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Western Asia ("Middle East")
The United States has begun beefing up its approach to defending its Persian Gulf allies against potential Iranian missile strikes, officials say. The defenses are being stepped up in advance of possible increased sanctions against Iran.
The Obama administration has quietly increased the capability of land-based Patriot defensive missiles in several Gulf Arab nations, and one military official said the Navy is increasing the presence of ships capable of knocking out hostile missiles in flight.
The officials discussed aspects of the defensive strategy Saturday on condition of anonymity because some elements are classified.
The moves, part of a broader adjustment in the U.S. approach to missile defense, including in Europe and Asia have been in the works for months. Details have not been publicly announced, in part because of diplomatic sensitivities in Gulf countries which worry about Iranian military capabilities but are cautious about acknowledging U.S. protection.
The White House will send a review of ballistic missile strategy to Congress on Monday that frames the larger shifts. Attention to defense of the Persian Gulf region, a focus on diffuse networks of sensors and weapons and cooperation with Russia are major elements of the study, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
Russia opposed Bush administration plans for a land-based missile defense site in Eastern Europe, and President Barack Obama's decision to walk away from that plan last year was partly in pursuit of new capabilities that might hold greater promise and partly in deference to Russia. Read more.
Petraeus: Missile-Shooting Ships on Station in the Gulf
By Nathan Hodge | Wired
The U.S. military is keeping at least two Navy ships on station in the Persian Gulf, ready to track and possibly intercept missiles, according to the top U.S. general in the region.
Speaking today at the Institute for the Study of War, Gen. David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, said two cruisers equipped with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System “are in the Gulf at all times now.”
That statement — along with the stationing of other U.S. air defense assets in the region — sends a strong signal to Iran, which has been investing in both ballistic missile technology and a highly suspect nuclear program. Iran’s military ambitions — and its drive to master nuclear enrichment — has unsettled its neighbors, and sparked concerns about a regional arms buildup. Read more.
"We must ensure that incidents like these are not repeated, so as not to give the impression that our country is involved in a religious crusade, which hurts America's image abroad and puts our soldiers in harms way."
Trijicon, the gunsight maker that has imprinted Bible verse numbers on its scopes, has announced that it will no longer imprint the verses on the sides of scopes intended for the U.S. military, and will also provide clients with the kits to remove the Bible verse numbers from existing scopes.
An ABC News report earlier this week revealed that the Michigan-based company, which has a contract to provide up to 800,000 scopes to the U.S. military, prints references to New Testament chapters and verses in code next to the model numbers of its scopes. The scopes are used by the U.S. Marine Corps and Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, and by U.S. allies in those countries, and for the training of Afghan and Iraqi troops.
Earlier today, Gen. David Petraeus, who commands CentCom, which oversees U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, told a D.C. thinktank that the company's practice was "disturbing …and a serious concern for me" and field commanders. He said there had been considerable discussions within the Department of Defense about how to deal with Trijicon's practice. Read more.
If the U.S. defense spending bubble were ever to deflate, domestic job losses would be catastrophic, a stunning fact that raises the question of whether we can ever afford peace.
No one in the Obama administration is going to acknowledge that our foreign policy in the Middle East has alienated many Arabs.
The U.S. pro-Israel policy and our shocking neglect of the beleaguered Palestinians underlie almost every initiative or tactical tilt that comes out of Washington.
President Obama and his predecessors in the White House have scored domestic political points by embracing this world view. This is one vantage point that is truly bipartisan, to the point where no one discusses it.
Michael Scheuer, a former CIA specialist on the al-Qaida terrorists, complained on C-SPAN recently that any debate about American support for Israel is "normally squelched."
"For anyone to say our support for Israel doesn't hurt us is to just defy reality," he added.
Another former CIA analyst, Ray McGovern, says the 9/11 Commission report noted that Khalid Sheikh -- the mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks -- cited his violent disagreement with U.S. support for Israel as the motivating dynamic behind the attacks. Read more.
You'll remember that shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, President George W. Bush said the motivation of the hijackers was that they hated freedom. Hating freedom seemed then and now to be a pretty weak reason to give up one's own life to inflict death and destruction on others. People who had been paying attention knew what the real reasons for the Islamist radicals' actions were -- Osama bin Laden himself had laid them out in detail. They included America's support of Israel in its subordination of the Palestinians and its attacks on Lebanon; the propping up of pro-American kleptocracies in Muslim lands; and the presence of U.S. forces on the "sacred soil" of Saudi Arabia after the first Gulf War.
