UN: 3,500 Palestinian children stranded in Yarmouk

Around 166 Palestinian refugees starved to death in mid-2013 when Syrian regime forces besieged the Yarmouk camp

UNRWA said on Sunday that over 3,500 Palestinian children are being stranded in Syria's flashpoint Yarmouk.

Several international humanitarian organisations have said they were incapable of offering aid to around 18,000 residents who were unable to leave camp because of clashes

Days of Palestine, West Bank – UNRWA said on Sunday that over 3,500 Palestinian children are being stranded in Syria’s flashpoint Yarmouk.

“There are some 3,500 children stranded in the camp, while the sick and the elderly continue to die from lack of medical care,” UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA)spokesman Sami Msha’sha said.

Msha’sha said that some 90 percent of Yarmouk’s 180,000 Palestinian residents have fled the camp – which continues to see violent clashes between ISIS militants and Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis militant group for over a month.

Moreover, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime forces routinely drop barrel bombs on the beleaguered camp, according to the UNRWA. “The situation in Yarmouk camp is indescribably tragic,” Msha’sha said.

“The UNRWA has repeatedly urged the Syrian regime to stop striking the camp indiscriminately with highly-destructive barrel bombs which results in civilian casualties as well as massive destruction.”

Militants affiliated with ISIS entered Yarmouk camp in early April, prompting clashes with Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis militant group inside the camp.

Several international humanitarian organisations have said they were incapable of offering aid to around 18,000 residents who were unable to leave camp as clashes rage on between the two militant groups.

Prior to the ongoing conflict in Syria, Palestinians living in Syria were estimated at some 581,000 – one third of whom had been living in the Yarmouk camp, according to the UN.

In recent years, however, as the conflict between Assad’s forces and armed opposition groups raged on, thousands of Palestinians in Syria have fled to neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan, while hundreds others have fled to the Gaza Strip.

Around 166 Palestinian refugees starved to death in mid-2013 when Syrian regime forces besieged the Yarmouk camp.

(Source / 04.05.2015)

Anti-Muslim Event In Texas Ends in Gunfire, Two Deaths

Organizers of the art contest had been criticized for provocatively inviting people to depict Prophet Muhhamad in competition for cash prizes

In this photo provided on Monday, May 4, 2015 by Geert Wilders, Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-Islam Freedom Party, center, poses for a photograph with police officers he hired in advance of a provocative contest for cartoon depictions of Prophet Muhammad in Garland, Texas.

In this photo provided on Monday, May 4, 2015 by Geert Wilders, Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-Islam Freedom Party, center, poses for a photograph with police officers he hired in advance of a provocative contest for cartoon depictions of Prophet Muhammad in Garland, Texas

An exchange of gunfire outside a provocative anti-Muslim event in the Texas suburb of Garland on Sunday evening resulted in the death of two suspected gunmen, the injury of one security guard, and a firestorm of  rhetoric over a controversial art contest which invited entrants to depict the Prophet Muhammad in competition for cash prizes.

As the New York Times reports:

The shooting began shortly before 7 p.m. outside the Curtis Culwell Center at an event organized by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, an anti-Islam organization based in New York.

“As today’s Muhammad Art Exhibit event at the Curtis Culwell Center was coming to an end” the Facebook posting said, “two males drove up to the front of the building in a car. Both males were armed and began shooting at a Garland I.S.D. security officer.”

The Garland Independent School District said in a statement that its security officer, Bruce Joiner, was shot in the ankle and taken to a hospital. He was later released.

The police, fearing that the gunmen’s car might contain an explosive device, dispatched a bomb squad and evacuated the center and nearby businesses, including a Walmart.

Though it could not be confirmed overnight what the motivations of the alleged gunmen may have been, ABC News early on Monday reported that one of the individuals had been identified by law enforcement:

One of the suspects in the shooting in Garland, Texas, late Sunday has been identified as Elton Simpson, an Arizona man who was previously the subject of a terror investigation, according to a senior FBI official.

Overnight and today FBI agents and a bomb squad were at Simpson’s home in an apartment complex in north Phoenix where a robot is believed to be conducting an initial search of the apartment.

Officials believe Simpson is the person who sent out several Twitter messages prior to the attack on Sunday, in the last one using the hashtag #TexasAttack about half an hour before the shooting.

Though billed by its organizers as an event celebrating “free speech,” critics argue the event was antagonistic and hateful towards Muslims by design.

According to Reuters:

The exhibit was organized by Pamela Geller, president of the [AFDI]. Her organization, which is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, has sponsored anti-Islamic advertising campaigns in transit systems across the country.

