Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mahmoud Abbas accused of being traitor over rejection of Israel boycott

Palestinian president angers activists who have been demanding international sanctions

"Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has been accused of being a traitor by activists after publicly rejecting calls for a boycott of Israel.
His unambiguous statement, made in the aftermath of Nelson Mandela's death, has fuelled a bitter debate on the legitimacy and efficacy of sanctions over Israel's treatment of Palestinians.
However, Abbas distinguished between Israel's borders and its settlements in Palestinian territories. "We do not support the boycott of Israel. But we ask everyone to boycott the products of the settlements."
His comments infuriated the boycott movement, which after Mandela's death has been boosted by comparisons with the anti-apartheid campaign in South Africa and the decision last week of the American Studies Association (ASA) to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
The boycott movement claims it is on a roll, citing a recent EU prohibitionagainst giving grants or funds to bodies with links to settlements, awarning by the British government that firms risk damaging their reputations if they have dealings with Israeli enterprises across the Green Line, and the decision by a Dutch company to sever links with the Israeli water company, Mekorot.
This year Stephen Hawking declined an invitation to a conference in Jerusalem. Even the British consulate in East Jerusalem, home to her majesty's representative to the Palestinian Authority, operates an informal boycott policy, declining to serve settlement wines, water or other produce at functions.
However, the call for sanctions against Israel and/or its settlements has prompted comparisons with the boycotts of Jewish businesses by the Nazis and their supporters in the 1930s. Some opponents argue that boycotts aimed at the Jewish state can never be free of the taint of anti-semitism.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, set up in 2005 by more than 170 Palestinian civil society organisations, expects next year "to cross even higher thresholds in its drive to isolate Israel, just as South Africa was isolated under apartheid", said Omar Barghouti, one of its founding members.
The ASA's decision was "fresh evidence that the BDS movement may be reaching a tipping point on college campuses and among academic associations", he added. Two other US academic bodies – the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association and the Association of American Asian Studies – have also backed the boycott movement.
Barghouti said: "Any Palestinian official who lacks a democratic mandate and any real public support who today explicitly speaks against boycotting Israel only shows how aloof he is from his own people's aspirations for freedom, justice and equality, and how oblivious he is to our struggle for our inalienable rights."
Samia Botmeh, a lecturer at Birzeit university in the West Bank and a leading member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, said restricting a boycott to settlements was to focus on the consequences, rather than the origins, of the occupation. "Palestinians are angry and feel let down by Abbas's comments," she said. "He is contradicting the popular will of Palestinians."
However, thousands of Palestinians do business with Israel, work in West Bank settlements or in Israel and buy Israeli goods. Imports to Palestine from Israel are worth $800m a year.
"Of course we deal with Israel – everything in our life is controlled by Israel," said Botmeh. "But there are choices we can make, and we can call on the rest of the world to act."
Many who abhor Israeli policies towards the Palestinians reject the idea of individual and institutional sanctions. Fania Oz-Salzberger, history professor at Haifa University and daughter of novelist Amos Oz, said she was opposed to "any kind of academic boycott, whether it be of Israel or the settlements, including Ariel [Israel's settlement university] or any other academic institute in the world, barring extreme situations such as North Korea. Academic and intellectual exchange should operate above political considerations."
Noam Chomsky supports a settlement boycott, but has said a boycott of Israel was "a gift to Israeli hardliners and their American supporters".
Many observers expect the boycott movement to gain momentum should peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians fail to produce a deal. Andreas Reinicke, the outgoing EU envoy to the Middle East, warned last week that momentum in favour of a settlement boycott would grow without a peace agreement.
Less than two years ago, only two EU countries – Britain and Denmark – backed the labelling of goods originating in settlements as such in order to allow consumers to make informed choices. Now 14 EU states support the move. "There is movement in this direction," he said."

The Changing Contours of US Imperial Intervention in World Conflicts

By James Petras

US Empire builders have relied on a wider variety of interventions than their predecessor under President George W. Bush. They are much less prone to launch large-scale ground operations and more likely to turn to local client elites. They have shown a far greater sense of priorities in selecting targets for direct intervention.
Washington relies more on its imperial European allies, especially the French, to take the lead in Africa, without relinquishing its key interest in maintaining Egypt tightly under US-Israeli control. There is a shift in priority toward the Far East, especially the countries bordering China, like Japan and South Korea, as part of the long-term US strategy to encircle and limit China’s economic expansion. The US ‘Pivot to Asia’, under the Obama Administration, is characterized by alternating economic negotiations with growing military encirclement.
Controlling the Persian Gulf and undermining Iran continues to be a high priority for US Empire builders, but the costly and disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq under George W. Bush and its adverse domestic fallout, has led Washington to rely less on military confrontation with Tehran and more on economic sanctions, military encirclement and now diplomatic negotiations to secure collaboration from the new Rouhani regime.
The principle strategic weakness in US empire building policy lies in the absence of domestic support. There is a growing demand for better paying jobs to reverse the decline of US living standards and greater protection for social services and livelihoods. The second strategic weakness is found in the incapacity of the US to create a viable economic “co-prosperity sphere”, which would win allies in Asia and Latin America. The so-called “Pivot to Asia” is overly and overtly reliant on military(mostly naval) power, which functions in times of ‘territorial conflicts’ with China, but does not create stable, structural links with local productive elites – who rely on China for trade.
In the end the most serious obstacle to effectively adapting US foreign policy to the current realities is the influential Israel-linked-Zionist Power Configuration embedded in the Congress, the Administration and the mass media. Zionists are deeply committed to pushing the US into more wars for Israel. Nevertheless the shift to negotiations with Iran, the refusal to bomb Syria and the reluctance to get involved in the Ukraine are all indications that Washington is less inclined to launch more large-scale military intervention and more receptive to the public opinion constraints on the exercise of imperial power."

