Saudi activists criticize new counter-terror law

Fadhil al-Manasif, a Saudi blogger, is being prosecuted under the same charges covered by a new counterterrorism law

Saudi Arabia’s new counterterrorism law went into effect on Feb. 1. The law’s definition of terrorism among other things includes “acts that harm the reputation of the state or its standing.” A couple of days later, on Feb. 3, a royal decree was issued by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz in which not only people who fight abroad in Syria and Iraq would be criminally penalized, but also any person who publicly endorses or sympathizes with a group or trend that Saudi authorities deem as extremist.

According to the new law, people can be held for as long as a year without charge pending an investigation. The law and decree do not mean any real change from current practices, but more of a legal blanket for them. For example, blogger Fadhil al-Manasif is being prosecuted under the same charges covered by the new law. Evidence used against Manasif include him writing on a napkin: “Amid the turmoil surrounding us we have to look for points of convergence and find words of unity for the sake of our country and its security. Calls for development, change and reform are charged with incitement and people are imprisoned for it. But with patience they will be an option that cannot be avoided.” This note was considered as proof that Manasif had gone against the government, disturbed public order, undermined society security and state stability and incited sectarianism.

The initial reaction on social media was shock that the government would go as far as to brazenly spell it out in law, with many openly questioning the decree. Professor and author Mohammed al-AbdulKareem tweeted: “Who are the extremist groups specifically? What are the criteria of extremism? Who determines who’s an extremist? And who uses religion for their own agenda?”

Another professor and researcher, Mubarak Bin Zuair, tweeted: “The issue of ‘delineating the terms’ and determining the ‘indications’ is the most important part because this is concerning criminal penalties that require absolute accuracy!” Saleh Asgair was quick to point out the government’s fickleness by posting fatwas from the official website of the Saudi Highest Islamic Council that state that it is permissible to join and assist the Muslim Brotherhood.

Others who have been accused of encouraging Saudi men to fight in Syria just a week before the law went into effect and the royal decree was issued remained noticeably silent. Popular talk show host Dawood al-Shurayan accused some of Saudi’s most prominent shiekhs, including Sheikh Salman al-Ouda, Sheikh Mohammad al-Arifi, Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Tarifi and Sheikh Saad al-Breik, of promoting jihad in Syria. And despite the royal decree and the law seeming to be mostly directed at the Muslim Brotherhood and fighters in Syria, these sheikhs have been dubiously silent and have not made any public comments for or against the law and decree.

The general public though appear to be mainly concerned about the implications of the law on the degree of their already limited freedom of speech. Both a Ministry of Justice official and a Saudi newspaper have stated that the use or posting of the Rabia al-Adawiya yellow four-finger logo are forms of terrorism covered by the new law and decree.

The popular logo is used by those who sympathize with the people massacred in the Egyptian sit-in last August. Prominent blogger and economist Essam al-Zamil, who has the Rabia logo on his profile jests: “I really do wish people would stop discussing political groups and trends and focus more on corruption and the stealing of public money and land.” The Saudi cartoonist Abdulla Jaber posted a drawing of five years for four fingers, making fun of the Ministry of Justice official’s statement. And in the past 24 hours a hashtag started by Khalid al Wabil, #في_موزنبيق, which translates to “in Mozambique” to allude to and criticize the Saudi government without directly naming it. He tweets, “In Mozambique woman don’t drive cars.” The hashtag is currently one of the top hashtags in Saudi with more than 60,000 tweets since it started yesterday. One of the top tweets, with more than 450 retweets is by Asem al-Othman: “In Mozambique they support the Syrian revolution because its president is killing his own people and at the same time they support the Egyptian military regime that’s killing its own people. … Mozambicans are self-contradictory.”

There has been little evidence that the law has so far deterred activists. Political activists are writing and speaking out mainly against the law, but also the decree. The women driving campaign is still going strong, with videos posted daily of men and women speaking out against the ban.

Although the new law is “draconian,” as Adam Coogle from Human Rights Watch terms it, it cannot be worse than the previous status quo. While practices, such as being questioned and investigated without a lawyer present are newly codified, the new law supposedly ensures that the lawyer is at the very least present during court proceedings.

Physical torture, such as lashing, was also not included as penalties in the new law. Under the new law, Omar al-Saeed’s secret trial last December, in which he was sentenced to 300 lashes and four years in prison without his lawyer present, for joining the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) and calling for a constitutional monarchy, should be illegal. The real question is whether the government will respect its own laws, draconian as they are.

(Source / 08.02.2014)

Children of the occupation: growing up in Palestine

Nawal Jabarin wants to be a doctor when she grows up. For now, she lives in a cave with 14 siblings, in constant fear of military raids. We meet the Palestinian children living under Israeli occupation
Nawal Jabarin and her brothers, two-month-old 
Issa and two-year-old Jibril, in their West Bank home

Nawal Jabarin, 12, and her brothers, two-month-old Issa and two-year-old Jibril, in their West Bank home.

The rough track is an unmarked turning across a primeval landscape of rock and sand under a vast cobalt sky. Our Jeep bounces between boulders and dust-covered gorse bushes before beginning a bone-jolting descent from the high ridge into a deep valley. An Israeli army camp comes into view, then the tiny village of Jinba: two buildings, a few tents, a scattering of animal pens. A pair of military helicopters clatter overhead. The air smells of sheep.

