3-year-old dies due to closure of Rafah crossing

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — A three-year-old child died on Thursday after he was unable to receive medical care abroad due to the closure of the Rafah crossing, an activist group said.

Spokesman for the National Committee to Break the Siege Adham Abu Salmieh said that Ahmad Ammar Abu Nahl was suffering from an enlarged heart and liver and had been planning to go to Turkey via Egypt for treatment.

However, the young child died Thursday while waiting for the crossing to open.

Abu Salmieh told Ma’an that the continued death of victims is unfortunate and demanded the reopening of the Rafah crossing for humanitarian cases.

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

The death of Abu Nahl brings the number of deaths to two as a result of the closure of the crossing since the the Egyptian military overthrew democratically-elected president Morsi, Abu Salmieh said.

Egypt’s army has repeatedly closed the Rafah border crossing since the July coup while simultaneously destroying hundreds of tunnels that Gazans used for years to import fuel, building materials and other goods, as well as to enter and exit the blockaded coastal enclave.

(Source / 13.03.2014)

Israeli regime resumes Gaza aerial attacks

 

This file photo shows Palestinians gathering around a destroyed house after an Israeli air strike in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip
This file photo shows Palestinians gathering around a destroyed house after an Israeli air strike in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip
The Israeli military has again launched aerial attacks on the besieged Palestinian coastal strip of Gaza, striking the southern city of Rafah near the Egyptian border.

The latest strike by the Israeli regime on Thursday, which injured several Palestinians, came following retaliatory rocket attacks from Gaza that struck two southern Israeli towns of Ashkelon and Ashdod, causing panic and prompting Israelis to seek shelter.

This is while Israeli sources stated that the regime’s US-supplied Iron Dome anti-missile system failed to intercept at least eight Palestinian rockets.

The escalation of fire exchanges began on March 11 when an Israeli airstrike killed three Palestinians in the city of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip.

The deadly incident triggered a series of retaliatory attacks between the two sides.

The Palestinian resistance movement of Hamas has blamed Tel Aviv for the escalation of tensions in the region.

This is while the hawkish Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has called for the full re-occupation of Gaza in the wake of the violence.

Gaza has been blockaded since June 2007, a situation that has caused a decline in the standard of living, unprecedented levels of unemployment, and unrelenting poverty.

The apartheid regime of Israel denies about 1.7 million people in Gaza their basic rights, such as freedom of movement, jobs that pay proper wages, and adequate healthcare and education.

(Source / 13.03.2014)

Demand grows for halal food as industry evolves

Dubai Industrial City CEO Abdullah Belhoul said the idea to create a zone just for halal manufacturers was driven by the increased demand locally and internationally for such products.

The global industry for halal food and lifestyle products – ones that meet Islamic law standards of manufacture – is estimated to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars and is multiplying as Muslim populations grow. Producers outside the Muslim world, from Brazil to the U.S. and Australia, are eager to tap into the market.

The United Arab Emirates is positioning itself to be their gateway, part of its push to become a global center of Islamic business and finance.

UAE officials announced last month that the city of Dubai has dedicated around 6.7 million square feet of land in Dubai Industrial City for a “Halal Cluster” for manufacturing and logistic companies that deal in halal food, cosmetics and personal care items.

Dubai Industrial City CEO Abdullah Belhoul said the idea to create a zone just for halal manufacturers was driven by the increased demand locally and internationally for such products.

“This industry itself, we know it is growing,” Belhoul told The Associated Press. He said the industry is expected to double in terms of value within five years. “So we think there is a lot of opportunity… and we need to capitalize on this.”

The world’s Muslim population is estimated at around 1.6 billiion, and the majority is believed to adhere to or prefer to adhere to halal products when possible. The general understanding is that halal products should not be contaminated with pork or alcohol and that livestock is slaughtered in accordance with Islamic Shariah law. Similar to kosher practices, Islam requires the animal is killed with single slash to the throat while alive. It is intended as a way for animals to die swiftly and minimize their pain.

However, as with most issues in religion, opinions vary greatly over what is permissible and what is not. Despite attempts by international Islamic bodies, such as the World Halal Food Council, to achieve worldwide guidelines, there are no global standards for halal certifications.

Stricter interpreters of Shariah say chicken must be slaughtered by hand to be considered halal. Others say it is acceptable if the chicken is slaughtered by machine, as is the case in much of the fast-paced food industry around the world. To accommodate various Muslim consumers, several companies even specify on their packaging how the chicken was slaughtered.