Organizers of the “Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest” said the event was to promote freedom of expression. They offered a $10,000 prize for the best artwork or cartoon depicting the Prophet, as well as a $2,500 “People’s Choice Award.”

Depictions of the Prophet Mohammad are viewed as offensive in Islam, and Western art that portrays the Prophet has sometimes angered Muslims and provoked threats and attacks from radicals.

In addition to Geller, the event in Garland was also attended by Geert Wilders, a rightwing Dutch lawmaker known for hateful and intolerant views of Islam and Muslims. Wilders was invited to give a speech which, according to the Associated Press, said in part, “Muhammad fought and terrorized people with the swords. Today, here in Garland, we fight Muhammad and his followers with the pen. And the pen, the drawings, will prove mightier than the sword.”

Following events in Garland, journalist Glenn Greenwald, making it clear that just because the art contest is viewed as despicable and hateful by many, that does not mean critics like himself condone or justify the violence it may have provoked:

Sorry to interrupt the martyring of Pam Geller & Geert Wilders, but has one person w/a platform even insinuated violence is justified?

Given the nature of the event, the Guardian reports how a large security force was hired in advance:

The American Freedom Defense Initiative paid for 40 police officers to work as security at their Prophet Mohammed cartoon drawing competition, Dallas News reports, shedding light on how the gunmen who attacked the event were killed so quickly.

The paper, which had a reporter present described “thick security that included Garland police, school district security and private guards”.

It said the cost of hiring in the officers was $10,000, an expense which Pam Geller, the event’s organiser, described as “the high cost of freedom.”

Bridie Jabour, a Guardian journalist, also filed this explainer on the AFDI and Geller:

A co-founder of the group behind the contest to award $10,000 for the best cartoon depiction of Mohammed, is a New Yorker who runs a blog that campaigns to stop the “Islamification” of America.

Pamela Geller, used her blog Atlas Shrugs to declare “this is war” in the hours after the shooting of two gunmen at the contest, which had been organised by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a group co-founded by Geller and Robert Spencer in 2010.

Geller, the winner of numerous awards from far right organisations such as the David Horowitz Freedom Center, is credited with coining the term “ground zero mega mosque” as part of highly publicised campaign against the development of community centre, which included a mosque, a few blocks from where the twin towers once stood.

She became politically active after the September 11 attacks and has told various newspapers she had never heard of Osama Bin Laden until the day of the attacks but started educating herself as a housewife living in Long Island raising four children. She eventually started a blog,Atlas Shrugs.

A prolific poster – the blog usually has between 10 and 15 posts per day – Gellar took to it soon after two armed gunmen were shot outside the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland in Garland, Texas.

Social media was predictably swarming with responses to the shooting under the hashtag #garlandattack, but journalist Murtaza Hussain suggested on Twitter that little of value could be learned from those trying to put the events in context in less than 140 characters:

“What Does It All Mean” Twitter in the aftermath of some violent episode is the worst.

Senegal to send 2,100 troops to join Saudi-led alliance

Senegal

Senegalese troops stand at attention with ammunitionless weapons

Senegal will send 2,100 troops to Saudi Arabia as part of an international coalition combating Houthi rebels in neighbouring Yemen, the West African nation’s foreign minister said on Monday.

Senegalese President Macky Sall said, after returning from a visit to Saudi Arabia last month, he was considering a request to deploy troops in the Saudi-led coalition battling the Houthi, a Shi’ite Muslim group allied to Iran.

Saudi Arabia – the world’s top oil exporter and the Sunni Muslim regional rival of Iran – said Houthi forces posed a threat to its security after they captured Yemen’s capital and began advancing across the country in September.

“The international coalition is aiming to protect and secure the holy sites of Islam, Medina and Mecca,” Senegalese Foreign Minister Mankeur Ndiaye told parliament.

“The president…has decided to respond favourably to this request by deploying a contingent of 2,100 men in the holy land of Saudi Arabia,” he said.

The coalition, which wants to restore Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, includes eight other Arab states and is receiving logistical support from the United States, Britain and France.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said in a statement on Monday the alliance was considering halting airstrikes in specific areas in Yemen to allow in humanitarian supplies.

The United Nations says the humanitarian situation in Yemen has grown desperate after weeks of bombardment.

Senegal deployed troops to Saudi Arabia as part of the US-led alliance during the Gulf War against Iraq, when 92 of its soldiers were killed in the crash of a Saudi transport plane in 1991.

