Saturday, 19 December 2009

Obama, Is Preparing for War in South America

The Vineyard of the Saker

Interview with Eva Golinger by Mike Whitney for Information Clearing House

Mike Whitney: The US media is very critical of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. He's frequently denounced as "anti-American", a "leftist strongman", and a dictator. Can you briefly summarize some of the positive social, economic and judicial changes for which Chavez is mainly responsible?

Eva Golinger: The first and foremost important achievement during the Chávez administration is the 1999 Constitution, which, although not written nor decreed by Chávez himself, was created through his vision of change for Venezuela. The 1999 Constitution was, in fact, drafted - written - by the people of Venezuela in one of the most participatory examples of nation building, and then was ratified through popular national referendum by 75% of Venezuelans. The 1999 Constitution is one of the most advanced in the world in the area of human rights. It guarantees the rights to housing, education, healthcare, food, indigenous lands, languages, women's rights, worker's rights, living wages and a whole host of other rights that few other countries recognize on a national level. My favorite right in the Venezuelan Constitution is the right to a dignified life. That pretty much sums up all the others. Laws to implement these rights began to surface in 2001, with land reform, oil industry redistribution, tax laws and the creation of more than a dozen social programs - called missions - dedicated to addressing the basic needs of Venezuela's poor majority. In 2003, the first missions were directed at education and healthcare. Within two years, illiteracy was eradicated in the country and Venezuela was certified by UNESCO as a nation free of illiteracy. This was done with the help of a successful Cuban literacy program called "Yo si puedo" (Yes I can). Further educational missions were created to provide free universal education from primary to doctoral levels throughout the country. Today, Venezuela's population is much more educated than before, and adults who previously had no high school education now are encouraged to not only go through a secondary school program, but also university and graduate school.

The healthcare program, called "Barrio Adentro", has not only provided preventive healthcare to all Venezuelans - many who never had access to a doctor before - but also has guaranteed universal, free access to medical attention at the most advanced levels. MRIs, heart surgery, lab work, cancer treatments, are all provided free of cost to anyone (including foreigners) in need. Some of the most modern clinics, diagnostic treatment centers and hospitals have been built in the past five years under this program, placing Venezuela at the forefront of medical technology.

Other programs providing subsidized food and consumer products (Mercal, Pdval), job training (Mission Vuelvan Caras), subsidies to poor, single mothers (Madres del Barrio), attention to indigents and drug addicts (Mission Negra Hipolita) have reduced extreme poverty by 50% and raised Venezuelans standard of living and quality of life. While nothing is perfect, these changes are extraordinary and have transformed Venezuela into a nation far different from what it looked like 10 years ago. In fact, the most important achievement that Hugo Chávez himself is directly responsible for is the level of participation in the political process. Today, millions of Venezuelans previously invisible and excluded are visible and included. Those who were always marginalized and ignored in Venezuela by prior governments today have a voice, are seen and heard, and are actively participating in the building of a new economic, political and social model in their country.

Mike Whitney: On Monday, President Chavez threw a Venezuelan judge in jail on charges of abuse of power for freeing a high-profile banker. Do you think he overstepped his authority as executive or violated the principle of separation of powers? What does this say about Chavez's resolve to fight corruption?

Eva Golinger: President Chávez did not put anyone in jail. Venezuela has an Attorney General and an independent branch of government in charge of public prosecutions. Chávez did publicly accuse the judge of corruption and violating the law because that judge overstepped her authority by releasing an individual charged with corruption and other criminal acts from detention, despite the fact that a previous court had not granted conditional freedom or bail to the suspect. And, the judge released the suspect in a very irregular way, without the presence of the prosecutor, and through a back door. The suspect then fled the country.

This is part of Venezuela's fight against corruption. Unfortunately - as in a lot of countries - corruption is deeply rooted in the culture. The struggle to eradicate corruption is probably the most difficult of all and will probably not be achieved until new generations have grown up with different values and education. In the meantime, the Chávez administration is trying hard to ensure that corrupt public officials pay the consequences. That judge, for example, engaged in an act of corruption and abuse of authority by illegally releasing a suspect and therefore was charged by the Public Prosecutor's office and will be tried. It has nothing to do with what Chávez said or didn't say, it has to do with enforcing the law.

Mike Whitney: Why is the United States building military bases in Colombia? Do they pose a threat to Chavez or the Bolivarian Revolution?

Eva Golinger: On October 30th, the US formally entered into an agreement with the Colombian government to allow US access to seven military bases in Colombia and unlimited use of Colombian territory for military operations. The agreement itself is purported to be directed at counter-narcotics operations and counter-terrorism. But a US Air Force document released earlier this year discussing the need for a stronger US military presence in Colombia revealed the true intentions behind the military agreement. The document stated that the US military presence was necessary to combat the "constant threat from anti-US governments in the region". Clearly, that is a reference to Venezuela, and probably Bolivia, maybe Ecuador. It's no secret that Washington considers the Venezuelan government anti-US, though it's not true. Venezuela is anti-imperialist, but not anti-US. The US Air Force document also stated that the Colombian bases would be used to engage in "full spectrum military operations" throughout South America, and even talked about surveillance, intelligence and reconnaisance missions, and improving the capacity of US forces to execute "expeditionary warfare" in Latin America.

Clearly, this is a threat to the peoples of Latin America and particularly those nations targeted, such as Venezuela. Most people in the US don't know about this military agreement, but it they did, they should question why their government, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama, is preparing for war in South America. And, in the midst of an economic crisis with millions of people in the US losing jobs and homes, why are millions of dollars being spent on military bases in Colombia? The US Congress already approved $46 million for one of the bases in Colombia. And surely more funds will be supplied in the future.

Mike Whitney: What is ALBA? Is it a viable alternative to the "free trade" blocs promoted by the US?

Eva Golinger: The Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas - Trade Agreement for the People, is a regional agreement created five years ago between Venezuela and Cuba, and now has 9 members: Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Dominica. ALBA is a trade agreement based on integration, cooperation and solidarity, contrary to US trade agreements which are based on competition and exploitation. It promotes a way of trading between nations that assures mutual benefits. For example, Venezuela sells oil to Cuba and Cuba pays with services - doctors, educators and technological experts that help to improve Venezuela's industries. Venezuela sells oil to Nicaragua and Nicaragua pays with food products, agricultural technology and aide to build Venezuela's own agricultural industry, which long ago was abandoned by prior governments only interested in the rich oil industry. ALBA seeks to not just provide economic benefits to its member nations, but also social and cultural advances. The idea is to find ways to help members develop and progress in all aspects of society. ALBA recently created a new currency, the SUCRE, which will be used as a form of exchange between member nations, eliminating the US dollar as the standard for trade.

