A memorandum was handed over to the UN Security Council (UNSC) by the International Commission to Support the Rights of the Palestinian People (Hashd) to push for lifting the Israeli siege on Gaza.
The 20-page memorandum called for lifting the decade-long Israeli blockade on Gaza and for allowing a safe access of humanitarian aid into the enclave.
Hashd said the blockade amounts to a barefaced crime that bereaves two million Palestinians of their rights and needs.
It urged the UNSC to discuss the affair, saying that the blockade poses serious threats to international peace.
Hashd further condemned the siege as “a crime of mass genocide” as Article VI of the International Criminal Court Statute clearly states.
“The siege violates the basics of international humanitarian law. It is an illegal form of collective punishment banned by the international human rights legitimacy, including the Fourth Geneva Convention,” the memorandum read.
Hashd said the letter, handed over to the UNSC both in English and in Arabic, is the first step in an anti-siege campaign embarked on by the commission.
Hashd pledged to appeal to international law experts and human rights organizations, along with the world’s parliaments and MPs, so as to urge the Israeli occupation to lift the Gaza blockade and impeach those responsible for the tragic fallouts of the siege.
The Syrian Coalition condemned the horrible massacre committed by regime forces in the village of Deir Qanun in the besieged Wadi Barada valley northwest of Damascus. The massacre claimed the lives of 15 civilians and left dozens more injured.
Civilians fleeing the regime’s barrel bombs and rockets took refuge in a building they thought would protect them from the barrel bombs, rockets, and bombs regime forces and their allied foreign militias were raining on the area. However, the building was directly hit by a regime tank. The brutal assault regime forces and their allies have launched on the Wadi Barada valley is clearly aimed at changing the demography of the region.
The Coalition underscored the need for guarantors of the ceasefire agreement to shoulder their responsibilities towards stopping breaches of the agreement. These breaches included the assassination of the retired Major General Ahmed Ghadban by the Hezbollah militias on Sunday. Ghadban was mandated to negotiate with the Assad regime and the Hezbollah militias on behalf of the residents trapped in the area. Regime forces and their allies have breached the ceasefire agreement over 350 times since it was announced on December 29, 2016.
The international community must take action to stop breaches of the truce and violations of UN Security Council resolutions by the Assad regime and the Iranian-backed militias, the Coalition stressed. Urgent action must be taken to consolidate the truce. Pressure must be exerted on Assad and his allies to restart the political process in accordance with the Geneva Communiqué of 2012 and the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
(Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Office / 16.01.2017)
Paris Peace Conference ended Sunday evening with declaration that a two-state solution was the only path to peace for Israel and Palestine.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault stressed during the press conference following the Peace Conference the importance of the international community role for a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He emphasized the importance for the parties to restate their commitment to this solution, to take urgent steps in order to reverse the current negative trends on the ground, including continued acts of violence and ongoing settlement activity, and to start meaningful direct negotiations.
He reiterated that a negotiated two-state solution should meet the legitimate aspirations of both sides, including the Palestinians’ right to statehood and sovereignty, fully end the occupation that began in 1967, satisfy Israel’s security needs and resolve all permanent status issues on the basis of United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), and also recalled relevant Security Council resolutions.
The Participants highlighted the potential for security, stability and prosperity for both parties that could result from a peace agreement. They expressed their readiness to exert necessary efforts toward the achievement of the two-state solution and to contribute substantially to arrangements for ensuring the sustainability of a negotiated peace agreement, in particular in the areas of political and economic incentives, the consolidation of Palestinian state capacities, and civil society dialogue, according to his statements.
However, the concluding statement avoided to condemn US President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the occupied Jerusalem.
Shops are open near damaged buildings in al-Rai town, northern Aleppo countryside, Syria December 25, 2016
Tel Aviv – Israel is optimistic regarding Russia’s position concerning Israel’s interests, according to Israeli military and political officials.
