Palestinians pop up in Panama Papers

Mossack Fonseca law firm sign is pictured in Panama City, in this April 4, 2016, file photo. Mossack Fonseca is at the center of the Panama Papers scandal

Ever since the inception of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1994, local and international organizations have repeatedly issued reports on the rampant corruption plaguing its ministries and departments. The problem is not limited to administrative and financial excesses committed by irresponsible individuals for personal motives, but rather is seems entrenched in the PA’s structure.

The most recent corruption case was revealed by the so-called “Panama Papers,” which were published April 4. The Panama Papers exposed the involvement of international figures in tax evasion and money laundering.

Tareq Abbas, the son of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, was among the Palestinian names contained in the papers. According to these documents, Abbas secretly owns, in partnership with the PA, a holding company worth more than $1 million in the British Virgin Islands.

Mohammed Mustafa, the former Palestinian deputy prime minister who resigned in 2015 and current head of the Palestine Investment Fund, was also on the list, as was the Arab Palestinian Investment Company (APIC), one of the largest companies in Palestine with more than 1,500 employees.

Mohammed Abu Giab, the editor-in-chief of al-Eqtesadia magazine, told Al-Monitor, “The credibility of the Panama Papers is unquestionable — some Palestinian figures and companies associated with the PA are laundering money. I recently learned that some diplomatic action is being taken on the international level following the disclosure of the Panama Papers in a bid to investigate these figures’ involvement in these excesses. The documents will have a dramatic impact on two levels. The first is political, as the PA might face international pressure and accountability regarding its role in the use of funds out of the view of international eyes. The second is economic, as international efforts to revive the Palestinian economy could slow down. However, no Palestinian judicial actions have been taken to investigate the issue.”

The disclosure of the Panama Papers coincided with the results of a Palestinian poll that were issued on April 4 by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in the West Bank. The poll found that 79% of respondents believe there is corruption in the PA.

Al-Monitor contacted Mustafa’s office and has received a written explanation stating, “The information contained in the Panama Papers with regard to my membership in the APIC is no secret and is even available to the public. It surprises me that some media outlets have brought this up with no grounds, and I call on these outlets to stick to their ethics, to stay away from vague intimidating headlines and to rely on original sources and concerned individuals.”

Corruption in the PA is driven by the clientelism that governs relations within its institutions and departments and gives the Palestinian ruling elite a strategic tool to control the popular bases and expand its network of supporters by redistributing public resources and buying political allegiances. These methods have enabled the PA to maintain the status quo, dominate political and economic assets, and implement its political agenda without facing any effective opposition.

Al-Monitor contacted Rafiq al-Natsheh, chairman of the PA’s Anti-Corruption Commission, but he said he was not sufficiently informed of the Panama Papers’ content to comment.

Meanwhile, Azmi Shuaibi, the coordinator of the Coalition for Accountability and Integrity, stressed on April 8 the need to investigate the names contained in the Panama Papers.

Yahya Moussa, the chairman of the Oversight Committee in the Legislative Council, told Al-Monitor, “The PA provides a perfect environment for the emergence of corruption, as it carries out security tasks in favor of Israel in return for the international community’s overlooking its corruption. This turned [the international community] into a partner in the corruption as it turns a blind eye to the economic monopolies practiced by President Mahmoud Abbas, his family and associates, and allows them to manipulate the economic aid coming from donor countries.”

Al-Monitor repeatedly tried to contact Tareq Abbas, but to no avail. However, a Palestinian political official close to Abbas told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “What has been published in the Panama Papers is part of a campaign against both the president and his family. This campaign goes in line with recently published Israeli allegations aimed at tarnishing his image and promoting corruption charges against his family without any supporting legal documents. The president does not have to respond to every piece of news being published here or there.”

The Israeli newspaper NRG ran an article on March 12 on what it views as the Abbas family’s ill-gotten fortune. On April 10, Haaretz accused Palestinian officials close to Abbas of using their government posts to further their own personal interests.

For his part, Tarek Aggad, chairman of APIC’s board of directors, announced April 8 that the company is subject to the authority of the Palestinian regulatory authorities, which publishes financial reports, and has paid more than $1 billion to the Palestinian Ministry of Finance in taxes, customs and fees. He also noted that its employees do not have any interests that could be considered monopolies. The president’s son is one of the company’s executive directors, and his salary and benefits have been allocated from the company’s budget since 1999, as is the case with the rest of the staff, he added.

