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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: United Nations

ISRAEL: Natural gas deposits stir waters with Lebanon


Five years after what Israel calls the Second Lebanon War, the border seems quieter than ever -- although this could always change.

The war prompted the Israeli military to dust off routine drilling of forces and other things neglected due to budget cuts and the assumption that "those kinds of wars" were gone. It also showed that the civilian population was the new front line, after a third of the country was pinned down in bomb shelters for a month. 

Hezbollah has turned a corner too, Israelis observe, improving its capabilities and replenishing its arsenal above and beyond what it had in 2006, which calls into question the effectiveness of U.N. Security Council resolution 1701, which ended the war and was supposed to curb such armament.

Fifty tons of explosives could be dropped on Israel in the next war, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told a parliamentary committee recently, quickly adding that Israel could retaliate with 1,500 tons of its own extremely precise ammunition.

But at present, Israel and Lebanon are fighting a different kind of war -- over maritime borders and economic issues. If past maritime disputes were mostly about fishing rights, today's squabble concerns a far bigger matter -- billions of dollars worth of natural gas.

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ISRAEL: A welcome to South Sudan ... and maybe a lesson at home

Hundreds of Sudanese and other African asylum seekers and migrants celebrated the independence of South Sudan in Israel on Sunday, flocking from all ends of the country to a southern neighborhood of Tel Aviv, the home away from home for many migrants.

Israel has long been keen to curb the influx of African and other foreign migrants through legislation, occasional repatriation and the sealing of its border with Egypt. The issue generates frequent public debate that touches raw nerves in a society constantly counting heads and beads on a big demographic abacus. And although its treatment of asylum seekers is often criticized by organizations inside and outside the country, Israel is still considered the best deal in the neighborhood.

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LEBANON: Casualties reported in explosion targeting U.N. convoy

Reports have surfaced about casualties in an explosion targeting a convoy of U.N. peacekeepers as it traveled near the city of Sidon in southern Lebanon on Friday afternoon.

Samir Ghattas, a spokesman for the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), told Babylon & Beyond that a blast appeared to have targeted the convoy on a highway. He said he didn't have information on the number of reported casualties.

"Preliminary reports indicate there was an explosion against a UNIFIL logistics convoy along the main highway ... ," Ghattas said. "There are reports about casualties among UNIFIL peacekeepers, but we can't confirm numbers and our teams are on the way to the location now."

Contradictory media reports about the number of casualties emerged after the incident. Lebanese media reports said Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper reported that two Italian U.N. peacekeepers had died in the blast. 

Pan-Arab news channel Al Jazeera reported that one Italian peacekeeper had been killed in the explosion. Other media reports said injuries had resulted from the blast, which apparently occurred on the same day that UNIFIL marked the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, which  honors colleagues who died while doing their duty.

UNIFIL is tasked with keeping peace along Lebanon's southern border with Israel.

Friday's explosion was not the first time the force has come under attack.

A similar attack occurred in January 2008 near Beirut when a roadside bomb hit a U.N. vehicle, injuring two peacekeepers.

In 2007, six Spanish peacekeepers were killed when a bomb hit their armored vehicle near the Israeli border.

--Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

LIBYA: Human rights lawyer on Kadafi warrant impact on Arab Spring


After the International Criminal Court prosecutor's requested arrest warrants for Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, son Seif Islam and brother-in-law Abdullah Sanussi for crimes against humanity, Babylon & Beyond spoke with Widney Brown, a human rights lawyer and senior director for international law and policy at Amnesty International in London. She helped lobby for passage of the ICC's Rome Statute in 1988 that covers such warrants.

Q: How significant is the prosecutor's request for these ICC warrants?

A: It’s a good sign that being a head of state is not seen as a protection against having a warrant issued when there are signs you have broken the law.

Q: But how effective are these warrants, given that other embattled leaders -- for instance, President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir in Sudan -- have had warrants issued against them and remained in power, traveling the world without being arrested?

A: [Bashir's] world has definitely gotten smaller. But it is distressing to see the number of countries that seem very happy they don’t have to arrest him. He’s being very careful about where he’s going. It’s not a good sign that you can have an outstanding warrant for a year and nothing’s been done.

Q: The warrant for Kadafi would only cover crimes committed since the current conflict began Feb. 15. Could past crimes be included, too?

A: What you have also with Col. Kadafi is not only the crimes he is alleged to have committed in the conflict now, but the crimes he committed in the past, some of which are ongoing. The prosecutor might be able to look at ongoing crimes. It’s not as if there’s going to be a dearth of things to investigate.

