The Happy Arab News Service

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tossing a coin on Sunday's referendum

There was a discussion here (it's a Syrian blog) about some socio economical aspects of the current situation in Syria. You may want to check it. Some of these guys seem to know well their stuff. Interesting information about the demographic situation in Syria and the dwindling oil and water resources.


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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Salafis ? What ?

A few months ago on Jeha's thread about Lebanese sectarian demographics AM, a Lebanese, said she never knew or heard about Salafis. Who are these fucking animals ???

Hi Jeha,

Interesting blog and interesting post, never heard or read of the Salafis before ... I know it's shameful but hey, there is always a first time :)

. . .

With a dozen of Lebanese soldiers slaughtered in their sleep (four reportedly beheaded), and a suicide bomber who detonated himself in front of police officers who came to arrest him in Tripoli, I am sure she knows now . . .

:D :D

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Watch Your Manners, You Maggots

The Jerusalem Post

May. 24, 2007

Visitors to Jordan need to remember their manners and follow the rules, the Tourism Ministry is reminding Israelis.

The ministry has received complaints - and not for the first time - that Israelis visiting the historical site at Petra are entering the area via unapproved passages in order to avoid entrance fees, and that some Israelis are staying overnight at the site against Jordanian regulations. Such activities represent a safety risk, the Tourism Ministry said, noting that Jordanian security officials have been forced, at times in the middle of the night, to locate Israelis camping illegally at the site and escort them to more secure accomodations.

In addition to safety considerations, the ministry said Israelis' bad behavior abroad causes the country public relations damage. "Much has been written in the past about Israelis' behavior as tourists," a ministry press release noted, urging Israelis to "take responsibility for themselves and for the image of the State."

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The last thing we need is to get another war and this time because of our tourists.


The post was retagged under the 'IDF' label because much of the discussion in the comments section was focused on anti missile defense systems.


The main reason the Israel Defense Forces is not currently recommending a major ground operation in the Gaza Strip is fear that war might break out with Syria this summer, IDF sources say.

This argument is rarely mentioned publicly, in part because intelligence analysts are still uncertain about whether Syrian President Bashar Assad intends to start a war or is merely trying to pressure Israel to resume peace talks. But Syria has clearly been preparing for the possibility of war, both through troop training and major arms deals.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

If not THIS way, then . . .


Cheaper solar power heads mainstream

Tue May 22, 2007
By Timothy Gardner

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Solar power should become a mainstream energy choice in three or four years as companies raise output of a key ingredient used in solar panels and as China emerges as a producer of them, according to a report by an environmental research group.

"We are now seeing two major trends that will accelerate the growth of photovoltaics: the development of advanced technologies, and the emergence of China as a low-cost producer," Janet Sawin, a senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute and an author of report, said in a statement.

Investors have flocked to solar and other renewable energy sources amid worries about the high costs of oil and natural gas and greenhouse gas emissions. Solar is the fastest growing energy source, but still provides less than 1 percent of the world's electricity, in part because its power can cost homeowners twice as much as power from the grid.

But costs could fall 40 percent in the next few years as polysilicon becomes more available, Sawin said,

More than a dozen companies in Europe, China, Japan, and the United States will boost production over the next few years of purified polysilicon, which helps panels convert sunlight into electricity, and is the main ingredient in semiconductor computer chips, according to the report.

Polysilicon's feedstock is abundantly available sand. But a downturn in silicon refining after the high-tech bubble collapse in the late 1990s has constrained the panel market.

In some of the world's sunniest places, like California, electricity from solar panels costs the same as power from the grid. A drop in solar panel prices could expand that to places that only get average sunlight, making solar more of a mainstream choice, Sawin said in an e-mail.

Last year, China passed the United States to become the world's third largest producer of solar panels, trailing only Germany and Japan.

"To say that Chinese PV producers plan to expand production rapidly in the year ahead would be an understatement," Travis Bradford, president of the Prometheus Institute, a Massachusetts-based group that promotes renewables, said in a release.

"They have raised billions from international IPOs to build capacity and increase scale with the goal of driving down costs," said Bradford, who helped write the report.

Many companies are producing thin-film solar technologies that cut the amount of silicon used in panels. Thin-film could grab a 20 percent share of the market by 2010, up from 7 percent of the market in 2006, the report said.


If not biofuels then we will soon have this and probably the world will have both of them together. Smart Israeli politicians from Peres to Livni have committed themselves to the latest fashion of multilateralism, jumping on the bandwagon of the Saudi peace plan. Exploiting the Sunni Shia divide is only how far the thinking of these people can go, they plainly don't entertain themselves with the idea that most of these power structures will be gone within a decade (Otherwise they would have poured a few billions into Israel's solar industry represented by companies such as Solel).

The same Saudi Arabia, the author of the original plan, will be one of the first to succumb. With its 30 million strong population living in the state of a permanent demographic explosion, the kingdom is the first candidate to be erased off the map of the region, using the slang of our friend Ahmalalah (Iran is the second). Its restless underclass is just waiting for the dynasty to run out of handouts it throws out every now and then to keep these people quiet.

The future looks solar


China may eye more than solar energy

As governments across the globe are increasingly imposing mandatory biofuel blends on markets by means of legislation, China may have its eyes set on more than just solar energy. A new biofuel law that went into effect in the Philippines on May 6, requires a 1% biofuel blend in diesel. The law also envisions a 5% ethanol blend in gasoline by 2010 and then increasing it to 10% after the next four years. Philippine Agriculture Secretary reported that no less than four Chinese groups expressed interest in setting up ethanol plants across the country.

MANILA (Reuters) - China's Guangxi State Farm Bureau and a Philippine oil firm will spend $350 million to develop 4-5 ethanol plants in the country in the next two to five years, an executive with the local partner said on Sunday.

Fernando Martinez, chairman of local oil retailer Eastern Petroleum Corp., said the joint venture will look for plantations, and put up plants with an annual capacity of 150,000 to 200,000 tonnes of ethanol each.

He said the plants would initially use cassava as feed stock, but may also consider sugarcane.

"We plan to either go into contract growing with farmers or lease plantations of up to 350,000 hectares to grow the feedstock," Martinez told Reuters by phone.

. . .

. . .

"This project will revolutionise Philippine agriculture. Of the country's 10 million hectares of agricultural lands, about 2 million hectares are underutilised due to lack of capital and access to markets," Martinez said.

Martinez said cassava production from the contract growers will initially be exported to China, until the plantations reach a level of 30,000 hectares, enough to feed the requirement of one ethanol plant.

He said his group aimed to have one plant operational by 2009, in time for the mandatory blending of ethanol in local gasoline, and have 2-3 plants operational by 2010.

A Philippine biofuels law took effect on May 6, requiring a 1 percent coconut blend in diesel, and within two years gasoline will have to contain 5 percent ethanol.

After four years, the mandated ethanol blend will be increased to 10 percent.

Mario Marasigan, director of the Department of Energy, said the country needed 270 million liters of ethanol a year by 2009 and 400 million liters by 2011.

Martinez said the production of his group's ethanol plants will be sold locally and any excess will be exported to China.

Philippine Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap has said four to six Chinese groups have expressed keen interest to put up ethanol plants in the country.

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. . .



When the Real Game starts . . .

YORK (Reuters) - Wood rather than wheat may hold the key to Europe's efforts to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by expanding biofuels production, the head of a research body funded by the UK government told Reuters.

Jeremy Tomkinson, chief executive of the York-based National Non-Food Crops Centre, said government support would be needed as wood-based technologies required large capital investment and long-term guarantees of future demand.

He said wood-based biofuel production plants could become widespread by the middle of the next decade although they required an investment of around 500 million pounds ($986 million), or 10 times the cost of a first-generation bioethanol or biodiesel refinery.

. . .

First generation biofuels are usually produced from food crops such as wheat, maize, sugar or vegetable oils. They require energy-intensive inputs like fertilizer, which make it difficult to cut the emissions of gases contributing to climate change.

The global boom in these fuels has also pushed up the price of foodstuffs.

Tomkinson said fuels based on grains and vegetable oils should not be abandoned until the second generation technology became widespread as they helped introduce biofuels to the market and provided experience on how to blend them into fuel.

. . .

