Archive for January, 2014


November 27, 2013

ISLAMABAD (AP) — A political party opposed to U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan revealed what it said was the name of the top CIA spy in the country on Wednesday and called for him and the head of the agency to be tried for a recent missile strike.

CIA spokesman Dean Boyd would not confirm the Islamabad station chief’s name and declined to immediately comment. The Associated Press is not publishing the name given by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party because it could not verify its authenticity.

It was the second time in recent years that Pakistanis opposed to drone strikes targeting Islamic militants have claimed to have revealed the identity of the top CIA spy in the country. The missile attacks have become an increasing source of tension between the U.S. and Pakistan, but Washington has shown no willingness to stop them.

Shireen Mazari, the information secretary for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, called for the current station chief and CIA director John Brennan to be tried for murder and waging war against Pakistan in connection with a drone strike in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Nov. 21. She claimed the station chief did not enjoy diplomatic immunity.

Mazari said in a news conference that the strike on an Islamic seminary in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Hangu district “killed and injured a large number of those present, including children.” But Pakistani intelligence officials say the attack killed five Afghan militants, one of whom was a deputy to the leader of one of the most dangerous groups fighting American troops in Afghanistan. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to journalists.

The Hangu district police chief, Iftikhar Ahmad, said at the time that no one was seriously wounded in the attack. The strike was one of the first to take place outside of Pakistan’s remote tribal region and outraged members of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which controls the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government.

The party is led by cricket star Imran Khan, who has been an especially vocal critic of drone strikes. He and other Pakistani officials publicly criticize the strikes as a violation of the country’s sovereignty, although the government secretly supported some past attacks. They also say the strikes kill too many civilians.

Human rights organizations say the attacks have killed hundreds of civilians. The U.S. rarely discusses the covert CIA drone program in Pakistan, but officials have insisted the civilian casualty figures are much lower.

Khan’s party pledged on Saturday to block trucks carrying NATO troop supplies to and from Afghanistan until the U.S. stopped drone attacks. Protesters stopped trucks and roughed up drivers before the police intervened to stop them. The NATO supply trucks remain stuck though because transportation officials are still worried about what protesters will do.

The CIA pulled its top spy out of Pakistan in December 2010 after a Pakistani lawsuit accused him of killing civilians in drone strikes. The lawsuit listed a name lawyers said was the station chief, but the AP learned at the time it was not correct. Nevertheless, the CIA pulled out of the country after militants threatened to kill him.

It’s rare for a CIA station chief to see his cover blown. In 1999, an Israeli newspaper revealed the identity of the station chief in Tel Aviv. In 2001, an Argentine newspaper printed a picture of the Buenos Aires station chief and details about him. In both instances, the station chiefs were recalled to the U.S.

The CIA’s work is unusually difficult in Pakistan, one of the United States’ most important and at times frustrating counterterrorism allies. The station chief in Islamabad operates as a secret general in the U.S. war against terrorism. He runs the Predator drone program targeting terrorists, handles some of the CIA’s most urgent and sensitive tips and collaborates closely with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

The CIA station chief who ran operations in Pakistan during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden left his post in 2011 due to illness, U.S. and Pakistani officials say. American officials said at the time that the station chief clashed with the U.S. ambassador in Pakistan, who objected to CIA drone strikes during diplomatic negotiations.

Associated Press writer Lara Jakes in Washington contributed to this report.

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November 25, 2013

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The Pakistani military deployed its first fleet of domestically developed drones Monday, as police cracked down on a protest by demonstrators angry at the U.S. for using similar aircraft to attack Islamic militants in the country.

The new Burraq and Shahpar drones will be used by the Pakistani army and air force, the military said in a statement. It was unclear whether the aircraft are armed or unarmed, and military officials did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The announcement coincided with a move by Pakistani police to prevent activists protesting U.S. drone strikes from blocking trucks carrying NATO troop supplies to and from neighboring Afghanistan. The intervention was the latest chapter in a saga that began Saturday, when thousands of protesters led by Pakistani politician and cricket star Imran Khan blocked a road in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which is used to ship goods to and from Afghanistan.

Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, said it would block NATO shipments until the U.S. ended drone attacks. On Sunday, members of Khan’s party stopped trucks and roughed up drivers ferrying NATO supplies at a toll booth on the outskirts of Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s provincial capital. Police were present at the scene Sunday but did not stop the protesters, some of whom were carrying wooden batons.

Police officer Behram Khan said Monday that police would permit peaceful protests on the roadside, but activists would not be allowed to stop trucks as they did before. Police also opened an investigation into the activists’ actions that could lead to legal charges, he said.

Covert CIA drone strikes targeting Islamic militants in Pakistan’s northwest have long been a sensitive subject, with officials regularly criticizing them in public as a violation of the country’s sovereignty. The issue is more complicated, however, since the government is known to have supported at least some of the attacks in the past.

Pakistan has demanded the U.S. provide it with armed drones, claiming it could more effectively carry out attacks against militants. Washington has refused because of the sensitive nature of the technology and doubts that Pakistan would reliably target U.S. enemies.

Pakistan has also been racing to develop its own armed drones but has struggled with a lack of precision munitions and advanced targeting technology, according to Pakistani military officials and civilians involved in the domestic drone industry, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the work. Even if Pakistan had this technology, the small drones it has developed would have trouble carrying the kinds of missiles fired by U.S. Predator and Reaper unmanned aircraft. The Pakistani drones also have much more limited range than those developed by the U.S.

Imran Khan, whose party runs the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, has been an especially vocal critic of U.S. drone strikes. The route blocked by his activists leads to one of two crossings used by trucks to carry NATO troop supplies and equipment to and from Afghanistan. The other crossing is in southwest Baluchistan province and has not been affected by the protest.

The federal government has also criticized drone strikes but has indicated it has no interest in blocking the NATO supply route, which could spark a crisis with the U.S. and other NATO countries. The police actions Monday indicated that the federal government had intervened to stop the NATO blockade.

The provincial police chief in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Nasir Durrani, ordered police to prevent protesters from stopping trucks and open an investigation into those activists who were halting vehicles on Sunday, said a statement from the police chief’s office.

Although the police chief works with the provincial government, he is ultimately accountable to the federal interior minister, giving the federal government significant control. The land routes through Pakistan have been key to getting supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan. They now increasingly are being used to ship equipment out of Afghanistan as the U.S. seeks to withdraw most of its combat troops from the country by the end of 2014.

The routes have been closed in the past. The Pakistani government blocked the routes for seven months following U.S. airstrikes that accidentally killed two dozen soldiers on the Afghan border in November 2011. Pakistan finally reopened the routes after the U.S. apologized.

Associated Press writers Riaz Khan in Peshawar and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad contributed to this report.

November 25, 2013

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani police prevented activists who were protesting U.S. drone strikes from blocking trucks carrying NATO troop supplies to and from neighboring Afghanistan on Monday.

The intervention was the latest chapter in a saga that began Saturday, when thousands of protesters led by Pakistani politician and cricket star Imran Khan blocked a road in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which is used to ship goods to and from Afghanistan.

Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, said they would block NATO shipments until the U.S. ended drone attacks. On Sunday, members of Khan’s party stopped trucks and roughed up drivers ferrying NATO supplies at a toll booth on the outskirts of Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s provincial capital. Police were present at the scene Sunday but did not stop the protesters, some of whom were carrying wooden batons.

Police officer Behram Khan said Monday that police would permit peaceful protests on the roadside, but activists would not be allowed to stop trucks as they did before. Police also opened an investigation into the activists’ actions that could lead to legal charges, he said.

Covert CIA drone strikes targeting Islamic militants in Pakistan’s northwest have long been a sensitive subject, with officials regularly criticizing them in public as a violation of the country’s sovereignty. The issue is more complicated, however, since the government is known to have supported at least some of the attacks in the past.

Imran Khan, whose party runs the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, has been a vocal critic of the strikes. The route blocked by his activists leads to one of two crossings used by trucks to carry NATO troop supplies and equipment to and from Afghanistan. The other crossing is in southwest Baluchistan province and has not been affected by the protest.

The federal government has also criticized drone strikes but has indicated it has no interest in blocking the NATO supply route, which could spark a crisis with the U.S. and other NATO countries. The police actions Monday indicated that the federal government had intervened to stop the NATO blockade.

The provincial police chief in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Nasir Durrani, ordered police to prevent protesters from stopping trucks and open an investigation into those activists who were halting vehicles on Sunday, said a statement from the police chief’s office.

Although the police chief works with the provincial government, he is ultimately accountable to the federal interior minister, giving the federal government significant control. The land routes through Pakistan have been key to getting supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan. They now increasingly are being used to ship equipment out of Afghanistan as the U.S. seeks to withdraw most of its combat troops from the country by the end of 2014.

The routes have been closed in the past. The Pakistani government blocked the routes for seven months following U.S. airstrikes that accidentally killed two dozen soldiers on the Afghan border in November 2011. Pakistan finally reopened the routes after the U.S. apologized.

Associated Press writers Asif Shahzad and Sebastian Abbot contributed to this report from Islamabad.

Baghdad (UPI)

Jan 29, 2013

Hussein Shahristani, Iraq’s energy chief, says Baghdad is working with Iran to boost oil exports, a move by these two Shiite-majority powers that could lead to a major challenge of Sunni Saudi Arabia and its domination of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Shahristani, Iraq’s deputy prime minister for energy, told a conference Tuesday at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, a London think tank: “We feel the world needs to be assured of fuel for economic growth.”

The Daily Telegraph of London reported he disclosed Iraq is collaborating with Iran, its traditional Arab enemy until the Americans toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, to help it attract investment ahead of the possible lifting of U.S.-led sanctions as Tehran moves toward detente with the West.

International oil companies are reported to be lining up to secure big contracts with Iran to rebuild its long-underfunded energy industry, an endeavor that could cost as much as $200 billion.

“Iran has been in touch with us,” Shahristani said. “They want to share our contracts model and experience” in opening up to international oil companies for investment, expertise and access to advanced technology as Iraq has done since 2003.

Iraq, heavily dependent on its oil exports, currently produces about 3 million barrels per day, with exports of about 2.2 million bpd.

Shahristani, who as oil minister was the architect of Iraq’s drive to rebuild its dilapidated energy industry following Saddam’s ouster, says Baghdad aims to triple production to 9 million bpd by 2020.

That’s a step down from its earlier target of 10 million to 12 million bpd by 2017, a level energy insiders dismissed as wildly ambitious and beyond Iraq’s capabilities.

But even the scaled-down target is considered beyond reach within the stated time frame, and for the same reasons: bureaucratic bungling, infrastructure delays and a worsening security crisis.

On the Iranian side, Tehran appears to be moving toward a resolution with the United States and its allies related to its contentious nuclear program, which would lead to the easing and possible lifting of sanctions that have crippled Iran’s oil production.

But its energy industry has long been in poor shape and is in dire need of massive investment that will have to come from foreign oil companies, a process that will likely take years to have an impact.

Iran has seen its oil exports cut in half because of sanctions, falling from 2.5 million bpd in June 2011 to 1.2 million bpd in September 2013, the International Energy Agency in Paris reports.

That has cost Tehran an estimated $80 billion in oil revenues since 2012. Now it wants to get back to its pre-sanctions level of 4.2 million bpd, and then boost that to 6 million bpd.

At OPEC’s annual meeting in December, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, called on Riyadh, which has been making billions by covering the loss of Iranian and Libyan production over the last couple of years, to cut back its production to accommodate Tehran.

Saudi Arabia, which is engaged in a potentially explosive intelligence war with Iran, is unlikely to help the Islamic republic willingly. It’s been producing a record 10 million bpd, well above its long-observed level of 8 million bpd.

As the only swing producer, this has enhanced its control of the purse strings on global oil prices and so, all things considered, it’s not expected to relinquish that without a struggle, particularly as it will have to contend with growing U.S. shale oil production, now running at an estimated 8 million bpd.

The shale challenge aside, the U.S. global security consultancy Stratfor observes that “in the long term, Iran and Iraq’s production is the key issue” in OPEC remaining a cohesive force in the global energy industry.

“Should Iran and Iraq together boost production to a reasonable achievable level of 11 million bpd by 2020 that would represent an increase of 5 million to 6 million bpd above present levels,” it said.

“OPEC’s export quotas have already been a source of tension among its members, but producers have always found ways to skirt around them. That may no longer be possible.”

Source: Energy-Daily.

Link: http://www.energy-daily.com/reports/Iraq_Iran_plot_to_challenge_Saudi_domination_of_OPEC_999.html.

January 29, 2014

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s chief prosecutor on Wednesday referred 20 journalists from the Al-Jazeera TV network, including four foreigners, to trial on charges of allegedly joining or assisting a terrorist group and spreading false news that endangers national security.

It was the first time authorities have put journalists on trial on terror-related charges. The charges demonstrate the expanding reach of the authorities’ heavy crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood since the military’s ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi on July 3.

The charges are based on the government’s declaration last month of the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Authorities have long depicted the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network as biased toward Morsi and the Brotherhood. But so far its crackdown on the network had mostly targeted its Arabic service and its Egyptian affiliate.

Soon after the declaration, police arrested three reporters from Al-Jazeera English, accusing them of operating a media center for the group and spreading false news. “This is an insult to the law,” Gamal Eid, the head of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information said. He said there is no evidence in the case and pointed out that the charges come after this month’s passage of a new constitution that authorities touted as “the charter of freedoms,” for its articles guaranteeing a range of rights.

“Whoever took this decision must be punished because if there is law and justice in Egypt it wouldn’t be used in political settlements,” he said. “Working in Al-Jazeera doesn’t mean membership in the Brotherhood.”

Al-Jazeera denies bias and has demanded the release of its reporters, whose arrest sparked an outcry from rights groups and journalist protection organizations. Authorities have also denied the network’s reporters accreditation.

Those arrested include acting bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian, award-winning correspondent Peter Greste of Australia and producer Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian. On Wednesday, the prosecutor’s office said 16 Egyptians in the case are accused of joining a terrorist group, while the foreigners — an Australian, a Dutch citizen and two Britons — are accused of helping to promote false news benefiting the terrorist group.

The prosecutor’s statement said the accused had established a media network composed of 20 people — Egyptians and foreigners — who used two suites in a luxury hotel in Cairo as a media center, supported with cameras, broadcasting equipment and computers.

The statement said the defendants “manipulated pictures” to create “unreal scenes to give the impression to the outside world that there is a civil war that threatens to bring down the state” and broadcast scenes to aid “the terrorist group in achieving its goals and influencing the public opinion.”

An official from the high state security prosecution investigating the case said Fahmy, the acting bureau chief, was an alleged member of the Muslim Brotherhood, led the media operation that “fabricated footage” and aired it on Al-Jazeera and CNN with the “aim of harming Egypt’s reputation” in the world. The official said equipment used to “fabricate” the footage were confiscated in the hotel where they operated, including editing equipment, microphones, cameras, computers, internet broadcasting equipment and money.

The official said national security agents implemented the prosecutor’s order, seizing also in the hotel documents, and handwritten notes including “students on strike during exams,” ”the most important trials of December” and “the road map has become worthless.” Student supporters of Morsi were on strike and held protests that frequently turned violent for most of December.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Al-Jazeera journalists and cameramen have been detained and a court order has barred its local affiliate from broadcasting in Egypt since September, accusing it of endangering national security. The affiliate, Al-Jazeera Mubasher Egypt, has continued to broadcast using its studios in Doha, Qatar, collaborating with freelancers and using amateur videos.

The prosecutors’ statement said eight of the defendants are in custody. Presumably they include the three journalists arrested in December — two Egyptians and an Australian. But it was not clear who the other five are.

The only other two Al-Jazeera reporters known to be in custody were arrested in August, while they covered a police crackdown on pro-Morsi protesters in Cairo that left hundreds dead, and it was not known if they are among the defendants in the case.

Al-Jazeera had no immediate comment. A lawyer involved in the case confirmed the referral to trial but said he was still seeking more information. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of his security.

Hundreds of the Brotherhood’s leaders are now in detention or on trial, mostly on violence-related charges. Morsi himself is on trial. Eid, of the rights center, said that under autocrat Hosni Mubarak’s nearly 30-year rule, there were instances of journalists detained on allegations of terror links. But he said he knows of no instance in which they were actually referred to trial. He said it is also the first time Western journalists are accused on such charges.

“It is a state of hysteria that has reached the extent of making up charges,” Eid said. He said he doesn’t believe the case was part of a planned crackdown, but that among the various agencies of the state, each “is practicing its repression its own way … We have repressive republics operating in one nation.”

January 28, 2014

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s toppled President Mohammed Morsi stood inside a glass-encased metal cage Tuesday, separated from other defendants for the start of a new trial Tuesday over charges from prison breaks during the country’s 2011 revolution, state television reported.

Egypt’s state news agency MENA reported that Morsi flew by helicopter from Borg al-Arab prison in Alexandria. Only 19 other of the 129 defendants in the case, including the leader of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group and other leading figures, are held by authorities. The rest, including members of the Palestinian militant group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, are on the run.

Egypt’s state television broadcast exclusively from the courtroom. Its reporter said Morsi appeared in a separate cage from the other defendants in the case. He said defendants turned their back to the court, a form of protest of their prosecution.

The case is rooted in the 2011 escape of more than 20,000 inmates from Egyptian prisons — including Morsi and other Brotherhood members, during the early days of the 18-day uprising against ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

Authorities accuse Morsi and the other defendants of plotting to “destroy the Egyptian state and its institutions,” conspiring with the foreign groups who infiltrated to Egypt through Gaza and using the turmoil during the uprising to organize the prison breaks. The prosecutors said more than 800 foreign fighters entered Egypt through Gaza to take part in storming of three prisons and killed a number of police officers and inmates.

A Brotherhood lawyer has said the trial appears aimed at “denigrating” Morsi and the Brotherhood. It is Morsi’s second court appearance since Egypt’s popularly backed July 3 military coup. He missed a Jan. 8 hearing in another trial after security officials said bad weather grounded a helicopter meant to bring him.

The hearing is at a police academy complex in eastern Cairo, where a heavy security presence stood guard Tuesday. State television showed briefly showed live footage from inside the courtroom before the trial started.

Morsi is facing three other trials on different charges as well. Only one of those trials, where he is accused of inciting murder of his opponents while in office, has begun. Many of the charges he faces carry the death sentence.

In his first appearance, Morsi insisted he was still the country’s legitimate president and challenged the legitimacy of the court, regularly interrupting the judges and prosecutors. The glass window over the metal cage is apparently to muffle the defendants’ outbursts.

Since Morsi’ ouster in July 3 in a popularly backed military coup, hundreds of senior Brotherhood leaders have been arrested in a widening crackdown against a group that authorities accuse of retaliating to Morsi’s removal with a violent campaign. Hundreds of supporters also have been killed in security crackdown on protests that often turned violent. The group denies using violence to achieve its goal of having Morsi reinstated.

On Tuesday, hundreds of Morsi supporters clashed with police officers, with television footage showing protesters burn tires and police shooting tear gas canisters. Tuesday marked the third anniversary of the “Friday of Rage,” one of the most violent days of the 2011 uprising when protesters and police clashed for hours before police withdrew from the streets and the military deployed.

Meanwhile, the interior ministry said two gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed a senior police officer as he left his home in the Haram district of Giza, a Cairo neighborhood. Maj. Gen. Mohammed El-Said was the head of the technical office in the interior ministry, which is in charge of police.

Also Tuesday, MENA reported that gunmen blew up a natural gas pipeline Monday night in the volatile Sinai Peninsula south of el-Arish, the capital of the North Sinai governorate. It said firefighters rushed to the scene to extinguish a fire there.

Gas pipelines have come under attacks several times since Mubarak’s downfall, which led to a fracturing of Egypt’s security agencies. Suicide bombings also have spiked and spilled into the capital, Cairo, and other cities. An al-Qaida-inspired group called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or Champions of Jerusalem, has claimed responsibility for most of those attacks.

Associated Press writer Maamoun Youssef contributed to this report.

January 29, 2014

BEIRUT (AP) — Starvation and illnesses exacerbated by hunger or the lack of medical aid in a Palestinian camp in Damascus besieged for months by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have killed at least 85 people, activists said Wednesday.

The Yarmouk camp, located on the southern edge of the Syrian capital, is one of several opposition areas where humanitarian conditions have crumbled under a tight blockade imposed by pro-government forces. Activists and aid groups have accused the military of using starvation as a weapon of war.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said the first person died in Yarmouk in June, and that as of Wednesday a total of 85 people had perished there. Five days ago, activists and residents said the death toll stood at more than 60.

The need to open humanitarian corridors to ferry desperately needed aid into blockaded areas and to relieve civilian suffering has been one of the topics discussed at ongoing peace talks in Switzerland between the Syrian government and the opposition. Despite encouraging signs early in the discussions, no concrete progress has been made on that front.

Authorities recently allowed a few hundred food parcels into Yarmouk in what appeared to be a goodwill gesture ahead the peace talks, but residents said only a tiny amount of aid entered because government officials ordered aid workers to distribute the parcels in an area under sniper fire.

Also Wednesday, Turkey’s state-run news agency said the Turkish military fired artillery and heavy machine guns at a convoy across the border in Syria belonging to the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The Anadolu Agency said the attack on the Islamic State vehicle was in response to gunfire that had targeted Turkish troops patrolling the frontier at the border in Kilis province. Turkish troops used tanks, self-propelled artillery and machine guns to destroy two trucks and a bus in the convoy, the agency said. No casualty figures were given.

The military declined to immediately confirm the report. In October, Turkey’s military fired artillery at Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant positions in Syria in retaliation for a mortar that had landed near another Turkish military post.

The Islamic State and another al-Qaida-linked group, the Nusra Front, have become a dominant force in Syria’s armed opposition, causing jitters in Western capitals and leading to a drop in international support for the rebels.

Wednesday  29/01/2014

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Gaza prime minister Ismail Haniyeh on Tuesday telephoned Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki to congratulate him on the country’s new constitution.

The historic document, seen as one of the most modern in the Arab world, was signed by outgoing Islamist premier Ali Larayedh, Speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar, and President Moncef Marzouki during a ceremony at the National Constituent Assembly on Monday.

The charter, which took more than two years to draft, will enter into force in stages after its publication in the official journal, and in the run-up to fresh parliamentary and presidential elections later this year.

Haniyeh updated Marzouk on developments in the Gaza Strip and spoke about the consequences of Israel’s crippling siege.

Source: Ma’an News Agency.

Link: http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=669019.

January 27, 2014

Osama Al Sharif

For Jordan, one thing is definite about the peace conference on Syria which opened in the Swiss resort of Montreux last week: It proved that relations with the Damascus government have reached an historic low! Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem dedicated most of his long-winded speech to attacking Syria’s neighbors for aiding terrorists and smuggling weapons. While he did not name Jordan specifically, he referred to it as “the weak southern neighbor” that is “ordered around.” He saved his most vitriolic attacks for the United States, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Reaction in Amman was acerbic. A number of columnists waged an unprecedented attack against Moallem and the regime he represents. Muhannad Mubeideen, a popular talk show host, retorted in Addustour daily by saying, “This weak southern neighbor refused an order to join [a US-led international coalition] in Hafr Al Baten [in Saudi Arabia] to wage war on Iraq [in 1990] while Syria obeyed such an order.” He reminded Moallem of Syria’s sinister role in Lebanon and of the regime’s daily crimes against its own people.

Another writer, Bassam Badarin, reminded the Syrian minister, in the daily Al Arab Al Youm, that it was he who took his marching orders from Moscow and Tehran, and that the army of the “weak southern neighbor” had protected the common borders with Syria and never allowed the official crossing point between the two countries to fall into the hands of rebels.

It was another chapter in the turbulent relations between Amman and Damascus, which have witnessed short spells of warmth and eras of hostility. But the Amman punditry was equally critical, if not equally harsh, of the speech that Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Joudeh delivered at the same opening ceremony. Joudeh used all the time allowed to describe the sacrifices that Jordan had made to care for more than a million Syrian refugees. In the view of former minister Sabri Irbeihat, Jordan missed an historic opportunity to express its position on the crisis and Joudeh’s speech “dwarfed Jordan as only a seeker of international aid.”

Another former minister, Ahmad Massadeh, told a local newspaper that Joudeh had missed the chance to respond to Moallem’s attack and present a comprehensive view of the region’s ailments while underlining Jordan’s crucial role.

Such reactions amplified both fears and resentments of the repercussions that the 3-year-old Syrian crisis has had on Jordan. Officially, Amman supports the Geneva II conference that seeks to find a political solution to the Syrian conflict. But Jordan has tried to play all sides as well. It has joined the “Friends of Syria” group and signed onto communiqués that stated clearly that President Bashar al-Assad had no role in the future of Syria. It even hosted a meeting for the group in May of last year. On the other hand, the Syrian ambassador has never left Amman in spite of popular calls for his expulsion.

Since the breakout of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, the Damascus government has been critical of Amman’s alleged role in allowing fighters and weapons to cross into southern Syria. Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Al Miqdad had accused Jordan, as recently as December last year, of sponsoring “an operations room” in the north run by US, Israeli and Saudi intelligence officers. Amman has received a number of defecting senior military officers, in addition to former Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijjab, who fled to Jordan in August 2012.

In addition, Jordan is one of few countries that host a large number of Syrian refugees, now numbering between 600,000 and 1 million. The Syrian government had alleged that Free Syrian Army (FSA) personnel were being trained by the CIA in north Jordan.

Sources confirm that Jordan has tried to ameliorate its political stance on Syria over the past 12 months in response to changing realities on the ground. Its calculated position has been described as one of the most difficult balancing acts that the regime has had to play. While continuing to participate in the “Friends of Syria” meetings, analysts note that Amman has not received a senior member of the National Syrian Coalition (NSC) in months. In addition it has stopped allowing fighters and weapons to pass through its borders with Syria since the summer of last year.

Lately, the government has waged a campaign to arrest Jordanian Salafist jihadist fighters trying to cross into Syria. At least 70 are in prison awaiting trial before the State Security Court. Between 1,500 and 2,500 Jordanians are thought to be fighting with Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.

One sign of Jordan’s hesitance to cut ties with Damascus completely is that the government has resisted calls to expel Syrian envoy Bahjat Sulieman, even when he has repeatedly attacked Jordanian critics of Assad. Last week, Sulieman lambasted Jordanian lawmaker deputy Abdullah Obeidat, describing him publicly as “a demented Qatari mercenary.” After Moallem’s tirade in Montreux last week, the chances of expelling Sulieman are greater.

But the prospects of Geneva II ending Assad’s rule are weak, if not impossible. This is the public perception here and it is now shared by senior government officials. In spite of Moallem’s attack on Jordan, pundits believe that the regime will not engage in direct confrontation with Damascus. Sources said that Jordan’s middle-of-the-road approach has been criticized by the Saudis, Assad’s biggest enemies, as well.

