Major powers clash at UN over Syria’s chemical arms

US officials testify before the House Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill Sept. 10, 2013 in Washington, DC

NEW YORK (AFP) — Russia clashed once again with Western powers Tuesday as envoys drafted a UN resolution to add muscle to a plan to strip Syria of its chemical weapons.

US President Barack Obama maintained his threat to launch military strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, even while cranking up the diplomatic pressure on Moscow.

Envoys from France, Britain and the United States launched talks on a resolution after Russia had revealed a surprise plan of its own to secure Assad’s banned weapons.

But Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declared that any resolution under Chapter Seven of the UN charter, which authorizes enforcement measures, would be “unacceptable.”

Moscow’s UN mission called an urgent Security Council meeting for 2000 GMT, and France and Britain said they planned to introduce their motion later in the day.

Russia’s proposal on Monday was seized upon by some as a way to dismantle Syria’s nerve gas stockpile, but Western capitals remain deeply skeptical of both Moscow and Damascus’s intent.

And Obama’s top national security team insisted Tuesday that US military action to punish Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons was still very much on the table.

They said the White House would examine the Russian initiative while still seeking domestic Congressional authorization for a limited package of missile strikes.

“We’re waiting for that proposal. But we’re not waiting for long,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said.

In Paris, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that France was seeking a resolution to “provide for extremely serious consequences in the event of Syria violating its obligations.”

And Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron said: “I think we do need some deadlines, we do need some timetables.

“This is not about someone monitoring chemical weapons in Syria. It’s got to be about handing them over to international control and their destruction.”

Obama was due to make a major national address to a skeptical US public and Congress later in the day to ask for authorization to order missile strikes to punish Assad’s regime.

US intelligence alleges that on Aug. 21, Assad’s forces fired volleys of rockets armed with sarin gas at a dozen rebel-held suburbs of Damascus, killing more than 1,400 people.

Syria said Tuesday it would cooperate with the Russian plan to place its chemical weapons under international control, and hailed this as a victory against US military threats.

But Russia has consistently blocked any Western attempt to sanction or restrain Damascus through UN resolutions.

Obama argues that Syria’s use of sarin violates a decades-old international taboo against chemical arms, and has said he is prepared to launch a punitive strike.

First, however, he has offered to wait to see if he can win approval from the US Congress, and has embarked on a media blitz to sell intervention to the American public.

Briefing a Congressional committee, Kerry alleged Syria has 1,000 metric tonnes of chemical weapons including components for mustard and sarin gas.

“Yesterday, we challenged the regime to turn them over to the secure control of the international community so that they could be destroyed,” he told lawmakers.

Obama has said he is prepared to act alone or with a small coalition of allies, even if Russian opposition prevents a UN mandate.

But lawmakers remain wary of seeing US forces dragged into a new Middle East conflict, and on Tuesday some were crafting a measure that would delay approval of the strikes.

“Basically, the AUMF (authorization for use of military force) would be conditional and triggered only if the Russian plan fails,” a Senate aide told AFP.

In Damascus, civilians in Assad-controlled areas expressed relief that the US strike plan appeared to be receding, and the government welcomed the rival Russian initiative.

Syrian rebel leaders were outraged however, denouncing international “apathy” and arguing that delays while the US Congress or the UN Security Council debates bolstered the regime.

The crisis flared when Assad’s forces launched a brutal crackdown on anti-regime protests in March 2011, and spiralled into a civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people.

(Source / 10.09.2013)

Aid groups call on Israel to release Polish NGO worker

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — The Association of International Aid Agencies on Tuesday called on Israel to release an aid worker who was denied entry into the country.

Kamil Qandil, a Polish humanitarian aid worker, has been held for over a week in an Israeli detention center after being denied entry at Ben Gurion airport on “security grounds,” a statement said.

An employee of Polish Humanitarian Action, Qandil has a valid multiple-entry work visa issued by Israel but was denied entry into the country on Sept. 2.

