Activists say 111 killed in Syria’s “bloodiest day”

Lebanese students from the Muslim Students Association and some Syrian students chant slogans and wave flags during an protest in solidarity with Syria's anti-government protesters, in the port city of Tripoli, northern Lebanon, December 21, 2011. REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim

(Reuters) – Syrian forces killed 111 people ahead of the start of a mission to monitor President Bashar al-Assad’s implementation of an Arab League peace plan, activists said on Wednesday, and France branded the killings an “unprecedented massacre”.

Rami Abdulrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 111 civilians and activists were killed on Tuesday when Assad’s forces surrounded them in the foothills of the northern Jabal al-Zawiyah region in Idlib province and unleashed two hours of bombardment and heavy gunfire.

Another 100 army deserters were either wounded or killed, making it the “bloodiest day of the Syrian revolution”, he said.

“There was a massacre of unprecedented scale in Syria on Tuesday,” said French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero. “It is urgent that the U.N. Security Council issues a firm resolution that calls for an end to the repression.”

The United States said it was deeply disturbed by reports of indiscriminate killing and warned Assad the violence must stop. Britain said it was shocked by the reports and urged Syria to “end immediately its brutal violence against civilians”.

Events in Syria are hard to verify because authorities, who say they are battling terrorists who have killed more than 1,100 soldiers and police, have banned most independent reporting.

Tuesday’s bloodshed brought the death toll reported by activists in the last 48 hours to over 200.

The main opposition Syrian National Council said “gruesome murders” were carried out, including the beheading of a local imam, and demanded international action to protect civilians.

The escalating death toll in nine months of popular unrest has raised the spectre of civil war in Syria with Assad, 46, still trying to stamp out protests with troops and tanks despite international sanctions imposed to push him onto a reform path.

Idlib, a northwestern province bordering Turkey, has been a hotbed of protest during the revolt, inspired by uprisings across the Arab world this year, and has also seen increasing attacks by armed insurgents against his forces.

The Observatory said rebels had damaged or destroyed 17 military vehicles in Idlib since Sunday while in the southern province of Deraa violence continued on Wednesday.

Tanks entered the town of Dael, the British-based group said, leading to clashes in which 15 security force members were killed. Six army defectors and a civilian also died and dozens of civilians were wounded, it said.

ARAB PEACE MONITORS

The Syrian National Council said 250 people had been killed on Monday and Tuesday in “bloody massacres”, and that the Arab League and United Nations must protect civilians.

It demanded “an emergency U.N. Security Council session to discuss the (Assad) regime’s massacres in Jabal al-Zawiyah, Idlib and Homs, in particular” and called for “safe zones” to be set up under international protection.

It also said those regions should be declared disaster areas and urged the International Red Crescent and other relief organisations to provide humanitarian aid.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said unless Damascus complied fully with the Arab League plan to end the violence, “additional steps” would be taken against it. Washington and the European Union have already imposed sanctions on Syria.

“Bashar al-Assad should have no doubt that the world is watching, and neither the international community no the Syria people accept his legitimacy,” he said.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said on Tuesday that an advance observer team would go to Syria on Thursday to prepare the way for 150 monitors due to arrive by end-December.

Syria stalled for weeks before signing a protocol on Monday to admit the monitors, who will check its compliance with the plan mandating an end to violence, withdrawal of troops from the streets, release of prisoners and dialogue with the opposition.

Syrian officials say over 1,000 prisoners have been freed since the plan was agreed six weeks ago and that the army has pulled out of cities. The government promised a parliamentary election early next year as well as constitutional reform which might loosen the ruling Baath Party’s grip on power.

Syrian pro-democracy activists are deeply sceptical about Assad’s commitment to the plan, which, if implemented, could embolden demonstrators demanding an end to his 11-year rule, which followed three decades of domination by his father.

Assad is from Syria’s minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, and Alawites hold many senior posts in the army which he has deployed to crush the mainly Sunni Muslim protests.

In recent months, peaceful protests have increasingly given way to armed confrontations, often led by army deserters.

