Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008
The International Committee of the Red Cross has been doing a heroic task of looking after the Palestinians trapped on the boarder between Iraq and Syria. This effort, reported below, to find them homes far from the region (Bravo Chile) is no doubt a result of ICRC efforts as well as Chilean kindness. Many thanks to Jean-Jacques Fresard, chef de delegation of the ICRC in Damascus [email@example.com] and to Irenee Herbet [firstname.lastname@example.org] the communications and field officer, who gave me a thorough overview of the ICRC's efforts to help the Palestinians last summer.
They have kept up constant pressure on International organizations to do something for these Palestinians, who are the forgotten refugees of the Iraq war. They have also taken every occasion to publicize their plight and to lecture people like me, sending pictures and details in an effort to humanize their conditions and put faces on the numbers. The ICRC is also responsible for the economic and human exchanges between the Syrian population of the Golan Heights and Syria. They have been working tirelessly to get international observers in Syrian prisons, something Syria Comment has covered in the past.
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — A group of Palestinian refugees stranded on the Iraq-Syria border since 2006 flew to Chile Sunday under a resettlement plan sponsored by the Catholic Church in the South American country and the U.N. agency for refugees.
The group of 37, including 17 children, was the second to make the trip to Chile. Thirty-nine left in early April.
"It's a lovely day for me," said 45-year-old Youssef Darwish. "At last I will feel that I am a human being. But the sad thing is that I will leave behind my friends whom I lived with for two years."
A third and final group will leave at the end of this month. The 735 Palestinians fled the violence in Iraq in 2006 but were denied entry by Syria, leaving them stranded at a desert camp close to the border. Chile has agreed to take 117.
Syria is already home to an estimated 1.5 million Iraqi refugees and about 500,000 Palestinians.
On arrival in Chile, each of the refugees will receive a monthly stipend of $50, or about $500 per family, as well as free housing, health care and education for the children, until they are fully settled in.
During their first few weeks, they will begin learning Spanish, obtain residency documents and receive physicals.
Authorities also have pledged to find jobs for the refugees, who include tailors, plumbers and drivers.
BAGHDAD — At the Rev. Thair Abdal's church, where on Sunday mornings sweet songs of prayer stream from the doorway, the congregation's fear of death leaves the sanctuary half-filled. "It's very clear," Abdal said. "Like the light of day, you cannot hide it."
Guards with AK-47 assault rifles man the heavy gates outside. Priests remove their black robes and white collars when they travel in the city. Violence in Iraq has declined dramatically since last year, but members of the country's Christian denominations say they are increasingly under threat.
In March, Paulos Faraj Rahho, archbishop of Mosul's Chaldean community, was found dead after being abducted. This month, Youssef Adel, an Assyrian Orthodox priest, was fatally shot in a drive-by attack in Karrada, one of Baghdad's safest neighborhoods and home to Abdal's Holy Catholic Assyrian Church.
Dozens of churches, monasteries and other buildings have been firebombed, looted or occupied by Muslims since June 2004, according to Assyrian church leaders. Christian relief organizations describe the plight of Iraqi Christians as "ethnic cleansing."
Most Christians in Iraq are Chaldeans, members of an Eastern Rite denomination that recognizes the pope's authority. Other sizable denominations include the Assyrian Catholic Church, which traces its roots to the 1st century. Iraqi Christians are also affiliated with the Church of the East, the Anglican Church and other Protestant faiths.
Pope Benedict XVI and President Bush said that in a meeting last week they discussed the "precarious state" of Christian communities in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.
The Iraqi Christian population numbered 1.35 million before the Persian Gulf War in 1991, according to politicians who cite government statistics from the time. That number has dropped by at least half, according to politicians, priests and religious organizations, mainly because Christians have fled the country in the years since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
In Syrian Villages, the Language of Jesus Lives By ROBERT F. WORTH in the NYTimes. "As Aramaic-speaking Christians disappeared, only a number of villages remain the keeper of this largely forgotten language.
North Korea Helped Syria's Nuclear Program
Revelation Could Upset North Korea Nuclear Talks|
By JAY SOLOMON
April 22, 2008 5:04 p.m.
WASHINGTON—North Korea was helping Syria build a plutonium-based nuclear reactor, the Bush administration is set to tell Congress, a revelation that could undermine diplomatic efforts to dismantle Pyongyang's nuclear-weapons program.This week, the Central Intelligence Agency is expected to begin briefing members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees on the Israeli strike, according to Congressional and administration officials, based in part on intelligence provided by the Israeli government.
The information is expected to confirm that North Korea was helping Syria develop a plutonium-based nuclear reactor similar to the Yongbyon facility North Korea built north of Pyongyang, said an official familiar with the deliberations. The briefings are also expected to confirm that North Korean workers were active at the Syrian site at the time of the Israeli attack.
Less conclusive, however, is any firm evidence that Syria was attempting to develop nuclear weapons, according to the U.S. official. "People will probably spin this information in whatever direction they want," the official said.
A spokesman for the White House's National Security Council, Gordon Johndroe, said: "The administration routinely keeps appropriate Members of Congress informed of national security and intelligence matters, but I'm going to decline to comment on any specific briefings." A spokesman for the CIA declined to comment.
A Legacy of Resistance: The hundreds of insurgent documents that were captured in the raid at Sinjar included personnel files on 52 recruits from Darnah; 10 of them included the enlistee's photo
By Kevin Peraino | NEWSWEEK
What drove so many Libyans to volunteer as suicide bombers for the war in Iraq? A visit to their hometown—the dead-end city of Darnah.
Even before he vanished, Abd al-Salam bin-Ali was an easy young man to miss. Pale, lanky and blind in one eye, the unobtrusive 20-year-old didn't leave much of an impression in Darnah, his hometown in eastern Libya. In school he had studied to become a veterinarian, but after graduation he couldn't find a job. "The economic situation was terrible," recalls his older brother, Abd al-Hamid. "He was looking for work every day." Sometimes Abd al-Salam would set up a folding table in Darnah's Old City and hawk cheap perfumes.
Unmarried, with few prospects, he still lived with his mother. At home, for distraction, he would sprawl in front of the family television and watch "Lion of the Desert," the 1981 epic of Libyan resistance fighters starring Anthony Quinn. Abd al-Salam had seen it over and over. As the war in Iraq dragged on, he also tuned in to Al-Jazeera. Nobody in the family had supported the American invasion, but Abd al-Salam was particularly affected by the bloody images he saw on the Arabic cable news channel….
The Institute for Public Policy Research has released a new in-depth report by Syracuse Professor Joshua Stacher examining the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The paper includes an overview and history of the organization; the group's policy positions on issues including the rights of women and minorities, political reform, and the application on Shari'a law; its performance in parliament since winning 88 seats in the 2005 parliamentary elections; and an analysis of western policies toward the organization.
France resumes contacts with Syria
Apr 22, 2008, 10:04 GMT
Paris – French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has met with his Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Muallem, in Kuwait, ending a freeze on bilateral contacts imposed by Paris in December, the French Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.
Kouchner and al-Muallem met on the fringe of a conference on Iraq held in Kuwait. The two men discussed primarily regional issues, 'particularly the political crisis in Lebanon,' the foreign ministry said in a statement issued in Paris.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy broke off diplomatic contact with Damascus in December after accusing Syria of blocking a political solution to the Lebanese crisis.
Sarkozy said links would be restored only when France had proof that Syria was not blocking progress towards installing a consensus president in Lebanon.
Lebanon has been without a president since November, as rival factions argue over who should fill the post.
Carter Says Hamas and Syria Are Open to Peace By ETHAN BRONNER in the NYTimes. "Given the general pessimism surrounding Israeli-Arab peace, the upbeat assessment of former American President Jimmy Carter had a contrarian quality to it."
"Carter's New Doctrine," Sami Moubayed
… Contrary to what many Arabs believed, [Carter] was never anti-Israeli but believed that just like the Israelis, the Arabs had the right to live and hope. They too suffered. They too existed and feared. They had legitimate interests, he claimed, that needed to be respected to bring peace to the Holy Land. These views were shared by his new secretary of state, Cyrus Vance, and national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.
This year, Brzezinski (who is now a foreign policy advisor to Democratic presidential challenger Barack Obama) visited Damascus and met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He then visited one of the private universities in Syria and spoke to students of the Faculty of International Relations. Most of them asked questions about the Carter era. They wanted to know why was it that America's number one ally in the region, Shah Reza Pahlavi of Iran, had been toppled by the Islamic revolution of 1979, despite assurances of support from the Carter White House?
They asked him about the arming and training of jihadis to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in December 1979. They asked him what could be expected in Syrian-US relations if Obama made it to the White House? That visit was frowned on by decision-makers in Washington, who accused Brzezinski of visiting a nation "that disrupts regional peace and supports international terrorism".
The psychological shock of seeing Brzezinski in Damascus was nothing, however, compared with what happened when Carter landed in the Syrian capital on April 18 to meet not only Assad but also Khaled Meshaal, the head of the political bureau of Hamas, a Palestinian military group that the US brands a "terrorist organization". ….
The Carter Center explained the trip, saying it aimed to "support and provide momentum for current efforts to secure peace in the Middle East". Carter said, "I feel quiet at ease in doing this. I think there's no doubt in anyone's mind that if Israel is ever going to find peace with justice concerning the relationship with their next door neighbors, the Palestinians, that Hamas will have to be included in the process."
Pro-Israeli think thanks in Washington have been slamming Carter for his audacity — "He actually hugged a Hamas official" –to meet with Hamas. See the barage of articles by WINEP here.
Popular 'Good Morning Syria' host Honey Sayed and others on the airwaves are mixing thumping music and racy U.S.-style talk shows, providing a rare cultural bridge in the Arab world.
By Borzou Daragahi
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
April 22, 2008
DAMASCUS, SYRIA — It's the midmorning commute, and time for the horoscope on "Good Morning Syria," the nation's hottest radio show. "Cancer," host Honey Sayed addresses listeners first in Arabic, then in English, with an air of sisterly candor, "don't get all worked up for nothing." On the other side of the window, deejay Abdullah Shaaban cues an oldie from John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. "I got chills, they're multiplying," Travolta sings. "And I'm losing control." Honey laughs and continues with her astrology report. "An opportunity is present," she coos into the microphone, "so take it, Leo." Newly instituted freedom on the nation's airwaves has transformed Syria's sonic landscape. Some say it is shaping the way people view themselves, part of a wave of global influences turning this nation, whose government is the most hostile to the West in the Arab world, into the culture most amenable to it…..