Egyptian authorities close 55,000 mosques


Fateh MosqueThe Scene outside Fateh Mosque in Cairo

In the latest measure against pro-democracy supporters in Egypt, the coup authorities have banned 55,000 Imams from delivering the important Friday sermons.

The interim Minister of Religious Affairs, Mohamed Mokhtar Jomaa, said that the Imams do not have licences to deliver the sermons and that they are regarded as “terrorists who pose a threat to Egyptian security”.

The move will, in effect, close 55,000 mosques as they have no alternative Imams available.

Commenting on this measure, Egyptian historian Mohamed al-Jawwadi said that this is the first time in Egyptian history that this number of mosques is being closed. “This man surpasses what Ataturk, who ended the Islamic Caliphate and founded secular Turkey, did when he fought against Islam at the beginning of the 20th century,” he said.

As most Egyptian Muslims, either religious or secular, attend the Friday sermons, the coup government believes that Imams have the opportunity to affect the congregation’s emotions. Most, the minister claimed, will then attend anti-government demonstrations.

Since the coup which ousted President Mohammed Morsi in July, Egyptian security forces have attacked several mosques and attempted to prevent the Friday prayers completely in order to undermine the efforts to begin anti-coup protests. Thousands of protesters have been killed by security forces and the thugs which support them.

(Source / 12.09.2013)

Palestinian prisoners start hunger strike for better healthcare


Israeli PrisonIt is claimed the Israeli prison service has escalated its crackdown against prisoners.

Palestinian prisoners in Israel’s Al-Ramleh Prison have announced that they are to start a hunger strike in protest at their “tragic” health conditions. The men are all ill and in need of healthcare.

In a message smuggled out of the prison, they said that they had set up a strategy which includes a hunger strike. The aims of struggle, they said, include better medical treatment in prison.

“Several of our comrades are in a bad way and need urgent surgery and clinical follow-up,” they said. Some of the prisoners are known to suffer from the effects of live bullet wounds, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.

The Israeli prison service has, it is claimed, escalated its crackdown against prisoners. The message referred to several prisoners being placed in solitary confinement and officers have stormed into cells and confiscated prisoners’ private property. “At the same time, the authorities ignore the dangerous health conditions.”

Through the hunger strike, the message explained, the patients in jail want to send a message to the Israeli prison service to stop collective and unreasonable punishments, including the use of solitary confinement.

Other demands include visitation rights and the closure of the “hospital” at Al-Ramleh, which is inadequate and not suited for proper medical treatment.

(Source / 12.09.2013)

Assad: Syria to surrender chemical weapons if U.S. threats end

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad decision to cede control of its chemical weapons was the result of a Russian proposal, not the threat of U.S. military intervention.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Thursday that he will not surrender his chemical weapons unless the United States stops threatening to strike his regime.

“When we see the United States really wants stability in our region and stops threatening, striving to attack, and also ceases arms deliveries to terrorists, then we will believe that the necessary processes can be finalized,” Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Assad as telling state-run Rossiya-24 channel in an interview.

He said Syria’s decision to cede control of its chemical weapons was the result of a Russian proposal, not the threat of U.S. military intervention.

“Syria is placing its chemical weapons under international control because of Russia. The U.S. threats did not influence the decision,” Assad said.

He added that his government would submit data on its chemical weapons stockpile only a month after signing anti-chemical weapons convention.

“Syria will be sending an appeal to the U.N. and the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in a few days, which will have technical documents necessary to sign the agreement,” he added in translated remarks.

The United Nations said it has already received documents from the Syrian government seeking to join the international convention banning chemical weapons.

“In the past few hours we have received a document from the government of Syria which is being translated,” said a U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq. He said it was “an accession document” for the chemical convention.

While both Russian and Syria admit that chemical weapons were used, they both blame the rebels for using them. The United States says the rebels do not have the capabilities to deploy chemical weapons.

The Pentagon said Thursday that Russia is ‘isolated and alone” in accusing Syrian rebels of staging the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack that.

“Russia is isolated and alone in blaming the opposition. We’ve seen no credible reporting that the opposition has used chemical weapons in Syria,” Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters.

A team of U.S. experts accompanying Secretary of State John Kerry met with their Russian counterparts in Geneva on Thursday to discuss the Russian plan for Syria’s chemical weapons handover.

At the start of the meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Syria handing over chemical weapons and joining the treaty banning them would make U.S. strikes against the country “unnecessary.”

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (R) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrive for a news conference at a hotel in Geneva Sept. 12, 2013. (Reuters)

“The solution of this problem makes unnecessary any strikes on Syria, and I am sure that our American partners… are strongly in favor of a peaceful way to regulate chemical weapons in Syria,” Lavrov said, speaking alongside Kerry in Geneva.