Adel Samara, a Palestinian political author and the editor-in-chief of Kanaan Online, told Al-Monitor, “The Panama Papers confirm that the PA is a nongovernmental entity, that corruption is entrenched in its structure, that it receives money to keep the Oslo Accord with Israel in place and that it carries out business [deals] publicly in a way that ‘legitimizes corruption.’ Meanwhile, the donor countries do not exercise control over the PA. This brings us to the conclusion that the disclosure of the Panama Papers will not affect the continuation of international support for the corrupt PA, as this support will continue so long as the PA is committed to its political project with Israel.”

The Panama Papers may have highlighted some of the heavy corruption plaguing the PA, such as money laundering and tax evasion, but there are many more problems, including the direct theft of public money, the receipt of bribes in exchange for government services, the involvement of high-level Palestinian officials in private commercial companies, the ownership and transfer of government land to officials, world travel at the PA’s expense and the appointment of relatives in government jobs.

(Source / 18.04.2016)

Recognition of Palestine inseparable from peace talks with Israel – FM to RT

© Andrew Kelly

Palestine hopes a French initiative to revive peace talks between it and Israel will be backed by major world powers, including Russia, saying recognition of statehood is not a “political risk” but a “value,” Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told RT.

“We said yes, absolutely [to that idea] raised by the former [French] foreign minister Laurent Fabius. Not only had we said yes, we lobbied for it. We wanted the negotiations to start and we felt that the lack of negotiations undermines the peace process and the situation on the ground,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told to RT.

The exclusive interview came ahead of Monday’s Moscow meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas. Discussions on bringing long-standing foes Israel and Palestine to the table again, as well as the other countries concerned, was said to top the agenda.

French President Francois Hollande said after a meeting with Abbas last week that the new summit would help pave the way to lasting peace in the region if it is supported by world powers and Palestine’s neighbors.

“The meeting that we’ve had with Holland was very positive,” Foreign Minister al-Maliki told RT. “Of course, he relies heavily on … collective support [from the Arab states] and beyond. We’ve also had previous discussions with Russian authorities on the French idea [in hope to] get full support from President Putin.”

Following the meeting with Abbas at the Kremlin, President Putin said Moscow will offer “unconditional support” to Palestinian efforts to promote a peaceful solution to the decades’ long conflict, according to TASS.

However, the much anticipated conference may stall, as Israel seems unwilling to discuss any option involving a two-state solution, which implies the existence of the State of Israel and State of Palestine within pre-1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.

Earlier in March, the Washington Post quoted Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu as saying that he still believes a sovereign Palestine would come as “not a state next to Israel, but a state instead of Israel.”

Commenting on international recognition of Palestine as a state, Foreign Minister al-Maliki said “it’s not really a political risk, it would rather be a value to the international community.”

“We feel that recognition of the Palestinian state is a plus to such [Western] countries, especially knowing that their public opinion is in favor of recognizing the state. You can’t separate it from the resumption of talks or the international conference; it’s an integral part of it.

“This is why we immediately said yes to the French initiative, because its failure – or success – will bring recognition from France. And we know that if France recognizes Palestine, it will make five to six other European countries [to recognize it as well].”

European Parliament votes to recognize Palestine statehood ‘in principle’

Palestinians are also pushing for a new UN Security Council draft resolution that defines Israeli settlements as illegitimate and strictly condemns their expansion. This is very likely be vetoed by the US, however, as it has repeatedly rejected resolutions considered unfavorable to Israel. However, there has been speculation that, this time, President Obama could change tack and let the resolution pass.

Al-Maliki said he did not believe that US contributions to the new talks would make a difference.

“Look, Obama had eight years to push for peace process. He might show us greater interest to move things [and now] it will be too late for that to happen. We expected him to be involved from the beginning, he promised us to be. [Although] he said that the [Jewish] settlements are illegal, day after day, year after year such position was disappearing,” he said.

