Longtime Syrian activist from the Golan Heights, Asad al-Wali, 67, dies in Israeli prison

Syrian prisoner in Israeli jails As’ad Fares al-Wali, 67, died on Monday, 26 December inside the Israeli Tel Mond prison after a sharp decline in his health and the failure of the occupation to provide medical treatment.

Al-Wali had spent a number of years in Israeli prisons in the 1970s and 1980s. A Syrian from the occupied Golan Heights, he was arrested on the basis of his organizing against the occupation in the 1970s. In 1982, he was fired from his job as a teacher after he organized demonstrations against the occupation’s annexation of the Golan Heights.

He was arrested again two weeks ago and sentenced to eight months in prison after he refused to pay a fine for unlicensed construction, stating that he did not recognize the occupation and would not pay his fines. Due to his age, he already suffered from a number of ailments. His health declined significantly on 25 December, yet he was not provided with treatment. He felt chest pain and was not transferred for treatment before dying of cardiac arrest.

Riyad al-Ashqar of the Palestinian Prisoners Center for Studies said that Wali is the 209th martyr to die in Israeli prisons and noted that the occupation is fully responsible for his death due to medical neglect and the harsh conditions of his confinement. He noted that he is an Arab martyr in Israeli prisons and part of the Palestinian national prisoners’ movement, noting that many Arab prisoners have served time alongside Palestinians for resisting the occupation.


(Source / 27.12.2016)

Saudi FM: PMF Is Led by Iranian Qassem Suleimani

Fighters of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). AFP 2016 / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE

Fighters of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)

Riyadh – Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said that the Popular Mobilization Forces is a “religious sectarian organisation,” carrying out mass killings in the country, especially in al-Anbar with support of Iranian generals.

“The so-called ‘popular militia’ is a religious organization, which carries out mass killings in Iraq with support of Iranian generals headed by Qassem Suleimani, the existence of such armed groups threatens the unity and security of Iraq,” Jubeir said on Monday at a press conference in Riyadh.

The FM added: “As for the PMF, if we want Iraq a unified country and equal among all components of Iraqi society, there is no place for armed sectarian forces, whose loyalty may or may not be to a united Iraq.”

The PMF forces are currently taking part in the liberation of Mosul. The Iraqi operation to retake Mosul from ISIS has been going on for over a month since October 17.

Mosul has been occupied by the terrorist group ISIS since 2014.

(Source / 27.12.2016)

Israel panic-stricken over new int’l anti-settlement move


Israel fears that the United States and France want to advance another pro-Palestine move before the Obama administration wraps up its term, Haaretz reported Monday.

Haaretz quoted a senior Israeli official in Occupied Jerusalem as stating that during Sunday’s security cabinet meeting, ministers were presented with an assessment that during the international conference of foreign ministers scheduled for January 15 in Paris as part of the French peace initiative, a series of decisions on the peace process will be made. These will immediately be brought to the UN Security Council for a vote and will be adopted there before January 20.

The move presented to the ministers led Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to tell the Likud ministers during their subsequent meeting that Friday’s vote in the Security Council on the settlements was not the end of the story and that there are possible other steps taken by the international community, the official added.

Representatives of the Foreign Ministry, the National Security Council, and others who attended the security cabinet meeting presented information indicating that the trend in talks between France, the U.S. and other countries in preparation for the foreign ministers’ meeting tended toward advancing such a move, he added.

According to the information that Israel has, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wants to utilize the foreign ministers’ parley, which will be attended by representatives of dozens of countries, to deliver an address that presents his vision for the two-state solution.

The senior official said that Israel fears this address will include American principles for resolving the core issues of borders, refugees, security arrangements and Jerusalem.

It was such fears about the foreign ministers’ meeting in Paris that led Netanyahu to instruct his ministers to avoid public statements to the media about launching a wave of settlement construction or annexing parts of the West Bank in response to Friday’s Security Council resolution.

“The effort now is to see how to prevent such a move at the Paris conference,” the senior official said. “That’s why there is no need to provoke and no need to do anything to add fuel to this.”

Earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu summoned the US ambassador to Israel to clarify matters over the UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements.

Netanyahu has also stepped up the diplomatic response to the UN vote and ordered the government to freeze ties with the 12 countries that supported the resolution.

