the Arab Spring revolutions, Arab youth have largely lost their trust in democracy, betrayed by the return of the army to power or the clinging of the old guard to power regardless of the costs.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

The results of a survey of what 3,500 young people between the ages of 18 and 24 – in all Arab countries except Syria – feel about the current situation in the Middle East and North Africa have just been released.

The report of the survey, which was carried out by international polling firm Penn Schoen Berland (PBS), is not a minority report given that 60 percent of the population of the Arab population is under the age of 25, which means 200 million people. Well, the outcome of the survey is that the large majority of them have no trust in democracy.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

The word democracy does not exist in Arabic, being a concept totally alien to the era in which Muhammad created Islam. However, it is worth noting that the concept of democracy as it is known today is also relatively recent in the West, and we have to wait from its origins in the Greek era for it to make a comeback at the time of the French Revolution.

It became an accepted value just after the end of the Second World War, and the end of the Soviet, Nazi and Japanese regimes.

As a matter of fact, it is still not a reality in large parts of Asia (just think of China and North Korea) and Africa.

Then we have governments, as in Hungary where Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is openly preaching a style of governance à la Russian President Vladimir Putin, followed by several of his esteemers, including the National Front party in France, and the Northern League in Italy. But few have such a negative view of democracy as young Arabs.After the Arab Spring revolutions in 2012, a massive 72 percent of young Arabs believed that the Arab world had improved. The figure dropped to 70 percent in 2013, then 54 percent in 2014, and now it stands at just 38 percent

After the Arab Spring revolutions in 2012, a massive 72 percent of young Arabs believed that the Arab world had improved. The figure dropped to 70 percent in 2013, then 54 percent in 2014, and now it stands at just 38 percent.

According to the survey, 39 percent of young Arabs agreed with the statement “democracy will never work in the region”, 36 percent thought it would work, while the remaining 25 percent expressed many doubts.

It is clear that the Arab Spring has been betrayed by the return of the army to power as in Egypt, or by the clinging of the old guard to power regardless of the costs, like Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

If you add to this the fact that 41 percent of young Arabs are unemployed (out of a total unemployment figure of 25 percent), and of those 31 percent have completed higher education and 17 percent have graduated from university, it is not difficult to understand that frustration and pessimism are running high among Arab youth.

It also contributes to explaining why so many young people feel attracted to the Islamic State (ISIS) which wants to topple all Arab governments, defined as corrupt and allied to the decadent West, and create a Caliphate as in Muhammad’s times, where wealth will be distributed among all, the dignity of Islam will be enhanced, and a world of purity and vision will substitute the materialistic one of today.

This is why ISIS is attracting youth from all over. Besides, according to experts, for the terrorist to have a geographical space and run it  as a state, where hospitals and schools function and there is a daily life to prove that the dream is possible, represents a great difference with previous terrorist movements like Al-Qaeda, which could only destroy, not really build.

But the survey also reveals something extremely important. To the question “which is the biggest obstacle for the Arab world?”, 37 percent indicated the expansion of ISIS and 32 percent the threat of terrorism. The problem of unemployment was mentioned by 29 percent and that of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by 23 percent.

It is worth noting that the threat of a nuclear Iran was mentioned by only 8 percent (contrary to the declarations of Arab governments), while 17 percent consider that the real problem is the lack of political leaders, while only 15 percent denounce the lack of democracy.

It is important to note that no interviews were carried out in Iran, which is not an Arab country but is a Muslim country. However Iranian Muslims are Shiites and not Sunnis, as in all Arab countries, except for Iraq and Bahrein, and perhaps Yemen, where Shiites are a majority. Of the world’s total Islamic population of 1.6 billion people, Shiites make up only 10 percent.

It is within Sunnite Islam that a dramatic conflict is going on, where Wahabism, a Sunni school born in Saudi Arabia and the official religion of the Saudi reigning house, has now split into those who want to return to the purity of the early times and those are considered “petrowahabists” because they have been corrupted by the wealth created by petrol (they are also called sheikh wahabists because they accept government by sheikhs).

Saudi Arabia has been spending an average of 3 billion dollars a year to promote Wahabism. It has built over 1,500 mosques throughout the world, where radical preachers have been asking the faithful to go back to the real and uncorrupted Islam.

It was with Osama Bin Laden that the Wahabist movement escaped from the control of Saudi Arabia, very much like the radical Hamas movement, originally supported by Israel to weaken the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and Yasser Arafat, turned against the Israeli state. It is not possible to ride radicalism.

The survey also reveals that young Sunnis see ISIS and terrorism as their main threat, but we are talking here of a poll which should represent 200 million people between the ages of 18 and 25. Even if just one percent of them were to succumb to the call of the jihad, we are talking of a potential two million people … and this is now being felt acutely.

The polarisation inside Sunni society (Shiites are not part of that – there are no Shiite terrorists) is felt as the most important problem for the future.

