U.S. calls Assad’s re-election bid ‘disgusting’


Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad speaks with children during his visit to displaced Syrians in the town of Adra in the Damascus countryside March 12, 2014.

The United States said on Friday that the prospect of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad running for a re-election would be “disgusting,” three years into a crushing civil war ripped the country.

“We’ve been clear that Assad has lost all legitimacy to lead his people and any sort of campaign that he might run would be offensive and disgusting, I think, after what he’s done to his people over the last many, many months,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said, according to AFP.

Despite not announcing his participation in Syria’s presidential elections due to be held before July, President Assad is widely expected run for yet another seven-year term.

Saturday marks the third anniversary of Syria’s uprising against the Assad family’s rule. The revolt initially began through peaceful protests calling for a democratic change, but the regime brutally crushed dissent, quickly intensifying the situation into a tragic civil war.

The fighting across Syria has killed over 146,000 people, and driven millions from their homes and out of the country. Assad has remained in power throughout, while rebels seized large areas of the country.

Harf echoed concerns expressed by the United Nations that a Syrian election would jeopardize efforts to negotiate an end to the crisis.

“The planning of any national election at this time, I think, would be an affront to the Geneva talks, would only make moreclear that the regime is intent on undermining prospects for a political solution,” Harf told reporters in Washington.

The Syrian opposition has insisted that Assad must step down from power under any peace agreement. The demand was repeatedly called for recently in two rounds of failed talks in Geneva earlier this year.

Expressing further concerns, peace mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said if Assad follows through with a new candidacy, the opposition would probably no longer be interested in pursuing further peace talks.
“If there is an election, then my suspicion is that the opposition, all the oppositions, will probably not be interested in talking to the government,” Brahimi told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council on Thursday.

A new electoral law gained parliament approval last Thursday. The new bill bars many opposition candidates from running during elections. Those barred included the Istanbul-based National Coalition. The move has virtually ensured Assad’s re-election.

(Source / 14.03.2014)

Israel: Gaza will get a ceasefire for a ceasefire



NAZARETH, (PIC)– The Israeli President Shimon Peres stressed that Tel Aviv is ready to commit to the truce reached with the Palestinian resistance in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli radio reported, on Friday, that Peres said the Gaza Strip “will get fire for fire, and a ceasefire for a ceasefire.”

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to launch a major military operation in Gaza in the framework of “a firm response” to any Palestinian rocket that aims to disturb the celebrations of the Jewish Purim feast.

For his part, the Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he saw ”no alternative other than a complete takeover of the Gaza Strip” and would oppose any more limited operation.

The Israeli Army Minister Moshe Yaalon had claimed that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movements are responsible for the recent escalation in the Strip, and warned that the Israeli army would not hesitate to use all means against them.

(Source / 14.03.2014)

Hamas trapped between Israel, Islamic Jihad

A Palestinian girl walks past a monument of a homemade M75 rocket in the middle of a square in Gaza City, March 10, 2014.

At the end of Operation Cast Lead in January 2009 and after three weeks of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) attacks throughout the Gaza Strip, Palestinians had taken about 1,400 casualties, thousands more wounded and enormous damage to local infrastructure. The group responsible for this escalation, which is dragging Hamas and Israel into another bloody round of violence, is the same group that fired dozens of rockets on southern Israel March 12: Islamic Jihad.

About two weeks before the launch of Operation Cast Lead on Dec. 16, 2008, the IDF killed Jihad Nawahda, a senior member of the military wing of Islamic Jihad, in the West Bank village of Al-Yamoun. In response, the Al-Quds Brigades, the movement’s military wing, began firing a heavy barrage of rockets at Israel, destroying all efforts to bring about a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel.

Islamic Jihad did it again this week. One day after the IDF attacked a squad of Islamic Jihad militants, killing three Palestinian militants while they were firing a mortar right next to the border fence, the group has “succeeded” in dragging Hamas into an adventure that it hardly wants, and at the worst possible time. Islamic Jihad fired some 60 rockets at Israel, which responded by attacking dozens of targets in the Gaza Strip. The escalation continued on the morning of March 13.

