ChristenUnie hypocriet over Israël

De Kamerleden Voordewind en Segers hebben lak aan eigen verkiezingsprogramma

De ChristenUnie gaat vanaf morgen een actie voeren tegen het label-besluit van het kabinet. Minister Frans Timmermans van Buitenlandse Zaken wil dat producten die uit de Israëlische nederzettingen komen een eigen label krijgen. Hij voert hiermee een Europees besluit uit. Nu staat er op die producten nog ‘made in Israel’. Dat mag in de toekomst niet meer.

Volgens Tweede Kamerlid Joël Voordewind is het besluit van Timmermans een ‘onzalig plan’. De partij gaat op haar website een label plaatsen met de tekst ‘Stop discriminatie Israël’. Mensen kunnen de kreet met een handtekening steunen. Na drie weken worden alle verzamelde handtekeningen aan minister Timmermans overhandigd.

De ChristenUnie gaat dus een actie voeren waarmee het illegale nederzettingenbeleid van Israël en de onderdrukking van de Palestijnen openlijk wordt ondersteund. Dit staat in schril contrast met het verkiezingsprogram uit 2012, waarin de partij schrijft mensenrechten tot speerpunt van het buitenlandse beleid te willen maken. De partij wenst hier bovendien consequent in te zijn:

“Je kunt niet enerzijds je kritisch uitlaten over landen die de doodstraf hanteren voor  afvalligheid, bekering en/of homoseksualiteit maar vervolgens wel allerlei handelsmissies faciliteren.”

Het zijn prachtige woorden die ook in het verkiezingsprogram van GroenLinks of de PvdA hadden kunnen staan. Ook over Israël is het verkiezingsprogram ‘Voor de verandering’ genuanceerder dan je misschien zou denken:

“De ChristenUnie staat, gelet op historische en morele gronden, voor politieke steun aan dit land,met inachtneming van internationale rechtsbeginselen.”

Het vetgedrukte staat er echt. Als je echter verder leest blijkt dat de ChristenUnie dit in de praktijk toch een beetje lastig vindt:

“Een duurzame vredesregeling kan pas standhouden met veilige en erkende grenzen voor Israël en erkenning door Israël van de Palestijnse aspiraties om tot een eigen staat te komen. Die vrede komt alleen dan in zicht als Israël zich met oog voor de belangen van de Palestijnen opstelt in het nederzettingenbeleid en als de Palestijnen Israël als staat zonder voorwaarden vooraf accepteren en erkennen. Financiële hulp aan de Palestijnse Autoriteit wordt gestopt als deze erkenning de facto uitblijft, bijvoorbeeld omdat het verheerlijken van geweld en terrorisme gewoon doorgaat. Verbetering van de leefomstandigheden in Gaza is urgent, maar de opening van de grensovergangen is pas mogelijk na een definitief afzien van raketbeschietingen en andere agressieve acties richting Israël.”

De ChristenUnie spreekt zich dus niet duidelijk uit tegen het illegale nederzettingenbeleid, terwijl de partij daarentegen ook niet zegt dat de bezettingspolitiek actief gesteund moet worden. De partij houdt zich in haar verkiezingsprogramma een beetje op de vlakte en stelt aan Israël zachte en vage eisen voor een duurzame vrede.

Aan de Palestijnen daarentegen worden wel harde en concrete eisen gesteld. Zij moeten de staat Israël erkennen en ophouden met raketbeschietingen. Ook als er slecht één raket vanuit Gaza op Israël wordt geschoten is de volledige afsluiting van de Gaza-strook volgens de ChristenUnie gerechtvaardigd.

Het verkiezingsprogram is dus een beetje dubbel. Aan de ene kant zegt de ChristenUnie consequent voor de mensenrechten te willen opkomen en vindt de partij dat Israël de internationale rechtsbeginselen in acht moet nemen, anderzijds worden Israëls bezettingspolitiek en de afsluiting van de Gaza-strook niet duidelijk veroordeeld.