In an audiotape released on Sept. 13, a voice attributed to bin Laden said President Obama is no different than his predecessor and warned that anti-American attacks will not cease unless the United States ends its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to The New York Times of Sept. 15, the message, which appeared on an Arabic-language Web site, was reported and translated by two groups in the U.S. that monitor jihadist Web sites. The message offered reasons for al-Qaeda's attacks on New York and the Pentagon, and offered advice on how the conflict between it and the United States could come to a close: "The time has come for you," said the purported voice of Mr. bin Laden, "to liberate yourself from fear and the ideological terrorism of neoconservatives and the Israeli lobby; the reason for our dispute with you is your support for your ally, Israel, occupying our land in Palestine." Read more.
In 2001, George W. Bush declared the U.S. "at war" against al-Qaeda. Barack Obama also claims that we are "at war" and that al-Qaeda is our main enemy. In their latest collaboration, Nick Turse and Tom Engelhardt take this claim seriously by offering a comparison of the two militaries, the two enemies locked in mortal combat. The forces on both sides are assessed: al-Qaeda's shock troops in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and North Africa, based on the best intelligence estimates available, add up to about 2,100 fighters; the U.S. has approximately 1.4 million active duty men and women under arms. In other words, a ratio of forces that comes out to 666:1, which is either "the mark of the beast" or the mark of the single most futile military campaign in memory.
And that's only the beginning of the military comparisons in this piece, all of which point to a single conclusion: In the present War on Terror, called by whatever name (or, as at present, by no name at all), the two “sides” might as well be in different worlds. To call this "war" is like shooting a machine gun at a swarm of gnats. Some will be killed, but the process is visibly self-defeating.
Turse and Engelhardt conclude with a question: "Isn’t it time, then, to stop imagining al-Qaeda as a complex organization of terrorist supermen capable of committing super-deeds, or as an organization that bears any resemblance to a traditional enemy military force? With al-Qaeda, the path of war has undoubtedly been the road to perdition -- as we should have discovered by now, more than one trillion dollars later... It’s time to put al-Qaeda back in perspective -- a human perspective, which would include its stunning successes, its dismal failures, and its monumental goof-ups, as well as its unrealizable dreams. (No, Virginia, there will never be an al-Qaeda caliphate in or across the Greater Middle East.) The fact is: al-Qaeda is not an apocalyptic threat. Its partisans can cause damage, but only Americans can bring down this country."
666 to 1: The U.S. Military, al-Qaeda, and a War of Futility
By Nick Turse and Tom Engelhardt
In his book on World War II in the Pacific, War Without Mercy, John Dower tells an extraordinary tale about the changing American image of the Japanese fighting man. In the period before the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, it was well accepted in military and political circles that the Japanese were inferior fighters on the land, in the air, and at sea -- “little men,” in the phrase of the moment. It was a commonplace of “expert” opinion, for instance, that the Japanese had supposedly congenital nearsightedness and certain inner-ear defects, while lacking individualism, making it hard to show initiative. In battle, the result was poor pilots in Japanese-made (and so inferior) planes, who could not fly effectively at night or launch successful attacks.
In the wake of their precision assault on Pearl Harbor, their wiping out of U.S. air power in the Philippines in the first moments of the war, and a sweeping set of other victories, the Japanese suddenly went from “little men” to supermen in the American imagination (without ever passing through a human phase). They became “invincible” -- natural-born jungle- and night-fighters, as well as “utterly ruthless, utterly cruel and utterly blind to any of the values which make up our civilization.”
Sound familiar? It should. Following September 11, 2001, news headlines screamed “A NEW DAY OF INFAMY,” and the attacks were instantly labeled “the Pearl Harbor of the twenty-first century.” Soon enough, al-Qaeda, like the Japanese in 1941, went from a distant threat -- the Bush administration, on coming into office, paid next to no attention to al-Qaeda’s possible plans -- to a team of arch-villains with little short of superpowers. After all, they had already destroyed some of the mightiest buildings on the planet, were known to be on the verge of seizing weapons of mass destruction, and, if nothing was done, might soon enough turn the Muslim world into their “caliphate.” Read more.
