Egypt sentences 17 people to long jail terms for protests

(Reuters) – An Egyptian court on Thursday sentenced 17 people to 14 years in jail each on charges including assault and occupying public buildings during protests at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University last year.

The defendants, believed to be supporters of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, had demonstrated to demand investigation and punishment of those responsible for mass food poisoning at the Al-Azhar campus.

Dozens of students were hospitalized at the time of the poisonings last April at Al-Azhar, a seat of Islamic learning that draws students from across the Sunni Muslim world.

Security forces have cracked down hard on the Brotherhood since Mursi’s ouster last July, killing hundreds of supporters in the streets and arresting thousands of others. The movement’s top leaders are on trial.

Human rights groups accuse the army-backed government of human rights abuses and orchestrating political trials against members of the movement, which won nearly every election after an uprising toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

The government denies the allegations and has declared the Brotherhood a terrorist group that threatens the country’s security. The movement says it is committed to peaceful activism.

(Source / 20.03.2014)

Premier Haneyya: Resistance will never forsake prisoners in Israeli captivity



GAZA, (PIC)– Palestinian premier Ismail Haneyya reiterated that the Palestinian resistance would never forsake the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and would keep working on liberating them by all means.

Premier Haneyya made his remarks during the funeral service of ex-detainee Majdi Hammad, who died of a terminal illness on Wednesday.

“Today with patience and contentedness, we bid farewell to the hero Majdi Hammad, who patiently and firmly spent 20 years in the occupation prisons and gave his life cheaply for Palestine, Jerusalem and the Aqsa Mosque,” premier Haneyya stated.

He stressed that the resistance is the dignity of the Arab and Muslim nations and would never give up its struggle path.

Hammad was a senior official of Al-Qassam Brigades of Hamas and one of the prisoners who were freed in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

(Source / 20.03.2014)

‘There is no sectarianism in the army’: Syria’s war – the general’s view

Robert Fisk joins General Yussef Swaidan on the streets of Daraya as the officer tells a crowd there is no army brutality – while his soldiers hand out Syrian flags to children

General Yussef Swaidan was doing the Syrian army version of hearts and minds, standing behind a fruit stall surrounded by a couple of dozen shopkeepers on the very edge of Daraya. See how well the army treats you. See how the lies of the terrorists about army brutality are wrong. I had heard this before.

The three-star general’s sunglasses reflected the midday heat, the crowd appropriately – or obediently – roared their support. There was even a civilian with a beard who opened the back of a van and distributed Syrian flags to passing schoolchildren. Then came a tremendous blast of outgoing artillery fire.

There were others who merely listened; the general’s giant conscript bodyguard, Tamer – steel helmet covered in camouflage, Kalashnikov cradled in his arms – was watching the length of the street and the surrounding alleyways, and glancing towards the rooftops. In ordinary life, he is a shepherd from Deir ez-Zour, but now he was watching a different kind of flock.

The general was quite frank about it. “Who knows if the terrorists did not leave people behind here when they left?” he pondered later. “There could be spies. If we continued down this road, you could be taken hostage. Your life depends on just one phone call out of here. Who knows what is in the hearts of the people?”

Grim words, but the 45-year-old general has a tough job. As field commander of Daraya – a place of constant battle and at least one massacre 18 months ago – he is, like other Syrian generals around Damascus, trying to talk his soldiers’ way back into the rebel-held suburbs, meeting “reconciliation committees” of doctors, shop-owners, religious sheikhs who live under the rule of Jabhat al-Nusra and other Islamist groups. “Syrian fighters who surrender their weapons will be given a clean record,” he told me. “The foreigners who are here must go, or their grave will be in Syria.”

It’s a hard sell, but it clearly worked just down the road in Lawan more than a year ago. The rebels have left and the shops are open and this little bit of Damascus was quiet. The soldiers were offered falafel – ground and fried chickpeas – by a local vendor. But then, he would do that, wouldn’t he? Who knows whom he gave his falafel to a couple of years ago when the rebels were here? The general watched all this with proprietary interest. This is, after all, his territory.

