De Dag van het Land

Op zondag 31 maart zal de bijeenkomst van de Dag van het Land  van 14.00-18.00 uur in de Stadsgehoorzaal van Vlaardingen plaatsvinden.

De Palestijnse volksdansgroep Al Istiqlal zal op die middag optreden.

Sprekers uit binnen en buitenland, veiling van Palestijnse producten en kraampjes met Palestijnse hapjes.

De plaatsen zijn beperkt, dus wees snel, want OP is OP.

poster dvhl 2013 met foto

Release of Arafat death probe results delayed

An Al Jazeera investigation in 2012 turned the spotlight to the cause of Arafat’s death [Reuters]
The results of a probe into claims that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was poisoned by polonium will not be known until the end of May, the Swiss lab carrying out the tests has said.

“There are two series of tests that have to be carried out. The first one is complete and we’re going to start the second one, so there won’t be tangible results until the end of May,” said Darcy Christen, spokesman for the Laussane lab.The Swiss University Centre of Legal Medicine in Lausanne announced the delay in the results, which were previously estimated to be released in three to four months, after Arafat’s body was exhumed in November.

The tests were partly a result of an Al Jazeera’s investigation into the death of the Palestinian leader, who died in November 2004 in a French hospital, which discovered abnormal traces of the radioactive substance, polonium-210, in Arafat’s personal effects.

Experts took some 60 samples from his remains after the exhumation, the samples were distributed among three teams doing seperate analyses: the Lausanne lab, a French team carrying out a probe at the request of Arafat’s widow Suha, and Russian experts appointed by the Palestianian Authority.

The Palestinian Authority has said it will petition the International Criminal Court in The Hague if proof is found that the veteran leader was poisoned.

(Source / 07.03.2013)

Syria opposition to pick interim PM next week

Meeting to choose leader who will oversee creation of interim government is to be held in Turkish city of Istanbul.

The opposition wants to create a provisional government to administer rebel-held areas in Syria
Syria’s opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Coalition, will meet in the Turkish city of Istanbul next week to elect a provisional prime minister to run a political transition if President Bashar al-Assad falls, coalition members said.

The opposition wants to create a provisional government to administer rebel-held areas in Syria and to show it can fill a power vacuum left by collapsing state institutions, putting structures in place to curb chaos in a post-Assad era.

The Istanbul meeting – to be held on March 12 and 13 – was called after former Prime Minister Riad Hijab, the highest-ranking civilian defector from Assad’s government, withdrew his candidacy, several coalition members said on Thursday.

Hijab had run into opposition from Islamists and liberals in the coalition for his past ties with Syria’s ruling hierarchy.

“The field of candidates has been expanding since Hijab withdrew,” said one coalition member who asked not to be named.

The opposition had planned to meet on March 2, but postponed the talks partly because of Hijab’s withdrawal, he said.

Hijab said in a statement he had informed the coalition’s president, Moaz Al Khatib, that he would not join the provisional government after talks in Cairo last month, but gave no reason.

Coalition sources said the Syrian National Council, a large Muslim Brotherhood-influenced bloc within the 71-member coalition, had chosen three candidates for prime minister.

They are Salem al-Muslet, a tribal figure from northeastern Syria who worked at think-tanks in the Gulf; Osama al-Qadi, a US-educated economist who heads an opposition taskforce drawing up plans for post-conflict economic recovery; and veteran opposition campaigner Burhan Ghalioun, a professor from Homs and previous president of the Syrian National Council.

Asaad Mustafa, a former agriculture minister during the 30-year rule of Assad’s father, the late President Hafez al-Assad, is also in the running, the sources said.

Muslet and Ghalioun, however, are members of the coalition, whose rules state that only non-members can join the provisional government.

Voting blocs

It is not a foregone conclusion that the often-postponed project for a provisional government, which has received only lukewarm international support, will go ahead in Istanbul.

Another idea is to form an executive body to help administer rebel-held areas without calling it a government as such.

“International powers have given political recognition to the coalition, which is an assembly, but they are not keen to recognise a provisional government because it won’t have control over the rebel brigades,” one coalition source said.

The coalition, formed with Arab and Western backing in Qatar at the end of last year, is broadly made up of three voting blocs, insiders say.

The Muslim Brotherhood and its Syrian National Council and other allies can garner around 33 votes, short of the simple majority needed to elect their candidate as prime minister.

