Sunday, June 13, 2010

Secret no more

 The Daily Star

AS the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference concludes in New York, the United States-led Western powers are focussing on West Asia, because they want Iran to freeze its nuclear activities. But inevitably, attention is riveted on Israel, the region's sole nuclear weapons-state (NWS).

Against this backdrop comes the sensational disclosure that Israel sold nuclear warheads to apartheid South Africa in 1975, and the two coordinated their military programs and strategic approaches.

This is revealed in US-based scholar Sasha Pulakow-Suransky's just-published The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa, based on recently declassified "top secret" minutes of top-level bipartite meetings.

The disclosure will seriously embarrass Israel, whose intransigence against ending its illegal occupation of Palestine is increasingly isolating it internationally.

The book says South Africa's defence minister P.W. Botha asked for nuclear warheads when he met Shimon Peres, Israel's then defence minister and now its president, who agreed. They signed a wide-ranging pact on bilateral military relations, with a clause stipulating its "very existence" must remain secret.

These military relations were crucial -- Israel supplied South Africa with arms when it faced international economic-military sanctions. South Africa is believed to have made six nuclear weapons, which it destroyed before apartheid ended.

The disclosures undermine Israel's "nuclear ambiguity" policy of neither confirming nor denying nuclear weapons possession. Other sources, including Israeli whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, confirm that Israel has 200 to 300 nuclear warheads.

The book also demolishes Israel's claim that it's a "responsible" state which wouldn't use nuclear weapons even if it had them -- supposedly, unlike Iran. But a nation which helped pariah South Africa overcome richly-deserved international isolation and supplied it mass-destruction weapons cannot be "responsible."

South Africa wanted nuclear weapons as a deterrent and for potential attacks upon its neighbours -- just as Israel did, and still does.

No state in modern history has been more inhumanly discriminatory than apartheid South Africa, a rogue state. Zionist Israel is in the same league.

Pulakow-Suransky shows that Israel "formally offered to sell South Africa" nuclear-capable Jericho missiles in March 1975. Present at the talks was South African military chief R.F. Armstrong whose "top secret" memorandum detailed the missiles' benefits for South Africa -- but only if they were fitted with nuclear weapons.

After the 1973 Yom Kippur war, Israel was short of uranium, of which South Africa has large reserves. Israel also needed hard currency. It got both by selling conventional weapons, and by sharing nuclear know-how with South Africa and converting some of its yellowcake (mixed oxides of uranium) into weapons-grade plutonium.

The Israel-South Africa alliance was strategic. In 1987, Israel adopted some sanctions against South Africa, but continued with existing arms contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The alliance was based less on military imperatives than on the two leaderships' shared belief that theirs were two relatively small nations guarding "their land" and "identity" in a hostile environment. Both wanted to perpetuate their privileged colonial settlers' power.

Their self-assigned role as regional bulwarks against Communism brought them Western support -- until global opinion turned against apartheid. Israel forgot that Nazi sympathisers had helped put apartheid's architects into power.

In a secret deal, South Africa lifted safeguards on 450 tonnes of yellowcake sold to Israel, in return for tritium, used as a nuclear weapons booster. Israel bailed out a South African politician whose bankruptcy would have jeopardised the deal.

This revelation proves that Israel was cynically culpable of nuclear proliferation.

Israel had clandestine dealings from the 1950s onwards with Britain and France too, which supplied it nuclear materials, including heavy water. Its nuclear weapons are undeclared -- unlike those of the US, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan or North Korea. Israel hasn't signed the NPT.

However, although dubious, Israel's record of clandestine nuclear collaborations, shady deals and complicity in other countries' weapons pursuits mirrors that of the other NWSs. They are all culpable of proliferation or violation of dual-use commitments.

India has had nuclear assistance from the US, UK, Canada, the USSR, China, Russia, even Norway. India built its first bomb on the basis of CIRUS, a reactor constructed with Canadian and US support.

India's 1974 explosion was called "peaceful" because India didn't want to be seen violating its professed commitment to nuclear disarmament or its "peaceful" use legal commitments to the US and Canada. It also lacked the stomach for more tests.

Pakistan has long received nuclear weapons designs, from China. A.Q. Khan, who pilfered centrifuge designs from Europe, made dirty deals with North Korea, Libya and Iran, with the Pakistani army's complicity. Washington ignored Islamabad's nuclear preparations during Afghanistan's Soviet occupation. North Korea made its bomb with a Soviet-built reactor.

The point is, all NWSs have been complicit in nuclear proliferation. Worse, they are the only nations to have used nuclear weapons and practised nuclear blackmail. So, their blackballing of Iran is hypocritical. Nuclear weapons are unacceptably dangerous in anybody's hands

Although NWSs rationalise nuclear weapons via "deterrence," they have doctrines for actually using them against non-combatant civilians. Deterrence entails the readiness to use them.

The US and USSR came close to using nuclear weapons during the Cold War; Israel in 1973; and Pakistan and India during the 1999 Kargil conflict and the 10 month-long standoff in 2001.

No government committed to exterminating millions of civilians is "responsible." The current hype about "terrorist groups" acquiring nuclear material serves to legitimise the NWSs' possession of them and to fraudulently distinguish between "responsible" and "irresponsible" actors.

