GENEVA (AP) — The U.N.’s top human rights body has passed five resolutions critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in what has become a regular condemnation of Israeli policy.

Members of the U.N. Human Rights Council criticized Israel for the construction of settlements on territory claimed by the Palestinians and for abuses allegedly perpetrated against civilians.

The United States was the only member of the 47-nation council to vote against each of the Arab-backed resolutions. U.S. envoy Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe said Washington also disagreed with Israel over the settlement, but said the U.S. “continues to be deeply troubled by this council’s biased and disproportionate focus on Israel.”

Israel didn’t participate in Friday’s debate at the Geneva-based council, which it says is biased against the Jewish state.

(Source / 22.03.2013)

Toll Rises as Sectarian Violence in Myanmar Spreads to Nearby Villages

Firemen try to extinguish a fire after mobs of Buddhists ransacked and burned Muslim neighborhoods since Wednesday.

BANGKOK — Rioting and arson attacks spread on Friday to villages outside a city in central Myanmar where clashes between Buddhists and Muslims have left at least 20 people dead, according to residents, a member of Parliament and local journalists. A picture of chaos and anarchy emerged from the city of Meiktila, where mobs of Buddhists, some of them led by monks, have ransacked and burned Muslim neighborhoods since Wednesday.

Riot police in Meiktila, in central Myanmar, on Friday.

A man in Meiktila, Myanmar, where Buddhists led a rampage through the Muslim quarter to avenge the death of a monk. The authorities imposed a curfew.

U Aung Soe, a reporter for a local weekly journal, said he saw 15 charred bodies on the streets Friday morning. He estimated the death toll at more than 40.

Mobs of rioters attacked Muslims’ houses in villages outside Meiktila on Friday, Mr. Aung Soe said.

Security forces, which during decades of military rule brutally suppressed any signs of unrest, seemed unable or unwilling to stop the rioting, according to witnesses.

Nyan Lin, a former political prisoner, told the Mizzima news agency that the police “just stood watching the rioters, and did not take any action.”

Video footage from Meitkila posted on Friday showed harrowing scenes of what appeared to be Muslim women and men cowering as they fled the violence.

The Associated Press quoted a member of Parliament from Meiktila, U Win Htein, as saying that at least five mosques had been burned since the violence started Wednesday. Mr. Win Htein said the death toll was at least 20. Local residents were preventing authorities from putting out fires in the city, he told The A.P.

Journalists said they feared for their safety after Buddhist monks, one of them wielding a sword, forced them to hand over the memory cards in their cameras.

On Thursday, Buddhists, including monks from nearby monasteries, led a rampage through the Muslim quarter of the city of Meiktila seeking to avenge the death of a monk the day before, according to a news photographer who witnessed the fighting.

“The area was like a killing field,” said the photographer, Wunna Naing. “Even the police told me that they could not handle what they witnessed. Children were among the victims.”

Muslims and Buddhists have clashed several times in western Myanmar over the past year, but the fighting in Meiktila has raised fears that religious strife is reaching into the heartland of the country.

News agency photographs showed gruesome scenes of devastation, with homes burned to the ground, thick black clouds rising above a mosque that residents say was attacked, and a charred corpse.

Muslims residents have fled the city and gathered in a sports stadium, according to Reuters.

The clashes on Wednesday appeared to have started with a disagreement in a gold shop owned by a Muslim family.

Religious violence has shaken the government of President Thein Sein over the past year as the gradual rollback of five decades of authoritarian rule has coincided with a rise in nationalism and racial and religious hatred.

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is about 90 percent Buddhist, with the rest of the population Christian, Muslim and animist.

More than 150 people, most of them Muslims, have been killed since June in Buddhist-Muslim clashes in Rakhine State, a sliver of land in western Myanmar where religious hatred runs high. Some vocal Buddhist monks have been stridently anti-Muslim after those communal clashes, which pitted Buddhists against a group of Muslims who call themselves Rohingya and are not recognized as citizens of the country.

On Thursday, a leading monk in the country, Ashin Nyanissara, called for restraint in Meiktila, saying in an interview with the Democratic Voice of Burma that “all religions should live peacefully with loving kindness and tolerance.”

