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January 14, 2009

Assad warns of extremist backlash

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on the Gaza conflict

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has warned that Israel’s campaign against Gaza will fuel extremism and terrorism in the Arab and Muslim world.

“The effect of war is more dangerous than war… sowing seeds of extremism and terror around the region,” Mr Assad said in an exclusive BBC interview.

He also said a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza could only be achieved if conditions set by both sides were met.

Officials say the fighting has killed nearly 1,000 Gazans and 13 Israelis.

Earlier, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pledged to redouble his efforts to secure a durable and sustainable ceasefire.

Speaking in Cairo, at the beginning of a visit to the region, Mr Ban said he hoped an Egyptian diplomatic initiative would show results as soon as possible.

Egyptian officials have been discussing various proposals with a Hamas delegation in Cairo.

‘Sustainable’ ceasefire

In an interview in Damascus with BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, President Assad said his country, which hosts several exiled Hamas leaders, was doing everything it could to bring about a truce.

“We have been working with many countries, primarily the French,” he said, adding that Hamas had already accepted the need for a “sustainable ceasefire”.

Mr Assad said that for Palestinian militants to stop firing rockets into Israel, the Israelis had to fully respect any ceasefire – which he said they failed to do in the past – and end their blockade of Gaza.

Mr Assad also argued that Israel’s failure to respect past ceasefires and deliver on the peace process justified Palestinian resistance.

“We haven’t achieved peace yet and the Israelis never delivered since the beginning of the peace process in 1991,” he added.

“So when you don’t accept the peace terms, you have to expect resistance.”

He also said that for any future Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to be successful, Hamas would have to be included.

“They are influential. That is most important. So they have to be brought to any action, otherwise it will not succeed,” he added.

Mr Assad said that there was a risk of the war, or at least the “effects of the war”, spreading throughout the region.

“This is like sowing the seeds of extremism around the region, in the Arab and Muslim Worlds,” he said. “Desperation breeds extremism. Extremism will produce terrorism,” he said.

“This is a political crisis combined with a humanitarian crisis. You have to solve them, otherwise you will sow the seeds of extremism.”

The Syrian leader said he hoped President-elect Barack Obama would be “involved seriously and directly in the peace process” as soon he takes office and that he would be welcome to visit Damascus at any time to co-operate on the issue.


Courage to refuse

Israeli soldiers refuse to serve in Gaza.

US denies Olmert influenced UN vote

Olmert, left, described Bush as “an
unparalleled friend” of Israel

The US has denied that a telephone call made by Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, to George Bush, the US president, led to the US abstaining in a UN vote on the Gaza war last week.

In a speech late on Monday, Olmert said Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, was left “pretty shamed” at the vote and had to abstain on a resolution she had helped arrange.

Sean McCormack, a US state department spokesmen, who was with Rice at the UN last week during debate on the security council resolution, went further and said the remarks were “just 100 per cent, totally, completely untrue”.

McCormack said that Washington had no plans to seek clarification from Israel.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Ehud Olmert, said the Israeli leader stood by his remarks.

Telephone influence

The Israeli prime minister said on Monday that he demanded to talk to Bush last Thursday, minutes before a vote in the UN Security Council on a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

“He [Bush] gave an order to the secretary of state and she did not vote in favour of it, a resolution she cooked up, phrased, organised and manoeuvred for”

Ehud Olmert

“When we saw that Rice, for reasons we did not really understand, wanted to vote in favour of the resolution … I looked for President Bush,” Olmert said.Bush, who Olmert said was taken off a stage in Philadelphia where he was making a speech, said he was not informed on the resolution and was “not familiar with the phrasing”.

“I’m familiar with it. You can’t vote in favour.” Olmert claimed telling the US president.

“He [Bush] gave an order to the secretary of state and she did not vote in favour of it, a resolution she cooked up, phrased, organised and manoeuvred for,” Olmert said.

Bush was in Philadelphia on Thursday morning and gave a 27-minute speech on education policy that ended about 10 hours before the UN vote and there was no interruption of the public event.

The Israeli prime minister described Bush as an “unparalleled friend” of Israel.

UN call

Fourteen of the security council’s 15 members supported the legally binding resolution, which has until now failed to stop Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

Olmert criticised the UN resolution, saying that “no decision, present or future, will deny us our basic right to defend the residents of Israel”.

Israel launched its offensive on December 27, in what it said was an attempt to stop Hamas firing rockets into southern Israel from Gaza.

After an intensive air campaign in the first week, Israel sent ground forces into Gaza in the second week of fighting and continues to push deeper into the strip.


The Man whose Back is Against the Wall

The Man Whose Back is Against the Wall by Egyptian-Sudanese poet Muhammad Al-Fayturi (As’ad’s translation):
“For whom?
I embrace fire while dead…
and fight
I, who have no land, no country
no face, no time
no glory, no price
For whom?
Your eyes spit in my eyes..
I am the fugitive..
Stare in my eyes as you wish
Say that I was a coward
that I was weak
Cry over my birth
Raise your quivering hands
to the sky
If only you searched my soul..
my blood..
You will only find
rejection and contempt
I hate you all..
Do not beg..
Do not smile..
Your dry smile..
only fills me with contempt
for you
A rock I am,
so do not call
I condemn you all,
you clowns
I do not make exceptions..
In the name of your glory,
my nation is clothed
in mourning
And in the dust of your horses,
my homeland was lost!
…My cause is mine alone
and after me, there is fire”

8:55 PM

From Gaza : Vittorio Arrigoni

Here my last article published Yestarday in  the newspaper Il Manifesto

Some Palestinian families have handed some leaflets over to us, which had fallen down from the sky in the last few days, courtesy of the Israeli Air Force instead of the customary bombs. Leaflet n. 1, translated from Arabic, said: “ To all the people living in this area. Due to the terrorist acts that the terrorists in your area attacking Israel, the Israeli Defense Forces were forced to take immediate action in your area. We thus urge you, for your own safety, to immediately evacuate the area. Israeli Defense Forces”. In short, the Israeli are sticking “Work in progress signs door to door, before razing whole neighbourhoods to the ground, and forever dashing the hopes of a life for the present and future. They want to bury those who haven’t got anywhere to go under tons of rubble.

