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Archive for April, 2014

PPP: Hamas plans to impose new penal code on Gaza

March 29, 2014 Saturday

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — The Palestinian People’s Party said in a statement Saturday that it opposes Hamas’ attempts to change the penal code in the Gaza Strip.

The Hamas movement that governs Gaza is attempting to impose a new penal code on the Strip, one that is inconsistent with basic the Palestinian law that has been applicable in the West Bank and Gaza since 1936, the PPP statement said.

Citing comments from the secretary of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza and the chief of the council’s legal committee, the PPP said that Hamas-affiliated lawyers were preparing to replace the 1936 penal code with a new one.

“Hamas and its parliamentarian bloc do not have the right to pass such a law in the name of the Palestinian parliament,” the PPP statement said, adding that changing the penal code in Gaza would further divide Fatah and Hamas.

A legal adviser from the Palestinian human rights organization al-Haq said that the new penal code in Gaza would include regulations from Shariah law.

Source: Ma’an News Agency.


Thousands of Hamas supporters rally in Gaza

March 23, 2014

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Tens of thousands of Hamas supporters thronged the streets of downtown Gaza City on Sunday, a show of strength at a time when the Islamic militant group faces its deepest crisis since seizing power seven years ago.

Hamas is dealing with a severe financial shortfall, caused by heavy pressure from both Israel and Egypt. But leaders stressed that the group remains opposed to Mideast peace efforts and is ready for battle against Israel at any time.

“The resistance is stronger than you think, and our force has doubled and our arsenal has doubled,” Hamas’ prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, told the crowd. “What is hidden from you is bigger than you think.”

Hamas staged Sunday’s rally to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the death of its spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, in an Israeli airstrike, and the assassinations of other top figures a decade ago. But a series of events in recent days, including Israel’s discovery of a tunnel stretching from Gaza into Israel, presumably to carry out militant attacks, and the killing of a top Hamas operative in the West Bank by Israeli forces, gave the rally an extra sense of defiance.

“From under the ground and above the ground, we say it loud: Occupiers go out. You do not have a place to stay on the land of Palestine,” Haniyeh said. Hamas, an armed group committed to the destruction of Israel, took control of Gaza in 2007 after overrunning the forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Since then, the Palestinians have been divided between two governments, the Hamas regime in Gaza and Abbas’ Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. In contrast to Hamas, Abbas favors a negotiated peace agreement with Israel and has been engaged in U.S.-brokered negotiations for the past eight months.

Hamas has fallen onto hard times since its key ally, Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, was ousted in a coup last July. Egypt’s new military government has cracked down on a system of smuggling tunnels along the border with Gaza, robbing Hamas of a lifeline that provided consumer goods, weapons and a key source of tax revenue. Israel has maintained a blockade of Gaza since 2007, restricting imports and exports and controlling the territory’s coastline and airspace.

The dual Israel-Egyptian blockade has plunged Hamas into its worst economic crisis since taking power. The group has struggled to pay its thousands of workers and has begun to face some discontent, even among core supporters.

In another setback for the group, Israel on Friday said it had discovered a new sophisticated tunnel stretching from Gaza into Israel. It was the largest in a series of tunnels Israel has found recently that it says are meant to carry out deadly attacks or kidnappings. On Saturday, Israeli forces in the West Bank killed a top Hamas operative after a standoff in the town of Jenin.

The financial crunch forced Hamas to call off its annual anniversary celebration late last year. Sunday’s rally was also scaled back due to budget woes. Unlike past rallies, Hamas did not provide buses to bring in supporters, and it refrained from putting up large displays and decorations.

Even so, the rally was meant to send a message that Hamas remains firmly in control. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets, including schoolchildren in military fatigues and women wearing veils. Waving Hamas flags into the air, the crowd turned downtown Gaza City into a sea of green. Hamas security forces carefully maintained order and diverted traffic from the area.

Hamas battled Israel during eight days of intense fighting in November 2012, firing some 1,500 rockets into Israel before Egypt brokered a truce. Since then, the group has largely refrained from direct confrontation with Israel, though smaller armed groups have continued to fire rockets.

Israel says it holds Hamas responsible for any attacks emanating from the territory. Top leaders of Islamic Jihad, a smaller group responsible for much of the rocket fire, sat in the front row of Sunday’s rally.

It was an unusually high profile role for the radical movement in a Hamas event, signaling that Hamas is at the least turning a blind eye to — if not actually supporting — the rocket attacks. Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas official in Gaza, said Israel should not be fooled by the period of calm.

“We are not interested in an escalation with the occupation,” he told Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV station. “However, if they dare to launch aggression on Gaza, our response will be more painful than what we did in 2012.”

Chechnya leader inaugurates new mosque in Israel

March 23, 2014

ABU GHOSH, Israel (AP) — The president of Russia’s republic of Chechnya has inaugurated a new, $10 million mosque in an Arab village in Israel.

Ramzan Kadyrov said on Sunday that it was an honor to visit “this good and holy land” during a stop in the village of Abu Ghosh. Isa Jabar, the village’s mayor, says Chechnya donated $6 million for the mosque. He says some villagers trace their ancestry to 16th century Chechnya and the Caucus region.

The mosque was built in the Ottoman Turkish style, the favored architectural style in Chechnya. It features four minarets, making it the only mosque of its kind in Israel. Abu Ghosh, near Jerusalem, enjoys good ties with its Jewish neighbors and is a popular culinary destination for Israelis.

Thousands attend festival organized by Hamas in Gaza

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Thousands of Palestinian citizens will attend a festival organized by the Hamas government in Gaza Sunday under the title “loyalty and steadfastness on the path of martyrs”.

Hamas is scheduled to hold a mass rally Sunday noon in commemoration of the assassination of the movement’s founder Ahmad Yassin, and its leaders Abdel-Aziz Al-Rantisi and Ibrahim Al-Makadima.

Leaders of Hamas and other Palestinian factions, including the Islamic Jihad, will attend the event.

Hundreds of thousands are expected to attend the rally.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


For Massacre-scarred Algeria village, peace is worth more than wealth



In a village scarred by one of the bloodiest massacres of Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s, residents turned out for Thursday’s presidential election to vote for “peace, that’s all”.

The military-backed government’s decision to cancel elections in 1991 that Islamists were poised to win sparked a decade of bloodshed, and the violence of the 1990s is never far from Algerians’ minds.

“Peace is worth more than any amount of wealth,” said Abdelkrim, a pensioner queuing to vote even before the polling station opened at 8 am (0700 GMT) in Rais, in Sidi Moussa district south of nearby Algiers.

“We are voting for peace, that’s all we want,” said Khadija, a widow in her 50s from the same village.

Her husband was killed in August 1997 along with nearly 100 others in Sidi Moussa in an overnight attack blamed on the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which carried out civilian massacres in its battle against the government, sometimes wiping out entire villages.

That night, men from the GIA entered Rais and indiscriminately killed men, women and children, shooting them dead or cutting their throats.

With only her kohl-rimmed eyes visible through her Muslim veil, Khadija is overcome with emotion talking about the tragedy.

But “everything has changed” in the village of 8,000 people, said Kheira, another veiled resident.

“We can now go out and come back to our homes without feeling this fear that ate away at us for years.

“Some of us still have nightmares. But we are learning to patch up our wounds,” she added, with a faint smile.

In the school serving as one of the village’s 12 polling stations, voting official Mohamed Kelouaz insisted the election was free and fair.

“Everything here is transparent, no fraud is possible,” he said, pointing at a board in the courtyard.

Fraud, the “incurable sickness” of Algeria’s elections according to the press, has been a recurrent theme of the election campaign.

“All the information is posted on this board: the number of voters in each station, the names of the station’s directors, the observers chosen by the candidates,” he said.

“I want everything to work.”

On Thursday morning, the representatives of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his main rival Ali Benflis were at Rais’s voting center, but not those of the other four candidates.

Bouteflika, who came to power in 1999 and is seeking a fourth term, is credited by many Algerians with helping to end the “black decade” of conflict, through his policy of national reconciliation.

“Even if I have my own personal preferences, I must never let them show as the director” of the centre, said Kelouaz.

– Haunting memories –

On Wednesday, the district commissioner visited the voting centers with the village’s mayor, with police posted nearby since Tuesday.

After a former Algerian wali, or governor, alleged fraud, Benflis, who also ran against Bouteflika in 2004 elections, used a religious argument to urge officials to put an end to the practice.

Benflis said in televised remarks on Wednesday that “fraud is ‘haram’,” punishable under Islam, prompting Bouteflika to accuse him of “terrorism via the television”.

But for 44-year-old Redouane, the fraud allegations had little bearing on his decision to vote.

“It’s just a way to avert misfortune,” he said.

“I am scared of instability, of reliving the horror of the 1990s. I don’t want to think about that night,” he added, referring to the massacre in Rais.

His sister Aisha, then 35, had taken her three children to spend the night with her brothers. She, along with three of her sisters-in-law, had their throats cut by the attackers.

“I was outside when the shooting started, I woke up my brothers and we fled without even considering that they might touch the women and children.

“The horror lasted from midnight until four in the morning,” he said, his voice trembling and eyes full of tears.

Source: Middle East Online.


An extraordinary meeting: Gulf ministers agree to end tension with Qatar


JEDDAH – Gulf foreign ministers agreed a deal Thursday to end months of unprecedented tension between Qatar and other members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council over the Muslim Brotherhood.

At an extraordinary meeting in Riyadh, the ministers agreed that the policies of GCC member states should not undermine the “interests, security and stability” of each other, a statement said.

Such policies must also not affect the “sovereignty” of a member state.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar last month, accusing it of meddling in their internal affairs and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

The three states said at the time that Doha had failed to comply with a commitment by Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, to non-interference, made during a summit in Riyadh last year with Kuwait’s emir and the Saudi monarch. During the tripartite meeting in Riyadh in November, Kuwait’s emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah sought to ease tensions between Saudi King Abdullah and Sheikh Tamim.

On Thursday, the foreign ministers met for more than two hours at a Riyadh air base and agreed on an “implementation mechanism” to the November agreement, the GCC statement said.

Tensions rose because Doha supported Egypt’s Islamist president Mohamed Morsi while most Gulf countries hailed his overthrow by the army last July.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies have long been hostile towards Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, fearing that its brand of grass-roots activism and political Islam could undermine their authority. Tensions that had been simmering for months peaked in early February when Abu Dhabi summoned Doha’s ambassador to protest against “insults” to the UAE by Egypt-born cleric Yusef al-Qaradawi, a Qatari citizen.

The coverage of the influential Doha-based Al-Jazeera satellite channel, seen by critics as biased in favor of the Brotherhood, has also increased tensions between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors.

The other GCC member states are Kuwait and Oman.

Source: Middle East Online.


40 years after revolution, Portugal is angry

April 25, 2014

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Euphoria gripped Portugal during the 1974 Carnation Revolution, when junior army officers swept away a four-decade dictatorship. The almost bloodless coup brought what for the Portuguese were novelties — the right to vote, universal health care, public education, old-age pensions and labor rights.

On the coup’s 40th anniversary Friday, the prevailing mood among the Portuguese is anger at how their government is now stripping away those cherished entitlements amid a financial crisis. “Many people are feeling very cheated,” said Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, a former army captain who masterminded the pre-dawn military takeover. “What we’re living through now, it’s like it’s signing the death warrant of the hopes and values of (the revolution).”

As commemorations began, around 2,000 people listened to speeches given by some of those who participated in the upheaval four decades ago. April 25, an annual public holiday, has this year provided a lightning rod for those keen to voice their discontent at austerity measures. It’s a sentiment also encountered in other European Union countries feeling the pain of public spending cuts aimed at defusing a recent debt crisis.

Portugal, like Greece and Ireland, had to ask for an international bailout in 2011, needing 78 billion euros ($107.8 billion) to avoid bankruptcy. It became a ward of foreign creditors, who have compelled the country of 10.5 million people to slash social programs and job protection laws established in the revolution’s aftermath.

The Carnation Revolution, which saw a million people fill the streets in a mass celebration, is regarded as one of the glorious moments of Portugal’s 20th-century history. It is named for the red flowers — in season and plentiful at the time — which people stuck in the barrels of soldiers’ rifles on that landmark day. Within a year, elections were held.

For most Portuguese under 50 years old, the revolution is a milestone they learned about at school. But with youth unemployment at 35 percent, the anniversary has struck a chord with many young people. Nationwide commemorations include dozens of protest events organized on social media.

Miguel Januario, a 33-year-old street artist painting a commemorative mural on a wall of Lisbon’s New University, said he held dear the changes brought by an event he didn’t live through, “but since then we’ve allowed new forms of dictatorship — in this case financial — to take over.”

Portuguese of all ages have plenty to complain about after three straight years of recession. Budget cuts have, for example, forced the closure of local health centers and reduced subsidies for prescription drugs. High schools have seen staff levels fall and the purchase of new equipment postponed. New laws have made it easier and cheaper to hire and fire workers.

The government has cut the salaries of government workers, lowered old-age pensions, and introduced what the finance minister conceded was a “brutal” increase in income tax. Meanwhile, unemployment reached a record 17.7 percent last year, though it has now slipped back to 15.3 percent.

The scrapping of rent controls — another bailout demand — has left many in danger of losing their homes. Conceicao Pequito, a sociology researcher at the University Institute of Lisbon and co-author of a study examining public attitudes amid the crisis, says people feel their rights have been “confiscated.”

“There’s a lot of pessimism about what living in a democracy means these days,” she said. Just as in the revolution, when only four people were killed, there has been little violence despite the upheaval.

A small — and muted — number express nostalgia for Antonio Salazar’s long dictatorship. They note that he kept the country’s public finances in order and wasn’t guilty of the kind of brutality witnessed under Gen. Francisco Franco during his almost simultaneous dictatorship in neighboring Spain.

But even those people don’t want a return of Salazar’s secret police, political prisons and censorship.

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