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Prices soar in Gaza as Rafah, tunnels close

IRIN | 7 February 2011

GAZA – More than a week of political unrest in Egypt has heightened the threat of a humanitarian crisis in neighbouring Gaza. Egyptian soldiers fled their posts on the northern border on 30 January, forcing the Rafah crossing – a critical valve for the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza – to close.

Around 60 Palestinians, attempting to return home via Cairo when Gaza’s southern border closed, are still being held in the “deportation room” at Cairo airport. Among them are six children and several critically ill patients who are running out of medication.

“The children don’t know what’s happening. Sometimes they’re crying. It’s very, very cold here; it’s crowded and there is nowhere for us to wash,” one of those being detained, who asked not to be named, told IRIN on 30 January.

Israel destroyed Gaza’s airport during the second Intifada in 2002, and Gazans have few alternatives but to transit through Cairo airport, via Rafah. Since the militant group Hamas took control in 2007, Gazans need special security clearance to enter Egypt. Those with permits to travel abroad are taken directly to Cairo airport by bus where they are held until their flight departs. On the return leg they are held at the airport until they can be taken to the Rafah crossing.

Tunnels close

Israel’s blockade of the region means Gaza depends heavily on goods smuggled through tunnels from Egypt – particularly fuel, cooking gas and building materials – but the ongoing instability in Egypt has caused these tunnels to close, severing a vital supply line.

“The problem is getting fuel to the border inside Egypt. There are no military forces on the Egyptian side of the border, so smugglers are getting hijacked on the road from Cairo and all their stuff stolen. It’s very dangerous for them,” said taxi driver Farid Abdul El Rahman, who is running his car on the last of his Egyptian diesel.

“There is nothing coming through the tunnels now – I think the problem is only going to get worse,” he said. Petrol has now run out entirely and the only fuel available is the limited amount coming from Israel at treble the price.

A fuel shortage in Gaza would not only mean no cars, but also no electricity. The blockade and severe damage to power stations during the 2009 conflict resulted in a chronic power shortage with up to six hours of electricity cuts every day. Gaza’s homes and businesses rely on fuel-powered generators.

“I have to stock up like everyone else, as we have no idea when there will be petrol here again,” said a senior judge, who asked not to be named because of his position, queuing with hundreds of people at one of the few petrol stations in Gaza City that still had fuel.

Hospitals affected

The major hospitals have stockpiles of fuel to power their generators, but the biggest, Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, has less than a week’s supply in reserve. If the tunnels remain closed much longer, the situation will become critical.

Mohamed Abu Rahman, a senior nurse in the intensive care unit, said he was very concerned about the border closure. “This unit, especially, is entirely dependent on electricity. If there’s a power cut we have to operate the ventilators manually before the generator kicks in,” he told IRIN.

“There are power cuts here for four hours every day. It will be impossible to keep people alive without our generators – the monitors, the ventilators, everything – will be gone.”

For some the situation is life threatening. Gaza suffers acute shortages of crucial medical equipment and medicines, which means many people, often those with serious conditions like cancer, must be referred abroad for treatment.

Every month around 500 Gazan patients are referred to Egypt. Bassam Abu Hamad, a senior health consultant in Gaza, warned that closure of the Rafah crossing was putting lives at risk:

“People in need of radiotherapy, and advanced surgery in particular, are simply unable to get treatment,” he said. “While Rafah is closed, we will see increased loss of life here in Gaza.”

Price hikes

The prices of many consumer goods have rocketed since the tunnels closed. Cigarettes have gone up 25 percent, but the cost of vital building materials has doubled.

Much of Gaza is still in ruins after Israel’s last invasion in 2009, which left 60,000 buildings damaged and more than 4,000 destroyed.

Israel’s ban on importing cement, steel and gravel through its border posts means that any construction in Gaza has to rely on materials smuggled through the tunnels.

“Since the problems started in Egypt, the prices of cement and gravel have doubled – one ton of cement cost 520 new Israeli shekels [NIS – US$140] last week. Today, I bought a ton for 1,100 NIS [$296],” said Ashraf Al Aloul, a driver for an international NGO, one of thousands of Gazans in the process of building a home.

“Nobody here can afford to buy material at this price. I think all building work will stop while people wait to see what’s going on.”

February 8, 2011 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Subjugation - Torture | Comments Off on Prices soar in Gaza as Rafah, tunnels close

Israel’s whitewash report into the Mavi Marmara massacre

By Richard Lightbown | Redress | 9 February 2011

Computer programmers talk of garbage in, garbage out. While perhaps not precisely the right word for the data given and used by the  Turkel Commission, the analogy holds reasonably well.