Until this week, there were hopes that religious conflicts would be contained to the Rakhine region. But the clashes in Meiktila are renewing concerns that religious strife will surface in other cities in Myanmar, which are typically multiethnic, a legacy of British colonial rule.

There have been signs of rising tensions. Last month in a township on the outskirts of Yangon, the commercial capital, Buddhists attacked what they said was a mosque being built without permission.

Meiktila, a garrison city with a strong military presence, is halfway between the new capital, Naypyidaw, and the old royal city of Mandalay. Reports from residents indicated that the military units based in the city had not yet joined the police in helping to quell the violence.

The police in Meiktila, reached by telephone, declined to comment on the violence.

Two mosques and a Muslim school were burned, residents said, and many houses in the Muslim quarter were destroyed.

The authorities declared a curfew on Thursday for the second consecutive night.

(Source / 22.03.2013)

The PLO has failed Palestinians; let’s start again from scratch

Hamas and Fatah represent the Palestinian national movement’s past, not its future.

Over the past several months there has been speculation that the leading Palestinian political parties, Fatah and Hamas, may finally reconcile.

Although the two parties have negotiated several agreements since 2005, none has been implemented. The unwillingness of Fatah and Hamas to reach a national unity agreement is emblematic of the larger failure of the Palestinian national movement to achieve its goals. As this year marks the 65th anniversary of the Nakba — the ethnic cleansing ahead of Israel’s foundation — and the 20th anniversary of the Oslo accords, this continued discord also highlights a pressing concern: who represents the Palestinian people today?

As part of a national unity agreement, Hamas would join the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which is still recognized internationally as “the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” Elections would also be held to thePalestinian Legislative Council (PLC), which “represents” Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Some Palestinians are also advocating direct elections to the PLO’s Palestinian National Council (PNC), which is considered the “parliament-in-exile” of the Palestinian people. It is believed that this would provide a path to revitalizing the PLO and make it more accountable to all Palestinians.

Leaders without legitimacy

However, restoring the PLO — even through direct elections — is unlikely to make the organization more representative or its leadership more accountable. Instead, it will serve to further entrench the status quo and provide legitimacy to a leadership that no longer enjoys it.

The PLO’s institutions were designed for a national liberation movement and were deliberately constructed to limit broad-based representation until victory was achieved. In the absence of victory, the same institutional structures have been used to block potential reforms and distance the Palestinian leadership from the population it purports to represent. Initially established with the support of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, the PLO was the product of inter-Arab rivalries. The organization was not truly independent of Cairo until 1968.

Although the situation of the Palestinians and the PLO has changed dramatically since 1968, the organization’s institutional structures and governing by-laws have effectively remained the same. The PLO’s key institutions are not only anachronistic but serve to hinder internal and external challenges as is clear from a comparison of the PLO’s two highest bodies: the PNC and the executive committee.

On paper, the PNC is responsible for establishing the PLO’s “policies, plans and programs.” Meanwhile, the executive committee serves as the organization’s “primary executive organ,” according to legal researcher Mazen Masri (“Memo: distinction between PLO, PA, PNC, PLC,” 5 February 2006).

Over the past four decades, however, the executive committee has essentially performed the PLO’s legislative and executive functions. Throughout, the PNC did not check, balance or even advise the executive committee, but affirmed its decisions. Moreover, the executive committee, much like the PLO and the broader Palestinian national movement, became increasingly beholden to and reliant on PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat’s often uncontested decisions and actions. Since Arafat’s death, Mahmoud Abbas has sought to fill this role.

While there may have been debates between the different political groups represented at the PNC, it would be difficult — if not disingenuous — to call it a legislative body. All PNC seats were appointed not elected, and the vast majority of seats were awarded based on the PLO’s quota system of representation in proportion to the size of the particular political faction. Although the PNC had seats for independents and members-at-large, those appointed were largely aligned with Fatah, further bolstering its weight within the PLO and enhancing Arafat’s power. In addition, even at the height of the PLO’s activity and influence, the PNC only met annually or biennially.

