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 on: Jul 31, 2014, 06:37 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Liberia takes steps to contain west African Ebola outbreak

The latest efforts come as senior western officials held meetings to assess the risk of ebola reaching their shores

Monica Mark, west Africa Correspondent, Wednesday 30 July 2014 20.31 BST   
Liberia plans to shut down schools and many markets, place all non-essential public servants on leave and quarantine several communities in the most stringent bid yet to curb an Ebola epidemic that has raged for seven months across three west African nations. A Liberian civil servant who last week died after flying to Nigeria, the continent's most populous nation, brought the total number of countries hit by the deadly and contagious pathogen to four.

The latest efforts come as senior western officials, including from the US and UK, held meetings to assess the risk of Ebola reaching their shores, although experts say any outbreak there is likely to be far easier to contain. Sawyer, who carried dual American and Liberian nationality, had been due to travel to the US for his daughters' birthday next month, his wife told CNN.

Several rural communities – where many view Ebola with much the same terror and misunderstanding as westerners did when the Aids epidemic began – may be quarantined, with food supplies and medical support ferried in by only approved persons, authorities said. All public facilities could be chlorinated and disinfected on Friday, and public gatherings have already been banned. The strict measures echo those that allowed Uganda to rapidly shut down an outbreak in 1997.

"It's a dire situation. The spread is overwhelming health workers and facilities. We need all the help and support we can get from the international community," Lewis Brown, Liberia's information minister, told the Guardian. He said communities most hard hit by the virus would be quarantined for as long as necessary, with security forces enforcing the plan. "It's an emergency, so we hope people will understand."

Doctors today began seeing patients at one of Liberia's main Ebola isolation wards, with up to 20 patients awaiting treatment at home. Some residents in Monrovia initially protested against a new ward being set up, fearing it would endanger them.

Spread by contact with bodily fluids of infected patients, bush meat or surfaces, Ebola has killed 672 people since it originated in Guinea, the impoverished west African nation. Health officials took several weeks to pinpoint the origin of the disease to a remote village in the country's forest hinterlands, by which time it had spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. Authorities in all three nations have since faced a battle to win over terrified residents, as well as curb traditions that involve contact with victims' contagious corpses.

Some campaigns have shown signs of working. Sylvia Johnson, a resident in the capital Monrovia, pulled her grandson out of summer school at the beginning of the week after seeing a government-printed poster of graphic corpses of Ebola victims, who frequently die from both internal and external haemorrhaging. "He cried, but no child will control me. It will be better for him to live and attend many more vacation schools than get sick from Ebola," she said.

Nigerian authorities also mobilised unusually swiftly, underlying their concern about an outbreak in the continent's most populous nation and major commerce hub. Police and health workers began printing information leaflets, including in widely-spoken pidgin English. The country's main carrier, Arik Air, has suspended flights between Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone, while international airports and seaports have been placed on red alert, and passengers are being monitored.

Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, has chaired an emergency Cobra meeting amid warnings that the deadly Ebola virus could be a threat to Britain, although health experts said the country was well prepared to deal with any potential cases.

Hammond said no British national so far had been affected by the outbreak and there had been no cases in the UK but he chaired the meeting to assess the situation.

The UK announced a new £2m package of assistance will be made available immediately to partners including the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) and Médecins sans Frontières that are operating in Sierra Leone and Liberia to tackle the outbreak. The European commission said it would allocate an additional €2m (£1.6m) – on top of €1.9m (£1.5m) – to help contain the spread of the epidemic.

"The level of contamination on the ground is extremely worrying and we need to scale up our action before many more lives are lost," said Kristalina Georgieva, EU commissioner for humanitarian aid.

 on: Jul 31, 2014, 06:35 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
'The world stands disgraced' - Israeli shelling of school kills at least 15

• UN condemns IDF attack on sleeping children as violation of international law
• Strike on crowded market in Shujai'iya during ceasefire kills 17
• Death toll now more than 1,300 after three weeks of fighting

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem and Hazem Balousha in Jabaliya
The Guardian, Thursday 31 July 2014   

Link to video: Gaza: nothing more shameful than attacking sleeping children, says Ban Ki-moon

United Nations officials described the killing of sleeping children as a disgrace to the world and accused Israel of a serious violation of international law after a school in Gaza being used to shelter Palestinian families was shelled on Wednesday.

At least 15 people, mostly children and women, died when the school in Jabaliya refugee camp was hit by five shells during a night of relentless bombardment across Gaza. More than 100 people were injured.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, said the attack was "outrageous and unjustifiable" and demanded "accountability and justice". The UN said its officials had repeatedly given details of the school and its refugee population to Israel.

Fighting in Gaza continued through the day despite a four-hour humanitarian ceasefire called by Israel from 3pm. A crowded market in Shujai'iya was hit in the late afternoon, causing at least 17 deaths, including a journalist, and injuring about 200 people, according to Gaza health officials. They said people had ventured out to shop in the belief a ceasefire was in place. Witnesses said several shells struck as people were running away. Israel said rockets and mortar shells continued to be fired from Gaza.

Israel on Thursday was showing no sign of scaling back Operation Protective Edge, with the military reportedly calling up an additional 16,000 reserves as the offensive entered its 24th day.

At the UN school the first shell came just after the early morning call to prayer, when most of those taking shelter were asleep, crammed into classrooms with what few possessions they had managed to snatch as they fled their homes.

About 3,300 people had squashed into Jabaliya Elementary A&B Girls' School since the Israeli military warned people to leave their homes and neighbourhoods or risk death under intense bombardment. Classroom number one, near the school's entrance, had become home to about 40 people, mostly women and children.

As a shell blasted through the wall, showering occupants with shrapnel and spattering blood on walls and floors, Amna Zantit, 31, scrambled to gather up her three terrified infants in a panicked bid for the relative safety of the schoolyard. "Everyone was trying to escape," she said, clutching her eight-month old baby tightly. Minutes later, a second shell slammed through the roof of the two-storey school. At least 15 people were killed and more than 100 injured. Most were women or children.

Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner-general of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said the shelling of the school was a "serious violation of international law by Israeli forces".

Krähenbühl said: "Last night, children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a UN-designated shelter in Gaza. Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced."

Khalil al-Halabi, the UN official in charge of the schools in the area, was quickly on the scene. Bodies were littered over the classroom, and the badly injured lay in pools of blood amid the debris and rubble caused by the blast. "I was shaking," he said. "It was very, very hard for me to see the blood and hear the children crying."

By daylight, the detritus of people's lives was visible among ruins of the classroom: a ball, a bucket, some blankets, tins of food, a pair of flip-flops. The corpses of donkeys, used to haul the meagre possessions of refugees to what they thought was safety, lay at the school's entrance as two lads wearing Palestinian boy scout scarves collected human body parts for burial. Five of the injured were in a critical condition in hospital.

Halabi was facing impossible requests for advice from those who escaped the carnage. "These people are very angry. They evacuated their homes and came here for protection, not to be killed inside a UN shelter. Now they are asking me whether to stay or leave. They are very frightened. They don't know what to do."

The attack on the school was the sixth time that UNRWA premises have been hit since the war in Gaza began more than three weeks ago, the UN said.

Palestinians fled their homes after Israel warned that failure to do so would put their lives at risk. Those at the Jabaliya school were among more than 200,000 who have sought shelter at UN premises in the belief that families would be safe.

Analysis of evidence gathered at the site by UNRWA led to an initial assessment that Israeli artillery had hit the school, causing "multiple civilian deaths and injuries including of women and children and the UNRWA guard who was trying to protect the site. These are people who were instructed to leave their homes by the Israeli army."

