Some 100 UN staff and more than 80 foreign diplomats have been evacuated from Yemen, following the night of intensive airstrikes by Saudi-led forces. Twenty-four people were killed and 43 injured over the last 24 hours, the Yemeni Interior Ministry said.
Among those killed and injured were Yemeni troops, police, security forces and civilians, the ministry said in a statement, cited by the state news agency Saba. Fourteen buildings were destroyed, it added.
The deteriorating security situation has led to the United Nations evacuating its estimated 100 staff from the capital, Sanaa, a source within the UN told Reuters.
Saudi Arabian Defense Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman Saud said earlier on Saturday that three Saudi aircraft were sent to evacuate a UN mission in Sanaa, according to Al Arabiya.
The same news outlet reported that 86 Arab and Western diplomats were evacuated by Saudi Arabia’s navy from Yemen’s southern city of Aden. The evacuation mission involved two navy ships, as well as planes and commandos.
The diplomats were reportedly taken to Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea port of Jeddah.
Massive evacuations were preceded by a night of airstrikes on the capital of Sanaa, described as “unprecedentedly strong” by a witness, who spoke to Sputnik news agency. The strikes were reported to have targeted military bases in Sanaa, including the base of the Yemeni Republican Guard and a missile depot.
The airstrikes lasted “all through the night and stopped at dawn,” a resident told Reuters.
Early Saturday morning Saudi-led air forces attacked a convoy of Houthi armored vehicles, tanks and military trucks that were on their way to the port city of Aden in southern Yemen. Aden had served as a refuge to ousted President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who fled Yemen on Thursday.
Shiite Houthi forces shot down a Saudi Arabia-led coalition jet in the north of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, Al Mayadeen TV channel reported, adding that a Sudanese pilot was arrested.
Two Saudi pilots, who ejected over the Red Sea late on Friday, after their fighter plane suffered a “technical problem” were rescued with US assistance, Reuters reported citing the Saudi Press Agency.
The Yemeni Interior Ministry has in its Saturday statement described the Saudi-led airstrikes as a “flagrant violation of Yemen’s sovereignty”. All military units have been ordered to “intensify their combat readiness to counter aggression,” the statement said.
Saudi King Salman meanwhile addressed the summit of Arab leaders in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh, saying that the military campaign in Yemen against Houthi fighters would continue until its targets are achieved. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi has called for the creation of a joint Arab army and said the military campaign in Yemen should last until Houthis capitulate.
Although a conservative estimate, physicians’ groups say the figure ‘is approximately 10 times greater’ than typically reported
How do you calculate the human costs of the U.S.-led War on Terror?
On the 12th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, groups of physicians attempted to arrive at a partial answer to this question by counting the dead.
In their joint report— Body Count: Casualty Figures after 10 Years of the ‘War on Terror—Physicians for Social Responsibility, Physicians for Global Survival, and the Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War concluded that this number is staggering, with at least 1.3 million lives lost in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan alone since the onset of the war following September 11, 2001.
However, the report notes, this is a conservative estimate, and the total number killed in the three countries “could also be in excess of 2 million, whereas a figure below 1 million is extremely unlikely.”
Furthermore, the researchers do not look at other countries targeted by U.S.-led war, including Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria, and beyond.
Even still, the report states the figure “is approximately 10 times greater than that of which the public, experts and decision makers are aware of and propagated by the media and major NGOs.
In Iraq, at least 1 million lives have been lost during and since 2003, a figure that accounts for five percent of the nation’s total population. This does not include deaths among the estimated 3 million Iraqi refugees, many of whom were subject to dangerous conditions during this past winter.
Furthermore, an estimated 220,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan, note the researchers. The findings follow a United Nations report which finds that civilian deaths in Afghanistan in 2014 were at their highest levels since the global body began making reports in 2009.
The researchers identified direct and indirect deaths based on UN, government, and NGO data, as well as individual studies. While the specific number is difficult to peg, researchers say they hope to convey the large-scale of death and loss.
Speaking with Democracy Now! on Thursday, Dr. Robert Gould, president of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility and co-author of the forward to the report, said:
“[A]t a time when we’re contemplating at this point cutting off our removal of troops from Afghanistan and contemplating new military authorization for increasing our operations in Syria and Iraq, this insulation from the real impacts serves our government in being able to continue to conduct these wars in the name of the war on terror, with not only horrendous cost to the people in the region, but we in the United States suffer from what the budgetary costs of unending war are.”
According to Gould’s forward, co-authored with Dr. Tim Takaro, the public is purposefully kept in the dark about this toll.
“A politically useful option for U.S. political elites has been to attribute the on-going violence to internecine conflicts of various types, including historical religious animosities, as if the resurgence and brutality of such conflicts is unrelated to the destabilization cause by decades of outside military intervention,” they write. “As such, under-reporting of the human toll attributed to ongoing Western interventions, whether deliberate of through self-censorship, has been key to removing the ‘fingerprints’ of responsibility.”
The recent revelation that the Israelis had obtained classified information relating to the P5+1 negotiations with Iran over the latter’s nuclear program should not really surprise anyone. Israel has invested a great deal of political capital in confronting Iran and convincing the American public that it poses a genuine threat. So, it would be a given that its intelligence service, Mossad, would be tasked with finding out what information is not being shared by the White House.
But the truly intriguing back-story to this development is, “how did the Israelis do it and with whom exactly did they share their information?” The information obtained was described by the White House as “eavesdropping,” which would suggest some sort of electronic interception. But as the meetings undoubtedly took place in a technically secured room, which means that it was electronically “swept” before, during, and after meetings, the conversations could not be picked up either from bugs planted inside — which would be detected — or from penetration techniques originating outside, which is possible but would require a major deployment of high-tech gear close to the target.
Eliminating a “sigint” source suggests that the intelligence was either obtained from careless conversations on unsecured phones (possible but unlikely given the tightened security in response to recent flaps over such use), or through a spy in the room feeding the information to the Israelis. A spy is, regrettably, more likely and one has to wonder if the leaker was/is part of the American delegation because the information appears to be of such a nature as to come from US sources. This would mean that the American negotiating team has been penetrated by the Israelis.
And the other issue is, of course, the question of who in Congress received the stolen information during the regular briefings that Israeli embassy staff, including intelligence officers, give to legislators on Capitol Hill. Did they know or suspect that what they were being told was obtained through Israeli espionage? Did it occur to them that the Israeli narrative on what was taking place differed in detail from what they were hearing from the White House, suggesting that something was afoot? Deference to Israeli interests is normal in many in Congress, perhaps all too normal, but a lack of awareness of the American interests at stake in the game constitutes malfeasance at a much higher level.
GAZA CITY – The Hamas movement on Friday rejected a report by human rights group Amnesty International accusing the group of war crimes during last summer’s war with Israel.
While the report claims that Hamas killed both Israeli and Palestinian civilians using indiscriminate projectiles, Hamas criticized the findings as being unbalanced, adopting “the Israeli version of the story.”
In a statement, the group said that it is the right of Palestinians to defend themselves against both the ongoing Israeli occupation and Israeli military offenses.
“War crimes have clear specifications, according to the Rome Statute, that do not in any way apply to the Palestinian resistance, which was, is, and will defend its people.”
The report released by Amnesty International on Thursday said that Palestinian rocket fire during the 2014 summer war had killed more civilians inside the Gaza Strip than inside Israel.
The report said rocket attacks had killed six civilians inside Israel, including a child, but that other rockets aimed at Israel had fallen short inside Gaza, killing at least 13 civilians, 11 of them children.
It referred to one particular incident on July 28 in which 13 people were killed in deadly blast inside the beach-side Shati refugee camp in Gaza City.
Hamas took issue with Amnesty’s approach to the report, arguing that the rights group relied solely on Israeli information to compile the report, therefore missing a balanced review as Israel did not allow international investigation committees into Gaza.
Last summer’s war between Palestinian militant groups and Israel left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead, mostly civilians, according to Palestinian and UN officials. On the Israeli side, 66 soldiers and six civilians were killed. Over 100,000 Gazans lost their homes, and large swathes of the coastal territory were left in ruins.
Hamas said that Amnesty International’s report “purposely turned facts around to justify Israel’s crimes against humanity,” and called upon rights institutions to carry out impartial investigations into Israeli forces’ war crimes.
