http://www.kansascity.comWhen the group Jabhat al Nusra first claimed responsibility for car and suicide bombings in Damascus that killed dozens last January, many of Syria’s revolutionaries claimed that the organization was a creation of the Syrian government, designed to discredit those who opposed the regime of President Bashar Assad and to hide the regime’s own brutal tactics. Nearly a year later, however, Jabhat al Nusra, which U.S. officials believe has links to al Qaida, has become essential to the frontline operations of the rebels fighting to topple Assad. Not only does the group still conduct suicide bombings that have killed hundreds, but they’ve proved to be critical to the rebels’ military advance. In battle after battle across the country, Nusra and similar groups do the heaviest frontline fighting. Groups who call themselves the Free Syrian Army and report to military councils led by defected Syrian army officers move into the captured territory afterward. The prominence of Nusra in the rebel cause worries U.S. and other Western officials, who say its operations rely on the same people and tactics that fueled al Qaida in Iraq – an assertion that is borne out by interviews with Nusra members in Syria. Among Nusra fighters are many Syrians who say they fought with al Qaida in Iraq, which waged a bloody and violent campaign against the U.S. presence in that country and is still blamed for suicide and car bombings that have killed hundreds of Iraqis since the U.S. troops left a year ago. According to Nusra members, some of the group’s leaders, including the emir, or top ruler, in Syria’s Deir al Zour province, are Iraqis. The group’s prominence makes clear the dilemma of Syria’s revolutionaries, as well as those who might provide support to them. Though members of Nusra operate independently of the other rebel groups that have taken up arms _ and particularly those that are calling for elections if Assad is deposed _ it is increasingly clear that their operations are closely coordinated with more secular rebels. Some Syrians say that Nusra’s importance is a result of the West’s failure to support those secular rebels. But the closeness of the coordination between Nusra and other rebels makes it difficult to support one without empowering the other. Nusra leaders argue that the West should not fear their rise in importance. “The West must not fear Islam _ when Islam is in power, all people will live peacefully,” said Iyad al Sheikh Mahmoud, the leader of a recently founded Jabhat al Nusra group in this central Syrian city of about 30,000. Before becoming the leader of Nusra’s group here, Mahmoud had been part of Ahrar al Sham, another group of fighters that has branches across the country and subscribes to a similar ideology. “There is no difference at all between the ideology of Ahrar al Sham and Jabhat al Nusra,” Mahmoud said, indicating that he had largely changed groups for the opportunity to lead one. Like Nusra, Ahrar al Sham is also not aligned with the military councils. Nusra’s rise is most evident in Syria’s north and east, where anti-Assad forces have recently been racking up impressive military gains. Gone are the days just five months ago when Nusra’s actions seemed limited to car and suicide bombings. Now, Nusra fighters are organized in battalion-sized groups that are often armed with heavy weaponry. On a trip to Syria that spanned most of the month of November, a journalist found Nusra’s fighters on every frontline he visited. In the country’s largest city of Aleppo, they were advancing on the army to try to take key intersections. In Maarat al Numan, a strategic city on the highway between Aleppo and Damascus, they were laying siege to a military base. In Ras al Ayn, in the country’s northeast, they captured a strategic border post, allegedly summarily executing a number of Syrian soldiers they had trapped on a base there in the process. In Deir al Zour province, in the country’s southeast, they were at the fore as rebels captured parts of Syria’s oil infrastructure and laid siege to an artillery base near the city of Mayadeen in hopes of capturing the weapons inside. “Our financial support is greater than other groups, and our faith makes us more effective fighters,” said Mahmoud, explaining why the group had grown so quickly. He said the financial support came from individual donors, not directly from any government. The mujahedeen groups also appear to have clearer structures than the military councils, whose leadership is sometimes less than obvious as newer defectors of higher rank demand control from less senior officers who’ve been fighting against Assad longer. Car bombings have also increasingly killed civilians in Damascus neighborhoods sympathetic to the government. The first operation Mahmoud’s group supported was a suicide bombing by a Libyan man against an army base north of here. Mahmoud said he saw no reason to hold elections if Assad falls. “Eighty percent of Syrians want Islamic law,” he said. Many fighters said they were aware of the accusations about Nusra’s links to al Qaida. But they generally discount the importance of those ties when speaking with journalists. “In Europe, they consider all