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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Leaders lie, civilians die, and lessons of history are ignored

Monday, 29 December 2008 | the independent robert fisk

Ever since 1948, we've been hearing this balderdash from the Israelis – just as Arab nationalists and then Arab Islamists have been peddling their own lies: that the Zionist "death wagon" will be overthrown, that all Jerusalem will be "liberated". And always Mr Bush Snr or Mr Clinton or Mr Bush Jnr or Mr Blair or Mr Brown have called upon both sides to exercise "restraint" – as if the Palestinians and the Israelis both have F-18s and Merkava tanks and field artillery. Hamas's home-made rockets have killed just 20 Israelis in eight years, but a day-long blitz by Israeli aircraft that kills almost 300 Palestinians is just par for the course.

By last night, the exchange rate stood at 296 Palestinians dead for one dead Israeli. Back in 2006, it was 10 Lebanese dead for one Israeli dead. This weekend was the most inflationary exchange rate in a single day since – the 1973 Middle East War? The 1967 Six Day War? The 1956 Suez War? The 1948 Independence/Nakba War? It's obscene, a gruesome game – which Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister, unconsciously admitted when he spoke this weekend to Fox TV. "Our intention is to totally change the rules of the game," Barak said.

Exactly. Only the "rules" of the game don't change. This is a further slippage on the Arab-Israeli exchanges, a percentage slide more awesome than Wall Street's crashing shares, though of not much interest in the US which – let us remember – made the F-18s and the Hellfire missiles which the Bush administration pleads with Israel to use sparingly.

We hear the usual Israeli line. General Yaakov Amidror, the former head of the Israeli army's "research and assessment division" announced that "no country in the world would allow its citizens to be made the target of rocket attacks without taking vigorous steps to defend them". Quite so. But when the IRA were firing mortars over the border into Northern Ireland, when their guerrillas were crossing from the Republic to attack police stations and Protestants, did Britain unleash the RAF on the Irish Republic? Did the RAF bomb churches and tankers and police stations and zap 300 civilians to teach the Irish a lesson? No, it did not. Because the world would have seen it as criminal behaviour. We didn't want to lower ourselves to the IRA's level.

Yes, Israel deserves security. But these bloodbaths will not bring it. . . [read more]

Plight of the Uighurs: Muslims suffering as much as the Tibetans

The international journey of the Olympic flame to Beijing for the 2008 Games has been disrupted regularly by protestors demonstrating about a variety of issues. Some of these are China’s support for regimes in Sudan, North Korea and Myanmar, the political status of Taiwan, and the persecution of the Falun Gong movement. The number one grievance, however, has been China’s occupation of Tibet and the oppression of its local inhabitants. From Athens to London, from Paris to San Francisco, and from Jakarta to Canberra, the Tibetans’ plight has brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets; some activists have even physically assaulted the torch-bearers, and many have been arrested. Despite this, the global mass media, almost without exception, have portrayed these activists as heroic, courageous and inspiring.

In recent months, another segment of Chinese society has been organising similar protests against the Olympic flame’s journey through their areas. These protests have barely warranted a mention in the mainstream media, their cause not one to be celebrated or even whispered. Where it has been discussed, it has usually been in the context of fighting terrorism. Several of these activists have been arrested, detained and even executed for their dissent. They demand the end of Chinese human-rights abuses against their people and to the dilution of their culture by the mass migration of Han Chinese to their region. Their solution is the liberation of their land from Chinese occupation. The only difference is that their religion is not Buddhism but Islam. They are the Uighurs of China’s oil-rich northwestern province of Xinjiang.


The Uighurs are an ethnically Turkic Muslim people who have lived in what is now known as the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) for over 4,000 years. Known as Eastern Turkestan for hundreds of years, Xinjiang is located along the famous “Silk Road”, beyond the Great Wall, the natural boundary of China. Islam entered the region in the middle of the tenth century and has flourished among the Uighurs ever since. The Uighurs ruled an independent kingdom, with a mixed Muslim and Buddhist population, that stood until 1759, when the Manchu Chinese invaded and destroyed it; their domination lasted until 1864. During this period, the Uighurs revolted 42 times against Manchu rule, trying to regain their independence. In the revolt of 1864, the Uighurs were successful in expelling the Manchu from East Turkestan, and founded the independent Kashgaria kingdom under the leadership of Yakub Beg. This kingdom was recognized by the Ottoman Empire, Tsarist Russia and Britain.

However, twelve years later, in 1876, a large Manchu force, with the aid of the British, once again attacked and conquered East Turkestan. After this invasion, East Turkestan was renamed “Xinjiang”, which means “New Territory”, and it was annexed by the Manchu Empire on November 18, 1884. What followed were several rebellions by various Uighur movements which succeeded in setting up an independent Islamic Eastern Turkestan Republic in both 1933 and 1944. With the rise of the Communist Party in China in 1949, however, the most brutal chapter in the history of the Muslims of Xinjiang commenced.

After occupying the province in the 1950s, the Communist regime began a programme of settlement of Han Chinese in Xinjiang in a process of colonisation to secure, control and exploit the region; since then there has been an enormous influx of Han immigrants into Xinjiang. Today, the Han population has risen from just over 6 percent of the region’s population in 1949 to about 40 percent now: that is more than eight million out of a total of 20 million inhabitants.

