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FSRN Weekly Edition: August 1, 2014

 

  • Another temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas collapses within hours
  • Unaccompanied immigrant children placed in “foster care” as lawmakers lock on funding and courts fast-track hearings
  • Canada’s Grassy Narrows First Nation demands government action after 50 years of mercury poisoning
  • Turkey-PKK peace process threatened by new military bases built in country’s Kurdish southeast
  • Valparaiso, Chile rebuilds after massive April fires


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Another temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas collapses within hours

Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip enters its fourth week. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, nearly 1500 Palestinians have been killed, the vast majority civilians – many of them women and children. More than 60 Israelis are dead, nearly all of them soldiers.

FSRNs Rami al Meghari reports that a temporary ceasefire which took effect early Friday collapsed within hours, with an Israeli a soldier captured and dozens more Palestinians reportedly dead in Rafah.

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More than 5000 homes have been destroyed in the Gaza Strip, leaving the captive population dependent on UN shelters, which have also come under attack. On Wednesday the Israeli military shelled a UN-run elementary school in the Jabaliya refugee camp which was providing shelter to more than 3000 Gazans. The attack killed at least 15 people. It was the sixth time a UN shelter in Gaza was targeted in the context of the ongoing offensive. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called it a “reprehensible attack.”

According to the Secretary General, Israel was notified of the shelter’s coordinates 17 times. UN humanitarian affairs chief John Ging disputed any possible claim that armed factions used the facility to store weapons.

“No school that has been sheltering people or has been under UN’s control have there been weapons found in while under the UN’s control,” asserted Ging. “So again, there is no excuse to say that there are weapons in these schools while they are being used as shelters or under the UN’s control.”

Protests, both popular and political, continue across the U.S. and around the world. El Salvador became the 5th Latin American country to recall envoys to Israel. Police used teargas to quell protest in India. And in Toronto, demonstrators told FSRN why they were in the streets.

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On Thursday, a group of 35 U.S. Senators led by Democrat Barbara Boxer condemned a United Nations Human Rights council decision to launch a probe into possible war crimes committed by Israel in Gaza, calling it one-sided as the mandate does not include a review of Hamas activities during the conflict. Israel is the top recipient of U.S. military aid, spending which Congress controls.


Unaccompanied immigrant children placed in “foster care” as lawmakers lock on funding and courts fast-track hearings

A Congressional standoff about emergency funding to handle the influx of migrant children fleeing rampant poverty and violence in Central America continues. A GOP bill in the U.S. House failed Thursday when far-right lawmakers withheld support because the  package didn’t cancel the Deferred Action program. Deferred Action gives temporary legal status to so-called Dreamers, or immigrants brought to the U.S.  as children. In a last minute scramble before recess, House Republicans were trying to push through a now nearly $700 million package that would provide funds to hold the kids through next month, hurry deportations and freeze deferred action.  The bill is a far cry from its counterpart in the Senate; a nearly $3 billion bill that included things like money for Israel and funds for wild-land firefighting. When that bill stalled, the Senate extracted  – and unanimously approved — the additional the military aid for Israel.

Meanwhile tens of thousands of unaccompanied children are on the move again, to so-called foster care where they await deportation.

Recent data from the Office of Refugee Resettlement shows 85 percent of them have been released to close relatives, mainly in states with high Latino populations like Texas, New York, Florida and California. Another 10 percent have been placed into what officials call foster care across the U.S. But as Ashley Westerman reports from Washington, DC;  the definition of foster care is open to interpretation.

Canada’s Grassy Narrows First Nation demands government action after 50 years of mercury poisoning

A delegation from Ontario’s Grassy Narrows First Nation traveled to Toronto this week. Fifty years ago, massive amounts of mercury were dumped in their water supply and they’ve suffered ever since. They say the government has ignored their needs, and they are demanding action. Erin Hudson reports from Toronto.

Turkey-PKK peace process threatened by new military bases built in country’s Kurdish southeast

For the last three decades, the Kurdish rebel group the PKK has led an armed-struggle against Turkey, fighting for greater minority rights. But in a peace process during the past few years, the rebel group called a ceasefire. Now those efforts are under threat, because of controversial military construction projects across Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast. The program comes as peace efforts remain stalled. In a skirmish this week, three Turkish soldiers and six rebels were killed. And as Dorian Jones reports, the controversy has provoked mutual recriminations and fatal protests.

