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UN replaces Syrian observer mission with civilian office

RT | August 16, 2012

The United Nations Security Council has decided not to extend the body’s observer mission in Syria, setting up a civilian liaison office instead. Russia called for the Syria Action Group to meet in New York on Friday in response.

The Council’s members have agreed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s proposal to establish a liaison office in Damascus, France’s UN Ambassador Gerard Araud announced on Thursday following a Security Council meeting.

The new body will include military advisers to the head of the office on military affairs, as well as civil affairs and human rights components.

The exact size of the office is yet to be determined, but it will be significantly smaller than the current UN observer mission, peacekeeping department chief Edmond Mulet said.

“We are already identifying some staff already working there that will be willing to continue working in Damascus under this new office,” Mulet stated.

According to Mulet, the Syrian government has already given its agreement for the UN liaison office in Damascus.

Mulet also said he expected the new UN-Arab League Syrian envoy to be announced “very soon.” The new envoy will fill the shoes of Kofi Annan, who has announced his resignation effective August 31, noting that the conflict was spiraling out of control and that the Syrian government, rebels and incessantly-bickering Security Council members were to blame.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Annan said Syrian authorities have backed former Algerian Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi, a veteran UN diplomat who had previously served as the UN’s representative for Afghanistan and Iraq, as the new UN Syrian envoy. Several UN diplomats said Brahimi has already accepted the post, but with an altered mandate and title. Brahimi also reportedly conditioned his acceptance on “strong support” from the Security Council.

Currently there are 101 military observers and 72 civilian staff working in Syria’s UN observer mission. The last observer is to leave the country by August 24, but the observers will stop all their duties after August 19, when the mandate ends.

Meanwhile, Moscow has invited the members of the Syria Action Group to meet in New York on Friday.

The purpose of the meeting is to ensure that the group’s members are committed to the consensus document signed in Geneva in June, Russian envoy to the UN Vitaly Churkin said.

“Foreign ministers of countries, members of the action group, agreed to certain things and they need to do those things,” Churkin stated.

The meeting will take place at 11 am somewhere at the UN headquarters, he added.

August 16, 2012 Posted by | Militarism | , , | Comments Off on UN replaces Syrian observer mission with civilian office

Iran “cutting off” internet access? Don’t believe it

By Cyrus Safdari | Iran Affairs | August 16, 2012

There are many accepted “facts” (conventional wisdom) about Iran that have started out as a case of bad reporting, were further embellished with constant repetition, and have since become “truths” just because everyone assumes they are in fact true.

The most recent example is of course the claim that Iran is planning on cutting access to the internet this month. Note that none of the hyped reports even bother to mention Iran’s denial of the claims: apparently Iran merely plans on creating a parallel domestic network for the government and universities and which will presumably be more secure:

Iran, however, does have plans to establish a “national information network” billed as a totally closed system that would function like a sort of intranet for the Islamic republic.

But this brings back an interesting memory from when I first started blogging about US-Iran relations: Actually, it was the US that first cut off Iran’s internet connection, back in 1996. This was attributed to a case of over-zealous enforcement of the US sanctions on Iran by the National Science Foundation, which was in control of the internet:

Earlier this month, a National Science Foundation official blocked crucial international links to Iran, apparently in response to an Iran and Libya Sanctions Act that became law on 5 August. The move prevents people in the United States from connecting to Iranian computers by cutting off access to the country’s only permanent Net connection – a single, achingly slow 9600 bps modem.

The link joins the Internet at Austria’s Vienna University, which received a letter from an NSF employee – who the foundation claims acted without authority – asking their network gurus to cease forwarding Iranian data to American networks. The NSF employee, Steve Goldstein, told the university that the United States embargoed such exchanges with Iran.

The action was reversed quickly, after vociferous complaints around the world.

Now, I am sure there are plenty of people in Iran — as well as in many other nations — who think that the internet should be restricted. But when the Iranians complain that the internet is “controlled by one or two countries“, they do have historial precedents to prove their case.

August 16, 2012 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Comments Off on Iran “cutting off” internet access? Don’t believe it

US Realists, Neocons and the War in Syria

Pletka wants Washington to ‘stop subcontracting Syria policy.’ (C-SPAN)
By Ramzy Baroud | Palestine Chronicle | August 15, 2012

In US political circles, the Syria conflict is increasingly being presented as a discussion pertaining to Israeli interests. This attitude is not substantially different from the way US politicians and media weighed in on the Egyptian January 25 revolution and its aftermath. Egypt mostly matters because of the US-brokered Camp David treaty of 1979, which benefited Israel beyond all expectations. The treaty had ushered in a false period of peace; it turned Egypt into an American ally, largely alienating it from its Arab political context.

