Thursday, January 7, 2010 Aid convoy breaks Gaza siege, Margolis: Hornet's nest in Yemen

This is a humanitarian triumph, but, as George Galloway says below,
only a drop in the ocean. Another drop, the international group of
1400 including many from the US, remains access-denied in Egypt.
I got my first look at Aljazeera on line yesterday. Turns out, it's free,
at-first-glance high level, technically, and pretty balanced, politically,
while providing serious, around the world coverage. Try it. -Ed

Aid convoy breaks Gaza siege
Thursday, January 07, 2010

A humanitarian aid convoy carrying food and medical supplies has arrived in
the Gaza Strip nearly a month after it embarked from the UK.

Members of the much-delayed Viva Palestina convoy began passing through
Egypt's Rafah border crossing into Gaza on Wednesday, waving Palestinian
flags and raising their hands in peace signs.

Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Gaza, said the first wave of
vehicles was greeted by Gaza's Hamas leaders as well as members of a Turkish
humanitarian organisation that aided in bringing the convoy to the strip.

"We had been expecting the arrival of the convoy amid much fanfare but it
almost caught the Palestinians here by surprise," he said.

"The doors suddenly flung open and within minutes the first batch of about
12 or so vehicles made their way from the Egyptian side to the

More than 100 vehicles followed the first batch into Gaza shortly afterward,
he said.

Violent clashes

Participants of the convoy are expected to spend the next 48 hours
distributing the aid supplies.

Viva Palestina's arrival in Gaza followed violent clashes between Egyptian
security forces, Palestinians and members of the convoy.

Hours before the convoy's arrival, an Egyptian soldier was shot dead during
a clash with Palestinian protesters who had gathered along the border to
protest a delay in the convoy's arrival.

Egyptian forces opened fire to disperse the stone-throwing protesters, and
at least 35 Palestinians were wounded in the ensuing clash, according to
Hamas officials.

Late on Tuesday, more than 50 people were wounded during a clash between
Egyptian authorities and international members of the convoy.

The protests were sparked by an Egyptian decision to allow 139 vehicles to
enter Gaza through the Rafah crossing, but requiring a remaining 59 vehicles
to pass via Israel.

Bitter disputes

The convoy, led by George Galloway, a British MP, had already been delayed
by more than a week, after he and a delegation of Turkish MPs failed to
persuade the Egyptians to change their mind.

The convoy of nearly 200 vehicles arrived in Egypt's port city of al-Arish
on Monday after a dispute with Cairo on the route.

But the arrival came after a bitter dispute between its organisers and the
government, which banned the convoy from entering Egypt's Sinai from Jordan
by ferry, forcing it to drive north to the Syrian port of Lattakia.

Al Jazeera's Amr El Kahky, who has been travelling with the convoy, said
Viva Palestina's organisers had hoped to reach Gaza by December 27.

"We're talking about an almost 10 day delay. The convoy members are happy to
have reached their destination," he said.

"Many of them have taken time off from their jobs in Europe and other areas
and that's why they're happy to deliver the aid and go back home to resume
their normal lives. So their jubilation is justified."

Gaza blockade

Israel and Egypt have severely restricted travel to and from the Gaza Strip
since Hamas seized power there in June 2007, after winning Palestinian
legislative elections in 2006.

The blockade currently allows only very basic supplies into Gaza.

The siege has severely restricted essential supplies and placed Gazans in a
dire situation, made worse by Israel's military assault last winter that
reduced much of the territory to ruins.

Galloway, the convoy organiser, said the mission represents only "a drop in
the ocean" as long as the siege on Gaza continues.

"No number of convoys is going to solve the problems here," he told Al

"So we're not only trying to bring in aid, we're trying to show the world
there is a siege.

"If there is anyone who doubted there is a siege on Gaza, they certainly
aren't doubting it now after the events of the last 31 days with this


From: Sid Shniad

U.S. kicks hornet's nest in Yemen

London Free Press: January 2, 2010

Welcome to the Afghanistan of Arabia.

