Ukraine’s parliament on Tuesday approved a series of joint military exercises with NATO countries that would put U.S. troops in direct proximity to Russian forces in the annexed Crimea peninsula.
“This is a good opportunity to develop our armed forces,” acting defense minister Mykhailo Koval told Verkhovna Rada lawmakers ahead of the 235-0 vote.
The decision came as NATO foreign ministers gathered in Brussels for a two-day meeting dominated by concern over the recent buildup of Russian forces near Crimea that U.S. officials estimate had at one point reached about 40,000 troops.
NATO has sought to reinforce its eastern frontier after Russia’s takeover of Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula and amid concerns about Kremlin’s emboldened foreign policy.
Russia on Monday reported pulling back a battalion of about 500 to 700 soldiers from the border region in a move that German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called “a small sign that the situation is becoming less tense”.
Ukraine is not a NATO member and its new Western-backed leaders have vowed not to push for closer relations with the Brussels-based military alliance — a bloc that has been viewed with deep mistrust by Moscow since the Cold War.
But the ex-Soviet nation did form a “distinctive partnership” with the Alliance in 1997 and has been staging joint exercises with its state members ever since.
The exercises approved on Tuesday would see Ukraine conduct two sets of military exercises with the United States this summer — Rapid Trident and Sea Breeze — that have prompted disquiet in Russia in previous years.
Ukraine is planning two additional maneuvers with NATO member Poland as well as joint ground operations with Moldova and Romania.
The Sea Breeze exercises have particularly irritated Moscow because they had on occasion been staged in Crimea — the home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
Those maneuvers have in more recent years been moved to the Black Sea port of Odessa where Ukraine also has a naval base.
An explanatory note accompanying the Tuesday bill says that the naval section of Sea Breeze would this time be conducted over a 25-day span between July and October out of two Odessa ports and “along the waters of the Black Sea”.
The MPs met a key demand posed by both the West and Russia by voting unanimously to disarm all self-defense groups that sprang up across the country during its political crisis.
“The Ukrainian people are demanding order,” acting president Oleksandr Turchynov said ahead of the 256-0 vote. “Those who carry arms — besides the police, the security services and the national guard — are saboteurs who are working against the country.”
[A “moderate” individual, by definition, is ABSOLUTELY NOT someone who would take-up arms against their fellow countrymen, intending to kill all men, women and children who get in their way. Obama and Bush could never have started, or maintained, these wars of terror without first destroying and rearranging all known human vocabulary. By Western re-definition, “terrorists” can only exist in the camp of the opposition, “democrats” can only be applied to “our guys.”
We are the generation, sent by Destiny Itself, to destroy human civilization. Whatever rises up out of the ashes of our world war will NOT be anything that we would call “civilized.” Thank your government for the suffering that is coming to your household in the very near future.]
The United States and its allies sound like a broken record when they claim to only “support moderate rebels” in Syria. This support, however, requires finding these moderate rebels first, a difficult if not impossible mission.
Syria: If the nature of the Free Syrian Army’s name was ambiguous since its inception in 2011, it is clear today that it is nothing but a label for media consumption. In fact, it never constituted an umbrella group and it did not succeed in creating real leadership that would direct the activities of armed groups present on the ground. Hundreds of groups claimed to be part of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Announcing their FSA affiliation was a mere pathway to receiving foreign support. Funders – most notably Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait’s Salafis – were keen on the Islamist identity of the groups receiving support without requiring them to announce it publicly.
In 2013, the picture became clearer. The Islamist discourse became public and most groups organized under the rubric of new fronts that are predominantly jihadist in nature. Groups that used to claim affiliation with the FSA united with hardline groups that never once raised the FSA flag. An example would be the Tawhid Brigade joining ranks with Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham Movement in creating the Islamic Front which became the third part in a tripartite alliance of opposition forces along with al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). If al-Nusra Front and ISIS’s extremist credentials are well-known, the Islamic Front is no less extreme, especially the Ahrar al-Sham Movement which can be described as the Syrian al-Qaeda.
