They just got a different tool to use than we do: They kill innocent lives to achieve objectives. That's what they do. And they're good. They get on the TV screens and they get people to ask questions about, well, you know, this, that or the other. I mean, they're able to kind of say to people: Don't come and bother us, because we will kill you. Bush - Joint News Conference with Blair - 28 July '06

Monday, July 30, 2007

Iraq: US/Turkish plan to neutralize PKK

[...] Turkey has a well-trained, well-equipped army of 250,000 near the border, facing some 4,000 PKK fighters hiding in the mountains of northern Iraq. But significant cross-border operations surely would bring to the PKK's side the military forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government, the best U.S. ally in Iraq. What is Washington to do in the dilemma of two friends battling each other on an unwanted new front in Iraq?

The surprising answer was given in secret briefings on Capitol Hill last week by Eric S. Edelman, a former aide to Vice President Cheney who is now undersecretary of defense for policy. Edelman, a Foreign Service officer who once was U.S. ambassador to Turkey, revealed to lawmakers plans for a covert operation of U.S. Special Forces to help the Turks neutralize the PKK. They would behead the guerrilla organization by helping Turkey get rid of PKK leaders that they have targeted for years.

Edelman's listeners were stunned. Wasn't this risky? He responded that he was sure of success, adding that the U.S. role could be concealed and always would be denied. Even if all this is true, some of the briefed lawmakers left wondering whether this was a wise policy for handling the beleaguered Kurds, who had been betrayed so often by the U.S. government in years past. Link

"Smaller bombs" for Afghans - Thank You NATO

Nato plans to use smaller bombs in Afghanistan as part of a change in tactics aimed at stemming a rise in civilian casualties that threatens to undermine support in the fight against the Taliban. Link

db: The future dead ... killed by 'smaller bombs' ... don't you envy them?

Iraq War: Legal or Illegal? [video]

The war on Iraq was illegal. If you are American watch this

Alastair Crooke:Talking to terrorists - part two (audio)

In Part Two of "Talking to Terrorists" (see below for part one), the BBC’s Diplomatic Editor, Brian Hanrahan, explores the debate over Alastair Crooke’s thesis with experts on political Islam and those who believe there should be no talking to groups they see as advocating terror.

Part Two
Part One

MPs reject Brown call for 56-day detention

Legislation proposed by the Government to allow terrorist suspects to be held for up to 56 days without charge will be condemned today by a parliamentary committee.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights says that ministers and police have failed to make the case for extending the detention period beyond the current 28-day limit. Link

Saudi Arabia "exporting terrorism", importing British arms

[...] Anthony Weiner and Jerrold Nadler, two US Democratic representatives, said on Sunday, they would introduce legislation to block the Saudi arms deal, accusing the oil-rich country of exporting terrorism and acting against US interests.
"We need to send a crystal clear message to the Saudi Arabian government that their tacit approval of terrorism can't go unpunished," Weiner said.
"Saudi Arabia should not get an ounce of military support from the US until they unequivocally denounce terrorism and take tangible steps to prevent it." Link

db: Where's the problem? The allegation that Britain's number one arms customer is working against 'us' in Iraq didn't stop Blair from dropping a BAE/Saudi corruption investigation on account of all the latter's help in the middle east. That gambit worked well in Britain.

8 million Iraqis need urgent aid

A third of the Iraqi population needs emergency aid because of the humanitarian crisis caused by war and on-going violence, according to a new report.

About 8 million Iraqis are in urgent need of water, sanitation, food and shelter, said a joint report (pdf) released today by Oxfam and the NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq.

Although armed violence is the greatest threat facing Iraqis, the report said, the population is also experiencing another crisis of "an alarming scale and severity".

Researchers found that 15% of Iraqis cannot regularly afford to eat, 70% do not have adequate water supplies (up from 50% in 2003), 28% of children are malnourished (compared with 19% before the 2003 invasion), and 92% of children suffer learning problems.

The report also said more than 2 million people - mostly women and children - have been displaced within Iraq and have no reliable income, while another 2 million Iraqis have fled the country as refugees, mostly to neighbouring Syria and Jordan. Read more

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The War of Terror is a Racket

Saudis’ Role in Iraq Frustrates U.S. Officials

One senior [US] administration official says he has seen evidence that Saudi Arabia is providing financial support to opponents of Mr. Maliki [Iraq prime minister]. He declined to say whether that support was going to Sunni insurgents because, he said, “That would get into disagreements over who is an insurgent and who is not.” Read more

db: Disagreements over who is an insurgent and who isn't? ... Blair justified the dropping of the British investigation into BAE/Saudi corruption on account of the latter's support in the middle east. Are British troops not being'sacrificed' in Iraq to prop up the government of Maliki?
"Our relationship with Saudi Arabia is vitally important for our country in terms of counter-terrorism, in terms of the broader Middle East ..." Blair
U.S. Set to Offer Huge Arms Deal to Saudi Arabia

The Bush administration is preparing to ask Congress to approve an arms sale package for Saudi Arabia and its neighbors that is expected to eventually total $20 billion at a time when some United States officials contend that the Saudis are playing a counterproductive role in Iraq.

