Fatwa issued against Liberal Saudi Muslims

In June, an Islamic leader issued a fatwa against liberal Muslims.  Sheik Saleh al-Fozan said, “Calling oneself a liberal Muslim is a contradiction in terms … one should repent before God for such ideas in order to be a real Muslim.”  (Reuters)  The edict has caused liberal Muslims to fear attacks from Islamic militants. 

A fatwa is a religious edict issued by an Islamic cleric.  Typically, a fatwa is used to express disapproval against someone whose actions contradict the issuing cleric’s interpretation of Sharia law.  Sometimes violence follows the issuing of a fatwa.  This happens when militant followers enforce the fatwa by killing the target of the edict.  For example, in 1989 a fatwa was issued against Salman Rushdie. Although, he has survived the fatwa by going underground for many years, some of his book Satanic Verses translators were killed, as well as his Norwegian publisher. Also, 37 people died while his Turkish translator was targeted.

For this reason the Liberal Muslims are fearful that violence will ensue from this fatwa. “Even if his (Fozan) intention is not calling for violence, the implication is violence,” replied Turki al-Hamad.  (Reuters)  Hamad is a novelist targeted by Saudi Islamists because of his desire to expand the freedom of the individual. 

Saudi conservative Muslims are conflicting with liberal Muslims on whether the influence of the clerics should be limited.  The liberals also desire to limit the Saudi royal family’s power through implementing parliamentary elections.  The discord between the factions of Islam could cause violence amongst the factions.  If this happens it is likely that the Saudi government would have to intercede and the Royal Family would seize the opportunity to cement its power.  If the discord does not lead to open violence, it could create the necessary tension to limit the influence of radical militant clerics. 

Reuters. Saudi fatwa against liberals raise fears of violence. 8 July 2007.
Fars News Agency. Enemies seek to Sow Religious Discord among Muslims. 7 July 2007.
CNN. Iran dissacociates itself from Rushdie death sentence. 24 September 1998.

BBC’s Alan Johnston released in Gaza

On July 4, Alan Johnston was released after spending 16 weeks in captivity.  His car was found in Gaza on March 12.  Prior to being kidnapped, he spent three years as the BBC’s permanent correspondent in Gaza.  For 114 days, Johnston was held captive by the Army of Islam, led by the Doghmush clan.  The group demanded the release of Muslim prisoners in British custody in exchange for Johnston’s freedom.

According to Johnston, he was held in four different locations, two for only a short period of time.  While Johnston was kept in chains and taunted by his captors, he reported that he was not physically harmed until the last half hour of his ordeal.  He was able to track global demonstrations for his release by listening to the radio and these demonstrations were a source of comfort for him.

Also, Johnston stated that Hamas played a large role in his release.  Prior to Hamas’s takeover of Gaza, his kidnappers were calm.  However after Hamas gained control of Gaza his kidnappers became increasingly nervous.  While the Army of Islam had associated with Hamas in the past, Hamas neither encouraged nor condoned the group’s kidnapping of Johnston.  After Hamas gained control of Gaza, its goal was to restore the laws and wanted to secure the release of Johnston.

After Hamas gained control of Gaza, it immediately called for Johnston’s release.  Hamas’s military wing was deployed to the areas where the Dugmush clan’s presence was strong.   However, instead of using pure military force and engaging the Army of Islam in direct conflict, Hamas cut of water and electricity and detained at least five members of the Army of Islam.  While details of his release is still unclear, it is known that Johnston was escorted from a building and driven directly to the house of Ismail Haniya, the recently fired Palestinian Prime Minister.  Later, he arrived at the British Consulate in Jerusalem, where he gave a press conference and rested before returning Britain.

For their role in securing Johnston’s release, Hamas may experience an improved international reception.  Since 2005, when they won a majority in the Palestinian parliament, the Quartet (the US, UN, EU, and Russia) and other western countries refused to work with Hamas.  However, shortly after news of Johnston’s release reached the UK, twenty British MPs signed a motion, calling for greater engagement with Hamas.  The motion recognized that Hamas played a pivotal role in Johnston’s release and that showed that they should be included in reconciliation efforts.  It remains too soon to gauge whether Hamas will be treated differently by the UK or by the members of the Quartet.

 

For more information please see:
Al Jazeera:  “Johnston case ‘exposes hypocrisy’” 5 July 2007. 

BBC:  “MP urging engagement with Hamas”  5 July 2007. 

Christian Science Monitor:  “Hamas acts to show it’s in charge”  5 July 2007. 

Haaretz: “Hamas delivers proof, at last”  5 July 2007. 

London Times:  “‘I literally dreamt of being free, and always woke up in that room’”  5 July 2007. 

BBC:  “Hamas role in Johnston’s release”  4 July 2007. 

