Baghdad car bombs kill dozens in attacks on Shia neighbourhoods
At least 69 dead and more than 170 wounded in attacks, raising fears of a return to widespread sectarian violence
The Observer, Sunday 11 August 2013
A series of car bombs targeting cafes and markets in mainly Shia Muslim areas of Baghdad killed 69 people and wounded more than 170.
The attacks took place during celebrations at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. Violence in Iraq has been increasing since a deadly crackdown by government forces on a Sunni protest camp in April.
Attacks against civilians and security forces worsened markedly during Ramadan. The increase in violence has led to fears of a return to the sectarian fighting that brought the country to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007.
The 10 explosions, which appeared to have been co-ordinated, were similar to attacks in Baghdad on Tuesday in which 50 people were killed.
Police said one of the deadliest of the attacks took place when a car bomb exploded near an outdoor market in the city's south-eastern suburb of Jisr Diyala shortly before sunset, killing seven people and wounding 20.
Outside Baghdad, a suicide bomber detonated an explosion in a car on a busy street in the town of Tuz Khurmato, 105 miles north of the capital, killing at least 10 people and wounding 45. Tuz Khurmato is in a particularly violent region over which both the central government and autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan claim jurisdiction.
Police believe the bomber was trying to reach the local headquarters of a Kurdish political party, but was unable to approach the building because of increased security in the area.
Attacks have multiplied in Iraq since the start of the year, with more than 1,000 people killed in July, the highest monthly death toll since 2008, according to the United Nations. Iraqi security forces have increased patrols and checkpoints to protect people during the Eid al-Fitr celebrations at the end of Ramadan.
Sunni Islamist militants have been regaining momentum in their insurgency against the Shia-led government and have been emboldened by the civil war in neighbouring Syria.
Last week prime minister Nouri al-Maliki vowed to continue operations against militants, saying: "We will not leave our children to these murderers and those standing behind them and supporting both inside and outside."
Car bombs kill scores across Iraq
At least 91 dead in string of explosions in Baghdad and other cities during Eid al-Fitr celebrations.
Last Modified: 11 Aug 2013 01:21
Iraq's summer of terror
Fears loom of all-out civil war with nearly 600 people killed in July and violence intensifying.
Jane Arraf Last Modified: 23 Jul 2013 12:30
Baghdad, Iraq - Summer in Iraq has become a season of terror.
Five years after pulling itself out of civil war, the country is again mired in a relentless series of bombings, political assassinations and sectarian attacks that have stalled progress many Iraqis hoped they would achieve.
This year the holy month of Ramadan - when many Muslims fast in the day and gather in mosques, cafés and markets in the evening - has been marked by almost daily attacks on a widening range of targets.
Almost 600 people have been killed so far in July, most of them civilians. This month's toll follows a grim landmark in May when the UN reported at least 963 civilians had been killed and more than 2,000 injured in the biggest monthly casualty toll since 2008.
"The war continues," says Brigadier General Saad Mann, the Interior Ministry spokesman, who blames most of the attacks on al-Qaeda. "Their first aim is to kill as many people as possible, the second is to send a sectarian message, and the third is the continuation of what is happening in the region - what is happening in Syria is definitely affecting Iraq."
'At least 30 killed' as Egyptian forces clear pro-Morsi camps in Cairo
Tear gas is fired at protesters as first two Cairo protest camps are cleared
HEATHER SAUL WEDNESDAY 14 AUGUST 2013
Egyptian security forces have begun removing supporters of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi from Cairo protest camps, where the protesters had been demanding the reinstatement of the deposed leader.
Earlier estimates had put the number of civilians killed by security forces at 30, but the Muslim Brotherhood is now claiming that up to 250 are dead and 5,000 injured.
At least two members of the security forces were confirmed to have died in the morning's crackdown in Cairo while a group representing the protesters said as many as 25 protesters were killed in one of the camps. A senior Health Ministry official, Ahmed el-Ansari, said four people were killed and 50 injured in all at the two sites.
A number of leaders from the Brotherhood have since been arrested, an official announced during a broadcast.
"We have arrested a number of Brotherhood leaders but it's too early to announce their names," General Abdel Fattah Othman, a senior official in the Interior Ministry, told the privately-owned CBC TV channel.
Security forces fired tear gas at the biggest camp in north east Cairo, as police helicopters circled above and army vehicles were stationed nearby, witnesses said.
Egyptian security forces have already finished breaking up the smaller of two Cairo protest camps, state TV reported today, after the police moved in the early hours against the sit-ins on the west bank of the Nile near Cairo University.
A Reuters journalist said the security forces had blocked all access to the Nahda Square protest camp.
TV footage showed members of the security forces searching tents at the camp.
The state news agency reported security forces had started implementing a phased plan to remove the protesters, which will almost certainly exacerbate political turmoil in Egypt.
Eyewitness Ahshur Abid said 15 people were killed as the clearing operation started. He said he saw their bodies at a field hospital at one of the camps.
There was no immediate official confirmation of the deaths.
More than 300 people have already died in political violence since Morsi was over thrown by the military on 3 July, including dozens of his supporters killed by security forces in two separate earlier incidents.
Morsi became Egypt's first freely elected leader in June 2012 but many believed he failed to tackle deep economic malaise and were concerned with his apparent efforts to tighten Islamist rule.
Egypt's coup has crushed all the freedoms won in the revolution
I supported the opposition to President Morsi until the military takeover, which all supporters of human rights should reject
The Guardian, Friday 9 August 2013
The most important pretext for the ousting of President Morsi was the existence of division in Egypt. But today the division is deeper and the polarisation is wider. My support for the 30 June movement in opposition to Morsi changed after the military coup, which went against all the gains and values of the 25 January revolution. Its nature became obvious to me as I watched the killing of protesters, the incarceration, kidnapping and forced disappearance of thousands of coup opponents, and the closure of satellite TV channels.
Clearly, the leaders of the military takeover have something to conceal from the watchful eyes of the world. That explains why I was recently refused entry into Egypt. I now feel I have a responsibility to warn the world of the fact that a fully fledged despotic regime is seeking to reinforce its foundations in the country. The 25 January revolution guaranteed freedom of expression, of assembly and organisation. All these freedoms have been crushed in the aftermath of the coup.