Arafat’s clique

The 1993 Oslo accords revealed the weakness of PLO institutions, in particular the PNC, as well as Arafat’s predominant role within the executive committee. Knowledge of the negotiations was restricted to a small clique around Arafat. In addition, the agreement was not ratified by either the PNC or the PLO’s central committee. Instead, Arafat first met with Fatah’s leadership and then only under pressure agreed to convene the PLO’s executive committee. When the agreement was finally debated within the Fatah central committee and the PLO’s executive committee, both bodies approved the accords.

The Oslo period served to exacerbate the PNC’s ineffectiveness. With Arafat’s power unchecked and the PLO moribund, the PNC became a symbolic rubber stamp. This was on full display in the December 1998 PNC meeting held in Gaza to amend the PLO’s charter — a decision made by Arafat and affirmed by the PNC (“Clinton watches as Palestinians drop call for Israel’s destruction,” The New York Times, 15 December 1998). Yet who comprised the PNC at the 1998 session is unclear, as members and non-members were present and voting.

The limited effectiveness of the PNC before and after Oslo raises questions about the potential for reform of such a body. While the composition, representation and by-laws may have been justifiable for the “parliament-in-exile” of a national liberation movement, the same cannot be said today. In addition, it is not clear how a PNC — even one that is directly elected — can hope to limit, constrain or even influence an executive committee that maintains authority over the budget as well as domestic and foreign policies. Therefore, reforms to the PNC alone will not change this dynamic.


Moreover, an example of an elected but toothless body already exists in the form of the PLC. As president of the Palestinian Authority, Arafat managed the PLC much as he did the PLO and the PNC. Fiscal and political authority rested not with the legislature but with the PA president. In addition, the PLC’s functions and authority are limited by the terms of the Oslo accords, which also served to expand the executive and legislative powers of the PA president. Thus, when the PLC attempted to behave independently, Arafat either ignored the body’s decisions or used the power of the presidency and the dual title and position of chairman of the PLO’s executive committee to undermine or override those decisions.

This trend has been even more pronounced under Abbas. After Hamas won the 2006 elections, the United States, Israel and the PA leadership worked to overturn their victory at the ballot box. Even after a unity government was declared, elected legislators to the PLC have consistently been prevented from taking their seats. This includes an active campaign by Israel to jail PLC members in the West Bank and prevent those in Gaza from traveling toRamallah for meetings. In addition, the PLC has not convened in more than five years and a significant number remain in Israeli custody.

Imagining a different future

These issues and limitations also reveal a major contradiction in the attempts to revive the PNC and the PLO. Namely, democratic elections that serve to enshrine the rule of non-democratic movements will bring neither reform nor democracy. Instead, the elections will serve to reinforce the existing leadership and harden factional differences.

Fatah and Hamas have demonstrated similar approaches to governing and dealing with opposition and dissent. Neither of the competing truncheon authorities ruling the West Bank and Gaza offers a compelling vision for the future. In large part it is because they do not represent the future of the Palestinians but their past. They will not drive a rebirth of the Palestinian national movement and are far more likely to delay and hinder its development.

If Palestinians want a revitalized national movement that is unified and representative, they will need to build it themselves from scratch. They will also need to make the previous body and its leaders — regardless of their revolutionary origins and rhetoric, titles, symbolism and emotional ties — obsolete and irrelevant. With a past marked by failure, Palestinians must imagine and work toward a very different future. Otherwise there will be little hope of finding a successful strategy or vehicle to achieve Palestinian rights.

(Source / 22.03.2013)

E.U. moves closer to arming Syria rebels

A rebel sniper aims at a Syrian army position, seen with another rebel fighter reflected in a mirror, in the Jedida district of Aleppo. Britain and France have in recent weeks pushed hard to allow sending weaponry to Syrian rebels.

BERLIN — The European Union edged closer Friday to lifting an embargo against shipping arms to Syria’s opposition, but differences remained about the feasibility of giving a boost to moderates there while bypassing militant jihadist groups.
Britain and France have in recent weeks pushed hard to allow sending weaponry to Syrian rebels, but Germany, Sweden and others among the E.U.’s 27 nations have been skeptical about the advisability of intervening in a bloody sectarian conflict where individual opposition groups have uncertain allegiances.

