The Palestinian Ministry Of Detainees issued a press release revealing that Israel is currently holding captive 5200 Palestinians in 17 prisons, detention camps, and interrogation facilities.
It said that this year witnessed a sharp escalation in arrests as the soldiers kidnapped 2450 Palestinians, including 476 children and 49 women since the beginning of the year.
It said that the army kidnapped at least 600 Palestinian security and police officers, and that the number of Hamas affiliated detainees is 1,100, and 365 detainees who are members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), while the rest are members of different factions.
The Ministry stated that Israel is currently holding captive 13 democratically elected legislators, and that the Israeli military kidnapped a total of 60 legislators and ministers (46% of the members of the Palestinian Legislative Council). Among the detained legislators are Marwan Barghouthi, Ahmad Saadat and Hassan Yousef.
Furthermore, the illegitimate Israeli policy of Administrative Detention without charges remains a systematic Israeli strategy despite repeated and extended hunger strikes by Administrative Detainees held under those arbitrary orders under “secret files” that neither the detainees nor their lawyers have access to.
There are currently 150 Palestinians held under arbitrary Administrative Detention orders, while 23,000 Palestinians have been held under these orders since the year 2000.
Currently, detainee Akram Al-Faseesy, from Ithna town, near the southern West Bank city of Hebron, is ongoing with his hunger strike that started on September 29, 2013.
Palestinian detainees held under Administrative Detention orders started on October 10 a series of protests against their illegal detention, this includes returning meals, boycotting Israeli military courts, and a number of open-ended hungers strikes.
As for children and women currently held by Israel, the Ministry said that there are 250 children and 13 women who are still imprisoned, and that Israel soldiers kidnapped approximately 9500 children since the year 2000.
There are 520 Palestinian detainees who are serving a minimum of one life term; this includes detainee Abdullah Barghouthi who was sentenced to 67 life-terms and additional 250 years. He was taken prisoner on March 5, 2003.
The number of detainees who have been imprisoned since before the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994 is 78 detainees, 68 of them have been imprisoned since more than 20 years, and 24 have been imprisoned since more than 25 years.
In its report, the Ministry said that Israel is ongoing with its illegitimate policy of depriving the ailing detainees from the urgently needed and specialized medical care, especially since there are currently 1,400 sick detainees, including 25 suffering with different types of cancer.
Dozens of detainees have been shot and injured, suffering from various conditions including paralysis, and detainees who suffer from heart, kidneys and liver conditions, while others suffer from diabetes, eye diseases and conditions, Tuberculosis, in addition to other conditions.
The Ministry further stated that there are a number of detainees who are dying and are not receiving the needed extensive and specialized medical attention.
The oldest detainee held by Israel is Fuad Shobaky, 83 years of age, followed by Omar Akkawy, 64. The number of detainees who died in prison, either due to torture, or due to being shot by the soldiers during and after their arrest currently stands at 204.
The latest casualties among the detainees are Maisara Abu Hamdiyya, 63, who died on April 2nd 2013, and Arafat Jaradat, 20, who died on February 22, 2013.
Abu Hamdiyya suffered a fourth stage Carcinoma in his lung lymphatic, liver and spine, throat cancer extending to his vocal cords, and brain tumor.
Despite the seriousness of his condition, the Israeli Prison Administration did not grant Abu Hamdiyya the needed specialized and urgent medical treatment, until it was too late.
Detainee Arafat Jaradat, died at the Mejeddo Israeli prison, seven days after his arrest, he was a healthy young man from Sa’ir town in Hebron, and was tortured to death by Israeli interrogators.
The Ministry said that the detainees are suffering from abuse and various violations and attacks carried out against them, especially since Israel violated an agreement reached with the detainees in May of last year following an extended hunger strike.
Seventeen of the detainees who were released under the Shalit prisoner swap agreement have been rearrested and imprisoned; three of the released detainees are still not allowed back home, while dozens of detainees are still held in solitary confinement in violation of the swap agreement.
