IDF

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.