The FSA’s general staff divides the Syrian battlefield into five battle fronts. The southern front in Damascus, its countryside, Daraa and Suwaida. The eastern front in Raqqa, Deir al-Zor and Hasaka. The western front in Latakia and Tartous. The central front in Homs and Hama and the northern front in Aleppo and Idlib. We will now place these fronts under a more critical lens to look for the moderate groups.
The southern front
In addition to al-Nusra Front and Jaysh al-Islam, who are affiliated with the Islamic Front, the southern front of the FSA’s offensive is teaming up with small jihadist groups such as the Green Battalion which is believed to be al-Qaeda-affiliated even though it is not well-known in the media. Saudi jihadists have a very strong presence within the group. It has pledged allegiance to the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and its leaders boast that they were the first to use “immersion” operations, i.e. immersing oneself into the enemy – in Syria.
There is also the al-Baraa Brigade which claimed the kidnapping of Iranian pilgrims “because they are Shia” and the Glories of Islam Gathering which consists of five Islamist groups that allied together last October. The statement announcing their formation said that the gathering was established “for the sake of closing ranks and developing jihadist activities.” In the same month, four groups created what they called Jaysh al-Sunna wa al-Jamaa which vowed to “keep on fighting to uphold the word of God and overthrow the Iranian sponsored regime.”
All the organizations adopt the same discourse, including ones that have remained independent in the Damascus countryside such as Suquour al-Sham Battalion, Ansar al-Islam Gathering, Sham al-Rasoul Brigade and Sheikh al-Islam ibn Taymiyyah Battalion.
In 2013, the picture became clearer and their Islamist discourse became public.
In Daraa too, the Islamist groups are dominant. Such as the Muthanna bin Haritha Battalion, which defines itself as defeater of the Safavid Persians, al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar Brigade which includes foreign jihadists, the Yarmouk Band which was formed last month gathering under its Islamic banner 14 groups that pledged to “liberate Daraa from the clutches of the Alawi occupation,” under the slogan “And God is predominant over His affairs but most of the people do not know.” There are also brigades and battalions in the region that have pledged allegiance to al-Nusra Front such as al-Musayfira Martyrs’ Brigade.
In Quneitra, there is Ahfad al-Rasul (the Prophet’s Grandchildren) Brigade which is fighting under the banner of the Syrian Revolutionaries Front. The group, which the FSA’s general staff touted its moderate Islamist credentials, is the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade formed in August 2012 under the leadership of Bashar al-Zoubi upon merging seven smaller groups. In March 2013, this brigade held members of an international peacekeeping force captive as they were passing in the demilitarized zone “because they are crusaders.”
The eastern front
The most prominent groups on this front are the Islamic Front and ISIS, who exercise exclusive control over Raqqa, while al-Nusra Front challenges their control in Deir al-Zour and the oil fields and is trying to control al-Khabur Basin in Hasaka. There is also the Kurdish Islamist Front which includes a 1,000 fighters and is primarily interested in fighting “infidel” Kurdish groups.
The western front
The front with the least amount of armed groups. These groups are confined to the northern Latakia countryside and they are all jihadist groups such as al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Ansar al-Sham and Junoud al-Sham. The latter is a group whose fighters are predominantly Chechen and is not related to the organization Jund al-Sham. There is also Sham al-Islam Movement, a jihadist movement whose fighters are mostly Moroccan.
The northern front
This front, chronologically speaking, came in second in terms of the influx of immigrant jihadists and is still number one in terms of numbers. There, the opposition power is divided between ISIS, al-Nusra Front, Jaysh al-Mujahideen and the Islamic Front. The main components of the Islamic Front in this area are al-Tawhid Brigade and Ahrar al-Sham Movement. There was a recent announcement about new groups joining the Islamic Front in Aleppo such as Aasifat al-Shamal Brigade and Ahrar Surya Brigade. Both groups are accused of stealing, making the Islamic Front in that area a bizarre mix of hardliners and thieves.