A little while ago they had warned us they intended to throw more leaflets, intimating that “the third phase of war of terror is about to start”. The Israeli military summits are indeed polite – they ask the population of Gaza to cooperate before crushing them like insects. If the leaflets aren’t persuasive enough, it’s up to the Air Force to gently knock onto the roofs of the Gazan houses.

It’s a newly adopted procedure – slightly less powerful are bombs dropped down, powerful enough to tear off the roofs in the houses and “gently” persuade their inhabitants to evacuate them. After two or three minutes the planes drift past again, and nothing remains of the buildings. Evacuation: but where should they go? There are no safe shelters in the whole of the Strip, and personally I fear for my life a lot more when walking past a mosque or a school, than in front of the government buildings still standing intact. Last night, 20 metres from my home, the Israeli jet fighters tore down the fire station.

This morning, on the street parallel to the port I discovered some craters several metres deep, as if meteors had rained down from the sky as you’d see in a sci-fi movie. The difference here is that the special effects are pretty damn painful. Visiting the wards of the Al Shifa hospital, crowded with injured patients awaiting treatment, you can bump into a doctor who doesn’t look very Arabic.

Mads Gilbert is a Norwegian doctor from the ONG Norwac. Gilbert, an anaesthetist, confirms our suspicion regarding the use of forbidden weapons by Israel on Gaza’s civilians: “Many injured arrive with extreme amputations, with both their legs reduced to a pulp, which I suspect is an effect of Dime weapons.” This is happening while Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, reports that “extremely serious violations possibly constituting war crimes” are taking place.

The last instance of one such crime happened a few hours ago, East of Jabalia, where a family on the point of evacuating their house was stocking up on some food products in a small shop, which was promptly bombed. There were eight killed, all belonging to the same family, the Abed Rabbu family, in addition to two severely injured. People I speak to in the street are under the impression that Israel is taking its time, while the bombs are being dropped non-stop and the land artillery are slowly advancing.

The soldiers have no problems stocking up on “k rations”, the military food rations, unlike many people in Gaza who can no longer get any bread. The bakers, having run out of flour, have resorted to mixing it up with animal flour to make the buns. It’s moldy bread, week-old left-over green with mold. You cook it over a small fire lit from a couple of pieces of wood and I can assure you that it’s not exactly a delicacy.

Especially on the internet, Israel continues to spread bird’s eye-view filmed images, allegedly showing how precise its bombings are against the “terrorists” or against hypothetical warehouses stocking weapons and explosives. The dizzying count of civilian casualties are enough to discredit these videos.

I wonder how Israel can call itself civilized and democratic, when its army, in trying to drive out and kill an enemy, doesn’t hesitate to knock down an entire crowded building, burying innumerable innocents alive in the process. Think about it: it’s as if the Italian army hunting down a dangerous mafia criminal started heavily bombing the centre of Palermo. As I write there are 821 Palestinians dead, 93 being women, and 235 children. 12 paramedics were killed fulfilling their duty, and 3 journalists were killed with a camera hanging round their necks. A good 3,350 are among the injured, with more than half being under 18 years of age. According to the Mezan centre for human rights, renowned for its reliability, they make up 85% of the Palestinian civilian casualties massacred in the last two weeks. The death toll on the Israeli side has thankfully stopped at 4.

If the United Nations won’t manage to protect the Palestinian civilian population from the massive Israeli violations of their international humanitarian duties, my friends from the Free Gaza Movement will try for in their place, ready as they are to sail to Gaza in a few days. Among them there are doctors, nurses and activists for human rights, who consider it their precise moral duty to do whatever’s humanly possible to provide some measures of protection. They had already tried to get here on 31st December, on board the Dignity. But the Israeli Navy had rammed into our boat in international waters, trying to sink it, and had subsequently spoken of “an accident”. I will wait for my friends with their load of humanitarian aids among the ruins of what’s left of the port, and I would like to hope more “accidents” will reoccur off shore this time.

The second leaflet raining down from the sky that we’ve translated is a scream (you can find photos of both leaflets on the website:

“Citizens of Gaza, take responsibility for your destiny! In Gaza the terrorists and those who launch rockets against Israel represent a threat to your lives and to those of your families. If you wish to help your families and brothers in Gaza, all you will have to do is call the number below and give us information on the whereabouts of those responsible for launching rockets and on the terrorist militia who turn you into the first victims of their actions. Avoiding more atrocities being committed is now your responsibility! Don’t hesitate! Complete discretion is guaranteed. You can contact us at the following number: 02-5839749. Otherwise write to us at the following email to give us any information you may have on terrorist activities:”

Many write to me from Italy, filled with frustration at not being able to do anything against the genocide currently taking place. I would urge you to continue showing your indignation and supporting human rights. If you then have 5 minutes to spare and a phone card, the details contained in the last leaflet could come in useful in communicating your disdain to those who cynically gamble with the lives of a million and a half people via the air, sea and land. Never would a phone card have been better spent. Those 235 massacred children are asking for it.

Stay human

Vittorio Arrigoni

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