Israeli drones violate Lebanese airspace

An Israeli reconnaissance drone (file photo)
Two Israeli reconnaissance planes have violated Lebanon’s airspace and flown over the country in flagrant violation of a UN Security Council resolution, Press TV reports.

The Lebanese army issued a statement saying that the first incursion occurred over the country’s southern border at 5:50 a.m. on Monday, a Press TV correspondent reported.

The Israeli plane maneuvered over the area until about 10:50 a.m. and then left Lebanon’s airspace, the statement added.

The second Israeli reconnaissance plane entered the airspace over southern Lebanon at 7:10 a.m. on Monday and left at 12:35 p.m., the Lebanese army said in a second statement.

Israel violates Lebanon’s airspace on an almost daily basis, claiming the flights serve surveillance purposes.

Lebanon’s government, the Hezbollah resistance movement, and the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, have repeatedly condemned the overflights, saying they are in clear violation of UN Resolution 1701 and the country’s sovereignty.

UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which brokered a ceasefire in the war of aggression Israel launched against Lebanon in 2006, calls on Tel Aviv to respect Beirut’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

In 2009, Lebanon filed a complaint with the United Nations, presenting over 7,000 documents pertaining to Israeli violations of Lebanese territory.

( / 25.10.2011)

Palestine will not give up bid for UN membership: Hanan Ashrawi

Dr Hanan Ashrawi, Executive committee member of Palestine Liberation Organisation

  • Israel drastically underestimates the intelligence of the Palestinians and the international community, says Dr Hanan Ashrawi, Executive committee member of Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Ramallah: Palestine will not give up its bid to push for statehood at the UN despite Israel’s offer to freeze government construction activities in the Occupied Territories.

Speaking to Gulf News, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a respected member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) executive committee, said that the Israeli offer to freeze government construction was a mere “gimmick” to get the Palestinians to give up its statehood bid and resume peace negotiations.

“Israel drastically underestimates the intelligence of the Palestinians and the international community. We know that government construction constitutes only 12-18 per cent of all illegal colonial activities,” Ashrawi said.

“There is no way the Palestinian leadership would consider such an offer,” she added.

She said the PLO will be holding prolonged meetings until the end of the month to discuss the next course of action with regards to its statehood bid and proposed peace talks.

Resumption of talks

Ashrawi said that if the Quartet wanted to discuss the resumption of peace talks then they would be receptive to meeting them. However, she ruled out any change in the Palestinian position if Israel continues with its colony activities.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian envoy to the UN said on Monday that the Security Council should not delay its action on the Palestinians’ statehood request.

Riyad Mansour urged members of the Security Council to act quickly on the request made by the Palestinian National Assembly President Mahmoud Abbas.

“It is time for the Security Council to shoulder its responsibilities by approving our application and making positive recommendation to the General Assembly for Palestine’s admission to membership,” Mansour said.

“We cannot accept attempts to extend or postpone this exercise indefinitely at the expense of the merits of Palestine’s application and its long-overdue and rightful inclusion in the comity of nations,” he said.

“We believe that this exercise should be brought to closure with a clear outcome.” Palestinian diplomats said last week that they were trying to muster support for a November 11 vote. It remains unclear if the Palestinians can muster the 9 out of 15 Security Council votes needed for UN membership when the US has made it clear to use its veto power to block the move.

Statehood bid

Both the US and Israel oppose the statehood bid, saying that only negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel can lead to peace in the region.

UN political chief B. Lynn Pascoe called for the same resolve demonstrated last week when the Palestinian group Hamas released Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and Israel released 477 Palestinian prisoners, with an additional 550 to be freed within two months.

“We call for this same determination to be displayed regarding the most important issue — the quest for a lasting peace,” said Pascoe, who is undersecretary-general for political affairs.

( / 25.10.2011)

Tough post-revolution reality for NGOs in Egypt

CAIRO (IRIN) — Egyptian NGOs hoping for greater freedoms and more space to operate after the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s government say they have encountered just the opposite: an unprecedented clampdown by the post-revolution military rulers.

“Following Egypt’s historic protests calling for basic political freedoms, it is deeply disturbing that the Egyptian military has targeted Egypt’s democracy and human rights community in ways not even dared during Mubarak’s despotic rule,” wrote Stephen McInerney, executive director of the Washington-based Project on Middle East Democracy.

The first parliamentary elections since Mubarak’s fall are scheduled for 28 November, but NGO leaders say the transitional government led by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has mounted a “smear campaign” against them by accusing them of receiving millions of dollars from foreign donors to destabilize the country – going so far as to say the violence on the streets of Cairo during and after the revolution was supported by foreign funding channeled through NGOs.