In tegenstelling tot het voorzichtige verkiezingsprogram laten de vertegenwoordigers van de ChristenUnie in de Tweede Kamer die zich met Israël bezighouden, Joël Voordewind en Gert-Jan Segers, alle nuance varen. Ze zijn ondubbelzinnig pro-Israël. Het optreden van Israël wordt altijd verdedigd, het optreden van de Palestijnen wordt altijd veroordeeld. Voordewind en Segers lijken helemaal niet uit te zijn op een duurzame vrede maar op de handhaving van de status quo. Als het aan de ChristenUnie-Kamerleden ligt krijgt Israël een carte blanche om de internationale rechtsbeginselen en de VN-resoluties blijvend aan de laars te lappen. Vandaar dat de ChristenUnie niet zo lang geleden samen met SGP eenparlementaire pro-Israëlclub heeft opgericht, waaraan ook Kamerleden van de VVD en de PVV meedoen. Vandaar ook dat de partij nu een actie voert tegen het labelen van producten uit de Israëlische nederzettingen.

De Israëlhypocrisie van de ChristenUnie is niet dat haar Kamerleden nu ondubbelzinnig pro-Israël zijn, dat wisten we namelijk al, maar dat de partij in haar verkiezingsprogram de indruk wekt zich te willen inzetten voor mensenrechten en het internationale recht. Hier heeft de ChristenUnie gewoon lak aan. Partijen als de PvdA moeten zich goed achter de oren krabben, voordat ze net als in 2007 weer besluiten om de ChristenUnie een coalitie te gaan vormen.

Vanaf maandag 11 maart voert de ChristenUnie dus de petitieactie ‘Stop discriminatie Israël’. Bij deze roep ik op tot een petitie met als doel producten uit de illegale nederzettingen te boycotten, om op deze manier de mensenrechten en het internationaal recht beter te beschermen. Wie doet er mee?

(Source / 10.03.2013)

Israeli officials to pressure UN to negate Palestinian right of return

A group of right-wing Zionists met with the Israeli ambassador the the United Nations on Thursday in New York to put together a plan to pressure the United Nations to revoke the internationally-recognized right of return of Palestinian refugees who were forced from their homes in what is now Israel in 1948 and 1967.

Image by PRRN blog
Daniel Pipes, the head of the extreme right ‘Middle East Forum’ based in Philadelphia which helped organize the session, told participants in the meeting that the United Nations’ approach to the rights of Palestinian refugees “creates a narrative of victimhood” and “promotes extremism”. Despite the fact that Palestinian refugees have the same rights as any other displaced population in the world, Pipes did not make this claim about other refugee populations, but only about the Palestinians.

The strategy session came just ahead of a press conference planned to take place on Monday by Filippo Grandi, the commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), in which Grandi will make the case that Palestinian refugees are a ‘forgotten population’, and will urge that action be taken to address the Palestinian refugee crisis.

According to a recent report by human rights group BADIL, which was published in December 2012 after ten years of research, “At the end of 2011, there were at least 7.4 million displaced Palestinians representing 66 percent of the entire Palestinian population (11.2 million) worldwide”. This makes the Palestinian refugees the largest refugee population in the world.

The report found that “The vast majority of Palestinian refugees (5.8 million) are those who were forced from their lands during the 1948 ethnic cleansing and their descendants. Of these, 4.8 million are registered with the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA). A further million Palestinians are refugees as a result of the 1967 War and there are more than half a million internally displaced Palestinians on both side of the Green Line (the 1949 armistice line marking the boundary between Israel and the occupied West Bank).”

At Thursday’s strategy session in New York, calling for the negation of the internationally-recognized right of return for Palestinian refugees, Ron Prosor, the Israeli representative to the United Nations, told the participants that “the real obstacle [to peace] is the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees”, adding, “The refugee problem is the main obstacle to peace, not settlements.”

Former Israeli Knesset (Parliament) Member Einat Wilf also spoke at the meeting, telling participants that it is important to “debunk the myth” that there are Palestinian refugees living in tents, and criticized the European Union for promoting the Palestinian refugees right of return.

