Syrian Rebels Battle Palestinian Fighters in Damascus

Syrian rebels and Palestinian fighters loyal to President Bashar al-Assad battled for control of a Damascus refugee camp days after government airstrikes in the area.

There was heavy firing as the two sides fought in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in south Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mailed statement today. The clashes have forced refugees to flee the area, the U.K.-based group said. Al Arabiya reported today that the camp was under rebel control.

Syrian forces had massed near Yarmouk yesterday as the government tried to reassert control over the area in a campaign that included weekend airstrikes that left at least eight people dead. The opposition has made gains against Assad’s forces and controls mainly Sunni Muslim areas stretching from the northeastern outskirts of the capital to areas in the southwest.

There are 525,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria and a “significant number” have been killed, wounded or forced to flee during the 21-month conflict, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency said on its website. Almost 44,000 people have died since the anti-Assad uprising began, according to the Syrian Observatory.

The fighting in Yarmouk is between rebels and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, which has been fighting with Assad forces, according to the Syrian Observatory.

Russian Deployment 

Russia, an ally and arms supplier to Assad’s government, has dispatched warships to the Mediterranean to prepare for the possible evacuation of its citizens from Syria, Interfax reported, citing an unidentified naval official. A frigate, two amphibious assault ships and a tanker from Russia’s Baltic Fleet left for the Mediterranean to hold planned exercises and replace a Black Sea Fleet naval detachment in the area, Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said by phone today.

The naval deployment was organized at short notice and aims to put in place contingency arrangements for the evacuation of Russian citizens in Syria, Interfax cited the unidentified naval official as saying.

Syria has long served as Russia’s foothold in the Middle East, home to its only military base in the region, the strategically located Tartous naval facility. Russia also has been Syria’s leading arms supplier.

‘War Criminals’ 

Hamas, the Palestinian movement that runs the Gaza Strip and is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., Israel and the European Union, condemned the Dec. 16 attacks by Assad’s forces on the Palestinian camp and called those responsible “war criminals,” according to an e-mailed statement.

Hamas was formerly allied to the Assad government and many of its leaders were Damascus-based. The last member of the organization’s politburo was reported by Israel’s Haaretz newspaper to have left Syria in February as the Syrian civil conflict intensified.

Fighting killed 158 civilians yesterday, including 50 in Damascus and its suburbs, the opposition Local Coordination Committees said in an e-mailed statement. Some 35 soldiers died in the fighting yesterday, and 13 people were killed in Yarmouk, the Syrian Observatory said.

Shortages

The Syrian government was trying to restore basic needs to the citizens of Aleppo, Prime Minister Wael al-Halaqi was cited as saying by the Syrian Arab News Agency yesterday during a trip to the country’s largest city. Al-Halaqi blamed the disruption of water, electricity and communications services on “armed terrorist” attacks, the news service said.

The UN’s World Food Programme warned earlier this month that the escalation of violence in Syria is making it more difficult to reach the country’s hardest-hit areas. The food- security situation has “rapidly” deteriorated, with bread and fuel shortages and infrastructure damage caused by the fighting, the WFP said.

Assad’s troops have lost a series of battles for barracks, airfields, power plants, oilfields and roads across the country against rebels in the second half of this year. Syrian rebels overran two military bases outside of Aleppo this month with support from Islamic militants.

Syria’s civil war is destined for stalemate, with neither the rebels nor the military able to prevail in the conflict, Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa told Al-Akhbar newspaper. His comments were posted on its English-language website on Dec. 16. North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius have said during the past week that Assad’s days may be numbered.

(www.syrianassistance.com / 18.12.2012)

Israel-lobby voert gehaast munitie aan om Timmermans te gaan bestoken

Tweede Kamer debatteert dinsdagavond over de begroting van buitenlandse Zaken. Het is de eerste begroting  die de nieuwe minister Timmerman verdedigt. Van hem kan een minder ‘Israel-vriendelijk’  beleid worden verwacht dan van zijn voorganger Rosenthal, die soms de indruk wekte dat hij namens de Israelische regering in het kabinet-Rutte I zat. Timmermans stuurde vorige week een brief naar de Kamer waaruit viel te concluderen dat het beleid ten opzichte van Israel wat wordt teruggebogen en dat de band met de Palestijnse Aurtoriteit zal worden aangehaald. Ook uitte hij zich uitermate kritisch over de steeds verder gaande uitbreiding van de Israelische nederzettingen.