Another bloc of about 28 members revolves around the coalition’s secretary-general, Mustafa Sabbagh, a Syrian businessman well connected in the Gulf who has a good working relationship with Al Khatib and with his deputy, veteran opposition leader Riad Seif, who founded the coalition.

Holding the balance are about 10 independents. They include Kamal al-Labwani, a liberal physician jailed under Assad for  six years after visiting the United States to seek help in freeing political prisoners in Syria, and Haitham al-Maleh, a former judge with a long record of opposition to Assad family rule.

(Source / 07.03.2013)

Insight: Palestinian street boils at plight of prisoners

  • A stone-throwing Palestinian runs past tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers during clashes that broke out after the funeral of a Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli jail, in the West Bank city of Hebron, in this February 25, 2013 file photo. REUTERS-Ammar Awad-Files
A Palestinian woman takes part in a protest calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails near the Red Cross headquarters in East Jerusalem February 28, 2013. REUTERS-Ammar Awad
A Palestinian holds a placard depicting a prisoner jailed in Israel during a protest in the West Bank city of Ramallah calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails in this February 17, 2013 file photo. REUTERS-Mohamad Torokman-Files

(Reuters) – In a sprawling Israeli prison, Palestinian activist Hassan Karajeh sat through a hurried court hearing in a language he didn’t understand under the authority of a military occupation he and his people reject.

The translator in the cramped portacabin-turned-courtroom seldom bothered to relay the military judge’s words, and the tall, bearded detainee spent most of the time whispering to his family and blowing kisses to his young fiancée.

Outside Ofer Prison’s walls and throughout the West Bank, Israeli troops have clashed in recent weeks with Palestinian protesters fed up with Israeli detention policies, an emblem of what they see as Israel’s unjust rule over their lives.

The violence raised concern in Israel that it could snowball into a third mass Palestinian uprising if either of two detainees on a months-long hunger strike dies, further burying hopes of reviving a long-stalled peace process.

Some 4,800 Palestinians are held in Israeli jails and are feted at home as political prisoners or freedom fighters. Israel says the majority are terrorists with blood on their hands, and some have pleaded guilty to killing Israeli civilians en masse.

But the arrests have netted 15 members of parliament, a football player, a political cartoonist, hundreds of stone-throwing youths and a handful of what Amnesty International calls human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience.

Karajeh, a member of the “Stop the Wall” rights group that campaigns against Israel’s vast metal and concrete separation barrier in the West Bank, has yet to be charged.

“We’re just confused,” said Sundous Mahsiri, his fiancée and a student at a local university. “Their group doesn’t even organize protests, only advocacy work. None of this makes any sense to us.”

Seized from his house in the dead of night on January 22, Karajeh has spent the last five weeks in solitary confinement, and complains of being denied medicine for an old leg injury.

According to Israel’s military laws in the occupied West Bank, Palestinians can be held for 90 days without charge. In cases that prosecutors believe are especially sensitive, detention can be indefinite.

MASSIVE DEMONSTRATIONS

The latest hearing ended with Karajeh being dispatched back to his interrogators and away again from loved ones, in a pattern that is making Palestinians increasingly furious.

When an apparently healthy, 30-year-old Palestinian died last month after a week in interrogation, massive demonstrations rocked the West Bank.

Palestinian leaders said the man was tortured to death. Israel rejects this, saying cracked ribs and bruises found in an autopsy were likely caused by resuscitation efforts. But it said more tests were needed to determine why the father of two died.

Samer al-Issawi and Ayman Sharawneh, the two hunger strikers at the heart of the recent unrest, were sentenced by Israel to decades behind bars after being convicted of attacking Israeli civilians on behalf of armed groups.

They were released in a prisoner swap in 2011 only to be re-arrested last year and told to serve out their full sentences for fleeing jurisdiction and engaging in unspecified “terror activities”.

In coffins or as free men, they have resolved to extract themselves from the legal maze.

Unrest in solidarity with their cause just weeks before U.S. President Barack Obama is due to visit Jerusalem and Ramallah may yet apply pressure on Israel to cut a deal for the release of the duo, while keeping detention policies intact.

Few issues raise as much passion or fury as the question of the prisoners, uniting the fractured Palestinian political landscape unlike any other issue.

