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Dagelijks archief 7 augustus 2015

The Gaza Strip’s Last Safety Net Is in Danger

The UN’s refugee agency is one of the few forces standing between the people of Gaza and humanitarian catastrophe.

Palestinian Refugees

Refugees in the Palestinian camp of Yarmouk in Damascus, Syria wait to receive food supplies

Not long ago, I had a conversation with an official I know from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The official told me about a conversation he had with a senior Israel Defense Forces officer. In that conversation, my UN colleague asked the IDF official to describe Israel’s policy toward Gaza. The answer was just seven words long: “No development, no prosperity, no humanitarian crisis,” by now a common refrain within Israel’s military and political establishment.

As shocking as this statement is, it offers a remarkably accurate reflection of Israel’s near 50-aear policy in Gaza. While Israel did allow a limited degree of prosperity during the first years of the occupation, it has, nonetheless, aimed to prohibit any form of economic development in the territory—and, hence, the emergence of a Palestinian state. This approach has been especially ruinous for Gaza over the last decade, during which Israel imposed a strangling blockade that eliminated virtually all exports, shrank the manufacturing sector by as much as 60 percent, and reduced Gaza’s GDP by 50 percent, according to the World Bank. Israel has further launched three major military assaults on Gaza since the end of 2008—the latest and largest of them last summer (Operation Protective Edge)—leveling neighborhoods, destroying infrastructure, and inflicting immeasurable damage on the tiny strip and its nearly 2 million inhabitants.

Tragically, what was once considered a lower-middle-income economy (together with the West Bank) has become a land on the verge of economic and humanitarian collapse. According to a May 2015 World Bank report, the unemployment rate in Gaza stands at 43 percent (over 60 percent of Gaza’s youth are unemployed), the highest in the world. Nearly 40 percent live below the poverty line. Clean water is a rarity, with at least 90 percent of Gaza’s supply unfit for human consumption. Electricity is sporadic, available only four to six hours a day, and a properly functioning sewage treatment system no longer exists. No development, no prosperity, indeed.

And now, beneath this unrelieved disaster lies another potential one, which threatens to further destabilize Gaza’s already deepening instability: the decline in funding for UNRWA, the same relief agency for which my UN colleague works and one of the few forces standing between the people of Gaza and unmitigated humanitarian suffering. The situation has become so dire that, in June, the commissioner-general of UNRWA, Pierre Krähenbühl, warned that the agency might have to stop its operations within three months.

UNRWA is now in its 65th year. Established in 1949 by the UN General Assembly following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, UNRWA began operations on May 1, 1950, with a mandate to provide direct relief and public works programs to Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes. That it continues to exist more than six decades since its inception is a stark illustration of the political failure to find a just solution for the Palestinian refugees. With a staff of around 30,000 (approximately 42 percent of whom work in Gaza), UNRWA provides protection and assistance to 5.2 million Palestinian refugees throughout the Middle East—specifically, in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Its brief includes providing healthcare, education, social services, emergency aid, and infrastructure support. And it does all of this with an annual budget of $1.4 billion.

In Gaza alone, UNRWA serves 1.28 million refugees, 25 percent of the regional total. As such, and in the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “At a time of turmoil in the region, UNRWA remains a vital stabilizing factor.” In Gaza, it is quite fair to say that UNRWA is the only source of stability and constancy in an otherwise deteriorating environment. In fact, one-seventh of Gaza’s economy, or approximately 14 percent of Gaza’s GDP, can be traced to UNRWA, sources within the organization told me.

Yet, UNRWA faces a severe financial crisis that threatens to curtail (and possibly end) its work throughout the entire region. Currently, UNRWA has a deficit of over $100 million in its General Fund, which pays for its core services such as education and health. UNRWA officials further indicated a deficit of around $230 million in its Emergency Appeal for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, 88 percent of which is for Gaza, and approximately $280 million in its Syria Appeal, both of which provide immediate cash and food aid to people in acute need. Just last week, the agency met in Jordan for an “extraordinary session” to discuss potential responses to the crisis.

In order to reduce costs, UNRWA has had to implement a number of unwelcome initiatives. It suspended its cash subsidy program, which affected 20,000 families in Gaza prior to Operation Protective Edge. In Lebanon, UNRWA will soon suspend its cash-for-rent assistance to Palestinian refugees from Syria. There are also plans to increase the size of UNRWA classrooms from 45 to 50 children and freeze the hiring of teachers and other employees. Furthermore, UNRWA may have to make the tough decision to delay the opening of its 700 schools at the start of the next academic year, which will affect around 500,000 children, half of whom are in the Gaza Strip. So at a time when Daesh and other extremist groups are recruiting, half a million children who should be in UN schools might be on the streets of the Middle East.