In Europe and the United States, this should be the clearest of examples that ISIS and terrorism are first and foremost an internal problem of Islam and that to intervene in that problem will only unify the Arab world against the invader. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Saudis Compensate Civilian Killings with 274 Million in Humanitarian Aid to Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/saudis-compensate-civilian-killings-with-274-million-in-humanitarian-aid-to-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=saudis-compensate-civilian-killings-with-274-million-in-humanitarian-aid-to-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/saudis-compensate-civilian-killings-with-274-million-in-humanitarian-aid-to-yemen/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 19:45:14 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140265 Morocco is also participating in Operation Decisive Storm, with at least six fighter aircraft. Credit: ra.az/cc by 2.0

Morocco is also participating in Operation Decisive Storm, with at least six fighter aircraft. Credit: ra.az/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 22 2015 (IPS)

Saudi Arabia’s right hand does not know what its left foot is up to, belittles an Asian diplomat, mixing his metaphors to describe the political paradox in the ongoing military conflict in Yemen.

The Saudis, who are leading a coalition of Arab states, have been accused of indiscriminate bombings resulting in 1,080 deaths, mostly civilians, and nearly 4,352 injured – and triggering a large-scale humanitarian crisis in Yemen.“Repeated airstrikes on a dairy factory located near military bases shows cruel disregard for civilians by both sides to Yemen’s armed conflict.” -- HRW's Joe Stork

As if to compensate for its sins, Saudi Arabia this week announced a 274-million-dollar donation “for humanitarian operations in Yemen”, according to the United Nations.

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia temporarily halted its nearly month-long air attacks, presumably under pressure from the United States, which was seriously concerned about the civilian killings.

Asked why the United States intervened to pressure the Saudis to halt the bombings, an unnamed U.S. official was quoted by the New York Times as saying: “Too much collateral damage” (read: civilian killings).

The attacks, which demolished factories and residential neighbourhoods, also hit a storage facility belonging to the London-based charity Oxfam, which said the contents were humanitarian supplies with no military value.

Oxfam welcomed the announcement that “Operation Decisive Storm” in Yemen has ended. However, it warned that the work to bring aid to millions of Yemenis is still only beginning.

Grace Ommer, Oxfam’s Country Director for Yemen, told IPS the airstrikes and violence during the past 27 days have taken as many as 900 lives. More than half of these were civilians.

“The news that airstrikes have at least temporarily ended is welcome and we hope that this will pave the way for all parties to the current conflict to find a permanent negotiated peace,” she said.

“The news will also come as a massive relief to our 160 Yemeni staff throughout the country as well as the rest of the civilian population all of whom have been struggling to survive this latest crisis in their fragile nation,” Ommer added.

With instability and insecurity rife throughout the country and fighting continuing on the ground, all parties to the conflict must allow aid agencies to deliver much needed humanitarian assistance to the millions currently in need, Ommer said.

Oxfam also pointed out that Yemen is the Middle East’s poorest country where 16 million – over 60 percent of the population – are reliant on aid to survive.

The recent escalation in violence has only added to the unfolding humanitarian disaster, it said.

The Saudi air strikes were in support of ousted Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi whose government was overthrown by Houthi rebels.

Sara Hashash of Amnesty International told IPS more than 120,00 people have been displaced since the Saudi-Arabian-led military campaign began one month ago “leading to a growing humanitarian crisis.”

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters the Saudi donation will support the needs of 7.5 million Yemenis in the coming three months.

“This funding will provide urgently-needed lifesaving assistance including food assistance for 2.6 million people, clean water and sanitation for 5 million people, protection services to 1.4 million people and nutrition support to nearly 79,000 people,” he added.

The air attacks also struck a dairy factory last week, killing about 31 workers, and flattened a neighbourhood, leaving 25 people dead.

“Repeated airstrikes on a dairy factory located near military bases shows cruel disregard for civilians by both sides to Yemen’s armed conflict,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“The attack may have violated the laws of war, so the countries involved should investigate and take appropriate action, including compensating victims of unlawful strikes,” he added.

While civilian casualties do not necessarily mean that the laws of war were violated, the high loss of civilian life in a factory seemingly used for civilian purposes should be impartially investigated, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, in a statement released here.

“If the United States provided intelligence or other direct support for the airstrikes, it would as a party to the conflict share the obligation to minimize civilian harm and investigate alleged violations.”

According to HRW, the Saudi-led coalition, which is responsible for the aerial attacks, includes Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, and United Arab Emirates.

“If the U.S. is providing targeting intelligence it is a party to the conflict and is obligated to abide by the laws of war,” Stork said.

“Even if not, in backing the coalition the US will want to ensure that all airstrikes and other operations are carried out in a way that avoids civilian loss of life and property, which have already reached alarming levels.”

Asked about reports of civilian killings, Dujarric said “obviously, just at first glance, these kinds of reports are extremely disturbing when you see a probability of a high level of civilian casualties.”