“There’s no Hamas, no Islamic Jihad and no Fatah when it comes to the sons of the Palestinian people, our heroic prisoners,” one activist shouted through a bullhorn at a protest in the West Bank city of Ramallah last week, listing the main factions that are often deeply at odds.

Local authorities estimate that some 800,000 Palestinians have been detained under Israeli military orders since the 1967 war when Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. That represents around 40 percent of the male population and few families have not been directly impacted.

MILITARY TRIBUNALS

The Palestinian Liberation Organisation says those who are charged face a “staggering” 99 percent conviction case in the military tribunals.

“Israel’s military courts, in all the versions of their work, exist to facilitate the policies of its occupation,” said Jawad Boulos, a veteran lawyer for Palestinian detainees.

But arrests have helped paralyze militant groups that launched attacks on Israeli civilians — including during the Second Uprising (Intifada) between 2000-2005.

Israel says that in the wake of a brief, bloody war in Gaza at the end of November, it has noted a “marked increase in attempts to execute terrorist attacks against Israeli security forces or civilians” and has stepped up detentions.

“These arrests take place following intelligence indications of terrorist activity,” the Israeli military told Reuters.

Palestinian leaders are keen to gain prisoners’ freedom to shore up their standing in the eyes of their people, making them useful bargaining chips for Israel.

Islamist group Hamas gained the release of 1,027 prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier it abducted in 2006 and held in Gaza for five years.

It was the biggest such exchange carried out by Israel and was widely seen as a triumph for the Palestinian cause.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, hoping to regain the initiative from his militant rivals in Hamas, has since said he would return to the negotiating table only if more prisoners went free — especially those incarcerated before the 1993 Oslo Accords that granted the Palestinians limited self-rule.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev hinted that more Palestinian detainees might be released in future as a “confidence-building measure”, but could give no guarantees about the long-term prisoners sentenced for violence.

“It’s a difficult issue given that these people in jail pre-Oslo were sentenced to extended sentences for horrendous crimes,” he said.

COLONIAL LEGACY

More than the fate of the 108 “pre-Oslo” prisoners, it is Israel’s use of “administrative detention” that remains a main lightning rod of popular anger.

Scores of suspected militants are in jail under the measure, which was adapted from Britain’s colonial laws when it governed Palestine, and relies on secret evidence that is presented in closed military courts.

Led by a small group of administrative detainees, a mass Palestinian hunger strike last May was defused by an Egyptian-mediated deal in which prisoners agreed to back off from their protest if Israel curtailed administrative detention.

Since then, the number of Palestinians held without charge has fallen from 308 to 178.

Israel says the practice was sanctioned by international law as a means of pre-empting violence and protecting sources as long as a peace deal with the Palestinians remains elusive.

“We’re dealing with hardcore terrorist organizations that have no compunction whatsoever about taking immediate, violent retribution against those testifying in an open court,” Regev said.

The May deal did not bring total calm to the prisons, with occasional hunger strikes still rumbling on.

Protesters have for a month held a weekly sit-in outside the Ramallah Red Cross in solidarity with the hunger strikers.

Among dozens of protesters at one rally stood a frail-looking Thaer Halahla, whose 68-day hunger strike gained his freedom from administrative lock-up last year.

Despite having to undergo two operations on his damaged organs, Halahla said hunger striking was a powerful tool against an unjust system.

“It was the most difficult decision a man can take. I did it despite the pain and the threats and pressure from our guards – I felt I was close to martyrdom at any moment,” he said.

Last week, Israel struck a deal to free soon two fasting men on administrative detention, leaving just al-Issawi and Sharawneh on the list of long-term hunger strikers.

PROTESTS, PREGNANCIES

In al-Issawiya, Samer’s home village, his kinsmen have engaged in rock-throwing clashes with Israeli riot police for much of his six-month fast. A tent set up to hold vigils for him has been taken down by Israeli forces 33 times.

“No matter how many courts he’s subjected to, we know that his detention is political and people will keep fighting against it,” said his sister, Shireen, a lawyer who has spent a year in Israeli prison.

Palestinians aren’t waiting for a diplomatic deus ex machina to try to live a normal life.

A Palestinian fertility center has offered free insemination treatment to the wives of long-term prisoners, whose sperm they sneak out of Israeli prison and on to the next generation. The campaign has led to one delivery and six pregnancies.