It is interesting that Hamas has been unable to prevent Islamic Jihad militants from operating along the border with Israel, in an area that is supposed to be off limits to them. This, despite having recently stationed its Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades in the area to ensure that no rockets are fired from it. But what is actually stopping Hamas, a group that even Israel recognizes as the sovereign authority in the Gaza Strip, from disarming the Al-Quds Brigades? Who or what is preventing fighters from the al-Qassam Brigades, whose military strength is several orders of magnitude greater than Islamic Jihad’s military wing, the Al-Quds Brigades, to enforce their authority? And what made the Hamas slogan of “concentrating military power in one hand” so hollow and meaningless?

Shortly after Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in July 2007 and expelled the Fatah leadership, the al-Qassam Brigades launched an extensive military operation to disarm the other organizations operating there. The Dormush clan, a powerful crime and terror family, was beaten up and other small organizations, including radical Salafist groups, were hunted down until they handed their weapons over to Hamas and promised to accept not only the organization’s authority, but also the principle of concentrating all arms in the hands of Hamas.

Only two groups were entitled to extensive “relief” from this campaign: the Popular Resistance Committees and Islamic Jihad. Both of them benefited and continue to benefit from generous aid from Iran, both financial and military. But of these two groups, Tehran’s favorite child is Islamic Jihad. The leader of the movement, Ramadan Abdullah Mohammad Shallah, is a welcome guest in the Islamic Republic, and militants from the Al-Quds Brigades regularly receive advice, training and arms from the Revolutionary Guard Corps. According to Israel, the weapons seized from the Klos-C were intended for Islamic Jihad and not for Hamas.

In the past, activists in the al-Qassam Brigades and the leader of the movement’s political branch enjoyed similar treatment. Iranian money flowing into Gaza did more than just keep the Hamas movement alive. It also gave it a vast military advantage over Fatah. The romance between Hamas and Iran began during the second intifada, after the Iranian regime was surprised by the movement’s military capacities and its becoming the most prominent group then launching attacks against Israel. Once the operational capabilities of Hamas were established and the Iranians saw that Hamas really did pose a threat to Israel, Iran’s relationship with Hamas drew closer, and the regime in Tehran decided to nurture these relations. In other words, Iran decided that it would send financial aid and arms shipments to Gaza on a regular basis.

Today Hamas is a political movement that rules the Gaza Strip, thanks to considerable Iranian aid. With that aid, it was able to defeat Fatah, exile it from Gaza and take over all the centers of power and authority. But that generous aid and strong backing, which provided Hamas’s leaders with a considerable (and sometimes exaggerated) sense of security, was suddenly cut off when Hamas decided to side with the rebels in the Syrian civil war. The deterioration of the relationship between Iran and Hamas happened very quickly, and the romance ended with a bitter feud.

Right now, the leaders of Hamas are looking at Islamic Jihad and coming to the conclusion that the Al-Quds Brigades are capable of doing to them exactly what Hamas did to Fatah seven years earlier. They can achieve military superiority, thereby posing a threat to Hamas and especially to its position of seniority in the Gaza Strip.

Iran favors Islamic Jihad. Hamas realizes this, and is not trying to disarm it. For its part, Islamic Jihad now knows how to take advantage of the crisis facing Hamas and the movement’s weaknesses. This leaves the leaders of Hamas caught between a rock and a hard place. On one side they have Israel, which threatens them with a large scale military attack if the rocket fire doesn’t stop. On the other side is Iran, which will not stand silently by if Hamas causes any harm to the members of Islamic Jihad or to Iranian interests in Gaza.

The leaders of the Hamas movement are being forced to evaluate the options and choose between Israel or Iran. Which frightens them more? Which poses a greater threat, as far as they are concerned? Which threat has far-reaching implications for their future? From which threat will they emerge with damage they can tolerate? Hamas tends to choose Iran.

In just a short time, Hamas lost all of its supporters, including Iran and Syria, and became an enemy of the new Egyptian regime. That’s why Hamas would rather not exacerbate the rift with Iran, preferring instead to absorb a single Israeli military assault in Gaza, which will be over in a few days. On the other hand, attacking Islamic Jihad could put an end to the relationship between Hamas and Iran and ensure that the movement continues its drawn-out demise without any future prospects and without hope. Neither Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Meshaal nor Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh have any interest whatsoever in reaching that point.

