Kuwait to host Syria crisis meeting, envoy meets Assad

 

  • Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (R) meets International peace envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi in Damascus December 24, 2012 in this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA. REUTERS/Sana


     Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad (R) meets International peace envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi in Damascus December 24, 2012 in this handout photograph released by Syria’s national news agency 

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Kuwait will host an international conference next month to tackle Syria’s humanitarian crisis, the ruling emir said on Monday, as foes of President Bashar al-Assad voiced frustration with international efforts to end the civil war.

In Damascus, special international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi metAssad but the Syrian opposition vented its anger at what it called a “silence” over the unabated killing of civilians by governmentforces, most recently in the central town of Halfaya.

Assad is under growing pressure from rebel forces in the 21-month-old war that activists say has killed more than 44,000 people. However, diesel from his main international ally, Russia, has arrived in Syria, providing the first significant amounts of the fuel in months to power industry and the military, generate electricity and heat homes during the winter.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also said he did not believe Assad’s government would use chemical weapons, in remarks broadcast shortly after activists released reports of what they said was a poison gas attack in the city of Homs.

Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al Sabah, said the conference for Syrian donors would be held in late January in response to an invitation by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“The Syrian wound is still bleeding, and the killing machine still continues, killing dozens of our brothers in Syria each day,” the emir told a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Bahrain.

Last week, the United Nations appealed for $1.5 billion to help save the lives of millions of Syrians suffering a “dramatically deteriorating” humanitarian situation. The appeals are to help 4 million people within Syria and up to 1 million Syrian refugees in five other countries until next July.

Underlining how rebels are taking the battle close to Assad’s doorstep, U.N. and Arab League envoy Brahimi had to drive overland to Damascus from Lebanon on the eve of his meeting with the president because fighting around the international airport has made it impossible to fly in.

Brahimi said his talks with Assad had dealt with possible solutions to a crisis. “I told him what I was seeing abroad and about the meetings I had with different officials in the region and abroad,” he told reporters. “The situation in Syria still is a reason for worry. We hope that all the sides work toward the solution, as the Syrian people want.”

OPPOSITION ANGER

Syria’s opposition fumed at what it called silence over the unrelated killing of civilians by Assad’s forces. On Sunday, dozens were killed in Halfaya and many more wounded. Activists blamed an air strike on a bakery where a crowd was queuing in the town, which was seized by insurgents last week.

“Silence over the massacres committed against the Syrian people is blackmail and a means to pressure the people, their revolution, and their leaders,” said Moaz Alkhatib, who heads the opposition National Coalition.

However, Alkhatib did not accuse anybody directly for remaining mum over what would be one of the deadliest air strikes of the civil war.

Activists also said rebels in central Hama province shot down a government fighter jet on Monday during clashes outside a village loyal to Assad. Rebels have captured a string of military compounds around the country. Damascus is now being dragged into the conflict, with fighting in its southern districts and the suburbs on its eastern outskirts.

Brahimi’s plan for an end to the Syrian crisis centers on a transitional government, but has left vague Assad’s role. The opposition rejects anything but Assad’s overthrow and says the governmentcrackdown has been too fierce to accept dialogue.

POISON GAS REPORTS

With rebel gains growing, the army has been increasingly relying on its superior weaponry. It has used air strikes and even long range, Scud-type missiles, according to U.S. and NATO reports.

Western powers have warned Assad that using chemical weapons would be a “red line”, which they implied would draw international involvement in the conflict. Syria repeated on Sunday that it would never use chemical weapons against its people.

In Moscow, Foreign Minister Lavrov told the Russia Today (RT) television channel that recent signs that parts of Syria’s chemical arsenal were being moved – a development that alarmed Western governments – was an effort by the government to make the weapons more secure.

“Our information is … that the latest reports about some movement of the chemical weapons was related to steps undertaken by the government to concentrate the chemical stuff … at two sites, to make sure it is absolutely protected,” he said.

