Saturday, September 24, 2011

Iconic war hotels The al-Nasr in Tripoli, like other famous war hotels, has been linked to public perceptions of the conflict.

Tripoli's opulent Rixos Hotel caught fire on June 9, 2011, forcing journalists to evacuate [EPA]

In early February this year I was one of a small group of journalists invited to stay at the five-star Hotel al-Nasr in Libya's capital, Tripoli. We were perhaps the last to do so before the rebel uprising put the emergency brakes on the country's fledgling tourist industry.

It had all looked so promising. After many years in the tourism doldrums, and following the lifting of Western sanctions in 2004, visitors had begun to return to Libya. They were attracted by world-class Roman ruins such as Leptis Magna, oasis cities like as Ghadames, and Sahara Desert adventures.

In Tripoli the Turkish-owned Rixos Group was keen that its new acquisition, the al-Nasr, should benefit from the tourism revival and organised our press trip with the help of a local tour operator in the hope of some media coverage for the hotel.

Despite its opulence, the al-Nasr in February was virtually empty, and we three journalists had it almost to ourselves. We rattled around its deserted corridors and cavernous conference rooms, and ogled the sumptuous suites where, we were informed, princes and presidents had slept.

Just one week after we returned from Tripoli, the uprisings that had first engulfed neighbouring Tunisia, then Egypt, erupted in Libya. The al-Nasr fell under Gaddafi's control, and the hotel soon emerged as the temporary home of the world's media.

The press were treated to regular appearances by Gaddafi's spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, and on special occasions by the Colonel himself who, it was rumoured, had direct access to the hotel's underground conference rooms via tunnels from his nearby compound at Bab al-Aziziya.
Nearing rebels

By the time the rebel forces reached Tripoli some six months later the hotel had become, for a few tense days, the virtual prison of the media personnel within. And by the time they were released "the Rixos", as it was now simply known, was famed throughout the world.

This perhaps wasn't the coverage Rixos had been planning when we journalists were invited in February, and to this day my innocent travel article on Tripoli - and the Rixos - remains unpublished. But the media exposure the hotel subsequently received was far greater than we could ever have provided.
The iconic Holiday Inn in Beirut, was a relic of the Lebanese civil war [GALLO/GETTY]
It seems that every war over the past few decades has thrown up a hotel whose name is inseparably linked in the public perception with that conflict. This may be due to the character of contemporary warfare, where large buildings such as hotels have taken the place of medieval castles as strategic strongholds.

But it's also down to the nature of modern media coverage, where journalists are often "embedded" on one side of the conflict, corralled together under the watchful eye of their minders with occasional, carefully orchestrated forays into the outside world to inspect the damage inflicted by the opposition.

If hotels are the new castles, then the incarcerated journalists are the new armies: Kitted out in helmets and flak jackets, they are drip-fed propaganda from the inside, besieged from the outside. Thankfully, the Rixos journalists spent only a few of days in genuine fear for their safety before being set free.

Veteran foreign correspondent Janine di Giovanni, author of a recent memoir of her experiences covering some of the late 20th century's most notorious conflicts, was holed up at Baghdad's al-Rasheed hotel for three months leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

She remembers the sense of paranoia and claustrophobia during her stay, which she describes as a "jail sentence", with Western journalists kept under constant surveillance. "I gather they still have my file," she says. "They were filming me, so I undressed in the bathroom with the lights off."

Di Giovanni has never been to the al-Rasheed, even though she left her "best winter coat" there. But she has been back to Sarajevo, where she was trapped in the Holiday Inn during the siege of 1993. Situated on the infamous "Sniper Alley", the hotel's resident journalists lived without water and food for weeks.

It was at the Holiday Inn that she met her husband, French cameraman Bruno Girodon (who, coincidentally, was also trapped at the Rixos). "I've returned many times to look for the ghost of my old self," she tells me. "I never found her, only tears for what happened there. I learned there what it means to watch others suffer and not be able to help."

Originally built for the 1984 Winter Olympics, the hotel again hosts ordinary travellers, its sunshine-yellow facade showing few scars of its turbulent past. And while it doesn't publicise its role in the hostilities, the hotel is a destination on city excursions, catering to the growing phenomenon of "war tourism".
"Like a medieval citadel, it was occupied by warring militias."
Beirut's Holiday Inn, also synonymous with violent conflict, has not fared so well. Not far from the "Green Line" that bisected the city during the 1975-1991 civil war, the 26-floor hotel was the epitome of 1970s modernist glamour, and one of the city's most conspicuous landmarks.
But during the war the hotel's height and prominence became its downfall. Like a medieval citadel, it was occupied by warring militias and although there have been proposals to rebuild it, when I was in Beirut last December its pock-marked skeleton remained unaltered - and a firm favourite on the city's tourist trail.

Beirut resident and tour guide Dana Nasr explains the hotel's seemingly iconic status to visitors. "When I first started working as a guide, tourists always asked me to show them the Holiday Inn. As a person who lived through the war I was really surprised by their interest in seeing this place."

Nasr finds the hotel's fascination perplexing. "For us Lebanese the Holiday Inn is just another memory of the war," she says. "It's an example of how ugly war can be and reminds us how much this city and this country suffered - for nothing."

Certainly, my own impression was that the hotel had become more than just an attraction for war tourists, almost achieving the status of a monument to the dead. But why does Dana Nasr think it has not been rebuilt, like Beirut's other war-damaged hotels?

"Maybe because it's so big, it would cost a fortune to restore," she speculates. "Maybe they want to keep it as a memorial to the civil war, or maybe they want to demolish it but can't. It seems that we have more questions than answers about this building!"
Hotel Libertas

Yet Rixos may now take the place of the Holiday Inn as the hotel chain most associated with conflict. In the Croatian city of Dubrovnik, the old Hotel Libertas is now under Rixos' ownership, but during the Balkan wars it offered refuge for local people fleeing the Serbo-Montenegrin forces.

Roberta Simunovic, the hotel's current PR manager and a Dubrovnik native, remembers how the Libertas, once one of the Communist bloc's most glamourous hotels, became a sanctuary for Croatia's most desperate citizens.

"Refugees came to the Libertas because it was a secure place," she recalls. "People weren't even safe in their own houses, as the Serbs were burning them down. The hotel had a basement, so they could shelter there. We were shelled from land and sea but only lost six citizens, who were outside when they were killed."

A decade after the war the Libertas was rebuilt to the standard of Tripoli's five-star sibling, and by the time I stayed there this spring there was no sign of the war's devastation. The only hint of the hotel's past lay 20 metres from the entrance, with the memorial stone to the six killed on December 6, 1991.

Yet the war lives on in the memory of Dubrovnik's civilian population and the hotel's current personnel, including Roberta Simunovic. "Every day on December 6 we lay flowers here to remember those who died that day," she says.

When the settlers go marching in Israeli settlers continuously provoke their Palestinian neighbours and the Israeli army makes little effort to stop them

Israeli soldiers tore down signs urging settlers to protest near Nablus on September 20 [Gregg Carlstrom/Al Jazeera]

Huwwara, Occupied West Bank - If there are violent confrontations later this month, as the Palestine Liberation Organisation requests full membership at the United Nations, they might well happen at a place like this, Israeli security analysts say.

