Is Oil One Reason For Genocide of Rohingya in Burma?

Human rights campaigners are warning that further ethnic cleansing in Burma, which is being exacerbated by land clearances due to economic developments surrounding the Shwe Oil/Gas pipeline, could be imminent.

The Shwe pipeline, which ironically means Golden in Burmese, is due to open later this year. It will allow oil from the Gulf states and Africa to be pumped to China, bypassing a slower shipping route through the Strait of Malacca. It will also ship gas from off shore western Burma’s Arakan State, to southwest China.

Last year there were two massacres against the Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim-minority population who inhabit Arakan state, including the strategic port of Sittwe, which is the start of the pipeline on the Burmese coast.  There are credible reports that the Burmese military is involved in the ethnic cleansing.

Banktrack has repeatedly called on international banks such as Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland to stop financing the pipeline or the companies involved in it, until the protection of community rights along the route could be guaranteed, but this has not happened.

Described by the UN as being amongst the most persecuted people in the world, the Rohingya have been described as the “world’s most forgotten people“. The massacres against them occurred in June and then again in October, with over 120000 now living as displaced people in camps in the state of Arakan, and many more having left for Bangladesh and further afield.

After the first massacre in June, Human Rights Watch argued that “Burmese security forces committed killings, rape, and mass arrests against Rohingya Muslims after failing to protect both them and Arakan Buddhists”. At the time, they estimated that “many of the over 100,000 people displaced and in dire need of food, shelter, and medical care.”

Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch said last year that “recent events in Arakan State demonstrate that state-sponsored persecution and discrimination persist.”

Events worsened last October when another massacre took place. Again Human Rights Watch argued that “attacks and arson” in late October “against Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Arakan State “were at times carried out with the support of state security forces and local government officials.”

Last week the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission warned that “We are extremely concerned about the increase in propaganda against the minority Rohingya in Burma.  It suggests that there is a high possibility of a third massacre against the Muslim minority”.

The Chair of IHRC, Massoud Shadjareh said, “There is a hidden genocide taking place in Burma, and we must speak out before even more of the Rohingya are murdered.  The international community need to come together and stop a third wave of violence taking place.”

Speaking to Oil Change International this morning, leading human rights campaigner Jamila Hanan, who is based in the UK and is founder of Save the Rohingya, said: “We are anticipating a third massacre of the Rohingya on the same scale which took place in Rwanda. We have been informed that this will take place sometime between now and mid-April.”

Hanan continued: ““There is a definite link between the oil development and the elimination of the Rohingya. The Rohingya are being cleared out of Sittwe which is being developed as a deep sea port to take oil tankers from the Middle East. There is huge number of economic developments around the port of Sittwe as a result of the new pipeline.”

The strategic port of Sittwe, where many Rohingya are based, and where the pipeline starts, is just one factor. Another are lucrative oil blocks which have previously been off limits due to sanctions. Next month, Burma plans to launch a much anticipated bidding for 30 offshore oil and gas blocks April, which is likely to receive bids from oil majors such as Chevron, Total and ConocoPhillips, amongst others.

“Our politicians must put their own economic interests aside and act urgently to prevent this imminent human disaster, “says Hanan. “Never before has the public been so informed through social media that a massacre was about to happen – our governments must not be allowed to sit back and do nothing.”

(Source / 24.03.2013)

Israel returns body of man killed last year to Gaza

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Israeli authorities transferred the body of a Palestinian man killed last year to the Gaza Strip on Sunday, Palestinian sources and an Israeli official said.

Palestinian sources told Ma’an that the body of Baseem Kamel al-Amour, 24, was transferred to the Gaza Strip and returned to his family.

Al-Amour was killed seven months ago after Israeli forces shot him near the Israeli town of Nirim, adjacent to the Gaza Strip, the sources added.

His family reported him missing last year and have been looking for him since his disappearance.