Valparaiso, Chile rebuilds after massive April fires

In the Chilean port city of Valparaíso, residents are starting to rebuild after massive fires killed fifteen people and leveled nearly three thousand homes this April. From Valparaíso, Chile, Eilís O’Neill reports.


(Photo Credit: Sergiu Bacioiu via Flickr; Music Credit: Lena Selyanina via Jamendo)

New Post has been published on FSRN

New Post has been published on http://fsrn.org/2014/08/another-temporary-ceasefire-between-israel-and-hamas-collapses-within-hours/

Another temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas collapses within hours

Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip enters its fourth week. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, nearly 1500 Palestinians have been killed, the vast majority civilians – many of them women and children. More than 60 Israelis are dead, nearly all of them soldiers.

FSRNs Rami al Meghari reports that a temporary ceasefire which took effect early Friday collapsed within hours, with an Israeli a soldier captured and dozens more Palestinians reportedly dead in Rafah.


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More than 5000 homes have been destroyed in the Gaza Strip, leaving the captive population dependent on UN shelters, which have also come under attack. On Wednesday the Israeli military shelled a UN-run elementary school in the Jabaliya refugee camp which was providing shelter to more than 3000 Gazans. The attack killed at least 15 people. It was the sixth time a UN shelter in Gaza was targeted in the context of the ongoing offensive. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called it a “reprehensible attack.”

According to the Secretary General, Israel was notified of the shelter’s coordinates 17 times. UN humanitarian affairs chief John Ging disputed any possible claim that armed factions used the facility to store weapons.

“No school that has been sheltering people or has been under UN’s control have there been weapons found in while under the UN’s control,” asserted Ging. “So again, there is no excuse to say that there are weapons in these schools while they are being used as shelters or under the UN’s control.”

Protests, both popular and political, continue across the U.S. and around the world. El Salvador became the 5th Latin American country to recall envoys to Israel. Police used teargas to quell protest in India. And in Toronto, demonstrators told FSRN why they were in the streets.

(more…)

On Thursday, a group of 35 U.S. Senators led by Democrat Barbara Boxer condemned a United Nations Human Rights council decision to launch a probe into possible war crimes committed by Israel in Gaza, calling it one-sided as the mandate does not include a review of Hamas activities during the conflict. Israel is the top recipient of us military aid, spending which congress controls.

New Post has been published on FSRN

New Post has been published on http://fsrn.org/2014/08/turkey-pkk-peace-process-threatened-by-new-military-bases-built-in-countrys-kurdish-southeast/

Turkey-PKK peace process threatened by new military bases built in country’s Kurdish southeast

For three decades, the Kurdish rebel group the PKK has engaged in armed conflict with Turkey, fighting for greater minority rights. For the last couple of years the parties have been involved in a peace process and ceasefire. Now those efforts are under threat because of controversial military construction projects across Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast. The program comes as peace efforts remain stalled, a skirmish this week left three Turkish soldiers and six rebels dead. And as Dorian Jones now reports from the predominantly Kurdish southeast of Turkey, the controversy has provoked mutual recriminations and fatal protests.


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Lice in southeast Turkey is where the first shots were fired thirty years ago in the conflict between the Kurdish rebel group the PKK and the Turkish state. But peace has returned to these lands thanks to a government initiated peace process with the rebels.

Now that process is under threat. Ahmet doesn’t want to give his full name for fear of being targeted by the authorities. But he shows me the place where earlier this month a peaceful protest against the construction of a military base nearby turned deadly.

“This is where our friend Ramazan was shot,” Ahmet explains, describing what happened. “We’ve marked the place with stones but you can still see the blood. It happened around 6:00 p.m. It was a crowded protest, there were mothers, elderly people, people of all ages. They were protesting against the new military bases and dams. The army was shooting to kill. There was no warning, no pepper gas, no gas bombs before they shot. They directly shot at people, directly. People came here for a democratic protest and they were killed.”

Two people died that day, causing outrage among many Kurds. Other demonstrations in towns and cities across the region turned violent. Several soldiers are now under investigation for the shootings.

These killings have focused attention on the construction of large, sophisticated military bases which are being built almost exclusively across this predominantly Kurdish region. The bases are much larger than previous built ones and are equipped with state-of-the-art weapons and electronic sensors. According to state figures, 114 have been already been built and 166 more are under construction. The government insists the building program is just about renewing old bases. But protests are still continuing against these military outposts.