Other violations include denying the detainees the right to education, provocative searches, including strip search of the detainees and their visiting families, collective punishment, medical negligence, and denying the ailing detainees the right to healthy meals that include dietary restrictions.
- Jewish Terrorist State has killed on average 2 Palestinians A DAY for the last 10 years (uprootedpalestinians.wordpress.com)
Iran will not agree to ship out its stockpile of enriched uranium, one of its main negotiators said Sunday ahead of crunch talks with world powers on its nuclear program.
“We will negotiate about the volume, levels and the methods of enrichment but shipping out the (enriched) material is a red line for Iran,” deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi told the state broadcaster.
The remarks came on the eve of two-day talks in Geneva, the first meeting between Iranian negotiators and world powers since President Hassan Rohani, a reputed moderate, took office in August.
The red line adds to Tehran’s insistence on what it considers its right to operate a uranium enrichment program on its soil.
Iran currently has a stockpile of 6,774 kilograms of low-level uranium enriched, and nearly 186 kg of medium-enriched material with 20 percent purity, according to latest figures by the UN nuclear watchdog in September.
It also possesses some 187 kg of the 20 percent material converted to uranium oxide for use in fuel plates.
“The Iranian negotiating team will present a specific plan … which we hope will produce results in a logical time period,” Araqchi said.
Araqchi signaled flexibility on other aspects of Iran’s uranium enrichment.
“Of course we will negotiate regarding the form, amount, and various levels of (uranium) enrichment,” he said.
Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif is Iran’s top negotiator with the so-called P5+1 group of the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia plus Germany.
But Araqchi said he will lead the Iranian team in the talks with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and representatives from the P5+1 countries as Zarif will only attend the opening meeting.
He said Iran would “remove all of (the) rational concerns of the other side,” referring to suspicions in the West and Israel that Tehran is pursuing nuclear arms under the guise of a civilian energy program, a claim the Islamic state vehemently denies.
(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)
Following in the footsteps of Facebook, anything you post, like, comment or review on Google or tied-in services can in future be used in product endorsement ads.
It means that starting Nov. 11, when Google’s new terms of service go live, all content (video, brands or products) Google+ and YouTube users publicly endorse by clicking on the “+1” or “Like” button can appear in an ad with that person’s image.
Such “shared endorsements” ads will also appear on millions of other websites that are part of Google’s display advertising network.
Google+ users will have the ability to opt out by turn the setting to “off,” but at the same time it “doesn’t change whether your Profile name or photo may be used in other places such as Google Play.”
“For users under 18, their actions won’t appear in shared endorsements in ads and certain other contexts,” the announcement on Google’s website reads.
Another way to “opt out” is just stop “liking”, sharing and publicly checking-in.
Google’s move follows a similar change Facebook imposed in August. There it is called “sponsored stories.” It works almost exactly the same way – a recommendation made through the social network’s “like” button appears as advertising endorsement on a friend’s Facebook page.
While both companies say the service will be helpful for users, Google’s revised terms of service have again raised privacy concerns.
“It’s a huge privacy problem,” Reuters cited Marc Rotenberg, the director of online privacy group EPIC, as saying.
He has called on the US Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether the policy change violates a 2011 consent order that prohibits Google from retroactively changing users’ privacy settings.
The announcement also was harshly criticized on Google’s profile, with users expressing dismay and disappointment. Some users suggested they might pull down all their current pictures or change profile pictures.
A key group within the Syrian opposition National Coalition said Sunday it would not attend proposed peace talks in Geneva and would quit the Coalition if it participated.
“The Syrian National Council, which is the biggest bloc in the Coalition, has taken the firm decision… not to go to Geneva, under the present circumstances (on the ground),” Council president George Sabra, told AFP.
“This means that we will not stay in the Coalition if it goes” to the peace talks in Geneva, he added.