In this video, Dr. Ebadi speaks about the effects of deep faith on human rights, and her dreams for peace.
European protesters took over our streets last week. In a show of solidarity with Gaza's inhabitants and to protest against all sorts of injustices and blockades, European demonstrators marched through our streets, picketed our public squares and told us what they thought of the wall we're building on Gaza's borders.
Several hundred protesters came from 42 European countries to take part in pro-Gaza protests. So what did we do? We sent our security forces to contain them. We also prevented them from going to Gaza. Interestingly, the protesters refused to be intimidated. Instead, they picketed the French Embassy, they marched around the Giza Zoo, and they even stood guard at the famous steps of the Press Syndicate.
Curiously enough, the police did not prevent them from demonstrating in front of the Israeli Embassy. But clashes took place, and in some instances the Europeans had a taste of what Egyptians regularly experience at the hands of the police and their karate-trained auxiliaries.
During the past few days, Egyptians had proof that our police can act humanely, but only with foreigners. In front of the French Embassy, I saw a foreign man standing alone, surrounded by three circles of policemen. He was carrying a picket sign, but the police refrained from harming him in any way.
The Europeans came all the way to express their views, peacefully and orderly. In doing so, they gave us a rare glimpse into the working of peaceful resistance. And they stood for what they believe in. They vented their anger at a policy of blockade into which some Arab countries have become actively involved, either out of fear or desire to placate the Israelis. Read more.
US forges alliance with Saddam Hussein officers to fight al-Qaeda
American counter-terrorism specialists and Saddam Hussein's former intelligence officers have forged an unlikely alliance in Yemen to tackle al-Qaeda.
By Adrian Blomfield | Telegraph.co.UK
The two sides were enemies on the battlefield just seven years ago but have been brought together by the failings of Yemen's security and intelligence apparatus, according to diplomatic and military sources in the country.
Although mutual suspicions linger, the collaboration is said to have achieved some intelligence breakthroughs and helped instil greater efficiency and professionalism within the most elite Yemeni counterterrorism outfit.
Co-operation with the former Baathist officers, who fled Iraq in the wake of the US-led invasion and the fall of Saddam, is expected to grow further in the wake of the failed terror attack in the skies above Detroit.
Both Britain and the United States have pledged to bolster Yemeni efforts to take on al-Qaeda's local affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP), since it claimed responsibility for a thwarted attempt to bring down an American airliner on Christmas Day.
The US-Iraqi alliance was born out of frustration over the incompetence and suspected al-Qaeda sympathies of many within Yemen's domestic intelligence body, the Political Security Organisation, or PSO.
"We do not know where the allegiance of many in the intelligence apparatus lies," said a western diplomat. Read more.
An engrossing struggle is breaking out. The US is unhappy with China's efforts to reach the warm waters of the Persian Gulf through the Central Asian region and Pakistan. Slowly but steadily, Washington is tightening the noose around the neck of the Pakistani elites - civilian and military - and forcing them to make a strategic choice between the US and China. This will put those elites in an unenviable dilemma. Like their Indian counterparts, they are inherently "pro-Western" (even when they are "anti-American") and if the Chinese connection is important for Islamabad, that is primarily because it balances perceived Indian hegemony.
The existential questions with which the Pakistani elites are grappling are apparent. They are seeking answers from Obama. Can Obama maintain a balanced relationship vis-a-vis Pakistan and India? Or, will Obama lapse back to the George W Bush era strategy of building up India as the pre-eminent power in the Indian Ocean under whose shadow Pakistan will have to learn to live?
A year ago, Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh made the startling revelation that his country's security forces apprehended a group of Islamists linked to the Israeli intelligence forces. "A terrorist cell was apprehended and will be referred to the courts for its links with the Israeli intelligence services," he promised.
Saleh added, "You will hear about the trial proceedings." Nothing was ever heard and the trail went cold. Welcome to the magical land of Yemen, where in the womb of time the Arabian Nights were played out.