Kerry reiterated the U.S. position that force might be needed against Syria if diplomacy over Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile fails.

“President Obama has made clear that should diplomacy fail force might be necessary to deter and degrade Assad’s capacity to deliver these weapons,” Kerry said.

U.S. President Barack Obama had said during a Cabinet meeting on Thursday that he is hopeful the discussions on Syria between Kerry and  Lavrov will have a positive result.

President Obama said he is now focusing on domestic priorities after a tense period during which he sought congressional approval to use military force against Syria for its suspected use of chemical weapons.

“Even as we have been spending a lot of time on the Syria issue and making sure that international attention is focused on the horrible tragedy that occurred there, it is still important to recognize that we’ve got a lot more stuff to do here in this government,” the president said.

(Source / 12.09.2013)

Assad moving chemical weapons to Iraq and Lebanon, Syria opposition General Salim Idriss claims to CNN’s Amanpour

The head of the opposition Free Syria Army, General Salim Idriss, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday that he has intelligence that the Assad regime is moving its chemical weapons out of the country.

“Today we have information that the regime began to move chemical materials and chemical weapons to Lebanon and to Iraq,” General Idriss told Amanpour from inside Syria.

It’s a huge claim that would fundamentally shift everything U.S. intelligence officials have in the past said they believe about the situation in Syria, CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr reports.

Namely, that Assad is wary to disperse the weapons because he knows the U.S. won’t bomb them, that the security forces are in firm control of the weapons, and that there is a large, secure infrastructure in place moving them from rebel-held areas.

If true, notes Starr, US intelligence would be trying to ascertain whether it was a rogue element or a crack in the regime’s control.

The Iraqi government denied Idriss’ claim after the interview aired.

“There is a political agenda behind this claim” Ali al-Moussawi, an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, told CNN on the phone from Baghdad. “We were the victims of chemical weapons under Saddam’s regime and we will never allow to let any country to transfer chemical materials to our lands at all.”

The Syrian opposition is afraid, General Idriss told Amanpour, that Assad will use then use those weapons again after any international mission to take control away from the regime.

“The regime,” he said, “is behaving like Saddam Hussein.”

General Idriss said that he had spoken on the phone with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

“I had a call today with Mr. Kerry and he told me that he will discuss with the Russians how honest the regime is,” he said. “And if our friends discover that the regime is trying to play games and waste time, the threat of the strikes is still on the table.”

Earlier on Thursday, General Idriss told NPR that he had not received “any weapons from our American friends,” despite some reports that lethal aid had indeed started reaching the Syrian opposition.

“I can’t talk about weapons,” he told Amanpour. “We are getting now a lot of support from our American friends, but I can’t talk in detail about all kinds of the support.”

General Idriss dismissed Russia’s plan to have Syria destroy its chemical weapons as missing the point.

“We have many, many problems with the regime,” he said. “The chemical weapons is not … the only problem that we have.”

He cited the many thousands of Syrians who have died at the hands of conventional weapons.

Nonetheless, General Idriss said, if weapons inspectors were allowed into Syria to take control and eventually dismantle the chemical weapons, the Syrian opposition would protect them.

“When they come to our country we will do our best to help them,” he told Amanpour. “But I think the regime will prevent them to go to the locations and to do their job.”

“I think the regime will tell them, ‘Today you can’t go out of the hotels because the situation is very dangerous, and tomorrow you can’t go,’ and they will delay and delay.”

(Source / 12.09.2013)

“The Lab”: Israel Tests Weapons, Tactics on Captive Palestinian Population

Shimon Peres, Israel’s president and the man who oversaw the country’s secret development of a nuclear bomb in the 1960s, held a star-studded 90th birthday party masquerading as a presidential conference in June (see August 2013 Washington Report, p. 12).

Aside from the cloud cast by the decision of the renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking to boycott the event, it was an unabashed celebration of Peres’ life and work by a long list of the international “great and good,” from former U.S. President Bill Clinton to songstress Barbra Streisand.

However, as one Israeli website noted, this $3 million salute to the head of the Israeli state was financed chiefly by the arms industry. The three biggest funders were major arms dealers, including the honorary chair of the conference, Aaron Frenkel.

That was fitting given Israel’s stunning ascent through the international rankings of the arms trade over the past decade. Despite having a population smaller than New York City, Israel has emerged in the last few years as one of the world’s largest exporters of weapons.

In June defense analysts at Jane’s put Israel in sixth place, ahead of China and Italy, both major weapons producers. Surveys that include Israel’s growing covert trade put it even higher—in fourth place, ahead of Britain and Germany, and beaten only by the United States, Russia and France.

