Samidoun salutes Oscar López Rivera and Chelsea Manning, urges freedom for all U.S. political prisoners

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network salutes Oscar López Rivera and Chelsea Manning on the commutation of their sentences by U.S. President Barack Obama. The victory of López Rivera and Manning is one for the Puerto Rican people’s movement and strugglers for justice throughout the U.S. and internationally who have demanded freedom for political prisoners in U.S. jails.

López Rivera fought all of his life as a Puerto Rican revolutionary against U.S. colonialism in his homeland, and for independence and justice. He has served over 35 years in U.S. prison for “seditious conspiracy” for his involvement in the struggle for the freedom of his people. Lopez Rivera’s prosecution and imprisonment came as part of a concentrated political attack on the revolutionary Puerto Rican movement for independence from U.S. colonial rule. López Rivera’s attorney, Jan Susler, said in 2012 that her client had been “punished for his beliefs and affiliations, for who he is, not for any act he committed.”

Manning, who was a soldier in the U.S. army, revealed materials and documents exposing war crimes and the killing of Iraqi, Yemeni and Afghan civilians by the U.S. war machine, providing the documents to Wikileaks. She was sentenced in 2013 to 35 years in prison.

López Rivera and Manning will be freed on 17 May. This was not a benevolent gesture by Obama, but a victory for popular movements. In the last days of the Obama presidency, it is a critical moment to step up the pressure for clemency and commutation for political prisoners in U.S. jails, including the following key cases:

Leonard Peltier

Leonard Peltier is an American Indian Movement (AIM) activist who has served over 41 years in prison, falsely accused of involvement in the death of FBI agents engaged in an attack on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Peltier is in very poor health. His case has received wide support across the U.S. and internationally. This is Peltier’s last chance to live in freedom.

Mutulu Shakur

Dr. Mutulu Shakur, a New Afrikan activist, has been in U.S. federal prison for over 30 years and denied parole eight times. He is imprisoned for involvement in actions as part of the Black Liberation movement, was targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO program and is a co-founder of the Republic of New Afrika Movement. While he was scheduled for mandatory release in February 2016, it was unexpectedly cancelled.

Holy Land 5 (Mufid Abdulqader, Shukri Baker, Ghassan Elashi, Mohammad El-Mezain, and Abdulrahman Odeh)

These five Palestinian-American humanitarians raised millions of dollars in purely charitable aid for the Palestinian people. However, the U.S. government – with the aid of anonymous Israeli intelligence agents who were permitted to testify at their trial – criminalized their charity work and they are now serving sentences of 15 to 65 years in federal prisons. The conviction of the HLF5 has not only severely hurt these charity workers and their families, but has created a severe chilling effect on Palestinian, Arab and Muslim organizing and charity work in the U.S.

Veronza Bowers

Veronza Bowers is a former member of the Black Panther Party who has been held in U.S. federal prison for over 37 years. He was convicted in the murder of a U.S. Park Ranger on the word of two government informers, with no eyewitnesses and no independent evidence. He was to be released in 2005 on mandatory parole, only for his release to be blocked and rescinded at the last minute.

**

President Obama may issue commutations and clemency grants until Friday, 20 January at noon. It is critical to continue to contact the White House until the last minute to call for commutation or clemency for Leonard Peltier, Dr. Mutulu Shakur, Veronza Bowers and the Holy Land Five, Mufid Abdelqader, Shukri Baker, Ghassan Elashi, Mohammed El-Mezain and Abdulrahman Odeh.

Email President Obama: https:/www.whitehouse.gov/contact; post a comment on Obama’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/potus/ or message him at https://www.facebook.com/whitehouse (or https://m.me/whitehouse); and send a tweet to President Obama: @POTUS, @WhiteHouse and @BarackObama.

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network salutes Oscar López Rivera and Chelsea Manning, the Puerto Rican people and the popular movements, lawyers and committees that worked tirelessly in the struggle to free these political prisoners. We urge continued action to free all political prisoners in U.S. jails. While executive clemency and commutation only apply to federal cases, there are many political prisoners – like Mumia Abu-Jamal – held in state prisons as well. From the U.S. to Palestine, free all political prisoners!

Additional resources:

(Source / 19.01.2017)

US military boosts weapons airdrops to Syrian opposition – reports

US military boosts weapons airdrops to Syrian opposition - reports

Rebel fighters walk carrying their weapons on the outskirts of the northern Syrian town of al-Bab, Syria January 15, 2017

A growing number of opposition groups in Syria are getting increased weapons and ammunition supplies from the US Air Force to tackle Islamic State, according to US media reports citing the country’s military.

The weapons are intended for opposition forces closing in on IS’s self-proclaimed capital Raqqa in Syria, USA Today .

The “expanded” airdrops are “helping ground forces take the offensive to [the Islamic State] and efforts to retake Raqqa,” Gen. Carlton Everhart, commander of the US Air Mobility Command, is quoted by the news outlet.

Currently, the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) – an alliance of various militias, mainly formed by Kurdish fighters – is continuing its  to retake territories around Raqqa. SDF is among key opposition forces being backed by the US-led international coalition in Syria.

