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

A Chronology of Reports of
Chemical Weapons use in Syria

Working Draft Part 2 [21 Aug 2013]

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

Read Part 1 of this Chronology here

Read Part 3 of this Chronology here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moadamiya  – [western Ghouta]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zamalka – [Eastern Ghouta]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

End of Part 2

Why is Israel taking on OCHA?

It’s strange that, as Haaretz’s Barak Ravid reported in Haaretz on 15 July, Israel is now taking on UN OCHA — the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

    Ravid’s story reported that “The Foreign Ministry and Israel Defense Forces are considering imposing sanctions against a UN agency in the West Bank and Gaza following allegations that agency employees have engaged in illegal activity such as illegal construction. As senior officials in Jerusalem put it, Israel wants to ‘reassess’ the role in the West Bank of the agency, the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The two options under consideration are limiting the issuing of visas to OCHA employees and rescinding work and travel permits to local residents who work for OCHA”.

This report comes just days after reports that Major-General Nitzan Alon of the IDF Central Command signed a new order authorizing the Israeli Ministry of Interior’s Oz Immigration enforcement unit to go anywhere it wants in the West Bank to seize international “infiltrators” who may have overstayed a tourist visa, or working “illegally” there. Those detained will be brought into Israel, and taken to holding facilities pending their deportation. This order contradicting previous explicit Israeli court decisions that the Oz unit should not function in Area A of the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority [PA] is supposed to have some control.

That military order came just days after the publication of the Levy Report, commissioned by Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, which argued that the West Bank was not occupied, because Israel has claims on [large] parts of the territory. The Levy Report urged annexation of the areas of Israeli interest.

Israel’s Ambassador Ron Prosor wrote a Letter to UN Under-Secretary-General Valerie Amos on July 10 stating that “since the beginning of OCHA’s operations in the PA, 12 years ago, it’s presence was never officially established”. Prosor added that Israel so far “has received only 1 statement that addresses OCHA’s actions + staff — a letter from 2004. The situation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has changed considerably since then, and we therefore believe there is a need to review OCHA’s role in light of the current situation”.

This is strange, because the UN OCHA headquarters is prominently situated in the UN’s MAC House in Jerusalem, a landmark building located right next to where the Mandelbaum Gate used be, which allowed the only passage between east and west Jerusalem from 1948 until 1967.

    UPDATE: Israeli human rights Attorney Michael Sfard wrote in Haaretz on July 25 that “OCHA coordinates activities undertaken by dozens of international humanitarian organizations and relief agencies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These organizations feed the hungry, provide shelter to the homeless, help create employment opportunities and, more than anything, rebuild the destruction left behind by Israel each time it launches one of its military operations. In recent years, OCHA’s work has focused on humanitarian matters and the work of international organizations in East Jerusalem and the West Bank’s Area ‘C’, where Israel retains civil administrative powers. In both places, Israel pursues planning policies aimed at choking off Palestinian life and reducing its presence as much as possible so these areas can be used for Israeli purposes. International aid organizations impede the fulfillment of this goal, since their basis of action is humanitarian need (such as providing tents, water and electricity), and they regularly supply what the Israel Defense Forces take away. Thus they make it possible for Palestinians to remain on their lands.

    “OCHA does not operate on the ground. It is a coordinating and reporting agency. Its work is considered exemplary, owing partly to its precise, comprehensive reports that are disseminated to the diplomatic community. Such success, accompanied by efforts undertaken by some of the aid organizations to effect deep change, change that would remove the crying need for humanitarian assistance or, put differently, that would alter the discriminatory, abusive policies of the Civil Administration is precisely what has upset Israeli officials such as Prosor…

    “Alongside Prosor’s letter to the UN, in recent weeks various employees of foreign aid organizations have been summoned to meetings with the Civil Administration’s coordination office. During these meetings, they have been required to relay details about their work. They have been told their activity is illegal and that they could be prosecuted. Many organizations have faced a regime of red tape after submitting requests for work visa for members of their staff. When they tried to clarify why visas are withheld, they received complaints and threats, as though the continuation of their work was in doubt. Underlying Israel’s threats to the community of international aid organizations in the territories is the demand that they refrain from the conferral of assistance that helps local populations remain where they are, on their lands. There is a real risk that humanitarian aid workers will be expelled by the government of Israel”.

