Inter Press Service » Middle East & North Africa http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 06 Jul 2015 23:34:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Child Labour: A Hidden Atrocity of the Syrian Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/child-labour-a-hidden-atrocity-of-the-syrian-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-labour-a-hidden-atrocity-of-the-syrian-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/child-labour-a-hidden-atrocity-of-the-syrian-crisis/#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2015 21:19:16 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141417 Aboudi, 12, spends his evenings selling flowers outside Beirut's bars. His parents are stuck in his war-torn hometown Aleppo in Syria. Credit: Sam Tarling/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

By Mel Frykberg
JERUSALEM, Jul 3 2015 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tempered expectations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Phil Harris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Why the US-Iran Nuclear Deal May Still Failhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-why-the-us-iran-nuclear-deal-may-still-fail/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-the-us-iran-nuclear-deal-may-still-fail http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-why-the-us-iran-nuclear-deal-may-still-fail/#comments Tue, 02 Jun 2015 09:56:10 +0000 Prem Shankar Jha http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140924

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).

By Prem Shankar Jha
NEW DELHI, Jun 2 2015 (IPS)

The euphoria that spread though the world after the Iran nuclear agreement reached in Lausanne in April this year with the United States, Russia, China, France, United Kingdom and Germany, plus the European Union, is  proving short-lived.

Republicans in the U.S. Congress have made it clear that they will spare no effort to block it.  Hilary Clinton, the Democratic Party’s presidential hopeful, is keeping her options open. Whispers are escaping from European chancelleries that the sanctions on Iran will only be lifted in stages. Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani have responded by insisting that they must be lifted “at once”.

Prem Shankar Jha

Prem Shankar Jha

But the agreement’s most inveterate enemy is Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel. In the week that followed the Lausanne agreement, he warned the American public in three successive speeches that the agreement would “threaten the survival of Israel” and increase the risk of a “horrific war”. This is a brazen attempt to whip up fear and war hysteria on the basis of a spider’s web of misinformation.

Netanyahu is not new to this game. At the U.N. General Assembly in 2012, he unveiled a large cartoon of a bomb and drew a red line across it, just below the neck. This was how close Iran was to making a nuclear bomb, he said. It could get there in a year. Only much later did the world learn that Mossad, Netanyahu’s own intelligence service, had told him that Iran was very far from being able to build a bomb.

Mossad probably knew what a U.S. Congress Research Service (CRS) report revealed two months later:  that although Iran already had enough five percent, or low-enriched,  uranium in August 2012 to build  five to seven bombs, it had not enriched enough of it to the intermediate level of  20 percent to meet the requirement for even one  bomb. The CRS had concluded from this and other evidence that this was because  Iran had made no effort to revive its nuclear weapons programme after stopping it ‘abruptly’ in 2003.“[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is following a two-pronged strategy: first to get the U.S. Congress to insert clauses in the nuclear treaty draft that Iran will be forced to reject, and second to take advantage of the spike in paranoia that will follow to push the West into an attack on Iran”

Another of Netanyahu’s deceptions is that he only wants to punish Iran with sanctions until it gives up trying to acquire not only nuclear weapons but any nuclear technology that could even remotely facilitate this in the future. However, he knows that no government in Iran can agree to this, so what he is really trying to steer the world towards is the alternative – a military attack on Iran.

What is more, because he also knows that destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities will not destroy its capacity to rebuild these in the future, he does not want the attack to end until it has destroyed Iran’s infrastructure (as Israel destroyed southern Lebanon’s in 2006), its industry, its research facilities and its science universities.

He knows that Israel cannot undertake such a vast operation without the United States. But there is one stumbling block – President Barack Obama – who has learned from his recent experience that, to put it mildly, U.S. interests do not always tally with those of its allies in the Middle East.

So Netanyahu is following a two-pronged strategy: first to get the U.S. Congress to insert clauses in the nuclear treaty draft that Iran will be forced to reject, and second to take advantage of  the spike in paranoia that will follow to push the West into an attack on Iran.

He has been joined in this endeavour by another steadfast friend of the United States – Saudi Arabia. At the end of February, Saudi Arabia quietly signed an agreement with Israel that will allow its warplanes to overfly Saudi Arabia on their way to bombing Iran. This has halved the distance they will need to fly. Then, four weeks later, on Mar. 26,  it declared war on the Houthis in Yemen, whom it has been relentlessly portraying as a tiny minority bent upon taking Yemen over through sheer terror, with the backing of  Iran.

This is a substantial oversimplification, and therefore distortion, of a complicated relationship.

Iran may well be helping the Houthis, but not because they are Shias.  The Houthis, who make up 30 percent of Yemen’s population, are Zaidis, a very different branch of Shi’a-ism than the one practised in Iran, Pakistan and India. They inhabit a region that stretches across Saada, the northernmost district of Yemen, and three adjoining principalities, Jizan, Najran and Asir, that Saudi Arabia annexed in 1934.

The internecine wars that Yemeni Houthis have fought since the 1960s have not been sectarian, or even against the Saudis specifically, but in quest of independence and, more recently, a federal state. This is a goal that several other tribes share.  

The timing of Saudi Arabia’s attack, four weeks after its overflight agreement with Israel, and its incessant portrayal of the Houthis as proxies of Iran, hints at a deeper understanding between it and Israel. The Houthis’ attacked Sana’a, the Yemeni capital, in September last year. So why did Saudi Arabia wait until March this year before sending its bombers in?

Iran has kept out of the conflict in Yemen so far, but the manifestly one-sided resolution passed by the U.N. Security Council and the immediate resignation of the U.N. special envoy for Yemen, Jamal Benomar, who had been struggling to bring about a non-sectarian resolution of the conflict in Yemen and been boycotted by the country’s president Abed Rabo Mansour Hadi for his pains, cannot have failed to raise misgivings in Tehran.

Iraqi President Haydar Abadi’s sharp criticism of the Saudi attack in Washington on the same day reflects his awareness of how these developments are darkening the prospect for Iran’s rehabilitation, and therefore Iraq’s future.

To stop this drift Obama needs to tell his people precisely how far, under Netanyahu’s leadership, Israel’s interests have diverged from those of the United States, and how single-mindedly Israel has used its special relationship with the United States to push it into actions that have imperilled its own security in the Middle East.

Instead of dwelling on how the nuclear treaty will make it practically impossible for Iran to clandestinely enrich uranium or produce plutonium, he needs to remind Americans of what Netanyahu has been carefully neglecting to mention: that a nuclear device is not a bomb, and that to convert it into one Iran will need not only to master the physics of bomb-making and reduce its weight to what a missile can carry, but conduct at least one test explosion to make sure the bomb works. That will make escaping detection pretty well impossible.

Finally, the White House needs to remind Americans that Iranians also know the price they will pay if they are caught trying to build a bomb after signing the agreement. Not only will this bring back all and more of the sanctions they are under,  but it will vindicate Netanyahu’s apocalyptic predictions and make a pre-emptive military strike virtually unavoidable.

Should a  military strike, whether deserved or undeserved,  destroy Iran’s economy, it will add tens of thousands of Shi’a Jihadis to the Sunni Jihadis already spawned in Libya, Somalia, Chechnya and  the other failed states and regions of the world. The security that Netanyahu claims it will bring will turn out to be a chimera.

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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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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