Mid-week news roundup from the Arab English-language press- December 10, 2008.

-Hezbollah turns down Carter call for meeting

Leaders of the Lebanese Shia Muslim group Hezbollah have turned down a request to meet former US president Jimmy Carter during a visit to Lebanon that began yesterday, a Carter spokesman said. Carter had requested a meeting with the Iran-backed political and military movement, which is listed as a terrorist group by Washington, as part of a visit to assess whether his Carter Centre will monitor a legislative election next year. “I understand that some of the leaders of Hezbollah have said they were not going to meet with any president or former presidents of the US,” Carter said upon his arrival at Beirut airport, adding that he would meet other leaders. A Carter spokesman confirmed a meeting had been requested with Hezbollah, whose guerrilla army fought a 34-day war with US ally Israel in 2006. “They said they were not able to meet,” Carter spokesman Rick Jafculca said. -Gulf Times, December 9, 2008.

-Hamas refuses to allow Palestinian pilgrims to go on annual hajj

Palestinian pilgrims who registered with the Hamas-run Ministry of Religious Affairs in Gaza have not been granted visas by Saudi Arabia. “We urge the Saudi king to issue visas so that all pilgrims in Gaza can go on hajj. Why should a Palestinian who belongs to a certain faction be allowed to leave and others not? We are against such political discrimination manifesting itself in religious matters,” said Hussein. Hamas set up a checkpoint 300 metres from the Rafah gate following Egypt’s opening of the crossing on Saturday, reportedly preventing people from passing into Egypt. There were sporadic clashes and 13 people were injured. Egypt agreed to open the crossing for three days. While Hamas spokesman Taher El-Nunu denied that the movement had prevented people from crossing the border, Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki called Hamas’s actions a “disgrace”. . The reason behind Hamas’s refusal to allow the pilgrims passage centres on disputes over how Saudi visas were allocated in the territories. Saudi Arabia issued visas for pilgrims who applied through the Palestinian Authority but did not accept the list submitted by Hamas. –Al-Ahram Weekly-Online December 2-9, 2008.

-Egyptians urge government to stop Jewish fete

Egyptian activists are pushing for the cancellation of an annual Jewish festival in the Delta. They are launching a nationwide campaign to collect a million signatures to compel the Egyptian government to stop the festival celebrating the birthday of Abu Hasira, a 19th century Moroccan Jewish “holy man”. Thousands of Israelis flock to Egypt every year to attend the controversial festival in late December. “Farmers are under pressure from [local] brokers to sell their land in the vicinity of the Abu Hasira tomb for Jewish investors who wish to set up hotels there,” said MP Zakaria Al Janayni, one of the campaigners against the festival. “Those brokers offer very high prices, but their offers have so far been turned down,” he added. He said he would make an urgent request to the government to cancel the festival. In 2004 an Egyptian court ruled against holding the festival and revoked a decision by the Ministry of Culture that listed the Abu Hasira tomb in the Delta village of Demito, some 120 kilometres north of Cairo, as an antiquity area. The government has yet to comply with the ruling. – Gulf News, December 9, 2008.

-Changing Tack

Egypt has put the blame for the failure of efforts to reconcile the Palestinian Authority (PA), in the West Bank, and Hamas, in Gaza, squarely on the latter. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit recently said so in so many words. And Egypt should know better why the deal that would have made the two principal Palestinian factions see eye-to-eye broke down in November, since it was Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman who was in contact with and liaised between the two sides, putting the weight of his government behind the effort. It can be easily assumed where the fault lies for aborting the last-ditch attempt to establish a Palestinian unity government, formed of technocrats that neither Fateh, the powerhouse of the PA, nor Hamas would have had control over. Hamas seems to be divided, and this explains the conflicting signals emanating from the movement. Its leadership outside Gaza did not like the compromise Cairo was suggesting and forced the Hamas leaders in Gaza to back away from it at the last minute. Against this backdrop, it is unfortunate that the last meeting of the Arab foreign ministers in Cairo, that was convened to deal with the Gaza situation in general and the Israeli blockade of the strip in particular, did not come out in the open and name Hamas as the faction responsible for lack of progress in achieving unity among Palestinians.- The Jordan Times, December 8, 2008

-‘Thousands’ join anti-Ahmadinejad rally in Tehran

Iranian students held a protest Sunday at Tehran University calling for freedom and denouncing the policies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a pro-reform student group said. The protest amid heavy security was organized by the radical pro-reform Office to Consolidate Unity (OCU) student group to mark National Student Day. “There was tough control, they [authorities] would not let  anyone in but students broke the gate and came in,” OCU member Mehdi Arabshahi told AFP. “A lot of protests were directed at Ahmadinejad over oppression  in universities and the bad economy,” he added. “The protesters also demanded academic freedom and respect for  human rights.” According to him “thousands of students from different universities were there” for the two-hour protest, which started at noon. National Student Day is observed on December 6 but student sources said they had decided to hold the protest one day late in order to avoid official ceremonies. – The Daily Star, Lebanon. December 8, 2008.

-UN watchdog chief says Iran anti-nuclear efforts failed

The head of the UN nuclear watchdog said that international efforts to halt Iranian nuclear activity have been a failure, according to an interview with the Los Angeles Times. We haven’t really moved one inch toward addressing the issues,” said Mohamed El Baradei who heads the International Atomic Energy Agency, in an interview published Saturday. “I think so far the policy has been a failure.” Iran has faced three sets of UN Security Council sanctions over its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment activities, but over the past five years Tehran has pressed on with its controversial nuclear work. The United States and other western powers suspect that the Islamic republic’s nuclear program is a cover for an atomic weapons-making program. Iran, a leading OPEC oil producer, denies it is seeking nuclear weapons and says it aims to provide energy for its growing population when its reserves of fossil fuels run out. The IAEA reported last month that Iran now has more than 5,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges in operation.- Kuwait Times December 8, 2008.

Best NGO name of the week goes to:

The Bahrain Society to Resist Normalisation with the Zionist Enemy


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