Hezbollah pays heavy cost to secure Europe from ISIS terrorists

A group of Hezbollah fighters take position in Sujoud village in south Lebanon September 13, 2008. Hezbollah reproduced the operation attack on an Israeli occupation position made by Hadi Nasrallah, a Hezbollah fighter and the eldest son of the group's leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, to commemorate his death during the operation in September 13, 1997. REUTERS/ Ali Hashisho (LEBANON)

Hezbollah has proved to be a key player in the Syrian conflict and, later, in the counteroffensive against the Islamic State (ISIS).

The Lebanese Shia militia-come-political party has been fighting against ISIS in Syria and even in Iraq. Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters into Syria. Sources close to the party say between 7,000 and 10,000 members of its militants operate there.

Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, considers ISIS to be a major security threat and a Sunni extremist terror group.

“This danger does not recognize Shiites, Sunnis, Muslims, Christians or Druze or Yazidis or Arabs or Kurds. This monster is growing and getting bigger,” Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah stated in an interview with the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar in 2014.

Nasrallah also linked the threat posed by Islamic State to the spread of Wahhabism, a puritanical school of Islam followed in Saudi Arabia that demands obedience to the ruler but which has been widely blamed for fuelling Sunni radicalism.

“(ISIS) does not have borders. There is a real danger and a real fear among many states and authorities, because one of the advantages of this organisation is its capacity to recruit among followers of al Qaeda-Wahhabi thought,” he said.

Because of Hezbollah’s position against the ISIS, the U.S. and of the European Union have changed their attitude towards the group; while they had previously categorized the Shi’ite political movement within the black list of terroristic organizations.

According to the U.S. National Intelligence’s annual report in 2015, namely the “Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Communities”, both Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah have been cancelled by the list of the possible terroristic menaces for Washington D.C. To the international community, this has been an exceptional event since, throughout years, both these two actors have been considered by many Western countries and organizations as potential menaces to the international and regional security.

What Hezbollah does in Syria, also secures Europe’s security against extremist ISIS Jihadists returning to the Western nations.

One should remember that ISIS is not al-Qaeda. In its early period, ISIS was a local jihadist movement focused on grabbing territory in Iraq and Syria. At that time ISIS’s main enemy was not the US, France, Britain, or Israel. Now, that is changing, as the battle-hardened and ruthless IS jihadists return to the West with their EU and US passports.

The Associated Press reported in March that ISIS has trained at least 400 fighters to target Europe in deadly waves of attacks, deploying interlocking terror cells like the ones that struck Brussels and Paris with orders to choose the time, place and method for maximum carnage.

Rob Wainwright, director of the EU-wide law enforcement agency, predicted further attacks by ISIS following the massacres in Paris that killed 130 people in November 2015.

“Europe is currently facing its biggest terror threat in more than a decade,” he told Germany’s Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper.

Europol estimates that there are between 3,000 and 5,000 Europeans who have travelled to terrorist training camps abroad, including those run by Isis in its territories in Iraq and Syria, and returned home.

In this context, Hezbollah has become a significant obstacle to the ISIS jihadists.

Every extremist jihadist linked to ISIS who have been killed by Hezbollah, might become a potential bomb against targets in Europe in the future. In this way, Hezbollah has paid a heavy toll and costs.

But if Europeans appreciate the actions of Hezbollah or continue to insist to call it a terrorist group?

(Source / 11.07.2016)

Israel simply has no right to exist

The Guardian, on Wednesday 3 January 2001

By: Faisal Bodi

Several years ago, I suggested in my students’ union newspaper that Israel shouldn’t exist. I also said the sympathy evoked by the Holocaust was a very handy cover for Israeli atrocities. Overnight I became public enemy number one. I was a Muslim fundamentalist, a Jew-hater, somebody who trivialised the memory of the most abominable act in history. My denouncers followed me, photographed me, and even put telephone calls through to my family telling them to expect a call from the grim reaper.

Thankfully, my notoriety in Jewish circles has since waned to the extent that recently I gave an inter-faith lecture sponsored by the Leo Baeck College, even though my views have remained the same. Israel has no right to exist. I know it’s a hugely unfashionable thing to say and one which, given the current parlous state of the peace process, some will also find irresponsible. But it’s a fact that I have always considered central to any genuine peace formula.

