An article in Ha'aretz Jan. 30 says that Israeli Attorney General Menachem Mazuz has approved the government's application of its 1950 Absentee Property Law to confiscate about one half of Palestinian-owned land in East Jerusalem. Thousands of Palestinians who live elsewhere in the West Bank and are cut off from their lands by the Separation Wall are having their lands and property seized on the grounds that they don't live in Israel. Israel plans to redistribute the confiscated land to Jews only. The decision was made secretly by the government in July. The Absentee law stipulates that those whose land is confiscated have no right to appeal the action, nor any right to compensation. According to the lawyer representing some of those who are losing property, Israel plans to colonize E. Jerusalem's Muslim Quarter as well.
Following an agreement with Indian authorities, Burma has turned its guns on the Naga separatist rebels it had previously sheltered--bringing the war to its own soil. Fighting is said to be raging in the jungle along the border with India as Burmese troops attack bases of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), a guerilla group which has been seeking an independent Naga state since 1980. NSCN leader Kuhalo Mulatonu pledges his fighters will resist to the end. At least 15 are already reported dead.
The separatist insurgency that has been shaking Paksitan's Baluchistan province--strategically bordering Afghanistan--since the beginning of the year seemed to have come out of nowhere. Finally, a Jan. 29 account in the BBC sheds some light. It seems the natural gas field at Sui lies at the heart of the unrest. Typically, it is a source of much of Pakistan's national wealth, yet little of it returns to the local peoples.
In a little-noted but potentially ominous move, Halliburton has announced that is pulling out of Iran, where it has long maintained oil industry maintenance services, exploiting loopholes in the sanctions. The company's CEO Dave Lesar said "the business environment currently in Iran is not conducive to our overall strategy and objectives." (AFP, Jan. 29)
Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter argues in a Jan. 25 piece for al-Jazeera that the so-called "Salvador Option" for Iraq has already been used. He writes that in the months after Paul Bremer took over the Coalition Provisional Authority in June 2003, "the streets of Baghdad crawled with scores of assassination squads." Dozens of Baathist leaders were rubbed out by the Iran-backed Badr militia, with the collaboration of the CIA and Pentagon Special Operations. The Badr militia was later reined in by Bremer as an unreliable proxy, but this unlikely alliance between radical Shi'ites and US military forces could be rebuilt.
Bahrain's Gulf Daily News reports that Iraq's elections are taking place under a "climate of fear," with at least 30 killed Jan 27 alone in roadside ambushes, twin suicide attacks in Samarra and fighting on Baghdad's Haifa Street, which seems to be an insurgent stronghold. Two US troops were among the dead--just one day after a helicopter crash killed 31 Marines, making the 26th the bloodiest day of the war so far for Iraqi forces.
The US is petitioning the UN Security Council not to prosecute Darfur war criminals--just another piece of Washington's ongoing campaign against the International Criminal Court, which could one day be used against US troops or political leaders. Meanwhile, a report by a five-person UN panel released Jan. 28 conveniently finds that while the Darfur violence is part of a government-orchestrated systematic campaign, it does not constitue "genocide". (IHT, Jan. 28) Just a day later, African Union peacekeepers reported that a Sudanese government airstrike on the Darfur village of Shangil Tobaya (40 miles south of El Fasher) left at least 100 civilians dead, and caused a thousand more to flee. Some 10,000 have fled violence in the Shangil Tobaya area in the past two weeks. (Boston Globe, Jan. 29) Pretty impolitic--you'd think the Khartoum butchers would have a better sense of timing. Then again, I guess they are entitled to their hubris, given how the whole world is giving them a blank check for butchery.
They did it again. On Jan. 24, the Supreme Court ruled 6-2 that police sending a drug-sniffing dog into a car in a traffic stop is constitutionally permissible, even in the absense of any evidence of drug use. The ruling reverses an Illinois Supreme Court decision in the case of Roy Cabelles, who was stopped for going six miles over the speed limit and now faces marijuana charges.