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Humanitarian desperation in Gaza

“The only talk must be of ceasefires and peace, and the safety and rights of ordinary people must be the urgent top priority.”

By Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director, Oxfam International

Two days ago an Oxfam employee living in Gaza risked a desperate drive from his house to find some fresh food for his four young children. There is no fruit or meat and little milk in Gaza now, but he found a few expensive vegetables. And then, because of ongoing bombing and bullet fire, he had to drive around and around the streets near his house, because a parked car is a sitting target until, in the briefest of lulls, he could dash into his home to his terrified family.

Oxfam has had to suspend much of its work within Gaza including one of its largest programs – assisting 65,000 people – for security reasons, though a number of Oxfam partners continue to carry out essential work against impossible odds. UN food aid, relied on by 80% of the Gazan population of 1.5 million, has been severely disrupted for the last week because of the bombing.

Gaza’s civilian population has already borne the brunt of an increasingly severe blockade for the last 18 months, impeding access to a wide range of goods and supplies and making it hard for people to move freely in and out of Gaza. It has been a form of collective punishment illegal under international humanitarian law yet tolerated by the international community.

Now with the ground incursion on the back of a week-long bombing campaign a critical humanitarian situation has become a desperate one. One local Oxfam staff member in Gaza describes power blackouts, people trapped in their homes by the violence – cold, with windows open so they are not blown in by bombs, children screaming in the night.

Lack of fuel is one of the major problems, shutting the Gaza power plant and leaving many people without power for most of the day. Bombing has also damaged power lines and energy-generating infrastructure. Without fuel and power, pumps for wells and water sanitation will increasingly go out of action. Hospitals overwhelmed by casualties are desperately working with back-up generators – if they crash (through overuse or when fuel stocks finally end), desperation will become devastation.

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It is way past time for both Israel and Hamas to renounce violence and to respect the rights of ordinary people. The vulnerable civilians of Gaza, including thousands of children, urgently need an immediate and permanent ceasefire strictly implemented by both sides.

EU and other politicians talk of possible ‘humanitarian pauses’- to a clear negative response so far from the Israeli side. Any pause in hostilities must be welcome; its rejection is gravely disappointing. But a brief cessation of hostilities on its own cannot relieve the increasingly critical situation for ordinary people in Gaza.

They are mostly dependent on regular food aid and are reeling from a week of bombing. They cannot be supplied adequately with cooking fuel or food stocks in a ‘pause’ from attacks of a day or two. Nor can overwhelmed hospitals create more bed space, or give proper treatment to the injured, in the before more dead and injured arrive at their doors. Nor can children go back to school for two days only to then cower frightened at home, nor can the serious work begin of tackling the psychological damage that many civilians suffer in war.

A ceasefire must be combined with a lifting of the blockade so Gazan civilians have access to a wide range of supplies, not just the restricted food, medicines and basic goods that were being allowed through before the bombing started. Humanitarian workers need to be able to work freely in the Gaza Strip without risking their own lives.

Much greater pressure needs to be put on both Israel and Hamas. International players, especially the UN, but also the EU, League of Arab States and others should be engaged in rapid and urgent shuttle diplomacy in the region, engaging intensively to get both to a short run ceasefire and to serious longer term peace talks.

We need an immediate UN security council resolution condemning both the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli government and indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas. It should demand an immediate, comprehensive and permanent truce and an end to the blockade, allowing access for humanitarian and commercial goods, and for people too.

There must be no business as usual in international politics in the Middle East until Gazans have a chance to eat, drink and move around with some degree of normalcy, not cower in their homes wondering if and how they will survive. The only talk must be of ceasefires and peace, and the safety and rights of ordinary people must be the urgent top priority.

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Malaysia backs Kosovo independence, angers Serbia

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) – Malaysia on Saturday defended its recognition of Kosovo as an independent state – a move that caused Serbia to expel the Southeast Asian nation’s ambassador.

