A Saudi court has jailed seven protesters for up to 20 years for joining a demonstration and chanting anti-government slogans in the kingdom’s Eastern Province, local media reported Thursday.
The Eastern Province, where Qatif is located, was the site of frequent Shia-led protests between February 2011 and August 2012.
A specialized court in Riyadh on Wednesday sentenced the young defendants to between six and 20 years in prison and imposed travel bans of the same duration as their jail terms.
They were convicted of “taking part in protests,” “chanting slogans against the state,” and “possessing and making Molotov cocktails,” according to local newspapers.
The court in the ultra-conservative kingdom also sentenced one of the defendants to 80 lashes for consuming alcohol.
The defendants said they would appeal.
Protests first erupted in the province of eastern Saudi Arabia in March 2011. Since then 10 people have been killed in clashes with security forces.
The Eastern Province is home to many of the kingdom’s minority Shias, who have long complained of discrimination in a country that hews to the rigid Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam.
Shias say they are passed over for government jobs, that some of their neighborhoods lack investment afforded to Sunni districts and that powerful government-paid clerics publicly denigrate their faith. The authorities deny discrimination.
Fighting intensified after the arrest in July 2012 of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, considered to be a driving force behind the protests.
However, tensions eased in August that year when seven dignitaries from Qatif hailed a call by King Abdullah for the creation of a center for Sunni-Shia interfaith dialogue.
A French report ruling out poisoning in Yasser Arafat’s 2004 death has a glaring inconsistency, the co-author of a Swiss probe said Thursday, sticking by his team’s conclusion that the Palestinian leader was likely killed.
“Our data lean more towards the thesis of poisoning than in the opposite direction,” Professor François Bochud, head of the Lausanne Institute of Applied Radiophysics, told AFP.
Bochud is the co-author of a report published last month that said the high levels of polonium – a rare and highly radioactive element – found in Arafat’s remains and personal effects indicated third party involvement in his death.
An as-yet unpublished French report however rules out poisoning, a source close to the probe said this week, with an argument that the naturally occurring radioactive element radon, found in the ground, explained the high polonium levels.
Bochud, who has read the French report, stressed that the 107-page Swiss study had presented numerous arguments against that theory, the most compelling being that other remains exhumed from the same cemetery did not contain excessive levels of polonium.
Both the Swiss and the French experts thoroughly cleaned Arafat’s bones to remove external contamination before carrying out their measurements, and proceeded to find identical levels of polonium, he pointed out.
“I have a hard time understanding why they, on one side say they have thoroughly cleaned the bones and eliminated contaminations, and at the same time explain their measurements with the very contamination they supposedly eliminated,” he said.
“It’s a bit difficult to follow their reasoning,” he added.
The circumstances of Arafat’s death aged 75 at a military hospital near Paris in November 2004 after a sudden deterioration in his health have long been mired in rumor and speculation.
France opened a formal murder inquiry in August 2012, a month after an documentary by the al-Jazeera television network linked Arafat’s death to polonium poisoning.
Some 60 samples were taken from his remains in November 2012 and divided between Swiss and Russian investigators and a French team carrying out a probe at his widow’s request.
Many Palestinians believe he was poisoned by Israel – a claim denied by the Jewish state.
Israeli forces demolished a water tank and an agricultural structure in a West Bank village near Nablus on Wednesday, a local official said.
Deputy mayor of Aqraba Bilal Abdul-Hadi told Ma’an news agency that three bulldozers escorted by seven military vehicles stormed the neighborhood of al-Taweel and began demolishing the structures, claiming they were built without authorization.
Shaddad Attili, who heads the Palestinian Water Authority, said the World Bank, the United Nations and other international organizations have issued reports condemning Israel’s attacks on Palestinian water rights.
