Thursday, January 13, 2011

After receiving a warning fr. Egypt that Israel is serious about preventing further rocket and mortar fire fr. Gaza, Hamas authorities hold a 2d mtg. (see 1/11) with smaller factions to urge them to adhere to a cease-fire, then deploys IQB mbrs. along the border and at makeshift checkpoints on roads leading toward the border to deter groups fr. firing into Israel. In the West Bank, the IDF steps up patrols dramatically, operating in 8 villages nr. Qalqilya, 3 nr. Jenin, 1 nr. Ramallah, and 1 nr. Tulkarm between late morning and late afternoon, arresting 1 stone-throwing teenager nr. Tulkarm and summoning several residents of Bayt Qad nr. Qalqilya for questioning; conducts late-night arrest raids, house searches nr. Jenin and Qalqilya. Jewish settlers fr. a settlement outpost nr. Nablus attack a Palestinian farmer working his field nearby; when nearby villagers come to the farmers aid, IDF troops intervene, firing rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas at the Palestinians, seriously injuring 2 and moderately injuring 1. (NYT, WP 1/14; PCHR 1/20; OCHA 1/21)

In Tunisia, opposition forces call for massive antigovernment demonstrations after Friday prayers on 1/14 to demand Pres. Ben Ali’s immediate resignation. In the days since 12/29/2010, protests have increasingly come to reflect deep-seated frustration with overall government corruption and lack of political freedom, rather than just economic angst. The major riots that first roiled the countryside have become increasingly violent and spread nationwide, reaching the capital on 1/12 and the key resort city of Hammamet (where Ben Ali and his extended family have residences) on 1/13, leaving at least 30 dead. In effort to quell protests, Ben Ali has simultaneously moved to appease and clamp down on critics, pledging to investigate government corruption and recent “excesses” by the security forces and firing his interior minister (directly responsible for orchestrating the crackdown on demonstrators), but also deploying army units and riot police around Tunis and imposing a nighttime curfew, blaming “foreign terrorists and Islamic radicals capitalizing on the frustrations of the unemployed.” Rumors suggest that close relatives of Ben Ali, including billionaire businessman Muhammad Sakher El Materi (his son-in-law and heir apparent), have already fled the country. Today, Ben Ali gives a hastily prepared television address. Appearing unsettled, he orders security forces to hold their fire and release jailed protesters, agrees to make other minor reforms, and pledges to give up the presidency when he turns 75 (in 2014) in keeping with the constitution, but rejects demands to step down immediately and end his 23-yr. authoritarian rule. In a threatening move, however, he withdraws the army fr. Tunis, replacing them with special police and other security forces more loyal to his ruling party. Credible rumors say the shift has come about because Tunisia’s army chief Gen. Rachid Ammar has refused Ben-Ali’s orders to shoot demonstrators. By this date, small protests inspired by Tunisian demonstrators have been held in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, and Morocco denouncing unemployment and corruption among the ruling elites, but are not perceived as destabilizing. (NYT, WP 1/13; NYT 1/14, 1/17, 2/24; see also WP 1/10, NYT 1/12)