Chemical watchdog worried over Syria attack reports

A handout picture taken on December 29, 2013 and released on January 7, 2014 shows a Norwegian soldier standing guard on one of four Danish and Norwegian vessels deployed to bring Syria’s chemical agents to destruction
Ahmet Uzumcu, director general of the OPCW, holds a press conference in Rome on January 16, 2014
Ahmet Uzumcu, director general of the OPCW, holds a press conference in Rome on January 16, 2014

Ahmet Uzumcu, director general of the OPCW, holds a press conference in Rome on January 16, 2014

UN chemical weapons chief to detail plan for Syria arsenal

UN chemical weapons chief to detail plan for Syria arsenal

UN chemical weapons chief to detail plan for Syria arsenal

UN chemical weapons chief to detail plan for Syria arsenal

The head of the world’s chemical weapons watchdog voiced concern on Thursday about reports from the Syrian government of attacks on two chemical facilities but said they could not be independently verified.

“The Syrian authorities have reported attacks on two sites,” Ahmet Uzumcu, director general of the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said on a visit to Rome.

“It would be worrying if there are attempts to capture those chemicals. I don’t think it’s in the interests of anyone,” he said, as Italy prepared later Thursday to announce the the port where the chemicals will be taken.

A United Nations-backed plan to destroy Syria’s 1,290-tonne declared chemical weapons arsenal has been delayed by the fighting raging across the country.

Uzumcu said that talks were ongoing for “temporary truces” to allow the safe passage of chemical arms convoys to the Syrian port of Latakia for loading.

The OPCW chief also said there had been a delay over requests from the Syrian government for extra security equipment for the convoys, including armoured vehicles.

He said “most” of the Syrian demands would be met.

Uzumcu said he was still confident the arsenal would be destroyed by June 30 as specified in a September 2013 UN resolution and said co-operation on chemical weapons could help foster a broader peace process in Syria.

“The international community should seize this opportunity to extend this consensus to other areas,” Uzumcu said, speaking ahead of Syria peace talks dubbed Geneva II due to start on January 22.

“The current compromise on this particular limited issue may have paved the way for a wider process.”

He told AFP in an interview that the transfer of Syrian chemical agents from a Danish ship onto a US vessel in an as-yet-unnamed Italian port was now expected to take place “by the end of January or early February”.

The transit of some 500 tonnes of Syria’s deadliest chemicals including mustard gas and the ingredients for the nerve agents sarin and VX, which could take up to 48 hours, has already sparked local concern in Italy.

“Every possible measure is being taken for a safe trans-loading. The risks are very obvious and we have taken every measure to minimise these risks,” he said.

Ugo Cappellacci, the regional governor of Sardinia, which is referred to in the Italian press as the most likely choice for the operation, said on Wednesday he does not want his island to be “Italy’s waste bin”.

“We are absolutely opposed to the transit,” he said.

Commercial and military ports in the Calabria, Puglia and Sicily regions in southern Italy are also possible.

The Danish ship earlier this month took a first cargo of materials from Latakia and is now back in international waters under military protection, awaiting a return to pick up the remainder.

Uzumcu said the initial load was “a little more than 16 tonnes”.

Once the ship has fully loaded, the plan is it will sail to Italy, escorted by Danish and Norwegian warships.

US ship expected to set off for Italy by next week

In Italy, the chemicals will be transferred onto the US ship MV Cape Ray, which will destroy them at sea — to avoid risks to civilian areas — over a period of up to three months using specially-built mobile hydrolysis equipment.

The MV Cape Ray is still in the United States and is expected to set off this week or early next week for the two-week voyage to Italy.

US army personnel on board will be charged with neutralising the chemicals under the supervision of OPCW inspectors.

The chemicals, which are only weapons if mixed and fitted on munitions, will be combined with neutralising agents and the hazardous waste generated will be stored on the ship and then disposed of commercially.

The operation could take as little as 45 days if the weather is calm but is expected to last 90 days.

