Archives for November 2012

The heart of Israel leaves no room for Palestine

Just hours before the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of granting Palestine the status of a non-member state, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “As prime minister, I will not allow the growth of another Iranian terror base in Judea and Samaria – the heart of the country – just a kilometer outside of central Jerusalem.”

The Israeli ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor repeated the same talking point in his speech before the General Assembly: “Israel remains committed to peace, but we will not establish another Iranian terror base in the heart of our country.”

The “heart of the country” both referred to is the West Bank — or Judea and Samaria as Zionists prefer to call it.

Netanyahu may claim to support a two-state solution, but even after what was billed as an historic declaration in his speech in 2009, Israel’s settlements have continued to expand “in the heart of the country” and that country is Greater Israel, not Palestine.

As the world — with the exception of a handful of countries bound by servile ties to Israel — spoke with one voice in support of the creation of a Palestinian state, Israel stuck up its middle finger in defiance and approved yet more settlements.

The New York Times reports: As the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to upgrade the Palestinians’ status Thursday night, Israel took steps toward building housing in a controversial area of East Jerusalem known as E1, where Jewish settlements have long been seen as the death knell for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A senior Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said on Friday that the decision was made late Thursday night to move forward on “preliminary zoning and planning preparations” for housing units in E1, which would connect the large settlement of Maale Adumim to Jerusalem and therefore make it impossible to connect the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem to Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Israel also authorized the construction of 3,000 housing units in other parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the official said.

The prime minister’s office refused to comment on whether the settlement expansion — first reported on Twitter by a reporter for the Israeli daily Haaretz — was punishment for the Palestinians’ success in upgrading its status from nonmember observer entity to nonmember observer state at the United Nations, but it was widely seen as such. The United States, one of only eight countries that stood with Israel in voting against the Palestinians’ upgrade, has for two decades vigorously opposed construction in E1, a 3,000-acre expanse of hilly parkland where a police station was opened in 2008.

In Washington, a State Department official criticized the move. “We reiterate our longstanding opposition to settlements and East Jerusalem construction,” he said. “We believe it is counterproductive and makes it harder to resume direct negotiations and achieve a two-state outcome.”

Hagit Ofran, who runs the Settlement Watch project of Peace Now, called E1 a “deal breaker for the two-state solution” and denounced the decision as “disastrous.” [Continue reading…]

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Chas Freeman: The Middle East, America, and the emerging world order

From a speech delivered by Chas Freeman in Moscow yesterday: The objective of the 9/11 attacks was to provoke the United States into military overreactions that would enrage and arouse the world’s Muslims, estrange Americans from Arabs, stimulate a war of religion between Islam and the West, undermine the close ties between Washington and Riyadh, curtail the commanding influence of the United States in the Middle East, and overthrow the Saudi monarchy. The aftershocks of Al Qaeda’s 9/11 kamikaze operation against the United States have so far failed to shake the Saudi monarchy but — to one degree or another — the operation has achieved its other goals.

Among other things, the violent interaction between America and the Muslim world since 9/11 has burdened future generations of Americans with over $5 trillion in war debt, with more debt yet to come. This has thrust the United States into fiscal crisis. The 9/11 attacks evoked reactions that have eroded the rule of law at home and abroad, tarnished the global appeal of Western democracy, and militarized American foreign policy. They precipitated military interventions in the Middle East that have energized reactionary religious dogmatism among Muslims. In other words, the continuing struggle is reshaping the ideologies and political economies of non-Muslim and Muslim societies alike. And most of the changes are not for the better.

As Islamist terrorism has gained global reach, it has provided political justification for a general retreat from civil liberties and ethical standards of governance in secular societies everywhere, not just in the United States. Russia is not an exception to this trend. Ironically, the Middle East was where the moral values upon which modern societies are founded had their origin. The European Enlightenment transformed these norms into secular ideals of reason, tolerance, and human and civil rights that spread widely throughout the world. Trends and events in the Middle East are now setting back prospects for the advance of tolerance in that region even as they drive a widening deviation from the values of the Enlightenment elsewhere.

Although there is a long tradition of heroic sacrifice in Islam, the use of self-immolation as a weapon by Muslims began only in the early 1980s, when Israel’s invasion of Lebanon led to the widening and ultimately successful Shiite use of suicide bombings against Israeli, American, and French forces. By the early 1990s, Sunni Palestinians had embraced the suicide belt as a means of resistance and reprisal to the Israeli occupation and settlement of the West Bank and Gaza. As this century began, various forms of explosive self-destruction began to be widely employed in acts of terrorism against non-Muslims outside the Middle East, including with tragic regularity here in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia, in the 9/11 attacks on the United States, and subsequently in the capitals of Western Europe.

