Archive for October, 2013


September 20, 2013

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahrain’s main Shiite opposition group is defying a ban by the island’s Sunni government to have direct contacts with foreign diplomats.

Al Wefaq’s secretary-general, Sheik Ali Salman, met Norwegian political affairs envoy Hakon Smedsvig on Thursday in the Bahraini capital, Manama. Bahrain’s Western-backed monarchy earlier this month banned all diplomatic contacts by political groups unless they receive official permission. The move was sharply criticized by Western governments, including the U.S.

This week, authorities detained a top Al Wefaq official on allegations of inciting violence. In return, the group announced a boycott of reconciliation talks with the government. The strategic Gulf nation has been gripped by unrest since an uprising launched in early 2011 by majority seeking a greater political voice.

U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said in a statement that in the last two years the Bahraini government and oppositions groups have been involved in important dialogue but that recent developments have hindered the process.

“The Government of Bahrain has recently issued decrees restricting the rights and abilities of political groups to assemble, associate, and express themselves freely, including by regulating their communications with foreign governments and international organizations,” the statement said.

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September 18, 2013

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahrain’s main Shiite groups suspended participation in reconciliation talks with the Sunni-led government Wednesday after the detention of a top opposition figure in the violence-wracked Gulf nation.

The decision deepens the showdown over Khalil al-Marzooq, a former deputy parliament speaker, who is under investigation for allegedly encouraging anti-government violence. His supporters claim he was targeted by Bahrain’s Western-backed authorities in attempts to punish the opposition after recent criticism from European officials about government crackdowns on dissent.

Repeated rounds of political talks have failed to significantly close the rifts between the Sunni establishment and Shiite factions, which began an Arab Spring-inspired uprising in early 2011 to seek greater political rights. More than 65 people have died in the unrest, but rights groups and others place the death toll higher.

The snub by the Shiite groups closes one of the main channels for dialogue and could sharply escalate tensions in the strategic kingdom, home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. A government statement quoted Nayef Yousif, head of Bahrain’s public prosecution, as saying al-Marzooq is accused of instigating violence and having links to a protest faction that authorities blame for bombings and other attacks. Al-Marzooq, who was detained Tuesday, was ordered held for 30 days during the investigation.

Al-Marzooq is a top member of Al Wefaq, the main political bloc of Bahrain’s Shiite majority. In Washington, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday that the U.S. would raise the issue with Bahraini authorities as part of its discussion of recent political events in Bahrain.

“We are disappointed that opposition groups have suspended their involvement. I think it’s an important forum. We would hope that everybody would be part of that process,” Harf said. Also Wednesday, Bahrain’s public security chief, Maj. Gen. Tariq Hassan al-Hassan, said a policeman died of injuries suffered in a bomb blast last month.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

At least 11 Ahwazi Arabs were arrested in clashes between locals and the security forces as they evicted and destroyed Arab farms in Sheyban, Bawi county this month, according to activist reports.

Defying local community opposition, the government ordered in bulldozers to destroy farms that had been owned by Arabs for hundreds of years. The move was brought about as an ethnic Persian woman made a claim on 35 hectares of farmland whose Arab owners, the Zeheri family, state has been in their possession for many generations.

The following members of the Zeheri family were arrested by the Security Services: Adel, Hadi, Adib, Amin Aataiee (Zeheri), Ali Hassan, Jawad, Hamid Jasem, Jaafar son of Aabiyd. 

Land confiscation is carried out by the regime for the sake of establishing sugar cane plantations, fish farms, an industrial free trade zone and more military sites for the Revolutionary Guards. Arabs subject to government land confiscation are never given the true value of their land in compensation and often receive no payment and are left destitute and landless, according to former UN housing specialist Miloon Kothari after his visit to Iran in 2005.

Source: Ahwaz News Agency.

Link: http://www.ahwaziarabs.info/2013/09/land-confiscation-sparks-conflict.html.

Monday, August 26, 2013

President Hassan Rouhani was left humiliated and embarrassed after an elderly Ahwazi Arab publicly castigated the Iranian government for systemically ignoring his community’s long-standing appeals for jobs, education, clean water and human rights.

In a daring display of defiance in front of television cameras and a public audience, retired teacher Haj Ghasem Hamadi of Khafajyeh [correction: in the previous version of this report, the man was wrongly identified as a religious sheikh] lambasted the Iranian regime’s indifference to the plight of Ahwazi Arabs during a presidential visit to a local mosque. Rouhani was left speechless and the man was interrupted by a presidential aide.

Hamadi said: “In terms of agriculture, there is no water only salty water, no irrigation, no fertilizers and no seeds. They provide 20 bags of compost per hectares for Dezful, but we are given one per hectare. In terms of agriculture everything is below par. In terms of facilities in the area also is below par.