"Responsible NWSs" is a contradiction in terms. The greatest nuclear danger emanates from the NWSs, which seek security through nuclear terror. Non-state actors like al-Qaeda cannot build the elaborate relatively sophisticated infrastructure that nuclear programs need. They have even failed to clandestinely buy fissile material.

Yet, so long as nuclear weapons exist and are regarded as a currency of power, state and non-state actors will be tempted to acquire them. The only way of preventing them is to eliminate nuclear weapons globally.

Praful Bidwai is an eminent Indian columnist.
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UK monitors suspected radicals as part of European surveillance project


Police keep tabs on activists from across the political spectrum, documents obtained by EU civil liberties NGO reveal

The UK is taking part in a European surveillance programme which is designed to gather personal information about suspected "radicals" from across the political spectrum.

Confidential documents reveal how an initiative to gather data on "radicalisation and recruitment" in Islamic terrorist groups has been expanded to incorporate other organisations.

Political activists who have no association with terrorism could now find themselves monitored by authorities mandated to discover information about their friends, family, neighbours, political beliefs, use of the internet and even psychological traits.

Police and security agencies have agreed to monitor "agents" who adhere to ideologies potentially involving violence. The documents define targets for the surveillance as people involved in "extreme right/left, Islamist, nationalist, anti-globalisation" groups.

Europol, a EU law enforcement agency, has been asked to produce a list of people involved in either promoting such groups, or in trying to recruit members.

The documents, obtained by Statewatch, the EU civil liberties monitoring NGO, set out a programme of "systematic data collection" ostensibly geared towards terrorism. But the inclusion of such a broad array of political interests will add to growing concerns that legitimate protest organisations are being subjected to state surveillance.

In the UK, the police have developed a centralised monitoring apparatus to spy on "domestic extremists", an umbrella term with no legal definition which, in practice, includes law-abiding environmental protesters, anti-war activists, and anti-racist campaigners.

The scheme has a central database held by the national public order intelligence unit, a secretive body funded by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo). Monitoring of political activists is a task filled by the terrorism and allied matters division of Acpo.

The advice lists "environmental extremists" alongside far-right activists, dissident Irish republicans, loyalist paramilitaries, and al-Qaida inspired extremists, as among those "currently categorised as extremist [that] may include those who have committed serious crime in pursuit of an ideology or cause".

The UK government has also been criticised over Prevent, a programme aimed at stopping Muslims being lured into violent extremism. The initiative was branded a mass surveillance project after it was found it was being used to gather intelligence on innocent people who were not suspected of involvement in terrorism.

Under the new, approved, EU scheme, states have acquired a 70-question list on "agents of radicalisation" under their watch. Much of the information presumes a high-degree of intrusive monitoring, obtainable only via covert surveillance techniques, such as phone tapping.

It is assumed, for example, that law enforcement agencies will obtain information about a person's "feelings" about a group that could be "considered as the enemy". One section asks for information about "oral comments" made by targets, while others ask about religious knowledge, behaviour, and socio-economic status.

Under "relevant psychological traits", law enforcement agencies are asked to collate and share information on "psychological disorders, charismatic personality, weak personality, etc". Another question asks: "Is there a prior relationship between the agents? Schoolmates, friends, relatives, shared time in prison, etc."

This latest data-sharing agreement is the culmination of long-standing attempts to create a pan-European database of individuals whom police suspect could cause trouble at large demonstrations.

EU officials, principally led by Germany, have tried repeatedly to widen the shared data on suspected terrorists and serious criminals to include political activists, defined in documents as "troublemakers" who attend "large public gatherings".

The moves were stalled by objections from some member states, including the UK, concerned about civil liberties and data protection. But they reappeared as a firm commitment in the EU's five-year Stockholm programme.

Army general quizzed over 'hooding'


A senior Army officer was unaware that troops under his command wrongly believed hooding Iraqi prisoners was standard operating procedure, an inquiry has heard. In April 2003, Major General Robin Brims, later promoted to Lieutenant General, outlawed the hooding of detainees throughout 1st (UK) Armoured Division, then serving in Iraq.

But asked if he was aware that some soldiers had been routinely hooding prisoners at the point of capture, Lt Gen Brims said: "I did not see it."

The Lt Gen was giving evidence during an inquiry investigating allegations that British soldiers beat to death hotel receptionist Baha Mousa, 26, in Basra, southern Iraq, in September 2003.

It has heard that troops used "conditioning" methods on Iraqi prisoners, such as hooding, sleep deprivation and making them stand in painful stress positions with their knees bent and hands outstretched.

These techniques were outlawed by the Government in 1972 after an investigation into an interrogation in Northern Ireland.

Gerard Elias QC, counsel for the inquiry, asked Lt Gen Brims: "Did you know at the time of issuing that order that there were troops on the ground that believed it was a standard operating procedure to hood prisoners at the point of capture?"

The Lt Gen responded: "I didn't know at the time, I now know it, yes."

The Lt Gen insisted that he had not seen a standard operational procedure telling soldiers to use hoods at the point of capture. But he said there was some confusion as to whether hooding prisoners was lawful or not.

The Lt Gen also told the inquiry he gave an oral order to ban hooding after witnessing a detainee at the Umm Qasr prisoner of war handling centre being moved while wearing a sandbag hood.

Thousands wrongly detained in police terror law blunder

Times Online

Fourteen police forces have unlawfully stopped and searched thousands of people on the streets under controversial counter terror powers, the Home Office disclosed today. The blunder occurred when police detained people without having permission to do so from a Home Office minister. On other occasions police continued to stop and search people for longer than they had been given authorisation under the law.

The 14 police forces involved are now in the process of establishing how many people have been wrongly stopped and search but in London alone the figure is 840.

The serious errors were uncovered during an internal Home Office review of the authorisation process for stop and searches under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Under the power police can stop and search members of the public in a designated area without having a reasonable suspicion that they are involved in crime.

Baroness Neville-Jones, the Security Minister, said: “I am very concerned by these historical administrative errors. To maintain public confidence in our counter-terrorism powers, it is absolutely crucial all those responsible for exercising them do so properly.

“I take these matters extremely seriously and have instructed the department to conduct an urgent review of current procedures to ensure that errors can be prevented in future.”

She added: “The Government is already committed to undertaking a review of counter-terrorism legislation which will include the use of stop-and-search powers in section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. We shall make our findings known as soon as possible.”

In a written ministerial statement to MPs, Nick Herbert, the Police Minister, said that the Metropolitan Police had found one authorisation to stop and search people in April 2004 that had not been authorised by the Home Secretary within 48 hours, as required by law.

The police paperwork error led to a review in May this year of all authorisations under Section 44 powers since the Terrorism Act 2000 became law in February 2001.

It found that on 33 occasions authorisations were said to be for 29 days and on two occasions for 30 days when the lawful maximum is 28 days. In two cases authorisations were not confirmed by the Home Secretary within 48 hours.

Mr Herbert said: “All of these cases appear to have been as a result of administrative errors that were not identified at the time by either the police or the Home Office.”

The police forces involved in the paperwork blunder are Kent, Sussex, Durham, Cleveland, City of London, Metropolitan Police, Thames Valley, North Yorkshire, Hampshire, Bedfordshire, Essex, Greater Manchester, Fife and South Wales.

Officer tells of Iraq priority: secure oil


A former senior British army officer has told an inquiry into abuses by British forces in Iraq that his main priority had been to secure the country's oil infrastructure.

Lieutenant General Robin Brims, the former general officer commanding of 1 Armoured Division, made the comment during testimony to the Baha Mousa inquiry in London.

Mr Mousa was beaten and kicked to death by British troops in September 2003 while in custody at BG Main detention facility. The inquiry has heard numerous accounts of how Mr Mousa was abused for 36 hours and kept hooded for up to 24 hours, despite this being officially recognised as inhumane treatment.

Lt Gen Brims was summoned to the inquiry to answer questions about an order he issued banning the practice of hooding prisoners of war and detainees some months before Mr Mousa's arrest and subsequent death.

Gerard Elias QC, counsel for the inquiry, asked Lt Gen Brims if he was aware that troops were apparently under the impression it was "a standard operating procedure to hood prisoners at the point of capture."

The officer responded: "I didn't know at the time, I now know it, yes."

He also told the inquiry that he gave an oral order to ban hooding in April 2003 after witnessing such an incident at Umm Qasr detention centre.

Mr Elias put it to him: "It would have been desirable, wouldn't it, that the order should have been cascaded down clearly and therefore desirable in writing."

Lt Gen Brims said that at the time he had not seen it as a priority.

When later asked what his priority had been at that time he said it had been to "secure the flank" as US forces moved north and "secure the oil infrastructure."

The inquiry also heard evidence from former secretary of state for defence Geoff Hoon.

In a statement to the inquiry Mr Hoon said he had been unaware that hooding was being used by troops until after Baha Mousa's death. He further said that it had been former armed forces minister Adam Ingram who dealt with issues such as the proper treatment of prisoners of war and detainees in Iraq.

Mr Hoon said Mr Mousa's death had resulted in a number of questions that had to be answered.

"Why was this man hooded for so long? What were the circumstances? Why was hooding being used? Was it being used for purposes that were for example unlawful?" he asked.

The former minister also said he "did not recall being aware of" a review of interrogation and questioning practices or that the International Committee of the Red Cross had expressed concerns over the use of hooding.

Prince of Wales calls for population control in developing world


The Prince of Wales has called for greater population control in the developing world and hailed the success of “family planning services” in some countries. He said more needs to be done because of the “monumental” problems that face the environment as population numbers “rocket” and traditional societies become more consumerist. There needed to be more “honesty” about the fact the “cultural” pressures keep the global birth rate high.

The Prince also said the traditional religious views of the sanctity of life, which are often used to oppose the use of condoms and other contraceptives, must be balanced with the imperative to live within the limits of nature.

His comments, made in an important speech on Islam and the environment, will be seen as controversial within both the green lobby and some religious circles.

Although the heir to the throne is a long-standing champion of ecological causes and the benefits of faith, some believe that Western commentators do not have the right to tell residents of less wealthy nations that they should have fewer children or consume less in order to keep carbon emissions down. Many of the world’s great religions, meanwhile, oppose the widespread use of contraception.

Speaking at the Sheldonian Theatre, in a lecture to mark the 25th anniversary of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies of which he is patron, the Prince told how the population of Lagos in Nigeria has risen from 300,000 to 20 million during his lifetime.

He went on: “I could have chosen Mumbai, Cairo or Mexico City; wherever you look, the world’s population is increasing fast. It goes up by the equivalent of the entire population of the United Kingdom every year. Which means that this poor planet of ours, which already struggles to sustain 6.8billion people, will somehow have to support over 9 billion people within 50 years.”