With the peace process stalled, some Kurdish rights activists are increasingly questioning the sincerity of the government.
“These military bases are places of death,” one protester explains. “They’re a place of evil, not of goodness. If Prime Minister Erdogan is interested in our well-being and loves us, why isn’t he building factories, hospitals and schools here? Then we can call him the Prime Minister of Turkey and be sure that he’s not discriminating against us. But we don’t have any trust or hope left.”

The distrust goes both ways. The ruling AK Party is also questioning the intentions of the PKK, accusing the rebels of taking advantage of the peace process.

“In many places the bases are simply being upgraded, because our security forces are inhabiting these posts and they’re rundown,” says Fatma Oncu, a member of the AK Party’s national committee, defending the military building program. “The aim is not to create a war situation. What was the peace process built on? The first condition was the disarmament and for the guerrillas to leave Turkey for their bases in Iraq. But not even 20% of the PKK militants have returned to their bases.”

But in a move to try and defuse tensions, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan introduced into Parliament a bill to enhance the peace process. It includes formalizing the peace process and opening the door to the release of sick PKK prisoners, both key demands of the rebel group. The package is well-timed as many Kurds appear to be losing patience with the situation.

The future of the military building program is seen as an important test of the government’s commitment to peace. Sirri Sureyya Onder is Parliamentary deputy of the Pro Kurdish Party, the HDP, and a key member of the current peace efforts.

“Asking for peace and then building military bases constitutes the biggest contradiction in the world,” according to Onder, who while at a Kurdish rights rally in Diyarbakir says the military construction program has to end. “There are thousands of things to be done socially, culturally and economically in the region. The government is giving a message that it wants peace but building these military bases is the very opposite of that message, its an an oxymoron.”

Onder – speaking at a mass demonstration in Diyarbakir, the main city here – promised that if the peace process continues, the PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan – who’s been in prison for 15 years – would be free next year to address them in his place. Observers say that hope is one of the most powerful reasons why Kurds remain committed to the peace process.

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Canada’s Grassy Narrows First Nation demands government action after 50 years of mercury poisoning

A delegation from the Grassy Narrows First Nation traveled more than 20 hours by car from their community in northern Ontario to Toronto. 50 years ago, massive amounts of mercury were dumped in their water supply and they’ve suffered ever since. They say the government has ignored their needs, and they are demanding action. Erin Hudson reports from Toronto.


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More than fifty years ago, a paper mill dumped 20,000 pounds of mercury into the river system surrounding the homelands of Canada’s Grassy Narrows First Nation. Ever since, the people downstream have suffered the effects of mercury poisoning, including tremors and loss of muscular and sensory control.

“You lose your coordination, your speech, and you’re dying,” says Grassy’s former chief Steve Fobister, who is in constant pain due to his exposure to mercury. “Your body breaks down one piece at a time. It’s very painful.”

He staged a hunger strike this week, demanding government action. He describes some the effects of mercury poisoning.

“What compelled me to go on a hunger strike,” explains Fobister, “was a young woman came to me barely 20-years-old and she had a son that was one-years-old and had developed seizures — six times a day. Imagine.”

The details of how more than 2,000 people were poisoned were kept quiet as part of an 1985 out-of-court settlement between Grassy, and the Ontario and Canadian governments. The settlement established an independent Mercury Disability Board to provide adequate health care and dispense compensation.

According to a report commissioned by the board in 2009, the care and compensation being provided isn’t enough. The report admonishes the Canadian and Ontario governments for their conscious inaction, high burden of proof for affected residents seeking compensation and, for those who do receive compensation, the comparatively small amount awarded.

The report was quietly released in 2010 — so quietly many Grassy residents, many of whom are living with disabilities caused by the mercury, didn’t even know it existed until this spring, including current chief Roger Fobister.

“Being a new chief and being the head of the Grassy Narrows government I take the issue of mercury pollution seriously,” says Chief Fobister, “so when that report was mentioned we decided well let’s take this report and talk about it with the government of Ontario.”

The board’s chairperson told media that a briefing on the report was given to Grassy’s board representatives and a community meeting was held. The Ontario Minister of Aboriginal Affairs plans to visit Grassy next week, and says he intends to launch an investigation of the board.Photo

About 30 Grassy residents are in Toronto this week to stage a series of protests. They’re demanding an apology and want the Ontario government to accept responsibility, to provide adequate compensation and to ensure quality healthcare for those affected. They also want the polluted river system cleaned up and are calling for a moratorium on clearcut logging on their territory. .

The largest action planned for this week is a River Run protest, where demonstrators will personify a river, marching towards the Ontario legislature.