Mike Whitney: Are US NGO's and intelligence agents still trying to foment political instability in Venezuela or have those operations ceased since the failed coup?

Eva Golinger: In fact, the funding of political groups in Venezuela, and others throughout Latin America that promote US agenda, has increased since the April 2002 coup against President Chávez. Through two principal Department of State agencies, USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the US government has channeled more than $50 million to opposition groups in Venezuela since 2002. The USAID/NED budget to fund groups in Venezuela in 2010 is nearly $15 million, doubled from last year's $7 million. This is a state policy of Washington, which the Obama Administration plans to amp up. They call it "democracy promotion", but it's really democracy subversion and destabilization. Funding political groups favorable to Empire, equipping them with resources, strategizing to help formulate political platforms and campaigns - all geared towards regime change - is a new form of invasion, a silent invasion. Through USAID and NED, and their "partner NGOs" and contractors, such as Freedom House, International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute, Pan-American Development Foundation and Development Alternatives, Inc., hundreds of political groups, parties and programs are presently being funded in Venezuela to promote regime change against the Chávez government. US taxpayer dollars are being squandered on these efforts to overthrow a democratically elected government that simply isn't convenient for Washington. Remember, Venezuela has 24% of world oil reserves. That's a lot!

Mike Whitney: How hard has Venezuela been hit by the economic crisis? Do the people understand Wall Street's role in the meltdown?

Eva Golinger: Actually, the Chávez government has taken important steps to shelter Venezuela from the financial crisis. People here in Venezuela absolutely understand Wall Street's role in the crisis and know that the US capitalist-consumerist system is principally responsible for causing the financial crisis, but also the climate crisis that the world is facing. The Venezuelan government took preventive steps against the financial crisis, such as withdrawing Venezuela's reserves from US banks two years ago, creating cushion funds to ensure social programs would not be cut and diversifying Venezuela's oil clientele so as not to be dependent solely on US clients. Recently, several banks have been nationalized by the Venezuelan government and others have been liquidated. But this was more due to the mismanagement and internal corruption within those banks. The Venezuelan government reacted quickly to take over the banks and guarantee customers' savings would not be lost. In fact, it's the first time in Venezuela's history that no customers have lost any of their money during a bank liquidation or takeover. This is part of the Chávez Administration's policy of prioritizing social needs over economic gain.

Mike Whitney: Here's an excerpt from a special weekend report by Bloomberg News:

"Americans have grown gloomier about both the economy and the nation’s direction over the past three months even as the U.S. shows signs of moving from recession to recovery. Almost half the people now feel less financially secure than when President Barack Obama took office in January...Fewer than 1 in 3 Americans think the economy will improve in the next six months....Only 32 percent of poll respondents believe the country is headed in the right direction, down from 40 percent who said so in September." (Bloomberg)

The frustration and disillusionment with the US political/economic system has never been greater in my lifetime. Do you think people in the United States are ready for their own Bolivarian Revolution and steps towards a more progressive, socialistic model of government?

Eva Golinger: The rise of Barack Obama neutralized a growing sentiment for profound change inside the US. Hopefully, the slowdown in US activism will only be temporary. South of the border, there is tremendous change taking place. New social, political and economic models are being built by popular grassroots movements in Venezuela, Bolivia and other Latin American nations that seek economic and social justice. I believe strongly that models in process, like the Bolivarian Revolution, provide inspiration and hope to those in the US and around the world that alternatives to US capitalism do exist and can be successful.

The US has a rich history of revolution. There are many groups inside the US dedicated to building a better, more humanist system. Unity and a collective vision are essential aspects of building a strong movement capable of moving forward. Every nation has its moment in history. This is the time of Latin America. But there is great hope that the people of the US will soon unite with their brothers and sisters south of the border to bring down Empire and help build a true world community based on social and economic justice for all.

Eva Golinger, winner of the International Award for Journalism in Mexico (2009), named “La Novia de Venezuela” by President Hugo Chávez, is a Venezuelan-American attorney from New York, living in Caracas, Venezuela since 2005 and author of the best-selling books, “The Chávez Code: Cracking US Intervention in Venezuela” (2006 Olive Branch Press), “Bush vs. Chávez: Washington’s War on Venezuela” (2007, Monthly Review Press), “The Empire’s Web: Encyclopedia of Interventionism and Subversion”, “La Mirada del Imperio sobre el 4F: Los Documentos Desclasificados de Washington sobre la rebelión militar del 4 de febrero de 1992” and "La Agresión Permanente: USAID, NED y CIA". Since 2003, Eva, a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and CUNY Law School in New York, has been investigating, analyzing and writing about US intervention in Venezuela using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain information about the US Government’s efforts to destabilize progressive movements in Latin America. Her first book, The Chávez Code, has been translated and published in six languages (English, Spanish, French, German, Italian & Russian) and is presently being made into a feature film.
Posted by VINEYARDSAKER: at 1:48 PM 

SALAITA: Corporate American media and Israel’s 2008-09 Gaza invasion

December 16, 2009

by Steven Salaita  -  Dissident Voice -  14 December 2009
The following piece is an excerpt from a talk Salaita gave at the School of Oriental and African Studies on December 7, 2009.

I’m starting on the assumption that we’re all aware of Israel’s brutality in the Gaza Strip and that we all find it unconscionable, as does the vast majority of the world. I assume as well that we’re aware of the brutality preceding and following Israel’s military assault nearly a year ago. I’d like to examine how corporate media in the United States presented coverage of Israel’s invasion, and how discourses of justification for Israel are built into the foundation of that coverage.

First of all, let’s get a sense of just how devastating Israel’s aggression has been. In the weeks following Israel’s invasion, it became clear from a variety of sources that at a minimum 1,400 Palestinians have been killed. Nearly 500 were children. Because American media did such a poor job of putting these numbers into context, I will do it for you: The overall population of Gaza is around 1.4 million. Let’s do a basic comparative analysis, then. At least 1,400 Palestinians were killed, which is .001, or one one thousandth, of Gaza’s population. If you take that number and apply it to Israel’s population of 7.3 million, it would be the same as 7,300 Israeli deaths. The United States’ population is 305 million; the equivalent casualties per capita would be 305,000. 305,000 people. Think about that for a moment. And then think about the fact that we’re being asked to accept this level of Palestinian death as part of some abstruse battle against terrorism.