Many of the local organizations being targeted intended to monitor the upcoming elections, but have been prevented from doing so by the Electoral Commission. SCAF has already banned foreign groups from monitoring the vote.

“This (smear campaign) is yet another episode in the suffering of NGOs in this country,” Maged Adeeb, the chairman of local NGO National Centre for Human Rights, told IRIN. “By accusing us of receiving funds and using them in weakening Egypt’s security, the government creates an unbridgeable gap between us and ordinary citizens.”

In a recent conference in Cairo, Negad Al Borae, a leading civil society activist, said the new government was collaborating with some political powers – namely members of the former ruling party — to destroy the nation’s NGOs.

Egypt’s law 84/2002 does not prevent NGOs from getting funding from abroad, but requires them to register with the government and all funding to be approved by the Ministry of Social Solidarity. In 2010, the government introduced a bill in parliament (it later became law) which further restricted NGOs and gave state security the power to approve or deny international funding to NGOs.

US aid to NGOs

Ominous signs began in June, when US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson said the USA had spent $40 million in Egypt to “promote democracy” since the revolution. She said 600 Egyptian NGOs had presented applications for funding.

The government said none of the registered NGOs had informed it about any funds they received in this regard. In July, Minister of International Cooperation Faiza Abul-Naga announced an investigation into foreign funding of unregistered NGOs, saying such funding was considered “an intervention in our internal affairs”.

National and international organizations have received tens of millions of dollars – one media report put it as high as $225 million — in foreign funding since February.

In September, the cabinet said the government investigation found about 30 NGOs to have been illegally receiving foreign funding because they were not registered. An article in Al-Fagr newspaper named reputable NGOs like the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, and the National Democratic Institute to be among the “illegal” entities.

According to POMED’s McInerney, many of them had registered instead as civil corporations, law firms or other legal entities which are supervised by less intrusive government ministries and laws.

Treason charges

Minister of Justice Mohamed Abdel Aziz al-Guindi has said these organizations face charges of treason for conspiring against the country by sending sensitive information to foreign parties.

Civil society activists like Adeeb say the government has put their funding under the microscope by asking Central Bank officials to reveal their bank dealings to see whether they match financial statements presented to the government.

On Oct. 9, the Justice Ministry summoned five civil society activists and accused them of using foreign funding to foment violence during the revolution.

“Agencies like ours have always been a thorn in the back of dictatorial governments,” said Emad Abdel Qawy, the head of local NGO Justice and Citizenship, which works in the south of Egypt. “This is why the government will be happy to either stop our work or even tarnish our reputation.”

But the government says NGOs need to be more transparent about the funds they receive.

“I cannot understand why civil society activists should be worried when the government asks about funding,” Social Solidarity Minister Gouda Abdel Khaliq said late last month in an interview with private Dream TV. “These organizations should not be afraid as long as they are on the right track.”

Changing perceptions

It is not only civil society activists who are worried. The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, an international network of human rights groups, on 9 October sent a delegation to Cairo to investigate the issue of freedom of association. The network called for an immediate end to what it called the “harassment” of Egypt’s NGOs. Human Rights Watch has also condemned the government’s moves against NGOs and called for it to close “treason” investigations right away.

Even so, the government’s campaign against NGOs seems to have changed the way ordinary Egyptians view civil society. Activists talk about people who approach them not asking about their development programs or their political awareness campaigns, but about where they get their funding.

“This has become a very common question these days,” said Emad Abdel Qawy, the head of the Minya-based Justice and Citizenship Society. “The funny thing is that none of these ordinary citizens had asked about this funding before.”

A few days ago, Abdel Qawy narrowly escaped an attack in the southern Governorate of Qena by some people who called him “traitor” and a “paid agent”. He had gone with other activists to present a theatrical show on the importance of political participation when a group of people stormed into the theater and beat them with sticks.

There are around 30,000 NGOs in Egypt, mostly working in political education, human rights and development.

( / 25.10.2011)

US assassination UAVs kill 36 Somalis

An American drone
US assassination drones have targeted an area controlled by the al-Shabab group and killed at least 36 Somali people, Press TV reports.

The attack took place in the Somali island of Kudhaa near the country’s border with Kenya on Monday, Somali army officer Colonel Aden Dheere told Press TV.

The attack came shortly after France joined the Kenyan military operations against local al-Shabab fighters in Somalia.

At least 59 people have been killed and dozens more wounded during French military attacks on Kudhaa on the same day.

On Sunday, Kenyan army spokesman Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir said the French navy also targeted the town of Kuday near the southern al-Shabab stronghold of Kismayo on Saturday night.

Meanwhile, Kenyan troops have advanced about 100 kilometers (60 miles) into the country’s southern areas and are bracing for another round of attacks on the strategic city of Afmadow, largely controlled by al-Shabab.

The main target of the joint Somali-Kenyan offensive is to flush out the fighters from the port city of Kismayo — al-Shabab’s economic headquarters, located about 120 kilometers (75 miles) southeast of Afmadow.

The Kenyan military intervention followed Nairobi’s accusation that al-Shabab had kidnapped four European women, including two Spanish humanitarian aid workers, in Kenya over the past weeks.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991 when warlords overthrew former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

( / 25.10.2011)

Once-banned party wins in Tunisia elections, early results show

Tunis, Tunisia (CNN) — Official results have yet to be published, but preliminary returns appear to show that the once-banned moderate Islamist party Ennahada has won Tunisia’s historic elections, according to several political parties and Tunisian media outlets.

The front page of El Maghreb newspaper showed a giant photo of Ennahada leader Rachid Ghanouchi next to a saluting member of the presidential guard, with the caption “Ennahada close to the government?”

Meanwhile, the French-language daily Le Temps depicted a presidential throne on a pillar carrying the Ennahada logo, followed by smaller chairs atop two smaller columns labeled with the secular parties Congres pour la Republique [CPR] and Ettakatol.

Representatives from all three parties told CNN their preliminary results show that Ennahada captured first place, followed by CPR and Ettakatol. The parties were already looking forward to the possibility of establishing a governing coalition in the future 217-seat Constituent Assembly.

“It’s possible… I hope we can put a coalition of this type together,” said CPR leader Montsuf Marzouki, when asked about the possibility of establishing a coalition of the three apparent front-runners.

Marzouki said Tunisians had demonstrated in the country’s first free election in modern history their vision for the future of the country.

“Tunisians want centrist politics,” he said. “They want an Arab-Muslim identity (Ennahada) and also democracy and human rights represented by the two parties CPR and Ettakatol,” Marzouki added.

As early Monday night, top Ennahada party officials were already celebrating CPR and Ettakatol’s expected second and third place finishes in the vote count.

“We’re happy that the second and third party are serious parties that never resorted to scare tactics,” said Moadh Kheriji, Ghanouchi’s chief of staff.

But the rise of a party closely identified with Islam sounded alarm bells for Tunisian secularists.

Tuesday afternoon, a group of about 200 protesters gathered outside the headquarters of Tunisia’s electoral commission to denounce the expected Ennahada victory.

Some carried signs saying “No to fraud.”

( / 25.10.2011)

A New Special Report on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Is Peace Possible?” is a collaboration between The Atlantic and the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace on the opportunities and challenges of reaching a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and a future state of Palestine.

To many observers, the recent Palestinian decision to pursue a unilateral recognition of statehood at the United Nations signaled the end of hope in any possibility of a negotiated resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Dozens of initiatives over the past two decades have placed the two parties at the negotiating table and sought to find compromises to meet each side’s demands. Their inability to reach an agreement, despite the efforts of myriad world leaders and statesmen, has led many to believe that the Israelis and Palestinians are too far apart — that their demands are too irreconcilable — for them ever to reach a mutually agreeable peace deal.

But how far apart are they, really? Over the past year, the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace  has embarked on a project to pinpoint, in as objective manner as possible, the key demands that each side brings to the negotiating table on the core issues of the conflict. We evaluated the gaps between the two sides; we looked at how previous rounds of negotiations have attempted to bridge those  gaps; and finally we collected the most innovative proposals made by outside groups to resolve these issues — the work of task forces, conferences, working groups, think tanks, academics, NGOs, and civil society groups — many of which have received little exposure outside the small circle of policy wonks.

We defined the core issues as those that could make-or-break a final-status agreement: Borders, Security, Refugees, and Jerusalem. Is it possible to draw a border between Israel and a viable, contiguous state of Palestine, based on the 1967 lines, that includes within Israel’s new borders the vast majority of Israelis who currently live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem? Can Israel effectively protect itself in ways that are consistent with the establishment of a contiguous, viable, and sovereign state of Palestine? Is there an arrangement that can resolve the Palestinian refugee crisis while  preserving Israel as a Jewish state? Can Jerusalem serve as the capital of both Israel and the future state of Palestine?

