A lost generation

BRIGHT green billboards around the Algerian capital urge consumers to get ready for 3G internet from Mobilis, one of three mobile-phone networks. But most Algerians respond with a shrug and a cynical smile. The government has been promising to roll out third-generation mobile telecoms in this relatively wealthy country of 38m people since 2004. Only on October 15th did the telecoms regulator award licences, to all three bidders.

Some Algerians think the government took so long to keep its promise because it is afraid of letting its predominantly youthful citizens have easier access to the internet. But Ihsane el-Kadi, a local economist, reckons the real reasons are a more complex mix of Kremlinesque local politics, clashing business interests and a lack of know-how for upgrading the system. One obstacle may have been that state-owned Algérie Télécom, the sole provider of fixed-line internet (and owner of Mobilis), wanted to increase its number of subscribers before letting competition into the market.

In 2011, by which time all of Algeria’s north African neighbours were cheerfully surfing the mobile net, locals’ hopes for 3G were raised and dashed again. This time the official reason was concern about foreign involvement: a Russian firm, VimpelCom, had recently taken control of Djezzy, another local mobile operator. The government said it would not launch 3G until it fully controlled Djezzy. The state never bought it outright, but now owns 51%.

Now it has at last awarded the 3G licences, the government has gone about it in an odd way: all three mobile operators (Nedjma, owned by Ooredoo of Qatar, is the third) will compete in Algiers and in three provinces, but in each of the other 45 provinces one of the three will have a local 3G monopoly. Algerians mutter that far from getting improved mobile access they will now have to buy three SIM cards for when they travel.

With near-100% penetration and good revenues, telecoms is a profitable business in Algeria. Somewhat ambitiously, the government wants to raise its contribution to GDP to 8% next year, from about 4% last year, as part of a plan to be less dependent on oil and gas. But the state itself is the main obstacle to developing new ventures of all sorts. A big private-equity investor in Africa says that as a well-off country with a big, urbanised population it would get a lot more start-ups but for the government’s prickliness towards outsiders.

This, and the bureaucracy’s slothfulness, help explain Algeria’s lowly position as 152nd of 185 countries in the World Bank’s league for the ease of doing business. The country imports almost everything, and in some towns unemployment is up to 40%. If they were made more welcome, foreign investors might be pouring in perhaps $5 billion a year, rather than the current $300m-400m, reckons Mr El-Kadi. And as Algerians look forward, finally, to getting their 3G service in December, other countries in the region—even Iraq and Ethiopia—are already moving on to 4G.

(Source / 26.10.2013)

To the Syrian opposition: Go to Geneva

Any review of civil wars in the modern era shows that most of them are settled militarily. Civil wars fought between two combatants with limited or no foreign intervention tend to end in a few years (the American civil war, for example). Even the Spanish civil war, in which many foreign countries and parties were deeply involved, was settled in three years because it remained a conflict between two camps. Those civil wars involving more than one faction, and drawing a number of foreign sponsors of the local combatants, tend to drag on for years, even decades, (Angola, Afghanistan and Lebanon, for example).

Syria’s civil war belongs to the second category, and is likely to continue for some time; however, not necessarily at the current tempo, particularly with the emergence of “cantons” controlled by the various warring parties.
The Assad regime controls parts of Damascus, Aleppo and other cities, as well as a sliver of land connecting the capital to the predominantly Alawite Syrian coast, the community from which the Assad clan hails. In parts of northern Syria, hardline Islamists factions hold sway, and in parts of southern Syria factions belonging to the Free Syrian Army made headway. And in northeastern Syria the Kurdish groups are in control of their ancestral lands.

While it is true that the prospects of convening the Geneva II conference are low, and the chances of success are almost nil, nonetheless the Syrian opposition’s hostility to convening a “peace” conference without an a priori decision guaranteeing Bashar Al-Assad’s departure is ill conceived tactically, just as boycotting Geneva II if it takes place or rejecting the principle of negotiations with representatives of the current regime is a strategic blunder.

