Wildfires [+ wild rumors] 60,000+ people evacuated in Haifa area

On the third day of wildfires in Israel and the West Bank, international help began arriving, but conditions suddenly worsened significantly in the morning, particularly in the Haifa area. Israeli authorities ordered the evacuation of at least 60,000 people.

UPDATE: By nightfall, The Jerusalem Post reported here that “80,000 residents have now been told to evacuate”.

Almost exactly six years ago, a similar fire grew out-of-control, some 42 people died in the flames, and Israel’s lack of preparedness to fight fires was exposed. Israel was prepared to fight wars, but not fires. See our earlier reports on that fire in this blog, here and here and here.

In December 2010, Israel had no firefighting airplanes – none.  Since then, Israel has apparently acquired 12 firefighting airplanes, but still needed more in the Haifa area today. Netanyahu, according to the Jerusalem Post story mentioned above, “said that Israel’s squadron of some 12 firefighting aircraft was not enough, and that he turned to other countries for assistance. By midnight, he said, a total of 10 planes will have arrived from Russia, Greece, Italy, Cyprus and Turkey. The [US] Supertanker, however, is the only plane with the capabilities to operate at night, and will arrive in approximately 28 hours”.

    Haaretz: “It was almost six years ago to the day that Israel suffered its worst natural disaster ever. The fire that erupted in the Carmel Forest in northern Israel on December 2, 2010, lasting four days and claiming 44 lives, remains a national trauma.  About 17,000 Israelis were evacuated from their homes during that disaster, and thousands of acres of forest were destroyed. It took U.S. intervention, in the form of a Boeing 747 Supertanker flown across the Atlantic, to extinguish the last flames…The weather conditions then were remarkably similar to those today, as Shahar Ayalon, Israel’s former fire and rescue commissioner, notes. For that reason, he says, he was not surprised by the outbreak of the latest fires. ‘You have a combination of drought conditions and dry winds from the east, and this is the result,. he told Haaretz. ‘It’s to be expected’. Clearly, Israel had been caught unprepared in 2010. It did not have the manpower or the equipment required to battle a fire of that magnitude. Nor did its command and controls systems operate as they should have… Ayalon was appointed head of Israel’s firefighting authorities in 2011, not long after the Carmel disaster, and remained in his post until six months ago. During this time, he says, ‘everything that was promised was fulfilled’.  In recent years, according to Ayalon, 800 new firefighters were recruited – almost doubling the size of the force. A squadron of firefighting planes was established, and 20 new fire stations were opened around the country”. 
    read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium – report posted here.

However, Reuters reported that “Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the Jewish Home party which supports settlements in the West Bank where Palestinians seek statehood, said on Twitter that arsonists were disloyal to Israel, hinting that those who set the fires could not be Jewish. ‘Only those to whom the country does not belong are capable of burning it,’ he said in a tweet in Hebrew”. This was published here.

The Reuters report also noted that “On social media, some Arabs and Palestinians celebrated the fires and the hashtag #Israelisburning was trending on Twitter”.

This did not happen in 2010 — a lot has changed since then…

The weather has been a big factor in these fires, both in 2010 and in 2016.

As Reuters stated, “The fires have been burning in multiple locations for the past three days but intensified on Thursday, fueled by unseasonably dry weather and strong easterly winds…Local weather forecasters have said the tinder-dry conditions – it has not rained in parts of Israel for months – and strong winds are set to continue for several days and they see little prospect of normal seasonal precipitation arriving”…

UPDATE: By midnight, YNet reported here: Eight Palestinian firefighter vehicles, escorted by the Commander of the Jenin Civil Administration, made their way to Haifa to help extinguish the fires raging in the city. In 2010 the PA did provide succor in the Mount Carmel Forest fires”.

Rustom Ghazali, Syria's former Military Intelligence Chief in Lebanon, has died in Damascus

The Daily Star (Lebanon) published an interesting compilation, here, on the reports of the cause of Rustom Ghazali’s death, announced this morning.

The Daily Star noted that “reports conflicted over his cause of death, and when and where he died. The news comes nearly two months after he was reported to have been badly beaten by Syrian security forces”.

In 2002, Ghazali became head of Syrian Military Intelligence, replacing General Ghazi Kanaan [who is said to have committed suicide, an explanation at odds with the circumstances, including the number of shots to his head].

As The Daily Star put it, “Ghazaleh succeeded Ghazi Kanaan as head of military intelligence in Lebanon in 2002 during Syria’s tutelage over Lebanon, which lasted until Damascus pulled its troops from the country in 2005. It is widely speculated that he was one of the men who orchestrated the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Damascus denies any involvement in the 2005 killing”.

