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Tragic Stories From Rafah: Students Mourn Their Future

By Fatima Abdallah | Al-Akhbar | September 20, 2013

At the Rafah border crossing with Egypt – Gaza’s only bridge to the outside world – a young Palestinian man cries profusely. He scrapes a passenger bus with his fingernails as it departs toward Egypt. He wants more than anything to stop the bus and get on it.

Mohammed al-Astal’s situation is shared by dozens of Palestinian students from Gaza studying abroad who wanted to spend their holidays with their families in the Gaza Strip. Unable to travel – Egyptian authorities have closed the border for a week now, citing security reasons – they have now missed the start of the academic year. If their absence continues, they will not be able to carry on with their studies.

Astal, a medical student at al-Mansoura University in Egypt, told Al-Akhbar: “For two weeks, I’ve been coming to the Rafah crossing every day at six in the morning, hoping I would be allowed to travel so I can go back to school, but to no avail.”

More than 2,000 people in Gaza are dreaming of traveling to Egypt today or tomorrow now that the Egyptian authorities have opened the crossing for two days. Egyptian authorities announced on Monday, September 16, the opening of the Rafah crossing on Wednesday and Thursday from 10 am to 2 pm at the request of the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Frustrated, the only thing those waiting can do is obstruct the buses full of travelers. Hamas security forces clash with individuals, pushing them back with batons until three buses manage to leave Rafah.

“All students have to come to the Rafah crossing again tomorrow morning. That is what the Palestinian embassy said in a piece of news posted yesterday,” said Hassan, a law student in Egypt. “Missing an entire month of the new semester means losing the whole semester.”

Hassan expressed his right to be on the list of passengers, along with medical patients and other urgent cases, especially after the Palestinian ambassador in Egypt, Barakat al-Farra, issued a statement on Tuesday requested that students come to Rafah after coordination with the embassy.

Maher Abu Sabha, director general of crossings at Egypt’s Interior Ministry, said: “Students stuck in Gaza do have a priority to travel, but there are also humanitarian cases of patients and people with residence permits that might expire at any moment. [These people] need to leave Gaza or else they will lose their lives outside the Strip.”

According to Abu Sabha, there are more than 4,500 Gazans registered on urgent travel lists. He pointed out that all of them can be considered humanitarian cases. They are patients, people with residence permits, and students.

Mufid al-Mukhalalati, health minister in the Hamas government, said at a press conference, “Closing the crossing has prevented more than a thousand patients from reaching Egyptian hospitals and receiving treatment and has also prevented foreign medical delegates from reaching the Gaza Strip.”

Egyptian authorities closed the crossing last Wednesday, September 11, after an armed attack was launched against the Egyptian military intelligence building in Rafah. The attack killed six Egyptian soldiers and injured 17 others.

Palestinians in Gaza continue to face increased difficulties at the Rafah crossing since the Egyptian army deposed former Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi on July 3. In the meantime, Egyptian authorities reduced working hours at the crossing to four hours daily. While thousands waited at the Rafah gate, only 250 were able to leave the Gaza Strip.

September 20, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , | Leave a comment

Israeli soldiers rough up EU diplomat, confiscate aid supplies for Palestinians

Al-Akhbar | September 20, 2013

bum69cxcuaayoazIsraeli soldiers manhandled European diplomats on Friday and seized a truck full of tents and emergency aid they had been trying to deliver to Palestinians whose homes were demolished this week.

A Reuters reporter saw soldiers throw sound grenades at a group of diplomats, aid workers and locals in the occupied West Bank, and yank a French diplomat out of the truck before driving away with its contents.

“They dragged me out of the truck and forced me to the ground with no regard for my diplomatic immunity,” French diplomat Marion Castaing said.

“This is how international law is being respected here,” she said, covered with dust.

The Israeli army and police declined to comment.

Locals said Khirbet al-Makhul was home to about 120 people. The army demolished their houses, stables and a kindergarten on Monday after Israel’s high court ruled that they did not have proper building permits.