(Source / 04.05.2015)

Yemen: Saudi-Led Airstrikes Used Cluster Munitions

US-Supplied Weapon Banned by 2008 Treaty

(Beirut) – Credible evidence indicates that the Saudi-led coalition used banned cluster munitions supplied by the United States in airstrikes against Houthi forces in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said today. Cluster munitions pose long-term dangers to civilians and are prohibited by a 2008 treaty adopted by 116 countries, though not Saudi Arabia, Yemen, or the United States.

Photographs, video, and other evidence have emerged since mid-April 2015 indicating that cluster munitions have been used during recent weeks in coalition airstrikes in Yemen’s northern Saada governorate, the traditional Houthi stronghold bordering Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch has established through analysis of satellite imagery that the weapons appeared to land on a cultivated plateau, within 600 meters of several dozen buildings in four to six village clusters.

“Saudi-led cluster munition airstrikes have been hitting areas near villages, putting local people in danger,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch. “These weapons should never be used under any circumstances. Saudi Arabia and other coalition members – and the supplier, the US – are flouting the global standard that rejects cluster munitions because of their long-term threat to civilians.”

Cluster munitions contain dozens or hundreds of submunitions. The submunitions are designed to explode after spreading out over a wide area, often the size of a football field, putting anyone in the area at the time of the attack at risk of death or injury. In addition, many submunitions often do not explode, becoming de facto landmines.

A video with no audio uploaded to YouTube on April 17 by the pro-Houthi September 21 YouTube channel shows numerous objects with parachutes slowly descending from the sky. The video zooms out to show a mid-air detonation and several black smoke clouds from other detonations. Human Rights Watch established the location, using satellite imagery analysis, as al-Shaaf in Saqeen, in the western part of Saada governorate.
An activist based in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, provided Human Rights Watch with photographs he received from a resident of Saada governorate, who said he took them on April 17 at the site of an airstrike in the al-Amar area of al-Safraa, 30 kilometers south of the city of Saada. From the photographs, Human Rights Watch identified the remnants of two CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons manufactured by the Textron Systems Corporation and supplied to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates by the US in recent years. One photograph shows an empty BLU-108 delivery canister, while the other shows a BLU-108 canister with four submunitions still attached to it. The location of the remnants in the photographs is 36 kilometers from where the video was filmed, indicating the possibility of multiple attacks.

Two local residents of al-Safraa told Human Rights Watch that about 5,000 people normally live in the village. They said they witnessed airstrikes in the area on April 27 in which bombs were delivered by parachute. Human Rights Watch was unable to determine whether they saw another attack using CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons or one using other types of bombs.

Human Rights Watch has not been able to obtain information on possible casualties from the attacks.

Since March 26, a Saudi-led coalition including Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, and the UAE has conducted numerous airstrikes throughout Yemen against Houthi forces, also known as Ansar Allah, who effectively ousted the government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi in January. None of these countries have signed the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Soon after the airstrikes began, Saudi Arabia denied using cluster munitions in Yemen. At a news conference in Riyadh on March 29, Brig. Gen. al-Assiri told the media, “We are not using cluster bombs at all.”

According to a data sheet issued by the Textron Systems Corporation, the CBU-105 disperses 10 BLU-108 canisters that each subsequently release four submunitions that sense, classify, and engage a target such as an armored vehicle, and are equipped with self-destruct and self-deactivation features. The submunitions of the Sensor Fuzed Weapon explode above the ground and project an explosively formed jet of metal and fragmentation downward.

While the CBU-105 is banned under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, its use is permitted under existing US policy and its export is permitted under existing US export restrictions on cluster munitions.

In August 2013, the US Department of Defense concluded a contract for the manufacture of 1,300 CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons for Saudi Arabia by Textron. The contract stipulated that delivery of the weapons should be completed by December 2015. Human Rights Watch does not know when deliveries began, or if they have finished.

Additionally, the UAE received an unknown number of CBU-105 from Textron Defense Systems in June 2010, fulfilling a contract announced in November 2007.

US policy on cluster munitions is detailed in a June 2008 memorandum issued by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Under the Gates policy, the US can only use or export cluster munitions that “after arming do not result in more than 1 percent unexploded ordnance across the range of intended operational environments,” and the receiving country must agree that cluster munitions “will only be used against clearly defined military targets and will not be used where civilians are known to be present or in areas normally inhabited by civilians.”

This policy is most recently codified in section 7054(b) of the Consolidated and Continuing Appropriations Act (HR 83) of 2015. According to guidance issued by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency in May 2011, “the only cluster munition with a compliant submunition [compliant with the reliability standard established by the Gates policy] is the CBU-97B/CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon.”