The continuation of fighting will likely lead to the breakup of Syria, turning what is today a “soft partition” of the country into a de facto or final hard partition.

Moreover, such an outcome will embolden, strengthen and legitimize the hardline Salafist groups, many of whose members are not even Syrians. This possibility will play into the hands of those who claim that the struggle has become one between a “secular” regime fighting the atavistic dark forces of Jihadists threatening not only Syria but the region and the West.
Geneva II could become a new opportunity for a fragmented and weak opposition lacking a stellar reputation inside Syria, given the constant bickering among its various components, and their inability to frame an overarching vision of a post-Assad Syria to resurrect itself as a viable opposition capable of negotiating political outcomes and delivering on its promises and commitments.

Geneva II could provide the opposition a chance to prove to the world, and the Syrian themselves, that they truly represent the Syrian people and that they are fighting on their behalf, that they will do their utmost not only to overthrow a despotic regime and build a representative and democratic alternative, but also to do whatever it takes to alleviate the suffering of Syrians during this tragic moment in their lives.

Boycotting Geneva II will serve the deceptive narrative of the Assad regime that it is fighting only extremists and Jihadists with links to Al-Qaeda. Such a posture could lead the Obama administration, which has not been a very reliable supporter, to entertain compromises that would not necessarily serve the long term aspirations of the Syrian people.

Washington’s recent contradictory positions on Syria, since the major chemical attack last August, and the media leaks showing that the Central Intelligence Agency’s limited plans to arm Syrian rebels are not designed to help them achieve victory – like Assad’s friends – but rather to create a stalemate and exhaust both sides to force them to sue for peace, should be a wakeup call for the opposition to reconsider some of their political goals and assumptions.

The opposition should go to Geneva II precisely to ask the United States and others who call themselves “Friends of the Syrian People” to deliver on their pledges and commitments to actively work on establishing a “transitional governing body” that “would exercise full executive powers” as stipulated in the communiqué of Geneva I . The opposition should tell its international friends that if Geneva II is to fail, they should commit themselves to helping the rebellion with the types of arms that could tip the balance on the battlefield.

The opposition, mainly the National Coalition and the Syrian Free Army, should agree on a definition of what “full executive powers” means, and that should include authority over the armed forces, security and intelligence services, communication and the central bank. The communiqué of the “London 11” (the US, Arab and European nations), which convened a few days ago, moved in the direction of the opposition when it stated that when the transitional government is formed, Bashar Assad and his close lieutenants “with blood on their hands will have no role in Syria.”

However, even if the conference is convened and an acceptable political settlement is not within reach, the opposition will be in a position to advocate for the implementation of those items in Geneva I that would have an impact on the lives of Syrians, such as the rapid release of detainees and other demands that the international community support, such as unencumbered access to the besieged areas to provide humanitarian relief, and an end to the siege of Ghoutah, other suburbs of Damascus, Homs and other areas. They could also push for financial and tangible material aid to administer the liberated areas and provide basic services.

The “London 11” warned against “delaying tactics” and is pushing for the establishment of the transitional government “within the coming months.” Therefore, it is imperative that the Syrian opposition should not be seen as a serious obstacle to Geneva II, particularly when Assad himself is acting and implying that he is not willing to participate in it. By going to Geneva II the opposition will not be forsaking any option, and should be able to talk and fight at the same time. The war in Syria is approaching the tipping point where the answer to the question that Fred Hof, one of America’s best commentators on Syria, posed recently (“Syria: Is it too late to do anything?”) will be in the affirmative.

The opposition’s skepticism about Geneva II is well founded, but for the opposition not to be in any meeting that will address the future of the Syrian people is a dereliction of duty. There should be no illusions about Geneva II, but if it could provide the opposition the opportunity to articulate in front of the world an inclusive and democratic vision of Syria, and a chance to achieve even limited tactical success in order  to alleviate the agony of millions of Syrians, then it would be worth it. There is no alternative to rational, cold, political calculus. Go to Geneva.