This correlated with information the Americans had, he said.

The activists’ reports of what they said was a poison gas attack in Homs could not be confirmed, as the government restricts media access in Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights gathered activist accounts of the incident, which said that six rebel fighters were killed after inhaling smoke on the front line of Homs’s urban battleground.

The Observatory, a British-based group with a network of activists across the country, called on the International Committee of the Red Cross to send a medical team to the area to determine what had happened.

DIESEL LIFELINE

An Italian shipowner said two cargoes of Russian diesel had reached the Syrian port of Banias this month. It was unclear who was behind the shipments and there was no evidence they violated international sanctions against Syria.

“(Our vessels) loaded two cargoes of gasoil in Russia at the beginning of December for delivery to the East Mediterranean. The charterer then asked us to deliver the volumes to Banias,” said Paolo Cagnoni, who heads Mediterranea di Navigazione S.p.A., the family-run Italian tanker firm.

He declined to disclose the names of the vessel charterers and the recipient of the deliveries, which amount to around 42,000 metric tonnes of gasoil worth close to $40 million at current market prices.

(news.yahoo.com / 24.12.2012)

Israel establishes first university in occupied West Bank

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel upgraded a college in a West Bank Jewish settlement to a university on Monday, reflecting a determination to keep control of the enclave in any peace deal with the Palestinians.

The decision gives the Ariel campus, established in 1982 near the city of Nablus, the same status as universities inside Israel. It comes after Israel announced plans to expand other settlements on occupied land, drawing protest from European governments and the United States.

“For the first time in decades, Israel has a new university,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

Final approval came from military chiefs, who formalised a cabinet decision in September. Their decision was delayed while experts examined legal challenges from other universities that opposed the upgrade.

Some Israeli university heads argued that public funding for the new university would come at their expense.

The Palestinian Higher Education Office also condemned the decision and urged universities worldwide to boycott the institution.

Most world powers see Israeli settlements on land that Palestinians seek for a state as illegal and an obstacle to peace.

European nations and Washington have criticised Netanyahu’s plans to build as many as 6,000 more settlement homes, announced since a November 29 United Nations vote gave Palestinians effective recognition as a state and angered Israel.

European governments have summoned Israeli ambassadors to protest at the expansion of settlements, particularly those established on captured land that Israel annexed to Jerusalem in a move that was never recognised internationally.

Israel has signalled it intends to retain control of several larger settlement blocs such as Ariel under any future pact, while the fates of other enclaves may be negotiated.

(www.firstpost.com / 24.12.2012)

Dutch charities spurn G4S cash over abuse of Palestinian children

 

Two Dutch charities have refused to accept future donations from G4S after they were informed by a blogger known as Sonja about the company’s role in Israel’s detention of Palestinian children.

Meanwhile, a protest was staged outside G4S’ headquarters in London last Friday (21 December), highlighting the company’s provision of services to Israeli jails (see video above). The activists called for the immediate release of all Palestinian political prisoners, including prisoners on hunger strike. The protestors informed the public about G4S’s role in the ill-treatment of Palestinian child prisoners who are unlawfully transferred from the occupied West Bank to prisons in Israel.

“Undesirable” cooperation

My post earlier this month, “Israeli prisons equipped by notorious security firm G4S hold Palestinian teens in solitary confinement,” prompted Sonja — whose blog is called Hotel Terminus — to examine G4S’s activities in the Netherlands. After learning that G4S had boasted of its support to four Dutch charities, she informed the charities about how the firm was assisting Israel’s violations of international law.

The Food Bank in Utrecht ended its cooperation with G4S in response to the information provided by Sonja.

A few days later, another charity Jantje Beton — which promotes free outdoor play for children — announced on its website that it had severed its relationship with G4S, its main sponsor. Jantje Beton explained that its decision:

follows the coverage of the relationship between G4S Group and security activities in Israeli jails. Both parties agree that for Jantje Beton, which is an organization aiming to improve outdoor play facilities for children in the Netherlands, it is undesirable to cooperate with a sponsor that is associated with violations of child and human rights elsewhere. G4S Cash Solutions Netherlands had sponsored Jantje Beton since 2010.