Even if Israel didn’t attend the Astana talks to settle the Syrian case, its position will be represented for two reasons: attacks near Damascus, and the positive development of relations between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the officials.
Netanyahu is constantly contacting Putin, even before and after the attacks on Mezzeh military airport which were accredited to Israel.
Highly informed Israeli sources said that this will be discussed during the talks on Syria’s future – expected to start on January 23 in Astana.
Sources added that Israel wasn’t invited to this conference, but it is making sure that its presence is felt there through all possible channels, and thus conveying a message that no agreement can be reached, especially concerning Golan Heights, without taking Israeli interests into account.
After Aleppo, Russians began preparing for the summit in Kazakhstan, and once again a new report surfaced saying that Israel had attacked Syria, with all Russian media quoting the official statement from Damascus. But what is more important is that for the first time a Russian official speaks of the attack and is surprisingly understanding of Israel’s position.
State Duma Deputy and Deputy Chairman of Committee on International Affairs Andrey Klimov was quoted in the semi-official Izvestia newspaper saying that Israel uses the armed forces against organization considered a threat to its security. He also accused Hezbollah without naming it explicitly saying: “Tel Aviv is fighting against terrorist organizations engaged in the war in Syria.”
Israeli officials believe that this is an official Russian hint to Iranians, and Hezbollah, that they disagree with Moscow concerning arrangements in Syria.
Israel’s benefit is evident here: to deter any attempts that the Syrian regime might try to take control over Golan Heights, whether through war or dialogue with the opposition.
Officials also declared that unlike similar incidents in the past, Syrians are trying to gain politically from this attack pointing fingers at Israel and addressing the Security Council saying the Tel Aviv used F-35 warplanes in the attack. But, F-35 doesn’t exactly present new technologies that Israel doesn’t already have, and Israel doesn’t need new planes that haven’t gained any experience around the world in action.
“It seems as though Syrians want to embarrass the U.S. administration by saying: you gave Israel developed weapons, and they directly used it to aggravate the conflict in the Middle East,” according to an Israeli official.
Russian Ministry of Defense spokesperson had warned U.S. and coalition forces of attacking Syrian regime targets. As for the Israeli attacks, Moscow is currently ignoring them.
All of this consequently leads to the belief that there are silent agreements between Tel Aviv and Moscow. Other than the agreement on avoiding airplanes of both armies from attacking one another, the content of this pact isn’t very clear.
Those agreements had been reached during the exchanged phone calls between Putin and Netanyahu and especially during the meeting between Israeli Commander of Air Force Maj-Gen Amir Eshel and Russian Chief of Staff.
We can then deduce that Russia understands what are the Israeli red lines and interests in Syria.
Palestinian prisoners continue to be denied family visits under a pretext of “security” on a systematic basis. On Sunday, 15 January, Rita Abu Ghoulmeh, 13, the daughter of Ahed Abu Ghoulmeh, an imprisoned leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was traveling to visit her father but was stopped at a checkpoint and told that she was prohibited from visiting her father for undeclared security reasons.
In speaking with Sawt al-Shaab radio, Rita said, “Today I went to visit my dad, and I presented my ID card and permit for the visit, and I was told that the visit was banned. When I asked them why, they told me that the intelligence had made a decision to ban the visit.”
Wafa Abu Ghoulmeh, Rita’s mother and Ahed’s wife, said that this is a continued crime of the Zionist occupation against the rights of Palestinian prisoners and their families, noting that it is a means of collective punishment against an entire family, especially when you see the pretext of “security” used against minor children who have a right to see their parents. Wafa has been denied visits with her husband for years under the same pretext.
The banning of Rita’s visit came only days after Palestinian child prisoner Natalie Shokha, 15, was denied visits from her parents, also on the pretext of “security.” The Palestinian Prisoners Affairs Commission said that family visits “are being used as an instrument of collective punishment in flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions and international conventions.”