When the U.S. invasion of Iraq catalyzed bitterly lethal strife between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites, suicide bombing quickly became the weapon of choice for Sunni extremists there. By the middle of the last decade, this technique had begun to be widely used in Afghanistan. What began as a means of last-ditch resistance to invasion and occupation is now a preferred means of retaliation against foreigners seen to have offended the peace of the Muslim umma. Although it is completely contrary to Islamic scripture, suicide bombing has become a predictable aspect of civil strife everywhere in the Islamic world and beyond it. And civil strife is widespread. Much-resented foreign intrusions into Muslim lands have exacerbated intra-Muslim sectarian differences.

Al Qaeda’s kamikaze attack on the United States drew America into a punitive raid in Afghanistan. This soon became a campaign of pacification there. It eventually grew into a widening circle of armed interventions in other Muslim societies. These include the now-ended, tragically counterproductive American attempt to transform the political culture of Iraq and the frustrating, continuing effort by the United States and NATO to do the same in Afghanistan.

It has long been said that Afghanistan is where empires go to die. Many would argue that the Soviet Union’s experience in Afghanistan was what finally broke both its spirit and its treasury. Most Muslims believe this. They also believe that America’s misadventures in the Middle East are having a similar, if so far less decisive effect on the United States. As they see it, a great deal of the melancholy among Americans today derives from mounting recognition that U.S. military campaigns in Muslim countries are failing to accomplish their objectives, even as they become both apparently endless and ever more unaffordable.

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As darkness descends on Damascus

The Daily Beast reports: In recent days, some seasoned members of the Syrian opposition have been watching the situation in Damascus with a sense of alarm. The heavily secured capital — once considered an untouchable stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad’s government — has spiraled into violence as rebels have penetrated deeper into the city. But the rebellion’s steady gains have lately been accompanied by a sense of dread. “This winter will be a terrible one in Damascus,” said a rebel coordinator who goes by the nickname Abu Jalal, who has been working with rebel groups in the capital. “God have mercy.”

Rebels and activists in the city fear that the government, pressed by their success, may be planning a brutal campaign to push back. “Things will be happening over the next few days in Damascus that will cause huge massacres on both sides,” said Ammar al-Wawi, a rebel spokesman and commander.

Those dire predictions came just before a massive car bombing in the suburb of Jaramana, which killed dozens of civilians yesterday. Then, on Thursday morning, Damascus citizens received more ominous news: Internet service across the country had been cut, and many phone lines were also down in Damascus. The capital, it seemed, had been cut off from the outside world. As activists, family members and journalists scrambled to make contact with people inside the city, a sense of alarm and confusion took hold. “It seems that Damascus is about to go crazy,” said an activist who goes by the nickname Jodi Chou, who is based in the Damascus neighborhood of Daraya, but who left yesterday for a short trip to Beirut.

Some analysts believe that an aggressive government offensive may indeed be underway in Damascus — something that could be seen as a sign of desperation on the part of the government. Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, points out that the rebels have made a series of key gains around the capital in recent weeks, including the capture of a helicopter military base outside the city. Heavy fighting was also reported near the Damascus airport today, causing some major airlines to cancel flights. In light of these developments, Tabler said, the government may be feeling pressed to push back. “Losing Damascus would be a disaster,” he said. “They have to try to hold onto it, and the only way to do that is to reassert themselves. And we’re already starting to see that.”

As for the disrupted Internet and phone service, Tabler said the government may be trying to scramble rebel communications ahead of an offensive. “I think the regime is getting ready to take the gloves off,” he said.

The Washington Post reports: Whatever the cause of the blackout, it was clear that the remarkable window into the war offered by technology had dramatically narrowed for Syrians on both sides of the conflict and the many outsiders following the story. Observers said it signaled the beginning of a dangerous new phase after 20 months of escalating conflict.

“In some ways, it’s a Cyclops stabbing itself in the eye,” said Joshua M. Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma. “They’re turning the light out on themselves here, which is not good.”

The shutdown came amid scattered rebel gains Thursday and intensified fighting that shut down the Damascus airport. In Washington, meanwhile, officials indicated that the Obama administration was moving toward recognizing a newly formed opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

‘There will be panic’

The rising popularity of smartphones and the Syrian government’s sharp limits on the movements of independent journalists have made social media an especially vital source of information about the conflict. The abrupt loss of the technology has caused widespread fear, said Ammar Abdulhamid, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“Not everyone will have access” to news about the conflict, said Abdulhamid, who has close ties to Syria’s opposition. “There will be panic. There will be fear.”

