Gaza

This Week in Middle Eastern Conflict… February 24th-March 2nd, 2012.

  • At least 28 people were reportedly killed in clashes on Saturday between government troops and opposition forces in Syria as the Red Cross continued efforts to evacuate civilians from the city of Homs; while at least 89 people were reportedly killed nationwide. On Sunday, the ICRC said that Syrian authorities had still not responded to a request for a ceasefire to allow the wounded to be evacuated from the Baba Amro district in Homs. On Monday, activists reported the deaths of more than 125 people across the country, just hours after the state television announced that an overwhelming majority of voters (some 89.4%) agreed to a new constitution, though the UN announced that it was “unlikely to be credible”; the shelling of Homs continued; the EU agreed to new sanctions against the country, targeting the central bank, seven cabinet ministers, prohibiting trade in gold and other precious metals with state institutions and a ban on cargo flights from the country; the ambulances of the Arab Red Crescent reportedly evacuated three people from the Baba Amro district of Homs; activists reported the discovery of at least 62 people near the city of Homs; and the Qatari PM called upon the international community to provide arms to the rebels. On Tuesday, the UN human rights chief announced that the situation in the country is “dire” and called upon the government to declare an immediate “humanitarian cease-fire”; a UN official said that Syrian forces have killed more than 7,500 civilians, or more than 100 a day; Paul Conroy, a Sunday Times photographer was reportedly evacuated from Homs, though many other journalists, including Edith Bouvier, remained trapped. On Wednesday, Libya announced it will donate $100 million in humanitarian aid to the opposition and allow them to open an office in Tripoli; 13 Syrian activists were reportedly killed in the process of helping wounded foreign journalists trapped in Homs escape; heavy fighting broke out near the main rebel stronghold of Baba Amro in Homs as Syrian troops began a ground assault; UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs announced she was denied in her repeated requests to visit the country; and Reuters ran an article on the “path of death” smuggling route that is fueling the rebels.  On Thursday, a top US official for the Middle East says the “tipping point” in the country must come “quickly”; the UN Security Council called upon the government to grant UN humanitarian chief Amos “immediate and unhindered access” to the country; the Syrian National Council formed a military council, which it says will act as a clearing house for anyone offering it arms; the rebels defending Baba Amro said they faced at least 7,000 government troops; Kuwait’s Parliament said it would support the rebel Free Syria Army  and called upon the Kuwaiti government to cut ties with Assad; Ban Ki-moon and the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons expressed their concern at the possibility that Syria may have chemical weapons; security forces reportedly opened fire on an anti-government demonstration in Damascus, injuring five young men; Russia’s Putin announced he had no special relationship with President Assad and that Syrians should decide who should rule their country; American journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were allegedly buried in Homs where they were killed 8 days prior; government troops started to advance on Homs, after weeks of bombardment by tanks and fighters; and the Free Syrian Army announced they had withdrawn from the Baba Amr district of Homs. On Friday, Syrian authorities reportedly blocked the Red Cross from entering the Baba Amr district of Homs, despite receiving permission from the government to send a convoy with seven truckloads of aid; Human Rights Watch said that new satellite imagery and eyewitness accounts reveal that bombardment of the Baba Amr neighbourhood has inflicted widespread destruction; Ban Ki-moon underlined the need for concerted action to end the crisis, lamenting that the international community has thus far failed in its responsibility to stop the bloodshed; while two French journalists, including Edith Bouvier, were safely evacuated from Homs to Lebanon. Some interesting articles were published, one calling for the world to prepare to arm the Syrian rebels (a position I personally strongly disagree with—after all, arming opposition groups has had soo much success in the past *sarcasm*); another questioning the morality of any foreign intervention within the country; one talking about the logistics of intervention; and another one questioning the world’s inconsistency on foreign intervention into conflicts.
  • At least 25 people were reportedly killed in a car bomb attack outside the gate of a Presidential compound in south Yemen on Saturday, hours after the new President was sworn in; while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated the new President after he took his oath of office in Parliament. On Wednesday, an al-Qaeda linked group threatened to unleash a torrent of attacks unless the government pulled its forces back from a contested southern city of Zinjibar. On Thursday, rival units of the military briefly traded fire outside the residence of the newly elected President, with no reported casualties.
  • At least 8 people were reportedly killed in violence in Iraq on Wednesday, after a car bomb exploded in a shopping area in southeastern Baghdad, unknown gunmen shot at a car in Mosul and a car bomb exploded in the city of Kirkuk; the main Sunni Muslim insurgent groups rejected laying down their arms to join the political process and announced they will keep fighting to topple the “occupation government”. On Thursday, a student shot and killed an American teacher at a private Christian school in the autonomous Kurdish region, then attempted suicide and was taken to a mental hospital; while Human Rights Watch criticized Iraqi authorities for using “repressive means” to muzzle peaceful protests after last week’s demonstrations to mark the one-year anniversary of protests against widespread corruption, poor basic services and high unemployment. Reuters reported that militants killed 151 Iraqi civilians and members of the security forces in February, showing that daily bombings and shootings remain persistent fact of life despite the withdrawal of US forces in December.
  • The government of Bahrain announced on Sunday that almost all the verdicts issued by military courts against people involved in pro-democracy protest movements crushed by the state last year were now being handled by civilian courts. On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch released a new report on unfair trails in military and civilian courts in the country. On Thursday, authorities imposed restrictions on groups trying to monitor reforms and asked UN investigators into torture to postpone their scheduled trip.
  • A Palestinian man reportedly died after being shot in clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers in the West Bank on Saturday. On Monday, a Palestinian women, released by Israel in a prisoner swap last year, but re-arrested earlier this month and held without charge, is reportedly on a hunger strike to protest her treatment, just a week after the Israeli government struck a deal with another prisoner on a hunger strike. On Tuesday, the UN political chief called upon Israeli and Palestinian leaders to get serious about overcoming the current impasse, noting that talks that began last month have stalled and the situation on the ground in West Bank and Gaza remains dangerous. On Wednesday, Israeli troops reportedly raided two private Palestinian television stations in the West Bank, seizing transmitters and other equipment on the grounds that they “interfered with legal broadcasters and aircraft communications”.
  • American intelligence analysts suggested on Friday that they continued to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb despite a new report from the IAEA about an accelerated uranium enrichment program. On Saturday, the IAEA claimed that Iran had yet to give an explanation over a small quantity of uranium metal missing from a research site; while SWIFT, the world’s biggest electronic banking system, announced it is ready to block the country’s central bank from using its network to transfer funds. On Tuesday, Iran’s foreign ministers announced he expects talks with the international community over the controversial nuclear program and is confident they will continue, also condemning the production of atomic weaponry as a “great sin”; while Human Rights Watch claimed that authorities are “dramatically” escalating their crackdown on freedom of expression ahead of the parliamentary elections. On Wednesday, Hezbollah said that an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear programme would set the Middle East ablaze, possibly drag in the US and unleash a conflict beyond their control; while Iranian authorities offered Pakistan 80,000 barrels of oil per day on a three-month deferred payment plan in an attempt to soften the impact of Western sanctions and ease some of Pakistan’s energy needs. On Thursday, the Atlantic ran an article claiming that bombing Iran would mean also invading Iran and all that this would entail; Israel announced that it would soon test-fire a ballistic interceptor missile, hoping to avoid stoking war tensions with Iran; an opinion poll showed that a wide majority of Israelis either oppose a strike on Iran or would favour an attack only if it was carried out with US agreement; while Israel pressed American President Obama for an explicit threat of military action against Iran if sanctions fail and their nuclear programme advances beyond specified “red lines”. On Friday, Iranian semi-official Mehr news agency reported that the sister of President Ahmadinejad failed to win a Parliamentary seat and early returns were showing conservative rivals of Ahmadinejad elected in many other constituencies; several other sites wrote articles about the parliamentary elections that reportedly had a “record” turnout; Iran’s ambassador to Moscow complained that a Russian state-controlled bank shut down the accounts of Iranian embassy personnel, the Russian Foreign Ministry thought may be a consequence of EU and US sanctions; American President Obama warned that he is not bluffing about attacking Iran if it builds a nuclear weapon, but that a premature attack would do more harm than good; while Israeli PM Netanyahu says his country will not draw any “red lines” for action regarding Iran’s disputed nuclear program.
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This Week in Middle Eastern Conflict… February 17th-24th, 2012.

