Israel heightens campaign to demolish Al-Aqsa Mosque and build alleged Temple

Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock

Al-Aqsa Mosque (black dome) and the Dome of the Rock

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon has participated in a propaganda film to promote the Jewish relationship with the city of Jerusalem. The film shows the gradual wearing away of the Dome of the Rock and the appearance of the alleged Temple of Solomon in place of the dome. The Israeli Foreign Ministry had banned the release of an earlier version of the film, in which the Dome of the Rock was more clearly demolished and the temple was put in its place.

Palestinian organisations and individuals have condemned both films, charging that they are promoting, perhaps even inciting, Israelis to demolish the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque and to build the Temple in its place, a propaganda campaign now pushed by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

The Al-Aqsa Association for Waqf and Heritage said that officially supported organisations and groups, as well as branches of the Israeli occupation, are all working hard to promote the idea of demolishing the Al-Aqsa Mosque and building the Temple in its place. The association warned against the danger of such ideas, “which are picking up pace on a daily basis”.

Moreover, in a statement the association warned that the “plans to bomb the Al-Aqsa Mosque are on the verge of execution.”

The association quoted Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper saying that the Israeli Foreign Ministry had earlier prepared “a short promotional video that makes historical Jewish claims regarding occupied Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque” that included “scenes of the Dome of the Rock, followed by a scene in which the dome is demolished, and then a scene showing the construction of the alleged Temple on its ruins.”

According to the newspaper, the film was censored “in case of angry Muslim and Arab reactions and some scenes were changed.”

In the video, Danny Ayalon talks about what he calls “the Temple generation”, referring to the alleged Temple as “the spiritual centre in Jerusalem, which is considered to be a holy city… it is easy to identify by the gilded Dome of the Rock”. He also claims that the Dome of the Rock was built in place of the Temple, which he says was first built 3,000 years ago.

The association responded by saying that “the Zionist project is actually founded on the dream and myth of first occupying Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and then constructing the alleged Temple at the expense of Al-Aqsa Mosque.” It also warned against the danger of any “plans to divide the Al-Aqsa Mosque as step towards establishing the alleged Temple.”

The official spokesperson for the Islamic Movement in Palestine, Zahi Njedat, responded to the film by calling on the Islamic and Arab nations to “step up to the occasion, as the danger has approached and time is precious.”

On his part, the former Palestinian Mufti and head of the Supreme Islamic Council in Jerusalem, Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, pointed out that the Israeli propaganda is proof of its bad intentions regarding the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and proof that extremist Jewish groups are now dominating the Israeli public and taking advantage of the Arab world’s internal conflicts to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque as soon as possible.

Moreover, Sabri called on Jerusalemites and all Palestinians to be careful and vigilant and to remain present inside the mosque as a field solution, “because surprises may occur any day now”. He also expressed his disappointment in the situation of the Arab and Islamic nations, which should be taking responsibility for what is happening in Jerusalem.

Continuous raids

In regards to the continuous raids on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the association said that MK Moshe Feiglin from the Likud Beiteinu coalition stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Wednesday and was accompanied by about 30 settlers, only one day after a raid by around 100 female soldiers in uniform, who according to worshippers raided the mosque from the Mughrabi Gate and were divided into groups to listen to guides speaking about the alleged Temple.

In addition to the soldiers, settlers and politician, 30 settlers accompanied by a rabbi also raided the mosque last Monday.

The association warned against the occupation’s increasing actions “against the Al-Aqsa Mosque, through which the occupation is trying to impose a new fait accompli in Al-Aqsa”. They called on the Islamic nations to “take initiative and assume responsibility towards the first Qiblah in order to defend and preserve the sanctity of Al-Aqsa.”

The association also pointed out that the settlers and Jewish groups raiding the Al-Aqsa focus as well on the Museum of Islamic Art Chapel and the Eastern Wall, especially near the Al-Rahma Gate. It noted the previous warning by the former head of the Islamic Movement in Palestine, Sheikh Raed Salah, against plans to turn the Museum of Islamic Art Chapel into a Jewish synagogue.

(Source / 20.10.2013)

Journalists rally in Ramallah to reopen Gaza media offices

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — A group of journalists rallied in Ramallah on Sunday to launch a petition to reopen the Gaza bureaus of Ma’an News Agency and al-Arabiya.