In March 2015, Human Rights Watch called on all parties to the conflict not to use cluster munitions in the Yemen fighting. Credible evidence showed that Saudi Arabia had dropped cluster bombs in Saada governorate in November 2009 during Yemeni government fighting against the Houthis. Cluster munition remnants from the 2009 airstrikes, including unexploded US-made BLU-97 and BLU-61 submunitions, were reported by a number of sources.

In addition to the recent transfer of CBU-105, the US provided Saudi Arabia with significant exports of cluster bombs between 1970 and 1999. Saudi Arabia possesses attack aircraft of US and Western/NATO origin capable of dropping US-made cluster bombs. Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and other countries involved in the conflict in Yemen should ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Human Rights Watch chairs the Cluster Munition Coalition US, which in a March 30 letter to President Barack Obama said that the administration should review the Gates policy, including the exception allowing for cluster munitions resulting in less than 1 percent unexploded ordnance rate.

“The Gates policy is providing the US a handy loophole to send cluster munitions to countries like Saudi Arabia, which shouldn’t be using them at all,” Goose said.

(Source / 04.05.2015)

KOBANE/CIZIRE UPDATE 85: CONTROVERSY SURROUNDS COALITION ATTACK ON IS-HELD VILLAGE – 64 CIVILIANS NOW REPORTED DEAD

By Peter Clifford              ©                  (www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-iraq-news-5/)

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-news-3

SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS

Controversy continues to surround a Coalition airstrike on the village of Birmahle, 15 kilometres from Sarrin, in an area where heavy fighting continues between a combined YPG/FSA force and the Islamic State.

The village was hit in a air attack on Islamic State (IS) positions on Thursday 30th April. However, local people claim many of the houses were occupied by civilians and not IS fighters.

SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS

 

Kobane Still a Very Dangerous Place for Children

Latest claims suggest that 64 civilians were killed, including 19 women and 22 children and horrific video footage of dead and mutilated children’s bodies in the back of a pick-up would appear to support this.

On the other hand, the US military issued a statement on Sunday saying that it’s information was that 50+ IS fighters had been killed in the airstrike and none of the victims were civilians.

Locals claim the death toll has risen as they struggled to extract the dying from under blast rubble.

According to the US forces spokesman, a joint YPG/FSA unit was in clashes with the Islamic State about 2 kilometres away from Birmahle at the time of the strike.

“Prior to the airstrikes, Kurdish forces, who held the town before leaving after being attacked by ISIL, reported there were no civilians present in that location and that there had not been any civilians present for two weeks prior to the Coalition airstrikes,” said Major Curt Kellogg on behalf of US Central Command (Centcom).

The enraged citizens in the video, if it is genuine, appear to be civilians and not fighters and of Arabic not Kurdish origin.

It could be that the YPG having reached the perimeter of Kobane Canton may not be as well informed as it was previously when retaking Kurdish villages – or that IS moved civilians in. The true situation in not clear.

Chuck Pfarrer, in his latest map below, suggests that even the exact location of the village may have become confused and is inaccurate.

The latest Centcom report on airstrikes in Syria says that 4 attacks were made last Saturday through to Sunday am, destroying an IS fighting position and hitting an IS tactical unit in Kobane Canton and striking “land features” near Raqqah, “denying ISIL a tactical advantage”.

The YPG itself reports several attacks by IS last Friday night on the villages of Elganê, Sepeta Ereban and Zerik north of the M4 highway and these may well have been break-outs from the Islamic State group still in the area around the Grain Silos north of Sarrin and Mitras.

All the attacks were summarily dealt with by the YPG/YPJ, with 4 x IS Jihadists killed and 6 others wounded.

On Saturday, the YPG also carried out an operation against IS for a hill position near Mirabba, killing another 2 x IS Jihadists in the process.

In Kobane city itself, 2 Kurdish children were injured at the weekend after mines left by IS exploded just north of Mishtenour Hill, while the Asayish (Kurdish security) reported dismantling 16 mines in villages south of the city on Friday.

There is also a report that a citizen of Kobane returning to his home found a large amount of money and 15 AK-47s hidden in his house (presumably left over from IS occupation), all of which he handed over to the Asayish.

Abu Layla, a FSA commander who fought alongside the Kurdish YPG/YPJ in the defence of Kobane, announced at the weekend that he has resigned all his military positions. Although Abu Layla spent many years of his life in Manbij in Aleppo province, he is in fact of Kurdish origin.

A 2 day conference in Amed, Turkey, on the reconstruction of Kobane this last weekend, was notable for the absence of many international organisations, Rojavan politicians and civil administrators but everyone who did attend, whatever their status, did get a chance to speak.

The overwhelming and concluding theme was “we have to rebuild Kobane with the same spirit it was liberated with”.

The latest situation map for south-west Kobane Canton, courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer, is, here:

SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS

 

SW Kobane Situation Map 04.05.15

Heavy fighting continues in the eastern Kurdish Canton of Cizire, especially along its western edge. Last Friday, the YPG held back concerted attacks on their positions by IS between Tel Tamer and Hesekê and targeted the same night Jihadist groups in the occupied villages of Tel Dimşîd and Seyyad, driving them out.

After “mopping up” in the area by the YPG on Saturday, the bodies of 18 dead IS Jihadists were found, plus 24 AK-47s, 30 AK-47 magazines, 4 RPG rocket grenade launchers, 1 heavy machine gun and more ammunition.

IS also launched another attack again near the village of Xîzêla, just south of Tel Hamis on Saturday, and after the fighting lasted most of the night, 7 x IS Jihadists were killed.

Coalition Participation in the Geneva Consider How To Get Rid of Assad

Spokesman for the Syrian Coalition states that “the Syrian Coalition’s participation in the upcoming bilateral consultation meetings to be hosted by the UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, in Geneva aims to discuss the document of basic principles for a political settlement. The document, which was adopted and ratified by the Syrian Coalition and a number of Syrian opposition blocs, lays out a roadmap for a political solution in Syria.”

“The Syrian Coalition’s decision to attend the Geneva meetings was not unilateral, but was made after the Syrian Coalition consulted with a large number of representatives of rebel factions, civil society organizations and the revolutionary forces. After several consultative meetings, the parties to the meetings agreed on five key points for a political solution in Syria,” Meslet added.

“Most importantly, there is no solution without the toppling of the Assad regime, with all its symbols and security organs, and that Assad and his ruling elite should have no role in the transitional phase or the future of the country.”

“We also agreed to work to achieve the highest degree of coordination between the political and military forces of the opposition, and to protect independent national decision-making in coordination and cooperation with the allies of the revolution and its friends. We also stresses the need to stand firm in the face of any plans to split the country or to rehabilitate or reproduce the Assad regime, and that any solution to the conflict must be complete and encompass all aspects of the Syrian crisis,” Meslet added.

“The Syrian Coalition once again reiterates its openness to any political solution that achieves the Syrian people’s aspirations for freedom and dignity, ends the bloodshed, and initiates a transitional process. Assad and the ruling elite must be excluded from any future political process, whether in the short or long term, as Assad’s role in Syria has ended with the death of the first Syrian at the hands of his murderous regime.”

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 04.05.2015)

‘Er zijn geen burgers meer in deze wijk, schiet op al wie verdacht is’

ISRAËLISCHE SOLDATEN KLAPPEN UIT DE BIECHT OVER GAZA-OORLOG VAN 2014

‘Er zijn geen burgers meer in deze wijk, <br>schiet op al wie verdacht is'

De Israëlische soldaten die de voorbije zomer in Gaza vochten, begrepen van hun oversten dat zij meteen het vuur moesten openen op al wie opdook. Honderden onschuldige Palestijnse burgers lieten daardoor het leven. Dat stelt ‘Breaking the Silence’, een organisatie van Israëlische soldaten, op basis van meer dan honderd onthutsende getuigenissen van soldaten die in Gaza zijn ingezet. De Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) betwisten de aanklachten en benadrukken dat ‘Breaking the Silence’ ‘geen bewijzen levert over de misdaden aan de IDF’.

De soldaten vielen wijken binnen, door hun oversten in de veronderstelling gelaten dat die ‘toch geen burgers meer telden’. Het Israëlische leger had voor het grondoffensief strooibriefjes uitgegooid boven de druk bevolkte Gazastrook, sms’jes naar Palestijnse burgers gestuurd en hen soms ook thuis opgebeld. Daaruit werd geconcludeerd dat ‘alle burgers Gaza hadden verlaten’, toen de Israëlische tanks en grondtroepen de Palestijnse kuststrook binnentrokken. In het rapport van ‘Breaking the Silence’ vertellen soldaten dat ze achteraf vaststelden dat ze wel degelijk burgers aantroffen in Gaza, ‘soms wel tot veertig man’. Om die reden voelden velen zich door hun legertop verraden.