  • China announced on Friday that it had yet to receive a formal invitation to a meeting of international powers in Tunis next week to discuss the crisis in Syria; the government reportedly blocked a premiere live stream website, Bambuser, that has been used by dissidents to upload streaming video of conditions in the country in real time; thousands of Israeli Arabs reportedly demonstrated against Assad, calling for him to step down; an award-winning “New York Times” correspondent died in the country from an apparent asthma attack; NATO’s Secretary General said that the they have no intention of intervening in Syria, even if the UN mandate was changed to protect civilians; three pro-democracy protesters were allegedly killed by security forces during protests; security forces renewed a bombardment of opposition strongholds in Homs and attacks on rebels in Deraa; while the government of Venezuela allegedly supplied diesel to the country, undermining Western sanctions. On Saturday, security forces reportedly fired live ammunition to break up an anti-government protest in Damascus, killing at least one person; China said it backs President Assad’s plans for a referendum to end the violence; and Iraq announced it was reinforcing security along its Syrian border to stop the flow of arms and smuggling. On Sunday, gunmen reportedly staged an ambush that killed a senior state prosecutor and judge in an opposition-dominated northern region; a leading Chinese newspaper accused western countries of stirring civil war in Syria and that their calls for Assad to step down could provoke a “large-scale civil war” that might demand foreign intervention; Egypt announced it was recalling its ambassador to Damascus; an insider in the Syrian regime said it is “disintegrating” under the weight of international sanctions; and AP reported a troop build up in Homs. On Monday, members of the EU announced they will likely adopt fresh sanctions against the Syrian President in the coming week; the International Committee of the Red Cross said it is negotiating with Syrian forces and opposition fighters on a daily two-hour ceasefire to bring life-saving aid to civilians the hardest hit by the conflict; security forces reportedly injured four youth when they fired live ammunition at a night demonstration in Damascus. On Tuesday, the US said it will consider taking “additional measures” to end the bloodshed in Syria if an international outcry and a strengthened sanctions regime do not convince the government to stop the crackdown on the opposition; Russia said it will not attend a Western-backed international conference in Tunis about the crisis because it only supported the opposition cause; security forces reportedly killed at least 33 civilians in army raids on villages in northern Idlib province; and government forces reportedly continued to bombard the city of Homs, killing at least 63 people. On Wednesday, a veteran Sunday Times correspondent and a French photographer were reportedly killed in Syria, along with some 80 others as security forces rained rockets and bombs on opposition-held neighbourhoods in Homs, increasing the foreign pressure on Assad; security forces and militiamen loyal to Assad allegedly chased, captured and then shot dead 27 young men in three northern villages; two Islamist militant groups in Iraq rejected a call by al Qaeda to aid Syrian rebels in their revolt, saying sending weaponry and fighters across the border would only worsen the conflict; the main opposition Syrian National Council said it wants a minimum of 3 points of safe passage for life-saving aid supplies to enter the country; a main opposition group called upon Syrians to boycott an upcoming referendum on a new constitution, calling it an attempt to cover up the crackdown; King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia told Russian President Medvedev that any dialogue about the crisis in Syria would lead nowhere; the Information Ministry reportedly told foreign journalists that are illegally inside the country that they should report to the government, as they allegedly had no knowledge of the entrance of the two foreign journalists who were killed in Homs; France called upon the Syrian government to immediately halt the military onslaught of Homs and allow safe access for medical aid; while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked the UN relief chief to visit the country to assess the humanitarian situation. On Thursday, security forces reportedly lined up and shot dead 13 men and boys from one extended family after raiding the village of Kfartoun in Hama province; three people were killed in shelling in the village of Soubin; a French journalist who was badly injured in a recent attack in Homs issued a video plea for help to cross the Lebanese border; the UN accused the Syrian regime of “crimes against humanity”, including the use of snipers against small children, and drew up a list of senior officials who should face investigation; China announced it would not accept an invitation to discuss the crisis in Syria with other world powers during the “Friends of Syria” conference on Friday in Tunisia; several attendees of the Friends of Syria group announced they would seek tougher measures, including a possible economic “stranglehold” on the Syrian government. On Friday, representatives from more than 70 nations gathered in Tunis for the “Friends of Syria” conference aimed at finding ways to end the bloodshed, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar reportedly pushing for more forceful intervention against Assad including supplying weapons to rebels; pro-Assad protesters rallied outside the conference in Tunis; EU diplomats named seven Syrian ministers to be targeted with new sanctions including travel bans and asset freezes on the ministers of health, education, presidential affairs, communications and technology, industry, oil and mineral resources, and transport, with more sanctions expected to be issued on Monday; US Secretary of State Clinton called upon Syria to agree to a cease-fire and criticised Russia and China for siding with Assad; while the Syrian Arab Red Crescent began evacuating wounded or sick women and children from the Baba Amro district of Homs, in what is being called “a first step forward”.
  • Police and anti-government protesters clashed in Bahrain on Thursday, with two policemen reportedly severely injured in a petrol bomb attack. Two Western activists were detained for leading a women’s protest on Friday, while police suppressed the protests with water cannons and armoured vehicles. On Monday, police again used water cannons and tear gas to break up a march chanting anti-government slogans following a funeral. On Wednesday, Sunni Muslims warned the government at a rally of some 20,000 people, against entering a dialogue with Shi’ite-led opposition parties, instead urging them to focus on security.
  • Government forces in Yemen reportedly detained 10 al Qaeda linked fighters on Friday; while oil pipeline workers returned to work after a 10-day strike which had shut down oil exports. On Monday, an explosion rocked a polling station in Aden and was followed by gunfire that killed one soldier and injured another; while the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda confirmed the death of a senior leader who officials say died in a bloody family feud. The country went to the polls on Tuesday, with the Vice-President as the only candidate in polls that are reported to have a high turnout despite calls for a boycott by the opposition and deadly violence in the south. Reuters ran an article outlining the high-ranking members of Saleh’s family who still have positions in security and military roles or influential positions in the business community. On Wednesday, vote counting was underway  to confirm the current VP as the new leader, amid violence that killed at least 10 people across the country’s south; while the Security Council welcomed the holding of elections and encouraged leaders to move on to the next stage of transition. On Thursday, troops reportedly opened fire on a rally by southern secessionists opposed to the Presidential elections, killing one protester and wounding three others; while outgoing President Saleh, who had been receiving medical treatment in the US, left the country headed for an unknown destination. On Friday, Al Jazeera ran a report about the cost of rebuilding the country in the wake of Saleh’s departure, a price the country can ill afford.
  • Police announced on Friday that they had found the bullet-riddled body of a man in his twenties floating in a river northwest of Kirkuk, Iraq; gunmen in a speeding car opened fire on a man and his son, wounding both in Mandili; a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol wounded two policemen near Muqdadiya; gunmen opened fire on an off-duty policeman near his home, killing him near Khalis; gunmen in a speeding car opened fire on a police patrol, killing two officers in southern Baghdad; gunmen in a car opened fire on a police lieutenant colonel and his driver, killing both in Tikrit; and a sticky bomb attached to a car wounded a farmer near Hawija. On Saturday, authorities began evacuating an initial batch of 400 Iranian dissidents from Camp Ashraf to a transit camp near the airport in Baghdad; gunmen killed two off-duty soldiers in separate attacks in western Mosul; a mortar round killed one civilians in eastern Mosul; a bomb attached to a car wounded three people in Falluja; gunmen opened fire at a police checkpoint, wounding one policeman in Falluja; police found the body of a man who had been handcuffed and shot in southern Kirkuk; and police found the body of an unidentified man who was killed by the explosion of a roadside bomb he was trying to plant in Hawija. On Sunday, a suicide bomber reportedly killed 16 people and wounded some 26 in a crowd of police recruits leaving their academy in eastern Baghdad. On Monday, a sticky bomb attached to a police lieutenant colonel’s car exploded, seriously wounding him in Tuz Khurmato; gunmen stormed a house killing a tribal leader in the southern outskirts of Falluja; a sticky bomb attached to a former civil defense lieutenant’s car exploded, killing him and seriously wounding two others in Jalawla; a sticky bomb attached to an off-duty police lieutenant’s car exploded, killing him and seriously wounding another policeman in Ramadi; while judges ordered one of the two VPs be tried for terrorism, a move the accused dismissed as “black comedy”. On Wednesday, a bomb near a policeman’s house exploded, wounding his wife and child in Baquba; a roadside bomb wounded one civilian in western Mosul, and gunmen shot dead a civilian in eastern Mosul. On Thursday, at least 28 separate bombings were reported across the country, killing over 49 people and wounding at least 280 people, many of them security forces; while there were at least 6 attacks by gunmen, mostly at security checkpoint,  killing some 18, and wounding at least 31 people.
  • The United States and the EU expressed cautious optimism on Friday over prospects that Iran  may be willing to engage major powers in new talks; President Ahmadinejad blamed foreign powers for “all the problems” in the region through their interference; two Iranian naval ships sailed through the Suez Canal with permission of Egyptian authorities; officials in key parts of the American Obama administration are increasingly convinced that sanctions will not deter Iran from nuclear ambitions and that the US will be left with “no option” but to launch an attack on the country, or watch Israel do so; two articles in the Atlantic discussed the warmongering media frenzy over Iran; and Israel blamed Iran and the Lebanese group Hezbollah of plotting attacks against Israelis and Jews worldwide, a claim Hezbollah leader Nasrallah vehemently denied. On Saturday, Britain’s foreign minister warned that any attack on Iran would carry huge costs, including leading to a new cold war; American General Martin Dempsey also warned against military strikes against Iran; the Israeli Defense Minister said a nuclear-armed Iran could trigger an arms race in the Middle East and that nations should impose “crippling” sanctions on them to force the end to their nuclear ambitions; while a Vienna-based diplomat announced that Iran may be poised to expand its nuclear program at an underground site near the city of Qom. On Sunday, Iran’s oil ministry announced it had stopped selling crude oil to British and French companies in retaliation for the EU sanctions. On Monday, inspectors from the UN International Atomic Energy Agency arrived in the country for two days of talks about the Iranian nuclear program; the Iranian media reported that two of their navy ships docked in the Syrian port of Tartous on a mission to provide training to Syrian naval forces; Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s outlook on the West appears to dim the hopes for any future nuclear deal; several European countries announced they have stopped buying Iranian oil, while others announced they would be cutting back on their purchases; authorities reportedly faced a second and more extensive disruption of Internet access; and Common Dreams published a report highlighting the hypocrisy of condemning Iran for its alleged connection to the assassinations in Tbilisi, New Delhi and Bangkok while not doing the same to the assassinations of Iranian scientists allegedly ordered by Israel. On Tuesday, the EU’s foreign policy chief renewed calls for Iranian authorities to halt the execution of an Iranian man with Canadian residency for “designing and moderating adult-content websites” that contravene the country’s laws; the two Iranian warships were reported to have passed south through the Suez Canal after a brief stop in the Syrian port of Tartus; the Iranian body that vets election hopefuls reportedly approved 3,444 candidates to run in the March 2nd parliamentary polls; authorities announced they expect to hold more talks with the IAEA; while a five-member group of UN atomic energy watchdog experts continued their talks on Iran’s nuclear programme. The Christian Science Monitor ran a report detailing what would happen if Iran did have a nuclear bomb. On Wednesday, the IAEA team declared their mission in Iran a disappointment as they were unable to visit a military site at Parchin; Russia warned that an attack on Iran would lead to a catastrophe; Supreme Leader Khamenei offered new assurances that his country is not seeking to develop nuclear weapons, even while a report, allegedly out of Iran, of the wife of an assassinated nuclear scientist who said her husband’s ultimate goal was the annihilation of Israel; Israel said it believes that within 2-3 years Iran will have intercontinental missiles able to hit the US; and the Atlantic ran a piece suggesting that a pre-emptive attack on Iran may actually ensure they get nuclear weaponry, if they don’t already have it.  On Thursday, a weeklong election campaign began for the March 2nd parliamentary polls, with analysts predicting a comfortable victory for the ruling conservative faction loyal to Ayatollah Khamanei. On Friday, Russian PM Putin accused the west of seeking “regime change” in Iran under the guise of trying to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, during a tour of Iranian nuclear research centre; while the IAEA reportedly claimed that Iran has dramatically accelerated its production of enriched uranium in recent months and is refusing to cooperate with an investigation of evidence that it may have worked on designing a bomb.
  • Several thousand Palestinians reportedly rallied in Gaza and the West Bank on Friday in support of the jailed Islamic Jihad leader who has been on a hunger strike protest for a 63rd day against his detention by Israel; while reports suggested that a sustainable energy program in a rural area of the West Bank was being threatened by Israeli authorities. On Saturday, at least two Palestinian were wounded in an Israeli air strike on southern Gaza City, allegedly in retaliation for several rockets fired into southern Israel the day before. On Tuesday, the Palestinian prisoner whose life was in danger after he went on a hunger strike for 66 days, agreed to eat after a deal was struck for him to be released at the end of a four-month period of detention. On Wednesday, the top UN envoy for the Middle East peace process described Israel’s announcement that it had given approval to a large number of new settlement units deep inside occupied Palestinian territory; while members of Hamas endorsed a unity government with the Palestinian authority, taking on a more moderate position that reportedly presents a serious challenge to Israel and raises the states in any future peace process. On Friday, Israeli police clashed with hundreds of Muslim worshippers near the al-Aqsa mosque for the third time this week, reportedly sparked by fears that far-right Israeli activists were planning to enter Muslim-controlled areas at the site; while the UN committee on Palestine rights voiced alarm over the recent Israeli decision to build more than 500 new homes in a settlement inside occupied Palestinian territory and to retroactively “legalize” some 200 settlement units built earlier without permit.

