Archive for January 18, 2014

November 23, 2013

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi Sunni religious leaders said Saturday they closed the sect’s mosques in Baghdad indefinitely to protest attacks targeting clerics and worshipers, highlighting the country’s deepening sectarian rift. The closures came as violence across the country killed 12 people Saturday.

Sheik Mustafa al-Bayati, a member of a council of senior Sunni scholars that issue religious edicts, said the decision taken Thursday came into effect Saturday. He said mosques would reopen Sunday. Many mosques appeared to comply. In Baghdad’s Sunni northern district of Azamiya, a banner at the closed gate of the hallowed Abu Hanifa mosque read: “The mosque is closed until further notice because of the targeting of imams, preachers and worshipers.”

The mosque closures were “prompted by the systematic targeting of and injustice against Sunni clerics, mosques and worshipers,” al-Bayati told The Associated Press. “Today, it is not forbidden to shed Sunni blood. … For 11 months we have been saying peacefully that we are facing injustice but the government closes its ears.”

He didn’t accuse any group of being behind the attacks, but said “the weakness of the security forces is exploited by (Shiite) militias.” Sunnis previously have closed mosques as a protest tactic in the southern province of Basra in September and in the northeastern province of Diyala earlier this month. The mosques later reopened after local authorities and tribal leaders promised to offer protection.

In a statement issued late Saturday, the members of the Sunni council said they wanted the government to establish security units formed by locals to protect mosques. The statement also demanded the government open an immediate investigation over the recent killings of Sunni clerics and that it release all detained Sunni clerics.

Al-Bayati said a panel of clerics and government officials would discuss the demands in the coming days. Sunnis dominated the government of Iraq for much of its modern history. They believe that the majority-Shiite government that came into power after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion treats them like second-class citizens.

Sunni discontent mounted after a bloody April raid by security forces on a protest camp in northern Iraq. Violence has spiked since, claiming at least 5,500 lives, according to the United Nations figures.

The bloodiest attacks, including waves of coordinated car bombs claimed by al-Qaida’s local branch, have targeted mainly Shiites. However, Sunnis also have been killed in apparent reprisals. On Friday, bombs targeted two Sunni mosques in Baghdad, killing four. Last week, gunmen killed a Sunni cleric as he left a mosque in western Baghdad, police said.

Violence continued Saturday across Iraq. In the northern town of Tuz Khormato, a suicide bomber set off his explosive belt near a line of people waiting to buy bread from a baker, Mayor Shalal Abdool said. A second bomber drove an explosive-laden car into the crowd that gathered after the first explosion, Abdool said. The two attacks killed 10 people and wounded 35, he said.

Tuz Khormato is about 200 kilometers (130 miles) north of Baghdad. Meanwhile, a car bomb exploded near a police checkpoint in the northern town of Tal Afar, killing a police officer and a civilian and wounding 10, police and hospital officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to journalists.

Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.


BAGHDAD – An Iraqi Shiite group claimed Thursday it had fired six mortar rounds that hit a remote area of northeastern Saudi Arabia a day earlier as a warning to the Sunni-dominated kingdom.

Wathiq al-Battat, head of the pro-Iranian Shiite group Jaish al-Mukhtar, said by telephone from Baghdad that the attack was “a warning strike” to Saudi Arabia over its stance towards Shiites.

“We did not mean for our missile to reach a residential area because we value people’s blood,” said Battat. “But next time, if Saudi Arabia continues the same course, we will go farther, little by little.”

Diplomats and Iraqi security officials routinely say they do not believe Jaish al-Mukhtar to be a capable militia and do not regard Battat as a credible figure.

But the incident comes amid regional turmoil fueled by the Syrian conflict.

Riyadh backs the mostly Sunni rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is strongly supported by predominantly Shiite Iran and Shiite militias in Iraq and Lebanon.

Earlier Thursday, Saudi state news agency SPA quoted border guard General Mohammed al-Ghamidi as saying six mortar rounds hit Wednesday “in an uninhabited area near Al-Awja border crossing… in Hafr al-Batin in Eastern Province, and no damage was caused.”

