Hamas continues its attempts to break the political siege imposed on it since it won the 2006 legislative elections by meeting with Western officials. The latest of such meetings was held in Qatar on June 5, between the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Khaled Meshaal, and the former envoy of the Quartet, Tony Blair. They discussed the future of the truce between Hamas and Israel, and the fate of the Israeli soldiers who have been held captive by the movement since the Gaza war in the summer of 2014.
On June 25, Hamas launched its official website in English. The day before, Hamas announced in a press statement that the English-language website is part of the movement’s efforts to promote communication with the West.
Hamas’ English-language website allows Western Internet users to learn about its positions and news. The website also includes a forum that answers the questions posed by Westerners, and an archive.
There are several websites that are affiliated with Hamas, such as the Palestinian Information Center, which is available in Arabic, English, Persian, French, Turkish, Urdu and Russian. However, Hamas’ new website talks in the movement’s name, publishes its positions and clarifies its opinions. Western Internet users and decision-makers can browse the website to learn about Hamas’ official view on the Palestinian, regional and international events.
Since its inception in 1987, Hamas has been complaining that Western decision-makers and research and media outlets only hear about the movement, not from it, which is why the new English-language website was launched.
Member of Hamas’ political bureau Sami Khater told Al-Monitor his regret that “most Western countries do not deal with Hamas based on [the movement’s] rational and realistic positions and policies despite the serious talks between Hamas and European countries. These countries view Hamas based on their commitment to supporting Israel, which considers any resistance against it as terrorism. This is why Hamas is subjected to a systematic plan to distort [its image] by Israel and its supporters in the West.”
In the past few years, Hamas has shown growing interest in communicating with the West, especially since the Arab Spring and the rise of Islamists in the region. These circumstances have pushed Hamas to expand and develop its international relations, considering that an official Western recognition of the movement is imminent.
Hamas’ efforts to open communication channels with the West became apparent when Hamas leaders started publishing reports in the Western media. Most prominent among these reports was the one by Ismail Haniyeh, former political adviser to deputy chairman of Hamas’ political bureau, in The Guardian on June 8, 2012.
In March 2015, Hamas also launched a Twitter campaign called Ask Hamas, which was addressed to the Western reader. For three consecutive days, a number of the movement’s leaders answered hundreds of questions in English.
On June 30, Ahmad Atwan, member of Hamas’ Legislative Council, participated, in an unprecedented move, over Skype in the British parliament session about the Jerusalem situation.
Egyptian paper Shorouk revealed in April 2014 that the number of members at Hamas’ foreign relations bureau reached 70, each of whom is responsible for a file of one country in the world, mainly in the West. These members constitute the pioneers of Hamas’ diplomatic wing.
Al-Monitor learned that a number of Hamas leaders are responsible for the communications file with the West, such as Mousa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau; Osama Hamdan, Hamas’ foreign relations chief; Bassem Naim, former minister of health; Ahmed Youssef, former political adviser to Haniyeh; and Deputy Foreign Minister Ghazi Hamad.
Al-Zaytouna Center for Studies and Consultations in Beirut published in July a new book titled “Islamic Resistance Movement-Hamas: Studies of Thought and Experience.” The 672-page book includes 11 studies, which some Hamas leaders contributed to. The book focuses on Hamas’ political rhetoric addressed to the West.
Youssef Abu al-Saud, a Palestinian researcher concerned with the ties between Hamas and the West, told Al-Monitor, “By reading most Western publications about Hamas, I noticed that Hamas is depicted as an armed military organization, as [these publications] do not tackle the political and social aspects of the movement. This poses a challenge to Hamas’ communications [efforts] with the West, which is further challenged with the lack of direct information about the movement. The West views Hamas based on regional and international reactions, while considering it part of the political Islamic [movement] in the region. The West disregards [Hamas] being a national liberation movement against the Israeli occupation.”
Saud added, “One of Hamas’ main problems in communicating with the West lies in its basic charter, on which the West focuses [on] while disregarding how realistic Hamas’ political behavior is in light of the regional and world changes. The West also considers that Hamas is a militia using armed violence against Israel, while ignoring its growing position among the Palestinians.”
Al-Monitor noticed that Hamas’ charter, issued in August 1988, is not published on the English-language website. This charter tackles the Israeli conflict from a religious point of view only, without mentioning historical events. The charter also refers to the international community based on a colonial logic, and away from any political reconciliation language.
