‘Israel’ arrests 18, puts 8 in solitary confinement

A Palestinian child was moderately wounded during patrol of Israeli occupation forces in Jerusalem

Israeli occupation forces arrested on Wednesday 18 Palestinians across the occupied West Bank.

An Israeli occupation army spokeswoman claimed that the 18 were suspected of illegal activity. She gave no further details

Days of Palestine, West Bank –Israeli occupation forces arrested on Wednesday 18 Palestinians across the occupied West Bank, put eight already prisoners in solitary confinement.

Three were arrested from Al-Khalil, locals identifying one of them as Zaid al-Juneidi, who was arrested after Israeli forces raided his home, as well as several other homes in the area.

The Israeli occupation forces arrested five from Ramallah and Bethlehem areas respectively, including Mohamed Ash’al, 20, from the village of Bilin, where an Israeli force of six military vehicles raided his home.

Moreover, the Israeli occupation forces arrested a Palestinian security service member from the Askar Refugee Camp at the Za’tara checkpoint in southern Nablus and raided several homes in Beit Furik and Rujeib villages in the surrounding areas.

Palestinian security sources said that clashes erupted as Israeli forces raided Beit Furik village while searching a house belonging to Nidal Hanani.

Israeli forces also raided Rujeib village in eastern Nablus and searched a grocery store belonging to Imad Halabi.

The Israeli occupation forces arrested two from Qalqilya and Jenin.

An Israeli occupation army spokeswoman claimed that the 18 were suspected of illegal activity. She had no further details.

Eight in solitary confinement

Meanwhile, the Israeli Prison Service transferred eight Palestinian prisoners in the Ramon prison to solitary confinement, a prisoners’ affairs committee said on Wednesday.

The prisoners were identified as Mohamed Manasra, Abdullah al-Khdour, Ahmad al-Salman, Eyad Fataftah, Ahmad abu-Madi, Mahmoud Rabee and Basem Jaber.

No further information was given regarding the reasons of the transfers.

Solitary confinement is one of several practices enforced routinely inside Israeli prisons, according to prisoners’ rights group Addameer, in addition to torture, forcible transfers, and medical negligence.

(Source / 17.06.2015)

Tribal leaders declare official separation of Najran from Saudi regime, join Yemen against Saudi forces

Tribal Leaders Declare Official Separation from Saudi

Tribal leaders declare official separation of Najran from Saudi Arabia, join Yemen against Saudi forces

The tribal leaders in the border city of Najran said they detach from Saudi Arabia and join the Yemenis in their war on Saudi Arabia.

Sheikh Fouzi Akram, the leader of Yaam and Walad Abdullah tribes in Najran told FNA on Monday that the city’s tribes have immediate plans for separation from the Central government in Riyadh.

“The Saudi army fires mortar shells and missiles at Najran region and then blames the Houthis of Yemen for it,” he said, adding that a number of tribes in Southern Najran have already had meetings with the Yemeni army on how to fight back at the Saudi army.

Sheikh Akram underlined that the Yemeni tribes’ demands for independence were raised after the Saudi regime’s savage aggression against Yemen and the presence of the Saudi military men in Najran.

“All Yemeni tribes are threatened by Saudi Arabia and we are ready for martyrdom for Allah’s cause,” he added.

His remarks came after the tribal people living in Najran in a statement voiced opposition to Riyadh’s strikes on Yemen and declared war against the Saudi regime.

“The Najran tribes in a statement declared war against the occupying Saudi regime, stressing that the House of Saud represents corruption on the Earth and sheds the bloods of innocent people across the globe in a very routine and normal manner,” activist Abdulaziz Farid told FNA on Monday.

According to Farid, the statement also added that “the seditionist Saudi regime wants to turn the Najran region into the forefront of war against its brothers and neighbors and has used this region for artillery attacks against Yemen since the second week of the war” on the Yemeni people.