The Israeli army checkpoint here, notorious for the abuses committed by soldiers during the second intifada, sits about seven kilometres south of the Palestinian city of Nablus.

About 50 protesters marched to the checkpoint on Tuesday night from Itamar, an illegal West Bank settlement of 1,000 people just to the east. The demonstration dispersed after 15 minutes, though, and none of the protesters tried to walk towards Nablus, an area which is off-limits to them. The Israeli army closed the road to Palestinian traffic during the protest.

“We are here!” one man yelled, waving an Israeli flag. “This is our land.”

The Itamar march, like a small Palestinian protest at Qalandiya checkpoint on Saturday, was small and uneventful. It began at the house of the Fogel family, five of whom were murdered in their home in March; a Palestinian from the nearby village of Awarta pleaded guilty to the murders last month.

Two other peaceful demonstrations took place on Tuesday, one at Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, the other at Beit El, near Ramallah.

But a few kilometres away from Itamar, Israeli settlers from Yitzhar marched to the village of Asira al-Qibiliya, where they threw stones at Palestinians; some of the settlers were armed, and fired their weapons. A local Palestinian journalist was among those attacked.

The Israeli army was eventually called in to end the clashes, and a Palestinian boy was injured by a tear gas canister fired by the army.

Skunk and land mines

The Israeli army says it is prepared for any protests which might erupt later this month. It spent 75 million shekels ($20 million) on “non-lethal” weapons this summer, including tear gas and water cannons.

The army has also come up with a plan to drop “skunk bombs” from helicopters; the foul-smelling stuff has been used for years to disperse protests, but it is typically fired from water cannons, not dropped from the sky.

The army has also called up three battalions of reservists, roughly 1,500 people, and deployed them in the occupied West Bank, an Israeli army spokesman said this week.

In the north - where Israeli soldiers shot dozens of unarmed Syrian protesters who stormed the border in May - the army has laid down hundreds of new land mines.

The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, has spent the last few weeks buying riot-control gear, a request which - due to the occupation - had to be approved by the Israeli government. PA president Mahmoud Abbas has urged that any protests remain peaceful, and ordered the PA’s security forces to keep protesters away from Israeli-controlled areas.

The preparations might turn out to be unnecessary; indeed, General Benny Gantz, the Israeli army chief of staff, said on Tuesday that widespread unrest “was not imminent”.

‘Intervention teams’

The wild card, Israeli analysts say, is what happens in and around the settlements, whose residents have a long history of provoking confrontations with Palestinian villagers - and who often do not trust the army, either.

Follow Al Jazeera's special coverage of the UN bid
“You are asking me what the settlers will do?” said an Israeli soldier outside Itamar on Tuesday afternoon. “I have no idea. We can never guess. But if they try to go to Nablus, we will stop them.”

Tuesday’s demonstration did, in fact, appear to be coordinated with the army. Protesters emerged from Itamar more than an hour late, and when they did, an army jeep led them to the roundabout near the checkpoint. The army made little effort to block off the road leading north to Nablus.

The army - which of course has committed its own widespread abuses in the occupied territories - is often the stabilising force which keeps these confrontations from escalating. But as Tuesday’s fighting in Asira would suggest, the army is still stretched thin in the West Bank; it often arrives only after violent clashes have taken place.

“We have, in every community, an intervention team that is for security, defensive purposes, and it is responsible for first reaction if there is an aggression against the community,” said Danny Dayan, the chairman of the Yesha Council, a lobbying group which represents Israeli settlers.

These teams have recently received additional weapons - mostly tear gas and stun grenades - from the Israeli army over the past few months.

Some of these armed settlers, though, instead of staying inside their communities, try to march into nearby Palestinian villages. Asira is one example; a similar incident took place on Saturday, when settlers, some of them armed, tried to enter the Palestinian village of Qusra. One Palestinian was shot, and one settler was stabbed, before the army intervened.

Settlers depend on the army to provide security in the occupied West Bank, but in recent weeks they have been critical of the army: A brochure circulated this month by several settler groups actually faults the army for trying to minimise “Arab casualties,” because General Avi Mizrahi, the commander of the army division in the West Bank, ordered his troops to “avoid bloodshed” during any protests later this month.

The pamphlet urges women and children from Israeli settlements to “meet” Palestinian protesters in the West Bank.

“No more soldiers and border police against groups of Arab children and women,” said the pamphlet, written by Michael Ben-Ari, a member of Knesset and a member of the extreme right-wing Kahanist movement. “Instead, children versus children, youth versus youth, and women versus women.”

A right-wing group is calling for Israeli teenagers to “protect” illegal settlements in the West Bank this weekend.

Palestine statehood team a 'cause of concern' Concern mounts in lead-up to statehood bid at the UN as diaspora members criticise Palestinian officials.

Palestinians within the diaspora are concerned they will be left in the cold if the statehood bid passes at the UNSC [EPA]

