UN monitors reach ‘massacred’ Syrian hamlet

UN monitors reach ‘massacred’ Syrian hamlet

UN observers reached the Syrian hamlet of Mazraat al-Qubeir on Friday, whose Sunni residents had been shot, stabbed or burnt alive in what activists say was a sectarian-driven massacre carried out by forces loyal to Alawite President Bashir al-Assad.

REUTERS - U.N. monitors on Friday entered the Syrian hamlet of Mazraat al-Qubeir where up to 78 people were reported killed in cold blood two days earlier and an eyewitness described a scene of shredded and burnt flesh, making clear a “terrible crime” had occurred.

The alleged massacre on Wednesday has underlined how little outside powers, divided and pursuing their own interests in the Middle East, have been able to do to stop increasing carnage in the 15-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

A day after Syrian armed forces and villagers had turned them back, the U.N. team reached the farming settlement of Mazraat al-Qubeir and were confronted by an “appalling” spectacle, a BBC correspondent accompanying the monitors said.

“It is not hard to verify, as soon as you walk into the first house you are hit by the stench of burnt flesh,” the BBC’s Paul Danahar said. “You can see that a terrible crime has taken place, everything has been burnt, houses have been gutted, there is an RPG (that has) blown a hole at the side of the house.

“The most distressing scenes were at the house next door. I walked in and saw pieces of brains lying on the floor. There was a tablecloth covered in blood and flesh and someone had tried to mop the blood up by pushing it into the corner, but seems they had given up because there was so much of it around,” he said.

 

HEAVIEST FIGHTING YET IN DAMASCUS
According to AP, explosions were heard over Damascus on Friday as Syrian troops clashed with rebels in some of the capital’s heaviest fighting yet in the 15-month uprising against President Assad.

 

Danahar’s Twitter report added: “What we didn’t find were any bodies of people. What we did find were tracks on the tarmac (that) the U.N. said looked like armoured personnel carriers or tanks.”

Many Syrian civilians are fleeing their homes to escape widening fighting between security forces and rebels, the Red Cross said, while the outside world seems unable to craft an alternative to envoy Kofi Annan’s failing peace plan.

“Some say that the plan may be dead,” Annan said before meeting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington.

“Is the problem the plan or the problem is implementation?” he asked. “If it’s implementation, how do we get action on that? And if it is the plan, what other options do we have?”

Activists say at least 78 people were shot, stabbed or burned alive in Mazraat al-Qubeir, a Sunni Muslim hamlet, by forces loyal to Assad, whose minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, has dominated Syria for decades.

Syrian authorities have condemned the killings in Mazraat al-Qubeir and another massacre of civilians in Houla two weeks ago, blaming them on “terrorists”.

The conflict is becoming increasingly sectarian. Shabbiha militiamen from Assad’s Shi’ite-rooted Alawite sect appear to be off the leash, targeting Sunni civilians almost regardless of their part in the uprising.

Opposition activists said those killed in Mazraat al-Qubeir had not previously been caught up in the conflict.

Deadly violence

 

UN to discuss ‘contact group’ to influence both sides in conflict
AP - Annan said on Friday that preliminary discussions are taking place about establishing a “contact group” comprising countries that could influence both sides in the Syrian conflict to end the violence. The group would likely comprise world and regional powers, including Iran.

“If they could come together and look at the problems in a coldly realistic manner … and say let’s cooperate and suggest a roadmap for the Syrians to consider and work really to steer everybody in the same direction … we may make progress,” Annan said.

 

Some 300 U.N. observers are in Syria to monitor a truce between Assad’s forces and rebels that Annan declared on April 12 but was never implemented.

Now reduced to observing the violence, they have already verified the massacre in Houla, a town where 108 men, women and children were slain on May 25. The U.N. peacekeeping chief said Syrian troops and pro-Assad militia were probably responsible.

As more and more civilians flee their homes to escape fighting, sick or wounded people are finding it hard to reach medical services or buy food, said a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva.

Protests and strife erupted across Syria on Friday.

A car bomb aimed at a bus carrying security men exploded in a Damascus suburb, killing at least two, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog said.

Another car bomb hit a police branch in the northwestern city of Idlib, killing at least five people, it said.

Syrian forces shelled and then tried to storm the rebel-held district of Khalidiya in the central city of Homs, the heart of the revolt against Assad, the British-based Observatory said.