(Source / 27.12.2016)

Turkey ‘will never allow’ creation of new state in northern Syria – Erdogan

Turkey ‘will never allow’ creation of new state in northern Syria – Erdogan

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan

The formation of a new state in northern Syria will never be allowed, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said during a speech at the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey (DEIK) General Assembly.

“We will never allow the founding of this kind of state,” despite all efforts to do so, the Turkish leader said in Istanbul, apparently referring to Syrian Kurds holding territories in the northern part of Syria, Turkish Anadolu news agency reports.

He went on to say that Turkey wants to see a “terror-free safe zone”in northern Syria to ensure the safety of its own southern and southeastern provinces.

“We have been saying this from the beginning. If this isn’t dealt with, Gaziantep is always hanging by a thread, Kilis is always hanging by a thread, Sanliurfa is hanging by a thread,” he said, mentioning the three Turkish provinces that border Syria.

“Our citizens are dying in Gaziantep and Kilis,” Erdogan stressed. The two Turkish cities lie close to the Syrian border, and have been targets of terrorist attacks.

“We decided that day that we would take an active role in Syria. The north of Syria is a region of threat for Turkey. We believe that there should be a safe zone, free from terrorism. If not, Gaziantep and Kilis will always be under threat,” he said, explaining the Turkish government’s decision to launch military operations in northern Syria, as reported by the Turkish Yeni Safak daily.

His words were then echoed by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, who spoke about the goals of Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield in northern Syria.

“Our aim in being there is ensuring the safety of life and property of our citizens who live along our southern borders,” he said, as cited by Daily Sabah.

Meanwhile, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli also stressed the importance of Turkey’s military efforts in Syria and said that the ongoing operation is bound to be successful.

“Operation Euphrates Shield should definitely be crowned with victory,” Bahçeli said at MHP headquarters in Ankara, adding that “if we emerged empty-handed from Al-Bab, we would endanger Diyarbakir and Ankara.”

Erdogan also mentioned other plans regarding Syria, saying that he will discuss the establishment of a no-fly zone over northern Syria with the Trump administration after the US president-elect’s inauguration on January 20.

Turkey earlier demanded the creation of a no-fly zone in the same area, but the Obama administration was reluctant to support it.

On Saturday, Erdogan also called for his nation to mobilize against terrorism, but stressed that the focus should fall primarily on economic development and not military activities.

“Our 2023 goal of ranking in the world’s top 10 economies can only be achieved through hard work. When I talk about a mobilization against terrorism, I am not talking about arming yourself and stepping out onto the streets,” he said at the DEIK General Assembly.

“Our nation will not forget the businessmen who are supporting our country. Businessmen trusting our country are fighting against the economic blows our country has suffered,” he added.

Erdogan made his statements as Turkey continues its operation Euphrates Shield in northern Syria, which it started on August 24. Ankara deployed ground and air forces to Syria with the stated goal of retaking areas held by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and securing its southern borders.

Ankara’s forces, however, also engaged Kurdish YPG militia forces on multiple occasions, while many analysts claimed that suppressing Kurdish enclaves in Syria was the true goal of Euphrates Shield.

In late November, Erdogan stated yet another goal for the operation – to “end the rule of the tyrant al-Assad.” Statements such as these have caused consternation in Moscow, which asked the Turkish president to elaborate, after which Erdogan backtracked.

Earlier on Saturday, the Turkish General Staff said in a statement that the Turkish Air Force killed 68 Islamic State terrorists during the ongoing offensive in the northern Syrian city of Al Bab in a joint operation with Free Syrian Army units.

(Source / 27.12.2016)

Syrian Coalition: Mass Forced Displacement of Civilians is Assad’s Tool to Cling to Power

Officials at the Syrian Coalition said that the Assad regime and its Iranian ally are seeking to force civilians in many rebel-held areas to leave their homes through the bombing and destruction of vital civilian facilities; looting homes; and the forced recruitment of young people into the ranks of regime forces.

Mohammed Jojah, member of the Syrian Coalition’s political committee, said that the Assad regime’s bombing of Ayn Alfija water pumping station in the Wadi Barada valley in Rural Damascus is aimed at breaking the will of the civilians and rebels in the area to force them to agree to so-called reconciliation agreements whose terms are dictated by the regime.

Jojah stressed that such policies, especially the evacuation deals and so-called reconciliation agreements, are in fact war crimes as they are solely aimed at forcing the local population in many rebel-held areas out of their homes. He reiterated the Coalition’s rejection of these deals, urging the United Nations against sponsoring any agreement or a deal resulting in the mass forced displacement of the indigenous population. He noted that the Assad regime also seeks to regain legitimacy through these deals and agreements.

