Ignorance is vicious and can kill: U.S. Ambassador to Libya + 3 colleagues die for film on the Prophet Mohammed that hasn't even been released

Ignorance is vicious and can kill.

The violent murder of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three of his colleagues on Tuesday at the U.S. consulate Tuesday in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, by a mob incensed by reports about a movie of unclear origin which has not yet been released is deeply disturbing and revolting.

    UPDATE: It now appears [possibly even earlier than Oct-Nov 2012] that this initial report is untrue — as this report published on 10 November indicated: “The CIA ‘s reporting to Congress included a claim that protests over a YouTube video played a role in the attacks, thus allowing Obama to initially discount the possibility that the U.S. had suffered another terrorist attack just before the election”. This was published here.

UPDATE: U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told journalists at the regular daily briefing in Washington on Thursday, posted here, that: “we said that the circumstances surrounding the death of Ambassador Stevens included the fact that he and two other people – Sean Smith and a regional security officer – were in the main building in Benghazi when it was hit and caught on fire, but in – that the regional security officer attempted to lead the other two out, that he got separated from Ambassador Stevens, that he then got – but when he got to Sean Smith, he was already dead. He pulled him from the building. He went back into the building with additional security forces, but was unable to locate Ambassador Stevens before the fire overcame the building. We were then not able to locate Ambassador Stevens for many, many hours. We were later informed by some of our Libyan contacts that they understood he had been taken to a hospital in Benghazi. We were not able to confirm that, although there is a huge amount of reporting on it. And his body was later returned to us at the airport in Benghazi in the context of our evacuation of the rest of our people. So in response to Matt’s question, we don’t have any definitive information of our own as to exactly when he passed or what the precise causes of death were. I would guess that this is among the things that’ll become clearer as the Libyans work on their investigation with our support”.

About the film itself, Nuland said “I don’t want to get too much into this particular video, because it just gives it more credit than any of us want to. I think you heard the Secretary speak to this issue this morning and to make it clear that we absolutely reject both its message and its content, which we consider disgusting and reprehensible. She said it far better than I can here. The interesting thing about this, as I understand it, is that this had actually been circulating at a relatively low level for some months out there in cyberspace and that it only caught fire in the region on the day or just before the day that we began to see these various protests”.

For hours, nobody even knew what film had caused such a reaction.

AP this morning published a report here trying to identify those behind the film which caused this violence.

AP wrote this morning that:

    “Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, told The Associated Press in an interview outside Los Angeles that he was manager for the company that produced ‘Innocence of Muslims’, which mocked Muslims and the prophet Muhammad and may have caused inflamed mobs that attacked U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya. He provided the first details about a shadowy production group behind the film. Nakoula denied he directed the film and said he knew the self-described filmmaker, Sam Bacile. But the cell phone number that AP contacted Tuesday to reach the filmmaker who identified himself as Sam Bacile traced to the same address near Los Angeles where AP found Nakoula. Federal court papers said Nakoula’s aliases included Nicola Bacily, Erwin Salameh and others. Nakoula told the AP that he was a Coptic Christian and said the film’s director supported the concerns of Christian Copts about their treatment by Muslims. Nakoula denied he had posed as Bacile. During a conversation outside his home, he offered his driver’s license to show his identity but kept his thumb over his middle name, Basseley. Records checks by the AP subsequently found it and other connections to the Bacile persona. The AP located Bacile after obtaining his cell phone number from Morris Sadek, a conservative Coptic Christian in the U.S. who had promoted the anti-Muslim film in recent days on his website. Egypt’s Christian Coptic population has long decried what they describe as a history of discrimination and occasional violence from the country’s Arab majority … The YouTube account, ‘Sam Bacile’, which was used to publish excerpts of the provocative movie in July, was used to post comments online as recently as Tuesday, including this defense of the film written in Arabic: ‘It is a 100 percent American movie, you cows”…

    UPDATE: Reuters here on 7 November that: “The convicted California scam artist behind a crude anti-Islam film that stoked protests against the United States across the Muslim world was sent back to jail for a year on Wednesday over probation violations stemming from his role in the video. The Egyptian-born Coptic Christian, who has been publicly identified as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, but whose legal name is Mark Basseley Youssef, admitted to several probation violations during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. At least one violation involved his use of an alias, Sam Bacile, a name that several actors from the film said he used in producing the video, which was circulated on line under several titles, including ‘The Innocence of Muslims’.”