In a show of military power, state television broadcast footage of live-fire exercises held by the navy and air force, which it said aimed at deterring any attack on Syria.

U.N. TOLL

The United Nations has said more than 5,000 people have been killed in Syria since anti-Assad protests broke out in March.

Arab, U.S. and European sanctions combined with the unrest have sent the economy into sharp decline. The Syrian pound fell nearly 2 percent on Tuesday to more than 55 pounds per dollar, 17 percent down from the official rate before the unrest.

Arab rulers are keen to prevent a descent into civil war in Syria that could affect a region already riven by rivalry between non-Arab Shi’ite Muslim power Iran and Sunni Muslim Arab heavyweights such as Saudi Arabia.

(in.reuters.com / 21.12.2011)

Denmark, Sweden to Vote for Palestine in Future, Says Danish Official

The Representative of Denmark to the Palestinian Authority, Lars Rehof Monday said that Denmark and Sweden committed to voting in favor of Palestine in the future, according to a statement by office of Fatah commission for international relations.

It said that Rehof, during his meeting with Fatah Central Committee Member, Nabil Shaath, in Ramallah, said Denmark and Sweden informed him of their commitment to the northern European states supportive position of Palestine, following his visit to both countries.

It added that Rehof affirmed his country’s supportive position of the Palestinian cause under the new government, indicating the same position by the heads of European socialist parties he met during the European Socialists Progressive Convention in Brussels in November.

Shaath called on Denmark to support the Palestinian leadership’s efforts against the escalation of settlement activities by the Israeli government, and the increase of settlers’ attacks against holy places, according to the statement.

He informed Rehof of the Israeli practices and the dangerous aftermath of the escalated settlers’ attacks against Palestinians and mosques on the stability in the region.

Shaath further informed Rehof of the Palestinian efforts to implement the reconciliation agreement and the international political efforts to support the Palestinian international requests.

Shaath called on the international community to pressure the Israeli government to halt its settlement activities and adhere to the peace principles.

(palestinianmissionuk.com / 21.12.2011)

Israel attacks European criticism of West Bank settlement activity

European members of UNSC call plan for new building beyond Green Line ‘wholly negative’; Foreign Ministry: Detractors are bound to lose their credibility and make themselves irrelevant.

Israel denounced European criticism of settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on Wednesday, saying the “bickering” of European Union members of the UN Security Council was making them “irrelevant.”

Israel’s response came a day after the four European Union members of the UN Security Council strongly criticized Israel’s decision to speed up construction of settlements, which they termed a “wholly negative” development.

A statement released by the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday said that the EU members of the Security Council would be well advised to exert their efforts on resuming direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, instead of “interfering” in Israel’s internal affairs.

“If, instead of contributing to stability in the Middle East through these steps, they invest their efforts in inappropriate bickering with the one country where the independent law and justice system can handle lawbreakers of all kinds, they are bound to lose their credibility and make themselves irrelevant,” the statement said.

The Foreign Ministry called on European UNSC members to “adhere to the wording of the Quartet plan and refrain from giving it interpretations that contradict both the letter and the spirit of the original text.”

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni criticized the Foreign Ministry’s statement, saying, “Israel is starting a war against her greatest friendships in Europe.”

“Without legitimacy in the world we won’t be able to fight against terror as we have in the past,” she added.

“This misreading only adds obstacles on the path towards renewing peace negotiations. Interfering with Israel’s domestic affairs, including on issues which are to be solved within the framework of direct talks, does not enhance the status they wish to be granted,” the statement added.

“Moreover, Israel suggests that the European UNSC members focus on the international agenda rather than turn upside down the fitting priorities of the international community,” the statement added.

“In Security Council discussions they should have concentrated on peacemaking in bloodshed hotspots such as Syria, on enrooting democracy and moderation in Arab countries aspiring to freedom, and on difusing the global danger embodied in the Iranian nuclear race. The European UNSC members have chosen to do what is easy and unnecessary, rather than muster their courage and do that which is difficult and necessary.”