Member of the Syrian Coalition’s political committee Osama Taljou said that eastern Aleppo is being plundered by regime forces and their allied Iranian-backed foreign militias after the evacuation of the local population that followed a months-long brutal onslaught on the city.

The Assad regime and its Iranian ally are seeking to force people out of their homes in many areas across Syria, especially in Damascus and Aleppo, with the aim of bringing about a demographic change amid utter shameful silence by the international community, Taljou added.

(Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Office / 27.12.2016)

The real reason why Basel Ghattas was detained

Ever since the Nakba, Israel has regretted David Ben-Gurion’s ‘mistake,’ which was not expelling all Palestinians from their lands

The detentions and harassment of Palestinians and their leaders in 1948 Palestine, including the Knesset member Basel Ghattas, are part of a strategy which Israel has pursed against its Arab citizens since the Nakba. This strategy is aimed at domesticating and defeating Palestinians and at punishing whomever is tempted to challenge the Jewish state.

Many Israelis believe that David Ben-Gurion made an historic mistake by failing to implement “Plan D,” which would have meant the expulsion of all Palestinians from their homes. Instead, 85 percent of them were banished, leaving about 150,000 Palestinians in the country.

Israel treated these Palestinians as enemies or as time bombs, although they obtained Israeli nationality. In 2009, the Israeli historian Benny Morris blamed Ben-Gurion for not accomplishing his mission by cleansing the country of Palestinians. Morris said this posed a great danger to the future of Israel. Some Israeli leaders continue, to this day, to demand that Ben-Gurion’s “error” be rectified.

The Palestinians who remained in the country lived in a state of extreme fear. One-third of them were forced out of the towns in which they used to live and had to settle down in neighbouring towns. They became known as the “elephant in the room” and ended up being “like orphans sitting around the table of a miser,” without leaders to direct them.

They felt powerless and helpless, threatened with banishment, displacement, theft and usurpation, horrified by the stories of rape and massacres in neighbouring towns, stories the Zionist gangs were keen to publicise in order to intimidate and drive them out.

Families were divided. Some members were forced to go abroad, while others remained inside the country. Mothers were separated from their sons and daughters, and tens of thousands of men were jammed inside detention camps; their sole concern was to earn a living.

After the fighting ended, Israel pounced on the Palestinians who remained in the country like a wolf on its prey, compounding the state of fear in which they lived and the psychological crisis precipitated by the Nakba. It dealt with them as if they were enemies on whom revenge should be exacted. Thus was military rule established, which lasted until 1966.

This restricted their movement and stripped them of their freedom. It banned them from communicating with each other. It turned their towns into ghettos. Leaving or entering those towns was not possible without an army permit. An extensive campaign was then launched to confiscate what remained of their lands, which had been their main source of subsistence.

Israel’s objective was to develop a new Arab personality, the personality of the defeated Arab who was powerless and helpless, one that did not believe in the ability of an Arab to change and who was willing to consider the Jews to be the masters of the land.

Bit by bit, the wounds of 1948 Palestinians started to heal, and they began to demand their rights. Israel was willing to listen as long as those demands addressed individual rights, such as the right to move and to work freely. But when it came to collective national rights, its response was violent.

Israel used detention and declarations of illegality as weapons. This happened to the Land Movement, which was founded in 1959 and demanded national rights for the Palestinians. On the eve of the 1967 war, Israel declared the movement illegal and exiled and banished some of its leaders.

The occupation of the rest of Palestine in 1967 had a positive impact on the 1948 Palestinians. It was the first time since the Nakba that they had communicated with another part of their people. They realised they were not alone in their battle, and their Palestinian identity started to re-emerge. Their voices grew louder, demanding the repatriation of those who were forced out of their villages and the cancellation of land-confiscation orders.

This movement reached its zenith with the general strike of 30 March, 1976, which is the day that became known as Land Day. The aim of the strike was to demand the abrogation of the Israeli Authorities’ orders to confiscate Arab lands. Israel tried in a variety of ways to frustrate the general strike and treat it as a rebellion and civil disobedience. When all  attempts failed, it sent the army into Arab towns killing, in cold blood, six 1948 Palestinians and wounding hundreds others.