“We have got problems in education. Our situation is bad. No one asks about our hardship. Everyone who comes from there [from Tehran] says hello and goodbye. That is all.”

Rouhani asked: “You mean there is nothing?”

The man answered: “There is not anything. You are in Tehran, you don’t know this region is deprived. There is no farming, no reconstruction, no water, no prosperity, no one asks about us, you are in Tehran, shouldn’t you ask about the deprived regions? We have the oil, the water, the land but we are dying from hunger!”

President Rouhani created high expectations among Ahwazi Arabs and other ethnic groups after he promised to end discrimination and enforce linguistic rights during his election campaign.

Rouhani attempted to win over several Arab sheikhs who were invited to meet him in Tehran and voice their concerns. At the meeting, he appeared to accede to their demands for a 10 per cent share of cabinet seats for members of the Arab minority. However, he has failed to appoint any Arabs to ministerial positions.

Hailing from the north of Iran, the ‘pragmatic conservative’ sought to attract non-Persian vote with a list of 10 pledges to address ethnic discrimination, in accordance with neglected constitutional provisions. These included the right to learn in the native tongue, as stated in Article 15, and promoting a meritocratic economy based not on ethnicity or religion but personal strengths in order to leverage the best local human resources. Rouhani has also promised to promote local people into managerial positions.

The president has failed to address some of the more urgent development issues that concern ordinary Ahwazi Arabs who feel increasingly estranged from their co-opted tribal leaders, namely the region’s man-made environmental crisis and political issues. Rouhani’s failure to engage with ordinary Arab workers and farmers indicates that his administration will continue to seek to use political and financial patronage to win the allegiance of tribal elites with little attempt to engage with the masses.

Source: Ahwaz News Agency.

Link: http://www.ahwaziarabs.info/2013/08/arab-sheikh-humiliates-iranian-president.html.

17 October 2013

Mujahideen neutralized a top army gen. Jamaa Jamaa on Thursday while on dog’s duty in eastern Syria.

Major general Jamaa Jamaa was successfully eliminated while pursuing Mujahideen in Deir al-Zour.

Jamaa, who was the head of the enemy military intelligence directorate in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, was one of the most powerful Assad’s army thugs in the country.

Ayesha bint al-Sadiq Brigade said it was behind Jamaa’s targeted neutralization. Mujahideen in Dier al-Zour fired celebratory gunfire after hearing of Jamaa’s elimination.

In despair, the bloody Alawite regime intensified its shelling on the eastern province soon after announcing Jamaa’s neutralization.

The city of Deir el-Zour has witnessed clashes between courageous Mujahideen and cowardly Alawite troops for more than a year.

Source: Agencies

Kavkaz Center

Source: Kavkaz Center.

Link: http://kavkazcenter.com/eng/content/2013/10/17/18408.shtml.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The drying of the River Karoun is becoming a rallying point for Ahwazi Arabs, who have accused the Iranian regime of presiding over an ecological disaster on a par with the destruction of the Amazon.

Environmental campaigners in Ahwaz City formed a human chain along the Karoun this week in protest at the river diversion project. The mega-project involves the construction of dams and tunnels to divert water away from Iran’s largest river which flows through the city and is essential for farming, drinking water and the local ecology.

Controversy surrounds the Koohrang-3 tunnel, which is currently under construction and is set to transfer 255 million cubic meters of water per annum to Zayandeh Rood in Isfahan. The diverted waters will be used for agro-industrial projects, instead of irrigating traditional Arab lands where food staples are grown, such as rice and wheat. Already, three tunnels transfer around 1.1 billion cubic meters of water from the Karoun and its tributaries to Isfahan every year.

Currently, there are seven dams and tunnels diverting Karoun’s water with a further 19 dams under construction as well as 12 dams on Karkheh river basin and five dams on Jarrahi river basin. Twelve of these dams have built in Lorestan province in the Karoun and Karkheh basins, which store 800 million cubic meters for local use. Two dams have built in Ilam province on Karkheh river basin with annual storage capacity 1.04 billion cubic meters. Three dams have been built in Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad province on Jarrahi River with annual capacity of 1.24 billion cubic meters. So far, 25 dams with total capacity of 10.44 billion cubic meters have into operation in the Karoun basin. These dams are located in Chahar Mahaal and Bakhtiari province, Lorestan province and the north part of Al-Ahwaz (Khuzestan).

Due to the dam projects, around half the Karoun’s water flow is now waste water. This will reach 90 per cent when Iran’s dam building project is completed, according to Iranian scientists. The Karkheh and Jarrahi tributaries are now almost dried up and Ahwazi activists fear the Karoun – Iran’s only navigable river – will now dry up. Already, the region’s marshlands on which many Ahwazi Arabs traditionally depend for their livelihoods are a fraction of their former size due to the dam projects.

One of the groups campaigning against the destruction of the Karoun, the Patriotic Arab Democratic Movement in Ahwaz (PADMAZ), has claimed that as a result of the dam projects “the Ahwazi environment will be destroyed and Ahwazi Arab will be forced to move to other cities in addition to contracting intestinal and renal diseases and different kinds of cancer… This will speed up the Iranian colonial plan of ethnic cleansing of Ahwazi Arabs.”

Source: Ahwaz News Agency.

Link: http://www.ahwaziarabs.info/2013/10/Save-Karoun-001.html.

October 16, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — An explosion struck a vehicle packed with passengers traveling in southern Syria overnight, killing at least 21 people, including four children, activists said Wednesday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the blast hit the vehicle around midnight as it was driving near Tel al-Juma in Daraa province. Six women were also among the dead, it added.

It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion, nor why a group of women and children were traveling in dangerous and disputed territory in the middle of the night. The Observatory said local activists accuse government troops, who are stationed at an army outpost in the area besieged by rebels, of planting explosives by the roadside.

Daraa was the birthplace of the Syrian uprising against President Bashar Assad in March 2011.

October 13, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Tank shells fired by Syrian government forces slammed into a building in a southern city, killing at least 11 people there, including women and children, activists said Sunday.

The attack was part of the latest push by President Bashar Assad’s troops to recapture land lost to rebels in the southern province and city of Daraa, the birthplace of Syria’s uprising. It was there in 2011 that several youths were arrested for scrawling graffiti calling for Assad’s downfall.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said at least four women and three children, including a baby, were among those killed in the attack late Saturday.

Syria’s official news agency said that rebels fired mortars toward a government building in Daraa, but offered no further details. Videos posted on social networking sites by opposition activists showed bodies of the victims on the floor of a darkened room.

“Oh God, what a disaster!” weeps an elderly woman in the video as a man holds the body of a dead baby, wrapped in a sheet. The bodies of a young girl with short curly hair and a boy lie nearby. The video was consistent with Associated Press reporting of the incident.

A pro-rebel activist in a nearby town, who identified himself as Abu Musab, said the civilians were killed in crossfire during a battle in the city center. The building they were in took a direct hit after Syrian forces fired tank shells toward rebels holed up near it, said Abu Musab, speaking to the AP on Skype. He declined to use his real name, citing concerns for his safety.

There have been frequent clashes in and around Daraa between Assad’s forces and the mostly Sunni rebels. On Wednesday, rebels overran a military post near the city. Late last month they also captured a nearby military base that previously served as the customs office on the outskirts of Daraa.

Syrian uprising started as mostly peaceful anti-Assad demonstrations in March 2011, inspired by the Arab Spring. After activists were violently targeted, it morphed into an armed uprising and civil war. The conflict has killed over 100,000 people, forced over 2 million to flee to neighboring countries, and displaced another 5 million within Syria.

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN | Wed Oct 9, 2013

(Reuters) – Iraqi and Lebanese Shi’ite militia backed by Syrian army firepower overran a southern suburb of Damascus on Wednesday, opposition activists said, in a blow to Sunni Muslim rebels trying to hold onto strategic outskirts of the capital.

At least 20 rebels were killed when Hezbollah guerrillas and Iraqi militiamen captured the town of Sheikh Omar under cover of Syrian army artillery and tank fire and aerial bombardment, the activists said, with tens of Shi’ite fighters killed or wounded.

Sheikh Omar sits between two highways leading south of Damascus that are crucial to supplying President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the provinces of Deraa and Sweida on the border with Jordan.

Syria’s 2-1/2 year war has killed more than 120,000 people and forced millions from their homes into sprawling refugee camps in neighboring countries.

It began with peaceful demonstrations against four decades of iron rule by the Assad family. With regional powers backing opposing sides in the conflict and Russia blocking Western efforts to force Assad aside, there is little sign of an end to the bloodshed.

Regional security officials say up to 60,000 fighters from Iraq, Iran and Yemen and Hezbollah are present in Syria supporting Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.

The country has also seen the influx of 30,000 Sunni Muslim fighters to support the rebels, including foreign jihadists and Syrian expatriates.

Hezbollah has acknowledged fighting openly in support of Assad, its main patron together with Shi’ite Iran, but the group does not comment on the specifics of its operations in the country.

The deployment of the Iraqi and Lebanese militia has been vital in preventing all southern approaches to Damascus from falling into rebel hands, according to opposition sources and the regional security officials.

The foreign Shi’ite fighters together with soldiers and local paramilitaries loyal to Assad have been laying siege to rebel-held southern suburbs of the capital near the Shi’ite shrine of Saida Zainab for the past six months, residents say.

