Abbas Rejects Israel’s Partial Transfer Of Palestinian Tax Revenue

PalestinianPalestinian authorities have rejected hundreds of millions of dollars of tax revenues unfrozen by Israel.

Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, said on Sunday that he returned the money because Israel deducted a third to cover unpaid Palestinian utility debts.

Israel started withholding around $130 million a month in tax and customs revenue in December.

The move came after the Palestinians announced that they were joining the International Criminal Court (ICC), a move finalized on April 1.

Under international pressure, Israel agreed last week to resume the transfers, saying it would immediately pay around $400 million, the withheld revenue minus the amount owed by the Palestinians for utilities supplied by Israel.

President Abbas said those deductions amounted to a third of the total sum that Israel owed the Palestinians.

“We are returning the money. Either they give it to us in full or we go to arbitration or to the court (ICC). We will not accept anything else,” he said in a speech.

An official at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said that Israel had deducted a portion of the Palestinians’ electricity, water and health bills from tax revenue it transferred and was “willing to transfer back to the Palestinian Authority the sum that was returned whenever it wishes”.

The government made the decision to restart payments two weeks ago but warned at the time that it would make deductions from the transfer.

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said at the time that Israel would resume payments partly out of “humanitarian considerations”, adding that the “deteriorating situation in the Middle East” and rise of extremists required him to “act responsibly and judiciously”.

Pope Francis Easter Message

Pope-FrancisPope Francis has prayed for an end to the torment of Christians, commemorating the students murdered by Islamist militants at Garissa University in Kenya.

Celebrating the third Easter of his pontificate, Pope Francis spoke from the central balcony in a drizzling St. Peter’s Square after saying a Mass for tens of thousands of people wearing plastic ponchos and holding umbrellas.

Pope Francis in his message, said “We ask Jesus, the Victor over death, to lighten the sufferings of our many brothers and sisters who are persecuted for His name, and of all those who suffer injustice as a result of ongoing conflicts and violence – and there are many”.

Attacks on Christians in Africa and the Middle East have been the unattractive backdrop of all Holy Week ceremonies leading up to Easter.

He commemorated the students massacred by Islamist militants at Garissa University in Kenya.

In Libya, where Islamic State (IS) militants beheaded 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians last February, he called for peace and also for an end to “the present absurd bloodshed and all barbarous acts of violence”.

He further prayed for peace in Iraq and Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Syria, Sudan, South Sudan, and Nigeria, where Boko Haram had also launched attacks on Christian churches.

“We ask for peace and freedom for the many men and women subject to old and new forms of enslavement on the part of criminal individuals and groups.

“Peace and liberty for the victims of drug dealers, who are often allied with the powers who ought to defend peace and harmony in the human family.

“We ask peace for this world subjected to arms dealers, who make their money from the blood of men and women,” he said.

Just about the only positive part in the pope’s address was a reference to the deal reached in Switzerland last week between Iran and the international community on a framework for a nuclear accord.

Referencing the deal reached in Switzerland last week between Iran and the international community on a framework for a nuclear accord, Pope Francis said “In hope we entrust to the merciful Lord the framework recently agreed to in Lausanne, that it may be a definitive step towards a more secure and fraternal world”.

Egyptian Court Calls For Retrial Of Three Jailed Al Jazeera Journalists

Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, Peter GresteAn Egyptian court’s call for a retrial of three jailed Al Jazeera journalists acknowledges major flaws in the original convictions but leaves the men in unjust incarceration, Amnesty International said on Thursday.

“By calling for a retrial the Egyptian courts are prolonging the injustice that Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed have faced,” said Hassiba Hadjsahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director.

“These men should never have been jailed in the first place and should not have to spend one more day in prison. Instead of prolonging their unjust detention pending a retrial, they must be freed immediately.”

The Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest court of law, ruled that there had been procedural failings in the trial of Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed. The three are now set to face a retrial.

The trio are serving sentences of between seven and 10 years for “falsifying news” and involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which the authorities allege is involved in terrorism-related activity.

The Court of Cassation did not review the facts of the case and does not have the power to acquit the men of the charges against them. However, it found that the court that jailed the men had not followed correct legal procedures.

An Amnesty International trial observer recorded several irregularities and examples of complete ineptitude during the trial proceedings.

In 12 court sessions, the prosecution failed to produce a single shred of solid evidence linking the journalists to an organization involved in terrorism, or prove they had “falsified” news footage.

“The trial of these three men was a complete farce. Their only crime was to challenge the political narrative of the authorities,” said Hassiba Hadjsahraoui.

