The latest violence in the Israel-Hamas conflict began on Wednesday with the Israel Defense Force's "Operation Pillar of Defense," a series of air strikes on the Gaza Strip. The first day of strikes saw the death of Ahmed al-Jaabari, the leader of the Hamas movement's military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Factions in Gaza have responded with rocket fire into southern Israel, with fears on both sides that the situation is about to escalate into another ground war.
Below is a summary of this week's reports from Mosaic on the conflict, as well as the various international responses to the violence.
Wednesday, November 14
Al Jazeera reported that in an air strike on Gaza City, Israel assassinated Ahmed al-Jaabari, the head of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Hamas movement, in an air strike on the Gaza Strip. An Al Jazeera report looks at the most prominent chapters in the life of al-Jaabari, from his beginnings as a guerilla in the Fatah movement to his rise to power in al-Qassam, and the previous attempts on his life that killed his son and brother. It also looks at his role in the kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
IBA reported that the IDF stressed that the attacks are an ongoing operation, the IDF chief of staff is overseeing the operation, and al-Jaabari is not the only target. The purpose is to stop the constant barrage of rockets on the south of Israel. Meanwhile, the Iron Dome system was bolstered in southern Israel, in the Negev town of Netivot, to guard against missile attacks from the Gaza Strip.
Press TV reported that the United States defended Israel's attacks on the Gaza Strip, while Egypt called on Tel Aviv to immediately stop the attacks. The Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt's health minister are calling on President Mohamed Morsi to reconsider all treaties and ties with Israel. The acting chief of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, also condemned the attacks, and called for an emergency meeting of the Arab League to discuss the Israeli aggressions.
Thursday, November 15
Saudi TV reported that Western reactions to the recent Israel-Hamas attacks varied from supporting Israel to considering the Israeli strikes a "disproportionate response" to the firing of rockets by Palestinian factions. Meanwhile, Arab nations unanimously denounced Israel, and held it completely responsible for the escalation. Khaled Meshaal, the head of the Hamas political bureau, said that the Israeli aggression on Gaza is as a test for the leaders of the Arab world, and called on Islamic and Arab leaders to change the rules of the game with Israel.
Press TV reported that the Palestinian prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, paid tribute to the late military commander Ahmed al-Jaabari, and said that his assassination will be avenged. He also hailed Egypt for its support in the decision to withdraw its ambassador from Tel Aviv. In Lebanon, the leader of the Hezbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah, said the fresh Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip has once again shown the "true face" of the US and its allies.
Al Jazeera's correspondent in Gaza said a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip caused an explosion in Tel Aviv. Earlier, the Israeli army said a rocket fell on Rishon Lezion, a southern suburb of Tel Aviv. This is the first time rockets launched from Gaza hit a Tel Aviv suburb. Three Israeli soldiers were injured after a shell fell in the western Negev. Israeli police also confirmed that three people were killed in the southern town of Kiryat Malakhi due to rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.
IBA reported that in Kiryat Malakhi, a direct hit by a Grad rocket on an apartment building killed Israeli civilians, including two women and a man who were trying to make their way into a fortified stairwell when the missile hit. IDF Spokeswoman Avital Leibovitch says that "all the options are on the table, including the possibility of a ground operation," and some reserve units have been alerted.
Friday, November 16
BBC Arabic reported that the Palestinian death toll has risen past 20, in addition to the over 250 people wounded in the more than 120 Israeli raids on the Gaza Strip. Israeli police confirmed that a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip fell south of Jerusalem, and two rockets fell in an open area near Tel Aviv. This comes as al-Qassam Brigades said it downed an Israeli warplane with a surface-to-air missile.
Al Jazeera reported that Israeli air raids continued despite the Netanyahu government's commitment to stop them during the visit of Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil to Gaza. Meanwhile, during protests in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Hamas flags were raised, and chants echoed in support of the movement, in a scene that has been rare since the Hamas-Fatah split in 2007. Clashes erupted across the West Bank and Jerusalem during demonstrations that took place after Friday prayers against the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip.
Press TV reported that there is worldwide condemnation of the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip. Demonstrators in several countries, including Turkey, Yemen, South Africa, Lebanon, Libya, and Greece, have taken to the streets in solidarity with the people of Gaza.
Image: Jihad al-Masharawi, a Palestinian employee of BBC Arabic in Gaza, carries the body of his 11-month-old son Omar, who according to hospital officials was killed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City November 15, 2012. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
US-approved Syrian opposition group forms governing body
After US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a "more trustworthy" Syrian opposition last week, New TV reported that a leader in the Free Syrian Army announced that the Free Army is reorganizing its ranks to gain the trust of the international community, adding that his leadership has started to settle inside Syria. The Syrian opposition also announced during its ongoing meetings in Doha that it accepted a proposal to establish a transitional government headed by opposition member Riyad Saif. The initiative, headed by Saif, stipulates creating a unified leadership dubbed the Syrian National Initiative, from which a government in exile will be formed.