"That's a stepping stone that gets us on the race track. The real game is second generation," he said.

. . .

The UK requires road transport fuels to incorporate 2.5 percent biofuel by 2008 and 5 percent by 2010 . . .

. . .


With so many countries aiming at imposing 5% and 10% blends by the beginning of the next decade the market of biofuels is going to reach huge proportions. It is at this point and even earlier, and even right now, that investment into research starts surging. And from that moment on the timing of a massive switch to low carbon economy world wide will depend squarely on when a second generation technology, enabling production of a reasonably priced cellulosic ethanol (should be equivalent to $30-$35 per barrel), becomes available.

In a less probable case governments may soon start imposing additional taxes on gasoline to push prices up in order to suppress demand and, with it, carbonic emissions. In this case the notion of what is an acceptable price will change too.

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If You've got neither Hamas nor Fatah, get yourself Fatah Islam


Just as the danger of Sunni extremism in Lebanon has been mentioned . . . though it seems to be Palestinians and not local Sunnis . . .

Violence flares in Lebanon, killing 39

By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press Writer

TRIPOLI, Lebanon - Lebanese tanks pounded the headquarters of a group with suspected links to al-Qaida in a Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli Sunday after the northern city's worst clashes in two decades killed 22 soldiers and 17 militants.

The clashes between troops surrounding the Nahr el-Bared camp and Fatah Islam fighters began early in the morning shortly after police raided a militant-occupied apartment on a major thoroughfare in Tripoli and a gunbattle erupted, witnesses said.

Hundreds of Lebanese applauded at the army as its tanks shelled the camp — a sign of the long-standing tensions between some Lebanese and the tens of thousands of Palestinians who took refuge from fighting in Israel over the past decades.

"We strongly back the Lebanese army troops and what they are doing," said Abed Attar, a resident of Tripoli who stood watching the tanks fire into the camp while others cheered.

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. . .


Seems to me no love is lost there between Tripoli's Sunnis and the Palestinians from Nahr el-Bared.


A Lebanese soldier lies dead while the army and Fatah Al-Islam fight each other on the streets of Tripoli

A Lebanese soldier wounded in the clashes

Tripoli residents cheer on Lebanese troops

Nahr el-Bared under fire


Israeli peace loonies are strongly advised to visit Lebanese blogs right now to receive explanations on why it's ok to shell residential areas when it comes to fighting terrorist networks. Reports from inside the camp speak about dozens of dead and more than one hundred wounded. And no, the Lebanese army shelling the camp uses no precision-guided munition.


"We all knew this was coming. We've been hearing about arms smuggling and preparations for terror actions. Everyone knows this, even children, but we never thought it would happen here," said Mahmoud Rawi, a driver from Tripoli, watching the fighting.

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. . .

While clashes near the Palestinian camps, especially with Fatah al-Islam, have become almost routine, this was the first time fighting had spilled into a major city.


A Tripoli street after clashes

Street battles in Tripoli may indicate that the group has supporters inside the city. Its support base may be not necessarily restricted to the camp itself.


The Lebanese seem to be getting another front to fight on in their never ending internal mess.

A convoy of U.N. relief supplies was hit in a third day of fighting Tuesday between Lebanese troops and an Islamic militant group holed up in a crowded Palestinian refugee camp.

. . .

Dozens of refugees angered by the assault on Nahr el-Bared burned tires in protest in the southern camp of Ein el-Hilweh, Lebanon's largest Palestinian camp. Protesters also burned tires in Rashidiyeh camp, farther south.

The protests raised the specter that Palestinians in Lebanon's 11 other refugee camps could rise up in anger over the assault on Nahr el-Bared. The overcrowded camps — housing more than 215,000 refugees, out of a total of 400,000 Palestinians in Lebanon — are also home to many armed Palestinian factions who often battle each other and have seen a rising number of Islamic extremists.

. . .

Overnight, the Lebanese government ordered the army to finish off the militants who have set up in Nahr el-Bared, where 31,000 Palestinian refugees live on the outskirts of the northern port of Tripoli . . .

At the same time, Lebanese troops sought to flush out fighters hiding in Tripoli. Soldiers raided a building where Fatah Islam militants were believed to be hiding out, blasting an apartment with grenades, gunfire and tear gas.

They found no one in the apartment, but hours later, while pursuing a militant, they ordered him to surrender. He dropped a pistol but then detonated an explosives belt on his body, police officials said. None of the troops was injured.

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. . .

Reports emerged from Nahr el-Bared of heavy destruction from the three days of bombardment by Lebanese artillery and tanks and militants who returned fire with mortars and automatic weapons.

. . .

Black smoke billowed from the area Tuesday amid artillery and machine gun exchanges between troops and militants. Lebanese troops skirmished with Fatah Islam fighters, trying to seize militant positions on the outskirts of the camp.

"There are dead and wounded on the road, inside the camp," screamed a Lebanese woman, Amina Alameddine, who ran weeping from her home on the edge of the camp. She fled with her daughter and four other relatives after Fatah Islam fighters started shooting at the army from the roof of her house.


Lebanon is watching Nahr el-Bared


Following the attack on Ashrafieh, the Sunni district of Verdun was bombed in Beirut on Sunday. The first attack of this kind and a clear retaliation for Nahr el-Bared.

Probably the most important thing to notice, when one sees Lebanese Sunnis cheering on the army while it's shelling a Palestinian camp, is that pan Arabism is dead in Lebanon. Lebanon did acquire a feeble semblance of a nation.

Of course the Syrians did get another proxy in Lebanon besides Hezbollah - the Palestinians, but the Syrians are wrong if they think that the bulk of the Sunnis is still ready to devastate the country for the sake of somebody else's cause. These Sunnis are Lebanese first and only then Sunnis. Gone are the days when the Sunnis were fighting the Christians for the Palestinian cause. Behind the ugly scenes of Nahr el-Bared and Verdun there is hiding the beauty of a simple fact - a new nation was born, the Lebanese.

Still, this would be a small consolation if the continued shelling of the camp triggers a Lebanon wide Palestinian uprising.

It's never too late to have a happy childhood

Palestinian children in the camp of Bedawi are burning tyres (Tripoli)

People flooded out of a besieged Palestinian refugee camp Tuesday night, waving white flags and telling of bodies lying in the streets and inside wrecked houses after three days of fighting between Lebanese troops and Islamic militants.

. . .

"The smell of corpses was everywhere. There was no food, water or electricity and they were shooting at us," Dania Mahmoud Kassem, a 21-year-old university student, said of the past three days in the camp, which is on the outskirts of the northern port city of Tripoli.

Another refugee, Ibrahim Issa Dawoud, said he, his wife and six children — ages 3 to 13 — had taken refuge in a mosque for three days, living off potato chips while Lebanese army tanks and artillery fired at militants armed with mortars and automatic weapons.

"Even the cemetery was bombarded and the skeletons were uprooted," the 42-year-old said as the left with his family. "We thought this was our last chance because they will bulldoze the camp."

. . .

Reports from fleeing residents raised fears of a high civilian toll.

"There's been a massacre. I witnessed it. In one room alone there are 10 dead. Six shells fell on us, the bodies were cut to pieces," one man shouted angrily as he and a few others managed to get out of the camp during the brief afternoon truce.


. . .

At Borj Arab, a small town about 1 1/2 miles from the camp, 7-year-old Mohammed al-Mouri leapt for the handle on the metal shutter of his family's sweets shop, struggling to pull the shutter down with his weight as women up and down the street hustled children inside and men took to rooftops with family guns.

"Do you hear the shooting? They are coming!" his 20-year-old sister, Tamam al-Mouri, said inside. "Everyone is afraid. There are children, and they will shoot them."

Mouri, whose father is Lebanese and whose mother is a Palestinian refugee, said the last she heard from friends and family inside the camp was Sunday. A cousin who had taken a 6-year-old daughter for treatment at the camp hospital called to say doctors and nurses had fled when fighting broke out, leaving patients trapped inside the hospital.

"She was crying," Mouri said. "She was saying, 'The shooting is everywhere.' " Recalling a visit to the camp about two months ago, Mouri said she had seen, at a distance, masked men jumping from walls with guns, in what residents and neighbors said was military training inside the camp.


