(Reuters) – Hamas’s vow to vanquish Israel after claiming “victory” in last month’s Gaza conflict vindicates Israel’s reluctance to relinquish more land to the Palestinians, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday.
Khaled Meshaal, the leader of the Islamist Hamas movement, made a defiant speech before thousands of supporters in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, promising to take “inch-by-inch” all of modern-day Israel, which he said he would never recognize.
“Over the last day, we have again been exposed to the true face of our enemies. They have no intention of compromising with us. They want to destroy our country,” Netanyahu told his weekly cabinet meeting.
The Israeli leader has faced fierce foreign criticism this week for announcing a wave of Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem following a de-facto recognition by the U.N. General Assembly of a Palestinian state.
But Netanyahu said Israel would never withdraw unilaterally from the West Bank as it had done from Gaza in 2005, arguing that this would risk creating another territory from which Palestinians could launch rockets at Israeli cities.
“I am always aghast at the delusions of others who are prepared to pursue this process and call it peace,” he said.
“We want a true peace with our neighbors, but we will not close our eyes nor bury our heads in the sand,” he said, adding that this required Israel to “stand up to international pressure”.
Although Hamas refuses to recognize Israel or renounce violence, the Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he is ready to make peace on the basis of the lines that existed before the 1967 war, when Israel seized the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
Direct talks broke down in 2010 over the issue of settlement building and Abbas, who holds sway in the West Bank, has since called for reconciliation with Hamas, which ousted his own forces from Gaza in a 2007 civil war.
Hamas’s 1988 founding charter calls for the destruction of Israel and for recovering all mandate Palestine, although Hamas leaders have said in recent years the movement could live peacefully alongside Israel if it wins a state on all land occupied in 1967. Various Hamas officials have at times indicated a willingness to negotiate a ceasefire, possibly decades long, with Israel.
“What is interesting is that Abu Mazen (Abbas), of all people, did not condemn the (Hamas) words calling for Israel’s destruction, just as previously he did not condemn the rockets fired at Israel (from Gaza),” Netanyahu said.
“And to my regret he is working for unity with this same Hamas, which is supported by Iran.”
Hamas is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its foundation this week, turning the event into a “victory” party following its eight-day conflict with Israel last month in which some 170 Palestinians and six Israelis, mostly civilians, were killed.
Israel not only killed the group’s military mastermind during the fighting, but also says it destroyed long-range Gazan rocket arsenals and secured a ceasefire that put an end to indiscriminate attacks from the coastal enclave.
As a first-time premier in 1997, Netanyahu sent Mossad assassins to kill Meshaal, then a mid-level Hamas figure, in Jordan in reprisal for a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings. They botched the mission, and the ensuing recrimination from Amman forced Israel to free the jailed spiritual leader of Hamas. The episode helped propel Meshaal to the top ranks.
A cabinet minister from Netanyahu’s rightist Likud party, Yisrael Katz, said Israel could again target Meshaal should Hamas not keep the Egyptian-brokered Gaza truce of November 21.
“He said he wishes to die a martyr, and there is a high probability that this last wish would be realized, and he would become a legitimate target, should the quiet be violated,” Katz told Israel Radio.
Meshaal is making his first visit to Gaza and is expected to return to Egypt on Monday. He lives between Doha and Cairo, and is the Hamas point person for all its foreign ties.
In The Observer, de zondagskrant van The Guardian van 9 december, worden uitspraken van Hamas’ leider Meshal foutief vertaald, telkens in dezelfde richting. Deze Britse krant en website zijn toonaangevend voor de Belgische media. Die zullen de Britse media meer dan waarschijnlijk wel volgen.
Gaza jongeren lezen de krant
Flagrant foutieve vertaling
In zijn rapport over de toespraak van Hamas leider Khaled Meshal in Gaza op zaterdag 8 december vertaalde The Observer een aantal citaten als volgt:
“We doden Joden niet omdat ze Jood zijn. Wij doden zionisten omdat zij veroveraars zijn en we zullen doorgaan met iedereen te doden die ons land en ons heilige plaatsen steelt … We zullen Jeruzalem bevrijden beetje bij beetje, steen per steen.”
Dit is een flagrant foutieve vertaling. Wat Meshal echt zei was dit:
“ We bestrijden de Joden niet omdat ze Jood zijn. Wij bestrijden de zionistische bezetters en agressors. We zullen iedereen bestrijden die poogt ons land te bezetten of aan te vallen. We bestrijden hen die onsbestrijden, die ons aanvallen, die ons belegeren, die onze heilige plaatsen aanvallen en ons land.”
Kan je het enorme verschil zien? Voor een ongeoefend oor kunnen de Arabische woorden voor ‘doden’ en ‘bestrijden’ gelijkaardig klinken omdat ze dezelfde stam hebben. Voor elke vloeiend Arabisch spreker is er echter geen dubbelzinnigheid in wat Meshal zei.