The weapons supplies “are absolutely essential” for the irregular forces fighting on the ground, the US Air Force spokesman in Baghdad Col. John Dorrian claimed, according to USA Today.

Meanwhile, Everhart reportedly claimed that the US military is being extremely precise while delivering arms and equipment to the opposition in Syria. “We’ll get it within 10 or 15 meters of the mark,” he said.

The US-led coalition has been repeatedly conducting military airdrops for the opposition groups in Syria. However, such missions have not always gone according to plan.

Back in October 2014, a weapons airdrop by the US Air Force apparently ended up in the hands of IS terrorists, who released a video claiming to have seized the cache of arms. The weapons had been intened for the Kurdish forces battling jihadists who were besieging the Syrian town of Kobane at the time.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steven Warren later said that two bundles of weapons have been lost. While one of them was destroyed by an air strike, another “went astray and probably fell into enemy hands.”

“There is always going to be some margin of error in these types of operations,” Warren added.

In December last year, US President Barack Obama granted a waiver for some of the restrictions on the delivery of military aid to “foreign forces, irregular forces, groups, or individuals,” if those groups are supporting the US’s alleged counter-terrorism efforts in Syria.

Reacting to the decision, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the move could result in some of the weapons getting into the hands of terrorists.
Such an occurence would pose “a serious threat not only for the region, but the entire world,” he warned.

On December 9, 2016 US Democratic lawmaker Tulsi Gabbard  the Stop Arming Terrorists Act bill. She alleged that the CIA in fact supplied arms to the opposition, some of whom cooperated with terrorists including al-Qaeda. “This madness must end,” she urged.

(Source / 19.01.2017)

Tunisia’s top diplomat exhorts Trump not to abandon Palestinian statehood

Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui speaks during the eighth ministerial meeting of Libya’s neighboring countries in Tunis, Tunisia, March 22, 2016

TUNIS, Tunisia — Tunisia’s top diplomat urged President-elect Donald Trump not to give up on Tunisia’s fledgling democracy and Palestinian aspirations during a wide-ranging interview in his office.

Casting Tunisia as “exactly the anti-model of what the terrorists want,” Khemaies Jhinaoui told Al-Monitor Jan. 12 that he was confident the United States would remain a strong partner under the new administration, despite Trump’s narrow focus on counterterrorism during and since the presidential campaign.

“Of course, we’ve had some contacts with Mr. Trump’s team,” said Jhinaoui, who took office in January 2016. “How things will evolve, all that will depend on the policy he will adopt regarding the region as a whole. But at the bilateral level, I am confident the relationship will only grow stronger.”

He went on to applaud last month’s UN Security Council resolution criticizing Israeli settlements and last week’s Middle East peace conference in Paris. Trump has angrily denounced both developments and has nominated as his ambassador to Israel David Friedman, a hard-line opponent of a two-state solution.

“Of course we’re going to continue to support this cause, because it is a just cause,” Jhinaoui said of the two-state solution. “The United States, which helped Tunisia gain its independence and is a champion of freedom, cannot forget the rights of a people still subject to colonization.”

The diplomat represents a country where all factions, from right-wing Islamists to left-wing secularists, are largely united in support of the Palestinian cause, especially after a 1985 Israeli air raid on the PLO headquarters here that killed numerous civilians.

Speaking just days after protesters marched down Habib Bourguiba Avenue in downtown Tunis to protest the return of foreign fighters, Jhinaoui categorically denied any foreign pressure to take them back.

“They haven’t asked, and even if they did, we wouldn’t necessarily comply,” he said. “We’re a sovereign nation; we decide how to handle our problems, of course with the help of our friends, our partners.”

Jhinaoui was equally blunt in laying the blame squarely on Europe — and the United States — for the chaos in neighboring Libya, which has hit Tunisia hard.

“Today, Libya is a country without a state. It’s a country with three governments. It’s a country in chaos,” he told Al-Monitor. “And it’s not the Libyans’ fault — it’s the fault of a foreign intervention; let’s not forget that, frankly.”

What does he see as the international community’s role now? Butt out, and, as in Syria, let the parties on the ground work out their differences under the auspices of the United Nations.

“Syrians must, beyond their differences, reach an agreement,” he said. “And foreign actors must get out of the way to let them do it.”

Below is the full transcript of the interview, edited for clarity and length.

Al-Monitor:  Tunisian newspapers these days are full of reports that European countries — especially Germany — have asked Tunisia to take back thousands of Tunisians accused of fighting alongside jihadis in Iraq and Syria. Is there any truth to this?

Jhinaoui:  Everything you’ve been reading in the press is wrong. No one’s asked us anything; not the Americans, not the Europeans — not to build prisons or take back foreign fighters. They haven’t asked, and even if they did, we wouldn’t necessarily comply. We’re a sovereign nation; we decide how to handle our problems, of course with the help of our friends, our partners.

These people left the country not to engage in tourism. They left because they were recruited by terrorist factions — and Tunisia fights terrorism. It’s the gravest threat to our stability today. So if foreign fighters return to Tunisia, they will be treated as terrorists and dealt with according to a national law voted by parliament that establishes conditions for how to deal with them. If they return, of course, we have competent agencies that will handle them.