Jaysh al-Mujahideen also takes the same hardline approach. It is the one that declared in communique number two that “the jihadists of al-Nusra Front are our brothers.” It also called on “the immigrants in ISIS to defect and join the ranks of their brothers, the honest mujahideen garrisoned at the Syrian border against the Alawi Assad regime.” One of this group’s most recent accomplishments is detaining Christian opposition activist Marcell Shehwaro and forcing her to sign a pledge promising to wear a veil. When it was formed, Jaysh al-Mujahideen included the biggest group in the region that hid behind a mask of secularism, namely, the Nineteenth Band in the Free Syrian Army.
In Idlib, Jaysh al-Sham al-Islami enjoys a strong presence. It was formed from the union of several groups last February and it upholds the slogan “Towards a Rashidun (righteously guided) Islamic Caliphate.”
The central front
It was one of the first areas in Syria to welcome jihadists through Lebanese territories. Al-Haq Brigade, affiliated with the Syrian Islamic Front, and al-Nusra Front are the two most prominent groups in the area. There is also Mujahideen al-Sham Brigade that is affiliated with the Islamic Front. While Jund al-Sham, which was the strongest group in al-Husn region collapsed, al-Faruq Brigades are still present. The group was initially known as al-Faruq Battalions and it achieved great fame through the support of the Muslim Brotherhood and its “Saudi brothers.” Al-Faruq Brigades fought with such sectarian spirit arguing that the shedding of Alawi blood is permissible. The group is now divided into Faruq al-Shamal, Faruq al-Islami, the Independent Omar al-Faruq Brigade and Hama Faruq Battalion. None of them however have abandoned the motto of shedding Alawi blood.
A somewhat weak group in the area is the Revolution Shields which was formed in August 2012 with the support of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its fighters do not exceed a thousand and until recently, the Brotherhood had promoted the group as a moderate Islamist alliance, and had pinned hopes on it. But placing the Muslim Brotherhood on the Saudi terrorist list ousted the Revolution Shields from the game.
The same did not happen to the National Unity Battalions, a group that has not actually fought since its inception in August 2012 and the number of its fighters range between 1,500 and 2,000 deployed on a number of fronts within battalions that have non-Islamic names such as Yusuf al-Azmi and Abdul Rahman al-Shahbandar. The National Unity Battalions is not an effective group and it does not have strong foreign ties or a prominent face to lead it, unlike the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, which is under the leadership of Jamal Maarouf, and is expected to absorb the National Unity Battalions into its own ranks soon.
“Jihadi textbook” Urdu textbook funded by Saudi Money, example of the vile Saudi beliefs being pumped into the minds of Muslim boys.
Report Alleges State Department Withholding Saudi Textbook Study Because It Would Embarrass the Saudis
As President Barack Obama sets out for his visit to Saudi Arabia this week, a new report suggests the State Department has intentionally been withholding a comprehensive study on Saudi textbooks, because the books include offensive material that dehumanizes Christians and Jews that if made public would embarrass the kingdom.
“The State Department appears to be withholding a government-commissioned textbooks study on the subject,” said the report by the DC-based research organization the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, “Textbook Diplomacy: Why the State Department Shelved a Study on Incitement in Saudi Education Materials.”
“Passages [in textbooks] continue to dehumanize Jews and Christians, promote the murder of perceived deviants such as homosexuals, and sanction violence against Muslims who do not follow the Wahhabi brand of Islam that is sponsored by the Saudi state,” the government-commissioned study found, according to the think tank report.
David Andrew Weinberg, who authored the Foundation for Defense of Democracies report, wrote that in 2011 the State Department paid the non-profit organization the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD) $500,000 to conduct the study of Saudi government-published textbooks that are used widely not only in the kingdom, but are also sent free of charge to Muslim schools around the world, including in the U.S.