In 2012, The Daily Star wrote today, “Ghazaleh was appointed the chief of Syria’s infamous political security branch”.

According to an AFP report cited by The Daily Star, a “family source” said that Ghazaleh “had been fired after getting into a fight with another Syrian official in early March”.

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More celebrity UN Goodwill Ambassador news – Angelina Jolie addresses UNSC on Syria

It is completely incongruous for UN Goodwill Ambassadors to address the UN Security Council on matters of substance relating to some of the worst and most intractable conflicts in the world.

This ridiculous scheme was thought up by some of the former heads of the UN Department for Public Information, because they argued this is the only way to get media+ world attention — and enthusiastically embraced approved by some former UN Secretaries General [as well as by the current UNSG] and UN heads of agencies…who prioritize fund-raising over political [and therefore controversial] work.

Angelina Jolie arrives to address the UNSC on Syria war
Angelina Jolie arrives to address the UNSC on its failure to end Syria war

In a continuation of this recent incongruous tradition, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie has just been given the floor to address the UNSC on Syria, and used the word “We” when speaking of the UN failures there…

AFP reported that “Actress Angelina Jolie on Friday criticized the UN Security Council’s failure to end the war in Syria, as she appealed for urgent help for the growing ranks of Syrian refugees…’The purpose of the UN is to prevent and end conflict, to bring countries together, to find diplomatic solutions and to save lives’, said Jolie, dressed in a white blazer. ‘We failed to do this in Syria’…The crisis is made worse by division and indecision within the international community preventing the Security Council from fulfilling its responsibilities…If we cannot end the conflict, we have an inescapable moral duty to help refugees and provide legal avenues to safety”, Jolie said. The actress spoke of a “sea of excluded humanity”, and added: “The crisis in Syria illustrates that our inability to find diplomatic solutions causes mass displacement, traps millions of people in exile, statelessness and displacement”…
This APF report was published by Lebanon’s The Daily Star, here.

“We” = meaning, the UN Security Council + Angelina Jolie?

It takes Angelina Jolie to remind the 15 members of the UN Security Council what is the purpose of the UN?

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The US Counter-Terrorism policy, explained on orders from the White House

Watch this press briefing at the White House on 23 April — following President Obama’s announcement that it had just been realized that two hostages [one American, one Italian] had been inadvertently killed in a US strike “in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region” in January…

In the briefing, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that “Our CounterTerrorism people follow *Near-Certainty* standards” to carry out an operation, and then evaluate it later using a *high-confidence* battle-damage assessment [[drawin on multiple sources of intel] …

He explained that *Near-Certainty* standards mean “that it was an Al Qaeda compound frequented by an al-Qaeda leader + that civilans wouldn’t be hurt”…

[The *Near-Certainty” standards are described in this link, a White House Fact Sheet Tweeted by @MicahZenko = “US Policy Standards and Procedures for the Use of Force in Counterterrorism Operations Outside the United States and Areas of Active Hostilities”

All these *Near-Certainty* standards were observed, and yet two hostages [that the US did not even know were on the site] were killed, so there will now be some kind of reassessment to see how such ops could be improved, Earnest indicated.

But these ops will not be stopped, Earnest said: “These CT [CounterTerrorism] ops, which are critical to the nationale security of the US and to the safety of American people, will continue”…

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UN office in Ramallah closed by protests about Palestinian prisoners

The UN office in Ramallah has been closed this morning by protesters angry about the UN’s inaction on the situation of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, particularly those held for “security” reasons under Administrative Detention procedures. Some 125 Administrative Detainees are now on the 41st day of a hunger strike to protest Administrative Detention and the conditions under which they’re being held.

A photo — Tweeted by Ahmad this morning, and posted here.

Ahmad @ANimer – .@UN office in #Ramallah is closed
#PalHunger #UNClosed pic.twitter.com/0iGCIk9vV4

UN office in Ramallah closed in Ramallah by protesters angry about lack of support to prisoners
UN office in Ramallah closed in Ramallah by protesters angry about lack of support to prisoners

The image was also Tweeted here by Diana Alzeer @ManaraRam
Outside the #UN building sprayed by activists today! UN = UNFAIR/ UNHELPFUL. UN offices are shut down today! #??_???? pic.twitter.com/ViNXZl7NbR

There was headway being made against Administrative Detention in 2012, but momentum was lost due to lack of support from some Palestinian activists who disputed its relative importance [affecting only approximately 200 people, by contrast with the 5,100 or so being held under other military court rules.