The proposed package of advanced weaponry for Saudi Arabia, which includes advanced satellite-guided bombs, upgrades to its fighters and new naval vessels, has made Israel and some of its supporters in Congress nervous. Senior officials who described the package on Friday said they believed that the administration had resolved those concerns, in part by promising Israel $30.4 billion in military aid over the next decade, a significant increase over what Israel has received in the past 10 years. Read more

WAR is a racket. It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small "inside" group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes. Read 'War is a Racket' by Major General Smedley D. Butler

TV Eats Itself

Two news helicopters covering a police chase on live television collided and crashed to the ground Friday, killing all four people on board in a plunge that viewers saw as a jumble of spinning, broken images. Link

Friday, July 27, 2007

US will stay in Iraq

I attended the rally on Tuesday night where Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid discussed how they were going to "end the war" and "bring our troops home" with the Levin-Reed Amendment. When I asked if they meant all the troops, I was quickly told to, "shut up" and muscled aside by security. Link

db: There will be a US footprint on Iraq, and Iraqis, as long as the perceived strategic value of a US presence outweighs the political cost. Clearly your average American will be fooled into supporting a mere drawdown in troop numbers - maybe just a reversal of the surge plan - and the withdrawal of remaining forces from high risk areas and activities, leading to a significant reduction in US deaths. My guess is that the next phase of the Iraq war will bring a surge in the use of US air power, and a corresponding surge in civilian casualties. Iraqi forces will serve as cannon fodder.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Pilger: How Truth Slips Down The Memory Hole

One of the leaders of demonstrations in Gaza calling for the release of the BBC reporter Alan Johnston was a Palestinian news cameraman, Imad Ghanem. On 5 July, he was shot by Israeli soldiers as he filmed them invading Gaza. A Reuters video shows bullets hitting his body as he lay on the ground. An ambulance trying to reach him was also attacked. The Israelis described him as a "legitimate target". The International Federation of Journalists called the shooting "a vicious and brutal example of deliberate targeting of a journalist". At the age of 21, he has had both legs amputated.

Dr David Halpin, a British trauma surgeon who works with Palestinian children, emailed the BBC's Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen. "The BBC should report the alleged details about the shooting," he wrote. "It should honour Alan [Johnston] as a journalist by reporting the facts, uncomfortable as they might be to Israel."

He received no reply.

The atrocity was reported in two sentences on the BBC online. Along with 11 Palestinian civilians killed by the Israelis on the same day, Alan Johnston's now legless champion slipped into what George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four called the memory hole. (It was Winston Smith's job at the Ministry of Truth to make disappear all facts embarrassing to Big Brother.)

While Alan Johnston was being held, I was asked by the BBC World Service if I would say a few words of support for him. I readily agreed, and suggested I also mention the thousands of Palestinians abducted and held hostage. The answer was a polite no; and all the other hostages remained in the memory hole. Or, as Harold Pinter wrote of such unmentionables: "It never happened. Nothing ever happened... It didn't matter. It was of no interest."

The media wailing over the BBC's royal photo-shoot fiasco and assorted misdemeanours provide the perfect straw man. They complement a self-serving BBC internal inquiry into news bias, which dutifully supplied the right-wing Daily Mail with hoary grist that the corporation is a left-wing plot. Such shenanigans would be funny were it not for the true story behind the facade of elite propaganda that presents humanity as useful or expendable, worthy or unworthy, and the Middle East as the Anglo-American crime that never happened, didn't matter, was of no interest. Read more

Monday, July 23, 2007

Alastair Crooke: Talking to terrorists (audio)

In Part One of a new two-part series, Alastair Crooke, a veteran of secret negotiations in many parts of the world, sets out his personal view that the policy of dialogue with armed groups, that proved successful in the Northern Ireland peace process, should now be used to help resolve conflict in the Middle East.

In particular, he says, the West should now sit down with Hamas and Hezbollah.Link

Sunday, July 22, 2007

How to create an Angry American

Iraq: 14 Brits killed since beginning of June

Since the beginning of June, 13* British soldiers have been killed in Iraq, fuelling fears that conditions are becoming more dangerous as the number of troops falls. Des Browne, the Secretary of State for Defence, announced last week that the British force would be cut by a further 500, but any further withdrawals below 5,000 would leave the remaining troops incapable of defending themselves, say military experts.

