Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces as world pleads for truce
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, July 28, 2014 14:50 EDT
Exchanges of fire killed eight Palestinian children in a Gaza refugee camp and four people in Israel on Monday, shattering hopes for an end to three weeks of devastating violence.
The missile that slammed into a public playground in the seafront Shati UN refugee camp also killed at least two other people and wounded another 46, many of them also children, the emergency services said.
Soon after, a security source said five Gaza militants were killed in a shootout with troops in southern Israel. Hamas’s armed wing claimed it killed 10 Israeli soldiers in a raid in the same area, and denied it lost any men.
The latest bloodshed pushed the Palestinian death toll from violence in and around the coastal enclave to more than 1,050.
Palestinian medical sources blamed the refugee camp killings on the Israeli military, with witnesses saying the missiles had been fired from a fighter jet.
“An F-16 fired five rockets at a street in Shati camp where children were playing, killing some of them and injuring many more,” one told AFP.
Inside Shifa hospital, an AFP correspondent saw the bodies of at least seven children from the blast at the camp, with more bodies being brought in on bloodied stretchers.
They were unloaded and taken directly to the mortuary.
The Israeli military categorically denied any attack, and said Hamas had aimed the rockets at Israel but that they misfired and hit the camp.
It also blamed an early attack inside the compound of Gaza’s biggest hospital on militant rocket fire that fell short of Israel and struck in the Palestinian territory.
In Israel, at least four people were killed when a mortar round fired from Gaza hit an administrative building in the Eshkol regional council, media reports said, in what was the biggest civilian loss of life inside the Jewish state since the start of the violence.
The latest deaths came after a brief lull in the fighting in Gaza for the beginning of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr, torpedoing hopes of a ceasefire despite intense international pressure for an end to the conflict.
- Abbas mission to Cairo -
Following increasingly urgent calls by the UN and the US for an “immediate ceasefire,” a senior source in the West Bank said Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was heading to Cairo with Hamas representatives for fresh talks on ending the violence in Gaza.
“Abbas is forming a Palestinian delegation including Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives to meet Egyptian leaders and discuss a halt to Israel’s aggression against Gaza,” the source told AFP, without saying when the talks would take place.
“The aim is to examine with Egyptian leaders how to meet Palestinian demands and put an end to the aggression,” he said.
Earlier US President Barack Obama phoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to demand an “immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire”, in a call echoed hours later by the UN Security Council.
As diplomatic efforts intensified to broker an end to the bloodletting which has claimed over a thousand lives, both sides appeared to have settled into an undeclared ceasefire arrangement with the skies over Gaza mostly quiet.
Military spokesman General Moti Almoz described the calm as “an unlimited lull” but warned that the army was ready to resume its activity at any time.
The army said two rockets had struck Israel since midnight (2100 GMT) while in Gaza, an AFP correspondent confirmed there had been no overnight air strikes, although sporadic raids resumed in the afternoon with a four-year-old boy and another person killed by tank shelling near the northern town of Jabaliya.
Another three succumbed to their wounds overnight.
- ‘Eid of martyrs’ -
There was little mood for celebration in Gaza City as the three-day festival of Eid al-Fitr that ends the holy fasting month of Ramadan got under way.
Several hundred people arrived for early-morning prayers at the Al-Omari mosque, bowing and solemnly whispering their worship. But instead of going to feast with relatives, most went straight home while others went to pay their respects to the dead.
Among them was Ahed Shamali whose 16-year-old son who was killed by a tank shell several days ago.
“He was just a kid,” he said, standing by the grave. “This is the Eid of the martyrs.”
Obama’s demand for an “immediate, unconditional” ceasefire has strained US-Israeli ties and put Netanyahu in a tight spot with hardliners in his government, commentators say.
And US Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday international efforts to agree a Gaza ceasefire must lead to the disarmament of Hamas.
It came after the UN Security Council appealed for both sides to accept an “immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire” to permit the urgent delivery of aid, in a non-binding statement which elicited disappointment from the Palestinian envoy.
Israel says Gaza campaign will continue 'until mission is accomplished'
House of Ismail Haniyeh, a senior Hamas leader, hit by missile after suggestions of a major escalation of military action in Gaza
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
The Guardian, Monday 28 July 2014 19.48 BST
Link to video: Israel vows to continue to act with force as nine children are killed in Gaza
The war in Gaza erupted afresh on Monday as Israel warned of a protracted military campaign to destroy cross-border tunnels and disarm Hamas and other militant groups.
"We need to be prepared for a long operation until our mission is accomplished," Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a televised press conference, rejecting mounting international calls for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.
Just after midnight , reports from Gaza described flares lighting up the sky amid intense shelling, with drones flying overhead. Gaza's interior ministry announced that the house of a Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, was hit by a missile. No immediate casualties were reported.
Netanyahu – who described the conflict as a "just war" – spoke after a series of dramatic events following a lull in fighting on Sunday and early Monday. Eight children playing in a park in a Gaza refugee camp were killed, the main public hospital was struck, four Israeli soldiers were killed in a mortar attack and militants from Gaza infiltrated Israel through a tunnel.
Israel Defence Forces warned residents of neighbourhoods in northern Gaza – including Shujai'iya, the scene of some of the most intense fighting in the three-week war – to evacuate immediately, suggesting a major escalation of military action was imminent.
Benny Gantz, Israel's military chief of staff, and defence minister Moshe Ya'alon also said the operation would continue as long as necessary. "Gaza residents should distance themselves from areas in which Hamas is acting because we will get there and it will be painful," Gantz said.
The renewed bloodshed added urgency to international calls for a ceasefire. Earlier on Monday the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, reiterated the security council's call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, demanding that both sides end the fighting "in the name of humanity".
The statements from the three men directing the military offensive on Gaza will gratify hawkish cabinet ministers and media commentators who have been stridently urging an expansion of the operation to try to deal a decisive blow to Hamas.
But Israel's decision to press ahead with the operation risks alienating its key ally, the US, after Barack Obama told Netanyahu of his concern over civilian casualties.
Eight children and two adults were killed, and dozens more injured, at the seafront Shati refugee camp on Monday. At the same time the Shifa hospital in Gaza City was hit. The incidents followed the end of a 24-hour unilateral ceasefire declared by Hamas to mark the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid.
Israel categorically denied its forces were responsible for the strike on the hospital or the camp, saying rockets launched by militants had misfired. But medical staff and other witnesses insisted missiles were fired at the hospital from an F-16 jet. Israel has previously accused Hamas militants of hiding in the hospital premises."We have not fired on the hospital or on Shati refugee camp," Major Arye Shalicar told AFP. "We know that Hamas was firing from both areas and the missiles struck these places."
In southern Israel a Palestinian mortar strike from Gaza killed four soldiers, the IDF said. A fifth soldier was killed in southern Gaza, bringing total military casualties to 48. A number of others were wounded in the attack. It was not confirmed whether the victims were military personnel or civilians.
At least one militant among a group which infiltrated Israel through a tunnel was killed as the men emerged near a community close to the border. Hamas said 10 Israeli soldiers had lost their lives but there was no confirmation from Israel.Warning sirens were reported in northern Israel, including the city of Haifa, suggesting Hamas could be deploying long-range missiles in its arsenal.
Earlier, following the end of the ceasefire at 2pm, there was renewed rocket fire from Gaza. The IDF warned that it would respond to rocket fire with further air strikes. "The IDF is free to attack after any fire if there is any," Brig Gen Motti Almoz told Israel Radio.
In New York Ban accused Netanyahu and Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Mishal of being morally wrong for allowing civilians to be killed.
He urged both sides to demonstrate political will and compassionate leadership to end the bloodshed.
Gaza was in a "critical condition" after three weeks of military offensive, which raised serious questions about proportionality, he told reporters.
The UN and Obama had also called for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. The calls followed a series of unilateral ceasefire announcements by both sides, each of which was rejected by the other amid mutual blame and recrimination.
A presidential statement issued by the UN security council just after midnight in New York on Sunday, called on the parties to the conflict "to accept and fully implement the humanitarian ceasefire into the Eid period and beyond" and "to engage in efforts to achieve a durable and fully respected ceasefire, based on the Egyptian initiative".
It noted "grave concern regarding the deterioration in the situation as a result of the crisis related to Gaza and the loss of civilian lives and casualties" and called for Israel and Hamas to respect international law.
