Saturday, December 20, 2008

Report: 62 percent of UK Muslim schools connected to fundamentalists, teach bigotry and racism

Not too surprising, but not that easy to interpret. It is more interesting that the report will be toned down because of all that confusing and difficult to follow stuff: namely, evidence. Evidence is B*O*R*I*N*G
Exclusive: over 60 per cent of Britain's Muslim schools have extremist links, says draft report
Posted By: Damian Thompson at Dec 17, 2008 at 13:05:37 [General]
Britain's Muslim schools have been sharply criticised in a controversial draft report commissioned by a leading think tank which suggests that over 60 per cent of them are linked to potentially dangerous Islamic fundamentalists.
An early version of the report, entitled When Worlds Collide, alleges that of the 133 Muslim primary and secondary schools it surveyed, 82 (61.6 per cent) have connections or direct affiliations to fundamentalists. The 133 schools are in the private sector but supposedly subject to Ofsted inspection.
The report also claims that some of these schools teach "repugnant" beliefs about the wickedness of Western society and Jews.
The claims in the report, written by Denis MacEoin in response to a commission from Civitas, will provoke ritual cries of "Islamophobia" from the Muslim Council of Britain and fellow travellers such as Koran Armstrong. MacEoin has been careful to back up his claims with evidence - in particular, screen captures of links to Islamic hate-mongers, including supporters of Al-Qaeda.
Civitas, however, is not prepared to endorse MacEoin's 61.6 per cent figure, which will not appear in the published version of When Worlds Collide. A spokesman for Civitas explains: "We want to concentrate on claims that are absolutely robust, rather than complicated material, some of it in Arabic, that might unjustly damage someone's reputation."
Perhaps the most alarming finding of the draft I've seen is that so many of these schools (including ones with no connections to political extremism) are bricking up their pupils behind a wall of Koranic injunctions and Sharia law.
The schools known as Darul Ulooms, which base their curriculum on a seventeenth-century Indian teaching system, include very few secular subjects, claims the report. It says: "Their aim is not to prepare pupils for life in the wider world, but to give them the tools for a more limited existence inside the Muslim enclaves."
The consequences for bright Muslim British girls are absolutely dire. Lively intellects are being destroyed and brilliant careers cut off before they can begin. To quote the report again: "Every year, an incalculable number of Muslim teenagers and young women are lost to the wider world that informs their citizenship."
The numbers are increasing fast, and there is confusion over how many schools exist. The growth of non-Muslim schools, says MacEoin, is "hugely overshadowed by a rapidly growing sector of Muslim institutions. These now number 127 [sic] full-time schools and an estimated 700 part-time madrassas for intense religious instruction [and that doesn't include the Darul Uloom seminaries] … Many recreate in the UK the style and content of schooling that can be found in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India." Great.
And all this is happening with the implicit consent of the Government, Ofsted – and Christian leaders, who bang on about the threat to "faith schools" (and, in the case of R. Williams, the virtues of Sharia) while shielding their eyes from the evidence that many Muslim faith schools are poisonously anti-Christian.
I've seen many of the extremely damaging screen grabs on which MacEoin bases his claims. Memo to the Muslim Council of Britain: start lining up irate spokesmen now.

Cable breaks reportedly cut some Internet in Mideast and South Asia

In Israel at this moment there does not seem to be a problem getting mail from the United States. Web site visits may be down 15-20%. Web sites do not appear to be loading more slowly.
Cable breaks cut Internet in Mideast and South Asia
Sat Dec 20, 2008 3:48am EST
By Jonathan Wright

CAIRO (Reuters) - Breaks in three submarine cables which link Europe and the Middle East have disrupted Internet and international telephone services in parts of the Middle East and South Asia, officials said on Saturday.
The disruption reduced Egypt's Internet capacity by about 80 percent. Technicians were restoring some capacity by diverting communications traffic through the Red Sea, said a Communications Ministry official, who asked not to be named.
Users in the Middle East said Internet service was either non-existent or slow. The gravity of the outage, caused by breaks in cables in the Mediterranean off Italy, varied from area to area and according to the service provider.
The cause of the breaks was not immediately known.
In January, breaks in undersea cables off the Egyptian coast disrupted Internet access in Egypt, the Gulf region and south Asia, forcing service providers to reroute traffic and disrupting some businesses and financial dealings.
In Pakistan, Internet service provider Micronet Broadband said its customers were facing degraded Internet services because of "issues" on the SMW-3, SMW-4 and FLAG lines.
Micronet engineer Wajahat Basharat said on Saturday Internet traffic was slow and some was being diverted to other routes.
Etislat, the largest of two telecom firms in the United Arab Emirates, said it was using alternative routes to ensure continuity of service.
Users in the Gulf Arab nation said their connections were much slower than usual and suffered occasional disconnections.
Kuwait's Telecommunications Ministry said late on Friday it was trying to secure continued services until the damage to the cables was repaired and asked for users' understanding.
Several Egyptian residents said late on Friday it was impossible to call the United States but calls to Europe appeared to be going through.
The International Cable Protection Committee, an association of submarine cable operators, said it was "aware of multiple submarine cable failures in the Eastern Mediterranean area that may be affecting the speed of Internet communications on some routes."
It said in a statement on its website it did not know what had caused the problem.
Stephan Beckert, an analyst with the U.S.-based telecommunications market research firm TeleGeography, said the three affected cables were the most direct route for moving traffic between Western Europe and the Middle East.
"If those three cables were cut and are completely out, it would be a fairly significant outage," he said.
"It is going to cause problems for some customers. It's certainly going to slow things down," Beckert said, adding that he did not believe financial institutions would be hit hard.
"Generally speaking we find that they are extremely painstaking about making sure that they have redundant capacity," he said.
Officials with AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications, the two largest U.S.-based carriers, said that some customers in the Middle East had lost all service, while others were experiencing partial disruptions on Internet connections.
Verizon had rerouted some of its traffic by sending it across the Atlantic, then the United States, across the Pacific, and on to the Middle East.
A New York Stock Exchange spokesman said he was unaware of any disruptions in trading. Exchanges CME Group, and IntercontinentalExchange said they had no disruption in their trading on Friday.
(Additional reporting by Jim Finkle in Boston, Juan Lagorio and Elinor Comlay in New York, Robert Birsel in Islamabad, Inal Ersan in Dubai; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Saddam & the Shoe Thrower

