Palestinian Investigation Ctte says Swiss + Russian lab reports confirm Arafat was poisoned – but by what? Investigation continues…

At the Ramallah Muqata’a press conference Friday morning, the Palestinian Committee Investigating the death of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said there’s no doubt Arafat was poisoned — but they don’t know what substance, exactly, was used to kill him.

The head of the Palestinian Investigation Committee Tawfik Tirawi  said that two reports have now been received — one from Switerland and the other from Russia.

Tirawi said that both reports show that: 1.) “Abu Ammar” [Arafat] did not die from age, 2.) or from a disease, and 3.) it was not a natural death.   “The reports provide scientific points” to support the argument, he said.

Dr. Abdullah Bashir, a Jordanian medical doctor originally hired by the Yasser Arafat Foundation, said that both reports concluded that Arafat had died of  “illness as a result of a poisonous substance”.

But the Swiss + Russian labs + experts came to different conclusions about the Polonium they each found. Swiss conclusion: their test results “moderately support” the possibility of  Polonium poisoning.  But Russian experts concluded there’s not enough evidence.

Dr. Bashir told journalists that the Russian Federal Biomedical Agency had looked at their results, and compared them with the development of Arafat’s symptoms + illness, which resulted in the conclusion that there was not enough evidence to say that it was Polonium that had poisoned Arafat.

He said that both Swiss + Russian reports confirmed that Arafat’s illness and death had been caused by some “toxic substance” — which was either not examined at the French hospital in 2004 — or,  if it was tested, the results have not been revealed.

Tirawi said, however, that “other toxic substances” were found in forensic testing of Arafat’s remains + “new facts” had been discovered that require more study.   He did not identify them.

“We know our people need to know” about Arafat’s martyrdom, Tirawi said, and they “need and have a right to know the complete truth”. Tirawi reported the arrival of the two reports to Fatah’s powerful Central Committee [of which he is a member] on Thursday, and the Central Committee asked the Investigation Committee to give the press conference as soon as possible.

After the exhumation of Arafat’s body and the forensic sampling for testing in late November 2012, the samples were taken out of Ramallah and to Europe by French diplomatic valise, the Palestinian committee said in the press conference.

Dr Abdallah Bashir, head of the medical sub-committee of the Palestinian Investigation noted, twice, that French authorities were supposed to keep Arafat’s biological samples for 10 years, but didn’t.

Tawfik Tirawi, Chairman [Abbas-appointed] of the Palestinian Investigation Committee said, however: “the French hospital + French Government know the complete truth and all the details about the martyrdom of Yasser Arafat”.

This is one of the few points on which Tirawi and Al-Jazeera’s Clayton Swisher seem to agree.

Clayton Swisher @claytonswisher 7 Nov
French officials know what killed #Arafat [See here … via @Le_Figaro

The French know everything, Tirawi said suddenly, with intensity, but “Israeli is the basic + only one to be accused + we continue to investigate all details”.

He then waved a document that he said was a collection of all Israeli + even American statements about getting rid of and killing Arafat…

Tirawi said that he had been conducting his own investigation [away from the spotlight] for years, and had questioned  hundreds of Palestinians + non-Palestinians inside + outside the occupied Palestinian territory. He seemed confident that his investigation will find the culprit[s], adding “we must find not only the substance but also the tool”.

Continue reading Palestinian Investigation Ctte says Swiss + Russian lab reports confirm Arafat was poisoned – but by what? Investigation continues…

Swiss lab finds very high levels of Polonium in Arafat’s bones and in burial shroud + soil

After nearly a year of waiting, following the November 2012 exhumation (for testing) of the remains of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from his mausoleum in the Ramallah Muqata’a, Al-Jazeera reported today that a Swiss forensics laboratory in Lausanne found very very high levels of Polonium 210 in Arafat’s bones, in his burial shroud, and in the soil in which his body was buried.