Continue reading “Ignorance is vicious and can kill: U.S. Ambassador to Libya + 3 colleagues die for film on the Prophet Mohammed that hasn't even been released”

Qaddhafi's youngest son + 3 grandchildren reported dead after NATO airstrike

NATO claims it targetted a command and control center in Tripoli.

The Libyan government took journalists to the site. It was reportedly a compound with several buildings. Underneath one, there may or may not have been a bunker.

One of the most comprehensive reports so far is written by Simon Denyer and Leila Fadel for the Washington Post, and published here.

Al-Jazeera English has posted here a report and elsewhere the full English-language announcement by government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said the Libyan leader and his wife had also been in the building, with friends and relatives — but that Qaddhafi and his wife are unhurt, though there have been other martyrs there, who have now joined other martyrs among the Libyan people for the last 40 days. The spokesman noted that Qaddhafi had just appealed for a halt in NATO action, a ceasefire, and called for dialog — but, the spokesman said, no government has sent any envoy or delegation, and there has been no dialog…

This is being called by some an attempt at a targetted assassination.

But, NATO officials later said they did not intentionally target “any individual”.

Continue reading “Qaddhafi's youngest son + 3 grandchildren reported dead after NATO airstrike”

War photographers killed in Libyan war yesterday

In the horror that is happening in Libya, under the guise of UN Security Council-endorsed humanitarian intervention, there is no quick or easy end in sight.

In the past few days, Britain, France, and Italy have just decided to send military advisers to work with the rebels, and the U.S. has authorized $25m [million] for “non-lethal” aid to the rebels.

The situation is deteriorating. Reports from Libya are dire.

And, yesterday, two international war photographers — Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington — were killed in battles in the city of Misrata between Libyan rebels, and forces obeying orders from Libyan leader Muammar Qaddhafi.

Hetherington died of massive blood loss from a wound to his upper leg, and Hondros died from a severe head wound.

Continue reading “War photographers killed in Libyan war yesterday”

UNSC adopts resolution authorizing protection of civilians in Libya

The UN Security Council acted overnight to authorize — some say, belatedly — international action to protection of civilians and areas of civilian population that are under threat of attack in Libya, by adopting UNSC Resolution 1973.

It began by calling for an immediate cease-fire.

The text explicitly mentions Benghazi, which is was under imminent threat (until the Libyan Foreign Minister retracted the threat after accepting the resolution’s call for a cease-fire; earlier, members of the Qaddhafi family said troops loyal to them would be in Benghazi by nightfall

France has reportedly said that military action  under this new UNSC resolution would begin within hours — see the report in The Guardian newspaper, here.

France seems to have taken the lead internationally.  It was also France which put its foot down in UN Security Council deliberations on 26 February, insisting that a provision must be included in UNSC Resolution 1970, adopted unanimously that day, to refer violence against protesters to the International Criminal Court, or ICC.

Since then, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has reportedly opened an investigation into events in Libya.

After the new resolution adopted last night, there were indications that NATO will reopen debate on its role in moves to protect civilian life and areas in Libya…

Within hours, Libyan authorities closed the country’s airspace, as Sky News reported here.

A short while later, the Libyan Foreign Minister announced a cease-fire and an end to military operations, saying that the country must obey the UNSC resolutions. He did express concern, however, that the new UNSC resolution envisaged military action against Libya. And he said that the no-fly provisions in the new UNSC resolution should not have included Libyan civilian flights.

The new resolution, in its fourth operative paragraph, ” Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory, and requests the Member States concerned to inform the Secretary-General immediately of the measures they take pursuant to the authorization conferred by this paragraph which shall be immediately reported to the Security Council”…

Continue reading “UNSC adopts resolution authorizing protection of civilians in Libya”

Libya suspended from the UN Human Rights Council

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a regular session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday that “Today the world’s eyes are fixed on Libya. We have seen Colonel Qadhafi’s security forces open fire on peaceful protestors again and again. They have used heavy weapons on unarmed civilians. Mercenaries and thugs have been turned loose to attack demonstrators. There are reports of soldiers executed for refusing to turn their guns on their fellow citizens, of indiscriminate killings, arbitrary arrests, and torture.  Colonel Qadhafi and those around him must be held accountable for these acts, which violate international legal obligations and common decency. Through their actions, they have lost the legitimacy to govern. And the people of Libya have made themselves clear: It is time for Qadhafi to go – now, without further violence or delay”.