Syrian rebel forces have many satellite phones. But the devices expose users to risk of detection by government forces, and there are not enough of the phones to keep millions of Syrians informed.

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Latest banners from Kafranbel

The internet has been shut down in Syria but someone has managed to get out photos from liberated Kafranbel today.

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Questions concerning the murder of Benazir Bhutto

Owen Bennett-Jones writes: In her posthumously published book, Reconciliation, Benazir Bhutto named a man whom she believed had tried to procure bombs for an unsuccessful attempt on her life in Karachi in October 2007:

I was informed of a meeting that had taken place in Lahore where the bomb blasts were planned … a bomb maker was needed for the bombs. Enter Qari Saifullah Akhtar, a wanted terrorist who had tried to overthrow my second government. He had been extradited by the United Arab Emirates and was languishing in the Karachi central jail … The officials in Lahore had turned to Akhtar for help. His liaison with elements in the government was a radical who was asked to make the bombs and he himself asked for a fatwa making it legitimate to oblige. He got one.

Akhtar’s story reveals much about modern Pakistan. Born in 1959, he spent two years of his boyhood learning the Quran by heart and left home at the age of 18, moving to the radical Jamia Binoria madrassah in Karachi. In 1980, he went on jihad, fighting first the Soviets in Afghanistan and later the Indians in Kashmir. In both conflicts he came into contact with Pakistani intelligence agents, who were there trying to find out what was going on and to influence events. Helped by the high attrition rate among jihadis, he rose through the ranks and by the mid-1990s, after an intense power struggle with a rival commander, emerged as the leader of Harkat ul Jihad al Islami or HUJI, once described by a liberal Pakistan weekly as ‘the biggest jihadi outfit we know nothing about’.

In 1995, Akhtar committed a crime that in many countries would have earned him a death sentence: he procured a cache of weapons to be used in a coup. Putsches in Pakistan generally take the form of the army chief moving against an elected government. This one was an attempt by disaffected Islamist officers to overthrow not only Bhutto’s government but also the army leadership.

The plot’s leader was Major General Zahir ul Islam Abbasi. In 1988, as Pakistan’s military attaché in Delhi, he acquired some sensitive security documents from an Indian contact. When the Indians found out, they beat him up and expelled him. He returned to Pakistan a national hero. Seven years later, disenchanted by the secularist tendencies of both Bhutto and the army leadership, he devised a plot to storm the GHQ and impose sharia. Akhtar’s role was to supply the weapons. He travelled to the town of Dera Adam Khel near Peshawar, a well-known centre for the production and sale of cheap weapons, and bought 15 Kalashnikovs, two rocket launchers and five pistols.

He was caught red-handed moving the weapons to Rawalpindi. No doubt cajoled by his intelligence agency handlers from Afghanistan and Kashmir, Akhtar decided to give evidence against his fellow plotters. At a stroke he was transformed from a typical jihadi into a highly trusted informant; he has been playing on his supposed loyalty to the intelligence services ever since. Many of those accused of major jihadi outrages in Pakistan have at some stage been released from detention; after Akhtar had spent just five months in prison in 1995, the chief justice set him free.

It is commonplace for the Pakistani intelligence agencies to cut deals with jihadis. In Akhtar they struck gold. While most Pakistanis never escape the class into which they are born, radical Islamists enjoy considerable social mobility. He had left his Karachi seminary in 1979 with a dream of fighting jihad; by the mid-1990s he was the leader of the HUJI and had a close relationship with Mullah Omar, the Afghan Taliban leader and de facto head of state. Indeed, he was seen as one of the few people who might have been able to bridge the growing gap between the Taliban and al-Qaida. Not only that, he expanded the HUJI’s operations to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Burma, China and Chechnya.

Everything changed with the collapse of the Taliban regime after 9/11. According to one account, Akhtar and Mullah Omar shared the same motorbike as they fled for sanctuary with Akhtar’s old intelligence contacts in Pakistan. He told his men to keep a low profile – the US was picking up jihadis and sending them to Guantánamo – and himself headed to the UAE, a hub for Islamists as well as Western businessmen. By 2004 he had overstretched even the UAE’s relaxed hospitality. He was arrested on charges of plotting the assassination attempt on General Musharraf in December 2003 and handed over to Pakistan.

One might think that this time his luck had run out. But that would be to misapprehend the convoluted logic of what has been described as the ‘deep state’ in Pakistan. Akhtar, and others like him, were seen not as a clear and present threat, but as powerful, not very well educated men who simply needed to be pointed in the right direction. If they could be persuaded to aim their guns not at domestic targets but at the Americans in Afghanistan or at India they could still be useful. [Continue reading…]

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Egypt: Dictatorship, democracy, dictatorship?