A third charity, the Ronald McDonald Children’s Fund, has indicated that it is investigating the situation, while the fouth charity, the PIM Foundation, has not yet responded. G4S has removed Food Bank Utrecht and Jantje Beton from the list of charities it supports, published on its website.

G4S provides assistance to charitable causes and local community activities to cultivate an image of a “socially responsible” employer. The Dutch charities who no longer want to play a role in whitewashing G4S’s complicity in Israel’s unlawful acts have set an inspiring example.

(Adri Nieuwhof / electronicintifada.net / 24.12.2012)

Veolia withdraws bid for North London waste contract under boycott pressure

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No 2 Veolia Action Group (No2VAG) celebrate a huge victory. London Dec.21, 2012

During the last 2 years, a great campaign by the No to Veolia Action Group (NO2VAG) has worked hard in pressuring councilors to exclude Veolia from a £4.7 Billion contracts in north London. They have also submitted letters to North London Waste Authority (NLWA) documenting the illegal actions this Israeli profiteer has been committing and collected a petition signed by several thousand local people against selection of the company.

Less than 2 months ago, Veolia failed to win Canterbury Council’s 40 Million GBP contract after facing determined opposition from the local community, including Palestinian rights campaigners, over its complicity with illegal activity in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

In an announcement published 21st Dec, the NLWA confirmed Veolia Environmental Services had withdrawn its attempt to submit final tenders for both NLWA’s waste services and fuel use contracts. Veolia had been shortlisted for both contracts.

The news came after increasing resistance to the bid by No2VAG, headed by Yael Kahn who said,

“As the chair of Islington Friends of Yibna (IFY) my focus is on occupied Gaza, especially Rafah where Yibna refugee camp is. So when I found out that Veolia was bidding for contracts in north London, which includes Islington, I was reluctant to get involved. This is because the reason so many are outraged about Veolia is the infrastructure it builds in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. But my dilemma became more personal when there was no sign of a campaign building up. I could not envisage that my own home borough, Islington, would become complicit with the company that facilitates the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. I took further encouragement when Palestinians from Gaza stated that in spite of the siege and the Israeli bombardments, it was important for them that Veolia was blocked.
“Veolia got the message that this campaign was too strong for it to ignore and made it impossible for it to win the colossal £4.7 Billion contracts in north London. We won. Veolia pulled out. This is the biggest victory yet against Veolia and I’m so pleased we succeeded in blocking it in north London. We have received a notification that Veolia Environmental Services will not be submitting final tenders for either NLWA’s waste services or fuel use contracts. Now, Veolia dumps itself from NLWA contract bids.”

I spoke with Yael Kahn and asked her if there was proof that the campaign is what led to Veolia pulling out the bid. Kahn responded “We have been informed by a few councillors from across the 7 north London boroughs that it was our campaign that drove the latest changes in the NLWA plans and Veolia’s withdrawal. We always believed that Veolia was desperate to avoid any publicity that would expose its complicity with the Israeli violations of international law and that is exactly what had occurred in the last few weeks. There is no doubt in my mind that this was one of the key reasons it withdrew, as well as our campaign exposing the technical shortfalls of its solutions.”

