Syria and Israel Exchange Harsh Words

By Brandon Kaufman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria– Walid Moallem, the Syrian Foreign Minister, warned Israel on Wednesday about launching any war against his country, saying that such actions would result in a larger conflict.  In remarks made to Syrian journalists in Damascus, Moallem was quoted as saying, “Israelis, do not test the power of Syria since you know the war will move into your cities.”

During his session with reporters, Moallem was questioned about comments made on Monday by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.  Barak said that “in the absence of peace negotiations with Syria, we might find ourselves in a forceful conflict that could lead to an all out war.” In response, Moallem said such statements “heightened the risk of war in the region.”

Moallem warned that “if such a war comes, it will be widespread even if it is just waged against southern Lebanon or Syria.”  He added that there would be no chance of “peace negotiations being launched after such a war.”

In related comments, Syrian President Bashar Assad noted that “Israel was not serious in achieving peace and that everything showed it was working toward a war.”  Syria and Israel held preliminary talks mediated by Turkey back in 2008 over the Golan Heights which was seized by the Israelis after the 1967 war.  Since that day, little progress has been made on the peace prospects between the two countries.

In a stern response, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman advised Syria to abandon its dream of recovering the Israeli held Golan Heights.  Lieberman further added that the Syrians “have crossed a red line that cannot be ignored.  Our message must be clear to Assad: ‘In the next war, not only will you lose but you and your family will lose power.”

Lieberman’s firm stance contrasted sharply with that of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who earlier in the week, stated that Israel seeks peace.  Netanyahu’s statements said that he “would be willing to go anywhere in the world, and doesn’t rule out assistance by a fair third party, to promote the political process in order to begin peace talks with Syria without any preconditions.”

For more information, please see:

Washington Post- Israel Warns Syria it Would Lose Future War– 4 February 2010

The Daily Star- Moallem Warns Israel: Starting War with Syria Would Lead to Wider Conflict– 3 February 2010

The Jerusalem Post- Assad: Israel Pushing Middle East to War– 3 February 2010

Female Suicide Bomber Kills Scores in Iraq

By Bobby Rajabi
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq – On February 1 a female suicide bomber attacked a procession of Shi’ite Muslims who were on a pilgrimage to the southern city of Karbala, located approximately eighty kilometers southwest of Baghdad. The attack killed at least fifty four people. Among the dead were many women and children. Additionally, over one hundred people were injured in the attack.

Major-General Qassim Atta, the spokesman for the Baghdad operational command confirmed that “a woman wearing an explosives-filled belt blew herself up in the middle of a crow of pilgrims going to Karbala.” Defense ministry spokesman General Mohammed al-Askari said that the suicide bomber came for Diyala province which has in the past been a stronghold of Al Qaeda.

Hundreds of thousands of Shi’ites pour into the streets for the religious rite of Arbaeen. It marks the forty days after the Ahsura anniversary that commemorates the killing of seventh century Imam Hussein. Imam Hussein’s shrine is considered one of the holiest places in Shi’ite Islam. Worshipers beating their heads and chests in ritual mourning. Due to risk of attacks, thirty thousand members of the Iraqi security forces were deployed to Karbala for the holy festival.

This was the third attack by suspected Sunni insurgents in the past week. Top Baghdad security officials have been forced to acknowledge that extremists are adopting new methods to outwit bomb-detection squads. Iraqi authorities lack enough policewomen to conduct searches at most checkpoints. Additionally, security forces have been reluctant to use bomb-sniffing dogs against people due cultural sensitivities. Atta insisted that security officials informed all checkpoints to be careful and to intensify the search procedures.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s released a statement blaming the Baath party. This was the party of executed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The statement said, “We hold Baathists and their Takfiri allies responsible for this massacre.” Takfiri is the term used by the Iraqi government for members of Al Qaeda.

US and Iraqi officials have feared a step up in violence from Al Qaeda in Iraq prior to the March 7 parliamentary elections. The elections are intended to serve as a large step towards reconciliation between the majority Shi’ites and Sunnis who lost control after Hussein was removed.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Deadly Blast Hits Iraq Pilgrims – 2 February 2010

AP – Female Suicide Bomber in Iraq Kills 54 – 2 February 2010

AFP – Female Suicide Bomber Kills 41 in Baghdad: Officials – 1 February 2010

BBC – Female Suicide Bomber Kills Dozens in Iraq -1 February 2010

Turkey Looks for a Solution with Cyprus

By Brandon Kaufman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

NICOSIA, Cyprus– As U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrived on the island of Cyprus late Sunday afternoon he had a message for both the Turkish and the Greek Cypriots.  Mr. Ban stated that “a solution is in reach.  The future is in your hands.”

Cyprus has been split into a Greek and a Turkish sector since 1974, when troops from Turkey landed in the north of the island in response to a coup by Greek nationalists.  Almost a decade later, the Turkish population in the north declared itself independent, but the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, or KKTC, is recognized only by Ankara.

When all is said and done, the fate of the peace talks is as important to Turkey as it is to the Cypriots themselves.  That is because an agreement on the island would remove one of the biggest obstacles for Turkey’s bid to become a member of the EU.  That bid for membership is currently being blocked due to the Turkish government’s refusal to recognize the Greek Cypriot republic, which is an EU member.

Furthermore, productive peace talks may enable Turkey to boost its attempts to become a regional superpower with very little, if any, problems in its relations with regional neighbors.  At the same time, however, the Turkish government is treading carefully.  They must be careful to ensure that they are not neglecting national interests at the expense of a solution regarding Cyprus.

Dimitris Christofias, the Greek Cypriot President, has been involved in unification talks under U.N. supervision with Mehmet Ali Talat, the Turkish Cypriot leader, since 2008.  Last week, Talat said much progress has been made on the delicate question of sharing power between the Greek majority and the Turkish minority, but no deal has been struck as of yet.  Moreover, many difficult issues such as property and security are still on the table.

Said Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, “We are trying to get this thing solved within the year.”  He also noted that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called him last week to determine whether Turkey was willing to undertake a joint effort to reach a solution.  Erdogan said that Turkey was willing to talk “without preconditions.”

For more information, please see:

Tehran Times- U.N. Chief Ban Ki-moon says Cyprus Solution Possible– 2 February 2010

The National- Turkey’s Eye is on Cyprus Peace– 1 February 2010

New York Times- U.N. Chief Offers Support for Cyprus Peace Talks– 1 February 2010

Israel: Two Officers Reprimanded For UN Compound Strike in Gaza

By Meredith Lee-Clark

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

 

JERUSALEM, Israel/West Bank – Israel announced on February 1 that it has reprimanded two top military officers for an attack on a United Nations’ compound in Gaza during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in the winter of 2008-2009.

 

The UN compound, in Gaza’s Tel Al-Hawa neighborhood, was hit by white phosphorus shells on January 15, 2009. The compound had been sheltering nearly seven hundred Palestinians who were trying to escape the heavy artillery that rained down on Gaza. Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz had reported that one UN employee and two Palestinian civilians were injured in the shelling of the UN compound.

 

Israel’s admission was part of its response to Judge Richard Goldstone’s report on the Gaza War, commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council. The Goldstone Report accused both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes during the twenty-two-day conflict. After the Goldstone Report was submitted to the UN, the General Assembly demanded that both Israel and Hamas conduct internal investigations into the allegations of war crimes. The Israeli official response came after months-long investigations opened by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. One of the investigating teams specifically looked into the use of white phosphorus shells in Gaza, and found that there were no violations of orders and that the white phosphorus shells had been fired in open areas.

 

White phosphorus is most often used to illuminate enemy targets and to create a smoke screen, but is also highly incendiary and can burn flesh. The shells contain hundreds of pieces of felt loaded with phosphorus that ignite when fired from 155 mm. cannon. White phosphorus is legal when used in open ground, but under international conventions, its use is banned in built-up areas where civilians are located.

 

The two commanders who had reportedly been reprimanded were Division Commander Brig. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg and Givati Brigade Commander Col. Ilan Malka. The two officers did not lose their rank, but Israeli officials said the reprimand would be placed in their files, and would be considered if the two men came up for promotion.

 

The UN deadline for Israel and Hamas to conduct internal investigations is February 5, 2010. Hamas has not conducted its own internal investigation.

 

For more information, please see:

 

BBC News – Israel Reprimands Top Officers Over UN Compound Strike – 1 February 2010

 

Ha’aretz – IDF Denies Disciplining Top Officers Over White Phosphorus Use in Gaza War – 1 February 2010

 

Ma’an News Agency – Israel’s Goldstone Response Admits Use of White Phosphorus – 1 February 2010

 

New York Times – Israel Rebukes 2 for U.N. Gaza Compound Shelling – 1 February 2010

 

Palestine News Network – Israel “Disciplines” Army Officers – 1 February 2010

Israel: Two Officers Reprimanded For UN Compound Strike in Gaza

By Meredith Lee-Clark
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

 JERUSALEM, Israel/West Bank – Israel announced on February 1 that it has reprimanded two top military officers for an attack on a United Nations’ compound in Gaza during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in the winter of 2008-2009. 

 The UN compound, in Gaza’s Tel Al-Hawa neighborhood, was hit by white phosphorus shells on January 15, 2009.  The compound had been sheltering nearly seven hundred Palestinians who were trying to escape the heavy artillery that rained down on Gaza.  Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz had reported that one UN employee and two Palestinian civilians were injured in the shelling of the UN compound.

 Israel’s admission was part of its response to Judge Richard Goldstone’s report on the Gaza War, commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council.  The Goldstone Report accused both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes during the twenty-two-day conflict.  After the Goldstone Report was submitted to the UN, the General Assembly demanded that both Israel and Hamas conduct internal investigations into the allegations of war crimes.  The Israeli official response came after months-long investigations opened by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.  One of the investigating teams specifically looked into the use of white phosphorus shells in Gaza, and found that there were no violations of orders and that the white phosphorus shells had been fired in open areas.

 White phosphorus is most often used to illuminate enemy targets and to create a smoke screen, but is also highly incendiary and can burn flesh.  The shells contain hundreds of pieces of felt loaded with phosphorus that ignite when fired from 155 mm. cannon.  White phosphorus is legal when used in open ground, but under international conventions, its use is banned in built-up areas where civilians are located.

 The two commanders who had reportedly been reprimanded were Division Commander Brig. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg and Givati Brigade Commander Col. Ilan Malka.  The two officers did not lose their rank, but Israeli officials said the reprimand would be placed in their files, and would be considered if the two men came up for promotion.

 The UN deadline for Israel and Hamas to conduct internal investigations is February 5, 2010.  Hamas has not conducted its own internal investigation.

 For more information, please see:

 BBC News – Israel Reprimands Top Officers Over UN Compound Strike – 1 February 2010

 Ha’aretz – IDF Denies Disciplining Top Officers Over White Phosphorus Use in Gaza War – 1 February 2010

 Ma’an News Agency – Israel’s Goldstone Response Admits Use of White Phosphorus – 1 February 2010

 New York Times – Israel Rebukes 2 for U.N. Gaza Compound Shelling – 1 February 2010

 Palestine News Network – Israel “Disciplines” Army Officers – 1 February 2010