Influential Hamas sources told Al-Monitor, on condition of anonymity, that the movement is witnessing internal activities to change some of the charter’s content. There are also discussions to stop dealing with this charter as an official document, and instead considering it a non-binding document on the political level.
Al-Monitor also learned from Hamas political sources who requested anonymity that the movement is conducting meetings with former and current Western officials in Qatar and Gaza, where Hamas’ leadership resides. In addition, it is holding meetings in Western capitals. Both sides refuse to reveal details about these meetings, upon the demand of Western parties. This is because the Hamas movement is still listed as a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States, and leaders holding such meetings fear legal repercussions — although the EU Court of Justice decided to remove Hamas from the terrorist list on Jan. 19.
A Palestinian official, who travels between the Gaza Strip and Europe to promote Hamas’ positions in the West, told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity about Hamas’ weaknesses in its communication with the West. He said, “Hamas does not have any political [parties] specialized in drafting a detailed narrative that could be addressed to the West, and lacks media outlets in languages of countries in the West. The movement also lacks literary works that clarify its side of the story about the conflict with Israel, and disregards the Jewish lobbies’ influence on some Western decision-makers.”
Through its communication efforts, Hamas wants the West not to involve the movement’s religious aspect in the conflict with Israel, as it negatively reflects on the movement and it would no longer be seen as a national liberation movement. The West should not ignore some contradictions that are apparent in the Western positions toward the Palestinian cause. Notably, in December 2014 some Western parliaments recognized the Palestinian state, while others refrained from doing so to satisfy Israel.
Despite Hamas’ ongoing attempts to open lines of communication with the West through social media, amateurism in written publications and the mobilization of supporters in the West prevails in the absence of organization and coordination. In addition, Hamas seeks to keep up with the Western developments and to quickly respond to them so that its own reaction is available to Western decision-makers.
(Source / 28.07.2015)
Syrian refugees live in makeshift shelters in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon, just a few miles west of the Syrian border
The Syrian refugee crisis is getting worse by the day.
Not only are more refugees fleeing into Lebanon, but aid to those who have already arrived is being cut dramatically.
The United Nations World Food Program earlier this month slashed the monthly food subsidy for Syrian refugees in Lebanon to just $13.50 per person. Less than a year ago the figure was $30 per person per month. The reason for the decision was reportedly a budget shortfall.
In addition, tensions are growing between Lebanese and the swelling number of displaced Syrians. Lebanon is a tiny country of just over 4 million, a narrow strip of land between southern Syria and the sea. By some estimates, it now hosts 2 million refugees. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has registered nearly 1.2 million Syrian refugees; activists say hundreds of thousands more have also fled to Lebanon.
They’re living in what the Lebanese authorities call “informal tented settlements.” The authorities refuse to call the settlements “camps” out of concern that they could become long-term fixtures like Palestinian refugee camps.
The refugees in these “settlements” can’t get work permits. Desperate to feed their families, many of them find work anyway, squeezing locals out of jobs.
That’s just one reason for the rising tensions. In the town of Kab Elias in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley, officials last week gave the roughly 500 residents of the Abu Yasser refugee settlement 24 hours to pack up and leave.
Abu Yasser is a makeshift settlement of 80 shacks. Each family lives in a structure cobbled together out of nylon tarps, plastic sheeting and mismatched planks.
The reason for the eviction notice: The locals were complaining about the noise, water consumption and filth from the camp. They say the refugees are depleting the water supply and polluting the fields. Open ditches filled with fetid water run between the shacks.
Despite the eviction order, the refugees refused to decamp.
“We don’t have anyplace to go,” says Khalid Nhaitar, a father of 11. “So we decided to tell them [the municipal authorities] just find another place for us.”
Refugees from the settlement won at least a temporary reprieve after meeting with officials from the municipality.
But the incident underscores the growing strain that the huge numbers of Syrian refugees put on Lebanon’s already strained resources.
“Initially, the Lebanese were very welcoming in how they received these people. Now, of course, that’s changing,” says Marc-Andre Hensel, the integrated programs director with World Vision’s Lebanon office in Beirut.
“I think we need to be realistic about what we expect a country like Lebanon to do,” Hensel adds. “I think long-term other countries need to take those people on. You can’t expect Lebanon to host all those people for such a long time. It’s far too easy to point fingers. It’s a very complex problem and depending on how things develop in Syria, it could get worse.”