Breaking the Silence legde meer dan honderd onthutsende getuigenissen vast, en sprak met meer dan zestig soldaten, van allerlei eenheden en onderling verschillend in rang. De hoogste rang was die van majoor. ‘Alle getuigenissen lopen erg gelijk’, zegt Avihai Stollar van Breaking the Silence, die ook research deed naar eerdere Israëlische legeroperaties in Gaza. ‘Maar nooit eerder gingen de orders van de legertop – om op iedereen te schieten die zich in de gevechtszone bevond – zo ver als tijdens de Gaza-oorlog van 2014.’

In de Gazastrook vielen vorige zomer meer dan 2.200 doden en meer dan 10.000 gewonden.

Begraven door een tank

Als gevolg van die bevelen vielen zeker honderden onschuldige Palestijnse doden, zegt Stollar. ‘Verschillende soldaten vertelden ons hoe een Palestijnse bejaarde man een kogel kreeg, ondraaglijk leed, en dat hem daarna met twee extra kogels genade werd geschonken. Een Israëlische legertank gooide na afloop wat grond over hem – einde verhaal.’

Hetzelfde overkwam twee Palestijnse vrouwen, die in een bosrijk gebied wandelden, in het zuiden van de Gazastrook. Hoewel daartoe geen aanleiding was, beschouwden Israëlische soldaten hen als ‘verdacht’. ‘Er werd vanuit gegaan dat zij met verrekijkers het gebied bespiedden’, zegt Avihai Stollar. ‘En daarom werden ze doodgeschoten. Achteraf bleek dat een vergissing.’

22.000 granaten afgevuurd

Volgens Breaking the Silence zette het Israëlische leger nooit eerder zoveel munitie in. ‘Het leger vuurde zeker 22.000 tankgranaten op Gaza af. Dat is vier keer meer dan tijdens de vorige operatie in Gaza, viereneenhalf jaar eerder.’

Hele woonwijken werden weggevaagd, met legerbulldozers die volgens de getuigenissen van de soldaten zelf ‘maar voortdurend bleven rondrijden, alsof ze in een zandbak speelden’. Foto’s die de soldaten zelf namen, tonen die vernieling. Gebouwen en infrastructuur werden vernield in delen van Gaza die al verlaten waren. Er was dus geen reden voor die sloop, tenzij een collectieve bestraffing van de burgerbevolking. De buurten werden ook vernield, om de ‘Israëlische aanwezigheid te laten voelen’.

Breaking the Silence hoopt met het rapport een debat in Israël los te weken over het gedrag van het leger in de oorlog in Gaza. Tegelijk dringt de organisatie aan op een onafhankelijk onderzoek, dat zeker niet door het Israëlische leger zelf mag worden gevoerd.

‘Valse aanklachten’

Israël heeft onmiddellijk gereageerd op de publicatie van ‘Breaking the Silence’. De organisatie van Israëlische soldaten publiceerde een rapport met een honderdtal getuigenissen over de gevechten in Gaza in de zomer van 2014. De Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) betwisten de aanklachten en benadrukken dat ‘Breaking the Silence’ ‘geen bewijzen levert over de misdaden aan de IDF’.

Volgens de Israëlische legertop is ‘de IDF begaan met het onderzoeken van alle klachten door de media, ngo’s en officiële instanties’. De Israëlische troepen benadrukken dat ze nog geen bewijzen of getuigenissen hebben gekregen om te onderzoeken.

‘De organisatie weigerde om bewijzen te leveren aan de IDF. Dat maakt elk onderzoek door het Israëlische leger onmogelijk. Dat patroon, waarbij bewijsmateriaal wordt verzameld over een langere periode, zonder dat informatie wordt gedeeld, is er niet op gebrand om fouten recht te zetten’, staat in een verklaring van de legertop.

Zvi Fogel, voormalig hoofd van de Zuidelijke troepen van het Israëlische leger, beschrijft de aanklachten als ‘vals’. ‘Iedereen die de IDF valselijk beschuldigd als moordenaars, is het niet waard om een antwoord te krijgen’, zegt Fogel aan Army Radio in Israël.

Hij weerlegt de klachten dat het leger onmiddellijk het vuur mocht openen en bevestigt dat elke klacht serieus onderzocht wordt. Dat schrijft de Deutsche Welle.

De leden van ‘Breaking the Silence’ worden door veel Israëli’s beschouwd als anti-militair. De organisatie wil het Israëlische publiek laten zien wat de IDF verbergt en hoe het er werkelijk aan toe gaat op de Westbank, Gaza en Libanon.

(Source / 04.05.2015)

Fearing Saudi airstrikes, Yemeni confronts Houthis over schools weapons store

Civilians say the Houthis are dispersing weapons in residential areas leaving people fearing for their lives

Houthis in Yemen raise their weapons during clashes near the presidential palace in Sanaa, Yemen

Um Mohammad had been hammering on the gates of Omar Bin al-Khatab school in Yemen’s capital Sanaa for 15 minutes.

