lundi 30 juillet 2007

US boosts Israel's annual defense aid to $3 billion

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced a new $30 billion US defense package to Israel Sunday and voiced satisfaction over Washington's plan to supply state-of-the-art weapons to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states as a counterweight to Iranian influence. The aid boost to Israel has been widely seen as a US bid to help allay Israeli concerns over a package of arms sales, that could be worth some $20 billion over the next decade, which Washington is preparing for Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

"We understand the need of the United States to support the Arab moderate states and there is a need for a united front between the US and us regarding Iran," Olmert told a weekly Cabinet meeting. The rare agreement reflects shared US and Israeli concern with the potential threat of an Iran with nuclear weapons.

He said he and US President George W. Bush, in talks at the White House last month, agreed Israel would receive $30 billion in military aid over the next decade, averaging $3 billion a year. Current US defense aid to Israel stands at $2.4 billion a year.

"This is an increase of 25 percent for the military aid to Israel from the United States. I think this is a significant and important improvement of the defense aid to Israel," Olmert later told reporters. "Other than the increase in aid, we received an explicit and detailed commitment to guarantee Israel's qualitative advantage over other Arab states," said Olmert.

A senior Israeli government source said that under the defense package, the United States agreed to sell the Jewish state the new generation F-35 fighter jet, advanced bombs and laser-guided missiles. A senior US defense official has said Washington is readying a major arms package for Saudi Arabia and the five other Gulf state with an eye to countering the changing threat from Tehran.

The proposed arms deal to Saudi Arabia would include advanced weaponry and air systems that would greatly enhance the striking ability of Saudi warplanes. It will also include new weapons for the United Arab Emirates.

One leading Israeli hard-liner warned that Saudi Arabia, although not belligerent at present, could be taken over by extremists. The western Saudi border is just a few kilometers from southern Israel. The Haaretz daily on Sunday cited US officials saying Saudi Arabia has asked that Congress be notified in advance of the planned sale, to avoid another showdown with Israel, while the Pentagon is asking the Saudis to accept restrictions on the range, size and location of the satellite-guided bombs, including a commitment not to store the weapons at air bases located nearby Israeli territory. Israel's southern tip is about 15 kilometers from Saudi Arabia across the Gulf of Aqaba.

Meanwhile, Oman said on Sunday that Iran did not pose a threat to the Gulf region.
"We do not see that Iran poses a threat to the Gulf region," Youssef bin Alawi bin Abdullah, the Omani Foreign Minister, told reporters after meeting Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Gheit. "Iran is a neighboring state and we have a common interest which is to maintain stability and security in the region," he said. Oman and Iran are co-guardians of the strategic Strait of Hormuz entrance to the Gulf, and the two have consistently maintained good relations.
Although the Israeli right voiced worries about the latest plan, it stopped short of outright calls to block it.

"I am very concerned." Yuval Steinitz, a key hawk on Parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told The Associated Press. "I can understand the need to support moderate states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but on the other hand we have to remember that governments can be toppled, as in Iran."

Senior administration officials said Friday that Bush would seek congressional approval for additional military aid to Israel and also to Egypt, which currently gets $1.3 billion a year.

Source : The Daily Star

jeudi 26 juillet 2007

UN draft expresses concern over arms flow to Hizbullah

A French-US draft presidential statement presented to the UN Security Council on Wednesday afternoon expressed grave concern over "persistent reports" of breaches of the arms embargo along the Lebanese-Syrian border in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.

The draft statement, obtained by The Daily Star from the US and French missions in New York, follows UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's June 28 report on the implementation of Resolution 1701, which made detailed reference to violations of the arms embargo.

The draft statement expressed "deep concern about reports, which have not been refuted, that suspected armed Hizbullah elements are alleged to be constructing new facilities in the Bekaa Valley." The statement is dated July 23, the day Al-Jazeera aired the first part of Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's interview, in which he declared his group possessed an arsenal of rockets that could reach any corner of Israel, including Tel Aviv.

The draft statement took note of "detailed informations" received from the Lebanese government concerning "dangerous activities of armed elements and groups, in particular the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and Fatah Intifada." It reiterated the council's call for the disbanding and disarmament of all militias and armed groups in Lebanon. (...)

The draft also underscored the obligation of all member states, mentioning Syria and Iran by name, to "take all necessary measures to implement paragraph 15 of Resolution 1701 to enforce the arms embargo."