The leader of Yemen’s Houthi fighters has heaped scorn on Saudi Arabia for conducting unjust and heinous attacks on Yemeni people, saying the Arab kingdom is serving as a puppet for the United States and the Israeli regime.
Abdul-Malik al-Houthi made the remarks in a televised address on Thursday in reaction to Saudi Arabia’s “unjustified” deadly attacks targeting Yemeni people in the capital, Sana’a.
Saudi Arabia is a puppet at the disposal of superpowers, the Houthi leader said, adding that Riyadh is putting in action the US-Israeli conspiracy in Yemen.
He noted that the US-Israeli plot in Yemen aims to break up the chaotic country and deprive people of security and freedom.
Al-Houthi said the Saudi invasion of Yemen came after their agents, including al-Qaeda terrorists and the ISIL Takfiri terrorists, failed to execute their plots in Yemen.
He said the “criminal” attacks uncovered the “tyrannical” nature of the Saudi regime.
Al-Houthi warned that Saudi Arabia would face consequences should it push ahead with its aggression against Yemen, saying, “We will confront the criminal forces and their tools in the country.”
“You think you can kill Yemeni people, but this is because of your stupidity,” he said. “This unjustified aggression shows the hostility and arrogance of this regime. The attacks are reflecting the inhumanity of the aggressor.”
Al-Houthi said the “aggressors” should keep in mind that the Yemeni people are “committed to defending their country and revolution” by relying on God.
On Thursday, Saudi warplanes carried out fresh airstrikes against Yemen, hitting the northern cities of Sa’ada and Ta’izz in the south.
Airstrikes also targeted arms depots in the Malaheez region in Sa’ada near the border with Saudi Arabia.
Saudi warplanes started bombing the positions of the Ansarullah fighters and launched attacks against the Sana’a International Airport and the Dulaimi airbase early on Thursday.
Despite Riyadh’s claims that it is attacking Ansarullah positions, Saudi warplanes have flattened a number of homes near the Sana’a airport. Based on early reports, the Saudi airstrikes on Yemen have so far claimed the lives of 18 civilians with more deaths feared, Yemeni sources said.
The Saudi invasion of Yemen has drawn condemnation from many countries such as Iran, Russia, Iraq and Syria, as well as the Lebanese resistance movement, Hezbollah.
The blatant invasion of Yemen’s sovereignty by the Saudi government comes against a backdrop of total silence on the part of international bodies, especially the United Nations. The world body has so far failed to show any reaction whatsoever to the violation of the sovereignty of one of its members by Riyadh.
This article examines and documents the Houla massacre of May 2012, a terrible incident in the Syrian Crisis which came closest to attracting UN intervention. The analysis here seeks to include all relevant evidence, both from witnesses and on the UN processes. A series of appalling civilian massacres during the conflict helped set the tone for another round of ‘humanitarian intervention’ or ‘responsibility to protect’ debates. The killings at Houla deserve close attention. However, because of NATO’s abuse of the ‘no fly zone’ authorisation for Libya and the wider geo-politics of Syria, Russia and China would not allow a similar UN Security Council authorisation of force. Big power intervention therefore remained indirect, through proxy militias. While the Syrian army attacked those militias and many Islamist groups carried out public executions, attempts to blame the Syrian Army for attacks on civilians remained hotly contested.
The context to this was two very different narratives. Western propaganda attacked Syrian President Bashar al Assad, claiming that he, through the Syrian Arab Army, was repeatedly ‘killing his own people’. From the Syrian side this was always a proxy war against Syria, with NATO and allied Gulf monarchies backing sectarian terrorist gangs, with the aim of ‘regime change’. The western line maintained that a peaceful protest movement, after many months of ‘regime brutality’, transformed into a secular (later ‘moderate Islamist’) ‘revolution’. The western popular media reinforced this line, with calls to arm the ‘civilian protestors’. One such article claimed ‘We will pay a high price if we do not arm Syria’s rebels’ (Slaughter 2012). In the first few months of western reports there is very little admission of an armed insurrection, except by suggested ‘civilian self-defence’ measures.
The Syrian Government, on the other hand, said the political reform movement and the sectarian Islamist attacks were quite distinct, the latter taking cover under the former. Armed sniping attacks on police and civilians began in March 2011. In fact, arms shipments were intercepted on the Syria-Iraq border a week before the first violence broke out (Reuters 2011) and former Saudi military official Anwar Al-Eshki would later confirm to the BBC that his country had armed Islamists at the al-Omari mosque in Daraa (Truth Syria 2012). Many Syrian citizens back their government’s explanation, saying that the early protests were not linked to the armed attacks, which made use of Islamist slogans. The protest movement was effectively driven off the streets by the armed conflict (Eva Pal 2014; Haidar 2012). It has emerged that both sides played down soldier deaths in the early weeks, as ‘the government did not want to show they are weak and the opposition did not want to show they are armed’. Yet 18-19 soldiers were massacred in Daraa in late March and another 88 were killed across Syria in April (Narwani 2014).
A similarly polarised view developed over how to characterise the violence in Homs over 2011-2012, when the first groups calling themselves Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigades attempted to hold parts of the old city. The Farouq and Khalid bin Walid brigades were the main occupying groups. Western sources characterised Farouq, if not exactly secular, then as ‘moderate’ Sunni Muslims. One US report, while recognising Islamist ‘jihadis’ amongst the fighters, claimed that ‘the vast majority of the [FSA] opposition fighters are legitimate nationalists … pious rather than Islamists and are not motivated by sectarianism’ (Benotman and Naseraldin 2012). The Washington-aligned International Crisis Group similarly noted ‘the presence of a strong Salafi strand among Syria’s rebels’, but spoke of ‘a moderate Islamic tradition’, suggesting that the Farouk and Khalid bin Walid brigades might be pious rather than Islamist (ICG 2012). The Wall Street Journal also called Farouk ‘pious Sunnis’ rather than Islamists (Malas 2013). The BBC called them ‘moderately Islamist’, suggesting they exaggerated their Islamism by dress and beards ‘to attract financial support from the Gulf’ (Marcus 2013).
Yet many Homs residents were terrified by the sectarian-genocidal slogans of ‘Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the tomb’ (Eretz Zen 2012; Adams 2012; Wakefield 2012). Reports of these slogans appeared in the US media as early as May 2011 (Blanford 2011). They did indeed drive Christians to Beirut. The Orthodox and Catholic churches blamed Farouq for the large scale ethnic cleansing of more than 50,000 Christians from Homs (CNA 2012). They began to impose an Islamic tax (Spencer 2012). A local analyst concluded most of Farouk were sectarian Salafis, armed and funded by Saudi Arabia; while ‘Khalid Ibn al-Walid remained loyal to and supported by the Muslim Brotherhood’ (Mortada 2012). Such ethnic cleansing would hardly have come from ‘moderate’ religious people, let alone a secular revolution.
The Houla massacre
After the Syrian Army had driven the FSA groups out of Homs, and on the eve of a UN Security Council meeting on Syria, a dreadful massacre of more than 100 civilians took place at the village of Houla, on the Taldou plains just north-west of Homs. The Houla massacre (25 May 2012) is important to ‘Responsibility to Protect’ discussions, because it formed the basis of a failed attempt to authorise UN intervention to protect civilians, based on the claim that the Syrian Government had massacred civilians. Evidence to back that claim, however, was hardly clear.
The governments of Britain, France and the USA immediately blamed the Syrian Government. In what has been called the ‘western and Arab media narrative’ the victims were killed by army artillery (Correggia, Embid, Hauben and Larson 2013). The Syrian Government, in turn, accused the foreign-backed terrorists, in particular the groups that had been driven out of Homs. Syria’s Foreign Ministry said the army clashed with ‘hundreds’ of armed men who committed Friday’s massacre. The killers used knives, which they said was a ‘signature’ of Islamist militant attacks (Reuters 2012). The Government told the UN ‘the victims were reportedly killed by terrorists numbering between 600–800, who had entered Al-Houla previously from the villages of Al-Rastan, Sa’an, Bourj Qaei and Samae’leen, among other locations’. The General Command of the armed forces held an inquiry (HRC 2012a: 6).