He acknowledged that long-term predictions are for a fall in global population but insisted: “In the next 50 years, we face monumental problems as the figures rocket.”

The Prince said the Earth could not “sustain us all”, particularly if a “vast proportion” is consuming natural resources at “Western levels”.

“It would certainly help if the acceleration slowed down, but it would also help if the world reduced its desire to consume.”

Talking about the “micro-credit” schemes developed in Bangladesh, he said: “Interestingly, where the loans are managed by the women of the community, the birth rate has gone down. The impact of these sorts of schemes, of education and the provision of family planning services, has been widespread.

“I fear there is little chance these sorts of schemes can help the plight of many millions of people unless we all face up to the fact more honestly than we do that one of the biggest causes of high birth rates remains cultural.”

He admitted it raised “very difficult moral questions” but suggested we should come to a view that balances “the traditional attitude to the sacred nature of life” with religious teachings that urge humans to “keep within the limits of Nature’s benevolence and bounty”.

Roman Catholics believe it is against “natural law” to use artificial methods to prevent conception while some conservative Muslim scholars teach that birth control is wrong. Condoms are opposed by Orthodox Judaism and some contraceptive techniques are unacceptable to Buddhists.

However the Prince also expressed his view that religion is needed to solve the world’s environmental and financial crises, which he claimed reflect the fact that “the soul has been elbowed out” in the quest for economic profit.

He said the Islamic world has one of the “greatest treasuries of accumulated wisdom and spiritual knowledge”, but lamented the fact that it is now often “obscured by the dominant drive towards Western materialism – the feeling that to be truly 'modern’ you have to ape the West”.

The Prince said it was a “tragedy” that traditional Islamic crafts are being abandoned, and called upon Muslims to use their heritage to protect the environment.

He concluded that the world is “on the wrong road” and should not be “pigheaded” about refusing to acknowledge that fact, but should instead “retrace our steps” and return to working within nature rather than against it.

It is the first time the Prince has spoken at length about birth control since 1992, when he appeared to include the Vatican among “certain delegations” who are “determined to prevent discussion of population growth”. He spoke about birth control to politicians and community project workers in Bangladesh five years later.

Saudi Arabia gives Israel clear skies to attack Iranian nuclear sites

Times Online

Saudi Arabia has conducted tests to stand down its air defences to enable Israeli jets to make a bombing raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities, The Times can reveal. In the week that the UN Security Council imposed a new round of sanctions on Tehran, defence sources in the Gulf say that Riyadh has agreed to allow Israel to use a narrow corridor of its airspace in the north of the country to shorten the distance for a bombing run on Iran.

To ensure the Israeli bombers pass unmolested, Riyadh has carried out tests to make certain its own jets are not scrambled and missile defence systems not activated. Once the Israelis are through, the kingdom’s air defences will return to full alert.

“The Saudis have given their permission for the Israelis to pass over and they will look the other way,” said a US defence source in the area. “They have already done tests to make sure their own jets aren’t scrambled and no one gets shot down. This has all been done with the agreement of the [US] State Department.”

Sources in Saudi Arabia say it is common knowledge within defence circles in the kingdom that an arrangement is in place if Israel decides to launch the raid. Despite the tension between the two governments, they share a mutual loathing of the regime in Tehran and a common fear of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “We all know this. We will let them [the Israelis] through and see nothing,” said one.

The four main targets for any raid on Iran would be the uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Qom, the gas storage development at Isfahan and the heavy-water reactor at Arak. Secondary targets include the lightwater reactor at Bushehr, which could produce weapons-grade plutonium when complete.

The targets lie as far as 1,400 miles (2,250km) from Israel; the outer limits of their bombers’ range, even with aerial refuelling. An open corridor across northern Saudi Arabia would significantly shorten the distance. An airstrike would involve multiple waves of bombers, possibly crossing Jordan, northern Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Aircraft attacking Bushehr, on the Gulf coast, could swing beneath Kuwait to strike from the southwest.

Passing over Iraq would require at least tacit agreement to the raid from Washington. So far, the Obama Administration has refused to give its approval as it pursues a diplomatic solution to curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Military analysts say Israel has held back only because of this failure to secure consensus from America and Arab states. Military analysts doubt that an airstrike alone would be sufficient to knock out the key nuclear facilities, which are heavily fortified and deep underground or within mountains. However, if the latest sanctions prove ineffective the pressure from the Israelis on Washington to approve military action will intensify. Iran vowed to continue enriching uranium after the UN Security Council imposed its toughest sanctions yet in an effort to halt the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme, which Tehran claims is intended for civil energy purposes only. President Ahmadinejad has described the UN resolution as “a used handkerchief, which should be thrown in the dustbin”.

Israeli officials refused to comment yesterday on details for a raid on Iran, which the Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has refused to rule out. Questioned on the option of a Saudi flight path for Israeli bombers, Aharaon Zeevi Farkash, who headed military intelligence until 2006 and has been involved in war games simulating a strike on Iran, said: “I know that Saudi Arabia is even more afraid than Israel of an Iranian nuclear capacity.”

In 2007 Israel was reported to have used Turkish air space to attack a suspected nuclear reactor being built by Iran’s main regional ally, Syria. Although Turkey publicly protested against the “violation” of its air space, it is thought to have turned a blind eye in what many saw as a dry run for a strike on Iran’s far more substantial — and better-defended — nuclear sites.

Israeli intelligence experts say that Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are at least as worried as themselves and the West about an Iranian nuclear arsenal.Israel has sent missile-class warships and at least one submarine capable of launching a nuclear warhead through the Suez Canal for deployment in the Red Sea within the past year, as both a warning to Iran and in anticipation of a possible strike. Israeli newspapers reported last year that high-ranking officials, including the former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, have met their Saudi Arabian counterparts to discuss the Iranian issue. It was also reported that Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad, met Saudi intelligence officials last year to gain assurances that Riyadh would turn a blind eye to Israeli jets violating Saudi airspace during the bombing run. Both governments have denied the reports.

Emergency extended in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan's interim government has extended a state of emergency in the country's south in a bid to stop ethnic clashes that have killed more than 100 people.

Authorities on Sunday imposed a 24-hour curfew in the southern Osh region, and extended a state of emergency to cover the entire neighbouring province of Jalal'abad.

Police and soldiers have also been authorised to "shoot-to-kill" to defend civilians and in self-defence, but the measure has not stopped the spiralling violence pitting ethnic Uzbeks against Kyrgyz.

Gunfire rang out on Sunday in the city of Jalal'abad, where the day before a mob burned a university, besieged a police station and seized an armoured vehicle and other weapons from a local military unit.
The unrest started in the city of Osh on Thursday night, and authorities have admitted that they have lost control of the situation.

More than 1,000 people have been reported injured but doctors and rights workers have warned the real figure may be much higher because ethnic Uzbeks were too afraid to seek hospital treatment.
Russian troops

Russia sent hundreds of paratroopers on Sunday to protect its military facilities in the north of Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Interfax news agency reported.

"The mission of the force that has landed is to reinforce the defence of Russian military facilities and ensure security of Russian military servicemen and their families," a Russian military source was quoted as saying.

The interim government has sought Russia's help to quell the violence, but the Russian government has declined the request to send military assistance.

Much of the ethnic Uzbek neighbourhoods in Osh have been torched and thousands of ethnic Uzbeks have fled their homes, trying to go to Uzbekistan.

More than 32,000 ethnic Uzbek adults and thousands of children have crossed the border, Abror Kosimov, the head of the regional emergency services, said.

"In the whole of the [Uzbek] Andijan region, 32,000 adult refugees have been registered," he told the news agency AFP.

He said the figures for child refugees had not been recorded but they were in the thousands.
Al Jazeera's Robin Forestier-Walker, reporting from the border, said there was still a steady stream of ethnic Uzbeks trying to cross on Sunday and that violence in Osh was ongoing.

"We set out into the city earlier today but had to turn back because it was simply too dangerous.
Our correspondent quoted eye witnesses as saying that three Uzbek neighbourhoods were under attack, but stressed that he had only been able to hear the Uzbek side.

Kyrgyz ambushed

Talaaibek Myrzabayev, the chief military conscription officer in the capital, Bishkek, told the Associated Press news agency that Kyrgyz mobs killed about 30 Uzbeks on Sunday in the village of Suzak in the Jalal'abad region.

Kyrgyzstan's 5.3 million population is mainly made up of Kyrgyz (70%) ethnic Uzbeks (15%) and Russians (8%).

About 50% of the Osh region's 1.2 million inhabitants are ethnic Uzbeks.

About 40% of a population of one million in Jalal'abad region are ethnic Uzbeks.

Ethnic Uzbeks had also ambushed a group of about 100 Kyrgyz men on a road near Jalal'abad and taken them hostages, Myrzabayev said.

Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the exiled former Kyrgyz president, has denied any involvement in the violence.
Bakiyev, who was ousted in April, said in a statement on Sunday that the reports of his involvement were "shameless lies", and that the interim government that took over power from him is incapable of stopping the violence.

The current unrest is the worst violence in Kyrgyzstan since Bakiyev was ousted following anti-government riots in April.

Roza Otunbayeva, the leader of the interim government, said on Saturday that her government was powerless to stop armed gangs from burning down the homes and businesses of ethnic Uzbeks in Osh.
"Since [Friday], the situation has gotten out of control. We need outside military forces to halt the situation," Otunbayeva, an ethnic Kyrgyz, said.

Russia has ruled out a military intervention "for now" but has sent an aircraft to Kyrgyzstan to deliver humanitarian supplies and help evacuate victims of the violence.

Report: Pakistani ISI backs Taliban

A report by a leading British institution claims that Pakistan's intelligence service has a direct link with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Published on Sunday by the London School of Economics, the report said that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) has an "official policy" of support for the Taliban.

It claims the ISI provides funding and training for the Taliban, and that the agency has representatives on the so-called Quetta Shura, the Taliban's leadership council, which is believed to meet in Pakistan.

The report is based on interviews with Taliban commanders in Afghanistan, and was written by Matt Waldman, a fellow at Harvard University.

US officials have long suspected a link between the ISI and the Taliban, but those suspicions are rarely confirmed.

"Pakistan appears to be playing a double-game of astonishing magnitude," the report said.
A Pakistani diplomatic source dismissed the report as "naive".

Asad Durrani, a former head of the ISI, told Al Jazeera that he does not believe the report, and that intelligence agencies are supposed to maintain relationships with groups like the Taliban.
Durrani also dismissed the claim that ISI representatives met with the Quetta Shura, calling it "nonsense".

'Apparent duplicity'

The report also links high-level members of the Pakistani government with the Taliban.
It claims Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, met with senior Taliban prisoners earlier this year and promised to release them. Zardari reportedly told the detainees they were only arrested because of American pressure.

Matt Waldman, the study's author, discusses his methodology in an interview with Al Jazeera"The Pakistan government's apparent duplicity - and awareness of it among the American public and political establishment - could have enormous geopolitical implications," Waldman said.

"Without a change in Pakistani behaviour it will be difficult if not impossible for international forces and the Afghan government to make progress against the insurgency."

Afghan officials have long been suspicious of the ISI's role.

Amrullah Saleh, the former director of Afghanistan's intelligence service, told Reuters last week that the ISI was "part of a landscape of destruction in this country". Saleh resigned last week over a dispute with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president.

Even Karzai himself has in the past accused the ISI of working with the Taliban.

"These allegations have been made so many times in the past," said Al Jazeera's James Bays, reporting from Kandahar.

"The debate is whether it's a formal involvement with Pakistani authorities, or whether these are just people left over in the Pakistani government who have their old connections [to the Taliban]."
The report comes as Nato and Afghan officials are preparing for a major offensive against the Taliban in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan.

Israel's Barak cancels Paris defense fair trip



Israel's defense minister On Sunday cancelled a planned visit to Paris amid threats by pro-Palestinian groups to have him arrested there.

Ehud Barak was to dedicate a new Israeli booth at the Eurosatory arms fair in Paris, which opens this week.

"The minister cancelled his trip to Paris for the Eurosatory and his meetings with top French officials," his office said in a statement.

Barak had been due to hold talks with his French counterpart Herve Morin and other members of the government.

"Defense Minister Barak decided to stay in Israel until an announcement about the establishment of a team of experts to examine the events surrounding the flotilla," it said, referring to a deadly Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound fleet of aid ships.

Pro-Palestinian activists had threatened to try to have charges brought against him for his role in the raid, which killed nine Turkish activists at sea.

Activists have previously tried to arrest Barak and other Israeli officials in Europe under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

That principle allows the prosecution of suspected war criminals in countries that have no direct connection with the events.

The botched pre-dawn raid which took place on May 31 left nine Turkish activists dead and scores injured, provoking a diplomatic crisis for Israel which is facing mounting pressure to re-examine its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Last week, the Israeli military began an internal inquiry into what happened during the deadly naval operation, the conclusions of which must be submitted by July 4 at the latest.

Israel is poised to announce the creation of another committee of experts to oversee a more general inquiry into the bungled operation, but the makeup and mandate of that body is still being debated with Washington.

Eurosatory 2010, which runs from June 14-18, is an international defense and security exhibition taking place in Paris

EU ready to intensify pressure on Israel to lift Gaza blockade

Spain, France, Italy and UK lead calls for robust stance as Netanyahu hints at softer line on entry of civilian aid

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem

The European Union is expected to intensify pressure on Israel to ease its blockade of the Gaza Strip when its foreign ministers meet in Brussels tomorrow amid calls to adopt a robust position.

Spain, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, will press for a vigorous approach with support from France, Italy and the UK. José Luis Zapatero, Spain's prime minister, called at the weekend for a "strong joint EU position on the siege".

Zapatero said his foreign minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, would argue at the meeting that the EU should "stand up for the end of the blockade on Gaza and that it extends all its political and diplomatic capacity to reach that goal".

Moratinos and his French and Italian counterparts, Bernard Kouchner and Franco Frattini, co-authored an article in the International Herald Tribune last week urging an easing of the blockade.
In the wake of Israel's attack on the flotilla carrying aid to Gaza William Hague, the foreign secretary, described the siege as unacceptable and counterproductive.

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, told cabinet colleagues today that discussions about Israel's policy towards Gaza, which have included three meetings with the Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair in the past eight days, were continuing.

Blair has been authorised by the Quartet - the US, UN, EU and Russia - to try to reach an agreement with Netanyahu on easing the blockade.

He is pressing for Israel to substitute the current "allowed" list of items permitted to enter Gaza - all items not on the list are forbidden - for a "banned" list (a limited number of prohibited items, with everything else permitted). The result would be greater transparency and accountability.
Netanyahu told the cabinet: "The principle guiding our policy is clear - to prevent war material from entering Gaza and to allow the entry of humanitarian aid and non-contraband goods."

Following today's Israeli cabinet meeting, Blair said: "I welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu's clear distinction between Israel's necessity to protect its security and otherwise to allow Gaza people to get the goods and material they require for ordinary life."

Despite the pressure to relax the siege, Israel is reluctant to make a dramatic move which would allow Hamas to claim a victory.

Aid agencies and the UN are also concerned that Israel will restrict any relaxation to essential humanitarian supplies which, although much needed, will not help Gaza's legitimate economy to recover and regain its authority over the black market economy which is based on goods smuggled in via tunnels from Egypt Phil Bloomer, Oxfam's policy director, said: "[Gaza's] conventional economy is in tatters, and without a full lifting of the blockade it will continue on a downward spiral, stopping Gazans rebuild their lives."

Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, arrived in Gaza today in the most high-profile visit by an Arab official since Hamas took control of the territory in June 2007 after winning elections six months earlier.

He was expected to meet the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, to discuss the prospects of reconciliation between Fatah, which dominates the West Bank and is the party of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas.

He told a press conference in Rafah: "The Palestinians deserve that the world, and not just the Arab world, stand by them in the face of the siege and in the face of what is happening in the occupied territories and Jerusalem."

Two weeks after the lethal attack on the aid flotilla by Israeli commandos, there is still no firm announcement of an inquiry despite international pressure.

There has been speculation that the issue may have become linked to demands for a relaxation of the blockade in that pressure for an independent international inquiry may be eased if Israel agrees to allow more aid into Gaza.

Israel has proposed an internal investigation, headed by a former supreme court judge, Yaakov Tirkel, with up to three international observers. The US has yet to agree to this formula.

Israel's defence minister, Ehud Barak, today called off a trip to a Paris arms show amid reports that pro-Palestinian groups in France would seek his arrest over the flotilla deaths.

Russia sends troops to Kyrgyzstan

A battalion of Russian paratroopers has arrived in southern Kyrgyzstan on the third day of deadly ethnic violence in the former Soviet Union republic.

Russian security officials said Sunday that the troops are only to help protect Russian military facilities in Kyrgyzstan and have no plans to intervene.

"The mission of the force that has landed is to reinforce the defense of Russian military facilities and ensure security of Russian military servicemen and their families," Interfax quoted a security source as saying.

Kyrgyzstan's interim government had already called on Russia to send troops to help contain the ethnic clashes in the country's south.

The violence between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek ethnic groups has killed over one hundred people and injured over 1,200 more. Tens of thousands of ethnic Uzbeks have fled their homes.

The political situation in Kyrgyzstan has been shaky since the revolt that overthrew former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April.

Top UK commander to lose job over Afghan war

 Britain will replace its most senior military officer, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, over failures in Afghanistan, a top British official has suggested.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Defense Secretary Liam Fox said his ministry will be replacing Sir Stirrup as well as Sir Bill Jeffrey, the department's top civil servant, by next autumn.
Fox said the move was meant to seek to "draw line" under Britain's failure in Afghanistan -- which has been blamed on the military's "incompetent" war equipment.

"The last regime allowed our men to go into Helmand improperly prepared, while huge sums of money were squandered on projects such as the refurbishment of the Ministry of Defense," said Patrick Mercer, a Conservative MP and former soldier.

Stirrup was appointed head of the armed forces in 2006. Jeffrey, who presides over the MOD budget as the permanent under-secretary, has been blamed for the £36 billion "black hole" in military spending.

Fox says he is planning to put the "best people to be in the appropriate posts" following a strategic defense review (SDR) in autumn.

The new defense secretary, who floated the idea of immediately returning forces to the UK, now says the troops could begin coming home from Afghanistan as soon as next year.

There are currently more than 10,000 British troops stationed in Afghanistan, with British deaths reaching 295 since the invasion. The latest death of a British soldier was in an explosion in Helmand province yesterday.

Egypt prepares new law for non-Muslims

* Under current law, Islamic rules prevail
* Church asking for unified law since the 1980s
* Minister of Justice says draft law ready in 30 days

By Yasmine Saleh

CAIRO, June 13 (Reuters) - Egypt will draft a law to govern marriage and divorce for non-Muslims, a state newspaper reported, a move analysts see as an attempt to contain anger after a court overruled the Coptic Orthodox Church last month.

Egypt's Coptic church has long called for changes to the country's personal status laws, which say Islamic rules on marriage and divorce prevail except in cases where both husband and wife are non-Muslims and from the same sect.

Under the current law, for instance, a Catholic husband with a Coptic wife could be subject to Islamic law.

"The Egyptian Minister of Justice Mamdouh Marie has decided to form a committee to prepare a personal draft law for Christians and non-Muslims, state-run al-Akhbar newspaper reported, adding it would take 30 days.

Analysts said the announcement was timed to calm anger after a court ruled that two Coptic men were allowed to remarry, challenging the church's efforts to hold sway over its flock in Muslim-majority Egypt. [ID:nLDE64T0I0]

The court's decision drew resistance from Pope Shenouda, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, who had appealed against the court's earlier ruling in March 2008. [ID:nLDE6570CW]

Divorce is an accepted practice in Egypt's Muslim community but is prohibited by the Coptic Orthodox Church except in cases of adultery.

"The latest crisis is behind this statement," said Nabil Abdel Fattah, a political analyst at the Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic and Political Studies in Cairo. "The Egyptian state is trying to contain the current dispute."

Coptic lawyer and activist Mamdouh Ramzi said the church has proposed a unified personal law since the 1980s. "We don't need a new law, we need to put the old (proposed) one into practice," he said.
Relations between Muslims and Christians in Egypt are generally calm, but have occasionally turned violent over issues such as land and interfaith marriages.

Christians, mostly Orthodox Copts, make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 78 million people. Many Christians grumble about discrimination, although some have risen to ministerial rank or are top business executives.

Israel plans second dig in ancient Muslim graveyard

By Jonathan Cook

Jerusalem - Israeli authorities pressed ahead with plans to build a courthouse complex on a large historic Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem, an area already at the center of protest over plans to locate a Museum of Tolerance at the same site.

The proposed courthouse was expected to provoke stiff opposition, especially from Islamic groups, after it was revealed that an excavation last year for the near by museum, unearthed as many as 1,500 Muslim graves.

President of Israel's Supreme Court Dorit Beinisch,who in 2009 expressed reservations about the location of the new courthouse, was recently reported to have lifted her objections. Jerusalem city councilor Meir Margalit confirmed the report, saying municipal officials had assured the judge that no graves were discovered at the new site during excavations.

However, a spokeswoman for the Israeli antiquities authority said in an interview, that ancient graves were found at the proposed courthouse site when a trial excavation was conducted two years ago, and that the discovery was reported to the government.

Archaeologists and Islamic groups point out that the courts were similarly misled when they approved the museum project in 2008, after they had been promised that only "a few dozen graves" would be found at the site, not many hundreds.

"The municipality and government simply can't be trusted on this issue as has been amply demonstrated over the Museum of Tolerance plans," Margalit said. "They have a history of not acting in good faith."

The courthouse plan was certain to revive a long-running controversy over what Muslim organizations have called Israel's "desecration" of the Mamilla cemetery, which lies just outside Jerusalem's Old City walls. The graveyard dates back 1,000 years and, according to Islamic tradition, includes the resting places of the Prophet Mohammad's companions and tens of thousands of Salah Ad-Din's warriors.

Plans for a Museum of Tolerance, unveiled in 2004 by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre - a US Jewish group that has built a similar museum in Los Angeles - provoked a row that has yet to abate.
Palestinian families whose relatives were buried in Mamilla, alongside the main group representing religious Muslims in Israel; the Islamic Movement, lost their legal battle against the museum in the Supreme Court in October 2008.

But they are to revive their legal action after an investigation by the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz, May revealed major irregularities in a dig to prepare the site for the museum's construction. The groups also believe the investigation provides them with ammunition against the courthouse plan.

According to Haaretz, the antiquities authority oversaw a five-month excavation last year at the museum site that was carried out in record time as three teams did shifts around the clock amid great secrecy to excavate graves and rebury the remains nearby.

No Palestinians were employed, and all workers had to sign a confidentiality agreement. They were searched for any electronic devices, including phones, before entering the site, were not allowed to leave during their shift, and were watched at all times by security cameras.

The measures, the Haaretz report suggested, were designed to ensure that no word leaked out about the large number of graves found there or that promises to the courts about treating the graves with the utmost respect were being violated.

Workers told the paper that, faced with a large number of graves exposed in five layers down to the bedrock, Israeli officials cut corners and hurriedly dug out ancient skulls and bones, some of which disintegrated in the process.

The paper published photographs appearing to show that remains had been stuffed into cardboard boxes rather than removed using advanced techniques the antiquities authority had proposed, including one that was supposed to freeze the earth around the bones before their removal.

Gideon Sulimani, a senior archaeologist with the antiquities authority who carried out initial excavations, told Haaretz: "They call this an archaeological excavation but it's really a clearing-out, an erasure of the Muslim past. It is actually Jews against Arabs."

Rafi Greenberg, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University, was also critical. "In another country, they would devote years to such an excavation, and also build a special lab to analyze the results." He accused the antiquities authority of betraying its role as the guardian of the country's historical assets and instead promoting the "wellbeing of entrepreneurs."

Haaretz's investigation has worried observers that similar deceptions may be employed in the case of the courthouse.

Kais Nasser, a lawyer for seven Palestinian families and for an Islamic charity opposed to the museum project, said he would petition the courts to reverse the museum ruling and ask them to block the courthouse plans.

"The graves have already been removed, but we hope to persuade the courts to order that the remains be returned and this uniquely important site rehabilitated," he said.
"Be sure that, if the courthouse goes ahead, as many graves will need to be removed as the 1,500 that were unearthed for the museum."

A new courthouse in Jerusalem has been under consideration for at least a decade, Margalit said, but it had been difficult to find a large enough site in such a crowded city. A spokesman for the municipality termed the new court complex "a strategic project to strengthen the center of the city."

A school is currently on the site proposed for the courthouse, close to an area known as Independence Park. Margalit said the authorities may have found graves when they dug the school's foundations in the 1970s and kept the information secret.

Greenberg said claims that there were no graves under or close to the school were "ridiculous."
He added that at both sites there was a wealth of other important antiquities that were being ignored or destroyed by the current excavations. He said they included an Iron Age house, an aqueduct and a dam built across what was once a valley.

The antiquities authority, he said, should have announced the important finds and fought to preserve them. Instead, he said, in what he called "a pattern of submitting to outside pressure," the authority had spread "misinformation" about the site.

Despite the rushed excavations, work on the museum has yet to begin. It has been delayed by the departure of Frank Gehry, the project's world-famous architect, and financial troubles caused by the global economic downturn.

The museum has attracted growing opposition from within the Jewish community in both Israel and the US. Last year American Reform rabbis, representing the largest stream of Judaism in the US, called for the museum to be relocated, comparing the plans to the historic "desecration" of Jewish cemeteries.

Leading Israeli intellectuals have voiced opposition too, including Shimon Shamir, a Tel Aviv University professor and a former ambassador to Jordan, and Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, considered one of Israel's foremost experts on Jerusalem's history.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, head of the Wiesenthal Centre, has defended the museum on the grounds that part of the site was used as a municipal car park from the 1960s, following the site's de-consecration by a Jerusalem qadi, or Islamic judge.

However, Islamic groups have pointed out that the judge was appointed by the Israeli authorities and was later jailed for corruption. They have also noted that there was no chance to oppose his decision at the time because Israel's Muslim population was living under martial law.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. A version of this article appeared in The National published in Abu Dhabi.