In the 1990s, the 1948 Palestinians developed a new discourse, one that challenged  Israeli claims of democracy and humanity, about which they boasted to the world. The Palestinians confined their discourse to what the Israeli law permits, but at the same time they exposed the fallacy in the argument that Israel is “a state for all its citizens”.

The progressive and liberal discourse adopted by the Palestinians disturbed Israel and embarrassed it, for it is a state that truly believes it exists exclusively for Jews. The Palestinian discourse shed light on the feebleness of Israel’s democracy and the hollowness of its claim to be a liberal democracy.

Although the 1948 Palestinians waged their struggle within legals bounds set by Israel, they continued to be harassed and detained. In a letter sent in 2007, Yuval Diskin, the head of Israeli Intelligence, admitted that the security agencies pursued Palestinian activists even when their activity was legal and within the bounds of what Israeli democracy permitted.

He said that this happened whenever those activities undermined the Jewishness of the state of Israel. He also admitted that the intelligence agency and the police in many instances arrested and detained Palestinians – who were citizens of the state of Israel – as a warning and a deterrence despite their having done nothing illegal.

In recent years, Israel has arrested and detained a large number of Palestine 1948 leaders in an attempt to “burn the conscience” and domesticate the Palestinian discourse and exact revenge on the Palestinian leaders who succeeded in disturbing or embarrassing Israel and in frustrating its plans. The list of detainees is topped by Sheikh Raed Salah, who was active in the preservation of Islamic and Christian holy places, and in particular al-Aqsa Mosque, something that annoyed the Israeli government.

The detainees also include Knesset member Said Nafa, who was arrested because of his activities among the Druze in the country with the aim of establishing links between them and the Druze in neighbouring Arab countries. The Israeli government was alarmed by his activity and feared he would incite Druze against the state of Israel.

This is the history behind the detention of Knesset member Basel Ghattas. It is an attempt to punish him for his wide-ranging national activities during recent years, especially those carried out at the international level.

His activities included participating in the Third Freedom Flotilla, which sought to break the siege imposed on Gaza, and his participation in the anti-Israeli Apartheid Week that was organised in Canada, in addition to his communications with international institutions.

Israel believes that engaging in such activities at the international level amounts to crossing a red line. They are legal activities. As usual, Israel looks for a legal clout for detaining, punishing and banishing such activists as Basel Ghattas.

(Source / 27.12.2016)

Time for international community to get tough on Israel

By Ben White

‘Private conversations’ and kid gloves should be a thing of the past. Israel can be pressured to change

2017 must be the year that the international community finally toughens up its language and, most importantly, its actions, when it comes to Israel.

The case is well known and irrefutable. Israel is a serial human rights violator whose laws and policies contravene UN Security Council resolutions in addition to various other international humanitarian-law obligations and treaties.

Purely on the question of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, successive Israeli governments have, for 50 years, pursued an enterprise that constitutes a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and is a core part of an inherently discriminatory regime.

The coming year will see the 50th anniversary of Israel’s military rule over millions of stateless Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. With each passing year, Israel’s grip on the occupied territories has tightened, not loosened. A de-facto one state has been established, shaped by segregation and racist legislation.

More than words

It is time for the language of human rights groups and policy makers to reflect this reality. Israel’s occupation of the occupied territories reaching 50 years is an opportunity for groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to “upgrade” their language, which could include a decision to describe Israeli policies in terms of the internationally prohibited practice of apartheid.

The absurdity of the likes of the EU and Western governments treating Israel and the Palestinian Authority as two equal partners, with work to be done by ‘both sides,’ must end

Such a step reflects the facts on the ground and the seriousness of the crimes being carried out by the Israeli state, and can play an important role in rallying support for Palestinian rights, while shaming those who continue to justify Israeli policies and shield the state from accountability.

It is not just a question of language; even more crucially, 2017 must be the year when NGOs and civil society actors – and governments – toughen up in practice their policy recommendations and their approach to Israel.

This next year, there must be an urgent focus on pressuring Israel to end discriminatory policies and human rights abuses. The logic of pressure must replace the logic of appeasement; accountability must replace impunity; solidarity must replace complicity.

The absurdity of the likes of the European Union and Western governments treating Israel and the Palestinian Authority as two equal partners, with work to be done by “both sides,” must end. The policy of treating Israel with kid gloves, or making do with “private conversations” and public, copy-and-paste expressions of concern lest the prospect of negotiations be damaged, is bankrupt.

