* Experts reveal: Turks used chemical weapons to gas Kurds
* The silence of the UN and human rights groups is deafening
* Greek-Israeli relations warm as those with Turkey sour
* Saudis hope that we will soon adjust our watches to Mecca Time
* Spoilt Emiratis: Just 4% of people in the UAE walk on a weekly basis
Today’s dispatch is split in two for space reasons. The other dispatch can be read here: Apartheid update (& “Cinema Jenin” opens amid fanfare and lights)
1. Israel removes security barrier between Gilo and Beit Jala
2. Turkey accused of using chemical weapons against the PKK
3. Netanyahu becomes first Israeli prime minister to visit Greece
4. Netanyahu wishes world’s Muslims a good month of Ramadan
5. Ramadan a problem this year for the Gulf’s business community
6. Upsurge in Ramadan shoe thefts from Ramallah mosques
7. Mecca Time
8. Less than one in 25 people in UAE walk on a weekly basis
9. Al-Qaeda appeals to sympathizers for donations
10. Lebanese army kills head of al-Qaeda-linked group
11. U.S. plans to double private security force in Iraq after military pullout
12. Top U.S. General: Yemeni army on verge of collapse; al-Qaeda could fill vacuum
[All notes below by Tom Gross]
ISRAEL REMOVES SECURITY BARRIER BETWEEN GILO AND BEIT JALA
In what is being termed as both a practical move and a symbolic gesture, Israel has in recent days begun removing the defensive concrete wall it built in 2002 to protect residents of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo from Palestinian snipers shooting at (and sometimes killing) them from the adjoining Palestinian town of Beit Jala (a suburb of Bethlehem). Cranes lifted the two-meter high slabs, each weighing two-and-a-half tons, and placed them on trucks to be driven to an army warehouse and storage depot.
The IDF believes the 3-meter (10 foot) high barrier is no longer necessary since they have restored calm, confiscated weapons and arrested terrorists operating from Beit Jala. Growing prosperity on both sides of the wall and increased security cooperation has made terrorist attacks there almost non-existent in recent years. However, the decision has been criticized by some in Israel as premature. The IDF said that the cement panels are being placed in storage and can be reassembled if needed.
TURKEY ACCUSED OF USING CHEMICAL WEAPONS AGAINST THE PKK
The leading German news magazine Der Spiegel reports that German experts have confirmed the authenticity of photographs that purport to show Kurdish PKK fighters killed by chemical weapons used by the Turkish military in a Kurdish area of southeastern Turkey.
The magazine says that the evidence puts increasing pressure on the Turkish government, which has long been suspected of using such weapons against Kurdish rebels. German politicians from a range of parties are demanding an investigation.
Although these claims need to be investigated further, Western experts say that they know for sure that Turkey did coordinate operations with Iraq during the final stages of Saddam Hussein’s genocidal Anfal campaign in which he used chemical weapons against thousands of Kurdish civilians in 1988.
Various Kurdish websites have posted what they say are photos of some of the dead. The victims shown in these photos are thought to have been killed in September 2009. (Warning: These images are very disturbing.)
Why is the UN and international opinion not demanding an investigation?
Why are they instead now demanding even more investigations into the Turkish Gaza Flotilla incident of May 31, when multiples investigations into that incident are already ongoing?
The UN and international “human rights” groups, of course, are not particularly interested in involving themselves in cases of Muslims killing other Muslims.
NETANYAHU BECOMES FIRST ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER TO VISIT GREECE
Benjamin Netanyahu became the first Israeli prime minister to visit Greece when he arrived in Athens on Monday. He was warmly welcomed by Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, who recently visited Jerusalem.
As the government of Turkey has stepped up its animosity towards Israel in recent months, relations between Israel and Greece have warmed. The Greeks have traditionally been hostile to Israel.
NETANYAHU WISHES WORLD’S MUSLIMS A GOOD MONTH OF RAMADAN
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has sent a video message to the Muslim population in Israel and all over the world wishing them a good and “easy” month of Ramadan.
“We mark this important month [Ramadan] amid attempts to achieve direct peace talks with the Palestinians and to advance peace treaties with our Arab neighbors,” Netanyahu said.
“I know you are partners in this goal and I ask for your support both in prayers and in any other joint effort to really create a peaceful and harmonious coexistence,” he added.
Muslims around the world began their annual month-long fast last week, during which they refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations from sunrise to sundown.
The end of this, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, is marked by the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which this year falls on September 9.
Netanyahu ended his speech with a traditional Arabic blessing wishing Muslims an easy fast.
The next day, Hamas fired Qassam rockets and mortar rounds from the “impoverished” Gaza strip, injuring two Israelis.
More than 115 rockets and mortars have been fired at Israeli territory since the beginning of 2010, and over 420 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel since the end of Operation Cast Lead in 2009.
RAMADAN A PROBLEM THIS YEAR FOR THE GULF’S BUSINESS COMMUNITY
As Muslims across the Middle East began the celebration of the holy month of Ramadan, business hours in the region have been changed, adversely affecting deal-making, according to businessmen in the Gulf.
The month of Ramadan shifts by about 12 days every year since it is decided according to the lunar calendar that is used in the Islamic world. This means Ramadan started 12 days earlier this year than in 2009, and the meal following the Ramadan fast after the sun has set – which is traditionally a major networking opportunity, where new contacts and future deals are discussed – is happening very late in the evening this year when many say they are too tired for business.
UPSURGE IN RAMADAN SHOE THEFTS FROM RAMALLAH MOSQUES
As Ramadan begins, Arab media note that there has been an epidemic of shoe-stealing from mosques in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Organized gangs are then apparently selling the shoes back to shops.