World groups organize global day of action in support of Myanmar's Rohingyas; Suu Kyi under fire for ignoring violence
Myanmar's Rohingyas are fleeing Rakhine State after a new wave of attacks from the Buddhist majority. Press TV reported that Rohingya groups around the world held a global day of action for the Rohingyas on November 8. International rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch, have also criticized Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi for her silence on the issue. The president of Arakan Rohingya National Organization, Noor al-Islam, added in an interview during a rally in London that if the persecuted had been Rakhine's Buddhists, Suu Kyi would have spoken out. Additionally, the aid group Doctors Without Borders says its workers have been threatened and stopped from reaching violence-hit areas in Myanmar. The group says thousands are left without medical care in the western Rakhine State as a result, adding that many of the victims are extremely vulnerable.
Tens of Thousands Demand Nobel Peace Prize for Malala Yousafzai
BBC Arabic reported that over 60 thousand people signed a petition calling for Pakistani rights activist Malala Yousafzai to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The 15-year-old girl is recovering in The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, Britain, after suffering an armed attack by the Taliban movement in Pakistan. Malala and her campaign for education gained notoriety around the world after she wrote her memoirs in the Urdu section of the BBC about life under the teachings of the extremist Taliban movement that rejects girls' right to an education.
Oil Giant Shell Undercuts Iran Sanctions with $1.4B Grain Barter
Dubai TV reported that the Royal Dutch Shell Company aims to circumvent international sanctions imposed on Iran by concluding a swap through which it would pay its USD 1.4 billion debt to the Iranian national oil company with a grain barter deal through the American agribusiness Cargill. Through the deal, Shell would deliver grain to Iran worth USD 1.4 billion, or what amounts to nearly 80 percent of Iran's yearly grain imports. Sources also revealed that the Royal Dutch Shell company, Tehran's second largest customer, imports 100,000 barrels of Iranian oil per day, and continued to purchase oil until the sanctions went into effect on July 1st.
Image: Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai talks to her father, Ziauddin Yousufzai, as she recuperates at the The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, in this undated handout photograph released to Reuters on November 8, 2012. REUTERS/Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham/Handout
Brahimi-brokered Eid al-Adha ceasefire quickly broken
New TV reported over the week that UN-Arab League Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi had been working with the Syrian government on a ceasefire for the Eid al-Adha holiday. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced a conditional truce on behalf of the Syrian regime, but armed opposition groups such as Ansar al-Sharia rejected the conditions and made their own demands. Sure enough, the ceasefire was broken on Friday, the first day of Eid.
Afghanistan: Dozens killed in Eid suicide blast
BBC Arabic reported on Friday that in the most violent attack in Afghanistan in months, 41 people were killed and at least another 50 were injured when a man blew himself up inside a mosque in the city of Maimana, the capital of the Faryab region in northern Afghanistan, during the early morning prayers for Eid al-Adha. The suicide bomber was reportedly wearing a police uniform. Many of the victims were government soldiers, and prominent local authorities were inside the mosque at the time of the explosion.
Sudan blames Israel for bombing of arms factory in Khartoum
Press TV reported on Wednesday that Sudan has blamed Israel for an air raid on an ammunition factory in Khartoum that killed two people. Sudanese Culture and Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman announced that evidence pointing to Israel was found among the remnants of the explosives, adding that Sudan reserved the right to retaliate. Hamas also accused Israel of orchestrating the bombing. However, Al Jazeera reported on Thursday that Israel denied the claims, and Israeli defense official Amos Gilad described Sudan as a "dangerous terrorist state."
More violence erupts against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar
Press TV reports that at least 112 Rohingya have been killed in Rakhine State, and homes of Rohingya Muslims have been torched all across Myanmar in a new round of sectarian violence perpetrated mainly by Buddhist extremists. The violence had died down after a spate of killings in August that drove a number of Rohingya to flee the country, but they are again forced to leave their homes in light of the new wave of attacks.
Image: A member of the Free Syrian Army talks on the radio during an operation in Haram town, Idlib Governorate, October 26, 2012. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih
The Summer Solstice brought a plethora of free performances in and around NYC, and the one I opted for was the Griot Summit at the Wave Hill Gardens overlooking the Hudson, in the Bronx. Who could resist getting away from the burning pavements of the city to saunter through bucolic splendor while listening to masters of the Griot tradition?
For those of you who are not familiar with the term "griot" (or jali, or jeli, depending on where the griot is from) a quick explanation: the griot is the repository of the history of his or her people, knowing geneologies and major epic songs by heart. Descended through the family line, the griot is not just a musician, but a living library, an advisor, and on occasion, a gadfly. Understanding the function of the griot is a great way to gain insight into the culture of West Africa. But I have started my video with a good description, straight from the horse's mouth, so I'm sure you'll figure it out.