“But I think all… all the violence that we’ve seen over the weekend, I think, serves as a reminder for the parties to heed the Secretary‑General’s call on Friday for cessation of hostilities and for a ceasefire, which he talked about in Washington,” he added, 24 hours before the temporary cease-fire.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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In One Terrible Weekend, ISIL Beheads Christians and Hundreds Drown in a ‘Mass Grave’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-one-terrible-weekend-isil-beheads-christians-and-hundreds-drown-in-a-mass-grave/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-one-terrible-weekend-isil-beheads-christians-and-hundreds-drown-in-a-mass-grave http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-one-terrible-weekend-isil-beheads-christians-and-hundreds-drown-in-a-mass-grave/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 10:32:39 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140254 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

As Europeans debated their policies towards the leaky flotillas steaming out of Libya, carrying most to a certain death at sea, members of ISIL were streaming a video of captured Ethiopian Christians on a beach.

One group of Christians is on their knees and shot to death. Another group is beheaded. The video bore the official logo of the ISIL media arm Al-Furgan and resembled previous videos released by the group, Al Jazeera reported.

A masked fighter is seen delivering a long statement between pieces of footage of the slaughter. The victims were identified as “followers of the cross from the enemy Ethiopian Church”.

Earlier this year, fighters pledging allegiance to ISIL released a video purporting to show the killing of 20 Egyptian Coptic Christians and a Ghanaian abducted in Libya.

According to a release by the group Coptic Solidarity, the Christians were killed for refusing to pay a tax, imposed on non-Muslims in an Islamic state who refuse to convert.

Since the U.S.-assisted removal of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has become a hotbed of Islamist violence with no central government.

With security denied in Libya, some 900 migrants made their way to the sea last week, hoping to reach Malta. When the boat capsized after a few days, many were trapped behind doors locked by their smugglers. Between 28 and 50 survivors have been found.

The Italian Coast Guard is collecting statements from other survivors, prosecutors said. Passengers were from Algeria, Egypt, Somalia, Niger, Senegal, Mali, Zambia, Bangladesh and Ghana.

The U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said that the incident could be worse than an incident last week in which 400 refugees and migrants died in the Mediterranean.

Human Rights Watch urged the European Union to act quickly. “The EU is standing by with arms crossed while hundreds die off its shores,” said Judith Sunderland, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These deaths might well have been prevented if the EU had launched a genuine search-and-rescue effort.”

In a statement released Sunday, the U.N. said that it planned action down the road but didn’t detail any immediate plans to help with the search for the victims of this accident.

Doctors Without Borders also had strong words for the tragedy. “A mass grave is being created in the Mediterranean Sea and European policies are responsible,” said the group’s president, Loris De Filippi. He compared the high number of deaths to “figures from a war zone.”

“Faced with thousands of desperate people fleeing wars and crises, Europe has closed borders, forcing people in search of protection to risk their lives and die at sea,” he said. “This tragedy is only just beginning, but it can and should be stopped.”

Doctors Without Borders will begin its own rescue effort, he added, because “as a medical, humanitarian organization, we simply cannot wait any longer.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Foreign Fighter Recruits: Why the U.S. Fares Better than Othershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/foreign-fighter-recruits-why-the-u-s-fares-better-than-others/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=foreign-fighter-recruits-why-the-u-s-fares-better-than-others http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/foreign-fighter-recruits-why-the-u-s-fares-better-than-others/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 20:13:37 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140205 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 Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

More than 25,000 fighters seeking to wage “jihad” or an Islamic holy war have left home to join terrorist networks abroad.

The foreign fighters, mostly bound for Islamic extremist groups like the Syria-based al-Nusra Front and the self-titled Islamic State (also in Iraq), come from more than 100 countries worldwide, according to a United Nations report released earlier this month.“Here, for the most part, Muslims feel they are part of the system and part of the country…they don’t feel alienated." -- analyst Emile Nakhleh

While the highest numbers are from Middle Eastern and North African countries, Western countries have also seen foreign recruits.

Out of the top 15 source-Western countries listed in February by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (I.C.S.R.), France, as well as Germany and the United Kingdom have had the highest numbers (1,200 and 500-600 respectively). Only 100 foreign fighters have come from the United States.

Why has the U.S. seen such a lower number of recruits compared to its Western European allies?

Integration vs. alienation

“In this country, the law enforcement authorities have worked much more closely with Muslim communities so that now, some elements within the Muslim community follow the phrase ‘see something, say something,’” Emile Nakhleh, who founded the Central Intelligence Program’s (C.I.A.) Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program, told IPS.

“Here, for the most part, Muslims feel they are part of the system and part of the country…they don’t feel alienated,” said Nakhleh, a scholar and expert on the Middle East who retired from the C.I.A. in 2006.

While the majority of Muslims worldwide reject violent extremism and are worried about increasing rates in their home countries, American Muslims—an estimated 2-6 million who are mostly middle class and educated—reject extremism by larger margins than most Muslim publics.

A 2011 Pew Survey of Muslim Americans, the most current of its kind, found more than eight-in-10 American Muslims saw suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilian targets as never justified (81 per cent) or rarely justified (5 per cent) to defend Islam from its enemies. That’s compared to a median of 72 per cent of Muslims worldwide saying such attacks are never justified and 10 per cent saying they are rarely justified.

