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.

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

Reports of Chemical Weapons use in Syria: A Chronology – Working Draft Part 2 [the attacks on 21 Aug 2013]

A Chronology of Reports of
Chemical Weapons use in Syria

Working Draft Part 2 [21 Aug 2013]

This is an account of all the reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, including warnings of imminent use. The Chronology is ordered according to the dates on which the events happened
[rather than the dates on which they were reported]

Read Part 1 of this Chronology here

Read Part 3 of this Chronology here

21 August 2013: evidence emerged from Syria of pre-dawn attacks including use of chemical weapons on the Ghouta area in the Damascus suburbs contested by rebel forces and Syrian army units. This attack differs from all previous CW attacks in Syria because of the large number of victims: over 1500 are believed to have died.

Human Rights Watch [HRW] wrote, in their report issued on 10 September 2013: “As more details became available, it became clear that the attack had affected two separate opposition-controlled districts in Damascus Suburbs governorate, located 16 kilometers apart. According to local residents, the Zamalka neighborhood in Eastern Ghouta was struck by rockets at some time between 2 and 3 a.m., and the Moadamiya neighborhood in Western Ghouta was struck by rockets at about 5 a.m., shortly after the completion of the Muslim morning prayer”.

HRW map showing the likely source of CW-carrying rockets fired on Ghouta areas
HRW map showing the likely source of CW-carrying rockets fired on Ghouta

One witness in Moadamiya told HRW, “We didn’t smell anything” — even as people began exhibiting symptoms and fainting, . [In its pure form, Sarin is a clear, colorless, tasteless and odorless liquid. See Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Emergency Preparedness and Response: Facts about Sarin,” here.]

“Sarin is a toxic but non-persistent nerve agent. Exposure is usually due to inhalation, and the agent rather quickly degrades and disperses into atmosphere… There are reports that people were able to visit the sites of the attacks a few hours post attack and to handle remnants of rockets associated with the attacks without suffering signs and symptoms of exposure to nerve agent. This suggests that the nerve agent involved is more likely to be the less persistent and less toxic agent, Sarin, rather than VX… The large number of victims of the attack, the clinical signs and symptoms that characterized both the victims and, later, the medical workers who treated the victims, and the fact that areas near attack sites were apparently safe to enter soon after the attack, all strongly suggest that the attack involved an organophosphate chemical more toxic that the pesticide Malathion, and was most likely a toxic but non-persistent chemical warfare nerve agent, such as Sarin, which Syria is believed to possess.

“There is laboratory evidence that Sarin gas has been used in previous attacks allegedly carried out by Syrian government forces, including an earlier attack in Ghouta. A photographer for Le Monde newspaper, Laurent Van der Stockt, was exposed to what he believed was a chemical weapon attack while in Jobar in April 2013. In laboratory tests conducted upon his return to France, he tested positive for exposure to Sarin. [See Le Monde article published on 27 May 2013, here, which is referred to in Part 1 of this Working Draft Chronology]

The HRW report says “The precise identification of the specific chemical agent used in the August 21 attack requires the collection of samples from weapon remnants, environmental samples, and physiological samples from those directly or indirectly exposed to the chemical agent. Subsequent specialized analyses of these samples can reveal the specific agent itself or the reaction or degradation products characteristic of a specific agent.  The UN investigative team has collected such samples, and will issue its findings after the completion of its investigation… This is posted here.

Moadamiya  – [western Ghouta]

A witness in Moadamiya media center told HRW that “all of the rockets were of the same type”  [identified by Human Rights Watch as a Soviet- produced 140mm rocket], and said he counted 7 rockets which fell in two areas of Moadamiya.

HRW says “the attack on Moadamiya on August 21 represents the first known appearance of the 140mm rocket, which has not [previously] been documented in use in the current Syrian conflict”.

“The 140mm rocket is documented in standard reference materials as being present in the Syrian government’s weapons arsenal. Designed in the 1950s, the Soviet Union transferred 200 BM-14 launchers, the most common launcher for 140mm rockets made by the Soviet Union, to  Syria in 1967-1969… according to the database on arms transfers maintained by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

“According to a declassified US munitions catalogue and standard international reference materials published by Jane’s, only three warheads were produced for 140mm rockets:
• M-14-OF high explosive-fragmentation;
• M-14-D smoke containing white phosphorus;
• A chemical warhead containing 2.2 kilograms of Sarin.