Belhoul said that if halal products are manufactured in the UAE, they will need to be certified halal by the government body that oversees this. But, as with most countries, if the halal products, such as livestock or raw material, are being imported from abroad for processing in the UAE, then the stamp of approval comes from Islamic organizations in the exporting country.

This is where organizations such as Halal Control in Germany have an important role to play, said General Manager Mahmoud Tatari. He said that when the company started 14 years ago in Europe, there was little awareness or demand for halal products. Today, Halal Control has 12 Islamic scholars who offer guidance on certifications to international companies such as Nestle and Unilever who want to do business in the Muslim world.

Halal Control, which concentrates on products made in Europe, does not certify meat and poultry, but almost everything else from dairy products to food ingredients. Tatari said Muslims around the world may think they are eating halal-certified food, but that often raw materials may include alcohol or pork gelatin in candies and soups, or may have been cross-contaminated during production.

“It is a process and this will take maybe now five to 10 years (until) we can more safely eat halal,” he said.

Malaysia is the global leader in developing the halal industry and putting forth the highest standards, said Tatari and others in the industry.

Malaysia exported $9.8 billion worth of halal products in 2013, the Oxford Business Group said. That makes it one of the largest suppliers in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, an international group with 57 members.

U.S. manufacturers, such as Kelloggs and Hershey, plan to build halal-compliant plants in Malaysia. The Oxford Business Group says Indonesia, with the world’s largest Muslim population, plans to establish a center for the halal industry in 2015. In Thailand, more than a quarter of food factories are already making halal products.

But it is in the Gulf, where countries almost entirely rely on food imports, where the halal industry seems to have the biggest potential for growth in the coming years.

Brazil is the world’s second top exporter of meat and poultry to Muslim-majority countries after the U.S. The Brasil Food Company, which is among the world’s largest food companies, plans to open its first manufacturing site in the Middle East in UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi, in June. The factory will process poultry from Brazil for repackaging and shipping to other countries.

“Having the factory will allow us to be closer to the market and will allow us go to different markets that today we cannot export to from Brazil,” BRF Quality Assurance Supervisor Tiago Brilhante said. The company already exports 70,000 tons of chicken to the Middle East each month, making the region its biggest export market.

Datamonitor, a company that provides market and data analysis, says halal food already accounts for about a fifth of world food trade, and the Muslim market is growing substantially. According to a Global Futures and Foresights Study, 70 percent of the world’s population increase from 7 billion today to 9 billion people by 2050 will be born in Muslim countries.

Already in Muslim-majority countries, outlets like McDonald’s, Subway and Papa John’s pizza serve halal to their customers.

In the U.S., the family-run Midamar Corporation, based out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has been tapping into the halal market since 1974. Midamar exports American beef and chicken to around 35 countries.

Jalel Aossey said the company’s halal certification comes from an organization his father started called the Islamic Services of America, which he says was the first of its kind in the U.S.

Today there are around 30 halal certification bodies in the U.S. and several mainstream supermarkets that carry halal food items.

Even in markets where Muslims are not the majority, there are billions of dollars to be made in the halal industry. The Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America, a not-for-profit halal certification organization, said the domestic U.S. halal market is estimated at $20 billion.

Mark Napier, director of the Gulfood trade show that brings together more than 4,500 food and beverage vendors from around the world to the Dubai World Trade Center annually, said producers of halal products want to serve markets where their supply is not keeping up with demand. Many Muslims in the West buy Jewish kosher products when their halal counterparts are not available.

“Food business is big business,” Napier said. “Producers are increasingly aware of the need for halal standards and certification and bringing that to the fore of their export promotions.”

(Source / 13.03.2014)

Forget Benghazi Conspiracies, The Real Disgrace In Libya Is What’s Happening There Now

A Libyan man guards a detention camp for illegal migrants in November, 2013A Libyan man guards a detention camp for illegal migrants in November, 2013

The news that Libya’s parliament dismissed Prime Minister Ali Zeidan from office on Wednesday after the government failed to stop armed groups in eastern Libya from exporting oil independently should not surprise anyone — over the past year, the country has slipped deeper into chaos.

Zeidan was run out of office and fled the country just a few days short of the third anniversary of U.N. Resolution 1973 that imposed a no-fly zone and sanctions and opened the door to NATO’s intervention. What we see today in Libya is certainly not the result that the United States and its partners hoped for when it intervened to stop the Qadhafi regime from massacring its people.

