October 30, 2009

Iran Deal on Brink of Collapse as West Condemns Compromise

Europeans Uninterested in Deal Unless Iran Exports Most of Its Uranium

by Jason Ditz, October 29, 2009

Just a few hours after the Iranian government submitted a compromise proposal on the third party uranium enrichment deal with the P5+1, European diplomats quickly, and angrily, rejected it.

This is completely unacceptable,” one EU diplomat declared, saying the union was in the process of penning its common response, a rejection that may spell the end to the promising negotiations that have gone on all month.

In September, Iran proposed a system of third party enrichment which would allow the nation to create medical isotopes without having to enrich any uranium to levels higher than needed for its energy generation program. After intense negotiation the draft agreement had Iran exporting much of its existing low-enriched stockpile to Russia and eventually France.

The “eventually France” part was a stalling point for Iran however, as France had previously reneged on Uranium Hexafluoride shipments to them and Iranian MPs expressed concern that the French might simply keep the uranium once it got to them.

This led Iran to propose today’s compromise deal, the chief aspect of which was that they would ship the uranium out in stages rather than all at once. This would have limited the potential losses to their stockpile in the event the deal fell apart.

But for Europeans, getting Iran to hand over the bulk of its uranium all at once was the best part of the deal, and they appear uninterested in continuing negotiations without that, which will likely also make Iran all the more suspicious that France will ever give back the uranium once they get their hands on it.

Iran’s current uranium is enriched to 3.8%, but Western officials have speculated that if they chose to, the nation might be able to further enrich this uranium to the level needed for weaponization, and eventually could produce a single atomic bomb. This would require a lot of luck on Iran’s part, and since their enrichment facilities are under IAEA surveillance would also require them to make their intentions obvious before they could even begin the mad dash for a bomb.


Taliban in Pakistan blame U.S. Blackwater for deadly blast

2009-10-29 22:24:06

ISLAMABAD - (Xinhua) - Chief of Taliban movement in Pakistan Hakimullah Mehsud has blamed the controversial American private firm Blackwater for the bomb blast in Peshawar which killed 108 people, local news agency NNI reported Thursday.

The bomb exploded at a crowded market at Chowk Yadgar on Wednesday, also injured 150 people.

Hakimullah Mehsud told media that if Taliban can carry out attacks in Islamabad and target Pakistan army's headquarters, then why they should target general public.

He claimed that American security agency Blackwater and Pakistani agencies are involved in attacks in public places to blame the militants.

When asked that the people also think that the militants are involved in such attacks, the Taliban leader was quoted as saying, "Our war is against the government and the security forces and not against the people. We are not involved in blasts."

Azam Tariq, the Taliban spokesman, who was accompanying Hakimullah, warned that those media organizations could be targeted which are defaming Taliban.

Information Minister in Northwest Frontier Province Mian Iftikhar Hussain and the Pakistani army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas had blamed militants for the Peshawar blast, saying that the militants are facing defeat in South Waziristan tribal region and are now targeting the people.

October 29, 2009

The day the bulldozers came…

28 October 2009, 12:31PM - Amnesty International

Israeli bulldozer destroying Palestinian crops and irrigation network

A Palestinian farmer's vegetable crops and irrigation network are destroyed by an Israeli army bulldozer while soldiers surround the field in Jiftlik, Jordan Valley, in March 2008

West Bank farmer Mahmoud al-'Alam won't forget the day Israeli army bulldozers cut off his water supply... and destroyed his livelihood.

The village of Beit Ula, where Mahmoud lives, is not connected to the Palestinian water network. Instead the community, located north-west of Hebron, relies on rainwater, which it collects and stores in pots dug in the ground, known as cisterns.

The nine new cisterns built in 2006 as part of a European Union-funded project to improve food security became the pride of the village. The cisterns were vital to the survival of the nine families that used them... until the bulldozers arrived.