The petition stated that the closure of the media offices violates Article 19 of the Palestinian Basic Law, which entitles the freedom of opinion, and Article 27, which allows anyone to operate a media outlet.

Rally leader Omar Nazzal said the petition aims to pressure Hamas to reopen the media offices, adding that the closures were a “slap in the face” for freedom of expression.

Nazzal called on intellectuals and writers to sign the petition.

Ma’an’s Gaza bureau has been closed since July 25.

The attorney-general in the Hamas-run government ordered the closure after Hamas officials accused Ma’an of deliberately publishing “false news reports seeking to incite against Gaza.”

Ma’an Network announced in early October that it would stop working in the Gaza Strip as it seeks to recoup financial losses from the Hamas government’s closure of its Gaza City office.

In a statement, Ma’an said that the Hamas government had seized control of its office and equipment in the weeks since the closure and it could therefore no longer justify paying expenses toward the operation.

The statement also reiterated “complete confidence in our colleagues in Gaza” and insisted it remained committed to its “administrative and financial commitments” toward them.

(Source / 20.10.2013)

Israel Refuses Entry Of 120 Trucks Into Gaza

Sunday October 20, 2013, the Israeli Authorities refused to allow 120 trucks, loaded with construction material, into the Gaza Strip as they tried to cross through the Karem Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) terminal between Gaza and Israel.

File - PNN
Palestinian Legislator, Jamal Al-Khodary, stated that preventing construction materials from entering Gaza means denying thousands of workers any chance of earning a living, and is costing the Gaza Strip significant loses as it is also obstructing vital projects, the Palestine News Network (PNN) has reported.

He added that the list of supplies Israel refuses to allow into Gaza is long, and includes construction materials of different sorts, and added that Israel is also preventing the Palestinians in Gaza from exporting their goods and produce, an issue that constitutes collective punishment that violates international Law.

“This is collective punishment against the Palestinians”, he said, “This is part of the ongoing escalation against Gaza, and the siege that that continues for the seventh year”.

Al-Khodary also said that Israel, as an occupying power, must abide by international laws and regulations, and should open all terminals leading to Gaza to allow Freedom of Movement of people and goods.

(Source / 20.10.2013)

Tunisia sees Islamist militants exploiting Libya chaos

Tunisia’s Prime Minister Ali Larayedh says he is “committed” to finding a political solution for the country as his ruling Islamist party agreed to step down to make way for a caretaker government. s

Tunisia’s Prime Minister Ali Larayedh said Islamist militants are exploiting anarchy in neighboring Libya to get training and smuggle weapons across North Africa’s porous borders.

His coalition government is grappling with an Islamist militant group known as Ansar al-Sharia, which is one of the most radical to emerge since Tunisia’s 2011 uprising against autocratic President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali Ben Ali.

Security is a sensitive matter for Larayedh’s ruling moderate Islamist party, Ennahda, which has agreed to step down in three weeks to end months of unrest set off by the assassination of two secular leaders by Islamist militants.

As well as Ansar al-Sharia, North Africa is home to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other Islamist militants such as those led by veteran commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who claimed responsibility for the attack on Algeria’s Amenas gas plant in January, in which nearly 40 foreign workers were killed.

France’s military campaign to oust al-Qaeda-linked Islamist fighters from Mali this year prompted some to enter southern Libya, where the government in Tripoli exerts scant control.

“There is a relation between leaders of Ansar al-Sharia, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar al-Sharia in Libya. We are coordinating with our neighbors over that,” Larayedh, who was interior minister before becoming premier, told Reuters.

“Extremists in Tunisia have profited from the situation in Libya and they get their weapons from Libya. They have benefited and they have gotten training in Libya.”

Larayedh, who spent more than a decade in prison for being a member of a banned Islamist party before the uprising, was speaking shortly after Tunisian forces killed 10 members of Ansar al-Sharia near Goubellat close to the Algerian border.

Tunisian authorities said gunmen had attacked two police patrols in the north of the country and had been planning assaults on security force buildings and the military.

It was the worst violence in Tunisia since Larayedh’s government declared Ansar al-Sharia a terrorist organization two months ago, accusing it of assassinating Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, two secular opposition leaders.