A balding man with a grey moustache, General Swaidan, of the Syrian army’s 4th Brigade, comes from Latakia (I think he is an Alawite, but he refuses to acknowledge any sect) and claims he has no ceasefires with “terrorists”.

I suspect this is true in one sense, and yet it is clear that the army is trying to use words as well as bullets to recover the lost suburbs around Damascus. As he talked peace, sitting on a chair in the weird environment of a long-disused nursery garden, a 155mm field gun fired off an artillery round over our heads, the shell hissing off on a range of 14 miles to protect, the general said, a military checkpoint under attack south of Damascus.

He is a political as well as a military man, accusing Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Israel and America of struggling to weaken Syria. “All made a mistake in thinking they could break the unity of the Syrian people.”

So how come the new weapons which the rebels are using – new radio equipment, new sniper rifles and new missiles – are crossing the border from Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon? “No nation in the world can control its borders when all countries conspire against it. The US cannot even control its border with Mexico. So how could Syria in these circumstances?”

Sitting beside the general was another officer, also wearing shades, who nodded from time to time and occasionally made a few comments of his own. Colonel Samir listened intently to all we said and I suggested, rather pointedly, that while the general was the field commander, he must be from military intelligence – an idea fervently denied but with enough laughter to suggest I might be right.

There was much talk of how the military and political leadership of Syria knew that Israel was waiting for this moment to hit Syria, and how they were ready to defend the country against this kind of attack. The general claimed – and he said the same to the people outside the fruit stall – that the Syrian army could take over all rebel territory in seven days but refrained from doing so because it did not want to kill its own civilians. “The terrorists are using the people as human shields,” he said. Now where, I wonder, have I heard that before? It is exactly what Israel says when it bombs civilians all over Lebanon.

“There will be no ceasefire with terrorists. I can’t trust them. They would use a truce to get more arms supplies.” These, he says, include weapons made in Israel, Ukraine and Belgium – the latter is certainly true, since I have seen captured Belgian pistols in Aleppo – and are regularly shown on state television. “No army in the world can defeat a conspiracy unless the people stand with the soldiers,” the general adds. “When we enter some villages which have been in the hands of terrorists, we often find pictures of Bashar al-Assad hidden behind closets. We get much of our information from civilians living in the terrorist areas.”

And that, of course, is exactly what the British Army used to say in Northern Ireland when it was also searching people’s homes.

As for General Swaidan’s soldiers, they arrive to salute their commander and are invited to talk to me: a group of conscripts who give their full names and their civilian jobs – one was a tailor, another a carpenter – and cheerfully say they are Sunni Muslims. Assad, of course, is an Alawite, but the general is careful of percentages, saying that 60 to 65 per cent of the 4th Brigade are Sunnis. “There is no sectarianism in this army, not in our brigade, and if you tour the checkpoints around the city, you will find most of the soldiers are Sunnis.”

The rebel forces in Syria, of course, are almost all Sunni Muslims, and that was the general’s point: Syrian Sunnis also fight for the army. And when I did stop at the general’s checkpoints and rather cruelly demanded to know their religion, almost all of them were indeed Sunni, some conscripts, many regular soldiers.

General Swaidan launches himself into a tale of the Prophet Mohamed. “He was sitting by the road one day with his friends and a funeral went by. The Prophet stood up and told his friends to pay their respects. One of them turned to the Prophet, peace be upon him, and said: ‘But don’t you know this is a funeral for a Jewish man?’ And the Prophet said: ‘Don’t you realise that the dead body is that of a human being?’ This is the essence of Islam.” To which I had absolutely no reply.

(Source / 20.03.2014)

Jimmy Mubenga: G4S guards face plane death charges


Jimmy Mubenga
Jimmy Mubenga had lived in Ilford after arriving in the UK in 1994

Three G4S custody officers will face manslaughter charges over the death of Jimmy Mubenga who died on a plane as he was deported from the UK.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) confirmed Colin Kaler, Terrence Hughes and Stuart Tribelnig would be charged.