UN Security Council resolution 2118 was passed after a massive chemical weapon attack that killed hundreds in several opposition areas around Damascus in August.

Rebels and the regime exchanged blame for that attack.

(Source / 16.01.2014)

Bahrain Crown Prince Meets with Opposition Leaders

Washington, D.C. – Following news reports that Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman met with opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman on Wednesday, Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley issued the following statement:

“The meeting between the Crown Prince and some opposition leaders takes us back to March 2011. Dozens of deaths and thousands of arrests later, we are approaching crunch time for decisive action and political reconciliation in Bahrain.

“Any deal made between the Bahraini regime and opposition leaders will only be successful if it involves solutions to human rights abuses including release of political prisoners and accountability for past violations. Further, the deal must provide real solutions that the Bahraini regime and opposition leaders were unable to achieve through reconciliation talks three years ago.

“The United States should push for a broad range of opposition voices in the negotiations including key opposition leaders who remain in prison.”

(Source / 16.01.2014)

Might they want to join Palestine?

An Arab-Israeli dilemma

Avigdor Lieberman’s radical ideas for population transfers are gaining ground

HARISH might have been Israel’s first city purpose-built for both Arabs and Jews. On the hilltops dividing the Mediterranean coast from the West Bank, bulldozers have been clearing the way to accommodate 60,000 inhabitants. Its first wave of Arab ones has already co-operated with ultra-Orthodox Jews to elect a mayor. And unlike neighbouring Jewish town councils, which went to court to stop Arabs living or burying their dead within their security gates, Harish’s officials portray a future where minarets and synagogues will coexist side by side. Yet if Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has his way, the city will be wrenched from its predominantly Arab surroundings.

When Yigal Shachar, who heads the city’s special planning committee, draws a putative border between the states of Palestine and Israel, he draws a loop around Harish, including its happily integrated Arabs, keeping it firmly in Israel—but draws a new line around a concentration of nearby Arab-Israeli towns such as Ara, putting them into the adjacent West Bank, where the Palestinians hope to build their state.

Ten years ago, when Mr Lieberman first proposed moving Arab-populated Israeli towns near the present border into Palestine in exchange for Jewish settlement blocs in the Palestinians’ West Bank being incorporated into Israel, he was branded a racist firebrand. Liberals accused him of promoting the forcible “transfer” plan, akin to ethnic cleansing, proclaimed by a rabbi, Meir Kahane, who vilified Arabs while calling for a pure Jewish state.

Today, however, even some doveish Israeli left-wingers find such ideas reasonable. And when Mr Lieberman recently again proposed swapping Jewish-populated lands for Arab ones, not only did Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, stay silent, but American mediators declared that the foreign minister had joined the peace camp of those seeking a two-state solution. “No one will be expelled from his home, or have his property confiscated,” says Mr Lieberman. “We’re just talking about moving the border.” On his Facebook page, he recently mocked Arab parliamentarians who protested against the idea, teasing them as “lovers of Zion” for wanting to stay in Israel.

But a recent poll in a liberal Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, found a growing number of Arabs backed it, too. Whereas 80% had decried it five years ago as another stage in the nakba, or catastrophe, as Arabs call their dispossession by Israel in 1948, over a third were now reported to be in favour.

Many reasons have been aired. Israel’s policy of letting its Arab, but not its Jewish, citizens holiday and work in the West Bank’s Palestinian cities has strengthened ties between Arabs on both sides of the current border. And some of Israel’s secular Arabs are keen to shed their Islamists, whose wellspring lies in Wadi Ara, part of the area Mr Lieberman wants to swap.

But the main reason Israel’s 1.7m Arabs increasingly identify with Palestine is the mounting rejection they face in Israel. Mr Lieberman’s dreams of casting them off and Mr Netanyahu’s drive for global recognition of Israel as a specifically Jewish state are alienating many of the more than 20% of Israelis who are Arabs.

