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Use of chemical weapons, “first act” by opposition interim government

esmaeeli20130319124258713 Residents and medics transport a Syrian soldier, wounded in Aleppo chemical attack, to hospital on March 19, 2013.
Press TV – March 19, 2013

Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi has described militants’ use of chemical weapons as the “first act” by the so-called opposition interim government.

The Syrian minister also said that Turkey and Qatar, which support militants fighting against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, bore “legal, moral and political responsibility” for the chemical attack in the northern city of Aleppo on Tuesday.

At least 25 people were killed and 86 others were injured after militants fired rocks containing “poisonous gases” into Aleppo’s Khan al-Assal village. Women and children are reported to be among the victims.

According to a Reuters photographer in Aleppo, victims of attack were suffering breathing problems.

“I saw mostly women and children. They (witnesses) said that people were suffocating in the streets and the air smelt strongly of chlorine,” he said adding that “people were dying in the streets and in their houses.”

Foreign-backed militants, who had threatened to use chemical weapons against the army government forces and Assad supporters a few months ago, have denied using chemical weapons and have accused government forces of being behind the attack.

The attack comes hours after Syria’s opposition National Coalition elected Ghassan Hitto, a former US-based IT executive, as prime minister for what it called an interim government.

March 19, 2013 Posted by | War Crimes | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Use of chemical weapons, “first act” by opposition interim government

Polls Show Maduro Leading Capriles for Venezuelan Presidential Elections

By Tamara Pearson | Venezuelanalysis | March 19, 2013

Merida  – Private poll company Datanalisis has found that interim president Nicolas Maduro has a 14% lead over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, with 16% of respondents still undecided, or intending to vote for other candidates.

NicolAs-Maduro-300x193Yesterday Barclays/Datanalisis released a report in which 65% of respondents believe that pro-Chavez candidate Nicolas Maduro will win the 14 April presidential elections.

Barclays is a British multinational financial services company, and Datanalisis is a private Venezuelan company, whose poll results generally favour the opposition, but also tend to be closer to final election outcomes than some other private polling companies.

According to their poll, 49.2% of respondents intend to vote for Maduro, while 34.8% said they will vote for opposition contender Henrique Capriles, giving Maduro a prospective lead of 14.4%. Datanalisis conducted the poll from 11 March to 13 March; the days following the candidates’ registrations to run in the elections.

Only 15% of respondents believed Capriles would win the upcoming elections. Barclays identified this as a “risk” for the opposition, as a “lack of enthusiasm could lead to the abstention of voters”.

“In that sense, Capriles’s reaction has been an aggressive campaign to try to revitalize opposition voters. He is presenting the election in terms of a battle against adverse and unfair conditions, in which a significant portion of the country (roughly half of it) deserves to be heard,” the financial company’s report concluded.

The results also show that the passing of President Hugo Chavez only had a minor impact on voting intentions. Results from the same company, from a poll conducted on 20 February, show the voting intention for Maduro at 46.4%, just 2.8% less than the more recent poll. The voting intention for Capriles was 34.3%, 0.5% less than the recent poll.

The results suggest a high percentage of undecided votes, abstentions or intentions to vote for other candidates, at 16%.

Barclays argued, “Considering the short period for campaigning, the sympathy effect just after the death of Chavez, restrictions on the press, and the demobilisation of the opposition following two defeats last year, Maduro is still a favourite for the 14 of April presidential elections”.

It is not clear what “restrictions on the press” Barclays refers to. The National Electoral Council has increased the amount of electoral advertising time allowed by television and radio, given the short campaigning time. Television advertisements can last a maximum of four minutes, and radio advertisements five minutes. Official campaigning is allowed from 2 to 11 April.

“Maduro is still the favourite… however his popularity is volatile and relies on the emotional support that Chavez transferred to him,” Barclays stated in its report.