I just finished nine months serving on the United Nations Panel of Experts on Libya — a group charged with monitoring and reporting on the implementation of sanctions imposed by a series of U.N. resolutions since 2011. The panel is an independent body that analyzes what is happening on unauthorized arms flows into and out of the country and efforts to freeze assets associated with the former Qadhafi regime, and it offers recommendations on what can be done to enhance measures on those fronts.

The full report, available here, paints a troubling picture of the insecurity inside of Libya and the widespread spillover effects it is having, particularly on weapons flows coming out of the country. Some of the report’s key findings:

  • A number of actors have trafficked shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles from Libya to Mali, Chad, Tunisia, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and the Gaza Strip, among other places during the past year.
  • Libya’s government lacks a strong centralized oversight over weapons it receives, and non-state armed groups control most of the weapons in the country. Weak government controls over land borders and ports are a large part of the problem of regional weapons proliferation and insecurity spillover.
  • Regional terrorist and criminal networks have exploited the insecurity and lack of control over weapons and materiel in Libya.
  • Libya’s insecurity and political divisions are interlinked, as a number of groups used actual and threatened force to advance their agendas.

The Middle East and North Africa has long been a region flooded with large amounts of weapons and military assistance, usually state-to-state transfers. The difference now in Libya and the regional spillover effects is that fragmentation inside of the country is reflected in disorganized weapons outflows driven largely by non-state actors. In a very real sense, Libya is exporting its insecurity to surrounding countries.

Meanwhile in Washington, many conservatives continue to harp on conspiracy theoriesabout the 2012 attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, all the while mostly sleepwalking through the current trends in Libya and the region. As my colleague Peter Juul and I argued last year, the mindless political debate over Obama administration talking points from the fall of 2012 harms efforts to come to grips with the deterioration of the overall situation in Libya and the longer-term challenge the United States faces of managing security risks when conducting diplomacy in insecure locations.

Some leading analysts on Libya like Karim Mezran of the Atlantic Council and Fred Wehrey at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace have sounded the alarm bell on Libya with sharp recommendations for U.S. and international policy, and Obama’s national security advisor Susan Rice outlined a framework for supporting Libya in a speech to the Middle East Institute last fall. But despite these ideas, and an international conference on Libya held in Rome earlier this month, the country continues to slide into chaos.

With so much going on in the Middle East these days — attempts to deal with Iran’s nuclear program, Syria’s civil war, the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and incomplete political transitions in places like Egypt — it is hard to find time on the crowded agenda for Libya.

But as I learned over the past nine months, what happens in Libya isn’t staying in Libya — and it is time to redouble international efforts on Libya before the country and the broader region slips into further turmoil.

(Source / 13.03.2014)

Gaza under attack, day 2

* URGENT
Another Explosion, zionist warplanes bombed a Qassam trainingsite east of Rafah City!!

* Occupation targeted sites of resistance east of Rafah , no injuries

* A new wave of Israeli strikes on #Gaza right now

* URGENT BREAKING NEWS
Zionist Warplanes bombed a trainings site of the resistance west of Rafah city!!

* War planes have bombed Khan Younis via Hassan Rabie

* Gaza now | urgent | now targeting of warplanes in the city of Khan Younis in southern Gaza Strip

* URGENT
A explosion was heared and the sound of F16s above us

* Flights F-16 enters a strong atmosphere of ‪#‎Gaza‬ now and spread significantly to reconnaissance aircraft .

* Zionist warplanes hovering heavily in the skies of #Gaza City Now

* Warplanes target site resistance to the west of #Rafah shortly before

* URGENT
3 Explosions was heared in Gaza City

* URGENT
The Zionist F16s are flying at low altitude above khan Younis!!

Rockets

This file photo shows Palestinians gathering around a destroyed house after an Israeli air strike in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip

 

Syrian Coalition: Toppling Assad Is Essential To the Stability in Region

Khalid Saleh, President of the Media Office, condemns a statement made by Deputy Foreign Minister of the Assad regime who said that “Assad’s running for the presidential elections is a guarantee for security and stability of Syria.” Saleh said that this statement proves that the Assad regime is detached from reality and demonstrates the uttermost disregard for the blood of more than 150,000 Syrians. The fall of the Assad regime is the sole guarantor to the security and stability not only in Syria but the whole region, as Assad threatened to set the regime ablaze if the Syrian people insisted in ousting him.” Furthermore, Saleh points out that the latest election laws adopted by the so-called People’s Assembly two days ago are illegitimate as they were drafted by an illegitimate body, who chose to be an accomplice in the bloodshed in Syria rather than siding with the legitimate demands of the Syrian people. Saleh also stresses that the Syrian Coalition “strongly rejects participation of opposition members as candidates against Assad in the presidential elections, as this would imply recognition by us of the legitimacy of his presence in the elections. Assad’s insistence on clinging to power at the expense of the blood of the Syrian people undermines the international efforts at Geneva II and proves his outright rejection of the political solution.”
(Source: Syrian Coalition / 13.03.2014)