Previously, an inquest jury found Mr Mubenga was unlawfully killed by G4S guards who were restraining him.

The 46-year-old died after falling ill as a flight prepared to leave Heathrow Airport for Angola in October 2010.

He died of cardio-respiratory collapse, the inquest found.

Family meeting offer

In a statement, the CPS said it had “reviewed the evidence” relating to the death and believed there was “a realistic prospect of conviction”.

It said: “We had previously decided in July 2012 that no charges should be brought in relation to Mr Mubenga’s death.

“In accordance with the code for Crown Prosecutors, the decision now is that there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest for Colin Kaler, Terrence Hughes and Stuart Tribelnig to be prosecuted for manslaughter.”

Mr Kaler, 51, from Bedfordshire, Mr Hughes, 53, from Hampshire and Mr Tribelnig, 38, from Surrey were employed by G4S Care and Justice Services UK Limited as detainee custody staff.

They will appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 7 April.

The CPS also considered whether G4S should be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter but concluded that there was “insufficient evidence to prosecute”.

It added: “We will be writing to the family of Mr Mubenga to explain our decision making, to offer a meeting should they so wish and again offer our condolences.”

In a statement G4S said the three men charged no longer worked for the company and it no longer had a contract escorting detainees from the UK.

It said: “The death of anyone in our care is deeply felt by all of us and the death of Mr Mubenga was a tragic event.

Jimmy Mubenga and his wife, Adrienne Makenda Kambana
Jimmy Mubenga served two years in prison while living in the UK

“The welfare of those in our care is always our top priority and we took great care to ensure that our employees on this contract… were made aware of their responsibilities in this respect.

“These employees were also trained, screened and vetted to the standards defined by strict Home Office guidelines.”

It added: “We believe that at all times we acted appropriately and in full compliance with the terms of our contract.”

Mr Mubenga and his wife, Adrienne Makenda Kambana, lived in Ilford, east London, after arriving in the UK in 1994.

In 2006, he became involved in a dispute on an evening out that led him to being convicted of actual bodily harm and he served two years in prison.

He was in the process of applying for permanent UK residency when the decision to deport him was taken.

(Source / 20.03.2014)

Witnesses: PA forces detain 4 in Bethlehem refugee camp

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Palestinian Authority security forces raided Bethlehem’s Azza refugee camp overnight Wednesday and detained four people, witnesses said.

PA forces raided the camp at around 3 a.m. and arrested Ameen al-Amareen, Karam al-Amareen, Aslaman al-Jouz and another unidentified man.

Clashes broke out following the arrests, with youths throwing stones at security forces and PA officers firing warning shots in the air.

There had been clashes earlier on Wednesday between youths from the camp and PA police, locals said.

The circumstances surrounding the arrests were unclear.

(Source / 20.03.2014)

Egyptian Students Raise Jihad Banner at Pro-Brotherhood Rally

A group of Egyptian students who raised the black flag of jihad associated with al-Qaida during a protest Tuesday at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University could face criminal charges, al-Ahram reports. A similar episode reportedly took place during a similar pro-Muslim Brotherhood protest at Cairo University.

Video posted to YouTube shows a handful of students holding the black flag, along with a mock American flag, with Israel’s Star of David over the stars.

The black flag is hundreds of years old, al-Ahram explains, but was co-opted by al-Qaida and like-minded terrorist groups such as al-Shabaab and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Some of the pro-Brotherhood protesters at Cairo University took control of a law faculty office. Officials say they later defused a “rudimentary bomb” left behind. About 300 people participated in the Al-Azhar protest, chanting “down with military rule.”

Egypt’s army has controlled the country since forcing President Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, from office in early July. The move followed massive street demonstrations against the Brotherhood’s rule.

A teenage boy was killed at yet another pro-Brotherhood rally south of Cairo. Officials say the boy was the son of Brotherhood official Ali Kafafi. In other clashes, two police officers were killed in a shootout with militants.