On multiple occasions, the Commission noted, Israeli occupation soldiers at roadblocks and checkpoints tear up visitation permits issued through the International Committee of the Red Cross by the Israeli authorities. On 8 January, Akram Hamed, the representative of prisoners in Ofer prison said that 30 people had been denied visitation with their imprisoned family members, including elderly people over the age of 80 years old. In Hadarim prison, 5 family visit permits were withdrawn when the families arrived at the prison and their permit papers torn up by the occupation forces. Marwan Barghouthi, held in Hadarim prison, raised this issue on behalf of the prisoners with the director of Hadarim prison, saying that the continuation of this policy will lead to escalated protests by Palestinian prisoners.
The denial of family visits is also used as a means of pressure and punishment against Palestinian prisoners, noting that 12 Palestinian prisoners were punished after protesting against an attack by guards with the denial of family visits for 6 months.
Sick prisoner Mansour Moqtada continues to be denied family visits from his elderly mother; Moqtada is serving a life sentence and uses a wheelchair after he was shot with three bullets in 2002 at the same time he was seized by Israeli occupation forces. He has a colostomy and a catheter and is in frequent pain; he is one of the most seriously ill prisoners in Israeli jails and is permanently held at the Ramleh prison clinic. His mother, who is over 70 years old, has continually been denied family visits with her son for over two years under the pretext of unspecified “security” reasons.
The right of prisoners to receive family visits is enshrined in the Fourth Geneva Convention. In addition, the Fourth Geneva Convention forbids the imprisonment of people under occupation in the territory of the occupying power; nevertheless, the vast majority of Palestinian prisoners are detained inside Palestine ’48. Most Palestinian prisoners from the West Bank and Gaza Strip can only receive visits through the visits and permitting process coordinated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), because their families are denied access to the areas where they are imprisoned. These permits are often delayed or denied and take months to process; if and when they are approved, Palestinians must visit on special ICRC buses. he entire visit process begins early in the morning and ends late at night for a 45-minute visit; it is very difficult for young children and elderly parents.
Prior to 2016, these visits took place twice monthly for Palestinian prisoners from the West Bank; however, the visits were arbitrarily reduced to once monthly by the ICRC, which cited lack of participation in the second visit and financial concerns to justify their decision. Palestinians have repeatedly protested these cuts to visits, coming as they do at the same time that the Israeli occupation is repeatedly using family visit denial as a weapon against Palestinian prisoners.
The international peace conference held in Paris Sunday to move forward in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was attended by representatives from about 70 countries—but no Palestinians or Israelis. In its concluding statement, the group “affirmed that a negotiated solution with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, is the only way to achieve enduring peace.”
However, while politicians and diplomats keep holding onto the dream of two states living peacefully side by side, many Palestinians no longer see it as a possibility. In fact, in a December poll in the West Bank and Gaza by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, two-thirds of the public said they believe the two-state solution is no longer practical due to settlement construction.
And many are beginning to say it’s time to focus on one state, with equal rights for all. Palestinian attorney Diana Buttu said on a recent American radio broadcast that, “The international community too often speaks about us and not to us. You see this particularly when it comes to Secretary Kerry’s statement that Palestinians don’t want to see one state. The polls are actually showing the opposite, that people don’t believe in two states any longer, and that many genuinely want to see one state. It’s time for people to start listening to the voices of Palestinians.”
Voices that are particularly ignored are those of the youth, who make up more than half of the population of the occupied Palestinian territories. So, I asked members of We Are Not Numbers for their opinions, and here is what some of them said:
I think Israel diminishes every single solution proposed and the international community should push Israel to take responsibility for its actions. I think, though, that its expanding settlements and other actions means the ‘two-state solution’ is over. Plus it wouldn’t be fair for Palestinians to settle for 20 percent or less of our original land when the power is so unequal. I think what is better is one state, but with a new name and as a democratic rather than religious country to which Palestinian refugees could return.