Al-Jazeera report on Swiss lab test results finding Polonium in Yasser Arafat's remains
Al-Jazeera report on Swiss lab testing on Arafat’s remains

The Polonium found in Arafat’s rib + hip bones was many times higher than normal [18 to 36 times, “depending on the literature”], Al-Jazeera reported.  The Polonium levels in the soil in which Arafat’s remains were buried were also 18 times higher than normal…

The Swiss report says “tests on specimens taken from bone fragments + tissue scraped from Arafat’s decayed corpse + shroud  “moderately support the proposition that [Arafat’s] death was the consequence of poisoning with polonium-210”.   Al-Jazeera’s Clayton Swisher said that “on a scale of confidence of 1 to 6 [with 6 being strongly confident], scientists say the data supports poisoning at level 5″…

The test results come almost exactly nine years after Arafat’s death on 11 November 2004. His final illness began suddenly late on the night of 12-to-13 October. Arafat had been trapped by Israeli forces for the previous two years in two rooms in the Muqata’a Presidential Headquarters [a former British-Mandate era Government Quarters which served as an Israeli prison during the First Palestinian Intifada], confined in unhealthy circumstances in close quarters and under stress, sleeping under a table with the shell-damaged building crumbling around him.

Poisoning was suspected early on, at least by Arafat’s nephew Nasser al-Qidwa, who was Palestinian Ambassador to the UN in New York and subsequently Palestinian Foreign Minister. But polonium was not considered, in 2004. It was not until 2006 [and it was also in November] that defected Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko, living in London, was quickly diagnosed [with British Government help] with Polonium poisoning, during a reported-and-publicized three-week agony in a hospital before he died.

Clayton Swisher from Al-Jazeera’s Investigations Unit produced the “What Killed Arafat?” report in early July 2012 here that revealed the Swiss lab’s initial surprise finding of Polonium after testing Arafat’s clothing and led to the decision to exhume Arafat’s remains for forensic testing. Swisher just broke the “Killing Arafat” story this week [Wednesday evening] on Al-Jazeera, here.

There’s also a Youtube, which Swisher called a “news package” [a full documentary will apparently air on Sunday]:

Clayton Swisher @claytonswisher 6 Nov – Watch news package for @aljazeera on #killingArafat Swiss report here

In Swisher’s Youtube “news package”, Arafat’s daughter Zahwa says she’s relieved, but wants “to know who killed him and the motive + ambitions behind it”…

The full 108-page Swiss report, in English, is also posted here on Al-Jazeera’s website, and:

Clayton Swisher @claytonswisher — Read and decide: Swiss forensic report on Arafat’s death via @AJEnglish #killingarafat

No autopsy was performed at the time of Arafat’s death in Percy Military Hospital outside Paris, France in early November 2004. Just before his death, Suha had called Al-Jazeera Arabic’s Ramallah correspondent Walid al-Omary, and she was given on-air access to make emotional accusations that Palestinian leaders on their way to Arafat’s bedside wanted to kill him “and he’s still alive”.

Suha told Clayton Swisher in 2012 that at the time she was so upset she didn’t even think of an autopsy, it didn’t even occur to her.

(She later said that the decision was not in her hands, as the body was given, in Paris, to the “Palestinian Authority”… )

The Swiss forensic team from the University Hospital Center in Lausanne reportedly handed over its report in Geneva to Suha Arafat’s lawyers and Palestinian .officials on Tuesday.

Tawfik Tirawi, named by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to head a Committee of Inquiry into Arafat’s death, seems to have been in Geneva for this event, along with the Jordanian forensics expert Dr. Abdullah al-Bashir, a member of the Committee.  This was reported by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, here. Dr. Al-Bashir was originally engaged earlier, in late 2010, by the Yasser Arafat Foundation headed by Arafat’s nephew Nasser al-Qidwa, who has long suspected that Arafat was poisoned. Dr. Al-Bashir initially contacted French hospital authorities, in writing in 2011, without much success.

Continue reading Swiss lab finds very high levels of Polonium in Arafat’s bones and in burial shroud + soil

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’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,’s Danger Room, 3 December 2012, posted


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, 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]

Hoax Twitter accounts – almost unnoticed in Palestine

It seemed like a new era of openness in Palestine — a new Prime Minister began to communicate with the public, on Twitter.

Well… by “communicate” I mean, at least, something more than just sending links to pictures of himself on Facebook.

Screen shot of the supposed Rami Hamdallah Twitter account - at 2 Tweets
Screen shot of the supposed Rami Hamdallah Twitter account - at 2 Tweets

1.) Rami Hamdallah @PalestineGov 4 Jun
Welcome! This is my official Twitter account. Rami Hamdallah, Prime Minister of Palestine.

But for 16 days there were no Tweets, until this —

2.) Rami Hamdallah @PalestineGov 20 Jun
I offered my resignation to the President of PA. Official note will be released soon. R.H.