(Source / 20.03.2014)

Syria’s Internet Goes Dark – Again

Syria has once again dropped off the Internet as fighting continued in the country. It’s the first such major outage there in 2014, but only the latest in along series going back at least three years.

Internet connectivity monitoring firm Renesys posted on its “Internet events bulletin” blog that 95 percent of the country’s networks disappeared at about 8:30 a.m. ET Thursday (2:30 p.m. Syria time), and have stayed down since.

Renesys classifies Syria as a “severe risk” for Internet shutdown, since the entire country’s Internet access is controlled through the state-run Syrian Telecommunications Establishment — greatly simplifying the process of shutting down connections.

Furthermore, under 100 outside network connections need to be shut down in order to isolate the country; the U.S. has around 300 times that number that would have to be taken down, which would make the process of cutting off Internet access here extremely difficult.

(Source / 20.03.2014)

Syrian refugee teenager in Jordan wishes to go to school

“I want to go back to Syria and play and study with friends. There is a university in my hometown. I want to pursue further study there after high school education,” said Mohammad.

Mohammad, a 15-year-old Syrian kid who fled to Amman, Jordan, with family a year ago and worked there, said last Friday he wants to go to school just as local children do.

Mohammad has been working in a butcher’s shop for five months. His job is cutting the vegetables, grinding the meats, and assisting his master. He said it is not complicated though, to keep working more than ten hours every day is not a piece of cake.

As a teenager, Mohammad said it is also not easy for him to find a job, so he works really hard and carefully. However, Mohammad said he can’t help looking over at the Jordanian students wearing bags whenever they entered the shop, and he knows clearly that he doesn’t belong here.

“Whenever students come here to buy meat pie I feel sad. Why can’t I go to school just like them?” said Mohammed.

The ongoing Syrian crisis forced Mohammsd to quit school there. During the one year in Jordan, Mohammad and his two brothers had to earn money just like their parents due to the high living cost. Despite this, Mohammad said he misses his friends in Syria, and the old days they went to school together.

“I want to go back to Syria and play and study with friends. There is a university in my hometown. I want to pursue further study there after high school education,” said Mohammad.

According to the statistics of United Nation’s International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), more than 600,000 registered Syrian refugees are living in Jordan now, and 200,000 of them are school-age children. More than a half of them can’t receive education due to economic problems or other reasons.

Toby Fricker, a communication specialist of UNICEF in Jordan, said education is really important for the Syrian refugee students like Mohammad.

“Because in the future, the kids gonna go back to Syria, they gonna play a key role in rebuilding the country. And to do that they need to be educated, or they need at least have gone through the basic literacy and numeracy, to be able to fulfill as much as they can,” said Fricker.

(Source / 20.03.2014)

Israeli court rejects appeal against demolition of Bedouin village

BEERSHEBA (Ma’an) — An Israeli central court in Beersheba on Wednesday rejected an appeal against a decision to demolish a Palestinian Bedouin village in the Negev, even though the structures were built after residents were forcibly moved there by Israel decades ago.

The Israeli court’s decision paves the way for the planned displacement of Umm al-Heiran’s 1,000 inhabitants to make way for a planned Jewish town, 50 years after the state gave the village inhabitants’ the land after their original lands were confiscated.

The judge rejected an appeal filed by Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, on behalf of residents against a court decision to demolish 33 buildings in the village.

The judge reportedly accepted the defense’s argument that despite the land ownership, and the fact that Israel moved residents there but refused to ever recognize the village, the buildings themselves were still considered unlicensed and thus should be demolished.

The judge did however decide to delay the demolitions for nine months in order to give residents enough time to find new homes.

Since the original demolition order for the village was issued in 2003, villagers have been fighting a legal battle with Adalah’s help to prevent the order’s enforcement.

Israeli authorities originally announced plans to demolish the Arab village of Umm al-Heiran in order to create a Jewish town atop it, to be named Hiran, Adalah lawyer Suhad Bishara told AFP in December.