Unlike their European counterparts, Muslim Americans come from more than 77 home countries, in contrast with Western European countries where Muslims are mainly from two or three countries.

Muslims in America—who make up a smaller percentage relative to the population than their counterparts in France and the U.K.— are also not dominated by a particular sect or ethnicity.

A 2007 Pew Survey also found that Muslim Americans were more assimilated into American culture than their Western European counterparts.

A majority of Muslim Americans expressed a generally positive view of the larger society and said their communities are excellent or good places to live. Seventy-two percent of them agreed with the widespread American opinion that hard work can help you succeed.

Western European Muslims are conversely generally less well off and frustrated with the lack of economic opportunities.

Ripe for recruitment

An estimated 1,200 fighters have left France to become jihadists in Syria and Iraq, according to the U.K.-based I.C.S.R., which has been tracking fighters in the Iraqi-Syrian conflicts since 2012. More British men have joined Islamic extremist groups abroad than have entered the British armed forces.

Ideologically centered recruitment—particularly online and through social media—and discontent with perceived domestic and foreign policies affecting Muslims, are the primary causes of Islamic radicalisation in Western countries, especially where Muslim communities are isolated from others.

The sense of alienation, especially among the youth of Muslim immigrants, mixed with antipathy toward their country’s foreign policy makes some Muslims prime targets for foreign recruiters.

“Algerian French-Muslim immigrants or South Asian Muslims in the U.K. feel excluded and constantly watched and tracked by the authorities,” said Nakhleh.

While surveillance programmes targeting Muslims are also in effect in the U.S.—more than half of the Muslim Americans surveyed by Pew in 2011 said government anti-terrorism policies singled them out for increased surveillance and monitoring—Muslim Americans have not expressed the same level of discontent with their lives as those in Western European countries such as France and the United Kingdom.

Indeed, the Muslim Americans surveyed by Pew in 2011 who reported discrimination still expressed a high level of satisfaction with their lives in the United States.

Conversely, French Muslims in particular complain of religious intolerance in the generally secular society.

The French law banning Islamic face coverings and burqas, which cover the entire body, resulted in a series of angry protests and clashes with police. Muslim groups have also complained of increasing rates of violent attacks since the ban became law in 2010.

A nine-month pregnant woman was beaten last month in southern France by two men who tore off her veil, saying “none of that here.” Another Islamophobic attack in 2013 resulted in a French Muslim woman in Paris suffering a miscarriage.

Obama embraces U.S. Muslims

But the U.S. government has been working to prevent its Muslim communities from feeling discriminated against and isolated.

Throughout his two terms in office, U.S. President Barack Obama has repeatedly distinguished between Islamic extremism and Islam as a religion.

“We are not at war with Islam, we are at war with those who have perverted Islam,” said Obama Feb. 18 at the White House-hosted Summit to Counter Violent Extremism.

He has also encouraged religious tolerance while calling for Muslim community leaders to work more closely with the government in rooting out homegrown extremism.

“Here in America, Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding,” said Obama.

“If we’re going to solve these issues, then the people who are most targeted and potentially most affected — Muslim Americans — have to have a seat at the table where they can help shape and strengthen these partnerships so that we’re all working together to help communities stay safe and strong and resilient,” he said.

The Jan. 7 terrorist attack in Paris, where two gunmen executed 11 staffers at the Charlie Hebdo magazine for what they considered deeply offensive portrayals of Islam, have put Western countries on heightened alert for so-called “lone-wolf” attacks, where individuals perpetuate violence to prove a point or for a cause.

The U.S. has not seen a similar major terror attack since April 2013, when two Chechnyan-American brothers deployed pressure-cooker bombs at the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring hundreds of others.

But with sophisticated foreign-terrorist recruitment efforts on the rise, Washington has increased its counter-terrorism measures at home and worldwide.

While the Islamic State and similar groups could plan attacks on U.S. soil if they see the U.S. as directly involved in their battles, according to Nakhleh, their primary goal at the moment is to recruit foreigners as combatants.

“The more Western Jihadists they can recruit, the more global they can present themselves as they seek allegiances in Asian countries, and in North Africa,” he said.

“This is how they present themselves as a Muslim global caliphate.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Struggles to Cope with New Humanitarian Crisis in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-struggles-to-cope-with-new-humanitarian-crisis-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-struggles-to-cope-with-new-humanitarian-crisis-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-struggles-to-cope-with-new-humanitarian-crisis-in-yemen/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 19:05:05 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140203 On Apr. 14, 2015, the Security Council adopted resolution 2216 (2015), imposing sanctions on individuals it said were undermining the stability of Yemen. Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany (centre), Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen to the UN, addresses the Council. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

On Apr. 14, 2015, the Security Council adopted resolution 2216 (2015), imposing sanctions on individuals it said were undermining the stability of Yemen. Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany (centre), Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen to the UN, addresses the Council. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

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

The United Nations, which is providing humanitarian aid to over 50 million refugees worldwide, is struggling to cope with a new crisis in hand: death and destruction in Yemen.