 

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CRUEL – “Uzbekistan: Activist Sentenced to 10 Years”

EU Wrong to Cite ‘Progress’ in Human Rights

(Moscow, October 23, 2008) – Uzbek authorities should immediately and unconditionally release Akzam Turgunov, a human rights defender and opposition activist who was sentenced on October 23 to 10 years in prison on politically motivated charges, Human Rights Watch said.

A court in Manget, Karakalpakstan (a distant region of Uzbekistan), convicted him of extortion, less than two weeks after the European Union, on October 13, 2008, lifted sanctions on Uzbekistan, citing human rights “progress.” Turgunov has been seriously ill-treated in custody, and his trial manifestly violated fair trial standards.  
 
“Now that the EU has lifted sanctions, the Uzbek government seems to feel freer than ever to crack down on dissidents,” said Igor Vorontsov, Uzbekistan researcher for Human Rights Watch. “Turgunov is yet another example of a human rights defender arrested on fabricated charges, ill-treated in custody, and subjected to a blatantly corrupt trial.”  
 
Turgunov, 56, is the chairman of the Tashkent-based human rights organization Mazlum (“The Oppressed”), which is affiliated with the independent political party Erk (“Freedom”). Police in Manget arrested Turgunov on July 11 under circumstances that seemed to have been staged to frame him.  
 
He had traveled to Manget, in Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic 1,100 kilometers west of Tashkent, to assist a woman with a court case over child support payments. Turgunov has served as a public defender in trials throughout Uzbekistan, including many in Karakalpakstan, in cases involving violations of human rights and civic freedoms.  
 
In this case, the woman’s former husband agreed to an out-of-court settlement and arranged to meet Turgunov and the woman’s brother to make the payments due under the settlement. When a plastic bag supposedly containing the money was handed over to Turgunov, the police appeared and arrested him and the woman’s brother, charging that they had extorted money from the former husband.  
 
On July 14, while Turgunov was in a police investigator’s office writing a statement, someone poured boiling water down Turgunov’s neck and back, severely burning him and causing him to lose consciousness. The authorities refused to investigate the assault until Turgunov removed his shirt during a court hearing on September 16, revealing his serious wounds from the attack.  
 
“The Uzbek authorities shamelessly continue to abuse and ill-treat whomever they choose,” said Vorontsov. “Turgunov’s vicious assault sends a powerful and frightening message to others who dare to work for justice. How can the EU maintain that progress has been made?”  
 
Turgunov is the second activist to be convicted on politically motivated charges in recent weeks. On October 10, 2008, Solijon Abdurakhmanov, a journalist known for his often critical reporting on the government’s policies, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of selling drugs, an offense he did not commit.  
 
In July, the Uzbek government banned Human Rights Watch’s researcher from entering Uzbekistan.  
 
In a hugely disappointing move on October 13, EU foreign ministers decided to lift the visa ban on eight former and current Uzbek government officials thought to have been responsible for the attack by police on mostly unarmed demonstrators in the city of Andijan in May 2005, killing hundreds of them. The European Union pledged to keep the situation under review and called on Uzbek authorities among other things to release all imprisoned human rights defenders and to cease their harassment.  
 
The EU cited progress in human rights as a justification for easing the sanctions. Among the positive developments highlighted by the European Union was a joint EU-Uzbek government-organized seminar on “Liberalization of the Media,” held in Tashkent on October 2-3, just days before Abdurakhmanov’s conviction.  
 
Uzbek authorities permitted the early release from prison of two human rights defenders last week. Dilmurod Mukhiddinov, member of the human rights organization Ezgulik (“Goodness”) and of the independent political party, Birlik (“Unity”), was freed on October 17 and granted amnesty. He had been arrested in his home in Andijan province on May 20, 2005, and accused of distributing a Birlik statement condemning the Andijan massacre.  
 
After the massacre, the government unleashed a fierce crackdown against activists and journalists who attempted to report on the Andijan events and their aftermath. Mukhiddinov was convicted together with five others, who were previously released on suspended sentences on January 12, 2006. Mukhiddinov was sentenced to five years in prison.  
 
