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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Gay Iranian man loses asylum plea

Two Iranian men about to be hanged for homosexual acts in 2005
Iran has regularly executed people it has convicted of homosexual acts
An Iranian homosexual man who has said he will be executed if he is deported from the Netherlands has had his claim for asylum overturned.

Mehdi Kazemi has said his life is in danger if he is returned to Iran, where he says his boyfriend named him as a partner before being executed.

Homosexual acts are illegal in the Islamic republic.

A Dutch spokesman said Mr Kazemi would now be sent to the UK, the first European country he entered.

A claim for asylum in the UK had already been turned down.

Application turned down

His case has become a campaign cause for gay rights activists across Europe.

Mr Kazemi, 19, said he had travelled to Britain in 2005 to study English, and learned that his lover in Iran had been executed for sodomy, his lawyer Borg Palm said.

After his asylum application was turned down, he fled to the Netherlands in 2006, having narrowly avoided being sent back to Iran.

Dutch immigration authorities are more lenient towards homosexual Iranians, who are afforded special status because of the regime's hard line against them.

'Life in danger'

The Dutch are refusing to consider the case. Under the EU's 2003 Dublin Regulation, the state the applicant first enters is responsible for processing their application.

Mr Kazemi says his life will be in danger not only because he has been named as a homosexual, but also because of the extensive media coverage of his case,.

Mr Kazemi's uncle - who is in the UK - said the family was considering an appeal to the European Court.

A statement from Britain's immigration service said: "We examine with great care each individual case before removal and we will not remove anyone who we believe is at risk on their return."

Iran executed two teenage men in 2005 after authorities convicted them of raping a young boy.

BBC Europe

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Homosexual intolerance thrives

by: Bailey Singletary

A few weeks ago, a 14-year-old boy fired two bullets into the head of a 15-year-old fellow male student in the computer lab at their school. It has been rumored that the boy was shot because he was gay and asked the shooter to be his valentine earlier in the week.

Hate crimes happen every day with no national media coverage, but this was a headline on most U.S. newspapers. I was appalled when I read the story, even though I've read stories before about people being killed because of sexual orientation.

The question that must be asked is this: Who or what is teaching this young boy to hate someone because of whom that person chooses to be with in life?

The young boy, Lawrence King, began to show his feminine side by wearing makeup and women's clothing to school. When people made fun of him, he simply said they couldn't change the person he was.

Teasing is a normal part of junior high school. I was teased because I looked somewhat like a bird due to my skinniness, but no one put a gun to my head because of it.

But when it comes to violence that reaches beyond a bully pushing the nerdy kid around, there is a huge problem in the school and in the home of the violent child.

Some people have gone so far as to say that the killer is just as much of a victim as King. The media is claiming that the shooter, Brandon McInerney, is simply a victim of homophobia. That's like saying James Earl Ray, who shot and killed Martin Luther King Jr., is simply a victim of racism, as well as members of the Ku Klux Klan.

It is hard to convince me that this child of 14 wasn't taught somewhere in his life that gay people shouldn't be alive. Normal 14-year-old boys don't bring guns to school and shoot another student in the head just because he's gay. Although violence is never the answer, I can understand the bully waiting for the boy outside of class to beat him to a pulp, but the idea of intentional murder at such a young age is absolutely terrifying.

Thankfully, McInerney will be tried as an adult. But his parents also should be brought into the mix at some point in time, because they have probably taught him that being gay isn't OK.

I know some people take the Bible very literally, and there are many people who do not agree with homosexuality, so this case is somewhat being blown to the side.
But if a 14-year-old was killed because of the color of his skin, this would be a much bigger deal.

My question is this: Why is homophobia not on the same level as sexism, racism and anti-Semitism? It seems to me that there are too many people in this world teaching children that not everyone is created equal and that it's OK to hate someone because of whom he or she loves.
© Copyright 2008 The Reflector

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Don't send me back to Malaysia, gay man pleads

Montrealer scheduled to be deported today fears he will be imprisoned in homeland


His voice cracking and his eyes filling with tears, Montreal resident Kulenthiran Amirthalingam made a last-ditch effort yesterday to avoid being deported today to his native Malaysia, saying he fears he will be thrown in prison simply because he is gay.

But his trek through a driving snowstorm to Ottawa in a bid to persuade Immigration Minister Diane Finley to grant him a ministerial certificate to allow him to stay in Canada appears to have been for naught.