This Week in Middle Eastern Conflict… December 3rd- 9th, 2011.

  • At least 25 people were killed in Syria on Saturday in clashes between security forces and military defectors; while police arrested blogger Razan Ghazzawi on the Syrian-Jordanian border on her way to a press freedom workshop in Amman. On Sunday, the Arab League gave Syria yet another deadline of 24 hours to accept international observers or face further sanctions; at least a dozen secret police reportedly defected from an intelligence compound; some 40 people were reported killed; and the US and Turkey announced they were reviewing how to help Syria if pro-democracy protests drive al-Assad from power. On Monday, the government said it would agree to allow Arab League observers into the country, but placed a number of conditions, including a cancellation of the economic sanctions, though the Arab League rebuffed the demands; while the government performed live-fire military exercises involving long-range missiles, armoured units and helicopters. On Tuesday, reports listed at least 50 people killed in the city of Homs killed in the past 24 hours, with dozens of bodies lining the streets; while the government said it blocked 35 “armed terrorists” from entering the country after a clash on the border with Turkey. On Wednesday, President al-Assad insisted that documented cases of killings, torture and other maltreatment are being carried out by individuals outside his control in an interview with Barbara Walters; while the US said that its intelligence community is quietly but closely monitoring the status of the country’s large chemical-weapons stockpile in fear that they could be used to quell continued political protests or be diverted to extremist groups within the region. On Thursday, pro-democracy activists launched a civil disobedience campaign with plans to stage sit-ins at work and close universities; activists reported that at least 13 people were killed by security forces across the country; and that a pipeline carrying oil from the east to a refinery in Homs was set on fire. On Friday, some 18 people were reported killed by government troops in Homs province and at least 24 across the country, including the deaths of several children; while those in Benish have taken to fighting back army tanks with light arms; and the UN Security Council agreed on France’s request for a closed-door briefing on the country’s troubles, overcoming Russian, Chinese and Brazilian resistance. Turkey announced that it cannot stand by and watch if the crackdown puts security in the region at risk, though it has no desire to interfere.
  • On Saturday, France moved to temporarily downsize its embassy in Tehran, Iran following last week’s storming of the British embassy; while the US said it had launched a “virtual Iranian embassy” in an effort to engage with the government, a move the Iranian officials allegedly blocked less than a day later. On Sunday, a top Iranian cleric criticized the storming of the embassy, calling it “illegal”; while the armed forces claimed they had brought down an unmanned US spy plane, said to be a “prized stealth unmanned aerial drone, the RQ-170 Sentinel” that violated Iranian airspace after controllers lost contact with it. On Thursday, Iranian state television aired video footage showing the US spy aircraft that appeared to be largely undamaged. The Atlantic suggested that an escalating covert war with the West is already under way against Iran and that the Iran Reduction Act of 2011 that is working its way through the US legal channels would outlaw all diplomatic conduct with Iran; though Israeli Defence Minister Barak played down the speculation, saying sanctions and threat of military strikes were still the way to curb the nuclear program. On Friday, US President Obama repeated that his country is considering all options regarding Iran and will work with US allies to prevent the country from acquiring a nuclear weapon; while Iran filed a formal complaint to the UN over the US drone, condemning what it calls increased “provocative and covert actions” against the country.
  • A new report given to a high-level advisory group in Saudi Arabia on Saturday claims that allowing women to drive could encourage premarital sex. The suggestion is that driving will allow greater mixing of genders and could promote sex. The Saudi woman who made international headlines in September for driving and was then condemned to 10 lashes only to be pardoned by the King, will apparently be lashed after all unless she wins a legal appeal in mid-December. The prince leading a pro-reform Saudi newspaper announced on Sunday that despite changes to press laws being touted as restrictive, the local media environment is growing more open. On Wednesday, Germany denied reports that it had agreed to export 270 Leopard battle tanks to the country, despite reports of a secret deal.
  • On Saturday, Iraq’s PM announced that a bombing last week inside the fortified Green Zone was an assassination attempt on him; gunmen broke into a house, killing two men in southern Mosul; a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol killed three in Iskandaraiya; gunmen in a car killed one person in western Mosul; a gunman was killed in a fire exchange with the Iraqi army in northern Mosul; two bombs wounded three in Baquba; a roadside bomb targeting a Shi’ite procession wounded seven, including two policemen in western Baghdad; at least one person was killed and 12 others wounded when three roadside bombs exploded in Kirkuk; and rioters burned dozens of alcohol shops and damaged several hotels in the Kurdistan region after a religious leader criticised the sale of alcohol.  On Sunday, it was reported that the US military paid tribal fighters with cash to help provide a safe exit from Iraq along the southern highway to Kuwait; a roadside bomb went off near a joint army/police checkpoint, killing one soldier and wounding three soldiers and one policeman in western Baghdad; a roadside bomb wounded five people in eastern Baghdad; a bomb killed two men and wounded one woman in southern Kirkuk; gunmen in a car shot at another vehicle carrying a police officer, killing him and wounding two others near Mosul; gunmen broke into a funeral, killing one man and the attacker and wounding a woman and a child in Mosul; and gunmen wounded an army Brigadier General and killed his wife in his car in northeastern Baghdad. On Tuesday, a Katyusha rocket landed at the Kurdistan Democratic Party headquarters northwest of Baghdad, wounding one; a roadside bomb killed a policeman and wounded another in Baquba; a member of the Kurdish security forces was wounded in a roadside bomb attack in Mosul; and two mortar rounds landed near a Shi’ite mosque, killing one and wounding eight in Kirkuk;  the final 8,000 US troops prepared to leave before the end of the month; and the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the targeting of media by supporters of various political factions in Kurdistan after several had been attacked and arrested over the previous week. On Wednesday, gunmen killed a police officer near his house in Falluja; a sticky bomb killed an oil company employee in Kirkuk; a roadside bomb wounded a senior official at state-run Iraqi Railways Company in Kirkuk; a roadside bomb killed one policeman and wounded three others in their vehicle in Abu Ghraib; gunmen killed a lawyer in Mosul; a sticky bomb wounded an employee of the Ministry of National Security along with two others south of Baghdad; a roadside bomb wounded a man in Jurf al-Sakhar; gunmen opened fire at a car carrying an off-duty Kurdish peshmerga soldier, killing him in Kirkuk; and militants bombed electrical transmission towers and lines across the country, cutting power to several cities and towns and killing a policeman and wounding two others. On Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Gyorgy Busztin of Hungary to succeed Jerzy Skuratowicz of Poland as his Deputy Special Representative for the country, focusing on political, electoral and constitutional support; a roadside bomb wounded a tribal leader in Muqdadiya; a sticky bomb killed a government employee at the citizenship department and his cousin in Muqdadiya; and gunmen killed a member of a government-backed militia in front of his house and wounded one of his guards in Baquba.
  • Representatives of Fatah and Hamas met in Gaza, Palestine on Sunday to push the implementation of a stalled reconciliation deal. On Wednesday, Israeli forces and members of the Islamic Jihad clashed in the Gaza Strip, killing one alleged gunman and wounding another in air force attacks. On Thursday, an Israeli air strike on a car killed two alleged fighters who were “planning an attack on Israeli civilians” and wounded two other men in Gaza. On Friday, an Israeli air strike reportedly killed a Gazan civilian and wounded at least 12 others, including seven children when it hit a home next to a militant training ground; and Palestinian militants responded by firing 11 rockets into Israel, with no casualties.
  • On Sunday, Israeli PM Netanyahu called upon Egypt’s future rulers to preserve their peace treaty after Islamists took the head of the country in the first round of elections. On Wednesday, former President Moshe Katsav headed to prison to begin serving a seven-year term for rape.
  • At least 17 people were killed over three days of shelling in Taiz, Yemen over the weekend. On Sunday, two more people died in artillery fire in Taiz; while the government agreed upon a team of officials to oversee the military to end the fighting and return the forces to the barracks. On Monday, forces loyal to Saleh reportedly shot dead one woman and wounded six others when they opened fire on a crowd of protesters in Taiz. On Wednesday, a national unity government was officially formed to take over from Saleh-backed ministers; while reports warned of a serious humanitarian situation exploding within the city of Taiz.
  • The government of Bahrain has hired UK’s John Yates, who resigned from his senior police post earlier this year over a scandal, to oversee reforms in their police force. On Sunday, a bomb placed under a vehicle exploded near the British embassy in Manama, causing no casualties. On Wednesday, protesters said that police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at demonstrators trying to take back the site of the Pearl roundabout, during the marking of Ashoura, with one death and numerous injuries. The protesting and clashes continued throughout the week.
  • Oman has decided to raze a roundabout made into a hub for protesters earlier this year, apparently to ease traffic problems and avoid accidents.
  • On Tuesday, the leader of Hezbollah, Nasrallah made a rare public appearance in Lebanon to mark the Shi’ite festival of Ashoura and announced that his group was building its arsenal. On Friday, a roadside bomb exploded near a UN peacekeeping patrol in the southern city of Tyre, wounding several French soldiers and civilians. No group has yet taken responsibility for the attack.
  • The ruler of Kuwait dissolved the Parliament on Tuesday less than a week after he named a new PM, citing “deteriorating conditions” amid an increasingly bitter political showdown over alleged high-level corruption. Elections must be held within 60 days, complicating the US defence department’s plans to station thousands of soldiers evacuating from Iraq.