Allegations of Islamist ‘false flag’ provocations had been made before. Mother Agnes-Mariam de la Croix, the mother superior in charge of an ancient monastery in Qara, south of Homs, had observed the ethnic cleansing of Christians in Homs, and had grave suspicions about who was behind the killings at Houla. She had said publicly that Syrian Christians had been pressured to join FSA groups, had been used by the rebels as human shields and that Christian homes had been taken over by Sunnis. She denounced their ‘false flag’ crimes in 2011 (SANA 2011; AINA 2012), pointing out that the Catholic Media Centre had a list of names of hundreds of murder victims, many of whose images had been later used in [FSA] media setups (SANA 2011).
Western media reports, however, generally dismissed statements from Damascus. Several governments expelled Syrian diplomats, in moves designed to isolate the government. The UN Security Council said it:
‘condemned in the strongest possible terms the killings … in attacks that involved a series of Government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighbourhood … [and] also condemned the killing of civilians by shooting at close range … [this] constitutes a violation of applicable international law and of the commitments of the Syrian Government’ (UNSC 2012). France’s representative at the UN, Martin Briens, said: ‘Tanks and artillery cannons from the government shelled residential areas killing civilians’ (RT 2012). Britain’s envoy Mark Lyall Grant said ‘there is not the slightest doubt that there was deliberate government shelling against a civilian neighbourhood’ (Cowan 2012).
These accusations were premature, betraying prejudice. Russia insisted on a UNSC briefing by UN Special Mission (UNSMIS) head, Norwegian General Robert Mood, who told them the victims included 49 children and 34 women, most of whom had been shot at close range or had their throats cut. Russian diplomat Aleksandr Pankin summarised: ‘very few of the people who died in Houla were killed by artillery shelling’ (RT 2012). From then, culprits in western media stories shifted to pro-government militia (shabiha). Britain’s Daily Telegraph blamed ‘Assad’s Death Squads’. The paper suggested a sectarian motive, from an opposition source: ‘They would fight for Bashar to the death. It is natural – they have to defend their sect’ (Alexander and Sherlock 2012).
The certainty of the British and French governments, and of the anti-government ‘activists’, was not evident in the statements of the head of UNSMIS. Mood’s group visited the massacre site and heard two distinct stories. The general’s public comments three weeks after the massacre deserve attention, given that the UN did not release the report to which he refers:
‘We have interviewed locals with one story and we have interviewed locals that have another story. The circumstances and … the facts related to the incident itself still remain unclear to us … we have sent [statements and witness interviews] as a report to UN headquarters New York … if we are asked [to assist] obviously we are on the ground and could help’ (Mood 2012).
This report was delivered to the UN Secretary General (UNSG 2012); yet it seems it was not received by the Security Council (Hauben 2012). Mood’s ambiguity may have been disconcerting for those wanting clear findings against the Syrian Government. On 1 June the Human Rights Council (three against and two abstentions) blamed the Houla killings on the Syrian Government (‘wanton killings … by pro-regime elements and a series of Government artillery and tank shellings’) before calling for a ‘comprehensive, independent and unfettered special inquiry’ (HRC 2012c). UNSMIS had its activities suspended and was disbanded in August.
Circumstances and timing were certainly important. As the Syrian Army drove Farouq from Homs and into surrounding towns, Syrians turned out for the 7 May National Assembly elections. Those sections of the opposition aligned to the FSA called for a boycott, and armed groups threatened to enforce this (al Akhbar 2012). In the event, the ruling Ba’ath party won 60% of the vote and their allied parties another 30%, though turnout was only 51% (Zarzar and al-Wahed 2012). There was reason to suspect enforcement of the threat, as reprisals against those who had participated and so lent legitimacy to the state and the government.
Yet that line of inquiry was not pursued by the second UN inquiry. With three of the UNSC permanent members openly backing regime change in Syria, the debate was heavily politicised. The Houla massacre inquiry was taken over by a Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry, co-chaired by US diplomat Karen Koning AbuZayd (HRC 2012a; HRC 2012b). Appointing a US delegate was a mistake, on the part of the UN. Karen Koning Abu Zayd had worked for the UN for many years, but was explicitly listed as a USA delegate to the Commission. The US Government had, by this time, publicly blamed the Syrian Government for Houla, demanding that President Assad resign for ‘killing your fellow citizens’ (AP 2012) and, with Turkey, had ‘stepped up’ what it called ‘non-lethal aid’ to rebels in Syria (Barnard 2012). By any standard Washington was a belligerent party to the Syrian conflict. On principles of independence and avoiding conflicts of interest the Human Rights Council should not have incorporated a US representative.
Unlike UNSMIS, this Commission did not visit Syria. A review of evidence was carried out and eight additional interviews were conducted, at a distance from Syria. The interim report reflected some of the ambiguity of the UNSMIS team: ‘[We are] unable to determine the identity of the perpetrators at this time; nevertheless … forces loyal to the Government may have been responsible for many of the deaths’ (HRC 2012b: 10). This was an injudicious statement. The report blamed both government forces and anti-government groups for crimes of war, but came in more strongly against the Syrian government, relying on the formal duties of government to ‘prevent or punish’ violence, as well as not commit it (HRC 2012b: 23). That is, a ‘catch-all’ argument had it that the Government was ultimately responsible for all violence on its territory.
The Commission’s 15 August report firmed up against the Syrian Government, removing most of the earlier ambiguity, but without identifying perpetrators. They wrote:
‘The commission conducted eight additional interviews, including with six witnesses from the Taldou area, two of whom were survivors. They looked at a range of statements from ‘various sources’, including ‘international human rights NGOs’ (HRC 2012b: 64-65).
All statements, they said, were consistent with deaths being caused by government shelling and unidentified ‘shabiha’ forces. Even though they had heard evidence that the Al Sayed and Abdulrazzak families (the main groups of civilians killed) were government supporters, they concluded that the unidentified killers of those families ‘were aligned to the government’ (HRC 2012b: 67). They discounted evidence that FSA groups had committed the murders, claiming ‘apart from two witnesses in the Government report, no other account supported the Government’s version of events’ (HRC 2012b: 10). The Government ‘was responsible for the deaths of civilians as a result of shelling’, they said; while as regards the ‘deliberate killing of civilians, the Commission was unable to determine the identity of the perpetrators … [but] it considered that forces loyal to the Government were likely to have been responsible for many of the deaths’ (HRC 2012b: 10).
A prominent witness presented by the anti-government side was 11 year old boy Ali Al Sayed, who says many members of his family were murdered. In an online video little Ali says:
‘There were tanks in the street, they shot at us with machine guns … soldiers came out … they fired 5 bullets on the door lock … arrested my brother … [and] my uncle … then my mum screamed at them … they then shot her 5 times, they shot her in the head … then he went to my brother and shot him … some of them were dressed as military, some had regular clothes, had shaved heads and beards, shabiha’ (Marchfifteen 2012).
He pretended to be dead, and thus escaped being murdered. Later he saw news on state television of his uncles having been murdered. His story is not consistent in several respects (Larson in Correggia, Embid, Hauben and Larson 2013: 20-28) and, at the end, with the help of some leading questions, he gives what appears to be a tutored appeal for foreign military intervention:
‘I demand that the international community stop the killing in Syria and in Houla … we are being killed … the international community is sitting, just talking and not doing anything … the people must fight for us, do what they say and protect us’ (Marchfifteen 2012).
Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the boy’s story, Ali’s was hardly the only eye-witness account of the massacre. Further, it was quite false for the UN Commission of Inquiry to suggest that only ‘two witnesses … supported the Government’s version of events’. By that time there was public evidence from at least fifteen witnesses, broadly consistent with the account by the Syrian Government. Russian journalists tried to present their interview material to the Commission and apparently met with a lack of interest (Janssen 2012). The Commission claimed that the Russian reports ‘relied primarily on the same two witnesses as the Government’s report’ (HRC 2012b: 66). Yet a simple reading of a summary of evidence from the latter’s witnesses shows this to be false. Below is a summary of evidence from witnesses the UN Commission ignored. These accounts of ‘rebel’ culprits are broadly consistent with the account of the Government and often quite specific. Several gunmen are named.