Umm Ali, a woman protesting outside the Red Cross, recalled how she was able to help her son, Refaat Maarif, a prisoner serving a 15-year sentence, get his wife pregnant.

“Prison will not keep our men from having a legacy and passing down their name,” Umm Ali said. “The world must realize that the issue of prisoners is the issue of Palestine. If it’s not solved, nothing else will be.”

(Source / 07.03.2013)

Netherlands calls on stores to label products from Israeli settlements

Dutch follow British lead, but emphasize it is not illegal to import goods from territories. Other European countries expected to follow suit in coming weeks.

A grocery store in the Netherlands.

A grocery store in the Netherlands.
The Dutch government has for the first time called for retail chains in the Netherlands to state the origin of products from West Bank settlements, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. This makes the Netherlands, one of Israel’s greatest friends in Europe, the second country in the European Union, after Britain, to recommend such labeling.

The Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs issued a directive Wednesday to all retail chains in the country, stating that it wished to clarify procedures regarding the labeling of products from the settlements and to assist consumers. “The decision was made after consulting the European Commission,” the document said.

The letter states that the government is recommending the label change but that no steps will be taken against retails who do not comply, and that it is not illegal to import products from the settlements.

The document calls for the labeling of the following products: fresh fruit and vegetables, wine, honey, olive oil, fish, meat, chicken, eggs and cosmetics produced in the Golan Heights, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. These products should no longer state on their packaging that they are made in Israel. Rather, they should be labeled as originating in “Israeli settlement in the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, the West Bank or in Palestinian territories,” the directive states. Retailers, not importers, will be responsible for the labeling.

The Netherlands’ foreign minister, Frans Timmermans, said in a speech to parliament Wednesday that the settlements are illegal and an obstacle to peace. He said that the labeling of products by retail chains in Holland will allow consumers to know whether they want to purchase these products. “We do not want to contribute to the economy of the illegal settlements,” Timmermans said.

The Dutch government’s decision came following a letter sent on February 22 by the EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton to the 27 foreign ministers of the EU member states. In the letter, which was quoted by the Hebrew daily Maariv, she urged the foreign ministers to ensure full compliance with existing EU legislation on labeling products from Israeli settlements and noted that compliance was incumbent on EU members and the appropriate agencies in those countries.

A source in Israel’s Foreign Ministry said that after Ashton sent the letter, Israel’s ambassadors in EU countries were instructed to unofficially approach the foreign ministries of the countries in which they are serving and ask them not to implement the directives at this time. The ambassadors also asked those countries to urge Ashton to rescind her directive.

Israel’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Haim Divon, approached senior officials in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Hague to express displeasure over Ashton’s letter. Divon said that although the directive speaks only of labeling products from the settlements, it will lead to a boycott against such products and perhaps against Israeli products in general.

Divon said that many Dutch companies will not understand the government’s recommendation and will interpret it as a binding ban on products from the settlements. Divon told the senior officials that “obsessive preoccupation with the settlements had exceeded all proportion” and that “the European Union is taking out its frustration with the situation in the Middle East on us.”

The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Divon that the labeling of the products was a logical step in light of EU policy on the matter. They said they do not support a total ban on products from the settlements or on Israeli products in general, and they would work to ensure that this did not happen.

A government recommendation to label products from the settlements has been issued so far only in Britain. The Danish government studied the matter but has yet to take action. The fact that Holland was the second country to issue the directives is surprising, because of the close and friendly relations between Holland and Israel.

The Netherlands, considered one of Israel’s key supporters in the EU, has promoted adding Hezbollah to the EU’s list of terror groups and supports Israel in votes in various international forums. It has also helped Israel balance anti-Israel decisions in the EU.

Thus, it is believed that the Dutch move will push many other EU countries to take similar steps. The concern is that as early as the coming weeks a wave of such moves will be seen, leading to a dramatic increase in the monitoring of products from the settlements in the EU.

(Source / 07.03.2013)

Canadian students challenge Harper’s support for Israeli apartheid

Activists in Montreal protest during Israel’s bombing of Gaza last November.

A new alliance of on-campus Palestine solidarity groups has been launched in Canada.

The Canadian Student Coalition for Palestine is hoping to build on recent triumphs by the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Its formation follows votes by seven student unions in Canadian universities — including two campuses in theUniversity of Toronto — to support the BDS call over the past year.