Clinton added: “The international community is speaking with one voice and our message is unmistakable.  These violations of universal rights are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. This Council took an important first step toward accountability on Friday by establishing an independent commission of inquiry.  On Saturday in New York, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution imposing an arms embargo on Libya, freezing the assets of key human rights violators and other members of the Qadhafi family, and referring the Libyan case to the International Criminal Court. Tomorrow, the UN General Assembly should vote to accept the recommendation to suspend the Qadhafi government’s participation here in the Human Rights Council. Governments that turn their guns on their own people have no place in this chamber”.

On Tuesday in New York, the UN General Assembly suspended Libya from the Human Rights Council.  It is the first time that this has ever happened.

Afterwards, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice tweeted:
“This is another clear warning to #Qadhafi and those who still stand by him: they must stop the killing. He must go, and he must go now”
and
“All 192 member states just agreed to suspend #Libya from Human Rights Council. Unprecedented”.

UN Security Council unanimous resolution on Libya

In the UN Security Council meeting on Libya on Saturday (26 Feb.) the French put their foot down,  and insisted that the violence being carried out by loyalists and agents of the current regime in Libya against the people of Libya must be referred to the International Criminal Court.

UNSC resolution 1970 was adopted unanimously. It also freezes assets of Colonel Muammar Qaddhafi and his children, and imposes a travel ban on approximately 22 Libyans connected to Qaddhafi.

The full implications of this decision will only become clear through time…

Continue reading “UN Security Council unanimous resolution on Libya”

Terrifying situation in Libya – and what are world leaders now cooking up to deal with it?

In today’s UN Security Council meeting at UNHQ/NY, Libya’s Ambassador Mohammad Abdel-Rahman Shalgham (until today, apparently loyal to Col. Muammar Qaddhafi, and according to AFP his childhood friend) formally joined his deputy (Ibrahim Dabbashi), and the opposition to the current regime in his country. Shalgham reportedly told the Security Council: “Please, the United Nations, save Libya. Let there be no bloodshed, no killing of innocents. We want a decisive, rapid and courageous resolution from you”. [This was reported in an AFP dispatch published here. The AFP said that Shalgham made references in his speech to Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot…

In today’s meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the entire Libyan delegation announced that they represented the people, and not the government of Libya, and they called for a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the violence of the regime.

And, Col. Qaddhafi and his son both gave second speeches today (their second since the outbreak of the uprising this month). I was out and missed them. Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine wrote today on his blog here that “Well, he [Col. Qaddhafi] finally came right out and said it: ‘those who do not love me do not deserve to live’. With those words, uttered on Libyan state television today, Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi at least rhetorically outdid all his megalomaniacal and mass murdering predecessors including Saddam Hussein, Ceausescu, Stalin and the whole bunch. Anyone who still doubts that this man is ready and willing to visit the utmost bloodshed upon his people simply isn’t paying attention. The question is, is he able? The answer is, at this stage at least, quite possibly”.

Ibish later added this update to his post: “There is now some dispute over whether Qaddafi said ‘those who do not love me do not deserve to live” or “if people do not love me, I do not deserve to live’. Al Arabiya reports the later here. But first-rate tweeters reporter Muna Shikaki quoted him as ‘Qaddafi: ‘those who don’t like me don’t deserve to live’ and Sultan Al Qassemi wrote ‘Gaddafi now in TV “I’m in central Tripoli now. The people who don’t love me don’t deserve to live”.’ Those are two pretty good sources, in my view. Either way, the thrust of the arguments remain unchanged. At UN today, the Libyan ambassador finally abandoned Qaddafi after sticking by him till now in an open dispute with his deputy. With emotions and tears flowing, Amb. Shalqam embraced Sec. Gen. Ban and asked the UN to ‘save Libya, we want quick action, save Libya’. He rightly said Qaddafi’s message to Libyans was if I cannot rule you, ‘I will kill you’. I think that says it all. And there is no dispute that Qaddafi today threatened to turn Libya into ‘a burning hell’.”

The Independent reported that “The beleaguered Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi defiantly appealed to his hardcore supporters to ‘defend the nation’ against an uprising which was last night closing in on Tripoli after thousands of protesters braved gunfire to try to march through the capital. Standing on the ramparts of a fort overlooking the city’s Green Square, Colonel Gaddafi pumped his fist and told 1,000 pro-regime demonstrators: ‘We can crush any enemy. We can crush it with the people’s will. The people are armed and when necessary, we will open arsenals to arm all the Libyan people and all Libyan tribes’. Urging the crowd to ‘retaliate against them, retaliate against them’, the 68-year-old President was shown on state television calling on them to prepare to defend the nation and defend the oil’.” This report, written by a team in Bengazi, is published here.