Palestinian refugees living in camps in Lebanon are forbidden from constructing permanent housing, and are denied jobs, freedom of movement and citizenship. Most camps in the West Bank and Gaza, which began as tents in the early 1950s, have become crowded tenements with housing constructed in a haphazard way, usually with new units built on top of existing structures.

In addition to putting together a plan to pressure the United Nations to deny Palestinian refugees their rights, the group that gathered Thursday in New York also promised to draft legislation to be introduced in the U-S Congress that would challenge the refugee status of any Palestinian born to refugee parents.

The participants in the meeting, while vehemently denying that Palestinian refugees have a right to return to homes that many still hold the deeds and keys for, did not question the Israeli law authorizing the ‘right of return’ to any person with a Jewish grandparent, from anywhere in the world, to Israel. This law is justified by the Israeli government based on the claim that Jewish people were expelled from what was then Palestine by the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago.

Thursday’s strategy session follows a statement issued in January by a group of prominent Jewish scholars and activists in the U-S, Europe, Australia and Israel called “Jews for the Palestinian Right of Return”, which calls for one democratic state in the land of Israel and Palestine, and says “supporters of social justice must ask themselves how they can defend a state whose very existence depends on structural denial of Palestinian rights.”

(Source / 10.03.2013)

The green light for zionisms ethnic cleansing of Palestine

  • Deir Yassin

I find myself wondering how many of our present day leaders, President Obama in particular, are aware of what happened in Palestine that became Israel on 10 March 65 years ago today.

On that day in 1948, two months before Israel’s unilateral declaration of independence in defiance of the will of the organized international community as it then was at the UN,Zionism’s in-Palestine political and military leaders met in Tel Aviv to formally adopt PLAN DALET, the blueprint with operational military orders for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

They did not and never would refer to the crime they authorised as ethnic cleansing. Their euphemism for it was “transfer”.

As noted in an excellent anniversary briefing paper by IMEU (the American-founded Institute for Middle East Understanding), from the earliest days of modern political Zionism its advocates grappled with the problem of creating a Jewish majority state in a part of the world where Palestinian Arabs were the overwhelming majority of the population.

The earliest insider information we have on Zionism’s thinking is from the diary of Theodor Herzl, the founding father of Zionism’s colonial-like enterprise. He wrote:

“We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country… expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.”

Those words were committed to paper by Herzl in 1895 but they were not published (in other words they were suppressed) until 1962.

By August 1937 “transfer” was a discreet but hot topic for discussion at the 20th Zionist Congress in Zurich, Switzerland. All in attendance were aware that the process of dispossessing the Palestinian peasants (the fellahin) mainly by purchasing land from absentee owners had been underway for years. Referring to this David Ben-Gurion, who would become Israel’s first prime minister, said:

“You are no doubt aware of the (Jewish National Fund’s) activity in this respect. Now a transfer of a completely different scope will have to be carried outIn many parts of the country new settlement will not be possible without transferring the Arab fellahinJewish power (in Palestine), which grows steadily, will also increase our possibilities to carry out this transfer on a large scale.”

A year later Ben-Gurion told a meeting of the Jewish Agency that he supported compulsory transfer. He added:

I don’t see anything immoral in it.”

In my view that’s a most revealing statement. It tells us – does it not? – that Ben-Gurion, the Zionist state’s founding father, was a man with no sense of what was morally right and wrong.

Joseph Weitz was the director of the Jewish National Fund’s Lands Department which was responsible for acquiring the land for Zionism’s enterprise in Palestine. One of his diary entries for December 1940 reads as follows:

“There is no way besides transferring the Arabs from here to the neighbouring countries, and to transfer all of them, save perhaps for (the Arabs of) Bethlehem, Nazareth and Old Jerusalem. Not one village must be left, not one (Bedouin) tribe. And only after this transfer will the country be able to absorb millions of our brothers and the Jewish problem will cease to exist. There is no other solution.”