Haaretz newspaper has published an editorial here calling for a “review” of how Israel uses Administrative Detention. It’s subhead says: “Israel must…stop using it wholesale to perpetuate the occupation”.

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[UPDATE: text now published by Obama's NSC] Neither White House nor State Department have published deal on Iran's nuclear program.

From the IAEA meetings in Vienna this morning, this Tweet noting that the U.S. Government had still not published the text of the deal agreed in Geneva very early on Sunday:
Mark Hibbs @MarkHibbsCEIP — Heard here in Vienna just now that USG still has not published the text of the #Iran deal.

But British journalist Julian Borger of The Guardian replied, by Twitter:
@julianborger — @MarkHibbsCEIP NSC [the U.S. President’s National Security Councii] emailed it [the Joint Plan of Action] a few days ago, but I can’t find it either on the State Dept or White House websites. Just the ‘fact’ sheet.

UPDATE: Now, The full text of the Joint Plan of Action can be found on the National Security Council website here — the posting seemed to have been on November 27.

The full text of the deal was published first by the Fars News Agency here, and then picked up with a caveat by Reuters here. It wasn’t until many hours later that it was also posted on the European Union’s website here.

A full day after the deal, the U.S. State Department Tweeted a link to the EU website for the Joint Plan of Action
Joshua H. Pollack @Joshua_Pollack 25 Nov — This appears to be the best text online MT @StateDept: Read the P5+1 and #Iran Joint Plan of Action [here].

Mark Hibbs [Berlin-based Senior Associate, Nuclear Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace] replied, on Twitter:
@MarkHibbsCEIP — @julianborger Maybe they reasoned that if EU-3 felt it owned the Iran negotiation, it could own the document-!

The White House published only a “Fact Sheet”, here, which appears to be a list of U.S. talking points on the first phase of this deal.

From Washington, Joshua Pollack [consultant to the US government, contributor to the Arms Control Wonk blog and to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists] Tweeted earlier:
@Joshua_Pollack — Iran’s MFA dislikes the White House fact sheet on the Joint Plan of Action: see here … Well, the fact sheet is not diplomatic.

He described what’s wrong, for the Iranians, in the White House Fact Sheet
@Joshua_Pollack — Irritants in the WH fact sheet: triumphal tone, emphasis on Iranian concessions, continuing sanctions, & temporary nature of relief, (1/2)
@Joshua_Pollack — Irritants in the WH fact sheet, ctd: …naming Parchin, Additional Protocol, Modified Code 3.1. Same substance, different spin. (2/2)
@Joshua_Pollack — Both Iran’s govt and the USG need to sell the JPOA at home. But these efforts could “bleed over” to the other side. Spin with care!

Then, Mark Hibbs pointed to the remarks made by Iran’s Foreign Minister to the Majlis as being equally provocative:
@MarkHibbsCEIP — @Joshua_Pollack On other side @JZarif spin on Arak to placate hardliners in #Iran will cause @teaparty heartburn here

Earlier, Iraniah journalist Hassan Soleimani reported:
H.Soleimani @MashreghNews_ir — FM #zarif in parlimnt.: revert to 20% enrichment takes only one hour.

Meanwhile, on 26 November, as Robert Mackey reported here on his New York Times blog, TheLede, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry posted a Youtube explanating the U.S. view of the deal in “simple English”:

And, also thanks to Mackey’s TheLede, here is Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif explaining the deal on Iranian TV [IRIB], with English subtitles:

Iranian Foreign Ministry exasperated: White House didn't publish deal, only its own talking points

Iran FM @JZarif told the Majlis, or Parliament today: “While we were negotiating (in Geneva), the White House released a text as a fact sheet of the negotiations … While they could release the original text..they released that fact sheet because they wanted to make their desired changes in it”. This is reported here.

It was confusing, on Sunday, after the agreement was announced following hours of exhausting negotiations. Why was it so hard to find an authoritative version of the text of the Joint Plan of Action agreed in Geneva?

The full text of the deal was published first by the Fars News Agency here, and then picked up hours later, with a caveat, by Reuters here. Then, many more hours later, it was posted on the European Union’s website here.

Meanwhile, the White House published only a “Fact Sheet”, here, which appears to be a list of U.S. talking points on the first phase of this deal.

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100 Days in Office: Hassan Rouhani reports on his Presidency

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has reported to his nation tonight on his first 100 days in office.