The day started out with the various musicians scattered around the grounds, so that you could catch solos and larger groups as they performed in lushly green walkways, formal gardens and woodland areas. Then they all gathered for a massive display on the main stage, to get everyone riveted, then up and moving. Personally, I was entranced and dazzled by the regal appearance of the griots. I guess I'm just a sucker for African Formal Wear; all those robes, headdresses and intense colors and bright white against dark skin knock me out. I was also struck by the obvious musical links between what these musicians were conveying in its purest form, and the roots of our own American music: the glissandos, time signatures, the improvisations; it was all there to hear and mark as building blocks of the blues.
All in all it was an amazing gathering, and it was a tribute to Sylvain Leroux the curator, Isabel Soffer of Live Sounds, and the musicians, that it all came together so wonderfully well. After all, you can't just assume that Jalis from Guinea are going to play well with Jalis from Burkina Fasso or Mali. But they certainly did here!
The day was hot, and this was shooting on the fly -- no way to deal with the light, the sound, the terrain, so I will beg your pardon for the occasional visual burn, bumpy camera work, and some audio distortion.
The participating musicians were: Abdoulaye Diabate (Mali), Toumany Diabate (USA), Tapani Sissoko and her mother (Mali), Yacouba Sissoko (Mali), Mamady Kouyate (Guinea), Makane Kouyate (Mali), Ismael Diarra (Burkina Faso), Abdourahmane Mangara (Gambia), Aissatou Kouyate (Mali), Famoro Dioubate (Guinea), Andy Algire (USA), Sam Dickey (USA), Bailo Bah (Guinea), Ibrahima Soumano (Guinea), Mmah Doumbouya (Guinea), Ayiba Doumbouya (Guinea), Bebe Camara (Guinea), Nagna Diabate (Guinea), Hasan Bakr (USA), Zoumana Diabate (Mali), Moussa Diabate (Mali), Anette Lipson (USA), Kewulay Kamara (Sierra Leone), Lankandia Cissoko (Senegal), Yacouba Diabate (Burkina Faso), Sylvain Leroux (Canada).
For more of Michal's world music videos visit inter-muse.com
This is just the first of what I plan to be several postings about the fabulous Førde Festival in Norway. The festival has already garnered itself an excellent reputation amongst world music aficionados, but should be on the agenda of anyone who enjoys travel and adventurous music. Part of that is due to the spectacular setting, and I advise those who make the trip to plan to explore the fjords all around the area. As press, we were treated to a breathtaking journey from Bergen via rail and boat up to Førde, that I will not soon forget. The other part of the allure is the excellent and canny musical choices of the producers. Torill Falleide and Hilde Bjørkum know what will please their audience, and it's an engaging mix of both unadorned ethnic and eclectic music that is consistently entertaining.
My video is from the opening night, and it’s quite literally a dazzler. The various musicians were asked to present their most tantalizing numbers, as the first program of the festival is intended as a menu, giving the audience a sampling of what is to come.
So the Musicians of the Nile presented a tanoura dance, complete with light show. What made it so amazing was that the light show was inside the costume of the dancer! Some folks questioned the "authenticity" of this but I think that if tiny lights had been around that could be sewn into the costume of the dancer back when it was first being performed hundreds of years ago, it would have been perfectly within cultural standards!
The tanoura dance will remind you of the whirling dervish dances of Turkey and they are indeed related, as the sufi tradition is present in Egypt through the Levant and Turkey, and in some forms, even into west Africa. (There are some claims that Sufism actually originates in ancient Egypt, but the majority of sources I have read posit that it was a reaction to, and outgrowth of, Islam.) The music and the whirling is meant to induce a trance, which in turn leads to a union with the divine. The skirts of the dancer are layered, and each color on the skirt represents a different Sufi order. These days this kind of presentation is very popular for entertainment at weddings and other kinds of celebrations. For my part, I was in heaven in a different way -- I'm a fool for colored lights (you should see me at a fireworks display) and I felt like a little kid transported with delight.
American film offensive to Islam sparks anti-US protests across Muslim world
Adding to the death of the American ambassador to Libya and members of his staff in Benghazi on September 11, demonstrations condemning a film that insulted the Prophet Muhammad have spread to Egypt, Yemen, Iran, Lebanon, Gaza, Tunisia, Sudan, Morocco, and Mauritania, leading to four deaths in Yemen. Other Western embassies have also been attacked in Sudan.
IBA reported that the film that was released on the Internet and sparked the protests is called "Innocence of Muslims," and was produced by a California-based Jewish writer and producer. Most of Mosaic's broadcasters have reported that he is an Israeli American, leading to further anti-US and anti-Israel sentiment among Muslims.