“Israel controls all the water resources in the occupied West Bank. It exploits these resources for near exclusive Israeli use, allocating a mere fraction of the available water supply to Palestinians,” Ma’an quoted Attili as saying. “While Israelis enjoy some of the highest water consumption rates in the world, Palestinians continue to face a series of crippling water shortages artificially engineered by Israel as a matter of policy.”
Israel has destroyed more than 558 Palestinian properties in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the beginning of this year, displacing 919 people, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Between 2009 and 2011, Israel’s military destroyed 173 water, sanitation and hygiene structures in the West Bank including 40 wells, 57 rainwater collection cisterns and at least 20 toilets and sinks, OCHA reported.
A 2012 report by the Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene group slammed Israel’s policies towards water and sanitation facilities in the West Bank, saying their extensive destruction was in contravention of international law.
- Israel to displace Palestinian community south of Hebron (altahrir.wordpress.com)
- Israeli Forces Open Fire On West Bank Protests, Injuring Dozens (eurasiareview.com)
- LA Times – Israel’s policy of erasure (iajv99.wordpress.com)
All of Syria’s declared chemical arms production equipment has been destroyed ahead of a Friday deadline, a source at the world’s chemical weapons watchdog said.
“Syria has completed rendering inoperable its chemical weapons production and assembly installations,” the source at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said, asking to remain anonymous ahead of an official announcement later Thursday.
Inspectors had until Friday to visit all of Syria’s chemical sites and destroy all production and filling equipment in accordance with a timeline laid down by the Hague-based OPCW and backed by a UN Security Council resolution passed last month.
The resolution was agreed by the US and Russia to avert military strikes on Syria after deadly chemical weapons attacks outside Damascus in August, which the West blamed on President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian government has categorically rejected such accusations.
A first monthly report of the inspectors, covering their work on the ground since October 1, has been sent to the UN Security Council by UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
The OPCW’s Executive Council will use the Syrian declaration to decide by November 15 on “destruction milestones” for Syria’s arsenal.
Syria has also sent in a declaration of its chemical weapons activities and facilities, meeting its obligations as a new state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Construction starts in illegal Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land rose by a “drastic” 70 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2013, an Israeli NGO said on Thursday.
According to figures released by the anti-settlement group Peace Now, between January and June construction starts were made on 1,708 new homes in the West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem, compared with 995 in the first half of 2012.
Billing the figures as a “drastic rise,” Peace Now said only a third of the construction had taken place on the Israeli side of the vast separation barrier which cuts through the West Bank.
And 86 percent of the new construction was carried out in areas where tenders were not required, it said, meaning that building activity did not technically flout the quiet freeze on tenders Israel reportedly agreed to this year as Washington pushed for a resumption of direct peace talks.
“This means the ‘tender moratorium’ declared by the government until the prisoner release in (August) 2013 was not a general construction freeze but only of a small part of the construction in settlements,” the watchdog said, referring to the government’s release of 26 long-term Palestinian prisoners as a proclaimed gesture of goodwill.
US-sponsored direct peace talks resumed in late July after a hiatus of nearly three years, although both sides have kept a tight lid on the substance under discussion at the request of Washington.
“The fact that there is talk about a freeze on tenders doesn’t dramatically change the situation on the ground,” Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran told AFP. “They are building as usual.”
“The tendency of (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu’s government has been to build more in isolated settlements deep in the West Bank where tenders are not needed, compared with the previous government which built more in settlements closer to the Green Line,” she said.
Settlement building in the territories occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War is considered illegal under international law, and the issue remains one of the most divisive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Fortunately the Palestinians did not leave the talks because of the continued construction in settlements, but there is a chance that if this policy continues, then it will be very very hard to hold on to the talks,” Ofran said.
The Palestinians said that settlement building threatened the future of the fledgling peace talks.
“Israel’s continued settlement building is destroying the peace process,” top negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP, holding “the Israeli government fully responsible for this situation and its outcome.”
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)
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.”