Plan Dalet called for:

“Mounting operations against enemy population centres located inside or near our defensive system in order to prevent them from being used as bases by an active armed force. These operations can be divided into the following categories:

“Destruction of villages – setting fire to, blowing up, and planting mines in the debris – especially those population centres which are difficult to control continuously.

“Mounting search and control operations according to the following guidelines: encirclement of the village and conducting a search inside it. In the event of resistance, the armed force must be destroyed and the population must be expelled outside the borders of the state.”

Before the Zionist state declared itself to be in existence on 14 May 1948, more than 200 Palestinian villages had already been emptied and about 175,000 Palestinians were already refugees. Some had fled in fear; others were expelled by Zionist forces.

The prime fear factor was the slaughter by Zionist terrorists of more than 100 Palestinian men, women and children at Deir Yassin near Jerusalem. As Arthur Koestler was to write, the “bloodbath” at Deir Yassin was “the psychologically decisive factor in the spectacular exodus of the Arabs from the Holy Land and the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem.”

It was, however, Menachem Begin, Zionism’s terror master and subsequently prime minister, who provided the most vivid description of how well the slaughter at Deir Yassin served Zionism’s cause. In his book The Revolt, he wrote:

“Panic overwhelmed the Arabs of Eretz Israel. Kolonia village, which had previously repulsed every attack of the Haganah (the underground Jewish military organization that became the Israeli Army), was evacuated overnight and fell without further fighting. Beit-Iksa was also evacuated. These two places overlooked the road and their fall, together with the capture of Kastel by the Haganah, made it possible to keep open the road to Jerusalem. In the rest of the country, too, the Arabs began to flee in terror, even before they clashed with Jewish forces… The legend of Deir Yassin helped us in particular in the saving of Tiberias and the conquest of Haifa… All the Jewish forces proceeded to advance through Haifa like a knife through butter. The Arabs began fleeing in panic, shouting ‘Deir Yassin!’”

Three decades later, in an article for The American Zionist, Mordechai Nisan of the Truman Research Centre of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem expressed his concern about the failure to understand the major significance of terrorism in the struggle for Jewish sovereignty. He wrote: “Without terror it is unlikely that Jewish independence would have been achieved when it was.”

After the Zionist state declared itself to be in existence, its government set up an unofficial body known as the “Transfer Committee”. Its job was to oversee the destruction of Palestinian towns and villages and/or their repopulation with Jews. The purpose of this Zionist strategy was to prevent dispossessed Palestinians returning to their homes.

By 1949 more than 400 Palestinian towns and villages had been systematically destroyed or taken over by Israeli Jews; and at least 750,000 Palestinians were refugees, dispossessed of their land, their homes and their rights.

In his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Ilan Pappe, Israel’s leading “revisionist” (meaning honest) historian, documents in detail Zionism’s systematic reign of terror which, from December 1947 to January 1949, included 31 massacres. (Deir Yassin was only the first). In a videoed conversation with me in 2008, which can be viewed in the Hart of the Matter series on my site (www.alanhart.net), Ilan said this:

Probably more surprising than anything else was not the silence of the world as Zionist ethnic cleansing was taking place in Palestine, but the silence of the Jews in Palestine. They knew what had happened to Jews in Nazi Europe, and some might even have seen it for themselves, yet they had no scruples in doing almost the same thing to the Palestinians.”

On this 65th anniversary of the authorization of the ethnic cleaning of Palestine, the questions I would like to see put to our leaders today, President Obama in particular, are the following:

Are you aware of Plan Dalet?

If not, why not?

If you are aware of it, could it not said be said that your refusal to call and hold Zionism to account for its crimes makes you (and your predecessors) complicit in those crimes by default?

(Source / 10.03.2013)

Settlers attack 67-year-old farmer in Beit Ummar

HEBRON (Ma’an) — A group of 30 settlers attacked a 67-year-old farmer in north Hebron on Saturday, a local committee said.

Mohammad Abed al-Hamid Jabir Slaibi, 67, and his sons were working on their land adjacent to Bat Ayin settlement when a group of young settlers started swearing at them and throwing rocks, a popular committee in Beit Ummar told Ma’an.