Welnu, de reacties op de brioef van Timmermans bleven niet uit. De Israel-lobby kwam meteen in actie. Vandaag, nog net voor het debat begon,  kwamen de rapporten binnen. Palestinian Media Watch, de extremistische watchdog organisatie van de kolonist Itamar Marcus (hij woont in de nederzetting Efrat) stuurde drie rapporten over ‘verheerlijking van terrorisme’,  ‘gebruik van (o.m. Nederlands) geld door de Palestijnse Autoriteit’ en het betalen van ‘salarissen aan terroristen’ door de PA. Het bijzondere aan de rapportage van Marcus’organisatie is dat zij verklaart de rapporten te hebben geleverd op verzoek van het Nederlandse parlement. Alvorens in te gaan op de vraag wat die rapporten van Marcus waard zijn, wil ik wel kwijt dat ik dit een verbazende opmerking vind. Het is bekend dat de heer Marcus op handen wordt gedragen door mensen als Van der Staaij en Voordewind, van de kleine ‘gristelijke’ partijtjes die door dik en dun achter Israel staan en net als Marcus de Palestijnen haten, maar heeft het hele parlement deze rapporten besteld en dan, naar men mag aannemen, er ook voor betaald?

Three PMW reports for Dutch parliament
On Dec. 18, the Foreign Affairs Committee of Dutch Parliament
will be debating whether to support
the Palestinian Authority’s general budget in 2013.
PMW was asked to supply documentation.

Het tweede document dat nopg net voor het debat van vanavond uitkwam, was een rapport van het CIDI
over de nederzetingen. Daarin wordt geconcludeerd dat de nederzettingen minder grond in beslag nemen dan minister Timmermans in zijn recente brief  vermeldde. Daaruit mogen we vermoedelijk concluderen dat de situatie minder erg is dan Timmermans denkt. Ook daarover dadelijk meer. Maar ook in dit geval is er een interessante vraag. Het rapport is namelijk – hoewel duidelijk  bedoeld voor het Nederlandse parlement – in het Engels geschreven en bovendien anoniem. Moeten we daaruit concluderen dat het wegens de haast elders is opgesteld, misschien gekopieerd, bijvoorbeeld in Jeruzalem? Of ben ik nu te achterdochtig?

CIDI-rapport Israelische nederzettingen ma 17-12-2012

Kopafbeelding
Dinsdag spreekt de Tweede Kamer over de begroting van Buitenlandse zaken. Minister Timmermans zegt in zijn begeleidende brief dat Israelische nederzettingen “ongeveer 43% van het grondgebied van de Westelijke Jordaanoever inclusief Oost-Jeruzalem beslaan. Dit land is daarmee niet beschikbaar voor de opbouw van een Palestijnse staat.” CIDI zegt al jaren dat de nederzettingenbouw buiten Jeruzalem moet stoppen. Maar hoeveel land nemen zij nu echt in beslag?

Wel, toch maar een paar opmerkingen over de verdiensten van beide rapporten. Itamar Marcus c.s geven zoals te verwachten een gruwelijke opsomming waaruit blijkt dat Palestijnen monsters zijn die zich verlustigen in elke dode Jood. Als je niet beter wist, zou je denken dat het een persiflage is. Marcus en zijn clubje beschrijven dat families van gevangenen in Israelische gevangenen geld krijgen en dat martelaren worden geëerd. Natuurlijk is discussie mogelijk over wie en hoe moeten worden herdacht – ik heb dat al eerder beschreven. Maar geen enkele bevrijdingsbeweging kan zich permitteren zijn strijders in de kou te laten staan. Marcus en zijn medewerkers zijn echter te geborneerd om zelfs maar in te zien dat de Palestijnen uit zijn op bevrijding – voor hen is het niets anders dan een stelletje antisemitische moordenaars. 
Zij beroepen zich er in hun stuk bijvoorbeeld voortdurend op dat veel mensen die door de PA worden onthaald”, zware Israelische veroordelingen hebben ondergaan, zonder zich een moment te realiseren dat er Palestijnen militaire rechtspraak geldt, de typische rechtspraak van een bezettingsautoriteit. Los daarvan komen ze ook met verdachtmakingen die gewoon te schandelijk zijn voor woorden. Zo vermelden ze dat op 19 augustus 2012 een voetbaltournooi werd gehouden ter nagedachtenis aan Ghassan Abu Sharakh, Nader al-Sarkaji, en ‘Anan Subh, die een koloniste (een rabbijn)  zouden hebben vermoord en zouden zijn gedood in een ‘shoot out’ met het leger. Dee drie werden inderdaad verdacht van de moord (wat niet wil zeggen dat ze ook schuldig waren) maar werden niet in een ‘shoot out’ gedood, maar in hun slaapkamers door het Israelische leger vermoord. Het is hier na te lezen. De mensenrechtenorganisatie B’tselem heeft – voor zover ik weet tevergeefs – gevraagd om een nader onderzoek. Er zijn meer van dit soort voorbeelden in hun rapport – zoals bijvoorbeeld hun vermelding dat scholen zijn genoemd naar Abu Ali Mustafa, de voormalige leider van het Volksfront voor de Bevrijding van Palestina. Abu Ali Mustafa wordt door hem een ‘terrorist’ genoemd. In feite was hij de politieke en relatief gematigde leider van het Volksfront, die n.b. door het Israelische leger in zijn werkkamer in Ramallah met twee raketten werd vermoord. 