The shelling of the camp may make sense and be even justified. There is only one thing that cannot be justified and this is if the Lebanese claim later that, when they were sending their poorly trained and ill equipped army to storm Nahr el-Bared, they did not know what a havoc it could wreck in the camp.


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Kim Howells, British Foreign Office minister, warned during a visit to Beirut in March (!!! NB) that "seasoned jihadists" from Iraq were flocking to Lebanon because they regard it as a soft target for terrorist attacks.

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. . .


This information is clearly corroborated by many reports of massive presence of foreign Jihadists among the members of Fatah Islam.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Legs and Beards

The Jerusalem Post

May. 20, 2007
by Khaled Abu Toameh

Once, Hamas members were afraid to wear beards for fear of being arrested by Israel's security forces. Today, they are once again afraid of appearing in public with beards - this time for fear that they will be killed or kidnapped by Fatah militiamen in the Gaza Strip.

Sources close to Hamas said over the weekend that at least 10 bearded men have been shot and killed in the past week after being stopped in the street by Fatah gunmen.

One case was caught on camera and has since appeared on the Youtube Web site. The film shows several Fatah gunmen shooting a bearded man in the legs. As the man lies in a pool of blood in the street crying for help, a Fatah gunman approaches him and fires at his head from an automatic rifle, killing him instantly.

"This man was just an ordinary citizen who happened to wear a beard," said a Hamas official. "It's become very dangerous to appear with a beard on the streets of the Gaza Strip."

According to the Hamas official, most of the victims were killed execution-style by Fatah militiamen and members of various Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority security forces.

They include two journalists working for the Hamas-affiliated Falasteen newspaper, Suleiman Ishi and Muhammad Abdo. "The two are not members of Hamas, but they were killed simply because they had beards," he said. "They were kidnapped by members of Mahmoud Abbas's Presidential Guard and executed in a Palestinian security installation."

Another Hamas official in Gaza City said that many young men had begun shaving their beards for fear of being identified as Hamas members. "We never imagined that the day would come when Muslim men would be afraid to walk in the street because they are wearing beards," he said.

He said that about 40 bearded men have been hospitalized after being kidnapped and shot in the legs by Fatah gunmen in the past few days. Doctors have been forced to amputate the legs of some of them because of the severity of their wounds, he added.

Fatah accused Hamas militiamen of using the same method against its members. Several Fatah and PA security officers who had been abducted by Hamas militiamen were shot in the legs and left to bleed in the street, said a senior Fatah official in Gaza City.

He said three members of the PA National Security Force were shot in the legs on Saturday after being kidnapped by Hamas militiamen earlier in the day. The three, Abdel Rahman Barawi, Khalil Abu Shawish and Ala Abu Shamaleh, were admitted to the Al-Quds Hospital in Gaza City for treatment.


Probably the level of mutual hostility there is ways above what we would expect, which means that the next round in Gaza may be already on the way.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Who needs Hamas and Fatah ?

Fifteen people were injured, one seriously, in a gunfight that broke out between rival clans Saturday night in the Beduin village of Rahat.

Police arrived on the scene and managed to calm the situation. One person was detained on suspicion of throwing rocks at the police.


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Love is in the air . . .


An Australian woman planned to explode a car bomb in Sydney's main nightlife district to prove her love for her jailed boyfriend, a court was told Thursday.

Jill Courtney, 27, was "obsessed" with Hussan Kalache, who had promised to marry her if she carried out a "mission", police said in a statement presented in court.

They said she had Kalache's name and prison number tattooed "over various parts of her body," and that he had wanted Courtney to "prove her love to him by undertaking a 'mission' before he would commit to marriage."

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. . .

Courtney allegedly approached a number of people asking for assistance in buying materials and making a bomb.

When her home was searched, police seized a timing kit, chemical lists and items which they said could be used in the construction of a bomb. A wig was also found.

A notebook allegedly detailing the "mission plan" said: "Go place, set it up, leave, do it, go to borrowed car, change clothes, wig, drive home."


The aftermath of a truck bomb attack on the Sadriya market in Baghdad

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Friday, May 18, 2007

No Comment

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. . .

Hamas said the Israeli military had called the home of Ahmed Jaabari, head of Hamas' military wing, and warned his family the house would be hit. People gathered around the building to discourage an attack, he said. The Israeli military had no comment.


Neither do I.


The Jerusalem Post

May. 19, 2007

The US House of Representatives authorized a sum of 205 million dollars for financing joint US-Israel missile defense system projects, Israel Radio reported early Saturday morning

The sum, part of a $504 billion defense spending bill passed Thursday, will be directed to projects currently being developed in Israeli factories.

According to the report, the defense systems are meant to be able to withstand ballistic missiles developed by Iran.

Within this framework, $25 million will be added to the production of Arrow missiles, $45 million will be provided for developing David's Sling, a missile defense system that is capable of intercepting medium-range rockets and $135 million will buy the ground-based Theater High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system


Add to this a system against short-range missiles, an absolute must for the military that, as the above example illustrates so well, has largely lost the ability for offensive actions against population centers. The army that is no longer capable of striking back, should at least know to intercept.


Lesson Learned

Washington Post Foreign Service

JERUSALEM, May 20 -- The Israeli air force fired missiles Sunday evening that hit the Gaza home of an elected Hamas legislator, killing at least eight people and wounding more than a dozen.

The lawmaker, Khalil al-Haya, was not at home during the mid-evening strike in Gaza City, which witnesses said destroyed the family guesthouse. Palestinian hospital officials said all but one of those killed -- they ranged in age from 16 to 66 years old -- had the last name of Haya.

"These crimes will not stop us or our people from continuing the struggle and resistance," Haya, the head of Hamas's parliamentary bloc, said later at Shifa Hospital in Gaza.

But Israeli military officials said Haya was not the intended target. They said Israeli aircraft fired on a "terrorist cell" in the Sharjiya neighborhood where Haya lives. Israeli officials said one of the men killed was Sameh Ferwanah, 28, a senior Hamas military official from Gaza who has been involved in rocket and shooting attacks on Israel. The name appeared on the list of dead provided by Palestinian medical officials.

"We know from initial reports that of the terrorist cells we targeted, all five were hit," said Capt. Noa Meir, an Israeli military spokeswoman. "They were the target and they were hit. Anything else that happened, that was not our intention."

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Human Vultures

An AP correspondent on the less reported aspects of life in Iraq. The society seems to be totally demoralized by the impact of unceasing truck bomb attacks and sectarian killings.

By HAMZA HENDAWI, Associated Press Writer

Thu May 17

Abdullah Jassim expected ambulances and security forces to arrive first after a blast last month near his clothing shop. Instead, it was thieves.

"I saw them with my own eyes," said Jassim, who has survived a string of suicide bombings in Baghdad's well-known Shurja market. "Young men between 20 and 30 years old stole mobile phones, money and wrist watches from the dead and badly hurt."

The consequences of sudden and violent death — so commonplace in Iraq's relentless turmoil — have spawned their own macabre subcultures: the human vultures, grave markers with serial numbers for unidentified victims, tattoo artists asked to etch IDs on people afraid of becoming an unclaimed body amid the carnage and killings.

It's more than just another grim tableau in a nation brimming with sad stories. It points to how deeply war and sectarian bloodshed have reordered the way Iraqis live — and confront the constant possibility of death.

"As a society, we are finished," said Jassim, whose store is only several dozen yards from the site of a car bomb that killed at least 127 people and wounded 148 on April 18. "We may have hit rock bottom."

The black banners hoisted on street corners to announce a death have markedly increased since sectarian violence intensified after the February 2006 bombing by Sunni militants of an important Shiite shrine in Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad.

Estimates of civilian deaths since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion vary widely — from 62,000 by the private Iraq Body Count group to as many as 600,000 in a study published last year by the respected British medical journal The Lancet — but the figures alone can't fully explain how Iraqis have learned to treat death in different ways.

Even mourners are alert for attack. Suicide bombers have targeted the funeral tents traditionally used by families to receive relatives, friends and neighbors.

That same fear keeps relatives from going to cemeteries to bury their dead or, in some cases, even publicizing the victim's name.

Stories making the rounds in Baghdad speak of relatives receiving calls from the mobile phones of loved ones who were missing, with callers claiming to hold them hostage and demanding ransom. When the money is delivered, the families are told their relatives are dead.

A top police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said authorities were aware of looting at bombing sites and the use of stolen mobile phones to collect ransoms from families. He blamed organized criminal gangs.

Fadil Abu Semidiah, an undertaker from the holy Shiite city of Najaf, recalls a teenage boy who recently came with his family to the city's vast cemetery to bury his father — a victim of a Baghdad bombing.

As the father was being laid to rest before him, the son's mobile phone rang. The screen showed the number of his father's missing telephone. The caller did not say anything, but it was enough to unglue the boy.

"The boy became hysterical," said Abu Semidiah, 56. "He kept shouting 'my father is alive! my father is alive!'"

. . .

. . .

In Baghdad, a 34-year-old man asked a tattoo artist to mark his right shoulder with three words. "My brother Hossam," reads the tattoo in blue letters.

Firas Adel said the wording was selected so his immediate family and close friends could recognize his remains in a morgue packed with decomposed, bloodied and decapitated bodies.

Such individualized markings are now the most popular tattoos in Baghdad. But people avoid tattooing their names, which can betray their sectarian affiliation, and go instead for a symbol or a name that close family and friends would recognize.

"I may be kidnapped, beheaded and then my body is burned," said Adel, who makes a living delivering goods across Iraq, braving its deadly roads on a daily basis. "I know people who spent weeks trying to locate relatives. Don't want this to happen to me."


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You bet, I bet

Western security officials have asked Israel to give Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas the tools he needs to fight Hamas - first and foremost, the ability to pay his security services' salaries.

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. . .

Israel's security establishment, however, is still divided over whether to help Abbas fight Hamas, with opponents arguing that Fatah has already lost in any case.


I bet it has.

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Lebanon in 5 years from now

Last updated: May 28, 2008

May 18, 2007

On January 11, 2006 Jeha was commenting on the statistics of the ethno-demographic situation in Lebanon published by Al-Nahar . Despite the appearance of a certain equilibrium between the three main Lebanese communities, Jeha said that more digging in the data reveals a completely different picture.

The common knowledge is the diminishing Christian presence in Lebanon. While holding 50% of the seats in Parliament, the Christian community now hardly amounts to 1/3 of the population. Yet among those under the age of 20, Christians don't even account for 25%. According to Jeha, low fertility and increasing emigration will reduce the Christian share of the population to 20% within the next 5 years.

Recently the Christians failed to play a meaningful role in Lebanese politics. Instead a bizarre situation is persisting with Christians taking part on both sides in what starts looking more and more as another Sunni Shia confrontation. From all mistakes and blunders committed by the Christians until now, this one may well be their last big one, as there are simply not enough of them left in Lebanon to continue committing mistakes of that scale.

More musings by Jeha about the situation don't add up to an overly optimistic picture of the Lebanon that will be waiting for us in 5 years from now. Contrary to the commonly held view, it's not the Shia who lead the demographic race, which means Nasrallah is massively shooting himself in a foot by insisting on reforming the electoral system. In Northern areas such as the impoverished Akkar, the Sunni fertility rates are well above the national average, while the Shia and Christian birth rates are converging nationwide.

Surprising as it may appear, one should bear in mind that the mother ship of the Shia Islam in the region has a population growth of less than 1%, its demographic indicators being comparable to the demographically stagnating Europe. In fact, Iran is held by many to be one of the most advanced nations around in family planning. On the other hand, a Lebanese blogger, on a visit to Israel a few months ago, was quite skeptical about the widespread perception of the Shias as the most backward and deprived of Lebanese communities. In his view many people fail to take sufficiently into account the situation in the demographically super-active and economically backward Sunni North, as well as recent advances of the Shia community.

Jeha worried about the future of the Lebanese political system which is losing any relationship to the situation on the ground. Lebanon did not have a national census since 1932 and the elevated number of casualties of the last civil war, more than 100,000 dead, serves a stark warning to all fans of censuses and electoral reforms. Yet the plain impossibility to maintain a system that gives the Christians 50% of seats and the presidential post, while the community itself keeps disappearing, spells more bad news in the future.

And however bad the Hezbs can appear, it's the Salafis who worry Jeha most.

. . .

. . .

Another article published on the Catholic News Service site not so long ago appears to echo some of Jeha's conclusions. According to it, the largest Christian community, the Maronites, is at an advanced stage of disintegration.

Forty-three percent of Maronite Catholics – the largest of the country's 12 Christian denominations – polled recently said they were considering emigrating.

Nearly a third of them have applied for visas in the last six months, according to the study by Information International, an independent Beirut-based research body. The study, which was to be published in May, was released early to Catholic News Service.

"Some 60,000-70,000 Christians have left the country in the last six months," said George Khoury, executive director of Caritas Lebanon, the local agency of the Caritas Internationalis confederation of Catholic relief, development and social services organizations. "In some ways Lebanon is becoming increasingly Islamized because of the demographic shift."

And a violent explosion of Sunni fundamentalism is not such a far fetched scenario at all.

Jawad Adra, managing partner of Information International, warned that the increasing polarization of Lebanon's pro- and anti-government factions was providing a fertile breeding ground for Sunni extremism, which is only likely to hasten the pace of Christian emigration from the country.

"The growth of Sunni extremism is a ticking time bomb that is waiting to explode and could sweep all moderates out of its path," he said.

Kim Howells, British Foreign Office minister, warned during a visit to Beirut in March that "seasoned jihadists" from Iraq were flocking to Lebanon because they regard it as a soft target for terrorist attacks.

. . .

. . .

By Michael Hirst
April 17, 2007



The chances are good that in 5 years from now one of the two Muslim communities will either demand normalization of the electoral system, or redesigning the old one in line with the new ethno-demographic situation. Such a demand, if not met with an outright refusal, may find itself confronted with an acute interest in federalism in some quarters. A failure to accommodate the federalists may well mean another civil war.

In 5 years from now, Lebanon may lose a lot of what was making it such a special place. Of this the first one is its large Christian community. The more Islamic Lebanon will still have Beirut . . . But it will also still have Akkar and this may happen to be more important.


The discussion in the comments section of Jeha's post has a few very good comments on the demographic situation in Lebanon and demographics in general.

On this blog the general Arab demographics are covered by this post.

May 28, 2008

The Nation of Associated Minorities

In one of its last reports on Lebanon the Economist published a map that highlights the enormous difficulty if not impossibility of resolving Lebanon's unending mess by means of splitting the country.

Source: Iran's tool fights America's stooge

The two major Shia blocks on this sectarian map grossly resemble the West Bank/Gaza cut in two in the low end of the Bekaa Valley. The vulnerability of the land locked Shia Northern flank in a hypothetical case of Sunni religious revivalists taking over Syria amidst an escalating Sunni Shia conflict in Lebanon is also evident. Hezbollah was recently rocking the boat very hard but it should bear in mind that in this region the hypothetical can turn reality in no time. As for now, reports abound about Hezbollah's latest action having unleashed a new wave of the Sunni Shia animosity.

With the Christians divided and their numbers steadily declining the Christian vs Muslim dimension seems to be more and more overshadowed by the Sunni vs Shia one. The last confrontation in which Christians shot not one single bullet testifies to the changing nature of the Lebanese conflict. And yet, for all the growing importance of the Sunni Shia relations (or rather tensions) for the future of Lebanon, there exists one single most populous Lebanese sect habitually ignored and underestimated in all inter and intra sectarian calculations. Or so claims Mark Farha in Demography and Democracy in Lebanon published in the January-March 2008 issue of the Middle East Monitor. According to a 2005 survey, he says, 34% of Lebanese identify themselves first of all by their national identity, the sectarian one coming only second.

In all probability this hidden third (if it does exist) is massively underrepresented in the present political system. Geographically, in very few places there can be high enough concentration of such voters to enable/justify creation of political forces of non sectarian nature. On the other hand, if Lebanon introduces instead an electoral system based on proportional representation the style of Israel, this constituency can take up to about 1/3 of the seats. The way out, according to Farha, lies in strengthening and encouraging this sector of the Lebanese society. Reforming the electoral system can be one of the first steps in this direction.

There are several problems with this idea though. To start with, 34% is a lot but it's not majority while systems based on proportional representation are notorious for their successes in creating very fractured political landscapes conducive to various dysfunctions and occasionally total paralyzes of political systems. Israel with its 15 something parties and Italy are obvious examples.

Another thing to keep in mind is that in our age of political correctness, people all around the world are self policing their speech and thought to such a degree that it's not easy to know what people are really thinking as frequently they don't know it themselves. Blatantly sectarian modes of speech are very much out of fashion these days and so many people make an extra effort to wrap their often super sectarian way of thinking in all the external verbal paraphernalia of the noblespeak of political correctness. The real number of these non sectarian Lebanese may be not as high as polls suggest. Such a survey, if taken today, might have discovered that the share of non sectarians shrank to a mere fraction of its former mighty self.

As the Lebanese internal crisis keeps moving through its ups and downs another factor seems to have been repeatedly stopping this country recently from taking the last step towards the abyss. Since their last civil war in which between 5% to 7% of the population perished, some Lebanese appear to be still rather clueless as to the real reasons their nation has ended killing so many of its sons while still others seem to be even less sure about their ability to stop themselves from doing it yet again. This nation may be in a constant paranoia about its neighbors yet its worst paranoia is about herself. It's the fear to cross some boundary or take a wrong step making all hell break loose that seems to be always making the Lebanese pull back at the last moment. This fear is strong and more effective than any amount of non sectarian rhetoric can be. Nevertheless those in the habit of playing with fire should know that their chances to end having their house burned to the ground are vastly above the statistical average.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ahwazi Arabs

The Christian Science Monitor contributor reports on yet another ethnic minority in Iran. The Ahwazi population is small yet apparently violent (just of the type of minorities that fascinate Andrey so much NB). Stranded in Syria where they are registered with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees) office in Damascus as asylum-seekers, about 250 of them fear forceful deportation back to Iran where many of them have been sentenced to death in absentia.

There is a very conflicting information about the situation of ethnic and religious minorities in Iran, which makes it difficult to make any predictions about what may happen when the regime of the Ayatollas go away. On one hand the Azeris are reported to be extremely well integrated, though disturbances by ethnic Azeris are occasionally reported too. Iran is also apparently tolerant of certain religious minorities. The Zoroastrians, for example, appear to be largely tolerated and free to practice their religion.

On the other hand there is a continuous unrest and often insurgencies in the Kurdish part, Baluchistan and Khuzestan where the Ahwazi population is concentrated. It's impossible not to notice that all three are populated by Sunnis, while the Persians and Azeris are Shia. This is not to say that the regime is necessarily discriminating against Sunnis on religious grounds.

Meanwhile, the unending roman between the Shia theocracy of Iran and the Baathist dictatorship of Syria keeps the Ahwazi refugees in Damascus tense.

May 08, 2007

. . .

. . .

Anti-Western alliance strengthens

Syria and Iran have been odd, but enduring, bedfellows for the past 27 years, united in an anti-Western alliance that transcends founding ideologies: Syria is an authoritarian, secular regime that outlaws political Islam, while Iran is a Shiite theocracy.

The two countries have recently strengthened their defensive ties, inking two agreements on military cooperation, one in 2006 and another in March.

Iran's defense minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, highlighted the importance of the military pacts following a meeting with Syria's president in Damascus in March.

"We consider the capacity of the Syrian defensive forces as our own and believe that expansion of defensive ties would ... help deal with threats of the enemies," he said.

The five Ahwazis seized on March 5 this year (who were later released in Syria) were the second batch to be detained by Syrian authorities in the past year. According to Syria's National Organization for Human Rights, five others were arrested in May 2006 and handed over to Iranian authorities. Among them was Faleh Abdullah Mansouri, a Dutch citizen in his 60s who heads the Dutch-based Ahwazi Liberation Organization. He is reportedly being held in Tehran's Evin prison and has been sentenced to death.

"That should never have happened," says Laurens Jolles, UNHCR representative in Damascus. "It was clear they were refugees sent back to an uncertain fate."

The Syrian government denies handing "prisoners of conscience" over to Iran, but says it has security agreements with Tehran to exchange prisoners.

Arab Sunnis in Shiite Iran

Forbidden from speaking Arabic (!!! NB), the Ahwazi population of Khuzestan Province is one of the most economically and socially deprived in Iran, according to Amnesty International.

Miloon Kothari, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, highlighted the living conditions in Khuzestan following his visit to Iran in July 2005.

"There are thousands of people living with open sewers, no sanitation, no regular access to water, electricity, and gas connections," he said. "In deprived neighborhoods, you can actually see the towers of the oil refineries and the flares and all that money, which is a lot, and it's going out of the province."

"People feel like the central government hasn't tended to them like it should," says Karim Sadjadpour, a Washington-based analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "There's a sense among some Ahwazis that the reason they're neglected is not because of geography, but perhaps because they're Arab and Sunni, rather than Shiite and Persian."

Unrest in Iran's oil-rich region

Tensions exploded in April 2005 when militants launched attacks against oil installations.

Several different Ahwazi opposition groups claimed responsibility for the attacks.

"The Iranian security apparatus has clamped down in the region and detained hundreds of people," Hadi Ghaemi, a New York-based Middle East researcher with Human Rights Watch said. "They have handed down execution sentences for dozens of people allegedly connected to bombings. Those trials have been very unfair."

Iran says its security measures are a necessary to prevent deadly attacks and thwart efforts by separatists to Balkanize the country.

Back in Syria, Abu Sana moves from house to house hoping to avoid being nabbed by authorities and sent to Iran. "The West cares about animal rights, but we are humans with no rights," he says. "Can't they protect us?"

Full Source


More posts on Iran are available under the 'Iran' tag below.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Palo-Circus is back in town


As the celebrations of the Al-Nakbah day in Gaza continue into the third day running . . .

Hamas gunmen killed five of their own combatants in an ambush on a Fatah vehicle that had been carrying Hamas detainees, Fatah officials said Wednesday.

Also killed were two members of the Fatah-affiliated Preventive Security force that had been guarding the detained Hamas members, the officials said.

. . .

. . .

Early Wednesday, Hamas gunmen fired mortars and pipe bombs at the home of Fatah security chief Rashid Abu Shbak, before storming inside, lining six Fatah bodyguards up against the wall and shooting them dead (Ourageous !!! NB), Palestinian security and medical officials said.

Hamas claimed that it men only stormed the home after the bodyguards fired at them. (Oh, sorry. Then it's a totally different story NB)

Abu Shbak and his family were not home at the time of the attack, but the house was guarded by at least a dozen of his guards.

. . .

. . .


At this rate there will be soon nobody left in Gaza to run the show. Anyway, lets not be cynical. Happy Nakbah to our friends in Gaza. Hag Sameakh.


Hamas blames world, Israel and Arabs

by Associated Press

The international community, Israel and Arab countries are to blame for the current inter-Palestinian fighting in the Gaza Strip for failing to life an economic siege on the Palestinians, a senior Hamas official said Wednesday.

And what's about Chinese ? Why it's only us all the time ?

The remarks by Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas' political bureau, came as fighting renewed between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza early Wednesday when Hamas gunmen stormed the home of a top Fatah official in Gaza City, killing five bodyguards inside, Palestinian security officials said.

. . .

. . .

Abu Marzouk singled out Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, for criticism. "He was one of the main instigator for these events because he is continuing his siege of the Palestinian people and had boycotted Palestinian elections," the Hamas official said

. . .

. . .

Abu Marzouk ruled out the possibility of a Palestinian civil war. "This is absolutely rejected by all Palestinian parties," he said.


I agree. A Palestinian civil war cannot happen. It's even linguistically impossible.


I am just wondering what the Palo-Mouse has to say to Tomorrow's Pioneers about this shit.


This is no longer Palo-Circus. But I have no better word for this.

Associated Press

. . .

. . .

In the latest infighting, police from the Fatah-allied Preventive Security force arrested five Hamas men and were driving them through Gaza City when the vehicle was ambushed by Hamas fighters, Preventive Security officials said. The five Hamas men were killed, along with two Fatah men, they said.

Hamas radio reported that a Hamas man was killed in a separate clash, and a nurse in an ambulance was shot in the head after being caught in the crossfire, hospital officials said. Her family said she was brain-dead and on a respirator.

In another incident, Hamas gunmen set fire to an 11-story apartment building housing Fatah lawmaker Nema Sheik Ali, the wife of the head of Preventive Security. Witnesses said the gunmen broke into her apartment and struck her and two of her children with their weapons. One of the children is 14 years old; the age of the other wasn't immediately known.

"They came, they broke the door," she said. "They assaulted my children and they pushed me aside, then they torched the apartment."

Shadi al-Kashir, a building resident, said his father, wife, five children and two sisters had been trapped inside by smoke in the halls and gunbattles raging in the entranceway. "They tried to send ambulances, but the ambulances came under fire," he said. They later managed to escape.

A group of about 200 Palestinians marched in central Gaza City, waving Palestinian flags and demanding an end to the fighting. Dozens of masked gunmen used the cover of the demonstration to improve their positions on the street, and then opened fire on the demonstrators, wounding one in the leg. The rest fled.

. . .

. . .



Hamas, Fatah gunmen stand down as cease-fire takes hold in Gaza

By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent, and Agencies

. . .

The leaders of the two warring factions agreed earlier Saturday to a renewed truce in a bid to stop factional fighting verging on civil war, a spokesman for the Hamas-led unity government said . . .

Shortly after the truce was agreed, clashes erupted outside the home of a senior Fatah official in Gaza City. Security officials said several people were wounded. In the course of the gunbattle, the convoy of a Fatah-allied colonel in the Palestinian intelligence came under fire, but no one was hurt.

Later, however, teams of representatives from the various Palestinian militant factions went around to buildings to make sure gunmen had come down from rooftops. Once rooftops were cleared, the exchange of an unknown number of hostages kidnapped during the past week was to begin . . .

. . . several hostages from both factions were released only after their captors shot them in the legs (!!! NB), both sides said . . .

"We are trying to have an atmosphere of national unity and reconciliation", [Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti said] . . .


Inshallah Salam. Sof Sof.

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Abu Saydah

There was apparently another chemical attack in Iraq near Baghdad. The car bomb killed at least 30 and wounded more than 50. Many victims are reported to have symptoms of chlorine poisoning though police denies it.

. . .

. . .

The car bomb attack occurred Tuesday evening in the village of Abu Saydah in the volatile Diyala province, police said.

Residents of the farming village of 10,000 people said the attack appeared to be revenge for a confrontation a month ago in which locals killed 12 al-Qaida fighters. They said residents had fought back against Sunni militants trying to storm the village and 10 days later received threats to leave the village or face death.

Jassim Mohammed, a 35-year-old car dealer whose house was near the blast site, said the car bomb was parked between two tea shops and a small market.

"I rushed to the scene and helped carry the wounded to civilian cars," he said, describing bloodstained pavement and body parts strewn across the site.

Hospital officials and victims said it appeared chlorine gas was used in the attack as many of the wounded were having difficulty breathing and their sight was affected. But provincial police officials denied the toxic gas was involved.

A hospital official said the facility had received three bodies and 11 wounded, who all showed symptoms of chlorine poisoning. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

One man had a white cloth across his eyes as he lay in his hospital bed; others were bandaged from head to toe.

Chlorine gas attacks the eyes and lungs within seconds, causing difficulty in breathing and skin irritation in low-level exposure. Inhaled at extremely high levels, it dissolves in the lungs to form hydrochloric acid. The acid burns lung tissue, essentially drowning a person as liquid fills the lungs.

The chemical has been used a number of times recently in insurgent attacks.

Last month, a suspected al-Qaida in Iraq suicide bomber smashed a truck loaded with TNT and toxic chlorine gas into a police checkpoint in Ramadi, killing at least 27 people. It was the ninth such attack since the group's first known use of a chemical weapon in January.

Abu Saydah is a mainly Shiite village about 25 miles northeast of the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Baqouba, the capital of the province that has seen a recent spike in violence largely blamed on militants who fled Baghdad ahead of a U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown.

Kadim Hussein, a 45-year-old farmer who was taken to the Imam Ali hospital in Sadr City, a Shiite area in Baghdad, claimed the hospitals in Baqouba would only accept Sunnis.

"My eyes became puffy due the chlorine gas that was packed in the car bomb," he said, adding he also had difficulty breathing. "Also, I had many pieces of shrapnel in my chest and right shoulder."

. . .

. . .


A roadside bomb goes off as a US convoy passes by

(The photo is not related to the attack on Abu Saydah)


There have been several reports already about militants in Gaza trying to mount chemical warheads on their missiles. However immature may be the current chemical technology at the disposal of Islamic radicals, it will eventually come of age and spread around the region. Chemical attacks on Israel's towns like Sderot from Gaza and elsewhere may be not far away and Israel should be better prepared for this development.

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A Capital Question

May 10th 2007 | JERUSALEM
From The Economist print edition

More Palestinians are losing their right to live in Jerusalem than ever before

ON May 15th, “Nakba [Catastrophe] Day”, Palestinians mourn the loss of most of their homeland to the newborn state of Israel. In a grim irony for them, this year's “Jerusalem Day”, the date in the lunar Jewish calendar when Israel celebrates its “reunification” of the city after capturing the West Bank in the 1967 war, falls the day after.

The 245,000 Palestinians from Jerusalem itself will feel the irony extra sharply. Last year 1,363 of them, many from generations-old Jerusalem families, lost their right to live in the city—up more than six-fold on the year before, and the highest annual total ever.

Demography has been the chief battle-ground for control of the holy city ever since Israel annexed the eastern, Arab part. It tried to consolidate its hold by building Jewish neighbourhoods (illegal settlements, in the eyes of international law) around the Arab ones. Systematic under-funding of municipal services in the east also drove many Palestinians to live in nearby Ramallah or Bethlehem, in the West Bank. Still, Jews today make up only 66% of the city's population, compared with 74% in 1967; a study published this week reported that the Arab growth rate is nearly twice that of the Jewish one.

Israel, meanwhile, has found various grounds to revoke the “permanent resident” status granted to most Arab Jerusalemites after the annexation. This bestows the right to work, get social benefits and vote in local elections, but not a passport or a vote in Israel's national elections—nor, apparently, permanence. In 1995 Israel began to strip the status from Palestinians who could not prove that their “centre of life” was in Jerusalem. It stopped four years later, after it emerged that the policy was making more of them move back.

Now they lose their status if they live abroad for more than seven years or get residency or citizenship in another country. In this respect, Israel treats them like other non-naturalised immigrants, “though it was Israel, in effect, that immigrated to them,” points out Yotam Ben-Hillel, a lawyer at HaMoked, a legal-advice centre. Last year's spike in revocations, the interior ministry wrote to B'Tselem, an Israeli human-rights group, was because of “an improvement in working procedures and control at the ministry, above all at border crossings”.

Even so, Arab Jerusalemites can get their residency back if they have visited Israel at least once every three years. The trouble is that they lose it automatically, sometimes without knowing, and then have to prove their right to it. Ahmed Jubran, who moved abroad in 1989 and has had American citizenship since 1997, says he has come back to visit his relatives at least once a year. Two years ago Israeli border officials began stamping his American passport instead of the laissez-passer that Israel issues to Arab Jerusalemites. They also warned him that he might not always get a visa. Only three months ago did he learn that he had lost his residency. “I'll do anything to get it back,” he says. “Hell, I'll even become Jewish if they want.”

Off you go

However, Jerusalemites who live elsewhere in the West Bank can lose their residency too. Since merely leaving the city entails no border-crossings and thus leaves no records, the authorities subject anyone they suspect of living outside it to a battery of checks, from producing municipal tax receipts and utility bills to enduring frequent home visits from inspectors who poke through sock drawers and kitchen cabinets.

Jerusalemites might have more say over their fate if most did not boycott municipal elections. They stay away partly out of protest, but partly, says Rami Nasrallah, head of the International Peace and Co-operation Centre in Jerusalem, because the fear of losing residency shapes all their contacts with the authorities. “They have become more individualistic,” he says. “It's a survival strategy.”


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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Keep Your Dreams Alive, Keep the Fire Burning

Anton Efendi reports on the aftermath of Pelosi's visit to Damascus, eerily reminiscent of the history of the constructive engagement that was practiced occasionally by liberal western governments towards the Soviet regime. Muhammad Ma'moun Homsi, a former Syrian MP who was imprisoned for five years and fled Syria, wrote a letter to Pelosi warning her that

the idea of engaging such regimes is "a very dangerous proposition cause next will be a call to engage terrorist organizations"

and urging her to cancel the visit.

The visit has produced an ecstatic reaction in the peace camp, bordering on orgasm, while sinking many Lebanese blogs in the utter dismay. Shortly afterwards the Economist expressed a view that the regime in Damascus has got a new lease of life and is getting away, breaking its diplomatic isolation. The emboldened regime moved quickly to consolidate the gains.

Since that article came out, the regime seized Homsi's assets, stripping his family of its home ownership, in order to pressure him and his family. That happened the same day Rice met with Syria's FM at the Iraq conference in Egypt.

The latest news came today, when dissident Kamal Labwani, who was arrested in 2005 for meeting with State Department and White House officials to call for democratic and human rights reforms in Syria, was sentenced to life in prison, commuted to 12 years with labor. (And the NYT never questioned the Syrians' bull when they said they sentenced a suspected al-Qaeda member for 3 years!)

This is what you get when you engage Syria: intransigence in foreign policy (a euphemism for the regime's policy of sponsoring terror and destabilizing its neighbors), and wanton brutality domestically, against brave civic and human rights activists.


All this is probably of little interest to the dreamers, fascinated by the concept of a peaceful dialog that magically prevails where guns and tanks have failed. Since the days of the Soviet Union it was repeatedly proved that where dreams and humans meet, it's the humans that are made to pay the price. Such is the nature of dreams that now some people in Syria and Lebanon will have to perish unknown for the sake of keeping other people's dreams alive.


After Pelosi's visit, the Game is OVER for Syrian dissidents...

A Syrian court on Sunday sentenced two pro-democracy campaigners, Michel Kilo and Mahmoud Issa, to three years in prison each for spreading false news, weakening national feeling and inciting sectarian sentiments.

The ruling brings to four the number of government critics and human rights campaigners to be convicted and sentenced in the last month as Syrian President Bashar Assad continues to crack down on dissent.

The United States has condemned the detentions and trials and has called for the release of Kilo and Issa.

Kilo, 66, is one of Syria's most prominent writers and democracy campaigners. He was detained along with several other activists in May last year, days after he signed a petition calling for steps to improve Lebanese-Syrian relations, a sensitive issue for the government after the Syrian army was forced to withdraw from Lebanon in the wake of the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri in 2005.

Kilo has long been an outspoken critic of the Syrian government, which tightly controls national politics and often arrests its critics. He has long called for reform in Syria and has criticized the government's involvement in the political affairs of its smaller neighbor, Lebanon.

Well-known for his political analysis, Kilo's writings were frequently published by Lebanese newspapers, including the leading anti-Syrian paper An-Nahar.

Issa is a translator and former political prisoner who previously spent eight years in jail.


More of the same ... Jeha asks Western leaders to spare the monkey ... His call is unlikely to be heard. George Bush's term in office is coming to the end. He is a mere shadow of himself. The neocons' days are over. Pelosis rule the world now.

... And the "Free World" can then learn to accept its sorry fate, as more 9/11’s are visited upon them; the more you give in to authoritarian fanatics, the more they want. Those who need to be convinced of this truth will never understand it.

For them, an Ostrich might as well replace that American bald eagle.

For Arab bloggers who try to remain anonymous, it is getting harder to do so by the day. In Lebanon, some subtle changes appeared lately; it may be that the leash is getting ever tighter, and would have been more so were it not for the diverging agendas of the country's rival services.

The “New Middle East” looks eerily familiar, far too much like the old; Condy Rice's “birth pangs” may actually prove to be the pains that herald the agony of a dream as history's second chance fades away...

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Israeli vs Jewish

In the ongoing controversy around the issue of conversions Chief Sepharadi Rabbi Shlomo Amar dismissed accusations that the rabbis have made the conversion process too stringent scaring away potential converts. Such accusations are frequently leveled against the conversion courts by many people involved, as for example by Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski.

"We cannot tolerate a situation in which there are so many immigrants who want to convert, who want to become a part of the Jewish people and don't, because rabbis reject them," said Bielski.

There are about 275,000 FSU immigrants who are not Jewish according to the orthodox criteria. It's about from 1/4 to 1/3 of all Russian immigration. These people immigrated under the Law of Return which grants automatic citizenship to any person who would be persecuted for Jewish connection under the Nuremberg laws, even to a grandchild of a Jew.

The Russian Jewish community was heavily assimilated and intermarried with the local population. While it's not clear whether the authorities were aware of the situation from the beginning, any attempt to amend the Law of Return at that time would have either stopped the immigration from Russia completely or reduced it to a trickle. Given the precarious demographic situation of Israel at that time, probably the authorities had no other choice.

Given the militant secularism of the bulk of Russian immigration, the conversion process had a very slow start. In 2001 and 2002 respectively only 954 and 890 conversion certificates were issued which led to the establishment of the Conversion Authority in 2003 to improve the conversion process. The authority is headed by Rabbi Haim Druckman, who is considered moderate, yet he failed to influence the judges, or so he claims. In 2005 and 2006 the authority signed only 1,165 and 1,020 conversion certificates respectively, with additional 2,000 soldiers having converted in the army since 2003. 7.3 million NIS assigned to the authority for 2007 are not expected to affect dramatic changes in the situation.

Now Bielski and former finance Ya'acov Neeman are calling for the appointment of dozens of new conversion judges blaming the orthodox' intransigence and inflexibility in chasing away many potential converts. The judges, backed by Amar, are refusing to consider any leniences. In fact, it appears now that Amar is pushing for a few new nominations, all of them from the orthodox hardcore.

Amar does not deny that there are many immigrants, yet he disagrees that the rabbis have anything to do with the extremely small number of conversions. Predictably the judges side with him saying that they eventually convert 85 percent of the candidates. It's just that there are not so many candidates because of the lack of interest.

"But most people never reach the conversion court," said Rabbi Israel Rosen, a veteran conversion court judge.

Responding to the critics Amar got a brilliant way to put the whole situation.

"Every single individual interested in converting is given the best possible treatment," Amar said. "However, in reality, there are not that many gentiles asking to convert because they are used to living like Israelis, not necessarily like Jews."


What the rabbi basically says is that the vast majority of these non Jewish immigrants live comfortably as secular Israelis and feel little need to go through orthodox conversion. In fact, one can reason that they live so comfortably as secular Israelis because secular Israelis feel comfortable too and see no need to check if another person has a conversion certificate. This is probably because secular Israelis themselves live more like ... mmm ... well ... like secular Israelis and not necessarily like Jews in Amar's understanding of the word. This is not to say that secular Israelis feel as comfortable with other people, even if these other people are certified Jews, and even if, god forbid, it's Shlomo Amar himself.

Ayatollah Shlomo ... oups, sorry ... Chief Sepharadi Rabbi Shlomo Amar

Oups ... Sorry again. That was an ayatollah. This is the rabbi.


To save unnecessary email traffic to the Internet: The ayatollah is Ayatollah Jannati from Iran. And yes, this is a Jewish rabbi. In fact, it's Rabbi Amar himself. And no, not all rabbis dress like this.

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Bloggers may be the real opposition

Apr 12th 2007 | CAIRO
From The Economist print edition

How the authorities are being nettled

THEY call themselves pyjamahideen. Instead of galloping off to fight holy wars, they stay at home, meaning, often as not, in their parents' houses, and clatter about computer keyboards. Their activity is not as explosive as the self-styled jihadists who trouble regimes in the region, and they come in all stripes, secular liberal as well as radical Islamist. But like Gulliver's Lilliputians, youthful denizens of the internet are chipping away at the overweening dominance of Arab governments.

In Egypt, for instance, blogging has evolved within the past year from a narcissistic parlour sport to a shaper of the political agenda. By simply posting embarrassing video footage, small-time bloggers have blown open scandals over such issues as torture and women's harassment on the streets of Cairo. No comment was needed to air widespread disillusionment with last month's referendum to approve constitutional changes, after numerous Egyptian websites broadcast scanned images of a letter from one provincial governor to junior bureaucrats, ordering them to vote yes. (The government claimed a 27% turnout, with three-quarters approving; critics claim fewer than 5% voted.)

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's main Islamist group and most powerful opposition force, has countered a recent government crackdown not with street protests, but far more effectively with a web-based campaign to help its arrested members. More playfully subversive, an anonymous blogger has drawn a rave following for his spoof version of Egyptian politics, which pictures the country as a village ruled by an ageing headman. Through overblown praise of this exalted leader, and of his plans for his son to inherit the post, the blogger runs mocking circles around the suspected ambitions of Egypt's 78-year-old president, Hosni Mubarak.

Such pinpricks have yet to puncture the dominance of any Arab state. But with internet access spreading even to remote and impoverished villages, and with much of its “user-generated content” pitched in pithy everyday speech rather than the high classical Arabic of official commentary, the authorities are beginning to take notice. In February, an obliging Egyptian court fired a shot across the bows of would-be web dissidents by sentencing 22-year-old Abdelkarim Suleiman to four years in jail. A law student in Alexandria, he had strayed by penning bitter critiques of Egypt's main centre of Islamic learning, al-Azhar university, and of Mr Mubarak, and posting them on his personal blog.

Bahrain, another country that hides authoritarian rule behind a veneer of democratic practice, has taken to summoning bloggers for questioning, and tries to make them register with the police. Saudi Arabia, which blocks thousands of websites, has silenced many web critics with quiet warnings. Syria's most prominent web activist, who runs a news service reporting opposition, as well as government views, recently quit the country for similar reasons. But like the controversial opinions of Mr Suleiman, the Alexandria blogger, the real story of what goes on in Syria is still on the web, for anyone inclined to find it.


The article is apparently unaware that the recent crackdown on the Arab blogsphere is escalating, making one of the better known Egyptian bloggers, the Sandmonkey, stop his blog. The Big Pharaoh stopped blogging a few months ago and so he was not targeted, but in this information war between the bloggers and governments, it's not the bloggers who seem to have the upper hand right now.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Who is more Brilliant

10 May 07

"An amazing thing has happened to the Israeli economy. There's war all around us yet Israel's economy has continued to grow by more than 5%," said Vice Premier Shimon Peres yesterday at the conference of the World Diamond Council in Jerusalem.

"There are those who claim that the government contributed to Israel's high rate of economic growth. They're mistaken. The growth is thanks to 100,000 high-tech people. Others say that we have a brilliant government. I say it is not the government that is brilliant, but the people."

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. . . Peres also commented humorously on the state of labor relations in both high-tech and affluent industries such as the diamond sector. "Millionaires don't strike and they don't have workers committees."

Peres added that high-tech development and technologies have changed the face of Israeli and international diplomacy. International terrorism, the war in Iraq and the other conflicts in the Middle East would not, he claimed, stop economic development and the flow of technology.

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As a hi-tech man, I should admit that at times Shimon Peres is cool. Though I am increasingly worried that he forgets to deliver on his old promise to not forget to die. The disproportionately thick alligator skin developed over years prevents me from fully enjoying Peres' compliment. Sometimes I miss the old good days of being a simple human being.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Blessed or Stricken ?

Israel's economy keeps growing strong and many indicators suggest that this time the economic growth is based on very solid foundations. Israels' economy is not only growing, it's structurally strong. This year Israel's rating went up by three steps to number 21 in the World Competitiveness Yearbook (WCY) for 2007, positioning the country at the doorstep of joining the world's top 20 most competitive nations.


Israel was 33rd in the category of economic performance, 25th in government efficiency, 16th in business efficiency and 14th in infrastructure.

According to the report, Israel's GDP, for the second consecutive year, has the largest percentage per capita devoted to r&d and the country also can boast of having the highest percentage per capita of skilled engineers employed in its work force, rising from fifth place in 2006.

Israel is ranked second in the amount of funds that were raised for start-up companies, rising from number six last year, and is also number two in the Information Technology sector, one spot above 2006's ranking. In the area of international investments, the country advanced 20 spots from 2006 to number 25 this year.


Israel, though, was ranked only number 52 in the category of work force participation, and number 51 in the amount of available jobs. Israel undoubtedly owes such a low ranking to its Haredi and Arab populations. In the Arab sector women's participation in the work force is often discouraged, while in many quarters of the Haredi sector a whole work averse culture has been created.

There are reports that many haredim joined the labor market a few years ago in the wake of massive welfare cuts undertaken by Bibi Netanyahu. Netanyuahu's reforms in particular targeted the Haredi and Arab sector by withdrawing state allowances for so called families blessed with children (mishpakhot brukhot yeladim), better to be called children stricken families (mishpakhot mukot yeladim), given the massive poverty and proliferation of demographic bombs the old system was producing.

In the Arab sector the reforms sent the birth rates plunging, yet apparently the same effect failed to produce itself in the Haredi sector. In fact since then the Jewish birth rate has been steadily edging up. On the other hand the work force participation has certainly improved in the Haredi sector, maybe not enough to win the country a more respectable place in the WCY's category of work force participation, yet apparently enough to make Israel fall back by two spots in the category of availability of jobs.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2007

And Comptroller Said . . .

A Kassam rocket is launched from Gaza.
Photo: Channel 1

State Comptroller, Micha Lindenstrauss, slammed the IDF for its response (or the lack of it) to the threat of Hamas' underground tunnels and short range missiles. The Comptroller's main criticism was about the way the IDF failed to develop an adequate technology to face these challenges. Yet, however harsh the criticism is, it is focused squarely on the past while the IDF and this hapless defense minister are already laying ground for the next State Comptroller's report. The issue of developing a system against short range ballistic threats has been already mismanaged when the defense ministry opted for going with the Rafael's system codenamed 'Iron Dome', not expected to be ready before well into the next decade.

A few details released about the system raise questions about the whole idea. The system is designed to intercept Kassams and Katyushas with a kinetic warhead whose costs run into dozens of thousands of dollars. To compare, a short range Katyusha costs from $3,000 to $5000 to produce. And it should come as no surprise if in the end the production costs of the kinetic warhead reach hundreds of thousands of dollars, as initial estimates for such projects usually tend to be overly optimistic.

But it's not even the possibility of the 'Dome's costs per one intercepted missile getting out of control that makes the IDF's choice seem so weird. It's the fact that the system won't be ready within next few years while Sderot is daily under fire and the next war with Hezbollah and Syria is predicted by some for this very summer. Meanwhile Northrop Grumman's Skyguard was dismissed as a possible solution, despite the fact that the company went out of its way to address all issues and doubts raised by the army. Northrop Grumman promised that the first system can be delivered within next few months and it would have been a good idea to, at least, purchase one such a system for a trial, while Rafael keeps developing its own solution.

The lethargy and political apathy that plague this country will ensure that the responsible for this blunder get away unscathed for yet another time. Unless here comes an unexpectedly massive barrage of Kassams and Katyushas and suddenly achieves what this country so desperately wants to believe cannot happen.

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Monday, May 7, 2007

Gaza School Attacked

Regarding the attack on a school in Gaza, Associated Press reports the following:


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The gun and homemade bomb attack on the U.N. school in the southern Gaza refugee camp of Rafah began with a protest by Muslim extremists in long robes, who said a sports festival the school was hosting was un-Islamic. One protester's sign said the U.N. "is turning schools into nightclubs."

Protesters also accused the top U.N. official in Gaza, John Ging, who was in the school, of leading a movement to weaken people's Islamic faith.

The group of protesters tried to enter the school and Palestinian security officers fired in the air to keep them away. In the ensuing chaos, at least one bomb was thrown into the school, wounding many of the seven who were hurt. A gun battle followed.

A senior Fatah official, Majed Abu Shamaleh, was leaving the school when his bodyguard was killed in sight of terrified youngsters. Ging was not hurt.

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AP says that, according to the Palestinian human rights group Al-Mezan, 57 people were killed in factional fighting in Gaza in 2004, 101 in 2005 and 252 last year. In the first three months of this year another 147 Gazans died in intra-Palestinian violence, including 10 children.

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