This growing sense of ostracism has been reinforced by actions. Israel’s national bus carrier skirts Arab towns while serving Jewish outposts. The government builds industrial zones for Jewish towns but rarely for Arab ones. Though signposts are in Arabic as well as Hebrew, they are often spelt wrong. “We thought we were citizens in a democracy,” says Makbula Nassar, a fiery broadcaster on Radio Shams, an Arabic radio station in Israel. “Despite decades of dispossession, communal violence was minimal. But we discovered that we were always considered the enemy.” An Arab dentist in an Israeli hospital sees his hopes of coexistence wither, as the conflict that was largely about territory turns religious. An Arab lawyer fears her lifetime of trying to integrate into Israel will be worthless. “I’m an expert in Israeli law. How will I practise in Palestine?”

(Source / 16.01.2014)

Israeli PM demands to retain another settlement block

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted in recent talks with U.S. officials that Israel retains a fourth settlement block, in addition to the three major blocks claimed previously, Israel’s Army Radio reported on Thursday, APA reports quoting XInhua.

Israel annexed territories in the West Bank and east Jerusalem following the 1967 Mideast War and continues to build settlements on lands which are meant to be part of the future Palestinian state.

One of the key issues in the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians is land swaps. The three major blocks Israel had claimed to remain its own under any future agreement are around Ariel, Gush Etzion and Ma’aleh Adumim in the West Bank.

The fourth block which Netanyahu reportedly added to his list of demands is around Beit El near Ramallah at the center of the West Bank. The Ha’aretz daily reported that the Palestinian vehemently oppose this demand.

In addition, the daily reported that Netanyahu refuses to offer an equal amount of land to give back to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for this block of settlements but suggested buying some of the land and providing compensation for Palestinian land owners.

Israel and the Palestinians returned to the negotiation table in July 2012 after a three year halt.

Kerry has visited the region ten times since February 2012, going back and forth between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and trying to gather a framework agreement to reach the initial target of April 9 as a deadline for the current round of talks.

There are many disagreements between Israel and the Palestinians, including the security issues and Israel’s ongoing settlement construction on lands set to be part of the future Palestinian state.

(Source / 16.01.2014)

U.N. Reports Mass Executions in Northern Syria

GENEVA — A recent series of mass executions attributed to jihadist rebels in Syria may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, Navi Pillay, the United Nations human rights chief, said on Thursday.

Mass executions of civilians and of fighters who were no longer participating in hostilities were reported in the northern cities of Aleppo, Idlib and Raqqa. They were carried out by armed opposition groups in Syria, in particular by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Ms. Pillay said in a statement, citing what she described as reliable testimony by witnesses.

The executions appear to have coincided with a succession of fierce battles between opposition groups in northern Syria since the start of the year as moderate and Islamist factions try to drive out hard-line fighters linked to Al Qaeda.

Many bodies, often handcuffed and blindfolded, were found eight days ago in a children’s hospital in Aleppo used by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as a base until an attack by other opposition groups forced the militants to withdraw, Ms. Pillay said. A witness interviewed by the United Nations human rights office identified four local news media activists among the dead, she said.

Ms. Pillay also cited “deeply disturbing reports” of mass executions by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighters when they pulled out of Raqqa early this month and when they regained control of the town this week.

The reports, which suggested that extremist rebels who were forced to abandon their positions had executed prisoners, were particularly alarming in view of the large number of civilians held by these groups, Ms. Pillay said.

(Source / 16.01.2014)

Syrian Coalition: Negotiation Impossible as Long as Assad Regime Rejects Basic Principles of Geneva II