Furthermore, according to a senior UNRWA official, if the agency is unable to bridge its deficit by October, it will no longer be able to pay staff salaries, which will be catastrophic. In Gaza alone, where the average household size stood at 6.1 people per family in 2012, as many as 76,250 people could be left without any source of income. What then? Recently, Palestinians in Gaza and Jordan protesting UNRWA cuts threatened the agency with violence, claiming that its programmatic decisions are part of a conspiracy to eliminate the refugee issue. This is one expression of the turmoil and upheaval that will accompany further reductions in UNRWA’s core services.

The problem of chronic underfunding is not new to UNRWA. At its base, it reflects larger political attitudes toward Palestinians, which view them as marginal and unwanted. But in its current incarnation, it derives from several harmful factors. First, while many major donors continue to fund UNRWA and have even increased their contributions, the needs of the agency have risen far more dramatically, given the political exigencies in the region, high population growth rates, and escalating costs. Thus, the gap between the need for protection and what UNRWA can actually deliver has become extreme. The need for major donor countries to increase their contributions beyond what they have already committed is absolutely critical.

In the context of these severe restrictions on UNRWA’s finances, an issue with one donor—Canada—deserves special scrutiny. Canada’s decision to first reduce and then terminate funding to the agency, a decision no other major donor government has taken, has been extremely injurious to the agency.

In 2007 and 2008, Canada donated over $28 million to UNRWA each year. In both years over half the monies were directed to the General Fund, with most of the remainder directed to the Emergency Appeal. In 2009, the Canadian government reduced its contribution by almost $10 million to just under $19 million, most of which was allocated for the Emergency Appeal with nothing for the General Fund. In fact, no monies have been allocated to the General Fund since 2009.

In 2010, Canada’s contribution decreased again to around $15 million, where it remained for two more years with most, and subsequently all, of the funds for the Emergency Appeal. Beginning in 2013, Canada, apparently without any prior warning, terminated all funding to UNRWA.

The loss of $28 million from Canada constitutes the largest single loss to the agency, which it cannot replace, and has been “desperately damaging” in the words of one UNRWA official, contributing substantially to UNRWA’s current deficit in the General Fund. What is most outrageous, however, is Canada’s decision to terminate its $15 million contribution to the Emergency Appeal; in so doing, the Canadian government is refusing to provide food for impoverished Palestinians, the majority in Gaza.

A third factor hurting UNRWA’s finances is the decline of the euro. Since most of UNRWA’s contributions are donated in euros, the currency devaluation has resulted in a loss of $20-25 million over the last year. Additionally, in 2014 UNRWA spent $7.5 million just to bring materials into Gaza, a direct result of Israel’s draconian packaging and import regime. These same monies could be used to build four schools for Gazan children, which is vital given that UNRWA needs to build seven schools per year in Gaza just to keep pace with the increased school-age population.

The crisis facing UNRWA also reflects a wider global problem, in which burgeoning need now exceeds existing resources. Not since World War II has the number of people exiled from their homes been so high, with nearly 60 million people who are refugees, internally displaced, or seeking asylum—one in every 122 people in the world. Yet the lack of resources is just one part of the crisis facing the humanitarian system; the inability to resolve political conflicts is the other. Furthermore, in the absence of political solutions, humanitarian aid has often become instrumentalized—that is, used to manage and manipulate political problems—as it has in Israel’s relationship with Gaza.

In Gaza, dependence, debility, and dread have become the occupier’s politics of choice. Development, however constrained and limited, no longer has any role. The reasons are many, including the fact that donors do not want to see their projects destroyed in future conflicts. But the net result is that Gaza is condemned to relief, not progress, which is exactly what Israeli policy seeks, as stated so clearly by the IDF officer quoted at the outset.

“With Palestinians, we’ve reached a policy of…agreeing not to envision solutions.”
Within this context, writes a UN colleague, assistance has increasingly become “the management of troublesome populations at the edge of perpetual conflicts…. with Palestinians, we’ve reached a policy of not solving, a policy of agreeing not to envision solutions. This does not feel like an oversight. It seems like a choice. The management of inconvenient populations with no vision of anything but further management.”

Still, if relief is not an adequate response, it is nonetheless a necessary one, and a further reduction of UNRWA services (let alone their suspension or termination) will only deepen the sense of despair and abandonment already so powerful among Palestinian refugees wherever they reside. The political consequences of watching one’s children go hungry are clear. Who among us would endure such pain in silence?

(Source / 07.08.2015)

KOBANE/CIZIRE UPDATE 124: YPG/FSA NEUTRALISE ISLAMIC STATE ATTEMPTS TO GET BACK INTO SARRIN AND HASAKAH, SUPPORTED BY HEAVY COALITION STRIKES

By Peter Clifford                 ©               (www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-iraq-news-5/)

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-news-3

SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS

Further fighting has erupted around Sarrin in Kobane Canton as Islamic State (IS) fighters try to regain ground they have lost in the last 2 weeks.

SYRIA NEWS

 

YPJ Fighter in Rojava

However, the combined YPG/FSA force is well up to the task of pushing IS Jihadists further and further away from Kobane city.

There were several days of calm at the beginning of the week, but by Wednesday fighting had erupted at the village of Zor Maghar on the eastern bank of the Euphrates.

IS shelled the YPG from the other side of the river, but there were no casualties among the ranks of the Kurdish forces as most of the explosives fell harmlessly on agricultural land.

South of Sarrin town a series of hit-and-run battles took place with IS over a 48 hour period, particularly around the villages of Malha and Maghribtain, both of which are on the strategic highway between Sarrin and the Tishrin dam.

If the YPG/FSA can secure the dam crossing then it will make it very difficult for IS to get directly to Kurdish territory except by boat.

Using mortars, heavy machine guns and car bombs, IS has tried to regain territory which it previously held. Several dozen IS Jihadists are reported killed or wounded in these clashes, plus the deaths of 4 members of the YPG.

Further to the north-east, the YPG’s capture of Tal Abyad has blocked the Islamic State’s importation route from Turkey to Raqqah, resulting in a huge increase in the price of goods in Raqqah city.

Qasim Al-Khatib, a member of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) has visited Tal Abyad and confirmed that there has been no displacement of Arab or Turkman citizens by the Kurds.

Acknowledging the Kurds important role in bringing back security to the area, Al-Khatib said, “We have a trustworthy team of young Syrians who documented all developments in the area. There is no single evidence that Kurds have displaced Arab civilians from Tel Abyad. There has been no such actions of displacement against Arabs or Turkmen”. You can read more, HERE:

Coalition jets have also struck just north of Raqqah at the town of Tabqa, reportedly killing 5 x IS fighters and wounding 23, including some of the teenage “Cubs of the Caliphate”.

In Hasakah, having been driven out completely by the YPG, IS yesterday, Thursday, tried to penetrate again from the south-east, especially around the southern suburbs at Saba Sukur and Rajman. At least 4 x IS Jihadists were killed and 3 Kurdish fighters were injured.

Within the city, the YPG controls most areas, including those formerly held by Assad’s forces. The Syrian Army were incapable of holding their territory and fled along with members of the National Defence Force who even left their weapons behind.

The YPG is currently digging substantial trenches, firstly to keep out IS but also to make sure the regime’s forces do not intend to return.

VICE NEWS has Part 1 of an interesting video report on the YPG fight for Hasakah, (caution dead bodies) here:

http://news.vice.com/video/pushing-back-the-islamic-state-the-battle-for-rojava-dispatch-1

Today, Friday, IS has also attempted an assault on YPG positions on Mount Abdel Aziz but is reported to have already retreated under a hail of Kurdish heavy machine gun fire.

SYRIA NEWS

 

Turkish Transport Plane at Incilik Airbase

The Kurds are additionally being supported by Coalition airstrikes (not available to Assad’s forces) which are hitting IS positions in the Melabiyah sub-district of the city and all areas surrounding it.

US Central Command (Centcom) reports 12 airstrikes around Hasakah between the 4th and 6th August, 3 near Raqqah, 2 near Aleppo and 1 in Kobane Canton.

Numerous buildings, tactical and fighting units and vehicles and motorbikes were destroyed or severely damaged.

Once again, if you would like to support the Kobane rebuilding programme there is a genuine crowdfunding site, called FireFund based in Denmark, attempting to raise $130,000.

(EDITOR: At my last look they had raised just over $14,000 – please give it your support.)

More has emerged about the infiltration of Al Nusra Front fighters into the Kurdish Canton of Afrin.

According to reports, around 10 Al-Nusra fighters entered the Ashrafiyah district of Afrin town on Wednesday, planning to carry out suicide bomb attacks against YPG military checkpoints.

However, they were neutralised by the Asayish (Kurdish Security) before they could cause too much damage. There were also reports that Al-Nusra had been digging trenches south of Deir Balut but their excavators were targeted by YPG fire, perhaps provoking the attack on Afrin town.

While the Turks continue airstrikes against the Kurdish PKK in Iraq and the PKK retaliate with fatal hit-and-run strikes on the Turkish police and military, the Coalition has made its first strike from Incirlik Airbase in Turkey into Syria on Wednesday using an armed drone. The target or result is so far unknown.

Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said that more US combat aircraft were arriving at the Incirlik base shortly, adding, “Soon we will together start an extensive battle against Daesh.”

(EDITOR: Don’t get too excited until we see more results. Turkey seems to remain obsessed with attacking the PKK.)

It is not encouraging that Qatar has come out in support of Turkey’s actions against the PKK, despite it being a member of the Arab League which on Tuesday condemned the attacks on the Kurd’s bases in Iraq.

Turkey’s reputation to be able to do anything effectively, especially it’s Presidents actions, is severely dented when it moves a long way from democracy and balanced law.

Earlier this week the Public Prosecutor started legal action against 18 journalists from 9 newspapers for publishing a picture of 2 men involved in a hostage situation last March. They could face up to 7.5 years in jail, HERE:

All the more heart warming then, the story of Turkish newly weds Fethullah Üzümcüoğlu and Esra Polat who got married last week at Killis near the Syrian border, where there area 4,000 Syrian refugees living in the Turkish town.

As part of their wedding celebrations Fethullah and Esra pooled all the money they had received as gifts at the wedding and with the help of a charity, Kimse Yok Mu (Is Anybody There?) fed all 4,000 refugees from a truck, thereby sharing their wedding meal.

The groom said, “Seeing the happiness in the eyes of the Syrian refugee children is just priceless. We started our journey to happiness with making others happy and that’s a great feeling. ” The Telegraph has the full story.

SYRIA NEWS

 

Turkish Bride and Groom Feed 4,000 Syrian Refugees

ASSAD REGIME LOSES GROUND AND MEN ON ALL SIDES, WHILE ISLAMIC STATE ABDUCTS 60 CHRISTIANS:

In Homs province today, Friday, it is reported that the Islamic State captured the oasis town of Qaryatan in the eastern desert, west of Palmyra and south of Homs on Thursday night.

Assad’s troops, driven out of the town, shelled it and injured a large number of civilians. 37 pro-Assad fighters died in the battle to take the town and 24 from IS.

SYRIA NEWS

 

IS Fighter Celebrates Victory in Qaryatan

As usual, the IS attack started with 3 vehicle suicide bombs and once the Jihadists had gained a hold, Assad’s forces hit the town with 25 air raids and rocket strikes.

IS are also reported to have abducted 220 civilians from the town, including women and children.

Most of the abductees are Sunnis but at least 60 are thought to be Christians.

More than 2,000 Christians lived in the town before the civil war started in 2011.

The town is also of high strategic importance because not only does it stand astride the road from Palmyra to the Qalamoun region but is also not far from the main highway running from Damascus to Homs.

Local reports say IS are already on the outskirts of Mheen, 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) west of Qaryatan.

Assad’s “Plan B” for an Alawite state will be in tatters if IS gain control of the M5 highway running north.

A few days ago, the Assad regime was shouting out that it was making a come back, especially in the Ghab Plain region of Hama and Idlib provinces.

However, the week is ending with all that rhetoric shattered.

Regime counter-attacks have come to nothing and the Opposition coalition, Jaish al-Fateh, has strengthened its position capturing villages on the western side of the Ghab Plain very near to the key town of Joureen and 2 important Assad bases.

If Joureen and the 2 bases fall, main routes into Assad’s heartland of Latakia will be wide open and even the city of Hama will be under threat.

These maps illustrate how quickly the situation has changed after Assad announced a new offensive on the Plain a week ago – massive change, not is his favour, here:

SYRIA NEWS

 

Ghab Plain As Assad Regime Announces New Campaign

SYRIA NEWS

 

Ghab Plain 1 Week Later – Spectacular Fail

Recent reports talk of 27 pro-Government troops killed, including 4 officers, and as many as 50 captured in the clashes.

In Damascus it is even worse where Opposition fighters have attacked the suburb of Darayya and unconfirmed reports say 70+ pro-Assad fighters have been killed.

The dead include members of the 4th Division and Republican Guards, both elite divisions charged with guarding the capital.

Local people said that the Opposition, Liwa Shuhada Al-Islam Brigade, had captured buildings overlooking the Mezze airbase, near which hundreds of houses were bulldozed recently under Iranian direction to provide a buffer zone against attack.

Some of the close combat fighting can be seen, including an Opposition fighter getting shot at the end, HERE:

And nail-biting searches through destroyed buildings, HERE:

Talks over the surrender of Zabadani in exchange for the release of pro-Assad fighters surrounded in the 2 Alawite enclaves in Idlib province of Fuah and Kafrayeh, have apparently broken down, and fighting at the former mountain resort continues.

The surviving members of the ill-fated US trained Division 30 have said that they were let down by the US who failed to protect and support them at crucial moments. They are now refusing to engage in combat with the Al-Nusra Front, only the Assad regime and the Islamic State.

EDITOR: A pretty pathetic start to the $350 million US “Train and Equip” programme.

The BBC has a video interview with one of Division 30’s officers.

Finally, the shot of the week – the spectacular destruction of an Assad tank with a TOW missile somewhere on the Ghab Plain in Idlib or Hama province, here:

 

Israel to Force-Feed Hunger Striking Detainee Beginning Saturday Evening

The Head of the Palestinian Detainees’ Committee, Issa Qaraqe’, reported,on Friday evening, that the Israeli Prison Administration will begin force-feeding hunger striking detainee, lawyer Mohammad ‘Allan, who started his hunger strike fifty four days ago.

Mohammad 'Allan

Hunger striking prisoner Mohammad ‘Allan

Qaraqe’ said that ‘Allan is in a very serious health condition, but despite that fact, he is insisting on continuing his hunger strike. He is demanding his unconditional release, as he is being held illegally under what Israel calls ‘Administrative Detention’, in which they hold Palestinians prisoner without charges or trial.

Qaraqe’ added that ‘Allan’s mother and his siblings are protesting in front of the Soroka Israeli Hospital, and that his mother has also started a hunger strike in solidarity with her detained son.

The Israeli Police are threatening to imprison Allan’s mother and his brothers, if they continue to protest in front of the hospital.

The mother told Ehna TV that she will not leave the hospital, and will remain close to her son, and also threatened to set herself on fire, if Israeli troops attempt to forcibly remove her from the hospital.

“My son is a lawyer, he never did anything to them to be treated like this, now he is dying,” she said, “Have some humanity, some mercy on him, he has been on strike for the 54th consecutive day, he is dying, please release my son, you can cut me into pieces, but I will never leave, I will burn myself instead”.

“My son must leave this hospital with me,” the mother added, “You don’t want to release him, then shoot me, kill me…I am not leaving without my son.”

The Israeli military has in the past forcefed hunger striking prisoners, despite a prohibition on the practice by both international and Israeli law. A recent bill passed by the Israeli Knesset allows forcefeeding. But the Association of Israeli Physicians said they will refuse to carry out the practice, which is considered a form of torture under international law.

Moeder van Mohammad 'Allan

(Source / 07.08.2015)

The Islamic State’s Burgeoning Capital in Sirte, Libya

Although ISL lost in Darnah, it has emerged even stronger in Sirte by building on existing jihadist networks in the area and ramping up its state-building activities.

While much of the focus on the Islamic State in Libya (ISL) has centered on its mid-June defeat in Darnah, over the past few months it has slowly built up its assets and capabilities in the country’s Sirte district. In many ways, this effort is the first example of ISL fully resembling its ISIS parent in Iraq and Syria. Unlike in Darnah, where ISL originated, no other insurgent factions remain in Sirte to compete with the group. This is due to several developments: defections from the local wing of jihadist group Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL), arrangements ISL has made with local tribes, and ex-Qadhafi loyalists from the late leader’s hometown joining up with or acquiescing to ISL’s rise in Sirte, in a manner similar to ex-Baathists in Iraq. As a result, Sirte could soon become the capital for ISL, equivalent to Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq.

ASL LAID THE GROUNDWORK IN SIRTE

Because ISL co-opted the ASL network in Sirte, convincing it to pledge baya (allegiance) to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in late fall 2014, it did not have to start from scratch when establishing itself in the area. Sirte was the first city in which ASL operated outside its base in Benghazi, beginning in late June 2013. For example, it put on a Quranic competition for Ramadan in July 2013, in association with the local Office of Awqaf, Radio Tawhid, the Cleaning Services Company, and the University of Sirte; a year later, it cosponsored a Ramadan dawa event with al-Baynah Foundation. This illustrated that ASL  had been preparing  to establish itself in Sirte ahead of time and had ties to key players within the city.

From that point forward, Sirte became ASL’s second-busiest hub. The group was involved in a variety of governance,hisba (accountability), and dawa (proselytizing) activities in the area, at times extending them into other parts of the Gulf of Sidra region such as al-Nawfaliyah and Bin Jawad. On the governance front, ASL provided security patrols in various neighborhoods and the University of Sirte, helped arbitrate issues between tribes and clans (including some from faraway Misratah), returned a stolen ambulance to a hospital, regulated traffic, and cleaned roads, among other things. In terms of hisba — the system by which an Islamic “state” is entrusted with commanding right and forbidding wrong — the group implemented the tazir penalty (i.e., corporal and other punishments left to the discretion of the authorities, as distinct from punishments set by the Quran) and confiscated and destroyed drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol. It was also involved in providing iftar (breaking of the fast) tents and supplying presents to children during Ramadan, as well as giving lessons on how to circumambulate the Kaaba correctly during the Hajj in Mecca, passing out slaughtered sacrificial animals during Eid al-Adha, providing school supplies at the beginning of the school year, converting foreign workers to Islam, and conducting charity drives for needy families.

