Archive for August, 2015


August 27, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — First they egged the prime minister’s building. Then they dumped some of the garbage piling up on Beirut’s streets outside the home of the environment minister, furious the government couldn’t get its act together to find a solution when Lebanon’s main landfill shut down.

But perhaps the most electrifying move by the young, tech-savvy group of activists was when they spread their catchy slogan “You Stink” across social media. It helped turn the trash crisis into a popular uprising against a political class that has dominated Lebanon since its civil war ended in 1990.

The core founders of “You Stink” include one of the Middle East’s most influential bloggers, as well as a creative media strategist, a rights lawyer, journalists and an actress whose film was banned by authorities for addressing touchy sexual issues. The group quickly picked up supporters from across the spectrum of Lebanon’s divisive politics and sects.

“We are the future of this country and the agents of change. If the youth didn’t do this, no one will do it,” said Nadyn Jouny, a 25-year-old freelance journalist who is among the group’s founding members.

She said the movement was a reflection of the growing frustration with an aging and corrupt political class that has failed to even show concern for people’s woes. She called it “the regime of the warlords.”

“You Stink” claims to have set aside ideology in its effort to mobilize support for an uprising against the political establishment. It says it seeks to ditch a patronage system that divvies up power to each of Lebanon’s multiple communities — Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, Druze and more — in favor of a non-sectarian culture.

That system has been the center of Lebanese politics for decades and helped fuel the 15-year civil war — and critics say it leads politicians to spend more time cultivating their sectarian fiefdoms than actually governing.

“You Stink” is up against aging warlords and oligarchs who have passed power on to their sons and relatives for generations — and continue to hold the country’s top positions with expansive business interests and powerful militias that helped them survive the war. Consecutive governments neglected to improve the country’s infrastructure, leading to chronic water shortages and electricity cuts that continue 25 years after the war ended.

“The corruption has been around for so long. But the people have also now smelled it,” said Tarek Sarhan, a 17-year-old “You Stink” supporter. Jouny said the stench from the mounds of trash that blocked Beirut streets was a wake-up call to residents who took pride in their beautiful city. Two major rallies over the weekend brought some 20,000 people into the streets of the capital, numbers rarely seen in a country wary of the chaos in neighboring Syria.

The last time large numbers took to the streets was a decade ago, after the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hundreds of thousands of people from all sects demonstrated in peaceful rallies that were dubbed the “Cedar Revolution.” Those protests eventually led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon after a decades-old presence — but sectarian politics quickly returned.

The idea for “You Stink” began on Facebook, and the group has tried to avoid the mistakes of other Arab protest movements by reaching out to existing youth organizations to help coordinate, Jouny said.

Neamat Bader al-Deen is a leftist activist with a group that calls itself “We Want Accountability,” one of several organizations collaborating with the movement. “We are asking the government to resign because it failed to resolve the crises,” the 34-year-old Bader al-Deen said. “We will not let this pass. This is robbery.”

Sarhan said his father initially ridiculed the group’s symbolic protests. But when thousands turned up at the allies last weekend, his father called to offer support. “Keep it up, son,” he says his father said.

At first the veteran politicians ignored the protesters. But after the crowds grew and turned violent over the weekend, the government erected a concrete wall Monday outside its main building to keep them at bay.

Within hours, the wall was filled with anti-government grafitti. On Tuesday, authorities took it down, just 24 hours after it went up. Now, politicians are trying to co-opt the young grass-roots movement. A main Christian party has called on its supporters to join the next “You Stink” protest on Saturday.

“The parties want to spoil the movement … because it is becoming popular and that is scaring them,” Jouny said. She said to ensure the group reflects the mood on the street it scans views on social media before making decisions. Several hundred volunteers have been prepped on strategies to ensure violent clashes don’t erupt at Saturday’s rally, which is being promoted with a video decrying Lebanon’s endemic electricity shortages.

