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Updated: 4 hours 32 min ago

ISIL’s Libya Affiliate Murders 30 Ethiopian Christians

Tue, 21 Apr 2015 - 1:39am

By EurActiv | –

A video purportedly made by Islamic State and posted on social media sites on Sunday (19 April) appeared to show militants shooting and beheading about 30 Ethiopian Christians in Libya.

Reuters was unable to verify the authenticity of the video, but the killings resemble past violence carried out by Islamic State, an ultra-hardline group that has expanded its reach from strongholds in Iraq and Syria to conflict-ridden Libya.

The video, in which militants call Christians “crusaders” who are out to kill Muslims, showed about 15 men being beheaded on a beach and another group of the same size, in an area of shrubland, being shot in the head.

Both groups of men are referred to in a video subtitle as “worshippers of the cross belonging to the hostile Ethiopian church”.

Libyan officials were not immediately available for comment. Ethiopia said it had not been able to verify whether the people shown in the video were its citizens.

“Nonetheless, the Ethiopian government condemns the atrocious act,” government spokesman Redwan Hussein said.

He said Ethiopia, which does not have an embassy in Libya, would help repatriate Ethiopians if they wanted to leave Libya.

The EU published a statement by a spokesperson of foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, expressing solidarity with Ethiopia “in this moment of shock and grief”.

The statement said the situation in Libya will be discussed during today’s Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg, where the issue of migrants boat disasters is expected to take centre stage.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz has called for the EU to help put in place a government of national unity in Libya.

The United States also condemned the “brutal mass murder”. The White House said the killing of the men “solely because of their faith lays bare the terrorists’ vicious, senseless brutality.”

Militants professing loyalty to Islamic State have claimed responsibility for several attacks on foreigners in Libya this year, including an assault on the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli and the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians in February.

The killing of the Egyptians prompted Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to order air strikes on Islamic State targets in Libya.

In the latest video, a man dressed in black clutching a pistol stood behind some of the victims.

“Muslim blood shed under the hands of your religions is not cheap,” he says. “To the nation of the cross: We are now back again.”

The video warns that Christians will not be safe unless they embrace Islam or pay protection money.

Islamic State controls large parts of Iraq and Syria and wants to redraw the map of the Middle East. It is not clear how many fighters it has in Libya, an oil-producing nation.

Egyptian security officials estimate that thousands of militants who share Islamic State’s ideology moved from the Sinai Peninsula to Libya after the army toppled President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.

Via EurActiv

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Arirang News: “Islamic State militants shoot, behead 30 Ethiopian Christians in Libya IS”

Gaza: Shortage of Medicines as Israeli Blockade Grinds On

Tue, 21 Apr 2015 - 12:56am

By IMEMC News

The Palestinian Ministry of Health has announced that the crisis of shortage in medicines and medical disposables has been critically aggravated because of the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip for more than eight years [which has lowered incomes and made imported medicines expensive – JC].

Director General of Pharmacy, Ashraf Abu Mahady, said that the Ministry is now totally lacking 118 kinds of medicines (25%) and 334 kind of medical disposals (37%), according to a report by Al Ray Palestinian Media Agency.

He pointed to the significant lack of medical disposables for cardiac catheterization and open heart surgeries, which has reached 80% , and which will lead to the increase of cases needing medical treatment and transfers abroad.

He explained that there are several services affected by the shortage of medicines, mainly the complete lack of 32% of primary care drugs, in addition to 54% of the immunological drugs and 30% of oncology drugs, which will have grave impact on chronic conditions suffered by patients in the region.

Mahadi warned of the continued lack of medicines in ministry stores, which will further aggravate the crisis in the Strip, in case that it lasts for more time.

He urged concerned bodies, along with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the World Health Organization to exert pressure on the Israeli government to lift the blockade and to open the crossings.

Via IMEMC

—-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund: “Building Gaza’s First And Only Public Pediatric Cancer Dept”

If Climate Change ends Capitalism, what good are Climate Economists?

Tue, 21 Apr 2015 - 12:23am

By David Ray Griffin | (Informed Comment) –

Since the 1970s, when he essentially founded the economics of climate change, William Nordhaus had been considered its preeminent authority. According to a fellow economist, the optimal economic policy had for decades been simply “what Bill Nordhaus said." This view had been unquestioned, said a 2013 article, “until 2006, when the British government published a new review of climate change, led by Sir Nicholas H. Stern.”

Stern, a professor at the London School of Economics, had served as the Chief Economist of the World Bank. The review that he led was published as The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review, usually called simply the Stern Review. This publication, which gave the world a radically different view of the economics of climate change, led to a new era in the field – a transition from the Nordhaus era to the Stern era.

“In the era before the Stern Review,” say Frank Ackerman and Elizabeth Stanton, “economic models of climate change were typically framed as cost-benefit analyses.” This framing has been preeminently exemplified by Nordhaus. Although he called global warming “the major environmental challenge of the modern age,” he did not express a sense of urgency about it. In his 2008 book, he said: “Neither extreme – either do nothing or stop global warming in its tracks – is a sensible course of action.” The central question, Nordhaus said, was: “How to balance costs and benefits.”

One especially startling statement came in a discussion about the sea-level rise that would be caused by the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets: “Although it is difficult to envision the ecological and societal consequences of the melting of these ice sheets,” Nordhaus said, “this situation is clearly highly undesirable and should be avoided unless prevention is ruinously expensive.” It is startling to suggest that, if we find avoiding the melting of these ice sheets “ruinously expensive,” we should just let them melt.

Nordhaus’s 2013 book expressed a somewhat greater sense of urgency. Nevertheless, he continued to focus on cost-benefit balance, saying that “good policies must lie somewhere between wrecking the economy and wrecking the world."

According to the Stern Review, by contrast, climate change “demands an urgent global response,“ because “what we do in the next 10 or 20 years can have a profound effect on the climate in the second half of this century and in the next.” The Review, however, did not reject the cost-effective approach. It simply said, in one of its most quoted statements: “The [economic] benefits of strong, early action on climate change outweigh the costs.”

The analyses of climate change by economists, say Ackerman and Stanton, have “rarely portray[ed] the most recent advances in climate science.” Instead, they tend to be “out of date by several years, if not decades.” With Nordhaus primarily in mind, they said in an article with Ramón Bueno, “there is no reason to cling to outdated, unduly rosy estimates, rather than following the best, most recent findings of climate scientists.”

Fortunately, say Ackerman and Stanton, “the Stern Review broke new ground by synthesizing the current knowledge in climate science and setting a new standard for good climate-economics analysis, using up-to-date inputs from climate science.”

Although Nordhaus has not been guilty of science denial – indeed, he has publically debated with deniers – his analysis, Stanton, Ackerman, and Ramón Bueno, have written, “could be called risk denial – accepting a (very optimistic) picture of the most likely climate outcomes, but paying little or no attention to worst-case risks.” This risk denial is dangerous, they said, because “[w]hen climate economists – and the policy makers they advise – fail to understand the well-established findings of climate science, the result is likely to be too little emission reduction, too late.”

In spite of the growing scientific consensus over the decade that sea-level rise will be catastrophic for people and agriculture, Nordhaus continued to exude optimism, saying that “human societies can adapt to [sea-level rise] without catastrophic losses.” Because most poor countries will in the future be much richer, he advised, they “will be able to protect themselves against climatic extremes just as Miami and Rotterdam do today.” When that is impractical, people can simply migrate.

Stern’s 2013 writings expressed a very different picture of what climate economists should be doing. Although the Review had already said that the “economics of risk” should be made central, his new writings put even more focus on it, saying that economists must present climate change as “a problem of risk management on an immense scale,” which most economists had not done.

Stern’s approach to climate economics is a return to that pioneered by William R. Cline, who in 1992 published the first American book on the subject – The Economics of Global Warming – which favored “an aggressive course of abatement.” Aggressive abatement, he said, was “justifiable on economic grounds alone.” He differed with Nordhaus on this point, he said, mainly because of the latter’s “excessive total discount rate.”

Employing a 6% discount rate as an example of one that is much too high, Stern pointed out that in 100 years, a unit of benefit would be valued 339 times lower, meaning we would care 339 times less about people alive 100 years now than we care for the present generation. This comes close to saying, Stern said, “forget about issues concerning 100 years or more from now.”

The primary basis for advocating high discount rates, said Stern, is “the unwarranted assumption that future incomes will almost certainly be much higher than now.” This assumption “is simply not credible.” Economic modelers such as Nordhaus, he said, need to factor in the possibility that global warming will create “an environment so hostile that physical, social, and organizational capital are destroyed.”

Excerpt from David Ray Griffin, Unprecedented: Can Civilization Survive the CO2 Crisis? (Clarity Press, 2015)

David Ray Griffin is Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Theology, Emeritus, Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University (1973-2004); Co-Director, Center for Process Studies. He edited the SUNY Series in Constructive Postmodern Thought (1987-2004)

China’s Big Clean-Up: Asia’s Hope

Mon, 20 Apr 2015 - 11:31pm

By Mark L. Clifford | (Author of The Greening of Asia: The Business Case for Solving Asia’s Environmental Emergency)

Asia sometimes feels like one big environmental emergency. Breathing Beijing’s air on a bad mid-winter’s day is more dangerous than breathing the smoke in a forest fire. The appearance of thousands of pig carcasses floating in a Shanghai river prompted residents to joke that they only had to turn on the water taps to get pork soup. They have a black humor.

Surprisingly, there is a glimmer of green in this otherwise grim landscape. China invested $89 billion in clean-tech last year, two-thirds more than the U.S.’s $52 billion, according to figures from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The rest of Asia spent $65 billion, as much as Europe and still comfortably ahead of the U.S.

China is putting in new solar plants and wind turbines at a rate that has never been seen anywhere. Already, China’s wind turbine capacity is the world’s number-one. It’s likely to take the top spot for solar capacity within the next year.

China wants to get 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil fuel energy sources by 2030, double the portion in 2013. This counts nuclear — China has the world’s biggest nuclear program underway, too — and hydropower, as well as wind and solar.

It was only in 2007 that the country’s leaders began talking about climate change. Since then, China has announced a series of increasingly impressive policies and targets. Last year’s agreement between Xi Jinping and Barack Obama was historic, with Xi promising that 20% of China’s energy would be from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030 and that carbon emissions would peak around the same time.

China matters so much because it is the world’s second largest economy. But China is the largest energy consumer. It is notoriously inefficient in its use of energy — requiring about three times as much energy use to produce a dollar of output as the U.S. China burns almost half of all the coal in the world and is responsible for 30 percent of global carbon emissions, the gases that are the key contributor to global warming.

China’s move to a cleaner economy could come much more quickly than official targets suggest. China’s coal use fell last year for the first time in decades. Planners have said that overall coal use will peak by 2020 but in fact China could be at or near peak coal levels right now, with coal use expected to start dropping in the latter part of this decade.

Researchers at MIT and China’s prestigious Tsinghua University say that carbon emissions could level out in the early- to mid-2020s and start declining after that. This would come at virtually no cost in economic growth. It would, however, require more aggressive policies, including a tax on coal use as well as continued support for renewable power, such as solar and wind, in order to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy.

What is driving this change? After all, it was not so long ago, at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009, that China said it had the right to pursue its own development path. All signs indicated that it wanted to ape the West’s “get dirty, get rich, get clean” strategy. Now China is cleaning up – for its own reasons. Air pollution causes a staggering 1.2 million premature deaths a year in China. Every year. Water quality and water scarcity are increasing problems. The more erratic weather that accompanies global warming disproportionately affects resource-stressed — and poorer and more crowded — countries like China.

Public opinion from an increasingly affluent populace plays a big part. A hard-hitting anti-pollution documentary by Chai Jing, a former journalist at state broadcaster CCTV, Under the Dome, was viewed more than 300 million times after it was released in late February. Government censors then ordered it removed from websites. The documentary had support from reform-minded officials but faced powerful opposition from the country’s state-owned energy companies.

China has a strong state and it has increasingly capable companies that can help make this transition possible. Its solar companies are the world’s largest. Goldwind, a wind power company, trails only Danish pioneer Vestas and is picking up contracts as China builds out the New Silk Road in places like Pakistan. Electric car maker BYD is known in the West because of Warren Buffet’s purchase of 10% of the company, but it is just one of a slew of competitors trying to look for alternatives in transportation.

China’s environment isn’t going to be pristine any time soon. It takes a long time to re-orient a $10 trillion a year economy, even one as top-down as China’s. The backlash against Under the Dome appeared to reflect the influence of powerful energy companies, many of them state-owned. They aren’t in any apparent hurry to change, especially given the price controls that make it difficult to pass price increases on to consumers.

Still, change is coming. China used to think that it couldn’t afford the cost of clean business. Now its people are saying that they can no longer afford the cost of business as usual.

© 2015 Mark L. Clifford, author of The Greening of Asia.

Author Bio
Mark L. Clifford, author of The Greening of Asia: The Business Case for Solving Asia’s Environmental Emergency, is the executive director of the Hong Kong-based Asia Business Council. During his prize-winning 25-year career in journalism, he served as editor in chief of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and held senior editorial roles at BusinessWeek and the Far Eastern Economic Review. He has lived in Hong Kong since 1992. For more information please visit markclifford.org.

Khamenei: US invented nuclear Myth; Iran will Never Invade another Country

Mon, 20 Apr 2015 - 2:36am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

The clerical leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, gave a speech on Sunday in which he urged that Iran maintain its military readiness in order to fend off any hostile invasion or attack. But, he said, “Iran has never invaded a country and never will.” He also called US charges that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon a “myth” and “propaganda.”

Whatever else is wrong with the Islamic Republic of Iran, you have to admit that it is refreshing for a country’s leader to make such a pledge. No American politician could even run for election on such a platform, of “no conventional military attack on another country.” American politicians are always talking about keeping all options open or ‘on the table’, by which they mean that Washington might at any moment take it into its head suddenly to go to aggressive war against another country, even though that country had not attacked the US. The illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 was only the most recent and dramatic such attack.

Iran has a small military budget, about $10 bn., on the order of that of Norway or Singapore. It has no air force to speak of. The US military budget is roughly 80 times that of Iran.

Khamenei said that Iran has a no first strike policy and is no danger to its immediate neighbors (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey, Iraq, and Kuwait), much less to countries further away (he may be referring to Israel and Yemen).

What about Khamenei’s claim that Iran hasn’t invaded another country? He probably meant the the Islamic Republic has launched no wars of aggression since its founding in 1979. This is true. In 1980 Iraq invaded Iran. Iran fought the invaders to a standstill and ultimately made peace, making no effort to occupy Iraqi territory.

Iran did invade Herat in Afghanistan in the 1850s, but Iranians argue that Herat had long been part of the Iranian empire and so Iran was just recovering what was theirs. Before that, Iran invaded Iraq in 1785 and took Basra. So it has been a long time.

Critics of Iran will complain that it does support Hizbullah and the al-Assad regime in Syria and the Houthis in Yemen. This is true, though the latter has been exaggerated. But offering an ally strategic advice or logistical help on demand is different from invading with tanks.

Those who only read the US press on Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment program may be surprised to see Khamenei deny that Iran wants a nuclear bomb. But he has been saying this all along. He said in 2006 of US criticisms of his country:

“Their other issue is [their assertion] that Iran seeks [a] nuclear bomb. It is an irrelevant and wrong statement, it is a sheer lie. We do not need a nuclear bomb. We do not have any objectives or aspirations for which we will need to use a nuclear bomb. We consider using nuclear weapons against Islamic rules. We have announced this openly. We think imposing the costs of building and maintaining nuclear weapons on our nation is unnecessary. Building such weapons and their maintenance are costly. By no means we deem it right to impose these costs on the people. We do not need those weapons. Unlike the Americans who want to rule the world with force, we do not claim to control the world and therefore do not need a nuclear bomb.”

Khamenei has repeated this stance numerous times, but the US media can’t seem to hear him say it. He considers nuclear bombs to be against Islamic law, since they kill large numbers of innocent non-combatants, including women and children, when deployed. Of course, he could be lying. But that is sort of like the Pope maintaining a condom factory in the basement of the Vatican. You have to ask yourself, why ban something religiously that you intend to promote in actuality? If the contradiction became known, it would damage the religious leader’s credibility.

According to the BBC Monitoring translation of Khamenei.ir , Khamenei said:

“Iran not “a threat” to any country

The Islamic Republic is not a threat to any country. We have never been a threat even to our neighbours, let alone to distant countries. Our contemporary history clearly shows this. Even when some of our neighbours treated us not in a neighbourly manner, we showed restraint. Iran has never invaded a country and never will. The fake myth of nuclear weapons has been devised by America and then Europe and some other bootlickers in order to portray the Islamic Republic as a threat.”

Khamenei went on to point out that it is the USA that has illegally launched wars of aggression in the Middle East, along with Israel. Iran, he said, never has.

I think he was pointing to Iraq when he said, “Even in some cases it has graciously forgiven the bad attitude of its neighbours. Insecurity is coming from the direction of unleashed powers which take over everywhere.”

As for Yemen, while Iran stands accused of giving military aid to the rebel Houthi movement, that charge is not easy to prove. It seems unlikely that the Houthis needed Iran to launch their protest movement. It is Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the USA, who have launched an attack on the Houthis even though they did not attack Saudi Arabia. Khamenei in his speech said that Iran is merely helping countries that have been attacked.

Today, these heartbreaking events are happening in Yemen and the Americans support the tyrant. The West supports the tyrant. Insecurity is coming from their direction. It is them who make countries unsafe, and make the environment insecure for people to live in. It is them who bring insecurity. The Islamic Republic of Iran considers security as the biggest divine gift both for itself and others and stands up for its security and defends it.”

h/t to BBC Monitoring for translations.

Related video:

Wochit News: “Khamenei Says Iran Nuclear Weapons are a U.S. ‘myth'”

700 Dead: Is Europe’s Neglect of Mediterranean Migrants a form of Genocide?

Mon, 20 Apr 2015 - 12:52am

By Heaven Crawley

The latest refugee deaths in the Mediterranean – up to 700 people drowned when the overcrowded fishing vessel in which they were travelling from North Africa capsized of the coast of Libya – follows a similar tragedy last week in which 400 people perished.

In October 2013, more than 360 people – mostly from Eritrea – lost their lives when their boat caught fire and sank off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa. In September 2014 more than 500 migrants were deliberately killed at sea. The attack allegedly occurred after the migrants refused to board a smaller boat in the open water and the traffickers reportedly laughed as they drowned, hacking at the hands of those who tried to cling to the wreckage. Witnesses report that as many as 100 children were on board.

In the absence of official records, or bodies to count, it’s hard to say exactly how many people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) released a report in late September 2014 putting the number at 3,072, accounting for 75% of worldwide migrant deaths. But with so many lost at sea or along the way, the real figure could be far higher.

Risky business

If you listened to some media reports this week you would be forgiven for thinking that increased migration to Europe was the result of “good weather” rather than increasing governmental instability and violence. The motivations and aspirations of migrants themselves are largely absent.

Migrants are presented as victims, “illegals” and objects of control. The “solution” is technical, bureaucratic and framed as an issue of migration management. Little attempt is made to explain why thousands of men, women and children would risk their lives to get on an overcrowded boat to cross a dangerous sea or what their hopes and aspirations might be. Migrants’ lack of agency is reinforced by stories of agents, smugglers and traffickers who dupe them into making the journey to Europe.

Migration looks very different when seen from the perspective of migrants themselves. Although “migrants” are represented as a homogeneous group, there are significant differences in the motivations, experiences and aspirations of those who travel to Europe.

For economic migrants, the decision to leave is generally a conscious choice by relatively well-off individuals and households to enhance their livelihoods. Most migrants are not the poorest of the poor. Clandestine travel costs anywhere from US$5,000-$35,000. Many of these migrants are petty entrepreneurs who sold their businesses or property in order to pay for the expensive trip.

But there are also growing numbers of migrants for whom the primary motivation for migration is the search for safety and protection. As noted by UNHCR, the international agency tasked with the protection of refugees, events unfolding in Syria, Iraq, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and elsewhere, combined with the deterioration of the situation in countries where refugees were residing, are forcing increasing number of people to move.

At the same time European governments have funded the EU border agency Frontex to implement a series of policies that make entry to Europe more difficult. With few opportunities to enter Europe legally, thousands of people threatened by persecution and serious human rights violations are taking increasingly convoluted and more dangerous sea routes.

As the routes across the western Mediterranean have been blocked there has been a sharp spike in the numbers of people attempting to cross via the central Mediterranean route, often leaving through conflict-torn Libya where there are no effective border controls and smugglers operate with near impunity.

These journeys are longer and the risks greater. My own research found that people are increasingly beholden to the decisions of traffickers and smugglers whose motivations are often far from altruistic. Most are aware of the risks before they travel but decide to continue because they feel that they have no alternative.

Drowning, not waving

The story of migration to Europe from the countries of north and west of Africa has captured the public and political imagination since the late 1990s when Europe started to strengthen its external border controls. This story is dominated by images of small boats packed with refugees and migrants trying to reach the coasts of Europe, of young African men scaling fences – and of corpses washed up onto European beaches. In the context of rising public concern in many countries about increased migration, these images have been used to legitimise increased border controls.

Not everyone dies trying to cross the Mediterranean. The lucky ones reach the islands of Lampedusa, Malta or Sicily or are picked up by the Italian navy or coastguard. Nearly 10,000 migrants have been rescued from boats travelling across the Mediterranean to Italy in the past week alone.

Until recently these rescue efforts were undertaken through Mare Nostrum, a search and rescue mission established after the Lampedusa sinking in October 2013 and funded by the European Commission to the tune of around €30m. But the scale of the search and rescue effort has been scaled back significantly since November 2014 when Mare Nostrum was replaced by a new “Triton” scheme which is coordinated by Frontex.

This scheme is confined to a 30-mile zone around Italy’s coastal waters, possesses far less maritime capability than the previous scheme and is focused primarily on protecting the borders and preventing illegal entry as opposed to search and rescue. Amnesty International condemned the decision to end Mare Nostrum, saying it would “put the lives of thousands of migrants and refugees attempting to reach Europe at risk”.

This does indeed appear to be the case. According to UNHCR the death rate has soared 50-fold since the scrapping of Mare Nostrum – there have been almost 900 deaths already this year compared to just 17 during the same period in 2014.

Deaf ears

The decision to end the search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean does not appear to be just a financial one. The 2015 budget of Frontex has been increased by 16%, from €97m to €114m – and the largest share of the extra funding has been directed towards Joint Operations at Sea Borders.

Rather it reflects the politics of migration policy in Europe which has resulted in an overwhelming focus on border control and migration management as well as fundamental, arguably wilful, misunderstanding of the reasons why people make the crossing in the first place.

The UK government has refused to support search and rescue operations to prevent migrants and refugees drowning in the Mediterranean arguing that it will simply encourage others to make the journey. The government believes that rescuing those who are drowning creates an “unintended pull factor” and that efforts should instead focus on preventing people from making the crossing.

The expectation, it seems, is that the (future) fear of drowning will outweigh the (immediate) fear of violence and persecution. For many this is clearly not the case. The reports continue to flow in: as I write a further 40 people are feared drowned after an inflatable boat sank just off the Sicilian coast.

When the decision to scrap Mare Nostrum was announced, the Italian navy said it would continue its search and rescue role – despite political pressures to do otherwise. It is time that the rest of Europe stepped up.

* This article was updated on April 19.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article at The Conversation.

Heaven Crawley is Research professor at Coventry University

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Channel 4 News: “Mediterranean deaths: Yvette Cooper on British migrant policy”

Should Formula 1 be held in Major Human Rights Violator Bahrain?

Mon, 20 Apr 2015 - 12:30am

VICE News | –

“Formula 1’s annual Bahrain Grand Prix opened April 17 to global fanfare, but demonstrators in the small Gulf kingdom off the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia have been protesting the motorsports event for weeks, accusing Formula 1’s management of ignoring longstanding human rights abuses in the country.

This year’s race comes at an awkward time for Bahrain’s ruling al Khalifa family. On April 2, Nabeel Rajab — one of the country’s most prominent human rights activists — was arrested on charges of insulting the kingdom. VICE News was with Rajab shortly before his arrest, when he accused Western governments of turning a blind eye to Bahraini government abuse.

Back in London, activists continue to rally against Britain’s conduct in Bahrain. VICE News met up with members of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy as they protested the arrival of Prince Nassar bin Hamad al Khalifa — nicknamed the “Playboy Prince” — who has been accused of being involved with the torture of political prisoners.”

VICE News: “Bahrain’s Grand Prix Sparks Human Rights Protests”

Assad: Syria has ‘no relation’ with Hamas, will Never Trust it Again

Mon, 20 Apr 2015 - 12:14am

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — The Syrian regime no longer has any relationship with former ally Hamas and will never trust the movement again, Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview published Friday.

“There is no relation at all on the formal level or on the popular level,” the president told Swedish newspaper Expressen, adding, “I don’t think the Syrian people will trust them anymore.”

Assad alleged that the movement had allied itself with extremist militants fighting in Syria.

He said that recent events in Yarmouk refugee camp “have proved that part of Hamas, which is basically a Muslim Brotherhood organisation, supports al-Nusra Front.”

He added: “That’s why the leadership of Hamas is in Qatar now, calling (for) help … after ISIS (the Islamic State group) attacked al-Nusra and Hamas.”

Hamas fighters, along with other Palestinian factions, have been fighting IS militants inside the Palestinian refugee camp since Apr. 1, when the extremist group first launched an attack.

Contrary to Assad’s claims, Palestinian officials have accused al-Nusra Front of facilitating IS’s entrance into Yarmouk.

Al-Nusra and IS are largely rivals, despite sharing a similar ideology, but there have been instances of local cooperation between fighters from the two movements.

Before the IS attack, Syrian rebel groups had been holding positions inside the camp for more than a year with some support from Palestinian residents, although it is not clear whether these rebels included elements of al-Nusra Front.

Syrian regime forces laid siege to the camp as a result of the rebel presence, and up to 200 Palestinians starved to death as conditions inside the camp sharply deteriorated.

The siege has continued to trap 18,000 civilians, even as Palestinian factions coordinate military action with the Syrian regime against IS inside the camp.

Yarmouk was once a thriving, working-class residential district of the Syrian capital, and was home to some 160,000 people.

Hamas fighters are among a range of Palestinian factions fighting IS inside the camp, although Fatah and the Democratic Front for the Liberation have shunned military action, citing the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s longstanding policy of non-intervention in foreign nations.

‘Principled and strong stances’

Before the Syrian uprising erupted in March 2011, Hamas and the Syrian regime enjoyed close ties.

Hamas used to keep its main headquarters outside Gaza in Damascus, and the Hamas delegation is believed to have comprised hundreds of officials.

In late 2010, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh praised the Syrian government and President Assad for their consistently “principled and strong stances.”

He said that the “good faith of Damascus” had done much to maintain the integrity of the Palestinian cause.

However, as the Syrian regime violently suppressed popular protests through the second half of 2011, Hamas gradually scaled down its presence in Syria, and dozens of Hamas members and their families returned to Gaza.

One diplomat told Reuters at the time that Hamas intended to keep a skeletal presence in Syria to “book a seat in a post-Assad era.”

The rift between Hamas and the Syrian regime widened when Hamas opted not to sign a statement by nine other Palestinian groups, including the PLO, in support of the Syrian leader.

The alliance was publicly broken in February 2012, when Haniyeh endorsed the revolt, saying: “I salute all the nations of the Arab Spring and I salute the heroic people of Syria who are striving for freedom, democracy and reform.”

At the time, analysts said that the public abandonment of Assad cast questions over Hamas’ future ties with Iran, which had until then been a major backer of the movement, and which stuck by its ally Assad.

Although Iranian support did initially flag, it has since been revived, particularly in the wake of last summer’s devastating war between Israel and Hamas, which killed more than 2,200 Palestinians and left large swathes of the Gaza Strip in ruin.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif rallied support and humanitarian aid for Palestinians, and earlier this month, it was reported by British media that Iran was again providing Hamas with tens of millions of dollars.

British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph reported: “The renewed funding is a sign that the two old allies are putting behind them a rift caused by the conflict in Syria.”

Via Ma’an News Agency

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Syria’s Assad issues warning to foreign states hostile to his rule”

Yemen as War of Right-Wing Billionaire Establishment in the Middle East

Sun, 19 Apr 2015 - 11:21pm

By Conn Hallinan | (Foreign Policy in Focus) –

The Saudi-led coalition intervening in Yemen has more in common with 19th-century Europe than the 21st-century Middle East.

Saudi Arabia’s recent intrusion into Yemen is ostensibly part of a bitter proxy war with Iran. But the coalition that Riyadh has assembled to intervene in Yemen’s civil war has more in common with 19th-century Europe than the 21st-century Middle East.

The 22-member Arab League came together at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt last month to draw up its plan to attack the Houthi forces currently holding Yemen’s capital. And the meeting bore an uncanny resemblance to a similar gathering of monarchies at Vienna in 1814.

The leading voice at the Egyptian resort was the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal. His historical counterpart was Prince Klemens von Metternich, the Austrian foreign minister who designed the “Concert of Europe” to ensure that no revolution would ever again threaten the monarchs who dominated the continent.

More than 200 years divides those gatherings, but their goals were much the same: to safeguard a small and powerful elite’s dominion over a vast area.

There were not only kings represented at Sharm el-Sheikh. Besides the foreign ministers for the monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Morocco, and Jordan — most of the Arab League was there, with lots of encouragement and support from Washington and London.

But Saudi Arabia was running the show, footing the bills, and flying most of the bombing raids against Houthi fighters and refugee camps.

A Local War

The Yemen crisis is being represented as a clash between Iran and the Arab countries, part of ongoing tension between Sunni and Shiite Islam.

The Arab League accuses Iran of overthrowing the Yemeni government of Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, using the Shiite Houthis as their proxies. But the civil war in Yemen is a long-running conflict over access to political power and resources, not religion, or any attempt by Iran to spread its influence into a strategic section of the Arabian Peninsula.

The spread of sectarian warfare, as longtime Middle East journalist Patrick Cockburn points out, is a more likely result of the Saudi invasion than a cause.

The Houthis, like the Iranians, are Shiites, but of the Zaydi variety — not one that many Iranians would even recognize. And while the Houthis have been at war with the central government off and on since 2004, the issues are profane, not sacred.

Yemen — a country of 25 million people that’s about the size of France — is the poorest nation in the Middle East, with declining resources, an exploding population, and a host of players competing for a piece of the shrinking pie. Unemployment is above 40 percent and water is scarce. Oil, the country’s major export, is due to run out in the next few years.

The country is also one of the most fragmented in the region, divided between the poorer north and the richer, more populous south, and riven by a myriad of tribes and clans. Until 1990 it was not even one country, and it took a fratricidal civil war in 1994 to keep it unified. There is still a strong southern secessionist movement.

The current war is a case in point.

The Houthis fought six wars with former military strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was forced out of the presidency in 2012 by the GCC and the UN Security Council. Hadi, his vice president, took over and largely ignored the Houthis — always a bad idea in Yemen.

So, aided by their former enemy, Saleh — who maintains a strong influence in the Yemeni armed forces — the Houthis went to war with Hadi. The new president was placed under house arrest by the rebels, but escaped south to the port of Aden before fleeing to Saudi Arabia when the Houthis and Saleh’s forces marched on the city.

Logical Contortions

That’s the simple version of the complexity that is Yemen. But “complex” was not a word encountered much at Sharm el-Sheikh. For the Arab League, this is all about Iran. The Houthis, said President-in-exile Hadi, are “Iranian stooges.”

Most independent experts disagree.

The Houthis, says Towson University professor Charles Schmitz, an expert on the group, “are domestic, homegrown, and have deep roots in Yemen going back thousands of years.” He says that the Houthis have received support from Iran, but “not weapons, which they take from the Yemeni military.”

“Does that mean they are going to do Iran’s bidding?” he asks. “I don’t think so.”

Both Democrats and Republican hailed the Saudi attacks. “I applaud the Saudis for taking this action to protect their homeland and to protect their own neighborhood,” said House Speaker John Boehner. Rep. Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, agreed. The Obama administration says it’s providing intelligence and logistical support for the operation.

U.S. involvement in Yemen is long-standing, dating back to 1979 and the Carter administration. According to UPI, the CIA funneled money to Jordan’s King Hussein to foment a north-south civil war in Yemen, and U.S. Special Forces have been on the ground directing drone strikes for over a decade.

This, of course, creates certain logical disconnects.

The United States is supporting the Saudi bombing in Yemen because the Houthis are allied with Iran and because Washington relies on the Yemeni government as a partner against al-Qaeda. But in Iraq, the U.S. is tacitly cooperating with Iran in the war on the Islamic State, or ISIS. And while the Saudi government is opposed to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, aided by U.S. intelligence, it’s attacking one of the major forces fighting al-Qaeda in Yemen — the Houthis.

In the meantime, the Gulf Council has stepped up its support of the Nusra Front in Syria, a group tied to al-Qaeda and a sworn enemy of the Gulf monarchies as well as the United States.

Ginning Up a Regional War

On one level this reaches the level of farce. On the other, the situation is anything but humorous.

The Yemen intervention will deepen Shiite-Sunni divisions in the Islamic world and pull several countries into Yemen, the very definition of a quagmire. While the Arab League’s code name for the Yemini adventure is “Operation Decisive Storm,” Cockburn points out, the military operation will almost certainly be the opposite.

“In practice, a decisive outcome is the least likely prospect for Yemen, just like it has been in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he writes. “A political feature common to all three countries is that power is divided between so many players it is impossible to defeat or placate them all for very long.”

Even if the Houthis are driven back to their traditional base in the north, it would be foolhardy for any ground force to take them on in the mountains they call home. The Yemeni government tried six times and never succeeded. It is rather unlikely that Egyptian or Saudi troops will do any better. While the Arab League did make a decision to form a 40,000-man army, how that will be constituted — and who will command it — is not clear.

Besides stirring up more religious sectarianism, the Yemen war will aid the Saudis and the GCC in their efforts to derail the tentative nuclear agreement with Iran.

If that agreement fails, a major chance for stability in the region will be lost. Saudi Arabia’s newfound aggressiveness — and its bottomless purse — will gin up the civil war in Syria, increase tensions in northern Lebanon, and torpedo the possibility of organizing a serious united front against ISIS.

Muzzling Modernity

While the U.S. has talked about a political solution, that’s not what’s coming out of the Arab League. The military campaign, says Arab League General Secretary Nabil el-Araby, “will continue until all the Houthi militia retreats and disarms and a strong unified Yemen returns.” The bombings have already killed hundreds of civilians and generated tens of thousands of refugees. Gulf Council sources say that the air war may continue for up to six months.

Instead of endorsing what is certain to be a disaster, Washington should join the call by European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini for a ceasefire and negotiations. “I’m convinced that military actions is not a solution,” she said, calling on “all regional actors” to “act responsibly and constructively… for a return to negotiations.”

The Houthis are not interested in running Yemen. Senior Houthi leader Saleh Ali al-Sammad said that his organization “does not want anything more than partnership, not control.” Houthi ally and ex-president Saleh also said, “Let’s go to dialogue and ballot boxes,” not bombing. Yemen needs an influx of aid, not bombs, drones, and hellfire missiles.

The Congress of Europe muzzled European modernism for more than a generation, just as the Gulf Cooperation Council and Egypt will do their best to strangle what is left of the Arab Spring. Prince Metternich remained Austria’s Chancellor until a storm of nationalism and revolution swept across Europe in 1848 and brought down the congress of reaction.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Ruptly TV: “Yemen: Aden ravaged by conflict and Saudi-led airstrikes”

As US Consulate in Irbil. Iraq, is Bombed, can US still do Diplomacy in ME?

Sun, 19 Apr 2015 - 3:02am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)

A bombing that killed 3 people and wounded 10 on Saturday outside the US consulate in Irbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, raises an important question about the US diplomatic presence in the eastern reaches of the Middle East. Is it still possible for diplomats to do their work this way?

The US is bombing positions of Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) in Iraq and Syria daily, and it is not surprising that the organization (which claimed the Irbil attack) should attempt to strike back.

Security for US embassies and consulates is largely the responsibility of the host country, which is a scary fact in places where the state has failed. There are a few US military troops guarding these facilities, and the ones in Irbil spotted the approach of the car bomb as it approached and fired on it, detonating it prematurely before it could reach the consulate gates. Thus, there were no American casualties or damage to the consulate. Two of the bystanders killed were Turkish nationals. Security is on the whole good in Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, but Daesh has targeted the city and even mobilized ground troops against it last summer before US air strikes and Peshmerga Kurdish fighters pushed them back.

Last summer, Daesh tried to attack the US embassy itself. The US has an enormous embassy complex in Baghdad, protected behind the blast walls of the Green Zone. But contrary to original plans, it has been vastly scaled back, and only about 1,000 US personnel are there. Diplomats from the State Department are probably a fraction of this staff. Embassy personnel seldom are able to venture out into Baghdad. Much Iraqi government business in Baghdad is still done inside the Green Zone, but being stuck behind the blast walls of the security area interferes with the embassy’s outreach. I visited the embassy in May of 2012 and it was like entering a different world (my hotel was in an ordinary part of the city, not behind those walls, and the ministry of culture kindly ferried us around in minibuses; I had a sense I’d seen much more of the city than had the brave and clearly frustrated embassy staff.)

There are also to be 3,000 US military personnel in Iraq as trainers and advisers to the Iraqi army, which has collapsed. Contrary to what I and others had assumed, these troops are staying on Iraqi military bases and don’t seem to be going out embedded in Iraqi army or Peshmerga units. Still, given that thousands of Iraqi troops just ran away from Mosul last June, letting Daesh have the second largest city in the country, you have to wonder how secure those Iraqi military bases are.

On several occasions in recent years embassy personnel, from Beirut to Tunis, have complained to me when I visited the Middle East that the restrictions they now face on their movements interfere in their doing their jobs as diplomats.

This have been made worse by the politicization of consulate security by Congress and the Benghazi witch hunt. It used to be that politics stopped at the US border. But now the Obama administration has every reason politically to err on the side of caution, and to restrict diplomats or close embassies and consulates so as to avoid all the hearings that would come with another attack on them.

The collapse of armies and of governments in a wide swathe of the Middle East has left the US entirely without embassies in Syria, Yemen or Libya. The staff in Tunis has been reduced to a skeleton crew and families have been sent home. This, at a time when Tunisia is among the few political success stories, so far, in the region and would benefit from more US civilian aid and exchanges. Elsewhere, as in Beirut or Cairo, the embassy is virtually an armed camp, rather than being a window on American for locals or a place from which US diplomats can get to know local society. There is some question whether US diplomacy is even possible in much of the region.

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Reuters: “lamic State claims car bomb at U.S. Consulate in Erbil”

If U.S. Bombed Iran What Would Actually Happen?

Sun, 19 Apr 2015 - 12:49am

Cenk Uygur | (The Young Turks) –

” Cenk Uygur host of The Young Turks discusses what would happen if the United States decided to launch a war campaign against Iran.

“Many in the United States government seems to be foaming at the mouth to go to war with Iran including Republican Sen. Tom Cotton who believes that bombing nuclear facilities in Iran would take days with no need for boots on the ground. But what would an actual military campaign look like? Some have come forward to say that it is unlikely that airstrikes alone would end the Middle Eastern country’s nuclear facilities and that an actual full scale war would be needed, with the after math possibly being worst than the mess that Iraq became. A prolonged war with a stronger Iranian military would take several years and result in mass casualties that would mirror the conflict in Vietnam. It’s also assumed that the U.S. allies, especially those in mainland Europe, that are anti-Iran would not side with the U.S. as they have always preferred diplomacy over war when dealing with Iran. Relations with Russia, which are already shaky after sanctions over the Ukrainian conflict, would weaken if not completely dissolve.

Best case scenario the United States would be weakened further by yet another pre-emptive war within the Middle East. Worst case scenario an alienated and isolated U.S. could face sanctions or outright war with another major power.”

Should the U.S. start a war with Iran? Let us know what you think in the comments section below. ”

The Young Turks: “If U.S. Bombed Iran What Would Actually Happen?”

Iraq: Shiite Gov’t faces Mammoth Task in taking Sunni al-Anbar from ISIL

Sun, 19 Apr 2015 - 12:32am

By Mustafa Habib | Baghdad | (Niqash.org) –

Only a few hours after the start of the next big military campaign against the Islamic State group in Iraq, things [went] wrong. Anbar will not be like Salahaddin – there are social, political, military and geographical obstacles to overcome first.

Last week the Iraqi government, buoyed by its recent victory in Tikrit, announced the beginning of an offensive in the province of Anbar. But plans seemed to go awry quite quickly. As soon as the campaign began, the extremist group known as the Islamic State surprised the Iraqi military by launching a counter offensive, managing to take control of the Albu Faraj, Malahima and Jazeera areas in Anbar.

Increasingly it looks as though the fight to liberate Anbar from the Islamic State, or IS, group is going to take a long time. And there are several main reasons for this – these are geographical, political, military and social and all of them point to the IS group having the upper hand here.

Firstly Anbar differs immensely in terms of its geography from the other parts of Iraq where the IS group has been expelled. It’s a huge area, measuring around 138,500 square kilometres and making up about a third of the whole country. A lot of the land is desert and the province also borders on Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

“The fact that Anbar is so big presents a major problem for the military,” Faleh al-Issawi, deputy head of Anbar’s provincial council, told NIQASH.

It is thought that currently the IS group controls about 90 percent of the province and the Iraqi government only controls two large cities, Ramadi and Haditha and three smaller ones, Amiriyat al-Fallujah, Khan al-Baghdadi and Habbaniyah. There are in fact eight larger cities in Anbar but the other six are controlled by the IS group – and it would be impossible for the Iraqi military to deploy to the other six cities for a number of reasons.

The IS group surrounds some of the cities the military are stationed in. Additionally there’s also some serious distance between the cities the army is in and the cities they want to liberate.

Pro-government forces in Anbar include Divisions 1 and 7 of the Iraqi army, special antiterrorism forces and fighters from local tribes who are opposed to the IS group. The group of local fighters, who were recently given weapons by the Iraqi government, doesn’t number more than an estimated 5,000.

“The government isn’t ready for this fight,” says Khaled al-Mafraji, an MP from Anbar. “It should have helped form a bigger fighting force made up of locals – maybe of around 30,000 fighters. Now there are only 5,000 and they’re not even well armed.”

The troops in Ramadi are a good 300 kilometres away from Al Rutba and 60 kilometres away from Heet; both of these towns are controlled by the IS group. The distances the Iraqi military must travel, often through desert, presents plenty of opportunity for the IS group to attack their convoys. It’s a far different situation from that which the troops faced in the provinces of Diyala and Salahaddin, says one Iraqi army colonel, Abbas al-Jabiri.

“Most of the towns in Diyala are agricultural,” al-Jabiri told NIQASH. “And the Iraqi military, together with Shiite militias, had been controlling large parts of them before. The IS group only had control of smaller areas there.”

It was similar in Salahaddin but in Anbar, it is mostly the IS group who is in charge in the vast province.

And there are other military issues. A lot of the IS fighters here are Iraqis who know the terrain; many had worked with the extremist group, Al Qaeda, in 2006 and 2007 and they know the desert roads better than the outsiders from the Iraqi army.

“The IS group know the roads and the bunkers of Anbar’s valleys,” concedes Omar al-Mohammedi, a tribal leader in Anbar. “They also know about the secret roads that connect Syria and Iraq, as well as tunnels that cross the border.”

In past battles, the unofficial and increasingly controversial Shiite Muslim militias, made up mostly of volunteers, have played an integral role in fighting against the IS group, which bases its ideology on Sunni Islam. The Shiite Muslim militias are known to be better armed and more experienced in urban warfare and, in many ways, it’s become clear that the Iraqi army cannot win without their support on the ground. And this is where political problems arise in the Anbar campaign.

Many of the Shiite Muslim militias are known to be supported by – and themselves support – neighbouring Iran. However the international alliance aiding the Iraqi army’s efforts with airstrikes is under US leadership and the US have said that the Shiite Muslim militias, who have been accused of committing retaliatory crimes against Sunni Muslims, should withdraw. There are fears that having the Shiite fighters in the mostly Sunni Muslim populated areas will only deepen existing sectarian tensions and may in fact push local Sunnis to support the IS group – which would obviously be counterproductive in the campaign to get rid of them.

As a result some Shiite militias have withdrawn in the Ramadi area. At the same time the international coalition has stepped up air strikes. But this has meant that the Iraqi army is being left to fight in Anbar without the ground support formerly supplied by the Shiite Muslim militias.

Further political and social problems have also arisen in Anbar at the local level. Politically speaking, there are two broad groups in the province. Both are Sunni but one group has allied itself with former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim politician who led the country until recently but who is also seen as bearing part of the blame for the current security crisis; this group supports the Iraqi government and the Shiite Muslim militias.

The second group is opposed to the Shiite Muslim militias and has urged the new Iraqi government, led by the far more conciliatory Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, to start on political, social and security reforms.

The differences in opinion have split the tribes in Anbar to the extent that some believe they are now also at war with one another. It’s a far cry from the much lauded Awakening campaign, that enlisted Sunni locals from Anbar’s tribes to come together and fight against Al Qaeda between 2006 and 2008. Things are much more complicated now.

It is clear that the the Iraqi government needs to lead some kind of reconciliation process that will bring both politicians and tribal leaders back together, unified in one fight rather than scrapping with one another. And the Iraqi military needs to somehow enlist local fighters and arm them, or to get the Shiite Muslim militias back on board, while also utilising air strikes by the international coalition.

Obviously these are all far from easy tasks. And all of the above can add up to only one conclusion: It is going to take a far longer time to resolve Anbar’s issues and expel the extremists from here, than the much celebrated victory in Tikrit did.

Via Niqash.org

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit News: “Iraqi Forces Launch Counter-attack Against Islamic State in Anbar ”

Yemen: U.N. calls for Ceasefire, denounces War Crimes

Sat, 18 Apr 2015 - 11:52pm

By Thalif Deen | –

UNITED NATIONS (IPS) – The United Nations, which is providing humanitarian aid to over 50 million refugees worldwide, is struggling to cope with a new crisis in hand: death and destruction in Yemen.

In an urgent appeal for 274 million dollars in international aid to meet the needs of some 7.5 million people affected by the escalating conflict, the U.N.’s Humanitarian Coordinator Johannes Van Der Klaauw said Friday, “The devastating conflict in Yemen takes place against the backdrop of an existing humanitarian crisis that was already one of the largest and most complex in the world.”

“Obviously, in order for humanitarian aid to get in safely, we need a pause and we need an end to the violence.” — U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric

“Thousands of families have now fled their homes as a result of the fighting and air strikes. Ordinary families are struggling to access health care, water, food and fuel – basic requirements for their survival,” he warned.

Asked about the severity of the crisis in relation to the humanitarian disaster in Syria where over 220,000 have been killed in a continuing civil war, Jens Laerke, the Geneva-based spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told IPS, “We tend not to compare crises.”

“We have just launched the flash appeal [for 274 million dollars] and hope the response will be generous,” he said.

Responding to a question, he said: “There is, to my knowledge, no current plans for a humanitarian pledging conference for Yemen.”

Last month, a U.N. pledging conference on humanitarian aid to Syria, hosted by the government of Kuwait, raised over 3.8 billion dollars.

But the United Nations is appealing for more funds to reach its eventual target of 8.4 billion dollars by the end of 2015.

According to the United Nations, the conflict in Yemen escalated significantly last month, spreading to many parts of the country. Air strikes have now affected 18 of Yemen’s 22 governorates. And in the south, conflict has continued to intensify, particularly in Aden, where widespread fighting continues, including in residential neighbourhoods.

“Hospitals, schools, airports and mosques have been damaged and destroyed across the country and there are reports of serious violations of human rights and International Humanitarian Law,” the U.N. statement said

The conflict is taking a significant toll on civilians: 731 people were killed and 2,754 injured, including a large number of civilians.

The number of food insecure people has increased from 10.6 million people to 12 million; at least 150,000 people have been displaced; food prices have risen by more than 40 percent in some locations; and fuel prices have quadrupled. Lack of fuel and electricity has triggered a breakdown in basic water and sanitation services, according to the latest figures from OCHA.

“The humanitarian community in Yemen continues to operate and deliver assistance, including through Yemeni national staff and national partners,” said Van Der Klaauw. “But to scale up assistance, we urgently need additional resources. I urge donors to act now to support the people of Yemen at this time of greatest need.”

The most urgent needs include medical supplies, safe drinking water, protection, food assistance as well as emergency shelter and logistical support, he said.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters, “Obviously, in order for humanitarian aid to get in safely, we need a pause and we need an end to the violence.”

He said the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and others have managed to get planes in. Bit it’s very difficult in an active combat zone, he added.

“We will continue… we will continue to do what we can and bring aid in to alleviate the suffering of the people of Yemen.”

“What is obviously critical in order to enable our humanitarian colleagues and our humanitarian partners to do their work is for all the parties involved in this to halt the violence and to create an atmosphere, not only where they can go back to the political table, but also to allow humanitarian aid to go in,” he added.

A coalition of Arab nations, led by neighbouring Saudi Arabia, has continued with its air attacks on Yemen, where the country’s president has been ousted by rebel forces.

Early this week, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution by 14 votes in favour and one abstention (Russia), placing an embargo on arms and related materiel to rebel forces, primarily the Houthis.

The Council demanded that all warring parties, in particular the Houthis, immediately and unconditionally end the violence and refrain from further unilateral actions that threatened the political transition.

The 14 members of the Council also demanded that the Houthis withdraw from all areas seized during the latest conflict, relinquish arms seized from military and security institutions, cease all actions falling exclusively within the authority of the legitimate government of Yemen and fully implement previous Council resolutions.

Meanwhile, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid al Hussein, appealed to the warring parties to ensure that attacks resulting in civilian casualties are promptly investigated and that international human rights and international humanitarian law are scrupulously respected.

The High Commissioner said a heavy civilian death toll ought to be a clear indication to all parties to this conflict that there may be serious problems in the conduct of hostilities. The High Commissioner also warned that the intentional targeting of civilians not taking direct part in hostilities would amount to a war crime.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

Licensed from Inter Press Service

—-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

CCTV: “U.N. calls for ceasefire in Yemen”

Clean Disruption: Why Conventional Energy and Transportation will be Obsolete by 2030

Sat, 18 Apr 2015 - 11:36pm

Tony Seba |

“Tony Seba gives the keynote address at the NZ SmartGrid Forum at the Te Papa museum in Wellington, New Zealand, March 31, 2014.

The keynote is titled “Clean Disruption: Why Conventional Energy and Transportation will be Obsolete by 2030″.

In this keynote, Seba highlights four areas where the combination of exponentially improving technologies, business model innovation, and product innovation will disrupt the conventional energy industry:
– Solar Energy
– Energy Storage
– Smart Devices
– Electric Vehicles

This keynote is based on Seba’s book “Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation” ”

Tony Seba: “Clean Disruption: Why Conventional Energy and Transportation will be Obsolete by 2030″

Iraq: Why it doesn’t Matter if Ezzat al-Douri was Killed

Sat, 18 Apr 2015 - 3:16am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

The currently partly unemployed Iraqi governor of Salahuddin Province, displaced from much of his territory by Daesh (ISIS or ISIL), maintains that former Baath vice president of Iraq under Saddan Hussain, Ezzat al-Douri, has been killed by Shiite militias in a firefight north of Tikrit in the Hamrin mountains. The body has been delivered to the US embassy in Baghdad for a DNA test. Al-Douri was one of those wanted officials featured in George W. Bush’s stack of playing cards. The Baath Party of Iraq has denied the reports of his death.

Al-Douri is significant because he was one of the first high Baath officials to turn to a religious group as a power base. This strategy became common after the 2003 US invasion, but al-Douri did it in the late 1990s. The Baath Party had been founded by Christians and was militantly secular, often persecuting religious groups and parties.

Al-Douri, however, became a patron of the Naqshbandi Sufi order in Mosul, northern Iraq. Sunnis in Iraq at that time were still largely traditionalists, and Sufism was part of their tradition. Sufis emphasize mystical experience and are often dismissive of dry legalism (Christians might hear echoes of St. Paul and thinkers like Meister Eckhart). They meet on Thursday (and other) evenings for group chanting, and see God as a divine beloved. Their sensibilities are very different from the Wahhabi-influenced Salafi brand of Sunni Islam, which highlight strict adherence to its conception of Muslim religious law

The “Men of the Naqshbandi” emerged as one of the more effective guerrilla fighters against US and Iraqi Shiite troops in northern Iraq. Al-Douri was said to be behind them, a shadowy figure directing their insurgency. Still, there were some fifty major insurgency cells in northern and western Iraq during the past 12 years, and the Naqshbandis were only one. Some were secular, as most Sunni Arabs in Iraq had a secular mindset. Note that the Naqshbandi order in Turkey, Central Asia and Pakistan and India is not typically militant and that this Iraqi branch only turned to guerrilla activity because of American colonialism.

last spring, the Naqshbandis in Mosul were one of the groups that decided to ally with Daesh or ISIL to throw out the Shiite army. Daesh took advantage of the alliance to arrest leading Naqshbandi figures and ex-Baathist ones, stabbing their new allies in the back. (Daesh is an offshoot of Salafism and hates Sufis under ordinary circumstance).

The US military has a cult of ‘decapitating’ insurgent organizations. But this strategy manifestly has not worked against the Taliban or in Iraq. In part, some of these organizations are led by clans as republics of cousins, and when one leader is killed, his cousin just steps in. In part, they are based on religious ties. Jenna Jordan found that in only 5 percent of her 300 cases of insurgency was a decapitation strategy successful against a religious group. Religious charisma seems to be easily transferable.

So, it probably just doesn’t matter that much if al-Douri was killed (his death has been reported many times in the past). He was old in his 70s, and likely not very vigorous any more. And his earlier successes as an insurgent have turned bitter since his foolish decision to ally with Daesh went bad and the latter displaced him.

One conclusion we can draw is that by destroying the Baath government of Iraq, the Bush administration created a vacuum of power and culture that religious forms of resistance filled. Iraqi Sunnis were among the more secular people in the Middle East. It is desperation that drove them to religious revolt. One man’s death won’t make any difference in that process.

—-

Related video:

Euronews: “Izzat al-Douri, Saddam Hussein’s right-hand man, ‘killed in shoot-out'”

Israeli Supreme Court Upholds ‘Anti-Boycott Law’

Sat, 18 Apr 2015 - 2:25am

By Sarah Saadoun | (Human Rights Watch) –

On Wednesday, Israel’s Supreme Court upheld key provisions of the country’s “anti-boycott law,” which makes it a civil offense for people or groups to advocate boycotting Israeli or settlement products, institutions, or individuals, and the advocacy has a reasonable chance of succeeding. The decision legitimizes violations of the rights to freedom of expression and association, and punishes advocacy urging businesses to respect international law.

Enacted in 2011, the Law for Prevention of Damage to the State of Israel Through Boycott allows private plaintiffs to sue for civil damages against anyone who publicly calls for or commits to “avoiding economic, cultural or academic ties” with Israel or “an area under its control” – a reference to the occupied Palestinian territories – as long as they can show harm. It also allows the government to strip nongovernmental organizations that advocate for such a boycott of their tax-exempt status, potentially forcing them to shut down.

The court, however, struck down the law’s most extreme provisions, which allowed companies to sue those advocating a boycott for punitive damages without even showing any proof of harm.

The Israeli human rights and civil society groups that were the petitioners in the case argued that the law shuts down a legitimate form of nonviolent protest. The nine judges hearing the case agreed that the law “indeed infringes on freedom of expression,” but unanimously declared that the infringement was justified in the context of boycotts of the state of Israel. Four judges dissented, however, with respect to boycotts targeting Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. One, Judge Uzi Vogelman, opined that the law’s prohibition of calling for boycotting settlements “is liable to silence political expression about the area [under Israel’s military control].” 

The law’s impact goes beyond chilling political debate: It subjects to potential lawsuit and damages anyone who calls on companies to uphold their human rights responsibilities by avoiding doing business with settlements, even though the transfer of population inherent in the settlements violates the Fourth Geneva Convention. The law also effectively prohibits Israeli companies from publicly committing to heed such a call.

Two days before the ruling, Human Rights Watch released a report, “Ripe for Abuse.” The report, which documents Palestinian child labor in Israeli agriculture settlements in the West Bank, finds that companies involved in settlement agriculture unavoidably contribute to or benefit from the violations of international human rights and humanitarian law associated with settlements. Human Rights Watch therefore urges commercial businesses to cease trading with settlements and governments to prohibit such trade in order to abide by their responsibilities not to contribute to or benefit from human rights abuses. We take no position on civil society initiatives to boycott Israel, but even this limited call makes us vulnerable under the anti-boycott law.

Instead of supporting human rights principles, the Israeli Supreme Court has approved a law that punishes those who do.

Via Human Rights Watch

Related video added by Juan Cole:

RT America: “Activists boycott Re/Max involvement in West Bank expansion”

On ‘Prisoners Day,’ PLO tells Israel: Let my People Go

Sat, 18 Apr 2015 - 1:10am

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — Senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi on Friday marked Palestinian Prisoner’s Day by demanding that Israel end its “captivity” of the Palestinian people under occupation.

“Today, we honor and express our solidarity with all Palestinians who have been and continue to be imprisoned in Israeli jails,” she said in a statement.

“We commend their steadfastness, courage and determination in defiance of Israel’s military occupation and system of enslavement and apartheid.”

Since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, over 800,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel’s military, while over 60 Palestinians have died in Israeli jails, the PLO says.

Over 70 percent of Palestinian families have had at least one relative detained at some point, according to the UN.

Fourteen Palestinian MPs and 20 journalists are currently imprisoned by Israel, with over 450 Palestinians held without trial for indeterminate periods under administrative detention.

“We call on all members of the international community to act on the basis of justice and human rights and bring Israel to compliance for its willful breach of the rights and lives of Palestinian political prisoners,” Ashrawi added.

Late Thursday, President Mahmoud Abbas marked Palestinian Prisoner’s Day by saying that any future peace agreement must free all Palestinian prisoners.

During a televised speech, Abbas emphasized that continued Israeli policy regarding frequent detention of Palestinians is not conducive for creating a plausible environment for future peace.

“It is time for decision holders in Israel to realize that jails, settlement, confiscating lands and withholding holding PA tax funds will only lead to more extremism and keep us from reaching what we seek, which is a just peace based on ending occupation.”

Calling on the international community to support Palestinian prisoners with legal and humanitarian protection not afforded by the Israeli government, Abbas added that Israeli violations against prisoners have been well documented by UN human rights organizations, and have been prepared to be presented at the International Criminal Court.

According to both international law and Israeli courts an individual cannot be detained for their political opinions.

Palestinian political leaders are routinely arrested and detained as part of an ongoing Israeli effort to suppress Palestinian political processes, according to prisoners’ rights group Addammeer.

Events to commemorate Palestinian Prisoners’ day are scheduled to be held throughout the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as internationally.

Via Ma’an News Agency

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

PressTV: “Israeli troops clash with protesters on ‘Palestinian Prisoners Day'”

The Coming Water Wars

Sat, 18 Apr 2015 - 12:50am

Jo Ankier and John Fenoglio | (TheLipTV) | –

“Around 60% more food will be needed to feed the world’s growing population by 2050 and with the demand for water set to increase by 55% water supplies in less developed countries are under severe threat as agriculture tries to meet that demand, according to a United Nations Report. We look at the story on the Lip News with Jo Ankier and John Fenoglio.”

TheLipTV: ” Are World Water Wars Coming?”

Fast-Tracking Pacific Trade Bill will harm Consumers, Tie Congress’ Hands

Sat, 18 Apr 2015 - 12:43am

By Jeremy Malcolm and Maira Sutton | Electronic Frontier Foundation | –

The Fast Track bill contains some minor procedural improvements from the version of the bill introduced last year. However, these fixes will do little to nothing to address the threats of restrictive digital regulations on users rights in the TPP or TTIP. The biggest of these changes is language that would create a new position of Chief Transparency Officer that would supposedly have the authority to “consult with Congress on transparency policy, coordinate transparency in trade negotiations, engage and assist the public, and advise the United States Trade Representative on transparency policy.”

However, given the strict rules of confidentiality of existing, almost completed trade deals and those outlined in the Fast Track bill itself, we have no reason to believe that this officer would have much power to do anything meaningful to improve trade transparency, such as releasing the text of the agreement to the public prior to the completion of negotiations. As it stands, the text only has to be released to the public 60 days before it is signed, at which time the text is already locked down from any further amendments.

There is also a new “consultation and compliance” procedure, about which Public Citizen writes [pdf]:

The bill’s only new feature in this respect is a new “consultation and compliance” procedure that would only be usable after an agreement was already signed and entered into, at which point changes to the pact could be made only if all other negotiating parties agreed to reopen negotiations and then agreed to the changes (likely after extracting further concessions from the United States). That process would require approval by 60 Senators to take a pact off of Fast Track consideration, even though a simple majority “no” vote in the Senate would have the same effect on an agreement.

Thus, essentially the Fast Track bill does the same as it ever did-— tying the hands of Congress so that it is unable to give meaningful input into the agreement during its drafting, or to thoroughly review the agreement once it is completed.

A main feature of the bill is its negotiation objectives, which set the parameters within which the President is authorized to negotiate the agreement. If Congress considers that the text ultimately deviates from these objectives, it can vote the agreement down. Some of these negotiation objectives have been added or changed since the previous Fast Track bill, but none of these provide any comfort to us on the troubling issues from the Intellectual Property, E-Commerce, and Investment chapters of the TPP. Indeed, some of the new text raise concerns. For example:

  • Governments are to “refrain from implementing trade-related measures that impede digital trade in goods and services, restrict cross-border data flows, or require local storage or processing of data”. Data flows and the location of the processing of data aren’t solely or even primarily trade issues; they are human rights issues that can affect privacy, free expression and more. The discussion about whether laws that require local storage and processing of certain kinds of sensitive personal data are protective of user rights, for instance, cannot take place in the secret enclaves of a trade negotiation. The bill does allow for exceptions as required to further “legitimate policy objectives”, but only where these “are the least restrictive on trade” and “promote an open market environment”.
  • Trade secrets collected by governments are to be protected against disclosure except in “exceptional circumstances to protect the public, or where such information is effectively protected against unfair competition”. But there are other cases in which there may be an important public interest in the disclosure of such trade secrets, such as where they reveal past misdeeds, or throw transparency onto the activities of corporations executing public functions.

But more troubling than what has been included in the negotiating objectives, is what has been excluded. There is literally nothing to require balance in copyright, such as the fair use right. On the contrary; if a country’s adoption of a fair use style right causes loss to a foreign investor, it could even be challenged as a breach of the agreement, under the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions. Further, the “Intellectual Property” section of today’s bill is virtually identical to the version introduced in 2002, and what minor changes there are do not change the previous text’s evident antipathy for fair use. So while the new bill has added, as an objective, “to ensure that trade agreements foster innovation and promote access to medicines,” an unchanged objective is “providing strong enforcement of intellectual property rights.” What happens if those two objectives are in conflict? For example, in many industries, thin copyright and patent restrictions have proven to be more conducive to innovation than the thick, “strong” measures the bill requires. Some of our most innovative industries have been built on fair use and other exceptions to copyright—and that’s even more obvious now than it was in 2002. The unchanged language suggests the underlying assumption of the drafters is that more IP restrictions mean more innovation and access, and that’s an assumption that’s plainly false.

All in all, we do not see anything in this bill that would truly remedy the secretive, undemocratic process of trade agreements. Therefore, EFF stands alongside the huge coalition public interest groups, professors, lawmakers, and individuals who are opposed to Fast Track legislation that would legitimize the White House’s corporate-captured, backroom trade negotiations. The Fast Track bill will likely come to a vote by next week—and stopping it is one sure-fire way to block the passage of these secret, anti-user deals.

If you’re on Twitter, help us call on influential members of Congress to come out against this bill.

Via Electronic Frontier Foundation https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/04/fasttrack-bill-legitimize-white-house-secrecy-and-clear-way-anti-user

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Democracy Now!: “Obama Seeks Fast Track for TPP, Trade Deal that Could Thwart “Almost Any Progressive Policy or Goal”

Yemen: Children caught in the crossfire as Houthis take Aden

Fri, 17 Apr 2015 - 12:48am

Nima Elbagir | (CNN) —

“CNN’s Nima Elbagir visited a military hospital in Yemen now used primarily for civilians injured in Saudi airstrikes.”

CNN: “Children caught in the crossfire in Yemen”