The extent of Israel’s success in this market can be gauged by a simple mathematical calculation. With record sales last year of $7 billion, Israel earned nearly $1,000 per capita from the arms trade—up to 10 times the per capita income the United States derives from its weapons industry.

The Israeli economy’s huge reliance on arms dealing was underscored in July, when local courts forced officials to reveal data showing that some 6,800 Israelis are actively engaged in exporting arms.

Separately, Ehud Barak, the defense minister in the last government, has revealed that 150,000 Israeli households—or about 10 percent of the population—depend economically on the weapons industry.

Aside from these disclosures, however, Israel has been loath to lift the shroud of secrecy that envelopes much of its arms trade, arguing that further revelations would harm “national security and foreign relations.”

Traditionally Israel’s arms industry was run by the Defense Ministry, as a series of state-owned corporations developing weapons systems for the Israeli army.

But with the rise of the hi-tech industries in Israel over the past decade, a new generation of officers recently discharged from the army saw the opportunity to use their military experience and their continuing connections to the army to develop and test new armaments, for sale both to Israel and foreign buyers.

In the process Israel’s arms industry was reinvented as a major player in the Israeli economy, now accounting for a fifth of all exports.

Or as Leo Gleser, who runs an arms consultancy firm that specializes in developing new markets in Latin America, observes: “The [Israeli] defense minister doesn’t only deal with wars, he also makes sure the defense industry is busy selling goods.”

Gleser is one of several arms dealers interviewed in a new documentary that lifts the lid on the nature and scope of Israel’s arms business.


Director Yotam Feldman fires an Israeli-manufactured weapon. (Gum films)

Director Yotam Feldman fires an Israeli-manufactured weapon. (Gum films)

“The Lab,” which won a recent award at DocAviv, Israel’s documentary Oscars, is due to premiere in the U.S. in August. Directed by Yotam Feldman, the film presents the first close-up view of Israel’s arms industry and the dealers who have enriched themselves.

The title relates to the film’s central argument: that Israel has rapidly come to rely on the continuing captivity of Palestinians in what are effectively the world’s largest open-air prisons.

The reason is that there are massive profits to be made from testing Israeli military innovations on the more than four million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

According to Feldman, that trend began with Operation Defensive Shield, Israel’s re-invasion of the West Bank and Gaza in 2002, which formally reversed the process of Israeli territorial withdrawals initiated by the Oslo accords.

Following that operation, many army officers went into private business, and starting in 2005 Israel’s arms industry started to break new records, at $2 billion a year.

But the biggest surge in sales followed Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s month-long assault on Gaza in winter 2008-09, which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. Record sales in the wake of that attack reached $6 billion.

These military operations, including the most recent against Gaza, last year’s Pillar of Cloud, the film argues, serve as little more than laboratory-style experiments to evaluate and refine the effectiveness of new military approaches, both strategies and weaponry.

Gaza, in particular, has become the shop window for Israel’s military industries, allowing them to develop and market systems for long-term surveillance, control and subjugation of an “enemy” population.

Given that most Palestinians are now tightly contained in urban settings, traditional policies designed to maintain a distinction between civilians and fighters have had to be erased.

Amiram Levin, former head of the Israeli army’s northern command in the 1990s and now an arms dealer, is filmed at an arms industry conference observing that Israel’s goal in the territories is punishment of the local population to create greater “room for maneuver.”

Considering the effects, he comments that most Palestinians “were born to die—we just have to help them.”

The film highlights the kind of inventions for which Israel has become feted by foreign security services. It pioneered robotic killing machines such as the airborne drones that are now at the heart of the U.S. program of extra-judicial executions in the Middle East. It hopes to repeat that success with missile interception systems such as Iron Dome, which goes on display every time a rocket is fired out of Gaza.

Israel also specializes in turning improbably futuristic weapons into reality, such as the gun that shoots around corners. Not surprisingly, Hollywood is also a customer, with Angelina Jolie marketing the bullet-bending firearm in the film “Wanted.”

But the unexpected “stars” of “The Lab” are not smooth-talking salesmen but former Israeli officers turned academics, whose theories have helped to guide the Israeli army and hi-tech companies in developing new military techniques and arsenals.

Theorists of Death

Shimon Naveh, a manically excited philosopher, paces through a mock Arab village that provided the canvas on which he devised a new theory of urban warfare during the second intifada.

In the run-up to an attack on Nablus’ casbah in 2002, much feared by the Israeli army for its labyrinthine layout, he suggested that the soldiers move not through the alleyways, where they would be easy targets, but unseen through the buildings, knocking holes through the walls that separated the houses.

Naveh’s idea became the key to crushing Palestinian armed resistance, exposing the only places—in the heart of overcrowded cities and refugee camps—where Palestinian fighters could still find sanctuary from Israeli surveillance.