First, the Syrian news agency reported two unidentified people who feared for their safety. The first said the gunmen were locals plus a larger group from other areas. The locals assembled after noon prayers before attacking check-points. They then selected pro-government people, those who participated in elections or ‘didn’t give the gunmen money’. One was Haitham al-Housan. The bodies shown on television were of ‘people murdered by terrorists along with the bodies of the gunmen killed in the initial conflict’ (SANA 2012). The second witness, a woman, saw the larger group attacking a check-point. They heard of people from Tal Dahab, Aqrab and al-Rastan. A man called Saiid Fayes al-Okesh fired a mortar and police responded; he was shot in the leg. Another gunmen was Haitham al-Hallaq, who led a group of about 200. The victims belonged to the al Sayed family, with Muawiya al Sayed ‘a police officer who didn’t defect’ and others related to Meshleb al Sayed, who ‘recently became Secretary of the Peoples’ Assembly’. Other targeted groups included four households of the Abdelrazzaq family (SANA 2012).
Syrian television news showed interviews with two distressed male witnesses. The first man said:
‘The terrorists are from this area and all the areas around … a huge number of them, hundreds. They started to use shells and RPGs … hitting the houses with guns, machine guns … They killed people in their houses … some bodies have been burned’ (Syria News 2012: at 6.47). The second man said: ‘A man, his brother, and nephew were killed in front of my sister … [another] was able to run away and hide … the United Nations, those observers, what are they doing while shells are hitting us?’ (Syria News 2012: at 7.35).
German journalist, Rainer Hermann, who speaks Arabic, interviewed witnesses from Houla within days of the massacre. His sources included Syrian opposition members who had rejected violence, whose names he withheld. They said Islamist rebels had attacked three army checkpoints. His sources told him:
‘The massacre took place after Friday prayers … dozens of soldiers and rebels were killed … [in fighting of] about 90 minutes … those killed were almost exclusively families of the Alawite or Shia minorities … [including] several dozen members of a family which had converted to Shia Islam in recent years … and the family of a Sunni member of parliament, because he was considered a collaborator … after the massacre, the perpetrators filmed their victims, presented them as Sunni victims and spread their videos’ (Hermann 2012).
Hermann gave names to the gang leaders:
‘more than 700 gunmen under the leadership of Abdurrazzaq Tlass and Yahya Yusuf [Farooq leaders] came in three groups from Rastan, Kafr Laha and Akraba and attacked three army checkpoints around Taldou. The numerically superior rebels and the soldiers fought bloody battles … the rebels, supported by the residents of Taldou, snuffed out the families … [who] had refused to join the opposition’ (LRC 2012).
German journalist Alfred Hackensberger spoke with a man who had been given refuge in the Qara monastery headed by Mother Agnes Mariam. This man called ‘Jibril’ said:
‘The fighting began around noon, when the rebels, coming from Ar-Rastan and Saan, attacked the checkpoints … the rebels went to the hospital and killed patients there … several teams targeted and went in selected houses and started to shoot all of the inhabitants. He knew the Sajid’s personally. ‘They were Sunni Muslims, like all of us’, he says. ‘They were killed by them because they have refused to join the revolution. They’ve even murdered a Member of Parliament who … had refused the boycott of the FSA’.
Asked about the ‘regime loyalists’ claims, Jibril responded derisively:
‘Nonsense … Houla is in rebel hands since December 2011 … the Army would like to reclaim Taldu, but it has not been done … many people know what really happened … who’s there … can only replay the version of the rebels. Everything else is certain death’ (Hackensberger 2012).
The Arabic speaking Dutch writer Martin Janssen constructed his view from three sources: the Catholic Fides news agency, information from refugees at the Qara monastery and the accounts of Russian journalists Musin and Kulygina. He questioned the shabiha story because many victims were Alawi, who are almost all pro-government. Fides had reported that ‘large groups of Syrian Alawites and Christians were fleeing to Lebanon to escape the violence of armed gangs’, after the events at Houla (Janssen 2012). The Qara monastery told him witnesses said the army was absent in the region, with ‘Rastan and Saan … under full control of the Free Syrian Army’. The armed groups attacked the al-Watani hospital and killed the guards. ‘Then they invaded the hospital where armed rebels killed all present and … put the hospital on fire’ (Janssen 2012). At Tal Daw, near Houla, armed groups murdered all the Alawite families. The report from the monastery described the area around Qusayr as ‘in turmoil’ and wracked by sectarian violence (Janssen 2012).
Those Russian journalists, Marat Musin and Olga Kulygina from the Abkhazian Network News Agency (ANNA-News) had a camera crew in Houla on 25 May and took a number of witness interviews. Their sources make it very clear the murderers were Islamist ‘rebels’. An old woman called
‘The grandmother of Al-Hula’ said: ‘Checkpoint positions were attacked … All the soldiers were killed, then they attacked our villages, torched a hospital … Bandits killed our pharmacist … [because] he had treated a wounded soldier Nobody but the army will help us … They say there have been airstrikes! Lies, lies, lies. Liars, all of them come from Ar-Rastan’ (ANNA 2012).
Taldou resident Syed Abdul Wahab, said: ‘The terrorists want to come here … to take power. We have always lived in peace. We cannot leave the house’. A local woman from Al-Gaunt, next to Al-Houla, said ‘Nine terrorists killed my relatives in the field. The bandits set fire to our houses and we fled … we have a martyr, who was burned alive. Why, by what law did they die? Is this Islam? Is this justice?’ (ANNA 2012).
Another woman from Taldou they call Arifah told them she listened to the radio chatter from the ‘bandits’, before the massacre (Musin 2012a). They began by firing at the main checkpoint while a group from the al Hassan clan, led by Nidal Bakkur, attacked a ‘second checkpoint’ outside the village. The bandits lost about 25 people but after about two hours they had taken over both check-points. ‘They then proceeded to murder the Al-Sayed family which lived across the street from the police station’. Three families including about 20 children were murdered, along with another 10 from the Abdul Razaq family. That afternoon Abdul Razak Tlas, leader of the Farouq Brigade, arrived with 250 men from Ar-Rastan, Aqraba and Farlaha (Musin 2012a). The city of Ar-Rastan had been abandoned by most civilians for some time, taken over by Islamists from Lebanon (Musin 2012b). Arifah said that by 8pm the murdered civilians and dead bandits had been taken to the mosque. They then filmed for the Qatari and Saudi television stations. On Saturday morning, when the UNSMIS observers arrived, ‘The fallen rebels involved in the action were presented as civilians, while the conquering rebels dressed in army uniforms posed as defectors. They were surrounded by their family members who told the story of a government attack with heavy shelling and posed as victim’s relatives, while the relatives of the real victims were nowhere to be seen’ (Musin 2012a).
Violence continued after the UNSMIS visit. Musin and Kulygina later interviewed two wounded soldiers, a wounded policeman and another resident, who gave more detail of ‘rebel’ sniper attacks and murders, and of the ‘rebel’ escorts set up for the UN observers. They continued to identify attackers and victims. A group from the Al Aksh clan had been firing mortars and RPGs at the checkpoints. All checkpoint prisoners were executed: a Sunni conscript had his throat cut, while Abdullah Shaui of Deir-Zor was burned alive (Maramus 2012; Musin 2012b). The police officer said ‘the attackers were from Ar-Rastan and Al-Hula. Insurgents control Taldou. They burned houses and killed people by the families, because they were loyal to the government’ (Musin 2012b). The resident saw the clashes from the roof of the police station. ‘Al Jazeera aired pictures and said that the Army committed the massacre at Al Hula … in fact, they [the gunmen] killed the civilians and children in Al-Hula. The bandits … steal everything … most of the fighters are from the city of Ar Rastan’ (Maramus 2012; Musin 2012b). The second UN inquiry ignored these 15 witnesses, who told of specific perpetrators with clear political motives. An outline of major reports and their associated evidence is below.