He invoked the ongoing suffering of Syrians on the ground and said his group would not negotiate before the fall of the government.
The international community, led by Russia and the United States, has been pushing for the Syrian government and rebels to attend a peace conference dubbed Geneva II to find a political solution to the conflict.
The proposed meeting has been delayed for months, but Washington and Moscow are now talking about a potential mid-November date for the talks.
The Syrian National Council has long said it will not negotiate until President Bashar al-Assad’s government is toppled.
But Sabra’s announcement, which comes after two days of meetings of the Council’s top leadership, could deal a major blow to the planned talks.
It comes a day before US Secretary of State John Kerry is due in London to meet Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, to discuss preparations for the Geneva II meeting.
Last month, the Coalition’s president Ahmed Jarba met with UN chief Ban Ki-Moon, who praised his “commitment to send a delegation to the Geneva Conference.”
Ban also urged Jarba “to reach out to other opposition groups and agree on a representative and united delegation,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
But the prospect of talks with Assad’s government continues to be deeply unpopular both among members of Jarba’s Coalition and rebel fighters on the ground in Syria.
Sabra fiercely criticized the international community, accusing it of failing to punish Assad after an August 21 sarin attack that reportedly killed hundreds of people in the outskirts of the capital Damascus.
Washington threatened to carry out military strikes in response to the attacks, which the United States and the Syrian opposition blamed on Assad, a charge the Syrian government vehemently denied..
But military action was averted by a US-Russian deal under which Syria is turning over its chemical arsenal for destruction.
“The international community has focused on the murder weapon, which is the chemical weapons, and left the murderer unpunished and forgotten the victims,” Sabra said.
“The regional and international context does not give the impression that Geneva II will offer anything to the Syrians,” he added.
“We will not participate in a conference that is intended to hide the failure of international politics.”
Moscow – A famous Russian traveler and photographer, Konstantin Zhuralev, was captured by Syrian armed opponents while traveling from Turkey to the Sahara by hitchhiking, some of his friends said today through social networks.
A note with a photo of Zhuralev’s passport posted on the internet by the Islamist group Liwa Al Tawhid, claims that he was a Russian spy who was involved in collecting information on the rebels for Russia’s and Syria’s secret services. The message also said footage of his interrogation would be posted soon.
One of his friends, Oleg Patsai, told Lenta.ru that Zhuravlev reached the war zone as part of the program “Alone with the desert,” and at this stage, he was supposed to spend 21 days in the eastern Sahara, but he has been untraceable since late September.
Diplomats from the Russian embassy in Damascus criticized Zhuralev and described him as irresponsible for embarking on such adventure during war time.
Born in 1981 in the Siberian city of Tomsk, Zhuralev is a well known programmer, photographer and blogger.
In 2008, he hitchhiked 18,000 km in three months across the Eurasian Federation, and four years later completed a world tour of 37 countries from all continents except Australia and Antarctica in 777 days.
Today, October 8, the Aleppo-Salamiyeh road will be opened to civilians and convoys carrying supplies and fuel, ending the weeks-long siege imposed by opposition militants on the city. According to sources on the ground, the move will usher in a new phase of military operations in the city and surrounding areas.
Aleppo – The city of Aleppo has breathed a sigh of relief. After weeks of the siege imposed by the militants, the Syrian army managed to reopen the road to the city of Salamiyeh, and from there, to Hama, Homs, Damascus, and the Syrian coast.
Starting today, the road will be opened officially to civilians and convoys carrying flour, food supplies, and fuel, according to a source in the governorate. Buses and supply convoys are traversing the road under military protection, led by units from the Engineer Corps to dismantle mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – which the militants often plant at night and detonate in the day, in order to slow down and then attack the convoys.
The Syrian army has regained control over the area extending from Syria’s economic capital to the southeast town of Khanasser, through the defense manufacturing facilities in Sfireh, allowing the army to secure a road more than 200-km long from Aleppo to Salamiyeh.
