Rights watchdog accuses Hamas of torture, abuse of Palestinians

GAZA CITY -- Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are living under a criminal justice system that violates their human rights by using torture, arbitrary arrests and warrantless searches, according to a report released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch.

In a 43-page report, the international watchdog group blames the injustices on Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip. Officials of the group warned that if Hamas, which Israel and the U.S. label a terrorist organization, does not reform its justice system, it could face popular revolts similar to those that have swept across Egypt, Libya and Syria.

"After five years of Hamas rule in Gaza, its criminal justice system reeks of injustice, routinely violates detainees' rights, and grants impunity to abusive security services," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director of the group. "Hamas should stop the kinds of abuses that Egyptians, Syrians and others in the region have risked their lives to bring to an end."

According to Stork, Hamas is violating international law by subjecting civilians to military courts and denying prisoners their rights. The group accused Hamas of executing three detainees after obtaining forced confessions through torture. In 2011, 147 complaints of torture were filed against Hamas, according to Human Rights Watch.

Hamas officials said they would investigate the allegations, but denied there was widespread use of torture or political arrests.

"Maybe we have some violations from time to time, but it is not a widespread phenomenon," said Hamas Deputy Foreign Minister Ghazi Hamad. "Detention procedures are monitored by local human rights organizations, and we try as much as possible to follow international standards.”

One Gaza resident, who feared being identified, said he was arrested nearly two dozen times during recent protests calling for reforms and reconciliation with the rival Palestinian party, Fatah, which controls the West Bank. The young man said in an interview that he was beaten, shaved, humiliated, prevented from sleeping and burned with cigarettes during his detentions by Hamas.

"Hamas is lying and trying to hide its ugly face from the international community," he said.


Jewish extremists suspected of vandalizing Jerusalem monastery

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-- Rushdi abu Alouf

Abu Alouf is a special correspondent.

Live from the Holy Land ... our rival's logo!


JERUSALEM — The Holy Land rivalry between U.S. televangelism giants Trinity Broadcasting Network and Daystar Television is getting a little ugly.

As reported Monday, both broadcasters recently bought expensive new Jerusalem studios — located next-door to each other — as part of a competitive race to expand their footprint and programming in Israel. Both prime properties feature sweeping, unobstructed views of the Mount of Olives, Old City and Mt. Zion.

In the report, TBN accused Daystar officials of working behind the scenes to prevent TBN from obtaining its own channel on Israel’s leading satellite television provider Yes. Daystar, which already has its own channel on Yes, declined to comment on the allegations.

But on Tuesday it sent a not-so-subtle message to TBN, hanging a large “Daystar” sign off its balcony in a position where for the most part it can only be seen from TBN’s balcony 15 feet away.

The sign, which a Daystar crew member said may be permanent, will make it nearly impossible for TBN cameras to get a clear picture of Mt. Zion — without also capturing its rival's name and logo.


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Jewish extremists suspected of vandalizing Jerusalem monastery

— Edmund Sanders

Photo: The sweeping view of Mt. Zion from Trinity Broadcasting Network's new Jerusalem studios is now partly obstructed by a large sign installed Tuesday by rival Daystar, which owns the studio and terrace next door. Credit: Edmund Sanders / Los Angeles Times

Jewish extremists suspected of vandalizing Jerusalem monastery

JERUSALEM -- As several thousand Christians from around the world gathered in Jerusalem on Tuesday for an annual pro-Israel conference, Jewish extremists are believed to have vandalized a Mt. Zion monastery, the latest in a string of attacks against churches in Israel.

Police said the Monastery of St. Francis, located near where Christians believe the Last Supper was held, was spray-painted with graffiti written in Hebrew expressing support for Jewish settlers in the West Bank and using obscenities to refer to Jesus Christ.

Both Israeli and Palestinian officials condemned the attack, which police suspected was carried out by Jewish extremists. It was the second case of vandalism against a Christian institution in a month.

In September, a Trappist monastery in Latrun near Jerusalem was attacked by vandals who set the front door on fire and spray-painted “Jesus is a monkey" on the outside walls.

Israeli President Shimon Peres said such attacks were counter to the Jewish religion. “Holy sites must not be harmed," he said in a statement.

The attack comes as more than 3,000 Christian visitors gathered in Jerusalem’s convention center for the annual chairman’s conference of the Israel Allies Caucus Foundation, co-sponsored by the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. This year’s event, which seeks to galvanize Christian support for Israel, included lawmakers and government officials from around the world.


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-- Edmund Sanders

Ehud Olmert, ex-Israel leader, gets light sentence for corruption

This post has been updated. See below for details.

JERUSALEM -- Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced Monday to a suspended one-year jail term and a $20,000 fine in the high-profile corruption case that drove him from office nearly four years ago.

Olmert was convicted in July of breaching public trust for using his previous position as trade minister to help a business associate. But an Israeli court cleared him of the most serious charges in the case, including fraud, double-billing for travel expenses and concealing large cash gifts.

Olmert and his supporters praised the sentence, which fell short of prosecutors’ call for six months of community service. The lighter sentence clears the way for Olmert to return to politics if he wishes, though he is still fighting an indictment in a separate bribery case involving a real estate deal during his tenure as Jerusalem mayor.

Some of the former Kadima Party chairman’s backers are urging Olmert to run again for a seat in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, and challenge Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Continue reading »

Hamas court in Gaza Strip convicts killers of Italian activist

Vittorio Arrigoni graffiti
GAZA STRIP - A Hamas-run military court in Gaza Strip on Monday delivered life sentences to two men, Mahmoud Salfiti and Tamer Husana, who were accused of the 2011 kidnapping and murder of Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni.

