Local Time

Sunday, October 03, 2010

PLO demands settlements freeze before peace talks

By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem

Leaders of the main moderate Palestinian factions yesterday voted to oppose further negotiations while building continues in Jewish settlements, amid increasing US frustration at Israel's refusal to prolong a 10-month moratorium on construction.

The Palestinian Liberation Organisation executive decided that any resumption of direct peace talks – the first for 21 months – "requires tangible steps, the first of them a freeze on settlements". A senior PLO official, Yasser Abed Rabbo, said after yesterday's meeting in Ramallah: "The Palestinian leadership holds Israel responsible for obstructing the negotiations."

Although not unexpected, the move by the PLO underlines the depth of the crisis over the future of the talks after repeated efforts by the US, and the international Middle East envoy Tony Blair, to persuade the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to prolong the partial freeze on settlements instituted late last year.

While the PLO is the over-arching body representing the main Palestinian factions, apart from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the final response to Mr Netanyahu's refusal to extend the freeze is likely to await a meeting of the Arab League. That meeting is currently scheduled for Wednesday, though there is increasing speculation that it will be postponed for another 48 hours, to Friday, to allow US mediators more time for the uphill struggle to promote an 11th-hour compromise to save the talks.

Diplomats report increased annoyance in Washington over Mr Netanyahu's rejection of a draft letter drawn up by the State Department and a senior Israeli official promising – in return for a 60-day extension of the moratorium – massive military aid, a veto on any UN Security Council resolution criticising Israel over the next year, and support for a continued Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley after the launch of a Palestinian state. The draft also reportedly contained a pledge not to ask for a further extension after the 60-day period ran out.

US presidential envoy George Mitchell and EU High Representative Cathy Ashton both visited the region last week in a vain effort to break the impasse.

Meanwhile, Mr Netanyahu has been pinning the blame for deadlock on the Palestinians, saying that the partial freeze had been ordered 10 months ago, but that Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, only agreed to direct negotiations starting last month. "Now I expect the Palestinians to show some flexibility. Everyone knows that measured and restrained building in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] in the coming year will have no influence on the peace map."

Mr Netanyahu repeatedly says that he is prepared for talks "without preconditions". But Mr Abbas and his negotiating team point out that they are asking for no more than did the 2003 internationally agreed Road Map, which called for a complete halt to settlement activity – which most of the international community regards as illegal under international law – and the withdrawal of settlement outposts illegal even under Israeli law.

But without an immediate end to the impasse in sight, yesterday's PLO decision was endorsed publicly by Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Mr Abbas, who told reporters after the executive meeting: "There will be no negotiations in the shadow of continued settlement."

The PLO executive is dominated by Mr Abbas's faction, but also includes a number of independents and smaller factions who have been vociferous in opposing a resumption of direct negotiations without a halt to building in the West Bank settlements. Failing a breakthrough, Mr Abbas has already been reported to be planning "a historic announcement" at the Arab League meeting. There is unconfirmed speculation that this could be a formal request to the 22-member league to ask the UN Security Council to condemn Israel's settlement policy, or that it could be an imminent agreement with Hamas on inter-faction reconciliation, or both.

The first would cause a considerable headache for Washington, which would have to decide whether to veto such a resolution, while the second carries the risk that it could provide Israel with a ready-made reason – or excuse – for abandoning efforts to continue the talks.

(c) 2010 Independent News and Media

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

MCB Eid Message: British Muslims celebrate Eid after a spiritual and generous Ramadan

Press Release

8th September 2010


from the Muslim Council of Britain

A joyous Islamic festival after British Muslims show enormous generosity during the month of Ramadan

On behalf of the Muslim Council of Britain, I extend my Eid greetings to all Muslims and peoples of other faiths and communities in the UK. Times like Eid are special as they bring together in celebration our richly diverse and vibrant range of Muslim communities living in Britain.

Eid is a joyous and unique thanksgiving festival which Muslims celebrate all over the world. We praise and thank Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala for the blessings of the holy month of Ramadan, where the Almighty showers His mercy and forgiveness, and an opportunity to reflect and enhance our understanding and commitment to Him and His creation.

Throughout this month we witnessed moving and humbling feats of spiritual devotion and solidarity. Men, women and children fasted long hours; thousands filled mosques in our towns and cities for the nightly prayers and many of our friends from other faiths joined us to experience the fast of Ramadan. This is inspiring and heartening at a time when many in our community are experiencing the rise of Islamophobia.

We celebrate Eid knowing also that the month of Ramadan was an opportunity to extend our hand of generosity to those less fortunate. Millions of pounds were raised to feed the poor around the world, particularly the victims of the Pakistan floods. In this country, Muslim families also brought food to their local parks in Leicester, Manchester and other towns to share with the homeless and hungry of all faiths and backgrounds.