The Economist: Bareley a week ago Muhammad Morsi, Egypt’s president, was basking in praise for helping forge a truce in neighbouring Gaza. Today he rules, shakily, over a bitterly polarised nation. On November 27th a gathering as vast as any since the heady days of Egypt’s January 2011 revolution choked the centre of Cairo in a cacophony of protest against a man they now condemn as a new dictator. Not only has the uncowed president vowed to raise still bigger rival crowds. His embattled camp is rushing out a controversial, hastily concocted and Islamist-hued draft constitution for approval in a general referendum.

Five months into his term, seeking to capitalise on his Gaza success and to break a festering deadlock with secular opponents, Mr Morsi issued a shock, six-part decree that granted sweeping new powers to his office. The move has pitched Egypt into its gravest crisis since the uprising that ended six decades of military-backed dictatorship. It has united the hitherto bickering secular opposition, which plans to protest until he revokes his decree. It has sparked a slide of nearly 12% in an already battered local stockmarket. And it has prompted a strike by Egypt’s judges, who would normally be responsible for overseeing a constitutional referendum.

From the perspective of the president and those who have fallen in line with him, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood and fundamentalist Salafist groups, his action was understandable. Mr Morsi won office in June with a slim 51.7% of votes. Yet the Islamists, who together had gained a more convincing majority in earlier parliamentary polls, have been frustrated in converting a win into tangible change. Worse, Mr Morsi’s government has soaked up blame for unimproved government services and a feeble economy. Strapped for cash, it may soon have to resort to harsh austerity measures even as a next round of elections looms.

The Islamists sensed a narrowing window of opportunity. As they see it, an array of malevolent forces have combined to thwart them. These include not just secularists and Egypt’s large Christian minority, but also foreign powers, an irreverent and often hostile press and stubbornly obstructionist chunks of Egypt’s colossal state bureaucracy. Bolstering all these is the moneyed elite that built its wealth under the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak. [Continue reading…]

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Egypt’s draft constitution approved by Islamist-dominated assembly

The Associated Press reports: Islamists have approved a draft constitution for Egypt without the participation of liberal and Christian members, seeking to pre-empt a court ruling that could dissolve their panel with a rushed, marathon vote that further inflamed the conflict between the opposition and the president, Mohamed Morsi.

The vote by the constituent assembly advanced a charter with an Islamist bent that rights experts say could give Muslim clerics oversight over legislation and bring restrictions on freedom of speech, women’s rights and other liberties.

The draft, which the assembly plans to deliver to the president on Saturday, must be put to a nationwide referendum within 30 days. Morsi said on Thursday it would be held “soon”.

The Islamist-dominated assembly, which has been working on the constitution for months, raced to pass it, voting one by one on more than 230 articles for more than 16 hours. The lack of inclusion was on display in the nationally televised gathering: of the 85 members in attendance, there was not a single Christian and only four women, all Islamists.

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Area of Arctic ice bigger than the United States melted this year

The Associated Press reports: An area of Arctic sea ice bigger than the United States melted this year, according the U.N. weather agency, which said the dramatic decline illustrates that climate change is happening “before our eyes.”

In a report released at U.N. climate talks in the Qatari capital of Doha, the World Meteorological Organization said the Arctic ice melt was one of a myriad of extreme and record-breaking weather events to hit the planet in 2012. Droughts devastated nearly two-thirds of the United States as well western Russia and southern Europe. Floods swamped west Africa and heat waves left much of the Northern Hemisphere sweltering.

But it was the ice melt that seemed to dominate the annual climate report, with the U.N. concluding ice cover had reached “a new record low” in the area around the North Pole and that the loss from March to September was a staggering 11.83 million square kilometers (4.57 million square miles) — an area bigger than the United States.

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The immortal jellyfish

Immortality has always struck me as a terrible idea — the most extreme expression of self-infatuation. Out with the old and in with the new seems like a universal law and a good one. It turns out, however, that that’s not always the case.

Nathaniel Rich writes: After more than 4,000 years — almost since the dawn of recorded time, when Utnapishtim told Gilgamesh that the secret to immortality lay in a coral found on the ocean floor — man finally discovered eternal life in 1988. He found it, in fact, on the ocean floor. The discovery was made unwittingly by Christian Sommer, a German marine-biology student in his early 20s. He was spending the summer in Rapallo, a small city on the Italian Riviera, where exactly one century earlier Friedrich Nietzsche conceived “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”: “Everything goes, everything comes back; eternally rolls the wheel of being. Everything dies, everything blossoms again. . . .”