[This, by the way, was the moment that the very new spokesman for the Government, Dr. Ehab Bessaiso, said he began to be suspicious, because of the use of “PA”, for since January [and under a decree from President Mahmoud Abbas] no one in the Palestinian Government would continue to refer to themselves as “PA”, or Palestinian Authority.

The first Tweet, in fact, said “Prime Minister of Palestine”…

However, there are Palestinians who do continue to say “PA” [sometimes disdainfully, to indicate that Palestine is hardly a fully sovereign state, that self-determination has not yet been exercised]…

There are some who think the PA is more important than the PLO [which, as UN-designated + generally-accepted “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”, declared the State of Palestine in November 1988].

And, there are some who use terms interchangeably, almost carelessly, who think the terminology has very little meaning anyway.

I myself was more fixated on the term “offered” [“my resignation”], which conformed exactly to the way the announcement was worded in the few official comments and announcements that were made in Ramallah.

And, the Tweet came fast, rather soon after the actual event, though Hamdallah himself had driven off to his hometown of Anabta, in his own car without security escort — and switched off his mobile phone.

In any case, as Dr. Bessaiso said, the resignation was a surprise, nobody expected it. So, after this Tweet [which was reported in the international media, a full 16 days after the first Tweet, during which time nobody — least of all Rami Hamdallah himself, or any of his staff, or friends, or family — complained that this was a “hoax” account].

The initial reaction was surprise, confusion, and efforts to change the course of events, then [within an hour of the actual announcement by presidential adviser Nabil Abu Rudeineh, an announcemnt which came before, and therefore preempted, a scheduled third meeting between Abbas and Hamdallah] two final Tweets —

3.) Rami Hamdallah @PalestineGov 23 Jun
The President officially accepted my resignation. R.H.

4.) Rami Hamdallah @PalestineGov 23 Jun
The situation in this country forced me to resign. Conflicts, confusion, corruption. Palestine needs a real political reform. R.H.

The fourth Tweet was, admittedly, a little peculiar.  But, its openness was refreshing.

Then, something happened.

It’s hard to describe or explain.  But the Twitter account, above, morphed into something else.   It became a hoax:

The name Rami Hamdallah was removed.  And the title of the account was re-written in all lower-case letters = @palestinegov

And the Tweets were now from palestinegov Rami Hamdallah [reversed + altered from above, where the Tweets were from Rami Hamdallah @PalestineGov ]

The original four Tweets [shown above] remained, but others were added, for a total of eight, which were added and even interspersed between the original Tweets — though it’s not clear how the TimeLine could have been played with, in that way.

The account, in this changed state, can be seen here , as it was once it spun out of control.  The link, here , was provided by Benjamin Doherty @bangpound, via Twitter:

Twitter profile for @palestinegov
Professor RAMI HAMDALLAH, Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority. Official Twitter Accou

8 Posts by palestinegov

1.) palestinegov Rami Hamdallah
Welcome! This is my official Twitter account. Rami Hamdallah, Prime Minister of Palestine.

17 days later 2.) palestinegov Rami Hamdallah  [This NEW Tweet was somehow inserted into the original TimeLine]
I officially announce my resignation as Prime Minister. Serious health problem force me to resign. The President accepts resignation.   7 days agoReplyRetweetFavorite

3.) palestinegov Rami Hamdallah
I offered my resignation to the President of PA. Official note will be released soon. R.H.

4.) palestinegov Rami Hamdallah
The President officially accepted my resignation. R.H.

5.) palestinegov Rami Hamdallah
The situation in this country forced me to resign. Conflicts, confusion, corruption. Palestine needs a real political reform. R.H.

6.) palestinegov Rami Hamdallah [NEW – added]
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi to be appointed as new Prime Minister.

7.) palestinegov Rami Hamdallah [NEW – added]
President Mahmoud Abbas expressed me his intention to resign ‘as soon as possible’ after new cabinet’s appointment.R.H.

8.) palestinegov Rami Hamdallah
This account is an hoax created by Italian journalist Tommasso Debenedetti

——– ——-


Earlier, before it became clear that it was a hoax, and because of the more-or-less credible track record of the account, some people took the added Tweets seriously.

