Archive for June 14, 2014

Gaza City, Palestine (AFP)

April 14, 2014

Security forces in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip are using technology to practice shooting on laser simulators, saving money spent on ammunition in the cash-strapped Palestinian territory.

In a converted gym, four uniformed officers aim at targets with Kalashnikov assault rifles converted to fire beams of laser light, whose path is recorded on a computer in a control room and monitored by an instructor.

“Electronic shooting has great advantages,” said Colonel Mohammed al-Nakhala, head of training in Gaza’s National Security organization.

“This is a leap forward in training provided by the interior ministry which saves a great deal of ammunition, money and work,” he told AFP.

The ministry’s training director, Mahmud Shubaki, says the simulators allow trainees to practice extensively before graduating to use of live fire.

“On a real shooting range we are limited by the number of rounds we can fire,” he said.

Shubaki said four Kalashnikovs had been converted to fire electronically and fitted with an air-powered mechanism to simulate the recoil of shooting live rounds.

The 32-year-old Shubaki, who received military training in Algeria, said the new system had cut the cost of a firearms course from $20,000 to $1,000 (14,500 to 720 euros).

But trainee Omar al-Halabi, a 32-year-old lieutenant, said he prefers live fire exercises over the simulator which “feels like a video game”.

Hamas, shunned as a terrorist movement by Israel, the United States and the European Union, seized control of Gaza from the rival Fatah after a week of fierce fighting in 2007 but is undergoing a worsening budget crisis.

The Strip’s borders with Israel are tightly controlled by land, sea and air, and passage across the frontier with neighboring Egypt has been severely restricted since last July when its army deposed Hamas’ ally, president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Last month a Cairo court barred the militant Islamic group from operating in Egypt and said it would seek to seize the movement’s assets there.

After Morsi’s overthrow, the army destroyed hundreds of smuggling tunnels under the border, reducing the flow of cash to Hamas coffers.

It is now struggling to pay the wages of 51,000 civil servants and budget cuts will no longer be able to spare the security services.

Hamas officials and security personnel, whose fuel bills were in the past paid in full by the government, are now being asked to pay half from their own pockets, security sources say.

And police are moving over more and more to using motorcycles rather than cars because of constant fuel shortages.

The destroyed tunnels were widely used for the import of fuel, food, construction materials and military supplies.

Source: Space War.


Tuesday, 01 April 2014

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip took to the streets yesterday evening to celebrate the victory of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Palestinians described the resounding victory of Erdogan’s party as a kind of “landslide victory” for political Islam when it has a free democratic atmosphere.

Gaza residents respect Turkey because of its outspoken stances against the Israeli-Egyptian, internationally backed, siege on them.

Turkey has refused to restore diplomatic relations with Israel before the latter lifts the siege on Gaza and allows Turkish aid organizations access.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


07 Jun 2014

Women in Jordan earn money by expertly crafting a traditional yogurt sauce called Jameed.

Karak, Jordan – Nouf al-Jarajreh, better known as Um Faisal, has become a national icon for making Jameed, a Jordanian specialty consisting of balls of salted and dried yogurt, made with sheep or goat milk.

The yogurt acts as a key ingredient in Jordan’s famous lamb-based dish, Mansaf, which symbolizes Bedouin hospitality. Jordanians say the country’s Bedouin citizens invented Jameed so that they would have something to offer their guests year-round.

“Our Bedouin ancestors are generous people and their main concern was to provide guests with something to eat,” said Um Faisal, as she sipped cardamom-flavored coffee beneath an arch of grapevines in her garden.

After her husband’s alleged death by gunshot in Iraq, where he worked as a truck driver, 20 years ago, she became the sole breadwinner for her eight children.

“If life turns against you, you have to turn to your skills,” she told Al Jazeera. “I began making Jameed to sell it.”

Now, the 70-year-old uses modern technology to make the traditional dish, and producing enough to meet orders from hundreds of clients.

Abu Mahmoud, a local farmer, delivers fresh sheep’s milk to Um Faisal every day during the early hours of the morning. Jameed’s busy season runs between March and May, and according to local folklore, the city of Karak is known as the best place to make it.

The secret lies in the quality of milk that sheep produce in Jordan’s southern governorate, Um Faisal explained. “Here, [Karak] herds get to eat some herbs like Artemisia and Achillea, which makes the milk taste better,” she said, as stirred the milk in steady circles with a big wooden spoon.

Once foam forms on top of the milk, Um Faisal switches the stove off and lets it cool. She then works on perfecting homemade yogurt – made by mixing the milk with active cultures and some ready-made yogurt – which she later leaves to ferment for 24 hours.

Meanwhile, she opens plastic buckets of already-made yogurt from the night before and pours them, with some ice, in a whirlpool washing machine for about 20 minutes. “Ice is crucial here as it picks up butter very well,” Um Faisal explained.