Verzet is een middel, geen doel
The Observer stelde de toespraak van Meshal voor als ‘compromisloos’ en de meeste andere media noemden hem ‘vlammend’ (‘fiery’). Ik hoorde zelfs iemand op de BBC World Service zeggen dat het nauwelijks anders was dan het stichtingscharter van Hamas.
Ik heb daarentegen geen enkel verslag gezien van deze passage uit de speech van Meshal:
“Verzet is voor ons geen doel maar een middel. Ik spreek de hele wereld toe via de media. Als de wereld een manier vindt zonder verzet of bloedvergieten om Palestina en Jeruzalem en het recht op terugkeer aan ons terug te geven en om de zionistische bezetting te beëindigen, dan verwelkomen we die. We hebben jullie (de wereld) 64 jaar uitgeprobeerd en jullie hebben niets gedaan. Als we dus tot verzet overgaan, verwijt ons dat niet. Als we een andere oplossing hadden gevonden, dan hadden we die gegrepen. De geschiedenis der naties toont dat er geen bevrijding of overwinning is geweest zonder oorlog, zonder gevechten, zonder offers.”
Dit is een thema waar Meshal het vroeger al heeft over gehad, ondermeer in een toespraak in 2009 waar hij bijna exact dezelfde woorden sprak.
Het was duidelijk dat Meshal voor zijn achterban sprak. Hij loofde het verzet en weerlegde de recente bewering van Mahmoud Abbas dat alleen de Westelijke Jordaanoever en Gaza ‘Palestina’ zou zijn, terwijl de rest Israël is. Daarmee bevestigde hij de reeds lang aangehouden openheid van Hamas om politiek met de wereld om te gaan in plaats van alleen maar met gewapend verzet.
Wie The Observer leest, zou denken dat hij alleen maar ‘dood Joden’ zou gezegd hebben, terwijl hij dat helemaal niet had gedaan.
(Reuters) – Leaders of the feuding Palestinian factions, the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza and the secular Fatah government in the West Bank, urged reconciliation between the two former foes on Sunday despite diverging policies on Israel.
Fatah and Hamas have been at loggerheads since the latter pulled off a surprise win in 2006 parliamentary polls. A brief, bloody civil war a year later saw Hamas eject Fatah from Gaza, leaving Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Fatah, to consolidate his power base in the West Bank.
The two groups are hoping to boost ties on the heels of an eight-day war with Israel last month, which buoyed Hamas, and a Fatah-led initiative at the United Nations General Assembly, that recognized a de facto Palestinian state.
But Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal, visiting the Gaza Strip for the first time, struck a hard line against recognizing Israel or negotiating with it for a state on the lines pre-dating the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, just as Fatah’s Abbas pledged himself to diplomacy and non-violence.
“Let bygones be bygones,” Meshaal told an audience at Gaza’s Islamic University. “Responsibility for Palestine is bigger than one faction alone … Hamas cannot do without Fatah and Fatah cannot do without Hamas,” he added.
Hamas and Fatah have sought unity before, but a succession of Arab-brokered plans have repeatedly run aground over issues such as the holding of new elections, releasing prisoners and the make-up of Palestinian security forces.
In the days before Meshaal’s homecoming, Hamas eased curbs on Fatah partisans in Gaza.
However, the Hamas leader made no concrete proposals for reconciliation and stuck to the party line on Israel, saying he would never recognize the Jewish State even in its original 1948 borders, telling Fatah that “resistance” was the way forward.
Abbas on Sunday told Arab League diplomats that the two groups wanted to overcome their differences. “The reconciliation is dear to us and to the unity of our people, especially in the present time, when we are talking about a Palestinian state and about getting something new,” he said, but stressed talks with Israel.
“If we put aside the negotiating table, the alternative would be war,” Abbas told envoys at a meeting in Doha. “Are we ready for war? I say no.”
Their fundamental differences aside, top Fatah leader Azzam al-Ahmed praised Meshaal’s reconciliation push as “positive,” but cautioned his remarks contained nothing new.
Meshaal and other top Hamas leaders have earlier mooted a long-term truce with Israel based on the 1967 lines, but say this does not mean they are ready to recognize Israel’s right to exist in the rest of the territory.
Israel says it will only accept a demilitarized Palestinian state, and says Hamas’s history of suicide bombings and rocket attacks on Israeli towns makes it a terrorist group — a stance the United States and European Union endorse.
Israel criticized Abbas for not condemning Meshaal’s comments and for seeking unity with the Islamist group.
“What is interesting is that (Abbas), of all people, did not condemn the (Hamas) words calling for Israel’s destruction, just as previously he did not condemn the rockets fired at Israel (from Gaza),” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
WASHINGTON — Recently the United Nations General Assembly voted to accept Palestine as a non-member observer state. The vote was 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions. Israel tried to squelch the resolution, then tried to defeat it, then scoffed that the vote meant nothing, but punished the Palestinians anyway by announcing new settlements and withholding Palestinian tax revenue. Now even the United States is ticked off.
How has Israel managed to lose the vote in a landslide and alienate its friends? By blowing its credibility on ludicrous complaints.