It is unrealistic and unfair to believe Morsi was responsible for the failure to achieve economic prosperity within a year of his presidency. The man inherited a huge legacy of failure and institutional collapse from the previous regime. Furthermore, it has now become obvious that most of the state institutions, including the judiciary, the army, the security apparatus and most of the government departments, stood against him. They acted in a co-ordinated manner to foment a crisis aimed at impeding the president and forcing failure on him.
But the success of heads of state or government is measured more by their respect for civil and political rights than by economic prosperity. Morsi passed this tough test by guaranteeing these rights when, in fact, his opponents enjoyed more freedom than his own supporters. Compare this to what has been happening to his supporters since the coup: hundreds have been detained, killed or wounded as they peacefully protested.
Perhaps one of the few positive aspects of the coup is that it has discredited the claim thatthat that the state had been taken over by the Brotherhood under Morsi. The ministers in charge of defence, the interior and foreign affairs, and many other ministers and holders of senior government posts, are among the supporters of the coup. They were appointed by Morsi but are all opponents of the president, of his party and of his community. Egypt is moving on from the lie of Brotherhood takeover to the reality of state militarisation.
It is incumbent on every person who stands up for the values of democracy and the right of the people to choose their rulers unequivocally to reject the coup. The peoples of the Arab spring countries, including my own, Yemen, observe with concern the events in Egypt, where the will of the military has taken over the free will of the voters.
The repercussions of the coup on nascent democracies in the Arab world will be destructive. People may soon lose faith in the democratic process, paving the way for the revival of extremist groups. It is dreadful to imagine the long-term consequences of frustration with democracy. Al-Qaida and those sympathetic to it have always mocked the Muslim Brotherhood, telling them that the solution would not come via ballot boxes, but through bullets. The coup serves to strengthen the radicals, interrupting the course of peaceful change.
Despite what they've been subjected to, the Brotherhood has protested peacefully. Its restraint has averted civil war. But Morsi and his supporters hold the card of democratic and constitutional legitimacy, and are unlikely to agree to any settlement that does not do their claims justice.
The popular rallies at Rabaa al-Adawiya and other squares across Egypt will defeat despotism and terrorism in the long run. But in the meantime, any solution that fails to restore the public's confidence in the ballot box and falls short of alleviating the sense of victimhood in the Morsi camp will be doomed to failure.
Millions take to the streets of Egypt in an ever-growing media fantasy
If that many were demonstrating, who was driving the trains, buses, underground, operating the airports, manning the police and army, the factories, and hotels?
Sunday 4 August 2013
Why does the Egyptian crisis appear so simple to our political leaders yet so complicated when you actually turn up in Cairo?
Let’s start with the Egyptian press. Flowering after the 2011 revolution, the Egyptian media moved into lockstep the moment General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and the lads chucked President Mohamed Morsi out of power on 3 July. Indeed, one popular television group – upon whose airwaves I occasionally spoke in the post-Mubarak era – appeared after the military takeover with their reporters and presenters all praising the new regime. And here’s the rub – they all appeared on screen in military uniform!
Of course, fantasies had to be created. The first of these was not the perfidious, undemocratic, terroristic nature of the Brotherhood – this idea had been fostered at least a week before the coup. No, it was the demonstration scoreboard that fed into the dreams of the world. “Millions” were on the streets calling for Morsi’s overthrow. These millions were essential for the supreme fantasy: that General al-Sisi was merely following the will of the people. But then Tony Blair – whose accuracy over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is well known – told us that there were “17 million Egyptians on the streets”! This was worthy of an exclamation mark. Then the US State Department told us there were 22 million on the streets of Egypt. Then just three days ago, the Democracy Index informed us that there were 30 million taking part in demonstrations against Morsi and only one million Morsi supporters on the streets!
This is truly incredible. The population of Egypt is around 89 million. Stripped of its babies, children, pensioners of advanced age, this suggests that more than half the active population of Egypt was demonstrating against Morsi. Yet unlike Egypt in 2011, the country kept running. So who, during what the Egyptian Writers Union now called “the largest political demonstration in history”, was driving the trains and buses, the Cairo underground system, operating the airports, manning the ranks of the police and army, the factories, hotels and the Suez Canal?
Al-Jazeera, thank heavens, brought in an American expert on crowds to demonstrate that these figures emerged from a dream world in which both sides eagerly subscribed, one that physically could not exist. Around Tahrir Square, it was impossible to gather more than a million and a half people. In Nasr City – a Morsi demonstration point – far fewer. But the groundwork had been laid.
So last week, the US Secretary of State John Kerry was able to tell us that the Egyptian military “was asked to intervene by millions and millions [sic] of people, all of whom were afraid of a [descent] into chaos, into violence. And the military did not take over, to the best of our judgement – so far – to run the country. There’s a civilian government. In effect [sic], they were restoring democracy.” All Kerry failed to mention was that General al-Sisi chose the “civilian” government, reappointed himself defence minister, then appointed himself deputy prime minister of the “civilian” government – and remained commander of the Egyptian army. And that General al-Sisi was never elected. But that’s OK. He was anointed by those “millions and millions” of people.
And what did the military spokesman say when asked how the world would react to the “excessive use of force” that killed 50 Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators on 8 July? Without reservation, he replied: “What excessive force? It would have been excessive if we had killed 300 people.” That speaks for itself. But when you’re up there among the 17 million, 22 million, 30 million, the “millions of millions”, who cares?
Now to the Department of Plain Speaking. Let me quote here the best commentator on the Middle East, Alain Gresh, whose work in Le Monde diplomatique, is – or should be – essential reading for all politicians, generals, “intelligence” officers, torturers, and every Arab in the entire region. The Muslim Brotherhood, he writes this month, proved itself “fundamentally incapable of adapting to the pluralist political deal, to emerge from its culture of clandestinity, to transform itself into a political party, to make alliances. Sure, they created the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), but this remained totally under the control of the Brotherhood.”