But as it turns out, Israel is also caught between a rock and a hard place, between Hamas and Islamic Jihad, between the enfeebled ruling power and the claimants to the throne. A military strike on Gaza along the lines of Operation Cast Lead or Operation Pillar of Defense will not only fail to embolden Hamas to take control over Islamic Jihad, but will actually further strengthen Islamic Jihad. So what can be done?

Israel’s response to the rocket fire was carefully thought out. The IDF attacked dozens of targets, most of them belonging to Islamic Jihad, and only one belonging to Hamas. This was a signal to Hamas to encourage it to do something, but at the same time, the heads of Israel’s security establishment are fully aware that there is not much Hamas can do.

(Source / 14.03.2014)


By Peter Clifford                     ©             (http://www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-news-3)



As the third year of the conflict in Syria comes to an end and the fourth year begins, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights now puts the number of people killed in this dreadful war at 146,065, a third of them civilians, including 7796 children and 5166 women over the age of 18.

Meanwhile the fighting goes on and the Assad regime plans for an “election” to bolster the position of President Bashar Al-Assad.


Banksy Art Superimposed on Nelson’s Column, London for Syria

The UN/Arab League mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi, has warned that if the elections go ahead it is likely to torpedo any prospect of “Geneva 3″ talks, with all Opposition parties, who are only interested in discussing a transitional government to take the place of Assad, walking away.  Geneva 2 did not even manage to agree an agenda.

Things became even more complicated last night as Walid Moulem, aged 73 and Syria’s Foreign Minister and Assad’s chief negotiator at Geneva, was rushed to the American University of Beirut-Medical Centre in Lebanon with severe heart problems. Latest reports say he is shortly to undergo a heart by-pass operation.

(EDITOR: Twitter comment from @AboudDandachi: “If all those Big Macs Waleed Muallem ate in Geneva end up doing him in, then maybe the conference wasn’t such a waste of time after all“)

Syria’s tame parliament also approved a new election law yesterday, Thursday, allowing, for the first time, multiple candidates to stand in the presidential poll.

However, the clauses in the new law stipulate that all candidates must lived at least “10 consecutive years in Syria, must be older than 40, must be Syrian and of Syrian parents, must not have been convicted for a crime and must not be married to a non-Syrian.”

Effectively this would rule out almost all the well-know Opposition figures, most of whom are now based outside the country.

In a poll conducted by the UK relief charity Oxfam of 1,015 Syrian refugees located in 3 different areas of Jordan, 65% of them expressed fears that they would never be able to return to their homes in Syria.  Although an overwhelming majority of them wanted to return home, 78% had no idea when that might be. You can read more,HERE:


Young Syrian Woman Waits to Cross Border into Turkey

Increasingly, reports are emerging of the exploitation of young Syrian women refugees, both in the workplace and sexually, in some cases even abused by aid workers. Because of their desperation to work and earn money for their family, some factory owners take advantage of them.

In other cases girls as young as 14 are “sold off” in what is frequently a short term “marriage” and then discarded, amounting to little more than prostitution.  You can read more in this heart-rending article, HERE:


On the ground, Opposition fighters are still holding out in Yarbroud after 30 days, following a major regime military campaign to oust them from the whole of the Qalamoun region between Damascus and Lebanon.

Syrian troops captured an important hill near Yabroud on Wednesday but suffered heavy losses trying take an Opposition barrier at nearby Halboon.

Most of the 30,000 inhabitants of Yabroud have already fled but the regime is still raining down volcano missiles and other rockets on the town causing massive destruction.

To the south of Yabroud 4 Opposition fighters were killed in clashes in the Wadi Barada region and on the outskirts of Yabroud itself 3 Syrian Army officers were reported killed in similar battles.

On the Rima frontline due north of Yabroud Opposition fighters are reported to have destroyed a Government tank and a Shilka mobile anti-aircraft gun unit.

Elsewhere in Damascus province, President Assad made a rare appearance on the outskirts of Adra north-east of the capital on Wednesday to inspect “conditions for the displaced in Damascus province … and listening to their needs”, according to the state media, SANA. However, reports from Adra this morning, Friday, suggest that it has just fallen completely under Opposition control.

And in an attempt to bamboozle its supporters, the Assad regime claimed that it had only exchanged “25 female prisoners” for the Maloula nuns, not the 153 confirmed by the Opposition and Lebanon’s General Security chief Ibrahim Abbas, who mediated the exchange.