Fighting for Assad, Hezbollah buries its own

 

Hezbollah has incurred its greatest casualties ever while fighting for the Assad regime in Syria. Emotional funerals for fallen ‘martyrs’ are a way to keep up morale.

 

A tank belonging to the forces of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad is seen at Al-Sahl town, about 2km (1 mile) to Yabroud’s north, after the soldiers took control of it from the rebel fighters, March 3, 2014.

The coffin, draped in the bright yellow flag of Hezbollah, was surrounded by a noisy crowd of mourners. They had come to help bury Mohammed Jaber Jaber, the latest fighter from the Lebanese Shiite militant group killed in the Syrian war.

Standing on stage, beneath a large poster showing the faces of other fallen fighters, a teenage boy led the prayer chants, guiding the throng with a confident and steady voice. The men slapped their chests with their right hands in time to the chanting, a traditional Shiite gesture of mourning.

This scene is replayed on a near-daily basis in Shiite-populated areas of Lebanon, as relatives, friends, and Hezbollah supporters converge to pay their respects to the slain fighters who are lauded as “martyrs.” Hezbollah says the sacrifices are necessary to prevent Syria falling to Sunni jihadist forces.

“This is a danger that threatens all Lebanese,” said Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, at a speech last month. “If they [the jihadists] have the opportunity to control the border areas, their goal will be to transform Lebanon into a part of their Islamic state.”

More practically, Syria is a key component in a regional alliance that includes Hezbollah and its patron, Iran. If Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime were to collapse, Iran’s reach into the Arab world would be diminished and Hezbollah would become more isolated and vulnerable to its enemies, including Al Qaeda and Israel.

Still, Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria’s civil war has led to the group’s most prolonged and intense accrual of casualties since its formation three decades ago.

Mr. Jaber, a 21-year-old from Ghobayri in southern Beirut, was killed last week near the town of Yabroud in Syria’s Qalamoun region. Hezbollah is spearheading an offensive against Syrian rebels to seize the strategic mountainous territory north of Damascus and adjacent to the Lebanese border.

Hezbollah is gradually tightening its grip around Yabroud while avoiding a full frontal assault that could incur significant casualties. But the more cautious approach has taken a toll. Two weeks ago, two dozen Hezbollah fighters were reportedly killed when their convoy of SUVs was ambushed while traveling to the frontline.

While the group’s exact fatalities are hard to quantify, fresh “martyr” pictures are posted online most days.

On a rescue mission

Jaber was killed during a rescue mission for two missing fighters. Under covering fire, Jaber and a medic ran to a building where the two were located, according to one of his fellow unit members at his funeral. When the medic tried to open the front door, a booby-trapped bomb killed both men.

Hezbollah fighters are taught to avoid doorways and windows in a combat zone because of the threat of such traps. Over the radio, Jaber’s comrades had heard him call out to the medic not to open the door. “He should have waited for the engineers to come first and clear the route. But his friends were in the house and he was an impulsive guy,” says a fighter.

Like most soldiers, Hezbollah fighters grow close through the rigors of hard training and the dangers of combat. When a team member dies in action, fighters often display both sorrow at their loss and pride in his “martyrdom.”

After Jaber’s death, his comrades held lengthy meetings with military commanders to discuss their friend and the meaning of his death. The purpose of this form of counseling, according to sources close to Hezbollah, is to maintain morale and focus, while reassuring fighters that their sacrifices are not taken for granted.

At the funeral, several of Jaber’s comrades, wearing military uniforms, emerged from the hallway weeping and hugging each other. As prayers echoed from a loudspeaker, the mourners followed the coffin up a narrow street toward the “martyrs” cemetery. As the coffin approached, several men fired AK-47 rifles into the air, their guns tilted towards the adjacent neighborhood of Tariq Jdeide, a Sunni-populated rival to the Shiite Ghobayri.