Q: What would be considered "ongoing crimes?"

A: For instance, enforced disappearances.

Q: Would that be similar to those disappeared in South America's "dirty wars" in the 1970s?

A: Yes, like in South America's dirty wars. That was when the term was created, when governments found it very effective to disappear people. Quite frankly, that’s what’s happening in Syria now. Why they’re being rounded up is pretextual or illegal. They’re being held incommunicado, they don’t have lawyers and we think they’re being subjected to torture and disappeared into a black hole. Things are worse now in Syria than they were in Libya when they made the Kadafi referral.

Q: So you and Amnesty officials think the ICC should pursue warrants against Syrian officials as well?

A: For the ICC to maintain its legitimacy, it needs to maintain its consistency and not irreparably politicize justice. We have called on the ICC to make a referral on Syria, to refer the situation to the prosecutor.

Q: Why Syria and not other countries in the region, such as Bahrain, Yemen or Egypt?

A: When the military is really turning on civilians in a systematic way, that certainly is a trigger to say this could be crimes against humanity. It’s not to say we’re not looking at evidence we’re  gathering in places like Yemen, Bahrain and northern Iraq to see what evidence there is. All these countries didn’t ratify the Rome Statute. So you want to go to the U.N. with really good evidence. You don't want it to be a case where they cannot defend their own actions in terms of making the referral.

Q: How many countries in the region have not ratified the Rome Statute that allows for these warrants to be issued?

A: The only country that ratified it in the Middle East was Jordan. Egypt and Tunisia have said they will, but they have not deposited instruments of ratification with the U.N. yet.

The interim Egyptian authorities have also said they will investigate and prosecute those responsible for crimes during the revolution.

Q: But how can you guarantee they will investigate fairly when a new president has not even been elected?

A: If it turns out that the investigation is a sham, then you revisit the case and try to get it before the International Criminal Court. People have a gut feeling that justice is a local concept. They want justice in their own countries and you want to support that. In Egypt, for instance, you want to build a credible justice system because then if they do it right, you’ve helped rebuild a critical institution.


-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Cairo

Photo: A man looks at portraits of people who killed or disappeared under Moammar Kadafi's regime in Benghazi, Libya, on Monday. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, announced Monday that he would seek arrest warrants against the Libyan leader, son Seif Islam and the country's intelligence chief on charges of crimes against humanity. Credit: Rodrigo Abd /Associated Press.


LIBYA: Thousands fleeing every day, U.N. refugee agency says

Thousands of people are fleeing the violence in Libya every day, the U.N. refugee agency says.

Tunisia is receiving about 2,000 arrivals daily, most of them Sudanese and Bangladeshi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement Friday. Between 1,500 and 2,000 others are crossing into Egypt each day, most of them Libyans and Egyptians but also a growing number from Chad.

As of Wednesday, the total number who had fled the fighting stood at more than 351,000, the statement said. The UNHCR is also receiving reports from its partners of increasing displacement inside Libya.

The Santa Monica-based International Medical Corps estimates that as many as 20,000 people have taken refuge in the small town of Butwen, east of the contested city of Ajdabiya, the statement said.

The Libyan Red Crescent has told the UNHCR that some 5,000 people are displaced in the coastal town of Derna.

The UNHCR said it had sent two convoys with medical supplies to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi through the Egyptian Red Crescent and the Libyan Red Crescent. It has also sent thousands of blankets, sleeping mats and other relief items. But it said it did not have access to other parts of Libya.

-- Alexandra Zavis

WEST BANK: Palestinians ask for international protection citing rise in attacks by Israeli settlers

Lif2junc The Palestinian Authority asked for international protection Monday citing a sharp rise in Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank.

The call came after three Israelis from the Havat Maon settlement allegedly stabbed and seriously injured 33-year-old Mahmud Ibrahim Awad of Khirbat Tuba, a tiny village south of the West Bank city of Hebron, as he was walking home Monday morning. Awad was stabbed in the head, chest and arm.

In another incident, Israeli settlers allegedly opened fire at Palestinians during a funeral in the village of Beit Ommar, north of Hebron, injuring two people. One of them, a 59-year-old, was reported in critical condition. The second suffered injuries in the leg.

The Israeli army, which maintains a presence nearby because the village is on a road often used by settlers, intervened, firing tear gas and rubber bullets at the Palestinians, who threw rocks at the settlers after the shooting.

