SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – A Palestinian prisoner held by Israel has agreed to end an on-off hunger strike that lasted for more than eight months in exchange for an early release, Palestinian officials say.
The fast by Samer al-Issawi, from a suburb of Jerusalem, had stoked weeks of street protests and concerns by Israel that his death might lead to mass unrest.
Issawi on Monday agreed to a deal brokered by Israeli and Palestinian officials to serve eight months for allegedly violating bail conditions for an earlier release, after which he will be freed to his Jerusalem home, Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian prisoner organisation, told Reuters news agency.
Issawi's lawyer and sister conveyed the offer just before midnight to his bedside in Israel's Kaplan hospital, where he had been under Israeli guard and receiving intravenous vitamins but was refusing food.
Israel convicted Issawi of opening fire on an Israeli bus in 2002, but released him in 2011 along with more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit held hostage by the Hamas movement in Gaza.
Issawi was re-arrested last July after Israel said he violated the terms of his release by crossing from his native East Jerusalem to the occupied West Bank, and ordered the 32-year-old to stay in jail until 2029 - his original sentence.
An Israeli official told Reuters last week that Issawi had crossed into the West Bank as part of "continued involvement in attempting to establish terror cells".
Monday's deal dispenses with conspiracy charges and will see Issawi serve eight months for leaving Jerusalem - a decision Palestinian officials say will likely be endorsed by an Israeli military court on Tuesday.
Both Palestinian and Israeli officials have visited Issawi frequently in recent weeks to reach a compromise and pre-empt the violence his death could provoke.
Israel holds about 4,800 Palestinians it accuses of committing or planning violence against it. Palestinian officials say 207 Palestinian security prisoners have died in Israeli jails since 1948.-www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Al Jazeera
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi says there is no end to the Syrian crisis and that the country is facing "unprecedented levels of horror."
Brahimi made the remarks in New York on Tuesday during a briefing to the United Nations Security Council on Syria, which has been facing a foreign-backed insurgency for nearly two years.
"I'm sorry if I sound like an old broken record. The country [Syria] is breaking up before everyone's eyes… The tragedy does not have an end,” Brahimi said.
Brahimi told the Security Council he was very concerned about an increasing danger of "contamination" which the countries around Syria are facing.
"There might be implications if the crisis continues spiraling. The refugee flow is becoming a matter of controversy in these countries," he added.
"None of the neighbors is immune to the fallout consequences of the conflict. The region is facing the risk of contamination," Brahimi noted.
Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March 2011. Many people, including large numbers of security personnel, have been killed in the violence.
The Syrian government says the chaos is being orchestrated from outside the country, and there are reports that a very large number of the militants fighting the Syrian government are foreign nationals.
And several international human rights organizations have accused the foreign-sponsored militants of committing war crimes.
On January 14, an international aid agency said the conflict in Syria is causing a "staggering humanitarian crisis" in the Middle East.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) said in a 23-page report that more than 600,000 Syrians have fled the country because of violence, including gang rape.
The New York-based organization described the level of rape and sexual violence taking place in the conflict zones in Syria as "horrific."-www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Google has just made it a little harder for Gmail users on rival platforms to synchronize their important Google-related stuff by dropping support for Microsoft’s Exchange ActiveSync. As you know, Exchange ActiveSync or EAS is a protocol that is designed to sync email, contacts, calendar, tasks, and notes from a messaging server to a mobile device. Ending support for EAS means that new non-Android devices, particularly Windows Phone devices and Windows 8 devices, can no longer access Gmail and other Google services.
Microsoft has already expressed its disappointment last month, saying that the company was very surprised by Google’s decision. Today, Microsoft has confirmed to The Verge that Windows Phone users can still sync Gmail via IMAP. In a statement, Microsoft writes, “Like many, we are surprised and disappointed that Google wants to make it more difficult for customers to connect their accounts to their devices. If you want better email, especially for your phone or tablet, now is a perfect time to join the millions who have already made the choice to upgrade to Outlook.com. Windows Phone users will still be able to sync their Google email via IMAP.”-www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) - Back in January, NASA told us that the world was not going to end in 2012. The space administration was not really concerned with prophecies to the contrary. To NASA, this is about science and the science says that Armageddon is not likely to happen on December 21, 2012.
This Friday = Doomsday?
In case you haven’t checked your calendars, that’s this Friday.
To its credit, NASA is sticking to its guns. The world is still not going to end on Friday - or likely any time soon.
But you no doubt hear people say, the Mayans predicted that the world would end on Dec. 21, 2012. The galaxy is going to align and our planet is going to be torn apart by massive gravity swells. The sun is going to melt our core. Some mysterious planet named Nibiru is going to crash into us. A solar storm is going to blow away our atmosphere. The Yellowstone Caldera, a super volcano in Wyoming, is going to erupt.