This week in conflict… September 25th-October 1st, 2010

World

  • Kazakhstan addressed the UN General Assembly on Saturday to repeat its idea of the creation of a global currency under UN control that would significantly decrease the odds of a future financial crisis. The Minister said he believed “all the world’s economic problems are rooted in the inefficiency of the existing world monetary system, which no one controls and is not democratic.”
  • The World Bank (WB) recently released it much anticipated report on farmland grabbing, which has been in controversy since 2008 because it threatens global food security. Governments and corporations are accused of buying up mass amounts of farmland (often illegally) in other countries to grow their own food or simply to make money. Critics have denounced the report as flawed and corrupted by the fact that the Bank’s commercial investment arm is a major investor in numerous private equity firms that are buying up rights to farmland while its Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency is providing land grab projects with political risk insurance.
  • The UN refugee agency announced on Friday that they would be revising their policies to protect people fleeing persecution due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Recent surveys highlighted the dangers and prejudice faced by lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals, and intersex asylum-seekers and refugees.

Africa

  • A moderate Islamist group that signed a power sharing deal with Somalia’s government earlier this year has walked out of the Somali government. The group has accused the administration of planning to abolish the power sharing deal signed in March. On Sunday, an unidentified helicopter fired on houses of al-Shabab commanders. In an unprecedented agreement Somaliland and Puntland, once-warring territories in northern Somalia, have agreed in principle to work together to tackle common security threats. Gunmen killed one man and kidnapped three others in Somaliland on Wednesday, while another 11 (mostly civilians) were killed in an artillery battle in the main Bakara Market by Somali government backed by AU forces in Mogadishu.
  • Political violence in Ghana has increased this past week, as riots and minor clashes rock the country following Parliamentary by-elections. Political analysts are concerned for the upcoming 2012 elections.
  • Sudan’s vice president urged UN member states to forgive their debts in an effort to strengthen prospects for peace. The IMF has said that Sudan has nearly $38 billion in external debts. Sudanese officials from both the north and the south accused each other of deploying troops along their joint border amidst mounting tensions in the build-up to a referendum on southern independence. Both sides dismissed the other’s allegations. South Sudan has said they will provide community militia groups with weapons to fight the Lord’s Resistance Army, as the mainstream armed forces are already stretched to thin. North Sudan’s dominant party has threatened to reject the results of a southern Independence referendum unless the south withdraws its troops from disputed areas and allows free campaigning in the vote. A central Sudanese tribe has also warned it would fight anyone who prevented its member from voting in the referendum. Darfur rebels accused Sudan’s army of killing 27 people in a week-long campaign of air and ground assaults this week, although the Sudanese army dismissed the accusation.
  • 15 children were hijacked on a school bus in Nigeria by gunmen on Tuesday. The kidnappers are demanding a ransom from the school in the amount of 20 million naira. The children were said to have been released on Friday, with no ransom paid and no physical injuries. Also on Friday, the 50th anniversary of Nigerian Independence from Britain, three bombs killed at least eight people. The attackers sent emails threats about the devices approximately an hour before they were detonated.
  • There has been increasing violence in Zimbabwe during community meetings leading up to the constitutional referendum, including new arrests of civil society activists. The violence and intimidation has been mainly done by supporters of the ZANU-PF, the former sole ruling party.
  • Eritrea criticized the UN General Assembly for continuing to ignore Ethiopia’s failure to comply with the international commission ruling that delineated the border between the two countries following the 1998-2000 war.
  • The UN Security Council deployed 500 additional troops to Cote D’Ivoire in advance of the end of October elections. The elections had been repeatedly delayed in the past. Concerns over election violence have been elevated in the past several weeks, after several militia leaders have spoken out against demobilization payments made to former rebels, claiming that their members, who fought to protect the government deserve equal treatment and even taking over a government building to demand the same demobilization payment as the rebels. The UN mission in Cote D’Ivoire has asked the Security Council to lift the arms embargo on the country so that crowd control equipment can be bought for the upcoming elections. The opposition is concerned of how this equipment will be used.
  • The UN Security Council lifted its 12 year arms embargo and other sanctions imposed on Sierra Leone on Wednesday. The Council also decided to extend their mandate of the Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) for another year until September 15, 2011.
  • The Tunisian government ratified the international treaty banning cluster munitions on Tuesday, becoming the first country in the Middle East or North Africa to do so. Tunisia is the 42nd country to ratify the convention which prohibits the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions.
  • Uganda has warned that the UN report implicating it, and several other countries’ armies in war crimes in the DRC, jeopardizes its commitment to regional peace missions and demanded that it not be published. Rwanda had previously warned the UN about its possible withdrawal from peacekeeping missions if the report was not changed, and later announced that it had the right to review future engagements with the UN.  The report was released on Friday amid much criticism from some of the implicated countries.

Asia

  • Two NATO soldiers were killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan on Saturday, and another two on Sunday, while 70 insurgents died in separate clashes with coalition troops. Local residents complained that civilians were among the victims. A suicide attack on Tuesday killed a provincial deputy governor and five others in the east of the country. A NATO raid in the east killed four children and wounded three adults on Wednesday. A suicide bomber reportedly targeted a NATO military convoy near Kandahar, killing and injuring several civilians on Thursday. Four Georgian soldiers were said to be killed in the attack. Afghan and NATO forces began attacking Taliban strongholds on Saturday in Kandahar in a bid to bolster control of the area. Afghani election officials have ordered a partial recount of votes from seven of the country’s 34 provinces following countless complaints of fraud during last week’s elections. A former top-ranking UN official called upon the UN to investigate into alleged war crimes happening in Afghanistan to identify and prosecute individuals responsible. Three former Australian soldiers will be charged with manslaughter over the deaths of six civilians during a military operation in Afghanistan last year. On Monday, A US court began its trial of American soldiers accused of murder during an Afghani killing spree. Afghan President has announced the formation of a 70-member negotiation council that will push for peace with the Taliban and other insurgent groups, which the Taliban subsequently rejected.
  • The Indian government decided on a major policy shift in Kashmir on Saturday, calling for the release of jailed student protesters, easing security strictures in major cities, reopening schools and universities, and offering financial compensation to the families of more than 100 civilians killed in protests in June. They were hoping the concerns would address the concerns of the protesting Kashmiris, however, the separatist leaders later rejected the shift. On Wednesday, authorities in Indian Kashmir said they will free jailed protesters and reduce the number of checkpoints in the main city, but put off a decision over whether to limit the scope of a hated security law used by the Indian military in the Muslim-majority region to curb the persistent unrest. Indian security forces killed 8 militants on Friday in two separate gunbattles.
  • Pakistan’s minister for defense production has resigned after the PM summoned him to explain why he criticized Pakistan’s military. The move comes just after the PM had canceled its trip to Europe amid media speculation about a possible change of government. There is speculation that the military could remove the civilian government. On Friday, Pakistan’s army chief handed a list of corrupt or allegedly incompetent ministers to the President, demanding their removal. An Internet video showing men in Pakistani military uniforms executing six young men in civilian clothing has heightened concerns about unlawful killings by Pakistan soldiers. The Pakistani military said it was faked by militants, although CIA intelligence suggests otherwise. Pakistan was furious with NATO-led troops upon learning that US helicopters had crossed into its territory from Afghanistan to attack militants. Pakistan’s foreign ministry called the incursions a “clear violation and breach of the UN mandate” and suggested that Pakistan may consider response options. At least 30 militants were killed in the attack. On Thursday, Pakistan blocked a vital supply route for US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, and on Friday suspected militants set fire to more than two dozen tankers carrying fuel for NATO troops in retaliation.
  • North Korea’s Kim Jong-il has promoted his youngest son to military general, which analysts are calling a clear sign that he is in line to succeed his father as the country’s leader. The ruling Workers’ Party held a rare meeting on Tuesday stating that a new supreme leadership body would be elected. The two Koreas held military talks on Thursday, which ended without progress as the North rejected the South’s demands for an apology over the sinking of a South Korean ship. North Korea also vowed to bolster its nuclear deterrent in response to the threat posed by the US, but promised to never use its atomic arsenal to attack or threaten any nation.
  • New Delhi, India has cleared out the city’s poor in an effort to ensure visitors to the upcoming Commonwealth Games remember the games and not the poverty surrounding it. Three Indian judges ruled on Thursday that the disputed religious site in Ayodhya, claimed by both Muslims and Hindus, should be shared by both communities. Authorities have ramped up security measures over the week for fear of escalating violence over the decision, although it appears to have been taken relatively peacefully in the Hindu community and with non-violent rallies among the Muslim community.
  • Indonesia sent an army battalion and hundreds of paramilitary police into Borneo on Wednesday to quell an ethnic clash in an eastern province that has killed at least three people. Offices in the area have been closed, and some houses burned as local people armed with machetes and spears searched for an immigrant ethnic group. An international film festival celebrating gay cinema was targeted by masked Islamic hardliners in Jakarta on Tuesday. The protesters chanted homophobic slogans and accused organizers of blasphemy, threatening to burn down the venue if the screenings were not halted.
  • Thailand has lifted its state of emergency in some parts of the country, with the exception of the capital. The laws included bans on public gatherings of more than 5 people and gave security forces the right to detain suspects for 30 days without charge and were introduced in April amid mass anti-government rallies by the “Red Shirt” movement.
  • A bomb blast rocked a rural Myanmar/Burmese election commission office on Friday, stirring fears of violence during the first election to be run in two decades. The election is to happen next month and is largely criticized as a “sham” to create a military-dominated system run by generals and their proxies with little change in the status quo.

Central and North America

  • A mayor in a small Mexican town was found stoned to death on Monday in the third attack on a public official in less than a week. It was not made clear whether the killings were yet related to drug violence.
  • More than one in four US veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars say they have suffered service-related head injuries and two-thirds reported depression. Experts assert that real numbers may be significantly higher as many are afraid to admit suffering PTSD because they are afraid it would keep them from their families or hurt their careers.
  • The Obama administration is said to be drafting a bill that would require online communications services to be “technically capable of complying” with a wiretap order. The bill is said to make it easier for the US government to spy on Internet communications. The US has also announced unprecedented economic sanctions on Iran, aimed at punishing 8 Iranian officials for human rights abuses in the country. The sanctions ban Americans from doing business with certain officials, and freezes and US assets held by them. The Pentagon has also announced that the US are going to be resuming military contacts with China that were cut off earlier this year.
  • Canada’s House of Commons ruled on Wednesday that Iraqi war resisters from the US will not be allowed shelter in Canada. More than three dozen Americans moved to Canada to avoid military duty in Iraq and sought to stay on humanitarian grounds.

South America

  • Unrest erupted in Ecuador on Thursday as soldiers took control of the main airport, police protested in the streets and looting the capital while the President considered dissolving a deadlocked Congress. The President denounced what he called “a coup attempt”, and was allegedly hospitalized due to the effect of tear gas. He was later said to being held hostage there by police. The following day, the President vowed to punish protesters who rebelled saying there would be ‘no forgiving nor forgetting’.  The police chief quit his post on Friday after failing to stop the rebellion by his officers.

Middle East

  • The winner of Iraq’s March elections has ruled out participating in any new government that would be led by the current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad has come under an intensifying barrage of rocket attacks in recent weeks. A senior American military commander suggested that Iranian-backed militias were responsible. Officials say three police officers were killed in late night attacks in two northern Iraqi cities, and that a car bomb on Tuesday night killed another 2 officers. An American serviceman is being held in Iraq in connection with the shooting of two soldiers last week. A roadside bomb near Baghdad on Friday killed 3 people and wounded another seven at a checkpoint.
  • Israel announced on Monday it would not extend the 10-month moratorium on new settler homes in the West Bank to the disappointment of world leaders. The Palestinians who previously vowed to quit peace talks if the moratorium was not extended have expressed desire to remain in the talks. An Israeli strike in Gaza strip on Monday killed 3 gunmen belong to an Islamic Jihad group. The Israeli navy boarded a yacht carrying 10 Jewish activists who were attempting to break the sea blockade of Gaza and forcibly diverted the vessel to the nearby port of Ashdod. Five of the activists were released from police custody on Wednesday, and five others are set to be deported. The Israeli PM has distanced himself from the foreign minister’s speech at the UN this week after the minister told the General Assembly that an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement would take decades and dismissed the current talks as unrealistic. The UN Human Rights Council endorsed last week’s critical report on Israel’s raid of the May aid flotilla, but stopped short of pressing for an international criminal inquiry. The report also highlighted that US citizen Furkan Dogan and five other Turkish citizens were murdered execution-style by Israeli commandos in the raid.
  • Two Iranian doctors were mysteriously killed outside their workplaces this month. Critics suspect that at least one was linked to a politically motivated cover-up of prisoner abuses last summer following Iran’s disputed presidential elections. President Ahmadinejad’s closest aide has called for more rights for Iran’s “oppressed” women in an interview with the semi-official ILNA news agency, in a move thought likely to fuel controversy.
  • Syria has said it is willing to resume peace talks with Israel if they are geared towards Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights this week. Israel has said it will not enter into any talks with Syria that have pre-conditions.
  • Yemen has stepped up a crackdown on the media that is said to have created the worst climate for press freedom in decades. Some new legislative proposals would set prohibitive financial barriers for broadcast and online news outlets, expand the definition of criminal defamation to include virtually any form of criticism of the President and increase prison terms.

Europe

  • At least 2 Islamist insurgents were killed and 42 injured after a suicide bomber blew himself up in Daghestan on Saturday. Russian security forces said they killed 15 suspected rebels in clashes on Wednesday, and another 17 policemen are said to have been injured after explosives rocked their convoy. Russia claimed to have found and defused a car bomb on Thursday in the North Caucasus.
  • Angry protesters took to the streets in Iceland’s capital on Friday, forcing MPs to run away from those they represent. The protests were sparked due to renewed anger about the impact of the financial crisis. Demonstrations also happened in Greece, Portugal, Slovenia and Lithuania.
  • The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey extended its unilateral ceasefire by one more month on Thursday. The militants’ jailed leader has been in talks with Turkish officials and encouraged the group to continue the ceasefire.
  • The UK has awarded 12 million pounds in “special payments” including compensation to asylum seekers who were traumatized after being locked up in detention centres in the UK. Asylum seekers are protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 14, and the European Union’s Charter article 63 CE.
  • France is now seeking to crack down on the Cirque Romanes, or the “Gypsy Circus” in the latest case of Roma discrimination. French authorities have refused to validate work permits for musicians crucial to the performances. The European Commission ordered France to comply with an EU directive on the free movement of European Union citizens or face legal action over its expulsion of thousands of Roma on Wednesday.
  • The UN Refugee Agency has expressed concern over the growing number of deportations of Iraqi asylum-seekers from Western Europe over the last two months. The deportations are in contravention of UNHCR guidelines for handling Iraqi asylum applications.
  • Eta, the Basque separatist group has said it is willing to declare a permanent, verifiable ceasefire with the Spanish government in a bid to settle its long-running conflict. The group did not specify its conditions.
  • The President of Kosovo resigned on Monday after a court ruled he cannot serve as head of state as well as leader of a political party. Analysts are concerned that the resignation could delay peace talks with Serbia, which are expected to start in October.
  • Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sacked Moscow’s longtime mayor Yuri Luzhkov on Tuesday, citing a lack of presidential confidence. The two had been feuding for some time, with the Russian government commissioning a series of negative TV documentaries about Luzhkov. Luzhkov retaliated by accusing the President of promoting a climate of repression and censorship reminiscent of the Stalin era and is said to be ready to challenge the dismissal.
  • US, UK, French and German intelligence agencies claim to have foiled a plot to launch “commando-style” attacks on Britain, France and Germany through done attacks on militants based in Pakistan. One has to wonder whether this claim would help “justify” the controversial attacks on Pakistan, which have been increasingly protested.
  • Workers from around Europe held rallies and strikes this week to protest the tight austerity programs being implemented by several EU countries. Marches in Belgium were relatively peaceful, whereas the Spanish general strike erupted into clashes between strikers, non-strikers and police. In Ireland, a man was arrested after ramming a cement truck into the gates of Irish Parliament in protest of an expensive bank bailout. Protests in Germany over the Stuttgart 21 rail project also turned violent with more than 100 injuries after their attempts to protect trees were broken up by police with water cannons and teargas.
  • A Croatian parliament deputy who fled Bosnia last year was sentenced to eight years in prison by a Bosnian court for war crimes. Branimir Glavas was the first senior Croatian official convicted of war crimes committed against the Serbs.
  • Serbia has announced it will end conscription to the military starting January 1st next year. The move is part of a 2004 strategy aimed at a gradual introduction of a professional army capable of tackling insurgencies and peacekeeping missions abroad.

This week in conflict… September 17th-24th, 2010.

World

  • The 65th session of the annual UN General Assembly, which began on September 13th, discussed the crises of relevance of the UN worldwide. The highly touted Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were the subject of the opening are falling short in many areas. The UN is also increasingly sharing its space with other entities and losing its place as the center of global responses.
  • September 21st was the UN’s International Day of Peace, a day dedicated to peace or specifically the absence of war. First started in 1981, it was later declared as a day of global ceasefire in 2001. Sadly, this Day of Peace was fraught with violent conflict worldwide.
  • Nations with competing claims to the Arctic region are meeting in a forum in Moscow to help ensure the region does not become a battleground for resources. Several countries, including Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the US have all laid claims to the Arctic.
  • African leaders called on the UN to grant the continent a permanent seat on the Security Council on Friday, declaring that the exclusion of Africa can no longer be justified.

Africa

  • Mauritanian soldiers clashed with suspected al-Qaeda in Mali killing at least 12 al-Qaeda members and at least two civilians. The fighting began on Saturday on the Mauritania-Mali border but moved into Malian territory.
  • Two radio stations in Somalia were ransacked and looted by members of Islamist militias, one that later began to use the station for its own propaganda broadcasting. A suicide bomber blew himself up at the gates of the presidential palace in Mogadishu on Monday. The Prime Minister resigned this week after a months-long feud with the President. At least 10 people were killed and another 25 wounded by fighting between the Somali government and the rebel group Hizbul-islam. Another 20 were killed on Thursday in further clashes, along with one Ugandan peacekeeper. On Friday at least 30 were killed as African Union forces clashed with al-Shabab fighters in Mogadishu. The UN will hold a crisis meeting on Somalia next Thursday.
  • The Congolese army (FARDC) is reportedly increasing its deployments in the east in another bid to purge the FDLR. Uganda is also in talks with the Congolese government to work together to annihilate the LRA rebels who threaten security in both countries. The UN and the Congolese government have launched a distribution of identity cards to refugees aimed at strengthening the rights of the vulnerable group.
  • An army general from Cote D’Ivoire was arrested by the FBI in New York last week attempting to buy 3.8 million dollars worth of weaponry. The government opposition accused the President’s party of preparing to stay in power in the upcoming election by force. The government began paying former rebels on Wednesday who disarmed ahead of the elections set for next month in an effort to reduce violence.
  • Police in Zimbabwe have reportedly arrested 83 members of a group who were taking part in a march outside parliament to accuse police of beating suspects and denounce violence during the country’s constitutional outreach programme.
  • Preparations for an independence referendum in Sudan have been delayed, escalating risks for renewed civil war. The referendum is to happen January 11th.
  • Outrage at the proposed Public Order Management Bill in Uganda, which would restrict gatherings involving more than five people unless they are sanctioned by the Inspector General of Police, led to civil society, the opposition and human rights defenders verbally attacking the government.
  • At least fourteen bodies, some with limbs bound or machete wounds, have been found floating on a river near the capital of Burundi this week. Locals suspect the civil war is resuming.
  • Nigeria’s ruling party has suspended its election primaries this week, signaling that the national elections scheduled for January are likely to be delayed. The electoral commission called for the polls to be moved to April, so that it has more time to correct flawed voter lists.