Obama told Netanyahu of his concern at the rising number of civilian deaths and urged an immediate, unconditional ceasefire. He stressed the importance of "ensuring Israel's security, protecting civilians, alleviating Gaza's humanitarian crisis and enacting a sustainable ceasefire that both allows Palestinians in Gaza to lead normal lives and addresses Gaza's long-term development and economic needs, while strengthening the Palestinian Authority".
However, in his television address on Monday night, Netanyahu vowed: "We will not end this operation without neutralising the tunnels whose sole purpose is killing our citizens."
According to the UN, more than 20 hospitals and medical centres have been hit by Israeli shelling and about 1,060 people – mostly civilians – killed, with 6,000 injured. The Israeli death toll exceeded 50.
In Egypt, former president Mohamed Morsi who was overthrown in a military coup a year ago praised the "resistance" in Gaza.
"Our compass is set on supporting Palestine against the usurping occupier and we are with any resistance against any occupier," Morsi said in a message posted on his official Facebook page. "A full salute to those who resist and to the revolutionaries."
Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which has been outlawed under the regime of Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.
Gaza pounded by Israel after Netanyahu promises prolonged battle
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem and agencies
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 July 2014 10.35 BST
Israel increased its attacks on Gaza on Monday night
Gaza endured a night of relentless bombardment that brought some of the heaviest pounding since the start of the conflict three weeks ago, in the hours after the Israeli political and military leadership warned of a protracted offensive.
Palestinian officials say more than 110 people have been killed in Gaza in the past 24 hours.
Israeli forces targeted key strategic targets, including the home of the Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, and a building housing Hamas-controlled broadcast outlets.
Haniyeh's home was hit by a missile shortly before dawn, causing damage but no injuries. Eleven people were killed in a strike on a house in Bureij refugee camp in Gaza City.
Shells hit fuel tanks at Gaza's only power plant, causing a massive explosion and black smoke to billow into the air. The plant's capacity - already down to about three hours' electricity supply a day - is likely to be further reduced.
Hamas said al-Aqsa TV and al-Aqsa Radio were also targeted. The television station continued to broadcast but the radio station went silent.
The Israel Defence Forces struck 150 targets in total during the course of the night. Sirens warning of rocket fire sounded across southern Israel.
The IDF said overnight that five soldiers had died in a gun battle on Monday with militants who crossed into Israel via a tunnel near the community of Nahal Oz, close to the border with the Gaza Strip.
The incident raised to 10 the number of military fatalities for the day, bringing the total to 53. Four others were killed in a mortar attack and another died in clashes in the south of Gaza.
A building within the Gaza port on fire after Israeli bombardment. A building within the Gaza port on fire after Israeli bombardment. Photograph: Loulou D'aki/AFP/Getty Images
Hamas's armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, claimed it had killed 19 Israeli soldiers on Monday and a total of 110 during the military campaign.
Speaking at a televised press conference on Monday evening, the Israeli prime minister warned that the operation would step up, in remarks that flouted international pressure for a ceasefire. "We need to be prepared for a protracted campaign. We will continue to act with force and discretion until our mission is accomplished," said Binyamin Netanyahu.
The IDF continued to categorically deny that its forces were responsible for hits on Shati refugee camp and the Shifa hospital on Monday. At least eight children were killed at Shati while playing in a park.
Gaza conflict timeline
The military released an aerial photograph that it said showed rockets fired by militants had fallen short. In a statement it said red lines drawn over the photograph indicated “the paths of the four terrorist rockets, as detected by IDF radars and sensors, that were launched in the attacks that resulted in one hitting the Al-Shifa hospital and one hitting the Shati refugee camp. Of the other two rockets, one landed at sea and the other was intercepted on its way to the city of Ashkelon.”
Witnesses in Gaza said missiles had been fired from Israeli F-16 jets. A spokesman for the interior ministry in Gaza, Iyad al-Buzm, said explosives experts from the Gaza police had examined "the targeted places and the remnants of shells there" as well as the wounds on the bodies, determining them to be from an Israeli strike.
The Palestinian death toll stood at around 1,100, mostly civilians. Two Israeli civilians and a Thai agricultural worker have been killed in rocket fire in the past three weeks.
The renewed bloodshed followed growing international calls for a ceasefire. On Monday the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, reiterated the security council’s earlier call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, demanding that both Israel and Hamas end the fighting “in the name of humanity”.
Israeli forces' flares light up the night sky of Gaza City early Tuesday Israeli forces' flares light up the night sky of Gaza City early Tuesday. Photograph: Khalil Hamra/AP
The US president, Barack Obama, told Netanyahu by phone on Sunday of his concern at civilian casualties. He also pressed for an immediate ceasefire.
Meanwhile there were fresh clashes in East Jerusalem between Palestinian protesters against the war in Gaza and Israeli security forces.
Monday evening's statements from the three men directing the Israeli military offensive on Gaza – Netanyahu, defence minister Moshe Ya'alon and military chief of staff Benny Gantz – will gratify hawkish cabinet ministers and media commentators who have been stridently urging an expansion of the operation in order to deal a decisive blow to Hamas.
Deadly blasts in Israel and Gaza threaten fragile truce
Missiles strike refugee camp and hospital compound, as four Israelis die in mortar attack near Gaza border
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Monday 28 July 2014 17.47 BST
The war in Gaza threatened to erupt again on Monday following a lull in fighting after several children and adults were killed when missiles struck a refugee camp and the compound of Gaza's biggest public hospital, and four Israelis died in a mortar attack near the Gaza border.
The renewed bloodshed added urgency to international calls for a ceasefire. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, reiterated the security council's call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, demanding that both Israel and Hamas end the fighting "in the name of humanity".
The Israel Defence Forces later warned residents of neighbourhoods in northern Gaza – including Sujiai'iya, the scene of some of the most intense fighting in the three-week war – to evacuate immediately, suggesting an escalation of military action was imminent.
Ten people were reportedly killed at the beachfront Shati refugee camp shortly after the Shifa hospital in Gaza City, the scene of countless horrors in the past three weeks, was struck on Monday afternoon.
The incidents followed the end of a 24-hour unilateral ceasefire declared by Hamas to mark the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid.
Israel swiftly denied that its forces were responsible for the strike on the hospital, saying rockets launched by militants had misfired, contradicting reports from medical staff and other witnesses. Israel has previously accused Hamas militants of hiding in the hospital premises.
In southern Israel, a Palestinian mortar strike from Gaza killed four people, Israeli medical officials said. A number of others had been wounded in the attack, they said. It was not confirmed whether the victims were military or civilian.
Following the end of the Hamas-declared 24-hour ceasefire at 2pm, there was renewed rocket fire from Gaza. Warning sirens sounded across southern Israel, and the Israeli authorities reported several rockets landing on open ground.
The Israel Defence Forces warned that it would respond to rocket fire with further air strikes. "The IDF is free to attack after any fire," Israel's chief military spokesman, Brigadier General Motti Almoz, told Israel Radio.
In New York, Ban accused the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Mishal of being "morally wrong" for allowing civilians to be killed in the conflict. He urged both sides to demonstrate "political will" and "compassionate leadership" to end the bloodshed.
Gaza was in a "critical condition" following three weeks of military offensive which raised "serious questions about proportionality", he told reporters.
According to the United Nations, more than 20 hospitals and medical centres have been hit by Israeli shelling since the start of the conflict, three weeks ago on Tuesday. The World Health Organisation said it was "appalled by the continuing trend for healthcare facilities, staff and vehicles to come under direct fire in Gaza since the escalation of violence".
The UN and US president Barack Obama called for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. The calls followed a series of unilateral ceasefire announcements by both sides, each of which was rejected by the other amid mutual blame and recrimination.
A statement issued by the UN security council just after midnight in New York, called on the parties to the conflict "to accept and fully implement the humanitarian ceasefire into the Eid period and beyond" and "to engage in efforts to achieve a durable and fully respected ceasefire, based on the Egyptian initiative".
It noted "grave concern regarding the deterioration in the situation as a result of the crisis related to Gaza and the loss of civilian lives and casualties" and called for Israel and Hamas to respect international law.
Obama told Netanyahu of his concern at the rising number of civilian deaths and urged an immediate, unconditional ceasefire.
Saying the US backed a ceasefire plan tabled two weeks ago by Egypt, Obama stressed the importance of "ensuring Israel's security, protecting civilians, alleviating Gaza's humanitarian crisis and enacting a sustainable ceasefire that both allows Palestinians in Gaza to lead normal lives and addresses Gaza's long-term development and economic needs, while strengthening the Palestinian Authority".
