AFP – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Mon, 01 Apr 2019 06:10:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Incremental Settler Colonialism: Israel to Approve 5,000 new Squatter Units in Palestinian West Bank Mon, 01 Apr 2019 05:24:33 +0000 JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — The Israeli Civil Administration is expected to approve 1,427 new illegal settlement units, on Sunday, and to announce plans to construct another 3,500 units next week.

Haaretz news outlet reported that the Israeli Civil Administration is expected to approve the 1,427 new settlement units across the occupied West Bank.

Sources mentioned that the administration would also announce plans to begin construction of another 3,500 settlement units and possibly approve an additional 1,500 other units.

According to settlement watchdog Peace Now, in the two years since President Trump took office some 14,454 units in the West Bank has been approved, which is more than three times the amount that was approved in the year and half before his inauguration (4,476 units).

Since the occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 1967, between 500,000 and 600,000 Israelis have moved into Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, in violation of international law.

The estimated 196 government recognized Israeli settlements scattered across the Palestinian territory are all considered illegal under international law.

Via Ma’an News Agency

Ocean Heat hits Record High, in Bad News for Planet Sat, 30 Mar 2019 06:33:47 +0000 Geneva (AFP) – Ocean heat hit a record high in 2018, the United Nations said Thursday, raising urgent new concerns about the threat global warming is posing to marine life.

In its latest State of the Climate overview, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reaffirmed that the last four years had been the hottest on record — figures previously announced in provisional drafts of the flagship report.

But the final version of the report highlighted worrying developments in other climate indicators beyond surface temperature.

“2018 saw new records for ocean heat content in the upper 700 metres,” a WMO statement said.

The agency said the UN had data for heat content in the upper 700 metres (2,290 feet) of the ocean dating back to 1955.

Last year also saw new heat records for the ocean’s upper 2,000 metres, but data for that range only goes back to 2005.

The previous records for both ranges were set in 2017.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the latest findings as “another strong wake-up call” for governments, cities and businesses to take action.

“It proves what we have been saying that climate change is moving faster than our efforts to address it,” he said at UN headquarters in New York.

The United Nations is hosting a major summit on September 23 that is billed as a last-chance opportunity for leaders to tackle climate change, which Guterres has described as the defining issue of our time.

The UN chief has urged world leaders to come to the summit with concrete plans, instead of speeches, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent over the next decade and to net zero by 2050.

– Warming oceans –

About 93 percent of excess heat — trapped around the Earth by greenhouse gases that come from the burning of fossil fuels — accumulates in the world’s oceans.

Research published earlier this year in the US journal Science showed that warming in the oceans is on pace with measurements of rising air temperature.

Some models predict the temperature of the top 2,000 metres of the world’s oceans will rise nearly [1.5 degrees F. or] 0.8 degrees Celsius by the end of the century if nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to Science.

Oceans are also not warming evenly across the planet.

The WMO report said the highest rates of ocean warming are occurring in the southern ocean, where warming has also reached the deepest layers.

This could result in sea levels being substantially different in different places, experts have previously said.

The thermal expansion — water swelling as it warms — is expected to raise sea levels 12 inches (30 centimetres), above any sea level rise from melting glaciers and ice sheets, according to the research published in Science.

© Agence France-Presse

Featured Photo: “The report said the highest rates of ocean warming are occuring in the southern ocean, where warming has also reached the deepest layers (AFP Photo/Brian Bielmann).”

As Trump OKs Saudi Nuclear Projects, Rep. Sherman replies: “If you can’t trust a regime with a bone-saw . . .” Sat, 30 Mar 2019 06:08:23 +0000 Washington, DC (AFP) – The United States has given the green light to companies to work on six nuclear projects in Saudi Arabia, Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Thursday, despite lawmakers’ worries that the kingdom could seek weapons.

Questioned during a Senate hearing, Perry confirmed that the Trump administration has approved six applications to do initial nuclear work in Saudi Arabia and two in Jordan.

Perry, who said the Energy Department approved 37 of the 65 applications it received globally since 2017, promised the United States was committed to ensuring the Saudis do not reprocess spent fuel to make nuclear weapons.

“What I’m really concerned about, senator, is that if the United States is not the partner with Saudi Arabia, (or) for that matter Jordan,” Perry said, “they will go to Russia and China for their civil nuclear technology.”

“I can assure you that those two countries don’t give a tinker’s damn about nonproliferation,” he said.

“We’ve got a history of nonproliferation, and nobody in the world will do it better than us.”

The approvals, first reported Wednesday by news site The Daily Beast, were not earlier announced, with Perry saying the companies wanted to shield proprietary information.

But Democratic lawmakers have voiced alarm that the Trump administration is rushing in secret to approve civilian nuclear energy in Saudi Arabia even though the kingdom — the world’s largest oil exporter — has not sought a so-called Section 123 agreement, under which a country assures the peaceful use of technology.

US companies cannot legally transfer nuclear material to countries without Section 123 agreements.

President Donald Trump has pursued a close relationship with Saudi Arabia, saying openly that the kingdom was good for US business even if the powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is confirmed to have ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October.

Khashoggi, a contributor to The Washington Post who wrote critically of the crown prince, was strangled and his body dismembered after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to handle wedding paperwork.

Representative Brad Sherman, in a hearing Wednesday with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, accused the administration of working with the Saudis to do an “end-run around the law.”

“If you cannot trust a regime with a bone-saw, you should not trust them with nuclear weapons,” said Sherman, a Democrat from California.

Prince Mohammed has warned that the Saudis will pursue nuclear weapons if their arch-rival Iran obtains them.

© Agence France-Presse

Featured Photo: “US Energy Secretary Rick Perry, seen here in December 2018, says the Trump administration has approved six applications for preliminary nuclear work in Saudi Arabia (AFP Photo/Hadi Mizban).”

After Saudi-led Air Strike on Yemen Kills 5 Schoolchildren, US Calls for Probe Sat, 30 Mar 2019 05:55:40 +0000 Washington, DC (AFP) – The United States on Thursday urged Saudi-led forces to conduct a transparent probe after eight people including five children were killed in a strike near a hospital in Yemen.

Charity Save the Children reported the death toll at the hospital it supports in Saada province, saying a missile hit a gas station near the entrance on Tuesday morning.

US State Department spokesman Robert Palladino called the incident “tragic” and “awful.”

“We are going to continue to call on all parties to take appropriate measures to mitigate the risk for civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure,” Palladino told reporters.

He pointed to a probe that has been promised by the Saudi-led coalition — the only player in the conflict that has warplanes, which come largely from the United States.

“The United States urges a transparent investigation by the Joint Incidents Assessment Team into these alleged incidents as well as swift implementation of the resulting recommendations,” Palladino said.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates enjoy US logistical and diplomatic backing as they battle Yemen’s Iranian-linked Huthi rebels.

A series of attacks on civilians has triggered alarm in Washington, with lawmakers moving to end US support to the Saudis.

President Donald Trump’s administration has threatened to veto the move, saying that Iran is the larger concern.

© Agence France-Presse

Featured Photo: Supporters of Yemen’s Huthi rebels attend a rally in the capital Sanaa marking the fourth anniversary of the Saudi-led coalition’s intervention (AFP Photo/MOHAMMED HUWAIS).

Muslim Christchurch survivor tells remembrance service: ‘I choose peace’ Fri, 29 Mar 2019 06:11:02 +0000 by Chris FOLEY | –

Christchurch (AFP) – A Maori lament echoed across Christchurch Friday as a survivor of the New Zealand mosque attacks told a national remembrance service he had forgiven the gunman responsible for the racist massacre that took his wife, and shocked the world.

“I am choosing peace and I have forgiven,” wheelchair-bound Farid Ahmed told tens of thousands gathered in the grieving southern city, drawing sustained applause as he implored New Zealanders of all faiths to also reject hate.

Wearing a traditional Maori cloak, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was among those who stood silently with heads bowed while the names of 50 people killed by a self-avowed white supremacist were read out.

Speakers honoured the dead and those who survived the March 15 attacks, including 22 people who remain in hospital, among them a critically injured four-year-old girl.

Ardern, who was joined by representatives from nearly 60 nations, including her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison, received a prolonged standing ovation when she took the stage.

The 38-year-old leader, widely hailed for her response to the tragedy, praised the way New Zealanders had embraced their devastated Muslim community since the attacks.

“Racism exists, but it is not welcome here,” she said, adding that she wanted New Zealand to set an example that would stop the cycle of extremism breeding extremism.

“We are not immune to the viruses of hate, of fear, of other — we never have been,” she said.

“But we can be the nation that discovers the cure.”

The hastily organised event was held amid tight security, with Police Commissioner Mike Bush confirming armed police from Australia were on site to assist their New Zealand counterparts.