Asia

  • At least seven people were killed in an attack near a polling station in Afghanistan, and rocket attacks wer reported in Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad. The election was also marred by serious allegations of fraud and reportedly had a low turnout. Almost 3,000 formal complaints were received. The bodies of three Independent Elections Commission officials were found on Sunday, after disappearing in an earlier kidnapping. Eight Afghan children were killed while playing with an unexploded rocket on Sunday. The Taliban claimed that nine NATO soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash after insurgents shot the helicopter down. Several suicide bombers also attacked a NATO-run base on Friday in the southeast.
  • At least five soldiers were killed in an attack on a convoy in Tajikistan on Sunday. The attack was attributed to terrorists. Another 23 people were killed on Sunday after unidentified men opened fire on troops. Kyrgyzstan closed its border with Tajikistan after the attacks. The Tajik government forces mounted a counter-strike on the rebels responsible for the attacks on Wednesday. Another 3 militants were killed by Tajik troops on Friday on the third day of a counter-strike against rebel attacks.
  • The Kyrgyz National Security Service (UKK) interrupted the screening of an Australian documentary about a Chinese human rights activist and demanded it be stopped. The officers claimed to be implementing a written directive signed by the presidential office, though the president refused to comment.
  • Five Buddhists were killed in gun and arson attacks in Thailand on Sunday. The attacks were blamed on separatist rebels. Two more Buddhists were shot dead in a drive-by attack on Thursday. Anti-government protesters took to the streets again on Sunday in what was said to be the largest protest since the military cleared the streets on May 19. The unrest is said to be severely endangering the education system as schools have been targeted by separatist fighters who view the system as a symbol of government oppression.
  • Three people were killed on Saturday in Kashmir after security officers fired into a crowd who had defied the curfew to march in a funeral procession of a young boy. Indian MPs met detained Kashmiri separatists on Monday, despite a rebel boycott of government-sponsored talks in an attempt to end the uprising.
  • A US missile strike killed five militants in northwestern Pakistan on Monday. This is reportedly the fourteenth such US attack this month. Pakistanis took to the streets following the sentencing of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui by the US government for allegedly snatching a gun from an American soldier in an Afghani jail cell and opening fire. Police fired teargas and clashed with protesters.
  • Philippine troops killed a top Islamic militant on Sunday after a brief firefight. The militant is said to have helped plan and carry out the kidnapping of 3 Americans and 17 Filipinos in 2001.
  • More than a dozen gunmen on motorcycles attacked a police station in Indonesia on Wednesday, killing three police officers. The gunmen are believed to have links to a militant group from Aceh that had planned a previous coup attempt.
  • Two member of Kazakhstan’s Algha opposition party were detained by the police on Wednesday as they prepared to leave for a discussion on initiating a referendum on whether the President should resign.
  • Cambodia’s main opposition party leader was convicted in absentia on Thursday and sentenced to 10 years in jail after a comment about a border dispute. Critics claim this is further intimidation of governmental opponents.
  • India has banned bulk mobile text messages for three days starting on Thursday to prevent the spreading of rumours and religious extremism in advance of a potentially explosive court verdict between Muslims and Hindus. The high court ruled on Friday whether Hindus or Muslims own land around a demolished mosque in northern India.

Middle East

  • Two car bombs killed at least 31 people in Baghdad, Iraq on Sunday morning.
  • The Israel Defense Forces have been accused of using the banned Ruger 10/22 rifle to disperse protests even though it has been prohibited. Israel expressed its anger at Russia on Monday for planning to sell anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria, concerned that the weapons could be used to transfer to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Does Israel have nuclear submarines? A new book offers by a former Israeli admiral offers a glimpse into the state which neither confirms nor denies having nuclear bombs. The Israeli government has said it will not accede to the Non-Proliferation Treaty due to national security considerations, and suggested that the UN atomic watchdog is overstepping its mandate in demanding them to do so. Israel is seeking the release of an American jailed for life for spying for the Jewish state in return for an extension of the partial freeze on the expansions of settlements in the occupied territories and other concessions in the recent peace process with the Palestinians. An Israeli guard killed a Palestinian man on Wednesday during clashes in a contested East Jerusalem neighbourhood, after which, angry demonstrators began hurling rocks at police and were dispersed with tear gas and rubber bullets. The Israeli navy shot and killed a Palestinian fisherman on Friday because he was “heading towards Israel” and apparently “refused to obey” orders to turn back.
  • The UN panel of human rights experts charged with investigating the Israeli flotilla scandal of May of this year has accused Israel of war crimes through willful killing, unnecessary brutality and torture in its “clearly unlawful” and disproportionate assault of the ship. Israel dismissed the accusations as “politicized and extremist”, but since the report does not have any legal force it will merely be an embarrassment to the Israeli state.
  • Hamas warned of backlash after Palestinian security forces arrested hundreds of Hamas activists, including a senior Hamas figure. On Thursday Hamas claimed to have arrested “many” Palestinians in Gaza on suspicion of collaborating with Israel to kill senior members and bomb training sites and government offices.
  • An Iranian court has jailed a prominent human rights activist and journalist, convicting her of “waging war against God”. Supporters say the arrest is politically motivated. Two bloggers may face the death penalty for speaking out during the 2009 elections. The Iranian government has announced plans to create a new board that will approve the content of all books for publication, essentially amounting to legalized censorship. A bomb exploded at a military parade on Wednesday killing 10 spectators. The attack was blamed on Kurdish separatists.
  • Up to 12,000 civilians fled their homes in south Yemen due to heavy fighting between government forces and suspected al Qaeda militants. Three al Qaeda militants and two soldiers have died. Yemeni troops laid siege to the town of Hawta, shelling the town with tanks and artillery and firing on jihadists from helicopters.
  • Clashes broke out during protests on Tuesday in Egypt against the claimed plans for the president’s son to assume power. It is widely believed that Gamal Mubarak is now being groomed to succeed his father Hosni as Egypt’s next ruler. Dozens of armed Bedouins locked 15 police officers in a car and set it on fire at a police station in central Sinai.

North and Central America

  • Mexican soldiers deactivated a bomb at a mall in central Mexico on Saturday. Nobody was injured and authorities are not clear if the incident was tied to the country’s drug war. Authorities have ordered the total evacuation of the town of San Juan Copala in the Oaxaca province of Mexico this week, after paramilitaries allegedly said they would massacre all supporters of the autonomous municipality. The town has been under siege since February of this year. Mexican authorities say that seven people were killed in Acapulco during a shootout between rival drug gangs on Thursday. They also found the decapitated bodies of two men inside an abandoned car near Acapulco on Wednesday. Suspected drug hitmen also killed the mayor of a town in the North on Thursday, making this the fourth public official slain in little over a month.
  • An appeal court in the US has dismissed the case against Royal Dutch Shell, after the oil company was accused of helping Nigerian authorities to violently suppress protests against oil exploration in the 1990s. The court ruled that corporations could not be held liable in US courts for violations of international human rights law.
  • Al-Jazeera has accused NATO of trying to suppress its coverage of the war in Afghanistan following the arrest of two of its cameramen this week. The two journalists have been accused by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force to be working with the insurgents to facilitate Taliban propaganda. They were released later in the week. The CIA is said to have trained and bankrolled nearly 3,000 Afghans for nearly 8 years to hunt al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Private contractor deaths have been said to outweigh military losses in Iraq and Afghanistan with more than 250 dead between January and June 2010, compared to 235 soldier deaths.
  • Iranian President Ahmadinejad has accused the US government of orchestrating the 9/11 attacks in an effort to prop up Israel at the UN General Assembly, prompting several delegates to walkout. Barack Obama responded by making an angry personal attack on Ahmadinejad, calling his words “hateful, offensive and inexcusable”. Ahmadinejad later defended his remarks and called upon the UN to set up a commission to study the attacks.
  • Nicaragua’s consul in New York was found dead with his throat slashed in his apartment on Thursday. Police have not released any further details of the investigation so far.

South America

  • Colombian troops killed at least 22 FARC guerrillas in a jungle raid on Sunday. They have also claimed to kill a top leader, Jorge Briceno Suarez, of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). President Santos has vowed to keep his predecessor’s hard line on security in the region. Following these events, the FARC rebels said they wanted a chance for peace negotiations on Friday. On the more bizarre side of things, a parrot was “arrested” for allegedly tipping off members of a drug cartel during a police raid by yelling “run, run– you’re going to get caught” as it spotted uniformed officers.

Europe

  • French intelligence services are searching for a female would-be suicide bomber who they believe is planning an attack on the Paris transport system. This comes less than a week after the Eiffel Tower was evacuated following a bomb alert.
  • Twenty-one people were injured when a protest by grape growers in Kosovo turned violent. Some 500 farmers came with their tractors to protest the government’s inability to find buyers for their grapes.
  • A lawyer who managed the legal defense of a Bosnian Serb convicted of mass murder at the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia is now facing charges of bribing witnesses. He is accused of paying three witnesses 1,000 € each for  testimony in favour of Milan Lukic, who was jailed for life in 2009 for the killings of Muslims in Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war.
  • The vice president of Abkhazia was wounded in a mortar attack on his house on Wednesday night.  The Abkhaz President claims the attack was a bid to destabilize the region.
  • One of Russia’s most vocal gay rights campaigners says he was kidnapped by people he believes to be members of Russian security services and held for two days. Nikolai Alekseyev has previously been publicly insulted, repeatedly arrested and pelted with everything from eggs to fists. On Tuesday, several gay-rights activists, including Alekseyev were arrested after an unauthorized protest. A Russian woman who claims to be a journalist appealed to the US government to help her and 2,000 others whose homes are set for demolition. She laments that her people have lost all their rights and returned to communism. The Russian army has also announced that they will drop their plans to supply Iran with S-300 missiles because they are subject to international sanctions, an arrangement agreed upon several years ago. Gunmen, suspected to be Islamist insurgents, shot 13 people across the North Caucasus this week including two police officers.
  • The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has extended its unilateral ceasefire in Turkey for another week. Turkey has officially refused to negotiate with the PKK, which it labels as a terrorist organization.
  • Concerns about press freedom in Ukraine were fueled this week again after a journalist says he was severely beaten up by police. This is the second such attack on a journalist in less than a week. Police deny all allegations.

