Who/What is Ahvaaz [Avaaz] – cont'd

It was reported this afternoon that the two journalists wounded in Baba Amr quarter of Homs, Syria last week [in the same “Media Center” where Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik died in shelling that their satellite phone use very probably helped target], were “smuggled” out — and that 13 Avaaz activists died in the operation.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy hailed the effort. Speaking from the southern French city of Montpelier, where he is campaigning for the forthcoming elections, Sarkozy said he was “glad that this nightmare is over”, according to the AP http://m.apnews.com/ap/db_15716/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=ypSDmCoh.

But, a few hours later, Sarkozy retracted his remarks.

It seems that French journalist Edith Bouvier, who pleaded for evacuation from Baba Amr — because her leg was broken in two places, she could not walk, and she badly needed urgent fast surgery — was left behind and had not reached safety in Lebanon, as was previously announced. Only British journalist/cameraman Paul Convoy made it out, overnight, the BBC reported, here.

According to this BBC report, Bouvier’s whereabouts were unknown, though she apparently may have made it out of Homs, all of which is a danger zone under attack.

The BBC also reported that there was no news about the bodies of Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik.

Before this surprising turnaround, and before Sarkozy’s retraction,
Zak @TheZako commented, with apparent admiration, on Twitter:
“.@Avaaz spoxman on @BBCRadio4: 23 activists were killed during the evacuation of foreign journalists. Crazy, crazy!”

Was it 23? Or, 13?

[@Avaaz Tweeted today that: “Ricken Patel, from #Avaaz, is live on #NSCNN CNN now. “There were over 50 activists in the opp, 23 died”. But an Avaaz press release, below, says it was 13…]

And, who are these Avaaz activists, really?

    Avaaz itself announced here that “a network of Syrian activists coordinated [though a Tweet by @Avaaz says it provided “support”] by the global campaign organisation Avaaz helped the international journalist Paul Conroy escape into Lebanon. He had been injured and trapped in Baba Amr, Homs for six days under continuous Syrian government shelling. The three other journalists Javier Espinosa, Edith Bouvier and William Daniels remain unaccounted for. Avaaz responded to requests from the journalists, their families and colleagues to attempt to evacuate them and worked with over 35 heroic Syrian activists each night who volunteered to help in the rescue. The activists have offered to support in the evacuation every night since Remi Ochlik and Marie Colvin were killed by Syrian government shellfire last Wednesday, during which time they rescued 40 seriously wounded people from the same place and brought in medical supplies. Tragically this operation led to a number of fatalities as the Syrian Army targeted those escaping, during their bombardment of the city on Sunday evening. 13 activists were killed in the operation. Three activists were killed by Syrian targeted shelling as they tried to assist the journalists through Baba Amr. While Paul Conroy successfully escaped the city, ten activists died bringing relief supplies into Baba Amr. On the day of their evacuation, over 7,000 people had been forced to flee their neighbourhoods in south Homs in fear of massacres. This operation was carried by Syrians with the help of Avaaz. No other agency was involved”.

The BBC said that “Campaign group Avaaz said it had co-ordinated an operation to free the wounded journalists and two trapped colleagues, and some of the activists involved had died in the process. Avaaz executive director Ricken Patel said the rescue group had been split in two by shelling after leaving Homs, and only Mr Conroy’s group had been able to move forward. Avaaz described the three other journalists – Ms Bouvier, Javier Espinosa, and William Daniels – as ‘unaccounted for’. Mr Conroy was apparently able to walk across the border into Lebanon during the night, but our correspondent adds that the more seriously wounded Ms Bouvier would have had to be carried on a stretcher”.

Javier Espinosa, Middle East Correspondent for El Mundo [Spain], reportedly survived uninjured the same attack killed Colvin + Ochlik, and wounded Bouvier + Conroy. One of his accounts of the situation in Baba Amr was published by The Guardian, here.

William Daniels, a French photographer who was on assignment for Panos photo agency, may or may not have been wounded.

Mr. Conroy’s wife, who had given hell to British Foreign and Commonwealth Office [FCO] officials for their seeming earlier inaction on rescuing her husband, said this evening that she was thrilled. A FCO spokesperson, speaking on “customary condition of anonymity in line with policy” said that “All the necessary work is being done on repatriating Marie Colvin’s body and ensuring Paul Conroy gets to safety. For security reasons we can’t give you any more detail of that at the moment”. This is reported by CBS News here.

The Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ] issued a statement, posted here, from its New York Headquarters that “In all, eight journalists have been killed in Syria in the last four months, CPJ research shows. On Friday, a Syrian videographer Anas al-Tarsha was killed in Homs while filming a bombardment. A week earlier, another Syrian videographer, Rami al-Sayed, was killed in Baba Amr”.

CBS News also reported here that: “The Syrian opposition group Local Coordination Committees [LCC] and global activist group Avaaz said Conroy was the only foreign journalist to escape Syria. Rima Fleihan, an LCC spokeswoman, said the Sunday Times photographer was smuggled out by Syrian army defectors. The global activist group Avaaz, which said it organized the evacuation with local Syrian activists, said 35 Syrians volunteered to help get the journalists out and bring aid in. Of those, 13 were killed. Avaaz said three were killed in government shelling while trying to help Conroy through the neighborhood and 10 others were killed trying to bring in aid while Conroy was on his way out on Sunday evening … The LCC said other Western journalists are negotiating with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to be allowed to leave Syria without having their videos and photos confiscated by authorities. All the journalists killed and wounded in Homs were smuggled into Syria from Lebanon illegally”.

Really, who are these Avaaz activists?

    Liz Sly made an attempt to clarify in a report published in the Washington Post here, which recalled that about ten days ago, “New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid died of an asthma attack during a strenuous trek out of Syria across the mountainous Turkish border”.

    Sly’s Washington Post piece reported that “The botched rescue [n.b. – of injured and stranded journalists from Baba Amr] Tuesday also underscores the dangers facing the underground networks of activists and smugglers set up to evacuate people injured in government attacks to hospitals in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. The same networks carry medical supplies such as blood bags and antibiotics into Syria for use in field hospitals and have been used by journalists to enter the country illegally. Similar but separate networks have also been utilized to smuggle weapons to the fledgling armed resistance movement known as the Free Syrian Army. But most of those active in the medical networks are civilian volunteers, seeking to help Syrians who have been injured during protests and who risk detention if they seek treatment at government hospitals, said Wissam Tarif, a Lebanon-based activist with Avaaz. ‘They are just ordinary guys who did not pick up weapons but decided to evacuate injured people’, he said. ‘Some of them have basic medical training, some can do tetanus shots and provide some medical assistance. Some of them are just guys who can carry heavy weights. They’ve been doing this for a year, and hundreds of them have been killed’. Altogether, 23 members of the network engaged in ferrying medical supplies and injured victims between Homs and Lebanon have been killed since last Wednesday’s attack on the journalists, said Tarif, who has close ties with the network. [Wait – is Sly separating this “network” from Avaaz, or are they identical, or at least overlap?] In the process, they have evacuated 40 injured civilians from Homs. Details of the the ambush and the identities of the dead Syrians were not disclosed to protect future evacuation operations, With the deaths of the activists and the evident discovery of the secret route they had been using by Syrian security forces, the network is now in jeopardy, activists said, leaving it unclear whether the remaining journalists can be evacuated. Efforts by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to negotiate safe passage out of Bab Amr for the journalists have failed”…

Meanwhile the UN Human Rights Council convened in a special session in Geneva to discuss the situation in Syria. High-level delegations were expected to attend. The Syrian delegates walked out in protest early in the session after a UN official told the meeting that “atrocities were being committed in Syria”.

The BBC added that “French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has urged the 47 nations in the council to be prepared to submit a complaint against Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague”.

Obama: Palestinians deserve…

U.S. President Barack Obama, in his annual address to the UN General Assembly, said Wednesday that “Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state”.

As if they don’t know. Or — as if someone else should tell them.

Since their 1988 Declaration of Independence, the Palestinian National Council agreed to form their state with the borders of June 4, 1967 — the eve of the war which saw Israel conquer the West Bank and the Gaza Strip [and the Golan Heights].

In 2008, as the U.S.-brokered Annapolis direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinians faltered, then-Secretary of State Condoleezzaa Rice said that defining the borders between them would help define which Israeli Jewish settlements in the West Bank [if any] would be “legal”.

Obama’s words today at the UN go even further…

“One year ago, I stood at this podium and called for an independent Palestine. I believed then – and I believe now – that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. But what I also said is that genuine peace can only be realized between Israelis and Palestinians themselves. One year later, despite extensive efforts by America and others, the parties have not bridged their differences. Faced with this stalemate, I put forward a new basis for negotiations in May. That basis is clear, and well known to all of us here. Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security. Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state.

Later, Obama met Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was very pleased with the Obama statement, and after that, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, with a weary and disillusioned Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who had put his head on the desk in front of him during part of the Obama speech.

