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Top U.S. intelligence officials, facing criticism in Congress, on Wednesday defended their agencies’ reporting on the recent upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt but pledged to do better in the future.
“Specific triggers for how and when instability would lead to the collapse of various regimes cannot always be known or predicted,” James Clapper, director of national intelligence, told a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.
“What intelligence can do in such cases is reduce, but certainly not completely eliminate, uncertainty for decision-makers. But we are not clairvoyant.”
CIA Director Leon Panetta said his agency has set up a 35-member task force to examine how future unrest in sensitive regions could erupt and to assess potential outcomes.
Much more attention will be paid to how the Internet and social media can spark and affect protest movements, they said, although Panetta cautioned about the vast new piles of data that experts must pore over.
“The real challenge is … going through the diversity of languages, going through the different sites that are out there,” he said. “This involves a tremendous amount of analysis.”
U.S. spy agencies have been criticized in the past for not knitting together reports that could have given warning of major events, ranging from the collapse of the Soviet Union to al Qaeda’s attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.
In the case of September 11 and, more recently, the failed bombing of a U.S. airliner in December 2009, investigations showed U.S. agencies collected clues that could have disrupted the attacks well in advance but failed to connect the dots.
Tunisia was not ‘Top 10′ Concern’
Senior officials have strongly denied there were any intelligence failures over the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt — despite criticism from some lawmakers that the agencies’ reports were sometimes less informative than news stories.
The two spy chiefs acknowledged U.S. agencies offered little if any advance warning when unrest erupted in Tunisia in January. But Clapper, who supervises 16 frontline spy agencies and serves as President Barack Obama’s chief intelligence adviser, pointed to the limits of spycraft.
“We’re not like Sherman Williams paint. We don’t cover the earth equally. So frankly Tunisia was probably not up there on our top 10 countries that we were watching closely,” Clapper said. “Obviously we are going to work on that.”
Two sources who routinely read analytical papers by U.S. intelligence agencies said it would be unfair to criticize them for not being able to predict how the initial events in Tunisia would set off a chain reaction that, within days, would lead to the collapse of its government and the exile of its president.
But the sources said they were disappointed at the material generated after the Tunisian government fell, which tried to consider implications for other countries, particularly Egypt.
A senior U.S. intelligence official refuted the criticism, telling Reuters that in the 10 days between the collapse of the Tunisian government and the eruption of protests in Egypt, U.S. agencies produced many reports “that examined the implications for the Middle East and elsewhere around the world.”
Some of the papers, the official said, went only to the president and a small group of senior officials. Others were more widely distributed to officials authorized to read highly classified intelligence materials.
Source: World Bulletin
Protesters in Bahrain, inspired by revolts that have toppled Arab rulers in Tunisia and Egypt, poured into the Gulf island kingdom’s capital on Wednesday to mourn a demonstrator killed in clashes with security forces.
Over a thousand joined a funeral procession for the man, who was shot dead on Tuesday when fighting broke out at the burial of another protester. Some 2,000 were camped out at a major road junction in the centre of Manama, hoping to emulate the rallies on Cairo’s Tahrir Square and demanding a change of government.
The Interior Ministry has promised to take legal action over the two deaths if it finds police used “unjustifiable” force.
Bahrainis have a history of protest and the current unrest, in its third day, has been driven by familiar complaints of economic hardships, lack of political freedoms and sectarian discrimination.
“The people demand the fall of the regime!” protesters chanted as men pounded their chests in rhythm, a mourning gesture which is distinctive to the Shi’ite branch of Islam.
Though itself only a minor oil exporter, Bahrain’s stability is important for neighbouring Saudi Arabia, a key supporter of Bahrain’s royal family and where key oilfields are home to an oppressed and occasionally restive Shi’ite minority.
Bahrain is also a hub for banking and financial services in the Gulf and is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
“King sorrow over deaths”
Sheikh Khalifa, the king’s uncle, has governed the Gulf Arab state since its independence in 1971.