Hogwash. All of it.
The Mayans Did NOT Predict The End Of The World
First off, the Mayan calendar does not call for the end of the world this week - and it never did. The Mayan calendar runs in a series of cycles. We are reaching the end of a very long cycle. Just like the calendar on your smartphone, once the calendar for a year ends on December 31, a new calendar starts. The Mayans never predicted an apocalypse.
In fact, the Mayans are pissed.
"We are speaking out against deceit, lies and twisting of the truth, and turning us into folklore-for-profit. They are not telling the truth about time cycles," said Felipe Gomez, leader of a Mayan group called Oxlaljuj Apop as reported by Phys.org.
Debunking The Myths
NASA takes the pragmatic approach. It lists the variety of ways that the world is supposedly going to end in debunks them. With science.
For instance, Nibiru, or “Planet X,” a planet allegedly discovered by the ancient Sumerians, does not exist. As it does not exist, it is not likely to crash into the Earth and kill all of us. This particular rumor started with a woman named Nancy Lieder on a website called ZetaTalk in 1995. Nibiru was supposed to pass close to Earth and its inhabitants come to rule over us lowly humans as gods.
NASA did a Google+ Hangout in the middle of November where its scientists spoke about the end of the world.
The rest of the conspiracy theories concerning the death of our planet? Solar storms? A giant black out? Polar shift? None of those are going to be ending the world on Friday. Attributable science has proved it. Really, trust NASA. These folks know what they are talking about.
“The world will not end in 2012. Our planet has been getting along just fine for more than 4 billion years, and credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012,” NASA says on its website.
It's OK To Party, Though
The fact of the matter is that people have been hearing about this date, Dec. 21, 2012, for most of their lives. Natural curiosity has built up concerning this so-called doomsday. Chances are, you have been invited by one of your friends to some type of end of the world happy hour on Friday. By all means, go. Drink and be merry. It is the holiday season, after all.
Your biggest worry on Friday will likely be drunk drivers who have had a little too much pre-apocalyptic revelry. Maybe a group of people somewhere in the world will go nuts and riot, burn and loot. As we have seen, especially in this past week, bad people can do evil things. Perhaps December 21, 2012 will be a magnet for those types of people.
But fire and brimstone from the skies? The world opening up under your feet, swallowing cities whole? NASA sees no scientific reason for any of that to happen. - www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – he UN Security Council has demanded an immediate halt to the violence in eastern Congo after holding an emergency meeting in New York.
Saturday's session came after M23 rebels, said to have been backed by Rwandan forces, clashed with the Congolese army following a months-long lull in the violence.
The council also called on M23 to halt "any further advances towards the city of Goma".
A regional governor said attack helicopters on standby for the UN Mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO, had "bombarded" rebel positions earlier on Saturday.
The governor, Julien Paluku, said the rebels were backed by government forces from Rwanda.
In New York, Herve Ladsous, the UN under-secretary general for Peacekeeping Operations, said UN officials were in no position to confirm whether Rwanda was directly involved in attacks.
However, he continued: "I would also say that there are reports that the M23 attacking forces are well equipped and very well supplied."
The Security Council also said that it would increase sanctions.
"These sophisticated arms came from somewhere, and it is evident that there is external support"
- Gerard Araud,
French ambassador to the UN
"They [UN Security Council members] expressed their intention to apply additional targeted sanctions against the leadership of the M23, and those acting in violation of the sanctions regime and the arms embargo," said Hardeep Singh Puri, Indian Ambassador to the UN.
He also said members were also demanding that all outside support and supply of equipment to the M23 "cease immediately".
The M23 was created after officers from the Congolese army defected in April and May and launched a rebellion to demand better pay, armaments and amnesty from war crimes.
Direct fighting broke out on Thursday in Rugari, 30km from the provincial capital, Goma.
Gerard Araud, the French ambassador to the UN, added: "These sophisticated arms came from somewhere, and it is evident that there is external support. At this time, we do not have proof to accuse a country or an individual."
The UN and the US have both issued sanctions against M23 leader Sultani Makenga, who is accused of forcing children into M23 ranks.
Another M23 leader, Bosco Ntaganda, is under an International Criminal Court arrest warrant for similar war crimes.
'Cycles of hatred'
Saturday’s clashes erupted hours after the United Nations put its peacekeepers in the region on high alert.
The fighting was the most serious in the rebellion since July when UN attack helicopters were last put into action against M23.
