Thursday, February 26, 2015

UN report accuses Israeli military of negligence in Gaza war

Ed Pilkington in New York and Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem–

Inquiry finds Israel responsible for deaths, injuries and damage to UN buildings

A UN inquiry accused the Israeli military today of “negligence or recklessness” in its conduct of the war in Gaza.

The summary of the UN report, commissioned by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, censured the Israeli government for causing death, injuries and damage to UN property in seven incidents involving action by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).

It said: “The board concluded that IDF actions involved varying degrees of negligence or recklessness with regard to United Nations premises and to the safety of United Nations staff and other civilians within those premises, with consequent deaths, injuries, and extensive physical damage and loss of property.”

However, in a blow to human rights campaigners, Ban said there would be no further investigation despite the report calling for a full impartial inquiry.

Although the full, 184-page findings of the UN board of inquiry will not be made public, the 27-page summary emphasised that UN premises are inviolable, and that inviolability cannot be set aside by the demands of military expediency.

“UN personnel and all civilians within UN premises, as well as civilians in the immediate vicinity of those premises, are to be protected in accordance with the rules and principles of international humanitarian law,” the summary says.

Among the incidents for which the Israeli government is held responsible are:

• The deaths of three young men killed by a single IDF missile strike at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Asma school in Gaza City on 5 January;

• The firing of heavy IDF mortar rounds into the UNRWA Jabalia school on 6 January, injuring seven people sheltering in the school and killing up to 40 people in the immediate vicinity;

• Aerial bombing of the UNRWA Bureij health centre on the same day causing the death of a patient and serious injuries to two others;

• Artillery firing by the IDF into the UNRWA field office compound in Gaza city on 15 January that in turn caused high explosive shells to explode within the compound causing injuries and considerable damage to the buildings. The summary notes that it disrupted the UN’s humanitarian operations in Gaza;

• Artillery firing by the IDF into the UNRWA Beit Lahia school on 17 January, causing the deaths of two children

• Aerial bombing by the IDF of the Unesco compound on 29 December causing damage to UN buildings and vehicles.

In his accompanying letter to the summary, Ban noted that the Israeli government had significant reservations and objections to the document. He said he was reviewing the inquiry boards recommendations “with a view to determining what courses of action, if any, I should take”.

Those recommendations include demanding from the Israeli government that it retract earlier claims that Palestinians had been firing at the IDF from within UN premises, and that the UN should pursue Israel for reparations and reimbursement for all expenses incurred. Those reparations would cover the death or injury of UN personnel or third parties, and the repair of UN property.

Israel had dismissed the report, given to an Israeli foreign ministry official, as “tendentious” and “patently biased”.

The UN investigation is the first into the war, and looked only at deaths, injuries and damage caused at UN sites in Gaza during the three-week conflict.

The document was compiled by a board of inquiry – a team of four led by Ian Martin, a Briton who is a former head of Amnesty International and a former UN special envoy to East Timor and Nepal.

Israel’s foreign ministry attempted to pre-empt the report today, saying the Israeli military had already investigated its own conduct during the war and “proved beyond doubt” that it did not fire intentionally at UN buildings. It dismissed the UN inquiry.

“The state of Israel rejects the criticism in the committee’s summary report, and determines that in both spirit and language the report is tendentious, patently biased, and ignores the facts presented to the committee,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

It said the inquiry had “preferred the claims of Hamas, a murderous terror organisation, and by doing so has misled the world”.

International human rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have accused Israel’s military and Palestinian militant groups of serious violations of international law and possible war crimes during the conflict.

The UN board of inquiry report has limited scope: it is confined to investigating death or injuries or damage at UN buildings or during UN operations. The UN human rights council is also to dispatch a fact-finding mission to Gaza, but Israel has already suggested it will not co-operate, saying the council is biased.

Source: Guardian UK

Don’t Forget About Foreign Aid

By MADELEINE K. ALBRIGHT and COLIN L. POWELL–

President Barack Obama’s inaugural address included a ringing endorsement of U.S. engagement with the developing world: “To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.”

The president reiterated his commitment to making development a pillar of American engagement with the world at the recent G-20 conference in London. There, he joined with other world leaders in pledging support for poor countries as they deal with the effects of the global economic crisis. He also announced plans to work with Congress to double support for agricultural development, a driver of economic growth in many of the world’s poorest countries.