In an urgent appeal for 274 million dollars in international aid to meet the needs of some 7.5 million people affected by the escalating conflict, the U.N.’s Humanitarian Coordinator Johannes Van Der Klaauw said Friday, “The devastating conflict in Yemen takes place against the backdrop of an existing humanitarian crisis that was already one of the largest and most complex in the world.”“Obviously, in order for humanitarian aid to get in safely, we need a pause and we need an end to the violence." -- U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric

“Thousands of families have now fled their homes as a result of the fighting and air strikes. Ordinary families are struggling to access health care, water, food and fuel – basic requirements for their survival,” he warned.

Asked about the severity of the crisis in relation to the humanitarian disaster in Syria where over 220,000 have been killed in a continuing civil war, Jens Laerke, the Geneva-based spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told IPS, “We tend not to compare crises.”

“We have just launched the flash appeal [for 274 million dollars] and hope the response will be generous,” he said.

Responding to a question, he said: “There is, to my knowledge, no current plans for a humanitarian pledging conference for Yemen.”

Last month, a U.N. pledging conference on humanitarian aid to Syria, hosted by the government of Kuwait, raised over 3.8 billion dollars.

But the United Nations is appealing for more funds to reach its eventual target of 8.4 billion dollars by the end of 2015.

According to the United Nations, the conflict in Yemen escalated significantly last month, spreading to many parts of the country. Air strikes have now affected 18 of Yemen’s 22 governorates. And in the south, conflict has continued to intensify, particularly in Aden, where widespread fighting continues, including in residential neighbourhoods.

“Hospitals, schools, airports and mosques have been damaged and destroyed across the country and there are reports of serious violations of human rights and International Humanitarian Law,” the U.N. statement said

The conflict is taking a significant toll on civilians: 731 people were killed and 2,754 injured, including a large number of civilians.

The number of food insecure people has increased from 10.6 million people to 12 million; at least 150,000 people have been displaced; food prices have risen by more than 40 percent in some locations; and fuel prices have quadrupled. Lack of fuel and electricity has triggered a breakdown in basic water and sanitation services, according to the latest figures from OCHA.

“The humanitarian community in Yemen continues to operate and deliver assistance, including through Yemeni national staff and national partners,” said Van Der Klaauw. “But to scale up assistance, we urgently need additional resources. I urge donors to act now to support the people of Yemen at this time of greatest need.”

The most urgent needs include medical supplies, safe drinking water, protection, food assistance as well as emergency shelter and logistical support, he said.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters, “Obviously, in order for humanitarian aid to get in safely, we need a pause and we need an end to the violence.”

He said the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and others have managed to get planes in. Bit it’s very difficult in an active combat zone, he added.

“We will continue… we will continue to do what we can and bring aid in to alleviate the suffering of the people of Yemen.”

“What is obviously critical in order to enable our humanitarian colleagues and our humanitarian partners to do their work is for all the parties involved in this to halt the violence and to create an atmosphere, not only where they can go back to the political table, but also to allow humanitarian aid to go in,” he added.

A coalition of Arab nations, led by neighbouring Saudi Arabia, has continued with its air attacks on Yemen, where the country’s president has been ousted by rebel forces.

Early this week, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution by 14 votes in favour and one abstention (Russia), placing an embargo on arms and related materiel to rebel forces, primarily the Houthis.

The Council demanded that all warring parties, in particular the Houthis, immediately and unconditionally end the violence and refrain from further unilateral actions that threatened the political transition.

The 14 members of the Council also demanded that the Houthis withdraw from all areas seized during the latest conflict, relinquish arms seized from military and security institutions, cease all actions falling exclusively within the authority of the legitimate government of Yemen and fully implement previous Council resolutions.

Meanwhile, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid al Hussein, appealed to the warring parties to ensure that attacks resulting in civilian casualties are promptly investigated and that international human rights and international humanitarian law are scrupulously respected.

The High Commissioner said a heavy civilian death toll ought to be a clear indication to all parties to this conflict that there may be serious problems in the conduct of hostilities. The High Commissioner also warned that the intentional targeting of civilians not taking direct part in hostilities would amount to a war crime.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Q&A: Iranian Balochistan is a “Hunting Ground” – Nasser Boladaihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/qa-iranian-balochistan-is-a-hunting-ground-nasser-boladai/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-iranian-balochistan-is-a-hunting-ground-nasser-boladai http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/qa-iranian-balochistan-is-a-hunting-ground-nasser-boladai/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 09:43:27 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140191 View of Zahedan, administrative capital of the troubled Iranian Sistan and Balochistan region whose population “has decreased threefold since the times of the Pahlevis”. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

View of Zahedan, administrative capital of the troubled Iranian Sistan and Balochistan region whose population “has decreased threefold since the times of the Pahlevis”. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
GENEVA, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

Nasser Boladai is the spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), an umbrella movement aimed at expanding support for a secular, democratic and federal Iran. IPS spoke with him in Geneva, where he was invited to speak at a recent conference on Human Rights and Global Perspectives in his native Balochistan region.

Could you draw the main lines of the CNFI?