Assad Thebian, one of the country’s best-known bloggers and the winner of an Arab creative digital campaign award, said attempts to stymie the movement will fail. That’s because young men and women fed up with the sectarian system are its backbone, he said.

“They are disgusted with the same political class robbing them, and sucking their blood all their lives, same as their fathers and their grandfathers,” he said. “This is something we want to get rid of. We want to all become children of the state.”

May 21, 2015

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Islamic State militants overran the famed archaeological site at Palmyra early on Thursday, just hours after seizing the central Syrian town, activists and officials said, raising concerns the extremists might destroy some of the priceless ruins as they have done in neighboring Iraq.

The Islamic State’s capture of the town of Palmyra late Wednesday was a stunning triumph for the militant group, only days after it captured the strategic city of Ramadi in Iraq’s largest Sunni province.

As IS took Palmyra, government forces collapsed in the face of the attacks and Syrian soldiers were seen fleeing the area, activists said. In Damascus, state TV acknowledged that pro-government forces had withdrawn from the town.

Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the extremists overrun the archaeological site, just to the southwest of the town itself, shortly after midnight Wednesday.

An activist in Homs who goes by the name of Bebars al-Talawy also confirmed that IS now controls the ruins at Palmyra. Both activists said that the militants had not damaged the site so far. The ruins at Palmyra are one of the world’s most renowned historic sites and there were fears the extremists would destroy them as they did major archaeological sites in Iraq. The UNESCO world heritage site is famous for its 2,000-year-old towering Roman-era colonnades and other ruins and priceless artifacts. Before the war, thousands of tourists a year visited the remote desert outpost, a cherished landmark referred to by Syrians as the “Bride of the Desert.”

In Damascus, Maamoun Abdul-Karim, the head of the Antiquities and Museum Department, said Palmyra’s town museum had suffered “minor damages” during the IS onslaught. “The city is now totally controlled by gunmen and its destiny is dark and dim,” warned Abdul-Karim. “We are in a state of anticipation and fear” about what will happen to “the archaeological site and the remaining artifacts in the museum.”

Before the fall, hundreds of “the most precious and beautiful” pieces from Palmyra were taken to safe houses in Damascus, he added. Also Thursday, many Palmyra residents were fleeing the town toward the city of Homs and the capital, Damascus, according to Talal Barazi, the governor of the central province of Homs, which includes Palmyra.

The Syrian army is now outside the town, from where it is targeting Islamic State reinforcements, he said. “We have not received any news about (the archaeological site’s) destruction,” Barazi told The Associated Press. “We hope that there will be no massacres in the city or damage to the ruins.”

Palmyra has a population of some 65,000 people, according to Barazi. He added that 1,300 residents fled over the past days and more were trying to leave on Thursday. On Wednesday, the head of the U.N.’s cultural agency called on Syria’s warring factions to immediately end hostilities within the archaeological site.

“I am deeply concerned by the situation at the site of Palmyra. The fighting is putting at risk one of the most significant sites in the Middle East and its civilian population,” UNESCO chief Irina Bokova said in a statement.

She urged all parties to respect international obligations to protect cultural heritage during conflict. In taking Palmyra, IS also overran the town’s notorious Tadmur prison, where thousands of Syrian dissidents have been imprisoned and tortured over the years.

An amateur video posted online showed IS fighters setting a giant poster of President Bashar Assad, allegedly inside the prison in Palmyra, cheering as flames rose around them against the night sky. The video and its location could not be independently verified but appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting of the events.

Al-Talawy, the Homs activist, said the government had recently transferred thousands of detainees from the Palmyra prison to a jail near Damascus. But he added that IS extremists freed some of those who were still inside by the time they captured the prison. He could not provide any definitive figures but there were believed to have been thousands prisoners still there.

The Observatory said that with the capture of Palmyra and surrounding areas in recent weeks, IS now controls half of Syria — and most of the country’s oil wells. Despite the stunning victory by IS in Palmyra and Iraq, the extremists suffered a setback in Syria’s northeastern province of Hassakeh, where they have come under attack by Kurdish fighters.