The service heard a Muslim invocation, or du’a, and Cat Stevens — the British singer who shunned stardom in the 1970s and became a Muslim, taking the name Yusuf Islam — gave a powerful rendition of his hit song “Peace Train”.

But the most moving moment came with the softly-spoken words of Ahmed, whose wife Husna was killed as she rushed back into a mosque trying to rescue her disabled husband.

– ‘Light in stormy waters’ –

Looking frail in his wheelchair as he sat on stage wearing sunglasses and a headscarf, Ahmed said he bore no hatred toward the accused gunman, Australian Brenton Tarrant.

“People ask me, ‘why do you forgive someone who has killed your beloved wife?'” he said.

“I can give so many answers… Allah says if we forgive one another he loves us.”

Ahmed said people from different cultures were like flowers and “together we are a beautiful garden”.

The names of the 50 people killed at the Christchurch mosques by a self-avowed white supremacist were read out at the service.

“I don’t want a heavy heart boiling like a volcano with anger, fury and rage — it burns itself and burns its surroundings,” he said.

“I want a heart full of love, care and mercy. This heart does not want any more lives to be lost, any other human to go through the pain I’ve gone through.

“That’s why I am choosing peace and I have forgiven.”

Amid the tears and grief, there was optimism among the crowd that the outpouring of compassion that followed the attacks would become the lasting legacy of its victims.

“I’m very positive about this continuing,” said Manan Bohra, who runs a Muslim community centre in Auckland. “When we’re walking down the street people are coming up and expressing their peace and love.

“It was a very tragic event, but it’s been a life-changing event for the nation itself.”

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel said the atrocity was “an attack on us all”.

“Those actions were designed to divide us and tear us apart,” she said.

“They have instead united us.”

There were other smaller services around New Zealand, including one at Auckland’s Eden Park attended by All Blacks rugby star and Muslim convert Sonny Bill Williams.

“Let’s keep leading the way,” he said. “Let’s keep being that light in stormy waters for the rest of the world to see how it’s done.”

© Agence France-Presse

Featured Photo: “Speakers honoured the dead and those who survived the March 15 attacks, including 22 people who remain in hospital (AFP Photo/Marty MELVILLE).”

Israeli Snipers Kill 40 Children, send 3,000 to Hospital in Year of Gaza Border Protests Fri, 29 Mar 2019 05:27:53 +0000 Amman (AFP) – Around 40 children have been killed and many injured in one year of demonstrations along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, the UN said Thursday, calling for an “urgent de-escalation”.

Thousands of Palestinians have gathered at least weekly along the border in protests . . .

Demonstrators are calling for Israel to lift its crippling decade-long blockade of Gaza, while also demanding refugees be allowed to return to homes their families fled in the late 1940s during the creation of the Jewish state.

Around 40 children have been killed in the protests and “nearly 3,000 others have been hospitalised with injuries, many leading to life-long disabilities,” the UN children’s agency (UNICEF) said.

“UNICEF reiterates its outrage at the very high numbers of children who have been killed and injured as a result of armed conflict 2018,” said UNICEF’s Middle East director Geert Cappelaere.

He called on both sides to “ensure children are not targeted”.

“Exploiting children’s lack of sense of purpose and vulnerabilities or enlisting them into violence are violations of children’s rights.”

In total, 258 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza since the protests began, most during border clashes.

Two Israeli soldiers have also been killed over the same period.

Israel says its response is necessary to defend the border and accuses Hamas, with whom it has fought three wars, of orchestrating violence there.

The UNICEF statement follows another severe flare-up this week between Hamas and Israel, with a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip that sparked retaliatory air strikes.

A mass border protest planned for Saturday to mark the first anniversary of the demonstrations has raised fears of further tensions.

© Agence France-Presse

Featured Photo: ” UNICEF said nearly 3,000 children have been hospitalised since protests erupted on the Gaza-Israel border a year ago AFP/File.”

Israeli Embrace of War-Crimes Tactics Leaves 200 Dead, Thousands of Largely Peaceful Gaza Protesters Disabled Fri, 29 Mar 2019 05:16:22 +0000 By Joe Dyke | –

Gaza City (AFP) – A year ago, Ezzedine al-Baz’s decision to skip work and join tens of thousands at the first day of protests along the Gaza-Israel border nearly cost him his life.

Baz, then 29, said he had been standing a couple of hundred metres from the border fence for only about a half an hour when an Israeli sniper’s bullet pierced his leg.

Five operations and multiple infections later, he is missing a chunk of bone, his leg remains strapped in a metal case and he will likely never walk as before.