With the presentation of the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations Security Council happening now, activists, analysts, and academics within the Palestinian diaspora are becoming more vocal on issues that they say need to be addressed immediately.
Two issues have been coming to the forefront of the debate; the representation and the right of return of the diaspora, and the legitimacy of the Palestinian officials presenting the bid.
Karim Makdissi, an associate professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, in Lebanon, told Al Jazeera that "the reputations of Mahmoud Abbas and Saeb Erekat are shoddy, and their track records demonstrate the kind of success they are going to bring at this stage."
"Erekat resigned from his post earlier this year, and suddenly made a comeback, how was he able to do this? There is almost no accountability to the questions raised in the Palestine Papers, neither of them seem to understand the notion of being accountable to the Palestinian people," he said.
Furthermore, even though Abbas is presenting the bid as the head of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, his position as head of the Palestinian Authority, whose mandate expired over three years ago, continues to haunt him.
The PA was created under the Oslo Accords in 1993 as a temporary administrative body whose mandate includes only the West Bank and Gaza. The PA does not represent the nine million Palestinians outside of these areas.
Erekat resigned in February this year following the publication by Al Jazeera of leaked documents from his office, which exposed concessions to Israel in secret peace talks held over the last 10 years. While he resigned from his position within the PA, he still held onto his position within the PLO's executive committee, thus retaining the mandate to work on the statehood bid.
"These people don't have a right to act on behalf of the Palestinian people, and they are using the United Nations as a roulette table and gambling with the rights of the Palestinians," Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Intifada, told Al Jazeera. "Who are these people? They are the very same who helped to sideline the Goldstone Report [into the Gaza attacks of 2009], as well as trying to stop the Human Rights Council flotilla investigation."
"They are the same people who did absolutely nothing with the International Court of Justice's decision on the wall," Abunimah added.
Internationalising worries
Mouin Rabbani, a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies in Washington, said the move by the PLO to present such a bid for statehood should not be completely dismissed.
"It is an essential first step towards irrevocably removing the question of Palestine from the Oslo framework and putting it back in with the international community," he told Al Jazeera. "At the same time, this means it is all the more important that it is done through a Palestinian national consensus."
Follow Al Jazeera's special coverage of the statehood bid
"In other words, it should be done through a proper strategic transformation, rather than a tactical manoeuvre," he said.
"What I find frustrating is the way some, or many, of the critics of the initiative confuse the internationalisation of the question of Palestine with the surrender of Palestinian rights," he said. "In my view, it's the exact opposite; it's only through internationalising the Palestinian question can you start to achieve those rights. It should not be whether you go to the UN, but rather how you go to the UN."
For other refugees, international recognition and an official state have the possibility of easing relationships between the diaspora and the host country where they are currently residing
Suheil Natour, editor of Palestinian journal, Al Hurriyah, based in Lebanon, told Al Jazeera he hopes the statehood bid succeeds, as it has the potential of improving relations between Lebanese and Palestinians.
"While Lebanon will continue to recognise us as Palestinian refugees [if the statehood bid was to succeed], if anything it will diminish the fear the Lebanese have in naturalisation," said Natour. "This would be a basis to move forward in terms of amelioration in our relationship."
For others in the diaspora, there is a strong concern over the fact that the same recognition may remove the right to return, forcing them, as refugees, to remain in their host country.
A bid for survival
"Most of the Palestinian people, not just the diaspora, have been excluded from decision making about this bid, and about the course of the movement to achieve Palestinian rights," Nadia Hijab, director of Al Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network, based in the United States, told Al Jazeera. "This bid comes across as a way of a leadership that no longer has a democratic mandate consolidating its hold on power."
It was only in the last few days that finally Abbas announced the bid would go straight to the Security Council for a position as a fully-fledged member.
The lack of information regarding the details of the bid and its consequences has caused frustration, leading to accusations of lack of transparency.
These accusations were cemented in the argument that the bid team have yet to disclose any of the details regarding what a 'Palestinian state' actually means, especially in terms of representation. This has left some wondering over the true objectives of the bid, and others, such as Guy Goodwin Gill, an expert in international law, go so far as to highlight legal issues that may arise from the bid.
"It shouldn't take a professor from Oxford to come out and state the obvious, such as the right of return," argues Karim Makdisi. "These should have been studied and examined for a while beforehand, rather than making declarations that could backfire in the long run."
"The timing of this bid is not coincidental," said Makdissi. "Even with the tiny bit of authority the PA has had on the ground, this has been choked by the Israelis over the past few years, which leaves a huge question mark over the PA's role. The alternative to the bid would be to dissolve the PA, especially following all of its recent failures."
"Essentially it's a bureaucratic move for survival," he said. "The PA as a bureaucracy wants to survive, and they have come to understand that their role on big political issues has become untenable, and they're increasingly asked why they still exist."
Protests against the bid 
The US Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) held a rally on September 15 in New York to protest against the bid for statehood, claiming that it endangers Palestinian rights and institutions, especially the right of return.
"The statehood bid jeopardises the rights of two-thirds of the Palestinian population," explained Dima Abi Saab, spokesperson for the USPCN, to Al Jazeera. "The declaration of a Palestinian state would essentially mean that the Palestinian refugees who have been living in refugee camps across the Arab world, waiting to return home, many of which still hold the keys to their original homes, would never be able to return to Palestine."
For the USPCN, any diplomatic initiative taken that will have significant repercussions on the future of Palestinians, whether within the OPT or in the diaspora, must be brought forward "by a legitimate representative".
"This bid is lacking on many levels, but mainly because it has not taken into account what would happen to the millions of Palestinians living in the diaspora," she said. "We at the USPCN believe that these initiatives will not help Palestinians achieve their right of return, nor will it bring Palestinians any closer to liberation."
As the SC members mull over the decision to grant the Palestinians with an official state, many within the diaspora are hoping for once, the UN will vote against Palestine.

Mexican drug lords enjoy exotic 'narco zoos' Gangsters keep tigers, lions and parrots but police aren't sure where to send animals when owners are arrested.

Animal rights activists do not believe individuals should own tigers or other exotic pets [GALLO/GETTY]

These are not your average petting zoos.
As Mexican authorities crackdown on drug king-pins, they are having a hard time figuring out what to do with the exotic lions, tigers, monkeys and parrots confiscated from lavish ranches.
"This is an ongoing situation occurring in Mexico; when they [security forces] find private zoos and animals on different properties," said Adrian Reuter, an expert on the animal trade with the World Wildlife Fund in Mexico.
"They [drug lords] like charismatic animals that symbolise power and strength: big cats such as lions, tigers and jaguars, along with big snakes, monkeys and nice looking birds," he told Al Jazeera. "In some cases 20 or 30 animals have been found in pretty impressive facilities."
Mexican authorities seized more than 5,500 illegal animals and plants during a nationwide operation in July, the Associated Press reported.
"The traffickers see themselves as the top predators in their food chain and they want to have other top predators in their zoos," Arthur Jeon, co-editor of Global Animal magazine, told Al Jazeera. "They are probably thinking it is the law of the jungle. It is a weird, twisted way of showing how macho they are, and a bad cliché."
Mexican drug trafficking organisations earn between $15-30bn per year from their illicit shipments to the US, according to a State Department report published in 2010. Fulfilling strange, expensive desires is not difficult for increasingly wealthy gangsters.
Animals in limbo
Flush with cash, traffickers can turn their estates into miniature, militarised sets of the Discovery Channel’s Animal Planet.
The animals are often left in limbo when security forces raid narco ranches, arresting suspected traffickers.

"It is very hard for the government; they are doing a good job given their resources," said Alejandra Goyenechea, a spokeswomen for Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation group.
When exotic animals are seized, they are taken to an environmental enforcement agency to see if they are legally registered. If not, they are confiscated, and the government has to decide what to do with them, Goyenechea told Al Jazeera.
Depending on the type of animals, some are sent to zoos, captive breeding facilities or rescue centres near the site where they are seized.
"One of the problems now is that many of the animals being saved are exotic, meaning they are not native to Mexico," she said. "You cannot just go and release them into the wild. Normally they will be sent to zoos. But this is costly. You need space, you to comply with health regulations."
Among the narco notables with a love for exotic pets stood Amado Carrillo Fuentes, the cosmopolitan former leader of the Juarez cartel and tiger owner, said Howard Campbell, a professor at the University of Texas who studies the gangster lifestyle.
"The role models for these big drug lords are the hacienda [estate] owners from colonial times. They like to be the lord of the manor and they have huge ranches. They are rural people, by and large," Campbell told Al Jazeera.
"They grew up around animals and they liked that lifestyle, but now they have the money to take it to extremes. It is the pinnacle of rural ranchero lifestyle." Fuentes died in a botched plastic surgery operation in 1997, but new traffickers have followed in his footsteps.
When security forces arrested Jesus "The King" Zambada, a leader of the Sinaloa cartel, in October 2008, they confiscated more than 200 animals including monkeys, peacocks, and ostriches. They also found Ak-47 assault rifles, berettas and cocaine on his ranch in central Mexico.
Fed to tigers
Some exotic pets, especially tigers, are bred in captivity, rather than trafficked into Mexico from Asia or Africa, said Delcianna Winders, a spokeswoman with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). "In the US alone, it is estimated that 5,000 tigers are held in private possession, but there is no exact count," she told Al Jazeera, adding that costs can be surprisingly low.
Winders said she has even seen ads from "disreputable roadside zoos and breeders offering tiger cubs for free". Her groups wants to see a ban on the ownership of exotic pets.
Members of the Zetas gang, one of Mexico’s most brutal and comprised of former military commandos, reportedly feed their enemies to backyard tigers. "It does not surprise me that traffickers are feeding their competitors to animals in private zoos," Jeon, from Global Animal magazine, said. "I am sure if they could organise fights between the tigers, they would."
Exotic pets have also been used in smuggling operations, in which gangsters stuffed condoms full of cocaine inside animals to transport into the US, Jeon said.
The trend of drug lords keeping exotic animals started in Colombia during the cocaine boom of the 1980s with Pablo Escobar and his senior associates, said Campbell, the drug lifestyle expert. "The Mexicans copied some of that style, but they have always had some of their own style too," he said.
Animal rights activists have applauded the Mexican government's attempts to find homes for confiscated pets. The state is under immense strain from drug violence – responsible for more than 36,000 human deaths.
"The war is a great tragedy for humans as well as animals," said PETA’s Winders.
Some of the money seized from dealers should be used to find new homes for confiscated animals, she said, worrying that animals taken from traffickers thus far might just represent the "tip of the iceberg".
While some narco pets live lavish lifestyles like their owners, others are cared for improperly, receiving the wrong food and not getting proper medical care.
Activists say government agencies need more resources to deal with confiscated animals, while the broader public should get better education on the importance of conservation.
"All sectors of society are responsible, it isn't just for authorities to tackle the problem," the World Wildlife Fund's Reuter said. "If there were no consumers, there would be no problem."
Sounds just like the drug war itself.