Krähenbühl added: "Our staff, the very people leading the humanitarian response, are being killed. Our shelters are overflowing. Tens of thousands may soon be stranded in the streets of Gaza, without food, water and shelter if attacks on these areas continue."

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said it was investigating the incident at the UN school. Initial inquiries showed that "Hamas militants fired mortar shells from the vicinity of the school, and Israeli soldiers responded by firing towards the origins of the fire", a spokeswoman said.

A UN source said there was no evidence of militant activity inside the school.

The US, which has been at odds with Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, over efforts to secure a ceasefire, condemned the school shelling but did not specifically blame Israel.

The incident comes after an explosion at another UN school in Beit Hanoun last week as the playground was filled with families awaiting evacuation. Israel denied responsibility for the deaths, saying a single "errant" shell fired by its forces hit the school playground, which was empty at the time.

UNRWA has rejected the IDF's account, saying an initial shell was followed by several others within minutes. Reporters who visited the school shortly afterwards said damage and debris was consistent with mortar rounds. UNRWA has found rockets at three of its schools in Gaza in the past three weeks, which it has swiftly condemned as "flagrant violations of the neutrality of our premises".

Israel says militants from Hamas and other organisations launch rockets from the vicinity of UNRWA properties.

The Israeli military said it had targeted more than 4,100 sites in Gaza since the start of the conflict on 8 July. The death toll in Gaza rose above 1,300 on Wednesday.

Three soldiers were killed in fighting around Khan Younis, bringing the total IDF death toll to 56. Three civilians have died in rocket attacks on Israel.

In an emotional statement, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said the "destructive cycle of violence has caused untold suffering".

He said: "You can't look at the pictures coming from Gaza and Israel without your heart breaking. We must cry to God and beat down the doors of heaven and pray for peace and justice and security. Only a costly and open-hearted seeking of peace between Israeli and Palestinian can protect innocent people, their children and grandchildren, from ever worse violence."

He called for a renewed "commitment to political dialogue in the wider search for peace and security for both Israeli and Palestinians".

Support for the military operation among the Israeli public remained solid. A poll published by Tel Aviv university this week found 95% of Israeli Jews felt the offensive was justified. Only 4% believed too much force had been used.


US condemns shelling of UN school in Gaza but restocks Israeli ammunition

Paul Lewis in Washington and Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem, Thursday 31 July 2014 00.19 BST   

The United States issued a firm condemnation of the shelling of a United Nations school in Gaza that killed at least 16 Palestinians on Wednesday, but also confirmed it restocked Israel’s dwindling supplies of ammunition.

The White House expressed concern that thousands of civilians who had sought protection from the UN were at risk after the shelling of the girls’ elementary school. Some 3,300 civilians were taking shelter there, after being told by Israel to leave their homes.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, which runs the school, said its initial assessment was that it has been struck by Israeli artillery.

“The United States condemns the shelling of a UNRWA school in Gaza, which reportedly killed and injured innocent Palestinians – including children – and UN humanitarian workers,” said Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council.

“We are extremely concerned that thousands of internally displaced Palestinians who have been called on by the Israeli military to evacuate their homes are not safe in UN designated shelters in Gaza.”

Meehan and other US officials that condemned the attack did not specifically accuse Israel of responsibility for the shelling, saying there were conflicting reports about the circumstances of the incident that required further investigation. They did not specify the nature of those conflicting reports.

However Washington’s implied condemnation of Israel marked the strongest language used by the US since the conflict in Gaza began. The US also strongly criticised the hiding of weapons at UN facilities in Gaza, although officials acknowledged they did not know if rockets had been stored at the UNRWA school.

“All of these actions, and similar ones earlier in the conflict, are inconsistent with the UN’s neutrality,” Meehan said. “This violence underscores the need to achieve a ceasefire as soon as possible.”

At the same time however, there was little evidence of Washington using its leverage with Israel, including record levels of military aid, to apply pressure on Jerusalem to curtail its offensive.

The Pentagon confirmed a CNN report that the US had recently provided Israel with a shipment of ammunition. “The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to US national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability,” said Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral Kirby. “This defense sale is consistent with those objectives.”

The Israeli military requested the addition ammunition on 20 July . The US defense department approved the sale three days later, Kirby said.

Two of the requested munitions were sourced from a secret stockpile the US keeps in Israel for emergencies. White House approval was not required to release the weaponry War Reserve Stockpile Ammunition-Israel (WRSA-I), Kirby added. He did not say whether the White House was involved in the decision to supply the other ammunition apparently requested by the Israelis.

The provision of ammunition could prove controversial for Washington, which has expresssed growing concern about the deaths Palestinian civilians while maintaining support for its close ally.

In Congress, both Democrats and Republicans were working on a package of additional military support for Israel’s “iron dome” security system.

Israel’s decision to press ahead with its offensive in Gaza despite a chorus of international condemnation was reaffirmed on Wednesday, following a meeting of the Israeli cabinet.

UNRWA said it was the sixth time one of its schools had been struck. “Last night, children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a UN-designated shelter in Gaza. Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame,” said Pierre Krahenbuhl, commissioner-general.

“We have visited the site and gathered evidence. We have analysed fragments, examined craters and other damage. Our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school, in which 3,300 people had sought refuge. We believe there were at least three impacts.”

Israel has repeatedly accused Hamas of using UN facilities as cover and UNRWA has discovered caches of rockets hidden at some of its schools.

A UN source said there was no evidence of militant activity inside the school attacked on Wednesday.

The state department withheld judgment on the UN’s assessment that Israel was behind the latest attack, saying there should be a more thorough investigation to establish culpability. While voicing mounting concern, US officials appeared reluctant to directly criticise its close ally after days of growing friction with Jerusalem that has occasionally surfaced in anonymous briefings in the press.

“We don’t know if there were rockets in the school,” said Marie Harf, a deputy spokeswoman at the state department, explaining Washington’s refusal to apportion explicit blame for the shelling. “We don’t know for certain who shelled the school.”

The UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon directly contradicted that position, saying the attack, which he described as “outrageous” and “unjustifiable”, had been perpetrated by Israel. Ban said that “all available evidence points to Israeli artillery as the cause” of the pre-dawn attack, and he pointedly noted that Israeli military authorities had received the coordinates of the school from the United Nations 17 times, including on Tuesday night.


Bolivia declares Israel a terrorist state over attack on Gaza

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, July 30, 2014 15:33 EDT

Bolivia on Wednesday renounced a visa exemption agreement with Israel in protest over its offensive in Gaza, and declared it a terrorist state.

President Evo Morales announced the move during a talk with a group of educators in the city of Cochabamba.

It “means, in other words, we are declaring (Israel) a terrorist state,” he said.

The treaty has allowed Israelis to travel freely to Bolivia without a visa since 1972.

Morales said the Gaza offensive shows “that Israel is not a guarantor of the principles of respect for life and the elementary precepts of rights that govern the peaceful and harmonious coexistence of our international community.”

More than two weeks of fighting in Gaza have left 1,300 dead and 6,000 wounded amid an intense Israeli air and ground campaign in response to missile attacks by the Islamist militant group Hamas.

In the latest development, 16 people were killed after two Israeli shells slammed into a United Nations school, drawing international protests.

Bolivia broke off diplomatic relations with Israel in 2009 over a previous military operation in Gaza.

In mid-July, Morales filed a request with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to prosecute Israel for “crimes against humanity.”