It’s important to look at these Palestinian deaths in the broader context of Israeli colonization. The vast discrepancy in power between the Israeli military and Palestinian resistance is reflected in some mortality and economic figures. In 2008, for instance, on the eve of Israel’s Gaza invasion, 820 Palestinians had been killed by Israelis whereas 35 Israelis had been killed by Palestinians. You probably didn’t hear much about these Palestinian deaths because the first rule of corporate media in the United States is that periods of “relative calm” predominate when only Palestinians are dying.

Since the September 2000, start of the second Intifada, the figures are equally disproportionate. Although Americans are told over and again that Palestinians started the violence in 2000, the facts reveal this narrative to be fallacious. In the fall of 2000, 140 Palestinians were killed before there was a single Israeli casualty. Likewise, Israel murdered 82 Palestinian children before a single Israeli child was killed. Since 2000, 123 Israeli children have been killed by Palestinians; 1200 Palestinian children have been killed by Israelis. 1,067 Israelis have been killed; at least 5,500 Palestinians have been killed. Around 8,500 Israelis have been injured; over 35,000 Palestinians have been injured. Israel has been targeted for condemnation by over 65 UN resolutions. One Israeli is being held prisoner by the Palestinians; 10,756 Palestinians are being held prisoner by the Israelis. Zero Israeli homes have been demolished by Palestinians; over 19,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished by Israelis. The Palestinians do not have any illegal settlements inside Israel; Israel has over 400 illegal Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian land. The unemployment rate inside Israel is 7.5 percent; the unemployment rate inside the Gaza Strip is 80 percent. And yet Israel receives around 7 million dollars per day from the United States. This money goes to a government that continually denies any responsibility for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The 2008-09 attacks on Gaza entailed massive human rights violations. Let me give you just one example that you’re not hearing about on CNN and NPR, or from cutting-edge liberals like Rachel Maddow or Michael Moore: Israel has used a variety of illegal chemical weapons, including white phosphorous. If you’re not familiar with white phosphorous it is a substance that ignites and spreads upon contact with oxygen. Anybody who comes into contact with it goes into uncontrollable fits; enough exposure to it will cause one’s flesh to melt down to bone. It is the chemical that Saddam Hussein used against the Kurds in the infamous Halabja massacre, the one invoked repeatedly by the United States as a pretext to invade Iraq.

One would think that this sort of brutality would be widely condemned in Israel, where, unlike in the United States, it’s actually reported; but that hasn’t really been the case. There’s been some grassroots action, some low-level protest, and some of the typical philosophical flatulence from famous doves like David Grossman and Amos Oz about the deterioration of the Israeli soul. On the whole, the Israeli cultural, economic, and intellectual elite applauded Israel’s invasion, supporting it whole cloth with little reservation; indeed, much of the criticism focused on claims that Israel is being too restrained.

For all we hear about Palestinians cheering on terrorism, which is a myth, Israeli and Arab news stations have shown footage of Israelis literally dancing in the streets. I’m sure you saw the pictures of the Israelis who set up lawn chairs on a hilltop to have a picnic and watch the destruction of Gaza as if it were a movie. These are the traits of a very sick society, one that can never escape its violent colonial origin. These traits are the result of a fundamental belief among Zionists that Palestinians aren’t human.

This fundamental belief has pervaded American media coverage. There are two features of media coverage around Israeli colonization that stand out: 1) the Palestinians, no matter who is dying, whether it’s a bearded gunman or a baby, are always called militants, terrorists, or some other term that suggests they are never civilians; and 2) any Israeli military invasion is almost uniformly deemed retaliatory. At the height of Gaza’s destruction, the International Herald Tribune noted, “Civilians have been caught in between suicide fighters and a powerful military.” This phrase suggests, of course, that Israel’s aggression is justified. But it’s even more insidious when you look at it closely. It also suggests that the Palestinians are unworthy of the very freedom that Jews naturally deserve. Palestinian deaths therefore become unremarkable. These narratives are not only inaccurate and irresponsible, they are racist because they refuse to imagine the Palestinian in a human capacity, seeing him instead only in the context of Israel’s whims and desires. And when Israel desires to kill Palestinians, the justification is easy, because it is built into a perception of Palestinian inhumanity: Israel wishes to conduct the business of its apartheid, colonization, and human rights violations without the inconvenience of those pesky Palestinians fighting for basic dignity and freedom.

Everything Palestinian is a Hamas stronghold according to American media, which simply reiterate whatever propaganda comes out of the Israeli military’s spokesperson’s mouth. In the past year, Israel has attacked hospitals, schools, heavily-populated residential areas, police stations, mosques, orphanages, and a civilian boat carrying humanitarian aid. The rationale is the same every single time: whatever Israel bombs is a repository of terrorists. Nothing Palestinian, then, is fundamentally free of the influence of terrorism – not Palestinian schools, not Palestinian kitchens, not Palestinian automobiles, not Palestinian mosques and churches, and not Palestinian children. At one point during Israel’s slaughter, a Palestinian infant was killed by Israeli bombs while she was feeding. Apparently, his mother’s breast was a Hamas stronghold.

I would suggest that we don’t simply counter these pernicious Israeli and American narratives by pointing only at the current Israeli human rights violations. We have to remember, and remind others, that Israel is a colonial nation, created on the ashes of an indigenous population that is now confined to 22 percent of its homeland and constantly under threat to lose that, too. So, when people deem Israel’s actions retaliatory, we can say that such a claim is factually untrue and in contravention of the historical record. And we can point out that as a rule, colonization is never defensive. It never was and it never will be. Its very nature renders it offensive, and that’s exactly what Israel is doing now: launching a genocidal offensive on a dispossessed and colonized people.

To hear American media tell it, though, the death of Palestinian civilians is an unfortunate byproduct of their own innate barbarity. By continually emphasizing Israel’s so-called retaliation, American media simultaneously justify and absolve Israel of its cruelty. We need to point out that most of the Gazans are refugees who are indigenous to the villages and cities Israel claims to now be protecting. Gaza’s population does not consist of irrational Muslim extremists who inexplicably dislike Jews and take a perverse joy in undermining Israel’s timeless and innocent democracy, as American news outlets relentlessly suggest; it consists of people who have been systematically dispossessed, starved, tortured, and economically exploited. Nor does this population exist outside of history; it is engaged in a colonial war against a powerful state that has long undertaken a program of ethnic cleansing.