Certainly there is no moral case for the existence of Israel. Israel stands as the realisation of a biblical statement. Its raison d’être was famously delineated by former prime minister Golda Meir. “This country exists as the accomplishment of a promise made by God Himself. It would be absurd to call its legitimacy into account.”

That biblical promise is Israel’s only claim to legitimacy. But whatever God meant when he promised Abraham that “unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the Euphrates,” it is doubtful that he intended it to be used as an excuse to take by force and chicanery a land lawfully inhabited and owned by others.

It does no good to anyone to brush this fact, uncomfortable as it might be, under the table. But that has been the failing with Oslo. When it signed the agreement, the PLO made the cardinal error of assuming that you could bury the hatchet by rewriting history. It accepted as a starting point that Israel had a right to exist. The trouble with this was that it also meant, by extension, an acceptance that the way Israel came into being was legitimate. As the latest troubles have shown, ordinary Palestinians are not prepared to follow their leaders in this feat of intellectual amnesia.

Israel’s other potential claim to legitimacy, international recognition, is just as dubious. The two pacts which sealed Palestine’s future were both concluded by Britain. First we signed the Sykes-Picot agreement with France, pledging to divvy up Ottoman spoils in the Levant. A year later, in 1917, the Balfour Declaration promised a national home for the Jewish people. Under international law the declaration was null and void since Palestine did not belong to Britain – under the pact of the League of Nations it belonged to Turkey.

By the time the UN accepted a resolution on the partition of Palestine in 1947, Jews constituted 32% of the population and owned 5.6% of the land. By 1949, largely as a result of paramilitary organisations such as the Haganah, Irgun and Stern gang, Israel controlled 80% of Palestine and 770,000 non-Jews had been expelled from their country.

This then is the potted history of the iniquities surrounding its own birth that Israel must acknowledge in order for peace to have a chance. After years of war, peace comes from forgiving, not forgetting; people never forget but they have an extraordinary capacity to forgive. Just look at South Africa, which showed the world that a cathartic truth must precede reconciliation.

Far from being a force for liberation and safety after decades of suffering, the idea that Israel is some kind of religious birthright has only imprisoned Jews in a never-ending cycle of conflict. The “promise” breeds an arrogance which institutionalises the inferiority of other peoples and generates atrocities against them with alarming regularity. It allows soldiers to defy their consciences and blast unarmed schoolchildren. It gives rise to legislation seeking to prevent the acquisition of territory by non-Jews.

More crucially, the promise limits Israel’s capacity to seek models of coexistence based on equality and the respect of human rights. A state based on so exclusivist a claim to legitimacy cannot but conceive of separation as a solution. But separation is not the same as lasting peace; it only pulls apart warring parties. It does not heal old wounds, let alone redress historical wrongs.

However, take away the biblical right and suddenly mutual coexistence, even a one-state solution, doesn’t seem that far-fetched. What name that coexistence will take is less important than the fact that peoples have forgiven and that some measure of justice has been restored. Jews will continue to live in the Holy Land – as per the promise – as equals alongside its other rightful inhabitants.

If that kind of self-reproach is forthcoming, Israel can expect the Palestinians to be forgiving and magnanimous in return. The alternative is perpetual war.

(Source / 11.07.2016)

Detainee Sara Al-Alaou has been Forcibly-Disappeared by Syrian Authorities in Adra Central Prison

Sara Al-Alaou was forced to confess that she practiced sexual jihad

Sara Al-Alaou

Enforced-disappearance is still a systematic policy that the Syrian authorities enforce in a widespread manner. According to the monthly report published by SNHR, there are more than 1000 new arbitrary arrest cases every month, many of those detainees have been forcibly-disappeared (according to the international law, enforced-disappearance occurs when a person is imprisoned by state authorities followed by a refusal to acknowledge the person’s fate or whereabouts after a period of time has passed since his arrest. In our methodology, we estimate this period of time to be 40 days.)