In response to this same question of proof No2VAG spokesperson Caroline Day responded by email: “It is significant that Veolia will not provide any reasons for their withdrawal. If the withdrawal had been for legitimate reasons, the company would have immediately made such a justification of its costly abandonment of the lucrative contract. Moreover, it has been clear throughout the campaign, especially during the suppression of the deputation, that the company and its Zionist supporters wish to avoid public scrutiny of its bad business in the illegal settlements.The fact that the campaign had recently attained such wide coverage, support from the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine and charity War on Want and had revealed damaging information to the public, all suggests that Veolia was keen to limit the damage further scrutiny that the No2VAG would have brought to bear in the coming months”

Update: I have just received this message from Yael Kahn who confirmed that Councillors told Irfan Akhtar of Waltham Forest Council of Mosques that it was No2VAG campaign that did it, Yael Kahn just forwarded along an email, Akhtar writes: “I have been getting phone calls from WF councillors congratulating me on a successful campaign. One senior Cllr said our efforts exposing Veolia did the job and the momentum against it was all too evident – the petitions, the first deputation, the media coverage in multiple boroughs and off course the international angle supplied by the UN – I was actually looking forward to the next few months!”
Why Veolia?

In a letter sent to the NLWA from the Coalition of Women for Peace in Occupied Palestine, “Veolia Environment and its subsidiaries are involved in violations of international law and human rights and have a record of discriminatory practices… Civil society organizations have been campaigning to encourage Veolia to cease from these practices… and its blatant disregard of ethical guidelines and international standards of social corporate responsibility.”

The letter outlined many unethical activities by Veolia, such as its involvement in the construction of the Jerusalem Light Rail which has been designed to connect the illegal settlements built on East Jerusalem with the Israeli territory of West Jerusalem. This violates International Humanitarian Law and the fourth Geneva Convention, article 49, regarding the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. This is not the end of Veolia’s deep complicity with Israeli settlement activity since the company also operates bus services to illegal settlements as well as dump waste on Occupied Land at the Tovlan landfill.

Veolia also published a racist classified advertisement for drivers that specified “completion of military service” and Hebrew as a mother tongue. It also announced that it would operate “kosher” train routes – segregated sitting areas for men (in the front of the train) and for women (in the back of the train).

No2VAG

Kahn continued, “After this seismic loss of contracts we expect Veolia to finally realise that complicity with the Israeli war crimes is not only unethical, but is extremely expensive.” Veolia has not commented yet. In a report by Marcus Dyschpublished in The Jewish Chronicle Online, “Veolia has given no reason for the withdrawal, which was announced on Friday, and a spokesman said the company would not comment.”

I asked Yael about her feelings, “I am ecstatic knowing that this biggest campaign against Veolia was won.” But did you think that you’d win the battle? I asked, “I never entertained the thought of not winning – this fight was simply too important.”

Caroline Day, the spokeswoman for No2VAG said, “This is a huge victory for local democracy. Powerful lobbies representing unethical interests in the illegal settlements may have won a short-term victory in silencing me*, but in standing up for their right to see their money invested ethically; local people have achieved a victory for justice for the Palestinian people. Companies are becoming increasingly aware that being complicit in Israeli war crimes is bad business.”

In my email exchange with Day, she added:  “We are delighted that justice has prevailed and Veolia has withdrawn from the procurement process in north London. Despite apologists for the Israeli settlements in my own borough management to stop me from making criticisms of the company and silence reference to its complicity in violations of international law, our strong collective local voice was, in the end, too loud for them to ignore.”

Engineer Rob Langlands and secretary of No2VAG said, “North London residents want an environmentally responsible and cost effective solution to waste disposal. The Veolia technical proposals were not on track to provide this. I am especially delighted, because of the ongoing Veolia involvement in the illegal Israeli settlements, that the Veolia bids have now been consigned to the rubbish bin.”

Maseeh Walehdy, one of the No2VAG campaigners expressed his happiness at the news, “Today’s announcement that Veolia have pulled out of the bidding for a multi-billion pound contract goes to show that no matter how big the corporation, a small group of people who truly believe in a cause will be your downfall. We spent months chasing after councilors and committee members to explain to them Veolia’s complicity in occupied Palestine and I guess sheer dedication does pay off.”