There has been an outpouring of rage by Assad supporters towards the Greek Orthodox nuns after they said that they had been well looked after by the Al-Nusra Front (ANF) Jihadists and denied reports that they had been ordered not to wear their crosses.


In the northern part of Hama province fighting has continued all week in and around Morek, though latest reports suggest that Opposition fighters have made significant headway and are involved in a “clear up operation” to remove the remnants of Assad’s forces, as seen HERE:

Clashes still reported in Tal Bazam between Morek and Souran.


Opposition Shells Land on Deraa Central Prison

In southern Deraa province clashes have broken out between the 2 sides in Sanamein city in northern part of the province, HERE:and heavy fighting is reported around the army barracks in the north-western parts of Al-Harra city.

In Aleppo a tank-on-tank battle took place in the north-east industrial area at Sheikh Najar,HERE: while 6 Syrian Army troops were killed and a munitions truck seized on the southern side of the city near Aziza.

Fighting between the moderate Opposition and the extreme Jihadists of the Islamic Front in Iraq and Levant (ISIL or ISIS) continues, with ISIL raining mortar bombs down on the town of Dabiq to the north-east of Aleppo.

On the Euphrates, which divides Aleppo and Raqqah provinces, ISIL has once again gained control of the Qarah Qawzaq Bridge after a week of battles with moderate Opposition fighters and at Shuyukh near the town of Jarabulus 22 people are reported executed by this extremist group.

Some later reports even say that up to 75 people have been killed in the Jarabulus area for failing to sweat allegiance to ISIL, but this has not been confirmed.

This thoughtful article by Richard Spencer of the Telegraph suggests that the Syrian conflict is now unstoppable and in the hands of psychopaths, HERE:

In Hasakah province, where ISIL are in conflict with the Kurdish militia, the YPG, 10 people, including 4 women and a 19 year old girl, were killed when a Jihadist suicide bomber exploded a device in the Hadaya Hotel in downtown Qamishli on Tuesday.

Also in Qamishli, where the regime still has a presence, fighting broke out between Assad’s National Defence Force (NDF) and the YPG on the western side of the city, after one of the Kurdish fighters was shot on Wednesday.

From Homs comes this moving video of life under siege (with English sub-titles), HERE:

And in an interesting move, Turkey has ordered its soldiers to shoot if attacked by ISIL at the site of the revered Turkish Tomb of Suleyman Shah, which by a quirk of agreement with France after the First World War, remains Turkish territory despite the fact it is well inside Syria and 25 kilometres (15 miles) from the border.

If after 3 years you have lost track of what is happening in Syria, this BBC summarised history may help, HERE:and the BBC also has a video summary of the current situation, HERE:

And lastly, this BBC map shows the latest general positions of warring parties, here:


BBC Map of Latest Positions in the Syrian Conflict March 2014


Nearly 40 injured in clashes across the West Bank

JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — Nearly 40 protesters were injured after Israeli forces opened fire on demonstrations across the central West Bank on Friday afternoon, activists said.

The injured included 35 Palestinians in the Abu Dis and Eizariya neighborhoods of East Jerusalem as well as two Palestinians in Beitin.

Additionally, a Norwegian activists was struck in the back by a tear gas canister fired by Israeli forces in Bilin.

The demonstrations come after a week of intense violence in the region, as airstrikes and rocket fire was exchanged in the last two days across the Gaza border after seven Palestinians were reported killed by Israeli forces in separate incidents in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip earlier in the week.

East Jerusalem 

Dozens of Palestinian were injured in clashes with Israeli forces in the Abu Dis and Eizariya villages in East Jerusalem on Friday.

Spokesman for the local popular resistance committee Hani Halabiya told Ma’an that 35 young men were struck by rubber-coated steel bullets, while dozens of others suffered from excessive tear gas inhalation.

Palestinians threw rocks at Israeli forces and closed the roads with trash bins during the clashes.

Israeli forces fired tear gas randomly at houses and at the Eizariya cemetery, Halabiya said.

Israeli forces also fired at al-Quds news photographer Rami Alariya.

“Israeli forces shot four tear gas canisters, a metal bullet, and three stun grenades at me in different locations while I was covering the clashes,” Alariya said.

“An officer threatened to shoot me and then gave orders to soldiers to shoot me near al-Jabal junction in Abu Dis,” he added, “in addition to the curses and insults I received.”