If it seems like this is too tall an order for the hopelessly pro-Israel corporate media, then keep in mind that the world is comprised of fundamentally decent human beings, which is why over 99 percent of people in the world will agree with you. Corporate media reflect the interests of the elite and the powerful, but they aren’t strong enough to control the flow of all information in an age of mass communications. Therefore, even though American media relentlessly vilify the Palestinians, most Americans aren’t buying the bias anymore. For example, a Rasmussen poll last year showed that 44 percent of Americans supported Israel’s invasion of Gaza, while 41 percent opposed it.

Unsurprisingly, among Republicans there was 62 percent support, with 27 percent opposed. Among Democrats, however, there was only 31 percent support, with 55 percent of respondents opposed to Israel’s aggression.

While this poll is far from comprehensive of American attitudes, it is hopeful. We learn, for example, that the new ruling party in the United States takes a position on Israel that contravenes well over half of its supporters. Israel won’t be able to keep up its impunity and belligerence forever. Its free pass, which it acquired through constant fear- and guilt-mongering, is about to be invalidated. This is Zionism’s last gasp as a civil, cultured movement. It’s difficult to support a state that constantly claims to be victimized but somehow has the capacity to starve millions of people and swiftly slaughter over 400 children.

Steven Salaita’s latest book is The Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims, and the Poverty of Liberal Thought. Read other articles by Steven, or visit Steven’s website.

Year 1431: Off to a Rocky Start

Mideast Flashpoints
Year 1431: Off to a Rocky Start

Today, Friday Dec. 18, is the first day of the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar; 1 Muharram, 1431 A.H. Unfortunately, the New Year shows all signs of being another troubled one in the Middle East, with multiple hot spots unlikely to cool anytime soon. A brief overview:

Nearly a year after Israel’s massive assault on the tiny, besieged territory in an ultimately failed bid to oust Hamas, its people continue to suffer.
The December 2008 Gaza War, dubbed Operation Cast Lead, saw the illegal use of white phosphorus, deliberate targeting of U.N.-run schools and food warehouses, wanton destruction of civilian infrastructure and homes, and an egregious number of civilian causalities, including hundreds of children. The embargo on basic yet vital reconstruction materials continues, as do the difficulties and obstacles in administering medical care to the people. Despite the hardship inflicted by the use of overwhelming military force, Israel was unsuccessful in turning the population against Hamas; the hope of ushering in the quisling Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to preside over both the West Bank and Gaza, lost. Little has changed in Gaza since, even in light of the Goldstone Report implicating Israel in the commission of war crimes.
More recently, the anticipated release of the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners appears to have hit a snag, most likely on Israel’s reluctance to free Marwan Barghouti. While this exchange could have done much to help ease tensions (relatively speaking), Israel’s continued bombing of tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border coupled with little substantive relief finding its way to beleaguered Gazans make the present truce a precarious one.

It is the unending nuclear dispute, the possibility of further economic sanctions (or military action), and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries’ reaction to perceived Iranian bellicosity that grabs headlines. But in the wake of Iran’s disputed presidential election, unremitting internal discontent and the effect it is having on the leadership should be the focus.
Whereas protests – student or otherwise – initially were over suspected fraudulent vote counting in the June ballot, they have since evolved not only into questioning the legitimacy of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, but indeed the very concept of Waliyatul Faqih, or Rule of the Jurisprudent. The regime certainly did not help its case of course, with the show trials, forced confessions and detainee-abuse that followed.
Some public opposition to Khamenei however, is quite secondary to recognizing that Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) may even be supplanting him and the clergy as the real authority in the country. Indeed, Khamenei has come to rely on the IRGC to protect his position more so than the Assembly of Experts – the clerical body that officially oversees the Supreme Leader’s activities and has the ability to remove him if necessary.
The IRGC continues to expand in influence and control, most evident in their recent acquisition of a 50 percent stake in the Telecommunications Company of Iran (this in addition to their vast holdings in multiple other state sectors), giving them significant oversight of all internet and phone communications. They and the affiliated Basij militia were instrumental in putting down the post-election protests. As a result, the gap between the people and a regime desperately trying to reestablish its credibility has become a chasm, and protests have predictably resurfaced. How the government decides to face the most serious challenge to its rule since coming to power will need to be carefully followed in the coming months.

Israel-Lebanon border
The Israel-Lebanon border is a perennial tinderbox, and war between Israel and Hezbollah always seems poised to erupt. One cannot help but speculate whether Israel wishes it do so, as their repeated violations of Lebanese airspace belie. But will cooler heads prevail? This partially depends on what, if any, unilateral action Israel decides to take – or goads the United States into taking – with Iran. Lebanon’s political climate is a bit more stable these days after the parliament endorsed Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s cabinet and its platform. By a vote of 121-to-1, this included upholding Hezbollah’s right to maintain its “armed resistance” against Israel. Recognizing that Hezbollah’s constituency cannot be marginalized and must be included in any government (especially since the March 8 Coalition won the popular vote in the last election), their accommodation brings a measure of political stability to the country, if not simultaneously raising Israel’s ire.

Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province
Saudi Arabia makes the list not for their Yemen adventure, but for the potential of further volatility in the country’s Shia-dominated – and oil-rich – Eastern Province. With a severe clampdown already underway and numerous Shia and Ismaili-mosques recently ordered closed, disquiet is bound to grow. A comprehensive look at this issue and its ramifications can be found in Human Rights Watch Sept. 2009 report, “Denied Dignity: Systemic Discrimination and Hostility toward Saudi Shia Citizens.”

Although the conflict between the government of Ali Abdullah Saleh and Yemen’s Zaidis in Saada province has received a bit more attention, it sadly has not been from the international community but from intervening countries, notably Saudi Arabia. As their jets pound the area and Yemen’s army continues to maintain its siege, there are now reports from Houthi rebels that the U.S. has joined in the airstrikes. Geopolitical implications aside, it is the humanitarian disaster in Saada that puts Yemen high on the list of flashpoint countries. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has increased the number of internally displaced persons once again, now numbering 200,000 since the onset of hostilities in 2004. Growing child malnutrition and overflowing refugee camps only add to the human misery of north Yemen.
With secessionist unrest in the south, Yemen is set for a turbulent year ahead. As relations deteriorate between Arab countries and Iran, and Israeli expansionism continues unchecked, this is likely to be true for the entire Middle East as well.
Rannie Amiri is an independent Middle East commentator. He may be reached at: rbamiri AT yahoo DOT com.