Combine Yemen with the mystique of Islam, Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and the Israeli intelligence and you get a heady mix. Read more.
by Linda Milazzo
At the behest of his congressional ally, Jane Harman (CA-36), Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman (CA-30) has launched a mean-spirited ideological assault on Harman's Democratic primary challenger, Marcy Winograd, that is garnering disfavor for Waxman and Harman amongst Democratic voters.
In a move characterized by one Harman constituent as desperate, Waxman sent the following letter to Harman's Jewish supporters, attacking and misquoting Winograd's position on the issue of Israel/Palestine. Here is the text of Waxman's letter, distributed on his letterhead:
Answering Helen Thomas on Why They Want to Harm Us
By Ray McGovern
Thank God for Helen Thomas, the only person to show any courage at the White House press briefing after President Barack Obama gave a flaccid account of the intelligence screw-up that almost downed an airliner on Christmas Day.
After Obama briefly addressed L’Affaire Abdulmutallab and wrote “must do better” on the report cards of the national security schoolboys responsible for the near catastrophe, the President turned the stage over to counter-terrorism guru John Brennan and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
It took 89-year old veteran correspondent Helen Thomas to break through the vapid remarks about channeling “intelligence streams,” fixing “no-fly” lists, deploying “behavior detection officers,” and buying more body-imaging scanners.
Obama: 'No Intention' to Send Troops to Yemen | Associated Press
Obama Tells People Magazine He Has 'No Intention' to Send Troops to Yemen or Somalia
President Barack Obama says he has no intention of sending American troops to Yemen or Somalia.
Obama told People magazine in an interview to be published Friday that he still believes the center of al-Qaida activity is along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"I never rule out any possibility in a world that is this complex," Obama said. However, he said, "in countries like Yemen, in countries like Somalia, I think working with international partners is most effective at this point." Read more.
British MP George Galloway has been deported from Egypt, say activists working with him to take an aid convoy into Gaza.
The Bow and Bethnal Green MP had been with international activists trying to take 200 aid trucks into the blockaded Gaza Strip.
Egypt had refused some of the vehicles access and there have been protests and clashes on the Egypt-Gaza border.
The state news agency says Mr Galloway has left Egypt and returned home.
There have also been reports the Respect MP has been declared "persona non grata" and will not be allowed to enter Egypt again, following his criticism of Cairo over delays to the aid convoy.
The activists have accused the Egyptians of heavy-handed policing. Egyptian officials counter that Mr Galloway has tried to embarrass the government.
In a speech last year Mr Galloway described Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak as a "criminal" and "outlaw of the Arab world" and called for his overthrow. Read more.
Yemen says there are limits to its military cooperation with United States
By Sudarsan Raghavan | Washington Post
In its strongest language yet, Yemen's government declared Thursday that there are limits to its military cooperation with the United States, warning that any direct U.S. action in this impoverished Middle Eastern nation could bolster the popularity of Islamist militants.
"If there is direct intervention by the United States, it will strengthen al-Qaeda," warned Rashad al-Alimi, Yemen's deputy prime minister for security and defense. "We cannot accept any foreign troops on Yemeni territory."
The statement underscored the rising concern among Yemen's leadership about a domestic backlash that could politically weaken the government and foment more instability. In recent days, top Yemeni officials have publicly played down their growing ties to Washington, fearing that they will be perceived by their opponents as weak and beholden to the United States. Read more.
You may recall that on this site, I posted a piece nine months ago castigating New York Times reporter Elizabeth "you can't say the President is lying" Bumiller for writing an absurd story claiming that 1 in 7 Guantanamo detainees had "returned" to terrorism. Put to one side that none of the released detainees had been convicted of terrorism prior to their release--Bumiller was basing her story entirely on a "secret" Pentagon report which the Times had a copy of but refused to release. I posted this blog piece, prompting Bumiller to call me (!) and suggest that I take my complaints and put them in a letter to Clark Hoyt, the Public Editor of the Times. I did. Two weeks later, the Times retracted the story.
In parallel with the escalation of the war in South Asia - counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and drone missile attacks in Pakistan - the United States and its NATO allies have laid the groundwork for increased naval, air and ground operations in the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden.
During the past month the U.S. has carried out deadly military strikes in Yemen: Bombing raids in the north and cruise missile attacks in the south of the nation. Washington has been accused of killing scores of civilians in the attacks in both parts of the country, executed before the December 25 Northwest Airlines incident that has been used to justify the earlier U.S. actions ex post facto. And, ominously, that has been exploited to pound a steady drumbeat of demands for expanded and even more direct military intervention.