An Immigration Department spokesperson simply said people are expected to leave once their options have run their course.

Finley's office didn't return a phone call from The Gazette.

Amirthalingam's case highlights what some say is an emerging trend by homosexuals who face imprisonment or danger in their home countries to claim refugee status in Canada.

Amirthalingam said he first arrived in Canada in July 2002, then applied for refugee status in January 2003 after he returned to his home country on a visit only to be harassed by the family of his former lover and thrown into jail.

"For five days, I was physically, verbally, sexually harassed by the police there," Amirthalingam told reporters.

His refugee claim was rejected, however, on the ground the panel hearing his claim did not believe it was credible.

Outremont MP Thomas Mulcair of the New Democratic Party called on Finley yesterday to allow Amirthalingam to remain on humane and compassionate grounds. Amirthalingam was learning French and volunteering with local community groups, he noted.

"In Parliament, despite the profound differences that sometimes exist on issues involving our society or the economy, there are some human values that unite us. And stopping somebody from being deported to face imprisonment and possibly torture, not for anything he has done but because of who he is, goes against Canadian values," Mulcair said, a tremor in his voice.

In addition to the problems Amirthalingam faces because of his homosexuality, he is diabetic, has a heart condition and is blind in one eye, Mulcair added.

Mulcair wrote a letter to Finley last week and received a verbal response Monday in which her office refused even to consider the request not to deport Amirthalingam.

Amnesty International and Montreal lawyer Julius Grey have also written letters to Finley, asking her to use her ministerial powers to stop the planned deportation.

In its travel report for Malaysia, the Canadian government warns Canadians that homosexuality is against the law in that country.

"Homosexuality is illegal," the department's website says.

"Convicted offenders may face lengthy jail sentences and fines."

Matthew McLauchlin, co-chairman of the NDP's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender positive action committee, said Amirthalingam's case illustrates an emerging trend in refugee issues and highlights the shortcomings in Canada's refugee system in evaluating their cases.

"There is a young man in Toronto who was told the judge didn't think he was gay because he wasn't having sex at age 14 when he was living non-status with Seventh-day Adventists," McLauchlin said.

"There have been women told they couldn't be lesbian because they have long hair and showed up for the interviews in high heels.

"These people have no training whatsoever in how to deal with these issues."

There were an estimated 2,000 gay and lesbian refugee claimants in 2004, McLauchlin said.

Immigration and Refugee Board officials did not return a phone call from The Gazette.

Daniel Weintraub: State Supreme Court weighs gay marriage question

Gay marriage supporters have time on their side. Public opinion is shifting in their favor. Eventually, California's ban on same-sex marriage will be lifted.

But many gay couples, activists and lawyers say they have waited long enough. They are ready for change, and they think California is, too. So they are taking a calculated risk.

By pressing the Supreme Court to strike down the laws banning gay marriage, they are gambling that the voters who are now slowly moving in their direction will not retreat in anger in a backlash against what would be portrayed as an activist court legislating from the bench.

We may soon find out. The seven-member court heard the case Tuesday and appeared to be closely divided. One or two justices seemed to be leaning toward overturning the ban. But the same number appeared sympathetic to the status quo. It's not clear which outcome, in the long run, would be better for the gay community.

Justice Joyce Kennard, appointed to the bench by former Gov. George Deukmejian, a conservative Republican, asked both sides how they thought the court would react to a law banning mixed-race marriages. The lawyers for the state had to admit that the court would strike down such a law, since it already did, decades ago. And when Kennard asked the same question to Therese Stewart, a deputy city attorney for San Francisco, Stewart slammed it out of the park like a batter who knew what pitch was coming.

"I think this court would strike it down in a heartbeat," she said.

Would you apply that same reasoning to this case? Kennard asked Stewart. Another softball. Yes, she would, Stewart replied, though she was careful to add that she would never try to predict whether the court would share her view.

Several justices seemed dubious about some of the arguments offered by lawyers for a conservative Christian group fighting to preserve the status quo.

Mathew Staver, attorney for the Campaign for California Families, said same-sex marriage would undermine traditional marriage.

"It would lose its meaning," Staver said. "It would create a new system that is no longer recognizable as marriage."

It is difficult to understand why a legal union of two people who love each other and want to express their love as a mutual commitment recognized by the state – with all the responsibilities that entails – would undermine marriages between men and women. Isn't it just the opposite? Doesn't the proliferation of unwed partners undermine the institution of marriage?