King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa expressed sorrow over the deaths on Monday and Tuesday morning and ordered the formation of a committee to investigate them.
King Hamad offered in a televised address on Tuesday afternoon his condolences to the families of the victims.
The special committee will be headed by Deputy Prime Minister Jawwad Al-Arayyedh and will determine the reasons behind the regretful incidents, the king said in his speech broadcast by Bahrain Television.
King Hamad said that he would ask Parliament to look into the events and recommend the necessary legislation to address the issue in the interest of the homeland
“We will request the legislative body to look into this phenomenon and to suggest proposals required to address it for the interest of the nation and citizens,” King Hamad said.
Protesters want the removal of the prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, who has governed since British rule ended in 1971.
For now, they have not sought change at the very top — his nephew King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has ultimate control over the 1.3 million people in Bahrain, half of them foreigners.
“We are requesting our rights in a peaceful way,” said Bakr Akil, a 20 year-old student. He wore a sheet stained with red ink which he said showed he was willing to die for freedom.
Women dressed in black abaya cloaks followed the procession with their own chants calling for peace and Bahraini unity.
Near the protest site at Manama’s Pearl Roundabout, police kept their distance, massing on a nearby dirt lot in dozens of cars. The Interior Ministry said roads were all open on the island, which, at 750 sq.km, is about the size of Singapore.
“Talks with govt”
The main opposition group Wefaq, which boycotted parliament in protest at the clampdown by the security forces, said it would hold talks with the government on Wednesday.
“We support the people here. We are not the decision makers,” said Ibrahim Mattar, a Wefaq parliamentarian who had joined the funeral procession.
“The people are the decision makers,” Mattar said, adding that Wefaq would call for direct election of the prime minister.
Bahrain was considered the most vulnerable among Gulf Arab states to popular unrest in a region where, in an unwritten pact, rulers have traded a share of their oil wealth for political submission. Discontent has been expressed in sporadic unrest since the mid-1990s, well before popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt emboldened activists across the region.
Activists also want the release of political prisoners, which the government has promised, and a new constitution.
Bahrain had offered cash payouts of around 1,000 dinars ($2,650) per family in the run-up to this week’s protests.
Source: Yesh Din
Yesh Din released today a data sheet on its monitoring of Police investigations of offenses against Palestinians.
The data sheet includes findings based on 642 investigation files opened in recent years by the Judea and Samaria police, based on complaints filed by Palestinian citizens of the West Bank, that Yesh Din has been following.
The findings show that only 9 percent out of 642 investigations which Yesh Din is monitoring, have resulted in indictments filed against defendants. The clear majority of investigations – more than 90 percent – are closed on grounds that suggest that the investigation has failed.
The percentage of failed investigations is exceptionally high in the case of investigations into offenses of violence against Palestinians and damage to their property. 78 percent of violence cases and 93 percent of cases of damage to property were closed on grounds that suggest that those investigations have failed.
These findings indicate that the State of Israel is not fulfilling its obligation to maintain an effective law enforcement mechanism on Israeli citizens who commit offenses, among them grave offenses, against Palestinian citizens in the territories it occupies.
According to Yesh Din’s research department, the findings suggest a chronic failure of investigations, especially in cases pertaining to violence and damage to property. Since only a fraction of the cases result in indictments, there is a very slim chance that complaints filed by Palestinians for violence or property offenses carried out by Israelis will result in indictments.
Since it was founded in 2005, Yesh Din has been maintaining a database of cases in which Israeli citizens were involved in acts of violence, theft or damage to property against unarmed Palestinian civilians. Yesh Din monitors investigations and provides legal representation to complainants. The monitoring is carried out in order to gauge whether the State of Israel – via the Israeli Judea and Samaria Police – is fulfilling its obligation to protect Palestinian citizens and their property.
Yesh Din’s monitoring constitutes the only source of findings regarding the outcomes of investigations into such offenses, as no formal Israeli official holds complete data about these types of investigations, or their results.