The Pentagon's publicly disclosed military and security program for Yemen grew from $4.6 million in 2006 to $67 million last year. "That figure does not include covert, classified assistance that the United States has provided." 
In addition, "Under a new classified cooperation agreement, the U.S. would be able to fly cruise missiles, fighter jets or unmanned armed drones against targets in the country, but would remain publicly silent on its role in the airstrikes." 
Blackwater and the Khost Bombing: Is the CIA Deceiving Congress?
By Jeremy Scahill | The Nation
"It's just astonishing that given the track record of Blackwater, which is a repeat offender endangering our mission repeatedly, endangering the lives of our military and costing the lives of innocent civilians, that there would be any relationship," Schakowsky said. "That we would continue to contract with them or any of Blackwater's subsidiaries is completely unacceptable."
A leading member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has told The Nation that she will launch an investigation into why two Blackwater contractors were among the dead in the December 30 suicide bombing at the CIA station at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan. "The Intelligence Committees and the public were led to believe that the CIA was phasing out its contracts with Blackwater and now we find out that there is this ongoing presence," said Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky, chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, in an interview. "Is the CIA once again deceiving us about the relationship with Blackwater?"
In December, the CIA announced that the agency had canceled its contract with Blackwater to work on the agency's drone bombing campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan and said Director Leon Panetta ordered a review of all existing CIA contracts with Blackwater. "At this time, Blackwater is not involved in any CIA operations other than in a security or support role," CIA spokesman George Little said December 11.
But Schakowsky said the fact that two Blackwater personnel were in such close proximity to the December 30 suicide bomber--an alleged double agent, who was reportedly meeting with CIA agents including the agency's second-ranking officer in Afghanistan when he blew himself up--shows how "deeply enmeshed" Blackwater remains in sensitive CIA operations, including those CIA officials claim it no longer participates in, such as intelligence gathering and briefings with valuable agency assets. The two Blackwater men were reportedly in the room for the expected briefing by the double agent, Humam Khalil Muhammed Abu Mulal al-Balawi, who claimed to have recently met with Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri. Read more.
A Santa Cruz teacher returned to her home in Watsonville Sunday after she and her husband were detained in the middle east.
Kathleen Crocetti and Bill Lucas left before Christmas on a journey to participate in the Gaza Freedom March in support of Palestinians when they were arrested. Crocetti is part of the anti-war group "Code Pink."
In addition, Crocetti said she wanted to deliver a peace mural to a women's center in Gaza. Crocetti is an art teacher at Mission Hill Middle School in Santa Cruz and passionate about expressing peace through art. The glass mural Crocetti designed was put together by at least 50 women in Santa Cruz and Watsonville.
"We always knew that the worst thing that could happen would be arrest and deportation," said Crocetti. During the couple's trip, the worst fear became a reality. The couple was placed under house arrest at their hotel after the Egyptian government revoked a permit for the group of 1,400 peace activists. Read more.
U.S. Shuts Embassy in Yemen, Battles to Beat Back Al Qaeda Surge
Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan on 'This Week': 'Al Qaeda Has Several Hundred Members in Yemen, and They've Grown in Strength'
By Terry Moran and Jennifer Parker | ABC News
President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism official confirmed Sunday that the U.S. shut its embassy in Yemen based on intelligence that al Qaeda was planning an attack.
"I think it underscores the threat that al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula poses to U.S. interests," President Obama's top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan told ABC's "This Week."
"We looked at the intelligence that is available as far as the plans for al Qaeda to carry out attacks in Sanaa possibly against our embassy, possibly against U.S. personnel, and decided it was the prudent thing to do to shut the embassy," Brennan said.
The British government joined the United States in closing its embassy in Yemen on Sunday, highlighting the Arab nation's emergence as one of the world's premier terrorist havens. Read more.
