Monday 31 May 2010

Israeli troops attack ship carrying aid to Gaza killing 16

Israeli commandos have stormed a flotilla of ships carrying activists and aid supplies to the blockaded Palestinian enclave of Gaza, killing as many as 16 of those on board.


By Richard Spencer, Middle East Correspondent and Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem

Fighting broke out between the activists and the masked Israeli troops, who rappelled on to deck from helicopters before dawn.

A spokeswoman for the flotilla, Greta Berlin, said she had been told ten people had been killed and dozens wounded, accusing Israeli troops of indiscriminately shooting at "unarmed civilians". But an Israeli radio station said that between 14 and 16 were dead in a continuing operation.

"How could the Israeli military attack civilians like this?" Ms Berlin said. "Do they think that because they can attack Palestinians indiscriminately they can attack anyone?

"We have two other boats. This is not going to stop us."

But an Israeli military spokeswoman said that there had been a planned and organised attempt to "lynch" the boarding party. She said the activists were armed with knives and guns.

The Israeli government's handling of the confrontation was under intense international pressure even as it continued. The Israeli ambassador to Turkey, the base of one of the human rights organisation which organised the flotilla, was summoned by the foreign ministry in Anakara, as the Israeli consulate in Istanbul came under attack.

One Israeli minister issued immediate words of regret. "The images are certainly not pleasant. I can only voice regret at all the fatalities," Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, the trade and industry minister, told army radio.

But he added that the commandoes had been attacked with batons and activists had sought to take their weapons off them.

Israeli military sources said four of its men had been injured, one stabbed, and that they had been shot at.

"The flotilla's participants were not innocent and used violence against the soldiers. They were waiting for the forces' arrival," they were quoted by a news website as saying.

The flotilla had set sail on Sunday from northern, or Turkish, Cyprus. Six boats were led by the Mavi Marmara, which carried 600 activists from around the world, including Mairead Corrigan Maguire, the Northern Ireland peace protester who won a Nobel Prize in 1976.

It came under almost immediate monitoring from Israeli drones and the navy, with two vessels flanking it in international waters. The flotilla, which had been warned that it would not be allowed to reach Gaza, attempted to slow and change course, hoping to prevent a confrontation until daylight, when the Israeli military action could be better filmed.

But in the early hours of this morning local time commandoes boarded from helicopters.

The activists were not carrying guns, but television footage shown by al-Jazeera and Turkish television channels show hand-to-hand fighting, with activists wearing life-jackets striking commandoes with sticks.

The Israeli army said its troops were assaulted with axes and knives.

The television footage did not show firing but shots could be heard in the background. One man was shown lying unconscious on the deck, while another man was helped away.

A woman wearing hijab, the Muslim headscarf, was seen carrying a stretcher covered in blood.

The al-Jazeera broadcast stopped with a voice shouting in Hebrew: "Everyone shut up".

Israel imposed its blockade on Gaza after the strip was taken over by the militant group Hamas in 2007. It has allowed some food and medical supplies through, but has prevented large-scale rebuilding following the bombardment and invasion of 2008-9.

The flotilla is the latest in a series of attempts by activists to break through the blockade. The boats were carrying food and building supplies.

Activists said at least two of the other boats, one Greek and one Turkish, had been boarded from Israeli naval vessels. Activists said two of the other boats in the flotilla were American-flagged.

The confrontation took place in international waters 80 miles off the Gaza coast.

It was attacked by the head of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh.

"We call on the Secretary-General of the U.N., Ban Ki-moon, to shoulder his responsibilities to protect the safety of the solidarity groups who were on board these ships and to secure their way to Gaza," he said.

Turkish television meanwhile showed hundreds of protesters trying to storm the Israeli consulate in Istanbul. The incident will be particularly damaging for Israel's relations with what had been seen as its closest ally in the Muslim world.

"By targeting civilians, Israel has once again shown its disregard for human life and peaceful initiatives," a Turkish foreign ministry statement said. "We strongly condemn these inhumane practices of Israel.

"This deplorable incident, which took place in open seas and constitutes a fragrant breach of international law, may lead to irreparable consequences in our bilateral relations."