Gaza: Israel calls up more reservists after rejecting calls for ceasefire

Official says move will allow Israel Defence Forces to expand attacks ‘against Hamas and the other terror organisations’

Ian Black, Middle East editor, Patrick Kingsley in Cairo and Paul Lewis in Washington
The Guardian, Thursday 31 July 2014 08.57 BST

Israel has said it is calling up another 16,000 reserves following a security cabinet meeting that decided to keep up military operations in Gaza, ignoring international pressure for an immediate ceasefire.

The move will allow the Israeli military to substantially widen its 23-day campaign against Hamas, which has already claimed more than 1,360 Palestinian lives – most of them civilians – and reduced entire Gaza neighbourhoods to rubble. Fifty-six Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians have died during the campaign.

Israel has now called up a total of 86,000 reserves during the Gaza conflict. At least 19 air strikes were carried out overnight, officials said.

Against a background of heavy fighting in Gaza and the shelling of a UN-run school, the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, convened his senior colleagues in a security cabinet on Wednesday to discuss the crisis amid warnings that Hamas’s demands for lifting the siege of the Palestinian coastal enclave were a “non-starter” and stalling ceasefire efforts in Cairo.

Israel was not close to a ceasefire, the newspaper Haaretz quoted an unnamed senior official as saying after the five-hour cabinet meeting.

“When a ceasefire proposal that answers Israel’s important needs is laid on the table, it will be considered. The operation continues and the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] will expand its attacks against Hamas and the other terror organisations.” Temporary humanitarian ceasefires would continue, the official said.

The White House, which has been at odds with Netanyahu over efforts to secure a ceasefire, reacted to the shelling of the school by issuing an unusually firm condemnation of the incident and expressing serious concern that thousands of Palestinians taking shelter in supposed UN havens were now at risk.

The US condemned the attack but refused to apportion blame and, hours later, confirmed it had recently provided Israel with a shipment of ammunition, after the country’s existing supplies appeared to be running low.

The provision of ammunition could prove controversial for Washington, which has expressed growing concern about the deaths of Palestinian civilians while maintaining support for its close ally.

“The US is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to US national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defence capability,” said the Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby. “This defence sale is consistent with those objectives.”

The Israeli military requested the additional ammunition on 20 July. The US defence department approved the sale three days later, Kirby said.

Gaza conflict in numbers

In a later incident on Wednesday, Palestinian sources reported that 17 people had been killed and 200 injured in Israeli shelling in the Gaza City neighbourhood of Shujai’iya during a supposed four-hour humanitarian pause.

Israel said Gazan rocket fire also continued. It announced too that three more IDF soldiers had been killed in a booby-trapped building in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, bringing its total military fatalities to 56.

General Sami Turjeman, the head of Israel’s southern command, told Israel Radio that his forces would complete the destruction of cross-border tunnels in Gaza within a few days. “We have killed scores of Hamas’s best fighters,” he said. “With every day that passes we are getting closer to our goal of destroying the tunnels.” Israel’s media and public is focusing narrowly on military operations, casualties and achievements.

In New York, the UN security council met in special session to discuss the Gaza situation at the request of Jordan, but there was little sign of any imminent diplomatic breakthrough. Haaretz reported that Israel was considering drafting a security council resolution containing its terms for ending the war.

Hamas has insisted that the blockade be lifted and prisoners released by Israel as its condition for ending rocket fire across the border. It dismissed Israel’s latest offer of a pause as a PR move, as operations in some areas of Gaza were exempted.

Hopes for progress lie in talks that are expected to take place in Egypt on Thursday involving Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and chairman of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, at the head of a united Palestinian delegation.

“A representative from Hamas is part of the official Palestinian delegation and of course that’s a positive step,” said a Cairo-based diplomat. “This is more or less what should have been done from the beginning. If you want something sustainable, you need all sides represented.”

Abbas was reported to have spoken to Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, who is based in Qatar, but there were signs of disagreement about the composition of the delegation and the terms of the talks.

Turkish media reported that Hamas had agreed that the Palestinian Authority would represent it and negotiate on its behalf, but Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, complained of Egyptian pressure to agree to a ceasefire before any talks took place.

Diplomats said Egypt felt under greater pressure to secure a deal during this round of negotiations in order to maintain its traditional role as broker, despite hostility between Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, and Hamas, which is close to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Having previously appeared to rule out easing Gaza’s blockade along its own borders, Egyptian officials have been displaying increased willingness to put the issue on the table – a significant concession that in turn might help convince Hamas to lay down its arms.

“The Egyptians understand that the negotiations have already gone out of Cairo once,” said one informed source. “If they leave Cairo twice, they may not come back again.”

Israel, meanwhile, appeared to be trying to smooth over an ugly spat in its relations with the US. Ron Dermer, its ambassador to Washington, blamed Israel’s “very rambunctious democracy” for attacks on the US secretary of state, John Kerry, distancing Netanyahu from highly critical remarks that were reported in Israeli media.

“This is not coming from the prime minister,” Dermer said, defending what he called a just war in Gaza. “Hamas is no different than al-Qaida … You can imagine what the American people would want their government to do.” He also said 87% of the Israeli people opposed a ceasefire.

Israeli officials expressed anger that Kerry had consulted the foreign ministers of Qatar and Turkey over a Gaza ceasefire on the grounds that both countries are close to Hamas, though both are also close US allies.

“Qatar, financially and politically, diplomatically and through al-Jazeera, is supporting a terrorist group,” an Israeli official told the JTA news agency. “Instead of contributing to the development of the area, they are contributing to terror in the region.”


Quest for Demilitarization of Gaza Is Seen Getting Netanyahu Only So Far


JERUSALEM — After years in which Israel’s prevailing approach to the Gaza Strip was a simple “quiet for quiet” demand, there is growing momentum around a new formula, “reconstruction for demilitarization.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is only the latest in a string of Israeli leaders who saw Gaza mainly as an irritant to be controlled with periodic crackdowns and as a roadblock to resolving the nation’s broader conflict with the Palestinians. But as Israel’s latest military bout with the Islamist Hamas faction, which dominates Gaza, has proved tougher than previous rounds, even Mr. Netanyahu has begun talking about Gaza’s need for “social and economic relief” from decade-old Israeli restrictions on trade and travel.

Mr. Netanyahu, who spent two months denouncing his Palestinian counterpart, President Mahmoud Abbas, for reconciling with Hamas, seems to be opening to the notion that a unity government led by Mr. Abbas might be the way to unlock Hamas’s hold on Gaza and quell violence. While these steps have won him some praise, analysts said they were still more tactical management than long-term strategy, and held little promise unless Mr. Netanyahu shifted positions on the larger Palestinian question.

“I don’t see any vision,” said Shlomo Brom, director of the program on Israeli-Palestinian relations at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. “He’s trying to react to what is happening, trying to minimize the damage of anything that is happening, and to return to the status quo, to a kind of equilibrium that existed before the crisis.”

Diplomatic fits and starts continued on Wednesday, the 23rd day of Israel’s latest bloody battle with Hamas and other Gaza-based militants, as Israel’s top ministers debated both a cease-fire and an expansion of the operation. Palestinian factions were still trying to coordinate a delegation to Cairo for talks.

Sari Bashi, co-founder of Gisha, an Israeli human rights group focused on Gaza, was one of several experts who said the involvement of Mr. Abbas in cease-fire talks, his April reconciliation with Hamas and shifting regional alliances created opportunities for real change compared with the cease-fires that ended Israel-Hamas fighting in 2012 and 2009.

This time, Ms. Bashi said, more can be accomplished than “vague promises to expand access coupled with vague promises to stop firing rockets, all of which have been broken.”

