Archive for January, 2017


2017-01-06

SIRTE – Escalating tensions between rival Libyan armed forces threaten to plunge the North African country deeper into turmoil only weeks after the fall of the Islamic State group’s bastion Sirte.

The deeply tribal nation has been sharply divided since the 2011 ouster of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi, with rival militias vying for influence and control of oil resources.

The power struggle pits an administration based in eastern Libya, backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar, against a UN-brokered unity government in Tripoli supported by militias from the western city of Misrata.

“The situation is most likely going to escalate further given that the voices of war are now the loudest” after an air strike by Haftar’s forces against the Misrata militias, analyst Mohamed Eljarh of the Atlantic Council said.

The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) is the centerpiece of Western hopes to stem an upsurge of jihadism in Libya, but it has failed to assert its authority across the country.

The rival authority in the east has refused to cede power and has its own armed forces, which call themselves the Libyan National Army (LNA) and are led by Haftar.

Pro-GNA fighters mainly from the Western town of Misrata drove IS from Sirte in December, capping a deadly months-long campaign for Kadhafi’s hometown.

The Misrata militias include hardliners determined to fight Haftar’s army.

The LNA has battled jihadists in second city Benghazi for more than two years and blames Misrata militias of backing diehard extremists.

On December 7, two days after Sirte’s liberation, tensions flared when hardline Misrata militias joined an attack against Haftar’s forces launched by an alliance of Islamist and tribal fighters.

– Fears of IS regrouping –

The assault on a town near Libya’s “oil crescent” — where Haftar had seized four export terminals from pro-GNA forces in September — was launched from Al-Jufra air base in southern Libya.

The LNA repelled it and since then has frequently bombarded the base, calling it a den of “terrorists”.

On Monday, an LNA air strike hit a military plane carrying senior Misrata military and political figures who were flying out of Al-Jufra, killing one and wounding several.

The Misrata militias dispatched reinforcements to Al-Jufra as well as the Sebha region further west.

Martin Kobler, the UN special envoy to Libya, said he was “alarmed by the tensions in Libya’s south” and urged all sides “to act with restraint and to resolve issues through peaceful dialogue”.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby warned that further fighting could embolden the Islamic State group and other jihadists to reorganize.

“We note with deep concern… renewed fighting between Libyans… fighting which we believe will only benefit Daesh (IS) and other violent extremists there,” he said.

“The truth is that to date, Libyan forces have made progress against Daesh in Sirte and in eastern Libya, and that’s what makes this renewed fighting here of concern,” Kirby added.

Despite the recapture of Sirte, which had been IS’s main base in Libya, the jihadist threat persists in the country where experts say IS cells are present in several other areas including Tripoli.

– Hardliners win support –

Eljarh said a confrontation between Misrata and Haftar’s forces could play out in Tripoli as well as the “oil crescent” and the southern region.

Such an outcome “will have a knock-on effect on Libya’s oil and water facilities adding to the suffering of the entire population especially in western Libya and the capital,” he added.

Eljarh said that the attack on the plane carrying Misrata dignitaries had inflamed even the most moderate factions in the western city.

“Hardliners … have now managed to successfully switch public opinion within Misrata in their favour” and could now mobilize public support against the LNA, he added.

Mattia Toaldo, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said Haftar was trying to form alliances with Libya’s powerful tribes to control the south of the country.

“The south is the most immediate flashpoint where Haftar is trying to replicate the strategy of tribal alliances and limited show of force that allowed him to capture the oil crescent in September,” he said.

“Sirte is another flashpoint with Misratan fears that Haftar will use tribal allegiances to strip Misrata of its gains on the ground,” he said.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=80704.

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JAN. 9, 2017

GAZA (Ma’an) — Qatar has reportedly decided to build an embassy in the besieged Gaza Strip during a meeting of the Qatari committee for Gaza reconstruction on Monday.

