Maoists Attack Nepalese Media

Maoists Attack Nepalese Media

By Pei Hu
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

Kathmandu, Nepal – On December 23rd, local Nepalese newspapers published blank editorial columns protesting a Maoist affiliated attack on Himalmedia, an English-language news publisher. On December 21st, a group of 50 union protestors stormed Himalmedia offices and attacked the employees and burned 2,500 copies of newspapers injuring 12 people.

The attack happened after the newspaper published news article was critical of Maoist affiliated trade unions and injured staff who allegedly tried to stop the news agency from publishing news that was critical of the Maoist-led government. “Trade unions in Nepal did not grow out of labor issues. Rather they were established by political parties be they Maoist unions or any other while extending their organization. They have always been mobilized to attain political ends,” said Professor Krishana Khanal, a political analyst. “The Maoists are trying to bring the media under their control through their unions.”

Maoists were a formal rebel groups in Nepal. Earlier this year, the Maoists won local elections and now have a majority in Nepal’s coalition government. However, Maoists have been criticized for using intimidating tactics to generate supporters.

Kunda Dixit, editor of Nepali Times, published by Himalmedia said, “We saw the attack as an attack on press freedom, on the values of democracy for which we fought, the media has fought, along with civil society and the democratic parties in the past… and now the threat comes from an elected Maoist government, and we thought we had to make a strong statement.”

The Maoist Prime Minister, Prachanda, denied any Maoist involvement in the attacks and promised an investigation. “The party cannot be blamed for the incident carried out by some individuals,” said Sharma Dinanath, a Maoist spokesman. “The government will investigate and take action against the guilty.”

Reporters Without Borders condemned the recent attacks on Himalmedia saying, “Threats and assaults against the media are escalating,” and “The Prime Minister, Prachanda, should keep his promise and launch an investigation to ensure the guilty are punished.”

For more information please see:

APF –  Nepal Media Protest Against Maoist Union Attack – 23 December 200

RSF – Militant Maoists Continue Their Attacks Against the Media – 23 December 2008

VOA – Nepal Media Protests Attack by Maoist Activists – 23 December 2008

Egypt Criticized for Refusing to Open Gaza Crossings

By Nykoel Dinardo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt – As many countries throughout the Middle East protest the air strikes on the Gaza strip, many protests are focused on Egypt.  Egypt has offered to send humanitarian aid into areas affected by the strikes, but has seriously restricted crossings into Egypt at the Rafah border crossing.  These restrictions have been in place since 2007, but Egypt refuses to reconsider them in light of the number of residents attempting to flee the area.  The Rafah crossing is the only passing into Egypt from the Gaza strip.

Egyptian Ambassador to the UN Maged Abdelaziz said in a press conference on December 29 that those wishing to cross the border at Rafah were not being inhibited by Egypt.  He claimed that any difficulties in crossing were occurring on the Palestinian side of the border.

Several protesting groups, including a group of students in Yemen who attacked the Egyptian consulate earlier this week, claim that Egypt’s refusal constitutes approval.  They claim that Egypt is choosing Israel’s side over the Palestinians affected in this conflict for Egypt’s political gain.   Egypt is one of only two Arab states that have treaties with Israel.

Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit has called on Israel to end the attacks.  However, he also blamed Hamas for ignoring warnings that Israel would attack if rocket fires from Gaza did not cease.  This statement prompted several responses.  In Lebanon, roughly 4,000 protesters gathered to criticize Egypt’s response.  Although the protesters also criticized Israel’s attacks, the focus of the protest was on Egypt.  Slogans calling Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak a traitor and an Agent of the Americans were shouted by the crowds. 

Giving fuel to the fire, President Mubarak was photographed leaving meetings with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni the day before the attacks commenced.  The Israeli cabinet had already approved the attacks.  Gheit was also photographed smiling and shaking hands with Livni, though it is reported that he urged restraint in meetings with Israel. 

Although Egypt has been strongly criticized in the Arab world for its reaction to this conflict, the Arab League will meet today in Cairo to discuss possible future steps.

For more information, please see:

NPR – Arab League Meets in Egypt Over Gaza Crisis – 31 December 2008

International Herald Tribune – Arab Outrage over Gaza Carnage targets Egypt – 30 December 2008

The New York Times – Egypt Offers Humanitarian Aid but Is Criticized for Refusing to Open Gaza Border – 30 December 2008

Inner City Press – On Gaza, Egypt Blames Blockage of Rafah Crossing on “Other Party,” Strange Bedfellows Noted – 29 December 2008

The Jerusalem Post – Arab League Delays Emergency Meeting – 28 December 2008

Differing Accounts Regarding Collision Between Aid Boat and Israeli Navy

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

TYRE, Lebanon – On December 30, a boat carrying international peace activists and medical supplies to Gaza sailed to the port city of Tyre, Lebanon after it was damaged in a collision involving Israeli patrol ships.  The SS Dignity was carrying crew and 16 passengers – physicians from Britain, Germany and Cyprus and human rights activists from the Free Gaza Solidarity Movement.  The SS Dignity was attempting to break the Israeli blockade to deliver humanitarian aid.

The Dignity’s crew and passengers claim that Israeli patrol ships intentionally rammed the boat three times.  Denis Healey, Dignity’s captain, added that the Israeli action came “without any warning, or any provocation.” 

The collision resulted in extensive damage to the Dignity and according to CNN correspondent Karl Penhaul, who was on board when the incident occurred, the boat was taking on water.  Healey told Penhaul, “It could have ended with people drowning if they hit us more square on…It [the Dignity] could have gone down in minutes.”

Former US Representative Cynthia McKinney, who was also aboard the Dignity, recounted the incident: “We were prevented from entering Gaza… by Israeli patrol boats that tracked us for about 30 minutes. They shone their spotlight on us and then all of a sudden they rammed us approximately three times, twice in the front and once in the side.”

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor denied the activists’ claims that Israeli patrol ships intentionally rammed the Dignity, calling the allegations “absurd.”  Palmor said the collision resulted after the Dignity tried to outmaneuver an Israeli navy ship and crashed into it.  He added, “There is no intention on the part of the Israeli navy to ram anybody.”

In addition, Palmor denied the activists’ claims that the collision occurred without prior warning.  He said that the navy patrol boat had warned the Dignity not to proceed to Gaza because it was a closed military area.  He added that the interception occurred after the Dignity ignored the radio warning.

Cypriot MP Eleni Theocharous condemned Israel and called it a “terrorist state.”  Theocharous and two other Cypriots were aboard the Dignity, which had set sail from Cyprus the day before.  She stated that the boat and the individuals on board were not violating any international laws. Rather, she claims that since the interception occurred in international waters, Israel violated international law.

The Dignity was carrying over three tons of Cyprus-donated medical supplies, including surgical equipment and antibiotics.  Cyprus state radio reported that the government would seek explanations from Israel over the incident.  Additionally, according to the Free Gaza group, the Lebanese government promised to provide a forensic analysis of what happened to the ship.

On December 31, Free Gaza promised to continue its attempts to bring humanitarian supplies to Gaza despite the Israeli blockade.  The group’s spokesman, Vangelis Pissios, stated “We have decided to send the same vessel or another one back within the next few days. The route to Gaza must remain open.”

Pissios said that the group is planning three to four monthly trips throughout the winter.  Since August, the Free Gaza group has made five successful trips to deliver aid to Gaza. 

For more information, please see:

Financial Mirror – Cypriot MP Says Israel Behaving as a Terrorist State – 31 December 2008

International Herald Tribune – Activists Vow to Persist in Gaza Aid Effort – 31 December 2008 

Ma’an News Agency – SS Dignity to Be Forensically Analyzed to Verify Israeli Attacks in International Waters – 31 December 2008

Associated Press – Gaza Protest Boat Sails into Lebanon – 30 December 2008

CNN – Gaza Relief Boat Damaged in Encounter with Israeli Vessel – 30 December 2008

Reuters – Gaza Aid Boat Damaged by Israelis Reaches Lebanon – 30 December 2008

Xinhua – Cyprus Regrets Israeli Blockage of Aid Boat for Gaza – 30 December 2008

Israeli Court Backs Limited Foreign Press Entry into Gaza

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

TEL AVIV, Israel
– On December 31, Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that Israel has until 10:00am Thursday to facilitate limited entry of foreign journalists into Gaza.  According to the Jerusalem Post, the ruling would allow a pool of up to 12 foreign journalists into Gaza, but only when the border is already open for humanitarian shipments. 

The Jerusalem Post characterizes the ruling as a recommendation and stated that the three-justice panel gave the government until Thursday morning to respond and the petitioners will have until noon Thursday to respond to the government’s position.

The ruling is a response to a petition filed by the Tel Aviv-based Foreign Press Association (FPA) on November 24.  FPA filed the petition following Israel’s ban of foreign journalists entering Gaza, which was imposed two months ago.  After the petition was initially filed, Israel temporarily opened the border for journalists on December 4.  However, when Operation Cast Lead began on December 27, a complete ban was re-imposed.

FPA Chairman Steven Gutkin, also the Jerusalem bureau chief for the Associated Press, cautiously welcomed the decision.  He said, “Anything that the court does that furthers our goal of ensuring free access to the Gaza Strip for the international media we view as positive.”  However, Gutkin added, “We note that the court ruling is limited in scope and we hope that the court will view positively our other wider position as well.”

Hila Gorni, an attorney for the Israeli government, said that the opening and closing of the border for the foreign press presented a security risk.  “Security “ reasons were also cited by the Defense Ministry when it closed the Erez crossing to all foreign journalists last month as the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas began to collapse.

In addition, Government Press Office Director Danny Seaman voiced concerns that Hamas will exploit foreign journalists as, he claims, that Islamic groups have done in the past.  Seaman said, “Based on our experience from the war in Lebanon and the way the foreign press has conducted itself in Gaza, we know that Hamas is in complete control of the news, and that reports from Gaza are carried out under duress.”

According to the Jerusalem Post, the Court will decide how to proceed following responses from both the Israeli government and the FPA.  The decision represents a limited resolution and the broader lawsuit asking for full media access to Gaza is still pending.

For more information, please see:

Jerusalem Post – Courts Backs Limited Foreign Press Entry to Gaza – 31 December 2008

Jewish Telegraphic Agency – Court: Let Reporters into Gaza – 31 December 2008

Kazakhstan News – Israel High Court Overturns Ban on Foreign Journalists Entering Gaza – 31 December 2008 

The Guardian – Foreign Journalists Demand Gaza Access – 30 December 2008

International Herald Tribune – Foreign Journalists Asks Court for Access to Gaza – 28 December 2008

Over 700,000 Israelis within Range of Hamas Rockets

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

BEERSHEBA, Israel – On December 30, long-range rockets fired from Gaza have landed around the southern city of Beersheba, 28 miles (46km) from the Gaza-Israeli border.  Correspondents say it is the furthest the Palestinian militants in Gaza have managed to strike.

 No causalities were reported as the rockets hit an empty school in Beersheba and an open area in the nearby city of Rahat; several individuals were treated for shock. Also, on December 31, two rockets hit the city of Ashkelon, injuring one person slightly. 

Following the attack on Beersheba, an Israeli police spokesman said 860,000 Israelis were now in range of Hamas rockets.  According to the UN, over 700,000 Israelis are under immediate threat due to the 40-km range of the rockets fired from Gaza.

On December 31, the recent increase in the range of rocket-fire, led Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to declare a “special security situation” of all Israeli cities and towns within 30 km of the Gaza perimeter.  The declaration grants Home Front Command the authority to close factories, cancel conferences and events, and to conduct other civilian activities.  The Israeli cabinet is required to approve the special status, as it has already done for Israeli cities and towns within 20km of the border.

According to Home Front Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan, the Israeli air strikes in Gaza has impaired Hamas’ rocket firing capability, but it has not wiped it out.  “”This capability exists throughout the entire area and while it was hit hard, it was not eliminated.”  According to Israeli media, 100 rockets were fired from Gaza on December 30.  Three Israelis were killed in separate incidents.  Since the aerial campaign began on December 27, four Israelis have been killed in rocket attacks.

Also, Palestinian and IDF sources confirmed Israeli Air Force (IAF) strikes on dozens of smuggling tunnels in the Rafah area, near the border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.  This is the second time the tunnels have been bombed since the beginning of Operation Lead Cast.  Israeli officials argue that the tunnels are being used to smuggle metal and pipes necessary for the construction of Qassam rockets.  It is also believed that weapons and money destined for militant groups is being smuggled through the tunnels as well.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Gaza Rockets Hit Deep into Israel – 31 December 2008

Ha’aretz – As Rockets Fall, Peres Tours Ashkelon and Vows IDF is Ready for Anything – 31 December 2008

Jerusalem Post – Barak: “Special Security Situation” For Towns within 30 Km. of Gaza – 31 December 2008 l

Telegraph – More Than 700,000 Israelis Now in Range of Hamas Missiles – 31 December 2008

Relief Web – Israel/OPT: Situation Update 30 Dec 2008 – 30 December 2008

Yedioth – Grad Rockets Lands in Kiryat Malachi – 30 December 2008