All of this illustrates that when ISL began moving into Sirte, there was already a strong apparatus in place to exploit. The city now provides the perfect environment for ISL to build itself up in Libya.

ISL EXPANDS IN SIRTE DISTRICT

ISL originated in Darnah in April 2014, when it called itself Majlis Shura Shabab al-Islam. After the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade (former members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group) kicked the group out of Darnah in mid-June 2015, Sirte became the main priority for its state-building enterprise. Yet ISL had already been building up its presence in Sirte and other key cities in the district, including al-Nawfaliyah and Harawa. The group drew support from ASL defectors in Sirte as early as October 2014, but it did not act publicly inside the city until early January, from its base at the Ouagadougou Conference Center. Sirte was also the site where ISL members murdered Egyptian Christians in mid-February and Ethiopian Christians in mid-April.

ISL’s campaign to seize full control of Sirte was jumpstarted on February 8, 2015, when it took over al-Nawfaliyah some ninety miles to the east. Apparently, ASL defectors provided logistical support for ISL members to enter the city; after securing it, ISL called for residents to pledge baya to Baghdadi and named Ali Qarqa (a.k.a. Abu Hamam al-Libi) as the town’s new leader. This provided the group with its first true base in the broader Sirte district. Since then, it has focused on numerous activities in al-Nawfaliyah: conducting outreach forums; destroying cigarettes, alcohol, and caches of what ISL deems “sorcery materials”; distributing dawa leaflets; and training new soldiers.

The week after the al-Nawfaliyah takeover, ISL began making bolder moves in Sirte city, taking the radio station, the Wataniya television studio, the immigration center, Ibn Sina Hospital, the University of Sirte, and local government buildings. By then it controlled more than half of the city and had installed a local leader: Usamah Karamah, a relative of a former senior Qadhafi intelligence officer. This led the Misratan faction called the Fajr 166 Brigade to launch a counter-campaign aimed at retaking the city, but the effort failed because many leaders back in Misratah were incredulous at the time that ISL had actually infiltrated Sirte and viewed the fight with Gen. Khalifa Haftar in the east as a higher priority. In late May, ISL seized al-Qardabiya Air Base and the Great Man-Made River irrigation complex; then, on June 9, it took the city’s power plant, giving it complete control of Sirte. Afterward, ISL members began to loot and destroy the homes of local politicians.

The next week, ISL took over Harawa, halfway between Sirte and al-Nawfaliyah. This move consolidated the group’s hold over a swath of territory stretching around 125 miles. ISL has shown little sign of governance activities in Harawa so far, focusing instead on handing out dawa leaflets and CDs, destroying cigarettes and other items the group deems haram (forbidden), distributing zakat al-fitr (charity given to the poor at the end of Ramadan), allegedly liberating a number of Egyptian Muslim prisoners kidnapped by “corrupted” bandits, and in one case arresting a thief.

ISL has also taken other towns such as al-Wushka (about sixty-five miles west of Sirte city) and Wadi Zamzam (105 miles west). The latter town extends into Misratah district, suggesting that wider fighting could emerge between ISL and the Misratans — thus far they have only issued empty threats against ISL.

STATE-BUILDING IN SIRTE CITY

ISL’s operations in Sirte have grown more sophisticated since June, surpassing even its original efforts in Darnah — a situation abetted by its current lack of competition. Prior to June, the vast majority of its activities were limited todawa and hisba: distributing literature, conducting forums, converting Christians, implementing tazir and hudoud(punishments for crimes against God that are based on the Quran and hadith, such as flogging, stoning, amputation, and execution), and demolishing shrines, among other activities described above.

After ISL’s Darnah defeat and Sirte expansion, many members went west to help consolidate the group’s control and governance efforts there. Although it still engages in dawa and hisba, ISL is now in the state-building stage — it aims to show residents that life is continuing and that its presence has brought normalcy and stability. Similar efforts were seen last fall in Iraq and Syria, where ISIS members ostentatiously placed the group’s black flag on lamp posts, erected dawa billboards throughout towns, conducted tours of different industries, highlighted the group’s public works projects, and publicized photos showing the beauty and peacefulness of life in the so-called “Caliphate.” Likewise, ISL members in Sirte have shown off the city’s landscapes, port, bustling markets, and fully stocked grocery stores. They have also decorated the entrance to the city with ISL flags, installed numerous dawa billboards, cleaned and decorated streets, provided zakat to the needy, visited Ibn Sina hospital, and toured local brick, aluminum, marble, and milk factories.