And what was al-Sisi’s real role in all this? He gave us an intriguing clue in his infamous 25 July call on Egyptians to authorise the army to “confront violence and terrorism”. He said he told two Brotherhood leaders prior to the overthrow that the situation was “dangerous”, that reconciliation talks must begin at once. The two leaders, al-Sisi said, replied that “armed groups” would solve any problem that arose. The general was outraged. He said he gave Morsi a week before 30 June to try to end the crisis. On 3 July, he sent Morsi’s Prime Minister, Hisham Qandil, and two others “to former President Morsi to convince him to be proactive and call for a referendum on his remaining in power… His answer was ‘no’.” Al-Sisi told Morsi that “political pride dictates that if the people reject you, you should either step down, or re-establish confidence through a referendum. Some people want to either rule the country or destroy
Of course, we can’t hear Morsi’s point of view. He has been publicly silenced.
Thank God for the Egyptian army. And all those millions.
The Egyptian army's economic juggernaut
The military plays a major role in Egypt's economy, even owning child-care centres.
Dahlia Kholaif Last Modified: 05 Aug 2013 13:44
Cairo, Egypt - "From needles to rockets" is a common Egyptian phrase used to describe a business offering a wide range of merchandise, and is always used in exaggeration. But when referring to the economy of the Egyptian army - which ousted the country's first civilian president last month - the expression is spot-on.
As political turmoil pushes Egypt's economy into its worst slowdown in more than two decades, only its well-heeled army can afford to construct bridges, offset bread shortages, raise herds of cattle and chicken, manufacture home appliances and even provide child-care.
"The question isn't what sectors do they invest in, but rather: is there a sector that they don't invest in?" said Robert Springborg, an expert on Egypt's armed forces and a professor in the department of national security at the Naval Postgraduate School in California.
The Egyptian armed forces, headed by Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah El Sisi, who is supervising a roadmap encompassing early presidential elections and the drafting of a new constitution, runs scores of manufacturing and service-providing companies, through which it controls a significant stake of the nation's economy.
The Ministry of Military Production manages at least 14 such companies - producing merchandise varying from tank shells and ammunition to fertilisers, sports equipment, cement, pasta and cars.
"Very little is known about how big is [the army's] economy, as very little is released about it," explained Springborg. He said estimates have said the army accounts for between 10 to 40 percent of Egypt's entire economy. "The range is too vast," he added.
An Egyptian military spokesman rejected that statistic, saying "there is no proof whatsoever regarding this percentage, which was circulated by currently detained Islamists". He added that the military's stake in the economy was "very limited".
Propelled by thousands of under-paid conscripts, the army's economic empire dates back to the 1960s, shortly after Gamal Abdel Nasser's arrival to power and the establishment of the Egyptian Republic.
With about 450,000 active personnel, the largest military in either Africa or the Arab world has daily demands that need to be met, motivating generals to achieve self-sufficiency when the military's industries were launched, decades ago. Not long after, the military's economic empire expanded to provide civilian products.
The most recent war fought by Egypt took place in 1973, and afterwards hundreds of retired officers and thousands of soldiers needed jobs, homes and privileges. This gave all the more reason for generals to expand their projects to include real estate, housing, tourism, healthcare and education. The emergence of sprawling cities across Egypt where soldiers reside is one sign of the massive entity the army has become.
One such area is Nasr City, where thousands of pro-Morsi protesters continue their month-long sit-in, seeking to reinstate the former president, a protest which has triggered the contempt of the district's many army-related residents. The cabinet has authorised the Ministry of Interior to take "all necessary measures" to disperse the crowd, following massive demonstrations on July 27, mandating the army to combat "violence and terrorism".
However, "lands in certain areas that are not owned privately, are only technically controlled by the army, for national security purposes," said the military spokesman, who asked not to be named. Giving an example, he said that areas around the Cairo International Airport, at which military jets also land, are such titles that come under the "technical control" of the army.
"Media automatically rush to wrongly report that the army is eyeing these plots of lands, when in fact the army is watching out for its and the public's interest."
In a September 2008 State Department cable published by WikiLeaks, then-US ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey said: "The military helps to ensure regime stability and operates a large network of businesses, as it becomes a 'quasi-commercial' enterprise itself."
Other documents published by WikiLeaks quoted former Minister of Military Production Sayed Meshal as saying that the ministry's revenues from the private sector were about 2bn Egyptian pounds ($286m) a year, and that it employs 40,000 civilians.
"It is clear that the army penetrates the civilian economy in various ways: it undertakes civilian contracts in areas such as construction and infrastructure, and military-owned companies increasingly start joint ventures with domestic or foreign companies," said Yezid Sayegh, a senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center.
"The army additionally gets involved whenever major government programmes or private-sector projects involve land, so there is a large and possibly growing area of military commercial activity that is not transparent or fully accounted for," he added.
Egypt's army is also considered to be the region's second-largest recipient - after Israel - of US aid money, reportedly receiving around $1.5bn annually. Following Morsi's ousting, a bill in the US Senate to block aid to Egypt because of the military coup was rejected with only 13 votes in favour, versus 86 opposed.
The possibility of cutting aid, however, sparked concerns of additional financial hardships. Egypt's economy remains anaemic following the 2011 revolt that ousted Hosni Mubarak. During the five years before Mubarak's downfall, Egypt's economy grew by an average rate of 6.2 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund. But growth is predicted to drop to two percent this year, compared with 2.2 percent in 2012.
"The army's economy must have been affected by the shrinking economy," Stringborg said. "Everyone in Egypt has been affected by the negative events. The pie has been shrinking, and the army's share must have shrunk too."
Sayegh disagreed, saying the military's economy did not appear to have been affected since 2011. "But there were instances in which the army and the Morsi administration disagreed over major economic investment programmes," he explained. "The army insisted on having a role and veto power, suggesting that it felt challenged by the Morsi presidency. This may have been a factor - but only one of several - leading it to conclude that it had to remove him from power."
Keeping information on the army's finances away from civilians has been of paramount importance to the generals. In December 2011, when the army was under fire for allegedly derailing Egypt's transitional period, the government attempted to pass a constitutional declaration shielding the army's budget from civilian oversight. But this army-driven attempt was decried by the public, and was foiled.