“Based on witness statements describing the impact of the rockets and the absence of rocket remnants or reported types of injuries consistent with an attack using high explosive or incendiary payloads, Human Rights Watch believes there is little possibility that the rocket could have been carrying high explosive or incendiary payloads. Given the large number of casualties, this leaves a chemical agent warhead as a strong remaining possibility, which would be consistent with the symptoms displayed by the victims.

HRW graphic showing origin + flight paths of sarin-loaded rockets - 17 Sept 2013

Zamalka – [Eastern Ghouta]

Human Rights Watch documented the use of apparent surface-to-surface 330mm rockets in Zamalka, Eastern Ghouta on August 21. We found no evidence of any use of the 140mm rocket system used in the Moadamiya attack in Eastern Ghouta… Human Rights Watch [was able] to confirm at least four strike sites in Zamalka where at least eight 330mm rockets struck on August 21.  This is unlikely to be a complete account of the number of rockets used in the attack… Based on the lack of evidence of a high-explosive or incendiary attack, and symptoms of victims that are consistent with a chemical attack, Human Rights Watch believes that the 330mm rockets found at the sites were used in the alleged chemical attack…

“The 330mm surface-to-surface rocket that appears to be associated with the August 21 attack on Eastern Ghouta is of a type not listed in standard, specialized, international or declassified reference materials. It is a rocket type that has not been documented before the outbreak of the current Syrian conflict, although it has been documented in a number of other attacks on opposition held areas in the months prior to the Eastern Ghouta attack, including at least one attack in which opposition activists claimed the government had carried out an alleged chemical attack (see next page)…

“Measurements determine that the estimated volume of nerve agent inside the warheads would be approximately 50 to 60 liters, compared to 2.2 liters for the warheads designed for the 140mm rockets.

“Prior to each attack, the warhead of the 330mm rocket would have to be filled with the 50 to 60 liters of nerve agent, a dangerous process that is normally conducted by specialized teams wearing protective gear to prevent exposure to the chemical agents. Human Rights Watch is not aware of any information that the opposition forces have ever possessed the amounts of chemical weapon agent necessary to deploy such rockets, or that they possess the expertise needed to fill the warheads without accidental exposure to the deadly nerve agent…

“[The] dimensions are compatible with the Iranian-produced 333mm Falaq-2 launcher, or close copies and derivatives thereof.  Iran is believed to be the only country in the world to produce rocket launchers in the 333mm category. Videos have appeared showing Syrian forces using the Falaq-2 launching system to launch what appears to be versions of the 330mm rockets, although the launches seen in the video occurred during daytime and are thus unrelated to the August 21 nighttime attack.

“The non-aerodynamic design of the rocket indicates that the rocket would be relatively short-ranged and not capable of accurate targeting. The consistency in the design of these rockets suggests that they were locally but industrially produced, and apparently designed to be deployed with the Iranian 333mm launchers or derivatives thereof.

“While Human Rights Watch cannot establish where the rockets were manufactured, their basic design and unique size matching the Iranian rocket launching system suggest a Syrian industrial origin. The production of a weapon specifically designed to deliver chemical weapons would be a violation of the 1993 Convention on Chemical Weapons, of which only five countries, including Syria, are not parties [n.b. – Syria acceded on 14 September].  While a separate, high-explosive warhead version of the rocket appears to exist based on attacks in other areas, three design differences appear to distinguish the suspected chemical weapon type from the suspected high-explosive type… All of the 330mm rocket remnants identified by Human Rights Watch in the Eastern Ghouta Zamalka attack are of the suspected chemical weapons variant, with red numbering, a shorter-sized warhead, and an additional fill plug.  Most significantly, the design of the payload of the rockets found at the scene of the Eastern Ghouta August 21 attack strongly indicates that it is compatible, and perhaps specifically designed, for the delivery of chemical agents…

Source: “Attacks on Ghouta: Analysis of Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria”, Human Rights Watch, 10 September 2013.  Posted here.