“However, when the results of this study were ready for release in 2012, U.S. government officials decided not to publish its findings. Nor did the Department release this study in 2013, despite issuing a similar but controversial study equating the narratives found in textbooks used by Israelis and Palestinians,” Weinberg wrote.
According to Weinberg, ICRD’s leadership asserted their study was withheld from the public because it showed the Saudis had made progress on textbook improvements and that the State Department did not want to discourage further progress by publicly criticizing the remaining areas of disagreement.
“However, current and former officials contest this characterization, asserting that ICRD’s study was withheld because of how bad it makes the Saudis look,” Weinberg wrote.
State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf insisted during Tuesday’s State Department briefing that the report was never meant to be released.
“This project, this assessment from this project, was never intended to be made public, as they often are not,” Harf said. “It was intended to drive and inform the work of the State Department as we work with the Saudi Government to push them to reform their textbooks.”
“There’s no one keeping a public report quiet. It was always supposed to be internal,” she added.
Of the reported evidence that the Saudi textbooks continue to contain offensive themes, Harf said, “We know there’s more work to be done. We’ve been very clear about that publicly, again, regardless of whether a report is released or not. And we have worked with the Saudis over the years, and we believe that it is – every country reforms at its own pace.”
Michael Posner — who was assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor during President Barack Obama’s first term – suggested to the Daily Beast that the State Department had never ruled out making the study public.
“We commissioned the study to assess and evaluate the content of the textbooks with the intention of sharing our findings with the Saudi government and with the option, depending on the findings, of making it public if the problems persisted,” Posner told the Daily Beast.
Posner would not provide details on the unpublished textbook study, but spoke more generally about the problems in Saudi study materials.
“Among the references that were most offensive were commentary that linked Christians and Jews to apes and pigs,” Posner told the Daily Beast. “If those references are still in some textbooks then the problem hasn’t been solved.”
Since 9/11, the U.S. government has been concerned about inciting materials in Saudi textbooks that could encourage Islamic extremism. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the September 11 attacks were Saudi nationals.
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies quoted a source familiar with the study who provided quotes from the ICRD report which said Saudi textbooks “create a climate that fosters exclusivity, intolerance, and calls to violence that put religious and ethnic minorities at risk.”
A tenth grade Islamic law book said students should “kill the person who changes his religion…for there is no benefit in keeping them alive.”
Christians, Jews and pagans were described in a twelfth grade monotheism textbook as “the worst of creatures” who will “dwell in hellfire.”
According to Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ unnamed source who saw the study, in another tenth grade book, Christians were compared to idol worshippers. It also wrote of Jews that God “made them of swine and apes.” Yet other books praised violence against non-Muslims.
Douglas Johnston, the president and founder of ICRD which conducted the study told the Daily Beast that he recommended against publishing its results.
“We strongly suggested it should not be published because they are making great progress on this. We can achieve a lot more if we pursue this outside the public domain,” Johnston said.
Read the full report from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies at this link.
[SEE: The Gaza Bombshell]
“The UAE has donated $50 million to build the Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan city in Gaza strip for released Palestinian prisoners.”
By MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH and KARIN LAUB Associated Press
RAMALLAH, West Bank — Fueled by millions in Gulf aid dollars that are his to distribute, an exiled Palestinian operative seems to be orchestrating a comeback that could position him as a potential successor to aging Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
In a phone interview from London, Mohammed Dahlan spoke of his aid projects in the Gaza Strip, his closeness to Egypt’s military leaders and his conviction that the 79-year-old Abbas has left the Palestinian national cause in tatters.
If staging a successful return, Dahlan, a former Gaza security chief once valued by the West for his pragmatism, could reshuffle a stagnant Palestinian deck. Some caution that Dahlan has made too many enemies in Abbas’ Fatah movement and will continue to be ostracized by those planning to compete for the top job in the future.
Dahlan, 52, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he is “not looking for any post” after Abbas retires, but called for new elections and an overhaul of Fatah.