The financial transnational also concluded that the market is assuming Maduro’s victory, and that Venezuela still offers an “interesting asymmetric trade opportunity in the case of a black swan event”. A black swan event is an unexpected event with high impact, and the Barclay’s report says it sees an opposition win in this light.

Andres Izarra, a member of the team heading up the campaign ‘Hugo Chavez’ for Nicolas Maduro, criticised national and international “right wing media” for “ignoring” the poll results. He noted that at the time of speaking, yesterday, of Venezuelan media only newspaper Ultimas Noticias had reported the results.

As of today, newspaper El Universal and news website Noticias24 have also published the results, but TV channel Globovision and conservative paper El Nacional haven’t.

Today, another private, pro-opposition poll company, Hinterlaces also released its poll results. Based on a survey of 1,100 homes around the country, conducted on 16 March, 53% of respondents would vote for Maduro and 35% for Capriles, for a difference of 18 percentage points.

The poll also showed that 61% of Venezuelans think that Maduro will win the elections.

In October last year, Hugo Chavez won the presidential elections with 55.4% of the vote, to 45% by Capriles, with 81% participation. The September poll by Datanalisis gave Chavez a 13% lead.

March 19, 2013 Posted by | Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Polls Show Maduro Leading Capriles for Venezuelan Presidential Elections

Two Sides to Every Drone Death

By Peter Hart | FAIR | March 18, 2013

John Brennan and Dianne Feinstein

A March 15 piece in the Washington Post tells us that the UN’s special human rights envoy found that the CIA’s drone strikes in Pakistan violate that country’s sovereignty. It also told readers that the drones had “resulted in far more civilian casualties than the U.S. government has recognized.”

Unfortunately, that message was muddled by reporter Richard Leiby‘s he said/she said approach to the question of civilian deaths:

Estimates of total militant deaths and civilian casualties vary widely. Independent confirmation is difficult in part because the strikes often occur in remote, dangerous tribal areas where Taliban insurgents and Al-Qaeda and its allied militants are active.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London has estimated that at least 411 civilians–or as many as 884–were among some 2,536 to 3,577 people killed in the CIA strikes in Pakistan. But Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D), who chaired the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearings last month that confirmed new CIA Director John O. Brennan, put the number of civilian deaths considerably lower.

“The figures we have obtained from the executive branch, which we have done our utmost to verify, confirm that the number of civilian casualties that have resulted from such strikes each year has typically been in the single digits,” she said.

So, on the one hand,  the Bureau has done extensive work documenting drone strikes. But then again you have a senator who heard from the government that it’s much lower.

There is, of course, a way to report the difference between Feinstein’s claim and other estimates. Conor Friesdorf did so in the Atlantic (2/11/13), contrasting the Bureau‘s totals with those of the New America Foundation and other researchers. None of these projects supports Feinstein’s claim. His conclusion:

There is no reason to treat Feinstein’s claim about civilians killed as if it is credible. All the publicly available evidence is arrayed against her position.

Yet she’s treated by the Post as one of two sides of the drone deaths debate.

March 19, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, War Crimes | , , , , | Comments Off on Two Sides to Every Drone Death

The Second Iran Hostage Crisis

By NILE BOWIE | CounterPunch | March 19, 2013

From talk of “red lines” and cartoon bombs to having “all options on the table”, an undeniably delusional logic emanates from leadership in Washington and Tel Aviv regarding the alleged threat posted by Iran’s nuclear program. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu famously took to the stage of the UN General Assembly with his doodled explosive, he claimed that Iran would soon have the capability to enrich uranium to 90 percent, allowing them to construct a nuclear weapon by early-mid 2013. In his second administration, Obama, who recently said a nuclear-Iran would represent a danger to Israel and the world, appears to be seeing eye-to-eye with Netanyahu, despite previous reports of the two not being on the same page. For whatever its worth, these two world leaders have taken the conscious decision to entirely ignore evidence brought forward by the US intelligence community, as well as appeals from nuclear scientists, policy-advisers, and IAEA personnel who claim that the “threat” posed by Iran is exaggerated and politicized.