To chants of “Labyakh Ya Hussein,” an exhortation of loyalty to a revered Shiite imam, Jaber’s shrouded body was removed from the coffin and lowered into an open grave alongside several other fresh plots.

On a Facebook page honoring Jaber, photos of him standing arm in arm with fellow fighters appear alongside praise for his sacrifice.

“Congratulations to the martyr. Peace be upon you, Daeesh killer,” says one, referring to the Arabic acronym for the Al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), a bitter enemy of Hezbollah.

(Source / 13.03.2014)

The Yarmouk Camp for Palestinian Refugees in Syria: Where Do We Go From Here?

 

Yarmouk Refugee Camp

Palestinian refugees in Syria are facing difficult and tragic conditions, as a result of the uprising there and the conflict between the regime and the opposition. Of the 160 thousand Palestinians who lived in the Yarmouk Refugee Camp (RC), 130 thousand have had to flee. Those who remained were subjected to a brutal blockade and a famine that killed dozens.

Although most Palestinian factions agreed on maintaining the camp’s neutrality and refraining from intervention in internal Syrian affairs, various developments and attempts by many of the warring parties to take advantage of the camp’s strategic location, or to draw the Palestinians into the conflict, eventually turned Yarmouk RC into one of the arenas of the Syrian war.

There are several possible scenarios: implement a truce and render the camp neutral; the battle for the camp could continue; or one of the warring parties could prevail and end up controlling the camp. However, it will still be important to spare no effort to lift the siege on Yarmouk RC and all other camps, allow the displaced to return, and keep the camps neutral from all forms of armed conflict. In addition, all forms of support should be extended to Palestinian refugees in Syria.

Introduction:

Needless to say, the Palestinian community in Syria came to exist in the aftermath of the Nakbah (catastrophe) of 1948. According to statistics by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), the number of Palestinian refugees registered with the agency until 31/3/2013 was 537 thousand. As there were other categories of Palestinians present, for example those who came to Syria from Jordan, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip in different periods and for different reasons after 1948, who are not registered with UNRWA in Syria, the real number of Palestinians is estimated to be 600 thousand. This puts the Palestinian population at 2.8% of the total population of Syria.

Almost a quarter of these Palestinians live in 13 camps (including three that the UNRWA does not designate as official refugee camps, such as Yarmouk RC). The largest bloc of Palestinians (around 80%) is concentrated in the Damascus area, known as the Damascus Countryside. Yarmouk RC is considered the largest Palestinian concentration in the Damascus area. According to data from UNRWA, more than 160 thousand people lived in Yarmouk RC until December 2012.

Before the uprising (which turned into a revolution later) in early 2011, the Palestinian community in Syria was one of the most stable and integrated Palestinian refugee communities in their host countries. The Palestinian refugees in Syria had a special legal status (based on Law No. 260 dated 1956) giving them a wide range of economic, social, cultural, and civil rights, close to full citizenship rights, while retaining their Palestinian nationality. In general, the Syrian state maintained this status for the Palestinians throughout the past decades, guaranteeing their participation in the economic, social and cultural life on par with the Syrian citizens.

The Post-Crisis Period:

After the current crisis erupted in Syria, the Palestinians, like the Syrians, were exposed to its devastating repercussions on the fabric of their community, especially in the camps, and their social wellbeing and various facets of their daily lives. This has forced them either to become displaced within Syria, in search of relative safety, or to flee outside Syria, for the same reason.

Thus, the second and third generations after the Nakbah were exposed to internal and external displacement from the country where they were born and raised, and than which they knew no other country. Those of them who were forced to flee outside Syria were subjected to various forms of suffering and discrimination in the neighboring countries where they sought temporary asylum. Some of them risked their lives and their children’s lives in death boats and along international crossings in search for safety. Some of them made it, but many died trying.

Since the start of the crisis until late 2012, before the situation deteriorated in Yarmouk RC, the Palestinians in Syria maintained a kind of neutrality. They had in mind the lesson of the first Gulf war, when the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) sided with Iraq, causing the mass deportation of Palestinians from Kuwait.

Under this state of relative neutrality, Palestinian camps in the north, south, and around the capital Damascus (particularly Yarmouk RC and Khan Eshieh RC) turned into safe havens for Syrian refugees fleeing the fighting. This truly embodied Syrian-Palestinian brotherhood at the popular level.