Al-Monitor:  Nevertheless, the press reported after the Christmas market massacre in Berlin that Germany threatened to cancel bilateral aid if Tunisia doesn’t take back some of its citizens.

Jhinaoui:  There is a lot of confusion on this issue. We have bilateral agreements with certain European countries concerning the readmission of people who don’t have the right papers. These aren’t terrorists; they’re Tunisian citizens who left the country in an irregular manner and today find themselves in Europe, where our friends discover that they don’t have the right to be there. If we’re sure that they’re in fact Tunisians who don’t have the right to reside abroad, of course it’s normal that we should take them back.

Al-Monitor:  Even if they’re suspected of having fought alongside the Islamic State [Daesh]?

Jhinaoui:  This has nothing to do with Daesh. If they’re with Daesh, they get dealt with differently. We prefer that they [the Europeans] judge them themselves, of course. If our friends discover that these are terrorists, it makes more sense for them to judge them themselves, according to their own laws. We’ve never had cases like that where European countries send us back alleged Daesh fighters. If they’ve committed acts of terrorism [abroad], logically they should be judged in those countries.

Al-Monitor:  What can you tell us about Tunisia’s role in the Libyan peace talks?

Jhinaoui:  Libya, for us, is a national security issue. The Libyan dossier is at the top of our priorities, for obvious reasons. We are the only country [among Libya’s six neighbors] to have kept our borders open. Libya was a major economic partner — we were doing $2.5 billion worth of trade in 2010, and today all that has evaporated. Today, Libya is a country without a state. It’s a country with three governments. It’s a country in chaos. And it’s not the Libyans’ fault — it’s the fault of a foreign intervention; let’s not forget that, frankly.

We want Libya to regain its stability and retain its territorial integrity, that it not be divided. Libya must not plunge into civil war. And Tunisia, let me say it plainly, is the country the Libyans respect the most, because we kept our borders open. They come from all walks of life, all political tendencies come here to Tunis. We open our doors; they talk, and we don’t interfere in their discussions. What we ask is to encourage a Libyan dialogue and, for starters, to stop foreign interference. Encourage the Libyans, beyond their political differences, to sit around a table and find a political resolution to the conflict.

Last March, we organized a meeting of all the neighboring countries, here in Tunis. That’s when we first introduced the government of [Libyan Prime Minister Fayez] al-Sarraj. I later accompanied the prime minister to visit him in Tripoli and encouraged him to expand his power over the entire country. Unfortunately, for various complicated reasons, he couldn’t do it. Of course, we still back this government that has been endorsed by the UN Security Council. But at the same time we tell Mr. Sarraj, like we tell other factions, to move beyond their differences and compromise. All these foreign actors should instead help Libyans themselves find a solution. We’re here to help them, not replace them.

Al-Monitor:  Recent reports indicate that a lawmaker who’s part of the Islamist Ennahda Party, Ahmed Laamari, recently signed a cross-border deal with certain Libyan militias. Does that kind of independent diplomacy help or hinder your efforts?

Jhinaoui:  We don’t recognize that kind of initiative. It’s very simple. Only the state is authorized to negotiate with foreign parties and find a solution. Everything else, for us, doesn’t exist. It’s a fiction. It doesn’t help. We act through official channels. If civil society can help the government find a solution, great. But civil society cannot replace the government.

Al-Monitor:  What is Tunisia’s position regarding the demands of Khalifa Hifter, who commands an army in the east?

Jhinaoui: We have nothing against Hifter. He has to be part of the solution rather than being against or outside the solution. We mustn’t exclude him, because he represents a real force on the ground. Likewise, last week we hosted Aguila [Saleh Issa], the president of the House of Representatives in Tobruk, and we’re going to host other Libyan representatives to encourage them to work toward a political settlement.

Al-Monitor:  Following the defeat of the Syrian rebels in Aleppo, some are calling for Tunisia to reinstate its ambassador in Damascus. What do you think of that?

Jhinaoui:  It was during the Troika period [in 2011-2013] that we decided to recall the ambassador. In fact, there was no ambassador in place at the time — we recalled a fictitious ambassador. It was a symbolic decision. But Tunisia never ruptured diplomatic relations with Syria; we still have a working mission at the consular level. And it’s a decision that was taken by the Arab League; it wasn’t a Tunisian decision. Tunisia aligned itself with the Arab League position.

Now Tunisia is re-evaluating its interests, but of course it’s quite normal that we would observe what other Arab states are doing. If sending back an ambassador to Damascus today would help with peace talks and help the parties reach a political settlement, we would do it tomorrow. But we’re not there yet.

There is no military solution. Syrians must, beyond their differences, reach an agreement. And foreign actors must get out of the way to let them do it. Foreigners must only act, in our view, under the umbrella of the United Nations — as in Libya, by the way. The only guarantor of an eventual settlement is the Security Council.

Al-Monitor:  Donald Trump’s election in the United States has worried some observers who fear he will adopt a Middle East policy focused only on counterterrorism at the expense of democratization. Do you share those concerns?