Turkel has heard from some of the great and the bad of Israel and looked at documents from Israeli sources but has only listened to two persons who were actually at the raid; both were passengers on the Mavi Marmara. True, there have been submissions from 38 soldiers who were interviewed by a go-between, while another 58 provided written evidence. But none has dared to appear before the commission in public nor were any identified by name, lest a future trip to Europe or even South America is cut short by the long arm of international law. (Only the BBC “Panorama” programme presenter Jane Corbin has met any of these soldiers so far. Going down to the docks after dark she met Lieutenant A, Sergeant Y and Captain R. Hiding from the daylight and the truth like pimps or drug dealers on the run, they represent the true face of the most shameful army in the world, skulking with the rats in the docklands.)

Turkel has complained that no other witnesses from the flotilla would appear, but omitted to explain why it was 11 weeks before the captain of the Mavi Marmara had been asked to attend, and three-and-a-half months before the Turkish embassy was asked to help provide witnesses. British nationals were asked only on 21 October to provide a synopsis in order that the commission might consider whether to call them as witnesses. They were given four days in which to do this, after Turkel had taken more than 16 weeks to make the demand. Their lawyer described it as a calculated snub … not a genuine effort to welcome their evidence. Nationals from other countries appear to have been ignored altogether. Arab-Israeli Member of the Knesset Hanin Zoabi has said she was also not given the opportunity to testify, telling Ynet News on 23 January: “The commission purposely and intentionally failed to summon the civilian and the only witness to see what happened out of fear her testimony would damage the harmony of the report.”

Turkel Commission vs UN fact-finding mission

There are now two reports on the subject. The first by the  UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Fact-Finding Mission which was not allowed to meet any Israeli nor permitted access to any Israeli documents that were not in the public domain. However, it did interview 112 witnesses from the flotilla and received written statements from others. On 27 September it reported that grave violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law had been committed by Israeli personnel. In contrast the Israeli commission has heard only two first-hand accounts, and has relied on all-Israeli hearsay evidence and second-hand testimony along with official Israeli documents in order to conclude that “overall the actions undertaken were lawful and in conformity with international law”’

One can try to make excuses for Turkel. Perhaps the commission made a mistake when it wrote that the cargo ship Tali had weapons on board when it tried to reach Gaza in February 2009. (A contemporary account in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted an Israeli military spokesperson saying there were no weapons on board.) Perhaps they were naïve to believe the Military Attorney-General’s perjurious story that the MV Dignity was in accidental collision with an Israeli gunboat (instead of the cruiser being rammed at speed three times). Maybe they had seen only the current Ministry of Foreign Affairs graph of missiles fired from the Gaza Strip and not the previous one which had accurately shown that only 12 rockets were fired from the Strip for the four months between the beginning of July and 4 November 2008.(Nevertheless, they blamed Gazan militants for the breakdown of the ceasefire in December 2008, ignoring reports by Amnesty International that the ceasefire effectively ended when Israeli forces killed six Palestinian militants on 4 November.)

Ignoring expert testimony

But one can no longer suspend disbelief when Turkel refuses to believe its own ears. On 13 October three delegates from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel with experience of working in Gaza appeared before the commission. From among these detailed personal testimonies the commission heard that:

  • CT and MRI machines for oncology have been denied entry as dual-use technology despite not being connected to any source of radioactive isotopes.
  • A broken MRI scanner in Shifna hospital cannot be sent away to be repaired.
  • The crossings policy is causing grave damage to the provision of a minimally adequate medical response to the Gazan population.
  • It is not correct to say that medications entered Gaza freely before the flotilla.
  • It is not correct to say that beyond the dual-use items there was entry for essential medical equipment.
  • Dr Mustapha Yassin said that he is no longer allowed to take kneecaps into Gaza for orthopaedic surgery (as he has done previously) and that in consequence these operations are no longer possible.

Ran Yaron also told the commission:

Since September 2007, as a result of the Israeli cabinet’s declaration of Gaza as a hostile entity, we have been witness to a worsening of the crossings policy and to a deterioration in the functioning of the health system in Gaza.

Nonetheless, Turkel’s report states in section 82, p.87:

No evidence was presented before the commission to the effect that Israel prevents the passage of medical supplies apart from those included in the list of materials whose entry into the Gaza Strip is prohibited for security reasons.

Footnote 303 adds:

Civilian Policy Regarding Gaza Strip – Regarding the Claims of Human Rights Organizations, Dated 31.10.2010, supra note 217, Appendix A; More accurately, the restrictions stem from three sources – the instructions of the Israeli Ministry of Health, the instructions of the Israeli Ministry of Industry and Commerce, and the supervisory orders on defence export.