Abbas’ spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said later that both men had reiterated their positions.

Haaretz reported later that “U.S. President Barack Obama told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday that UN action would not achieve a Palestinian state and the United States would veto any Security Council move to recognize Palestinian statehood, the White House said. ‘We would have to oppose any action at the UN Security Council including, if necessary, vetoing’, Ben Rhodes, the White House national security council spokesman, told reporters after Obama met Abbas in New York. PLO diplomatic envoy to the U.S. Maen Rashid Erekat told Haaretz that the U.S. President ‘reiterated the commitment of the U.S. to the establishment of the Palestinian state, as part of the two-state solution, and stressed the position of the US that the UN is not the right venue to reach this goal.” This article is posted here.

There were demonstrations in the West Bank on Thursday denouncing the Obama speech, and a number of Palestinian writers found a ready acceptance in American publications for their English-language Op-Ed articles or blog submissions.

But, Mahmoud Abbas and his negotiating team did not escape criticism either, from other articles such as this one published on the Al-Jazeera English-language website, here.

The pressure on Mr. Abbas in New York has been immense, and he has reportedly felt both isolated, and abandoned.

There are rumors that he is preparing to resign when he returns to Ramallah — though from which of his three posts [Chairman of the PLO, President of the Palestinian Authority, leader of the Fatah movement] is not entirely clear.

An extraordinary article in the New York Times today’s paper [Thursday], reported from both a reception in New York and Jerusalem, says that “Shimon Peres, Israel’s president, met secretly with Mr. Abbas three times in recent months in efforts to … avoid a United Nations battle. Mr. Netanyahu ultimately pulled the plug on those talks, leaving Mr. Abbas a sense of having no alternatives. Mr. Peres said in an interview in Jerusalem that he tried to convince Mr. Abbas that United Nations membership would not help because what is needed is independence for the Palestinians and security for the Israelis, and the United Nations can deliver neither. ‘He told me, “I’m alone, betrayed by the United States, betrayed by Israel and by everyone else”, ‘Mr. Peres recalled from a recent conversation. Mr. Abbas echoed those sentiments on Tuesday night. Terje Roed-Larsen, a former United Nations envoy to the Mideast who now leads the International Peace Institute in New York, hugged him and asked for a meeting later in the evening. ‘Tonight our schedule is full with the Americans’, Mr. Abbas replied. ‘They want us to meet, but we don’t, really we don’t want’. Mr. Larsen asked why he was going then. ‘I don’t know why really’, Mr. Abbas said,’I am not happy with anybody, not with the Americans, nor the Arabs. I am fed up with all these people and I don’t know what to do when I return back’.” Abbas’ weary, unguarded, unwise words to Terje Roed-Larsen are published here.

Part of what makes this so interesting is that it is not clear how the NYTimes heard this conversation — was its UN correspondent Neil MacFarquhar standing right beside the two men [Terje Roed-Larsen, former UN Special Envoy, and former Foreign Minister of Norway when he hosted Palestinians and Israelis for talks that led to the Oslo Accords]? Or, did Mr. Roed-Larsen pass this conversation on to the NYTimes?

It is also interesting to recall that Roed-Larsen himself was, in July 2004, once called persona non grata by Palestinian presidential spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh — then working with Yasser Arafat — after Roed-Larsen told the UN Security Council that “The Palestinian leader is under house arrest but this isn’t an excuse for passivity + inaction”.

Continue reading Obama: Palestinians deserve…

29 years later, horror of Sabra + Shatila massacres in Beirut lingers, grief endures

As we wrote in our post last year, here, which we published on 18 September 1982, the day the world found out what had been going on for at least the previous 48 hours:

The horror simply does not disappear.
That there are other horrors in the world does not in any way diminish what happened 28 years ago in Sabra + Shatila, where massacres took place in two undefended Palestinian refugee camps in west Beirut. It was, indeed, “one of the most horrific crimes of the 20th century” …

A good part of last year’s post relied on the accounts, including eye-witness reports gathered by Leila Shahid with Linda Butler, published here in the Journal of Palestine Studies.