Our festival of Eid al-Fitr is a culmination of this month of spiritual reflection, good works and charity. Let it be an opportunity to bring together families and communities, and share our joy to foster respect and understanding. I pray that Allah accepts all our good deeds and we continue to live the spirit of Ramadan throughout the rest of the year.

Farooq Murad

Secretary General, Muslim Council of Britain

WATCH: Introducing the work of the Muslim Council of Britain from the following link:


Notes to Editors:

The Muslim Council of Britain is the UK's largest Muslim umbrella body with around 500 affiliated national, regional and local organisations, mosques, charities and schools.

Media enquiries should be addressed to the MCB Media Office on 0845 26 26 786 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 0845 26 26 786 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or 07956 353 738 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 07956 353 738 end_of_the_skype_highlighting. Email: media@mcb.org.uk.

on-media enquiries should be addressed to the MCB Office at The Muslim Council of Britain, PO Box 57330, London E1 2WJ. Email: admin@mcb.org.uk Tel: 0845 26 26 786 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 0845 26 26 786 end_of_the_skype_highlighting Fax: 0207 247 7079

This press release and other MCB publications and information are available on the MCB website at www.mcb.org.uk

Fla. Pastor On Fringe Of US Christian Life

NEW YORK September 8, 2010, 05:04 pm ET The Florida pastor who plans to burn the Quran on the anniversary of 9/11 is rooted in Pentecostal tradition that believes Christians are engaged in a modern-day spiritual battle with evil.

For Terry Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center, Islam is that evil, a world view drawn from his politics and theology — as well as an apparent thirst for publicity for his tiny, independent church.

"Our burning of the Quran is to call the attention that something is wrong," Jones said Wednesday at a brief news conference outside his Gainesville church. "It is possibly time for us in a new way to stand up and confront terrorism."

Jones is under worldwide pressure to drop his plan to burn copies of the Muslim holy book Saturday. Condemnations have poured in from Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan; Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; the Vatican; and elsewhere.

"As of this time, we have no intention of canceling," Jones said.

Conservative Christians have taken pains to distance themselves from the event.

The National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group for theologically conservative Christian churches nationwide, issued a statement July 29 urging Jones to cancel the burning "in the name and love of Jesus Christ."

The Rev. Richard Land, head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant group, called the plan abhorrent. George Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, one of the largest and best-established Pentecostal denominations, warned of damage to Christian-Muslim relations.

Yet, there is no sign that Jones will be persuaded by other Christians. He is as critical of them as he is of Islam, calling other pastors failed religious warriors in what he considers a secular world bent on silencing Christians.

"The real problem is not the politicians or even Islam," Jones said, in his YouTube video series called "The Braveheart Show," inspired by the Mel Gibson movie. "The real problem is not our educational system that wants to remove God from every part of our society. The problem is the church has laid down. The church has given up."

Jones' road to notoriety began in 1986 in his living room, where he founded Dove World Outreach Center, which operates out of a sprawling property in Gainesville. Despite its impressive name, the church has only about 50 members.

Its property has served as a sometime storage site for Jones' furniture business, a violation of Dove's tax-exempt status that was punished with a county fine and partial loss of nonprofit standing, The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun reported. Jones previously founded a small church in Germany, the Christian Community of Cologne, and was accused by his daughter and a former church elder of using donations to enrich himself, the Sun reported.

In an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press, a leader of the Cologne church, Stephen Baar, said only that Jones was thrown out over a difference in leadership style. Jones has denied any wrongdoing.

The pastor's troubles extend to his use of the title "doctor."

Jones calls himself "doctor" as do members of his church, but the title comes from an honorary degree that hangs on his office wall. He says he was given the diploma by the California Graduate School of Theology, an obscure school that boasts on its Web site that it's so independent, it has never been accredited. In 2002, Jones was convicted by a Cologne administrative court of falsely using the title and was fined $3,800, German media reported.

Dove's religious beliefs are spelled out in a comparatively brief statement of faith on its website.

The church frequently mentions "apostolic leadership" and "apostolic anointing," terms from Pentecostalism, which teaches that the Holy Spirit can manifest itself today through speaking in tongues, healing and other miracles. But Jones has no apparent ties with any major groups or thinkers in Pentecostalism, according to Vinson Synon, dean emeritus of Regent University's School of Divinity, who has studied Pentecostals for decades.

"It's a church doing its own thing," Synon said.

The Smoking Gun on Wednesday posted what it says was a copy of the Dove World Outreach Center rule book that included demands for obedience from church members and directives to cut off most contact with relatives.