Despite losing their property, the inhabitants have refused to leave the land, where they say their families have lived for generations along with their flocks of sheep.

Israeli soldiers stopped the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delivering emergency aid on Tuesday and on Wednesday IRCS staff managed to put up some tents but the army forced them to take the shelters down.

Diplomats from France, Britain, Spain, Ireland, Australia and the European Union’s political office, turned up on Friday with more supplies. As soon as they arrived, about a dozen Israeli army jeeps converged on them, and soldiers told them not to unload their truck.

“It’s shocking and outrageous. We will report these actions to our governments,” said one EU diplomat, who declined to be named because he did not have authorization to talk to the media.

“(Our presence here) is a clear matter of international humanitarian law. By the Geneva Convention, an occupying power needs to see to the needs of people under occupation. These people aren’t being protected,” he said.

In scuffles between soldiers and locals, several villagers were detained and an elderly Palestinian man fainted and was taken for medical treatment.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement that Makhul was the third Bedouin community to be demolished by the Israelis in the West Bank and adjacent Jerusalem municipality since August.

Palestinians have accused the Israeli authorities of progressively taking their historical grazing lands, either earmarking it for military use or handing it over to the Israelis whose settlements dot the West Bank.

Israeli forces regularly demolish Palestinian homes, claiming they do not have the proper construction permits. However, the Israeli government regularly announces the expansion of settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.

Israelis and Palestinians resumed direct peace talks last month after a three-year hiatus. Palestinian officials have expressed serious doubts about the prospects of a breakthrough.

“What the Israelis are doing is not helpful to the negotiations. Under any circumstances, talks or not, they’re obligated to respect international law,” the unnamed EU diplomat said.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

September 20, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Israel’s latest Syria ‘game-changer’ — ‘The al-Qaeda-Assad alliance’

By Maidhc Ó Cathail | The Passionate Attachment | September 21, 2013

In a highly speculative September 12 report entitled “Game-Changer: Signs of the al-Qaeda-Assad Alliance,” PJ Media’s Washington editor Bridget Johnson attempts to turn conventional wisdom about the current Syria debate on its head by asserting that “al-Qaeda is working not against Bashar al-Assad but in concert with the dictator.”

In support of this rather tendentious claim, Johnson cites a “student dissident” named Ahed Al Hendi whom she says fled Syria five years ago after imprisonment and torture by the Assad regime. According to Al Hendi, Damascus was secretly collaborating with Al-Qaeda during the Iraq War even as it sought to convince the U.S. that it was serious about fighting terrorism. That covert alliance persists to this day, asserts Johnson:

Assad appears OK with losing a building now and then by a car bomb — bombings that never hit too close to his home and that come with ample warning anyway. Al-Qaeda units, meanwhile, get left alone by Assad’s forces. “They never touch them,” Al Hendi said.

PJ Media’s spurious effort to persuade readers that Al-Qaeda is an ally rather than a foe of Assad makes a lot more sense, however, when you know that both the “conservative” American website and its seemingly objective Syrian source both have intimate ties to the country that has done most to induce Washington to use military force against Syria.

The effort to raise the $3.5 million in venture capital to start Pajamas Media [the original name for PJ Media] was led by Aubrey Chernick. A former trustee of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank created by the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, Chernick provides funding for a broad spectrum of pro-Israel organizations from the supposedly liberal Anti-Defamation League to the extremist Islamophobia-promoting Jihad Watch.

Ahed Al Hendi is Arabic Program Manager for a organization called Cyberdissidents.org. As I wrote in a May 2011 piece entitled “Arab Dissidents’ Strange Bedfellows”:

CyberDissidents.org is a project launched in 2008 by the Jerusalem-based Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies “to research and focus attention on the online activities of democracy advocates and dissidents in the Middle East, in the hope of empowering them at home and raising awareness of their plight abroad.” Until its demise in 2009, the Adelson Institute was located at the Shalem Center, a controversial research institute associated with right wing Zionist causes.