Two Palestinians were injured in clashes that broke out in Beitin village east of Ramallah on Friday.

One protester was struck by a live bullet in the leg and another was hit by a rubber-coated steel bullet after Israeli forces opened fire at protesters, who were throwing rocks at them.

Protestors said they marched to condemn the killing of Saji Darwish, 18, last week, a student at Birzeit University from Beitin who was shot dead by Israeli soldiers while he was throwing rocks at the vehicles of Israeli settlers.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said that “30 Palestinians” were “rioting” and Israeli forces responded with “riot dispersal means.”

One hit was confirmed, she added.


A Norwegian activist was injured and dozens of others suffered from excessive tear gas inhalation in clashes in Bilin in the central West Bank.

Israeli forces fired tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber-coated steel bullets at protesters as they neared their lands close to the wall, injuring a 36-year-old woman from Norway named “Katia” who was struck by a tear gas canister in the back.

Organizers said the protest was held “in loyalty to the martyrs,” and protesters raised Palestinian flags and posters of Saji Darwish. They marched through the village and chanted songs for unity and resistance.

Since 2005, Bilin villagers have protested on a weekly basis against the Israeli separation wall that runs through their village on land confiscated from local farmers.

Previous protests by Bilin activists have forced the Israeli authorities to re-route the wall, but large chunks of the village lands remain inaccessible to residents because of the route.

Israel began building the separation wall in 2002, and the route has been the target of regular demonstrations by border towns whose land is cut off by its path.

An Israeli army spokeswoman did not have information regarding the incident.

Nabi Saleh 

Dozens of activists suffered from excessive tear gas inhalation as Israeli forces dispersed a protest in Nabi Saleh northwest of Ramallah.

Protesters marched towards their confiscated lands which have been taken over by the nearby illegal Jewish settlement of Hallamish after the noon prayers and condemned recent “Israeli crimes” against Palestinians, the ongoing siege on Gaza and continued settlement activity in the West Bank.

Israeli forces dispersed protesters using rubber-coated steel bullets, stun grenades, and tear gas.

Activists in Nabi Saleh have been protesting weekly against the occupation for four years, demanding that their lands confiscated by Israeli forces to build the separation wall be returned.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice called on Israel to stop construction of the separation wall within the occupied West Bank.

When completed, 85 percent of the wall will run inside the West Bank.

The internationally recognized Palestinian territories of which the West Bank and East Jerusalem form a part have been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.

(Source / 14.03.2014)

Jordan police clash with anti-Israeli protesters

Scuffles have broken out between Jordanian security forces and furious protesters who were trying to storm the Israeli embassy in the capital city of Amman.

Clashes erupted on Friday after thousands of people took to the streets in a rally led by Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood to voice anger over the killing of a Jordanian judge by Israeli troops.

Security forces clashed with protesters who attempted to push their way through a line of riot police and reach the Israeli embassy.

Demonstrators also burned an Israeli flag and carried a mock coffin for the slain judge.

On Monday, Raed Za’atar was shot dead at Allenby Bridge Terminal on the border between Jordan and the occupied West Bank.

Israeli authorities who control the border claim Za’atar tried to grab a rifle from a soldier at the border crossing.

The killing sparked uproar in Jordan and triggered street protests across the country.

Jordanian protesters are calling on the government to expel the Israeli ambassador in Amman and annul Jordan’s 1994 peace treaty with the Israeli regime.

Earlier in the week, Jordanian MPs condemned the killing as a violation of the peace treaty, while lawyers and judges also staged a protest outside the Palace of Justice in Amman to demand the deportation of Israeli diplomats from the Arab country.

In February, the Jordanian parliament unanimously voted to expel the Israeli ambassador and recall Amman’s envoy after the Israeli parliament debated taking over a holy site in al-Quds (Jerusalem) administered by Jordanians.

But the non-binding vote has yet to prompt any action by the Jordanian cabinet.

(Source / 14.03.2014)

Yemeni rebels demand government resignation

Thousands of Zaidi rebels marched through a provincial capital in northern Yemen on Friday to demand the resignation of the central government, which they accused of corruption, witnesses said.

With many toting assault rifles and accompanied by vehicles mounted with rocket launchers, they chanted “down with the corrupt government,” as they paraded on the streets of Omran.