Fighting continues to rage in various parts of Syria. While the battles continue, refugees say there is no way they can safely go home. So there is no end in sight to Lebanon’s refugee problem.
(Source / 28.07.2015)
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — A PLO Executive Committee member on Tuesday said that secret meetings between Palestinian and Israeli officials serve Israeli interests and violate previous PLO decisions on resuming peace talks.
The imam of al-Quds Mosque in the southern Lebanese city of Sidon, Sheikh Maher Hamoud, addresses a conference on Palestine resistance in Beirut, Lebanon, June 28, 2015
Muslim clerics and Palestinian activists from across the world are attending an international conference in Beirut, Lebanon, to support the Palestinian cause and the oppressed nation’s resistance in the face of Israeli occupation and aggression.
Speaking in the inauguration ceremony on Tuesday, the imam of al-Quds Mosque in the southern Lebanese city of Sidon, Sheikh Maher Hamoud, lauded Palestinian factions for their struggles to counter the Israeli regime’s acts of aggression.
“We are proud of being individuals confronting a cancerous tumor (Israel) in the Muslim world,” said the senior cleric.
Hamoud added that the time has come to speak frankly and fearlessly against Israel instead of standing idly and watching the Tel Aviv regime demolish the al-Aqsa Mosque in the occupied Old City of al-Quds (Jerusalem).
“Should we wait for our sons in Palestine to suffer harm more than what they experience nowadays, for al-Aqsa Mosque to be restricted more or for Syrians and Yemenis to be killed more? When will the time come for us to raise our voices in unison against oppression?” asked the top religious figure.
He said the main objective of the ongoing conference on Palestine in Beirut should be the annihilation of Israel, something which will eventually happen as cited by the holy Quran and various rabbis and Israeli officials.
Hamoud further said that the Tel Aviv regime has expressed deep concerns over the Palestinian birth rate. Palestinians will at last subsequently outnumber Israelis, change the demographic features of occupied lands in their favor, and obliterate Israel, the cleric said.
The senior Lebanese clergyman said “Israel will disappear as salt solves in water.”
The Tel Aviv regime has tried to change the demographic makeup of al-Quds over the past decades by constructing illegal settlements, destroying historical sites and expelling the local Palestinian population.
The al-Aqsa Mosque compound is a flashpoint Islamic site, also holy to the Jews. The mosque is Islam’s third holiest site after Masjid al-Haram in Mecca and Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina.
(Source / 28.07.2015)
The political committee on Tuesday morning met with the Group of Friends of Syria ambassadors in Istanbul. The Conferees stressed the importance of the agreement reached last week by the Syrian Coalition and the National Coordination Commission in Brussels, and also the importance Syrian Coalition’s consulting with rebel factions to form a new FSA High Military Command and a new military council.
Members of the political committee pointed to the Assad regime’s ordering of many residents of the Mezza district in Damascus to evacuate their homes in order to resettle families of the foreign militias fighting alongside its forces. They warns of the regime’s plans to change the demography of the region and also of the consequences of the continued silence over the regime’s use of starvation by as a weapon against some rebel-held areas.
The meeting also discussed the international envoy Staffan de Mistura’s visit to Syria and Iran, and Assad rejection of a political solution and his insistence on a military one.
Members of the political committee called on the ambassadors to provide support for the civil governance project in the safe zone Turkey is establishing in northern Syria and for supporting the Free Syrian Army to maintain the security and stability in this area and to ensure the return of the refugees.
They also called for putting pressure on the Iranian and Assad regimes to sit at the negotiating to reach a political solution based on the Geneva Communique.
(Source: Syrian Coalition / 28.07.2015)
Australian Peter Greste (L) ,Canadian Mohamed Fahmy (C) And Baher Mohamed
CAIRO: A few hours separate Al-Jazeera journalists from hearing their final verdict after more than a year and a half of legal struggle; half of which were spent in prison over terror charges; widely denounced by international media bodies.
A retrial has been running since February, after jail sentences against Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and deported Australian Peter Greste were abolished in January.
Hoping to be exonerated from “unprecedented legal limbo,” Fahmy and Mohamed will show up at court on July 30 for final hearing.
They are accused of belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood group, broadcasting false news and operating without licenses. Lawyers cited shallow evidences in the accusations.
Here are some of the lawyers’ arguments:
1- Journos charged retroactively over joining banned group.
The trio was arrested in December 2013; four months before the Brotherhood was officially designated as ‘terrorist’ organization in April 2014, Fahmy’s lawyer, Khaled Abu Bakr said during his closing argument.
