Tuesday, July 31, 2012

 Packing Up, Leaving...

"I am extremely concerned by the impact of shelling and use of tanks and other heavy weapons on people in Aleppo.  Many people have sought temporary shelter in schools and other public buildings in safer areas.  They urgently need food, mattresses and blankets, hygiene supplies and drinking water.  It is not known how many people remain trapped in places where fighting continues today"  Valerie Amos, UN humanitarian affairs

The alarm has been sounded from within the UN countless times.  It is like flogging a dead mule; many in the international diplomatic community and humanitarian rights groups wring their hands in despair, along with Kofi Annan and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, while others sit placidly by, unwilling to become part of the response that might stop the carnage.

How to do that, in any event, other than to incite the regime to further violence, dragging into the general scheme of chaos and destruction Hezbollah and Iran, and likely some casual units from Iraq.  And that is precisely when the entire Middle East can erupt into a sectarian fireball of pent-up hatred that has been biding its time before flaming into the hellfire of revenge and mass murder.

The rebel forces deny that they have been infiltrated by terrorists.  But in fact, they have been.  They can find common cause with all militias whose purpose is akin to theirs, even those whose Islamist credentials are clearly meant to use the Syrian uprising as a springboard toward creating their own version of what Syria should represent.  So, arming and or/aiding the rebel cause, also arms and aids another cause.

"I was at work when I received the call that a shell had hit my house.  As soon as I returned, I found my wife and son dead on the floor.  Part of my son's skull was blown off, and Aya was wounded", said one resident of Aleppo.  The wound his daughter sustained will be with her for the rest of her life, blinding her right eye with shrapnel from the shell that killed her brother.

And they are assembling what they can, all those terrified residents of a city that no longer resembles its peacetime facade of sects living together in harmony under the strict rule of a tyrant.  They are loading themselves and their belongings onto whatever conveyances they can, looking for temporary asylum in towns and villages removed from the city.

"We always knew the regime's grave would be Aleppo. Damascus is the capital, but here we have a fourth of the country's population and the entire force of its economy.  Bashar's forces will be buried here", claimed a young fighter, with the confidence that only the young can muster in the face of impossible odds to their own survival.

"The situation in Aleppo is dreadful.  Had it been merely bearable I wouldn't have left my home", said a woman on arrival at the Bukulmez illegal border crossing, where she was waved through by Turkish soldiers.  Aleppo is surrounded by troops and tanks mobilized to take the city from the rebels, leaving other areas of the country vulnerable to rebel occupation. 

President Bashar al-Assad has a huge need to restore his military presence in Aleppo, and maintain both that city and his capital Damascus and the highway between to his control.  Without that at the very least, he cannot claim to be in control of Syria.  Even if, at the same time, the rebels establish themselves securely elsewhere in the country.

Khaled al-Ayoubi, the charge d'affaires official in Britain has joined his colleagues in refusing to any longer represent their country.  Three Aleppo medical university students who were attempting to aid the wounded were arrested by the military.  They were arrested, questioned, and murdered.  Their mutilated and charred bodies were later found in a burned-out vehicle.
Three Syrian rebels stand guard at a makeshift field hospital, as casualties mount from intense shelling on the first day of a Syrian government military offensive against rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), in the rebel held district of Salaheddin in Aleppo, Syria, on July 28.  Scott Peterson/The Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images

This was an obvious attempt at deterrence.  To ensure that no other medical personnel would risk their own lives by treating the wounds of rebel fighters.  It's true that people were shocked and horrified when they saw the bodies of Basel Aslan and Musab Barad, fourth-year medical students, and Hazem Batikh, an English literature student and medic. 

But the result was that other health workers, still mourning their friends, are now motivated to offer their services to the rebel militias in field hospitals located in areas still firmly under Free Syrian Army control.

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Racial Profiling at the Olympics

"South Korean women have more sensitive hands than any other women in the world.  They do things so well with their hands.  When Korean women cook, it's as if their hands are giving the food more flavour or taste.  Doctors talk about chopstick technology.  Our women archers have excellent feeling with their fingers.  They know whether they shot well or not immediately after the arrow leaves their fingers."  Baek Woong-gi, South Korean national team archery coach

Give credit where it's due. And South Korean women have proven themselves to be gold-medal champions.  Since women's archery was introduced at the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korean female archers have traipsed lightly all over the competition.   They have now won their seventh consecutive women's team gold medal.

In fact, they have the rare distinction of representing the only country in the world that has competed in the Olympics to come away with the gold.  They have taken possession of 13 of the 14 team and individual archery gold medals contested since 1984.  There is obviously something unique and quite wonderful about this.

Might the ancient world's famed Amazons really have emanated from South Korea, and not from Turkey?  Perhaps not; no one ever wrote of South Korean women living exclusive from men, retaining some men as slaves to aid in reproduction, retaining only female babies on birth, and removing a breast to enable them to draw a bow with more ease.
South Korea's Ki Bo-bae fires an arrow in the women's archery team quarterfinals at the Lords Cricket Ground during the London 2012 Olympic Games July 29, 2012. REUTERS-Suhaib Salem

There must be a reason for such uniquely developed skills, hands and fingers that unerringly match the eye's trajectory for accurate bowmanship.  And it might be held in the fact that unlike other Asian countries, Korean chopsticks are constructed of slender, slippery steel, requiring care and skill to manipulate them successfully.

South Koreans are proud of this distinction their women bring them at the world's elite athletic competition meet.  "I think it is in our blood to be good at shooting arrows.  I don't know, it just feels that to be a Korean is to be a good archer", explained Lee Sung-jin, one of the women's champion team members.

One of her teammates is not quite as sanguine: "It's easier to win an Olympic gold medal than to get on the Korean national archery team, I really feel that", protested Ki Bo-bae, ahead of the Games.

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A Stronger Syria

"Today I tell you, Syria is stronger ...   In less than a week they were defeated (in Damascus) and the battle failed.  So they moved on to Aleppo and I assure you, their plots will fail."  Foreign Minister Walid Moualem

Minister Walid Moualem made his statements from Tehran.  Where he doubtless conferred with his country's major supporter, likely Syria's only supporter, aside from Hezbollah.  There is China and there is Russia, of course, but their support lies in the strategic fact that neither of those countries is enamoured with the very idea of any outside force interfering with the legitimate sovereignty of a country's interior situation.

And both of those countries, as suppliers of armaments and jealous of their hegemonic placement in the Middle East with its vast stores of fossil fuels, have their interests to tend to.  Their self-interests, however, are nowhere near as impressively vital as is Iran's in the potential outcome of this civil war that is wracking Syria.  The current administration is as close to secular in its governance as possible without abandoning its Islamic identity.

Many of its opposition are also secular minded, while of the Sunni sectarian demographic.  But far many more are both Sunni and religiously orthodox, deploring the secular aspects of the Alawite regime as un-Islamic and unsupportable.  The Muslim Brotherhood is present and accounted for among the opposition, prepared because of their majority status and longtime presence, along with their association with other branches of the Brotherhood, to reflect in Syria what has occurred in Egypt.