There are 14 different groups under the umbrella of the CNFI: Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Baloch, Kurds Lors and Turkmen … all of which share a common cause vow for a federal and secular state where each one´s language and culture rights are respected.

Nasser Boladai, spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), an umbrella movement aimed at expanding support for a secular, democratic and federal Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Nasser Boladai, spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), an umbrella movement aimed at expanding support for a secular, democratic and federal Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The CNFI is meant to be a vehicle for all of us as there are no majorities in the country, we are all minorities within a multinational Iran. Today´s is a regime based on exclusion as it only recognises the Persian nation and Shia Islam as the only confession.

Which poses a biggest handicap in Iran: a different ethnicity or a religious confession other than Shia Islam?

Iran’s population is a mosaic of ethnicities, but the non-Persian groups are largely located in the peripheries and far from the power base, Tehran.

Elements within the opposition to the regime claim that religion is not an issue and some centralist groups would support a federal state, but not one based on nationalities. The ethnical difference is doubtless a bigger hurdle in the eyes of those centralist opposition groups as well as from the regime.

Iran appears to have been unaltered by turmoil in Northern Africa and the Middle East region over the last four years. Is it?

In 2007 we had several meetings in the European Parliament. Our main goal was to convey that, if any change came to Iran, it should not be swallowed as happened with [Ayatollah] Khomeini in 1979.“Islamic extremism of any kind, no matter if it comes from the Ayatollahs or ISIS [Islamic State], cannot solve the people´s problems so both are condemned to disappear” – Nasser Boladai, spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI)

In May 2009 there were demonstrations against the regime in Zahedan before the controversial elections but the timing could not have been worse for a change. Mir-Hussein Moussavi was leading the so called “green movement” against [incumbent President Mahmoud] Ahmadineyad but he had no real intention of diverting from Khomeini´s idea.

Among others, the green movement failed because the people´s disenchantment was funnelled into an electoral dispute, but also because that movement did not include the issue of nationalities in its programme.

However, the changes in North Africa and the Middle East will have a positive psychological effect on the Iranian psyche in the long run in the sense that they can see that a tyrannical system cannot stay forever.

Islamic extremism of any kind, no matter if it comes from the Ayatollahs or ISIS [Islamic State], cannot solve the people´s problems so both are condemned to disappear.

Hassan Rouhani replaced Mahmoud Ahmadineyad in the 2013 presidential elections. Was this for the good?

Not for us. Since he took power there have been more executions and more repression. Rouhani is not only a mullah; he has also been a member of the Iranian security apparatus for over 16 years.

The death penalty continues to be applied in political cases, where individuals are commonly accused of “enmity against God”. Iran´s different nations´ plights have not yet been discussed. They have often promised language and culture rights, jobs for the Baloch, the Kurds, etc., but we´re still waiting to see these happen.

You come from an area which has seen a spike of Baloch insurgent movements who seemingly subscribe a radical vision of Sunni Islam.

It´s difficult to know whether they are purely Baloch nationalists or plain Jihadists as their speech seems to be winding between both in their different statements.

However, insurgency against the central government in Iran has a long tradition among the Baloch and we have episodes in our recent history where even Shiite Baloch were fighting against Tehran, an eloquent proof that their agenda was a national one, completely unrelated to religion.

Paradoxically, Tehran is to blame for the rise of Sunni extremism in both Iranian Kurdistan and Balochistan. Both nations are mainly Sunni so they empowered the local mullahs; they were brought into the elite through money and power to dissolve a deeply rooted communist feeling among the Kurds and the Baloch.

Khomeini just stuck to a policy which was introduced in the region by the British. They were the first to politicise Islam as a tool against Soviet expansion across the region.

You once said that Iranian Balochistan has become “a hunting ground”. Can you explain this?

It´s a hunting ground for the Iranian security forces. Even a commander of the Mersad [security] admitted openly that it had been ordered to kill, and not to arrest people.

As a result, many of our villages have suffered house-to-house searches which has emptied them of youth. The latter have either been killed systematically or emigrated elsewhere.

The fact that our population has decreased threefold since the times of the Pahlevis speaks volumes about the situation in our region.

Human Rights Watch has further documented the fact that the Baloch populated region has been systematically divided by successive regimes in Tehran to create a demographic imbalance.

Less than a century ago, our region was called “Balochistan”. Later its name would be changed to “Balochistan and Sistan”, then “Sistan and Balochistan”… The plan is to finally call it “Sistan” and divide it into three districts: Wilayat, Sistan and Saheli.

How do you react to the claims of those who say that Iran also played a role in the creation of ISIS, similar to Tehran’s backing of Al Qaeda in Iraq to tear up the Sunni society and prevent it from sharing power in post-2003 Iraq?

The theocratic regime in Iran indirectly supports extremist religious forces and, at the same time, manipulates them to control and deter them from becoming moderate and uniting with moderate religious, liberal or democratic forces in Iran.