Slaibi and his sons left the area to escape the attack.

Israeli soldiers were present at the time of the incident but did not intervene, the committee added.

Settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank is routine and rarely prosecuted by Israeli authorities.

(Source / 10.03.2013)

Israel: A De Facto Member of NATO

nato-israel-flag_web

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen received Israel’s president Shimon Peres at NATO headquarters in Brussels on March 7.

The order of the day: to enhance military cooperation between Israel and the Atlantic Alliance focusing on issues of counter-terrorism.

“Israel will be happy to share the knowledge it has gained and its technological abilities with NATO. Israel has experience in contending with complex situations, and we must strengthen the cooperation so we can fight global terror together and assist NATO with the complex threats it faces including in Afghanistan. “

Israel is already involved in covert operations and non-conventional warfare in liaison with the US and NATO.

This agreement is of particular significance because it deepens the Israel-NATO relationship beyond the so-called “Mediterranean Dialogue”.

The joint statement points to an Israel NATOpartnership “in the fight against terror and the search for peace… in the Middle East and the world”.

What this suggests is the participation of Israel in active theater warfare alongside NATO –i.e. as a de facto member of the Atlantic Alliance.

In other words, Israel would be directly involved were US-NATO to launch an outright military operation against Syria, Lebanon or Iran.

Israel offered to assist NATO in counter-terrorism operations directed against Hezbollah and Iran.

“The two agreed during their discussions that Israel and NATO are partners in the fight against terror…the statement said.

President Peres stressed the need to maintain and increase the cooperation between Israel and NATO and Israel’s ability to cooperation and provide technological assistance and knowledge from the vast experience Israel had gained in the field of counter-terrorism.

“Israel will be happy to share the knowledge it has gained and its technological abilities with NATO. Israel has experience in contending with complex situations, and we must strengthen the cooperation so we can fight global terror together and assist NATO with the complex threats it faces including in Afghanistan, ” Peres told Rasmussen.

History of Israel-NATO Military Cooperation

It is worth noting that in November 2004 in Brussels, NATO and Israel signed an important bilateral protocol which paved the way for the holding of joint NATO-Israel  military exercises. A followup agreement was signed in March 2005 in Jerusalem between NATO’s Secretary General and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The 2005 bilateral military cooperation agreement was viewed by the Israeli military as a means to “enhance Israel’s deterrence capability regarding potential enemies threatening it, mainly Iran and Syria.”

The ongoing premise underlying NATO-Israel military cooperation is that “Israel is under attack”.

There is evidence of active military and intelligence coordination between NATO and Israel including consultations pertaining to the occupied territories.

“Before Operation Cast Lead was launched in Gaza, NATO was already exchanging intelligence with Israel, sharing security expertise, and organising military drills. …. Former NATO chief Scheffer visited Israel in the midst of Israel’s offensive on Gaza. And NATO officials were at the time of the opinion that cooperation with Israel was essential for their organisation. (Al Ahram, February 10, 2010)

The March 2013 Israel-NATO Brussels bilateral agreement is the culmination of more than ten years of Israel-NATO cooperation.

Does this agreement “obligate” NATO “to come to the rescue of Israel” under the doctrine of “collective security”?

The agreement tightens the ongoing process of US-NATO-Israel military planning and logistics relating to any future operation in the Middle East including an aerial bombing of Iran’s nuclear plants.

The Israeli presidential delegation consisted of several top military and government advisers, including Brigadier General Hasson Hasson, Military Secretary to President Peres (See image below: first from left) and Nadav Tamir, policy adviser to the president of Israel (first right of president Peres).

The text of the Israel NATO agreement following discussions behind closed doors (see image below) was not made public.

 

Following the meeting, a joint statement was released by NATO. Secretary-General Rasmussen stated in the press report:

“Israel is an important partner of the Alliance in the Mediterranean Dialogue. The security of NATO is linked to the security and stability of the Mediterranean and of the Middle East region. And our Alliance attaches great value to our political dialogue and our practical cooperation. Israel is one of our longest-standing partner countries. We are faced with the same strategic challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean.