Sommer was conducting research on hydrozoans, small invertebrates that, depending on their stage in the life cycle, resemble either a jellyfish or a soft coral. Every morning, Sommer went snorkeling in the turquoise water off the cliffs of Portofino. He scanned the ocean floor for hydrozoans, gathering them with plankton nets. Among the hundreds of organisms he collected was a tiny, relatively obscure species known to biologists as Turritopsis dohrnii. Today it is more commonly known as the immortal jellyfish.

Sommer kept his hydrozoans in petri dishes and observed their reproduction habits. After several days he noticed that his Turritopsis dohrnii was behaving in a very peculiar manner, for which he could hypothesize no earthly explanation. Plainly speaking, it refused to die. It appeared to age in reverse, growing younger and younger until it reached its earliest stage of development, at which point it began its life cycle anew.

Sommer was baffled by this development but didn’t immediately grasp its significance. (It was nearly a decade before the word “immortal” was first used to describe the species.) But several biologists in Genoa, fascinated by Sommer’s finding, continued to study the species, and in 1996 they published a paper called “Reversing the Life Cycle.” The scientists described how the species — at any stage of its development — could transform itself back to a polyp, the organism’s earliest stage of life, “thus escaping death and achieving potential immortality.” This finding appeared to debunk the most fundamental law of the natural world — you are born, and then you die.

One of the paper’s authors, Ferdinando Boero, likened the Turritopsis to a butterfly that, instead of dying, turns back into a caterpillar. Another metaphor is a chicken that transforms into an egg, which gives birth to another chicken. The anthropomorphic analogy is that of an old man who grows younger and younger until he is again a fetus. For this reason Turritopsis dohrnii is often referred to as the Benjamin Button jellyfish.

Yet the publication of “Reversing the Life Cycle” barely registered outside the academic world. You might expect that, having learned of the existence of immortal life, man would dedicate colossal resources to learning how the immortal jellyfish performs its trick. You might expect that biotech multinationals would vie to copyright its genome; that a vast coalition of research scientists would seek to determine the mechanisms by which its cells aged in reverse; that pharmaceutical firms would try to appropriate its lessons for the purposes of human medicine; that governments would broker international accords to govern the future use of rejuvenating technology. But none of this happened. [Continue reading…]

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The Syria blackout

Cloudflare reports: The Syrian Minister of Information is being reported as saying that the government did not disable the Internet, but instead the outage was caused by a cable being cut. Specifically: “It is not true that the state cut the Internet. The terrorists targeted the Internet lines, resulting in some regions being cut off.” From our investigation, that appears unlikely to be the case.

To begin, all connectivity to Syria, not just some regions, has been cut. The exclusive provider of Internet access in Syria is the state-run Syrian Telecommunications Establishment. Their network AS number is AS29386. The following network providers typically provide connectivity from Syria to the rest of the Internet: PCCW and Turk Telekom as the primary providers with Telecom Italia, TATA for additional capacity. When the outage happened, the BGP routes to Syrian IP space were all simultaneously withdrawn from all of Syria’s upstream providers. The effect of this is that networks were unable to route traffic to Syrian IP space, effectively cutting the country off the Internet.

Syria has 4 physical cables that connect it to the rest of the Internet. Three are undersea cables that land in the city of Tartous, Syria. The fourth is an over-land cable through Turkey. In order for a whole-country outage, all four of these cables would have had to been cut simultaneously. That is unlikely to have happened.

James Miller writes: Why has the regime cut the internet? For a possible answer, one has to understand the duality of the insurgency.

The insurgency has many dimensions, but — to oversimplify it — two are notable. The first is what we see in Deir Ez Zor or Aleppo or Idlib Province — a semi-functional military apparatus, either coordinated at the brigade level or on a larger scale. These units seek military victories, destroying the regime’s resources and capturing bases, equipment, and territory. This element to the Free Syrian Army has been building for many months, and has not lost a battle since September. It has been advancing steadily since June; however, in recent weeks, this force has surged in a series of one-sided victories from Damascus to Aleppo, from al Raqqah to Deir ez Zor, and beyond.

But in Damascus in particular there has been a second dimension: while there is no place for a traditional military to hide, insurgents have been eating away at the Assad regime for months. Despite efforts to put them down, opposition fighters have been able to hit regime targets and then melt away into the civilian population operating very much like insurgents in Iraq or South Vietnam.