It’s common knowledge that Washington’s own National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, which reflects the intelligence assessments of America’s 16 spy agencies, confirmed that whatever nuclear weapons program Iran once had was dismantled in 2003. Mr. Netanyahu has not corrected his statements insinuating that Iran was nearing the red line of 90 percent enrichment, even when recent UN reports that show Tehran has in fact decreased its stockpiles of 20 percent fissile material, far below the enrichment level required to weaponize uranium. Hans Blix, former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has challenged previous IAEA reports on Iran’s nuclear activities, accusing the agency of relying on unverified intelligence from the US and Israel. Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, former Washington insiders and analysts in the Clinton and Bush administrations, recently authored a book titled “Going to Tehran”, arguing that Iran is a coherent actor and that evidence for the bomb is simply not there.

Clinton Bastin, former director of US nuclear weapons production programs, has commented on the status of Iran’s capacity to produce nuclear weapons, stating:

“The ultimate product of Iran’s gas centrifuge facilities would be highly enriched uranium hexafluoride, a gas that cannot be used to make a weapon. Converting the gas to metal, fabricating components and assembling them with high explosives using dangerous and difficult technology that has never been used in Iran would take many years after a diversion of three tons of low enriched uranium gas from fully safeguarded inventories. The resulting weapon, if intended for delivery by missile, would have a yield equivalent to that of a kiloton of conventional high explosives”.

Bastin’s assessments corroborate reports that show Iran’s nuclear program is for civilian purposes; he further emphasizes the impracticality of weaponizing the hexafluoride product of Tehran’s gas-centrifuges, as the resulting deterrent would yield a highly inefficient nuclear weapon.

The fact that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued several fatwas (a religious prohibition) against the production of nuclear weapons doesn’t seem to have helped much either. An unceasing combination of Islamophobia-propaganda, a repetitive insistence that Tehran is edging closer to the threshold, and devastatingly negligent misreporting of Iran and its pursuit of domestic nuclear power has created a situation where the country is viewed as an irrational actor. In the court of Western mainstream opinion, Iran is grouped in the same category as bellicose North Korea, despite the fact that it is a law-abiding signatory to the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that has consistently cooperated with the IAEA while publically renouncing the use of nuclear weapons. This leads to the current scenario, where Iran and its people are punished under an unethical barrage of economic sanctions for possessing a weapon that they do not possess.

The severity of economic sanctions against Iran and the fabricated allegations of it possessing nuclear weapons serve as a disturbing parallel to the invasion and destruction of Iraq during the Bush administration. From the perspective of this observer, the US does not actually want to go to war with Iran – such an ordeal would bring about an array of overwhelmingly negative ramifications that Obama would probably want to avoid. What the US does want to do however, is to dismantle the foundations of the Islamic Republic by completely destroying its economy through sanctions, prompting the population to rise up and overthrow the regime – so basically, Obama is happy to conduct war by other means. Ayatollah Khamenei’s recent proclamations of the US holding a gun to the head of the Iranian nation can only be perceived as entirely accurate.

Its easy to see why the Supreme Leader has doubts over the prospect of negotiations with the US; the deal put forward at the most recent meeting of the P5+1 essentially argued that the US would roll back sanctions that prevent Iran from trading gold and precious metals in exchange for Iran completely shutting down its uranium enrichment plant at Fordo. The substance of this offer appears like it was deliberately drafted to be rejected by the Iranian side, given the fact that it would mandate Iran to shutdown one of its main facilities while keeping in place the most punishing sanctions that have destroyed the Iranian currency and made life-saving medications unaffordable for most – its more of an insult than an offer. For the average Iranian business owner and worker, US-led sanctions and currency devaluation have affected everyday transactions that provide paychecks and economic viability for millions of people.