Murky waters of Italian football get murkier Scandal replaces scandal in the world of Italian football as another FIFA official is banned from the sport.

Atalanta captain Cristiano Doni was banned for three-and-a-half years after his role in match-fixing  [GALLO/GETTY]

Serie A matches are among 150 sports events under investigation after eight people were held following an investigation by Naples police into links between illegal betting and the mafia, Italian prosecutors said on Friday.
Investigators in Naples said most of the games under scrutiny were from Italy's lower leagues but there were also several from Serie A.
"There has been an exchange of information with the FIGC (Italian Football Federation) over the games under suspicion," assistant prosecutor Rosario Cantelmo told Italy's Sky Sports 24.
"We have already contacted directors from the clubs involved for an explanation. At this moment we are not naming the clubs."
"We have already contacted directors from the clubs involved for an explanation. At this moment we are not naming the clubs"
Assistant prosecutor Rosario Cantelmo
In June, Italy's Interior Ministry set up a match-fixing task force to explore ways of combating illegal betting in soccer after a criminal investigation which initially centred on 18 games in Serie B and Italy's lower divisions.
Police said they had found evidence of an organised system among former and current footballers, sports betting operators and others to manipulate the results of a number of matches.
Promoted Atalanta, one of the clubs investigated, were docked six points by the FIGC before the start of the Serie A season and club captain Cristiano Doni was suspended from football for three-and-a-half years.
In the Calciopoli scandal of 2006, which involved influencing the selection of referees, Juventus were demoted and stripped of the 2005 and 2006 Serie A titles, while AC Milan, Lazio, Fiorentina and Reggina were given points deductions.
The criminal trial into that affair is reaching its final stages in Naples, where prosecutors have requested a prison sentence of five years and eight months for former Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi.
More FIFA scandal

It is hardly surprising how commonplace football scandals are at a time when FIFA is struggling to control its own officials and reputation.  
The organisation has banned Caribbean soccer official Colin Klass for two years and two months for his part in a bribery scandal involving former presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam.
FIFA says its ethics committee found Klass guilty of breaching confidentiality and not disclosing "evidence of violations of conduct."
Klass loses his seat on FIFA's beach soccer committee and the presidency of Guyana's soccer federation. He was fined $5,500 and can appeal.
FIFA is investigating another 15 Caribbean officials it suspects were offered or accepted $40,000 cash payments to back bin Hammam's challenge to FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
Those cases likely will be heard next month.

Vettel streets ahead in Singapore Loose curbing was the only thing that could slow down Sebastian Vettel in practice at the Singapore Grand Prix.

Vettel can win the World Championship in Singapore if he finishes 13 points clear of closest rival Alonso [GETTY] 

Formula One championship leader Sebastian Vettel signalled he is on course to clinch the title this weekend by setting the fastest time in Friday's practice sessions for the Singapore Grand Prix.
However, the drivers were kept waiting when the opening practice was delayed by half an hour due to loose curbing. The session was subsequently reduced to only an hour rather than the scheduled 90 minutes.
The problem recurred late in the session when a bolt in the curbing came loose, prompting hasty repairs and a red flag. The curbing was removed at Turn 13 for the second session and was expected to be replaced before
Saturday's pre-qualifying practice.
Red Bull driver Vettel was two tenths of a second quicker than Ferrari's Fernando Alonso in the second session, with McLaren's Lewis Hamilton third fastest as the top three teams dominated.
Ferrari's Felipe Massa was fourth quickest around Marina Bay, with Red Bull's Mark Webber fifth and Mercedes' Michael Schumacher sixth.
Jenson Button's second session came to an end early after he failed to negotiate a turn and - unable to select reverse gear - was forced to leave his McLaren car parked on the circuit.
Touching distance
Vettel leads the championship by 112 points and if he gathers 13 points more than his closest rival Alonso on Sunday, then he would have successfully defended his title with five races to spare.
"I feel it's a weekend where we have a good car, looks like it's a competitive car to be able to fight for the podium," Vettel said.
"We still have to make adjustments overnight and do our homework."
While Vettel was not prepared to be too bullish looking ahead to Sunday, Hamilton acknowledged that Friday's performance shows the German will again be hard to beat.
       McLaren teammates Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button face a tough challenge in Singapore [GETTY] 
"We feel we were doing pretty well but then we were struggling with the rear tires," Hamilton said.
"They drop off very quickly and it's something we need to improve on.
"I suspect tomorrow there will be a gap in qualifying between us and (Vettel) unless there's a big difference in fuel load or something like that.
"Getting him will be very difficult but not impossible. The pace he had right now, it's very difficult for us to get to that kind of pace."
Toro Rosso driver Sebastien Buemi collided with one of the concrete barriers that hems in the tight street circuit, snapping the front right suspension.
Force India's Adrian Sutil was seventh fastest while his teammate Paul di Resta had little running due to a brake and hydraulic problem that had his car being rebuilt for much of the session.
The Sauber pair of Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi were eighth and ninth on the timesheets, with Button in 10th.

Iraq banned from playing home matches The Iraq Football Association will appeal FIFA's decision to ban the nation from hosting 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

The Iraq national team will have to compete without the support of their home crowd [GALLO/GETTY] 

Iraq will have to play all their home qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup and next year's London Olympics at a neutral venue due to fears over security, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said on Friday.
In a letter sent to the Iraq Football Association (IFA), FIFA raised concerns over security conditions and a breach of safety regulations in their qualifier with Jordan earlier this month, according to an AFC statement.
IFA President Najih Hmoud said Iraq would try to have the ban lifted.
"We will respect the FIFA decision and we will implement it. But I think it was not appropriate because it was based on incorrect information," Hmoud said.
The FIFA letter said Iraq would have to nominate a neutral ground in Asia for the World Cup qualifying matches by October 1 and the 2012 Olympic qualifiers by October 3.