Earlier that day the 60-year-old mother of three had heard from a friend that Shiite Houthi militiamen, on the run from airstrikes, had broken into the school a few blocks from her house and were storing weapons in its basement.

Fearing the militants would endanger her neighborhood, Um Mohammed had resolved to confront them.

But the school was shut, its gate padlocked and windows boarded up. Many schools in the capital closed last month when Saudi Arabia and nine other Arab states launched a wide-ranging bombing campaign to reinstate Yemen’s exiled president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi and roll back the Houthis who control Sanaa and other cities.

Rumours that the Houthis were using civilian buildings to hide weapons started circulating last autumn when the militia from Yemen’s north – in alliance with forces loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh – swept the capital and began a military campaign to overrun the country.

But hiding the arms they plundered from army bases became a key priority for the Houthis last month when a spokesman for the Saudi-led campaign announced their intention to strike Houthi weapon stores “wherever they were”.

Houthi rebels control most of Sanaa despite signed deal requiring them to withdraw and disarm 

Mohammed Abdullah, a resident of the same Sanaa neighbourhood as Um Mohammed, said that the Saudis’ announcement had left civilians scrambling to get as far away as possible from the dozens of Houthi positions dotted throughout the city.

“We took that to mean the coalition would hit any building containing weapons,” he said.

“We know that the Houthis have used hospitals, schools and sport stadiums to amass weapons and those places have been hit by airstrikes,” he said.

One of Abdullah’s neighbours, Ali Abdulbari, said he had seen supporters of the Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, driving vehicles loaded with Kalashnikovs in and out of Sanaa’s historic old city.

“It makes perfect sense,” Mohammed Al-Hasani, the managing editor of Al-Tagheer news website, told MEE.

“The Houthis are hiding their weapons in different places including the schools, because they know otherwise they will be destroyed by the Saudi-led coalition strikes.”

‘Buriedunderground’

Unable to breach the school’s gate, Um Mohamed began petitioning neighbours to help her confront the militiamen.

“Our neighbourhood has become a military outpost… we have to take action,” she told one man, Yahia Hassan.

“If we don’t confront the Houthis our sons and daughters will soon be dead and buried… the strikes will target our neighborhood,” she told him.

When contacted by MEE, the Houthis, who in spite of the airstrikes still control the capital, neither denied nor confirmed the allegations that they were stockpiling weapons.

One activist, Hussein al-Boukhaiti, with close links to the Houthis, said the group had deployed fighters to “guard” public institutions.

“Ansar Allah became responsible for the security of the capital and they have the right to walk with their personal weapons such as rifles and grenades,” al-Boukhaiti told MEE.

“When citizens see them walk with their weapons they think that Ansar Allah are bringing weapons to the schools,” he said.

Al-Boukhaiti said he did not have information about specific schools.

The Houthis’ tight grip on the city and recent arrest of several journalists makes accessing the schools where weapons are reportedly stored difficult.

When MEE visited Omar Bin al-Khatab school on Wednesday a passer-by said “do not ask about the school otherwise you are going to be shot dead”.

The school’s security guard, who refused to give his name and had a rifle bearing the Houthi slogan, muttered something before advising the journalist to leave the area.

Most of the neighbours around the school aside from Um Mohamed were hesitant to talk and said they were afraid of the Houthis and scared that the Saudi-led coalition strikes would target the school and their homes.

(Source / 04.05.2015)

Sayeeda Warsi ‘appalled’ at Arab world silence over Israel’s war in Gaza

The former UK cabinet minister has explained why she stood down from office over Israel’s military assault in Gaza

Sayeeda Warsi delivers a speech during the first day of the Conservative conference in 2010

Sayeeda Warsi, the first Muslim in Britain to become a cabinet minister said on Sunday that she resigned over Israel’s military assault on Gaza last summer because “she was less concerned about being on the wrong side of government than she was about being on the wrong side of history.”

Giving her first personal account of her resignation, Baroness Warsi delivered an impassioned address to an Arab audience about the decision that led to her, the daughter of a Pakistani economic migrant, to abandon the seat she had at the top political table of the United Kingdom.

Speaking to the Al Jazeera Forum in Doha, Baroness Warsi said that deeply ingrained British values of fairness, rule of law and accountability made her realise that she could no longer support Conservative leader David Cameron’s government.

“I could not comprehend how boys playing football on a beach should have had their lives so tragically ended,” Lady Warsi said, referring to a notorious incident when four boys were killed by Israeli rocket fire on beach outside a hotel used by foreign correspondents. “The boys playing football had lanky legs. Legs like my sons. It could have been any of our children.”

“And at that moment I could not support words handed down by my government, when I felt that those words lacked compassion.”

At the time Baroness Warsi was the Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister with responsibility for human rights, the United Nations and the International Criminal Court.

In Doha Baroness Warsi castigated Arab governments that failed to condemn Israel, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

“I am convinced that governments in the west would have been prepared to play a role, if they had believed that the region meant business, and was sincere about resolving the Middle East crisis and were not just simply playing the game.”

She praised Qatar for speaking out against Israel’s attack on Gaza and supporting Gazans financially: “Our response is only ever going to be as clear as your vision […] I was appalled at the silence in the Arab world and the lack of any collective leadership.”

Her decision to speak out on the eve of a British general election will cause further embarrassment to Cameron, who has been criticised for ignoring the British Muslim vote by former Daily Telegraph Chief Political Commentator Peter Oborne in a recent column for Middle East Eye.

Baroness Warsi said she felt “deeply British” having being born, raised, and educated here, but also “completely Muslim and proud of my heritage.”

(Source / 04.05.2015)

Israeli military ‘fired indiscriminately’ in Gaza

Heavily damaged buildings in the eastern Gaza City district of Shejaiya (15 April 2015)

Breaking the Silence said civilian infrastructure was destroyed “without clear justification”

An Israeli activist group has accused the military of employing a “policy of indiscriminate fire” that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians during last year’s Gaza war.

Breaking the Silence said the rules of engagement during the 50-day conflict were “the most permissive” it had seen.

It published testimonies of soldiers, one of whom said they were ordered to shoot to kill any person they saw.

The military said the group had failed to provide any proof of its claims.

The fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza left a total of at least 2,189 Palestinians dead, including more than 1,486 civilians, according to the UN.

On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed.

‘Shoot to kill’

Breaking the Silence, a group of serving and ex-soldiers, said its report contained interviews with more than 60 unnamed active duty and reserve Israel Defense Forces (IDF) personnel who took part in Operation Protective Edge.

The offensive was aimed at stopping rocket attacks from Gaza and the threat of attacks by militants using tunnels.

An Israeli soldier looks through his rifle at the northern Gaza Strip (21 July 2014)
One sergeant said a senior commander had told troops: “We do not spare ammo.”

The group declared that its testimonies painted a “troubling picture of a drastic change in the IDF’s combat norms”. Guiding values, such as the principle that soldiers use the minimum amount of force necessary, were “devalued and discarded”, it added.

A sergeant in the mechanised infantry said: “The rules of engagement are pretty identical: Anything inside [Gaza] is a threat, the area has to be ‘sterilised’, empty of people – and if we don’t see someone waving a white lag, screaming, ‘I give up’ or something – then he’s a threat and there’s authorisation to open fire.”

Another sergeant, who served in an engineering unit, said: “From the very start they told us, ‘Shoot to kill.’ As far as the IDF was concerned, there wasn’t supposed to be any civilian population there.”

Breaking the Silence alleged that destruction of civilian infrastructure and homes occurred “without any clear operational justification”. Many homes were shelled in order to “demonstrate presence in the area”, or even as an act of punishment, it added.

Israeli artillery fires a 155mm high explosive projectile towards the Gaza Strip (30 July 2014)
The fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza claimed more than 2,200 lives

A sergeant in an infantry unit recalled that armoured bulldozers “didn’t rest for a second. Non-stop, as if they were playing in a sandbox. Driving back and forth, back and forth, razing another house, another street.”

Israel said militants deliberately operated in residential areas and that it took special measures to try to avoid harming civilians.

Investigations

The director of Breaking the Silence, Yuli Novak, said there was a “broad ethical failure in the IDF’s rules of engagement… from the top of the chain of command”, and called for an external investigation to look into the policy behind the rules.

The IDF said it was “committed to properly investigating all credible claims”.

“Today, as in the past the organisation Breaking the Silence has been asked to provide any evidence or testimony related to IDF activities prior to publication, in order for genuine investigations to be carried out,” a statement said.

“Unfortunately, as in the past, Breaking the Silence has refused to provide the IDF with any proof of their claims.”

Following last year’s conflict, Israeli soldiers and commanders were given the opportunity to present complaints, and “exceptional incidents” were referred to the Military Advocate General’s office for further investigation, the statement added.

(Source / 04.05.2015)