In Gaza, lives shaped by drones

GAZA CITY — The buzz began near midnight on a cool evening last month, a dull distantpurr that within moments swelled into the rattling sound of an outboard motor common on the fishing boats working just offshore.

At a busy downtown traffic circle not far from the dormant port, a pickup truck full of police pulled up abruptly. The half-dozen men spilled into the streets.

“Inside, inside,” the officers, all of them bearded in the style favored by the Hamas movement that runs Gaza, urged passersby. Then, pointing to the sky, one muttered, “Zenana, zenana.”

The word is the Arabic term that Gazans have given to Israel’s drone aircraft, a ubiquitous and frightening feature of daily life in this crowded strip of land along the sea. Roughly translated, zenana means buzz. But in neighboring Egypt, a source of Gaza custom and culture, the term is slang used to describe a relentlessly nagging wife.

The light-hearted description belies the drones’ jarring effect on life in Gaza, where 1.6 million Palestinians live in cramped refugee camps, breeze-block houses and high-rise apartments built among olive orchards, palm groves and rolling dunes.

The landscape provides cover for Palestinian militants, who in recent years have fired thousands of rockets — some improvised, some military-grade — into Israel’s besieged southern towns and cities. In the call-and-response conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the missile fire has repeatedly provoked Israel to invade, its tanks and troops ebbing and flowing from the strip’s broken streets.

But the most enduring reminder of Israel’s unblinking vigilance and its unfettered power to strike at a moment’s notice is the buzz of circling drones — a soundtrack also provided by American drones over Pakistan’s tribal areas and, increasingly, parts of East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

The U.S. drone war is largely invisible, carried out in remote regions sometimes beyond the boundaries of America’s battlefields. U.S. officials are reticent to discuss the program, which President Obama has relied on more than his predecessor to kill enemies. Israel’s close-quarters conflict with Palestinians in the relatively accessible Gaza Strip offers a vivid view of the remote-controlled combat, and of the lives of those affected by these tools of modern war.

Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers from Gaza in the summer of 2005, ending a nearly 40-year presence in a territory its forces occupied in the 1967 Middle East War. In 2006 Hamas gunmen captured the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit just outside Gaza’s fortified boundary, and since then, Israel has stepped up military operations and aerial surveillance in the strip.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights says 825 people have been killed by drones in Gaza since the capture of Shalit, who was released in October. Most of those killed, according to the organization, have been civilians mistakenly targeted or caught in the deadly shrapnel shower of a drone strike. By comparison, the New America Foundationsays U.S. drones have killed at least 1,807 militants and civilians in Pakistan since 2006.

( / 03.12.2011)

Saudi Arabia accused of repression after Arab Spring

Amnesty International has accused Saudi Arabia of reacting to the Arab Spring by launching a wave of repression.

In a report, the human rights group said hundreds of people had been arrested, many of them without charge or trial.

Prominent reformists had been given long sentences following trials Amnesty called “grossly unfair”.

So far unrest has largely been confined to the Shia minority in the east of the country.

The report comes a little more than a week after clashes in the eastern region of Qatif left four people dead – apparently the first deaths in this year’s unrest.

Shia in the area have complained for years of economic discrimination and religious persecution, and were angered by the harsh suppression of Shia protesters in neighbouring Bahrain earlier this year. Saudi troops entered Bahrain to assist the authorities there.

‘Blindfolded and handcuffed’

In its 73-page report published on Thursday, Amnesty accuses the Saudi authorities of arresting hundreds of people for demanding political and social reforms or for calling for the release of relatives detained without charge or trial.

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The abusive practices being employed by the Saudi Arabian government are worryingly similar to those which they have long used against people accused of terrorist offences.”

Philip LutherAmnesty Interantional

The report says that since February, when sporadic demonstrations began – in defiance of a permanent national ban on protests – the Saudi government has carried out a crackdown that has included the arrest of mainly Shia Muslims in the restive Eastern Province.

Since March, more than 300 people who took part in peaceful protests in Qatif, Ahsa and Awwamiya in the east have been detained, Amnesty says. Most have been released, often after promising not to protest again. Many face travel bans.

Last week 16 men, including nine prominent reformists, were given sentences ranging from five to 30 years in prison. Amnesty said they were blindfolded and handcuffed during their trial, while their lawyer was not allowed to enter the court for the first three sessions.

“Peaceful protesters and supporters of political reform in the country have been targeted for arrest in an attempt to stamp out the kinds of call for reform that have echoed across the region,” said Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director, Philip Luther.

“While the arguments used to justify this wide-ranging crackdown may be different, the abusive practices being employed by the Saudi Arabian government are worryingly similar to those which they have long used against people accused of terrorist offences,” he said.