Nathan Thrall, a co-author of a recent International Crisis Group report on Gaza, said it was “somewhat dangerous” for Mr. Netanyahu to emphasize demilitarization “because I don’t think anyone is under the impression that he can get it any other way than doing it forcefully.” Still, Mr. Thrall said, “he can use demilitarization as a card in order to limit the amount of concessions that he makes in the cease-fire negotiations.”

As the Israeli-Palestinian tug over territory and historical narratives has devolved over generations, Gaza — a dense seaside pocket where most of today’s 1.7 million residents descend from families displaced by Israel’s establishment — has played a particularly fraught role. Israel took control of the strip during the 1967 war, then withdrew its soldiers and settlers in 2005 in what remains one of the most contentious issues in Israeli politics.

In the years since, and particularly after Hamas won Palestinian elections in 2006 and routed opposition forces from Gaza the next year, Israel has maintained an uneasy occupation. It restricts fishing and farming zones; monitors goods going in and out, ostensibly for security; and gives rare exit permits, mainly for medical treatment. But it is also Israeli power lines that provide Gaza’s limited electricity and Israeli trucks that, even during the raging fighting of recent days, ferry in milk, rice and sugar.

“You cannot win against an effective guerrilla organization when on the one hand, you are fighting them, and on the other hand, you continue to supply them with water and food and gas and electricity,” said Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser. “Israel should have declared a war against the de facto state of Gaza, and if there is misery and starvation in Gaza, it might lead the other side to make such hard decisions.”

Mr. Eiland has long argued that Israel should engage Hamas as the government of Gaza rather than try to isolate it, and advocated a Marshall Plan to rebuild the battered territory. Until recently, his was a rather lone voice.

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s right-wing foreign minister, proffered a plan that would lift all limits on Gaza but seal its borders with Israel, essentially pushing the territory toward Egypt. Others imagined that making life in Gaza miserable might lead to Hamas’s downfall. But that approach failed as poverty helped foment violence, because Israel’s occupation of the West Bank hardly made it seem like paradise, and because the Palestinian struggle is inspired by ideas about liberation and identity.

Neither idea, in any case, accounted for the fact that Palestinians see Gaza as an integral part of their future state, as promised by the Oslo Accords signed in the mid-1990s.

“The Gaza Strip is not viable on its own, it’s certainly not viable being blockaded, and it’s not viable if it’s disconnected from the West Bank,” said Diana Buttu, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who lived in Gaza for more than a year and is now based in Ramallah, in the West Bank. “Violence is not just for the sake of violence. Violence is because there are political issues that haven’t been dealt with.”

Since the July 8 onset of Israel’s assault on Gaza, there have been growing calls from Israeli politicians and the Israeli public for a more aggressive effort to topple Hamas. Mr. Netanyahu and his defense minister have set limited goals for the troops, even as they warn that the operation could expand.

“We understand that in this part of the world there aren’t perfect solutions,” said one senior Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share internal thinking. “If you can, through this operation, significantly weaken them militarily, if you can reinforce with them the thinking that it’s not in their interest to shoot rockets into Israel, and if you can have the international community on board to prevent Hamas from rearming, these are elements of an endgame.”

Dore Gold, a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Netanyahu, said demilitarization had worked elsewhere in the Middle East, pointing to United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, which required Saddam Hussein to give up weapons of mass destruction after the first gulf war in 1991, and President Bashar al-Assad’s agreement in Syria to turn in chemical weapons last summer. Mr. Gold said that in demilitarization, Mr. Netanyahu now had “a very clear strategic goal.”

But Gilead Sher, a former Israeli peace negotiator, said it was a far too limited one. Like Mr. Thrall and others, he said the key was strengthening Mr. Abbas and his reconciliation government — the opposite of Mr. Netanyahu’s tack this spring.

“We have to have a policy, not just a reactive policy and an automatic kind of response to the developments,” Mr. Sher said. “We need to get our act together vis a vis the Palestinian people in the territories altogether. The odds for that to happen right now are, interestingly, more plausible than before this last round of bloodshed.”


Arab Leaders, Viewing Hamas as Worse Than Israel, Stay Silent


CAIRO — Battling Palestinian militants in Gaza two years ago, Israel found itself pressed from all sides by unfriendly Arab neighbors to end the fighting.

Not this time.

After the military ouster of the Islamist government in Cairo last year, Egypt has led a new coalition of Arab states — including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — that has effectively lined up with Israel in its fight against Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip. That, in turn, may have contributed to the failure of the antagonists to reach a negotiated cease-fire even after more than three weeks of bloodshed.

“The Arab states’ loathing and fear of political Islam is so strong that it outweighs their allergy to Benjamin Netanyahu,” the prime minister of Israel, said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Wilson Center in Washington and a former Middle East negotiator under several presidents.

“I have never seen a situation like it, where you have so many Arab states acquiescing in the death and destruction in Gaza and the pummeling of Hamas,” he said. “The silence is deafening.”

Although Egypt is traditionally the key go-between in any talks with Hamas — deemed a terrorist group by the United States and Israel — the government in Cairo this time surprised Hamas by publicly proposing a cease-fire agreement that met most of Israel’s demands and none from the Palestinian group. Hamas was tarred as intransigent when it immediately rejected it, and Cairo has continued to insist that its proposal remains the starting point for any further discussions.

But as commentators sympathetic to the Palestinians slammed the proposal as a ruse to embarrass Hamas, Egypt’s Arab allies praised it. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia called President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt the next day to commend it, Mr. Sisi’s office said, in a statement that cast no blame on Israel but referred only to “the bloodshed of innocent civilians who are paying the price for a military confrontation for which they are not responsible.”

“There is clearly a convergence of interests of these various regimes with Israel,” said Khaled Elgindy, a former adviser to Palestinian negotiators who is now a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. In the battle with Hamas, Mr. Elgindy said, the Egyptian fight against the forces of political Islam and the Israeli struggle against Palestinian militants were nearly identical. “Whose proxy war is it?” he asked.

The dynamic has inverted all expectations of the Arab Spring uprisings. As recently as 18 months ago, most analysts in Israel, Washington and the Palestinian territories expected the popular uprisings to make the Arab governments more responsive to their citizens, and therefore more sympathetic to the Palestinians and more hostile to Israel.

But instead of becoming more isolated, Israel’s government has emerged for the moment as an unexpected beneficiary of the ensuing tumult, now tacitly supported by the leaders of the resurgent conservative order as an ally in their common fight against political Islam.

Egyptian officials have directly or implicitly blamed Hamas instead of Israel for Palestinian deaths in the fighting, even when, for example, United Nations schools have been hit by Israeli shells, something that occurred again on Wednesday.

And the pro-government Egyptian news media has continued to rail against Hamas as a tool of a regional Islamist plot to destabilize Egypt and the region, just as it has since the military ouster of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood one year ago. (Egyptian prosecutors have charged Hamas with instigating violence in Egypt, killing its soldiers and police officers, and even breaking Mr. Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders out of jail during the 2011 uprising.)

The diatribes against Hamas by at least one popular pro-government talk show host in Egypt were so extreme that the government of Israel broadcast some of them into Gaza.

“They use it to say, ‘See, your supposed friends are encouraging us to kill you!’ ” Maisam Abumorr, a Palestinian student in Gaza City, said in a telephone interview.

Some pro-government Egyptian talk shows broadcast in Gaza “are saying the Egyptian Army should help the Israeli Army get rid of Hamas,” she said.

At the same time, Egypt has infuriated Gazans by continuing its policy of shutting down tunnels used for cross-border smuggling into the Gaza Strip and keeping border crossings closed, exacerbating a scarcity of food, water and medical supplies after three weeks of fighting.