Grassy Narrows First Nation 2_ crd Joel Theriault
(Photo Credit: Joel Theriault)

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Unaccomapnied immigrant children placed in “foster care” as lawmakers lock on funding and courts fast-track hearings

As a U.S. Congressional standoff about emergency funding to handle the influx of migrant children crossing the border continues, many of those already in the U.S. are on the move again: this time to either homes of family members or into so-called foster care while they await deportation hearings.

Recent data from the Office of Refugee Resettlement shows 85 percent of the migrant children have been released to close relatives, mainly in states with high Latino populations like Texas, New York, Florida and California. Another 10 percent have been placed into what they call foster care across the U.S.

But as Ashley Westerman reports from Washington, D.C., the definition of foster care is open to interpretation.


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Almost 5,000 unaccompanied migrant children have been released to family members in the Washington, D.C., metro area. They’re among 30,000 such youth housed nationwide since the beginning of the year. That’s according to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, the government agency also placing children into temporary foster care facilities around the U.S.

At a panel discussion hosted this week by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Immigration Task Force, Director of the Migrant Rights and Justice Women’s Refugee Commission Michelle Brane’ said the demographics of youth crossing the border have changed. She says the average age of unaccompanied migrants is trending down to 14 and more girls are crossing the border.

“And that means that we see many, many children that are 6, 7, 8, 10-year-olds are not uncommon and even younger,” explains Brané. “So it really is a different population, I think, than what traditionally has come in over the years.”

Brané says while the Office of Refugee Resettlement tries reunite kids with their own families, what the federal government calls foster care for young children is a viable alternative to a detention center-like setting.

“Right? I mean, you can’t put a baby in that sort of setting so obviously foster care is a much better option for the younger children or for people who are particularly vulnerable,” says Brané.

However, very few typical foster-families are approved to host these children, so they’re housed in congregate living settings such as revamped schools or other large buildings – settings much different from what some might typically think of as a foster home.

Brané says all of the services provided for children in immigration custody, including immigration foster care, are completely covered by the federal government. That means all services for these kids – medical care, food, safety, social services, and education – comes out of the Dept. of Health and Human Services’ budget.

Jennifer Podkul, also with the Women’s Refugee Commission, says this so-called short-term foster care is one of four programs the federal government uses to house refugees. She says they would like to see the government rely on this program more, because it provides additional services.

“They use a lot of shelters, secure shelters to house the children but when I have done monitoring visits to see how these foster placements work, they’re really great, and they’re really great to deal with a population that’s so traumatized as many of these kids are,” Podkul says.

Podkul says states like Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont and Delaware that come forward and say they are happy to house migrant children, don’t have to pay anything for them to be there. She also notes that while awaiting deportation proceedings in these so-called foster settings, the children remain segregated.

“So although these children are located in the state,” she explains, “they actually rarely even leave the facilities they’re in so the local communities rarely have any interaction with these populations.”

She adds that the federal program should not be confused with state-run foster care systems or the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program, which can both serve immigrant children but have nothing to do with the tens of thousands of kids fleeing Central America and the resulting humanitarian crisis at the border.

“These short time foster programs are only designed to hold a child and to house a child while the child is in deportation proceedings.”

Customs and Border Protection stats predict that 72,000 unaccompanied children will cross into the U.S. by the end of 2014. And while the number has increased dramatically over the past five years, it’s still not as high as pre-recession levels.

As Congress prepares to leave Washington for a full month to campaign for the upcoming November mid-terms, they may vote on an emergency budget before they leave. President Obama requested $3.7 billion to handle the influx of immigrants at the border, but it’s doubtful he’ll get that much – or any sort of emergency funding at all. The Senate passed a version that allocates only $2.7 billion while the House is set to vote on a much lower amount, $659 million. An executive order also remains a possibility.

(Photo Credit: Light Brigading via Flickr Creative Commons)

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Gun violence rages in Chicago even as thousands of illegal guns are confiscated

As of this week, Chicago police have confiscated almost 4000 illegal guns since the beginning of the year. Yet despite that haul, gun violence in the country’s third largest city remains rampant. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Chief Garry McCarthy have called for help from the ATF, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Overall, homicides are down from last year, but non-fatal shootings are harder to track.

The 4th of July in Chicago was particularly brutal; 82 people were shot, 14 of them fatally. And the carnage hasn’t stopped since. The recent shooting death of an 11 year-year old girl touched a particularly painful nerve. She was buried this week. FSRN’s Jay Sapir reports.