The Kurdish fighters captured much of the Abdul-Aziz Mountain near the village of Tel Tamr on Wednesday, according to the Observatory and the Kurdish forces known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG.

The Observatory said YPG fighters were backed by airstrikes of the U.S.-led coalition, which has been bombing IS positions in Syria since September.

Mroue reported from Beirut.

August 27, 2015

Kuala Lumpur: A top Malaysian pop singer officially proclaimed her conversion to Islam during a press conference held at Astro on Tuesday, confirming rumors about embracing Islam after being spotted wearing hijab, according to media reports.

Rumors about Akademi Fantasia Season 6 champion’s reversion to Islam were circulated on social networking sites after she had appeared in a video taking the Islamic declaration of faith while dressed in hijab.

The 25-year-old star officially converted to Islam at the Johor Baru religious office in Johor and took a Muslim name, Ummu Syaikhah Stacy binti Anam.

The pop star, who has four albums, hopes that fans wouldn’t question her conversion to Islam. “I have fallen in love with Islam and I am ready to embrace it with all my heart,” she said.

Being in a relationship with a Muslim popular actor and TV personality Akim Ahmad was not the reason behind her conversion to Islam.

“Being a Muslim is a huge responsibility. There are a lot of things that I need to learn.

“So my focus now is to learn to become a good Muslimah first, before I can think about marriage,” she added.

Last month, two popular African footballers; Emmanuel Emenike and Emmanuel Adebayor reportedly converted to Islam.

Source: The Siasat Daily.

Link: http://www.siasat.com/news/i-have-fallen-love-islam-reverted-malaysian-pop-star-823004/.

Baku, Azerbaijan (UPI)

Oct 7, 2011

Azerbaijan is expected to acquire 60 small Israeli-designed unmanned aerial vehicles built under license in the oil-rich former Soviet republic that’s moving closer to the Jewish state as the Baku government modernizes its military.

The burgeoning military and intelligence alliance between the countries is causing growing concern in Iran, Azerbaijan’s southern neighbor, and in nearby longtime rival Armenia.

The Israeli Aerostar and Orbiter 2M UAVs are being manufactured by Baku’s Azad Systems Co., a joint venture between Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry and Aeronautics Defense Systems of Israel.

That’s the country’s third largest UAV manufacturer after Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit Systems.

Around 70 percent of the components are produced in Israel, the rest in Azerbaijan.

Sixty of the drones are to be delivered to Azerbaijan’s armed forces by the end of the year, primarily for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

Azerbaijan’s military already operates Elbit Systems’ Hermes 450 and IAI’s Searcher reconnaissance drones, as well as some of Aeronautics Defense Systems’ Aerostar and Orbiter craft.

Azerbaijan Minister of Defense Industry Yavar Jamalov told the Azerbaijan Press Agency that Baku is considering the production of missile-armed UAVs within the next two years, a development guaranteed to deepen Iranian and Armenian concerns.

The UAV deal with Azerbaijan allows Israeli manufacturers to pick up some of the slack that appeared when Israel’s strategic military alliance with Turkey collapsed in 2010.

APA reported that Aeronautics Defense Systems beat out several Turkish defense firms, including TAI, Baykar Makina and Global Teknik, for the UAV venture set up in March.

Azerbaijan, which lies in the energy-rich Caspian Basin, has oil reserves of more than 1.2 billion barrels as well as 4.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. It is one of Israel’s largest suppliers of crude oil.

Last Sunday, Israel’s air force marked the 40th anniversary of the formation of its first UAV unit, Squadron 200 at the Palmachim Air Base on the Mediterranean coast south of Tel Aviv from where IAI satellites are launched.

The squadron was equipped with a drone named the Scout, built by what was then Israel Aircraft Industries, and became operational in October 1981. The Scout made its combat debut in the June 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

That campaign evolved into a counter-terrorism conflict that has dragged on to this day, even after Israeli withdrew from its last foothold in south Lebanon in May 2000.