(Source / 26.10.2013)

The bitter olive harvest that cost five little Palestinian girls their lives

While their parents were picking olives, five little girls met a terrible fate.

The three mothers in mourning this week in Tarqumiya.

The three mothers in mourning this week in Tarqumiya.

Three women sitting on a rug, covered with blankets. They are mourning their five dead daughters. One of the mothers, who has just now lost a daughter, also lost a son and a daughter a year ago. It would seem that not only the people who have come to comfort them, but also the women themselves, fail to grasp the dimensions of this tragedy.

Three young mothers − Najat, Nasreen and Naama Fatafta, who are all related − are surrounded by all the women in the family, who are mourning, comforting and chanting dirges in the living room of the home of the three mothers’ grandparents. The house has been decorated in festive colors to celebrate the fact that, earlier in the week , the grandparents returned after fulfilling the Muslim commandment of the hajj: making the pilgrimage to Mecca.

The five children who died are Raama, 3; Nadeen, 4 years and 8 months; her sister, Nurseen, 1 year and 10 months; Toka, 4; and her sister, Sara, 2. All of them were members of the extended Fatafta family. They were all cousins and their parents live in close proximity to one another in new stone houses surrounding a tiny olive grove, whose fruit the parents set out to harvest.

What did Raama, Nadeen, Nurseen, Toka and tiny Sara undergo during the hour and a half that they were trapped inside the Hyundai that belonged to one of their fathers, Ziyad, last Thursday? Did they scream for help? Were their voices not heard in the backyard, which is only a few dozen meters away, where their parents were harvesting olives? Did they die one after another, or at the same time? Did they struggle to open the front doors of the vehicle ‏(their parents claim that the doors were not locked‏) − because the back ones cannot be opened from the inside? Did the Hyundai’s dark, opaque windows prevent the children’s parents from seeing what was going on inside and rescuing them in the nick of time?

The Hyundai has been removed for inspection by the Palestinian Police. The little girls have been buried in a single grave. We met their three bereaved mothers this past week in the house of mourning, and the three bereaved fathers beside the fresh graves of their daughters in the town’s cemetery, near the mosque. They were praying for the souls of their dead children.

The small Palestinian town of Tarqumiya, population 20,000, is in the southern part of the West Bank, not far from the city of Hebron. Sitting in his office, Tarqumiya’s mayor, Sami Fatafta, complains about the lack of emergency services in his village, although probably nothing could have saved the little girls − who were all also related to him. Their tragedy occurred on the town’s western outskirts, where some new stone houses have recently been built and others are still in the process of being constructed.

This is the part of town where Najat and Ahmed, the parents of one of the dead girls, Raama, live. Out in front stood the Hyundai; in the backyard, the parents had been picking olives. A year ago, two of their children, a daughter and a son, who were only toddlers, fell into a well and died. The bereaved mother, Najat, did not tell us about these two children. It was only after we left their home that we learned − from Najat and Ahmed’s relatives − about that additional tragedy.

Last Thursday, the extended family had decided to harvest the olives from the trees in the small family courtyard. The work was supposed to be done in one day; after all, there were only a few trees. Three families, with eight small children, and a blanket spread out under the trees for picking the fruit.

Around noon, the parents noticed that five of the children were missing. At first, no one got very upset. Perhaps the children had gone inside the house, or maybe they were playing in the front yard − or maybe they had gone to the home of their grandparents. The parents began to look for them.

Suddenly, one of the neighbors said he had seen a little girl sleeping in the parked car out front. Nasreen asked him what she was wearing, and when she heard she was dressed in blue, Naama immediately knew he was talking about her daughter, Toka. Her husband, Ziyad, raced to his car, jumping over the stone wall around their house, behind which the vehicle was parked. They both knew the car had been standing in the sun and that it was burning hot inside.

But it was already too late.

Toka was sitting in one of the front seats, and Raama was sitting in the back; the other three little girls were lying on the floor between the front and back seats. The eyes of all five children were wide open; their skin was white and their lips were blue. The mothers said they instantly knew that at least four of the girls were dead. Only Nadeen was still breathing.