He underlined that the tribes in Najran will rise against the Saudi regime for its aggression against Yemen and will fight against the Saudi forces.

His remarks came after Saudi Minister of the National Guard Mutaib bin Abdullah sent gifts, worth several millions of Rials, to the Arab sheikhs in Najran in the Southeastern parts of the country to dissuade them from hosting and supporting Yemen’s Ansarullah movement.

Yemen’s Khabar news agency reported last week that Mutaib has paid 1mln Saudi rials (approximately 250,000 US dollar) to each tribal leaders and sheikhs in Najran along with an appreciation letter to keep them on Riyadh’s side.

The Saudi activists have released documents showing one-million-rial checks sent for Hossein Mahdi al-Haidar, Massoud Bin Mahdi al-Haidar, Sal Ibn Naji and others who are among the Nijran leaders.

The Najran tribes’ statement in opposition to using the region as a frontline to attack Yemen showed that their leaders have not accepted the checks.

Also yesterday reports said that a large number of Saudi nationals are on the verge of starvation as a result of intensified attacks by the Yemeni forces on the border regions and the Riyadh government’s lack of attention.

“As the clashes between the Yemeni revolutionary forces and Saudi forces have intensified in Najran province in Southwestern Saudi Arabia and near the border with Yemen in recent days, hundreds of residents of border regions who have fled the fighting are facing famine due to an acute shortage of foodstuff,” Talal Ahmed, a Saudi political activist, told FNA on Sunday.

He underlined that a large number of families in the border regions of Saudi Arabia cannot meet their daily needs, and complained that “the Saudi army has looted the houses of these people”.

najran

Saudi Arabia’s Najran tribes declare war on Riyadh

The tribal people living in the Saudi border city of Najran in a statement voiced opposition to Riyadh’s strikes on Yemen and declared war against the Saudi regime.

“The Najran tribes in a statement declared war against the occupying Saudi regime, stressing that the House of Saud represents corruption on the Earth and sheds the bloods of innocent people across the globe in a very routine and normal manner,” activist Abdulaziz Farid told FNA on Monday.

According to Farid, the statement also added that “the seditionist Saudi regime wants to turn the Najran region into the forefront of war against its brothers and neighbors and has used this region for artillery attacks against Yemen since the second week of the war” on the Yemeni people.

He underlined that the tribes in Najran will rise against the Saudi regime for its aggression against Yemen and will fight against the Saudi forces.

His remarks came after Saudi Minister of the National Guard Mutaib bin Abdullah sent gifts, worth several millions of Rials, to the Arab sheikhs in Najran in the Southeastern parts of the country to dissuade them from hosting and supporting Yemen’s Ansarullah movement.

Yemen’s Khabar news agency reported last week that Mutaib has paid 1mln Saudi rials (approximately 250,000 US dollar) to each tribal leaders and sheikhs in Najran along with an appreciation letter to keep them on Riyadh’s side.

The Saudi activists have released documents showing one-million-rial checks sent for Hossein Mahdi al-Haidar, Massoud Bin Mahdi al-Haidar, Sal Ibn Naji and others who are among the Nijran leaders.

The Najran tribes’ statement in opposition to using the region as a frontline to attack Yemen showed that their leaders have not accepted the checks.

Also yesterday reports said that a large number of Saudi nationals are on the verge of starvation as a result of intensified attacks by the Yemeni forces on the border regions and the Riyadh government’s lack of attention.

“As the clashes between the Yemeni revolutionary forces and Saudi forces have intensified in Najran province in Southwestern Saudi Arabia and near the border with Yemen in recent days, hundreds of residents of border regions who have fled the fighting are facing famine due to an acute shortage of foodstuff,” Talal Ahmed, a Saudi political activist, told FNA on Sunday.