Decades ago, before washing machines existed, women would use a piece of goat leather, known as Sigaa, and hung it between two wooden sticks. “By moving Siqaa back and forth, butter would form from the mixture of yogurt and cool water brought from the well… It was really hard work for us,” Um Faisal said.

This year, Um Faisal has upgraded to a locally-designed washing machine, specifically used to produce Jameed in large quantities. As the machine swirls, butter begins to build in the middle, and the yogurt turns into a creamy liquid known as Shaneenah.

Um Faisal’s daughter, Lamya, brings out cotton sheets, which they fill with the liquid after it had cooled. During the busy season of Jameed, the 29-year-old beautician takes some time off from work to help her mother. “I can only help with simple things as I have not mastered the art of making Jameed yet,” Lamya said.

They fill several bags carefully and slowly without wasting a drop. After they filled each bag, they squeeze all the juice and then rope it. “This is important to drain all the whey,” Um Faisal said.

Finally, Um Faisal lines Jameed balls in rows on the table in her veranda, which is covered with a clear, cotton cloth. “I would leave them to dry here for a few days before taking them out,” she said. “Jameed is sensitive to heat and dust, especially during its first few days.”

During Jameed season, her terrace space functions as a drying and display space. She has trays of Jameed lined up to dry and to sell for clients, and says that she can make up to 100 balls of Jameed per hour.

Um Faisal has produced an average of 5,000kg of Jameed every year for the past 20 years, she says. She has regular clients who buy it every season, and who recommend her work to others.

An increasing number of women have begun producing the traditional food for extra income.

“In recent years, selling Jameed has become a major source of income for several families, especially those headed by women,” said Wesal Qsous, president of Women of Shihan Mountain Association.

“We have seen that women turn their basic knowledge and home kitchens into a workstation to survive financial hardships,” she said.

Fahmi Zubi, a member of the Jordanian anthropologists society, says changes to the economic situation of families have made certain social behavior acceptable.

“It used to be terribly shameful if a Bedouin sold Jameed and that is why families made enough to save for them and for their guests,” he told Al Jazeera.

“But economical systems have evolved from self sufficiency and bartering to capitalism, certain social norms and values have changed,” he added.

Despite increasing demand for Jameed, Um Faisal is concerned about keeping the tradition of making Jameed alive. “It has become commercialized as more people make it to live off it,” she said. “Maintaining good quality is the key challenge, as more elderly die without training youngsters to do that.”

Source: al-Jazeera.


May 26, 2014

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Jordan expelled Syria’s top envoy Monday, prompting Damascus to do the same in a diplomatic tussle that could signal the start of unraveling ties between the neighbors.

The move came a week before an election in Syria expected to keep President Bashar Assad in power. The highly contentious vote, being held amid a ferocious civil war, has been called a mockery by Western countries.

It was unclear what specifically caused Jordan to expel Syrian Ambassador Bahjat Suleiman. Jordan has hosted an envoy from Syria since the start of the 2011 uprising despite quietly supporting rebels trying to overthrow Assad.

Suleiman was ordered to leave the country within 24 hours in a humiliating public announcement first made on state-run media. He was declared persona non grata because of “continued offensive statements, through his personal contacts or writing in the media and the social media, against the kingdom,” Jordanian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Sabah al-Rafie said in a statement carried by the state-run Petra news agency.

His statements were a “sheer departure from all diplomatic norms and conventions,” she said. Al-Rafie said Suleiman used Jordan as a platform to offend other Arab countries, likely referring to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both chief supporters of the Syrian rebels.

Syrian officials and diplomats regularly launch diatribes against the leaders of those countries and Turkey. Soon after the announcement from Amman about Suleiman, Syria’s Foreign Ministry said it would expel the Jordanian charge d’affaires in retaliation, although he was not in the country. It said it requested the Jordanian Embassy in Damascus to inform the diplomat that he is banned from entering Syria.

“Jordan’s reprehensible and unjustifiable decision does not reflect the deep fraternal relations between the two peoples in Syria and Jordan,” it said. Jordanian Information Minister Mohammad al-Momani said the ambassador to Syria retired a month ago and a replacement had not been assigned.

The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, welcomed Jordan’s move, calling it an “important step” in supporting the Syrian people. In a statement, the coalition urged other Arab states to follow Jordan’s lead to increase the Assad government’s isolation.

Experts expressed surprise at the Jordanian announcement, saying it was not in keeping with diplomatic protocol. “The dramatic way he was expelled was strange. It’s as if Jordan is cutting off its diplomatic relations with Syria,” said analyst Hisham Jaber, a retired brigadier general in the Lebanese military.