Raama’s mother pulled her little daughter out of the car and tried to resuscitate her. Ziyad got into the car and drove to the local clinic, with the four little dead bodies; he also took the Nadeen. The medic at the clinic summoned an ambulance from Hebron, which arrived after a quarter of an hour. The four dead girls and the dying toddler were all taken to Al-Ahli Hospital in Hebron, where four of the girls were pronounced dead. Nadeen fought for her life for another 24 hours, and then died.

The parents of the five say their daughters were trapped in the car for no more than an hour and a half.

Najat, who lost Raama, has been left with a son and a daughter; Nasreen, who lost Nurseen and Nadeen, has three other daughters and a son; and Naama, who lost Toka and Sara, has another daughter and a son.

Not a tear was shed in the house of grieving families when we visited, at the height of the traditional four-day Muslim period of mourning this week.

Four of the girls were buried in a single grave, and the next day, Nadeen was also buried there. Five date palm fronds have been inserted in the earth above the fresh grave; they are the only thing that marks it. A cypress tree provides shade at the site.

As noted, this week we met the three bereaved fathers, beside the grave, silently praying. In the home’s courtyard, the olive trees stand, nearly all of them stripped of their harvested fruit. Only one tree still bears its olives. They had not yet been picked when the terrible tragedy came to light.

(Source / 26.10.2013)

Assad’s Grand Mufti says in Moscow 2000 Russians fighting with Rebels

Assad’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun

Syria’s regime Grand Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun says at least 2,000 Russian citizens are fighting along with foreign-backed militants in Syria, wreaking havoc on the Arab country, pro-Assad media reported.

During a visit to the Islamic University of Moscow, Sheikh Hassoun said the militants, mostly of Chechen origin, poured into Syria after the uprising on March 15, 2011.

Hassoun said ”a large number of the militants have been killed so far and Damascus estimates that some1,300 of them are still operating inside Syria.”

According to Syria’s Grand Mufti, most of those Russian nationals are from North Caucasus and citizens of Commonwealth of Independent states.

Syria has been gripped by deadly unrest since 2011, with the Western powers and their regional allies — especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey — said to be supporting the militants operating inside Syria.

In May, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said militants from 29 different countries were fighting against his government in different parts of the country.

According to the United Nations, more than 115,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in the violence.

The world body says over four million other Syrians will be forced out of their homes in 2014as a result of the escalating conflict in the country.

Two million Syrians are expected to flee the country while another 2.25 million are predicted to be internally displaced.

(Source / 26.10.2013)

IPS threatens administrative detainees to call off strike

Previous clashes outside Ofer prison (Demotix Images)

Gaza, ALRAY – Israeli Prison Service (IPS) threatened unprecedented punishments against administrative detainees in the event a hunger strike is declared as planned on 25 October.

Tadamun (Solidarity) Foundation said Thursday that administrative detainees had urged human rights institutions to pressure Israeli authorities into not punishing the detainees, which, according to the foundation, may take form of denying them family visits, placing them in isolation, prohibiting them from using their electrical equipment, or from using the canteen.

Two months ago, the administrative detainees announced a series of protests they would be staging steadily as from late October, including boycotting Israeli courts, hunger striking for two days per week in December, boycotting prison clinics in January, refusing medication in February, and hunger striking three days per week as from early March.

Administrative detainees demand that they are either tried in an ordinary court or released immediately.

150 administrative detainees are held in Israeli jails, mostly previously-freed prisoners by virture of Shalit prisoner exchange deal in 2011, 50 of them in Ofer prison, near occupied Ramallah.

(Source / 26.10.2013)

UN-Arab League envoy: Iran ‘necessary’ at Syria peace talks

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) sits with International Peace envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi during a joint press conference in  Tehran on Oct. 26, 2013
TEHRAN (AFP) – The UN-Arab League envoy to war-torn Syria said Saturday in Tehran that Iran’s participation in international peace talks on the conflict was “necessary,” Mehr news agency reported.