The venue must not be one of the countries where Iraq is scheduled to play qualifiers, however.

'Arbil is safe'

Iraq, ranked 109 in the FIFA world rankings, lost 2-0 to Jordan on September 2 at Franso Hariri Stadium in Arbil, which appeared well over capacity and suffered a power cut during the match.
Arbil is the capital of Iraq's semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region, which was left relatively undamaged by the war and is considered among the safest areas in Iraq.
"All decisions in the world are subjected to appeal. We will follow other channels that help Iraq in lifting this ban"
IFA President Najih Hmoud
"Arbil is a safe city. FIFA could have sent a fact-finding delegation. They could have asked the attaches of foreign embassies in Arbil," Hmoud said.
"I don't believe the circumstances that the report included... are enough to transfer matches to another venue.
"It is too early to nominate a new venue. There are many alternatives. We have no problem with that.
"All decisions in the world are subjected to appeal. We will follow other channels that help Iraq in lifting this ban."
The gulf nation are currently placed third in Group A of the Asian qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup alongside Jordan, China and Singapore.

Hargreaves: United treated me like guinea pig Owen Hargreaves lashes out at the care he received at Man United while Javier Hernandez makes a speedy recovery.

 Owen Hargreaves has criticised former club United over the way they managed his fitness [GALLO/GETTY] 

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson defended his club's medical staff on Friday after Owen Hargreaves accused the Premier League champions of treating him like a "guinea pig" during an injury-hit spell with them.

Hargreaves, who joined rivals Manchester City as a free agent in the close season after four years in the red half of the city where he made just 39 appearances, said injections he had received had hampered his recovery from knee problems.
"We've been trying to analyse all the stuff he's said this morning and we are going to have a club statement to address that," Ferguson told a news conference.
"But as far as I'm medical staff are one of the main reasons Manchester United have been so successful in the last few years. There is absolutely no doubt about that. We have fantastic medical staff and great sports scientists.
"That's my opinion of Manchester United and that's more important than what anyone else has got to stay about that."
Canadian-born Hargreaves, whose career has been blighted by chronic tendinitis in his knees requiring surgery, was critical of his former club in comments reported by local media but was urged by current boss Roberto Mancini not to dwell on the past.
"I received some injections and my tendon was never the same," said Hargreaves, who moved to United from Bayern Munich in 2007 despite having broken his leg.
"I tried to get back on my feet and (United's medical staff) said my tendon was good, but it felt like I was made of glass.
"(The injections) obviously had a huge impact. With hindsight, I probably should not have had them. It's difficult.
"I've had to be a guinea pig for a lot of treatments."
Hargreaves, 30, made his first appearance for his new club this week, marking the occasion with a stunning goal in the 2-0 victory over Birmingham City in the League Cup.

While Hargreaves is not convinced by the medical support at Manchester United, striker Javier Hernandez is likely to have little complaints as he returns to action this weekend.
        Hernandez suffered a vicious challenge by Cole during clash with Chelsea [GALLO/GETTY] 
Hernandez is in line for a surprise return when the Premier League leaders visit Stoke City on Saturday, manager Alex Ferguson said.
The Mexican goal-poacher had been facing two weeks out with a bruised shin after what Ferguson branded a "shocking" tackle by Chelsea defender Ashley Cole in last Sunday's 3-1 win over the London side.
"It's quite surprising, Hernandez trained yesterday," Ferguson told a news conference on Friday.
"He is very lucky. At the time he had no feeling in the leg, there was a numbness there, we thought there may have been some nerve damage... but he's trained very well and he's available for tomorrow."
Hernandez is likely to resume his potent partnership with Wayne Rooney, who has scored in all five of United's league games and notched nine goals including two hat-tricks.
United are the only team still with a 100 percent record in the league, topping the table with 15 points. They are two points ahead of neighbours Manchester City and a further three ahead of Chelsea.

Marsh appointed Sri Lanka coach Former Australia and Zimbabwe coach Geoff Marsh has been given a two-year contract as Sri Lanka coach.

Geoff Marsh was coach of Zimbabwe between 2000 and 2004 [GALLO/GETTY] 

Former Australian batsman Geoff Marsh has been named Sri Lanka's coach on a two-year contract, the country's cricket board said on Friday.
"He (Marsh) takes up his new assignment on September 27," Sri Lanka Cricket said in a statement.
"With his vast coaching and playing experience at the highest level, Sri Lanka Cricket is confident that he would be an ideal choice."
The former Australian opener, 52, scored 2,854 runs in 50 Tests and 4,357 in 117 one-dayers before he quit international cricket in 1992.
"With his vast coaching and playing experience at the highest level, Sri Lanka Cricket is confident that he would be an ideal choice"
Sri Lanka cricket statement
Sri Lanka have been without a regular coach since Australian Trevor Bayliss stepped down after guiding the team to the World Cup final in April.
Sri Lanka appointed Stuart Law as an interim coach for the England tour and then former paceman Rumesh Ratnayake for the recent home series against Australia. Law quit in July to coach Bangladesh.
Marsh, part of the 1987 World Cup-winning squad, coached Australia from 1995 to 1999 and then Zimbabwe between 2000 and 2004.
He became the only cricketer to win the World Cup as player and coach when he guided Australia to victory in the 1999 edition.
Marsh is the current coach of Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Pune Warriors and it is not immediately clear whether he will continue with his IPL job.

Australia cruise past USA in World Cup Wallabies overcome disappointing loss to Ireland by bouncing back to convincing victory over the USA in Rugby World Cup.

Ashley-Cooper dives over the line to score his team's seventh try against the USA [GALLO/GETTY] 

Australia winger Adam Ashley-Cooper scored three tries in seven minutes in the second half as the Wallabies shook off the disappointment of their loss to Ireland last week with a 67-5 victory over the United States on Friday.

The Wallabies had been heavily criticised for their 15-6 loss to Ireland, but showed against the U.S. how dangerous they can be when allowed to control the pace of the game, running in 11 tries - several from more than 50 metres out - at Wellington Regional Stadium.

While coach Robbie Deans may have been pleased with the result and some of the support play and width they achieved, he will remind the Wallabies they will not get as much quick ball or space against better sides.

They could also have injury concerns with Kurtley Beale, Pat McCabe and Anthony Faingaa coming off, with team officials suggesting McCabe may have a dislocated shoulder while Faingaa was knocked cold in a tackle in the final minute.

"We spoke about being a bit smarter with our decision-making and the scoreline was flattering but I guess the best thing about the performance was the way we went about it," Wallabies captain Will Genia said in a pitchside interview.

"We got a cleaner ball to work with this week and when you've got guys like Kurtley and Quade, it makes the forwards job much easier when you get on the front foot."

On the double

The Tri-Nations champions had a nervous opening five minutes but then scored two electric tries to inside centre Rob Horne and flanker Rocky Elsom after they recycled the ball at lightning pace.

The U.S. then had the better of the next 20 minutes after captain Tim Usasz had broken out from inside his own half that gave them some much needed momentum.

Despite holding out for several minutes, the Wallabies finally broke when U.S. number eight JJ Gagiano exploited a poorly defended blindside from an attacking scrum to bring the crowd to the feet as he scored the first try against Australia at the tournament so far.