Approximately 500 marchers for the end of Israel's and Egypt's deadly inhumane blockade against Gaza were confronted by Egyptian riot police today. The Gaza Freedom Marchers come from 43 separate nations. A key goal for them is to end the brutal blockade Israel initiated which created near starvation conditions. We are told Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and that's why the U.S. politicians give them billions of tax-payers' dollars every year. However, it is the result of democracy that has Israel so upset it is virtually starving the 1.5 million people in Gaza. When the organization Hamas won an internationally supervised election Israel started the blockade. It seems the Palestinian people voted for the wrong party by Israeli standards! Israel should heed the advice of Albert Einstein who said, "Should we be unable to find a way to honest cooperation and honest pacts with the Arabs, then we have learned absolutely nothing during our 2,000 years of suffering and deserve all that will come to us."
In addition to wanting to stop the barbaric blockade, the Gaza Freedom March has the goal of stopping Egypt from building a wall on their border with Gaza that would make it impossible for the besieged Palestinians in Gaza from getting any food, medicine or weapons. The little bit of necessities that are making it in are being smuggled in through tunnels under the border. This is reminiscent of when the British blockaded the American colonies and smugglers like John Hancock would smuggle in supplies and weapons in spite of the blockade.
The wall Egypt is building is being built with U.S. taxpayer dollars, approval from U.S. politicians and help from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It goes against everything decent to help bullies, Israel and Egypt, beat-up on an underdog, the Palestinians. This is yet another sign that Obama's speech to the Muslim world was nothing but empty promises and completely meaningless and an insult to thinking and caring people everywhere. Read more.
By Dave Lindorff
You know, the year 2009 started out kind of nicely. We watched Barack Obama take the oath of office, serenaded by the awesome Aretha Franklin (wearing her awesome hat), after first hearing Pete Seeger sing the real Woody Guthrie verses to "This Land Is Your Land" on the steps of the Lincoln Monument.
And we saw Congress pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to correct a scum-sucking decision by the US Supreme Court's conservative woman-hating, corporation-loving majority that said women (and minorities and the elderly) couldn't sue for pay discrimination unless they acted within six months of the initiation of the violation, even if they didn't learn about it until years later.
by Linda Milazzo
Monday night, in remembrance of the one-year anniversary of Israel's Operation Cast Lead that killed 1,400 Gazans, and in solidarity with the 1,400 international peace pilgrims converging in Egypt from 42 countries for the planned Gaza Freedom March, Los Angelenos gathered in front of the Israeli Consulate for a solemn candlelight vigil.
Photo by Mike Chickey
By Elisabeth Geshiere
All we wanted to do was speak to a representative at the consulate in Cairo to ask for assistance in getting across the border to Gaza. When we got to the security gate a couple of blocks before the US embassy in Cairo, and showed our US passports and said that we wanted to go to the embassy, we were first asked to wait a while.
As we waited the group grew in size, eventually a banner for the Gaza Freedom March was unfurled and the police got nervous. We repeatedly asked to be allowed to go to the embassy, or to has a representative from the embassy come and talk to us.
Myself, David Tilsen, my nephew Mark Tilsen, Sylvial Schartz and the Chalbis were with a group of about 20 people. Eventually riot police with helmets, batons etc, appeared and locked arms. They brought in metal gates and corralled us in the middle of the street. For five hours people were not allowed to leave, use a bathroom, or have any food or water brought in.
By Cindy Sheehan
One of my friends, Joshua Smith, just texted me from Cairo and said that some U.S. citizens of the Gaza Freedom March went to the U.S. Embassy today there to try and implore the staff there to intercede on behalf of the March to help get them into Gaza--they were not so warmly welcomed.
Recently, almost 1400 people from around the globe met in Cairo to march into Gaza to join Gazans in solidarity and to help expose their plight after years of blockade and exactly a year after the violent attack in what Israel called "Operation Cast Lead" that killed hundreds of innocent Gazan civilians. So far the Marchers have been denied access (Egypt closed the Rafah crossing) and their gatherings have become increasingly and more violently suppressed.
In my understanding of world affairs, embassies are stationed in various countries so citizens who are traveling can seek help in times of trouble, but this doesn’t appear to be so right at this moment in Cairo.
By Medea Benjamim
One year ago, the brutal Israeli 22-day invasion of the Gaza Strip shocked the world, leaving some 1,400 people dead, thousands more wounded, as well as hospitals, schools, prisons, UN facilities, factories, agricultural processing plants and some 20,000 homes damaged or destroyed.