“Abbas will leave only ruins and who would be interested to be a president or vice president on these ruins?” Dahlan said. “What I am interested in is a way out of our political situation, not a political position.”
In the past, he and Abbas were among the leading supporters of negotiations with Israel as the preferred path to statehood. Dahlan now believes the current U.S.-led talks “will bring nothing for the Palestinian people,” alleging Abbas has made concessions that his predecessor, the late Yasser Arafat, would not have.
Abbas aide Nimr Hamad and senior Fatah official Jamal Muhaisen declined to comment Thursday on Dahlan’s statements. Last week, Muhaisen said anyone expressing support for Dahlan would be purged from Fatah.
A bitter feud between Abbas and Dahlan seems mostly personal, but also highlights the dysfunctional nature of Fatah, paralyzed by incessant internal rivalries, and Abbas’ apparent unwillingness to tolerate criticism.
Abbas banished Dahlan in 2010, after his former protege purportedly called him weak. Dahlan has since spent his time between Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
Before the fallout he was one of a few Palestinian leaders who saw themselves as potential contenders for succeeding Abbas.
Dahlan grew up poor in a Gaza refugee camp, but as a top aide to Arafat became the territory’s strongman in the 1990s, jailing leaders of rival Hamas which was trying to derail Arafat’s negotiation with Israel through bombing and shooting attacks.
Dahlan was dogged by corruption allegations at the time, like Arafat and several other senior Palestinian politicians, but has denied wrongdoing and was never charged.
In exile, he has nurtured political and business ties in the Arab world.
Dahlan said this week that he has been raising millions of dollars from business people and charities in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere for needy Palestinians.
Last year, he said he delivered $8 million to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
“In Gaza, I do the same now,” he said. “I’m collecting money for desalination in Gaza. It’s unbearable. Fifty percent of the water in the houses is sewage water. Hamas and Abbas are doing nothing to solve the real problems of the Gazans.”
When asked if he was buying political support with Gulf money, he said: “This is not political money.” He added that the UAE also provides financial aid to Abbas.
Dahlan’s relationship with Gaza and former arch-enemy Hamas is particularly complex.
Security forces under Dahlan lost control of Gaza in a brief battle with Hamas gunmen in 2007. The defeat cemented the Palestinian political split, leading to rival governments, one run by Hamas in Gaza and the other by Abbas in parts of the West Bank, and was seen as perhaps the biggest blot on Dahlan’s career.
However, there are now signs of a possible rapprochement between Dahlan and the Islamic militants — apparently because of Dahlan’s close ties to Egyptian military chief, Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
Dahlan said he has met el-Sissi several times and supported last year’s coup — he called it the “Egyptian revolution” — against the country’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas is the Gaza offshoot of the Brotherhood.
Since the coup, el-Sissi has tightened a closure of Gaza’s border with Egypt. That blockade has squeezed Hamas financially, and the Islamic militants have been looking for ways to pry the border open.
In January, Hamas allowed three Fatah leaders loyal to Dahlan to return to the territory. The Fatah returnees and Hamas officials formed a committee to oversee construction of a new Gaza town to be funded by the UAE, said a Hamas official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the contacts.
Senior Fatah officials accuse Dahlan of trying to split the movement.
“Dahlan has created an alliance with Hamas,” Nabil Shaath, an Abbas aide, has told Palestine TV. Dahlan loyalists in Gaza “have distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars without having the movement’s permission,” he said.
Underlying Fatah’s fears about a return of Dahlan is the open question of succession.
Abbas was elected in 2005, but overstayed his five-year term because the Hamas-Fatah split has prevented new elections. Abbas has not designated a successor and there is no clear contender.
The only other Palestinian politician with broad support according to polls is Marwan Barghouti, an uprising leader who is serving multiple life sentences in Israeli prison.
Analyst Hani al-Masri said regional support has boosted Dahlan, but that he’s not a serious challenger yet because he has not offered any plans.
