Syrians tear down gold statue of Hafez al-Assad, are then killed by his son (& other items)

March 05, 2013

A woman in last year's Gaza marathon


* Hamas rejects 28 smuggled Libyan long-range rockets after discovering the Mossad has tagged them with tracking devices

* Hamas closes Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza, preventing food and goods from Israel reaching Palestinian population

* UN agency scraps Gaza marathon after Hamas bars women from race

* If you are reading this sitting down then the chances are you are also increasing your risk of developing heart disease, blood clots on the brain and even certain types of cancer and diabetes.

* A growing body of research is finding that sitting down for extended periods may be one of the most dangerous things we do and that the mere act of standing up – rather than doing physical exercise – is perhaps the best antidote.


* You can comment on this dispatch here: Please also press “Like” on that page.


A locust lurking on a cactus



1. Syrians tear down enormous gold statue of Hafez al-Assad, are then bombed by his son
2. Syrian opposition begs Kerry: “We want weapons, not bandages”
3. Syrian refugees now number one million; Israel among those treating the wounded
4. Hamas discovers 28 smuggled Libyan rockets tagged by Israel with tracking devices
5. Hamas closes Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza
6. UN agency scraps Gaza marathon after Hamas bars women from race
7. Palestinian students attack British diplomat in the West Bank
8. Ehud Barak: Israel might act unilaterally in West Bank
9. In run up to Passover, Egypt hit by a plague of Locusts of Biblical proportions
10. “Racist” Israel chooses a 21-year-old Ethiopian as Miss Israel
11. Keeping up with Shimon Peres, aged 90
12. Note; & “Desk workers - stand up for your health”

[Notes below by Tom Gross]


Syrian rebels on Monday seized the northern city of Raqqa, and ecstatic local residents immediately took to the streets to tear down giant posters of the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, and to topple an enormous gold statue of his late father.

You can see video footage here of the cheering protesters. They beat the statue’s head with their shoes, shouting: “God is great.” One man swings at it with an axe.

The celebrations, however, soon came an end. A second video taken by local people shortly afterwards shows a government mortar landing in the square, followed by a cloud of thick black smoke. Several dead and injured people lie on the ground. The wounded, including a woman, are hurriedly loaded into cars as a second mortar lands nearby.



The Syrian opposition has expressed exasperation with the new American Secretary of State John Kerry after he promised $60m in non-military aid, but no military assistance, during his first overseas trip as U.S. secretary of state.

Speaking in Ankara, Kerry, who recently stepped down as a senator after 28 years to succeed Hillary Clinton as America’s top diplomat, said Washington “believes the first priority is to try and have a political solution” and “we would like to save lives, not see them caught up in a continuing war”.

Kerry even stopped short of offering the requested bulletproof vests or armored personnel carriers. Meanwhile Assad’s forces continue to receive an enormous amount of military assistance from Hizbullah, from Iran and from Russia.

President Barack Obama’s first term cabinet was split on the issue. Last year Clinton, as well as outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and former CIA director David Petraeus, all recommended arming the rebels, but Obama overruled them.

Kerry and the new American defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, have both made clear they agree with Obama.

Senator John McCain said in reaction. “To say that we’re really going to change the equation with non-lethal aid is not going to do it. And I think we have written a shameful chapter in American history.”

Francis Fukuyama, the Stanford political scientist best known for his book “The End of History,” described Obama’s response as “terrible”.



More than 40,000 people a week are fleeing Syria and the total number of refugees has now reached one million. The bulk of the refugees are living in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. This is in addition to the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people within Syria.

The UN puts the death toll in the two-year conflict at 70,000 people, but the real number is likely to top 100,000, according to opposition sources. These are in addition to the tens of thousands who have been arrested, many of whom may now have been “disappeared” by the regime.


