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Militants set fire to NATO tankers in Pakistan

Posted by Admin on October 2, 2010

Member countries of NATO in blue

Member Countries of NATO(Blue)

Police collect bullets shells next to burning ...

KARACHI (Reuters) – Suspected militants in Pakistan set fire to three dozen tankers carrying fuel for NATO troops in Afghanistan on Friday, officials said, a day after three soldiers were killed in a cross-border NATO air strike.

Angered by repeated incursions by NATO helicopters over the past week, Pakistan has blocked a supply route for coalition troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan is a crucial ally for the United States in its efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, but analysts say border incursions and disruptions inNATO supplies underline growing tensions in the relationship.

A senior Pakistani intelligence official said the border incursions could lead to a “total snapping of relations.” But U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke told a forum in Washington the current tensions were unlikely to “change the fundamental relationship between our two countries.”

Senior local officials blamed “extremists” for the attack on the tankers in the southern town of Shikarpur. About 12 people, their faces covered, opened fire with small arms into the air to scare away the drivers and then set fire to 35 tankers.

“Some of them have been completely destroyed and others partially. But there is no loss of human life,” Shikarpur police chief Abdul Hameed Khoso told Reuters.

In a separate incident, two unidentified men fired on a NATO tanker traveling through a town in Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province toward Afghanistan. Two people burned to death after the vehicle caught fire, security officials said.

Police arrested 10 people after the earlier attack, including five netted from a raid on an Islamic seminary, or madrasa.

The tankers were parked at a filling station on their way to Afghanistan from Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi.

Thursday, three Pakistani soldiers were killed and three wounded in two cross-border incursions by NATO forces chasing militants in Pakistan’s northwestern Kurram region.

It was the third cross-border incident in a week, the Pakistan military said. NATO said the helicopters briefly crossed into Pakistan airspace after coming under fire from people there.

OTHER OPTIONS?

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, speaking in parliament, said Pakistan was a partner in the war against Islamist militancy, but would allow no infringement of its sovereignty.

“I want to assure the entire nation from this house that we will consider other options if there is interference in the sovereignty of our country,” Gilani said without elaborating.

Pakistan’s ambassador to Belgium lodged a protest with NATO’s deputy general secretary over the incursions, the Pakistan embassy said in a statement.

Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told the Washington Ideas Forum the border incident was “very unfortunate” and that the NATO secretary general had expressed his regrets, which Holbrooke echoed.

Despite tensions, analysts say a rift is unlikely between Pakistan and its Western allies as each side needs the other.

The European Union said it had decided to more than double its Pakistan flood aid to 150 million euros ($205 million).

Thursday, hours after the cross-border attack, Pakistani authorities halted tankers carrying supplies for the NATO forces passing through the Khyber tribal region on the Afghan border.

About three-quarters of the cargo for NATO forces in Afghanistan moves through Pakistan, mostly via twoborder crossings: Chaman north of Quetta in Baluchistan and Torkham at the Khyber Pass.

Another third flows into Afghanistan through the northern distribution network across Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Sensitive gear like ammunition, weapons and critical equipment is flown in.

Officials say supplies through Chaman continue uninterrupted.

Holbrooke said it was “inconceivable” that border crossings in the Khyber region would face any long closure because of the “colossal effect” it would have on the surrounding area.

PAKISTAN UNDER SPOTLIGHT

Pakistan has again come under the spotlight after Western intelligence sources said a plot to stage attacks in Europe had been disrupted by an upsurge in missile strikes by U.S. drones.

Security officials said they had no evidence of a plot being hatched in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Most recent drone strikes have taken place in the northwestern North Waziristan region.

“It’s no secret that there are terrorists from all nationalities in North Waziristan. They are Arabs, Uzbeks, Pakistani, Afghan, Chechans, German, Brits, Americans, everyone. And they are threat to us, to their own countries and to the entire world,” a senior security official said.

“But to say that we have any specific information that they were plotting attacks against this country or that country, then sir, we don’t have any concrete information or intelligence about that.”

(Additional reporting by Hamid Shaikh and Zeeshan Haider, and David Alexander in Washington; Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Ron Popeski)

==========================================================================================================================================

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Assailants in Pakistan launched two separate attacks Friday on vehicles carrying fuel for NATO and American forces in Afghanistan, highlighting the vulnerability of the U.S.-led mission a day after Pakistan closed a major border crossing.

A truck driver and his assistant were burned alive in the second attack on a single tanker in the parking lot of a restaurant in southeastern Baluchistan province, said police officer Mohammad Azam. He said “anti-state elements” were behind the attack.

That term could refer to Islamist militants or separatist rebels active in the region.

Earlier Friday, suspected militants torched 27 tankers carrying oil for troops in Afghanistan in Sindh province.