A Bahraini court jailed nine activists for life Monday after alleging that they made bombs for “terrorist” purposes, a judicial source said.
Four of the defendants were in court for the verdict and the remaining five, tried in absentia, were handed an 10 additional years in jail for failing to hand themselves in. Life imprisonment in Bahrain is a 25-year-sentence.
Human rights groups have slammed the Bahraini dictatorship’s persecution of activists and political opponents since a pro-democracy movement swept the tiny Gulf kingdom two and a half years ago.
The courts, whose judges are appointed by the Bahraini king, have jailed hundreds of peace activists and human rights leaders on terrorism-related charges in recent months.
Monday’s ruling brings to 104 the number of activists jailed since September 29 over terrorism-related charges in the western and Saudi-backed Gulf kingdom.
The four men told the court that they were tortured, mistreated and held in solitary confinement – a routine procedure in country to force confessions, according to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR).
The defendants were found guilty of “joining a group with the intention of disturbing public order and using terrorism to endanger Bahrain’s security,” the charge sheet said.
They were also convicted of making bombs and training others how to produce them, and “owning and using explosives for a terrorist purpose and carrying out bombings to terrorize citizens.”
BCHR says at least 89 people have been killed by Bahraini police and a Saudi-led Gulf force since the a popular, anti-government uprising erupted in February 2011.
Bahrain is the home base of the US Fifth Fleet and Washington is a long-standing ally of the Al-Khalifa ruling family.
Photo credit – alarabiya.net
Suspected Jewish extremists slashed the tires of five Palestinian-owned cars in Israeli-occupied east Jerusalem overnight, a police spokeswoman and local media said on Tuesday.
Separately in the occupied West Bank village of Burin, near Nablus, Israeli settlers set fire to a car, Ma’an news agency cited a Palestinian Authority official as saying.
“Five vehicles were vandalized close to the Old City at the entrance to the Silwan neighborhood, and the slogan ‘price tag’ written on a wall nearby,” spokeswoman Luba Samri said.
Initially carried out against Palestinians in “retaliation” for their filing lawsuits against Israel to reclaim stolen land occupied by settlers, price tag attacks have become a much broader phenomenon with racist and xenophobic overtones.
And in the northern West Bank, Ma’an reported that settlers from the illegal Yizhar outpost torched a car belonging to a Palestinian man at the entrance of the northern West Bank village of Burin, according to official Ghassan Daghlas who documents settler crimes.
Tuesday’s attacks come two days after police caught four Israelis red-handed as they destroyed Christian tombstones in a Palestinian cemetery in Jerusalem cemetery.
A Reuters reporter saw soldiers throw sound grenades at a group of diplomats, aid workers and locals in the occupied West Bank, and yank a French diplomat out of the truck before driving away with its contents.
“They dragged me out of the truck and forced me to the ground with no regard for my diplomatic immunity,” French diplomat Marion Castaing said.
“This is how international law is being respected here,” she said, covered with dust.
The Israeli army and police declined to comment.
Locals said Khirbet al-Makhul was home to about 120 people. The army demolished their houses, stables and a kindergarten on Monday after Israel’s high court ruled that they did not have proper building permits.
Despite losing their property, the inhabitants have refused to leave the land, where they say their families have lived for generations along with their flocks of sheep.
Israeli soldiers stopped the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delivering emergency aid on Tuesday and on Wednesday IRCS staff managed to put up some tents but the army forced them to take the shelters down.
Diplomats from France, Britain, Spain, Ireland, Australia and the European Union’s political office, turned up on Friday with more supplies. As soon as they arrived, about a dozen Israeli army jeeps converged on them, and soldiers told them not to unload their truck.
“It’s shocking and outrageous. We will report these actions to our governments,” said one EU diplomat, who declined to be named because he did not have authorization to talk to the media.
“(Our presence here) is a clear matter of international humanitarian law. By the Geneva Convention, an occupying power needs to see to the needs of people under occupation. These people aren’t being protected,” he said.
In scuffles between soldiers and locals, several villagers were detained and an elderly Palestinian man fainted and was taken for medical treatment.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement that Makhul was the third Bedouin community to be demolished by the Israelis in the West Bank and adjacent Jerusalem municipality since August.
Palestinians have accused the Israeli authorities of progressively taking their historical grazing lands, either earmarking it for military use or handing it over to the Israelis whose settlements dot the West Bank.
Israeli forces regularly demolish Palestinian homes, claiming they do not have the proper construction permits. However, the Israeli government regularly announces the expansion of settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.
Israelis and Palestinians resumed direct peace talks last month after a three-year hiatus. Palestinian officials have expressed serious doubts about the prospects of a breakthrough.
“What the Israelis are doing is not helpful to the negotiations. Under any circumstances, talks or not, they’re obligated to respect international law,” the unnamed EU diplomat said.
On Saturday, September 7, the Egyptian army began a large-scale military campaign in the villages located south of the Sinai town of Sheikh Zoweid. Al-Akhbar toured the devastated area and found consistent reports of the Egyptian army indiscriminately targeting of civilians and their property.
Sinai – On Saturday morning, the Egyptian army took control of the central telecom building in al-Arish and cut off all landlines, mobile phones, and Internet communications in the governorate of North Sinai.
The telecom outage lasted nearly 10 hours, following which the residents of the governorate learned that the army had initiated a large-scale military operation in the border region, but could not obtain any further details. When communications were restored in the evening, a flood of phone calls ensued, complaining about the aftermath of the military operation.
A spokesperson for the Egyptian army took to Facebook to announce the results of the first day of the military campaign, writing that 107 homes were burned down along with a number of vehicles used by the terrorists in their operations. But the residents, while agreeing on some of these details, had a different version of events.
The operation lasted three days. During the communication blackout, tanks and heavy hardware were moved in under cover from Apache combat helicopters, while no media or relief personnel were allowed to enter the area of operations.
Al-Akhbar only learned that the operations had ceased once it arrived in Sheikh Zoweid on Tuesday morning, September 10. Communications had returned, and the residents had not seen or heard the choppers that day. In a quick tour to examine the effects of the military campaign on the villages of al-Zuhair and al-Mokataa, two of several villages affected by the fighting, the extent of the devastation inflicted on civilian homes and vehicles soon became clear.
Al-Akhbar learned from its field guide that Hajj Salem Abu Draa was killed. Salem is a cousin of Sinai journalist Ahmad Abu Draa, who is being detained by the military. He was killed as he left the mosque following the dawn prayer, and his children could not reach his body until later that afternoon. We also learned that Umm Sulman Abu Draa, an elderly woman, was killed after a bullet pierced a wall in her home and settled in her chest.
In al-Mokataa, the Abu Munir mosque was turned to rubble after being hit by missiles, most likely from an Egyptian army Apache. Some locals explained why the mosque would be targeted, saying it was a meeting point for some militant groups. But no one could say for sure whether any militants had actually been holed up in the mosque during the operations.
Dozens of residents gave their testimonies to Al-Akhbar about the indiscriminate collective punishment, the attacks on bystanders and civilians inside homes, and the burning of civilian cars for no apparent reason. One of the residents claimed the army stopped and searched him before sending him away and burning his car.
Not far from the charred remains of the car, a number of adjacent houses met a similar fate. Residents were forcibly evicted and their homes were searched. When the army did not find any contraband inside, they used cooking gas bottles to burn furniture and appliances, and also burned any cars parked in their yards. A taxi driver whose car was burned said he begged the army to arrest him and leave the car to his children to be able to make a living and finish payments on the car, but that the army burned it anyway, as he watched.
Disaster also stuck the extremely impoverished residents of the area’s shanties. People were driven out before their shelters were set on fire although no contraband was found inside. Even the owners of expensive homes were not spared from aerial bombardment, destruction of property, and looting, despite the improbability that their lavish lifestyles were linked to radical Islamists.