Last month, the Israeli army also flew seven seriously wounded Syrians, who managed to reach the Israeli border fence, by army helicopter to the Ziv Medical Center in Safed, where Israeli doctors treated the injured, saving the life of one man whose condition was critical.

Israeli officials said the incident should not be seen as a precedent for allowing Syrians to enter Israel, but that all such incidents will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The Israeli government said the wounded Syrians would be permitted to stay in Israel for the time being while they recuperate, which Israel says it will pay for.

Israel has also provided medical assistance to help wounded Syrians in refugee camps in Jordan.



The Egyptian paper Al-Youm A-Sabi reported on Monday that Hamas has rejected 28 long-range missiles smuggled from Libya to Gaza through the Sinai peninsula during the past few days, after Hamas operatives discovered that Israel had tagged them with tracking devices somewhere en route from Libya.

The existence of the tracking devices would allow Israel to identify and target the Hamas rocket depots in Gaza from the air at some point in future.

The Sinai desert has been flooded with weapons from Libya since the fall of the Gaddafi regime in October 2011. Last June, for example, the Egyptian army confiscated a huge weapons shipment, which included 138 deadly Grad missiles, and was en route to Gaza.

An anti-aircraft missile fired from Gaza at an Israeli helicopter (in Israeli airspace) last year also came from Libya, according to Israeli security officials.



The international media and diplomats regularly accuse Israel (often wrongly) of preventing the free flow of goods into Gaza.

But yesterday Israel sharply rebuked Hamas for closing the main crossing from Israel into Gaza. As of last night, over 70 trucks filled with food and other goods were waiting on the Israeli side of the Kerem Shalom crossing for their Palestinian counterparts to take them.

It is believed that Hamas is trying to take control of the commercial goods crossing from the Palestinian Authority, thus endangering security arrangements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that allow goods to cross freely into Gaza.

Kerem Shalom Crossing is the primary commercial goods crossing into Gaza from Israel. An average of 300 trucks carrying food and other items cross there every day. The crossing has been the site of many terror attacks in the past that have forced the crossing to close temporarily, but yesterday’s events are the first time that Hamas has closed Kerem Shalom in this manner.


Last week, Palestinians fired a rocket from Gaza into southern Israel for the first time since a few days after a ceasefire was brokered three months earlier. It landed on a road south of the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, causing damage but no injuries. The M-75-type Grad rocket has a medium range and was the same kind used to hit Tel Aviv and the outskirts of Jerusalem during November’s eight day conflict between Hamas and Israel.

The Gaza branch of Fatah, the Al-Aqsa martyrs Brigade, claimed responsibility for the attack. (Several rockets were fired into Israel by Hamas in the days following the ceasefire three months ago, but Israel did not respond.)


An Egyptian court has ruled that the Egyptian government must destroy all tunnels between Egypt and Gaza in order to end weapons smuggling. President Mohammed Morsi’s national security advisor said the two-way flow of arms is destabilizing the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt has already flooded dozens of tunnels, sometimes with sewage.



The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) today posted a notice on its website announcing next month’s Gaza marathon would be cancelled and apologizing to participants.

In last year’s Gaza marathon, female runners were permitted among the 2,200 participants, but this year Hamas has barred them as “unIslamic”.

Last week’s Jerusalem marathon (which included Israeli, Palestinian and international participants) drew 20,000 runners including Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat.



Dozens of Palestinian students swarmed around a senior British diplomat on Tuesday, leaping on his vehicle, banging the windows and trying to attack him. The outburst forced the British consul general in east Jerusalem, Sir Vincent Fean, to cancel a speech at the Palestinian Birzeit University in the West Bank.

Fean claimed he was not hurt, although an Associated Press photographer said he saw one student kicking Fean in the shins. Student leaders also told AP that they saw rocks hurled at the vehicle.

Fean was hurried away by security and university staff.

Birzeit University condemned Tuesday’s incident in a statement.