There was not much hope then that the commission would look at data from other independent organizations concerned about the state of Gaza’s economy and infrastructure. For example, Gisha, an Israeli organization that challenges restrictions on Palestinian movement, has reported power outages of up to 12 hours a day, and six hours a day on average; the freezing of thousands of spare parts for the electricity and water networks in Israeli and West bank warehouses; and the lack of desalination for drinking water contaminated by seawater and a sewage system near to collapse. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told the UNHRC Mission that “Abject poverty” among refugees has tripled since the imposition of the blockade from 100,000 to 300,000 and 61 per cent of households are food insecure. The International Commission for the Red Cross has written of the dire situation in Gaza in which the population suffers from unemployment, poverty and warfare while the quality of the health care system has reached an all-time low.

A myopicTurkel Commission merely reported:

…considerable evidence was presented to the commission to show that Israel allows the passage of objects essential for the survival of the civilian population and that it provides humanitarian aid as required by the rules of international humanitarian law in those areas that human rights organizations identify as a source of concern.

Basically it would have us believe that the blockade is not responsible for any of Gaza’s problems, although it does quote Professor Shabtai Rosenne (who was a member of the commission until his death in September) that crippling an enemy’s external trade was a legitimate objective of armed conflict. The professor was, however, writing in 1946. Three years later, in 1949, the  Fourth Geneva Convention was adopted and such policies were outlawed. Turkel it would seem needs to update its knowledge to accommodate developments in international law over the last 60 years.

The rationale continues that the blockade is a legal means of safeguarding Israel’s security since it has not caused starvation or prevented the passage of objects essential to survival or the passage of medical supplies. In this respect, Turkel finds it regrettable that the Israeli legal system is not recognized internationally as the instrument for satisfying the rule of law. This, of course, is the same system whose Supreme Court declared in 2005 that the opinion of the International Court of Justice (with regard to the apartheid wall) was not legally binding in Israel.

In concluding this section, Turkel considered Israeli announcements for easing the blockade but declared itself unable to assess the effects. However, a scathing report published jointly by 25 charities on 30 November 2010 –  Dashed Hopes: Continuation of the Gaza Blockade – had no such misgivings. It described how there had been a failure to accelerate imports of construction materials which had prevented reconstruction projects and impacted severely on education within the Strip. The easing had also had no effect on exports or on movement for Palestinians through the Israeli crossings. The report called for an immediate unconditional and complete lifting of the blockade.

Section B of the Turkel Commission’s report covers the raid, overstating the violence encountered by the commandos while denying any wrongdoing on their part. It is true that Turkish militants prepared for a fight and cut bars from the ships railings against the orders of the captain. Nor has it been disputed that soldiers were badly roughed up, pushed over the side of the upper deck and taken captive. The reasons have never been given. Turkel has suggested it may have been a deliberate attempt to capture the soldiers, and that this amounted to an act of combat. What happened afterward is difficult to discern. The soldiers’ accounts, which are exaggerated and unreliable, say that they were frequently beaten and only had minimal medical attention. The reporter Şefik Dinç confirms that they were beaten while in custody.

Other photographs clearly show that Murat Akinan, having helped to subdue one of the soldiers, then led him downstairs to the doctor and remonstrated with a photographer trying to film him. The medical team had very little equipment and the doctor was unable to stitch up the soldier’s cut on his head because he did not have a needle and thread. The level of violence versus  the level of protection that the soldiers were subject to is difficult to assess. It appears there may have been some mistreatment, but that genuine attempts were also made to treat them well. Many of those who later suffered in Israeli custody have told of much worse treatment.

Turkel’s report is Israel’s submission to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s Panel of Inquiry, which is due to resume its deliberations in New York by the middle of February. It was supposed to have been submitted in September at the same time as one from Turkey. The Turkish submission was presented on time but Turkey agreed to keep the report suppressed while the Israeli report was still in preparation. In the meantime, a copy was made available to Israel. Israel’s report was also supposed to have remained confidential but instead has been released with much publicity but without the courtesy of giving the Turks an advance copy.

Turkish report

Naturally angered, Turkey has released interim copies of their report, which have not been widely reported in the Western media. The three parts of it can be accessed here:

The report describes the shooting of two passengers from the first helicopter before any commando attempted to exit the helicopter, along with the deaths of nine people, most of whom suffered multiple gunshot wounds. It also refers to the humiliation, abuse and torture of the passengers during their detention on the ship and at Ashdod. Property was unlawfully seized and evidence tampered with or destroyed. Israel had also cleaned the bodies of those killed and cleaned up the Mavi Marmara in order to hamper meaningful forensic investigations. The report considers that the blockade violates international law and that the ships carrying humanitarian cargo should have been exempt from attack under international law. It concludes by calling for reparations from Israel for its violations of its international obligations.