Part of his report is this music video of many voices — “Let space and opportunity be given to all Iranians devoted to this land”…

In it, Rouhani says [as part of his inauguration speech?]: “For to our goal, the path is long, and I’m a new voyager”… UPDATE: Thomas Erdbrink has just written in the New York Times, here, that this line, too, is from the Persian poet Hafez, just is as another line immediately preceeding it, and indentified in the video. Erdbrink also notes that in the video, Rouhani is shown “alongside musical instruments — which are banned on state television — and women singing…The video was released only on Iranian social media and YouTube, where it got around 400,000 views in 24 hours, said its director, Hossein Dehbashi”.

It is wonderful…

Erdbrink reports that the video :shows Mr. Rouhani addressing the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, at his inauguration in August, with Iranians in a split screen speaking and singing the president’s words…The video has yet to be shown on state-run television, which is controlled by Mr. Rouhani’s hard-line opponents, but can be seen on Mr. Rouhani’s personal website, Rouhani.ir”.

RFERL journalist in Washington Golnaz Esfandiari explained here that:

“The beautifully made black-and-white clip, which includes segments of the Iranian president’s August 3 inauguration speech mixed with music, singing, and sign language, has been released to mark the first 100 days of his presidency… Rohani’s video was posted on his website and shared on Twitter by the unverified account of the Iranian president, which is said to be maintained by his media team…The clip, which features a well-known singer and actor, Amir Hossein Modaress, was produced by Iranian documentary-maker Hossein Dehbashi, who also worked on Rohani’s election campaign videos. Dehbashi has been quoted by Iranian media as saying that the video was created ‘spontaneously'”

In the clip, unprecedented for an Iranian president, people of all ages play musical instruments and sing to Rohani’s words in Persian, but also in the languages of Iran’s minorities, including Kurdish and Arabic. The clip also includes sound bites from prominent figures in Iran’s modern history including Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and the founder of the Islamic Republic Ruhollah Khomeini.

The main takeaway of the clip seems to be unity:
“Let space and opportunity be given to all Iranians who are devoted to this land. Let those who are competent serve the nation. Let their hearts be cleansed from hatred. Let reconciliation replace anger and friendship replace enmity”.

Rohani said his government wants happiness to return to the Iranian people’s lives and calls on God to guide him”…

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"We have reached an agreement"

At about 4 in the morning in Geneva, the Foreign Ministers the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Counci [the worlds only recognized nuclear powers], plus Germany, plus the European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton, stood before the press in the Palais des Nations in Geneva to affirm the earlier Tweet by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif announcing that they had agreed on a deal.
@JZarif 24 Nov — “We have reached an agreement”.

The deal is a six-month first phase in a process that is expected to last about a year…

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A review of the findings: Arafat's mystery death [murdered by poisoning]

Former Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser al-Qidwa told Al-Jazeera, here, that the reason there had been no autopsy on Yasser Arafat is “because the Palestinian people would have seen with their own eyes a huge betrayal, and a big crime committed against them – the crime of killing their own leader.”

From the very beginning, al-Qidwa said [to me + to others] that he believed his uncle, Yasser Arafat, had been poisoned.

He said it again in Al-Jazeera’s latest investigative documentary on Arafat’s death, “Killing Arafat”, aired on November 10: “There was clear evidence that this was a case of assassination, that Yasser Arafat was actually killed by, by poison”.

It became clear relatively quickly at the Muqata in Ramallah in October 2004 that Arafat had more than a bad case of the flu.

Saeb Erekat, perennial Palestinian chief negotiator, told Al-Jazeera that during Arafat’s final days at Percy Military Hospital outside Paris, he received a phone call from Nasser al-Qidwa, who was at the hospital. Al-Qidwa, Erekat said, asked him “to tell the Americans to ask the Israelis for the antidote.” No further information was given about what the Americans may have said or done – but no antidote seems to have been produced. Arafat died on 11 November 2004.

Over a year ago, Al-Jazeera’s documentary, What Killed Arafat?, which aired on 4 July 2012, reported stunning findings from a Swiss lab which indicated possible Polonium-210 poisoning.

This news was a jolt to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, though they had already survived, nearly unscathed, Al-Jazeera’s January 2011 “Palestine Papers”, here, a special series of reports based on documents leaked from Ramallah offices that revealed embarrassing details about Palestinian negotiating conduct during direct talks with Israel.  Clayton Swisher, now Al-Jazeera’s Investigative Journalism Manager, worked on the “Palestine Papers”.  He then worked – in close collaboration with Arafat’s widow, Suha [who’s lived abroad, with her daughter, for years] – on the two documentaries investigating Arafat’s final illness and death.