We fully support this steady commitment and generosity, especially during these times of great economic hardship.

Our country’s economic health and security are inextricably linked to the prosperity and security of the rest of the world. The current economic crisis brings with it a strong temptation to turn inward and focus on the pain we are experiencing here at home. But pulling back from global engagement is not an option. Stability and prosperity go hand in hand, and neither is possible in the presence of widespread and extreme poverty.

U.S. efforts to promote development and reduce poverty around the world make up a vital component of what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called the “three Ds” of U.S. foreign policy: development, defense and diplomacy. We have a responsibility to use our foreign aid dollars as effectively as possible, to keep our markets open to the poorest countries, and to integrate trade into our overall economic development strategy.

There is also a critical role for the private sector. Businesses must do what they do best by expanding economic growth and enterprise development around the world. If we are serious about making global development a strategic priority, we must explore new opportunities for businesses and government to leverage each other’s efforts and resources. Only a strategy that combines smart government policies with the engine of business and entrepreneurship will be powerful enough to overcome the enormous challenges we face.

This is the mission of the Initiative for Global Development (IGD) — an organization whose leadership council we co-chair. At the IGD National Summit in Washington, D.C., on May 6, business and government leaders will gather to advance new strategies for reducing global poverty. Participants will focus on ways to promote better public policies, and to integrate the best practices of business and government in order to lift up the lives of the world’s poorest people through economic growth.

The IGD Summit will include some of the brightest business minds from Africa, who know too well the urgent needs of the world’s poorest people and the unique barriers facing African entrepreneurs. These African business leaders will join with U.S. CEOs to advance the shared objective of reducing poverty through enterprise development.

It is clear that the vision outlined in President Obama’s inaugural address will require new thinking. We have to focus our efforts where they can have maximum impact, and draw on the strengths of the public and private sectors alike. Especially now — as the economic crisis threatens to reverse the immense progress we have made against global poverty in the postwar era — we have a shared responsibility to continue this progress or risk the grave threat of backsliding.

The challenges our own economy must overcome are daunting. But if we combine our strengths and talents in a focused effort to reduce the most severe poverty, we can create a brighter future for all of us.

source: THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Porous Pakistani Border Could Hinder U.S.

By JANE PERLEZ and PIR ZUBAIR SHAH —

PESHAWAR, Pakistan – President Obama is pouring more than 20,000 new troops into Afghanistan this year for a fighting season that the United States military has called a make-or-break test of the allied campaign in Afghanistan.

But if Taliban strategists have their way, those forces will face a stiff challenge, not least because of one distinct Taliban advantage: the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan barely exists for the Taliban, who are counting on the fact that American forces cannot reach them in their sanctuaries in Pakistan.

One Pakistani logistics tactician for the Taliban, a 28-year-old from the country’s tribal areas, in interviews with The New York Times, described a Taliban strategy that relied on free movement over the border and in and around Pakistan, ready recruitment of Pakistani men and sustained cooperation of sympathetic Afghan villagers.

His account provided a keyhole view of the opponent the Americans and their NATO allies are up against, as well as the workings and ambitions of the Taliban as they prepared to meet the influx of American troops.

It also illustrated how the Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella group of many brands of jihadist fighters backed by Al Qaeda, are spearheading wars on both sides of the border in what for them is a seamless conflict.

The tactician wears a thick but carefully shaped black beard and a well-trimmed shock of black hair, a look cultivated to allow him to move easily all over Pakistan. He spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by his fellow Taliban members.

But on an array of issues, discussed over six months of interviews with The Times, he showed himself to be knowledgeable of Taliban activities, and the information he provided matched up consistently with that of other sources.

He was well informed – and unconcerned, he said – of the plans of the head of the United States Central Command, Gen. David H. Petraeus, to replicate in Afghanistan some of the techniques he had used in Iraq to stop the Sunni tribes from fighting the Americans.

“I know of the Petraeus experiment there,” he said. “But we know our Afghans. They will take the money from Petraeus, but they will not be on his side. There are so many people working with the Afghans and the Americans who are on their payroll, but they inform us, sell us weapons.”

He acknowledged that the Americans would have far superior forces and power this year, but was confident that the Taliban could turn this advantage on its head. “The Americans cannot take control of the villages,” he said. “In order to expel us they will have to resort to aerial bombing, and then they will have more civilian casualties.”

The one thing that impressed him were the missile strikes by drones – virtually the only American military presence felt inside Pakistan. “The drones are very effective,” he said, acknowledging that they had thinned the top leadership of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the area. He said 29 of his friends had been killed in the strikes.

The drone attacks simply prompted Taliban fighters to spend more time in Afghanistan, or to move deeper into Pakistan, straddling both theaters of a widening conflict. The recruits were prepared to fight where they were needed, in either country, he said.

In the fighting now under way in Buner and Dir Districts, in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban are taking on the Pakistani Army in a battle that is the most obvious front of a long-haul strategy to destabilize and take over a nuclear-armed Pakistan.

In Afghanistan, the Pakistani Taliban are directly singling out the United States and NATO forces by sending guerrillas to assist their Afghan Taliban allies in ousting the foreigners from Afghanistan.

While to the Taliban those conflicts are one fluid and sprawling war, the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan has long presented a firm barrier for the United States.

Although Pakistan is an official ally of the United States, the Pakistanis will not allow American troops to cross the border from Afghanistan. They will also not allow the troops to be present as a fighting force alongside the Pakistani military in the tribal areas that Al Qaeda and the Taliban use as a base.

The United States has helped Pakistan and Afghanistan recently open a series of joint posts to share intelligence and improve border monitoring. But those efforts are slight when compared with the demands of a 1,600-mile frontier of unforgiving terrain.

Despite years of demands by American and NATO commanders for Pakistan to control Taliban infiltration, the Taliban tactician said getting his fighters over the border was not a problem. The Pakistani paramilitary soldiers from the Frontier Corps who guard the border were too busy looking after their own survival, he said.

He has already begun moving 80 Taliban fighters in four groups stealthily into Afghanistan in the past month to meet the new American forces, he said.

The tactician says he embeds his men in what he described as friendly Afghan villages, where they will spend the next four to six months with the residents, who provide the weapons and succor for the missions against American and NATO soldiers.

In March, he made a reconnaissance trip by motorcycle to Paktika Province in Afghanistan from Wana, the main city in South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal areas, to make sure the route was safe for his men. It was.

The main task for his first two groups of fighters will be to ambush convoys of NATO goods and soldiers on the Kandahar-Kabul highway, a major supply line for the allied war effort. “We want to inflict maximum trouble, to lower their morale, to destabilize,” he said.

His guerrillas, in their late teens to mid-20s, are handpicked for their endurance and commitment, he said. Some, like him, were trained by the Pakistani government as proxy fighters against India in Kashmir and have now joined the Qaeda and Taliban cause.

In a new twist, cameramen instructed to capture video of faltering American soldiers for propaganda DVDs are increasingly accompanying the guerrillas.

The tactician, a heavily built man who says he has put on weight in the past two years and is now too heavy and old to fight, said he was loyal to a commander named Mullah Mansoor.

In turn, Mr. Mansoor serves under the aegis of Siraj Haqqani, the son of a veteran Afghan mujahedeen leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani.

The tactician worked mostly from Wana, where he owns a small business and where, he acknowledged, the American drone strikes had disrupted life. The threat of the drones had ended the custom of gathering in groups of 10 to 20 men to discuss the issues of the day. “The gossip has finished,” he said.

The relationship between the Pakistani Taliban and Qaeda operatives, most of whom are Arabs, is respectful but distant, according to his descriptions.

The Arabs often go to the bazaar in Wana. But they bristle when asked questions, he said. “They never tell us their activities,” he said.

But the Taliban are willing providers for Al Qaeda. “When they need a suicide bomber, like blowing up a government building, we provide it,” he said.

There was respect for the scale of Al Qaeda’s ambitions. “They have a global agenda, they have a big design,” he said.

The Taliban goal was more narrow. “Capturing Afghanistan is not an Al Qaeda mission,” he said. “It’s a Taliban mission. We will be content in capturing Afghanistan and throwing the Americans out.”

The Pakistani Taliban will fight as long as it takes to defeat the Americans, he said. At the end of this fighting season, he said, “We will have a body count, and we will see who has broken whose back.”

Source: The New York Times