At the end of this track in the southern West Bank, 12-year-old Nawal Jabarin lives in a cave. She was born in the gloom beneath its low, jagged roof, as were two of her brothers, and her father a generation earlier. Along the rock-strewn track that connects Jinba to the nearest paved road, Nawal’s mother gave birth to another baby, unable to reach hospital in time; on the same stretch of flattened earth, Nawal’s father was beaten by Israeli settlers in front of the terrified child.

The cave and an adjacent tent are home to 18 people: Nawal’s father, his two wives and 15 children. The family’s 200 sheep are penned outside. An ancient generator that runs on costly diesel provides power for a maximum of three hours a day. Water is fetched from village wells, or delivered by tractor at up to 20 times the cost of piped water. During the winter, bitter winds sweep across the desert landscape, slicing through the tent and forcing the whole family to crowd into the cave for warmth. “In winter, we are stacked on top of one another,” Nawal tells me.

She rarely leaves the village. “I used to ride in my father’s car. But the settlers stopped us. They beat my father before my eyes, cursing, using foul language. They took our things and threw them out of the car.”

Even home is not safe. “The soldiers come in [the cave] to search. I don’t know what they’re looking for,” she says. “Sometimes they open the pens and let the sheep out. In Ramadan, they came and took my brothers. I saw the soldiers beat them with the heel of their guns. They forced us to leave the cave.”

Despite the hardships of her life, Nawal is happy. “This is my homeland, this is where I want to be. It’s hard here, but I like my home and the land and the sheep.” But, she adds, “I will be even happier if we are allowed to stay.”

Nawal is one of a second generation of Palestinians to be born into occupation. Her birth came 34 years after Israel seized the West Bank,Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem during the six-day war. Military law was imposed on the Palestinian population, and soon afterwards Israel began to build colonies on occupied land under military protection. East Jerusalem was annexed in a move declared illegal under international law.

The first generation – Nawal’s parents and their peers – are now approaching middle age, their entire lives dominated by the daily grind and small humiliations of an occupied people. Around four million Palestinians have known nothing but an existence defined by checkpoints, demands for identity papers, night raids, detentions, house demolitions, displacement, verbal abuse, intimidation, physical attacks, imprisonment and violent death. It is a cruel mosaic: countless seemingly unrelated fragments that, when put together, build a picture of power and powerlessness. Yet, after 46 years, it has also become a kind of normality.

For the young, the impact of such an environment is often profound. Children are exposed to experiences that shape attitudes for a lifetime and, in some cases, have lasting psychological consequences. Frank Roni, a child protection specialist for Unicef, the United Nations’ agency for children, who works in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, speaks of the “inter-generational trauma” of living under occupation. “The ongoing conflict, the deterioration of the economy and social environment, the increase in violence – this all impacts heavily on children,” he says. “Psychological walls” mirror physical barriers and checkpoints. “Children form a ghetto mentality and lose hope for the future, which fuels a cycle of despair,” Roni says.

But their experiences are inevitably uneven. Many children living in the major Palestinian cities, under a degree of self-government, rarely come into contact with settlers or soldiers, while such encounters are part of daily life for those in the 62% of the West Bank under full Israeli control, known as Area C. Children in Gaza live in a blockaded strip of land, often growing up in extreme economic hardship, and with direct and shocking experience of intense warfare. In East Jerusalem, a high proportion of Palestinian children grow up in impoverished ghettoes, encroached upon by expanding Israeli settlements or with extremist settlers taking over properties in their midst.

In the South Hebron Hills, the shepherds who have roamed the area for generations now live alongside ideologically and religiously driven Jews who claim an ancient biblical connection to the land and see the Palestinians as interlopers. They have built gated settlements on the hilltops, serviced with paved roads, electricity and running water, and protected by the army. The settlers and soldiers have brought fear to the cave-dwellers: violent attacks on the local Palestinian population are frequent, along with military raids and the constant threat of forcible removal from their land.

Nawal’s village is inside an area designated in the 1980s by the Israeli army as “Firing Zone 918” for military training. The army wants to clear out eight Palestinian communities on the grounds that it is unsafe for them to remain within a military training zone; they are not “permanent residents”. A legal battle over the fate of the villages, launched before Nawal was born, is still unresolved.

Her school, a basic three-room structure, is under a demolition order, as is the only other building in the village, the mosque, which is used as an overspill classroom. Both were constructed without official Israeli permits, which are hardly ever granted. Haytham Abu Sabha, Nawal’s teacher, says his pupils’ lives are “very hard. The children have no recreation. They lack the basic things in life: there is no electricity, high malnutrition, no playgrounds. When they get sick or are hurt, it’s hard getting them to hospital. We are forced to be primitive.”

The children are also forced to be brave. Nawal insists she is not afraid of the soldiers. But when I ask if she has cried during the raids on her home, she hesitates before nodding almost imperceptibly, unwilling to admit to her fears. Psychologists and counsellors working with Palestinian children say this reluctance to acknowledge and vocalise frightening experiences compounds the damage caused by the event itself. “Children say they are not afraid of soldiers, but their body language tells you something different,” says Mona Zaghrout, head of counselling at the YMCA in Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem. “They feel ashamed to say they are afraid.”