But amid a confusing sequence of temporary ceasefires, there was little sign of a longer-term deal to end the military confrontation. The US secretary of state, John Kerry, returned to Washington at the weekend after his efforts to forge a ceasefire agreement between the two sides failed.
Kerry said the work to continue an unconditional humanitarian ceasefire would continue.
"Our discussions over there succeeded in putting a 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire in place," he said, adding that there were "regrettably" misunderstandings, between both sides, about the terms of the short pause in fighting.
Kerry said the immediate humanitarian break in conflict was an essential precursor to a more permanent cessation in hostilities.
"We believe that the momentum generated by a humanitarian ceasefire is the best way to be able to begin to negotiate and find out if you can put in place a sustainable ceasefire – one that addresses all of the concerns."
He said that while the underlying causes of the conflict "obviously [would] not all be resolved" in the context of a sustainable ceasefire, it was essential to begin the process.
Kerry said any process to resolve the crisis in a lasting way "must lead to the disarmament of Hamas".
Mishal told PBS that Israel must end its occupation. "We are not fanatics. We are not fundamentalists. We are not actually fighting the Jews because they are Jews per se. We do not fight any other races. We fight the occupiers," he said.
In Egypt, former president Mohamed Morsi, who was overthrown in a military coup a year ago, praised the "resistance" in Gaza.
"Our compass is set on supporting Palestine against the usurping occupier and we are with any resistance against any occupier," he said in a message posted on his official Facebook page. "A full salute to those who resist and to the revolutionaries."
Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which has been outlawed under the regime of Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.
Baby born by emergency caesarean after mother dies in Gaza shelling
Doctors save newborn after woman who was eight months pregnant was buried by rubble at her home in Deir al-Balah
Agence France-Presse in Gaza
theguardian.com, Monday 28 July 2014 19.33 BST
When the doctors gently pulled the tiny newborn from the womb in an emergency caesarean, her mother had already been dead for an hour.
Shayma al-Sheikh Qanan, 23, was eight months pregnant when an Israeli tank shell hit her home in the central Gaza strip town of Deir al-Balah, reducing it to rubble. She was left in a critical condition. Her husband, a local radio journalist, was also badly wounded.
"Her body was brought in after an Israeli shelling at 3am on Friday," said Fadi al-Kharti, a doctor at Deir al-Balah hospital. "We tried to revive her but she had died on the way."
Before paramedics managed to dig her out, she had been stuck under the rubble of her home for an hour. "Then we noticed movement in her stomach, and estimated she was about 36 weeks pregnant," he says. Doctors performed an immediate caesarean and saved the baby, who was named after her late mother.
For 43-year-old Mirfat Qanan, it was a tragedy to lose her daughter, but there was joy at becoming a grandmother.
"God has protected this child for me. My daughter Shayma is dead, but I now have a new daughter," she said. "She'll call me 'mummy' just like her mother did."
The newborn was being looked after in the intensive care unit in another hospital in Khan Yunis to ensure her survival. Now four days old, she was breathing through an oxygen mask in the hospital's maternity ward.
Abdel Karim al-Bawab, head doctor at the ward, said staff were keeping a close eye on the baby to monitor her condition. "Her vital signs are stable, but she must stay here in this state for at least three more weeks," he said.
Life under fire in Gaza: the diary of a Palestinian
What's it like for families struggling to survive in Gaza? A Palestinian author describes the overcrowding and shortages, the horror of seeing familiar places reduced to rubble – and the constant fear of death
Atef Abu Saif
The Guardian, Monday 28 July 2014 19.15 BST
Wednesday 23 July 2014
Yesterday evening, my sister-in-law, Huda, her son and three daughters had to move to the place where we are staying, in Jabalia Camp. They usually live to the south of Gaza City, in an area called Tal al Hawa, its southernmost tip. For the past five days, tanks have bombarded the area. In one of these attacks, large chunks of debris from a house nearby flew in through the windows; half of another house inside Huda’s house.
My sister-in-law says they are used to this kind of thing. In the 2008-9 war, half the house collapsed when a rocket made a direct hit, entering horizontally through the lounge window. Her husband, Hatim, has refused to come with her to Jabalia this time, however. Nobody remains on their street but him. Over the past couple of years, he has developed a passion for keeping birds. He has converted one room in his house into an aviary, in which he raises around 50 different kinds of birds, including hummingbirds, pigeons and sparrows. He prefers to stay and take care of his birds – who else will look after them?
Now there are 14 of us living in my father-in-law’s house. The house consists of just two rooms. This morning, there is a long queue for the bathroom. Once inside, you hear nothing but the calls of those queuing, encouraging you to finish as fast as you can.
Over the past week, most houses have started to face water shortages. My father spends most of his day watching the level in his water tank, obsessively. The other day he had to carry water in bottles from the neighbours’ tank. He himself is hosting two extra families inside his little house – that of my sister with her 12 family members, and that of his uncle with his five family members – as well as the family of my brother, Ibrahim.
Queues are everywhere now. A few days ago, we were living a normal life – waking at 8am, washing our faces, brushing our teeth, having breakfast, starting our days and whatever our daily routines entailed. Now we have to abandon those routines and live according to each and every moment.
Life is getting complicated. You wish that you were simpler and could accept things more easily. My little girl, Jaffa, who is 19 months old, was utterly terrified in the first week of the war. We couldn’t bring ourselves to explain what the sounds of the explosions were, but she could easily understand the fear written on our faces when we heard each one. After a week, we started to tell her that these were the sounds of a door being closed quickly by Naem, her older brother. Jaffa accepted this and started to adapt to the situation. She even played with the idea. When hearing each explosion, she now shouts, “The dooooooor!”, and then calls out to Naem to stop slamming it. In Jaffa’s logic, someone is slamming a door to keep us all imprisoned in this situation. Each door slam is a door slammed shut on the opportunity for peace. Each cry from Jaffa to her brother Naem to stop shutting the door is fruitless.
Thursday 24 July
The worst thing is when you realise that you no longer understand what is going on. Throughout the night, the tanks, drones, F16 fighter jets and warships haven’t let up for a minute. The explosions are constant, always sounding as if they’re just next door. Sometimes you’re convinced that they’re in your very room, that you’ve finally been hit. Then you realise, it’s another miss. My mobile has a flat battery, so I’m unable to listen to the news. Instead, I lie in the dark and guess what’s going on, make up my own analysis.
In time, you start to distinguish between the different types of attack. By far the easiest distinction you learn to make is between an air attack, a tank attack, and an attack from the sea. The shells coming in from the sea are the largest in size, and the boom they make much deeper than anything else you hear. It’s an all-engulfing, all-encompassing sound: you feel as if the ground itself is being swallowed up. Tank rockets, by comparison, give off a much hollower sound. Their explosions leave more of an echo in the air, but you don’t feel it so much from beneath. A rocket dropped from an F16 produces an unmistakable, brilliant white light, as well as a long reverberation. A bomb from an F16 makes the whole street dance a little, sway for a good 30 seconds or so. You feel you might have to jump out of the window any minute, to escape the collapse. Different from all these, though, is the rocket you get from a drone. This rocket seems to have more personality – it projects a sharp yellow light up in to the sky. A few seconds before a drone strike, this bright light spreads over the sky, as if the rocket is telling us: it’s dinner time, time to feast.
These are just impressions, of course. But when you sit each night in your living room waiting for death to not knock at your door, or send you a text message, telling you, “Death’s coming in one minute’s time,” when you are unable to answer the one question your kids need an answer to (“When is it going to end, Dad?”), when you struggle to summon the strength you need each day, just to get through that day … in these situations, which are, of course, all the same situation, what else can you do, but form “impressions”.
War teaches you how to adapt to its logic, but it doesn’t share its biggest secret, of course: how to survive it. For instance, whenever there’s a war on, you have to leave your windows half-open, so the pressure from the blasts doesn’t blow them out. To be even safer, you should cover every pane with adhesive tape, so that when it does break, the shards don’t fly indoors, or fall on people in the street below. It goes without saying you should never sleep anywhere near a window. The best place to sleep, people say, is near the stairs, preferably under them. The shell that fell two nights ago landed 150 metres away, smack in the middle of the Jabalia cemetery. The dead do not fight wars, but on this occasion they were forced to participate in the suffering of the living. The next morning dirty, grey bones lay scattered about the broken gravestones.
Friday 25 July
I only realise it’s a Friday when the prayers from the mosque start up. In a war, days no longer matter. Everything is tied to its rhythm, its discourse, its sounds and silences.
This morning I decide to go into Gaza City to see the centre. A young man is driving a horse and cart carrying mattresses and pillows, which presumably he plucked from the ruins of his house, in the direction of some shelter, in one of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools, I imagine. The man calls out to another on the street: “What day of Ramadan is it?” “The 27th,” comes his reply. This means that Eid is just three or four days from today. Normally, by this point, we would already be preparing for the celebrations. Every corner of the city would be strung with lights; shops would be open day and night, heaving with all the latest must-haves – mostly beautiful clothes that we ought to be wearing for Eid. Eid has its own smell and taste, you can’t mistake it.
But not this year. Now, everything is closed. All I can see is debris, collapsed buildings, huge ugly gaps where buildings used to be, ruins. Rubble is the only permanent image I have when I close my eyes.
Women, babies, old men, young boys and girls – all start to move slowly down in Unknown Soldier’s Square. They’re beginning to wake up; a few are still stretched out, asleep on the pieces of cardboard or material they’ve brought with them – few are lucky enough to have mattresses – and which they’ve spread out over the square’s gardens to spend the night on. This was the safest they could do in terms of refuge: the open air. The UNRWA schools, acting as refugee camps across Gaza, have been full for more than a week. The horrors these people have seen, the death they’ve been forced to taste back home, has been enough to make them drop everything and spend the night exposed like this: either in the Unknown Soldier’s gardens, or on the triangular-shaped patch of grass in the middle of Omar al Mokhtar Street, opposite the Palestinian Legislative Council. These gardens normally represent glamorous parts of the city; they are surrounded by expensive shops, the best restaurants. Now the gardens have become just another refugee camp. As I walk through them, I see that the fountains, at least, are providing a distraction for some of the boys now camped among them – they’re making the most of the cold water, stripping off and reclaiming the fountains as swimming pools, determined to make a little paradise of their own in this hell.
Suddenly an F16 breaks the sound barrier above us, rattling the square with its sonic boom. All necks crane as we scan the sky for a glimpse of where the rocket might land. A few seconds later we hear it: the F16 has taken its meal somewhere in Al Rimal neighbourhood. Like everyone else in the street, I run to the safest possible place: the centre of the street. On such occasions, you learn to keep away from any buildings still intact. I run along the centre of the street, along with everyone else, towards the ruins of the Al Isra Tower, which was hit a week ago and in which many families died. This was one of first tall buildings to be built in Gaza after the peace accords of 1994. Architecturally, it was quite impressive. Now it’s just a hill of rubble; no reason for a rocket to strike here. Back in Jabalia, my wife Hanna is fighting with the children over whether they should be allowed to go outside. They want to see the street and breathe the outside air. Even when they try to stand at the window, to look out over at the refugee-filled school across the street, Hanna snatches them back. My boy, Mostafa, wants to go my father’s house, to play with his cousins there. “No is no,” Hanna insists. They look at me pleadingly. I suggest that I take them with me this evening. What Hanna does not know, and I keep a secret from her, is that when I take the kids to my father’s place, which is just four minutes’ walk, the kids spend most of their time in the internet cafes next door, playing computer games.
Every day I quarrel with Hanna about this. In the end, I take the kids for a few hours before bringing them back. Every minute of our walk there we are at risk. Every step we take is another risk. As I hurry towards my father’s place, holding their hands, I pray the unthinkable doesn’t happen.
Saturday 26 July
It has now been 40 hours with no electricity. The water was also cut off yesterday. Electricity is a constant issue in Gaza. Since the Strip’s only power station was bombed in 2008, Gazans have had at best 12 hours of electricity a day. These 12 hours could be during the day, or while you are fast asleep; it’s impossible to predict. Complaining about it gets you nowhere. For three weeks we’ve barely had two or three hours a day. And right now, we would be happy with just one.
These blackouts affect every part of your life. Your day revolves around that precious moment the power comes back on. You have to make the most of every last second of it. First, you charge every piece of equipment that has a battery: your mobile, laptop, torches, radio, etc. Second, you try not to use any equipment while it’s being charged – to make the most of that charge. Next you have to make some hard decisions about which phone calls to take, which emails or messages to reply to. Even when you make a call, you have to stop yourself from straying into any “normal” areas of conversation – they’re a waste of power.
On Friday night, my friend Hisham, who works at Beit Hanoun Hospital, phoned to say that they had been bombed. Shells struck the x-ray room and the operating theatre. People, patients, doctors, and nurses were all terrified. Hisham’s three-minute description of the chaos was concluded with the insistence that some kind of intervention from the Red Cross or the UN must come. Hundreds of families were camping out in the gardens of the hospital, having nowhere else to go. I phoned Palestine TV and told them that people were trapped in Beit Hanoun Hospital and that they should make a plea to the Red Cross and UN. I was at my friend Husain’s place at the time with another friend, Abu Aseel, smoking nargila in the darkness. It was nearly midnight on the Friday, so I headed off towards my place.
There were several UNRWA schools-turned-refugee camps on my way home. I visited the second of them, where my friend Ali Kamal, who works as a teacher there, is part of the team taking care of the displaced people. In the administration room, Kamal was wearing a UN bulletproof vest. We sat outside, in front of the school, and he told me that the school is hosting some 2,450 persons, equating to 430 families. They serve each family one proper meal a day, plus a few biscuits. As we talked, I stared at the queue of people on one side, waiting to receive blankets from a window, and at another queue on the other, waiting to receive food. Kamal works a 24-hour shift, then goes home for 24 hours, before returning.
One of the school’s refugees, from the Ghabin family, went out yesterday afternoon to see his house and check on his animals in the field behind it. He was shot by a tank. His family and relatives organised a funeral for him inside the school. Sad faces, bitter eyes, terrible silences all under this metal ceiling – one that used to hang over a sports room where boys played, now a place for tributes and condolences.
Before I left, at around 2am on Saturday morning, news spread through the school that there would be a 12-hour humanitarian truce starting at 8am. You always greet talk of truces and ceasefires with a degree of scepticism. But in the school, everyone responded to it optimistically, planning their return to their homes and farms.
In the morning, the first question I ask when I open my eyes is: is there a truce? Hanna nods. This time she doesn’t mind if the children go to my father’s place, to play in the internet cafe. She is happy that finally, for 12 hours at least, they can move about. She is happy for herself, too. For the past hour she has been trying to decide where to go. I decide to go and see the damage in Shujaia, with my friends Aed and Salem.
Looking at the rubble where his house once stood, a man says: “This is not a war. This is the beginning of doomsday.” So much of this neighbourhood has been destroyed that, further down the street, another man cannot actually work out which bit of it had been his. The whole street is just rubble: stone, metal, bricks, piles of sand. Large strips of tarmac twist out of the sand suggesting where the street might have been. But there is no real definition to the street, no limits or boundaries between any of the houses either.
People’s homes now merge and weave together all over Gaza, like threads in a woollen scarf, knitted together by an old woman. Different colours, different materials, different styles. One of the men picking through the chaos, starts to scream: “This is 60 years of my family’s savings!” This is what I see as I drive with Aed and Saleem towards Shujai’iya. Baghdad Street – one of Shujai’iya’s main streets, running from the entrance to the quarter through towards the start of Gaza City to the east – is the main site of destruction. Baghdad Street, ironically enough, looks not unlike the scenes left behind by the American and British armies after the 2003 war.
A dozen or so cows have been killed near a farm on the edge of the neighbourhood. Even cows have failed to escape this war. Each one lies on its side; its tongue lolling out of its mouth, its belly starting to inflate with decay. One cow seems to be be split cleanly in half. We’re delighted, eventually, to see that one cow is still alive. It’s standing in a small square of rubble – presumably the remains of what was its barn – and we approach it carefully. It keeps its face close to the one remaining part of a wall; it looks pale and appears to have a leg wound. As we get near it limps away, clearly in pain, but too scared to let us help it.