Under pressure, PLO tries to limit damage from Abbas attack on Israel boycott

Submitted by Ali Abunimah on Fri, 12/20/2013 - 16:53


US Secretary of State John Kerry (center) shakes hands with PA leader Mahmud Abbas (right) and Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jordan on 26 May 2013.
 (Thaer Ganaim / APA images)
"Rocked by criticism from Palestinian and international activists, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has backed away from comments made by its de facto leader Mahmoud Abbasrepudiating the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
In South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s memorial earlier this month, Abbas said, “No we do not support the boycott of Israel.”
Contrary to the position of the Boycott National Committee – the steering committee of the BDS campaign – Abbas said that any boycott initiatives should be limited only to goods made in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Abbas’ comments were rejected by BDS campaign co-founder Omar Barghouti, speaking in his personal capacity to The Electronic Intifada. The Palestine Solidarity Committee in South Africa said that Abbas’ statements were “shocking” and represented an “attack on the global solidarity movement.”
They were, by contrast, welcomed by Israel advocates keen to undermine and discredit BDS.

PLO Embassy statement

But today, in a joint statement with the campaign group BDS South Africa, the Palestine Liberation Organization embassy in Pretoria, which is loyal to Abbas’ de facto regime, attempted to quiet the furore.
The statement reaffirms the Abbas regime’s call for boycott specifically of settlement goods but adds:
The Palestine Liberation Organisation and the State of Palestine is not opposed to the Palestinian civil society-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Palestinian officials and leaders respect and uphold the right of Palestinian civil society to initiate and lead local and global BDS campaigns against Israel as a means to achieve the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, paramount among which the right to self determination. Furthermore, the Palestinian leadership has always deeply appreciated the efforts of international solidarity groups and activists in South Africa and elsewhere, including those involved in the global BDS movement, to uphold international law and universal principles of human rights in supporting the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and self determination. We are keenly cognisant that international solidarity, particularly boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) was one of the four pillars of the struggle against apartheid here in South Africa.
The statement does not read as an endorsement of the BDS campaign but specifically aims to counter Israeli propagandists’ efforts to use Abbas’ statements against the solidarity movement.
The joint statement also welcomes “the academic boycott resolution adopted by the American Studies Association [ASA]” as well as various other recent international decisions to boycott specifically settlement-connected activities.
The ASA resolution, notably, does not limit its boycott call only to Israeli institutions within the occupied West Bank.
Moreover, the fact that the Abbas-run PA felt it necessary to issue such a statement demonstrates its political weakness in the face of the growing Palestinian and international support for the BDS campaign.
It should be seen as a clear message to international solidarity activists that the PA cannot stand in the way of or undermine their efforts.


From the perspective of Abbas, the controversy should also be seen in the context of similar damage control efforts following earlier outbursts expressing positions inimical to Palestinian rights and the struggle to achieve them.
Last year, Abbas stoked widespread outrage among Palestinians when he told Israeli television that he renounced the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.
In subsequent “clarifications,” Abbas attempted to limit the damage and embarrassment and blamed the media for “distorting” his comments.
But the substance of his follow-up statements did not back away from his long-standing willingness to accede to Israeli demands that the vast majority of Palestinians should be permanently excluded from their homeland on the purely racist grounds that they are not Jews.
Similarly, today’s statement should be seen as a sign that the PA understands that it cannot impose its unpopular views on Palestinian civil society. But it does not mean it has renounced such views entirely.