From urban shopkeepers to rural restaurant owners, many have been forced to close their businesses because they are unable to profit from reselling imported goods purchased with dollars. Isolation from the global banking system has made it increasingly more difficult for Iranian students studying abroad to receive money from their families. Sanctions targeting Iran’s central bank aim to devastate the Iranian export economy, affecting everyone from oil exporters to carpet weavers and pistachio cultivators. By crippling Iranian people’s livelihoods and hindering their ability to pursue education and afford necessities, the Obama administration believes such measures will erode public confidence in the government and challenge its legitimacy. It is important to recognize that these sanctions are not only aimed against Iran’s government, but at its entire population, especially to the poor and merchant population. An unnamed US intelligence source cited by the Washington Post elaborates, “In addition to the direct pressure sanctions exert on the regime’s ability to finance its priorities, another option here is that they will create hate and discontent at the street level so that the Iranian leaders realize that they need to change their ways.”

These sanctions, which are Obama’s throwback to ham-fisted Bush-Cheney era policies, must be seen as part of a series of measures taken to coax widespread social discontent and unrest. US sanctions have broadened their focus, targeting large swaths of the country’s industrial infrastructure, causing the domestic automobile production to plummet by 40 percent, while many essential medical treatments have more than doubled in price. Patients suffering from hemophilia, thalassemia, and cancer have been adversely affected, as the foreign-made medicines they depend on are increasingly more difficult to get ahold of. Over the past two years, general supermarket goods have seen a price hike between 100 to 300 percent. For the first time in the world, a media ban has been imposed, on PressTV, Iran’s state-funded English language international news service. Ofcom, a UK-based communications regulator linked to the British government, spearheaded the prohibition. The European Union has also imposed a travel ban on Press TV CEO Mohammad Sarafraz and eight other officials.

While editorials and commentators in the New York Times and Washington Post regularly accuse Iran of violating international law, the editors of these papers have shown no willingness to scrutinize the US and Israel by holding them accountable when they violate international law, namely, a prohibition of “the threat or use of force” in international relations unless a nation is attacked or such force is authorized by the UNSC, as embodied in the United Nations Charter. It is undeniable that by failing to question the brutal tactics meted out by Washington and Tel Aviv, these papers and the commentators affiliated with them, endorse policies that intimidate and coerce civilian populations in addition to employing terrorist tactics such as targeted cyber-strikes and extrajudicial assassinations – all of which the Iranian nation has been subjected to in utter defiance of the standards and rules of international law and their fundamental bedrock of protecting civilians.

The facts have been proven time and time again, Iran seeks economic development, technological advancement, and energy independence – it wants domestic nuclear power and the freedom to enrich uranium to 20 percent for the medical development of radiopharmaceuticals and industrial isotopes, as it is entitled to as an NPT signatory. Washington’s threats to impose “secondary” sanctions against third-country entities doing business with the Islamic Republic represents a mafia-mentality so characteristic of the unipolar reality in which the US sees itself. Washington has recently threatened energy-hungry Pakistan with sanctions over its partnership with Tehran in a $7.5-billion gas pipeline between the two nations, a project that would do infinite good by promoting regional stability and delivering energy to poverty stricken regions in Pakistan. Washington’s sanctions regime will collapse if the US Congress insists that China sharply cut its energy trade and relations with Iran. China will not adhere to such stringent foreign interference into its trade relationships, and Washington is in no position to sanction China because it buys oil from Iran.

If Beijing calls Washington’s bluff, other growth-focused non-Western economies like India, Malaysia, and South Korea will be less fearful of conducting business and buying oil from Tehran. Obama has taken some cues from the revolutionary students of 1979 and his administration has come up with a hostage crisis of its own, involving holding captive the civilian population of Iran – and Washington looks keen to let the sanctions bite until either the regime bows down, or the people rise up. One of the best examples of the perverted logic behind the US position on Iran comes from Vice President Joe Biden, who recently stated, “We have also made clear that Iran’s leaders need not sentence their people to economic deprivation”. Such a statement embodies the upside-down logic of Washington policy-makers who claim the moral high ground while enabling terrorism and engaging in unethical campaigns of economic and military warfare – the present state of affairs simply cannot continue.