The M23 group broke away from the national army in April, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a recent report that the rebels now pose a long-term threat to the government.
"Reprisal attacks on civilians are intensifying, fueling cycles of hatred and violence among different communities," Ban warned in the report.
Ban also said, without naming any countries, that he was "disturbed by continuing reports of external support to the M23".
He praised "the strong condemnation by a number of member states of all forms of support to the M23 and other negative forces" operating in the country and called for a halt to "this destabilising assistance",— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Egyptians have demonstrated in Cairo to protest against the latest Israeli attacks on Gaza and called for the suspension of ties with the Tel Aviv regime.
Waving Egyptian and Palestinian flags, the demonstrators gathered in Talaat Harb Square in Downtown Cairo on Monday to show their rage at the deadly air and ground attacks on the besieged strip, the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram reported.
"No to the vicious aggression on Gaza" read a banner held by members of the leftist Egyptian Popular Current, one of the groups that organized the protest.
Another protester held a sign bearing a quote by former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel-Nasser, reading, "Our struggle against the Zionists is a conflict of existence, not of borders."
The protesters also called on President Mohamed Morsi to immediately expel the Israeli ambassador to Egypt
In 1979, Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, but was compelled to agree to supply gas to Israel as one of the main economic conditions of the US-sponsored peace deal.
Israeli airstrikes, shelling and artillery fire have left at least six Palestinians dead and over 45 others injured since Saturday. Some of the wounded are in critical condition.
The Israeli military frequently carries out airstrikes and other attacks on the Gaza Strip, saying the actions are being conducted for defensive purposes. However, disproportionate force is always used, in violation of international law, and civilians are often killed or injured.
Gaza has been blockaded since June 2007, a situation that has caused a decline in the standard of living, unprecedented levels of unemployment, and unrelenting poverty.
The apartheid regime of Israel denies about 1.7 million people in Gaza their basic rights, such as freedom of movement, jobs that pay proper wages, and adequate healthcare and education.— www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Press TV
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) - Support worth about £200m ($319m) will be phased out between now and 2015 and the UK's focus will then shift to offering technical assistance.
Ms Greening said the move, which will be popular with Tory MPs, reflected India's economic progress and status.
Giving his reaction, India's foreign minister Salman Khurshid said: "Aid is the past and trade is the future."
Until last year, when it was overtaken by Ethiopia, India was the biggest recipient of bilateral aid from the UK, receiving an average of £227m a year in direct financial support over the past three years.
But the UK's support for India, one of the world's fastest-growing economies, has been a cause of concern among Conservative MPs, many of whom believed that the UK should not be giving money to a country which has a multi-million pound space programme.
Ministers have defended the level of financial help in the past on the basis of the extreme poverty that remains in rural areas and historical colonial ties between the two countries.
Ms Greening has been conducting a review of all financial aid budgets since taking over the role in September and visited India earlier in the week to discuss existing arrangements.
She said the visit confirmed the "tremendous progress" that India was making and reinforced her view that the basis of the UK's support needed to shift from direct aid to technical assistance in future.
The announcement that the UK is scrapping aid to India has been long expected and will not have come as a surprise to the Indian government.
UK International Development Secretary Justine Greening was in India early this week to meet senior Indian government officials who were briefed on the move.
India has long held the position that while it welcomes financial aid from overseas from those who choose to give it, it will never actively seek it.
The move is also a recognition of India's economic transformation.
It's now the third largest investor in the UK and the largest market for British goods outside the EU.
But much of the UK aid money was used to fund projects in some of India's poorest areas and some will worry that those at the receiving end could suffer.
"After reviewing the programme and holding discussions with the government of India, we agreed that now is the time to move to a relationship focusing on skillsharing rather than aid," she said.
"India is successfully developing and our own bilateral relationship has to keep up with 21st Century India.
"It is time to recognise India's changing place in the world."
Although all existing financial grants will be honoured, the UK will not sign off any new programmes from now on.
Last year the UK gave India about £250m in bilateral aid as well as £29m in technical co-operation.
By focusing post-2015 support on trade, skills and assisting private sector anti-poverty projects which can generate a return on investment, the UK estimates its overall contribution will be one-tenth of the current figure.
In making the decision, the UK is citing the progress India has made in tackling poverty in recent years. It says 60 million people have been lifted out of poverty as a result of the doubling of spending on health and education since 2006.
India spends £70bn on its social welfare budget, compared with £2.2bn on defence and £780m on space exploration.
From 2015, development experts will continue to work alongside the Foreign Office and UK Trade and Investment but focus on sharing advice on poverty reduction, private sector projects and global partnerships in food security, climate change and disease prevention.