Jhinaoui:  It’s the Americans’ choice. We respect it. Beyond the change of administrations, Tunisia has always had excellent relations with the United States. Under [Barack] Obama, we had excellent relations. Frankly, our evaluation is that this won’t change, simply because it’s a relationship based on friendship and shared interests. And I don’t see why Mr. Trump would go change this.

Of course, we’ve had some contacts with Mr. Trump’s team. How things will evolve, all that will depend on the policy he will adopt regarding the region as a whole. But at the bilateral level, I am confident the relationship will only grow stronger. What we are building today in Tunisia is exactly the anti-model of what the terrorists want: a 21st-century democracy. On this point, we are on the same wavelength.

Al-Monitor:  One of Trump’s first actions as president-elect was to nominate a longtime foe of the two-state solution to serve as his ambassador to Israel. What does Tunisia think of this?

Jhinaoui:  Regarding Mr. Trump’s Israel policy, you know our position. We’re not going to change it today. It’s a position that supports the national right of the Palestinian people to have an independent, sovereign state. This process began with the [1993] Oslo Peace Accord — the mutual recognition between Israel and the Palestinians — and I think the Paris peace conference on Jan. 15 and the UN Security Council resolution in December 2016 are further steps toward recognizing the Palestinian people.

Of course we’re going to continue to support this cause, because it is a just cause. There are obviously a large majority of Tunisians in favor of Palestinian rights, regardless of political affiliation. The United States, which helped Tunisia gain its independence and is a champion of freedom, cannot forget the rights of a people still subject to colonization.

Al-Monitor:  Some media have suggested that the border with Algeria isn’t as secure as we’re meant to believe, that jihadis have been able to cross it freely to set up camp in the Mount Chaambi area in the west of the country, in particular. Do you have any criticism regarding your western neighbor?

Jhinaoui:  We have excellent relations with Algeria, including close cooperation on border controls. It’s a matter of national security not only for Tunisia, but for Algeria as well. We count on Algeria, just as Algeria counts on Tunisia. And I think we’ve never had any suspicion of any lapses on the Algerian side.

Al-Monitor:  The Maghreb remains one of the least interconnected regions of the world because of the conflict over the Western Sahara between Morocco and Algeria. What’s the status of negotiations regarding further economic and commercial integration?

Jhinaoui:  You’re right, this Maghreb project doesn’t work. It doesn’t work as well as Tunisia would like, and it doesn’t work, I suspect, as well as our other partners would like. Tunisia has very normal relations with the other four countries: Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Mauritania. We don’t have any problems on the bilateral level. But unfortunately the lack of Maghreb-wide integration causes us to lose 2 or 3% of growth rate per year. It’s enormous. Given the economic hardships we’re going through, we could use more integration. Because US businesses, for example, don’t want to invest in such a tiny market; they want to invest in a large market, which is the Maghreb market.

The Western Sahara is an issue whose solution lies with the United Nations. We’re at equal distance between all the parties. Through good words, through diplomacy, we’re trying to get out of the impasse we’re currently in. The secretary-general [of the Arab Maghreb Union, Taieb Baccouche] has ideas, which is why I’m meeting with him, to try to rekindle relationships. Maybe we can resume prime minister-level meetings to get out of the current deadlock. We’re not there yet, unfortunately.

(Source / 19.01.2017)

Abdah: Reconstruction Linked to Political Transition & 2012 Geneva Communiqué

President of the Syrian Coalition Anas Abdah stressed the need to reach a political solution in Syria in line with international resolutions, especially the Geneva Communiqué of 2012 and UN resolution 2254 before the start of any reconstruction work in Syria.

At a meeting with high-level delegation of the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Istanbul, Turkey on Wednesday, Abdah said that it would be premature to talk about the reconstruction of Syria before a political transition has been achieved and bloodshed ended.

The two sides discussed the political process and preparations for the upcoming Astana meeting as well as prospects for the launch of a new round of negotiations in Geneva. The EU officials reiterated the EU’s support for the Coalition and its efforts to reach and a political transition in Syria in accordance with the Geneva Communiqué of 2012.

Abdah emphasized the need to support the programs and projects prepared by the Syrian interim government in the liberated areas and its efforts to provide services for the civilian population, especially in the areas of health and education.

(Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Office / 19.01.2017)

Gaza: Experts confirm Israeli navy intentionally killed fisherman

aanval-op-vissers

Legal experts from the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) and the Fatwa and Legislation Office in Gaza have released an investigative report accusing the Israeli navy of deliberately sinking a fishing boat and killing a fisherman aboard it earlier this month.

The report, which was released on Wednesday following a thorough investigation of the crime, clarified what had happened during the Israeli vessel-ramming attack on the boat of fisherman Mohamed al-Hissi at around 09:20 pm on January 4, 2017.

According to the report, Hissi was alone on his 15-meter-long wooden boat that day. The boat was provided with over 11 lights and could be seen clearly from a distance of 11 nautical miles.

The boat was at a distance of 5.5 nautical miles off the coast of Beit Lahia and 200 meters away from Israel’s southern boundary known as the yellow zone, which means that it was present within the six-nautical-mile fishing space permitted by the Israeli army.

The incident happened when an Israeli armored “Dabur-class” patrol boat weighing about 60 tons appeared at the scene at around 09:15 pm. The boat was holding the number 843.