Ansar al-Sharia’s leader in Tunisia is a former al-Qaeda fighter in Afghanistan, who is accused of inciting his followers to attack the U.S. embassy compound in Tunis a year ago.

“We are chasing down the last members of this group Ansar al-Sharia. We are advancing in this war,” Larayedh said in an interview at his presidential office in Tunis.

He said more than 300 members of the organization had been arrested since the crackdown began.

Tunisian forces have been bombarding Islamist militants in the Chaambi mountains near Algeria. The militants, who holed up there after the French offensive in Mali, killed eight soldiers in Chaambi in July, some of whom had their throats slashed.

Sticky political transition

Tunisia, where a series of Arab uprisings began in 2011, had been seen as a regional model, and its transition to democracy remains less violent than those in Egypt and Libya.

But Islamists, who were long oppressed under Ben Ali, have gained influence, fuelling debate about the role of political Islam in one of the Muslim world’s most secular countries and one with the strongest ties to Europe.

Salafi Islamists have prevented concerts and plays being staged in some cities, and attacked alcohol vendors, saying they violated Islamic principles. For secular Tunisians, Islamists want to impose strict Sharia or Islamic law, which they feel threatens liberal education and women’s rights.

Ennahda itself is split between conservatives and moderates.

Critics of Larayedh, a quietly-spoken man with glasses and a small moustache, say he is an uncompromising hardliner. But the former maritime engineer has taken some conciliatory steps, appointing political independents to major cabinet posts when he took office in February.

Ennahda’s chairman, Rached Ghannouchi, who spent many years in exile in Britain, has long promoted a moderate form of political Islam which he says can work with modern democracy.

Ennahda won 40 percent in Tunisia’s first post-revolt election for an assembly to draft a new constitution. It formed an interim coalition government with two secular parties.

But the political transition was knocked off track by the assassination of the two opposition leaders, which enraged those who believed Ennahda was too lenient on Salafi Islamists blamed for those killings and other attacks on secular Tunisians.

Now Ennahda has agreed that the government it leads will step down after three weeks of talks that start on Wednesday to form a caretaker government, set up an electoral commission and decide on a date for elections to put the country back on track.

“The government is ready to give up power in three weeks from the start of the talks. I am ready to give up my post even before the three weeks,” said Larayedh.

Ennahda was one of the first Islamist parties to rise to power in the region after 2011, when many of its leaders gained government posts after years in jail or overseas exile.

Although its popularity has eroded during its period in power, Ennahda remains the best organised political movement in Tunisia. It faces several leftist and secular groups, as well as Nida Tounes, a party that includes figures from the Ben Ali era.

“This is a not a loss, more a part of the transition,” Larayedh said of the government’s resignation. “What our country needs is stability.”

(Source / 20.10.2013)

‘Friends of Syria’ to meet rebels to push peace efforts

PARIS (AFP) — Western and Arab powers will meet with Syria’s opposition on Tuesday in a bid to push for long-delayed peace talks in Geneva with President Bashar Assad’s regime.

The conference in London will bring together representatives of the Syrian opposition and the foreign ministers of the so-called London 11, the core group of the Friends of Syria, including the United States, France and Saudi Arabia.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the nations would “discuss preparations for the Geneva Conference, support for the (opposition) Syrian National Coalition, and our efforts to achieve a political settlement to this tragic conflict.”

Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint envoy of the UN and the Arab League, was meanwhile Sunday pushing for the peace negotiations by preparing to meet the head of the pan-Arab bloc in Cairo before heading for talks in Damascus and a visit to its key regional ally Iran.

World powers are focusing on a political solution to the war in Syria after Washington dropped plans for US-led strikes in response to an alleged chemical attack by the Assad regime.

Russia and Western nations are pushing for new talks between the Syrian regime and rebels on a negotiated solution to the conflict, which has killed more than 115,000 people since March 2011.

But the opposition’s Western and Arab backers are facing resistance from some among the rebels to attending the so-called Geneva 2 talks – proposed for November – as long as Assad remains in power.

The opposition Coalition has agreed to attend the London conference, saying it would focus on “these countries’ understandings about Geneva 2 and what it should result in.”

The peace talks aim to map a path forward toward a political transition in Syria, and put in place a transitional government.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has led efforts with Moscow to find a political resolution to the war, was returning to Europe for the talks in his 16th trip since taking office in February.