“All three are prisoners of conscience, targeted simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression in carrying out legitimate activities as journalists.”

At least 16,000 people have been detained as part of a sweeping crackdown on dissent in Egypt, with activists estimating that the true figure is much higher.
Those targeted include government opponents and critics, as well as media workers and human rights activists.

Meanwhile, courts have acquitted security forces of killing detainees and thrown out criminal charges against former president Hosni Mubarak for conspiring to crush the “25 January Revolution”.

“The Court of Cassation’s decision bucks the current trend in Egypt’s criminal justice system, which is more than ever becoming a rubber stamp endorsing repression by the authorities,” Hassiba Hadjsahraoui said .

“Courts are busy locking up government critics and political activists, while letting security forces and officials responsible for gross human rights violations walk free.”

Britain Officially Ends Combat Mission In Afghanistan

Afghanistan-jpgBritain, on Sunday officially ended its combat mission in Afghanistan when it handed over its last base to Afghan forces, the Ministry of Defense has said.

Soldiers lowered for the last time both the Union flag and the American flag at the Bastion-Leatherneck complex in Helmand province, the MoD said in a statement, quoted by CNN.

Britain’s military presence moved to Helmand in 2006 to tackle an insurgency alongside troops from the United States and other countries. 453 UK troops died in service in Afghanistan.

The Ministry of Defense noted that although Afghan National Security Forces will now take control of the bases and all operations, the United Kingdom will continue to support Afghanistan in their development.

“In June 2013 the 330,000 strong ANSF took assumed lead responsibility for security across Afghanistan and since then they have been responsible for 99% of operations,” the ministry said.

Falana Asks UK To Facilitate Referral Of Israel To ICC Over Gaza

Femi-FalanaHuman rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, has written to British Prime Minister, David Cameron, seeking the investigation of Israel by the International Criminal Court for unlawful killings and destruction of civilian property in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Falana urged Prime Minister Cameron to use the Kingdom’s position as President of the United Nation’s Security Council for the month f August, to refer Israel to the court.

“I am writing to request that you use your good offices and position to urgently facilitate the referral of Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in order for the court to investigate allegations of the unlawful killings and destruction of property perpetrated by Israel against the civilian population in the Gaza Strip and West Bank” he said.

Falana further noted that since Israel “ has not ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the only way the court will be able to exercise jurisdiction over Israel is by a referral by the Security Council, pursuant to article 13, paragraph (b) of the Rome Statute”.

In a letter made available to Channels Television, Mr Falana further noted that “this referral will also provide an important opportunity for the court to investigate any allegations of international crimes committed by all parties—whether involved directly or indirectly—in the ongoing armed conflict” adding that he  has “followed very closely the conflict and has no doubt that international humanitarian law, which aims principally to protect civilian population is breached with an almost absolute impunity by Israel”.

The letter noted that “the breach of international humanitarian law is illustrated by the failure to differentiate between military targets and civilians and civilian structures, and the clear intentional and deliberate attacks on civilians or civilian objects in particular, homes, medical facilities, and schools. I should mention that so far there is no evidence that such homes, medical facilities and schools are being used for military purposes. Therefore, there cannot be any justifications for such attacks including the wanton killing of children.

“I therefore urge you to urgently work with other members of the Security Council to ensure referral of Israel to the ICC over alleged international crimes as outlined above. In the meantime, the UK will do well to suspend all transfers of weapons, munitions and other military equipment and technology to Israel so it is not used to continue to perpetrate serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law”, he said.

He also drew the attention of the British government to the fact that “leaders of some African countries who did not commit such grave crimes against humanity were indicted by the International Criminal Court”, insisting that it will be “in the best interest of justice and international accountability that the UK exercises strong leadership to end the vicious cycle of violence and impunity of perpetrators in the Gaza Strip and West Bank”, he added.

4 Feared Dead As Soldiers Clash With Islamic Group In Zaria

Nigerian SoldiersFour people, including the son of a renowned Islamic Preacher, Sheik Ibrahim El-Zazaki, were reportedly killed by soldiers on Friday afternoon, following a clash between soldiers and followers of an Islamic Movement popularly called Shi’ite at PZ area in Sabon Gari Local Government Area of Kaduna State.

An eyewitness account said that the incident happened when the members of the sect abducted 2 soldiers who attempted to stop the sect members from procession marking the Qudus Day, a day set aside by the Shi’ite movement in Nigeria in support of the Palestinian struggle in the Middle East.

The intervention of some soldiers to rescue their colleagues from the angry sect members numbering over 300 triggered the violence, as soldiers allegedly started firing gunshots to disperse the increasing crowd.