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More gun shots rang out the night before 11-year old Shamiya Adams’ funeral. One neighbor was glued to news of an arrest in the case. She ran out, stumbling over bodies, to search for her daughter. Seven people were shot. A 13 year-old boy was killed.

“I was standing right here. His brains were all over my feet,” describes Andrea Lamont, who standing was on the corner at the time of the shooting. “At Lexington and California from here to there. Yesterday they shot seven kids, so I mean (yells out to a friend) his brains were all over my feet.”

Last summer Police embraced a plan based on a Yale sociologist’s theory that potential shooters and victims could be identified by analyzing shooting times and places. A so-called Heat List of likely shooters and victims was drawn up in high violence clusters. Officers then made unexpected home visits to people on the list who were associated with shooters and victims — even if they had no record of violence.

The program sparked charges of racial profiling, reigniting a smoldering resentment against aggressive police tactics. Mistrust reportedly reigned as cruisers pulled into driveways and neighbors spied on each other fearing they might be informants.

Police records use keywords like “gang related.” Gang members and some residents in bullet-scarred areas call it “police related.” Shooters boast how easy it is to get guns. But rival gangs have on several occasions agreed on truces.

“You can stop the violence,” says community organizer Wallace “Gator” Bradley, who has been recognized for brokering the peace. His street cred helped: Ex-chief security enforcer for the Gangster Disciples’ imprisoned leader. He now heads a coalition of anti-violence groups.

“When they say its gang related and you got gang leaders saying’ ‘hey we’re telling our guys to stop. We want to work with the community and law enforcement to help stop it’ And you (the city) tell them you don’t want to work with them – that creates the problem,” according to Bradley.

Gator turned his life around persuaded the jailed gang leader to change the G.D. in Gangster Disciples to stand for Growth and Development. Gang leaders turned into get-out-the-vote activists.

But he feels “dissed” by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “Listen,” implores Bradley. “The United States is the biggest gun dealer in the Goddamn world. The gun factory is in Barrington (Illinois) You can get the guns from Dalton (Chicago suburb) you can get ‘em from Milwaukee. you can get ‘em from wherever the BLEEP you want. The point is this: Selling guns is big business.”

Serena Hollister was at a fundraiser to pay for Shamiya’s funeral.

“It’s so easy to get guns here, so it’s going to be a magnet for crime,” says. “Out on the street, they get ‘em on the street (‘Just like that?) Yes, just like a kid goes to a candy store and gets a bottle of juice and a bottle of chocolate milk- he goes to the candy store to get a gun.”

Hollister calls the heat list “absolutely ridiculous.” Her view is backed by Robert Starks, Professor Emeritus at Northeastern’s Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies.

“Nobody wants to face up to the fact that drugs and guns were deliberately dumped into the African-American community,” charges Stark, speaking on community cable station Can TV. “We don’t grow drugs in rooftop gardens in Chicago. We don’t manufacture guns in the basement. Somebody’s putting them there.”

Two years ago, Chicago’s 28-year ban on handguns was overturned by a federal judge. But the ban itself had opened a flourishing black market for gun imports from nearby towns and states. Illegal sales also surged with each mention of a ban on assault weapons. And Legal sales spiked earlier this year when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Illinois to enact a concealed carry law like every other state.

Grassroots efforts to stem the violence have been spotty, but sometimes effective. The group Operation Ceasefire was credited with a significant drop in violent crime in 2011.

“Serena Matthews …she gets there when a lot of guys can’t get in. She knows how to talk to these guys, (with) a lot of murder in their background. They respect her……(Serena Matthews):”The life I live-a lot of shoot outs, I’m looking at the devil face to face . And I see my sisters and my brothers out there and that was once me.”

Featured in the documentary “The Interrupters,” the gutsy group interrupted or prevented fights, getting “up in the faces” of gun toting brawlers. But Ceasefire itself was interrupted this year by funding cuts.

It is hard to find local residents with a positive view of police tactics. Stop and frisk sparked controversy and court action in New York, but in Chicago it has always been standard operating procedure in the poorest pockets of the nation’s most segregated big city.

Hundreds of grieving friends, family and neighbors of Shamiya Adams attended her funeral.

“For me its devastating,” mourned Brown. “First of all so senseless a killing. She was so young, so innocent…”

Police chief Garry MacCarthy regularly announces the number of seized guns. But as he does so, the toll of shootings climbs while the funeral bells toll.