Ahed Tamimi, 12, in Nabi SalehAhed Tamimi, 12, plays hopscotch, likes movies about mermaids and teases her brothers at home in Nabi Saleh.Like Nawal, 12-year-old Ahed Tamimi boldly asserts that she, too, has no fear of soldiers, before quietly admitting that sometimes she is afraid. Ahed’s apparent fearlessness catapulted her to a brief fame a year ago when a video of her angrily confronting Israeli soldiers was posted online. The girl was invited to Turkey, where she was hailed as a child hero.

Amid tree-covered hills almost three hours’ drive north of Jinba, Nabi Saleh is a village of around 500 people, most of whom share the family name of Tamimi. From Ahed’s home, the Israeli settlement of Halamish is visible across a valley. Founded in 1977, it is built partly on land confiscated from local Palestinian families. An Israeli army base is situated next to the settlement.

When settlers appropriated the village spring five years ago, the people of Nabi Saleh began weekly protests. Ahed’s parents, Bassem and Nariman, have been at the forefront of the demonstrations, which are largely nonviolent, although they often involve some stone-throwing. The Israeli military routinely respond with tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets, jets of foul-smelling fluid known as “skunk”, and sometimes live ammunition.

Two villagers have been killed, and around 350 – including large numbers of children – injured. Ahed was shot in the wrist by a rubber bullet. At least 140 people from Nabi Saleh have been detained or imprisoned as a result of protest activity, including 40 minors. Bassem has been jailed nine times – four times since his daughter’s birth – and was named a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International; Nariman has been detained five times since the protests began; and Ahed’s older brother, Waed, was arrested. Her uncle, Rushdie Tamimi, died two days after being shot by soldiers in November 2012. An Israel Defense Forcesinvestigation later found that soldiers fired 80 bullets without justification; they also prevented villagers giving medical aid to the injured man.

Ahed, a slight, elfin-faced girl, is a discomforting mix of worldliness and naivety. For a child, she knows far too much about tear gas and rubber bullets, demolition orders and military raids. Her home, scarred by repeated army assaults, is one of 13 in the village that are threatened with being bulldozed. When I ask how often she has experienced the effects of tear gas, she laughs, saying she cannot count the times. I ask her to describe it. “I can’t breathe, my eyes hurt, it feels like I’m suffocating. Sometimes it’s 10 minutes until I can see again,” she says.

Like Nawal, Ahed is familiar with military raids on her home. One, while her father was in prison, began at 3am with the sound of assault rifles being battered against the front door. “I woke up, there were soldiers in my bedroom. My mum was screaming at the soldiers. They turned everything upside down, searching. They took our laptop and cameras and phones.”

According to Bassem, his daughter “sometimes wakes up at night, shouting and afraid. Most of the time, the children are nervous and stressed, and this affects their education. Their priorities change, they don’t see the point in learning.”

Those working with Palestinian children say this is a common reaction. “When you live under constant threat or fear of danger, your coping mechanisms deteriorate. Children are nearly always under stress, afraid to go to school, unable to concentrate,” Frank Roni says.

Mona Zaghrout of the YMCA lists typical responses to trauma among children: “Nightmares, lack of concentration, reluctance to go to school, clinginess, unwillingness to sleep alone, insomnia, aggressive behaviour, regressive behaviour, bed-wetting. Psychosomatic symptoms, such as a high fever without a biological reason, or a rash over the body. These are the most common things we see.”

The flip side of Ahed’s life is one of poignant prosaicness. She plays hopscotch and football with her schoolfriends, likes movies about mermaids, teases her brothers, skips with a rope in the sitting room. But she shrinks from the suggestion that we photograph her near the army watchtower at the entrance to the village, only reluctantly agreeing to a few minutes within sight of the soldier behind the concrete.

Her answers to questions about what the protests are over and the role of the army seem practised, the result of living in a highly politicised community. “We want to liberate Palestine, we want to live as free people, the soldiers are here to protect the settlers and prevent us reaching our land.” With her brothers, she watches a DVD of edited footage showing her parents being arrested, their faces contorted in anger and pain, her own confrontation with Israeli soldiers, a night-time raid on the house, her uncle writhing on the ground after being shot. On top of witnessing these events first-hand, she relives them over and over again on screen.

The settlers across the valley appear to her as completely alien. She has never had direct contact with any of them. No soldier, she says, has ever spoken a civil word to her.

Waleed Abu Aishe, 13, at home in HebronWaleed Abu Aishe’s family put a steel cage over their house in Hebron after attacks by settlers: ‘It’s like living in a prison. No one can visit us. Soldiers are there day and night. I don’t remember anything else’.It’s the same for 13-year-old Waleed Abu Aishe. Israeli soldiers are stationed at the end of his street in the volatile city of Hebron 24 hours a day, yet none has ever acknowledged the skinny, bespectacled boy by name as he makes his way home from school. “They make out they don’t know us, but of course they do,” he says. “They just want to make things difficult. They know my name, but they never use it.”

Nowhere in the West Bank do Israeli settlers and Palestinians live in closer proximity or with greater animosity than in Hebron. A few hundred biblically inspired Jews reside in the heart of the ancient city, protected by around 4,000 soldiers, amid a Palestinian population of 170,000. In 1997 the city was divided into H1, administered by the Palestinian Authority, and H2, a much smaller area around the old market, under the control of the Israeli military. H2 is now a near-ghost town: shuttered shops, empty houses, deserted streets, packs of wild dogs, and armed soldiers on most street corners. Here, the remaining Palestinian families endure an uneasy existence with their settler neighbours.