  1. Kamel Hawwash @kamelhawwash 26 Jun @PalestineGov: Dr. Hanan Ashrawi to be appointed as new Prime Minister.”
  2. Rawya Rageh @RawyaRageh 26 Jun RT @PalestineGov Dr. Hanan Ashrawi to be appointed as new Prime Minister #Palestine
  3. Blake Hounshell @blakehounshell 26 Jun wow, interesting! RT @sarahussein: Say what? RT @PalestineGov: Dr. Hanan Ashrawi to be appointed as new Prime Minister.

Some reactions once the hoax became clear, or known:

  1. Dalia Hatuqa @DaliaHatuqa 26 Jun Finally! (And who dat?) RT @PalestineGov: This account is an hoax created by Italian journalist Tommasso Debenedetti
  2. DavidKenner @DavidKenner 26 Jun Apparently a serial hoaxer … RT @PalestineGov This account is a hoax created by Italian journalist Tommasso Debenedetti

  3. Hugh Naylor @HughNaylor 26 Jun . @PalestineGov OK, now that you’ve been found to be a spoof account, at least start tweeting some biting satire!


After working itself up into a tizzy, giving  plenty of clues and hints because it wouldn’t be very much fun if the hoax were ignored, all 8 Tweets were scrubbed — Rami Hamdallah’s name disappeared completely [though he remains in office, for now, as the Caretaker Prime Minister] and the name was changed back from @palestinegov to @PalestineGov :

Palestine Gov

Palestine Gov


Prime Minister’s Office, Palestine

Palestine ·


It originally had only 2 Followers:

Tomas Lee


 Sderot, Israel

Lidar Gravé-Lazi

Lidar Gravé-Lazi


Jerusalem Post Managing Blog Editor.  All tweets and opinions are my own.

Tel Aviv



And a spoof account for Mahmoud Abbas, too obvious to be believable..  It Tweeted on only one day, June 27, the day after the [hacked?] @palestinegov account went crazy. An account like this had been lurking around, doing nothing. Then, this account burst into brief life. It looked fake from the start [first, the photo, in which the facial features have somehow been sharpened, then the reference to “Palestinian Authority”, then the Tweets themselves:

Mahmoud Abbas

Mahmoud Abbas


MAHMOUD ABBAS President of the Palestinian Authority. Official Twitter Account



1.) Mahmoud Abbas @PalestinePres 27 Jun
Welcome! I open today this official Twitter account in English. Thanks, Mahmoud Abbas.

2.) Mahmoud Abbas @PalestinePres 27 Jun
Palestine wants peace and dialogue. PA accepts negotiations with Israel without preconditions.

3.) Mahmoud Abbas @PalestinePres 27 Jun
I’m ready to meet PM Netanyahu as soon as possible.

Salam Fayyad is still Caretaker Prime Minister — and he says he supports Freedom of the Press

Almost one month to the day after his resignation, Salam Fayyad remains the Palestinian Prime Minister — now in a “Caretaker” capacity at the request of President Mahmoud Abbas, until he finds a replacement… or, until things change [“and he can reappoint Fayyad”, as one commentor recently noted].

Neither Salam Fayyad nor “Fayyad’s office” have recanted their statement denying that he has given any press interviews or statements since his resignation on 13 April.  They just think that they can sweep everything under the carpet, and their misleading statement will all fade away and be forgotten — which is not the behavior of a responsible adult. [See our previous posts.]

Here’s how Haaretz interpreted the facts [in a Tweet on May 5 — in other words, Fayyad did, of course, speak with Roger Cohen of the New York Times]:
@haaretzcom – In interview with NYTimes, #Palestinian PM Fayyad foresees fall of Fatah, but denies criticizing it =

This Haaretz report said that, according to the statement given to Ma’an News Agency by “Fayyad’s office”, “Fayyad’s office asked Cohen not to publish the story as an interview with the prime minister”…

Meanwhile, Ma’an News Agency reported today here, Fayyad has made a public appearance and public statement in support of Freedom of the Press.

The Ma’an report quotes Fayyad as saying:
“When it comes to freedom of the press, there is nothing called excessive freedom…What we aim to do is to make the freedom of speech a part of our daily life, unrestrained by laws”.

According to Ma’an, Fayyad also remarked that the protection of the freedom of expression is one of the most important priorities of the Palestinian Authority’s work and that Freedom of the press must be an essential component of the Palestinian state…

"Fayyad's Office" denies he gave any interviews or statements since his "resignation"

This story just does not get better.

Last night, according to the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, Salam Fayyad’s “office” issued a statement saying that  “The statements in the [New York Times OpEd piece by Roger Cohen] are…certainly not the words of Fayyad…”

The statement from “Fayyad’s office”, according to WAFA, said that Fayyad “did not make any statements or conduct interviews for the NYTimes or any other newspaper or agency since his resignation”…

We have reported on some of those interviews in earlier posts here and here.

WAFA added, citing the statement from “Fayyad’s office” that: “The statements in the article are just journalist Roger Cohen’s personal impressions”.

The Times of Israel reported here that “In an email correspondence with The Times of Israel, Cohen reacted to Fayyad’s office’s claim by saying he interviewed Fayyad and declined further comment”.

UPDATE: Roger Cohen said just a bit more on Monday, via Twitter: Roger Cohen @NYTimesCohen ” #Fayyad office denies interview happened at all. Would make denial quotes redundant. It happened.  He spoke out”.

In another Tweet, Cohen wrote: “He said what he said”

Fayyad’s admission of failure [to Cohen] is certainly not the first time he’s said that.

The eloquence of his reported critique of the leadership was distinctive. According to Cohen, Fayyad said: “It is incredible that the fate of the Palestinian people has been in the hands of leaders so entirely casual, so guided by spur-of-the-moment decisions, without seriousness. We don’t strategize, we cut deals in a tactical way and we hold ourselves hostage to our own rhetoric”. If this was concocted, as the statement reported by WAFA say, perhaps Fayyad should consider engaging someone like Roger Cohen as a regular speechwriter.

What was shocking in the NYTimes article by Roger Cohen was Fayyad’s open attack on Fatah, the largest Palestinian political movement which also controls the Palestine Liberation Organization [recognized at the UN for decades as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”.

Fatah has been critical of Fayyad for years, and called a number of times for Fayyad to go or be replaced — with the notable exception of a moment last year when reconciliation talks with Hamas had progressed to the point where there was talk of the formation of a pre-election government composed of non-affiliated technocrats, and Hamas insisted Fayyad must go.  Then, and only then, did Fatah issue a statement of support for Fayyad, which stressed his importance in bringing in donor money and political support…

It is interesting that the surprising denial, attributed to a statement from “Fayyad’s office”, was put out by WAFA [the official Palestinian news agency, which is not controlled by Fayyad] rather than by the Fayyad-appointed Government Media Center, which seems to have said nothing …

Fayyad clearly has met + given interviews, since his “resignation”, to Daoud Kuttab [who Tweeted a photo, which we posted earlier] + to Roger Cohen [on Twitter @NYTimesCohen].

It is not clear if Fayyad met with his former Government spokesman Ghassan Khatib, who also wrote about Fayyad but used no direct quotes = here. Ghassan Khatib wrote essentially the same things as Roger Cohen about Fayyad [+ Abbas] — savvily, but minus the direct quotes, or any words blaming of Fatah.

Meanwhile, Daoud Kuttab has not responded yet to a query I sent him on Twitter this evening:
@Marianhouk —> @daoudkuttab – “any comment on the WAFA story saying “Fayyad’s office” denied he’d given any statements or interviews since resigning?”

If we’re to believe WAFA or the statement from “Fayyad’s office”, Fayyad’s sessions w/ Daoud Kuttab + were on deep background.   The full WAFA [English version] report is posted here:

RAMALLAH, May 4, 2013 (WAFA) – Outgoing Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s office Saturday denied statements slamming the Palestinian leadership which were attributed to Fayyad in an interview with the New York Times. Fayyad’s office said in a statement, ‘The statements in the article are just journalist Roger Cohen’s personal impressions, and certainly not the words of Fayyad, who did not make any statements or conduct interviews for the New York Times or any other newspaper or agency since his resignation’. The New York Times published on May 3 an article titled ‘Fayyad Steps Down, Not Out’ by Cohen, in which Fayyad allegedly described the Palestinian leadership as ‘failed’. Cohen quoted Fayyad saying ‘It is incredible that the fate of the Palestinian people has been in the hands of leaders so entirely casual, so guided by spur-of-the-moment decisions, without seriousness. We don’t strategize, we cut deals in a tactical way and we hold ourselves hostage to our own rhetoric’.  Cohen’s article caused an uproar among Palestinians while Fayyad’s office said that this article must not be published as an interview with Fayyad”.

WAFA reported even more of the statement “Fayyad’s office” in a post on its Arabic pages, here, as the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reported here,  WAFA’s Arabic-language report used much harder language — reporting that “Fayyad’s office” had called the NYTimes report a “forgery”:

“The attack on the PA leadership and Fatah clearly embarrassed Fayyad, who said [n.b. — at least “Fayyad’s office” did] in a statement that the Time‘s Roger Cohen had published an op-ed, and not an interview

Fayyad also accused the paper of ‘forgery that carries political dimensions with the goal of causing damage and fomenting strife in order to serve positions that are hostile to the Palestinians and their national project at this sensitive and critical phase’.”

This Arabic-language report on WAFA usAccording to Toameh [via Twitter] a report on the statement made by “Fayyad’s office” also appeared in Ma’an News Agency [Arabic] and on Palpress here.

UPDATE [w/correction]: Ma’an News Agency has published, in English, a story about the “Fayyad office” statement of denial/retraction, here. The Ma’an story noted the statement denying the remarks Fayyad reportedly made to the NYTimes, but then said that “Fayyad resigned on April 13 and is acting as caretaker prime minister, but will leave office completely in three to four weeks, he told the New York Times”.

The pro-Israeli media watchdog group CAMERA wrote here that “This bizarre episode raises at least two points for consideration. First, either the Times or Fayyad is not being truthful about an interview taking place. Second, if Fayyad gave an interview which provoked Fatah’s wrath, resulting in the prime minister’s subsequent denial, then this is yet another reminder about sources and journalists self-censoring when it comes to unflattering information about the Palestinian Authority”.

Then, there was this exchange on Twitter later:
Jonathan Schanzer @JSchanzer 1h
Fayyad’s disavowal of @NYTimesCohen piece feels a lot like King Abdullah’s backtrack on @JeffreyGoldberg’s piece. …

Jeffrey Goldberg Jeffrey Goldberg @JeffreyGoldberg 44m
.@JSchanzer @NYTimesCohen Just fyi, the Jordanian Royal Court retracted its partial denial of the King’s quotes.

Jonathan Schanzer Jonathan Schanzer @JSchanzer 41m
@JeffreyGoldberg @nytimescohen I saw that. Wondering if Fayyad will do the same.

Assn for Civil Rights in Israel [ACRI] releases timeline of its long involvement in Prisoner X case

ACRI, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel has released information of all of its efforts in 2010 and 2011, and in the past few days, to narrow the “gag order” concerning the detention of Prisoner X. Here is ACRI’s account, which is also posted on its website here:

    On 13 May, 2010, the Ynet website published an article about Prisoner X, who according the report was being held in solitary confinement in a cell at the Ayalon Prison. Shortly after the story broke, the article was removed from the website. Following this revelation, Dan Yakir, ACRI’s Chief Legal Counsel, wrote to the Attorney General and expressed concern about the article’s claim that a detainee was being held in isolation from the outside world in violation of his fundamental rights. He further noted that undisclosed detentions and secret trials contradict the basic tenets of a democratic country and damages the right of the public to know. The appeal to the Attorney General was made six months prior to the detainee’s death.

    Attorney Raz Nizri, who was then a senior assistant to the Attorney General (now the Deputy Attorney General), responded on July 13, 2010, explaining that a gag order had been applied to the affair by the Central District Court on March 4, 2010. It was evident from his letter that the media were not informed of the gag order at the time, but only two-and-a-half months later when Ynet published the story. A clarifying decision was issued over a month later, under which the gag order applied to the conditions of the detention, including details of the cell where the prisoner was being detained. The letter further clarified that the Attorney General and other relevant supervisory bodies were ensuring that all individual rights were being upheld according to the provisions of the law.

    The gag order was particularly broad: it included a prohibition against publishing the fact that a gag order had been issued, and even prohibited publishing information on the affair based on information gained from foreign sources.

    On December 15, 2010, Prisoner X was found dead in his cell.

    Continue reading Assn for Civil Rights in Israel [ACRI] releases timeline of its long involvement in Prisoner X case

World Press Photo 2013 – Photo of the Year First Prize – by Paul Hansen for Dagens Nyheter

Israeli’s Operation Defensive Pillar a/k/a Operation Pillar of Clouds was the source of a number of prize-winning news photos this year.

The World Press Photo of the Year, [Spot News, 1st prize singles, 2013] announced on 15 February is “Gaza Burial – 20 November 2012”, by Swedish photographer Paul Hansen who has worked for the daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter since 2000. One of the judges said that he’d looked at “a lot of powerful material” from Syria and Gaza among this year’s entries.