On July 10, the same day Ambassador Prosor wrote his letter in New York, OCHA had taken journalists on a media tour of The Wall [my term, not OCHA’s]. The OCHA invitation was for a “Media Briefing and a Field Visit demonstrating the humanitarian impact of the Barrier”. The field visit was to “Palestinian communities affected by the Barrier in the Gush Etzion area — in fact, not far from the South Hebron Hills.

Then, there’s also the Israeli grievance over a Tweet by an OCHA staff member [@KholoudBadawi, an Israeli citizen] saying Israel was responsible for the death of another child in Gaza, and giving a more recent date for the 2006 death of a child in Gaza.

There was some suggestion that it is OCHA’s work in Area C of the West Bank [Israeli civil + security control, where most Israeli settlements are located] is what’s bothering Israel.

Ravid reported in Haaretz that a “senior Israeli official said OCHA had promoted several projects in Area C without Israeli approval including illegal construction. Senior officers from the office of Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, the IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, asked OCHA’s director in Israel to immediately halt the illegal activities, but nothing has changed”.

The Jerusalem Post reported here that “The Coordinator of [Israeli] Government Activities in the {Palestinian] Territories [or COGAT], Maj.-Gen. Eitan Dangot, has called on Israeli officials to act as harshly as they can against OCHA’s illegal activity, during conversations he has held on the matter with the Foreign Ministry”.

COGAT spokesman Guy Inbar complained to Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency that OCHA is providing assistance to Palestinians after demolitions of structures that the Israeli Military’s Civil Administration in the West Bank has decided were built in an illegal way. “OCHA gives them tents and by that is doing illegal work, without seeking Israeli permission”, Inbar said. He cited recent demolitions in the South Hebron Hills. This is published here.

Still, if this is the grievance, it’s strange that Israel, with computer records of all entries + all military permits, now asking for “list of OCHA staff + local employees”.

The Letter from Israel’s Ambassador to UN Ron Prosor also asks for “full name, job description and location” of all OCHA staff + local employees.

Attorney Michel Sfard said, in his opinion article in Haaretz, that all this amounts to “a campaign of government intimidation directed against international humanitarian aid organizations”.

NGO Monitor calls for resignation of UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing for use of term "Judaization"

NGO Monitor today said that the use of the term “Judaization” yesterday by Raquel Rolnik, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, to describe Israeli housing policies, was “antisemitic” and “immoral”, and called for her immediate resignation.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights earlier posted a press release on their website here containing one reference to Rolnik’s use of the term.

Also see our earlier post on Ms. Rolnik’s report of her preliminary findings here.

In a statement published here on their website, the Jerusalem-based organization NGO Monitor said that “the term originated with Arab rejectionists and has been promoted by fringe non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that falsely claim the mantle of human rights. ‘Judaization’ is an anti-Jewish racist term which suggests that the presence of Jews is alien and unacceptable … This immoral rhetoric is part of the broader delegitimization campaign that is counterproductive to fostering peace in the region. As with the false ‘apartheid’ analogy, it is invoked with the same goal to demonize”.

Anne Herzberg, legal advisor for NGO Monitor, said in the statement that “The term Judaization is immoral and employed for antisemitic goals; we expect that it would not be invoked by a UN Special Rapporteur claiming to operate with a human rights framework … Raquel Rolnik’s use of it makes peace more difficult to achieve, and in light of this she should resign immediately”.

Ben White, writing here on the Electronic Intifada website, notes that the same term, “Judaization”, has been used without any uproar by Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon here, as well as by Israeli academics, and Israeli public officials [including a rabbi]…

Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights office in Geneva reports that “The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Richard Falk, will conduct a field mission from 10 to 20 February, visiting Egypt, the occupied Palestinian territory and Jordan to gather information on the broad range of human rights concerns connected to Israel’s occupation of Palestine”.

Falk was unceremoniously deported in mid-December 2008, the last time he showed up in Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport in exercise of his mandate — he had not been granted a visa, and arrived on his national [U.S.] passport.

Israeli officials said that the decision not to admit Falk was based on their outrage that some months earlier, Falk had visited in what he said was a purely private capacity — but had allowed himself to introduced at a conference in Ramallah as the forthcoming UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the oPt

Now, Falk is apparently about to test the waters again. The statement published on the UN Human Rights website here, quotes Falk as saying: “This mission will focus particularly on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, the human rights implications of prolonged refugee status, disturbing patterns of violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and their properties, as well as the conditions and treatment of Palestinians detained by Israel”.

The UN statement adds that Falk “will convene a press conference at the end of his visit on 20 February, in Amman, and he will submit a full report on his mission to the Human Rights Council in June 2012”.