AFP reported that Qaddhafi said in Friday’s speech: “Sing, dance and prepare yourselves … If needs be, we will open all the arsenals”. The U.S. warmed up to Libya after it gave up its nuclear weapons program (after revelations that it came from Pakistani nuclear scientist and salesman], but reports indicate that Libya still has chemical and biological weapons…

In the UN Security Council today, UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon said that “Colonel Qaddhafi and members of his family continue to threaten the population with civil war… Let us be frank, these remarks… raise grave considerations… I strongly believe that the first obligation of the international community is to ensure (protection)”

BAN also noted that “Today the Human Rights Commission convened in special session… it is the first time that a member of the HRC is the subject of a special session … The HRC today took steps to establish independent commission of inquiry and recommended that the UN General Assembly consider suspending Libya from HRC”

And, he said, “There are also indications of a growing crisis of refugees (since Feb 22, some 22,000 fled overland to Tunisia, and 15,000 to Egypt, but much larger numbers are trapped… And those who managed to cross the border said the journey was terrifying … It is crucial for humanitarian agencies to have access to the border”.

And, BAN said, the UN’s World Food Program is concerned about Libya’s food supplies

In those who can stand it — and especially for those who love these things — here is a UN video of today’s UN Security Council meeting on Libya:

According to a Reuters report published in Haaretz, a six-page draft UN Security Council resolution says that “The attacks against Libyan civilians may be ‘crimes against humanity’ warranting prosecution by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, according to a draft UN sanctions resolution. The text, drafted by France and Britain and circulated to other members of the UN Security Council on Friday, also calls for an arms embargo against Libya as well as travel bans and asset freezes for the country’s top leaders … The 15-nation council has only referred one other case to the ICC – the conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region”. This Haaretz report is posted here.

Here are some selected Tweets on the situation in Libya over the last working week:

21 February:
@marianhouk: Could become one of the most expedited decisions ever taken by UN Security Council – case for humanitarian intervention in #Libya

@marianhouk: To the last man + woman! RT@cnnbrk – Gadhafi’s son: #Libya’s army has been told to restore
security “at any price” http://on.cnn.com/ge2mrQ

@marianhouk: Situation in Libya doesn’t need to be international for UN Security Council action under rarely-used humanitarian imperative resolutions…

22 February:
@marianhouk: It was like a music video @RT IvanCNN: Watch Gadhafi’s…strange…pre-dawn appearance with an umbrella on Libyan TV – http://bit.ly/hCZTR7

@marianhouk: The neo-Con right has tried for years to kick #Libya off the UN Human Rights Commission, then Council. This is inadequate to the carnage now

@themoornextdoor – Qadhafi: “….and the punishment is death” this is really all you need to know from this speech.

@lassecgen LAS Council decides to suspend participation of Libyan delegations in all LAS meetings.

@SultanAlQassemi – Abdul Fattah Younis: Gaddafi, that dirty man, wanted to say that I was killed by protesters so that my tribe, the Obeidat will stand by him

@marianhouk: “Greasy rats”! — one of the most disgusting and chilling things Qaddhafi said today, over + over

@marianhouk: Revelations abt Qaddafi murder of Musa al-Sadr and his secret burial ‘n Sebha, then murder of some who knew [n.b. reportedly including Qaddhafi’s personal pilot]: @SultanAlQassimi + @_RichardHall

Continue reading “Terrifying situation in Libya – and what are world leaders now cooking up to deal with it?”

Remains of Alec Collett found in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley

This is an ugly and traumatic story.

Alec Collett, a former colleague accredited as a journalist at UNHQ/NY in the early to mid-1980s, was one of those internationals kidnapped during the long Lebanese civil war.  Alec was taken from a car near Beirut airport in March  1985, while on a temporary assignment for UNRWA in Lebanon.  The car’s driver was also seized, but later released

After the U.S. attack on Libya in the spring of 1986, there were reports that those holding Alec had executed him in retaliation. A video was released, showing his body hanging from the limb of a leafy tree.

But, for unclear reasons, the UN did not want to acknowledge Alec’s execution. The UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, expressed anger but offered no explanation when asked directly by this journalist — at the time, the President of the UN Correspondents Association (UNCA) why the UN was not accepting the reports of Alec’s death.  UNCA issued a statement condemning the reported execution, and asking for a prompt return of the body, to help ease the anguish of Alec’s family.

Though there was no apparent reason to disbelieve the claims about the execution, nothing was entirely sure about Alec’s fate until this week, when British DNA tests reportedly conducted in London confirmed that a body unearthed recently in the Bekaa Valley by a British forensics team was, indeed, that of Alec Collett.