Nile Bowie is an independent political analyst and photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at

March 19, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , | Comments Off on The Second Iran Hostage Crisis

The Not-So-Imminent Iranian Nuke: A Year Away for a Decade

By Nima Shirazi | Wide Asleep in America | March 18, 2013

According to official estimates, the Islamic Republic of Iran is now roughly a year away from acquiring a nuclear bomb.  Well, that is, if it were actually building a nuclear bomb.  Which it’s not.

“Right now, we think it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon, but obviously we don’t want to cut it too close,” President Barack Obama told an Israeli television station on March 14, 2013.  In order to stop Iran, Obama vowed to “continue to keep all options on the table,” a euphemism for engaging in an unprovoked military attack, thus initiating a war of aggression, the “supreme international crime.”

Obama’s statement came just two days after his own Director of National Intelligence told a Senate committee that the Iranian government had not made a decision to weaponize its legal, safeguarded civilian nuclear energy program.  “We do not know if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons,” DNI James Clapper said.  Even if it did, he added, Iran wouldn’t be able to secretly divert any of its stockpiled and safeguarded enrichment uranium to a weapons program.

The American president failed to make this distinction in his interview, instead saying only that a nuclear-armed Iran would be “dangerous for the world. It would be dangerous for U.S. national security interests.”

Repeating his administration’s main talking point, Obama told his Israeli interviewer, “What I have also said is that there is a window, not an infinite period of time, but a window of time where we can resolve this diplomatically and it is in all of our interests.”

But this window has already been open for decades and Iran has supposedly been only a year away from a bomb for the past ten years.

In November 2003, then Mossad chief Meir Dagan told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Iran’s nuclear program would be at a “point of no return” within the next year and would then “have the potential to produce 10 nuclear bombs a year.” Israeli Defense Minster Shaul Mofaz repeated the one year “point of no return” timeline in early 2005, a claim reinforced by other Israeli officials throughout that year.

Similar estimates were made in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Oh, and 2009.

In April 2010, Ronald Burgess, director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the “general consensus” was that Iran could develop a single nuclear bomb within a year if the leadership decided to do so, despite maintaining that Iran didn’t have an active nuclear weapons program.

As the years have passed, this assessment has held fast.

In late January 2011, Aviv Kochavi, director of Israeli Military Intelligence, admitted Iran was not actively working on a nuclear weapon, but claimed it could build one in “a year or two” once “the leader decides to begin enriching at 90 percent.”

A year later, in January 2012, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told 60 Minutes, “The consensus is that, if they decided to do it, it would probably take them about a year to be able to produce a bomb.”

Just few days later, Kochavi told a panel at the Herzliya security conference that “Iran has enough nuclear material for four bombs,” adding, “We have conclusive evidence that they are after nuclear weapons. When Khamenei gives the order to produce the first nuclear weapon – it will be done, we believe, within one year.”

Last week, addressing the very same conference, Kochavi was back with a new prediction – actually, it was the same one as before.  He claimed that, in the coming year, the Iranian “leadership would like to find itself in the position of being able to break out to an atomic weapon stage in a short period of time, according to the IDF’s intelligence assessments. However, he said that Iran has not yet decided to build the bomb.”

Greg Thielmann, a former U.S. intelligence analyst now with the Arms Control Association, recently explained that “calculating such a time line involves a complicated set of likely and unlikely assumptions,” telling journalist Laura Rozen, “If Iran decided today to build nuclear weapons, it would require years, not weeks or months, to deploy a credible nuclear arsenal.”

Meanwhile, with Obama set to visit Israel this week, Reuters now notes that “Netanyahu has not publicly revised the spring-to-summer 2013 dating for his ‘red line’,” the stated point at which the Iranian nuclear program advances far enough to automatically trigger an Israeli attack, a threat laid down by the Israeli Prime Minister last September.  “But several Israeli officials privately acknowledged it had been deferred, maybe indefinitely,” Reuters adds before quoting an anonymous official: “The red line was never a deadline,” he said.