This is the imminent threat. While the military wing of the insurgency is creeping forward, slowly encircling the capital, the lurking enemy lies in many neighborhoods across the city and its suburbs. It is this two-pronged threat that has toppled a half dozen bases around Damascus since the beginning of October.

Now the target is the airport: if that is closed, all sense of normalcy will be gone. Over the last several nights, there have been insurgent attempts to take it. Now it appears that the challenge may be serious enough to close the airport — maybe for good. The news has already shaken the confidence of the international airlines, hesitant to send their people and planes into what looks like a warzone.

Elements of the Syrian opposition military are closing a noose around the cities of Idlib, Deir Ez Zor, and Aleppo. Once these are surrounded, or possibly captured, Al Raqqah and Hassakah in the north, and Hama in the west, will be the new targets. The insurgents are making a play for Daraa, and are attempting to build strength around Damascus while reducing Assad’s military advantage.

Many of the bases recently taken by the insurgents, particularly around Damascus, do not look as though they were vigorously defended, indicating that morale is the lowest it has been. As an insurgent advance takes much of his country, Assad could find his closest defenses dissolving in a matter of days, or even hours.

Anonymous Operation Syria issued a press release saying: Fortunately, Anonymous has been working with Syrian activists for well over a year in anticipation of this moment. We produced and disseminated the Syrian Care Package – http://bit.ly/Wxx0ev and there are emergency independent media centers already set up in every city of Syria. Activists and independent journalists in Syria will be able to utilize these media centers to get news and media out of Syria, and Anonymous will assist in propagating that media to the world. Anonymous will keep open the lines of telecommunication with the free Syrian people. We will be the voice of the voiceless in Syria.

“When your government shuts down the Internet, shut down your government.” ~~ Anonymous Egypt

Anonymous will NOT allow this massive violation of the human rights of the free Syrian people go un-punished. We feel this is a desperate move by a dying regime, one that has slaughtered tens of thousands of innocent civilians. Beginning at 9:00 PM ET USA Anonymous will begin removing from the Internet all web assets belonging to the Assad regime that are NOT hosted in Syria. We will begin with the websites and servers belonging to ALL Syrian Embassies abroad, which we will begin systematically removing from the Internet tonight. Our first target will be the website of the Syrian Embassy of in China: syria.org.cn – we encourage the media to follow the Twitter account @OpSyriaIRC for announcements on take-downs, defacements, data dumps, E-Mail bombs and black fax attacks. By turning off the Internet in Syria, the butcher Assad has shown that the time has come for Anonymous to remove the last vestiges of his evil government from the Internet. Soon, his people will remove him from this world. Let the final battle for a free Syria begin….

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U.S., Israel isolated in condemning Palestine vote

AFP reports: The United States and Israel downplayed Thursday the Palestinians’ new upgraded status at the UN, saying it changed nothing in actual practice and even made peace with the Jewish state a remoter prospect.

Palestinians rejoiced at the historic albeit largely symbolic vote at the UN General Assembly in New York, firing guns into the air in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, shooting off fireworks and embracing each other with glee.

In between the two ends of the spectrum were major powers like Britain, which said it respected the vote but abstained on the grounds that the Palestinians had not unconditionally agreed to negotiations on a lasting two-state deal with Israel.

Britain pledged support for efforts to reach an elusive peace accord, as did France, which voted for the resolution but called on Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks without conditions and as soon as possible.

The Vatican welcomed the 138-9 vote, saying it reflected the majority sentiment of the international community and the Holy See had long encouraged more global involvement to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Peace needs courageous decisions,” it said in a statement.

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Why Palestine will win big at the U.N. this afternoon

Karl Vick writes: Today, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas formally asks the United Nations General Assembly to be voted aboard as a “non-member state.” Assured of its passage by a whopping majority, Israel and the United States have noted their objections mildly and mostly for the record, their effort to limit the fallout for the Jewish state itself limited in the wake of Gaza.

The status of “non-member state” — emphasis on the “state” — will give Palestine the same level of diplomatic recognition as the Vatican, which is technically a sovereign entity. The Holy See has its own ambassadors but, for a few, may be better known for its busy post office off St. Peter’s Square, where tourists queue for what quiet thrills are afforded by a Vatican stamp cancelled with the Pope’s postmark.

Palestine already has post offices. The particular marker of sovereignty it seeks from the U.N. is even more bureaucratic: Access to international organizations, especially the International Criminal Court at The Hague. Experts on international law say that, armed with the mass diplomatic recognition of the 150 or so nations it counts as supporters, Palestine will be in a position to bring cases against Israel, which has occupied the land defined as Palestine – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – since 1967.