Palestinians “won’t support a specific leader without being convinced of his political platform,” he said.
Associated Press writer Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City contributed to this report.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Fatah’s members of parliament (MPs) Majid Abu Shamala and Alaa Yaghi arrived in the Gaza Strip Jan. 21 for their first visit since 2007, the year Hamas assumed power there. Their arrival, the fruit of talks between the leaders of the opposing Palestinian movements, was also made possbile after Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh declared that leaders and cadres of Fatah who had left the Gaza Strip were now welcome to return. Haniyeh also announced the release of a number of Fatah detainees from Hamas prisons as part of a unilateral initiative to “enhance the reconciliation steps with Fatah.”
The two MPs are among Fatah leaders who had supported Mohammed Dahlan, the party’s strongman in the Gaza Strip who fell out with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Their appearance in Gaza raised rumors of a rapprochement between Dahlan and Hamas behind closed doors. Suspicions were also stoked by the Islamist movement allowing Dahlan followers to work in several areas in Gaza during the past few months without direct surveillance, according to a source in Hamas.
This same source, who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, revealed, “Intensive contacts were made during the past few months between leaders close to Dahlan and the Hamas movement through Rouhi Mushtaha, a member of the [Hamas] political bureau. This led to a certain rapprochement between both sides and loosened the security restrictions on the members of Fatah in the Gaza Strip.”
The Haniyeh government’s permission for Dahlan allies to work in Gaza does not seem to be a leap in the dark for either side. There appears to have been an undeclared understanding reached by Hamas and Dahlan, as reflected in the noticeable halt in harsh exchanges between the two camps via their respective media outlets.
The launch of a joint “social solidarity committee,” chaired by Abu Shamala and with Ismail al-Ashqar and Mushtaha, two Hamas leaders, as members is one joint undertaking that has become public. The committee will oversee the construction of a residential city in central Gaza funded by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to house freed prisoners. In the past, some of its other activities have included supervising the planning of collective weddings, covering university students’ fees and providing in-kind assistance to the poor in the Gaza Strip. The Gaza government has also allowed a charity run by Dahlan’s wife to resume activities in support of humanitarian projects, in particular in the refugee camps.
For his part, political writer Ibrahim Abrash said that the reason behind the rapprochement between Dahlan and Hamas is clear — to improve Hamas’ relations with the interim military regime in Egypt and the UAE, both of which Dahlan has developed strong ties with. Writing Jan. 27 on the Arabic Media Internet Network, Abrash asserted, “It seems that Hamas has felt that Dahlan can be its saving grace from its strategic, political and financial dilemma, thanks to his special relations with the UAE and Egypt and his stable relations with Washington.”
Abu Shamala appeared to confirm this interpretation when he told Al-Monitor, “We are trying to coordinate with our Egyptian brothers to stop any measures that affect our people in Gaza and ease their pain. We are confident that our Egyptian brothers are ready to ease the suffering of Gaza’s people.” In response to a question posed by Al-Monitor about whether his return points to a rapprochement between Dahlan’s movement and Hamas, he said, “We cannot stand helpless before the crises that the Gaza Strip is facing. We should try to heal wounds and help in the construction process regardless of any political consideration or analysis.”
The source in Hamas said that about 80% of the Palestinians returning to Gaza among the 120 announced by Haniyeh in an interview with al-Kitab satellite channel belong to the Dahlan faction in Fatah. The source added that this was only natural given that the Dahlan faction was among the most affected by the division, as it was leading the war against Hamas.
In an article published by the pro-Hamas Felesteen newspaper, Yousef Rizqa, a political adviser to Haniyeh, categorically denied that there was any relationship between the Fatah MPs coming to Gaza on the one hand and the rapprochement with Dahlan and his movement on the other. Rizqa added that permission to enter was nothing more than a gesture of goodwill on the part of Hamas to facilitate Palestinian reconciliation.