Tensions Escalate over Israel Raid on Gaza Aid Flotilla

Monday, May. 31, 2010


Israel faces a wave of international condemnation and growing pressure to end its blockade on Gaza after 15 activists — all of them apparently Turkish — were killed and more than 30 injured after Israeli commandos boarded a ship attempting to carry banned supplies to the Hamas-controlled enclave.

Israel says it cannot allow free access to Gaza that would create a route to smuggle weapons and fighters into the area. Organizers of the flotilla say the list of banned goods includes cement, paper, wheelchairs and some foods.

The passenger ferry Mavi Marmari, carrying an estimated 500 passengers, was the largest of six ships in a flotilla sailing towards Gaza in international waters about 40 miles off the Israeli coast when elite Shayetet-13 naval commandos abseiled from helicopters onto the deck shortly before dawn on May 31.

Greta Berlin, an American founder of the Free Gaza Movement and one of the organizers of the flotilla who was on another ship, said the commandos hit the deck firing indiscriminately at unarmed civilians.

"We never thought Israel would be stupid enough to kill 10 people and wound at least 30," Berlin told Israel Radio.

"We are all civilians. Every one of us is a civilian who is trying to break Israel's blockade of one and a half million Palestinians," she said.

Television images broadcast from the ship showed passengers being treated on bloody stretchers. The dead and wounded were ferried to Israeli hospitals by helicopter. At least five Israeli commandos were hospitalized with gunshot and stab wounds.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the commandos had orders to use minimum force to commandeer the vessels and met only token resistance on the other five ships, which were commandeered without incident. But Barak said protestors on the Mava Marmari used "extreme violence" in their attempt to repel the boarders, attacking them with two pistols, knives, iron bars and other makeshift weapons. He said one of the passengers had seized a commando's gun and opened fire on the Israelis.

"We express our regret over the injuries, but the flotilla's organizers and its participants are fully responsible," Barak told a news conference in Tel Aviv.

A journalist who was accompanying the commandos, Ron Ben-Yishai of the Israeli Ynet news website, listened over radio as the raid unfolded and said the Israelis fell into a "brutal ambush."

"The passengers that awaited them on the deck pulled out bats, clubs, and slingshots with glass marbles, assaulting each soldier as he disembarked. The fighters were nabbed one by one and were beaten up badly, yet they attempted to fight back," Ben-Yishai reported.

"The commandos were equipped with handguns but were told they should only use them in the face of life-threatening situations. When they came down from the chopper, they kept on shouting to each other 'don't shoot, don't shoot,' even though they sustained numerous blows," he wrote.

The commandeered ships were brought into Ashdod port several hours later, where passengers were interrogated by interior ministry officials and police who said most would be deported but they would arrest any terrorist suspects.

Danny Ayalon, Israel's deputy foreign minister, claimed the IHH, the Turkish group operating the Mava Marmari, had "well-documented ties to Al-Qaeda and international jihad."

"We told them they would not be allowed to break the blockade," Ayalon said. "They were trying to create a free corridor of terrorist supplies to Gaza and to Hamas."

Israel's explanations for the pre-dawn assault failed to head off a growing diplomatic incident. Turkey accused Israel of "targeting innocent civilians", quickly withdrew its ambassador to Israel and called for an emergency United Nations security council meeting. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan cut short his trip to Latin America to return to Ankara. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, cancelled his upcoming White House visit in order to deal with the situation.

The EU and UN both called for an end to Israel's blockade on Gaza.

Baroness Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, demanded a "full inquiry" into the incident and called for "an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of the crossing for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza."

"Israel appears to have lost its mind," says Soli Ozel, professor of international relations at Istanbul's Bilgi University. "This incident happened in international waters, there is nothing that can explain it." Ertugrul Ozkok, chief columnist for the Turkish daily Hurriyet, posted an emotional online editorial, saying he couldn't wait for the paper to come out the next day: "There is no aspect to this action by the Israeli government that is acceptable or excusable," he wrote. "I never expected this lunacy, this cruelty. As someone who lives in this region, it makes me afraid."