Religious Persecution

Currently, Xinjiang is the only province of China to have a Muslim majority; it and occupied Tibet are the only administrative regions of China in which the ethnic Chinese still constitute a minority. It is China’s largest ‘annexed’ province, accounting for 16 percent of its landmass with only 1.6 percent of its population. Xinjiang has tremendous strategic significance for China: nuclear tests have been conducted at the Lop Nor Range; a large portion of China’s mineral resources are found there, including 38 percent of its coal reserves and 25 percent of its petroleum and natural gas reserves. Despite this wealth, more than 90 percent of Muslims live below the poverty line. Money has poured in, but has mostly benefited the Han Chinese.

The Uighurs find themselves in a very similar situation to that of the people of Tibet. Like the Tibetans, Uighurs have endured decades of discrimination and oppression under Chinese rule. A religious and ethnic minority, they are routinely denied basic civil, religious and political rights. For them, China has been in occupation of their land, known to them as East Turkestan, for several centuries. Several separatist movements, such as the East Turkestan Islamic Party (ETIP), have emerged during this time, leading to even more severe repression, designed to suppress Uighur nationalist sentiment. As Islam is perceived as the ideology underpinning Uighur ethnic identity, the government also represses most outward expressions of Islam.

Actions that are strictly forbidden for Uighurs include celebrating Islamic festivals, studying religious texts or dressing in Islamic garb at state institutions, including schools. The Chinese government vets who can be an imam, what version of the Qur’an is acceptable, where religious gatherings may be held, and what may be said at such gatherings. Recently introduced regulations forbid local government employees and young men under the age of eightern from praying in the mosque, ban teachers from wearing beards and students from bringing the Qur’an to university. In June, a court in the region sentenced five Muslim imams to seven years’ imprisonment for illegally organising Hajj pilgrimages to Makkah. The imams were also charged with illegally providing copies of the Qur’an at a recent sentencing rally in Xayar County, near Aksu City.

Uighurs are - almost without exception - the only ethnic group in China to be routinely executed for political offences. Since September 2001, China has used the US-led “war on terror” as an excuse to oppress Uighurs with impunity, persecuting many who have peacefully protested their treatment. Uighurs have been jailed for reading newspapers sympathetic to the cause of independence. Others have been detained merely for listening to Radio Free Asia, an English-language station funded by the US. Even the most peaceful Uighur activists, if they practise Islam in a way that the authorities deem inappropriate, risk arrest and torture. China regularly dubs Uighur historians, poets and writers “intellectual terrorists” and sends them to jail. In June 2003 Abdulghani Memetemin, a teacher and journalist, was sentenced to nine years in jail for “providing state secrets for an organisation outside the country”. What he had actually done was help the East Turkestan Information Centre, an NGO based in Germany and run by exiled Uighurs, with its work by sending it news reports and transcripts of speeches by Chinese officials. In 2005 Nurmemet Yasin, a young intellectual, was sentenced to a decade in prison for writing an allegory comparing the Uighurs’ predicament with that of a pigeon in a cage.
Amnesty International has documented that, since 2001, “tens of thousands of people are reported to have been detained for investigation in the region, and hundreds, possibly thousands, have been charged or sentenced under the Criminal Law; many Uighurs are believed to have been sentenced to death and executed for alleged “separatist” or “terrorist” offences.” AI has further reported that once imprisoned, detainees are subjected to types of torture from cigarette-burns on the skin to submersion in water or raw sewage. Prisoners have had toenails extracted by pliers, been attacked by dogs and burned with electric batons, even cattle prods. One terrifying account is the story of a prisoner who had horse hair inserted into the tip of his penis. Throughout this brutality, the victim was forced to wear a metal helmet on his head because a previous inmate had been so traumatised by his treatment in the prison that he had beaten his own head against a radiator in an attempt to take his life.

In a 2005 report, Human Rights Watch accused China of “opportunistically using the post-11 September environment to make the outrageous claim that individuals disseminating peaceful religious and cultural messages in Xinjiang are terrorists who have simply changed tactics”. The report stated that the systematic repression of religion in Xinjiang, including the vetting of imams, the closure of mosques and the execution and detention of thousands of people every year, was continuing as “a matter of considered state policy”.

Olympic Threat

In the run up to the Olympic Games, China has increased its persecution of the Uighurs to unprecedented levels. China has justified this crackdown in the name of national security to counter the “threat” of Uighur Muslim militants eager to exploit the Olympics for their own political agenda. Chinese officials have announced that they have recently foiled numerous planned attacks by Uighur Muslims, including plots to kidnap athletes and bring down commercial airliners.

On July 9 Chinese police shot dead five Uighur men in a raid on an apartment in the city of Urumchi, Xinjiang’s capital. They were part of a group of fifteen, all of whom, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency, had been armed with knives and engaged in planning “holy war” against “infidels”. No independent sources have verified the official version of events. In addition, the Chinese-language Xinhua report of the incident made no mention of the “holy war” training or intent to harm Han Chinese people that were included in the English-language Xinhua report. According to unofficial accounts of the raid obtained by the Uighur American Association (UAA), the fifteen young Uighurs were merely gathered peacefully in the apartment. After police used teargas on the premises and entered the location without any warning or call to surrender, the unarmed young men and women fled into an open field, where police fired on them with machine-guns.