Download: Full Datasheet
By Hanan Awarekeh – Al Manar
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian counterpart President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday publicly shrugged off US efforts to drive a wedge between the two Middle East allies. “I am surprised by their call to keep a distance between the countries … when they raise the issue of stability and peace in the Middle East, and all the other beautiful principles,” Assad said.
“We need to further reinforce relations if the true objective is stability. We do not want others to give us lessons on our region, our history,” the Syrian leader told a joint media conference with Ahmadinejad.
The Iranian president, who flew in to Damascus earlier in the day, said that the United States should pack up and leave the Middle East and stay out of regional affairs.
Ahmadinejad said, “(The Americans) want to dominate the region but they feel Iran and Syria are preventing that… We tell them that instead of interfering in the region’s affairs, to pack their things and leave.”
The Iranian president also stressed that ties between the two Muslim states were as “solid” as ever. “Relations between Syria and Iran are brotherly, deep, solid and permanent … Nothing can damage these relations,” he said.
“These ties will become deeper and develop over the years. We are brothers. We have mutual interests, as well as common goals and enemies,” said the Iranian president, adding, “The world needs a new order.”
On the eve of the visit, President Barack Obama’s administration said it has been pressing Damascus – amid steps toward a normalization of US-Syria ties – to move away from Iran and stop arming Hezbollah.
Testifying in the Senate, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was blunter than ever about Washington’s bid to drive a wedge between Damascus and Tehran.
Clinton said William Burns, the third-ranking US diplomat, “had very intense, substantive talks in Damascus” when he visited Syria last week, in the highest-level such US mission for five years.
Syria is being asked “generally to begin to move away from the relationship with Iran, which is so deeply troubling to the region as well as to the United States,” she said.
“Arab World will Usher in New Mideast without Zionists”
Al-Assad and Ahmadinejad also addressed the recent Israeli threats during their conference. “We believe we are facing an entity that is capable of aggression at any point, and we are preparing ourselves for any Israeli aggression, be it on a small or large scale. We must be prepared for any Israeli response, under any pretext,” said the Syrian leader. “Israel is directing its threats at Syria and the resistance movements. The threats are also aimed at boosting the Israeli citizens’ morale after a series of defeats.”
President Ahmadinejad said that “if the Zionist regime wants to repeat its past mistakes, this will bring about its demise and annihilation,” adding that Iran, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon will stand against Israel.
“The Zionists and their protectors have reached a dead end. The Zionist entity will eventually disappear; its existential philosophy has ended. The Zionist conquerors have reached a dead end; all of their threats against the Palestinians stem from their weakness. If the Zionists repeat their past mistakes, all of the region’s nations will uproot them,” Ahmadinejad said.
“With Allah’s help, the new Middle East will be a Middle East without Zionists and imperialists. We hope they will recognize the rights of the region’s nations, but they must realize that if they continue along their wrongful path they have no place in our region. Today the ties between the region’s nations – between Iran, Syria and the resistance movement – are very strong. We believe that developments in the world will benefit Iran, Syria and the region’s free governments,” he said.
Before leaving Tehran into Damascus, Ahmadinejad was quoted by Iran’s Fars news agency as saying that the two countries would not be deterred. “While the Zionists make permanent threats against my country and peoples of the region … Syria and Iran must consult and take decisions to confront these threats,” he said,
About two weeks ago Ahmadinejad said during a telephone conversation with al-Assad that Israel should be resisted and finished off if it launched military action in the region. “We have reliable information … that the Zionist regime is after finding a way to compensate for its ridiculous defeats from the people of Gaza and Lebanon’s Hezbollah,” he told the Syrian leader.
“If the Zionist regime should repeat its mistakes and initiate a military operation, then it must be resisted with full force to put an end to it once and for all,” Ahmadinejad said.
“Iran has the Right to Pursue Uranium Enrichment”
President al-Assad, for his part, also defended Iran’s right to pursue uranium enrichment, despite the threat of new sanctions against the Islamic republic over its nuclear program. “To forbid an independent state the right to enrichment amounts to a new colonialist process in the region,” he said.