The Wallabies, despite being forced back on their line again, highlighted how dangerous they were with ball in hand as they swept 90 metres down field for fullback Beale to finish off, which Cooper converted.
        A Maori warrior challenges Aussie Quade Cooper to a duel as he walks onto pitch [GETTY] 
Faingaa secured the bonus point less than five minutes later to give the Wallabies a 22-5 lead at halftime.

The Wallabies continued their resurgence after the break with winger Drew Mitchell and replacement centre McCabe both crossing in the first 10 minutes of the second half to ensure there was no chance of an American fightback.

Ashley-Cooper then went on his scoring burst before Faingaa scored his second after another long-range attack and Radike Samo took the final pass from Ashley-Cooper to score their final try. Berrick Barnes converted four of their second-half tries.

"I thought we had a good first half... we ran out of steam at the end but I'm immensley proud of the guys," said Usasz.

"That's the difference when you play the best sides in the world, they really punish you for your mistakes."

Real Betis move top of La Liga Two Santa Cruz goals help move Real Betis to top of pile as late goal from Walter Pandiani clinches win for Espanyol.

Paraguayan striker Roque Santa Cruz already looks to be a great addition to newly promoted Real Betis [EPA] 

Roque Santa Cruz scored twice to lead 10-man Real Betis to a thrilling 4-3 win over Zaragoza on Thursday as the newly promoted Andalusian side moved top of the Spanish league standings.

Goals from Santa Cruz and Salva Sevilla - from the penalty spot - after just 12 minutes set Betis on their way to match the best ever start of a promoted club with four straight victories.

Former Celtic defender Efrain Juarez pulled one back for Zaragoza before halftime, but Benat Etxebarria stroked home another penalty in the 47th and Santa Cruz headed in his second goal two minutes later.

However, the game then swung Zaragoza's way after Betis goalkeeper Castro Barriga was sent off with 20 minutes to play for pulling forward Luis Garcia down outside the area, with the goal wide open.

Zaragoza pressed forward and substitute Juan Carlos Perez gave the visitors hope with two late goals, but Betis held on during the final 10 minutes for the memorable win.

Also on Thursday, super-sub Walter Pandiani scored an injury-time winner as Espanyol beat Getafe 1-0 condemning their rivals to their third successive defeat.
Getafe had not won away since January and their confidence was not high after a poor start to the season but they were up against an Espanyol team who had also suffered two defeats from three games.
There was plenty of toil but little flowing football in the first half.
However, after the break, Espanyol took the game to the visitors.
Javi Marquez saw a deflected shot go just wide and Alberto Lopo blocked a Vladimir Weiss strike on the line but it was really keeper Miguel Moya who was keeping Espanyol at bay. In particular he did well to stop a Thievy Bifouma shot from close range.
Getafe missed a great chance themselves when Juan Valera blazed wide late on but Espanyol got a deserved win a minute into injury time, when Pandiani, who had only been on the pitch for 15 minutes, coolly slotted home in the box.
Spain's top two continued to struggle in midweek as Barcelona could only draw 2-2 away to leaders Valencia while Real Madrid came away with a 0-0 draw from their trip to Racing Santander.
Cesc Fabregas rescued a point for Barcelona and has now scored in the four league games so far to set a record for a new player, but the result means the champions have now already dropped four points from the opening fixtures.
The home side went ahead after just eleven minutes when Eric Abidal put a Jeremy Mathieu cross into his own net but just two minutes later Pedro Rodriguez equalised after an interchange between Fabregas and Lionel Messi.
It was far from a typical display from Barcelona though as Valencia enjoyed plenty of possession in the middle of the pitch and they went ahead again via a Mathieu cross with Pablo Hernandez slotting the ball home unmarked at the far post.
It was not until the final stages of the match that Barca asserted themselves and it was once again the Messi and Fabregas combination that made the difference with the Argentine finding the former Arsenal man, who placed the ball past the keeper.
"I never believed it was a case of just two teams in the league as all the clubs are dangerous. This is still an important point for us as Valencia are a strong team although it is unfortunate we didn't get a third goal," said Barca keeper Victor Valdes.
It has been an even worse start for Real whose draw followed a defeat away to Levante at the weekend.
Coach Jose Mourinho rang the changes which included Jose Callejon and Lassana Diarra coming into the side but it was another ineffective performance.
Cristiano Ronaldo had a header well saved by keeper Tono Rodriguez before the break and in the second half the introduction of Angel Di Maria did make some difference but he was unable to change the course of the match.

Why women can be used to teach men a lesson The Turkish FA has come up with a unique way to tackle crowd disturbances and no men are allowed.

Over 41,000 women and children filled the Sukru Saracoglu stadium in Istanbul in the Turkish FA's innovative bid to tackle hooliganism [GALLO/GETTY]

Innovative thinking is not something always associated with football administration.

Football at the highest level is linked to money, to corruption, to rivalry and at times, to violence, but the officials in charge too often fail to look outside the six-yard box when managing the sport.
However, this week a decision was made by the Turkish FA that was as innovative as it was brilliant.
The Turkish FA came up with a novel way of tackling crowd trouble by banning men from matches that involved teams previously sanctioned for unruly fan behaviour.
In a progressive move, the Turkish FA sent out a message to the world that they will not accept any more aggression and trouble on their terraces.
And it was the perfect time for the nation – tarnished by match-fixing and crowd trouble in recent months – to come up with the goods.
On Tuesday, the first match of its kind took place as more than 41,000 women and children under 12 gathered to attend Fenerbahce's match against Manisaspor in Istanbul.
Unsurprisingly, it was an environment that went down rather well with the Fenerbahce players who performed in front of an audience they could only have dreamed of.
The event was reportedly an all-round success.
"This memory will stay with me forever," Fenerbahce captain Alex de Sousa said after the game.
Manisaspor midfielder Omer Aysan was equally positive about the occasion: "It was such a fun and pleasant atmosphere."
Instead of the usual provocative chants and swearing, the women and children eagerly cheered on both sides and before the match the players tossed flowers into the crowd.
"For the first time in the world, only women and children will watch a game. The women know all the chants. The same anthems, the same chants will be sung," said Yasemin Mercil, a female member of Fenerbahce's executive board.
Violence and corruption
The "no man policy" came around when Fenerbahce were ordered to play two home games behind closed doors after a tense game with Ukrainian champions Shaktar Donetsk escalated into violence in July.
Fans had stormed the pitch and attacked journalists for what they believed was critical coverage of the match-fixing allegations involving the league champions.
It was the final straw for a weary FA who had been exerting time and effort rebuilding Turkish football after match-fixing allegations brought shame on their nation.
The scandal has seen more than 30 people, including Fenerbahce's chairman, jailed as part of an ongoing probe into alleged match-fixing that involves 19 games from last season.
However, from a dark place this positive little initiative has grown.
The ruling might have been primarily introduced to prevent Fenerbahce games taking place without their fans but this men-free policy has far greater ramifications for the sport.
The Turkish FA have stumbled upon an ingenious way to punish football thugs and hooligans without affecting the players and the environment of a match.
And there is no reason this ruling cannot also be introduced when other clubs are accused of match disturbances, or even racism allegations, in future.
Now that the Turkish FA have taken these bold steps against crowd trouble, it would be great to see this policy spread to other European nations and used to target clubs with bad reputations.
Admittedly it is still early days, but not only does this ruling appear to warn men their indiscipline will not be tolerated but it gives Turkish football some positive publicity at a time when it so badly needs it.
However, encouraging women to the terraces may not be enough to improve football in the long term.
Women need to be encouraged into the higher echelons of football as well.
Football associations, FIFA and media organisations reporting on football need to find ways to include more women in this male dominated world.
It is not a case of women being better than men - it is simply a case of balance and fairness.
We cannot know the difference more women in the game will make until we at least give it a go.
And who knows, maybe women can resolve other evils found in the sport and not just crowd trouble in Turkish football.
Joanna Tilley is a journalist freelancing with Al Jazeera on the Sport website. She has worked at Sky News, Sky Sports News, LBC Radio,, TNT Down Under and Wanderlust magazine. Follow her on Twitter (@joannatilley) or her website,
Al Jazeera is not responsible for the content of external websites.

