NEWS IN BRIEF
After UN Watch protest, HRW removes Falk and deletes his name from website
UN Watch reports: Human Rights Watch (HRW) has just expelled U.N. official Richard Falk — the notorious Hamas supporter, 9/11 conspiracist and antisemite — from one of its prestigious committees, where he helped played a key role in the organization’s global work.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Joins ‘Zionist’ Facebook
Radio Free Europe reports: Already active on microblogging site Twitter, social network Google+, and photo-sharing network Instagram, Iran’s supreme leader has now joined Facebook — which has been blocked by Iranian authorities and demonized as a “Zionist” instrument and a tool of “soft war” against the Islamic republic. The “Khamenei.ir” Facebook page, which was launched on December 13 and publicized on the supreme leader’s Twitter account, has so far been liked by more than 3,000 users.The Facebook debut is the latest move by Khamenei’s media-savvy Internet team, which spreads his “ideas and personality” in several languages in cyberspace. The team is also behind Khamenei’s sophisticated Khamenei.ir website, which is available in 13 languages. Khamenei’s Facebook page is likely to stir up controversy and raise eyebrows among the millions of Iranians who must access Facebook through antifiltering tools and proxy servers.
Defected Syrian general says country’s chemical arsenal matches Israel’s nuclear store
Albawaba news agency (Jordan) reports: The Syrian regime has a large arsenal of chemical weapons, which matches up to Israel’s nuclear arsenal, the defected former head of Syria’s chemical warfare program told Al Arabiya on Monday. Major-General Adnan Sillu, who defected from the regime earlier this year, was party to top-levels talks about the use of chemical weapons on both rebel fighters and civilians. He told Al Arabiya where the Syrian regime has stored its chemical weapons in specific cities across the war-torn country, highlighting chemical warehouses in the city of Homs and weapons stored also in scientific research center in Aleppo. “Syria’s chemical arsenal has reached similar levels to Israel’s nuclear weapons,” he said in the interview. Israel is believed to be one of the world’s largest nuclear superpowers. Sillu, who once led the army’s chemical weapons training program, said in June that the main storage sites for mustard gas and nerve agents are supposed to be guarded by thousands of Syrian troops but that they would be easily overrun. “Probably anyone from the Free Syrian Army or any Islamic extremist group could take them over,” he said.
Rebels capture [Palestinian] Damascus camp
The Daily Star, (Lebanon) reports: Syrian rebels took full control Monday of the Yarmouk area of southern Damascus – home to the majority of Syria’s Palestinian population – after days of fierce clashes and government airstrikes Sunday, rebel and activist sources said. The fighting in Yarmouk district pits the pro-regime Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command against rebel fighters, some of them also Palestinians, opposed to President Bashar Assad… Clashes raged in Yarmouk earlier Monday, a day after Syrian fighter jets bombed a mosque there, killing at least 25 people.
Al-Qaeda affiliate playing larger role in Syria rebellion
The Kurdistan National Assembly reports: Syrian opposition leaders report an alarming growth within their ranks of fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, an extremist group linked to al-Qaeda. The Jabhat group now has somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 fighters, according to officials of an non-governmental organization that represents the more moderate wing of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). They say that the al-Qaeda affiliate now accounts for 7.5 percent to 9 percent of the Free Syrian Army’s total fighters, up sharply from an estimated 3 percent three months ago and 1 percent at the beginning of the year. The extremist group is growing in part because it has been the most aggressive and successful arm of the rebel force.
Sinai group threatens to demolish Jewish monuments in Egypt
Ma’an News Agency, (Gaza) reports: A Sinai-based group threatened Tuesday to demolish a Jewish tomb if Israeli authorities destroy a Ramallah-area monument for Egyptian fighters killed in fighting with Israel. The Ahrar of Sinai (Free People of Sinai) movement will destroy the Abu Yaakov Abuhatzeira tomb in Beheira and Dayan Rock if Israel demolishes the Egyptian monument, the head of the movement told Ma’an. Muhamad al-Hindi said the movement would urge the population of the northern Sinai and Beheira to demolish the monuments Friday after reports surfaced that Israel planned to harm the Egyptian memorial. But he said his movement would back down if Israel did the same. On Sunday Israeli media said the monument in the West Bank was built without necessary permits and Egypt’s Foreign Ministry was engaged in talks with Israeli officials to maintain the site.
Hezbollah chief: Al Qaida ‘tricked’ in Syria
Gulf News, (UAE) reports: Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah warned Al Qaida on Sunday that it had been tricked into fighting in Syria, and that the rebellion would not be able to topple the regime of President Bashar Al Assad militarily. “The Americans, Europeans and some governments in the Arab and Muslim world have set a trap for you in Syria,” the head of Lebanon’s most powerful military force said. “They have opened the entire country for you to congregate there from all corners of the world and kill one another,” he said, in a speech broadcast during an annual university graduation ceremony in the southern suburbs of Beirut. “And you are complicit in this trick,” Nasrallah added.
Iran should stop interfering in Yemen – official
The Gulf News (UAE) reports: Yemen’s security chief has told Iran to stop training and funding Shi’ite Muslim rebels who, along with Al Qaeda-backed Islamists and southern separatists, are staging one of three insurgencies threatening to pull the chaotic country apart… Major-General Ali Al Ahmadi, president of Yemen’s National Security Board accused Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels who operate in northern Yemen near the border with Saudi Arabia – the world’s top oil exporter which is competing with Iran for regional influence.
Gaza stalemate could lead to lasting peace
The Arab News, (Saudi Arabia) in an op-ed by Abdulraham Al-Saeed reports: Rarely, if ever, in the difficult and sordid history of the Arab-Israeli conflict have we seen a moment when the stars have been so perfectly aligned. For the first time there is the potential to turn a cautious cease-fire into a permanent peace. This may sound optimistic just weeks after Israel and Hamas last fought each other, but a discerning review of the changing circumstances, and the new rules and rulers surrounding the conflict, augurs well for a new turn in the narrative. The first change of note is the formula upon which the most recent cease-fire has been built. Unusually, there was clearly no winner or loser in the latest exchanges. Israel’s hesitation to pursue a ground invasion of Gaza is a clear signal that something has changed. As is the end of rocket fire from Gaza. Whether the cause is Israel’s lack of appetite for human and material loss or a conviction among Palestinians that they can live with what was achieved, the result speaks for itself.
Gunmen kill five female polio workers in Pakistan
Asharq Al-Awsat, (London) reports: Gunmen killed five Pakistani women working on a U.N.-backed polio vaccination campaign in two different cities on Tuesday, officials said. The attacks were likely an attempt by the Taliban to counter an initiative the militant group has opposed. The attacks came a day after an unknown gunman killed a male volunteer for the World Health Organization’s anti-polio campaign in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi. The government is in the middle of a three-day vaccination campaign in the highest risk parts of the country, part of an effort to vaccinate millions of children under the age of five. Four of the women killed Tuesday were gunned down in Karachi, said Sagheer Ahmed, the health minister for surrounding Sindh province. Two male workers were critically wounded in the shootings, said Ahmed, who wrongly reported earlier that one of them had died. The attack on the polio workers was well-coordinated and occurred simultaneously in three different areas of the city, said police spokesman Imran Shoukat.