Between the beginning of 2014 and June 2016, five women detainees from Adra central prison have been forcibly-disappeared by the Syrian authorities as their fates is still unknown to their family as well as to us.
We have issued a number of statements on the practices of enforced-disappearance that women detainees suffer from. There is an alarming fear that those detainees and tens of thousands of forcibly-disappeared persons (no less than 58,000 civilians are forcibly-disappeared according to SNHR detainee archive) will face sentences that were secretly issued by the military field-court and will be executed by the Syrian regime. Usually, these sentences are death.

Sara Khaled Al-Alaou, from Al-Bokamal city in Deir Ez-Zour governorate, born in 1994, is a student at the medical institute in Damascus University. On Monday 10 June 2013, she was arrested from the campus of Damascus University by security forces and was transferred to a security branch in Damascus city. We couldn’t find out anything regarding her fate. Also, the Syrian authorities haven’t revealed any information about her to her family as she has been forcibly-disappeared.

View full Report

(Source / 11.07.2016)

Report: 4.81 million Palestinians live in West Bank, Gaza

RAMALLAH, (PIC)– On the Eve of the International Population Day marked on July 11, the estimated population of Palestine at mid-2016 is about 4.81 million, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) reported Sunday.  According to the PCBS, the total population of Palestine at mid-2016 was about 4.81 million; 2.45 million males and 2.36 million females.  The estimated population of West Bank was 2.93 million, of which 1.49 million males and 1.44 million females.  The estimated population of Gaza Strip totaled 1.88 million, of which 956 thousand males and 925 thousand females.  The percentage of the urban population at mid-2016 was 73.9%, while the percentages of population in rural areas and camps were 16.6% and 9.5% respectively. PCBS also kept record of the population density of Palestine, which is generally high. In the Gaza Strip the rate is estimated at 5,154 persons/km2, compared to a lower population density in the West Bank, with 519 persons/km2 at mid-2016. Population projections also revealed that crude birth rate in Palestine is expected to drop from 30.9 births per 1000 of the population in 2016 to 29.0 births per 1000 in 2020.  On the other hand, the crude death rate is expected to decline from 3.5 deaths per 1000 of the population in 2016 to 3.4 deaths per 1000 in 2020 in Palestine. Data revealed a decline in the average of the size of households in the West Bank from 6.1 persons in 1997 to 4.9 in 2015, while it declined in Gaza Strip from 6.9 persons to 5.7 for the same period. The size of female-headed households was relatively small, with an average size of 2.9 persons compared to 5.7 persons for male-headed households. The results of labor force survey revealed that the labor force participation rate in the first quarter of 2016 is 45.8% of the total labor force (Persons aged 15 years and above) of which 45.5% in the West Bank and 46.4% in Gaza Strip.  The results showed that more than one fourth of participants in the labor force were unemployed in the first quarter of 2016. Unemployment rate reached 42.8% among females compared to 22.3% among males.

(Source / 11.07.2016)

IRGC: Hamas at forefront of anti-Israel resistance

TEHRAN, (PIC)– The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) denied on Monday claims that an IRGC adviser had accused Hamas of seeking negotiations with Israel, and praised Hamas for being at the forefront of the Palestinian people’s battle against the Israeli occupation. A statement by the IRGC Public Relations department rejected a recent report by a local news agency that had incorrectly quoted an IRGC adviser on Turkey-brokered negotiations between Hamas and Israel. “There is no doubt that the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas, which has dealt a heavy blow to the Zionist regime and inflicted humiliating defeats on it in the 22-day, 51-day and 8-day wars, is at the forefront of the Palestinian people’s anti-Zionist resistance and struggle,” the statement said. The Palestinian people’s experience in the battle against the Israeli regime demonstrates that “negotiation and compromise” would only encourage the “Zionist enemy” in its policy of continued occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people, it added. The statement also referred to armed resistance as the only strategy that will help Palestine achieve its goals, hailing Hamas and genuine Palestinian fighters for pursuing that strategy in recent years. It finally made it clear that the IRGC’s stances are announced in formal statements or by the IRGC commander, describing any other comments as personal and unofficial. Earlier, on Sunday, Hamas denounced the accusations attributed to Iranian official Khosrow Orouj, saying such counterfeit claims stand in sharp contrast to the group’s official line and guiding principles.