There are certainly other contentious issues that need to be resolved at the negotiating table (such as water rights). We chose to focus on the four  that are generally agreed to be the core issues standing in the way of an agreement.

The underlying assumption of this project is that the two-state solution is the best way to resolve the conflict. The vast majority of both Israelis and Palestinians prefer this outcome (though doubt the commitment of the other side), and a similarly strong majority of both populations agree on the basic contours of the resolution. Creating an independent, viable state of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is the only way that Israel can remain a democracy and a Jewish state, stem the tide of international delegitimization, and be secure in its borders while accepted in the region (as we discuss in the Security chapter). The majority of Palestinians and the current Palestinian leadership still see the two-state solution (which they officially accepted in 1988) as the most realistic path to a state of their own, though they are growing increasingly frustrated with the inability of negotiations to achieve that goal. An alarming number of them are beginning to wonder whether they should instead ask for equal citizenship in Israel — which, if granted, would end Israel’s Jewish majority.

The core of this special report are multimedia presentations on each of the core issues, viewable as one full-length video (about 15 minutes long) or broken up into several subchapters.  They are narrated by Robert Wexler, the Center’s president and formerly a U.S. Congressman for 13 years, who contributed invaluable foreign-policy experience throughout the project’s conceptualization and execution. The presentations were created by the Center in conjunction with SAYA / Design for Change, a brilliant design firm based in Tel Aviv,  who not only spent countless hours creating the visuals and helping develop the content, but whose architectural and urban-planning work is also featured among the innovative solutions in the Jerusalem chapter.

To create these chapters, we met with dozens of former negotiators, military officials, politicians, legal scholars, diplomats, academics, and other  experts to make sure we accurately represented each side’s positions and the developments in previous negotiations. Many of them are listed as consultants below (though some have asked not to be named because they are currently serving in government or other sensitive positions). Particular  thanks to Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, for his vital help on these presentations.

We will be rolling out subsequent chapters each Monday over the next four weeks. We encourage you to weigh in on the various issues in the comments  section of each chapter. The title of this special report is purposefully phrased in the form of a question; you can certainly watch the four  presentations and decide that a peace deal that meets the needs of both sides is not, in fact, possible. Also, we couldn’t get to every aspect of every  issue in under 15 minutes, and many we had to gloss over quite quickly. So please ask any questions you might have in the comment section of each  chapter (or on Twitter: @IsPeacePossible), or suggest aspects you’d like to know more about. We’ll try to answer them in posts over the next few weeks.

Among the most interesting aspects of these presentations are the solutions proposed by outside groups. We are not endorsing any of these proposals as the way to address the various issues, but rather we hope to highlight interesting ideas that we believe deserve broader exposure. Some of the original reports are also quite technical and wonky, so we’ve tried to present them in ways that are more accessible to a mass audience. Each proposal  has its own flaws, but at the very least we believe they provide elements that could help move the two sides closer to an agreement. Beneath each video, you’ll find links to the proposals; we highly encourage you to take the time to read the reports, since we can rarely do them justice in their  full complexity. We’ve also included resources for more information on the issues and each side’s perspective.

Beyond the four presentations, our goal is for this special report to become a hub for discussion about the core issues of the conflict, and how they  may affect or be affected by the fast-changing developments in the region. We’ll be featuring essays from prominent thinkers, as well as regular posts analyzing current events in the region and highlighting some of the best commentary about the conflict.

Presenting a comprehensive report on the core issues of the conflict may seem like an exercise in futility at a time when the two sides seem further  than ever from the negotiating table, let alone reaching a final agreement. But the reality is that the true nature of this conflict can often be  obscured by the day-to-day politicking, grandstanding, and posturing that have come to define the conflict for most casual observers. The unbridled  pessimism espoused by all sides is partially responsible for today’s stalemate. A more sober analysis of the actual components of the conflict, and the  challenges and opportunities to address the needs of both sides, may be precisely what is needed to move the discussion in a more productive  direction.

( / 25.10.2011)

VN supports Palestine’s UN full membership

Vietnam supports the will of the State of Palestine and people to acquire full membership of the United Nations, said the Vietnamese representative to the UN.

“Vietnam follows closely developments related to the peace process in the Middle East, including the question of Palestine, and strongly supports the struggle and rights of the Palestinian people and all efforts for peace in the region, Ambassador Le Hoai Trung, Vietnamese Permanent Representative to the UN, said at the open debate of the UN Security Council on “The situation in the Middle East, including the question of Palestine” in New York on October 24.