They have been complemented by members of al-Qaeda, and other Islamist Salafist groups eager to bring down the government and install their version of Islamic precepts and values where none now exist to their satisfaction.  Little wonder that there is no cohesion and co-operation between the political and the military groups each insisting they represent the major rebel factions.

Meanwhile, with Bashar al-Assad's government declaring its victory in retaking Damascus entirely, pounding the rebels, forcing them to retreat, and going street by street to roust supporters out of their homes, looking for rebels shielding their presence, they have been successful in reimposing themselves within the capital.  Aleppo is where the rebel fighters claim to be holding off the regime.

"I don't think the [Syrian] Army will come here.  We killed it before" said one of the rebels.  Yet they are there to face the regime, to bring themselves to battle again for its removal.  "If someone from the Free Army dies, we don't get said.  For sure they are in Paradise."  "We will not let the Syrian Army get into Salaheddin before we die", claimed another.

It is Aleppo that the regime must retake.  Damascus is important, but Aleppo is equally important, as the economic heart of the country, and with its more populous numbers.  Several hundred thousand of whom have fled the deepening battles, for other parts of the country not as unsafe, or for border areas where they hope their families will gain shelter.
“Those whose intentions are not for God, they had better stay home, whereas if your intention is for God, then you go for jihad and you gain an afterlife and heaven.”

Analysts and activists see jihadi groups now emerging, standing apart from the Free Syrian Army of local militias, army defectors, civilian volunteers.  Funding flowing to the opposition is arriving from donors in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region, from religious donors impelled by their Salafist leanings.  Rebel commanders in the area claim a total of 50,000 fighters, with 1,000 representing foreigners.  Shrugging off their significance.

A larger Muslim cause has emerged, however, alerting and attracting fighters representing various degrees of Islamism.  Among the Sunnis the Alawites represent a heretical offshoot of Shiite Islam.  Those who fought previously in Libya have moved on to Syria, much as the Islamists battling the Russians in Afghanistan later moved on to create al-Qaeda, as guests of Pakistan, later sheltered by the Taliban in Afghanistan, both supported by Pakistan's military and Intelligence service.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

In solidarity with Israel, Italy holds Munich Olympics memorial

Over 30 members of the Italian delegation hold ceremony near the Israelis' quarters.

By Haaretz Sports Staff | Jul.30, 2012 | 4:50 AM

A member of the Italian team, fencer Diego Occhiuzzi.
A member of the Italian team, fencer Diego Occhiuzzi, after beating Romania's Rares Dumitrescu. Photo by AP

This story is by
Haaretz Sports Staff
Memorializing the Munich 11. Photo by AP

The Italian delegation to the 2012 London Olympiad made an emotional gesture at the Olympic village on Sunday by holding a minute of silence together with a number of Israeli representatives for the 11 victims of the 1972 Munich massacre.

Over 30 members of the Italian delegation - headed by Sports Minister Piero Gnudi, Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Petrucci and International Olympic Committee member Franco Carraro - held the ceremony near the Israelis' quarters.

Israel was represented by Zvi Varshaviak, chairman of the Olympic Committee of Israel; Efraim Zinger, head of the Olympic delegation; shooter Sergey Richter on behalf of the athletes; and Guy Strik on behalf of the coaches.

Varshaviak said the gesture was beautiful and moving. "It's a brave sign of solidarity and friendship between the Olympic family of Italy and that of Israel, which has continued for many years," he said.
Zinger thanked the Italians and explained to them that his committee is doing everything to memorialize the 11 Munich victims as Israelis. However, he said, it is important to remember that they were also Olympic athletes, coaches and judges who were murdered during at the Olympics.

"Therefore they are children of the Olympic movement and in our opinion it is the moral obligation of the International Olympic Committee to find a suitable way to perpetuate their memory," Zinger added.

As published online at Haaretz, 30 July 2012

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Romney visit reveals falling visibility of Palestinian issue

By Ben Sales
Mitt Romney speaking in Jerusalem, with the Tower of David in the Old City in the background, July 29, 2012. (Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/FLASH90)

Mitt Romney speaking in Jerusalem, with the Tower of David in the Old City in the background, July 29, 2012. (Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/FLASH90)
JERUSALEM (JTA) – Mitt Romney’s policy speech in Israel covered plenty of bases: The presumptive Republican presidential candidate spoke about the status of Jerusalem, the threat of a nuclear Iran, the “tumult” of the Arab Spring and the “enduring shared values” that bedrock the U.S.-Israel relationship.
But there was one topic that gained little attention: Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. The word “Palestinian” did not appear once in the speech on Sunday evening.
Aside from a short meeting with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the status of the Palestinians was basically absent from Romney’s swing through Israel on Sunday and Monday. He did not meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has led the most recent rounds of Israeli-Palestinian talks, and he mentioned support for a two-state solution only briefly at the end of a statement with Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Romney’s campaign also canceled a meeting with Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich a few hours in advance. Labor traditionally has been more supportive of negotiations with the Palestinians than the ruling Likud Party.
During the primary campaign, Romney joined his fellow GOP candidates in slamming the Obama administration’s public criticism of Israeli settlement policy. But he also criticized Newt Gingrich’s assertion that the Palestinians were an “invented” people, suggesting that such talk was a “mistake” and “incendiary.”
President Obama’s Israel policy during his first two years focused on an aggressive push for Israeli-Palestinian talks, along with a demand that Israel freeze all settlement construction in the West Bank. Subsequent negotiations stalled, and the demand for a freeze created significant tension between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The Palestinians were the main issue” for Obama, said Shmuel Sandler, a researcher at Israel’s Begin-Sadat Center. Romney, by contrast, “put the emphasis on Iran and Jerusalem. This was a way of differentiating himself from Obama.”
Sandler said that Romney, if elected, would follow four consecutive presidents, of both parties, who led major drives for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Shlomo Brom, a senior research associate at the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies, suggested that despite Romney’s near silence on the Palestinians, he may still follow suit.
“The way people act in elections doesn’t predict what will be afterwards,” Brom said. “Romney doesn’t have a constituency in the United States that’s interested in the subject of the Palestinians.”
But with peace negotiations moribund for nearly two years, Brom said that Romney emphasizing the threat of a nuclear Iran and the Arab Spring also accords with what many Israelis see as the two most important issues facing the region.
On Sunday, Romney adviser Dan Senor said that a Romney administration would back a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Though Romney and his aides subsequently appeared to step back from such an outright endorsement of Israeli military action, the Republican candidate did say that Israel has the "right to defend itself" and called denying Iran nuclear weapons “our highest national security priority."
Romney also called on Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, to keep Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel and admonished Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom he called “no friend to Israel and no friend to America,” for killing his own citizens.
Sandler added that most Israelis at this point “realize that there’s not going to be a peace soon.” He attributed that realization to fundamental gaps between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on the status of Palestinian refugees, the fate of Israeli settlement blocs close to the West Bank border and whether eastern Jerusalem will be under Israeli or Palestinian sovereignty.
While Romney mostly kept away from the Palestinian issue in public, in private it did come up. During his Sunday speech at a closed fundraiser, he reportedly credited Israel’s GDP being much higher than that of the Palestinians to “the power of at least culture and a few other things,” including a strong pro-business climate, the travails of overcoming Jewish history’s blows and the “hand of providence.”
Saeb Erakat, a senior aide to Abbas, pounced on the comments.
“It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation,” he said, according to The Associated Press. Erekat also said it was “absolutely unacceptable” when Romney called Jerusalem “the capital of Israel.”
Regardless of whether Romney spoke to the Israeli public’s concerns or the general positive response of Israel’s leaders, about a dozen Israelis in a Tel Aviv pedestrian mall had a vague idea at best of who he was.
“Is he Jewish?” asked Esther Abnayim, 48, echoing a question a few others also asked. “America is Israel’s friend. Israel helps America. It doesn’t matter” what the president’s party is, she said.
Meni, 26, said he “doesn’t pay attention to what happens over there” in the United States, while Daniela Cohen, 33, said she had heard only about Romney’s fundraising breakfast on Monday morning.
“He asked for $50,000 from people,” she said. “I just heard gossip about him.”