Ghassan Khatib, director of the Palestinian Authority media center, issued a statement holding the Israeli government responsible for what he called "serious and systematic escalation" in settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, which Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East War.

Khatib called for "urgent international protection to prevent further crimes against the civilians."

Palestinians say attacks by Israeli settlers in the West Bank have escalated since the bloody slaying of an Israeli family in the West Bank settlement of Itamar last week. 

No one has been arrested yet in connection with the Itamar killings, but Israeli officials and news media blamed Palestinian militants, resulting, Palestinians say, in revenge attacks by settlers. The Israeli government has placed a gag order on the investigation, after rumors that Thai and Filipino guest workers had been rounded up for questioning in the attack.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who strongly denounced the Itamar slayings, also denounced the assumption that a Palestinian was responsible, accusing Israel of convicting Palestinians before the truth behind the crime was known.

"There is an insistence on blaming the Palestinian people before the investigation had revealed the truth about who the killer was," Abbas said, the Palestinian news agency Wafa reported. "I do not know why this persistence and why they insist on this position even though the facts are not yet known."

Abbas said "there are daily crimes committed by Israeli settlers" against Palestinian civilians, yet no one seems to be talking about them. "Our villages are being attacked on a daily basis, and so our mosques and our homes and our olive trees are cut down," he said. "Israel and the international community should take note of that."

In its weekly Protection of Civilians report, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territory recorded 32 incidents in which by settlers caused damage to Palestinian property, including one incident that left eight Palestinians injured.

It said that in the immediate aftermath of the Itamar killings, Israeli settlers rioted in the West Bank village of Awarta, the closest to the settlement, setting fire to tires and assaulting an 18-year-old Palestinian. Additionally, incidents of settler stone-throwing and vandalism were reported in the Ramallah, Nablus, Kalkiliya and Hebron areas of the West Bank, resulting in 13 Palestinian injuries and damage to many vehicles, homes and other private and commercial structures, OCHA said.

OCHA noted that in the days before the killings in Itamar there had already been a sharp increase in the number of settler attacks against Palestinians, beginning March 3 when Israeli settlers held a “day of rage” to protest the Israeli army demolition of a number of unauthorized structures in the Havat Gilad settlement outpost. Settlers rioted and blocked major roads and intersections across the West Bank in what they described as payback in the "price tag" policy targeting Palestinian civilians and property to protest the Israeli army's removal of their illegal outposts.

OCHA said that during the first two weeks of March there were 10 incidents involving Israeli settlers that resulted in 15 injuries to Palestinians, and 34 additional incidents resulting in damage to Palestinian property.

— Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

Photo: Israeli soldiers and Palestinian medics treat Mahmud Ibrahim Awad, 33, after he was allegedly attacked by Israeli settlers in the Palestinian village of Yatta, near the Jewish settlement of Mahon, in the occupied West Bank. Credit: Abed al Hashlamoun / Reuters

LIBYA: Arab League head backs off after criticizing airstrikes

Picture 5 Arab League head Amr Moussa has qualified comments he made criticizing the reported civilian toll from Western airstrikes in Libya, telling reporters in Cairo on Monday that the Arab League and the U.N. Security Council are "united" on the need to protect civilians.

"[The Arab League] respects the U.N. Security Council resolution, and there is no contradiction," Moussa said.

"We will continue working to protect civilians, and we will ask everybody to take this into consideration in any military operation," he added."We have received assurances that these issues, especially the protection of civilians, will remain a unanimous goal for the U.N. and the Arab League."

A coalition force including France, Britain and the U.S. continued strikes against Libyan military targets on Sunday night and Monday morning, demolishing a building in a compound belonging to Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi. Coalition military officials claim the building was a military command center.

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LIBYA: UN Security Council discusses draft resolution that includes sanctions

Moon The UN Security Council met behind closed doors Saturday to discuss the escalating situation in Libya, a day after Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the violent actions in the country. Members circulated a draft resolution that would impose international sanctions, including an arms embargo and travel ban for members of the Kadafi regime.

The draft resolution also calls for members of the regime to be investigated for possible crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court, according to the New York Times.

The 15-member Security Council has the power, under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter, to determine the existence of any threats to peace, and take action to "restore international peace and security". Chapter 7 has previously been used to deal with situations in Somalia and Rwanda.