Israel quickly denounced the film, with New TV reporting on Wednesday that the Israeli Foreign Ministry called it "unbearable extremism." Press TV noted that US President Barack Obama condemned the killings, but stopped short of condemning the film.
In addition to depicting the prophet Muhammad, which is strictly taboo in many interpretations of Islam, the film struck a nerve in the Muslim and Arab worlds for being American-made. Al Jazeera English discusses the nature of the protests, touching on the deep-seated anger of some citizens in the region regarding US foreign policy, especially in the wake of the Arab Spring.
Syrians come out for another round of Friday protests after a week of heavy shelling
As the new UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi visits Damascus for the first time since his appointment, cities and villages across Syria have continued to endure heavy army shelling, especially in and around Aleppo and Damascus. Algerie TV reported that the most recent statistics from the UNHCR indicate the number of Syrian refugees has surpassed 250,000, with 85,000 currently in Jordan.
Despite the daily attacks, BBC Arabic reported that on Friday, anti-regime demonstrations took place across Daraa, Idlib, the countryside of Damascus-- which the Syrian government says still harbors "terrorists" that they are trying to pursue-- and al-Hasaka Province, which has a Kurdish majority.
Newly-elected Somali president escapes assassination attempt
Hassan Sheikh Mahmud, who hails from the same tribe as departing president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, is the first Somali president to be elected within the country in more than two decades. However, BBC Arabic reported that just days after his election, he escaped two bombings that targeted the Mogadishu hotel in which he was residing. He was was meeting with Kenyan Foreign Minister Samson Ongeri at the time of the attack, which came as a surprise given the number of Somali and African Union forces protecting his hotel and convoy.
Image: Tunisian protesters burn the U.S. flag during a demonstration outside the U.S. embassy in Tunis September 12, 2012. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
Last week, BBC Arabic reported on a conference held in Istanbul on Muslim-Christian relations entitled, "The Arab Awakening and Peace in the New Middle East." During the conference, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan commented, "What happened nearly 1,300 years ago in Karbala is the same thing happening today in Syria."
Erdogan was referring to the Battle of Karbala, a pivotal event in Islam during which Hussein bin Ali, grandson of the prophet Muhammad, was killed. Hussein and his supporters were traveling to Kufa to confront Syrian Caliph (Khalifa) Yazid I on his legitimacy as a successor to Muhammad, but were grossly outnumbered by the caliph's forces.
By comparing the current conflict in Syria to the Battle of Karbala, Erdogan may have also implied a reference to similarities between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Yazid I. Yazid inherited power from his father Muawiyah I, a detested figure amongst Shiites and some Sunnis for seizing the caliphate from Muhammad's two grandsons, Hassan and Hussein, who Shiites believe are the prophet's true successors.
The Imams of the largest branches of Shia Islam claim to have descended from the prophet Muhammad through Hussein. The Sunni kings of Morocco and Jordan (and previously the Arabian Peninsula, Syria, and Iraq) claim to have descended from the elder of the two, Hassan.
The date of Hussein bin Ali's martyrdom, or the Day of Ashura, is a holy day in Shia Islam. On Ashura, Shiites make a pilgrimage to Hussein's grave in the Iraqi city of Karbala, and the term Husseiniyat refers to the congregation halls in which Shiites mourn him.
In Iraq, Al-Iraqiya reported on Thursday that three Husseiniyat in Kirkuk were attacked using car bombs, claiming multiple lives. This was followed by a wave of bombings over the weekend that killed dozens of people, including a number of Shiites in the southern city of Basra. These are the latest in a series of attacks on Iraqi Shiites this summer. Most have been blamed on the Islamic State of Iraq, a Sunni umbrella organization affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, Al-Alam reported that a large demonstration was held in the eastern city of al-Qatif to demand the release of Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, a Shia scholar. Al-Nimr was originally arrested in July following a sermon in which he criticized the royal al-Saud family and called for rejoicing in Crown Prince Nayef's death.
Shiites make up about 15 percent of Saudi Arabians. They reside primarily in Eastern Province, sharing a sea border and cultural ties with Bahrain. Most of the country, including the royal family, follows a conservative branch of Sunni Islam and considers Shiites to be apostates. As such, Shiites have been historically marginalized in the country, and unlike Iraq and Lebanon, Saudi Arabia has never had a sizable Shiite elite. Members of this long-disenfranchised group have been the primary participants in Saudi Arabia's Arab Spring demonstrations.
Image: A Shi'ite pilgrim walks to the holy city of Kerbala to mark Arbain in Baghdad's Doura District January 9, 2012. Arbain falls 40 days after the Shi'ite holy day of Ashura. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani