Saturday, April 3, 2010

Israeli journalist Anat Kam under secret house arrest since December


Woman faces treason trial after allegedly leaking documents that suggest military breached court order on West Bank assassinations

An Israeli journalist has been under secret house arrest since December on charges that she leaked highly sensitive, classified military documents that suggest the Israeli military breached a court order on assassinations in the occupied West Bank.

Anat Kam, 23, goes on trial in two weeks on treason and espionage charges and could face up to 14 years in jail. A court-imposed gagging order, proposed by the state and more recently by the defence, is preventing media coverage of the arrest and charges in Israel.

Kam is reportedly accused of copying military documents while she was a soldier on national service and then passing them to an Israeli newspaper, Haaretz. Kam denies the charges. Her lawyers declined to respond to repeated requests for comment.

A Haaretz journalist, Uri Blau, who has written several stories critical of the Israeli military and who has been linked in internet reports to the case, has left Israel and is now in London, apparently for fear he will be targeted for his reporting. Haaretz and Channel 10, an Israeli television station, will challenge the media gagging order at a hearing on 12 April, two days before Kam's trial is due to start at the Tel Aviv district court.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which reported the story from New York this week, said the investigation into Kam was jointly conducted by Israeli military intelligence, the police and the Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security service. The Israeli military declined to comment on the case.

During her military service, Kam reportedly worked in the office of a senior Israeli general and is accused of copying classified documents from the office. After her time in the army she became a journalist, working for the Israeli news website Walla, which was previously partly owned by Haaretz but entirely editorially independent. Reports suggest she is accused of leaking the documents to Haaretz.

Attention has focused on an investigation Haaretz published on the Israeli military's assassination policy in November 2008, written by Uri Blau and headlined "Licence to Kill". He reported that the military, the Israel Defence Force, had been carrying out assassinations of Palestinian militants in the West Bank in contravention of an Israeli high court ruling, which said efforts should be made first to arrest suspected militants rather than assassinating them.

The story described meetings in the spring of 2007 in which senior Israeli generals discussed a mission to assassinate Ziad Subahi Mahmad Malaisha, a senior leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The army chief, General Gabi Ashkenazi, allegedly approved the operation but said Malaisha's car was not to be attacked if there was "more than one unidentified passenger" in it.

Malaisha and another Islamic Jihad leader were killed by the military in June that year, and the military claimed at the time that the militants had first opened fire at the soldiers.

One of the generals involved in the meetings, Major-General Yair Naveh, was quoted in the story as defending the killings as legal. The AP reported that Kam served in Naveh's office during her military service.

The Haaretz piece was accompanied by copies of military documents but it was approved by the military censor before publication, the Guardian understands. The story was published more than a year before Kam was arrested and was followed by several other articles by Blau that were similarly critical of the military.

Dov Alfon, editor of Haaretz, said: "Uri Blau is in London. He will be there until his editors decide otherwise. We are ready to continue to keep him in London as long as needed. Uri Blau published a lot of articles in Haaretz. All of them are dynamite stuff and it is clear of course that the authorities are not satisfied with these kind of revelations in a major newspaper.

"We understand this but we also understand that Israel is still a democracy and therefore we intend to continue to publish whatever public interest demands and our reporters can reveal."

The alienation of Hamid Karzai

Asia times

By M K Bhadrakumar

It must have been the first time in the history of the United States that an incumbent president had to undertake a 26-hour plane journey abroad with repeated mid-air refueling to meet a foreign leader - all for a 30-minute pow-wow.

The staggering message that came out of US President Barack Obama's hurried mission to the presidential palace in Kabul to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai last Sunday afternoon is that his own AfPak diplomats have let him down badly.

The US president is left with not a single functionary in his star-studded AfPak team on whom he can rely to hold meaningful interaction with the Afghanistan president. Of course, AfPak special representative Richard Holbrooke is not about to lose his job so long as he enjoys the confidence of his mentor in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The Holbrooke factor
Why have things come to this impasse? The plain truth is that Karzai distrusts Holbrooke. He shares the widespread opinion in the capitals of the region that Holbrooke is under a Pakistani spell. On the other hand, Holbrooke's version is that Karzai is corrupt and presides over a morally decrepit and decadent regime that hangs around America's neck like an albatross.

But then, no one is asking Holbrooke since when is it that corruption became a big issue in America's South Asia policies? Billions and billions of dollars American taxpayers' dollars were funneled into the black hole that was military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq's Pakistan during the Afghan jihad.

In today's Afghan war, history is repeating itself. There is no accountability about where the money is going and it is the talk of the bazaars that vested interests control disbursement of such vast sums of money. The US Congress should perhaps begin an investigation starting with the so-called "experts" who advise the Pentagon and Holbrooke's team.

If the local grapevine is to be believed, a gravy train runs through Rawalpindi and Lahore to Kabul for civilian and military "experts" and "advisors" who are having a whale of a time.

Obama has lived in Indonesia and can figure out how gravy trains run on and on. For argument's sake, how much of the money that the international community poured into Afghanistan has indeed passed through Karzai's hands?

If the report tabled by the United Nations secretary general that was tabled in the Security Council in New York in March is to be believed, even after eight years of engagement in Afghanistan, 80% of international community assistance still bypasses the Afghan government and is not closely aligned with Kabul's priorities. Therefore, the corruption in Afghanistan needs to be viewed in perspective.

Karzai makes a serious point when he says that those who talk about corruption are obfuscating the real issues that aggravate the crisis of confidence between him and Washington. Now that Obama has plunged into the cesspool of AfPak diplomacy, he should perhaps get to the bottom of it and make it a point to try to understand why Karzai feels so alienated.

Looking back, the turning point was the critical period leading to the Afghan presidential election. Holbrooke should never have tried to exert blatant strong-arm tactics aimed at expelling Karzai from the Afghan leadership. Afghans are a proud people and will never tolerate such nonsense from a foreigner.

ISI's fear of Karzai
Karzai believes that Holbrooke and his aides were heavily influenced by Pakistani advice. Unsurprisingly, Pakistan hates Karzai and knows that as long as a Popolzai chieftain remains in power in Kabul, it cannot have its way in Afghanistan.

Karzai represents exactly the sort of Pashtun nationalism that the Punjabi-dominated military establishment in Pakistan dreads. When the ISI murdered former Afghan president Mohammad Najibullah in 1996, its calculations were precisely the same; namely, that there should be no rival fountainhead outside of its orbit of control with the potential stature to claim leadership in the Pashtun constituency.

The ISI is well aware that Karzai, in crafting his national reconciliation policy, is almost entirely emulating Najibullah. Like Najibullah, Karzai is at ease with the political ethos of observant Muslims, though himself imbued with staunchly secular beliefs. So, he cannot be pitted as alien to Afghan culture or to Islam.

Like Najibullah, he is prepared to accommodate the Islamist elements in the power structure within the framework of a broad-based government. He is also well-educated and urbane, and yet he keeps closely in touch with the tribal ethos and culture.

Karzai has direct contacts with the opposition Islamist camp and has no need of ISI intermediaries to put him in touch with the Taliban. Most importantly, like Najibullah - who was a blue-blooded Ahmedzai - Karzai too is a Pashtun aristocrat who has a place and a name in Pashtun tribal society.

In Karzai, the ISI faces a formidable opponent. The Taliban leaders will always appear to the ordinary Afghan as obscurant and medieval in comparison.

A shrewd tactician and coalition-builder like Karzai can be expected to frustrate the best-laid plans of the ISI to project power into Afghanistan. The ISI desperately tried to woo non-Pashtun ethnic groups during recent years, but Karzai frustrated these attempts and they eventually opted to rally behind him.

In short, no other Pashtun today on the Afghan political landscape has Karzai's ability to assemble such a diverse coalition comprising powerful non-Pashtun leaders such as Mohammed Fahim, Rashid Dostum and Karim Khalili (who often don't enjoy good relations amongst themselves), former Mujahideen commanders and tribal leaders, and even erstwhile communists and technocrats.

Karzai's game plan
Now, the big question for Obama is whether US interests necessarily coincide with those of the ISI. If they do not, Obama needs to ask Holbrooke for a coherent explanation as to why he used all his skill and the power of US muscle to try to oust Karzai.

Having failed to unseat Karzai, a furious media campaign has been launched to settle scores by humiliating him on the one hand and to establish that he must somehow be removed from power. Karzai's family members have been dragged into the controversy. Does the US think the Pakistani generals it deals with are lily-white?

Karzai, of course, proved to be no cakewalk for Holbrooke. He brusquely showed Holbrooke the door after a famous showdown in the presidential palace. Since then Karzai is a changed man. He is constantly on guard against American schemes aimed at trapping him.

Therefore, Obama did the right thing by deciding to deal with Karzai, warts and all, personally. In fact, he should have undertaken this mission to Kabul at least six months ago.

Karzai is a deeply disillusioned man today. The responsibility for almost all that has gone wrong in the war is placed on his doorstep. The whole world knows that the Afghan governmental machinery simply lacks the "capacity" to govern. There just aren't enough Afghans with the requisite skill to be administrators at the central or local level. There is no such thing as a state structure on the ground in Afghanistan. The people are so desperately poor that they go to any extent to eke out day-to-day living. Indeed, Karzai has to make do with what he has got, which is pitiably little.

Then, there is the acute security situation, which all but precludes effective governance. Karzai is invariably held responsible by the Afghan people for the excessive use of force by the US military and North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies during their operations that result in large-scale "collateral killings". Every time wanton killings take place, he cuts a sorry figure when it transpires that Americans coolly ignore his protestations.

To compound everything, Karzai is aghast that the ISI, which promotes the insurgency, is today far closer to the AfPak team than he could ever imagine himself to be. It is literally a situation where it's his word against the ISI's.

Thus, Karzai has turned to various groups to tap into the vast reservoir of resentment in the Afghan opinion about Pakistan's half-a-century-long interference in their country's internal affairs. In order to isolate Karzai, a campaign has been built up regarding these groups - "warlordism".

Gullible Western opinion gets carried away by the campaign over "warlordism", which militates against human rights and norms of civilized life. But no one ponders as to when is it in its entire history Afghanistan could do away with local strongmen, sodomy, tribalism or gun culture?

Besides, is "warlordism" typical of Afghanistan? Is it alien to Pakistan's feudal society? Famous books have been written about the "feudal lords" in the Punjab. According to authoritative estimates, not less than 8,000 Pakistanis have simply disappeared from the face of the earth after being nabbed by Pakistani security agencies since September 2001. Richard Falk, a renowned British journalist who is currently on a visit to Pakistan, has written harrowing accounts of what he has heard about these "disappeared".

Aren't the Taliban commanders "warlords"? The politics behind the highly selective invocation of "warlordism" in Afghanistan must be properly understood. It aims at discrediting Karzai's allies like Fahim, Dostum and Khalili, who would resist to the last minute another Taliban takeover of their country.

Taliban are fair game
The ISI's biggest worry is that some day Karzai might get through to Taliban leader Mullah Omar himself. Karzai has made no bones about it, either. As things stand, the ISI has to keep one eye over its shoulders all the time to see that outsiders do not poach in the Taliban camp. Keeping the Quetta Shura together as a single flock has always been a tough job that it is only going to get tougher.

The ISI dreads to think that all sorts of poachers are stalking the Taliban today - Iranians, Indians, Saudis, Russians, British, the Central Asians, and indeed the Americans themselves. The intelligence services of the world are no longer prepared to accept that the Taliban should remain the ISI's sole monopoly.

From the Taliban perspective, they too harbor hopes of some day breaking out of the ISI stranglehold. The ISI always had nightmarish fears that the Taliban might make overtures to Delhi for a covert relationship. Whenever it appeared that the Taliban were reaching out to the Indians (or vice versa ) and that some sort of communication channel might open between the erstwhile adversaries, the ISI precipitated gruesome incidents that hardened attitudes in Delhi and the door became shut against any form of rapprochement between the Taliban and the Indians.

Such ISI operations continue even today. It is a different matter, though, that there are probably enough "hawks" within the Indian strategic community and security establishment, too, who lack the political astuteness to respond to subtle overtures from the Taliban. In fact, the Indian consulates in Jalalabad and Kandahar can provide a great window for establishing direct contact with the Taliban. The ISI may not even get to know about such contacts.

Clearly, Obama's agenda is different from the ISI's. What Obama needs to factor in is that if Karzai is allowed a free hand, he will establish dialogue with the Taliban, sooner or later bypassing the ISI.