This navy vessel repeatedly circled the small fishing boat, causing big rolling waves that swamped the fishing boat and turned off its lights, before changing course suddenly, dashing towards the boat and shattering it into pieces floating over the water surface.

Consequently, Hissi, the fisherman, died during the collision and drowned.

The report pointed to the possibility that the body of the victim was dismembered near the power generator of the boat after prolonged efforts to find his body failed

Immediately following the incident, other fishermen embarked on searching for the victim’s body from 09:30 pm until two am after midnight, according to the report.

The report condemned the attack as “a heinous crime and a gross violation of the international law,” including the fourth Geneva Convention, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In this regard, the ICHR said it would file a lawsuit with the criminal court in The Hague against Israel for the premeditated killing of the Palestinian fisherman Mohamed al-Hissi.

It also appealed to the UN, its Security Council and international human rights group to seriously intervene to put an end to Israel’s intentional killing of Palestinian citizens.

(Source / 19.01.2017)

New Lebanese president makes Gulf priority

Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud (L) greets Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun in Riyadh, Jan. 10, 2017

Lebanese President Michel Aoun marked his first foreign policy success during his visit to Saudi Arabia Jan. 10. He broke the ice in the ties between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, which have been tense for over a year due to the repercussions of the Saudi-Iranian tug-of-war on Lebanon.

The rhetoric of Saudi Arabia and its Lebanese March 14 coalition allies in the past few years emphasized that the Lebanese state had been hijacked by Hezbollah, which was violating Lebanon’s sovereignty with its military intervention in Syria and its meddling in Arab and Gulf affairs, especially in Yemen and Bahrain. As a result, in March 2016, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) put Hezbollah on its terrorist list.

But Hezbollah denied these accusations and accused the kingdom of supporting and funding jihadi groups in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. The party also blamed Saudi Arabia for the spread of Wahhabi thought in the Muslim world and condemned its war in Yemen and military intervention in Bahrain, as well as its support for the armed opposition in Syria to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. On Dec. 3, 2013, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah accused Saudi Arabia of plotting the bombing of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut Nov. 19.

Also, Saudi Arabia had frozen the military aid grant for Lebanese security services in February 2016, after the Lebanese government failed to condemn the attacks carried out by Iranian protesters against Saudi diplomatic delegations in Iran.

For that reason, Aoun’s visit to Riyadh was considered an important step to restore the historical warm ties between the two countries. A large ministerial convoy accompanied Aoun in his first official visit abroad since his election on Oct. 31, 2016, and it received remarkable Saudi attention.

Before the Saudi invitation, Aoun had received invitations from Egypt and Iran, but he prioritized Saudi Arabia in his first foreign visit, due to the kingdom’s influence on Lebanon and the Muslim and Arab region. Besides, he wanted to mend ties between Beirut and Riyadh following the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah over Bahrain and Yemen, and the frozen $4 billion Saudi grant to the armament of the Lebanese army and security forces.

During the Syrian tutelage in Lebanon (1990-2005), the Lebanese president paid his first foreign visit to Damascus. But after the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011, Damascus no longer enjoys the same influence it did on Lebanon, and any president would hesitate to pay his first visit to Syria.

To regain its influence in Lebanon, the kingdom approved of Future Movement head Saad Hariri’s nomination of Aoun as president to end the presidential stalemate — although Aoun and Hariri are strange bedfellows politically and Aoun has good relations with the Future Movement’s enemy, Hezbollah.

Saudi Arabia also sent a special envoy, Emir of Mecca Khaled Al-Faisal, on Nov. 21, to congratulate Aoun on his presidency and invited him to visit.

Aoun had prolonged one-on-one talks with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud and said in Riyadh Jan. 10, “The historical relations between the Saudi and Lebanese people will persist.” He asserted Lebanon’s desire to strengthen cooperation ties with the kingdom in several fields, mainly in countering terrorism.

Salman underlined during the meeting that “Lebanon is irreplaceable.” He said, “The relations between the two countries are historical, and we want to preserve and develop them.” He reiterated his “immense” trust in Aoun and noted, “You will lead Lebanon to safety and stability despite the current challenges.”

Salman added, “The kingdom does not meddle with Lebanon’s affairs, which concern the Lebanese people only.” He called on Saudi officials to “look into the security, economic, military and touristic issues that Aoun brought up.” He also told them to visit their Lebanese counterparts and urged Saudi citizens who love Lebanon to fly to it.

With his visit to Saudi Arabia and then Qatar on Jan. 11, Aoun sought to normalize Gulf-Lebanese relations, encourage Gulf tourists and investors to return to Lebanon, and increase economic ties with the Gulf countries to improve the deteriorating economic situation.

The visit was also important for Saudi Arabia to regain influence in Lebanon and reduce Iran’s power in the country.

The kingdom gave a warm welcome to Aoun and agreed to hold bilateral talks regarding the frozen Saudi grant to the Lebanese army and other bilateral cooperation affairs.

Perhaps Saudi Arabia referred Aoun’s demands to its officials because it does not want to hand Lebanon quick approval on a silver platter. The kingdom might have a set of conditions and tests for Aoun and the Lebanese government to make sure that Aoun and Hezbollah are distant and that the president can implement sovereign and independent policies far from the Iranian-Syrian influence.