Khalid Saleh, head of the Media Office, calls on the international community to put pressure on the Assad regime to “clarify its position towards Geneva II, after its evasiveness and political manipulations were exposed after the leakage of a message sent by the regime to the UN Secretary General. The message stresses that the Assad regime has “reservations on some of the points contained in the invitations sent by the UN to attend the conference on the ground that they are incompatible with the legal position of the Syrian state and for not meeting the higher interests of the Syrian people.” Saleh points out that “negotiations would be impossible as long as the Assad rejects the fundamental principles of the Conference. The Assad regime has been showing total disregard for the resolutions made by international community, and has been using dissimulation in its political discourse, which means that all its past talk about believing in Geneva as a conference for peace is no more than political manipulation and wasting of time at the expense of the blood of the Syrian people.” Furthermore, Saleh said that the Assad regime tries to change the focus of Geneva II to “fighting terrorism instead of the formation of a transitional ruling body with full powers. I think that the letter sent by the Assad regime to the UN clearly shows that there is a huge gap between the goals of the Assad regime and those of the international community. Assad will not hesitate to set the region ablaze if he feels his grip on power is threatened.”
(Source: Syrian Coalition / 16.01.2014)

Israel to destroy another Haifa neighborhood, evict Palestinian residents

Many of the historic homes in Haifa’s al-Mahatta neighborhood have already been demolished.

An Israeli municipality plans to demolish al-Mahatta, a historic Palestinian neighborhood in Haifa.

It will be replaced by the expansion of an existing railway, new housing units, nightclubs and restaurants, among other venues designed to bring in increased tourist revenues.

“Since I was five years old, I’ve been hearing that al-Mahatta is going to be completely destroyed … but today, I can’t imagine that we have more than two or three years left in our homes,” George Eskandar, chairman of al-Mahatta’s neighborhood committee, told The Electronic Intifada.

Around 160 people from more than 30 families are facing eviction. All of them carry Israeli citizenship.

Eskandar, 34, lives with his wife and four-year-old son in his family’s home. He and his wife also work as actors. “This is where I was born and where I’ve spent my whole life,” he said.

The program to demolish al-Mahatta is part of an already approved national plan to develop coastal areas up and down present-day Israel. Haifa’s municipality has until the end of 2014 to decide the local details of the plan for al-Mahatta, and another five years to fully implement it.

Only two of the remaining structures — one of which is a local church — will be left standing once Israel’s plans for al-Mahatta are carried out.

Until now, the plan has only been implemented in the form of individual housing demolitions and evictions on a home-to-home basis.

Already destroyed

Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, the state has sought ways to gentrify al-Mahatta and the surrounding area. “But the policy has only been implemented in recent years,” Eskandar said.

During the period of the British Mandate of Palestine (1920-1948), there were more than 600 families in al-Mahatta. As recently as the early 1990s, around 1,500 persons lived in the neighborhood.

Yet several decades of pressure and systematic neglect from the local municipality and the state forced most of the indigenous Palestinian residents to move elsewhere.

Today, only 33 homes are still standing; the rest have all been demolished. Nearly half of them belong to Amidar, a state-owned housing company. “Every time a family gives up and leaves, the policy is that their home is demolished,” Eskandar said.

In the majority of cases, Amidar denies tenants the home repairs that they request until they are able to declare the structure too dangerous to live in and kick out the residents.


Today, al-Mahatta only has one entrance and is caged by a large fence surrounding the neighboring port, the railway, and Highway 2, which connects Tel Aviv to the northern coastal region in present-day Israel.

In the case of al-Mahatta, the homes all have recognized building permits. The residents are also subject to local and national taxes.

Yet like in Wadi al-Siyah and other Palestinian neighborhoods slated for demolition in Haifa, residents have been denied basic municipal services for years. Al-Mahatta has suffered from restrictions on building, development, expansion and land purchasing.

“Other than electricity and water, they do not receive any of the services that the municipality is supposed to provide them,” said Jumana Eghbariyya, a lawyer at the Social Development Committee—Haifa, an advocacy group that works for the civil and collective rights of Palestinian residents of the city.

Since 1948, there have been no clinics, schools or street lights provided to the village. Furthermore, every 15 minutes a train roars past the neighborhood, which doesn’t have the same acoustic walls present in Jewish areas next to the railway and are designed to mitigate the immensely loud noise.

“The right to object”


Haifa’s historic al-Mahatta neighborhood faces destruction.

“Frankly, this is not about the municipality destroying our neighborhood,” Eskandar lamented. “The neighborhood has already been destroyed.”