"You cannot speak of a democracy when there is an institution above scrutiny," Springborg said. "It is of utmost importance for Egypt that the army and its economy comes under civilian control. However, I don't think that is happening any time soon, since there is no group of civilian activists at the moment capable of achieving this."
A spokesperson for Egypt's military denied that there was any wrongdoing in the army's commercial enterprises.
"Many of these companies, including the Arab Organization for Industrialization for instance, [are] state-owned, but only technically affiliated to the army," he told Al Jazeera.
"All of the projects, may it be agricultural, services, industrial, or others, are subjected to taxation and the monitoring of the Central Auditing Organisation, like any other company in Egypt.
"It is very essential to differentiate between the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Military Production, for they are two different natures and duties, although they share the same minister."
Commenting on the confidentiality of army assets and budgets he said "soldiers' salaries, many of the arming expenses, the budgets of companies are just some of what is known to the public. Naturally, there are certain issues that are not disclosed, like in any other part of the world."
Getting back to "ordinary Egyptians", Nadia Shaheen, a 64-year-old pharmacist, maintained that it was essential for the army's finances to be disclosed.
"What was a norm for decades won't be accepted nowadays by younger generations," she said. "They demand clarity and transparency, and won't accept the same set of rules we did."
Egypt: Mohamed Morsi's allies admit defeat and plot to fly him into exile
Deposed President could resign via a televised address and hand powers to interim Prime Minister
ALASTAIR BEACH CAIRO MONDAY 05 AUGUST 2013
Morsi supporters defy orders to end sit-ins
Rallies continue and clashes with police erupt in Egypt's capital even as foreign pressure to solve crisis mounts.
Last Modified: 03 Aug 2013 08:48
What did the 'revolutionary martyrs' die for?
Amid continuing turmoil in Egypt, Al Jazeera asks if the demands of those who died in the 2011 revolution are being met.
D. Parvaz Last Modified: 02 Aug 2013 22:40
Amnesty Slams Egypt Decision to End Sit-ins
Thursday, 01 August 2013 00:00
Egypt restores feared secret police units
Military-backed government seems to have no intent of reforming practices that characterised both Mubarak and Morsi eras
Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
The Guardian, Monday 29 July 2013 20.44 BST
Nasr City: What remains after a massacre
After pre-dawn violence that left at least 60 dead in Cairo, what happens next for Egypt, the army and the Brotherhood?
D. Parvaz Last Modified: 27 Jul 2013 19:55
Analysis: US stand on Egypt 'coup' may have costs
Updated: Saturday, 27 Jul 2013, 4:30 PM MDT
Published : Saturday, 27 Jul 2013, 1:15 PM MDT
WASHINGTON (AP) — For decades, foreign armies that received U.S. assistance were on notice that toppling their freely elected civilian leaders would mean an aid suspension.
After Egypt, that seems no more, despite a law requiring just that if Washington determined a coup had taken place.
The Obama administration made a technically legal move to decide not to decide if the Egyptian military's ouster of the country's first democratically elected president was a "coup."
That's now created a wide opening to skirt legislation intended to support the rule of law, good governance and human rights around the world — principles long deemed inviolable American values.
Previous U.S. administrations have endured criticism for appearing to pay them only lip service. But this new and unprecedented finding sends a confusing message that probably will resonate beyond Egypt to other fragile — and perhaps not so fragile — democracies where soldiers are unhappy with ballot box results or the policies of their elected commanders in chief.
"The law does not require us to make a formal determination ... as to whether a coup took place, and it is not in our national interest to make such a determination," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Friday. She spoke in the administration's only on-camera news briefing a day after members of Congress were informed privately that the U.S. laws were no longer necessarily applicable.
That interpretation of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act might come as a surprise to juntas and militaries in Mali, Madagascar, Honduras and Pakistan. All of them, and others, have coped with U.S. aid suspensions over the past decade or so because of coups. In each case, there was a presumption that the United States would make a coup determination based on the law, and it did.
The law allows aid to resume only once a democratically elected government is restored. Exceptions have been made before, notably in the case of Pakistan.
Aid to Pakistan was suspended in 1999 when Army chief Pervez Musharraf ousted then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, now back in the job, in a bloodless coup. The assistance was restored by an act of Congress in 2001 for national security reasons before democracy returned after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
Psaki would or could not say why the administration had decided against such a solution in the case of Egypt, clearly a vital American ally in the Middle East.
But such a fix would have required a determination that the Egyptian army had ousted President Mohammed Morsi in a coup, and that step would have triggered a suspension in the $1.5 billion in aid the U.S. provides each year. Of that, $1.3 billion goes to the military.
Conversely, a determination that a coup had not occurred would have flown in the face of the uncontested facts that the army removed Morsi from power and detained him incommunicado in an undisclosed location for weeks.
There is little to dispute in White House, State Department and Pentagon pronouncements that the situation in Egypt is complex and difficult. Amid the bloody violence that erupted Saturday in Cairo and Alexandria — at least 65 protesters were killed — Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated the U.S. call for Egyptian authorities to respect the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, calling them "essential components of the inclusive democratic process they have publicly embraced."
Yet the administration's decision to selectively apply what had been a hallmark of U.S. support for democracy would seem to raise questions about its stated unwavering commitment to that ideal around the globe.
Egypt unrest: Over 70 supporters of Mohamed Morsi killed by security services in Cairo
Police fire bullets, birdshot and tear gas at supporters of ousted president
ALASTAIR BEACH CAIRO SATURDAY 27 JULY 2013
Robert Fisk on Egypt: As impoverished crowds gather in support of Mohamed Morsi, the well-heeled march behind their images of the General
Hundreds of thousands support the coup – just as many do not. And the future for Egypt is looking increasingly bloody. Robert Fisk reports from Cairo
ROBERT FISK Author Biography SATURDAY 27 JULY 2013
Morsi accused of plotting with Hamas
Judge says deposed president is being held for 15 days, accused of aiding prison breaks during Mubarak ousting.