Thursday’s visit comes after Walid Mouallem, Syria’s foreign minister, said Damascus was eager to help Iran and the West engage in a “constructive” dialogue over Tehran’s nuclear program. “Sanctions are not a solution [to the problem] between Iran and the West,” Mouallem said on Saturday. “We are trying to engage a constructive dialogue between the two parties in order to reach a peaceful solution.”
He insisted that despite Western claims “Iran does not have a nuclear military program.”
On the nuclear front, Clinton also said on Wednesday that she hoped to see a UN Security Council resolution on a fourth set of sanctions against Iran in the “next 30 to 60 days.”
The captured ringleader of the Jundallah terrorist group, Abdolmalek Rigi, has confessed that the US administration had assured him of unlimited military aid and funding for waging an insurgency against the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The following is the detailed transcript of Rigi’s confession, stated in Farsi, as broadcasted on Press TV.
“After Obama was elected, the Americans contacted us and they met me in Pakistan.They met us after clashes with my group around March 17 in (the southeastern city of) Zahedan, and he (the US operative) said that Americans had requested a meeting.”
“I said we didn’t have any time for a meeting and if we do help them they should promise to give us aid. They said they would cooperate with us and will give me military equipment, arms and machine guns. They also promised to give us a base along the border with Afghanistan next to Iran.”
“They asked to meet me and we said where should we meet you and he said in Dubai. We sent someone to Dubai and we told a person to ask a place for myself in Afghanistan from the area near the operations and they complied that they would sort out the problem for us and they will find Mr. Rigi a base and guarantee his own security in Afghanistan or in any of the countries adjacent to Iran so that he can carry on his operations.
“They told me that in Kyrgyzstan they have a base called Manas near Bishkek, and that a high-ranking person was coming to meet me and that if such high-ranking people come to the United Arab Emirates, they may be observed by intelligence people but in a place like Bishkek this high-ranking American person could come and we could reach an agreement on making personal contacts. But after the last major operation we took part in, they said that they wanted to meet with us.
“The Americans said Iran was going its own way and they said our problem at the present is Iran… not al-Qaeda and not the Taliban, but the main problem is Iran. We don’t have a military plan against Iran. Attacking Iran is very difficult for us (the US). The CIA is very particular about you and is prepared to do anything for you because our government has reached the conclusion that there was nothing Americans could do about Iran and only I could take care of the operations for them.
“One of the CIA officers said that it was too difficult for us to attack Iran militarily, but we plan to give aid and support to all anti-Iran groups that have the capability to wage war and create difficulty for the Iranian (Islamic) system. They reached the conclusion that your organization has the power to create difficulties for the Islamic Republic and they are prepared to give you training and/or any assistance that you would require, in terms of telecommunications security and procedures as well as other support, the Americans said they would be willing to provide it at an extensive level.”
Iran’s security forces arrested Rigi on Tuesday by bringing down his plane over the Iranian airspace, as he was onboard a flight from the United Arab Emirates to Kyrgyzstan.
China’s position on toughened nuclear sanctions against Iran remains a “mystery,” Israel’s UN envoy said Tuesday, and doubted the Security Council would agree new punishments for Tehran this month.
Ambassador Gabriela Shalev also said that should efforts fail to frame a unified range of United Nations sanctions, it would be up to individual world powers to team up outside the Council to punish Iran economically.
And, following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow, Shalev said that it was clear Russia had dropped its earlier reluctance to impose more sanctions on Iran to punish its nuclear drive. “I know that the Russians have turned their position,” Shalev told a small group of reporters.
“I know that the Russians now agree that there must be some kind of limit on the engagement,” she said, referring to Iran’s refusal to agree to a UN-backed deal to end the standoff over its nuclear program. “China is a mystery.”
Shalev said she had hoped that new sanctions would be agreed against Iran by the end of this month, when France hands over the presidency of the Security Council to Gabon, but that now looked unlikely.