There will be much for the UN Panel to consider and they are likely to be severely hampered by a lack of expertise in international law. They may conclude that the actions of some of the Turkish charity IHH personnel were provocative but it is to be hoped that that they will be able to distinguish between the facts of the severe hardship suffered in Gaza that Turkish nationals went to alleviate and the fabrications that have been regurgitated by Turkel.



February 8, 2011 Posted by | Deception, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | 1 Comment

Masked Jewish settlers menace school children

Christian Peacemaker Teams | February 8, 2011

At-Tuwani, South Hebron Hills, West Bank — On the afternoon of 7 February 2011, three Israeli settlers from Havat Ma’on outpost chased a group of twelve Palestinian schoolchildren who were walking home from school.  The Israeli military had failed to arrive to escort the schoolchildren, forcing the children to take a longer path without the army’s escort.

Shortly after the schoolchildren and Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) volunteers set out on the path towards Tuba and Maghayir al-Abeed villages, Israeli settlers, two of whom were masked, emerged from a grouping of trees and began moving towards the children.  Upon seeing the settlers, the children turned and sprinted to distance themselves from the settlers. Several children cried and screamed as they ran away from the settlers; one young girl began shaking uncontrollably as soon as she stopped running from the settlers.

The Israeli Border Police, who were located on an adjacent hill for the duration of the incident, arrived at the scene after the Palestinian children had safely distanced themselves from the settlers. The Border Police stopped and spoke with the settlers, two of whom remained masked during the entire conversation.

The Border Police then approached the edge of At-Tuwani village where the children, CPT volunteers, and Palestinian adults had gathered. Border Police officers spoke with a CPT volunteer and an At-Tuwani resident, seeking to understand what had happened. After hearing their accounts but refusing to hear the role the settlers had played, the officers suggested that the Palestinian children, internationals, and At-Tuwani villagers were the ones causing problems, rather than the settlers.

Before the children had set out on the longer path without the military escort, CPT volunteers had called the Israeli military four times inquiring as to the whereabouts of the escort.  During CPT’s final call to the military—more than thirty minutes after their initial call—the military dispatch office said that they had not yet called the soldiers who were to provide the escort, because they had more important duties to perform.

The Border Police officers eventually escorted the children home, but all of them remained in their jeep, laughing, as the children walked behind the jeep, visibly shaken.

February 8, 2011 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | 2 Comments

Hebron settler calls Spanish FM anti-Semite

Ma’an – 08/02/2011

Spanish FM Trinidad Jimenez tours the Old City of Hebron, moments before she was verbally assaulted by settlers. [MaanImages]

HEBRON — A heated argument broke out between Hebron settlers and local Governor Kamil Hamid as the latter was escorting the visiting Spanish Foreign Minister through the occupied Old City.

As Minister Trinidad Jimenez left the historic Ibrahimi Mosque, also known as the Cave of Patriarchs, right-wing settler leader and activist Itamar Ben-Gvir shouted at the woman, calling her an anti-Semite and “Israel hater,” the Israeli daily news site Ynet quoted.

Speaking to Ma’an after the incident, Hamid confirmed the report, saying a group of setters had accosted the delegation and called Jimenez and “anti-Semite,” and told her to “go back to Spain.”

The settlers, he added, “were under the protection of the Israeli police.”

Hamid condemned the assault, saying it was a shame for settlers to attack the representative of a nation that is behind the peace process. “It is a clear message to the EU,” he said.

Minister Jimenez said she was unsettled by the incident. “I do not hate anyone, I came to the Middle East to support the peace process and to provide more support for the awful humanitarian situation in Hebron,” she told Ma’an.

The Spanish government is ready to help the PA and the Palestinians she said, adding that her government was ready to recognize a Palestinian state.

In January, Ben-Givr initiated a swarming of a home the governor was visiting in the Tel Rumeida district of the city. A mob of settlers surrounded the home shouting “terrorist,” preventing his delegation from leaving the area for more than three hours.

Israeli police operating in the neighborhood reportedly interfered when a fight broke out between settlers and members of the governor’s delegation, but the governor complained when the police failed to evacuate the settlers from outside the home.

Angered at the failure of the police to remove the settlers, Governor Hamid said the officers “might as well go home and let the settlers take control,” adding that the mob clearly already had the upper hand on the soldiers.

February 8, 2011 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular | 2 Comments

The Deepening Mystery of Raymond Davis and Two Slain Pakistani Motorcyclists

By DAVE LINDORFF | CounterPunch | February 8, 2011

The mystery of American Raymond A. Davis, currently imprisoned in the custody of local police in Lahore, Pakistan and charged with the Jan. 27 murder of two young men, whom he allegedly shot eight times with pinpoint accuracy through his car windshield, is growing increasingly murky. Also growing is the anger among Pakistanis that the US is trying to spring him from a Punjab jail by claiming diplomatic immunity. On Feb. 4, there were massive demonstrations, especially in Lahore, demanding that Davis be held for trial, an indication of the level of public anger at talk of granting him immunity.