Clearly, when it comes to propagandistic prognostications about the imminence of an Iranian bomb, they never really are.

March 19, 2013 Posted by | Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Briefing: Beyond the E-1 Israeli settlement

IRIN | March 18, 2013

JERUSALEM – Last month, an international fact-finding mission on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council found that settlements constituted a violation of international human rights and humanitarian law and called on Israel to stop all expansions immediately and withdraw from settlements.

A controversial Israeli plan, known as E-1, to build thousands of housing units and hotel rooms near the Ma’ale Adummim settlement, has garnered much attention in the media because it would sever Palestinian East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. (See IRIN’s briefing on E-1 here.)

But at the same time, Israel has been moving forward with equally controversial settlement plans under less scrutiny and with unusual speed.

As US President Barack Obama prepares to visit the region this week, IRIN takes a look at some of the details that have been overlooked in the discussion.

What’s the Giv’at HaMatos plan?

According to Israeli NGO Ir Amim (“City of Nations”), which works to preserve Jerusalem as a home for both Jews and Palestinians, one settlement plan of “critical importance” is Giv’at HaMatos.

In a sense, Giv’at HaMatos does in the south what E-1 does in the east. The planned large housing and hotel complex at the southern perimeter of Jerusalem would further disrupt the contiguity of land between East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank required for a future Palestinian state, seriously impeding a two-state solution, research and rights groups say. It would also mark the first new settlement construction in Jerusalem since 1997.

“All construction is problematic but there are several plans that are, in our view, more dangerous if implemented,” Hagit Ofran, director of the Settlement Watch project at the Israeli NGO Peace Now, told IRIN. “Giv’at HaMatos is the most dangerous plan that is now approved.”

Part of the plan – to build 2,612 units – was approved by the Jerusalem Regional Planning Committee on 19 December.

Most of Giv’at HaMatos is currently uninhabited, but according to the International Crisis Group (ICG), which recently released a two-part report on the future of East Jerusalem, its build-up would cut off Arab neighbourhoods in southern Jerusalem, like Beit Safafa and Sharafat, rendering them “Palestinian enclaves”.

Giv’at HaMatos would connect the dots of several other planned or expanding settlements along southern Jerusalem – including Giv’at Yael in the southwest; and Har Homa and East Talpiyot in the southeast – forming “a long Jewish continuum severing Bethlehem’s urban continuum from Palestinian Jerusalem”, ICG said. Last year, the Israeli government also approved more than 2,000 new units in neighbouring Gilo.

This kind of attachment to Jewish expansions could make peace negotiations even harder.

“From an Israeli public opinion perspective, Giv’at HaMatos is in the municipal border of Jerusalem,” Ofran said. “It’s considered a legitimate part of Israel.”

Barak Cohen, the Jerusalem Municipality’s adviser for foreign affairs and media, told IRIN Giv’at HaMatos is part of Jerusalem’s “natural and much-needed growth”, allowing both Arab and Jewish landowners to develop their properties.

Indeed, part of the Giv’at HaMatos plan, approved on 18 December, allows for the building of 549 units for Palestinians – though Betty Herschman, director of international relations and advocacy at Ir Amim, points out much of it retroactively legalizes building that has already been completed. The figures, she added, amount to just over one-fifth of the Jewish expansion.

“For many Arab East Jerusalemites, the battle for their city is all but lost.”

Still, Cohen insisted, the development would benefit Jerusalem as a whole: “Not planning and developing Jerusalem neighbourhoods ultimately harms all residents and landowners – Arabs and Jews alike.”

Last year, Israel also issued tenders for the construction of 606 new housing units north of East Jerusalem, in the Ramot settlement, just north of the Green Line marking the border between Israel and the West Bank, and approved another 1,500 units in the neighbouring settlement of Ramot Shlomo, according to Ir Amim.

What other settlements are planned?

Beyond Jerusalem, there was movement on a number of other settlements projects in disputed areas, according to Settlement Watch.

In June 2012, the Israeli government announced it would build 851 new units in the West Bank, including more than 230 in the controversial settlements of Ariel and Efrat. Like Giv’at HaMatos, these two settlements make a contiguous Palestinian territory impossible, Settlement Watch says.

Overall, settlements expanded much faster than usual last year.

In 2012 the Israeli government approved the construction of 6,676 settler housing units in the West Bank, compared with 1,607 in 2011 and several hundred in 2010, according to Peace Now.

For plans that were already approved, it issued more than 3,000 tenders to construction contractors – more than any other year in the last decade, Peace Now said. Construction has actually begun on 1,747 homes.

Regardless of the settlements, Palestinians, especially in Area C, are under immense pressure. Recent weeks have seen a considerable upswing in demolitions of Palestinian structures. According to the Displacement Working Group, a grouping of aid agencies helping displaced families, Israeli forces destroyed 139 Palestinian structures, including 59 homes, in January – almost triple 2012’s monthly average. The demolitions occurred in East Jerusalem and the West Bank – with a majority taking place in Area C – and left 251 Palestinians, including over 150 children, displaced.

The office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the (Palestinian) Territories (COGAT) told IRIN there was no connection between the removal of unauthorized buildings and the construction of Israeli settlements. “All construction in the West Bank is subject to building codes and planning laws and unauthorized constructions are dealt with accordingly,” the office said in an email.

What are the knock-on effects?

Settlements are often discussed through the lens of their illegality under international law or as obstacles to a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. But everything associated with the settlements – including Israeli-only infrastructure, the separation barrier, military checkpoints, restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement, suppression of freedom of expression and political life, and control of Palestinian natural resources – causes a ripple effect through Palestinian society, adversely impacting the people.

The UN estimates there are now 520,000 Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, with 43 percent of the land there allocated to local and regional settlement councils. According to the UN Secretary-General, Israel has transferred roughly 8 percent of its citizens into OPT since the 1970s, altering the demographic composition of the territory and furthering the Palestinian people from their right to self-determination.

Baker, of the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, said a future Palestinian state should include a Jewish minority. “The assumption behind this… is that Jews have no right to live in the West Bank, an assumption that we reject. In fact we see ourselves as the true indigenous people of this land.”

But Israeli settlements have violated Palestinian rights to equality under the law, to religious freedom and to freedom of movement, according to the UN fact-finding mission. They have also eroded Palestinian access to water and to agricultural assets, and the ability to develop economically, it said.

Photo: OCHAView larger version of map here

For example, Bedouins from the Palestinian village of Khan Al Ahmar, northeast of E-1, cannot sell their dairy products at their traditional Souq Al Ahmar market any more. Because of movement restrictions (they hold West Bank IDs and lack the proper permits to enter East Jerusalem), they cannot get there.

The UN secretary-general has said that Palestinians “have virtually no control” over the water resources in the West Bank, with 86 percent of the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea under the de facto jurisdiction of the settlement regional councils.

There is a statistical correlation between Palestinians’ proximity to settlements and their rates of food insecurity, according to a UN and government survey, which found that one quarter of Palestinians who live in Area C, home to the largest number of settlements in the West Bank, are food insecure. In Areas A and B, the average rate of food insecurity is 17 percent.

In addition, “all spheres of Palestinian life are being significantly affected by a minority of settlers who are engaged in violence and intimidation with the aim of forcing Palestinians off their land,” the mission said.

Operation Dove, an international organization working in the Palestinian village of At-Tuwani and the South Hebron Hills, reported that Palestinian children have a very hard time going to school due to settler attacks.

The UN and rights groups say radical settlers use violence against Palestinians with impunity and their illegal outposts are often recognized and retroactively legalized by the government.

Since the occupation began, Israel has detained hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, some of them without charge, and some of them children. Most of the minors are arrested “at friction points, such as a village near a settlement or a road used by the army or settlers”, the fact-finding mission said.