Save the Children said it believed the decision to end financial aid was "premature".
"Despite India's impressive economic progress, 1.6 million children died in India last year - a quarter of all global child deaths," Kitty Arie, its director of advocacy, said.
"We agree that in the longer term, aid to India should be phased out as the country continues to develop, but we believe that the poorest children will need our ongoing help."
After 2015, the UK should also support Indian non-government organisations to tackle child mortality and improve health provision, it urged.
'Hitting the vulnerable'
Labour MP Keith Vaz, a former chair of the Indian-British parliamentary group, said the government needed to reassure its Indian counterpart that their bilateral relationship was still a priority.
"Although undoubtedly India has progressed in the past 20 years, there are still an estimated 360 million people surviving on less than 35 pence per day," he said.
"In withdrawing our aid to India, which will clearly only affect the most vulnerable, we need to see the minister's plan for how she will work with other organisations to make sure the gaps we are creating will be filled."
War on Want, which campaigns to end global poverty, said aid should not just stop because India had become a middle income country.
Financial support needed to be "smarter" and geared towards supporting "progressive movements" capable of bringing about political change and tackling growing inequality, the pressure group said.
The UK government is increasing the overall overseas development budget to help meet a longstanding international commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on aid.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to push for an end of the 2011 EU arms embargo on all sides of the Syrian conflict, a report shows, in order to help the opposition and force Syrian President Bashar al-Assad out of office.
Cameron also allegedly wants to exert more pressure on the US in this regard, Downing Street sources told The Guardian.
If Cameron is successful in his bid, it could allow the UK to supply arms directly to the Syrian rebels.
An arms embargo placed on Syria in 2011, two months after the fighting began, does not permit either side in the conflict to receive military aid from abroad.
However, the text of the embargo reads: "By way of derogation … the competent authorities in the Member States … may authorize the sale, supply, transfer or export of equipment which might be used for internal repression, under such conditions as they deem appropriate, if they determine that such equipment is intended solely for humanitarian or protective use” – a wording which some believe will allow Cameron to plead his case, according to The Guardian.
Cameron’s remarks came after a visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, where, according to the Telegraph, he said “Now, with a newly-elected American president, we have got to do more to help this part of the world, to help Syria achieve transition."
Calls for foreign intervention in Syria have repeatedly come, and not only from the Syrian opposition outside the country, or the Free Syrian Army, which operates internally.
France, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have also made vocal their determination to end the conflict in Syria by outside intervention and the ousting of President Assad.
Turkey has recently asked for NATO help, citing fears of the conflict spilling across borders. It includes a request to put American-made Patriot missiles on its border with Syria. Turkey even threatened military action inside Syria, if it deems necessary. Other reports indicated that Ankara has set up a joint venture with Qatar and Saudi Arabia to form a secret base on the border with Syria to aid the rebel fighters.
The United States and EU do not supply weapons to the likes of the Free Syrian Army, but have offered millions of dollars’ worth of financial aid to the militant opposition. Washington alone has pledged $130 million in humanitarian aid and more than $40 million in non-lethal aid to opposition in Syria.
The opposition National Syrian Council has received more than $40 million in aid since its inception in October 2011, according apress release cited by Arab media.
On top of that, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have also supplied arms to the Syrian rebels – something that touched a nerve even in Washington, as a New York Times report indicated that US officials were worried about the weapons supplied by the Arab states ending up in the hands of jihadists, instead of the more secular-minded opposition groups.
The Syrian opposition, meanwhile, once again failed to show unity during their latest congress in Qatar.
The four-day meeting in the country's capital Doha was promoted by the US and its allies as an attempt to create a more cohesive opposition leadership, which would be easier to work with.
The SNC has come under increasing scrutiny for its inability to broaden its spectrum of representatives or to include some of the opposition members still in Syria.
Washington has made it clear that it wants a more diverse and better-organized, united opposition group than the current arrangement of dozens of smaller factions and the Istanbul-based Syrian National Council at the helm – something which left the group outraged. — www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Today, 214,098 women serve in the U.S. military, representing 14.6 percent of total service members. Hundreds of female soldiers have received a Combat Action Badge, awarded for actively engaging with a hostile enemy. Two women, Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester and Specialist Monica Lin Brown, have been awarded Silver Stars—one of the highest military decorations awarded for valor in combat—for their service in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Yet the U.S. military, at least officially, still bans women from serving in direct combat positions. As irregular warfare has become increasingly common in the last few decades, the difference on the ground between front line and support roles is no longer clear. Numerous policy changes have also eroded the division between combat and noncombat positions. More and more military officials recognize the contributions made by female soldiers. Politicians, veterans, and military experts have begun actively lobbying Washington to drop the ban. And a 2011 surveyconducted by ABC News and The Washington Post found that 73 percent of Americans support allowing women in combat. But Congress has not budged.