2-Affiliations with the Brotherhood not proved.
Lawyers described the accusation of belonging to the Brotherhood group as baseless and vague, questioning “criteria of making someone a Brotherhood.”
“It is really annoying to judge anybody by his father or his relative,” Baher Mohamed voiced his rejection to be linked to his father’s affiliation with the group.
3-Seized video contents proved ‘uncontrived’
The prosecutor argued that journalists manipulated the content with fake sound effects and insertions by the network’s headquarters in Qatar. A report issued by a technical committee assigned by the court contradicted the accusations, saying “seized videos were not fabricated.”
4-‘Broadcasting is a must to prove crime occurred’
The above quotation is an extract from the closing argument delivered by Bakr, who cited the technical committee’s report saying “it cannot determine whether seized videos were aired.”
5- Journalists’ job is to meet everyone.
When a picture of Fahmy with Al-Qaeda leader in Egypt Mohamed al-Zawahiri was raised by the prosecution, Bakr said in his defense that “reporters’ job is to meet with everyone” regardless to their background and that it does not mean a journalist is adopting certain political affiliations.
6- Journalists, other defendants should be separated.
“We never met the students until we saw them in prison,” Fahmy told The Cairo Post via e-mail.
All lawyers in the case demanded journalists to be separated from other defendants, including students who had “confessed they are Brotherhood members and sold footages to Al-Jazeera network,” he added.
Fahmy was accused of forming a media center at the Cairo Mariott Hotel and of recruiting students; he denied accusations and described them as “big fabrications.”
“I told the judge you have our mobiles, laptops, for months, did you find a single email, contact between we journalists and the student activists?” Fahmy said.
7- Reporters not responsible for ‘Licenses’
“I had asked Al-Jazeera to accredit us with press passes from the press centre and they stalled…failed to do so and it was a point that the judge in this trial really focused on, but still it’s not a crime, yet the judge sees it as challenging the government and not respecting the laws,” Fahmy said.
According to lawyers in the case, the more serious issue of lack of operational and broadcast license is considered an obstacle in the case, which could entail a one to three year sentence and or a hefty fine. “Baher and myself were shocked in the cage as the prosecutor submitted a report to the judge indicating that all operational licenses for Al Jazeera’s channels in Egypt had been revoked months before our arrest. I had clearly asked Al Jazeera upon taking the job if their operation was fully legal and received written assurances that everything was in place,” Fahmy explained.
He and his lawyer defended this point asking judge to “separate between responsibilities of the journalist and the channel.” Business and Media Tycoon, owner of ONTV, Naguib Sawiris, who was cross-examined as character witness defending Fahmy, has endorsed this argument.
8- The 3-year bullet was a ‘souvenir’
Unlike Fahmy and Greste, Mohamed was sentenced to extra three-year jail term over possession of a single bullet, which was not examined by court whether it was real. He and his lawyer explained that he took the bullet as a “souvenir” when he was covering Libya’s 2011 revolution for a Japanese newspaper.
9- Unserious investigations
In reiteration to Egypt’s high court, lawyers also highlighted “flaws” prior to the journalists’ arrest, citing “unserious and invalid” pre-detention investigations.
(Source / 28.07.2015)
A number of Israeli extremists attacked, on Monday at night, a Palestinian bus driver, working for the Egged Bus Company, by spraying his face with pepper spray before beating him up, and tried to tie him to his seat.
The driver, Mohammad Barakat, 38 years of age, from the al-‘Ezariyya town in Jerusalem, said the attack was carried out by two Israelis who first used pepper spray before proceeding to assault him.
The two boarded the bus, and remained in it, until it reached its final station in the Ma’alot Dafna illegal settlement, west of Sheikh Jarrah, where they assaulted the Palestinian driver.
Barakat told the Wadi Hilweh Information Center in Silwan that the two assailants refused to pay for the tickets, remained in the bus for 45 minutes until it reached its final station, and ran away after assaulting him.
He then appealed to bystanders who called the police; the officers refused to take his statement, and told him he needed to head to their station in Salah Ed-Deen Street, to file an official complaint.
Earlier on Monday, undercover soldiers of the Israeli military kidnapped a young Palestinian man, identified as Ahmad ‘Asaleyya, from occupied East Jerusalem, after he intervened to help a woman who was being harassed by Israeli extremists near the Chain Gate in Jerusalem.
(Source / 28.07.2015)