Ook over het CIDI rapport kan ik vrij kort zijn. Volgens het CIDI is het niet juist dat de nederzettingen zo’n 43% van het grondgebied van de Westoever bezet houden zoals minister Timmermans schreef, maar is het ‘slechts’ 9,3%.  Ik vrees dat dit meer een kwestie van semantiek dan van feiten. Zoals het CIDI het beschrijft zouden we om te beginnen Jeruzalem erbuiten moeten houden. Volgens het CIDI zijn de nederzttingen in Oost-Jerzuzalem geen nederzettingen. Niettemin hebben we het dan over 70 vierkante kilometer door Israel wederrechtelijk geannexeerd gebied in het hart van het Palestijnse gebied,  met het belangrijkste Palestijnse  stedelijke centrum (Oost-Jeruzalem) en vele Arabische dorpen. Bovendien wonen in dit gebied nu ruim 250.000 kolonisten, of het CIDI ze nu zo noemen wil of niet.
Als we het hebben over de rest van de Westoever, dient niet alleen gekeken te worden naar de hoeveelheid grondgebied die daadwerkelijk binnen de grenzen van de nederzettingen ligt, maar dient ook in ogenschouw genomen te worden dat Israel uitgestrekte gebieden tot militair terrein of natuurreservaat heeft bestempeld, en behalve in de zogenoemde ‘Area A’ (de steden m.u.v. Hebron) alle infrastructuur beheerst van waterbronnen en wegen tot elektriciteit. In die gebieden worden vrijwel nooit bouwvergunningen afgegeven behalve voor de nederzettingen met hun bevolking van intussen ruim 350.000 mensen. Samenvattend kan daarom gesteld worden dat de Palestijnen het grootste deel van de Westoever (mogelijk zelfs meer dan 43%) in wezen kwijt zijn aan een systeem dat er voornamelijk op is gericht de nederzettingen verder uit te breiden.

(abu-pessoptimist.blogspot.nl / 18.12.2012)

Israeli soldiers beat wheelchair-bound Palestinian detainee

An Israeli soldier presses his knee into the neck of a Palestinian youth in the West Bank city of al-Khalil (Hebron) on May 11, 2012.

An Israeli soldier presses his knee into the neck of a Palestinian youth in the West Bank city of al-Khalil (Hebron) on May 11, 2012.
Israeli soldiers have beaten a wheelchair-bound Palestinian detainee and his family members in a courthouse in al-Quds (Jerusalem).

Israeli security guards attacked Palestinian detainee Samer Issawi, his mother and his sister in a courtroom on Tuesday as they were escorting him to the courthouse where a discussion into his case was due to take place.

“They kicked Samer on his face and his legs; they also kicked me – an old woman. They kicked my daughter and forced us to leave the room and now they want to arrest us,” Reuters quoted Issawi’s mother, Laila, as saying.

The Israeli Prison Authority, however, claimed that Issawi’s family members attempted to approach him against regulations and they were prevented from doing so by Israeli security guards.