"[The Israeli army] destroyed everything; they went up and down several times with the bulldozer and uprooted everything," recalls Mahmoud al-'Alam.

In a few hours, years of hard work had been undone. The cisterns had been built with the help of two local nongovernmental organizations, the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees and the Palestinian Hydrology Group.

The cisterns provided water for 3,200 newly planted trees including olive, almond, lemon and fig trees. The farmers had also contributed a significant portion of the overall cost of the project.

"We invested a lot of money and worked very hard," said Mahmoud al-'Alam. "This is good land and it was a very good project. We put a lot of thought into how to shape the terraces and build the cisterns in the best way, to make the best use of the land, and we planted trees which need little water... the saplings were growing well..."

The story of Beit Ula is one of many cases where Israeli forces have targeted Palestinian communities in the region.

On 4 June 2009, the Israeli army destroyed the homes and livestock pens of 18 Palestinian families in Ras al-Ahmar, a hamlet in the Jordan Valley area of the West Bank.

More than 130 people were affected, many of them children. Crucially, the soldiers confiscated the water tank, tractor and trailer used by the villagers to bring in water. They were left without shelter or a water supply at the hottest time of the year.

On 28 July 2007, Israeli soldiers at a military checkpoint confiscated the tractor and water tanker of Ahmad Abdallah Bani Odeh, a villager from the hamlet of Humsa.

An Israeli army official told Amnesty International that the vital items were being confiscated in an attempt to force the villagers from the area, which the army had declared a "closed military area".

In another village, a rainwater harvesting cistern belonging to Palestinian villagers was destroyed by the Israeli army under the pretext that it was built without a permit. Permits for water projects have to be obtained from the Israeli authorities but are rarely granted to Palestinians.

In recent years the homes of Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley have been repeatedly destroyed and their water tankers confiscated.

Each time, the homes - tents and simple shacks made of metal and plastic sheets - are rebuilt. Because of the villagers’ determination to remain on their land despite extremely harsh living conditions, the Israeli army has increasingly restricted their access to water as a way of forcing them to abandon the area.

In’am Bisharat, a mother of seven from the village of Hadidiya, told Amnesty International: "We live in the harshest conditions, without water, electricity or any services.

"The lack of water is the biggest problem. The men spend most of the day...[going] to get water and they can’t always bring it. But we have no choice. We need a little bit of water to survive and to keep the sheep alive. Without water there is no life.

"The [Israeli] army has cut us off from everywhere...We don’t choose to live like this; we would also like to have beautiful homes and gardens and farms, but these privileges are only for the Israeli settlers... we are not even allowed basic services."

The lack of water has already forced many Palestinians to leave the Jordan Valley and the survival of the communities is increasingly threatened. In Beit Ula, Mahmoud al-'Alam's livelihood is similarly at risk.

"It is very painful for me every time to come here and see the destruction; everything we worked for is gone. Why would anyone want to do this? What good can come from [it]?" he asks.

Israel breaking up Palestinian families

Testimony given by Alaa Abu Sultan, 23

Alaa Abu Sultan

I am married and have three children: a son, Riad, who is three, and two daughters, Raja, who is six, and Riwa, who is two years old.

In 2001, I married Muhammad Riad Shhadeh Abu Sultan. My husband is from the Rimal neighborhood in the Gaza Strip. He came to the West Bank in 1996 and lived in the Tulkarm area until 2008.

I met him while he was working at my parents’ clothing store. In August 2001, we prepared a marriage contract, and we got married in March 2002. We lived in our house in the Tulkarm refugee camp, and he worked at my parents’ store and also in construction.

Alaa Abu Sultan and her childrenMy husband had a Gazan resident identity card. A few years ago, the Palestinian Authority announced that residents of Gaza living in the West Bank could exchange their identity cards for West Bank identity cards. Muhammad went to the Palestinian Population Administration office in Ramallah and on 1 October 2007, he was issued a West Bank identity card. He did it too feel safer, even though he used to travel to Nablus, Ramallah, Jenin, and Jericho and never had any problems or trouble at checkpoints.