In Tel Rumeida, Waleed’s neighbourhood, almost all the Palestinian residents have left. Only the Abu Aishes and another family remain on his street, alongside new settler apartment blocks and portable buildings. Waleed lives much closer to his settler and soldier neighbours than either Ahed Tamimi or Nawal Jabarin: from his front window, you can see directly into settler homes a few metres away. Next door to his home is an army base housing around 400 soldiers.

Following violent attacks, stone-throwing, smashed windows and repeated harassment from settlers, the Abu Aishes erected a steel mesh cage and video cameras over the front of the three-storey house where the family has lived for 55 years. When not at school, Waleed spends almost all his time inside this cage. “For me, this is normal,” he says. “I got used to it. But it’s like living in a prison. No one can visit us. The soldiers stop people at the bottom of the street, and if they are not from our family, it’s forbidden for them to visit. There is only one way to our house, and the soldiers are there day and night. I don’t remember anything else: they have been here since I was born.” Despite his “normality”, he wishes his friends could come to the house, or that he and his brother could play football on the street.

The cage, and public condemnation that erupted in Israel following the broadcast on television of a Jewish woman hissing “whore” in Arabic through the mesh at female members of the Abu Aishe family, have reduced settler attacks and abuse. But Waleed still gets called “donkey” or “dog”, and is sometimes chased by settler children.

His mother, Ibtasan, says the soldiers take no action to protect her children. “They have got used to this way of life, but it’s very exhausting. Always I am worried,” she says as images from the street below flicker on a television monitor in the corner of the living room. “It was easier when they were little, although they had bad dreams. They would sleep one next to me, one next to my husband and one between us.”

2010 report by the children’s rights organisation Defence for Children International (DCI) said Palestinian children in Hebron were “frequently the targets of settler attacks in the form of physical assaults and stone-throwing that injure them” and were “especially vulnerable to settler attacks”.

I ask Waleed if he’s ever tempted to retaliate. He looks uncomfortable. “Some of my friends throw stones at the soldiers,” he says. “Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t, because the soldiers know me.”

Stone-throwing by Palestinian children at settlers and security forces is common, sometimes causing injuries and even deaths. Bassem Tamimi neither advocates nor condemns it: “If we throw stones, the soldiers shoot. But if we don’t throw stones, they shoot anyway. Stone-throwing is a reaction. You can’t be a victim all the time,” he says.

Muslim Odeh, 14, in Silwan, East Jerusalem‘People respect me because I’ve been arrested so many times,’ says Muslim Odeh, 14, who lives in Silwan, East Jerusalem.Another father, whose adolescent son has been detained by the Israeli police 16 times since the age of nine, concurs. “We have the right to defend ourselves, but what do we have to defend ourselves with? Do we have tanks, or jet fighters?” asks Mousa Odeh.

His son, Muslim, now 14, is well known to the Israeli security forces in the East Jerusalem district of Silwan. A few minutes’ drive from the five-star hotels around the ancient walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, Silwan is wedged in a gulley, a dense jumble of houses along steep and narrow streets lined with car repair workshops and tired grocery stores.

It has always been a tough neighbourhood, but an influx of hardline settlers has created acute tensions, exacerbated by the aggression of their private armed security guards and demolition orders against more than 80 Palestinian homes. The area’s youths throw stones and rocks at the settlers’ reinforced vehicles, risking arrest by the ever-present police.

“Every minute you see the police – up and down, up and down,” Muslim says. “They stop us, search us, bug us. When I’m bored, I bug them, too. Why should I be frightened of them?” The boy insists he is not among the stone-throwers, an assertion that stretches credulity. “The police accuse me of making trouble, but I don’t throw stones, ever. Some of my friends, maybe.”

Hyam, Muslim’s mother, says her son, the youngest of five children, has changed since the arrests began. “They have destroyed him psychologically. He’s more aggressive and nervous, hyper, always wanting to be out in the streets.”

Muslim’s detentions have followed a typical, well-documented pattern. Between 500 and 700 Palestinian children are arrested by Israeli security forces each year, most accused of throwing stones. They are often arrested at night, taken away from home without a parent or adult accompanying them, questioned without lawyers, held in cells before an appearance in court. Some are blindfolded or have their hands bound with plastic ties. Many report physical and verbal abuse, and say they make false confessions. According to DCI, which has taken hundreds of affidavits from minors in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, these children are often pumped for information on relatives and neighbours by their interrogators. Muslim has been held for periods varying from a few hours to a week.

For Muslim, his repeated detentions are a rite of passage. “People respect me because I’ve been arrested so many times,” he tells me. Child psychologists see it rather differently. They say young boys are often feted as heroes when they return from detention, which denies them the scope to process their traumatic experiences and express common feelings of acute anxiety. According to Zaghrout, boys are expected to act tough. “In our culture, it’s easier for girls to show fear and cry. Boys are told they shouldn’t cry. It’s hard for boys to say they are frightened to go to the toilet alone or that they want to sleep with their parents. But they still have these feelings, they just come out differently – in nightmares, bed-wetting, aggression.”