He underlined that a large number of families in the border regions of Saudi Arabia cannot meet their daily needs, and complained that “the Saudi army has looted the houses of these people”.

tribus3(Source / 17.06.2015)

Human rights groups in Egypt remain invaluable

H.A. Hellyer

Analysts whose scope of interest includes Egypt regularly get asked questions such as: “How stable is Egypt? Is it sustainable?” Most have been reduced to glib replies such as “unsustainably stable.” Glib, facile and superficial, but it serves the purpose. No one seems to want to ask the real question: “What can we do to make Egypt more stable?” The answers involve sacrifices, which few seem to want to envisage.

Human rights organizations and civil rights institutions insideand outside Egypt have been sounding the alarm and are more concerned than ever, not just regarding state abuses of fundamental rights, but also their ability to accurately and openly report them.

Media inside and outside Egypt have been reporting dozens of cases of unexplained ‘disappearances’ of activists who are critical of the current government and state institutions. Even the quasi-governmental National Council of Human Rights hasrepresentatives such as Nasser Amin openly attacking what it sees as state policy in this regard.

Independent groups are more blatant. A member of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression said: “The Ministry of Interior is taking its vengeance against the people who made the 25 January Revolution.”

The disappearances are only the latest criticism against the state by the civil rights sector, which has catalogued judicial inconsistencies in mass trials, excessive use of force by security agencies, and failure to enact processes to ensure accountability of state officials responsible for these flaws.

However, that cataloguing may become even more problematic. It has been clear over the past few years, since the eruption of the Jan. 25 uprising, that there is a war over representing facts on the ground. Opposing political forces have been keen to engage in spin to support their own narrative.

Civil rights groups

The work of certain civil rights groups – those that have refused to be drawn into this political partisanship – in logging state abuses regardless of who is in power has been invaluable. However, their work is not to be taken for granted.

One of the Arab world’s most pre-eminent human rights institutions is the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, which has worked with institutions across the region, includingintergovernmental bodies such as the Danish-Egyptian Dialogue Institute. Its efforts in keeping track of state excesses for more than 20 years have been lauded around the world.

However, last year its director Bahey Eldin Hassan was advised to leave Egypt after receiving death threats, and the bulk of its operations were transferred to Tunisia. Hassan spoke at the European Parliament recently on the state of human rights in Egypt. Like most, if not all human rights organizations, he was rather critical and unflattering.

Such a presentation at the European Parliament ought to have been viewed as an opportunity for a confident Egyptian state intent on protecting the rights envisaged in the constitution. Instead, the offices of the Institute were promptly visited by a committee delegated by the Egyptian judiciary to ‘look into its activities.’

Understandably, around two-dozen rights organizations in the country viewed this as retaliation for the critical presentationin Brussels. If they are right, then a key institution that many inside and outside Egypt rely on to see an impartial and non-partisan view of civil liberties is in jeopardy. That would be a tragedy.

Further unrest?

Is the country headed toward a ‘revolutionary wave’ due to state policies, as some on the left say? Some kind of unrest remains possible – even plausible – but that is somewhat different than what those on the left might perceive.

The work of certain civil rights groups – those that have refused to be drawn into this political partisanship – in logging state abuses regardless of who is in power has been invaluable. However, their work is not to be taken for granted.

H.A. HELLYER

A direct reaction to these kinds of civil-rights infringements is unlikely. After years of turmoil, the appetite for wide-scale political mobilization has waned tremendously. There are those who continue to agitate for the return of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, but that cause has little hope of attracting a critical mass of the population.
The argument one hears in many quarters, particularly in Western capitals, is relatively simple: “We may be unimpressed with the Egyptian state’s actions in these areas, but the state is stable, prospects of a political alternative are minimal, and so we would be best placed to deal with what is on offer.”

While the Egyptian state is counting on a Fauxian pact with its population, to exchange infringements on personal rights for a security establishment’s interpretation of ‘stability,’ many within the international community seem to be doing something quite similar.