According to consistent eyewitness accounts in the two villages, homes were looted of clothes, food, and even women’s jewelry. Olive trees were uprooted and cattle were slain. The army uprooted large areas of olive groves south of al-Arish, supposedly to better expose the area and secure it against infiltration. But these measures have resulted in losses to the tunes of millions of Egyptian pounds, with many families losing their only source of livelihood.
Impact on the Armed Groups
Official army statements claimed that the military operations succeeded in eliminating dens of terrorism and criminal hideouts. However, these claims were shattered on Wednesday morning, when the military intelligence building in Rafah was destroyed in a double suicide attack. On Thursday, a takfiri group called Jund al-Islam claimed responsibility for the attack.
The group’s statement helped clarify the confusion that prevailed over whether Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, a Salafi jihadi group, was otherwise responsible for the Rafah bombing, as the latter had issued another statement on Wednesday announcing figures on the army’s casualties during the three-day operation.
Ansar Bait al-Maqdis’ statement was enclosed with a picture of a military Land Cruiser that the group claimed it had destroyed, in addition to a Hummer and three armored vehicles using explosive devices. The statement also confirmed that eight soldiers were killed, including six from Special Forces.
Accusing the Egyptian army of treason and collaboration with Israel is nothing new in the statements of Salafi jihadi groups in Sinai. What is new, however, is that the latest statement described the Egyptian military as “the infidel army.” The statement also boasted that the large-scale military campaign claimed the life of only one of the group’s members, something that a resident of al-Mokataa commented on by saying, “They destroyed our homes, burned our cars, and left us with the members of the [militant] groups sticking out their tongues and telling us they were left unharmed.”
The villages in the operation zone south of Sheikh Zoweid are at least 15 km away from the tunnels northeast of Rafah, which means that the recent bombing and burning of homes has nothing to do with these tunnels and the smuggling whatsoever.
Egyptian security forces confirmed that on Sunday, September 15, army attack helicopters bombed positions supposedly belonging to militant Islamists in villages south of Sheikh Zoweid. The sources added that the army started a new military operation against militant outposts in Sinai.
Israel’s Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a decision to bar entry to the Jewish state to a Polish humanitarian worker for having unspecified links to “terrorist elements”.
Although Kamil Qandil had a valid visa when he landed at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv on September 2, he was refused entry by immigration officials and held at the airport as he filed an appeal.
Upholding the ban, Chief Justice Asher Grunis cited “new material which points to the appellant having contacts with terrorist elements, which was not known at the time when he was granted the visa,” without elaborating.
“I have done nothing which could have harmed the state of Israel,” Qandil, who has a Palestinian father and Polish mother, told the court during the hearing. Grunis responded that he was “perhaps not aware of his actions.”
Part of the hearing was held in the presence only of the judges and agents of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service.
“The hearing today and the court’s verdict did little to clear the mystery about the allegations against Kamil,” his lawyer, Yadin Elam, told reporters.
The Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA), which groups more than 80 organizations, said Qandil was detained on arrival to work on a project to supply water to Palestinians in a part of the southern West Bank under full Israeli control.
“He said that the biggest losers would be the villagers of the south Hebron hills where the project is located and…the Polish taxpayers who fund it,” a relative told AFP.
AIDA said PHA was seeking to refurbish rainwater cisterns on which Palestinian farmers depend for irrigation. Israel has demolished several refurbished cisterns, triggering a diplomatic response from Warsaw, AIDA said.
Shin Bet told Haaretz newspaper on Monday that Qandil was refused entry “due to security information that exists about him.”
- Aid Groups Call On Israel To Release Polish NGO Worker (eurasiareview.com)
- Israelis Flying Aid to Syrian Rebels Under the Cover of Humanitarianism (thepassionateattachment.com)