Thursday, January 29, 2009

EU is still anti-Hamas


OPINION:Minor wobbles aside, EU support for Fatah has meant consistent opposition to Hamas, writes RORY MILLER.

SPEAKING ON a visit to the Gaza Strip on Monday, Louis Michel, the EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, ripped into Hamas. Placing "overwhelming responsibility" for the recent Gaza crisis on the Islamist group, he dismissed it as a "terrorist movement" that "has to be denounced as such".
Such talk from a top EU official has come as a surprise to supporters of Israel , who habitually accuse the EU of anti-Israel bias, while pro-Palestinians – who have long called on Europe to break with the US-Israeli policy of isolating Hamas – will be dismayed.
But Michel's statement is neither surprising nor dismaying. Rather, it is the inevitable stance of a Union that after years of division is now united in the view that Hamas is the major obstacle to a durable political settlement between Israel and Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah-led Palestinian Authority.
Since 2001, when the EU first decided to follow the US precedent and annually publish its terror blacklist, there has been much debate within the Union over whether Hamas, which violently opposed the Oslo process in the 1990s, should be added to that list.
In 2002, the EU agreed to proscribe Izzedin al-Kassam, Hamas's military wing, but the consensus view remained that Hamas's political wing had a role to play in the political process and should not be isolated. As then-EU special envoy to the Middle East , Miguel Angel Moratinos, explained in December 2002: "Hamas faces a clear choice between the Turkish model of democratic Islam, and the al-Qaeda model."
However, the refusal of Hamas to abandon violence resulted in Britain , along with the Netherlands , demanding a crackdown on a group that was, in the words of then British foreign secretary Jack Straw, "literally trying to blow [up] this peace process".
Despite opposition from other members, notably Ireland , Spain and France, this view finally gained EU-wide support in 2004 and Hamas was blacklisted.
The subsequent revelation (later retracted) by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana that he met Hamas secretly in late 2004 highlighted the EU's ongoing failure to develop and apply a consistent approach to this militant group.
The success of Hamas in the third round of Palestinian municipal elections in May 2005 and especially the group's victory in the January 2006 Palestinian legislative elections also provided much ammunition for those within the EU keen to end Hamas's status as a terror group.
In the wake of these elections, senior politicians from across the EU expressed support for engaging with Hamas. Finland 's then foreign minister, Erkki Tuomioja, argued that "it is not the same party it was before the elections".
His Italian counterpart, Massimo D'Alema, argued that Hamas had a "political side" and compared the body to the IRA and ETA, the Basque separatist movement, which became "political movements from being terror groups". Even the British and the Dutch, who had initiated the original ban, seemed to be moving towards this position.
On top of this, the EU's growing difficulty in providing humanitarian assistance, especially fuel and welfare payments, to the people of Gaza without engaging directly with Hamas, meant that by May 2007 it was reviewing the ban on direct aid to the Hamas-dominated government and most commentators were predicting EU-Hamas talks in the near future.
But Hamas's violent overthrow of Fatah in Gaza in June 2007 changed everything because it directly threatened a cornerstone of the EU's Middle East policy since the late 1970s – support for Fatah, first under Yasser Arafat and now under Abbas, as the representative of the Palestinian people.
As such, the EU immediately condemned Hamas for its "violent" seizure of Gaza , and gave Abbas the green light to take action to remove the Hamas threat and made no bones about it. As Solana explained: "What we think is that this [Abbas-led Palestinian Authority] government . . . is the only legitimate government that we should support."
This explains the EU's endorsement of Abbas's dismissal of the Hamas-dominated unity government after only three months in office, and his proposal to call early elections to oust Hamas at the ballot box.
Michel's condemnation of the Islamist group reminds us that the recent Gaza conflict has done nothing to soften the EU approach to Hamas. On the contrary, the Israeli offensive in recent weeks has left Hamas on its knees and an emboldened EU, led by Louis Michel's verbal rocket attack, is intent on doing its bit to finish off the group.
This is very bad news for a battered and war-weary Hamas – not simply because it comes on the heels of US President Barack Obama's harsh criticism of the group.
Since taking power in 2006, Hamas has held out the hope that eventually the EU would begin dealing with it on normal terms and this would, in turn, gradually lead to more widespread international legitimacy and the further marginalisation of Fatah.
But just when it looked like Europe would have to respond to humanitarian and political realities and bring Hamas in from the cold, the group's overthrow of Fatah in Gaza in 2007 ended any chance of this happening.

Now Hamas has nowhere to turn and no one to blame but itself.

© 2009 The Irish Times

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hezbollah/Iranian revenge for Moughnieh foiled

Just because one attack was foiled, does not mean there will not be others...
Hizbullah attack against Israeli target in Europe foiled
Jan. 28, 2009
Israel's intelligence agencies recently thwarted a major Hizbullah terror attack against an Israeli target in Europe, security officials revealed on Wednesday.
The attack was foiled by Israel in conjunction with a European intelligence agency. Hizbullah planned the attack to avenge the February 2008 assassination of arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus.
Last week, Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered Israeli security services to raise their level of alert out of fear that Hizbullah will increase its efforts to launch an attack against an Israeli or Jewish target abroad ahead of the first anniversary of Mughniyeh's assassination on February 12.
Mughniyeh was the commander of Hizbullah military forces and was assassinated on in a car bombing in Damascus. While Israel did not claim responsibility for the assassination, Hizbullah has declared its intention to avenge Mughniyeh's death by striking at Israel.
The assessment in the Israeli intelligence community is that Hizbullah plans to attack an Israeli target overseas that will not have its direct fingerprints on. Hizbullah is believed to have extensive terror infrastructure in Africa and South America and was allegedly behind the bombings in 1992 and 1994 in Buenos Aires.
Hizbullah, the intelligence community believes, is deterred from launching an attack along the northern border out of fear of Israel's potential response. The two recent Katyusha rocket attacks into northern Israel are believed to have been carried out by a Palestinian terror group, although under the direction of Hizbullah.

Ahmadinejad: US must grovel in repentance before Iran

Does anyone really think this is a good idea?
Last update - 11:30 28/01/2009       
Ahmadinejad: Obama must apologize to Iran if he really wants change
By Reuters
The new U.S. administration must apologize to Iran over past actions if it really wants to effect change, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday.
"Those who say they want to make change, this is the change they should make: they should apologize to the Iranian nation and try to make up for their dark background and the crimes they have committed against the Iranian nation," Ahmadinejad told a rally in western Iran, broadcast live on state television.
"We welcome change but on condition that change is fundamental and on the right track," he said.
The new administration has said Obama would break from his predecessor by pursuing direct talks with Tehran but has also warned Iran to expect more pressure if it did not meet the UN Security Council demand to halt its disputed nuclear work.
Washington and its Western allies accuse Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the charge and refuses to give up work it insists is its sovereign right.
Ahmadinejad listed during his speech a range of "crimes" against Iran, such as trying to block what Tehran says is a peaceful nuclear power generation program, hindering Iran's development since the 1979 revolution and other actions by several administrations for more than 60 years.
Iran has in the past told Washington that it should withdraw its troops from the region.
Ahmadinejad, in his speech, said: "Who has asked them (the United States) to come and interfere in the affairs of nations?"
As well as saying Tehran wants nuclear arms, Washington accuses Iran of sponsoring "terrorists" and undermining efforts to make peace in the Middle East between Israel and Arabs.
Echoing Obama's remarks, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signaled the administration's readiness to talk to Iran, saying Tehran had a "clear opportunity" to show the world it is willing to engage.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Egypt persecutes Muslim moderates

This speaks for itself...
Egypt persecutes Muslim moderates
By Ahmed Subhy Mansour Published: January 23, 2009
Many Americans do not realize that there is a war being waged in Egypt against Muslim reformers. These reformers call themselves "Koranists" because they focus solely on the Koran and advocate a modern interpretation of Islam that rejects Shariah law.
These self-declared leaders of the "Islamic Reformation" number in the thousands and are connected globally through the Internet. For nearly a decade, as this movement has gained momentum, they have come under increased attack from the Egyptian government for their religious ideas. Al Azhar University, which is based in Cairo and is the leading center for conservative Sunni learning in the world, has rejected the views of the Koranists and has sought to systematically dismantle the movement.
To curry favor with this influential religious establishment, the Egyptian government has brutally cracked down on members of the Koranist movement, leading to the imprisonment and torture of over 20 members and the exile of many more. This unique collaboration between the government and Islamic traditionalists refutes current claims by the state that Egypt is secular and that it is working to fight extremism and terrorism.
In the latest effort to destroy this fledgling reform movement, a young Koranist blogger named Reda Abdel Rahman was arrested on Oct. 27 and charged with "insulting Islam." Rahman's popular blog criticizes the religious establishment - largely based on his training at Al Azhar. His blog calls for widespread religious and political reform in Egypt and the larger Muslim world. According to Rahman's lawyers, his arrest was requested by the head of Al Azhar after Rahman refused to suspend his blog. He was then detained and tortured in an unknown location for over a month until international pressure forced the government to disclose his whereabouts.
"The Egyptian security position against Reda is incomprehensible" said Heba Abdel Rahman, Reda's sister. "They allow visits to the families of Muslim Brotherhood detainees, but they would not allow us the same rights. When we protested they pointed their guns at us, threatened to open fire, and threw us out of the police station."

Six local human rights organizations have volunteered to defend Reda and sent lawyers to his interrogation. "It was like an inquisition from the Middle Ages," said Ahmed Samih, head of the Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies. "The Egyptian general prosecutor was asking Reda whether he prays or not, how he prays, and why he denies some of the Sunni traditions."

Prominent Egyptian activists like Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim blame the Egyptian Emergency Law for the human rights abuses characterized by Rahman's arrest. The law, which was enacted after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, effectively suspended the Constitution and allowed the government unprecedented powers. While the government insists that the law is important in the fight against terrorism, Ibrahim asserts that it is being used instead to limit the freedom of reformers.
"The government promised to use emergency laws only in terrorism cases," he said. "The irony is that the Emergency Law is now being used against bloggers who use the Internet to fight terrorism!"
In a surprising twist, the Egyptian High National Security Court has ordered Rahman's release. Despite this ruling - and the unprecedented statement by the court that "arresting people solely on the basis of their religious beliefs is not acceptable" - Rahman remains in prison.
This refusal by the state to execute the court's order is clear evidence of the collaboration between Egypt's security establishment and the religious institutions against any reform.
Islamic reformers in Egypt face severe political obstacles in their efforts to confront religious extremists. It is important that the United States and the international community reaffirm their support for Reda and his fellow Muslim reformers in order to ensure that those fighting for an "Islamic Reformation" are successful.
Ahmed Subhy Mansour is president of the International Quranic Center in Washington.