Old women sit helplessly in the debris of their homes. A few kids can be seen searching for toys. Ambulances and medical teams work through the day to find people still alive under these ruins. Today, some 151 corpses have been found in this rubble. Some of them have started to decay already. You can smell the dead bodies on every corner of Shujai’iya. One of the corpses found was of a women: she had been carrying both her children, one in each arm, when the tank shell hit her home. It seems she was simply trying to protect them. She held them tight to her chest, and despite the weight of the masonry she never let go. What they found under all that concrete was like a still life, apparently, a photograph, a perfect composition. Abu Noor, my neighbour, was busy with his family helping to look through the rubble of a building in which six members of a family were killed. A child’s corpse was still missing. Everyone was desperate to find trace of the body. Abu Noor finally touched flesh. Something that to him felt like the body of the child. He screamed out, calling everyone around him to help him lift the stones. He managed to get a firm hold on a limb and dragged it slowly to the surface. It was a leg of a man. Whose leg? Nobody knows.
The truce is meant to be for 12 hours, running 8am until 8pm. We remain in Shujai’iya until 4pm, moving from one street to the next, trying to process the damage, and help as much as we can in the removal of debris. A man calls us over to the side of the street, as we start to drive east, warning that there are tanks just a few hundred yards away. He says if they see the car we’ll be a target. We have to turn back.
In Beit Hanoun and Khoza’a the scenes are no better. The tanks start shooting at people again at 5pm, three hours before the truce in Beit Hanoun was supposed to end. In Khoza’a, people are not allowed to visit the debris of their homes. Everyone looks at his watch to see how much time there is left.
Despite everything – the killing, the destruction, the missing people, the displaced people, the tears, the wounds, the suffering – for these 12 hours of truce, I see Gaza as it used to be. People in their thousands on the street, buying food, moving from one place to another; the shops open, kids playing in the streets. It is a city that has poured itself out into a few moments of peace. Now the truce is coming to an end. The tank mortars have started to roar again, filling the air with their terror.
Atef Abu Saif is a Palestinian author who lives in Gaza.
on: Today at 06:27 AM
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on: Today at 06:15 AM
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China Says Zhou Yongkang, Former Security Chief, Is Under Investigation
By CHRIS BUCKLEY
JULY 29, 2014
HONG KONG — In President Xi Jinping’s most audacious move yet to impose his authority by targeting elite corruption, the Communist Party on Tuesday announced an investigation of Zhou Yongkang, the retired former head of domestic security who accumulated vast power while his family accumulated vast wealth.
Mr. Zhou, who retired from the Politburo Standing Committee in late 2012, is the most senior party figure ever to face a formal graft inquiry. Until now, no standing or retired member of the Standing Committee has faced a formal investigation by the party’s anticorruption agency.
The party leadership has “decided to establish an investigation of Zhou Yongkang for grave violations of discipline,” Xinhua, the state-run news agency, reported Tuesday, citing a decision by the party’s anticorruption agency. The terse announcement gave no details of the charges against Mr. Zhou.
Until now, the detention and investigation of Mr. Zhou has been secretive and unconfirmed by the government, although known among party insiders and reported abroad.
Charges against Mr. Zhou could well center on the fortunes made by members of his family, often in sectors once under his sway. An investigation by The New York Times showed that Mr. Zhou’s son, a sister-in-law and his son’s mother-in-law held assets worth some $1 billion, much of it in the oil and gas sector that was Mr. Zhou’s political fiefdom, where he could shape decisions and promotions. That estimate was based on publicly available records and a limited assessment of their companies’ value and did not include real estate or overseas assets, which are more difficult to identify and assess.
Mr. Zhou, 71, retired from the party leadership in November 2012, at the same congress that appointed Mr. Xi the top leader, but he remained a potentially dangerous adversary, with ties to more senior retired figures.
Graft investigations have already shaken his bases of influence in Sichuan Province in the southwest; in the nation’s biggest oil and gas conglomerate, the China National Petroleum Corporation; and in the country’s police and civilian intelligence services. Mr. Zhou passed through all these areas during his career, and used his influence to install protégés.
Microsoft faces monopoly investigation in China
US software company becomes latest foreign firm to go under Beijing's scrutiny following government ban on Windows 8
Agence France-Presse in Shanghai
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 July 2014 09.00 BST
A Chinese investigation into Microsoft is probably targeting its "monopoly" of the country's operating systems market, state media have said, after the US software company became the latest foreign firm to go under Beijing's scrutiny.
Microsoft confirmed in a statement late on Monday that it was under investigation in China, without disclosing details.
"We aim to build products that deliver the features, security and reliability customers expect, and we will address any concerns the government may have," it said.
The inquiry comes after China in May banned the use of Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system on all new government computers, amid reports alleging security concerns.
The same month, the US indicted five members of a Chinese military unit for allegedly hacking American companies for trade secrets.
Officials of China's state administration for industry and commerce (Saic) have visited Microsoft offices in Beijing, commercial hub Shanghai, southern metropolis Guangzhou and south-west Chengdu city, state media said.
"Microsoft's operating system software occupies a 95% share of the market in China, forming a de facto monopoly," the National Business Daily said on Tuesday.
An employee of Microsoft China linked the visits to the company's monopoly in China's operating system market, the China Business News said, without naming the individual. It quoted another industry source tying the case to Microsoft's practice of bundling its products together for sale.
Saic officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment by AFP.
Microsoft has previously faced anti-trust investigations in other markets for tying its Windows system to other products.
The US company was fined $731m (£430m) by the European commission in March last year for failing to offer users' browser choices beyond its own Internet Explorer.
Since last year, China has launched a sweeping investigation into alleged wrongdoings by foreign companies in several sectors, including the pharmaceutical and milk powder industries.
on: Today at 06:10 AM
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Kandahar suicide attack kills cousin of Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai
Death of Hashmat Karzai, a close ally of the outgoing Afghan president, threatens to pitch country into worsening instability
Agence France-Presse in Kandahar
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 July 2014 09.20 BST
A cousin and close ally of the outgoing Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has been killed in a suicide attack in the volatile southern city of Kandahar on Tuesday, officials said, raising tensions during a struggle over the contested election result.
Hashmat Karzai was a campaign manager in Kandahar for Ashraf Ghani, one of the two presidential candidates involved in a bitter dispute over fraud that threatens to pitch the country into worsening instability.
Hashmat Karzai, who famously owned a pet lion, was killed by a man with explosives hidden inside his turban when visitors arrived to celebrate Eid, the holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
"A suicide bomber disguised as a guest came to Hashmat Karzai's house to greet him," Dawa Khan Minapal, the Kandahar provincial governor's spokesman, told AFP.
"After he hugged Hashmat, he blew up his explosives and killed him."
Ghani and opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah are at loggerheads over the 14 June second-round election, which has been mired in allegations of massive fraud.
Ghani won the vote according to preliminary results, but an audit of the ballots is under way after Abdullah refused to accept defeat due to fraud claims.
With the audit triggering another outbreak of complaints from both sides, many fear the country could be at risk of a revival of the ethnic violence seen during the 1992-96 civil war.
Hashmat Karzai first worked in this year's presidential election campaign for Qayyum Karzai, the president's brother, and later moved to support Ghani when Qayyum withdrew from the race.
on: Today at 06:09 AM
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3 Killed in a Facebook Blasphemy Rampage in Pakistan
By WAQAR GILLANI
JULY 28, 2014
LAHORE, Pakistan — A woman and two of her young granddaughters were burned to death Sunday night in the eastern city of Gujranwala after a member of their Ahmadi minority sect was accused of posting a blasphemous picture to Facebook, the police said.
The mob of roughly 1,000 people began rampaging through an Ahmadi neighborhood after being alerted to the photograph, setting houses on fire and injuring at least eight other people, according to the police.
Ahmadis belong to a reform sect rooted in Islam, but under Pakistani law they are forbidden to identify themselves as Muslim. They come under frequent attack, and have often been targeted under Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws.
The blasphemy accusation was brought against Aqib Saleem, an 18-year-old Ahmadi man who was alleged to have uploaded a picture of the Kaaba, the sacred shrine in Mecca toward which Muslims turn when they pray, with a seminude white woman sitting on top.
Officials said that a Muslim friend of Mr. Saleem’s, Saddam Hussein, 18, noticed the Facebook post and alerted others in the neighborhood. Soon, a crowd of about 400, including some Muslim clerics, reached a nearby police station and urged the police to register a blasphemy case. Meanwhile, the larger mob began rampaging around Ahmadi houses in the Arfat neighborhood of Gujranwala, an industrial city in Punjab Province.