Ever since Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced his plan to seek statehood through the U.N., Israel has denounced the move as “unilateral.”
“Going to the U.N. with unilateral declarations and unilateral actions is not negotiations,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu protested on Oct. 31.
A week later, Netanyahu argued that “peace may be advanced only around the negotiating table and not via unilateral decisions in the UN General Assembly.”
Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Ron Prosor, warned the U.N. Security Council, “Every Member State that lends its hand to supporting Palestinian unilateralism at the U.N. will be responsible for the grave consequences that follow.”
The phrase “every Member State that lends its hand to supporting Palestinian unilateralism” is a contradiction in terms. If most of the General Assembly’s nearly 200 members approve something, that something is, by definition, not unilateral.
How did the Palestinians win the support of all those countries? By negotiating. They just weren’t negotiating with you. That’s how negotiation works: You have to offer the other side a better deal than they can get elsewhere.
That’s where you failed, Israel. Not just because the Palestinians didn’t like your offer, but because 138 countries lost faith in you and voted for Palestinian statehood themselves.
Granted, plenty of governments hate you just for being Jewish or Zionist. But to get to 138, with only 9 countries on your side, took real effort.
How did you achieve this debacle? By continuing to build settlements, even as you bellyached about the “one-sided” U.N. resolution.
And how did you thank the U.S. and the other eight countries that stood with you? By announcing yet more settlements after the vote, this time in a West Bank sector that would make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.
What was that again about unilateralism?
Netanyahu claims that in his U.N. speech, Abbas “incited against [Israeli] soldiers and Israeli citizens.”
The Israeli cabinet says that Abbas’ remarks “included expressions of severe incitement” and that an Israeli investigation has found further “incitement in the Palestinian Authority,” such as “calls for a return to Jaffa and Haifa” and “complete ignoring of Israel on official maps.”
According to Netanyahu, such incitement precludes serious peace talks: “As long as the Palestinian Authority educates the younger generation to hate, how is it at all possible to talk about peace?”
Give me a break. Yes, Abbas’ speech was full of purple invective about apartheid, colonialism, racism and ethnic cleansing. That’s how an advocate talks when he’s pitching the plight of his people to an assembly full of countries that have suffered apartheid, colonialism, racism and ethnic cleansing.
Abbas thinks Israel has done a lot of evil things. Rebut him if you like. But you can’t just label this rhetoric “incitement” and claim that it makes peace talks impossible.
Any honest look at Palestinian history will tell you two things. One, there’s been plenty of real incitement to violence against Israel. And two, this speech wasn’t part of it.
While Hamas has championed violence, Abbas has steadily preached negotiation. “Our people cling to the right to defend themselves against aggression and occupation,” he told the General Assembly, but “they will continue their popular, peaceful resistance.” That’s a speech of incitement? Please.
3. Jewish state:
Since 1993, the Palestine Liberation Organization has acknowledged “the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.” Abbas has reaffirmed that commitment. “We did not come here seeking to delegitimize a State established years ago, and that is Israel,” he told the General Assembly.
What Palestinians demand, he stipulated, is the right “to live in peace and security alongside the State of Israel.”
But Israel refuses to take yes for an answer, because Abbas fails to include the magic word Jewish. “You still refuse to recognize the Jewish state,” Ambassador Prosor chided Abbas in a rebuttal address before the General Assembly.
Later, Netanyahu said Palestinians’ “unwillingness to accept a Jewish state in any borders whatsoever is the root of the conflict. … The Palestinian Authority is unwilling to move towards accepting the existence of the State of Israel.”
Here’s how recognition works. You acknowledge the other state. You don’t tell it whether to be Jewish, Muslim or Zoroastrian. Nor do you whine about Palestinians failing to call you a Jewish state, or failing to ensure that you’re named on every map, while you flagrantly withhold the same courtesy.
In official Israeli statements since the U.N. vote, I find no acknowledgment of Palestinian territory. Instead, I find repeated references to “Judea and Samaria,” coupled with an assertion that “Israel, as the state of the Jewish People, has a right and claim to areas, the status of which is under dispute, in the Land of Israel.”
That’s some chutzpah.
4. Diplomatic terrorism:
Several months ago, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon came up with the charming idea of calling Palestinian initiatives in the U.N. “diplomatic terrorism.” This perversion of language alarmed other Israeli officials, but it hasn’t stopped.
Two weeks ago, Liberman again accused Abbas of “diplomatic terrorism.” And Netanyahu called Abbas’ U.N. statehood bid an attempt “to use the diplomatic process in order to bring about the end of the State of Israel.”
After so many Israeli deaths at the hands of real terrorists — people who orchestrate and perpetrate violence against civilians — how could you forget the meaning of the word? How could you stoop to cheapening it?
You just fought a war with Hamas in Gaza over rocket attacks on your citizens, while Fatah’s leadership in the West Bank pursues diplomacy instead.
But instead of doing what Jewish values demand — resolutely distinguishing peaceful dialogue from indiscriminate violence — you deliberately conflate them. You demean our heritage and the memory of the dead.