In the statement by EU UNSC members released on Tuesday, the ambassadors from Britain, France, Germany and Portugal issued a joint statement branding the Israeli settlements in Palestinian occupied territories and East Jerusalem as illegal under international law.

“We call on the Israeli government to reverse these steps,” the statement said. “The viability of the Palestinian state that we want to see and the two-state solution that is essential for Israel’s long-term security are threatened by the systematic and deliberate expansion of settlements.”

The statement, issued following the 15-country Security Council’s closed-door discussion on the situation in the Middle East, condemned Israeli settlers’ violence against the Palestinians, including the burning of the Nebi Akasha mosque in West Jerusalem and the Burqa mosque in the West Bank.

On Monday, Germany responded to a new Israeli plan to build 1,000 new housing units beyond the Green Line, with Merkel spokesperson Georg Streiter saying that the announcement that it would seek contractors to build apartments in both areas conveys “a devastating message with regard to the current efforts to resume peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.”

(www.haaretz.com / 21.12.2011)

UK’s Hague condemns Israel settlement plans

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague has condemned the announcement by the Israeli government to publish tenders for 1,028 additional housing units in settlements near Jerusalem.

In a statement released Wednesday, the foreign secretary condemned the announcement for tenders in Har Homa, Beitar Illit and Givat Ze’ev as well as the expansion plans for Erfat.

“These are only the most recent in a steady drip of announcements of new or expanded settlements – all of which are illegal under international law and which make it ever harder” to establish a Palestinian state.

He urged Israel to revoke these “wrong and deeply counter-productive” decisions.

(www.maannews.net / 21.12.2011)

Israeli troops invade Tulkarem, firing live rounds and tear gas

A number of Israeli military vehicles invaded the northern West Bank city of Tulkarem and the nearby refugee camps Tuesday afternoon.

City of Tulkarem (image from palsolidarity.org)
City of Tulkarem

Local youth began throwing stones at the jeeps and armored vehicles, and soldiers responded with tear gas and live ammunition. No injuries were reported.

According to local sources, at least five Israeli military vehicles were seen in both the city of Tulkarem and in the refugee camps around the town.

The clashes occurred in the eastern part of the city of Tulkarem.

Israeli troops frequently invade Palestinian towns and villages, usually for the purpose of abducting individuals that are ‘wanted’ by the Israeli military.

The occupying military force maintains long lists of Palestinians alleged to have engaged in some anti-Occupation activity, although human rights groups have criticized those lists for inaccuracy and targeting of non-violent activists. The main sources of the names are from paid Palestinian informants.

(www.imemc.org / 21.12.2011)

Netanyahu office ‘shocked’ as Abbas meets ex-prisoners

President Abbas meets with Amna Muna in Turkey.
TEL AVIV, Israel (Ma’an) — An official in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office says he found it “shocking” to see President Mahmoud Abbas meet with certain released prisoners Wednesday in Turkey.

Abbas met in Ankara with 11 ex-prisoners who were released by Israel in the prisoner swap, but the unnamed official was in particular shocked that Abbas met with Amna Muna, Israel’s Ynet news site said.

Muna was convicted in an Israeli court of luring a teenager to his death in 2001.

According to the anonymous official quoted by Ynet, Israel found it “shocking to see a man who tells the entire world he wants to make peace with Israel fly all the way to Turkey to meet a despicable murderer.”

The prisoner was one of several deported to Turkey as part of their release.

On Twitter, meanwhile, a spokesman for Netanyahu called the meeting “sickening” and said that “Instead of seeking peace and reconciliation with Israel, the Palestinian leadership honor killers.

“This raises a question mark about its commitment to peace and ending the conflict.”

(www.maannews.net / 21.12.2011)

Palestine never used to denote nationality

IN REFERENCE to “Isn’t America made up of an invented people” (Letters, Dec 20), the word ‘’Palestine’’ is Greek in origin and historically refers to a flexible geographical area stretching across Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Israel to Egypt. It was never used to denote nationality. The polyglot population primarily identified themselves by religion, country of origin, clans and tribes. There was just no strong commonality to forge a Palestinian identity.