Another expert, Yitzhak Ben Israel, a former general turned professor at Tel Aviv University, helped to develop a mathematical formula that predicts the likely success of assassination programs to end organized resistance.

Ben Israel’s calculus proved to the army that a Palestinian cell planning an attack could be destroyed with high probability by “neutralizing” as few as a fifth of its fighters.

It is precisely this merging of theory, hardware and repeated “testing” in the field that has armies, police forces and the homeland security industries of the U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America lining up to buy Israeli know-how.

The lessons learned in Gaza and the West Bank have useful applications, the film makes clear, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Or as Benjamin Ben Eliezer, a former defense minister turned industry minister, explains in the film, Israel’s advantage is that “people like to buy things that have been tested. If Israel sells weapons, they have been tested, tried out. We can say we’ve used this 10 years, 15 years.”

Yoav Galant, head of the Israeli army’s southern command during Cast Lead, points out: “While certain countries in Europe or Asia condemned us for attacking civilians, they sent their officers here, and I briefed generals from 10 countries so they could understand how we reached such a low ratio [of Palestinian civilian deaths—Galant’s false claim that most of those killed were Palestinian fighters].

“There’s a lot of hypocrisy: they condemn you politically, while they ask you what your trick is, you Israelis, for turning blood into money.”

The film’s convincing thesis, however, offers a disturbing message to those who hope for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

That is because, as Israel has made its arsenal more lethal and its soldiers ever safer, Israeli society has become increasingly tolerant of war as the background noise of life. If Israelis pay no price for war, then the army and politicians face no pressure to end it.

Rather, the pressure acts in the opposite direction. With the occupied territories serving as an ideal laboratory, regular attacks on Palestinians to test and showcase its military systems provide Israel with a business model far more lucrative than one offered by a peace agreement.

Or as Naftali Bennett, the far-right industry minister, observed—both hopefully and euphemistically—after a trip to China in July: “No one on earth is interested in the Palestinian issue. What interests the world from Beijing to Washington to Brussels is Israeli high-tech.”

But possibly worse still, as foreign governments line up to learn from Israel’s experience, the question arises: who else among us faces a Palestinian future?

(Source / 12.09.2013)

Four injured in West Bank clashes between Israelis, Palestinians: Medics

Israeli soldiers (file photo)

 Israeli soldiers
Four people have been injured in clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Clashes broke out after Israeli soldiers and a number of settlers entered a compound in the Palestinian refugee camp of Balata in Nablus on Thursday.

Israeli soldiers opened fire at Palestinian protesters near the compound.

According to Palestinian medical officials, a man was injured when Israeli forces opened fire on protesters and was taken to a local hospital.

Two others were also treated at the city’s Rafidiya hospital for wounds they reportedly sustained from rubber-coated bullets.

Another was detained by Israeli soldiers.

Israelis say the compound houses a tomb believed by many Jews to be the resting place of Prophet Joseph.

The tomb has been the scene of clashes between Israelis and Palestinians.

On September 6, Israeli authorities prevented Palestinians from entering the Ibrahim Mosque in the West Bank city of al-Khalil (Hebron). They said that the mosque was off limits so that settlers could celebrate the new year, or Rosh Hashanah, at a synagogue on the same site.

According to Palestinian rights groups, over a dozen Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in the first half of 2013. Israeli troops also kidnapped nearly 1,800 Palestinians, including women and children, during the same period.

(Source / 12.09.2013)

U.S. weapons reaching Syrian rebels

More where that came from: A rebel Syrian fighter fires a heavy machine gun mounted on the back of a pick-up truck during a battle with government forces in the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib on Monday.

More where that came from: A rebel Syrian fighter fires a heavy machine gun mounted on the back of a pick-up truck during a battle with government forces in the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib on Monday

WASHINGTON/UNITED NATIONS – The CIA has begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria, ending months of delay in lethal aid that had been promised by the White House, according to U.S. officials and Syrian figures.