The price of peace: Interview with detained activist

Kieron Monks writing from al-Essawaya, occupied West Bank, Live from Palestine, 18 December 2009

Injuries that Sami sustained during interrogation. (Lazar Simeonov)

Twenty-three-year-old Sami from al-Essawaya village near Nablus has always believed in peaceful coexistence with Israelis. However, he and his family have paid a dear price for his convictions.

"I worked for six years inside Israel," he said, "just in supermarkets, any work I could find. Me and my friends would jump over the wall at Qalandiya because we were not allowed to pass through." He describes himself as free of political affiliation: "not Fatah, not Hamas, just peace." Through time spent working in Tel Aviv he became acquainted with members of the Sulha peace project, a group that works "rebuild trust, restore dignity and move beyond the political agenda." Sami helped to distribute their literature and attended conferences, before being invited to a three-day retreat at the Latrun monastery in Jerusalem. Permits were obtained for him and ten friends, along with roughly 30 other Palestinians.

Daisy, a Jewish Israeli resident of Jaffa and long time Sulha member, describes the gathering and meeting Sami. She said that "It was like a mini festival, people sleeping outside, playing music and all eating together. There were people from all religions and nations, even a Buddhist monk sent by the Dalai Lama. The organizers arranged the paperwork for [the Palestinians], so that they could attend. When I met Sami for the first time he was so pleased to be there, showing his permit certificate to everyone and speaking Hebrew."

After three enjoyable days, encouraged by the positive atmosphere, Sami felt confident enough to make a bold step. He invited Daisy and Tal, also from Jaffa, to visit al-Essawaya and spend a few nights in his home. Despite some apprehension, neither having stayed in a Palestinian village before, both accepted.

"They came for Eid one year ago," Sami recalled. "They stayed in my family home for three days. We killed a sheep together, went for walks and they talked with people from the village. I told everyone the Israelis were for peace and nobody had a problem." Daisy agreed, adding that "His family and the people I met were very welcoming and happy to see me, just on a human basis."

After two days Sami's brother received a call from a Palestinian policeman. "They asked him why an Israeli was in our house and he told them that I invited them. My brother passed me the phone and the policeman asked, 'Why do you have them? Are you going to kill them? Are they hostages?' I said no, it's for peace and he put down the phone." Sami believes a collaborator inside the village informed the police and gave them his brother's number.

Daisy and Tal were shaken by the call and wanted to return home. "We thought to go somewhere so that Sami and his family would not get in trouble," Daisy explained. "We drove together back towards Israel, with me driving. We were thinking to explain to someone at the checkpoint what had happened, that we had not been kidnapped, but we were scared." On the way Daisy was called by an officer with the Shabak, Israel's internal security agency also known as the Shin Bet, who identified himself as "Dan." "He was very threatening. I told him nothing was wrong, we hadn't been kidnapped and everything was OK. Sami asked to speak to him and tried to explain about the peace project but I could hear that he was being threatened."

Their car was stopped at a checkpoint trying to enter Israel. Looking back Daisy regrets what she calls a "big mistake." For Sami it was the beginning of a nightmare. "The soldier asked me: 'Are you Sami?' I said yes and he said to 'go with him.' I asked him, what is the problem. He said; 'don't talk, shut up' and all of us were taken to a prison inside the Ariel settlement."

Daisy and Tal were held for a day, facing many consecutive hours of interrogation by Shabak officers.

"They told me they were opening a file on me and impounded my car. They kept asking me why I was with Sami and calling me a whore. It was very intimidating; I was shocked at how I was treated." The next day, without her car, Daisy was released and warned not to return. She asked what would happen to Sami, but the officers said only that it wasn't her business.

Without informing his family or anyone else, the army had transferred Sami to the infamous Hadarim detention center which also houses Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti. Like many of the 11,000 Palestinians kept in Israeli jails, Sami was not formally charged but went through debilitating sessions of interrogation and torture.

"At first I was in isolation. I didn't see anyone or talk with anyone. Then the guard began to ask me questions: Why do I want to kill Israelis? [Am I a] Hamas terrorist? I say I want only peace and he laughs and tells me I am lying." A year later, Sami's scars from sustained beatings are highly visible, with cigarette burns dotted all over his skin. He believes the officers knew he posed no threat, but they were softening him up for a different reason.

"After 12 days he told me that I can go if I can do some work for them. I say it's not a problem, but what? He said, 'just see what happens in your village and tell me.' He showed me hundreds of dollars and said every month he can give me more, and a new house and whatever I want. I said, 'I don't want it, I don't need money. Kill me if you want but I won't be a spy for you. If I do the people from my village will know and they will kill me.' He said, 'if you don't want to, the rest of your life you will be in jail.' I said 'I like jail, that's not a problem.' But in my heart I was very afraid. If he forgets me, what could I do? If he kills me, what can I do? If my mother asks, 'where is Sami?' she would never know."

Meanwhile, Daisy returned to Jaffa. She explained that despite "many phone calls, talking with Sami's family and calling every police station, it was impossible to find him. I wanted to see what they did to him, but the army told me he was not in any prison in Israel. Eventually I found out he was in Hadarim, when another prisoner called and told me to contact Sami."

After speaking with Sami, she visited him in Hadarim.

"I was able to pass him some basic things, like clothes and cigarettes. I couldn't get any information, but I could see the marks on his face. He said he needed a lawyer, but couldn't afford one."

After 20 days, Sami was told he could pay a bail fee of 500 shekels ($131), which confirmed his suspicion that they knew he was no threat. "Daisy paid the money and after they let me go," Sami explained. "I returned to my home and that day my brother was called by the guard. He said, 'If you talk I will kill both of you.'"

One month later, several Israeli army jeeps entered al-Essawaya in the middle of the night. Sami was woken at 3am when they broke down his door. He described the scene: "The soldier said 'if you don't want to work with us we will beat your family and your father will not be allowed to work in Israel.' I said, 'If you hurt my family I will kill myself,' but they took my brother. They kept him in prison for a month and every day they beat him, so bad that he cannot have children. While he was there they broke into his office and did 16,000 shekels [$4,221] of damage to it. Nobody will give him that."