The day after the UNESCO vote to admit Palestine as full member

Quiet satisfaction in Jerusalem — East Jerusalem, that is — the day after UNESCO voted to admit Palestine as a full member state.

According to one adviser to UNRWA, the vote count has been revised to 114 votes in favor [not just 107, as was reported yesterday]… But, because my internet was down from morning till evening [apparently, a Washington Post blog reports that it was a hostile attack on Palestinian servers, and affected both the West Bank and Gaza], I haven’t had a chance to check who, how, or why…

A Swedish diplomat expressed shock and more at Sweden’s negative vote, in a conversation with a friend on the terrace of the Ambassador Hotel this evening.

A UN person said that he believes France’s decision to vote yes is because of the recent Tunisian vote, with an Islamist party taking the overwhelming majority, as well as changes in the air in Morocco and Algeria.

Personally, I think the explanation for the French “yes” is that UNESCO is based in the French capital Paris [where it would likely have received a rather mixed reception], and France is UNESCO host country…

Daniel Levy writes on FP’s Middle East Channel here that “France has stated that it would support Palestine at the UNGA but not at the UNSC”.

Yes, this is also a good explanation — it is, in so many words, indeed what French President Sarkozy said in his speech at the UNGA High Level Debate in September, before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas formally filed the Palestinian “UN bid” for full membership via the Security Council.

If you extrapolate a bit more widely, you could postulate, from factoring in the UNESCO vote, that France will support Palestine everywhere but in the UN Security Council …

What is clear is that the Europeans don’t have a common position, at least not yet — though I still suspect one may firm up by the time we come to the UNSC vote on the Palestinian vote. A common European position to abstain will mean that the Palestinian request will fail to get the necessary number of votes to pass — so the U.S. will not be obliged to exercise its veto power, as threatened. This is a slightly more gentle way of deferring the Palestinian request, and telling them to “come back later”.

Here on the terrace of the Ambassador Hotel in [East] Jerusalem, the consensus is that Saudi Arabia will pay any deficit in UNESCO’s budget due to the near-instantaneous U.S. announcement that it is withholding a $60 million payment in November.

But who will make up the shortfalls in funding to the Palestinian Authority? The U.S. has already — and since August — withheld some $200 million in money earmarked for USAID projects in the West Bank, in anticipation of the Palestinian “UN bid”. Now, again today, the Israeli government has once more decided, in response to the UNESCO vote, to suspend transfer of tax money collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday night that Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh said that “The talk about freezing tax revenues belonging to the Palestinian Authority is a provocation and theft of our money … We call on the Quartet and the US administration to put an end to these practices, which will have a negative impact on the whole region”. This JPost report is published here.

Meanwhile, the estimable Craig Murray [a former career diplomat and former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, who now calls himself simply a “human rights activist”] has written here on his blog that, as a result of the UNESCO vote yesterday, “Palestine is now a state. Membership of the United Nations is not in international law a pre-condition of statehood, and indeed is not compulsory for states. The existence of states not members of the UN is recognised in international law, not least by the UN itself. Palestine has just joined UNESCO for example under a provision which allows states which are not members of the United Nations to join if they get qualified majority support – which Palestine overwhelmingly did. So the UNESCO membership is crucial recognition of Palestine’s statehood, not an empty gesture. With this evidence of international acceptance, there is now absolutely no reason why Palestine cannot, instantly and without a vote, join the International Criminal Court. Palestine can now become a member of the International Criminal Court simply by submitting an instrument of accession to the Statute of Rome, and joining the list of states parties … There is an extremely crucial point here: if Palestine accedes to the Statute of Rome, under Article 12 of the Statute of Rome, the International Criminal Court would have jurisdiction over Israelis committing war crimes on Palestinian soil. Other states parties – including the UK – would be obliged by law to hand over indicted Israeli war criminals to the court at the Hague”…

Continue reading The day after the UNESCO vote to admit Palestine as full member

State of Palestine admitted to full membership in UNESCO

Despite a near-100% certainty that U.S. funding [representing 22% of the agency’s budget] will be cut, UNESCO member states voted this afternoon in Paris to admit the State of Palestine into full membership of the UN’s Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization.

UPDATE: Within hours, the U.S. State Department announced that a $60 million payment due to UNESCO in November will be withheld because of today’s decision to give Palestine full membership in the UN agency.

The vote was 107 member states in favor, 14 against, and [either 49 or 52?] countries either abstaining or absent.

UN SG BAN Ki-Moon expressed his concern in recent days about the possible funding cuts.

But, principles prevailed.

One of the most important of these principles is the right to self-determination.

France — which is UNESCO’s host country — reportedly voted in favor of full membership for the State of Palestine in UNESCO. So did Russia + China.

Al-Jazeera reports on its website that “UNESCO’s vote will almost certainly trigger a US law, passed in 1990, which bars the US from funding any United Nations agency ‘which accords the Palestine Liberation Organisation the same standing as member states’. The US provides about $80 million per year, or 22 per cent of the agency’s total budget. The president can often override such laws with a so-called ‘national security waiver’; these waivers allow the PLO to maintain a mission in Washington, for example, despite a 1987 law barring it. But the 1990 law on UN funding, and a similar measure passed in 1994, do not provide the option of a waiver”.

The same Al-Jazeera story called the move “symbolic” — but also quoted analyst Mouin Rabbani as saying “What they’re doing is developing leverage over the Americans, the Europeans, the Israelis, so these parties begin to take them more seriously “… which is much more than symbolic.

Continue reading State of Palestine admitted to full membership in UNESCO

Part of the trouble with this place…

Take a look at this article, published here:

Look at the headline:

The Children of Shu’fat Camp Rejoice at “Animals” Muppet Show


OK. Now, read the article itself. It’s not so long.

It appears, from careful reading, that this WAFA article was produced entirely on the basis of a press release from UNRWA.

In fact, the original UNRWA press release is posted here — and it’s exact title is:

Children of Shu’fat Camp enjoy animals muppet show

[note that UNRWA prefers to use the word “enjoy].



There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever in this article as written that any correspondent of WAFA — the [yes, official] Palestine News [sic] & Info Agency — was present.

So, how would WAFA be able to know whether the children of Shu’fat [Shoafat] Camp “rejoiced”, or not?
[And, why is “animals” in quotation marks?]

Is this a genuine human interest story — or is it, as seems completely clear, institutional promotion?
[UNRWA, Spanish offices in Jerusalem]?

Why would UNRWA + WAFA be so enthusiastic about the appearance of a Spanish performing troupe?  Is it because any infusion of donor money and interest, however self-serving, must be applauded?

Ah, yes. Here it is, this is exactly what it says in the story below. In the words of the Deputy Consul General of Spain Javier Gutierrez: “It is a good opportunity to strengthen the relationship between the ‘Spanish government and UNRWA since Spanish government is a main partner and donor for UNRWA”.

So, this is the “Thank you”… with, of course, the pat on UNRWA’s own back. The Spanish offices mentioned in the WAFA article [and in the UNRWA press release] gets something nice to show the folks back home in the monthly, quarterly and yearly reports. And, of course, so does UNRWA, as this highlights [entirely on UNRWA’s terms] the “good” work that UNRWA wants you to know it does…

But, it is, certainly, almost unthinkable that UNRWA and/or WAFA [and/or the Spanish Cooperation Bureau] would promote any similar performance by a Palestinian puppet show… More than that, there’s no way a Palestinian puppet troupe would be able to get, easily, funding for its work — certainly never to the same level that this Spanish troupe receives… not from UNRWA, and not from Spain.

And, what can you say about a news agency that does this?

Continue reading Part of the trouble with this place…

UNRWA says it's located most Palestinian refugees who fled Rimal camp in Latakia, Syria

Chris Gunness, UNRWA Spokesman based in the Agency’s Sheikh Jarrah office in Jerusalem, sent out a message Friday saying that “Many people around the world were shocked by the images of unarmed refugees being shot at as they fled from their homes, amid the firing on their refugee camp. But the good news is that our incredibly courageous local UNRWA staff have established a temporary office in Latakia, outside the refugee camp … [and] have located about 6,000 of the 7,500 refugees displaced by the fighting. UNRWA has been able to assist them with cash grants for food, medicine and accommodation. Many, particularly the children and women, are traumatized and in a poor condition … the refugees are too frightened to return to their homes there and are not returning. UNRWA has not had access — draw your own conclusions about what that means about the security situation there and the state of the camp”.

Where are these people staying? Elsewhere in Latakia, for the most part, Chris explained, either with relatives or friends. Apparently, Latakia’s Rimal camp for Palestinian refugees is still considered totally unsafe, and “some are sleeping in the rough”, he added.