Israel uses what they term “administrative detention” when it considers the detainee a threat to the security of the state.

Ir Amim’s Herschman says Israel is also attempting to create a “greater Jerusalem” through additional means, for example: the Israeli separation barrier, planned national parks, and the construction of highways dividing villages, dispossessing Palestinians of their land and making it harder for them to access services like schools and mosques.

In recent weeks, residents of the Palestinian village of Beit Safafa have been protesting against the planned extension of the Begin Highway that would divide their village in order to connect major Israeli settlement blocks outside the city to Jerusalem.

The planned root of the separation barrier, in addition to a potential national park around the perimeter of the barrier would also close off nearby Palestinian village al-Wallajeh.

The planned route of the barrier extends all the way around and far beyond Muale Adummim and in other areas south and north of Jerusalem. “These lines are a unilateral declaration of a much greater Jerusalem, a unilateral expanding of the boundaries, an exponential increase,” she told IRIN.

Or as the ICG put it, “for many Arab East Jerusalemites, the battle for their city is all but lost.”

March 19, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Human rights watchdogs turn blind eye on Gitmo hunger strikers

RT | March 19, 2013

Despite the prisoners’ hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay being acknowledged by the US military, there has so far been little reaction from the international humanitarian organizations to the action, which enters its 42nd day on Tuesday.

The United Nations has yet to acknowledge or comment upon the Gitmo hunger strike. RT has reached out to UN human rights bodies in Geneva and officials have promised to respond to the inquiry with a comment by Tuesday afternoon.

The only international organization to respond to what’s going on in Guantanamo is the Red Cross, which visited the island prison from February 18 to 23. It acknowledged that a hunger strike was really taking place, but so far all the organization has done is release a statement saying that “The ICRC believes past and current tensions at Guantanamo to be the direct result of the uncertainty faced by detainees.”

Military censorship makes it quite difficult to access any information about Gitmo prisoners. It was the attorneys for the detainees that first expressed urgency and grave concern over the life-threatening mass hunger strike that reportedly started in the Guantanamo Bay detention facility on February 6.

According to the Center for Constitutional Rights 130 prisoners went on a hunger strike to protest the alleged confiscation of personal items such as photos and mail and the alleged sacrilegious handling of their Korans.

Prison spokesman Navy Capt. Robert Durand, however, acknowledged only 21 inmates to be on hunger strike. He also denied all allegations of prisoners being mistreated.

Even if not for mistreatment and abuse, prisoners could have started the strike just to draw attention to their being kept in Guantanamo, with the US refusing to repatriate them, despite some being cleared for release.

“There are 166 people at Guantanamo. Of those there are probably 20 guys who are bad guys… like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The other people… more than half of them – 86 of them have been cleared at least for three years and some during the Bush administration – cleared as innocent people. And they are still there and they are frustrated,” says Thomas Wilner, a lawyer, who used to represent some of the Guantanamo detainees in court.

According to Durand, none of the inmates on hunger strike is in immediate health danger.

Lawyers for the prisoners believe otherwise. They have reported some of their clients had weight loss of up to or more than 20 pounds (8kg) and have been hospitalized. Medical experts say that by day 45, hunger strikers can experience potential blindness and partial hearing loss.

The Center for Constitutional Rights and habeas counsel have sent a letter to US Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, urging him “to address this growing crisis at Guantánamo before another man dies at the prison, this time under his watch. The hunger strike should be a wake-up call for the Obama Administration, which cannot continue to ignore the human cost of Guantánamo and put off closing the prison any longer.”

Meanwhile, JTF-GTMO announced that flights to the island prison from South Florida will be terminated on April 5. The step is seen by the prisoners’ attorneys as an attempt by the Defense Department to limit access to their clients.

March 19, 2013 Posted by | Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , | Comments Off on Human rights watchdogs turn blind eye on Gitmo hunger strikers