Mousa, Muslim’s father and the imam of the local mosque, says that, despite his son’s bravado, he is an unhappy and insecure boy. “When the army comes, he clings to me. Since the beginning of the arrests, he sleeps with me.” While Mousa is talking, Muslim suddenly leaves the house carrying a knife, intent on puncturing a football being kicked against the front wall by local children. “This is disturbed, irrational behaviour,” Mousa says. “This is because of the arrests. They have destroyed his childhood. He saw his father, his brother, his sister being arrested. There is a demolition order on the house. Most of our neighbours have been arrested. This is the childhood of this boy. He is not growing up in Disneyland.”

Mousa describes his own detention while trying to prevent the police arresting his son. “They carried me in my underwear from here to the Russian Compound [a cell and court complex in central Jerusalem]. Can you imagine more humiliation than this? We are religious people – we don’t even let our children see us without clothes. If you gave me a million dollars, I would not go outside in my underwear.”

The moment when children realise their parents, especially their fathers, cannot protect them is psychologically significant, according to experts. “For children, their fathers are the protectors of the family. But often these men reach a point where they cannot protect their children. Sometimes soldiers humiliate fathers in front of children. This is very difficult for children who naturally see their father as a hero,” Zaghrout says.

According to Roni at Unicef, “Children can lose faith and respect when they see their father beaten in front of them. These children sometimes develop a resistance to respecting people in authority. We hear parents saying, ‘I can’t control my child any more – they won’t listen to me.’ This creates great stresses within a family.”

Muslim now skips school regularly, saying it bores him, and instead spends his days roaming the streets. According to Mousa, the boy’s teachers say he is hard to control, aggressive and uncooperative. At the end of our visit, the restless teenager accompanies us back to our car. He bounces along the road, leaning in open car windows to twist a steering wheel or honk a horn. As we prepare to leave, he gives us a word of warning: “Be careful. Some kid might throw rocks at you.”

Despite their difficult lives, each of these four children has a touchstone of normality in their life. For Nawal, it is the sheep that she tends. Ahed likes football and playing with dolls. Waleed is passionate about drawing. Muslim looks after horses in his neighbourhood. And each has an ambition for the future: Nawal hopes to be a doctor, to care for the cave-dwellers and shepherds of the South Hebron Hills; Ahed wants to become a lawyer, to fight for Palestinian rights; Waleed aspires to be an architect, to design houses without cages; and Muslim enjoys fixing things and would like to be a car mechanic.

But growing up under occupation is shaping another generation of Palestinians. The professionals who work with these children say many traumatised youngsters become angry and hopeless adults, contributing to a cycle of despair and violence. “What we face in our childhood, and how we deal with it, forms us as adults,” Zaghrout says.

“There is a cycle of trauma imprinted on Palestinian consciousness, passed down from generation to generation,” Rita Giacaman, professor of public health at Birzeit university, says. “Despair is also handed down. It’s hard for children to see a future. The past not only informs the present, but also the future.”

(Source / 08.02.2014)

New militant group claims Cairo bombings

CAIRO: A new militant group has claimed responsibility for two bombings in Cairo that targeted the Egyptian police on Friday and has vowed to carry out more attacks, underscoring the risk of a widening campaign of violence against the security forces.
The group — Ajnad Misr, or Soldiers of Egypt — said it carried out the attack that wounded six people in a statement posted on a Facebook page set up in its name. The statement was quoted by a website used by militant groups and by SITE Intelligence group, which monitors such sites.
Shootings and bomb attacks targeting the security forces have become commonplace since last July, when the army deposed President Muhammad Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood following mass protests against his rule.
In a raid outside Cairo, the Interior Ministry said police seized an arms cache including 10 bombs stored at an apartment by a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which denies government accusations it is behind the violence.
Ajnad Misr emerged late last month, claiming responsibility for six attacks at the end of January, according to SITE. “(The security forces) are not safe from retaliation which is pursuing them,” its statement said. “Our attacks on them will continue all the while their crimes continue,” the statement said.
Many of the attacks have been claimed by Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, a group based in North Sinai that has turned its attention from Israel to the Egyptian government since Mursi’s overthrow.
The Interior Ministry said one of the bombs seized in the raid on the apartment outside Cairo in 6th of October City, 30 km from the capital, weighed 25 and was equipped with timers and remote controls. The other nine were described as primitively assembled.
A suspect had confessed to belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and said he had received the arms from a member of the group’s political party, the Interior Ministry said.

(Source / 08.02.2014)

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti on the destruction of Ein Hijleh

Dr. Barghouti was present at the site from the beginning of the project until the Israeli army invaded and forcibly evicted the occupants in the early morning hours of Friday 7 February.

“I categorically deny the Israeli army claims that there was any stone throwing or any form of violence from people who were stationed inside the village,” Barghouti said Friday afternoon.

He affirmed that the people in the village received no warning that they should evacuate the site, contrary to claims by the Israeli military. “In reality,” he said, “during the last eight days the Israeli army has been trying to provoke violence in every possible way, and they failed completely because of the discipline of the people in the village.”

According to Barghouti and dozens of witnesses, the Israeli invasion included violent beatings and the use of sound bombs, leaving 42 peaceful volunteers injured. Barghouti was also assaulted during the attack and eviction.

“There is no justification whatsoever,” Barghouti continued. “And this aggression was a violation of international law and human rights. And it showed that the Israeli side was pre-planning the evacuation for their unjust political aspirations of  annexing the Jordan Valley and large parts of Area C.”

