The Arab English Language Press: What They Are Saying.

Admin staff member oversees ballot boxes in Ismailia. (Daily News Egypt photo / Hassan Ibrahim)

A Weekly Round-Up of News for December 16, 2011. 

Settlers attack Israeli army base

Gulf Times, Qatar – Radical Jewish settlers attacked an army base and staged protests in a closed military zone on the Jordan border overnight, sparking a sharp condemnation yesterday from the Israeli premier. In the early hours of yesterday morning, around 50 settlers forced their way onto a key army base in the northern West Bank and vandalised military vehicles there following rumours troops were about to evacuate settlement outposts, the military said. Several hours earlier, some 30 settlers broke into a Christian baptismal site in a closed military zone along the Jordanian border to stage a protest.  Both incidents were swiftly condemned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who ordered the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) “to act aggressively” against anyone attacking Israeli troops. “This incident must be completely condemned. The security forces need to concentrate on defending our citizens and not on such outrageous lawbreaking,” he said in a statement. An army statement said the early-morning attack had targeted the Ephraim base near the northern town of Qalqilya. “Overnight, approximately 50 rightwing activists infiltrated the Ephraim regional division headquarters, set fire to tyres and damaged vehicles with stones, bottles of point and by placing nails on the road,” it said.

Hamas’ Gaza anniversary draws tens of thousands

Kuwait Times – Tens of thousands of Gazans turned out yesterday for an anniversary rally of the ruling Hamas, a demonstration of strength for the Islamic militant movement ahead of Palestinian general elections tentatively set for the spring. The annual rally has become an increasingly elaborate exercise in stagecraft since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 following internal fighting with forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The crowd faced a huge stage in the shape of a ship, meant to symbolize the Palestinian journey of return to all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, including what is now Israel. A large replica of Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque, built on the ruins of the biblical Jewish Temples, served as a backdrop. “Oh, Jerusalem, we are coming,” read one of the banners. Hamas’ prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, arrived as a band rallied the crowd in a chant of “We will not recognize Israel. A boy dressed in a Hamas military uniform greeted him, and a young girl in a white dress and green Hamas bandanna handed him a flower and Hamas and Palestinian flags. Speakers blasted chants of “God is the greatest.” Addressing the crowd, Haniyeh called for continued armed struggle against Israel. “We affirm that armed resistance is our strategic option and the only way to liberate our land, from the sea to the river,” he said. “God willing, Hamas will lead the people … to the uprising until we liberate Palestine, all of Palestine.

Iran lawmakers pass Syria free trade bill

Gulf News, UAE –  Iran’s parliament on Tuesday passed a bill for a free trade agreement with Syria in a show of support for President Bashar Al Assad’s regime beset by protests and international pressure. The bill provides for free trade between Iran and Syria within the next five years, according to Iranian state television. Both countries are subject to international sanctions on their economies.  The bill was introduced into parliament as an emergency procedure by Iran’s government. Allaedin Boroujerdi said the proposed pact was “a firm response” to the United States and its allies “investing billions of dollars to change the political structure of the Syrian government”. Syria is Iran’s main ally in the Middle East. Iranian officials, however, have recently criticised repression by Syrian security forces against pro-democracy protesters that has killed more than 5,000 people according to a UN estimate.

Muslim Brotherhood stronghold sees possible vote split

The Daily News, Egypt –  Residents of Ismailia were divided between candidates of Islamist parties and those of the liberal Egyptian Bloc on Thursday, as the second day of elections witnessed a low turnout. Ismailia is considered the birthplace of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), where the founder of the group Hassan Al-Banna was born. However, many voters in the city, including in the neighborhoods of El-Hay El-Awal, El-Tani and El-Sheikh Zayed, voted for the more liberal Egyptian Bloc. “I voted for the Egyptian Bloc because they will deal with the people’s problems with efficiency, regardless of religion,” Radwa Mohamed, 22, told Daily News Egypt. Amira El-Ashry agreed, saying that people voted for the Egyptian Bloc in a bid to achieve some balance in the upcoming parliament. Results of the first round of elections showed sweeping gains for the Islamists, with the MB’s Freedom and Justice Party in the lead followed by the hardline Al-Nour Party. “The FJP will win a lot of seats anyway, so some people want to balance the scale by voting for the Egyptian Bloc,” El-Ashry said.