Peace talks between Israel and Palestine have been at a standstill since the last US efforts collapsed two years ago. Both Abbas and Netanyahu have expressed interest in meeting with each other over the past weeks, but neither side has made a public move to jump-start negotiations.

(Source / 18.04.2016)

Five year anniversary of the death of Vittorio Arrigoni

18th April 2016 | International Solidarity Movement, al-Khalil team | Gaza, occupied Palestine

Last Thursday 14th April marked four years since the disappearance of Vittorio Arrigoni in Gaza, under the Israeli blockade. According to subsequent statements and investigations carried out by Hamas, ISM activist Vittorio’s body was discovered the following day, having been kidnapped and executed by the previously unheard of “Brigade of the Gallant Companion of the Prophet Mohammed bin Muslima,” a Salafist splinter-group. His alleged murderers were eventually arrested and sentenced to life-imprisonment (reduced to fifteen years on appeal).

Vittorio wearing a keffiyeh

Before his death Vittorio was a committed, passionate ISM activist who spent the best part of three years of his life in Gaza between 2008 and 2011, working in solidarity with the Palestinian people suffering from the Israeli blockade. He first went to Gaza as part of the Free Gaza flotilla that broke the blockade in August 2008. Vittorio worked in solidarity with farmers and fishermen, attended demonstrations and documented, for both ISM and other media outlets, the countless examples of Israeli human rights abuses that he witnessed. This was none more evident than in his work during Operation Cast Lead, in which hundreds of civilians were massacred.

Despite the difficulties he encountered in his work Vittorio was an incredibly positive, happy and optimistic person. He described the breaking of the blockade in 2008 as the happiest moment of his life, stating that, “it became clear, not only to the world but Palestinians also, that there are people who are willing to spend their lives to come and hug their brothers here in Gaza.”

Vittorio was a born activist whose grandfathers “fought and died struggling against occupation, a fascist Nazi one. For that reason presumably in my DNA, my blood, there are particles that push me to struggle for freedom and human rights.”

Gaza: Stay Human

Hundreds of Palestinians gathered in Gaza last week, where Vittorio is considered a Martyr to the cause of peaceful resistance, to commemorate the anniversary of Vittorio’s death- singing, dancing and showing a film dedicated to his life. Vittorio’s memory is still honoured in Gaza by the street and school that carry his name. A book of Vittorio’s daily dispatches to Italian media – “Gaza: Stay Human” – was first published in 2010 with an introduction by Ilan Pappe.

ISM continue in Vittorio’s spirit, to support and show solidarity to the Palestinian people in their peaceful, non-violent opposition to the blockade of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank.

We must remain human, even in the most difficult times …
Because, despite everything, there must always be humanity within us. We have to bring it to others.”

Vittorio Arrigoni

4th February 1975 – 15th April 2011

(Source / 18.04.2016)

Israeli court sentences Hamas leader to four years in prison

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — An Israeli military court sentenced a Hamas leader to four years in prison on Monday, also ordering him to pay a 20,000-shekel ($5,298) fine.Jamal al-Tawil, 52, the former mayor of the city of al-Bireh in the occupied West Bank, was charged with belonging to an illegal party and carrying out activities with said party, as well as inciting against Israel during Friday prayers.Al-Tawil is currently held in the Meggido prison. Israeli prison services have reportedly denied his request to be moved to a prison closer to his family, which has been banned from visiting him.Al-Tawil has previously spent 14 years in Israeli prisons for various charges. He was one of hundreds of Hamas and Islamic Jihad members who were deported to Marj al-Zuhur in southern Lebanon in 1992.According to prisoners’ rights group Addameer, 7,000 Palestinians are currently held in Palestinian prisons.

(Source / 18.04.2016)

Fatah rejects Turkish demand to end siege on Gaza

Fatah had been believed to be part of the Israeli siege on Gaza

Fatah rejected on Sunday plan to build seaport in Gaza Strip as part of Turkish deal to regain diplomatic relations with Israel.

Fatah’s objection comes after reports regarding the advancement of Turkish-Israeli talks to regain diplomatic relations, which include an end of the Israeli siege on Gaza and building a floating seaport.

Days of Palestine, West Bank -Fatah rejected on Sunday plan to build seaport in Gaza Strip as part of Turkish deal to regain diplomatic relations with Israel.