The shipments began streaming into the country over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the U.S. State Department of vehicles and other gear — a flow of material that marks a major escalation of the United States’ role in Syria’s civil war.
The arms shipments, which are limited to light weapons and other munitions that can be tracked, began arriving in Syria at a moment of heightened tensions over threats by President Barack Obama to order missile strikes to punish the regime of President Bashar Assad for its alleged use of chemical weapons in a deadly attack near Damascus last month.
The arms are being delivered as the United States is also shipping new types of nonlethal gear to rebels. That aid includes vehicles, sophisticated communications equipment and advanced combat medical kits.
American officials hope that, taken together, the weapons and gear will boost the profile and prowess of rebel fighters in a conflict that started 2½ years ago.
Meanwhile, key international players were moving on two diplomatic fronts Wednesday to try to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control.
The five veto-wielding U.N. Security Council members, who have been deeply divided over Syria, met late Wednesday to discuss what to include in a new resolution requiring that Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile be secured and dismantled. They later left Russia’s U.N. mission without commenting.
At the same time, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were heading to Geneva with teams of experts for broader-ranging talks Thursday about the nuts and bolts of putting Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and destroying them, diplomats said.
A senior U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because contacts have been private, said Thursday’s meeting between Kerry and Lavrov would be an exploratory session to gauge whether they can embark on “the Herculean task” of dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons while the country is at war.
The United Nations-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, was also heading to Geneva to be available to meet with Kerry and Lavrov, whose efforts to start peace talks to end the Syrian conflict have been stymied by a regime offensive and the deadly suspected poison gas attack Aug. 21.
While serious differences have already emerged — especially on whether a U.N. resolution should be militarily enforceable as the United States and its Western allies are demanding — the diplomatic moves represent the first major effort in over a year to try to get supporters and opponents of the Syrian government on the same page.
The White House said Wednesday it is not putting a timeline on a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Syria, though press secretary Jay Carney said placing Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, “obviously will take some time.”
In an opinion piece for The New York Times, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for caution in dealing with Syria, saying that a potential strike by the U.S. would create more victims and could spread the conflict beyond Syria and unleash a wave of terrorism.
Although the Obama administration signaled months ago that it would increase aid to Syrian rebels, the efforts have lagged because of the logistical challenges involved in delivering equipment in a war zone and officials’ fears that any assistance could wind up in the hands of jihadists. Kerry had promised in April that the nonlethal aid would start flowing “in a matter of weeks.”
The delays prompted several senior U.S. lawmakers to chide the Obama administration for not moving more quickly to aid the Syrian opposition after promising lethal assistance in June. The criticism has grown louder amid the debate over whether Washington should use military force against the Assad regime, with some lawmakers withholding support until the administration committed to providing the rebels with more assistance.
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who has pressed the administration to do more to help the rebels, said he felt embarrassed when he met with Syrians along the Turkish border three weeks ago.
“It was humiliating,” he said Wednesday. “The president had announced that we would be providing lethal aid, and not a drop of it had begun. They were very short on ammunition, and the weapons had not begun to flow.”
The latest effort to provide aid is aimed at supporting rebel fighters under the command of Gen. Salim Idriss, according to officials, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because part of the initiative is covert. Idriss is the commander of the Supreme Military Council, a faction of the disjointed armed opposition.
U.S. officials, speaking about the provision of nonlethal aid, said they are determined to increase the cohesion and structure of the rebel fighting units.
“This doesn’t only lead to a more effective force, but it increases its ability to hold coalition groups together,” said Mark Ward, the State Department’s senior adviser on assistance to Syria who coordinates nonlethal aid to rebels from southern Turkey. “They see their leadership is having some impact.”
Officials in Washington decided to expand nonlethal assistance to Syria’s armed rebels after they delivered more than 350,000 high-calorie U.S. military food packets through the Supreme Military Council in May. The distribution created confidence that it was possible to limit aid to select rebel units in a battlefield where thousands of fighters share al-Qaida’s ideology, U.S. officials said.
Khaled Saleh, a spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition, said the revamped U.S. efforts are welcome but insufficient to turn the tide of the civil war between rebels and forces loyal to Assad.
“The Syrian Military Council is receiving so little support that any support we receive is a relief,” he said. “But if you compare what we are getting compared to the assistance Assad receives from Iran and Russia, we have a long battle ahead of us.”
While the State Department is coordinating nonlethal aid, the CIA is overseeing the delivery of weaponry and other lethal equipment to the rebels. An opposition official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss covert arms transfers, said American intelligence personnel have begun delivering long-promised light weapons and ammunition to rebel groups in the past couple of weeks.
The weaponry “doesn’t solve all the needs the guys have, but it’s better than nothing,” the opposition official said. He added that Washington remains reluctant to give the rebels what they most desire: antitank and antiaircraft weapons.
The CIA shipments are to flow through a network of clandestine bases in Turkey and Jordan that were expanded over the past year as the agency sought to help Middle Eastern allies, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, direct weapons to moderate Syrian rebel forces. The CIA declined to comment.
The distribution of vehicles and communications equipment is part of an effort to direct U.S. aid to Syrian rebels in a more assertive, targeted manner.
Before the State Department’s Ward established a team of about two dozen diplomats and aid workers in southern Turkey, Washington was doing little more than paying for truckloads of food and medicine for Syrian rebels. U.S. officials concede that the shipments often went to the most accessible, and not necessarily the neediest, places.
In addition to boosting support for rebels under the command of Idriss, who speaks fluent English and taught at a military academy before defecting from the Syrian Army last year, U.S. officials in southern Turkey are using aid to promote emerging moderate leaders in towns and villages in rebel-held areas. Across much of northern Syria, residents have begun electing local councils and attempting to rebuild communities devastated by war.
Ward’s team, working primarily out of hotel lobbies, has spent the past few months studying the demographics and dynamics of communities where extremists are making inroads. Targeted U.S. aid, he said, can be used to empower emerging local leaders who are moderate and to jump-start basic services, while dimming the appeal of extremists.
“We feel we’re able to get these local councils off to a good start,” said Ward, a veteran U.S. Agency for International Development official who has worked in Libya, Afghanistan and Pakistan. “We vet individuals who are getting our assistance to make sure they are not affiliated with terror organizations.”
The assistance to local communities includes training in municipal management as well as basic infrastructure such as garbage trucks, ambulances and fire trucks. The areas receiving this aid are carefully selected, American officials said, noting that extremist groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra, are delivering services to communities newly under rebel control.
“If you see new fire trucks and ambulances in places where al-Nusra is trying to win hearts and minds, this might not be a coincidence,” said a U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to explain details of a sensitive strategy.
The initiatives are part of a $250 million effort to support moderate factions of the Syrian opposition. Of that, the United States has earmarked $26.6 million in aid for the Supreme Military Council. The delivery that began this week does not include items that the rebels have long identified as priorities: night-vision goggles and body armor.
Mohammed Ghanem, director of government relations at the Syrian American Council, which supports the opposition, said the U.S. initiatives are steps in the right direction after years of inaction and misguided policies.
“We’ve definitely seen a structural and conceptual evolution in terms of their understanding of what’s going on on the ground,” he said in an interview. “On the other hand, we’re always lagging behind. We’re not leading. Developments are always like six months ahead of us.”
Ghanem said the effect of U.S. assistance is limited by the number of proxies that Washington must use to deliver it. American officials in Turkey rely on a network of contractors and subcontractors to deliver the aid.
Ward said he hopes the assistance efforts will position the United States to have strong relationships in a postwar Syria.
“When you finally have a free Syrian government, you will know them and they will know us,” Ward said. “We will have been working with them week after week, month after month. These won’t be strangers.”