Activists said 10 rockets a minute crashed into Khalidiya in one of the fierce bombardments to hit Homs. Videos posted on the Internet showed plumes of grey smoke rising from buildings.

Activist footage of protests said to be in the northern city of Aleppo showed crowds fleeing from tear gas and gunfire.

In Deraa, the southern birthplace of the uprising, Syrian forces pounded rebel hideouts in the rugged Luja area, after many soldiers had defected, activists and residents said.

Heavy gunfire erupted in the Damascus neighbourhood of Kfar Souseh after a loud blast there, activists said.

“The Syrian people are bleeding,” Ban said at the United Nations on Thursday, warning of an “imminent” civil war.

US pressure

There is little sign of the firm action he called for from a world divided between Assad’s opponents and countries such as China, Russia and Iran that are deeply suspicious of Western and Arab states determined to unseat the Syrian leader.

China again urged both sides to comply with Annan’s peace plan, which Assad and his foes had accepted, although the rebels said this week they were no longer bound by the truce.

Russia and China have twice vetoed Western-backed Security Council resolutions critical of Syria, whose security forces have killed at least 10,000 people, by a U.N. count, while losing more than 2,600 of their own, according to Damascus.

Stepping up U.S. pressure on Russia to support a Syrian transition that would include Assad’s exit from power, State Department official Fred Hof met Russian Deputy Foreign Ministers Gennady Gatilov and Mikhail Bogdanov in Moscow.

 

 

Bogdanov said Annan’s plan, which does not directly call for Assad’s departure, could be adjusted to improve implementation but its core elements must remain.

He has said Moscow would be open to a negotiated Yemen-style power transition in Syria, referring to a deal under which Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down in February after a year of unrest.

Moscow and Beijing have decried the killings of civilians, but resist any plan for coerced political transition, let alone military intervention – not that the West is ready for this.

Clinton has said her country is willing to work on a broad conference on Syria’s political future, as long as Assad goes.

She has criticised the idea, favoured by Annan and Moscow, of a contact group that would bring together major powers as well as regional ones, including Iran, a strategic ally of Assad with much at stake in Syria and neighbouring Lebanon.

(www.france24.com / 08.06.2012)

Health situation deteriorates in Gaza

Chronic patients in the Gaza Strip continue to suffer due to years of Israeli blockade. With lack of medicines and intermittent power outages they find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place.
Health officials in Gaza have warned of a health crisis in the sliver.
Lives of patients in the Gaza Strip are endangered due to years of Israeli blockade.

Different types of medicines and badly needed hospital disposables are no-where to be found in the Gaza Strip’s health Ministry storage facilities.

Gaza’s health sector is also grappling with long hours of power outages which have almost depleted the fuel reserves for hospital back-up generators.

Chronically ill patients whose treatment requires electricity operated equipment are at the highest risk.

Years of Israeli blockade have negatively affected all aspects of life in the tiny coastal sliver.

Now experts are calling for strong international actions against Israel to pressure it into lifting its illegal blockade.

Many here believe that the ongoing blockade is a direct result to international apathy toward the plight of Palestinians in Gaza.

(www.presstv.ir / 08.06.2012)

Israel plans to expand Gilo Jewish settlement by 2,500 units

File photos shows a construction site in the East al-Quds Jewish settlement of Gilo.

File photos shows a construction site in the East al-Quds Jewish settlement of Gilo.
Israel is planning to build thousands more of settler unites in East al-Quds (Jerusalem) despite international condemnation for the expansion of Jewish settlements on the occupied Palestinian lands.
Israeli lawyer Daniel Seiderman said on Friday that Tel Aviv is seeking to expand the Gilo settlement beyond East al-Quds by constructing 2,500 more settler units.

Seiderman, who is active in the anti-settlement movement, told AFP that the idea was endorsed at a city planning meeting last month.

“Ten days ago, the municipal planning board deliberated on a plan to build another 2,500 units in Gilo. The precise area is beyond the municipal … line of Gilo,” he said, adding that the new settler units would be in addition to plans formally announced last month for 2,000 new homes in Gilo.

The news of planned enlargement comes two days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the construction of 300 new settler units at the Jewish settlement of Beit El in the occupied West Bank, which drew international condemnation.

The Palestinians’ envoy to the United Nations Riyad Mansour said on Friday that Israel’s new surge in settlement building in the Palestinian territories is destroying hopes for any return to peace talks.

“Israel’s illegal actions continue to undermine any and all efforts to resume the peace process, including via direct negotiations,” Mansour told the UN Security Council.