The outgoing Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, has called on the U.S. to establish a “regional security framework” that would bring together many countries in the Middle East to fight against the “joint challenges of radical Islamist terror, border security, missile defense and Iran.”

Barak also called for a “daring peace initiative” for a permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians. He said that an independent Palestinian state is “a compelling imperative” for Israel.

However, he added that if neither “a permanent agreement nor a fair interim agreement” can be achieved, Israel should “consider unilateral steps that would include establishing a border by Israel in which Israel would keep the major settlement blocs close to the green line and “ensure a Jewish majority for generations to come.”

In effect, this would mean Israel withdrawing from most of the West Bank, while annexing about 12 percent of the territory where most of the Israelis there live.



Echoing the Biblical Passover story, in which a plague of locusts descended over Egypt, one of ten plagues that are said to have led the Pharaoh to allow the enslaved Israelites to cross the Sinai into Israel, huge swarms of locusts have in recent days been gathering in Egypt.

An estimated 30 million of the crop-destroying bugs are now swarming in Egypt. Egyptian officials say locusts always breed in North Africa around this time of the year, but this year there are a particularly large number. However, they insist that the situation is under control. They urged citizens not to burn tires to try to get rid of the insects as that does not work, but instead causes pollution.

Today, several thousand locusts from Egypt arrived in southern Israel, just ahead of the Passover holiday, retelling the Biblical story of the exodus from Egypt, which will be celebrated by Jews in Israel and around the world later this month.

The last time locusts invaded Israel was 2005. A locust swarm can contain tens of millions of bugs per square mile. A single ton of the insects, which is only a tiny percentage of a large swarm, consumes as much food as 2500 people per day.



Yityish Aeinao, 21, from Netanya has been crowned the first ever Miss Israel from the country’s Ethiopia minority. She came to Israel at age 12 with her brother after her parents had died and has served as an officer in the Israeli army.

She will represent Israel in the Miss World pageant in Jakarta, in the mainly Muslim country of Indonesia on September 28.



Israeli president Shimon Peres may be celebrating his 90th birthday this year, but it seems he has not let up on his incredibly busy schedule. For example, yesterday he left for a visit to the European Union.

His office said, in a press release, that he “will conduct a series of diplomatic, economic and security meetings with senior leaders on a range of issues of importance to Israel including the Iranian nuclear threat, Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, arms smuggling into Lebanon, the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians and the strengthening of strategic relations between Israel and the European Union.

“During the visit President Peres will meet with heads of state including the President of France, Francois Hollande (8 March), the Prime Minister of Belgium Elio Di Rupo (6 March) and the President of Bulgaria Rosen Plevneliev (6 March) as well as with the leaders of the European Union including the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz (12 March), the President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso (7 March) and the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy (6 March). The meetings will take place in the context of the inquiry into the terror attack in Bulgaria which found that Hezbollah was responsible for the bombing and the subsequent discussions within Europe on the consequences.

“President Peres will also hold strategic meetings with the Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen (8 March in Brussels) and the OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria (8 March in Paris) before delivering a speech to the senior economic forum of the OECD which will include hundreds of representatives of global companies, heads of the economic committees and the ambassadors of the member countries. President Peres will lay out his vision for the role of global companies in creating change in the Middle East.

“President Peres will conclude the visit with an historic speech in Strasbourg before the European Parliament. The speech will be the first by an Israeli leader before the European Parliament in its current format.

“President Peres’ historic speech at the European Parliament will be broadcast live via the European Union’s website.”

Tom Gross adds: Men and women half his age might have trouble keeping up with him.



Because of my continued problems with my arms and wrists, I am under doctor’s orders to avoid typing as much as possible in the coming weeks. (To all those who wrote to ask, I am using voice-activated software, but it makes many mistakes and cannot be used to prepare dispatches of this length.)

So I apologize that I cannot, for the time being, reply to many emails I receive.

But thank you to all the people who wrote to me about my recent article:

The UN’s willful ignorance of modern-day slavery.

