Archive for September, 2016


September 20, 2016

UC Berkeley has reinstated a course on Palestinian history which was suspended last week.

The school’s dean announced the decision after the teacher revised the course description.

“Palestine: A Colonial Settler Analysis” course was suspended by social science dean Carla Hesse after receiving a complaint from Jewish and civil rights groups that the course syllabus appeared to describe a politically motivated, anti-Semitic class.

Activists protested against the decision saying it threatened academic freedom.

Paul Hadweh, a student who teaches the one unit course, said he wasn’t told that it had been suspended.

“The university threw me under the bus, and publicly blamed me, without ever even contacting me,” Hadweh said. “To defend the course, we had to mobilize an international outcry of scholars and students to stand up for academic freedom. This never should have happened.”

The dean said she suspended the class for review after discovering that neither she nor the chair of the ethnic department had seen or approved the course syllabus.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160920-uc-berkeley-reinstates-palestine-course/.

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30 September 2016 Friday

Palestinian activists have recently launched a campaign to boycott Facebook after the popular social-media platform blocked several Palestinian accounts and deleted numerous posts — at Israel’s request — for alleged “incitement”.

Earlier this week, campaigners — using the hashtag #FBCensorsPalestine — called on supporters to refrain from posting on Facebook between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. (Jerusalem time) on Sept. 25.

Hussam al-Zayegh, the campaign’s Gaza-based spokesman, told Anadolu Agency that the initiative had been launched in response to what he described as Facebook’s “pro-Israel bias”.

According to al-Zayegh, the world’s most popular social-networking site is actively working to undermine Palestinian activists and journalists who rely on Facebook to help spread their message.

Earlier this month, Facebook signed an agreement with the Israeli authorities that will — among other things — allow the latter to monitor all Palestinian content posted on Facebook and delete whatever posts, pages or personal accounts that are deemed objectionable.

According to Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Facebook administrators have complied with some 95 percent of the Israeli authorities’ requests to date.

“We demand that the Facebook administration clarify the agreement signed with Israel, which we believe targets freedom of opinion and expression,” al-Zayegh said.

The agreement, he went on to assert, directly contributes to the persecution of Palestinian activists — both on the ground and in cyberspace.

Al-Zayegh and his fellow campaigners intend to push ahead with the initiative until all its demands have been been met.

“We will not stop our campaign until Facebook withdraws from the agreement and respects international laws and standards safeguarding the freedom of opinion and expression,” he said.

Next Friday, according to al-Zayegh, members of the campaign plan to stage a demonstration outside Facebook’s New York headquarters to press for their demands.

Accounts blocked

Recently, the Facebook accounts of 12 administrators and editors at two leading Palestinian news agencies — Shehab News Agency and the Al-Quds News Network — were deleted without prior notice or warning.

Mohamed al-Zaneen, an editor at Shehab News Agency, told Anadolu Agency that he had not been able to accesses his account for more than five days.

“I believe this step was taken after the agreement was struck between the Facebook administration and Israel,” al-Zaneen said, adding that his account had also been blocked during Israel’s 2014 war on the Gaza Strip.

According to officials at the two news agencies, dozens of letters were sent to the Facebook administration asking why the pages had been blocked.

Facebook later restored the blocked pages and apologized for what it said had been a “mistake”.

Global audience

According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, over 120 Palestinians — including 20 women — have been detained by the Israeli authorities for alleged “incitement to violence” on Facebook.

Due to a lack of evidence, most of these were held under Israel’s policy of “administrative detention”, which allows “suspects” to be held indefinitely without charge or trial.

Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian MP and leader of the Palestinian National Initiative Party, told Anadolu Agency that Palestinian activists — through the use of social media — had recently succeeded in bringing Palestinian suffering before a global audience and exposing the crimes of Israel’s decades-long occupation.

This was especially the case, Barghouti noted, during Israel’s devastating military onslaught against the Gaza Strip in 2014 and the subsequent third Palestinian “intifada” (“uprising”).

“Palestinian activists have succeeded in winning a large part of public opinion over to the Palestinian cause,” he said. “Israel now sees these social-media activists as a major threat to its international image.”

Barghouhti went to assert that Israel’s policy of arresting Palestinians for alleged “incitement” over posts made on social media “will not deter young Palestinian activists from exposing the occupation’s ongoing crimes”.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/palestine/177954/palestinians-launch-drive-against-facebook-censorship.