The Hamas source noted, “There may be some benefit for the government in Gaza to let Dahlan and his cadres return to operate in Gaza, but this was not the primary objective of such a move.” The source denied that Hamas is using disputes between Dahlan and Abbas to make political headway.
Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that both parties are taking advantage of their respective situations. Hamas is trying to politically withstand the pressure being exerted on it by Egypt, and Dahlan’s solid ties with Cairo and its key supporter, the UAE, may help in that regard. Meanwhile, Dahlan is seeking to re-enter Palestinian politics but faces serious obstacles as long as Abbas and the core of Fatah in the West Bank oppose him. Reconnecting with his popular base in Gaza might strengthen his hand within Fatah.
Abu Shamala and the Hamas source agreed that Dahlan will not visit Gaza anytime soon because of concerns about possible repercussions to Hamas’ ties with Abbas. “Such a move could burn bridges [between Hamas] and Abbas,” the source said.
Riyadh wants to contain radical groups and media at odds with foreign jihad policy
Saudi Arabia has threatened to blockade neighbouring Qatar by air, land and sea unless Doha cuts ties with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, closes global channel al-Jazeera, and expels local branches of the US Brookings Institution and Rand Corporation think tanks.
The threat was issued by Riyadh before it withdrew its ambassador to Doha and branded as “terrorist organisations” the brotherhood, Lebanon’s Hizbullah and al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and Jabhat al-Nusra.
Although the kingdom has long been the font of Sunni ultra-orthodox Salafism and jihadism, it now seeks to contain radical movements and media and other organisations giving them publicity.
King Abdullah has decreed that any Saudi who fights abroad could be jailed for 20-30 years, and those who join, endorse or provide moral or material support to groups classified as “terrorist” or “extremist” will risk prison sentences of five to 30 years.
The decree followed the gazetting of a sweeping new anti- terrorism law prohibiting acts that disturb public order, promote insecurity, undermine national unity or harm the reputation of the kingdom.
While the law and decree are meant to curb jihadi operations on Saudi soil as well as counter non-jihadi dissidence, these legal instruments appear to contradict government policy on foreign jihad.
While 400 Saudis have returned home from Syrian battlefields, another 1,000-2,000 are believed to be fighting with jihadi groups funded by the government as well as wealthy Saudis, Kuwaitis and Qataris.
An informed source speculated the decree sends a message to Saudis: “Don’t come home. Fight unto death or victory.”
For half a century Saudi Arabia used its oil wealth to promote Muslim fundamentalists, notably the brotherhood and its offshoots, to counter the secular pan-Arab nationalism preached by Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Syrian and Iraqi Baath parties.
The kingdom provided refuge for brotherhood officials and activists from Egypt and other countries where governments were battling the movement. However, in recent years, Riyadh fell out with the brotherhood because it did not follow Saudi dictation.
After Shia clerics overthrew the shah of Iran in 1979 and tried to export their “Islamic revolution” to the wider Muslim world, which is 85 per cent Sunni, Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as the guardian of Sunni orthodoxy, turned to evangelism.
The object has been to convert Muslims to “Wahhabism,” the Saudi puritanical interpretation of Islam. The Saudi campaign in Syria is against Damascus’s ally Shia Iran as well as godless, secular Baathism.
The rise in the price of oil since the 1970s has enabled the Saudis to train clerics and build schools, Islamic centres, universities and mosques around the world.
Traditionally gentle, tolerant, mystic Sufis, who had served as Islam’s missionaries, have been replaced by narrow, harsh Wahhabi preachers and imams. Over the past 30 years the kingdom has spent more than $100 billion (€72 billion) on promoting Wahhabism.
Even before the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia – partnered by the US Central Intelligence Agency – trained and armed mujahideen (holy warriors) from Afghanistan and across the Muslim world to fight the Soviet Afghan republic. After the war ended with the Soviet withdrawal from that country in 1989, veterans of this conflict fanned out to fight in Bosnia, Algeria, Libya, the Caucasus and elsewhere.
