Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, June 19th, 2007
The Associated Press
MOSCOW: Russia has started delivery of top-of-the-line fighter jets to Syria under a new deal estimated to be worth US$1 billion (€746 million), a newspaper said Tuesday — but the report was quickly denied by the state arms trader.
The business daily Kommersant said that Russia had begun delivering five MiG-31E jets under a deal apparently negotiated during Syrian President Bashar Assad's trip to Moscow last autumn.
Commenting on the report, Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement that "all of Russia's deals in the sphere of military-technical cooperation comply with international law and Russia's obligations under various treaties and United Nations resolutions." He would not elaborate.
But Sergei Chemezov, head of state arms-trading monopoly Rosoboronexport, flatly denied the Kommersant report. "Russia has no plans to deliver fighter jets to Syria and Iran," Chemezov said at a Paris air show, according to the Interfax news agency.
Russia has shrugged off U.S. and Israeli criticism of its previous weapons deals with Syria and Iran, saying the deals complied with international law.
The contract with Syria will be the first export deal for the MiG-31E, a heavy twin-engined interceptor fighter capable of flying at nearly three times the speed of sound and simultaneously shooting several targets at ranges of up to 180 kilometers (over 110 miles) away.
The aircraft was designed in the 1980s for tackling low-flying cruise missiles and other difficult targets and remains the mainstay of Russia's air defenses. "In the Soviet Union, the MiG-31 was considered a key component of defenses against a possible U.S. attack," Kommersant said.
The newspaper said that Russia had also agreed to provide Syria with an unspecified number of MiG-29M fighters — a version that features a significantly improved range, has an improved radar and carries a broader array of weapons compared to basic MiG-29 model.
The delivery of new fighters to Syria which has a fleet of older MiG jets will dramatically improve its air force capability.
Moscow was the main weapons supplier to Syria during the Soviet era, and the two nations have moved recently to reinvigorate their economic, military and political ties. In 2005, Moscow agreed to write off nearly three-quarters of Syria's US$13.4 billion (€10 billion) debt in a bid to boost ties and win broader clout in the region.
Iran could finance the new fighter jets deal under a defense cooperation treaty with Syria, Kommersant said.
Israel claimed that Hezbollah fighters used Russian missiles during a 34-day war in Lebanon last year. It said that Russian arms were sold to Syria and Iran, which sent them on to their Hezbollah proxies. Russian officials dismissed the accusations.
Abu Omar, a militant Islamist, is among the most charismatic leaders in the camp, loved by his supporters but detested by those who say militants bring nothing but destruction to the Palestinians.
An old woman stopped him. "Thank God you are safe," she said, hugging and kissing him three times on each bearded cheek. "My house is completely burned," she said.
"Don't worry about it," he replied as he took her hands. "We will fix it or get you a new one. Do not worry. Everything will be fixed."
The fighting was a sign of just how fragile Lebanon has become. As the Lebanese Army battled militants in the Nahr al Bared refugee camp in the north, gunfire broke out between the army and militants here in this camp, near Sidon. Abu Omar says the fighting started after a soldier provoked a "brother."
"He was telling him that 'we are defeating you in Nahr al Bared, we are burning you,' " Abu Omar said. "Then he started shooting toward him; the brother went home, brought his gun and started shooting back."
The government disputes that version of events, but by either account, the camp is a tinderbox, and Abu Omar, whose real name is Chehadeh Jawhar, is an apt symbol of the weakness of the Lebanese state.
Even before the current political crisis, with pro-American factions struggling to keep power from pro-Syrian and pro-Iranian parties, Lebanon was a nation without institutions, a place where power was divided among religious sects. It was a state that gave Palestinians free license to live in 12 refugee camps within its borders. Within the camps' confines, they were immune from the country's rules, laws, police and oversight, but condemned to a life of degradation and second-class status.
For those like Abu Omar, with a militant political agenda, the arrangement created 12 different places to set up shop and 12 bases to run to, hide in and conduct operations. Abu Omar lives on Emergency Street, a free-wheeling alley of martial faith surrounded by squalor. He takes visitors into his basement.