While Israel and its media assets might like Americans to believe that Assad and al-Qaeda are allies, there is far more reason to suspect an al-Qaeda-Israeli alliance in Syria. As Israel’s outgoing ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren recently admitted to the Jerusalem Post:

“The initial message about the Syrian issue was that we always wanted [President] Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran,” he said.

This was the case, he said, even if the other “bad guys” were affiliated to al-Qaida.

Maidhc Ó Cathail is an investigative journalist and Middle East analyst. He is also the creator and editor of The Passionate Attachment blog, which focuses primarily on the U.S.-Israeli relationship. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter @O_Cathail.

September 20, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

US to test nukes on same day UN holds nuke disarmament meeting

Press TV – September 20, 2013

The United States is planning to test nuclear missiles next week on the same day that heads of states and foreign ministers from around the world are to hold a high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

The US has scheduled two test launches for its nuclear-capable Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) on September 22 and September 26.

The first nuclear missile will be launched one day after the International Day of Peace and the second one is expected to be launched on the same day the UN’s high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament will take place in New York.

“Instead of honoring the significance of these dates and working in good faith to achieve nuclear disarmament, the United States has chosen to schedule two tests of its Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile on September 22 and September 26,” Rick Wayman of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation told the Daily Times.

“We are disappointed that a test launch is scheduled for the same day as the High-Level Meeting on nuclear disarmament at the UN in New York,” Wayman said.

“These missiles are designed to carry nuclear warheads capable of killing thousands of times more people than the chemical weapons used in Syria,” he pointed out.

Washington has accused the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of using chemical weapons in an attack near capital Damascus on August 21.

Damascus has categorically rejected the allegations and even Obama’s top aide, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, admitted that Washington’s claims were based on a “common-sense test” not any “irrefutable” evidence.

Meanwhile, Russia has said it has evidence which shows militant groups operating in Syria staged the August 21 attack to incriminate the Syrian government.

As Washington plans to go ahead with its plans to test nuclear missiles next week, UN spokesperson Farhan Haq cited the UN Secretary General’s statement on the issue which said, “We should all remember the terrible toll of nuclear tests.”

The US is the only country in the world that has used atomic bombs in war. US atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in August 1945.

Last year in September, it was reported that the US government was planning to undertake the costliest modernization of its nuclear arsenal in history.

September 20, 2013 Posted by | Militarism | , | Leave a comment

Obama’s Grotesque Hypocrisy over Cluster Munitions

By Dave Lindorff | This Can’t be Happening | September 19, 2013

Syrian civilians and children should count themselves lucky that mass opposition in the US, the UK and much of the rest of the world to the idea of a US bombing blitz aimed at punishing the Syrian government for allegedly using Sarin gas in an attack on a Damascus neighborhood forced the US to back off and accept a Russian deal to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons.

Had the US attacked, primarily with a two- or three-day barrage of Tomahawk missiles, many of those rockets would likely have carried warheads containing BLU-97 cluster munitions, according to the United States Campaign to Ban Cluster Munitions — cluster bombs that would have assuredly killed or maimed many Syrian children.

This news should come as no surprise. The US made heavy use of deadly body-shredding cluster munitions in its invasion of Iraq in 2003 and during the subsequent bloody war and occupation there, as well as in its invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Some 30 tons of cluster bombs were dropped or fired into urban neighborhoods of Iraq during the first few weeks alone of the 2003 US invasion of that country. Another 250,000 antipersonnel bomblets were dropped or fired into Afghani neighborhoods during the 2001-2002 US invasion of that country.