“It has been a year that I have been suffering, there is still pain,” he said from a clinic run by medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Gaza City.

“At night I don’t sleep at all. If I had known, I would have stayed at work.”

A year after the start of protests and clashes on the Gaza-Israel border, more than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire.

But beyond those killed, thousands of others wounded have been largely forgotten.

There have also been knock-on impacts for the Palestinian territory’s already beleaguered health system.

Hundreds of those shot remain at risk of infection and amputation, while Israel has turned down most applications to leave the strip for treatment.

So stretched are healthcare services that thousands of operations for other conditions have been delayed, while doctors who can leave are fleeing the strip, Gazan medics say.

Hundreds of those shot on the border remain at risk of infection and amputation
With major protests expected on the anniversary Saturday, medical professionals are worried.

“A full-blown escalation would obviously push the system again towards the edge of collapse,” said Gerald Rockenschaub, the World Health Organization (WHO) head in the Palestinian territories.

– ‘No hope’ –

The protests labelled the Great March of Return have called for Palestinian refugees to be allowed to return to their former homes now inside Israel, which Israelis view as advocating for the destruction of the country.

They were also billed as an opportunity for protesters to break the decade-long Israeli blockade of Gaza.

The World Bank says the restrictions are the primary cause of desperate economic circumstances in the strip, where seven out of 10 young people are unemployed.

Israel says they are necessary to isolate Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza and with whom it has fought three wars.

Early on, many protesters remained far back from the fence and demonstrated peacefully. Others approached and clashed with Israeli forces.

Those approaching the fence have progressively become more violent.

Explosive devices, stones and fireworks have been used against Israeli forces. There has been occasional gunfire, with one soldier killed by a Palestinian sniper.

MSF has treated more than 4,000 Plaestinians with gunshots wounds.

Israeli forces’ use of live fire has come under heavy criticism, with Palestinians and rights groups saying protesters have been shot while posing little threat.

Last month, a United Nations probe said Israeli soldiers had intentionally fired on civilians in what could constitute war crimes.

At the MSF clinic, dozens of young men with casts sit on plastic chairs waiting for treatment.

The organisation has treated more than 4,000 Palestinians with gunshot wounds. A few hundred are not healing and risk amputation.

Mohammed Bakr, a 27-year-old fisherman, was also shot on March 30 last year and has had six operations.

“Since that day I have had no hope for the future,” he said.

He accused Israeli soldiers of shooting at protesters who did nothing to provoke them.

“I won’t be able to work like before. The leg won’t carry weight.”

– The next crisis –

With Gaza’s medical system overstretched, treatment outside the strip could ease pressure.

Around 500 applications have been made by those injured in the marches to cross the Israeli border for treatment, according to figures published by the WHO.

Less than one in five have received the permits in time.

COGAT, the Israeli body responsible for the permits, confirmed it granted around 100 requests.

Less than one in five permit requests have been approved by Israeli authorities, for those seeking to leave Gaza for treatment.

“The Gaza health system suffers from long years of neglect by the Hamas terror organisation, which prefers to invest its citizens’ money in terror and military power,” it said.

More than 8,000 operations for other often serious but not life-threatening conditions — such as gallstones or hip replacements — have been postponed in Gaza hospitals according to the WHO.

Dozens of doctors also left Gaza in 2018, a huge spike from previous years, health officials say.

Neither the WHO nor Gaza health authorities said they had exact figures.

WHO’s Rockenschaub said he recently met a nurse who walked miles to work each day as she didn’t have money for a bus.

“Whenever we talk to health authorities in Gaza, even to individual physicians, many of them talk about their intention to leave,” he told AFP.

© Agence France-Presse

Featured Photo: “Ezzedine al-Baz has had five operations on his leg since being shot a year ago. Mahmud Hams, AFP.”

Trump is Coming for your Health Care, Will Re-institute Exclusion for Pre-Existing Conditions Thu, 28 Mar 2019 05:18:49 +0000 By Sebastian Smith

Washington, DC (AFP) – US President Donald Trump’s administration vowed Tuesday to see Obamacare — a massive, but controversial reform intended to bring health care to more Americans — struck down.

Top Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway said the policy, which became law after a fierce legislative battle under then president Barack Obama, had failed.

“It wasn’t the magical elixir for Americans,” she told reporters.

Conway was speaking after Trump’s Justice Department announced an abrupt escalation in the administration’s push against Obamacare by siding with a Texas federal court ruling that declared the health care law unconstitutional.

The department had previously said it backed parts of the law. But in its new position, it said that it sided fully with the December ruling made by Judge Reed O’Connor following a lawsuit brought by conservative states.

That ruling is currently being appealed and the resulting impasse looks increasingly likely to end up in the Supreme Court — putting a politically radioactive issue center stage as the country moves towards the 2020 presidential election.

Obamacare, formally called the Affordable Care Act, was one of the most consequential healthcare measures in US history. At the heart of the law was a mandate that Americans buy health insurance, while also forcing insurance companies to accept all applicants, even if they have pre-existing health conditions.

Democrats saw the law as a historic step to getting tens of millions of Americans who had no health coverage to participate in what is a highly uneven and often inaccessible system.

Republicans, on the other hand, attacked the law from the start — especially the mandate on buying insurance — as government overreach. A penalty that the law originally imposed on anyone failing to get insurance has already been repealed by Congress.

– Pre-existing conditions protection? –

Conway stressed that again Tuesday, saying the mandate is “not America.”

Health care “is one of the most intimate aspects of your life,” she said.

But she denied warnings from Democrats that scrapping Obamacare will once more allow insurance companies to reject applicants depending on their state of health — a practice that pushes huge numbers of people to get by with no medical coverage at all.

“We have to make sure that pre-existing conditions are protected,” she said.

And Trump, speaking to reporters before a meeting with congressional Republicans, insisted that he wanted alternatives to Obamacare, rather than merely scrapping the law.

“The Republican Party will soon be known as the party of health care. You watch,” he said.

Democrats reacted with anger to the administration’s latest move.

“Tonight in federal court, the Trump Administration decided not only to try to destroy protections for Americans living with pre-existing conditions, but to declare all-out war on the health care of the American people,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday.

“Democrats will continue to fight relentlessly to protect people with pre-existing conditions and to deliver lower health costs and prescription drug prices for every American,” she added.

In 2012, five of the nine Supreme Court justices upheld the law. All five remain on the court.

© Agence France-Presse

Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Ring of Fire: “Trump Admin Tries To Destroy Affordable Care Act AGAIN”

After 8 Years of Civil War, Syrians Finally United … against Trump re: Golan Wed, 27 Mar 2019 05:42:54 +0000 Damascus (AFP) – Demonstrations spread across Syria on Tuesday denouncing Washington’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, in a show of unity in the war-torn country, state media said.

US President Donald Trump on Monday signed a proclamation recognising Israeli sovereignty over the strategic border area, seized from Syria in 1967 and then annexed in 1981 in a move not recognised by the international community.

Trump’s move immediately drew criticism from the Syrian government, which described it as a “blatant attack” on the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

On Tuesday, demonstrators took to the streets across the war-torn country to protest Washington’s decision.

They staged rallies in Damascus, the government strongholds of Latakia and Tartous, the northern city of Aleppo, the central city of Homs, Deir Ezzor in the east and the southern cities of Daraa and Quneitra, state news agency SANA said.

Syrians also protested in the Kurdish-majority northeastern cities of Qamishli and Hassakeh, it said.

Demonstrators carried portraits of President Bashar al-Assad and raised the Syrian and Palestinian flags, in photos carried by SANA.

“The blatant US bias toward Israel will not change the Syrian identity of the Golan,” Information Minister Imad Sara told state television during a rally in Damascus.

“There needs to be a strong response”, not just condemnations, he said. “We want action on the ground.”

In Aleppo, hundreds gathered in the central Saadallah al-Jabiri square.

“We are here to condemn Trump’s Golan decision,” said Mohammad Shaaban, a protester.

“The Golan is Arab and Syrian whether they like it or not,” he said.

In Damascus, the lawyers’ syndicate gathered at the justice palace to decry the move, pro-regime television showed.

“America is now the primary enemy of the Arabs,” a syndicate representative read from a statement.

The lawyers’ syndicate in Hama paused court sessions for one hour in protest over the US decision, SANA said.

Trump’s Golan decision spurred condemnation from several regional states, including Turkey, Iran, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

It also drew criticism from the Syrian regime’s ally Russia, which warned of a “new wave” of tensions in the Middle East.

The UN Security Council is scheduled to discuss the Golan on Wednesday during a meeting on renewing the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force deployed between Israel and Syria in the Golan, known as UNDOF.

© Agence France-Presse

Featured Photo: “Syrian national flags fly in the Syrian town of Ain al-Tineh across from Majdal Shams in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights (AFP Photo/Louai Beshara).”