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Archive for June, 2011

Syrian army defector says he was told to shoot unarmed protesters

During a month stationed in Deraa, neither Wasid nor any of his fellow conscripts saw a single armed demonstrator.

Martin Chulov in Istanbul
Monday 27 June 2011

Wasid, a Syrian conscript, set off for the southern town of Deraa in late April filled with the zeal of a soldier going to war. “We were going to fight terrorists,” he said. But less than a day after arriving there, he was planning to defect.

The Syrian regime has cast the uprising in Deraa as a conflict between a loyal military and a large and highly mobile group of heavily-armed foreign-backed insurgents, roaming the country attempting to ignite sectarian strife.

Over three hours in an Istanbul safehouse, Wasid, 20, described events in the southern town where the wave of dissent that has swept Syria first broke. His account starkly contradicts the official narrative.

“As soon as we got there, the officers told us not to shoot at the men carrying guns. They said they [the gunmen] were with us. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It had all been lies,” he said.

In the month they were stationed there, neither Wasid nor any of his colleagues saw any demonstrators with weapons in Deraa or the nearby town of Izraa. And instead of confronting armed insurgents, the unit was ordered to shoot protesters. “It shocked me,” he said. “We are soldiers and soldiers do not shoot at civilians.”

In the weeks leading up his deployment with the Syrian army’s 14th Division, commanders had given regular briefings on the “violence” ahead. Wasid was convinced he would soon be in combat.

“When we were at the base in Damascus before we left for Deraa, we were not allowed to watch television at all, except for two hours each day when we could watch Rami Makhlouf’s channel,” he said. [Makhlouf, a tycoon, is President Bashar al-Assad’s first cousin]. “All they showed were armed groups roaming the villages. I found out later that these groups were on our [the regime’s] side – they were the Shabiha.” According to Wasid, the Shabiha – ghosts – were the only civilian gunmen in town. Their group has strong links to the military and has developed a reputation over recent bloody months of being willing to do the dirty work in troublesome towns and villages.

“The first day we arrived there, 24 April, the Shabiha came to the base to speak with our officers. It was clear that the relationship was close.”

Wasid showed the Guardian his military ID and application for refugee status, copies of which have been kept.

He does not want his real name or photograph used out of fear that his family may be targeted for reprisals.

After weeks of military crackdowns, the government is now on a diplomatic and media offensive. Officials are pushing their version of events to a few correspondents who were last week allowed to enter Syria for the first time since March. The official account has emphasized claims that Sunni Islamist groups have either initiated or hijacked the uprising’s agenda.

“I never saw an Islamist or anybody that resembled one,” said Wasid. “And nor did anyone else with me.”

He estimated that about 30% of his unit were disaffected with the military.

But neither dissent nor defection are easy in Syria, where conscripts are paid £6 a month. “One guy – I only know his name as Wael, he was from the east – told an officer that what we were doing was wrong. “The next day he was killed. They said he had been shot by terrorists.” Nevertheless, by 25 May Wasid and 20 others had mustered the courage to attempt to escape. He ditched his military fatigues – and the sniper rifle which he said he had never used – and ran with the group to the highway, where a van took them to Damascus. “Once we got there, we agreed we would go separate directions. I stayed in Damascus for three days and then left for Turkey. I don’t know where the others went.”

He crossed the border in the Kurdish northeast of Syria and made his way by bus to Istanbul, where the UNHCR and rights group Avaaz are helping him. Wasid’s testimony will be used in a referral to the international criminal court being prepared by another group, Insan. Four other defectors from Deraa have made their way to the Jordanian capital, Amman, in recent days and are also briefing investigators.

Defections have been regularly reported during the uprising, but on a small scale. Apart from the apparent mutiny of half a base in the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour (where Syrian officials claim soldiers were massacred by terrorists), none of the defections have been large enough to pose a threat to command and control of the army.

Wasid says his anger is directed not at the government, which he believes betrayed him, but at his army colleagues who stayed behind despite also seeing what he had seen in Deraa. “There were around 100 people each week killed there. They were civilians.

If I see my colleagues again, not only will I tell others what they have done, but I will find their families and tell them too. And then I will hurt them.”

Source: The Guardian.

Iran fires medium-range missile in war game

Tehran (AFP) June 28, 2011

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards fired 14 missiles in an exercise Tuesday, one of them a medium-range weapon capable of striking Israel or US targets in the Gulf, state media said.

In response, the US State Department accused Tehran of “bragging” rather than complying with its international obligations.

The Guards’ aerospace commander, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, insisted Iran’s missile program posed no threat to European nations but was merely intended to provide defense against Israel and US forces in the Gulf.

“Today, on the second day of the exercise, we fired Zelzals (Quake), Shahabs (Meteors) 1 and 2, and the Ghadr (Power),” a medium-range missile which is a modified version of the Shahab-3, Hajizadeh told state television.

He said the missiles were not a threat to European nations.

“Iran’s missiles have a maximum range of 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) and are designed to reach US targets in the region and the Zionist regime,” the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.

“The Zionist regime is 1,200 kilometers away from Iran and we are able to target this regime with our 2,000 kilometer range missiles from Semnan and Damghan (in central Iran),” he said.

“We have the technology to build missiles with a longer range but we do not need them and we are not seeking to build such missiles.”

Iran has said that its latest exercise is not aimed at any country but carries “a message of peace and friendship.”

IRNA said the Guards fired nine Zelzals, two Shahab-1s, two Shahab-2s and a single medium-range Ghadr on the second day of their Great Prophet-6 exercise.

Iran unveiled the Ghadr, which has a range of 1,800 kilometers, following a successful test in September 2009.

The Zelzal is an unguided surface-to-surface missile with a maximum range of 400 kilometers.

The Shahab-1 and -2 have a range of 300 to 500 kilometers and are based on the Soviet-designed Scud.

On the first day of the exercise on Monday, the Guards unveiled an “underground missile silo” which they said was designed for launching their medium-range missiles, state television reported.

The broadcaster showed footage of a facility at an unknown location, containing a missile it identified as a Shahab-3.

“The technology to build these silos is completely indigenous,” the state television website quoted the exercise’s spokesman, Colonel Asghar Ghelich-Khani, as saying.

State television also showed a missile launch, without specifying its type or when the firing took place.

Iran’s missile program, which is under the control of the powerful Guards, along with its space projects, has been a mounting source of concern in the West.

Western governments fear Tehran is developing a ballistic capability to enable it to launch atomic warheads which they suspect Iran is seeking to develop under cover of its civil nuclear program.

Tehran denies any such ambition.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Iran’s actions “do not give anybody any confidence that they are moving in the direction of coming back into compliance with the demands of the international community.”

She said “Iran, rather than getting itself back in the good graces of the international community … seems to be bragging about its capabilities, conducting secret programs, parading new missiles in front of the press.

“So that’s not taking us in the direction that we want to go with Iran,” she added.

Nuland said UN Security Council resolution 1929 prohibits Iran from activity related to the development of missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons, but did not say whether Washington thought the tested missiles were nuclear capable.

Source: Space War.

Russia test launches Bulava strategic missile

Moscow (AFP) June 28, 2011

The Russian military test launched its Bulava intercontinental missile Tuesday from the Yury Dolgoruky submarine in the White Sea, a major boost for the navy after a series of failures.

The test was the first such launch from the strategic nuclear submarine specifically designed to carry the Bulava missiles, said defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov.

All previous such launches had been made from the Dmitry Donskoi submarine.

“The launch has been successful according to all the parameters,” Konashenkov told AFP.

The missile was fired in the White Sea in northwestern Russia and hit its target in the Kura firing area on the Kamchatka peninsula in the Pacific Ocean some 6,000 kilometers (3,730 miles) away, Konashenkov said.

Russia plans to conduct four more missile launches this year, he added. If further tests are successful, the missile can be taken up by the armed forces in late 2011 or early next year, Konashenkov said.

It was the 15th such test overall and the first this year, according to the defense ministry. Of the previous launches, only seven were successful.

In 2009, the Bulava’s main designer resigned after the failures, which defense experts called a major setback to Russia’s bid to revamp its nuclear arsenal by 2020.

The Bulava, which can be equipped with up to 10 individually targeted nuclear warheads capable of changing their flight trajectory, has a maximum range of 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles).

Its incorporation into the armed forces is part of a wide-ranging military reform aimed at updating the armed forces’ Soviet-era structures and equipment to bring them in line with the demands of modern warfare.

The missile is designed for use with Russia’s new Borei class of nuclear submarines like the Yury Dolgoruky and Alexander Nevsky, named after key historical figures.

Analysts have previously said the vessels risk being worthless unless the Bulava works.

In late 2009, a similar missile launch ended in failure, causing spectacular images in the sky above the Norwegian city of Tromso and prompting initial speculations they were caused by a meteor, the northern lights or even a UFO.

The White Sea, the usual site for such missile tests from Russian submarines, lies close to Norway’s own Arctic region.

Defense analysts cautiously welcomed the launch, saying the armed forces had learnt from mistakes but more tests were needed.

“This is the beginning of possible success. Eight successful tests out of the 15 is a sign of hope, but nothing more than that,” defense analyst Alexander Golts told AFP.

“The Yury Dolgoruky is the first of the new missile carriers which has completed at-sea tests and is ready for use. There is no doubt this is good news for the Russian navy and the military.”

Source: Space War.

Spectacular discoveries in New Guinea

Manila (AFP) June 27, 2011

A frog with fangs, a blind snake and a round-headed dolphin are among more than 1,000 new species recently found on the incredible Melanesian island of New Guinea, environment group WWF said.

Scientists made the astounding discoveries, which also included a river shark and dozens of butterflies, on New Guinea at a rate of two a week from 1998 to 2008, WWF said in a new report on the island’s natural habitat.

“This report shows that New Guinea’s forests and rivers are among the richest and most biodiverse in the world,” said WWF’s Western Melanesia program representative, Neil Stronach.

New Guinea, divided between Indonesia in the west and Papua New Guinea to the east, has one of the world’s least spoilt and most stunning ecosystems.

Its rainforests are the third biggest in the world after the Amazon and the Congo, and, while the island covers just 0.5 per cent of the Earth’s landmass, it contains up to eight percent of the world’s species, according to WWF.

What was previously known about New Guinea’s biodiversity was already breathtaking, such as the world’s biggest butterfly — with a 30-centimeter (12-inch) wingspan — and giant rats that can grow up to a meter long.

Scientists believe that one square kilometer (247 acres) of the island’s lowland rainforest may contain as many as 150 bird species, according to WWF.

The 1,060 species confirmed by scientists as new discoveries between 1998 and 2008 are believed to have only scratched the surface of New Guinea’s dazzling ecosystems.

“Such is the extent of New Guinea’s biodiversity that new discoveries are commonplace even today,” WWF said in its report, titled “Final Frontier: Newly Discovered Species of New Guinea”.

One of the most notable finds documented in the WWF report was a round-headed and snub-finned dolphin, which swims in protected, shallow coastal waters near rivers and creek mouths.

Discovered in 2005 in Papua New Guinea, it was the first new dolphin species recorded anywhere in the world in three decades, and is now known to also exist in Australia, WWF said.

Another of the 12 mammals found over the decade was an anteater named in honor of British naturalist Sir David Attenborough, Sir David’s Long-beaked Echinda or, scientifically, Zaglossus attenboroughi.

One of the 134 frogs discovered was dubbed Litoria sauroni because its striking red and black spotted eyes reminded scientists of the evil character Sauron in the “Lord of the Rings” movies.

Another new frog was notable because of its tiny size — just one centimeter in length, while one had vampire-like fangs.

Nine snail species, some so colorful as to be almost unrecognizable from the backyard-garden-type variety, were among the 580 new invertebrates discovered.

One of the snails was bright yellow, while another was green and yellow.

Among the other new invertebrates was a brightly colored apricot crayfish, part of the family of creatures called “yabbies” in Australia and some other parts of the world, which was nine to 12 centimeters long

New fish totaled 71, with a kaleidoscope of colors, including one in the coral reefs of Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea that thrilled scientists with its dazzling blue hue.

WWF said the most extraordinary freshwater discovery was a 2.5-meter-long river shark found in Papua New Guinea that has since also been located in northern Australia.

Of the 43 reptiles discovered, one could claim to be the most innocuous snake in the world — it was just 12-14 centimeters long, had scales over its eyes so that it could not see, could not bite and had no venom.

But WWF said the excitement of all the new discoveries had been tempered by the fact that, like in the Amazon and Borneo rainforests, human actions were destroying New Guinea’s natural habitat at an “alarming rate”.

Some of the growing threats it listed were illegal and unsustainable logging, forest conversion for palm oil plantations, mining, road construction and unsustainable fishing.

“These environmental threats are exacerbated by global climate change which is increasing the number of fires within forests and savannas, erosion, and seawater incursion into coastal habitats,” WWF said.

Source: Terra Daily.

PA slams Israel’s decision to bring Jews from India

Monday 27/06/2011

JERUSALEM (Ma’an) – The Palestinian Authority on Monday slammed Israel’s decision to bring Jews from northeast India to Israel.

According to Monday’s issue of Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, the ministerial committee convened under Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and decided to bring 7,300 Jews from India to Israel.

The report highlighted that up until 2007, 1,700 Indian Jews were brought to Israel, and immigration stopped since then.

PA spokesman Ghassan Khatib said the decision came in line with Israel’s policy to bring non-Israeli Jews to Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people.

Meanwhile, he added, Israel prevents the Palestinians from returning to their homeland to live there.

“This is something we condemn, and since we don’t have enough information, we need to contact the Indian government for an explanation,” he told Ma’an.

Source: Ma’an News Agency.

Tunisia bars former regime officials from October poll


Members of the dissolved RCD party and the Ben Ali regime will be excluded from Tunisia’s upcoming constituent assembly elections, TAP reported on Sunday (June 26th). Authorities are in the process of preparing a list of RCD operatives and members of the ousted president’s government. According to electoral commission chief Mustapha Tlili, the measure is expected to bar up to 18,000 from voting or running in the October 23rd elections.

Source: Magharebia.

Morocco to offer 20,000 textile jobs


Morocco will train and integrate some 20,000 young people for jobs in the clothing and textile sectors, Le Matin reported on Saturday (June 25th). The initiative follows a partnership agreement between the Office of Vocational Training and Labor Promotion (OFPPT) and the Moroccan Textile and Clothing Industry Association (AMITH). Vocational training will be offered in Casablanca, Rabat, Tangier, Fes and Marrakech.

Source: Magharebia.

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