The US Campaign to Ban Cluster Munitions notes that the last documented US use of cluster munitions was in 2009. The organization writes that was:

“…in Yemen, when one or more Tomahawk cruise missiles loaded with BLU-97 bomblets struck the hamlet of al-Majala in the southern Abyan province. The strike killed at least 41 civilians and at least four more civilians were killed and 13 wounded by unexploded bomblets after the attack. Four years later, the site of the attack remains contaminated by cluster munition remnants.”

In fact, cluster weapons, whether bombs dropped from planes, warheads fired by missiles, or shells fired by cannons or tanks, are among the deadliest and most untargetable weapons devised by man, holding the distinction of being particularly lethal to civilians and children. They work by having a larger bomb, warhead or shell deliver a payload of smaller “bomblets” to a target (each Tomahawk cluster warhead contains 166 of the lethal bomblets). These casings burst open, releasing the small devices, either on the ground, or lowered by little parachutes. Many burst on impact, sending small deadly spinning flechettes out in all directions to tear the flesh off of bones, maiming and killing anyone in the vicinity, while others routinely fail to explode, and then lie around, sometimes for years, until someone steps on one, or a child picks it up to see what it is. (Unexploded BLU-97s look like cardboard drink containers and are bright orange.)”’

I remember a visit to Laos in 1995. It had been over two decades since the US had been relentlessly bombing that small peasant country day and night, primarily with anti-personnel bombs, and the country seemed to have returned to its tranquil past. But walking around the sleepy capital city of Vientiane, I was puzzled at seeing a surprising number of young children of varying ages hobbling around on crutches with one and sometimes parts of two legs missing, or arms missing, often with faces disfigured. I asked a Lao official why there were so many such kids, and he explained they were victims of the “bombis” — small fragmentation bomblets dropped by US forces in the secret war on Laos that had not exploded, and that remained buried in farmers’ fields until found or inadvertently disturbed by peasants or, more often, children working or playing. (The US has refused to help locate and clear these relics of war, claiming, ridiculously, that the Communist Laotian government is still secretly holding captured US soldiers–a position that the then US ambassador shamefacedly admitted to me was nonsense, but that was dictated by right-wingers holding onto the myth of long-suffering MIAs “abandoned” in Southeast Asia.)

When President Obama went on national television on Tuesday, Sept. 10, and passionately evoked images of suffering Syrian children dying on hospital floors from a Sarin attack in Damascus, he might have looked sincere to some, but most of those US viewers probably didn’t realize that as commander in chief, he was asking them to support a bombardment of Syria which would have likely included thousands of similar bomblets that he surely knows would inevitably end up, over time, killing far more children in far more horrible ways than the Sarin attack that was his casus belli.

According to experts, 98% of the victims of cluster bombs are civilians, not soldiers (as horrible as the deaths or maiming of even soldier-targets are from these insidious weapons). And 40% of the victims are children.

Since 2008, there has been a UN Convention against the use of cluster weapons. It has been signed by 112 nations, 83 of which have ratified it. The US is a key holdout, along with China, Israel, Pakistan and Russia. The US in fact, not content to simply not sign the convention, is arguing strenuously against the treaty, claiming that its bomblets, at least by 2018, will boast a 1% failure rate, and thus supposedly would not pose the danger of leaving unexploded, attractive or interesting-looking bomblets scattered around the landscape for months or years, waiting to be picked up by curious children. It’s an absurdly low failure rate the government is claiming, and is also wholly unprovable. (At least the US is consistent; it also refuses to sign a Convention banning landmines, which kill many civilians in the same way as antipersonnel bomblets.) Critics of the cluster munitions, like the US Campaign to Ban Cluster Weapons, say the failure rate of current US weapons like the BLU-97, the most common cluster anti-personnel device used by US forces, is closer to 30%. Besides, as demonstrated by the Yemen Tomahawk attack, a lot of the killing and maiming of civilians and children by cluster weapons happens when the bomblets explode as planned and “on target.”