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Gaza’s only power plant taken offline by strikes; locals hunker down during the Eid holiday

As Palestinians in Gaza observe the breakfasting feast, or Eid, Israeli officials indicated an expansion of the military ground operation and air strikes and tank shells  continue. Dozens more people died in their Gaza homes on Tuesday, the death toll now upward of 1200, the vast majority of them civlians.  Just over 50 Israelis have died, almost all were soldiers. And a major strike on the Gaza power plant will affect medical facilities and sanitation services. FSRN’s Rami Almeghari has more from the war-hit Gaza.


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Scenes of the dismembered dead bodies of women and children on TV screens have forced 1.8 million Palestinians across the occupied coastal territory to stay inside their homes during the three-day break fast Feast,  or Iftar Eid holiday. On Monday, the first day of the Eid, an Israeli missile killed ten children while they were celebrating in the Beach refugee camp in western Gaza city.

“We can’t go out, what with the war and so many people dying,” says 13-year-old Mo’ayad Alashqa, as he and four friends sit just on the front-stoop of their homes, not able to roam and hang out as they normally would. “We can only say that May God give patience to  those who are grieved.”

During the regular Eid holidays, the people of Gaza, like many millions of Muslims around the globe, celebrate the holiday by visiting family.

“Every father here feels a great deal of bitterness and depression,” explains the fifty-year-old, married Jaser who also satayed inside, amid the sounds of air-strikes all around. “Israelis should understand that what  they are doing now is not helpful, either for us or for them. They should seek a peaceful means that respects human rights and the rights of the upcoming generations.”

As the Eid holiday dawned, Israeli air strikes hit several houses the refugee camps of Maghazi and Buraij killing at least 20 people, many of them women and children. Dozens more were injured. The same continued Tuesday. Attacks targeted the home of former Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniya; a grand mosque in western Gaza city; the Hamas-run Alaqsa TV station and the Gaza Strip’s sole power plant.

According to Palestinian Energy Authority in Gaza, the 140-square-mile Gaza Strip will soon plunge into complete darkness, in a time when electricity is already short, because of the seven-year-long Israeli blockade. The Gaza power plant provides nearly 40 percent of the area’s electricity, power lines from Israel and Egypt provide rest. But during the recent spate of attacks, many of the those lines in both northern and Eastern Gaza have also been downed.

“With the burning of the fuel store of the plant, we will be unable to provide electricity,” announced Fathi Alsheikh Khalil, Deputy-director of the Gaza power plant. “Repairing the damage could take as much as one year, and during that time the plant will not function.”

Meanwhile, the Israeli cabinet decided Tuesday to expand the army offensive on Gaza and said that any talk about ceasefire must include disarming the Islamist Hamas and other armed groups in the territory. Mediators, including the U.S., Egypt, Turkey and Qatar, have so far been unable to forge a lasting ceasefire — or even a successful brief pause.

(Photo Credit: Rami Almeghari)

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Valparaiso, Chile rebuilds after massive April fires

In the Chilean port city of Valparaíso, residents are starting to rebuild after massive fires killed fifteen people and leveled nearly three thousand homes this April. The government is offering housing subsidies to those who lost their homes and is investing in infrastructure improvements to try to prevent similar tragedies in the future. But some analysts say these improvements don’t go far enough: It’s necessary to create new parks, green spaces, and fire breaks in the neighborhoods that burned down this April. From Valparaíso, Chile, Eilís (eye-LEASH) O’Neill reports…

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Residents in the neighborhoods burned down in April’s fires are hard at work rebuilding their own homes. The signs of destruction are everywhere. The burnt skeletons of brick houses dot the streets. The wooded ravines between the populated hillsides are full of blackened, charred trees. And residents are living in emergency shelters.

María Isabel Zeledón is one of those living in a government-built emergency shelter made of plywood and corrugated metal. It’s just two rooms: a bedroom, and a larger space that serves as a dining room, living room, and kitchen. And Zeledón still doesn’t have a bathroom. She’s sharing a portable toilet with several of her neighbors.

Zeledón says she was visiting her daughter in northern Chile when the fire broke out. And, while thinking of that night still moves her to tears, Zeledón says the distance saved her from living the nightmare her neighbors and much of her family experienced. When she returned to Valparaíso, her house and everything in it were gone.

