Archive for December, 2013

Anti-Assad monitoring group says Syrian death toll passes 130,000

December 31st, 2013 Comments off

The death toll in Syria’s civil war has risen to at least 130,433, more than a third of them civilians on both sides of the conflict, but the real figure is probably much higher, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday. The conflict in Syria began in March 2011 as peaceful protests against four decades of rule by President Bashar al-Assad’s family, but turned into an armed insurgency whose sectarian dimensions have reverberated across the Middle East. The anti-Assad Observatory, based in Britain but with a network of sources across Syria, put the number of women and children killed in the conflict so far at 11,709. It said the death toll among rebels fighting the Assad government was at least 29,083.
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Dubai Fireworks for New Year 2014

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(By Juan Cole)

Dubai Fireworks spectacular for New Year at Burj Khalifa (2 million gather):

Dubai will be the site of the 2020 world expo which will help it further emerge as a major hub of world commerce.

Dubai has an annual GDP of over $80 bn, and a population of 2.1 million, about the same as Houston. Only 18% of residents of the United Arab Emirates are locals, with very large Indian and Pakistani expatriate communities and a welter of other nationalities.

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Happy New Year, Dubai Style

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Dubai, restrained and self-effacing as ever, modestly decided to mark the new year with a fireworks display that would break all world records. They say they did it:

The show began with a dazzling falcon conjured through pyrotechnics, flying around Palm Jumeirah. Thousands joined the countdown in unison, reflecting an atmosphere that could be seen at big football matches.

The show lasted for six minutes, but it took only one minute for the 200 technicians to break the record held by Kuwait as over 100,000 shots were fired in just sixty seconds compared to Kuwait’s record of 77,282.

Overall around 400,000 shots were fired, with the show broadcast live on Dubai TV and Youtube to millions of spectators.

It was a huge show and stretched for miles, but most shots are of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.

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And now a lesson of Arabic from the Washington Post

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“The shuk (which means open-air market in both Arabic and Hebrew“.

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The Jordan command center

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“A secret operations command centre in Jordan, staffed by western and Arab military officials, has given vital support to rebels fighting on Syria’s southern front, providing them with weapons and tactical advice on attacking regime targets.”

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Did the Palestinians forget that they are under occupation?

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“Amit claims the point of this kind of exercise isn’t to train at all, but part of an IDF strategy to remind Palestinians they’re under occupation.” (thanks Amir)

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Israel frees Palestinian prisoners before Kerry visit

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Newly released prisoner Taktook is greeted upon his arrival at his home in NablusBy Ali Sawafta RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Israel freed 26 Palestinian prisoners on Tuesday, days before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was due back in the Middle East to press the two sides to reach a framework peace deal. Israel agreed to release a total of 104 Palestinian prisoners as part of a U.S.-brokered package that in July revived peace talks after a three-year break. On Friday, an Israeli official said plans would be announced after the release to build 1,400 homes for Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank, territory Palestinians seek for a state along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Jailed before or just after the first Israeli-Palestinian interim peace accord was signed 20 years ago, the inmates boarded buses for home outside Ofer prison in the West Bank as Israelis protested in East Jerusalem against the amnesty.

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Syria chemical deadline ‘missed’

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A UN deadline for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons stockpile looks certain to be missed after the European ships due to collect them turn back.
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Iraq Gov’t Collapsing as 44 Sunni MPs Withdraw from Parliament

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(By AFP)

Clashes kill 10 as Iraq forces clear Sunni protest camp (via AFP)

Iraqi forces killed 10 gunmen Monday in clashes that erupted as they cleared a year-old Sunni Arab protest camp, a move likely to fan resentment among the minority community. As the fighting raged, mosques exhorted followers to “go to jihad,” or holy…



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PressTV reports from a pro-Maliki point of view:

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A Delegation of Congressional Christian Zionists to Israel

December 31st, 2013 Comments off

(By Shalom Goldman)

Shalom Goldman

Shalom Goldman

Just before Christmas, GOP Reps. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), Steve King (Iowa) and Louie Gohmert (Texas) wrapped up a largely secretive week-long congressional delegation or CODEL trip that included stops in Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, and Israel.

While there didn’t appear to be any public announcements about December’s trip out of Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, or Israel, according to an itinerary provided to The Huffington Post they arrived in Egypt on Saturday December 14, and met Sunday with interim Egyptian President Adly Mansour and Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

On December 17 an op-ed penned by Bachmann ran in the Daily News Egypt and was republished on her House web site in which she called on the Obama administration to follow the interim Egyptian government’s decision and designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group.

“From the time of Hassan al-Banna and the ‘secret apparatus’ staging terror attacks across Egypt and the assassinations of Prime Minister Mahmoud an-Nukrashi Pasha and judge Ahmed El-Khazindar in 1948, to the ongoing attacks on Coptic Christians and churches and the terror campaign targeting the military in the Sinai and elsewhere, the Muslim Brotherhood has always kept terrorism as part of its arsenal and living up to their motto, ‘Jihad is our way,’” Bachmann wrote.

The group then went on to Beirut and then Libya, where they were joined by Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) for an eight-hour visit, according to The Huffington Post.

Lebanon’s The Daily Star reported, according to The Washington Post, that US Ambassador David Hale met the trio at the Beirut airport. The group also met with the country’s justice minister, faith-based non-governmental groups, and Lebanese Forces Party’s political leader Samir Geagea. (The Lebanese Forces Party is the second largest party of the Christian community in Lebanon.)

The Lebanon and Libya visits were followed by a trip to Israel where the four, including Pittenger, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. While a spokeswoman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington confirmed the Israel visit, the details of the Libya trip was not made public. (After leaving Israel they were due to depart for Austria on Dec.19 to meet with far-right political figures, then onto Oslo, Norway before returning to the US on Dec.21 )

This is the second Mideast tour this year that these Tea Party Republicans — Bachmann, Gohmert and King — have made with the express aim of challenging the Obama Administration’s policies in the region.

‘Zeal for Zion’

Though all aspects of US Mideast policy are disturbing to these Representatives, it is Israel that seems to obsess them — and it is a particularly religious view of Israel that underlies their ‘Zeal for Zion.’

Of the three House members Michelle Bachmann has the longest and deepest affiliation with Israel, an affiliation that dates back to her youth. But her colleagues King and Gohmert are no less enthusiastic about the Jewish State.

Particularly upsetting to these three members of Congress is what they characterize as President Obama’s ‘hostile’ policy towards Israel; a policy that Rep. Gohmert has described as a ‘betrayal’ of Biblical import.

In mid-November Gohmert, using the Bible as his guide, spoke about that ‘betrayal’ on the House floor:

“Some of us believe that the Bible is accurate. Certainly, so many prophesies have been fulfilled, and if that is true, this administration, unless they can find a verse that accurately says that those who betray Israel will be blessed, then this country is being dug in a deeper hole by this administration, and its betrayals of Israel’s trust and Israel’s friendship.”

For Gohmert’s supporters, and for many other Conservative Christians, the Biblical reference was crystal clear. In Genesis 12:3 we read of God’s promise to Abraham that: “Those who bless you will be blessed, and those that curse you will be cursed.”

For American Christian Zionists this verse has become as important as John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

And in the forums of CUFI (Christians United For Israel), John Hagee’s hugely successful lobbying group, Genesis 12:3 and other biblical verses are constantly invoked. CUFI’s founders have described their group as “the Christian equivalent of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee).”

And it was at the 2010 AIPAC conference that Bachmann made clear how deep her attachment to Israel is:

“I have been a long time supporter of Israel. The first time I went to Israel was the day I graduated from high school. I spent a summer working on Kibbutz Be’eri near Beer Sheva in 1974.”

That summer on a kibbutz seems to have made a profound impression on the young Michelle Bachmann. When she was elected to Congress she actively supported the maximalist ideas of the West Bank Settler Movement with which the Israeli government and army is often at odds.

For example, in December 2012 Bachmann proclaimed to American supporters of the Settlers that the northern Samaria town of Bet El “must remain and always will remain a part of Israel.”

As the Jewish Press reported:

“Most of the 1,000 guests at the American Friends of Bet El Yeshiva Center’s 30th annual dinner, last week at the Marriott Marquis on Broadway, continued to applaud vociferously as the Minnesota congresswoman and wannabe Republican presidential candidate expressed her robust support for Israel’s future.”

Michelle Bachmann does not restrict her citation of Biblical verses to Middle Eastern matters.

Biblical views were invoked in her remarks on a possible Hillary Clinton candidacy in 2016. According to Bachmann, Hillary Clinton could be defeated by a Republican candidate if “we repent and cry out to God.”

According to the Minnesota news website

“On her weekly radio program, Olive Tree Ministries, evangelical radio host Jan Markell asked Bachmann, who represents Minnesota’s sixth congressional district, if she is “one of those who just assumes” that Hillary Clinton will be “coronated” as president after the 2016 race.

“I don’t at all because I look at the story of David and Goliath,” Bachmann responded. “All David needed was one smooth stone to fell the giant. It wasn’t the stone, it wasn’t David, it was the strong right arm of a Holy God.”

While there were no public events in Israel involving the trio, Bachmann, Gohmert and King’s CODEL visit last week was heralded by a Dec. 16 op-ed piece by the Minnesota congresswomen in Israel’s largest circulation English-language newspaper, the right-leaning Jerusalem Post.

In the piece, Bachmann railed against the administration’s diplomatic efforts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact in her attack on John Kerry, Bachmann articulated a position somewhat to the right of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In contrast to the West Bank Settlers even Netanyahu is reluctant to speak of “the entire biblical Jewish homeland.”

But Bachmann is not constrained by the realities of statecraft.

“While Secretary Kerry pressures Israel to give up its rightful land, our good friend Israel has a goal too: the maintenance of the Jewish State of Israel,” she wrote. “And the right to live peacefully in their entire biblical Jewish homeland, and the right to have Jerusalem as their undivided capital.”

Rep. Steve King of Iowa, has less of a connection to Israel per se and more of a connection to Tea Party foreign policy initiatives – including to highlight ‘persecution’ of Christians and to ban all Islamist parties.

He regularly votes to restrict US funding of the UN and has earned the dubious honor of being considered among the least informed congressmen on national and foreign affairs.

According to Politico, King was voted by his Democratic congressional colleagues “most clueless Republican” at a private Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee dinner.

Even by today’s low standards this is not a very distinguished ‘Mideast delegation.’ But that does not mean that its findings won’t play well in some congressional districts in Minnesota, Iowa and Texas. And perhaps beyond?

Shalom Goldman is Professor of Religion and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University, and core faculty of the Duke Islamic Studies Center. His most recent book is Zeal for Zion: Christians, Jews, and the Idea of the Promised Land (UNC Press, January, 2010). Goldman has just returned from a month-long research sojourn in Israel.


Mirrored from Islamicommentary


Related video (appended by Juan Cole):

The Young Turks report on Bachmann’s assertion that we are in the end times:

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