The Palestinian Bedouin residents of Umm al-Heiran moved to live in the village in 1956 after the state of Israel confiscated their lands in Khirbet Zabbala. However, the state never recognized the village’s existence, neither providing services nor granting licenses for the buildings they constructed.

In 2002, the Israeli government prepared blueprints for a new Jewish city named Hiran to be built on the lands. The government also planned to establish a forest named Yatir on the adjacent Bedouin village of Atteir, which is also subject to demolition proceedings.

Israel refuses to recognize 35 Bedouin villages in the Negev, which collectively house nearly 90,000 people.

The Israeli state denies them access to basic services and infrastructure, such as electricity and running water, and refuses to place them under municipal jurisdiction.

Although the majority of Palestinians were expelled from their homes inside Israel during the 1948 conflict that led to the creation of the State of Israel, some Palestinians managed to remain in their villages and their descendants today make up around 20 percent of Israel’s population.

(Source / 20.03.2014)

Lebanon’s new government gets go-ahead from parliament

Lebanon's Prime Minister Tammam Salam smiles as he leaves the parliament in Beirut March 20, 2013. REUTERS/Sharif Karim

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Tammam Salam smiles as he leaves the parliament in Beirut March 20, 2013.

(Reuters) – Lebanon’s parliament gave a newly-formed cabinet a vote of confidence on Thursday, ending almost a year of political deadlock during which the country has been pulled further into the civil war in neighboring Syria.

The approval – by 96 of the 101 parliamentarians who attended the vote – was widely expected after the government reached a compromise last week on a policy statement following weeks of dispute that brought it to the verge of collapse.

The vote gave Lebanon a fully empowered government for the first time in more than a year, raising hopes of holding presidential elections before President Michel Suleiman’s mandate expires in May and finally conducting parliamentary polls that were postponed last year due to the political impasse.

Until Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s government was formed last month, the country was ruled by a caretaker government following the resignation of his predecessor Najib Mikati.

Mikati resigned in March 2013 as parties aligned with the Shi’ite Hezbollah movement and a Sunni-led rival bloc pursued a power struggle exacerbated by their support for opposing sides in Syria’s three-year-old civil war.

Speaking shortly before the vote, Salam said parliamentarians had highlighted three priorities for Lebanon: “Achieving security, addressing the tragedy of displaced Syrians and holding the presidential election on schedule.”

But he warned against inflated expectations.

“I would like to emphasize in front of you what all Lebanese know. Nothing will be promised that the government cannot achieve, so do not expect miracles.”

The policy statement approved last week fell short of explicitly enshrining Hezbollah’s role in confronting Israel but would give all citizens the right to resist Israeli occupation or attacks.

Israel says it has the right to defend itself against attacks from Lebanon.

The Lebanese statement made the organization of presidential and parliamentary elections the main priority, while also pledging to take “all possible measures to stimulate key economic sectors, first among them tourism.”

Lebanon, still struggling to recover from its own 1975-1990 civil war, has found its internal rifts aggravated by the conflict in Syria, whose sectarian divisions mirror its own.

Lebanon’s economic growth dropped to about 1.5 percent in 2013 from an average of eight percent a year from 2007 to 2010. Tourism, which directly accounted for more than 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) before the current turndown, has fallen off by about 40 percent as deteriorating security has scared off visitors from the Arab Gulf and Europe.

The policy statement also said the government would “accelerate measures related to licensing for oil drilling and extraction.” Potential gas and oil reserves off Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast have raised hopes that Lebanon could in the long term bring down debt which stands at 140 percent of GDP.

But political wrangling has obstructed progress even as neighboring countries stake out their claims. A row over who would control Lebanon’s energy portfolio thwarted an earlier attempt at forming a government.

The new government will also have to cope with the roughly one million Syrian refugees living inside its borders who have strained the already threadbare public infrastructure and threatened to upset its precarious sectarian balance.

(Source / 20.03.2014)