Posted by Joshua on Sunday, March 23rd, 2008
Even if few presidents show up at the Arab summit in Damascus, the hoteliers will consider the event a success.
More Than 5,000 Rooms Booked for Summit in Syria, Al-Hayat Says
By Massoud A. Derhally
March 23 (Bloomberg) — More than 5000 hotel rooms have been reserved for an Arab summit in Syria this month, causing prices to rise as much as 80 percent, Al-Hayat reported.
Of the total rooms reserved, about 1,500 have been booked at five-star hotels, the Saudi-owned newspaper reported. The Moroccan delegation to the summit, which will take place March 29-30, asked for 250 rooms. Libya initially asked for 700 rooms, then reduced the number to 200, in addition to reserving 200 luxury cars. Syria will close Damascus International Airport to all commercial flights March 28-30. About 850 journalists are covering the summit.
Three Kurds shot dead in northern Syria: Nayrouz turned bloody again this year. Almost every year tensions between Syrian state security and Kurds in the northeast of Syria boil over during the Nayrouz holiday. Nayrouz has taken on "national" significance for Kurds, who are widely discriminated against in the northeast of the country, where they predominate. Syrian authorities try to discourage all national sentiment amongst Kurds, banning the use of Kurdish language in print and in schools. The state fears that in giving more freedom to Kurds of the region they will demand to be annexed to Iraqi Kurdistan. Syria has resisted reforming its notoriously outdated citizenship law for fear of granting full national rights to the some 300,000 Kurds who have been denied citizenship since the infamous census under President Qudsi of 1962.. Most Syrian Kurds insist that Kurdish secessionist sentiment is fanned by the pervasive discrimination of the state. If Kurds were given full rights and freedoms, they claim, the call for the creation of a greater Kurdistan would not spread. The Syrian authorities do not buy this argument. Most Syrian Arabs are deaf to the Kurdish claim that Arab nationalism is a form of racism in Syria because it assumes that Syrian Kurds will embrace Arabism, happily chant Arab nationalist slogans during their schooling, and salute Arab symbols rather than Syrian symbols during their national military service. Kurds insist that Syrians should jettison their Arabism in favor of a more inclusive Syrianism. At the same time, many Kurds insist that they should be allowed to celebrate their own Kurdish national identity.
National anxieties and identity politics which have become so vexed in the region often find their flash point in Nayrouz. The US invasion of Iraq and support for quasi-Kurdish independence there has increased the disatisfaction of Syria's Kurds. No longer can Syria claim to treat its Kurds better than neighboring states do. In 2004, tensions boiled over in what has become known as a Kurdish intifada. Ever since, Syrian security in the northeast has been tighter than ever.
"Syria: Investigate Killing of Kurds," by Human Rights Watch
Hold Accountable Those Responsible for Unlawful Killings
(New York, March 24, 2008) – Syrian authorities should seek an independent investigation into the March 20 shootings by security forces that left three Kurds dead and at least five wounded at a New Year’s celebration, Human Rights Watch said today. The circumstances of the shootings raise concerns that state security forces used unnecessary lethal force in violation of international law.
On March 20 at about 7:00 p.m., Syrian internal security forces opened fire on Kurds celebrating the New Year (“Nowruz”) in the largely Kurdish town of Qamishli in northeastern Syria, eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch. The shots killed Muhammad Yahya Khalil and Muhammad Zaki Ramadan immediately. A third man, Muhammad Mahmud Hussein, died later from his wounds. All three were between 18 and 25 years old. Those wounded include Muhieldin Hajj Jamil `Issa, Karam Ibrahim Yusif, Muhammad Kheir Khalaf `Issa, Riad Yussef Sheikhi, and Khalil Sulayman Hussein.
Participants in this year’s festivities told Human Rights Watch that about 200 people gathered around 6:30 p.m. on a road in the western part of Qamishli. They lit candles on the side of the road and a bonfire in the middle, around which some performed a Kurdish traditional dance. “This was a celebration of Nowruz, not a political demonstration,” one of the participants told Human Rights Watch.
Firefighters appeared on the scene to extinguish the bonfire while police and intelligence officers fired teargas canisters and live ammunition in the air to disperse the crowds. Two participants told Human Rights Watch that when the celebrants failed to disperse, individuals wearing civilian clothes and driving in a white pick-up truck of the type usually used by intelligence officials fired their assault rifles into the crowd. “Without any warning, they started firing to the ground and suddenly bullets started flying indiscriminately,” an eyewitness told Human Rights Watch.
It is unclear what provoked the security forces to fire into the crowd. According to three participants in the celebrations, none of the Kurds were armed or resorted to violence. Reuters reported that one resident in Qamishli told them that some “youths burned tires and threw stones at the riot police,” but Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm this claim.
“Syrian officials have to justify why security forces opened fire at a Kurdish celebration,” said Joe Stork, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Those responsible for using unnecessary lethal force should be brought to justice.”….
Syria raises the price of petrol for the second time in 6 months. (Arabic)
Deputy assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman was quoted Saturday as saying Washington has for the first time ever adopted an independent policy on Lebanon that would persist irrespective of who wins the forthcoming presidential elections. Feltman, who was ambassador to Lebanon for over three years, said such a policy is based on support by both the Republican and Democratic parties for Lebanon as a cornerstone in the foreign policy of the United States. He explained that Washington's stand on Lebanon is based on the nation's "democracy and sovereignty" in contrast with Israel's stand, which is based on a security concept. He accused Free Patriotic Movement leader Gen. Michel Aoun of carrying out a "Syrian agenda." Hizbullah, according to Feltman, maintains its weapons "in line with a regional Syrian-Iranian agenda."
Peres told Cheney that "Israel will never agree to cede the Golan Heights in exchange for an Iranian-Syrian controlled Lebanon; and peace talks with Syria cannot begin while it keeps supplying Lebanon with weapons.
"Mass amounts of Iranian-bought weapons are making their way to Hizbullah everyday via Syria," Peres explained, "thus making it an Iranian satellite trying to take over Lebanon – just like Hamas has taken over Gaza," added Peres.
Vice President Cheney reiterated the US' sentiments on the matter, saying the US "is very concerned about the Syrians providing Hizbullah with weapons… it appears like (Syrian) President Bashar Assad is not interested in any kind of negotiation."
As for the Iranian threat, Peres told Cheney a US-led international move to stop Iran from developing new long-range missiles must be put in motion.
"Iran is investing large amount of money in developing long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warhead – right under the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) nose.
"These missiles are living proof that Iran's nuclear developments have nothing to do with civilian purposes, but are rather aimed at mass destruction."
When discussing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Cheney stressed that the US was complete committed to it, and that the American administration is willing to lend whatever assistance necessary to push the negotiations further. US President George W. Bush, he added, "can't wait to visit Israel again and celebrate its 60th anniversary."
In a bold defense of Israel, Vice President Dick Cheney has said the U.S. will never pressure the Jewish state to take steps that would jeopardize its security and vowed not to ignore "the darkening shadows" of the situation in Lebanon. (Naharnet)
The amount of support being shown for Israel these days is almost embarrassing. The parade of highly-placed foreign guests and the warm reception received by Israeli statesmen abroad have not been seen for quite some time. Who hasn't come to visit lately? From the German chancellor to the leading frontrunner for the American presidency. And the secretary-general of the United Nations is on his way. A visit to Israel has become de rigueur for foreign pols. If you haven't been here, you're nowhere.
The visitors are taken, of course, to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, the Western Wall and now to Sderot as well – the new national pilgrimage site. A few also pay a perfunctory visit to Ramallah; no one goes to the Gaza Strip, and they all have nothing but praise for Israel. Not a word of criticism on the occupation, on Israel's violent operations in the territories, on the siege and the starving – with the exception of a few vague remarks on the need for a solution. Israel squeezes the Sderot "informational" lemon for all it's worth.
The mix of Sderot and the Holocaust, international Islamophobia and Hamas rule in Gaza do the trick. Israel hasn't scored this kind of foreign-policy success since the days of the Oslo Accords. To judge by the declarations of our foreign guests and our hosts abroad, no other state in the world is more loved than we. A state that imposes a siege that is almost unprecedented in the world today in terms of its cruelty, that adopts an official policy of assassination, is embraced by the family of nations, if we are to judge by the words of the many statesmen who cross our doorstep.
It is, of course, pleasant to revel in this wave of support, but it is an illusion. Public opinion in most of the countries whose leaders are heaping all that praise upon us is not joining in. Israel remains a state without approval, sometimes even outcast and despised. The world sees images from Gaza on television – in comparison, Sderot looks like a resort – and it draws its own conclusions. The natural sense of justice that dictates support for the freedom struggles of oppressed people such as the Tibetan dictates natural support for the Palestinian struggle for liberation. The fact that it is a struggle between a Palestinian David and an Israeli Goliath only adds to the story. With the exception of the U.S., the world is indeed against us, apart from its statesmen. Therefore, we must not give in to the illusion: The current bout of official support for us is not genuine.
Also not genuine is the idea that blind, unconditional friendship is friendship. The support for Israel as a just enterprise that is extended by most of the West does not mean accepting all of its caprices. A true friend of Israel, one that is sincerely concerned for its fate, is only that friend who dares to express sharp criticism of its policy of occupation, which poses the most serious risk to its future, and who also takes practical to steps to end it. Most of the "friendly" statesmen do not understand this.
The stance of the European leaders is particularly perplexing. We're not speaking about the U.S., with its Jewish and Christian lobbies, but rather opinionated Europe; it, too, has lost its ability to act as an honest broker, the type that wields its influence to bring an end to the conflict that endangers it, too. We need Europe, the peace needs Europe, but official Europe covers its eyes and automatically falls in line with the U.S. and its blind support for Israel and its boycott of Gaza. Angela Merkel, who received such a royal reception here last week, did not bring up any controversial issue in her speech at the Knesset. And so, her "historic" speech turned into a hollow one.
The same behavior was displayed by her colleague in the European leadership, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, during the visit to his country of President Shimon Peres. The Israeli flags waving along the Champs-Elysees and the much-talked-about Israeli booth at the Paris Book Fair could not hide the fact that many French citizens are pained by the occupation. By not speaking about the siege on Gaza, the starvation imposed on it and the killing of hundreds of its people, Europe's leaders are not meeting their political and moral obligations. Those who believe that only honest international intervention can bring an end to the occupation find themselves desperate and disappointed. Yes, Europe, precisely that continent that carries justifiable feelings of guilt about the Jewish Holocaust, should have found another way to come to Israel's aid. Saccharine visits and sweet speeches in fact express a deep disrespect for Israel – and for European public opinion.
This blind friendship enables Israel to do whatever it wants. The days have passed in which every mobile home erected in the territories and every targeted assassination were carefully considered out of fear of international criticism. That time no longer exists. Israel has a carte blanche to kill, destroy and settle. The U.S. long ago gave up the role of honest broker, and Europe is now following in its footsteps. How depressing: With friends like these, Israel almost doesn't need enemies.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on Friday reiterated that he would not call the house to legislate as long as Premier Fouad Saniora's government remained in office. Berri made the stand in a statement released by his press office.
"The absence of any legitimate (executive) authority prevents the convening of parliament in a law making capacity," he statement said.
U.S. Pushed Allies on Iraq, Diplomat Writes
Chilean Envoy to U.N. Recounts Threats of Retaliation in Run-Up to Invasion
By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 23, 2008; Page A11
UNITED NATIONS — In the months leading up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration threatened trade reprisals against friendly countries who withheld their support, spied on its allies, and pressed for the recall of U.N. envoys that resisted U.S. pressure to endorse the war, according to an upcoming book by a top Chilean diplomat.
The rough-and-tumble diplomatic strategy has generated lasting "bitterness" and "deep mistrust" in Washington's relations with allies in Europe, Latin America and elsewhere, Heraldo Mu¿oz, Chile's ambassador to the United Nations, writes in his book "A Solitary War: A Diplomat's Chronicle of the Iraq War and Its Lessons," set for publication next month.
"In the aftermath of the invasion, allies loyal to the United States were rejected, mocked and even punished" for their refusal to back a U.N. resolution authorizing military action against Saddam Hussein's government, Mu¿oz writes….
It also sought support from Chile on issues such as peacekeeping in Haiti and support for U.S. efforts to drive Syria out of Lebanon. The U.S.-Chilean free trade agreement, while delayed, was finally signed by then-U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick in June 2003.
Mu¿oz said that Rice, as secretary of state, called him to ask for help on a U.N. resolution that would press for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. The United States had secured eight of the nine votes required for adoption of a resolution in the Security Council. Mu¿oz had received instructions to abstain. "I talked to [Lagos], and he listened to my argument, and we gave them the ninth vote," he said.