Clarification regarding comments made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas whilst in South Africa on boycott of Israeli settlements and products
Recent comments made in South Africa by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (and Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation), regarding the boycott of Israeli settlements and products, seem to have been taken out of context and misconstrued by some members of the media and members of the Israeli lobby. Some journalists and Israeli lobbyists have reported that President Abbas, at a South African press conference, said that he is opposed to the international boycott. This is untrue. The Embassy of the State of Palestine to South Africa and BDS South Africa would like to confirm the following positions:
(1) We, together with international bodies including the United Nations, consider the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 illegal and all activities with those settlements in violation of international law;
(2) Israel’s settler colonies violate several UN resolutions and are continue to be the main obstacle to the peace processes;
(3) With the view that the Israeli settlements are illegitimate and an obstruction to a just peace, the Palestinian Authority has accordingly initiated an official boycott of all Israeli settlement products in the occupied Palestinian territory;
(4) In 2010 the Palestinian Authority issued a law, signed by President Mahmoud Abbas, banning Israel’s illegal settlement products, companies, relations and other activities with such illegal entities built in the occupied Palestinian territories occupied in 1967;
(5) The Palestine Liberation Organisation and the State of Palestine is not opposed to the Palestinian civil society-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Palestinian officials and leaders respect and uphold the right of Palestinian civil society to initiate and lead local and global BDS campaigns against Israel as a means to achieve the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, paramount among which the right to self determination. Furthermore, the Palestinian leadership has always deeply appreciated the efforts of international solidarity groups and activists in South Africa and elsewhere, including those involved in the global BDS movement, to uphold international law and universal principles of human rights in supporting the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and self determination. We are keenly cognisant that international solidarity, particularly boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) was one of the four pillars of the struggle against apartheid here in South Africa.
(6) Last year in December 2012, a representative member of the PLO in his speech at the African National Congress (ANC) said: “The [international arm of the] South African struggle began with the boycott campaign of South African grapes and wine, likewise, the illegal Israeli settlements can be defeated by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)”. On the 14th of December Fatah (the organisation leading the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority) wrote an official letter to the South African President, Jacob Zuma, and members of the ANC communicating that “Fatah stands fully behind the BDS movement.”
(7) Whilst the BDS movement is concentrated within civil-society, at a government level, the State of Palestine is calling on all countries to fulfill their obligations under international law by immediately, as a first step, ending all trade and relations with companies from or involved in the illegal Israeli settlements.
(8) We welcome the recent decision by the European Union to ban financial relations with Israeli entities operating in the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied 1967 Palestinian territories; the UK government’s recent instruction that no business must operate in East Jerusalem and in any activities related to the illegal Israeli settlements; the academic boycott resolution adopted by the American Studies Association; and the decision last week of the Dutch Water Authority, Vitens, to ends its relations with the Israeli state-operated water company, Mekorot, complicit in the illegal Israeli settlements.
The Palestinian people will overcome, if Nelson Mandela and the South African people defeated apartheid, the Palestinians too will defeat the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands."

Campus not an “ethics-free zone”: Watch Ali Abunimah on academic boycott of Israel

Submitted by Ali Abunimah on Fri, 12/20/2013 - 16:40

"On 19 December I spoke to Jessica Desvarieux of The Real News Network about theAmerican Studies Association’s (ASA) overwhelming vote to abide by the academic boycott of Israel.
We discussed what the boycott means, some of the criticisms of it, and some of the ways Israeli acacdemic institutions participate in violating Palestinian rights.
Rather than shut off dialogue as some critics claim, I argued that the boycott vote has promoted debate where before there was silence. I also say that students and professors don’t go on campus and “leave [their] morals and ethics behind.”
Universities are traditionally, and ought to remain, sites of ethical deliberation and that is why more people are willing to consider the boycott.
Watch the video!

Israeli universities’ complicity

Here’s more information on some of the issues I referred to in the interview:

Only lifeless Arab robots need apply


 December 21, 2013 12:08 AM
By Rami G. Khouri
"There are many indicators that one could use to gauge the condition of political cultures and governance systems in the Arab world at any given moment. One of the most useful is the prison system, and who is being detained and prevented from carrying out their normal activities as free citizens. The situation across much of the Arab world in this respect is bad and worsening, as governments are increasingly arresting individuals who speak out for personal rights, or harass and close down human rights and other civil society organizations that work to ensure the social, economic and political rights of citizens.
It was troubling to learn that last Wednesday night a contingent of heavily armed military men stormed the Cairo premises of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights. They roughed up and then detained members of the staff overnight, and continue to hold one person in jail: Mohammad Adel, a leader of the April 6 youth movement that played a central role in the popular uprising against the regime of President Hosni Mubarak.
As Bahey Eldin Hassan, the director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, pointed out to the New York Times Thursday, Adel’s detention means that “the four most important youth symbols of the revolution are now in jail. This has never happened at any moment since the 25th of January 2011.”
The three others he was referring to are Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Ahmad Douma and Ahmad Maher, who are in custody on various charges, including their challenge to a law that the government passed a few weeks ago that severely restricts public protests.
Such heavy-handed moves against human rights organizations and civil society activists suggest that the military-installed transitional government in Egypt is moving to stifle protests and activism by a wider range of human rights groups, beyond its harsh repression of the Muslim Brotherhood organization that had won major elections in Egypt in 2011-2012. Thousands of Egyptians are in jail – the estimates vary from 2,000 to 15,000. This includes supporters and colleagues of deposed Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammad Morsi, as well as Adel and other human rights activists who are not Islamists – some of whom actively criticized the brutish excesses of the Muslim Brotherhood when Morsi was still in power.
In recent months some human rights activists in Egypt have publicly accused the military-installed transitional government of being as bad as, or even worse than, the Mubarak government. Just last month the ECESR, jointly with 56 other non-governmental organizations, had submitted to the United Nations’ Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights a powerful report that reviewed human and civil rights conditions in Egypt. This impressive document is available on the website and is well worth reading by anyone who wonders why Arab governments continue to crack down on their citizens’ personal freedoms and the ability to organize and mobilize citizens for the pursuit of justice and rights.
However, Egypt is not alone. Arab societies broadly continue to suffer from clampdowns by governments on the ability of individuals or groups to speak out in defense of human rights, and to challenge the uncontested authority of families or small groups of officers to decide the fate of entire societies with hundreds of millions of citizens.
The Gulf region in particular is punishing and harassing individuals who use social media to make their views known, often simply to demand greater freedoms to speak out in public, or to seek more public participation in government decisions.
Human Rights Watch has just released a report about how Saudi activists using social media to call for change are facing repressive moves, harassment and imprisonment. The report, titled “Challenging the Red Lines: Stories of Rights Activists in Saudi Arabia,” accuses the authorities of “arresting, prosecuting, and attempting to silence rights defenders and to quash their calls for change.” The report outlines cases of bloggers who have been jailed for months because of their actions, noting that social media activism is on the rise because the government does not allow independent civil society organizations.
Many other examples across the Gulf and the Arab world paint a frightening picture of a region whose leaders exercise the disgraceful deed of denying their own citizens not just their civil rights, but also their fundamental humanity. Being able to speak freely and articulate one’s aspirations or grievances is the essential foundation of any stable and decent society. This remains elusive across most of the Arab world, where prisons are overflowing with human rights activists whose major crime seems to be their willingness to behave like human beings and citizens, rather than the lifeless robots their governments would prefer."