Interactive Grid: Keeping track of the conflict in Syria through videos, images and tweets.

German willingness to entertain lifting the ban has been increasing in recent days, ahead of a Friday meeting of E.U. foreign ministers in Dublin to discuss the embargo. Germany has been one of the major opponents and any shift may bring other countries along.
“We must prevent heavy weaponry from falling into the wrong hands,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters in Dublin on Friday. But in a separate interview published Friday in Sueddeutsche Zeitung, he said that “at the same time we know that we must be ready to change our policy if there is a change in the situation.”

The United States has also resisted arming the Syrian rebels. According to United Nations estimates, more than 70,000 people have died in Syria since the conflict started in March 2011.

The Syria embargo will expire at the end of May if the E.U. takes no action before then, and Britain and France have urged that sanctions continue on Assad’s government but that exceptions be added to allow antiaircraft and antitank missiles to be sent to rebel groups. Doing so could dramatically change the course of a bloody conflict that has entered its third year. Right now, Syrian government fighter planes and helicopters are able to fly over large portions of Syrian territory unhindered. The heavy weapons — and the training to operate them — could push Assad on his heels.

But Europeans are split on whether there is anyone to arm within Syria’s fragmented opposition. Weapons such as shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles would be useful in the fight against Assad, but they would also be useful in taking down a Western airliner. Some European countries, including Germany, believe that the only rebel group in Syria with the organization to effectively use heavy weaponry against Assad is the Jabhat al-Nusra, or al-Nusra Front, an Islamist group that has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States for its suspected ties to al-Qaeda.

“What makes us very nervous is that al-Nusra is stronger than people believe it is,” said a senior European official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal intelligence assessments.

That official said that lifting the weapons embargo may be largely symbolic, because Britain and France may not have significant stockpiles of weaponry to send to rebel groups. But lifting it would give Europeans greater leeway to channel arms from Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar to rebels training in Jordan and Turkey.

In a joint letter to E.U. foreign policy head Catherine Ashton ahead of Friday’s meeting, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and British Foreign Secretary William Hague wrote that “the crisis is increasingly threatening regional stability . . . and we are increasingly concerned about the regime’s willingness to use chemical weapons,” Reuters reported.

(Source / 22.03.2013)

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has reneged on promises to Palestine

Many Palestinians celebrated when Morsi was elected Egyptian president, but the Muslim Brotherhood’s record on Palestine since coming to power has been questionable.

The euphoria that erupted in Gaza minutes after Hosni Mubarak stepped down on 11 February 2011 probably came second only to Egypt’s. The ousted dictator was Israel’s “strategic asset” for good reason. He secured the blockade of the Gaza Strip from the Egyptian side, sided against Hamas and proved a reliable ally.

Even during the 22-day Israeli war on Gaza at the end of 2008, Mubarak kept the Rafah border crossing firmly shut, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention which binds Egypt, as a signatory, to protect civilians during times of war and foreign occupation.

Egypt’s dictator was removed but his legacy continues to influence realities on the ground in Gaza and around the Palestinian question in general. It does not help that his successor, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Muhammad Morsi, has done little to prove — thus far — that his policies will change course. Of course nothing is that simple. Morsi, willingly, inherited a difficult legacy of a mammoth, corrupt bureaucracy and questionable sovereignty after decades of subservience to the United States.

But judging from their discourse and performance during the past year, it’s evident that the Brotherhood — including their Freedom and Justice Party and the president — are too eager to prove their power-worthiness by demonstrating “pragmatism” and flexibility to the international community.

Some Brotherhood figures and sympathizers argue that this is vital to securing their ascendance to power in a shaky transition and to quell the fears of skeptics. This might be valid in some cases (where the regional balance of power isn’t in their favor) but it poses compelling questions on how far Morsi will go in Mubarak’s shoes under the pretext ofrealpolitik — and if he’ll eventually find himself trapped there.

Gaza is the barometer

Gaza, which shares a 14-kilometer-long border with Egypt, is probably one of the best barometers for Cairo’s foreign policy independence — or lack thereof.