The Palestinian refugees shared their food with their Syrian brethren. The population of some refugee camps such as Khan Eshieh soon doubled because of the influx of Syrian refuges. The refugee camps also turned into supply lines for both of the warring parties, the regime and the opposition. In the beginning, this situation was agreeable to all Palestinian factions and the two warring parties, despite the fact that the regime forces would sometimes raid the camps and besiege them when opposition fighters took shelter there – whether in search of safety, to treat their wounded, or for other logistical requirements. This happened many times, especially in the Daraa RC. Before it was completely thrown into the conflict, Yarmouk RC was a model of that state of “positive neutrality.”

However, the complexity and militarization of the Syrian crisis, as a result of direct intervention by regional, Arab, and international parties in the conflict, and the overlapping and conflicting interests of those parties, led to a state of polarization in the Palestinian positions, which was interpreted as bias for one side or another in the conflict. The Palestinian division, in addition to increased pressure by the regime and the opposition on the Palestinians through threats and enticements, with the goal of pushing them to abandon their neutrality, aggravated that polarization and made it less likely for the Palestinian factions to maintain neutrality.

In reality, the situation in Yarmouk RC since the beginning of the crisis until now summarizes how Palestinian RCs turned from being demilitarized, neutral areas hosting Syrian refugees, into hot spots that each side in the conflict wants to dominate and implicate in the fighting.

The Scene From the Yarmouk RC:

The Yarmouk RC, which has sprawled to become one of the capital’s boroughs, is considered the largest Palestinian concentration in Syria. The majority of its population is Palestinians, and the camp is seen as a mirror of Palestinian attitudes towards the Syrian crisis.

With the Syrian opposition’s attempts to tighten its siege around the capital, in order to storm it and defeat the regime, the military importance of Yarmouk RC was further underscored for both sides. This importance stems from its proximity to the hot spots of the fighting (al-Hajar al-Aswad, Yalda, Babila, Tadamon, al-Qadam), and from being the southern entrance to the capital for the opposition forces in the context of the so-called “Battle of Damascus.” This is what happened at the end of 2012, when opposition forces advanced from the southern flank in the direction of Yarmouk RC, on the grounds that there were pro-regime militants inside the camp, meaning the fighters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine- General Command (PFLP-GC).

The battle for the camp resulted in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Islamist opposition factions (al-Nusra Front and others) taking control of the camp, while regime forces, in coordination with the PFLP-GC, took control of the northern entrance of the camp, which leads to al-Zahirah neighborhood, an area known as Madkhal al-Batikha.

As a result of this military situation, the refugee camp came under heavy bombardment in mid-December 2012, in which the regime used the air force for the first time, targeting the Palestine Mosque and Al-Bassel Hospital. This was followed by a wave of displacement from the camp as a result of which about 130-120 thousand residents left. Those who stayed (20-30 thousand) were subjected to a tight siege that killed more than 120 people, because of starvation and the lack of medical care.

Since that time, many Palestinian factions and the PLO made efforts in coordination with UNRWA to end the siege on the camp, and bring in humanitarian aid to its residents, calling on militants to withdraw from the camp and restore its neutrality. As a result, a solution was found but it was difficult to implement at the time. Currently, a revised version of this solution is being implemented, and its most important provisions include: That the non-Palestinian militants’ withdraw from the camp; that Palestinian militants deploy along its perimeter; that supplies are brought in to the refugee camp and those in critical conditions are evacuated; and that the displaced residents return to the camp. But in light of the security conditions hanging over the Yarmouk RC, it is not easy to predict whether this agreement will hold.

The Possible Scenarios:

It is difficult to predict the outcome of the revolution in Syria, and whether the talks in Geneva—if they resume—would succeed in reaching a political solution to the crisis. Both parties to the crisis and the international powers backing them differ over interpreting the proposals and the priorities over their implementation. In the foreseeable future, it does not appear that there will be a solution to the crisis on the basis of sharing power between the warring parties. The possible scenarios for what will happen in Yarmouk RC can be summed up as follows:

First Scenario: De-escalation and Neutralizing the Yarmouk RC

It seems that there is an apparent accord over this scenario among the various parties. There is a desire to keep the Palestinians and their camps away from the ongoing conflict, and for them not to be used as weapons in the hands of any party. This scenario would allow the displaced to return to the camp, aid to flow in, reconstruction efforts to begin, and normal life to resume. However, the crisis of confidence between the conflicting parties, and the urgent need to use all their means to control and put pressure on opponents, and the failure to decide the conflict in favor of any party, all make the scenario for de-escalation a fragile possibility that can be breached and that can collapse at any moment.