Chief Justice Ronald George – appointed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson – put the question in a legal rather than cultural context, asking whether same-sex marriages would violate any rights of heterosexuals. It wouldn't.

George also bristled when Staver suggested that same-sex marriages should be banned because children are meant to be raised by their biological parents.

"Do you mean adoptive parents are not as adept at raising their children?" George asked.

In fact, as one of the lawyers challenging the ban pointed out, California prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in adoption, foster care and custody battles – so it's a legal stretch to argue that the marriage law must do just the opposite in order to protect children.

Some of the arguments offered by the attorney general's office were not much better. One of them: Current marriage laws don't discriminate against gays because, just like heterosexuals, gays are free to marry someone from the opposite sex. There's justice for you.

When the state tried to argue that domestic partnerships, which gays can use as a substitute for marriage, were just as good as the real thing, Justice Carlos Moreno raised the specter of "separate but equal," the infamous justification for segregated public schools that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in 1954.

And when the deputy attorney general waxed eloquently about the virtues and value of marriage, Justice Ming Chin turned to Stewart, the San Francisco lawyer, and asked whether the state hadn't just "made your argument for you?"

Justices Marvin Baxter, Kathryn Werdegar and Carol Corrigan, meanwhile, all seemed troubled by the idea of the court intervening in what they suggested might be an issue best left to the electorate or the Legislature. And if they hold to that position and are joined by, say, the chief justice, they could preserve the status quo.

Another possibility is that rather than rewriting the marriage law, they could strike down the entire thing and force the Legislature or the voters to start over from scratch. The end result would probably be the same: legal same-sex marriages. But the court's fingerprints would not be quite as clear.

That approach would also leave open one other avenue that is actually quite attractive: the privatization of marriage. Marriages, after all, are just contracts between individuals that the state has decided deserve a special place in the law. We could best avoid the entire debate over traditional vs. gay marriage by leaving the decision of how to structure marriage to the people involved – and leaving the government out of it.

But that's probably too much to ask.

Is America Ready for a Gay 'Idol'?

LOS ANGELES - No finalist has ever been portrayed as openly gay during the past six seasons of "American Idol." With more details about contestants' personal lives being exposed — both on the show and unofficially online — that could change, and soon.

Or will it be "Idol" business as usual?

"It feels like we're closer now than ever to having an openly gay contestant on the show," says Jim Verraros, who came out after his run as a finalist on the first season of "Idol."

"I'm not here to name any names, but I feel like there are some definite possibilities for this to happen this year," he said. "Do I think it'll happen? I don't know. I hope it does."

On Thursday, the current 16 semifinalists will be narrowed down to 12 finalists, who will perform live each week until the seventh winner of "American Idol" is selected by the voting public. At its core, "Idol" is a singing competition, but finalists' popularity has always seemed to play a big role in who moves forward.

When reached for comment about this story, Fox and "Idol" producers issued the following statement to The Associated Press: "We do not comment on the personal lives of the show participants." None of the current contestants have been made available for comment.

Over the years, however, "Idol" has devoted plenty of screentime to participants' personal lives, ranging from asking intimate questions of the contestants (this week it's "What was your most embarrassing moment?") to aiming the camera at their sobbing significant others in the audience, to airing fully edited segments about their backgrounds.

"The show hasn't seemed very conducive or gay friendly to contestants coming out," says Michael Jensen, editor of, a Web site about gay and bisexual men in entertainment and the media. "Simon and Randy have not hesitated to mock effeminate contestants and crack the occasional gay joke. It has not communicated to contestants that it would be a good place to come out."

Every season, blogs and message board users endlessly speculate about the sexuality of contestants. Online clues hinting at their sexual orientation often emerge, but Fox and "Idol" producers have never addressed such rumors or depicted openly gay finalists as such on the show or on

Such speculation isn't new.

Will Young, the first champion of "American Idol's" British predecessor "Pop Idol," was rumored to be gay — then publicly came out following his win. In 2005, a gay personal ad featuring U.S. season-four finalist Anwar Robinson was discovered on And second-season runner-up Clay Aiken continues to be a constant source of "is he or isn't he?" gossip — though he's always maintained that he isn't.