It’s where Egypt is forced to be involved in the Palestinian question especially since Hamas’s takeover of the strip in 2007 and Israel’s subsequent land, sea and air siege. Under an expired one-year agreement (2005-2006) between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the European Union, only people (those who are not on Tel Aviv’s blacklist) are allowed though the Egyptian-controlled Rafah border crossing, not goods.

“Approved” commodities are permitted though the Israeli-controlled Karem Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) crossing. While Egypt wasn’t party to this agreement, it continues to hold it, seven years after it became invalid.

In the language of the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement, the Egyptian town of Rafah is in Area C — the demilitarized zone in the Sinai peninsula, which strictly limits Egyptian forces to a lightly armed police presence. It’s also the site of hundreds of underground tunnels that link the Palestinian and Egyptian sides of Rafah, which have mushroomed since the Israeli siege of Gaza and provide a lifeline for the strip.

It’s no exaggeration to say that without the tunnels, Gaza’s 1.7-million strong population will suffer, not just because Israel allows only one third of the strip’s needs in via the goods crossings, but also because the vast majority of Gazans can’t afford Israeli products and depend on cheaper Egyptian ones. The resistance also relies on these tunnels (amongst other channels) for much-needed arms.

Because of this and the fact that a largely unmonitored underground world intertwines Gaza with Egypt, the tunnels opportunely surface as a security and political issue for Cairo.

Since the killing of sixteen Egyptian border guards last August in Rafah by still-unknown assailants, the military retaliated by launching “Operation Eagle 2” to purge Sinai of “criminal elements.” None were identified, but the media, in typical Mubarak-era fashion, was quick to blame Palestinians. After shelling mainly desert areas in northeast Sinai the army demolished dozens of tunnels and rounded up “suspects.”

Changes at Rafah crossing

It was the first time that the tunnels were targeted since Morsi came to power. But the impact of the demolitions wasn’t detrimental and the policy was reversed when, after Morsi sacked the military’s top brass, the Rafah border crossing was opened on a daily basis for the first time since the Israeli siege began.

While this was attributed to Morsi’s influence, Hamas officials say that since Mubarak’s ouster and the military’s takeover, the number of Palestinians allowed passage — in the days that the border was open — had increased from approximately 350 or 450 to 1,000, a sign that the generals were slightly less stringent than Mubarak on this issue.

Moreover, the military leadership had given deputy leader of the Hamas politburo Mousa Abu Marzook (previously based in Damascus, along with other with exile resistance factions) permission to live in Cairo, which was unthinkable before the revolution.

The difference since Morsi assumed office has been the daily opening of the crossing, which, by all accounts is a significant development and a far cry from the weeks-long closures that would happen in Mubarak times. Not only is Egypt and thus the rest of the world accessible to most Gazans, Palestine-solidarity delegations from all over the world and high-level state envoys have been visiting the strip regularly, many for the first time, in defiance of the siege and ultimately giving recognition to the Hamas rulers. It’s not what Israel had in mind when it imposed its blockade — which is precisely why Mubarak preserved the siege.

The changes at the crossing are one of the few developments that offer some insight into how Egypt under a Brotherhood president is managing the Palestinian file. There is a difference in modus operandi, but the outcome shows no signs of shaping a new reality. Instead of equating it with Egypt’s other international border crossings, Rafah is still hostage to the Mubarak-era’s calculations and commitments to Israel. It might be open daily, but as per Israel’s demands, Egypt will not allow even a cement bag through, directing goods onto Israeli-controlled Karem Abu Salem.

In the Mubarak continuum, Egypt-Gaza relations and the Palestinian file are still controlled by Egyptian intelligence, who are also involved in the military’s strategy in Sinai and Rafah. The management of the Rafah crossing is completely under the intelligence’s control and run by their mentality and calculations. While Morsi is kept informed, it is unlikely that his views, if any different, will be heeded.

But the Muslim Brotherhood’s media spokesman Gehad El-Haddad claimed to me two weeks ago that the Egyptian intelligence services are “fully under the command” of the president, and executing his orders and vision (“‘We will not let Egypt fall’,” Al-Ahram Weekly, 6 March). And so Morsi “is responsible for what happens on the ground in Rafah.”