The Palestinian movement, which is headed by Palestinian Authority (PA) and PLO President Mahmoud Abbas, said that it “rejects direct or indirect talks between Hamas and Israel regarding building a seaport and a safe passage under Israeli observation.”

Adding that this is a way through which Israel hopes to sustain internal Palestinian division and facilitate Israeli control over the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.

Fatah Spokesman Osama al-Qawasmi called on Hamas to explain Israeli remarks that mutual talks are being held between the two sides.

“How could we explain the ongoing efforts being exerted to end the division and to hold a meeting in Doha, while Hamas is conducting secret talks with Israel?” Al-Qawasmi asked.

He insisted that the PLO is the legitimate and sole representative of the Palestinian people and any talks about a seaport or a safe passage must be conducted through it.

Fatah’s objection comes after reports regarding the advancement of Turkish-Israeli talks to regain diplomatic relations, which include an end of the Israeli siege on Gaza and building a floating seaport.

(Source / 18.04.2016)

Palestina en de Tweede Kamer

Als je de site van de Tweede Kamer eens door ’worstelt’ en zoekt naar kamervragen die gesteld zijn door de politieke partijen over de situatie in Palestina in het afgelopen jaar, is er weinig te vinden. Voor zover ik wegwijs ben geworden in de brei van informatie, zijn er een paar zaken terug te vinden; de datum was ingesteld van 1 juni 2015 tot en met 18 april 2016.

Te vinden zijn de antwoorden op de vragen van kamerlid Servaes over “een nieuw vredesinitiatief en mogelijke erkenning van de Palestijnse staat door Frankrijk” (februari 2016); antwoorden op de vragen van kamerlid Van Bommel over “de door Nederland gedoneerde scanner op de grens tussen Gaza en Israël” (2015); antwoord op de vragen van de kamerleden Voordewind, Bisschop en Potters “inzake vernomen onjuistheden in Nederlandse schoolboeken over Israël” (2015).

Natuurlijk allemaal zeer belangrijke vragen, maar er zijn meer belangrijke vragen te stellen en de antwoorden daarop (zelfs de vragen) zijn niet te vinden op de site van de Tweede Kamer. Het werpt bij mij de vraag op of de vragen wel gesteld zijn, want we mogen er vanuit gaan, dat alles wat behandeld is, ook vastgelegd wordt.

Gevangenen
Niets is te vinden op de site over de ruim 7000 Palestijnse gevangenen die in de verschillende Israëlische gevangenissen – soms voor jaren – gevangen worden gehouden. Vaak ook zonder enige vorm van rechtspraak. Niets is te vinden over de 17e april, de Palestijnse Gevangenen Dag, een dag die voor alle Palestijnen een herinnering is aan wat er gebeurd met mensen die opkomen voor hun recht. Het recht om te leven, het recht op een eigen staat, het recht op verzet.

Maar de Nederlandse politiek laat de Palestijnen wederom in de kou staan, geen politieke partij die opkomt voor deze gevangenen. Niet voor de Palestijnse advocaat Muhammad Allan, niet voor de Palestijnse journalist Mohammed al-Qeeq, niet voor de Palestijnse bakker en verzetsstrijder Khader Adnan, niet voor de Palestijnse hongerstakers Sami Janazrah, Fouad Assi en Adib Mafarjah (mogelijk zijn er reeds 3000 hongerstakers op dit moment te vinden in de verschillende gevangenissen), niet voor de 43 journalisten die gevangen zijn gezet en zelfs niet voor al die kinderen die gevangen worden gehouden, zelfs niet voor het kind van 12 dat in de gevangenis zit.

Niets, niet een vraag te vinden. Waarom is de Nederlandse politiek zo stil?

Executies en geweld
Naast de gevangenen – die nog in leven zijn – wordt er door de Nederlandse politiek ook niet stil gestaan bij het toegenomen geweld dat de bezettende macht tegen de Palestijnen steeds vaker gebruikt. Zelfs de Verenigde Staten maar ook organisaties als UNRWA hebben reeds eerder aangegeven dat het geweld tegen Palestijnen alle grenzen van het fatsoen is overschreden. Maar waar blijven nu die vragen? Misschien dat D66 wat probeert, maar als het al gebeurt, blijft de partij alleen staan in de Tweede Kamer.