|TABLE Houla massacre (May 2012): significant reports|
|Source/report||Method and conclusion|
|Mother Agnes Mariam||FSA had previously attacked Christians and was engaged in ‘false flag’ attacks, falsely blamed on the government|
|Most western media reports||Massacre by ‘Assad’s death squads’|
|British and French government||Massacre resulted from Government shelling of civilian areas; later changed this to ‘regime thug’ attacks|
|UN Special Mission on Syria (UNSMIS), Gen. Robert Mood||Went to massacre site, heard stories that blamed both sides. Could not resolve the two versions.|
|UN HRC Commission of Inquiry||Interviews in Geneva, co-chaired by US diplomat; witnesses selection assisted by anti-government groups; Commission blames pro-government ‘thugs’ (shabiha)|
|FSA video, on Al Jazeera and elsewhere||Show young boy Ali al Sayed, he blames ‘shabiha’ in army clothes with shaved heads and beards.|
|Syrian Government, state news agencies and television||Four direct witnesses say attacks were by armed gangs, who killed security and targeted pro-government families|
|German journalist Alfred HACKENSBERGER||Interviews refugee ‘Jibril’ at Qara monastery – massacre carried out by FSA gangs on pro-government families|
|German journalist Rainer HERMANN||Interviews anti-violence opposition people – they say local gangs and FSA killed pro-government families|
|Dutch Journalist Martin JANSSEN||Notes large outflow of Christian and Alawi refugees from Houla; refugees at Qara blame FSA gangs|
|Russian journalists Marat MUSIN and Olga KULYGINA||Eight witnesses blame FSA-linked anti-government gangs, victims pro-government families|
|Correggia, Embid, Hauben and Larson||Critical review of evidence and UN reports – say the Commission report is not credible.|
Dissent at the UN
The partisan report clearly influenced UN discussions. Although the HRC passed a motion with a strong majority, condemning the Syrian Government, the dissenting comments were significant. Russian representative Maria Khodynskaya-Golenischv (UNTV 2012: 7.00 to 8.10) said
‘We cannot agree with the one-sided conclusions put out in the resolution concerning the Commission on the Houla tragedy … We believe that the question of guilt is still open. An investigation should be carried out thoroughly … unfortunately some states are de facto encouraging terrorism in Syria therefore we have no doubt that the episode in Houla has definitely been whipped up in the media and has been used to carry out force against this country. The delegate from China (UNTV 2012: 13.25 to 15.50) also flagged that country’s intention to vote against the resolution, as there was a need ‘for a political solution … [and an] immediate end to violence … putting pressure on one party for the conflict will not help solve the problem’. The Cuban delegate (UNTV 2012: 16.05 to 18.50) said ‘there are parties that are interested in not fostering the path of dialogue and understanding … [some saying clearly they want] regime change, and even promoting the idea of military intervention with the use of force to impose on the Syrian people decisions that are being taken outside the country’. The Indian delegate (UNTV 2012: 19.00-21.30), who abstained, said India had given ‘unqualified support to the joint missions’ but urged the Human Rights Council to ‘always act with complete impartiality, in order to maintain its credibility and retain the trust and confidence of all … [there is a need for] a balanced and impartial resolution that can help start a meaningful political process in Syria’
The Syrian delegation (UNTC 2012: 24.33-35.30) came out hardest against the resolution, saying that the Commission of Inquiry ‘didn’t even visit Syria’ and had ignored the Syrian inquiry. Referring to some ‘Arab co-sponsors’ Syria said they had no right to ‘give advice’ because they were ‘directly involved in the killings of Syrian people, and criminals cannot be judges’, imposing sanctions and then ‘shedding tears about the humanitarian situation’. The refusal to condemn terrorism in Syrian reflected badly on the Council. Nevertheless, the big powers had the numbers, with 41 voting in favour, three against and three abstentions. The resolution was adopted but no UNSC action was possible because of opposition from two of the five permanent members of the Security Council, Russia and China.
The unsatisfactory UN process does not negate the fact that strong prima facie evidence emerged against particular groups and individuals. Witnesses identified as perpetrators four local gunmen (Haitham al-Housan, Saiid Fayes al-Okesh, Haitham al-Hallq and Nidal Bakkur) along with groups from two clans (the al Hassan and the al-Aksh), plus a large Farouq group led by Abdurrazzaq Tlass and Yahya Yusuf. Their motive was to punish pro-government villagers, in particular the al-Sayed and Abdulrazzak families, then to set up a scene to falsely blame the government for their own crimes. The Houla massacre did not result in a Libyan-styled intervention, but false accusations afforded temporary impunity to the killers and created a great risk that military intervention could have been set in play.
Houla set the tone for a series of similar ‘false flag’ massacres. When the August 2012 massacre of 245 people in Daraya (Damascus) came to light, western media reports quickly suggested that ‘Assad’s army has committed [another] massacre’ (Oweis 2012). However that story was contradicted by British journalist Robert Fisk, who observed that the FSA had slaughtered kidnapped civilian and off-duty soldier hostages after a failed prisoner swap (Fisk 2012). Similarly, the 10 December 2012 massacre of 120 to 150 villagers in Aqrab (less than 15 kilometres from Houla, and also at that time under ‘rebel’ control) was also blamed by ‘activists’ on the Syrian Government. The New York Times suggested ‘members of Assad’s sect’ were responsible (Stack and Mourtada 2012). In fact, as British journalist Alex Thompson (2012b) later reported, from the tightly corroborated evidence of survivors, the FSA (including foreign fighters) had held 500 Alawi villagers for nine days, murdering many of them as the army closed in and the FSA fled. In this case those of ‘Assad’s sect’ were the victims, just as the victims at Houla had been mostly government supporters and their families.
The Houla massacre illustrates great dangers in the practice of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine, when the big powers have proxy armies in the field. The idea that almost any sort of atrocity could be blamed on the Syrian Government, with little fear of contradiction in the western media, must have played heavily on the minds of Islamist armed groups. Farouq in particular was very media savvy, regularly producing videos for the television networks of Qatar (Al Jazeera) and Saudi Arabia (Al Arabiya). Up against a superior national army, which was not disintegrating along sectarian lines, Farouq and the others were in desperate need of military backing. Inflaming moral outrage against the Syrian Government just might bring in NATO air power, as it had in Libya. In the meantime, they could carry out major crimes with impunity.
The failure of UN processes to recognise the UN’s own role, in fomenting both impunity and escalation of the violence, further discredited the ‘no fly zone’ idea, which had been cynically exploited in the Libyan intervention. After Houla, while the propaganda war continued, there was no real hope of Security Council authorised intervention in Syria. The next major incident, involving the use of chemical weapons in ‘rebel’ occupied East Ghouta, more than a year later, would have as its reference point a unilateral ‘red line’ decree by Washington. Houla in many respects marked the collapse of UN-sanctioned ‘official truth’ in Syria.