Source : The Daily Star

mardi 24 juillet 2007

Nasrallah says Hizbullah's arsenal of rockets can hit 'any corner' in Israel

Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said Monday the summer 2006 war with Israel did not succeed in diminishing Hizbullah's military potential, adding that his group possesses an arsenal of rockets that can reach "any corner" of Israel, including Tel Aviv.

"Every corner and any point in occupied Palestine are within our reach," Nasrallah said during the first part of an interview with the Qatar-based al-Jazeera satellite TV station. "Tel Aviv and other than cities were certainly within the reach of Hizbullah rockets during last summer's war with Israel," he added.

Hizbullah fired around 4,000 rockets into the Jewish state during the war with Israel last summer. Hizbullah's missiles reached Israel's third-largest city of Haifa.

Source : The Daily Star

lundi 23 juillet 2007

Commercials to warn children of danger of unexploded ordnance

Two animation television spots, produced by Save the Children, Sweden, and which will soon hit local television channels, will help South Lebanon's children stay away of millions of unexploded ordnances dropped by Israel. Children between the ages of 13 and 18 constitute the majority of dead and wounded. Six children have been killed and 68 injured since the end of last summer's war, according to the national demining office.

"Children are the most at risk of death or injury from unexploded cluster bombs because they are more curious and less caution than adults, that is why it is important for us to constantly remind children and their parents of this danger," said Mazen Haber, who is managing the Early Recovery Program at Save the Children Sweden, in a press release.

The two 40-second cartoon spots will be broadcast 100 times for weeks beginning on the 22nd of July on Spacetoon Kids and Lebanese channels. The campaign against explosive remnants of the war will also include 100 billboards to be posted around Lebanon.

The campaign was funded by the Canadian International Development Agency through Save the Children Canada in collaboration with the Lebanese demining office, the Landmine Resource Center at Balamand University and Spacetoon channel.

Israel dropped more than a million cluster bomb over Lebanon during the last 72 hours of the war, according to the UN and Lebanese officials. Most of these bombs are attractively shaped and brightly colored like toys, Save the Children Sweden said.

Source : The Daily Star

vendredi 20 juillet 2007

UN official warns that arms smuggling from Syria threatens Resolution 1701

Williams says lebanese security provided evidence of weapons flow

Syrian arms smuggling to militant groups in Lebanon threatens implementation of a peace deal that ended last year's war with Israel, a UN special envoy said late Wednesday.

Michael Williams, UN coordinator for the mIddle East peace process, talked to reporters after briefing the UN Security Council on progress implementing Resolution 1701, which halted the war with Israel in the summer of 2006. "A great deal has been achieved but I think we're entering a more difficult period," Williams said.

"The continuation of that arms smuggling is a serious challenge to 1701 implementation." After the Security Council's meeting, the United States accused Syrie and Iran of playing a negative role in Lebanon and said there is clear evidence of arms smuggling across the Syrian border to terrorist groups.

US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the United States had sent a clear message in the meeting on "the negative role that Syria and Iran are playing and called on them to cease and desist from their negative activities" in Lebanon. "We also made it clear that we condemn all efforts to destabilize Lebanon and expressed particular concern with regard to the arms transfers that are taking place particularly across the Syrian border," Khalilzad told reporters after the session.

Syria's UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari dismissed allegations that arms were being smuggled across his country's border with neighboring Lebanon. "We denied it many times and we are still denying it," he told reporters after the meeting.

A UN-appointed team that assessed the border reported late last month that security was too lax to prevent arms smuggling. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Syria and Iran to do more to prevent arms smuggling into Lebanon, citing Lebanese and Israeli government allegations of violations of the UN arms embargo.

Khalilzad said there was clear evidence of "arms transfers to terrorist groups" inside Lebanon's borders. "There is evidence of preparations by groups such as Fatah al-Islam, preparations by groups such as PFLP-General Command that is also carrying out some preparations for attacks. There are arms that are coming in for Hizbullah," he said. Weapons transfers to Hizbullah are banned under the UN resolution that ended the 34-day war.

Jaafari claimed the information about arms smuggling provided to the Security Council came only from Israeli intelligence and none of it was from Lebanese authorities. However, Williams said "virtually all" of the arms smuggling documented in the secretary general's report to the Security Council last month came from the Lebanese government or Lebanese security agencies. "I think the situation is very serious," he told reporters.

Source : The Daily Star

samedi 14 juillet 2007

Rate of cluster-bomb fatalities declines amid demining

Injuries and deaths caused by cluster bombs remaining from last summer's war with Israel have decreased from six incidents a month to only two or three, said Dahlia Farran, a media officer for the Center for the Coordination of De-mining Works in Southern Lebanon.

"We hope that there will come a time when no incidents due to cluster bombs will be recorded," Farran said Friday. "This is due to the efforts and the round the clock work of the Lebanese Army and all other de-mining organizations and teams operating in the South."

The 2007 demining projects focused on clearing all areas identified as being infested with cluster bombs and other unexploded ordinance, explained Farran, "especially those areas near homes or cultivated stretches of land, so as to have Southerners get back to their normal life."

Around 20 percent of infested land (37 million square meters) has been cleared. Israel dropped around 1 million cluster bomblets in the South three days before the end of hostilities.

"In 2008, our main focus will be the demining of heavily infested valleys, and locating infested spots," said Farran.

"However," she added, "we still face numerous difficulties because Israel still refuses to provide the United Nations with maps [of the] cluster bomb [sites]."

Source : The Daily Star

samedi 7 juillet 2007

Israeli cluster bombs and mines have killed 30, maimed 205

The number of people harmed while defusing bombs and extracting mines left by the Israelis following last summer's war has reached 205, including a reported 30 deaths.

The large number of casualties comes as a result of the massive volumes of unexploded ordinance and cluster bombs left behind by Israel across Southern Lebanon in the days immediately preceding a UN-sponsored cease-fire which brought hostilities to a halt.

Dalya Farran, the spokeswoman for the UN Mine Action Coordination Center, said that technicians continue to work in various sites.

"There are about 922 sites being currently worked on in various Southern areas," Farran said. "Some parts have already been covered. The 96 teams, which include about 1,300 experts and trainees, are doing all they can to finish up the mission as soon as possible," she added.


She also noted that 122,500 mines and unexploded cluster bombs have been defused and extracted due to the collaboration of the organizations, but also described various problems faced by technicians, including the refusal of Israel to identify locations of the remnants of an estimated 1 million cluster bomblets dropped during the war.

The technicians will be done with their mission by the end of this year and will have removed any direct danger, said Farran, adding that "all residential and agricultural areas will soon be ready for free use."

"Our priority lies in annihilating all possible dangers on the residents," said Farran. "All other areas not frequently used will be handled in a secondary stage. Residential and agricultural areas will be the focus of the year 2008."

Source : The Daily Star

jeudi 5 juillet 2007

Le nettoyage des engins non explosés à Nahr al-Bared prendra au moins un mois

L’agence de déminage chargée du désamorçage des engins non explosés (UXO) suite au conflit de six semaines entre les militants extrémistes du Fatah al-Islam et l’armée libanaise dans le camp palestinien de réfugiés de Nahr al-Bared, a affirmé que le nettoyage des UXO présentant une menace immédiate prendrait au moins un mois. Ceci n’a fait que raviver le spectre de futurs troubles parmi les réfugiés du camp déplacés par les combats, qui désespèrent de plus en plus de pouvoir rentrer chez eux. « L’opération d’élimination des menaces immédiates devrait durer environ quatre semaines, mais il y a une forte probabilité pour qu’il reste encore des UXO », a affirmé à IRIN David Horrocks, responsable des programmes du Liban pour le Groupe de renseignements sur les mines (MAG).

Source : IRIN News

lundi 2 juillet 2007

Israel keeps pressure on Syria over alleged arms smuggling to Hizbullah

Israel has accused Syria of continuing to help re-arm Hizbullah in spite of the United Nations arms embargo imposed in Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended last summer's war - even as preparations to commemorate the first anniversary of the conflict take place on both sides of the border.

Isreli Defense Ministry adviser Amos Gilad told Israel Radio that Syria continues be a transit point for Iranian weapons and money to Hizbullah.

"Syria ... is allowing the Iranians, and is itself arming Hizbullah in a massive fashion, and is putting it [back] on its feet," said Gilad.

Gilad made the comments one day after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released his fourth report on 1701, urging both Syria and Iran to do more to prevent arms smuggling to Lebanon, and citing "disturbing reports" from the Lebanese and Israeli governments of alleged violations of the UN arms embargo.

Source : The Daily Star