As we mark the one-year anniversary of the invasion, the plight of the people of Gaza continues unabated:
- Despite pledges of money for reconstruction, Israel refuses to allow in the machinery necessary to clear the rubble or the materials needed to rebuild--banning cement, gravel, wood, pipes, glass, steel bars, aluminum and tar. Many who were made homeless during the bombing are still living in tents amidst the onset of another cold winter. Desperate, some are reverting to the ancient techniques of building homes made of mud.
by Jodie Evans
The Egyptian government announced Monday that the border between Gaza and Egypt will be closed, just in time for 1,346 men, women, and children from 42 countries -- the Gaza Freedom March -- to arrive in Cairo. It's too late to turn back now. We will proceed, and are asking Egypt to permit the march to go on.
This has happened with each delegation we have taken but with the right pressure we have succeeded in crossing the border each time. Our first attempt was made possible thanks to First Lady Suzanne Mubarak. For International Women's Day we were taking in thousands of pink baskets of aid for the women in Gaza. As we made our way to the border we passed truck after truck brimming with rotting material aid that the Egyptians had not allowed into Gaza. But our outreach to Madame Mubarak proved fruitful: we were met by the Egyptian Red Crescent (which she chairs) and we proceeded into Gaza with no problems.
Government of Egypt changes policy to allow humanitarian group Viva Palestina to enter Gaza December 27, 2009
Gaza Freedom March congratulates the Government of Egypt on its change of policy to allow international missions into Gaza during December with the decision to allow the Viva Palestina convoy to go into Gaza on December 27, 2009.
Organizers of Gaza Freedom March were told on December 20, 2009 by Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials that no international missions would be allowed to enter Gaza during December, including the Gaza Freedom March, because of serious security conditions at the border.
Today, December 23, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson told Gaza Freedom March organizers said that the decision had been made to alter its policy because of the “humanitarian assistance” nature of Viva Palestina.
Since the Gaza Freedom March is also bringing in humanitarian assistance items valued at tens of thousands of dollars and the border is now considered safe, Gaza Freedom March will make a formal request to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on December 24, that that Government of Egypt reconsider the request of the Gaza Freedom March for entry of its 1360 delegates from 42 countries into Gaza through the Rafah crossing on December 27.
Marchers and their friends have been flooding Egyptian embassies throughout the world with calls and emails. Embassies throughout Europe, the United States and Canada have told callers that they have been flooded with telephone calls from persons asking that the Gaza Freedom March be allowed into Gaza. Read more.
Gaza Freedom March URGENT UPDATE
December 21, 2009
We are determined to break the siege.
We all will continue to do whatever we can to make it happen.
Using the pretext of escalating tensions on the Gaza-Egypt border, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry informed us yesterday that the Rafah border will be closed over the coming weeks, into January. We responded that there is always tension at the border because of the siege, that we do not feel threatened, and that if there are any risks, they are risks we are willing to take. We also said that it was too late for over 1,300 delegates coming from over 42 countries to change their plans now. We both agreed to continue our exchanges.
Although we consider this as a setback, it is something we've encountered-and overcome--before. No delegation, large or small, that entered Gaza over the past 12 months has ever received a final OK before arriving at the Rafah border. Most delegations were discouraged from even heading out of Cairo to Rafah. Some had their buses stopped on the way. Some have been told outright that they could not go into Gaza. But after public and political pressure, the Egyptian government changed its position and let them pass.
Our efforts and plans will not be altered at this point. We have set out to break the siege of Gaza and march on December 31 against the Israeli blockade. We are continuing in the same direction.
Egyptian embassies and missions all over the world must hear from our supporters (by phone, fax and email)** over the coming crucial days, with a clear message: Let the international delegation enter Gaza and let the Gaza Freedom March proceed.
Contact your local consulate here:
Contact the Palestine Division in Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cairo
Ahmed Azzam, tel +202-25749682 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are in the U.S., contact the Egyptian Embassy, 202-895-5400 and ask for Omar Youssef or email email@example.com.
You signed on to support the the Gaza Freedom March, that was the first step. Now call the Egyptian embassy and ask your elected official to call on your behalf. Then, hit the streets and join a solidarity action in your community: www.gazafreedommarch.org/solidarity