Saturday, 17 January 2015

Palestinian survivors of migrant shipwrecks tell their harrowing stories

From the Electronic Intifada - The painful stories of Palestinians who survived shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea while attempting to flee Gaza and Syria for Europe can be heard on two recent BBC broadcasts.

Shukri al-Assouli was one of only less than a dozen out of an estimated five hundred migrants to be found by rescue workers four days after their ship was deliberately rammed and capsized by suspected traffickers last September.

He lost his wife and two young daughters, aged four and nine months old, in the tragedy, al-Assouli told Matthew Bannister, host of BBC World Service’s Outlook radio program (the interview can be heard here). Bannister interviewed al-Assouli in Athens, where he is seeking asylum in a third country.

Al-Assouli said that “There were many reasons that led me to leave Gaza. Things were very bad given the three Israeli wars we had in less than five years … The recent war had traumatized my wife and children.”

The young man also sought medical treatment for a shrapnel wound from Israeli fire which he suffered in 2004. He hoped to reach Germany with the help of smugglers in Egypt, to whom he and his wife each paid $2,000 in their bid to reach Europe.

The couple disembarked with their young daughters at a port near Alexandria and were transferred to a smaller boat at sea. Al-Assouli estimates that 450 to 500 people were put on a boat that probably had capacity for only 150 people.

Al-Assouli told the BBC that he believes there were more than one hundred children among the migrants, many of whom were from Syria and Gaza. more

Cold is Israel’s weapon to torture Palestinian prisoners

Exploiting the extreme cold weather in the West Bank especially at night, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) chains Palestinian prisoners in cells without heating or blankets. The Israeli occupation authorities use the cold weather as another tool of torture in order to force prisoners make confessions.

Tales from behind the bars
The freed Palestinian prisoner, Bilal Jaber, from Ramallah confirmed Israel’s use of cold as a weapon during the Israeli interrogations of the Palestinian prisoners. Jaber said, “During the interrogations, an Israeli officer brought me into a cell. It was empty of anything and I was handcuffed to the back. The temperature in there was very cold, and he left the cell window open for the whole 24 hours to make the cell colder. This caused me a severe flue afterwards.”

Basel Mahmoud, a newly freed prisoner, from Balata refugee camp near Nablus, indicated that the cells’ coldness is incomparable. Outside the prison, as he referred, a person can find a heating device or any other source of heat to make himself warm, while in the prison there is no refuge except Allah and shrinking oneself together to feel the heat of his body at least for seconds and to stop his helpless teeth chattering.

Alaa Al-Hasan, a boy from Jerusalem, remembered how the Israeli soldiers arrested him and kept him in solitary confinement for 5 hours. He was charged with throwing a stone at a settler. He said, “It is like time stops in the cell. You never know it is day or night— you do not know what time it is; you do not hear the call for prayer; you only have a dim light in the ceiling and the sounds of chains and the knocking on the cells’ gates. It is extremely cold in there.”

“The interrogator came and told me, ‘you will stay in this cold cell until you confess.’ I told him I did nothing to punish me with this extreme cold and I asked for blankets but he refused”, he added more

Norwegians send gas heaters to Gaza during winter storm

From the Norwegian Refugee Council - Last week the residents of the Gaza Strip were hit by a cold winter storm. The strong winds, low temperatures and heavy rains caused damage and floods in different parts of the Gaza Strip. Gas heaters make a big difference for displaced families.

The storm forced dozens of families to evacuate their flooded houses. Gaza’s basic infrastructure was already in a fragile state prior to further large-scale destruction that occurred during Israel’s military offensive against the Gaza Strip in July and August 2014. The storm, which started on Tuesday, 6 January 2015, and reached its peak by Friday, claimed the lives of four Palestinians in Gaza, three of whom were children, according to media reports.

NRC has taken a leading role in coordinating the response in the most vulnerable communities in the Gaza strip following the storm, through facilitating distribution and installation of plastic sheeting to prevent water leakages, coordinating distribution of gas heaters and mattresses, blankets and warm clothes, as well as drainage of rain water in the Temporary Displacement Sites in the Khuza’a area, Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip. more

PA foreign ministry, Hamas welcome ICC probe

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday said it welcomed the decision to open an initial probe on Israeli war crimes at the International Criminal Court.

The ministry said in a statement that the ICC decision was a positive and important step towards achieving justice and guaranteeing respect of international law.

Palestine will fully cooperate with the ICC and facilitate its mission until justice is achieved, the statement said.

"The State of Palestine has signed the Rome Statue to guarantee an end to war crimes and crimes against humanity, which Israel, the occupying authority, has committed and is still committing against our people," it added.

The Hamas movement also applauded the decision, saying it was ready to present thousands of documents to the ICC that prove Israeli war crimes have taken place.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement that the war crimes probe was an important, long-awaited step. more

Egyptian army finds explosives inside major Gaza smuggling tunnel

CAIRO (Ma'an) -- Egyptian security sources said Saturday morning that the armed forces had uncovered and destroyed a smuggling tunnel running under the Gaza-Egypt border that contained a large amount of explosives and mortar shells.

The sources told a Ma'an reporter in Cairo that the tunnel ran about 1,200 meters and the entrance was located inside of a house belonging to an Egyptian smuggler located on the Egyptian side of the border town of Rafah.

The sources said that the tunnel is believed to be one of the biggest in the area.

Egyptian army engineering units reportedly blew up the tunnel and were preparing to blow up the house as well, whose owner had managed to flee before the tunnel was discovered.

The opening of the tunnel was discovered under the floor tiles of a bed room.

According to the sources, the tunnel interior was covered with steel boards and the floor was made of iron bars covered with wood boards.

The tunnel was outfitted with electric lights and an internal communication network. A few meters from the opening, there was even a gate.

The sources added that army intelligence suggested that there were other smuggling tunnels in the area which could potentially run up to three kilometers into Egypt. more