Some pro-Saudi analysts believe that the first test for Aoun and his government will entail overseeing the nominations of pivotal positions in the state and security apparatus and looking out for the influence of Hezbollah and its allies on these nominations.

Aoun told Al Jazeera Jan. 11, “The misunderstanding with Gulf states has been cleared and the issue of aid to the Lebanese army — including the Saudi grant — was discussed … and the concerned Saudi ministers are currently reviewing the case. However, the issue of military aid has yet to be resolved, as France is also involved,” since Paris is the supplier of arms.

Aoun further noted that his visit to the kingdom did not irritate his allies (Hezbollah). He clarified that Hezbollah is involved in the regional conflicts and has become part of the international and regional crises whose solution is beyond Lebanon’s capacity. After all, the United States, Russia, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia are also involved in these conflicts. He added that the Lebanese state cannot oppose Hezbollah, as the party represents a significant category of the Lebanese people. Aoun asserted, “We are trying to distance Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria from the Lebanese domestic situation.”

Head of Hezbollah’s Political Council Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyed said from Tehran that Aoun’s visit “was a normal and regular one since Lebanon is a member of the Arab League.”

A source close to Hezbollah told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the party trusts Aoun and his ability to strike a balance between improving Gulf-Lebanese relations and maintaining his alliance with the party. The source said that Aoun considers Hezbollah’s weapons as resistance weapons directed against the Israeli enemy and describes Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria as a pre-emptive operation to protect Lebanon from the potential arrival of terrorist groups.

It is worth noting that Aoun said in his inaugural speech in October, “We shall prevent, deter, counter and even eliminate terrorism.”

Despite its conflict with Saudi Arabia over regional and sectarian issues, Hezbollah acknowledges the importance of the kingdom and its politico-religious influence in Lebanon, as well as its economic role in terms of tourists, investors and aid to the country. For that reason, the Shiite party welcomes implicitly the restoring of the ties with Riyadh, but it will be cautious of any Saudi attempt to create a rift between Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement led by Aoun.

For his part, Aoun may try to balance between his alliance with Hezbollah and its regional patrons and his rapprochement with Gulf states, as he understands the local and regional equations.

(Source / 19.01.2017)

Hundreds denounce deadly Umm al-Hiran raid in Israel, occupied Palestinian territory

raid-umm-al-hiran

Raid in Umm al-Hiran on Jan. 18, 2017

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Palestinian citizens of Israel and their supporters took to the streets in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory on Wednesday to protest an evacuation raid in a Bedouin community in the Negev which turned deadly earlier in the day, with one Palestinian citizen of Israel and an Israeli police officer dying in disputed circumstances.Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Umm al-Hiran, where Bedouin resident Yaqoub Moussa Abu al-Qian, 47, was shot dead by Israeli police, who claimed that the math teacher was carrying out a vehicular attack which killed police officer Erez Levi, 34.However, a number of witnesses and Palestinian officials with Israeli citizenship have disputed Israeli security forces’ version of events, saying that police officers opened fire on Abu al-Qian despite him not representing a threat, causing him to lose control of his vehicle and fatally hit Levi.