The most prominent argument used by defenders of the status quo is that women spoil the cohesion and unit bonding necessary for troop effectiveness. Supporters of the ban speculate that women distract men and that they may even “feminize,” or weaken the military. These assumptions prioritize male bonding as an essential military activity and imply that the goal of the military is to enhance masculinity, not protect national security. Moreover, there is significant evidence that male bonding and troop homogeneity can actually hinder group performance. In her analysis of gender integration in the military, Erin Solaro, a researcher and journalist who was embedded with combat troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, pointed out that male bonding often depended on the exclusion or denigration of women and concluded that “cohesion is not the same as combat effectiveness, and indeed can undercut it. Supposedly ‘cohesive’ units can also kill their officers, mutiny, evade combat, and surrender as groups.” The mechanisms for achieving troop cohesion can also be problematic. In addition to denigrating women, illegal activities, including war crimes, have sometimes been used as a means for soldiers to “let off steam” and foster group unity. In sum, there is very little basis on which to link group cohesion to national security.
Further, the military has actually been strengthened when attitudes have been challenged and changed over the past century. Despite claims in the 1940s that mixed-race units would be ineffective and that white and black service members would not be able to trust one another, for example, integration proved to enhance troop trust and cohesion. Similarly, a 1993 RAND Corporation paper summarizing research on sexual orientation and the U.S. military’s personnel policy found that diversity “can enhance the quality of group problem-solving and decision making, and it broadens the group’s collective array of skills and knowledge.”
Of course, it should come as no surprise that elements of the military want uniformity in the ranks. The integration of new groups always ruffles feathers. But the U.S. military has been ahead of the curve in terms of the inclusion of most minority groups. It was the first federal organization to integrate African Americans. And with the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy, the military now has more progressive policies toward gay employees than many other U.S. agencies. In September 2012, one year after the repeal of DADT, a study published by the Palm Center found that the change “has had no overall negative impact on military readiness or its component dimensions, including cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment or morale.” The research also found that overall, DADT’s “repeal has enhanced the military’s ability to pursue its mission.” Previous claims about the negative impact that gay service members might have on troop cohesion mirror those currently used to support the female combat exclusion.
Just as when African Americans were fully integrated into the military and DADT was repealed, lifting the combat ban on women would not threaten national security or the cohesiveness of military units.
Unsubstantiated claims about the distracting nature of women, the perils of feminine qualities, and the inherent manliness of war hardly provide a solid foundation on which to construct policy. Presumably, some levels of racism and homophobia also persist within the military, yet it would be absurd, not to mention unconstitutional, for the U.S. government to officially sanction such prejudices. The U.S. military should ensure that it is as effective as possible, but it must not bend to biases, bigotry, and false stereotypes.
Just as when African Americans were fully integrated into the military and DADT was repealed, lifting the combat ban on women would not threaten national security or the cohesiveness of military units; rather, it would bring formal policies in line with current practices and allow the armed forces to overcome their misogynistic past. In a modern military, women should have the right to fight.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Newsweek plans to end its print publication after 80 years and will shift to an all-digital format aimed at online users starting in early 2013. Job cuts are expected.
Newsweek's last U.S. print edition will be its Dec. 31 issue.
With more and more consumers on the go and using their cell phones and tablets to receive the news, media organizations have had to increasingly shift more of their emphasis online.
SmartMoney, for example, announced in June that it was shuttering its print publication in favor of a digital format. Dow Jones & Co., a unit of News Corp., said at the time that 25 positions at SmartMoney would be eliminated.
Newsweek's decision does not come as a complete surprise. Barry Diller, the head of the company that owns Newsweek, announced in July that the publication was examining its future as a weekly print magazine. Diller said then that producing a weekly news magazine in print form wasn't easy.
The announcement of the change was made by Tina Brown, editor-in-chief and founder of The Newsweek Daily Beast Co., on The Daily Beast website Thursday.
"In our judgment, we have reached a tipping point at which we can most efficiently and effectively reach our readers in all-digital format," she said.
Brown said staff cuts are expected, but didn't give a specific figure. She also said that Newsweek's editorial and print operations would be streamlined in the U.S. and abroad.
Brown said that the online publication will be called Newsweek Global and will be a single, worldwide edition that requires a paid subscription. It will be available for tablets and online reading, with certain content available on The Daily Beast website.
"We are transitioning Newsweek, not saying goodbye to it," she said. www.shafaqna.com/English