I’m not here to defend Abbas or his U.N. address on every point. His account of Palestinian history was whitewashed. His portrayal of Israel was cartoonish. His description of what happened in Gaza was pathetically misleading. His failure to repudiate Hamas’ violence was gutless.
Israel also has good reasons to demand, as part of any statehood agreement, security mechanisms and the renunciation of further Palestinian legal claims.
But nobody hears any of that when Israel goes on building settlements and saying ridiculous things. All we hear is that you’re insulting our intelligence.
Twenty-five years ago this weekend, a large-scale popular uprising by Palestinians began against Israel’s then 20-year-old military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. Sparked by an incident in which four Palestinians were hit and killed by an Israeli driving in Gaza on December 8, 1987, Palestinian frustration at living under repressive Israeli military rule and Israel’s growing colonial settlement enterprise erupted, grabbing international headlines and drawing attention to the plight of Palestinians living in the occupied territories. On this 25th anniversary, the IMEU offers the following fact sheet on the First Intifada.
GAZA. Ahli Arab hospital, young Palestinian wounded during a demonstration in December 1988
– THE FIRST INTIFADA (1987-1993) –
FACTS & FIGURES
During the First Intifada, Palestinians employ tactics such as unarmed demonstrations, including rock throwing against soldiers, commercial strikes, a refusal to pay taxes to Israeli authorities, and other acts of civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance. They are coordinated largely by grassroots ad hoc committees of Palestinians in the occupied territories rather than the PLO leadership abroad.
In response, Israeli soldiers use brutal force to repress the mostly unarmed popular rebellion. Then-Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin implements the infamous “broken bones” policy, ordering security forces to break the limbs [WARNING: Graphic video] of rock-throwing Palestinians and other demonstrators.
More than 1000 Palestinians are killed by Israeli forces during the First Intifada, including 237 children under the age of 17. Many tens of thousands more are injured.
According to an estimate by the Swedish branch of Save the Children, as many as29,900 children require medical treatment for injuries caused by beatings from Israeli soldiers during the first two years of the Intifada alone. Nearly a third of them are aged ten or under. Save the Children also estimates that between 6500-8500 Palestinian minors are wounded by Israeli gunfire in the first two years of the Intifada.
In 2000 it is revealed that between 1988 and 1992 Israel’s internal security force, the Shin Bet, systematically tortures Palestinians using methods that go beyond what is allowable under government guidelines for “moderate physical pressure,” Israel’s official euphemism for torture. These methods include violent shaking, tying prisoners into painful positions for long periods, subjecting them to extreme heat and cold, and severe beatings, including kicking. At least 10 Palestinians die and hundreds of others are maimed as a result.
Approximately 120,000 Palestinians are imprisoned by Israel during the First Intifada.
In 1987, Hamas is founded in Gaza, formed from the Palestinian branch of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. During the 1980s, Israeli authorities encourage and tacitly support the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, viewing them as a counterweight to the secular nationalists of the PLO, part of a strategy of divide and conquer.
In 1992, in the face of protests from the international community, including the UN Security Council through Resolution 799, Israel deports more than 400 suspected members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad to southern Lebanon, including one of the founders of Hamas, Mahmoud Zahar, and Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ top leader in Gaza today. Refused entry by the Lebanese government, which doesn’t want to confer legitimacy on Israel’s illegal deportation of Palestinians, the exiles spend a harsh winter outside in a no-man’s land limbo. Many observers consider this a turning point for Hamas, whose members are given assistance to survive by the Lebanese paramilitary group Hezbollah. In addition to basic sustenance, Hezbollah gives the Palestinians advice and military training honed during a decade of struggle against Israel’s occupation of Lebanon that began following the bloody Israeli invasion of 1982. Hamas subsequently begins to use suicide bombers against Israeli targets, a tactic that was a signature of Hezbollah’s resistance to Israel’s occupation. Under pressure from the US, Israel agrees to let the exiled Palestinians return to the occupied territories in 1993.
The First Intifada gradually tapers off in the face of brutal Israeli repression and political co-optation by the PLO, ending by 1993.
POLITICAL REPERCUSSIONS: MADRID, OSLO & BEYOND
The outbreak of the First Intifada surprises nearly everyone, including Israeli military and intelligence officials, and the leadership of the PLO, which is then based in Tunisia after being forced out of its base in Lebanon in 1982 by Israel’s invasion.
The First Intifada creates immense international sympathy for the Palestinian cause, and leads to international pressure on Israel to address Palestinian demands for freedom and self-determination.
While initially caught off guard, the PLO under Yasser Arafat attempts to harness the Intifada and exploit it politically. In 1988, the PLO recognizes the state of Israel. This is a major and historic compromise on the part of the Palestinians, who effectively renounce claim to 78% of historic Palestine. (See map here.)