Knesset member Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, which represents parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel, was injured in the head and back during the raid, although witnesses and police disputed how he had been injured and by whom.The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, a division of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, declared three days of mourning in Palestinian-majority towns and villages in Israel following the deadly raid.The committee also called for Palestinian citizens of Israel to launch a general strike on Thursday, and for teachers to discuss the recent events in Umm al-Hiran with students.Demonstrations took place in other towns in Israel with a majority Palestinian population, such as Yaffa, Qalansawe, Shifa Amr, Baqa al-Gharbiya, Sakhnin, and Umm al-Fahm, with protesters waving Palestinian flags and chanting slogans against what they denounced as “racist” Israeli policies.Israeli human rights group Gush Shalom reported that demonstrations also took place in the cities of Jerusalem, Haifa, and Acre, which are all home to significant Palestinian populations, as well as in a number of universities.In a rally in Tel Aviv, Knesset member and Palestinian citizen of Israel Issawi Freij condemned the increase in home demolitions and police violence targeting Palestinian citizens of Israel, Gush Shalom said.Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been ramping up such policies in an attempt to distract the Israeli public from an ongoing corruption investigation into himself, Freij claimed.“The prime minister wants to mark out an enemy on whom his voters can vent their anger,” Freij told hundreds of demonstrators. “This enemy which the PM has targeted and marked out is me, an Arab citizen of the state of Israel and a member of Israel’s parliament, along with all my Arab fellow citizens, a full 20 percent of Israel’s citizen body. We are to be the scapegoats!”Gush Shalom reported that demonstrators in Tel Aviv chanted slogans such as “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies,” and “Netanyahu is dangerous, both corrupt and racist.”MK Aida Touma-Sleiman was quoted by the Times of Israel as saying that a larger protest was being planned in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem on Monday morning.Meanwhile, in the besieged Gaza Strip, the Hamas movement organized a march in Jabaliya refugee camp to condemn the forced evacuation of Umm al-Hiran.Hamas official Muhammad Abu Askar said that the movement stood in solidarity with all Palestinian people, including Umm al-Hiran’s residents, and did so in spite of all the issues currently facing the Gaza Strip.Palestinians also came out in support of Umm al-Hiran and to denounce the killing of Abu al-Qian in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, Quds news agency reported.
Meanwhile, MKs Ahmad Tibi and Usama Saadi of the Joint List introduced a new bill on Thursday to the Knesset proposing a ten-year freeze on demolitions of homes built by Palestinians in Israel without government-issued permits in order to develop a comprehensive zoning and development plan.“It’s not an accident that there are tens of thousands of homes with demolition orders against them” in Palestinian communities in Israel, Tibi told Israel Radio. “It’s not in their genes. There are no development plans, no zoning plans, no expansion.”Rights groups have long claimed that demolitions in Bedouin villages unrecognized by Israel were a central policy aimed at removing the indigenous Palestinian population from the Negev and transferring them to government-zoned townships to make room for the expansion of Jewish-Israeli communities.Earlier this month, Israeli forces also demolished 11 homes belonging to Palestinian citizens of Israel in the city of Qalansawe in central Israel, sparking clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police, with Amnesty International Israel condemning possible human rights violations and accusing Israeli forces of acting on “political motives.”Meanwhile, Netanyahu issued a statement on Wednesday mourning the death of the Israeli policeman, calling the incident a deliberate “ramming attack” and part of a “murderous phenomenon,” as Israeli police has alleged that Abu al-Qian supported the so-called Islamic State.The prime minister brushed aside the possibility of freezing demolitions in Palestinian communities in Israel.“The state of Israel is, above all, a nation of law in which there will be equal enforcement. Not only will this incident not deter us, it will strengthen us. It will strengthen our determination to enforce the law everywhere,” he said.In a thinly veiled allusion to Joint List MKs, Netanyahu went on to urge “everyone, especially members of the Knesset, to be responsible, to stop fanning emotions and inciting toward violence.”Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked also accused Joint List MKs of incitement on Wednesday, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Israel Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan also accused Joint List leader Odeh of traveling to Umm al-Hiran to “incite violence” and warned that there might be “criminal implications for him.”
However, rights groups such as the Negev Coexistence and Civil Equality Forum and the Coalition of Women for Peace, which helped organize the protests in Israel on Wednesday, placed responsibility for the deadly violence squarely on the Israeli government.

“The direct responsibility for today’s dangerous escalation and bloodshed at the village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev rests upon those who took the decision to destroy a Bedouin village which had existed for decades, completely raze and wipe it off the face of the earth, to expel the residents and establish a Jewish ‘community’ in its place,” Gush Shalom quoted the groups as saying.Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of the Middle East division of NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), said that the events at Umm al-Hiran followed “a pattern of excessive force used by the Israeli police.”“As in the West Bank, Israel discriminates against Bedouins and Palestinians more generally inside its borders in its planning policies, which seek to maximize control of land for for Jewish communities. Israel should investigate the killings, hold those responsible to account, and abandon the discriminatory plan to raze Umm al-Hiran.”

(Source / 19.01.2017)

Does Abbas really want to hold local council elections?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) attends the Fatah congress in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Nov. 29, 2016

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Talk about the intention of the government in Ramallah to hold local council elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has resurfaced in the Palestinian street, after a draft decree law to establish an elections court to examine all challenges and legal issues relating to the local council elections was approved Jan. 3. Indeed, the draft decree law was referred to President Mahmoud Abbas to be duly promulgated and published in the official gazette.

The government’s move is an attempt to overcome the dispute that led to the postponement of the local council elections that were scheduled to take place on Oct. 8, 2016. Several lawyers had submitted appeals before the High Court of Justice in Ramallah challenging the legitimacy of the Gaza courts and judiciary tasked with evaluating local elections, following a decision issued by the Court of First Instance in the Gaza Strip disqualifying a number of Fatah electoral lists. The High Court decided to hold the elections in the West Bank and cancel them in Gaza, but the government, which sought to hold elections both in Gaza and the West Bank, refused to do so on Oct. 4 and postponed the local council elections for four months.

The local council elections law No. 10 of 2005 stipulates that “the Court of First Instance in each region shall be competent to examine challenges against the electoral lists.” The decree law approved Jan. 3 will amend this paragraph to allow the elections court established in accordance with the general election law No. 1 of 2007 (governing presidential and legislative elections) to examine electoral cases and challenges, provided these courts are formed before holding general elections and dissolved after their completion.

Jihad Mashaqi, the head of the Appointments and Election General Directorate at the Ministry of Local Government, told Al-Monitor, “The amendment of the local elections law aims to make the court of presidential and legislative elections the sole judicial authority competent to examine and settle matters related to the local council elections. Therefore, the Courts of First Instance would have no jurisdiction in this regard.”

The government is expected to decide to hold the local council elections in May 2017, based on the decision in October to postpone the elections for four months with an additional 90-day period, the legal time that the Central Election Commission (CEC) needs to prepare for elections.

Mashaqi said, “The government is keen on having elected local councils and wants to set an early date for the elections, as it believes it is the people’s right to elect their representative. However, it has yet to decide on a specific date.”