Dalshad Abdullah

07 September 2016 Wednesday

Erbil-Kurdish politician Siru Qadir revealed on Tuesday that President of Kurdistan Regional Government Masoud Barzani has proposed a solution for Mosul’s post-ISIS stage.

Barzani’s solution, according to the Kurdish politician, lies in dividing the province into three new separate provinces and holding a referendum in which the citizens decide whether they want to join the region or not.

Qadir also said that during his last visit to Baghdad KRG’s Prime Minister Nechervan Barzani told Iraqi Prime Ministers and the other Iraqi parties that the solution for problems between Kurdistan and Iraq lies in dividing the region from Iraq.

Moreover, Qadir told Asharq Al-Awsat that a new stage will start after liberating Mosul from ISIS. “This stage,” according to Qadir, “is considered a dangerous one if there was no prior plan, and Masoud Barzani is stressing on the necessity of providing a plan for post-ISIS in Mosul since the region cannot return as it was and be threatened by those extremists.

Therefore, Peshmerga forces will not withdraw from the regions they liberated until these regions are put within an administrative framework and their fate is determined.”

Qadir added: “In the meantime, Mosul’s problem has become Iraq’s problem as the only problem remaining for Kurds is in Mosul.”

A Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian war is expected to be waged in Mosul too with the presence of Sunni forces, ISIS terrorist group and the arrival of Popular Mobilization militias to the province.

All these pave a way for religious and sectarian conflicts to occur if no prior plan was put to control it and prevent any sectarian bloodshed, Qadir said.

The Kurdish politician further explained that Barzani’s proposal indicates that Mosul should be divided into three separate provinces, each given to Shi’ite Muslims, Sunnis and Kurds.

This proposal is considered the best solution for Nineveh’s current problem, he said.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat.

Link: http://english.aawsat.com/2016/09/article55357921/barzani-divide-mosul-post-isis-three-provinces.

September 8, 2016

Egypt has the fourth highest rate of illiteracy in the Arab world with 14.5 million people aged 10 and over would couldn’t read or write in 2015, statistics released by UNESCO revealed yesterday…

Released to make World Literacy Day, the figured showed that of the 23.7 per cent of the population who were illiterate, 9.3 million were female.

Yemen has the highest illiteracy rate in the Arab world with 30 per cent of its population unable to read and write. Morocco came second with 28 per cent and Sudan third with 24 per cent.

Meanwhile, Palestine has the lowest illiteracy rate among Arab countries with only three per cent of its population affected.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160908-egypt-fourth-highest-illiteracy-rate-in-arab-world/.

2016-09-09

DIYARBAKIR – Turkish police on Friday fired tear gas and water cannon on hundreds of demonstrators in the Kurdish-majority southeast protesting against the suspension of over 10,000 teachers for suspected links to militants, an AFP journalist reported.

Around 200 protesters, including affected teachers, gathered in front of the education directorate in Diyarbakir, whistling and shouting slogans, in protest of the suspensions which targeted educators mainly from the region.

“We will win by resisting!” and “Shoulder to shoulder against fascism!” the group shouted.

The police called the demonstration “illegal” and urged protesters to disperse before using tear gas and water cannon when the group kept on their protest across the road.

At least 30 protesters were detained by police, the AFP journalist said.

Turkey on Thursday suspended 11,500 teachers suspected by the education ministry of having engaged in activities in support of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) listed as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.

A Turkish official said the teachers were placed on paid leave until a formal investigation was concluded.

The suspension came just over a week before the new school year gets underway in Turkey.

The number of suspended teachers was expected to climb to 14,000 — a figure first pronounced by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim during a key visit to Diyarbakir last weekend. There are 850,000 teachers in Turkey.

The Turkish military has waged a relentless offensive against the PKK in the southeast and in northern Iraq, after the rupture of a ceasefire last year.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed since the PKK first took up arms in 1984 with the aim of carving out an independent state for Turkey’s Kurdish minority.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=78628.

September 09, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s foreign minister has suggested that a landmark deal to stop migrants reaching the European Union can be salvaged despite disagreement on conditions for relaxing visa restrictions for Turkish citizens traveling to the bloc.

Easing concern across Europe, Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters during a joint news conference with top EU officials Friday that a “common understanding” had emerged and that a consensus could be reached. He said, however, that a “concrete road map” should be worked out to lift travel restrictions.

“I believe that with this understanding we will overcome the problem,” Cavusoglu said after talks with EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn. Europe’s migration crisis will be a central issue at next week’s EU leaders’ summit in Bratislava, Slovakia, as the member states remain rattled by Britain’s referendum vote to leave the EU and recent gains for the nationalist vote in Germany.