Official Syrian sources told Al-Akhbar, “This achievement was the result of cumulative gains from various military operations during the past weeks, and heralds a new phase in the city of Aleppo and its environs.” The sources likened what is happening in Aleppo to what the Syrian army had accomplished in east Ghouta between November 2012 and April 2013, culminating with the siege of opposition militants in the area, and the elimination of their immediate threat to the Syrian capital.
While the people of Aleppo are waiting for the reopening of the road to improve their daily lives, especially in terms of reducing the prices of goods and improving their availability in the markets, the Syrian army continues its efforts to secure the hills overlooking the Athraya-Khanasser and Khanasser-Aleppo roads. The army also tightened its grip on the villages of Rasm Okeiresh, Rasm al-Sheikh, Rasm al-Helou, Rasm Bakrou, al-Wawiyeh, Rasm al-Safa, Barzanieh, Jalagheem, Zarraa, and Kafar Akkad.
However, dozens of cars and buses heading from Aleppo to Hama, Homs, and Damascus along the international highway – which extends from Aleppo to the southwest – were forced to return to Aleppo after militants attacked the Souran army checkpoint north of Hama. The road was blocked for three hours, and buses were forced back to the town of Zarbeh, south of Aleppo.
The Syrian air force carried out a series of strikes against encampments belonging to radical Islamic groups in various areas of the Aleppo countryside, killing large numbers of militants from different nationalities, according to a military source. Air strikes and artillery shelling pounded areas in Ikarda, Barqoum, Tall Hadiyyeh, al-Zarieh, Azzan, Andan, Babis, Kafar Naha, Mennagh, Hraytan, Kaffin, Maarasta, and the vicinity of the Aleppo Central Prison.
In Afrin, northwest of Aleppo, thousands of local residents attended a funeral of seven members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPD), who were killed while staving off an attack by militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The mourners chanted slogans against Turkey and takfiri groups.
A YPD source told Al-Akhbar that the seven men were stationed on the Qastal Jendo-Azaz front, where attacks by takfiri groups are frequent. The source indicated that the residents of the villages and farms nearby dug trenches to defend against a possible large-scale attack by ISIS, after large numbers of fighters and vehicles equipped with medium to heavy machine guns were seen flocking to the flashpoints there.
After fighting between the YPD and ISIS militants resumed, dozens of Kurds from Afrin were kidnapped while traveling along the Aleppo-Afrin road, near the village of Deir Jmal.
Adham Sheikho, a lawyer from Afrin, shared with Al-Akhbar his account of the incident. He said, “Militants from the opposition forced dozens of passengers to leave their small buses and cars, and took them to an unknown location, for the sole reason that they came from Afrin.”
In the meantime, the tragedy of 63 women and children who were kidnapped from the towns of Nbel and Zahraa on their way to Damascus continues. A source in Nbel said that the kidnappers have moved the hostages to a farm they had seized in the village of Bawabieh, southwest of Aleppo.
In the Damascus countryside, the Syrian army launched a series of attacks against militant concentrations and weapons caches in Qaboun, Jobar, and other villages and towns across the countryside, according to SANA. The operations killed dozens of militants from Liwaa Omar al-Mukhtar and al-Baraa Brigades.
In Deir al-Zour, Syrian army forces bombarded militant outposts in al-Mraiyyeh. According to al-Mayadeen TV, an explosion took place under the National Hospital building in Deir al-Zour, while militants from al-Nusra Front were attempting to dig new tunnels underneath it.
Clashes between the Free Syrian Army and ISIS continued in al-Raqqa, meanwhile, killing and injuring scores on both sides.