Around 80 percent of the fuel, spare parts, clothing and other non-lethal supplies for foreign forces in landlocked Afghanistan travels throughPakistan after arriving in the southern Arabian sea port of Karachi. The alliance has other supply routes to Afghanistan, but the Pakistani ones are the cheapest and most convenient.

The Pakistani government shut the Torkham border crossing in the northwest on Thursday in apparent protest of a NATO helicopter incursion that killed three of its soldiers on the border. It kept open the Chaman crossing in Baluchistan, where it seemed likely the vehicles attacked Friday were heading.

The closure raised tensions between Pakistan and the United States, which have a close but often troubled alliance in the fight against militants.

Islamist militants regularly attack NATO supply tankers in Pakistan, mostly in the northwestern border region where their influence is stronger.

In Sindh, around 10 gunmen attacked the tankers when they were parked at an ordinary truck stop on the edge of Shikarpur town shortly after midnight. They forced the drivers and other people there to flee before setting the fires, said police officer Abdul Hamid Khoso.

Another officer, Nisar Ahmed, said the tankers had arrived in Shikarpur from Karachi and were heading to Quetta, a major city in the southwest. From there, the road leads to Chaman.

Attacks on NATO and U.S. supply convoys in Pakistan give militants a propaganda victory, but coalition officials say they do not result in shortages in Afghanistan. Some of the attacks are believed to be the work of criminals or in Baluchistan, separatists. Some officials allege truck owners may be behind some of them, perhaps to fraudulently claim insurance.

The vast majority of the convoys, however, through the country unharmed and the frequency of attacks reported in the media does not appear to have risen much, if at all, over the last two years.

In recent years, the alliance has sought to shift more of the supplies through Central Asian countries north of Afghanistan and Russia, aware of the problems of relying too much on Pakistan, which some argue does not share America’s strategic goals in the region.

There is a risk, albeit small, that militant attacks could one day seriously squeeze supplies. But the overriding concern is that hosting the supply routes gives Islamabad immense leverage in its relationship with Washington. The United States cannot force Pakistan to, say, crack down on militants in the northwest behind attacks in Afghanistan because Islamabad holds a trump card: it can cut off most of the supplies to the war whenever it wants.

Pakistani security forces provide guards for the trucks and tankers in the northwest, but generally do not do so in southern and central Pakistan, where attacks are rarer. Pakistani security officials had warned after two alleged NATO helicopter incursions last weekend that they would stop providing protection to NATO convoys if it happened again.

In Brussels on Friday, Pakistani Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani met with NATO leaders and lodged a formal protest over the border incursions. In Pakistan, government officials said they had to take a stand.

“If the NATO forces keep on entering into Pakistan and carrying out attacks, then (the) only option we have — we should stop the movement of the containers,” Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar said.

Opinion polls show many Pakistanis regard the United States as an enemy, and conspiracy theories abound of U.S. troops wanting to attack Pakistan and take over its nuclear weapons. The Pakistani government has to balance its support for the U.S. war in Afghanistan — and its need for billions of dollars in American aid — with maintaining support from its own population.

The decision to close to the border has underscored the uneasy relations.

Pakistan said two NATO choppers fired on one of its border posts in the northwest’s Kurram tribal region, killing three Pakistani soldiers Thursday. NATO said its helicopters entered Pakistani airspace and hit a target only after receiving ground fire. The alliance expressed condolences to the families of the soldiers and said it would investigate the incident.

It was the third alleged incursion by NATO helicopters into the northwest in the last week.

A lengthy closure of Torkham would place intense strain on the U.S.-Pakistani relationship and hurt the Afghan war effort. But that is seen as unlikely, as neither Islamabad nor Washington can afford a meltdown in ties at a crucial time in the 9-year-old war.

At Torkham, some 150 containers were waiting Friday for the border to reopen. The truck drivers were getting impatient and worried about the prospect of militant attacks.

“I might have not come here with NATO material if I knew that I will have to face this problem,” said Shalif Khan. “We are forced to spend the day and the night in the open. We do not have any security here.”

___

Associated Press writer Riaz Khan in Torkham, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

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Emanuel gone, Rouse in as chief of staff

Posted by Admin on October 2, 2010

The White House

The White House Makeover?

Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Friday said a bittersweet goodbye to the energetic and fierce manager of his White House, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, and elevated a quiet and seasoned adviser, Pete Rouse, to the most important gate-keeping job in American politics.

“We could not have accomplished what we’ve accomplished without Rahm’s leadership,” Obama said. Emanuel is departing after nearly two grueling years to run for Chicago mayor.

The announcement was such a poorly kept secret that Obama joked it was “the least suspenseful announcement of all time,” but it represented an important moment of transition for the presidency.

What Emanuel leaves behind is more than a staff job. It is the most demanding and influential position in the White House — save for Obama’s. The person who holds it is entrusted to help shape thepresident’s thinking, prioritize his time, manage scores of egos and issues and keep the White House focused on its goals.

The mood at the White House reflected that this was no ordinary staff change. Cabinet members and senior staff members packed the ornate East Room, a setting often reserved for visits of heads of state, for the official word that Emanuel, the hard-charging leader of the staff, was on his way out.

Rouse, named interim chief of staff, is a calm, trusted senior adviser to Obama who has spent much of his career as a chief of staff in the Senate.

“There is a saying around the White House: `Let’s let Pete fix it,'” Obama said. “And he does.”

In a nod to the political sensitivities of Emanuel’s move, he never directly mentioned that he was running for mayor, and Obama didn’t touch that, either. Emanuel, sure to be cast as an outsider by his competitors in the upcoming mayoral campaign, did not want to announce his run from Washington.

But Emanuel did call Chicago “the greatest city in the greatest country in the world.” And he told Obama, “I’m energized by the prospect of new challenges, and eager to see what I can do to make our hometown even greater.” The president and Emanuel, confidants and friends, hugged three times during the event.

“Mr. President, I thought I was tough,” Emanuel told Obama. “I want to thank you for being the toughest leader any country could ask for in the toughest times any president has ever faced.”

In an unusual display of emotion, Emanuel appeared to choke up as he spoke of his family’s immigrant background, and the opportunities he himself has been afforded.

Rouse, befitting his style, stood quietly by the president and never spoke. Obama described him as never seeing a television camera or a microphone that he liked — unlike the boisterous Emanuel. The differences were even apparent on stage — Rahm with his trademark hands on hips, Rouse still and stoic.

Obama’s choice of a permanent chief of staff will come in the context of a personnel reorganization, with some key players already planning to leave the White House grind and others likely seeing changes in their portfolios. The results of the Nov. 2 House and Senate midterm elections will also be a factor.

The mantra in the West Wing is that no one who works for the president is irreplaceable. And yet that’s how they described Emanuel, a whirling force of ideas and energy with expertise in foreign policy, political campaigns, communications and the legislative process. Obama’s aides talk of an unquestioned loss.

More than 150 staff members filled the seats of the East Room, snapping photos. The atmosphere was more joyful than sad, though the mood turned sober as Obama ticked through the list of problems they tackled together in the first 20 months of the administration.

Any feel-good reflection came in contrast to the political realities of the day. No sooner had Washington veteran Rouse been introduced than the Republican National Committee condemned the president for the choice, calling it an expansion of an “insular and out of touch White House.”

Emanuel’s move pits him against a growing field of local politicians vying for the job that will be vacated next spring by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who announced in early September that he will not seek a seventh term. Emanuel’s victory in the race is no given, with rivals certain to attack the longtime political operative and former congressman as a brusque outsider who belongs more to Pennsylvania Avenue than Michigan Avenue.

___

Associated Press writers Erica Werner and Julie Pace contributed to this story.

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Musharraf says to return to Pakistan politics

Posted by Admin on October 2, 2010

Musharraf says to return to Pakistan politics ... Fri, Oct 1 06:29 PM

Pakistan’s former military ruler Pervez Musharraf said on Friday he will return to lead a new political party to tackle corruption, revive the sluggish economy and step up the fight against Islamist militants.

Musharraf, who quit office in 2008 to avoid impeachment charges, said he feared the nuclear-armed country could break up without a change of political leadership.

Pakistan is a frontline state in the United States‘ fight against Islamist militancy in the region, but questions about Islamabad’s commitment to the campaign have raised tensions between the two countries.

“When there is a dysfunctional government and the nation is going down and its economy is going down…there is a pressure on the military from the people,” he told BBC radio.

“There is a sense of despondency spreading in Pakistan. We cannot allow Pakistan to disintegrate. So who is the saviour? The army can do it. Nobody else can do it.”

London-based Musharraf, who took power in a military coup in 1999, denied that he faced arrest for treason if he returns to Pakistan, although he said he did fear assassination attempts.

“There is no charge against me, whoever thinks like that doesn’t know the reality,” he said. “There are other dangers.”

Asked when he would return, Musharraf said it would be before the next elections, due by 2013.

“I won’t wait until 2013,” he said. “The stronger I am politically, the more grounds there will be for me to go.”

He warned that a Taliban insurgency could engulf Pakistan unless the government takes a stronger stance.

“If we don’t curb it, there is a possibility that we keep going down and it could end up destroying (the country),” he told BBC radio. “If the armed forces of Pakistan don’t want that, it will never end up destroying Pakistan.”

Musharraf has talked of re-entering politics several times over the past year. Since leaving Pakistan, he has spent most of his time in Britain and the United States.

His popularity waned after he clashed with the judiciary and imposed a six-week stint of emergency rule in 2007 to thwart opposition to his efforts to secure another term. An alliance with the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks was also deeply unpopular with many voters.

Political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi said Musharraf’s prospects in Pakistani politics were weak — at least for now.

“Traditionally, military rulers have not succeeded in popular politics, including those who went to the opposition,” he said. “He’ll have to come back and demonstrate his support. While sitting in London you can’t really do politics.”

Political commentator Najam Sethi said Musharraf’s new party faced big hurdles.

“Musharraf does have a constituency but since the two mainstream parties, the media and the judiciary are against him, the short-term prospects don’t look good,” he said.

(Reporting by Peter Griffiths in London and Augustine Anthony in Islamabad; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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Biden visits Iraq to mark formal end to US combat

Posted by Admin on August 30, 2010

BAGHDAD – Vice President Joe Biden returned to Iraq Monday to mark this week’s formal end to U.S. combat operations and push the country’s leaders to end a six-month postelection stalemate blocking formation of a new government.

Joe Biden, Ray Odierno

Wednesday’s ceremony will signal a shift toward a greater U.S. diplomatic role as the military mission dwindles seven years after the American invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Underscoring the shift, officials said Biden will make a new appeal to Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to end the political deadlock and seat a new government. March 7 parliamentary elections left Iraq without a clear winner, and insurgents have exploited the uncertainty to hammer Iraqi security forces in near-daily attacks.

Biden and al-Maliki will meet Tuesday morning “to discuss the political situation and withdrawal, and Iraqis taking over responsibility for security,” the prime minister’s adviser, Yasin Majeed, told The Associated Press.

It was the vice president’s sixth trip to Iraq since he was elected and, officially, he came to preside over a military change-of-command ceremony. On Wednesday, Gen. Ray Odierno ends more than five years in Iraq and hands over the reins as commander of U.S. forces here to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin. Austin also has served extensively in Iraq, most recently as commander of troop operations in 2008-09.

But the Sept. 1 ceremony also marks the start of the so-called “Operation New Dawn” — symbolizing the beginning of the end of the American military’s mission in Iraq since invading in March 2003.

Just under 50,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq — down from a peak of nearly 170,000 at the height of the 2007 military surge that is credited with turning the tide in Iraq as it teetered on the brink of civil war. Additionally, U.S. troops no longer will be allowed to go on combat missions unless requested and accompanied by Iraqi forces.

Under a security agreement between the two nations, all U.S. forces must leave Iraq by the end of 2011. But the Obama administration, sensitive to charges of American abandonment, has directed its diplomats to step into the void and help Iraq’s weak government, economy and other institutions get back on their feet for years to come.

Threats still remain.

Al-Maliki last week put Iraq on its highest level of alert for possible attacks by al-Qaida and Saddam’s former Baath Party loyalists in the days leading up to the U.S. ceremony on Wednesday. An Iraqi intelligence official said suicide bombers are believed to have entered Iraq with plans to strike unspecified targets in Baghdad, the capital.

And on the eve of Biden’s arrival, Iraqi police said two mortar rounds landed in the capital’s Green Zone, where the parliament and many foreign embassies are housed behind blast walls, steel gates and barbed wire. The rounds landed near the U.S. Embassy but did not kill or injure anyone, police said.

All Iraqi security officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they was not authorized to discuss sensitive information with the media.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, is struggling to keep his job after his political alliance narrowly came in second place to the Sunni-backed Iraqiya coalition in the March 7 vote.

U.S. diplomats have encouraged a power-sharing agreement between Iraqiya and al-Maliki’s State of Law alliance. Together, they would control a majority of parliament and win the right to choose the new government’s leaders.

But al-Maliki and Iraqiya’s leader, former Premier Ayad Allawi, both want to be prime minister. So far, neither has backed down — creating a political impasse and leading to back-room jockeying by hard-line Shiite groups for a larger share of power.

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Hatoyama quits as prime minister

Posted by Admin on June 4, 2010

Hatoyama quits as prime minister
Futenma fiasco, fund scandals, SDP exit take toll; Ozawa also out
By JUN HONGO
Staff writer

Ending a turbulent eight months in office, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said Wednesday he will step down to take the blame for his Cabinet’s plunging approval rate, brought on by funds scandals and the row over relocating a U.S. base in Okinawa.

Hatoyama also said Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa, embroiled in a shady transfer of political funds, will step down from the party’s No. 2 post.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Naoto Kan, who is considered the top candidate to succeed Hatoyama, met with him later in the day and told him he plans to run for the DPJ presidency and thus the prime ministership.

DPJ members from both chambers of the Diet are scheduled to choose the party’s new leader at a meeting Friday. That new chief will be elected prime minister at the Diet, where the party holds a strong majority in the Lower House.

“I apologize for the amount of confusion caused,” Hatoyama told a general meeting of DPJ lawmakers held at the Diet. “I thank you all for letting me lead (the administration) for the duration of eight months. I hope you will be able to create a new DPJ and a new government,” he said.

Later the same day, Hatoyama told reporters that he will not immediately resign as a Diet member but will not run for the next Lower House election, indicating he will retire as a politician after the chamber’s next general poll.

Hatoyama also said he had already expressed his intention to step down during Monday’s meeting with Ozawa and Upper House heavyweight Azuma Koshiishi at the Diet building.

On Wednesday, Ozawa reportedly said the new Cabinet will probably be formed Monday and he “regrets” he couldn’t fulfill his duty to support Hatoyama.

Despite the slide in the opinion polls to less than 20 percent, Hatoyama was widely expected to remain in his post with only two weeks left in the ongoing Diet session and about a month until a crucial Upper House election.

But during the surprising farewell speech Wednesday, Hatoyama pointed to two blunders that continued to cloud his administration.

“First is the issue over Futenma’s relocation,” Hatoyama said, apologizing for his unsuccessful bid to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma outside of Okinawa despite months of searching for an alternative.

Hatoyama’s decision to keep the base in Okinawa resulted in the departure of the Social Democratic Party from the ruling coalition, after SDP chief Mizuho Fukushima was sacked as consumer affairs minister for refusing to sign the Cabinet resolution on the base deal.

The prime minister reiterated the importance of keeping Futenma in Okinawa for regional security, but said he hoped Japan “will be able to provide protection for itself” in the future and free Okinawa from the burden of hosting the bases.

Hatoyama also pointed to the continued political funds scandals that dogged his party as a reason for leaving office.

“I never imagined myself” being embroiled in such a scandal, he said, touching on the unregistered donations from his mother to his political funds management body that led to the indictment of his former secretaries.

Ozawa’s case, involving irregularities related to the purchase of a plot of Tokyo land in 2004, also resulted in his aides being indicted. Ozawa quit the DPJ presidency last spring over a separate funds scandal.

In addition to Ozawa resigning his post, Hatoyama urged DPJ Lower House member Chiyomi Kobayashi, also involved in a scandal involving illegal donations, to step down as a lawmaker.

While Hatoyama in his speech highlighted the new child allowance and tuition-free high schools as his Cabinet’s achievements, DPJ members were quick to move on and look toward the party’s future.

DPJ Lower House member Hajime Ishii signaled that Kan is a strong contender to succeed Hatoyama, saying his party doesn’t “have much time” to look around. “There is no question that he is a candidate, since we need to make a quick decision,” the veteran lawmaker said.

But Ishii, who also serves as the DPJ’s election campaign chief, expressed concern over how Hatoyama’s resignation will affect July’s Upper House election. “I’ve always said that changing the cover of a book doesn’t have much effect” on voters, he said.

Land minister Seiji Maehara, known to have distanced himself from Ozawa, said the two DPJ chiefs probably made “a painful decision,” but one that demonstrates the “clean politics” the party has sought.

While also considered a candidate to succeed Hatoyama, Maehara did not clarify if he will run for the DPJ presidency. But he revealed he exchanged opinions regarding the party’s future with administrative reform minister Yukio Edano and national strategy minister Yoshito Sengoku, who are both vocal critics of Ozawa.

DPJ Upper House member Koji Matsui, who serves as deputy chief Cabinet secretary, said the time is now right for his party to “regain what it once had, change from within and reform itself.”

Meanwhile, other DPJ members were left in shock about Wednesday’s abrupt announcement by Hatoyama.

“I saw the breaking news alert on television, but it could be a false report,” one DPJ lawmaker said heading into the general meeting of party members. “But a plenary session of the Upper House was canceled, which is a sign that there will be a big announcement.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano said Hatoyama’s decision was “extremely regrettable,” but added that the government will remain composed and fulfill its duties until a successor administration is installed.

Hirano, who served as a key figure in negotiating the relocation of the Futenma base, said he “felt a sense of responsibility” over Hatoyama’s exit.

Health minister Akira Nagatsuma also expressed regret over the development, saying any prime minister should remain on the job for a certain period to properly govern the state.

“It’s regrettable, but the party must build a strong structure,” Nagatsuma said.

Opposition parties meanwhile were swift to criticize Hatoyama’s move.

“The resignation of the prime minister is merely like changing the costumes in order to trick the public,” Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Tadamori Oshima told reporters.

“We will seek to have the Lower House dissolved now,” Oshima said.

The Japan Times: Wednesday, June 2, 2010

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Israeli Attack on Flotilla Sparks Wave of International Protests

Posted by Admin on June 2, 2010

by: Nora Barrows-Friedman, t r u t h o u t | Report

photo
This protest in Madrid, Spain, is one of many worldwide that are expressing outrage against Israel’s raid on humanitarian flotillas headed for Gaza. (Photo: Carlos Barbudo)

Rami al-Meghari watched the news unfold from live video feeds monitoring international waters 65km off the coast of the Gaza Strip Monday morning, one of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents anticipating a shipment of wheelchairs, prefabricated homes, crayons, raw construction supplies, dental surgery equipment and reams of paper brought by international humanitarian activists on board a flotilla of boats.

However, the flotilla was intercepted and attacked by Israeli naval commando units, flanked by armed speedboats and helicopters. Soldiers climbed on board the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara ship and opened fire with live ammunition, killing at least 19 people and wounding 60, according to the latest reports.

A journalist living in Gaza’s Meghazi refugee camp, al-Meghari tells Truthout that the attack was a devastating blow to the Palestinian people in Gaza – who have suffered through a three-year-long blockade as Israel forbids the entry of essential goods and humanitarian supplies, including medicines. He says he was horrified at what took place on the ship. “I am in absolute sorrow for the human loss,” he said.

From the occupied Gaza Strip to the San Francisco Bay Area, global reaction in protest of the Israeli military’s attack on the flotilla has been swift. Outraged by Israel’s attack on the flotilla, and fueled by international news headlines and internet-based information swapping through sites such as Twitter and Facebook, tens of thousands of people across the world have taken to the streets in sustained anger against Israeli policies and the actions of its military toward the humanitarian aid flotilla, while the United Nations and the Turkish government work to impose diplomatic pressure.

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank launched demonstrations against the Israeli military immediately following the attack, but the protests were quickly dispersed and banned by the Palestinian Authority’s security forces. Earlier in the day, Israeli forces shot a young American journalist in the face with a tear gas grenade during a women-led demonstration at the Qalandiya checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem. There were also protests inside the old city in occupied East Jerusalem, while others demonstrated outside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s house in the Western side of the city.

In the Palestinian city of Umm al-Fahem in northern Israel, Palestinian youth burned tires as Israeli forces attempted to lock down areas of the city. Elsewhere, Israeli and Palestinian protesters descended on the city of Ashdod, where detention camps had been set up by the military to hold those arrested from the flotilla and to where some of the ships on the flotilla were being towed. Protesters in Haifa and other northern Israeli cities also joined the day of action.

People in Egypt and Jordan took part in similar protests as thousands across the region demanded that their governments sever diplomatic and political ties with Israel. Lebanese demonstrators surrounded the UN headquarters in Beirut to condemn Israel’s policies and the violent attack against the flotilla.

In Turkey, thousands of protesters attempted to storm the Israeli embassy in Istanbul right after the killings. Later in the day, Turkish government officials categorized Israel’s attack as “state terrorism” and withdrew its ambassador to Israel as thousands of protesters hit the streets in spontaneous demonstrations demanding justice for those killed in the attack and for Palestinians in Gaza.

In Canada, protests were planned at Israeli embassies and Federal buildings in an “emergency response” to Israel’s aggressions. Seven thousand Swedish demonstrators hit the streets of Stockholm as the Swedish government summoned its Israeli ambassador, condemning the attack as “completely unacceptable” and demanding clarification by the Israeli government. Sweden had several of its citizens on board the ships.

Meanwhile, across the US, pro-justice activists took to the streets in anger and anguish over the killings. Protesters organized in New York City’s Times Square, and in Houston, Cleveland and Seattle, among other cities. University of Chicago freshman Sami Kishawi tells Truthout he joined a massive demonstration in downtown Chicago on Monday afternoon. “I will remain open and willing to participate in dialogue that will reveal to the public the grim reality of the oppression of the Palestinian people,” he said.

In the Bay Area, activists protested outside Israeli embassy in downtown San Francisco. Oakland resident Amir Qureshi told Truthout that he joined the protests in solidarity with the more than 600 activists on the flotilla, and is taking part in other actions as well, including countering some of the Israeli propaganda that’s filtered down inside the US corporate media and calling US representatives in Congress. “Ordinary unarmed global civilians from more than a dozen countries have the courage to take on Israel’s navy in support of the besieged population of Gaza and even give our lives in doing so,” Qureshi said. “Such global solidarity shows the power of people and how it can affect global causes.”

At the same time, condemnation of Israel’s attacks have come from global leaders and icons of civil rights and justice. The Elders – a contingent of past and present world leaders and Nobel laureates, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and Jimmy Carter – released a press statement on Monday declaring Israel’s attack as “completely inexcusable.”

“This tragic incident should draw the world’s attention to the terrible suffering of Gaza’s 1.5 million people, half of whom are children under the age of 18,” The Elders’ statement said.

Back in Gaza, locally-based civil society groups sent out a press statement urging the international community to take direct action against Israeli policies. They wrote:

<blockquote>”We Gaza based Palestinian Civil Society Organizations and International activists call on the international community and civil society to pressure their governments and Israel to cease the abductions and killings in Israel’s attacks against the Gaza Freedom Flotilla sailing for Gaza, and begin a global response to hold Israel accountable for the murder of foreign civilians at sea and illegal piracy of civilian vessels carrying humanitarian aid for Gaza.

“We salute the courage of all those who have organized this aid intervention and demand a safe passage through to Gaza for the 750 people of conscience from 40 different countries including 35 international politicians intent on breaking the Israeli-Egyptian blockade. We offer our sincerest condolences to family and friends who have lost loved ones in the attack.

“… The people of Gaza are not dependent people, but self sufficient people doing what they can to retain some dignity in life in the wake of this colossal man-made devastation that deprives so many of a basic start in life or minimal aspirations for the future.

“We, from Gaza, call on you to demonstrate and support the courageous men and women who went on the Flotilla, many now murdered on a humanitarian aid mission. We insist on severance of diplomatic ties with Israel, trials for war crimes and the International protection of the civilians of Gaza. We call on you to join the growing international boycott, divestment and sanction campaign of a country proving again to be so violent and yet so unchallenged. Join the growing critical mass around the world with a commitment to the day when Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as any other people, when the siege is lifted, the occupation is over and the 6 million Palestinian refugees are finally granted justice.”</blockquote>

From Gaza’s Meghazi refugee camp, al-Meghari said of Israel’s actions Monday morning, “violence only breeds violence. And as long as Israeli repression remains in place, Palestinian and pro-justice people around the world will keep up their resistance to that repression.”

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Obama Must Ask Netanyahu the Right Questions

Posted by Admin on June 2, 2010

by: Ira Chernus, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

photo
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo: Moshe Milner GPO / IsraelMFA)

Debate rages around the world about the Israeli attack on the humanitarian flotilla headed to Gaza. And it should rage. As Martin Luther King Jr., said, an injustice to one is an injustice to all.

But the debate that matters most – the one that will decide the fate of Palestinians and Israelis alike – is going on inside the Oval Office. If Barack Obama ever decides that the Israelis absolutely must end the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza, he’ll demand and get a settlement. Then, both peoples can start living in peace, sooner than most Americans think.

If Obama continues waffling and lets the Israelis maintain the status quo, the conflict will continue, and so will the insecurity it inflicts on both sides.

Obama must understand that perfectly well as he prepares for the delayed visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He must know that he could make the conversation a genuine turning point in US policy, if he wants to. The agenda he sets for that conversation is crucial.

So far, the indications are not promising. In a brief phone talk with Netanyahu just hours after the brutal attack at sea, Obama merely “expressed the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances around this morning’s tragic events as soon as possible,” the White Housesaid.

No, Mr. President, that’s the wrong way to begin. It avoids the real issue – which is just what the Israeli leader wants. He’d love to see the world debating about “all the facts and circumstances.” He’d love to treat the whole terrible disaster at sea as if it were a schoolyard scrap: He hit me first. No, he hit me first. Liar! No, you’re a liar!

Netanyahu and the Israeli government would be happy to drag that argument out because it gives them a double victory. They get to play their favorite role – the victim of threats to their very existence – while distracting the Obama administration from the issue that really matters: the Israeli domination of Gaza and the West Bank.

As long as that domination continues, whether in the form of occupation or blockade, it makes a peace settlement impossible. And that seems to be precisely what the Israeli government aims for – or certainly at least itspowerful right wing, which has Netanyahu in its power. Instead of pursuing peace, Israeli leaders want to pursue a public relations effort at damage control, which comes down to image control.

So, they’re happy to have everyone – especially in the Oval Office – scrutinizing all the video footage and eyewitness accounts to figure out exactly what happened on the Mavi Marmara, minute by minute. The battle of competing images and interpretations could go on for months, even years. As long as the world is distracted by that battle, it will bring any chance of a meaningful peace process to a grinding halt.

The Israelis seem to have had something like that in mind when they set out to stop the Gaza flotilla. Their PR machine was in high gear before the flotilla even set sail. A sympathetic analyst in the conservative Jerusalem Post lamented the failure of the Israeli “diplomatic [read: PR] initiative aimed at explaining to the world why it planned to stop the ships.” As he noted, “stories were leaked by the government to the press about the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), the Turkish organization that is behind the flotilla, described as a ‘radical Islamic organization.'”

Within hours of the attack at sea, top Israeli leaders were holding press conferences touting the same unsubstantiated claims that the flotilla was led by violent supporters of international terrorist groups. “Gaza has become a base for terrorists backed by Iran,” said Netanyahu,  suggesting that this unsubstantiated claim somehow justified all that killing; it was simply “self-defense.”

Could it be just coincidence that so many Israeli military personnel, politicians and journalists all repeated the same strange charge that IDF soldiers were victims of “attempted lynching”? (Find it hereherehere,here and here, for example.) It’s more likely that the word “lynch” was cooked up in a PR office, well before the disaster at sea took place (probably by some flake who doesn’t know English well enough to know what the word really means).

The Israelis went to sea not only with 50 Border Guards as well as sailors, but also with embedded Israeli reporters. Prominent journalist Ron Ben-Yishai was apparently given permission for a scoop, the first direct report from scene, predictably sympathetic to the Israelis. (The other reporters’ dispatches were embargoed until they could be vetted by censors.) Back on land in Israel, one blogger reported hours after the event, the talking heads were already focusing only on “the threat to the soldiers lives and the insufficient force that was sent to take control over the Mavi Marmara.” The Israeli media allowed little doubt that their military personnel were the victims, not the perpetrators, of the attack.

Some skilled video producers went along on the mission, too. Shortly after the confrontation, they released slick footage, which does indeed seem to show Israeli troops descending onto the Mavi Marmara and immediately being brutally attacked. No doubt, Netanyahu will bring that film with him to the Oval Office and hope Obama watches every second of it. After all, the president says he wants to know “all the facts and circumstances.”

In the end, though, Netanyahu will tell him that only one fact really matters: Israel was justified because it was acting in self-defense. And, surely, he’ll remind Obama of Israel’s ultimate goal, the one he repeats at every opportunity: preventing another Holocaust. He’ll link the killing on the Mavi Marmara with the specter of the Holocaust, using the whole arsenal of weapons that his skilled PR experts have invented in their fertile imaginations.

He’ll try to keep the conversation focused on the one question that dominates Israeli political life: Weren’t the Israelis merely doing what they had to do to stop the next Holocaust? And, perhaps, even to save Western civilization against “radical Islamic forces,” according to ananalysis published hours after the attack by a prominent Israeli academic in one of his nation’s most popular newspapers. That will be a common response among many Jews, especially in Israel, but some here in the US, too.

Uri Avnery, the grand old man of the Israeli peace movement, summed it up most incisively, as usual, in a recent column titled “Hallelujah, the World is Against Us!” In recent years, he wrote, as Jews have escaped persecution and gained power, “a sense of unease, of disorientation, set in.” Many Jews “felt that something was out of order, that the well-known road signs were not working anymore…. That’s frightening,” and it makes many Jews suspicious. So, “without being conscious of it,” many Jews “do what we can to be hated again, to feel at home, on familiar ground…. We shall not rest until the world is anti-Semitic again, and we know how to behave. As the jolly song goes: ‘The entire world is against us, but what the hell.'”

If Obama, and the world, focus only on “all the facts and circumstances” about who did what during that tragic dawn at sea, it will give Israeli leaders another excuse to lead their people in singing their jolly song, perpetuating their cherished images of victimization. The more criticism they receive, the more most Israelis will be convinced that the worlds really is against them. And the more excuse that will give them to resist serious negotiations for peace.

This is not to deny the need for a full investigation. But it’s vital to put even the worst events in broader perspective. The US government has supported so many evils of the Israeli occupation and blockade because the Israeli PR machine has been so successful. It has managed to get the US mass media, most of the US public and, very possibly, their president to believe that the whole world just might be against Israel, that any Israeli violence might very well be justified self-defense against another Holocaust.

If Obama really wants to be the president who brings peace to the Middle East, he has to take a much broader view. When he asks Netanyahu for “all the facts and circumstances,” he must ask the big, crucial questions: By what right does Israel maintain its blockade of Gaza at all costs, despite all the human suffering it brings? By what right does Israel maintain its occupation of and settlements on the West Bank at all costs? Why does Israel resist the peace settlement that the rest of the world sees as fair and just? Why does Israel persist in such self-defeating policies, keeping its own people as well as its Palestinian neighbors locked in a vicious cycle of insecurity?

Even those who want to focus on the one terrible incident of violence at sea should be asking not who started the fighting, but by what right did the Israeli Navy steam into international waters and unilaterally declare a “naval blockade”? (Strangely, the Israeli PR machine put out video of that declaration, as if it somehow justified all the killing to come.) It’s all part of the same pattern: Israel making unilateral decisions that put intolerable restrictions on Palestinians’ lives.

That’s what the flotilla to Gaza was trying to shine a light on. Now, the light has grown much brighter, though it is encased in the dark shadow of mourning. But if we let it become a narrow pencil light, illuminating only the events of a few tragic hours, we will miss the larger picture at which the Obama administration should be looking: the injustices perpetuated by Israel over many tragic decades.

Those of us who want to see a just peace and a truly independent viable Palestinian state should do whatever we can to break through the fallacious stereotype of Israel as the eternal victim. If that image is discredited – if it no longer frames discussion of the Middle East conflict here in the US – the Obama administration can begin to explore new options for US policy.

Every time we persuade a friend, a neighbor, a relative, a co-worker to see Israel as a dominating power, not an endangered victim, we take a step closer to a just peace in the Middle East. That can be the most fitting memorial for the victims of Israeli bullets, who wanted only to bring humanitarian relief to Gaza.

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