Ahmadi community leaders accuse the police of looking the other way while the violent mob ransacked property, obstructed a fire brigade truck and threw stones at ambulances on their way to the scene. At least eight houses were set on fire.
As the flames spread, Bushra Bibi, 55, and two of her granddaughters, a 7-year-old and her 8-month-old sister, were trapped in their house and died of smoke inhalation, officials said. Another Ahmadi woman, who was seven months pregnant, had a miscarriage.
A police official said cases were registered against 400 attackers. “They looted everything and did not even leave windows behind,” a police official said.
“They are killing innocent people over fabricated issues,” said Salimuddin, a local Ahmadi spokesman. He claimed that the accused teenager’s Facebook password had been stolen, and that someone offensively edited the picture of the holy Muslim site.
Attacks against religious minorities have become a norm in Pakistan, where Islamic extremist groups have been operating more openly than ever and have been able to harass and kill minorities with near-total impunity.
Four years ago, at least 86 Ahmadis were killed in coordinated attacks in Lahore when armed gunmen belonging to banned Islamist groups assaulted Ahmadi places of worship.
Rights activists and Ahmadi community members strongly condemned the latest attacks.
“The people who were killed were not even indirectly accused of blasphemy charges. Their only fault was that they were Ahmadis,” said Zohra Yusuf, chairwoman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. “Torching women and children in their house simply because of their faith represents brutalization and barbarianism stooping to new levels.”
Discussion / Evolutionary Astrology Q&A / Re: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic
on: Today at 06:03 AM
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Delaying climate action will carry heavy economic cost, White House warns
President's council of economic advisers sounds warning over delaying EPA power plant rules in face of industry lobbying
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 July 2014 11.00 BST
The White House has warned that delaying action on climate change would carry a heavy price, racking up an additional 40% in economic losses from climate impacts and other costs over the course of 10 years.
White House officials said the stark finding from the president's council of economic advisers underlined the urgency of Barack Obama's efforts to cut carbon pollution.
In addition to a new report on the economic cost of delay, the White House is poised to launch two new initiatives on Tuesday dealing with fast-rising methane emissions from the natural gas industry, and buffering food security against future climate change.
“We are pushing across the board on the elements of the climate action plan,” John Podesta, Obama's counsellor, told a conference call with reporters.
Several former treasury secretaries and a couple of billionaires have come forward in recent weeks to warn Americans about the economic risks of climate change. By producing its own report on the costs of climate change, the White House appeared to be moving to bolster Obama's climate agenda from industry attacks.
Industry groups claim that new Environmental Protection Agency rules for power plants will cripple the economy.
In their rebuttal, Obama's economic team said the costs of delaying action to cut carbon pollution would be far higher in the long term - 40% over the course of a decade, in terms of the increased costs of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and dealing with climate impacts.
The costs were projected to rise even more steeply with each additional degree of warming above the 2C threshold for dangerous climate change, the report said.
“Each decade we delay acting results in an added cost of dealing with the problem of an extra 40%,” Jason Furman, chairman of the council of economic advisers, told a conference call with reporters. “The total amount we would have to pay today would be 40% larger if we waited a decade instead of acting now.”
Delaying action would deepen the risks to property and livelihoods. It would also make it more costly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
A 3C rise above pre-industrial levels would shave about 0.9% a year off global GDP, or about $150 billion a year, the report said. A 4C rise would cost the global economy 3.1% of global GDP a year, it said.
“The cost …..ramps up potentially astronomically to the point that even if you want to you couldn't actually stabilise the temperature,” Furman said.
Furman said the finding was based on an analysis of 16 different economic models, and took into consideration economic damage due to climate change, and lost investment and other opportunities.
The report – and the other interventions – appeared timed to build support around the main pillar of Obama's climate action plan, regulations limiting carbon pollution from power plants.
The EPA is holding public hearings in Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh and Washington DC this week on regulations to cut carbon pollution from power plants by 30% over the next 16 years.
The EPA regulations, which target the country's largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions, are the main pillar of Obama's climate plan – one of the signature issues of his second term - and by default contentious.
More than 1,600 people have signed up to speak at the hearings, and 300,000 have sent in written comments. Some 680 groups have signed up to lobby the EPA, according to the Centre for Responsive Politics – more than any other government department.
The regulations are critical to Obama's commitment to the international community to cut greenhouse gas emissions 17% on 2005 levels by 2020.
The EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy, told reporters on Monday that she expected opponents to focus on the economy. “We are bound to hear this week and beyond that EPA actions are bad for the economy,” she said.
Industry groups, such as the American Petroleum Institute and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, accuse the EPA of waging a “war on coal” and say the regulations will damage the economy.
A Republican congressman, Mike Kelly, likened the regulations to terrorism, in an event at the conservative Heritage Foundation on Monday. “You talk about terrorism, you can do it in a lot of different ways,” he said. “But you terrorise the people who supply everything this country needs to be great – and you keep them on the sidelines – my goodness what have we become?”
Opponents of the EPA regulations also argue that they will be ineffective unless China and other big emitters also take action on climate change.
But McCarthy told the call America had to take actions at home to cut carbon pollution “or a global solution on climate change won't make it to the table”.
She said there were already signs that the EPA regulations had encouraged China and other countries to do more to cut their own emissions.
The White House, the EPA Senate Democrats, economists, and environmental groups argue the regulations represent an opportunity – and that it would be far more costly to delay action.
The former treasury secretary, Robert Rubin, wrote in the Washington Post last week that framing the regulations as a trade-off between the environment and the economy was as false choice.
“The real question should be: What is the cost of inaction? In my view — and in the view of a growing group of business people, economists, and other financial and market experts — the cost of inaction over the long term is far greater than the cost of action,” Rubin wrote.
Senate Democrats are expected to expand on that argument at a budget committee hearing on Tuesday called “The costs of inaction: the economic and budgetary consequences of climate change”.
European and British economists have warned for years about the costs of inaction on climate change, with Nicholas Stern coming out with his landmark report in 2006.
But those findings did not get wide airing in the American media until earlier this year when a group of billionaires and former treasury secretaries came out with their report, Risky Business, on the costs of ignoring the climate problem.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration will on Tuesday announce a number of new initiatives on containing fast-rising emissions of methane from the natural gas industry.
The White House is also due to announce a new effort by companies such as Microsoft and Coca Cola on plans to help protect food production.
on: Today at 05:55 AM
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Georgia Files Criminal Charges Against Ex-President
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
JULY 28, 2014
KIEV, Ukraine — The general prosecutor of Georgia filed criminal charges on Monday against former President Mikheil Saakashvili, accusing him of abuse of power, largely for his handling of political protests that turned violent in November 2007.
Mr. Saakashvili, who carried out a series of sweeping political changes from 2004 to 2012, left office in November after serving the maximum of two terms. His popularity had fallen and his party’s candidate lost.
The charges against Mr. Saakashvili are the latest — and most significant — in a series of seemingly politically motivated prosecutions against former officials in his administration. One of Mr. Saakashvili’s closest allies, a former prime minister, was convicted of corruption in February, and a former mayor of Tbilisi, the capital, who is now a political opposition leader, was arrested and jailed without bail this month.
Expecting that he would become a target of his political rivals, Mr. Saakashvili left Georgia after his term ended and has been living and working in the United States and Europe.
Western officials, including the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and the United States ambassador in Georgia, Richard Norland, have expressed concerns about the pattern of politically tinged prosecutions.
The European Union signed a political association agreement with Georgia in June that requires the country to demonstrate commitment to Western-style democratic norms. The government of Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has denied any political aims and has pointed to the recent detention of former President Nicolas Sarkozy of France as an equivalent example of a former leader being held accountable by the legal system.
Mr. Saakashvili gained prominence as the leader of Georgia’s peaceful Rose Revolution, which ousted President Eduard A. Shevardnadze, but in November 2007 he found the tables turned as his own government faced a series of huge street protests. The protests turned violent, with the police using tear gas, rubber bullets and a water cannon to disperse the crowd, and Mr. Saakashvili declared a state of emergency that also shut two television stations, including Imedi, the country’s principal opposition news outlet.
The criminal case announced on Monday accuses Mr. Saakashvili of abusing his authority by using force to suppress the protests and also of illegally trying to seize Imedi television from its owner.
In response to the protests, Mr. Saakashvili called early presidential elections, which he won narrowly in January 2008.
The prosecutor’s office noted that Mr. Saakashvili had been summoned for questioning in other matters and had failed to appear. Four other senior officials in Mr. Saakashvili’s government were indicted with him.