On the same day, a court in Kashgar, in the southern part of East Turkestan, sentenced five Uighurs to death out of a group of fifteen. Two of the five were shot immediately after being sentenced, and the other three were sentenced to execution after a two-year reprieve. The remaining ten Uighurs were sentenced to life imprisonment. All fifteen were convicted of terrorism charges and illegal religious teachings. No evidence was presented to substantiate these claims.

According to the UAA, 10,000 Uighurs in Kashgar were ordered to gather together by police and forced to attend the sentencing rally for these fifteen Uighurs. Video cameras, mobile phones and other recording equipment were prohibited. Forced attendance at these “sentencing rallies” is intended to intimidate Uighurs and enforce strict social control. These rallies often take place after swift summary trials.

As Olympic games’ the opening ceremony on August 8 approaches, this persecution in the name of security has spread to Chinese civil society, where increasing levels of paranoia are apparent. While hotels in Beijing are busy welcoming guests from around the world, they are turning away China’s own ethnic minorities, especially Uighur Muslims. Last month, the Globe and Mail reported how a young Uighur couple and their infant daughter searched dozens of hotels in Beijing for a place to stay. Most of the hotel clerks, mistaking them for foreigners, welcomed them and offered a room. But when the couple pulled out their identity cards, the clerks realized they were Muslim Uighurs. The response was always the same: Sorry, no room at the inn. Turned away by every hotel, the family rented an old car for $20 a day and slept in it for two nights. The conditions were so bad that their two-month-old baby fell ill. Eventually, they abandoned the car and begged to stay at a cousin’s overcrowded apartment before leaving the city.

Signs like the following have also been posted up in many public buildings in Beijing:

Whenever anyone that can be identified as “Tibetans”, “Xinjiang Uighurs” and “Qinghai Hualong Hui’s” enters the building, please report them to the security department. Security guards will persuade them to leave the building, or follow them till they do so.

Until recently, Beijing had dozens of Uighur restaurants, but most have been forced to close in the past two years as the security clampdown has tightened. In late June, the Chinese authorities demolished a mosque in Kalpin county, Xinjiang, for refusing to put up signs in support of the Beijing Olympics. World Uighur Congress spokesman Dilxat Raxit stated that the mosque, renovated in 1998, had been accused of illegally renovating the structure, carrying out illegal religious activities and illegally storing copies of the Qur’an.


The dual prism through which Chinese human-rights abuses are viewed is glaringly apparent. Chinese repression in Tibet brings forth the strongest condemnation from the governments and people of the world. Almost identical subjugation in Xinjiang goes unnoticed or is seen as a necessary response to a security threat. Most people have never even heard of the Uighurs.

For Muslims, the responsibility is to publicise the plight of their brethren in China so that the sight of the Chinese authorities putting down demonstrators holding “Free East Turkestan” placards will provoke the international moral outrage at present reserved for pro-Tibet activists.

By: Fahad Ansari | TheTrueCall 2008

Johann Hari: The true story behind this war is not the one Israel is telling

Monday, 29 December 2008 | The Independent

There will now be a war over the story of this war. The Israeli government says, "We withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and in return we got Hamas and Qassam rockets being rained on our cities. Sixteen civilians have been murdered. How many more are we supposed to sacrifice?" It is a plausible narrative, and there are shards of truth in it, but it is also filled with holes. If we want to understand the reality and really stop the rockets, we need to rewind a few years and view the run-up to this war dispassionately.

The Israeli government did indeed withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005 – in order to be able to intensify control of the West Bank. Ariel Sharon's senior adviser, Dov Weisglass, was unequivocal about this, explaining: "The disengagement [from Gaza] is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians... this whole package that is called the Palestinian state has been removed from our agenda indefinitely."

Ordinary Palestinians were horrified by this, and by the fetid corruption of their own Fatah leaders, so they voted for Hamas. It certainly wouldn't have been my choice – an Islamist party is antithetical to all my convictions - but we have to be honest. It was a free and democratic election, and it was not a rejection of a two-state solution. The most detailed polling of Palestinians, by the University of Maryland, found that 72 per cent want a two-state solution on the 1967 borders, while fewer than 20 per cent want to reclaim the whole of historic Palestine. So, partly in response to this pressure, Hamas offered Israel a long, long ceasefire and a de facto acceptance of two states, if only Israel would return to its legal borders.

Rather than seize this opportunity and test Hamas's sincerity, the Israeli government reacted by punishing the entire civilian population. It announced that it was blockading the Gaza Strip in order to "pressure" its people to reverse the democratic process. The Israelis surrounded the Strip and refused to let anyone or anything out. They let in a small trickle of food, fuel and medicine – but not enough for survival. Weisglass quipped that the Gazans were being "put on a diet". According to Oxfam, only 137 trucks of food were allowed into Gaza last month to feed 1.5 million people. The United Nations says poverty has reached an "unprecedented level." When I was last in besieged Gaza, I saw hospitals turning away the sick because their machinery and medicine was running out. I met hungry children stumbling around the streets, scavenging for food.

It was in this context – under a collective punishment designed to topple a democracy – that some forces within Gaza did something immoral: they fired Qassam rockets indiscriminately at Israeli cities. These rockets have killed 16 Israeli citizens. This is abhorrent: targeting civilians is always murder. But it is hypocritical for the Israeli government to claim now to speak out for the safety of civilians when it has been terrorising civilians as a matter of state policy.