(Source / 11.07.2016)

Ahrar, Islamic Jihad slam Faisal’s claims against Palestinian resistance

GAZA, (PIC)– The Ahrar and Islamic Jihad Movements have strongly denounced Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud for accusing the Palestinian resistance of causing regional instability. The Movements condemned in separate statements Faisal’s remarks as “serving the Zionist agenda.”   “We condemn such remarks, and we assure that they are false accusations that only serve the Zionist agenda that seeks to eliminate the Palestinian cause and open all the Arab and Islamic capitals to the occupation state,” Islamic Jihad stated on Sunday. For its part, the Ahrar Movement said that “the Arab nation is demanded to provide all kinds of support for the Palestinian people and their resistance in the face of the Israeli cancer instead of criticizing them and giving the occupation pretexts to justify its crimes and massacres against them.” Shockingly, the Saudi Prince, who heads the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, said at a conference of the Iranian opposition held in Paris last Saturday that the Iranian regime supports Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine in order to stir up chaos in the region.

(Source / 11.07.2016)

BDS is a war Israel can’t win

Israel’s apologists would call the BDS campaign “immoral”, but the slander is laughably false.

A pro-Palestinian protester supporting the BDS campaign against Israel takes part in a demonstration in Cape Town, South Africa [Getty]

A pro-Palestinian protester supporting the BDS campaign against Israel takes part in a demonstration in Cape Town, South Africa

Israeli think-tank fellow Yossi Klein Halevi, writing recently in the Los Angeles Times would have American readers believe that the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement is “immoral” and threatens the peace of “the region’s only intact society”, while simultaneously boasting it can’t touch Israel’s health and global economic integration.

Yet his reasoning from “morals” rings hollow, and amounts to little more than the shilling of the professional apologist industry deployed on Israel’s behalf throughout the Western media, in the never-ending defence of the oppressive status quo in Palestine.

Halevi excoriates BDS, disingenuously, for making the Jewish state “the world’s most pressing problem” today, while extolling Israel’s freedoms and national righteousness. Of course, his complaint manages to engage in both self-pitying and craven boosterism at the same time – a kind of perverse humble-brag.

No, Mr Halevi, Israel is not the world’s greatest problem – rather, Israel is Palestine’s great, existential, enduring problem for a people who have lived their whole lives under the constant, brutal and de-humanising occupation of this enlightened state.

Palestine’s ordeal

Most of the world has been content to overlook Palestine’s ordeal – fatigued by 68 years of this conflict, and understandably inured to the epic suffering of its people, who understand that their tragic condition can only hold its attention briefly.

The endless failed international “peace” efforts, the vicissitudes of negotiations, and periodic spasms of violence have become like the weather – always there.

ALSO READ: A defeated sanctions vote in the US should worry Israel

This is precisely why the BDS movement has come to figure so prominently in Palestinian hopes – it side-steps the moribund “peace process” and banks on people-power as leverage against state and institutional power, applied against a responsive economy, such as Israel’s.

In the view of Palestinians, the state of Israel has never possessed legitimacy, not by international standards as it was founded on expulsion, land-theft and military occupation. The  BDS movement approaches this abstract issue by offering practicable action for citizens in the West…

In the view of Palestinians, the state of Israel has never possessed legitimacy, not by international standards, as it was founded on expulsion, land-theft and military occupation. The BDS movement approaches this abstract issue by offering practicable action for citizens in the West, while the official international community dithers away the decades, leaving Palestinians worse off than ever before.

That such leverage should be applied to Israel is entirely justified. After all, autocratic dictatorships with closed economies, lacking – in Halevi’s celebratory words – “an independent judiciary, a free press, universal healthcare and religious freedom” are not typically responsive targets to protest campaigns for justice, like that of the BDS movement.

Citizens in America don’t propose a boycott of North Korea – the US government does that for them, making it illegal to do business with that outlaw state: yes, the very same US government which blocks every effort by the United Nations and international courts to address the illegality of Israeli settlements, military occupation, collective punishment, economic enslavement, and wholesale destruction and murder of a captive population.