In the years since the Scout took to the skies, but particularly after 9/11, Israel has become one of the world’s leading UAV manufacturers, second only to the United States.

The Israeli Defense Ministry’s defense export and defense cooperation arm, known as SIBAT, says Israel’s export of counter-terrorism systems, including UAVs, has risen from $2 billion a year 10 years ago to nearly $7 billion.

Defense experts expect the export of counter-terrorism systems to increase.

“The threats aren’t getting any smaller,” SIBAT Deputy Director Itamar Graff told Bamahane, the armed forces’ magazine.

“We constantly cope with terrorist threats ?The world’s moving in the direction of dealing with terrorist threats.

“On issues such as home front protection, shore security and missile defense, people from around the world come to learn from us,” Graff said.

“We’re dealing with a variety of possible threats and we’ll continue to be a dominant and significant factor in the world.”

The Scout was retired in 2004. It was replaced by, among others, IAI’s Searcher, which carried advanced navigation, communication and sensor systems and is in service with 10 countries.

IAI has since developed the long-endurance, 1-ton Heron that can operate at altitudes of 30,000 feet and can loiter over targets for 24 hours.

The Heron Turbo Prop, known as the Eitan, introduced into military service with Squadron 210 in February 2010, is the air force’s largest and most sophisticated unmanned aerial system.

Its takeoff weight is 5 tons and can carry payloads of 2,200 pounds. It has a wingspan of 84 feet, about the same as a Boeing 737. It can stay airborne for 24 hours and has a range of around 650 miles.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Azeris_get_Israel_UAVs_built_under_license_999.html.

28 April 2015 Tuesday

The ISIL armed group may have gained a firm foothold beyond the Middle East and North Africa for the first time, after Nigeria’s Boko Haram adopted the name “ISIL’s West Africa Province” (ISWAP).

The Nigerian armed group’s leader Abubakar Shekau pledged allegiance to ISIL last month, but the diffuse organization had appeared to continue to operate under its official name.

But now propaganda materials shared by ISIL-affiliated social media accounts have dropped both those names for ISWAP, and appear to share the slick production values and brazen style more usually associated with members in Syria and Iraq.

The images show Boko Haram members toting guns and with their faces visible for the first time – with the exception of figurehead Shekau, group members have previously been reluctant to reveal their identities.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/158459/boko-haram-changes-its-name-to-isil-in-west-africa.

March 31, 2015

Beirut (AFP) – The Islamic State jihadist group Tuesday executed at least 37 civilians, including two children, in a raid on a regime-held village in Hama province of central Syria, a monitor said.

IS “executed at least 37 people, including women and children, by burning, beheading, and firing on them” in the village of Mabujeh, said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Syrian state television reported that 44 people were killed and 21 injured in the raid.

Mabujeh, east of the provincial capital Hama, has a population of Sunni Muslims as well as Alawites and Ismailis, minority sects that are offshoots of Shiite Islam.

IS has regularly targeted minority sects in Syria, especially Shiite Muslims it accuses of apostasy, as well as Sunnis who it alleges have violated its interpretation of Islam.

Mabujeh lies near a vital road that serves as the regime’s only link between the central province of Homs and the northern province of Aleppo.

IS militants have repeatedly tried to sever the route.

In late March, the extremist group killed 83 regime soldiers in the region in a bid to gain control over the road.

In northwest Syria, the Observatory said Tuesday, at least 32 people were killed in government air strikes on the city of Idlib in the past 48 hours.

Regime forces lost control of the city Saturday to a coalition of Islamist forces led by Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.

In Geneva, the UN’s human rights office said it was worried about the situation in the city.

“We are deeply concerned by the human rights situation in Idlib” after the rebel takeover, spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly said at a briefing.

Pouilly said the UN was concerned about reports of an attack on a hospital run by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in the city.

Syria’s Red Crescent published photos of destruction at its Idlib hospital on Facebook, but did not give details on how it had been damaged.