“We think the participation of Iran at Geneva 2 is natural and necessary,” Lakhdar Brahimi said at a joint press conference after talks with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

But he stressed that no invitations have yet been sent out for the proposed international peace conference, which the United Nations hopes to organize for late November.

Zarif, whose country is a top ally of the embattled Damascus regime, said that “if Iran is invited to take part in Geneva 2, we will be there to help find a diplomatic solution.”

Brahimi is on a regional tour to drum up support in preparation for the conference, which has already been postponed several times.

He has already visited Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar to try to muster support for the talks on ending the 31-month conflict in Syria.

But prospects for the initiative appear dim as the fractured Syrian opposition has yet to decide whether to attend and as President Bashar al-Assad has said the “factors are not yet in place” for a conference.

The conflict has killed more than 115,000 people since its outbreak in March 2011, when a government crackdown on peaceful protests escalated into civil war.

(Source / 26.10.2013)

UAE to give $3.9 bn to Egypt’s military-installed govt

A handout picture made available on August 4, 2013, shows Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour (R) meeting with the United Arab Emirates’ Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan (C) at the presidential palace in Cairo
DUBAI (AFP) — The United Arab Emirates agreed Saturday to give Egypt’s military-installed government another $3.9 billion in aid after transferring $1 billion in July, the official WAM news agency said.

The UAE and other Gulf monarchies were staunch supporters of the July 3 overthrow of Egypt’s first Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, and have vowed to help the interim government address the economic devastation wrought by two years of political turmoil.

The two countries signed the latest agreement during a visit by Egyptian prime minister Hazem Beblawi to the oil-rich Emirates, WAM reported.

It said $1 billion of the new funds would go to support Egypt’s fuel needs while the remainder would be “aimed at improving the living conditions, lives and human development of the Egyptian people through a number of projects.”

The projects include the construction of 50,000 homes and 100 schools, as well as health clinics, renewable energy initiatives and 25 wheat silos, WAM said.

Beblawi thanked the Emirates and hailed the “excellent relations” between the two countries.

The UAE had previously deposited an additional $2 billion in Egypt’s central bank to be held without interest, in order to prop up Cairo’s currency.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait pledged $9 billion in aid to Cairo within days of the army’s overthrow of Morsi, which came amid massive protests against the year-long rule of Egypt’s first freely elected president.

Egypt’s economy has been in a tailspin since the overthrow of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, contributing to the political unrest that has gripped the country.

(Source / 26.10.2013)

Palestinians take hope from Island

Global campaign to free political prisoners held in Israel will be launched on symbolic Robben Island.

Life prisoner Marwan Barghouthi has become the face of the call for freedom. (AFP)

The wife of Marwan Barghouthi, a prominent ­Palestinian political ­figure, says she is hopeful that an international campaign calling for his release, which will be launched in South Africa this weekend, will bear fruit. But the Israeli embassy in South Africa has questioned the term “political prisoner”, saying those imprisoned in Israel have been convicted in court of offences related to terror activities.

The international campaign for the release of Marwan Barghouthi and all Palestinian political prisoners will be launched by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and the Palestine-based release campaign on Robben Island on Sunday October 27.

Barghouthi was arrested on charges of murder and attempted murder in 2002, and sentenced to five life sentences and 40 years in prison in 2004.  Throughout his trial, he refused to recognise the legitimacy of the Israeli court or to defend himself.

Sunday’s launch, during which a declaration will be signed in the cell famously occupied by former South African President Nelson Mandela, will be attended by Barghouthi’s wife, Fadwa, as well as Issa Qaraqe, the Palestinian minister of detainees and ex-detainees, several prominent South African politicians and representatives of various human rights organisations.  An international high-level committee in support of the campaign, comprising, among others, five Nobel peace prize laureates, will be announced on the day.

Speaking to the Mail & Guardian on Skype, Fadwa Barghouthi said the fact that the campaign was being launched on Robben Island would send a clear message to the world. “We are proud, first, that it will be launched in a place which witnessed humanitarian struggle, which is an important symbol for freedom fighters around the world. This gives us hope that the same story of ending apartheid in South Africa will also happen in Palestine – that the occupation will end,” she said.

“The fact that this is happening in South Africa reconfirms the fact that the Palestinian struggle is part of an international struggle against oppression and racism around the world.

“Having big names like Ahmed Kathrada supporting us sends an important message to Palestinian prisoners and their families that they are freedom fighters, just like Kathrada and Nelson Mandela.”

Apartheid struggle stalwart Kathrada said the issue of Palestinian prisoners was very close to his heart.

“I believe, after 26 years of imprisonment, I came out stronger in my belief in the indestructibility of our struggle,” he said. “Being aware of the similarities between our struggles, I believe a concerted international campaign may not have immediate results, but it will be the foundation of a worldwide campaign to reach out, not only to sympathetic countries, but more especially to civil societies in as many countries as possible.

“Our Palestinian comrades were excited about [the venue]. For one thing, Robben Island represents the triumph of the forces of good over evil. It was a former Robben Islander [Mandela] who walked … from prison to Parliament, to president.”

The Inter-Parliamentary Union, in a resolution adopted unanimously on October 19 2011, stated that Barghouthi’s arrest and transfer to Israeli territory was “in violation of international law” and reiterated its call for “his immediate release”.

Similarly, the European Parliament called for “the immediate release of the imprisoned members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, including Marwan Barghouthi”.

According to a report published by Addameer, a Jerusalem-based prisoner support and human rights organisation, “over the past 45 years, more than 800 000 Palestinians have been detained under Israeli military orders in the occupied Palestinian territory, which constitutes about 20% of the total Palestinian population”.

The report also highlighted issues such as overcrowded and unhygienic prison conditions and medical neglect of Palestinians.

“As of April 1 2013, there were 4 900 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails, including 168 administrative detainees, 236 children, 14 female prisoners, and 14 Palestinian Legislative Council members,” it said.  Administrative detention is a procedure that allows the military to hold prisoners indefinitely on secret information without charging them or allowing them to stand trial.

But Michael Freeman, the deputy head of mission of the Israeli embassy in South Africa, questioned the validity of the figures.

He also said that the term “political prisoner” was misleading. “There are no political prisoners as such. The people currently in Israeli prisons are those convicted in a court system of offences related to terror activities, including murder and bombings aimed at Israeli civilians of all backgrounds and ages.”

When asked what he thought about the fact that a South African organisation was spearheading the campaign for the release of Barghouthi and other Palestinians, Freeman said it was “good that South Africa has a good relationship with the Palestinians”.

“We think they should use it to encourage the peace process. The only way forward is to sit down with Palestinians and arrive at a solution of two states, for two people living side by side in peace. That’s our dream and hope.”

Pressure mounts on security company

The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement of South Africa (BDS-SA) says it will launch a local campaign on Robben Island against the British-Danish security company G4S this weekend, alongside the campaign calling for the release of Palestinian political prisoners.

“In 2007, G4S was contracted to provide and maintain security equipment at Israeli prisons, detention facilities and torture centres,” said Kwara Kekana, campaign co-ordinator for BDS-SA. “G4S also provides equipment and services to Israeli checkpoints and Israel’s illegal Jewish-only settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank.”

The company has been facing increasing criticism and pressure on the international front for its links to Israel.  Earlier this month, the Norwegian trade union Industri Energi terminated its contract with G4S as “an act of solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people”.

Kekana said BDS-SA would encourage South African individuals, businesses and organisations to follow suit.  It has already approached the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the Trauma Centre, which provides trauma counselling to victims of violence and torture to ask them to terminate their contracts with G4S.

Castro Ngobese, the national spokesperson for Numsa, said:  “We agree with their cause, and if … G4S is working in cahoots with Israel to deny Palestinians … [their] freedom, then nothing will stop us from cutting ties with them.”