 ************

21 August 2013:  Alternate theory [Tom Wyld]: “Based on my past analyses of the fighting in East Ghouta and appraisals of their involvement in Syrian command and control, I assess as highly likely that Hezbollah and Sepah Pasdaran (Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) were involved in the attack.  If reports are accurate, this is an extraordinary military and geo-political development with grave international consequences”. This is posted here.


End of Part 2

Reports of Chemical Weapons use in Syria: A Chronology – UPDATED Working Draft Part 1 [Jan 2012 to 21 Aug 2013]

A Chronology of Reports of
Chemical Weapons use in Syria

[UPDATED] Working Draft Part 1 [January 2012 to 21 August 2013]

This is an account of all the reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, including warnings of imminent use. The Chronology is ordered according to the dates on which the events happened
[rather than the dates on which they were reported]

Read Part 2 of this Chronology here

Read Part 3 of this Chronology here

January 2012 to August 21 2013

January 2012: The UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills granted export licences to an unnamed UK chemical company on 17 and 18 January 2012 to send dual-use chemicals [that are used in production of sarin] to Syria — for “use in industrial processes”. The Business Department said “it had accepted assurances from the exporting company that the chemicals would be used in the manufacture of metal window frames and shower enclosures”. A Department spokesperson said these chemicals were requested “for metal finishing of aluminium profiles used in making aluminium showers and aluminium window frames”.

July 2012: The permits were eventually revoked in July, in response to tightened European Union sanctions — before these chemicals were exported. Critics said “it appeared the substances had only stayed out of Syria by chance”…. “Although the export deal, first reported by The Sunday Mail in Scotland, was outlawed by the EU on 17 June last year in a package of sanctions against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the licences were not revoked until 30 July. Chemical weapons experts said that although the two substances have a variety of uses such as the fluoridation of drinking water, sodium and potassium fluoride are also key to producing the chemical effect which makes a nerve agent such as sarin so toxic”.  Source: “Revealed: UK Government let British company export nerve gas chemicals to Syria: UK accused of ‘breath-taking laxity’ over export licence for potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride”, by Cahal Milmo, Andy McSmith , Nikhil Kumar, published by The Independent on 2 September 2013, posted here.

But, The Daily Mail reported on 7 September that: “Between July 2004 and May 2010 the Government issued five export licences to two companies, allowing them to sell Syria sodium fluoride, which is used to make sarin. The Government last night admitted for the first time that the chemical was delivered to Syria – a clear breach of international protocol on the trade of dangerous substances that has been condemned as ‘grossly irresponsible’… The sales were made at a time when President Bashar Assad was strongly suspected to be stockpiling the chemical weapons that have caused an international crisis. The UK firms delivered sodium fluoride to a Syrian cosmetics company for what they claim were legitimate purposes”.
Thomas Docherty MP, a member of the Commons Arms Export Controls Committee, said: ‘Previously we thought that while export licences had been granted, no chemicals were actually delivered. Now we know that in the build-up to the Syrian civil war, UK companies – with the backing of our Government – were supplying this potentially lethal substance. While the last export licence was issued in May 2010, these licences are obtained prior to manufacture and the industry standard is for four to five months to pass before the chemicals are delivered. So we are looking at late 2010 for the British supplies of sodium fluoride reaching Syria’…”
Source: “Britain sent poison gas chemicals to Assad: Proof that the UK delivered Sarin agent to Syrian regime for SIX years”, Mark Nicol, The Daily Mail, 7 September 2013 – updated 8 September 2013, posted here.

It appears that the news of these sales + export licenses was leaked in the immediate aftermath of the parliamentary defeat of the UK Government motion, at the end of August 2013, to join in proposed military strikes on Syria in the aftermath of the 21 August 2013 #CW attacks on Ghoutha which killed hundreds, possibly over 1500, of civilian casualties.

*****************************

13 July 13 2012: News reports indicated that the Syrian government was moving its #CW stockpile to one or more undisclosed location[s].
“Red Line” remarks:

13 July 13 2012: Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters at the Pentagon later that same day, however, that “The Syrian regime has control of its chemical weapons stockpiles”. He added: “We believe that the Syrian government has a very serious responsibility to protect its stockpiles of chemical weapons…We would, of course, caution them strongly against any intention to use those weapons. That would cross a serious red line”. And, he said, if any Syrian officials choose to utilize chemical weapons they will be held accountable for their actions. Little added that “We are watching very closely — not just the United States, but the international community — to make sure that they maintain control over those stockpiles, and of course, to ensure that they don’t use them”… Posted here.
20 August 2012 – US President Barak Obama: “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus…That would change my equation…We’re monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans”.   Source: James Ball, the Washington Post, posted here.

