Will Turkey oust Kurdish deputies from parliament?

Sibel Yigitalp (L), a parliamentarian from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, and Abdullah Akengin, a former local mayor, hold a sit-in protest against the curfew in Sur district, in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, Turkey, Dec. 18, 2015

A female deputy of the Kurdish-dominated Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Tugba Hezer, is a heated topic of discussion in Turkey these days. She paid a controversial condolence visit to the family of Abdulbaki Somer, the suicide bomber who struck Ankara on Feb. 17 and killed 29 people, most of them military officers. Readers outside Turkey may find this strange, for what is normally debated at length is the attack itself and the organization and reasons behind it.

Senior government officials, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, have been lashing out at Hezer for days, triggering efforts to strip HDP lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity.

The media and the main opposition People’s Republican Party have reacted in a similar hard-line fashion. Echoing Erdogan’s statements, pro-government newspapers trumpeted in almost identical headlines Feb. 25 that Hezer was “not a lawmaker but a terrorist,” that “the nation has lost patience” and that action should be taken against the HDP. The pro-government press was not alone. Even columnist Ahmet Hakan, one of the most popular names in the mainstream media who seemed quite sympathetic to the HDP prior to the elections last June, joined the chorus, going as far as to sarcastically call on HDP deputies to become suicide bombers themselves.

Ankara had first blamed the bombing on the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units in an apparent bid to legitimize intervention against the Kurdish region in Syria. Soon, however, the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK) — a shadowy group that some say is a hard-line splinter of the armed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and others see as a PKK front — claimed the attack. The government nevertheless took the opportunity to attack the HDP, which it has been trying to equate with the PKK ever since the elections. The first opportunity came when the HDP refused to sign a joint parliamentary declaration condemning the bombing. The Justice and Development Party (AKP), however, had to find another pretext when the HDP said it would join the condemnation provided that four bomb attacks blamed on the Islamic State since June were also mentioned.

It was at that time when Hezer made her controversial visit, providing the government with a pretext to pin the Ankara massacre on the HDP. Erdogan urged the lifting of parliamentary immunities from HDP deputies on the grounds they supported terrorism. His call was quickly translated into action, and files concerning 11 deputies — most of them HDP members, including the party’s two co-chairs — were sent to the parliament as a first step. The parliament, currently busy with budget debates, is expected to take up the issue in the coming weeks.

Hezer, the woman in the eye of the storm, is the parliament’s youngest member. She was born in the eastern province of Van in 1989, five years after the PKK began its armed campaign. As a Kurdish child growing up in the midst of a war, she belongs to a generation that is often seen as more radical. Prominent Kurdish politician Serafettin Elci, who died in 2012 at the age of 74, famously said shortly before his death that his was the last generation of Kurds with which Ankara could have a dialogue to resolve the Kurdish problem.

Yet by running in the elections, Hezer has opted to strive for a political solution to the Kurdish problem, even though she comes from a family with a tragic past. Last week, journalist Gunay Aslan recounted Hezer’s family story, writing that her ancestors were among victims of the 1930 Zilan massacre in Van, one of the bloodiest crackdowns on Kurds in the history of the Turkish Republic. Hezer’s elder brother was one of the first Kurds in Zilan to join the PKK’s ranks, in which he lost his life, while her elder sister is still a PKK member after 20 years with the group, according to Aslan. The journalist wrote, “Tugba Hezer hails from Zilan, where 15,000 innocent people, including her ancestors, were brutally massacred. Hence, she stands right in the heart of the Kurdish problem of the Republican era and addresses us from there. One has to see her from where she stands and try to understand her without judging, blaming and insulting her.”

Interestingly, Hezer and TAK bomber Somer were born in the same year in the same province. Despite the baggage of the Zilan massacre and her siblings in the PKK, Hezer chose to enter the parliament with the HDP, which struggles for a democratic settlement to the Kurdish problem. Somer, on the other hand, believed in an armed solution and joined TAK. Somer represents a Kurdish segment that validates Elci’s argument, while Hezer represents another that debunks it. And that’s where the tangle lies: The AKP has come to lump together Kurds advocating democratic politics with those who favor violence, just as its predecessors did in the 1990s.

The year Hezer was born, seven Kurds became parliament members on the ticket of the Social Democratic People’s Party (SHP). They were soon expelled from the party for attending a pan-Kurdish conference in Paris, which eventually led them to create the People’s Labor Party (HEP), the predecessor of the HDP. From the day of its creation, the HEP was equated with the PKK, even though PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan denied any “organic links” between the two and faced pressure to push it out of the political arena.