When Muslims go inside a mosque to pray, they traditionally remove their shoes and leave them in an outer room. While they are in prayer, many of the shoes have been swiped.
When the worshippers return and find their shoes missing, they are forced to walk barefoot to a nearby store to buy some more shoes.
(There is an Arabic report and photo here.)
For over 125 years, an observatory in a park in the south-east London neighborhood of Greenwich has been used as the reference point to set clocks around the globe.
But Greenwich Mean Time is facing a challenge to its claims as the starting point for each new day. A giant new clock being built in the Islamic holy city of Mecca hopes to usurp the role of Greenwich Observatory, and aims to have the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, followed by everyone else, setting their watches by its time.
The four-face Mecca clock (pictured below) bears a strong resemblance to London’s Big Ben, but is over six times taller than London’s famous clock, and at almost 2,000 feet, one of the world’s tallest buildings.
Only one of the clock’s four faces has so far been completed and is covered with 98 million pieces of glass mosaics. Each face will be inscribed with “Allah is greatest” in Arabic and fitted with thousands of colored lights, making it visible from more than 16 miles.
It will run on Arabia Standard Time, which is three hours ahead of GMT, and began testing this week.
At a conference in Doha in 2008, Muslim clerics and scholars presented “scientific” arguments that Mecca, not London, is the true center of the world.
Greenwich was chosen as the starting point for the measurement of time at the International Meridian Conference in 1884 and has retained its crown largely unchallenged during the ensuing 125 years.
German and Swiss engineers designed the Saudi clock and according to the Ministry of Religious Endowments, the entire project will cost $800 million.
Meanwhile, the Saudi authorities have given almost nothing to help victims of the devastating Pakistani floods, which have left an area the size of England covered by water. Reconstruction is expected to take years. The U.S. and Britain have been the most generous donors.
LESS THAN ONE IN 25 PEOPLE IN UAE WALK ON A WEEKLY BASIS
Just four percent of people living in the United Arab Emirates walk on a weekly basis, a new study by a leading international shoe maker has found.
The poll was commissioned by South Korean shoe manufacturer RYN which plans to enter into the Gulf shoe market soon.
Dubai, the economic hub of the UAE, has built extensive pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, such as air conditioned walkways connecting major sites to encourage residents to walk instead of taking their cars.
Doctors say that the lack of exercise has led to a rise in diseases such as obesity and diabetes. Recent statistics from the International Diabetes Federation say the UAE has the second worst diabetes rate in the world.
AL-QAEDA APPEALS TO SYMPATHIZERS FOR DONATIONS
Al-Qaeda leaders are appealing for financial donations for the third time in little over a year in a sign that the terror network might be short on funds in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
A message posted on an Islamist website on Wednesday repeats a June 2009 appeal by the group’s top Afghanistan commander, Mustafa Abu l-Yazeed. He said then that many operatives in Afghanistan were unable to fight because they lacked money and equipment. (Al-Yazeed was killed in an airstrike in May.)
The web message also included an earlier audio recording by Osama bin Laden urging Arab businessmen to help al-Qaeda buy arms and other equipment, and an appeal by al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri calling for financial support from Pakistanis.
LEBANESE ARMY KILLS HEAD OF AL-QAEDA-LINKED TERROR GROUP
The head of Fatah Al-Islam, a Lebanese-based terrorist group associated with Al-Qaeda, was one of two Islamists the Lebanese army says it killed last weekend. Abdel Rahman Awad, known by the nom de guerre Abu Bakr, reportedly died in a clash with the army in the Bekka Valley.
Awad led the lengthy standoff between the Lebanese army and his group at the Nahr Al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in 2007 that left over 400 people dead, including 168 soldiers and many Palestinian civilians. The army reports that Awad has been hiding out in the Ain El-Hiweh camp for more than a year. Under an agreement with the Palestinians, the army does not enter the camps.
No one is accusing Lebanon of “war crimes” for killing Awad, as they would probably have done had Israel killed him.
U.S. PLANS TO DOUBLE PRIVATE SECURITY FORCE IN IRAQ AFTER 2011 MILITARY PULLOUT
The United States pulled its last remaining combat troops out of Iraq this morning. They exited by land across the border into Kuwait. (56,000 armed troops who will perform non-combat and training roles remain.)
And as the U.S. military prepares to leave Iraq completely by the end of next year, the Obama administration is planning to install a small army of private contractors to help protect U.S. civilians there.
By October 2011, the State Department will assume responsibility for training the Iraqi police, a task that will largely be carried out by contractors.
To protect U.S. and other civilians in a country that is still home to al-Qaeda-supporting Sunni insurgents and Iranian-backed militias, the State Department is planning to more than double its private security guards, up to about 7,000, according to administration officials.
There has been a significant increase in violence in Iraq as the U.S. prepares to pull out. Hundreds have died in bomb attacks so far this month. The Obama administration, meanwhile, has made clear that there will be no delay in withdrawing troops.
TOP U.S. GENERAL: YEMENI ARMY ON VERGE OF COLLAPSE; AL-QAEDA COULD FILL VACUUM
As three vicious wars are continuing in Yemen (not that international journalists in the Middle East seem to care enough to report on them properly), a senior U.S. general has warned that the Yemeni security forces and government are unable to deal with the mounting pressure.
General James Mattis, who recently took over the US Central Command (CENTCOM), told the Armed Services Committee in the U.S. Senate that he had doubts about the ability of the Yemeni forces to manage both the battle against al-Qaeda, the war on the northern frontier against Shia rebels and another war in the south against a separatist movement.
[All notes above by Tom Gross]