Egypt: Government Broadens Crackdown on Dissenters

Prominent Rights Group Raided; Activists Facing Prison for Peaceful Protest

"(New York) – Egyptian security forces have expanded their harassment of political activists, raided a human rights organization, and used their new protest law to arrest scores of peaceful protesters.

Just after midnight on December 19, 2013, police forces raided the offices of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, a prominent domestic rights group. Ministry of Interior officers arrested six of the staff, blindfolding and detaining them for nine hours at an undisclosed location, only releasing five of them the next morning.

The police, who are part of and take instructions from the Ministry of Interior, have in the past three weeks gone after four of the most prominent activists of the Egyptian protest movement – Alaa Abdelfattah, Ahmed Maher, Ahmad Douma, and Mohamed Adel.

“The Ministry of Interior’s pursuit of these four activists is a deliberate effort to target the voices who, since January 2011, have consistently demanded justice and security agency reform,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “It should come as no surprise that with the persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood well underway, the Ministry of Interior is now targeting leaders of the secular protest movement.”

Maher is the founder of the April 6 youth movement, one of the groups behind the protests in 2011 that led to the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak. He was a 2011 nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. Along with Adel, a founding member of the group, and Douma, he is on trial on charges relating to a protest on November 30, with a verdict scheduled for December 22.

Prosecutors also recently referred Abdelfattah, one of the most vocal critics of the police and the military, to trial on false charges of organizing a demonstration without notification, along with 24 protesters who participated in the peaceful demonstration. The group faces imprisonment because prosecutors also charged them with illegal assembly under laws used by Mubarak to criminalize peaceful protest. In Alexandria, prosecutors referred seven protesters including human rights lawyer Mahienour al-Massry to court for participation in a December 2 protest outside a court.

The police have used the new, deeply repressive, Law 107 of 2013 on the Right to Public Meetings, Processions, and Peaceful Demonstrations, to arrest scores of political activists on grounds that they failed to seek advance permission for their demonstrations, Human Rights Watch said. The government claims that, instead of criminal penalties, the new law sets fines – of 10,000 - 30,000 Egyptian Pounds (US$ $1,500 - 4,300) under article 21– for failing to get advance permission. Yet the new law incorporates the existing restrictive assembly laws, including Law 14 of 1923, which carries with it a prison sentence for participation in an unauthorized demonstration.

Under international human rights law, governments have the right to regulate the use of public space for demonstrations by requiring reasonable advance notification. However, as the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association stated in his May 2012 report, “a notification should be subject to a proportionality assessment, not unduly bureaucratic and be required a maximum of, for example, 48 hours prior to the day the assembly is planned to take place.” The special rapporteur said:
Should the organizers fail to notify the authorities, the assembly should not be dissolved automatically and the organizers should not be subject to criminal sanctions, or administrative sanctions resulting in fines or imprisonment… Most importantly, “assembly organizers and participants should not be considered responsible (or held liable) for the unlawful conduct of others… [and, together with] assembly stewards, should not be made responsible for the maintenance of public order.”
“The Egyptian government has sent a strong signal with its attack on a human rights group, and these arrests and prosecutions, that it is not in the mood for dissent of any kind,” Whitson said. “Almost three years after the nationwide protests that brought down Hosni Mubarak, security agencies feel more empowered than ever and are still intent on crushing the right of Egyptians to protest the actions of their government.”

Raid on the Human Rights Organization
At 12:15 a.m. on December 19, about 50 armed police officers from Abdin and Azbakia police stations and the National Security Agency surrounded the building where the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) is based in downtown Cairo.

Human rights lawyer Mahmoud Belal told Human Rights Watch he was heading to the office late to prepare for a planned news conference on steel worker rights the next day, when the police blocked his access to the building. He said that he saw the police roughly bringing five of his colleagues down the stairs. When he objected and asked to see their arrest and search warrant, the police slapped and arrested him along with the other five. The group’s director, Nadim Mansour, told Human Rights Watch that police seized three computers during the raid.