Flooding Gaza’s tunnels with sewage

Last month “Operation Eagle 2” resumed tunnel demolitions aggressively, flooding many of them with sewage. More than 400 have been destroyed so far according to military sources cited by the local media. No one will say how far the military is going to go but given previous tunnel demolitions under Mubarak, the operation should be well calculated to leave enough tunnels to smuggle most of Gaza’s needs.

It’s still a disappointing development for Hamas’s leaders who, because of their sensitive situation, will not go on record criticizing Egypt or Morsi. Mousa Abu Marzook would only go as far as saying “We don’t want the tunnels at all, we want the strip’s provisions to go through the Rafah border crossing, which is not happening,” he told me last week.

The only exception, unsurprisingly, is Qatar’s building material, which is allowed passage for the several multi-million dollar reconstruction projects the Gulf state’s Emir Hamad bin Khalifah pledged during his visit to the strip last October. That the first visit by a head of state to the strip is from Qatar reveals more about post-revolution Egypt under a Brotherhood president, than it does about Doha. Qatar is consolidating its already-outsized regional role, while Egypt is treading cautiously within the boundaries placed by Mubarak’s three-decade rule.

Brotherhood spokesman El-Haddad calls this the responsibility of moving from the back seat of the car to the driver’s seat: “When you take the responsibility a lot of calculations happen.” And thus the Camp David peace agreement with Israel that the Brotherhood consistently rejected up to and including their 2010 election platform (which demands under chapter four annulling “all” normalization agreements with Israel and supporting the resistance) will not be broken, or even modified by them (“The electoral platform of the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidates for the 2010 parliament,” Egypt Window, 4 November 2010 [Arabic]).

This is the same statement made by the presidential spokesman last year. Now, in El-Haddad’s words, Camp David is “serving” Egypt’s interests. In the same vein, speaking to Reuters, Essam El-Haddad, Morsi’s aide on foreign relations, justified the flooding of tunnels to stop arms smuggling (“Egypt flooded tunnels to cut Gaza arms flow: aide,” 18 February 2013).

Brotherhood’s shifting position on Palestine

This post-revolution discourse is consistent with the Brotherhood’s new positions, that of its Freedom and Justice Party and Morsi himself. It’s true that the Palestinian question was central to the group’s existence since its early years (their volunteers resisted Zionist gangs in Palestine since 1947) and for decades since. But it’s fair to say that the profile of the Brotherhood’s leadership — a combination of wealth and power — in the past decade is new to the organization’s history.

Their calculations and political priorities are the outcome of their experiences under Mubarak’s rule and should be assessed within that context. In contrast, the group’s base and supporters hail from the middle and lower classes and might not necessarily accept or relate to this level of pragmatism on a central issue like the Palestinian question.

This was partially put to test when Israel launched its brief war on Gaza on 14 November 2012. Morsi first responded by recalling Egypt’s ambassador to Israel on the same day. Facing mounting public pressure, he sent his prime minister in an unprecedented, high-level state delegation to the strip 48 hours later, with the message that official Egypt is taking Gaza’s side.

When compared to Cairo’s accomplice role in the 2008 Gaza war, this development cannot be undermined. So was the direct involvement of both Hamas and Islamic Jihadleaders in the ceasefire discussions with Morsi. Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas was conspicuously absent from the scene.

Morsi wanted to convey to Israel that “today’s Egypt is different from yesterday’s.” That pre-election Israel didn’t want a long war or the long-range missiles which Gaza fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, might have played in Morsi’s favor and driven his point home, not just to Tel Aviv but more importantly his constituency and supporters.

The effect of this test war has since subsided and overshadowed by the aggressive tunnel demolitions and more recently the intense anti-Palestinian, specifically anti-Hamas campaign raging in Egypt for the past week.

On the surface it might seem as a continuation of the Mubarak era demonization of Palestinians in Gaza since Hamas’s takeover of the strip. While military gags were issued to prohibit the press from reporting the numerous times trigger happy Israeli soldiers killed Egyptian border guards, supposedly by mistake, the media seized every opportunity to feed into public opinion that Sinai is Gaza’s aspired alternative state.