Talk about brazen hypocrisy! A child killed or injured by Sarin gas is an atrocity, to be sure. But so is a child whose body is turned into chopped meat, or who is painfully rendered limbless by an exploding BLU-97 weapon. Worse yet, the US has had the audacity to accuse the Syrian government of an atrocity for allegedly using cluster weapons, voting earlier this year in the UN to condemn Syria for use of a weapon which the US used liberally in its wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, and in massive amounts in Indochina, and which it stockpiles and continues to design for more lethality and destructiveness for future use by American forces, including in Syria. (The US also sells these horrific weapons of child destruction to its “allies,” including countries ruled by dictators, like Saudi Arabia, which notably is known to be supplying arms to Syrian rebels.)

Of course, Americans themselves can be hypocritical about this stuff. Much horror was expressed after the Boston Marathon bombing over the use of BB pellets in the home-made pressure cooker bombs alleged to have been used, which killed several and lacerated the bodies of others. “How could people be so evil,” many asked. And yet the US provides its military with weapons that are far more efficient at shredding bodies, using taxpayer money, and has done so for decades, with few Americans expressing outrage, even at the carnage the weapons cause among children. Some 270 million cluster bombs were dropped on Indochina between 1964-73, 80 million of which failed to explode and remain to pose a threat to civilians today.

Textron Defense Systems, the maker of the most widely used cluster bomb in the US arsenal, which contains the BLU-97 bomblets, and which is being sold by the US to Saudi Arabia and other “allies,” offers this marketing motto for its deadly product: “Clear victory, Clear battlefield.” Given that most of the “battlefields” these days are urban areas, not classic battle fronts, the “clear battlefield” concept bodes ill for civilians and children.

Obama would be standing on stronger ground in demanding that Syria’s government eliminate its stocks of poison gas, if the US would sign onto the UN’s 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. His call for Americans to stand against the use of poison gas weapons by the Syrian government would not ring so hollow if he ordered the US military to destroy its massive stockpiles of cluster weapons, and vowed never to use them again. 

September 20, 2013 Posted by | Militarism, War Crimes | , , , | Leave a comment

Iran urges restructuring of IAEA

Press TV – September 20, 2013

Iran’s Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Reza Najafi has called for the restructuring of the UN nuclear agency.

Addressing the 57th regular session of the IAEA General Conference in the Austrian capital of Vienna on Thursday, the Iranian envoy called for an increase in the number of the members of the agency’s Board of Governors as well as a revision of the make-up of the permanent seats at the UN body.

“While the General Conference consists of all member states and the Board of Governors has a limited [number of] members, there is no appropriate balance between the powers and duties of these two bodies, and the decisions made at the General Conference are mainly subject to the approval or prior recommendations of the Board of Governors,” Najafi said.

It is necessary to discuss the issue of striking a balance between the prerogatives and responsibilities of the two bodies, he stressed.

The Iranian ambassador proposed the formation of a consultative group comprising all members to discuss the above-mentioned proposals and make appropriate recommendations in that regard.

A number of other envoys to the IAEA including those from Cuba, Venezuela, Pakistan, Algeria, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Egypt and Lebanon expressed support for Iran’s proposals.

September 20, 2013 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment

Bolivia plans legal action against Obama over ‘crimes against humanity’

Press TV – September 20, 2013

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales plans to file legal action against the US president for crimes against humanity, condemning Washington’s intimidation tactics after it denied Venezuelan presidential jet entry into US airspace.

“I would like to announce that we are preparing a lawsuit against [US President] Barack Obama to condemn him for crimes against humanity,” President Morales announced at a Thursday press conference in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz, RT reports.

He further described the American president as a “criminal” who willingly violates international law.

“The US cannot be allowed to continue with its policy of intimidation and blockading presidential flights,” Morales stated.

He added that Bolivia intends to prepare legal action against the US president and file the lawsuit at the International Court.

President Morales has called for an emergency meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) to confer about the US action, which has been slammed by Venezuela as “an act of intimidation by North American imperialism.”

Additionally, the Bolivian president has implied that the CELAC members should recall their ambassadors from Washington in an effort to convey a strong message to the Obama Administration.

According to the report, Morales further wants to urge member nations of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas to boycott the next meeting of the United Nations in New York.

Members of the Alliance include Antigua and Barbuda, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Saint Lucia.

The anti-US measures called by the Bolivian president comes just months after Morales’s presidential aircraft was denied entry into several Western European countries, forcing it to land in Austria.

The May 2013 incident was widely described as a US-led effort out of a false suspicion that American spy agency whistleblower Edward Snowden may be onboard the aircraft.

At the time Bolivia was among a few countries that offered political asylum to Snowden, a US fugitive and former contract employee of American spy agencies, CIA and NSA, who leaked documents showing massive US electronic spying operations around the globe, including its European and Latin American allies.

Several Latin American heads of state joined Bolivia to censure the illegal move by the European countries, including Italy, France and Spain, which led to their official apologies.

September 20, 2013 Posted by | Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , | 1 Comment

Venezuelan President Denied Travel through US Airspace

RT | September 19, 2013

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua told media that an aircraft carrying President Nicolas Maduro was denied a path over Puerto Rico’s airspace.

President Maduro’s flight, which was to depart for China, was forced to find an alternate flight path according to Jaua, who denounced the act as “an act of aggression.”

“We have received the information from American officials that we have been denied travel over its airspace,” Jaua said, speaking to reporters during an official meeting with his South African counterpart.

“We denounce this as yet another aggression on the part of North American imperialism against the government of the Bolivarian Republic,” he added.

“No one can deny airspace to a plane carrying a president on an international state visit.”

There is “no valid argument” for denying travel through American airspace, Jaua said, adding that he expected the US to rectify the situation.

President Maduro was due to arrive in Beijing this weekend for bilateral talks with the Chinese government. Jaua was adamant that the Venezuelan leader would reach his destination, regardless of any perceived interference.

Though the US has yet to issue an official response, the latest incident will likely add to already strained relations between the two countries.

In July, the Venezuelan president announced that his government was halting attempts to improve relations with the US. The move was in response to comments made by the newly appointed US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, who told a Senate committee that her new role would include challenging the “crackdown on civil society” abroad, including in Venezuela.

Relations under former President Chavez had been acrimonious, as he had long held suspicions that the US had actively intervened on behalf of an attempted coup in 2002. Since his election in April, President Maduro has often made pointed criticisms at alleged US interference in Venezuelan affairs.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, whose own plane was grounded this summer allegedly due to suspicions by US authorities that the aircraft was transporting whistleblower Edward Snowden, said that ALBA bloc nations should consider a boycott of the upcoming UN General Assembly in New York as a response.

“We cannot accept that the US carries on with politics of intimidation and the prohibition of flights by presidents,” said Morales, adding that the latest incident “demonstrates the country’s predisposition to humiliate other governments” and commit crimes against other nations.

Dispute over visas ahead of UN summit

The Venezuelan President also spoke of attempts by the US to set “conditions” on a visa issued to General Wilmer Barrientos, one of Maduro’s ministers who is slated to attend meetings during the UN General Assembly next week.

“They want to put conditions, if we decide to go to New York… They don’t want to give a visa to my minister,” said Maduro. “Do we want to go as tourists? We’re going to the United Nations. You’re obligated to give visas to all the delegation.”

Appearing via the television network TeleSUR on Thursday, Maduro indicated that he had directed his foreign minister, Elías Jaua, and Venezuela’s Ambassador to the UN, Samuel Moncada, to “activate all mechanisms” in reference to the visa dispute.

“US, you are not the UN’s owner. The UN will have to move out of New York,” remarked Maduro.

He warned that if he has to take “measures” against the government of the US, he would be prepared to take “the most drastic measures necessary” to ensure Venezuelan sovereignty.

September 20, 2013 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | Leave a comment