De executies – vaak van jongeren – zijn een dagelijks gebeuren geworden. Het is zelfs zo ver doorgetrokken, dat de bezettende soldaten “license to kill’ (http://khamakarpress.com/2016/04/16/israeli-army-giving-its-soldiers-license-to-kill/ )  hebben meegekregen van de machtshebbers in Tel Aviv. Gideon Levy van de Israëlische krant Haaretz schrijft over de “vuile ethiek van het Israëlische leger in 2016.

Het is algemeen bekend, maar Nederland reageert niet of nauwelijks. Wanneer durft de Nederlandse politiek eens duidelijk een statement af te geven: “Genoeg is genoeg. Israël u stopt met datgene wat u aan te het doen, gaat terug naar de grenzen van voor 1967, of anders volgen er maatregelen tegen het regime in Tel Aviv.”

Maar met de regering Rutte zal dit niet snel gebeuren. Het wordt tijd dat hierover een raadgevend referendum gehouden gaat worden. Ik neem dat het Palestina-kamp hier een grote verkiezingstournee voor in wil gaan zetten.

FSA & Rebel Groups Set up Joint Operations Room to Respond to Regime’s Violations of Truce

Member of the opposition’s negotiating delegation in Geneva Mohammed Aboud said that the armed opposition would exercise its right to respond to the Assad regime’s violations of the truce and to defend themselves in case of an attack. He warned that the FSA and other rebel groups will no longer tolerate any aggression by the Assad regime and its allies and will carry on with its primary mission to defend Syrian civilians.

Aboud pointed out that the Assad regime continues to bomb civilians and prevent the introduction of humanitarian aid to the besieged areas even during the negotiations in Geneva. He stressed that the regime is exploiting the negotiations to cover up its continued crimes against the Syrian people.

The Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups earlier today announced they had set up a joint operations room to response to the violations of the truce by regime forces and militants of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

A statement issued by the FSA and rebel groups announced the launch of a new offensive against pro-regime forces dubbed “Repelling the Aggressors”, in response to the regime forces’ repeated breaches of the truce and their targeting of the IDP camps and residential areas.

The FSA and rebel groups vowed that “any regime position that fires a single shell against civilians will be met with a strong response so as to deter other regime positions and military checkpoints where the shelling comes from.”

The statement was signed by Ahrar al-Sham, Failaq al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam, Jaish al-Mujahideen, Ansar al-Sham, the 1st Coastal Division, Jaish al-Izza, the Northern Division, and Jaish al-Nasr.

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 18.04.2016)

US should ditch ‘plan B’ for Syria

Civil defense workers look for survivors after an airstrike on rebel-held Old Aleppo, April 16, 2016

The failure to date of Turkish-backed Syrian armed groups to retake the Syrian border town of al-Rai from the Islamic State (IS) should be a warning to US intelligence officials reportedly preparing a “plan B” for Syria, should the cessation of hostilities collapse.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the Central Intelligence Agency and its regional partners are drawing up plans to provide more advanced arms, possibly including anti-aircraft weapons, to Syrian opposition forces as a contingency plan. Old habits and bad ideas seem to die hard in some Washington policy circles. One might recall, for example, the failure of the ill-fated initial train and equip mission, which cost $382 million to train 180 fighters, 95 of whom are reportedly still active. But instead of coming to a reasonable conclusion of “been there, done that, that didn’t work,” for many understandable reasons, the CIA is consulting with Turkey and Saudi Arabia on a scheme to ramp up the capabilities of Syrian proxies, which would of course be devastating for the Syrian people who have enjoyed a mild reprieve from the bloodbath of the past five years, as Mohammed al-Khatieb reported from Aleppo last week.

The divide between the United States and Turkey over the role of Syrian Kurdish groups has further complicated the campaign against Jabhat al-Nusra and IS in northern Syria, and is a major reason why a plan B would fail.