The Iranian and Pakistani governments cooperate in the building and using of the extremist groups to first, create controlled instability in Balochistan, and second, to create false artificial political dynamics in the form of Islamic extremists to obstruct and distort Baloch struggles for sovereignty and self-determination.

They also try to change the Baloch liberal and secular culture, which is based on moderate Islam, into an extremist version of their own creation of fundamentalist Islam.

Balochistan’s geopolitical location allows access to the sea, something that the Islamic groups need. Balochistan’s division between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan enables the groups to communicate with each other across the borders and move to and from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran to the Arabian Peninsula and beyond.

With the support and tacit consent of both Iranian and Pakistani government, they also use the region to transport fighters and suicide bombers to the Arab countries and other locations in the world. From there, financial help is brought to extremist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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State of Palestine in Overtimehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/state-of-palestine-in-overtime/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=state-of-palestine-in-overtime http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/state-of-palestine-in-overtime/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 17:35:10 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140097 Israeli soldiers and police blocking Palestinians from one of the entrances to the old city in Jerusalem. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Israeli soldiers and police blocking Palestinians from one of the entrances to the old city in Jerusalem. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 9 2015 (IPS)

The large majority of countries, and most of the people in the world, already recognise Palestine as an independent state.

Among the member states of the United Nations, for example, 135 countries – representing about 82 percent of world population – officially recognise Palestine as an independent state versus 50 countries that do not recognise the Palestinian state.

Source: Author's calculations based on official data

Source: Author’s calculations based on official data

Large majorities of countries throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America recognise the state of Palestine, including Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and South Africa.

In addition, the European nations that have officially given diplomatic recognition to the Palestinian state include Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Iceland, Malta, Poland, Romania, Russia Federation, Slovakia, Sweden and Ukraine.

In addition to Israel, key countries that do not recognise Palestine as an independent nation include France, United Kingdom, the United States – each with a veto in the U.N. Security Council – as well as Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Spain and Switzerland.Even with the international community’s considerable resources, numerous pronouncements and stated desires to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, few are optimistic that the two-state solution is achievable in the near term.

The general position of these countries is that the recognition of an independent Palestinian state can only be achieved from direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

However, due to frustration over stalled peace talks many of the countries whose governments do not currently recognise the Palestinian state are encountering initiatives and pressures from parliaments and the general public to modify their policies.

In Europe, for example, the parliaments of Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain have passed non-binding advisory resolutions recommending their respective governments recognise the state of Palestine. Also, the European Parliament adopted a resolution supporting Palestinian statehood in principle.

A recent German survey has also reported that a broad majority of German citizens are in favour of their governments’ recognition of a Palestinian state. The study found that 71 percent supported the German government’s recognition of a Palestinian state, with 15 percent rejecting it, and 14 percent abstaining.

Also, a multi-country survey done several years ago found that more people backed recognition of Palestine as an independent state than opposed it. Across the 19 countries survey, 49 percent supported the proposal while 21 percent said their government should oppose recognition of a Palestinian state.

In the United States public opinion regarding Palestinian statehood has fluctuated considerably over time. As recently as 2012, a majority of the American public, 51 percent, supported the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with 37 opposing it and 12 percent having no opinion.

A survey of Americans in March 2015 reported that 39 percent are in support, 36 percent in opposition and 25 percent with no opinion concerning the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Among both Israelis and Palestinians views on Palestinian statehood vary depending on the specifics of the survey question and when it was posed. Less than two years ago, the majority of both Israelis and Palestinians, 63 and 53 percent, respectively, supported a peace agreement based on the general notion of a two-state solution.

However, when details of the two-state solution are spelled out regarding such contentious issues as territorial compromise, settlement evacuation and dividing Jerusalem, support collapses. Approximately three-quarters of Jewish Israelis recently polled, for example, opposed the establishment of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 borders.

Similarly, following the disappointing failure of recent U.S.-mediated peace talks, a poll of Palestinians found about one-third expressed support for a two-state solution.

In addition to the collapse of the U.S.-mediated Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, an important element influencing this possible shift in the policies of countries that do not recognise Palestine is the election campaign statement made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that caused an international uproar.

Although he subsequently toned down his remark, the Israeli prime minister pledged prior to the Israeli election that a Palestinian state would not be established on his watch.

Awaiting the formation of the next Israeli government, the United States, key members of the European Union and several other countries have stated that they are reassessing aspects of their relations with Israel. For some of those governments, those reassessments could include recognition of Palestinian statehood.

Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg indicated, for example, that in the wake of Netanyahu’s apparent refusal to back a two-state solution, the world, including the British Parliament, would have no option, inevitably, but to recognise a Palestinian state.

Source: Author's calculations based on poll data by Gallup and Washington Post/ABC

Source: Author’s calculations based on poll data by Gallup and Washington Post/ABC

While the Obama administration continues to believe that the two-state solution is the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is unlikely to recognise a Palestinian state any time soon. The U.S. administration may not object, however, to a draft resolution on an Israeli-Palestinian peace framework that has been informally circulated in the U.N. Security Council.