Freedom Flotilla and Israeli rights of self-defense

So, in the past I have neglected to write directly on Israeli/Palestinian issues because of the overwhelming hatred and backlash that seems to follow anything that is written on the subject and the claims of bias, antisemitism, brainwashing or worse. I feel now, however, that I should write something, since the “facts” I keep reading are often ludicrous and so shrouded in propaganda that I’m frustrated beyond belief and have been ranting non-stop on the issue since the attack took place. I’m going to try my very hardest to be as impartial as possible… though, given the situation, this will be difficult for me.

On May 31st, 2010, a flotilla destined for Israel’s Gaza strip was embarked by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), resulting in the death of at least 9 people (other reports I’ve seen say at least 19) and injuring many more. The exact numbers of deaths and injuries so-far remains shrouded in secrecy. The remaining 400 or so (again, I’ve seen other reports as high as 610) people on board were immediately escorted and allegedly given a choice to be instantly deported, or be detained and possibly imprisoned in Israel. Many simply refused to give their names or identification and will be detained. One hundred and twenty have so far been deported and the rest are said to be held in Beersheba or being given care in hospitals throughout the country. The attack happened in international waters, some 70-150 km off the coast of Israel (again, disputed reports), an act which has subsequently been called piracy by many onlookers. But Israeli military spokesperson Avital Leibovich has stated that the attack may have “happened in waters outside of Israeli territory, but we have the right to defend ourselves“.

The question remains whether this ship was bound for violence or an actual humanitarian venture. Some claim that the so-called humanitarians are actually Hamas supporters bringing in weapons, who intended the outcome, and perhaps even opened arms on themselves; self-sustaining their injuries to gain sympathy for the cause. They even show the terror of a dozen or so kitchen knives, utility knives, wrenches and other “weapons” on board the ship that could have potentially brought harm to the fully armed and trained IDF. Grainy videos show some people (we’re told IDF forces) being attacked by supposed grenades and other such weapons, but it’s hard to really tell the true situation from just these few minutes of video. Others see this as a massacre, just another blatant misuse of force by the Israeli forces, who are taught to shoot first and ask questions later.

What does appear clear to me is that the flotilla was looking for a protest demonstration and had decided that a confrontation would gain them the most international media, which is why they continued towards Israel while the five other ships in their convoy were halted and inspected without incident. Did the passengers expect the level of violence they received and were they ready to defend their cargo at all costs? This remains to be seen.

The passenger list of the ship, however, opens these thoughts to scruitiny. According to Turker Kaan Cetin who was released from Israeli custody along with her 13-month-old-baby, about half the people on the boat were women. The ship was also said to be transporting many renowned world leaders and approximately 10,000 tons of humanitarian supplies. Would Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire, former US Representative Cynthia McKinney, 81 year old former US ambassador to Mauritania and deputy director of former US President Reagan’s White House task force against terrorism Edward Peck, two German MPs, a retired US army colonel, and lawmakers from a dozen European countries be on a mission to supply Hamas with arms? Would these people submit to opening fire on and attacking the Israeli Defense Forces with such violence? Would such a ship have the blessing and endorsement of Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu? Maybe. It is possible that the ship also contained terrorists and commandos who accompanied these leaders with the intent to discredit Israel. But what would these leaders have to gain from being associated with such violence? Why would they submit to such action willingly?

So far, it seems that the contradicting videos of the incident can not definitively say who attacked who first aboard the ship; however we must remember, the Israeli military stopped, boarded and attacked a Turkish-flagged ship in international waters. Normally this type of action could be seen as a blatant act of war. The only reasonable justification for boarding a ship in international waters is if the ship causes an imminent threat to the state (ie. it is about to bomb the state or other such extreme military action), and in that case, the action taken against the ship must be absolutely necessary and proportionate.

Some reports suggest that the passengers were barraged with bullets even as they waved a white flag of surrender. Did the ships passengers have the right to defend themselves from such an attack? Or did the IDF have the right to invade the ship in international waters to protect themselves and their country? Had the IDF stopped the flotilla within the 3-mile limit covered under maritime law, the flotilla’s resistance could have been prosecuted under both international and Israeli law and the passengers would have had no leg to stand on. However, it did not happen in this manner.

Claims were made that the 10,000 ton shipment posed a risk to Israeli security. So what was actually found in that shipment? Children’s toys, medicines, text books, wheel chairs… but so far, no weapons have been revealed as part of the shipment in the media. Some have charged that the contents of the shipment were not the issue, but rather the flotilla’s denial of explicit offers to deliver the aid through land crossings so that it could undergo scruitiny and inspection to ensure Israel’s safety. Many would argue that much needed supplies are routinely stopped at the borders and denied to the Gazan citizenry and that they only way to get the materials to those in need was to break the blockade.

Israel’s deputy Defense Minister has hinted that Israel sabotaged the other ships that were scheduled to accompany the Freedom Flotilla, while the Israeli PM paints the blockage of the flotilla as a “clear case of self-defense“. Interestingly, the PM also suggests in his statement that Israel has “no argument of fight with the population of Gaza. We are interested in allowing them to continue their regular routines.” The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, however, seem to show otherwise, with reports that 61% of Gazans are “food insecure” and that the level of anemia in infants is as high as 65.5%. Other UN statistics show that about 70% of Gazans live on less than $1 a day, 75% rely on food aid and 60% have no daily access to water. Much of the population remains unemployed and thus have no money to buy supplies for themselves. They live in what has been called the world’s largest open-air prison, unable to move freely or have free access to many of the necessities of life. The UN resolution 1860 calls for the unfettered access of aid and commercial goods to Gaza, although it would appear this call has been mostly ignored by the Israeli government’s blockade. An apparent 15,000 tons of supplies reaches Gaza each week, but clearly, this is either not enough for the 1.5 million Gazans, or is not reaching those who need it most. Since this debacle, Egypt has open the Rafah border crossing, which has been closed since 2007,  to allow medical and humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, and enable those in need of medical treatment to pass through.

Israel has lost many of its “friends” with this action, most namely its last real Muslim ally, Turkey. The ship was heavily populated with Turkish citizenry, was waving a Turkish flag, and most of the dead and those now being held are thought to be of Turkish nationality. Since the attack, the Turkish government has recalled its Israeli ambassador, canceled their joint military exercises and warned of unprecedented and incalculable reprisals. They have vowed that further supply vessels will be sent to Gaza, only this time they will be escorted by the Turkish navy. The Turkish government has also called on the US to condemn the raid and support their fellow NATO-member against this “act of aggression” (much as the US called upon NATO to assist them after the 9/11 acts of aggression). If Turkey were to invoke the NATO charter in this case of what they call a blatant attack, and the US were to ignore it, it would surely mean an end to NATO. All is not lost however, as the planned delivery of $180 million worth of Israeli-made Heron drones will still make their way to Turkey. Good thing they still care enough about each other to share war devices.

Despite the propaganda that surrounds this issue, UN ambiguity in wording of their resolution calling for a credible investigation into the killing leaves the possibility of Israel investigating themselves in their possible crimes. US deputy UN ambassador Alejandro Wolff, “We are convinced and support an Israeli investigation, as I called for in my statement earlier. And, have every confidence that Israel can conduct a credible and impartial and transparent, prompt, investigation internally.” Clearly, the only way to get to the “truth” would be if the investigation were done by an independent, impartial body, but sadly, it appears the truth will never be told and those responsible may never see justice.

A second ship, the MV Rachel Corrie (named for the American activist murdered by bulldozers demolishing Palestinian homes in Israel in 2003) is still bound for Israel, carrying more humanitarian goods for the Gazan population. We can only hope another such tragedy does not occur this time around.

Our Christmas Vacation Under Occupation

By Laura Ashfield and Hannah Carter.

This past December and January, we travelled to Egypt, Israel and Palestine on behalf of the Canadian Friends of Sabeel to participate in the Gaza Freedom March, organized by Code Pink. Each of us had participated in the International Young Friends of Sabeel Conference (Laura in 2008 and Hannah in 2009) and had been deeply affected by our time in the Middle East. As part of our ongoing commitment towards justice and peace in Palestine and Israel, we decided to be a part of the Gaza Freedom March; a ‘historic initiative to break the siege that has imprisoned the 1.5 million people who live in Gaza.’

The Plan

We planned to arrive in Cairo on December 26th to meet with 1,361 other internationals from 43 different countries. Then on December 27th we would enter Gaza through the Rafah border with humanitarian aid such as school materials, medicine, water purification systems, and other much needed supplies. On the morning of the 31st, we hoped to join about 50,000 Palestinians in a peaceful march from one end of Gaza to the other. The purpose of the Gaza Freedom March was to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Israel’s invasion on Gaza, call worldwide attention to the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and show the residents of Gaza that the international community has not forgotten them. Through this effort, we had hoped to ‘break the seige’ and encourage the leaders of our governments to urge Israel and Egypt to open the borders surrounding Gaza.

The Setback

Unfortunately, the Freedom March did not go as planned. We were actually delayed in Germany for a few days due to health complications, but our fellow marchers in Cairo did not have any more luck than we did. Although Code Pink had obtained permits for the delegation, the Egyptian authorities informed them that they were not going to be allowed through the Rafah border afterall. The Egyptian government also cancelled the buses to Al Arish and Rafah, and took away their permits to have large group meetings; basically making it impossible to carry out anything as planned. The freedom marchers were stuck in Cairo with not much hope of getting into Gaza.