Palestinians have repeatedly said that new round of talks with the Israeli regime cannot be resumed unless there is a complete halt in settlement expansion activities. Palestinians want East al-Quds as the capital of their future state.

Gilo, a controversial Jewish settlement, is built on the land captured by Israel in 1967. Tel Aviv later annexed the area to the al-Quds municipality in a move not recognized by the international community.

All settlements in the West Bank and East al-Quds are considered illegal under international law.

(www.presstv.ir / 08.06.2012)

Settlers cut down over 30 trees in Hebron, activist says

A settler pictured in Yatta.
HEBRON (Ma’an) — Settlers chopped down dozens of olive trees in the district of Hebron on Friday, a local activist said.

Rateb al-Jabour, from the popular committee against the wall and settlements, said the trees belonged to Ali al-Arda from Yatta.

Jabour appealed to international organizations to help remove the “settlement cancer” which is eating Palestinian land.

Israeli forces were present during the incident, Jabour said.

Settler violence against Palestinians and their property is systematic in the West Bank.

Over 90 percent of villages which have experienced multiple attacks by settlers are under Israeli security control, The Palestine Center says, meaning local Palestinians only have the official protection of an army which they claim ignores settler violence.

(www.maannews.net / 08.06.2012)

The war on Palestinian soccer: Free Mahmoud Sarsak

Palestinian protesters hold a demo in East al-Quds (Jerusalem) on May 5, 2012 to demand the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons.

Palestinian protesters hold a demo in East al-Quds (Jerusalem) on May 5, 2012 to demand the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons.

The soccer player, who once sought to take the name and flag of his nation to international arenas, was arrested by Israeli soldiers in July 2009 while en route to join the national team in the West Bank.”

On June 3, Palestinian national soccer team member Mahmoud Sarsak completed 80 days of a grueling hunger-strike. He had sustained the strike despite the fact that nearly 2,000 Palestinian inmates had called off their own 28-day hunger strike weeks ago.

Although the story of Palestinian prisoners in Israel speaks to a common reality of unlawful detentions and widespread mistreatment, Sarsak’s fate can also be viewed within its own unique context. The soccer player, who once sought to take the name and flag of his nation to international arenas, was arrested by Israeli soldiers in July 2009 while en route to join the national team in the West Bank.

Sarsak was branded an ‘illegal combatant’ by Israel’s military judicial system, and was since imprisoned without any charges or trial.

Sarsak is not alone in the continued hunger strike. Akram al-Rekhawi, a diabetic prisoner demanding proper medical care, has refused food for over 50 days.

At the time of writing of this article, both men were reportedly in dire medical condition. Sarsak, once of unmatched athletic built, is now gaunt beyond recognition. The already ill al-Rekhawi is dying.

According to rights groups, an Israeli court on May 30 granted prison doctors 12 more days before allowing independent doctors to visit the prisoners, further prolonging their suffering and isolation. Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHRI), which has done a remarkable job battling the draconian rules of Israeli military courts, continues to petition the court to meet with both al-Sarsak and al-Rekhawi, according to Ma’an news agency.

Sadly, the story here becomes typical. PHRI, along with other prisoners’ rights groups, are doing all that civil society organizations can do within such an oppressive legal and political situation. Families are praying. Social media activists are sending constant updates and declaring solidarity. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is merely looking on – not due to any lack of concern for human rights, but due to the selective sympathy of Western governments and media.

Think of the uproar made by US media over the fate of blind Chinese political activist Chen Guangcheng. When he took shelter in the US embassy in Beijing, a near-diplomatic crisis ensued. Guangcheng was finally flown to the US on May 19, and he recently delivered a talk in New York before an astounded audience.

“The 40-year-old, blind activist said that his lengthy detention (of seven years) demonstrates that lawlessness is still the norm in China,” reported the New York Post on May 31. “Is there any justice? Is there any rationale in any of this?” Chen asked. Few in the US media would contend with the statement. But somehow the logic becomes entirely irrelevant when the perpetrator of injustice is Israel, and the victim is a Palestinian. Al-Rekhawi is not blind, but he has many medical ailments. He has been in Ramle prison clinic since his detention in 2004, receiving severely inadequate medical care.