"Gay people, like everybody, want to see themselves reflected on television," says Jensen. "I think that when a show hasn't reflected that, and goes on and on not reflecting that, it sort of raises the ante, and each season people begin speculating even more intensely about who may be gay."

This week, a video of flamboyant current semifinalist Danny Noriega lashing out against Santa Claus appeared on MySpace and was posted on several blogs. Another video of Noriega singing Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools" and rapping about being gay — all while wearing a do-rag — was also posted on YouTube.

"Yeah, I'm gay," raps Noriega in the video. "But you eat hay for dinner, 'cause you look like a horse ... ."

Last week, "Idol"-bashing posted photos of scantily clad semifinalist David Hernandez working at gay nightclub Burn, as well as rumors that he was a stripper at Dick's Cabaret in Phoenix. Club manager Gordy Bryan told the AP on Monday that Hernandez did indeed dance fully nude and perform lap dances for the club's "mostly male" clientele.

Club manager Bryan says he did not know anything about Hernandez's personal life while he was stripping at Dick's Cabaret. Hernandez's MySpace profile lists his sexual orientation as straight.

First-season finalist Verraros, who says he was out to fellow contestants and "Idol" staff but not on the show, was publicly outed when an online journal he kept in college, which included comments about dating guys, was discovered. "Idol" producers later asked Verraros to take down the LiveJournal.

"The message boards were so homophobic. The gay-bashing was awful," says Verraros. "It was horrible. They said a faggot would never win 'American Idol.' It was pretty intense. I think it's something you have to expect in this industry, whether it's 'American Idol' or a sitcom or Broadway. It's going to happen the more exposed you are."

Verraros decided not to come out until after the show and the subsequent tour, doing so in the pages of gay magazine The Advocate. Since then, Verraros released his first album, starred in the gay-themed indie film "Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds" and his currently working on his second album.

"Regardless of whether or not a contestant is gay, the talent is there," says Verraros. "That should always come first and foremost."

On the Net:

Israel keeps its promise of a 'Holocaust' in Gaza

'Barbarous' siege

The Gaza Strip, with a population of some 1.5 million, has been placed under a total siege by the Israeli army since June 2007, shortly after Hamas took control over the strip from Fatah. Later that year, in September, the Israeli government declared Gaza a "hostile entity" and stepped up its military attacks. In January 2008, Israel decided to further reduce the amount of fuel, electricity, food and water supplies into Gaza, justifying the collective punishment as a 'response' to the Palestinian resistance firing home-made shells at the nearby Israeli town of Sderot (see this report about the humanitarian implications of the siege).

The decision by the Israeli government to reduce electricity supplies to the Gaza Strip came after the Israeli Supreme Court rejected a petition against the plan filed by ten Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups. The human rights groups said the measures "violate international laws" as they deliberately cause harm to the civilians and deprive them from the basic energy they need to run vital services. The cut of diesel supplies had already contributed to 20% electricity deficit in Gaza, with power outages of over eight hours a day and directly affecting hospitals, medical centres, water pumps, public transportation and other vital services.

On February 17th, the ambulance service in Gaza announced a complete halt of work due to what the Health Ministry described as "severe shortage of fuel." Many patients have also been denied necessary medical treatment outside due to the siege, in what some described as "a matter of revenge". According to Palestinian medical sources, well over a hundred Palestinian patients, including many children, have so far died because of the siege [ 1 2 3 ].

As Gazans scrambled for supplies, Palestinian resistance fighters blew open the Israeli-built steel walls that make the borders between the Gaza Strip and Egypt on January 23rd. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians poured into Egypt's Sinai peninsula, breathing a collective sigh of relief following a half-year of total closure of all Gaza border crossings. However, the Egyptian border guards soon started sealing off the iron border again. The Rafah crossing, south of Gaza, is the sole outlet to the outside world for Gaza's 1.5 million residents since June last year.

On February 20th, several European Union lawmakers urged Israel to refrain from inflicting "collective punishment" on the Palestinian residents in the Gaza Strip. In a press conference titled "Coming back from Gaza and Sderot", with the participation of members from different political groups of the European Parliament who took part to the fact-finding mission to Israel and Palestine between 2 and 7 February, 2008, Jill Evans MEP (Green) affirmed that "the situation in Palestine is reaching breaking point. The siege is an inhuman and illegal collective punishment of the people in Gaza and is causing huge suffering. It has to be stopped. There has to be international action to lift the siege, end the occupation and resume peace negotiations."