Davis (whose identity was first denied and later confirmed by the US Embassy in Islamabad), and the embassy have claimed that he was hired as an employee of a US security company called Hyperion Protective Consultants, LLC, which was said to be located at 5100 North Lane in Orlando, Florida. Business cards for Hyperion were found on Davis by arresting officers.

However CounterPunch has investigated and discovered the following information:

First, there is not and never has been any such company located at the 5100 North Lane address. It is only an empty storefront, with empty shelves along one wall and an empty counter on the opposite wall, with just a lone used Coke cup sitting on it. A leasing agency sign is on the window.  A receptionist at the IB Green & Associates rental agency located in Leesburg, Florida, said that her agency, which handles the property, part of a desolate-looking strip mall of mostly empty storefronts, has never leased to a Hyperion Protective Consultants. She added, “In fact, until recently, we had for several years occupied that address ourselves.”

The Florida Secretary of State’s office, meanwhile, which requires all Florida companies, including LLSs  (limited liability partnerships), to register, has no record, current or lapsed, of a Hyperion Protective Consultants, LLC, and there is only one company with the name Hyperion registered at all in the state. It is Hyperion Communications, a company based in W. Palm Beach, that has no connection with Davis or with security-related activities.

The non-existent Hyperion Protective Consultants does have a website (www.hyperion-protective.com), but one of the phone numbers listed doesn’t work, an 800 number produces a recorded answer offering information about how to deal with or fend off bank foreclosures, and a third number with an Orlando exchange goes to a recording giving Hyperion’s corporate name and asking the caller to leave a message. Efforts to contact anyone on that line were unsuccessful. The local phone company says there is no public listing for Hyperion Protective Consultants–a rather unusual situation for a legitimate business operation.

Pakistani journalists have been speculating that Davis is either a CIA agent or is working as a contractor for some private mercenary firm–possibly Xe, the reincarnation of Blackwater. They are not alone in their suspicions. Jeff Stein, writing in the Washington Post on January 27, suggested after interviewing Fred Burton, a veteran of the State Department’s counter-terrorism Security Service, that Davis may have been involved in intelligence activity, either as a CIA employee under embassy cover or as a contract worker at the time of the shootings. Burton, who currently works with Stratfor, an Austin, TX-based “global intelligence” firm,  even speculates that the shootings may have been a “spy meeting gone awry,”  and not, as US Embassy and State Department officials are claiming, a case of an attempted robbery or car-jacking.

Even the information about what actually transpired is sketchy at this point. American media reports have Davis driving in Mozang, a busy commercial section of Lahore, and being approached by two threatening men on motorcycles. The US says he fired in self-defense, through his windshield with his Beretta pistol, remarkably hitting both men four times and killing both. He then exited his car and photographed both victims with his cell phone, before being arrested by local Lahore police. Davis, 36, reportedly a former Special Forces officer, was promptly jailed on two counts of murder, and despite protests by the US Embassy and the State Department that he  is a “consular official” responsible for “security,” he continues to be held pending trial.

What has not been reported in the US media, but which reporter Shaukat Qadir of the Pakistani Express Tribune, says has been stated by Lahore police authorities, is that the two dead motorcyclists were each shot two times, “probably the fatal shots,” in the back by Davis. They were also both shot twice from the front. Such ballistics don’t mesh nicely with a protestation of self-defense.

Also left unmentioned in the US media is what else was found in Davis’ possession. Lahore police say that in addition to the Beretta he was still holding, and three cell phones retrieved from his pockets, they found a loaded Glock pistol in his car, along with three full magazines, and a “small telescope.”  Again, heavy arms for a consular security officer not even in the act of guarding any embassy personnel, and what’s with the telescope?  Also unmentioned in US accounts: his car was not an embassy vehicle, but was a local rental car.

American news reports say that a “consular vehicle” sped to Davis’ aid after the shooting incident and killed another motorcyclist enroute, before speeding away. The driver of that car is being sought by Lahore prosecutors but has not been identified or produced by US Embassy officials. According to Lahore police, however, the car in question, rather than coming to Davis’s aid, actually had been accompanying Davis’s sedan, and when the shooting happened, it “sped away,” killing the third motorcyclist as it raced off. Again a substantially different story that raises more questions about what this drive into the Mozang district was all about.

Davis has so far not said why he was driving, heavily armed, without anyone else in his vehicle, in a private rental car in a business section of Lahore where foreign embassy staff would not normally be seen. He is reportedly remaining silent and is leaving all statements to the US Embassy.