Major Guy Inbar, spokesperson for the office of the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories, told Ma’an that “the body of a terrorist involved in a terror attack on Nov. 26 was transferred to the Gaza Strip.”

Al-Amour’s body had been held in Israel since the attack last year, Inbar said, without providing further details.

The body was transferred via the Erez crossing.

(Source / 24.03.2013)

Mursi warns of imminent measures to ‘protect the nation’

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi (C), Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sissi (L) and Central Military commander Gen. Tawhid Tawfiq listening to the national anthem at the Central Military headquarters on March 22, 2013.

Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi warned Sunday of taking unspecified measures to “protect the nation” following violent clashes two days earlier between opposition demonstrators and Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo.

“I am president of all Egyptians and I will not allow anyone to tamper with the nation,” President Mursi said in statement posted on Twitter, adding: “If I am obliged to do what is necessary to protect this nation, I will do, and I fear I am about to do that.”

On Friday an office branch of the Brotherhood in Cairo was torched and ransacked in the clashes, while the Justice and Freedom Party (JFP) building in Alexandria was also looted. The party is the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Opposition activists had called for the protest a week after they battled with the Islamists near the same building in Cairo. The movement vowed on Thursday it would protect its headquarters and bused in hundreds of supporters.

“I urge all to maintain order and keep calm, and i repeat that the right to peaceful demonstration is guaranteed to all,” Mursi said.

The Islamist president added that the “law must be applied when the security of the nation is in danger.” He accused opposition media of inciting violence and warned of punishment.

“Some people are using the media to incite violence, and whoever is found involved will not escape punishment. Whoever participates in incitement is a participant in crime,” he said.

He said, “the attempts that seek to portray the country as a weak state are failed attempts [because] the state institutions are recovering and are able to deter anyone who oversteps the law.”

The Brotherhood has seen about 30 of its offices across the country attacked in widespread protests against President Mursi, the Islamists’ successful candidate in last June’s election.

(Source / 24.03.2013)

Syrian opposition fighters eye up Damascus and call for advanced weapons

An FSA fighter tells Al Arabiya’s correspondent Rima Maktabi that weapons they have accumulated can travel distances of up to two to five kilometers.

Ammunition and weapons are the Free Syrian Army’s primary concern as the conflict and struggle to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad enters it’s third year.

The Syrian regime forces are equppied with immense firepower compared to the oppostion fighters and have shelled and bombed cities across the country. They have left  the opposition scattered in some places and unable to fight back equally given the lack of heavy weaponry.

The video report (follow link) sent by Al Arabiya’s correspondent Rima Maktabi films a training workshop which belongs to the opposition, where weapons like anti-craft missiles are stored.

Abu Fady, an opposition fighter, told Maktabi that Syrian fighters are eyeing up Damascus and expect Assad to fall soon.

“A non-Muslim regime uses clerics, Jihad and plays Quran to call for support” adding “We do not want to be very optimistic and say weeks or days, but the regime will be done in months,” Abu Fady said.

Another FSA fighter tells Al Arabiya that the weapons they have stored can travel distances of up to two to five kilometers.

The opposition fighters accumulated the armory shown in the video after previous battles with Syrian regime forces.

“In some instances…depending on our capabilities…if we had good capabilities…the fighting will be fierce,” one FSA fighter told Maktabi. “If not we halt to collect arms in order to defend ourselves.”

Other arms collected by the FSA come from countries that are allegedly supporting the Syrian uprising.

However, the FSA is looking for more advanced weaponry such as shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft Stinger rockets. But the international community said it is concerned these weapons may fall into the wrong hands.

(Source / 24.03.2013)

Ashrawi slams lack of permits for Christians on Palm Sunday

A Catholic worshiper takes part in a Palm Sunday procession on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem March 24, 2013.

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — PLO official Hanan Ashrawi on Sunday criticized a reported shortage of Israeli-issued permits for Christian communities in the West Bank to visit holy sites in Jerusalem, a statement said.