Ban urged the council Friday to "consider concrete action." In his remarks, he said: 

The challenge for us now is how to provide real protection and do all we can to halt the ongoing violence. As you look to your next steps, I urge you to consider a wide range of options for action. Some of the proposals being considered by you include: the imposition of trade and financial sanctions, including targeted measures against the leadership such as a ban on travel and the freezing of financial assets.

The Security Council is expected to vote on a resolution Saturday. Ban said he was going to Washington on Monday to meet with President Obama. The president moved to freeze the assets of Kadafi and his associates on Friday, and declared a national emergency to deal with the situation there.


Obama, Hillary Clinton call on Kadafi to step down

Kadafi using civilian supporters to clear away Libyan supporters

Defiant Libyans flood streets of Tripoli to protest Moammar Kadafi

-- Alana Semuels

Photo: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: World Economic Forum via Flickr

LIBYA: White House suspends U.S. Embassy operations in Tripoli, backs sanctions

The Obama administration has suspended U.S. Embassy operations in the Libyan capital of Tripoli and plans sanctions against the regime of Moammar Kadafi to pressure him to cease using violence against the Libyan people, White House spokesman Jay Carney announced in Washington.

U.S. government officials are considering "a series of steps at the unilateral and multilateral level" aimed at protecting the restive nation's people from further human rights violations, Carney said, declining at a White House news conference to provide specifics.

He said the United States would use "the full extent" of its intelligence resources in the region to gather evidence for an international probe into suspected human rights violations by Kadafi in the regime's deadly attempt at quelling protests.

"It's clear that Colonel Kadafi has lost the confidence of his people," Carney said when asked if the White House was demanding that the Libyan strongman step down. "He is overseeing brutal treatment of his people, fatal violence against his own people, and his legitimacy has been reduced to zero in the eyes of his people."

Carney said the status quo of violence in Libya "is neither tenable nor acceptable," but that what to do about it was ultimately up to the Libyan people.

The United States “has suspended the very limited military cooperation it had with Libya,” Carney said.

The United States was expected to press allies at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council later Friday to suspend Libya from the world body. The diplomats also were expected to discuss potential sanctions to constrain Kadafi as he defiantly faces down the strongest challenge of his authority in the four decades  he has been in power.

-- Carol J. Williams


LIBYA: U.N. official says a no-fly zone may be necessary to protect civilians

Navi Pillay The international community may need to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to protect residents from attacks by government aircraft, a top United Nation's official told the Associated Press Wednesday.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that if unconfirmed reports of aerial attacks against civilians are verified, "I think there's an immediate need for that level of protection."

Pillay said she was "appalled" by the level of violence because protesters are only demanding basic human rights.


Reports of 1,000 killed are credible, Italian foreign minister says

Ahmadinejad slams repression in Libya as Iranian authorities confiscate satellite dishes

-- Garrett Therolf

Photo: U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay addresses reporters at a news conference in Brussels Wednesday. Credit: Reuters

LIBYA: Ambassador calls for no-fly zone as Security Council prepares to meet

Libya1 Libya’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations told Bloomberg he will ask the Security Council Tuesday to impose a no-fly zone over his nation to prevent arms and mercenaries from coming to the defense of embattled leader Moammar Kadafi.

Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, who on Monday broke with the Kadafi regime and called its attacks on peaceful protesters "genocide," told Bloomberg he also will ask the U.N. to ensure safe passage for humanitarian supplies to the country, and for an investigation of crimes committed by the regime.

The Security Council met briefly concerning Libya Tuesday morning and decided to hold a formal meeting at 3 p.m. in New York, when Dabbashi and a representative of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be invited to speak, according to Bloomberg. The meeting will produce a statement but not immediate action on Dabbashi’s requests, diplomats told Bloomberg.

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LIBYA: U.N. officials, diplomats take action against Kadafi regime

Sudan Key Western nations urged the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday to demand an immediate end to Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi's bloody crackdown on civilian protesters.

The Security Council met behind closed doors Tuesday morning to discuss possible council action, Reuters reported, most likely a press statement agreed to by all 15 members, as key Libyan diplomats disowned Kadafi's regime

Germany's U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig told Reuters as he headed into the meeting that his country wants "a swift and clear message of the council."

Several Western diplomats said at a minimum they want a council statement Tuesday condemning the violence against Libyan civilians, demanding an immediate end to the crackdown, and calling on all parties to act with restraint and respect human rights and international law, Reuters reported. They also want the council to demand full protection for foreign nationals and access for humanitarian assistance and human rights monitors, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meetings were private.

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