Falluja, Iraq celebrates the US withdrawal by burning American and Israel flags –  Falluja, the largest city in west Iraq’s Anbar Province, has held a mass meeting, attended by delegations from different Iraqi provinces on Wednesday, for occasion of the impending withdrawal of the US forces from Iraq, during which they burnt the American and Israeli flags. “Falluja city had witnessed today two celebrations, the first in alHadra al-Mohammadiya Mosque at the city center and the second inside the Scientific & Cultural Gathering, attended by a number of religious clerics and cultural personalities,” Khalid Hmoud, a Falluja Cleric told news agency. The demonstration had witnessed reading of poems and verses, commemorating the victims who fell due to American attacks, whilst some of the demonstrators raised the previous Iraqi flag, with 3 stars and burnt American and Israeli flags, along with raising placards expressing their rejoice for the American withdrawal from Iraq, including “Falluja, the Spark of Resistance and Address of Liberation.” Falluja city, that had witnessed strong resistance against the US Army since Iraq’s occupation in 2003 and till 2008, when the Sahwas (Lightning) organizations controlled the whole of Anbar Province, is 60 km to the west of Ramadi, the center of Anbar Province, 110 km to the west of Baghdad.

More than 100 countries recognise Palestine as a state

The Jordan Times – After Iceland’s formal recognition of the Palestinian state on Thursday, at least 112 countries around the world have recognised Palestine, according to an AFP count. In Latin America, Uruguay and Peru joined the growing ranks of countries which recognised Palestine this year, with 12 out of the region’s 13 countries formally recognising it as a state. Only Colombia, a key ally of the United States in the region, has not followed that path. In Central America, the Palestinian state has been recognised by Cuba, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Salvador. Arab countries have also recognised Palestine, notably Syria in July of this year. In Europe, Iceland became one of the few Western European countries and NATO members to do so, joining the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta and Poland. Around 150 countries maintain diplomatic relations with the Palestinians in one form or another.

Pope’s peace message: more power to world’s young

The Daily Star, Lebanon – Benedict XVI called on the world’s political and educational leaders on Friday to empower the younger generations, which have been left feeling frustrated and powerless by the economic crisis. In his traditional message for World Peace Day on January 1, which was released on Friday, the pope calls on world leaders to “welcome and value” the young, who he encouraged to play their part in building a more “just” future. “In the year drawing to a close, a feeling of frustration caused by the economic crisis which has hit society, the world of work and the economy, has risen,” he says in his speech “Educating young people in justice and peace.” The head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, who attended the press conference on Friday, said the pope was thinking specifically of the world’s “Indignant” protesters. “A series of protests by young people in Europe, in Latin America, in the United State, revealed a pessimist outlook and despair in the face of the crisis,” he said, referring also to the youthful protesters of the Arab spring.

‘Inventing’ reasons to please Israel

Arab News, Saudi Arabia – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to crack down on Israeli “extremists” who in recent months have attacked mosques, most recently in Jerusalem. It would be a fine thing to believe what he says, except that Netanyahu himself leads a government that is one of the most extreme since Israel’s 1948 creation. The reality is that the views and attitude of the gang of settlers who have just been arrested and charged with these appalling and deliberately inflammatory crimes are merely a logical extension of the Eretz Israel (Greater Israel) policies that underpin Netanyahu’s Likud Party and his no-less radical coalition allies. He has refused to stop the expansion of illegal settlements on Palestinian land as a precondition to talks demanded by the Palestinians. Government spokesmen speak openly of the changing “facts on the ground.” Netanyahu is, therefore, sponsoring a further substantial theft of land in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. As each of these ugly, fortress-like new settlements is completed, the Israeli government, like its predecessors, is offering extremely generous financial inducements to attract Israelis to go and live in them. How can a government that steals a neighbor’s land and gives it to its own people, possibly be surprised that these heavily-armed settlers, with their swaggering arrogance and utter contempt for anyone’s opinion but their own, should start to attack mosques, beat up Palestinians and behave like thugs? There is no substantive difference between the criminality of government-sponsored settlements on Palestinian land and the hate attacks on mosques, the torching of vehicles and the daubing of racist graffiti.

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