“My feeling is that we will not be able to achieve this resolution regarding sanctions within the month of February,” Shalev said, adding that the position of Gabon on the issue was not clear.
President Barack Obama’s national security advisor James Jones told Fox News Sunday that Washington was pushing for very tough new sanctions against Iran “this month.”
Earlier Tuesday, the United States, Russia and France said that Iran’s recent escalation of its uranium enrichment further undermines international trust in its nuclear drive.
The three powers sent a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expressing new concern about Iran’s actions and signaling further pressure on the Islamic state.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki says the US is acting as a military dictatorship in the Middle East by killing countless number of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Iran’s top diplomat made the comments in response to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who said Iran is “moving toward a military dictatorship.
Mottaki described Clinton’s remarks as “modern deceit,” and added that
“We are regretful that the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton … tries to conceal facts about the stance of the US administration trough fake words.
This (Clinton’s remark) is aimed “at diverting the attention of the public in the region (away from their problems) to unreal and incorrect topics,” he added.
The Iranian minister raised questions about the US military dictatorship in the region and said that Washington has killed large numbers of Iraqi and Afghan civilians while Iran has accepted and helped millions of refugees from the two countries.
He accused Clinton of trying to advance Washington’s policy in the Middle East through lies, saying that regional countries are well aware of the true nature of such methods.
Mottaki criticized “unsuccessful strategies” of the US government in Lebanon, Gaza and Afghanistan and said Washington seeks to create crisis for democratic and independent states by waging a soft war.
“The US targets scientific and technological achievements of countries and their independence by interfering [in their internal affairs] and spending vast sums,” he said.
He underlined that the US has adopted “wrong” approach in the Middle East and said that Washington pays no attention to realities in the region and forges military dictatorship by stoking tension and instability.
“We recommend Clinton and other US statesmen to open their eyes to realities in the region even one time… They should respect rights of regional states to development, welfare and modern technologies without enmity,” Mottaki said.
He noted that regional countries would never be deceived by the US policies.
By Barak David – Haaretz
Israel is facing a global campaign of delegitimization, according to a report by the Reut Institute, made available to the cabinet on Thursday. The Tel Aviv-based security and socioeconomic think tank called on ministers to treat the matter as a strategic threat.
The report cites anti-Israel demonstrations on campuses, protests when Israeli athletes compete abroad, moves in Europe to boycott Israeli products, and threats of arrest warrants for Israeli leaders visiting London.
Reut says the campaign is the work of a worldwide network of private individuals and organizations. They have no hierarchy or overall commander, but work together based on a joint ideology – portraying Israel as a pariah state and denying its right to exist.
Reut lists the network’s major hubs – London, Brussels, Madrid, Toronto, San Francisco and the University of California, Berkeley. The network’s activists – “delegitimizers” the report dubs them – are relatively marginal: young people, anarchists, migrants and radical political activists. Although they are not many, they raise their profile using public campaigns and media coverage, the report says.
The “delegitimizers” cooperate with organizations engaging in legitimate criticism of Israel’s policy in the territories such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, blurring the line between legitimate censure and delegitimization. They also promote pro-Palestinian activities in Europe as “trendy,” the report says.
The network’s activists are not mostly Palestinian, Arab or Muslim. Many of them are European and North American left-wing activists. The Western left has changed its approach to Israel and now sees it as an occupation state, the report says. To those left-wing groups, if in the 1960s Israel was seen as a model for an egalitarian, socialist society, today it epitomizes Western evil.
The delegitimization network sees the fight against the former regime in South Africa as a success model. It believes that like the apartheid regime, the Zionist-Israeli model can be toppled and a one-state model can be established.
The Reut team says the network’s groups share symbols and heroes such as the Palestinian boy Mohammed al-Dura, American peace activist Rachel Corrie and joint events like the Durban Conference.
Israel’s diplomats overseas, meanwhile, must counter the attempts to delegitimize the country. “The combination of a large Muslim community, a radical left, influential, English-language media and an international university center make London fertile ground for Israel’s delegitimization,” says Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador in London.