Pouilly also voiced UN concerns over the fate of Fuaa and Kafraya, two Shiite-majority villages near Idlib city.

One of the leaders of the Islamist coalition that captured Idlib warned Sunday that the two villages would be targeted if the regime bombed Idlib.

Syria’s conflict began with peaceful demonstrations in 2011 but has since spiralled into a bloody civil war that has left more than 215,000 people dead.

August 26, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — The powerful Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah threw its weight Tuesday behind mass protests calling for the government’s resignation, deepening a crisis that started over piles of uncollected garbage in the streets of the capital but has tapped into a much deeper malaise.

The explosion of anger targets the endemic corruption, hapless government and sectarian divisions of a brittle country once torn by civil war and now struggling with a wave of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.

A grassroots youth movement calling itself “You Stink” mobilized thousands of people in two rallies over the weekend, and has called for another large protest on Saturday. The Hezbollah announcement of support for the protests is likely to fuel concerns the Iranian-backed group will try to hijack a rare, non-political movement for its own political gain.

Hezbollah ministers and their allies walked out of a Cabinet meeting Tuesday meant to discuss the worsening garbage crisis. Prime Minister Tammam Salam called the emergency session after the weekend clashes between security forces and demonstrators protesting corruption and poor public services.

The six ministers withdrew four hours into the meeting. Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil, whose Free Patriotic Movement is aligned with Hezbollah, said he was pulling out because of the political “theater” surrounding the trash issue.

During the Cabinet session, ministers unanimously rejected the winning bidders to manage Beirut’s trash collection, citing high costs and a bidding procedure some said was questionable. The Cabinet tasked a ministerial committee with restarting the bidding, meaning no imminent solution to the crisis was likely.

Salam suggested dumping the garbage in the remote, impoverished region of Akkar, which has been neglected for decades, in exchange for $100 million in development projects as an incentive. That further riled the protesters. “Akkar is not a garbage dump!” read the slogan on one protester’s T-shirt.

The trash crisis has exacerbated the long-existing fault lines in Lebanon which in recent years have pitted the Iranian-backed Hezbollah against the country’s Western-aligned, pro-Saudi camp. Those divisions mirror the larger regional Shiite-Sunni divide, and have long paralyzed the government.

Although Salam’s government has elements from both camps, Hezbollah regards the prime minister as an ally of Saudi Arabia. The Shiite group’s ally, Christian leader Michel Aoun, has been assailing the prime minister over his handling of Cabinet and security appointments.

In a statement Tuesday, Hezbollah said the garbage crisis reflected the “endemic and accumulated corruption of the past two decades” and policies that only serve “personal and political interests at the expense of citizens.” It said holding peaceful protests was a legitimate right.

A columnist in the daily An-Nahar newspaper accused Hezbollah of exploiting the “You Stink” movement for its own agenda. Tarek Sarhan, a 17-year-old “You Stink” supporter, said there would always be groups that try to manipulate grass-roots movements for their own political gains in a country like Lebanon.

The protesters say they are fed up with leaders they accuse of caring only about lining their own pockets and a system they say ensures incessant bickering and paralysis. They contend the entire trash crisis is about which politicians get the bigger cut from waste management contracts.

Meanwhile, the political paralysis continues. The country’s politicians have been unable to decide on a president, a post reserved for a Christian in a sectarian power-sharing system, for over a year. According to that system, the prime minister must be a Sunni and the parliament speaker a Shiite. The current parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, has been in his post for 23 years.

Parliament has extended its term twice without elections and has been paralyzed because some lawmakers insist a president be elected first. Government has not made any substantial decisions as rival parties bicker over the decision-making process in Cabinet in the absence of a president to preside over the sessions.

Anger about the heaps of trash accumulating in Beirut’s streets boiled over this week, with thousands protesting the government’s failure to deliver basic services. The protests turned violent over the weekend, prompting the government to erect a concrete wall outside its main building to prevent protesters from reaching it.