Second Scenario: The Battle for the Camp Continues

This scenario assumes that geopolitical or military-based interests are prioritized by the conflicting parties over humanitarian considerations and the special Palestinian circumstances of the camp. This means that the camp would be dealt with as part of the political geography of the conflict, and as one of the means of pressure in the latter. Thus, the camp could be subjected to further siege, destruction, and suffering.

This scenario also assumes that the regime may not be in a hurry to resolve the battle in its favor, even if it has the means to do so, especially if the cost in lives would be too high, so that it may not be accused of targeting Palestinians and their camps. The scenario also assumes that the Syrian opposition is still far from achieving any substantial gains in Damascus. Furthermore, the Western-international desire seems to be in favor of prolonging the conflict, attrition, and destruction of Syrian infrastructure, as well as destroying the social fabric in Syria.

Third Scenario: The Battle is Settled in Favor of One of the Two Parties

This scenario assumes that one of the two parties would take full control of the camp, its entrances, and its exits, meaning the end of the siege and the return of some of the displaced, with normal life returning in one degree or another to the camp. However, conditions will not return fully to normal until a full solution is found in Syria. This means that even if the battle is settled in favor of one of the parties in the camp, the camp will not be safe from aerial or artillery bombardment, or military-security operations, as long as the environment around it and beyond remains unstable.

No matter which scenario is the most likely on the ground, efforts should focus on protecting what is left of the Palestinian presence in Syria, and on keeping it neutral in the conflict. Efforts should also focus on trying to find accords with the two parties, in order to protect the camps’ residents, and supply it with all necessities of life, in preparation for the return of those who were displaced and stranded inside and outside Syria.

In this context, the Palestinian leaderships and factions must keep in mind the importance of safeguarding the social fabric of the Palestinian refugee camps, to preserve the Palestinian identity and to use the camps as bases for the struggle to return to Palestine for they have produced Palestinian freedom fighters generation after generation. On the other hand, the Palestinian national factions must think hard and seriously to maintain the gains and privileges of the Palestinians in Syria throughout the past decades, embodied in the special legal status the Palestinians have enjoyed.

Suggestions and Recommendations:

  1. Lifting the siege on Yarmouk RC and all camps immediately, allowing the freedom of movement, the return of the displaced, and the return of normal life.
  2. Developing a unified Palestinian position stressing the neutrality of the Palestinian RCs in the armed conflict in Syria, reinforcing this position on the ground in a tangible and practical manner, and convincing the various sides to the conflict of this.
  3. Appealing to donor countries to fulfill their commitments in support of UNRWA, and offer the agency exceptional support to shore up its role in offering relief to Palestinian refugees inside Syria, as well as those who were driven out to neighboring countries. In the same context, appealing to international NGOs to provide more support to secure the basic needs of these refugees.
  4. Getting the Syrian government’s General Authority for Palestinian Arab Refugees to exercise its humanitarian role and duty, in coordination with UNRWA in providing relief services.

(Source / 13.03.2014)

Gaza ceasefire agreed

 

GAZA, (PIC)– Islamic Jihad movement leader Khaled al-Batesh said that following intensive Egyptian contacts and efforts, the calm agreement has been restored in Gaza Strip in accordance with understandings reached in 2012 in Cairo.

Batesh said on Thursday afternoon on his Facebook page that after Egyptian strenuous efforts the ceasefire has been reinstated, and that the Islamic Jihad movement would hold its fire as long as Israel did the same.

For his part, the movement spokesman Daoud Shihab stressed that his movement was not concerned with the escalation and that the Israeli occupation forces have violated the calm agreement reached with Egyptian mediation in November 2012 more than 1,400 times.

Hebrew sources said that – until this moment – there was no Israeli official confirmation that the truce agreement with Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip has been restored.

The Quds Brigades, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, fired dozens of rockets at Israeli targets on Wednesday after Israeli soldiers killed three of its fighters a day earlier in an air raid.

The armed wing called its retaliation “breaking the silence”, adding that the firing of those rockets was in reprisal to the Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

(Source / 13.03.2014)

Palestinian shepherds bitter at rise in Israeli demolitions

A family member of Palestinian shepherd Mahmoud Ka’abneh tends to sheep at Ein el Hilwe in the Jordan Valley, a hotly contested part of the occupied West Bank February 15, 2014.