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CNA (2012) ‘Syrian violence drives 50,000 Christians from homes’, Catholic News Agency, online: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/syrian-violence-drives-50000-christians-from-homes/
Correggia, Marinella; Alfredo Embid, Ronda Hauben, Adam Larson (2013) ‘Official Truth, Real Truth, and Impunity for the Syrian Houla Massacre of May 2012’, CIWCL, May 15, online: http://ciwclibya.org/reports/realtruthhoula.html
Cowan, Jane (2012) ‘UN Security Council condemns Syrian regime’, ABC, 28 May, online: http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2012/s3512153.htm
Eretz Zen (2012) ‘Rhetoric of Syrian protesters and to whom their allegiance goes’, YouTube, 17 June, online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6zGwjj0lDc
Eva Pal (2014) ‘Talk with Lilly Martin and Steven Sahiounie, part 1’, YouTube, May 10, online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oc2HRk42O-w
Fisk, Robert (2012) ‘Inside Daraya – how a failed prisoner swap turned into a massacre’, 29 August:
Hackensberger, Alfred (2012) ‘In Syrien gibt es mehr als nur eine Wahrheit’, Berliner Morgenpost, 23 June, online: http://www.morgenpost.de/politik/ausland/article107255456/In-Syrien-gibt-es-mehr-als-nur-eine-Wahrheit.html
Haidar, Ali (2012) Syria’s Ali Haidar: Both Sides Have Extremists’, Al Akhbar, 13 July, online: http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/9716
Hauben, Ronda (2012) ‘Why is the UNSMIS Houla Report Missing?’, 28 November, Netizenblog, online: http://blogs.taz.de/netizenblog/2012/11/28/why-is-unsmis-report-missing/
Hauben, Ronda (2013) ‘Why is the UNSMIS Houla Report Missing?’ in Correggia, Marinella; Alfredo Embid, Ronda Hauben, Adam Larson (2013) ‘Official Truth, Real Truth, and Impunity for the Syrian Houla Massacre of May 2012’, CIWCL, May 15, online: http://ciwclibya.org/reports/realtruthhoula.html
Hermann, Rainer (2012) ‘Abermals Massaker in Syrien’, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 7 June, online: http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/neue-erkenntnisse-zu-getoeteten-von-hula-abermals-massaker-in-syrien-11776496.html
HRC (2012a) ‘Oral Update of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic’, Human Rights Commission, 26 June, online: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/OralUpdateJune2012.pdf
HRC (2012b) ‘Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic’, Human Rights Commission 16 August, online: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session21/A-HRC-21-50_en.pdf
HRC (2012c) ‘The deteriorating situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic, and the recent killings in El-Houleh’, Resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council S-19/1, Human Rights Council, United Nations, 4 June, online: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/SpecialSession/Session19/A-HRC-RES-S-19-1_en.pdf
Janssen, Martin (2012) ‘De verschrikkingen van Houla’, 10 June, Mediawerkgroep Syrië, online: http://mediawerkgroepsyrie.wordpress.com/2012/06/10/de-verschrikkingen-van-houla/
LRC (2012) ‘Germany’s FAZ paper Follow-up on Houla Hoax’, The LRC Blog [translation of the FAZ article from German], 16 June, online: http://www.lewrockwell.com/blog/lewrw/archives/113737.html
Marchfifteen (2012) 11-year-old Houla Massacre Survivor’, marchfifteen’s YouTube channel, 28 may, online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POEwEiqTavA
Malas, Nour (2013) ‘As Syrian Islamists Gain, It’s Rebel Against Rebel’, Wall Street Journal, 29 may, online: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323975004578499100684326558.html
Marcus, Jonathan (2013) Gruesome Syria video pinpoints West’s dilemma, BBC, 14 May, online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22521161
Mood, Robert (2012) ‘Houla massacre, 2 versions – UNSMIS Robert Mood, June 15’, Adam Larson YouTube site, 16 September, online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ViUVJYGT_8
Mortada, Radwan (2012) ‘Syria Alternatives (II): no homegrown solutions’, Al Akhbar, 13 June, online: http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/syria-alternatives-ii-no-homegrown-solutions
Musin, Marat (2012a) ‘Al Hula Witness’, Sabina Zaher You Tube, 31 May, online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JD0PA0BxNAQ
Musin, Marat (2012b) ‘THE HOULA MASSACRE: Opposition Terrorists “Killed Families Loyal to the Government’, Global Research, 1 June, online:
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British state ‘involved in mass murder on British soil, colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in 80 deaths between 1972 and 1978′
The state was involved in mass murder on British soil, a lawyer has told a coroner’s court.
The security forces colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in 80 deaths between July 1972 and June 1978 in Northern Ireland’s “murder triangle” in counties Armagh and Tyrone, Leslie Thomas QC said.
He said many were carried out by the Glenanne Gang of gunmen with the alleged involvement of soldiers and police officers.
Mr Thomas said it could take a year to hear inquests and compared the task to that of investigating the Hillsborough football disaster.
“If what we say is right this is the biggest involvement of state agents in mass murder on British soil,” he said.
He added: “We say that what the families of the bereaved want, quite simply can be put in a few words: they want the truth, they want the truth to come out, they want justice.”
Mr Thomas was addressing a preliminary hearing in Belfast of two inquests involving a Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) bombing at the Step Inn in Keady in Co Armagh in 1976 during which Catholics Elizabeth McDonald, 38, and Gerard McGleenan, 22, died.
He said the same weapons were used in many of the Glenanne murders and the killers adopted the same modus operandi, accused the authorities of state-sponsored terrorism and claimed one individual involved in killing Ms McDonald should have been dealt with sooner.
He said: “The murder of Betty McDonald could have been avoided, could have been avoided had that individual been taken off the street earlier on or the weapons been taken off the street earlier on, or there had not been the collusion amongst state agents in covering up earlier murders then in terms of Betty McDonald’s right to life we say she may be still here today, living long into life with her husband.”
The UVF gang operated out of farms in Armagh and Tyrone in the mid 1970s when the Troubles were at their worst.
Lawyers for the victims have insisted only a public inquiry or an inquest covering all the deaths can get to the truth of the collusion claims. Senior coroner John Leckey said he was constrained by the resources available to his office.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland’s (PSNI) Historical Enquiries Team (HET) has found “indisputable evidence” of security force collusion in the group.
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has declined to be represented at the inquest. No submission has been made to her seeking a public inquiry but Mr Thomas said the McDonald family was not surprised she allegedly did not want to be involved.
He added: “This is the biggest case of state collusion in mass murder of innocent individuals. This is a state murdering its own, you cannot get bigger than that, and therefore while one sees and understands and looks at what is happening in Hillsborough, if what we say has occurred on, lets face it, British soil, why should that not be investigated?
“British security agents being involved in deaths of British citizens, it does not get worse than that.”
Mother-of-three Ms McDonald and Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) footballer Mr McGleenan were killed when a no-warning loyalist bomb detonated outside the Step Inn pub and nearby houses in August 1976. Twenty-five other people were injured.
Northern Ireland’s Attorney General John Larkin QC ordered the new inquest.
Mr Thomas acknowledged there had been convictions in some of the other killings he said were linked, but he added a narrow criminal investigation was not enough.
He said across the cases there had been a repetition of similar failings by the investigating authorities, a lack of criminal convictions, the killings happened in close proximity to each other, and created similar victims while pursuing similar modus operandi.
He added the deaths involved a similar group of individuals involved in a number of attacks.
“Many of those responsible were either serving or former members of the security forces. There were close ballistic links between the victims, the weapons used in many of the killings which originated within the Ulster Defence Regiment (a branch of the army recruited in Northern Ireland).”
He quoted the HET report: “Despite the obvious pattern and linkages between these offences, only cursory efforts have been made to investigate further.
“No determined efforts were made to investigate them in a meaningful fashion.
“This (Step Inn) bombing could have been prevented and should have been detected.”
Mr Thomas said precedents for a linked series of inquests were given by that into the deaths of Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko and Azelle Rodney, who was allegedly shot dead by Met Police.
He told Mr Leckey: “I can connect and join the dots in relation to various individuals who were named here to various atrocities, various bombings, various shootings, various matters and I can make the link on various weapons, various ballistics.
“This document enables me to tie up individuals.”
Press TV – March 26, 2015
Dozens of civilians are killed as Saudi Arabia and a coalition of regional allies launch a military operation in neighboring Yemen.
Yemeni media says warplanes have bombed residential areas including a hospital. Sana’a international airport has also been hit. Dozens of Yemeni civilians, including children and women, are killed in the attacks. Witnesses say the residential Bani Hawwat neighborhood has been the worst hit. The Saudi ambassador to the US says a group of ten countries have contributed to Yemen offensive.
Press TV has conducted an interview with Seif Da’na, professor at the University of Wisconsin from Chicago, for his take on the airstrikes by Saudi Arabia and its allies against Yemeni people.
Da’na warned that the assault might amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity in Yemen, because the attackers have no right to enter the Yemeni airspace in the first place, let alone kill innocent children and civilians.
At least 13 civilians, including women and children, were killed in the Saudi-led air raids overnight, a Yemeni source said.
“Just last month, a resolution that was proposed by the Saudis and other countries in the region to the Security Council failed to pass. So there is no international legitimacy,” the analyst maintains.
He further argued, “The only kind of legitimacy they claim to have is that they have consulted with the US and they have the US support and some sort of green light from the US, but such coordination with the US doesn’t give any legitimacy to such an act.”
Da’na also ruled out some media propaganda which say Yemenis welcome such attacks by the Saudis, noting that the Yemeni people would basically condemn such intervention as nobody wants other countries to invade their country.
Israel’s human rights abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territory came under renewed attack by senior UN officials on Monday.
Addressing the Human Rights Council in Geneva, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967 Makarim Wibisono heavily criticised Israel’s assault on Gaza last year.