Photo from Daily Mail - Officials inspect the place where the remains of Alec Collett were found

[Months before the execution, as the BBC reported in a profile published on their website, “the United Nations Correspondents’ Association … made him [Alec Collett] their honorary president, a title he has retained ever since”… The BBC report, posted here, is wrong in a couple of respects, including these: (1) the decision to name Alec as “honorary president” of UNCA was taken at the end of 1985, and not in 1986; UNCA is not, as the BBC wrote, an “organisation for journalists based around the world” — it is an organization for journalists accredited to UNHQ in New York. And, this decision, taken at the urging of some colleagues, was not popular with all of the journalists. Some, who had not hesitated to use his captivity for their own political purposes in the UNCA elections held at the end of 1985, were nevertheless opposed to making Alec Collett “honorary president” on the grounds that (as they argued) he had been on a temporary assignment to UNRWA, and not working strictly as a journalist, at the time he was kidnapped …]

The Times of London reported on 19 November that “Seven British police officers and two forensic archaeologists are excavating near the village of Aitta al-Fuqar in the Bekaa Valley. It is the site of a base belonging to Fatah — the Revolutionary Council. The radical and violent Palestinian group was led by Sabri al-Banna, better known as Abu Nidal.  The team found two bodies, one of them an unidentified man who was first found during an earlier attempt to find Mr Collett 11 years ago. It was reinterred by Lebanese authorities. The second body is undergoing DNA tests to discover if it is Mr Collett.  Lebanese troops have sealed off the site to reporters and onlookers”.  This report can be found here

A second report by the Times of London, published on 24 November, said that “The UN confirmed yesterday that remains unearthed by British investigators in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley are those of Alec Collett, a British journalist kidnapped in 1985 and killed a year later. A spokesman said that Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, while saddened by the news, ‘hopes the actions taken to find his remains can provide a measure of comfort to his loved ones’. The remains were identified with the help of DNA tests conducted in London by the Metropolitan Police. Collett, who was 64 when he was abducted, was on assignment with the UN reporting on Palestinian refugees in April 1985. He was kidnapped by Fatah Revolutionary Council, a radical Palestinian group headed by Abu Nidal. Collett is survived by his wife, Elaine, who also worked for the UN and lives in New York. Last week’s search was the fourth attempt in 11 years to recover his remains. The hunt had been narrowed to an isolated military base, once run by Abu Nidal militants, between the village of Aitta al-Fukhar and the Syrian border. The camp consists of a handful of derelict single-storey concrete buildings scattered on the slopes of a steep rocky valley. The walls of one abandoned building were daubed with sketches of the huge wooden water wheels in the Syrian city of Hama, and of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, and his father Hafez al-Assad. The camp housed a small detachment of Syrian troops until 2005. One of the buildings was half-buried beneath bulldozed earth and rock for protection against attack, and it was here that Mr Collett spent his last weeks in captivity. The cell block consisted of three small rooms and a simple latrine. The doors and any furniture and fittings inside the cramped building long ago disappeared and today it appears to be a shelter for goats that scramble over the surrounding slopes. Mr Collett’ fate was sealed after US aircraft bombed Tripoli, in Libya on April 15, 1986. In retaliation, eight days later, the Libyan-backed militants took Mr Collett from his bleak cell and hanged him, then shot him in the back of the head — according to a Palestinian eyewitness whose testimony in 2005 provided additional confirmation that the British journalist had been buried on the site. A team from the Metropolitan police counterterrorist department and two forensic archaeologists began excavating a section of the camp on November 14. A digger scraped away the surface layer of stony soil, then investigators worked the ground by hand. Small red flags marked the spot of each dig. The operation was conducted amid tight security, with Lebanese troops keeping reporters and onlookers away, but The Times was able to gain access to the site. ‘We looked for signs of disturbance in the soil and focussed on those areas’, said one of the investigators. Two bodies were discovered. One of them was that of a suspected Palestinian militant whose remains were first uncovered during an earlier search for Mr Collett’s body in 1998, and subsequently re-interred by Lebanese authorities. The second body was that of Mr Collett, the bullet hole in the skull convincing the investigators that they had found their man pending the final result of the DNA tests”. This Times of London report is posted here

While the Times of London report, above, said that “Last week’s search was the fourth attempt in 11 years to recover his remains”, a BBC report here said that the UN “tried three times between 1995 and 2000 to find his body and there have been numerous false alarms”.