Residents said Saudi warplanes were flying over the area early on Thursday and Ghamidi said Saudi authorities were in “direct contact” with their neighbors to identify the source of the shelling and to prevent a repetition.

Okaz newspaper’s website said the mortar fire came “from the Iraqi side of the border.”

Ghamidi added that his men had entered Hafr al-Batin, “an oil-rich area and vital to the Saudis.”

Hafr al-Batin, which also borders Kuwait, was a command headquarters for US forces during the 1991 Gulf War, which expelled Iraqi occupation forces from the emirate.

Source: Middle East Online.


BAGHDAD – Officials from Iraq and Turkey have pledged to end the diplomatic tensions plaguing the two neighbors.

In a joint press conference with his Turkish counterpart, Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Sunday the tension “has ended and we have started a new page.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu landed in Baghdad on Sunday for a slew of meetings with top Iraqi officials as the two neighbors seek a “fresh start” to chilled ties.

Relations between Ankara and Baghdad, which had been on the upswing as recently as 2011, fell off as the two countries clashed over the war in Syria, Turkey’s ties with Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, and sharp words between their prime ministers.

But the two sides have made moves in recent weeks towards a gradual rapprochement, with Turkish officials pegging Davutoglu’s visit as focused on promoting a “fresh start”, as well as concentrating on the violence in their common neighbor Syria.

The two-day visit, which follows a similar trip by Zebari last month, includes talks with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Zebari, as well as several other officials and political leaders in Baghdad and the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.

“They are going to discuss a fresh start to relations,” a Turkish official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“They will mostly discuss bilateral issues, what is happening in the region, and Syria.”

Ties between Iraq and Turkey had been rapidly improving in the run-up to the Syrian conflict, with multiple visits to Baghdad by both Davutoglu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

But disagreements over how to deal with Syria — Turkey has backed opposition groups, while Iraq has insisted it is neutral despite claims it is implicitly backing the Syrian regime — were followed by Ankara’s decision in early 2012 to give refuge to former Iraqi vice president Tareq al-Hashemi, convicted in absentia of organizing death squads.

They have accused each other of inciting sectarian tensions and, at various stages, summoned each other’s ambassadors in tit-for-tat maneuvers.

Baghdad has also slammed mooted energy deals between Ankara and the Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

“This marks a resumption of normal relations, and an end to tensions,” Maliki’s spokesman Ali al-Mussawi said before Davutoglu’s arrival. “We hope relations will return to their normal state.”

“The two countries have joint interests, history and challenges,” he continued.

“Warm relations do not mean agreeing on all regional issues … On those that we have differences, we will talk about them and solve them through dialogue.”

Source: Middle East Online.

January 13, 2014

CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian party led by a prominent Islamist says it will boycott the referendum on the country’s draft constitution after several of its members were arrested for campaigning against the charter.

Monday’s statement by the Strong Egypt party of Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh came on the eve of the voting on the amended charter. The two-day referendum offers the country’s interim, military-backed government its first electoral test since the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in a coup last July.

Morsi’s Brotherhood, which has since been branded as a terrorist group, has called for a boycott of the vote as well. The charter is an overhaul of an Islamist-backed constitution adopted in December 2012 under Morsi. While decreasing the role of Islamic Shariah in legislation, the charter consolidates the military’s powers.

January 17, 2014

BEIJING (AP) — Police have taken away an outspoken scholar of China’s Turkic Uighur ethnic minority and raided his home, seizing computers, cellphones and even his students’ thesis manuscripts, his wife said Thursday.

About 30 police officers raided economics professor Ilham Tohti’s home in Beijing in a six-hour operation Wednesday afternoon after taking away the academic, his wife Guzaili Nu’er said in a phone interview.

It was the most serious of recent actions by Chinese authorities in apparent retaliation against the scholar, who is arguably the most famous mainland-based critic of the ruling Communist Party’s restrictive policies in Xinjiang in western China.

China has tightened control over the restive region, which has been rocked by a series of riots and attacks on police and other symbols of Chinese power over the past year. State media reported earlier this month that President Xi Jinping has ordered authorities to refocus their efforts on “maintaining social stability” in Xinjiang.

Guzaili Nu’er said that Ilham Tohti and his two sons were at home while she was at work when police arrived. She rushed home but her husband had already been taken away. Beijing police did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular briefing that Ilham Tohti “is suspected of violating the law and committing a crime” and that police have placed him under criminal detention.

Calls to the scholar’s mobile phone failed to connect. The overseas-based website he runs,, was also down. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement that the United States was deeply concerned about the reports that Ilham Tohti had been taken away, and called on the Chinese authorities to account for his whereabouts.

The statement said the detention “appears to be part of a disturbing pattern of arrests and detentions of public interest lawyers, Internet activists, journalists, religious leaders and others who peacefully challenge official Chinese policies and actions.”

Ilham Tohti has been barred from traveling and placed under house arrest numerous times in the wake of deadly ethnic rioting in the capital of the Uighur ethnic homeland of Xinjiang in 2009 that sparked a nationwide crackdown on Uighur activists.

He has not joined calls for Xinjiang’s independence but his outspokenness on problems with China’s ethnic policies has made him a target of security forces. He has criticized the authoritarian government’s heavy-handed handling of recent unrest, saying China’s stifling security presence, widespread discrimination and restrictions on religious and social practices have fanned ethnic discord in Xinjiang.

“The Uighur people have become outsiders in the development of their own homeland and survival,” Ilham Tohti wrote in a post on his mobile social media account Wednesday morning. “It is here that the people’s anger begins to grow. Uighur people need an avenue to express their aspirations and protect their rights.”

The scholar’s wife said she feared the authorities meant to take stronger measures against him this time. Although he has been taken away for questioning before, she said, he usually returns late at night.

“This time it’s different. They sent so many security officers, including police from Xinjiang, Beijing and the nearby police station. This time it is more serious,” she said. Guzaili Nu’er said police seized four computers, several mobile phones and Ilham Tohti’s students’ thesis papers, and refused to answer her questions about where he had been taken to, or why. On Thursday afternoon, two men in plainclothes were stationed in the hallway outside the apartment and they tried to block reporters from entering the apartment.

Atilamu, 22, who was one of two undergraduate students of Ilham Tohti’s at the apartment Thursday, said that police took them away for several hours of questioning Wednesday before releasing them near midnight, and that their cellphones, computers and class notes also were seized. The students said they knew of at least about a half-dozen other Uighur students who were similarly questioned.

Associated Press reporter Isolda Morillo contributed to this report.

Sun Jan 12, 2014

The Bangladeshi government has allowed the country’s main opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia to leave her home after about two weeks.

The chief of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was put under house arrest last month after the ruling Awami League led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina won a violence-plagued parliamentary election.

On Saturday, Khaleda, who is also the head of the BNP-led 18-party opposition alliance, left her home for a meeting with Chinese Ambassador Lee Jung at her office in Dhaka.

The government deployed security forces around the two-time prime minister’s residence on December 25.

Activists and opposition members in Bangladesh have gone into hiding amid a sweeping wave of arrests by security forces following the January 5 election that was boycotted by the BNP. The election was marred by violence and led to more than a dozen deaths.

The ruling party ended up as the winner of the vote that followed months of political unrest and protests against the government of Hasina.

Hundreds of members of the BNP have concealed themselves due to what they call harassment by authorities.

According to Human Rights Watch, “Many opposition leaders and activists have gone into hiding.”

The New York-based group also criticized Bangladesh for conducting arbitrary arrests of opposition members before and after the election.

“While in some cases the government has acted appropriately to stop violence by some opposition forces, this spate of arrests is part of a pattern of weakening critics, limiting dissent and consolidating [the] ruling party power,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Source: PressTV.

January 15, 2014

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — The future king of Bahrain met with top Shiite opposition leaders on Wednesday for the first time in nearly three years, the last time being shortly after Arab Spring protests broke out in the Gulf Arab nation.

The meeting also comes just one week after reconciliation talks were suspended. Bahrain’s state television broadcast images of Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa meeting with members of the country’s Shiite opposition, including its main al-Wefaq bloc.

Al -Wefaq and four other opposition groups released a joint statement after the face-to-face with the crown prince saying that they hoped the meeting would result in concrete steps. “The opposition believes any positive outcomes from this meeting will depend on the coming steps toward real power sharing,” it said.

The opposition groups said the meeting, which took place at the crown prince’s palace upon his invitation, focused on parameters for reconciliation talks that aim to produce “a new political agreement” for a permanent solution leading to “equality and transition to a democratic monarchy.”

The tiny island nation of Bahrain, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, is ruled by a Sunni monarchy. The country’s majority Shiites began protesting in early 2011 to seek greater political rights from the country’s rulers. More than 65 people have died in the unrest, but rights groups and others place the death toll higher.

The two sides have not held high-level talks since neighboring Gulf countries, led by Saudi Arabia, sent troops to Bahrain to help quell the Shiite-led uprising. Repeated rounds of political talks have failed to significantly close the rifts between the two sides and the opposition is demanding amnesty for what they claim are more than 3,000 political prisoners held in Bahraini prisons. The most recent reconciliation talks were suspended after the head of al-Wefaq was banned from traveling abroad, forcing the government to call off the dialogue.

The government released a statement to journalists saying the meeting explored means of overcoming the challenges faced by attempts at dialogue recently. It said participants agreed to embark on a new phase of dialogue.

Al-Wefaq spokesman Abdul Jalil Khalil, who also attended Wednesday’s talks with the crown prince, told The Associated Press that his group was very direct and clear with their demands in the meeting. “We said Bahrain needs complete citizenship, meaning full rights… political and civil rights,” he said, adding that they also want a member of the ruling family to take part in reconciliation talks and not just government officials.

“It is not clear until now how far the government is willing to go with the opposition, but today’s meeting is considered a positive step,” Khalil said.

January 16, 2014

BEIRUT (AP) — The Syrian government allowed supplies to enter two contested front-line areas near the capital, a relief official said Thursday. Activists said the death toll from two weeks of infighting in the north between rebel forces and an al-Qaida-linked group climbed to more than 1,000 people.

The head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, Khaled Iriqsousi, told The Associated Press that enough supplies to feed 10,000 people for a month entered the Damascus suburbs of al-Ghezlaniya and Jdaidet al-Shibani on Thursday. The areas are east and west of the capital of a region known as Ghouta.

The government’s decision to permit the supplies to enter appeared to be a goodwill gesture on its part as well as an attempt to present itself as a responsible partner ahead of a peace conference scheduled to open next week in Switzerland. It was not clear whether the move was part of arrangement agreed to by Damascus and the main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, to allow humanitarian aid into some blocked-off areas.

That agreement was announced in Paris by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who together are working to ease the bloody strife that has engulfed Syria since an uprising there began nearly three years ago. A peace conference is scheduled to be held in Switzerland next week.

Earlier Thursday, United Nations Resident Coordinator Tareq al-Kurdi said U.N. organizations operating in Syria would start delivering urgent humanitarian aid to al-Ghezlaniya and Jdaidet al-Shibani. Iriqsousi said 30 trucks carrying 2,000 boxes of food entered the two areas without incident. He said each box is about 40 kilograms (88 pounds) and includes items like rice, lentils, baby formula, blankets and detergents.

“This is the first time we have reached this area. It is considered one of the entrances of Ghouta,” Iriqsousi said by telephone from Syria. “We hope that this will be the beginning for wider supply efforts.”

One of the areas hardest hit by food shortages in Syria is the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, where residents say 46 people have died since October of starvation, illnesses exacerbated by hunger or because they couldn’t obtain medical aid.

Iriqsousi said three recent attempts to enter the camp did not succeed. “We tried from all roads and the response was bullets,” he said, suggesting that profiteers might be responsible since they are benefiting from high food prices.

Also Thursday, an activist group said that two weeks of fighting between an al-Qaida-linked group and other rebel forces in Syria has killed more than 1,000 people. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists around Syria, said that the fighting in northern and eastern parts of the country killed 1,069 since the clashes began Jan. 3.

The fighting pitting the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other groups is the most serious among rebel forces since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. The Observatory said that the dead included 130 civilians — including 21 who were “executed” by “Islamic State” members.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that over the past two weeks her office has received reports of “a succession of mass executions of civilians and fighters who were no longer participating in hostilities in Aleppo, Idlib and Raqqa by hard-line armed opposition groups in Syria, in particular by the” Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

She warned that such executions violate international humanitarian law, and the numbers of such violations are thought to be alarmingly high. The Observatory reported heavy clashes between the “Islamic State” and other opposition groups in the northwestern town of Saraqeb where the Islamic group have been advancing for the past two days.

Mamdouh Jaloul, a Syrian activist from the northwestern province of Idlib who is currently in Turkey, said the town is witnessing “fierce street battles.” He said many of the town’s residents fled over the past two months as a result of intense government air raids, adding that the latest clash forced the few who stayed to flee to safer areas.

The Observatory said Islamic fighters advanced in the town from the northern and eastern sides and that there were casualties on both sides.

January 14, 2014

BEIRUT (AP) — Children, the elderly and others displaced by Syria’s civil war are starving to death in a besieged camp where women brave sniper fire to forage for food just minutes from the relative prosperity of Damascus.

The dire conditions at the Yarmouk camp are a striking example of the catastrophe unfolding in rebel-held areas blockaded by the Syrian government. U.S. and Russian diplomats said Monday the warring sides are considering opening humanitarian corridors to let in aid and build confidence ahead of an international peace conference on Syria.

Interviews with residents and U.N. officials, as well as photos and videos provided to The Associated Press, reveal an unfolding tragedy in the sprawling camp, where tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees and displaced Syrians are trapped under an intensifying yearlong blockade.

Forty-six people have died since October of starvation, illnesses exacerbated by hunger or because they couldn’t obtain medical aid, residents said. “There are no more people in Yarmouk, only skeletons with yellow skin,” said 27-year-old resident Umm Hassan, the mother of two toddlers.

“Children are crying from hunger. The hospital has no medicine. People are just dying,” she told the AP by telephone, adding that her 3-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son were rapidly losing weight from lack of food.

The dead include Isra al-Masri, an emaciated toddler who passed away on Saturday swaddled in a woolen sweater, her eyes sunken, her skin darkened, her swollen tongue wedged between her lips. The child was filmed minutes before her death, slowly blinking as she was held by an unidentified woman in a video sent to the AP by a 25-year-old resident, Sami Alhamzawi.

“Look at this child! Look at her!” the woman in the video shouts, thrusting the child before the camera. “What did she do to deserve this?” Other deaths suggest the extent of desperation among residents: Teenager Mazen al-Asali hung himself in late December after returning home without food to feed his starving mother. An elderly man was beaten to death by thieves who ransacked his home, looking for food and money.

Deaths have also been reported by opposition groups, activists and the United Nations. Similar casualty figures were reported by the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which documents Syrian casualties through a network of activists on the ground. The U.N. confirmed 15 deaths, but spokesman Chris Gunness said it was impossible to know the real toll because of restricted access.

“There is profound civilian suffering in Yarmouk, with widespread malnutrition and the absence of medical care,” Gunness said. “Children are suffering from diseases linked to severe malnutrition.” The camp and other blockaded areas pose a stark challenge for Syria’s government and the opposition, who agreed to consider opening humanitarian access in the run-up to a peace conference next week in Switzerland that would bring the sides together for the first time.

Speaking in the midst of a two-day series of meetings in Paris, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said they were also pressing for a cease-fire and prisoner exchange between the warring sides.

But hopes appear slim. The U.N. humanitarian chief said last month that an estimated 250,000 people in besieged communities in Syria were beyond the reach of aid. The government has kept outside aid sharply limited. Key humanitarian routes are increasingly cut off by the fighting, and kidnappings of aid workers are on the rise. Both Assad’s forces and rebels have used blockades to punish civilians.

Repeated efforts to bring food into Yarmouk have failed. Most recently, on Monday, six trucks loaded with U.N.-donated food to feed 10,000 people had to turn back after gunmen fired on the convoy, resident Alhamzawi said.

Some 160,000 Palestinians once lived in Yarmouk, a strategic prize for rebels and Assad forces for its close proximity to Damascus. They remained mostly neutral when the uprising began against Assad’s rule in March 2011.

But clashes erupted between pro- and anti-Assad Palestinian gunmen in December 2012, and most residents fled. The poorest, some 18,000 people, remained behind, according to U.N. estimates, along with tens of thousands of Syrians displaced from rebel-held areas that were seized back by the regime.

Pro-Assad Palestinian factions set up checkpoints around Yarmouk and progressively tightened a blockade of the area. By September, they banned residents from leaving, or food from entering. It also meant residents couldn’t reach U.N. aid that was distributed outside the camp. The U.N. stopped operating inside Yarmouk in December, because of the fighting.

As months have passed, Yarmouk’s poorest have run out of food, according to residents and the U.N. Families now dissolve spices in water and feed it to their children as soup. Some found animal feed, but residents suffered food poisoning after eating it.

A woman desperate to feed her children sneaked into a field surrounded by Syrian snipers to forage for mallow, a green herb. She was shot in the leg and hand, she said in a video uploaded by activists.

Lying on a bed, the woman’s bloodied hand shook as she wept, recounting how her children pleaded for food. She rushed into the field but heard gunfire and fell to the ground, bleeding and wounded. “For some mallow,” she wept. “To save us from death.”

The videos appear to be genuine and consistent with AP reporting on Yarmouk. Within the camp, misery lives amid fear and defiance. Civilians shrink into their homes at dusk, as armed gunmen roam the streets.

Earlier this week, thieves beat up an elderly resident, who later died in a hospital, Alhamzawi told the AP by telephone. They stole his money — and his food. “It’s chaos,” he said. Merchants bribe gunmen to sneak in food, but sell it at exorbitant prices. A kilo (2 pounds) of rice costs $50 — about half a month’s wage, residents said.

Despite the hardship, parents are still sending their famished children to school, where they are taught by hungry teachers, Umm Hassan said. “Officials said we should stop because the children are dizzy and falling down, but we refused,” she said.

In recent months, local truces have partly resolved blockades in other rebel-held areas, with gunmen agreeing to disarm in exchange for allowing in food for residents. The Yarmouk blockade appears to be the harshest yet, and the most intractable. Months of negotiations for rebels to disarm have failed, residents said.

An official of a pro-Assad Palestinian faction imposing the blockade said it wouldn’t be lifted until an estimated 3,000 rebels disarmed. “The regime forces won’t remove the siege on the camp as long as the militants are staying in it, and the militants won’t leave,” said the official, Husam Arafat.

In the meantime, Palestinians in the West Bank have been running a campaign to raise awareness of the siege. Protesters gathered outside the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, demanding he find a solution.

“History will curse us if you allow Yarmouk’s people to die of hunger,” one sign read.

Associated Press reporters Albert Aji in Damascus, Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, and Lara Jakes and Lori Hinnant in Paris contributed to this report.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The South African Ambassador to Palestine Professor M W Makalima has visited the Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday where the two discussed issues of mutual interest.

The ambassador thanked the prime minister for his message of solidarity with the South African people following the death of the late South African leader Nelson Mandela. Professor Makalima said that his visit was to express South Africa’s solidarity with Gaza Strip against the challenges it endures; particularly the Israeli siege and stressed that his country would continue to follow Mandela’s supportive approach towards the Palestinian people. Maklima quoted the late South African leader who said “our freedom is not complete until Palestine and its people are free. South Africa is fully engaged towards achieving this.”

Meanwhile Mr Haniyeh briefed the South African diplomat about the political developments in the Palestinian arena, mainly Palestinian national reconciliation, the results of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations and the future of the Palestinian issue and explained to him the difficult conditions experienced by the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip due to the siege. Mr Haniyeh also thanked the South African government for its supportive positions of the Palestinian people.

Source: Middle East Monitor.