“Sisi is worse than Netanyahu, and the Egyptians are conspiring against us more than the Jews,” said Salhan al-Hirish, a storekeeper in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya. “They finished the Brotherhood in Egypt, and now they are going after Hamas.”

Egypt and other Arab states, especially the Persian Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are finding themselves allied with Israel in a common opposition to Iran, a rival regional power that has a history of funding and arming Hamas.

For Washington, the shift poses new obstacles to its efforts to end the fighting. Although Egyptian intelligence agencies continue to talk with Hamas, as they did under former President Hosni Mubarak and Mr. Morsi, Cairo’s new animosity toward the group has called into question the effectiveness of that channel, especially after the response to Egypt’s first proposal.

As a result, Secretary of State John Kerry turned to the more Islamist-friendly states of Qatar and Turkey as alternative mediators — two states that grew in regional stature with the rising tide of political Islam after the Arab Spring, and that have suffered a degree of isolation as that tide has ebbed.

But that move has put Mr. Kerry in the incongruous position of appearing to some analysts as less hostile to Hamas — and thus less supportive of Israel — than Egypt or its Arab allies.

For Israeli hawks, the change in the Arab states has been relatively liberating.

“The reading here is that, aside from Hamas and Qatar, most of the Arab governments are either indifferent or willing to follow the leadership of Egypt,” said Martin Kramer, president of Shalem College in Jerusalem and an American-Israeli scholar of Islamist and Arab politics. “No one in the Arab world is going to the Americans and telling them, ‘Stop it now,’ ” as Saudi Arabia did, for example, in response to earlier Israeli crackdowns on the Palestinians, he said. “That gives the Israelis leeway.”

With the resurgence of the anti-Islamist, military-backed government in Cairo, Mr. Kramer said, the new Egyptian government and allies like Saudi Arabia appear to believe that “the Palestinian people are to bear the suffering in order to defeat Hamas, because Hamas cannot be allowed to triumph and cannot be allowed to emerge as the most powerful Palestinian player.”

Egyptian officials disputed that characterization, arguing that the new government was maintaining its support for the Palestinian people despite its deteriorating relations with Hamas, and that it had grown no closer to Israel than it was under Mr. Morsi or Mr. Mubarak.

“We have a historical responsibility toward the Palestinians, and that is not related to our stance on any specific faction,” said a senior Egyptian diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. “Hamas is not Gaza, and Gaza is not Palestine.”

Egyptian officials noted that the Egyptian military and the Red Crescent had delivered medical supplies and other aid to Gaza. Cairo continues to keep open lines of communication with Hamas, including allowing a senior Hamas official, Moussa Abu Marzouq, to reside in Cairo.

Other analysts, though, argued that Egypt and its Arab allies were trying to balance their own overriding dislike for Hamas against their citizens’ emotional support for the Palestinians, a balancing act that could grow more challenging as the Gaza carnage mounts.

“The pendulum of the Arab Spring has swung in Israel’s favor, just like it had earlier swung in the opposite direction,” said Mr. Elgindy, the former Palestinian adviser.

“But I am not sure the story is finished at this point.”

 on: Jul 31, 2014, 06:23 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Australia Urged to Come Clean on Asylum-Seekers' Mental Health

by Naharnet Newsdesk
31 July 2014, 10:22

Australia's human rights commissioner said Thursday the government must come clean about conditions at offshore asylum-seeker camps after an inquiry heard of an alleged cover-up of mental health problems.

The facilities have been under the spotlight in recent weeks following reports that up to a dozen mothers had attempted suicide at a detention centre on Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean.

The women did so under the belief that their babies would have a better chance of being settled in Australia if they were orphans, reports said.

A leading psychiatrist alleged at a national inquiry into the mandatory detention of children seeking asylum that figures showing the extent of mental health issues had been covered up by the immigration department.

Peter Young, a former mental health services director with the International Health and Medical Service, a detention centre service provider, said he collected figures showing "significant" psychological problems among a number of child detainees.

"(The Immigration Department) reacted with alarm and have asked us to withdraw these figures from our reporting," Young said.

Immigration Department Secretary Martin Bowles told the inquiry: "If our staff did an inappropriate thing, then I will deal with that," the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

Australian Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs visited the Christmas Island centre this month and said many of the children being held were plagued by despair and suffering symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder.

On Thursday, she called for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to be more transparent about conditions in offshore centres, which also include Nauru in the Pacific and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

"If the information is being redacted, altered, before it gets to the minister then that is extremely concerning," she said on the sidelines of the inquiry.

"The minister has a responsibility to be much more transparent about what is happening.

"Where this is smothered in secrecy you get these kinds of processes where data is interfered with, statistics are changed or reporting is not given."

Morrison on Wednesday called Triggs' claims that children in detention were self-harming, biting themselves, banging into furniture, and swallowing poisons "quite sensational".

"She herself is not a doctor and we have medical people who are there who provide that care on a daily basis," he said, adding that the number of children being held had dropped by 35 percent since the conservative government took office.

The inquiry heard that 659 children were currently in immigration detention.

Asked Thursday about their living conditions, Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters: "No one wants to see children in detention.

"But the only way to avoid this is to stop the boats and this government is utterly determined to stop the boats."

Any boatpeople who arrived in Australia after July 19, 2013 cannot be resettled in the country, regardless of whether they are eventually judged to be genuine refugees. They are instead sent to camps in the Pacific for processing or resettlement.

 on: Jul 31, 2014, 06:22 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

China reforms hukou system to improve migrant workers' rights

Removal of distinction between urban and rural residents should help migrant workers access services and social welfare

Tania Branigan in Beijing, Thursday 31 July 2014 09.55 BST   

China is to overhaul the system that migrant workers say has made them second-class citizens, easing the settlement of 100 million people in cities over the next six years.

The plan from the state council will remove the distinction between urban and rural residents, a decision welcomed for its symbolic value at least. It should help migrant workers to access services and social welfare.

But experts warned that the changes to the hukou, or household registration system, fell short of hopes for more comprehensive reform and would have limited impact.

The reforms include exemptions for major cities, and analysts say key measures are not enforceable by the centre. Even if 100 million gain new rights, there are more than that already living in cities without official status.

The hukou system, introduced in the 1950s, ties people's access to services to their residential status. When controls on movement were relaxed, tens of millions of migrant workers left the fields to work in factories, toil on building sites, serve in restaurants or clean homes, contributing to China's spectacular economic growth.

But while they have built new cities and boosted their incomes, they have not enjoyed the same benefits in healthcare, pensions and other social welfare as city residents. Their children often struggle to access education; tens of millions have been left in the countryside to be raised by grandparents.

"Hukou is basically apartheid – apartheid against domestic servants," said Lynette Ong, associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto. "One [question] is whether this makes a difference at the material level, in terms of entitlements and access to education. The second is [how it affects] some of the 'softer' discrimination against people with a rural hukou, with people in cities looking down on them."

China wants 60% of its almost 1.4 billion population to be urbanised by 2020, hoping that their increased consumption as city dwellers will boost the economy.

While the country has seen an extraordinary shift in recent decades – shifting from a predominantly rural to predominantly urban society in 2011 – authorities still fear that an uncontrollable rush to the cities could lead to slums and security problems. Existing residents fear that their privileges may be eroded.

Many of those who have gained urban hukous in recent years have been farmers resettled to small urban centres nearby, often when their land was taken over by the government. Moving across provinces or into major cities has proved – and will remain – far more difficult.

"Most people want to go to the big cities because that's where the opportunities are," said Ong.

Fei-ling Wang, a professor at Georgia Tech and author of Organisation Through Division and Exclusion: China's Hukou System, said: "The system is simply too important to get rid of: it helps the government to rule."