Two UN officials were trying to get Alec Collett’s release much earlier — in the months immediately after his abduction, and after the reports of the execution: Perez de Cuellar’s aide Gianni Picco, who got involved in some of the hostage negotiations as part of larger regional efforts, and the Lebanese-Palestinian information official, Samir Sanbar. They operated, apparently, on different tracks. I was also told, at the time, that the high-ranking British UN official Brian Urquhart, was also involved on another separate track. And, UNCA made several quiet attempts, at the time, to contact various personalities in Lebanon to seek their help, without result…

My friend and mentor Promeneur, who did not speak to me for more than a year because of the UNCA election and its results, wrote me this week from London and said: “They did the DNA and yes it’s Alec. Any suggestion how I might contact Elaine? She with the UN still I wonder? Gosh their son will be in his mid-30s … and Alec he would now be 87 I think I got that right, double-gosh … Turns out it was … a retaliatory gesture after Reagan bombed Tripoli (remember how it was timed to run live on the 10 o’clock news) … otherwise they figure he was about to be released. All those years I’d imagined it must have been a Lebanese group, reasoning that Alec’s strong PLO sympathies must have tripped him up. Then I reasoned that he wouldn’t have lasted long without his medication – he had diabetes and other stuff, but no seems they did hang him. A guy doing life in the US has given an eye-witness account. The assignment had been a gift from UNRWA who knew how broke he was – it was going to clear his credit card debts etc.”…

USA blocks UN Security Council call for cease-fire in Gaza – UPDATED

Relying on the Associated Press’ indefatigueable Edith Lederer at UNHQ/NY, we learn that “French U.N. Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert, the council president, said the 15 council members could not agree on a statement in closed discussions held after Israel launched a ground invasion into the Gaza Strip on Saturday. But he said there were ‘strong convergences’ among the members to express concern about the deteriorating situation in Gaza and the need for ‘an immediate, permanent and fully respected cease-fire’. Libyan Ambassador Giadalla Ettalhi said the United States during the discussions objected to ‘any outcome’ on the proposed statement. He said efforts were made to compromise on a weaker press statement but there was no consensus. Several other council members, speaking on condition of anonymity because negotiations were closed, also said the U.S. was responsible for the council’s failure to issue a statement … U.S. deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff said the United States saw no prospect of Hamas abiding by last week’s council call for an immediate end to the violence. Therefore, he said, a new statement ‘would not be adhered to and would have no underpinning for success, (and) would not do credit to the council’ … Asked what kind of resolution would be acceptable to the United States, Wolff said: ‘The important point to focus on here is establishing the understanding of what type of cease-fire we’re talking about and to ensure that it’s lasting, and to ensure that we don’t return to a situation that led to the current situation’ … If it had been approved, the statement would have become part of the council’s official record but would not have the weight of a Security Council resolution, which is legally binding. Though the Security Council took no action on Saturday night, an Arab draft resolution circulated by Libya on Wednesday night that would condemn Israel and halt its military attacks on Gaza remains on the table … [though] the United States has already called it ‘unacceptable’ and “unbalanced” because it doesn’t call for an end to the Hamas rocketing of Israel. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected in New York on Tuesday, along with half a dozen Arab foreign ministers who will be at the UN on Monday, to press for a cease-fire resolution”. The full AP report can be viewed here .

UPDATE: Ma’an News Agency reported this morning that Abbas, who was in Amman on Saturday on his way to New York, has postponed his trip to the United Nations and will return to Ramallah today for a meeting with visiting French President Nicholas Sarkozy. Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, who was with Abbas in Amman, is being sent to New York to attend the UN Security Council deliberations…

Separately, the U.S. State Department issued a statement in Washington, through spokesperson Sean McCormack, saying: “We are working toward a cease-fire that would not allow a reestablishment of the status quo ante, where Hamas can continue to launch rockets out of Gaza and to condemn the people of Gaza to a life of misery. It is obvious that that cease-fire should take place as soon as possible, but we need a cease-fire that is durable, sustainable, and not time limited. Hamas has held the people of Gaza hostage ever since their illegal coup against the forces of President Mahmoud Abbas, the legitimate President of the Palestinian people. They have used Gaza as a launching pad for rockets against Israeli cities, and have contributed deeply to a very bad daily life for the Palestinian people in Gaza and to a humanitarian situation that we have all been trying to address. Hamas has made it very difficult for the people of Gaza to have a reasonable life. The United States is deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation and the protection of innocents. In this vein, we have expressed our concerns to the Israeli government that any military action needs to be mindful of the potential consequences to civilians”.