The head of the committee, Abd al-Halim al-Issawi, gave the greenlight for the construction of the embassy after visiting the planned location, a five-dunam (1.2 acres) plot of land south of the Gaza City port, on Thursday with contractors.

While Qatar has had a representative office in the besieged Palestinian enclave, the planned embassy could mark a significant diplomatic move, as most countries have implanted their diplomatic missions and consulates to the occupied Palestinian territory in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Qatar is a prominent backer of the Hamas movement — the de facto ruling party in Gaza — and has provided significant financial support for reconstruction in the blockaded enclave following several devastating Israeli offensives.

Naji Sharab, a professor of political science at Gaza’s al-Azhar University, told the Dunya al-Watan news outlet that “such a step is unprecedented in diplomatic relations,” and that he saw it as a potential move by Qatar to recognize the Gaza Strip as a national entity separate from the Palestinian Authority-ruled West Bank.

However, Dunya al-Watan quoted another political analyst and writer, Hussam al-Dajani, as saying that embassies are usually located in the capital cities of the host countries, but that given East Jerusalem’s occupied status, “Qatar can choose a location for its embassy to Palestine in coordination with the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

Al-Dajani thus dismissed the significance of the move “as long as the Foreign Ministry in Ramallah and the one in Gaza are in agreement.”

Source: Ma’an News Agency.

Link: http://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=774823.

Riyadh (AFP)

Jan 10, 2017

Saudi Arabia and Lebanon agreed Tuesday to hold talks on restoring a $3-billion military aid package, opening a “new page” in relations, a Lebanese official source said.

“The blockage is lifted,” said the official in the delegation of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who held talks over lunch with King Salman in the Saudi capital.

After a tense year which saw Saudi Arabia freeze the aid deal over what it said was the dominance of Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement, Aoun arrived in Riyadh on Monday night with a delegation of ministers.

It was his first trip to the kingdom since his election in November ended a two-year deadlock between Iran- and Saudi-backed blocs in the Lebanese parliament.

Aoun, a Maronite Christian former army chief who was backed by Hezbollah, clinched the presidency with shock support from Saudi ally Saad Hariri, a leading Sunni figure who in return was named prime minister.

Analysts say Saudi Arabia is hoping for a more stable Lebanon, after concerns over the role played by Hezbollah in the Lebanese government and the threat posed by jihadists and the war in neighboring Syria.

The Iran-backed Shiite militant group has fighters in Syria supporting forces of President Bashar al-Assad, while Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, backs some rebels opposed to his government.

Riyadh last March declared Hezbollah a “terrorist organisation” and urged its citizens to leave Lebanon.

In February, the kingdom halted the $3-billion (2.8-billion-euro) military aid package to Lebanon to protest what it said was “the stranglehold of Hezbollah on the state”.

The program would see Riyadh fund the transfer of vehicles, helicopters, drones, cannons and other military equipment from France, which has been seeking to boost arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.

The Lebanese official told AFP that a “new page” in relations with Riyadh had been turned and said the aid was “going to move”.

“There is truly a change. But when and how, we have to wait to see,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

He added that King Salman’s son, the powerful Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will discuss with his Lebanese counterpart how to move the package forward.

– ‘Security, stability’ –

After Aoun’s election, France’s foreign ministry said it was in “close dialogue” with Lebanon and Saudi Arabia in hope of a deal.

Aoun told Saudi state news channel Al-Ekhbaria that his ministers of foreign affairs, education, finance and information would meet their Saudi counterparts “to find some fields of cooperation.”

Asked vaguely about the military aid, Aoun said: “Of course we will discuss all the possible issues.”

Syria’s nearly six-year civil war has been a major fault line in Lebanese politics, and the country hosts more than one million Syrian refugees.

Aoun said that Lebanon’s partners “have agreed to build Lebanon, regardless of the results in the other countries, because building Lebanon is for all, and secondly, security and stability is for all.”