It was also highlighted as one of the five best columns of the day by The Atlantic magazine.

Below, I attach an article from last week relating to health risks or over-using computers, below.


Desk workers - stand up for your health: Millions may be making themselves ill by spending their working lives sitting down
By Steve Connor
The Independent (UK)
February 27, 2013

If you are reading this sitting down then the chances are you are also increasing your risk of developing heart disease, blood clots on the brain and even certain types of cancer.

The latest evidence suggests that being seated for much of the day can also increase your risk of developing diabetes. However, standing up daily for an extra 90 minutes significantly lowers your chances of developing this serious metabolic disorder.

A growing body of research is finding that sitting down for extended periods may be one of the most dangerous things we do and that the mere act of standing up – rather than doing physical exercise – is perhaps the best antidote.

Studies suggest that on average we spend about 9 or 10 hours a day sitting, either at the office, in the car or train, or in front of the television. But some people spend up to 16 hours a day sitting down – leaving little time for any other activity apart from sleep.

A study of two groups of men and women at risk of developing diabetes has found a link between levels of sugary glucose and fatty acids in the bloodstream – which are biochemical markers for diabetes – and the time spent sitting down.

The research, published in the journal Diabetologica, found a range of behaviours: some of the people in the study spent as little as three hours a day sitting, but most spent more than 10 hours in a chair, and a few regularly sat down for 16 hours a day. The conclusion was that people at risk of diabetes could be well advised to spend less time sitting and more time standing up, said Joseph Henson, a diabetes researcher at Leicester University.

“The longer the time you spend sitting, the higher the amount of sugars and fats that accumulate in your bloodstream regardless of the time you spend exercising,” Dr Henson said.

“There’s a significant difference between people who sit a lot and those who don’t. Those who spend the least time sitting have the lowest values of glucose and fats in their blood.”

Scientists have found that a person’s metabolic rate crashes to a minimum when sitting and that standing up for an extra three hours a day, even without exercising, would on average burn off about 3.6kg of fat a year.

When a person is standing still they are using their muscles more than when they are sitting still. The muscles that keep someone standing up seem to produce more of the enzymes that break down sugar and fats in the bloodstream, Dr Henson said.

The current advice for lowering the risk of heart disease and type-2 diabetes is to exercise regularly but perhaps it is time to consider the suggestion of standing up more often, especially at work during the day, he said.

“The approach requires a paradigm shift, so that individuals at high risk of developing type-2 diabetes think about the balance of sedentary behaviour and physical activity throughout the day. Anything that breaks your sitting time would be beneficial because the more you move the better it is for you. But people should still exercise – standing should not be seen as a substitute for physical activity.”

Office desks that allow people to stand up while working are becoming increasingly popular and could be an easy and simple way for people to lower the risk of developing chronic metabolic disorders such as diabetes, Dr Henson said.

“Standing desks are a great initiative – I’ve got one myself. I reckon I spend about 80 per cent of my time at work standing up.”


Working while standing up is nothing new. This was how most manual workers went about earning their living before the age of the office and the computer.

Standing up at a desk has been particularly popular among authors. Vladimir Nabokov, the author of Lolita, wrote on a set of index cards while standing, as did his compatriot Alexander Solzhenitsyn when he was in exile in the United States.

Meanwhile, Ernest Hemmingway preferred to type while standing in a pair of oversized loafers on the hide of a lesser kudu – a type of forest antelope. He said it made him feel more physical.

Winston Churchill liked to stand up while writing and editing, and there is even a brand of standing desk named after him. Donald Rumsfeld, another politician with a love of standing at work, has yet to receive the same honour.

James Murdoch is a famous latter-day user of a waist-high office desk. He once suggested to his employees at News International that they should get rid of their chairs.

“They weren’t very happy. It was very funny. They didn’t know whether to take me seriously,” he said.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.