Fenya Fischler a student at SOAS in London also involved in a campaign to block Veolia in Colchester told me “I think the decision today is fantastic news and it shows in a true sense how dedicated sustained grassroots activism can achieve real tangible results. I’m very glad to have followed the campaign for a couple of months and it is clear that it is part of a growing movement, including BDS, that we’re seeing at the moment, showing genuine practical solidarity with Palestinians and condemning the continued Israeli occupation.”

Izzat Ismail, a student at UCL and an activist who supported the No2VAG campaign said after the success, “Surely Veolia’s withdrawal is the result of an intense campaign and strong opposition from No2VAG campaigners exposing Veolia’s grave misconduct in the illegal Israeli settlements, its poor safety record and its financial incapabilities. Not to mention that Veolia’s technical proposal is even worse for the environment and is not a cost effective solution for North Londoners. The fact that Veolia was shortlisted in the final stage has tarnished the image of the NLWA as a public body that itself is obliged to ensure the procurement process complies with the 2006 Public Contract Regulations. Veolia is a parasite and never welcome in North London, I’m glad that Veolia realized this fact!”

Update: Irfan Akhtar of Waltham Forest Council of Mosques: “It was inspiring and at times shocking to realise the amount of sleep Yael was getting by on! We at the WF council of mosques came on late in this campaign but are proud to work with such Stellar campaigners and be part of such a massive victor”

Difficulties

“As a group IFY decided to support the campaign to block Veolia on the grounds that fighting any of the Israeli war crimes would help in the fight against its crimes against Gaza. IFY then paid for the first legal work for No2VAG. While the Authority we were fighting, NLWA, refused to take into account the legal representations, it helped our understanding of the law and gave us the tools to challenge the NLWA.” Yael stated.

“This campaign was my hardest in 40 years of activism. The obstacles were from all directions. The Authority used every trick and was assisted by councillors’ indifference and media that was silent for a long time. As was exposed in the last few weeks, paid Israeli propagandists were lobbying against us from within, such as a councilor in one of the 7 boroughs, Luke Akehurst, who is employed by BICOM (Britain Israel Communications Research Centre) as the director of ‘We Believe in Israel’. But the hardest were those who were supposed to assist the campaign but failed us abysmally.”

More Contracts to Be Blocked!

Due to companies like Veolia, Palestinians suffer a severe humanitarian impact including house demolition, murders and injuries and restriction of movement by Israel. The existence and extension of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are illegitimate, making Veolia an inappropriate partner for any public institution. As Palestinians facing a brutal and illegal occupation, local authorities and institutions are urged to follow the model set by public authorities and European banks that have chosen to disassociate themselves from Veolia and not to award it any public service contracts. Such action would contribute to upholding the rule of law and advancing justice and fairness for Palestinians.

Yael’s message to the whole world was, “Now that we won a victory in most difficult circumstances I hope no one would give up without a sustained and focused fight against companies like Veolia – even when it looks impossible we can win and we shall.”

A Word from Gaza

In Gaza, people thank all who joined the campaign. Thank you for your support and dedication. This is a major blow to companies that profit from war and apartheid and now they have finally seen that there are repercussions and there always will be.
Hanan Abunasser, a BDS activist from Gaza, in response to my question on her feeling as a Gazan after this extraordinary success No2VAG has achieved, said “All the companies that are complicit with the Israeli occupation in a direct or indirect way should realize that this is not only immoral, but it costs a lot.”

What I can see now is people around me in Gaza are jubilant and proud of the activists who are playing a great role to help and support us in Palestine. Today’s success further shows that there are strong and renowned international solidarity movements calling for justice.

(mondoweiss.net / 24.12.2012)

Israel refuses to transfer Abdul-Jabbar Jarar in need of emergency surgery to hospital

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JENIN, (PIC)– The Israeli occupation authorities (IOA) refused to transfer the prisoner leader in Hamas movement, Sheikh Abdul-Jabbar Jarar, 46, to the hospital, despite the doctors’ recommendations that he needs an emergency surgery.