The ICC, as it’s known, is on record as inclined to regard Israel’s more than 100 residential settlements on the West Bank as a crime of war. (The Jewish state pulled its settlers and soldiers out of Gaza in 2005, and argues that it no longer qualifies as its “occupier” under international law. Critics argue otherwise.) The physical presence of the settlements in other words would give Palestine a ready-made case to drag Israel before the court — or to threaten dragging it before the court. In the dynamics of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the real power lay in the threat. But in his last UN address, in September, Abbas began to lay the foundation for charges based not on the settlements but on the violent behavior of some individual settlers, who attack Palestinian neighbors and vandalize property and mosques. Settler attacks have skyrocketed in the last two years, according to UN monitors, and now account for the majority of the political violence on the West Bank, despite the lingering popular impression of Palestinian terrorism dating back decades. On the West Bank, at least, the reality has changed. [Continue reading…]

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Syria’s internet blackout

Today the internet was cut off across the whole of Syria. Max Fisher says the blackout poses three questions: 1. Is this blackout proactive or reactive?

In other words, is the Syrian government shutting down the Web as a precursor to some future event, or is the step a reaction to things that have already happened? The government has at times cut off connectivity in certain areas in advance of military operations there. Many observers seem to fear an impending major counterattack by the Syrian military, which has experienced a steady trickle of small setbacks. The closure of the Damascus airport is fueling speculation that the military may focus such an effort there.

It’s also possible, though, that the move is simply meant to slow the rebels’ recent gains, online and on the ground. James Miller at Enduring America writes: “A disconnected insurgency, and activists who cannot access each other or the outside world, will have trouble galvanizing their supporters or organizing the final push. Meanwhile, if bad news can be hidden away from Assad’s own soldiers, defections may not increase as much as they would otherwise.” [Continue reading…]

Responding to questions about the blackout, US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said today:

[W]e’ve provided [the opposition] some 2000 communication kits since this effort began. These are all kinds of things – computers, cameras, phones – they are all designed to be independent from and circumvent the Syrian network …. precisely to keep them free from regime tampering, interference and interception.

If this assurance that these devices cannot be intercepted turns out to be mistaken, this could explain why the internet has been shut down: so that the Syrian government can flush out the users.

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U.S. overseeing mysterious construction project in Israel: ‘Site 911’

The Washington Post reports: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to supervise construction of a five-story underground facility for an Israel Defense Forces complex, oddly named “Site 911,” at an Israeli Air Force base near Tel Aviv.

Expected to take more than two years to build, at a cost of up to $100 million, the facility is to have classrooms on Level 1, an auditorium on Level 3, a laboratory, shock-resistant doors, protection from nonionizing radiation and very tight security. Clearances will be required for all construction workers, guards will be at the fence and barriers will separate it from the rest of the base.

Only U.S. construction firms are being allowed to bid on the contract and proposals are due Dec. 3, according to the latest Corps of Engineers notice.

Site 911 is the latest in a long history of military construction projects the United States has undertaken for the IDF under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program. The 1998 Wye River Memorandum between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has led to about $500 million in U.S. construction of military facilities for the Israelis, most of them initially in an undeveloped part of the Negev Desert. It was done to ensure there were bases to which IDF forces stationed in the West Bank could be redeployed. [Continue reading…]

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A dodgy nuclear graph

How long will it be before this dodgy graph is held up by familiar hands in front of the UN?

At the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the nuclear physicists, Yousaf Butt and Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, write: This week the Associated Press reported that unnamed officials “from a country critical of Iran’s nuclear program” leaked an illustration to demonstrate that “Iranian scientists have run computer simulations for a nuclear weapon that would produce more than triple the explosive force of the World War II bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.” The article stated that these officials provided the undated diagram “to bolster their arguments that Iran’s nuclear program must be halted.”

The graphic has not yet been authenticated; however, even if authentic, it would not qualify as proof of a nuclear weapons program. Besides the issue of authenticity, the diagram features quite a massive error, which is unlikely to have been made by research scientists working at a national level.

The image released to the Associated Press shows two curves: one that plots the energy versus time, and another that plots the power output versus time, presumably from a fission device. But these two curves do not correspond: If the energy curve is correct, then the peak power should be much lower — around 300 million ( 3×108) kt per second, instead of the currently stated 17 trillion (1.7 x1013) kt per second. As is, the diagram features a nearly million-fold error.

This diagram does nothing more than indicate either slipshod analysis or an amateurish hoax.

In any case, the level of scientific sophistication needed to produce such a graph corresponds to that typically found in graduate- or advanced undergraduate-level nuclear physics courses.