He added, “Most of the Palestinian factions and the civil society organizations demanded during their meetings with the Ministry of Local Government the establishment of a local council elections court to avoid any disputes that might hinder the holding of elections as happened before.”

The government’s approval of the amendments to law No. 10 of 2005 and the establishment of an elections court as a first step toward holding local council elections was categorically rejected by Hamas, which saw this step as a favor to Fatah.

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qasim told Al-Monitor, “The government’s amendment of the law is unacceptable since it is not the competent authority to do so. This rather falls within the prerogative of the Palestinian Legislative Council. This is not to mention that the factions have not agreed to such an amendment, which is seen as an attempt by the Palestinian Authority to set forth laws that would guarantee Fatah’s victory in any upcoming elections.”

He said, “Tampering with laws and trying to customize them to serve Fatah’s interests means that any elections would lose their democratic and national meaning and purpose and would not meet the consensus condition among the different factions. Holding elections and amending laws must be subject to consensus.”

Commenting on Hamas’ position should the elections be held in the West Bank only despite the movement’s rejection of the amended law, Qasim said, “Elections should be held in all of the Palestinian governorates at the same time. The amendment of the law is in direct conflict with the national consensus. There will be no elections without consensus. We will not allow it.”

Perhaps Hamas’ intransigent refusal of the amendment of the law could mean that it will seek to prevent holding any elections in the Gaza Strip. Kayed al-Ghul, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s political bureau, told Al-Monitor, “There is a possibility that Hamas would prevent holding elections in the Gaza Strip as it is sticking to electoral law No. 10 of 2005 whereby Courts of First Instance in the governorates are competent to settle any dispute or challenge. Legally speaking, there is nothing wrong with this, yet this was the main reason behind the postponement of the previous elections.”

Ghul believes that the way out of this crisis is a national dialogue to discuss an amendment to law No. 10 of 2005 to reflect the national needs and prevent any future disruption of elections. “We are striving to hold the elections simultaneously in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,” he said.

The Palestinian Central Elections Commission (CEC), which is the competent authority responsible for the elections, is getting ready to hold them anytime now. Meanwhile, Hisham Kahil, the executive director of the CEC, told Al-Monitor, “Back in 2012, the CEC recommended the government to establish a court competent to settle local council elections challenges in order to avoid a multiplicity of court rulings and jurisdictions with regard to the various challenges.”

Commenting on whether or not the CEC discussed the new amendment to the law, Kahil said, “We have not made any contacts or discussed these amendments with the political parties, since we have not received the government’s notice to embark on the preparations for the elections. When we receive such notice, setting a specific day for holding the elections, we will start our work as usual.”

The local elections issue seems to be turning in a vicious circle, in light of Hamas’ insistence on the local council elections law No. 10 of 2005 that entitles the Courts of First Instance to examine challenges and its fierce opposition of the amendments to this law approved by the government without consulting it or coordinating with it.

This could result in Hamas refusing to participate in the elections in case the government is willing to hold them and preventing them from being held in the Gaza Strip. In such instance, the government would be facing an ultimatum: postponing the elections for an indefinite period, or holding them only in the West Bank.

(Source / 19.01.2017)

Algerian Government might Suspend Opposition Parties Boycotting the Elections

Algeria

A prolonged boycott by MPs could delay president Bouteflika’s promised constitutional reforms due this year

Algiers – Minister of Interior and Local Authorities Noureddine Bedoui announced that the Algerian government could suspend the opposition parties which threatened to boycott the parliamentary elections. Ali Benflis’ party objected statements of the minister saying that these statements are the government’s attempt to control the political life in the country.

Earlier, Bedoui announced that the opposition’s decision to boycott elections is a dangerous deviation and violation of the parties’ right to choose their own political aspirations.

Ahmed Adimi, spokesperson of Talaie el-Hourriyet led by Benflis, said that these statements are rejected. Yet, he added, that what the minister said didn’t come as a surprise because they speak of political regime that is “only creative and in suppressing freedoms and subdue political and civil rights.”

The Minister of Interior criticized the parties that decided to boycott elections claiming that it is already settled for the parties loyal to the government. Bedoui challenged those who doubt the integrity of the elections in May saying they are trying to change the regime with another Arab Spring, which the Algerian government view as a failure and chaotic.

Adimi wished the government used those creative methods in getting Algeria out of this political block and eliminate dangers that threaten the country.

The spokesperson criticized the authorities saying this political system is original in finding a new scapegoat to blame for its own failures and fiascos. He urged the officials to get back to their senses, stressing that the next legislative polls, which the government is so keen on holding, is not up to the concerns of those who are anxious about matters that threaten the state.

The Algerian opposition impugns the credibility of the government’s reforms launched by President Abdulaziz Bouteflika in 2011, and ended in 2016 with the amendment of the constitution.

The opposition views these reforms as the regime’s guarantee to continue ruling.

Adimi said that the government is only good at threatening the opposition. He added that political parties are not a charity work from the government to the people, but rather a constitutional right which Algeria committed to when it agreed to international treaties including the International Declaration for Human Rights.

(Source / 19.01.2017)