One of those arrested, Mostafa Eissa, a filmmaker, told Human Rights Watch that the police then drove them to a place they could not identify, blindfolded them, and made them stand for nine hours. Human rights lawyer Malek Adly said that he and other human rights lawyers went to the Azbakia and Abdin police stations to look for the detainees, and that police officers told them to “check with National Security,” the secret police division of the Ministry of Interior which is not authorized to detain people.

Among those arrested in the raid was Adel, the April 6 leader who is currently on trial in connection with a protest on November 30, and who is a volunteer for the human rights group. The police had not previously detained him despite a warrant for his arrest. This apparently was the pretext for the raid, but the Ministry of Interior did not explain why they carried out the raid at the organization’s office rather than Adel’s home; why they detained the other staff members; or why they seized the computers.

The police released the other five at 9 a.m. but continued to hold Adel. Mansour told Human Rights Watch that the police returned the seized computers the following morning.

The rights group, founded by a former presidential candidate, Khaled Ali, is one of the most active Egyptian human rights groups. It has defended workers’ rights, litigated against the government on economic and social rights issues, and provided legal aid to protesters. It has also documented police killings of protesters through its project, Wikithawra, which lists the names and numbers of people the police have arrested and killed over the past two years.

This is not the first raid on a human rights organization. During the period of military rule following the downfall of Mubarak in February 2011, military officers raided the offices of the human rights group, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, arresting 28 of the human rights defenders who were working out of the premises at the time to document police and military abuses against protesters. In December 2011, police and military officers also raided the offices of six Egyptian and international organizations.

Targeted Arrests of Leading Activists 
This raid on a human rights group comes in the same three-week period when police arrested four of the most prominent activists from the protest movement, and charged them with participation in protests that took place without prior notification to the police.

On November 27, 2013, prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Ahmad Maher on charges of organizing a November 26 demonstration, despite the fact that he was not one of the organizers. Maher, who as the founder of April 6 was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, turned himself in to prosecutors on November 30, accompanied by a group of supporters, outside the Abdeen courthouse.

The crowd outside turned into a protest, which police dispersed with teargas. Prosecutors subsequently charged Maher with participation in an illegal protest, disturbing public order, and hampering traffic for the November 30 protest. On December 5, prosecutors referred Maher, Adel, and Douma to trial on charges of illegal assembly on November 30. Prosecutors also accused them of “assaulting police officers as they were attempting to enter Abdeen court.”

On the evening of November 28, about 20 armed policemen, some masked, broke down Abdelfattah’s door, arrested him, and confiscated laptops and mobile phones. His wife, Manal, said that when Abdelfattah, a well-known activist and vocal critic of the police and military, asked to see an arrest warrant, they beat him and slapped her. Abdelfattah’s lawyer, Mahmoud Belal, told Human Rights Watch that prosecutors later confirmed to him that they had not issued a search warrant nor ordered the seizure of laptops or phones, but had nevertheless allowed the Ministry of Interior to keep and examine the machines.

Arrests Under New Protest Law 
The No-To-Military-Trials campaign group called for the November 26 demonstration outside the Shura Council, where the constituent assembly was meeting, to protest a provision that would allow the military to try civilians before military tribunals. The police violently broke up the demonstration, saying that organizers had failed to notify the authorities in advance, as required by the new protest law. The police arrested at least 72 protesters, including 13 women and several human rights lawyers. Human Rights Watch confirmed later that evening that prosecutors released all of the women but detained 24 of the male protesters, releasing them eight days later on bail of 5000 Egyptian pounds each (US$723).

A news release from the Public Prosecutor’s Office said that investigations had established that a group of 350 people had illegally assembled on Kar Aini street and “chanted against state authorities, held up placards with slogans inciting against the authorities,” and that security forces had “advised and asked them to leave but they had insisted on illegally assembling, blocking traffic, and impeding citizens’ interests.” It said that the police had arrested 24 of the “perpetrators of the crime.”

In another episode in Alexandria on December 2, the police dispersed a peaceful demonstration outside the downtown courthouse where a retrial was being held for police officers accused of torturing and killing Khaled Said in June 2010. Said became one of the iconic torture cases of the 2011 protests. Police officials announced that they had arrested four protesters that day, including Loay al-Qahwagy, Mohamed Islam, and Amr Hazeq. On December 9, police officials told the daily al-Masry al-Youm that they had arrested Nasr Abul Hamad on charges of participating in an illegal demonstration in connection with the December 2 protest.

On December 4, prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Mahienour al-Massry, a human rights lawyer, and Hassan Mustafa, a political activist, both members of the Revolutionary Socialists group, who had participated in the peaceful protest. Al-Massy told Human Rights Watch that she and other lawyers had discovered when they went to the prosecutor’s office to follow up on al-Qahwagy’s arrest that prosecutors had referred all seven protesters to trial on charges of participating in an illegal demonstration. The court has not yet set a trial date.

On November 27, police in Assiout arrested Hossam Hassan, a senior member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP), at al-Hamama square during a demonstration of around 20 people against the new protest law. Zyad Eleimy, the group’s lawyer and a former member of parliament, told Human Rights Watch that prosecutors had sentenced Hassan to four days in detention and then another 15, and issued arrest warrants for nine others in connection with the peaceful demonstration.