“The ambassador could have been summoned, and a complaint could have been lodged. But to say: ‘Get out’ — that’s very tough.” A Facebook page created by Suleiman’s supporters suggested his defiance and loyalty to Assad. The “Network of those who love Mr. Ambassador Dr. Bahjat Suleiman” posted what it said was his expulsion notice from Jordan. The page later contained a photo claiming to show Suleiman being carried on the shoulders of his backers. “Syria needs you more,” was emblazoned across it.

Suleiman had headed one of Syria’s most powerful internal intelligence branches and was sent to Jordan as ambassador in 2009, perhaps after a falling out with Assad’s inner circle, Jaber and Syria analyst Aron Lund said.

It was unclear if the diplomatic tussle will have any long-lasting repercussions, including on the two countries’ shared border. Rebels control Syria’s borders with Iraq and Turkey, leaving only the Lebanese and Jordanian border posts in the government’s hands. The corridor with Jordan allows Syrian products to reach wealthy Gulf markets, helping an economy shattered by three years of civil war.

Jordan also hosts nearly 600,000 registered Syrian refugees — although Jordanian officials say the number is far higher. In an interview with The Associated Press, Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdel-Karim Ali, said the upcoming election will be the resounding answer to those who doubt Assad’s government will prevail in the conflict. He said he expects a huge turnout for the vote, to be held abroad Wednesday and inside Syria on June 3.

He said Western leaders such as U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande criticize and oppose the election because they fear the results.

“The Syrian people will say their word in these elections, and their word is the one that counts. Not Obama’s word, Cameron’s or Hollande’s,” Ali said. Assad is all but guaranteed victory because opposition groups are boycotting the vote, which will only be held in government-held areas of the fragmented country. Rebels control vast territory of Syria.

More than 160,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since the uprising began in March 2011 and became a civil war.

Associated Press writers Omar Akour in Amman, Maamoun Youssef in Cairo and Diaa Hadid in Beirut contributed to this report.

8 May 2014

By Essam Mohamed

Tripoli — Less than 48 hours after being elected Libya’s interim premier, Ahmed Miitig announced his government’s priorities.

“After consulting with opinion-makers, I’ll try to form a slimmed-down crisis government taking national consensus into consideration as much as possible,” Libya’s youngest and fifth premier since Kadhafi’s ouster said on state TV Tuesday (May 6th).

Miitig was confirmed as the next premier by the General National Congress (GNC) on Monday and given 15 days to form a government. He quickly vowed to focus on security.

“This requires us to activate the general investigations and intelligence agencies as soon as possible,” he said, adding: “We shall take decisive security measures and build the military and security institutions according to advanced standards.”

He also said he would focus on “activating the judiciary and national reconciliation”, providing work opportunities and diversifying the economy into production, services and knowledge.

“This is in addition to restructuring public services so all can take part in building the nation,” he noted.

“We need to co-operate with the international community to complete the march we started three years ago,” he added. “Building the state won’t be made by seclusion, doubts or accusations of treason, but through openness and interaction with the other and pursuit of joint interests.”

The premier also called for respecting diplomatic missions. “The government will repel all those who manipulate Libya’s national security,” he vowed.

“We’ll use the democratic process and maintain the peaceful nature of transfer of power,” he concluded, pledging to ensure suitable conditions for the upcoming elections.

According to political analyst Ashraf al-Shoh, Miitig’s speech meant “to give indications and reassure public opinion that he won’t resort to political quotas”.

“We have a government that doesn’t govern, and we have an army, but in the form of armed groups,” he noted.

“The government’s mission won’t be easy,” the analyst told Magharebia. “Time is short until the next House of Representatives is elected.”

He added: “Appointing Miitig will renew hopes about taking tough security measures in Libya.”

The government “must form a crisis team to deal with the security deterioration in Libya using foreign experts”, he said.

Libyans were mostly hopeful about the new appointment.

“Let the new government take over and move forward; we’ve had enough stumbles and we don’t want to go backwards and see disputes with the General National Congress (GNC),” said teacher Mahasen Beshir.

“It seems that the Islamic current wants to monopolize power in Libya after it fell in Egypt and retracted in Tunisia,” journalist Youssef Ali said. “However, I think the head of new government will stand at the same distance from all political entities; at least he has said so.”

In his turn, public sector employee Salem Bin Amer said, “Libya needs a government of deeds. I hope this government will be strong and handle the security file so the economy can be revitalized. Without security, nothing will be achieved.”

Economics student Suleiman Ibrahim praised al-Thani’s government for announcing that Ansar al-Sharia was responsible for the attack on Benghazi security directorate. “Previous governments always talked about an unknown armed group,” he said.

“I ask Miitig to move in the same direction so he can win people’s approval and so that he can have a strong government capable of controlling the situation,” he added.

Source: allAfrica.


by Nazim Fethi

12 June 2014

Algiers — The idea that radical Islamists held responsible for the “Black Decade” would ever return to the Algerian political scene once seemed impossible. Not anymore.