On 12 January 2008, we went to Nablus on a visit. We entered the city from the west, via the Beit Iba checkpoint, and crossed without any problem. At noon, on the way home, the soldiers detained Muhammad at the checkpoint. I waited for him there until midnight.

I begged the soldiers to release him. My sisters, who also live in the Tulkarm refugee camp, came to find out from the soldiers what had happened, but it didn't help.

Around midnight, the soldiers told us that my husband would be sent to the Gaza Strip. I begged them and explained that we’d been married for six years and had small children who needed their father, but nothing helped.

A little while later, while my brother and I were waiting by the checkpoint, two soldiers came over with Muhammad, to let him say goodbye to us. They said they were sending him to Gaza because he is a resident of Gaza. I was in terrible pain and cried a lot. Muhammad cried as well, because all we had done was go together to Nablus in the morning, and now I had to return to the Tulkarm refugee camp alone with my brother.

My baby daughter was born on 12 November 2007, and was only two months’ old at the time. Because of my suffering after the separation from Muhammad, the milk in my breasts dried up, and I couldn’t breastfeed her any more.

My pain over the deportation of Muhammad, who is now living in the Rimal neighborhood in Gaza, grew during the war in the Gaza Strip. I constantly worry about him. He calls me daily to ask how the children and I are. But Riwa is already two years old and my husband hardly had time with her. My children don’t get a father’s hug, and they call their grandfather “daddy.”
In addition to missing Muhammad, I also suffer from the restrictions society places on women who live without their husband, especially since I’m young.

I hope that my family will be united and that my husband will return to live with me and our children in the Tulkarm refugee camp.

Alaa Hassan Muhammad Abu Sultan, 23, married with three children, owns a clothing store and lives in the Tulkarm refugee camp. She gave her testimony to ‘Abd al-Karim Sa’adi at her store on 11 October 2009.


Student expelled to Gaza Strip by force

Palestinian's involuntary return is the sixth in 10 days, says human rights group

By Ben Lynfield in Jerusalem - Friday, 30 October 2009

Berlanty Azzam, 21,was handcuffed and blindfolded

A Palestinian student has been handcuffed, blindfolded and forcibly expelled to the Gaza Strip by Israeli troops just two months before she was due to graduate from university.

Berlanty Azzam, 21, who was studying for a business degree at Bethlehem University, said she was coming home in a shared taxi from a job interview in Ramallah on Wednesday when soldiers at the "Container" checkpoint took her identity card and that of another passenger with a Gaza address.

After six hours of waiting, soldiers told her she would be taken to a detention centre in the southern West Bank, and she was handcuffed and blindfolded, she said.

"The driving took longer than it should have and I started to think something was wrong. I started to wonder, what are they doing to me?" After the car stopped and the blindfold was lifted, Ms Azzam saw she was at the Erez crossing to Gaza.

It was the sixth known forced return to Gaza of Palestinians stopped at the "Container" checkpoint – which is between Bethlehem and Abu Dis – in 10 days, according to the Israeli human rights group Gisha. Israel has also been preventing family reunifications in the West Bank for Palestinians with relatives living in Gaza, in effect forcing people to relocate to the Strip.

The steps are part of an Israeli policy of treating Gaza and the West Bank as two separate entities, thereby undermining the coherence of Palestinian claims for a state encompassing both territories. The 1993 Oslo agreement stipulates that the West Bank and Gaza Strip are to be treated as one territorial unit.

Major Guy Inbar, an Israeli defense ministry official, said the reason for Ms Azzam's deportation was that she was "staying illegally" in the West Bank.

"We are talking about a Gaza citizen who requested permission to study in the area of Judea and Samaria and received a negative answer," he said.

"In 2005, she was given a permit to visit Jerusalem for four days and she remained afterwards [in the West Bank] without any permit. Her entire period as a student was based on deceit and was against the law."