The wife of the captive Jarar said that her husband suffers from chronic heart disease, stressing that the Israeli prison administration does not bother for his deteriorated health condition, and procrastinated in transferring him to Ramle prison hospital for conducting a surgery.”

She noted that his health situation has worsened when the Israeli authorities have renewed his administrative detention, despite the Israeli appeal court’s decision to release him.

She added that they refused to treat or release him. “There was an attempt to provide the necessary treatment for him, but they refused, despite his suffering, especially after declaring his hunger strike with the prisoners,” she explained.

Prisoner Jarar’s wife appealed to humanitarian and international institutions to bear their responsibility towards her husband, especially that he suffers from a serious life-threatening condition.

(occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com / 24.12.2012)

Saudi writer arrested for Islam ‘insult’

A SAUDI Arabian liberal writer has been arrested for making comments on his Twitter account that are allegedly insulting to Islam, family members say.

Turki Ahmed was arrested on Monday on orders of Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdel Aziz, who was tipped off by a religious organisation, they said.

The interior ministry did not confirm the arrest, however, and its spokesman was unreachable for comment.

Ahmed on his Twitter account attacked radical Islamists he said were twisting the Prophet Mohammed’s “message of love” and what he described as “a neo-Nazism which is on the rise in the Arab world – Islamic extremism”.

His comments provoked fierce debate on social networking sites in Saudi Arabia between his supporters and detractors.

Online activist Raif Badawi, another Saudi, was arrested in June in Jeddah and accused of apostasy, which carries the death penalty in the Gulf kingdom.

Badawi helped set up a liberal Saudi website, which declared a “day of liberalism” on May 7, calling for protests against the stranglehold of religious officials on public life in the strict Sunni-ruled monarchy.

Amnesty International condemned Badawi’s prosecution.

“Raif Badawi’s trial for ‘apostasy’ is a clear case of intimidation against him and others who seek to engage in open debates about the issues that Saudi Arabians face in their daily lives,” said Philip Luther, director of the organisation’s Middle East and North Africa division.

“He is a prisoner of conscience who must be released immediately and unconditionally,” he added.

(www.news.com.au / 24.12.2012)

Thousands of Syrians leave Jordan for the front lines

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MAFRAQ, Jordan — Encouraged by what they view as fatal setbacks to the Syrian regime, several thousand of an estimated 250,000 Syrian exiles in Jordan have left in recent weeks to join the rebellion in their homeland.

The exodus has emptied hundreds of the safe houses, apartments and refu­gee tents that housed Syrians in Mafraq and other northern Jordanian cities, according to Syrian activists and Jordanian officials. Jordanian security officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record, said as many as 8,000 Syrians have crossed the border back into Syria in the past 10 days alone.

According to Syrian activists in Syria and Jordan, the sudden returns are a response to a call for reinforcements issued in early December by the rebel military council, the main umbrella organization of army defectors locked in a bloody war of attrition against regime forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Activists said the response has been greatest among refugees in Jordan, because pro-Assad militias in Lebanon have prevented similar returns from that country and many Syrians in Turkey were already involved in the fight.

Syrian rebels said the call for more forces comes as the opposition faces a critical stage in the months-long conflict, with their offensive inching closer to the heart of Damascus, capturing several military bases and fending off counteroffensives on rebel strongholds in Aleppo, the southern city of Daraa and the Damascus countryside.

“Now, Jordan has become our number one source of manpower,” said Abu Hani Darawi, a Free Syrian Army coordinator whose battalions in Daraa have received the bulk of the returnees from Jordan. “We are now entering the final battles for Syria, and we need every able Syrian to join us.”

The call for recruits has sparked a steady stream of voluntary returnees from Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp, near Mafraq. Jordanian officials are facilitating the repatriation of as many as 150 military-aged Syrians every day, according to Interior Ministry statistics. Ahmed Rifai, a 25-year-old camp resident, said FSA gains in Daraa had prompted him and two of his cousins to request repatriation in a bid to join the rebels.