Hassan’s lawyer, Hany Sayed, told al-Masry al-Youm that prosecutors had ordered Hassan’s detention on charges of protesting without notification, insulting the Ministry of Interior, illegal assembly, and jamming traffic, and had issued arrest warrants for nine other members of the party who had participated in the demonstration.

On December 9, in Cairo, at around 5 p.m., after a day of protests at al-Azhar University, police raided a café in Nasr City, arrested 10 students, and ordered them detained for 15 days on charges of protesting without notification, possession of fireworks, disturbing public security, jamming traffic, attacking the police, capturing a journalist, and stealing his camera. Sara Hamdy, 21, a student at al-Azhar, told Human Rights Watch that she had been on the phone that afternoon with Mohammed Mokhtar, the head of the April 6 student movement in al-Azhar, who told her he was at a café in Nasr City with other students to discuss the protests on campus.

Abdelrahman Gad, 21, an al-Azhar student, told Human Rights Watch he had left the café 30 minutes before the arrests: “I was with other students at the café in front of the dormitory discussing what was happening on campus. Things were calm by then; even police trucks were parked in front of the café. Right after I left, I found out that my friends were arrested.”

The students’ lawyer, Ahmed Abdelnaby, told Human Rights Watch that during the interrogation, prosecutors had questioned the students about their political affiliations and that some had said they were members of April 6, the al-Dostour party, and Masr al-Qawiya party."

Syria: Dozens of Government Attacks in Aleppo

Hundreds of Civilians Killed

"Dozens of government airstrikes that have killed hundreds of civilians, including children, in Aleppo governorate in the last month were unlawful. After months of stalemate between government and opposition forces in Aleppo, Human Rights Watch documented an intensification of government attacks starting on November 23. December 15 to 18 saw the most intense aerial attacks in Aleppo to date.
The attacks have hit residential and shopping areas, often killing dozens of civilians, either missing possible military targets or with little indication of any intended military objective in the vicinity. Human Rights Watch interviewed victims, witnesses, local activists, and medical personnel by phone and corroborated their statements by analyzing video and photographs posted on the Internet. A Human Rights Watch consultant visited three attack sites and interviewed eight victims and witnesses.
Government forces have really been wreaking disaster on Aleppo in the last month, killing men, women, and children alike,” said Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Syrian Air Force is either criminally incompetent, doesn’t care whether it kills scores of civilians – or deliberately targets civilian areas.”
The London-based Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), which investigated deaths that occurred between December 15 and 18, documented the deaths of 232 civilians, the vast majority from airstrikes. Another Syria-based monitoring group that systematically collects information about deaths in the conflict, the Violations Documentation Center (VDC), collected the names of 206 killed in aerial attacks between December 15 and 18, including two fighters.
VDC has documented the killings of 433 people in aerial attacks in the entire Aleppo governorate between November 22 and December 18, only eight of them opposition fighters.

Research by Human Rights Watch also indicates that attacks by opposition forces that have killed civilians in the government-controlled part of the city of Aleppo in the same period appeared to be indiscriminate and therefore unlawful.   
These recent airstrikes appear to have followed the same pattern as strikes Human Rights Watch documented in its April report, “Death from the Skies.” Human Rights Watch concluded that government forces had used means and methods of warfare that, under the circumstances, could not distinguish between civilians and combatants, making attacks indiscriminate and therefore unlawful. Government forces in some cases appeared to target civilians and civilian structures deliberately or did not target an apparent military objective.
Most of the attacks Human Rights Watch documented in the last month struck at least 16 neighborhoods in the opposition-controlled part of the city of Aleppo and Al-Bab, a town 40 kilometers to the northeast, Al-Bab, has been under opposition control since July 2012, and often supplies fighters to battle government forces in Aleppo.
Some of the attacks Human Rights Watch documented struck relatively close to potential military objectives. For example, on November 12, a bomb that killed 12 civilians in Aleppo struck about 100 meters from a building occupied by opposition fighters. But local residents in Aleppo and Al-Bab said that attacks in the last month did not hit or significantly damage any of the known opposition bases or checkpoints in the cities.
Local residents who witnessed the attacks or arrived at the scene shortly afterward told Human Rights Watch that they saw no armed opposition fighters among the wounded and killed. One doctor who works in an Aleppo field hospital that received more than 100 injured people on December 15 told Human Rights Watch that a few opposition fighters were among the injured, but that none were among the 30 people who died in the hospital that day. The doctor said that the opposition fighters were wounded when bombs struck the apartment buildings where their family lives when they were home resting, not during fighting.
The witnesses and media reporting have alleged that many of the bombs that struck Aleppo and Al-Bab in the last month were oil drums filled with explosives and materials to enhance fragmentation, like scrap metal or nails, often referred to as barrel bombs, dropped from helicopters. A photo posted on the Facebook page of Halab Today TV of a crushed oil drum a helicopter allegedly dropped on Aleppo on December 16 appears to support the claim that such barrel bombs were used, and Human Rights Watch has documented Syrian Air Force use of such weapons in the past. But the lack of conclusive video evidence and the absence of weapons remnants at the attack sites mean that Human Rights Watch has not been able to conclude what weapons were used in the recent attacks.
The interviews, videos, and photos from the aftermath show that many of the attacks caused significant damage, sometimes completely destroying one or several buildings. Human Rights Watch believes that military commanders should not, as a matter of policy, order the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas due to the foreseeable harm to civilians.
Opposition forces also appear to have violated international law in the latest intensification of the fighting by indiscriminately launching rockets and mortars into civilian areas in the government-controlled part of Aleppo. On December 4, for example, opposition forces fired at least 10 surface-to-surface rockets into several of these residential areas, killing at least 19 civilians, according to an interview with a resident of the area and photo and video footage reviewed by Human Rights Watch.
Peace talks are scheduled to begin in the “Geneva II” political negotiations between the government and some parts of the opposition in Montreux, Switzerland on January 22, 2014.