Muslims terrorists, not only Jabhat al Nusra,” Mahmoud said. Still, there are moments when Nusra’s ideology shines through. “When we finish with Assad, we will fight the U.S.!” one Nusra fighter shouted in the northeastern Syrian city of Ras al Ayn when he was told an American journalist present. He laughed as he said it and then got into a van and drove off, leaving the journalist unable to ask whether it had been a joke. In Ras al Ayn, the burning of a liquor store by Nusra fighters frightened Syrian Kurds and Christians living there, and the group has come into direct confrontation with Kurdish militia members in the area who’ve said they are willing to negotiate with moderate rebels but will not allow groups like Nusra into the territory they hold. There are tensions developing between local military councils and Nusra and other non-aligned groups. On Saturday, one group planning an attack in the Qalat al Mudiq area was asked by the military council to call it off, to avoid endangering a local truce that holds in the city. In the eastern province of Deir al Zour, Muhammed Mustafa Aboud, the military council commander, said that in meetings with U.S. officials in Turkey and Jordan, the main concerns had been “Nusra and al Qaida.” “We say to them they are small groups and they are not very powerful and it’s your fault because if you had supported FSA they wouldn’t be here now,” Aboud said. “Eighty percent of Syrians are moderate Muslims . . . the West is too afraid of these groups.”
Sunday, December 2, 2012
http://www.haaretz.comIsrael suffered a diplomatic setback at the United Nations last week. All the explanations, excuses, wisecracks and circumlocutions by government spokespeople and Likud members can't obscure the bitter truth. The General Assembly vote making the Palestinians a nonmember observer state put Israel's stark isolation on display - isolation we haven't experienced since the Sinai Campaign of 1956. This fact should worry anyone who cares about Israel's well-being. The people must not be deceived. The events of last Thursday are a warning sign for the future. They are not a yellow caution light but rather a blinking red light that only an irresponsible person would play down. It was clear that the Palestinian request for upgraded UN status would attract a majority vote, even a large majority. But Israel was counting on a "moral majority" - a bloc of 20 to 30 countries including Western democracies - to support us and oppose the Palestinian request. That's the way things happened in the past. Not one EC member or other West European country supported the United Nations' notorious resolution in 1975 equating Zionism with racism. Unfortunately, that's not what happened this time. Only eight countries, including four small Pacific island nations, sided with Israel and opposed the resolution. One European country - just one - voted with us, while most of the European Union, including France, Spain and Italy, supported the Palestinian request. This is particularly serious because there was no solid justification for the Palestinian request. The request was a violation of the Oslo Accords, whereas it's clear that "Palestine" lacks the minimum traits required of a country. The vote supporting the Palestinian bid is first and foremost a protest vote by Western countries against the Israeli government's bad policy in recent years. This is the rotten result of the actions of the government and Likud's leaders. The prime minister declares his support at the Knesset, the UN General Assembly and the U.S. Congress for a Palestinian state, as well as his devotion to a two-state solution. But the world is unwilling to accept this when his senior ministers, let alone Likud MKs, speak and act to prevent such a solution. Continued construction in the small and isolated West Bank settlements beyond the settlement blocs is an unnecessary provocation and portrays the prime minister as someone who doesn't speak the truth and undermines Israel's credibility. The results of the Likud primary had a considerable effect on the UN vote. The rejection of the moderates and the ruling party's rightward transformation into an entity controlled by Moshe Feiglin, Danny Danon, Miri Regev and Zeev Elkin convinced the world that there was no one to talk to. That is, no one among the Israelis, not the Palestinians. Some people will surely play down the UN's importance - and in fact the United Nations isn't the important issue here and the General Assembly vote won't achieve any significant changes on the ground. Important is the international community and countries around the world. Israel isn't Burma and can't survive in the long term as an isolated country cut off from the Western world. The Israeli people will have a chance in the January 22 election to change Israel's course before it's too late. A legendary leader of the National Religious Party, Haim-Moshe Shapira, used to say that every electorate gets the leaders it deserves. Let's hope Israel's voters make sure they elect leaders who deserve it.
http://www.kuow.org/Convulsed by war and civil strife for decades, Afghanistan has experienced some of the largest ebbs and flows of migration anywhere in the world.