Kerry told National Public Radio the talks in London are aimed at “trying to move the process forward.”

“We’re working towards this Geneva conference, not that we know what the outcome is,” Kerry said.

Syrian officials have repeatedly said they are willing to take part in the Geneva peace talks, but not with any preconditions such as Assad’s resignation.

The opposition Coalition is also to hold internal discussions in Istanbul this week that should culminate with votes on whether to attend the Geneva talks and on the formation of a transitional government.

In a sign of the deep divisions over the Geneva talks, the Syrian National Council, a key member of the Coalition, has already said it opposes the conference and threatened to quit the grouping if it takes part.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said Paris was working with the opposition ahead of the talks in London on building a united front for the Geneva conference.

“We want the opposition to be united at this conference. It is important that it be united and strong to influence the outcome,” he said.

Britain believes the Coalition’s fresh leadership – Ahmad Jarba was elected its new chief in July – could make progress on ending internal debates.

London will also be keen at the talks to support moderate elements in the opposition, so Assad cannot present himself as the only alternative to the radical Islamists who have taken on an increasingly prominent role among Syria’s rebels.

Syria’s close ally Russia, which helped to avert the US-led military action by brokering a deal to dispose of the Assad regime’s chemical weapons, is not attending the London meeting.

The “London 11” consists of Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

(Source / 20.10.2013)

Doubts over when Syria peace conference to be scheduled

Arab League general secretary Nabil al-Arabi (R) and U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi at a press conference in Cairo.

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said on Sunday a peace conference on Syria is set for Nov. 23 in Geneva following a meeting at the League’s headquarters in Cairo, but U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, denied that any date has been set.

“The date has not been officially set,” Brahimi was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

The Syrian envoy also said that the talks cannot be convened in the absence of “credible” opposition representation, according to Agence France-Presse.

“The conference will not convene without a credible opposition representing an important segment of the Syrian people opposed (to President Bashar al-Assad),” Brahimi was quoted as saying by AFP.

The Syrian opposition is divided over whether to attend the peace talks and will be voting next week on the matter.

It insists that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad cannot remain in power, while Assad’s government says his departure from office cannot be put on the negotiating table.

Brahimi who is on a regional tour to gather support for the Geneva II peace conference planned for November, met with Egyptian officials on Saturday and stressed that “intense efforts” are being made to push for the talks, AFP reported.

“Our hope is that the conference would be held,” he said, in statements carried by AFP.

After the Egypt leg of his tour, Brahimi is expected to fly to Syria and Iran, a steadfast ally of Assad’s regime.

The renewed push for peace talks comes after a September deal in which Syria agreed to turn over its chemical weapons arsenal for destruction to avert threatened U.S. military strikes.

Mohammad Farouk Tayfour, the general secretariat of the Syrian National Council (SNC), told Al Arabiya that the opposition group could participate in Geneva II if the Syrian government “builds steps of trust.”

Tayfour, who is also deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria, said what have been agreed on in Geneva I must be fulfilled first and foremost including “release of prisoners,” if SNC to join in the proposed peace talks.

Speaking from Istanbul, Tayfour his group’s participation must also “fulfill the Syrian revolution’s objectives.”

On Oct. 7, the SNC reiterated its demand that President Bashar al-Assad must go for it to partake in Geneva II, dashing hopes that the proposed peace conference will convene especially that Damascus has long rejected any prospect of Assad’s resignation.

(Source / 20.10.2013)

Noem me maar X

By  Lydia de Leeuw       ©     (

Het is zaterdagmiddag. Ik spring in een taxibusje naar het centrum van Beirut. Door het gebrek aan beenruimte zit ik bijna op schoot bij m’n buurvrouw. We raken aan de praat. Zodra ze hoort dat ik werk in de hulpverlening aan Syrische vluchtelingen, spert ze haar ogen wijd open: “ik ben Syrische!”

Ze, Amna, begint in één adem te vertellen over haar situatie en al na enkele zinnen rollen de tranen over haar wangen. Ze is in haar eentje gevlucht en heeft geen familie of kennissen in Libanon. Haar broers en zussen zijn met hun families achtergebleven in Syrië. Ouders heeft ze niet meer.