Advantages of civil society

If America’s obstruction of international law did not shield Israel from accountability, there would be no need for BDS.

Because Israel possesses all the institutions and advantages of civil society, then presumably its economy and citizens would therefore be responsive to an effective grassroots campaign of boycott and economic push-back.

A Palestinian man uses a slingshot to launch stones at Israeli troops during clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops along the border between Gaza strip and Israel

And if the campaign were to succeed, this same society might be expected to search its collective soul over its choices – and challenge its government’s policies.

This obvious point seems to have escaped Halevi, and others, who brand the movement as “immoral, because it perpetuates the lie that Israel is solely or even primarily to blame” for the Palestinian condition. Yet if we look around the room, who else is there?

Who attacks Palestinians’ cities with warplanes and tanks, walls them in, isolates them from contact with the world, cuts off their electricity, destroys their infrastructure, takes their water, and builds on their land after evicting them?

Who puts their teenagers in jail, takes their farms, cuts down their olive trees? It isn’t North Korea; it isn’t Putin’s Russia; it isn’t a rapacious China. Israel is the author of the present Palestinian condition, as it has been for decades, with its American backers, and there isn’t much point rehashing the failure of Camp David, or Oslo, or the Palestinian leadership since 1936, or 1948, or 1967.

ALSO READ: Game changer: 10 years of BDS

BDS leaves that debate to “think-tank” intellectuals like Halevi and others. Justice for the Palestinians will not be achieved through debating societies.

BDS offers to its supporters a non-violent, crowd-sourced, material response to the intransigence of Israel and her rampant, continuing illegality. Israel’s apologists would call the campaign “immoral”, but the slander is laughably false.

The logic of justice

BDS compels no one to join it; it constrains no one but by force of reason, and the logic of justice.

In Halevi’s topsy-turvy morality, it is the BDS movement that sins against moral law, in persuading people, institutions and governments to vote with their wallets and their consciences on the rights of Palestinians – rather than Israel, which claims legitimacy to the world, even as it continues to build new settlements on Palestinian land, and subjugates its people to military occupation, dispossession and violence, in violation of international law.

The propagandists of Israeli power understand all too well that BDS is the first clear-eyed, internationalist movement of people – not governments …

The propagandists of Israeli power understand all too well that BDS is the first clear-eyed, internationalist movement of people – not governments, not Western “quartets”, not the UN Security Council – to look at Palestine with fresh eyes and accurate information. It demands that until Israel ceases its occupation and oppression of millions of Palestinians, there cannot, and should not, be any “business as usual” with the regime.

If Israeli critics want to smear BDS as “bigoted” – a dog-whistle for “anti-Semitic” – because of its endorsement of the Palestinian Right of Return, let them address the historical truth: at least 800,000 Palestinians were expelled en masse, in the creation of the Israeli state – that number has since grown to 7,000,000 stateless refugees with another 4 million internally displaced within their own nation.

No effort has ever been made by official Israeli society to acknowledge and address this simple reality – that many elderly Palestinians living in UN camps, or Gaza City slums, or the West Bank, remember their homes in places such as Jaffa, Yibna, or the numerous towns and villages erased from the map.

It serves no use to deny this fact – perhaps a good starting point for intellectuals like Halevi would be in saying, yes, it is not too late to admit those rights and seek redress, together with the Palestinians.

Israeli soldiers block Palestinian BDS protesters from advancing near a southern West Bank village

BDS is brave enough to put the Right of Return up front, as a moral position; if Israel were ready to move forward, it could do the same. Who knows – perhaps good things could come from starting from the truth.

And what of Israel’s boast of its progressive freedoms? They do not withstand scrutiny in the slightest – religious freedom, for example, is under clear attack for every Muslim who wishes to worship at al-Aqsa, or travel to Jerusalem, or leave Gaza and return again, with access routinely denied.

Through Israeli military travel bans on Palestinians, families are separated, unable to worship or observe religious rituals together, or attend the mosque of their choice.

ALSO READ: I support the Israeli boycott – but which one?