Carolina Moraes is an architect with expertise in public housing and energy-efficient homes. She’s been volunteering in the neighborhoods that burned down in April, to help families build new houses or improve their emergency settlements. “The fire affected the outlying parts of Valparaíso – the hilltops,” she said. “And right now we’re going to the place where people—it’s like the newest part of the city, the shantytowns. The newly-arrived families are very vulnerable; they live in very poor places. They had houses made of scrap material.”

One of the neighborhoods where Carolina Morales has been volunteering is the Cerro Ramaditas. Here, the people lived in informal, spontaneous settlements. Families built homes wherever they found space, on old timber plantations.

The dry wood, lack of fire breaks and other urban planning, and the poor accessibility made for a lethal combination, says architect Rodolfo Jiménez, of the University of Santiago: “These neighborhoods weren’t planned. They were occupied by squatters, and they thus have serious problems of access, of services. It’s very difficult for firefighters to get to these places, or for there to be regular trash pickup. As a result, the ravines are full of garbage. And part of the combustible material was the trash that the residents themselves threw into the ravines.”

Now, the government is trying to prevent those who lived in particularly high-risk locations from rebuilding in the same place. Valparaíso’s urban planning secretary Luis Parot Donoso says many of those in the informal settlements are being told they need to leave. But the order to evacuate comes with the offer of aid. The government has already built emergency shelters for all of those who lost their homes in April, he adds. Now, it’s helping people find permanent solutions by giving out subsidies: vouchers they can use to rebuild their homes, buy new homes, and rent apartments while they wait for their house to be ready.

Parot adds that the government of Valparaíso is also planning to improve the city’s infrastructure to help reduce the risk for future disastrous fires: “Our big investments in infrastructure and connectivity will allow people to get around more easily and will make fire prevention—with fire trucks, police, services, ambulances, everything—more efficient. In addition, we’re building a network of water pumps that will take advantage of the grade: that is, that will move potable water from the top of the hill to the bottom and not, as it currently does, move water up from the bottom of the hill.”

But University of Santiago architect Rodolfo Jiménez says these infrastructure improvements, while important, don’t go far enough to renew the affected neighborhoods. He says the government should build more collective housing, such as small apartment buildings in keeping with Valparaíso’s character, to free up space for parks, businesses, and places for recreation and community-building. “A neighborhood should have infrastructure of all kinds: for young people, for children, for mothers, recreational spaces. And, today, because of the hill was occupied spontaneously by squatters, that infrastructure doesn’t exist.”

Without waiting for the government to act, architect Carolina Moraes is starting address these issues. She’s building playgrounds in the affected areas—and she’s simultaneously teaching residents low-cost, energy-efficient techniques, such as covering houses with adobe, they can apply in their own homes.

Isabel Zeledón is one of the residents who learned these techniques from Moraes, and she’s already stucco-ed her emergency home with adobe to improve its insulation.

Zeledón says it’s necessary to keep moving forward. And Valparaíso planning secretary Luis Parot agrees: He says all individual homes will be rebuilt within two years, while larger infrastructure projects will take at least four or five years to plan and execute. In the meantime, architects like Rodolfo Jiménez and Carolina Moraes are trying to fill in the gaps.

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West Bank tension escalates as protesters call for Intifada; assaults on Gaza continue

US Secretary of State John Kerry has submitted a ceasefire proposal to Hamas and the government of Israel. According to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Kerry’s proposal would allow Israeli ground troops to occupy Gaza for the duration of the one-week ceasefire, ostensibly to look for and destroy tunnels used by militants.


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Protests in the West Bank grew Thursday night as tens of thousands marched toward Jerusalem’s al Aqsa Mosque on the last night of Ramadan, know as the Night of Power. At least two people died. Anna Ferensewicz joins us by phone from Bethlehem, and describes the protests and how they differ from those in the weeks leading up to the last night of Ramadan.

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More than 800 Palestinians, most of them civilians including many women and children, have been killed in Gaza since the Israeli military launched the so-called Operation Protective Edge. More than 30 Israelis are dead, mostly soldiers since the onset of the ground offensive.

FSRN’s Rami al Meghari is in the Nuseriet area of Gaza. He joined us to discuss events in Gaza, and how he and his family are faring after being forced to flee their home in the Meghazi reugee camp.

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Many residents of Gaza are taking up shelter in schools run by UNRWA, the United Nation’s aid agency for Palestinians. Those shelters have themselves been the targets of attacks.

UNRWA today strongly condemned what was the fourth hit to a UN shelter in the past four days. At least seventeen people inside the building were killed.