Issawi, 33, has been on a hunger strike for weeks to protests against his administrative detention, a controversial practice used by Tel Aviv, which allows Israeli authorities to hold people, mostly Palestinians, without charge or trial indefinitely.

Issawi was arrested in July only months after being released as part of a prisoner swap deal last year.

According to an April 1, 2012 report published by the nongovernmental Palestinian Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, at least 4,610 “political” Palestinian prisoners are held in Israeli jails.

Independent sources, however, put the number of Palestinian inmates in Israeli jails at 11,000.

(www.presstv.ir / 18.12.2012)

Majority of Egyptians in Gulf vote yes on constitution

Expat voting results in the Gulf States for the constitutional referendum indicate a majority approval for the controversial draft.

State-run newspaper Al-Ahram reported that in Jeddah, 80.81 percent voted yes, with 19.19 percent voting no; 67 percent voted in favor of the constitution in Muscat as opposed to 33 percent against it; and in Manama 63 percent of voters approved the constitution with 36 percent rejecting it.

In the United Arab Emirates, voting results in Dubai and the northern Emirates were announced separately from the results of Abu Dhabi and al-Ain, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported. In Dubai, 53 percent voted no, while 47 percent voted yes, said Ambassador Sherif Badawy.

The vote counted ended on Monday evening in Abu Dhabi. Shoaieb Abdel Fattah, the media advisor to the Egyptian Embassy there, said that 51 percent voted against the constitution while 49 percent of voters approved it.

State-run news source MENA quoted the Egyptian Ambassador to Kuwait Abdel Karim Soleiman as saying that 60.3 percent of voters there approved the draft, while 39.7 percent rejected it.

(www.egyptindependent.com / 18.12.2012)

Palestinians flee to Lebanon after jet bombs Syria’s largest refugee camp

PLO officials say Assad regime’s attack marks ‘historic moment’ with former ally as 50,000 Palestinians expected from Yarmouk

Sabra-Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, which is bracing for an influx of Palestinians fleeing Yarmouk

The Sabra-Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, which is bracing for an influx of Syrian-based Palestinians fleeing heavy fighting in Yarmouk camp, Damascus.

Thousands of Palestinians in Syria are fleeing Damascus after an attack on the country’s largest refugee camp, according to survivors who have reached Lebanon.

Some of those who have made it to the relative safety of Beirut claim the attack marks a “historical moment” in the Syrian war that has shattered the regime’s claim to be a patron of resistance against Israel.

The fallout from the attack on the Yarmouk refugee camp in south-west Damascus on Sunday night is now reaching beyond Syria’s borders, with Lebanon and Jordan braced for a fresh refugee crisis.

About 1,000 Palestinians had reached Lebanon less than 48 hours after a Syrian jet bombed a mosque and a school inside Yarmouk camp, the first time the large, sprawling section of the capital had been targeted from the air and only the second time it had been struck since the civil war began. The air strike is believed to have killed about 25 people and wounded several dozen more.

The new arrivals say they fear that authority in the Syrian capital is starting to crumble. They are now openly hostile towards a regime that had long portrayed itself as the protector of the 500,000 Palestinians living in Syria, most of whom had called Yarmouk home until now.

“No Palestinian will trust them anymore after what they did on Sunday,” said Abu Khalil, a father of three who has taken refuge in the infamous Beirut refugee camp Sabra-Shatila. “All of us accept that blood has been drawn between us and the regime. There is a debt to settle. It will never be like it was.”

Abu Khalil and his extended family of 15, now refugees for a second time in a lifetime, say the attack has repulsed Palestinians who had enjoyed the patronage of the Assad regime for more than 40 years but had increasingly been expected to openly align with them.

Abu Khalil offered an account of what took place on Sunday in the hours before the attack and in the frenetic aftermath, which has led to unprecedented criticism of the regime from most Palestinian factions.

“Since the summer, the two intelligence bases in the camp, air force intelligence and political security, were opened as recruitment centres for anyone who wanted to join Ahmed Jibril,” he said. “Anyone who did was given a gun.”

Ahmed Jibril runs the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command, a faction that has remained loyal to the Assad regime and is hostile to the main Palestinian organisational body, the PLO.

“There had been no fighting inside the camp at all until Sunday,” he said. “There were clashes on the outskirts, but the Free Syria Army had not entered the camp at all. They only came in after the air strike.”