Jones' animosity toward Islam can also be found among some other hard-right conservatives, especially since 9/11. Yet, Jones' brand of confrontation, spelled out in his book, "Islam Is of the Devil," seems in a category of its own.

For many Christian conservatives, criticism of Islam is rooted in the longtime persecution of Christian minorities in predominantly Muslim countries and in bans on Christian missionaries working in those same nations. Christianity and Islam are both evangelizing faiths that are in competition in many areas. Many conservative Christian churches have seized on the threat from Islamic extremism the way they railed against communism during the Cold War.

However, Synon said he has never heard of any Pentecostals burning the Quran.

Jones met privately in the church Wednesday with the president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, Imam Muhammad Musri, who afterward described their discussion as cordial and polite. At an interfaith news conference Tuesday in Washington, religious leaders said some have tried unsuccessfully behind the scenes to reach out to Jones and stop him.

"I'm hoping and praying they'll change his mind and express his views in a different fashion that is more appropriate," Musri said. "I believe our hearts are in the hands of God, and God can change his heart."

Associated Press Writer Mitch Stacy contributed from Gainesville, Fla.; Associated Press Writer Melissa Eddy contributed from Berlin.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Warrant for: Ehud Barak


Islamic Britain lures top people

MORE than 14,000 white Britons have converted to Islam after becoming disillusioned with western values, according to the first authoritative study of the phenomenon.

Some of Britain??s top landowners, celebrities and the offspring of senior Establishment figures have embraced the strict tenets of the Muslim faith.
The trend is being encouraged by Muslim leaders who are convinced that the conversion of prominent society figures will help protect a community stigmatised by terrorism and fundamentalism.
Zaki Badawi, chairman of the Imams and Mosques Council, said: ??The community has been unfairly targeted and these developments encourage it in a time of difficulty.?? Meanwhile, the Muslim Council of Britain has co-opted Joe Ahmed-Dobson, son of Frank Dobson, the former health secretary, to chair its regeneration committee.
The new study by Yahya (formerly Jonathan) Birt, son of Lord Birt, former director-general of the BBC, provides the first reliable data on the sensitive subject of the movement of Christians into Islam. He uses a breakdown of the latest census figures to conclude that there are now 14,200 white converts in Britain.
Speaking publicly for the first time about his faith this weekend, Birt, whose doctorate at Oxford University is on young British Muslims, argued that an inspirational figure, similar to the American convert Malcolm X for Afro-Caribbeans, would first have to emerge if the next stage, a mass conversion among white Britons, were to happen.
??You need great transitional figures to translate something alien (like Islam) into the vernacular,?? he said. ??The image of Islam projected by political Islamic movements is not very attractive.??
Initially, Birt said, he had no coherent reasons for converting, but: ??In the longer term I think it was the overall profundity, balance and coherence and spirituality of the Muslim way of life which convinced me.??
The faith has made inroads into the Establishment. It emerged this weekend that the great-granddaughter of a British prime minister has converted. Emma Clark, whose ancestor, the Liberal prime minister Herbert Asquith, took Britain into the first world war, said: ??We??re all the rage, I hope it??s not a passing fashion.??
Clark, who helped design an Islamic garden for the Prince of Wales at Highgrove, his Gloucestershire home, is now helping create a similar garden for a mosque in Woking, Surrey, on the site of a car park.
Many converts have been inspired by the writings of Charles Le Gai Eaton, a former Foreign Office diplomat. Eaton, author of Islam and the Destiny of Man, said: ??I have received letters from people who are put off by the wishy-washy standards of contemporary Christianity and they are looking for a religion which does not compromise too much with the modern world.??
Others have come to Islam through love or marriage. Kristiane Backer, a former girlfriend of the cricketer Imran Khan, said she was introduced to the religion through love but converted after her break-up. She has shrunk from speaking publicly about her religion before because of fears it might affect her work prospects.
??Imran sowed the seeds, but when (the relationship) finished (the faith) took on a momentum of its own,?? she said. Backer, who is drawn to Sufi mysticism, said white converts had to overcome prejudice both from those born into Islam and from non-believers.
??In the mosque women come up and say to me, ??You have hair showing: you must cover up completely.?? I say, ??Mind your own hair, you??re here to think about God??.??
She has ditched the revealing wardrobe she had as an MTV presenter, but, equally, will not wear headscarves about town. ??I don??t show any legs or cleavage, or at least not together,?? she said.
Some prominent converts are even more wary. The Earl of Yarborough, 40, who owns a 28,000-acre estate in Lincolnshire, declined to discuss anything about his faith. ??I have nothing to say to you,?? said Yarborough, who has apparently taken the name Abdul Mateen.
Muslim leaders are harnessing modern campaigning methods to promote their faith. Groups have sprung up on the internet publishing ??trophy lists?? of white converts.
The state-funded school in London founded by Yusuf Islam, formerly the singer Cat Stevens, has turned to Premiership footballers to provide role models. Sources close to the school say converts including Nicolas Anelka, the Manchester City striker, and Omer ??Freddie?? Kanoute, of Tottenham Hotspur, have made visits.
Fresh evidence came this weekend that Islam has received formal acceptance at the heart of the Establishment. The Queen has approved new arrangements to allow Muslim staff at Buckingham Palace time off to attend Friday prayers at a mosque: a member of staff in the finance department is the first to take advantage of it.