(Source / 12.09.2013)

2 Egyptian tanks cross Gaza border line for 1st time

Egyptian military

Egyptian military

Gaza, ALRAY – Two Egyptian Tanks crossed for the first time Thursday evening the barbed-wire fence into the Gaza Strip.

Local media reported said the tanks invaded for the first time this line and walked on the road adjacent to the concrete wall erected by the Egyptian authorities on the border with the Gaza Strip years ago.

“Masked black-clad gunmen topped tanks while a Verna car driven by a masked militant was going along in between,” it added.

The armored tanks headed east towards the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing closed since two days.

The Egyptian army blew up a tunnel against Salah al-Din Gate near the border with the Gaza Strip.

The Egyptian army recently sent reinforcements along the border with the Gaza Strip where tanks and artillery neared the border in an unprecedented development.

The Egyptian army has destroyed most of the underground tunnels used to bring food and goods and fuel to the Gaza Strip which has been under an Israeli blockade since more than 6 years.

(Source / 12.09.2013)

Israeli, Palestinian negotiators say mistakes they made in Oslo talks still cause damage

ABU DIS, West Bank –  In 1993, the words rang hopeful and historic. Israel and the PLO agreed “it is time to put an end to decades of confrontation and conflict,” live in peaceful co-existence and reach a “just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement.”

Twenty years later, the words that launched Israeli-Palestinian talks on dividing the Holy Land into two states ring hollow to many on both sides. Negotiators say mistakes they made then are causing damage to this day.

Palestinians seem no closer now than they were 20 years ago to a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, and some argue they are worse off. The number of Israeli settlers has doubled. East Jerusalem is cut off by an Israeli barrier. Gaza, ruled by the Islamic militant Hamas since 2007, is turning into a distinct enclave.

Many Israelis, scarred by Palestinian suicide bombings and rocket fire from Gaza, are skeptical of the other side’s intentions and believe the politically divided Palestinians cannot carry out a peace deal, even if one is reached.

The Declaration of Principles, sealed with a handshake on the White House lawn on Sept. 13, 1993, was hailed as a breakthrough in the century-old conflict between Arabs and Jews. It was the first of a series of agreements — collectively known as the Oslo Accords, after the secret talks in Norway that led to them — that created the Palestinian Authority and set up a patchwork of self-rule areas in the Palestinian territories.

It also produced broken promises, bouts of violence and two failed attempts to negotiate a final peace deal.

Former Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia, who participated in the initial secret talks, said that if he knew then what he knows now, he wouldn’t have agreed to the accords.