Israeli media are prominently reporting that these delays are just maneuvers to allow Israel time to do what it wants to do in Gaza. Haaretz, for example, is reporting that “The international community, headed by the U.S. and Egypt, is giving Israel time to carry out the ground offensive in Gaza, so it will severely damage Hamas’ regime. The rationale behind such a move is that a weakened Hamas would improve the chances of achieving a stable agreement in Gaza once the fighting subsides. And so there is a degree of foot-dragging in the diplomatic efforts to reach a cease-fire. The most visible sign of this was the decision to postpone the United Nations Security Council discussion on Gaza planned for Monday. France postponed the discussion to Wednesday, to ensure that it would be held after French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to the region … During her visit to France on Thursday, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had requested that the discussion be postponed”.

The same Haaretz report adds that “In its efforts to formulate a draft for an agreement with Hamas in the wake of Operation Cast Lead, the designated team of Israeli officials is aiming to bring about the restoration of the cease-fire with Hamas, which expired on December 19, in addition to steps to curb Hamas’ arms-smuggling through the border with Egypt. The officials, all of them from the Prime Minister’s Office, the defense establishment and the Foreign Ministry, are not seeking to introduce international enforcement bodies, but rather the introduction of an upgraded border control system on the Egyptian side of the border. The U.S. administration supports such a move, and is expected to assist the Egyptians in stepping up their efforts to control the border. Currently, Israeli officials are trying to find a work program that would not infringe on Egyptian sovereignty, which is why Israeli diplomats are pessimistic about the prospect of stationing an international force in the Sinai Peninsula.
According to sources in the U.S., President George W. Bush has intercepted an initiative by his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice and her British counterpart, Secretary of State David Miliband, to formulate a cease-fire draft. One source said Bush instructed the State Department to refrain from action in the matter. To date, the U.S. has refrained from sending any envoys or delegates to the region. According to officials, the U.S. and Israel are cooperating diplomatically on the issue
Egypt’s unexpected support for Israel in the conflict with Hamas has, according to Israeli diplomats, been a pleasant surprise for Jerusalem”. This report can be read in full here .

But, the AP report cited above said that “Egypt’s U.N. Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz said it was regrettable that one permanent council member — a clear reference to the U.S. — refused to accept any statement at a time when ‘the aggression is escalating and more people are dying and the military attack on the ground is at its full scale’.”

UN AIDS Programme asks Libya to review death sentence on Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor

In a bold step with a weakly-argued point, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has called on Libyan courts to review the death sentences imposed on five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor for the alleged intentional transmission of HIV to hundreds of children — in light of evidence showing that the virus circulated before the health workers’ arrival.

“UNAIDS is concerned that certain scientific evidence appears to have not been taken into consideration and that this raises serious doubts regarding the conclusion reached by the court”, UNAIDS said in a news release. “As published in the scientific journal Nature, an analysis of HIV and hepatitis virus samples taken from some of the children concluded that the HIV viral strains were circulating in the hospital where the children were treated before the nurses and doctor arrived in March 1998”, it added. “UNAIDS urges that the present decision be reviewed, and that due weight be given to this evidence and all other available scientific evidence related to the case”.

A much stronger case was made in the London newspaper, the Independent: The Big Question: Why have five nurses and a doctor been condemned to death in Libya? , By Peter Popham, 20 December 2006:

“Why are we asking this question now?

Because yesterday the five Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor were, for the second time, sentenced to death by a Libyan court. The verdict was a carbon copy of that handed down by the court in the first trial in May 2004. The foreigners appealed to the Supreme Court and on Christmas Day 2005 the court accepted the appeal and ordered a retrial. The foreign health workers have now been in prison in Libya for nearly seven years, much of that time in degrading conditions. The trial has become by far the longest and most heavily politicised legal process in Libya’s history.

What is their alleged crime?

Almost too horrible to describe: deliberately pumping HIV-infected blood into the veins of hundreds of small Libyan boys and girls. Fifty-two children have died since the epidemic began. Some of the surviving children have tuberculosis and other Aids-related diseases, though the condition of many of the others has stabilised thanks to anti-retroviral medication. Many of the children are being treated at hospitals in Italy and France thanks to funding from the EU.

Why are we calling it ‘alleged’?

Because nobody outside Libya believes there is the slightest reason to think they are guilty. The nurses belonged to a larger group of Bulgarians who took up their contracts at Al-Fatih government hospital in Benghazi, Libya’s second city, in March 1998. Then in February of the next year, 23 Bulgarians working at the hospital were arrested, six of whom, along with the Palestinian, were held incommunicado for months, while the rest were released.

