Lebanese factions fuel Syria strife

A Lebanese nurse, left, and Syrian man, right, carry a Syrian rebel who was injured during a battle against the Syrian government forces and Hezbollah fighters 

Sunnis and Shiites from Lebanon are streaming into Syria to take up arms on opposite sides of a fierce battle over a rebel stronghold – a fight that has effectively erased the border between the two countries and underlined how Lebanon is being sucked into the civil war next door.

The northeastern Lebanese town of Arsal, dominated by Sunnis, has become a key logistical base for the Syrian rebels who have been fighting for months to keep their hold on the strategic Syrian town of Yabroud, only 20 miles away across the border.

On a recent day, armed fighters in pick-up trucks and on motorbikes were seen scrambling down dusty roads out of Arsal into the mountains to cross into Syria and head to Yabroud.

Syrian rebels move freely back and forth across the border, and rebels wounded in the battle are brought to Arsal for treatment in clandestine hospitals.

At the same time, Lebanese Shiite fighters from the Hezbollah guerrilla group are crossing into Syria to fight alongside the forces of Syrian president Bashar Assad that have been besieging Yabroud since November.

For the past three years, Lebanon has been struggling with the spillover from Syria’s civil war.

Sectarian tensions in Lebanon have escalated, as its Sunni community largely supports the mainly Sunni Syrian rebel movement, while its Shiites back Assad.

Hezbollah, the most powerful armed force in Lebanon, has thrown its weight behind Assad, sending fighters who have tipped some battles in the government’s favour.

The violence has blown back into Lebanon itself, with suspected Sunni extremists carrying out a string of retaliatory bombings against Hezbollah-controlled Shiite areas.

Around Arsal, all sides are brought into dangerously close proximity, exacerbated by the battle raging just over the border.

The town’s Sunni population strongly sympathises with Syria’s rebels. Lebanese security officials say a few hundred Lebanese Sunnis are believed to be offering logistical support or fighting alongside the rebels, particularly in Yabroud.

But Arsal is surrounded by mainly Shiite towns in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa valley, raising the potential for friction between the various fighters on Lebanese soil. The town of Baalbek, 20 miles to the south, is a source of many of the Hezbollah fighters heading to join the Yabroud battle.

Syrian rebels being treated at Arsal hospitals said Hezbollah guerrillas make up the bulk of the forces besieging Yabroud.

“They have many weapons, and they are fighting hard because Yabroud is important for them,” one rebel, who spoke on condition he be identified only by his first name, Basel, said. “But it’s our country and we are strong men. We will defend our people, our land and our honour until we die.”

Basel was seriously injured in the groin and left thigh when he and four other rebels were preparing to ambush pro-government forces at Yabroud but were instead ambushed themselves by troops who descended on them from behind.

The 27-year-old needs surgery that Arsal’s makeshift hospital, attached to a mosque, cannot provide. But his brother, standing at his bedside, said he will not send him anywhere in Lebanon outside Arsal because he fears he could be captured on route by Hezbollah fighters manning several checkpoints in a neighbouring Shiite village.

“I am going to pay more money to bring doctors here to help him, but he’s only leaving this bed to go back to Syria,” the brother said. He declined to give his name for fear of reprisals.

Another wounded Syrian rebel, Mohammed Awad, was barely out of the operating room when he began pleading with doctors to let him go back to the front at Yabroud.

The 20-year-old was wounded when a rocket hit a vehicle carrying him and other fighters. His face bandaged after doctors removed shrapnel from his jaw and left hand, Awad said he was determined to rejoin the battle because he is originally from Syrian town of Qusair, another border town that was a rebel stronghold until Hezbollah fighters helped overrun it last year in their first major incursion in Syria’s war.

“This is enough reason to want to fight Hezbollah and Assad to death,” Mr Awad said.

But there is the issue of personal revenge too, he said: he lost four uncles, two cousins and four female relatives amid the fighting in Qusair.

The battle for Yabroud is particularly fierce because the town is key for rebels. It is their last stronghold in Syria’s Qalamoun region, between the Lebanese border and the Syrian capital Damascus, an important route for smuggling supplies to rebels from Lebanon.

Government forces have taken a string of other rebel-held towns in the area in the past month and are now making a final push on Yabroud. Earlier this week, Syrian helicopters attacked the town’s outskirts with barrel bombs – containers packed with explosives and fuel that the government has used to devastating effect in other rebel-held urban areas in Sryia.