Furthermore, Israel plans to install an electrification system on the railway tracks that pass through al-Mahatta — potentially a serious health risk for locals due to radiation, according to Israel’s own Environmental Protection Ministry (“Israeli train electrification plan may be scrapped due to radiation,” Haaretz, 12 December 2012).

Despite numerous requests for information and clarity, al-Mahatta’s residents have been given only vague answers regarding the neighborhood’s future. The government has not bothered to inform locals or ask for their input. Eskandar remarked, “Why is the municipality doing this behind our backs? We have the right to object to this plan.”

Haifa’s mayor, Yona Yahav, has refused to work with the neighborhood committee to seek an alternative plan that would allow residents to stay in their homes.

In Jewish Israeli neighborhoods in Haifa, the local municipality encourages public participation before embarking on development projects. Yet in Palestinian neighborhoods there are little or no efforts to accommodate the needs and wants of the residents.

“In Jewish neighborhoods, there are public forums and meetings to discuss the future of the area,” Eghbariyya said. “In Arab neighborhoods, the plans are simply announced without talking to anyone. The Palestinian neighborhoods should be treated just like Jewish areas in the city… unfortunately this is the policy not just in Haifa, but across the state.”

Eghbariyya pointed out that Haifa is often promoted by Israel as a city of coexistence between Palestinian residents and Jewish Israelis. “But before there is this coexistence, we want [Israel] to stop deciding the terms of our existence for us.”

In 2013, Orwa Switat, a local urban planner and activist, established a neighborhood committee along with others. Its goal is to raise awareness about al-Mahatta’s plight. “We are planning to reach out to human rights groups and political parties to spread the word,” Switat said.

“Ethnic gentrification”

“This is ethnic gentrification because it only pushes out poorer Arab citizens … This is colonialism turning the ruins of the Nakba into an economic pearl for the state to bring in profit,” Switat added. The Nakba (catastrophe in Arabic) is the forced displacement of Palestinians before and after Israel’s foundation in 1948.

“We want to be part of the decision-making process,” he added. “We are not just a poor neighborhood on the edge of Haifa, we are the origins of the city. Any plans for development should empower us and preserve our Palestinian heritage.”

Nonetheless, he added that there was little hope among residents because “our presence threatens the Zionist narrative of this country’s history.”

Similar gentrification projects are taking place in historically Palestinian cities across present-day Israel.

In Jaffa, indigenous Palestinian residents, generally from the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, have suffered in recent years as Israeli investors buy and renovate property, causing prices to skyrocket.

In Acre (Akka), Israel plans to demolish a historical mosque, Khan al-Umdan, and put a luxury hotel in its place.

“Erasing history”

Christian Zionists from the United States and Israel are working closely to establish an international university campus in Nazareth, designed to bring in Jewish Israeli and international students and further fragment Palestinian contiguity in the Galilee region.

Palestinians citizens of Israel make up some 1.5 million people, or 20 percent of Israel’s citizenry. Despite their nominal citizenship, this minority faces severe restrictions on their political and cultural rights, and regularly suffers from land theft and housing demolitions.

In occupied East Jerusalem and the broader West Bank, Israeli policies also aim to expel Palestinians and make space for Jewish-only settlements or expand existing ones.

“There is a policy of erasing the entire history of the Palestinian people in this state. Unfortunately, our neighborhood is just another example of the policy of expulsion,” said Eskandar.

“We’re here, we’re present on the map. We are doing everything we can to stay in our homes. Our history is here, our roots are here, and our memories are here. I’m from here.”

(Source / 16.01.2014)

Lebanon nine years on: what’s changed since Hariri’s killing?

This deep polarization has left Lebanon without a government for the second time since the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri (pictured).

The first hearing of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) on Jan. 16 has been hotly anticipated by many, not least the Lebanese March 14 coalition that has lobbied for the creation of the tribunal. But the likelihood of the hearing’s having a significant impact on Lebanese political dynamics is low.