De dag na onze ontmoeting in het taxibusje spreken we af in Beirut. We maken een lange wandeling en Amna (36) vindt het duidelijk een verademing om gezelschap te hebben en te bewegen. “Ik ken hier niemand en zit veel binnen.”

Amna kwam midden juni van dit jaar naar Libanon. De gevechten tussen het regeringsleger en het Vrije Syrische Leger in haar stad, Deir ez-Zor, maakten het leven onveilig en onmogelijk. Ze verneemt af en toe nieuws van haar broers en zussen, over wie ze zich grote zorgen maakt. De situatie is onverminderd gevaarlijk. Of haar huis nog overeind staat, weet ze niet.

Nu verblijft ze in Dahiya, een wijk aan de rand van Beirut. Daar is ze opgevangen door enkele werkende vrouwen die een apartement delen. “Zij nemen me in beschermen en komen voor me op als de huisbaas de maandhuur van me eist. Ik weet niet wat ik zonder hen zou doen. God heeft ze op mijn pad gebracht.”

Amna volgt inmiddels een cursus in accounting: “Ik werkte jarenlang als accountant in Deir ez-Zor en wil me nu specialiseren in het Libanese systeem van accounting zodat ik hier een kans kan maken op werk. In 2003 heb ik hier een jaar accounting gestudeerd en ik hoop dat dit mijn kans op werk en dus overleven vergroot.” Slechts af en toe lukt het Amna om voor enkele dagen of weken administratief werk te vinden: “Geen enkele werkgever kan me in dienst houden omdat ik Syrische ben.” Ze zal een speciale vergunning moeten zien te bemachtigen voordat ze legaal mag werken in de commerciële sector.

Amna’s doorzettingsvermogen, kracht en sterke wil om onafhankelijk te blijven, maken een diepe indruk op me. Ze zet alles op alles om een zelfredzaam bestaan te leiden. Pragmatisch stelt ze: “Toen ik moest kiezen tussen het kopen van een winterjas en de training, koos ik toch voor het laatste. Daar ligt m’n toekomst en dat is het allerbelangrijkste.”

Ze heeft geen geld voor kleren en nauwelijks genoeg om eten te kopen. Mannen die weten in welke moeilijke situatie Amna verkeert, proberen haar over te halen tot prostitutie. “Dat zou nooit een optie voor me zijn, hoe hoog m’n financiële nood ook is”, zegt ze. Ik kan me niet voorstellen hoe onterend het moet voelen als mannen je, vanwege je hulpeloze situatie, zo proberen uit te buiten.

Over een paar dagen heeft Amna een afspraak bij het VN kantoor voor vluchtelingenregistratie. Ze heeft geen idee wat ze daarvan kan verwachten en of ze hulp zal krijgen. Ik durf haar geen valse hoop te geven en zeg dat ze zal moeten afwachten. Wanneer we op adem komen in een christelijk koffiehuis, vult ze het VN formulier voor de aanvraag van vluchtelingenstatus in. De vriendelijke eigenaar van de zaak toont zijn interesse en wenst haar het allerbeste.

Syrië kent vele bevolkingsgroepen; o.a. alawieten, soenni’s, shiïten, armeniërs, koerden, maronieten. Ik vraag Amna of zij denkt dat deze groepen na de oorlog weer naast elkaar kunnen leven. Ze twijfelt daar geen moment aan: “we hebben altijd zij aan zij geleefd. Ik ben sunniet, maar heb vrienden van vele verschillende geloven en etniciteiten. Mijn broer stelde een Alawitische vriend aan me voor, als een mogelijk toekomstige echtgenoot voor me. Echt, we leefden altijd gebroederlijk naast elkaar. Het beeld dat de wereld nu krijgt van Syrië – van diepgewortelde haat tussen mensen – klopt niet.”

“Noem me maar X”, zegt ze als ik haar vraag of ik haar naam mag noemen in een artikel. “Ik heb er liever ook geen foto bij. Bovendien, mijn naam en foto doen er niet toe. Mijn verhaal is het verhaal van velen. En mijn situatie is nog niet eens zo slecht: ik heb geen kinderen die van me afhankelijk zijn en ik ben in goede gezondheid, godzijdank. Mijn lot en dat van alle andere Syriërs is één en hetzelfde. Noem me maar X.”[1]


[1] Amna is een fictieve naam om haar anonimiteit te waarborgen.

