Allies Debate Libya Ceasefire, China Shifts Ground

June 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Matt Robinson

2011-06-22T194132Z_1920063541_GM1E76N0AA801_RTRMADP_3_LIBYA

Rebel fighters drive their vehicle on the frontline in Ajdabiyah June 22, 2011. A split opened within the NATO-led air campaign against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on Wednesday as France and Britain rejected an Italian call for a halt to military action to allow aid access. 

REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany

MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) – Signs of discord emerged on Wednesday in the NATO alliance over the air campaign against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, as Italy said it favored a ceasefire and political talks while France dismissed the idea.

China also signaled a shift in its stand on the conflict, describing the rebels as a “dialogue partner,” while Libyan television said that “dozens” of people had been killed in Zlitan after NATO ships shelled the town.

Four months into the uprising, and three months since NATO war planes began bombing Libya, the rebels are making only slow gains in their march on the capital Tripoli to topple Gaddafi.

“The need to look for a ceasefire has become more pressing,” Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told parliament. “I believe that as well as the ceasefire, which is the first stage toward a political negotiation, a humanitarian stop to military action is fundamental to allow immediate humanitarian aid.”

French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero reacted sharply to Frattini’s comments, which reflected Italian anxiety for some time over the NATO operation.

“The coalition was in complete accord two weeks ago at the contact group meeting in Abu Dhabi: We have to intensify the pressure on Gaddafi. Any pause in operations would risk allowing him to gain time and reorganize himself,” Valero told reporters.

In Rome, a foreign ministry spokesmen played down Frattini’s comments, saying this was not an Italian proposal and that it had been discussed among others at a Cairo meeting on June 18 of European Union, U.N., African and Arab officials.

“There is no specific Italian proposal on this. What Minister Frattini said in parliament this morning is that Italy is interested in looking at all ideas which could relieve civilian suffering,” the spokesman said.

He said the ceasefire, an idea the United Nations has been pushing without success for some time, could apply to rebel-held Misrata and the Western Mountains region.

At the same time, the African Union chief said in Addis Ababa that the West would eventually have to accept an AU ceasefire plan, saying the air bombardments were not working.

“(The bombing campaign) was something which they thought would take 15 days,” Jean Ping, chairman of the AU Commission, told Reuters. “The stalemate is already there. There is no other way (than the AU plan). They will (endorse it).”

The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), a Saudi-based grouping of 57 Muslim countries, also said it had sent a delegation that arrived in Libya on Wednesday to mediate.
It would meet the rebels in Benghazi and Gaddafi officials in Tripoli, a statement said, but gave no more details.

China Shifts Ground

The debate over a ceasefire comes as Libya’s rebels, who have made steady progress winning support abroad and isolating Gaddafi on the international stage, secured Beijing’s recognition as a “dialogue partner.”

“China sees you as an important dialogue partner,” Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told Mahmoud Jibril, diplomatic chief of the Benghazi-based rebel National Transitional Council in Beijing. The comments were published in a statement on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website (www.mfa.gov.cn).

“(The Council’s) representation has been growing stronger daily since its establishment, and it has step-by-step become an important domestic political force,” Yang said, adding that China was worried about the Libyan people’s suffering.

Winning international recognition could eventually help the rebels to secure access to frozen Libyan funds, and the right to spend money earned by exporting oil.

China is the only veto-wielding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council that has yet to call for Gaddafi to step down, after Russia joined Western countries last month in calling for him to leave power.

Beijing, never very close to Gaddafi, hosted Libya’s Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi this month. Courting the rebels has marked a policy adjustment for China, which generally avoids entangling itself in other nations’ domestic affairs.

NATO and the rebels are hoping that Gaddafi’s diplomatic and economic isolation will eventually bring his government down.

Misrata Attacks

Gaddafi’s forces were able to shell the rebel stronghold of Misrata on Tuesday, landing rockets in the center of the town for the first time in several weeks.

No one was reported hurt by that strike, but it undermined a relative sense of security among residents who believed that a siege on the city had been broken last month.

More rockets fell later in the sparsely-populated El-Araidat neighborhood near the port. Residents said no one was hurt and a Reuters reporter saw only several dead sheep lying in a field after the attack.

“Everyone is worried. We don’t know where to go anymore. Only when I die will I be safe,” said Mohammed Mabrouk, who lives near one of two houses hit by the first rocket rounds in Misrata. Two more landed in open areas.

At least three explosions were heard in Tripoli on Wednesday morning and again in the afternoon but it was not clear where or what caused them.

In a sign of the increasing impact of the crisis on daily life, Gaddafi’s state media issued instructions that ordinary people should follow “to deal with the fuel shortage.”

They called on people to use public transport instead of cars, avoid using air conditioning when driving and stick to 90-100 kph as the ideal speed. They also asked Libyans to be patient when queuing at petrol stations.

Exports of oil have ceased, depriving Gaddafi’s government of the funds it used during peacetime to provide the population with heavily subsidized food and fuel. Petrol queues in Gaddafi -held areas now stretch for miles.

Rebels have been trying to advance west toward the town of Zlitan, where Gaddafi’s soldiers are imposing a tight siege. Libyan television said on Wednesday that “dozens” of people were killed in Zlitan after NATO ships shelled the town.

The report could not be independently verified because foreign reporters have been prevented from entering Zlitan. NATO normally comments on its Libya operations the following day.

If the Libyan television report is confirmed, it could further complicate the mission of the NATO-led military alliance, whose credibility has been questioned after it admitted on Sunday killing civilians in a Tripoli air strike.

Gaddafi’s government says more than 700 civilians have died in NATO strikes. However, it has not shown evidence of such large numbers of civilian casualties, and NATO denies them.

A rebel spokesman called Mohammed told Reuters from Zlitan that NATO had been hitting government military targets in the town on an almost daily basis. He said Gaddafi’s soldiers used artillery positions in Zlitan to fire salvoes toward Misrata.

“We hear the sound of artillery fire every night,” he said.

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Iranian President Visits Afghanistan

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Two Reports from Xinhua

2010-03-10T130705Z_585848497_GM1E63A1MOO01_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN-IRAN

TEHRAN, March 9 (Xinhua) — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will visit Afghanistan on Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Tuesday.

“It has been decided that the president will visit Afghanistan on Wednesday,” Mehmanparast told reporters in his weekly press conference.

The visit will mark Ahmadinejad’s first official visit to the country since the re-election of Hamid Karzai as Afghan president.

An unidentified Afghan official said Monday that Ahmadinejad has postponed visit to Afghanistan which is originally scheduled on Monday.

Afghan President to visit Pakistan for seeking help to hold talks with Taliban

ISLAMABAD, March 9 (Xinhua) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai will pay a two-day visit to Pakistan on Wednesday and is expected to officially ask Pakistan for its assistance in the talks with Taliban, political analysts here said.

They said that the president will also seek the extradition of the top Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar from Pakistan to Afghanistan for a court trial.

Sources from Pakistani Foreign Office said that President Karzai will meet his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and some other civil society members.

Anti-terrorism battle, U.S. army surge, repatriation of Afghan refugees and progress in the war-ravaged country will also be discussed during the meeting with Pakistani high-ups, they said.

Analysts believed that Pakistan will raise the issue of border infiltration of militants from Afghanistan and of its missing persons while Afghanistan will seek details for the recovery of the abducted Afghan diplomat Abdul Khaliq Faraakhi.

Afghan Interior Minister Hanif Atmar has asked for Baradar extradition when he held a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik in Islamabad last month. But circumstances changed when a Pakistani court ordered not to hand over Mullah Bardar to any country.

Saleem Safi, a leading journalist and expert on Afghan affairs, told Xinhua that President Karzai’s visit is very important because the situation has changed and American authorities have given a green signal for negotiations with Taliban, adding that Pakistan could play a crucial role in the negotiations with Taliban.

It is the first visit of Karzai to Pakistan after he won his second term as President in November 2009, Safi said.

“Approach in Pakistan’s policy towards President Karzai has changed too much but there is slight shift in policy towards Afghanistan,” said the expert.

Maryana Babar, an analyst on foreign affairs agreed that the visit is very important in the backdrop of the new U.S. policy for Afghanistan, in which Pakistan has asked for a role in the negotiations process.

Babar said that Pakistani Army Chief General Pervez Ashfaq Kayani, in his recent trip to Kabul, told the Afghan government and U.S. authorities that Pakistan could provide training to Afghan troops.

She said that the Afghan president would bring a plan of action and will ask Pakistan’s assistance in the process of reconciliation and reintegration with Taliban as Karzai has openly asked Pakistan and the Saudi Arabia for assistance in bringing Afghan Taliban to talk table on the sidelines of London conference in January.

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Kingdom Donates $50m for Haiti Quake Relief

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Sultan Al-Tamimi, Arab News

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia will donate $50 million in aid to earthquake-devastated Haiti. “On instructions from Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, the Kingdom will donate $50 million to assist the Haitian people,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Osama Nugali said Monday.

The cash donation is thought to be the largest given by a Middle Eastern country, although some have made significant donations in kind. The funds will be channeled through the United Nations.

Last week, the secretary-general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, urged all OIC member states and Islamic organizations to provide help to Haiti following the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Meanwhile, the Riyadh-based Arab Gulf Program for United Nations Development Organizations (AGFUND) has become one of the first organizations in the Kingdom to donate to Haiti, with a contribution of $100,000. “The contribution is an extension to the role of the Arab Gulf Program and its humanitarian stand in alleviating the suffering of victims, and it is in response to the urgent call from the Haitian government for humanitarian assistance,” AGFUND spokesman Abdul Latiff said.

Other Middle Eastern countries have chipped in. The United Arab Emirates said a plane carrying 77 tons of basic relief supplies has been sent by the government to Haiti. Jordan sent six tons of relief supplies to Haiti shortly after the quake hit. A field hospital was also dispatched there to help treat survivors, including members of Jordan’s 700-strong peacekeeping contingent in Haiti. Three Jordanian peacekeepers were killed and 23 wounded in the quake.

The United Nations said Monday it has so far received pledges of more than $270 million in emergency relief funding for Haiti, representing nearly half of its target. The funds are meant to go toward food, medication, water and tents for three million people affected by the earthquake, which according to the Haitian government, claimed around 150,000 lives.

Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive urged donors Monday to swing behind his nation’s massive reconstruction, as aid groups called for Haiti’s billion-dollar foreign debt to be wiped clean.

“I just want to say that the people of Haiti will need to be helped to face this colossal work of reconstruction,” Bellerive told international officials as closed-door talks in Montreal began.

“The government of Haiti wants to assure the entire world that it will remember and be worthy of the exceptional sympathy that it receives,” he added. The talks are aimed at defining key strategies to rebuild the country from the ground up in the wake of the quake.

An umbrella group of Canadian and Haitian aid organizations called on donors to cancel more than $1 billion in foreign debt. “We hope that you use the weight of your governments to convince international financial institutions to cancel Haiti’s entire foreign debt,” said Eric Faustin, director of Rocahd, the Coalition of Canadian-Haitian Development Organizations.

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UN: Make Israel War Crime Trial

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem

Report also censures Hamas but accuses Israelis of punishing entire population of the Palestinian Strip

Israel targeted “the people of Gaza as a whole” in the three-week military operation which is estimated to have killed more than 1,300 Palestinians at the beginning of this year, according to a UN-commissioned report published yesterday.

A UN fact-finding mission led by the South African judge Richard Goldstone said Israel should face prosecution by the International Criminal Court unless it opened independent investigations of what the report said were repeated violations of international law, “possible war crimes and crimes against humanity” during the operation.

Using by far the strongest language of any of the numerous reports criticizing Operation Cast Lead, the UN mission, which interviewed victims, witnesses and others in Gaza and Geneva this summer, says that, while Israel had portrayed the war as self-defense in response to Hamas rocket attacks, it “considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza as a whole.

“In this respect the operations were in furtherance of an overall policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population for its resilience and for its apparent support for Hamas, and possibly with the intent of forcing a change in such support,” the report said.

The 575-page document presented to yesterday’s session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva was swiftly denounced by Israel. The foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the UN mission had “dealt a huge blow to governments seeking to defend their citizens from terror”, and that its conclusions were “so disconnected with realities on the ground that one cannot but wonder on which planet was the Gaza Strip they visited”.

The Gaza war began on 27 December 2008 and ended on 18 January 2009.

The UN report found that the statements of military and political leaders in Israel before and during the operation indicated that they intended the use of “disproportionate force”, aimed not only at the enemy but also at the “supporting infrastructure”. The mission adds: “In practice this appears to have meant the civilian population.”

The mission also had harsh conclusions about Hamas and other armed groups, acknowledging that rocket and mortar attacks have caused terror in southern Israel, and saying that, where such attacks were launched into civilians areas, they would “constitute war crimes” and “may amount to crimes against humanity”.

It also condemned the extrajudicial killings, detention and ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees by the Hamas regime in Gaza – as well as by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank – and called for the release on humanitarian grounds of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli corporal abducted by Gaza militants in June 2006.

While the Israeli government refused to co-operate with the inquiry – or allow the UN team into Israel – on the ground that the team would be”one-sided”, Corporal Shalit’s father, Noam, was among those Israeli citizens who flew to Geneva to give evidence.

That said, the greater part of the report – and its strongest language – is reserved for Israel’s conduct during the operation. Apart from the unprecedented death toll, the report says that “the destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a systematic policy by the Israeli armed forces”. The purpose was not to avert a military threat, but “to make the daily process of living and dignified living more difficult for the civilian population”.

The report also says that vandalism of houses by some soldiers and “the graffiti on the walls, the obscenities and often racist slogans constituted an overall image of humiliation and dehumanization of the Palestinian population”.

Amid a detailed examination of most of the major incidents of the war – albeit one carried out five months after it took place – it says that:

* The first bombing attack on Day One of the operation, when children were going home from school, “appears to have been calculated to cause the greatest disruption and widespread panic”.

* The firing of white phosphorus shells at the UN Relief and Works Agency compound was “compounded by reckless regard of the consequences”, and the use of high explosive artillery at the al-Quds hospitals were violations of Articles 18 and 19 of the Geneva Convention. It says that warnings issued by Israel to the civilian population “cannot be considered as sufficiently effective” under the convention.

* On the attack in the vicinity of the al-Fakhoura school where at least 35 Palestinians were killed, Israeli forces launched an attack where a “reasonable commander” would have considered military advantage was outweighed by the risk to civilian life. Under Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the civilians had their right to life forfeited. And while some of the 99 policemen killed in incidents surveyed by the team may have been members of armed groups, others who were not also had their right to life violated.

* The inquiry team also says that a number of Palestinians were used as human shields – itself a violation of the ICCPR – including Majdi Abed Rabbo, whose complaints about being so used were first aired in The Independent. The report asserts that the use of human shields constitutes a “war crime under the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court”.

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Iran Summons German Envoy for ‘Veil Martyr’

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Flag-Pins-Iran-Germany

Iran’s Foreign Ministry has summoned the German Ambassador to Tehran over the brutal murder of a Muslim Egyptian woman in a Dresden court.

Herbert Honsowitz was summoned to the Iranian Foreign Ministry to hear the strong objection of the Islamic Republic to the brutal murder of Marwa el-Sherbini.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hassan Qashqavi on Thursday condemned el-Sherbini’s murder as a despicable act in violation of “all human rights and values.”

El-Sherbini, dubbed the “veil martyr,” was involved in a court case against her neighbor, Axel W., who was found guilty last November of insulting and abusing the woman, calling her a “terrorist.”

She was set to testify against Axel W. when he stabbed her 18 times inside the Dresden court in front of her 3-year-old son.

El-Sherbini’s husband, Elvi Ali Okaz, came to her aid but was also stabbed by the neighbor and shot in the leg by a security guard who initially mistook him for the attacker, German prosecutors said. He is now in critical condition in a German hospital.

Pointing to the German government’s delayed response to the incident, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said that it was Berlin’s responsibility to ensure the rights and security of minorities, especially Muslims, living in Germany.

The Muslim population of Dresden condemned el-Sherbini’s killing, expressing concern about the consequences of such terrorist attacks against Muslims.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry also blamed Western countries for their “double-standard” and “news boycott” regarding the case.

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Cynthia McKinney Demands Immediate Release After Her Gaza-Bound Boat is Seized by Israeli Navy

July 2, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Former U.S. lawmaker and Green Party leader Cynthia McKinney, a longtime activist for the Palestinians, says her boat, the Spirit of Humanity, was carrying medical supplies, cement, olive trees and children’s toys to Gaza when it was seized by an Israeli navy ship.

Former U.S. lawmaker and Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney, whose relief boat was seized by an Israeli naval ship Tuesday for the second time in a year, is demanding the immediate release of her and 20 other activists.

McKinney, a longtime supporter of Palestinians, said her Greek-flagged boat, the Spirit of Humanity, was carrying medical supplies, cement, olive trees and children’s toys to Gaza when it was boarded by the Israeli navy.

“This is an outrageous violation of international law against us,” said McKinney. “Our boat was not in Israeli waters and we were on a human rights mission to the Gaza Strip. President Obama just told Israel to let in humanitarian and reconstruction supplies, and that’s exactly what we tried to do. We’re asking the international community to demand our release so we can resume our journey.”

The Israeli military issued a statement Tuesday saying that the boat had attempted to break a blockade of Gaza and was forced to sail to an Israeli port after ignoring a radio message to stay out of Gaza waters.

The statement said navy personnel boarded the freighter Arion without any shots being fired, and those on board were to be handed over to immigration authorities. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel was planning to free the crew and passengers.

“Nobody wants to keep them here,” he said. “They will be released as soon as they are checked.”

The humanitarian cargo was also to be trucked into the Gaza Strip after a security check.

In a statement released by the Green Party, McKinney said she had sent appeals to Obama and the State Department for assurances of protection for the relief mission. She said the boat was sailing in international waters when it was seized.

The White House nor the State Department was immediately available for comment.

This isn’t the first time a boat carrying McKinney has clashed with an Israeli navy ship. In December, McKinney was among 16 people aboard a medical supply boat that collided with an Israeli naval ship as it tried to enter coastal waters around Gaza.

At the time, the group claimed the Israeli military fired machine guns into the water in an attempt to the stop the boat’s progress. But a spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry said “physical contact” was made only after the aid boat failed to respond to radio contact and he denied any gunfire had occurred.

Israel launched an offensive in December against Gaza in an attempt to halt years of Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel. The two sides reached a cease-fire in January.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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