Despite this compromise and pressure from the international community, the Israeli government of Yitzhak Shamir (1989-1992) refuses to acknowledge the PLO or to engage in peace talks with Palestinian representatives. Frustrated at Israel’s intransigence, US Secretary of State James Baker famously reads off the White House switchboard telephone number during congressional testimony, adding to Shamir, who isn’t present, “When you’re serious about peace, call us.”
The Madrid Conference
Following threats by the administration of George H.W. Bush to withhold $10 billion in loan guarantees unless Israel ends settlement construction, Israeli Prime Minister Shamir finally agrees to meet with Palestinian representatives – but not PLO officials, despite the fact that the PLO is considered the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people by the UN and international community. Talks between Palestinians based in the occupied territories, who are in close contact with PLO officials behind the scenes, begin in Madrid in 1991.
Soon afterwards, in an attempt to bypass the Palestinian representatives sent to Madrid, the Israeli government begins secret negotiations with the PLO, weakened politically since the disaster of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon and Arafat’s support for Iraq during the first Gulf War, believing it will be more willing to compromise on issues such as settlement construction and fundamental Palestinian rights like the right of return for refugees expelled from their homes during Israel’s creation in 1947-9.
In 1993, the PLO and the government of Israel under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (1993-1995) exchange official letters in which the Palestinians formally recognize “the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security. In return Israel only acknowledges the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Pointedly, Israel does not recognize or accept the notion of an independent Palestinian state in the occupied territories.
The exchange of letters paves the way for the first of a series of agreements known as the Oslo Accords. In September 1993, Rabin and Arafat sign the Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles on the White House lawn. Oslo creates the Palestinian National Authority (PNA or PA), which is headed by Arafat.
Oslo is supposed to be an interim agreement leading to a final peace agreement within five years, however the Israeli government under Rabin (1992-1995) and subsequent prime ministers has no intention of allowing the creation of a genuinely sovereign Palestinian state in the occupied territories. Although Rabin publicly agrees to a settlement freeze, Israel continues to build Jewish-only settlements on occupied Palestinian land unabated. Israeli officials also refuse to agree to any provisions in Oslo that would explicitly call for an independent Palestinian state, going so far as to refuse to allow the title of President to be used for the leader of the Palestinian National Authority (in the years to come, this title slowly comes into common use by journalists and others, despite Israel’s opposition.)
During the Oslo years (1993-2000), Israel begins to impose more severe restrictions on Palestinian movement between Israel and the occupied territories, between the occupied West Bank and Gaza, and within the occupied territories themselves. This is part of a policy intended to separate Palestinians and Israelis, and to separate the West Bank from Gaza, which are supposed to be a single territorial unit under the terms of Oslo.
Israel also rapidly expands its settlement enterprise. Between 1993 and 2000, the number of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem), nearly doubles, from 110,900 to 190,206 according to Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. Accurate figures for settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, which are mostly built and expanded before 1993, are harder to find, but as of 2000 the number of settlers in East Jerusalem stands at more than 167,000 according to B’Tselem. (See here for Peace Now’s up-to-date interactive “Facts on the Ground” settlement map.)
Settlements, which are illegal under international law, are strategically placed in locations to divide the occupied territories into a number of cantons, with Palestinian population centers isolated from one another and from the outside world. The settlements are connected to one another and to Israel by a network of roads and highways, most of which only Israelis are allowed to use, forming part of what has been dubbed Israel’s “matrix of control” over the occupied territories. Today, nearly 20 years after the start of Oslo, there are more than half a million Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In October 2000, Palestinian frustration at seven years of fruitless negotiations, during which time Israel further entrenches its occupation rather than rolling it back, boils over into a second, more violent uprising, sparked by a provocative visit by Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon, who is reviled by Palestinians for his brutal record as an officer in the Israeli military and as defense minister, to the Noble Sanctuary mosque complex in occupied East Jerusalem.
In July 2010, a video surfaces showing Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to a group of settlers in 2001, when he was in the opposition, bragging that he had sabotaged the Oslo peace process during his first term as prime minister (1996-1999), stating: “I de facto put an end to the Oslo accords,” adding that “America is a thing you can move very easily.” In the video, he also tells the settlers that the way to deal with Palestinians is to “beat them up, not once but repeatedly, beat them up so it hurts so badly, until it’s unbearable.”
Opposition coalition chief Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib said the Assad’s regime was causing a Holocaust in the country.
Syrian opposition coalition chief Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib called Saturday for talks between all opposition groups to form a transitional government, saying his recently-formed coalition does not seek to hold on power and that it would dissolve after the country hold free elections.
In a televised speech shown on Al Arabiya, al-Khatib said the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has dragged the country into a “holocaust” and has destroyed the country and the army.
Khatib said the coalition is seeking greater recognition from more countries, adding that talks were underway to form a judiciary to be put in place immediately after the overthrow of the Assad’s regime in order to avoid chaos.
Khatib’s call came as opposition commanders from across Syria have joined forces under a united command they hope will increase coordination between diverse fighting groups and streamline the pathway for arms essential to their struggle against President Bashar Assad.
While many of the brigades involved in the fighting are decidedly Islamist in outlook and some have boasted about executing captured soldiers, two of the most extreme groups fighting in Syria were not invited to the opposition meeting in Turkey or included in the new council – a move that could encourage Western support.
Disorganization has bedeviled Syria’s opposition movement since its birth late last year, when some protesters gave up on peaceful means to bring down Assad’s regime and took up arms, forming the base of what became the Free Syrian Army.
But the movement has never actually been an army. Scores of opposition groups battle Assad’s forces across the country, many coordinating with no one outside of their own area. While some say they want a civil, democratic government, others advocate an Islamic state.
The new body, expected to be announced officially on Sunday, hopes to form the basis of a united opposition front.
Some 500 delegates elected the 30-person Supreme Military Council and a Chief of Staff on Friday and planned to meet soon with representatives from the opposition’s newly reorganized political leadership, participants said.
“The aim of this meeting was to unify the armed opposition to bring down the regime,” said a opposition commander from near Damascus who attended the meeting. “It also aims to get the situation under control once the regime falls.”
The move toward greater unity on the armed front comes as the U.S. and others try to strengthen the opposition’s leadership while sidelining extremist factions that have become a vital part of the opposition’s ground forces.
To the other men in his Free Syrian Army unit, he’s simply known as the Sniper, a 21-year-old army-trained sharpshooter who defected on Feb. 21 and joined their ranks. Few of his colleagues know his first name let alone his surname — and that’s the way he wants to keep it.
He hails from a Sunni military family in a town on the outskirts of Damascus, the capital. His uncle is a serving general in President Bashar Assad’s army, several of his other relatives are also high-ranking military officers. Apart from his parents and siblings, his relatives all think he’s dead — and that’s the way he wants to keep it.
A trim young man with closely cropped black hair and beard, he looks intense but calm as he sits in complete silence for hours, finger on the trigger, peering through the telescopic sight of his Dragunov sniper rifle. He’s careful not to let its barrel protrude through the double-fist-size peephole he has punched through an apartment wall lest it give away his location to the regime’s sharpshooters, some of whom are only about 50 m (165 ft.) away.
He may look calm, but he’s deeply troubled. After some nine months of fighting with several Free Syrian Army units, first on the outskirts of Aleppo and then in the city itself after the rebel push into it in late July, he has grown disillusioned with the fight and angry with its conduct. “I did this when it was clean,” he says. “Now it’s dirty. Many aren’t fighting just to get rid of Bashar, they’re fighting to gain a reputation, to build up their name. I want it to go back to the way it was, when we were fighting for God and the people, not for some commander’s reputation.”
He refused an order in November to fight a proregime, ethnic Kurdish militia in a Kurdish neighborhood of Aleppo that the rebels had entered. “Why should I fight the Kurds?” he says. “It’s a distraction. This isn’t our fight.”
Syrians in the opposition, whether armed or not, have often said that there may be a revolution after the revolution to unseat Assad. The fault lines differ depending on whom you talk to. Some envision a fight between Islamist and secular rebels; others between defectors and armed civilians; some say it will be ethnic, between Kurds and Arabs; others simply territorial, between rebel commanders in a particular area, irrespective of ideology. Others say it won’t happen. The Sniper, like many fighting men, thinks that it will, and that it will be ugly: “We will not become Somalia after Bashar falls,” he says. “We will have many Somalias in every province.”
It didn’t start this way — neither for this young rebel nor the revolution. “I think I’m unrecognizable now,” the Sniper says. “I never really thought I’d kill someone.” But since he defected, he has killed — 34 people who did not see his bullet coming, including, he suspects, his childhood friend Mohammad, a man who was “dearer to me than a brother.”
The Syrian revolution is also unrecognizable from 20 months ago, when Syrians first took to the streets in peaceful protests demanding freedom and dignity from a totalitarian leader who allowed little of either. The uprising soon morphed into an armed revolt as soldiers defected and men took up arms against the loyalist troops shooting into the crowds and going house-to-house looking for dissenters. As the conflict became deeper and bloodier, and the international community looked on impotently, armed rebels scrounging for help were increasingly compelled to compete for resources. Various backers — both Syrian and foreign, private and state-sponsored — entered the fray, picking their men on the ground and funneling weapons and money to them. The help wasn’t always free: it often required pledges of allegiance, which many rebels have said they made with little intention of keeping. The money and weapons haven’t really bought the rebels’ love or obedience, just their temporary gratitude.
Over the past few weeks, the rebels have made sizable inroads in many parts of the country, but in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and its once pulsating commercial hub, the intense firefights and dramatic capture of neighborhoods that marked the initial frenetic rebel push into the city have largely stalled. Although the government’s warplanes and heavy weapons continue to pummel various neighborhoods in the city and the rebels continue to try to pound their way forward, in many areas that fell out of government control early on, the fight has ground to a stalemate. In these districts, territory gained is measured in street corners and meters rather than neighborhoods. And the snipers reign. A few good sharpshooters can effectively freeze a front line by ensuring that any movement by their rivals will be costly.
And so rebel snipers, especially professionally trained ones, are in great demand. The Sniper says he has “been offered so much money, it is as if I am working for the mafia.”
“Some [rebel commanders] offered me money. Others would say, ‘Just tell me what you want.’ One told me, ‘I’ll bring your parents, take them to safety. Just come and work with me,’” he says. “It does not honor me to work with people like this who think they can buy and sell me.”
Instead, he has found a home with Liwa Suqoor al-Sha‘ba, an Islamist unit of the Free Syrian Army headquartered in Azaz, a town north of Aleppo in the vast band of countryside in rebel hands around the city. For the past few months he has been stationed in the northeastern neighborhood of Bustan al-Basha, a devastated wasteland emptied of all but three of its thousands of residents. “We cannot charge on [government] positions — if we do, they will eliminate us — nor can they advance on us,” he says. “It’s not that I’m tired, but I want something new. New territory. I’m sick of it here, I’m disgusted by it.” But he respects his adversaries, who he says have pinned the rebels down now for months.
He is always on the lookout for new sniper positions. “Are you ready?” he asks before running alongside me as we dash past regime snipers to minimize my chances of being hit. We walked through the deserted neighborhood, up darkened stairwells and through a maze of holes punched through apartment walls to avoid exposure on the streets. The Sniper kicked in locked apartment doors, moving through family rooms and kitchens with rotting vegetables as he searched for higher, better ground. He paused in one living room to feed fish in a tank. A few days later, he replaced the damaged locks on the apartments he had entered. In one flat, on the fifth floor, a blackened male corpse lay in what was a bedroom. The rubble strewn around the room from the gaping hole in the ceiling made it clear what killed the man. The stench was tear-inducing. Fat maggots crawled on the bloated corpse. Several rebels removed the body, wrapping it in a blue blanket. The next day the small group, along with the Sniper, returned, methodically removing the china from a dining-room cabinet and placing it in a dusty lounge room, before punching a small hole through the dining-room wall. The room looked out onto a government position in the shrubbery below and would serve as a new rebel outpost.
Still, on some days, the Sniper says, he doesn’t even fire a shot. He just watches and waits in nearly dark apartments with no power, alone with his thoughts. His victims, when he speaks of them, were all shabiha, progovernment paramilitary thugs — an easy term to dehumanize his enemies. But he knows that’s not quite true. He knows his childhood friend Mohammad was not a shabih. He says he doesn’t know if it was his bullet — or one of his colleagues’ — killed him.
“We were in school together. We grew up together. His mother was like my mother, that’s how close we were,” he says. The Sniper is pensive, takes several deep breaths and fidgets with his 10-mm handgun as he speaks of his friend, repeatedly flicking off the gun’s safety. The young men joined the army together and stayed in contact even after the Sniper defected. He was the only person outside of the Sniper’s immediate family who knew that he was still alive. “I would tell him to defect, he’d say, ‘Not yet, it’s still early.’ I’d say defect. I told him I’d come and get him, that I would go anywhere to see him, to help him defect, even to the gates of his brigade. Whatever he wanted, wherever he was, I would get him. He kept saying, ‘It’s still early, it’s early.’ He was scared that his family would go through the same thing my family went through.” The Sniper says his family members were interrogated, harassed, ostracized in their community. The only thing that saved them from greater harm, he suspects, was the clout of the loyalist military men in his family and the fact that they thought he was dead, not a defector.
Mohammad was eventually sent to Azaz, stationed at what was called the Shatt Checkpoint. Both the Sniper and his commander repeatedly urged Mohammad to defect, warning him that they planned to attack the checkpoint. He didn’t listen. “We were three snipers. We killed a colonel, a soldier and my friend. I don’t know which one I killed, I didn’t see their faces. They were soldiers in front of us, and we were ordered to kill them.” That was three months ago.
“He’s gone anyway, what good is thinking about it? I did — for a long time afterward. I thought, ‘Why? He was my friend. Why did I shoot at him? I shouldn’t have.’ But I have left those thoughts behind me. I have to move forward.”
Like many men on the front line, the Sniper has found solace in religion, but his is a politicized form of Islam. He speaks admirably of the extremist Jabhat al-Nusra group that has been responsible for some of the most spectacular suicide bombings against regime targets. “They are clean and doing good work,” he says. He wants to join them, if he can “cleanse” his body and mind, he says pointing to a red pack of Gauloises cigarettes. A day later, he quit smoking.
He was not always like this. An avid boxer before he was the Sniper, the young man lived in Hamburg for five years, returning to his homeland in 2010. He attended the Goethe-Institut in Damascus and says his Arabic was so poor, he could barely read. It has since improved to the degree that he now reads the Koran aloud to his fellow rebels. He has long since shelved his dream of returning to Germany and training as a boxer. In fact, he doesn’t want to survive the Syrian uprising and is seeking “martyrdom.” “I’m only comfortable on the front line,” he says. “My rifle has become not just like a part of my body, it is my life, my destiny.” He remembers his religious awakening, in the first assault he participated in. It was a hit on a checkpoint on the road to the town of al-Bab on Aleppo’s outskirts. “We ambushed them. There was an Islamist with me. My heart was filled with faith. He told me the only thing between me and paradise was this road, was dying on this road. I was sorry that I lived.”