Last Modified: 26 Jul 2013 15:59
Egypt rallies defy army chief's call
Pro-Morsi demonstrations go on ahead of expected counter protests called for by general to confront "terrorism".
Last Modified: 25 Jul 2013 18:16
‘I lost consciousness in the blast. When I woke up I was in a hospital in Israel’: Casualties of Syria’s war find salvation in an unlikely place
In Syria, 57 per cent of the hospitals have been damaged and 36 per cent are unable to function
INNA LAZAREVA NAHARIYA THURSDAY 08 AUGUST 2013
Thirteen-year-old Zeinah was walking to the supermarket with her brothers in her village in Syria when she heard a loud explosion. “I lost consciousness,” she says, remembering the blast propelling her high into the air. “When I woke up... after a few hours I realised I was in Israel.”
Israel and Syria have been enemy states for decades. But from the beginning of this year, Israel has been providing medical treatment to a growing number of Syrians, including children. Over 100 injured people, including children, have been transferred to Israeli hospitals for treatment since February 2013. The transportation back and forth is done in complete secrecy – when the patients arrive not even the doctors know much about them, sometimes not even their name or age.
Zeinah is lying alongside two other young Syrian girls and an Ethiopian boy in Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya, northern Israel.
Nearby, her three-year-old neighbour has only just stopped crying and calling for her mother. She was injured by a blast from a shell, an explosion that doctors say trapped and killed many members of her immediate family. The girl suffered burns to such an extent that doctors at Israel’s makeshift field hospital on the Israeli-Syrian border were frightened that she was still burning from the inside and that her windpipe may close up. She is now recovering in Nahariya. Today, much to the delight of the doctors and nurses, she spoke for the first time, asking for some bread to go with her soup.
Nearby, a 12-year-old is suffering from critical injuries after exploding shrapnel pierced her back, hitting her spinal vertebrae and puncturing her kidney and intestine. She was operated upon in Syria but transferred to Israel “probably because they don’t have a back surgeon available over there”, says Dr Zonis Zeev, the head of Paediatric Intensive Care Unit, who is treating the girls.
In war-torn Syria, hospitals have deteriorated and are no longer able to provide advanced emergency treatments. A 36-year-old woman attending a Syrian hospital staffed by Médecins Sans Frontières, a French NGO providing medical services, notes the difficult access to medical treatment. “The problem is, there is no normal life. From a medical perspective, there are no medicines, nowhere to go, no hospitals,” she tells doctors there. “Medicine has become a rare commodity.”
In March, the organisation accused both sides in Syria’s civil war of intentionally targeting medical facilities over the past two years, causing the country’s healthcare system to “collapse”. According to Syrian government figures, 57 per cent of the country’s hospitals have been damaged and 36 per cent are unable to function. In July, the UN announced that number of Syrians killed in the civil war has exceeded 100,000.
In Israel, the Syrian girls have experienced anxiety at finding themselves suddenly alone in a foreign country – and Israel at that. “In Syria, Israel is portrayed as an enemy,” says another Syrian youth in a nearby ward.
Dr Zeev agrees: “For the Syrians, we are monsters. On this side of the border, there are monster- Jews. You probably saw some of the propaganda – of Jews cutting pieces of Arabs and eating them, all the blood and stuff. So they grew up on this feeling and their anxiety is even greater, especially if they arrive alone. It’s really heartbreaking to see.”
“Everyone is worried about me and is helping,” Zeinah says. “But I miss my parents and siblings, friends and my country. These doctors saved my life; if I was not cared for, I would not be alive right now.”
The transfer and treatment of Syrians in Israel carries serious risks for all involved. The Syrian patients’ names, photographs and home towns cannot be revealed at the risk of attacks on them or their families. Meanwhile, in June, Ziv hospital in Tzfat had to be evacuated after a live grenade was found in the pocket of one of the unconscious patients brought in for treatment from Syria.
Nahariya hospital administration at first hesitated in announcing that they are treating Syrians. “In terms of Israel and Syria, we don’t have any formal relations, so it would have been of concern to say we’re treating Syrians”, Sara Paperin, the international affairs officer at the hospital, says. “There was also concern for the patients, particularly from our population here, which is very diverse. Who knows what someone’s motives are in coming and visiting a patient from Syria?”
The war has triggered a high level of emotion throughout Israel and particularly in the north amongst non-Jewish Israelis, where many families have close relatives across the border. The hospital is quick to dismiss any political labels. “When you start to receive children to your medical facility, you understand very clearly these are not rebels or Assad supporters – these are children, casualties of the violence and they need to be treated with the most advanced care that you can provide,” Ms Paperin says.
But there have been signs the Israeli medical treatments were being well received and even relied upon back in Syria. In June, one patient arrived with a handwritten note in Arabic from a Syrian doctor asking his Israeli counterparts to save the patient’s life, outlining the previous medical care the injured man had received and thanking the doctors for the help.
“Most of the Syrians here, we don’t meet them for very long”, says the hospital’s director-general, Masad Barhoum. “They are incubated, they are unconscious, there’s not much human contact. Once they are OK, they leave. But there is one girl who has been recovering here for a longer while – she is laughing, she is talking with staff, she even knows a few words in Hebrew. She is smiling. I believe the staff and everyone, we are already connected with her. That is so encouraging for us.
“But the situation in Syria is a human tragedy. Why is no one doing anything to help those people?”
*The names of people in this article have been changed
Dozens of rebels killed in Syrian army ambush
Regime forces kill at least 62 rebels near industrial city of Adra northeast of Damascus, monitoring group says.
Last Modified: 07 Aug 2013 22:19
Hezbollah leader renews support for Palestinians in rare speech
FERNANDE VAN TETS BEIRUT FRIDAY 02 AUGUST 2013
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah appeared in public for the first time in almost two years today, declaring his continued support for Palestinians to ecstatic cheers from a Beirut crowd.
The speech appeared designed to deflect criticism that Hezbollah’s recent decision to support President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war was distracting them from the cause of Palestinian resistance.