About 3,000 members of the Free Syria Army and the al-Qaida-aligned Jabhat al-Nusra are now inside the camp, Abu Khalil said. He claimed only 500 residents remain, with most having sought refuge in homes, schools and mosques elsewhere in Damascus.

Jibril had about 1,000 armed men but only 150 of them were fighting with him on Sunday,” he said. “They fled after a few hours.

“Some of the rebels who came in after the attack spoke with strange dialects. Others had beards, like jihadists. They were all telling us not to worry. It was the first time we had seen any opposition member in Yarmouk.”

Abu Khalil’s mother, who called herself Um Hassan, said warnings broadcast from mosques in Yarmouk early on Sunday had given residents two hours to leave.

Many had done just that, she said. However, others had sought refuge in a mosque and remained behind. Syrians who had fled from battlezones elsewhere in Syria were staying in a nearby school. They also chose to stay. Both groups were hit by bombs dropped from jets.

“We left at 7am on Monday and got to Sabra-Shatila at 3.30am [on Tuesday],” said Abu Khalil. “It was the biggest humiliation I have ever felt. We left with only the clothes on our backs.

“Three weeks ago we watched the ugly scenes as the Israelis bombed Gaza. We know what to expect with them. But I can’t describe the feeling of Muslims attacking Muslims. It was a historical moment.”

Palestinian leaders in Lebanon say they are bracing for the arrival of 50,000 refugees from Yarmouk, an influx that would seriously strain resources inside the country’s 12 established camps. Such numbers could also potentially upset the delicate sectarian balance in the still-brittle country, where sect numbers are bitterly contested and often used as political tools.

Unlike in Lebanon, Syria’s Palestinians had largely enjoyed equal rights as citizens, with access to homes, healthcare and other trappings of state.

Their treatment has often been showcased by regime officials as a sign of Syria’s support for a people who have remained at odds with their sworn enemy, Israel. The regime’s far-reaching support for Hezbollah has been the second dimension of its resistance credentials.

The Yarmouk attack is also being seen as a turning point by senior Palestinian officials in Lebanon. Qassem Hassan, the general secretary of the PLO in Sabra-Shatila, said: “We sense a very bad smell to this. Why this is happening, we can’t understand. The PLO had taken a position not to support the regime or the other side.

“We did not interfere in the affairs of Syria and they shouldn’t have interfered in ours. A volcano has erupted here. Is this part of a plan to reorganise the Middle East? We don’t know. But it is a very big event.”

(www.guardian.co.uk / 18.12.2012)

Iraq is a failed state and needs a revolution: former diplomat

In his recently published memoirs titled “Adnan Al-Pachachi in the Eye of the Storm,” former Iraqi foreign minister and representative to the United Nations, Adnan al-Pachachi, urges Iraqi youth to rise up peacefully against their government.  (Dina al-Shibeeb/Al Arabiya)

In his recently published memoirs titled “Adnan Al-Pachachi in the Eye of the Storm,” former Iraqi foreign minister and representative to the United Nations, Adnan al-Pachachi, urges Iraqi youth to rise up peacefully against their government.

Iraq missed out on the Arab Spring, but it not late for its youth to rise up against their government and turn Iraq, now a failed state, into a prosperous, functioning democracy, Iraqi veteran politician, Adnan al-Pachachi, has said.

The 90-year-old Pachachi, former Iraqi foreign minister and representative to the United Nations, reflected on his longtime political career in memoirs titled “Adnan al-Pachachi in the Eye of the Storm,” published in Arabic in early December 2012.

Pachachi, a secular figure, expressed “sorrow” over the current situation in Iraq.

“Sorrow fills my heart that the Arab Spring has skipped Iraq, the wind of change that toppled regimes and rulers didn’t reach the country,” he wrote in the book’s prologue.

Failed state

A copy of Adnan al-Pachachi’s book titled “Adnan Al-Pachachi in the Eye of the Storm.” (Dina al-Shibeeb/Al Arabiya)
A copy of Adnan al-Pachachi’s book titled “Adnan Al-Pachachi in the Eye of the Storm.”

The veteran politician, who retired officially from politics three years ago, was part of the secular yet Sunni dominated Iraqiya List party led by Shiite Ayad Allawi, told Al Arabiya English that Iraq is a “failed state by all means,” citing corruption, sectarianism and the Iraqi administration’s incapability to protect civilians and offer them the simplest of all services, including electricity.