‘Since the chemical weapons deal, nothing has changed’: The West has taken its eye off the carnage in Syria


Syria’s sorrow: The number of families left to mourn their dead is rising as the regime targets doctors. 

The international community must establish “humanitarian corridors” between Syria and neighbouring countries to prop up a hospital system that has lost thousands of doctors and is “rapidly” running out of life-saving supplies, one of Britain’s leading surgeons has said.

Vascular surgeon David Nott, who last week returned from a six-week trip to northern Syria, said that doctors and other healthcare workers were being targeted by the regime, and that aid supplies were being disrupted by Islamist militants who were increasingly at war with both the Assad government and the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Mr Nott, a seasoned emergency medic who has worked in conflict zones including Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, worked 18-hour days at a field hospital in a rebel-held area, one kilometre from the front line, during an aid mission with the charity Syria Relief.

Operating with Syrian surgeons under shellfire and with minimal equipment, Mr Nott said the hospital was seeing more than a dozen gunshot victims a day – usually civilians targeted by regime snipers.

“There aren’t many doctors now in that part of the country, and only a handful who are surgically trained. The ones that are left are those that really want to help the people,” he said. “That’s why the majority of people are dying – the surgeons are not trained in trauma, in how to deal with massive bleeding.”

“The hospital I operated at didn’t have a hat or a mask for a surgeon to wear. So much stuff is needed there because it all runs out so rapidly. To get the supplies across the lines is the big problem. There needs to be some kind of humanitarian corridor set up, either by the UN or even the British government. We need a humanitarian channel so that the aid can come in.”

His call comes amid growing frustration among aid organisations at the international community’s failure to address the humanitarian crisis facing Syria. While the arrival of UN weapons inspectors tasked with destroying President Assad’s chemical weapons ended a diplomatic impasse between Western nations, who back the rebels, and Assad’s ally Russia, it has done little to help the millions of civilians caught in the conflict.

“This population needs external assistance … The UN Security Council [agreement] hasn’t changed anything,” said Dr Jean Hervé Bradol, research director at Médecins Sans Frontières, who returned from Syria two weeks ago. “The agreement they made wasn’t followed by any concrete consequence to the civilian population … Nothing has changed. It’s very striking that the international community is pleased with the chemical agreement yet nothing significant has changed … Realistically, we would like to be in a position to send convoys into the area where the most vulnerable population is under attack, yet at the moment this looks like a dream.”

Last week, six volunteers from the International Committee of the Red Cross and one volunteer from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (Sarc) were kidnapped by armed men near the town of Saraqeb in Idlib province. Three of the ICRC volunteers and the Sarc volunteer have been released but, despite repeated appeals, their colleagues are still being held. The incident has again highlighted the dangers faced by aid workers in Syria.

Entering the country from Turkey, Mr Nott had to hide in the back of his vehicle at checkpoints manned by fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis). “The problem is that the aid is being stopped by Isis,” he said. “It’s very difficult to get in or out. If they don’t like you they will pull you out and arrest you and kidnap you.”

He said that healthcare workers and medical facilities had become targets for regime forces. “If you take out the health workers, nobody wants to fight because there’s nobody there to put them back together again,” he said.

“One hospital we passed has been levelled to the ground. Our hospital has been targeted by Scud missiles. They are trying to blow up all the hospitals. We had drivers coming back with bullet holes in their ambulances. The regime has spies around, and if they know who the doctors are they will find out who their relatives are and arrest them or detain them, or do something awful to them.”

Syria Relief and Islamic Relief UK backed Mr Nott’s call for humanitarian corridors. Martin Cottingham, from Islamic Relief UK, said: “We’ve been pressing for humanitarian corridors for some time now.

“Since the start of the conflict, 15,000 doctors have left Syria and in some areas there is just one doctor per 70,000 people. Hunger is also a real issue. As winter approaches, the need for these humanitarian corridors for aid to get to remote areas is essential.” He added that a humanitarian corridor would need to be set up by “a coalition of the willing, a combination of government and the UN”. France called for humanitarian corridors last year but the plan failed amid fears it would need enforcing militarily.