The American and European governments are responding with a lop-sidedness that ignores these realities. They say that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate while under rocket fire, but they demand that the Palestinians do so under siege in Gaza and violent military occupation in the West Bank.[read more]

Kashmir Election

31 December 2008 | courtesy e-group

How Far It Reflects Their Opinion:

The Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir yesterday appeared set for a second successive spell of coalition as elections to the state legislature threw up a fractured mandate, according to news report;

None of the major contenders for power -- National Conference (NC), People's Democratic Party (PDP) and Congress -- could win enough seats to form the state government on their own.National Conference led by former chief minister Farooq Abdullah emerged as the single largest party with 28 seats in the 87-member assembly, far away from the majority mark of 44 seats.PDP headed by Mufti Mohd Sayeed finished second, setting off speculation in political circles about possible permutations and combinations about the shape of future government.The questions being asked is whether NC will form a coalition government with Congress or PDP or will the Farooq Abdullah-led party will form government on its own with outside support from Congress or PDP?The election may have seen Congress' tally of seats in polls this time coming down from its haul in the previous elections when it secured 20 seats but the party is clearly in the position of a kingmaker as its support has been sought by NC. NC leader Omar Abdullah, Farooq's son, has said his party would approach Congress for support. He did not rule out alliance with PDP but described the latter as an "opportunist party".

The Congress and PDP had shared power in the state for the last six years after the 2002 polls had thrown up a hung assembly under a unique power-sharing arrangement which saw the two parties leading the coalition government for three years each.

But how far this election reflects the public opinion.We have seen the massive movement of the Kashmiris and first hand report of Ms Arundhati Roy. It appeared to us that hardly any Kashmiri wants to stay with India.The solution of kashmir problem is a must for peace in the subcontinent. India should realise it. They have genuine complaint about Mumbai but they should also realise that the Indian army and other forces have killed more than sixty thousand civiliansin Kashmir and they have grudge against India.We hope India realizes that this can not continue forever.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Israeli Attacks Kill Over 310 in Gaza in One of Israel’s Bloodiest Attacks on Palestinians Since 1948

Amidst worldwide protests, Israel is continuing its bombing campaign against Gaza for the third consecutive day and preparing to launch a possible ground invasion. Following months of a crippling blockade, this has been described as one of Israel’s bloodiest attacks on Palestinians since 1948. Latest reports indicate that 310 people have been killed and 1,400 injured in the aerial strikes across the Gaza Strip since Saturday morning. The latest targets of the air strikes include the Hamas Interior Ministry building and the Islamic University. Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced today that Israel is in an “all-out war with Hamas and its proxies” in Gaza. Fears of a ground invasion are growing after Israel declared a military buffer zone around Gaza, closing off the strip and its 1.5 million residents to journalists and civilians.

We speak to Dr. Moussa El-Haddad and Fida Qishta in Gaza, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti in Ramallah, Gideon Levy in Tel Aviv and Ali Abunimah in the US. [includes rush transcript]

Ahmadinejad: Israeli raids change everything

Israeli tanks have massed along the Gaza border as officials in Tel Aviv suggest there will be a ground operation into the strip.
democracyNow! telecast

Tue, 30 Dec 2008 | Presstv

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip is the harbinger of major developments in the region.

As the Israeli army continues to pound the beleaguered strip for a fourth day on Tuesday, there appears to be no active diplomacy on the issue and no halt to the military campaign -- the largest assault on Gaza in decades.

President Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that the fierce Israeli air assault on Gaza, which "aims to root out Hamas and the Palestinians", would only lead to the "disintegration of the Israeli regime".

"Committing genocide against innocent people will only lead to the gradual disintegration of the regime," said the Iranian president in his address to the country's Majlis (parliament).

Israel has rejected calls for an immediate cease-fire. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called the four-day bombardment of Gaza "the first of several stages", suggesting that the conflict is far from over.

The number of Palestinian deaths rose to 375 on Tuesday, while hospitals struggle to keep up with the massive number of those injured and the lack of medical supplies.

Israel says through its military campaign, it seeks to topple the Hamas movement, which took control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 after winning the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections in January 2006.

In retaliation to the attacks on Gaza, Hamas has vowed to launch rocket strikes on Israel. Four Israelis have died since Saturday.

Despite international calls for Israel to halt the bloodshed in Gaza, Israel is reportedly preparing to launch a ground assault into the region.

A senior Iranian commander floated the idea on Monday that the time has come for Muslims to militarily stop Israeli crimes in Gaza.

"Only the military option can save Gaza," said Brigadier General Mir-Faisal Baqerzadeh, Head of the Foundation for the Remembrance of the Holy Defense.

President Ahmadinejad has condemned the Israeli operation and has called on the United Nations Security Council to put an end to the violence in Gaza.

Fearing recruitment, FBI reaches out to US Somalis: report

Source: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US Federal Bureau of Investigation is expanding contacts with Somali immigrant communities in the United States, especially in Minnesota, out of concern that terrorists may be recruiting young men there, The Washington Times reported Monday.

The newspaper said about young 20 men from the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area had disappeared in recent months and are thought to have joined Islamist rebels who are on the verge of overthrowing the US- and UN-backed government in Somalia.

The outreach effort began after Shirwa Ahmed, a naturalized US citizen, was killed in a suicide bombing in northern Somalia in late October, according to the report.