Amnesty says that the government continues to detain thousands of people on terrorism-related grounds. Torture and other ill-treatment in detention are widespread, it says – an allegation Saudi Arabia has always denied.

‘Foreign parties’

The BBC’s Security correspondent Frank Gardner says Saudi Arabia has so far resisted the wave of change that has swept over much of the Arab world.

Our correspondent says the kingdom’s ageing monarch, King Abdullah, has reacted by releasing billions of dollars into the security and religious establishments, two of the pillars that support his ruling Al-Saud family.

Amnesty says the government has drafted an anti-terror law that would effectively criminalise dissent as a “terrorist crime” and allow extended detention without charge or trial.

Questioning the integrity of the king would carry a minimum prison sentence of 10 years, according to Amnesty.

The four who died in Qatif last week were killed when security forces opened fire using live ammunition, an indication that tensions in the predominantly Shia Eastern Province continue to escalate.

The interior ministry said the four were “armed aggressors hiding among civilians.” A ministry spokesman blamed “foreign parties” – usually code for Iran- for fomenting unrest.

But a Shia activist told the BBC that at least one of those killed was unarmed when he was shot dead at a checkpoint for failing to stop. The others died the following day as protests erupted at his funeral, he said.

“Rather than deal with legitimate demands, the government is taking the easy route and blaming everything on a conspiracy by the Iranians,” said the activist, who asked not to be named for fear of repercussions.

( / 03.12.2011)

Health ministry: Gaza lacks 260 types of medicine

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — The Ministry of Health in the Gaza Strip has said that there is a medical crisis in the coastal enclave, with over 260 types of medicines unavailable to residents.

On Saturday, the ministry called on President Abbas to protect the rights of sick Gaza residents, a statement said.

It urged international and local humanitarian organizations to pressure the Palestinian Authority to better regulate the quantities of medicine exported to the Gaza Strip, which it said were only half of the amount hoped for by the World Bank.

The ministry in Ramallah is not following the principles of reconciliation, the Gaza ministry added.

( / 03.12.2011)

EU Imposes Sanctions on Al-Watan Newspaper and Cham Press Website

DAMASCUS, (SANA) – In clear disregard for the freedom of opinion and expression that western countries claim to champion and vaunt, the European Union on Friday imposed sanctions on the Syrian newspaper al-Watan and Cham Press news website.

This step constitutes a clear attempt by western countries to eliminate the opinions that differ from what they wish to promote which contradict reality and fact.

Eaelrier in September, the EU imposed sanctions on Addounia TV and blocked it from broadcasting on European satellites.

H. Sabbagh

( / 03.12.2011)

Free medical treatment makes Palestinian children smile again

New lease of life

  • 11-year-old Bisan (left) shares a light moment with Maree Ohlin at the Emirates Hospital in Dubai.
Dubai: Oday Al Jamal was only five years old when he was injured in an explosion in Gaza. His right leg had to be amputated below the knee while his left leg was severely damaged. The injuries left deep scars on the child’s personality. He longed to ride his bicycle and play other sports.

The suffering went on for almost seven years, but today with the help of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF), a humanitarian organisation, which brought him from Gaza to Dubai for treatment, Oday is practising walking with his prosthetic leg.

The doctors here have also performed a surgery on his other leg to correct bone alignment.

“I am very happy to get on my bike again, I am also able to swim and walk. I have been going to the Jumeirah beach here,” the 12-year-old said struggling to find words to describe his joy.

Oday is one of the five children who were brought by the UAE chapter of PCRF from Palestine for their treatment in Dubai.

Positive difference

“We were able to locate free medical treatment for these children and carry out the entire process with the help of our patient support team volunteers, organisations that came to provide free treatment and also host families that provided the safe and secure environment of their homes for these children during their stay.

“This year we were able to bring five children and the UAE chapter has helped 51 children so far,” said Eman Odeh Yabroudi, coordinator of the UAE chapter of PCRF.

Medical treatment in Dubai has made a positive difference in the lives of these children. Organisations like Little Wings Foundation and support from volunteers ensured that the entire process was carried out smoothly.

As in the case of two-year-old Lana, whose family was always worried about their daughter who had vision in only one eye and also walked with a limp. She was born with a case of bilateral congenital glaucoma and bilateral hip displacement.

After undergoing a procedure on her hip, her family is relieved that she will be able to walk and grow properly. The doctors also treated her eye.

Normal life

“I have always been concerned about my daughter and I want her to live a normal life and I am hopeful now that she will grow properly,” said Eman, her mother, who was in Dubai with her daughter.

Among the other children who were treated was 11-year-old Bisan, who suffered wounds from explosives in her abdomen and chest.

Plastic reconstructive surgery was performed on her at a local hospital to allow for proper growth in her chest and to remove scar tissue.