Another suspect, Khader Jirma, was sentenced to 10 years for taking part in the murder and a fourth, Amir Abu Ghoula, received one year in prison for helping to harbor the kidnappers.

The verdict followed more than 20 court hearings during which Arrigoni’s family hired an Italian attorney to help monitor the case. Arrigoni was kidnapped in 2011 by Islamist extremists who were demanding that one of their leaders be released from a Hamas prison.

The family of the pro-Palestinian activist had requested that the death penalty not be imposed, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.


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-- Rushdi abu Alouf

Photo: Men walk in front of a wall with graffiti depicting late pro-Palestinian Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni in Gaza City. Credit: Hatem Moussa / Associated Press


Muslims hold small protest in Tel Aviv over film

JERUSALEM -- A few dozen members of the Islamic Movement in Israel held a nonviolent protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv on Thursday, holding banners saying “freedom of speech does not equal insulting the prophet Muhammad” and denouncing a film about Islam that has triggered protests in the Arab world as a “base and despicable act.” 

Wael Mahameed of Jaffa, among the organizers, told Israeli radio that “the West is trying to embarrass the Muslim world and incite against the Islamic nation, particularly where the prophet Muhammad is concerned.”

Other Islamic leaders in Israel appealed to ambassadors from the United States and European Union nations to pass legislation in their countries to prevent such insults, Israeli media reported.

The appearance on the Web of a trailer for "The Innocence of Muslims," a film made in Southern California, triggered demonstrations this week for its depiction of Muhammad as a buffoon who, among other things, condones pedophilia. A protest late Tuesday outside the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was followed by an attack that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

In Israel on Thursday, U.S. Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro did not sound concerned for his safety, even as American missions continued to be targeted in neighboring countries. “I feel safe with our security and cooperation with Israel’s security services, yes,” he responded to a question while touring Israel’s south.

Continue reading »

Gazans join protests against anti-Muslim film

GAZA STRIP -- Dozens of Palestinians in Gaza Strip on Wednesday burned an American flag in front of the United Nations headquarters to protest a U.S. film mocking the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

About 100 members of the militant group Popular Resistance Committees chanted anti-American slogans and called for the death of the California filmmaker behind the movie.

“We call upon Arab and Islamic countries to expel American ambassadors until Obama administration apologizes to Muslims around the world,” said one protester, who would only identify himself as Abu Mussab.

Leaders of Hamas, which controls Gaza Strip, called for more protest on Friday.


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-- Rushdi Abualouf

Palestinian leaders cancel tax hikes amid protests

JERUSALEM -- Responding to violent protests in several West Bank cities, the Palestinian Authority said Tuesday it would cancel planned tax hikes on cooking gas, fuel and other commodities.

Rising consumer prices in recent months and the authority’s ongoing financial crunch sparked clashes Monday between protesters and Palestinian security officers.

After an emergency cabinet meeting Tuesday, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said he would offset the lost tax revenue by slashing salaries of top government ministers and other senior officials. He also promised the government would pay partial salaries by next week to government employees who are still awaiting their August paychecks.

Due in part to a drop in international aid over the past two years, the Palestinian Authority is struggling with a monthly deficit of $100 million. Among those nations that have not delivered promised aid is the United States, which pledged $200 million.

Israel has also been alarmed by the demonstrations, which some fear could grow into another uprising against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. According to a report on Israel Radio, Israeli officials are considering loaning money to the Palestinian Authority or moving up the delivery of monthly tax receipts that Israeli port officials collect on behalf of the Palestinians.


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--Edmund Sanders

Photo: Palestinians demonstrate against the high cost of living in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Tuesday. The prime minister pledged on Tuesday that the Palestinian Authority will cancel planned tax hikes on fuel and cut salaries of top officials. Credit: Majdi Mohammed / Associated Press.

Palestinians protest in West Bank cities over economy

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Hundreds of Palestinians protested across several West Bank cities Monday, one of the most violent eruptions yet in the growing public uproar over rising consumer prices and the Palestinian Authority’s budget crisis.

Youths in Ramallah and Bethlehem threw stones, burned tires, blocked roads and set trash cans on fire. Thousands of taxi and truck drivers launched a strike throughout the West Bank to protest the recent spike in gas prices.

Holding signs that read, “We Need a Loan to Buy Gas,” the drivers called upon the cash-strapped Palestinian government to subsidize the latest hike.

Though the day's protests, which were also reported in Hebron and Jenin, appeared spontaneous and disorganized, there were concerns that the movement is gaining steam. On Tuesday, students from colleges and high school are planning to participate in a one-day strike in support of the transportation workers.

Continue reading »

Israel airstrike kills 3 in Gaza allegedly preparing rocket attack

Palestinians killed in Israeli airstrike

GAZA CITY -- An Israeli airstrike killed at least three Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday night as they were preparing to launch a homemade rocket into Israel, witnesses and officials said.

The men were killed while driving in a car outside the Bureij refugee camp, witnesses said. A fourth man was critically injured.

Among those killed were Khalil Jerba, 22, and Khaled Qerem, 24, medical officials said.

Israeli military officials said the men had been implicated in previous rocket attacks. So far this year Palestinian militants have fired about 450 rockets into southern Israel, the military said.


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-- Rushdi abu Alouf

Photo: Palestinians stand by the body of one of three men killed in an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. Credit: Mahmud Hams / AFP/Getty Images


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