BS Top - Nematt shoe hussein 174
Evan Vucci/AP
Did Saddam's daughter, who looted millions from Iraq, secretly fund both the shoe thrower and the bungled coup attempt?

New revelations in Iraq point to a possible link between the shoe thrower and the Iraqi Baathists who just made a botched attempt to topple the government of Nouri al-Maliki and return Saddam's party to power.

Reports in the Arab media indicate that the Iraqi shoe thrower, Muntather al-Zaidi may have been planning his assault on President Bush for more than a year, helped by Iraqi Baathists seeking to overthrow the U.S,-backed government. One leading Arab website said the al-Zaidi's handlers may have been funded by Raghad, the eldest daughter of former dictator Saddam Hussein.

The former dictator's eldest daughter, Raghad, currently lives in self-exile in Jordan and is wanted in Iraq for funding terrorism

Raghad, who currently lives in self-exile in Jordan, is wanted in Iraq for funding terrorism and for looting billions from state funds on the eve of the 2003 war that toppled her father.

Dia' al-Kanani, the judge investigating the shoe-throwing incident, said Thursday he turned down a request to release al-Zaidi on bail for security reasons, including fear for the suspect's own security. He said there was a real threat he may be attacked.

An Iraqi government spokesman said al-Zaidi sent a letter to al-Maliki on Thursday asking for a pardon. The journalist described his own behavior as "an ugly act" and asked to be pardoned. There was no comment from the Iraqi government.

Al-Zeidi is a correspondent for al-Baghdadia, a pro-Baathist television station based in Cairo, Egypt, that some suspect is funded by Raghad. He could face two years imprisonment for the assault and for insulting Bush and al-Maliki.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Free and Fair Elections in Lebanon Impossible with Hizballah’s Weap

Free and Fair Elections in Lebanon Impossible with Hizballah's Weapons

Posted by W. Thomas Smith Jr. on 17 December 2008 at 6:53 pm UTC

If the U.S. State Department-designated terrorist group, Hizballah, and Hizballah's allies gain control of Lebanon through parliamentary elections slated for June 2009, "American support for Lebanon will be placed in jeopardy" and "we should have no illusions about that," said former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin S. Indyk during a panel discussion hosted by the Washington, D.C.-based Aspen Institute, last week.

Indyk's remarks reflect a particularly disturbing reality for the pro-democracy majority in Lebanon, which lost much of its political power to Hizballah and its allies when concessions were granted to Hizballah in order to persuade Hizballah to stop the killings (after the organization turned its weapons on the Lebanese people in May 2008). And the remarks should reflect a disturbing reality for the rest of the world.

"[Hizballah] is a premier terrorist organization," Indyk said. "Beyond that, it has built up an independent military capability that is greater than the military capabilities of the Lebanese armed forces."

Indeed, as we have time-and-again reported, Hizballah – the so-called "party of God," which rules a Shia kingdom inside the sovereign state of Lebanon, which battled Israel in the 2006 war (inflicting enormous damage on Lebanon), and which gained enormous strategic / political leverage in May of this year – may well have evolved into the world's most formidable terrorist army.

Consider the following: 

  • Hizballah is trained, equipped, and heavily financed (an estimated one-billion dollars annually) by Iran, and the organization is operationally supported by both Iran and Syria.
  • Hizballah is expanding its base, and the organization is increasing its global reach.
  • Hizballah has "conducted very large, spectacular" terrorist operations worldwide.
  • Hizballah has defiantly refused to surrender its arms in Lebanon as called for under United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701.
  • Hizballah has demonstrated time-and-again since May that it has no qualms about overtly killing Lebanese civilians as a means of furthering the organization's aims.
  • Hizballah has heavily infiltrated the Lebanese Army.
  • Hizballah, since May, has wormed its way into position as an official component of the overall Lebanese Defense apparatus. 

Yet the U.S. has provided – and continues to send – hundreds-of-millions-of dollars in military aid to Lebanon's armed forces and national police when some experts and analysts have surmised that money may well end up in the hands of the terrorists.

Moreover, last month, Lebanese Pres. Michel Sleiman – the pro-Hizballah, pro-Syrian former Lebanese Army commander – signed a new Defense pact with Iran, and Sleiman's newly dubbed Army commander, General Jean Kahwaji, traveled to Damascus for a series of schmoozing sessions with his Syrian counterpart General Ali Habib.

On Monday, Naharnet reported Iran's allocation of some "$600 million for the Lebanese elections" as told to the Kuwaiti newspaper, Alseyassah (Al-Siyassa).

Simply put, total control of Lebanon achieved by-and-for the Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah axis may well-be in the offing and under our noses. The pro-democracy movement may be effectively quashed within six months, and the West may lose – in fact it may have already lost – its Lebanese front in the broader war on terror.

In a letter just released by the World Council of the Cedars Revolution (Lebanon's largest pro-democracy movement), WCCR president Joseph P. Baini calls on both Sleiman and the "parliamentary majority" to postpone elections until Hizballah and all armed militias lay down their arms.

I'm not holding my breath, but at least Baini is saying what must be heard.

"It should be clearly stated that Hizballah is not the only faction to be fully armed," Baini writes. "There are of course its very close affiliates such as the Amal movement, the Palestinian Camps, and terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, Fatah al-Islam and Islamic Jihad, who are all proxies for and subservient to Syria and Iran.  Therein lies the real dilemma for the people of Lebanon and the Cedars Revolution. Most of the military arsenal within Lebanon is in the possession of organizations classified by the free world as 'terrorists.'"

Speaking to Alseyassah, Tom Harb, secretary general of the International Lebanese Committee for United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, says Hizballah must be disarmed before free and fair elections can take place.

"Elections cannot take place while groups are intimidating voters by force or the threat of force," says Harb, and after all, "elections in Lebanon have been postponed in the past."

If elections take place as is, Hizballah will be the one political party in possession of rifles, grenades, machineguns, missiles, and a demonstrated willingness to use them on anyone who does not wish for the same things the terrorists wish. And the Lebanese Army has demonstrated its unwillingness to confront Hizballah.

— Visit W. Thomas Smith Jr. at

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Arab world hails blogger who threw shows at Bush hailed as hero

Sentiment on Al Jazeera poll - 73% hail the shoe thrower as a hero. Americans should understand that the man was really throwing shows at every American.

Iraqi who threw shoes at Bush hailed as Arab hero

Dec. 15, 2008
Khaled Abu Toameh , THE JERUSALEM POST

Muntadar al-Zeidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at US President George W. Bush during a press conference in Baghdad on Sunday, is being hailed throughout the Arab world as a hero, with many calling on other journalists to use the same method against the Arab heads of state.

The overwhelming majority of comments posted on various Arabic Web sites also heaped praise on the Iraqi journalist. Many described him as a "lion" and prayed to God that he would be released unharmed.

Dozens of Arab lawyers expressed their readiness to defend al-Zeidi, while many Arab journalists protested against his arrest and praised him as one of the most respected newsmen in the Arab world.

Bush ducked a pair of shoes hurled at his head - one shoe after the other - in the middle of a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Both shoes narrowly missed their target and thumped loudly against the wall behind the leaders.

"Don't worry about it," the president said as the room erupted into chaos.

Iraqi reporters started shouting what Bush later explained were apologies for the incident.

"So what if the guy threw a shoe at me?" Bush said, comparing the action to political protests in the United States.

"If you want the facts, it was a size 10," he joked.

The shoe attack came as Bush and al-Maliki were about to shake hands. At that point al-Zeidi leaped from his chair and hurled his footwear at the president, who was about 20 feet away.

"This is a farewell kiss, you dog," he yelled in Arabic. "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq."

The crowd descended on al-Zeidi, who works for Al-Baghdadia television, an Iraqi-owned station based in Cairo.

He was wrestled to the ground by security officials and then hauled away, moaning as they departed the room. Later, a trail of fresh blood could be seen on the carpet, although the source was not known.

In Iraqi culture, throwing shoes at someone is a sign of contempt. When US Marines toppled Saddam Hussein's statue on Firdos Square in 2003, the assembled crowd whacked it with their shoes.

When Bush met with reporters later aboard Air Force One, he had a joke prepared: "I didn't know what the guy said but I saw his 'sole.'"

Later, he said: "I'm going to be thinking of shoe jokes for a long time. I haven't heard any good ones yet."

Many Arab reporters are now worried that they will be asked to take off their shoes before attending press conferences with US officials. A Palestinian journalist joked that the Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank have begun confiscating all shoes from the local markets as a precautionary measure ahead of a scheduled visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Abdel Bari Atwan, the Palestinian editor of the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi daily, defended the Iraqi journalist's action, saying he must have felt frustrated because of the deterioration in his country.

"The new Iraq that Bush is boasting about has become a mass grave and a battlefield," he said in an editorial entitled, "An Appropriate Farewell for a War Criminal."

"One million Iraqis have died and another five million have fled the new democracy of Iraq," he added.

Atwan, who is known for his anti-American sentiments, said that while he disagreed with the journalist over the method he used to express his opinion, "he was only expressing the opinion of the silent majority of Iraqis who are suffering. There is no water, no electricity and no work opportunities in a country that is supposed to be one of the richest in the Arab world."

Atwan also criticized the Iraqi journalist's colleagues who were quick to apologize to Bush following the embarrassing incident.

"We don't agree with the Iraqi journalists who apologized to Bush," he said. "This Iraqi colleague was only practicing his right of expression. It's Bush who has to apologize to the Iraqis for shedding their blood. This journalist represents the true face of the Iraqis."

The Al-Jazeera Web site, one of the most popular in the Arab world, said it received a record of 3,500 talkbacks in response to the incident. Over 90% of the Arabs who posted comments expressed full support for al-Zeidi and condemned Bush as a war criminal who deserved to die.

Some of the comments hailed the journalist for "degrading the American president who has killed many Muslims and Arabs," while others described him as "national hero" and as the man who brought honor to all Muslims and Arabs.

Mohammed Gandi, one of the readers who posted a comment, said that the Iraqi journalist represented the wish of the majority of the Arabs who hate Bush and those who are conspiring with him - a reference to US-supported Arab dictators.

Ahmed Osman, another reader, advised the Arab rulers to hold their press conferences only in mosques to avoid being attacked with shoes, since Muslims are required to take off their shoes before entering a mosque.

Fadi Tahan called on journalists who attend press conferences with Arab leaders "to wear bigger shoes so that they could help us get rid of these dictators."

Rashid Ramadani prayed to God that he would "bless the hands of the Iraqi journalist. One billion thanks to this Iraqi hero. We are very proud of you; you made us cry out of joy."

Ahmed al-Kadry expressed hope that the Arab dictators would be punished in a similar manner.

"This journalist is one of the greatest men in the Arab world," he said. "I hope that all the Arab presidents will see what happened and draw conclusions. I think it's time to say to all the criminals of the world to go away."

Hussein al-Bassoumi predicted that the Iraqi journalist would become a "legendary" hero for the Arabs and Muslims and that future generations would be taught about his "legend."

He urged the Arab masses to name streets and public squares after the journalist. He also urged the Iraqis to place the shoes that were used in the attacks in a museum in Baghdad.

Huda Azzam wrote: "Thank you to this brave journalist who has taught the Arab leaders a lesson in bravery. We hope Arab lawyers will form a special committee to defend this hero."

Addressing the journalist, Mahmoud al-Arabi said, "We salute the symbol of the Arabs and Islam. Please allow us on this day to kiss your hand on behalf of all the Arabs and Muslims."

Mohammed Ghaleb said that the Iraqi journalist will be defended not only by 100 lawyers, "but by millions of Arabs and billions of Muslims. He is a bright light in our dark day, God bless him. This is a beautiful day."

AP contributed to this report.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Soviet Virus Is Still Entrenched in the Arabs' Minds

December 15, 2008 No. 2151 
Director of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies: The Soviet Virus Is Still Entrenched in the Arabs' Minds
In an article published in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Dr. 'Abd Al-Mun'im Sa'id, director of the Al-AhramCenter for Political and Strategic Studies, criticized the Arabs' attitude towards the current global economic crisis. He stated that the Arabs still harbored pro-Soviet sympathies, which had recently found expression in their gloating over the global economic crisis currently affecting the U.S. Said added that the Arabs were acting as if the world were still divided into blocs, as in the days of the Cold War, and that he found this attitude surprising, given that the crisis was bound to hit the significant Arab economic interests in the West.
Following are excerpts from the article: [1]
"Every Time Vladimir Putin Comes Out With a Strong Statement Against the West, and Especially the U.S… the Soviet Arab Lobby… Announces the Long-Awaited Soviet Comeback to the International Arena"
"The term 'lobby' has gained wide currency in the Arab world, since it has become part of the political process in the U.S. This term refers to a group that pressures various political institutions to adopt a certain policy. Occasionally, [lobbying] goes so far as to promote foreign interests. [In the U.S.,] the well-known examples [of lobbying] include the Israeli, the Taiwanese, and the Greek lobbies.
"While in the Arab world there are no institutionalized [lobbies] in the judiciary sense, 'pressure groups' mushroom wherever there is a conflict of economic or ideological interests, or whenever there is a need to choose between different policies regarding national or pan-Arab interests. All this is obvious…
"What cannot be either conceived of or accepted is [that] the Soviet Union, which no longer exists… has a strong Arab 'lobby.' [The Soviet Union] disintegrated in 1990, and in its place arose 15 sovereign republics, which were accepted as members of the United Nations, and each with commercial, economic, and political ties with the neighboring Arab countries…
"Every time Vladimir Putin comes out with a strong statement against the West, and especially the U.S… the Soviet Arab lobby immediately springs into action, applauds, and announces the long-awaited Soviet comeback to the international arena. But the Soviets' big return [to the real world] occurred when they invaded Georgia and backed separatist groups there, [thus] becoming the only country to acquiesce to two states - Abhasia and South Ossetia.
"Under normal circumstances… the Arab world would have automatically objected to the invasion of a small country by a large one, just as it would have rejected the idea of a separatist movement - which is understandable considering what the Arabs [have suffered under] imperialist powers, and Israel's crimes against the Palestinian people. [It is also understandable considering the Arabs'] fear of disrupting the balance of forces between the Arab states and their powerful neighbors, and of the disintegration of modern Arab states due to [internal] strife.
"In our times, the Arabs are concerned about the fate of Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, and Lebanon. It is difficult to foresee what the future holds as far as surrendering to cruel foreign forces, [internal] rifts, and internecine wars. [One might have thought that,] by now, the Arabs should have had enough of this - enough to unanimously oppose Russia's invasion of Georgia.
"However, the [Arab] countries remained silent, while the [Arab] media cheered in approval, [believing that] this invasion heralded the comeback of the Soviet Union to the international arena. [They reacted to the Russian invasion] as though a unified Arab state had been established, or the Arabs had joined the camp of the developed countries."

Ideologically, the Situation in the Arab World Is Anomalous
"The most serious developments, [however,] occurred in the wake of the current economic crisis. It is then that the Arabs' '[pro-]Soviet mentality' took the form of uncanny enthusiasm… Most of the Arab capital and financial reserves are invested in banks and institutions in the West… The upshot is that the Arabs have extensive [economic] interests in the West, and especially in the U.S., and as a result [depend on] its economic wellbeing.
"[But] what took place in the Arab world, [and particularly] in its press and media, was astounding. There were almost no efforts to make sense of the crisis and no attempts to envisage its impact on us and to find ways to cope with the situation.
"Some among us decided to announce the premature death of the U.S., the revival of the Soviet Union, and the return of the happy days when the world was bi- or multi-polar. But above all else, they hastened to announce the end of the capitalist [era, in hope that] this would enable the countries to run their economies in exactly the same way as during the time of the Soviet Union and socialism.
"What is especially odd is that 'the Soviet lobby' is not comprised solely of veteran socialists, but has [recently] been joined by new and old Islamist groups, which believe that both socialism and capitalism must [now] be replaced by an Islamic regime…
"[I reiterate:] Ideologically, the situation in the Arab world is anomalous. While the educated in India, China, and, of course, in Europe and the U.S. analyzed the developments and [took measures] to remedy the situation, the Arab [elites], propelled by the obsolete [pro-]Soviet mentality, gloated over what happened and wished for a overall collapse - as if they themselves, along with their compatriots, would remain unscathed and avoid going down with the ship.
"Exactly the same thing happened two decades ago, with the advent of globalization, that harbinger of the modern world order: The overwhelming majority of the world [elites] accepted this historical change, with the exception of a handful of the left, along with Arab journalists and spokesmen, who were swayed by their [pro-]Soviet yearnings.
"[The same pattern] re-emerged after the September 11 attacks, when the conspiracy theory and solidarity with Al-Qaeda and bin Laden were much more widespread in the Arab countries than elsewhere - even more so than in the [rest of the] Muslim world. Indeed, poll results in Turkey, Nigeria and Indonesia differed dramatically from those in the Arab countries.
"The reason for this is that the Soviet virus and the Cold War are still [part of] the aspirations and desires of the Arab capital cities - in cafes, in the newspapers, and on television channels."
[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), October 22, 2008.

Disappearing prisoners in Syria

Boutros Khawand Vanished in Syria
 Written by Ana-Maria Luca

The Media Line/ Published Tuesday, December 16, 2008

 [Beirut] Rana Khawand does not remember her father. She was four years old when he disappeared. Boutros Khawand, a well-known Lebanese Christian politician, is said to have been kidnapped in December 1992 in East Beirut, in an area controlled by the Syrian Army.

 "Witnesses saw his car intercepted by a squad of 11 gunmen who forced him into a red van and drove away," his daughter says. "We haven't seen him since. They say Boutros Khawand is not in Syria. But we know. Other prisoners have said they saw him in prison there," the girl whispers.
 Khawand is one of the many Lebanese who vanished into Syria during the 1980s and early 1990s.

 "We are speaking of hundreds of Lebanese prisoners in Syria. We had a list containing the names of 250–270 Lebanese prisoners before the Syrian withdrawal. From April 2005 until now, the number has risen to 600," journalist and human rights activist Pierre Atallah says.

 According to the Damascus government, there are no Lebanese political prisoners in Syrian prisons. The issue has been haunting the nascent diplomatic relations between Damascus and Beirut.

 "It's been going on for a while. We say 'give us our prisoners' – they say they don't have any. Then after a while, people show up at home and say they had been detained in Syria," Atallah says.

 Ali Abu Dehn is one of the people who came back from the Syrian prisons. He was released in 2000 after former Syrian President Hafez al Assad died and his son and successor, Bashar, pardoned 54 Lebanese political prisoners in honor of his father.

 Dehn's nightmare began on December 7, 1987, when the Syrian Intelligence took him from the Australian embassy in Damascus. He was trying to leave Lebanon for Sydney to escape the civil war.
 "Instead I was sent to hell for 13 years," he says, with a bitter smile.

 He was imprisoned in Saydnaya and Tadmur (Palmyra), together with dozens of Lebanese detainees. Dehn was charged at first with fighting against the Syrian presence in Lebanon, as well as with spying for Israel, a charge common to most of the detained Lebanese.
 He says they were tortured, beaten and humiliated.

 "What they did to us was inhuman. I was hanged by my wrist until the joint separated. The person interrogating me told me he would show my elbow to me. I didn't believe he could. But he twisted my hand, so I saw my elbow," he remembers.
 He also remembers how he got the dozens of scars on his body – the ones on his legs from the beatings – the broken hand, the cigarette burn on the back of his neck, the dislocated shoulder.

 He says he is not afraid to speak out, although he has been threatened with death several times.
 "I'm trying my best for the other prisoners who are still being tortured. There were many Lebanese with me. Bashar al Assad denies the existence of Lebanese in their prisons… but I left six of my friends in there. I know! We were sharing the little food, the small potato we had to split between five persons. They are still there! I don't know if they are alive or dead – but I left them in Syria!"

 The situation of Lebanese detainees was an official taboo in Lebanese-Syrian relations for decades. Damascus had a military presence and control over Lebanon from 1976 until April 2005, when it withdrew its troops after the Cedar Revolution, the Lebanese reaction to the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri on February 14, 2005.

 Several human rights organizations and the families of the detainees missing in Syria started to pressure the government in Beirut to take action and ask for information on the missing Lebanese in Syrian jails. But there has been little progress.
 "The problem is important for both political alliances in Lebanon, March 14 and March 8. They cannot deny it and can't run away from responsibility in this case," Atallah stresses.

At the request of hundreds of families, the Lebanese Ministry of Justice has recently started to update the files of the alleged political prisoners. But Atallah, who is a member of the Foundation for Human and Humanitarian Rights, says he is not very optimistic.
 "The Lebanese government is not well organized, it's not serious," he says.

 One by one, the Lebanese politicians who visited Syria after the establishment of diplomatic relations threw the ball into somebody else's court.
 The minister of justice, Ibrahim Najjar, has acknowledged the existence of 745 Lebanese citizens missing in Syria. In a television interview, he said these citizens were divided into two main categories – convicts and kidnap victims – and that the Justice Ministry should take responsibility for the convicts.
 However, Najjar did not say how the Lebanese government would deal with the situation of the kidnap victims.

 At the end of September 2008, the justice minister announced he had received an updated list of 120 Lebanese prisoners from Damascus. But no political prisoner was on it, Atallah says.

 "They are criminals imprisoned for drug trafficking or smuggling weapons or working in prostitution. There was no information about the soldiers detained during the 1990 Syrian attack on the Christian areas."

 After his visit to Damascus in November, Lebanese Interior Minister Ziad Baroud said his talks with Syrian Interior Minister Bassam Abdel Majid did not cover the dossier of missing persons and detainees in Syrian prisons.
 "The issue of missing Lebanese in Syrian jails was not excluded from discussions with the Syrians, but I did not want to exceed my authority, so we only discussed the role of the interior minister in this matter," Baroud said in a statement on his return to Beirut.

 When Lebanese President Michel Suleiman asked his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al Assad, about the fate of the political prisoners, the leader in Damascus is said to have replied that it was not a presidential matter.

 "They diverted this case to the joint committee, the Syrian-Lebanese Committee. It's not promising. The work of this committee is based on a routine.
 "At every meeting the Lebanese present a list of people who are allegedly detained in Syria, and the Syrians ask for information about their people lost in Lebanon in the civil war. In fact, this is not the same thing," Atallah says. "They were in Lebanon for 30 years. Why didn't they look for their people then? Now they remember?"
 Gen. Michel Aoun, the Free Patriotic Movement leader, also visited Syria recently. The human rights organizations, as well as the families of the people who vanished in Syria, asked him to bring up the issue in front of the Syrian president. Aoun refused to deal with the case because he said it was the responsibility of the president of the republic.

 The families of the people who vanished in Syria still hope they might hear from their relatives.
 "We hope that now, with the diplomatic relations with Syria, maybe we might know what happened to my father," Rana Khawand sighs. "The last time they heard of him was in 2004. A Lebanese prisoner was released and he said that he saw my father in prison."
 Her father would now be 79. She hopes he is still alive, but she knows that the chances of seeing him lessen every day.

 "If Syria doesn't admit it has Lebanese prisoners, nothing can be done. I can't see a good relationship with Syria if there are still Lebanese prisoners there," she says.
 Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has confirmed that an embassy will be established in Lebanon by year's end.

 Atallah says he can hardly wait for a Syrian embassy to open in Beirut.  "The day they open it, the families of the prisoners will set up tents in front of it," he promises.

*Copyright © 2008 The Media Line. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Libyan group gives courage award to reporter who threw shoes at Bush

Last update - 18:20 15/12/2008       
Libyan group gives courage award to reporter who threw shoes at Bush
By Reuters
The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush on Sunday was given a bravery award on Monday by a Libyan charity group chaired by leader Muammar Gadhafi's daughter.
The charity group "Wa Attassimou" also urged the Iraqi government to release television reporter Muntazer al-Zaidi after he was detained on Sunday for hurling footwear at Bush and calling the American president a "dog" - both severe insults in the Middle East.
"Waatassimou group has taken the decision to give Muntazer al-Zaidi the courage award ... because what he did represents a victory for human rights across the world," the group, headed by Aicha Gadhafi, said in a statement.
The group said the Iraqi authorities should honor the journalist for his actions.
Zaidi, accused by the Iraqi government of a "barbaric and ignominious act", will be tried on charges of insulting the Iraqi state, said the Iraqi prime minister's media advisor, Yasin Majeed.
Arab and Iran TV stations have gleefully replayed the footage of the incident, which for many in the region was seen as a fittingly furious comment on what they view as Bush's calamitous Middle East legacy.
Aicha, a lawyer by training, was fiercely opposed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. She offered to defend Saddam Hussein after his capture by U.S. forces from an underground hideout at the end of 2003.
After years of tension between Libya and the United States there have been recent indications that ties between the two countries were warming.

Livni Says Israel Can’t Tolerate Hamas State in Gaza (Update1)

By Gwen Ackerman

Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Israel can't tolerate a Hamas-run state in the Gaza Strip, as a six-month truce with the Islamic militant group comes to an end.

"Hamas cannot continue to control Gaza," Livni said in remarks to high school students today. "In the long term, Israel cannot tolerate an extreme Islamic state on its southern border."

The truce, or "lull," as both sides call it, has been repeatedly violated in recent weeks as Palestinian militants lob rockets at Israel and Israeli troops and aircraft fire on launchers. The period of calm officially ends Dec. 19.

Livni's comments were the harshest the Israeli leader has made to date and came in the midst of an election campaign that began after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resigned to fight corruption allegations. Livni, who took over as leader of their Kadima party, failed to form a new coalition. Israelis go to the polls on Feb. 10.

Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim echoed Livni's remarks in an e- mailed statement calling on Defense Minister Ehud Barak to act against Hamas before the end of the truce.

'Not Rhetoric'

"This is not just rhetoric," Gerald Steinberg, a political scientist at Bar Ilan University, said in a phone interview, referring to the comments by Israeli leaders. "It clearly reflects a crossroads. The policy has failed and all options are back on the table."

More than 90 Qassam rockets and 72 mortar shells have been launched at Israel from Gaza since Nov. 15, an army spokeswoman said, speaking on condition of anonymity by regulation. Israel carried out five air strikes against the Gaza militants during the same period, she said.

One of the more sensitive issues between Israel and the Muslim group is Corporal Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held by Gaza militants for more than two years. Barak has said Israel's interest in the lull in fighting has been to maintain a truce that would allow negotiations for Shalit's release to continue.

Livni told the students today that it may not be possible to bring every Israeli soldier back home.

'Skit of Horror'

At a Hamas rally yesterday to mark the 21st anniversary of its founding, the group presented a militant dressed in an Israeli army uniform who begged in Hebrew to be allowed to go home. Photos of the skit were splashed across on the front page of the Israeli mass-circulation dailies Ma'ariv and Yediot Ahronot. "A skit of horror," read the banner headline in Yediot.

"The fact that Shalit is still being held is adding to tensions," Steinberg said. "Hamas is stronger, not weaker. The truce has broken down. Iran's presence in Gaza is increasing and a new administration is coming to Washington. A new policy has to be developed."

As part of a bid to stop the rocket attacks and put pressure on Hamas to return Shalit, Israel sealed off its border crossings with Gaza on Nov. 4, when the latest round of rocket attacks began. It has periodically eased the closure to allow in necessities.

Ninety trucks carrying animal fodder and humanitarian supplies were allowed into Gaza today, said Nasser al-Sarraj, an official at Gaza's ministry of economy. Some fuel was also allowed in, he said. The easing of the restrictions was confirmed by Maj. Peter Lerner at Israel's Defense Ministry.

Hamas has to some extent bypassed the embargo with tunnels it dug under Gaza's border with Egypt.

Steinberg said the options under consideration by Israel include military actions such as a temporary reoccupation of Gaza, a resumption of the so-called targeted killing of top Hamas leaders, and an attempt to rescue Shalit.

Hamas leader Khalil al-Haya told journalists in Gaza yesterday that the cease-fire won't be extended when it ends in four days. "The Israeli occupation forces have destroyed the lull, its conditions and terms by sealing off the crossings and continuing their aggression against the Palestinian people," he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gwen Ackerman in Jerusalem at

Last Updated: December 15, 2008 06:26 EST

Lethal public hair in Saudi Arabia

The article speaks for itself. Please note that it was published in Saudi Arabia.
When international agreements conflict with Saudi court rulings
Angelo Young | Arab News  

JEDDAH: Abiding by international agreements as well as Shariah has been a stated focus of the governmental Saudi Human Right Commission, which recently commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
One such international agreement is the Convention on the Rights of the Child that the Kingdom voluntarily signed in 1996 that, among a list of other articles, prohibits putting to death criminals who committed their crimes when they were under the age of 18.
In November, the Shoura Council approved a law officially defining the age of adulthood as 18, a move aimed at putting the Kingdom in sync with the definition of the age of a minor in the eyes of the United Nations and a large number of countries. The Kingdom has committed to not putting to death minors under this definition.
In Islamic law an adult is defined by a number of factors, including physical evidence of puberty as well as the determination of a person's mental, emotional and intellectual maturity.
Because evidence of puberty begins before the age of 18, a judge who determines that a young person convicted of murder is an adult based solely on this physical evidence of adulthood might sentence a minor (as defined by the UN convention the Kingdom has signed) to death. Alternatively a minor might also be held until he is no longer considered a minor and then executed.
Mueed Al-Hakami, the 16-year-old son of Hussein Al-Hakami, was beheaded on July 10, 2007, in the southern Saudi city of Jizan two years after he was arrested, charged and found guilty of sexually assaulting and killing a younger boy.
Hussein said he was prevented from being present during the police interrogation shortly after Mueed was arrested, and that he didn't learn of his son's beheading until a few days after the execution and burial. He claims that he doesn't know where his son's body is buried.
Hussein's lawyer, Abdullah Al-Zmami, told Arab News in April that the judge in the case should have never passed this case beyond juvenile court. Hussein claims the judge passed the case on after asking only for physical proof that Mueed was acting as an adult: his pubic hair.