The records from HEP’s congress in September 1992 show that what HEP members advocated at the time is almost exactly the same thing HDP deputies say today: basically, that Ankara should seek to reconcile with the PKK, end the armed conflict and find a political solution. The headlines in the press the following day in 1992 were also familiar, accusing the HEP of being a PKK front. And the attitude of the political leadership was no different from how the incumbents reacted after the Ankara bombing. Then Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel, for instance, urged the judiciary to act, and responding to a call for the PKK to be legalized, said, “Whoever backs the PKK is actually advocating the bloodshed.” Not surprisingly, the HEP was outlawed in July 1993.

The HEP’s closure marked an escalation in the so-called “low-intensity war” in the southeast, claiming tens of thousands of lives in the 1990s. Kurdish deputies were expelled from the parliament and some, including the iconic Leyla Zana, landed in jail with lengthy sentences. Still, the Kurdish parties that succeeded the HEP grew stronger by the day. After the initial parliamentary breakthrough with the SHP, the HEP had come to hold 21 parliamentary seats, while the HDP clinched 80 on June 7, 2015.

So the question now is: Will Turkey’s political establishment choose to draw a line between the two currents represented by Hezer and Somer or lump them together and try to oust the Kurdish political movement from parliament once again? And if the HDP is sidelined, will history repeat itself with the war escalating anew, dragging on for years and claiming thousands of more lives? Can the AKP pressure curb the steady, 26-year rise of the Kurdish political movement? If Ankara does bring back the 1990s, this will cost many more lives, while the HDP will continue to strengthen.

(Source / 03.03.2016)

Israeli forces seal East Jerusalem village after shooting

JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — Israeli forces sealed the village of al-Issawiya in occupied East Jerusalem on Thursday evening, shortly after gunshots were reportedly fired at Israeli police officers, locals said.Muhammad Abu al-Hummus, a spokesperson for a local popular committee, told Ma’an that following the reported shooting, which did not result in any injuries, large numbers of Israeli forces stormed the village, deploying across its streets and climbing onto rooftops.Abu al-Hummus said Israeli forces sealed the main entrances, preventing the entry and exit of vehicles and causing heavy traffic.Clashes broke out in several parts of the village, with Israeli forces firing stun grenades, tear gas canisters, and rubber-coated steel bullets “indiscriminately,” Abu al-Hummus said.An Israeli police spokesperson could not be reached for comment.Abu al-Hummus said Israeli forces had stormed the village earlier on Thursday morning, accompanied by officials from Jerusalem’s municipality and the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority. He said they photographed land threatened with confiscation.Al-Issawiya is one of a number of Palestinian neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem threatened by Israeli home demolitions and land confiscations, in what activists say reflects the Israeli government’s plans to create a Jewish demographic majority in the occupied city.Last month, on Feb. 17, the Israeli authorities leveled five acres of land in the outskirts of Issawiya, demolishing a number of agricultural structures in the process. A week later, Israeli forces issued nine home demolition orders to residents of the village.

(Source / 03.03.2016)

Emotional moments during first meeting with Al-Qeeq

During his 93-day hunger-strike, he was denied visit of most of his family members

Days of Palestine, Jerusalem -It was very emotional moment when Palestinian journalist, who was on hunger strike for 93 days, met his family inside Israeli hospital on Wednesday evening.

Mohamed Al-Qeeq went on hunger strike in protest against his administrative detention by the Israeli occupation. He ended his strike on Friday evening in the wake of reaching an agreement with the Israeli occupation to release him on May 21.

Attendants described the moment, when Al-Qeeq met his children, wife and father for the first time since his protest ended, as “very emotional.”

“All praise be to Allah for my children’s safety,” he said. “I extend my thanks to the Palestinians, who stood firmly with me and encouraged me to continue until I won.”

Head of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Committee Amjad abu-Asab, who was there during the first meeting, said: “This was the first time that Mohamed had seen them for some time, and he missed them all. His father, who himself is a former prisoner, spoke to him as if he was a victorious leader.”

Abu-Asab said that the Israeli occupation authorities did not issue visit permits for all of Al-Qeeq’s close relatives. He pointed out that the permission for his children, wife and father was only given after a long wait.

(Source / 03.03.2016)

Etzion Detainees Announce Open-ended Hunger Strike

At least 46 Palestinian detainees being held at Etzion incarceration facility will begin an open hunger strike on Thursday, in demand of better living conditions, according to a lawyer for the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society

Hongerstaking

Jacqueline Fararjeh said that the detainees are protesting the quality and quantity of food served to them, in addition to filthy living conditions, inadequate medical treatment and lack of regular access to showers.