“The ferocity of destruction and high proportion of civilian lives lost in Gaza cast serious doubts over Israel’s adherence to international humanitarian law principles of proportionality, distinction and precautions in attack.”
Wibisono described the “lack of respect for human rights” as having “permeated almost every aspect of the daily lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza”, touching upon Israel’s “excessive use of force”, as well as settlement construction, threats of “forcible transfer”, and more.
The UN official also noted that “treatment of Palestinians, including children in Israeli detention, was an issue of grave concern” and that Israel “had done too little to follow up on the report [two years ago] by the United Nations Children’s Fund” on the ill-treatment of children in military detention.
The Council was also presented with a report of the Secretary-General on Israeli settlements in the OPT and Syrian Golan, which he said continued to expand.
The Secretary-General described how “Israeli settlements and acts of violence committed by Israeli settlers against Palestinians continue to underpin a broad spectrum of human rights violations against Palestinians.”
The report urged Israel to “cease all settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as in the occupied Syrian Golan, and implement relevant United Nations resolutions.”
A second Secretary-General report on the broader human rights situation in the OPT, covering the period from May 2013 to October 2014, further noted that settlements “undermine Palestinian territorial integrity, contrary to international law, and Palestinians’ right to self-determination.”
Obstacles to peace and to Palestinians’ enjoyment of their human rights, including their right to self-determination, must be removed. That means the ending and reversal of all settlement activity in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the full lifting of the blockade on Gaza and the ending of the occupation of Palestinian land.
Mary McGowan Davis, Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict, gave the Council an oral update on the progression of the Commission. Davis said that Israel had not responded to a request for access, and, that the written report would be presented in June.
By Brenda Heard | Aletho News | March 25, 2015
Six months prior to the upcoming UK general election, the Board of Deputies of British Jews published its “2015 General Election Jewish Manifesto.” This forty-page document urges both existing and prospective members of the UK Parliament to support various “policy asks” and to “champion these causes.” The Manifesto was styled after a very similar one created for the 2014 EU elections. Indeed their goals appear the same: to ensure a pro-Israeli agenda in the House of Commons and beyond.
The 2015 Manifesto does include some discussion of faith-based issues, such as underscoring the need of the Jewish community in the UK to be able to provide Kosher meat and to observe the Sabbath. This discussion is a just and valid participation of citizens in their government. The problem arises, however, when the Manifesto equates Jewish and Israeli. With 58 mentions of Israel, the Manifesto, cloaked in blue and white imagery throughout, even boasts a full-page illustration of the British and Israeli flags flying together.
This self-proclaimed “voice of British Jewry” avows a “very strong attachment to the State of Israel.” Yet it is difficult to reconcile this support with such statements as “The UK Jewish community is committed to peace, security, prosperity and equality for Israel, the Palestinians and the wider Middle East” when this statement was penned less than two months after a vicious Israeli onslaught against Gaza, an indiscriminate rampage that in just fifty days killed at least 2,100 Palestinians, some 70% of whom were civilians, including 519 children. A recent report by the American National Lawyers Guild concluded that “both facts and law refute the Israeli self-defense claims” and that Israel had “collectively punished the entire civilian population.” Indeed, Israeli forces intentionally targeted Palestinian civilians, leaving them dead and wounded, homeless and devastated. There has been no peace, no security, no prosperity and no equality for the Palestinians. Not ever.
Yet the Board of Deputies of British Jews expresses unwavering support for Israel. Any resistance to Israeli policy, the Manifesto maintains, should be denounced by the world. The Manifesto offers scant attention to the Palestinian resistance group Hamas, however, noting that the EU had already classified Hamas as a terrorist organisation, one with whom the UK should “refuse to engage.” Two months after the publication of the Manifesto, the EU General Court removed Hamas from the list of terrorist organisations, stating:
“the General Court finds that the contested measures are based not on acts examined and confirmed in decisions of competent authorities but on factual imputations derived from the press and the internet.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews promptly condemned this “unacceptable” ruling, and called it “an affront to the values of Europe.” The Board statement also used the opportunity to reiterate various accusations against Hamas—characterisations that have for years engendered the very hearsay that was finally rejected by the EU General Court. The Council of the EU soon appealed the court’s decision. The Board cheered the appeal and the efforts taken to ensure the appeal, stating “we commend the European Jewish Congress on all its work in ensuring that this issue remains on top of the agenda in Brussels.” The power of lobbying for Israel.
As for Lebanon, the Manifesto proudly points out that the UK led the EU designation of Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organisation in 2013. But that action was not enough to appease the Board, which urges the UK to lead the campaign to expand that designation to the “entirety” of Hezbollah. The key here is that Israel and its allies have always wanted to destroy all semblance of Hezbollah, as every aspect of the group builds the pride and strength of a Lebanese populace. It is the will to resist Israeli encroachment—the entire culture of resistance in both Palestine and Lebanon—that Israel wants to break. And this is a sentiment of political Israel, not of “British Jewry.” This has nothing to do with the Jewish faith.
Rather similar to the hearsay problem cited by the EU General Court, the accusations hurled at Hezbollah are based on decades of presumptions that Hezbollah is a ruthless entity to be feared and crushed. The fervour to destroy Hezbollah has long been evident in the policies of Israel, the US and the UK. Together, these three bodies have tremendous abilities to create and to seemingly substantiate and certainly to sell the narrative that suits their own agenda. Perhaps it is time to question these fervent accusations.
The Manifesto asserts that Hezbollah has “launched attacks against European and Jewish civilians worldwide” and offers three examples to illustrate this sweeping and unsubstantiated accusation: Buenos Aires (1994), Bulgaria (2012), Cyprus (2013). The responsibility in each of these incidents is far from conclusive.
The Buenos Aires investigation was at once tainted by the immediate involvement of US and Israeli intelligence services. The case was indelibly ruined by layers of corruption within Argentinian services. Even the Guardian acknowledged the investigation to be a “complex saga of mind-boggling intrigue.” Surely the extensive research published in 2008 by historian Gareth Porter should at the very least create reasonable doubt about Hezbollah’s involvement.
Like Buenos Aires, the Bulgarian case investigation was aided by US and Israeli intelligence services. Several reports raise doubts as to the legitimacy of the judgement process, examples of which: Gareth Porter, here and here; Times of Israel ; Haaretz ; Bulgarian FM Vigenin. Despite Israel’s initial finger-pointing at Hezbollah, the investigation revealed compelling forensic evidence of an Al Qaeda-linked suspect, which was mysteriously dropped only to reveal three Lebanese dual-nationals as suspects. The investigation that struggled for answers somehow, with the help of the US and Israel, was able to link those suspects to Hezbollah. How politically convenient.
In an attempt to offer conclusive evidence of an attack-plotting Hezbollah, the Manifesto offers a fear-inspiring quotation from an allegedly self-confessed Hezbollah member who had seemingly bungled surveillance work in Cyprus and was caught out by Mossad. The man’s “handler,” who was “always wearing a mask,” wanted him to pinpoint Kosher restaurants and to track the arrival times of flights from Israel. But why risk doing such surveillance in person? This information is readily available online, even if it required some creative computing skills. The culprit’s narrative reads more like the stuff of a cheap spy novel than it does the operational expertise of a group with more than thirty-years successful experience. Even if the confessor thought he was, in his nervously ever-changing narrative, revealing some truth, who is to say that he was not led by an imposter to believe he was acting under the direction of Hezbollah, when in fact he was not? Mission not so very impossible.
Still, we are meant to believe that in planning such globally significant missions, Hezbollah was careless enough to leave a paper-trail and to choose men who were inept in their tasks and men who would break under police questioning and tell all. And we are meant to believe that the consistent aid of US and Israeli intelligence has always been strictly objective.
This article is not intended to be a full rebuttal to these specific accusations. The point remains that there is at least reasonable doubt. These accusations are on many levels fuelled by a hatred that has burned for decades, a hatred that would stop at nothing to eradicate the Islamic Resistance of Lebanon. But even if you remain unconvinced of their problematic nature, even if you cannot bring yourself to offer Hezbollah the benefit of the doubt, there remains a double standard in this “Policy Ask” from the Board of Deputies of British Jews. How in the name of civilised democracy can the British Government continue to vehemently denounce Hezbollah, yet eagerly champion an Israeli government that routinely practices that which it condemns?