The clash, which lasted for over two hours, however, paralysed business activities in the ancient city, as traders hurriedly closed down their offices and shops and rushed to their homes for fear of being caught up in the attack.

Channels Television correspondent reported that the injured victims were rushed to a health facility in the city for treatment.

When contacted, spokesman of 1 Division of Nigerian Army, Colonel Usman Abdul, declined commenting on the matter, saying he was yet to get the full details of what happened.

Kerry Urges Kurds To Save Iraq From Collapse

Kurdish Regional Government President Massoud Barzani meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in ArbilU.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, held crisis talks with leaders of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region on Tuesday urging them to stand with Baghdad in the face of a Sunni insurgent onslaught that threatens to dismember the country.

Iraqi security forces fought Sunni armed factions for control of the country’s biggest oil refinery 200km (120 miles) north of Baghdad, under threat for nearly two weeks since militants overran northern cities.

Kerry flew to the Kurdish region after a day in Baghdad on an emergency trip through the Middle East to rescue Iraq after a lightning advance by Sunni fighters led by an al Qaeda offshoot, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. U.S. officials believe that persuading the Kurds to stick with the political process in Baghdad is vital to keeping Iraq from splitting apart.

“If they decide to withdraw from the Baghdad political process, it will accelerate a lot of the negative trends,” said a senior State Department official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

Kurdish leaders have made clear that the settlement keeping Iraq together as a state is now in jeopardy.

“We are facing a new reality and a new Iraq,” Kurdish President, Massoud Barzani, said at the start of his meeting with Kerry. Earlier, he blamed Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki’s “wrong policies” for the violence and called for him to quit, saying it was “very difficult” to imagine Iraq staying together.

The 5 million Kurds, who have ruled themselves within Iraq in relative peace since the U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, have seized on this month’s chaos to expand their own territory, taking control of rich oil deposits.

Two days after the Sunni fighters launched their uprising by seizing the north’s biggest city Mosul, Kurdish troops took full control of Kirkuk, a city they consider their historic capital and which was abandoned by the fleeing Iraqi army.

The Kurds’ capture of Kirkuk, just outside the boundary of their autonomous zone, eliminates their main incentive to remain part of Iraq: its oil deposits could generate more revenue than the Kurds now receive from Baghdad as part of the settlement that has kept them from declaring independence.

Some senior Kurdish officials suggest in private they are no longer committed to Iraq and are biding their time for an opportunity to seek independence. In an interview with CNN, Barzani repeated a threat to hold a referendum on independence, saying it was time for Kurds to decide their own fate.

U.S. Issues Global Travel Alert, Cites al Qaeda Threat

The United States issued a worldwide travel alert on Friday warning Americans that al Qaeda may be planning attacks in August, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.

The State Department travel alert was based on the same intelligence that prompted it to close 21 U.S. embassies and consulates on Sunday, August 4, chiefly those in the Muslim world, a U.S. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

“The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula,” its statement said.

“Current information suggests that al Qaeda and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August,” it added, saying the travel alert would expire on August 31.

Among the most prominent of al Qaeda’s affiliates is Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a Yemen-based group whose attempted attacks included the Christmas Day 2009 attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

U.S. security sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the threat was related to AQAP but there was not a specific target. They also said that it was aimed at Western interests, an assessment later confirmed by the top U.S. military officer.

“The intent is to attack Western, not just U.S. interests,” General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told ABC News in an interview to be broadcast on its “This Week” program on Sunday.

“There is a significant threat stream and we’re reacting to it,” he said, adding that the kind of potential attack was “unspecified.”

Britain said it would close its embassy in Yemen on Sunday and Monday. “We are particularly concerned about the security situation in the final days of Ramadan and into Eid,” Britain’s Foreign Office said in a statement, referring to the Muslim holy month which ends on Wednesday.

‘SOME SPECIFICITY’

A U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the threat was serious and that the U.S. government had reacted in such a dramatic manner “because we have some specificity but not enough.”

On Thursday, the State Department said U.S. embassies that would normally be open on Sunday – chiefly those in the Muslim world – would be closed that day because of security concerns, adding that they might be shut for a longer period.

The embassies in the following countries will be closed: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

The consulates in Arbil, Iraq; Dhahran and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates will also be shut.

The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, which is normally closed to the public on Sunday, said all its facilities would be shut on Sunday and workers not essential for the building’s security had been told not to come in.

It also said the American Center in Jerusalem and the Haifa Consular Agency would be closed on Sunday.