James Taylor, the chairperson of the board of the Trauma Centre, said BDS-SA’s request was being taken seriously and would be tabled at the centre’s board meeting next week.

Adam Mynott, the G4S group media relations officer, said: “The extent of our involvement at a prison, a police station and a small number of checkpoints on the West Bank border is the servicing of scanning equipment and other security systems.”

(Source / 26.10.2013)

PLO denies prisoner release linked to more settlement construction

A Palestinian protester throws back a tear gas canister during clashes with Israeli forces, Oct. 18, 2013 in the village of Kafr Qaddum, near Nablus, in the occupied West Bank
JERUSALEM (AFP) — The PLO denied Saturday that a mooted Israeli release of Palestinian prisoners is part of understandings in peace talks under which Israel would be allowed to build more settlements in exchange.

The media said this week that Israeli ministers were to meet Sunday to approve the release of a second batch of Palestinian prisoners under the terms of the renewed peace talks.

Public radio said that, in tandem with confirming the release, Israeli authorities would announce a new swathe of settler housing to be built in the occupied West Bank or annexed east Jerusalem.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in a text message Thursday that such continued construction was part of “understandings” reached with the Palestinians and the Americans ahead of the renewal of talks.

“Israel will continue in the coming months to announce building in the settlement blocs and in Jerusalem,” he wrote.

“Both the Americans and the Palestinians were aware in advance of these understandings.”

But Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), denied such understandings exist.

“Establishing a link between settlements and the freeing of prisoners goes against all the undertakings made,” he told AFP. It would “create a very dangerous situation that we would not accept at any cost.”

He added that the United States, which is sponsoring the talks, had actually “promised that it would manage to reduce Israeli settlement activities to a minimum.

“If (Palestinian) president Mahmud Abbas had known that Israel intended to make a link between prisoners and the prisoners, he would have never agreed to relaunch negotiations.”

PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi echoed that “Such reports are fabricated and malicious. The Palestinian side never agreed to such an exchange; on the contrary, Palestinian prisoners should have been released in compliance with earlier signed agreements.

“The only linkage with the release of prisoners that (Abbas) approved is in delaying the pursuit of UN membership in international agencies and organizations.”

Direct peace talks resume in July after a hiatus of nearly three years created by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to extend a moratorium on construction of new settler housing in the occupied West Bank and predominantly Arab east Jerusalem.

Maariv daily said Thursday that 26 prisoners would be freed, the same number as in a first tranche in August.

Netanyahu said just before the July 30 resumption of talks that he had “agreed to free 104 Palestinians in stages, after the start of negotiations and according to progress”.

Maariv said the next handover would take place on Tuesday.

In August, Israel approved the construction of more than 2,000 settlement units in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.

That came just days before a round of direct bilateral talks, leading the Palestinians to warn the fledgling process was in danger of collapse.

(Source / 26.10.2013)

Egyptian judge dismisses ElBaradei case

Egyptian judge dismisses ElBaradei case
Egyptian judge dismisses ElBaradei case
A judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Egypt’s former interim vice president for “betrayal of trust” in quitting the army-backed government in protest against its bloody crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Cairo’s Misdemeanours Court judge Wael El-Mahdi on Saturday threw out the case against MohamedElBaradei, saying it lacked sufficient grounds. ElBaradei was out of the country.

Anti-Mursi Egyptian law professor Sayyid Al-Ateeq brought the suit against ElBaradei in August.

ElBaradei, former head of the U.N. nuclear agency and co-leader of the secular National Salvation Front (NSF) grouping, had been the most prominent liberal to endorse the military’s overthrow of former president Mursi on July 3.

He resigned on Aug. 14 after security forces attacked protest camps set up by Mursi‘s Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo, killing hundreds of people.

Mursi‘s supporters brought several lawsuits against opposition figures during his year in power. Anti-Mursi activists had called such suits, many of them accusing people of “insulting the president”, a form of political intimidation.

The military’s intervention against Mursi polarised public opinion in Egypt. More than 1,000 people have died in violence across the country since July.

(Source / 26.10.2013)