Against the backdrop of groups in the region such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) , as well as turmoil in countries such as Libya and Syria after their own uprisings failed to propel them immediately onto a better course, that is all quite understandable.

However, it is also incredibly striking in its short-sightedness. Groups such as ISIS were not created by the uprisings, nor by the repression of certain regimes – that leaves out the very real issue of radical ideology that is at the core of these movements. However, if the seed of these groups is ideological in essence, the fertility of the soil in which widespread germination and growth can take place is more often than not political and social.

ISIS would probably exist in some shape or form without those political and social issues that plague Syria and Iraq. However, it would be far more controllable and far less widespread, because those societies would be far more resilient and their citizens far more immune.

No one knows if the structural deficiencies of the Egyptian political bargain will hold for the long term, particularly given the youth bulges that will hit the demographic reality of the country, the sluggishness of the economy, and the incipient polarization that exists. An upheaval of some kind cannot be ruled out. If it happens, however, it is almost certain to be quite ugly, and it could happen regardless of what the authorities do at this point.

If it does not happen, the specter of deeper radicalization nevertheless remains. Considering the results of the ‘bargain’ of the latter half of the 20th century between the Arab world and the West, and between most Arab governments and their peoples, one would have thought it was time for a radical rethink of how to approach the region.
Alas, it seems few are willing to make those tough choices. Failure to do so is likely to develop far more difficult scenarios down the road. At times like these we need more, not fewer, groups such as the Cairo Institute, if only to record for history how we got things so abysmally wrong.

(Source / 17.06.2015)

Indigenous activist joins the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza

Photo: by Freedom Flotilla used with permission

Freedom Flotilla III has set sail for Gaza and on board is respected Queen’s professor and Indigenous activist Robert “Bob” Lovelace.

The Flotilla is sailing to Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid and to collect artisanal goods made by Palestinians for sale.

“Every little bit of material aid helps,” said Richard Day, spokesperson for Lovelace while he is travelling. “There’s that first, very material, goal of bringing medical supplies, of bringing blankets and basic stuff that’s next to impossible to get in there.”

Lovelace, who is a member of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, sees a parallel between the settler-colonial occupation of land in Canada and in Gaza. He has referred to Gaza as “the world’s largest Indian reservation.”

“Canada is a settler-colonial state on occupied Indigenous land and Israel is a settler-colonial state on occupied Indigenous land,” said Day. “For Bob, that’s a really big part of why he’s going.”

Lovelace seconded this in a YouTube video he uploaded explaining why he’s sailing to Gaza.

“As a First Nation person, issues around decolonization have always been forefront in my life… colonialism is not a novel experience,” said Lovelace in the video.

The first boat in the flotilla, Marianna av Göteborg left from Sweden earlier in June and came into port in Palermo, Sicily on June 15. According to the press release from Ship to Gaza, the boat carries solar panels and medical equipment as cargo. It also states the boat itself will be donated to a local fisherman’s union upon arrival in Gaza.

As the flotilla begins its journey East across the Mediterranean, Israel will reportedly deny access to “unauthorized boats.”

Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman, Emmanuel Nachshon, told The Jerusalem Post that Israel delivers aid to the Gaza strip and that sending an aid flotilla only serves to dramatize the situation.

Freedom Flotilla III’s hopes to reach its goal, but Freedom Flotillas I and II did not reach Gaza.

The first Freedom Flotilla mission to Gaza in 2010 came to a violent end when Israeli troops stormed the Mavi Marmara, killing nine Turkish activists on board and sparking international outrage.

The Greek government, Day said, revealed the second flotilla to the Israelis while it was sitting in port.

“They were a little naive about the kind of support they might get from the Greek government,” said Day.

For this third attempt, the Freedom Flotilla is being more secretive about its route and exactly how many ships and people are involved. Day would only say the Flotilla consists of three to six ships.

Lovelace departed on Monday, but not before speaking at a Toronto Freedom Flotilla III event about the importance of solidarity between Indigenous peoples in Canada and in Gaza.

Other speakers at the event behind Freedom Flotilla III included Sue Goldstein of the International Jewish Anti-zionist Network and Indigenous activist Heather Milton Lightening.

David Heap, a professor at Western, is another supporter of the Freedom Flotilla movement.

“While world governments continue to ignore the fundamental rights of Palestinians to freedom of movement, the world’s peoples, including civil society movements like ours, cannot forget them,” he said in an email interview.

Heap said that the boat, should it reach Gaza, would not only bring back Palestinian goods for export but also people who have not been able to travel.

“Whether we arrive or not, we are drawing the world’s attention to the lack of freedom of movement of all Palestinians, in particular the Palestinians of Gaza,” said Heap.

Day also said a Canadian presence on the flotilla is important because it shows not all Canadians are in favour of the way Stephen Harper deals with the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Ship to Gaza’s website states its goal is to break the four-year long Gaza blockade.

“The people of Gaza have a right to build an economy. They have a right to fish in the sea. They have a right to use international waters… they have a right to garden and farm in the soil of their homeland,” Lovelace said in a YouTube video.

“What I find really inspiring and powerful about Bob is he actually lives the stuff that he talks about,” Day said. “He actually walks the talk.”

Lovelace has participated in the Freedom Flotilla before, writing about it for rabble.ca.

Lovelace will be updating his Facebook decolonization blog with news about his journey on Freedom Flotilla III.

(Source / 17.06.2015)

Saudi Arabia carries out 100th execution this year and is on course to set beheadings record

Amnesty has the record number of executions in the kingdom at 192 in 1995

Saudi Arabia has reportedly taken its number of executions for the year to 100, far exceeding last year’s tally and putting it on course for a new record.

According to a statement from the Saudi Press Agency, two more convicted criminals were killed by the government on Monday – including a foreign national guilty only of a non-violent drug smuggling offence.

Ismael al-Tawm, a Syrian man convicted of transporting “a large amount of banned amphetamine pills into the kingdom”, was beheaded in the northern region of Jawf, the AFP news agency reported.

Another man, identified as Rami al-Khaldi, was found guilty of stabbing a fellow Saudi national to death and was executed in the province of Taef.

The tally of 100 for this year, reported by AFP, exceeds both its own tally for Saudi executions last year of 87 and rights group Amnesty International’s, of “90+”.

According to Middle East Eye, the surge in numbers sees the country on the brink of setting a new record for beheadings – other nations like Iran, China and Pakistan have killed more people, but by different methods.

It also puts Saudi Arabia on course to beat its own record of total executions which, according to Amnesty, was set at 192 in 1995.

Earlier this year, the charity’s Saudi Arabia researcher Sevag Kechichian observed that the kingdom had reached what an “unprecedented” rate of executions, and called on Salman to “put an end to this shameful record”.

The charity warned that the deaths were all the more concerning given almost half were for drugs-related offences.

But according to Middle East Eye’s Husain Abdulla, the rise in executions can be directly linked to the new King Salman and his recently-appointed inner circle, despite the apparent independence of the Saudi judiciary.

“These men have worked tirelessly to further conflate criminal justice with the authority of the monarchy, all while reasserting the government’s seemingly unshakeable commitment to authoritarian rule,” he reports.

(Source / 17.06.2015)

Aqsa mosque ready to host Ramadan worshipers

JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — The Palestinian Ministry of Endowment says preparations have been made to host worshipers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque during the month of Ramadan.

Director of the ministry, Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, told Ma’an that every Palestinian Muslim has the right to pray at the holy site during Ramadan, criticizing heavy Israeli restrictions on access.
“All the people of Palestine have the right to access the city and pray in the Al-Aqsa Mosque in full freedom without the need for permits,” he said.
The ministry has prepared a schedule of daily programs and religious lessons in side the compound for worshipers, and eight health care centers have been set up to cater for medical emergencies.
The mosque authorities will also provide free meals to worshipers during Suhoor (dawn fast) and Iftar (evening fast) which have been donated by Palestinian organizations.
Several tents have also been set up to provide shade for worshipers.
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are subject to a strict permit regime by the state of Israel that limits their freedom of movement and largely prevents them from entering East Jerusalem, which is part of the Palestinian territories.During Ramadan, however, Israel traditionally eases these restrictions for West Bank residents, allowing them to enter to the city in order to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, as well as to mark the festivities at the month’s conclusion.
(Source / 17.06.2015)

Israeli ministers received funds from criminal Jewish-Belgian billionaire

Flag of Israel

A Jewish-Belgian diamond dealer based in Jerusalem who has previously been arrested for being part of an international drugs trade and money laundering ring, has funded two members of the current Israeli cabinet, Channel 2 revealed yesterday.

The station said Serge Muller, who Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for and who has been held in a Montenegro prison for more than three months, paid 10,000 Israeli shekels ($2,609) for Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked during the internal elections.

He also maintains ties with two other ministers – Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin. The channel said that he also paid money to them during the Likud vote.

Commenting on the news, Shaked said that she had submitted information about all donations she received during her campaign to the Public Prosecutor.

Meanwhile, Erdan’s office said: “Minister Erdan does not know the man and has never met him, Hundreds of people donated to the minister’s campaign and the donations were all legal.”

Regarding funds for Levin, his office said: “The minister does not know Muller and was not aware of the allegations. Had he known, he would not have accepted the donations.”

Muller’s family said: “The family donated over the years to the Zionist enterprise, the State of Israel and those who seek its benefit, all according to the law and without expecting any recompense, even in retrospect.”

The family said that the Belgian arrest warrant for Muller, who is a religious Jew who has been living in Jerusalem for five years, is anti-Semitic.

(Source / 17.06.2015)

Hamas accuses Israel of trying to mislead the world

Islamic Resistance Movement-Hamas

Islamic Resistance Movement-Hamas

Hamas called on the international community not to pay attention to the false Israeli reportson last summer’s war on the Gaza Strip and to hold the occupation’s leaders accountable for the crimes they committed, which were documented in independent international reports.

In a statement issued by the movement in response to a report issued by the Israeli Foreign Ministry stating that most of the war’s victims were armed fighters, Hamas said it believes: “The occupation continues to ignore international humanitarian law and monopolises its interpretation in line with its own point of view. The crime becomes more horrible with Netanyahu’s allegation.”

The movement strongly denounced the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s report, saying it “justifies its army’s crimes during the savage aggression on the Gaza Strip [that lasted] 51 days during the summer of 2014, which completely contradicts independent international reports.”

It said Israel released this report at this particular time to justify its war crimes and to give them a legal cover, which is worse than the crimes themselves. The fact that Israel is defending and justifying its crimes, Hamas said, means it intends to continue with its policy of killing and destruction against the Palestinian people.

Hamas accused Israel of issuing the report as a “pre-emptive” step to dominate international media before the Schabas Commission’s report is submitted to the UN Security Council.

The movement refuted the report’s allegations, saying that the report manipulates figures, defies logic and it alters the details of what happened on the ground during the Israeli attack on Gaza.

On 7 July 2014, Israel waged an attack on the Gaza Strip that lasted 51 days and included air raids and ground and sea attacks. Nearly 2,200 Palestinians were killed during the Israeli offensive, most of them civilians, while a further 100,000 had their homes destroyed. Some 73 Israelis were killed, including 67 soldiers.

(Source / 17.06.2015)

Syria clashes between military and rebel groups on three fronts

Israel expects refugees to cross over after rebels groups surround Druze village in Syria’s Golan Heights

The Israeli-annexed Golan Heights following fighting between President Bashar al-Assad’s army and rebel forces in Syria’s Quneitra province, on 17 June

Rebels surrounded a government-held Druze village on the Syrian side of the ceasefire line on the Golan Heights on Wednesday after heavy fighting, a monitoring group said.

The advance came a day after Israel, which has a significant Druze population, said it was preparing for the possibility that refugees fleeing fighting in the area might seek to cross to the Israeli-occupied side of the strategic plateau.

A missile siren sounded in Israel’s Golan Heights just before an alliance of Syrian rebels launched an offensive against Syrian military bases in Quneitra province, just across the border, Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

The siren sounded when forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fired artillery toward military posts that have been taken over by rebels, about 1.5 km (0.9 mi) northeast of the Syrian village of Khadr.

Quneitra sits in a sensitive piece of territory around 70 kilometres southwest of the capital Damascus and has been the scene of frequent fighting between various insurgent groups and the Syrian military, backed by allied militia.

Rebel spokesperson Issam al-Rayes wrote on Twitter that insurgent groups fighting in the operation had signed a pact, which did not involve al-Qaeda’s Syria wing, Nusra Front. The groups in the offensive are fighting under the banner of the rebel Free Syrian Army, he said.

After fierce clashes with pro-government forces, the rebels surrounded the village of Hader on Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“Hader is now totally surrounded by rebels, who just took a strategic hilltop north of the village,” Observatory director, Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

The village lies along the ceasefire line with the Israeli-occupied Golan to the west, and by the border with Damascus province to the northeast.

He said the rebels had received reinforcements from elsewhere in Quneitra province, which covers much of the Golan.

“The regime has not sent reinforcements yet, but the Druze villagers are standing with the government,” Abdel Rahman said.

Fighting around Hader, which began Tuesday, has left at least 10 rebels and 14 pro-government fighters dead so far, he added.

The encirclement of Hader comes amid rising fears in Syria’s Druze community.

Last week, 20 Druze villagers were killed in an altercation with members of Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Al-Nusra Front in Idlib province in the northwest.

Shortly after the deaths, rebel forces in southern Syria briefly overran a government air base in majority-Druze Sweida province, in their first such advance in the government-controlled region.

While the rebels were eventually expelled from the air base, fighting has continued nearby.

The Druze are followers of an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and made up around three percent of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million.

The community has been somewhat divided during the war, with some members fighting on the government side and others expressing sympathy for the opposition.

Thousands of Druze men have evaded military service in the Syrian army’s dwindling ranks and have mostly taken up arms only in defence of their own areas.

In Sweida, Druze have formed a local militia to protect themselves from the rebels, residents say.

On Tuesday, Israel’s chief of staff, Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot said authorities were preparing for a possible influx of Syrian refugees.

A spokesperson confirmed he was referring to a potential influx from areas adjacent to the ceasefire line on the Golan.

His comments did not directly mention the Druze, but came after leading members of the minority in Israel called on the government to help their brethren in Syria following the recent violence.

Officials say there are 110,000 Druze in northern Israel, and another 20,000 in the Israeli-occupied Golan.

Israel seized 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the plateau in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

Deraa clashes

The fierce fighting near the border came hours after government airstrikes pounded the nearby Deraa province on Tuesday evening, killing at least 16 people, including 13 children, a monitoring group said.

Eastern Ghariyah, a small town just 10 kilometres north of Deraa city, bore the brunt of the attacks, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

However, Middle East Eye contributor, Abo Bakr al-Hajj Ali who is currently camped out with opposition forces outside of Deraa said that the casualty figures were higher. According to his sources, 23 people were killed including 20 children.

Those killed in Ghariyah were mostly children attending lessons on the Koran, locals told the Observatory. The Syrian government has not commented on reports of the attack.

A local resident who had fled the town told MEE: “When the children got out of the mosque, warplanes raided the town. The first raid [happened] near the mosque, a minute later a second raid [happened] next to the mosque, just as the children were leaving. The children come out of the mosque at the same time practically every day.”

“I saw their remains and their blood scattered in the streets,” added the resident, who did not want to be named.

The government airstrikes came just hours after the Southern Front alliance of rebel forces announced that it was gearing up to launch a major offensive to drive out the government troops still in control of the centre of the provincial capital, but who have been largely pushed out elsewhere in the southern province.

Hajj Ali is currently embedded with the Southern Front, an alliance of about 50 rebel groups that are considered one of the more moderate forces in the ever polarizing war, but that has fought alongside groups like Jaysh al-Islam and on occasion the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate.

Rockets over Damascus suburb

Meanwhile, the Syrian government has reportedly used so-called elephant rockets in an attack on the Damascus suburb of Douma, killing at least 36 people, including children, reported Al-Jazeera.

The rockets, named after the distinctive noise they make when they are launched, are improvised weapons made by attaching rocket motors to much larger bombs – a process that increases their destructive power while greatly reducing accuracy.

On Wednesday, activists accused the government of using surface-to-surface missiles in Douma as clashes continued between opposition fighters and government forces.

In video posted online of Tuesday’s attack, residents were seen scrambling to rescue a brother and sister trapped after a building was destroyed.

There were shouts of joy as a girl was pulled alive from the rubble, while her brother could still be heard calling for help.

More than 60 people, including many children, were injured in the bombardment, activists said.

Syria’s state-run SANA news agency said two shells struck Arnous Park in Damascus late on Tuesday as many people were out shopping ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, expected to begin on Thursday. It says the shells killed nine people and wounded 13.

The rebel stronghold of Douma has been under attack by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad for the last three years.

Elephant rockets are part of an improvised arsenal used by government forces, who have already been condemned for using barrel bombs and chemical weapons on civilians.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has said it is possible that Syria’s opposition groups may also have had access to chemical weapons “at one point in time or another”, although he emphasised that rebel forces did not have access to aircraft or helicopters.

Although chlorine is not a prohibited substance, its use as a chemical weapon is prohibited under a 1977 Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined in 2013.

Members of the Syrian Medical Society are expected to give evidence to the US foreign affairs committee on Wednesday that shows Assad is using chlorine on civilians.

The latest developments come as the UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura is in Damascus pushing for a political solution to end the conflict.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, with a network of sources on the ground, says it has documented 230,000 deaths in Syria’s war, almost 70,000 of them civilians.

(Source / 17.06.2015)

Formation of a Committee to Protect Residents of Qalb Louzeh

In an attempt to prevent the repetition of the incidents that took place in the Druze town of Qalb Louzeh, president Khoja and representatives of rebel leaders met with the Lebanese Minister of Health and the envoy of the Progressive Socialist Party Wael Abu Faour yesterday in Istanbul. The two sides discussed ways to contain the repercussions of the incident in the village a number of civilians were killed in an attack by elements of Al-Nusra Front.

They agreed to form a joint committee whose task will resolving any dispute that may arise in the future, while representatives of rebel factions present at the meeting pledged to protect residents of the village and to ensure non-recurrence of this incident.

It was stressed during the meeting that it was an individual incident that does not reflect the position of any Syrian. Rebel leaders also confirmed that the Nusra member, a Tunisian, who committed the crime has already been arrested and referred to trial. They stresses the unity of Syria’s social fabric and reiterates rejection of prejudice to any component of this social fabric.

President Khoja stressed during the meeting that Syria’s Druze Community are primarily Syrian citizens a key component of Syrian society, adding that protection of this community is one of the primary duties of the mainstream Syrian Rebels.

Member of the political committee Hadi Al-Bahra emphasizes the common principles that bring the Syrian people together, adding that Syria is a homeland to all Syrians and its social components are indivisible and cannot be compromised.

Bahra referred particularly to Sweida province, stressing that it will remain a part of Syria, and that its residents are brothers who have brilliant history in preserving the unity of Syria’s land and people.

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 17.06.2015)