A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday to determine whether he will be allowed entry or be forced to return to Poland.

Qandil worked on projects in the south Hebron hills to rehabilitate water cisterns.

“Kamil’s case presents serious questions about the way Israel’s immigration authorities and Israel Security Agency operate,” his lawyer Yadin Elam said.

“It is an uphill battle to defend Kamil in a legal process where both the defendant and his lawyer are shrouded in a veil of ignorance, as we know nothing about the nature of the allegations against Kamil.”

Head of mission from Polish Humanitarian Action Marta Kaszubska said that the Israeli government “is setting a worrying precedent by denying the entry of humanitarian workers who are at the forefront of ensuring that the needs of vulnerable people are met.”

(Source / 10.09.2013)

EU announces €52 million development package for PA

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — The European Union on Monday announced a €52 million assistance package to support development in Palestine.

The funding was announced during caretaker prime minister Rami Hamdallah’s visit to Brussels.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said the ultimate objective of the financial assistance “remains the establishment of a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace and security,” an EU statement said.

Some €13 million will help municipalities invest in small infrastructure projects and improve management practices, while €11 million will “promote sustainable, private sector-led social and economic development” which will create jobs, the statement said.

Meanwhile, €20 million will help build the new Nablus East Water Treatment Plant

The remaining €8 million will support the delivery of community services in East Jerusalem “in order to consolidate the possibility of reaching a future political agreement of the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states.”

The package is the final part of the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument assistance, bringing the total contributed to the Palestinian people to €300 million in 2013.

(Source / 10.09.2013)

Syria prepared to unveil chemical weapons, foreign minister says

MOSCOW (AFP) — Syria is prepared to unveil its chemical weapons arsenal and halt its production, Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said Tuesday, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.

“We are ready to state where the chemical weapons are, to halt production of chemical weapons and show these installations to representatives of Russia, other countries and the UN,” Muallem said in a statement sent to Interfax.

(Source / 10.09.2013)

Syrian forensic expert says he has evidence confirming chemical attacks were carried out by Assad

A defector from the Syrian government claims he has evidence that Assad's government was directly responsible for the chemical attacks in Aleppo last March.

A defector from the Syrian government claims he has evidence that Assad’s government was directly responsible for the chemical attacks in Aleppo last March.

Abdeltawwab Shahrour, a Syrian forensic expert who defected to Turkey last month, claims he has evidence confirming President Bashar Assad’s government had used chemical weapons near Aleppo in March.

“We have examined thousands of bodies of victims which the head of forensic medicine received in Aleppo,” Shahrour was quoted in the Arab News. “I thought that was cold murder. I contacted some of the rebels and documented these crimes.”

To date, there has been little doubt that a chemical attack was perpetrated in Syria. However, both the government and the rebels have accused each other of orchestrating the chemical attack. Mr. Shahrour said that he had documents showing the government was behind the attack in Aleppo.

This development comes at a time when the US government seems to be more open than ever to a diplomatic solution, through which the Syrian government will hand over its entire arsenal of chemical weapons to the United Nations. Even as the possibility of a military strike has receded, a bipartisan group of Senators in the US Congress has begun drafting an alternate proposal to avert a military attack on Syria. In addition, France has begun to develop a plan that allows Syria to cede chemical weapons.

(Source / 10.09.2013)

Palestinian firms listed as clients of Israeli general who fled war crimes arrest

Major-General Danny Rothschild.

A “security company,” owned by an Israeli general who once fled the UK fearing a war crimes arrest, boasts of major Palestinian and foreign firms in Ramallah as its clients.

The firm, Netacs Ltd. was founded and is co-owned by reserve Major-General Danny Rothschild, who commanded Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank in the 1990s.

Rothschild, who has defended the use of torture, also commanded Israeli occupation forces in southern Lebanon and worked in military intelligence.

Among the clients Rothschild’s firm lists on its website is the Palestinian conglomerate PADICO, which owns large swathes of the Palestinian economy, and whose chairman is the billionaire Munib Masri.

In 2011, Rothschild cut short a visit to London, after warnings that he could be arrested in relation to war crimes.

Other clients Rothschild’s firm lists include the Ramallah Mövenpick hotel, the Bank of Jordan, Jordan Ahli Bank, Cairo Amman Bank, the Palestinian “security firm” Pal-Safe, Google and Colombia’s Bogota international airport.

In addition to security, Netacs advertises services including “Business Facilitation” and “Establishment of National Intelligence Organizations.”

Dealings date back to beginning of Oslo

Rothschild’s dealings date back to the early years of the Oslo accords, whose 20th anniversary will be marked this week.

As Peter Lagerquist wrote in the Journal of Palestine Studies in 2003, Rothschild set up his firm in 1995, along with another officer, Gadi Zohar, and an intelligence agent named Samuel Ettinger.

Ettinger is still listed as an owner of Netacs. According to Lagerquist, “their business was based on privileged access both to the PA and the Israeli security establishment.”

In other words, they are occupation profiteers who peddle their influence with the occupation to help out Palestinian businessmen.

Zohar claimed to have very good relations with the PA and the Palestinian security services, as well as with PADICO, Paltel and other firms in Ramallah.

Netacs also worked for the now-defunct Casino near Jericho.

Close business ties

Another co-owner of Netacs is the Israeli army’s Lt. Colonel Avi Nudelman, who also heads the Israeli-Palestinian Chamber of Commerce (IPCC).

The IPCC is a body that prominent Palestinian businessmen, such as Rawabi developerBashar Masri, and various PA figures, have worked closely with to help Israeli firms penetrate the Palestinian economy and profit even further from occupation.

“Worst forms of normalization”

Last year, the Palestinian Boycott National Committee (BNC) censured PADICO’s Munib Masri for his close business ties to Israel, especially with Israeli tycoon Rami Levy who builds supermarkets in illegal settlements.

The statement said:

The warm relations between a segment of Palestinian capitalists and Israeli capitalists, details of which have recently emerged, is one of the worst forms of normalization which provides the [Israeli] occupation a fig leaf to cover up its continued occupation, ethnic cleansing, racism, siege of Gaza, land confiscation and settlement construction, and denial of the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

The employment of Major-General Danny Rothschild by so many Palestinian firms, although apparently not new, has got to be a new low.

(Source / 10.09.2013)

Israel seizes more Palestinian lands to expand illegal settlements

The Israelis have intensified their settlement building activities since the start of the negotiations which means they are not serious about the peace talks.”

Israel has defied international pressure by continued seizure of Palestinian lands to expand its illegal settlements, Press TV reports.

Tel Aviv is grabbing agricultural lands in the Jordan Valley and al-Quds (Jerusalem) in order to expand its illegal settlements in the area.

Meanwhile, Palestinian human rights groups warn that Israel’s policy of land expropriation may cause a humanitarian crisis.

“The Israelis have been attempting to control the land in Jordan Valley.… They are only focusing on the subject today because it is in the media and suddenly the world knows,” said Fayez Abbas, Palestinian political analyst.

Israel has announced tenders for about 3,100 housing units in East al-Quds and the occupied West Bank since the resumption of the so-called peace talks in July.

The Israelis have intensified their settlement building activities since the start of the negotiations which means they are not serious about the peace talks, Jamal Juma, the coordinator for the Stop the Wall campaign, told Press TV on September 4.

On September 3, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in their latest round of talks.

According to reports, chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, and Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni attended the meeting. The officials presented their views on different issues, but no agreement was reached.

The presence and continued expansion of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine has created a major obstacle for the efforts made to establish peace in the Middle East.

More than half a million Israelis live in over 120 illegal settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East al-Quds.

The United Nations and most countries regard the Israeli settlements as illegal because the territories were captured by Israel in the 1967 war and are hence subject to the Geneva Conventions, which forbid construction on occupied lands.

(Source / 10.09.2013)

Soldiers Kidnap 17 Palestinians In Al-Arroub Refugee Camp

[Tuesday at dawn September 10 2013] Dozens of Israeli soldiers invaded the Al-Arroub Refugee Camp, north of the southern West Bank city of Hebron, violently broke into dozens of homes and searched them, and kidnapped at least 17 Palestinians.

Israeli Soldiers - File, Maan News
Israeli Soldiers

Local sources have reported that the soldiers attacked several Palestinians while searching their homes, and distributed leaflets in the camp threatening “harsh consequences should local youths continue to throw stones at the soldiers and settlers in the area”.

The 17 kidnapped Palestinians have been identified as Monther and Nidal Mohammad Jawabra, Nael Saleh Jawabra, Wajdy Ash-Shareef, Mohammad Abu Joudah, Anan Abu Afifa, Mohammad and Ahmad Abu Sillam, Mo’taz Abu Sham’a, Mohammad and Ahmad Nayef Badawy, Baha’ Majed Ra’ey, Ammar Ez Al-Jawabra, Tareq Yasser Al-Jawabra, Mahmoud Mohammad Al-Jawabra, Ahmad Nayef, and Mo’taz Ismail Ash-Shareef.

Dozens of soldiers also searched lands near the camp, broke into and searched an Internet Coffee Shop, located in front of the camp, and interrogated several residents.

Ahmad Abu Kheiran, Coordinator of the Popular Committee against the Wall and Settlements in refugee camps in the southern part of the West Bank, stated that the army has escalated its invasions into the camp, and that the soldiers kidnaped numerous school and college students during these invasions.

He added that the soldiers, accompanied by Border Guard Policemen, have been harassing the residents, including women and children, on a daily basis, an issue that caused further tension and frequent clashes.

(Source / 10.09.2013)

Israeli government closes case of killing of unarmed protester; cites ‘lack of evidence’

Four and a half years have passed since the killing of Bassem Abu Rahmeh by a tear gas canister fired at him directly from a short range. The death was documented by three video angles, but the Israeli state announced Monday it is closing the case citing lack of evidence

Bassem Abu Rahme flying a kite (image from palestinechronicle)
Bassem Abu Rahme flying a kite

Military Advocate General (MAG) Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni decided to close the case file in the investigation of the circumstances of the killing of Bil’in resident Bassem Abu Rahmeh, citing lack of evidence. The MAG made this decision in late July, and it was recently conveyed to the Israeli High Court of Justice as part of an updating statement by the Office of the State Attorney in a petition filed by Subhiya Abu Rahmeh, Bassem’s mother, together with Bil’in Village Council and Israeli human rights organizations B’Tselem and Yesh Din.

According to the statement signed by Senior Deputy at the Office of the State Attorney, Att. Michal Michlin-Friedlander, and Assistant to the State Attorney, Att. Udi Eitan, also former Deputy State Attorney Yehoshua Lemberger had reached the same conclusion.

30-year-old Bassem Abu Rahmeh, a resident of the village of Bil’in, whose story was told in the film “Five Broken Cameras” nominated for Best Foreign Film in the Academy Awards, was killed in April 2009 after he was struck in the chest by an extended-range tear gas grenade during a demonstration against the Separation Barrier in his home village of Bil’in. Three video segments filmed during the demonstration prove that Abu Rahmeh was situated to the east of the barrier, did not act violently, and did not endanger the soldiers in any way. An analysis of the video footage of the incident, by visualization experts determined that the grenade was fired directly at Abu Rahmeh, in complete contravention of open-fire regulations.

In its response, the state did not explain the rationale behind its decision, limiting itself to the following laconic wording: “There is not enough evidence needed for criminal proceedings for adopting legal measures against any of the soldiers involved in the incident.” No information was given regarding the findings of the investigation, which the state argued had included “comprehensive and rigorous investigative actions,” or about the versions provided by the soldiers who had been questioned. Neither did the statement provide the contents of the opinions given by experts of the Israeli military and police and their interpretation of the findings disclosed by the video footage. .

Ever since Bassem Abu Rahmeh was killed, his family – aided by NGOs Yesh Din and B’Tselem – has been continuously striving to have the truth of the incident brought to light and to have those responsible for their son’s death prosecuted. Their efforts have been repeatedly thwarted by the sluggish conduct of the MAG Corps. Due to the initial refusal by the MAG at the time to launch a Military Police investigation, the investigation was opened a year and half later than it should have. The foot-dragging and procrastination in the case have continued even once the investigation was launched over three years ago. Only a petition to the High Court of Justice finally brought about a decision in the case.

In response to the statement submitted by Office of the State Attorney, Att. Emily Schaeffer of Yesh Din’s legal team said: “The decision to close the file in the killing of Bassem Abu Rahmeh is unacceptable, particularly in view of the expert opinion that determined that the tear-gas grenade was fired directly at Abu Rahmeh from a close range. Despite three separate videos that recorded the killing of Bassem, the MP and police have failed to find the factors that caused the death of an unarmed demonstrator. The conduct of law enforcement bodies in this case is further proof of the feebleness of the authorities in cases of Palestinian casualties. Moreover, it seems that there might be no intention of finding out the truth or prosecuting the offenders even in extreme cases such as this, in which there is clear-cut and unambiguous evidence. Bassem’s family, together with B’Tselem and Yesh Din, will continue in its struggle to bring the parties responsible for his death to justice.”

Att. Yael Stein, Director of Research at B’Tselem, said in response: “The unbearable procrastination taken by the authorities in this case, and the fact that the MAG only made a decision due to a High Court Petition, once again demonstrate that the MAG Corps must adopt the recommendations of the Turkel Commission without delay. This includes determining a pre-defined schedule for each stage of the investigation, and ensuring that each stage is brief. Also, the statements made by investigative bodies about their decisions must include the reasoning underlying the decision so as to enable lodging effective appeals.”

(Source / 10.09.2013)

Call to action: Join ISM for the 2013 Olive Harvest Campaign

At a time of regular settler violence in the West Bank, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) is issuing an urgent call for volunteers to join us for the 2013 Olive Harvest Campaign at the invitation of Palestinian communities.


Israeli soldier stands next to Palestinian farmers harvesting their olives

The olive tree is a national symbol for Palestinians. As thousands of olive trees have been bulldozed, uprooted, burned and destroyed by Israeli settlers and the military – according to the UN settlers alone destroyed or damaged over 7,500 trees just in 2012 – harvesting has become more than a source of livelihood; it has become a form of resistance.

The olive harvest is an annual affirmation of Palestinians’ historical, spiritual, and economic connection to their land, and a rejection of Israeli efforts to seize it. Despite attempts by Israeli settlers and soldiers to prevent them from accessing their land, Palestinian communities have remained steadfast in refusing to give up their olive harvest.

ISM volunteers join Palestinian farming communities each year to harvest olives, in areas where Palestinians face settler and military violence when working their land. Your presence can make a big difference, with Palestinian communities stating that the presence of international volunteers reduces the risk of extreme violence from Israeli settlers and the Israeli army.

We support Palestinians’ assertion of their right to earn their livelihoods and be present on their lands. International solidarity activists engage in non-violent intervention and documentation, practical support which enables many families to pick their olives.

The campaign will begin mid October and will last around 5-7 weeks.  We request a minimum 2 week commitment from volunteers but stress that long-termers are needed as well. We ask that volunteers start arriving in the first week of October, so that we will be prepared when the harvest begins.


The ISM will be holding mandatory two day training sessions which will run weekly on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Please see the join ISM page or contact for further information.

In addition to the Olive Harvest Campaign, volunteers can also participate in regular ISM activities in support of the Palestinian popular struggle.

Join us in our solidarity with the Palestinian resistance at this crucial time of year!

In Solidarity,

ISM Palestine

(Source / 10.09.2013)