Yes, pressure works

Does pressure work? Of course, it does; it has made a difference in many other contexts and situations, and it has already worked on a smaller scale with Israel itself.

In an article in October, Israeli analyst Akiva Eldar noted some of the historical examples when the Israeli government has been forced to change tack under pressure from abroad.

In 1975, Eldar wrote: “Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the force separation agreements with Egypt and Syria, after [US secretary of state] Kissinger threatened a ‘reassessment’ of American ties with Israel.” In 1991, prime minister Yitzhak Shamir agreed to take part in the international Middle East peace conference in Madrid “following concerted pressure by President George Bush Sr”.

More recently, Eldar continued, “the public 2009 commitment by President Barack Obama in Cairo to bring about an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a catalyst for Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan University speech that same year, endorsing the two-state solution”.

In fact, settlement construction plans and land expropriation measures are routinely influenced by the anticipated international response: building plans are suspended, radical legislation is watered down, or shelved.

Time to push harder

Of course, such steps by Israel have been modest or even superficial, but then they reflected the modest nature of the pressure being applied. Just think what could be achieved if there was a political will to apply meaningful pressure, in the form of sanctions and embargoes.

As Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf wrote in 2013, “human rights campaigns and struggles over rights of minorities – and especially native minorities like the Palestinians – always have an international dimension in them, because the ethnic group in power is almost never happy or willing to hand over those rights”.

He continued: “The prolonged Israeli occupation, the Jewish public’s indifference to the status quo and the self-perception of Israelis as part of the democratic West create added justification in the attempt to mobilise international public opinion and institutions for the cause of ending the occupation, despite all the rage that such actions might create among the Israeli public.”

Genuine pressure on the Israeli government is both a moral imperative and a strategic necessity. Let’s hope that the human rights community, and international governments, step up to the plate this coming year.

(Source / 27.12.2016)

Israeli bulldozers level lands in southern Gaza Strip


GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Several Israeli military vehicles raided eastern Rafah city in the southern Gaza Strip early Tuesday morning.

Witnesses told Ma’an that four Israeli military bulldozers stationed at the Sufa military site crossed some 50 meters into the borderline near Rafah at around 7:20 am and razed lands near the border fence.Israeli military incursions inside the besieged Gaza Strip and near the “buffer zone,” which lies on both the land and sea sides of Gaza, have long been a near-daily occurrence.

Palestinians who work near the unilaterally declared “buffer zone” between the Palestinian enclave and Israel often come under fire from military forces, as the Israeli military has not made clear the precise area of the designated zone.
The practice has in effect destroyed much of the agricultural sector of the blockaded coastal enclave.
(Source / 27.12.2016)

Dozens protest outside Israeli court in support of Palestinian MK


BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Dozens of activists on Monday afternoon demonstrated outside the Israeli magistrate court in the central Israeli city of Rishon Lezion in support of Palestinian member of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, Basal Ghattas after the court extended his remand until Tuesday.According to Israeli media, Ghattas, a member of Joint List which represents parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Knesset, was arrested on suspicions of smuggling cellphones to “Palestinian terrorists” serving time in Israeli prisons, and is being charged with “conspiring to commit a crime, fraud, breach of trust, and violations of Israel Prisons Service orders.”