Mr Nott, who returned to work in London last week, said that he was grateful to have had the opportunity to teach local surgeons techniques such as clamping blood vessels and sewing up holes in the heart, which can save the lives of bullet-wound patients, most of whom had, before his visit, been bleeding to death.

“I’ve never performed so many thoracotomies [chest openings] in my life because there were so many people being shot in the chest,” he said. “People were bleeding to death because nobody had taught the surgeons how to open the chest up to control the bleeding from either lungs or heart or the major blood vessels.”

“With me there teaching them, it was a different matter, but I wondered how they were going to get on after I left. I was so happy to receive an email from them [last week] to say they had done exactly what I’d taught them – and that more patients were surviving.”

Food for Syria

The United Nations estimates that four million Syrians are now in need of emergency food. Save the Children’s chief executive, Justin Forsyth, adds that “with winter looming and hunger needs set to grow… we need humanitarian access to all communities in Syria in weeks, not months”. Currently, only organisations that have been approved by the government, such as the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (Sarc), can distribute aid within Syria. “But deliveries of food rations continue to be delayed due to security risks on the roads, checkpoints… and the constant shift of control lines across the country,” says Abeer Etefa, a spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP). Entering from open border crossings – such as Al Arida, Al Masnaa, Abboudiyeh on the Lebanese border, and Lattakia Port, in north-western Syria – supplies have to pass through checkpoints controlled by opposing forces, while “drivers get stopped, hijacked and sometimes the cargo gets looted or worse”, according to Simon Hacker of the WFP.

Could humanitarian corridors work? They would require Syrian approval or an international mandate. The MP Brooks Newmark argues that “the initiative has to come from within the regime itself; it has to allow safe passage to the various relief agencies working in Syria and take responsibility for protecting its civilians”. Attempting to set up a corridor without the regime’s approval would be dangerous. “No country would put its soldiers at risk in that way,” he says. “The Russians have a moral obligation to put pressure on the regime to let humanitarian aid get to innocent civilians.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, says: “Corridors… need to be protected, yet nobody is prepared to supply troops, or has thought about where these corridors would go, and… no space is safe. All fighting parties need to agree on free access to humanitarian agencies and to avoid, at all costs, the politicisation of aid.”

Lord Ashdown agrees on the problem of safety: “A humanitarian corridor is a very good idea, but who is going to protect it?

(Source / 20.10.2013)

Time for the ICC to act on Palestine

A clear and urgent need for judicial intervention is needed for Palestinians who continue to be marginalised.

The authors urge the ICC to live up to its mandate of putting an end to impunity for the perpetrators of international crimes
Over three years ago, on January 22, 2009 – in the immediate aftermath of Operation Cast Lead – the government of Palestine lodged a declaration with the Registrar of the International Criminal Court, accepting the Court’s jurisdiction “for the purpose of identifying, prosecuting and judging the authors and accomplices of acts committed on the territory of Palestine since 1 July 2002”. This declaration gives the ICC jurisdiction to investigate all suspected crimes – regardless of the nationality of the perpetrator – committed on Palestinian territory.

The reality on the ground demonstrates the clear and urgent need for judicial intervention.

Since the beginning of the Oslo process over 20 years ago, the rights of the Palestinian people have been continuously sacrificed in the name of political progress. The peace process’ forfeit of the rule of law and human rights was intended to secure peace and security. The result has been neither peace nor security, but rather a consistent – and in recent years, increasing – deterioration of the quality of life. In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, theexpansion of settlements continues relentlessly, while the illegal Annexation Wall creates a situation that is completely at odds with both international law and the stated goals of the peace process. In the Gaza Strip we are focused on securing access to medicines, water, adequate food, and, on the right to movement, education and work.

Life in Palestine is subject to the rule of the jungle: generals and politicians know that they can violate the law with impunity, fuelling a continuous cycle of violations and suffering. The result has been an increase in war crimescommitted against innocent civilians. Throughout Palestine we are struggling for the right to live, and the right to live in dignity.