Roma concede late equaliser against Siena Promoted Siena hit back late to leave Roma with a winless start to the Italian season.

Roma remain winless under their new Spanish coach Luis Enrique [GALLO/GETTY]

Roberto Vitiello struck two minutes from time to deny Roma coach Luis Enrique a first victory in five outings as Siena snatched a 1-1 draw in Rome in Italy's Serie A.
Roma had led through Daniel Osvaldo's first-half strike but having failed to turn possession into pressure, they were hit with a late blow.
The result means neither side have yet won a match this season but took them both above champions AC Milan, who now sit just two places above the relegation zone, where Inter Milan find themselves.
The final whistle was met with a cacophony of jeers from disgruntled home fans.
Roma started by seeing a lot of the ball without creating anything, while Siena repeatedly looked dangerous on the counter.
Inside the first quarter of an hour Emanuele Calaio had a shot deflected behind off Simon Kjaer while Franco Brienza's header from Angelo's cross was brilliant tipped away by Bogdan Lobont.
And yet the hosts went in front on 25 minutes as Jose Angel crossed from the left and Marco Borriello took the ball to the byline before firing it across goal where Osvaldo was waiting at the back stick for a simple tap in.
However, it was still Siena who looked the more likely to score as Calaio dragged a shot just beyond the far post.
In the second period a stinging shot from Osvaldo brought Zeljko Brkic into action to punch the ball clear.
Midway through the period Francesco Totti got his weight behind a free-kick but Brkic got down to save comfortably.
Kjaer then came to Roma's rescue as he spread his body on the line to block a Pablo Gonzalez header from close range after Calaio headed the ball back into the danger zone.
Miralem Pjanic set his sights from distance for the hosts but fired just beyond the angle of post and crossbar.
But then came Siena's sucker punch two minutes from time as Brienza's speculative effort crashed back off the post and Vitiello was on hand to side-foot home the rebound for a deserved equaliser, the club's first goal this season.
Osvaldo had a late chance to snatch a winner but headed wide.

A look at the hurricane and typhoon season An assessment of the cyclone season of 2011

The aftermath of Tropical Storm Nanmadol in Pingtung, China {Getty/Gallo]

There is always great interest in the predicted number of hurricanes and typhoons each season. In recent years the predictions have taken on added significance because of the links between this cyclone activity and global warming. So how does the 2011 season measure up?

Looking first at the Atlantic hurricane season: here, activity was expected to be above average. Yet, for the first time in more than 150 years, the first eight storms failed to attain hurricane status (mean wind speeds of 119 kph).

Since the beginning of June, when Tropical Storm Arlene developed in the Gulf of Mexico, there have been just three hurricanes.  Two were major hurricanes: Irene – the strongest, so far, with winds of 195 kph - and Katia, plus the less intense Maria.

NOAA defines a ‘normal’ season as one with nine to 12 named storms, of which five to seven reach hurricane strength and one to three develop into major hurricanes (winds in excess of 180 kph). Totals for 2011 stand at 15, five and two respectively.

With the season not officially over until November, there is plenty of time for totals to reach those predicted by NOAA before the start of the season:  12 to 18, six to 10 and three to six.

In the Pacific Ocean, where there is a year-long season, the current tally stands at 16 cyclones, seven typhoons and three super typhoons. These figures are open to some debate as different meteorological agencies have slightly different criteria for their definition.

There are many organisations issuing forecasts for the Pacific, but the general trend has been for the predicted activity to be around average. The London-based Tropical Storm Risk Consortium, for example, predicted 28 tropical storms, 18 typhoons and eight super typhoons.

It is too early in the season to predict the likely outcome for the Pacific season at this time, but interest in the numbers of cyclones has become heightened as a result of links to climate change and the possibility that both hurricanes and typhoons will become more intense as the world become warmer.

On this point, there is very little evidence to suggest that the actual number of these cyclones is  linked to climate change. In any event, climate prediction models are not able to resolve these vortices sufficiently well to produce any reliable indications.

What is suggested by a warmer world, however, is that cyclone intensity will increase.  According to research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, over the last 30 years, the energy released by all cyclones has increased by a staggering 70 percent.  This has equated to a 15 percent increase in maximum wind speeds and a 60 percent increase in storm longevity.

With the global death toll from all cyclones in 2011 standing at around 500 and the damage estimated to be $US 12 billion, any potential increase in energy must be a cause for concern.

Weather today Doha Qatar

Today's High: 40 C
Winds: From the East
8 kph
Tonight's Low: 29 C
39 C
6 kph
28 C
43 C
South East
14 kph
30 C
42 C
24 kph
31 C

Turkey says stopped Syrian arms ship Erdogan says Syrian ship intercepted, arms embargo imposed against Damascus; 'If there are planes carrying weapons, or such shipments by land, we should stop them,' he says

Recep Tayyip Erdogan Photo: AP

Turkey on Friday slapped an arms embargo against Syria for its brutal crackdown on the country's uprising, and has stopped a Syrian-flagged ship, the prime minister said.

"If there are planes carrying weapons, or such shipments by land, then we would stop and confiscate them as in the past," the state-run Anatolia news agency quoted Recep Tayyip Erdogan as saying.
Erdogan did not say when or where the Syrian ship was stopped and whether any weapons were found aboard it.

Quartet: Peace deal by 2012 International Quartet sets timetable for new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks

Clinton and Ashton Photo: AFP

The International Quartet of Middle East mediators proposed on Friday that Israel and the Palestinians should meet within one month to agree an agenda for new peace talks with a goal of a deal by the end of 2012.

In a statement, the Quartet - the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia - said it wanted to see comprehensive proposals within three months on territory and security, and substantial progress within six months

Urgent terror alert in southern Israel

Forces on southern border (Archive) Photo: IDF Spokesman's Office

IDF forces in southern Israel boosted their alert level Friday evening following concrete information about the intention of Hamas and other terror groups to carry out an imminent attack on the Israel-Egypt border.

IDF officials said the terror plot may constitute an attempt to undermine the Palestinian Authority's statehood bid at the United Nations.

Large army forces deployed along the Egypt border after 10 pm Friday to reinforce the regular presence in the area. The troops are undertaking various operations in order to neutralize the terror plot. The border area has also been reinforced by advanced technological means and Air Force support following the Eilat-area attack about a month ago.

