News roundup — May 1

Gaddafi’s son’s killing puts Nato in line of fire

The Libyan regime’s claims that Nato is attempting to assassinate Muammar Gaddafi have intensified following the apparent death of one of the leader’s sons and three of his grandchildren in an air strike on Tripoli.

Gaddafi was at the one-storey house in a residential area of Tripoli when the missile struck late on Saturday, according to the government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim.

In a rare acknowledgement that security around Gaddafi may not be watertight, Ibrahim told reporters that intelligence about Gaddafi’s whereabouts or plans must have been leaked to Nato. (The Guardian)

Qaddafi’s claims that NATO strike killed three grandsons appears false, but son is dead

The claim that Muammar Qaddafi’s three grandchildren were killed in an airstrike conducted by NATO late Saturday is not true, an Al Arabiya source has revealed. A source close to the Qaddafi family has confirmed the death of Colonel Qaddafi’s youngest son, Saif al-Arab, in the airstrike but has denied the story that Mr. Qaddafi’s three grandsons were killed. (Al Arabiya)

Death of Saif Al-Arab Gaddafi may backfire for Nato

Shashank Joshi writes: The death of Saif al-Arab Gaddafi, if confirmed, is likely to have come as a consequence of Nato’s increasingly aggressive tactics, undertaken by the alliance to shake up a stalemate in the conflict.

But his killing in an air strike is a grievous strategic error – militarily insignificant but diplomatically disastrous.

Towards the end of April, Nato states made a number of operational innovations. Three member states – Britain, France, and Italy – injected military advisers into rebel-held eastern Libya. Another, the US, began continuous patrols of armed drones.

Third, and most important, air strikes began to target command, control, communications and intelligence networks (known, in military parlance, as C3I). The Bab al-Aziziya compound includes all three such networks, and it was presumed that their disruption would disorient regime soldiers on the front line, cut off field commanders from Tripoli, and sow confusion in the ranks.

But was the strike also an assassination attempt?

Assassination of a head of state is illegal under international law, and forbidden by various US presidential orders. On the other hand, the targeted killing of those woven into the enemy chain of command is shrouded in legal ambiguity. (BBC News)

Britain expels Libya ambassador

Britain has ordered the expulsion of the Libyan ambassador to London, Omar Jelban, in retaliation for an attack on the British embassy by a pro-Gaddafi crowd in Tripoli.

Jelban has been given 24 hours to leave the country.

“I condemn the attacks on the British embassy premises in Tripoli as well as the diplomatic missions of other countries,” said the foreign secretary, William Hague. “The Vienna convention requires the Gaddafi regime to protect diplomatic missions in Tripoli. By failing to do so that regime has once again breached its international responsibilities and obligations. I take the failure to protect such premises very seriously indeed.” (The Guardian)

Libya: ‘UN to quit Tripoli’ amid mob attacks

The UN is withdrawing all its international staff from the Libyan capital Tripoli following a mob attack on its offices, the BBC understands.

UN buildings and some foreign missions were targeted by angry crowds following a Nato air strike that reportedly killed a son of Col Gaddafi.

A UN official told the BBC its staff would withdraw from Libya and the decision would be reviewed next week. (BBC News)

Inside a city running on fear

Sometimes they reveal themselves in a gesture.

They sniff with contempt at a passing car filled with Moammar Kadafi’s supporters. They turn up the volume on Al Jazeera just when a report chronicling the government’s attacks on civilians in rebel-held Misurata comes on.

Or they make a cryptic remark, like the driver working with the government minders assigned to monitor foreign reporters.

“God willing, spring will come soon,” he said.

But spring began weeks ago.

“God willing, in two weeks,” he said with a smile.

“Two weeks” is the time in which Libyans have been assuring themselves that their nightmare will come to an end. (Los Angeles Times)

Pro-regime troops seen ‘wearing gas masks in Misurata’

Pro-Gaddaffi forces have been seen roaming the streets of Misurata wearing gas masks, contacts in Libya’s besieged city have reported to timesofmalta.com .

Sources at the hospital confirmed that pro regime troops were wearing gas masks. An independent source said there were reports that thousands of gas masks had been distributed to troops yesterday. (Times of Malta)

Libya disabled children school hit in NATO strike

Shattered glass litters the carpet at the Libyan Down’s Syndrome Society, and dust covers pictures of grinning children that adorn the hallway, thrown into darkness by a NATO strike early on Saturday.

It was unclear what the target of the strike was, though Libyan officials said it was Muammar Gaddafi himself, who was giving a live television address at the time.