Likewise, any progressive Reform Jew or Jewish American visiting will tell you that Orthodox Judaism does not welcome them, either – Israel’s Rabbinate monopolises official control over the very legitimacy of being Jewish, and denies marriage rights to thousands of couples, even going so far as to jail couples marrying illegally, or rabbis conducting such ceremonies.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews walk at the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem

Orthodox cultural control

Under Orthodox cultural control in Jerusalem and elsewhere, women are subordinated literally to a “back of the bus” status, and segregated without access to full social freedom and the right to work.

As for an independent judiciary, Palestinians never see it, instead enduring the injustices of military courts and the state security apparatus leaving thousands of them including children as permanent political detainees denied the most fundamental rights, while its civil courts refuse jurisdiction over Palestinian complaints.

And Israel’s “free press” leaves much to be desired. Halevi appears to be ignorant of the targeting of Palestinian journalists in recent years for arrest and prosecution in military courts under “incitement” laws; or the Israeli Defence Forces’ censoring of social media in the Occupied Territories.

We are all free to argue for justice as we see it, and BDS has had over a decade of mounting success …

The absurd equivocation of  Halevi and his colleagues in the “Love Israel” industry hits a shrill note, asking American readers to accept that the BDS movement “is itself a crime”.

But free and open debate of the true status of Israeli occupation in Palestine, and the organising efforts to convince states, businesses and people to stop investing in Israel’s bloody enterprise, is hardly criminal. In America, it is known as “the marketplace of ideas”.

We are all free to argue for justice as we see it, and BDS has had more than a decade of mounting success because its arguments convince reasonable people of the truth – no one is buying any more the tired, old brand of “Israel, the Enlightened Democracy”.

BDS is the brave and steady labour of people of conscience to move the stalled, bogus “peace process” forward by applying economic pressure, plain and simple.

The old narrative of a blameless Israel, fighting off Palestinian “terrorists”, is a hard sell, and BDS will continue to build on its successes because Israel’s defenders can no longer suppress the truth, or sweep it under some wishful fantasy of a benevolent, progressive Israel that doesn’t exist, and never has.

(Source / 11.07.2016)

Is Iraq’s Kirkuk on verge of becoming independent region?

Iraqi Shiite Turkmen fighters take part in an intensive security deployment in the town of Taza, south of the northern oil city of Kirkuk, June 19, 2014

Baghdad — The status of Kirkuk province, which is disputed by Arabs, Turkmens and Kurds, returned to the forefront after the Iraqi presidency announced a proposal June 18 to make Kirkuk an independent region. The plan has been met with mixed reactions.

The proposal stipulates the establishment of Kirkuk as an independent region, Iraqi Kurdistan, within its current administrative borders and power distributed among its main nationalist components. A Kurd would hold executive power, and the president would be a Turkmen and the speaker of parliament an Arab.

The conflict in the oil-rich Kirkuk province would appear to be one of identity more than power or influence. Turkmens view it as a Turkmen area and want it to remain so. On June 18, Iraqi presidency spokesman Khaled Shwani said that Turkmen members of Kirkuk’s provincial council support the proposal for the regionalization of Kirkuk. A majority of the council must approve the measure for it to take effect. Specifics of the proposal must await its approval by parliament.

On June 26, the Turkmen People’s Party and the Turkmen Front rejected turning Kirkuk into an independent region, but the Turkmeneli party and the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF) backed it. In a statement to Almaalomah news agency on June 12, ITF member Qassem Hamza said, “The project of a Kirkuk region was submitted by the Turkmen bloc at the provincial council in 2006. This petition served as the starting point of our project. Establishing Kirkuk as an independent region is the best solution for ending the Turkmens’ suffering and claiming their rights. We strongly oppose any monopoly on the decision by the regional government whether Iraqi or Kurdish.”

Meanwhile, the Kurds argue that Kirkuk is part of Kurdistan that was sectioned off by force by the former regime. While some Kurds want to reincorporate Kirkuk into the Kurdistan Region, there are others who support the new proposal.

Abdul-Qader Mohammad, a member of the Kurdish Alliance parliamentary bloc in Baghdad, told Al-Monitor, “Kirkuk is a province in Kurdistan and should be integrated into the Kurdistan Region using tools provided for in Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution. Since Arab parties have been hindering the implementation of this article, turning Kirkuk province into an independent region might be an acceptable compromise.”