“With such kinds of blocs of settlements? No. With the closure of Jerusalem? No. Not at all,” Qureia said in an interview at his office in the Jerusalem suburb of Abu Dis.

Qureia’s Israeli counterpart in those secret talks, former Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin, said it was a mistake to have a five-year interim period of Palestinian autonomy during which a deal on Palestinian statehood was to be negotiated. This, he said, effectively gave veto powers to hardliners — Hamas on the Palestinian side, settlers and right-wing politicians on the Israeli side.

“It was a foolish idea. We had to get immediately to a permanent agreement, as we did with Egypt, as we did with Jordan, rather than to open up the process for the oppositions on both sides,” he said.

The negotiators should have seized a “moment of grace” in 1993 to strike a final deal, he said. But he noted that Israel’s prime minister at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, feared peace efforts could collapse if he moved too quickly.

Last month, Israelis and Palestinians launched a third attempt to negotiate a final peace deal, prodded by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Kerry hasn’t said whether he’s breaking the mold of the Oslo Accords. The Oslo formula prescribed bilateral talks, with U.S. mediation, on borders, security arrangements, partition of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

Critics say its fundamental flaw was the guiding principle that “nothing is agreed on until everything is agreed on.”

That was meant to encourage negotiators to be fearless. Instead, it linked the two most difficult issues — control over Jerusalem holy sites and the fate of Palestinian refugees — to those where progress was made.

“You can agree on borders … and security, but if you don’t agree on the right of return (of refugees) or who owns the Temple Mount (holy site), then everything else is held hostage to it,” said Israeli analyst Yossi Alpher.

Israeli Yair Hirschfeld and Palestinian Samih al-Abed, academics and former Oslo negotiators, have proposed defining the end point of the negotiations now, with international guarantees.

The Palestinians would be assured they will end up with the same amount of land Israel captured in 1967 and with a capital in east Jerusalem. But the actual borders, including land swaps, will be left to negotiations.

In exchange for such certainty, the two sides would negotiate partial agreements — on a fast track for security, economic relations and borders, and on a slower one for tougher issues. The Oslo motto would be turned on its head, becoming: “What has been agreed upon will be implemented.”

This approach, outlined in a March 2013 paper by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, was shown to Kerry when he visited the West Bank, said Edward Djerejian, the institute’s founding director.

Al-Abed, still a negotiator, and Kerry “went over the report and Kerry made notations in the margins,” said Djerejian, a former U.S. diplomat. “If you see things in the report and Kerry’s approach, you see some similarities.”

State Department officials were not immediately available for comment on the issue.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has come out against partial agreements, fearing that what is billed as provisional could become permanent. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been unwilling to accept the 1967 lines as a starting point and has refused to consider a partition of Jerusalem.

In recent years, the Palestinians fought to correct what they see as the cardinal sin of Oslo: agreeing to negotiate while Israel expands settlements on the lands it captured in 1967. Since 1993, the number of settlers in the West Bank and east Jerusalem has doubled to more than half a million, making partition more difficult.

Former negotiator Ghassan Khatib said the settlement blunder was in part the fault of the Palestinian leadership under Yasser Arafat, dominated by exiles who knew little about Israel.

The international community has demanded Israel halt settlement construction, but Kerry was unable to get Netanyahu to comply and instead persuaded the Palestinians to negotiate, once again, without a freeze.

Over the past 20 years, both sides have traded blame over the failures.

Palestinians say they made a major concession up front when they recognized Israel in the 1967 frontiers and settled for 22 percent of historical Palestine. Instead of negotiating in good faith, Israel tried to “take more from the empty pockets of the Palestinians” through settlement building, said Qureia.

Despite the upheavals of the past two decades, one of the main products of the Oslo Accords has survived — the Palestinian self-rule government that administers 38 percent of the West Bank and is propped up by foreign aid.

It’s been praised for building institutions worthy of a state and as a stepping stone to international recognition, such as last year’s U.N. General Assembly’s acceptance of a state of Palestine. Yet it’s also seen as an inadvertent means of perpetuating Israeli control while absolving Israel of the financial burden of occupation.

Khatib said Palestinians lost more than they gained. “In the end, we could not achieve our legitimate objective of independence and ending the occupation,” he said.

(Source / 12.09.2013)


By Peter Clifford                   ©             (

In a clever diplomatic manoeuvre, the Russians picked up on a chance remark by US Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday and turned it into a “show stopper” which brought plans for the impending US attack on Syria to a shuddering halt.

President Obama Addresses the US on Syria

Asked in a news conference “What would it take for the US to call off its strike against Syria”, Kerry, in an off the cuff remark said, “For Bashar Al-Assad to give up all his chemical weapons – but that won’t happen”.