Parishes in Bethlehem and Ramallah only received 30 to 40 percent of requested permits to visit Jerusalem, a statement from the PLO official’s office said.

Several scout groups will not be able to participate in Palm Sunday celebrations due to the shortages.

“There should not even be a question of needing permits to visit one’s own city,” Ashrawi said.

“East Jerusalem is the occupied capital of the Palestinian people and freedom of worship is a basic human right for all of our Christian and Muslim citizens; a right which is being systematically and increasingly denied by a foreign occupying force.

“The fact that so many Palestinian Christian communities are denied their simple human right to worship freely in their own capital city is unacceptable.”

Ashrawi called on pilgrims and international tourists to represent their Palestinian Christian brothers “who live only a few kilometers away, and who are cruelly denied the opportunity to partake in this important occasion.”

(Source / 24.03.2013)

Syrian Alawites urge ‘brothers’ in the Syrian regime to drop arms

Syrian regime forces raise Bashar al-Assad’s picture in Damascus.

Opposition campaigners from Syrian’s President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect called for his overthrow on Sunday and urged their co-religionists in the army to rebel.

In the first meeting of its kind by Alawites who support the revolt, delegates distanced themselves from Assad’s crackdown against an uprising in which 70,000 people have been killed.

“We call on our brothers in the Syrian army, specifically members of our sect, not to take up arms against their people and to refuse to join the army,” the delegates said in a statement after two days of meeting in the Egyptian capital.

The Alawite sect said disbanding the regime’s authoritarian structure and not only toppling it was required.

It added that it was also essential to build a state of citizenship and law, and called for confronting sectarian problems the regime is fueling.

“The last card the regime can play is civil war and dividing the country,” it said.

Alawite opposition figures are meeting this weekend in Cairo to support a democratic alternative to Assad’s rule and try to distance the community from wholesale association with the government’s attempts to crush a two-year uprising.

As the war takes on an increasingly sectarian bent, severing the Alawite fate from that of Assad could be crucial for the survival of the community, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam that comprises about 10 percent of Syria’s population.

Bassam Yussuf, one of the conference’s organizers, told Al-Arabiya that more than 80 figures discussed ratifying the Syria declaration that addressed the country’s future after Assad’s regime falls.

Yussuf also accused the Syrian regime of involving the Alawite sect’s sons in the ongoing war and said that Assad forced them to fight alongside the regime troops.

He also called for keeping away from the “criminal” regime of Assad.

The most important of these messages is calling on Alawites in Syria to quit supporting the Assad regime and to get involved in the revolution.

Another message is that Assad’s regime does not represent the Alawite sect but only represents itself.

“The Syrian regime is not an Alawite sectarian regime …the Alawite sect was and is being held hostage by the regime,” said the statement, which was read out by Alawite activist Tawfiq Dunia.

The Alawite opposition has emphasized that there is no future for a democratic Syria unless Assad exits power and unless a pluralistic democratic system is established.
The Cairo meeting, which called for a democratic Syria representing all political groups and sects, was also attended by Sunni and other opposition activists.

“What is important is that all Syrians unite regardless of their sect,” Samir Aita, a prominent economist and member of the Syrian Democratic Forum, told reporters on the sidelines of the conference.

(Source / 24.03.2013)

Saudi Arabia threatens to block Skype, WhatsApp, Viber

Saudi Arabia’s telecommunications regulator has threatened to block messaging applications, such as Skype, WhatsApp and Viber.

Saudi Arabia’s telecommunications regulator has threatened to block messaging applications, such as Skype, WhatsApp and Viber if telecommunication companies fail to monitor the applications.

The Saudi Telecommunications and Information Technology Commission urged telecom companies to examine possible ways for security oversight with the companies who own those ‘apps’.