And as we face the security threats of the 21st century, we have every reason to deepen our long-standing partnership with our Mediterranean Dialogue countries, including Israel. We all know the regional situation is complex. But the Mediterranean Dialogue remains a unique multilateral forum, where Israel and six Arab countries can discuss together with European and North American countries common security challenges. I see further opportunities for deepening our already close political dialogue and practical cooperation to our mutual benefit.”

(Source / 10.03.2013)

“Israeli” Military Zones: Another Form of Palestinian Suffering

“Israeli” means were ever so many; however their only goal was always to eliminate the Palestinian presence. Al-Aghwar, just north of the West Bank, is but an area of many that witnesses “Israeli” oppression.

Since 1970, this area has been subjected to a ruthless settlement war over 139 km2 south Ariha, and another 250 km2 taken in 1996.

In an interview with al-Ahed news website, researcher and expert in settlement affairs Abdul Hadi Hanatsh described this process as a “racial purification”.
Hanatsh, who constantly follows the “Israeli” oppression on al-Aghwar, stated, “We face a great and comprehensive plan that primarily aims at constructing an isolating border from Bisan in the North to the North Bank by the Jordan river and the Dead Sea at a width of 13-15 km.”

The Palestinian expert falsified the nature of the military areas in al-Aghwar, underscoring, “These pretexts are used to evict the inhabitants, especially the Bedouins, although they suffer other pressures like requiring warrants for their movements or forcing them to leave their properties in fear of being in danger during “Israeli” Army training.”
Asked about the reasons behind the absence of international stances towards al-Aghwar, Hanatsh clarified, “”Israel” implements this plan gradually in order to avoid severe reactions.”

“There were timid condemnations by Western and European countries but that did not change a thing regarding settlements and aggressions,” he mentioned.
For his part, the member of the Palestinian National Initiative and coordinator of the Popular campaign to resist the apartheid wall and settlement, Salah al-Khawaja warned that the Northern al-Aghwar, “is considered a highly strategic area and has many components that make it the main nutrition area of the West Bank.”
He further revealed, “The number of Palestinians in that area had reached over 300,000 people before 1967, but around 80% of these today were forced to leave because of aggressive and arbitrary “Israeli” policies.”

As to the truth of the “Israeli” military training in the area, al-Khawaja explained, “Decades ago, training did not exceed hours, but now areas are being evicted for consecutive days and weeks, coinciding with the extensive demolitions that recently reached Ain al-Maleh, al-Hahidieh, and Ain al-Baida.”
He further reiterated, “This matter is systematic and primarily aims at emptying al-Ahgwar from Palestinians.”
Moreover, the council of al-Maleh in al-Aghwar stated, “Recently, the area witnessed targeting by the occupation; granting warrants to residents to evacuate like al-Ras al-Ahmar inhabitants, and deliberately firing near Palestinian residencies.”

The council further underscored, “They suffer to provide food for their children due to the systematic Transfer policy the occupation adopts, and they fight to preserve their source of livelihood through killing their sheep and confiscating their agricultural lands.”

(Source / 10.03.2013)

EU budget, Hezbollah on EU agenda this WEEK

BRUSSELS – MEPs and EU leaders will this week look to a political deal on the 2014-2020 budget, while foreign ministers will discuss blacklisting Hezbollah.

The European Parliament will vote in Strasbourg on Wednesday (13 March) whether to accept an austerity proposal of just €960 billion.

They are expected to say Yes, but to demand flexibility in case the funds are not enough to cover spending needs.

The same day will see two other important votes on EU economic policy.

MEPs will try to balance new European Commission powers to curb national overspending – the “two-pack” laws – with democratic checks and balances.

They will also try to modernise the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy without upsetting the interests of the bloc’s largest farm-aid recipients.

EU leaders will meet in Brussels for a regular summit later the same day.

The official agenda says they will see how EU rules on co-ordinating national budgets – the “European Semester” – are being implemented.