Fehim Tastekin writes that the Turkish-backed operation in al-Rai has turned into a “fiasco.” The weeklong campaign has so far gone poorly, with IS putting up a fierce defense. The plan appears to have been hatched after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appealed to US President Barack Obama to back off support for the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the leading force in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and instead work through armed groups linked to the Turkish National Intelligence Service, “a composite force of Turkmens, Free Syrian Army factions and Salafists,” according to Tastekin.

Turkey’s Syria policies will only become more problematic as there is little or no hope for a “cessation of hostilities” with the Kurdistan Workers Party. Metin Gurcan writes, “The milder meteorological conditions will allow the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to become more mobile. With improved logistics support, the PKK could integrate its urban units, which have been operating independently, and transform them into a regional force and escalate fighting. Security forces, which are aware of these realities, are frantically preparing. Security officials in Ankara expect multiple, simultaneous PKK operations on the ground or actions in the cities at the end of April. Ankara has reacted by increasing the number of special operations teams trained in urban warfare, appropriate vehicles and weaponry.”

Tastekin concludes, “Turkey’s tactical moves designed to keep the YPG away from the area are impeding a real and meaningful struggle against IS. The expectation is that if the Kurds and their Arab allies move against Menbic, Turkey will arrange for a repeat of the al-Rai offensive. If the Syrian army succeeds in the “Great Aleppo War,” the northern front will be even more complicated, so much so that even Turkey won’t be able to cope with it. Then, the ‘with Kurds or without Kurds’ debate will become irrelevant.”

Despite the leaks of a plan B, UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura is not ready to write off progress since the US-Russian agreement in February, despite a breathless report in The Washington Post on April 14 about the “apparent collapse” of the cessation of hostilities. At the start of a new round of Syrian peace talks in Geneva, de Mistura told reporters April 13, “We need to make sure, at any cost, that the cessation of hostilities, in spirit and in substance, continues to give hope to the Syrian people, because that is what made all of them believe that, in fact, even if they have to wait for the intra-Syrian talks, their lives are at least improved.”

Laura Rozen reports that US concerns about the challenges to the cessation of hostilities are in part the result of disputes over the targeting of Jabhat al-Nusra in and around Aleppo by the Syrian military and its backers, especially Iran and Russia, as some of the armed groups supported by the United States and its regional partners are in close proximity to Jabhat al-Nusra, which is al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.

The relationship and proximity of other Syrian armed groups to Jabhat al-Nusra is a matter of some urgency. UN Security Council Resolution 2254 reiterates that the cessation of hostilities does not apply to Jabhat al-Nusra “and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with al-Qaeda or [IS].” This column has zero tolerance for those who run with al-Qaeda, even if for tactical reasons or a shared hatred of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Plan B, in our score, should be kept on the shelf for good, if not a candidate for the shredder. The thought of advanced arms, including anti-aircraft weapons, falling into the possession of sectarian Salafi groups such as Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham, which are fellow travelers with Jabhat al-Nusra, and are backed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, should be something to be avoided, not discussed.

The bottom line is that the US-Russia partnership on Syria is mostly working, and is Syria’s best bet for an end to the war. Rather than a plan B, a better approach would be to build on what is working and establish a mechanism for both monitoring potential cessation violations, which is under discussion, and enhanced intelligence coordination among the United States, Russia and its regional partners in the International Syria Support Group about Jabhat al-Nusra and IS, especially in and around Aleppo, in anticipation of a likely offensive to retake the city, which would be a turning point in the war.

Kamal Sheikho reports from Kobani that “the latest military movements by the SDF and armed Syrian opposition factions in northern Syria aim to cut off the supply route to IS, which links the eastern and northern Aleppo countryside to Raqqa, and to bottleneck IS militants by cutting off the remaining border passages with Turkey. Analysts and experts in Syrian affairs believe it is likely for the coming days to witness heated and decisive battles between conflicting parties, changing the balance of power in favor of the forces fighting IS.”