In another parallel to Iraq and Syria, ISL members have called on individuals to join the group’s ranks via video messages issued under the aegis of “Wilayat Tarabulus,” the so-called ISIS “province” encompassing northwestern Libya. In late January, Abu Umar al-Tawrigi called on his fellow Tuaregs to join the group and pledge baya to Baghdadi. In late April, Abu Muhammad al-Ansari stated, “Come to Libya. Our hearts and homes are open to you.” In early June, Abu Dujana al-Sudani urged potential recruits to make hijra (emigrate) to ISL. And last month, Abu Hamza al-Masri  reiterated these entreaties, asking legal scholars in particular to come help the group implement sharia.

CONCLUSION

ISL’s seizure of Sirte has given the Islamic State a more sustainable base than its failed attempts in Darnah, as well as its first capital outside Iraq and Syria. Whether this leads to further territorial gains remains to be seen, especially given the various rivalries and areas of influence among Libya’s many factions. But ISL will become a far more formidable force if it is able to link its territory in Sirte district to the central Jufrah district, which has the Mabruk oil field and the town of Waddan — a key supply line for Fajr between Misratah and Sebha districts and a pivotal crossroads for various criminal networks that ISL hopes to take over. The group is also attempting to co-opt more pro-Qadhafi tribes in the Fezzan region further south.

Meanwhile, ISL’s consolidation has led ASL — which still operates independently in Benghazi and to a lesser extent Ajdabiya and Darnah — to focus more on service provision, dispensing justice, and security. This could lead to an eventual bidding war between the two rival jihadist groups. Whatever the case, it is important for U.S. policymakers and other parties to understand that while ISL did indeed lose in Darnah, it has emerged even stronger in Sirte.

(Source / 07.08.2015)

Israeli court issues 10-day entry ban on Aqsa Mosque employees

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, (PIC)– The district court in occupied Jerusalem on Thursday issued a verdict banning Palestinians from entering the Aqsa Mosque, where they work as guards and administrators, until August 16.

The court judge refused to describe her decision as a ban on the entry of Aqsa Mosque employees and claimed that the defendants would be given leave of absence for 10 days, during which they would not be allowed to enter or approach the Mosque.

The court hearing was held to look into the appeal filed by the Israeli police against an earlier decision by the magistrate’s court in Jerusalem refusing its request to prevent a number of guards and administrators working at the Aqsa Mosque as well as one Jerusalemite young man from entering the Islamic holy place for several days.

The district court also gave the Israeli police 10 days to study the possibility of filing indictments against the defendants.

(Source / 07.08.2015)

Palestinian forced to strip to underwear before attending briefing at Israeli Embassy in Washington DC

Ambassade Israel

On August 5th I journeyed through Washington DC to visit the Embassy of Israel. It was not the first instance I took the time to hear what Israel has to say on a wide range of issues. I made the visit as part of a program on U.S. foreign policy held by a non-profit organization, which is hosting nearly 40 participants from around the world this summer.

I looked forward to listening to Aaron Sagui, the Embassy Spokesman, especially because of rapid developments and the challenges ahead in the region.

Dorgham Abusalim

Dorgham Abusalim

Instead, I left feeling humiliated. After a long wait at the security gate that was not so different from the humiliation Palestinians experience at a check point, I was stripped down to my underwear – an exercise that is repulsive at worst and undiplomatic at best. For a split-second during the screening, the security staffer who began with patting me down thought he completed the process. However, another security staffer insisted he strips me down further, demonstrating procedure to his colleague by lifting his own shirt upward while pointing to his pants. I asked them if other participants are going through the same process, they said “yes.” When I asked my fellow participants, they were in disbelief. None of them were stripped down to their underwear. I was the only person whose ID is Palestinian.

Ironically, Mr. Sagui kicked off the briefing by asking about the participants’ backgrounds, pointing out that he understands a Palestinian “cousin” is in the audience, referring to the Abrahamic ties between the descendants of Ismail and Isaac.

During the Q&A part of the briefing, I recounted the experience to Mr. Sagui, asking whether cousins treat each other in such manner? His answer, lamented by a half-hearted apology, baffled me. He began by saying that it happened twice before at the Embassy, affecting a French guest in one instance. He then went on a recycled diatribe of past experiences with “Palestinian terrorists,” effectively suggesting that I, in his view, am a terrorist.

Once I left the Embassy a friend of mine shared with me his thoughts about what happened. He recalled that one of the security staff who was standing in the room simply giggled at my question.

Nothing is funny about this experience.

An Embassy is a gateway into a country. An institution driven by a simple purpose: the diplomatic and critical exchange of ideas, culture, and political understandings so that sound relations may be established between people.

The briefing ended with a question about hope regarding Israeli-Palestinian affairs. Mr. Sagui rightly stressed that we must have hope. However, we must also recognize that every time Israel acts in such repulsive manner a piece of hope is stripped away.