When it comes to US foreign policy in the Middle East, Israel represents a point of departure for many in the US political establishment. Neoconservative groups have long defined US foreign policy in the region. Their most crucial and unifying concern is Israel’s security and any threat, real or imagined, to Israel’s regional domination.

The neocons clustered through various organizations and think tanks. Most visible among them was the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which included very influential foreign policy individuals. PNAC’s ‘vision’ was seen as the roadmap that guided George W. Bush in his war against Iraq, the sanctions against Iran, and the overall hostile relationship that defined (and continues to define) US foreign policy in the Middle East. Tainted by the disastrous foreign policy, PNAC folded, only to be reinvented two years ago with the advent of the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI).

The neocons are duly challenged. Their critics in the establishments are the ‘realists’ (as described by former Secretary of State James Baker in a recent interview with Foreign Policy). The so-called realists are far less organized than the neocons. They were simply empowered by the latter’s mammoth failures. Now the neocons are making a comeback, thanks to the golden opportunities presented by ongoing conflicts throughout the Middle East.

“Our biggest threat today isn’t Syria, or even Iran, or Russia or China,” Baker told Foreign Policy. “Our biggest threat today is our own economy, and we cannot continue to be strong diplomatically, politically, and militarily and be weak economically” (August 9). Baker, of course, hasn’t completely abandoned Israel. The problem is that the pro-Israel camp is asking for a military intervention in Syria and an escalation against Iran, both of which come with a high political and financial price tag — one that the US cannot afford.

Another ‘realist’ is Aaron David Miller, a former US adviser on the Middle East (to six Secretaries of State) and a member of the US Advisory Council of Israel Policy Forum. Writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer on August 6, in an article entitled ‘Syria: Let’s Stay out of It’, Miller stated, “Syria today is a mess — but it’s a Syrian mess. Afghanistan and Iraq should teach us that America can’t control the world. It’s time for the United States to focus on fixing its own broken house instead of chasing the illusion that it can always help repair somebody else’s.”

However, this ‘realist’ estimation by Miller was further discussed in his article in Foreign Policy two days later. In ‘Winners and Losers of Syria’s Civil War,’ Miller argued that Israel was a possible winner in case of Bashar Al Assad’s fall.

“The good news for the Israelis is that Iran and Hezbollah will be weakened by Al Assad’s fall. The bad news is that like so much of the Arab Spring/ Winter, the impending transition brings with it enormous uncertainty.”

US intervention in Libya was a much easier decision for both neocons and realists. A letter was organized by the Foreign Policy Initiative and signed by 40 policy analysts, calling on President Barack Obama’s administration to arm Libyan rebels and to “immediately’ prepare for military action to bring down the Libyan regime under Muammar Gaddafi. The neocons’ calls at the time were hardly rejected as ‘unrealistic’. According to Jim Lobe, they were “a distinct echo of the tactics they pursued to encourage US intervention in the Balkans and Iraq.” Of course, they got what they asked for in Libya. Now, the neocons are pushing for another intervention in Syria.

“Washington must stop subcontracting Syria policy to the Turks, Saudis and Qataris. They are clearly part of the anti-Al Assad effort, but the United States cannot tolerate Syria becoming a proxy state for yet another regional power,” wrote Danielle Pletka, a leading neocon and vice-president of Foreign and Defence Policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (Washington Post, July 20).

Despite immense hesitation from the Obama administration, the neocons are now trying to weasel in their version of an endgame in Syria. Their efforts are extremely focused and well-coordinated, making impressive use of their direct ties with the Israeli lobby, major US media and Syrian leaders in exile. Writing in CNN online, Elise Labott reported on a recent neoconservative push to upgrade American involvement in Syria, urging “the Obama administration to increase its support of the armed opposition” (CNN, August 1).

The ‘experts’ included Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), another pro-Israel conduit in Washington, established in 1985 as a research department for the influential Israeli lobby group, AIPAC. Obama obliged under pressure from the ‘experts’. According to CNN, he signed a secret order “referred to as an intelligence ‘finding,’ allow[ing] for clandestine support by the CIA and other agencies.”

More, On July 31, AIPAC urged all members of Congress to sign on a bill introduced by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Howard Berman. Entitled ‘The Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act (H.R.1905)’, the bill, if passed, “will establish virtual state of war with Iran,” according to the Council for the National Interest. The old neoconservative wisdom arguing for an unavoidable link between Syria, Iran and their allies in the region is now being exploited to the maximum. Their hope is to settle all scores left unsettled by the Bush administration.