The US claim that Davis has diplomatic immunity hinges first and foremost on whether he is actually a “functionary” of the consulate.  According to Lahore police investigators, he was arrested carrying a regular US passport, which had a business visa, not a diplomatic visa. The US reportedly only later supplied a diplomatic passport carrying a diplomatic visa that had been obtained not in the US before his departure, but in Islamabad, the country’s capital.

(Note: It is not unusual, though it is not publicly advertised, for the US State Department to issue duplicate passports to certain Americans. When I was working for Business Week magazine in Hong Kong in the early 1990s, and was dispatched often into China on reporting assignments, my bureau chief advised me that I could take a letter signed by her to the US Consulate in Hong Kong and request a second passport. One would be used exclusively to enter China posing as a tourist. The other would be used for going in officially as a journalist. The reason for this subterfuge, which was supported by the State Department, was that  once Chinese visa officials have spotted a Chinese “journalist” visa stamped in a passport, they would never again allow that person to enter the country without first obtaining such a visa. The problem is that a journalist visa places strict limits on a reporter’s independent travel and access to sources. As a tourist, however, the same reporter could – illegally — travel freely and report without being accompanied by meddling foreign affairs office “handlers.”)

Considerable US pressure is currently being brought to bear on the Pakistani national government to hand over Davis to the US, and the country’s Interior Minister yesterday issued a statement accepting that Davis was a consular official as claimed by the US.  But Punjab state authorities are not cooperating, and so far the national government is saying it is up to local authorities and the courts to decide whether his alleged crime of murder would, even if he is a legitimate consular employee, override a claim of diplomatic immunity.

Under Pakistani law, only actual consular functionaries, not service workers at embassy and consulate, have diplomatic status. Furthermore, no immunity would apply in the case of “serious” crimes–and certainly murder is as serious as it gets.

The US media have been uncritically quoting the State Department as saying that Pakistan is “violating” the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963 by holding Davis in jail on murder charges. Those reporters should check the actual document.

Section II, Article 41 of the treaty, in its first paragraph regarding the “Personal inviolability of consular officers,” states:

“Consular officers shall not be liable to arrest or detention pending trial, except in the case of a grave crime and pursuant to a decision by the competent judicial authority.”

In other words, the prosecutorial, police and judicial authorities in Lahore and the state of Punjab are doing exactly what they are supposed to do in holding Davis on murder charges, pending a judicial determination concerning whether or not he can properly claim diplomatic immunity.

The US claim that Pakistan is violating the convention is simply nonsense.

There is also the matter of double standards. The US routinely violates the Vienna Diplomatic Accord that governs international diplomatic rights. For example, the same convention requires countries that arrest, jail and prosecute foreigners for crimes to promptly notify the person’s home country embassy, and to grant that embassy the right to provide legal counsel. Yet the US has arrested, charged with murder, and executed many foreign nationals without ever notifying their embassies of their legal jeopardy, and has, on a number of occasions, even gone ahead with executions after a convict’s home country has learned of the situation and requested a stay and a retrial with an embassy-provided defense attorney.  The US, in 1997, also prosecuted, over the objections of the government of Georgia, a Georgian embassy diplomat charged with the murder of a 16-year-old girl.

Apparently diplomatic immunity has more to do with the relative power of the government in question and of the embassy in question than with the simple words in a treaty.

It remains to be seen whether Davis will ever actually stand trial in Pakistan. The US is pushing hard in Islamabad for his release. On the other hand, his arrest and detention, and the pressure by the US Embassy to spring him, are leading to an outpouring of rage among Pakistanis at a very volatile time, with the Middle East facing a wave of popular uprisings against US-backed autocracies, and with Pakistan itself, increasingly a powder keg, being bombed by US rocket-firing pilotless drone aircraft.

Some Pakistani publications, meanwhile, are speculating that Davis, beyond simple spying, may have been involved in subversive activities in the country, possibly linked to the wave of terror bombings that have been destabilizing the central government. They note that both of the slain motorcyclists (the third dead man appears to have been an innocent victim of the incident) were themselves armed with pistols, though neither had apparently drawn his weapon.

A State Department official, contacted by Counterpunch, refused to provide any details about the nature of Davis’ employment, or to offer an explanation for Hyperion Protective Consultants LLC’s fictitious address, and its lack of registration with the Florida Secretary of State’s office.

Davis is currently scheduled for a court date on Feb. 11 to consider the issue of whether or not he has immunity from prosecution.

Dave Lindorff is the founder of the online alternative newspaper ThisCantBeHappening! at www.thiscantbehappening.net

February 8, 2011 Posted by | Deception, Timeless or most popular | Comments Off on The Deepening Mystery of Raymond Davis and Two Slain Pakistani Motorcyclists

Time for Democracy in Egypt

By Ralph Nader | February 7, 2011

Those politically savvy people who thought strongman, Hosni Mubarak would be out before the end of the first week of the Egyptian uprising better rethink the odds. For thirty years Mubarak has developed what can be called a deeply rooted dictatorial regime with regular White House access and annual largesse of some $1.3 billion in military equipment and payroll.