Why European women are turning to Islam

Mary Fallot looks as unlike a terrorist suspect as one could possibly imagine: a petite and demure white Frenchwoman chatting with friends on a cell-phone, indistinguishable from any other young woman in the café where she sits sipping coffee.
And that is exactly why European antiterrorist authorities have their eyes on thousands like her across the continent.
Ms. Fallot is a recent convert to Islam. In the eyes of the police, that makes her potentially dangerous.
The death of Muriel Degauque, a Belgian convert who blew herself up in a suicide attack on US troops in Iraq last month, has drawn fresh attention to the rising number of Islamic converts in Europe, most of them women.
"The phenomenon is booming, and it worries us," the head of the French domestic intelligence agency, Pascal Mailhos, told the Paris-based newspaper Le Monde in a recent interview. "But we must absolutely avoid lumping everyone together."
The difficulty, security experts explain, is that while the police may be alert to possible threats from young men of Middle Eastern origin, they are more relaxed about white European women. Terrorists can use converts who "have added operational benefits in very tight security situations" where they might not attract attention, says Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at the Swedish National Defense College in Stockholm.
Ms. Fallot, who converted to Islam three years ago after asking herself spiritual questions to which she found no answers in her childhood Catholicism, says she finds the suspicion her new religion attracts "wounding." "For me," she adds, "Islam is a message of love, of tolerance and peace."
It is a message that appeals to more and more Europeans as curiosity about Islam has grown since 9/11, say both Muslim and non-Muslim researchers. Although there are no precise figures, observers who monitor Europe's Muslim population estimate that several thousand men and women convert each year.
Only a fraction of converts are attracted to radical strands of Islam, they point out, and even fewer are drawn into violence. A handful have been convicted of terrorist offenses, such as Richard Reid, the "shoe bomber" and American John Walker Lindh, who was captured in Afghanistan.
Admittedly patchy research suggests that more women than men convert, experts say, but that - contrary to popular perception - only a minority do so in order to marry Muslim men.
"That used to be the most common way, but recently more [women] are coming out of conviction," says Haifa Jawad, who teaches at Birmingham University in Britain. Though non-Muslim men must convert in order to marry a Muslim woman, she points out, the opposite is not true.
Fallot laughs when she is asked whether her love life had anything to do with her decision. "When I told my colleagues at work that I had converted, their first reaction was to ask whether I had a Muslim boyfriend," she recalls. "They couldn't believe I had done it of my own free will."
In fact, she explains, she liked the way "Islam demands a closeness to God. Islam is simpler, more rigorous, and it's easier because it is explicit. I was looking for a framework; man needs rules and behavior to follow. Christianity did not give me the same reference points."
Those reasons reflect many female converts' thinking, say experts who have studied the phenomenon. "A lot of women are reacting to the moral uncertainties of Western society," says Dr. Jawad. "They like the sense of belonging and caring and sharing that Islam offers."
Others are attracted by "a certain idea of womanhood and manhood that Islam offers," suggests Karin van Nieuwkerk, who has studied Dutch women converts. "There is more space for family and motherhood in Islam, and women are not sex objects."
At the same time, argues Sarah Joseph, an English convert who founded "Emel," a Muslim lifestyle magazine, "the idea that all women converts are looking for a nice cocooned lifestyle away from the excesses of Western feminism is not exactly accurate."
Some converts give their decision a political meaning, says Stefano Allievi, a professor at Padua University in Italy. "Islam offers a spiritualization of politics, the idea of a sacred order," he says. "But that is a very masculine way to understand the world" and rarely appeals to women, he adds.
After making their decision, some converts take things slowly, adopting Muslim customs bit by bit: Fallot, for example, does not yet feel ready to wear a head scarf, though she is wearing longer and looser clothes than she used to.
Others jump right in, eager for the exoticism of a new religion, and become much more pious than fellow mosque-goers who were born into Islam. Such converts, taking an absolutist approach, appear to be the ones most easily led into extremism.
The early stages of a convert's discovery of Islam "can be quite a sensitive time," says Batool al-Toma, who runs the "New Muslims" program at the Islamic Foundation in Leicester, England.
"You are not confident of your knowledge, you are a newcomer, and you could be prey to a lot of different people either acting individually or as members of an organization," Ms. Al-Toma explains. A few converts feel "such a huge desire to fit in and be accepted that they are ready to do just about anything," she says.
"New converts feel they have to prove themselves," adds Dr. Ranstorp. "Those who seek more extreme ways of proving themselves can become extraordinarily easy prey to manipulation."
At the same time, says al-Toma, converts seeking respite in Islam from a troubled past - such as Degauque, who had reportedly drifted in and out of drugs and jobs before converting to Islam - might be persuaded that such an "ultimate action" as a suicide bomb attack offered an opportunity for salvation and forgiveness.
"The saddest conclusion" al-Toma draws from Degauque's death in Iraq is that "a woman who set out on the road to inner peace became a victim of people who set out to use and abuse her."

Film brings lives of Palestinian women to Venice

VENICE — The lives of four Arab-Israeli women spanning three generations against the backdrop of conflict are at the center of "Miral," a film by Julian Schnabel based on his Palestinian partner's biographical book.
From the 1948 creation of the Jewish state to the 1993 Oslo accords that briefly raised hopes of peace in the Middle East, the film has a clear political message and points to the role of education in bridging ethnic, religious and political divides.
Screening in competition at the Venice film festival, it is an adaptation of a 2003 book by Rula Jebreal, a Palestinian who grew up in east Jerusalem and later moved to Italy where she became the first foreign anchor woman for the evening news.
Schnabel, an acclaimed American-Jewish painter here directing his fourth film, did not know much about Palestinian people until he read Jebreal's book and said that shooting the film with her in Israel was an eye-opening experience.
"I felt I was a pretty good person to tell the story of the other side... I am not a politician or a statesman but I can't see how an artist could do any worse than politicians have done so far," he told reporters after a press screening on Thursday.
"I don't see painting as being decorative and I don't make films necessarily as entertainment ... in order for me to make a movie it's usually I feel a responsibility to that subject and something that I'll come out to learn about myself."
Jebreal said that each story in her book is true, though she changed names and combined events and personalities.

One of the central characters is Hind Husseini, who in the late 1940s decided to set up a school to give Arab children orphaned by the conflict a better future. Still open today, her institute has been home to more than 3,000 children.
Jebreal tells her own story through Miral, played by "Slumdog Millionaire" star Freida Pinto, who ends up at Husseini's boarding school after the death of her mother.
When Miral is sent to teach at a Palestinian refugee camp, she finds herself torn between joining the Intifada or following Husseini's role model.
"It's a story of a great land and a little girl who grows up and survives this conflict simply because she has somebody who helped her, and I think there are many, many young people out there seeking and wanting this help," Jebreal said.
Schnabel, who won the best director award in Cannes and at the Golden Globes for his 2007 film "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," said his mother had taught him the same values that Husseini instilled in the young Jebreal.
"One of the reasons why I made this film is that it was obvious to me that there were more similarities between these people than differences," he said.
"I felt it was my responsibility to confront this because maybe I've spent most of my life receding from going to Israel, receding from my responsibility as a Jewish person and this gave me an opportunity to protect something that my mother had spent her life trying to build."
Speaking about the importance of education to empower women, Schnabel joined an international outcry about the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.
"It's the 21st century and something is wrong with that picture. I mean, that's happening as we are sitting here drinking Perrier and God knows what."

Run on Afghan bank's deposits reported

By Michael IsikoffNational investigative correspondent
NBC News
updated 9/2/2010 3:07:33 PM ET

NBC News: Large investor confirms funds were used to buy Dubai villas

WASHINGTON — About $155 million in deposits have been withdrawn from Afghanistan’s largest bank in just the last two days, spurring fresh concerns among U.S. and Afghan officials that a financial panic could spread through the country and derail the U.S. war effort, according to bank insiders and U.S. officials.
Mahmood Karzai, the brother of Afghanistan’s president and one of the principal shareholders in the troubled Kabul Bank, told NBC News in a telephone interview that panicky depositors withdrew $70 million from the bank on Thursday. This is on top of an estimated $85 million taken out on Wednesday, he said.
Amid reports that Afghan government employees, including teachers, soldiers and policemen, were lining up outside Kabul Banch’s branches throughout the country to demand their money, Afghanistan’s Finance Ministry issued a statement Thursday declaring the bank was “reliable” and that deposits would be guaranteed.
But Karzai urged the U.S. government to take steps to calm the situation as well, saying continuing withdrawals could create a panic that might cause the bank to collapse and destroy Afghanistan’s fragile financial system.
“If this collapses, there will be a meltdown,” Karzai said.
According to him, the Kabul Bank had more than $1.3 billion in assets and about $500 million in cash on hand before the crisis began.
The prospect of a spreading financial crisis was triggered by new disclosures by Afghan officials and media reports this week that the Kabul Bank had allegedly violated the country’s banking laws by providing hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to influential insiders, including Karzai and others with close ties to President Hamid Karzai’s government.

Israel urged to open up atomic program

U.N. nuclear watchdog asks Israel to join global anti-nuclear arms pact

VIENNA — The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog has invited Israel to consider joining a global anti-nuclear arms pact and to place all its atomic facilities under his agency's inspections, an IAEA report said on Friday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report said Director General Yukiya Amano met with Israeli leaders during a visit to Israel last month to discuss an Arab-led push for the Jewish state to accede to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
By staying outside the treaty, Israel has maintained secrecy over a program widely believed to have yielded the Middle East's only atomic arsenal — seen as an irritant and threat among its neighbors.
The issueis expected to be debated again at IAEA board and general assembly meetings later this month in Vienna.
Last year, Arab countries backed by Iran won narrow backing for a non-binding assembly resolution urging Israel to join the NPT and asking Amano to consult "concerned states" on how to achieve this and report back to this month's meeting.
The IAEA report said Amano during his visit to Israel had conveyed the assembly's concern about the Israeli nuclear capabilities and "invited Israel to consider to accede to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and to place all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards", as requested by last year's resolution.
Israel has conditioned its joining the NPT on comprehensive Middle East peace — something unlikely when powers like Iran refuse to recognize the Jewish state.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Palestine Military Guide

About 4 million Palestinians live under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank [2,500,000] and Gaza [1,600,000]. Arabs living as citizens inside Israel proper total around 1 million (out of Israel’s population of 6 million). Over 3 million Palestinian refugees comprise the Palestinian diaspora, a result of having been driven from their homeland in 1948 by the military forces of the State of Israel. Many of these are double refugees, having been driven out of Palestine in 1948 and again fleeing in 1967 when Israel further expanded as a result of the war in June of that year. The largest Palestinian diaspora community, approximately 1.3 million, is in Jordan. Many of them still live in refugee camps that were established in 1949,
Killings by Palestinian security forces occurred infrequently during 2009 compared to previous years. Palestinian terrorist groups' killings remained a serious problem, particularly in the Gaza Strip, as did killings by Hamas-controlled security forces. Israeli military actions in Gaza in January 2009 caused significant civilian casualties. According to statistics maintained by the Israeli government and by the United Nations Office for the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), 27 Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem died in clashes with Israeli security forces during the year. B'Tselem reported that 22 Palestinians in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) were killed by Israeli security. Of them, four were killed while participating in hostilities, 13 were killed while not participating; B'Tselem did not know whether the remaining five were killed while participating in hostilities.
According to Israeli government figures, Palestinian deaths resulting from Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009 totaled 1,166, including 295 noncombatant deaths. Human rights organizations estimated the number of dead at 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 1,000 civilians, and the wounded at more than 5,000.
Palestinian factional violence resulted in 12 Palestinian fatalities and 29 Palestinian injuries in the West Bank over the period from January until September 28, 2009. Killings by Palestinian security forces occurred infrequently compared to previous years. Palestinian terrorist groups' killings remained a serious problem, particularly in the Gaza Strip, as did killings by Hamas security forces. According to Israeli government statistics, Palestinian terrorist acts emanating from the West Bank killed five Israeli civilians in 2009, including two policemen. No Israeli civilians died in violence emanating from the Gaza Strip, although the Israeli government attributed the death of 10 IDF soldiers killed during and immediately after IDF military operations in Gaza in January to terrorist action.

Fisking Blair's chapter on Iraq

I'm knackered and sleepy, hungry from all the Ramadan fasting and - officially - on vacation. But I couldn't go to bed without commenting on Tony Blair's new book, A Journey, extracts of which have been published online here.
Much of the instant attention from the chattering classes in the Westminster village has been on the Gordon Brown (GB) chapter, and on Martin Kettle's pre-publication interview with Tony Blair (TB) in the Guardian, in which the latter says he always believed GB would be a "disaster" as prime minister.
But for me, it's the extracts from the Iraq chapter that caught my sleepy eyes (and not just became A Journey is being published on the day after the last US combat troops left that war-torn country). TB continues to distort, evade, pretend and mislead on the issue of Iraq. He is the ultimate Bliar - and so I couldn't help but fisk the available extracts from his Iraq chapter.
I can say that never did I guess the nightmare that unfolded, and that too is part of the responsibility
Never did you guess? But why did you have to "guess"? Six of the country's top academic experts on Iraq and international security warned TB, in a face-to-face meeting in November 2002, that the consequences of an invasion could be catastrophic. Cambridge University's George Joffe, one of the six invited to Downing Street, got the impression of "someone with a very shallow mind, who's not interested in issues other than the personalities of the top people, no interest in social forces, political trends, etc". Meanwhile, the Joint Intelligence Committee warned TB in February 2003 that the threat from Al Qaeda "would be heightened by military action against Iraq".
Why should Saddam keep the inspectors out for so long when he had nothing to hide?
TB knows perfectly well that Saddam did not "keep the inspectors out", and nor did he expel them, as TB claimed in the run-up to war in early 2003. The truth is that the UN weapons inspectors left Iraq in December 1998 on the orders of the chief weapons inspector, Richard Butler, in anticipation of the US/UK air attack on Baghdad. Jane Arraf's CNN report, filed on December 16, 1998, said: "This is the second time in a month that UNSCOM has pulled out in the face of a possible U.S.-led attack. But this time there may be no turning back. Weapons inspectors packed up their personal belongings and loaded up equipment at U.N. headquarters after a predawn evacuation order. In a matter of hours, they were gone, more than 120 of them headed for a flight to Bahrain." "Butler ordered his inspectors to evacuate Baghdad," said theWashington Post on December 18, 1998. While it is true that relations between the Saddam regime and the UN weapons inspectors had already broken down, TB glosses over the fact that the inspection teams had been infiltrated by US and UK intelligence agencies and, in the words of former inspector and hawk-turned-dove Scott Ritter, "Inspectors were sent in to carry out sensitive inspections that had nothing to do with disarmament but had everything to do with provoking the Iraqis." 
Even when he let them in, why did he obstruct them?
Obstruct them? That wasn't the view of Hans Blix, the top UN weapons inspector in Iraq, or Mohammed ElBaradei, the head of the UN's nuclear watchdog, the IAEA. Verifying Iraqi disarmament, said Blix on 7 March 2003, "will not take years, nor weeks, but months." ElBaradei offered a less specific forecast but nonetheless pointed out that "the recently increased level of Iraqi cooperation should enable us in the near future to provide the Security Council with an objective and thorough assessment of Iraq nuclear-related capabilities."
Why bring war upon his country to protect a myth?
Saddam did not "bring war upon his country" - the US and the UK invaded Iraq,in defiance of international law. And the Iraqi dictator, as we now know, made several desperate, last-ditch attempts to avoid war, including the use of back channel approaches to (of all people!) Richard Perle.
The caveats entered by Dr Kay were largely overlooked, including his assertion that Saddam was possibly a greater threat than we had known, a remark seen at the time as inexplicable, given the primary finding.
Dr David Kay? TB looks for support from a man who, as the Guardian's Julian Borger once pointed out, was far from impartial: "Before the war, Kay was one of the most fervent supporters of military action."
The second report from Charles Duelfer was not published until September 2004. It received far less attention, yet this was the complete analysis
Yes, and the complete analysis from Duelfer's Iraq Survey Group concludedthat, at most, Saddam's Iraq had been engaged in "WMD-related programme activities". Get that, Tone? Not WMDs. Not even WMD programmes. But "WMD-related programme activities", whatever they happen to be. I wonder: can a WMD-related programme activity be activated within 45 minutes of an order to do so?
The constraint became even tougher when revelations from Saddam's son-in-law about his continuing interest in development of WMD were broadcast to the world in 1996.
TB, like George Bush, trumpeted the alleged "revelations" from Saddam's son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, in the run-up to war as well (for example, in a speech to the Commons in February 2003). But TB conveniently omits to mention here what Kamal told UN weapons inspectors in 1995, while being debriefed in Jordan (and first reported in Newsweek on 24 February 2003, three weeks before the invasion): "All chemical weapons were destroyed. I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons - biological, chemical, missiles, nuclear were destroyed."
This conclusion on nuclear weapons was actually endorsed by the Butler Report of July 2004, though that was written prior to the full ISG Report of September 2004. The Butler Report concluded..."
TB chooses to selectively quote the Butler Report. Surprise, surprise! No mention from our former PM of the Butler Report's conclusions that "more weight was placed on the intelligence than it could bear", and that judgements had stretched available intelligence "to the outer limits". No mention of the view expressed by Lord Butler himself, in the House of Lords, in February 2007, that TB was, at the very minimum, "disingenuous" about the Iraqi "threat".
As Saddam came to power in 1979, Iraq was richer than either Portugal or Malaysia. By 2003, 60 per cent of the population was dependent on food aid.
No mention here of the sanctions on Iraq, imposed by the United Nations, and enforced by the United States and the United Kingdom. Those sanctions caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children, and weredescribed by the former UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Dennis Halliday, as a form of "genocide". As even the Humanitarian Panel of the Security Council noted in March 1999: "Even if not all suffering in Iraq can be imputed to external factors, especially sanctions, the Iraqi people would not be undergoing such deprivations in the absence of prolonged measures imposed by the Security Council and the effects of the war".
Millions were malnourished, and millions were in exile.
How is that different to the situation produced by TB and GWB? The Anglo-American invasion of Iraq produced, at the height of the conflict, the Middle East's largest refugee crisis since the Palestinian exodus from Israel in 1948. Inside Iraq itself, according to the UN, more than 1.5 million people remain displaced.
One statistic above all tells us what Saddam's Iraq was like. According to the UN, by 2002 the number of deaths of children under the age of five was 130 per 1,000, a figure worse than that for the Congo. 
Again, no mention of the impact of UN sanctions.
Before anyone says 'Ah, but it was sanctions', it should be remembered that Saddam was free to buy as much food and medicine as he wanted
This is untrue. As Professor Karol Sikora, then the chief of the cancer programme of the World Health Organisation, wrote in the British Medical Journal: "Requested radiotherapy equipment, chemotherapy drugs and analgesics are consistently blocked by United States and British advisers [to the Sanctions Committee]. There seems to be a rather ludicrous notion that such agents could be converted into chemical or other weapons." Professor Sikora added: "The saddest thing I saw in Iraq was children dying because there was no chemotherapy and no pain control. It seemed crazy they couldn't have morphine, because for everybody with cancer pain, it is the best drug. When I was there, they had a little bottle of htmlirin pills to go round 200 patients in pain." As Benon Sevan, the executive director of the UN Office of the Iraq Programme, said in 2001: "The improvement of the nutritional and health status of the Iraqi people . . . is being seriously affected as a result of [the] excessive number of holds placed on supplies and equipment for water, sanitation and electricity."
In the Kurdish area, despite Saddam and despite sanctions covering them too, the death rate for children was half that of central and southern Iraq.
Apples and oranges, Tony, apples and oranges. As a Unicef document in August 1999 on the differences in the levels of child mortality between the autonomous northern governorates in the Kurdish areas and the rest of Iraqpointed out: "... the difference in the current rate cannot be attributed to the differing ways the Oil-for-Food Program is implemented in the two parts of Iraq... We need to look at longer-term trends and factors including the fact that since 1991 the north has received far more support per capita from the international community than the south and center of Iraq. Another factor maybe that the sanctions themselves have not been able to be so rigorously enforced in the north as the border is more "porous" than in the south and center of Iraq." And as Hans Von Sponeck, the former UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, pointed out in 2001: "The northern part of Iraq, where the Kurds live, is getting a disproportionate amount of oil revenue for the humanitarian program. Thirteen percent of the population living in that area is getting 20 percent of the oil revenues." 
The origins of this figure lie in the Lancet report published in October 2004 which purported to be a scientific analysis of deaths in Iraq. The figure they gave - 600,000 - led the news and became dominant, repeated as fact.
"Purported to be"? What does that mean? That the Lancet authors were pretending to offer "scientific analysis"? Sorry, are we now supposed to take the word of our former prime minister, a law graduate from Oxford, over the word of a peer-reviewed study produced by world-renowned epidemiologists and published in Britain's most prestigious medical journal?
Later the methodology on which this report was based was extensively challenged; its figures charged with being inaccurate and misleading; and the assessment made comprehensively questioned by other publications.
Eh? Did John Rentoul ghost-write this portion of the chapter? "Extensively challenged"? Here's Lila Giterman writing on the first Lancet report in theColumbia Journalism Review: "I called about ten biostatisticians and mortality experts. Not one of them took issue with the study's methods or its conclusions. If anything, the scientists told me, the authors had been cautious in their estimates." Ronald Waldman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University who worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for many years, called the survey method "tried and true," and added that "this is the best estimate of mortality we have." In a letter to The Age, 27 epidemiologists and health professionals defended the methods of the study, writing that the study's "methodology is sound and its conclusions should be taken seriously." But, best of all, the chief scientific adviser to TB's own Ministry of Defence saidthe survey's methods were "close to best practice" and the study design was "robust". Did Number 10 not get his memo?
Friends opposed to the war think I'm being obstinate; others, less friendly, think I'm delusional.
No, I just think you're being dishonest, Tony. Seven years on from Iraq, nothing has changed. Off to bed...


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