Deutsche WelleEgypt’s constituent assembly is in crisis: Several of its non-Islamist members have withdrawn in protest over what they say are attempts by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists to establish an Islamist state. It's not just on the streets that Egypt's Islamists and secular-minded groups are clashing. Their different views on the country's future are also being reflected in a dispute over the constituent assembly, which is charged with drafting a new constitution. In the past few weeks almost all the non-Islamists have withdrawn from the assembly. Even the delegates of the country's three main churches have left, in a protest at what they see as domination of the assembly by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists.Mohamed Zaraa is project manager at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights. Besides the Islamists, he says, there are now only delegates of the police and the military left in the assembly: "This will surely compromise the legitimacy of the constitution. However, judging by the statements made by the assembly chairman, the Muslim Brotherhood seems to still be working on the constitution." One of the reasons behind the recent resignations was the time pressure put on the body to finish the drafting. President Mohammed Morsi's latest decree may have given the assembly two more months to complete its work, but a return of the non-Islamists to the body seems unlikely, since the decree not only grants Morsi dictatorial powers, it also stops the courts from dissolving the assembly, thus making it immune to legal challenge. Controversy over the interpretation of Shariah But there were more reasons for the resignations. Mohammed Zaraa reports that on October 22 a draft constitution was published which was unknown to most non-Islamist members of the assembly. "It seems that there are some people who are working in secret. The drafting is not only taking place in the constituent assembly. There seem to be other players besides the assembly members." The suspicion has fallen on the Islamist organizations.ut the main differences of opinion are related to the future role of Shariah - or Islamic law - in the constitution. The current draft constitution states that "the principles of Shariah" represent the foundation of the legislation. The Salafists had originally demanded the direct implementation of Shariah and not only of its "principles." This would have allowed, for instance, the introduction of punishments such as stoning for adultery. Under pressure from the Salafists, an additional article was integrated explaining in more detail the concept of "principles." Mohamed Zaraa explains the consequences of the new article as follows: "Koran interpretations will be used which are roughly one thousand years old. That will transform our civilian state into an Islamic one." A religious institution above the law? This concern is shared by both the former speaker of the constituent assembly, Walid Abdel Maguid, and the church delegates who have resigned. The ruling Islamists will likely be able to implement the paragraphs on Shariah - while former ruler Hosni Mubarak also included the "principles of Shariah" in the constitution, he only did so to give it religious legitimacy.According to Mohammed Zaraa, it is up to the Al-Azhar University to decide whether a piece of legislation is in line with Shariah. The university is regarded as the highest authority for interpreting Sunni Islamic law and that would mean that a religious institution would stand above the democratically elected parliament. "When Al-Azhar says that a law is not compatible with Shariah, and Shariah is the main judicial foundation in the country, then that law will be regarded as unconstitutional and not be passed by parliament." The Muslim Brotherhood denies there will be any such link. Fear of religious police The current draft constitution contains further sections pointing to the possibility of an Islamic state. In Saudi Arabia there is, for instance, a powerful religious police charged with ensuring compliance with Islamic moral values. For Wahid Abdel Maguid, the Egyptian draft constitution runs a risk of moving in the same direction. According to the former speaker, "One of the most alarming proposals is one which would open the way for the establishment of 'groups to prevent immorality.'" In the light of such provisions, it is not surprising that the non-Islamists have withdrawn from the assembly. The distrust towards the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists has increased even further with Morsi's decree giving him dictatorial power. The liberal, leftist and secular-minded groups in the country are convinced that the Islamists' only aim is to increase their power.
Egypt's judges drew up new battle lines in the country's constitutional crisis on Sunday, announcing they would refuse to work with President Mohammed Morsi until further notice.The Supreme Constitutional Court put off a key ruling over whether to order the dissolution of the constitutional assembly after the building was surrounded by Muslim Brotherhood protesters. The deputy head of the court, Egypt's most senior woman judge, said she had received death threats. In a statement later, the Court said it was the "Egyptian judiciary's blackest day on record". "The judges of the Supreme Constitutional Court were left with no choice but to announce to the glorious people of Egypt that they cannot carry out their sacred mission in this charged atmosphere," it said. Following the postponement of the ruling, the liberal opposition to Mr Morsi announced it would move its protests from Tahrir Square to the presidential palace on Tuesday – mimicking the strategy that led to the downfall of ex-President Hosni Mubarak last year.But the Brotherhood has been able to muster much more substantial support for its actions than Mr Mubarak ever managed. Hundreds of thousands of members and followers were bussed in for a rally outside Cairo University on Saturday afternoon, and it was hundreds of these who were ordered to march on to the Constitutional Court on Saturday night to continue their demonstration. "I came here to tell the court to stop interfering with Mr Morsi's legitimate decisions," Ayman Sawi, a member from the oasis city of Fayyoum said outside the court. "The court interfered before by dissolving the parliamentary assembly which was elected by 30 million people. "They wanted to continue by dissolving the constitutional assembly and the upper house of parliament to complete the destruction of the elected establishment." Mr Morsi's declaration of ten days ago putting the assembly's actions and his own decisions above legal scrutiny has divided Egypt more sharply than ever before. Liberals and leftists, secular activists and Christians say that Mr Morsi has turned himself into a new dictator, like Mr Mubarak. Figureheads like Mohammed ElBaradei, the former United Nations atomic energy chief, and Amr Moussa, the former Arab League head and defeated presidential candidate, have formed a new "National Salvation Front" and are refusing to meet Mr Morsi until he rescinds his decree. Mr Morsi's declaration was intended to pre-empt the ruling by the Constitutional Court yesterday, which he believed would go against the assembly. Its statement put the judges clearly on the side of the liberal and secular parties in opposition to Mr Morsi and the Brotherhood. Mr Morsi has refused to back down, and following the assembly's rushing through a new constitution with an Islamist bent on Friday announced a referendum would be held on December 15. "I tell my opponents before my supporters, help me to carry out this responsibility you bestowed upon me in managing the country's affairs," he said in a televised address on Saturday night. "With us all we build the nation." His absolute powers will lapse if the constitution is agreed in the referendum – placing the opposition in a bind since a "no" vote is effectively a vote for those powers to be continued. In a previous interview on Friday, Mr Morsi hinted that "foreign forces" were engaged in a plot to undermine the country's new democracy, reviving a common conspiracy theory circulated by the Mubarak regime. His advisers claim some judges are loyal to the old regime – they previously disbanded the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament, elected in January. Both sides are now gambling on the outcome of the referendum to show which of the two camps, Islamist and secular, has a majority in postrevolutionary Egypt. Tahani el-Gebali, the court's deputy head, alleged she had been threatened with murder as she tried to enter yesterday morning, and that some protesters were claiming they would burn the building down. Mr ElBaradei issued a statement by Twitter. "Judiciary almost entirely crippled," he said. "Where are we headed?"
Los Angeles Times
The next House of Representatives will have a dozen members of Asian American and Pacific Islander descent, the largest such caucus in history.In the days after the election, inner-city schoolteacher Mark Takano flew to Washington, picked up his laptop, office key, voting ID and posed for photos with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — all part of the orientation drill for an incoming member of the 113th Congress. Going from a bipartisan reception to touring the marbled halls of the Capitol, a thought swirled through Takano's head. "The thrill of being elected to higher office comes with a responsibility to represent the least of us," he said. "I feel a real need to work toward equality and dignity for all people." Takano, 51, born and raised in Riverside, is the first openly gay Asian American elected to Congress and part of the new wave of Asian politicians savoring election day success. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is the first American Samoan in Congress, Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) will be the first Asian American woman in the U.S. Senate, and Democrats Tammy Duckworth and Grace Meng become the first Asian Americans to represent Illinois and New York, respectively, in Congress. With Dr. Ami Bera's victory over GOP veteran Dan Lungren in California's 7th District, there will be a dozen Asian Americans in Congress when they are sworn in Jan. 3, a high-water mark, forming the largest caucus of Asian American and Pacific Islander members in any single congressional session, according to the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies. The diversity of winners "sends a message to our young people that there is no ceiling that cannot be shattered," added Sayu Bhojwani, who heads the New American Leaders Project, a group focused on training first- and second-generation immigrants for civic leadership. Takano, who teaches social studies and literature in the Rialto Unified School District, grew up the grandson of a gardener. As a boy, he played football and was lured to politics while watching the Watergate hearings on TV. He attended Harvard University, majoring in government and had thought about going to law school. But he was drawn to the classroom, not the courthouse, and went to UC Riverside to get his teaching certificate. He describes his journey as "just another story America produces that can inspire — this experience taking me from the people's college to the people's house." He hopes his win mirrors a breakthrough for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, adding, "I do feel a responsibility to be a leader there, as I also want to be a champion for the Latino and Asian communities." Both groups, he said, need more access to small-business loans and help implementing the Affordable Care Act. Even with election triumphs, Bhojwani said Latinos and Asians — who make up a combined 22% of the nation's population — should do far better than they do. Numerically, there should be 31 Asians in Congress, instead of 12, and 86 Latinos instead of the current 31, she said. "There's talented people working toward more representation," Takano said. When he's reading "Macbeth" or "Pride and Prejudice" with the multilingual students in his classroom, he reminds them, "You can create and live your own stories."
indiatimes.comA century-old temple here was hurriedly demolished by a builder despite a Pakistani court hearing a petition seeking a stay on such a move, triggering protests by the minority Hindu community today. Besides razing the pre-Partition Shri Rama Pir Mandir in Karachi's Soldier Bazar, the builder demolished several houses near it yesterday. Nearly 40 people, a majority of them Hindus, became homeless as a result, The Express Tribune reported today. Following the demolition, the Pakistan Hindu Council organised a protest outside the Karachi Press Club this afternoon. They protested the demolition by the builder and the lack of action on the part of authorities. The Sindh High Court is hearing a petition seeking a stay on any move to demolish Shri Rama Pir Mandir. "They destroyed our 'mandir' and humiliated our gods," an angry man named Prakash was quoted as saying by the Tribune. The demolition team placed the statues of four Hindu deities to one side, but local residents accused them of taking away gold jewellery and crowns that had adorned the statues. Pointing to bruises on his arms, another man identified as Lakshman said, "They hit me with their guns when I tried to stop them. I told them to kill me instead of destroying our holy place." A woman named Banwri said the demolition team arrived at around 11 am while she was preparing breakfast. She rushed outside when she heard the sound of a bulldozer and was given instructions to move her bed, cupboard and other essential items outside her home. "I watched my house go down in just minutes and I couldn't do anything," she said. Banwri said that during the demolition, the area was cordoned off by police and paramilitary Pakistan Rangers. Outsiders were not allowed to enter the area, she added.
The Express TribuneWith the Independent Monitoring Board recommending travel restrictions on polio endemic countries, reports of the transmission of a newly-discovered poliovirus strain from Pakistan to Afghanistan is likely to complicate an already tough situation for Islamabad. Two Afghan children, living close to the border with Pakistan, have been paralysed by the Sabin Like (2) poliomyelitis, officials in the Polio Programme told The Express Tribune. The cases were reported from Afghanistan’s Kandahar province two days ago – one in Panjwai district and the other in Spin Boldak, they added. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed the two new cases. According to the officials, genetic sequencing has confirmed the new polio strain originated in Balochistan’s Killa Abdullah district. They said Sabin Like (2) poliomyelitis develops in children with an extremely poor record of routine immunisation – a situation rampant in Balochistan. Since 2006, polio vaccination teams have repeatedly missed an estimated 50,000 children in Killa Abdullah, derailing efforts to eradicate the virus in the country. This is not the first case of poliovirus transmission from Pakistan to a neighbouring country either. Last year, 16 children in China’s Xinjiang province were paralysed after being infected by a polio strain originating in Pakistan. “The paramedic association and health department of Balochistan continues to hold the polio-eradication campaign hostage in Killa Abdullah through unfair demands … It has now resulted in embarrassment for Pakistan before the world community,” an official of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) told The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity. WHO senior coordinator for polio eradication Dr Elias Durry said the organisation was monitoring the situation in Balochistan closely. “We are seriously concerned about the new poliovirus strain and are recommending urgent steps to the provincial government to contain the outbreak,” said Dr Durry. The only way to contain the spread of the virus is by conducting three to four high-quality polio vaccination rounds in the infected districts and their nearby areas, he said. Meanwhile, a special WHO delegation, led by internationally acclaimed polio eradication expert Dr Mohammed Mohammedi, has reached Balochistan and is holding indepth discussions with the provincial government over ways to combat the outbreak. “We have asked the provincial government to hold three emergency polio campaigns each in Quetta, Killa Abdullah and Pishin districts during a span of 30 days to control the spread of the virus to other parts of the country,” said Dr Mohammedi, adding that the first campaign in the three districts was scheduled for December 10. Pakistan has reported a total of 56 polio cases this year so far. A massive 181 cases were reported in 2011.
Inaugurating a passport office here on Sunday‚ Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Karachi and Quetta were being targeted to destabilise Pakistan. He called for joint efforts to root out terrorism and extremism. The minister said the federal government will extend full cooperation to the Punjab government if it decides to launch an operation against outlawed organisations. He said in order to curb the use of mobile phones for terrorism and other crimes‚ the sale of SIMs to unscrupulous persons or at shops has been prohibited. All mobile companies will install Biometrics System in three months. Rehman Malik said extremist leaders Waliur Rehman‚ Mullah Nazir and Hakimullah Mehsud have been critically wounded. Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting‚ Syed Sumsam Ali Bukhari and local PPP leaders were also present.
http://www.scmp.comInternational garment firms have demanded fast action to ensure the safety of Bangladeshi textile workers, a week after a factory fire killed more than 100 people, a senior industry official in the country said yesterday. Mohammad Shafiul Islam, President of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said a 19-member buyers' forum was blunt in suggesting it would "lose confidence" in the country's industry unless change came fast. "Now we want to see proper action towards implementation of compliance issues, instead of commitments," he quoted Roger Hubert, vice-president of Hong Kong-based Li & Fung, as telling the meeting. Hubert, he said, pledged financial support for the families of those who died in the fire. Representatives of Li & Fung and other companies present were unavailable for comment. One report said the garment industry promised to pay the families of the victims a monthly salary for at least 10 years. Rights groups have called on big-brand firms to sign up for a fire safety programme. Islam quoted company officials at the meeting on Friday as saying that while some factories in Bangladesh observed safety regulations, "many of them do not comply with these". The Bangladesh government also said it will give 200,000 takas (HK$18,750) to the families of those who died and 50,000 takas to those who were injured. Last week's fire at Tazreen Fashions, Bangladesh's worst-ever industrial blaze, was blamed by authorities on saboteurs. Police say narrow exits trapped workers inside the nine-storey building, killing 111 people and injuring more than 150. Three employees have been arrested and police say they are being investigated for suspected negligence. Several hundred workers demonstrated outside the gutted plant yesterday demanding what they said was three months in wage arrears. Protesters briefly blocked a highway.
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Sunday called on the two girls who were wounded in the attempt on Malala Yousufzai’s life. According to local sources, a special envoy from the prime minister visited both the wounded girls’ homes. The envoy presented them laptops and other gifts on behalf of the prime minister. Prime Minister Ashraf also phoned the two girls to inquire about their health. He congratulated them on their recovery and the resumption of their studies. Earlier in November, after receiving medical care for a month at the Combined Military Hospital Peshawar, Shazia was sent back to her home. She stated that she had fully recovered from her injuries and was thankful to the Pakistani Army and the government for providing her with optimal medical care. A month after the attack, which sparked a global outcry, young Shazia remained fearless and optimistic. “Islam gives equal opportunity to males and females to get an education, so we will continue our education. Education is indispensable for both men and women as it gives awareness to mankind. I will become a doctor and serve my nation,” she told The Express Tribune. Earlier, Interior Minister Rehman Malik announced that he would recommend the Sitara-e-Shujaat for Shazia and Kainat.The Express Tribune