Fararjeh said some prisoners had not bathed in 15 days, Ma’an News Agency reports.

While Fararjeh explained that Etzion jail is supposed to house Palestinians awaiting charges and trials, at least 11 Palestinians being held at the prison have been put under administrative detention, meaning they should be transferred from the facility, but have not, due to the overcrowding at other prisons.

The lawyer added that Etzion jail falls under Isreali military jurisdiction, not the central Israeli Prison Service, and is considered one of the worst detention centers at which Palestinian prisoners are held.

Late last month, a lawyer with the Palestinian Authority’s Prisoners’ Affairs Committee, Hussien al-Sheikh, said Etzion was “flooded” from heavy rainfall.

The flooding, al-Sheikh said, ruined detainees’ clothing and blankets, as mold took root in the dampened materials. He added that due to the poor conditions, flu and skin infection had started to spread among the prisoners, who remained untreated.

In addition to deteriorating living conditions in the jail, al-Sheikh documented cases of Israeli authorities insulting, beating and torturing prisoners during interrogations.

Rights groups have long criticized Israel for mistreatment of Palestinians in Israeli jails, as well as the illegality of their imprisonment.

Nearly 7,000 Palestinians are currently held in Israeli jails, many of whom face torture, denial of family visitation, and medical negligence.

(Source / 03.03.2016)

Syrian Army reaches Al-Raqqa border after regaining offensive initiative

The Syrian Arab Army’s 555th Brigade of the 4th Mechanized Division is back on the offensive in northeast Hama after a brief hiatus due to the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham’s (ISIS) violent attack on the government’s only supply route to the Aleppo Governorate last week. On Thursday afternoon, the Syrian Arab Army’s 555th Brigade – backed by Liwaa Al-Quds (Jerusalem Brigade), the National Defense Forces (NDF), and Kataebat Al-Ba’ath (Al-Ba’ath Battalions) – imposed full control over Point 4, Point 5, Khirbat Al-Bayda, and several small hilltops en route to the Zakiyah Crossroad that is located just west of the Al-Raqqa Governorate border with Hama. In addition to recapturing those aforementioned sites, the Syrian Armed Forces are engaged in a fierce battle with the ISIS terrorists entrenched at Zakiyah village, which is strategically located located along the Salamiyah-Raqqa Road.

The Syrian Armed Forces have regained all of the hills they abandoned during ISIS’ abrupt offensive in the Khanasser Plains last week; however, they are now two weeks behind the original schedule for this offensive. The main objective for the Syrian Arab Army’s offensive along the Salamiyah-Raqqa Road is to retake the imperative Tabaqa Military Airport that was captured by ISIS in August of 2014; this base is located approximately 40 km away from the provincial capital of the Al-Raqqa Governorate.

(Source / 03.03.2016)

Israeli navy opens fire at fishing boats in Gaza waters

GAZA, (PIC)– The Israeli occupation navy on Wednesday evening opened machinegun fire at Palestinian fishing boats off the coast of Gaza City. According to eyewitnesses, Israeli gunboats randomly opened fire at fishermen and their boats and forced them to return ashore. Israel had imposed a limit of three nautical miles for fishing in waters off the Gaza shore until August 2014 when it agreed under a ceasefire agreement, which ended a 50-day Israeli war on Gaza, to expand the fishing zone off Gaza’s coast as far as to six nautical miles and later up to 12 miles. However, the Israeli navy still opens fire on fishing boats sailing within three and six nautical miles.

(Source / 03.03.2016)

After elections, Iran’s parliament split three ways

Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli attends a press conference to announce the start of the elections across Iran, Feb. 26. 2016

Due to changing allegiances and loose alliances, there has been some confusion as to how to label the parliamentary elections. Reformists have been in a celebratory mood since the Feb. 26 elections. Conservative media, on the other hand, have tallied votes in a manner that shows them having an edge.

According to Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, the country’s next parliament can be divided into three factions: Reformists, moderates and conservatives (Principlists). By comparison, Rahmani Fazli said the outgoing parliament can mostly be divided among two conservative groups. Although he did not say this, many observers believe the current parliament is dominated by traditional conservatives and hard-liners, who are often referred to as “Principlists” in most Iranian media. Rahmani Fazli added that the runoff elections for the remaining 69 seats will be to the advantage of one side.

Rahmani Fazli said that conservatives had more time to organize and that Reformists, with many of them disqualified, had little name recognition and had to rely on party lists. Many observers believe the ability of Reformists to sweep Tehran’s parliament was due to former President Mohammad Khatami’s video message asking Iranians to vote for the Reformist list. During a television interview, Ali Motahari, a traditional conservative who ran on the Reformist list, said that banning Khatami from state media has been ineffective and everyone saw how influential he was.