They were closely watched by a large number of troops and security forces, backed up by tanks and other armored vehicles.

They also demanded the sacking of provincial governor Mohammed Hassan Dammaj, a member of the al-Islah party, an alliance of tribal notables and Islamists, as well as of General Hamid al-Qushaiby, commander of the army’s 310th Armored Brigade.

Last month, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and party leaders in Sanaa agreed to transform the restive country into a six-region federation as part of a political transition.

The rebels, who complain that Yemen would be divided into rich and poor regions under the plan, have been trying to enlarge their zone of influence by pushing out from their mountain strongholds in the far north to areas closer to the capital.

In early February, they seized areas in Omran province, leaving more than 150 people dead and overrunning the home base of the al-Ahmar clan, traditional leaders of the powerful Hashid tribal confederation and of the Islah party.

Military sources said their objective is to seize Omran city and, from there, lay siege to Sanaa.

An army officer in Omran told AFP Friday that the rebels had been allowed into the city to demonstrate after giving assurances that there would be no violence.

Friday’s demonstration, which passed off peacefully, came a day after six rebels and two soldiers were killed in a firefight near Sanaa, as the rebels pressed southward.

That exchange came after days of clashes between the rebels, known as Ansarullah (Partisans of God), and tribesmen loyal to the al-Ahmar clan, in which at least 22 people have been reported killed since the weekend.

(Source / 14.03.2014)

Armed settlers occupy village land in Hebron

On Tuesday 11th March 2014 villagers from Arab ar Rashyaida, 15 kilometers (10 miles) west of Hebron, noticed that a large tent and industrial digger had moved onto a hill top on a villagers land. ISM Hebron was called and accompanied local people and Palestinian activists to confront the settlers.DSC00677

On arriving at the village, the demonstrators parked on the opposite hill and made their way through the valley to the settlers’ encampment. The settlers were armed with automatic hand guns, assault rifles, and dogs to protect the illegal camp. Resistors confronted the settlers in a non-violent way while settlers took photographs on the phones of all the protestors. After a short time a settler armed with a machine gun and dressed in black with his face covered climbed a wall and started to insult a Palestinian activist, stating that he would kill other Palestinians.  The activist responded with in a raised voice matching his righteous indignation at the Zionist’s hateful comments. The army soon arrived and attempted to move the protestors from the construction area. On many occasions the leader of the settlers took the soldiers to one side to make suggestions. A proposal was made that, if the settlers camp is dismantled, the protestors can leave and take the matter up in court, but this was dismissed.

Masked settlers and soldiers on Palestinian occupied hill (Photo by ISM)

Masked settler and soldiers on the Palestinian occupied hill

Soon a high ranking military officer arrived and was presented with ownership papers from a villager which date back 130 years. The officer told him that the settlers had ownership papers too (presumably not quite so old!).  Meanwhile the settler, with his face concealed, had made his way across to the Palestinians’ cars with his aggressive dog following. A small group made their way across to stop him damaging the vehicles. On seeing the Palestinians approach, the settler made his way down to a taxi driver,  that was waiting to drive the ISM team back to Hebron. The Palestinians feared that the settler would attack the taxi driver, so the group drove down the hill to support him. The armed settler then made his way back to the constructions site. Sometime later the Israeli police arrived and arrested the activist who had argued with the Zionist armed settler, who had complained that he was physically attacked. The Palestinian went with the Police peacefully and was later arrested and charged with the assault. Activists exchanged video evidence and the prisoner was released on bail with a payment of 2000NIS. We await a trial date.

Arab ar Rashyaida is extremely vulnerable to occupation by settlers. The land surrounding the village is designated as “Intended Nature Reserve” under the Oslo Interim Agreement, and as such is under full Israeli control. The strategy of building outposts on Palestinian land as a seed to develop illegal settlements is well established and supported by the Israeli authorities, despite the fact that it breaks International Law and the 4th Geneva Convention.

(Source / 14.03.2014)

The real impact of Israel’s “Jewish state” demand

The main impact of Israel’s new “Jewish state” demand is to effectively negate the Palestinian recognition of Israel in 1993

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks into a room with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during the 2010 negotiations

Many commentators, including this author, have carefully picked apart the myriad problems involved with Israel’s new demand that the Palestinians formally recognize it as a “Jewish state.” But at least one of its most problematic aspects has been significantly under-examined and underappreciated. The new demand negates, both in effect and intention, the greatest of Palestinian concessions, their 1993 recognition of the State of Israel.