The Battle of Wadi al-Deif
In the Idlib countryside, 20 armed brigades, most notably Ahrar al-Sham, announced the start of a battle to “liberate” military bases in Wadi al-Deif and al-Hamdieh in Maarrat Numan. The Wadi al-Deif base is located east of the strategic city of Maarrat Numan. It is the largest military complex in the area, containing large quantities of military hardware and ammunition. The opposition fighters previously besieged the complex for eight consecutive months before the Syrian army managed to end their siege nearly four months ago.
In Homs, opposition forces issued a statement announcing that indirect negotiations with the regime had failed. The negotiations focused on trying to get a number of people out of the neighborhoods besieged by the Syrian army in the city. The statement’s authors pledged to begin a new offensive in Homs.
- FSA on verge of collapse in Syria: Analyst (presstv.ir)
Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham said Tuesday that the way the US acts regarding Iran’s nuclear issue would determine the possibility of holding further talks between the two sides, according to IRNA.
Commenting on recent talks held between Iranian and US officials in New York last week, Afkham said the talks were “limited to Iran’s nuclear issue.”
“No talks have been held on Iran-US ties,” the spokeswoman stressed during her weekly press briefing.
She added Iran’s nuclear issue was the main topic of discussion between Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his US counterpart John Kerry.
Referring to the phone conversation between the presidents of Iran and US made at the end of President Hasan Rouhani’s visit to New York, Afkham said the conversations focused on “Iran’s interaction with the P5+1” as well as finding a solution to the nuclear issue.ˈ
Asked if it was possible that the next round of talks between Iran and Group 5+1 (five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) would be held at the level of heads of state, Afkham said “It is too soon to talk about that.”
“We are at the beginning of a long road which is full of ups and downs,” she stressed.
Referring to a report about President Rouhani’s possible visit to Saudi Arabia, Afkham said, “No official invitation has been received yet from the Saudi side through diplomatic channels in this connection.”
The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution outlining the details of taking under international control and ultimately destroying Syria’s chemical arsenal.
“Today’s historic resolution is the first hopeful news on Syria in a long time,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the council immediately after the vote.
The Syrian sides must engage constructively in the upcoming Geneva 2 conference, which would be a significant step towards the “creation of a democratic state that guarantees the human rights of all in Syria,” Moon said in his address to the Council.
“The regional actors have a responsibility to challenge those who will actively undermine the process and those who do not fully respect Syria’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity,” he added.
The target date for a new peace conference in Geneva was set for mid-November. However, the Syrian opposition should be represented at the Geneva peace talks in a single delegation, the Secretary-General said.
The adopted resolution calls for consequences if inspectors decide that Syria has failed to fulfill its obligations. The nature of the reaction, however, will depend on another resolution which would have to be passed in the event of non-compliance.
‘The resolution does not fall under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter and does not allow any automatic enforcement of coercive measures,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said after the Security Council vote.
The UN Security Council resolution on chemical weapons in Syria will have to be observed not only by the Syrian authorities, but also by the opposition, Lavrov stressed.
“The responsibility for the implementation of this resolution does not only lie on the government of Syria,” he said.
The chemical weapons resolution on Syria establishes a framework for overcoming the ongoing political crisis. According to Lavrov, the Syrian opposition is also obliged to work with international experts as required by the Security Council resolution.
“We hope that more and more scattered groups of the Syrian opposition will finally be able – as the Syrian government has already done for a long time – to declare its readiness to participate in an international conference without preconditions,” Lavrov said.
The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, however, stated in his speech that only the “Assad regime carries the burden of meeting the terms of this agreement,” telling the international community that inspections will begin by November.
“Syria cannot select or reject the inspectors. Syria must give those inspectors unfettered access to any and all sites and any and all people,” he said, adding that the weapons should be destroyed by mid-2014.
He also warned that “should the regime fail to act, there will be consequences.”
”This resolution makes clear that those responsible for this heinous act must be held accountable,” said Kerry.
French Minister for Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, has also put all the blame and responsibility on the Syrian government, saying it is “clear all the evidence points to the regime and no one of good faith can deny this.”