In Athens, the leaders of France, Italy and five other EU Mediterranean countries gathered Friday to discuss immigration and the continent’s debt crisis. “It’s important to issue a message of cooperation at this important time, following the Brexit vote and with populists and extremists trying to block Europe,” French President Francois Hollande said.

“In the name of Europe, its southern members are facing difficulties on the migration issue … So they must be helped, reinforced, so that we can allow for asylum seekers, but so there can also be an efficient control of immigration.”

More than a million refugees and migrants traveled from Turkey to Greece and on to other EU countries. But numbers have declined dramatically since Balkan nations fenced off their borders and the EU-Turkey deal took effect in March. Border closures have left some 60,000 migrants and refugees stranded in Greece, most in hastily built camps.

Turkey had threatened to scrap the deal — which also promises 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion) to help support refugees in Turkey — if the EU failed to fulfill by October a promise to grant Turkish citizens the right to visa-free travel.

Plans to loosen visa rules came to a standstill after Turkey balked at the EU’s demand that it relax its anti-terrorism laws, over concerns they could be used to target academics and journalists. With the EU-Turkey deal still largely holding, Athens is pressing EU members to abide by commitments under a relocation program which has covered less that 10 percent of the 33,000 placements promised to migrants in Greece so far.

Greece was also angered by suggestions it should return to EU immigration rules that existed before last year’s crisis. A government spokesman on immigration said Athens rejected calls to reactivate the so-called Dublin Regulation, which requires migrants to apply for asylum in the first EU country they reach and would allow other EU members to send asylum-seekers back to Greece.

“A country such as Greece which receives a large number of refugees from Turkey, and also hosts a large number of refugees — practically without any outside help — cannot be asked to receive refugees from other European countries,” Giorgos Kyritsis told The Associated Press. “That would be outrageous.”

Malta’s prime minister, speaking at the end of the Athens conference, also criticized EU migration policy. “The current system of tackling migration in Europe is simply not working,” Joseph Muscat said. “The Dublin system is out of synch with reality, and here are six countries which are saying ‘we need to fix that for Europe to remain and to be relevant.'”

Paphitis reported from Athens. Sylvie Corbet in Paris, Menelaos Hadjicostis in Istanbul, and Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed.

2016-09-08

ANKARA – Turkey will not turn its clocks back from this winter, staying on summer time all year round in a bid to better utilize daylight, according to a decree published in the official gazette on Thursday.

The decision will also apply on the Ankara-backed breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), meaning the divided Mediterranean island will have two different time zones in the winter months.

The clocks in Turkey went forward one hour from March 27 for summer time, in line with the rest of Europe.

But this setting will now remain in place throughout the year across the country, according to the decree adopted at the cabinet meeting the day earlier.

The clocks were to have gone back one hour on October 30 when Turkish summertime officially ends.

But now, there will be no winter adjustment and Turkey will stay all year round on summer time.

The decree, which immediately comes into force, said the decision was aimed at “making more use of daylight” during the winter time.

The decision means that Turkey will be three hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) all year long and two hours ahead of continental Europe in winter.

“I abolished the winter-summer time difference,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in a speech to provincial governors.

“There will be no confusion now. The hours will be the same in winter and summer.

“You will change, not the hours. Time economy,” he quipped to the governors.

Meanwhile the TRNC, which is recognized only by Ankara, followed Turkey’s decision and will also stay on summer time all year round, according to a decision made by its cabinet on Thursday.

The decision means that when winter starts on October 30, the internationally-recognized Greek Republic of Cyprus will be one hour behind the Turkish breakaway north until summer time resumes.

The island, which joined the EU in 2004, has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.

The latest round of long-stalled UN-brokered peace talks were launched in May 2015, with both sides expressing hope an elusive Cyprus settlement can finally be reached in 2016.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=78598.

September 07, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — Intense fighting between Syrian government troops and insurgents in Syria’s central Hama province displaced some 100,000 people over eight days between late August and early September, the U.N. humanitarian agency said.

Earlier this month, insurgents pushed northward in Hama province, surprising government troops and dislodging them from areas they controlled around the provincial capital, also called Hama, including a military base and towns and villages near the highway to Damascus.