Prosor gives many interviews to the British media and lectures at university campuses throughout the country. Although he says he has encountered anti-Israel demonstrations on almost every campus, Prosor has told his people to increase their campus activity.
“What is now happening in London universities will happen, at most, in five years at all the large universities in the United States,” he says.
The Reut report says Israel is not prepared at all to deal with the threat of delegitimization. The cabinet has not defined the issue as a threat and sees the diplomatic arena as marginal compared to the military one.
“The Foreign Ministry is built for the challenges of the ’60s, not the 2000s,” the report says. “There are no budgets, not enough diplomats and no appropriate diplomatic doctrine.”
Reut recommends setting up a counter-network, in which Israel’s embassies in centers of delegitimization activity would serve as “front positions.”
The report says the intelligence service should monitor the organizations’ activities and study their methods. The cabinet should also confront groups trying to delegitimize Israel but embrace those engaged in legitimate criticism.
The report adds that Israel should not boycott these groups, as Israel’s embassy in Washington does with the left-wing lobby J Street. Boycotting critics merely pushes them toward joining the delegitimizers, Reut says.
Israel has failed to demonstrate that it will conduct thorough and impartial investigations into alleged laws-of-war violations by its forces during last year’s Gaza conflict, Human Rights Watch said today. An independent investigation is needed if perpetrators of abuse, including senior military and political officials who set policies that violated the laws of war, are to be held accountable, Human Rights Watch said.
On February 4, 2010, Human Rights Watch met with military lawyers from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to discuss the investigations. While the military is conducting ongoing investigations, officials did not provide information showing that these will be thorough and impartial or that they will address the broader policy and command decisions that led to unlawful civilian deaths, Human Rights Watch said.
“Israel claims it is conducting credible and impartial investigations, but it has so far failed to make that case,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director for Human Rights Watch. “An independent investigation is crucial to understand why so many civilians died and to bring justice for the victims of unlawful attacks.”
In one case, a military investigation apparently missed an important piece of evidence: remains of an aerial bomb found in the al-Badr flour mill outside Jabalya. Israel denied targeting the mill from the air, as alleged by the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict. However, video footage obtained by Human Rights Watch and released today shows the apparent remains of an Israeli MK-82 500-pound aerial bomb in the damaged mill, and UN de-miners say they defused the bomb.
More than 750 Palestinian civilians in Gaza were killed during the conflict, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. The UN has said that nearly 3,500 homes and 280 factories were completely destroyed.
Human Rights Watch documented 53 civilian deaths in 19 incidents in which Israeli forces appeared to have violated the laws of war. Six of these incidents involved the unlawful use of white phosphorus munitions; six were attacks by drone-launched missiles that killed civilians; and seven involved soldiers shooting civilians who were in groups holding white flags.
To date, Israeli military courts have convicted only one soldier of wartime abuse during the Gaza conflict, for theft of a credit card.
The Israeli military lawyers said the military was investigating all cases reported by Human Rights Watch. Seven of the cases are criminal investigations into the alleged shooting of civilians waving white flags, they said. The military had originally dismissed Human Rights Watch’s report on these cases as based on “unreliable witness reports.”
The Israeli military has thus far examined specific incidents but not broader policies that may have caused civilian casualties in violation of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said.
An independent investigation should examine the pre-operation decisions that led to civilian casualties, Human Rights Watch said. These include the decision to target Hamas’s political infrastructure; the use of heavy artillery and white phosphorus munitions in populated areas; attacks on Gaza police; and the apparently permissive rules of engagement for drone operators and ground forces.
“The Israeli investigations so far have looked mostly at soldiers who disobeyed orders or the rules of engagement, but failed to ask the crucial question about whether those orders and rules of engagement themselves violated the laws of war,” Stork said. “For those decisions and policies, senior military and political decision-makers should be held responsible.”