“We can feel that Bashar’s final days are coming,” Rifai said. “We want to experience liberation day placing our boots on the neck of the regime, not cowering in a refugee camp.”

In addition to former and would-be fighters, activists said the returnees from Jordan include hundreds of doctors, nurses, lawyers and engineers who aspire to rebuild their homeland even as the conflict continues.

Abu Muuath Hamad, a 44-year-old paramedic, said he fled the central Syrian town of Douma after the regime persecuted him for offering assistance to suspected protesters. He said he sought refuge in the Jordanian city of Mafraq for six months, spending his time tending to the injuries and the rehabilitation of the hundreds of wounded FSA fighters who have crossed into Jordan for treatment. On Dec. 10, he was repatriated and returned to Douma, where he was appointed as chief field medic by the FSA.

“Many of us thought we could make a difference from Jordan, but we were just observers like everyone else,” Hamad said in a phone interview from Douma. “When the whole world turns its back on your homeland, there is only one thing left to do: Go home.”

But even as they welcome the assistance, Syrian rebels play down the potential of new returnees to turn the war’s tide. Many of the exiles have no prior fighting experience. Others are months removed from the front lines and find themselves lagging in the rapidly intensifying urban warfare.

“Each returnee needs at least two weeks to become acclimated with our current tactics and needs. It might be up to a month before they can really contribute,” Darawi said.

Repeating a long-standing rebel plea, Darawi said more arms, not men, would give the opposition the final advantage over the Assad regime. But while Jordanian border forces largely turn a blind eye to the mass crossings, they continue to restrict the movement of weapons. Returnees are limited to carrying personal firearms and basic medical supplies, not the heavy artillery and surface-to-air missiles FSA officers say they need to topple the regime.

“We will not prevent Syrians from their right to return, but under no circumstance will we allow arms smuggling through our borders,” said a Jordanian military source stationed in the border region.

Even so, optimism about rebel gains has buoyed Syrians who remain in Jordan. In recent weeks, they have launched a flurry of new coalitions and formed unions for lawyers and civil servants in anticipation of a post-Assad transition phase.

“Syrians are no longer waiting to see when or if the regime will fall. We are looking at the transition period and what we can do to build a new democratic state,” former deputy oil minister Abdo Hussameddin told reporters in the Jordanian capital last week as he announced the formation of the Free National Coalition of Public Sector Workers. “While the regime is destroying homes and buildings, we are focusing on building institutions.”

Recent rebel attacks on the international airport in Damascus and the takeovers of other military airstrips have inspired 150 defected Syrian military pilots in Jordan to form the foundation of what they hope to be the FSA’s first air force squadron, said Lt. Col. Abu Abdullah Mohammed. The former pilots say they are set to return once rebels have successfully captured an air base or airport where they can put their skills to use.

“We had always planned to return to the revolutionary cause should we be called upon,” said Mohammed, who, like many of his former Syrian air force peers, remains in the Jordanian border city of Mafraq. “Now it seems that we have to speed up.”

The recent departures represent a small fraction of the Syrian population in Jordan. But they have left a palpable emptiness in the apartment blocks and houses in Mafraq that, mere weeks ago, were crammed with refugees, many of them hosted by Jordanians.

On a recent day, Jordanian Abdul Rahman Talal, a household appliance importer and a supporter of Syrian revolutionaries, stood in his carpeted living room and furrowed his brow as he pondered a sound he had not heard in more than 20 months: silence.

Until early December, his home in this border city had served as a safe house for 30 Syrian rebels. Then, suddenly, his guests headed for the front lines back home.

“After all the bombings and setbacks, I thought this day would never come,” said Talal, 42, as he picked up a green-striped Syrian opposition scarf left behind by one of his guests. “I feel like I have lost an entire tribe.”