BBC:  “Timeline Alan Johnston abduction”  4 July 2007. 

BBC:  “BBC’s Alan Johnston is released”  4 July 2007. 

BBC:  “Hamas seeks to gain from release”  4 July 2007.

BBC:  “Hamas arrests over BBC reporter”  2 July 2007. 

The Jerusalem Post:  “Johnston released from 4 month captivity”  4 July 2007. 

The Jerusalem Post:  “Hamas hopes for legitimacy after Johnston’s release”  4 July 2007.

New York Times:  “No fast gain for Hamas after release of journalist”  4 July 2007.

New York Times:  “BBC journalist freed in Gaza”  4 July 2007.

Maid Wandering Bahrain

        Lakshmi Parvathi is an Indian immigrant worker in Bahrain.  She was hired by her sponsor as a maid. Recently, she was found in tattered clothing wandering the streets of Bahrain, following her attempted escape from her employer.  This was the second time she was unsuccessful in her attempt to flee from her abusive sponsor and return to her husband in Andhra Pradesh.  Previously, the police captured her and returned Parvathi to her employer.  The Indian Embassy would not issue her a return ticket, because she had not completed her year long obligation to the employer.  Therefore, she was not legally entitled to a ticket.  Additionally, she was unable to purchase a ticket on her own, because her employer had withheld three months of her wages. 
    Migrant workers are regularly mistreated in the Middle East.  The migrant workers, usually from Asia, are drawn to higher paying salaries.  The wages are usually around $4 for menial jobs. The workers are mostly women.  They usually work as maids at homes and cook, clean, and take care of children.  In exchange for their services, their sponsors provide the workers with housing and transportation.  Thus, the women send their salaries back to support their families. 
    The migrants are in weak positions to stand up for themselves.  Many of the nations fiercely protect their citizens and are repressive toward the migrant workers.  Therefore, it is difficult for the workers protect themselves from their sponsors’ abuse.  For example, when a migrant complains against her employers, it is easy for the employer to retaliate by making a false accusation against the worker.  The sponsors’ word is almost automatically trusted and the worker is quickly tossed in jail.  Once released from jail, the worker is returned to her employer to finish her obligation.  Also, it is difficult for the employee to protest that she is not being compensated her scheduled amount. The reason is that the employer can hesitate to pay the woman until the fulfillment of their obligation.  Immediately, upon the termination of the agreement happen, the woman’s visa expires expelling her from the country, and further isolating the employer from repercussions of the withheld payment.
    The local governments must protect these women.  Abusive sponsors have taken advantage of these women by beating them and also withholding payment from them.  The sponsors need to be made accountable for their actions.  This could be done by the Asian embassies issuing the visas to the sponsors by taking a more proactive approach to protecting their citizens.  For example, each sponsor should have to go to through a verification process.  Thus, it will at least protect the women from serial abusers.  Also, it should charge the sponsors a certain premium on the issuance of the visa to pay for an exit interview of the migrant workers.  The other solution for the women is to place outside pressure on the Middle Eastern countries to monitor the abusive employers.
Gulf Daily News. Maid found wandering in the street. 5 July 2007.
Bits of News. Migrant Workers in the Middle East. 2 July 2007.
Independent Online.  Migrants and the Middle East: Welcome to the other side of Dubai. 28 March 2006.
Middle East Report Online. “Model Employees:” Sri Lankan domestics in Lebanon.

Lebanese Army fires on Palestinian protesters

On June 29, hundreds of Palestinians staged a protest and marched three miles from Baddawi camp to Nahr al-Bared.  Most protesters were Palestinian refugees who fled the Nahr al-Bared camp after fighting began in late May.  The purpose of the protest was to regain access to their home.  Many fear that the damage resulting from the heavy fighting will prevent them from returning to their homes. 

During the march, Lebanese soldiers fired on the protesters, killing two and wounding many more.  Witnesses stated that when marchers drew close to an army checkpoint, the soldiers fired in the air above them.  When the crowd did not disperse, soldiers fired their weapons at the protesters.  While witnesses and protesters stated that the march was a peaceful demonstration, the Lebanese army issued a statement that marchers attacked the soldiers with sticks and knives. 

For more information please see:
ABC News:  “2 shot dead in refugee protest in Lebanon”  30 June 2007. 

New York Times:  “Lebanese troops kill 2 Palestinian protesters and wound 30”  30 June 2007. 

BBC:  “Lebanese army ‘kills protesters’”  29 June 2007. 

Guardian:  “2 Reported killed in Northern Lebanon”  29 June 2007. 

Reuters:  “Lebanese troops fire at Palestinian protest, 2 die”  29 June 2007. 

VOA News:  “Lebanese army fires at protesters outside Palestinian camp”  29 June 2007.