Nine years after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, the hearing has been overshadowed by three issues: the political vacuum resulting from the absence of a cabinet since March 2013; heightened security concerns; and build up to the Geneva II conference scheduled for Jan. 22.

Deep polarization

Those three issues are intimately linked with the sharp polarization in Lebanon’s political landscape today. The jubilation that had accompanied the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in the wake of the assassination of Hariri has been replaced with dismay over Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict.

To Hezbollah’s rivals, direct Syrian control over Lebanese affairs has been replaced with indirect control, as the Syrian regime’s ally Hezbollah has asserted itself both militarily and politically through its engagement in Syria. To Hezbollah and its allies, involvement in the Syrian conflict is inevitable and can translate into political gains within Lebanon.

This deep polarization has left Lebanon without a government for the second time since the assassination of Hariri. The fall of then-prime minster Saad Hariri’s government in 2011 due to the resignation of March 8 ministers and its replacement with a March 8-dominated cabinet—that in turn resigned in 2013—illustrate the growing disparity between rival political groups. It also underlines the fragility of internationally-brokered agreements meant to resolve intra-Lebanese crises, like the Doha Accord of 2008.

Spiraling back

The Accord was at the time regarded as a way out of an acute political crisis that saw the use of Hezbollah weapons against other Lebanese in May 2008 in an attempt at influencing government policy. That Lebanon has since spiraled back into polarization is not surprising as the Accord succeeded in bringing political rivals together momentarily but did not present a sustainable long-term vision that could positively impact the Lebanese political landscape.

Current talks among Lebanese politicians to try to reach an agreement on forming a new government are a reminder of the cyclical nature of Lebanese political developments: In 2008, weapons were used as a public scare tactic to impose a political decision.

The talks that followed in Doha came as a welcome relief to a tired public. Today, bombs and assassinations are serving the same purpose as the country has witnessed a series of violent attacks in the last year that are intimately linked with political rivalries. The result of the new talks is likely to be the formation of a government that would placate the country for a period of time, but with no prospects for future sustainability.

A bitter reminder

Just like in 2008, sustainability is not the top priority for Lebanese citizens today. The assassination of former minister Mohamad Chatah on Dec. 27 and the car bomb in Beirut’s southern suburb on Jan. 2—coming after a series of violent clashes in Tripoli, the Beqaa Valley, and Sidon—have created a state of paranoia among the population. Heightened fears and pressing concerns about security and stability—especially in the absence of a government—have overshadowed debates about political preferences. Whatever form the new government takes can only come as a relief.

The challenges of the internal Lebanese political landscape and its link with regional actors have consumed public attention, turning it away from the STL hearing. The assassination of Chatah in the run up to the hearing has also come as a bitter reminder of the continuation of the crisis that began in 2005, through which March 14 leaders have been rendered vulnerable.

That those indicted for Hariri’s assassination by the STL have not been arrested has also caused many supporters of the tribunal to start to lose faith. Meanwhile, as Lebanon’s political crisis is tightly linked to that of the Syrian conflict, the looming date of the Geneva II conference—and with it, speculation about the direction of the Saudi-Iranian rivalry and its likely impact on their Lebanese allies—has also overtaken the date of the STL hearing in the public agenda.

The crowds that drove the “Independence Intifada” in 2005 have seen their hopes shattered over the past nine years. STL proceedings are moving at a snail’s pace with no conclusive results thus far. Lebanese sovereignty as called for by the “Intifada” is threatened by Lebanon’s deep implication in the Syrian crisis. And the cycle of the use of violence as a political tool has been repeated. Despite what evidence the STL hearing on Jan. 16 might unearth, the hearing has been dwarfed by Lebanon’s more immediate crises.

(Source / 16.01.2014)

Moroccan government adopts Islamic finance law, seeks vote in parliament

Morocco’s government adopted a bill to regulate Islamic banks and sukuk issues, said the country’s communication minister.