Some in the Palestinian leadership believed Al-Jazeera was out to get them.

There were subliminal messages: In “What Killed Arafat?”, Swisher states that at the time of Arafat’s death, “Regime change is exactly what Washington + Tel Aviv had in mind”.  This is superimposed over archival footage of Mahmoud Abbas speaking about democracy to the PA’s Legislative Council [PLC].

That documentary also included the archival audio of Suha Arafat calling Al-Jazeera from the hospital in France in 2004 and saying, live on air, in a strident tone: “Let the honest Palestinian people know that a bunch of those who want to inherit are coming to Paris.  You have to realize the size of the conspiracy.  I tell you, they are trying to bury Abu Ammar alive”.  This audio is superimposed over footage of Mahmoud Abbas, Ahmad Qurei’a, and Sa’eb Erekat being received soon afterwards at the Elysees Palace by France’s then-President Jacques Chirac.

Nevertheless, within hours of the broadcast, Mahmoud Abbas ordered Palestinian cooperation with any investigation. By contrast, Abbas reportedly opposed an autopsy at the time of Arafat’s death – reportedly, “to avoid any problem with the French authorities”…

Nabil Shaath said in “Killing Arafat” that “the French did not really encourage an autopsy”…

Suha had also reportedly opposed an autopsy, but she denied it adamantly again, in “Killing Arafat”.  She has told Al-Jazeera that she simply was overcome and in shock, and did not even think of it.   She then told Le Figaro, in August 2012, that it would have been “dangerous” to bring up poisoning right after Arafat’s death.

However, according to an account written by two Israeli journalists in 2005, Suha refused doing a liver biopsy in a French hospital four days before his death.  Neither she nor her daughter returned to Ramallah for the burial in the Muqata’a, which was a chaotic scene. Arafat’s body was returned to Ramallah by Egyptian helicopter in a sealed coffin on 12 November 2004, and buried in the midst of a churning crowd inside the Muqata’a.  However, according to a lengthy report by Suzanne Goldenberg, published  here on 16 December 2004 by The Guardian newspaper, Sheikh Taissir Tamimi, then the chief Palestinian religious official, had been upset by the non-observance of tradition during the burial, and supervised the exhumation of Arafat’s body at 2 am.  The body, according to this account, was removed from the sealed coffin, and reburied in a shroud.    Tamimi told The Guardian: “We broke the cement and the stones, and we took the coffin out. I saw him, touched him and prayed over him, and I was able to bury him properly”.  Then, the story added, “guards returned the body to its place, a cement container that was built to line and preserve the gravesite in the hope that one day Arafat would be borne to Jerusalem following the creation of a Palestinian state”.

In any case, although poisoning was suspected, there was apparently no effort, even at the time of Arafat’s burial in Ramallah, to take samples from his hair or fingernails for later testing.

Swisher just reported, in “Killing Arafat,” that the decision not to do an autopsy was taken by the “Palestinian leadership.”

After the broadcast of “What Killed Arafat?” in July 2012, the Palestinian investigation is now more closely run by Mahmoud Abbas.  Abbas’ term as President of the Oslo-Accords-created Palestinian Authority has arguably expired [after Arafat’s death, he was elected to a four-year term in January 2005,  which was then extended for another year, until January 2010, to allow for simultaneous balloting on a new Palestine Legislative Council, but the Fatah-Hamas rift has justified indefinite extension].  Abbas continues to hold office until new elections which he himself must call — he has already been ruling by Executive Decree under emergency powers since mid-2007.   Meanwhile, like Arafat, Abbas has consolidated all three  reins of Palestinian political power, including the leadership of Fateh, the largest Palestinian political movement, as well as the Chairmanship of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization [the position which carries with it the title he assumed last year, when he signed the application for UN membership: President of the State of Palestine]…

Meanwhile, Swisher became subject to conspicuous surveillance during working visits to Ramallah, was insulted and treated with disdain by Palestinian security personnel [all shown, in “Killing Arafat”]. The antagonism between Swisher and the Palestinian leadership has only increased.

Swisher has Tweeted this telling result from an Al-Jazeera Arabic opinion poll:
Clayton Swisher @claytonswisher 13 Nov — In a poll commissioned by @kasimf viewers were asked “Do you think the PA wants to find who killed #Arafat. Of 10,438 polled, 93% answer NO.

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