He told Al-Ekhbaria his country’s internal political situation had improved, and expressed confidence that “balance” can be maintained.

“The state must realize, and maintain, security and stability for individuals and groups even if there are different political visions regarding neighboring and regional countries,” Aoun said.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Saudi_unblocks_military_aid_to_Lebanon_Lebanese_source_999.html.

January 11, 2017

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — The killing of five diplomats from the United Arab Emirates in a bombing in southern Afghanistan marks the deadliest attack ever for the young nation’s diplomatic corps, though it’s too soon to tell who was behind it or if the Gulf envoys were even the targets.

The federation of seven sheikhdoms, founded in 1971 on the Arabian Peninsula, said it would fly the nation’s flag at half-staff for three days in honor of the dead from the attack Tuesday in Kandahar.

The Taliban denied planting the bomb, even as the insurgents claimed other blasts Tuesday that killed at least 45 people. No other group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in Kandahar, a province in Afghanistan’s Taliban heartland.

The bomb targeted a guesthouse of Kandahar Gov. Homayun Azizi, who was wounded in the assault along with UAE Ambassador Juma Mohammed Abdullah al-Kaabi. The attack killed 11 people and wounded 18, said Gen. Abdul Razeq, Kandahar’s police chief, who was praying nearby at the time of the blast.

Razeq said investigators believe someone hid the bomb inside a sofa at the guesthouse. He said an ongoing construction project there may have allowed militants to plant the bomb. “Right now we cannot say anything about who is behind this attack,” he told The Associated Press, while adding that several suspects had been arrested.

On Wednesday, broken glass from the powerful blast still littered the blood-stained ground outside of the guesthouse, with thick black soot still visible on the building. Some furniture sat outside, apparently moved as part of the construction.

Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is also the UAE prime minister and vice president, offered condolences for the families of the dead and condemned the attack. “There is no human, moral or religious justification for the bombing and killing of people trying to help” others, he wrote on Twitter.

On the Afghan side, authorities said the dead included two lawmakers, a deputy governor from Kandahar and an Afghan diplomat stationed at its embassy in Washington. The attack inside the heavily guarded compound represents a major breach of security, even in Afghanistan, a country long torn by war. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday condemned the attack and ordered an investigation.

The Taliban is usually quick to take credit for attacks, particularly those targeting the government or security forces. They claimed attacks earlier on Tuesday in Kabul at a compound of government and legislative offices that killed at least 38 people and wounded dozens. Another Taliban-claimed suicide bombing on Tuesday killed seven people in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province.

But on Wednesday, the Taliban issued a short statement blaming an “internal local rivalry” for the Kandahar attack. The Taliban have denied some attacks in the past that diplomats and security forces later attributed to the group. Other insurgent groups, including an Islamic State affiliate, also operate Afghanistan.

A Taliban attack targeting Emirati officials would be surprising. The UAE was one of only three countries, along with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, to recognize the Taliban government during its five-year rule of Afghanistan.

Emirati combat troops deployed to Afghanistan after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban, who had harbored al-Qaida before and after the Sept. 11 attacks. The UAE had troops there for years as part of the NATO-led mission, training members of the Afghan armed forces and often winning the support of locals by praying with them in community mosques and respecting their traditions as fellow Muslims.

Multiple daily commercial flights link the countries, with Dubai serving as an important commercial hub for Afghan businessmen. Over the years, Taliban and Afghan officials also have met in Dubai to try to start peace talks.

Although the UAE is only 45 years old, Emirati diplomats have come under attack in the past, some felled by assassins’ bullets. Saif Ghubash, the UAE’s first minister of state for foreign affairs, died after being shot in an October 1977 attack at Abu Dhabi International Airport, an attack that apparently targeted Syrian Foreign Minister Abdul-Halim Khaddam. Khaddam later blamed the attack on Iraq.

In 1984, the UAE’s ambassador to France was assassinated outside his Paris home by a gunman. A diplomatic club was named in honor of the slain envoy, Khalifa al-Mubarak, in the Emirati capital, Abu Dhabi, in 2015.