The Manifesto complains, for instance, that Hezbollah arranged surveillance of Jewish people. Yet we find the following boast in the Board’s EU Manifesto:
“As part of the widespread intelligence cooperation between Israel and the EU, Israel is providing essential information to EU officials enabling them to enforce the proscription [against Hezbollah].”
So it is acceptable for Israel to spy on Lebanese, but not vice versa? The Manifesto also complains Hezbollah allegedly exploited dual-nationals and used false identity papers. Yet this technique is an integral component of Mossad, from false identities and false flags in the 1950s, to political military espionage in the 1960s, to international vigilante justice in the 1970s, to fake passports and double agent killing squads in the 1980s, to assassination attempts in the 1990s, to falsified passports and passport fraud, and assassination after assassination in the 2000s.
These activities tend to be forgotten in the wake of repeated wars on the Lebanese and Palestinians. These activities are often subjectively shrugged off as necessary handling of “legitimate” targets, perhaps with a few unfortunate mistakes. Nonetheless, they exhibit a perpetual defiance of the rule of law, a defiance that is made glaringly clear in Israel’s custom of not only indiscriminate, but also deliberate attacks on the civilian population of the Palestinian territories.
After Israel’s 2006 onslaught on Lebanon, the UN Commission of Inquiry emphasised that one third of the Lebanese casualties were children and stated:
“The Commission highlights a significant pattern of excessive, indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force by IDF against Lebanese civilians and civilian objects. . . The Commission has formed a clear view that, cumulatively, the deliberate and lethal attacks by the IDF on civilians and civilian objects amounted to collective punishment.”
Likewise, after Israel’s 2009 onslaught on Gaza, the UN Fact Finding Mission concluded that:
“what occurred in just over three weeks at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 was a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.”
Following Israel’s 2014 onslaught on Gaza, an Independent Medical Fact-Finding Mission described in detail the reckless, often deliberate targeting of civilians, including the use of the “double tap”: multiple consecutive strikes on a single location that would lead to additional casualties amongst civilian onlookers and rescuers.
Perhaps as much as casualty statistics, this calculated strategy reveals not merely what the Manifesto describes euphemistically as “challenges about integration between different sectors of the population that need to be addressed,” but what one IDF Staff Sergeant described as “contempt for human life.” He was relating a similar tactic ordered by his battalion commander in the West Bank:
“You leave bodies in the field—they told me they did it a lot in Lebanon— you leave a body in the field, and you wait until they come to recover it so you can shoot at them. It’s like you’re setting up an ambush around the body. But those are things I heard about Lebanon. So it happened here [in Nablus], too.”
Contempt for human life happened. Contempt for rule of law happened. Again and again, at the hands of the “democratic state” promoted by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, who in the same instance would like to coax British and Europeans to condemn the very victims of that state’s crimes. While their Manifesto offers a few pages pushing Israeli politics, I offer my recently published book, Hezbollah: An Outsider’s Inside View. Based on eight years of getting to know the people who are Hezbollah, this inside view of the Islamic Resistance of Lebanon offers the opportunity to explore for yourself the militants at the horizon. May common sense, not lobbying efforts, shape the concerns of the British people.
Brenda is the founder and director of Friends of Lebanon, UK. She is the author of numerous articles and the recently published Hezbollah: An Outsider’s Inside View. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Israeli and American representatives were conspicuously absent from the UN Human Rights Council session on the Palestinian territories on Monday. The session aimed to look into the Gaza conflict which killed 2,200 people in 50 days in 2014.
“I note the representative of Israel is not present,” Council President Joachim Ruecher said as the session kicked off Monday in Geneva.
Tel Aviv refused to comment as to why its representatives did not take part.
The US, however, said that one of the points on the UN session agenda – concerning human rights violations against the Palestinians – lacked legitimacy.
“Our non-participation in this debate underscores our position that Item 7 lacks legitimacy, as it did last year when we also refrained from speaking. The United States strongly and unequivocally opposes the very existence of Agenda Item 7 and any HRC resolutions that come from it,” Keith Harper, US ambassador to the Council, said in a statement.
He added that the United States remains “deeply troubled” by the item directed against Israel “and by the many repetitive and one-sided resolutions under that agenda item. No other nation has an entire agenda item set aside to deal with it.”
The Monday session was initially scheduled to discuss the report on the 50-day war in Gaza last year, but the incoming United Nations Human Rights Council’s chairperson, Mary McGowan Davis, said investigators needed more time to finish their report on the conflict, as Israel impeded access to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
“The commission has done its utmost to obtain access to Israel and the Gaza Strip, as well as the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. We would very much have liked to meet face to face with victims and the authorities in these places,” she said.
Davis asked for a delay until June for the commission to complete its report, due to late-breaking testimonies from witnesses and changes in leadership.
Mary McGowan Davis – a former New York State Supreme Court Justice – replaced William Schabas, a Canadian international law expert, as the Council’s chairperson after Schabas quit last month under Israeli pressure. Israel had doubts about his objectiveness, as he had prepared a legal opinion for the Palestine Liberation Organization while serving as a law professor in 2012.
Meanwhile, despite Schabas’ resignation, Israel continues to accuse the commission of bias against the Jewish state. Three years ago, Tel Aviv cut all ties with the Council after it began checks on how Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories could be violating human rights. Relations were partially restored last year.
Israel has been severely criticized for its political decisions amid the 2014 war in Gaza, which claimed the lives of more than 2,140 Palestinians – most of them civilians – and over 70 Israelis, most of whom were soldiers. The conflict ended with a truce between Israel and Hamas on August 26.
“The ferocity of destruction and high proportion of civilian lives lost in Gaza cast serious doubts over Israel’s adherence to international humanitarian law principles of proportionality, distinction and precautions in attack,” Makarim Wibisono, special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied territories, told the Council. Meanwhile, armed Palestinian groups were also accused of impunity against civilians and targeting Israeli civilians to inspire aggression from Tel Aviv.
“The actions of Palestinian armed groups in Gaza, including indiscriminate rocket fire into civilian neighborhoods in Israel, firing from densely-populated areas, locating military objects in civilian buildings, and the execution of suspected collaborators, also constitute clear violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law,” Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri said in remarks published on the UN’s website on Monday.
Relations between the Obama administration and Israel appeared to have cooled down after Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the US Congress with a speech criticizing Washington’s nuke talks with Iran. Netanyahu’s pre-election promise not to allow the creation of a Palestinian state did not help to improve the situation. After being re-elected, the PM tried to step back and said he still supported the concept of “two states.” However, White House press secretary Josh Earnest called his position “cynical” and accused him of “divisive election day tactics.”
US drone strikes on Pakistani soil over the past decade have claimed the lives of some 2,200 people, Press TV quotes Islamabad
According to figures presented in a report by Pakistani lawmakers, 2,199 people have been killed and 282 others injured in the US drone attacks in Pakistan.
Nearly 210 houses and 60 vehicles have also reportedly been damaged.
The families of 43 of the dead and seven of those injured have received compensation so far, according to the report.
However, rights activists say Islamabad has not revealed the actual number of deaths, which many say is more than 3,000 and possibly as many as 4,000.
“The majority of the people who got killed were the citizens of Pakistan and I don’t think that this [report] is a final truth. There are still numbers that are out there and I hope those numbers also come out and that will push this number of 2,200 to a much higher numerical level,” political analyst Tariq Pirzada said.
Islamabad has so far failed to provide accurate information regarding the identity of those killed in the drone strikes.
Although evidence on the ground indicates civilians are the main victims of the strikes over the years, the Pakistani government reports that most of those killed are militants.
Islamabad has also said it cannot determine the actual number of civilian deaths as a result of its ongoing ground and air offensives against the militants in the tribal areas.
The Pakistani government has been criticized for allowing the US to carry out its illegal drone strikes near the country’s border with Afghanistan.
The aerial attacks, initiated by former US president, George W. Bush in 2004, have been escalated under President Barack Obama.
Obama has defended the use of the controversial drones as “self-defense.” Washington claims the targets of the drone attacks are militants.
The United Nations and several human rights organizations have identified the US as the world’s number-one user of “targeted killings,” largely due to its drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.