France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius indicated recently that his country along with its allies intend to propose a U.N. Security Council resolution in the coming weeks that could present a framework for negotiations toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The proposal is expected to stress the right of both peoples to live in their respective nation-states and declare that the conflict must end through negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

An earlier informal draft resolution, which was circulated in late 2014 and penned by France, pushes for a lasting, comprehensive peaceful two-state solution. Essentially it aims to achieve two independent, democratic and prosperous states, Israel and a sovereign, contiguous and viable State of Palestine living side by side in peace and security within mutually and internationally recognised borders, no later than 24 months after the resolution’s adoption.

The key elements of the draft framework for the negotiated two-state solution are to be based on: (a) the borders on 4 June 1967 with mutually agreed limited land swaps: (b) security agreements that respect sovereignty of a non-militarized Palestinian state, with a full phased withdrawal of Israeli forces; (c) an agreed, just and realistic solution to the refugee question; (d) Jerusalem as the shared capital of the Israel and Palestine; and (e) agreed settlement of other outstanding issues, including water.

If the U.N. Security Council adopts the French draft resolution, which will require the U.S. not to exercise its veto, an international peace conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to be convened. This event is then to be followed with France and its other European allies recognising an independent Palestinian state built principally on the 1967 borders.

Achieving a two-state solution today has become considerably more complicated logistically than when originally proposed by the U.N. in 1947 due to changing demographics.

For example, when U.N. Resolution 181 divided Mandatory Palestine into two states, one Jewish and other Arab, their respective populations were approximately one-tenth their current sizes, each less than 0.9 million. Today the Israeli population has grown to 8.3 million and the Palestinian population in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip stands at about 4.5 million, with more than 5 million additional Palestinians residing in neighbouring countries.

Even with the international community’s considerable resources, numerous pronouncements and stated desires to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, few are optimistic that the two-state solution is achievable in the near term.

Many, especially Israelis and Palestinians, have concluded that the two-state solution is no longer practical, with the chances of achieving a two-state solution in the next five years being slim or non-existent and the one-state solution becoming increasingly the de facto reality.

It seems abundantly clear that the various peace initiatives to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the past 40 years have not achieved the desired goal. With most of the world now recognising the state of Palestine, the world’s major powers need to resolve this nearly 70-year conflict and bring about a lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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At Least 18 Already Killed in Yarmouk Attacks: Amnesty Internationalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/at-least-18-already-killed-in-yarmouk-attacks-amnesty-international/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=at-least-18-already-killed-in-yarmouk-attacks-amnesty-international http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/at-least-18-already-killed-in-yarmouk-attacks-amnesty-international/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 03:16:05 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140092 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 9 2015 (IPS)

At least 18 civilians have already been killed in the attack on the Syrian refugee camp of Yarmouk, according to Amnesty International.

The Palestinian refugee camp, on the outskirts of Damascus, was besieged by members of the so-called Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra last week. By Apr. 4, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 90 percent of the camp was controlled by militants.

Amnesty reported Wednesday that those living in the camp have come under sniper fire and clashes between armed groups, as well as shelling and barrel bombing by Syrian government forces. Fighting in the camp, which houses around 18,000 refugees, has largely been between IS and members of Palestinian militia group Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis.

Residents told Amnesty 25 barrel bombs have been dropped on the camp, mostly during night hours.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, accused the Syrian government of committing a “war crime” in dropping barrel bombs on the camp.

“The use of barrel bombs against a besieged and starving civilian population is yet another demonstration of the Syrian government flouting international humanitarian law and its callousness towards civilians,” he said in a statement on Amnesty International’s website.

“Shelling and dropping barrel bombs on a populated civilian area is a war crime. All such attacks must end immediately.”

Amnesty reported a 12-year-old girl killed by a sniper, and a humanitarian worker shot in crossfire, were among at least 18 killed in Yarmouk in the last week, and warned many more deaths were on the way if fighting continued.

“Thousands more are at risk as Syrian government forces have intensified the shelling and aerial bombardment of the camp in response to the IS takeover of the area, including by dropping barrel bombs,” Amnesty said in a statement on its website.

Fighting may soon intensify, with reports the Syrian government has offered to arm Palestinian forces fighting IS militia. Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Official Anwar Abdul Hadi said Tuesday that “Syrian authorities are ready to support the Palestinian fighters in a number of ways, including militarily, to push IS out of the camp.”

Amnesty claimed no relief organisations remained in the camp, and that Syria government and IS forces have blocked medical and humanitarian assistance. One of Yarmouk’s two medical facilities was hit by a missile on the first day of the siege.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) wrote on social media Wednesday that food packages distributed to refugees in the camp have run out. On Twitter, UNRWA said it was assisting 94 civilians who had managed to escape Yarmouk overnight and take refuge in a school.

Amnesty’s Sahraoui said civilians faced “an agonising struggle for survival.”

“After enduring a crippling two-year-long government-imposed siege, now they are pinned down by sniper fire fearing for their lives as shelling and aerial attacks escalate,” he said.

“Immediate and unfettered access to Yarmouk by independent humanitarian agencies is desperately needed to alleviate this relentless suffering.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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