Palestinian shepherd Mahmoud Ka’abneh has squeezed his family of 12 into a neighbor’s hut on a hilly desert oasis since an Israeli bulldozer turned his own flimsy dwelling into a pile of stones and twisted metal.

“They showed up at dawn and threatened to arrest me if I didn’t vacate the house immediately. They wouldn’t give me time to remove our personal belongings,” Ka’abneh, 43, said.

Palestinian officials say Ka’abneh is one of more than 180 people uprooted since the beginning of the year by what they say is an upsurge in Israeli demolitions in the Jordan Valley, a hotly contested part of the occupied West Bank.

This increase comes against a backdrop of U.S.-brokered peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, which remain stuck on various issues, including the fate of the sun-scorched valley, home to more than two dozen Jewish settlements.

Israel describes shepherds such as Ka’abneh as nomads and squatters. It says their ramshackle dwellings, built without permits and often located near Israeli military bases, are torn down in accordance with court orders.

International aid officials who help the Palestinians find themselves increasingly at loggerheads with Israel, and accuse it of violating international law that calls for an occupying power to ensure the welfare of the civilians it administers.

Last year, according to human rights groups, Israel demolished 663 Palestinian dwellings and farming structures, the highest number in five years. About 60 percent of the demolitions were carried out in the Jordan Valley.

The valley covers about a third of the West Bank and is home to some 10,000 Palestinians, among them 2,700 shepherds or Bedouin, the Israeli human rights group B’tselem says. An estimated 6,000 settlers live along the length of the valley.

Palestinians want the Jordan Valley to be the eastern border of the state they seek to establish in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, noting its breadbasket potential and easy access to Arab markets and underground water supplies.

Israel, which captured those areas in the 1967 Middle East war but quit the Gaza Strip in 2005, seeks in any peace deal a long-term security presence in the strategic valley abutting Jordan. The Palestinians have rejected this demand, saying they are only willing to see international troops stationed there.

It’s a dispute that inflicts damage in particular on shepherds who count among the West Bank’s poorest people, and who rely on the low-lying region’s patches of greenery to graze their flocks of goat and sheep, to eke out a living.

“The shepherds want to feed their children, but Israel says, ‘this is all ours,’” said Arif Daraghmeh, a Palestinian official and head of a regional council that includes the village where a dozen structures were destroyed in January.

“Israel is destroying our life in this area,” he said.

Palestinians charge it is next to impossible to obtain an Israeli permit to build in any West Bank zones under Israeli administrative or security control.

Israel’s military-run Civil Administration in the West Bank says it is working on 19 master plans to permit Palestinian construction in parts of the territory.

Tent confiscations

In the Jordan Valley, the International Commission for the Red Cross (ICRC), which had been providing tents to Palestinians whose homes had been destroyed, halted the supply in January, complaining of Israeli confiscations.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor accused the ICRC of overstepping its authority and encouraging Palestinians to violate Israeli eviction orders.

“We are not dealing with purely humanitarian action but rather political action, which is way out of line,” Palmor said.

A coalition of 25 aid groups in the West Bank said at least 65 aid items were confiscated by Israel last year. The Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank under a 1993 interim peace accord, has stepped in to provide tents to some homeless shepherds.

Near the spot where Ka’abneh’s three shacks were razed in January on the hilly oasis village of Ein el Hilwe, neighbors speak bitterly of confrontations with the Israeli military.

Ahmed Mohammed Ismail, 75, said soldiers once confiscated his sheep when they wandered too close to a military base, and that last year, they destroyed one of his shacks.

His head covered by a classic Palestinian black and white checkered kuffiyeh, Ismail points at a steel pipe at his feet supplying water to a nearby Jewish settlement, one of several dozen built illegally, according to the West, in the valley.

“They have concrete homes. We aren’t even allowed to pitch tents,” he says of the fenced in Maskiot enclave, the closest settlement to the shepherd village of Ein el Hilwe.

Neill Kirrane, an official with the Swedish-based human rights group Diakonia, links Israel’s demolitions in the Jordan Valley, with its goal of keeping the territory in the peace talks that resumed last July after a three-year deadlock.

“In reality the current talks are being used as a cover for increasing violations of international humanitarian law,” Kirrane said in a statement to Reuters.

Palmor called such allegations “conspiracy crazed” and said the court-approved demolitions were aimed at preventing “nomads squatting on land that isn’t theirs.”

“It has nothing to do with political views about what should be done with the Jordan Valley,” Palmor said.

(Source / 13.03.2014)