(www.syrianassistance.com / 24.12.2012)

‘Lost tribe’ members migrate from India to Israel

Jewish immigrants of the Bnei Menashe tribe of the Jewish community in Manipur, northeast India, wait to be reunited with family members as they arrive at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv on December 24, 2012. (AFP)

Jewish immigrants of the Bnei Menashe tribe of the Jewish community in Manipur, northeast India, wait to be reunited with family members as they arrive at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv on December 24, 2012.

Fifty members of an Indian community believed to be descendants of one of the lost tribes of Israel arrived on Monday in the Jewish state, completing their immigration.

Linking up with family members who have already settled in Israel, they are among the first wave of the 7,200-strong Bnei Menashe community’s mass immigration to the Jewish state.

The Indians say they are the descendants of the 10 tribes who lived in the kingdom of Israel in Biblical times and who were dispersed, according to the Bible, after the invasion of the Assyrians in 721 BC.

Michael Freund of the Shavei Israel group (meaning “those who return to Israel” in Hebrew), which arranged their journey, said more than 7,000 people have sought help from the Israeli government to emigrate from India.

“The members of this tribe have never forgotten where they came from and we are excited to be able to help them come back,” he told AFP, adding that hundreds of others were expected to arrive in coming weeks.

More than 1,700 members of the Bnei Menashe community already live in Israel.

(english.alarabiya.net / 24.12.2012)

Gaza patients suffer from shortage of medicine after Israeli war

Hospitals and clinics in Gaza continue to struggle with a shortage of medicine and surgical supplies, more than a month after Israel’s onslaught on the besieged enclave,Press TV reports.

Hamas Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra warned of a health crisis in Gaza if medical supplies were not delivered to the hospitals in the besieged strip, saying that some “650 types of medicines and hospital supplies are not available in our storage facilities as a direct result of the 8-day Israeli war [on Gaza].”

Palestinian doctors say the situation is especially dangerous for patients with chronic diseases who require constant treatment.

Meanwhile, human rights activists have called for stronger international action against the Israeli regime to pressure it into lifting its illegal blockade on the improvised sliver.

“People in Gaza suffer from this siege, especially after the Israel military operation on Gaza. I would like to ask our governments and European institutions to act in order to lift this siege,” said Rosa Schiano, an Italian activist in Gaza.

Over 160 Palestinians, including many women and children, were killed and about 1,200 others were injured in the Israeli attacks on Gaza during November 14 to 21.

The recent Israeli war on Gaza was Tel Aviv’s second in four years. The Israeli regime waged a 22-day war on the densely-populated Palestinian enclave in 2008, killing more than 1,400 Palestinians, including at least 300 children.

Gaza has been blockaded since June 2007, a situation that has caused a decline in the standard of living, unprecedented levels of unemployment, and unrelenting poverty.

(www.presstv.ir / 24.12.2012)

#MINDSICK | Israeli extremists find new bizarre way to insult Muslims in Jerusalem

 

198655_345x230[1]JERUSALEM (Ma’an) – Extremists in Jerusalem have invented a bizarre new method to insult Palestinians and the Muslim religion.

“For Sale” signs placed on used cars around the city with phone numbers lead potential buyers to a recorded message profanely insulting Palestinians and the Prophet Muhammad.

Hamza Mahmoud, a resident of the Old City, told Ma’an that he and several others tried to call numbers they found on cars for sale and they heard racist insults and curses.

A Ma’an reporter tried one of the numbers and was led to a profane recording by a male speaking Arabic in a Hebrew accent. That number was 054-6032825.

Jerusalem-based journalist Jihad Zghayyer told Ma’an that he received complaints from residents saying they were tricked into calling in an attempt to buy cars, and the result was the same.

He highlighted that it was common to see such cars with “For Sale” signs on the main road between Jerusalem and Bethlehem where Palestinian workers frequently travel.

Palestinian residents complained about what they described as a racist phenomenon to lawyers and Arab members of Knesset.

Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri told Ma’an she was unaware of the issue and said the authorities would act only if they received a complaint from residents.

(occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com / 24.12.2012)