The ‘March to Gaza’

The day before we arrived in Cairo, the Egyptian Government allowed 100 people into Gaza in order to bring humanitarian aid in and visit some of the organizations we had hoped to connect with. While a handful of the marchers were in Gaza, the rest of the group was making their presence known in Cairo! We arrived in Cairo on the night of the 30th and were quickly swept into the action. On December 31st – the day of the planned Gaza Freedom March – we symbolically marched to Gaza by walking peacefully in the streets of downtown Cairo. Because there was an official ban on public demonstrations, the organizers used the ‘flash mob’ technique. Basically, all the Gaza Freedom Marchers were told to walk around the Egyptian Museum area and look like tourists. At 10:00am sharp, two women leaders held up Palestinian flags, we all swarmed into the busy streets of Cairo. It worked well, and we quickly took over one of the main streets downtown. However, within minutes we were surrounded by hundreds of riot police. The police were very rough and sometimes violent with the marchers in order to get us off the road.

Eventually we were confined to a 500-square meter area of sidewalk across from the Egyptian Museum. Many people had banners and Palestinian flags and we chanted and cheered and made as much noise as we could. It was inspiring to see how passionate everyone was. There were young people, students, adults, and elderly gathered from all over the world and all there for the same reason – freedom for Gaza. Although we were somewhat silenced and trapped by the Egyptian officials and police, this protest was a sign of our anger and outrage at Israel and Egypt for not allowing us into Gaza, for the continuing blockade and siege on Gaza, and for our own governments’ silence. This protest was our opportunity to get our message heard in Cairo and hopefully the rest of the world.

Conclusions

We were extremely disappointed that we did not get into Gaza. In addition to all that had been planned with the official march, we had hoped to meet with the Middle East Council of Churches and learn about how the invasion and continuing siege is affecting the people of Gaza. Laura was in Gaza two summers ago and met with the MECC. She visited refugee camps, hospitals, schools, education centres, and churches where she met the most gracious, warm, and resilient people. We were really looking forward to reconnecting with them, learning from them, and offering solidarity. We had brought with us, two suitcases full of school supplies for children in Gaza. One of the local high schools in Kitchener-Waterloo collected school supplies specifically for Gaza and were hoping we would deliver them. In the end, we left the school supplies in Jerusalem with the family we stayed with – who said they would try their best to get them to Gaza. We’re sure they will be put to good use, wherever they end up.

Although the Gaza Freedom March did not go as planned, our determination and hope did not get defeated. Of course all of the Gaza Freedom March participants were upset that our plans were hijacked, but many people tried to see the positive side of things. Some argued that perhaps there was more media attention because we were not allowed into Gaza, and ended up having to protest. I’m not sure if this is the case, but either way, we felt that this was an important initiative to be a part of, whether in Gaza or in Cairo. The Gaza Freedom March brought thousands of internationals together in one place, in solidarity for the people of Gaza.

Our time in the West Bank

After participating in the Gaza Freedom March, we travelled to Israel and the West Bank, in order to meet with Sabeel in Jerusalem. We were also able to spend time with friends we had made during the Sabeel Conference and visit organizations working for peace. Since we were in the Holy Land over the Christmas/Epiphany season we also attended services in Bethlehem with our host family. It was wonderful to celebrate the birth of Jesus at his actual birthplace! We were pleased that we were also able to spend a few days in Hebron with the Christian Peacemaker Team. We walked with them during their daily patrols and spoke with the people living under occupation, learning more about the serious problems that are particular to the situation in Hebron. We used our time in the West Bank to learn as much as we could, to connect again with Sabeel, to listen, and to gain experiences.

We would like to thank you all for the many ways in which you supported us in our participation in the Gaza Freedom March and our travels to the West Bank and Israel. We are eager to present about our experiences traveling in the Middle East. If you would like to hear more, we would be happy to share more stories with you! In fact, we will be speaking at Knox Presbyterian Church in Waterloo on May 2nd at 12:15pm and you are more than welcome to attend.

Peace (in the Middle East)

Laura Ashfield and Hannah Carter

Children selling us fairtrade items in Hebron

Part I: Summary of Human Rights Watch- World Report 2010

Human Rights Watch recently released their latest Human Rights Watch Report  for 2010.

As I read through the list of countries profiled in the report, I found myself disappointed that Canada, the UK, Australia or any Western European countries had not made the list. I have read reports of almost all of these governments committing human rights violations  or allowing their companies to do so and the populations of these nations do still experience routine violations against human rights. In fact, considering these countries have signed numerous conventions and incorporated human rights laws more thoroughly into domestic laws than most of the rest of the world, their breach of them is all the more abhorrent and worthy of reporting. I thoroughly respect the work that organizations like Human Rights Watch do and I understand that Human Rights Watch is limited in their scope and resources as indicated in the end of the first report; so in no way do I mean to undermine the work that has been done to compile this report. I simply wish that it would cover the entire world and not just pieces of it.

The main violations of concern in the report this year are described in four sections followed by individual country reports. These sections are as follows:

1) The Abusers’ Reaction: Intensifying Attacks on Human Rights Defenders, Organizations and Institutions

2) Civilian Protection and Middle East Armed Groups: In Search of Authoritative Local Voices

3) Abusing Patients: Health Providers’ Complicity in Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment

4) In the Migration Trap: Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Europe.

I will cover the details of the report over the next little while in a series of posts. The first post will address the first section of the report.

Intensifying Attacks on Human Rights Defenders, Organizations and Institutions.

Putting a spotlight on human rights violations can be risky, and often those who defend human rights face extreme abuse, imprisonment, harassment, intense intimidation and even death. Organizations fighting this fight have been suppressed, denied funding, shut down and worse. Russia received a great deal of attention for its attacks on human rights defenders. Many victims reported cases of arson, arbitrary detention, disappearances of loved ones, torture, and brutal executions in Chechnya and other parts of the country. Also specifically mentioned in this section was Kenya, Burundi, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Malaysia, India, and Uzbekistan. Several states were also listed as completely closed or restricted for activism. At the top of this list are Eritrea, North Korea, and Turkmenistan. Burma and Iran bar international human rights groups completely. Saudi Arabia will not acknowledge NGO supporting human rights promotion and clamps down tightly on any who speak out. Danger in Somalia makes human rights monitoring essentially impossible. Libya allows international visits but completely suppresses any independent civil society. Syria will not license any human rights groups and prosecutes those who push for registration. Indonesia prohibits international human rights groups to visit to certain areas of the country, as has Israel into the Gaza strip. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam all refuse to allow access to UN special procedures, including on torture and human rights defenders. As does Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Zimbabwe and Russia have also prevented the special rapporteur on torture from entering their respective countries. Sudan has shut down human rights organizations and expelled several international humanitarian NGOs working in Darfur. China closed the Open Constitution Initiative (a legal aid organization) because of controversy over Tibetan protests and melamine-poisoned milk that sickened hundreds of thousands of children.

Other governments have been accused of openly harassing, detaining or attacking human rights defenders including Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Cambodia, Syria, and Yemen. The governments of Columbia, DR Congo, Sri Lanka, and Nicaragua have been accused of using threats of violence to deter or punish human rights defenders. Russia, Ethiopia, India, Israel, Jordan, Uganda, Turkmenistan, Libya, Venezuela, Peru, Cambodia, Rwanda, Kyrgyzstan and Egypt have all been accused of creating restrictive laws on NGOs and associations in an attempt to restrict the monitoring of human rights. China, Iran and Syria have all disbarred lawyers, refusing to renew their professional licenses to prevent them from representing victims of human rights abuses. China, Uzbekistan, Rwanda, Iran, Morocco, Serbia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka have been accused of trumping up criminal charges to silence human rights defenders.

The report then details the efforts made by some leaders to silence or curtail the activities of the International Criminal Court (ICC). After the ICC issued an arrest warrant for sitting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the African Union (AU) adopted a resolution urging African states to not cooperate with the arrest proceedings. The AU accused the court of unfairly targeting Africans, even though no objections were raised when the court indicted several warlords and the African governments themselves had requested the court to open the investigations. The ICC has also been hampered by the lack of ratification in the areas it is most needed, namely Sri Lanka, Iraq, Gaza, and Chechnya and a seeming double-standard that allows major Western powers and their allies to escape impunity.

The UN Human Rights Council is also described as problematic. The report demonstrates the bias and subjective nature of inquiries into human rights violations. Regional solidarity reigns in voting procedures over human rights principles, with members convinced to ignore their domestic principles for their allegiances to repressive neighbouring governments. Repressive leaders at the Council seemed determined to silence voices of dissent whenever possible. Similar problems have occurred within the UN NGO Committee, who has the power to decide which NGOs are able to gain “consultative status” and the right to speak before UN bodies. Several governments who are extremely restrictive towards NGOs seem to actively seek membership within the Committee to ensure that certain voices are silenced. For example, a Christian group from China was rejected for refusing to provide a list of its Chinese members, an action that would have severely endangered the lives of those involved. Another group, the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, was denied the right to speak because it had not complied with Ethiopia’s new stringent civil society laws.

The European Court of Human Rights has repeated issued rulings against Russia (more than 100) for the abduction, torture, and execution of the people in Chechnya, and failing to properly investigate the crimes. Russia has refused to implement structural reforms ordered by the Court, as well as share relevant documents with the court in over 40 cases. The Russian government continually postpones visits by the rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on human rights situations in the North Caucasus and has so far faced little consequence.

The ASEAN Commission on Human Rights was highlighted as a potentially positive new institutional development in the eastern world. Launched in late 2009, the 10-member Association vowed to adopt a “constructive”, “non-confrontational” and “evolutionary” approach to human rights, however, its non-interference policy ensures that member states cannot be monitored and investigated properly, giving each state the right of veto. Engagement with civil society remained repressive as each state was allowed to chose the civil society organization it wished to be part of an “interface meeting” on human rights.

More vigorous governmental defense of human rights activists and institutions is necessary, even in the face of abuse by allies. The attack on those who would defend human rights is an attempt to silence. The world cannot sit silent in the face of abuse. Voices must be heard. Human rights is a relatively new concept on the earth, but is one that must be vehemently defended if our rights and freedoms are to be respected.

Please read through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Is there anything written there that you wouldn’t want for you and your family?

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