Yemen Street Children

        The number of street children in Yemen is rising.  It is estimated that from 13,000-15,000 street children work in the capital.  The children work to survive.  The boys are forced to grow up, and provide for their families.  Many times the boys are beaten by their fathers if they do not make a minimum amount of money.  Cultural norms discourage girls from working.

      The boys work for $1 a day.  Their jobs include bus fare collectors, car washers, restaurant workers, market laborers, and street vendors.  For example, a child’s typical day will include purchasing a product, such as a bottle of water or can of soda for a 30 YR, and sell it hours later for a 35-100 YR to a thirsty traveler on the street.  The job is fraught with problems such as customers who take advantage of the children and do not pay for the drinks. 

        The street children are exposed to many diseases because of their living conditions. The diseases include suffer scabies, chicken pox, measles, sore throat, pneumonia, bronchitis, tonsillitis, and meningitis. The diseases spread because the children are in such close proximity with each other, and cannot take sanitary precautions.

        The number of street children exposed to sexual diseases has risen. Statistics show that 90% of street children are sexually abused.  Typically, the boys are either enticed into cars for as little as a dollar or are raped by elder boys, continuing the cycle of abuse. The boys rarely get protection from their aggressors.

        The children are difficult to protect because of their transient nature.  The vulnerable children are exposed to many pressures.  However, the solution is not to ban child workers, since the children are working to provide for themselves and their siblings.

Yemen Times. Leprosy, sexual and skin diseases Yemeni street children at risk. 19 June 2006.
Reuters. YEMEN: Street children at increased risk of sexual abuse. 25 June 2007.
Yemen Times. Yemeni children narrate their sufferings on the street. 18 September 2006.
Yemen Times. Factors affecting Yemeni Children. 28 August 2006

IDF Operations in Gaza and West Bank

On June 27, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) carried out two operations in Gaza, one in Gaza City and the other in the southern city of Khan Younis.  The IDF states that the purpose of the incursions was to disrupt the terrorist infrastructure inside Gaza by finding and seizing militants and their weapons.  The incursions consisted of air strikes, as well a ground assault led by tanks.  The IDF claims that it “hit” 15 militants, while the media reports that 11 militants were killed, along with 2 civilians.  In addition, 40 people were injured, some in critical condition, and several dozens were arrested.  IDF reported that two soldiers were injured in these operations.

Then, early June 28, IDF went into the West Bank city of Nablus.  Witnesses stated that around 80 jeeps filled with Israeli soldiers entered the city.  Israeli troops interrupted radio and television programs and warned Palestinians to remain at home.  Again, IDF justified the incursion by stating that Nablus is a “hotbed” for terrorism and that the goal was to disrupt terror activity.  Israeli troops arrested two men suspected of being Fatah fighters and confiscated weapons.  Five IDF soldiers were wounded in a bombing in Nablus.  Al-Aqsa Brigades, the armed branch of Fatah claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Both Fatah and Hamas leadership condemned Israel’s actions.   Hamas accused Israel and Fatah of conspiring to pressure Hamas in Gaza.  While Salam Fayyad, the Prime Minister of the emergency Palestinian government, viewed the aggression as Israeli attempts to undermine the Palestinian government’s attempts to end the chaos.  Abbas condemned both of these military operations; calling the IDF’s actions as “criminal”.  He added that Fatah is against violence of any kind and criticized the launching of Qassam rockets.  Recently, Abbas vocalized his desire to disband all militias in both Gaza and the West Bank, even those affiliated with Fatah.

For more information please see:

Al Jazeera:  “Israeli troops raid Nablus”  28 June 2007. 

Gulf News:  “Israel raids downtown Nablus”  28 June 2007. 

Gulf News:  “Israeli raids stoke war fears”  28 June 2007. 

IDF:  “Nablus:  an officer and soldier severely injured”  28 June 2007. 

Washington Post:  “At least 14 Palestinians killed as Israeli military enters Gaza”  28 June 2007. 

Al Jazeera:  “Israel launches deadly Gaza raids”  27 June 2007. 

IDF:  “A summary of today’s events in the Gaza Strip”  27 June 2007. 

International Herald Tribune:  “Israeli raids into Gaza leave 13 dead”  27 June 2007. 

New York Times:  “Israelis kills 11 militants inside Gaza; 2 civilians die”  27 June 2007.

Kurds Continue to Battle

    The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (“PKK”) have become more frequent in their attacks. Thus, Gen. İlker Başbuğ, the commander of the Turkish Land Forces promised to increase his force to crush the rebels.

    The Kurds are the largest people group in the Middle East without their own nation. They originate from an area located within Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Armenia and Syria.  In 1920, when the Ottoman Empire was defeated by the Allies, the Kurds were split up into multiple different nations. Their strong desire for an independent nation has remained since 1920.  The Kurdistan Workers’ Party has actively tried to make that desire into a reality.

    The PKK was founded in 1978 by Abdullah Ocalan. He was a Leninist revolutionary. He has fought the Turkish government since 1984, using guerrilla warfare tactics. Recently, some of their members were arrested trying to place bombs.  Their leader, Ocalan, was captured by Turkey and was placed in prison for life in 1999.  The group currently has more than 5,000 members, and has its own unrecognized parliament.

    In response to the actions by the PKK the Turkish government has promised to quell the rebellious Kurds.  In just his year alone, the PKK has killed 65-70 of the Turkish soldiers.  The weapon of choice for the PKK is land mines. The Turkish Government hopes its response  will be able to completely defeat the PKK and avenge some of the 30,000 lives lost since the party’s inception.

    This new major offensive will be long, brutal and demanding. It will force the Turkish government and the Kurds into a deep civil war, which cannot not be resolved soon.  It will cause many to die, and will create more open hostility in an already unstable region.  The Kurds will not be satisfied until they get their own land. And so even if the Turkish government is successful in accomplishing its goal, it will only be a stop-gap measure.

Time Magazine. Nationalists without a Nation. 1 March 1999.
Washington Post. Who are the Kurds? 1999.
Reuters.  Turkey’s army chief renews call to crush Kurd rebels in Iraq. 27 June 2007.
Today’s Zaman. Army to restructure to step up fight against PKK. 28 June 2007.
Trend News Agency. PKK terrorists fail to plant mine trap on highway in eastern Turkey. 26 June 2007.
Associated Press. 2 Kurds Die in Failed Suicide Attack. 24 June 2007.

Iraqi court delivers guilty verdicts in Anfal trial

On June 24, a judge of the Iraqi High Tribunal (IHT) delivered the verdict as the Anfal trial ended after ten months.  The defendants were changed with various crimes against humanity relating to the Anfal campaign against the Kurds in 1988.  During this campaign Kurds were systematically murdered, tortured, detained, and displaced.  The number of Kurds killed during this year long campaign ranges from 50,000 to 180,000.  During the past ten months, the IHT heard testimony from survivors detailing mass graves, the use of chemical weapons, and mistreatment of detainees.

The defendants included:

  • Ali Hassan al-Majid – former Ba’ath leader in northern Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s cousin
  • Saber Abdul-Aziz al-Duri – director of military intelligence
  • Sultan Hashim Ahmed – military commander of the campaign
  • Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti – deputy of operations for the Iraqi forces
  • Farhan al-Jibouri – head of military intelligence in northern Iraq
  • Taher Muhammad al-Ani – governor of Mosul

** Prosecutors removed Saddam Hussein as a defendant following his execution on December 30, 2006.

Majid, known as “Chemical Ali” for his use of chemical weapons, received five death sentences for his role in the Anfal campaign against the Kurds in 1988.  Defendants Ahmed and al-Tikriti both received three death sentences.  The IHT found al-Douri and al-Jabouri guilty of involvement in Anfal, yet these two defendants received life sentences.  The last defendant, al-Ani, was found not guilty based on a lack of evidence.

This verdict is the second verdict delivered by the IHT.  The verdict for the Dujail trial was delivered in November 2006, where Saddam Hussein received the death sentence.  Recently, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a briefing in which it listed the legal flaws of the Dujail trial.  Serious flaws include:

  • The IHT inferring from the defendant’s position in the government that he had the requisite knowledge and criminal intent; 
  • Failure to show the required lines of command and control necessary to establish command responsibility;
  • Using lower-level defendants’ status as Ba’th party members to prove intent without requiring evidence of individual criminal intent;
  • Allowing witnesses to testify anonymously and prohibiting the defense from questioning the witnesses; and, 
  • Failure to address numerous instances of same-day or late disclosure of prosecution evidence to the defense that was used at trial.

Also, HRW listed two additional concerns relating specifically to the Anfal trial.  First, on September 2006, the presiding judge was removed by the Iraqi president and Cabinet after he made statements perceived to be favorable to the defendants.  Second, the charges against the defendants were vague, making it difficult for the defense to properly prepare their cases.  HRW stressed that while the international community is continually working to stop human rights abuses and holding violators accountable, it is important that the methods used meet international law standards.

For more information on the verdict of the Anfal trial, please see:
The Independent:  “Chemical Ali: The end of an overlord”  25 June 2007. 

New York Times:  “Hussein cousin sentenced to die for Kurd attacks”  25 June 2007. 

BBC:  “‘Chemical Ali’ sentenced to hang”  24 June 2007. 

BBC:  “Timeline: Anfal Trial”  24 June 2007. 

HRW:  “The Anfal Trial”  22 June 2007. 

 

For HRW’s briefings on the flaws of the Dujail Trial, please see:
HRW:  “Dujail judgment marred by serious flaws”  22 June 2007.

HRW:  “The poisoned chalice”  22 June 2007. 

HRW:  “Judgement of the Dujail Trial at the Iraqi High Tribunal: English Translation”  June 2007.

 

For HRW documentation of the Anfal Campaign, please see:
HRW:  “Genocide in Iraq:  The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds”  July 1993.

Copts and Muslims Clash

            There have been many clashes between the Muslims and the Copts throughout Egypt.  The recent conflicts between the two religious groups began on June 8, 2007. It began with rioting, and looting in the Coptic quarter of the city of Zwyet Abdel-Qader.  On June 12, 2007, another uprising broke out between two construction workers, culminating with vandalism of a Coptic church.  The next clash occurred at Saft Maidoum.  It arose over a bicycle accident between a Coptic man and a Muslim girl. After the accident, the girl fainted. Believing that their daughter was dead, the child’s parents attacked the Copt’s family.  Four people were injured and 35 were arrested.  A couple days later, 20 people were detained and 13 people were injured, over a controversial court ruling regarding the appropriation of land to some of the Copts.

            The Copts are a Christian sect.  They compose 10% of the Egyptian population.  They have had a rivalry with the Islamic militants.   The most deadly clash between the Copts and Muslims was in 2000, when 22 people were killed in once incident, 21 Copts and one Muslim. The tensions had been more relaxed in the past few years.

            The Copts have faced discrimination from the government. Until recently, they had to get approval from the government, for any minimal improvements done at a church. The children born into the Coptic Church are made to tattoo crosses on their wrists when they are very young. This separates those who were born into the Coptic Church, from those who convert to Christianity later.

            The Copts have not been protected by the Egyptian government, despite the fact that they have suffered greatly as the hands of militants. Yet the government is slow at capturing the Copts attackers. For example, no one involved  in the attack in 2000 where 21 Copts were killed  are still in prison.   It is possibly because the Egyptian government is looking for a way to excuse its aggressive crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.  The problem with the government’s reasoning is the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is a political group, while the Copts are a people group. 

Al-Ahram. Fanning the Flames. 21 June 2007.

IPSnews. Egypt: Clashes Could Bring Sectarian Conflict. 21 June 2007.

BosNewsLife. Egypt Detains Six After Clashes Between Muslims and Christians. 16 June 2007.

Gulf Times. 13 hurt in Egyptian sectarian conflict. 17 June 2007.

Iraqi orphans mistreated

On June 10, members of the US 82nd Airborne Division found 24 boys, between the ages of 3 to 15, were found in a Baghdad orphanage.  Some boys were found tied to their beds, while others were found lying in their own waste.  One of the boys was so emaciated that army medics did not believe that he would survive.  When he was found, he was so weak that the only thing that he could move was his eyes.

The boys were found in a government ran orphanage for boys with special needs (i.e. physical or mental disabilities).  The boys were found naked and emaciated while build held a fully stocked kitchen and shelves filled with new clothes.  It was thought that the supplies meant of the children were being sold at the local market.

The manager of the orphanage has fled and is believe to be on the run.  Two female caretakers have also fled.  So far, only two security guards have been arrested.

Currently, the boys are recovering in an orphanage located only minutes away from where they were abused.

For more information please see:
International Herald Tribune:  “Heavy fighting as US troops squeeze insurgents in Iraq city”  21 June 2007. 

CBS: “Recovering Iraqi Orphans Face Bleak Future”  20 June 2007. 

CNN:  “Two dozen orphans mistreated in Iraq, officials say”  20 June 2007. 

Middle East Online:  “Appalling scenes in Iraq orphanage”  20 June 2007. 

BBC:  “US finds neglected Iraqi Orphans”  19 June 2007. 

CBS:  “Iraqi Orphanage Nightmare”  18 June 2007.

Yemen Arrests Editor despite Ceasefire

    The suffering of the people in the Saada region has been detailed by online newspapers, such as Al-Shoura. The newspaper’s articles have brought attention to the region. Thus the Yemen government is seeking to settle with the rebels, in order to help the suffering people of the region. Despite the positive impact of Al-Shoura of bringing attention to the Saada conflict, the Yemen government has still  arrested the newspaper’s editor. He is charged with being connected with terrorists.

    The war between the Saada rebels and the Yemen government has finally come to a ceasefire. The rebels have decided to turn over military equipment to the government in exchange for the government releasing prisoners and also rebuilding the war-torn villages. The war destroyed the Saada region, and its people have suffered.

    The war has also been a source of tension amongst the Yemen state sponsored media and its rival media outlets. The government has closed news networks which contradicted the message portrayed by the state sponsored networks. For example, recently it shut down www.al-shoura.net and www.aleshteraki.net for not following government regulations.  (see Yemen  Closes Two Rivals of the State News Network.)

    On June 20, 2007 the Yemen government arrested, Abdel Abdul Karim al-Khawinay, the editor of the online newspaper Al-Shoura. He is allegedly connected to terrorists. His home was raided by Yemen security agents. The International Herald Tribune reported that al-Khawinay was beaten “with fists and gun-butts, then dragged him bleeding from the ear and nose to the police station. ‘His face, pajamas were all stained with blood,’ said al-Khawinay’s wife.”

    Although the government has negotiated peace talks with the rebels, it is still seeking to control the media. The Yemen government believes that al-Khawinay has connections with the rebels. Al-Khawinay was arrested once before, but received a presidential pardon. Al-Shoura, al-Khawinay’s online newspaper, has continually attacked the government for favoritism and nepotism, instead of giving important government posts to the most qualified personnel. This continual barrage has culminated in the Yemen government trying to shut down the network.

    Although the peace talks bode well for the people in the Saada region, the arrest of the newspaper editor is a sign of greater Yemen censorship. This is disconcerting, because it was newspapers like Al-Shoura, which showed the suffering in the Saada region. If the plight of the Saada people had not been voiced, then the Yemen government may have been less motivated to quickly help in the Saada region who are suffering.

Committee to Protect Journalists.Editor detained on terrorism allegations. 20 June 2007.
International Herald and Tribune. Journalists protest after police arrest opposition editor accused of supporting Shiite rebels. 20 June 2007.
Yemen Observer. Sa’ada rebellion draws to a close. 17 June 2007.

Anti-Syrian MP slain in Beirut blast

On May 13, Walid Eido, a Lebanese MP and long time anti-Syrian lawmaker, was killed in a blast outside a Beirut health club.  A remote car bomb was detonated as Eido’s convoy passed an empty car.  Eido’s eldest son and two bodyguards were also killed in the explosions, along with seven other civilians.  This is the sixth bombing in Beirut in the last month.  However, it differs from the previous blasts in both size and destruction.  While the five prior attacks seem to focus on causing fear, this bomb is estimated to weigh as much as 175 pounds and was intended to cause damage.

Eido was a member of the anti-Syrian majority party and ally of the former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, who was assassinated in March 2005.  Eido is the sixth anti-Syrian figure to be assassinated since 2005.  Others include al-Hariri, journalist Samir Kassir, George Hawi, Gebran Tueni, and Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel.  Eido’s death and the resignation of an anti-Syrian coalition member last week reduced the margin of majority to just three in the parliament.

After the assassination of Gemayel in November 2006, the anti-Syrian coalition government attempted to hold by-elections to fill his seat.  However, President Lahoud did not give the constitutionally required approval.  But on June 16, the cabinet announced that it will hold by-elections on August 5 to fill the seats once held by Eido and Gemayel.  Lahoud’s recent comments suggest that he will not approve the elections.  However, the governing coalition stated that it will “press on” with the election, even without presidential approval. 

Eido’s allies and members of the anti-Syrian coalition, especially those of the Lebanese Future movement, stated that Syria is behind these attacks.  Saad al-Hariri, the son of the late prime minister and leader of the Future bloc, accused Syria and Syrian supporters, like Hezbollah, of the attacks.  al-Hariri claims that Damascus and pro-Syrian lawmakers are hoping to reduce number of the anti-Syrian ministers in hopes of increasing the pro-Syrian influence over the upcoming parliamentary elections for president. 

Syria has condemned the attack and denied any involvement. 

For more information please see:

Washington Post:  “Political battle looms in Lebanon”  16 June 2007. 

Al Jazeera:  “Beirut by-elections for slain MPs”  16 June 2007. 

The Daily Star:  “Eido funeral turns into rally against Syrians, opposition”  15 June 2007. 

The Daily Star:  “Syria denounces Eido assassination, bristles at accusations of involvement”  15 June 2007. 

BBC:  “Anti-Syrian MP mourned in Lebanon”  14 June 2007. 

The Daily Star:  “March 14 MP Walid Eido assassinated in Beirut bombing”  14 June 2007. 

ME Times:  “Angry mourners blame Syria at Lebanon MP’s funeral”  14 June 2007. 

Washington Post:  “Anti-Syrian bury slain Lebanese MP, blame Damascus”  14 June 2007.

Al Jazeera:  “Beirut bomb kills Politician”  13 June 2007. 

Washington Post:  “Recent killings of top Lebanese figures”  13 June 2007.

Chaldeans Targeted, Thousands have fled Iraq

        The Chaldean church has lived in fear since Iraq’s destabilization caused by Saddam Hussein’s removal from power.  The Chaldean church is a Christian sect, formerly known as Nestorians. They originated from Babylon, or modern day Iraq, and were recently united with the Catholic Church.  Reports show that over 1,000 Christian families have fled Baghdad, and more than 35,000 Christians have fled the country, with many fleeing to Syria. The Christians have been under attack since August 2004, when many Iraqi Christian churches were bombed.
        Christian missionaries have been the most targeted. The BBC reported a website about a Korean Christian worker who was executed because he was an “infidel pig.”  His crime was that he “studied Christian theology and was hoping to become a missionary in the Arab World.” Although the foreign missionaries may have been most targeted, the Iraqi Christian Church has also been attacked.
On June 3, 2007, Gunmen entered the Chaldean Church and demanded those inside to immediately convert to Islam. Father Ragheed Ganni and three of his deacons were killed in his church, because they refused to obey the gunmen.  On June 6, 2007, Father Hani and five of his male students were kidnapped. The six men were walking to a minor seminary in northern Baghdad. The next day four out of five of the boys were released by the kidnappers. The perpetrators seem to be common criminals. They sent a ransom note to Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly demanding money for setting free the captured priest and the remaining student.
        This is not the first occurrence of a priest being kidnapped. In October, the Pope remarked that some of teachings of Islam were “evil” and “inhuman” and that the religion spread by the sword. In response to the pope’s remarks about Islam being a violent religion, a Christian priest was kidnapped and ransomed for $350,000. He was later beheaded.
        The Chaldean church has been targeted and have suffered at the hands of their aggressors. Many have been forced to flee their homes to seek safety. The few who have remained live in fear of attack.

Al-Jazeera. Iraq priest ‘killed over speech’. 13 August 2006.
AsiaNewsit.com. Four Christians abducted yesterday are released. 7 June 2007.
AsiaNewsit.com. Chaldean Priest captured in Baghdad. 6 June 2007.
BBC News. Analysis:Iraq’s Christians under attack. 2 August 2004.
BosLifeNetwork. Iraq Priest remains kidnapped, as thousands flee. 15 June 2007.
New Advent. Chaldean Christians.

Hamas militants take control of Gaza as fighting continues

On Thursday, June 14, the Palestinian president, Abbas, declared a state of emergency and dismissed the Palestinian coalitional government.  Currently, an interim government, mostly Fatah loyalists is in place.  Abbas states that he intends to call for elections once the in-fighting ceases.  Abbas declared a state of emergency as a result of heavy gun-fights and militant operations between the armed branches of Hamas and Fatah in Gaza. 

After a day of fighting, where Hamas fighters seized control of key Fatah security, military, and intelligence compounds, Hamas virtually controls the Gaza Strip.  In the past week, violence between the two groups caused over 100 deaths, sparking international outcry over the present humanitarian crisis.  In a recent statement, Human Rights Watch criticized both Hamas and Fatah militants for serious violations of international humanitarian law.

Human Rights Watch stated that “both Fatah and Hamas military forces have summarily executed captives, killed people not involved in hostilities, and engaged in gun battles with one another inside and near Palestinian hospitals.”  It continued to cite specific incidents where militants violated international humanitarian law; including:

  • June 9 (Gaza-Israel border) – Armed members of the Islamic Jihad and Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade used a vehicle with a “TV” insignia to attack Israeli troops.
  • June 10 (Gaza City) – Hamas militants captured Muhammad Swairki, a cook for Abbas’s presidential guards, and threw him off a 15 story high-rise.
  • June 10 (Gaza City) – Fatah militants captured Muhammad al-Ra’fati, a Hamas supporter, and threw him off a high-rise.
  • June 11 (Beit Lahiya) – Hamas fighters entered the home of Jamal Abu al-Jadiyan and then executed him in the street.
  • June 11 (Gaza City) – In retaliation to the death of Yasir Bakar, Fatah gunmen began firing mortars and rocket-propelled grenades at Shifa Hospital, drawing Hamas fire from inside the building, killing one Hamas and one Fatah fighter.
  • June 11 (Beit Hanun) – At a hospital in Beit Hanun, three family members with ties to Fatah, `Id al-Masri and his sons, Farij and Ibrahim, were killed.  The three were being treated at the hospital for injuries sustained earlier.

In addition, there have been reports of other violations of humanitarian law.  On June 14, it is reported that after Hamas fighters gained control of the Preventative Security and Gaza’s intelligence headquarters, Hamas executed captured Fatah fighters.  Also, many fighters position themselves on rooftops of high-rises, government buildings, and even hospitals.  Residents of the buildings are forced to remain inside buildings where many of which have their water and electricity cut-off. 

Fighting has even jeopardized the safety of hospital in the territory.  On June 11, a hospital in northern Gaza shut down after three people were killed.  Then, on June 12, the European Hospital’s roof, in Khan Yunis, was used as a part of an assault, causing the hospital to send home all nonessential staff.  A nurse at Al Quds Hospital complains that the hospital has no electricity, water, or blood units, limiting its ability to treat the injured.

Also, Hamas listed several members of Fatah accused of collaborating with Israel.  Hamas declared that collaborators are traitors and will be dealt with in due time.  For instance, Hamas militants captured and publicly executed Samih Madhun, a top commander of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Fatah’s armed military group.  Also, Hamas threatened that Muhammad Dahlan, the head of Fatah’s security in Gaza, will be killed if he returns to Gaza.

The fighting, though concentrated in Gaza, has spilled over into the Fatah dominated West Bank.  Fatah militants and supporters targeted Hamas supporters for acts of retaliation.  Many of the victims are not involved in the fighting, but attacked based on their membership in Hamas.  Businesses owned by Hamas supporters were also targets for violence and acts of retaliation.

On Wednesday, June 13, over a thousand non-violent protesters marched through Gaza City urging an end to the in-fighting.  Armed militants fired on the peaceful protesters, killing one protester and injuring 14 others.

Palestinians and the international community are concerned about the implications of the most recent increase violence.  Some predict that the Palestinian Authority will split into a Hamas controlled Gaza and a Fatah controlled West Bank.  This possibility raises several questions and concerns about the future of a Palestinian state.

For more information please see:
BBC:
“Abbas sacks Hamas led government”  14 June 2007. 

“Hamas hails ‘liberation’ of Gaza”  14 June 2007. 

“Coping with the Gaza fighting”
  14 June 2007. 

“Gaza residents under fire”  14 June 2007. 

“Hamas battles for control of Gaza”  13 June 2007. 

“Hamas launches new Gaza attacks”
  12 June 2007. 

Al Jazeera:
“Abbas sacks Palestinian government”  14 June 2007. 

“Hamas defies Palestinian President”  14 June 2007. 

“Hamas pounds Gaza security bases”  13 June 2007. 

London Times:
“‘There will be no dialogue with Fatah, only the sword and the rifle’”  15 June 2007.

“President Fortress falls in the face of Hamas onslaught”
15 June 2007. 

“Fatah militants turn on leader who ‘left them to fight without orders’” 15 June 2007.
“Analysis: the future is bleak for Abbas” 14 June 2007. 

“Gaza lurches towards Islamist mini-state”
  14 June 2007. 

ABC News:
“Hamas seizing control of Gaza Strip”  14 June 2007.

“Abbas orders elite guard to attack Hamas”  14 June 2007. 

“It’s Civil War, Palestinians Factions Agree”  13 June 2007. 

“Hospitals become battleground in Gaza”  12 June 2007. 

CNN:
“Hamas claims full control of Gaza”  14 June 2007. 

“Palestinian fighting ‘will burn all of us,’ official says”  13 June 2007.   

“Militants throw rivals off high-rise Gaza buildings”  10 June 2007.

Human Rights Watch:  “Gaza: Armed Palestinian Groups Commit Grave Crimes”  13 June 2007. 

The Economist: “Conflict in Gaza”  13 June 2007. 

Time: “What happens after Hamas wins?”  13 June 2007.

Egyptian Voters Denied

     Egyptian voters were denied the ability to vote in areas where the government perceived strong support for the Muslim Brotherhood. The polls were guarded by police who stopped Egyptians from voting for the opposition. This weakened the government’s assertion that the constitutional changes in March were implemented to strengthen democracy.

    The voters were denied access to vote in Awseem. Police officers armed with automatic rifles blockaded the locked entrance. Voters were told that the polling places were closed, or that the election occurred the following the day. Others were physically beaten by police, and one man was killed in the election violence.

    The purpose of the government’s action was to deny the Muslim Brotherhood from gaining parliamentary seats. In the past few months, over 800 of the Muslim Brotherhood have been questioned or arrested by the government. The government’s fear is that if the Muslim Brotherhood gain power then they will transform the nation into a Muslim nation with Sharia law.

    These actions by the government weaken its claim that the constitutional changes in March strengthened democracy by halting the emergency powers. The changes stripped authority from the judicial branch. This has strengthened the president and the legislature. It gave the government the power to bar Egyptians from voting for the Muslim Brotherhood, because of the perceived terrorist threat.

    As expected, the Muslim Brotherhood, which previously was a leading opposition party, did not win a single seat in the preliminary results.

Washington Post. Egyptian Voters Impeded in Opposition Strongholds. 12 June 2007.
Pittsburgh  Tribune-Review. Violence Spoils Egyptian elections. 12 June 2007.
Los Angeles Times. Egypt’s dissidents held down by law. 13 June 2007.
Monsters and Critics News. Egypt’s ruling party sweeps Shura election contest. 13 June 2007.