While such a graphic, if authentic, may be a concern, it is not a cause for alarm. And it certainly is not something proscribed by the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran, nor any other international agreements to which Iran is a party. No secrets are needed to produce the plot of the explosive force of a nuclear weapon — just straightforward nuclear physics.

Though the image does not imply that computer simulations were actually run, even if they were, this is the type of project a student could present in a nuclear-science course. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. senators introduce first effort to punish Palestinians over U.N.

Lara Friedman writes: The first shot has been fired in the much-anticipated Congressional battle to punish the Palestinians for seeking to upgrade their status at the UN – and to also punish any UN agencies and any countries that support them.

The vehicle for this attack is S. 3254 – the highly contentious National Defense Authorization Act, which the Senate is now considering. For those who keep track of these sorts of things, there is NOTHING in the NDAA that in any way relates to the Palestinians. No funding, no programs – nothing. But that hasn’t stopped Senators Barrasso (R-WY), Lee (R-UT), and Inhofe (R-OK) from introducing an amendment whose purpose is defined as “To provide for restrictions on foreign assistance related to the status of the Palestinian mission to the United Nations.” A copy of the amendment, which was filed this afternoon, is available here. Senator Barrasso’s press release touting introduction of the amendment is available here.

The amendment seeks to do three things:

(1) Compel the President to cut U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority by 50% if the PA “seeks at any time after November 25, 2012, at the United Nations General Assembly or any other United Nations entity status different than the status it held on November 25, 2012” — with such cuts continuing “until permanent status issues between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are fully resolved”; [Continue reading…]

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The fight for Iraq plays out in Syria

GlobalPost reports: Divided by history, geography and God, Abu Mohammed and Abu Hamza both smoke Marlboro cigarettes and agree on one point: The war for Syria is also a war for Iraq.

Driven from their homes by the 2003 US-led war in Iraq, both men, now in their 40s, found refuge for themselves and their families in neighboring Syria.

Nearly a decade later, both are back in the country that once sheltered them.

But this time their wives and children are no longer with them. The men are not in Syria to flee a war, but to fight one. Abu Mohammed, a Sunni, is training rebels in Aleppo. Abu Hamza, a Shiite, is battling alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Damascus.

Their involvement in Syria is further evidence that the war is evolving into an extension of the Sunni-Shia violence that Washington unleashed when it toppled Saddam Hussein.

More from GlobalPost: Complete Coverage: Inside Syria

“People ask me why a Sunni Iraqi is fighting in Syria and I have a simple answer: ‘I am fighting in Syria to liberate my country, Iraq, from the pro-Iranian Shiite militia,” said Abu Mohammed, 46, dressed in military fatigues, with a short greying beard, cigarette in one hand, sniper rifle in the other.

Iraq, said Abu Mohammed, was now “occupied” by Shiite militias: The Mahdi Army, led by Iraqi cleric Muqtada Sadr who has long ties to Iran; the Badr Brigade, armed and trained in Iran and formerly the armed wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq; and Iran’s own Quds Force.

Abu Mohammed considers Syria’s Assad regime ― led by members of the Allawite sect, an ancient off-shoot of Shiite Islam ― to be another arm of Iran’s attempt to dominate the Sunni-majority Middle East.

Any war against Assad in Syria is thus a war against Iran’s proxies in Iraq. [Continue reading…]

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Qatari poet Mohammad Al-Ajami sentenced to life in prison

Doha News reports: Qatari poet Mohammad Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami has reportedly been sentenced to life in prison in a local court this morning.

It remains unclear what Al-Ajami was convicted of, but he was arrested in Doha last November and eventually charged with “inciting to overthrow the regime” and “insulting the Emir.”

Amnesty International, which confirmed this morning’s ruling to Doha News, said Al-Ajami has one week to submit his appeal.

“This is sending shockwaves across the Gulf region,” Amnesty researcher Dina El-Mamoun said. “Not just Qatar but beyond Qatar, among activists who feel there is sort of less and less space for them.”

On Twitter, hundreds have denounced the verdict under the hashtag #الحرية_لشاعر_محمد_بن_الذيب (freedom for poet Mohammed Ibn Al-Dheeb), questioning Qatar’s commitment to free speech after its support of so many Arab Spring revolutions.

Human Rights Watch executive director Ken Roth attributed the life sentence to Al-Ajami’s widely distributed Jasmine Poem, which criticized governments across the Gulf, asserting that “we are all Tunisia in the face of the repressive elite.” [Continue reading…]

Last month the BBC provided more background on the case.

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