“Terrorist militias freely operate in the country, petrifying people, making their lives a living hell,” he said.

“Iraq, a wealthy country, has become one of the most backward countries in the world.”

Bombings against civilians, while subsiding from their peak in 2006-2007, continue to terrorize Iraqis. On Monday, a wave of attacks targeting both Iraqi security forces and civilians killed 48 people. The attacks came only a day after another set of deadly blasts killed 25.

While sanctions and wars exhausted Iraqis to pursue a fully-fledged revolution like their counterparts in Arab Spring countries, the politician said “there is hope that the Iraqi youth will walk similar peaceful steps as their Arab brethren.”

But he warned that “the path is long, difficult and there are no magical solutions for complicated problems.”

He also urged the youth to stand “strong and resilient” against politicians and others who work to divide Iraq into sectarian and ethnic groups and for intellectuals to build bridges and communicate with the Iraqi people.

In defense of them, he wrote “Iraqi people love life, freedom, culture, and by their nature, are open and not as closed-minded as other countries can be.”

Pachachi said he believed change in Iraq is inevitable.

“The influence of sectarian and ethnical political parties will die down sooner or later, because Iraqis are holding on their national identity.”

During the country’s Baathist rule, Pachachi spent most of years in exile.

After his return to Iraq in 2003, he tried hard to explain to the Americans that Iraq shouldn’t have a sectarian-based political system, according to him.

“Americans allowed a sectarian-based political system due to their beliefs that Iraqis are divided by their sectarian and ethnic background and that the political assembly must represent this truth.”

What Americans did not understand, he said, was that Iraq “long witnessed intermarriage between Sunnis and Shiites.”

“At least the majority of well-educated people in Iraq are not sectarian, nor do they believe in such a divide,” he added.

Pachachi expressed regret to be drifted into Iraq’s sectarian politics when he accepted nomination to become Iraq’s vice president in 2005 as the post was only listed for Sunnis.

“Today I admit my mistake when I accepted my nomination [for vice presidency], I failed myself and others who supported me for having democratic, liberal and secular orientations,” he said.

The United States backed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, believing that he was accepted by the majority Shiites.

“For Americans, Maliki is the most preferred choice. After all, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq [a Shiite political party] is far closer to Iran than Maliki’s Islamic al-Dawa party.”

In the memoirs, Pachachi chronicles his life from birth, education till the final stages of his diplomatic and political career. He is also in the process of publishing his memoirs in English.

(english.alarabiya.net / 18.12.2012)

Opposition marches to protest poll violations, reject draft constitution

Opposition groups holding multiple marches in Cairo on Tuesday to condemn polling violation during first phase of constitutional poll, rejecting draft charter
Demonstration against draft constitution

Hundreds demonstrate in Cairo at Nasser City’s Rabaa El-Adaweya Mosque against draft constitution
Hundreds of protesters march in Cairo on Tuesday to condemn violations during the first phase of the constitutional referendum and to reject the draft charter.A few hundred protesters kicked off the march at 4pm from El-Nour and Rabaa El-Adawya mosque in Nasr City, heading to the presidential palace in Heliopolis.

While two marches starting from Shubra Square and Cairo’s Mohandessin Mostafa Mahmoud mosque are on their way to Tahrir.

The marches were called for by the National Salvation Front (NSF), an umbrella organization of opposition groups, to “prevent the forging of the voters’ will.”

The Egyptian Popular Current, a member of the NSF, called for Tuesday’s marches to continue to the Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC) headquarters after they converge at the presidential palace.

A march in Giza’s working class district of Imbaba is also scheduled for 7pm local time to encourage residents to vote against the constitution referendum on Saturday, 22 December.

The march was called for by ten political groups, including the Revolutionary Socialists, Strong Egypt Party,  the Six April Youth Movement and Socialist Popular Alliance to denounce what they described as “the Brotherhood’s constitution.”

Unofficial results show 56.5 per cent voted in favour of the referendum in the first phase of the referendum on 15 December. Voter turnout was around 31 per cent, according to reports.

The NSF said 1500 violations were officially reported with the police and 7400 were documented by rights monitors during voting on Saturday.

The NSF said the Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC), headed by Judge Zaghloul El-Balshi, should investigate the violations.