Concluding a visit to Palestine and Israel, the United Nations' Undersecretary General for humanitarian affairs John Holmes made similar remarks and called for reopening the borders of the Gaza Strip in order to relief the suffering of the residents.

Earlier that year, a report authored by the UN Special Rapporteur John Dugard concluded that "Palestinian terrorism" is the "inevitable consequence" of Israeli occupation. While "Palestinian terrorist acts are deplorable," it added, "they must be understood as being a painful but inevitable consequence of colonialism, apartheid or occupation."

On February 26th, just before the escalation started, the report was briefly flagged up by Associated Press. Israel was quick to reject the 'claims' as "inflammatory" and the report has since been ignored by the Western corporate media in a continuation of their biased reporting on the Israeli aggression against Palestinians (see this MediaLens alert).

'Holocaust' in Gaza

On February 29th, the Israeli deputy Defense Minister provoked outrage after threatening Palestinians with a "holocaust". Matan Vilnai told the Israeli army radio that "the more [rocket] fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they [the Palestinians] will bring upon themselves a bigger holocaust because we will use all our might to defend ourselves." The same twisted logic is used by the far-right and Holocaust deniers to blame Jewish people for the Nazi Holocaust.

However, preparations for a large-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip seem to have been under way long before that provocative comment. The Israeli government had reportedly already approved a military plan, similar to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. According to the Jewish Press website, Israeli sources said that a plan, drafted by the Israeli military's general staff, had been endorsed by the Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak.

On February 7th, during a visit to an Israeli military base in the south of Israel, Barak said the Israeli army will "intensify its military operations" in the Gaza Strip, allegedly to stop Palestinian home-made Qassam rockets that continue to be launched from Gaza at Israeli targets. He added that Israel will eventually "put an end" to the attacks by continuing its military operation and imposing punishments and fortifying the nearby Israeli communities surrounding the Gaza Strip. On February 10th, the Defense Minister confirmed that his army will carry out more strikes on Gaza.

Meanwhile, another Israeli minister called for the "total annihilation" of some Gaza neighbourhoods. Me'air Shetrit called for responding to what he termed "sabotaging operations" by "totally annihilating some Gaza neighbourhoods" so that "the residents of the Gaza Strip will understand how serious the Israeli threats are." Other Israeli politicians have made similar comments.

On February 11th, Barak stated that he had ordered the Israeli army to start preparing for the wide-scale offensive in Gaza. He told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Security Committee that his troops are "attacking the Palestinian coastal region day and night, with a high chance for those attacks to expand." On February 17th, he again vowed to strike back heavily against Palestinians, particularly the ruling Hamas in Gaza, as home-made shells continue to hit Israeli areas adjacent to Gaza. At the same time, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, while giving a speech at a conference of Jewish agencies leaders, granted the Israeli army the "upper hand" in deciding how to strike what he called "perpetrators of terror", first and foremost those who belong to Hamas.

Since coming to power after the 2006 democratic elections, the Islamist group has repeatedly proposed a long-term truce with Israel. Israel, however, has repeatedly shunned such offers, branding Hamas a "terrorist group". In June 2007, Israel imposed a total siege on Gaza after Hamas took over the coastal territory, amidst a power struggle with Fatah, president Mahmud Abbas's party, which has been committed to 'peace negotiations' with Israel (see this interesting Vanity Fair article).

Last year, after killing more than 300 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in air strikes and ground offensives, Israel still failed to stop the home-made shells fired by Palestinian fighters into adjacent Israeli towns.

'Full-scale war'

Since the siege started in June 2007, Israeli air strikes and ground incursions, allegedly targeting Palestinian militants, have become an almost daily occurrence, often killing civilians and destroying residential buildings.

For example, on February 7th, Palestinian medical sources reported that six Palestinians, including one teacher, were killed and several residents were injured in three separate Israeli air strikes that were supposed to target groups of Palestinian militants in different areas in the Gaza Strip. On February 15th, eight Palestinians, mainly members of one family, were killed and nearly eighty others injured when the Israeli air force fired missiles at the house of one of the leaders of the Islamic Jihad in Al-Boreij refugee camp in central Gaza. (Many more incidents can be found on the IMEMC, PNN and IE websites.)