Peril in Egypt

Not long ago there was a ferry accident in Egypt that cost numerous lives. In another incident, a bus carrying Israeli Arab tourists overturned in Sinai. The tourists who survived compained of primitive hospital treatment. The Egyptian government would not let Israel evacuate them for quite a while. One said, "What is called a hospital in Egypt is called a barn in Israel."
Now we learn of these accidents. Unsafe public transportation and contempt for human life characterize much of the Arab world, and Egypt is no exception. Mass death scenes are also common in the holy  Hajj pilgrimage, when there are almost never proper provisions for the pilgrims. In the nineteenth century, the Hajj was even more perilous as travellers were regularly attacked and murdered by bandits.
Dozens dead in Egypt bus crash 

At least 55 people have been killed after a bus ran off the road and plunged into a canal south of Cairo, Egypt's capital, officials say.
Between 60-70 people were riding in the overloaded bus on Sunday, in the province of Minya.
Ahmed Diaa, the governor of Minya, said the bus swerved to avoid an oncoming lorry, but the state news agency said the driver had lost control of the bus while attempting to overtake another vehicle.
Police divers and volunteers were searching the canal for more bodies.
Diaa told state-run television that 57 people had died in the accident, but AFP new agency, citing an official, reported 55 bodies were recovered.

The bus was travelling on a narrow road when it veered off the road into the Ibrahimiya Canal, near the village of Bahrut about 200 kilometres from Cairo.
Accidents common
On Monday, fifteen students were killed when a bus overturned on its way from Minya to Alexandria.
Egyptian roads are considered highly dangerous, with thousands of accidents every year. Regulations are not fully enforced and vehicles are badly cared for.
About 6,000 people die and 30,000 are injured in road accidents in Egypt annually.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Business is booming in Bethlehem - Merry Christmas

About this time of year, journals are regrettably usually filled with articles about the Jews persecuting Christians in Bethlehem. This holiday tradition goes back to 1921, when a British journal alleged that because of the British mandate a huge number of Chrisians had fled Bethlehem - an untrue allegation.  
These articles are starting to appear as they do each year. They are untrue.
Here is the truth. Please tell others as well. The "eight bleak years" were the doing of the Palestinian terror groups, who began their violence in 2000.
BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — After eight bleak years, Jesus' birthplace finally has a Christmas season to cheer about.
Hotels are booked solid through January, Manger Square is bustling with tourists, and Israeli and Palestinian forces are working to make things go smoothly.
Elias Al-Araj's 200-room hotel is fully booked for the season, and he plans to open a 100-room annex. He says he already has bookings through July.
"This year, business was great," he said.
Bethlehem's economic fortunes are closely tied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tourism blossomed in the 1990s, when peace hopes were alive, but was crushed by the outbreak of fighting in 2000. Christmas after Christmas, tourists were scared off by Palestinian violence and Israeli travel restrictions.
With calm gradually returning to the West Bank, Bethlehem has again become a magnet for Christmas pilgrims.
"It's a difference between heaven and earth," said entrepreneur Mike Kanawati, who is so optimistic he's opening a new restaurant near the Church of the Nativity.
Palestinian officials say 1.3 million tourists have visited the West Bank this year, nearly double last year's level. The total for 2008 could rise to 1.6 million. The tourism boom has created 12,000 new jobs, said Palestinian Information Minister Riad Malki.
Bethlehem's 19 hotels are fully booked through January, said Mayor Victor Batarseh. He said he expects 30,000 visitors on Christmas Eve alone, compared with 22,000 last year, with about 5,000 more expected during Orthodox rites in January.
Batarseh said he hopes the signs of recovery will persuade more Bethlehemites to stay in their town. In recent years, growing numbers, particularly Christians, have emigrated.
"Calm and an increase in tourism will create more job opportunities and encourage families to stay in the city," said Batarseh, who is Christian. Officials say 40% of the town's 32,000 residents are Christian, down from 90% in the 1950s. The rest are Muslim.
Christmas decorations should be up by Monday. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will light the Christmas tree, a large cypress, in Manger Square. Bands of yellow lights are already strung across the main road at the entrance to Bethlehem.
Bethlehem is a typical West Bank town, with congested streets and noisy markets, very different from the biblical idyll visitors might imagine.
"It's fascinating to see the place I heard about all my life," said Michael Creasy, 30, a software engineer from San Francisco, after emerging from the Church of the Nativity that stands over Jesus' traditional birth grotto. He said he'd love to stay for Christmas, but has to get back to work....