Palestinian Arabs cast themselves as natives to the land, like the aborigines in Australia or Red Indians in America. But in all the history from the invasion of Palestine by the Arabs of Arabia, the descendents of these Arabs and immigrants from other Arab conquests identified themselves as Arabs, not Palestinians.

In the mother of all ironies, the majority of Jews whether native or immigrant identified themselves as Palestinian Jews! Many of their newly established institutions have the word Palestine e.g. The Jewish Agency for Palestine and The Palestine Post.

In comparison, Arab leaders founded an organisation to combat the increasing influx of Jewish immigrants, naming it the Higher Arab Committee. After the creation of Israel in 1948, the reverse happened. The Jews began to slowly adapt to be being identified as Israelis while the Arabs began calling themselves Palestinians, more so after the establishment of the PLO in 1963 and the 1967 war.

I end with some notable quotes in support – Ahmed Shuqeiri to the UN Security Council in 1949 and later the first head of the PLO: “It is common knowledge that Palestine is nothing but southern Syria.”; Audi Bey Abdul Hadi to the Peel Commission in 1937: “There is no such country as ‘Palestine’”, Palestine is a term the Zionist invented.”; Abu Iyad No 2 in the PLO in 1987: “We will take Palestine and turn it into a part of the greater Arab nation.’’

Zuheir Mohsein, member of the Supreme Council of the PLO in 1977, said: “There are no differences between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. We are all part of one nation. It is only for political reasons that we carefully underline our Palestinian identity. Yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity is there only for a tactical reason. The establishment of a Palestinian state is a new expedient to continue the fight against Zionism and for Arab unity.’’

(www.thesundaily.my / 21.12.2011)

Nieuwe paarse partij komt op

 

Een groep van zes teleurgestelde (oud-)leden van de PvdA, GroenLinks en D66 start een nieuwe politieke beweging. Enkelen van hen willen met een progressief-liberale partij in 2014 meedoen aan de gemeenteraadsverkiezingen in Amsterdam.

Aanleiding voor het initiatief is volgens Teun Gautier, uitgever van het opinieblad De Groene Amsterdammer, het ‘miserabele verweer’ van progressieve politici tegen het door Geert Wilders gesteunde kabinet. ‘D66, GroenLinks, de PvdA of de VVD: het is allemaal om te huilen.’

D66 is hofleverancier onder de zelfbenoemde vernieuwers. Gautier was tot vorig jaar voorzitter van de partij in Amsterdam, Arjen de Wolff was politiek adviseur van verschillende D66’ers en Thijs Kleinpaste is raadslid in stadsdeel Centrum.

Publicist Marcel Duyvestijn en Eddy Terstall, beiden lid van de PvdA, keren zich al langer tegen de conservatieve krachten in hun partij. ‘Er móet iets gebeuren,’ zegt Duyve stijn. ‘Paars is een beladen term maar het dekt wel de lading.’

De PvdA is te veel een enerzijds-anderzijdspartij geworden, meent hij, terwijl GroenLinks zich onder leiding van Jolande Sap de Nederlandse missie in het Afghaanse Kunduz in liet rommelen. Duyvestijn: ‘Niet bepaald een beslissing om trots op te zijn.’

Een opvatting die wordt gedeeld door het zesde ‘lid’, Maarten van der Meer. Het illustreert naar zijn idee de ‘reactionaire wijze’ waarop in naam progressieve partijen reageren op het huidige rechtse kabinet. ‘In plaats van zelf met ideeën te komen, reageren ze vooral.’

De initiatiefnemers zijn het oneens over deelname aan verkiezingen voor de gemeenteraad in 2014, en mogelijk aan landelijke. Gautier en Duyvestijn zijn voor. De laatste: ‘We gaan knallen.’ Volgens Gautier is de oprichtingsvergadering nabij. Een voorman is er nog niet. Gautier: ‘De vraag is ook of je één leider moet hebben. Daar geloof ik niet zo in.’

(www.parool.nl / 21.12.2011)