“They maybe wanted to hit the television. This is a non-military, non-governmental building,” said Mohammed al-Mehdi, head of the civil societies council, which licenses and oversees civil groups in Libya. (Reuters)

* * *

‘Tanks firing’ in Syria protest city of Deraa

Syrian soldiers and tanks have been firing in the city of Deraa, a centre of protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, residents say.

They say soldiers have made arrests and fired to keep people indoors.

Opposition websites are showing footage purportedly of a soldier who says he deserted after being ordered to fire on unarmed protesters in Damascus.

Activists say nearly 600 people have died in the crackdown on protests, which began in mid-March. (BBC News)

Who’s who in the Syrian opposition

David Kenner writes: Bashar al-Assad never saw it coming. In a Jan. 31 interview with the Wall Street Journal, the Syrian autocrat boasted that his regime was immune from the revolutionary wave spreading across the Middle East because it “very closely linked to the beliefs of the people.”

Over the past month and a half, Syrians have made a liar out of their president. Small protests broke out in Damascus on March 15 and have slowly spread to towns and cities throughout the country. And as the movement has gained strength, Assad’s crackdown has increased in brutality. The Syrian regime has killed at least 450 people since the uprising began, according to human rights groups, and this week sent tanks into the mutinous southern town of Daraa to quell the protests.

So far, the regime’s attempts to quash the demonstrations have only caused them to increase in size. Tens of thousands of Syrians came out to the protests this Friday, with crowds demonstrating in more than 50 towns throughout the country. The protests’ growing strength has produced a reaction in Washington: Following days of escalating statements, President Barack Obama issued new sanctions today against three of the regime’s most notorious officials, including Bashar’s brother, Maher al-Assad. The U.N. Human Rights Council also denounced Assad’s use of violence against peaceful protesters on Friday, calling for a team to visit Syria in order to “ensur[e] full accountability” for those who perpetrated the attacks.

So who’s leading the charge against Assad? The president has accumulated no shortage of enemies over his decade-long rule, many of whom have little in common besides their enmity toward the Syrian president. If he continues his ruthless crackdown, however, it just may be enough to unite them. (Foreign Policy)

Syrian businessman becomes magnet for anger and dissent

When protests erupted in March in the forlorn Syrian border town of Dara’a, demonstrators burned the president’s portraits, then set ablaze an unlikely target: the local office of the country’s largest mobile phone company, Syriatel, whose owner sits at the nexus of anger and power in a restive country.

Syriatel is owned by Rami Makhlouf, first cousin and childhood friend of President Bashar al-Assad and the country’s most powerful businessman. In the past decade, he has emerged as a strength and a liability of a government that finds its bastions of support shrinking and a figure to watch as Mr. Assad’s inner circle tries to deal with protests shaking his family’s four decades of rule.

Leery of the limelight, he is alternatively described as the Assad family’s banker or Mr. Five Percent (or 10, or whatever share gets the deal done). His supporters praise him for his investment in Syria, but they are far outnumbered by detractors, who have derided him in protests as a thief or worse. Sometimes more than Mr. Assad himself, he has become the lightning rod of dissent.

“We’ll say it clearly,” went a chant in Dara’a. “Rami Makhlouf is robbing us.”

Egypt had Ahmed Ezz, the steel magnate who favored tight Italian suits (and now faces trial in white prison garb). In Tunisia, it was Leila Traboulsi, the hairdresser who became the president’s wife, then a symbol of the extravagance of the ruling family. Mr. Makhlouf, 41, is Syria’s version, a man at the intersection of family privilege, clan loyalty, growing avarice and, perhaps most dangerously, the yawning disconnect between ruler and ruled that already reshaped authoritarian Syria even before the protests. (New York Times)

* * *

Gaza is a symbol of occupation, thanks to Israel

Zvi Bar’el writes: Israel’s Pavlovian response to Palestinian reconciliation, which included the usual threats of boycott, is the result of the ingrained anxiety of people who no longer control the process. For five years, Israel has done everything to change the outcome of Hamas’ watershed victory in the elections in the territories. It did not recognize the Hamas government or the unity government, and of course, it did not recognize the Hamas government that arose after that organization’s brutal takeover of the Gaza Strip.

Gaza became a synonym for Hamas; that is, for terror, and the West Bank stood for the land of unlimited possibilities. Israel made an enormous contribution toward building up Hamas into an institution, not only an organization. The cruel closure of Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, turning Gaza into a battle zone and the saga of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, with Israel continuing to negotiate with Hamas while striking out against it – all this has transformed Gaza into a symbol of the occupation and a focus of international empathy.