I think the two-state solution may have been possible years ago, but now it is impossible.
(PA President Mahmoud) Abbas, with the international community’s “help,” has been negotiating for 24 years and nothing has changed. Israel is still violating our human rights and taking what it wants from Palestine, including water and land, with complete international impunity. In addition, with hundreds of settlements now in the West Bank, we can declare that the two-state solution is already dead. It is hard, to say the least, to make so many settlers evacuate. Many Israeli ministers and other leaders have made it clear they refuse statehood for Palestine.
So, we should think of another alternative: a democratic, binational state with equal rights for all citizens. This alternative should have been adopted years ago; there is so much hate between both sides, it will take hundreds of years to make it a success. But it’s time to see if we can make it work. To get Israel to accept this too, the international community must pressure Israel. It is time for sanctions and for the world to support the BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) movement to push for a democratic, binational state!
To be honest, I never believed in the two-state solution. To me, it seemed unjust. The current dilemma was caused by the circumstances in which Israel was created. Why do we have to give up our historical land because the Zionist militias committed massacres against Palestinians and forced our grandparents out of their homes into refugee camps? Why is it us who have to pay for peace and not Israelis? That was the cornerstone of my thinking process early on.
The toughest issues in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are: 1) the disposition of the more than 4 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants around the world, 2) the status of Jerusalem and, 3) the illegal settlements.
The two-state solution does not offer a just and fair solution for disenfranchised Palestinians. People tend to underestimate the sensitivity and importance of the refugee issue to Palestinians. We’re taught from a young age where we came from, from which neighborhood, where it’s located. And we’re brought up on the belief that we are returning there. Every single Palestinian refugee, old and young, knows the city or village of his or her origin.
What the one-state option offers, for me, is fairness and justice. If you’re a Palestinian, and you want to go back to the city or village of your origin, then you would be able to do so. If you’re Jewish, and you want to worship in Hebron, you could do so. It would be our country, together.
However, a one-state solution must be a country based on equality, dignity and human rights for everyone. It must be a country of law, and the law must apply to all people equally.
The reality right now is closer to apartheid than anything. The Palestinian territories are bantustans (like those in apartheid South Africa). Gaza is a bantustan governed by Hamas. Chunks of the West Banks are bantustans run by the PA. And the rest of the country is controlled by Israel. But overall, the Israeli government rules everything, just like the apartheid government of South Africa.
I believe that for the one-state solution to be attainable, our struggle must move from a political struggle to a human rights one.
I agree with [Palestinian attorney] Diana Buttu when she says the one-state solution is the only way that can move us forward. I believe the two-state solution is no longer available, since violence and settlement expansion are continuing. And, in actuality, when we look closely, we see that one state is the situation we have today, de facto. So, we do not have to push for a one-state solution. What we really need to push for is equal rights in this state, regardless of faith or race.
I am the grandson of two elderly Palestinians who were witnesses to the Nakba, the catastrophe in which they were forced from their homeland so that Israel could be created. I think the two-state dream has already died, since Israel’s aim since the beginning has been to construct its Jewish state over Palestinian lands. Nowadays, we see and hear Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying he supports two states. However, I think these declarations are just a waste of time and ink on paper since he, along with most Israeli leaders, have been saying that for decades and we have seen no concessions—only our own. Israel is still building its settlements on private Palestinian lands in the West Bank, not caring about international law or resolutions that tell it to stop.
Some people think that one state, with equal rights for both sides, can end the seven-decade conflict. I think that would be a very important step if their intention is to solve this conflict, not to use their people as pawns! The one-state resolution is not easy for Israel to accept since its main goal is to have a country for Jewish people only. We can see Israelis’ desire to be rid of us in soldiers’ behavior with Palestinian citizens in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, especially children—which is mostly not shown in the media. Their goal seems to be the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, so how can they accept Palestinians living among them? It is because of this that hatred is found on both sides, likely causing a lot of religious and racist problems inside the state, if formed. And one other thing: There would have to be a name for that one state, and I do not think Palestinians can accept living in a country named Israel, due to their patriotic spirit. The same would be true for Israelis if they were asked to live in Palestine. A new name must be chosen.