Continue reading UNRWA says it's located most Palestinian refugees who fled Rimal camp in Latakia, Syria

There is no legal determination on Israel's naval blockade of Gaza, only opinions + debate

Here are some excerpts, which I’m recording here as notes for the record, from a discussion about the Israeli seizure of the Flotillas headed to Gaza and Israel’s continuing naval blockade of Gaza, in comments made on a post on Mondoweiss, written by Steve Fake and published on 19 July, entitled “Destination? Gaza!: The Freedom Flotilla II meets the Israeli military:, which is posted here.

What I found interesting was the exchange about legality.

Hostage wrote on July 20, 2011 at 7:26 am:

The official commentary on Article 59 of the Geneva Conventions describes many of the customary prohibitions that Israel is deliberately violating regarding supplies of essential items and relief consignments to a civilian population. The convention provides that free passage of relief consignments is mandatory:
The principle of free passage, as set forth in this clause, means that relief consignments for the population of an occupied territory must be allowed to pass through the blockade; they cannot under any circumstances be declared war contraband or be seized as such by those enforcing the blockade. The obligation to authorize the free passage of relief consignments is accompanied by the obligation to guarantee their protection. It will not be enough merely to lift the blockade and refrain from attacking or confiscating the goods. More than that will be required: all the States concerned must respect the consignments and protect them when they are exposed to danger through military operations“.

The official commentary also stipulates that the safeguards for verification and supervision,
which were prescribed in the interests of the Powers granting free passage, must in no case be misused in order to make the rule [i.e. free passage] itself inoperative or unduly delay the forwarding of relief“.

France and Turkey were the parties to the landmark S.S. Lotus case in which the PCIJ ruled that “the first and foremost restriction imposed by international law upon a State is that – failing the existence of a permissive rule to the contrary – it may not exercise its power in any form in the territory of another State.” The US abstained from the vote on UN SC 1860. I doubt that Bibi is eager to take on a permanent member of the Security Council in an international court over the the legality of Israel’s blockade or which state owns Gaza’s territorial waters 😉

Continue reading There is no legal determination on Israel's naval blockade of Gaza, only opinions + debate

Israel gives UNRWA permission to have four "submachine" guns in Gaza

A chilling report appeared in the Guardian newspaper today, here.

Guardian Correspondent in Jerusalem Harriet Sherwood wrote: “Israeli authorities have approved the delivery of four submachine guns to the main UN agency in Gaza for the protection of its head, John Ging, following assassination attempts and death threats … The UN is thought to use machine guns to protect its personnel in highly volatile and dangerous places such as Somalia. There have been two attempts to assassinate Ging, an energetic and charismatic advocate for the rights of Palestinian refugees. In March 2007, masked gunman fired at least 14 bullets at Ging’s armoured car as it travelled through Gaza. A second attack a few months later left one Palestinian dead and several wounded”.

So now, UNRWA is going to shoot back?

And, if so, what are the possible consequences?

UNRWA — the “United Nations Relief and Works Agency” for Palestinian refugees — has had plenty of problems through the years. But, if it now starts to shoot at Palestinians, its situation in Gaza will become untenable.

What good are four “submachine” guns going to do, if there’s a real attack on the UNRWA Director of Operations, John Ging, who these weapons are reportedly meant to protect?

Maybe the UN should pull out of Gaza, instead of running around with a few powerful weapons.

If the UN begins shooting up the place, there’s no telling what will happen next.

Sherwood wrote that “Chris Gunness, UNRWA’s spokesman, said: ‘We don’t discuss security policy’.” In that case, I wonder where she got this story from? Israeli security services?

Sherwood added: “The weapons were received by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) last week after the necessary permits were issued, an Israeli spokesman said. UNRWA first requested permission to bring in four German-made Heckler & Koch submachine guns three years ago to supplement the handguns used by Ging’s close protection team, according to the spokesman. ‘We got a formal request five months ago, and they received the guns last week’, he added … Ging, a former officer in the Irish army, has headed UNRWA in Gaza since 2006”.

UNRWA asked “permission” to bring in submachine guns three years ago?

[That is, months after the Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian Security forces in Gaza in mid-June 2007, and after the Israeli government decision on 19 September 2007 to declare Gaza “enemy territory” or a “hostile entity”, and after the Israeli military began at the end of October 2007 to “implement” the government decision by imposing racheted-up and unsupervised sanctions on 1.5 million people living in one of the most densely-populated places on earth? Then, the UN asked to bring in submachine guns?]

And, another formal request was made by UNRWA five months ago?

Then, Israeli authorities allowed the submachine guns to enter Gaza just last week?

Of course, UNRWA would never consider bringing the guns in through the Hamas-controlled tunnels…

But, why are “Israeli authorities” allowing four “submachine” guns into Gaza, now?