Fearing blowback from Saudi jihadis engaged in the Syrian war, Riyadh has recently given the Syrian file to the interior minister Prince Mohamed bin Nayef, who has been in charge of an anti-terrorism campaign in the kingdom and Yemen, replacing intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
The Wall Street Journal has quoted a key Saudi source who said the shift suggests that Riyadh could rely more on diplomatic than military means by exerting pressure on Russia, Iran and Hizbullah, Damascus’s chief supporters, to resolve the conflict by removing President Bashar al-Assad.
Nevertheless, Riyadh also favours providing shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to “vetted” rebels, well aware these weapons could fall into al-Qaeda hands.
[Ukrainian TV HAS to be even more boring than Russian TV. Let’s see how long Svoboda can contain the restless longings of the Ukrainian masses if they are all bored beyond the point of their capacity to be mesmerized by inanity.]
Neo Nazi Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok
The OSCE has criticised Kiev’s “repressive” move to shut down the broadcasting of Russian TV channels after the media watchdog reported over 50% of providers have already fulfilled the order allegedly aimed at “ensuring national security and sovereignty.”
“As of 11:00 GMT, March 11th, 50 percent of providers throughout Ukraine have disabled broadcasting of foreign channels,” others are preparing to follow, the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council of Ukraine, said on its website.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has voiced strong concerns over the decision.
“I repeat my call to the authorities not to initiate these repressive measures,” OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović said. “Banning programming without a legal basis is a form of censorship; national security concerns should not be used at the expense of media freedom.”
“While I deplore any kind of state propaganda and hate speech as part of the current information war, everyone has the right to receive information from as many sources as he or she wishes,” Mijatovic said. “Switching off and banning channels is not the way to address these problems; any potentially problematic speech should be countered with arguments and more speech.”
So far at least 5 Russian channels have been excluded from the list of options, following an appeal by the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine last week.
“The National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council of Ukraine requires the program service providers to stop the broadcast of the Russian TV channels Vesti, Russia 24, Channel One (worldwide transmission), RTR ‘Planeta’, and NTV-World in their network,” the National Council order says.
More than half of Ukraine’s population speaks Russian regularly and one third say it’s their native tongue. In Crimea over 90 percent of the population uses Russian on an everyday basis.
On Sunday, Republic of Crimea began broadcasting Russian TV channels on frequencies earlier occupied by Ukrainian television. It has been done because of “legal reasons and moral principles,” Crimea’s information minister Dmitry Polonsky told Itar-tass.
“From the moral point of view, all Ukrainian TV channels were rigidly censored by Kiev’s illegitimate authorities. In violation of fundamental principles they broadcast only one point of view – Crimean politicians, community leaders and Crimeans were unable to comment on the situation,” Polonsky said, adding that their round the clock false reporting of “Russia occupying Crimea” or “declaring war on Ukraine” did not correspond to reality and was used to aggravate the situation and escalate violence.
Polonsky also said that existing contracts should be brought into line with the “current legal situation”, as he urged Ukrainian TV channels to renegotiate contracts for new frequencies with the Crimean broadcasting authorities.
Following the move Ukraine’s media watchdog Goskomteleradio demanded an immediate resumption of Ukrainian TV channels broadcast in Crimea, accusing Russia of “aggression.”
“We regard this as a manifestation of undisguised information aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation,” the statement reads.
Russia has long voiced concerns over banning Russian media broadcasts on Ukraine’s national frequencies, calling it a violation of human rights.
“We are aware of proposals to prohibit broadcasts in Ukraine by companies of countries that are not signatories to the European Broadcasting Convention,” Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said late February after the proposal to ban some channels were first introduced by Svoboda Party in Ukraine.
“Russia is not a signatory to this convention, but this circumstance has not stopped us from broadcasting across Europe. Such broadcasts have not encountered any problems in any country of the European Union. If such a decision is adopted in Ukraine, it will be serious violation of freedom of speech,” Lavrov added.