Today most media outlets are citing anonymous “military sources” accusing Hamas of murdering the 16 Egyptian border guards last August.

Reports on the confiscation of rolls of fabric used to make the military’s uniform in one of the tunnels is provided as evidence of Hamas or Gaza “elements” involvement in national security threatening activity.

The lack of evidence to substantiate these allegations and the armed force’s deafening silence suggest a deliberate strategy to incite against Hamas, Gaza and the tunnels while linking their alleged transgressions to Morsi and his Brotherhood, the mother organization that inspired the founding of Hamas in 1987. In other words, Morsi’s professed laxity towards his Hamas friends is compromising Egypt’s national security.

This is an oxymoronic situation: Hamas, Gaza and perhaps the Palestinian question as a whole are paying the price for the Brotherhood’s rise to power, when in fact the group, in the name of “pragmatism,” has reneged on previously declared stances related to the Palestinian question.

It’s tempting to assume that Morsi and the Brotherhood are applying a gradual, tactual strategy that will eventually lead to bolder positions. But this is conditional upon guaranteeing, against all odds, that Morsi will at least complete his four-year term and that the conservative reformist mentality of the Muslim Brotherhood will adopt a revolutionary approach towards the issue. The improbability of both is high and like Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood’s ascendance to power has put to question its raison d’être.

(Source / 22.03.2013)

Obama, Jordan’s Abdullah offer united front on Syria

Jordan’s King Abdullah speaks during a joint news conference with US President Barack Obama at Al-Hummar Palace in Amman, March 22, 2013.

AMMAN (Reuters) — US President Barack Obama and Jordan’s King Abdullah presented a united front against Syrian President Bashar Assad on Friday as Jordan grapples with a refugee crisis caused by Syria’s civil war.

Obama, in Jordan following a visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank, pledged new aid to help the country deal with the refugee crush but stopped short of promising military assistance to Syrian rebels to speed the departure of Assad after a two-year civil war that has claimed 70,000 lives.

Syria dominated talks between Obama and King Abdullah. Jordanian authorities worry that any emergence of Islamist rule in a post-Assad Syria could embolden Islamists who are the main opposition group in Jordan.

Obama pledged to work with the US Congress to provide $200 million in extra assistance to care for Syrian refugees who now number 460,000 in Jordan, a figure that the king said was equal to 10 percent of Jordan’s population and may double by year’s end.

King Abdullah vowed he would not close Jordan’s borders to the refugees, calling it “a challenge that we just can’t turn our backs on”.

Obama, who has wound down US involvement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, demonstrated a wariness about Syrian rebels even as he warned that Syria could become an enclave of extremism if a political transition does not take place.

“Ultimately what the people of Syria are looking for is not replacing oppression with a new form of oppression,” he said.

“I’m confident that Assad will go,” said Obama. “It’s not a question of if, but when.”

Obama came to Jordan to reassure King Abdullah of Washington’s support as the country tries to cope with the influx of refugees and economic difficulties.

Welcomed at an elaborate ceremony at the king’s palace that included soldiers riding camels, Obama gently encouraged Abdullah to stay on the path of what he called “necessary” political and economic reforms.

Jordan has been the scene of mostly peaceful street protests, rather than the uprisings that have shaken some of its neighbors, and the king has responded with cautious steps toward democracy.

Obama needs Abdullah’s help to advance peace prospects between Israel and the Palestinians. While in Israel and Ramallah, Obama attempted to foster a dialogue between the parties.

“My hope and expectation is that as a consequence of us doing our homework, we can explore with the parties a mechanism for them to sit back down, to get rid of some of the old assumptions and to get this done,” said Obama.

Jordan is one of only two Arab states – Egypt is the other – to have signed peace treaties with Israel, and is seen as a potential player in any future US-led peace push. It also has a majority Palestinian population.

Abdullah offered to play host to Israelis and Palestinians for talks if that is what they want. He said the window of opportunity was fast closing due to continued Israeli settlement activity on the West Bank.