“Israel poses a danger on all people of this region... including Lebanon, and removing it is a Lebanese national interest,” he told hundreds of supporters in his half-hour speech in Beirut’s Sayyed al-Shuadaa Complex.
At the same time, he played on the rising sectarian differences that are increasingly threatening the region, saying: “I always talk as a Muslim, or nationalist. Allow me to talk as a Shia now. We… will never give up on Occupied Palestine.”
Nasrallah blamed rising sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shias on Israel, the US and the English, saying that these countries were inciting divisions within Islam to distract attention from the Palestinian cause.
He has rarely appeared in public since Hezbollah’s inconclusive war against Israel in July 2006, and usually transmits his speeches via video link from undisclosed locations.
His last major speech came a month after that conflict, when he declared victory in front of thousands of supporters. Since then, he has made occasional and brief public appearances – most recently last September – but no lengthy public address.
The live appearance coincided with a similarly rare public outing by Hezbollah’s ally and patron, Syrian President Bashar al Assad, who spoke today in Daaraya, south-west of Damascus. The two leaders have coordinated public relations efforts before, with Assad and Nasrallah announcing their intention to target the Golan Heights on the border between Syria and Israel in May 2013.
Iranians protest Syria 'shrine desecration'
Huge rally in Tehran after media accuses rebels of damaging Damascus burial site of Prophet Muhammad's granddaughter.
Last Modified: 31 Jul 2013 07:05
Syria refugee crisis – a day in the life
A year after the largest camp for Syrian refugees, Zaatari, opened on the Jordanian border, the Guardian is devoting a day of coverage to the plight of those uprooted by the civil war, collecting refugees' stories and investigating the way they live
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theguardian.com, Thursday 25 July 2013 17.01 BST
Syrian Sunnis fear Assad regime wants to 'ethnically cleanse' Alawite heartland
Homs land registry fire and handing out of arms to villagers fuel concerns that an Alawite-Shia enclave is being formed in Syria
Martin Chulov and Mona Mahmood
The Guardian, Monday 22 July 2013 20.06 BST
Sunni residents in the heartland of Bashar al-Assad's Alawite sect say they are being repeatedly threatened and forced to flee their homes, amid fears that the likely fall of the nearby city of Homs will lead to widespread sectarian cleansing in parts of Syria.
Communities of Sunnis that live in the country's coastal stretch and along the so-called Alawite spine that runs south-east towards Damascus claim evidence has emerged of attempts by the Assad regime to reshape the area's fragile ethnic mix – moves that go far beyond consolidating security in loyalist areas.
Concerns are particularly focused on Homs, Syria's third city, which western observers believe is likely to fall to the regime military and Hezbollah by the end of the summer, in what would be the most striking gain yet by resurgent pro-Assad forces during the civil war.
All property records for Homs were destroyed in a fire earlier this month at the office of the city's land registry and residents fear they can no longer enforce a claim to their land and homes.
"What else could be going on?" asked one resident who refused to be identified. "This is the most secure area of the city and it is the only building that has been burned. A conspiracy is underway."
Former staff at the office say the records existed only on paper and had not yet been digitalised. Eyewitnesses in the Bab al-Hood district where the building is located, and several employees, reported seeing flames on the higher floors of the building on 5 July, where the files were archived, while regime forces were positioned on lower floors.
Homs and the surrounding province is seen as essential to the war in Syria and to any plan to create a safe haven for Alawites if the Syrian state collapses, as it geographically links largely Alawite areas on the Syrian coast and Shia areas in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Both Hezbollah and Iran are strongly linked to the Assad regime, and by proxy the Alawites, and have played an increasingly direct role in the war in recent months – a push that coincides with a turnaround in the fortunes of the battle-worn Syrian military.
Homs, long a place where a Sunni majority lived in co-existence co-existed with minority Christian and Alawite communities, has now been a city of cantonments for almost 18 months: Alawite areas are surrounded by security walls that are off-limits to opposition areas. The countryside to the north and east, where Sunni and Alawite communities live nearby each other, has been volatile for much of the past year, with massacres documented in Sunni communities in Houla, Banias and Hoswaie.
The apparent cleansing is not all one way though. North of Latakia, Alawites have been chased out of their villages near the Turkish border by opposition groups, which in that area are dominated by jihadists.
In Homs city, Sunni districts of Ashere, al-Khoder, Karm al-Zaitoun and Bab al-Sebaa have largely been emptied and replaced by Alawite families, numerous local leaders claim.
"There have been obvious examples of denominational cleansing in different areas in Homs," said local activist, Abu Rami. "It is denominational cleansing; part of a major Iranian Shia plan, which is obvious through the involvement of Hezbollah and Iranian militias. And it's also part of Assad's personal Alawite state project."
Over the past six months, diplomats in the region have claimed that contingency planning for a rump state to protect Syrian Alawites has involved diplomatic contact being made by senior Syrian officials with enemy states.
A mediator – a well-known diplomatic figure – is understood to have been asked by Assad to approach the former Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, late last year with a request that Israel not stand in the way of attempts to form an Alawite state, which could have meant moving some displaced communities into the Golan Heights area.
A source aware of the talks said that Lieberman had not rebuffed the approach but had first sought information on the whereabouts of a missing Israeli airman shot down over Lebanon, Ron Arad, as well as three Israeli soldiers captured in the Lebanese village of Sultan Yacoub in 1982, and the remains of Eli Cohen, an Israeli spy intelligence officer who was caught and executed in Damascus.
The Syrian military's recent advances on the battlefield appear to have reduced the urgency in preparations for the collapse of the Syrian state. But nonetheless, some Alawites fear the war has already irreversibly changed Syria – and that some communities can no longer co-exist.
'Struggle of existence'
"To strangers, Alawites would condemn the idea of an Alawite state," one regime supporter said. "And tell you that this is a national Syrian cause. But deep in the community there are fears of identity and people are starting to discuss the fact that they might have to retreat into a denominational Alawite state. They believe that this is a struggle of existence."
Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon's Druze community, said: "The crucial point was when the battle of Homs started and it quickly became clear that the regime wanted to clear the whole route to Damascus and beyond. The religious cleansing started soon after. There was a massacre in Banias and others elsewhere. I had heard that the Sunnis had been told to move and that this whole area might end up as an enclave."
Residents of Alawite strongholds in Tartus and Latakia confirmed that arms had been offered to them three times since the uprising began in March 2011.
"There was one [supply run] in 2012 and two months ago," one Alawite said. "Now every household in the Alawite villages across the coast receives a government-sponsored package of an AK‑47, two hand grenades and ammunition. If you joined a 'public resistance movement' you'd receive a lot more."
"In certain strategic villages ... weapons are placed in the village square, as public property," the Alawite figure added. "It is a community that is so morally lacerated that it has commonised evil."
All around the strategically crucial north-east of Syria, Alawites and Sunnis alike are talking of a rush to arm communities amid sharply rising fear and intimidation.
An Alawite student at Damascus University said: "Seven months ago, most of my relatives were volunteering with the air force intelligence or military intelligence.
"They would go on night raids or roadblocking around Banias or al-Saha [a Sunni area in Tartous] or Mintar [south of Tartus].
"My cousin told me that if you get really involved then the amount of weapons they're willing to give you is enormous. My [other cousin] has got everything other than tanks at his farm," he said.
A lawyer in Tartus, which is still home to large numbers of Sunnis, said: "In Tartus City there haven't been actual ethnic-cleansing incidents, but there are tens of thousands of refugees and the wide spread of arms among Alawites gives an eerie feeling of an approaching massacre."
Despite the fact that they are completely unarmed, Sunni districts are seeing heavier security, he said.
"The general mood among pro-Assad people started to include the possibility of the fall of Damascus, which leaves them under the rule of the FSA [Free Syrian Army rebels] and the Sunnis ... and for the majority of people here it is better to live in an Alawite state, which they feel should include Homs."
Captain Juma, a former Syrian military officer who defected seven months ago after helping build walls around Alawite communities in Homs, said: "The Syrian regime is using a few military men who served during the civil war in Lebanon as military advisers and they came up with this plan of isolating Alawite villages and Sunni districts. A plan they executed in Lebanon is now history repeating itself."
In Homs city, Abu Ahmed, a commander of the FSA-aligned al-Farouq brigade, said: "The regime is encouraging Alawite families in the Homs countryside who have friction with Sunnis to head to Alawite districts in the city. We are pretty sure that the regime wants to take Homs city and countryside and make it just for Alawites.
"Nine months ago, the regime created the National Defence Army, which is Shabiha [loyalist militia of Shia and Alawite] volunteers," he said. "They are the most bloody killers, even more brutal than the army."
Additional reporting by Mowaffaq Safadi
Thousands demand Tunisia government's ouster
Opposition calls for downfall of Islamist-led government as constituent assembly suspends its work indefinitely.
Last Modified: 07 Aug 2013 14:48
Tens of thousands of Tunisians have crowded the streets of downtown Tunis to demand the government's ouster, in the largest opposition protests to hit the capital since the country's political crisis began two weeks ago.
The protest on Tuesday marks the six-month anniversary of the assassination of leftist politician Chokri Belaid, one of two opposition figures to be shot dead in recent months.
It comes hours after the embattled Constituent Assembly suspended its work indefinitely. Mustafa Ben Jaffar, the head of the assembly and secretary-general of the centre-left party Ettakatol, announced the suspension.
"I assume my responsibility as president of the ANC [assembly] and suspend its work until the start of a dialogue, in the service of Tunisia," he said on state television.
He was referring to a crisis sparked by another assassination of an opposition figure, which has already prompted many opposition members to boycott the assembly's sessions.
The assembly was only weeks away from finishing a draft constitution and electoral law that would move the country closer to new elections.
The country's secular opposition is trying to oust the Islamist Ennahda-led government and dissolve the transitional Assembly.
Protests have been held daily since the killing of leftist politician and assembly member Mohamed Brahmi on July 25, nearly six months after another leftist figure was gunned down.
More than 70 members of the assembly withdrew two weeks ago in protest at the two killings and organised a sit-in outside the assembly headquarters.
The assembly met on Tuesday morning despite the absence of protesting lawmakers.
Tunisians are facing the worst political crisis since the toppling of autocratic ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, in a revolt that sparked uprisings across the Arab world.
Pro-government rally draws tens of thousands in Tunisia
By Tarek Amara
TUNIS | Sat Aug 3, 2013 6:28pm EDT
(Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Tunisians came out in a show of force for the country's Islamist-led government on Saturday, in one of the largest demonstrations since the 2011 revolution.
Shouting, "No to coups, yes to elections," supporters of the ruling Ennahda party crowded into Kasbah Square next to the prime minister's office in the capital, Tunis.
Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party, called on supporters of the embattled government to join the rally to push back against a week of mass protests calling for the government's ouster.
"We support the legitimacy of the government because we care about Tunisia and we care about democracy, not Ennahda," said 40-year-old Suad Nasri, a Tunisian flag wrapped around her head.
"I'm not an Ennahda backer, but I want our democracy to succeed."
Kasbah Square was the site of major rallies in the days after autocratic President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was toppled in 2011, with demonstrators demanding a transitional constituent assembly to draft a new constitution - one of the bodies the opposition is now demanding be dissolved.
Earlier on Saturday, Tunisia's prime minister appealed for calm from pro- and anti-government groups planning rival mass rallies this weekend.
The North African country is experiencing increased attacks by Islamist militants at a time when the secularist opposition is trying to oust the government.
"Tunisia is in need of national unity. ... I call for calm so that the army and security forces can combat terrorism and not waste its efforts on protests," Prime Minister Ali Larayedh told a news conference.
The opposition, which has been rallying daily, is planning a march on Sunday.
The Interior Ministry said on Saturday that security forces foiled an attempted assassination on Friday of a prominent politician in the coastal town of Sousse, a week after assailants gunned down a leftist politician in the capital.
The ministry said two "dangerous terrorists" were arrested for suspected involvement in the attempt. A third suspect was still on the run after trading machine-gun fire with security forces, the ministry said.
On Friday, Tunisian forces launched air and artillery strikes to try to rout militants who killed eight soldiers earlier this week in one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in decades.