Within hours, the Russians had put that forward as a credible plan and got the Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid Al Muallem, to agree, the Syrian even saying that his country would not only hand over all its chemical weapons but sign the international Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) treaty.

Currently 189 states have signed the CWC, to cease manufacture and use of chemical weapons and to destroy all existing stocks. Five nations have never signed it: Syria, Angola, North Korea, Egypt and South Sudan. Israel and Burma have signed the treaty but never ratified it.

It was not long before predictably Syria’s allies Iran and China backed this “generous offer” and leaders of other states around the world had no choice but to cautiously follow suit.

At first the White House tried to pass Kerry’s remark off as “rhetorical”, it wasn’t meant to be an offer, only a comment on an unlikely scenario. By Tuesday, as the proposal gained momentum, the White House, trying to claw back some of the kudos from the Russians, was saying “President Obama had discussed this idea with President Putin at the G20 meeting in St. Petersburg last week”.

The plan is of course fraught with difficulties not least, finding all the chemical weapons in the first place, not knowing if you have all of them or just some and destroying them while there is war going on all around you.

The UN chemical weapons inspectors who investigated the attack on August 21st in Damascus, are expected to report next Monday 16th September or shortly after.

What the Russian proposal did do for Obama was to give him a breathing space to consider his options over the Syrian strike and getting the nation behind him.

On Tuesday evening the President was due to address the American people in an attempt to get them and their legislators behind a motion to support a military strike which was about to be voted on in the Senate, yesterday, Wednesday, and later in the House of Representatives.

In the event, President Obama spoke to the nation as planned on Tuesday but radically altered the last part of his his prepared text and the Senate vote was called off.  If you have not yet heard this speech you can watch it here:


While President Putin basked in the “glory” of being “the peacemaker”, game one to him, many leaders saw the Russian proposal as a delaying tactic, but one which they could not ignore.

In an attempt by the West to gain back the high ground, the French, backed by the UK and the US, all as permanent members of the UN Security Council, have drafted a motion to be debated in the Council to get the Syrians to hand over their chemical weapons but backed by Chapter 7, the use of force, if they fail to do so.

Lavrov and Kerry Trying to Match Plans

Threats of force against Syria will of course not be acceptable to the Russians and John Kerry and the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, are due to meet in Geneva today, Thursday, to discuss the French motion and an alternative 4 point Russian plan, further.

The BBC has a video report reviewing the situation, HERE:

In another clever tactic, President Putin published an article this morning in the New York Times in order to “speak directly to the American people and their political leaders.”

In the piece he says that a US military strike on Syria could cause the war to spill over into other countries and unleash a “wave of terrorism”.

And playing further on the US public’s clear distaste for involvement in major world conflicts he says, “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan ‘you’re either with us or against us.’

But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes”.

Looked at from a distance it’s clever stuff when your international adversary can ally himself with your own supporters’ sentiments and out-manoeuvre you.


However for the Syrian Opposition, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the “stand off” has only hit morale and created real anger and disappointment.

General Idriss Angry Over Russian Plan

The SNC called the Russian proposal a “political manoeuvre aimed at buying time” for the Assad regime and General Idriss of the FSA said that not only should the chemical weapons be removed but President Assad should be tried for their use at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

General Idriss also called on western nations and their allies to increase supplies of weapons to the Opposition so they could continue to “liberate Syria” and exhorted all the Opposition fighting units to “intensify operations in all regions of the country”.

The “pause” in the “strike Syria” plan, will of course allow all sides to pile in more weapons and to strengthen defences where they anticipate attack.  Russia and Iran will undoubtedly step up its arms deliveries to Syria and there are reports that the CIA has finally started delivering “lethal aid” to the Opposition in the last fortnight.

As well as light weapons and munitions, the CIA is reported to be delivering armoured vehicles, sophisticated communications equipment and advanced combat medical kits and increased activity has been seen at the Incirlik airbase in Turkey where the arrival of planes with both new US personnel and cargo have been observed.

On the ground, of course, there is no let up in the fighting or the destruction. A regime airstrike on an Opposition field hospital at Al Bab near Aleppo on Wednesday is reported to have killed 11 people including a volunteer doctor from the Yemen.

On the other side there is also a disturbing report that members of the Al-Nusra Front entered the village of Maksar al-Hissan in Homs province on Monday and executed 12 Alawites before leaving again on Tuesday.

Opposition forces, including Jihadist units like Al-Nusra, have also issued a statement declaring their withdrawal from the Christian village of Maaloula near Damascus, where there has been heavy fighting over the last few days, HERE:

Opposition fighters have also taken control of an Assad army vehicle base at the town of Atman in Deraa province, HERE:  and continue to attack Syrian Army bases on the outskirts of Damascus,HERE: