Thursday, September 15, 2011

Saudi warns US over Palestine - YouTube

The west will not prevent a Palestinian state's eventual birth

Next week the Palestinian Authority, stepping away from years of a fruitless "peace process" with Israel, will ask the UN to recognise Palestine as an independent state. It is very likely to be obstructed in the security council by the US, Israel's long-suffering but faithful friend. There is no question, however, that an overwhelming majority in the general assembly will back the Palestinians.

Israel has never looked more isolated as its embassy in Egypt is attacked, and Turkey, another close ally in the region until recently, leads a resurgent pan-Arab anti-Zionism. Its western supporters, too, have been dwindling fast. Besieged at home by furious masses demanding social justice after years of private wealth creation, Israeli leaders find their most devoted friends abroad among centre-right or extreme rightwing politicians in Canada, Italy, Holland and the Czech Republic, all of which are expected to stifle the Palestinian state at birth.

It was not at all like this in the lead-up to Israel's creation. In 1945 George Orwell told his American readers that "the left, generally, is very strongly committed to support of the Jews against the Arabs". The latter had no influential allies when, in November 1947, European and white commonwealth countries helped the UN plan for the partition of Palestine – fiercely resisted by Arabs – pass with a two-thirds majority. During the UN debate Zionists packed the galleries, applauding pro-Israel speakers and hissing at Arab ones. "They created," a British official wrote, "the atmosphere of a football match, with the Arabs as the away team."

Like many American gentiles of his generation, President Truman was prone to racist generalisations about the "Jews": "I fear very much," he wrote in his diary, "that the Jews are like all underdogs. When they get on top they are just as intolerant and cruel as the people were to them when they were underneath." Still, the US arm-twisted two former dependencies, the Philippines and Liberia, into supporting the creation of the Jewish state, and managed to get China and Ethiopia to abstain.

The infant nation states of India and Pakistan voted against partition, as did Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey. On the face of it, this seems unconscionable. In 1947, just two years after the full scale of the crimes against European Jews had been exposed, the moral case for the creation of a Jewish state was incontestable. And valiant Zionists outmanoeuvring the exhausted British masters of Palestine had provoked much admiration across Europe and America.

But, as Orwell warned, "few English people realize that the Palestine issue is partly a colour issue and that an Indian nationalist, for instance, would probably side with the Arabs". The Jewish claim on Palestine may have existed for more than two millennia; but in the eyes of Asian leaders and intellectuals embattled against Western imperialists, it began with the Balfour Declaration, which threatened to implant yet another European people on Asian soil.

As Jawaharlal Nehru acidly remarked about the British promise of a Jewish homeland: "One not unimportant fact seems to have been overlooked. Palestine was not a wilderness, or an empty, uninhabited place. It was already somebody else's home." The lack of antisemitic traditions in Asia meant that many Asian leaders could not recognise the need for a separate Jewish state. Cosmopolitan networks of solidarity across Asia ensured that Indian nationalists would take the Arab side, and see Zionism as a form of western imperialism – a perception not challenged by Zionist leaders, who, busy courting European and American politicians, kept a careful distance from anti-colonial nationalist movements in the 1920s and 1930s.

As Jewish immigration to Palestine picked up during the British Mandate, Mahatma Gandhi resisted all entreaties to lend his moral prestige to the Zionist cause. Speaking to the Jewish Chronicle in London in 1931, he said: "I can understand the longing of a Jew to return to Palestine, and he can do so if he can without the help of bayonets, whether his own or those of Britain." In 1938, during the brutal British suppression of the Arab revolt in Palestine, he reiterated that it was "wrong" of Jews to enter Palestine "under the shadow of the British gun".

Eventually the Zionists in Palestine turned against their British enablers; and Israel, born during the high noon of decolonisation, could plausibly claim an anti-imperialist pedigree. But its collusion with Britain and France against Egypt in 1956 – a year after the conference of new postcolonial nations in Bandung – did not endear it to Asian and African leaders reflexively hostile to such imperialist skullduggery as the Suez expedition. Nor was the "colour issue" allowed to fade by Israel's support of France against Algerian anti-colonialists, its occupation of the West Bank in 1967, and its close relations with the apartheid regime in South Africa.

There were many rightwing admirers of Israeli resourcefulness and bravery in India – growing up in a Hindu nationalist family, I came to revere the Israeli general Moshe Dayan – but almost all postcolonial nation states shunned Israel. The latter's frequent attempts to reach out to Asian countries were met with rebuffs. A placatory cable from Israel's foreign minister Abba Eban to the Chinese premier Zhou Enlai was sent back with a note: "Undelivered because of non-existent relations".

Israel's diplomatic ties with India were established only in 1993, and then deepened by military and political links between Hindu nationalists and radical Zionists. In the 1990s Israel rapidly expanded its diplomatic presence in Asia beyond Burma, the only Asian country where it had an embassy in the 1950s. The end of the cold war, and Israel's decision to open negotiations with the PLO after the first intifada, brought the country out of its long international isolation.

The peace process had many critics, who saw it as a ploy to buy time for Israeli settlements. With Israel's security and expansion guaranteed by the US, it held back from the necessary and inevitable reckoning with its Palestinian subjects and Arab neighbours. But now the collapse of staunchly pro-American Arab regimes – amounting to a second round of decolonisation – and the related decline of American authority in the Middle East find Israel exposed to the chill winds of history.

The feelings and desires of Arabs entering mass politics can no longer be ignored; and this democratic opinion turns out to be not much less opposed to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza than were the Arab dictators who made radical anti-Zionism a pillar of their despotism.

In Cairo this week Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, proclaimed that "the world is changing to a system where the will of the people will rule". This is self-serving rhetoric from a politician with clear authoritarian tendencies. Nevertheless, Erdogan's assertion that "Israel is the west's spoiled child" is unlikely to be challenged in the Arab world or, for that matter, a swath of Asian countries, where Palestinians are seen as victims of a western-style and western-aided expansionism.

Palestinian politicians remain hopelessly divided. And an independent Palestine might prove tragically unviable, quickly stumbling into the crowded ranks of "failed" or "failing" nation states. Yet Palestine has long been the unfinished business of decolonisation and national self-determination: the central events of the 20th century. And opposition from a weakened west next week will not prevent the eventual birth of a Palestinian state – just as objections from the fledgling and powerless nations of the east in 1947 did not thwart the creation of a Jewish state.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ethiopia rebels attack in Ogaden | World news |


Associated Press= ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Ethiopian rebels said Thursday they killed 25 soldiers protecting a Chinese oil exploration company called PetroTrans.

It was not possible to verify the claims made by the rebels.

Shimeles Kemal, Ethiopia's government spokesman, denied the claims, saying they are "absolutely unfounded." He also said no PetroTrans operations had been affected by any attacks. Ethiopian authorities usually deny claims made by the Ogaden National Liberation Front, or ONLF, which is listed as a terrorist organization in Ethiopia.

The rebels said that 25 soldiers were killed and 'a few' members of the rebel ONLF during Tuesday's skirmish. Abdirahman Mahdi, a London-based spokesman for the group, had earlier said at least three soldiers were killed in the incident.

The soldiers they killed, "were dislodging farmers from their lands ... claiming that seismic lines pass through their farms. Three villagers from the area are missing," said Thursday's press release. Two other villagers had been beaten and left for dead, it said.

Human rights groups have long accused the Ethiopian government of committing atrocities in the Ogaden, which is largely closed off to outside observers.

The ethnic Somali Ogaden region is home to the ONLF, who have been fighting for self-determination for more than 25 years.

In April, 2007, the group attacked a Chinese-owned oil exploration field, killing nine Chinese workers and 65 Ethiopian workers. Thursday's press release contained a warning that there might be another such attack.

"The Chinese are wearing army camouflages and as such, it is very had to differentiate than from the Ethiopian army personnel," the email read. "It is the responsibility of civilians to be clearly distinct when traveling with combat military units in order to safeguard their rights."

Blue Nile: Sudan's new war zone BBC News

Blue Nile: Sudan's new war zone

soldier with gun at marketSoldiers patrol Damazin market and traders say there are "no problems"

The capital of Sudan's Blue Nile state, Damazin, is firmly under the control of the government - this is made clear by the soldiers ululating a victory song from next to their truck-mounted machine guns.

In Damazin, at least, the government soldiers seemed to have defeated rebels loyal to the opposition SPLM-North party in last week's fighting.

The rebels are now largely grouped in the south around their traditional stronghold, Kurmuk, with battles continuing along a shifting front line.

But burned by previous criticism for denying access to the similar conflict in the neighbouring state of South Kordofan, the Sudanese government brought journalists to Damazin for a controlled tour.

'Back to normal'

The state governor, and other authorities, were keen to stress life in Damazin was getting back to normal.

Gen Yahia Mohamed Kheir was appointed by President Omar al-Bashir after he called a state of emergency in Blue Nile, and sacked the elected governor, Malik Agar.

Mr Agar is the head of the SPLM-North party - and the man now leading the rebels in the state.

Many of them fought with the SPLM during Sudan's long north-south conflict, which resulted in July's SPLM-led independence for South Sudan, but they now find themselves north of the new international border.

"The security situation is very good, electricity, the hospitals and water are fine," the new governor Gen Kheir said.

He announced the number of deaths in Damazin in the fighting had not been in the hundreds - he put the total at 12 dead soldiers, six policemen and three civilians, as well as an unspecified number of rebels.

But he admitted clashes were continuing 30km (20 miles) south of Damazin.

I pressed him on claims made by SPLM-North and refugees who have fled to Ethiopia that civilians had been killed by aerial bombardments in Kurmuk and elsewhere in the last few days.

"We have never seen a single civilian killed in those bombardments, if there are any," he said.

Jumpy soldiers

It certainly wasn't easy to ascertain the effects of the fighting in Damazin either.

men drinking juice at Damazin marketSudanese authorities are keen to show that day-to-day activities have been resumed

We weren't taken to the former governor's house, which allegedly came under attack, or to any places bearing obvious battle scars.

But the soldiers were clearly jumpy.

We travelled in a convoy of 4x4s, many of them carrying armed men, with a couple of trucks armed with machine guns - technicals they are sometimes called.

When one journalist tried to take a picture of a soldier out of the window, we heard the rapid and ominous clicks of several guns being cocked at once and our bus was made to stop.

When we arrived in a market, crowds gathered round the state minister we were travelling with, chanting Allahu akbar - God is great! - and pointing their right index fingers to the sky.

The traders insisted everything was fine, and normal - "no problems" they all said.

But many of the market stalls were shut down - a fact not entirely explained by the recent Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of Ramadan.

Large numbers of people have clearly fled the town.

"On Friday there was lots of fighting, in many places," one young man said, as one of our minders hovered nearby.

"You know the people all moved out, because of the war.

"I see on the road people are coming back, life is normal now, there are no problems."

Army tour

The authorities were also keen to show us the objects they said they had captured during the fighting, so they took us for a rare visit inside an army barracks.


Inside a walled compound about 80 prisoners sat on the ground, mainly staring sullenly in front of them.

In the middle, on the sandy floor, was a collection of guns, membership forms for the SPLM, photo albums, military epaulettes, SPLM constitutions, South Sudanese currency and even packets of condoms, perhaps particularly shocking in a relatively conservative Muslim society.

The army says they seized all this material during the clashes.

They also presented us several officers wearing SPLA uniforms.

That means they fought with the rebels who recently won independence for South Sudan, but as northerners were stranded here when South Sudan seceded in July.

Their presence, in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, is at the heart of the conflicts in the two states.

Colonel Omer Abdel Beyin Omer Maki said he hadn't wanted to join this latest conflict, and was being well treated by the Sudanese army.

An army officer stood by while he talked, listening intently.

Sudan accuses South Sudan of supporting the rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The new nation denies the charges. But there is no doubt all this is further poisoning the relationship between the two states.

As we left the barracks a new prisoner was brought in.

He looked dishevelled. A soldier ran up and slapped him.

This drew an immediate, shouted, condemnation from a nearby officer, perhaps aware of the presence of journalists, or maybe concerned that the right thing be done.

What next?

One thing I hoped to learn from a day in Damazin was what is likely to happen next.

SAF soldiers with gunsSudan army officers gave the journalists a rare tour of their barracks

The governor refused to discuss whether his troops were preparing to push on down to Kurmuk, though this is perhaps unlikely in the difficult conditions of the rainy season.

A paramount chief from the area, Youssef al Mak Youssef Hassan Adan, said he believed reconciliation was still possible.

"Both sides may sit peacefully and settle their dispute. I hope that they will think it over, and put down their arms, and we can sit together," he said.

But when he made just that point in a town hall meeting he was shouted down by those present, mainly local notables.

In Damazin, days after a war broke out here and elsewhere in Blue Nile, any talk of peace seems premature.

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ethiopia denies troops killed by Ogaden rebels BBC News

Ethiopia denies troops killed by Ogaden rebels


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Ethiopia has denied claims that 25 of its soldiers have been killed by rebels in its oil-producing Somali region.

The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) said it attacked a military convoy escorting the Chinese oil firm PetroTrans on Tuesday.

Twenty-five government soldiers and several of its fighters were killed in the ensuing clashes near the regional capital, Jijiga, the ONLF said.

The group has been fighting for the region's independence since 1984.

The ONLF said its forces ambushed elite Ethiopian troops escorting a team from PetroTrans to an oil exploration site in the region, which it calls Ogaden.

"The liberation army inflicted extensive damage on the Ethiopian troops," it said.

'Chinese camouflaged'

The government said the ONLF's claims were "absolutely unfounded", the AP news agency reports.

Correspondents say the region - where ethnic Somalis are the majority - is largely closed to independent observers, making it difficult to verify the claims of the two sides.

The ONLF warned of more attacks on Chinese-owned companies.

"The Chinese are wearing army camouflages and, as such, it is very had to differentiate them from the Ethiopian army personnel," it said.

"It is the responsibility of civilians to be clearly distinct when travelling with combat military units in order to safeguard their rights."

In 2007, the ONLF attacked a Chinese-run exploration site in the region, killing 74 people.

The ONLF says it is fighting for the rights of Somali-speaking Ethiopians who have been marginalised by the government in Addis Ababa.

Human rights groups have repeatedly accused the government of widespread atrocities in the region.

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