He said even incremental reform was good news, noting that specific details in the document – such as limits on how long governments can require social welfare contributions from migrants before granting them a hukou – should help workers.

He also noted that the document did not get to grips with the crucial question of land rights. In trials, many migrants have been reluctant to adopt an urban hukou because that would mean losing land rights, which they regard as an insurance policy. Deferring the issue might reassure workers for now but raised questions about the long term, he said. "It could even be a new way of appropriating their land."

Lu Yilong, an expert on hukou at Renmin University, said eradicating the urban/rural hukou distinction would form the basis for broader welfare and social service reforms. "Although regional differences, such as the difference between Beijing and Anhui, are likely to linger on, the reform will gradually bridge gaps within the same region," he said.

He said the government needed to follow up with matching reforms in areas such as education equality, social welfare and city planning.

Tao Ran, an expert on rural policy and urbanisation at Renmin University, said funding should be provided for public services. At present, local governments have few sources of income.

Migrants will be able to settle in small cities freely, but will face restrictions if they seek to move to cities with populations of between three to five million and a tough points system for cities with more than five million inhabitants.

 on: Jul 31, 2014, 06:21 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Cambodia court begins genocide trial of Khmer Rouge leaders
Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan accused of overseeing mass killings of up to 500,000 people in the 1970s

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    Agence France-Presse in Phnom Penh
    The Guardian, Wednesday 30 July 2014 10.29 BST   

Khieu Samphan
Former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan in the Phnom Penh courtroom. Photograph: Mark Peters/ECCC/EPA

Cambodia's UN-backed Khmer Rouge court has begun a second trial of two former regime leaders on charges including genocide of Vietnamese people and ethnic Muslims, forced marriages and rape.

The complex case of the regime's two most senior surviving leaders has been split into a series of smaller trials, initially focusing on the forced evacuation of people into rural labour camps and related crimes against humanity.

The first trial against the most senior surviving Khmer Rouge leader, Nuon Chea, 88, known as Brother Number Two, and former head of state Khieu Samphan, 83, was completed late last year, with the verdict – and possible sentences – due to be delivered on 7 August.

At the opening hearing of the second trial on Wednesday, judge Nil Nonn read out the charges against both suspects as more than 300 people watched the proceedings from the court's public gallery.

Nuon Chea did not attend the hearing for health reasons, while Khieu Samphan sat in court alongside his defence team.

During the inaugural session of the second trial, which focuses on genocide and other crimes against humanity, judges will discuss issues such as reparations for victims.

"The second trial is equally important as the first, and more victims and witnesses will have the opportunity to testify about their experiences and suffering during the Khmer Rouge regime, on a broader range of criminal allegations," court spokesman Lars Olsen told AFP.

The mass killings of an estimated 100,000 to 500,000 ethnic Cham Muslims and 20,000 Vietnamese form the basis of the genocide charges against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.

Before these charges were filed, the treatment of the minority Muslim group and Vietnamese community was rarely discussed.

The pair also face a string of other charges for the deaths of up to 2 million people through starvation, overwork or execution during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 rule.

Most of these deaths do not fall under the charge of genocide, which is defined by the UN as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group".

It is not known how long the second trial will last, but Olsen estimated it may go on until 2016, with hearings covering crimes committed at Khmer Rouge labour camps and prisons including the notorious Tuol Sleng, a former Phnom Penh high school that became a jail and execution centre, also known as S-21.

"This trial is very important for me as a victim who lost both parents in Tuol Sleng," said Norng Chan Phal, 45, one of a handful of survivors from the prison.

"Those criminals who committed genocide and killed their own people must be punished seriously."

Led by Brother Number One Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge dismantled Cambodian society in an attempt to create an agrarian utopia.

The new trial will also provide the first forum for justice for tens of thousands of husbands and wives forced to marry, often in mass ceremonies, as part of a Khmer Rouge plan to boost the population. The rape charges refer to rape within the forced marriages.

In its historic debut trial, the court in 2010 sentenced former Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav to 30 years in prison – later increased to life on appeal – for overseeing the deaths of 15,000 people.

But observers and victims have raised concerns that the ageing Khmer Rouge leaders may not survive to see a verdict.

Former regime foreign minister Ieng Sary died aged 87 last year while on trial for war crimes and genocide, while his wife was freed from jail in September 2012 after being ruled unfit for trial because of failing mental health.


Cambodia reality TV show reunites families torn apart by the Khmer Rouge

It's Not a Dream's schmaltz may jar with the raw emotion left by genocide, but it offers the few a chance of finding lost loved ones

Irwin Loy in Phnom Penh, Tuesday 16 July 2013 11.47 BST      

Khoem Sarom had all but given up hope. In the volatile years after the fall of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge regime, he trudged through malaria-infested jungles on his own to search for a little girl: his missing niece.

But he found only dead ends in the tiny villages and teeming refugee camps where he looked. His young niece, his sister's only daughter, was gone.

"I thought I would never again see my niece in this life," Khoem Sarom said at his home near Phnom Penh.

It has been almost 35 years since the Khmer Rouge collapsed, leaving behind a devastated country. Historians estimate that a quarter of the population perished during the regime's four-year rule.

The effects of that rule linger. Across a recovering nation, Khoem Sarom's story of loss is not unique. The Khmer Rouge split families apart in a ruthless attempt to remake society. Though decades have passed since its fall, many families are still searching for missing loved ones, unsure if they are alive or dead.

For Khoem Sarom and others like him, a reality television show offers a chance to find some sort of closure after years of uncertainty.

It's Not a Dream brings together long-lost relatives . The catch is that the reunions are staged under the lights and glare of cameras and a live studio audience.

The end result is a jarring fusion: the gawking immediacy of reality TV mixed with raw emotion left by genocide.

In the absence of a national programme to track down the missing, however, the producers believe the show can play a small but vital role.

In its three-year run, It's Not a Dream has orchestrated 27 reunions. More than 1,000 applicants have asked the show for help.

"It's not entertainment," said one of its producers, Prak Sokhayouk. "It's human life."

The show has a mostly older audience – Cambodians who lived through the Khmer Rouge and who see their own haunting experiences reflected in the tearful stories recounted on screen.

The show, Prak Sokhayouk believes, can spark inter-generational discussions needed in a country where the dark past has often been buried.

It took until 2009 for the government to make Khmer Rouge history a part of the school curriculum. A long-running war crimes tribunal set up to prosecute former leaders has so far convicted one person. Two surviving former leaders are currently facing trial.

In such an environment, some observers believe there is a role that even a reality show can play in healing old wounds.

"It's a very Cambodian way of trying to bring some closure," said Youk Chhang, the director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, a prominent genocide research organisation. "You put the story on stage and there's a bit of drama and a happy ending."

Still, not everyone is eager to air their tragedies in such a public forum. Like many Cambodians, Youk Chhang lost family during the Khmer Rouge years.

"I think reconciliation is very personal. For me, I couldn't," he said. "I have no more tears to cry. So I couldn't go on stage to cry."

For others, though, It's Not a Dream is the only chance they have ever had at bringing their family together.

At a recent taping, Seak Mala sat on stage, waiting to tell her story.

"I used to go to bed crying, because I always missed my mother," she said on the morning of the show. "I never dared to go looking for them."

Seak Mala had heard about It's Not a Dream months before and decided to call the show. She asked them if they could find her family: her father, mother, grandmother and her uncle.

"I thought that if my parents and relatives heard my story, they would remember me," she said.

On stage, she stared at a large screen that showed a pre-produced video of Khoem Sarom describing his own loss. Backstage, he waited in silence as she slowly realised the man on the screen was her long-lost uncle.