British commanders, who complain that the Afghanistan and Iraq missions are "overstretching" the Army, would like to close the airport base by the end of the year and pull out all but 1,500 troops, who would carry out training duties at a safe distance from insurgent-held areas. But the authoritative Jane's Defence Weekly reported last week that the British contingent would remain at 5,000 until the end of 2008, with 4 Mechanised Brigade having already been selected for deployment next year. Read more

*British Soldier Killed In Iraq

Saturday, July 21, 2007

85% Palestinians want Hamas-Fatah talks

A new poll of Palestinians, funded by the government of Norway, found that 85 percent would like to see negotiations between Fatah and Hamas. Link

Sounds like Torture

THE White House has given the Central Intelligence Agency approval to resume some severe interrogation methods for questioning terrorism suspects in secret prisons overseas.

Administration officials said the CIA could now proceed with an interrogation program that has been in limbo since the Supreme Court ruled last year that all prisoners be treated in accordance with Geneva Convention prohibitions against humiliating and degrading treatment.

A new order signed by President George Bush on Friday would allow some techniques more severe than those that govern interrogations by military personnel in places like the Guantanamo Bay detention centre. Link

Afghanistan: NATO precision attack kills baby, wounds five

NATO today fired artillery rounds killing a baby and wounding five civilians in Afghanistan's Eastern province of Kunar, the alliance said in a statement. It said the fire was targeted at insurgents, but two of the rounds fell short, killing the baby and injuring the three women and two boys. Anger has risen in Afghanistan over civilian deaths caused by foreign forces hunting the Taliban. Fire --- 2 More than 300 civilians have been killed this year in operations by NATO and U.S.-led troops, according to aid groups and the Afghan government. Three Afghan policemen were wounded by NATO helicopter fire in a separate incident in a Southern district on Friday. Link

Operation Imposing Law: 15 dead Iraqi civilians

At least 15 Iraqi civilians were killed early Saturday morning as a result of a joint US-Iraqi military operation in Hussainiya district north-east Baghdad, witnesses told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

The civilians were killed and many others wounded in an airstrike on alleged insurgent hideouts in Hussainiya in a raid that was part of 'Operation Imposing Law' begun last February, VOI reported. Link

Iraq: Brit troops killed for what?

Three servicemen killed in a mortar attack on their base inBasra, southern Iraq have been named as Matthew Caulwell, Christopher Dunsmore and Peter McFerran. Link

db: Will southern Iraq be in a 'better' state than it is today when British troops are finally withdrawn in six, twelve or twenty four months? If not, what is the noble cause for which British troops are still being 'sacrificed'? The provision of political cover for Bush seems the most likely candidate.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Colin Powell calls for Hamas talks

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday that the Middle East Quartet should have talks to the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas).
"I don't think you can just cast them into outer darkness and try to find a solution to the problems of the region without taking to account the standing that Hamas has in the Palestinian community," Powell said in a radio interview.
"They (Hamas) won an election that we insisted upon having," Powell said. "And so, as unpleasant a group they may be and as distasteful as I find some of their positions, I think through some means, the Middle East Quartet ... or through some means Hamas has to be engaged."
Powell made the remarks while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is visiting Lisbon, Portugal, said neither of the Middle East Quartet - the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia would deal with Hamas unless it recognizes Israel's right to exist and renounces terrorism.
Rice's call has apparently ruled out the possibility of Hamas' participation in an upcoming Middle East peace meeting called by U. S. President George W. Bush. Link

One Month of Slowly Dying at the Egypt-Gaza Border

Behind Closed Borders: One Month of Slowly Dying at the Egypt-Gaza Border

An impossibly crowded area. Chaos. A slow, imprisoned death. This, briefly, is the appalling life—though it is hard to term it living—at the Rafah border.

Terrible food, sparse water, poor hygiene, and inadequate shelter. The conditions are ripe for tragedy. Seriously ill people face preventable deaths as, despite their desperate need of medical care, the Rafah border remains closed, preventing passage to medical facilities and to safety back home. For Gazans, it is the equivalent of shutting down Los Angeles airports and banning all other transportation while F-16s, helicopters, and warplanes hover over the static population of the city, ensuring no one can make it back home.

For over one month, at both the Palestinian and Egyptian sides, people have been waiting at the Rafah border –without medicine, with little to no food or water, shelter-less and blistering under the searing Gazan summer sun. All are waiting for the first of 7 consecutive gates to be opened, which will allow the stranded thousands to cross into Gaza or out to seek medical help.

The Rafah border is strictly controlled by Israel, closely monitored by video-cameras. Israel is not allowing the border to open, despite previous agreements to keep the crossing open for 24 hours. Slighting that agreement, Israel hasn’t opened it lately. So, each day ordinary citizens are paying the price, one which comes at the cost of health and life! At least 28 have died as a result of the strict denial of passage to and from Gaza at the Rafah crossing, completely closed since June 10, where nearly 6,000 Palestinians wait without adequate food, water, or shelter in the intense sweltering heat of summer. Even those with severe medical emergencies are being denied passage. Read more

Paddy Ashdown: US not 'minimising' civilian deaths


I recently had a rather heated conversation with a government minister who assured me that we were winning in Afghanistan because "we were killing more Taliban". But success is not measured in dead Taliban. It's measured in how many more water supplies are being reconnected; how many more people now have the benefit of the rule of law and good governance; how many have the prospect of a job; and, above all, whether we are winning or losing the battle for public opinion, which is central to successful reconstruction.

... One can normally at least rely on the military to understand the importance of unity of command. But in Afghanistan, even this is absent. The US military are not exclusively under the command of Nato's mission in Afghanistan, and frequently conduct operations that run counter to the Nato force's basic doctrine of minimising civilian deaths. Worse, US special forces and CIA operations are run not from the theatre but from Washington. This is exactly the fractured command structure that led to the US disaster in Somalia. Link

UK Home Secretary is a 'reformed' dope fiend

"I did break the law... I was wrong ... drugs are wrong," Ms Smith, 44, said. Link

Britain: Get the single parents, spare the fat cats

Peter Hain, the Work and Pensions Secretary, said that from October next year, lone parents will no longer be automatically entitled to income support when their youngest child reaches 12. The cut-off point, now 16, will be reduced to seven in October 2010, affecting four in 10 lone parents. Link

db: Blairism lives. If New Labour and its twin the New Tory party placed as much focus on corporate governance as they do screwing the hard up then we wouldn't have needed the US to investigate BAE and Saudi/British corruption

UK criticised for axing BAE probe
The world’s leading anti-corruption watchdog on Wednesday rounded on the British government for axing a bribery investigation at BAE Systems, the defence company, arguing in a new report that the decision posed a “serious threat” to a key international anti-corruption convention. Link

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Pakistan: US supports some killing

Sometimes a military action becomes necessary to fight militancy and if Pakistan decides to take such an action against the militants, the United States will support the move, a senior US official said on Tuesday.

Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher also expressed the Bush administration’s intention to provide $300-350 million for training and providing better equipment to the Frontier Corps, including night-vision devices and body armour.

“Some military action is necessary and will have to be taken,” said Mr Boucher while assessing the current situation in the NWFP and the tribal region. “Some elements will have to be dealt with militarily, dealt with weapons.” Link

db: Where there is strife, may we bring slaughter ...

Royal visit to "Lockerbie bomber" prison

The Princess Royal has visited the prison housing the Lockerbie bomber.

Anne paid a flying visit to Greenock prison in Inverclyde, where Libyan Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi is serving life for killing 270 people on a transatlantic flight in 1988. He recently won the right to a second appeal against his conviction. Link

db: Oh yes he is appealing ... big time. CIA, MI6 etc may well be feeling somewhat queezy.

Yugoslavia's holocaust: Catholic and Muslim 'accomplices'

Historical information about Catholic priests and Muslim clerics being willing accomplices in the genocide of the Yugoslavia's Serbian, Jewish and Roma population during the Second World War.

During the Second World War in Yugoslavia, Catholic priests and Muslim clerics were willing accomplices in the genocide of the nations Serbian, Jewish and Roma population. From 1941 until 1945, the Nazi-installed regime of Ante Pavelic in Croatia carried out some of the most horrific crimes of the Holocaust (known as the Porajmos by the Roma), killing over 800,000 Yugoslav citizens - 750,000 Serbs, 60,000 Jews and 26,000 Roma. In these crimes, the Croatian Ustasha and Muslim fundamentalists were openly supported by the Vatican, the Archbishop of Zagreb Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac (1898-1960), and the Palestinian Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini. Many of the victims of the Pavelic regime in Croatia were killed in the war's third largest death camp - Jasenovac, where over 200,000 people - mainly Orthodox Serbs met their deaths. Some 240,000 were "rebaptized" into the Catholic faith by fundamentalist Clerics in "the Catholic Kingdom of Croatia" as part of the policy to "kill a third, deport a third, convert a third" of Yugoslavia's Serbs, Jews and Roma in wartime Bosnia and Croatia (The Yugoslav Auschwitz and the Vatican, Vladimar Dedijer, Anriman-Verlag, Freiburg, Germany, 1988). Read more

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Feynman: Lost

Lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose? More in an unplanned Feynman series.

... it really is

Lightweight and compliant Abbas rejected by Israel

Israel ruled out on Tuesday negotiations "at this stage" over the boundaries of a future Palestinian state, rebuffing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and casting doubt on a renewed U.S. push to address the issue. Link

Saturday, July 14, 2007

'A dead Iraqi is just another dead Iraqi... You know, so what?'

It is an axiom of American political life that the actions of the US military are beyond criticism. Democrats and Republicans praise the men and women in uniform at every turn. Apart from the odd bad apple at Abu Ghraib, the US military in Iraq is deemed to be doing a heroic job under trying circumstances.