Those held were initially charged with ‘committing actions leading to the uncontrolled murder of people with the aim of undermining state security’ , in a plot that the Libyan authorities claimed had been dreamed up by the CIA and Mossad. The charge of which they were convicted yesterday was ‘deliberately causing an Aids epidemic by injecting over 400 children with harmful micro-organisms’, which also carries the death penalty.

On what evidence were they convicted?

The only evidence against them is a report that was hurriedly compiled by five Libyan doctors and which contains no data, only anecdotes. The court refused to hear witnesses in defence of the medical staff, and rejected requests for new inquiries into the HIV outbreak. The report by Aids experts Luc Montagnier and Vittorio Colizzi submitted to the original trial, which indicated that the epidemic was caused by poor hygiene – needles washed under the tap – and began before the Bulgarians arrived, was discounted. A new report published in Nature last week indicates that the outbreak stemmed from a single HIV-positive child under treatment in the hospital who had been infected by his mother; the virus, the report claims, was already present in the hospital in 1997. But the court did not wish to know.

What do the nurses say?

One of the accused, Christiana Valcheva, told the court: ‘No doctor or nurse would dare commit such a dreadful crime’.

All claim innocence, and insist that their confessions were tortured out of them. They brought a civil suit against their 10 alleged torturers, which was thrown out by a Tripoli court last year, and they were not allowed to appeal that verdict to the Supreme Court, nor to tell the new trial about what had happened to them. The nurses were once again obliged at the retrial to hear the confessions that had been extracted from them by beatings and electric shocks employed to send them to the firing squad.

Has the international community done much to help?

It has done quite a bit. The case is embarrassing all round because while in 1999, when it started, Libya was still an international pariah and nobody was surprised to hear Colonel Muammar Gaddafi making exotic allegations about CIA/Mossad conspiracies, since giving up the bomb in 2003 he has been making a ponderous return from the cold. This case has made the process more difficult. Since the original guilty verdict, the Council of the European Union has invited Libya to join the Barcelona Process – the EU-funded initiative to bring its Mediterranean neighbours into a closer political, economic and cultural relationship, intended to culminate in a free-trade zone – in exchange for dropping the case against the Bulgarians. In November 2004, the European Commission launched a Benghazi Aids Action Plan which has so far received €2m in EU money. Last year Colonel Gaddafi offered to drop the case on payment by Bulgaria of €10m for each infected child’s family. Bulgaria rejected the proposal, but in December set up its own international fund to help Libya combat Aids.

And there is probably more going on behind the scenes: last Friday David Welch, an American Assistant Secretary of State who helped negotiate the resumption of diplomatic relations between Libya and the US, arrived in Tripoli to discuss ‘issues which hinder improvements in relations”‘, according to the Libyan news agency Jana. No details were released. Welch has previously called for the nurses to be allowed to go home, and yesterday Washington said it was ‘disappointed’ with the trial verdict.

Why doesn’t Gaddafi commute the sentences?

Benghazi is the centre of opposition to his dictatorial regime, and the Aids epidemic has become a focus of mass popular anger. The idea propagated by Colonel Gaddafi himself that the epidemic was caused by the Bulgarians acting on the orders of foreign intelligence agencies was repeated verbatim at a press conference in London on Monday by the president of a group representing the victims.

But if he is looking for a way of taking revenge on the West for the loss of face (and dollars) inflicted over the Lockerbie bombing, then the closer the Bulgarians get to the firing squad, the harder the bargain he will be able to drive. There are still two legal steps the foreigners can take before they run out of options, first the Supreme Court, second the so-called ” high judicial council” described yesterday by Libya’s justice minister Ali Hasnaoui as senior to the Supreme Court. Whatever those bodies may decide, the real horse-trading should be starting about now … “
The Independent story on the Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor on trial in Libya is here.

After a judicious few days’ wait, UNSG Kofi Annan said at UNHQ/NY on Friday, according to a report from Associated Press (AP) that “he was ‘deeply concerned’ about a Libyan court’s decision to reimpose death sentences on five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor convicted of infecting children with HIV. Annan offered U.N. support for the children and for efforts to ‘find a humane solution for the fate of the medics.’ He said, ‘I am deeply concerned by confirmation of a guilty verdict and a death sentence’. Annan, whose tenure ends on Dec. 31, praised the international community for providing treatment and medicine to the infected children. Fifty children have died, and the rest have been treated in Europe
The AP story on Kofi Annan’s comments of concern is here.