The offensive, led by an ultraconservative Islamic group, Jund al-Aqsa, and also involving several factions from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, incurred an intense government bombing campaign that killed dozens of people. The fighting and the aerial bombardment sent tens of thousands of people fleeing for safety, creating the latest wave of displacement, part of a pattern that has left nearly half of the Syrian population displaced since the war began in 2011.

In a “flash update ” on Tuesday, OCHA said figures from a camp coordination group show nearly half of the displaced from Hama arrived in the neighboring rebel-held Idlib governorate. Others fled toward government-controlled Hama city, where four mosques were converted into temporary shelters, OCHA said. Dozens of schools in rural areas of Hama province were also turned into shelters.

A shortage of shelter space means many displaced families are sleeping outdoors in parks in Idlib, the U.N. agency said. Most of those fleeing left towns and villages in government areas as the rebels advanced. They feared a violent government response to the insurgent offensive, according to Ahmad al-Ahmad, an activist from Hama. “Wherever the regime is driven out of an area, it ends up destroying it,” he said in a text message to The Associated Press.

In at least one airstrike last week, government warplanes struck a van carrying displaced people fleeing Suran, a town north of Hama city, activists said. The government says it is targeting “terrorists.”

OCHA said the United Nations has sent an “inter-agency convoy with life-saving supplies to Hama” and was evaluating the humanitarian situation. An estimated 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war, now in its sixth year. Of those, 4.8 million are refugees with nearly 7 million displaced internally.

In London on Wednesday, Syrian opposition leaders unveiled a plan for a political transition designed to bring an end to the war. It called for the departure of President Bashar Assad after six months and for elections to be held after two years.

The High Negotiations Committee envisaged a three-phase plan, beginning with six months of negotiations with Assad’s government to develop a signed agreement on the “basic principles” of the transition process.

This would be followed by the establishment of a transitional government body and the departure of Assad “and his clique,” according to HNC chief Riad Hijab. The HNC called for U.N.-supervised elections to be held 18 months thereafter. Hijab conceded there were formidable obstacles hindering the implementation of this plan.

Keaten reported from Geneva.

Tuesday 6 September 2016

KARKAMIS, Turkey – Murad returned to his hometown of Jarabulus on 25 August just one day after it was liberated from the Islamic State (IS) group by a coalition of Turkish forces and Syrian rebel fighters.

The battle for Jarabulus was won easily after IS militants fled the area hours before Operation Euphrates Shield was even launched by Turkey. Since its beginning last month Turkish forces and Syrian rebels have cleared IS from more than 90km of the Turkish border.

In Jarabulus, Murad, a journalist, said normal life had resumed and he thanked Turkey for its first direct military intervention in the five-year Syrian war.

“Right now, everything is under control – at least here in the city,” he said. “I’m happy to say life has been steadily returning to these streets. A few shops have already been reopened – a sure sign of people starting to feel safe again.”

Murad fled to Turkey more than three years ago in July 2013 when IS first seized control of Jarabulus. Most of his family stayed behind and several of his relatives were killed in suicide bombing attacks carried out during IS’s brutal reign.

Before IS took over, Jarabulus had a population of around 30,000. Over the past three years that number has halved but many people are now returning.

Murad’s family home was undamaged despite the fierce conflict that has raged in his town and across Syria since President Bashar al-Assad responded to peaceful protests with brute force in mid-2011.

And although the town has been scarred by the war, those now returning were unable to contain their joy at it being liberated. A rake-thin man crossing the Syria border back to Jarabulus praised the Turkish forces who freed his home town.

“It is a fantastic feeling, knowing that Daesh is no longer a threat,” he said. “We were all very glad to see the launching of the Turkish military operation.

“These soldiers here, they are our lads. We’re hoping nothing bad happens to them. Many of the houses in Jarabulus have been demolished – there’s graffiti on every step – but the town itself, well, it managed to survive.”

After joining street celebrations rejoicing the town’s liberation, the old man sat with friends and family in the shade to escape the afternoon heat. While drinking tea and eating home-grown grapes, the man lamented how his town had become embroiled in politics.

“All of us, we’re very simple folks,” he said. “We were never much interested in politics. But then the war came and it has a huge impact on us. We’re all really hoping we’re not about to see Daesh try to get revenge.”

The caution people feel amid the celebrations is reinforced by the fact war is still visible around Jarabulus. Thick black smoke still rises regularly above the olive groves on the outskirts of the town.

The regular thud of bombs and tank fire can be heard in the streets, reminding residents that they are not yet fully secure. A few kilometers away on the Turkish side of the border near the town of Karkamis, a military base is packed with tanks and checkpoints.