There is an international consensus in favor of a two-state solution, and even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman now say they, too, support this goal after long careers opposing it. And in the quarter-century campaign to achieve a conflict-ending two-state agreement through direct talks, there remains a dangerous anomaly. One side, the Palestine Liberation Organization, recognized Israel up front. All other details aside, they have long since performed the sine qua non of a two-state agreement by recognizing Israel. The other side, Israel, has never recognized a Palestinian state or, in any formal, written, or legal sense, even the Palestinian right to a state.

There are a great many difficulties with the “Jewish state” demand, and Netanyahu’s formulation “the nation-state of the Jewish people” in particular. This phrasing is full of highly problematic definite articles, and suggests a trans-historical claim to this land on behalf of an entire but undefined ethno-religious group the world over, not just the present Jewish Israeli majority. It harkens back to pre-state Zionism, defining Israel as if the state had not actually been created and several generations of Jewish and Arab Israelis had not been born there.

This framing also begs the question about the status of Palestinian citizens of Israel, who already face significant discrimination in many sectors because they are not Jewish. This is one of the reasons the PLO finds the demand so problematic: they will not agree to implicitly endorse the restrictions Palestinian citizens of Israel now face, or may face in the future.

Moreover, Israel itself cannot define what a “Jewish state” means, exactly. There were several attempts in the last Knesset to introduce legislation to clarify the term; all of them failed miserably because while there is a consensus among Jewish Israelis that their state is in some sense “Jewish,” there is no consensus whatsoever as to what that entails. So, in effect, Palestinians are being asked to agree to something that even the Israelis cannot define with any degree of specificity.

The “Jewish state” demand was first introduced in 2007 at the Annapolis meeting, never having been mentioned in previous Israeli negotiations with the Palestinians, let alone with Egypt or Jordan. It was dismissed by not just the Palestinian delegation, but also the American one, both recognizing it as an attempted end-run around the final status issue of Palestinian refugees. The matter was accordingly dropped.

However, when Netanyahu was reelected in 2009, he made the “Jewish state” phrase the centerpiece of his relations with the Palestinians. He now not only insists that this is an important issue – sometimes he even says it is the only real issue (although how Israelis missed “the only real issue” with the Palestinians until 2007 is impossible to explain).

Many commentators have long understood that Netanyahu has made this such a focus of his policy for two clear reasons. The first is to put his own stamp on a process that had been defined before he came to power. The second is to continue the attempt to defuse the refugee issue, particularly as a quid pro quo for Israeli compromises on Jerusalem.

A frequently-cited third interpretation is that the single-minded insistence on this demand could reflect a cynical effort to find something most Israelis would find important that Palestinians cannot agree to. If the aim is to sabotage peace talks, such an initiative would be invaluable. It’s possible that this is, or at some stage was, part of the calculation.

Netanyahu has won over many Israelis and their friends to this new de facto final status issue, basically by playing on Israeli anxieties that an agreement might not actually end the conflict. Yet, it has always been agreed that a peace treaty would mean an end of conflict and all claims.

What has yet to be fully recognized is that the single most significant impact of this “Jewish state” demand is that it effectively dismisses and reverses the 1993 Palestinian recognition of Israel. This concession made it ridiculous for anyone to argue that the core of the problem was Palestinians’ refusal to recognize Israel. But now, hey presto, it is once again possible to present Palestinian recognition of Israel as a major issue, because it wasn’t recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state.”

It doesn’t matter that no one ever asked the Palestinians to do so until 2007, or that there are a great many complications, ambiguities, and grave difficulties associated with it. It has become a mantra of much of the pro-Israel constituency the world over that the 1993 recognition of Israel by the PLO is all but irrelevant, and that until Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state,” their intention to end the conflict and live in peace remains very much open to question.

So, this new demand solves the problem that one side is lived up to its core commitment under a two-state solution – recognizing the statehood of the other party – while the other side has not. It pushes the diplomatic, psychological, and political clock back before 1993, to an era where Palestinians are once again being asked to demonstrate their willingness to live in peace with Israel by uttering some magic mantra.

It elides the fact that, from a Palestinian and Arab point of view, the 1993 recognition of Israel was the mother of all concessions: a recognition that Palestinians were surrendering their political claim to around 78% of what had very recently been their country, in the sense that they were a large majority there until 1948. So now we are left negotiating over the territories conquered by Israel in 1967, without even touching the areas that became Israel in 1948. The enormity of this vast concession, this overwhelming – almost impossible – agreement by the Palestinians, was never fully recognized by Israel or the international community. And now, with the Jewish state demand, it’s dismissed altogether as almost totally irrelevant.

In fairness, if ordinary Israelis and their supporters were more convinced by Palestinian words and deeds that this is the case, they would be less moved by Netanyahu’s obsessive focus on the new “Jewish state” demand. It speaks, cleverly, to deep-seated Israeli anxieties. However, by effectively negating, at least at the psychological and cultural registers, the 1993 Palestinian recognition of Israel, it magically appears to even the scales once again.

But the truth remains that one party, the Palestinians, has recognized the independent statehood of the other, Israel. And Israel has never recognized an independent Palestine or the Palestinian right to an independent state. There are, apparently, still many things the Palestinians must do to “earn” such a right, if they are ever to have it at all, and that includes some sort of recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state.”

Until they do that, Israel and its hard-core supporters will bat aside the fact that Palestinians have actually recognized Israel, unrequited, since 1993, and speak and act as if that were irrelevant and the Palestinians haven’t recognized Israel at all until they repeat the novel catechism now being placed before them.

As a diplomatic, psychological, and political sleight-of-hand, it’s extraordinarily brilliant and effective. But its impact is to complicate diplomacy on a two-state solution and make peace more difficult to achieve, while obscuring the reality that Palestinians have recognized Israel but Israel has never recognized Palestine.

(Source / 14.03.2014)

Head of Saudi religious police denies corruption

Al-Sheikh pledged to step down should there be “one case” that involves financial fraud.

The head of Saudi Arabia’s religious police Sheikh Abdulatif al-Sheikh has dismissed reports of financial corruption within the institution, a Saudi daily said on Friday.

Dubbing the reports as rumors, al-Sheikh pledged to step down should there be “one case” that involves financial fraud, even if it amounts to one Riyal ($0.27), the Saudi daily al-Riyadhreported.

Al-Sheikh, who expressed his satisfaction over the performance of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia), said those who are against reforming the institution are the ones disseminating corruption rumors.

He accused former members of the police force, who were discharged earlier for their “oppressive practices,” to be the ones behind the corruption rumors, the newspaper added.

Al-Sheikh blamed the former members of seeking to “tarnish the image” of his institution after they “lost interests from which they used to benefit in the past.”

Corruption allegations

In August 2013, a source in the Saudi National Anti-Corruption Commission (known as “Nazaha”) said it received a complaint with alleged violations with the religious police.

One of the violations included a contract with a real estate firm to rent a tower on Riyadh’s King Fahd Road, the Saudi daily newspaper Okaz reported at the time.

The contract was allegedly for SR17.8 million ($4.53 million), despite that the same building was previously approved for rental to the Ministry of Housing for SR15 million ($4 million).

The complaint also included a claim that an official from the commission received a SR800,000 ($213,000) loan, of which SR400,000 ($106,000) was allocated for the opening of an “intellectual security” training program.

The commission spokesman, Turki Al-Shaleel, rejected the allegations as baseless and part of attempts to smear the religious authority, according to local daily, Okaz.

Shaleel said the general secretariat of the commission reserves the right to prosecute parties that spread wrongful reports about it.

The head of the Saudi religious police, Sheikh Abdel Latif al-Sheikh, at the governmental ranking of minister, reports directly to King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz.

In a special interview with Al Arabiya News Channel aired on December last year, the head of the religious police, which is comprised of 6,000 members, said he was seeking a moderate approach to enforce the Shariah code in public.

“We are neither extremists nor too lenient. We follow the course of the Prophet Mohammad and we don’t seek to be repressive or brutal because this is not part of Islamic Shariah,” he said.

Al-Sheikh had said in February that there were “extremists” within the Commission.

He labeled them as “advocates of sedition” and vowed to eliminate them. “There are advocates of sedition within the Haia, and we will deal with them in accordance with the law and regulations. We will eliminate whoever urges sedition in this country,” he warned.

(Source / 14.03.2014)