We all know by now that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not easily be solved. Still, it can be resolved if both sides are willing. Neither the two-state nor the one-state solution can work without the will.
New communities are settling in areas where Sunnis have fled or been forced out as Tehran seeks an arc of control stretching from its borders to Israel
By Martin Chulov
n the valleys between Damascus and Lebanon, where whole communities had abandoned their lives to war, a change is taking place. For the first time since the conflict broke out, people are starting to return.
But the people settling in are not the same as those who fled during the past six years.
The new arrivals have a different allegiance and faith to the predominantly Sunni Muslim families who once lived there. They are, according to those who have sent them, the vanguard of a move to repopulate the area with Shia Muslims not just from elsewhere in Syria, but also from Lebanon and Iraq.
The population swaps are central to a plan to make demographic changes to parts of Syria, realigning the country into zones of influence that backers of Bashar al-Assad, led by Iran, can directly control and use to advance broader interests. Iranis stepping up its efforts as the heat of the conflict starts to dissipate and is pursuing a very different vision to Russia, Assad’s other main backer.
Russia, in an alliance with Turkey, is using a nominal ceasefire to push for a political consensus between the Assad regime and the exiled opposition. Iran, meanwhile, has begun to move on a project that will fundamentally alter the social landscape of Syria, as well as reinforcing the Hezbollah stronghold of north-eastern Lebanon, and consolidating its influence from Tehran to Israel’s northern border.
“Iran and the regime don’t want any Sunnis between Damascus and Homs and the Lebanese border,” said one senior Lebanese leader. “This represents a historic shift in populations.”
Key for Iran are the rebel-held towns of Zabadani and Madaya, where Damascus residents took summer breaks before the war. Since mid-2015 their fate has been the subject of prolonged negotiations between senior Iranian officials and members of Ahrar al-Sham, the dominant anti-Assad opposition group in the area and one of the most powerful in Syria.
Talks in Istanbul have centred on a swap of residents from two Shia villages west of Aleppo, Fua and Kefraya, which have both been bitterly contested over the past three years. Opposition groups, among them jihadis, had besieged both villages throughout the siege of Aleppo, attempting to tie their fate to the formerly rebel-held eastern half of the city.
The swap, according to its architects, was to be a litmus test for more extensive population shifts, along the southern approaches to Damascus and in the Alawite heartland of Syria’s north-west, from where Assad draws much of his support.
Iran is engineering population swaps in Syria
Labib al-Nahas, the chief of foreign relations for Ahrar al-Sham, who led negotiations in Istanbul, said Tehran was seeking to create areas it could control. “Iran was very ready to make a full swap between the north and south. They wanted a geographical continuation into Lebanon. Full sectarian segregation is at the heart of the Iranian project in Syria. They are looking for geographical zones that they can fully dominate and influence. This will have repercussions on the entire region.
“[The sieges of] Madaya and Zabadani became the key issue to prevent the opposition from retaking Fua and Kefraya, which have exclusive populations of Shia. Hezbollah consider this a security zone and a natural extension of their territory in Lebanon. They have had very direct orders from the spiritual leadership of Iran to protect them at any cost.”
Iran has been especially active around all four towns through its Hezbollah proxies. Along the ridgelines between Lebanon’s Bekaa valley and into the outskirts of Damascus, Hezbollah has been a dominant presence, laying siege to Madaya and Zabadani and reinforcing the Syrian capital. Wadi Barada to the north-west, where ongoing fighting is in breach of the Russian-brokered ceasefire, is also part of the calculations, sources within the Lebanon-based movement have confirmed.
