Syria’s Currency Sags Under Weight of Unrest

January 12, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

2012-01-11T141843Z_1701464582_GM1E81B1PWV01_RTRMADP_3_SYRIA-ECONOMY

Black smoke is seen from Homs refinery (in the background) after a pipeline carrying oil from the east of the country to the refinery was blown up, in this December 8, 2011 file handout photograph released by Syria’s national news agency SANA. Long queues to get heating oil and petrol, along with bread shortages, even in areas of the country that have not witnessed months of protests are adding to the discomfort and misery, Syrians say. Picture taken December 8, 2011.

REUTERS/SANA/Handout/ Files

AMMAN, Dec 14 (Reuters) – Syrian trader Ghaith Jawhar goes daily to the old Damascus market looking for illegal money dealers hiding in the alleyways. He sells them small amounts of Syrian pounds in exchange for hard currency that has become scarcer and more expensive in the last few weeks.

“My profits and savings are now threatened. I cannot find anyone who can give me enough dollars, and those who are offering me some are giving me prohibitive rates,” Jawhar, 62, said by telephone from his small clothing shop in the Salhia commercial district of the capital.

The Syrian pound’s depreciation has accelerated in the past week as the nine-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad takes its toll on the economy, after months of relative stability when the central bank managed to support the exchange rate by supplying foreign currency.

The official rate has fallen from 47 pounds to the U.S. dollar, where it stood when pro-democracy protests began in March, to around 54 pounds as authorities lowered the rate to narrow the differential with the black market. The biggest single adjustment, from 50 pounds, occurred on Dec. 5.

On the black market, the pound has slipped even further, with the rate now hovering around 59 pounds. A low of 62 pounds was hit briefly just after the Arab League slapped economic sanctions on Syria last month.

The violence in Syria is shrinking the economy and disrupting exports. Syrians’ worries about their local currency savings are compounded by lack of confidence in a tightly regulated financial sector, where even depositors in the country’s 12 privately held banks can find it hard to withdraw foreign currency holdings without encountering hefty withdrawal fees and central bank limits on foreign exchange transactions.

“There are a lot of people that want dollars because they are panicking…There is speculation and there are a lot of people taking advantage of this, and exchange dealers who are quoting high margins which is creating additional deprecation,” said a senior commercial banker in Damascus, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Bankers in Damascus, Beirut and the Gulf say the flow of funds into dollars has accelerated in the last several weeks as a Syrian insurgency, with attacks on government facilities, has begun to overshadow street protests.

Tough controls reminiscent of Syria’s past as a Soviet-style command economy force companies to convert hard currency into Syrian pounds at the official rate. Such measures make it difficult for ordinary Syrians and traders to get enough dollars from banks.

The flight to safety has pushed wealthy Syrian businessmen, most of whose wealth was already abroad, to send their remaining dollar savings in cash across borders to neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan, banking sources in the two countries said.

Some bankers said concern about the stability of the economy and banks was moving the country slowly towards a cash-based economy, with more cash hoarded at home.

“People have not withdrawn their savings, but they now prefer to take everyday spending for the month in one go and keep it at home, rather than drawing their salaries over the course of the month,” said a banker in Aleppo.

He added that the closure of banks for several days in the city of Hama during widescale protests in July had rattled depositors and undermined confidence in the banking sector.

RESERVES

Syria’s foreign currency reserves were estimated at over $17 billion before the unrest began. Up-to-date official figures are not available, but bankers believe the reserves have have now declined by at least several billion dollars, putting the central bank in a dilemma.

Between March and September, the central bank supplied dollars relatively freely to keep the exchange rate largely stable; bankers estimated it spent an average $500 million every month.

But this depleted reserves, and if they fall too far — perhaps, judging by the experience of Egypt this year, to near three months’ worth of imports — the market may worry that the central bank is running out of money and increase the pressure on the currency. Syria’s monthly imports of goods and services this year are expected to average about $1.9 billion, according to the International Monetary Fund.

“There is a limit to the intervention of the central bank. You have reserves that you cannot sacrifice,” said a Damascus-based banker at the subsidiary of a foreign bank, who is in regular contact with central bank officials.

This month’s move to align the official exchange rate closer to the black market rate appears due to a recognition that reserves could no longer be run down so rapidly to defend the currency, bankers said.

“It’s the right policy to move the official rate closer to the black market because who is going to replenish our foreign reserves?” said one banking source familiar with current thinking within Syria’s central bank management.

“The central bank has now resigned itself to the fact that it was futile to keep running to maintain the rate at around 50 pounds, and they are letting go.”

Now there are expectations in the black market for the pound to slip even further around the end of this year, and for authorities to lower the official rate accordingly.

“If things get worse, most of us expect the dollar rate could reach the 70 pounds psychological barrier, especially since there is no light at the end of the tunnel,” said a prominent Syrian economist who declined to be named.

Other economists and bankers said they still expected the central bank to spend heavily to prevent such a level being reached, partly because massive depreciation could cause a big rise of inflation.

“They cannot afford to leave the market because the moment the currency collapses it will be a tipping point once and for all, and nothing will restore confidence in it,” said Ibrahim Saif, an economist with Carnegie Middle East, a U.S. think tank.

14-3

Shooting Erupts in Hama Before Arab Visit

December 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mariam Karouny

2011-12-24T130622Z_661044096_GM1E7CO1MID01_RTRMADP_3_SYRIA

Men pray next to the coffins of people killed at security sites on Friday in two car bomb attacks, at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus December 24,2011 in this handout photograph released by Syria’s national news agency SANA. The United Nations expressed grave concern about twin suicide car bombings in Damascus and condemned the attacks that killed 44 people and lent a grim new face to the uprising in Syria.

REUTERS/Sana/Handout

BEIRUT (Reuters) – At least seven people were wounded on Wednesday in the Syrian city of Hama when security forces used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse a protest against President Bashar al-Assad, just a day before a visit by Arab peace monitors, a rights group said.

Live pictures on al Jazeera television showed gunfire and black smoke rising above a street in Hama as dozens of protesters chanted: “Where are the Arab monitors?”

Arab League monitors checking if Syria is ending its violent crackdown on popular unrest are due to visit Hama on Thursday. In its footage, al Jazeera showed one man bleeding from the neck as others shouted in the background.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the protesters were heading towards Orontes square in the city centre for a sit-in at the symbolic location where demonstrations were crushed earlier this year.

Security forces were not visible in the Jazeera footage. Unarmed protesters, some masked, were heard shouting “Assad forces are shooting us.” The protesters then began chanting: “Freedom for ever” and “We will have our revenge on you Bashar.”

Reuters could not verify the details as Syria has banned most foreign media from the country.

Hama, 240 km (150 miles) north of Damascus, has particular resonance for Syrians. The city was the site of the biggest massacre in the country’s modern history.

Troops overran Hama in 1982 to put down the armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which made its last stand there. Up to 30,000 people were killed, many of them killed in an army bombardment or executed in the streets by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad’s’ father, the late Hafez al-Assad. Parts of its old city were razed to the ground.

Twenty-nine years later Hama demonstrators demanding the overthrow of Bashar still revile the memory of his father, who died in 2000 after ruling Syria for three decades.

FREEDOM CALL

In the Jazeera footage, the protesters began cursing Hafez’s soul immediately after the gunfire was heard, before rushing to hide in alleyways.

A few looked out to shout a defiant freedom call before disappearing into hiding again. The shooting intensified, then one man shouted out that snipers were now operating in the area. Dozens of men squeezed themselves in an alley, chanting anti-Assad slogans.

“There is no turning back from the revolution,” they shouted.

Hama was among the hardest hit cities in an escalation of military attacks against urban centers where anti-Assad protests had been held.

In August, tanks attacked Hama for ten days, provoking Arab and Western outrage, after weeks of protests that drew hundreds of thousands of people to Orontes Square. Authorities said the operation was necessary to cleanse the city of “terrorists” according to the wishes of Hama inhabitants.

On Wednesday, part of an Arab League team went to a flashpoint area in the city of Homs but some of their planned tour was blocked when gunfire erupted, activists said.

Residents of Homs’s Baba Amr neighborhood initially refused to cooperate when the monitors arrived with an army escort and the team withdrew. But activists said a smaller group of monitors returned without the officer and were escorted by residents and activists on a tour of the turbulent district.

But the monitors could not enter an area where residents said they believed detainees were being hidden because gunfire erupted. It was not clear where the shooting came from.

“Residents were accompanying the team to the area to show them where they believe detainees are being held when suddenly there was gunfire near the checkpoint,” said Rami Abdelrahman, of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

(Editing by Giles Elgood)

14-1

The Muslim Community in Chile

March 4, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

By  Salma Elhamalawy, The Society of Muslim Union of Chile

omar-ali-saifuddin-mosque the-new-abu-dhabi-mosque
Views of Al Salam mosque in Santiago, Chile  

The origins of Islam in Chile are not very clear. It is known that in 1854 two “Turks” resided in the country, a situation that was repeated in the censuses of 1865 and 1875. Their country of origin is not known, just that they were natives of some territory of the immense Ottoman Empire.