Rahmanim Fazli also said that many of the polls conducted turned out to be wrong. He said that even polls conducted by the Interior Ministry failed to take many factors into account. He believes that social media and social messaging services played a large part in shaping public opinion.

When asked why Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, who led the conservative list for Tehran, failed to make it into parliament when early results showed him to be in seventh place, Rahmani Fazli said that it simply had to do with the location of ballot boxes and in what order they were counted. Haddad-Adel’s loss has been a blow to many hard-liners. He did not make the cut, ranking 31st while only 30 seats are allotted for Tehran. He has been in parliament since 2000. When asked by reporters if he would contest the outcome, Haddad-Adel said he had “still not made a decision to protest the election results for parliament.”

Rahmani Fazli said that the Interior Ministry is currently in talks with the Guardian Council to introduce electronic voting stations for the runoff elections. He said this would eliminate human errors and lower the costs for carrying out the balloting. In Tehran, for instance, voters had to write out the names of 30 candidates for parliament and 16 names for the Assembly of Experts by hand.

As has been reported, women were able to more than double their numbers in this parliament to at least 22. More significantly, many of the women belong to the Reformist list. After the elections, a video interview of Parvaneh Salahshouri, one of the Reformist candidates to win in Tehran, surfaced in English in which she reportedly questioned the mandatory hijab laws.

After those comments went viral on social media, Salahshouri spoke to the Iranian Students’ News Agency to clarify her “strong displeasure” at how the original report was presented. Salahshouri said that the only distinction she made was that some women might prefer to wear the black chador while others would prefer a headscarf and long coat. Salahshouri’s immediate correction and decision to walk back her original reported comments perhaps indicates that the Reformists in the next parliament will have an uphill battle if they intend to question the country’s social and cultural policies.

(Source / 03.03.2016)

Hamas rejects French initiative to revive failed negotiations

The Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas rejected on Wednesday the French initiative that calls for a resumption of peace talks between Palestinians and the Israeli occupation.

In a press statement, Hamas stated that the French initiative was an attempt to revive the failed path of negotiations, adding that it harms the Palestinian people and their national interests.

Hamas said that the initiative bids to stop the ongoing Jerusalem intifada and cancel the Palestinian rights in Jerusalem and the right of return.

The French initiative includes the following five elements: a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, mutual land swap, the designation of Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and a Palestinian state, a time schedule for ending the Israeli occupation, and an international peace conference.

(Source /03.03.2016)

Syrian Coalition Welcomes Arab States’ Designation of Hezbollah as a Terrorist Group

Member of the Syrian Coalition’s political committee Hadi al-Bahra welcomed the Arab states’ designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

Bahra said that the Syrian people are looking forward to the anti-terror coalition’s expanding of its operations in Syria to include all terrorist groups, including the foreign militias fighting on the side of the Assad regime. Bahra added that these Iranian-backed groups were sent to Syria to aid Assad and expand Iran’s influence, thus further fomenting sectarianism and extremist ideologies.

“It is unacceptable that the international community lists ISIS as a terrorist group while ignoring other groups whose terrorist practices outweigh any other organization fighting in Syria,” Bahra stressed.

“Hezbollah’s terrorist practices and its intervention in Syria on the side of the Assad regime have further destabilized the region and fueled the sectarian strife. It is a key partner for the Assad regime in the killing of more than 300,000 civilians in Syria.”

Bahra commended the resolve shown by the Arab Gulf countries with regard to labeling Hezbollah a terrorist group, especially Saudi Arabia who has taken the lead to counter Iran’s sectarian and subversive project in the region.

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 03.03.2016)

Israeli court sentences boy to 18 months in jails

Israeli Central Court sentenced on Wednesday Palestinian boy to 18 months inside notorious Israeli jails.

Al-Ja’bari is a preparatory school students and he will lose this year and the coming school year due to spending his sentence inside the Israeli jails

Days of Palestine, Jerusalem -Israeli Central Court sentenced on Wednesday Palestinian boy to 18 months inside notorious Israeli jails.

The Palestinian boy Jihad al-Ja’bari, 14, from Jerusalem was arrested last month from his home during a comprehensive arrest campaign.

Al-Ja’bari is a preparatory school students and he will lose this year and the coming school year due to spending his sentence inside the Israeli jails.

Palestinian lawyer Mohamed Mahmoud, from the Palestinian NGO Addameer for Human Rights, said that the Israeli court also ruled that the Palestinian boy had to pay NIS5,000 ($1,400) in compensation for a settler, who claimed the boy stoned his car.

(Source / 03.03.2016)