(Source / 22.03.2013)

Israel releases 3 children detained in Hebron

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Three Palestinian children being held in Israeli custody were released on Friday, the Palestinian liaison department said.

Ahmed Abdel Raouf Burgan, 15, Ahmed Abdel Muti Abu Mayaleh, 13, and Mohammed Abdul Muti Abu Mayaleh, 13, were released after being arrested in Hebron this week, a statement said.

Twenty-year-old Muhammad Mahmou Abusackor was also released.

Israeli forces on Wednesday detained some 30 students who were on their way to school in the southern area of Hebron, locals said.

“This type of mass arrest of a group of minors, not on the basis of individual suspicions is unacceptable, even if the minors are formally over the age of criminal responsibility,” B’Tselem said in a statement.

(Source / 22.03.2013)

As Obama fiddles in Israel, Netanyahu tightens blockade of Gaza


Netanyahu tightens blockade of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip during Obama visit.Netanyahu tightens blockade of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip during Obama visit.

As US President Barack Obama visited the sights of the Holy Land as a virtual tourist, his host, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, tightened the blockade of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli government has decided to reduce the six-mile fishing limit agreed as part of the ceasefire deal last November back to its previous 3 miles. The international limit of territorial waters is 12-miles.

The government, said a spokesman for Israel’s occupation forces, has imposed the reduced limit “in response to the missiles fired from Gaza during Obama’s visit”. The Hamas-led Palestinian government in the Gaza Strip has denied responsibility for the missiles, accusing the Israelis of fabricating the story to provide an excuse for such retaliation.

Israel has also closed the Kerem Shalom crossing between Gaza and Israel. Commercial imports and exports normally use this crossing, although traffic has been extremely limited in any case because of the Israeli blockade.

According to a report on Al-Jazeera by its correspondent in Gaza, Wael al-Dahdouh, there is scepticism about Israeli claims regarding the missiles. He confirmed that the government in Gaza City has carried out an investigation across the whole Strip to make sure that none of the resistance groups actually fired the rockets.

(Source / 22.03.2013)

Obama refuses to meet delegation of prisoners’ families


images_News_2013_03_21_anti-obama-demo_300_0[1]RAMALLAH, (PIC)– Director of Palestinian Prisoners Society Qaddoura Fares confirmed that U.S. President Barack Obama has refused to meet a delegation from families of prisoners in Israeli jails.

Fares pointed out in a press statement that there is a talk about the release of a number of prisoners at Obama’s visit to the region, but he denied that the PA has received any formal promises for that.

Dozens of Palestinians have organized a march from Manara roundabout in the center of Ramallah city in the occupied West Bank toward the Muqata’a headquarters, after the arrival of the helicopter carrying U.S. President Barack Obama.

The demonstrators raised slogans supporting Palestinian prisoners and accusing Obama of bias toward Israel.

A youth activist said that the city of Ramallah is witnessing intensified security measures for Obama’s visit. The Palestinian Presidential Guard and security services announced a security square surroundings the presidential headquarters, in order to prevent the citizens from approaching it.

He pointed out that hundreds of elements of the security apparatuses have formed a human barriers to suppress the demonstrators and prevent them from reaching the areas near the presidential headquarters.

The activist reported that the city of Ramallah is experiencing traffic problems due to the security measures which have prevented many employees and students from reaching their work place and schools.

A state of anger and dissatisfaction prevail in all areas of the West Bank, in rejection of Obama’s visit and resumption of negotiations.

The student Ahmed Hussein from Ramallah opined that Obama’s visit does not serve the interests of the Palestinian people, and that all his statements are falsification of history and reality.

Another student from Birzeit University Haya Nizar, who is also one of the protesters against the visit, says that Obama is not a guest, but rather an enemy who came to give his orders to the weak side.

The citizen Mahmoud Salem from Ein Misbah district calls for a real Palestinian unity, and a halt for the security cooperation between the Authority and the occupation.

Obama arrived on Thursday before noon to the city of Ramallah in his first visit as president of the United States of America. Obama’s helicopter landed in the presidential headquarters, and he was received by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and a number of PA officials.

(Source / 22.03.2013)