It is a matter of public and historical record that Phalangist forces carried out the massacre in revenge for the assassination of their leader, Bachir Gemayel, on 14 September. Israeli officers consulted with Phalangist forces hours prior to their entry into the camp. The massacres were carried out while Israeli soldiers were stationed on the roof of an adjacent building which had a clear view of what went on in at least part of the area. Israeli forces fired flares to provide illumination through the first night that Phalangist forces were in the camp. An Israeli journalist went personally from Beirut back to Israel to speak directly to Israel’s then-Defense Minister to tell him what was going on in the camps. And, an Israeli commission of inquiry later found that Israel’s then-Defense Minister, Ariel Sharon, bore personal responsibility. Sharon was obliged to resign. [[I was one of three journalists who covered the subsequent trial of his lawsuit in NYC against TIME Magazine and CBS Television’s 60 Minutes for a report, which Sharon won, based on a dossier filed by David Halevy to Time Magazine that was judged faulty because of a leap of logic or assumption.]] Sharon later became Prime Minister.

The massacres were carried out after Sharon led IDF troops up to and encircled PLO leader Yasser Arafat in Beirut in June 1982. Weeks of heavy bombardment with all kinds of terrible weaponry designed to kill Arafat were used. The UN Security Council was in near-continuous consultations or meetings.

Finally, it was arranged for Arafat and PLO fighters to evacuate Beirut aboard Greek ferryboats under the UN flag. The evacuation began on 23 August.

Because the PLO fighters feared they were leaving their compatriots, friends and families undefended, American guarantees of protection were given, and American and French naval ships were stationed off the Lebanese coast.

Still, the massacre took place, over more than 48 hours, without intervention.

Sarkozy looses it + attacks journalists during press conference

French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who looked years younger (with the aid of pink powder? Or was it due to his wife’s care?) during an astonishing interview in mid-November with three famous French TV journalist (during which he made an astonishing and evidently well-rehearsed ode to his wife — why not talk about politics and take advice if you have such an intelligent woman by your side, he said), had an even more astonishing encounter with a broader press corps during a news conference at the sidelines of the NATO summit this week.

A journalist from France 2 Television asked him about a document which had his name on it … and Sarkozy goes off and compares this to someone having to deny that he is a “pedophile”. Liberation has the transcript:

Nicolas Sarkozy: “Est-ce qu’il y en a un seul parmi vous qui a vu un document qui me mette en cause ni de près, ni de loin ? Mais moi, sous prétexte que je suis président de la République, et que j’ai été porte-parole de la campagne de Balladur… Mais en quoi ? Y a-t-il un document qui me mette en cause, un seul ?»

Un journaliste : «Il semblerait qu’il y ait votre nom, que vous ayez donné votre aval à la création de deux sociétés au Luxembourg…»
Continue reading Sarkozy looses it + attacks journalists during press conference

Israeli Police and Border Police shut down Jerusalem opening of Palestinian literature festival

Claiming that this year’s Palestinian literature festival, PalFest09, was somehow organized by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (with which Israel has been engaged in peace negotiations), Israeli police and Border Police shut down the opening session at a theater in East Jerusalem at 6:30 on Saturday evening.  The French Cultural Center then offered its premises, and the participants walked a couple of hundred meters in the direction of the Old City to start over again.  In that new venue, the event apparently went off without a hitch.

A Youtube video, posted on the Ma’an News Agency website, captured the drama:


Ma’an News Agency reported that “Audience members crowded on the lawn outside the building [at the French Cultural Center] as book readings and discussions on the theme of displacement in world literature were interrupted by power cuts and police sirens. The spectators and litterateurs were greeted at the new event by five Israeli police vehicles stationed outside the garden wall. According to Ma’an’s Jerusalem correspondent the initial decision to close down the performance at the National Theater was made at the request of the Israeli Interior Ministry. The move mirrors efforts to quash celebrations of Jerusalem culture for the 2009 Capital of Culture events”. This report can be read in full here.

Continue reading Israeli Police and Border Police shut down Jerusalem opening of Palestinian literature festival

A UN Secretary-General must speak French

No one can hope to become Secretary-General of the United Nations without speaking French. That’s a simple fact. You can always tell which high offiicals might have ambitions for the post — because once they get serious, they’ll be taking French lessons.

The new UN SG, BAN KI-MOON, was put to the test on Thursday by a journalist during a press conference at UNHQ/NY, who asked BAN to answer a question in French (BAN has been described as French-speaking). BAN’s reply was as follows: “my French perhaps could be improved, and I am continuing to work. I have taken French lessons over the last few months. I think that, even if my French isn’t perfect, I will continue to study it.”

David Usborne wrote, in a profile of SG BAN that appeared in the Independent on 1 January, the day BAN assumed office, that “When the Security Council was considering candidates for Secretary-General [that was maybe from August to October], he took evening classes in French, even as he was still foreign minister, for fear that France would block his candidacy otherwise.” http://news.independent.co.uk/people/profiles/article2116919.ece