Sari Bashi, head of the Israeli Gisha human rights group, who tried to intervene on Ms Azzam's behalf, said she was assured by military lawyers on Wednesday that the student would not be deported to Gaza and that the rights group could seek a judicial review in the morning.

"The military misled us," Ms Bashi said. "There is a violation here of the right to access education, the right to freedom of movement and the right to choose one's place of residence within one's own territory."

The army did not respond to a request for comment.

Brother Jack Curran, vice president for development of Bethlehem University, termed the expulsion "a disgrace". "This is not about politics. It's about a young person finishing her degree. Since 2005 she has been studying as a good student. No one is a winner from this."


Cluster bomb trade funded by world's biggest banks

HSBC earned more than £650m in fees from work for Textron, US manufacturer of cluster weapons

By Nick Mathiason - guardian.co.uk - October 29, 2009

The deadly trade in cluster bombs is funded by the world's biggest banks who have loaned or arranged finance worth $20bn (£12.5bn) to firms producing the controversial weapons, despite growing international efforts to ban them.

HSBC, led by ordained Anglican priest Stephen Green, has profited more than any other institution from companies that manufacture cluster bombs. The British bank, based at Canary Wharf, has earned a total of £657.3m in fees arranging bonds and share offerings for Textron, which makes cluster munitions described by the US company as "leaving a clean battlefield".

Campaigners maintain the deadly weapons can explode years after combat, killing or maiming innocent people.

HSBC will face protests outside its London headquarters today. Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, JP Morgan and UK-based Barclays Bank are also named among the worst banks in a detailed 126-page report by Dutch and Belgian campaign groups IKV Pax Christi and Netwerk Vlaanderen.

Goldman Sachs, the US bank which made £3.19bn proft in just three months, earned $588.82m for bank services and lent $250m to Alliant Techsystems and Textron.

Of the banks named, only Barclays was prepared to comment. It said: "Barclays group provides financial services to the defence sector within a specific policy framework. It is our policy not to finance trade in nuclear, chemical, biological or other weapons of mass destruction.

"Our policy also explicitly prohibits financing trade in landmines, cluster bombs or any equipment designed to be used as an instrument of torture." A spokeswoman added that Barclays had supplied money to Textron, which makes cluster bombs, but that the US firm was a broad-based weapons manufacturer.

Last December 90 countries, including the UK, committed themselves to banning cluster bombs by next year. But the US was not one of them. So far 23 countries have ratified the convention. The UK has yet to do so, but the Foreign Office confirmed that it would form part of the government's legislative programme before the next election.

A Foreign Office spokesman said the tightest export control order had been placed on cluster bombs, which extended to banks supplying money to manufacturers. The government was aware the control order was not working and "is working on it".

Esther Vandenbroucke, of Netwerk Vlaanderen and one of the report's authors, said: "The responsibility to ban cluster munitions is a shared responsibility. It requires courage, and it requires an effort. We are just months away from an international treaty entering into force and it is time for signatory states to the Convention on Cluster Munitions for non-signatory states and for financial institutions to act now."

Last December, the New Zealand government's pension fund sold shares in Lockheed Martin because of its link to the manufacture of cluster bombs. Similar actions have been taken by the Irish and Dutch governments.

Millions of people will be endangered by up to tens of millions of cluster bomblets that have not yet exploded, causing lasting economic and social harm to communities in more than 20 countries for decades to come, campaigners have warned. The vast majority of cluster bomb casualties occur while victims are carrying on their daily lives.

On Monday, a Lebanese 20-year-old man had his leg amputated after a cluster bomb exploded in southern Lebanon Houla village. A security source said he was collecting wood in his border village when the explosion occurred.

The Israeli army made extensisve use of cluster bombs during the war in south Lebanon three years ago. Cluster bombs were most recently used by both the Georgians and the Russians in the dispute over South Ossetia. They were also used in the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions.

Women, elderly among those beaten with Israeli rifle-butts in Hebron

Ma'an Images
October 29, 2009

Hebron – Ma’an – Ten Palestinians including a 70-year-old woman, seven women and two journalists were attacked by Israeli forces south of Hebron on Thursday, local sources said.

The incident began when Israeli soldiers and armored vehicles demolished a water reservoir belonging to Al-Baqa'a resident Mohammad Mustafa Jaber. Reports from the right-wing Israeli Arutz Sheva said the infrastructure was built by Oxfam and funded by the EU. Oxfam representatives said the claim was being investigated.

During the course of the demolition, the family said the bulldozer also destroyed irrigation networks used for crops.

In an attempt to stop the demolition, the family notified the press, and tried to block the way of the demolition crew as it approached the lands. Soldiers responded by beating the family members and two journalists who responded to the scene.

The two journalists, identified by medics as Abed Al-Hafith Al-Hashlamun, with the European Press Agency (EPA) and Najeh Al-Hashlamun said he works with a news agency called "ABA" were injured as they attempted to document the demolition and violent actions of the Israeli soldiers.

An eyewitness said soldiers "hit the residents and the journalists with the rifle butts, batons and feet."

Seven of the injured residents were identified as:

Mari Jaber
Najah Jaber
Kawkab Jaber
Rudeina Jaber
Najah Fadel Jaber
Ibtesam Rashed Jaber
Izdehar Falah Jaber
Amenah Jaber, 70

Latin America's economic rebels

Ecuador and Bolivia are achieving remarkable growth because they reject conventional economic wisdom

By Mark Weisbrot - The Guardian - October 27, 2009

Among the conventional wisdom that we hear everyday in the business press is that developing countries should bend over backwards to create a friendly climate for foreign corporations, follow orthodox (neoliberal) macroeconomic policy advice, and strive to achieve an investment-grade sovereign credit rating so as to attract more foreign capital.

Guess which country is expected to have the fastest economic growth in the Americas this year? Bolivia. The country’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, was elected in 2005 and took office in January 2006. Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, had been operating under IMF agreements for 20 consecutive years, and had a per capita income lower than it had been 27 years earlier. Evo sent the IMF packing just three months after he took office, and then moved to re-nationalize the hydrocarbons industry (mostly natural gas). Needless to say this did not sit well with the international corporate community. Nor did Bolivia’s decision in May 2007 to withdraw from the World Bank’s international arbitration panel (ICSID), which had a tendency to settle disputes in favor of international corporations and against governments.

But Bolivia’s re-nationalization and increased royalties on hydrocarbons has given the government billions of dollars of additional revenue (Bolivia’s entire GDP is only about $16.6 billion, with a population of 10 million people). These revenues have been useful for a government that wants to promote development, and especially to maintain growth during the downturn. Public investment increased from 6.3 percent of GDP in 2005 to 10.5 percent for 2009. Bolivia’s growth through the current world downturn is even more remarkable in that it was hit hard by falling prices for its most important exports – natural gas and minerals, and also by a loss of important export preferences in the U.S. market. The Bush administration cut off Bolivia’s trade preferences that were granted under the ATPDEA (Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act), allegedly to punish Bolivia for insufficient co-operation in the “war on drugs.” In reality, it was more complicated: Bolivia expelled the U.S. Ambassador because of evidence that the U.S. government was supporting the opposition to the Morales government, and the ATPDA revocation followed soon thereafter. In any case, the Obama administration has so far not changed the Bush administration’s policies toward Bolivia; but Bolivia has proven that it can do quite well with or without Washington’s cooperation.

Ecuador’s leftist president, Rafael Correa, is an economist who, well before he was elected in December 2006, had understood and written about the limitations of neoliberal economic dogma. He took office in 2007, and established an international tribunal to examine the legitimacy of the country’s debt. In November 2008 the commission found that part of the debt was not legally contracted, and in December Correa announced that the government would default on roughly $3.2 billion of its international debt. He was vilified in the business press, but the default was successful. Ecuador cleared a third of its foreign debt off its books by defaulting and then buying the debt back at about 35 cents on the dollar. The country’s international credit rating remains low, but no lower than it was before Correa’s election - and it was even raised a notch after buyback was completed.

The Correa government also incurred foreign investors’ wrath by renegotiating its deals with foreign oil companies to capture a larger share of revenue as oil prices rose. And Correa has bucked pressure from Chevron and its powerful allies in Washington to drop his support of a lawsuit against the company for massive pollution of ground waters, with damages that could exceed $27 billion.

How has Ecuador done? Growth has averaged a healthy 4.5 percent over Correa’s first two years. And the government has made sure that it has trickled down: health care spending as a percent of GDP has doubled, and social spending in general has expanded considerably from 5.4 percent to 8.3 percent of GDP in two years. This includes a doubling of the cash transfer program to poor households, a $474 million increase in spending for housing, and other programs for low-income families.

Ecuador was hit hard by a 77 percent drop in the price of its oil exports from June 2008 to February 2009, as well as a decline in remittances from abroad. Nonetheless it has weathered the storm pretty well. Other unorthodox policies, in addition to the debt default, have helped Ecuador to stimulate its economy without running too low on reserves. Ecuador’s currency is the U.S. dollar, so that rules out using exchange rate policy and most monetary policy for counter-cyclical efforts in a recession – a significant handicap. Instead Ecuador was able to cut deals with China for a billion-dollar advance payment for oil and another one billion dollar loan. The government also has begun requiring Ecuadorian banks to repatriate some of their reserves held abroad, expected to bring back another $1.2 billion, and has started repatriating $2.5 billion in Central Bank reserves held abroad in order to finance another large stimulus package. Ecuador’s growth will probably come in at about 1 percent this year, which is pretty good relative to most of the hemisphere – e.g. Mexico, at the other end of the spectrum, is projected to have a 7.5 percent decline in GDP for 2009.

The standard reporting and even quasi-academic analysis of Bolivia and Ecuador are that they are victims of populist, socialist, “anti-American” governments – aligned with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Cuba, of course – and on the road to ruin. To be sure, both countries have many challenges ahead, the most important of which will be to implement economic strategies that can diversify and develop their economies over the long run. But they have made a good start so far, by giving the conventional wisdom of the economic and foreign policy establishment – in Washington and Europe -- the respect that it has earned.

Mark Weisbrot is an economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Michigan. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis (University of Chicago Press, 2000), and has written numerous research papers on economic policy. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy.

Video: Palestinians homeless again after eviction

Al-Jazeera English

October 29, 2009

The United Nations is calling on Israel to immediately stop demolishing Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem.

The UN says 60,000 Palestinians may be at risk of being forcibly evicted.

Israel says the houses are built without construction permits, which Palestinians say are almost impossible to obtain.

Our correspondent Jacky Rowland is in Sheikh Jarrah where Israeli police dismantled a tent set up by a Palestinian family already evicted by Israeli orders in August.

UK: Over 60 face charges from anti-Israel protests

London - IRNA - 10/28/09 - A total of 63 people are due to appear in court later this week on charges arising out of demonstrations in London against Israel’s slaughter of over 1,300 Palestinians in Gaza at the turn of the year.

Most are charged under the country’s Public Order Act with using or threatening violence during two mass protest marches in January that culminated at the Israeli Embassy.

According to the Jewish Chronicle, all the cases will be heard at West London Magistrates’ Court on Thursday and Friday. Police were said to be still seeking another 17 people in connection with incidents that occurred.

The protests were parts of nationwide demonstrations, marches and rallies held around the UK at the height of Israel’s latest blitzkrieg attacks on Gaza.

Violence occurred at the embassy during clashes with anti-riot police. Several protesters complained to the Muslim News about the intimidation provoked by police charging the protest march in a tunnel on the way to the embassy.