Sarsak, who has been a witness to many tragedies, is now becoming one. The 25-year old had once hoped to push the ranking of his national team back to a reasonable standing. If Palestinians ever deserve to be called ‘fanatics’, it would be in reference to soccer. As a child growing up in Gaza, I remember playing soccer in few minute increments, braving Israeli military curfews, risking arrests, injury and even death. Somehow, in a very crowded refugee camp, soccer becomes tantamount to freedom.

Palestine’s ranking at 164th in the world is testament not to any lack of passion for the game, but to the constant Israeli attempts at destroying even that national aspiration.

The examples of Israeli war on Palestinian soccer are too many to count, although most of them receive little or no media coverage whatsoever. In 2004 Israel blocked several essential players from accompanying the national team out of Gaza for a second match against Chinese Taipei. (Palestine had won the first match 8-0.) The obstacles culminated in the March 2006 bombing of the Palestinian Football Stadium in Gaza, which reduced the grass field to a massive crater. Then, in the war on Gaza (Cast Lead 2008-09), things turned bloody as Israel killed three national soccer players: Ayman Alkurd, Shadi Sbakhe and Wajeh Moshtahe. It also bombed their stadium again.

Sarsak was a promising new face of Palestinian soccer. In times of Palestinian disunity and factionalism, it was the national team that kept a symbolic unity between Gaza and the West Bank – and indeed Palestinians everywhere. These young men exemplify hope that better times are ahead. But Sarsak’s star is now fading, as is his life. His mother, who hasn’t seen him since his arrests, told Ma’an that she thinks of him every minute of each day. “Why is there no one moving to save his life?” she asked.

Writing in the Nation on May 10, Dave Zirin wrote, “Imagine if a member of Team USA Basketball-let’s say Kobe Bryant-had been traveling to an international tournament only to be seized by a foreign government and held in prison for three years without trial or even hearing the charges for which he was imprisoned…Chances are all the powerful international sports organizations-the IOC, FIFA-would treat the jailing nation as a pariah until Kobe was free. And chances are that even Laker-haters would wear buttons that read, ‘Free Kobe.’”

Sarsak is the Bryant of his people. But ask any political commentator and he will tell you why Mohmoud Sarsak is not Kobe Bryant, and why Al-Rekhawi is not Chen. It is the same prevalent logic of a powerful Washington-based pro-Israel lobby and all the rest. Even if the logic was founded, why are international sports institutions not standing in complete solidarity with the dying Sarsak? Why don’t soccer matches include a moment of solidarity with killed Palestinian players, and the dying young man aching to join his teammates on the field once more? Why is Israel not fully and comprehensively boycotted by every international sports organization?

“As long as Sarsak remains indefinitely detained and as long as Israel targets sport and athletes as legitimate targets of war, they have no business being rewarded by FIFA or the UEFA, let alone even being a part of the community of international sports,” wrote Zirin.

It would be a belated step, but an unequivocally urgent one, for Palestinian sportsmen are literally dying.

(www.presstv.ir / 08.06.2012)

Bedouin Community Demolished, Thirty People Displaced

Five Arab al-Jahalin Bedouin Homes were demolished last night by Israeli authorities on the outskirts of Anata (Area C of the West Bank), displacing thirty people.

Last Night (Wednesday 6 July), at approximately 11:00pm Israeli authorities demolished five family homes in the Arab al-Jahalin Bedouin compound in Anata, northeast of Jerusalem. As a result 30 people were displaced, among them 14 children. Also demolished were five water tanks serving the community, and one other structure in the town of Anata.

 

 

ICAHD Field-Coordinator Salim Shawamreh and Co-Director Itay Epshtain visited the site this morning, and spoke to affected families.

 

 

From the beginning of the year, 305 structures were demolished in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, of which 100 were family homes, resulting in 538 Palestinians displaced and an additional 1,826 affected. The Palestinian-Bedouin communities living in the hills to the east of Jerusalem are at an exceedingly growing risk of forced ethnic displacement. The communities have been informed by Israeli authorities that they have no option but to leave the area, as part of a larger plan to forcibly transfer, in defiance of international law, Bedouin communities living in Area C (Jerusalem periphery, Jordan Valley, and south Hebron Hills), where Israel retains control over security as well as planning and zoning.

 

For more information on the growing risk of displacement faced by Arab al-Jahalin Bedouin, please refer to the ICAHD publication‘Nowhere Left to Go‘.

For a normative and political analysis of Israel’s displacement policy and practice in the Occupied West Bank, please find the ICAHD publication ‘Demolishing Homes, Demolishing Peace’.

(www.icahd.org / 08.06.2012)