The army's presence in the area was reinforced about four weeks ago, following the terror offensive near Eilat that left eight Israelis dead. Terrorists who infiltrated Israel opened fire at two Israeli buses and two cars; the assailants also targeted IDF troops and police forces responding to the attacks.

A high state of alert was declared in the area some two weeks ago, following intelligence information pointing to another terror plot in the region. At the time, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai estimated that "a terror cell comprising at least 10 members" is looking to stage an attack in Israel.

Earlier today, defense authorities said they were satisfied with the ability of IDF and police forces to contain protests and riots by Palestinians at various West Bank sites.

Forces deployed en masse and were equipped with large quantities of crowd dispersal means, but officials said the number of protests was "medium" and noted the army did not utilize all means at its disposal.

The wide-scale deployment will remain in place until Sunday at least.

Top Hezbollah man 'disappears'

Rafik al Hariri Photo: AFP

A senior Hezbollah militant has been missing for several days and according to Lebanese sources, his disappearance may be connected to the arrest of four people suspected of collaborating with Israel, London-based Asharq Al-Awsat reported on Thursday.

According to the Lebanese sources, the said Hezbollah member, who serves in the organization's command room, disappeared from his home in the district of Dahiya, south of Beirut, several days ago.

The sources claimed his relatives were told he "will not be coming back anytime soon," which led them to believe that he was either killed or kidnapped.

If the reports prove to be true, this may be the highest ranking Hezbollah militant to have been attributed such allegation, as he was one of the members summoned to give testimony in front of the International Criminal Tribunal for Lebanon, which investigated the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In august, the special court published a 47-page indictment against four members of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah for alleged involvement in the deadly truck bombing that killed Hariri.

Hezbollah has denied involvement and said it will never turn over the suspects.

Israeli student receives special gift from Ahmadinejad

Before he took to the podium to make his speech at the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad first met with a group of students, where one Israeli student received a special surprise.

Dan Folk (21), an Israeli who was invited to the event in which over 100 students took part, ended up getting a business card and memento from Ahmadinejad.

"It was at his hotel in Manhattan, we got there and had to wait in the security check line for nearly an hour," said the student, adding, "we gave them our cell phones and any kind of camera we were carrying. During the security check I showed them my Israeli driver's license and the Iranian security officer smiled at me."

Folk said he had mixed feelings over the question of whether to meet with the Iranian president. "When I heard about the possibility of meeting with the Iranian president, I had mixed feelings. How can I, an Israeli citizen, sit down and listen to a person who wants to wipe me and my family off the map.

מפגינים נגד אחמדינג'אד, חמינאי ואסד מחוץ לעצרת האו"ם (צילום: AFP)
Anti-Iranian regime protestors in NYC (Photo: AFP)

"When I thought about it a bit more I realized that this could be a great opportunity to tell him what I think. When he spoke about Israel I felt proud to be an Israeli because I knew my presence there, listening to him, presenting him with tough questions, puts me in a position of power."

According to Folk, other than Ahmadinejad, the Iranian foreign minister and UN envoy were also present at the event.

During his opening speech he explained that every country should have the freedom to handle its interests independently and stressed that his country held free and open elections, a remark which caused some members of the audience to snigger.

As for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Ahmadinejad explained that the Holocaust was an excuse for the foundation of the State of Israel even though "there is no connection whatsoever between the European holocaust and Palestine."

The Iranian president compared the conflict to a situation where a thief (Israel) breaks into a home, takes the family hostage (the Palestinians) and asks for rights over the house. When the police (US) arrive to intervene they rule in favor of the thief, give most of the house to the thief and leave the family with one little room in the house.

He added that it was in the US' interest to "free Palestine" since they were the ones who had established it and now it was causing them nothing but trouble.  

US court: Students guilty of disrupting Israeli envoy

Jurors found 10 Muslim students guilty Friday of disrupting a lecture by the Israeli ambassador at a California university in a case that stoked a spirited debate about free speech.

Jurors delivered the verdicts in Orange County Superior Court in the case involving a speech by Ambassador Michael Oren in February 2010 at the University of California, Irvine.
The students were also convicted of conspiring to disrupt Oren's speech.

Disrupted Speech
Arab students disrupt speech by Israeli envoy to US / Yitzhak Benhorin
(Video) Michael Oren, Israeli ambassador to United States, gives speech at University of Californian, is interrupted by students shouting, 'How many Palestinians have you killed?', 'Israel is a murderer'. Ten students detained, Oren continues speech to crowd's applause
Full story
The students were charged with misdemeanor counts after standing up, one by one, and shouting prepared statements at Oren such as "propagating murder is not an expression of free speech."

Prosecutors say the students broke the law by interrupting Oren's speech on US-Israel relations and cutting short the program, despite calls to behave from campus officials. Defense attorneys argued the students had a right to protest.

Nearly 200 people packed the courtroom to hear closing arguments at the trial that some community members called a waste of taxpayers' money and an effort to single out the defendants because they are Muslim.

Prosecutor Dan Wagner told jurors the students acted as censors to block the free flow of ideas and infringed upon the rights of 700 people who had gone to the Irvine campus to hear Oren.

Wagner showed video footage of university officials pleading with students to behave but said they kept interrupting the lecture. Wagner also showed emails sent among members of UC Irvine's Muslim Student Union planning the disruption and calculating who was willing to get arrested.

'Students didn't break law'

Defense attorneys countered there were no hard rules for the speech, and the students may have been discourteous but didn't break the law.

Lawyer Reem Salahi, who represents two of the defendants, said the demonstration was modeled after a series of protests at UC Irvine and elsewhere in which students shouted at lecturers but weren't arrested.
She said the students never intended to halt Oren's speech entirely but wanted to express their views on the Israeli government's actions in Gaza.

During the case, attorneys showed dueling pie charts breaking down how much time the students demonstrated, how long their supporters cheered, and how much time Oren spoke. The evidence was intended to show whether the meeting suffered a significant disruption.

Attorneys for the students – who attended UC Irvine and nearby University of California, Riverside – argued before the trial that charges should have never been filed and that the issue was already handled on campus.

In 2010, the students were cited, released and disciplined at UC Irvine, which revoked the Muslim Student Union's charter for a quarter and placed it on two years of probation.

Earlier this year, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas filed criminal charges against 11 students, prompting an outcry from the American Civil Liberties Union and a host of Jewish, Muslim and campus groups. Charges against one defendant were later dropped.

Erdogan assaulted in UN building

Minister of Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein, who witnessed the attack outside the General Assembly hall, described it as a "very violent incident. Like a scene out of a movie."

ארדואן ובאן באו"ם, אתמול (צילום: AP)

Erdogan and Ban (Photo: AP)

The circumstances of the incident were still unclear, but some claim it may be connected to the internal conflict taking place between Turkey and the Kurdish rebels.

On Tuesday, seven people were killed in two terrorist attacks in Ankara and in a police academy in eastern Turkey. Both attacks were attributed to the Kurdish rebel group PKK.
The attempted assault took place as the Palestinian president announced his request for full membership in the United Nations.
On Thursay, Erdogan addressed the General Assembly and urged the international community to "heal the bleeding wound that is the human tragedy suffered by the Palestinian people," and "show Israel that it is not above the law."