But the event will be a golden opportunity to clinch a political deal on the parliament’s budget ideas ahead of technical negotiations – called “trialogues” – in the coming weeks.

It will also see them sound out the new Cypriot government.

Cyprus is asking for a €17.5 billion bailout.

But its previous administration was hostile to lenders’ requests, such as privatisation of state assets and haircuts for private investors.

Hezbollah

On the foreign policy front, Israeli President Shimon Peres will give a speech in Strasbourg on Tuesday.

He is likely to repeat calls for the EU to blacklist Lebanese militants Hezbollah as a “terrorist” group and to increase sanctions on Iran.

The speech will come one day after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.

Bulgaria’s Nickolay Mladenov will make the case that Hezbollah murdered six people in his country last year.

But political considerations, such as whether listing it might destabilise Lebanon, could see it get off the hook.

Foreign ministers will add nine people to their Iran blacklist on human rights grounds, according to Reuters.

They will also hear from the UN-Arab-League envoy to Syria – Lakhdar Brahimi – on prospects for peace.

Commission business

In other business, the European Commission will on Tuesday put out ideas on how to boost turnout in the 2014 European elections.

Its centrepiece is to get parties to put forward candidates for the commission President job.

On Wednesday, it will give a glimpse into the EU’s negotiating mandate for a future EU-US free trade agreement.

It will also publish a non-binding plan to ban animal testing in cosmetics (Monday) and rules on compensation for air passengers (Wednesday).

Dalligate

Meanwhile, Malta – the EU’s smallest member – will on Monday wake up to a new government after elections at the weekend.

The Labour Party, led by Joseph Muscat, is tipped to win.

The development could have implications for the John Dalli affair.

Dalli – the Maltese ex-health-commissioner who last year lost his post in a bribery scandal – is said by Maltese media to be hiding in Brussels on grounds of ill health in order to avoid police at home.

There is speculation he will return to Malta if Muscat wins, hoping for a more sympathetic welcome by the Labour chief.

EUobserver contacted Dalli by email.

He said the reports are not true. He declined to confirm his whereabouts or to comment on his health.

(Source /10.03.2013)

U.N. says Syrian refugee numbers could triple by end of 2013

A Syrian family walk amid tents at the Zaatari refugee camp, near the Syrian border with Jordan in Mafraq on March 7, 2013.

U.N. Refugee Agency chief Antonio Guterres says the current level of Syrian refugees could go up to two or three times the current level by the end of 2013 if the present flow continues.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said on Sunday (March 10) there could be two or three times the one million registered Syrian refugees outside the country by the end of 2013 if the rise in numbers continues at its current rate.

The one millionth Syrian refugee was registered in Jordan on Wednesday (March 6), following a dramatic acceleration in the number of civilians fleeing fighting in their homeland in the first two months of this year.

Syrians started trickling out of the country nearly two years ago when President Bashar al-Assad’s forces shot at pro-democracy protests inspired by Arab revolts elsewhere.

The uprising has since turned into an increasingly sectarian struggle between armed rebels and government soldiers and militias.

An estimated 70,000 people have been killed.

The U.N. refugee body, UNHCR, says more than 400,000 Syrian refugees – nearly half the total – have fled Syria since Jan. 1, 2013.

Around half the refugees are children, most of them under 11.

In December, there were 3,000 refugees on average a day. In January, it had risen to 5,000. By February, there were 8,000, Guterres said.

“If this escalation goes on … we might have in the end of the year a much larger number of refugees, two or three times the present level,” Guterres told reporters in Ankara.

Most refugees have fled to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt and some to North Africa and Europe. In addition to the refugees, the UNHCR says more than 2 million of Syria’s 22 million people have been internally displaced.

(Source / 10.03.2013)

Netanyahu hints Israeli coalition to be presented in days

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s deadline to present a governing coalition is on Saturday, and political commentators predicted he would announce by mid-week that he had an administration in place.

Reuters, Occupied Jerusalem –

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his outgoing cabinet on Sunday for what he said was probably the last time, signaling he was close to completing the formation of a new government.