Hamas is not known to have prosecuted anyone for firing hundreds of rockets indiscriminately into Israel. On January 27 it issued a news statement and report summary, saying that rockets from Palestinian armed groups had only targeted Israeli military objects and that civilian casualties were accidental – a conclusion that Human Rights Watch rejected as “legally and factually wrong.” Hamas released a full report about its conduct during the war on February 3 that Human Rights Watch is still reviewing.
In September 2009, the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, headed by Justice Richard Goldstone, determined that Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity and called on both parties to conduct impartial investigations within six months.
On November 5, the UN General Assembly endorsed the Goldstone report and asked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for a progress report about domestic investigations. Ban gave his report on February 4, passing on documents provided to him by Israel and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, and reiterating his call for credible and impartial investigations by all sides.
“Secretary-General Ban merely passed on the parties’ claims, but he also reasserted the importance of credible investigations in conformity with international standards,” Stork said. “The pressure is still on Israel and Hamas to show that they will do it right.”
According to Israel, the military has conducted roughly 150 “investigations” of incidents in Gaza, but it has not provided a list of the cases. Nearly 90 of the 150 investigations are what the military calls an “operational debriefing” – tahkir mivza’i in Hebrew. These are after-action reports, not criminal investigations, in which an officer in the chain of command interviews the soldiers involved, with no testimony from victims or witnesses. Forty-five of these 90 cases have been closed.
The Israeli military says that military police have opened 36 criminal investigations, in which a military police investigator takes statements from soldiers and seeks testimony from outside sources. One resulted in the conviction for the credit card theft, incurring a seven and a half month prison sentence, and seven were closed due to lack of evidence or because the complainants were unwilling to testify. The remaining 28 are ongoing.
The military said it has disciplined four soldiers and officers for violating orders during the Gaza conflict. In one case, two commanders received notes of reprimand for firing high-explosive artillery shells that hit a UN compound where 700 civilians were taking shelter, despite dozens of phone calls from UN officials asking for the shelling to stop. During the same attack, artillery-fired white phosphorus set fire to a UN warehouse and injured three people in the compound. The military told Human Rights Watch that the white phosphorus aspect of the case is still under investigation and was not part of the reason for the reprimand. The only information the military has released about the other two disciplinary cases is that one resulted from an attack on UN property or personnel, and the other from an incident of property destruction.
The video Human Rights Watch released today of the al-Badr flour mill was filmed by the mill’s owners after it was damaged, on January 10, 2009. The UN fact-finding report said the Israeli military bombed the mill in a deliberate attempt to damage the civilian infrastructure of Gaza. Israel said its investigation found that the mill was a legitimate military target because of Hamas activity in the area and that it only fired a tank shell and did not bomb the mill from the air.
The UN told Human Rights Watch that de-miners visited the mill on February 11, 2009, and found the front half of a 500-pound Mk-82 aircraft bomb on an upper floor of the mill, corroborating the contents of the video.
The military lawyers told Human Rights Watch that, when provided with new evidence, they could reopen an investigation.
Israel has a poor record of military investigations into alleged violations against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, Human Rights Watch said. The Israeli human rights group Yesh Din has documented the low levels of criminal investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of soldiers despite the large number of allegedly unlawful deaths.
Thirteen senior members of the Islamist opposition movement in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, have been detained.
They include its deputy leader, Mahmoud Ezzat, the organisation says.
The Brotherhood is officially outlawed in Egypt but its members have many seats in parliament, sitting as independents.
A spokesman for the group said the arrests were an attempt by the authorities to thwart its preparations for elections later in the year.
Supporters are routinely arrested.
The Brotherhood has been banned from open political activity since 1954, and leading activists are frequently arrested and imprisoned by the authorities.
Despite this, Brotherhood members standing as independent candidates won 20% of the seats in the last parliamentary election in 2005, its best ever result.
In January, the movement named Mohammed Badie, a 66-year-old veterinary professor, as its new leader.
He has said that the Muslim Brotherhood was not an adversary of the Egyptian government and that he would try to avoid confrontation with it.
The Muslim Brotherhood has influenced Islamist movements around the world with its model of political activism combined with charity work.