On February 14th, an undercover Israeli force attacked several Palestinian homes in the eastern side of Rafah, southern Gaza, and rounded up 30 men, aged between 15 and 50, and took them to a nearby military base at the Rafah-Israel border. The area located near the Gaza International Airport has suffered frequent Israeli attacks since the beginning of the Palestinian Intifada (uprising) in September 2000.

On Wednesday, 27 February, 2008, the Israeli army stepped up its air strikes and ground 'incursions' in what many observers described as a "full-scale, one-sided war". According to the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B’Tselem), 106 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip between February 27th and March 3rd, and at least 54 of them, including 25 children, did not take part in any fighting. Al-Mezan Center For Human Rights put the number at 107, including 55 civilians, of whom 27 were children and 6 women. The Israeli Chief of Staff had claimed that 90 percent of those killed were "armed".

On Wednesday evening, an Israeli strike on the northern part of Gaza killed three Palestinian children, bringing the death toll within 24 hours to 12. Palestinian medical sources confirmed that the three children's bodies reached hospital dismembered, while at least 17 others were wounded, including 6 children. By Friday, the Israeli government announced that its army has completed preparations for a wide-scale offensive against Gaza (more).

Around 1am on Saturday, at least 30 tanks and bulldozers, supported by a battalion of infantry troops attacked the Jabalyia refugee camp in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. Palestinian medical sources reported that at least 26 Palestinians killed and 62 injured, bringing the death toll since Wednesday to 56. Eyewitnesses said Israeli troops and tanks invaded Jabalyia and opened fire at resident homes, while Israeli helicopters were firing missiles at civilians homes and cars (more).

Even civilian facilities, such as medical centres, were not spared. On February 28th, for example, an Israeli air strike aimed at the Ministry of the Interior building in Gaza also destroyed the nearby Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) head office. PMRS is one of the largest non-governmental health service providers in Palestine, reaching 1.4 million Palestinians in over 490 cities, towns and villages. The attack also hit a nearby residential building, killing a five-month-old baby. The The disability rehabilitation sector in Palestine, part of the Network of the Non-governmental Organizations, also reported that the Israeli army had targeted several facilities that deal with rehabilitation and killed Hammad Mirshid, 47, who suffered a hearing impairment. The army also broke into a rehabilitation facility, causing a lot of damage, and used it as a military post.

By now, the war in Gaza had attracted the international community and media's attention. The Palestinian Ministry of Health announced that some hospitals in Gaza could no longer provide medical care because they have no electricity or medical supplies. Medical crews reported that they came under fire as they tried to evacuate the injured from Jabalyia refugee camp. The Al-Jazeera Arabic correspondent in the Gaza Strip, Hiba Abu Shamalih, also reported that she came under fire along with her camera crew as they were covering the events in Gaza. The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Saturday that the ongoing Israeli attacks on Gaza were "more than a holocaust."

Meanwhile, the Israeli army announced that Palestinian militants killed two Israeli soldiers and destroyed a military vehicle on Saturday. Palestinian resistance groups also fired 13 home-made shells at nearby Israeli areas, injuring three civilians in the southern Israeli town of Sderot that borders the Gaza Strip. The Al-Qassam brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, said that 8 of its fighters were killed on Saturday during armed clashes with the Israeli army. The Al-Quds brigades of the Islamic Jihad also said that three of their fighters were killed in clashes on that same day.

'Not over'

Israeli forces pulled out on Sunday-Monday overnight after five days of bloodshed. But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned that the withdrawal of troops from Gaza does not mean Israel's military operation there is over, adding that "what happened in recent days was not a one-off event."

Indeed, just after the Israeli army announced ending its offensive in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian medical sources reported that 8 Palestinians, said to be Hamas fighters, were killed by Israeli shells on different parts of Gaza on Monday dawn (more).

Later on, a senior Israeli official, quoted by Reuters, said Israel had called a "two-day interval" while US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits Jerusalem and the West Bank on Tuesday and Wednesday, which is meant to move Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations forward. Rice, however, has already told reporters in Egypt that Hamas is "trying to destroy the peace talks." Hamas's spokesperson, Sami Abu Zuhri, said Rice's statement was part of her intention to "give the green light" to the ongoing war on the Hamas movement and the Palestinian resistance. Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas had formally suspended contacts with Israel in protest at its attacks on Gaza.

Protests and solidarity

Since the start of the siege in June 2007, there have been many mass protests inside Palestine and Gaza itself. A massive demonstration was held at the Erez Checkpoint in Beit Hanoun, north Gaza, on January 26th, where people assembled on both sides of the fence to protest against the siege and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. On February 11th, flower farmers in the city of Beit Lahiya, north Gaza, decided to destroy about 500,000 square meters of flower plants in protest at their inability to export their produce due to ongoing Israeli blockade on Gaza. On February 14th, a large number of Gaza vehicles stopped engines for half an hour in protest at the continued Israel cut of fuel supplies to the region. On February 25th, thousands of women, children and men formed a human chain around the Gaza Strip in protest at the Israeli siege (more). Peaceful demonstrations also took place in Bethlehem, Nazareth and other places in Palestine and Israel.

Many defiant actions by Israeli activists have also been reported. For example, a convoy of food supplies, provided by a group of Israeli peace activists, entered Gaza on February 19th through the Israeli-controlled commercial crossing of Sufa in southern Gaza.

More recently, the entirety of the West Bank was on strike on Sunday, February 2nd, in solidarity with the mourners and lost souls of the Gaza Strip. The streets of Jenin and Nablus were filled with protesters, while in Ramallah Hamas and Fateh called a joint demonstration. Kids were seen at the Wall in Ramallah throwing stones, and the same happened in Bethlehem at Rachel's Tomb. The air was said to have been full of acrid smoke as children set tires on fire and dumped out garbage cans and set them ablaze (report).

Palestinian protests were often violently attacked by Israeli forces. Seven Palestinian teenagers were injured on February 2nd when Israeli troops attacked a demonstration organised by the villagers of Bil'in, a village near Ramallah known internationally for its non-violent protests (more). On the same day, one Palestinian boy was killed and at least 45 were injured when the Israeli army attacked protests standing in Hebron, south West Bank, in solidarity with the people of Gaza. On February 3rd, Israeli forces imposed a curfew on a western Jenin village, which saw a non-violent demonstration against the Israeli aggression in Gaza. A Palestinian teenager was killed and several others injured on the same day when Israeli army troops attacked a protest organised by school students in the village of Al-Mazra'a Al-Sarqiya, near Ramallah.

Since the start of the siege, there have also been numerous solidarity demonstrations and actions throughout the world. To list only a few of those reported on Indymedia sites worldwide, the past few months have seen protests in Israel, Portland, Washington DC, St. Petersburg (FL), Seattle, Berkeley, Dublin [2], The Hague, Berlin, London [2 3 4 5] , Manchester, Sheffield [2], Wales and elsewhere.

Called by the Popular Committee Against the Siege (PCAS), February 23rd saw a global day of action against the Israeli blockade on Gaza. Mass demonstrations and protests took place in around 30 countries across Europe, Asia, Africa and the two Americas. In many cities, lights also went off for half an hour in solidarity with the people of Gaza (see also the End Gaza Siege website). As the chairman of the Gaza Committee Jamal al-Khudari put it: "The demonstrations we saw on TV screens in many countries indicate a genuine support for the Palestinian people."

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Afghan mothers give children opium

Afghanistan is the world’s leading producer of opium. Villagers in remote areas of Badakhshan Province, north-eastern Afghanistan, have been using opium as a substitute for medicine for years. They are oblivious to the harm it can do to their health.

There is no official data about the number of drug addicts in Badakhshan. However, the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) says one million people are addicted to drugs there, 45,000 of whom are women.

This video short shows a women’s opium smoking session in the village of Jukhan, tucked away in mountainous Badakhshan. While efforts are being made to rehabilitate drug addicts in the village, Bibi Mulla, her relatives and friends smoke opium at home and give it to their children up to three times a day.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Obama, Clinton battle for LGBT vote

Hillary Clinton holds conference calls to reporters on LGBT papers in Ohio and Texas where Barack Obama bought ads as the race enters its critical days.

Even as Sen. Barack Obama's campaign finalized an ad buy for four full-page ads in local gay weeklies in Ohio and Texas, Sen. Hillary Clinton was conducting a conference call on LGBT issues and answering the questions of local reporters from the Dallas Voice, Outlook Weekly and Gay People's Chronicle. Altogether, Clinton has done interviews with six LGBT outlets, including The Advocate, Logo and The Washington Blade.

Obama has given one interview to an LGBT news outlet, in October to The Advocate. On Thursday, he published an open letter to the LGBT community on the blog Bilerico Project, the second such post he has made to that site.