More funerals on Sunday for Saturday's dead in Egypt

More funerals are being held on Sunday for those killed in protests throughout Egypt on Saturday.

There is no accurate count of the scores of dead or the many thousands of injured, yet.

On Sunday morning, the Egyptian Minister of Information — the one who was supposed to have resigned with the rest of the entire Mubarak cabinet on Saturday morning — revoked the press credentials and the required licenses for Al-Jazeera to work in Egypt.

However, no move had been made to shut them down by noontime.

UPDATE: an hour later, Al-Jazeera was taken off Nilesat, an Egyptian-owned and operated satellite TV channel…

Al-Jazeera said via Twitter that it would be covering the situation in Egypt from headquarters in Qatar, and sent out a via Twitter of its journalists who would continue to follow the situation on the ground where they were throughout Egypt.

All journalists sending out Tweets on Sunday morning said that there was a noticeable change in the atmosphere, with more Army units on the streets, and helicopters flying low overhead.

The 200 demonstrators who slept overnight in Tahrir (Liberation) Square were the only ones there, apparently, as the Army was blocking access to any citizens wanting to enter the square on Sunday morning.

Meir Javendanfar worries about war, now

After noting that he usually tries “not to get worked up about reports of imminent war in the Middle East”, Iranian-born Israeli analyst Meir Javendanvar has just written, on the Real Clear World website, that “this time I really can’t shake the feeling that something ominous is about to happen, involving Hezbollah.  It will either be a massive confrontation with Israel, or armed conflict inside Lebanon”.

Javendanfar says that “the recent [3 August] border skirmish” — when the IDF insisted on going ahead with a “routine maintenace” tree-trimming operation that left 3 Lebanese Army soldiers, one Lebanese journalist, and one IDF Captain dead, in a firefight that ensued — ” has actually made Hezbollah more popular inside Lebanon”.

It has made Hizballah more popular everywhere in the Arab world.  And Hassan Nasrallah’s speech this past week — which many Western commentators thought offered little new — was regarded as an act of genius by many analysts here in the Palestinian West Bank [including East Jerusalem].

Continue reading Meir Javendanfar worries about war, now

Wataniya makes surprise decision to launch today

After huffing and puffing to blow the house down (well, to sue the Palestinian Authority, for Israel’s refusal to release sufficient telecommunications wavelengths), the Qatari and Kuwaiti-owned Wataniya mobile phone company made the surprise announcement that it had launched its service in Palestine today, just two weeks after the planned date — and despite Israel’s continuing refusal to release all the wavelengths that it had promised.

We reported earlier that Wataniya’s (second) launch date on 15 October (it was postponed once from April) was missed, due to exactly the same problem that was said to be insurmountable at the time two weeks ago, but somehow (inexplicably) became manageble today — see our previous post here.

The Ma’an News Agency reported tonight that “Mohammad Mustafa, head of the Wataniya Palestine’s board, said the firm had begun functioning with a frequency range of 3.8 MHz, less than the 4.8 MHz Israel had agreed to open under an agreement with the Palestinian Authority (PA) signed last year. ‘They will give us the additional 1 MHz as soon as possible’, Mustafa told Reuters, adding that Quartet envoy Tony Blair had promised the firm it would acquire the remaining frequency … Wataniya was further implicated in Israeli-Palestinian politics in late September when the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israeli military officials were refusing to release the frequency in order to pressure the PA to drop a war crimes case against Israel in the International Criminal Court”. This Ma’an story can be read in full here.

It is not immediately clear what, exactly, had changed to make this possible…

The Palestine Investment Fund (PIF) owns 47% — a minority — of shares in Wataniya Palestine mobile phone company, which will introduce competition into the Palestinian mobile phone market. Until now, only the Palestinian company Jawwal was operating in the occupied Palestinian territory (Gaza and the West Bank). Wataniya apparently will operate only in the West Bank, at least for now.

Wataniya will be the competitor of PALTEL – described on its website as “the national telecommunications provider in Palestine”. The website also says that “The company has an exclusive License Agreement with the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to develop the telecom sector”. This description is posted here.

In addition to its 47% ownership status in Wataniya, PIF has also invested in its competitor PALTEL, and in another company (the Palestine Development and Investment Ltd., or PADICO) which has also invested in PALTEL (PADICO owns 37% of Paltel, and is currently the largest investor in PALTEL) … Earlier this year, in May, a preliminary agreement was signed for the merger of Paltel with Zain, a Kuwaiti Telecommunication Company. At the time, PADICO Chairman Munib Masri stated that said “this transaction allows Palestine mobile Telecommunication Jawwal to expand within the Palestinian territories, as it was not possible to get through previously, due to Israeli restrictions, particularly in the Jericho area; now it will help guarantee connections with the Jordan Valley”. This news was posted here.

PADICO (which the PIF has invested in, and which in turn is the largest investor in PALTEL) announced in mid-September that “it submitted an application to the Palestinian Ministry of National Economy to be registered as a foreign company in Palestine”. However, PADICO apparently has always been a foreign company in Palestine — according to its website, it is registered in Liberia. The PADICO website says that “The Palestinian Council of Ministers, on 7 September 2009 approved an amendment to income tax law no. 17 2004, which includes a clause that obliges foreign companies registered in Palestine to pay income tax on profits generated from the company’s activities outside Palestine. These amendments have been referred to President Mahmoud Abbas for ratification. This opened the door for foreign companies, including PADICO, to begin registration procedures”. The PADICO website also says that its “registration in Palestine is in line with its pioneering role as a fundamental pillar to the Palestinian economy”. And, the website reports that PADICO’s CEO, Samir Hulileh, said in mid-September that “PADICO’s decision to register in Palestine reflects its strategic commitment to investing in Palestine and building relationships based on cooperation and trust with the Government and the Ministry of National Economy”. This news can be viewed here.

Business and Businessmen in Palestine – a glimpse into the views of Yasser Abbas

Excerpts from an interview with Yasser Abbas in Ramallah – 18 December 2008 – by Marian Houk – Part 3
Other excerpts:
Part 4: Separation of Powers in Ramallah
Part 2: Fatah and Hamas – what’s the problem?
Part 1: Fatah and Hamas – and the Abbas family house in Gaza

Question (Marian Houk):  Let me start by asking you what you do here, what your business is?

Answer (Yasser Abbas):  Well, I’m a civil engineer by profession.  I manage a group of companies called, mainly, the Falcon Holding Group that represents a few companies that deal with construction management, contracting, trading, and insurance – basically, that’s it – in Palestine and outside Palestine.

Q: Do you spend most of your time here, or are you mostly outside?

A: No, I’m most of the time outside. [But] I’m based in Palestine.  My family is here.  If you want to call where’s my home – home is Palestine for me, and that’s where my main business originally originated.  That’s where my family lived.  That’s where my kids went to school, and one of them is still in school.  My wife is around always, all the time.  [In the second part of this interview, published yesterday, Yasser Abbas also said: “the second company I established in my life was in Palestine, in Ramallah, 1996, when Mahmoud Abbas was not the President, not the Prime Minister.  He was Secretary-General of the PLO.  I decided to open a company, and to go and compete like any other company in the market.  And there you go, it happened.  And from 1996 until 2000, we had those rosy years that we’ve never seen back again.  Everybody was working.  So we went and started bidding, and we started making relations with international companies coming from outside, like any other engineering office.  So, that’s the way I started, and that’s the way I do business here, in Palestine.  I can claim that all my projects that I take are competitive bidding.  Nobody has any privilege to me, personally, to come and tell me, ‘I will give you this’, or ‘I will give you that’.  Nobody has any power to do so.  I have no power over anyone, and I mean anyone, to tell them, ‘This project is mine, nobody touches it’.   Or, ‘I have a concession on such-and-such sector, and nobody touches’.  I don’t have that.  I challenge, I challenge, though you, publicly, anyone – anyone – who can come to me and point his finger at me to tell me, ‘I, or we, or such-and-such agency or ministry, gave you the job’, or ‘I have a concession on any sector of this economy’.  I challenge him. ]

Continue reading Business and Businessmen in Palestine – a glimpse into the views of Yasser Abbas

Iran’s Foreign Minister arrives in Riyadh for Arab Summit — a first?

The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting News Network is reporting that the Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has now arrived in Riyadh for the Arab Summit. He was apparently invited only on Sunday.

“Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, heading a political delegation, arrived in Riyadh early Wednesday to attend the 19th Arab League summit in the Saudi capital. The two-day summit, opening Wednesday, is scheduled to discuss crises in Lebanon, Iraq, and Palestine. Iran’s nuclear program will also be among topics to be reviewed by the participants in the summit. Leaders and senior officials from 23 Arab and Islamic states as well as United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu and EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana are taking part in the two-day summit. Foreign ministers of China, Russia and India are also attending the summit. Libya is the only Arab state that is not participating in the summit.”

This must be the first time ever that an Iranian minister will have been invited to an Arab Summit.

This is now confirmed in an AP story about a report on CNN’s Turkish Channel:
“…Iran’s foreign minister said meanwhile a female British sailor held captive by Iran may be released later Wednesday or on Thursday, a Turkish TV station reported.
‘The woman soldier is free either today or tomorrow’, CNN-Turk television quoted Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki as saying on the sidelines of an Arab summit meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia…On Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said the woman, identified as sailor Faye Turney, 26, had been given privacy…”

In addition to seeing whether or not there will be any greater movement on the possible liberation of all these British marines and sailors, it will be interesting to see if there is any movement on the Iran-Iraq border in the Shatt Al-Arab (where, despite Saddam’s having torn up the 1975 Algiers-brokered agreement with the Shah, the thalweg or mid-point line in the water is still recognized as the boundary, according to international law experts).

It will also be interesting to see if there is any movement on the long-standing dispute over three islands (Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunb) in the Persian Gulf that the United Arab Emirates and Iran both claim. Iran administers all three Islands. At one point, the British recognized Iranian control of these Islands, but that seems to have changed. The Greater and Lesser Tunbs are located 20km from an Iranian Island, and are in an important sea lane in the Strait of Hormuz, through which much of the world’s oil supply passes. Abu Musa seems to be almost mid-way between Iran and the U.A.E.

And, of course, it will be interesting to see if there are any takers on Iran’s proposal for a Persian Gulf regional consortium on fuel production for peaceful nuclear energy (Iran says the facility should be located in Iran), or on regional security arrangements.

The EU ‘High Representative’ Javier Solana is also in Riyadh for the Arab Summit, so there will surely be contacts about the new offer for ‘talks to see if there is a basis for negotiations”.

UN SG BAN Ki-MOON is accompanied by Under Secretary-General Lynn Pascoe, the highest-ranking American in the UN System, who was the U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia until taking up his UN post.

Qatar's Peacekeepers arrive in Lebanon – while Lebanese leave

A full contingent of 184 Qatari troops is now deployed with the UN Peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL.

As the UNIFIL press release says, the Qatari forces will be “assisting the Lebanese Army in securing stability in southern Lebanon as part of Security Council resolution 1701”.

With the arrival of the Qataris, UNIFIL now has a force strenth of 12,000 soldiers and other personnel from 28 different countries (Belgium, China, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Republic of Korea, Luxemburg, Malaysia, Nepal, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Turkey).

Meanwhile, the Spanish contingent in UNIFIL has started a “major Spanish language training programme”, offering language lessons to some 300 students in and around the town of Marjayoun in southern Lebanon. “The programme is sponsored by the Spanish authorities and is being run under the auspices of the Cervantes Institute”, the UNIFIL press release notes.

This could be useful for those Lebanese who want to emigrate — and a new study suggests that there are many of them, according to a report published today and posted on Yahoo news: “The scale of the hemorrhage is hard to pin down, especially in a land with a long, fluid history of migration and return, but researcher Eugen Dabbous said a survey he had helped to run had confirmed many Lebanese are heading for the exits. ‘Sixty percent of those surveyed want to leave,’ he said.
The project, conducted by the Lebanese Emigration Research Center, questioned about 600 residents from two groups — students or recent graduates and middle-aged people. ‘The younger people want to leave because they don’t see a future in Lebanon, and the older group because they want to get their children out of harm’s way,’ Dabbous said. He said up to a million of Lebanon’s estimated four million citizens already live abroad, mingling with a far bigger Lebanese-origin diaspora born of two centuries of migration. Once mostly Christian, the outflow now affects Lebanon’s Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim communities just as much. Many who left during the 1975-90 civil war sank permanent roots abroad … So many Lebanese have left for the Gulf in recent months that wages there have declined, said Carole Contavelis, a recruitment consultant for Beirut’s Headhunter International. Of 19 people she interviewed for a general manager post in Beirut, 15 had left the country: ‘At the upper management level, it’s 70-80 percent who are out of Lebanon.’ Contavelis said the employment market had been ‘awful’ since last year’s war and was still getting worse, while political instability meant no one could plan their lives sensibly. ‘Now with the brain drain, we don’t have a middle class any more,’ she complained. ‘How can you build a country like that?’ Asked what would have to change to induce people to stay, she said: ‘Frankly, everything. No bribery. We need security, clean politicians. They are treating us like cows, but we don’t want to follow any more’…”

In other news reported by UNIFIL, “two Belgian de-miners were injured by shrapnel in a cluster bomb explosion during a mine-clearance operation in the vicinity of Kunin, near the town of Bint Jubayl”.

The U.S. has said last week that Israel may have violated their agreement about the use of U.S.-supplied cluster bombs, during last summer’s Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

One report suggests that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) apparently used the older U.S.-made cluster bombs, which are not equipped with auto-destruct mechanisms, rather than the newer Israeli-produced cluster bombs which can self-destruct in a short period of time after being used. This auto-destruct mechanism is considered to be an important humanitarian advance, which helps avoid casualties when civilians return to their homes and fields after a conflict is over.

Earlier reports, during the summer, suggested that the IDF was emptying its warehouses of old stock during the attack on Lebanon.

UN and international de-mining teams have identified oer 800 zones in Lebanon where unexploded cluster bomb fragments continue to pose a grave hazard to life and limb.

The UNIFIL press release reports that “UNIFIL de-miners destroyed more than 4,000 explosive devices during the first four weeks of
January 2007. These included rockets, grenades, cluster bombs and anti-tank and anti-personnel mines.”

The UNIFIL website — not so easy to find — is at

In other UN Peacekeeping news, the UN Security Council has given a rap on the knuckles to Ethiopia and Eritrea, by ordering a reduction of 500 troops in the UN peacekeeping mission there (UNMEE). Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, after a long and hard-fought conflict. Tensions still remain, however, and sometimes flare up, between the two neighbors. The UN Security Council expressed disappointment in the stalled process to demarcate the boundary between the two feuding Horn of Africa neighbors.

Ethiopia does not accept an international boundary commission’s ruling, which awarded the key town of Badme to Eritrea. And Eritrea has moved troops and equipment into a buffer zone between the two countries.
The UN Peacekeeping mission will be reduced from 2300 to 1700 persons, but its mandate has been extended for a six-month period.

Ethiopian troops, meanwhile, have not withdrawn from Somalia, which they entered with U.S. training and backing in support of the UN Security-Council-backed Transitional Government. (Ethiopia has said that Eritrean forces were associated with the Islamic Courts grouping that had been credited with bringing a semblance of law and order to what is known as a “failed state” — but which has now been ousted.)

Troops from Qatar set to join UNIFIL in Lebanon

The UN Spokesman told journalists on Wednesday that “The UN Interim Force for Lebanon says that an advance party for an infantry unit from Qatar has joined the Force ahead of a full deployment of Qatari peacekeepers. “

Qatar, holding presidency of UN Security Council in December, will hold high-level meeting on “sustainable peace” in the Middle East on 12 December

Qatar’s Ambassador Nassir Abdelaziz al-Nasser, who is President of the United Nations Security Council in December, announced that a special ministerial-level Security Council meeting will be held at UNHQ in NY on 12 December.  The meeting, he said, would be chaired by Qatar’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani.

The question of Palestine, the Qatari Ambassador said, was of major concern to the international community and to the Security Council. 

In answer to journalists’ questions on this meeting, the Qatari Ambassador said that the question of Palestine was the main problem in the Middle East and in the world.  He explained that he would attempt to make the question of Palestine the main theme of his country’s presidency this month of the Security Council  — and, he said, as the main body responsible for maintaining peace and security in the world, the UN Security Council must play a role in the peace process in the Middle East.