Within hours, the wall was filled with anti-government graffiti. “State of Shabiha,” one young man scrawled, an Arabic term for thugs. Another drawing showed a man’s body wrapped in a black cloth below a caption that read: “The shroud of the state.”

On Tuesday, authorities began removing the wall, just 24 hours after it was installed. “They won’t fool us by removing the wall,” said Sarhan, the You Stink supporter. “Remove it or not, we don’t care. We want… an end to sectarianism. We want to build a state,” he said.

“This is a corrupt government, an immoral government that is starving us and conspiring against the people,” said Hassan Qatayesh, who suffered an injured jaw when he was struck by rocks during Saturday’s protest.

“They raised the wall to protect themselves from the people, thinking that this wall will prevent our voices from reaching them. But our voices are louder than walls, tear gas and rubber bullets.”

Monday, 24 August 2015

Rebel forces loyal to Libyan General Khalifa Haftar on Sunday took control of the town of Sorman, 80 kilometers from the capital Tripoli, and took up positions in the city center, security sources have reported.

Sources said that the Dawn of Libya militant group, which had previously controlled the city, withdrew towards Tripoli.

Sorman is a link between the city of Tripoli and the Ras Jedir border crossing between Libya and Tunisia.

Airplanes affiliated with Haftar’s forces are reported to have launched airstrikes against Dawn of Libya sites in Al-Hashan and Bawabet Al-Sahlah amid violent clashes with tribal forces in several areas in the west of Libya.

The United Nations has been leading intense efforts since September last year to resolve the security and political crisis in Libya.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/20583-libyan-rebels-take-control-of-surman.

Monday, 24 August 2015

The Saudi criminal court has initially sentenced Saleh Abdullah Al-Qar’awi to 20 years in prison over charges of heading the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a militant group blacklisted in the Kingdom, Al-Khaleejonline.net reported on Sunday.

Al-Qar’awi was initially involved in the war in Chechenia, and went on to join Al-Qaeda. He later headed the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and maintained contacts with its branches in Yemen and Lebanon.

He also got married the daughter of Al-Qaeda security official Abu-Jihad Al-Masri and adopted the son of former Al-Qaeda leader in Iraq Abu-Mus’ab Al-Zarqawi.

Al-Khaleejonline said that Al-Qar’awi used Iran as a base to recruit terrorists and plan attacks against Saudi Arabia. He was also involved in plans to attack the American embassy in the UAE and further plots against the UK.

Recently, Al-Qar’awi was severely wounded in an American airstrike that cost him both legs as well as his right eye and right. He was returned to Saudi Arabia following demands made by his family.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20591-saudi-sentences-chief-of-terrorist-organisation-to-20-years-in-prison.

August 22, 2015

by Terry Turner

Source: GoodNews Network

An Egyptian teenager has discovered an inexpensive way to turn plastic trash into fuel — and it could be worth tens of millions of dollars a year.

Azza Faiad’s ideas attracted the attention of the Egyptian Petroleum Research Institute. The institute gave the teen access to a lab and its researchers in order to help refine her trash to fuel formula.

Faiad discovered a cheap and plentiful catalyst called aluminisilicate that drastically reduces the cost of converting plastic waste into gases like methane and propane, which can be turned into ethanol, what some scientists are calling “biofuel” because the organic chemicals from plastic polymers she extracts, are the same chemicals extracted from vegetation to create ethanol biofuel.

The process releases other chemicals that can also be recycled and sold.

Egypt produces a million tons of plastic trash every year, and it’s estimated Faiad’s process could convert that much trash into fuel worth$78 million every year.

In fact, she believes it could raise the total return to $163 million each year from Egypt’s plastic trash.

The European Union Contest for Young Scientists has already honored Faiad with a prize for her work and she is now working on a patent for her trash to fuel process.

Source: Muslim Village.

Link: http://muslimvillage.com/2015/08/22/112544/egyptian-teen-muslima-invents-million-dollar-biofuel/.