New Post has been published on FSRN

New Post has been published on http://fsrn.org/2014/07/fsrn-weekly-edition-july-25-2014/

FSRN Weekly Edition - July 25, 2014

  • Gaza update
  • Eric Garner buried amid fresh calls for NYPD accountability
  • New Haven homeless erect a second tent encampment on city property
  • Taking to the skies to circumvent “Ag-Gag” laws
  • 100 days on, more than 200 Nigerian school girls still missing after Boko Haram kidnapping
  • Joko Widodo confirmed president-elect of Indonesia

 

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US Secretary of State John Kerry has submitted a ceasefire proposal to Hamas and the government of Israel. According to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Kerry’s proposal would allow Israeli ground troops to occupy Gaza for the duration of the one-week ceasefire, ostensibly to look for and destroy tunnels used by militants.

In the West Bank, what many describe as the largest protests in decades there erupted Thursday night as tens of thousands marched toward Jerusalem’s al Aqsa Mosque on the last night of Ramadan. At least two protesters were killed. Bethlehem-based reporter Anna Ferensewicz says some media are already calling it the Third Intifada.

TRANSCRIPT TO COME

More than 800 Palestinians, most of them civilians including many women and children, have died in just over two-weeks since the Israeli military launched the so-called Operation Protective Edge. More than 30 Israelis are dead, mostly soldiers since the onset of the ground offensive.

FSRN’s Rami al Meghari is in the Nuseriet area of Gaza. He joined us to discuss events in Gaza, and how he and his family are faring.

Rami Almeghari spoke with us from Gaza, after being forced from his home in the Maghazi refugee Camp. He, his wire and four children are sheltering in nearby Nuseriet.

TRANSCRIPT TO COME

Many residents of Gaza are taking up shelter in schools run by UNRWA, the United Nation’s aid agency for Palestinians. Those shelters have themselves been the targets of attacks. UNRWA today strongly condemned what was the fourth hit to a UN shelter in the past four days. At least seventeen people inside the building were killed.

Eric Garner buried amid fresh calls for NYPD accountability

Funeral services were held this week for Eric Garner, an African-American man who died while he was being arrested by New York Police officers in Staten Island.  New York City community activists and elected officials are demanding a thorough and swift investigation.  The incident was captured on video which went viral and shows officers using a choke hold, an arrest method banned by the NYPD for over two decades. For FSRN, Rebecca Myles has more.

New Haven homeless erect a second tent encampment on city property

Three dozen people — homeless residents of New Haven, Connecticut and their supporters — marched ten blocks from a Catholic Worker house of hospitality to an empty city lot in a low-income neighborhood to set up a second tent encampment. They are hoping to pressure the city into providing more housing, and to stop criminalizing those who try to sleep outdoors. But organizers expect that officials will order the camp’s removal late Friday.  New Haven is among many cities nationwide that have laws on the books aimed at the homeless population.  Some go so far as to make it illegal to simply  sit or lie down in certain public places. Meanwhile, New Haven spends more than any other city in Connecticut on services for the homeless MT reports.

Taking to the skies to circumvent “Ag-Gag” laws

If you eat meat produced in the United States, chances are it came from livestock that spent at least part of its life at a confined animal feeding operation – or “factory farm.” As these enormous feedlots have become more common, public oversight has weakened, largely thanks to so-called Ag-Gag laws. Will Potter is an investigative journalist and  author of “Green is the New Red: : An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege.’ He spoke with FSRN’s Shannon YOung about Ag-Gag laws and a creative crowd-funding campaign to monitor factory farms from the sky.


100 days on, more than 200 Nigerian school girls still missing after Boko Haram kidnapping

More than 100 days have passed since members of Boko Haram abducted over two hundred school girls in northeastern Nigeria. Relatives of the girls are struggling to keep the issue in the public eye, as the situation on the ground in the Chibok province deteriorates. Ongoing attacks there have forced many to flee either to the bush or to Nigerian cities. The displaced want Nigerian authorities to rescue the girls and to ensure safety for residents of Chibok and other vulnerable communities. FSRN’s Samuel Okocha reports.

Joko Widodo confirmed president-elect of Indonesia

For the first time in Indonesia’s democratic history the country has a President who is from neither the military nor the political elite. Official election results released this week show  Joko Widodo won with 53 percent, with 8 million more votes than his opponent, Prabowo Subianto. From Jakarta, Rebecca Henschke reports many see this is as a turning point for the country.


Photo credit: Flickr user Eldeem. Music: Jazz Friends via Jamendo. Music and photo licensed under Creative Commons.