Morocco’s government on Thursday adopted a bill regulating Islamic banks and sukuk issues after months of delays, paving the way for a final vote by the parliament of the North African kingdom later this year.

Approval of the law will be the last step before establishing full-fledged Islamic banks in Morocco, be they subsidiaries of Moroccan banks or foreign rivals, a measure which may bring more Gulf Arab investment into the country.

Morocco has been seeking to develop Islamic finance for about two years, partly as a way to attract Gulf money and fund a huge budget deficit. But the sensitivity of the Moroccan political elite to Islamism has repeatedly delayed its plans.

Last year, Moroccan deputies approved legislation allowing the government to issue sovereign sukuk, but it has not yet taken steps to raise its first Islamic bonds.

“We have adopted that law today and we are sending to the parliament,” communication minister and government spokesman Mustapha Khalfi told Reuters by telephone.

The minister said it was difficult to estimate how much time parliament would need, but experts expect it will vote before the end of this year.

Morocco’s central bank has started talks with a body of Islamic scholars on establishing a central sharia board to oversee the country’s fledgling Islamic finance industry, an official from Moroccan central bank told Reuters in April.

The board, composed of scholars and financial experts, would rule on whether instruments and activities complied with sharia principles.

Islamic banks will be called participative banks under the Moroccan legislation.

In 2010, Morocco began allowing conventional banks to offer a limited set of Islamic financial services, which obey principles such as a ban on the payment of interest.

The country’s Islamic finance drive accelerated after a moderate Islamist-led government took power through elections in late 2011, and as the Moroccan economy has been hit by the euro zone debt crisis.

(Source / 16.01.2014)

Official: Israel imposing agenda on Mideast talks

Nabil Shaath (C), Fatah’s commissioner of International relations, is welcomed in Gaza on May 26, 2011
RAMALLAH (AFP) — A top Palestinian leader Thursday accused Israel of imposing its own agenda onto Washington’s Middle East peace push, pressing issues that overshadowed Palestinian demands.

The remarks by senior Fatah party member Nabil Shaath came after US Secretary of State John Kerry’s 10th visit to the region to try to push a framework for final status talks as an April deadline for the negotiations loomed.

“Israel has succeeded in really persuading Mr. Kerry to change the agenda of the discussions,” Shaath told reporters in Ramallah.

“Today, you will see Mr. Kerry going back and forth, discussing nothing but two issues. The two issues have never been in our agenda: the Jewishness of the state and (Israeli soldiers in) the Jordan (Valley),” he said.

Palestinian leaders refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, fearing this could preclude the right of return for Palestinian refugees who were driven into exile when the State of Israel was created in 1948. They also worry it could threaten the rights of Israel’s 20 percent Palestinian minority.

Another sticking point in talks is security arrangements in the Jordan Valley, where the West Bank borders Jordan, under any future peace agreement.

Israeli officials insist on maintaining a long-term military presence in the Jordan Valley as a buffer against attacks, but Palestinian officials want an international security force deployed there instead.

Shaath said Kerry was being forced to hammer out the two issues as other crucial points — such as the borders of a future Palestinian state — were being overlooked.

“They (Israelis) force the agenda on (Kerry); they will not talk about anything else.”

“It is a narrative problem that is taking most of the time of Mr. Kerry,” he said.

“You think any Palestinian leader in his right mind can ever accept this?” Shaath said of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.

“Or is this simply instated to make it impossible for any Palestinian leader to sign a peace agreement with Israel?”

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an unannounced visit to neighboring Jordan Thursday for talks with King Abdullah II on the peace process, notably the security issue.

“Israel is putting an emphasis on security arrangements, which is also in Jordan’s interest in any future agreement,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement issued after he returned to Israel.

The peace talks have in recent months focused specifically on security, with Kerry and his team proposing a detailed plan for the Jordan Valley.

A peace treaty would deal with all the divisive core issues, including the contours of a future Palestinian state, refugees, the fate of Jerusalem claimed by both as a capital, security, and mutual recognition.

(Source / 16.01.2014)