That perception will take a severe knock today with the publication in The Nation magazine of a series of in-depth interviews with 50 combat veterans of the Iraq war from across the US. In the interviews, veterans have described acts of violence in which US forces have abused or killed Iraqi men, women and children with impunity. Link

Osama's days numbered

The US Senate has doubled the bounty on Osama bin Laden to $US50 million ($57.6 million), reflecting frustration that the Al-Qaeda mastermind remains free and rising anxiety over possible future attacks. Link

db: This ranks with the "surge" in strategic brilliance.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Al-Qaida prepare "very precise response" to Rushdie honour

Osama bin Laden's deputy has threatened to carry out attacks on Britain in retaliation for the award of a knighthood to the author Salman Rushdie.

An audiotape by Ayman al-Zawahiri, considered to be al-Qa'ida's second-in-command, declares that a "very precise response" was being prepared by the group. According to a US- based intelligence monitoring group, the tape, lasting 20 minutes and 43 seconds, entitled Malicious Britain and its Indian Slaves, was produced by "as-Sahab", which describes itself as the multimedia wing of al-Qa'ida. Link

db: A very precise response? al-Zawahiri here sounds much like the US military. As with the US military you can be sure that any 'precision' attack will involve the certain death of a number of random and wholly innocent civilians.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Abbas: Hamas supporting Al Qaeda in Gaza

... In an interview on Monday with the RAI television network of Italy, Mr. Abbas said, "Thanks to the support of Hamas, Al Qaeda is entering Gaza."

The accusation, which was quickly denied by Hamas, underscored the depth of Mr. Abbas's hostility toward Hamas, the Islamic militant group that won a majority in the Palestinian parliament in the elections of January 2006. After months of skirmishes between the two factions' fighters, Hamas seized control of Gaza in June, routing the Fatah forces there.

A Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, said today that Hamas has "no links" to Al Qaeda and that Mr. Abbas "is trying to mislead international opinion to win support for his demand to deploy international forces in Gaza."

Hamas has always tried to distance itself from Al Qaeda and that group's agenda of global jihad, saying that Hamas’s own struggle is confined to the Israeli-Palestinian arena.

Late last month, after the Hamas takeover in Gaza, an audio recording of Ayman al-Zawahri, the deputy leader of Al Qaeda, was posted on a militant web site. In it, Mr. Zawahri called on Muslims around the world to help finance and arm Hamas. Mr. Abu Zuhri said at that time that "Hamas has its own program, regardless of the comments of this group or that group."

Previously, Mr. Zawahru had criticized Hamas for involving itself in elective politics and for sharing power with the more secular Fatah party in a joint "unity" government for a time. Hamas reacted angrily to both criticisms.

... Israeli experts doubt that there is any connection between Hamas and Al Qaeda itself.

"I am not sure there is a real Al Qaeda presence in Gaza, though there are clearly people there who identify with it in spirit," said Yoram Schweitzer of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. Mr. Schweitzer dismissed the idea that Hamas would help Al Qaeda set up in Gaza: "On the contrary, Hamas wants to be in control there. It would do all it could to stop it." Link

New Tories compete with New Labour for 'new' ideas

The Conservatives have said mending Britain's "broken society" should be a top priority - rather than the traditional emphasis on tax and crime. Link

db: New Tory and New Labour have an interchangeable set of policies [let's call them solutions] which reflect not competing world views or heaven help us philosophies, but only differences in emphasis and nuance.

As for the 'new idea' above regarding Britain's 'broken' society I'd just like to ask one thing - if it is 'broken' who broke it? Yes, you got it, the Tory party and the Labour party who have ruled over us since WW2.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Three guilty of London bomb plots

Three men have been found guilty of planning to carry out a series of bombings on London's transport system on July 21, 2005.

The attempted attacks came a two weeks after four suicide bombers killed 52 people in the British capital. Link

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Is Pope modern enough?

Friday, July 06, 2007

Feynman :: Inconceivable nature of nature

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Hamas: Impossible to ignore

Now that Alan Johnston is free, Hamas hopes it has delivered several messages - the first is to any potential rivals in Gaza about who is boss.

The second, and most important of all for Palestinians, is that it is dedicated to ending the appalling lawlessness of the last few years.

The third message, aimed at the outside world, is that the release of Alan Johnston shows that Hamas is responsible, and powerful.

It hopes to make itself impossible to ignore - and vital to engage.

To get the mood in Gaza, I rang the BBC's excellent Fayed Abu Shamala, our senior journalist there. No-one worked harder to get Alan Johnston out.

He gave a vivid account of the last few days in Gaza, which I think is worth quoting at length.

"Today Gaza really feels different. It was so tense before Alan was released that I thought the rocks were dancing.

"Now, you could feel the relief of all the Palestinians. It's as if we're at a crossroads - 99.9% of Palestinians felt shame about what happened to Alan, so today we're happy.

"We hope no-one is going to dare to try any more kidnaps, because they know what they'd face.

"It's not like those simple days when they could kidnap someone and settle it by getting a salary or some bullets from the Palestinian Authority."

He talked about the night before Alan Johnston was released from his captors, a group calling itself the Army of Islam sponsored by the Dugmush family, one of Gaza's armed clans.

"The evening before Alan was freed, everyone thought it would be a bloody night in the area the Dugmush control.

"Hundreds of Hamas fighters were moving closer, through the alleys around there. The Dugmush family could feel the pressure.

"The Hamas people were very serious, very tough. They told the family that the kidnap was going to end whatever happened, and that this was their last chance to finish it by talking.

"The Hamas condition was always: 'You release Alan, and we'll talk about anything.' Even after they did the deal, the time before they could get Alan out - a couple of hours - was very tense, very critical and heavy. Every moment was a lifetime.

"There was a constant fear of violence - what if someone had started shooting, or fired a rocket propelled grenade? People would have been killed. Alan might have been killed," he said.


Alan Johnston was released because the Dugmush family realised it had no other choice.

When I visited Khaled Meshal, the leader of the political wing of Hamas, in Damascus last week, he told me that their strategy was to build pressure on the kidnappers until they cracked.

To make reality a little more palatable, a deal was done about an exchange of prisoners, and a fatwa was issued by a cleric authorising Alan's release.

The BBC's Fayed Abu Shamala and others in Gaza recognise that things are not going to be easy.

Hamas wants to impose law and order but there are plenty of issues they need to sort out before that can happen.

For example, blood has been spilt in shoot-outs between the Dugmush and other powerful families, and issues of revenge need to be settled.

No island

But if Hamas can bring law and order to Gaza, then it will increase its legitimacy. The biggest complication is that Gaza is not an island in a benign sea.

Hamas says it wants a rapprochement with Fatah, the other big Palestinian faction.

But so far, Fatah - still stinging from the defeat inflicted by Hamas three weeks ago - says it has no interest in dealing with a group that perpetrated what it calls a "military coup".

And there is Israel, which controls Gaza's borders, its airspace and its sea coast.

At least six Hamas members were killed in an Israeli raid into Gaza the night after Alan Johnston was released.

Most Israelis regard Hamas as a terror organisation that would destroy their state if it could.

Speaking to the BBC on Thursday, the Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev rejected the idea that Hamas was moving along a political track, had implicitly recognised the existence of Israel and would accept a Palestinian state standing alongside it.

He said that while he accepted the existence of Aids, he would still like to destroy it. In other words, Israel believes that Hamas - whatever it says for foreign consumption, is still out to kill Jews.

Israel may not like it, but there are signs that some people in influential positions in the West are changing their view of Hamas after everything it did to release Alan Johnston.

For the new British foreign secretary, David Miliband, it amounted to a change of tone. He welcomed the part played by Hamas, and mentioned its prime minister, Ismail Haniya, by name.


Others go much further, believing that the policy of isolating Hamas because it will not recognise Israel or renounce violence, is looking threadbare, not least because it seems to play into the hands of the extremists.

A group of British parliamentarians has signed a motion in the House of Commons calling for engagement with Hamas.

The mood was summed up in the final despatch sent back to the UN by its Middle East envoy, Alvaro De Soto, before he retired earlier this summer.

He wrote that Hamas "can potentially evolve in a pragmatic direction that would allow for a two-state solution - but only if handled right".

Long after Alan Johnston gets back to his family in Scotland, the Middle East will still have intractable problems.

His release brought joy to his family and friends, and all the people around the world who supported him while he was a prisoner, but it will not create any political miracles.

But it might provide an opening, and there are not many of those in the Middle East at the moment. Link

db: This from the BBC is a clear shift from the usual popular narrative. Sadly Britain is unlikely to engage diplomatically or otherwise with Hamas because the USA has an apparent veto over UK Middle East foreign policy. And as far as that camp is concerned Hamas are Islamists and by definition will be opposed under any circumstances - if not hunted down and killed by Israel first.

'It's not difficult to see that 'Islam' is the problem for the US. The revivalist, campaigning, socially active, potentially democratic form is probably the most scary of all. By blurring 'Islamism' with the notion of 'terrorism' the need for dialogue with 'moderate' though 'radical' Islamists can be neatly circumvented. In fact, the taste millions of Muslims seem to have for a more 'Islamic' society - or at least a government proved to be corruption free and socially responsible - can be totally disregarded.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Gwynne Dyer: Too Late To Fix The Mess

Benny Morris, the Israeli historian, is famous for reopening the forgotten history of the expulsion of the Palestinians during the 1948 "war of independence", and deconstructing the Israeli myth that they freely chose to abandon their homes. Five years ago, however, he had lost faith in a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians and was openly saying that everybody would have been better off in the long run if one side or the other had won a decisive victory in 1948.

If Israel had conquered all of Palestine and expelled all the Palestinians in 1948, Morris wrote, "today's Middle East would be a healthier, less violent place, with a Jewish state between Jordan and the Mediterranean and a Palestinian Arab state in Transjordan. Alternatively, Arab success in the 1948 war, with the Jews driven into the sea, would have obtained the same, historically calming, result."

Well, of course, but most outcomes are indecisive. Like many knowledgeable people in the Middle East, Morris's mood was strikingly pessimistic even before the US invasion of Iraq, but, five years later, the mood is darker still. Beyond forecasts of civil war in Iraq, however, there has been little effort to discern what the Middle East will actually look like after the US troops go home.

There is already a civil war in Iraq, and it might even get worse for a time after American troops leave, but these things always sputter out in the end. There will still be an Iraqi state, plus or minus Kurdistan, and regardless of whether or not the central government in Baghdad exercises real control over the Sunni-majority areas between Baghdad, Mosul and the Syrian border.

The Sunni-Arab parts of Iraq have been turned into a training ground for Islamist extremists from all parts of the Arab world by the American invasion. Once the American troops are gone, however, the action will soon move elsewhere, for the US defeat in Iraq has dramatically raised the prestige of Islamist revolutionaries throughout the Arab world and beyond.

Closing windows

It is not possible to predict which Arab states will fall under Islamist control. But it will be astonishing if one or more of the existing Arab regimes does not fall to an Islamist revolution in the next few years. For the citizens of the country or countries in question, that could be quite a big problem, since it would probably mean not democracy and prosperity but just more decades of poverty and a different kind of tyranny. For people living outside the Middle East, it would probably make little difference.

Islamist-ruled nations are not the same as bands of freelance fanatics. If they have oil to export, then they will go on exporting it, because no major oil producer can now do without the income that those exports provide. And they would have little incentive to sponsor terrorism outside the region, for they would have fixed addresses and interests to protect.

For Israel, however, the situation has changed fundamentally. For the first 20 years of its existence, Israel was a land under siege. Since the conquests of 1967, it has had the luxury of debating with itself how much of those conquered lands it should return to the Arabs in return for a permanent peace settlement.

Now the window is closing. Before long, some of the Arab states that Israel needs to make peace with are likely to fall to Islamist regimes that have an ideological commitment to its destruction. Israelis trying to evade hard choices have long complained that they had "nobody to negotiate with." It is about to become true.

Israel faces another generation of confrontation and possibly of war, and the Palestinians face another generation of military occupation. Significant chunks of the Arab world face Islamist revolutions that would bring more poverty and a new kind of oppression. It is a mess, and it's too late to fix it. Link

Israel holds security talks

Israeli and Palestinian security officials have resumed meetings after nearly two years, officials on both sides confirmed Tuesday, the latest sign of warming ties between the sides following Hamas' violent takeover of the Gaza Strip. Link

db: Story framed by AP. These 'warming ties' exclude the innocent civilians of Gaza, and represent the latest phase of an Israeli/US strategy to divide and conquer.

'Occupation' - The Dirty Word

The four leaders at Sharm al-Sheik did not sit together at an intimate round table. Each one sat alone behind a huge table of his own. That ensured a striking separation between them. The four long tables hardly touched. Each one of the leaders, with his assistants behind him, sat like a solitary island in a vast sea.

All four - Hosni Mubarak, King Abdallah of Jordan, Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas - bore a severe countenance. Throughout the official part of the conference, not a single smile could be seen.

One after the other, the four delivered their monologues. An exercise in shallow hypocrisy, in empty deceit. Not one of the four raised himself above the murky puddle of sanctimonious phrases.

A short monologue from Mubarak. A short monologue from Abdallah. A medium-length monologue from Abbas. An interminably long monologue from Olmert - a typical Israeli speech, overbearing, educating the whole world, sermonizing and dripping with morality. Held, of course, in Hebrew, with the obvious aim of appealing to the home public.

The speech included all the required phrases - Our soul longs for peace, The vision of two states, We do not want to rule over another people, For the good of coming generations, bla-bla-bla. All in standard colonial style: Olmert even talked about "Judea and Samaria", using the official terminology of the occupation.

But in order to "strengthen" Abbas, Olmert addressed him as "President" and not as "Chairman", which has been the de rigueur title used by all Israeli representatives since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. (The wise men of Oslo circumvented this difficulty by referring -in all three languages - to the head of the Authority by the Arab title of Ra'is, which can mean both president and chairman.

And the word that did not appear throughout this long monologue?


OCCUPATION? What occupation? Where occupation? Anybody seen any occupation?

The occupation was not on the agenda of this dark summit. Even in their wildest dreams, the Arab participants could not imagine anything more wonderful than "easing the restrictions". Making life a little bit less difficult for the suffering population. Giving back the Palestinian tax revenues. (That is to say, Israel may give back some of the money it has pocketed.) Moving some of the roadblocks that prevent people from going from one village to the next. (That has already been promised many times and will not happen this time either, because the army and the Shin Bet object. Olmert has already announced that it is impossible for "security reasons".)

With the air of a Sultan throwing coins to the paupers in the street, Olmert announced his intention of releasing some Fatah prisoners. 250 coins, 250 prisoners. That was the "generous gift" that was to make the Palestinians jump for joy, "strengthen" Abbas and awaken to new life the dry bones of his organization.

If Olmert had not been sitting so far away from Abbas, he could just as well have spat in his face.

First at all, the number is ridiculous. There are now about 10,000 (ten thousand) Palestinian "security" prisoners in Israeli prisons. Every night, about a dozen more are being taken from their homes. Since there is no more room in the prison facilities, the wardens will be pleased to get rid of some inmates. In previous gestures of this nature, the Israeli government has set free prisoners whose term was nearing the end anyhow, and car thieves.

Second, fraternization between Fatah and Hamas is well established in prison. The violent struggle in Gaza has not been projected into the prisons. The famous "prisoners' document", which laid the foundation for the (now defunct) Unity Government, was worked out jointly by Fatah and Hamas prisoners.

Olmert's announcement of his readiness to release Fatah - and only Fatah - prisoners is designed to sabotage this unity. It could stigmatize the Fatah people as collaborators, and Abbas as a leader who is concerned only with the members of his own organization, not giving a damn for the others. Read more

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices of Dissent and Refusal

No pay for Hamas supporters

The government of moderate Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, newly flush with money from Israel and the West, promised Monday to pay tens of thousands of civil servants for at least six months. Government officials said the money will be transferred to workers' bank accounts by Wednesday.

But the government also warned that employees cooperating with the Islamic militant Hamas will be cut from the payroll. Link

Doctors questioned over bomb plot

Police questioned eight people on Tuesday, at least three of them doctors, over a suspected al Qaeda plot to detonate car bombs in London and Scotland after the investigation spread as far as Australia.

Australian police detained an Indian doctor, Mohamed Haneef, under counter-terrorism laws. All three of the doctors being questioned trained overseas and had worked at British hospitals. Link

Monday, July 02, 2007

Brown: Not rushing into new terrorism laws

The government will not be "rushing into" creating new laws following the recent car bomb attacks, Prime Minister Gordon Brown's spokesman has said.

He spoke as the UK's reviewer of terror laws, Lord Carlile, suggested giving police longer to question suspects and called for tougher control orders.

Ministers are currently consulting on anti-terror measures ahead of a bill due to be published in November.

The Tories and Lib Dems both welcomed talk of consultation on measures.

Asked about possible new legislation on Monday in the wake of the failed car bomb attacks, Mr Brown's official spokesman said: "It's not a time for rushing into new legislation at the moment.

"The prime minister is determined to ensure every action is taken to protect the public but he's equally determined not to be deflected from the main business of government." Link

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Brown's Wars Part 2: Meltdown on the frontline in Basra

The blast that killed Private James Kerr and Private Scott Kennedy, both 20, and Corporal Paul Joszko, 28, would have been heard across half of Basra. It happened at 1am on Thursday in the deserted streets of al-Antahiya, on the southern outskirts of the city.

The men would have known their mission was dangerous. They had left the relative security of Basra air station - Britain's main base in Iraq, which is spread across a wide expanse of desert bordering the city's airport - to resupply the only British contingent still within the city limits, at Basra Palace. There are only a few possible routes between the two bases, as local insurgents well know, and most journeys are undertaken by helicopter.

To minimise the risk of travelling by road, the convoy had gone to Basra Palace in darkness, when ordinary residents of the city remain indoors, behind high walls. The only people to venture out are British troops - and those they are fighting. The soldiers had delivered their supplies, and were on the way back when they left their Warrior armoured vehicles to check their surroundings. At this point, it appears, a hidden watcher triggered the bomb that killed the three men and seriously wounded a fourth.

The loss of three soldiers in one attack, the second worst in Iraq so far this year, brought the British toll since the 2003 invasion to 156. Not only did it come on Gordon Brown's first full day as Prime Minister, but one of the victims, Pte Kerr, was from Cowdenbeath, in his constituency. In significant contrast to his predecessor, Tony Blair, who never had contact with relatives of British soldiers lost in Iraq or Afghanistan, Mr Brown telephoned Pte Kerr's mother to express his condolences. Some wonder if that signals a change of approach on Iraq. Read more