A former military man, he has been very alert to what is needed to maintain the loyalties of the police, the intelligence security forces and the army. If he goes, tens of thousands of those on his payroll could lose their patronage and be on the outs if his government is really replaced.

Moreover, he enjoys the support of both the United States and Israel for whom he has been a “stable” force against the pressures coming from Iran and its allies in the Middle East.

Arrayed against him are a variety of protestors, best known for their occupation of Tahrir Square in Cairo and whose grievances are being reported hour-by-hour by the harassed international media, including the much attacked Al-Jazeera. Widely noted are the solidarity, self-help, stamina and democratic nature of the rebellion.

The state-controlled media, however, remains in Mubarak’s hands. He has shown he can cut off the entire Internet and mobile phone systems with what one commentator called “the active complicity of the major corporate servers.”

Going into the third week of the uprising, the regime has reopened the banks, and is urging businesses to open their doors. The government is striving to wait out the protestors, whose daily supplies and energies are being sapped by the overwhelming force arrayed against them to intimidate, weaken and keep their numbers down not just in the Square but also in other cities like Alexandria and Suez.

So far the army is remaining largely neutral. The regimes’ paramilitary gangs, in plain clothes, attacked the protestors inflicting fatalities and injuries to see if they will cut and run. So far, the demonstrators are well-organized in the Square and in other Cairo neighborhoods and are holding their ground. But roundups of some of the leading dissidents for brief imprisonments or worse and detaining or beating journalists continue.

What these developments reflect is that the Mubarak regime is still in charge, with just enough rhetoric of reform, while replacing some top leaders and dismissing the board of Mubarak’s political party, to show some slack. Mubarak’s tactic is to bend a little so as not to break.

But unless the largely urban, tech-savvy protestors can keep replenishing their ranks and bringing more of the frightened rural poor to their rallies, they risk being perceived as running out of steam. After all, they cannot be seen as receiving aid from abroad as the Mubarak government receives regularly from U.S. taxpayers. They cannot be seen as espousing “radical ideologies” as the Mubarak government espouses radical use of dictatorial violence and torture in the past and present.

In a way, the weaknesses of the protestors—no centralized leadership, no resources—are also their moral strengths. That is why their great fear is being infiltrated by organized provocateurs to create “incidents” and smears. So they have their own checkpoints leading to the Square and are trying to keep good relations with the soldiers surrounding their encampment.

The Army is central to the perpetuation of the Mubarak forces and their oligarchies. Under orders to appear neutral and maintain order, the Army, like most Egyptians, is waiting for the next move of the two sides, though alert to its own interests which include business investments.

Rumors are rife. But it seems that some people designated by the protestors and representatives of the long politically suppressed Muslim Brotherhood have met with Mubarak’s people.

Mubarak’s newly appointed vice-president, longtime intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, with close operational contacts in Washington, appears to be making the decisions, if only to give the impression that Mubarak is relenting and may be willing to remain as a figurehead president until his term is up later this year.

All this disingenuous image of moderation may be the regime’s way of biding time so as to more fully prepare to depress or destroy this popular uprising in various ways short of massive violence watched by the whole world in real time. Choosing the latter course could unleash forces in this impoverished and brutalized country of 80 million people that both the army could not contain and the already fragile economy could not endure.

If, as rumored, the trade unions exert their independence and form worker committees that could organize a general strike, then an alternative support structure could join the protestors to call for some economic relief, such as increasing wages and consumer subsidies. However, the Mubarak government has an inside watch on anything like such an initiative materializing as well. The regime is propagandizing that there is no alternative to itself being the transition, whatever that may be, other than chaos and radical revolution against the West.

What is the Obama Administration doing behind the scenes, beyond its statement in favor of a transition government planning “open and fair elections”? Will it stand with the people of Egypt and human rights if it has to stand against what analyst Samah Selim described as the “terrifying naked silence of multinational corporations and the national security state against civil society?”

Time will surely tell.

Ralph Nader is the author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!, a novel.

February 8, 2011 Posted by | False Flag Terrorism, Progressive Hypocrite, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular | Comments Off on Time for Democracy in Egypt

Ex-minister suspected in Alexandria church bombing

By Farrag Ismail | Al Arabiya | February 7, 2011

Egypt’s general prosecutor on Monday opened probe on former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly’s reported role in the New Year’s Eve bombing of al-Qiddissin Church in Alexandria in which 24 people were killed, an Egyptian lawyer told Al Arabiya.