18 July 2012: First Iranian letter [or “warning”] sent through Swiss Embassy in Tehran to Washington warning of preparations [by “rebels”] for #CW use in Syria.

Scott Peterson reported recently in the Christian Science Monitor that “Iran says that it warned the United States directly, in mid- and late- 2012, and at least once after that, about the risks of chemical weapons among the rebels…The [Iranian] letter acquired by the Monitor references messages from July 18 and Dec. 1, 2012″. Posted here.

Peterson’s report followed up on remarks by the new Foreign Minister of Iran, on 1 September 2013, that Iran had informed the US 9 months earlier that “extremist elements” are transferring chemical weapons to Syria. In an interview with the Iranian weekly, Aseman, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the country had sent an official memo to the Swiss embassy in Tehran which represents the US interests section in Iran and informed US that ‘Hand-made chemical weapon Sarin is being transferring to Syria’… “In that memo we warned that extremist groups may use the chemical agents,” Zarif said — although the “Americans never replied to the memo.” This is published here.

===========================

23 July 2013:  The French Government report issued on 2 September reported this: “Syria has long been equipped with a a massive chemical arsenal, together with many related delivery systems. The Syrian regime acknowledged as much on July 23, 2012 through its Foreign Affairs spokesperson, who confirmed that: ‘these different weapons [chemical and non-conventional] are stockpiled and secured under the supervision of the armed forces’…”

Source: ‘National executive summary of declassified intelligence: Assessment of Syria’s chemical warfare programme’, French Government report dated 2 September 2013, posted here.

===========================

September 2012: US + Russian officials began work, bilaterally, without public announcement, on the issue of Syria’s #CW, as we learned a year later, on 14 September 2013:

Paul Adams @BBCPaulAdams 14 Sep 2013 — US officials in Geneva say Americans and Russians have been discussing how to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons for a year.

Marian Houk @Marianhouk 15 Sep 2013 — Transcript of background briefing by State Dept officials at US Mission in Geneva yesterday mentions 1 year of US-Russian contacts on #Syria

US State Dept official[s] briefing on background in Geneva on 14 September: “We had groups that have been meeting for a year between our national security councils to talk about the elimination + destruction of #CW…in Syria, because the entire world understood that if we got to a peace, we were going to have to deal with the chemical weapons… There’ve been, I think, 5 meetings of that group over the past yr, so we already had experience working w/ each other + sharing expert info…But we did not come to this meeting with a full-fledged plan”. This is posted here.

17 September 2012: Der Spiegel reports that Syria’s military had conducted #CW tests:
“The Syrian army is believed to have tested missile systems for poison gas shells at the end of August, statements from various witnesses indicate. The tests took place near a chemical weapons research center at Safira east of Aleppo, witnesses told SPIEGEL. A total of five or six empty shells devised for delivering chemical agents were fired by tanks and aircraft, at a site called Diraiham in the desert near the village of Khanasir. Iranian officers believed to be members of the Revolutionary Guards were flown in by helicopter for the testing, according to the statements…In recent months, the guards have been replaced and reinforced by more than 100 elite troops from the 4th Tank Division. In addition, power generators and large supplies of diesel have recently been brought to the plant to safeguard the supply of electricity in the event of an attack by rebels, reports say.  This is published here.

1 December 2012: Second Iranian letter, or “message”, sent through Swiss Embassy in Tehran to Washington warning of preparations [by “rebels”] for #CW use in Syria.

Scott Peterson reported recently in the Christian Science Monitor that “Iran says that it warned the United States directly, in mid- and late- 2012, and at least once after that, about the risks of chemical weapons among the rebels…The [Iranian] letter acquired by the Monitor references messages from July 18 and Dec. 1, 2012″. This is posted here.