“France as others especially the United States of America took its responsibilities, and we consider that standing firm has paid off,” he said, suggesting that only the threat of imminent military action forced President Assad to give up his chemical weapons stockpiles.
The groundbreaking UNSC resolution not only recognizes that any use of chemical weapons is a threat to international peace and security, but also “upholds the principle of accountability for this proven use of chemical weapons” by the Syrian regime, said William Hague, UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
“[The resolution] imposes legally binding and enforceable obligations on the Syrian regime to comply with the OPCW decision,” Hague said. “This establishes an important international norm, which is essential in the wake of the Syrian regime appalling actions on the 21 August.”
Australian UN ambassador and the current president of the Security council Gary Quinlan noted that importantly, the resolution “reaffirms that those who perpetrated this mass atrocity crime against their own citizens must be held accountable for their actions.”
“Australia’s assessment is that the evidence available shows that it was the Syrian authority who were responsible for this crime and this incident has confirmed what Australia had said for a long time, that the Council should refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court,” Quinlan said.
Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari said the resolution holds all parties in Syria equally responsible for the elimination of chemical weapons, including rebel forces. However some member of the Security Council are trying to sabotage the effort, Jaafari stated after the adoption of the historical document.
“It is regrettable that some delegations have begun adopting a negative interpretation of the resolution in order to derail it from its lofty purposes,” Jaafari said.
He also pointed out that the United States, France,Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar must commit to the document and be held accountable if they continue to arm the rebels.
“You can’t bring terrorists from all over the world and send them into Syria in the name of jihad and then pretend that you are working for peace,” Jaafari said.
He reiterated that Damascus is “fully committed” to attending November’s Geneva 2 conference.
The Council’s vote came shortly after a consensus had been reached earlier on Friday by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in regards to the proposal.
The five veto-wielding members had agreed upon the text on Thursday before presenting the draft to the full 15-member body during overnight discussions. The draft resolution is fully in line with the Geneva framework on the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria, Sergey Lavrov told the press earlier on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s 68th session.
- UN votes to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons (thehindu.com)
KHARTOUM/WASHINGTON – Sudan’s foreign minister has called on the United Nations General Assembly to condemn the United States “denial of entry visa” to the Sudanese president Omer Al Bashir, as the foreign ministry in Khartoum summoned the American chargé d’affaires to protest the delay on the same day.
“It is with deep regret I inform you of the refusal by the authorities of the United States to give an entry visa to president Omer Al Bashir and his delegation”, said minister Ali Karti, in a speech on Friday before the Assembly general.
The Sudanese top diplomat described Washington’s position as “a very serious precedent in the history of the United Nations”, adding “it requires a firm position be taken on this matter” by all the UN membership.
He also called on the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to react against “this denial of legitimate right” and to protect the rights of the member states under the agreement signed with the host country.
U.S. State Department officials said recently that Bashir’s visa demand is “pending” stressing that there are different considerations to be taken into account on this regard.
“There are a lot of considerations going into this request, including the outstanding warrant against him (Al-Bashir)” further said Marie Harf, State Department deputy spokesperson on Friday 20 September.
Al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court which issued two arrest warrants against him for war crimes and genocide in Darfur.
Rights groups said they would legally seek his arrest if he arrives on American soil, and also the ICC urged the American administration to cooperate with the court and to arrest him.
SUDAN SUMMONS U.S. CHARGÉ D’AFFAIRES
In Khartoum, the foreign affairs ministry summoned the American chargé d’affaires on Friday to formally protest against delaying the issuance of the entry visa for president Bashir to participate in the meetings of the 68th session of the UNGA.
In a statement released on Friday, the foreign ministry said that Ambassador Joseph Stafford was summoned to officially protest the “U.S. administration’s procrastination” in issuing a visa to the Sudanese president.
Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem, deputy undersecretary of the foreign ministry told Stafford that the non-issuance of the visa “so far disrupted the vital national interests of the Sudan”.
Bashir had to take part in a meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council on the relations between Sudan and South Sudan, he also wanted to deliver a speech to the UNGA.
US President Barack Obama and Iran’s President Hasan Rouhani spoke by phone Friday as the latter was wrapping up his visit to New York.
Rouhani received the call from Obama on Friday as he was in a car heading to the John F. Kennedy International Airport to fly back to Tehran, IRNA reported.
The Iranian and US presidents underlined the need for a political will for expediting resolution of West’s standoff with Iran over the latter’s nuclear program.
President Rouhani and President Obama stressed the necessity for mutual cooperation on different regional issues.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his American counterpart John Kerry have been commissioned to follow up talks between the two countries.
“Just now, I spoke on the phone with President Rouhani of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The two of us discussed our ongoing efforts to reach an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program,” Obama announced.
“I’ve made clear that we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy in the context of Iran meeting its obligations. So the test will be meaningful, transparent and verifiable actions, which can also bring relief from the comprehensive international sanctions that are currently in place,” he added.
One thing about the ongoing crisis in Syria almost never mentioned in our media — even the alternative media — is the role of the nonviolent opposition to the Baathist regime. After the uprising began in the spring of 2011, the government engaged this opposition in discussions about reform of the Syrian political system. Out of these discussions came a new constitution, approved in February 2012 by 90% of the electorate in a popular referendum with a 57% turnout rate.
Prior to the new constitution, Syria was officially a one-party state: the Baathist party, to which the current and former president belonged, being that party. In 2007 the nomination by the Syrian parliament of Bashar al-Assad as President of Syria was approved by 98% of the electorate with a 96% turnout rate — just the sort of mandate you would expect of an authoritarian regime. Under the new constitution Syria became a multiparty state; elections to parliament were open to any political party.
In May of last year parliamentary elections under the new constitution were held. There were two blocs contending for the vote: the pro-government National Progressive Front, comprised of 6 parties, and the oppositional Popular Front for Change and Liberation, which included two parties. Of the 250 seats in the assembly, the Baathists won 134 seats with 34 seats distributed among the other parties in the National Front, including 6 seats for the two factions of the Communist Party. The opposition shared 5 seats. Seventy-seven members of the new parliament were not affiliated with any party. The constitution stipulates that at least half of the members of the assembly must be workers or farmers.
In other words, the Syrian parliament encompasses a diversity of opinion we can only dream of seeing in our own Congress — quite a coup for the nonviolent opposition. An election for President is scheduled for next May, quite a concession for a man our media labels a “thug”, “dictator”, “tyrant”, especially as most governments, including our own, when facing a stressful situation become more authoritarian (e.g., Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, Palmer Raids of the 1920s, the Patriot Act, etc.) . What more does the violent opposition want? No wonder they have to rely on foreign Jihadists to do their fighting!
Critics of the Syrian regime will claim the elections were fraudulent, or, as the Obama administration put it, “ludicrous”. I have no idea whether this is the case and would welcome the views of those better informed than me. I suspect critics of the elections seldom offer any supporting evidence for their claims. Every country grapples with seeing that their elections are fair (cf. Voter ID laws). Before we dismiss the newfound democracy in Syria as a sham, maybe we should give it a chance, especially as the lives of thousands of people — mostly Syrian but perhaps some of our own — are at risk. If the administration’s goal in Syria is regime change, maybe it should wait and see whether the Syrian people effect it in a peaceful manner next spring or, if the incumbent is re-elected, accept the fact that democracy doesn’t always work out the way we would like.
Postscript: If you didn’t know about recent political developments in Syria, don’t feel bad. I attended an event today where none of the speakers — neither Cole Bockenfeld and Stephen McInerney of the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) nor Shadi Hamid, Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution — were aware of the elections held under the new Syrian constitution.