Karzai has excellent networking with the tribal channels and with Peshawar-based Pashtun nationalists. A genuine national reconciliation becomes possible since Karzai can act as a bridge between the Taliban and the virulently anti-Taliban "warlords". On the other hand, the backing of the "warlords" ensures that Karzai does not get overwhelmed by the Taliban. This is important as the Taliban today are the single-best organized force in the country, whereas Karzai lacks muscle power on his own without the backing of the "warlords".

Quintessentially, Karzai has resorted to what can only be called the "united front" strategy, to use the Marxist-Leninist parlance. He is probably on the right course, and in any case he has no other choice because he cannot hold out indefinitely against the full weight of the Pakistani "deep state" bent on demolishing him.

When American commentators blame Karzai for his apparent hurry to have alleged trade-offs with the Taliban, including Mullah Omar, they are unfairly not taking into account his real compulsions.

Curiously, Karzai's allies, the notoriously anti-Taliban "warlords" from the non-Pashtun groups, who have everything to lose in the event of a Taliban takeover, also see that time is not on their side as war-weariness sets in and the US searches for an exit strategy.

They also apprehend that the Taliban will become irreconcilable if the US's surge in military presence fails to produce the intended results, and, therefore, they realize the urgent need for the reconciliation strategy that Karzai is probing.

In their estimation, the "Afghan-ness" of the Taliban will eventually come out once they come on board a coalition - and that will erode the ISI's stranglehold over their country.

Pashtun alienation
That is to say, Obama should realize that Karzai does not visualize the Americans as his enemy, as is often being projected naively by correspondents for the Western media . Nor is Karzai irrational in striving for reconciliation. He has no reason to torpedo Obama's policy or to "spite" the US, as interpreted recently by a Washington Post correspondent.

Karzai is an able politician with acute survival instincts, and he is not a woolly headed romantic who fancies that he can get away with strategic defiance of the US, which has staked its global prestige and that of the entire Western alliance in the war in the Hindu Kush.

Obama should distinguish that it is the ISI and the Pakistani military whom Karzai (and the "warlords") considers to be his adversaries. His frustration is that the Americans are either far too naive to comprehend what is going on or are dissimulating since they are pursuing some "hidden agenda" in relation to the geopolitics of the region.

Karzai's alienation is widely shared by the Afghan elites in both Kabul and Peshawar. A grand tribal jirga was recently held in Peshawar just ahead of the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue of March 24, and was widely attended by noted Pashtun intellectuals, tribal leaders, politicians, professionals, civil society members, women's groups and representatives of established political parties of the North-West Frontier Agency.

Obama can always ask the American consulate in Peshawar for a report on the jirga. It will prove an eye-opener. Essentially, the jirga raised the widespread grievance that the Pashtuns do not trust Pakistan's Punjabi-dominated military establishment, which was leading the strategic dialogue with the US. The jirga alleged that the Pakistani military establishment's sole agenda is to attain "strategic depth" in Afghanistan and this lies at the root of the sufferings of the Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand Line.

The jirga issued the Peshawar Declaration, a statement which cautioned Washington that the root causes of terrorism lie in the Pakistani military establishment's "strategic depth" mindset and the Arab expansionism embodied by the al-Qaeda under the garb of global Islam.

It made an impassioned plea not to leave the helpless Pashtuns of the tribal agencies and the North-West Frontier Province at the mercy of the Pakistani army and the intelligence agencies.

In the prevailing circumstances, Karzai has no option but to turn toward Tehran for understanding and support. The Iranians have a profound understanding of the Afghan chessboard and can grasp the raging storms in the mind of the Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand Line.

The Iranians empathize with the plight of the Pashtuns, whose traditional way of life and eclectic culture have been systematically vandalized during the recent decades of the jihad. The Iranians are inclined to help Karzai, as they do not want a takeover of Afghanistan by the Wahhabi-inclined Taliban. The Iranians also have good contacts with the "warlords" and can ensure that the latter work with Karzai.

These are all good enough reasons why Karzai is keen to shore up Iranian support. But Karzai has no reason to conspire with the Iranians against the US. His first option will always be that the US reposes confidence in him and allows him to negotiate a national reconciliation.

Nor is Tehran unaware that Karzai's first preference will always be to work with the Americans. If Tehran has still opted to work with Karzai, that is because he has been an exceptionally good neighbor and, even during the period when he might have been an American "puppet", he never acted in a hostile manner against Iranian interests, instead welcoming Iran's participation in the Afghan reconstruction.

The human factor
In sum, Obama has done the right thing by inviting Karzai to go over to Washington in May to discuss all issues with him directly. In a war theater with 100,000 troops deployed, this is the right approach for a commander-in-chief to take. Even in our information age, wars cannot be fought through remote-control or video-conferencing. The human factor still counts.

In all probability, Obama will have the opportunity to form his own opinions about Karzai rather than hear from second-hand sources. Obama has a rare streak in his political personality insofar as, ultimately, he works his way out himself. He seems to sense he needs to get a correct picture of what is going on in Kabul and that is best done by seeing for himself.

Indeed, the stakes are high for Obama politically. The fact that he kept his distance from the high-profile Pakistani delegation that visited Washington last week is in itself an extraordinary statement regarding the way that his mind's antennae are probing the AfPak landscape.

Meanwhile, Holbrooke doesn't become superfluous. He claims to have developed good personal chemistry with Pakistani army chief General Pervez Kiani, which is always useful. Holbrooke should perhaps visit Islamabad and Rawalpindi more frequently.

Ambassador Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

ElBaradei urges Egyptian reforms

Al jazeera

Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog, has issued a public call for political change in Egypt ahead of presidential elections planned for next year.

Elbaradei, who is seen as a potential candidate for the polls, made the call at a meeting in northeast Egypt, defying an emergency law that bans gatherings critical of the government of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president.

"The state may be a centralised power but the people are stronger," he said on Friday.

ElBaradei, who has said he might stand in the election, urged the crowd of about 700 people to add their names to a petition seeking constitutional change to allow independents to run for president.

"Once we gather as many names as possible we will put it forward and bring about real change," he said.

The petition also calls for the emergency law that allows detention without charge and bans anti-government political activity like ElBaradei's public speech to be revoked.

"We seek peaceful reform by rallying large numbers of supporters for change. We seek constitutional amendments and free and fair elections," ElBaradei said.

"The Egyptian citizen has the right to choose his president."

Rare political gathering

Egyptian police often break up gatherings of more than five people but Friday's events went ahead without interruption.

"We received instructions from the interior ministry to allow the rally and gathering to go smoothly," a security officer at the speech said.

The gathering in Mansura, a university town between Cairo and the Mediterranean Sea, drew students dressed in shirts bearing his image, as well as doctors, taxi drivers, engineers and housewives.

"Oh, ElBaradei, Egypt wants democracy!" supporters chanted.

"There are thousands of alternatives in Egypt, ElBaradei is proof."

The crowd sang the national anthem and also chanted, "ElBaradei, say it strongly, Egypt wants democracy".

ElBaradei said his aim was to bring as many people as possible to the streets.

"What we saw today is the writing on the wall," ElBaradei told the Reuters news agency.

"The average Egyptian is out on the street calling for change, and this destroys the myth that this movement is by the elite or is just a virtual one on the internet."

Political analysts say the chances of securing constitutional change by next year are remote, with Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party dominating political life in the most populous Arab nation.

"The regime is clever this time because it knows that with ElBaradei the rules of the game are different," Yahya Al Gamal, a professor of law professor, told Reuters.

"International public opinion is following ElBaradei's every move so the Egyptian government is being smart and behaving in an intelligent way."

Western policy

Mubarak, 81, who has ruled since 1981, has not said if he plans to run for a sixth six-year term in 2011, but many Egyptians speculate that he will seek to hand power to his son Gamal.

Speaking about Western governments support of Mubarak, Elbaradei told Britain's Guardian newspaper on Thursday that their policies towards Arab governments risked encouraging Islamic extremism.

"The idea that Bin Laden and company are the only alternative to authoritarian regimes is a fake one," he said.

"People feel repressed by their own governments, they feel unfairly treated by the outside world, they wake up in the morning and they see Muslims from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Darfur being shot and killed."

"It has not been based on dialogue, understanding, supporting civil society and empowering people, but rather it's been based on supporting authoritarian systems as long as the oil keeps pumping."

Pakistan tables awaited constitutional reforms

Al arabiya


The Pakistani government introduced a constitutional bill in parliament Friday to transfer President Asif Ali Zardari's sweeping powers to the prime minister, possibly ending months of political wrangling.

The set of reforms, known as the "18th Amendment Bill", is expected to be passed by the two-chambered parliament, effectively turning Zardari into a titular head of state.

The development may help calm political opposition to Zardari, but the government faces mounting pressure from an assertive Supreme Court to reopen corruption cases against the president after it threw out a controversial amnesty law in December.

"I suspect that after the signing of the 18th amendment, it (the political environment) is going to change," said Samina Ahmed, South Asia director for the International Crisis Group.

"Part of the problem is structural. Nobody knows where the locus of authority lies."

Because of that uncertainty, she said all branches of government are trying to expand their powers at the expense of the others.

"There's a little bit of muscle flexing all around."

18th amendment

But if the 18th Amendment goes through smoothly, the center of authority goes to the parliament, "with the judiciary interpreting" -- possibly leading to a less assertive bench.

"It will settle down," Ahmed predicted.

That hasn't happened yet. On Friday, Pakistan's Attorney General Anwar Mansoor Khan resigned, just one day after he told the Supreme Court that the law minister and his ministry were not providing him documents relating to corruption cases against thousands of people, including Zardari.

"It had become impossible for me to work in such a situation," Khan told Reuters.

Analysts say that even as a ceremonial president, Zardari would still yield considerable influence from his position as head of the Pakistan People's Party, the country's largest political party.

The PPP was once led by former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Zardari's wife, who was assassinated in December 2007.

Under the proposed constitutional amendments, the president will lose his key powers, including the authority to dissolve the national assembly and appoint powerful military chiefs and the chief election commissioner.

The bill gives the prime minister final say on dissolving the national assembly and appointing the heads of the armed forces. The bill also shifts Zardari's powers to appoint judges to a commission comprised of senior judges and government figures.

Farah Ispahani, a senior PPP leader, said it was wrong to say the bill "stripped" Zardari of his powers, "as he himself sought to restore the constitution to its original form without the amendments imposed by dictators."


" You think that the prime minister will become stronger after these amendments but I think now I will be the focus of all storms "
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza GilaniMost analysts, however, say Zardari only agreed to the reforms reluctantly after intense political pressure.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, a staunch Bhutto loyalist, will emerge as the powerful head of the government after these constitutional reforms are adopted. Analysts say his role will come under increased scrutiny in the future.

"You think that the prime minister will become stronger after these amendments but I think now I will be the focus of all storms," Gilani told parliament before the introduction of the bill.

"These proposals will strengthen democratic institutions."

The reforms would also abolish the two-term limit on prime ministers, allowing Nawaz Sharif, a two-time former prime minister and now opposition leader, to contest for a third term after general elections due in 2013.

Under the bill, provinces will get greater autonomy, while the mainly ethnic Pashtun North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan gets a new name as "Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa" in a bid to represent its dominant population.

The legislation is likely to be passed by far more than the two-thirds super-majority needed in parliament because it has been drafted by a parliamentary committee made up of all political groups.

No date has been fixed for its adoption.

Gitmo inmates give food to Haiti quake victims

Al arabiya


A group of inmates at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are setting aside some of their food as a donation to Haiti's earthquake victims, one of their lawyers told AFP.

Allison Lefrak said Ravil Mingazov, the last Russian held in Guantanamo, told him by telephone a week ago that fellow inmates from "camp 4" -- where the most cooperative prisoners are kept -- "had thought that a lot of food was going to be wasted."

"They thought it was common sense to ask if they can give it to the Haiti relief mission," the lawyer added.

Camp 4 prisoners are allowed to watch television and have been following the tragedy unfolding in nearby Haiti from the January 12 earthquake that killed about 220,000 people and left 1.3 million homeless, Lefrak said.

Despite their good intentions, he added, the prisoners of camp 4 were "doubtful" the food they have been gathering for around two weeks was actually being sent to Haiti by prison authorities.

Dozens dead in Baghdad shooting

Al jazeera

Up to 25 people have been killed after a group of men dressed in Iraqi army uniforms stormed three houses in southern Baghdad, Iraqi authorities have said.

The attack took place in a village in the capital's Rasheed district in the early hours of Saturday.

"Men wearing uniforms and driving vehicles similar to those used by the army stormed three houses in the village of Sufiya ... and killed 25 people, including five women," an interior ministry official said.

The victims were handcuffed and shot in the head, police said.

Awakening Councils

Major General Qassim al-Moussawi, a Baghdad security spokesman, said some of the victims were members of the Iraqi security forces and others of the Awakening Councils, Sunni militias who have allied with US forces to fight al-Qaeda.

He said authorities had arrested 25 people and sealed off the area to conduct a search for other suspects.

Seven people were left alive with their hands tied behind their backs after the attack, he said.

Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr, reporting from Baghdad, said the Rasheed district used to be an an al-Qaeda stronghold until the Awakening Council clamped down on the fighters.

"[Awakening Council members] are targets, just like security officials government officials."

She said the attack came in a time of political uncertainty with no clear winner emerged from the March 7 national elections and the political parties still negotiating to form alliances.

"A lot of discussion has taken place but still no progress. So, a lot of tension and speculation that the post-election period might see an upsurge in violence.

"It could be the Iraqi style of negotiating. This is what you hear when you talk to people here. They are expecting violence, maybe to step up pressure."

Israel threatens fresh military offensive in Gaza


Israel has threatened to launch a fresh military offensive in Gaza following a wave of airstrikes that marks the most serious escalation of violence in the costal enclave for more than a year. The Israeli military said aircraft bombed four targets yesterday used by Hamas to store and produce weapons in retaliation for 20 rockets fired from the Palestinian territory over the past month.

Reinforcing the message delivered by Israel's warplanes, the country's deputy prime minister, Silvan Shalom warned Hamas that patience in the Jewish state was wearing thin.

"If this rocket fire against Israel does not stop, it seems we will have to raise the level of our activity and step up our actions against Hamas," he told Israel radio.

"We won't allow frightened children to again be raised in bomb shelters and so, in the end, it will force us to launch another military operation," he said.

Amid fears that the situation could deteriorate and uncertainty as to how Hamas might respond, the Foreign Office called on both Israel and the movement to show restraint.

"We are concerned by today's strikes and the escalation of violence in Gaza and southern Israel over the past week," a spokesman said. "We encourage Israelis and Palestinians to focus efforts on negotiation and to engage urgently in US-backed proximity talks."

Three of the Israeli strikes hit an area near Khan Younis, in southern Gaza. Two missiles hit a guard post of Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades.

A fourth raid destroyed a workshop in the refugee camp of Nusseirat, in central Gaza, according to Hamas. Other witnesses said a small dairy factory was destroyed in western Gaza City.

Moawiya Hassanein, the head of the Palestinian emergency services in Gaza, said three Palestinian children, aged two, four and 11, had been hit by flying glass.

The air strikes are the fiercest since Israel's military invasion of Gaza. Operation Cast Lead, 15 months ago. From a military perspective military invasion of Gaza last year, was a success: Hamas stopped its almost daily rocket attacks on Israeli towns and cities near Gaza after the Holy Land's most volatile corner was pounded into submission.

But the operation came at a significant human cost that scarred Israel's international reputation. According to Israeli human rights groups, hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed, including 252 children.

Even as it has held its fire, Hamas is believed to have been busy restocking its arsenals. Responsibility for the occasional rocket attacks since the end of the invasion have been claimed mostly by other radical Islamist groups operating in Gaza.

The escalation in rocket attacks over recent weeks coincided with an Israeli decision to expand a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, captured by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day war but regarded by Palestinians as their future capital. The announcement of plans to build 1,600 settler homes came during a visit to Israel by Joe Biden, the US vice-president, to broker proximity peace talks. The move put a strain on US relations with Israel and on the Barack Obama's most senior aides described it as an "affront" to the US.

The Hamas movement's prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh yesterday called on the international community to stop "Israeli escalation". Mr Haniyeh insisted that Hamas was exerting pressure on smaller factions to cease their rocket attacks.

While indicating its commitment to maintaining an uneasy status quo with Israel, Hamas has acknowledged that its fighters were involved in an attack last week that killed two Israeli soldiers near the town of Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

At the time, Hamas suggested that it would use the justification of "self-defence" to resume attacks on Israeli troops who entered Gaza, a significant alteration of its recent rules of engagement that will have alarmed Israel's military commanders.

Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but retains control of the territory's borders. Its troops make regular incursions into the enclave in order to protect a buffer zone and enforce a controversial blockade that the United Nations says has caused a humanitarian crisis.

Few ordinary people in Gaza want Hamas to resume hostilities with Israel, although that may change should Israeli air strikes kill civilians.

Yesterday's Israeli attacks mainly struck Hamas military targets, although some witnesses in Gaza said that a dairy factory and a police station unconnected to the movement were also bombed.

Three children were slightly injured by flying glass, but there were no fatalities.

'Friendly fire' kills Afghan troops

Al jazeera

Six Afghan soldiers have been killed by German troops who opened fire on them after mistaking them for Taliban fighters, an Afghan government official has said. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official told Al Jazeera on Friday that the Afghan soldiers were fired on after arriving on the scene of a Taliban attack in Kunduz province that left three Germans dead.

Mohammed Omar, the governor of Kunduz, confirmed that a so-called friendly-fire incident had taken place, but was unable to verify the number of Afghan army casualties.

The government official also said five Afghans were wounded in the shooting.

The three German soldiers were killed earlier on Friday while battling Taliban fighters in the restive northern province.

Under attack

The Germans had been on a bridge-building and mine-clearing mission when they were ambushed by Taliban fighters who had laid bombs along the roadside.

A correspondent for the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel said that around 200 Taliban fighters had staged the ambush, adding that he had seen a vehicle blown up by a mine.

Fighting continued into the evening, and the Afghan army were deployed to offer assistance to the German troops. As they approached in the dark, the Germans opened fire on their vehicle.

German troops control much of northern Afghanistan, which is relatively peaceful.

But security in the area the attacks took place is volatile, and last month a German general said that the Nato force in Afghanistan was planning an offensive against the Taliban in the area later this year.

Bruno Kasdorf, the chief of staff at the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), refused to give further details of the planned offensive, but said it would be on a "similar" scale to the ongoing operation in Helmand province, where 15,000 troops have been deployed.

Thirty-nine German troops have now been killed in Afghanistan since troops arrived in 2002.

The German contingent in Isaf is currently 4000-strong, and 850 extra troops are set to be sent to Afghanistan after German politicians voted in favour of extending the mission there by another year.

Recession causes surge in mental health problems


Study reveals sharp rise in people suffering stress, anxiety and depression due to redundancies and job insecurity The number of people suffering stress, anxiety and depression because of redundancies, job insecurity and pay cuts owing to the recession is soaring, a study published today reveals.

Worries about the effects of the downturn have produced a sharp rise in people experiencing symptoms of common mental health conditions, according to the report, by academics from Roehampton University and the children's charity Elizabeth Finn Care.

The incidence of depression has jumped by between four and five-fold as unemployment, cuts in hours and concern about security of tenure have become common, the report found. Among people who have lost their jobs in the last year, 71% have suffered symptoms of depression, 55% said the same about stress and 52% experienced symptoms of anxiety.

Those ranked as of middle socio-economic status were more likely to experience depression (59.8%) than those from lower (44.9%) or higher groups (46.7%).

Among those who had experienced a drop in salary or cut in their hours or days, 51% said they had experienced symptoms of depression, 48% said the same for anxiety and 45% experienced stress symptoms.

Those aged 18-30 were more likely to suffer from depressive symptoms than any other age group.

Dr Joerg Huber, principal lecturer at Roehampton University, said: "What makes our findings worrying is the high percentage of people reporting symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. This applies even more to those who have lost their job or experienced a major loss of income."

Left untreated, depression could turn into "a vicious cycle of related disability and an inability to work", he added.

Mental health problems cost the UK about £110bn a year, according to a recent report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the London School of Economics and the NHS Confederation's mental health network. They found that demand for mental health treatment had increased during 2009 because of rising levels of debt, home repossessions, unemployment and threat of redundancy.

Prof Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said the increase in mental health problems identified by the researchers reflected the recent experience of family doctors. "GPs across the country have been seeing a definite increase in the last year in the number of patients coming to see them with mental health and physical issues. These appeared to be related to either losing their job or fearing their job and livelihood are threatened," said Field.

He added: "There's been an increase in people coming to see me with backache and tiredness, as a way of discussing the fact that they're actually stressed and depressed, because their job is under threat or they are no longer earning enough to feed their family."