For the first time since the 1990s, the government invited certain leaders of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and its armed wing, the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS), to take part in a dialogue.

The FIS has never come as close to making a political comeback as it has now, with an offer from the government to join discussions about Algeria’s constitution.

Although invitations were extended to several figures from the former FIS, only Islamic Salvation Army (AIS) leader Madani Mezrag has accepted. The other founding members of the party, such as Abassi Madani and the more outspoken Ali Belhadj have refused to take part, as has Abdelkader Boukhamkham.

Talks on proposed amendments to the Algeria constitution kicked off on June 1st. Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal has said that national reconciliation should be consolidated, which suggests that steps will be taken in relation to the ex-leaders of the former FIS.

As well as inviting the members of the group to the negotiating table, the authorities lifted the ban on their leaving the country. Other measures are expected.

Out in the countryside, however, forgiveness is hard to find.

In Haouch Gros, a stronghold of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), the scars of the “Black Decade” are still present. On the old farms where makeshift homes have been built, every family has a story.

“Here, there are families of terrorists and families of patriots,” said 60-year-old Saadia Louzni, who lost her sons, husbands and neighbors. “We still glare at each other and we don’t forgive.”

“It’s up to them if they want to talk about reconciliation or politics, but here the memory of the people we lost continues to haunt us and the idea of vengeance has never left us,” she told Magharebia.

Another hamlet on the vast Mitidja Plain, Bentalha, was the site of the biggest massacre of all: 400 people killed in one night.

“I was ten years old,” said Rachid Hamouni, 30. “I lost my parents, my brothers and my sisters. I was only narrowly saved by my aunt, who hid me underneath the bodies of my sisters. My life can never be normal again.”

“So when I hear talk of reconciliation, of a return of the FIS or an amnesty, it’s as if the scene of the crime committed against my family right in front of me is being recreated,” he noted.

He delivered a parting message: “Tell the authorities that they murder us once again every time they give gifts to the terrorists and the politicians who were guiding them.”

Students at the Faculty of Law in Algiers also expressed concerns over the potential return of the FIS.

“We’re not against religion, we’re against the parties that want to use religion to stir up disorder, as is currently happening in Libya, Egypt and Syria,” Karim Haddad told Magharebia.

“Every time people talk about a revolution, they bring out these religious extremists,” the student added. “We’ve experienced this and we saw what it led to. If the authorities would like to rehabilitate these Islamists, they must demand that they seek forgiveness from the people.”

Meanwhile, the government is attempting to reassure the public about the rumored legalization of the FIS.

“The FIS, as a party, is not on our agenda,” El Watan quoted the prime minister as saying on Tuesday (June 10th).

Source: allAfrica.


May 24, 2014

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — A prominent human rights activist in Bahrain was released from prison on Saturday after spending nearly two years behind bars.

Nabeel Rajab, who heads the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was sentenced to three years in 2012 on charges of encouraging “illegal gatherings” tied to anti-government protests in the country. An appeals court later reduced his term by a year.

After his release from prison, Rajab was greeted by dozens of supporters and stopped to visit his mother’s grave before heading home. The activist is a key icon for the protest movement against the Gulf Arab monarchy’s Sunni rulers. Since 2011, the country’s majority Shiites have been protesting, demanding greater rights and political freedoms.

A statement from the Bahrain Center for Human Rights said Rajab was imprisoned for “advocating peaceful demonstrations to defend the civil and human rights of all the citizens in the country.” Rajab told The Associated Press that he is happy to be out after more than 600 days in prison, and called for the release of all political prisoners. He said stability can only be achieved “through respect for human rights.”

“After two years in prison, I see Bahrain’s political environment as more difficult and still without a roadmap for real reforms,” he said. In mid-2012, Rajab was also sentenced to three months for his comments on Twitter about Bahrain’s prime minister. His conviction was overturned on appeal during his prison sentence for taking part in protests.

Also on Saturday, thousands of people marched in a funeral for 15-year old Sayed Mohsen, who died during protests earlier this week in Sitra, south of the capital, Manama. The procession turned violent when mourners clashed with security forces nearby. Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Mohsen’s family and the country’s main opposition group Al Wifaq said the teenager died after being shot in the chest at close range with bird shot — a weapon commonly used by Bahraini police. The country’s Interior Ministry said police were investigating the circumstances of the death. The ministry said police in Sitra reacted after being attacked with firebombs Wednesday during a funeral procession of a man who had died earlier in a bomb blast.

“While the specific circumstances in which Sayed Mohsen was shot remain unclear, the use of force in policing public assemblies … must conform to the requirements of necessity and proportionality; and firearms may only be used as a last resort,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

The rights group urged an independent and transparent inquiry into the teenager’s death. The opposition in Bahrain, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, claims that at least 100 people have been killed in the past three years of protests.