As we wrote in January, “If the Syrian army, backed by its Iranian and Russian allies, retakes Aleppo, the city’s liberation will come by directly defeating terrorists and armed groups that are already deserting the battlefield. A government victory would be of a different order and have a different impact than the negotiated departures of besieged armed opposition forces in Homs and around Damascus. The people of Aleppo would experience a flat-out victory by the government and a defeat, and exodus, by the armed groups. … A Syrian government victory in Aleppo could be the beginning of the end of the sectarian mindset that would have been alien to the city prior to 2011. There is no more appropriate city to begin Syria’s healing. A Syrian government victory in Aleppo will make it harder to rationalize Western backing for jihadi groups that want to keep up the fight against long odds in the rest of the country. IS and al-Qaeda may prefer, over time, to begin to relocate to Libya and other countries where they can avoid the pounding from the US-led anti-IS coalition and Russian- and Iranian-backed Syrian forces. This may already be happening, and if so, it is to be cheered by those who seek a unified, secular and nonsectarian Syria, as outlined in the Vienna Communique, and as is Aleppo’s tradition.”

(Source / 18.04.2016)

Eleven Schoolgirls Suffer Effects of Teargas Inhalation In Hebron

18 APR
10:51 AM

Palestinian medical sources in Hebron, in the southern part of the occupied West Bank, has reported Monday that at least eleven children suffered the effects of tear gas inhalation, after Israeli soldiers fired gas bombs on them.

The sources said Red Crescent medics provided eleven students of the Zahra’ Elementary School for Girls with the needed first aid after they suffered severe effects of tear gas inhalation.

The children were walking to school, close to the Abu ar-Reesh Israeli military roadblock, in the southern part of Hebron city, when the soldiers fired many gas bombs on them, after preventing them from crossing while on their way to school.

The Palestinians in Hebron face one of the most difficult conditions in the occupied West Bank as the soldiers blockade entire roads and neighborhoods, not just with military roadblocks, but with iron gates, metal detectors and concrete blocks, especially in areas were illegal Israeli colonists reside.

There are four Israeli colonies in downtown Hebron alone, with approximately 500 inhabitants. Around 7000 additional colonizers live in Keryat Arab’ colony, in the outskirts of Hebron city.

Many other settlements, including Givat Ha’avot, Givat Hasrina, east of Hebron, and Beit Haggai colony, south of the city, surround Hebron.

(Source / 18.04.2016)

Israeli forces find first tunnel from Gaza into Israel since 2014 war

Israeli forces discover Gaza tunnel April 18, 2014

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Israeli forces have uncovered and destroyed a tunnel passing from the Gaza Strip into Israel — the first to be found since Israel’s devastating military offensive on the coastal enclave in 2014.The Israeli army on Monday lifted a gag order on the discovery of the tunnel earlier this week. An Israeli army spokesperson confirmed to Ma’an the tunnel had been found and destroyed on both sides of the border.Reaching 30 meters deep at certain points, the tunnel reportedly extended from the southeast of the Gaza Strip, crossing the border to where Israeli military bases and towns are located.Israeli army spokesperson Peter Lerner said in a statement: “The ugly truth is that Hamas continues to invest millions of dollars to build tunnels of terror and death. The tunnel uncovered in Israel demonstrates once more Hamas’ warped priorities and continued commitment and investment in tools of violence.”The Coordinator of Israeli Government’s Activities in the Palestinian Territory Yoav Mordechai also confirmed the tunnel’s discovery, saying: “Hamas continues to dig tunnels ignoring Gaza citizens’ rights to live in dignity.”There have been reports in recent months that Hamas has expanded its tunnel network — used mainly for military purposes in the northern Gaza Strip and smuggling in the south — since Israel’s 2014 offensive on Gaza left much of it destroyed.Israeli officials have accused Hamas of “preparing” for another war with Israel and have threatened retaliatory measures against the Gaza Strip as a whole. However, despite Hamas’ inflammatory rhetoric against Israel, the movement has not claimed responsibility for any military action against Israel since the 2014 war.The movement has been pitched against a number of smaller armed groups inside the territory that have made a name for themselves as unafraid to challenge Hamas — seeking to outbid them in the fight against Israel and the defense of Islam.Israel began its 2014 offensive on Gaza with the declared aim of ending all rocket fire from the coastal enclave. However, as the conflict wore on, with no end in sight to the rocket fire, Israel sought in part to redefine its aims, with the destruction of tunnels Israel Gaza given as one of its key targets.According to Israeli army figures, Israeli forces destroyed 32 tunnels during the 50-day war, 14 of which crossed the border into Israel.

(Source / 18.04.2016)