Israeli forces demolish 4 Bedouin homes, leaving 22 homeless

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) – Israeli forces demolished four corrugated iron Bedouin homes in the occupied West Bank district of Ramallah on Monday, leaving 22 people homeless, locals said.The four homes were located in the Ein Ayub area between the villages of Ras Karkar and Deir Ammar, northwest of Ramallah city.Locals said Israeli military vehicles stormed the area from a bypass road near the homes leading to illegal Israeli settlements.In the next half-hour, Israeli bulldozers then tore down the makeshift homes of corrugated iron, wood. and canvas.Locals added that Israeli forces did not give the families enough time to evacuate their belongings before they destroyed the dwellings.It was not clear whether the demolition was carried out with or without prior notice.Under Israeli law, Palestinians are required to obtain building permits before they can build in land classified as Area C, which under the Oslo Accords falls under full Israeli control.However, the Israeli authorities refuse the vast majority of permit requests. Because of the difficulties gaining permission, Palestinians frequently build without authorization, at the risk of having the structures demolished.In December, the EU missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah demanded that all Area C demolitions be halted, but Israel has historically ignored EU requests to halt violations against Palestinians, as well as demands to stop settlement expansion.According to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, more than 48,480 Palestinian homes and structures have been demolished by Israel since 1967.Meanwhile, The UN Officer for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recorded the demolition of 501 Palestinian-owned structures in 2015, which displaced 659 people.

(Source / 01.02.2016)

Thousands attend military funeral of PA officer behind West Bank shooting

NABLUS (Ma’an) — Thousands of Palestinian on Monday took part in the military funeral procession of Palestinian Authority police officer Amjad Sukkari, who was shot dead the day before when he shot and wounded three Israeli soldiers west of Ramallah.Mourners marched from Rafidia hospital to Shuhada Square in the northern West Bank city of Nablus, chanting national slogans applauding Palestinian “martyrs.” They reportedly waved Palestinian flags as well as photos and posters of Sukkari.Sukkari’s body was then taken to his home village of Jammaain south of Nablus, where he was buried in the village cemetery following funeral prayers.Nablus Governor Akram Rajoub was present at the funeral along with officials from the PA and PLO. Representatives of Palestinian factions delivered speeches at the cemetery during the burial.The PA has not officially commented on Sukkari’s actions, although Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials have hailed his attack as a “rejection” of the PA’s ongoing security coordination with Israel.Sukkari, a PA staff sergeant in Nablus, was shot dead after he shot and wounded three Israeli soldiers at an Israeli military checkpoint near the illegal Israeli settlement of Beit El outside Ramallah.Witnesses told Ma’an that Sukkari opened fire on the soldiers when his car was stopped at the checkpoint.Of the three injured, two were in critical condition, while one was mildly injured, Israeli emergency services said.

(Source / 01.02.2016)

Israeli Soldiers Kidnap Eight Palestinians In Hebron, Two In Bethlehem

Israeli soldiers invaded, earlier Sunday, the southern West Bank district of Hebron, searched homes and kidnapped eight Palestinians. The soldiers also invaded Bethlehem city and kidnapped two others.

Hebon soldaten nacht

Media sources in Hebron said the soldiers invaded the al-‘Arroub refugee camp, north of Hebron, searched many homes and kidnapped two Palestinians, identified as Baha’ Jihad Al-Hamouz, 17, and Mohammad Ahmad Abu Sil, 20.

The soldiers also kidnapped a sports journalist identified as Mahmoud Fathi Qawasma, in addition to Salah Issa Abdul-Mohtasib, Abdul-Hafith Adnan al-Mohtasib, and Dia Eddin Hosniyya, 17, from their homes in Hebron city.

In addition, the soldiers kidnapped Mohammad Ibrahim Halayqa, 23, and Ismael Maher Halayqa, 21, from Shiokh town, as they were heading for work.

In related news, the soldiers invaded Tareq Bin Ziad area, south of Hebron city, and fired gas bombs, causing dozens of residents, especially schoolchildren, to suffer the effects of tear gas inhalation.

In Bethlehem, several military vehicles invaded Saff Street, violently searched homes and kidnapped a Palestinian, identified as Mohye Mohammad Suman, 18.

Another Palestinian, identified as Mohammad Taha Abu Latifa, 22, was kidnapped from his home in the al-Ja’ba village, west of Bethlehem, after the soldiers invaded it, and searched homes.

The soldiers also installed two roadblocks on the Ramallah-Nablus road, north of Ramallah, and near the main entrance of Nabi Saleh village, before stopping and searching dozens of cars.

It is worth mentioning that the Israeli soldiers have kidnapped more than 44 Palestinians, in different parts of the occupied West Bank, in the past two days.

(Source / 01.02.2016)

ROJAVA UPDATE 180: TOP US ENVOY VISITS KOBANE AS KURDISH DELEGATION TURNED AWAY FROM PARTICIPATION IN GENEVA PEACE TALKS

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

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

SYRIA AND IRAQ NEWS

On Saturday morning, Islamic State (IS) units attempted to send in a suicide vehicle bomb against YPG fighters protecting the Tishreen Dam in the south-west of Kobane Canton.

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View of the Tishreen Dam

Spotting the vehicle, a YPG team was dispatched to intercept it, destroying the vehicle and killing 3 x IS fighters and wounding a fourth.

Also on Saturday, IS once again attacked in the Ain Iss area in the southern part of the Canton near the village of Abdul-Razaq. The YPG led a search operation and found a small weapons cache of rifles, machine guns and mines as well killing 3 x IS Jihadists and capturing 2 more.

The YPG General Command has also issued a statement warning the Turkish Armed Forces to stay out of Rojava after they crossed the border on Thursday and Friday last week near the village of Sermisax, 13 kilometers to the west of the city Derik.

The Turks fired at local Kurds who gathered near the border to protest the incursion, but fortunately there were no casualties.

The Coalition is reported to have bombed the IS-held town of Shaddadi on Sunday, north of Raqqah, hitting several IS checkpoints and a weapons storage centre. 14 x IS Jihadists guarding the checkpoints were reported killed according to local sources.

US Central Command (Centcom) reports 5 airstrikes in Syria on Saturday, 2 near Hasakah hitting IS tactical units, destroying an IS structure and 2 x IS fighting positions and other strikes near Raqqah, Ayn Issa and Mar’a, destroying a crane and hitting 2 tactical units. The same day, 18 strikes were made in Iraq.

In Aleppo city, both the Al Nusra Front (ANF) and the Islamist Opposition group Ahrar Al-Sham (AAS) attacked the Kurdish district of Sheikh Maqsoud on Saturday with mortars. In an immediate response, the YPG attacked a position on the Jandol Road, from where the attack originated, and destroyed 3 vehicles and a communications centre.

6 fighters from ANF and AAS were killed in the operation and another 8 wounded and taken prisoner.

Also in Aleppo, in retaliation for a barrel-bomb attack by the Assad regime on Sheikh Maqsoud (scroll down – see Rojava Update 179 below), the YPG attacked an Assad security checkpoint with mortars. 4 pro-Assad fighters were killed and 7 injured.

syria-and-iraq-news

Obama’s US Envoy on IS Meets Kobane Administration

Meanwhile, while the Kurds appear to have, for moment at least, been excluded from the Syria “Peace Talks” in Geneva, a high-level delegation from the US-led International Coalition made a 2 day visit to northern Syria at the weekend.

The delegation, which included British and French representatives plus most interestingly, President Obama’s Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, Brett McGurk, met with Kobane Canton Adminstration officials in Kobane City on Saturday and then with senior officers of the Syrian Democratic Force to discuss the campaign against the Islamic State.

McGurk’s visit, the first by a top US diplomat to Rojava, appears to be a deliberate attempt to assuage Kurdish anger over their exclusion from the talks in Geneva.

Despite not having a formal invitation, a Kurdish team, led by PYD co-chairman Saleh Muslim, travelled to Switzerland last week and based themselves in Lausanne, ready to step forward to Geneva if called.

According to US sources, the Kurds were discreetly asked to leave Switzerland on Saturday after Turkey said it would not participate in the talks if the Kurds remained. US Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken apparently called Saleh Muslim to discuss “Washington’s view on the Kurdish issue and the peace talks” and assurances have been made that the Kurds will be involved “at a later date”.

Returning to Syria, Saleh Muslim said the Kurds would not recognise an agreements made under Geneva 3 unless their had been Kurdish participation in making those agreements. You can read more, HERE:

Over in Iraq, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has expressed concern about the preservation of the sites of mass graves on and around Mount Sinjar, where 25 locations have been identified, 19 of them confirmed.

Already, many of the graves have been disturbed before experts can evaluate them and catalogue the remains of victims executed by the Islamic State as they rampaged across northern Iraq. You can read more at HRW.

40 kilometres east of Mosul, IS launched a mortar attack on a Peshmerga security centre in the Khazir district on Sunday evening, killing 8 Kurdish fighters and wounding another 6.

In Mosul city itself, IS are reported to executed on Sunday 4 Kurdish civilians from the Shabak clan for “spying for the Peshmerga” and on Friday another 20 of its own Jihadists for “abandoning their posts in western Mosul without permission”. The Jihadists were beheaded, according to local reports.

DEVASTATING ISLAMIC STATE ATTACK NEAR SHIA SHRINE IN DAMASCUS, WHILE ANOTHER 16 DIE OF STARVATION IN MADAYA:

As well as rejecting the Kurds, the “Peace Talks” got off to a shaky start on Friday, with only the Syrian Government delegation, led by Syria’s UN envoy, Bashar Jaafari, having arrived.

Jaafari started off well in typical “conciliatory” style by branding all Opposition representatives as “terrorists”, and the Opposition team, known as the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) did not even make a decision to attend at all until late Friday night.

Arriving in Geneva over the weekend, the HNC insisted that they would not negotiate with Assad’s representatives until women and children were released from government jails, air strikes on civilians ended and aid was allowed into besieged towns.

Meeting with the UN mediator Staffan de Mistura on Sunday, the Opposition were given some hope that the Assad regime will go some way to meeting those demands. Talks are expected to last for 6 months but not “face-to-face”.

Initially, “proximity talks” will take place with delegations in separate rooms and UN mediators moving between the parties to try and negotiate some steps forward. The BBC has a rather grim assessment of the likelihood of a “positive” outcome.

syria-and-iraq-news

Aftermath of Triple Explosion Near Sayyida Zeinab Shrine, Damascus

In a statement of some kind the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a huge bomb attack in southern Damascus early on Sunday morning near the Sayyida Zeinab shrine.

Sayyida Zeinab was the grand-daughter of Prophet Mohammed and the shrine is of major importance to Shia Islam with regular visitors from all over the Moslem world.

Hezbollah has gone out of its way to protect the shrine and even now in the height of the war, many pilgrims travel there from Iran.

Altogether, there were 3 explosions near the shrine, one from a car bomb and 2 from suicide belts. The car bomb was exploded at the bus station in the Koua Soudan area and after people came to help the injured, two suicide bombers blew themselves up nearby.

Many death toll figures have been widely quoted, though the latest from Syria’s Ministry of Interior is 50 dead and 110 injured.

According to sources inside Syria, President Assad has replaced the commander in charge of the Republican Guard, the country’s elite unit charged with protecting the leadership.

Out goes Badiaa Ali and in comes one of Assad’s cousins from his mother’s side, Brigadier General Talal Mahklouf. Human Rights Watch (HRW) identified Mahklouf as one of the officers responsible for the brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrations in Syria in 2011. The officer commanding the surrounded garrison in Deir Ez Zour has also got the sack.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has documented the deaths of 4,680 people in Syria in January 2016 – 1,345 of them civilians, including 295 children and 190 women. The other 3,335 deaths were roughly split between the pro and anti-Assad combatants on the two sides, including IS.

Interestingly, Free Syrian Army (FSA) founder, Colonel Riad Al-Asaad, has said in an interview that the FSA is holding prisoner a “large number” of Iranian, Hezbollah and pro-Assad Shia militia fighters, including officers and an Iranian Captain. Asaad assured the interviewer that these prisoners were being looked after well.

Meanwhile, fighting goes across Syria. In Latakia the Opposition, having lost territory, have moved to a more “hit and run” campaign, destroying a Syrian Army ammunition truck with a TOW missile, HERE:

In their usual “compassionate” manner, Assad’s or Russian planes bombed a tented refugee camp in northern Latakia on Saturday in an attempt to drive the pro-Opposition residents out of the province and into Turkey.

In Hama province, Opposition fighters have gained ground, taking over all of Al-Buwaydah and destroying 2 of Assad’s tanks and a BMP armoured vehicle.

In Idlib province an exchange of prisoners between the regime and Islamist Opposition groups at the 2 Alawite villages of Kafraya and Al-Fuah has taken place, the second stage of an agreement reached in January, along with humanitarian access to Madaya near Damascus. The regime released 27 prisoners, the Islamists 18.

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Syrian Red Crescent Aid Convoy Approaches Madaya on January 14th, 2016

However, Medicin Sans Frontieres (MSF) is reporting that another 16 people have died from malnutrition in Madaya since humanitarian aid agencies gained access in January after a worldwide outcry, bring the total that have starved to death there to 46.

According to their estimates there are 320 outstanding cases of malnutrition and 33 so severe that they require urgent medical treatment. The Syrian Red Crescent said that they were allowed access on Saturday but only to make assessments, not to deliver aid.

This moving report from Marianne Gasser of the International Red Cross on her visit to Madaya says it all:

“A cold rain was falling as the men carried the small bundle towards me. They were insisting I should take it. A crowd had gathered. The only light came from the phones we carried; there had not been electricity for months.

The men stopped and slowly, carefully unwrapped the blanket. At first, I could not make out what was inside. Then it suddenly dawned on me that it was an old man”.

You can read more (recommended reading) via the BBC.

In Deir Ez Zour heavy fighting is reported today, Monday, in the northern outskirts of the city, around Assad Base Brigade 137 and to the south-west, despite an estimated 200 airstrikes by Russian jets. Heavy casualties reported on both sides.

Also today, the Assad regime launched a new attempt to gain ground north of Aleppo city around Duwayra Al-Zeytoun and Bashkuy but latest reports suggest it is not going to plan, with Opposition fighters destroying Assad’s tanks, an armoured vehicle and a technical (pick-up with mounted heavy machine gun) and retaking villages they had lost earlier to both the regime and the Islamic State.

Q&A: Jailed Palestinian man to be ‘either free or dead’

Fayha Shalash, wife of hunger-striking journalist Mohammed al-Qiq, tells Al Jazeera about his deteriorating condition.

Fayha Shalash says her husband’s case is ‘an issue of dignity, and this is the story of every Palestinian’

Dura, occupied West Bank – Palestinian journalist Mohammed al-Qiq has been on hunger strike for more than two months to protest against his detention without charge or trial.

Qiq, a reporter for the Saudi-owned TV channel Almajd and a father of two, is one of660 Palestinians being held in administrative detention – the highest number since 2008, according to data released in December. Under international law, administrative detention is only permissible as a last resort and in cases of an immediate threat.

The Israeli Supreme Court heard a petition this week asking for Qiq’s release, but the court postponed making a decision, saying that it would continue to follow his health condition. Last July, Israel passed a law allowing the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike, which met strong opposition from the Israeli medical community. Al-Qiq was not force-fed, but he was given liquids intravenously without his consent until his lawyer intervened.

As Qiq’s condition at the HaEmek Medical Centre in Afula, Israel, continued to deteriorate, Al Jazeera spoke with his wife, Fayha Shalash, 28, a journalist, in his West Bank hometown of Dura, where friends and family gathered over the weekend in support.


INTERACTIVE: Palestine Remix


Al Jazeera: How did you find out Mohammed had started a hunger strike?

Fayha Shalash: He was arrested on November 21. Around 15 soldiers came to the house and confiscated phones and his laptop. After five days, we discovered that he was being kept at al-Jalame military detention and interrogation centre in the north of the West Bank. I knew from my work as a journalist that this is one of the worst. Later, we found out he had been psychologically and physically tortured.

He was interrogated for 25 days and was only allowed to see his lawyer on day 20.

On December 3, he was taken to a court to extend his detention. He was still not allowed to talk to a lawyer and told a judge he had started a hunger strike on November 25, while still under interrogation, to protest at the conditions of his detention. That’s how we found out.

Al Jazeera: What did you learn about his interrogation? 

Shalash: They kept him tied to a chair and blindfolded. He was cursed at, screamed at, spat at. They threatened to sexually assault him and stop him from having children.

He asked that we accept the outcome of his hunger strike, even his death. He said, ‘I either live free or I die in dignity.’

During his interrogation, he was accused of media incitement, and given two options – either he confessed, or he would spend seven years in administrative detention. But that’s against his ethics, and if he confessed to that, it would be a problem for the rest of his life for his work as a journalist …

When he refused to confess to the accusation [of media incitement], they started using the fact that he used to belong to Hamas. He was already arrested and charged for his political activity eight years ago.

Al Jazeera: Has he been arrested by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the past, as well as by Israel?

Shalash: He was arrested twice by the PA, each time for a month, and three times by Israel. The last was in 2008, when he was sentenced to 16 months for being the head of a student block at Birzeit University.

All three times, he was charged for supporting the students in what Israel deems illegal acts. He was given charges and served his time in prison. But this time, he feels this is an unlawful arrest. There are no charges against him, no real reason for his detention.

Al Jazeera: Have you been able to communicate with him or see him?

Shalash: The last time I saw him was in the military Jeep on the day of his arrest. We asked for permits to visit him through the Red Cross, but his father, brothers and myself were all rejected. I communicate with him through his lawyers.

Al Jazeera: Do you feel there’s enough support from the public, the PA and international institutions?

Shalash: In the last week, when his medical condition worsened, we got in touch with all sorts of leaders and organisations. We received a phone call from the prime minister’s office and [President Mahmoud Abbas] issued a statement about Mohammed’s condition. But we are demanding more pressure and action on their part. There isn’t any negotiation at the moment.

The issue of hunger strikes for Palestinians is a very important battle. It’s a real confrontation with the occupation. There are hundreds of administrative detainees, and at least 18 imprisoned journalists – the majority in administrative detention. There is a lot of public support for him, and it will only increase should anything happen to him.

His condition is very bad. He is doing the Irish hunger strike and refuses medical checks and supplements. The longest time anyone has survived such a strike is 67 days.

He asked that we accept the outcome of his hunger strike, even his death. He said, “I either live free or I die in dignity.”

Al Jazeera: Are you 100 percent behind that statement?

Shalash: I support him fully, and adopt his point of view. We don’t like hunger and we don’t like death, but it becomes an issue of dignity, and this is the story of every Palestinian. He signed a paper where he refuses any medical treatment, even if he loses consciousness. His decision is very clear: either free or dead, not in between.

He isn’t just fighting a personal battle. He sent a message to Palestinian journalists from prison, saying that freedom is not something given to you by your position or authority. It comes from your stance. His refusal of administrative detention – this is how he is taking a stance.

Despite the pressure, he made sure to send me a birthday gift – a hair straightener I asked for a year ago. He always supports me; he encouraged me to study for a master’s degree.

The Israeli occupation tries to remove this beautiful image of him as a human being. They try to show that we like to live this horrific life. But what Mohammed is doing is actually the greatest example that we love life and freedom, and that we’d like to live like everybody else.

(Source / 01.02.2016)

Data: 490 Palestinians arrested in January including 13 women

RAMALLAH, (PIC)– The Palestine Center for Prisoners Studies (PCPS) said that the Israeli occupation authority (IOA) had escalated its arrest campaigns against the Palestinian people over the past month in order to quell the popular intifada (uprising) that erupted four months ago. The PCPS recorded in its monthly report that 490 Palestinians were arrested in January in various Palestinian territories. The PCPS indicated in a report that among those arrested during the first month of this year, are 140 minors, some were arrested although they were injured, and 13 women and young girls, including the wives and mothers of prisoners, in addition to two MPs of the Legislative Council and a former minister. The IOA also detained 10 citizens from the Gaza Strip, including six fishermen, while they were fishing, and a 53-year-old citizen while accompanying his sick wife on their way to a Al-Maqased hospital in occupied Jerusalem. Also in January the captive journalist, Mohamed Al-Qeiq of Hebron, continued his open hunger strike which started on 24-11-2015 against being arrested administratively. His health has reached a life-threatening stage. The Israeli supreme court hinged the consideration of his case on the developments in his health status, which might pose a real danger to his life. Arrest of MPs Riad Al-Ashqar, media spokesman for the PCPS, explained that the number of kidnapped MPs in Israeli jails has risen to seven MPs in January, after the kidnapping of the MP Mohammed Mahmoud Abu Tir, 65, after breaking into his home in Kafr Aqab, searching it and sabotaging its contents before arresting him and taking him to an unknown destination. Abu Tir was a deportee from Jerusalem to Ramallah and had spent a total of more than 30 years in Israeli jails at several periods of detention. His last release from prison was in July last year after spending 25 months in detention. Furthermore, the MP Hatem Rabah Kufaisheh, 55, was arrested after raiding his house in Hebron, only one hour after his car was burnt by unknown assailants. His car was parked in front of his house. The MP was then held in administrative detention for six months.  Kufaisheh was a former prisoner who was held in Israeli jails for more than 12 years. He was released from his last arrest on 31.3.2015. He suffers from blood pressure and diabetes. The former Minister of Local Government, Issa Khairi Jabari, also from Hebron, was arrested and held under administrative detention for 4 months. He was a former prisoner and had spent several years in Israeli jails. Al-Ashqar pointed out that during the last month 140 minors under the age of eighteen were arrested as well as 13 women and young girls, including a 64 years old woman from the Gaza Strip. She was detained for hours on Beit Hanoun crossing, while she was returning to Gaza from occupied Jerusalem, then she was later released. The wife of prisoner Ahmed Mughrabi, who is sentenced to life imprisonment, Hanadi Musa Mughrabi, 37, was also arrested, in addition to the arrest of the mother of the Jerusalemite prisoner, Ameer Salloum, while she was waiting in the prison halls to visit her son. Among the women arrested also were Rabia Ourouj, 27, the wife of the prisoner Ismail Ourouj and his mother Feddah, 52. Administrative decisions Al-Ashqar pointed out that the IOA issued during the month of January 117 administrative detention orders in a continuation of this arbitrary policy. Among these administrative detention orders, 54 were passed against new prisoners, while 63 were renewals for prisoners held already under administrative detention, ranging from three to six months, he added. Hebron occupied the highest percentage in administrative detention orders, which reached 42, the majority of which were renewal decisions, including the decision orders issued for the MP Hatem Kufaisheh and the former minister Issa Jabari. Al-Ashqar went further to point out that the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) increased in the last month the use of its repressive policy against the prisoners, as well as unexplained transfers, and assaults against the prisoners. He said that the PCPS monitored 16 raids in prisons by special forces, mostly in the Nafha prison and the Negev prison. The Negev prison sections were stormed several times, and the IPS cut down the entry of clothes to the prisoners to once every 3 months, while in Nafha prison the IPS management isolated three brothers of Abu Ayash family.  It also transferred 13 prisoners from the Eshel prison to other prisons because of their protest at the offensive inspection policy agaisnt their families during visits, and it limited, at the same prison, the number of family members allowed to visit to 10 people per group of visitors instead of 30. The PCPS renewed its calls on the UN agencies to urgently intervene to stop the non-ending arbitrary arrests campaigns carried out by the IOA.

(Source / 01.02.2016)

Israeli settlements in Salfit destabilize demographic balance

SALFIT, (PIC)– Experts have raised alarm bells over the serious upshots of Israeli illegal settlement activity in the West Bank province of Salfit, where the demographic balance has remarkably destabilized.  According to official statistics, more than 100 thousand Israeli settlers are living in the settlements in Salfit compared to 90 thousand Palestinians. The statistics documented that there are 24 illegal Israeli settlements in the Salfit governorate compared to 18 Palestinian towns and villages. The Israeli settlers and occupation government also dominated and notified the confiscation of a total of 70% of the province lands in favor of settlements and the separation wall. Such illegal settlements extensively drain the rich natural resources and the groundwater of the province. The settlement building, which began early in Salfit in the mid seventies, has been dramatically affecting the lives of all citizens of the villages and towns of Salfit.

(Source / 01.02.2016)

UN Rights Chief: Starving Civilians Is Crime against Humanity, Potential War Crime

UN Human Rights High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that starvation of Syrian civilians is a potential war crime and a crime against humanity that should be prosecuted and not covered by any amnesty linked to ending the conflict.

Speaking in a news briefing in Geneva earlier today, the top UN human rights official said that “in the case of Syria, we are there to remind everyone that where there are allegations that reach the threshold of war crimes or crimes against humanity that amnesties are not permissible.”

Pointing to the what he said was the starvation of people in the town of Madaya, and the siege of 15 other towns and cities in Syria, Al Hussein said this was “not just a war crime but a crime against humanity if proven in court.”

“We estimate that tens of thousands are held in arbitrary detention and clearly they need to be released,” Al Hussein added.

Vice-president of the Syrian Coalition Hisham Marwa said last week that “the Assad regime’s siege and bombardment of civilians violate UN Security Council resolutions. Assad has been committing these crimes under military and political cover by Russia. Meanwhile, the Assad regime continues to deceive the international community and procrastinate with regard to the political process.”

“Assad seeks to thwart any possible political solution through besieging civilians amid the international community’s failure to enforce UN Security Council resolutions which call for lifting the siege and the delivery of aid to the besieged areas,” Marwa added.

(Source: Syrian Coalition + Agencies / 01.02.2016)

Israel Notifies to Demolish Residential Structures near Hebron

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HEBRON, February 1, 2016 (WAFA) – Israeli forces Monday notified Palestinians in Masafer Yatta, a Bedouin congregation to the south of Hebron, about their intent to demolish residential structures which shelter their families, according to local sources.

Rateb Jabour, coordinator of the Anti-Settlement Commission in Hebron, said an army force broke into Halawa and Tabban, two small villages in Masafer Yatta area, and took pictures of residential tents and structures, as well as notified the owners of their intent to demolish the said structures next week.

Located in Area C of the West Bank, under full Israeli administrative and military control, the area has been subject to repeated Israeli violations by settlers.

Israel rarely issues construction permits for Palestinians living in Area C, prompting them to embark on construction without the legal construction permits.

Operation Colomba, Nonviolent Peace Crops, has reported on multiple violations by the Israeli authorities in the area, including house demolitions, demolition of animal barns and other health facilities.

The congregation is surrounded by four settlements – deemed illegal under international law – namely, Ma’oun, Karmae’l, Yaqoub Dali, and Lifna. It has therefore been a frequent target of almost weekly attacks by Israeli Jewish settlers.

Nearby Israeli military checkpoints and bypass roads allocated to Israeli settlers have restricted local Palestinians’ access to their land, workplaces and market.

(Source / 01.02.2016)

Gaza’s tunnels: The future battlefield

tunnels

The recent death of seven Al-Qassam Brigades members after the collapse of a tunnel highlighted the new combat style created by Hamas in the Palestinian territories a decade ago, when the Israeli army was in the heart of Gaza before it withdrew.

Early digging

The tunnel war is considered one of the most important and dangerous military methods used by the resistance to confront the Israeli army. In addition to it being a new method that has made its way to the heart of the combat equation and dug itself an important position in the resistance’s military approach, the qualitative and strategic aspect that it represents and the human and moral effects it achieves have posed a great challenge and threat to the Israeli military machine, which is equipped with all of the fatal war tactics and security theories that are considered examples of gathering all means and measures of protection, pre-emption and predicting the opponent’s moves. This is proof of the magnitude of the crisis witnessed by the Israeli military institution after experiencing the Palestinian resistance’s development.

The danger of the tunnel method lies in the fact that it is far from the traditional combat measures and conditions and instead relies on surprising the opponent with a violent blow. This does not allow the opponent to flee or rescue itself, nor does it allow the opponent to fight back or retaliate.

This method relies on quiet work that involves digging a tunnel or several tunnels underground with primitive tools and means, and being determined to work without making any noise in accordance with pre-planned geographical plans. There is no appearance or indication of this above ground and this prevents the Israeli army from dealing with this matter and thwarting the Palestinian plans or attacks. This is because the Palestinians depend on the surprise factor which confuses the opponent with one or a series of immediate explosions that achieve their purpose and spread death and destruction in the targeted areas. It is during such attacks that the greatest losses are inflicted.

According to the Israeli intelligence agency’s information, the “diggers”, i.e. the Palestinians specialised in digging the tunnels, usually go underground after spending a long time before abstaining from water in order not to sweat, as sweat may cause the collapse of the tunnel while they work. They generally use a mechanical, not electrical, tool to dig the tunnels in order not to make noise.

The tool used for digging consists of a chain, similar to that of a bicycle that moves metal plates that dig into the soil. While using this tool, the men lie on their backs and use the levers on the tool to pedal the metal plates that do the digging. They dig using their legs, as leg muscles are the strongest muscles in the body, and therefore they are able to dig for long periods of time.

In order to ensure that tunnels do not collapse during and after digging, they usually use rectangle pieces of wood to prevent the dirt from shifting or sliding. This caused the army to describe these tunnels as “an oxygen tube for opposing activities” and left them confused about what to do.

The tunnel phenomenon seems to be the top problem for the Israeli army in Gaza. Although the army is aware of the tunnels being dug, they have only managed to find a few. This means that Hamas has been successful in digging these tunnels and that Israel’s inability to find them is not a coincidence, rather a result of long and accurate planning. These attacks consist of many stages and are carried out by dozens. This operation reflects a problem with the Israeli intelligence, because the tunnels were put high on the intelligence agency’s priority ladder when it was too late and therefore the intelligence is having difficulties in providing the army with good information.

A war in the dark

The development in the resistance’s surprise attack techniques which manifested in the tunnel war drove Roni Daniel, military correspondent for Israeli TV’s Channel 2, to say: “It seems that we have lost the war of wits with Hamas.” He even accused the Israeli army’s military analysts of being too slow and too late in searching for technological and field solutions suitable for the tunnel problem, despite the fact that the army leadership has been talking about the tunnels for a while, considering them a weapon that “violates the balance”. Although the Israeli army may lose control and its balance in Gaza, it still has not led to finding the right fit to confront the threat posed by the tunnels.

Military correspondent, Amos Harel, commented on the tunnel war by saying: “If there is something that is very clear in the long war that Israel is fighting against the Palestinians, it is the need to be cautious and disciplined when talking about the executed military successes, as there are no major or even decisive victories in this battle.”

In addition to this, the Israeli newspapers and media addressed the tunnel situation and Israel’s failure in the tunnel war in many of its headlines.

The Israeli army leadership deployed its troops to look for a military solution for the tunnels. This led Colonel Tzvika Fux, from the ground forces, to state that the real solution is technological. The ideal solution would be a drone that could fly over an area and take x-rays in order to discover the tunnels, but they may not be available in the near future.

Many military experts gave the army leadership advice, the most important of which is sending Israeli military experts to Vietnam to receive training on how to thwart tunnel attacks after they have been repeated. This is because the Vietnamese had a lot of experience in digging tunnels during their war against the US.

After extensive research and after hundreds of specialists gave their thoughts on ways to reach a form of technology able to locate and destroy tunnels, they reached a conclusion: We must admit that the army does not possess a magic solution for the tunnels. However they used another method to destroy the tunnels, which was the use of water hoses. The army believes that these hoses will locate tunnels and the water will flood the tunnels, thus causing them to collapse.

The magnitude and severity of the tunnel problem faced by the Israeli army increased during its most recent war on Gaza. The tunnels will definitely be part of the next war, but in addition to this, there have been very serious warnings issued to the security agencies that the resistance forces are planning new types of operations, including the construction of tunnels used for explosive operations, and other tunnels to smuggle those wanting to carry out operations under the Separation Wall on the Gazan border.

In order to combat these warnings, Israel made special preparations which included new intelligence technological devices, large tractors highly capable of locating tunnels and new means of underground digging.

The tunnels played the most critical role in exhausting the Israeli army and inflicting major human and military equipment losses by means of attacks that surprised the elite forces and caused them defeat and despair in the following neighbourhoods: Al-Tufah, Al-Shujaiyeh, the eastern part of Khan Yunis, Rafah and Beit Hanoun. The Israeli forces also suffered from behind enemy lines in operations expertly executed by the resistance forces via medium-sized tunnels that were directed at military targets in settlements and areas close to the Gaza Strip. These operations resulted in the death and injury of many Israeli soldiers.

Failed solutions

The Hamas fighters travel through Gaza’s tunnels wearing black uniforms and armed with machine guns, moving smoothly and agilely, as if they were in their homes. They are actually in a network of tunnels and passageways under the Gaza Strip. These tunnels were dug by them and built by them, and the fighters live in these tunnels relaxed and reassured, as if they were in their own homes. The ceilings in parts of the tunnels are high enough that the soldiers are able to move about without having to duck or lower their heads. Meanwhile, some of the floors are dry while others are muddy or made of cement. It seems difficult to specify how long each tunnel is, but they do separate into many different directions and once you enter the tunnels, you cannot hear the traffic or the planes that are flying over the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli army leadership does not hide its concern that Al-Qassam Brigades will use the tunnels extending across Gaza and across the border with Israel for a number of potential scenarios:

  1. To smuggle fighters behind the army’s lines and attack the back of the raiding forces.
  2. Use tunnels to facilitate the abduction of soldiers.
  3. Allow Al-Qassam fighters to use the tunnels to carry out operations in the heart of settlement clusters while military operations take place in Gaza.

It is true that the Israeli army destroyed many tunnels, however the strategic tunnels remain unaffected and are being used to their full logistic potential, in terms of water, food and weapon supplies. The tunnels are also equipped with a ventilation system and electrical lines, and therefore the tunnels are a strong point for the Hamas fighters which will become apparent if the army enters the heart of Gaza. This is because the tunnels extend along all the streets and alleyways, which gives Al-Qassam Brigades even more power and deepens Israel’s crisis, creating countless security problems for the army.

Prominent Israeli political commentator, Nahum Barnea, reported the testimonies of soldiers regarding the tunnel war, as Gaza’s soft soil taken over by the tanks’ tracks, excavators,and bulldozers is no longer dust, it has become a powder. The military bulldozers worked to reveal the trenches and tunnels that branched from the wells network. Paratroopers found dozens of combat sites linked to a number of tunnels.

Perhaps the expression “spider with many legs” is an expression that the Israeli army has used to describe the tunnels in Gaza after being surprised by their size and numbers. The army was forced to work dozens of continuous hours until they reached the large openings of the tunnels. The tunnels were similar to a tree with many branches, extending for many kilometres. Some were internal and others were attack tunnels extending towards Israel.

Ultimately, the most suitable closing phrase for this article perhaps lies in what former military historian and former head of the National Security Council, Shaul Shay, said: “Sooner or later, the tunnels will become the central problem faced by the Israeli army based on historical experience.” He cited the failure of the American forces in Vietnam to confront the challenge of the tunnels used by the Viet Cong soldiers in southern Vietnam.

(Source / 01.02.2016)