Defenders of the Jordan position say that the country hosts a million Syrian refugees, who pose social and economic challenges. Jordan has more than 300-kilometer [186-mile] border with Syria and it is a country with which it had historic problems. If the Damascus regime survives, Jordan would want to keep its options open.

King Abdullah II and President Assad took over from their fathers almost at the same time, at the beginning of the new millennium. They are both Western-educated and at one point they shared the same reformist view for the future of their countries. But that personal relationship has floundered in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Today they are on opposite tracks. The king has been critical of Assad at times, most recently in a lengthy interview with The Atlantic. Most Jordanians support the Syrian rebellion, but there are many, from the left, who favor the regime — until now. For the time being Jordan will continue to maintain its balancing act in its relationship with war-torn Syria.

Source: al-Monitor.

Link: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/01/jordan-syria-relations-tensions-moallem-critique-refugees.html.

October 11, 2013

NEW YORK (AP) — A defiant 16-year-old Pakistani girl whose advocacy for education made her the target of a Taliban assassination attempt a year ago told an audience in New York on Thursday she one day hopes to become her country’s prime minister.

Malala Yousafzai made her comments in an interview with CNN’s chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour at the 92nd Street Y. She spoke a few hours after being awarded Europe’s top human rights prize and on the eve of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize, for which she is considered a likely contender.

Asked if she wanted to be a doctor or a politician, Malala said she initially wanted to be a doctor but had learned she could help more people as prime minister. “I can spend much of the budget on education,” Malala said to applause and laughter as she sat next to her father, human rights activist Ziauddin Yousafzai, the founder of an all-girls school in Pakistan.

In the interview, to be broadcast on CNN on Sunday, Malala recounted the moment she was shot while sitting in the back of a vehicle traveling home from school and reiterated that she was not intimidated by threats.

“I’m never going to give up,” Malala said when asked about repeated death threats made against her by the Taliban. “They only shot a body but they cannot shoot my dreams.” On Oct. 9, 2012, a masked gunman jumped into a pickup truck taking girls home from the school and shouted “who is Malala” before shooting her in the head.

Her father asked his brother-in-law to prepare a coffin. But Malala woke up a week later at a hospital in Birmingham, England, and gradually regained her sight and her voice. She said Thursday her first thought was of two friends she was with who were also injured in the attack.

“If I was shot that was fine for me but I was feeling guilty that they have been the target,” she said. The world’s horrified reaction to the attack led to the creation of Malala Fund, which campaigns for girls’ education around the world. Malala has received multiple awards, including the $65,000 Sakharov Award, which she was awarded just hours before her interview.

The assassination attempt drew worldwide attention to the struggle for women’s rights in Pakistan. Malala addressed the United Nations on her 16th birthday, and she expects to meet with Queen Elizabeth II later this month.

The Nobel Peace Prize committee will say only that a record 259 candidates, including 50 organizations, have been nominated this year. Speculation on front-runners for Friday’s announcement is primarily based on previous choices and current events.

Malala said Thursday it would a “great honor and more than I deserve” to win the accolade, but insisted she still had more to do before she felt she’d truly earned it. “I need to work a lot,” she said.

Malala’s father said he didn’t regret how outspoken his precocious only daughter has been since she was 11 years old, when she first started blogging and speaking out against the denial of education to young girls in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.

“I will never put my head into the yoke of slavery,” he said. Malala spoke passionately Thursday against forced marriages and the denial of education to girls and boys throughout the world. She urged young girls in the developed world to take advantage of their education — and to do their homework and be kind to their teachers.

“I would like to tell all the girls: Realize its importance before it is snatched from you,” she said. Malala lives with her family in Birmingham, England. She said that while in Pakistan she liked to listen to Justin Bieber, but now longs for the Pashto music of her homeland.