 

3 December 2012: Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman wrote for Wired.com’s Danger Room: “Engineers working for the Assad regime in Syria have begun combining the two chemical precursors needed to weaponize sarin gas [ isopropanol, popularly known as rubbing alcohol, and methylphosphonyl difluoride], an American official with knowledge of the situation tells Danger Room.  The U.S. doesn’t know why the Syrian military made the move, which began in the middle of last week and is taking place in central Syria…[Last week] the Syrian military began combining some of the binaries. ‘They didn’t do it on the whole arsenal, just a modest quantity’, the official says … Back in July, the Assad regime publicly warned that it might use its chemical weapons to stop ‘external’ forces from interfering in Syria’s bloody civil war. The announcement sparked a panic in the intelligence services of the U.S. and its allies, which stepped up their efforts to block shipments of precursors for those weapons from entering the country … Fighting around the Syrian capital of Damascus has intensified, as rebel troops captured a half-dozen bases around the city”.

Source: ‘Exclusive: U.S. Sees Syria Prepping Chemical Weapons for Possible Attack’, Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman, Wired.com’s Danger Room, 3 December 2012, posted  http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/12/syria-chemical-weapons-3/

 

14 December 2012: “With Syrian rebel forces gaining in strength, elite units loyal to Bashar Assad received a frightening order a few weeks ago: begin preparations that could lead to the use of chemical weapons…Danger Room first reported last week that U.S. officials recently saw indications that at least some Syrian military forces mixed precursor chemicals for sarin gas, which got the weaponized stocks to the point where they could be loaded onto planes and dropped.

The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick adds detail to that account. Some elite troops received “specific orders” to prep the weapons. At least one Syrian army unit was caught on surveillance photos loading “special military vehicles” that could be used to transport the weapons…  Warrick writes that there were fears throughout the U.S. intelligence community that ‘a single commander could unleash the deadly poisons without orders from higher up the chain of command’… Assad’s motivations remain unclear to U.S. officials, but according to Warrick, someone in the Syrian chain of command provided instructions to prep sarin for potential battlefield use about two weeks ago. Assad’s intentions are unknowable, but using sarin will most foreclose on the life-saving option of finding a foreign country willing to accept Assad for exile”.
Source: ‘U.S. Surveillance Caught Syria’s Chemical Weapons Prep’, Spencer Ackerman, The Danger Room on Wired.com, 14 December 2012. This is posted here.

 

Continue reading “Reports of Chemical Weapons use in Syria: A Chronology – UPDATED Working Draft Part 1 [Jan 2012 to 21 Aug 2013]”

The Turkel Commission, Part 2 — new recommendations to improve Israel's military investigations

International law professor Aeyal Gross has written in Haaretz that, in its Part 2 report which was presented to Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, “The Turkel committee made 18 recommendations in an effort to improve the mechanisms through which investigations of IDF conduct are carried out. In principle, the committee noted, existing procedure complies with the requirements of international law, although there are certain areas in which there is room for improvement, including actual change in policy”.

That was an understatement. But, it was just the beginning. Aeyal Gross added that “The recommendations are designed to improve investigation procedures in the future, the committee said, and should not be construed as suggesting that the manner in which investigations have been carried out up to now, including the IDF’s investigation of the flotilla incident, was flawed. On the positive side, among the newly released recommendations were those relating to the need to explicitly integrate into Israeli law the rules regarding war crimes and to pass a law that imposes responsibility on IDF commanders and their civilian superiors for violations committed by those who report to them. That responsibility arises when the commanders or their superiors do not take reasonable steps to prevent those violations or do not act to bring those who committed such acts to justice. Those two recommendations are consistent with what international law requires”. This is published here.

Continue reading “The Turkel Commission, Part 2 — new recommendations to improve Israel's military investigations”

[Exhibit A] Israel Government Press Office [GPO] claimed "Rules" in December — now, what?

Exhibit A – an email from the Israeli Government Press Office [GPO] dated 13 December 2011, apparently sent on instructions from then-Director Oren Hellman [it was apparently one of his last days in office, before he left for a new job at the Israel Electric Company], about bloggers being journalists and getting “GPO Cards”.

Most journalists who read this emailed press release understood it to mean that bloggers will henceforth get GPO Cards.