The fighting has contributed to a wave of refugees fleeing across the border to to Arsal. In the past two weeks alone, 13,000 arrived in Arsal, which has already been overwhelmed by Syrians settling in makeshift camps in the fields and hills on its outskirts.

Facilities for the rebels have geared up as well in Arsal. Two months ago, a new hospital opened in the town with two operating theaters, an emergency room and seven doctors on staff, including several surgeons, who perform an average six operations a day.

So far, up to 200 people have been treated there, mostly Syrian fighters and civilians, said Bassem Faris, a Syrian doctor and the hospital’s manager. He was previously in Yabroud treating fighters at a makeshift hospital but had to flee the area after the fall of Qusair.

“Every one of us has a role to play in this revolution, and I will be more useful if I treat people and save lives,” Dr Faris said.

(Source / 06.03.2014)

UN says 300,000 Palestinians in mooted Israeli annexation area

Khirbet al-Makhul community, which Israel razed in September.

There are nearly 300,000 Palestinians living in “Area C” of the occupied West Bank, according to new figures published this week by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Area C constitutes the over 60 percent of the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, designated to full Israeli civil and military control by the 1995 Oslo II agreement. The area is home to 532 residential communities, “compromising some of the most vulnerable communities in the West Bank in terms of humanitarian needs,” according to the UN.

But Naftali Bennett, an extreme rightwing politician and Minister of Economy and Trade, previously claimed that only 50,000 Palestinians lived in Area C. Bennett, who is from the Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party, called on Israel to fully annex the area and impose Israeli citizenship on its inhabitants.

In 2008, the Israeli NGO Bimkom previously estimated that Area C was home to between 150,000 and 180,000 Palestinians, as journalist Amira Haas reported at the Israeli dailyHaaretz.

Firing zones

OCHA estimates that around 18 percent of the West Bank is designated as closed military zones for military activities. Some 6,224 Palestinians live in communities in these areas, known as “firing zone” communities. Another more than 12,000 reside in close proximity of them.

In Masaffar Yatta – called “Firing Zone 918” by Israeli occupation authorities – more than2,000 persons are slated for eviction and have lived in a state of uncertainty for years.

In September 2013, twelve families (around 120 persons) were displaced when Israeli bulldozers razed the Khirbet al-Makhul community in the Jordan Valley, as Dylan Collinsreported for The Electronic Intifada at the time.

The overwhelming majority of Palestinian “firing zone” communities rely on herding and farming for their economic livelihood. More than 80 percent of them have reported “a decrease in their number of livestock during the last two years due to a number of Israeli measures, including restrictive planning and zoning, settler violence and military activities,” the OCHA fact sheet reported.

Jerusalem

According to the statistics, the Jerusalem district is the most densely populated part of Area C, where 74,000 Palestinians reside.

In occupied East Jerusalem, Israel imposes a complex web of bureaucracy on the city’s indigenous Palestinian residents as part of the ongoing process of expelling them to make way for the expansion of Jewish-only settlements.

Near the Israeli settlement colony of Ma’ale Adumim, some 2,800 Palestinian Bedouins – more than 85 percent are already refugees – live in Jerusalem but are east of Israel’s wall in the West Bank.

Hundreds of families were forcibly relocated in the past, and today all of the communities have had land stolen by settlements and live without electricity. Israeli authorities have also issued demolition orders to the majority of the homes.

Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem hold special Israeli-issued blue identity cards. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem estimates that more than 14,000 persons have had their Jerusalem-residency revoked since 2000.

Between 1999 and 2012, Israeli occupation authorities demolished 928 homes in occupied East Jerusalem, according to B’Tselem’s statistics.

Pipe dream

Below is a list of other alarming estimates from the OCHA fact sheet:

  • Israeli authorities have issued demolition orders to nearly 70 Palestinian residential areas.
  • 49 percent of the communities suffer from severe restrictions on freedom of movement.
  • Half of the communities have or are experiencing land confiscation.
  • 21 percent suffer from physical violence by Israeli settlers.
  • 32 percent suffer from settler attacks on their property.
  • 27 percent of the residents in Area C are already UN-registered refugees in crowded camps that constitute just six percent of the total area.

“This is our home,” Naftali Bennet said at an Israeli settler conference in January 2013. “We are the tenants here, not occupiers.”

But despite an ever-growing list of Israeli policies designed to displace and ghettoize Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, there are nearly twice as many Palestinians still living in Area C than previously estimated.

Though Bennett’s plan was already improbable, the fact that over 300,000 Palestinians live in the area he wants to annex means that his racist designs are also little more than a pipe dream.