After his brother was released he visited a doctor, who told him a course of hormones to restore his fertility would cost 300 shekels ($80) a day. The course would last five months, with fees totaling around 45,000 shekels ($11,873). "My brother is now 30," Sami said sadly, "he says he doesn't want money or anyone to repair his office. He just wants to marry and have children. I feel that I have broken his life."

Since then his cousin has also been arrested and imprisoned, while a close friend who also attended the Sulha retreat has been in Hadarim for 10 months. Sami displayed a letter his friend sent and read an extract: "'Don't get in trouble, don't try to make peace, because his eyes are everywhere.'"

Does the impact on his family make Sami question his commitment to peace activism? Do they blame him for their suffering? Does he regret anything? "I feel that it is now more important," he explained. "After I got home from Hadarim my father asked me to stop. He said, 'You're not big or important enough for it.' But I told him I need to do something, even if it's not big. If everyone in Israel and Palestine does something small like me there can be peace. It's not just me that wants to do this, I know people on both sides that want it also. Now my father understands and supports me, even my brother who cannot have children says it's good. I am more committed now, my whole life is for this." As testament to his conviction Sami continues to invite foreign nationals to stay with him, with his family's blessing. Last month he hosted a Dutch activist, at the risk of more trouble from the police.

Sami remains confident that peace is inevitable. "I believe one day soon there will be peace, with all people living together in one state. Some days I talk with settlers, I ask why we cannot go to each other's villages. I will invite them to my home. They say it is a nice idea."

Sami intends to study political science and maintain links with more international peace groups and those inside Israel. "I'm happy with what I did and I will do it every time. People here are afraid to help because they will have problems, we know the police try to stop us from doing peace work. I know what I do makes problems for me but if you do something good it lasts forever. I want to die and sleep well."

Kieron Monks is a freelance reporter from London, writing for Ma'an News, Palestine News Network and publications in Europe. A version of this essay was originally published by the Palestine Monitor and is republished with the author's permission.

Maqdisi: Occupation authorities order demolition of mosque and 7 homes


[ 18/12/2009 - 08:56 PM ]

RAMALLAH, (PIC)-- Maqdisi Society said that the Israeli occupation authorities have handed on Thursday orders to demolish seven homes in the Jabal al-Mukabber in the southern part of Jerusalem.

The authorities have suspended an administrative order by the Israeli ministry of interior stipulating the demolition of the neighbourhood's mosque as well within ten days.

The homes threatened with demolition belong to the Juma'a family and house 51 people including 33 children. They have already been asked by the Jerusalem municipality and interior ministry officials to vacate their homes within 10 days.

Muath al-Za'tari, head of the society condemned the Israeli measures which he said aim to force Palestinians in Jerusalem to leave the city adding that these measures are part of a systematic policy of ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem's Palestinians.

Zaatari called on the Arab, Muslim and international community to intervene to stop the ongoing Israeli ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem.

The Juma'a family has already suffered the demolition of three homes, the latest of which was on 12 December 2008, in addition to demolition orders for 9 homes belonging to the Juma'a family and their neighbours, the Khalayla family.

The international league of war criminals

Silver Lining

Posted on December 18, 2009 by realistic bird

{Children of Gaza-Livni WANTED} by Jalal Al Rifa'i-Al Dustor newspaper-Jordan

by Chris Marsden, WSWS, 17 December 2009

The issuing of a British arrest warrant for former Israeli Foreign Minister and current leader of the opposition Tzipi Livni is only the latest event confirming an international body of legal opinion that Israel should be tried for war crimes over its treatment of the Palestinians.

Livni was a member of the war cabinet during Operation Cast Lead, the offensive against Gaza between December 27, 2008 and January 18 this year. Some 1,400 Palestinians—the majority of them civilians, including 400 women and children—were killed, at least 5,000 people were injured, and 21,000 homes and other vital infrastructure were destroyed.

In October, the United Nations Human Rights Council endorsed a report by South African Judge Richard Goldstone stating that the war was “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise 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.”

The warrant against Livni was issued by Westminster Magistrates’ Court at the request of lawyers acting on behalf of 16 Palestinian plaintiffs. Livni was due to address the Jewish National Fund conference on December 13, but it is claimed she had cancelled her appearance some time ago due to a “scheduling conflict.” However, the New York Times reported Thursday that Livni was tipped off about the warrant and the threat of arrest.

This is far from the first time that an Israeli political or military figure has faced the threat of prosecution. In 2001, a warrant was issued in Belgium for the arrest of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, former Army Chief-of-Staff Raphael Eitan and former head of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) Northern Command, Amos Yaron, for their roles in the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982.

In September 2005, former head of IDF Southern Command Doron Almog faced arrest in the UK for ordering the demolition of 59 civilian Palestinian homes. The arrest warrant was supposedly issued secretly under UK law, but Israeli diplomats were tipped off and Almog refused to leave his plane for two hours until it took off again for Israel.

An arrest warrant was also issued by Spain for seven Israelis involved in the July 2002 bombing of an apartment building in Gaza City that killed Hamas military leader Salah Shehadeh and 14 civilians, including his wife and several children. Moshe Ya’alon, the Israeli deputy prime minister and strategic affairs minister, and the former defence minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, were amongst the accused.

In September, the Westminster Court was asked to issue an arrest warrant for Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, under the 1988 Criminal Justice Act, for his involvement in the Gaza War. The court accepted the assertion by the Foreign Office that he was a serving minister who would be meeting his British counterparts and therefore enjoyed immunity under the State Immunity Act of 1978.

Ex-ministers, not on official business, such as Livni, enjoy no such immunity. For this reason both Ya’alon and Avi Dichter, the public security minister and head of the Shin Bet security agency, have turned down invitations to events in Britain.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has mounted a campaign to end all possibility of future arrests under universal jurisdiction provisions of the Geneva Conventions and other international laws. As far as Israel’s allies are concerned, however, Tel Aviv is kicking against an open door.
Whenever there has been a prosecution threatened against an Israeli official, Washington has brought pressure to bear to prevent it. This led to the dropping of Belgium’s charges against Sharon, et al and changes to Belgian law to lessen the possibility of similar prosecutions in the future. In June this year, a Spanish court shelved its investigation into the Gaza City bombings. In addition, the US led a block of six nations that voted against acceptance of the Goldstone report, while Britain and France abstained.
Britain’s response to Israel’s official protests against the warrant issued for Livni was more than merely fawning. It led to promises by Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Prime Minister Gordon Brown to change the law allowing non-citizens to be brought before British courts.