However, today, Amir Mizroch [@Amirmizroch], editor of the English-language edition of Israel Hayom, reported on Twitter that he’s just received a letter from the Israel GPO saying that “Blogging for Newspaper not journalism”, and denying a GPO Cards to his newspaper’s bloggers.

This is July.

Last December, the GPO appeared to have a very different position, which they announced publicly:

**************************

From: ???? ??????
Date: 2011/12/13
Subject: BLOGGERS TO RECEIVE GPO CARDS
To: “gponews@netvision.net.il”

State of Israel
Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs
Government Press Office

BLOGGERS TO RECEIVE GPO CARDS

“The Advisory Committee on Evaluating the Criteria for Issuing Government Press Office (GPO) Cards this morning (Tuesday), 13.12.11, submitted its recommendations to Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, Public Diplomacy, Diaspora Affairs Ministry Director-General Ronen Plot and GPO Director Oren Helman.

The Committee recommended unifying the various types of cards issued by the GPO under the single heading “GPO Card” which would serve all those engaged in media professions.

In light of the Committee’s recommendations, it was proposed to expand the content of the substantive definitions of media and the list of media professions and positions in order to adapt them to recent changes and developments in the field. The new definitions include media professions and means such as bloggers and niche portals.

The new definitions created by the Committee will make things easier for documentary film makers who, due to the nature of their work, do not operate under a permanent professional roof. Similarly, the Committee lifted various restrictions that prevented the issuing of GPO cards, such as scope of output, the requirement to distinguish between managing directors and editors, and the need that those applying for GPO cards be engaged in media work full-time.

Committee Chairwoman retired Judge Sara Frisch said that, “The positions and the comments that were brought before the Committee strengthened the need, in my view and that of my colleagues, to change the rules and broaden the definitions of media vis-à-vis the issuing of GPO cards according to the rules. The Committee’s recommendations were formulated such that the criteria for issuing GPO cards will be as inclusive and comprehensive as possible, while maintaining their effective benefit and preventing the excessive issuing of the cards, which would be liable to harm journalists’ work itself.”

Minister Yuli Edelstein said that, “At a time when claims are being raised about shutting people up, reducing freedom of the press and interference, the Committee’s recommendations are genuinely good news in expanding pluralism and reducing the room for consideration by the issuing authority regarding the issuing of press credentials. The Committee’s recommendations give expression to the undeniable changes vis-à-vis the development of the new media and questions of what is a newspaper and who is a journalist. We are in a new era which finds expression in the recommendations of the Committee.”

GPO Director Oren Helman said that, “I ascribe great importance to the Committee’s recommendations and the opening of the ranks so as to allow a younger generation of journalists to receive access to events and to the sources of government information, due to their being included in the eligibility for GPO cards. This is a genuine reform in the work of the GPO, which will lead to media pluralism and the strengthening of a very important democratic value – freedom of the press and media openness. The new structure of rules recommended by the Committee gives a genuine response to the technological challenges and developments being dealt with by the GPO.”

GPO Director Helman added that, “Defining in legislation the definition of who is a journalist would be bad for democracy and bad for journalism. We must avoid the possibility of influencing content via the definition of who is a journalist.”

The Committee’s recommendations were formulated with the consent of most Committee members – Shalom Kital, Yossi Ahimeir, Niv Calderon and Samir Darwish – except for a minority opinion by Committee member Dr. Amit Lavie-Dinur, which is included in the Committee report”.

The isolation + demonization of Gaza

Here are some young men surfing — in Gaza.

The photo is the 9th in a photo album on daily life in Gaza published by The Guardian newspaper here

From Guardian GazaLive blogging + tweeting on life in Gaza - photo by Rex Features

And here is another photo, the 15th and last,  in the same Guardian photo album:
From the Guardian -  man in cart drawn by donkey on Gaza's beachfront - photo by Rex Features

The Guardian writes in what newspapers used to call a “special package” but which is here called a “live blog” on a day in the life of Gaza that there are 1.7 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip — slightly higher than other estimates [some of which have showed a decrease in the population from the previous 1.5 million round figure to 1.4 million].

Continue reading “The isolation + demonization of Gaza”

Sometimes, it's all too much

Sometimes, things here in Israel-Palestine just get to be too much.