As published online by JTA, 30 July 2012

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It's Anyone's Guess

Published online at the Epoch Times, 30 July 2012

The swollen carcass of a hairless as yet unidentified animal was discovered under the Brooklyn Bridge last weekend.
The creature has ears and skin like a pig, but instead of hooves, it has claws like a dog or rat. It is about 60 cm (2 feet) long from head to tail.
Local resident Denise Ginley came across the dead creature while walking to a farmers’ market, and later took some photos.

“Is this another incarnation of the Montauk Monster, or just the biggest rat in the city?” Ginley said, according to ninemsn, referring to a strange animal that washed up in northeast New York four years ago and was the subject of much controversy.
“Several other people were looking and taking photos, and everyone had a different opinion about what it was (suggestions included giant rat, dog, pig, monster, and seal),” Ginley added.
“Obviously I thought it was gross, but it was just so strange looking I wanted to get closer … strangely enough, it did not smell, maybe because it had been in the water so long.”
The New York City Parks Department described it as a “discarded cooked pig,” the New York Daily News reported Thursday.
However, Ginley pointed out that the animal did not have trotters.
“My best guess would be that this is some sort of raccoon or giant rodent,” she said, according to UPI.
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 19 languages. 

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The Syrian Web

Hamas is no longer in the Iran/Syria/Hezbollah fold.  Its leadership has taken umbrage against the Shia/Alawite-led attacks on the Syrian-Sunni population.  Hamas is now cut off from Iranian funding.  No problem, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is prepared to take up the slack.  Hamas, after all, is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, they make a more natural fit of affinity.

And Hamas has other, additional allies in Turkey and Qatar, both of which have begun funding Hamas.  Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan feels Hamas represents a sterling Islamic government, worthy of support.  All this support may just go to Hamas's head, encouraging it to embark on a new wave of 'resistance' against the Israeli 'occupiers' of Palestine.

On the other hand, Syria's allies in Lebanon have soulfully dedicated their well-armed and -trained militias to the ongoing support and control of Syria by President Bashar al-Assad.  Hezbollah is grateful to Syria for its faithful support and provision of arms, enabling it to assume control of Lebanon, in place of the occupation and control once exerted overtly by Syria.

The pairing of Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon effectively created a puppet state with the Lebanese occupied by a foreign presence, overseen by Iran.  Iran would find itself in a strategically awkward position with the loss of Syrian support in the case of a successful Sunni-led revolution removing the Alawite regime from power. 

"Hezbollah is at a point of enormous strategic uncertainty.  [Syria's uprising] is not an existential threat, they are too well armed.  But now they face a threat from two sides", a Western diplomat in Lebanon informed Reuters, in reference to a potentially hostile post-Assad Syria and Israel.  "What is happening now is fateful for them.  They do not have a choice; they are with the regime until the last minute.  This is a strategic alliance between Iran and Syria and they are part of it."

For its part, Turkey sees Iranian influnce waning in Iraq and is determined to move in, following the departure of President al-Assad. "Thus, just as the Iranians are in retreat, the Turks have an interest in, if not supplanting them, certainly supplementing them", with plans for pipelines in Iraq's oil fields in the south and in the north.

But all is not prospective sweetness and light for Turkey with the issues now broiling away in Syria.  Turkey's fears with the rise of Syrian Kurds and the prospect for them to involve themselves with the Kurdistan Workers Party terror group may yet prove destabilizing within Turkey. "The Turks will play a very key role in what type of post-Assad state exists in Syria ..."

Iran's concerns remain with its power of balance in maintaining its sphere of influence from Western Afghanistan to Lebanon.  "First, the wide-reaching sphere of influence they were creating clearly won't happen now. Second, Iran will rapidly move from being an ascendant power to a power on the defensive", according to an analyst with Stratfor, the U.S. global intelligence firm.

Iran's decline as a waning power would impact on Iraqi politicians to deflect Iranian influence in the country.  Iran's investment of troops, weapons and resources in the Alawite Assad regime will have been a well-planned and dependably-organized opportunity lost.

As for Israel, as fraught as its relationship has been with Syria rumbling its determination to launch another war with Israel if the Golan Heights are not returned, there was a standoff between the two; despite the belligerence, there was no matching action and an uneasy truce prevailed. 

"But the possibility of either an Islamist regime in Damascus or, more likely, Lebanese-style instability cannot please the Israelis", according to Stratfor's George Friedman.

"A change of regime, and certainly to a militant one, would not be to Israel's advantage, especially if the new Syrian regime would try to 'warm up' the border with Israel in order to divert public opinion from domestic problems", explained Jacques Neriah, former foreign policy advisor to prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

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North Korean Reform

"There's always going to be a food shortage.  The problem is, what they can produce, the best always goes to the best (top of society)."  Humanitarian worker in North Korea

Of a population totalling 25 million people, North Korea has a standing army estimated at 1.2-million people. The one demographic that can depend on eating would be the military for their loyalty to the closed-society regime is imperative to the ongoing existence of a regime that has little regard for the overall well-being of its population.

Most North Koreans live on a starvation diet.  The country has faced and continues to face horrible episodes of extreme privation.  North Korea is in the steel-fisted grip of a family dynasty controlling its fortunes.  And only the regime and its supporters have the good fortune to eat well and live well.  The remainder of the population endures a meagre existence.

Kim Jong-un, like his father and his grandfather before him, heads a grim military command that uses its population as a large expendible slave labour camp.  "What's strikingly obvious is people's stunted growth, they're all very short for their age."  

The price for a kilogram of rice in the marketplace is beyond the reach of most people, representing at least a month's salary.  Even those employed by the state, the country's largest employer, must barter for what they are able to garner to fend for themselves, for they are seldom paid.

"Even if you are employed by the state, you do business in the market.  If you are an office worker, you do business in the market in the afternoon ...  There's no way other than this to make it there", explained a woman who had fled the North, but feared reprisals against her family still in North Korea if she were to be identified.

"Basically, many people are doing restaurant business of selling things on credit and pay off credits later.  There is a huge gap between the rich and the poor.  Pyongyang has enough supplies but other areas fall short.  So it is completely up to an individual's effort.  If you try hard to make money, you can survive.  But if you don't, you struggle."