Laywer Ramzi Mamdouh said he had presented a proclamation to Egyptian prosecutor Abd al-Majid Mahmud to investigate news media reports suggesting that the former interior ministry had masterminded the deadly church attack with the intent to blame it on Islamists, escalate government crackdown on them, and gain increased western support for the regime.

Mahmud said the information contained in some reports were “serious.”

The proclamation, numbered 1450, pointed to the news reports sourcing a UK diplomat who explained the reasons why Britain has insisted on the immediate departure of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his regime, especially his interior ministry’s security apparatus previously directed by el-Adly.

According the UK diplomatic sources quoted in the reports, the former interior minister had built up in over six years a special security system that was managed by 22 officers and that employed a number of former radical Islamists, drug dealers and some security firms to carry out acts of sabotage around the country in case the regime was under threat to collapse.

The proclamation also pointed, sourcing reports on UK intelligence services, that interior ministry officer Maj. Fathi Abdelwahid began in Dec. 11, 2011 preparing Ahmed Mohamed Khaled, who had spent 11 years in Egyptian prisons, to contact an extremist group named Jundullah and coordinate with it the attack on the Alexandria church.
“Discipline the Copts”

Khaled reportedly told the group he could assist with providing weapons he had allegedly obtained from Gaza and that the act was meant to “discipline the Copts.”

After contact was made, a Jundullah leader named Mohammed Abdelhadi agreed to cooperate in the plot and recruited a man named Abdelrahman Ahmed Ali to drive a car wired with explosives, park it in front of the church and then leave it to be detonated by remote control, according to the report.

But Maj. Abdelwahid, who worked for the interior ministry, reportedly detonated the car before the Jundullah recruit got out, therefore killing him and 24 worshipers in the church.

After the attack, the interior ministry officer asked Khaled to go meet the Jundullah leader in an Alexandria apartment and evaluate the success of the attack.

A few days later the two men met in an apartment in Alexandria’s Abdel-Moneim Riad street. During their meeting Maj. Abdelwahid and his security forces raided the apartment and arrested them. They were then driven immediately by ambulance to an interior ministry building in Cairo.

They stayed in detention until Jan. 28 when the ministry of interior and its security system broke down allowing them to escape as did thousands of prisoners around the country.

When they fled, both the men went straight to the UK embassy in Cairo and told the story of how they were set up by the government to carry out terrorist attacks, according to the reports.

(Translated from Arabic by Mustapha Ajbaili)

February 8, 2011 Posted by | False Flag Terrorism, Timeless or most popular | Comments Off on Ex-minister suspected in Alexandria church bombing

Egyptian Police shoot protesters with live ammunition

Al-Masry Al-Youm – 08/02/2011

Police forces on Tuesday used live ammunition to shoot protesters in Wadi Gedid Governorate, south west of Cairo. The protesters had voiced objections to reinstating an officer whom they described as “authoritative.”

Eye-witnesses said 61 people were injured in clashes with security forces in the province’s capital, Kharga.

The citizens rejected the return of Captain Ahmed al-Sokkary, whom authorities had removed from service during the first days of nationwide protests calling on President Hosni Mubarak to resign.

Eyewitnesses said police employed tear gas, live ammunition, and rubber bullets to quell protesters who assembled in front of the police station, hurling stones and water bottles at security forces.

A medical source said that some citizens volunteered to carry the protesters to Kharga hospital, while others were taken to the main hospital at the neighboring governorate of Assiut.

Other witnesses said plainclothes security agents attacked demonstrators, in a scene that recalled similar clashes in Egypt during recent protests over the past two weeks.

February 8, 2011 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture | 1 Comment

Karzai ‘negotiating’ permanent US bases in Afghanistan

Press TV – February 8, 2011

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has confirmed US plans to set up permanent bases in his country, enabling its troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond the 2014 deadline.

The decision comes after negotiations between Karzai and US officials and senators on a range of strategic issues, including the establishment of permanent military bases in Afghanistan, DPA reported.

“Yes they want this (permanent bases) and we have been negotiating with them,” Karzai said at a press conference in his presidential palace on Tuesday.

“We believe that a long-term relationship with the United States is in the interest of Afghanistan,” Karzai added, expressing hope for the establishment of a relationship that brings security and economic prosperity to Afghanistan and an end to violence.

The Afghan president did not give a date for finalizing the deal, but said any long-term partnership would need to be approved by the parliament and the grand tribal council known as the Loya Jirga.

Karzai also emphasized that long-term US bases would not be “used as base against other countries and that Afghanistan is not a place from where our neighbors could be threatened.”

If an agreement is reached on permanent bases, the US troops will remain on the Afghan soil beyond the planned transfer of security responsibilities by the end of 2014 — a process scheduled to start in the spring this year.

February 8, 2011 Posted by | Corruption, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | 2 Comments