Two-year-old Zain was born blind due to a congenital birth defect, had ocular implants that were custom designed for her by specialists at Moorefield.

Hassan, a 14-year-old boy from Gaza, sustained a leg injury from an explosion. The injury caused differences in the comparative length of his legs. His condition was addressed using orthopaedic shoes custom-made for him.

( / 03.12.2011)

Arab League gives Syria deadline on observers


Slaps 19 Syrian officials with a ban on travel to Arab states and gave Damascus until Sunday to accept monitors.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has often criticised Arab League statements in the past [AFP]

An Arab League ministerial committee handed down a travel ban on 19 Syrian officials to Arab states and has presented an ultimatium to Damascus to accept observers to monitor the unrest in the country.

Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, the Qatari prime minister, announced the new deadline for Syria to avoid sanctions after a meeting in Doha to discuss the measures decided against Damascus over its crackdown on eight months of

“During the meeting we contacted Damascus… and we asked them to come tomorrow (to Doha) to sign” the protocol on sending observers to Damascus, said Jassim al Thani.

“We are waiting for a reply,” he said. “As Arabs we fear that if the situation continues things will get out of Arab control.”

According to the Reuters news agency, the Arab League has also approved of cutting flights to Syria by 50 per cent.

The Arab League last Sunday approved sweeping sanctions against Assad’s government over the crackdown, the first time that the bloc has enforced such measures against one of its own members.

The vote on sanctions came after Damascus defied an earlier ultimatum to accept observers under an Arab League peace plan and put an end to the eight-month crackdown.

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said last month that the wording of the text to send observers undermined the country’s sovereignty because it “totally ignores the Syrian state, even coordination with the Syrian state.”

Ongoing violence

At least 25 people have died in fierce fighting between Syrian security forces and army rebels in northern Syria as violence intensified in the eighth month of unrest against President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Opposition groups on Saturday said rebel forces are increasing their attacks on security forces loyal to the government, which are trying to suppress the revolt against 41 years of Assad family rule.


The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting broke out around midnight in the northern city of Idlib, near the Turkish border.

“Seven were killed from the army and regime security forces, including an army officer,” the group said. “Three civilians and five defectors were also killed.”

Violence was also reported from the central city of Homs and the southern Deraa province by mid-day, the human rights group said.

In Homs, a hotbed of armed revolt against the military crackdown on protests, two men were shot dead, one by a sniper, the organisation said.

‘Systematic violations’

The group said security forces were also conducting raids in rural Deraa province, cradle of the anti-Assad movement. It said one civilian was killed and five were wounded during morning raids in the town of Tafas.

The United Nations’ top human rights forum on Friday had condemned Syria for “gross and systematic” violations by its forces, including executions and the imprisonment of some 14,000 people.

Syria condemned the UN vote on human rights violations by the country’s security forces as “unjust,” and said it was based on false information from the regime’s foes.

The UN Human Rights Council resolution passed in a vote on Friday was “unjust” and “prepared in advance by parties hostile to Syria,” the foreign ministry said in a statement carried by state news agency SANA.

Syrian authorities say they are fighting foreign-backed “terrorist groups” trying to spark civil war who have killed some 1,100 soldiers and police since March.

More than 4,000 people have died since protests broke out in March, according to the United Nations, which says the violence in Syria looks like civil war.

( / 03.12.2011)

Israel finds Egypt vote result disturbing


Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak says the initial result of the Egyptian elections are “very disturbing,” amid fears that the Muslim Brotherhood will end the long-standing peace treaty between the two.

“The process of Islamisation in Arab countries is very worrying,” Israel’s Channel Two television quoted Barak as saying.

In addition, Israel also worries that the MB will seek closer ties with the Palestinian Resistance Movement of Hamas, which controls the besieged Gaza Strip.

The MB is expected to have received 32.5 percent of the votes in the first phase of the elections that was held on Monday and Tuesday.

Full results were meant to be published on Wednesday. However, the results have been withheld by the electoral commission due to differences over key posts in the parliament.

The election for Egypt’s lower house is being held in three phases over six weeks and is the country’s first since the ouster of former dictator Hosni Mubarak in February.

Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 following days of secret negotiations at Camp David, US.

Hamas had on Saturday hailed the partial results of the election with Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhum saying, “It is a very good result… it will mean more and more support for Palestinians issues.”

“The relationship of the next regime in Egypt with the Palestinians will be very good,” Barhum said.

Israel shares a long border with Egypt and both have a frontier with the Gaza Strip. For years, with the help of Cairo, Israel has managed to impose a crippling blockade on the Palestinian territory.

Tel Aviv has worried that a regime change in Egypt would spell the end of the Gaza siege.

( / 03.12.2011)