According to the 1885 census, the number of “Turks” had risen to 29, but there is no precise information on their origin and their faith, since religion was not included in that census. However, the census of 1895 registered the presence of 76 “Turks”, 58 of them Muslims. They lived mainly in the north of Chile in Tarapacá, Atacama, Valparaiso, and Santiago.

In the census of 1907, the Muslims had risen to 1,498 people, all of them foreigners. They were 1,183 men and 315 women, representing only 0.04 percent of the population. This is the highest percentage of Muslims in Chile’s history.

In 1920 a new census showed that the number of Muslims had decreased to 402, with 343 men and 59 women. The greatest numbers were in Santiago and Antofagasta, with 76 in each province.

In Santiago, the first Islamic institution of Chile, the Society of Muslim Union of Chile, was founded on 25 September 1926. Later, on 16 October 1927, the Society of Mutual Aids and Islamic Charity was established.

With the 1952 census, the number of Muslims had risen again to 956. The majority lived in Santiago, with others in the provinces of Antofagasta, Coquimbo, Valparaíso, O’Higgins, Concepción, Malleco, Cautín and Valdivia, without much organization among them.

Their numbers decreased again, so that by 1960 there were only 522, with the majority of 209 living in Santiago. A decade later, the number of Muslims had increased to 1,431. However, the census did not indicate whether they were men or women, nationals or foreigners. Nevertheless, they were spread throughout the country.

Through the 1970s and ‘80s, there were no religious leaders or centers for praying. Muslims who maintained the faith met in the residence of Taufik Rumie’ Dalu, a trader of Syrian origin.

In 1990 the construction of the Al-Salam Mosque began, the first of the country. In 1995 another mosque was inaugurated in Temuco, and 1998 a new one in Iquique. Sources of the Islamic community indicate that at the moment, in Chile, there are 3,000 Muslims. Many of those are Chileans who, as a result of their conversion, have even changed their names. In spite of the small number of believers, they are not a homogenous community. The majority are Sunnis, and the rest are Shiites. Sufi groups have also arisen, but their members are mainly of non-Arab origin.

“I’ll never forget that day,” says the imam of Al-Salam Mosque, Sami Elmushtawi. “The day of the mosque’s inauguration was a day where the dreams of the Muslim community became true.” The Egyptian imam says further, “For us this was a unique opportunity, because not every day we are visited by kings, nor mosques are inaugurated either.” Apart from the fact that the King of Malaysia inaugurated the mosque on 1 October 1995, the mosque is considered one of the three best ones of Latin America, after those of Venezuela and Brazil.

The mosque, built to welcome 500 people, consists of three floors. The first has reading rooms, multipurpose hall, baths and cafeteria. The second contains the prayer hall, and the third has the office of the imam and rooms for guests.

“There are some people who come to pray during the day, but due to work the majority come to the mosque in the evening,” indicated Sami Elmushtawi.

However, Santiago is not the only place where Muslims can practice their faith. The Islamic Chilean Corporation of Temuco, founded in October 2001 in the city of Temuco, has the mission of spreading the Islamic culture and traditions. In addition, today it tries to open more channels to spread the moral values of Islam, overcoming the prejudices after 11 September 2001.

Muslim women pray at the mosque and in their houses. Chileans converted to Islam describe how they live as Muslims in a country which is dominantly Catholic, and how they are perceived. The attack of 11 September generated insults and practical jokes against them.

Karima Alberto, a 35-year-old housewife married to a Syrian merchant, has two children. She met her husband in his store. “He was the reason I converted to Islam, he told me marvelous things about Islam so I began to go to the mosque and learned more about Islam. It was like self-discovery,” she says.

Karima says that some people started treating them differently because of the 11 September attack. Although she is yearning to go to Makkah, she has already met her husband’s relatives in Damascus. “It was not difficult to stop eating pork or drink alcohol. It’s God’s will, and it’s stated in the Qur’an. Although some people think it’s a big sacrifice, I don’t look at it that way at all. Islam has given me a new vision.”

Carla Olivari, an 18-year-old student in a mixed school, says, “Now I do not feel pressured to drink alcohol at parties or to lose my virginity.”

At the age of 16, she used to pass by the mosque until one day she decided to enter. She left the mosque as a Muslim. “I feel that Allah chose me.” Her parents, who are Catholic, did not oppose, but her brother did. “When he sees me praying in my room, he calls me a lunatic.” However, she not only fasts during Ramadan, but on other days as well. “Above all, I pray for the victims in Palestine and Iraq.”

Carla wants to marry a Muslim. “My husband has to be a Muslim. I want my children to grow up in a Muslim family that teaches them important family values. Then I will get veiled permanently, not like now, when I only use it in the mosque.”

Habiba Abdullah, 40 years old, is a doctor at Roberto Del Río Hospital. She emphasizes that she carries the surname of her father, “Because Islam permits us to conserve our surname and not to be Mrs. Somebody.”

A member of a family of six brothers, she has a single son who is 18 years old. All her family is Muslim. “I was born a Muslim, and I’m proud of it. I remember my father taking us every weekend to the mosque. We would learn the Qur’an, and we would study Arabic. Although it was difficult when I first wore my veil at work, but little by little people started accepting me. Now people are not very surprised to see me with veil.”

Still, these women are a minority in Chile. “There are always people coming to the mosque out of curiosity,” states Imam Sami Elmushtawi. “Nevertheless, it is very satisfactory when I see their faces after leaving the mosque, or when they return again. Some people come to learn Arabic, and some come to learn more about Islam. But definitely it gives me greater joy that the Muslim community is increasing in Chile.”

Salma Elhamalawy contacted at: salma_elhamalawy@yahoo.com.

12-10

Danish Newspaper Apologizes in Cartoons Row

March 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

A Danish newspaper apologised today to eight Muslim organisations for the offence it caused by reprinting controversial cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, in exchange for their dropping legal action against the newspaper.

Politiken reached a settlement with the groups, which represent 94,923 of Muhammad’s descendants, in which it agreed to print an apology for the affront the cartoons caused. The newspaper has not given up its right to publish the cartoons and has not apologised for having printed them as part of its news coverage.

In a joint statement, the two sides said they wanted to “express their satisfaction with this amicable understanding and settlement, and express the hope that it may in some degree contribute to defusing the present tense situation.”

The decision to issue an apology for the offence caused has been met, however, by widespread condemnation from the Danish media and political parties.

The editor of Jyllands-Posten, which originally printed the cartoons in 2005 and is published by the same media company as Politiken, said that its sister paper had failed in the fight for freedom of speech and called it a “sad day” for the Danish press.

Kurt Westergaard, one of the cartoonists, who earlier this year was the subject of an attempted attack at his home, said the newspaper had betrayed its duty to freedom of speech. “In Denmark we play by a set of rules, which we don’t deviate from, and that’s freedom of speech,” he told the newspaper Berlingske Tidende. “Politiken is afraid of terror. That’s unfortunate and I fully understand that.”

The leader of the rightwing Danish People’s party, Pia Kjærsgaard, called the situation absurd, and said that Politiken had sold out. She urged Danish newspapers to reprint the cartoons as a protest against Politiken’s settlement. “It is deeply, deeply embarrassing that [Politiken’s editor] Tøger Seidenfaden has sold out of Denmark’s and the west’s freedom of speech. I cannot distance myself enough from this total sellout to this doctrine,” Kjærsgaard said.

The leader of the Social Democrats, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, also criticised Politiken’s decision: “It’s crazy. The media carries offensive material every day. That is what freedom of speech is about.”

The prime minister and the newly appointed foreign secretary have not commented on the settlement.

Last year 11 Danish newspapers were contacted by the Saudi lawyer Faisal Yamani, who demanded that the Muhammad cartoons were removed from their websites, that the newspapers print an apology and that they promise not to use the cartoons again.

Seidenfaden initially refused Yamani’s request for an apology, saying it was the paper’s duty to print the cartoons as part of its news coverage after Westergaard became the subject of an alleged murder plot.

Yamani, the lawyer who negotiated the settlement on behalf of the descendants, said: “This is a good settlement. It would be wrong to speak of a victory. Both parties have reached the point where they understand the background to what has happened. Politiken is courageous in apologising, even though its was not their intention to offend anyone.”

In September 2005 the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a series of cartoons depicting Muhammad (s), in what it described as an attempt to promote freedom of expression. The cartoons initially had little impact, but when they were reprinted by Norwegian newspapers a storm erupted, with violent protests across the Middle East.

In February 2006 the violence escalated as newspapers in France, Germany, Spain and Italy reprinted the caricatures. The offices of Jyllands-Posten had to be evacuated several times after security threats.

Protests spread to other Arab countries and Danish goods including Lego and Bang & Olufsen were boycotted by Saudi Arabia, Libya and Syria. The Danish embassy in Damascus was burned down in 2006, others were attacked and death threats forced Westergaard into hiding.

Westergaard’s caricature of a bearded man with a bomb in his turban became the most talked about of the cartoons, but he has said the man in the drawing didn’t “necessarily” depict Muhammad (s).

According to Islamic tradition, it is blasphemous to make or show an image of the Prophet (s).

12-10

Iran, Syria Leaders Brush Aside US Call to Weaken Ties

March 4, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Two countries scrap visa requirements

By Roueida Mabardi, Agence France Presse (AFP)

2010-02-25T152444Z_95987295_GM1E62P1T0201_RTRMADP_3_SYRIA-IRAN

DAMASCUS: The presidents of Syria and Iran signed a visa-scrapping accord on Thursday, signaling even closer ties and brushing aside United States efforts to drive a wedge between the two allies.

“I am surprised by their call to keep a distance between the countries … when they raise the issue of stability and peace in the Middle East, and all the other beautiful principles,” Syrian President Bashar Assad told a news conference in Damascus with his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“We need to further reinforce relations if the true objective is stability. We do not want others to give us lessons on our region, our history,” the Syrian president said.

Ahmadinejad, who flew in to Damascus earlier in the day and later met exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, stressed that ties between the two Muslim states, both outspoken critics of US ally Israel, were as “solid” as ever. “Nothing can damage these relations,” he said.

On the same day in occupied Jerusalem, the United States and Israel resumed an annual “strategic dialogue” for the first time since US President Barack Obama assumed office in 2009, with Iran prominent on the agenda.

US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg met Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.

Assad said his country was always on the alert against Israel.

“We are always preparing ourselves for an Israeli aggression whether it is small or big scale,” he said.

Afterward, Ahmadinejad met Meshaal, Ahmed Jibril – leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – and other Palestinian leaders critical of the peace process for talks focused on “the Israeli threats made against Syria, Iran, the Palestinians and Lebanon,” a participant in the meeting said.

Ahmadinejad told the Palestinian leaders that “Iran places itself solidly beside the Palestinian people, until their land is liberated,” the participant said, and that resistance was the “likeliest path to liberation.”

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington has been pressing Damascus to move away from Iran

Questioned on Clinton, Assad adopted an ironic tone.

“We met today to sign a ‘separation accord’ between Syria and Iran, but because of a bad translation we ended up signing an accord on scrapping visas,” he quipped.

Assad said the agreement would serve “to further reinforce relations in all fields and at all levels” between the two countries, which have been close allies for the past three decades.

In the face of US-led efforts to slap new sanctions on the Islamic Republic over its controversial nuclear program, he also defended Iran’s right to pursue uranium enrichment.

“To forbid an independent state the right to enrichment amounts to a new colonialist process in the region,” he said.

The visit came after Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said Syria was determined to help Iran and the West engage in a “constructive” dialogue over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Western governments suspect that the program in Iran is cover for a drive to produce a bomb.

Tehran vehemently denies the allegation.

On the eve of Ahmadinejad’s visit, Clinton was blunter than ever about the bid to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran.

Testifying in the Senate, she said William Burns, the third-ranking US diplomat, “had very intense, substantive talks in Damascus” last week on what was the highest-level US mission to the Syrian capital in five years.

Syria is being asked “generally to begin to move away from the relationship with Iran, which is so deeply troubling to the region as well as to the United States,” Clinton said.

12-10

Dr. Abd A. Alghanem Elected Unanimously

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Dr. Abd A. Alghanem was elected by the Michigan Board of Medicine to be Vice Chair of the board.  He has served on the Michigan Board of Medicine for seven years.   The board oversees the licenses of about 10,000 MD’s in Michigan.  Dr. Alghanem graduated from Damascus University, Syria, and has been practicing Plastic Surgery in Michigan for more than 20 years.

12-6

An-Nawawi’s 40 Hadith

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

 

 

 

 

Tomb of Imam-Al-Nawawi ra in Bosra- Nawa Town- Syria
Imam Nawawi complete names is Abu Zakaria Mohiuddin Yahya, son of Sharaf AnÄNawawi, and from the family of Imam Hassan and Hussain and Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him.)
Nawawi refers to Nawa, a place near Damascus, in the suburb of the city of Howran.
Imam Nawawi (ra) was born at Nawa in the year 631 A.H. His father, a virtuous and pious man, resolved to arrange for proper and befitting education as he had discovered the symptoms of heavenly intelligence and wisdom in his promising child at an early stage.
Imam’s Simplicity and Niceness of Manners:
The learned persons, elite of the society and the public greatly respected the Imam on account of his piety, learning and excellent character.
He used simple dress and ate simple food. Devout scholars do not care about worldly chattels, they give preference to religious and academic pursuits, propagation of Faith etc.
They experience more heavenly delight and joy in such activities than those who seek satisfaction in luxurious foods, precious clothes and other worldly things. Imam Nawawi had a prominent place among the erudite notables of his age.
He was God-fearing person having illustrious and glorious aims regarding propagation of Faith. Celebrated Sheikh Mohiuddin expresses his impression about Imam Nawawi as thus:
"Imam Nawawi had three distinctive commendable qualities in his person. If anybody have only one out of these three, people return to him in abundance for guidance. First, having knowledge and its dissemination.
Second, to evade completely from the worldly inclinations, and the third, inviting to all that is good (Islam) enjoining Al-Ma’ruf [i.e., Islamic Monotheism and all that Islam orders one to do] and forbidding Al-Munkar [polytheism and disbelief and all that Islam has forbidden]. Imam Nawawi had all three in him."
http://www.shadpurshareef.com

Ottoman Palestine Pictures

August 13, 2009 by · 3 Comments 

From ottomanpalestine.com:

“Until 9 December 1917 for more 400 years the city and Palestine lived peacefully under Pax Ottomana. Despite this 400 year long rule of Turks in Jerusalem there are not many visible Turkish Architectural Works. No slender minarets or Royal Mosque as in Balkans was build. The reason for this was respect for the local traditions and because there was a congregational Mosque of Masjid el-Aqsa. No other Mosque could be built that could surpass the holy shrine. Never the less, the City of Jerusalem has still a visible Turkish Presence. ”

Suleiman had a special relationship with Jerusalem. Evliya Çelebi describes Sultan Suleiman’s special relationship with Jerusalem as follows:

“In the year 926/1520 Sultan Suleiman acceded to the throne and conquered the fortress of Belgrade 927/1521 and later on the island of Rhodes 928/1522 and accumulated thereby intense wealth. The Prophet Muhammed (s.a.w) appeared to him in a blessed night and told him: “O Suleiman you will make many conquests You should spend these spoils on embellishing Mecca and Medina, and for the fortification of the citadel of Jerusalem in order to repulse the unbelievers, when they attempt to take possession during the reign of your followers. You should also embellish its sanctuary with a water basin and offer annual money gift to the dervishes there, and also embellish the Rock of Allah and rebuild Jerusalem.”

“Such being the order of the Prophet (S), Suleiman sends from his spoils one thousand purses to Medina and another thousand purses to Jerusalem. Together with required material he dispatched the master architect Koca Sinan and transferred Lala Mustafa Pasha from the governorship of Egypt to that of Syria, this latter having been ordered to carry out the restoration of Jerusalem, gathered all the master builders, architects and sculptors available in Cairo, Damascus and Aleppo and send them to Jerusalem to rebuild it and to embellish the Holy Rock.”

89-OTTOMAN SOLDIERS (by ottomanpalestine2)

Ottoman Soldiers in Palestine

4-OTTOMAN LOCAL PASSPORT (TEZKEREH) IN PALESTINE (by ottomanpalestine2)

Ottoman Passport Palestine

9-PALESTINIAN WEDDING PROCESSION 1904 (by ottomanpalestine2)

39-PALESTINIAN WEDDING PROCESSION 1904 (2) (by ottomanpalestine2)

Palestinian Wedding Procession 1904

8-THE VISITING OF GERMANY KING TO OTTOMAN JERUSALEM 1898  (2) (by ottomanpalestine2)

44-THE VISITING OF GERMANY KING TO OTTOMAN JERUSALEM 1898 (13) (by ottomanpalestine2)

Visiting of King of Germany to Ottoman Palestine 1898

55- OTTOMAN RAILWAY   FIRST TRAIN TO BI'RšSSEBA BETWEEN HAIFA DER'A (by ottomanpalestine2)

Ottoman Railway, First Train to BI’RšSSEBA BETWEEN HAIFA DER’A

54- OTTOMAN RAILWAY HAIFA TRAIN STATION, WITH THE OPENING CEREMONY OF THE 1905 PRAYER (by ottomanpalestine2)

Ottoman Railway Haifa Train Station, Opening Prayer 1905

26-OTTOMAN JERUSALEM EL-KOUDS  1898-1914 (49) (by ottomanpalestine2)

Ottoman Jerusulem 1898

11-OTTOMAN PALESTINE  [BETWEEN 1898 AND 1917] SQUARE FACING DAVID'S TOWER (by ottomanpalestine2)

OTTOMAN PALESTINE [BETWEEN 1898 AND 1917] SQUARE FACING DAVID’S TOWER

Modern Palestine:

Unrest in Iran Inspires Pro-Democracy Activists in the Arab World

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

New America Media, Commentary, NAM Correspondent

NAM Editor’s Note: Arab regimes haven’t publicly criticized or even mentioned what is happening in neighboring Iran, triggering much speculation among Arab bloggers as to why that is. The author of this piece wished to remain anonymous due to safety concerns.

2009-06-22T144637Z_01_WAS302_RTRMDNP_3_IRAN-PAHLAVI
Former Iranian Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi pauses while he speaks about Iran at the National Press Club in Washington June 22, 2009.    REUTERS/Larry Downing 

DAMASCUS — Images of bloody protesters and crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands in the streets of Tehran have been broadcast into living rooms across the Arab world for five consecutive days, enchanting and inspiring pro-democracy activists in a region where pushes for democratic reforms tend to be met with an iron fist.

Meanwhile, Arab regimes have largely remained silent over the contested election. Leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan—the major Sunni powers in the region—haven’t mentioned the elections or allegations of fraud. In normal circumstances, this would be strange — these countries are the regional archenemies of President Ahmedinejad’s Iran.

Some say the reason behind their silence lies in their fear of bolstering pro-democracy movements in their own countries. “The unrest in Iran frightens dictators in the region because it makes it harder for them to justify their own absolute authority,” says Syrian blogger Yasir Sadiq. “If they see tyrannies come down around them, they’ll be afraid.”

Whether or not the Iranian elections were “stolen,” Iran is a long way ahead of most Arab countries when it comes to democracy — the country has a functioning electoral system. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Gulf states don’t hold elections, and in Egypt and Syria, “elections” are so tightly controlled that the results are always known in advance.

The state controlled media in authoritarian Arab countries have mostly downplayed the events in Iran. Government controlled newspapers like Al-Thawra in Syria, Iran’s strongest regional ally, have kept Iran off the front pages and run headlines like, “The West needs to stop intervening in Iranian elections,” using age-old claims of conspiracies to deflect attention from actual popular desire for democratic reform.

“Governments all over the Arab world accuse pro-democracy movements of serving the west, or of being tools of the CIA or Mosad (Israeli intelligence),” says Syrian freelance journalist Khaled Al-Khetyari. “They are just trying to manipulate people by using this language because the people in power don’t want their populations to analyze what is actually happening in Iran.”

The Obama administration has been relatively silent on the unrest in Iran. On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton said it was up to Iranians to “resolve this internal protest.”

Al-Khatyari says the U.S. administration’s measured distance is a strategy the U.S. should stick to. “The last American administration latched onto any internal opposition to regimes it didn’t like. This always hurts local movements because it connects them to a country that most people here see as harmful to the region and it justifies repression by our governments.”

Syrian blogger Yasir Sadiq says he is encouraged by the Iranian opposition’s seven-point manifesto being circulated on the internet, which calls for the “Dissolution of all organizations — both secret and public — designed for the oppression of the Iranian people.”

“It’s inspiring to see people in the Middle East call for the end of secret services,” Sadiq says. “Organizations like this have oppressed people in the Arab world so much.”

Sadiq is reticent to believe that what he calls Iran’s pro-democracy “intifada” could be exported to Arab countries any time soon. “It’s difficult to hope for this kind of movement in the Arab world. We have a long way to go, but we hope that eventually, something like that will happen here.”

For now, he says, Arab activists will attempt to learn what they can from their counterparts in Iran. For days, Sadiq has been pegged to Twitter, the social networking tool that has allowed Iranians to organize demonstrations while the Iranian government institutes a near blackout of internet services.

“Arab bloggers’ main interest in what is happening in Iran is in figuring out how Twitter can be used to organize and bring our voices forward in our own countries,” he says.

The government in Syria may eventually try to ban it, like they have with other networking sites like Facebook, but Sadiq says he is not deterred. “The more they ban, the more ways we will find to get around their restrictions.”

11-27

Obama Administration Renews Sanctions on Syria

May 14, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sue Pleming

2009-05-07T125052Z_01_SYR06_RTRMDNP_3_SYRIA-US

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem (R) meets Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, in Damascus May 7, 2009. The portrait on the wall shows Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama said on Friday he had renewed sanctions against Syria because it posed a continuing threat to U.S. interests, despite sending two envoys to Damascus this week to try to improve ties.

In a letter notifying Congress of his decision, Obama accused Damascus of supporting terrorism, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, and undermining U.S. and international efforts in trying to stabilize Iraq.

“For these reasons I have determined that it is necessary to continue in effect the national emergency declared with respect to this threat and to maintain in force the sanctions,” Obama said in the letter to Congress.

The sanctions, imposed by former President George W. Bush and which are up for renewal annually, prohibit arms exports to Syria, block Syrian airlines from operating in the United States and deny Syrians suspected of being associated with terrorist groups access to the U.S. financial system.

While the United States has made clear it wants better ties with Syria, which appears on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, the renewal of the sanctions shows it is not yet ready for a dramatic improvement.

“We need to see concrete steps from the Syrian government to move in another direction,” State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters.

Obama signed the executive order extending the sanctions on Thursday, shortly after two U.S. envoys met Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem in Damascus.
The visit by senior State Department official Jeffrey Feltman and White House National Security Council official Daniel Shapiro was their second since Obama took office in January and started talking to Damascus.

Tough Words

The two officials discussed Syria’s role in Iraq, where Washington has accused Damascus of allowing fighters to cross into its neighbor, and Lebanon, where the United States says Syria plays a destabilizing role.

“Part of Feltman’s trip to the region was trying to get the Syrians to take some steps that will move us toward a better relationship,” Wood said. “But there is a lot that Syria needs to do.”

The United States wants a commitment from Syria that it will not interfere with a June election in neighboring Lebanon, which U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited last month to show U.S. support.

The administration hopes direct talks with Syria, which will continue despite the sanctions, will weaken its ties to Iran.

Syria and Iran are the main backers of Hizbollah, a Shi’ite Muslim political and guerrilla group that fought a war against Israel in 2006 and has representatives in the Lebanese government and parliament.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad indicated this week he did not plan to change course. After meeting Iran’s president in Damascus, he said their strategic relationship contributed to Middle East stability.

The administration is reviewing whether to send back an ambassador to Damascus but a senior U.S. official said this week a decision had not yet been taken.

The U.S. ambassador was pulled out of Syria after the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Syria denies any involvement in the killing but the United States pointed fingers at Damascus.

11-21

It’s All Spelled Out in Unpublicized Agreement–Total Defeat for U.S. in Iraq

December 18, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Patrick Cockburn

2008-12-10T165648Z_01_BAG310_RTRMDNP_3_IRAQ-FEAST

On November 27 the Iraqi parliament voted by a large majority in favor of a security agreement with the US under which the 150,000 American troops in Iraq will withdraw from cities, towns and villages by June 30, 2009 and from all of Iraq by December 31, 2011. The Iraqi government will take over military responsibility for the Green Zone in Baghdad, the heart of American power in Iraq, in a few weeks time. Private security companies will lose their legal immunity. US military operations and the arrest of Iraqis will only be carried out with Iraqi consent. There will be no US military bases left behind when the last US troops leave in three years time and the US military is banned in the interim from carrying out attacks on other countries from Iraq.

The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), signed after eight months of rancorous negotiations, is categorical and unconditional. America’s bid to act as the world’s only super-power and to establish quasi-colonial control of Iraq, an attempt which began with the invasion of 2003, has ended in failure. There will be a national referendum on the new agreement next July, but the accord is to be implemented immediately so the poll will be largely irrelevant. Even Iran, which had furiously denounced the first drafts of the SOFA saying that they would establish a permanent US presence in Iraq, now says blithely that it will officially back the new security pact after the referendum. This is a sure sign that Iran, as America’s main rival in the Middle East, sees the pact as marking the final end of the US occupation and as a launching pad for military assaults on neighbours such as Iran.

Astonishingly, this momentous agreement has been greeted with little surprise or interest outside Iraq. On the same day that it was finally passed by the Iraqi parliament international attention was wholly focused on the murderous terrorist attack in Mumbai. For some months polls in the US showed that the economic crisis had replaced the Iraqi war as the main issue facing America in the eyes of voters. So many spurious milestones in Iraq have been declared by President Bush over the years that when a real turning point occurs people are naturally sceptical about its significance. The White House was so keen to limit understanding of what it had agreed in Iraq that it did not even to publish a copy of the SOFA in English. Some senior officials in the Pentagon are privately criticizing President Bush for conceding so much to the Iraqis, but the American media are fixated on the incoming Obama administration and no longer pays much attention to the doings of the expiring Bush administration.

The last minute delays to the accord were not really about the terms agreed with the Americans. It was rather that the leaders of the Sunni Arab minority, seeing the Shia-Kurdish government of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki about to fill the vacuum created by the US departure, wanted to barter their support for the accord in return for as many last minute concessions as they could extract. Some three quarters of the 17,000 prisoners held by the Americans are Sunni and they wanted them released or at least not mistreated by the Iraqi security forces. They asked for an end to de-Baathication which is directed primarily at the Sunni community. Only the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr held out against the accord to the end, declaring it a betrayal of independent Iraq. The ultra-patriotic opposition of the Sadrists to the accord has been important because it has made it difficult for the other Shia parties to agree to anything less than a complete American withdrawal. If they did so they risked being portrayed as US puppets in the upcoming provincial elections at the end of January 2009 or the parliamentary elections later in the year.

The SOFA finally agreed is almost the opposite of the one which US started to negotiate in March. This is why Iran, with its strong links to the Shia parties inside Iraq, ended its previous rejection of it. The first US draft was largely an attempt to continue the occupation without much change from the UN mandate which expired at the end of the year. Washington overplayed its hand. The Iraqi government was growing stronger as the Sunni Arabs ended their uprising against the occupation. The Iranians helped restrain the Mehdi Army, Muqtada’s powerful militia, so the government regained control of Basra, Iraq’s second biggest city, and Sadr City, almost half Baghdad, from the Shia militias. The prime minister Nouri al-Maliki became more confident, realizing his military enemies were dispersing and, in any case, the Americans had no real alternative but to support him. The US has always been politically weak in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein because it has few real friends in the country aside from the Kurds. The leaders of the Iraqi Shia, 60 per cent of the total population, might ally themselves to Washington to gain power, but they never intended to share power with the US in the long term.

The occupation has always been unpopular in Iraq. Foreign observers and some Iraqis are often misled by the hatred with which different Iraqi communities regard each other into underestimating the strength of Iraqi nationalism. Once Maliki came to believe that he could survive without US military support then he was able to spurn US proposals until an unconditional withdrawal was conceded. He could also see that Barack Obama, whose withdrawal timetable was not so different from his own, was going to be the next American president. Come the provincial and parliamentary elections of 2009, Maliki can present himself as the man who ended the occupation. Critics of the prime minister, notably the Kurds, think that success has gone to his head, but there is no doubt that the new security agreement has strengthened him politically.

It may be that, living in the heart of the Green Zone, that Maliki has an exaggerated idea of what his government has achieved. In the Zone there is access to clean water and electricity while in the rest of Baghdad people have been getting only three or four hours electricity a day. Security in Iraq is certainly better than it was during the sectarian civil war between Sunni and Shia in 2006-7 but the improvement is wholly comparative. The monthly death toll has dropped from 3,000 a month at its worst to 360 Iraqi civilians and security personnel killed this November, though these figures may understate the casualty toll as not all the bodies are found. Iraq is still one of the most dangerous places in the world. On December 1, the day I started writing this article, two suicide bombers killed 33 people and wounded dozens more in Baghdad and Mosul. Iraqis in the street are cynical about the government’s claim to have restored order. “We are used to the government always saying that things have become good and the security situation improved,” says Salman Mohammed Jumah, a primary school teacher in Baghdad. “It is true security is a little better but the government leaders live behind concrete barriers and do not know what is happening on the ground. They only go out in their armoured convoys. We no longer have sectarian killings by ID cards [revealing that a person is Sunni or Shia by their name] but Sunni are still afraid to go to Shia areas and Shia to Sunni.”

Security has improved with police and military checkpoints everywhere but sectarian killers have also upgraded their tactics. There are less suicide bombings but there are many more small ‘sticky bombs’ placed underneath vehicles. Everybody checks underneath their car before they get into it. I try to keep away from notorious choke points in Baghdad, such as Tahrir Square or the entrances to the Green Zone, where a bomber for can wait for a target to get stuck in traffic before making an attack. The checkpoints and the walls, the measures taken to reduce the violence, bring Baghdad close to paralysis even when there are no bombs. It can take two or three hours to travel a few miles. The bridges over the Tigris are often blocked and this has got worse recently because soldiers and police have a new toy in the shape of a box which looks like a transistor radio with a short aerial sticking out horizontally. When pointed at the car this device is supposed to detect vapor from explosives and may well do so, but since it also responds to vapor from alcohol or perfume it is worse than useless as a security aid.

Iraqi state television and government backed newspapers make ceaseless claims that life in Iraq is improving by the day. To be convincing this should mean not just improving security but providing more electricity, clean water and jobs. “The economic situation is still very bad,” says Salman Mohammed Jumah, the teacher. “Unemployment affects everybody and you can’t get a job unless you pay a bribe. There is no electricity and nowadays we have cholera again so people have to buy expensive bottled water and only use the water that comes out of the tap for washing.” Not everybody has the same grim vision but life in Iraq is still extraordinarily hard. The best barometer for how far Iraq is ‘better’ is the willingness of the 4.7 million refugees, one in five Iraqis who have fled their homes and are now living inside or outside Iraq, to go home. By October only 150,000 had returned and some do so only to look at the situation and then go back to Damascus or Amman. One middle aged Sunni businessman who came back from Syria for two or three weeks, said: “I don’t like to be here. In Syria I can go out in the evening to meet friends in a coffe bar. It is safe. Here I am forced to stay in my home after 7pm.”

The degree of optimism or pessimism felt by Iraqis depends very much on whether they have a job, whether or not that job is with the government, which community they belong to, their social class and the area they live in. All these factors are interlinked. Most jobs are with the state that reputedly employs some two million people. The private sector is very feeble. Despite talk of reconstruction there are almost no cranes visible on the Baghdad skyline. Since the Shia and Kurds control of the government, it is difficult for a Sunni to get a job and probably impossible unless he has a letter recommending him from a political party in the government. Optimism is greater among the Shia. “There is progress in our life, says Jafar Sadiq, a Shia businessman married to a Sunni in the Shia-dominated Iskan area of Baghdad. “People are cooperating with the security forces. I am glad the army is fighting the Mehdi Army though they still are not finished. Four Sunni have reopened their shops in my area. It is safe for my wife’s Sunni relatives to come here. The only things we need badly are electricity, clean water and municipal services.” But his wife Jana admitted privately that she had warned her Sunni relatives from coming to Iskan “because the security situation is unstable.” She teaches at Mustansariyah University in central Baghdad which a year ago was controlled by the Mehdi Army and Sunni students had fled. “Now the Sunni students are coming back,” she says, “though they are still afraid.”

They have reason to fear. Baghdad is divided into Shia and Sunni enclaves defended by high concrete blast walls often with a single entrance and exit. The sectarian slaughter is much less than it was but it is still dangerous for returning refugees to try to reclaim their old house in an area in which they are a minority. In one case in a Sunni district in west Baghdad, as I reported here some weeks ago, a Shia husband and wife with their two daughters went back to their house to find it gutted, with furniture gone and electric sockets and water pipes torn out. They decided to sleep on the roof. A Sunni gang reached them from a neighboring building, cut off the husband’s head and threw it into the street. They said to his wife and daughters: “The same will happen to any other Shia who comes back.” But even without these recent atrocities Baghdad would still be divided because the memory of the mass killings of 2006-7 is too fresh and there is still an underlying fear that it could happen again.

Iraqis have a low opinion of their elected representatives, frequently denouncing them as an incompetent kleptocracy. The government administration is dysfunctional. “Despite the fact,” said independent member of parliament Qassim Daoud, “that the Labor and Social Affairs is meant to help the millions of poor Iraqis I discovered that they had spent only 10 per cent of their budget.” Not all of this is the government’s fault. Iraqi society, administration and economy have been shattered by 28 years of war and sanctions. Few other countries have been put under such intense and prolonged pressure. First there was the eight year Iran- Iraq war starting in 1980, then the disastrous Gulf war of `1991, thirteen years of sanctions and then the five-and-a-half years of conflict since the US invasion. Ten years ago UN officials were already saying they could not repair the faltering power stations because they were so old that spare parts were no longer made for them.

Iraq is full of signs of the gap between the rulers and the ruled. The few planes using Baghdad international airport are full foreign contractors and Iraqi government officials. Talking to people on the streets in Baghdad in October many of them brought up fear of cholera which had just started to spread from Hilla province south of Baghdad. Forty per cent of people in the capital do not have access to clean drinking water. The origin of the epidemic was the purchase of out of date chemicals for water purification from Iran by corrupt officials. Everybody talked about the cholera except in the Green Zone where people had scarcely heard of the epidemic. .

The Iraqi government will become stronger as the Americans depart. It will also be forced to take full responsibility for the failings of the Iraqi state. This will be happening at a bad moment since the price of oil, the state’s only source of revenue, has fallen to $50 a barrel when the budget assumed it would be $80. Many state salaries, such as those of teachers, were doubled on the strength of this, something the government may now regret. Communal differences are still largely unresolved. Friction between Sunni and Shia, bad though it is, is less than two years ago, though hostility between Arabs and Kurds is deepening. The departure of the US military frightens many Sunni on the grounds that they will be at the mercy of the majority Shia. But it is also an incentive for the three main communities in Iraq to agree about what their future relations should be when there are no Americans to stand between them. As for the US, its moment in Iraq is coming to an end as its troops depart, leaving a ruined country behind them.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of ‘The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq’, a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award for best non-fiction book of 2006. His new book ‘Muqtada! Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia revival and the struggle for Iraq’ is published by Scribner.

10-52, reprint

Olmert: Israel Should Pull out of West Bank

October 9, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ethan Bronner

2008-10-06T214005Z_01_BTRE4951O7000_RTROPTP_3_INTERNATIONAL-US-ISRAEL-IRAN

Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem October 5, 2008.

REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

JERUSALEM—PM Olmert said in an interview published on Monday that Israel must withdraw from nearly all the West Bank as well as East Jerusalem to attain peace with the Palestinians and that any occupied land it held onto would have to be exchanged for the same quantity of Israeli territory.

He also dismissed as “megalomania” any thought that Israel would or should attack Iran on its own to stop it from developing nuclear weapons, saying the international community and not Israel alone was charged with handling the issue.

In an unusually frank and soul-searching interview granted after he resigned to fight corruption charges — he remains interim prime minister until a new government is sworn in — Mr. Olmert discarded longstanding Israeli defense doctrine and called for radical new thinking in words that are sure to stir controversy as his expected successor, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, tries to build a coalition.

“What I am saying to you now has not been said by any Israeli leader before me,” Mr. Olmert told Yediot Aharonot newspaper in the interview to mark the Jewish new year that runs from Monday night till Wednesday night. “The time has come to say these things.”

He said traditional Israeli defense strategists had learned nothing from past experiences and seemed stuck in the considerations of the 1948 Independence War.
“With them, it is all about tanks and land and controlling territories and controlled territories and this hilltop and that hilltop,” he said. “All these things are worthless.”

He added, “Who thinks seriously that if we sit on another hilltop, on another hundred meters, that this is what will make the difference for the State of Israel’s basic security?”

Over the last year, Mr. Olmert has publicly castigated himself for his earlier right-wing views and he did so again in this interview. On Jerusalem, for example, he said, “I am the first who wanted to enforce Israeli sovereignty on the entire city. I admit it. I am not trying to justify retroactively what I did for 35 years. For a large portion of these years, I was unwilling to look at reality in all its depth.”

He said that maintaining sovereignty over an undivided Jerusalem, Israel’s official policy, would involve bringing 270,000 Palestinians inside Israel’s security barrier. It would mean an ongoing risk of terrorist attacks against civilians like those carried out earlier this year by Jerusalem Palestinian residents with a bulldozer and earth mover.

“A decision has to be made,” he said. “This decision is difficult, terrible, a decision that contradicts our natural instincts, our innermost desires, our collective memories, the prayers of the Jewish people for 2,000 years.”

The government’s public stand on Jerusalem until now has been to assert that the status of the city was not under discussion. But Mr. Olmert made clear that the eastern, predominantly Arab, sector had to be yielded “with special solutions” for the holy sites.

On peace with the Palestinians, Mr. Olmert said in the interview: “We face the need to decide but are not willing to tell ourselves, yes, this is what we have to do. We have to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, the meaning of which is that in practice we will withdraw from almost all the territories, if not all the territories. We will leave a percentage of these territories in our hands, but will have to give the Palestinians a similar percentage, because without that there will be no peace.”

Elsewhere in the interview, when discussing a land swap with the Palestinians, he said the exchange would have to be “more or less one to one.”

Mr. Olmert also addressed the question of Syria, saying that Israel had to be prepared to give up the Golan Heights but that in turn Damascus knew it had to change the nature of its relationship with Iran and its support for Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia.

On Iran, Mr. Olmert said Israel would act within the international system, adding, “Part of our megalomania and our loss of proportions is the things that are said here about Iran. We are a country that has lost a sense of proportion about itself.”

Reaction from the Israeli right was swift. Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the Yisrael Beiteinu party, said on the radio that Mr. Olmert was “endangering the existence of the State of Israel irresponsibly.”

He added that those who thought Israel’s problem was a lack of defined borders — as Mr. Olmert stated in the interview — “are ignoramuses who don’t understand anything and they invite war.”

Palestinian negotiators said it was satisfying to hear Mr. Olmert’s words but said the words did not match what he had offered them so far. Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestinian official, told Palestinian Radio that it would have been better if Mr. Olmert had taken this position while in office rather than while leaving, and that Mr. Olmert had not yet presented a detailed plan for a border between Israel and a Palestinian state.

In theory, Mr. Olmert will continue peace negotiations while awaiting the new government. But most analysts believe that, having been forced to resign his post, he will not be able to close a deal.

10-42

Escape from Bint Jebail

August 3, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, TMO Staff reporter
A Muslim Observer exclusive report

Hussein Khalil looks like a man who spent all night watching a ghost. His face is pale and ashen, with a few days’ growth of beard on his cheeks. His face is young, but his manners show the sincerity that usually results from a close experience of the fragility and beauty of human life. He still sees pictures of the dead people he saw only last week in the south of Lebanon. He still doesn’t sleep quietly through the night, and nor do his children. When airplanes fly overhead, his 3 and a half year old son screams at him to run for shelter before the Israelis kill them.

Mr. Khalil just returned from Lebanon, crossing through a harrowing and miserable odyssey to save his wife and children. On June 6th, his wife and children had left happily for a vacation with her parents in Ainetta, the town immediately neighboring Bint Jebail. They expected to return at the end of the summer, on September 6th.

As the political situation melted down after Hezbollah’s July 12th abduction of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid, he kept in constant contact with his family by phone. The phone calls got worse and worse. Through some of the phone calls, he could hear distant bombs and other sounds of war. The bombardment affected his children—they started to become annoyed, hysterical, crying frantically. His infant daughter Muna cried to him on the phone, “Please come and get us—why are they trying to kill us?” His wife told him, “Don’t even try to come,” because of the fierce bombardment. Terrified of the rumored death traps waiting for fleeing refugees on the roads out of southern Lebanon, the family hunkered down in the house. The pressure affected Khalil—at night, he could not sleep; in the day, he could not work; he could not drink, he could not eat.

Friday July 14th was the worst day. That day, he was talking to his wife during an artillery bombardment when he heard a loud explosion, somebody screaming, and the phone line went dead. Although he would not find out until he arrived there days later, the artillery shell had hit the house, destroying the top floor but (through apparently miraculous intervention) not injuring his family members in the house. But that Friday, he knew no such thing. Frantic, he went to the airport. He flew to Jordan; a flight delay gave him an expected wait of 13 hours, which was too much for him at that point. He found a car and traveled to Syria. Explaining his situation, he was allowed to cross the border.

A friend in Damascus prepared a car for his use and made travel plans for him, giving him contact numbers of other people who might help him in Lebanon. Everyone else in Damascus told him not to go, that Beirut was a war zone.

His heart burning for his family, Mr. Khalil continued on, driving to Beirut. He arrived in Beirut on Tuesday. Then he went to the American embassy; after waiting in line, he spoke to an embassy official, telling him that at least 10 US citizens were in a house close to Bint Jebail under heavy bombardment, including his wife and children and in-laws. The American official told him, “We cannot stop the war for your family.” They told him to let them stay where they were, and asked Mr. Khalil for his phone number [which, not surprisingly, they never called].

Then he went to the Red Cross. They said the same thing, that “It is hostile there—we are not allowed to go there, we are not permitted to go.” They told him to try the UN.

He went to the UN, where no one actually met with him, other than to make a generalized announcement that they were trying to obtain a cease-fire there.

Desperate to help his family, he began to contact taxi drivers. He offered some of them $10,000 to drive him to Bint Jebail. No one would take the money—“it’s not an issue of money,” they said, “it is impossible.”

Exhausting all of his friend’s contacts, he turned to an old friend from years ago, whose number he still had. That friend agreed to drive him to Tyre, without ever mentioning money. Their plan was to leave after fajr on Wednesday morning. That night the Israeli air force bombed the Beirut airport. After fajr they left for Tyre.

Lebanon is small, and travel is a minor act relative to what it is in America—if a driver could drive 60mph in a straight line from the south to the north, he could travel the length of Lebanon in less than two hours. When the Israeli army invaded Lebanon in 1982, they waltzed to Beirut in four hours. Tyre is normally a 45 minute drive from Beirut (from Tyre, Khalil planned to hitchhike or walk the 25 miles to Bint Jebail). Against all the advice of those in Lebanon, they drove a van—and it is for this reason that they would be able to save so many of their relatives in Bint Jebail.

The Israelis had bombed the normal roads going south from Beirut, so only someone with knowledge of the back roads could succeed in going south to Tyre. Fortunately the driver knew the back roads through the mountains, and after four hours they began to approach Tyre. Refugees going away from Tyre tried to flag them down, telling them not to go forward.

The driver wanted to turn around, but Khalil begged him, “Just get me to Tyre.”

Asking for directions through the remnants of the devastated roads of southern Lebanon, they tried dead end after dead end. Finally, two people having just come out of Tyre directed them to pass through a nearby orchard, which they did, to find their way.

That was when they found the bodies. They passed at least four cars and one van, full of people, most of whom were dead but some of whom were still alive and moving in agony in those burnt-out shells of cars, all of which still had white flags; body parts and luggage was strewn across the ground. All of the cars had been hit where the heat of the engine provided a signature for missiles to hone in on—this fire was targeted by Israeli helicopters or jets, and was not the result of errant artillery. The smell of burnt human flesh still haunts Mr. Khalil. One man had tried to escape his doomed vehicle, but not in time. The door hung open, and the man’s headless body still leaned out of the car when they passed.

Desperate to save his family, with no medical training and himself on a mission which would save tens of people, Mr. Khalil and his friend continued on. Warned of the danger they faced, Khalil kept his eyes glued to the sky, his hand attached to the door handle, while the driver focused on driving. At a moment’s notice they were prepared to jump out of the van and run away.

He prayed continuously and sincerely, accepting that if he died on this journey at least it would be in the course of doing a good deed, as a martyr, trying to save lives and serve his family.

For some reason, as they left Tyre, the driver continued on and never asked Mr. Khalil to continue on by himself on foot.

They passed through Tibneen. Tens of people waited next to the Tibneen hospital on the road, desperate for food. If Mr. Khalil had stopped here, it would have been impossible to continue on. Many people would have crushed the car. They pushed the bread through the windows to the starving people, about 30 bags of bread, and continued on. Mr. Khalil estimates there are about 15,000 refugees in Tibneen, close to the hospital.

After journeying, they arrived at the split in the road between Bint Jebail and Aineta. To the right there is a valley, from which they saw the white streaks of Hezbollah missiles streaking south towards Israel—the only evidence they ever saw of the presence of Hezbollah in Bint Jebail—“I never even saw one man holding a Kalashnikov,” said Mr. Khalil.

Jet fighters banked and turned in the sky, immediately directing their fire downwards at the source of those plumes of smoke. Artillery flew into the valley, and into Ainetta, the rocket attack providing a focal point for the Israeli military. This barrage affected the travelers as well—they flew down the road past destroyed buildings. One top story of a building was blown up as they passed. They heard and saw an Israeli drone patrolling above. Smoke was everywhere, missiles were flying down, artillery was bombing everywhere.

When he saw his family’s destroyed house Mr. Khalil’s heart sank to his knees. The artillery shell had blown off the top of his roof, he sprinted from the van, through the bombardment, to the house, wrenching open the door, to find his wife and children sitting on the floor, crying under the merciless Israeli bombardment. In a short time, he crowded his entire family into the van; neighbors ran to him, giving him their children to put into the van with him, not caring about themselves but only caring that he save their children. In their minivan, they stacked 32 people, mostly women and children, of several different families.

Later, Khalil learned, only 3 hours after he left the house in which his family had sheltered was splintered by an Israeli attack, killing three people who had been sheltering there—so if he had only waited a day, or had been delayed by only a few hours, his entire family would have been killed.

Thus began their escape. They careened through the streets of Ainetta and towards Tibneen, artillery pounding so close to them that one 155 mm howitzer round blew out the back window of the van. He begged his family, “Do not look outside the van—do not look left or right,” not wanting his children to see the dead people in the road. “Allah Allah please help us,” he prayed fervently. Some in the van read Qur`an, some did other zikr, begging for safety from above. And so, miraculously, 32 people crowded into a minivan did the unthinkable—escaping a merciless Israeli barrage that explicitly targeted all vans and pickup trucks.

When he got to Tibneen, Mr. Khalil felt better, less pressure from the Israelis. When he got to Sida, he got out of the minivan and kissed the earth, thanking God for having brought him out safely. From Beirut, the family was evacuated via the USS Nashville to Cyprus, then by military transport to New Jersey, then via a surreal rental car ride from New Jersey home to Dearborn, Michigan.

When he returned home, he learned that the driver that saved him and his family was later blinded by an Israeli attack while making a second attempt to pass the gantlet and save more people.

Speaking of the state of Lebanon today, Khalil says it is “three times worse than it was during the civil war. They are targeting the infrastructure.” The roads, the gas stations, the small and large factories, the electricity and phone switchboards are all catastrophically devastated. Prices for travel, he says, are astronomically inflated—it now costs about $1,000 or $1,500 to take a taxi from Beirut to Syria.

The tragedy of this past two weeks was not the first of Hussein Khalil’s life. His background reflects the terrible history of Lebanon. His father, a baker, never himself involved in any fighting, was brutally murdered when Mr. Khalil was only 6 years old for the crime of being a Muslim who lived in a Christian neighborhood. Mr. Khalil’s mother first brought him to the United States in 1982, when he was 12 years old, to escape the Lebanese civil war. And we hope that he and his family have finally escaped war for good.

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Arabia’s Ancient Past Alive at Madain Saleh

April 27, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

Arabia’s Ancient Past Alive at Mada`in Saleh
By Siraj Wahab, Special to Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
It may sound strange, but the first time I heard about Madain Saleh was when I was visiting Jordan in the summer of 2000 on a media junket organized by the Jordanian Tourism Board. The JTB guide, Odeh Al-Shobaki—I remember his name because he was a diehard Bollywood fan—while leading us through the beautiful valley where Petra is, said: “This is an extension of your Mada`in Saleh. The structures are similar to what you have in Saudi Arabia. The Nabataean tribes lived and flourished in this area around 500 B.C. Petra was their northern capital, while Madain Saleh was their southern one.”
We, or rather I, was clueless. Still, we nodded our heads. Mada`in Saleh remained in the back of my mind until one fine morning last month when Dr. Ausaf Sayeed, the Indian consul general in Jeddah, and his No. 2, Dr. Suhel Ejaz Khan, wondered if I had been north of Jeddah. If not, would I like to be part of a three-day diplomatic trip to Madain Saleh? “Yes,” was my instant response.
It is not every day that you get to travel with diplomats. Along with being a diplomat, Dr. Sayeed is also a geologist. In fact, he is a geologist first and a diplomat second. It was in geology that he did his doctorate and then joined the Indian Foreign Service. The unique rock formations of Madain Saleh thus hold a special attraction for him. He visited the area years ago when he was stationed at the Indian Embassy in Riyadh.
Day 1
We were a group of five families and we left Jeddah at 5 on a Wednesday evening. As the sun went down, we kept traveling until we reached the SASCO stop, which is midway between Jeddah and Madinah. We prayed maghreb there. It was cold and windy. The children—Shin, Malak, Aiko and Sania —came out of the vehicles but then scurried quickly back inside. We gulped down refreshing cups of tea.
It was here that we asked each other what we might expect at Mada`in Saleh. I had no idea. My friend, Danish Abdul Ghafour, was as clueless as I. Dr. Suhel Khan had only heard about it from the consul general. Saleem Quadri had some idea, thanks to what he had seen on the web. The only person who had been to Mada`in Saleh before was Dr. Sayeed but he and his wife, Farha, sons Faateh, Faaleh and Azhaan and another couple, Mr. and Mrs. Shafiq and their son, Ubair, were already in Madinah. They had started earlier and we planned to join them for dinner in the holy city. About 6:45 p.m., the caravan started for Madinah.
Madinah is the city of peace, the city of radiance and the city of our most beloved Prophet (s). For some reason, your eyes get moist the moment you enter the city’s holy precincts. We were cracking jokes and having fun all the way, but the moment we entered the Prophet’s (s) city we were in a different world. By the time we got to Madinah, ‘isha was over. Unlike the Grand Mosque in Makkah, which is open 24 hours every day, the Prophet’s (s) Mosque in Madinah is closed after ‘isha. We prayed the night prayers in our hotel rooms and had a delicious dinner at an authentic Hyderabadi restaurant called Meraj. During dinner, Dr. Sayeed told us the plans for the next day and what we should expect at Mada`in Saleh.
Day 2
At 5 a.m., we heard the call to prayer. We performed our ablutions and headed to the Prophet’s (s) Mosque. A cool breeze was blowing across the city. Praying in the Prophet’s (s) Mosque so far has been the most moving experience of my life. We prayed fajr and said our salaams to the beloved Prophet (s) and his Companions who rest next to him under the green dome. We then came out of the gate named after the Angel Gabriel, and it was a great sight. The minarets stood out against the light blue sky. Danish and I spent time in the area around the mosque’s majestic courtyard, sipping tea from a nearby “boufiya.”
By 8.30 we were ready to leave for Al-Ula. At this point, we were joined by our guide and his two daughters. Obaidullah Abro is a Pakistani working for a Makkah-based tourist company. He has a passion for Mada`in Saleh and all the Islamic sites and, in addition, he is very well-read. He had all the relevant Qur`anic and literary references about the area. It was he who informed us that Al-Ula is 380 km northwest of Madinah. And, at legal speed limits, it would take us about three hours to reach our destination. What we had not factored in was that long stretches of the road to Al-Ula were single track, and driving can become both hazardous and slow. Abro said plans were under way to build an airport at Al-Ula. Quoting local authorities, he said the airport would promote regional business and tourism and should be operational within three years.
We thought we would drive nonstop to Al-Ula, which is what Abro told us, but he and Dr. Sayeed had charted a different course. Our vehicles suddenly veered off the main road and we got into an area of ancient, crumbling mud houses. They were baking in the scorching sun. As we rolled along, in the distance we saw an imposing fort perched high on a cliff. As we got closer, cameras clicked away. This was Khaybar. It was here that a very important battle between non-Muslims and the Companions of the Prophet (s) was fought. The fort was almost impregnable and had given the holy warriors a tough time. After many failed assaults by different Companions, Prophet (s) finally asked Sayyidina Ali (ra) to lead the final battle and he was victorious. The spring where he performed his ablutions is still flowing. The shade of the palm trees was indescribable. The peace and tranquillity there has to be experienced to be believed.
Our caravan then rolled on, and soon we were in Al-Ula. It was an amazing landscape. The mountains had a red hue while Al-Ula was green. There were plenty of date farms, and the tall trees swayed in the wind. We soon arrived at the beautiful Mada`in Saleh Hotel (www.mshotel.com.sa), which sits in front of a huge mountain. The hotel is relatively new. Asghar Baig Younes, the hotel manager, was waiting for us. We were welcomed with cool drinks and then we had lunch. We were tired but excited.
That evening, we explored Al-Ula. Abro took us to the place where the Prophet (s) stayed after returning from the Battle of Tabuk. It is said that the Prophet (s) prayed at one of the mosques in Al-Ula, which is unfortunately now closed.
As the sun was about to set on the town of Al-Ula, we saw haunting silhouettes of the mountains. One particular peak looked as if it were a woman begging for mercy. From the other side, it gave a completely different impression, but an eerie one nonetheless. “Caravans never stopped here in ancient times,” Abro explained. “They scheduled their trips so that they would cross the valley before sunset.” When we returned to the hotel, we prepared for the next morning’s trip to Mada`in Saleh.
The word mada`in comes from the Arabic word madina. Madina means city, and mada`in is its plural. Many expatriates from the Subcontinent confuse the Arabic word mada`in with the Urdu maidaan, meaning a plain stretch of land. We were visiting “Mada`in Saleh,” (the cities of Prophet Saleh (as)).
Day 3
We got up early on Friday, and by 8:30, we were on our way to Mada`in Saleh, 22 km north of Al-Ula. The area was once the location of a significant city located on a major trade route from Yemen to Damascus. During the early Islamic period it became an important pilgrimage station for Syrians and Egyptians traveling to the holy cities of Madinah and Makkah. We saw tombs with massive facades decorated with eagles; there were dozens of tombs carved inside the rock. Someone has rightly mentioned that the first thing that strikes you is the Nabataeans’ skill at carving mountains into burial chambers. The symmetry of their work testifies to their knowledge of geometry. Outside each tomb there is an inscription.
Before arriving at Mada`in Saleh, we saw billboards telling people to discover Islam rather than discovering Mada`in Saleh. We were curious to know what was wrong in visiting an ancient Nabataean city. According to scholars, Prophet Saleh (as) was the son of Thamud. He came from the tribe of ‘Ad. Saleh’s tribe moved from Yemen and had moved to a place called “Hager.” This is what is known as Mada`in Saleh today.
Like the tribe of ‘Ad, the Nabataeans built their homes on mountaintops. They learned the art of building from the tribe of ‘Ad and they were also blessed by God as the tribe of ‘Ad before them had been blessed. They had power, riches and gardens rich in plants. However, they too, like the tribe of ‘Ad, worshipped idols. God sent them Prophet Saleh (as), who was one of them—from a good family and wise—people often came to him for advice. They admired and liked him, and had hopes that one day he would become one of their leaders. They were disappointed, however, when he began preaching to them about one God. They were so disappointed with him and angered by his teachings that they began to turn from him. They told him that they would believe in him if he performed a miracle—but not just any miracle. They pointed to a huge rock and told Prophet Saleh that they wanted to see the rock split in two and that they wanted a she-camel to come out of it. They wanted the she-camel to be 10 months pregnant, tall and beautiful. God allowed Prophet Saleh (as) the miracle and as the rock broke into two pieces a magnificent she-camel appeared from within. Some of Prophet Saleh’s people believed and became his followers, but most continued in disbelief.
There are a number of accounts of this camel and her miraculous nature. Some mention that she used to drink all the water in the wells in one day, and that no other animals could approach the wells. Others claim that the camel produced milk sufficient for all the people to drink, on the same day that she drank all the water and left none for them.
For a while, Prophet Saleh’s (as) people let the camel graze and drink freely but in their hearts they hated her. The unbelievers now began complaining that this huge camel with its unusual qualities drank most of the water and frightened their cattle. They hatched a plot to kill the camel. They watched her closely, observing all her movements. As she came to drink at the well, one of them shot her in the leg with an arrow. She tried to escape but was slowed by the arrow. Another followed the camel and struck her with a sword in the other leg. As she fell to the ground, he stabbed her with his sword. The killers were given a hero’s welcome, cheered with songs and poetry composed in their honor. They mocked Prophet Saleh (as), but he issued a warning. “Enjoy life for three more days, then the punishment will descend upon you.”
Prophet Saleh hoped that they would see the folly of their ways and change their attitude before the three days had passed. Instead, they plotted to kill him. Nine men were sent to kill him, but God protected him by sending large birds from the sky, killing all the nine assassins.
After three days, thunderbolts filled the air, followed by a rumbling noise and severe earthquakes that destroyed the entire tribe. The land was violently shaken, destroying all living creatures in it. Neither their strong buildings nor their rock-hewn houses could protect them. All were demolished before they realized what was happening. As for the people who believed in the message of Prophet Saleh (as), they were saved because they had left the place.
It is said that while Prophet Muhammad (s) was passing through the area on his way back from the Battle of Tabuk, he stopped to meet with the people there. The people fetched water from the wells from which the people of Thamud used to drink. They prepared their dough (for baking) and filled their water-skins from it (the water from the wells). The Prophet (s) ordered them to empty the water-skins and give the prepared dough to the camels. Then he went away with them until they stopped at the well from which the she-camel (of Prophet Saleh) had drunk. He warned them against entering the area where the people had been punished, saying: “I fear that you may be affected by what afflicted them; so do not enter upon them.”
In other `ahadith, it is narrated that the Prophet Muhammad (s) warned his people that should they enter Mada`in Saleh, they should think about what had happened to the unbelievers.
This is why people have not been encouraged to visit Mada`in Saleh. Now, however, the Supreme Commission of Tourism (SCT) is putting emphasis on tourism and in the future, tourist traffic to Mada`in Saleh is expected to increase considerably.
When we got back to the hotel, it was nearly 1 p.m., and we headed straight to the biggest mosque in the center of Al-Ula to say our Friday prayers. The imam had a sonorous voice, and the Qur`anic verses reminded the believers of the life in the Hereafter and God’s punishment for those who disobey. I was again reminded of the community of disbelievers who met such a fate in the mountains in Mada`in Saleh.
We got back to our hotel, had lunch and said good-bye to the hotel staff before setting off for Madinah. It must have been four in the afternoon. Abro wanted to take us to the exact place from where the she-camel had emerged and so we went, thanking him profusely for his knowledge and his skills as a guide. We were in Madinah by 8.30 and back in Jeddah by 1 a.m.
Mada`in Saleh is an excellent place to visit and learn about Saudi Arabia’s pre-Islamic past. One also can actually walk in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad (s). The modern accommodations and good people in the area will welcome visitors who, I suspect, will hope as I do to return.
For those who are interested in a trip to Mada`in Saleh, Obaidullah Abro can be reached at 0502509688. His firm also organizes field trips for schoolchildren. The manager of the Mada`in Saleh Hotel, Asghar Baig Younes, can be reached on 04-8842888. The hotel’s e-mail address is: info@mshotel.com.sa. -