In the naked language of imperialist realpolitik, Miliband declared, “Israel is a strategic partner and a close friend of the United Kingdom. We are determined to protect and develop those ties.” So much for Western claims to uphold international law and democratic rights!

As with the position taken by the US, much more is involved in the UK’s response than mere loyalty to an ally. There is a basic issue of self-preservation.

Time and again Israeli spokesmen have warned that the leaders of the major powers—including George Bush and Tony Blair over Iraq and Brown and President Barack Obama over Afghanistan—are threatened with prosecutions under universal jurisdiction provisions. Netanyahu himself warned, regarding Goldstone’s report, “It’s not just our problem… If they accused IDF officers, IDF commanders, IDF soldiers, IDF pilots and even leaders, they will accuse you too. What, NATO isn’t fighting in various places? What, Russia isn’t fighting in various places?”

The concept of universal jurisdiction allows prosecution by international or national courts when the case is deemed to be a crime against humanity and not likely to be tried in the allegedly guilty party’s own state. It underlies the creation of a range of institutions such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), established in 2002, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The US and other major powers have been happy to see these bodies utilized against those regimes they have targeted as hostile to their interests, such as Serbia. But like Israel, the US opposes universal jurisdiction over itself and therefore endorses neither the ICC nor the ICJ.

When Obama gave his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize last week, he argued explicitly for war as an instrument of US foreign policy, defending military action whose purpose “extends beyond self-defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor.” He insisted that such pre-emptive imperialist wars—of the kind already conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan—were essential to the US maintaining its position at the centre of the “architecture to keep the peace” set up in the aftermath of World War II.

This supposedly included abiding by “certain rules of conduct” and the US acting as “a standard bearer in the conduct of war.” To this end, he made great play of having personally reaffirmed “America’s commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions” and “other international laws of war.”

This is one lie amongst many. Some newspapers have claimed that Spain and Britain pioneered the concept of universal jurisdiction, with the 1998 extradition warrant by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. In point of fact, the concept is rooted in the Geneva Conventions, adopted on August 12, 1949.

Regarding war crimes, the Conventions require signatory nations, such as Britain and the US, to pass the necessary laws and “provide effective penal sanctions” for persons “committing, or ordering to be committed” any “grave breaches” of the Conventions. Article 129 goes on to state that each signatory “shall be under the obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, such grave breaches, and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts.”

That is why the Goldstone report made an explicit call to countries that are signatories to the Conventions to use their “universal jurisdiction” to search for and prosecute those Israelis, as well as leaders of Hamas, it accused of war crimes.

In reality, the imperialist powers and their allies operate as a de facto international league of war criminals—dedicated to their mutual defence and self-preservation. That is why the US rejects universal jurisdiction when it comes to its friends, as well as its own politicians and military personnel.

Now Brown and Miliband have made clear that they too will abrogate the independence of the courts in order to prevent any prosecution for war crimes that runs contrary to the strategic interests of British imperialism. In doing so, they may hope to save themselves from the possibility of being brought to justice. But they should know that some crimes are too great for prosecution to be avoided forever.

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Israeli occupation bar celebration of "Jerusalem the Capital of Arabic Culture"


[ 18/12/2009 - 05:01 PM ]
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, (PIC)-- IOF troops stopped Palestinian celebrating the end of activities relating to "Jerusalem, the Capital of Arabic Culture 2009", which was planned at Bab al-Amoud, one of the main gates of Jerusalem's old city on Thursday evening.

The IOF arrested twelve people including foreign activists and assaulted others.

PIC's correspondent said that a large number of Israeli occupation police forcefully stopped a scouts' march which was supposed to march the in the streets of the old city to mark the end of celebrations of Jerusalem as the capital of Arabic culture for the year 2009.

The Jerusalem centre for social and economic rights condemned, in a statement on Thursday, the barring of celebrations and the use of force disperse participants in the celebrations, as well as the arrest of 12 citizens and foreign sympathisers.

The centre also stressed that barring such activities is an infrengment on the civil and social rights of the people and individuals and their rights to participate in culture and arts activities.

Islamic-Christian committee: torching of mosque reflects racism of occupation

[ 18/12/2009 - 04:41 PM ]

Mosque's main hall, gutted by the fire

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, (PIC)-- The Islamic-Christian Committee for the support of Jerusalem and holy places said that that the torching of the Grand Mosque at Yasuf reflects the extent of hate and racism of the Israeli occupation against the Palestinian people adding that this aggression cannot be viewed in isolation from similar attacks conducted by the extremist Jewish settlers.

Hasan Khater, secretary general of the committee, said during a visit of the committee's delegation to the mosque on Thursday: "while we stand here, in this mosque condemning this crime [the torching of the mosque], there are preparations being made by extremist Jewish groups to storm the Aqsa Mosque on Friday to mark their so called Hanukkah eighth candle."

For his part, Father Manuel Mussallam, head of Gaza's Roman Catholic community, said that an aggression against mosques is an aggression against churches, stressing that Palestinian Christians will not stand and watch the suffering of their Muslim brothers, as they are partners in their suffering.

Ibrahim Sarsour, head of the Islamic movement in 1948, stressed the need for Palestinian unity and an end of the rift to face this escalating wave of extremist Zionism.

A number of extremist Jewish settlers torched the Grand Mosque in the northern West Bank village of Yasuf and left racist graffiti on it walls and floors.

CIA sees Palestinian security services as their 'property'

{Spreading democracy} by Amer Al Zu'bi

More evidence that the authority in Ramallah is essentially a lackey of Israel and the US:

The relationship between the CIA and the two Palestinian agencies involved is be so close that the American agency appears to be supervising the Palestinians' work.

One senior western official said: "The [Central Intelligence] Agency consider them as their property, those two Palestinian services."

A diplomatic source added that US influence over the agencies was so great they could be considered "an advanced arm of the war on terror".

A very dignified description of the PA's security bodies. They have been very busy in the last two weeks, arresting over 550 Palestinians

- clearly, Abbas & co. are petrified after this message was sent to them from the people of Gaza: Understandable.

Posted by Bilal at 20:08

When is a dictator not a dictator?


The President and Family by Ammar Abd Rabbo.
Brian Whitaker commenting on the ICG report below, in the Guardian/ here

"Decision-making in authoritarian regimes can be a lot more complicated than it looks. The idea that dictators simply dictate is often wide of the mark: they may not care much about public opinion but they do have to juggle with conflicting demands inside their own power base, and sometimes they can't even be sure their instructions will be implemented.
Syria is one country where the inner workings of the regime can seem baffling. A diplomat in Damascus once told me that although Bashar al-Assad's position as president seems secure, nobody knows how much power he really has.
A report published by the International Crisis Group (ICG) earlier this week – mainly about Syrian foreign policy – sheds some light on this intriguing puzzle. In Syria, it says:

Many decisions witness a contest between various lines of thought that coexist within the regime, each reflecting a slightly different worldview, diverging private interests or personal rivalries. Some decisions ultimately reflect a balance between diverse institutional power centres; others, a more decisive victory by a particular one ... Further confusion arises from the fact that officials occasionally take initiatives or make pronouncements that are inconsistent with the authorised line – in an attempt to influence it; as a means of drawing attention to themselves; in order to express frustration; or, quite simply, out of ignorance.

In theory at least, the president's decision is final but much of the time he sits back, waiting to see which way the wind will blow. One Syrian official told the ICG:
Overall objectives are set by the president with input from those around him. Then, it's up to others to suggest how to achieve them. For instance, if the minister of foreign affairs makes an interesting proposal, the president will give him some leeway – but only up to a point, because he still has to contend with other tendencies. Moreover, the leadership tends to maintain multiple, parallel channels on any given issue. But, in the end, the president always remains in a position to arbitrate and distribute roles. The balancing and real decision-making takes place at the top. No one else is even fully in the picture.

Even the most loyal official, familiar with the workings of the system, can find this confusing. But then there are others who think they know what the policy is – and try to subvert it. In an opaque, compartmentalised and heavily bureaucratised system such as Syria's it's by no means certain that decisions, once made, will stick. "Follow-through often is lacking, as the process creates considerable room for either active or passive obstructionism," the ICG says. "Policies frequently are adjusted or rectified, even after apparently final decisions are made."
One recent example was Syria's association agreement with the EU, which both parties spent years negotiating. Then, just as it was about to be signed, Syria unexpectedly put it on hold – possibly because of objections from local business interests.
This chopping and changing happens at a national level too. A Damascus lawyer told the ICG: "There are several centres of power. Much-needed legislation can be enacted and then, within a few months, is amended and amended again. The reason is that the legislation interferes with the interests of people influential enough to step in and have their way".
Clearly, Syria is not a one-man dictatorship and a senior official quoted in the report sees this as a positive development, a "sign of a dynamic debate". Dynamic it may be, but it's still a closed debate, conducted mainly in private, by those in the loop. The rest of the country is excluded.
On the domestic front, this opacity is likely to slow down the pace of reforms or limit their extent. In order to succeed, such reforms will need buy-in from the public as well as the regime's insiders and the only way to achieve that is through open debate that helps ordinary Syrians to understand the rationale behind them.
Internationally, the opacity makes Syria one of the most difficult countries for negotiators to deal with. Martin Indyk, an assistant secretary of state during the Clinton administration, told a congressional committee last year..."

Posted by G, Z, or B at 10:37 AM

Friday, 18 December 2009

Egyptian activist: Egypt should be helping Gaza rather than building walls


[ 18/12/2009 - 03:39 PM ]

CAIRO, (PIC)-- Egyptian human rights activist, Hafeth Abu Sa'dah criticised Cairo's intention to build a wall of steel on its border with the Gaza Strip saying that such a step contradicts with Egypt's duty towards the Palestinian people and called for working to end the siege on Gaza and provide safe passage for people and goods.

Abu Sa'dah who is the Secretary General of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights said that his organisation was not sure if the Egyptian government was going ahead with the wall as it did not deny or confirm the news reports on the matter and that his organisation was waiting for an official position on the matter.

"I do not believe the we, Egyptians, need such a wall with Gaza.. we rather need to work for an end to the siege on Gaza, not participate in it.. I am appalled at this level of thinking," he said in a statement on Thursday.

He also criticised an editorial in the Egyptian al-Jomhoreyyah newspaper, in which the Chief Editor of the paper wrote an article in which he made contrast between resistance and sovereignty, saying that the comparison was wrong as Palestinians never constituted a threat to Egyptian sovereignty, to the contrary they constitute the first line of defence to this sovereignty.

“Israel to Notify Egypt on Shalit Deal Decision within 2 Days”

18/12/2009 By Sunday Israel will notify Egypt of its decision regarding the release of 50 "heavy" detainees that Hamas is unwilling to forego in exchange for captured Israeli occupation soldier Gilad Shalit, sources close to the prisoner swap negotiations were quoted by London-based newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi.

According to the report, published Friday, Israel has opposed the release of these detainees thus far. The sources said that Israel's decision will determine whether the swap deal will succeed or fail.

The sources said the "heavy" detainees issue is the last remaining obstacle to a prisoner exchange. They added that former Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti will not be included in any prisoner exchange, despite his declaration that he will be.

On Thursday the London-based al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper reported that Israel is refusing to release senior leaders of the Hamas movement currently imprisoned in the Zionist entity for security reasons.

Palestinian sources known to be reliable and close to the negotiations for brokering a prisoner swap deal for the release of Shalit told the newspaper, "The Hamas movement is inclined to agree to a deal in which Palestinian prisoners will be released in exchange for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit."



Reuters/ here and here

"Opposition politicians have called for President Asif Ali Zardari to step down since the Supreme Court Wednesday threw out an amnesty that protected him, several government ministers and thousands of others from corruption charges.
The prospect of political turmoil would dismay the United States which has stepped up pressure on its nuclear-armed ally to tackle Afghan Taliban fighters in lawless border enclaves....

A suicide bomber struck near a mosque by a police compound in the district of Lower Dir....
At about the same time, a U.S. drone aircraft fired four missiles in the North Waziristan region, killing six militants, Pakistani security officials said....
As the violence picks up, political problems mount for the unpopular Zardari, seen as close to the United States.
He has been dogged by accusations of graft from the 1990s when his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, served as prime minister......
The military, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 62-year history, last staged a coup in 1999. Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani has vowed to stay out of politics but analysts say the army could intervene in the event of a crisis...."
Posted by G, Z, or B at 9:13 AM