Pressure not to press charges

Against this backdrop, the possibility of accountability at the ICC – and let us be clear that this represents the possibility that, for the first time, the law will be applied equally and impartially to all sides – has been subject to political manipulation. Europe and the US in particular, have consistently tried to block any possible ICC intervention. In the context of Palestine’s bid for UN membership, the Guardian reported that the UK was basing its support for the resolution on the State of Palestine refraining “from applying for membership of the international criminal court or the international court of justice, which could both be used to pursue war crimes charges or other legal claims against Israel'”. President Mahmoud Abbas reported similar pressures form the US: “I heard from the Americans …. They said, ‘If you will have your state, you will go to the ICC. We don’t want you to go the ICC.’”

It is even more unacceptable to leave millions of civilians outside the scope of international justice because of political pressures exerted on the government, especially if it is in an extremely weak position as a government under occupation, and cannot take bold positions without the support of the international community.

On April 3, 2012, after a delay of over three years, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, then the ICC Prosecutor, issued a much criticised two page decision refusing to accept jurisdiction over Palestine, on the basis that the Office of the Prosecutor was not competent to decide whether Palestine was a state and thus capable of accepting the Court’s jurisdiction. It was claimed that this was a decision for the UN, although the statement ignored the fact that in October 2011 – prior to the Prosecutor’s decision – Palestine had been accepted as a Member State of UNESCO. On November 29, 2012, the UN General Assembly recognised Palestine as a “non-Member Observer State” leaving no possible doubt as to whether Palestine can be regarded as a State vis-à-vis the ICC Statute.

It appears that the ICC Office of the Prosecutor – despite its ability to open an investigation based on Palestine’s still valid 2009 declaration – is waiting for Palestine to ratify the Statute of the International Criminal Court and become a full member.

Al Haq and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights are indeed pushing for Palestine to ratify the ICC Statute and other international treaties. However, the ICC’s current position is unacceptable.

Unjust justice

It goes against the very object and purpose of the ICC to allow states to escape accountability because they changed their mind after triggering the Court’s jurisdiction, whether by subsequently refusing to ratify the Statute or “pulling back” the initial referral. Justice cannot be held to ransom in this way.

It is even more unacceptable to leave millions of civilians outside the scope of international justice because of political pressures exerted on the government, especially if it is in an extremely weak position as a government under occupation, and cannot take bold positions without the support of the international community.

Decisions such as these must be taken by a judicial organ of the Court, delegating such an important admissibility decision to political bodies undermines the independence of the Court, and Article 19(3) of the Rome Statute should be utilised in this regard.

The reality of the situation in Israel and Palestine demands urgent intervention. The prosecutor’s April 2012 “decision not to decide” turned its back on both the gravity of the situation, and the International Criminal Court’s mandate “to put an end to impunity for the perpetrators” of international crimes.

We urge the prosecutor to visit Palestine, to meet with the victims, and to experience the reality on the ground. Now more than ever, the need for justice, and not political parlour games, is apparent. Justice is not a commodity that can be traded in the name of political progress. The International Criminal Court must not become complicit in the on-going failures of the peace before justice process. It should live up to its mandate – and the expectation of victims worldwide – and take concrete steps towards ending impunity in Israel and Palestine.

(Source / 20.10.2013)

UPDATE: Israel Arrests Nine Palestinians in West bank, Jerusalem

BETHLEHEM, October 20, 2013 (WAFA) – Israeli forces Sunday arrested five Palestinians from the West Bank, in addition to four Palestinians, including a minor, from the Jerusalem area, according to local and security sources.

They told WAFA that forces arrested three Palestinians, including a 15-year-old from the Bethlehem area.

Forces at dawn raided al-Dhesheh refugee camp, south of Bethlehem, while firing tear gas and acoustic canisters towards the residents before arresting 24-year-old Mahmoud Ayyad.

The rest were arrested from the town of al-Khader, south of Bethlehem after raiding and searching their homes.

In Jericho, forces arrested two Palestinian ex-detainees after beating them up, according to their families. They were taken to an unknown location.

Israeli police arrested four Palestinians from the Jerusalem area; 14-year-old Mahmoud Da’ana, from the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, was arrested under the pretext of “attacking and smashing the glass of a vehicle belonging to an Israeli settler.

Meanwhile, Israeli police, late Saturday, arrested three Palestinians from the old town of Jerusalem after they were attacked by settlers; Israeli special police units arrived at the scene and arrested the Palestinians but not the settlers.

(Source / 20.10.2013)