The commission gave the telecom companies until the end of this week to respond. In case they say it is impossible to monitor the applications, the commission said it will consider procedures to block them altogether in the kingdom.

The Saudi telecommunication watchdog had addressed a similar case with BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM) in 2010 when it ordered local telecommunication companies to suspend BlackBerry messenger services.

The Kingdom demanded access to the Blackberry’s encrypted network.

(Source / 24.03.2013)

What Obama missed: Protests of settler highway that will cut J’lem neighborhood in two

Protest1

Graffiti decrying the mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barakat on the road leading to a protest in Beit Safafa.

Both President Barack Obama and the residents of Beit Safafa village experienced the same sandstorm in Jerusalem yesterday. But that’s where the similarities end: while Obama traveled around Jerusalem to Yad Vashem and payed homage to Zionism at Theodor Herzl’s tomb, residents of the Jerusalem village came out in large numbers to protest the construction of a highway set to slice their neighborhood in half.

The plan that will run roughshod over the residents’ wishes and their physical neighborhood is a striking example of the kind of hardships that Palestinians in Jerusalem and elsewhere routinely go through–hardships that Obama only briefly mentioned and that Palestinians endure because of unstinting American diplomatic and military support for the Israeli state.

As Obama was visiting landmark sites in Jerusalem, about 600 residents of Beit Safafa demonstrated against the planned extension of Begin Highway set to run through their village. After Friday prayers in the village, the residents marched down a road to the construction site of the highway, which is already underway despite the vociferous objections of the villagers. The villagers rhythmically clapped as they marched. The demonstrators chanted in Arabic, “Everyone says no to Obama” and “In blood and in spirit, we’ll get back Beit Safafa,” and the chants became louder as they passed under a tunnel on their way to a construction site. Young boys sat on other residents’ shoulders and some of them waved Palestinian flags as they loudly proclaimed their objections to the planned highway. The highway will cut off easy access to the village mosque and bakery, and will also make it difficult for family members who live in the same village to visit each other. Opponents of the highway say that highway does not need to be built right through their village; instead, a tunnel can be built that would serve the same purpose.

Protest1
Palestinian residents of Beit Safafa protest near the construction site of a highway that will slice their village in two

For three months, the residents of Beit Safafa have done their best to throw up roadblocks to the plan for the highway, which they say will cut their neighborhood in two and will not serve them. A fact sheet on the plan from Ir Amin, an organization that advocates for an equitable political solution in Jerusalem, states that “massive construction is currently underway to transform an internal road into a six-lane highway. The new road will slice the neighborhood in two, cut
off its internal roads and completely alter the character of this quiet community while creating a grave environmental threat for its inhabitants.” Plans for the highway date back to 1990, but it is only now that construction has started.

The highway will serve illegal Jewish-only settlements that surround Beit Safafa. It’s all part of a larger plan to fortify “Greater Jerusalem,” and residents are seeking to stop the construction with the demonstrations and court cases against the highway.

“This will damage and destroy our village,” said Ala Salman, a village resident and key organizer of the protests in Beit Safafa, in an interview while the sounds of Friday prayers were clearly heard around us. It’s like “48 never ended,” chimed in Ruth, an Israeli activist who also attended the demonstration. A group of about 15 Israeli activists were there to show solidarity with the village. Salman added that the highway will make the village look “like the West Bank,” a reference to the separation barrier that juts into the occupied West Bank.

The demonstrations, organized by both women and men from the village, have taken place in Beit Safafa, in front of the Knesset and in front of the Jerusalem municipality hall. The spirited demonstrations are a departure from the usual tranquilness of the village. Beit Safafa is a village known to be friendly to Jewish Israeli residents of Jerusalem. It plays host to a few schools that promote coexistence between Palestinians and Jewish Israelis. But the highway threatens to tear the neighborhood in part. And it’s also not the first time roads and highways have sliced and diced the village. According to Aviv Tatarsky, a field researcher for Ir Amin who was present at the demonstration, a road that leads to the settlement of Gilo has previously sliced parts of the village.

The Israeli authorities have responded harshly to the protests. At one point, Jerusalem police demanded that villagers request permission from the city council to protest at a square–a request that the Association of Civil Rights in Israel says is illegal. But the illegal request for permission is the least of the villagers’ worries.

They have had to contend with beatings, arrests and harassment. In February,Haaretz reported that Israeli income tax authorities had stepped up their activity in the village in what residents say is punishment for the demonstration. The Israeli daily also reported that officials from the Jerusalem muncipality have “handed out fines for ‘construction without permits’ – for edifices, including a canopy for instance, that had been there for ten or 15 years.” And while there was no police violence at the demonstration yesterday, that has not always been the case. In early March, +972 Magazine’s Mairav Zonszein reported that at one protest in Beit Safafa, “police exerted excessive force, using stun grenades gas, tasers and pepper spray, violently arresting eight people and injuring 10.” One of the people arrested, according to Zonszein’s report, was a minor.

Salman, a protest organizer, says that the demonstrations “will go on. We’re tired but we will go on.” Besides the demonstrations, court cases have sought to stop the highway.

An initial appeal against the Begin Highway, or Road 4, in February was rejected by the Jerusalem District Court. The court accepted the Jerusalem municipality’s reasoning for why the highway plans can go through, despite the residents saying that they did not have the opportunity to raise objections about Road 4. And earlier in the week, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected a petition to stop work on the highway. The High Court said that a “stop work” order would be too costly for the state, though the judge ordered the Jerusalem District Court to hear another appeal against the highway that has been filed. The Jerusalem District Court will decide on the case after Passover, according to village resident and protest organizer Ala Salman.

The highway is the latest division that Beit Safafa has had to experience. After the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948, the village was divided in two–one side controlled by the Israelis, and the other side by the Jordanians. In 1967, the whole city of Jerusalem came under Israeli control, and some of the residents obtained Israeli citizenship while others received Jerusalem ID cards.

The Begin Highway extension is part of the slow but deliberate Israeli plan to build a “Greater Jerusalem,” which refers to plans for the city’s expansion to encompass the illegal settlements that ring around Jerusalem. This has been a long-standing Israeli plan ever since the 1967 war. “I say frankly that we have to do everything within our power to make Greater Jerusalem the largest Jewish city in the world, a real Jewish city, both in terms of the population numbers and in giving a permanent Jewish character to the whole city,” the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Rabbi Cohen, said in 1967. While legislation has been introduced to enshrine “Greater Jerusalem” into law, the bills have yet to be passed.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also made clear his support for “Greater Jerusalem.” “Efrat and Gush Etzion are an integral, elementary and evident part of Greater Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said in August 2012. “They are the southern gates of Jerusalem and will always be part of the State of Israel. We are building Efrat and Gush Etzion with enthusiasm, faith and responsibility,” the prime minister said. Both Efrat and Gush Etzion are illegal settlements. Including settlements around the city as part of a “Greater Jerusalem” is beneficial to Israel in terms of demography and politics–it allows Israel to claim more Jews in the holy city while making it difficult to divide the city as part of an eventual two-state settlement.

The highway in Beit Safafa is meant to create “one continuous stretch of highway from the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of the city to the Givat Ze’ev settlement bloc to the north,” according to Ir Amin. “It would ultimately link the West Bank’s two most controversial highways: the Tunnel Road connecting Gush Etzion to Jerusalem in the south and Road 443, designed to route settler traffic north of the city to Tel Aviv while denying access to Palestinians.”

The highway’s clear purpose is to make access to Jerusalem easier for settlers that live outside the actual city limits. The intention of the road is that “geopolitically, you can increase settlements… say its a strategic road, [say] you can’t give it up,” commented Ir Amin’s Tatarsky. “This is changing the geography and the demography. It doesn’t even matter what the intention is. But what the result will be [is]: you have more settlements in the West Bank, it’s more connected to Jerusalem, so creating any political change becomes more difficult.”

The Israeli activist Ruth, who joined the demonstration, summed up the intention of the highway extension bluntly: “When you’re talking about cement, it’s almost like not just the physical cement, it’s a metaphorical cement. They’re cementing this idea that it’ll always stay a united Jerusalem.”

(Source / 24.03.2013)

Abbas’ grandchildren gave letters to Obama

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — Two of President Mahmoud Abbas’ grandchildren gave letters to the US president during his visit to Ramallah on Thursday.

Firas wrote that 168 Palestinian children were in Israeli prison, including 15 of Malia’s age and 20 of Sasha’s age, referring to Barack Obama’s children.

“Please get them out. Make Israel stop arresting kids,” the 10-year-old wrote.

Ziad, 14, wrote that Palestinians have been fighting for freedom for 65 years.

“Mr President, this occupation that we’re under is the last occupation in the whole world. Your Excellency, we have a dream too and this is why we’re here today.”

(Source / 24.03.2013)

Rights groups: Israel must ease new Gaza restrictions

People walk past fish on display at a fish market in Gaza City.

JERUSALEM (AFP) — Two Israeli rights groups demanded on Sunday that Israel lift fishing restrictions imposed on Gaza after militants fired two rockets across the border, slamming them as “collective punishment.”

Israel on Thursday halved the area in which Palestinian fishermen are permitted to work, closed the Kerem Shalom goods terminal and imposed restrictions on people wanting to leave the territory after two rockets hit southern Israel, causing damage but no casualties.

The move, which saw the fishing zone cut from six nautical miles to three, was condemned by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem as well as by Gisha, which campaigns for Palestinian freedom of movement.

“The decision to once again reduce the fishing range in response to missile fire by armed groups constitutes collective punishment imposed on fishermen for the actions of others,” said a statement from B’Tselem.

It said Israel’s duty to protect its citizens “cannot justify the harsh damage to fishermen who have done nothing wrong”.

“B’Tselem calls on the military to rescind its latest decision and the restrictions imposed on fishermen in the Gaza Strip in the past years, and to permit fishing in the 20 (nautical) miles range, as was set under the Oslo agreements.”

In a letter to Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, Gisha director Sari Bashi said it was “the second time in less than a month” Israel had blocked civilian travel and goods transfer in response to rocket fire and urged him to lift the restrictions.

“In the last month, there appears to be a new policy toward the Gaza Strip, in which Israel is openly restricting civilian movement to and from Gaza, not because of a concrete security necessity, but rather as a punitive step taken against the civilian population in direct response to fire by combatants,” she wrote.

The group condemned the rocket fire as “a blatant violation” of international law, but also noted Israel’s obligation to avoid harming civilians, saying the recent steps were “entirely unacceptable.”

Israel on Friday resumed full diplomatic ties with Turkey after apologizing for a deadly 2010 raid on a Gaza aid flotilla which left nine Turkish activists dead.

As part of the deal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged “to work on improving the humanitarian situation” in the Palestinian territories in a phone call with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan brokered by US President Barack Obama on a landmark visit.

Islamic Jihad on Sunday slammed the Israeli apology as “poisonous.”

It was an “imaginary victory for Turkey and a poisoned apology from Israel… which came under pressure from (US President Barack) Obama,” Islamic Jihad leader Khaled al-Batsh said in a statement on the group’s Facebook page.

Batsh said the apology was an Israeli attempt to “renew military, security and political cooperation with Turkey… and to prevent it from improving any further than necessary its relationship with the Islamist dimension: Iran and Egypt.”

“The suggestion that this is a victory for Turkey is one of lies. It will not result in lifting the blockade (on Gaza) — the one who will benefit is the Zionist enemy,” he said.

(Source / 24.03.2013)