Open Rafah now: Siege on Gaza is a cruel and political failure

Palestinians gather in front of the Rafah crossing between the southern Gaza Strip and Egypt, January 16, 2015

By: Ramzy Baroud

When Egypt decided to open the Rafah border crossing which separates it from Gaza for two days, December 3 and 4, a sense of guarded relief was felt in the impoverished Strip. True, 48 hours were hardly enough for the tens of thousands of patients, students and other travelers to leave or return to Gaza, but the idea that a respite was on its way helped to break, albeit slightly, the sense of collective captivity felt by entrapped Palestinians.Of course, the Rafah border crisis will hardly be resolved by a single transitory decision, mainly because Gaza is blockaded for political reasons, and only a sensible political strategy can end the suffering there or, at least, lessen its horrendous impact.Palestinians speak angrily of an Israeli siege on Gaza, a reality that cannot be countered by all the official Israeli hasbara and media distortions. In fact, not only is it far worse than a blockade as an economic restriction but it is a constant violent process aimed at brutalizing and punishing a community of 1.9 million people. However, the Egyptian closure of the Rafah border crossing, which has contributed to the ‘success’ of the Israeli siege is rarely discussed within the same context: as a political decision first and foremost.In a border-related agreement that was reportedly signed mid-November between Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas and Egypt’s Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, both sides seemed genial and unperturbed about the tragedy bubbling up north of the Egyptian border.The ‘activities’ near Rafah were intended to “secure the border,” Sisi told Abbas, according to a statement issued by the Egyptian President’s office. These activities “could never be meant to harm the Palestinian brothers in the Gaza Strip.”The term ‘activities’ here is, of course, a reference to the demolishing of thousands of homes alongside the 12-kilometer border between Rafah in Gaza and Egypt, in addition to the destruction and flooding of hundreds of tunnels, which have served as Gaza’s main lifeline that sustained the Strip throughout the Israeli siege during most of the last decade.Abbas, of course, has no qualms about the Egyptian action, the result of which has been the closure of the Rafah crossing for 300 days in 2015 alone, according to a new study originating in Gaza.Last year, in an interview with Egypt’s ‘Al-Akbar’ newspaper, Abbas said that the destruction of the tunnels was the best solution to prevent Gazans from using the smuggling business for their own benefits. He then spoke about 1,800 Gazans becoming millionaires as a result of the tunnel trade, although no corroboration for this specific number was ever divulged.Of course, Abbas has rarely been concerned about the rising fortunes of the alleged ‘millionaires’, because his Authority, which subsists on international handouts, is rife with them. His grievance is with Hamas, which has been regulating tunnel trade and taxing merchants for the goods they import into the Strip. Not only were the tunnels a lifeline for Gaza’s economy, the underground business helped fill a void in Hamas’ own budget, a fact that has irked Abbas for years.Following Hamas’ election victory in January 2006 and the bloody clash between the new Government and Abbas’s Fatah faction, Hamas has experienced immense pressure: Israel launched three massive and deadly wars, while maintaining a strict siege; Egypt ensured the near permanent closure of its border; and Abbas continued to pay the salaries for tens of thousands of his supporters in Gaza, on the condition that they did not join the Hamas Government.Moreover, the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, the turmoil in Egypt and the war in Syria, in particular, lessened Hamas’ chances of escaping the financial stranglehold that made governing Gaza, broken by war and fatigued by the siege, nearly unviable.While Israel, from the outset, explained that its siege was based on security requirements, Egypt eventually did the same, alleging that destroying the tunnels, demolishing homes and enlarging the buffer zone were necessary steps to stave off the flow of weapons from Gaza to Sinai’s militants who are responsible for deadly attacks on the Egyptian army.Oddly, the Egyptian logic is the exact opposite of the Israeli logic, upon which the siege was justified in the first place. Israel claims that Gaza’s factions use the tunnels to smuggle weapons and explosives from Sinai, not the other way around.Indeed, allegedly smuggling weapons from Gaza to Sinai has little to do with the closure of Rafah or even the destruction of the tunnels.With American expertise and aid, Egypt began erecting a steel wall along the Gaza border as early as December 2009. This preceded the Egyptian revolution and the political chasm in that society which was followed by the militant chaos. Indeed, there was little violence in Sinai then, at least, not one blamed partly on Palestinians. The construction of the wall took place during the rule of Hosni Mubarak in order to accommodate Israeli-American pressure to contain Hamas and other fighting groups. Abbas, eager to see the demise of his rivals, was in agreement, as he remains until today, ever ready to entertain any ideas that would once more give rise to his Fatah party in the Strip.The militant violence in Sinai did not usher in the siege on Gaza, but only hastened the demolishing of homes, destruction of tunnels and provided further justification for the permanent closure of the border.Life in Gaza became impossible, to the extent that the UN Conference on Trade and Development released a report last September warning that Gaza could become ‘uninhabitable’ in less than five years, if current economic trends continue.But these economic trends are the result of intentional policies, mostly centered at achieving political ends. Moreover, none of these ends have been achieved after nearly a decade of experimentation. True, many have died as they waited to receive proper medical care and thousands perished in war; many of the maimed cannot even acquire wheelchairs, let alone prosthetics, but neither has Israel managed to stop the Resistance, Egypt quell the rebellion in Sinai nor has Abbas regained his lost factional stronghold.Yet, things are getting much worse for Gaza. The World Bank issued a report earlier this year stating that 43% of Gaza’s population are unemployed, and that unemployment among the youth has reached 60%. According to the report, these unemployment figures are the highest in the world.Since the establishment of the border between Palestine and Egypt following an agreement in 1906 between the Ottoman Empire — which controlled Palestine then — and Britain, which controlled Egypt, never was the border subject to such deadly political calculations. In fact, between 1948 and 1967, when Gaza was under Egyptian control, the border was virtually non-existent as the Strip was administered as if a part of Egypt.Although Gazans are still being referred to as ‘brothers’, there is nothing brotherly in the way they are being treated. 25,000 humanitarian cases are languishing in Gaza, waiting to be allowed access to treatment in Egypt or in other Arab and European countries. These ill Palestinians should not be used as political fodder in a turf war which is not of their making.Moreover, while countries have the right to protect their sovereignty and security, they are obligated by international law not to collectively punish other nations, no matter the logic or the political context.An agreement must be reached between the Government in Gaza and Egypt, with the help of regional powers and under the monitoring of the United Nations, to end Gaza’s perpetual suffering and open the border, once and for all.

(Source / 06.12.2015)

Video: IOF raid print shops, confiscate equipment under the pretext of “incitement”

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PNN/ Hebron/
Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) on Sunday dawn have stormed, raided a number of print shops in Hebron, under the pretext of “incitement” against the Israeli occupation. 

Hebrew media claimed that IOF have confiscated equipment from “Infinity” and “Lamasat” print shops, for supporting Hamas movement, and publishing incitement material.

Soldier also broke into several offices in a building in the neighborhood of Bab Al-Zawiya, and confiscated computers, in addition to private files.

(Source / 06.12.2015)

Sweden slams Israel’s ‘extrajudicial’ killing of Palestinians

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom (Photo by AFP)

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom

Sweden has strongly criticized the Israeli regime for conducting extrajudicial executions against the Palestinians implicated in alleged stabbing attacks.

On Friday, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said Israeli military forces exercise “extrajudicial executions” or employ disproportionate force in clashes with Palestinian protesters, citing as “ostensible” proof the higher number of Palestinian casualties compared to those of Israel.

“Israel’s response involved extrajudicial executions, and was disproportionate, so the number of the dead on the other side is greater than the original death toll by several factors,” she said.

Wallstrom’s remarks outraged Israeli authorities, with the Israeli Foreign Ministry releasing a statement to denounce them.

More than 110 Palestinians and nearly 20 Israelis have been killed in the recent wave of clashes between Palestinians and Israelis since the start of October.

Tensions between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip continue unabated. The wave of unrest was triggered by Israel’s imposition in August of restrictions on the entry of Palestinian worshipers into the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in East al-Quds.

Israeli forces and forensics personnel stand near the body of a Palestinian assailant who was shot following an alleged attack at a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank village of Hizma, north of al-Quds (Jerusalem), December 3, 2015

Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) missions in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah as well as al-Quds (Jerusalem) denounced the recent demolition of Palestinian houses and expropriation of Palestinian lands in so-called Area C of the West bank.

The missions made reference to the repeated demolition of houses and animal shelters in the city of Tubas, located 21 kilometers (13 miles) northeast of Nablus, in late November and the dismantlement and confiscation of tents there on December 3. They said all of the affected Palestinian families mainly depend on livestock, and are particularly vulnerable as winter draws near.

The missions also urged Israel to return confiscated EU humanitarian assistance to displaced Palestinian families in Tubas.

A Palestinian man looks at the rubble of the house of a Palestinian after it was destroyed by Israeli authorities in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus, early on December 3, 2015

The Israeli regime recently approved the construction of 1,500 new illegal settler units in East al-Quds, despite widespread international criticism of the settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The international community regards all Israeli settlements built on the occupied Palestinian lands as illegal. More than half a million Israelis live in over 120 illegal settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967.

(Source / 06.12.2015)

Right-wing Israeli groups ‘raid’ Al-Aqsa Mosque compound

File photo of Israeli settlers at the entrance of Al-Aqsa mosque

File photo of Israeli settlers at the entrance of Al-Aqsa mosque

Right-wing Israeli groups on Sunday “raided” the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound under the protection of Israeli forces, witnesses told Ma’an.

Witnesses said 43 Israeli settlers raided the compound after right-wing Jewish extremist groups called for supporters to flock to the site before the start of the Jewish holiday Hannukah.

In addition to allowing settlers to raid the compound, Israeli forces continued to prevent entrance to worshippers on a “black list,” comprised mostly of Palestinian women and youth who have been banned from the compound for the last three months, witnesses said.

Also read: Sheikh Salah warns of series of Israeli raids of Al-Aqsa

Israeli forces previously stated that those banned from entering the compound were “troublemakers” and were being disallowed entry in order to better keep peace at the site.

On Sunday, the women who were prevented entry told Ma’an that they object to being banned from worshipping at the site, adding that the the right-wing Israelis touring the site were the ones causing trouble.

Israeli forces also detained a Palestinian man from the All-Aqsa Mosque compound and another four Palestinians from the surrounding Old City, following home raids.

(Source / 06.12.2015)

Syria’s divided opposition to gather this week in bid to unify stance

DUBAI: Syrian opposition groups gather in Saudi Arabia Tuesday to unify their stance ahead of potential talks with the regime of President Bashar Assad, whose fate remains a point of contention.

It will be the first time representatives of the political opposition and military factions fighting the regime have come together since the conflict began in 2011.

Saudi Arabia is hoping to unite the opposition ahead of talks between parties to the conflict which world powers hope to hold before Jan. 1.

Some hundred representatives are likely to attend the meeting Wednesday, including Saudi-backed Jaish al-Islam (The Army of Islam), an amalgam of factions that include hardline Islamists, which is not listed as a terrorist group.

The Western-backed Southern Front coalition, operating in southern Syria, is thought to be another invitee, but has not said so officially.

There have also been reports that Ahrar al-Sham, perhaps the most powerful non-jihadi opposition force in the country, will be invited.

The group has not commented officially on the reports and declined request for comment on the issue.

The invitees do not include those considered to be “terrorist,” such as Daesh (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front.

Kurdish factions are not invited.

“The mission is difficult and risky,” said Samir Nashar, a member of the Istanbul-based National Coalition, the main Syrian opposition grouping.

He said the aim was to “agree on a common and clear position concerning the future of Syria, the transition and the stance on [the fate of] Bashar Assad.”

Last month, top diplomats from 17 countries – including key international backers and opponents of Assad – met in Vienna in search of a political solution to Syria’s war, which has seen 250,000 people killed since March 2011.

Those nations included the United States and Saudi Arabia which back the opposition, and Russia and Iran, Assad’s main supporters.

They agreed on a fixed calendar for Syria that would see a transition government set up in six months and elections within 18 months.

Speaking of “core differences” over Assad’s fate, Nashar said he feared that “some groups close to states supporting the regime, could demand that Assad stays during the transition period.”

“This risks causing the failure of the meeting,” he said.

Groups supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Qatar demand Assad’s rapid departure, a condition that Iran and Russia continue to oppose.

“The opposition still demands the departure of Assad at the beginning of the transition period,” insisted Ahmed Ramadan, another National Coalition member.

“We cannot negotiate before agreeing in principle and having a date for the departure of Assad,” he then said.

Nashar added that although a cease-fire is a must, that “could not mean that we accept that Bashar Assad could stay during the transition [only] because he will stop killing.”

Meanwhile, the Syria-based opposition which is tolerated by the regime argues that Assad’s fate should be decided by the Syrian people.

“There is an international agreement that this issue should be decided by the Syrians,” said Hassan Abdel-Azim, who heads the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change.

The recent deadly attacks by Daesh, mainly those in Paris last month, appear to have softened the positions of Western countries on Assad, especially France.

“A united Syria implies a political transition. That does not mean that Bashar Assad must leave even before the transition, but there must be assurances for the future,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in an interview published Saturday.

His American counterpart John Kerry also urged Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to convince Syrian rebel groups to negotiate a cease-fire with Damascus, in an effort to isolate militants.

A U.S.-led coalition, including several Gulf and other Arab countries, in September 2014 launched an air campaign against Daesh.

Moscow mounted its own campaign in September this year, but the National Coalition accuses Russia of bombing Syrian rebels battling Assad’s regime.

Haytham Manna, co-founder of the opposition coalition Cairo Conference, said 20 members of his group would join next week’s talks.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, hopes to come out of the meeting with a “unified Syrian opposition, and to stop the Russians and others from claiming there is no Syrian opposition that is unified,” according to Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

This will ease the process of getting rid of Assad, he said.

Regional rival Iran, however, has warned that the Saudi conference would breach declarations made by both sides in Vienna seeking a list of mutually approved opposition groups.

(Source / 06.12.2015)

Saudi warplanes bomb Yemen, kill dozen civilians

Yemeni men walk past a building, damaged during a Saudi airstrike Sana'a on November 29, 2015. (AFP Photo)

Yemeni men walk past a building, damaged during a Saudi airstrike Sana’a on November 29, 2015

A dozen people from the same family have been killed as Saudi Arabian warplanes continue bombing Yemen.

They were killed in the Sirwah district in the central Ma’rib Province on Sunday.

In return, Yemeni army soldiers, backed by fighters from popular committees loyal to the Ansarullah movement, targeted a number of Saudi bases in the kingdom’s Jizan region.

Yemeni army also destroyed Saudi military vehicles in Ma’rib and killed a number of Saudi forces.

Yemen has been under constant military attacks by Saudi jet fighters since late March. The Saudi military strikes are aimed at undermining the popular Ansarullah movement, and restore power to fugitive former president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, who is a Saudi ally.

More than 7,500 people have been killed and over 14,000 others injured since March.

The strikes have also taken a heavy toll on the impoverished country’s facilities and infrastructure, destroying many hospitals, schools, and factories.

(Source / 06.12.2015)

Israel Issues Administrative Detention Orders against 21 Palestinians

RAMALLAH, December 6, 2015 (WAFA) – Israeli authorities Sunday issued administrative detention orders against 21 Palestinians, according to Palestinian Prisoner’s Club (PPC) attorney, Mahmoud Halabi.

The orders ranged from three to six months; and could be extended. Halabi said Israeli authorities have issued 15 new administrative detentions and renewed six others against prisoners detained in Israeli jails for months and years without indictment.

Administrative detention is a procedure that allows the Israeli military to hold prisoners indefinitely on secret information without charging or allowing them to stand trial.

The Israel human rights group B’Tselem said, “International law stipulates that [administrative detention] may be exercised only in very exceptional cases – and then only as a last possible resort, when there are no other means available to prevent the danger.”

“The Israeli practice of administrative detention has been condemned on numerous occasions by the UN Human Rights Office and the Human Rights Committee that oversees implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Israel has ratified,” said the UN News Center.

Following are the names of the 21 detainees who received administrative detention orders:

Alaa Hasan Abu Adi Ramallah Three months
Mohammad Jamil Alqam Hebron Four months
Saji Farah Atieh Ramallah Three months
Ehab Jehad Afaneh Ramallah Three months
Mohammad Ali Rabee’ Jerusalem Three months
Ali Mahmoud al-Amayra Hebron Six months
Naem Aziz Eisa Hebron Four months
Ibrahim Abed Abu Heit Nablus Six months
Amin Shafiq Qawasmi Hebron Four months
Jehad Emad Salim Tulkarem Four months
Osama Khaled Yamen Nablus Four months
Zuhdi Hisham Saroji Nablus Six months
Nafez Abu Abeid Tulkarem Four months
Abdulqader Mohammad Sharawneh Hebron Four months
Samer Mahmoud Hananie Nablus Six months
Yahia Hamed Armoud Ramallah Six months
Mahmoud Mohammad Iseed Hebron Six months
Ismaeil Mohammad Bader Hebron Four months
Adham Mohammad Sheiqa Hebron Six months
Monther Mohammad Abu Atwan Hebron Four months
Emad Mohammad Ismaeil Hebron Four months

(Source / 06.12.2015)

Turkey Must Withdraw “within 24 hours”: Iraq National Security Council

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Iraq’s National Security Council, headed by Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, has announced that Turkey has 48 hours to withdraw from Iraq’s territory before it uses “all available options.”

The Shi’ite militia, Kataib Hezbollah, that is backed by Iran released a statement promising to retaliate against the Turkish incursion that is violating Iraqi sovereignty.

In the last 24 hours, Turkey has stated it will deploy up to 2000 troops in Iraq, up from a few hundred. They claim they were legally asked by the Kurdish Regional Government to help in the fight against ISIS. Baghdad claims they are the only sole legitimate government in Iraq.

In recent weeks, Shi’ite militias have also vowed to fight against US troops in Iraq if were to be deployed there.

(Source / 06.12.2015)

Israeli troops shoot, wound Palestinian teen in West Bank

Israeli forces take aim during clashes with Palestinian protesters following a demonstration against Israeli occupation in the Palestinian town of al-Bireh on the outskirts of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on November 29, 2015. (© AFP)

Israeli forces take aim during clashes with Palestinian protesters following a demonstration against Israeli occupation in the Palestinian town of al-Bireh on the outskirts of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on November 29, 2015

Israeli military forces have shot and injured a Palestinian teenager during fresh clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and Tel Aviv’s troops in the occupied West Bank.

Local Palestinian official, Murad Shtewei, said a group of Palestinians staged a demonstration in the northern West Bank town of Kafr Qaddum, located 13 kilometers (8 miles) west of Nablus, on Saturday afternoon.

The participants were protesting against the Israeli regime’s expansion of illegal settlements and construction of the separation wall that snakes across occupied Palestinian territories and isolates large swathes of them.

Violence, however, erupted when Israeli soldiers stormed the demonstration, and fired tear gas canisters as well as live rounds to break up the protest.

A 16-year-old Palestinian boy, identified as Aqel Ramzi, was struck in the thigh, and was transported to Rafidia hospital in Nablus to receive medical treatment. Dozens of protesters also suffered excessive tear gas inhalation.

Palestinian protesters carry a wounded comrade, wearing the anonymous movement mask, during clashes with Israeli troops at the entrance of the Palestinian town of al-Bireh on the outskirts of Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on November 11, 2015

Tensions between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip continue unabated. The wave of unrest was triggered by Israel’s imposition in August of restrictions on the entry of Palestinian worshipers into the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in East al-Quds.

Palestinians are also angry at increasing violence by Israeli settlers, who frequently storm the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. The Palestinians say the Tel Aviv regime seeks to change the status quo of the compound.

More than 110 Palestinians and nearly 20 Israelis have been killed in the recent wave of clashes between Palestinians and Israelis since the start of October.

(Source / 06.12.2015)

Egyptian NGO Highlights Continued Restrictions on Press Freedom

A protester rallies in support of Al Jazeera journalists Abdullah al-Shami and Mohammed Sultan, who were detained by Egyptian authorities, in front of the Press Syndicate in Cairo, June 1, 2014. According to Al Jazeera's website, the two journalists have been in detention since August last year for providing information to the Muslim Brotherhood. The government has declared the Brotherhood a "terrorist group". The Brotherhood says it is a peaceful organisation. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany (EGYPT - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTR3RQ5B

A protester rallies in support of Al Jazeera journalists Abdullah al-Shami and Mohammed Sultan, who were detained by Egyptian authorities, in front of the Press Syndicate in Cairo, June 1, 2014

Restrictions on freedoms have continued to plague Egypt’s media, with several incidents of varying natures occurring in November, a report from the Egyptian Center for Public Policy Studies (ECPPS) has revealed.

According to the report, there were 60 press-related incidents on November 22 and 23 alone, when journalists and media personnel were attempting to cover the first round of the second phase of parliamentary elections. Among the violations were incidents where journalists were barred from entering polling stations to cover the voting proceedings.

48 of those incidents took place in the Cairo governorate, while the remaining 12 were scattered among various governorates. Damietta, South Sinai, El Gharbeyah, Port Said and Suez were the only governorates where no violations were recorded.

A correspondent from independent daily newspaper AlMasry AlYoum was arrested in North Sinai’s Al Arish, transferred to military intelligence headquarters in Cairo and released after the voting proceedings had ended, without clarifying the reason for his detention.

The report also outlines a number of other incidents where journalists and media workers were harassed or barred from doing their jobs.

Security personnel barred journalists and media personnel from entering the funerals held for victims of the Bataclan shooting and the Arish bombing, held at the French embassy in Cairo and the Marshal Tantawy mosque, respectively.

Several reporters were also not allowed to cover the Cairo International Film Festival, in addition to the trial Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie. During the trial of former parliamentarian Hamdy El-Fakharany, security personnel warned reporters against using cameras to photograph the trial proceedings.

Reporters’ requests to cover the unveiling of the Gabal El Zayt wind farmwere ignored by the Red Sea governor, which the report stresses is indicative of officials’ lack of transparency with the media.

Other incidents listed in the report include but are not limited to verbal and physical harassment of various reporters and journalists, the detainment of investigative reporter Hossam Bahgat and a decision from AlMasry AlYoum’s editor-in-chief to let go of several staff writers to avoid “clashing with any parties in the coming period”.

ECPPS’ report also comes just days after journalist and researcher Ismail Al-Iskandarani was arrested at the Hurghada airport upon his return from a seminar tour in the United States and Europe.

In a September interview with CNN, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi asserted that Egypt’s freedom of expression is at an all-time high and that media personalities and journalists cannot be barred from expressing their opinions.

The Egyptian constitution, passed in 2014, guarantees the freedom of the press and prohibits the censorship, confiscation, suspension, or shutting down of Egyptian newspapers and media outlets. However, it also states that, “By way of exception, they may be subject to limited censorship in times of war or general mobilization.”

(Source / 06.12.2015)