The drama rose to a climax and Seak Mala, already in tears, was told she could finally meet him.

The show's saccharine reunion music blared through studio speakers as Khoem Sarom was led on stage. For the first time in decades, uncle and niece embraced – and live on a national television.

"I thought I lost you for ever," he said, sobbing in his niece's ear.

Still, even a seemingly cathartic reunion is bittersweet. As the cameras closed in, Seak Mala whispered a question to her uncle: "Where is my mother?"

Khoem Sarom wiped his eyes with a cloth. "I don't know if she's alive or if she's dead," he said.

• This article was amended on 19 July 2013. An earlier version referred to the drama rising to a crescendo, rather than a climax. This has been corrected.

 on: Jul 31, 2014, 06:15 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Afghan Election Resolution Inches forward with Audit Deal

by Naharnet Newsdesk
31 July 2014, 13:57

Afghanistan's floundering attempts to declare a winner of its presidential election inched forward Thursday with a deal allowing an audit of all votes to restart, but the United Nations warned of the risk of further delays.

Alleged fraud during the June 14 election has plunged the country into a crisis as U.S.-led troops wind down their war against Taliban insurgents and President Hamid Karzai prepares to step down after ruling since 2001.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) said the two poll rivals, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, had finally agreed how the massive audit would separate fraudulent ballots from genuine votes.

Over eight million votes were cast on polling day, but Abdullah claimed "industrial-scale" fraud had denied him victory after preliminary results suggested that Ghani had won easily.

As the deepening stand-off threatened to spark a return to the ethnic violence of the 1992-1996 civil war, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew into Kabul earlier this month and persuaded the two opponents to agree to the audit.

But the process has been beset by stoppages as the campaign teams fought over each disputed ballot paper.

"What is now needed is full engagement of the parties, the international community and domestic observers," Jan Kubis, head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, told reporters.

"Any delays, any uncertainties, have a major negative impact on both the political and economic situation in Afghanistan."

The audit will restart on Saturday, though the timetable for the new president to be inaugurated on August 2 has been abandoned and no new date has been set.

A smooth election was seen as essential to justify the costly US-led military and civilian aid effort since the Taliban regime fell in 2001, and recent insurgent offensives have heightened fears of a worsening spiral of violence.

The disputed result and uncertainty over when Karzai will hand over power has tainted earlier celebrations over the high turnout and lack of major militant attacks in both the April first-round vote and the run-off seven weeks ago.

"We will resume auditing on Saturday... we ask the candidates and all their agents to respect this decision and cooperate," said IEC chief Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani.

"The election process has taken a long time and this has concerned people -- business is literally down, it has created a lot of economic problems."

On Wednesday, Kerry described the audit as "painstaking and slow", stressing that the two candidates should fulfill their commitment to accept its results and then form a national unity government.

"The time for politics is over. The time for cooperation is at hand. There is no time to waste," he wrote in an editorial for the Tolo News TV channel.

 on: Jul 31, 2014, 06:14 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Pakistan Acid Attacks on Women Cast Pall of Fear

by Naharnet Newsdesk
31 July 2014, 07:21

A recent spate of acid attacks in a region of Pakistan previously untouched by the crime has sparked an impassioned debate about rising Islamisation that is forcing an increasing number of women to stay at home.

The horrific crime, which disfigures and often blinds its overwhelmingly female victims, has long been used to settle personal or family scores with hundreds of cases reported every year.

But two fresh attacks on consecutive days in the restive southwestern Baluchistan province last week, where until a few years ago such assaults were unheard of, suggests a new pattern is emerging.

Last Tuesday, two men on a motorcycle sprayed acid using syringes on two teenage girls who were returning from a market in Mastung town, 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the provincial capital Quetta.

The day before, four women aged between 18 and 50 had suffered the same fate in Quetta, in the market area of Sariab. They were partially burned.

"In accordance with our Baluch traditions, they were wrapped in big shawls as well as covering their faces. That... saved (them) from severe injuries," said Naz Bibi, mother of two of the victims.

Asked about the attackers, she said: "I can only request that they should not treat women in such a cruel way."

In most acid attack cases around Pakistan, the majority of victims know their attackers. When caught, relatives found guilty speak of punishing their victims for having sullied their "honour" or that of their family with "indecent" behaviour.

But, in these latest cases, the victims had no known connection to their assailants -- which has led campaigners to suggest the attacks are part of rising religious extremism in the province.

Vast and sparsely-populated but rich in resources, Baluchistan has long been racked by a separatist insurgency that has staunch leftist secular elements -- including strong participation by women -- and which reveres Communist icons like Argentine revolutionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevara.

Separatists say the attacks on women are the latest battlefront in an ideological war between the rebels, who are fighting for a greater share of the region's mineral and gas wealth, and state-backed Islamist proxies who want to terrorise the population into acquiescence.

"The aim of these inhuman acts is to prevent women from participating in education, as well as social, political and economic aspects of life by creating a climate of terror," said Jahanzaib Jamaldini, vice president of the Baluch National Party, which is fighting for greater autonomy.

This week, three more women suffered injuries to their legs and feet in yet another attack -- though police and senior officials have so far said the latest incident was a case of a "family feud".

Mohammad Munzoor, a brother of one of the victims, lamented that the attackers were still at large.

"They roam the area on motorcycles and the local people have spotted them," he said.

- Militants involved? - 

In the Sariab district of Quetta, the scene of one of last week's attacks, Islamist groups like the Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal-Jammat (ASWJ), are increasingly coming to the fore.

Dressed in Arab garb, they are able to roam the area armed with automatic weapons without fear of molestation -- leading many to believe they are given tacit state backing.

"ASWJ controls the area with dozens of armed men," said one young resident, standing under the group's flag as it fluttered in the breeze, adding that their presence scared families into preventing women from being out in public.

The group said the accusations were "without any basis". "We condemn these attacks," Ramzan Mengal, the group's leader in Baluchistan said.

The acid attacks also fit a wider pattern of a steady erosion of women's rights, especially in separatist and erstwhile relatively secular strongholds.

Al-Furqhan, an obscure militant group, recently appeared in the one-time separatist rebel stronghold of Panjgur district, which borders Iran, threatening private schools over the teaching of girls, according to residents.

In an atmosphere rife with fear, no suspects have so far been arrested and no group has claimed responsibility.

The first recorded acid attack in Baluchistan came in 2010, with two more reported in 2012.

Leading English-language daily newspaper Dawn said in an editorial the identity of the attackers last week and over the past few years "were not difficult to gauge".

"In fact, after the Dalbandin attack an obscure religious group had claimed responsibility, warning women to stay away from public places if they were not accompanied by male members of the family," it said, referring to the 2010 case.

"Baluchistan has been steadily radicalised over the years, and a plethora of shadowy, extremist religious groups increasingly exercise their malign influence over society, diligently seeking to restrict women's agency, and deprive them of their rights," the paper added.

Mohammad Aslam, a women's tailor in Sariab, has seen sales drop by three-quarters since the market attack. "Women are afraid to step out of their homes or their men stop them from going," he said.

Shopkeepers in Mastung reported a similar decline in sales.

"We fear that such incidents could increase and leave no space for women in an already male-dominated society," said human rights activist Saima Jawaid.

 on: Jul 31, 2014, 06:12 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Tears, and Anger, as Militants Destroy Iraq City’s Relics

JULY 30, 2014

BAGHDAD — When the Sunni extremists ruling Mosul destroyed the shrine of a prophet whose story features in the traditions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism — the most important of nearly two dozen marked for destruction by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in the first seven weeks of its reign — small groups of residents gathered to mourn.