Vietnam also supports negotiations between parties concerned and welcomes renewed efforts by the Quartet, the League of Arab States, regional countries and the United Nations to help promote the Israeli – Palestinian negotiations on all core issues, the Ambassador said.

He called for intensified efforts by the international community, in particular the Security Council and the Quartet, to address the current political and humanitarian crisis and to promote a just, lasting and comprehensive peaceful solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

( / 25.10.2011)

2 dead after security forces fire on demonstrators, medics say

At least two people were killed and 40 others injured when Yemeni government security forces opened fire on thousands of anti-government protesters in the country’s capital Tuesday, according to medical officials.

Dr. Mohammed Al-Qubati, a medic at a field hospital in Sanaa, said “security forces were shooting at protesters immediately after the protests started in Sanaa.” Eleven of the injured were in critical condition, he added.

Eyewitnesses in Sanaa said the violence against protesters happened on Qa’a Road, directly behind the Republican Hospital.

The protesters had come together to continue voicing their demand that Yemen’s embattled president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, step down.

Al-Qubati described a horrific scene at his field hospital in Change Square, the epicenter of the anti-government movement.

“The death toll will rise due to the lack of medical equipment we have to help save the injured,” the doctor said. “The government is committing a massacre here against unarmed youth.”

Government officials could not immediately be reached for comment, but the government has in the past blamed armed gangs for inciting violence and has said security forces are working to stop them.

This latest round of violence comes just one day after Saleh made comments welcoming a United Nations Security Council resolution, which calls on him to implement a Gulf Cooperation Council-backed initiative that would see him transfer power.

According to SABA, Yemen’s official state news agency, Saleh confirmed Monday the readiness of Yemen’s Ruling Party to immediately meet with the country’s opposition in order “to complete the dialogue over the operational mechanism for the (Gulf) initiative as soon as possible and to reach the final signing of the initiative and its immediate implementation, which would lead to early presidential elections on a date agreed upon by all.”

While Saleh has repeatedly promised to sign the GCC-backed deal, he has not done so.

Friday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned the months of violence in Yemen. But the resolution stopped short of explicitly calling for Saleh’s resignation.

The proposed Gulf council-brokered accord, which is backed by the United States and the European Union, would allow Saleh to resign from power in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

The Security Council resolution, passed by a 15-0 vote, demands that Yemen allow peaceful demonstrations and end crackdowns on civilians.

( / 25.10.2011)

Israel still demolishing Palestinian homes in occupied Jerusalem

Israel still demolishing Palestinian homes in occupied JerusalemThe Israelis impose many restrictions on Jerusalem residents to prevent them from obtaining building permits. 

Israel is continuing with its policy of demolishing the homes of Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem on the pretext that the properties do not have official permits. In at least one case, the home owner was forced to demolish his home himself; failure to do so would have landed the man with demolition by the authorities and a heavy fine. A staggering 95 percent of building permit applications submitted by Palestinians are refused by the Israeli authorities.Jerusalem resident Ahmed Abdul Rahim Al-Bilbeisi told Quds Press that staff from the Israeli occupation municipality handed him an order to stop working on his house which, it was claimed, is built on “unauthorized” ground. The local court then issued an order to demolish the house located in Yakoute El-Hamawi Street, in the Gouze Valley. Mr Al-Bilbeisi said that he had to demolish his house with his own hands in order to avoid a fine of 50,000 shekels (around £8,500) which the court said it would impose if he didn’t abide by the demolition order. In addition, he would have had to pay for the authorities to demolish his home. He was given until the 25th October to fulfil the court order.

According to Al-Bilbeisi, he built his house in 2008 for $25,000 even though the Israelis refused his application for a building permit simply because his old home was too small for his growing family.

The Israelis impose many restrictions on Jerusalem residents to prevent them from obtaining building permits. Official statistics indicate that despite Jerusalem’s needs for 2,000 housing units to meet natural population growth fewer than 20 permits are approved annually.

The Jerusalem Centre for Social and Economic Rights (JCSER) asserts that the Israelis charge very high fees for building permits of between $25,000 and $30,000. Palestinians have to wait an average of five to ten years to get the licence. The statistics show that 45 houses were demolished in 2010, with 200 people being displaced. A total of 116 demolition orders were issued in the same period.

The Jerusalem authorities say that there are about 20,000 “illegal” buildings in occupied East Jerusalem, including 657 in the Silwan neighbourhood alone. If all of the demolition orders are carried out, nearly 120,000 citizens of the holy city will be displaced. In1997, the Israeli authorities established a special police unit to follow up house demolition issues.

( / 25.10.2011)