The United Nations Security Council should refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, impose a weapons embargo on the government, and adopt sanctions against government officials implicated in violations, Human Rights Watch said.
“As the world focused on potential peace talks, the Syrian government has been attacking civilian areas with significant firepower,” Solvang said. ”Even as diplomats try to find a political solution, the world should not silently accept the unlawful killing of civilians.” 
Government Attacks
Below are the attacks since November 22, 2013, that Human Rights Watch documented with the highest numbers of civilian deaths. 
December 15-18, Aleppo
The Syrian Air Force carried out a sustained offensive, with jet aircraft and helicopters, dropping dozens of bombs on at least 16 neighborhoods in the opposition-controlled part of Aleppo between December 15 and 18.
The intensive bombardment and the large number of civilian casualties made it hard to immediately determine an accurate death toll, but the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), which specifically investigated deaths resulting from air strikes, has collected the names of 233 people killed in the course of the four days. According to SNHR, one of the dead was an opposition fighter killed by shelling on December 16, while the rest were civilians. The names SNHR collected included 60 children and 35 women. The Violations Documentation Center (VDC) collected 206 names, including two fighters. The VDC list includes 72 children and 15 women.
Witnesses and local residents Human Rights Watch interviewed confirmed the high number of civilian casualties following the repeated strikes on residential and commercial areas in the city. A doctor working in one of the field hospitals in Aleppo said that, on December 15 alone, his hospital received more than 100 wounded people, 30 of whom died in the hospital. Among the wounded were 41 children and 11 women. He told Human Rights Watch that several other hospitals in Aleppo also received injured people.
The Syrian Air Force has repeatedly hit the Haidariyeh roundabout, a key intersection on one of the main roads connecting opposition-controlled Aleppo to the countryside. The roundabout is also a gathering point for buses serving the Aleppo countryside, so it is usually crowded with civilians, residents told Human Rights Watch. Government forces attacked this area on both December 15 and 16, according to SNHR and two witnesses Human Rights Watch interviewed. One activist who arrived 10 minutes after the strikes on the roundabout on December 16 said the attack struck a garage packed with people next to the roundabout:
I saw at least eight microbuses on fire. There were a lot of injured people there, including women and children. One man’s hand had been severed in the attack. He had been selling vegetables in a nearby market. I think at least 60 people were injured and 25 were killed in that attack.   
Both witnesses told Human Rights Watch that they saw no armed opposition fighters among the wounded and that no armed opposition bases or checkpoints are near the roundabout.
At about 3:30 p.m. on December 15, after the attack on the roundabout, a helicopter dropped two bombs on the Sakhour neighborhood, about 400 meters away, killing 12 people, said an activist who arrived at the scene 15 minutes after the last attack:
About six buildings had been significantly damaged. The helicopter had dropped one bomb first, and then a second one after the ambulance arrived, so many of the killed were from the paramedic team.
Videos and photos from the attack site reviewed by Human Rights Watch show significant destruction to several buildings.

The activist told Human Rights Watch that he also went to the vegetable market in the Sakhour neighborhood after it was hit on December 16. He said that nine houses had been completely destroyed and 17 people were killed in that attack.

One of the attacks on December 16 struck outside the gate of the Taiba school in the Inzarat neighborhood, killing at least 14 civilians, including two teachers, four children, and one woman, according to SNHR. The field hospital doctor confirmed the names of 10 of those killed, and that the bombs had struck them in a school. A neighbor told Human Rights Watch that he was home when the attack happened:
There was huge explosion and my wife and I fell to the ground. Shattered glass from the broken windows covered us. After the explosion I went out. When I reached the Taiba school I saw that a rocket had struck just outside the gate of the school. Several people who were standing next to the gate were killed. One 11-year-old boy, our neighbor, had been cut into three pieces. I also saw the guard and three or four teachers who were killed.
The neighbor told Human Rights Watch that the Taiba school was one of very few schools in the opposition-controlled part of Aleppo that had reopened after the fighting broke out in Aleppo last year. He said that there were buildings used by armed opposition fighters 200 meters east and 200 meters west of the school, but that parents had insisted that there be no armed opposition fighters near the school because of the risk of attack:
The government still runs the school and pays the teachers’ salaries. They know that there are no opposition fighters close to the school. I never thought they would attack the school. When it reopened the parents insisted that there be no armed opposition fighters near the school and they cleared out of the neighborhood. I will never understand why they would attack the school like this.     
According to the SNHR, more than 30 bombs struck at least 16 neighborhoods in Aleppo as well as Al-Bab and Anadan in the Aleppo countryside, on December 15 and 16.