Another imprisoned rights defender, Mamarajab Nazarov, an Ezgulik member from Jizzakh province, was also freed last week, according to Vasila Inoyatova, head of Ezgulik. Nazarov had been serving a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence since July 19, 2006, on false charges of extortion.  
 
“We welcome Mukhiddinov’s and Nazarov’s releases but the important thing to remember is that they never should have been in prison in the first place,” said Vorontsov. “The Uzbek government is using activists like hostages. It gets credit for releasing them but then simply arrests more to take their places.”  
 
Human Rights Watch urged EU governments and the United States to raise Turgunov’s case with the Uzbek government urgently, demanding his immediate release.  
SHAHRUL PESHAWAR – Islam Karimov shouldn’t did this to his people.  Free Akzam Turgunov and free him NOW!!!

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Georgia accuses Russia of breaking truce

Georgia said one of its policemen was shot dead from a Russian position Wednesday in violation of a fragile truce, as a major crack appeared in the EU-brokered ceasefire over the remit of EU observers.

The Georgians said it was the first fatal shooting since the August 12 ceasefire that brought an end to the five-day war between Georgia and Russia over Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia.

“This is the first time that Georgian police or military personnel have been shot at since the ceasefire began,” Georgian interior ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili told AFP.

Vano ShlamovAn unnamed spokesman for the Russian forces in South Ossetia quoted by Interfax denied the incident and said he would not believe it until the Georgians showed him the body.

Georgia’s interior ministry told AFP the officer died in hospital from wounds to the head and throat after being fired on near Karaleti, a key Russian position on the road from the Georgian city of Gori to South Ossetia.

Utiashvili said it was unclear whether the shots had been fired by Russian forces or by Moscow-backed South Ossetian militants.

The Georgian foreign ministry reacted furiously, accusing the Russians of gross ceasefire violations.

Russia’s “armed forces not only do not comply with the political commitments undertaken by their president… but go as far as to completely disregard them thus causing the death of innocent people,” the ministry said.

Georgia’s August 7 offensive to regain control of South Ossetia from Moscow-backed separatists prompted a massive retaliatory thrust by Russia into Georgian territory from which thousands of Russian troops have yet to withdraw.

Russia argues that it repelled Georgian troops to protect thousands of people whom it had granted Russian citizenship since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. The West accuses it of seeking to redraw the map by effectively annexing part of its ex-Soviet neighbour.

Hundreds of people on both sides are estimated to have been killed in the conflict. Tens of thousands fled their homes.

In Moscow on Wednesday, Russia ruled out allowing EU observers into South Ossetia and a second Georgian breakaway region, Abkhazia.

The move directly contradicted claims by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and threw into doubt a new peace plan the current EU chief had brokered just two days previously with Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev.

“Additional international observers will be deployed precisely around South Ossetia and Abkhazia and not inside these republics,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists in Moscow.

Medvedev committed on Monday to withdraw within a month all Russian troops from Georgia apart from those in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and to allow the deployment of 200 EU observers.

Sarkozy, speaking at the head of an EU delegation early Tuesday alongside Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi, said: “The spirit of the text is that they (the EU observers) will have a mandate to enter (Abkhazia and South Ossetia), to observe, to report.”

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, also part of the EU delegation, said Wednesday that the location of the observers had not been discussed during talks, but that access to the territories was clearly in the “spirit” of the agreements.

Russia has tightened control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia since the ceasefire, recognising them as independent states, establishing diplomatic relations and vowing to keep 7,600 troops there long-term.

The opening of ties on Tuesday drew a furious response in the Georgian capital Tbilisi where Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria described it as “yet another step in the annexation of Georgia’s sovereign territories.”

Washington, which has consistently taken a tougher line with Moscow over the crisis than most of its European allies, on Wednesday condemned the plan to keep troops in the rebel regions.

The plan is a “clear violation” of both the August truce and previous accords, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

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