Monday 30 March 2009

Israel to deny prisoners their rights

Israel has approved legislation to deny Palestinian prisoners their rights as a last ditch effort to free captured soldier Gilad Shalit.

The cabinet voted for proposals presented by Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann calling for cutting back on Palestinian prisoners' visitation rights, academic studies and means of communication, The Jerusalem Post reported Sunday.

In addition to sanctions on entertainment media, the prisoners will be subject to stricter guidelines regarding the transfer of money for use at the prison canteen.

The recommendations were made during the weekly cabinet meeting which was the final meeting of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government.

Friedmann briefed the cabinet on legislature that would have to be instituted in order to take further steps.

"It is true that we are the only democracy in the Middle East, but we can't let ourselves become the only suckers and we mustn't show weakness," he claimed.

The Prisons service announced that the recommendations will go into effect in the near future.

The move is expected to raise strong criticism among the human rights groups, which have been increasing mounting pressure on Tel Aviv over its disregard for human rights during the war on Gaza.

Israeli forces targeted numerous civilian buildings including homes, mosques, media centers and even UN schools, during three weeks of non-stop fire on the Gaza Strip.

There is also evidence proving that Tel Aviv has resorted to unconventional weapons - including depleted uranium and white phosphorus -- during the onslaught.

Following the war on Gaza Hamas and Israel engaged in negotiations but failed to reach a prisoner swap deal in Egypt earlier this month.

The two sides have been negotiating an agreement under which hundreds of Palestinian prisoners would be released in exchange for the release of Shalit -- captured in a cross border operation by Palestinian fighters in 2006.

Israel has been insisting that high profile prisoners must be expelled from Palestinian territories upon their release - a request strongly opposed to by Hamas.


Israel soldiers tear gas al-Khalil demo

Israeli soldiers use tear gas and shock grenades to disperse demonstrators protesting against Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said soldiers dispersed the Palestinian and Israeli protesters in al-Khalil's (Hebron) Old City on Saturday after they disturbed public order in an area under Israeli control.

A video footage from the scene showed Israeli soldiers pushing demonstrators, including Israeli Arab lawmaker Mohammad Barakeh. A number of foreign peace activists were also present at the protest, Reuters reported.

Israeli and Palestinian demonstrators said the protest was part of several events aimed at marking Land Day, the annual commemoration of protests in 1976 against Israel's occupation of Arab-owned land in al-Jaleel (Galilee).

The demonstrators were also demanding that Palestinians be allowed to use a road in the old town of al-Khalil after they were denied access by the Israeli military for what it called 'security reasons'.

Some 600 illegal settlers live under Israeli military protection in the heart of the West Bank city of al-Khalil that is inhabited by 180,000 Palestinians.


France calls Gaza 'open-air prison'

France has warned that the Gaza Strip cannot remain an 'open-air prison' forever, urging Israel to lift the blockade on the territory.

Tel Aviv should 'permanently' open Gaza's border-crossings, said French Foreign Ministry Spokesman Eric Chevallier, IRNA repored.

The lifting of the Gaza blockade is a fundamental key to a long-lasting ceasefire and ending the crisis in the territory, he went on to say.

The French spokesman further urged Israel to permit the entry of humanitarian aid and merchandise so that the Gaza inhabitants could lead a normal life.

According to Chevallier, the European Union and France have been in contact with the Israeli authorities to convince them to open Gaza to humanitarian aid.

Israel has enforced a 20-month blockade on the Gaza Strip and has managed to cripple the costal strip's economy with its recent war that inflicted over USD 1.6 billion in damage on the Gazans.

On December 27, Tel Aviv launched an all-out military strike on Gaza. Three weeks of constant air strikes and a ground incursion left over 1,350 Palestinians -- mostly civilians -- dead and around 5,450 people injured.


Cartoon of the Day.

US Army Confirms Israeli Nukes; Israeli Aid At Stake

The Army has let slip one of the worst-kept secrets in the world — that Israel has the bomb.

Officially, the United States has a policy of “ambiguity” regarding Israel’s nuclear capability. Essentially, it has played a game by which it neither acknowledges nor denies that Israel is a nuclear power.

But a Defense Department study completed last year offers what may be the first time in a unclassified report that Israel is a nuclear power. On page 37 of the U.S. Joint Forces Command report, the Army includes Israel within "a growing arc of nuclear powers running from Israel in the west through an emerging Iran to Pakistan, India, and on to China, North Korea, and Russia in the east."

The single reference is far more than the U.S. usually would state publicly about Israel, even though the world knew Israel to be a nuclear power years before former nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu went public with facts on its weapons program in 1986.

Several years later investigative reporter Seymour Hersh published "The Samson Option," detailing Israel’s strategy of massive nuclear retaliation against Arab states in the event it felt its very existence was threatened. Israel’s nuclear arsenal has been estimated to range from 200 to 400 warheads.

Yet Israel has refused to confirm or deny it’s nuclear capabilities, and the U.S. has gone along with the charade.

As recently as Feb. 9 President Barack Obama ducked the question when asked pointedly by White House correspondent Helen Thomas whether he knew of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons. Keeping the blinders on is necessary politically in order to avoid a policy confrontation with Israel.

By law, the U.S. would have to cease providing billions of dollars in foreign aid to Israel if it determined the country had a nuclear weapons program. That’s because the so-called Symington Amendment, passed in 1976, bars assistance to countries developing technology for nuclear weapons proliferation.

Given the U.S.’s long history of selective blindness when it comes to Israeli nukes, it’s unlikely that the Joint Operating Environment 2008 report compiled by the Army amount to much more than a minor faux pas.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz, in a March 8 article on the report, observed: "It is virtually unheard of for a senior military commander, while in office, to refer to Israel’s nuclear status. In December 2006, during his confirmation hearings as Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates referred to Israel as one of the powers seen by Iran as surrounding it with nuclear weapons. But once in office, Gates refused to repeat this allusion to Israel, noting that when he used it he was 'a private citizen.'"

– Bryant Jordan