There was fury also among Israel's 1.6-million-strong Arab minority, whose leaders met in emergency session and declared a three-day general strike — a prelude in the past to rioting that has turned violent. Hamas claimed a moral victory against Israeli "piracy" while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the assault as a "massacre," declaring three days of official mourning and calling for an urgent meeting of the Arab League, expected to be held Wednesday. Palestinian demonstrators took to the streets of Ramallah and Bethlehem to denounce the Israeli actions.

Israeli police were placed on high alert, fearing that a wave of demonstrations could plunge the country back into intifada-style violence. In Nazareth, Israel's largest Arab city, youths took to the streets in spontaneous protest as the news broke in the early morning. Arab students also staged protests at Haifa University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. There was a heavy police presence in Wadi Ara, the artery connecting many Arab towns and villages in the Galilee, and security forces restricted access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, a frequent flashpoint for clashes.

With reporting by Pelin Turgut

Sunday 30 May 2010

Pro-Palestinian activists set sail for Gaza

Hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists carrying aid have set sail for the blockaded Gaza Strip.


By Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem

Israeli Naval commandos were standing by to intercept the convoy of six ships sailing from Cyprus to Gaza in a symbolic attempt to break the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the Hamas-controlled coastal strip.

The convoy is the sixth maritime mission launched by the Free Gaza Movement to protest the blockade imposed after Hamas seized control of Gaza from Fatah in a bloody coup in July 2007. It is carrying 600 passengers, including 28 Britons, 10 MEPs and some 10,000 tons of supplies, including construction materials and foodstuffs banned by Israel.

Last January, former MP George Galloway led a convoy of trucks through Egypt to deliver aid to Gaza through the Rafah border crossing but was refused entry by the Egyptian authorities, then expelled from the country.

Hanin Zuabi, an Arab member of Israel's Knesset parliament, who is on board, said: "The flotilla's purpose is not just to break the Gaza blockade, but also to break the blockade on the Israeli mind and soul." Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas government that controls Gaza, said the convoy had already won an important victory against the Israel's "pirate threats" by drawing world attention to the plight of the Palestinians.

Greta Berlin, one of the convoy's organisers, said Israel risked losing face if they confronted what was designed to be a humanitarian mission.

"The only scenario which makes any sense is for them to stop being the bully of the Middle East and let us go through," she said.

Israel said a Turkish charity backing the flotilla had clear links to Hamas.

Israel denies there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza and says hundreds of tons of basic food and medical supplies are trucked in every day.

But a UN report published last week said the blockade was "suffocating" food production in Gaza.

"The entire fishing and farming sectors in the Gaza Strip are at risk of collapse. The Gaza population at-large is already becoming increasingly dependent on humanitarian aid," said Philippe Lazzarini, acting UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the region.

The Israeli military says it will intercept the convoy and then transfer permitted supplies overland through the normal routes. The protesters on the ships say they will offer passive resistance to naval boarding parties and are hoping to broadcast live coverage of the expected interception over the internet and Iran's Press TV.

Critics are warning that Israel's Gaza policy, designed to bring down the Hamas government and secure the release of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit, has failed to bring about those results and is in danger of accelerating the country's growing international isolation.

Friday 28 May 2010

Protecting Its $18-Million Man


TWEED BLOG May 28, 2010

The General Motors Company probably thought it was being clever, using the iconic image of Albert Einstein’s head — Photoshopped onto a half-naked, buff, tattooed torso — to advertise the carmaker’s new SUV alongside the slogan “Ideas are sexy too … That’s why we gave it more ideas per square inch.”

But the four-page ads that ran last fall in People magazine’s “Sexiest Man” issue got a failing grade from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which owns the rights to Einstein’s likeness and his personal archive, including the manuscript of the Special Theory of Relativity.

Now the Detroit automaker is being sued for $75,000 by the university for breach of copyright, the Detroit Free Press reports.

“The tattooed, shirtless image of Dr. Einstein with his underpants on display is not consummate with and causes injury to” the Hebrew University’s “carefully guarded rights in the image and likeness of the famous scientist, political activist and humanitarian,” says the lawsuit filed on May 19 by lawyers acting for the university.

Einstein was one of the founders of the university, the oldest in Israel, and a member of its first board of governors. When he died in 1955, he bequeathed Hebrew the rights to his image and his papers.

“As a result of the fame and celebrity of Dr. Einstein, there is a substantial licensing program,” says the university.

More than half a century after his death, he is still earning a tidy sum for Hebrew. According to Forbes, Einstein was the fourth-highest-earning dead celebrity in the world in 2008, with an annual income of $18-million.

A GM Spokeswoman told the Detroit Free Press the company had negotiated the image rights with a “reputable”agency.

But a Hebrew University spokeswoman, Orit Sulitzeanu, told Tweed that GM had not done its homework.

“General Motors indeed purchased the image of Einstein, but every company who wants to use the image for business purposes must get our approval,” she said. “We have a committee in the university who sits and judges whenever there are these kind of requests and decides if it’s appropriate or not. General Motors didn’t ask for approval, and if they had it would not have been deemed appropriate because it does not represent Albert Einstein in a dignified way.”

Ms. Sulitzeanu declined to specify which aspect of the ad was undignified: the bulging muscles and six-pack; the model’s freshly-laundered undershorts; or the “e=mc2 tattoo on his left biceps. —Matthew Kalman, Jerusalem

Wednesday 26 May 2010

Barack Obama invites Netanyahu for White House visit

Barack Obama has issued an invitation to Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu to visit the White House next week in a bid to put relations between the two countries back on a good footing.

26 May 2010

Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem

Barack Obama invites Netanyahu for White House visit
Relations between the two close allies have been strained since Mr Netanyahu's election Photo: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The invitation, delivered by White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel who is in Israel to celebrate his son's barmitzvah, is being interpreted as a fence-building exercise after a spat over peace talks that saw the relationship between two countries plunge to its lowest ebb in memory.

The agenda will include the Iranian nuclear challenge and the indirect peace talks with the Palestinians that finally got under way this month with US envoy George Mitchell shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Relations between the two close allies have been strained since Mr Netanyahu's election. Mr Obama is frustrated over Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank and the slow pace of peace talks with the Palestinians. For their part, the Israelis are concerned that Mr Obama's policy of "engagement" with Iran has blunted efforts to stop Tehran from acquiring a nuclear bomb that could destroy the Jewish state.

Their last meeting at the White House in March was widely interpreted as a snub to Mr Netanyahu, without any of the usual public statements or warm words that normally mark the visit of an Israeli prime minister and in stark contrast to the friendly reception Mr Obama has given several Arab leaders.

Recently, Mr Obama appears to have been trying to placate the Israelis. Last week, he told the Jewish Democratic caucus in Congress that he had made some mistakes when he stepped onto the Middle East "minefield" and "lost some fingers." He also approved $205 million to support Israel's Iron Dome missile defence system against short-range rockets from Gaza and Lebanon.

Israeli commentators suggested that next week's visit would be an attempt to show greater friendship to Mr Netanyahu and clear the air before the arrival of the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, shortly afterwards.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

500 Israeli Academics and Students Call for Chomsky to Be Allowed In



Five hundred Israeli academics, students, and intellectuals have signed a letter to the Israeli interior ministry protesting the decision to bar Noam Chomsky, a professor emeritus at MIT, from entering the West Bank on May 16. Mr. Chomsky was due to lecture at Birzeit University and meet Palestinian leaders but was stopped by ministry officials as he crossed from Jordan to the West Bank and turned back after questioning. "Under democracy, we do not silence voices that express an opinion which is different than the dominant one," said the letter, according to a report in Haaretz, a daily newspaper. Earlier a spokesman for the Israeli prime minister told The New York Times that Mr. Chomsky should have been admitted, that turning him away was "a mishap" by an official who had "overstepped his authority," and that he would be allowed to enter if he tried again.

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Osama bin Laden is 'alive, well, and hunting falcons in Iran', documentary claims

By Matthew Kalman
DAILY MAIL 5th May 2010

Hunting falcons in Iran? Osama bin Laden (file photo)

Osama bin Laden is alive and well and living in luxury in Iran.