With a shrug of his shoulders, he pointed to a corner in the darkened room where he has stored TNT, plastic explosives and guns. He smiled, then opened boxes and black school backpacks, rummaging through a potpourri of ammunition, makeshift land mines and detonating wires.
The explosives stored in his basement were similar to those that have been used to destabilize Lebanon since the assassination of the former prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005. There is no way to know if the basement was the source of any of those bombs.
An explosion recently ripped through a tire shop on Emergency Street as Abu Omar and other militants were extracting TNT from a 107-millimeter shell, apparently to use in making a bomb, according to Lebanese security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, because they were not authorized to speak to the news media.
Abu Omar and two other militants were wounded, and two others died.
"Victory is not required from us," he said in an interview before the explosion. "What is required is to be ready for a jihad in the name of God, ready to reinstate Islam's rule and Muslim caliphate. It is normal, if the army shoots at us, we will shoot back at them — normal." Abu Omar, 37, was once a fighter with the mainstream Fatah faction of Yasir Arafat, the former Palestinian Authority president. An electrician turned arms smuggler, he said he left the group when he said he felt its leaders "were minimizing" the Palestinian cause. "Palestine is not only for Palestinians, Jerusalem is not only for Palestinians," he said. "It is for all Arabs and Muslims."
He says he has been wanted by the Lebanese government since 1991 for scores of felonies. "Crimes that cannot be counted," he boasted. "It is normal, normal."
A senior Lebanese military official confirmed that Abu Omar is wanted in connection with numerous killings and bombings.
He cannot leave the camp. Not, at least, through the front gate in daylight. He says he is now a member of Esbat al Ansar, a group listed by Washington as a terrorist group. In the camp, he built a house, married and had eight children.
The military official said Abu Omar is believed to have left the ranks of Esbat al Ansar and is now a member of a splinter faction called Jund as-Sham.
Abu Omar struts through the camp like a sports star, or the mayor. He stopped at his mother's house. She had just returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. He hugged and kissed her; she thanked God for his safety. His sisters showered him with yet more kisses. "We miss you," they said.
Taxi drivers and their customers passing by also stopped to give thanks that he had survived the battle. More residents and neighbors joined the line.
But caught between the army and Abu Omar and his supporters are those who simply struggle to get through their days, and see in the militant groups the seeds of their own devastation.
"They burned the houses, they burned our houses," said a Palestinian refugee who gave his name as Abu Iyad for fear of reprisal. He said his perfume shop and his house, both on Emergency Street, had been set on fire. "If the army gives me a uniform, I will shoot at them now," he said.
"We want to get rid of all these problems," said Mustapha Razi, another refugee. "If my brother is creating problems, I want to get rid of him."
But they know they can't, and that the army can't either. If fighting erupts again, they all said they would do what they did a few days ago: flee.
Abu Omar says it is unlikely those clashes would resume. But if they do, he said, civilians outside the camp are fair game. "If the army shoots at us again, we will shoot at civilians in Sidon."
And off he walked to visit his mother and sisters.
Brothers to the Bitter End By: Fouad Ajami | The New York Times
Some see the situation in the Palestinian terrirtories as a tolerable situation, maybe even an improvement, envisioning a secularist Fatah-run state living peacefully alongside Israel and a small, radical Gaza hemmed in by Israeli troops. It’s always tempting to look for salvation in disaster, but in this case it’s sheer fantasy….
'West Bank First': It Won't Work By: Robert Malley and Aaron David Miller | The Washington Post
Having embraced one illusion — that it could help isolate and defeat Hamas — the Bush administration is dangerously close to embracing another: Gaza is dead, long live the West Bank….
RAFAH, Egypt, June 17 — The Hamas military takeover of Gaza last week was partly fueled by caches of weapons smuggled through tunnels below this gritty Sinai border town. Two days spent with smugglers here suggest that to stanch the flow of weapons, Egypt will have to address the economic and social concerns of the region, and not rely solely on its security forces.
"There are two things here," said Ibrahim Sawarka, a Bedouin who used his tribal name, not his family name, for fear of retribution from the police. "There is poverty, and there is smuggling."
In more than a dozen interviews shortly after Hamas solidified its grip on Gaza, local residents said that the Palestinian territory was a primary market for goods in a region short of jobs and other economic opportunities.
They said, almost without exception, that the business of ferrying weapons was more about profit than ideology. Working with small construction tools like jackhammers, people here said they dug a tunnel to Gaza in about six months. The shoulder-width passages were often strung with lights and a mechanized pulley system — like a tow rope at a ski lift — to deliver the merchandise.
One person said that most of the weapons smuggled into Gaza were Russian- and Chinese-made. Others said that the guns, often AK-47s, may have come from Sudan and moved through Egypt.
In the last two years, since Israel withdrew its forces and settlers from Gaza, Egyptian officials said they had increased their policing of the border, blowing up tunnels when discovered and arresting people connected with smuggling. But local Bedouins, nomadic desert tribes, said that instead of digging tunnels from inside homes, they started outside to avoid the Egyptian authorities' linking them to an individual.
Israel installed a 25-foot wall of concrete and iron along the border that extends 10 feet underground. But the tunnels are typically 20 to 65 feet deep. Israel also used sonar and other sensors to hunt for the tunnels, occasionally setting off charges in the ground to collapse undiscovered tunnels. They also urged the Egyptians to do more, which they did.
"Of course the tunnels are one of the largest sources for weapon smuggling into Gaza," said Emad Ghad, with the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. "The Egyptian authorities try, and they have uncovered some of the smuggling. They announced a case about six months ago. But the number of Egyptian forces allowed does not allow for the capacity needed to control the border."
In the days since the Hamas takeover of Gaza, smugglers say the increased Egyptian security presence has forced them to lie low for now.
But no matter how much the authorities crack down, people here say the outlaw culture can never be overcome without economic development. Unemployment in the region is among the highest in Egypt.
Many of the Bedouins said they also worked to smuggle people into Israel, often women from Eastern Europe, looking to work in the sex industry.
To discuss their situation, Mr. Sawarka and some neighbors gathered at a relative's house in Mahdiya village, in Rafah city. They complained about the isolation and discrimination they felt as Bedouins, a circumstance they say leaves no alternative but to work as smugglers.
Smuggling has long been a part of the Bedouin life, but weapons smuggling to Gaza began in earnest with the start of the first Palestinian intifada 20 years ago, people here said.
"Why do you think that people resort to smuggling?" said Abdalla el-Shaer, a resident of Rafah who said his brother was killed more than a year ago, fighting for Hamas in Gaza. "If the country provides employment opportunities, no one will smuggle weapons. With no other opportunity, they smuggle weapons."
In the expanse of rocky, rolling desert that extends past the dusty, rundown center of this town, there is a subculture of poverty and relative wealth that illustrates both the lack of resources provided to people from the region and the allure of what smuggling can bring. Unlike southern Sinai, with its upscale Red Sea resorts, the north has long been ignored. Homes do not even have fresh running water.
Officials also say that a small group of Bedouins from the area carried out three bombing attacks on southern Sinai resorts. The Bedouins reject the authority of the state because they feel brutalized and discriminated against. And the state continues to press the Bedouins because they question their loyalty to the state, because of their smuggling and because of a fear that a strain of radical Islam has taken hold.
"Security cannot be the sole solution to any problem, no matter how small," said a general with the Egyptian Interior Ministry who spoke on the condition that he not be identified. "It is the social problems that create security problems, and not the other way around."
The region's former representative in Parliament criticized the government. "There is only security," said El-Kashef Muhammad el-Kashef. "The government does not play its second role of resolving such issues as unemployment and discrimination."
Forty miles from Rafah lies Wadi Amr, a village set in a bleak desert landscape. It is home to about 3,000 people, including many, like Jedeeiya eid Musleh, 67, who live in huts made of twigs and scrap metal. Mr. Musleh lives with two sons; a third is in prison for drug running, he said. They have nothing but a few cushions on the ground beneath a lean-to, and their hut.
"Anyone who has the chance to smuggle will do it," said a neighbor, Salim Lafy Ali Tarabeen, 30, as he sat beside Mr. Musleh. Mr. Tarabeen, who also was using his tribal name, carries two cellphones, one with a local number, the other with an Israeli number. At one point he received a call from a friend who said he was in an Israeli jail for smuggling weapons.
Not far from Mr. Musleh's hut was a large one-story house with four white Toyota pickup trucks parked out front. "You have seen how poor people live, now you will see how the smugglers live," said Ahmed Muhammad Hussein, who is working to help improve the Bedouins' social conditions. The house was filled with men in fresh clean clothing. Large bowls of rice and mutton were served for lunch.
The Bedouins' problems are one factor in a region that has been tense since the day in 1982 that Rafah was cut in half by the peace treaty that had Israel return the Sinai to Egypt. Israel occupied the peninsula after the 1967 war. As the border was fortified with walls and guards, families were split and the challenge of crossing from one side to the other became an act of defiance.
Over time, Rafah became one of the most heavily policed areas in Egypt because authorities wanted not only to stop the flow of weapons to Gaza, but also to stop the flow of Hamas's radical ideas to Egypt. The huge security presence meant that even the beach was closed, cutting off a major source of recreation and stoking tension between local residents and the authorities.
Today, as a result of the Hamas takeover of Gaza and fears of refugees pouring into Egypt, there are even more troop carriers in Rafah. High-ranking officers set up card tables to rest their walkie-talkies and to drink tea as they monitor the scene. There have been reports of some people crossing from Gaza into Egypt, and officials said they had sent some people back to Gaza and taken others to the regional capital of El Arish.
For now, the Bedouin men who said they are smugglers say it is too risky to conduct business, because the security is so tight. But they still manage to drive the area, easily avoiding checkpoints, and are planning a protest for next month to demand their rights.
Mona el-Naggar contributed reporting.
Let Hamas govern
June 18, 2007 THE GUARDIAN
Hamas is the actual power in Gaza now. The Palestinian president's response, dissolving the government of unity, declaring a state of emergency and then appointing a new government from which Hamas is totally excluded is hopeless and it would lead to nothing but destroying Palestinian democracy and farther bloodshed.
Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections of 2006 and it's about time that Abbas and the Fatah leadership admit defeat and hand over power – government as much as foreign policy, security forces and civil services – to the elected party. It was originally their failure to do so which has led to the current situation. Instead of dragging Palestinian society into protracted civil war, Abbas must leave office and most urgently work to re-create Fatah as a national opposition party and an alternative governing body to the inexperienced and unsure Hamas.
When the National Liberation Palestinian Movement, otherwise known as Fatah, emerged in the mid 1960s, it was meant as a resistance organization against Israeli military occupation. But it was also a young Palestinian opposition to traditional Palestinian leadership and Arab regimes' attempts to subordinate Palestinian cause and grievances to their own uses. For nearly three decades, against all odds and in spite of frequent defeats and shortcomings, Fatah succeeded to be the leading party of the national Palestinian movement ultimately delivering universal recognition of Palestinian right for self-determination and sovereign statehood.
Fatah's staggering failure, however, came after the Oslo accord. Instead of transforming itself into a proper party of state and government it remained a broad and chaotic movement with no clear vision or political program, united by no other than clannish and cronies' loyalties and the, now demised, charismatic leadership of Yasser Arafat. It failed to establish independent state and government institutions thus turning the increasingly impoverished and insecure Palestinian society into a discontented dependent of a corrupt and chaotic system. Most of all its peace negotiations and treaties with Israel failed to put an end not only to the Israeli military occupation – which what Palestinians hoped to see – but even the expansion of Jewish settlements.
Though this is largely the responsibility of Israel, it was Fatah's leadership that was seen as too weak to stand up to the Israelis. Hamas won the last year elections not because it presented voters with a coherent and hopeful set of policies – the current confusion of its leaders attest to that. But because after more than a decade of Fatah's rule, social and political conditions in the West Bank and Gaza have deteriorated back to what they were under military Israeli rule.
Reporters of current events have been warning of the risk of Hamas establishing in Gaza a mini Islamic state or even a Taliban enclave. This is a danger which cannot be overlooked. But nor can it be confronted by further fighting and bloodshed. Fatah and its secular siblings in the PLO must act honestly and prudently; Hamas must be given its lawful right to govern, while Fatah and the other secular Palestinian factions must reunite behind a strong, honest and, preferably, new leadership. They must expel the corrupt and the lawless and work on a political vision and agenda that would allow them to regain the lost trust of traditional and new voters. Fatah still has the experience, the resources and the connections to rebuild itself as a strong national opposition, an alternative party of Palestinian state and government, to the confused and immature Hamas.
Rather than wasting their time calling for international intervention or making another Mecca agreement, such as the one which has brought the doomed government of unity, regional and international supporters of peace must help Fatah to become an effective democratic opposition.
Bush and Rumsfeld 'knew about Abu Ghraib'
By David Usborne in New York
Published: 19 June 2007 THE INDEPENDENT
The two-star Army General who led the first military investigation into human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq has bluntly questioned the integrity of former US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, suggesting he misled the US Congress by downplaying his own prior knowledge of what had happened.
Major General Antonio Taguba also claimed in an interview with The New Yorker magazine published yesterday that President George Bush also "had to be aware" of the atrocities despite saying at the time of the scandal that he had been out of the loop until he saw images in the US media.
The White House issued a response denying the claim, however. "The President said over three years ago that he first saw the pictures of the abuse on the television," Scott Stanzel, a spokesman, said.
In the extensive interview, Maj-Gen Taguba insisted that at the very least Mr Rumsfeld "was in denial" at a congressional hearing in May 2004, when he said he had only become aware of the extent of the abuse – and seen some of the shocking photographic evidence – one day before. The Secretary told members of Congress that the images published in the media were "not yet in the Pentagon".
Mr Rumsfeld had summoned Maj-Gen Taguba to the Pentagon on the eve of the hearing, which took place one week after first US media reports of the abuse surfaced in The New Yorker and on CBS News. Yet the General had begun his investigation several months earlier, in January 2004, and had circulated his finished report to Pentagon managers – with pictures and a video – several weeks before seeing Mr Rumsfeld. "The photographs were available to him – if he wanted to see them," Maj-Gen Taguba said.
As for the Secretary's congressional appearance, he claimed: "Rumsfeld is very perceptive and has a mind like a steel trap. There's no way he's suffering from CRS – Can't Remember Shit. He's trying to acquit himself."
Mr Bush has since conceded that the abuse at Abu Ghraib is the one thing he regrets about the war in Iraq. The photographs that became public at the time – and sparked worldwide condemnation – showed US jailers humiliating inmates who were naked, hooded, on leashes or piled into a human pyramid.
Maj-Gen Taguba said that other material not yet publicly disclosed or mentioned in subsequent trials included a video showing "a male American soldier in uniform sodomising a female detainee". The first wave of images he received also included images of sexual humiliation between a father and his son.
The General said he was ordered to limit his inquiry into the conduct of military police at the jail even as he became convinced they had a green light from higher up. "Somebody was giving them guidance but I was legally prevented from further investigation into higher authority. I was limited to a box." He adds: "Even today … those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable."
The General also tells the New Yorker that he became a victim of his own dedication to finding the truth when he was subsequently forced to retire early. In early 2006, he said, he received a phone call from a higher-ranking colleague telling him he was expected to retire by January this year, after more than 30 years of service. His conclusion: he was being punished for that first investigation.
"They always shoot the messenger," Maj-Gen Taguba told Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker. "To be accused of being overzealous and disloyal – that cuts deep into me. I was being ostracised for doing what I was asked to do."
Palestinian incompetence, Western hypocrisy
By Rami G. Khouri
Monday, June 18, 2007 INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE
It's hard to know who appears more ludicrous and despicable, the Palestinian Fatah and Hamas leaderships allowing their gunmen to fight it out on the streets of Gaza and the West Bank, or an American administration saying it supports the "moderates" in Palestine who want to negotiate peace with Israel.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice phoned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday to underline American support for "moderates" committed to a negotiated peace with Israel, such as Abbas. She also called leaders of "moderate" Arab states to rally their support for Abbas against Hamas.
Surrealistically, this was happening when Hamas forces were routing Fatah's security forces to take control of all public facilities in Gaza, and Abbas was proving that the sort of Arab "moderation" he represents has little anchorage in reality any more.
Abbas declared a state of emergency and dismissed the Palestinian government, but the facts on the ground are that the Palestinian government is a fiction, and his state of emergency is a state of imagination. The "moderation" of Abbas and his Fatah movement was a noble nationalistic cause three decades ago. But Fatah's own incompetence and creeping corruption – especially after taking control of the West Bank and Gaza after the Oslo accords of 1993 – have turned the movement into an embarrassment that is little more than a pathetic poster child and crippled errand boy for the U.S. State Department.
Even in this moment of utter failure and complete humiliation – his presidential compound in Gaza occupied, his guards dispersed, his government nonexistent, his orders meaningless, his people sanctioned and starved – the quintessential Arab moderate Mahmoud Abbas found himself being defined in public by the American secretary of state primarily in terms of his willingness to negotiate peace with Israel.
Nevertheless, he persists, somewhat heroic and moving at one level, but overall a tragic and hapless figure whose ineptitude is matched by his irrelevance – except in the eyes of the American government that uses him as a convenient prop for its make-believe diplomatic games in Palestine.
Even the Israelis long ago gave up on Abbas and his sclerotic Fatah movement, which has spawned the same sort of local militias and militant gangs that plague many other dysfunctional Arab countries.
The first lesson of this Palestinian catastrophe is about the Palestinians themselves, who must endure a fate that reflects the quality of their own leadership.
Fatah dominated the Palestinian national movement since its inception over 40 years ago and forged a unified national movement, with realistic diplomatic goals based on a two-state solution that garnered great international support. All this was systematically wasted and negated in the past decade. Gaza looks like the ravaged Somali capital Mogadishu, because its political turmoil is slowly mirroring the Somali legacy of a disintegrating state replaced by feuding warlords.
Hamas shares some of the blame for this also, but much less than Fatah, because Hamas has only shared power for just over a year, and then only barely, because of the international financial boycott. We don't know if Hamas will do a better job than Fatah, because it has not had the time to prove itself. Perhaps we will find out in the months ahead.
Another lesson we should draw from this situation is the devastating impact of Israeli, American and British hypocrisy, which has proved to be the historical midwife of Palestinian incompetent and violent self-rule.
As long as Israel and its Western backers persist in their shameful double standards – demanding Palestinian moderation while accepting Israeli colonization and settlements; promoting Arab democracy while trying to strangle to death a democratically-elected Palestinian government; pressuring the Palestinians to negotiate agreements while wholeheartedly backing Israeli unilateralism that shuns negotiations – a credible, legitimate Palestinian government can never take root.
All concerned must collectively break this cycle of Israel's brutal occupation and colonization, Palestinian domestic incompetence and self-destruction, American-British-led Western hypocritical complicity, and detached Arab ineptitude. The combination of these four dynamics persisting for years on end has been a catastrophe for all, resulting in radicalization and an increasing resort to militancy on all fronts.
Two things are needed to get the Palestinians out of this tragic fighting pit they have allowed themselves to become.
The first is to acknowledge that they reached this low point through a combination of their own pedestrian politics and the low-grade morality of many others.
The second is to engage the Palestinians primarily on the basis of their own rights and needs, rather than only as the expedient instruments of Israeli demands and American fantasies. If not, what you see is what you get.
Rami G. Khouri is director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut and editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star. This article was distributed by Agence Global.
Revue de presse : Relations France Syrie 17 juin 2007
- Selon des sources diplomatiques françaises, M. COUSSERAN a toute la liberté de se rendre à Damas
- M. SARKOZY et la nouvelle politique française au Liban
- Damas affiche une certaine prudence vis-à-vis des signes ambigus venant de Paris