There are always things to write about — too many, more than one person can possibly handle, sometimes 5 – 25 things a day.

Due to this pressure, and circumstances beyond our control, I could not write for a while.

So, with apologies for the unscheduled break, I plan to resume shortly.

Internet access unavailable for 1 week

Though our servers in California were fine, we did not have internet access from north Jerusalem for the past week, and were unable to post.

Now, we are back online, and will update soon…

[Oh, and by the way, no water either, from Wednesday until Friday…]

UPDATE: This deprivation of internet services was due to two factors —

(1) PalTel, getting nervous about the economic crisis in the West Bank, decided to cut phone service immediately for anyone who was even slightly late in paying their phone bill. This shows great disloyalty to PalTel’s customer base. Many people were affected, including the elderly and the handicapped. Some people don’t even ever get a bill — in Ramallah, it can be thrown over the fence, and then blown into the neighbors’ yards or down the street. In my case, it is because I am on the other side of the Wall, and my phone was put in before the Wall was closed [while the phone service I ordered from Israel’s Bezeq company has not been installed yet…] Because of this greedy + insulting behavior from PalTel, I am strongly considering cancelling my line.

(2) Then, there were a series of hacker attacks on PalTel and including on the Hadara internet lines. Those attacks lasted for days. But, it took until the following week for officials to comment — and they had to be coaxed, at that. A story about these comments is posted on the Ma’an News Agency website, here, reporting that:

    “In comments on PA TV program ‘Facing the Media’ Paltel Chief Executive Ammar al-Ikir said: ‘There is an electronic war against Palestine, which began after Palestine became a member of UNESCO’.”

em>and

    “PA communication and information technology minister Mashhour Abu Dakka told the program ‘we were able to stop 99 percent of the hackers’ attacks and only a few of them were successful … [but] This attack will not be the last, and the hacking will not stop’, Abu Dakka said, calling Wednesday’s shut down a massive loss that tricked current systems by using new tactics” … On Wednesday PalTel issued a statement saying that its’ service is facing “interruptions” which are slowing down the connection, and last week several Palestinian news sites were temporarily shut down by hackers, including sites affiliated to Ma’an”.

Guantanamo Detention Camp anniversary

China Matters this week marked, here, the tenth anniversary of the U.S. Government’s founding of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp for illegal enemy combattants…

China Hand [Peter Lee] wrote in his blog post that “January 2012 marks the 10th melancholy anniversary of the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay … Meanwhile, Guantanamo remains open and an embarrassing symbol, both of US reliance on extrajudicial detention and harsh interrogation (which will continue on US military bases and in black offshore prison no matter what happens to the flagship enterprise in Guantanamo) and American political gridlock”.

The post, published on 16 January, gives a brief but interesting account of how U.S. Presidential Candidate Newt Gingrich managed to ignite “the firestorm of criticism that prevented the public release of 17 Uighur captives from Guantanamo to Germany and the United States in early 2009″…

After reading that account, it would be interesting to compare it to this account of the release of one Uighur, “From Guantánamo to Palau: Exchanging One Prison for Another“, reported by Seema Saifee [a lawyer representing four Uighur detainees, including the one whose situation is described in this article], and published on 19 January on Spiegel Online here [found via a Tweet by the Miami Herald’s Guantanamo correspondent, Carol Rosenberg, @carolrosenberg]

Rosa Luxemburg – 93 years ago today

My Mentor, who shall be known as “Promeneur” until he authorizes otherwise, has sent a correction to a description I wrote about Rosa Luxemburg, in my post on Donor Opium [a film critical of Palestinian dependence on donor aid, which was sponsored by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation]. He wrote [from London, via email]:

    “Starved to death??? How could you!

    Clubbed to the ground with a rifle butt by a proto-Stormtrooper, shot between the eyes, dumped in a Berlin canal … precisely 93 years ago today Sunday [15 January]. They’ll have gathered at spot, as they do every year.

    Memorise Brecht’s rhyme — ‘She told the poor what life was about / And so the rich have rubbed her out’.

    Slight frail fearless she was the real deal. Just who the Occupy movement could do with. Jewish, of course. Where’s her like today? Dare one wonder where she’d stand on … well you know what.”

Continue reading “Rosa Luxemburg – 93 years ago today”