Violations included banning monitors from entering some polling stations, delaying voting and a general lack of judicial supervision at polling stations. There were also reports of supervisors falsely identifying themselves as judges.

The SEC on Monday said it would investigate reports of violations and announce its findings at the same time as the referendum results.

A majority of judges refused to oversee the ballot in protest at President Mohamed Morsi’s 22 November constitutional decree.

Members of the higher council of the Egyptian State Council’s judges club on Monday said they would not supervise the second phase of the poll due to the violations committed in the first phase.

The Egyptian State Council was one of the few judicial authorities that had agreed to supervise the referendum.

The Judges Club’s general assembly boycotted the election and before the poll claimed 90 per cent of its member would refrain from overseeing the poll.

The NSF has called for the second phase of voting to be postponed because the lack of judicial supervision makes an honest vote impossible. However, it is still calling for Egyptians to take part in the poll and vote ‘No’.

Many groups rejected Egypt’s draft charter well before the referendum dates were announced.

The opposition and other independent groups said Islamists were monopolising the drafting process, and thus produced a draft constitution that will deter many freedoms should it be ratified.

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups dominated the Constituent Assembly, especially after a number of liberals, leftists and independents resigned.

President Morsi, who was a long-term member of the Muslim Brotherhood, is accused of dividing the nation after he ignored calls for the draft constitution to be rewritten by a more inclusive assembly.

The second phase of the referendum will take place in 17 governorates on 22 December, including in Giza which has the second highest number of voters after Cairo.

(english.ahram.org.eg / 18.12.2012)

Support for Hamas soars in both W. Bank, Gaza

A recent poll shows Hamas leader Haniyeh would beat PA President Abbas if elections were held today.

Hamas's Haniyeh enters Egypt through Rafah

A new poll shows growing support for the Islamist Hamas movement in both the West Bank and Gaza. If the elections were held today, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would beat Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

The poll, by veteran pollster Khalil Shikaki of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, found that 48 percent of the electorate in both the West Bank and Gaza would vote for Haniyeh, and 45 percent for Abbas. Just three months ago, a similar poll predicted a victory for Abbas, with 51 percent support over Haniyeh’s 40 percent. The poll showed Haniyeh as the most popular he has been since 2008.

Last month, Israel and Hamas fought for eight days during which Hamas launched hundreds of rockets at Israel and Israel responded with punishing airstrikes. The fighting ended with a cease-fire that has so far been observed by both sides. Hamas has said it proved itself as equal to Israel despite the Jewish state’s vastly larger military.

Abbas has focused his efforts on the diplomatic track. Last month, the United Nations General Assembly recognized “Palestine” as a non-member observer state, which allows membership in various UN committees.

Ezbidi says this achievement pales in the face of what many see as Hamas’s military achievements.

Israel is also punishing the Palestinians for the decision to go to the UN. Israel is withholding $100 million in taxes and customs revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinians, and is using it to pay Palestinian debts to Israeli companies such as the Israel Electric Company. That money is usually used to help pay the salaries of more than 150,000 Palestinian civil servants.

“More than two-thirds of these civil servants have bank loans for their houses and cars so the banks are also getting nervous,” Ezbidi says. “We are really in a mess here in Ramallah. Hamas is being perceived as strong, and Abbas as very weak.”

For the first time in many years, Hamas held demonstrations in the West Bank to mark the anniversary of its founding. Thousands of Palestinians waving green flags came out, in yet another show of strength for Hamas.

Israeli officials are watching the internal developments among the Palestinians with growing nervousness.

“The support for Hamas is over-rated, and Hamas has not gained anything for the Palestinians,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Media Line. “But the confrontational approach is gaining ground, and nobody is interested in negotiations with Israel.”

The results of the poll also raise the question of Palestinian “reconciliation,” bringing an end to the bitter division between Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas. In 2007, after a mini-civil war, Hamas violently took over Gaza. Since then, there has been almost no contact between Hamas and Fatah and the Palestinian parliament has been unable to meet.

Polls consistently show that Palestinians want the rivalry to end, and for national elections to be held. But most analysts say they doubt that either side is ready now for reconciliation.

“Each side is playing up its victory – Hamas on the military side and Abbas on the diplomatic side – and neither wants to compromise,” Ezbidi said. “I think support for Hamas will continue to grow.”

(www.jpost.com / 18.12.2012)