Mohammad added, “Turning Kirkuk into an independent region should start with normalization, which means restoring the situation to the way it was before the Arabization campaigns launched by former President Saddam Hussein’s regime in an attempt to erase Kirkuk’s Kurdish identity.” In his eyes there is a “need to restore to Kirkuk its displaced Kurdish population and treat Arabs brought in by Saddam Hussein as expatriates since they’re not native to Kirkuk.”

He said, “Whoever opposes the idea of an independent Kirkuk region must immediately accept the implementation of Article 140 of the constitution without any delay or procrastination and set aside the excuse that the article was rendered obsolete.”

Kirkuk’s Arabs are divided on the issue and have not announced any positions or demands.

According to Article 140, and its invocation of Article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law, normalization in disputed territories, including Kirkuk, must go through three phases: Members of the diaspora must be allowed to return and people not native to the area relocated and compensated if necessary to accommodate the returnees. After conducting a census, a referendum is to be held on whether to integrate Kirkuk into Iraqi Kurdistan or maintain its current territorial status as an Iraqi province. Article 140 also states that normalization in disputed territories should be accomplished by the end of 2007. Mohammad told Al-Monitor that since the normalization deadline has passed, some parties argue that the article has been rendered obsolete, while others claim constitutional clauses cannot be overstepped before implementation.

Salim al-Muslimawi of the National Iraqi Alliance (NIA), a member of the Iraqi parliament’s regions committee, told Al-Monitor, “The constitution specifies the requirements for turning a province into a region, but disputed territories like Kirkuk are subject to a special constitutional clause. Therefore, these territories should not undergo the phases of legal regionalization.”

In accordance with paragraph 2 of Article 117 and Articles 118-121 of the constitution, a law was adopted on Feb. 11, 2008, establishing special procedures for establishing regions within provinces. As per this law, the provincial council must submit a petition to the federal government in Baghdad, which then refers the petition to the electoral commission to conduct a referendum on regionalization.

“As NIA, we oppose turning Kirkuk into an independent region given the current security situation, the Islamic State’s [IS] presence in many areas of Kirkuk, in addition to other subjects of dispute in Kirkuk,” said Muslimawi. “We believe that the province’s future must be discussed on a national level in order to reach a solution that gains everybody’s approval.”

He added, “We hope that political disagreements concerning Kirkuk are postponed until after the war with IS. Then we can discuss the future and means of application of Article 140 or other fair solutions.”

Any agreement on Kirkuk’s future seems unlikely in the near future amid the existing divisions and given its significant oil resources. The issue appears to require a historic settlement with compromises by all the parties to guarantee Kirkuk’s legal status, by referendum on integrating it into Kurdistan, regionalization or preserving its current status as a province with administrative affiliations to Baghdad. Armed conflict might become an option if disagreement over Kirkuk’s future intensifies.

(Source / 11.07.2016)

Gaza: shortage of sanitation infrastructure raises health and environmental concerns

In recent years, the longstanding shortage of adequate sanitation infrastructure in the Gaza Strip has resulted in the discharge of around 90 million litres of untreated or partially treated sewage into the sea every day, posing serious health and environmental hazards. Development of water and sanitation infrastructure has been severely impacted by the import restrictions imposed by Israel in its nine-year blockade of the Gaza Strip. At present, as many as 23 WASH items such as pumps, drilling equipment and disinfectant chemicals are on the Israeli “dual use” list, meaning that entry of such items to Gaza is severely restricted.

This situation is compounded whenever there is a reduction in the already limited electricity supply, which further impacts the quality of the sewage being released into the sea. Reductions in the electricity supply occurred extensively during April and May 2016 when the Gaza Power Plant (GPP) was shut down or operating minimally due to a shortage of fuel needed to run the plant, triggering up to 20 hours of blackout a day.[i]

The capacity of the Energy Authority in Gaza to purchase fuel to run the plant has been undermined since the beginning of 2016 following a change in the arrangement with the Ramallah-based Ministry of Finance to provide the GPP with a full exemption on fuel taxes. The scope of this tax exemption has been gradually reduced since January, significantly increasing the cost of fuel.