Yemen, the likely source of the failed Christmas Day airliner bombing at
Detroit, has just rudely intruded into the West's awareness. Sources there
claim the attack by a young Nigerian was retaliation for extensive covert
U.S. military operations in Yemen.

I first explored Yemen in the mid-1970s. This magical land of fierce
tribesmen was just then creeping into the 11th century. At the southwest
corner of the Arabian Peninsula, mountainous, verdant Yemen was the Biblical
land of the Queen of Sheba and originator of perfume.

Sana'a, the walled capital, was straight out of Arabian Nights. At dusk, a
ram's horn would sound and its gates would close for the night. Beyond lay
warlike tribesmen who would slit your throat for a watch.

Almost every man wore a curved tribal dagger in his belt and went heavily

There were no hotels, so I slept in the dining room of one of the palaces of
the former ruler, Ahmed the Devil, who enjoyed nailing annoying people to
his palace gate. Old Ahmed spent the rest of his time smoking hashish and
cavorting with his well-stocked harem.

In 1990, the former British colony of Aden joined North Yemen. A military
dictator, Ali Saleh, has held power since 1978. Saleh's U.S.-backed regime
is accused of extensive human rights violations and deep corruption.

The 23 million people of the two Yemens have feuded for decades. Yemen also
battled with neighbour Oman, a virtual colony of MI6, British intelligence.

In a wonderful colonial punch-up, Britain's fabled SAS commandos in
pink-painted jeeps (they blended perfectly with sand) battled Yemeni-backed
nationalists known as the "Red Wolves of Radfan." I naturally fell in love
with Yemen, despite getting caught in tribal gunfights in the north, being
nearly kidnapped and falling dreadfully ill.

At 4 p.m., every Yemeni would go off duty, sit in groups and chew the mild
narcotic shrub qat for two hours while getting silly and swapping tall tales
and jokes. Qat, Yemen's primary crop, curbs the appetite, so most lucky
Yemenis are skinny.

I saw tall, majestic Yemeni Jews proudly striding down the street dressed in
flowing robes and turbans and sporting daggers, long beards and large silver
stars of David around their necks -- a vision straight from the Old

Today, turbulent Yemen has become a haven for anti-American militants. Osama
bin Laden's father came from Yemen. The destroyer USS Cole was bombed in
Aden harbour in 2000.

The most prominent militant group is al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula
(AQAP), a fusion of local Yemeni and Saudi jihadists dedicated to replacing
the Saudi monarchy and Yemeni military regime with an Islamic government.

AQAP numbers around 100 men. It is not an organic part of Osama bin Laden's
group but a like-minded local revolutionary group.

Dirt poor Yemen has three civil wars going on and bitter fighting between
Sunni and various Shia sects. Yemen's warlike tribes hate any outside
authority, starting with their own government.

Recently, the Saudis, backed by U.S. air power, CIA and special forces,
intervened against Shia Houthi tribesmen along Yemen's undemarcated northern
desert border.

Just before the Detroit air incident, U.S. warplanes killed 50 to 100 Yemeni
tribesmen fighting the American-backed regime. U.S. special forces,
warplanes and killer drones have been active since 2001, assassinating
Yemeni militants and anti- government tribal leaders. It was only a matter
of time before Yemeni jihadists struck back at the U.S.

Even Washington now admits that Yemen is the new hotbed of anti-western
jihadist activity. Meanwhile, U.S. and NATO forces are supposedly in
Afghanistan to fight al-Qaida -- which long ago decamped to Pakistan and

The U.S. is being drawn into turbulent Yemen just as it is also expanding
military operations across the Red Sea in Somalia and southern Kenya.

Britain, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are also getting involved in Yemen.

Another hornet's nest kicked. Expect more nasty stings.

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