“There are Palestinian solidarity groups across Canadian universities, and though each group is fighting almost identical battles, we are each fighting alone, and now we have the opportunity to come together under a collective coalition,” said Sabrina Azraq, co-president of Toronto Students for Justice in Palestine.

Having launched the alliance at a conference in London, Ontario last month, organizers are already planning a follow-up assembly in Toronto toward the end of the year.

There is a long history of Palestine solidarity activism on Canada’s campuses; in 1999, several student Palestine advocacy groups in Montreal unified to create Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights. It rose to national prominence in 2002 when protested against a planned visit by Benjamin Netanyahu, then an opposition leader in Israel, to Concordia University in Montreal. Netanyahu’s speech was cancelled as a result (“Discordia: When Netanyahu came to town,” Palestine Solidarity Review, Fall 2004).

“Duty to stand up”

Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights functioned as a national organization for most of the 2000s, and SPHR chapters have continued to spring up on campuses. However, national coordination of campus Palestine activism has been sporadic, even as the number of groups has grown and their achievements have received national and international attention.

Israeli Apartheid Week, now in its eighth year and marked on hundreds of campuses globally, was launched by the Arab Students Collective at the University of Toronto in 2005.

The success of Students for Justice in Palestine in the United States in coordinating over the past few years was remarked upon by several participants in the recent conference in Ontario. “Students have historically led revolutionary movements in the past. It’s our duty to stand up for human rights … our voices will alter the next generation and hopefully lead to a free Palestine,” said Sahar el-Kotob of SPHR at the University of Western Ontario.

Like their counterparts in the US, student activists in Canada have experienced censorship when seeking to demonstrate solidarity with Palestinians.

Students at McMaster University were prohibited from using the term “Israeli apartheid” in 2008 (“Fact sheet related to “Israeli apartheid” ban,” Window Into Palestine, 25 February 2008.)

Additionally, students at the University of Western Ontario were banned from holding events for a year after displaying a map of historic Palestine as part of a 2005 protest against Israel’s wall in the West Bank (“SPHR banned from atrium,” The Gazette, 8 November 2005).

And Jenny Peto, a post-graduate researcher at the University of Toronto, has been attacked by members of parliament and national newspapers for her critical scholarship and activism (“When neo-con politicians, media attack academics,” Rabble, 26 January 2011).

“Stigmatized”

“Palestinian activists do feel silenced on campus. We feel like our hands are tied and we are stigmatized due to our political stance,” said el-Kotob.

But some students believe that the the recent BDS victories are helping them challenge the landscape of repression. “Students are winning the battle against repression and silencing on campus,” said Tristan Laing from the University of Toronto. “Even the mayor of New York told pro-Israeli supporters trying to shut down a BDS event to ‘shut up.’ However, an issue less discussed is the silencing specifically of Arab and Muslim groups who are particular targets for normalization, and particularly vulnerable to repression and silencing because of racism and Islamophobia.”

Repression on campus is reinforced by the position of Stephen Harper’s federal government. Jason Kenney, Harper’s minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism, has repeatedly attacked Israeli Apartheid Week, alleging this month that it was “toxic” and at odds with Canadian values of “tolerance, mutual respect and understanding” (“Minister Kenney issues statement regarding Israel Apartheid Week,” Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 4 March 2013).

Saying “no”

“We have to take the issue back … to say, no, Canadians do not support illegal detention, occupation, apartheid. Canadians say no, even if our officials won’t speak for us,” said Nusaiba al-Azem of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights at the University of Western Ontario.

Student organizers also drew attention to the growing Idle No More movement, which binds together indigenous people across Canada. A number of Palestine solidarity groups have expressed their support for this movement.

Haneen Karajah of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights at the University of British Columbia said, “We need to work on cross-movement solidarity. It’s very important for us to connect with indigenous movements, because we relate to each other on more than one level. As Palestinians living here, it’s very important to work with and support indigenous communities to reconcile the fact that we are also settlers here on their land.”

(Source / 07.03.2013)

Israel warns of Lebanon pain in next war with Hezbollah

Israeli reserve soldiers run during a drill at a military zone in southern Israel, March 7.

 

REVIVIM, Israel (Reuters) — Wary of a spillover from the conflict in Syria, Israel is preparing to take on the Hezbollah militia that it suspects is getting advanced weapons from a distracted Damascus.

Israel believes the Lebanese Shiite movement also stands ready to retaliate if it carries out long-threatened strikes on the nuclear sites of Iran, another Hezbollah patron.

Hezbollah fought Israel’s far more advanced forces to a standstill when they last came to blows, in 2006, and rained more than 4,000 rockets on northern Israel. A UN-monitored ceasefire has largely held since.

But a senior Israeli officer from the Lebanese front said on Thursday that tensions in Syria “had the potential to spill over and trigger a confrontation” with Hezbollah.

“We want to preserve the quiet, and we want the other side to know that if they take a step that necessitates we exact a price, they will pay dearly,” the officer, who declined to be named, told foreign reporters while overseeing a simulated, regiment-strength battle with Hezbollah in a desert army base.

About 20 UN peacekeepers were detained in Syria near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Wednesday by fighters linked to the mainly Sunni Muslim armed opposition groups fighting to topple President Bashar Assad, who follows the Alawite faith derived from Shiite Islam.

Israeli UN Ambassador Ron Prosor has also written to the 15-member UN Security Council to complain about shells from Syria landing in Israel, warning it “cannot be expected to stand idle as the lives of its citizens are being put at risk”.

Asymmetry

Iran’s nuclear ambitions could also prove to be a flashpoint. Widely believed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, Israel has threatened force to deny its arch-foe the means of making a bomb should international diplomatic alternatives fail. Tehran, which denies seeking nuclear weapons, has threatened wide-ranging reprisals if attacked.

The desert exercise reflected the enhanced training of Israeli forces which, combined with the sabre-rattling of top brass, suggested an attempt to deter Hezbollah by warning that the next conflict could bring greater suffering for Lebanon.

“The way they behave will have repercussions on the population and infrastructure of southern Lebanon,” the senior Israeli officer said, referring to Hezbollah’s heartland where Israel suspects it has sown rocket launchers and gun-nests in Shiite villages.

In 2006, Israel killed 1,200 people in Lebanon, most of them civilians, according to the United Nations. Hezbollah killed 160 Israelis, most of them soldiers within Lebanese territory.

Though sworn to Israel’s destruction, Hezbollah casts itself primarily as Lebanon’s defender. It says its arsenal has been unaffected by the Syrian turmoil and that it is now capable of paralyzing Israel with long-range rocket strikes, if war erupts.

Asked if such a war would be more asymmetrical than in 2006, the senior Israeli officer said: “Yes. I don’t in any way expect the casualty ratio to be similar. I want things to be as bad as possible for the other side and as good as possible for us.”

He said Israel would try to give Lebanese civilians enough opportunity to evacuate – “such that I hope non-combatants will be significantly fewer than 40 percent (of casualties)”.

Reservations

Demonstrating Israeli plans to overrun Hezbollah-held ground quickly and suppress cross-border rocket salvos, the troops who drilled on Thursday dashed across hillocks towards 10 mock guerrilla emplacements that had been raked with tank and machine-gun fire.

The exercise assumed around 100 Hezbollah fighters would face off against the 200 soldiers and Israel’s heavier ordnance — an indication of the army’s tactics of superior deployment.

The Israelis were all reservists, ages ranging from the mid-20s to early 40s, and trained to back up the standing army should it get bogged down on the Lebanese or other fronts.

One captain, who in civilian life is writing a doctoral dissertation on Balkan and Caucasus guerrillas, voiced a regard for Hezbollah that was more than merely academic.

“They have grassroots support and they fight on home turf,” said the captain, who gave only his first name, Yiftach. Though he said he and his comrades were better prepared for war than in 2006, “Hezbollah worries me, to tell the truth”.

The regiment’s commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Yogev Bar-Sheshet, acknowledged Hezbollah had improved its capabilities.

But he added: “We train all the time for various possibilities, for scenarios. If we need to fight, be it tomorrow morning, or in another week or year, we will be the best that we can be and we will win.”

Speaking to high school students last week, Israel’s armed forces chief, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, appeared to acknowledge the dangers Lebanese civilians could face.

“Would it be better to be a citizen of the State of Israel in the next war or a Lebanese citizen in the next war? Better to be Israeli citizens,” he said.

(Source / 07.03.2013)

Hamas: Obama can visit Gaza

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Hamas would not oppose a visit by US President Barack Obama to the Gaza Strip, a party leader said Wednesday.

“Hamas refuses to negotiate with Israel, but wouldn’t oppose Obama visiting Gaza with the hope that the US attitude to reality will change,” said Aziz Dweik, the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Obama is expected to visit Israel and the West Bank in March. According to Dweik, the purpose of Obama’s trip is to strengthen Washington’s friendship with Israel.

“We are used to America viewing our cause from one angle,” the Hamas leader told Ma’an TV.

Hamas spokesman Salah al-Bardawil said Wednesday that the intransigence of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would prevent Obama bringing any new initiatives on his visit.

Obama’s trip is “a political maneuver to buy time and to calm the situation,” al-Bardawil told Ma’an.

“We hope Obama is serious and will exert pressure on Israel to ease the Palestinian people’s suffering, thus he will make amends for his previous term during which he was unjust to the Palestinian people,” he added.

Al-Bardawil urged Obama not to visit Jerusalem. “This will be disastrous as such a visit will legitimize the Judaization of Jerusalem,” he said. “We advise Obama to stay away from Jerusalem and to address it as the capital of Palestine.”

The Hamas spokesman warned the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority against wasting time, which he said served Israel’s plans to create facts on the ground. Obama’s visit negatively affects reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah “which the PA has shelved,” he added.

Dweik, the PLC speaker, said national reconciliation would only be achieved if Palestinians avoid interference from the US and Israel.

He said Hamas still rejected negotiations with Israel which brought “zero results.”

Discussing the emergence of Islamist regimes in the Arab Spring, and their relations with Washington, Dweik said: “Everybody wants to explain about their cause and defend it.

“Hamas is seeking to explain about our cause just as Egypt and other Arab countries, but we will do that without recognizing Israel.”

Asked about a decision by the Al-Aqsa University to force female students to cover their heads, Dweik said he opposed the move, adding that Christian students attend the campus and must be considered.

“It was an individual decision the university made on its own,” he said.

He also reaffirmed previous statements that he did not approve of banning liquor stores or cinemas.

(Source / 07.03.2013)

Abbas to meet Russia’s Putin in Moscow

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) – President Mahmoud Abbas will meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow, his spokesman said Thursday.

Abbas and Putin will meet at the Kremlin on March 14 to discuss bilateral cooperation and the possibility of resuming peace talks with Israel, Nabil Abu Rudaineh told the official Wafa news agency.

Abbas will also meet Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Abu Rudaineh said.

Abbas and Putin last met in Bethlehem in June 2012, when the Russian president called for a Middle East peace conference. Abbas suggested Moscow should host the event.

(Source / 07.03.2013)

UNRWA deplores brutal killing of two Palestine refugees in Yarmouk

It has come to the attention of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) that late on 1 March 2013, two Palestinian men were hanged in public on Palestine Street in Yarmouk, a suburb in the south of Damascus city. Prior to the Syria conflict, Yarmouk and its neighbouring areas were home to over 150,000 Palestine refugees living alongside approximately one million Syrians. In December 2012, intense fighting triggered large scale displacement of Palestinians and Syrians living in Yarmouk. Since then, armed opposition groups have maintained a presence in residential areas, with government forces positioned at the northern entrance of Yarmouk.
UNRWA is shocked and distressed by these killings and the manner in which they were carried out. International humanitarian law applies to all parties to the conflict in Syria and extra-judicial killings are in violation of that law. UNRWA particularly deplores the increased levels of fear and trauma these deaths will generate among Palestine refugees across Syria.
UNRWA appeals to all armed groups, including armed opposition groups, to respect the neutrality of Yarmouk and other Palestine refugee camps across Syria, to refrain from maintaining a presence in these camps, and to desist from conducting armed conflict in residential areas.
UNRWA recalls assurances from the Government of Syria to respect the neutrality of Palestine refugee camps.  UNRWA calls on the Government of Syria to fulfil these assurances and to avoid conducting armed conflict in residential areas, including in Palestine refugee camps.
UNRWA urgently appeals to all sides of the conflict to abide by their obligations under international law and to seek through dialogue and negotiations a peaceful resolution of the Syria conflict.
(Source / 07.03.2013)