The winning photo was published by Le Nouvel Observateur here.

"Gaza Burial" - 20 November 2013 - World Press Photo of the Year by Paul Hansen
Gaza Burial” – 20 November 2013 – World Press Photo of the Year taken by Swedish photographer Paul Hansen of Dagens Nyheter

The light and color of Paul Hansen’s winning photo is extraordinary — it almost looks like a theater or stage set.

The NYTimes wrote here that the image draws some of its power “from its striking — almost stylized — lighting and tones. Mr. Hansen, 48, said the unusual look resulted when light bounced off the walls of the alley for just a few moments”. It added that “Santiago Lyon, vice president and director of photography for The Associated Press, was chairman of the jury … Mr. Lyon said the jury carefully examines the winning images for post processing. He said they decided Mr. Hansen’s photo was ‘within the acceptable industry parameters’. He added: “Everybody has different standards about these sorts of things, but as a group we felt that it was O.K.”

Here’s how the photo is identified on the World Press Photo website

Gaza Burial
20 November 2012
Gaza City, Palestinian Territories
Photo caption: “Two-year-old Suhaib Hijazi and  older brother Muhammad [three or four years old] were killed, along with their father Fouad, when their house was destroyed in an Israeli missile strike. Their mother was put in intensive care. Fouad’s brothers carry the children to the mosque for the burial ceremony and his body is carried behind on a stretcher“.

UPDATE: Yousef Munayyer of The Palestine Center and The Jerusalem Fund wrote here that, based on a Human Rights Watch account,  “On November 19 at around 7:30 p.m., a single munition struck the house of the Hijazi family in Block 8 of the Jabalya refugee camp. The small, two-story cinderblock house was mostly demolished while 10 family members were inside. The strike killed Fouad Hijazi, a 46-year-old janitor at the Hamad secondary school, along with two of his children, Mohamed, 4, and Sohaib, 2. His wife, Amna, was wounded, as were three of their sons and a daughter”.

Munayyer indicated his information is based on a HRW account posted here, which said this was the result of an aerial bomb strike, one of 18 Apparently Unlawful Airstrikes During the November 2012 Fighting [with no apparent military objective>].

Munayyer picks up HRW’s material that adds this: “The surrounding buildings in the densely packed area were only lightly damaged, except that there was slightly more substantial damage to one side of one adjacent house. The damage suggests that an Israeli aircraft dropped a bomb at the site. Human Rights Watch found no munition remnants at the site.  A neighbor who lives across a very narrow street – too small for a car – from the Hijazi home said he heard no shooting of rockets from the area at the time or at other times during the 8-day conflict. There were no other explosions in the area that night, he said. He and other local residents said they did not know or understand why the Hijazi family home had been hit, saying that the family had no connection to any of Gaza’s armed groups. One of Fouad’s other sons had been killed by an Israeli strike about five years earlier, one neighbor said, but he was a civilian who was killed accidentally.  The IDF did not make any announcements about specific strikes in Jabalya at the time. The Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center stated that the three victims were ‘non-involved’ civilians”.

The NYTimes noted that “World Press Photo is a 56-year-old nonprofit foundation with headquarters in Amsterdam, where the announcement of this year’s winners was made on Friday morning”.

On 9 February, Paul Hansen won First Place as Newspaper Photographer of the Year [one of two portfolio honors awarded each year by POYi] for a photo he took in Afghanistan for Dagens Nyheter. This winning photo is posted here.

Photo of the Year international – First Place General News – "Last Kiss"

Picture of the Year - First Place General News - Last Kiss - Gaza 18 Nov 2012
Last Kiss - First Place - Photo of the Year international - General News

This is a gorgeous and moving photo.  The composition, the color, the gesture, the hands — gorgeous, and immensely emotional.  It was taken in Gaza, during the IDF’s Operation Pillar of Defense or Pillar of Clouds last November.

“Last Kiss” won First Place in the General News Category of the Photo of the Year International [POYi] contest.

Its caption reads: “A Palestinian man kisses the hand of a dead relative in the morgue of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012”

The photo was taken by Spanish photographer Bernat Arnangue, of Associated Press, currently based in the Middle East covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Last Kiss” was announced as the First Place winning photo in the General News category today, and it’s published here.