At least, that’s the astonishing claim made in a new documentary shown at last week’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

According to 'Feathered Cocaine', a film about the illicit multi-million-dollar trade in hunting falcons for Middle East oil sheikhs, bin Laden has been living in a guarded compound north of Tehran with his wife, several children and grandchildren since 2003 - protected by the Iranian regime.

In the film, a disguised falcon smuggler from the former Soviet Union identified only as 'T-2' says he first met bin Laden in 2004 at a falcon-hunting camp in northeastern Iran.

'I met him five times after 2004,' says the smuggler.

'The last time we met was in October 2007. Every time, it was in Iran.'

Falcon hunting is an exclusive hobby practised by some of the richest men in the Middle East, who travel to luxurious desert retreats to pursue the sport. A bird’s value can reach one million dollars.

The claim contradicts the common theory that Bin Laden is living in an isolated network of fortified caves somewhere in the mountainous border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

His son Omar bin Laden, who married a British woman and broke with his father before the 9/11 attacks, revealed last year that seven of his siblings were living in Tehran and trying to leave.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has dismissed the claim - and, apparently sarcastically, counter-claimed that bin Laden is hiding in Washington, D.C.

He told ABC News: 'Your question is laughable. Our position is quite clear.

'Some journalists have said bin Laden is in Iran. These words don't have legal value. Our position towards Afghanistan and against terrorism is quite clear... I don't know such a thing. You are giving news which is very strange.

'I heard that Osama bin Laden is in Washington, D.C.,' he added.

'Yes, I did. He's there. Because he was a previous partner of Mr. Bush. They were colleagues in fact in the old days. You know that. They were in the oil business together. They worked together.'

He's not in Iran, he's in Washington: Iranian president Mahmoud  Ahmadinejad, shown here at UN headquarters in New York yesterday, has  sarcastically dismissed the claims

He's not in Iran, he's in Washington: Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, shown here at UN headquarters in New York yesterday, has sarcastically dismissed the claims

Bin Laden practices Wahhabism, a fundamentalist sect of Sunni Islam that is famously militant.

For that reason many experts have dismissed ideas that he could be in Iran - the largest country in the Middle East to practice Shia Islam.

But Alan Parrot, an American falconry expert who used to train falcons for Middle East millionaires, said the evidence unearthed during research for the film was so convincing he hatched a plan to kidnap bin Laden.

He claimed he was warned off by US government officials.

Parrot said bin Laden’s royal hunting friends brought him 'hundreds of millions of dollars' in cash during these expeditions, as well as military equipment.

The film shows a U.A.E. military C-130 transport plane delivering equipment to the camps.

Bin Laden’s penchant for falcon hunting gave the CIA an opportunity to assassinate him in 1999, according to the final report of the 9/11 commission.

He was spotted in a hunting camp in Afghanistan serving one of the Gulf royal families and CIA Director George Tenet asked President Bill Clinton for permission to launch a cruise missile strike on the camp on February 8, 1999.

The mission was aborted on orders from the White House.

'T-2' gave the filmmakers the frequencies of tiny radio trackers attached to bin Laden’s hunting falcons.

John Loftus, an American lawyer with connections to U.S. security agencies, said the CIA could use the frequencies to lead them to bin Laden’s falcons - and so to bin Laden himself.

Loftus said he offered the information to the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies but got no response.

Loftus and the filmmakers even approached 'Rewards for Justice', the State Department office offering a $50 million reward for information leading to bin Laden’s capture, but never received a reply.

Investigative reporter Ken Timmerman, who also appears in the film, interviewed a U.S. intelligence official who said that electronic intelligence intercepts appeared to back up the story, 'indicating the presence of a very important person in the region at the dates "T-2" mentioned.'

'Iranian authorities were moving the VIP from Tehran to Zahedan, a centre of the falcon-hunting grounds, which were closed off to all foreign visitors for security reasons,' said Timmerman.

'There was no doubt in my mind that they were expecting a big shot, and it makes sense to think it was bin Laden,' he claimed the U.S. official said.