Another Emirati diplomat was wounded in a shooting in Rome in 1984. Reports at the time linked those two attacks to the Arab Revolutionary Brigades, a Palestinian militant group. Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, said Tuesday’s attack wouldn’t stop the UAE’s humanitarian efforts abroad.

He wrote on Twitter: “We will not be discouraged by despicable terrorist acts carried out by the forces of evil and darkness.”

Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez and Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

January 04, 2017

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — French police have detained Kosovo’s former prime minister based on an arrest warrant issued by Serbia the Kosovo foreign ministry said Wednesday. Ramush Haradinaj, who is also a former guerrilla fighter, was stopped as he flew in to France from Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, on Wednesday.

Kosovo’s government said in a statement it is trying to resolve the matter. It said it considered Serbia’s charges as “illegal, unfair and tendentious.” Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, also a former guerrilla leader and Haradinaj’s friend, described the detention as “unacceptable.”

“We, members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, are proud to have fought against discriminating and criminal laws of Slobodan Milosevic’s regime,” he said on Facebook. Haradinaj was cleared of war crimes charges in two lengthy trials by a U.N. war crimes tribunal. But Serbia accuses him of committing war crimes including kidnappings, torture and killings against Serb civilians when he was a senior rebel commander in western Kosovo during the 1998-99 war.

Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 2008, although Belgrade has not recognized that. Haradinaj’s party is now in opposition.

January 05, 2017

GRAY, France (AP) — Gray is a dying town, its residents lament. Big businesses moved away taking jobs with them. Now many stores lie vacant, fading “to rent” signs in the windows. But for one Syrian family, the town’s picturesque streets, red-tiled rooftops and quiet river walks offers hope of rebuilding their shattered lives, away from the fear of death lurking around every corner in their homeland.

“I will start to love life another time,” said 43-year-old oncologist Abd Alwahab Alahamad. “Because sometimes (in the) last two years, I thought it will be very difficult to stay alive.” Like hundreds of thousands before them, the Alahamads risked everything to escape war and the dark brutality of the Islamic State group, embarking on a perilous and uncertain journey through checkpoints, bombs and a nightmarish sea crossing to Greece.

But after months of uncertainty and doubt, their luck began to change. Alahamad, his wife Iman Mshanati, 33, and their three children — 5-year-old Nora, 2-year-old Ahmed and baby Layan, born in Greece six months ago — were among the fortunate few accepted for European relocation.

Launched in late 2015, the program was designed to relieve pressure on Greece and Italy, the main entry points for more than a million people fleeing into the European Union. But it has come under criticism for moving too slowly.

Applicants can’t choose their destination country. Neither the Russian-trained doctor nor his wife, a nutritionist and beautician, had ever been to France, which has taken in more people than any other country that’s part of the program.

“We are going into the unknown; We do not know the city, the people, nothing,” Mshanti said in a small apartment in Athens the day before their flight to Paris, three suitcases neatly packed on the floor. “But we hear from people who had left before us that they are happy, and we felt relieved.”

The Alahamads never intended to leave Syria. They didn’t expect 2011 anti-government street protests to turn into a full-blown civil war. “At first everybody thought — not only me — that it will finish tomorrow, the day after tomorrow,” Alahamad said of the early days of the rebellion.

In 2014, warned government forces were looking for him after he treated a man for gunshot wounds, Alahamad fled Damascus, moving his family east to near the city of Deir-e-Zor. The war followed. IS overran the area. Relentless bombings killed relatives and friends. When rockets landed near their home, Alahamad decided the time had come.

“I left. I left everything behind,” he said. With two young children and a pregnant wife, the journey was harrowing. The nighttime treks and border crossing, the smugglers, the truck ride with nearly 100 others. But nothing compared to the boat crossing from Turkey to Greece. A terrified Nora clutched her father’s hand, convinced they would die.