Gaza Strip: Seawater Pollution, June 2016

Gaza Strip: Seawater Pollution, June 2016

Seawater contamination and flooding risk

The contamination of seawater poses a serious health risk to those using beaches as recreational sites, particularly during the summer, and to those consuming seafood obtained from the areas most affected. A recent joint assessment by the Environment Quality Authority, the Civil Defence and the Ministry of Health in Gaza indicated that 52 per cent of the Gaza seashore is severely polluted and unsuitable for swimming, including nearly 90 per cent of the shore in Gaza City.

The precarious nature of existing facilities and power shortages also generates a constant threat of sewage flooding in areas adjacent to reservoirs and pumping stations. This threat materialized on 4 May 2016, when one of the retention walls of a sewage lagoon in Gaza City’s treatment plant collapsed following a prolonged power cut, releasing 15,000 cubic meters of raw sewage into a nearby farming area. Some 67 dunums of land planted with fruit trees were damaged as a result, with losses estimated by the Ministry of Agriculture at nearly US$150,000.

In another instance, on 13 November 2013, one of the main wastewater pumping stations in Gaza City (which handled 60 per cent of the city’s sewage) failed due to a lack of both electricity and fuel to operate backup generators. Over 35,000 cubic meters of raw sewage were discharged over a large area in the neighbourhood of Az-Zeitoun, affecting some 3,000 people.

Polluted beach in Gaza city, June 2016. Photo by OCHA

Polluted beach in Gaza city, June 2016

Current and planned wastewater infrastructure

The Gaza Strip currently relies on four wastewater treatment plants that are working beyond their capacity and/or were constructed as temporary installations. The enormous capacity gaps, which are constantly increasing alongside population growth, are expected to be filled by three new treatment plants (in northern Gaza, Gaza City and Khan Yunis). The completion of these plants has been delayed for several years due to a combination of restrictions, including delays in construction permits and the entry of materials, plus shortages in energy capacity.

As a result of the severe electricity shortages, wastewater service providers (including the plants) rely heavily on back-up generators. However, this coping mechanism is constantly challenged by a lack of fuel, overuse, and impediments to the procurement of additional generators and spare parts classified as dual-use items. Part of the fuel needed to run generators is supplied via a multi-donor-funded emergency program coordinated by OCHA.

The effective treatment of wastewater will not only prevent seawater pollution but will also allow for the re-use of treated water for irrigation. This would contribute significantly to the preservation of the groundwater aquifer, which has been depleted to over-extraction, including by the agricultural sector.

(Source / 11.07.2016)

U.S. to Send More Troops to Iraq Ahead of Mosul Offensive

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter

Stepping up its military campaign against ISIS, the United States will be sending hundreds more troops to assist Iraqi forces in a highly anticipated push on the city of Mosul, the ISIS’ largest stronghold, later this year.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter made the announcement on Monday during a visit to Baghdad, where he met U.S. commanders, as well as Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi.

Most of the 560 additional troops will work out of Qayara air base, which Iraqi forces recaptured from Islamic State militants and plan to use as a staging ground for an offensive to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city.

Government forces said on Saturday they had recovered the air base, about 60 km (40 miles) from the northern city, with air support from the U.S.-led military coalition.

“With these additional U.S. forces I’m describing today, we’ll bring unique capability to the campaign and provide critical support to the Iraqi forces at a key moment in the fight,” Carter told a gathering of U.S. troops in Baghdad.

The new troops were “ready to come” and it would be a matter of “days and weeks, not months,” he said. However, there is still debate in Washington about the timing of a move on Mosul.

Some U.S. and allied military and intelligence officials warn that aside from its elite counterterrorism force, the Iraqi military is not ready to take on ISIS militants in Mosul without significant assistance from the Kurdish Peshmerga and Shi’ite militias.

Moreover, Baghdad and Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region, do not appear to have agreed on a plan for Mosul, and any significant participation by Kurdish or Shi’ite forces in a Mosul campaign, one U.S. official said, “would create a whole new set of problems that the Abadi government is incapable of managing, or even mitigating.”

(Source / 11.07.2016)