“We were crying when they detonated it,” said Abdulmalik Mustafa, a 32-year-old unemployed man who lives near the site, believed to be the tomb of the biblical prophet Jonah, which was razed last week. “We couldn’t believe that the history of Mosul has disappeared. I wanted to die.”

Then rumors swirled that the next goal of the ISIS militants would be toppling the city’s ancient leaning minaret, which is older than the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy and is pictured on Iraq’s 10,000-dinar bank note. Residents gathered at the minaret and, according to witnesses, confronted the group’s fighters.

The angry public reaction to the attacks on Mosul’s cultural history — including the eviction of Christians by militants, which outraged many Muslim residents who celebrate Mosul’s reputation for tolerance — appears to be the first spark of rebellion against harsh Islamic rule. Although population figures in Iraq are notoriously unreliable, Mosul is considered the country’s second-largest city, with a population of about 1.5 million.

When militants swept into the city on June 10 and Iraqi soldiers shed their uniforms and fled, many residents seemed to cheer their arrival. Much of Mosul’s Sunni Arab population had become increasingly resentful of abuses suffered at the hands of Iraq’s Shiite-dominated central government. For a time, people welcomed the new authority.

It is too early to declare that a wide-scale rebellion is underway, or that ISIS, whose brand of ascetic Islamic law deems shrines heretical, is losing its grip of control on the city. But it suggests that the militants are wearing out their welcome to some degree.

Informal armed gangs of residents have already clashed with ISIS militants over the destruction of the tombs and shrines, residents say. Some militants have been killed in the clashes, they say, which have also led to the arrests of residents and could result in their executions.

“There are unorganized groups fighting ISIS now,” said Khalis Jumah, 32, a Mosul resident interviewed by phone. “If we had the power and the supplies, we could have kicked ISIS out of Mosul by now.”

Mr. Jumah said the rising anger in Mosul was directly related to the destruction of historical sites. “This is a huge disaster for Mosul and Iraq,” he said. “It’s a crime against the city and its history. We have been crying since the first day they started destroying our religious and historical landmarks.”

The rising public anger also resonates with a strategy being pushed by American officials and some moderate Sunnis here: working to win over some of the Sunni insurgent groups that have allied with ISIS.

Those groups — which include former Baathists who were once close to Saddam Hussein’s government and have already, in some places, fought with ISIS — are opposed to what they regard as the authoritarian rule of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s government. But they are also seen as unsympathetic to the stated goal of ISIS to establish an Islamic caliphate under hard-line theocratic rule.

The strategy of trying to peel off the non-ISIS Sunni groups is a familiar one in Iraq, with a decidedly mixed legacy. It was born with the so-called Sunni Awakening program the Americans established in 2007, when Sunni tribal groups were paid to switch sides and fight against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the forerunner of ISIS.

The Awakening found success after Al Qaeda had alienated Sunni communities with its brutal rule. But its gains were unsustainable, particularly because Mr. Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government was unwilling to widely integrate Sunni militias into the country’s security forces.

Still, there is no doubt that ISIS has begun alienating some in Mosul.

Almost immediately after capturing the city, militants began imposing Islamic law. They banned smoking, forced women to wear full-face veils and carried out some summary executions of government employees they deemed disloyal to their authority.

But it has been the destruction of more than a dozen mosques, shrines, tombs and statues that has seemed to galvanize public anger within Mosul, an area that was once the capital of the Assyrian Empire and is believed to have first been settled in 6000 B.C. Over the centuries, various conquerors — Persians, Arabs, Turks and others — have come and gone, each leaving an imprint.

With so many shrines being destroyed, this week relatives of Saddam Hussein removed the former dictator’s body from its burial place in Awija, a village near Tikrit, and moved it to an undisclosed location, one of Mr. Hussein’s cousins said in a brief interview. Relatives worried that the grave, which had become something of a shrine for Mr. Hussein’s sympathizers, would become a target for government airstrikes or for the Shiite militias active in the area.

It is not just religious monuments like the prophet Jonah’s tomb that have been destroyed, but also statues of Abu Tammam, a famous Arab poet, and Mullah Othman, a beloved 19th-century musician and poet.

Militants even removed a statue of a figure representing an old Mosul profession: a man selling a drink of licorice, for which the city is famous. Even today, men walk the streets with a pouch of the drink slung over their shoulders and clang copper goblets to signal their presence.

“We realize the licorice man from the music he plays,” said Talal Safawi, a sculptor who carved the statue in 1973 and has remained in Mosul.

“This statue is part of my body as I am part of him,” he said. “He is my friend. He is everything to me. I can’t forget the face of my statue.”

More than a century ago, when Mosul was loosely governed by the Ottoman Empire, Gertrude Bell, a British traveler and writer who would later help establish modern Iraq after World War I, toured the ancient sites and reflected on the city’s traumatic history.

“Upon the unhappy province of Mosul hatred and the lust of slaughter weigh like inherited evils, transmitted (who can say?) through all the varying generations of conquerors since first the savage might of the Assyrian Empire set its stamp upon the land,” she wrote in 1909.

She was happy to report, though, that despite what she called Mosul’s “turbulent record,” the city had “lost nothing of its quality during the past few years.”

The same cannot be said now, with ISIS determined to erase a heritage that many previous conquerors left intact.

Bashar al-Kiki, the chairman of the Nineveh Provincial Council, who tracks events in Mosul from the Kurdish region in the north, said that armed civilians had recently attacked ISIS and that four militants had been killed.

“The people of Mosul are intensely angry at ISIS,” he said. “They can’t bear them anymore. This volcano of anger will explode soon.”

 on: Jul 31, 2014, 06:07 AM 
Started by Rose Marcus - Last post by Rad
Pope Francis sounds too much like Obama to be honored by Congress, Republican says

By Scott Kaufman
Wednesday, July 30, 2014 9:59 EDT

A bipartisan congressional resolution that would honor Pope Francis before his potential appearance in Philadelphia next year may not be acted upon because of Republican worries that the pontiff is perceived as being “too liberal,” The Hill reports.

House Resolution 440 aims to “congratulate Pope Francis on his election and recognize his inspirational statements and actions,” but according to one Republican backer of the legislation, the resolution is dead because Pope Francis is “sounding like Obama. [The pope] talks about equality — he actually used the term ‘trickle-down economics,’ which is politically charged.”

Republicans are upset because of comments the Pope made concerning the free market. Last November, for example, Francis published his Evangelii Gandium, in which he noted that ome people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

The resolution states that Pope Francis should be honored for, among other things, being the first pontiff from the Americas, as well as “his commitment to economic justice and improving the lives of the poor, and his outreach to individuals from all walks of life have been universally praised and are living examples of Jesus Christ’s message.”

Of the 221 co-sponsors of the legislation, only 19 are Republicans. Democratic Representative John Larson (CT) sent House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) a letter last Friday requesting a vote on the resolution.

“To my knowledge this would be an historic first. I ask that you take a look at a bipartisan resolution introduced by Representative Peter King and myself, acknowledging the first Pope from the Americas … it is my sincere hope that you will consider this resolution for the suspension calendar for a vote,” Larson wrote in the letter obtained by The Hill.

 on: Jul 31, 2014, 06:06 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Why Turkish women will be laughing all the way to the election

Turkey’s deputy prime minister has set off a social media storm by telling women how to behave in public. They are having none of it

Alev Scott, Wednesday 30 July 2014 13.10 BST          

Ten days before historic presidential elections in Turkey, the deputy prime minister has brought to the country’s attention the pressing matter of female modesty.

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