North Korea exists at the centre of the world's most rapidly growing economic region that includes China, Japan and South Korea.  Their economies have burgeoned and North Korea's continues to shrink.  This is a country that at one time was wealthier than its southern cousin.  Now its economy is less than 3% of South Korea's.

"Is North Korea planning to reform and open up?  The only thing Kim Jong-il left to Kim Jong-un is debt.  He has no funds to run the regime", scoffed a defector who heads the NK Refugees Human Rights Association on Korea.

There is funding for weapons production, for perfecting missiles and maintaining the military.  North Korea will magnanimously permit aid agencies to feed its millions of starving people, from one crisis to the next.  Will the UN's proposed arms-trade treaty impress North Korea?

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Arms Trade

"We feel that we could have an agreed (treaty).  It is disappointing that more time is needed.  But an arms-trade treaty is coming - not today - but soon.  We've taken a big step forward."  spokesman, British delegation
The 193-nation United Nations General Assembly was hoping that it could produce a draft arms-trade treaty, adopted with a two-thirds-majority vote.  That draft failed to materialize this time around as delegates from around the world, representing 170 countries meeting in New York, failed to reach a consensus adoption of a deal.

Most countries' delegates are committed to a universal treaty meant to regulate the over $50-billion industry world-wide.  One person every minute dies as a result of armed violence around the world.  Arms control activists feel a universally-declared convention is required in prevention of the illicit trade in guns pouring into conflict zones, fuelling wars and atrocities.

Those same activists cited a small minority of states that included Syria, North Korea, Iran, Egypt and Algeria who opposed global arms control throughout the negotiations.  Aside from those countries, however, blame was laid squarely before the United States and Russia; both countries declaring insufficient time for them to resolve issues.

"Moving forward, President Obama must show the political courage required to make a strong treaty that contains strong rules on human rights a reality", urged an Oxfam America senior policy adviser.  President Obama, however, just like every other politician in the United States, cannot even move forward on the issue of gun control in a country where a majority of the population owns guns.

The draft arms-trade-treaty currently under negotiation has a requirement that countries must assess whether an arms export could be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international humanitarian or human rights law.

"The conference's inability to conclude its work on this much-awaited ATT, despite years of effort of member states and civil society from many countries, is a setback" declared the Oxfam adviser.

Covered would be all conventional arms in the categories of battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, along with small arms and light weapons.  There would be no interference with the domestic arms trade "and the way a country regulates civilian possession", clarified the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs.

The five top arms suppliers:  Britain, China, France, Germany, United States and Russia.

This is really dreaming in technicolour.  Nothing will stop the international arms trade.  Regulations can be agreed upon, but manufacturers in collusion with government agencies will always find a way to interpret regulations in a manner that will exempt them.  And there are countless governments that will not even pretend to observe any approved regulations.

Russia has supplied Syria with large-scale technologically advanced weaponry to enable it to attack its own civilians.  Turkey and doubtless Qatar has supplied the Syrian rebels and their allies with weapons to mount attacks and counter-attacks.  Iran supplies Hezbollah and has supplied Hamas with weapons meant to be interdicted.

How will the United Nations enforce the new regulations, and apply penalties to those held to have abused them?  By urging UN members to pursue "this noble goal"?

Because the United Nations is itself such an arbiter of human rights and values that it conveys the necessity for universal respect among all its members?  Through elevating on a constant basis, one human-rights-abusing state after another to positions of respect and prominence?

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Saving Jewish Lives

"If you're good at a sport, they attach the medals to your shirts and then they shine in some museum.  That which is earned by doing good deeds is attached to the soul and shines elsewhere."  Italy's Gino Bartali, champion cyclist, 1914 - 2000
Italian cycling champion Gino Bartali appeared on the cover of Argentina’s El Gráfico magazine shortly after he won the 1938 Tour de France.
Italian cycling champion Gino Bartali appeared on the cover of Argentina’s El Gráfico magazine shortly after he won the 1938 Tour de France.  Photograph by: El Gráfico magazine, Argentina, Random House
Despite Mussolini's fascist laws during the Second World War, and his accord with Nazi Germany, Italians in general were not fascist by nature, nor were they given to celebrating and pursuing anti-Semitism in comparison with the European populations in countries like Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Hungary, France and others.

Two writers, brother and sister Aili and Andres McConnon have written a book documenting and detailing what they were able to unearth about the activities of a celebrated Italian cyclist, a young man who won both the 1938 and the 1948 Tour de France.  Their book, Road to Valour: A True Story of Second World War Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist who Inspired a Nation, has just been published.

Gino Barteli never himself wanted to shine a spotlight on his activities.  His was the spirit of true courageous altruism.  He did what he possibly could manage to in support of Italian Jews escaping the wide net set out to snare them to slavery, death camps and the grave.  He used his sport and his acclaim to good purpose, but told no one of what he did, not even his wife.

He used the excuse of long training sessions, cycling over the countryside in preparation for various competitive events, as a reason for his absences.  And he used the frame of his bicycle to store counterfeit documents of falsified identities to smuggle them to those who would use them to save the lives of countless Jews.

He devised a strategy to use his fame to divert attention from Jews trying to escape their fate by train, arriving at a transfer station just as trains pulled in on Italy's north-south rail lines.  Soldiers recognizing him, asking for autographs distracted them from seeking out the presence of Jews on the train.

He owned a 'spare' apartment close to his own home just outside Florence, where he hid a family of four Jews, parents and two young children.  When he could no longer keep them safe from detection there, he arranged for them to be moved to an underground cellar of a nearby house, where they waited for deliverance from the Nazi nightmare.

And he worked with Rufino Niccacci, a Franciscan monk living in Assisi operating a counterfeit centre where Luigi Brizi printed authentic-looking IDs, and who was inspired to continue when he realized that the famous Gino Bartali was acting as part of their conspiracy to save the lives of Jews destined to death. 

The archbishop of Florence was responsible for co-ordinating the resistance effort.

Gino Bartali was a hero of the times he lived in.  He never wanted to be seen as nor acknowledged as a hero.  "I don't want to appear to be a hero", he once informed his son.  He did what he felt he had to do.  To be able to live with himself.

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That Nation's Capital

During elections politicians focused on their potential to win, will say almost anything to influence their listeners that they represent the right person at the right time for the job.  The incumbent had his chance and as chance had it, solutions to problems that this candidate sees clear, simply eluded the current holder of the position in question.  All too often some of the promises represent a kind of political dynamite, far easier to enunciate than to implement.

Two days after Joe Clark was sworn in as prime minister of Canada in 1979 he announced his government's plans to move Canada's embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  This was in fulfilment of a promise he had made during the election.  Quite the national and international fuss erupted; Canadian diplomats at what was then the Department of External Affairs anticipated a disaster in the making as Arab and Muslim countries' reaction.

Which would harm Canada's international reputation, since no country in the world other than Israel recognizes Jerusalem as the nation's capital, due to similar claims over "al Quds" by the Arab and Islamic world.  This is one of the most disputed territories in the world.  As far as Joe Clark was concerned, he felt it a legitimate move in recognition of the recent peace accord signed between Israel and Egypt.

He was soon enough brought up short in his perception when the Egyptian ambassador to Canada stated: "This move by Canada is going to put lots of obstacles and spill gas on the existing flames, which is not going to help the peace settlement in the area", according to Hassan Fahmy.  The Government of Canada realized, belatedly, the penalties involved in proceeding: the loss of oil imports, international contracts and credibility.

If the United States were indeed to move its embassy to Jerusalem, a different kind of reaction would result.  It has much less to lose than Canada did thirty years ago.  It has the kind of international authority that Canada has never had.  Although the United Nations does not recognize and will not recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital thanks to the influence of the Arab/Muslim bloc, the United States could act unilaterally. 

In doing so, it could move its support for and relationship with Israel beyond dispute.

It would also have the effect of encouraging other countries - although they would likely represent a handful of the international community - of finally recognizing Israel's heritage and place in the Middle East.  All other Arab and Muslim countries have their capitals, and no one disputes them or challenges them for that right to declare their capitals. 

The current Conservative-led Government of Canada has been refreshingly forthright in its support for the State of Israel and the people of Israel.  It has defended its right to exist in the Middle East, and its right to respond to forceful violence to protect itself and its people.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Cabinet have all stated their support for Israel, despite claims of alienating its neighbours.

Canada has traditionally, conventionally, followed in the footsteps of the United States in the international arena, as a neighbour, a trading partner, and an ally.  Perhaps it hadn't yet occurred to Prime Minister Harper to make the leap, and initiate a focus within the international community on Israel's right to declare its capital.  It's possible that were the United States to do so, Canada would follow, in solidarity with both the U.S. and Israel.

When Jerusalem was under the control of other Middle East countries not all people representing different ethnicities and religions were permitted to access their historical, treasured places of worship; Jews were forbidden to approach what the Arabs claim to be their third-most-sacred place, and what Jews declare to represent the most sacred and treasured symbol of their heritage: The Temple Mount.

In 1995 the United States passed a law acknowledging Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, paving the way for the U.S. embassy to move there from Tel Aviv.  Since then a succession of presidents has side-lined the issue by signing waivers in suspension of that law.  On his current visit to Israel, challenger for the presidential election, Republican Mitt Romney spoke of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, pledging to move the U.S. embassy if he became president.

"A nation has the capacity to choose its own capital city, and Jerusalem is Israel's capital.  I think it's long been the policy to ultimately have our embassy in the nation's capital of Jerusalem", he said in an interview with CNN.

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

As The World Turns....

And so it was that on the 27th day of the 7th month of the year 2012 a spectacular was staged in the great, historic city of London, England, bringing once again to that world-famed stage the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Fireworks ignite over the Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27 at Olympic Park. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Fireworks ignite over the Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics

The grandeur of tradition prevailed as opening ceremonies introduced the world audience of an estimated three billion people watching via satellite television, with 80,000 present on site, as, among other introductions to the event, William Blake's historic poem, "Jerusalem", transcribed to music by Hubert Penny was played to great acclaim. 

Jerusalem, the world's most famous religious crucible, is symbolic in so many ways at this 2012 Olympics.  The BBC, the official broadcaster for the London Olympics overlooked history, heritage and tradition, to gratuitously link it to the Palestinians as their capital, totally ignoring its reality as the capital of the State of Israel, later altering their fanciful alteration of fact and history, clumsily and shamefully.

IOC President Jacques Rogge on July 21, warned, ahead of the opening of this 30th of the Olympic Summer Games that athletes may face the prospect of punishment should they refuse to compete against a rival on the basis of nationality.  This warning was initiated in the wake of rumours that some Egyptians were giving consideration to the option of refusing to compete against Israelis.

Jordan's Prince Feisal Bin Al-Hussein, a member of the International Olympic Committee, has stated that any kind of boycott would be most unhelpful.  This is, after all, an international in-gathering of the cream of athletic prowess, represented by 203 nations of the world sending their elite athletes to compete in hopes of garnering the crown of achievement in their sport. 

This represents an event meant to bring nations together in a universal celebration of athletic excellence.  And the common humanity of mankind.

Paradoxically, while both Jordan and Egypt have historically signed peace treaties with Israel, Egypt now under the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood is abrogating many aspects of their treaty with Israel, while Jordan which has threatened to do so in the past, continues to uphold at least the letter of the peace-treaty expectations.

"I appreciate for some people it will be (boycott as an instrument of rejection of Israel, as an option among Arab/Muslim countries) but I don't think boycotts do anything or any good for anybody", said Prince Feisal from his accommodation at London's Grosvenor House hotel.  Morally he is quite correct, but his reaction does not reflect reality.

Reality is represented by what happens on the ground.  And reality is that Olympics officials were placed in the awkward position of having to erect a screen between Lebanon's and Israel's judo fighters.  The Lebanese athletes, when they sighted their Jewish counterparts stated unequivocally that they would not train beside the Israelis.

It cannot have but helped Arab truculence and aversion to appearing publicly beside Israelis when the IOC and Jacques Rogge refused up to the very last moment and beyond, to acknowledge and defer to public demands from a huge variety of sources - not the least the State of Israel whose athletes were murdered by Palestinian terrorists during 1972's Munich game, nor the wives of the murdered Israelis, nor the numerous international heads of state who sought to intervene, nor the hundred-thousand signatories.

The one minute of respectful silence during opening ceremonies to mark that horrendous event was not forthcoming. Fear of offending any of the 50 participating Arab or Muslim-majority nations proved more powerful an incentive not to accede, than the moral decency that might have inclined them to agree that a moment of silence was a requirement to expunge the stench of atrocity from Olympics tolerance.

Tolerance is not a word that can be usefully or truthfully applied to the world of Islam.  Which is intolerant, institutionally, of other religions, and most specifically of Judaism's existence within the Middle East.  The rage within the Islamic world at Israel's perch within a geography held to be consecrated to Islam is unappeasable. 

The slaughter of eleven Israeli athletes represented a symbolic action on a world stage to annihilate all of Israel.

In the end, Israel's Mossad hunted down and extinguished the lives of all those held to have been involved in the atrocity.  That, to the Arab world, represents the true tragedy, the dedication of Israel to look after its own in the full knowledge that no one else will.  That, to the Arab world, is the issue that should be memorialized, the elimination bu the State of Israel of her tormentors.

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A Difficult Coup From Inside

 "Every day some more fighters come from the villages...  We just want to defend these places [in Aleppo], so let God bless us.  The regime does a lot of shelling at night to make people afraid, to destroy buildings and kill more people - to make people curse the FSA... they say: 'You come here, and now the bombs come' - so we try to protect people. But we need weapons, more weapons, from any country."
And in anticipation of a bloodbath in Aleppo, with the regime forces determined to wipe out the rebels entirely and restore Aleppo to its former status, people are leaving, taking with them as many of their possessions as they can, filling trucks with refrigerators, televisions, whatever they can stuff into them.  Planning to cross the border to Turkey, or to stop at villages in northern Syria where conflict doesn't rage.

Aleppo hasn't always supported the uprising.  Its neighbourhoods of two and a half million people are split between government supporters and those who support the opposition.  Because of the anticipation of a huge defining confrontation looming on the near horizon between rebels and beefed-up government troops, more rebels are entering the city.

From outside the country it looks increasingly like a massacre will take place in Aleppo. Tank columns are moving on the city, air strikes by helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft represent an escalation in the battle to crush a rebellion with rebels armed with the most elemental of weapons in contrast to a military equipped with heavy artillery.

Because of its position close to the Turkish border where foreign fighters are claimed to be joining the opposition, Aleppo is seen to be of strategic importance to both antagonists.  Hezbollah has stated that it is prepared to send thousands of its men to Syria to aid President al-Assad, should the conflict become enlarged with the entry of foreign forces.

Former Brig.-Gen. Manaf Tlas, a former member of al-Assad's trusted inner circle who defected weeks earlier has informed the Asharq Al-Awsat daily in Saudi Arabia that he sees no future for al-Assad in Syria.  He blames the president's intransigence and brutality on close advisers whom he warned al-Assad against, to little avail.

He is in Saudi Arabia to ask for assistance in the creation of a new Syria.  "The structure and system of the regime makes a coup from inside very difficult", he explained.  And perhaps that is his way of claiming that he had no option but to flee, that although he made an effort to stop President al-Assad from his current destructive course, it useless.

Strange thing about all these high-level defections, of Sunni generals and diplomats and former confidants of the Alawite president; they supported and were part of his elite entourage to their great benefit, and only abandoned him, despite the divide between Alawite/Shia and Sunni, when it looked increasingly as though the regime would falter and fall.

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The IOC's Shame

Jacques Rogge and the International Olympic Committee had their opportunity to prove to the world that they do indeed care for the memory of those who died forty years ago in an atrocity that in 1972 they failed to give adequate concern toward.  The IOC's determination not to let any irritating little event interfere with the Munich games ensured that they continued despite the violent tragedy that took eleven Israeli Olympians from the competition and from life.

Mr. Rogge bent so far as to make a concession a week ago, in a well-thought-out and -expressed memorial statement at the Athletes Village in London where a relative handful of people witnessed the event.  Yet he steadfastly has refused to do the same, along with a 60-second moment of silence in respect of the Israeli athletes whom Palestinian terrorists targeted and slaughtered in Munich for the London opening ceremonies.

The Olympics are meant to represent disparate countries coming together in peace and goodwill, respecting the physical, athletic attributes of fine athletic performers representing the cream of each nation's young peoples' endeavours to succeed in their ultimate sport of choice.  That standard of human decency was irremediably soiled when Black September stormed the Munich Olympics.

One might think that Mr. Rogge and the other members of the IOC would be anxious to finally put the dread memory of the event to rest with respect and profound regret at the carnage.  They have consistently refused, despite the weight of public opinion, the entreaties of the widows of the murdered athletes, the heads of numberless countries and petition signatories insisting on a brief one-minute memorial.

Missing from the roster of those around the world hoping for the IOC to finally see reason has been the Arab League, and most notably the Palestinians.  An Israeli-Arab MK, Hanin Zoabo in fact, insists that there should be a minute of silence for Palestinian Authority Arabs, killed by Israel; to balance the appeal for a minute of silence for the 11 Israeli athletes murdered in Munich.

"If Israel would say that it recognizes the injustice it has done to the Palestinians, then it would also make sense to demand that the world remember all sides.  But it is hypocritical to keep mentioning the victims of 40 years ago while Israel is trying to hide the [Arab] victims of recent years."  Palestinians have completely politicized and poisoned the atmosphere, indicting Israel irrespective of the matter at hand.

The tradition of blaming Israel for the Palestinian leaders' own inability to come to terms with a situation they they have themselves created completely blind-sides them to any issues in which they are culpable, refusing to admit even to themselves that they have failed their own futures abysmally.  The incendiary hatred and blame targeting Israel for all the ills of the Arab world will never abate.

In this issue of the Olympics Games and the relationship between nations and their athletes, pressure placed upon the IOC by Arab bloc influence, power, outreach and wealth dominates the agenda.  The IOC, completely immersed in its commercial legacy, focused on its trademark ability to make money, is far less concerned with the honour and the courage of its conviction.

A statement by the Palestinian representative to the IOC delineates quite neatly the position of the IOC itself, while encapsulating the corrupt hypocrisy of the Palestinian/Arab position, reflecting that of the IOC itself.

“Sports are a bridge for love, communication and the spreading of peace between nations and should not be used for divisiveness and the spread of racism”
Jibril Rajoub, Palestinian Olympic Committee head & ex-Fatah senior official's outrageous denunciation of calls for a minute of silence for the Munich 11

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Friday, July 27, 2012

"In God's Hands Only"

"The army's reinforcements have arrived in Aleppo.  We expect a major offensive at any time, specifically on areas across the southern belt, from east to west.  There's no way to compare our capacity to theirs.  They have tanks, we have medium and light weapons.  But we believe in our struggle; they are fighting for nothing."  Col. Abdul Jabbar al-Okaidi, spokesman, Free Syrian Army

There is a straggle of regime forces, a garrison stranded in the area held by the rebels.  But they're not surrendering to the rebels.  "We think they are still in touch with the army and are being promised reinforcements.  The other night they shelled us.  There were 40 martyrs.  They are targeting the apartment buildings and the houses.  I had to take the little ones away from all that.  No one knows who will be next."

Although the rebels who are now in control of al-Bab, a small market town in not far from Aleppo feel triumphant at the moment, they also acknowledge that they have few supplies.  Rebel fighters must share assault rifles.  Between them they secure a few dozen rounds of ammunition.  They are clearly not invincible.

They are conflicted about whether they should remain where they are to defend the town from a counter-attack, or march on to Aleppo.  There is little communication, less unity, and they lack the urge to co-operate in an overall strategy.

President Bashar al-Assad's forces have fierce instructions not to rest until they have prevented Aleppo from falling into rebel hands.  Another hundred tanks have been sent to the city, from Idlib, which now appears to be solidly in rebel hands.  In areas controlled by the FSA tensions among ethnic and sectarian groups are rising; former neighbours are now more acutely aware of tribal divides.

Turkey is known to have supplied some of the rebel forces with arms.  In al-Bab, however, there are no rocket-propelled grenade launchers and roadside bombs.  Rebel fighters are hoping that weapons from Saudi Arabia and Qatar will trickle through to their area, knowing at the same time that if they managed to seize an armoury from security forces they would effectively equip themselves.

Armed as they are, they would be impotent to respond to an armoured column, sent to reinforce the military base outside al-Bab where rival factions are dominating the town, and where Shabiha militants are fuelling local disputes.  "This is the calm before the storm. We are very nervous now and no one is leading us.

"Our fate is in God's hands only."

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"We aren't safe anymore.  This is a conspiracy against our existence in the Holy Land."
 Among Gaza's 1.7-million Muslims, there remain fewer than 3,000 Palestinian Christians.  These are devout Christians living amongst devout Muslims.  These are Christians living their traditional way of life in an area of the world where Christianity had its birth; the crucible of the faith in the ancient Middle East.  In total it is estimated that 160,000 Christians inhabit the Holy Land.

There are 110,000 Palestinian Christians living within Israel.  The remainder live in the West Bank and Gaza, according to a Palestinian researcher.  It is mostly Greek Orthodox Christians living in Gaza.  And they live among, work among, attend academia among, ferociously devoted Muslims.  Who tend to look askance at the presence among them of Palestinians who choose not to be part of the world of Islam.

The Christian community provides private schools for their young.  Most Christian youth attend public high schools, and the only post-secondary institutions available to them are Muslim institutes of higher learning.  While there, they are faced continually with very visible aspects of the intrusion of Islamic traditions.  They are criticized for their Christian faith.  And they are outsiders in the social, religious sense of feeling pressure because of their difference.

Some Christians, when questioned by outsiders, claim there is no officially sanctioned effort to convert them to Islam, but individual Muslims exert pressure on them to convert, and surrender to Islam.  In the past eight years the resistance to this social, religious pressure can be determined in the fact that only ten Christians have succumbed to the pressure, leaving their faith to adopt Islam.

Knowing when they do that their families will be speechless with outrage, to the extent that they will mourn and deplore their abandonment of their traditional faith.  Christian families claim that they fled Gaza because of the Israeli incursion against Hamas in 2008-2009; others that the crumbling economy that resulted from the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas ejected Fatah and took control of Gaza caused them to leave.

The social pressure that results from being a tiny minority swimming against the sea of a relatively huge majority creates an uncomfortable atmosphere where Palestinian Christians feel themselves threatened.  "The [Christian] community is part of our people.  They have the full right to practise their faith", claims Bassem Naim, Hamas government minister, rejecting the fears of Gaza's Christian minority.

But several Christian institutions had been attacked by Muslim fanatics.  The local YMCA was torched.  When, as occurs rarely, two young people, a 24-year-old man, and a 32-year-old mother of three young girls, decided to convert to Islam, members of the community led by Gaza's Greek orthodox Archbishop Alexious asserted the two had been converted by forcible confinement.

"They kidnapped them ... they use even drugs", claimed the archbishop before dozens of agitated Christian protesters in front of the centuries-old Greek orthodox church of St. Porfirios in Gaza City.  The demonstrators ranted against Hamas, demanded the government restore the converts to their community, insisting their community was in peril.

Both converts stated forthrightly that they had willingly converted after long consideration.  "Nobody forced me.  Through my studies in the college and university, I came to love the religion...  I am very happy with this decision", said the mother of three girls, aged 12,9 and 7, interviewed on a pro-Hamas TV station.  Her husband has divorced her, claiming when she first began her studies she complained of constant harassment to convert to Islam.

"We lived together for years in Gaza:  The sound of church bells ringing used to mix with the call of prayers from the mosque.  I am thinking of leaving with my family", said a government worker who feared for his children's future.

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Again And Again

The world watches, aghast, as Syria's President Bashar al-Assad sticks to his helicopter gunships, his artillery, his tanks, with strict instruction to his generals to wipe out the opposition that has entrenched itself within Aleppo.  And once there are enough corpses to satisfy the need to believe that the insurrection has been halted, the Shabiha can do their part, as they've done elsewhere, going door to door in enclaves believed to shelter the rebels, rooting them out; the armed and unarmed civilians alike.

As for the rebels, proud of what they have accomplished, most particularly their amazingly daring coup, having been capable of penetrating the very innermost secure areas of Damascus, to set explosives to eliminate President al-Assad's military inner circle (presumably saving his brother for another opportunity), they have withdrawn, wisely under the circumstances of superior firepower and troops, to reassemble in Aleppo.

The rebels are spoken of as a united opposition and they are not, representing instead an assortment of disaffected ideological cabals all of whom share a hatred for the Alawite regime, most of whom share little else but a wish to rid the country of President al-Assad and his ruling entourage.  Infiltrated among the disparate groups the largest of which appears to be the Muslim Brotherhood, are also Salafists, rabid Islamists of all types, including members of al-Qaeda.

So, what will be accomplished with the ouster of President al-Assad, other than chaos and a settling of scores when the fanatical Sunni gain the upper hand and look for revenge?  The result will be a mass slaughter of those who fear the downfall of Bashar al-Assad and his protection of the Kurds, the Druze, the Christian Syrians.  Their support for the regime alone will mark them as enemies of the opposition.

Their ethnic, religious, tribal differentiation in addition will mark them for elimination by the advancing Sunni religious extremists for whom deviations from what they consider the only acceptable religious norm represents an abomination to Islam.  They have not, even though they all aspire to remove the regime, seen fit to co-ordinate their efforts, their resources, their aspirations.  They suspect one another's motivations and possibly for good reason.

Brigadier General Manaf Tlas, once a close friend of President al-Assad, part of his trusted inner circle, and one of the most senior defectors, claims to be determined to unite the fragmented opposition within and without Syria to prepare a roadmap for the transfer of power.  "I am discussing with ... people outside Syria to reach a consensus with those inside", he confided to the Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat.
"I left [Syria] ... to try to help the best I can to unite the honourable people inside and outside Syria to set out a road map to get Syria out of this crisis.  I realize this is a difficult phase...  It's difficult for one person to bear the responsibility of such a phase.  A group (including opposition) from inside and outside Syria should co-operate to accomplish this phase."

Thus far squabbles between the various ideologies represented in the Syrian National Council have demonstrated they are unable to agree between themselves, much less have much of an impact on the militias calling themselves the Free Syrian Army, themselves incapable of co-ordinating.  The need for a transitional administration as a stopgap government if Bashar al-Assad is toppled is paramount.

But the international community no longer looks to the presumed legitimacy of the Syrian National Council.  The factions within have been unable to agree on leadership goals and priorities.  They have made little effort to reach out to minorities in an inclusive in-gathering.  The various Syrian opposition groups quite simply feel no compulsion to cohesion as a practical first step.

As the international face of the revolution, it has failed to garner even the respect of the Free Syrian Army. The SNC has disillusioned their international interlocutors by their inability to demonstrate "altruism, reaching out to others, broadening the base....  They've not been able to" demonstrate those qualities.  "...it's all about egos, who gets to shine, who gets the senior position", according to one European diplomat.

"If you ask the question, 'Is there more they could have done to be effective, the answer should be an emphatic yes'."  Meanwhile, the practical measures undertaken within the war zone that Syria has become, with the rebels exploiting the "narrow streets of the old city, where the regime cannot use its tanks, and industrial areas, where we can find many places of shelter", describes the new strategy on the ground.

The Free Syrian Army rebels are battling in several areas of Aleppo, including the world heritage site of the Old City.  A defector from the regular army, now fighting with the rebels, Gen. Manaf al-Filistini, has predicted a months-long guerrilla war in Aleppo.  "Aleppo is very strategic for the regime and they will not give it up.  We have to fight rolling battles with shifting targets.  They will send additional forces again and again."

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Egypt's President Insulted Over Video: 'The Children are Ready'

by Hana Levi Julian Egyptian President Upset 'The Children are Ready'

Arab media are expressing the view that an innocent video prepared to mark a holy Jewish fast day was actually secretly intended as an insult to newly-elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.

The video produced by the Temple Institute in Jerusalem, was featured by Arutz Sheva in an article about the somber day of Tisha B'Av, the ninth day in the Hebrew month of Av, when both the First and Second Holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed. Although the day this year falls on Saturday, because it is the Sabbath, the fast is delayed and does not begin until sundown. It continues through the next day, Sunday.

The dramatic video has gone viral in just a few days. It depicts children on the beach building a beautiful model of the still-to-come and hoped-for Third Holy Temple out of sand, and calling their father to come look. It concludes with a message to adults, “The children are ready.”

Morsi has allegedly complained over a brief segment in which the father, seeing the edifice his children have built, drops his newspaper in surprise. The paper falls and folds to show a blurred image of Morsi’s face, which the Egyptians obviously felt was intended to symbolize Jewish attempts to curb Islamist aspirations for complete dominance of the Temple Mount - a central theme of Morsi's campaign. Morsi was backed by his Muslim Brotherhood party, which dominated both houses of the Egyptian parliament before it was dissolved by a constitutional order of the High Court.

The Temple Institute denies that the picture was intentional, saying that Morsi figured in many articles during the time the video was filmed and that the picture of his face on that page of the newspaper was entirely coincidental. The Institute added that neither Morsi nor Egypt is part of the story line of the video. The appearance of an article about him on the page that day was not by intent.

The video, released six days ago, has drawn almost 200,000 views, as well as the attention of several Arabic language news outlets.

The Islamic Waqf Authority, the Muslim organization to which authority over the Temple Mount was given by then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan after the 1967 Six Day War, has been systematically attempting to destroy all vestiges of Jewish presence on the holy site.

Radical Islamists -- and particularly those preaching from the Temple Mount in recent years -- have claimed that a Jewish Holy Temple never existed on the Mount, the site of the Holy of Holies where by Torah Law Jewish High Priests are the only ones allowed to enter.

As published online at ArutzSheva, 26 July 2012

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In Response to BBC's Map: Olympic Team Salutes Jerusalem

by Elad Benari In Response to BBC: Olympic Team Salutes Jerusalem

Israel’s Olympic team has decided to respond to the BBC’s assertion that Jerusalem is not Israel’s capital, by preparing a video in which Israeli athletes are seen saying they are proud to represent Israel “and its capital Jerusalem.”

The British broadcast authority, which has often been charged with bias against Israel, has come under fire for listing “East Jerusalem” as the capital for the “Palestinian Olympic team" while leaving Israel listed without a capital.

After Israel and Jews around the world complained, the BBC partly corrected its mistake and stated that Israel’s "seat of government is Jerusalem" while still omitting Jerusalem as the capital. Just to get its point across, it added, "Most foreign embassies reside in Tel Aviv." 

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai has also come to the rescue in a YouTube video, in which he says that although his city is “one of the coolest cities in the world and Israel’s financial and cultural center, we are not Israel’s capital. Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.”

Huldai invited Britain’s Jews to visit Tel Aviv and enjoy its beaches and tourist sites. Putting aside the longtime contest  between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv residents over which is the better city, he stated categorically that after  tourists finish visiting all of the city’s attractions, “you are welcome to visit the historical and religious sites of the capital of Israel – Jerusalem."

As published online at ArutzSheva, 26 July 2012

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Abandoning The Ship Of State

The regime of President Bashar al-Assad has sprung innumerable holes, out of which leak an increasingly impressive number of his former stalwarts, the elite of his entourage.  The Alawite regime had the good sense to cultivate wealthy and influential Sunni Syrians to join them in administering the affairs of the country; in the military, in the diplomatic corps, in the executive ranks.

Those Sunnis of high rank and influence have found it bitter gall to witness the regime's violent assaults against their own.  Ironically, Bashar al-Assad's wife is also a Sunni Muslim, her father originally from the hub of the initial protests.  She has not abandoned her husband, nor does it seem likely she will.  It would be interesting to know how her father feels about that.

The Syrian Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Abd Allaltif Dabai, has joined the opposition.  Unsurprisingly perhaps, since his wife, the Syrian Ambassador to Cyprus, Lamyaa Hariri had defected a day earlier.  They are both now in Qatar.  Lamyaa Hariri is the niece of Vice President Farouq al-Shara'a, occupying a largely ceremonial role in the Alawite regime.  Made for good optics.

These defections followed those of the Ambassadors to Iraq and Belarus, along with another elite diplomat, Nawaf al-Fares.  The Syrian Ambassador to Iraq is another Sunni figure from eastern Syria, who defected to Qatar through Jordan.  "From now, I support the Syrian revolution.  Where is the honour in killing your own people?  Where is national unity?  Loyalty is to the people, not to a murderous dictator."

And of course Brigadier-General Manaf Tlas, another member of Syria's Sunni Muslim majority fled Damascus into France.  French President Francois Hollande called upon the Syrian army to denounce the crimes committed by Assad's forces, to leave them and to join the opposition.  A military attache at the Syrian embassy in Oman; Mohammed Tahseen al-Faqir has also defected.

Reports out of Aleppo, the country's largest city and the heart of its economy, are that the regime has rushed reinforcements to battle the insurgents to regain complete control of the city.  The opposition has basic arms, while the regime has far more sophisticated weapons for a completely unequal equation in fire power.  But the opposition is determined not to lose what they have gained.

A loss in Aleppo at this juncture could set them back considerably.

Neighbourhoods in the city are being unmercifully pounded by government artillery, mortars and helicopter gunfire.  There were reports that fixed-wing aircraft were firing on the city as well.  Along with multiple reports of additional reinforcements marching toward Aleppo.   Thousands of troops are surging toward the city, with the rebels being pounded from the air in total warfare.

Reports have emerged that a Syrian Christian artist, Wael Issa Kaston died under torture, murdered by government security forces.  He had been detained by a security branch in Homs.  His family received his body from a military hospital in Homs, and large crowds paid homage to him, taking part in his funeral from the town of Marmarita and neighbouring villages.

Troops were being withdrawn from the highlands in Idlib province near the Turkish border, heading toward Aleppo.  Rebels began an attack at the rear of the troops.  While in Aleppo missiles were being fired from helicopters and opposition rebels battling government forces at the gates of the historic old city.  Troops firing mortars and shells at rebels, armed with rifles and machine guns.

"Almost everyone has fled in panic, even my family", reported one man by telephone.  "I have stayed to try to stop the looters; we hear they often come after an area is shelled."  Some residents insist fixed-wing jets have dropped bombs on the city; a correspondent for Britain's BBC television agreed the jets had fired.

It is now widely acknowledged that no amount of reason, nor recommendations to attempt to settle the conflict will make any impact on either President al-Assad nor the opposition who are determined to finally unseat him and bring their revolution to a completion.  There are large concerns that the conflict may yet spiral outside the borders of the country and draw in sectarian disagreements elsewhere.

And the element of suspense around the disposition of Syria's large store of chemical weapons remains hanging.  Statements regarding those non-conventional chemical and biological weapons have been less than reassuring, coming from the regime.  Fears that they may be leaking over the border and into the hands of others have not been assuaged.

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