November 30-December 1, Al-Bab
On November 30 and December 1, the Syrian Air Force attacked Al-Bab, firing rockets from jets and dropping bombs from helicopters, killing at least 61 people, according to a list of casualties given to Human Rights Watch by a member of the Al-Bab Local Coordination Committee, which documents violations and provides aid.
A local activist who collects information about those injured and killed and who investigated the attacks told Human Rights Watch that a jet first fired two rockets toward the main market in the city on November 30, killing 12 civilians. Helicopters then dropped six bombs on residential areas in the eastern part and center of the city at different times, killing another 18 people.
On December 1, helicopters dropped at least four bombs on Al-Bab, according to two local residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch. One bomb struck near a market known as the covered market, or the old market. One local resident who arrived at the scene 30 minutes after the attacks told Human Rights Watch:
The bomb struck a coffee shop owned by the Habash family. The shop was completely destroyed, and five people from the family were killed. Several buildings were completely destroyed. Most of the injured were women, children, and just regular shoppers. The air strikes mostly happen in densely populated areas.

A second witness confirmed the strike on the coffee shop. The Local Coordination Committee’s casualty list includes the names of five members of the Habash family. In all, the aerial attacks in Al-Bab on December 1 killed 31 civilians.
The two witnesses Human Rights Watch interviewed said that they saw no wounded opposition fighters at the scene of the attack. The casualty list, which indicates whether the dead are civilians or fighters, lists all the people killed as civilians. The two witnesses told Human Rights Watch that none of the well-known armed opposition bases in Al-Bab were hit or damaged in the attacks.

November 28, Aleppo
Around 3:30 p.m. on November 28, a helicopter dropped a bomb near the Qadi Askar roundabout in Aleppo. The VDC recorded the names of 12 people killed in the attack, including five children. Human Rights Watch visited the site and interviewed five witnesses. Witnesses said they believed that about 15 people had been killed. A car mechanic who worked in a nearby shop said:
We saw helicopters flying in the sky, and we then heard an explosion. As usual, I stayed inside the shop in case there were more bombs. After a couple of minutes, I heard a really loud explosion, and the ground was shaking. Pieces of the building were falling down on me. When I ran outside, I saw a lot of dead people. A bus had been passing in the street when the bomb fell, and there were several dead people inside the bus. I recognized some of my neighbors among those killed.
The bomb landed in the street about 50 to 150 meters from several buildings used by opposition groups, Human Rights Watch found in an on-the-ground investigation.

November 23, Aleppo
Around noon on November 23, a helicopter dropped bombs near the Al-Hilwaniyeh roundabout in the Tariq al-Bab neighborhood of Aleppo, completely destroying one building and damaging others. Neighbors provided Human Rights Watch with the names of 23 people killed in the attacks, including six children, all of them civilians. Human Rights Watch interviewed three witnesses. An owner of a shop adjacent to the building that collapsed said:
I was helping a customer in my shop, when suddenly we heard a huge sound and felt the ground shaking. Stones were flying through the air, and there was dust everywhere. We ran out and saw that the building next door had collapsed and that the fifth floor of our own building had been destroyed as well. We started removing the rubble to search for survivors. I saw at least 10 dead people in the ruins, some of whom I knew.   
According to information collected by Human Rights Watch, opposition fighters held a small base adjacent to the building that collapsed, and a larger base about 350 meters away. According to the neighbors who provided Human Rights Watch with the names of those killed, there were no opposition fighters among the injured or killed.

Unlawful Attacks by Opposition Forces
December 4, Aleppo
On December 4, at least 10 surface-fired rockets struck several residential areas of the government-controlled part of Aleppo, killing at least 19 civilians.
A political analyst based in government-controlled Aleppo, who has been critical of both government and opposition forces and who writes under the pseudonym of Edward Dark, told Human Rights Watch by phone that he went to the Forkan neighborhood, one of the areas that was struck, shortly after the attack. According to people he interviewed, first one rocket struck the street, causing other people to rush to the scene. Shortly thereafter, a second rocket struck in the immediate vicinity, causing additional casualties.
The pro-government News Network of Aleppo posted on its Facebook page the names of 19 people, including two children, who were killed by rockets in government-controlled areas on December 4.  
Dark told Human Rights Watch that the rockets in the Forkan neighborhood fell on the northern side of a road lined with five-story buildings, indicatingthat the rockets came from opposition-controlled areas to the south of the attack site.
Footage on Syrian TV and photographs of remnants of the weapons indicate that they were surface-fired unguided artillery rockets. This type of weapon is prone to indiscriminate use because it is a long-distance area-saturation weapon that cannot be reliably targeted or contain its effects to military objectives.
Dark told Human Rights Watch that opposition forces fire rockets into the government-controlled part of Aleppo almost daily:
I don’t know if they are targeting anything, but if they do, they miss it. Some of these areas are full of security service buildings, but they have not been hit. Sometimes the rockets fall on roofs or empty streets, but sometimes they fall on busy streets as well, doing a lot of damage.
Dark told Human Rights Watch that opposition attacks had also killed civilians on other occasions, including November 19, when the street outside the municipal building in Aleppo was attacked. Closed circuit TV outside the building captured the strike, showing an explosion right next to two people sitting on the side of what appears to be the entrance path to the building."