US officials also confirmed that a Seattle man suspected of being an Islamist radical working with an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group had been killed in a missile strike in Somalia, The Times said.

Somali MPs vacate parliament seats

Mon, 29 Dec 2008 12:42:22 GMT | perwi

Thirty Somali lawmakers have fled Baidoa, the seat of the country's Parliament, after a legislator was killed in the southern town.

The lawmakers are said to be heading to the northern town of Galkaayo in the breakaway region of Puntland, a Press TV correspondent reported on Monday.

The move is triggered by increasing insecurity in Baidoa.

On Saturday unknown gunmen killed parliament member Ismail Hassan Omar Mohammud (Timir), who was recently appointed as assistant minister by ousted Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein (Nur Adde).

The fleeing lawmakers are allies of President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed who announced his resignation on Monday and is also said to have left Baidoa for Puntland.

The withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia - who were responsible for providing security to government officials and lawmakers - is expected to force more lawmakers to vacate the town.

Q & A - What happens now Somali's president has resigned?

29 Dec 29, 2008 -garoweonline | By David Clarke - reuters

NAIROBI, Dec 29 (Reuters) - Somalia's President Abdullahi Yusuf resigned on Monday after four years in power and returned to his homeland in the semi-autonomous Puntland region. [ID:nLT23433] Here are some questions and answers as to what happens next:


* Yusuf had been blamed for hindering a U.N.-hosted peace process. He came under increasing pressure from Western nations and East African leaders to get the interim government working. A regional bloc spearheading the talks imposed sanctions on Yusuf this month for being an obstacle to peace.

* Yusuf had also become increasingly unpopular with Ethiopia, which sent troops to Somalia two years ago to prop up the Western-backed transition government. Addis Ababa was reportedly frustrated with a lack of political progress at a time its own troops are battling a growing Islamist insurgency.

* The president sacked Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein earlier this month after a long-running rift. Somalia's parliament and the international community backed Hussein, further isolating the president at home and abroad.


* Yusuf is back in Puntland. "I am now back and will stay with my people," he said upon arrival.

* According to the constitution, parliament speaker Sheikh Aden Madobe takes over for 30 days while elections are held. Madobe said he would remain only until a president is elected.

* Some diplomats say it might be better to keep the speaker longer and speed up the creation of a more inclusive parliament, with Islamist groups that have so far snubbed the peace process. They fear that electing a president before a broader coalition is in place could exacerbate existing feuds.

* Prime Minister Hussein wants to bring in moderate Islamists, and more hardline elements if they commit to peace. Hussein hopes this will marginalise what he believes is a rump of Islamist fighters who are unlikely ever to commit.

* East African nations and the international community back power-sharing as the best way to keep a functioning government, while adapting to the reality of Islamist power on the ground.

* Madobe said on Monday the government was open to talks with any opposition group. The umbrella opposition Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) is divided into a pro-peace group known as ARS-Djibouti and a hardline wing ARS-Eritrea.

* Analysts and diplomats in the region say encouraging ARS-Eritrea to come on board is important for stability in Somalia because the government wields little power outside the capital and the seat of parliament, Baidoa.

* The African Union says it is talking with all parties to keep peace talks on track and would encourage ARS-Eritrea to join ARS-Djibouti in the capital Mogadishu as the politicians put together a new administration.


* After a two-year insurgency, Islamist fighters control most of southern and central Somalia and launch near-daily attacks on government and Ethiopian forces in the capital.

* But the rebels are split. The most militant wing, al Shabaab, which is on Washington's terrorist list, is urging jihad, or holy war. Moderate elements in another faction, the Islamic Courts Union, are leaning towards talks.

* A moderate Islamist group known as Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca has pledged to oust al Shabaab from Somalia, accusing them of killing religious leaders and desecrating graves, acts they say are against Islamic teachings.

* There are daily clashes between the two groups in central Somalia and Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca seized two towns from al Shabaab over the weekend.

* The African Union and diplomats in the region say there is growing opposition to al Shabaab and community leaders have begun condemning acts of violence by the group.

* While al Shabaab has become a nationalist symbol as it fights the Ethiopians, some diplomats say the planned withdrawal of Ethiopian troops could take the sting out of the insurgency.

* "Absolutely key now is that the Ethiopians leave as planned," said a Western diplomat. "Once they go, the reason for al Shabaab's being should fall away. The resistance could collapse."

* The risk is that the Islamists and other political camps fail to end their feuding and the Horn of Africa nations descends into another chapter of chaos and violence.

Report: US heightened Pak-India tensions

Mon, 29 Dec 2008 22:52:33 GMT | Presstv

The US blames the Mumbai terror attacks on Pakistan-based militants' groups.
Many Pakistanis accuse the US of escalating tensions between India and Pakistan in the wake of last month's Mumbai siege, a report says.

"No one in Pakistan trusts the Americans and their moves... they put their weight behind Delhi only to test our nerves," a senior official told The News daily.

The daily added that many people also question the role of the outgoing Bush administration as its officials 'used their influence in favor of the Indians'.

The report comes after US, British and Indian officials blamed Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (Let) for the Mumbai siege, which have provoked a sharp rise in hostile rhetoric between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

US and UK intelligence officials have said that the LeT commander, Zaki al- Rahman Lakhvi, was the mastermind behind the Mumbai terror attacks.

The US backs India, accusing Pakistan of providing a safe haven for Taliban, al-Qaeda and other terror groups - an excuse US forces in Afghanistan use to pound Pakistani border towns.

However, the newspaper hoped that direct high level contacts can ease the tensions between the two neighboring countries following the November Mumbai terror attacks that killed at least 179 people.

"The Pakistani establishment now believes that the 'time of war' with India is over and the recent telephone contacts at the highest military level have led to the reduction in tensions generated in the wake of troop build-up (between both sides) following the Mumbai terror attacks," the daily concluded.

Tel Aviv attacks Gazan civilians for a third day. "Don't even speak about peace at this moment."

Mon, 29 Dec 2008 22:39:08 GMT | presstv
Israeli soldiers near the Gaza Strip border
Israel's envoy to the United Nations says that there will be no negotiations about peace, as Tel Aviv attacks Gazan civilians for a third day.

Israel started an 'all-out' war on the Gaza Strip as of Saturday. At least 345 Palestinians have been killed and about 1,550 have been wounded, Palestinian Medics told Press TV on Monday.

When asked about possible peace in the future, Israel's envoy, Gabriela Shalev, told CNN on Monday, "Don't even speak about peace at this moment."

"The hope is that Hamas will understand finally that Israel has the right to defend itself and the duty to protect its citizens," Shalev said without mentioning the hundreds of civilian Palestinians that were killed in Israel's 'blind raids' on civilian infrastructures in the impoverished strip.

Meanwhile, Palestinian peace negotiator Hanan Ashrawi said that she does not accept Israel's argument that it is acting in self-defense.

"Israel is an occupying power," Ashwari said in another interview with CNN on Monday.

"In Gaza, they've been under siege for months now, deprived of the most basic needs. ... And now Israel has decided that if the victims do not lie down and die quietly, it's going to shell them relentlessly from the air," she added.

A blast from an Israeli missile strike on the Gaza Strip
While the death toll in Gaza continues to rise, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon said Monday that the goal of the massive bombardment of the Gaza Strip is to topple Hamas.

The outgoing Bush administration has also thrown its full support behind Tel Aviv's bloody assault, blaming Hamas for provoking the offensive by firing rockets into Israel from Gaza.

"In order for the violence to stop, Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel and agree to respect a sustainable and durable ceasefire," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said earlier.

Palestinian resistance fighters in the Gaza Strip say they fire rockets into Israel in retaliation for the daily Israeli attacks against them. Unlike the state-of-the-art Israeli weapons and ammunition such as F-16 fighter jets that have killed hundreds, the homemade Qassam rockets rarely cause casualties.

Israeli boat rams int'l aid ship off Gaza

Tue, 30 Dec 2008 | Presstv
An international aid boat carrying a consignment of medical supplies to the Gaza Strip has been reportedly rammed by an Israeli patrol vessel.

An Israeli patrol vessel rammed a boat of Palestinian activists carrying a shipment of medical aid that tried to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip, Israeli military radio said Tuesday, AFP reported.

The radio station further added that an Israeli vessel fired warning shots at the boat 'The Dignity' and ordered it to turn around, but the aid vessel nevertheless tried to navigate around the patrol boat which blocked its passage.

The shipment was organized by a group of international activists in defiance of an Israeli naval blockade on Gaza.

Both the Israeli and Palestinian vessels suffered damage but the collision left no injuries.

On Monday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon voiced his concerns over the Israeli assaults.

"I am deeply alarmed by the current escalation of violence in and around Gaza. This is unacceptable," Ban said at a press conference held at the UN's headquarters in New York.

The Israeli regime's fierce airstrikes on the Gaza Strip has left at least 360 Palestinians killed and 1600 others wounded since Saturday.

Israel concedes attacks aim to topple Hamas

The Israeli army has declared areas around Gaza as "closed military zone(s)," a move which some analysts depicted as a potential precursor to a ground offensive.
Mon, 29 Dec 2008 16:41:08 GMT | Presstv

A senior Israeli official has conceded that the objective of the "all-out" military campaign in Gaza is to topple the Hamas government.

"The goal of the operation is to topple Hamas," said Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon in televised comments Monday.

Tel Aviv had previously stated that its "all-out war" on the Gaza Strip was launched in self-defense, as a means to retaliate against the Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel.

"We will stop fire immediately if someone takes the responsibility of this government, anyone but Hamas," said Ramon.

The White House, meanwhile, said Monday that Israel was not looking to "retake" the Gaza Strip and was only acting to defend its citizens.

Under the guise of halting Hamas attacks, the Israeli air force has attacked at least 300 Hamas-linked targets as well as schools and TV stations throughout the coastal sliver since Saturday.

The attacks have so far left at least 345 people killed and another 1550 others wounded, Palestinian medical sources told Press TV.

The Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli blockade since the democratically-elected Palestinian government of Hamas took control in mid-June 2007.

Earlier in the day, Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu called on Tel Aviv officials to put all their efforts into toppling the Hamas government in Gaza. His comments came in line with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's pledge to bring down the Islamic movement.

Netanyahu and Livni are expected to take part in the upcoming Israeli elections.

The Israeli onslaught came after a November assessment by the Israeli defense establishment which suggested that the Palestinian Authority elections should be prevented at all cost.

"If the truce collapses and conflict is resumed in the Gaza Strip, Israel must act to topple Hamas' rule there," read the leaked report.

According to the Israeli assessment, Tel Aviv fears that the new elections might lead to Hamas victory.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Gaza a week before the Israeli strike.

Before Israeli warplanes carried out a massive air-strike inside the Gaza Strip, killing at least 200 and wounding 800 others.

Gaza a week before the Israeli strike.

Gaza's 1.5 million citizens have been cut off from the rest of the world since June 2007. Since then, the Israelis have imposed ever more severe restrictions on what may enter the territory, now significantly limiting even the most basic of humanitarian supplies including food, fuel, clothing, cooking oil and medicine. As a result, according to Press TV, hundreds of patients have died, 40 percent of ambulances have stopped running due to lack of fuel, and 75 percent of Gaza’s children suffer from malnutrition. As reported in the Dec. 14 Sunday Times, some families have now resorted to eating grass. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency just announced it has been forced to suspend food distribution to the 750,000 Gazans who depend on them for assistance. It has run out of flour because all border crossings closed by Israel. [In Pictures ]

This video describes in pictures and words the shocking details of Israels deliberate ravaging of Palestinian life and society in Gaza. Its purpose is to call attention to the plight of a people under siege, which so far has been chillingly ignored by governments and the world media unwilling to call Israel to account for its criminal execution of the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from their own land. The video was created by Sonja Karkar for Australians for Palestine on 9 December 2008 using images captured by various courageous photographers on the ground in Gaza, and the haunting sounds of Sada (Echo), composed and played on the oud by Ahmad Al-Khatib.

Somalia : Yusuf's personal security force leaves Mogadishu

MOGADISHU, Somalia - More than 100 people including soldiers and their families flew out of Mogadishu Sunday, as preparations begin for the expected resignation of interim Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf, Radio Garowe reports.

African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeepers stood guard at Mogadishu's Aden Adde International Airport, watching as the plane loaded its passengers.

A witness at the airport told Radio Garowe that there was a "loud disagreement" after extra passengers tried to board the plane.

"The plane was supposed to carry 110 people, but more than 140 boarded," the witness said, adding that the move angered the pilots, who finally agreed to 120 passengers.

Most of the passengers are members of President Yusuf's personal security force, who protected his residence at the Villa Somalia presidential compound.

The plane reportedly landed in Galkayo, in the region of Puntland, the Somali president's stronghold.

Civilians killed

Locals reported that a roadside bomb targeting AMISOM peacekeepers along the road leading to Mogadishu's airport missed its mark today, killing at least three civilian bystanders.

"There was a big explosion near Hotel Ambassador…the road was being used by AMISOM tanks [at the time], who were transporting small children to the airport," said Nasro Omar, a resident of Waberi district.

Somali and Ethiopian troops rushed to the scene and briefly stopped traffic along the vital Maka al Mukarama Road.

No group has claimed responsibility for the deadly bombing, but Islamist rebels have been attacking Somali, Ethiopian and AMISOM military targets since 2006.

Media reports have said that President Yusuf will resign on Monday, ending a months-long feud with Prime Minister Nur "Adde" Hassan Hussein, who enjoys the backing of the international community.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

US veto blocks UN anti-Israel resolution

Sun, 28 Dec 2008 08:17:23 GMT | Presstv

The UN Security Council has been unable to force an end to Israeli attacks against Gaza due to the intervention of the United States.

Washington once again used its veto powers on Sunday to block a resolution calling for an end to the massive ongoing Israeli attacks against the Gaza Strip.

The council has only been able to issue a 'non-binding' statement that calls on Israel to voluntarily bring all its military activities in the besieged region to an immediate end.

The statement comes as Israel has begun a fresh wave of air strikes on Gaza on Sunday, killing at least six people. At least 230 people were killed and 800 wounded in similar attacks on Saturday. The number of Palestinians deaths has so far risen to 271.

The council called on the parties to address the humanitarian crisis in the territory but has not criticized the Israeli air attacks.

Croatian UN Ambassador Neven Jurica read out the non-binding statement on behalf of the 15-member body that "called for an immediate halt to all violence" and on the parties "to stop immediately all military activities."

"The members of the Security Council expressed serious concern at the escalation of the situation in Gaza," he said, as the president of the council.

The council also requested the opening of border crossings into Gaza to address the serious humanitarian and economic needs in Gaza and to ensure medical treatment and a continuous supply of food and fuel.

US representative to the UNSC, Zalmay Khalilzad, defended the Israeli move, saying Tel Aviv has the right to self-defense.

"I regret the loss of any of all innocent life," he said, adding that Hamas rockets precipitated this situation.

Palestinian fighters in the Gaza Strip fire rockets into Israel in retaliation for the daily Israeli attacks against them. Unlike the state-of-the-art Israeli weapons and ammunition, the home-made Qassam rockets rarely cause casualties.

The US, a staunch ally to Israel, has so far vetoed over 40 anti-Israeli resolutions sought by the council since 1972.

Since 2004, Washington has prevented the adoption of four other resolutions that called for Tel Aviv to halt its operations in the Gaza Strip.

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Iran critical of US imposing UN Chapter VII on Iraq.

IRNA | Dec 27,2008
Iran is critical of the United States for its attempt to impose UN Chapter VII on Iraq.