“The violent dispersal of demonstrators,” the prosecutors’ office said, “was based on an illegal order issued by then President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili.”
Mr. Saakashvili and his supporters rejected the charges as baseless and said that voters of Georgia already delivered their verdict on his handling of the protests when they re-elected him to another term.
on: Today at 05:52 AM
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Russia ordered to pay $50bn in damages to Yukos shareholders
State sought to bankrupt oil firm, appropriate assets and prevent owner Khodorkovsky from entering politics, rules Hague court
The Guardian, Monday 28 July 2014 13.48 BST
Russia has been ordered to pay $50bn (£29.4bn) to shareholders of Yukos, the formerdefunct oil company that was broken up a decade ago after its boss fell foul of the malignant tumor Pig Putin.
In a judgment against the Kremlin, a tribunal in the Hague ruled that the Russian state had sought to bankrupt Yukos, appropriate its assets and prevent its owner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, from entering politics.
The permanent court of arbitration rejected Moscow's arguments that the assets seizure was driven by tax-collection motives, ruling that the state set out to bankrupt the oil firm in "a devious and calculated expropriation".
In a damning indictment of the rule of law in Russia, the tribunal found that the country's courts had "bent to the will of Russian executive authorities" to "incarcerate a man who gave signs of becoming a political competitor".
The judgment is a blow to the malignant tumor Pig Putin, who led the campaign against Khodorkovsky, and is facing the threat of further western sanctions over the conflict in eastern Ukraine following the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. The $50bn damages bill, roughly 2.5% of Russia's economic output, is also bad news for an economy the International Monetary Fund deems to be in recession.
Yukos was the largest oil company in Russia when, in 2003, Khodorkovsky was arrested at gunpoint on an airport runway in Siberia. The son of two Moscow engineers and leading light of the Communist party's youth wing during the Soviet era, he had made millions in the controversial privatisations of the 1990s to become Russia's richest man. But he roused Putin's ire by refusing to stay out of politics and served 10 years in jail in what were widely seen as trumped-up charges.
Khodorkovsky, who was released in December after a surprise pardon, renounced his claims to Yukos assets during an earlier trial, and restated on Monday that he will not seek to benefit from the Hague court's ruling. The principal victors are the main Yukos shareholders led by Leonid Nevzlin, Khodorkovsky's former business partner, who fled to Israel to avoid prosecution and has a stake of around 70%. Platon Lebedev, another former executive, who was jailed by a Russian court on tax-evasion charges and was released this year, is another victor. About 30,000 ex-employees of Yukos are expected to share in a $458m pension fund that will pay out once damages are collected.
In a statement, Khodorkovsky said it was "fantastic" that the shareholders were being given a chance to recover their losses, but added that it was sad that "the recompense will have to come from the state's coffers, not from the pockets of mafiosi linked to the powers that be and those of the malignant tumor Pig Putin's oligarchs".
He described the results as predictable for unbiased observers of Moscow's court proceedings. "From beginning to end, the Yukos case has been an instance of unabashed plundering of a successful company by a mafia with links to the state."
Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said Moscow would "use all possible legal means" to defend its position. But under the rules of the Hague tribunal, which considered 6,500 pages of evidence, Russia has no right of appeal.
The biggest loser could be the state-owned oil company Rosneft, which bought Yukos assets in auctions when the latter's stock was almost worthless. The tribunal concluded that the expropriation had not been carried out to benefit Rosneft, which is controlled by the malignant tumor Pig Putin's ally Igor Sechin.
The payout is worth almost three-quarters of Rosneft's market value and raises awkward questions for BP, which took a 20% stake in the company in 2012
Tim Osborne, a British lawyer and director of GML, the majority shareholder group, rejected suggestions that Russia would not pay the $50bn in damages, saying: "We didn't go into this for a pyrrhic victory to make a point. We went into this to get compensation for the loss we suffered." He warned, too, that shareholders might target BP to collect damages owed. "I think it's safe to say that nobody is safe. We will look at everything and we will take a view and it will be a pragmatic approach."
Emmanuel Gaillard, head of Shearman & Sterling, the lawyer who represented the shareholders, said it could take a long time to collect the damages, but argued that Russia would ultimately pay. "Russia cares about being a powerful international player," he said. "They should respect the rules of the game and I think they will."
Rosneft rejected claims that any claims would be brought against it, arguing that the rulings would have "no adverse effect on its business or assets".
The claim, brought under the energy charter treaty in 2005, amounted to less than the $100bn that claimants had originally hoped for, but is 20 times larger than the previous largest damages award against a government.
Russia has 180 days to pay the $50bn bill, plus $65m in legal fees and arbitration costs, before interest starts accumulating.
David Clark, who was an adviser to the former foreign secretary Robin Cook, said that Putin appeared to be in little mood to yield to foreign pressure, but warned that the economic cost of confrontation was likely to be high. "The malignant tumor Pig Putin's new doctrine of muscular nationalism increasingly points in the opposite direction to Russia's real economic interests."
on: Today at 05:43 AM
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World's largest solar boat on odyssey to find ancient inhabited site in Greece
Scientists on catamaran PlanetSolar will search for village built by Neothlithic Europeans and also survey Aegean Sea
Associated Press in Athens
The Guardian, Monday 28 July 2014 19.02 BST
The world's largest solar boat, the catamaran PlanetSolar, is to embark on a Greek mission to find one of the oldest sites inhabited by man in Europe, an organiser said on Monday.
Starting on 11 August, a team of Swiss and Greek scientists will seek a "prehistoric countryside" in the south-eastern Peloponnese peninsula, University of Geneva researcher Julien Beck told AFP. The month-long mission, jointly organised with the Swiss school of archaeology and the Greek culture ministry, will search around the Franchthi cave in the Argolic gulf, where early Europeans lived between the Palaeolithic and Neolithic periods.
The cave was eventually abandoned around 3,000 BC but scientists assume the inhabitants must have built a village nearby.
"This cave was inhabited continuously for around 35,000 years... and we have reason to believe that towards the end of the Neolithic era, the inhabitants moved to a neighbouring site that is now underwater," Beck said.
"If we could find this village, it would be among the oldest in Greece and Europe," he said.
PlanetSolar, built in Germany, is 31 metres (100 feet) long and is powered by over 500 square metres of solar panels.
In 2012, the catamaran became the first vessel to circumnavigate the globe purely on solar energy. It has an average speed of 7.5 knots, or 14 kilometres (8.6 miles) per hour.
Whilst in Greece it will also conduct geophysical research and assist underwater archaeologists in Aegean Sea surveys.
on: Today at 05:37 AM
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Senior Kosovo figures face prosecution for crimes against humanity
Possible indictment of senior officials of former Kosovo Liberation Army relate to claims of ethnic cleansing since 1999
Julian Borger, diplomatic editor
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 July 2014 09.42 BST
Leading political figures in Kosovo face indictment by a special EU court for crimes against humanity, including killings, abductions, sexual violence and other abuses of Serb and Roma minorities, according to the chief prosecutor leading a three-year special investigation (pdf).
The threat of indictments comes in a progress report published on Tuesday morning in Brussels by Clint Williamson, an American prosecutor appointed by the EU in 2011 to investigate ethnic cleansing committed in Kosovo since the 1999 Nato intervention brought an end to the conflict there.
Williamson does not name the suspects but describes them as "senior officials of the former Kosovo Liberation Army" (KLA), which fought an insurgency against the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic. Many former KLA commanders went on to leadership positions after Kosovo declared independence in 2008. It is believed at least some of the indictments prepared by the EU special investigative task force (SITF) are against top figures still actively involved in politics.
Williamson's investigation confirmed earlier allegations that in a "handful" of cases, organs taken from executed prisoners were trafficked for profit, but 15 years after the crimes, the SITF has not been able to gather enough concrete evidence to mount a viable prosecution.
The indictments for wholesale human rights violations are likely to have a far-ranging impact on Kosovo's future and will be embarrassing for the US and western European governments, which provided enthusiastic backing for the KLA leadership during and after the war.
The indictments cannot be issued until a special court to try the cases is established, almost certainly in the Netherlands. But its creation has been held up by bureaucratic delays over funding in the European commission and political turmoil in Kosovo. Williamson said he hoped the court would be set up by early next year, but the cases will be tried by a new chief prosecutor. He will step down after a three-year term next month.