Ten years of international education taught me a simple truth: reconciliation is key to success, both in and outside the classroom. From Palestine, to Bosnia and Herzegovina, to the United States, to Switzerland, no matter the landscape or the context,  whether personal, social, or professional, finding common ground rests on the ability to reconcile. Invariably, it’s a process that must begin with critical self-reflection. Only when Israel begins to assess its own flaws in a free-spirited fashion can we trust that hope will lead us to reconciliation and peace. We cannot afford to hope just for the sake of hope. Until then, I’m compelled not to visit the Embassy anymore. In the meantime, I hope that it becomes a place where an honest and genuine commitment to peace guides Israel’s relations.

(Source / 07.08.2015)

Yemen: hundreds of Houthis killed, detained in al-Anad airbase

Popular resistance forces in Yemen

Popular resistance forces in Yemen

Press reports show popular resistance forces in Yemen killed nearly 470 Houthi members in the operations leading to the liberation of the strategic al-Anad airbase, while nearly 100 others were detained as prisoners, Al Arabiya reported on Wednesday, August 5th.
Al-Anad witnessed heavy battles on Tuesday where hundreds of Houthis were killed and dozens taken as prisoners.
The popular resistance in al-Anad destroyed arms, ammunition, missile and mortar warehouses.
Brigadier General Ahmad Asiri, an advisor to the Saudi Defense Minister said retaking the al-Anad airbase and other recent victories gained by the popular resistance forces are all results of united and organized measures between the Yemen National Army, the Saudi-led Arab coalition and popular resistance units.
Yemeni Interior Minister said 75% of the Taizz Province is under the control of popular resistance forces. In retaliation Houthi militants have been launching artillery barrages against residential areas.

(Source / 07.08.2015)

Hundreds of Gazans pray at Aqsa mosque

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Hundreds of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip headed to East Jerusalem via the Erez crossing on Friday to pray in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Palestinian liaison officials said.

Buses left early from the besieged Gaza Strip carrying over 300 Gazans over the age of 50.
Weekly access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque by Gazans has become routine since October 2014 when some 500 Palestinians in Gaza prayed at the mosque for the first time since 2007, having been prevented by Israel from traveling to Jerusalem since that time.
(Source / 07.08.2015)

Afghan capital rocked by multiple blasts, dozens dead

Government buildings close to Kabul airport and a police academy were targeted on Friday, hours after a truck bomb tore through the center of the city. The blasts killed at least 35 people and left more than 250 wounded.

A truck bomb tore through Kabul city center

Four bombings by suspected Taliban militants rocked the Afghan capital on Friday, including two close to Kabul airport.

The two most recent blasts targeted an area close to coalition bases and Afghan government buildings late in the evening, security sources said.

Gunfire continued after the attacks, and NATO jets were heard flying overhead.

The number of casualties from the two evening blasts wasn’t immediately known.

Earlier, a suicide bomber blew himself up close to Kabul’s police academy on Friday, killing at least 20 recruits, officials said.

According to a police source, the attacker, dressed in police uniform, walked into a group of trainees waiting outside the building compound and detonated his explosives-laden vest. At least 25 recruits were wounded.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the police academy attack, in a statement on Twitter.

A truck bomb tore through Kabul city center

The truck bomb flattened several buildings in central Kabul

Less than 24 hours before that, a massive truck bomb was detonated in central Kabul, killing 15 civilians and wounding 240 others.

That blast was described as one of the largest ever in Kabul, leaving a 30-foot crater in the ground, near a government complex.

The bombings were the first major assaults in the Afghan capital since the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar was announced.

Afghanistan’s leaders have repeatedly claimed that the security situation is improving despite the pull-out of most NATO troops last December.

New United Nations data published on Wednesday revealed the number of civilian casualties hit a record high in the first half of 2015, with 3,329 people injured.

On Thursday, Taliban insurgents killed nine people in multiple attacks on police targets, including a truck bombing in eastern Logar province.

(Source / 07.08.2015)

Jailed PFLP leader to start open hunger strike

Ahmad Saadat

Ahmad Saadat

Secretary-General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) Ahmad Saadat and the front’s prisoners announced their intention to start an open hunger strike on Sunday.

“PFLP branch in Israeli prisons led by Secretary-General Ahmad Saadat has decided to launch an open hunger strike on Sunday in protest of the Israeli aggressive policy against prisoners, depriving them of their just demands,” the front said in a statement.

According to the statement, the prisoners’ demands include allowing family visits, providing the medical treatment to prisoners, stopping administrative detentions, improving living conditions in prisons and stopping Israeli special operations units from breaking into prisons.

The statement stressed that this step comes to defend the Palestinian prisoners’ rights.

The front called on the Palestinian people to support prisoners in their strike.

(Source / 07.08.2015)