A local field hospital and two dozen ambulances are set up nearby and provide evidence of the dangers involved in Turkey’s military intervention in Syria. Wounded Turkish soldiers, Syrian rebels, and civilians have received treatment at the hospital.

Civilians who survived the IS occupation of Jarabulus have spoken about how their were starved over the past year, as supplies ran dry. They were banned by IS from farming their land as the militants planted landmines instead of crops.

A local police commander in the Karkamis said Turkish forces had largely moved on from Jarabulus and advanced 30km into Syrian territory.

Few Turkish soldiers have remained in Jarabulus, but those who have stayed have been busy clearing the town of the mines laid by IS militants before they fled to other towns under the group’s control.

For the Turkish troops who have pushed on past Jarabulus, an equal priority is ensuring Kurdish forces are not allowed to maintain a presence west of the Euphrates river.

Ankara has been clear that they view Kurdish militia forces in Syria on their border as a threat to their national security, given the proximity to Turkey’s Kurdish dominated and restful southeast.

Several high-ranking Turkish diplomats in Ankara said on condition of anonymity that the 90km area cleared along the Turkey-Syria border could become a buffer zone designed to hold back Kurdish forces as well as IS.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said on Monday that he had discussed the idea of a “safe zone” along the border of Syria – a plan he has raised several times in recent years.

But the Turkish intervention in Syria has not just allowed Ankara to satisfy its political goals, it has also opened up an easier passage for humanitarian aid to reach desperate refugees.

At the Onucipay crossing near the border town of Killis, hundreds of Turkish trucks have entered Syria carrying food and humanitarian provisions. At the refugee camp on the Syrian border, which currently holds 20,000 people, refugees with sunken and sun-burned faces said they would not be able to hold out much longer.

Sahi, from the border town of Azaz, said his hometown has been the scene of constant fighting for five years. Azaz is now under the control of Turkish-backed Syrian rebels, but its strategic importance lies in that it has been a key supply route to Aleppo – the partially rebel-held second city of Aleppo.

Before the war it only took 45 minutes to travel between Azaz and Aleppo. But with the Syrian army – backed by Russia and Iran – laying siege to the supply route, it has left some 300,000 civilians in rebel-held areas of Aleppo unable to receive food through the Azaz route.

Ahmet, a 50-year-old man from Syria’s Idlib province, said he had been happy to see Turkey retake Jarabulus but he added that he does not have faith it will lead to a wider impact in the Syrian civil war.

“We were glad to see Turkey and the Free Syrian Army liberate Jarabulus,” he said while sipping tea at a shop close to the Syrian border. “It was an important message to send out… but I don’t know what to expect now.”

Two of Ahmet’s three sons fought for two years with the Free Syrian Army – a ragtag group of Syrian rebels who have received strong backing in their war against President Assad from Gulf States and the West.

“All the time my city is being bombed by the [Assad] regime and by Russia. No one is here to defend us,” he said. “We have been left to fend for ourselves. All of us that have stood up against Assad’s regime have been branded as Islamic extremists.”

Ahmet said that the fact Turkey seized Jarabulus so quickly, after more than three years of occupation by IS, was evidence more could have been done to stop the group’s rise in Syria.

“For years Daesh were allowed to do as they pleased,” he said. “They could have been easily destroyed a long time ago. Even Turkey hasn’t fought them as fiercely as it could have done.”

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/turkey-syria-karkamis-jarabulus-new-frontline-1894295638.

September 14, 2016

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) — Lawmakers in the Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan on Wednesday adopted amendments to the country’s constitution which pave the way for a life-long presidency for the incumbent leader.

Turkmenistan, an authoritarian former Soviet republic, has been ruled by 59-year old Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, a trained dentist, since 2006 when he succeeded the previous president, Saparmurat Niyazov, who had been granted a life-long presidency. Niyazov had a genuine personality cult with his book, Rukhnama, taught at school as the cornerstone of education.

Turkmenistan’s parliament and Council of the Elders on Wednesday voted unanimously to extend the presidential term in office from five to seven years and do away with the 70-year age limit for the head of state.

Speaking at the annual session of the Council of the Elders which brings together community leaders, lawmakers and members of the government, Berdymukhamedov said the amendments were drafted “by all of our people, based on multiple requests from our citizens, political parties” as well as unnamed international experts.

Berdymukhamedov was re-elected for his second term in office with 97 percent of the vote in 2012.