H/T to journalist Ana Cardenes, currently based in Jerusalem, who Tweeted the announcement of the winning photo:
@AnaCardenesPicture Of the Year. General News. First Place @BernatArmangue´s Last Kiss. #Gaza #POY

Winning photographs in all categories judged during the first session are posted on the POYi Web site at

The POYi website days that “Photographs are posted without credits until judging is complete. This is to protect the anonymity of entrants across all categories because many images are entered in multiple categories. Once judging has concluded and POY has verified all winning entries, final results will be announced”. Judging judging of all categories will be concluded on 27 February. The Photo of the Year International contest [POYi] is a program of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute ( at the Missouri School of Journalism.

NYTimes correction on E-1 — do they have it right now, or not?

The New York Times has today issued a correction to an earlier story on E-1 [published on 2 December here]:
An article on Dec. 2 about Israel’s decision to move forward with planning and zoning for settlements in an area east of Jerusalem known as E1 described imprecisely the effect of such development on access to the cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem from Jerusalem, and on the West Bank. Development of E1 would limit access to Ramallah and Bethlehem, leaving narrow corridors far from the Old City and downtown Jerusalem; it would not completely cut off those cities from Jerusalem. It would also create a large block of Israeli settlements in the center of the West Bank; it would not divide the West Bank in two. And because of an editing error, the article referred incompletely to the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state. Critics see E1 as a threat to the meaningful contiguity of such a state because it would leave some Palestinian areas connected by roads with few exits or by circuitous routes; the proposed development would not technically make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.  This correction was published in the NYTimes print edition today [though this correction is dated 7 December and was earlier posted online on 10 December], and is posted here.]

[UPDATE: CAMERA has taken credit here for pushing the NYTimes to issue this + another correction {concerning a story published on 30 November here}…Hat tip to Max Blumenthal {who on Twitter called the latest correction “absurd”}:
@MaxBlumenthal — Right-wing pro-Israel media monitoring front CAMERA takes credit for absurd NY Times “correction” on E1 settlements: … ]

Well, does the NYTimes have it right, now? No.

First of all, cutting to the crux, E-1 development by itself would probably not “technically make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible”, no.

But it would make movement for Palestinians so difficult that they would stay at home most of the time.

Maybe providing a massive, frequent, comfortable and convenient and inexpensive helicopter service between the north and the south and the east of the West Bank would solve the problem, but that’s not going to happen — and why would anyone want kind of a solution?

In any case, the real problem is that any of the proposed solutions [roads, tunnels, bridges — but not helicopters, not really, as we’re not talking about Brasilia] are dependent on Israeli happiness and good will at all times.

One incident could and would result in the cutting off of movement for hours or for months + years.

The NYTimes correction says almost dismissively, as if it is of little or no importance, that only “some Palestinian areas” would be affected. So, we shouldn’t care about that? It’s not supposed to matter?

What Palestinians want is freedom, dignity, independence, and real self-rule in their own state — it cannot be argued that Palestinians have had any kind of real self-rule since the signing of the Oslo Accords, which were supposed to be a transition to self-rule, in September 1993.

Palestinians want and deserve a return to some zone of comfort in their daily lives which has not existed for many years, particularly since the start of the Second Intifada at the end of September 2000.

And, as American presidents have said, they deserve dignity, and dignified lives.

Akiva Eldar, in a piece published in Al-Monitor, reminds us that although the Levy report might argue that the West Bank is not occupied [but instead disputed, and apparently therefore up for Israel to grab], this is not the view of most of the outside world.

Eldar was writing about what he viewed as a rather limp reaction by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Netanyahu’s E-1 announcement [which Eldar call “agreeing to disagree”]: “Presumably, when she said at the press conference that Israel was a sovereign state and therefore Germany could not impose its position on the settlements, Merkel did not mean to say that Israel was the sovereign in the West Bank. Israel itself does not claim ownership over Area E1. The proposed plan was submitted for the approval of the planning and construction committee of the Civil Administration in the occupied territories and not to the parallel committee in Jerusalem. Even according to Israel’s official position, the question of sovereignty over these areas, as well as over the rest of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, remains controversial. Furthermore, in 2003 Netanyahu was a cabinet member in then-prime minister Ariel Sharon’s government, which signed an international commitment to abstain from taking such actions. The road map hatched out by the the Quartet, which consisted of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations and submitted to Israel and the Palestinians explicitly stated that Israel had to completely discontinue all construction in the territories”. This is posted here.

Continue reading NYTimes correction on E-1 — do they have it right now, or not?