A few days later, we returned to the issue of victims, of whether or not they are all shabiha, and his friend Mohammad. At the end of the day, I told him, he was a Syrian killing other Syrians. “I used to think about the people I’d killed, I’d think about their parents,” he says. “Yes, we are all Syrian, but we didn’t create these differences, they did. It is because I am Syrian, because these people, these civilians who are dying are Syrian, that I am doing this, that I am standing with and for my people. Those who are not standing with their people are not Syrian, they are traitors, and traitors must die.”
And Mohammad? Was he a traitor? No, he said, he wasn’t, but “I’ve accepted it now, and nothing matters to me any more.”
“Whoever is going to be in my sights will die. That’s it,” the Sniper says. “My heart has hardened. I returned to religion, but after I killed, my heart hardened. A sniper sees who he kills,” he says, pausing. “It’s hard. A sniper sees his victim.”
The Egyptian president has scrapped the declaration that sparked violent nationwide protests, replacing it with a text leaving his office subject to oversight, according to former presidential candidate Mohamed Selim El-Awa.
A referendum on a draft constitution will still go ahead as planned on December 15, al-Awa told a Cairo news conference.
“There is no power that would choose to prevent the people from participating in the referendum,” said Egyptian Vice President Mahmoud Mekky.
The electoral committee took made sure the referendum would be held on time, Mekky stated, adding that it could be held in several phases if the number of participating judges was insufficient.
Earlier, the country’s Prime Minister Hisham Qandil told local television that Morsi had ordered officials who attended a meeting with representatives of the opposition on Saturday to prepare the new text.
In a statement to Al-Mihwar, an independent television channel, Qandil did not give exact details about the amendments Morsi is hoping will calm the nation, but said the new text – drafted by officials including members of the judiciary – would be finalized by late Saturday or Sunday morning.
In an effort to quell the violent protests that have shaken the country for two weeks, Morsi was scheduled to meet with the opposition on Saturday. However, most of the opposition groups opted out, including the crucial National Salvation Front led by former presidential candidates Mohamed El Baradei, Hamdeen Sabbahi and Amr Moussa.
This despite the country’s military calling for a dialogue, while maintaining that it is its duty to protect the country.
“The armed forces … realize their responsibility to preserve the higher interests of the country and to secure and protect vital targets, public institutions and the interests of innocent citizens,” the military’s statement read.
Local media hint that Morsi might soon reimpose martial law, which had been the status quo in Egypt for six decades until the overthrow of the Hosni Mubarak government.
Morsi’s November 22 emergency decree and the draft constitution days later sent the country into turmoil, where at least seven people were killed and hundreds more injured in riots nationwide. With the new decree, Morsi allocated himself overwhelming powers until the approval of a new draft constitution, which set to be completed by referendum on December 15.
RAMALLAH — The state of Palestine completed all preparations to hold international conference on Palestinian and Arab prisoners in Israeli jails, a senior Palestinian official said Saturday.
Issa Qaraqi’, the Palestinian Minister of Detainees and Ex-Detainees, said that the conference will be held on Dec. 11-12 in the Iraqi capital of Bagdad.
Qaraqi’ said that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Secretary General of the league of the Arab States Nabil Al-Arabi will open the conference.
Qaraqi’ said that the conference will be held under the patronage of the Arab League and will be attended be several Arab countries, local, Arab and international human rights organizations. He added that the conference will also be attended by several prisoners released from Israeli jail and children of prisoners held in Israeli jails as well as international law experts.
The minister said that the “conference will discuss the legal status of Palestinian prisoners in Israel jails following UN recognition of a Palestine as non-member state and the decision’s effects on their issue.”
He added that the conference will “demand the international community and the UN Security Council to bear their responsibilities towards Israeli government’s measures against prisoners that contradicts with the simplest principles and laws of international community.”
“Israel carrying out a series of haphazard measures such as collective punishments, including depriving the prisoners of their rights to high education, the policy of isolating prisoners and preventing their families from visiting them, as well as imposing fines and neglecting their medical treatment are measures that contradict the simple human rights,” the minister said.
According to Qaraqi’, “Israel does not allow the prisoners to watch five satellite channels, bars the entry of newspapers and magazines into the prisons, obliges prisoners to meet their lawyers with their hands cuffed and separates prisoners who come from the same family.”
According to the recent Palestinian statistics, Israel is holding 4,700 prisoners in 23 prisons and detention camps in Israel and in the West Bank of whom 198 children, 8 females, 14 members of Palestine Legislative Council.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Prisoners Club (Nadi Al-Asir) said that 22 Palestinian prisoners have been in Israeli jails for more than 25 years.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had repeatedly said the Palestinians will not sign any final peace agreement before Israel shuts down all its prisons and releases all the Palestinian prisoners, which were rejected by Israel.