While the U.S. State Department routinely releases what it describes as a “Worldwide Caution” warning U.S. citizens of the general potential danger of attacks around the world, Friday’s travel alert was based on more specific information, said one U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The previous “Worldwide Caution” was issued on February 19.

U.S. officials declined to provide additional details about the intelligence that led them to close the diplomatic missions and to issue the worldwide travel alert.

However, a second U.S. official said there was no information on a specific target, which was the reason for the broad alert.

The chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, said on CNN’s “New Day” that he and several other lawmakers met two days ago with Vice President Joe Biden to discuss the threat.

Later on MSNBC, Royce said: “I believe that it is probably now prudent, given the fact that, in this case, we do have this intelligence, to take this step to make certain that we have fully protected our embassy personnel.”

Palestinian Envoy Thanks Nigeria For Supporting UN Bid

The Ambassador of the state of Palestine to Nigeria, Dr Montaser Abuzaid has called for greater cooperation between Nigeria and Palestine just as he commended the Nigerian government and African Union for their support to the State of Palestine in its quest for membership in the United Nations General Assembly.

In a meeting with the governor of Kaduna State, Dr Muktar Ramalan Yero on Wednesday, the Envoy described Nigeria as an investment haven for the people of Palestine and reiterated plans to strengthen the diplomatic ties of both countries through commerce and trade.

Nigeria was amongst the 138 countries that voted for the admission of the State of Palestine into the UN General Assembly in 2012.

Expressing gratitude for the visit and the intention of Palestine authorities to invest in Kaduna State, Dr Yero said it is the sincere hope of Nigeria that peace is returned to the Middle East.

The governor expressed hope that the cordial relations between Kaduna and the Palestinians will continue to grow stronger.

Speaking on the Middle East crisis, the Ambassador claimed that the attitude of Israeli authorities is the main obstacle to restoring peace and stability in the Middle East.

He called on the Israeli government to respect the United Nations resolution on the conflicts between both countries.

While calling on the international community to intensify efforts towards resolving the conflicts in the Middle East, the Palestinian Ambassador stated that the actions of the Israelis have continued to jeopardize peace process in the Arab nation.

He also urged Christians and Muslims in Nigeria to continually work out ways to live together in peace.

U.S. Warns Health Officials To Be Alert For Deadly New virus

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday warned state and local health officials about potential infections from a deadly virus previously unseen in humans that has now sickened 14 people and killed 8.

Most of the infections have occurred in the Middle East, but a new analysis of three confirmed infections in Britain suggests the virus can pass from person to person rather than from animal to humans, the CDC said in its Weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report on Thursday.

The virus is a coronavirus, part of the same family of viruses as the common cold and the deadly outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that first emerged in Asia in 2003. The new virus is not the same as SARS, but like the SARS virus, it is similar to those found in bats.

So far, no cases have been reported in the United States.

According to the CDC’s analysis, the infections in Britain started with a 60-year-old man who had recently traveled to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and developed a respiratory illness on January 24, 2013. Samples from the man showed he was infected with both the new virus and with H1N1, or swine flu.

This man subsequently passed the infection to two members of his household: a male with an underlying illness who became ill on February 6 and subsequently died; and a healthy adult female in his household who developed a respiratory illness on February 5, but who did not need to be hospitalized and has recovered.

The CDC said people who develop a severe acute lower respiratory illness within 10 days of returning from the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries should continue to be evaluated according to current guidelines.

The health agency said doctors should be watchful of patients who develop an unexplained respiratory infection within 10 days of traveling from the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries. The CDC has set up a special website with updates on the infections at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/ncv/ .

Symptoms of infection with this new virus include severe acute respiratory illness with fever, cough and shortness of breath. Neither the CDC nor the World Health Organisation has issued travel restrictions related to the virus.

Nigeria should use its religious diversity to integrate Africa and Europe-The Platform

Nigerians have been advised to use the strategic location of the country and its religious diversity in integrating the emerging democracies of the Mediterranean-North Africa and Europe.

This was made known by a Professor of Politics and International Affairs from Princeton University, Anne Marie, who spoke at the 2012 edition of the Platform 10.1, affirming that Nigeria’s strategic positioning and her pivotal role in regional integration coupled with religious diversity, must be used as an advantage.

Prof Marie, who was a former Director of Policy Planning and also worked with the US State Department as an adviser to the Secretary of State, noted that the emerging democracies in the Middle-East will fast-track development in the region and across North-Africa, plus being a feature of today’s globalised world, the business trend will want to spread.

“Nigeria is well-placed enormously when you think of regional location” she affirmed, adding that Nigeria is the best-placed nation in all of Africa to unite the European and North Africa as it (Nigeria) contains both Muslims and Christians that make up the other two continents.”