Elsewhere in Syria, demographic swaps are also reshaping the geopolitical fabric of communities that, before the war, had coexisted for centuries. In Darayya, south-west of Damascus, more than 300 Iraqi Shia families moved into neighbourhoods abandoned by rebels last August as part of a surrender deal. Up to 700 rebel fighters were relocated to Idlib province and state media announced within days that the Iraqis had arrived.
The Sayeda Zainab mosque has been heavily fortified by Hezbollah
Shia shrines in Darayya and Damascus have been a raison d’etre for the presence of Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed Shia groups. The Sayeda Zainab mosque on the capital’s western approach has been heavily fortified by Hezbollah and populated by families of the militant group, who have moved in since late 2012. Tehran has also bought large numbers of homes near the Zainab mosque, and a tract of land, which it is using to create a security buffer – a microcosm of its grander project.
Abu Mazen Darkoush, a former FSA commander who fled Zabadani for Wadi Barada said Damascus’s largest Islamic shrine, the Umayyad mosque, was now also a security zone controlled by Iranian proxies. “There are many Shia who were brought into the area around the mosque. It is a Sunni area but they plan for it to be secured by Shias, then surrounded by them.”
Senior officials in neighbouring Lebanon have been monitoring what they believe has been a systematic torching of Land Registry offices in areas of Syria recaptured on behalf of the regime. A lack of records make it difficult for residents to prove home ownership. Offices are confirmed to have been burned in Zabadani, Darayya, Syria’s fourth city, Homs, and Qusayr on the Lebanese border, which was seized by Hezbollah in early 2013.
Darkoush said whole neighbourhoods had been cleansed of their original inhabitants in Homs, and that many residents had been denied permission to return to their homes, with officials citing lack of proof that they had indeed lived there.
“The first step in the plan has been achieved,” he said. “It involved expelling the inhabitants of these areas and burning up anything which connects them to their land and homes. The second step will be replacing the original inhabitants with newcomers from Iraq and Lebanon.”
In Zabadani, Amir Berhan, director of the town’s hospital, said: “The displacement from here started in 2012 but increased dramatically in 2015. Now most of our people have already been taken to Idlib. There is a clear and obvious plan to move Sunnis from between Damascus and Homs. They have burned their homes and fields. They are telling people ‘this place is not for you anymore’.
“This is leading to the fragmentation of families. The concept of family life and ties to the land is being dissolved by all this deportation and exile. It is shredding Syrian society.”
At stake in postwar Syria, with the war beginning to ebb, is more than who lives where when the fighting finally stops. A sense of identity is also up for grabs, as is the bigger question of who gets to define the national character.
“This is not just altering the demographic balance,” said Labib al-Nahas. “This is altering the balance of influence in all of these areas and across Syria itself. Whole communities will be vulnerable. War with Iran is becoming an identity war. They want a country in their likeness, serving their interests. The region can’t tolerate that.”
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian teenager during clashes in the Bethlehem-area village of Tuqu in the southern occupied West Bank on Monday evening, the Palestinian Red Crescent (PRC) ambulance service said.A PRC spokesperson told Ma’an that 17-year-old Qusay Hasna al-Umour was shot with live ammunition in the chest at least three times, and that Israeli forces had detained him for an unspecified period of time before handing over his body to the health organization.It remained unclear whether al-Umour was already dead when Israeli forces got a hold of him, or if he succumbed to his injuries while in custody.An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an that they were looking into the reports.Four other Palestinians, including a woman, were also shot and injured during the clashes.Locals told Ma’an that clashes broke out near the western entrance of the village on Monday afternoon, with Israeli forces firing live ammunition, rubber-coated steel bullets, and tear gas at Palestinian youth.Al-Umour is the fourth Palestinian to have been confirmed killed by Israeli forces in 2017. Four Israelis have been killed by Palestinians in the first two weeks of the year.In 2016, Ma’an recorded the deaths of 112 Palestinians, 15 Israelis, and three foreign nationals.