According to the Hebrew language news site Walla, Monday’s protesters raised photos of Ghattas and posters criticizing the Israeli government. Some of the posters read “No for politically-motivated pursuit”, and “Free Basal Ghattas”.Palestinian members of Knesset Haneen Zoabi and Jamal Zahaika attended the protest before they entered the court hall to attend the hearing.A statement released by Israeli police spokesperson Luba al-Samri on Thursday confirmed that the MK was arrested over allegations of smuggling phones and SIM cards for Palestinian prisoners.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan said that Israeli police would continue interrogations with Ghattas for what he described as “extremely dangerous acts”, adding that anyone who has violated the law and smuggled phones to “killers held behind bars” must be aware that these actions can lead to “terrorist attacks”.
According to Israeli media outlet Ynet, a statement released on behalf of Ghattas at the time of his arrest stated that “”This is a vengeful and arbitrary arrest, because the police, (Prime Minister) Netanyahu and (Public Security) Minister Erdan want a photo of an Arab MK in handcuffs.”
“The arrest is a political move and is not necessary to the investigation. Fairness obligates to treat an Arab public representative just like a Jewish one, and that is not the situation here,” the statement added.
Ghattas was stripped of his parliamentary immunity on Wednesday, with the Israeli Attorney General stating that Ghattas had “passed envelopes to security prisoners,” leading Israeli prison authorities to confiscate the envelopes which allegedly contained “12 cell phones, 16 SIM cards, two cell phone batteries, and headphones,” according to Ynet.
Meanwhile, there are 7,000 Palestinians currently being held as political prisoners in Israeli custody, according to prisoners’ rights group Addameer. Any correspondence with Palestinian prisoners held by Israel can be considered an act against the security of the state of Israel, making it dangerous for both Palestinian citizens of Israel and those holding Jerusalem permits to engage with Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Critics have said the arrest represents the latest event in a concerted crackdown on Joint List MKs in an attempt to squelch opposition to the Israeli government’s right-wing policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, commonly resting on allegations of “incitement” or supporting “terrorism” in the face of left-wing opposition.
In June, the Knesset passed an anti-terrorism bill that the Joint List called “draconian and unacceptable” as it gives the Israeli government far-reaching power in cases of suspected “terrorism.” The new Israeli law includes a provision expanding the definition of terrorist organization membership to include “passive members” who are not actively involved in any group, but can now be indicted by Israeli authorities.
The bill also includes a provision that gives the defense minister — currently ultra right-wing Avigdor Lieberman — the power to confiscate property of alleged members of terrorist organizations without getting approval by Israeli courts.
Furthermore, in July, the Knesset passed into law a bill that would allow MKs to vote to oust their colleagues from office, legislation that has been slammed by critics as targeting Palestinian MKs and harmful to “the very building blocks of democracy.”
The bill was first introduced after Palestinian MKs paid visits to the families of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces after they carried out attacks, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying in March the law would be used to suspend MKs who “stand behind terror.”
The legislation regained traction after Balad MK Haneen Zoabi enraged lawmakers by calling Israeli soldiers who participated in the 2010 deadly raid of the Turkish aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip “murderers,” as she was forcibly removed from the plenum for her comments.
In response to the incident, Coalition Chairman David Bitan of the Likud party, with the support of Netanyahu, unsuccessfully tried to shelve the suspension bill in exchange for a law designed simply to oust Zoabi.
The Knesset also passed the “NGO bill” into law in July, as human rights groups and opposition Knesset members condemned the legislation for seeking to “silence criticism” of Israel and delegitimize left-wing groups.
The actions against the Joint List, which was formed last year when four Palestinian parties joined to fight for the rights of Israel’s Palestinian minority, and other left-wing organizations in Israel have laid bare a deep rift in Israeli society as the extreme right-wing has gained traction on the Israeli political and social scene.
(Source / 27.12.2016)

Syrian Opposition Says not Part of Talks that Moscow Said Are Underway

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov speaks during a news conference in Moscow

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during a news conference after the talks with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in Moscow, Russia, December 20, 2016

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that the Syrian regime was holding talks with the opposition ahead of possible peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, the Interfax news agency reported.

Lavrov did not say where the current talks were being held and it was unclear which opposition groups were taking part.

The High Negotiations Committee, a body grouping armed and political opponents of head of Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad, said it had no knowledge of the negotiations.

“We in the High Negotiations Committee certainly have no connection to this matter,” George Sabra, a member of the HNC, told Reuters.

The HNC includes armed groups fighting Assad under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, and took part in a failed bid to launch peace talks earlier this year. The HNC was established in Saudi Arabia with Riyadh’s backing in December, 2015.

Russia, Iran and Turkey said last week they were ready to help broker a peace deal after holding talks in Moscow where they adopted a declaration setting out the principles any agreement should adhere to.

President Vladimir Putin has said that all three countries and Assad had agreed that the Kazakh capital should be the venue for new talks.

Lavrov spoke to his Turkish counterpart by telephone on Tuesday and they agreed to push for a ceasefire and to prepare for the Astana talks, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Lavrov said on Tuesday that Russia would work more closely with Turkey and Iran on the situation in Syria and said the three countries’ cooperation had saved lives by helping to evacuate eastern Aleppo.

“We will further build our cooperation with Ankara, Tehran and other countries in the region on the Syrian question,” Lavrov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

The RIA news agency cited an unnamed diplomatic source as saying that representatives from the Russian and Turkish militaries were holding consultations with the Syrian opposition in Ankara about how a possible nationwide ceasefire might work.

(Source / 27.12.2016)