Ken Meyercord is an avid follower of foreign affairs who has visited over 70 countries and worked in four of them. He has a Master’s in Middle East History from the American University of Beirut. He produces a public access TV show called Worlddocs which he bills as “bringing the world to the people of the Washington, DC area through documentaries you won’t see broadcast on corporate TV.”
Al-Akhbar has learned that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem’s bid to obtain a US visa to attend the 68th session of the UN General Assembly was rejected by the US State Department.
In principle, according to the law governing the relationship between the UN and the US as the host country of the UN headquarters, US authorities have no right to deny a visa to any official from a UN member state, if the visa is requested for the purpose of participating in a UN event. Nevertheless, there were previous cases where the US refused to grant – or delayed – a visa to certain officials from countries at odds with Washington for long enough to prevent their timely arrival to participate in UN meetings.
According to reports, the US State Department exhausted the legal limit in this regard when it refused to issue a visa to Muallem. Muallem was scheduled to deliver Syria’s speech at the assembly on September 30.
Washington has now reportedly reversed course on the visa issue following mediation by the United Arab Emirates. According to the same reports, after days of deliberate delays by the US State Department, the US authorities have now issued a conditional visa to Muallem that allows him to enter New York exclusively, but not the rest of the US.
Damascus purportedly designed the itinerary of the Syrian delegation headed by Muallem in such a way as to avoid stopovers in certain European airports, as several countries in Europe have issued arrest warrants against Syrian regime figures, including the foreign minister. The UAE had a role in finding a solution to this problem, offering to allow the plane carrying the Syrian delegation to land in Dubai where the delegation would then fly nonstop to New York.
The UAE had a role in finding a solution to this problem, offering to allow the plane carrying the Syrian delegation to land in Dubai where the delegation would then fly nonstop to New York.
Muallem and his delegation are expected to arrive today, September 25, in Beirut on a private Syrian plane, and then fly onwards to Dubai where the delegation is set to take an Emirates flight to New York City.
Some informed sources consider the UAE’s assistance in getting Muallem to New York a positive step that could signal a breakthrough in some of the Gulf countries’ attitudes regarding the best approach to resolve the Syrian crisis. As part of this emerging climate, the sources reveal that there are unpublicized efforts – including by the UAE – to broker a meeting between Muallem and US Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of UN meetings in New York.
It is worth mentioning that the UAE, especially the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, had maintained a hardline policy toward the Syrian regime. The UAE toed the Saudi line in seeking to arm the opposition and provide it with logistical support through Turkish and Jordanian territories.
During the past two years, three liaison offices run by Qatar, Saudi, and the UAE operated out of the Turkish border region with Syria, supporting the Syrian opposition. Yet at the same time, Abu Dhabi gave the Syrian regime indirect positive signals, most notably by hosting Bushra al-Assad, the sister of President Bashar al-Assad, after the assassination of her husband Asif Shawkat during Ramadan last year.
Bushra’s stay in the UAE is not seen as political asylum or as something that can be interpreted as hostility to the regime. Bushra’s residence in the UAE has to do with special circumstances relating to her fear for her children and her desire to give them a peaceful setting for them to complete their education after their father’s death. Bushra and her children travel frequently to Beirut, where they are purportedly under Syrian protection.
Interestingly as well, Emirates Airlines was the only Arab carrier that continued to fly to Damascus, despite the Arab boycott. This continued until the airport became unsafe, when the fighting in the Damascus countryside drew close to the airport’s surroundings.
In addition, there have been reports that Emirates Airlines was helping move Syrian funds out of Damascus to Dubai. The aim was to bypass international sanctions on Syria, which prevent the fulfillment of the foreign currency-denominated commitments of the Syrian government and deals between Syrian companies and traders and their foreign counterparts.
The Syrian funds would be placed in Emirati banks and then converted to settle foreign currency payments. This practice has stopped recently for security – and not political – reasons.