The siege has squeezed rebels in areas further to the center of the city and caused acute shortages of food and medicine that have hit the civilian population.

FLOOD OF WOUNDED

Wardan Abu Hassan, a doctor at a makeshift hospital in southern Damascus, said the facility and another nearby received 70 wounded people, both fighters and civilians, since 4.00 a.m.

The wounded came from Sheikh Omar and the nearby suburbs of al-Thiabiya and al-Boueida, where the rebels were trying to hold off the Shi’ite militia advance, he said.

“Most of the casualties are from air strikes, and fire from tanks and multiple rocket launchers,” the physician told Reuters.

An opposition group, the Damascus Revolution Leadership Council, said a baby girl died on Wednesday in the southern district of Hajar al-Asswad from malnutrition caused by the siege. The report could not be independently confirmed.

Rami al-Sayyed from the opposition Syrian Media Center mentoring group said rebel fighters were trying to hold off the Hezbollah and Iraqi fighters in al-Thiabiya and al-Boueida.

“It is tough because the regime is providing Hezbollah and the Iraqis with heavy artillery and rocket cover from high ground,” he said.

Sayyed said much of the fire was coming from the 56th army brigade in the hilly region of Sahya. That area was evacuated after the threat of U.S. strikes following a nerve gas attack in August on other rebellious Damascus suburbs that killed hundreds.

The area became operational again after the threat receded following a deal to destroy Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal, Sayyed said.

Buoyed by the receding prospect of U.S. intervention, Assad has been seeking to tighten his grip on the center of the country, the coast, areas along the country’s main north-south highway as well as the capital and its environs.

Large areas of southern Damascus, including the areas of Hajar al-Assad and the Yarmouk refugee camp, are inhabited by poor refugees from the Israeli occupied Golan Heights, who have been at the forefront of the revolt against Assad, as well as Palestinian refugees.

(Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

Source: Reuters.

Link: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/09/us-syria-crisis-damascus-idUSBRE9980XW20131009.

October 09, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Last year, as Syrian refugees were pouring in, signs started going up in Lebanese towns and villages imposing nighttime curfews and warning the newcomers to stay away. Some referred just to “foreign workers,” others directly cited “Syrians.”

The signs have since come down amid a campaign by human rights activists who rallied in Beirut this summer and hung a banner from a bridge in the capital saying: “Excuse us for the behavior of those who are racist among us.”

But with more than a million refugees in a country of just 4.5 million, the tensions linger. Lebanon is the biggest recipient of Syrians fleeing the 2 1/2 -year civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions. Syrians are accused of committing burglaries, of cutting into the job market, even of causing traffic jams.

Judi, a 22-year-old student, describes being ordered out of a taxi when the driver learned she is Syrian. Majid, who works at a parking lot, says he has taken to hiding his nationality. Abed, a Beirut concierge, returned to Syria to spend Ramadan with family and when he tried to come back, an immigration officer banned him from entering for one year. No explanation was given, Abed said, speaking to The Associated Press by phone from Syria.

All three asked that their surnames be withheld because their situation is sensitive. Underlying the tensions is a historically fraught relationship. For much of the past 30 years, Syria all but ruled Lebanon. It dictated policies on everything, from the appointment of senior civil servants to the naming of presidents and prime ministers. It stationed tens of thousands of troops in the country, ran humiliating roadblocks and was blamed for scores of bombings and assassinations.

All that ended in 2005 with a Syrian withdrawal under international pressure. But the Syrian regime still has powerful allies here, including the militant Hezbollah group and an array of smaller, armed groups.

Many Lebanese have opened their homes to them, but Lama Fakih of Human Rights Watch said Syrian refugees tell the organization that they feel insecurity and growing hostility. She said female refugees are vulnerable to exploitation by landlords and employers. “We find that there are instances where women are being sexually harassed, are being asked to make sexual favors and when they refuse and resist, are concerned about being retaliated against.”

Some politicians, including those from the nationalist Free Patriotic Movement led by Christian leader Michel Aoun, have called for closing the border to refugees. They say the influx could upset the country’s delicate sectarian balance. Most of the refugees are Sunni Muslim, while Lebanon has large Shiite and Christian populations.

“What is happening is organized crime carried out by Lebanese and foreign officials to change the country’s demography,” said Gibran Bassil, outgoing energy minister and senior member of the Free Patriotic Movement.

The hostility has affected Syrians who, like Abed the concierge, have been in Lebanon for years. Majid, who was working at the parking lot long before Syria’s crisis began, describes being cursed by a customer who caught his Syrian accent.

“I had expected him to give me a tip,” he said. Instead, “I was humiliated but did not dare to respond.”

Associated Press writer Yasmine Saker contributed to this report from Beirut.