(Source / 06.03.2014)

Syrian Coalition: Assad regime Derides Geneva II through its Intention to Negotiate with the “National Progressive” Front

Nora Al Ameer, vice president of the Syrian Coalition, said that the Assad regime insists on following a military solution to suppress the popular uprising. “The insistence on using the military option to deal with the revolution is typical of all dictators. I think it became clear to the international community that the regime’s talk about a political solution is nothing more than a publicity gimmick that seeks to cover up the massacres committed against the Syrian people,” Al Ameer’s statement came in response to remarks made by Walid Al Moalem, who said that “If the UN special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi resigns his mission, our focus will be on achieving military gains in parallel with holding dialogue with the National Progressive Front and the national opposition.” Al Ameer described Moalem’s statements as “blind, exclusive and deliberately ignore the reality of the Syrian revolution with the aim of achieving certain political agendas for some foreign sides that Assad has imported to assist him in killing the Syrian people. These statements, through which the Assad regime announced it will negotiate with itself, show outright contempt of Geneva II and its sponsors as well as lack of seriousness to reach a political solution.” Furthermore, Al Ameer said that “the UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi held the Assad regime full responsibility for the failure of the Geneva II negotiations proves that when we went to Geneva II, we went in good faith to save the lives of the Syrian people through the formation of a transitional governing body without Assad and based on the terms of Geneva I. The delegation of the Assad regime refused to discuss the agenda presented by Lakhdar Brahimi.” Al Ameer concluded her remarks stressing that “we do not seek to assume power through Geneva II, but we came to Geneva II in order to establish a democratic rule. According to the internal system of the Syrian Coalition, we cannot assume any executive powers in the first transitional governing body that will be agreed upon through negotiations.”
(Source: Syrian Coalition / 06.03.2014)

Egypt says Gaza activists stopped over safety concerns

Egypt said it stopped a delegation of female activists from reaching the Gaza Strip, fearing for their safety while they travel through the Sinai Peninsula.

Egypt said on Thursday it stopped a delegation of women activists from reaching the Gaza Strip as it feared for their safety while traveling through the restive Sinai Peninsula.

About 100 women from Europe and the United States intended to go to the Palestinian enclave through Egypt’s Rafah border crossing to celebrate International Women’s Day on Saturday.

But the Egyptian authorities stopped them at Cairo airport, and have already deported Northern Irish Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire and American anti-war activist Medea Benjamin who wanted to join the delegation.

On Thursday, the authorities had prevented about 45 activists, mostly from France, from entering the country, an organizer of the delegation told AFP.

Prior to traveling, the group had asked to pass through the Rafah crossing in northern Sinai, but the authorities urged them to abandon the trip, foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty said.

The group was told “the timing was not appropriate… given the current extraordinary security conditions in northern Sinai and the difficulty of ensuring the security of the activist group until they reached the Rafah crossing,” he said.

Since the military ousted Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in July, militants have stepped up attacks on security forces, killing scores of policemen and soldiers, mainly in northern Sinai.

The army has poured troops into the mountainous and underdeveloped peninsula, which borders Gaza and Israel.

On Thursday, Egyptian authorities proposed 27 of the activists be deported, but they refused as they did want to leave without the other women, the organizer said.

But Egypt allowed about 30 women to enter the country, and this group was trying to reach Gaza, the organizer said, adding the delegation was still negotiating with the authorities.

The group could embarrass Egypt’s military-installed government, which is at odds with Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers but does not want to be seen as party to a siege of Palestinians, blockaded by Israel.

Egypt controls the only border crossing with Gaza that bypasses Israel, and is accused of colluding with the Jewish state to blockade the Hamas-ruled territory.

In 2006, a year after Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers from Gaza, militants abducted soldier Gilad Shalit, and the Jewish state slapped a blockade on the enclave.

It tightened the blockade in 2007 when Hamas, which says it seeks the destruction of Israel, seized control of Gaza after routing forces loyal to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

The border crossing is opened irregularly.

(Source / 06.03.2014)

Official: Israel refused to let Palestinian refugees in Syria return

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — Fatah central committee member Mohammad Ishtayyeh said on Thursday that the Palestinian Authority had attempted to negotiate the return of Palestinian refugees from Syria, but Israel had refused.

Ishtayyeh said in a meeting with diplomats organized by the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Ramallah that the PA had tried with all its might to “end the suffering” of Palestinians in Syria through international mediation.

Israeli officials, however, had refused to allow them to come to the Palestinian territories.

At least 1,500 Palestinians have been killed in the ongoing Syria conflict, and around 250,000 Palestinian refugees have been forced to leave their homes in Syria due to violence in the country.

Prior to the conflict, 600,000 Palestinian refugees lived in Syria.

Between 7-800,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes inside Israel during the 1948 conflict that led to the creation of the State of Israel, and today their descendants number around five million, spread across the world.

(Source / 06.03.2014)

The ever-shifting borders in the Middle East

A lot of Lebanese, born into the Ottoman , therefore woke up one morning and found they were no longer Lebanese — but Palestinian.
And when the Israelis arrived in  and did a spot of  some of these former Lebanese — but now Palestinian — folk were murdered

Ottoman_Empire_Map

 

Borders are becoming a bit odd in the . They always have been, of course. Ever since Mark Sykes and François Georges Picot — the latter a former French consul in , by the way, who cost a lot of brave Lebanese their lives by his carelessness in sealing their anti-Ottoman letters behind an embassy wall — divvied up the , Syria, Iraq, , etc, one lot of  (or their grandchildren) found themselves living as refugees not many miles from their original homes, cursed and sometimes killed by another lot of  who turned out to be — much to their own surprise, in some cases — Lebanese or Syrians.

Then we come to the question of a state called  which exists in a land that was called Palestine, 22 per cent of which — and the percentage is growing smaller by the day — is supposed to be called “Palestine”. Well, maybe.

Which brings me to the point. For last week, the Strategic Affairs Minister of Israel, warned Lebanon that it must prevent  from attacking Israel in reprisal for Israel’s attack on a weapons convoy — an attack which, as is often the case, Israel didn’t actually admit to having carried out. Israel, according to the same Reuters report, has promised to destroy “thousands” of residential buildings that it claims  uses as bases.

This is even more odd. For many years — and I have been a witness to five of these wars, although Israel claims only to have fought three of them — I have seen thousands and thousands of “residential” buildings blown to bits by Israel which were not Hezbollah bases.

F-15-Aircrafts-Wide

So is Steinitz actually being more restrained than his predecessors? Is he saying that Israel may attack only those residential buildings that Hezbollah is using — and not any other residential buildings that may be in the area?

If, of course, Hezbollah retaliates for the Israeli air raid that may — or may not — have happened? And just to finish with the editors at Reuters, the agency report has one more wonderful line which I must share with you.  It says “Israel is technically at war with Lebanon and Syria.”

Back to borders. There were, many decades ago, several villages in Lebanon which the French handed over to the Britons — when the Britons ran “Palestine” and the French controlled Lebanon and Syria (Lebanon being a part of Syria until the French chopped it off as a useful ally for future years). A lot of Lebanese, born into the, therefore woke up one morning and found they were no longer Lebanese — but Palestinian.

And when the Israelis arrived in Galilee and did a spot of ethnic cleansing (see the work of that fine Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, among others), some of these former Lebanese — but now Palestinian — folk were murdered.

The rest were thrown out of Israel (formerly Palestine) and into Lebanon — where most of them were born — as refugee Palestinians.  A few years ago, they were actually given Lebanese passports — so they knew at last that they were no longer Palestinians.

There can’t be many still alive, although — if they had driven a few miles north of their present homes in Lebanon last week — they might have witnessed the air raid on Lebanon which was only “alleged” to have happened, thus observing an attack by a country which expelled them from “Palestine” to a country they had actually been born in, an air assault which may not have actually happened because the country they were not born in did not claim that it had actually attacked the country of which they are now (again) citizens.

Well, let’s get back to Syria for a moment.  As you know, there’s been a civil war going on there for more than two years. Hezbollah is fighting on the side of ’s government — an offence in the eyes of the Western governments which allowed France to chop Lebanon off from Syria after the First World War.

Had the French not done so, of course, Hezbollah would all be Syrians fighting on their own government’s side inside their own country and would thus not have offended us by crossing the border which we Westerners created against the wishes of their grandfathers.

And in which case, the Israelis would not have to warn Lebanon about Hezbollah reprisals for an air raid which might — or might not — have been made on Lebanon by Israel but which would — if we hadn’t created Lebanon — have been the fourth attack of its kind by Israel on Syria, always supposing that Israel “acknowledged” that it had attacked Syria in the first place.

(Source / 06.03.2014)

GAZA UNEMPLOYMENT RISES TO 39%

 

The Ministry of the Economy in Gaza

Unemployment rose to 39 percent of the workforce in the Gaza Strip as a result of the Egyptian destruction of underground tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, the Ministry of the Economy in Gaza said on Sunday.

“This means that the number of jobless people in Gaza has risen to 140,000,” Hatem Uweida, the ministry undersecretary, told a press conference.

He recalled that the unemployment stood at only 27.3 percent during the first quarter of 2013.

Egypt has started an all-out crackdown on a network of smuggling tunnels on the border between the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip following the ouster of elected Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in July.

The army-backed interim authorities in Egypt accuse the Gaza-ruling Hamas of involvement in attacks in Egypt. Hamas has vehemently denied the allegations.

Gaza officials like Uweida say as much as 40 percent of the needs of the costal enclave, which has been reeling under an Israeli blockade since 2007, used to come through the border tunnels.

He said Gaza`s gross domestic product also fell down by 4.6 percent during the third quarter of 2013, compared with the second quarter of the same year.

(Source / 06.03.2014)

IOF assaults Palestinian when arresting him

Occupied West Bank, ALRAY – Prisoner Club Society said Israeli forces assaulted Thursday Omar Daraghma,18, when arresting him in Tubas town, to the north of Nablus.

The forces beat Daraghma over the head and hands.

Society’s lawyer said that administration of Hawwara prison refused to receive Daraghma in prison due to his bad health condition.

The lawyer pointed out that daraghma’s clothes were blood-stained and clear injuries could be noticed on his face and right eye.

(Source / 06.03.2014)

Japan Grants about Half a Million to Support Projects in Palestine

RAMALLAH, March 6, 2014 (WAFA) – The Representative of Japan to the Palestinian Authority, Junya Matsuura, signed Thursday contracts with Representatives of four local authorities to support projects in Ramallah.

Matsuura, Ambassador for the Palestinian Affairs, signed contracts with mayors of four Palestinian municipalities and local councils to implement four news projects with fund made available through the Government of Japan through the Japan’s Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Projects (GGP).

The signing ceremony was held at the Japan Representative Office to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

A grant of US$121,605 was extended for Shawawreh Village Council to construct six additional classrooms in Al Halabi Mixed School. This project would solve the problem of lack of classrooms for 138 students and enable 430 students to enjoy a better learning environment.

A grant of US$120,741 was extended for Beit Ulla Municipality to construct nine additional classrooms in UNRWA Girls School of Beit Ulla. 393 students would enjoy learning in a better educational environment away from crowded classrooms.

A grant of US$ 121,770 was extended for Zawiya Municipality to rehabilitate 4300 meters of naked wires and upgrade the electricity network in the village by installing two new transformers. This would provide 900 households with safe and stable electricity supply.

A grant of US$ 120,450 was extended to Seilat Harthiya Municipality to rehabilitate 4000 meters of old wires and upgrade the electricity network in the village by installing a new transformer. Around 442 households would be directly affected by this project and thus benefiting from a safe and stable electricity supply.

Matsuura in his speeches emphasized Japan’s firm commitment to supporting Palestinian people from human security perspective as well as the importance of implementing social and economic development projects needed for Palestinian communities.

Since 1993 the Government of Japan has extended its official development assistance exceeding $1.4 billion, to the Palestinians. GGP projects have been formulated in collaboration with the Palestinian Authority through MoPAD since 2010.

(Source / 06.03.2014)

Israeli court sentences Sheikh Salah to eight months imprisonment

Israeli court sentences Sheikh Salah to eight months imprisonment

 

Al Qassam website- Occupied Jerusalem- The Magistrate Court in Jerusalem on Tuesday sentenced Sheikh Ra’ed Salah, the leader of the Islamic movement in 1948 occupied Palestine, to eight months imprisonment.

The Islamic movement said on its website that the court sentenced the Sheikh to 16 months including 8 months actual imprisonment and an 8 months suspended sentence.

It recalled that the court had found the Sheikh guilty in November last year of incitement in what came to be known as Wadi Al-Jauz sermon.

The Khutba or sermon was delivered on Friday 16/2/2007 after Israel was charged with demolishing part of the Aqsa Mosque ten days earlier.

Sheikh Salah is a prominent Islamic figure in 1948 occupied Palestine and is well-known for his strong defense of the Aqsa Mosque and his criticism of the Israeli Judaization policy.

The Islamic leader’s active defense of Islamic and Christian holy places in Jerusalem and 1948 occupied Palestine has led to his repeated detention at the hands of Israeli security apparatuses.

(Source / 06.03.2014)