What is really going on here?

No. Something is not right. It would be better for UNRWA to just leave.

Continue reading Israel gives UNRWA permission to have four "submachine" guns in Gaza

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister says Israel will break ties to UNESCO over vote on holy sites, then statement is retracted

Haaretz is reporting tonight that Israel will “reduce cooperation” with UNESCO after a vote in Paris last week concerning two heritage sites Israel has claimed for its own — Rachel’s Tomb at the entrance to Bethlehem, and the immensely important Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.

The Haaretz account said: “Referring to the [Bethlehem] structure as the ‘Bilal bin Rabah Mosque/Rachel’s Tomb’, UNESCO’s board voted 44 to one [the U.S.], with 12 abstentions, to reaffirm that the site was ‘an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territories and that any unilateral action by the Israeli authorities is to be considered a violation of international law’.” The Haaretz report can be read in full here.

Neither site was controlled by of the State of Israel at its founding in May 1948. Both Bethlehem and Hebron are part of the West Bank, which was under Jordanian occupation and administration from May 1948 until the June 1967 “Six-Day” war, when Israeli forces conquered the West Bank, and have been in control ever since.

There is a mosque [Bilal bin Rabah] next to Rachel’s Tomb — and it is now virtually inaccessible to Palestinians due to Israeli security measures, including construction of The Wall.

The Ibrahimi Mosque [which contains the Cave of the Patriarchs] is under Israeli military control, and there is a forced sharing that — particularly since the February 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinian worshippers at dawn prayer by an American-born Israeli settler, Baruch Goldstein, from nearby Kirya Arba — sometimes does deprive Muslims of access, as happened during a major Jewish festival this past weekend.

All religious sites under Israeli administration are supposed to be accessible to members of all faiths, according to the Oslo Accords. But security measures trump the Olso Accords.

Earlier today, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post, that “relations with UNESCO would not be restored until it retracted its statement last week that two ancient biblical sites – the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb – were an integral part of the ‘occupied’ Palestinian territories. Ayalon said that the Palestinian Authority was behind the statement, which he added, was issued by the automatic Arab majority on the UNESCO board. It is another attempt by the PA to delegitimize Israel, he said”. This is reported here.

A UNESCO press release describing the vote on this and four other related issues can be read here.

YNet reported that Ayalon told the Knesset: “We should see the organization’s call to remove the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb from the list of Israel’s national sites as part of Palestinian escalation in international organizations … Israel rejects all five of UNESCO’s decisions and has no intention of cooperating with the organization … We’ve decided to suspend our cooperation with UNESCO in these fields, and with regards to previous decisions”. This is posted here

However, Haaretz reported, “Israel’s reaction was not quite as serious as it first appeared. Ayalon’s spokeswoman said that Israel would cut off relations with UNESCO altogether – but shortly after said that the announcement had been made in error and retracted the statement”.

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu denounced the UNESCO vote as “absurd”, in a statement that said: “The attempt to detach the people of Israel from its heritage is absurd. If the places where the fathers and mothers of the Jewish nation are buried, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Leah and Rachel some 4,000 years ago are not part of the Jewish heritage then what is?”

These statements specifically refer to the sites as “part of the Jewish heritage”, while other statements have said they are part of “the cradle of Jewish history”, rather than specifically as “religious sites” [such as synagogues].

A Jerusalem Post editorial published yesterday said that “UNESCO, the United Nations body in charge of preserving historical sites, went too far this time. There is a lot of chutzpah in this post-modernist era of ‘deconstruction’ and ‘revision’. Warmly cherished religious faiths and customs are reduced to ‘false consciousness’. Nations with their own unique ethnicity and proud traditions become ‘imagined communities’. Foundational histories are reduced to nothing more than subjective ‘narratives’. But even in this radically relativistic intellectual atmosphere, the latest UNESCO decision stands out. For this was a particularly blatant attempt to erase Jewish ties to the land of Israel … The move is seen in some quarters as a response to Israel’s decision in February to include the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb on a list of national heritage sites that would receive additional funding for refurbishing and for the development of educational tours”. This JPost editorial can be read in full here

The JPost editorial stated that “Jordan denied Israel the ‘free access to the Holy Places [including the Kotel – the Western Wall] and cultural institutions and use of the cemetery on the Mount of Olives’ stipulated in the April 1949 Armistice”, and said that “Israel has done a better job at maintaining equitable access to religious [emphasis added] sites for all faiths”…