Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad brother in-lawâ€™s assets in the U.S. were frozen by the treasury department, Assef Shawkat Syriaâ€™s military intelligence chief is accused by Washington of contributing to violence in Lebanon and Iraq. He is also accused of playing a direct and major role in Syriaâ€™s support for terrorism, including the insurgency in Iraq.
Here is an interesting little story about him:
Assef Shawkat, the mysterious figure who has recently emerged as one of Bashar’s top security chiefs, was born in the coastal city of Tartous in 1950 and grew up in modest comfort. In 1968, he moved to Damascus to pursue his higher education in the field of law. He graduated in 1972, and finding himself attracted to the arts, enrolled at the University of Damascus in history. His dissertation was on the Great Syrian Revolt of 1925 and the rural chieftains who led it. For unknown reasons, he lost interest in the subject and instead, hired an expert to write it for him. His professors found out and failed him. Having no choice, he stayed on in graduate school, rewrote his dissertation, and obtained his degree in 1976.
Television channels are reporting a 60% voter turnout so far in the Palestinian elections. Out of the 1.3 million eligible to vote that’s a great rate. Only a third so far turned out to vote in East Jerusalem. First polls show a narrow victory to the Fatah over the Hamas. This was true earlier today.
The news through the day mentioned the record turnout. People enjoyed these first elections and the democratic process. With the charged atmosphere that surrounds the Palestinian and Israeli question one tends to forget that this is a major step, regardless of the results. With over a million votes in, the Fatah seems to have 42% of the votes and the Hamas approximately 39%. These are approximate numbers and still not final.
Ehud Olmert in a speech yesterday went over the conditions of the road map for relations with the Palestinians and the importance of these elections. No doubt the Israeli side would prefer if the Hamas was not the ruling party after these elections. On the other hand, the Fatah has its own problems and internal disputes.
As soon as the Hamas sensed the loss in recent hours, the word on the street is that the organization is now willing to discuss a cease fire with Israel. They call it a Hudna Agreement.
Hamas could be part of the a new coalition and end up a part of the new government. The percentages are close and the final results will be tallied tonight.
In any case, congratulations on what seems to have been a smooth election process.
Another first in the Middle East.
By Denis Schulz.
Al Capp was one of the great cartoonists of the 20th Century-perhaps the greatest. There was Walt Kelly and Bill Watterson and not much else. Who can forget the Yokums and Marrying Sam and Senator Jack S. Fogbound? And Daisy Mae Scraggs did more for ragged short shorts than Marilyn Monroe did for hot air vents. Capp’s hillbillies were so rude and ignorant they made The Three Stooges seem almost as erudite as Noam Chomsky, Ward Churchill and Frank Rich, and, of course, better plumbers. Yet no hillbillies, from Granny Clampett to Grandpa McCoy, ever pursued Al Capp through the streets with a hickory switch.
Capp portrayed Joan Baez as Joannie the Phoney and his campus S.W.I.N.E.(Students Wildly Indignant about Nearly Everything) were forever stuffing flowers down National Guard gun barrels-flowers which “naturally, somebody else growed,” said Li’l Abner. The radical left hated his guts. What he would have done with Michael Moore and Howard Dean can only be imagined.
Itâ€™s Christmas Day and the weather here is as close as it gets to snow. Raining, gray and cold. I miss the holidays a little. I leave CNN on the whole day so I can hear Christmas Day news that always seem to have a slightly more positive note then the usual noise. Tonight is also the night we light the first candle of Hanukkah. It’s a time to visit family and eat some Sufganiot (donuts). Cholesterol bombs. Yum..Does anyone remember the Chrismukah memo?
The apartments in Israel are made of stone and not really built for winter. In our place we use spiral electric heaters to keep the place warm and the orange glow makes it feel really cozy. You can almost pretend you have a fire place. You need to watch the dogs though, they seem to really get close to the heaters and the term hotdog takes on a whole new meaning.
There is a whole community of bloggers out there, each with their own opinions and style of writing. I recently witnessed (as many others) an angry exchange of comments on a site I enjoy reading. The instigators of the attack managed to get the worst out of people and to a certain degree I think thatâ€™s why we write. Frankly, better verbal violence then physicalâ€¦Keep writing L.
So for all you out there â€“ this is what a white Christmas would look like in Tel Aviv. Happy Holidays
So Bill was here for a first visit. He graced us with his presence and made all the CEO’s of the local technology companies, prominent politicians and ministers real excited. They came to see the legend and hear some wise tehnical guru share his vision.
What they got was a well oiled marketing machine that came here to make sure Israel remains a loyal Microsoft user, customer and fan. That’s it and nothing more!
Bill came to Israel to make sure we don’t stray. Don’t explore other technologies, advance open source technologies for example (like the one powering this blog for example..). It was a sales trip. Sorry folks…
Heard in the halls that day:
Why did Bill Gates come to Israel? He came to visit the one XP license owner they have here.
These are selected excerpts from an article written by Johann Hari on his blog. Johann is an award winning journalist and play write, he has written for The Independent, the New York Times, CNN and many other intenrational publications. He is also the contributing editor for Attitude (Britain’s main gay magazine) as well as being on the editorial board of The Liberal and other UK publications.
I headed for the East London Mosque â€“ a few minutesâ€™ walk away from the bomb in Aldgate â€“ to watch afternoon prayers. In the stark white prayer hall, there are three hundred Muslim men, some wearing traditional white robes, others in leather jackets and jeans. Chairman Mohammed Bari reaches the podium and says, “Only yesterday, we celebrated getting the Olympics for our city and our country. But a terrible thing happened in our country this morningâ€¦ Whoever has done this is a friend of no-one and certainly not a friend of Muslims. The whole world will be watching us now. We must give a message of peace”.
As everybody mills outside the mosque, there are groups forming to go and give blood at the Royal London Hospital up the road. Many people make a point of smiling at me, an obvious non-Muslim in their midst. There is an awareness here â€“ although not yet in the rest of the country â€“ that the Bin Ladenists who planned these massacres despise democratic, non-violent Muslims who choose to live in the West as much as they despise the rest of us. Anybody who tells you these bombers are fighting for the rights of Muslims in Iraq, occupied Palestine or Chechnya should look at the places they chose to bomb. Aldgate? The poorest and most Muslim part of the country. Edgware Road? The centre of Muslim and Arab life in London and, arguably, Europe.
This is not a fight between Muslims and the rest of us. It is a civil war within Islam, between democratic Muslims and Wahhabi fundamentalists who want to enslave or kill them. Yassin Dijali, 31, says, â€œIt could have been our children on those trains too. This is where we belong. These people are insane.â€
Londonâ€™s response to the attacks is subtly different to other citiesâ€™. Like New York, we have our pictures of the missing-presumed-dead, but there is no visceral nationalism, and I have not seen a single Union Jack. Unlike Madrid, I could find no backlash against our political leaders (or at least, not yet); people seemed to react as if this was not a political act but a natural disaster, with no deeper causes than the tsunami.
On Friday morning, sitting outside a cafÃ© on Whitechapel High Street, one of the lingering Jewish residents of the old East End, an 86 year-old called Henry Abelman, is drinking tea, as he does every day. He was here the last time fascists attacked London; he says with a laugh that he expects to be here the next time they toss some bombs at us too. â€œNot so long ago, we had bombs like this every day for six years coming from an army backed by twenty million people. That didnâ€™t destroy us or divide us, so what do you think a few spoiled brats with home-made bombs are going to do?â€
Like Henry, Iâ€™ll see you all on the tubes and on the buses Monday morning.