He also added that after the eviction the Israeli army declared the whole area, including the village site, a closed military zone. A convoy carrying essential construction material, including sewage latrine systems and other supplies, was stopped today at noon at an Israeli checkpoint and refused entry.

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti is a member of the Palestinian parliament and one of the organizers of the Salt of the Earth campaign as well as the recently restored village of Ein Hijleh.

(Source / 08.02.2014)

Palestinian militants in Gaza fire rocket at Israel

While Hamas itself does not routinely fire rockets, Israel says it holds the group, which seized power in Gaza in 2007, responsible for such attacks. [AFP]
While Hamas itself does not routinely fire rockets, Israel says it holds the group, which seized power in Gaza in 2007, responsible for such attacks.
Palestinian fighters in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket into southern Israel on Saturday evening, the Israeli military said, according to Agence France-Presse.

The attack, which took place in northwest of the Negev desert, caused no casualties.

“No damage or injuries were reported” in the latest strike, the Israeli army said in a statement.

On Thursday, three rockets had slammed into open ground in southern Israel, also without causing any casualties.

The Israeli army tends to return such incidents with air strikes on the Gaza Strip, but it has not yet launched any retaliatory attacks.

On Tuesday, Hamas, Gaza’s Islamist rulers, said a 600-strong special security force tasked with preventing cross-border rocket fire had been redeployed.

The Hamas force was deployed to the area on Jan. 21, but it was withdrawn last weekend in protest to four Israeli air strikes on Hamas training camps in the coastal enclave.

While Hamas itself does not routinely fire rockets, Israel says it holds the group, which seized power in Gaza in 2007, responsible for such attacks.

(Source / 08.02.2014)

No internet censorship in Turkey: Erdogan

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rejected claims that the country’s newly-adopted cyber law will limit freedom of expression.

“These regulations do not impose any censorship at all on the Internet…. On the contrary, they make it safer and freer,” Erdogan said on Saturday.

The Turkish Parliament passed the law late on Wednesday, allowing the Telecommunications Communications Presidency (TIB) to block access to websites deemed to violate privacy or have “insulting” content without a court order.

The TIB could also request users’ communications and traffic information from providers with no court ruling.

The Turkish Premier also denied that the law would allow the government authorities to have access to internet users’ personal information.

“Never. It is out of the question that people’s private data will be recorded,” he said.
European Parliament chief Martin Schulz described the move as a “step back in an already suffocating environment for media freedom.”

The new measure came as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has been embroiled in a corruption scandal.

Critics say Erdogan’s adoption of harsh measures is an attempt to contain the scandal probe involving some of his close allies.

Erdogan has denounced the probe as a plot to undermine his government ahead of the local elections in March, adding that the graft allegations against businesspersons and government officials are hindering the economic growth.

(Source / 08.02.2014)

Egyptian authorities close Rafah crossing

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Egyptian authorities closed the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip on Saturday after keeping the terminal open for three days, a Palestinian official said.

A Gaza border crossing official told Ma’an that Rafah would be opened again on Sunday and Monday to allow a group of Umrah pilgrims to continue their journey home from Saudi Arabia.

The official said that throughout the last three days, 1,922 people left the Gaza Strip for Egypt and 1,120 arrived in Gaza from Egypt.

The Rafah crossing has been the principal connection between Gaza’s 1.7 million residents and the outside world since the imposition of an economic blockade by the State of Israel beginning in 2007.

Egypt has frequently closed the terminal since the army ousted president Mohamed Morsi in July. Hundreds of tunnels that Gazans used for years to import fuel, building materials, and other goods were also destroyed

(Source / 08.02.2014)

Egypt’s Sabbahi to stand in presidential election

Hamdeen Sabbahi announced he will stand in upcoming elections, in a contest likely to pit him against army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

A popular Egyptian dissident leader under ousted president Mohammad Mursi said Saturday he will stand in upcoming elections, in a contest likely to pit him against army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Although the widely popular Sisi has yet to announce his candidacy, the field marshal is expected to contest and win the election, scheduled to be held by mid-April.

The announcement on Saturday by socialist activist Hamdeen Sabbahi, however, signals growing concern among some Egyptians over a return to military rule if Sisi wins.

Sabbahi had placed third in the 2012 elections that Morsi won.

After a year of turbulent rule Mursi was overthrown by the military following massive protests demanding the Islamist’s resignation.

Sabbahi was a leader of the National Salvation Front which organized protests under Mursi.

He was also a leading dissident against veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak, a former army man who was overthrown in an early 2011 uprising after three decades in power.

In a speech to his supporters, broadcast on live television, Sabbahi announced his nomination to chants of “our vote is for Sabbahi.”

He denounced both Mursi and Mubarak, whose regime critics say is being resurrected by the military installed government.

“We will wage a clear battle,” Sabbahi said. “I hope my decision has pleased the youths and respected their demands.”

Sisi and the interim president he appointed after overthrowing Morsi have both pledged there would be no return to Mubarak-era practices, in which thousands of political prisoners were detained and freedom of speech was stifled.

Since Mursi’s overthrow, more than 1,400 people have been killed in street clashes in a crackdown on Islamists, and thousands imprisoned.

Following a perceived low turnout among youths in a constitutional referendum last month, the government has begun to reach out to youth activists.

But some of the most prominent leaders of youth groups that spearheaded protests against both Mubarak and Mursi are now in jail.

Three of them were sentenced to three years in prison in December for participating in an unlicensed protest.

(Source / 08.02.2014)

A tent amongst the rubble in East Jerusalem

The following story was issued by the Media Office of the Union of Charitable Societies-Jerusalem. UCS-J is an umbrella organization with 150 NGO members from across the Palestinian Territories. 
Similar to other pregnant women who eagerly await their transitions into motherhood, on that gloomy morning May Aldebai was speaking to her unborn baby.

She was telling him about the cozy room she had prepared for him, his warm bed, the nice clothes and the toys that would come to life at the moment of his arrival to the world.

Mai did not imagine that before the clock had struck 10 a.m., all of her baby’s clothes and toys, along with her dreams, would be smashed and buried beneath the rubble of her family home.

In 2008, Azam Idriss and his son-in-law Bahaa Aldbai bought a piece of land in the Ashqariyeh neighborhood in Beit Hanina, East Jerusalem.

Two years later, they took out loans to build a single-story house and divided it into two apartments in order to protect them from the winter cold and summer heat. The apartments would be their family shelter, and would come to house fifteen people.

However, during the construction they were subjected to a great deal of harassment by the Israeli municipality, which even issued a fine of 170,000 shekels ($48,200) against them under the claim of unlicensed construction.

Drowning in the debts of construction and the fines they received due to construction, the family worked day and night in order to pay them off, all the while hoping that the situation would not get any worse. They hoped that the harassment would end and eventually the house would be turned to a safe home where their children could grow and prosper.

Once the construction was finished, however, harassment only got worse. This time, it was Israeli settlers were acting under the protection of occupying forces that began causing problems, Idriss explained. More specifically, a settler named Ariel King started to claim that he owned the land despite the fact that Idriss and Aldbai had legally purchased it.

King and other settlers would come during the night to spy on the house through the windows, terrifying the women and children of the family. These actions occurred under the protection of Israeli police, Idriss recounts.

Israeli journalists also used to accompany King to film the house from the outside, holding interviews around the house with him and other settlers without acquiring permission from the house’s true owners.

40 days after King’s threats 

After a period of 40 days, King’s threats against the house transformed into the very real practices of demolition. On Monday, Jan. 27 at 9 a.m., Israeli police forces, employees from the Jerusalem Municipality and a group of settlers led by Ariel King raided the house and entered the bedrooms while the family was asleep.

The Israeli authorities attacked the house without the slightest respect for the people inside, leaving the children in a state of panic.

Without any prior notice, the Israeli forces began demolishing the house. They did not give the family any chance to gather their belongings, not even a few clothes to protect against the winter weather nor their official documents and certificates.

Even though the Israeli forces were aware that Mai Aldbai was pregnant, they detained her for several hours, bringing panic and fear to her heart. The occupying forces also assaulted other family members, leaving the children traumatized as a result of the brutal demolition of their home and the arbitrary assault on their family.

When a child becomes a witness and a victim 

It was not easy for Muhammad Aldbai, a two year old child, to witness the scenes of raid, demolition, and armed attack on his family home.

The neighbors contacted his father Bahaa Aldbai, who was at work at the time of the demolition, to inform him about the attack. When he arrived, he tried to protect his terrified son and pregnant wife, who had been detained. Yet the occupying forces also arrested him and took him away to a police station in the settlement of Neve Yaakov.

All these frightful images of attack, arrest and demolition were recorded in Muhammad’s mind. Recalling these images over and over in his caused him to live in a state of panic, and since then he has had recurring nightmares. The child developed a stutter, as well as sudden bouts of screaming and crying and a paralyzing, constant fear of strangers.

After the Demolition … 

Fifteen people, old and young, are now living in two tents, without protection from the winter cold. They sleep, drink and eat in the tents since they lost all of their belongings, including their clothes, papers, and much of their savings.

When they searched in the rubble to find their money and the gold that they had saved up for their son’s marriage, they could not find it anywhere.

Fatena Idriss speculates that during the raid prior to the demolition, occupying forces may have taken the disappeared money and gold, whose total worth amounted to more than 20,000 shekels ($5,700).

No Application of Geneva Convention

This act of demolition was not the first, and it will not be the last. On the same day that Idriss and Aldbai’s house was demolished, Israeli occupying forces demolished a total of four houses in Beit Hanina and Issawiya.

Thousands of homes that have been destroyed since 1967, thousands of families have been displaced, and thousands of people are currently living under the threat of demolition and displacement.

This policy of not granting building permits to Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem is one of the key policies that the occupation adopts in order to displace Palestinians from the city. This is despite of the fact that the residents of Jerusalem are civilians living under occupation, and thus the Fourth Geneva Convention applies to them according to prevailing standards of international law.

There are many questions that spin in the minds of all Jerusalemites who manage to live in Jerusalem despite the difficult conditions, including:

Why building permits are granted easily in West Jerusalem but not in East Jerusalem?

Why is the Fourth Geneva Convention not applied to the Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem?

(Source / 08.02.2014)

Syria evacuates civilians from besieged Homs centre

A man walks along a street lined with damaged buildings in the besieged area of Homs February 5, 2014. REUTERS-Yazan Homsy

A man walks along a street lined with damaged buildings in the besieged area of Homs February 5, 2014.

(Reuters) – Syria evacuated 83 civilians on Friday who had lived under government siege in the devastated city of Homs for a year and a half, the first concrete result of talks launched two weeks ago to try to end the country’s civil war.

Buses ferried dozens of weary-looking evacuees, accompanied by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, to a meeting point outside Homs where aid workers, soldiers and police were gathered. The World Food Programme said many appeared malnourished.

“They were living on leaves and grass and olives and whatever they could find,” WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said.

The long awaited move was meant to have been a relatively straightforward opening step in the peace talks, which resume on Monday in Geneva with little prospect of resolving core grievances of a conflict which has killed 130,000 people.

It marked the start of a planned three-day humanitarian ceasefire, but even as it took place, activists said they feared for the fate of both evacuees and those left behind.

Under the Homs deal, women, children and old men were allowed to leave the Old City, which has been cut off by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, while humanitarian supplies will be allowed in to those who remain.

“The United Nations can confirm that 83 people were evacuated from Old Homs City today,” said U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq. “The people – women, children and the elderly – were then delivered to places of their choice, escorted by United Nations and Syrian Arab Red Crescent staff.”

It was the first time the Red Crescent had gained access to the centre of Homs since the siege began, the aid agency said.

The WFP said it had trucks ready to take a month’s supply of food on Saturday to an estimated 2,500 people trapped in the rebel-held heart of the city.

“There are signs of malnutrition, for some of them it is very obvious,” Byrs said. “Some said they have not eaten bread for five months.

Russia said a three-day ceasefire had been agreed in the city, which was one of the first areas to erupt in protest against Assad nearly three years ago and where street after street has been destroyed in heavy fighting between Assad’s forces and rebels seeking his overthrow.

Syrian authorities had announced that evacuees would be given medical treatment and shelter, and that residents of Old Homs who prefer to remain will be sent humanitarian aid.

Moscow, which has supported and armed Assad throughout the civil war, hailed the Homs deal as a “landmark agreement”,.

Western officials gave a skeptical response, saying Syria had an unconditional obligation to civilians trapped by conflict and arguing the issue should not have required weeks of negotiation to allow aid to enter.

“The regime should let the humanitarian convoy in. Then the population should decide to stay or leave,” said Jon Wilks, Britain’s special representative for Syria.

Rebels have rejected similar offers to evacuate women and children in the past because of concerns about what might happen to any men, including fighters, who are left behind. Dozens of men were detained and disappeared after a similar deal made last year in Mouadamiya, west of Damascus.

AILING CIVILIANS REMAIN

There were differing reports about where the evacuees were headed. An activist in the Old City of Homs said they were being taken to Al-Waar – a neighborhood on the north-western edge of Homs where many of the city’s Sunni population have already fled.

“We are very concerned that some of the people who will arrive in Waar today will be arrested by the regime later,” Hassan Abuzain said by Skype.

“Last night the regime shelled the Old City and this morning it shelled Waar, the very place we are sending these people to for safety.”

He said one man who approached the first bus for evacuation had been shot and wounded by a sniper, blaming Assad’s forces for the shooting. There was no comment from officials, who have frequently blamed rebels for firing on humanitarian convoys.

Television footage of one bus which brought the evacuees out appeared to show several bullet holes in the back of the vehicle, though it was not clear when the damage occurred.

U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos welcomed Friday’s operation as “a breakthrough and a small but important step towards with compliance with international humanitarian law,” but “she said she understood that many civilians, sick and wounded, remain in the Old City of Homs,” Haq said.

Australia, Luxembourg and Jordan presented to the five permanent U.N. Security Council members a draft resolution demanding full access for humanitarian aid workers across Syria. It was quickly dismissed by Russia as a “non-starter.”

“FIRST STEP”

Homs governor Talal al-Barazi said earlier that the first group of evacuees from Homs would include children under 15, men over 55, and women. He said reception centers had been set up to receive and treat people leaving the old city, although those evacuated were free to go wherever they liked.

“We hope this first step will succeed and will continue tomorrow and after tomorrow and so on to ensure safe exit to all civilians who want to leave the old city.”

Barazi said some Christian residents were also trying to leave the city centre but officials had not yet managed to secure them safe passage from their homes in the Hamadiya and Bustan al-Diwan districts of the city.

“God willing, we’ll be able to provide better conditions for those who are in the old city to safely exit.”

The deal took much longer than diplomats expected, boding ill for the future of the peace talks, which the opposition says must focus on political transition which world powers called for after a June 2012, meeting in Geneva.

The government says the priority is to end terrorism – a label it gives to all armed opposition – and says political transition, which it rejects, is only part of the agenda.

State news agency SANA cited Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad on Friday confirming the government would attend the second round of talks and demand a discussion “article by article” of the 2012 Geneva Communiqué.

“Restoring peace and stability throughout the Syrian Arab Republic requires putting an end to terrorism and violence, as is said in the Geneva communiqué,” Mekdad said.

Syria’s conflict began with peaceful protests against four decades of Assad family rule and degenerated into an armed insurgency after a fierce security crackdown.

Now the major Arab state is in a full-scale civil war that has killed more than 130,000 people and forced over 6 million – nearly a third of the population – to flee their homes.

(Source / 08.02.2014)