Israel, in its diplomatic blindness, saw the product it helped manufacture as a huge diplomatic achievement. Its working assumption was that the split between Gaza and the West Bank would allow Israel to pursue the appearance of negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, while fighting another part of the Palestinian people in Gaza. Israel interpreted the political conflict between Abbas and Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza and Khaled Meshal in Damascus as an unsolvable ideological conflict and a reality in which, in Israel’s thinking, Palestine is divided not only into two regions, but into two mutually hostile peoples. Israel tortures one side while celebrating with the other at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the opening of a shopping center. (Haaretz)

Israel halts cash to Palestinians after Hamas deal

Israel has suspended tax transfers to the Palestinians, its finance minister said on Sunday, fearing the money will be used to fund Hamas after President Mahmoud Abbas struck a unity deal with the Islamists.

The Palestinian Authority (PA), led by U.S.-backed Abbas, asked foreign powers to stop Israel from blocking the transfers, which make up 70 percent of its revenues. A senior Palestinian official said Israel, by its action, had “started a war.”

Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said he had suspended a routine handover of 300 million shekels ($88 million) in customs and other levies that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians under interim peace deals. (Reuters)

‘Differences’ emerge in top Iran leadership

Serious differences have emerged within Iran’s top leadership, media reports suggest, pitting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president, against Aytollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader.

Ahmadinejad has boycotted cabinet meetings since Heider Moslehi, the intelligence minister, was reinstated after he was forced out of the government.

Moslehi was restored to the powerful post by Khamenei after Ahmadinejad had forced him to resign on April 17.

Ahmadinejad’s opponents, meanwhile, have seized the opportunity.

According to the Shargh newspaper, a group of 216 lawmakers, more than two-third of the 290 members in the Iranian parliament, have issued a letter to Ahmadinejad, urging him to call off his cabinet boycott for the good of the country.

“You are expected to follow the supreme leader,” the lawmakers wrote.

On Friday, a hardline cleric used his nationally broadcast sermon to indirectly warn Ahmadinejad that he would be moving into dangerous territory by escalating his challenges to Khamenei.

“Obedience to the supreme leader is a religious obligation as well as a legal obligation, without any doubt,” Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said. He did not mention Ahmadinejad by name, but it was clear he was referring to the president. (Al Jazeera)

Five myths about foreign aid

John Norris writes: In poll after poll, Americans overwhelmingly say they believe that foreign aid makes up a larger portion of the federal budget than defense spending, Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, or spending on roads and other infrastructure. In a November World Public Opinion poll, the average American believed that a whopping 25 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. The average respondent also thought that the appropriate level of foreign aid would be about 10 percent of the budget — 10 times the current level.

Compared with our military and entitlement budgets, this is loose change. Since the 1970s, aid spending has hovered around 1 percent of the federal budget. International assistance programs were close to 5 percent of the budget under Lyndon B. Johnson during the war in Vietnam, but have dropped since. (Washington Post)

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4 thoughts on “News roundup — May 1

  1. Colm O' Toole

    The most shockingly hypocritical comment of the day is British Foreign Minister William Hague: “The Vienna convention requires the Gaddafi regime to protect diplomatic missions in Tripoli.”

    He says this no less than 24 hours after trying to assassinate a foreign head of state.

    As Gaddaffi’s spokesman said “they playing by the rules of the jungle”. In short if Gaddaffi’s family are a legitimate target in war so are Obama’s family and Cameron’s and Sarkosy’s.

    Just hope at this stage Gaddaffi gets to take out a few British/French soldiers before he goes down.

  2. Christopher Hoare

    Thanks, Paul. A good roundup of stories that show people the range of truth and lies. Perhaps a careful assessment of these will help us to move a little closer to good judgment.
    Don’t believe everything you’re told; don’t believe everything you hear; don’t believe everything you think. Suspend judgment and don’t act or pontificate until the fog clears.

  3. Norman

    Paul, I second what Christopher said above. We can only sit back and wait to see the outcome, when ever that may be.

  4. delia ruhe

    Myths about foreign aid:

    How does this happen? You can’t get Americans exercised over the fact that the military budget sucks up half (more like 3/4, once you add on black ops, interest on loans for past wars, etc., etc.,), but they will whine and complain about foreign aid. Canadians aren’t much smarter, and Canadian foreign aid is a fraction of what it should be. I guess this is yet another indicator of Western culture’s decline.

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