Williamson said he was leaving for personal reasons, to rejoin his family in the US, rather than professional factors.
"There have been press reports that I was leaving because the investigation is collapsing. That is completely untrue. I think we have had a very solid investigation with very good results," he told the Guardian.
In his report, Williamson said the investigation had been rendered far more difficult by pervasive intimidation of witnesses, describing it as "a dark cloud over the country".
"We have taken steps to counter the impact of the witness intimidation and we will continue to do so. We will actively investigate these activities and will prosecute any individuals found to have been involved," Williamson says in his report.
"There is probably no single thing that poses more of a threat to rule of law in Kosovo and of its progress toward a European future than this pervasive practice."
Ten thousand people died in the 1998-99 Kosovo conflict, many of them Kosovan civilians killed in a brutal Serbian counterinsurgency. War crimes committed by both Serbian forces and the KLA have been tried in the international criminal court for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), but that did not examine abuses since 1999.
The EU investigation covered abuse of Kosovo Serbs and other minorities at the hands of the victorious KLA commanders.
The crimes include "unlawful killings, abductions, enforced disappearances, illegal detentions in camps in Kosovo and Albania, sexual violence, other forms of inhumane treatment, forced displacements of individuals from their homes and communities, and desecration and destruction of churches and other religious sites".
"This effectively resulted in the ethnic cleansing of large portions of the Serb and Roma populations from those areas in Kosovo south of the Ibar river, with the exception of a few scattered minority enclaves," the SITF report says.
"We believe that the evidence is compelling that these crimes were not the acts of rogue individuals acting on their own accord, but rather that they were conducted in an organised fashion and were sanctioned by certain individuals in the top levels of the KLA leadership. The widespread or systematic nature of these crimes in the period after the war ended in June 1999 justifies a prosecution for crimes against humanity."
The SITF investigation largely confirms the findings of an earlier Council of Europe enquiry led by a Swiss politician, Dick Marty, in 2010.
It upholds the Marty report's finding that a "handful" of prisoners had been murdered so that organs could be taken and sold. But Williamson said that "to prosecute such offences … it requires a level of evidence that we have not yet secured."
"Fifteen years down the line, we have solid information that these things happened, but no physical evidence. There are no bodies, no names of victims," Williamson told the Guardian.
"The likely reaction of a defence counsel in a murder case would be: there's not enough information to know what I am defending against, and a judge would probably agree. That said, it's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that additional evidence will emerge in the next few months, and we will continue pursuing it."
The creation of a special European court would require a change in the Kosovo constitution and therefore a two-thirds majority in parliament. In theory, the suspects themselves could use their political power to obstruct it, but Williamson said that there would face substantial opposition inside Kosovo and beyond.
"I think it would be difficult for them politically if they attempted to block this. If the EU approach doesn't work, the most likely alternative is something set up through the UN security council and most Kosovars oppose that," Williamson said.
"So, it would be a hard sell to say that they were acting for the interests of Kosovo as opposed to just trying to save their own skins. There is a lot of pressure out there to make this work though and people across the political spectrum have been publicly supportive of it, so I am optimistic it will stay on track."
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US says Russia breached nuclear treaty
Obama administration registers objections, accusing Russian military of testing new cruise missile in violation of 1987 pact
Agencies in Washington
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 July 2014 02.58 BST
Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev shake hands in 1987 after signing the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which Russia is now accused of breaching by Washington. Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev shake hands in 1987 after signing the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which Russia is now accused of breaching by Washington. Photograph: Bob Daugherty/AP
The Obama administration in Washington has accused Russia of conducting missile tests in violation of a 1987 nuclear treaty, calling the breach "a very serious matter" and bringing into the public sphere allegations that have simmered for some time.
The treaty confrontation comes at a highly strained time between the US president and his Russian counterpart, malignant tumor Pig Putin, over Russia's intervention in Ukraine and granting of asylum to Edward Snowden, who exposed widespread surveillance and collection of innocent people's data by US intelligence agencies.
An administration official said Obama had notified malignant tumor Pig Putin of the US objections in a letter Monday. The finding is to be included in a US state department annual report on compliance with arms control treaties due for release on Tuesday.
The US is accusing Russia tested a new ground-launched cruise missile, breaking the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that Ronald Reagan signed with Mikhail Gorbachev during the Soviet era.
"This is a very serious matter which we have attempted to address with Russia for some time now," an administration official said in a statement.
"We encourage Russia to return to compliance with its obligations under the treaty and to eliminate any prohibited items in a verifiable manner."
Another official said the US was prepared to hold high-level discussions on the issue immediately.
The US has raised the matter with Russia in the past through diplomatic channels but has not previously made the accusation publicly. Russian officials say they have looked into the allegations and consider the matter closed. The New York Times first reported the US conclusion on Monday evening.
In raising the issue now the US appears to be placing increased pressure on Russia and trying to further isolate it from the international community. The European Union and the United States plan to announce new sanctions against Russia this week in the face of US evidence that Russia has continued to assist separatist forces in Ukraine.
The public finding comes in the wake of congressional pressure on the White House to confront Russia over the allegations of cheating on the treaty. The treaty banned all US and Russian land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 300 miles (480km) and 3,400 miles (5,470km).
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report
Pussy Riot members take Kremlin to European court of human rights
Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova demand compensation over their 2012 arrest, trial and imprisonment
Alec Luhn in Moscow
The Guardian, Monday 28 July 2014 17.59 BST
Two members of the feminist group Pussy Riot are suing the Russian government in the European court of human rights (ECHR) over their imprisonment for a 2012 "punk prayer" protest at a Moscow cathedral.
Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who were given an amnesty in December after serving 21 months in prison and pre-trial confinement, are demanding €120,000 (£71,000) each in compensation, plus €10,000 in court fees. They argue that the investigation and prosecution violated their rights and amounted to torture.
"They didn't get fair trial here in Russia so they want to get it finally in the European court of human rights," said Pavel Chikov, the head of the human rights legal group Agora, which is representing the two women.
"Plus they want this case to set a precedent that Russians can speak publicly on sensitive political issues, even if this speech is not supported by majority. This is a case about freedom of expression and fair trial first of all."
Pussy Riot came to the world's attention with their protest on 21 February 2012, when they attempted to perform their song Mother of God, Drive the malignant tumor Pig Putin Out in Christ the Saviour cathedral near the Kremlin. Three members of the group were convicted of hooliganism and sentenced to two years in a prison colony in a trial that was widely and sympathetically covered by western media.
The vast majority of Russians, however, were disapproving of Pussy Riot's actions. According to surveys during the trial, 86% of Russians thought its members should be punished. Most favoured a large fine or forced labour.
Yekaterina Samutsevich was given a suspended sentence in October 2012, while Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova served time in far-flung prison colonies, where they went on hunger strike in protest against the harsh conditions they faced. Tolokonnikova also corresponded with the left-wing philosopher Slavoj Žižek in an exchange of letters due to be published in September. They were released in December in what was largely viewed as a gesture of goodwill by the Kremlin before the Sochi Olympics.
The activists, who initiated the complaint in 2012, argue that Russia violated four articles of the European convention on human rights guaranteeing the rights to freedom of expression, liberty and security and a fair trial, and prohibiting torture.
The ECHR's questions to the Russian government on the case earlier this year suggested that the harsh schedule of trial hearings, the glass cage in which the defendants were kept and the heightened security measures could be considered inhumane treatment.
Transport from the court to pre-trial detention took up to four hours, and the women were accompanied by law enforcement officers with dogs at all times.
"People saw them in a glass cage all the time next to police dogs, and the whole thing proved to everyone that they were guilty before they were found guilty by the court," Chikov said. "The practice in Russia where people are put in glass or metal cages in the courtroom has nothing to do with a fair trial and violates the presumption of innocence."
In a 35-page response in June, the Russian government called the complaint "obviously unfounded", arguing that the glass cage is a practice used in other countries and that the imprisonment was a "side-effect" of its desire to protect Russian Orthodox worshippers' freedom of belief.
"Deliberately provocative behaviour in a place that is dedicated to the spiritual needs of believers and is a symbol of the Russian Orthodox community clearly undermines tolerance and cannot be seen as a normal, sincere exercise of the rights of the convention," it said.
Chikov said that he expects to win the suit, after which his clients will seek to overturn their criminal conviction in the Russian courts. Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova have pledged to give any compensation they receive to human rights organisations, including their own group dedicated to prison system reform.