A fledgling "Arab Spring" democracy, Tunisia now faces one of the worst crises since Ben Ali was toppled, the first in a wave of uprisings across the region.
Planned talks on the political and security crises on Saturday failed to produce results, as the main opposition groups declined to attend.
Instead, both the government and the opposition reiterated the positions they have held all week.
The opposition has been angered by the assassination of two of its senior members, and, emboldened by the army-backed ouster of its Egypt's Islamist president, wants to dissolve the government.
(Writing and additional reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Peter Cooney)
Tunisia army targets fighters near Algeria
Offensive launched after deaths of eight Tunisian soldiers prompted Algeria to reinforce border presence.
Last Modified: 02 Aug 2013 09:36
Tunisia opposition figures 'shot by same gun'
Interior minister says Mohamed Brahmi killed with same gun used to murder his opposition coalition leader Chokri Belaid.
Last Modified: 27 Jul 2013 11:26
Unions launch strike in Tunisia over Mohamed Brahmi assassination
All flights to and from the country cancelled
JAMES LEGGE Author Biography , LOUISE SHERWOOD , FADIL ALIRIZA FRIDAY 26 JULY 2013
Tunisia has been hit by further protests and a general strike, in reaction to the assassination of Mohamed Brahmi - which still threatens to derail the transition to democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.
Thousands took to the streets in protests across the country yesterday, and unions called a general strike and further protests for today, aiming to cripple the government, public transport and commerce.
Shops and banks have put up shutters in anticipation of violence in the capital, and Tunisair yesterday announced that all flights to and from the country today will be cancelled.
Mr Brahmi, the leader of the opposition Movement of the People party, was gunned down outside his home in front of his wife and youngest daughter. It was the second assassination of an opposition politician this year, only five months after the killing of prominent secular MP Chokri Belaid.
Mr Brahmi was a member of the National Constituent Assembly, which is finalising the drafting of the new constitution for Tunisia. His party is a member of the left-leaning Popular front coalition, to which Mr Belaid also belonged.
The party told the Associated Press that it is postponing his funeral, initially planned for today, for fear it could inflame supporters on an already tense day.
Brahmi's family said the funeral would take place on Saturday and he would be buried near Belaid's tomb.
Mr Brahmi was a vocal critic of the ruling Ennahda party, a moderate Islamist party which became part of the government following the overthrow of Tunisia’s former leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.
Divisions between Islamists and their secular opponents have deepened since the popular uprising against Ben Ali, which unleashed unrest across the Arab world, unseating rulers in Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and leading to a civil war in Syria.
Some prisoners recaptured in Libya jail break
About 100 inmates out of more than 1,100 who escaped during prison riot in Benghazi city are recaptured, officials say.
Last Modified: 28 Jul 2013 14:04
About 100 inmates out of more than 1,100 escaped convicts who fled during a prison riot in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi have been recaptured, according to officials.
The prisoners were retaken on Sunday, the day after 1,117 inmates broke out of the Kuafiya prison on the outskirts of the city.
Officials said there had been an attack on the facility from outside as well as a riot inside.
Mohammed Sharif, head of security in Benghazi, said some prisoners had turned themselves in and others had been captured.
"The prison is back in operation as of this morning," he told Reuters. "Seventy prisoners were brought in initially. Another 30 were caught in the town of al-Marj and seven in Ajdabiyah," he said.
Officials said the escapees included criminals from other African states.
Elsewhere in Libya on Saturday, protesters stormed the offices of political parties in Libya's main cities.
Protesters had massed across the country angry over the killing of an activist critical of the country's Muslim Brotherhood group.
"There was a riot inside Al-Kuifiya prison, as well as an attack from outside. More then 1,000 prisoners escaped," the official said on Saturday, asking not to be named.
"Special forces called in as reinforcements were given orders not to fire at the prisoners."
Suleiman El-Dressi, a journalist in Benghazi, told Al Jazeera that according to security sources, "the prisoners exploited the turmoil that was happening in the city and tried to escape".
"Three were shot dead, and the others managed to get away."
The official said most of the escapees were common law detainees, including nationals of other African states.
"But some of them were detainees in cases linked to the former regime of Muammar Gaddafi," he said.
Several were recaptured shortly after the breakout.
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan confirmed the incident, without giving the number of fugitives.
"Residents of the area carried out the attack because they don't want the prison near their homes," he said, adding that border posts had been alerted and given a list of names to apprehend the escapees.
Zeidan earlier announced that border posts with Egypt had been closed to prevent the escape of the killers of a prominent activist in the eastern Libyan city on Friday.
Benghazi's security situation is among the most precarious in post-revolution Libya.
Last year, the US ambassador and three other Americans were killed in an attack there.
Meanwhile on Saturday, hundreds gathered in the capital Tripoli after dawn prayers, denouncing the Friday shooting death of activist and lawyer Abdul-Salam Al-Musmari.
They set fire to tires in the street and demanded the dissolution of Islamist parties.
The two incidents highlighted Libya's precarious security situation and the challenges the North African country faces as it tries to restore security nearly than two years after the ouster and killing of longtime leader Gaddafi.
Clashes erupt after Turkey trial verdicts
Police disperse protesters gathered around courthouse as ex-army chief and many others sentenced in conspiracy trial.
Last Modified: 06 Aug 2013 07:41
Protesters have clashed with police forces as a Turkish court handed down judgements in a conspiracy case that has exposed deep divisions in the country.
After the verdicts were announced on Monday, fierce clashes erupted between police and about 10,000 protesters near the courthouse in Silivri, a town in the outskirts of Istanbul
Demonstrators threw stones at riot police who responded with water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets to break up the protest that was blocking traffic.
Hundreds of people also took to streets in the capital, Ankara, to protest against the court ruling, chanting: "We are soldiers of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk," a reference to the founder of modern Turkey.
Former armed forces chief Ilker Basbug was sentenced to life imprisonment by the court in the case involving allegations of conspiracy to overthrow the government.
Judges also sentenced three serving parliamentarians from the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) to between 12 and 35 years in prison.
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