US foreign policy in Syria is likely to become clearer once the signs of an endgame become easier to read. Until then, the neocons will continue to push for another campaign of intervention. For them, influencing the endgame in favor of Israel is much more beneficial than dealing with a divided country, which is ‘subcontracted’ to other regional powers, per Pletka’s unrelenting wisdom.

August 16, 2012 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , | 1 Comment

Palestinian hunger striker ‘beaten unconscious in prison’

Al Akhbar | August 16, 2012

A Palestinian hunger striker in Israel’s Ramleh prison was knocked unconscious by prison guards earlier this week in the most recent abuse of prisoners, a coalition of human rights groups said on Thursday.

Hassan Safadi, who has gone 57 days without food, had his head slammed against the steel door of his prison cell during an assault on him and another hunger striker, Samer al-Barq.

The assault occurred after they refused to be transferred to a new cell, Addameer, al-Haq and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said in a joint statement.

“During the attack, Mr Safadi’s head was slammed against the iron door of the cell two times, causing him to fall to the ground, unconscious. Prison guards then dragged him through the hall to be seen by all the other prisoners,” it said.

Safadi announced after the beating that he would no longer be drinking water.

The two prisoners are refusing food to protest their detention without trial under a system Israel calls administrative detention.

Over 2,000 Palestinian prisoners ended a mass hunger strike in May after reaching a deal with Israel.

The deal specifically stipulated that Safadi would be released following the expiration of his detention order, but the agreement was not upheld.

Two other Palestinian prisoners, Ayman Sharawna and Samer al-Issawi, have also been refusing food for 47 and 16 days, respectively.

Israel’s draconian administrative detention allows for the imprisonment of Palestinians without charge or trial for renewable six month periods.

August 16, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , | Comments Off on Palestinian hunger striker ‘beaten unconscious in prison’

United Church of Canada Decides To Boycott Settlement Products

By Saed Bannoura | IMEMC & Agencies | August 16, 2012

Following around six hours of deliberation, the United Church of Canada (UCC), the largest Protestant denomination in the country, voted for boycotting products made in Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem.

The Toronto Star reported that a spokesperson of the UCC general council identified as Bruce Gregersen, stated that the decision is considered a significant step.

The UCC will be holding another vote on Friday to decide whether this boycott would be a regarded as a permanent policy of the church.

Israeli Ynet News reported that the Centre for Israel and the Jewish Affairs in Canada said that it was “outraged by this decision”, and considered it “a move that singled out Jewish communities for boycott”.

The Centre claimed that this decision is considered a “reckless path”, and added that the decision just dismisses the concerns of the Jewish community in Canada.

According to the Ynet, Chairman of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, David Koschitzky, stated that mainstream Jewish organization, including the Canadian Friends of Peace Now, “do not approve of this boycott decision”.

He added that this decision ignored around 100.000 families, members of different Jewish federations in Canada, and said that this decision “also ignores written rejection letters of 70 Canadian Rabbis, representing tens of thousands of Jewish families in the country”.

Israel’s settlements are located in the occupied Palestinian territories, including in and around occupied East Jerusalem. There have been several churches and organizations around the world, including educational facilities that have previously voted in favor of boycotting products made in Israel’s settlements.

Israel’s settlements in occupied Palestine are illegal under International Law, and even violate the Fourth Geneva Convention to which Israel is a signatory.

August 16, 2012 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on United Church of Canada Decides To Boycott Settlement Products

Israeli occupation forces hold military ceremony in Ibrahimi Mosque

Palestine Information Center – 16/08/2012

AL-KHALIL — The Israeli occupation forces (IOF) on Wednesday held for the first time a military ceremony in the courtyard of the Ibrahimi Mosque in Al-Khalil city after declaring it a closed military zone.

Local sources told Safa news agency that the IOF imposed a tight cordon on the perimeter of the Ibrahimi Mosque, and prevented the calls for prayers and the entry of Muslim worshipers.

They said the IOF celebrated the appointment of a new army leadership for Al-Khalil city and announced the installation of new officers inside the Mosque.

The sources condemned this behavior as an unprecedented act provoking the feeling of Muslims and a serious step to consolidate Israel’s illegal control over the Mosque.

The IOF also declared the intention to close the Ibrahimi Mosque before the Palestinian natives on Thursday at the pretext of allowing the Jews to celebrate one of their feasts.

August 16, 2012 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , | Comments Off on Israeli occupation forces hold military ceremony in Ibrahimi Mosque