Chairman of Iran-Iraq parliamentary friendship group, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, on Saturday condemned the US for imposing the United Nations Chapter VII on Iraq prior to its security agreement.

Although Iraqi officials had tried to exclude the country from the UN Chapter VII in their talks with Americans, the US officials put its implementation as a precondition to fulfill the security agreement, Falahatpisheh lamented.

He regretted that leaders of some Arab states in the region have also helped US maintain its colonial system in Iraq under the pretext of Iranophobia.

Chapter VII deems Iraq as an outlawed country and constrains its political, military and economic activities because of Iraqi invasion of Kuwait under former dictator Saddam Hussein in 1990.

More than five years after the fall of the former dictator and the establishment of a democratically-elected government in that country, the UN has yet to remove Iraq from Chapter VII, he told IRNA.

Iran believes that Chapter VII is the main weak point of US-Iraq security pact as it can damage the country's sovereignty.

According to the US-Iraq security pact, the US troops are not under control or supervision of Iraqi forces and they can enter and leave the country with their own ID documents.
They are even allowed to carry out their cargoes or belongings inside and outside Iraq without any permission from Iraqi authorities.

Falahatpisheh added that the support of some regional Arab leaders for the US would only lead to prolongation of the present tensions as well as presence of the US forces in the region in the name of different security strategies.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Israel launched air strikes on Gaza city

GAZA, -- Dec 27, 2008

The Israeli occupation forces' raids on the Gaza Strip on Saturday claimed the lives of 155 Palestinians and wounded 800 others, tens of them in serious conditions, medical sources reported.

Muawiya Hasanien, the director of ambulance and emergency in the health ministry, said that the number could rise as the Israeli intensified raids did not cease and there could be many other victims still under the rubble.

Reports said that Tawfik Jabr, the commander of the Palestinian police, and Abu Ahmed Ashur, the governor of the central district, in the Gaza Strip were among the dead.

Angry demonstrations were seen in various West Bank cities immediately after news of the bloody raids were broadcast along with the horrifying images of the bloodbath.

However, the Israeli premier's office said that the air strikes were just the beginning and that other strikes would follow, the quality of which is left to Israeli chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi to decide.

Ashkenazi was quoted by the Hebrew press as saying, "The military has to study the strike's results before deciding on the next stage of the assault".

Israel gives Gazans New Year surprise

Sat, 27 Dec 2008 11:53:11 GMT | Presstv

Bodies lie outside the Hamas police headquarters following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City. At least 180 Gazans have been killed and 800 others have been wounded.
World silence on the collective punishment of the native people of Gaza has prompted a devastating Israeli attack on the coastal strip.

After the Egypt-mediated truce between Israel and Hamas expired on Tuesday, the two sides clashed along the border fence in northern Gaza. Three Palestinians were killed during the attacks.

Hamas responded by firing mortar shells and rockets into the Israeli occupied territories. Hamas commented that it was attempting "to avenge the killing of the three" members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

The six Qassam rockets fired from Gaza into western Negev caused no casualties and no property damage, Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported on the result of the Hamas retaliation.

The first major air strike after the termination of the cease-fire came on Saturday with Israeli warplanes carrying out massive attacks on Hamas security compounds inside the Gaza Strip, killing at least 180 people and wounding 800 others.

Israeli F16 bombers and apache helicopters carried out at least 30 simultaneous raids on at least 30 separate targets in Gaza City.

Footage from Gaza showed smoke from one of the strikes rising on the skyline; witnesses have reported hearing at least 15 massive explosions.

Sirens wailed through the streets, and women frantically looked for their children while relatives mourned their loved ones.

TV footage showed bodies of more than a dozen security men lying on the ground in one area. One of the men was uttering the Muslim declaration of faith (Shahadatain) as his last words.

Hamas radio reported that police chief Tawfiq Jabber was among the dead.

As Israeli tanks reportedly move closer to the impoverished region, Tel Aviv officials say the massive bombardment has just started.

Military spokesman Avi Benayahu told army radio on Saturday that strikes on the Hamas-run territory are "just beginning".

"This is only just the beginning of an operation launched after a security cabinet decision. It could take time. We have not fixed a timeline and we will act according to the situation on the ground," he said.

This is not the first time Israel mars world celebrations with its intensification of collective punishment on the people of Gaza. 

Another Cold War & Arm race?

Russia deploys 2nd S-400 missile system

Russia deploys missiles fitted with S-400 Triumf air defense system, which can hit target at a distance twice the range of the US Patriot.

"The S-400 system is being successfully deployed with air defense units," said the head of the Russian Air Force, RIA Novosti reported.

The placement, currently in process in Moscow's vicinity, is aimed at guarding the capital's surrounding airspace.

"At present, we are testing a new missile for this system," Col. Gen. Alexander Zelin added.

Another missile complex enhanced with the S-400 defense technology was earlier deployed in the area. Russia is expected to arm 18 battalions with the system until 2015.

Its strike capability enables the S-400 to hit targets within 400 kilometers (248.5 miles) which is equal to two times the distance flown by the US MIM-104 Patriot missiles.

The US says its plans for setting up bases is Poland equipped with the Patriot is aimed at warding off potential strikes from 'rogue states' in the Middle and Far East.

Moscow has denounced the move saying that Washington is using the 'rogue states' as an excuse to jeopardize Russia's sovereignty.

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