Netanyahu’s deadline to present a governing coalition is on Saturday, and political commentators predicted he would announce by mid-week that he had an administration in place.

With cabinet posts still to be handed out, Netanyahu was finalizing political partnerships with two parties that made surprisingly strong showings in the Jan. 22 election – centrist Yesh Atid, led by former TV anchor Yair Lapid, and far-right Jewish Home, headed by high-tech millionaire Naftali Bennett.

The centrist Kadima party, which fell from 28 to just two seats, is also expected to join Netanyahu’s coalition.

Their participation in a government led by Netanyahu’s conservative Likud-Beitenu list will come at the expense of his traditional coalition allies, ultra-Orthodox parties at odds with Yesh Atid and Jewish Home over benefits for religious Jews.

“It appears that this will be the last meeting of this government,” Netanyahu said in public remarks at the weekly cabinet session.

With Yesh Atid, Jewish Home, Kadima and the small, centrist Hatnuah party, which has already signed a coalition pact, Netanyahu is set to control 70 of parliament’s 120 seats.

The Labor party and ultra-Orthodox and Arab factions will be in opposition.

Lapid, 49, gained wide backing among young, secular voters and has called for a resumption of peace talks with Palestinians that have been frozen for two years in a dispute over Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

Yael German, a lawmaker in Lapid’s party, said he was likely to become finance minister.

Bennett, 40, rejects any future Palestinian state and has strong support among Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Israeli media said he would get the industry and trade cabinet post.

A deal soon will enable Netanyahu, who will begin a third term as prime minister, to shift his focus to the visit later this month by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Netanyahu has said his talks with Obama, with whom he has had a testy relationship, will center on an Iranian nuclear drive that Israel and the United States fear is aimed at developing atomic weapons, efforts to revive peace talks with the Palestinians and the civil war in Syria.

“We still have huge challenges ahead,” Netanyahu told the cabinet, citing Israel’s high cost of living and security issues. “The next government will have to deal with that.”

Iran says it is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes. Israel, widely seen as the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed power, has called for sanctions on Iran to be coupled with a credible military threat against it.

(Source / 10.03.2013)

Report: Americans are training Syria rebels in Jordan

A Free Syrian Army fighter holds an improvised mortar shell in Deir al-Zor March 8, 2013.

BERLIN (Reuters) — Americans are training Syrian anti-government fighters in Jordan, the German weekly Der Spiegel said on Sunday, quoting what it said were participants and organizers.

Spiegel said it was not clear whether the Americans worked for private firms or were from the army but said some wore uniforms. The training focused on use of anti-tank weaponry.

Some 200 men have already received such training over the past three months and there are plans in the future to provide training for a total 1,200 members of the “Free Syrian Army” in two camps in the south and the east of the country.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper also reported that US trainers were assisting Syrian rebels in Jordan. British and French instructors were also participating in the U.S.-led effort, the Guardian said on Saturday, citing Jordanian security sources.

Jordanian intelligence services are involved in the program, which aims to build around a dozen units totaling some 10,000 fighters to the exclusion of radical Islamists, Spiegel reported.

“The Jordanian intelligence services want to prevent Salafists crossing from their own country into Syria and then returning later to stir up trouble in Jordan itself,” one of the organizers told the paper.

The reports could not be independently verified.

A spokesman for the US Defense Department declined immediate comment on the Spiegel report. The French foreign ministry and Britain’s foreign and defense ministries also had no comment.

More than 70,000 people have been killed and 1 million refugees have fled the Syrian conflict.

It started as pro-democracy protests but has turned into a sectarian war between rebels mainly from Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority and state forces defending President Bashar Assad, who follows the Alawite faith derived from Shiite Islam.

The United States has said it would provide medical supplies and food directly to opposition fighters but has ruled out sending arms for fear they may find their way to Islamist hardliners who might then use them against Western targets.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are widely believed to be providing weapons to the rebels, and Arab League ministers decided on Wednesday to let member nations arm them.

(Source / 10.03.2013)