They arrived in Greece in early March. Alahamad spent months as a volunteer doctor in refugee camps housing some of the more than 62,000 people stranded in Greece by border closures and an EU-Turkey deal intended to stem the flow of migrants into Europe. The family thought of staying, but Greece’s asylum system was overwhelmed.

So they applied for relocation. September brought the news they had been waiting for: their application was successful. The Alahamads were assigned to Gray, a pretty town of about 6,000 people on the River Saone. They would be part of the second group sent there from Greece. The first — five families — arrived in March.

To facilitate integration, Gray Mayor Christophe Laurencot stipulated the town would accept only families, and each assigned a social worker. Housing is provided during the asylum application, a process that takes about four months in the fast-track relocation procedure, said Guillaume Germain, regional director of the French Immigration and Integration Office.

But small, close-knit towns do not always embrace outsiders. Laurencot decided the best tactic was transparency, and informed residents about the program before the first arrivals in March. “We had reactions straight away,” he said. “Good, less good or bad, I had them all.” There were overwhelmingly generous offers from some, while others questioned why the state should help foreigners.

But, Laurencot said, “France is after all a country of hosts, a country of reception, a welcoming country. And it’s not enough to say it; we had to do it.” So far, the mayor’s tactic appears to be working.

“We see them pass by, there are no worries on that account, everything is going well,” said Stephanie Vanhee, who runs an optical shop in Gray. Toddler Ahmed squealed with joy at being allowed to pet her puppy, Morito, during the family’s first tour around town. “It must be done, you know. We must receive them.”

Clothing store owner Roberte Fouillot said there was some initial reticence to the idea, what with the recent terror attacks and demands on social services by needy French people. But news of the Syrian war shocked her.

“These poor kids, these poor families who are suffering — it’s unacceptable in our day and age,” Fouillot said. As for the issue of integration, Fouillot didn’t foresee problems. “They are people like everyone else. We all have our religion,” she said. “Today, if everyone reached out to each other, well, there might be less wars, less misery in the world.”

January 12, 2017

During a cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed a former Somali-born refugee, Ahmed Hussen, as the new Minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.

Hussen was the first Somali-Canadian to be voted to parliament in 2015, where he represented the ruling Liberal Party of Canada. He has served on the Justice and Human Rights Committee as well as the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association.

Prior to being elected, Hussen worked as a lawyer, practicing criminal defense, immigration and refugee law. He has served on the board of the Global Enrichment Foundation, which helps women in East Africa go to university and colleges in the region, as well as the board for the Toronto-based Journalists for Human Rights.

Since his election, Hussen has become a household name among Somalis in the diaspora, as he headed the Canadian Somali Congress – a community based group that champions the interest of Somalis by engaging the Canadian authorities whiles also at it, strengthening civic engagement and integration.

His election has been touted as a symbol of the Canadian Liberal Party’s openness to immigrant communities.

Ahmed Hussen, a lawyer, and community activist came to Canada in 1993 at the age of 16 after fleeing his hometown, the Somali capital of Mogadishu.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170112-former-somali-refugee-takes-over-canadas-immigration-ministry/.

Wednesday 28 December 2016

The fall of Aleppo to Iran-backed pro-government forces has brought a bubbling conflict between Iran and Hamas to the boil, with the former making thinly-veiled threats to cut off the Palestinian group.

The threats came from Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, a member of the Iranian Foreign Affairs and National Security Committee, in the wake of increasing solidarity from Hamas to Aleppo.

In an interview last week with the reformist Qanun newspaper, Falahatpisheh made clear there would be material consequences if Hamas did not change its position on Iran’s role in the region, not least its intervention in Syria.

If Hamas does not reconsider the “inconsistent positions by its leaders,” Tehran will be forced to turn to “the most detested of available options” – turning to other Palestinian factions such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, said Falahatpisheh on 21 December.

The tensions between Hamas, the most renowned anti-Israel movement in the region, and Iran are significant, as Tehran legitimizes its foreign policy through its “Axis of Resistance” against Israel and the United States, which includes Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Currently, the sphere of influence of the resistance extends from the Indian subcontinent to the borders of Israel,” Falahatpisheh said.

The harshness of the senior Iranian official’s tone underlines the depth of the crisis in relations. Falahatpisheh accused Hamas of continuing to “support terrorist groups working under the umbrella of the Syrian opposition”.

He described Hamas’ current stance as “hostile,” and saw the group as moving out of Iran’s sphere of influence.

Falahatpisheh demanded Hamas not forget that Syria was, in his words, “a leader in the resistance, and much of its misfortunes are now due to this position”.

Hamas’ support for Aleppo

“We are following with great pain what is happening in Aleppo and the horrific massacres, murders and genocide its people are going through, and condemn it entirely,” read a statement from Hamas at the height of the bombardment of Aleppo.

The movement asked those whom it described as “wise, free and responsible in the ummah (global Islamic community) to act promptly to protect civilians in Aleppo and save those who are still alive”.

It also called on international, human rights and humanitarian institutions around the world to intervene immediately to “stop these dreadful massacres, stand by the children, women and elderly of Aleppo and save them from death and destruction”.

Ahmed Youssef, a senior Hamas figure and former foreign relations head, told al-Khaleej Online that his group would not change course – not least after what happened in Aleppo.

Youssef said the group’s position reflected that of the Palestinian public, who themselves have suffered similar brutality during Israel’s repeated assaults on the Gaza Strip.

He was adamant that Hamas would continue to stand in solidarity with Syria and condemn the killing of civilians there.

During Hamas’ recent parade commemorating the movement’s 29th anniversary, civilian Gazans and Qassam Brigade soldiers alike were seen carrying banners in solidarity with the people of Aleppo.

Hamas-Iran tensions

On the issue of Iranian-Hamas relations, the Iranian outlet Qanun threw in its own two cents: “It seems that Hamas moved away from Iran a long time ago.”

“This can be clearly seen from what is taking place in Syria. All of this is occurring at a time when leaders of the movement deny the existence of any differences of opinion between Tehran and the movement.

“In reality, however, their actions contradict their words.”

“Its financial relations with the Arabs are the reason behind the incoherent positions among the movement’s leaders,” Falahatpisheh said, going as far as to add that the “Israeli lobby” was influencing the group’s position.

He accused a “current” within Hamas of “seeking to save Daesh under the label of the Syrian opposition”.

There are also tensions within Hamas’s leadership over Iran’s influence on the group’s direction, which were made public through information leaked to the London-based pan-Arab al-Sharq al-Awsat daily.

The leaks came from a meeting of senior Hamas leaders, where a leading commander of Hamas’s military wing expressed his concern over growing Iranian influence due to its financial and military support for the group.

Salah al-Arouri is a founding commander of Hamas’ military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, and the movement’s preeminent figure in the West Bank.

According to the leaks, he accused Qassem Soleimani – leader of the Quds Force, the elite branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) – of trying to weaken the Qassam Brigade’s allegiance to Hamas and attempting to absorb them into the Quds Force.

Arouri also protested in the meeting against the pressure Soleimani was putting on the group to pledge complete loyalty to Tehran in the same way Islamic Jihad had done when their general secretary, Ramadan Shalah, led a delegation to Tehran and pledged an oath of allegiance to the Iranian regime.

Relations between Hamas and Iran deteriorated sharply following the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011. The following year, the group’s leadership left Damascus after being based there for more than a decade. Their funding was reduced drastically shortly thereafter.

“Our position on Syria affected relations with Iran. Its support for us never stopped, but the amounts [of money] were significantly reduced,” a senior Hamas official said in 2013.

In response to this turn of events, Iran ramped up funding for other Palestinian groups, most notably the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Islamic Jihad moves closer to Iran

Islamic Jihad has staged its own show of force in Gaza in recent months in a rally including its military wing – the al-Quds Brigades.

Shalah, quoted in the al-Sharq al-Awsat leaks as criticizing Iranian influence, spoke via video link at the October rally, saying: “[Iran] is the only country which commits to the unending support of the Palestinian cause”.

Islamic Jihad has had their own tensions with Iran over Syria for the past two years, but have recently changed tune and become one of Iran’s most vociferous Palestinian proxies.

Earlier this year, Shalah led a Palestinian Islamic Jihad delegation to Tehran and met with Soleimani.

“The defense of Palestine amounts to a defense of Islam,” Shalah said, adding: “The Arab states did not support the popular uprising in Palestine and will never support it since it contradicts their leaders’ agendas. Iran is the only state that supports the intifada and the martyrs’ families.”

Soleimani pledged to provide $70m in annual assistance to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad after the visit, which could explain their change in direction.

JPost reported that the move could be seen as a snub to Hamas following the 2015 visit by the movement’s political chief Khaled Meshaal to Iran’s arch-rival Saudi Arabia, which appeared to mark a significant warming of relations with the Gulf state.

At the end of his interview, Falahatpisheh said that Tehran “does not see Hamas as the whole of the resistance.

“If Hamas continues its current political direction in obstructing things, then Iran will develop new relations with other Palestinian groups without seriously harming the resistance.”

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/after-aleppo-s-fall-hamas-finds-itself-resisting-tehran-well-tel-aviv-1017030317.

December 15, 2016

While I was studying my bachelor’s degree in the Islamic University of Malaysia I told my Palestinian friends that I want to do my master’s in the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG), they told me this is impossible. They said they were unable to enter the Strip even though they are Palestinians.

I kept this childhood dream in the deepest part of my heart; it was my ambition to complete my master’s in IUG. After my bachelor’s degree I returned to Turkey and began work. A couple of years later I felt ready to continue my studies.

I was eager to complete a master’s degree which I could really enjoy and sink my teeth into, not just study for the sake of saying I have obtained this new certificate. I knew I would not be able to find what I was looking for in Turkey and Europe was too cold for me, America’s approach to studies also ruled it out.

It was then that I received a letter from a friend in Gaza, when I explained my dream of studying in Gaza the only response I received was “why not?”. So I applied. I also got in touch with a member of the faculty of IUG who had studied in Turkey and had a love for the country.

My application reached the university rector and he replied: “Turks are our brothers, they were with us throughout our struggles; send her acceptance letter.” The university’s plan to have a program for international students started with me.

Before I applied for a visa to Egypt I asked the Turkish Embassy in Cairo to obtain permission for me to enter the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing. They told me that I had a 50 per cent chance of being accepted because this was the first case of its kind. I kept my faith in God and, two months later, I received a call telling me that I was permitted to travel.

The permission given to me meant I could pass through the Rafah crossing when it was open, so when I applied for a visa to Egypt and heard the crossing was to be opened I rushed to make it on time. I arrived in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, and headed to Arish. The journey was difficult but once I arrived in Gaza that didn’t matter.

The weather in Gaza was different to that in Egypt; by just crossing the border I sensed a change. Gaza hugs you with a warm welcome. Its people were wonderful and made me forget the terrifying journey I’d made to get there.

A group from the university and a friend came to pick me up from the border crossing and we headed straight to the campus.

People were surprised that I’d come from abroad to study at their university and I heard time and again: “You’ve honored us.” Everyone made me feel at home in my new surroundings.

When I enrolled in my courses lecturers were very accommodating going through the subject matter in both English and Arabic to ensure I understood. They also help me improve my Arabic language skills. I struggled at first, at home I’d learnt Quranic Arabic, here they used a more colloquial dialect which I didn’t fully comprehend at times.

People’s hospitality means I am never worried about what I was going to eat, I am regularly invited to people’s houses, everyone is so hospitable and generous. Occasionally I find a restaurant and enjoy eating out. The food throughout the Strip, from Rafah, in the south, to Jabalia, in the north, is great.

I am now staying in Jabalia, approximately 20 mins from Gaza City which was home to my university. Unfortunately, I don’t drive so it wasn’t a short trip for me. I had to use three modes of transport to get to university including a shared minicab.

I had been warned about the cost of rent and the high cost of living which had been compared to prices in Istanbul, but I am finding life in Gaza is cheaper than that in Turkey. The area looks dated, like my hometown of Diyarbakir looked in the 1990s. But this is an amazing feat for a city that has survived three wars. The beauty of Khan Yunis and Rafah made me reminisce about life in Turkey but the Gaza air and the olive, lemon, date and palm gardens all brought me back to appreciating the beauty of my surroundings.

The beautiful fields weren’t the only relaxing aspect of life in Gaza. During my free time I often go to the beach to enjoy the sea breeze and watch the waves crash onto the shore. There are also a large number of charities and organisations that support the community, orphans and victims of war. Sports complexes are numerous in the Strip so there is always something to do but nothing beats running along the beach.

Things were different for me the first time I experienced the bombardments. On my first night in Gaza there were two rocket attacks. I could feel my body freeze. By morning I had recovered and when I told my friends about my experience they laughed, it was nothing they told me, they’d experienced 76 in one night!

I quickly learnt to do as Gazans do when there’s a bombing.

Once I was in class and 35 rockets attacked the area. I had had plans to have dinner with my friend’s family and these were plans I didn’t cancel. We ate under bombardment. This is daily life in Gaza and even babies are getting used to the sounds and situation.

When I’d call to check on my friends following the bombings they’d reply with surprise: “This is normal, we are used to this, don’t worry.”

I have now been in Gaza for more than 40 days, my Arab language skills have improved significantly, and because of the delicious food on offer my waistline has also been affected!

Every day I love Gaza more and am thankful I’m here.

I’ve never felt so much peace in all my life.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161215-gazas-first-international-student/.

December 18, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — A new 30-member national unity Cabinet headed by Prime minister Saad Hariri was announced Sunday in Lebanon nearly two months after a new president was elected, and the premier vowed that his top priority would be to protect the country from the effects of the civil war in neighboring Syria.

The Cabinet includes most of the country’s political groups, including the Shiite militant Hezbollah, which holds two seats. It was to hold its first meeting on Wednesday. Speaking to reporters shortly after the Cabinet was announced, Hariri said his government’s priority would be to “preserve the stability that is prevailing in Lebanon amid fires that are spreading around the region.”

He said his government would work to “isolate our country from the negative effects of the Syrian war” and would seek international help in dealing with the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled into Lebanon.

Lebanon is home to some 1.2 million Syrian refugees, or a quarter of the country’s population. The Syrian war has spilled over into Lebanon on several occasions over the past five years, with clashes and bombings that killed scores.

Lebanese are sharply divided over Syria’s war. Hariri has been a harsh critic of President Bashar Assad’s government, while Hezbollah has sent thousands of its fighters to back the Syrian leader. Hariri, who served as prime minister for 14 months until early 2011, began working to form the new Cabinet in early November, days after the country’s newly elected president, Michel Aoun, asked him to do so. The new government must still be approved by parliament.

A Christian leader and strong ally of the Shiite Hezbollah group, Aoun was elected president by parliament on Oct. 31, ending a 29-month presidential vacuum in Lebanon. His election was made possible after Hariri endorsed him for president, based on an understanding that Aoun would then appoint him as prime minister.

According to Lebanon’s sectarian-based power-sharing system, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Muslim Sunni and the parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim. Hariri is the son of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a billionaire businessman and influential politician who was assassinated in 2005 in Beirut. Several Hezbollah members are being tried in absentia for the killing by a U.N.-backed tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.