She noted that Nigeria as a strong member of the Africa Union and the West Africa sub-region with its religious diversity, is best positioned to be the anchor of the investment trend on the African continent.

Professor  Marie, also stated that the country can also be anchor of the Euro-Africa transactions, which she envisage will grow tremendously in the near future.

The 2012 edition of the Platform; an event focused on Nigeria’s potentials and positioning in the new world order, also highlighting the place of entrepreneurship and re-engineering the nation’s existing asset to maximise the infinite potentials with elements of good governance in democracy annually.

The convener of the Platform, Pastor Poju Oyemade, of the Covenant Christian Church, called on Nigerians to look beyond their challenges and get the right information to build the much-need infrastructure, because “Nigeria is a geographical location that is powerful and full of potential” he stated.

Syria rebels kill seven, bomb explodes near U.N. monitors

Syrian rebels killed at least seven pro-government militiamen in a Damascus suburb on Wednesday, activists said, and a large explosion hit a convoy accompanying United Nations ceasefire observers in the southern province of Deraa.

Residents and members of the Free Syrian Army watch as United Nations observers arrive at Qusair town.

The Damascus attack with rocket-propelled grenades on a bus carrying the fighters through the suburb of Irbin prompted the army to seal off the area and respond with shelling, activist Mohammad Saeed said.

The sustained violence, nearly four weeks after a ceasefire deal was brokered by international mediator Kofi Annan, has led to warnings this week from the Red Cross, Arab League and Annan himself that Syria is slipping into civil war.

Annan’s ceasefire deal was part of a wider plan aimed at ending 14 months of turmoil since protests erupted in March last year against President Bashar al-Assad. The demonstrations have now been overshadowed by an increasingly armed rebellion.

Violence in Syria has sharply divided world powers. The U.S. envoy to the United Nations declared on Tuesday that Assad’s government had not fully implemented any part of Annan’s plan, while Russia’s ambassador, who has been more supportive of Damascus, said “things are moving in a positive direction”.

Activists and state media said Major-General Robert Mood was in Deraa when an explosion hit cars accompanying the U.N. monitors tasked with observing the implementation of Annan’s April 12 ceasefire deal.

The pro-government Addounia television said eight members of the security forces were wounded in the blast. It said the explosion happened in front of the U.N. observers, but there were no reports that any of them were hurt.

Despite an initial pause in fighting on April 12, a promised ceasefire has not taken hold. Nor has the carnage in Syria stopped, despite a parliamentary poll on Monday which the government promoted as a milestone on its path to reform but which the opposition dismissed as a sham and boycotted.

Beyond the ceasefire and monitoring mission, Annan’s plan also calls for free access for journalists, humanitarian aid access and political dialogue between the government and opposition. So far, 60 of some 300 monitors have arrived with the whole team expected to be assembled by the end of May.

CROSS-BORDER FIRE

Lebanese residents in the border town of al-Qaa said Syrian troops fired across the border into Lebanon on Wednesday, killing a 75-year-old woman and wounding her daughter.

In the northern province of Idlib, one man was killed and three others wounded during heavy clashes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. A Reuters journalist in Idlib city heard gunfire throughout the night.

Heavy clashes were also reported in Hama city and in Deir al-Zor, where residents say government forces carried out raids and arrests. Two security members were killed and one man was killed by unknown gunmen, the British-based Observatory said.

The United Nations says Syrian forces have killed 9,000 people since the uprising erupted in March 2011. Syrian authorities blame the violence on foreign-backed Islamist militants who they say have killed 2,600 soldiers and police.

Syrian U.N. envoy Bashar Ja’afari displayed on Tuesday a CD that he said contained 26 confessions from Arabs who were caught in Syria and had come from Libya, Tunisia and elsewhere through Turkey and Lebanon “to perpetrate terrorist acts in Syria”.

He said another 15 foreign fighters had been killed by Syrian security forces, and urged Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to stop “their sponsorship of the armed rebellion.”

The commander of Syria’s rebel Free Syrian Army has threatened to resume attacks on Assad’s forces, saying he could no longer stand idle while a government crackdown on protests continued, a pan-Arab newspaper reported on Wednesday.

“We will not stand with folded arms because we are not able to tolerate and wait while killings, arrests and shelling continue despite the presence of the (U.N.)observers who have turned into false witnesses,” Asaad said, according to the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.

“Our people are also demanding we defend them in the absence of any serious steps by the Security Council which is giving the regime a chance to commit more crimes,” he added.

REUTERS