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Saturday, April 17, 2004

No surprise that Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi has become the latest victim of Israel's judge, jury and executioner policy of assassinating its opponents. Israel had vowed to try to kill the entire Hamas leadership and the firebrand Rantissi was their number one target after he became head of Hamas in Gaza.

Israel sees the absence of any significant retaliation for the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin as proof that it has seriously weakened Hamas.

The organisation now faces a power vacuum. Four of the founders of Hamas in 1987 -- Yassin, Rantissi, Ibrahim Makadmeh and Salah Shehadeh -- are all dead.

Emboldened by the free hand given by George Bush earlier this week, Israel will now seek to crush Hamas completely. I expect three remaining senior Hamas officials in Gaza -- Ismail Haniyeh, Said Siam, and Mahmoud Zahar -- to be next in Israel's crosshairs. Two have already escaped assassination attempts.

For its part, Hamas's exiled leadership (which is considered more radical) will play an increasingly central role, with the balance of power shifting further towards figures like Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas's political bureau. Israel's assassination policy means that Hamas's armed wing will now have to be directed not from Gaza but from a leadership in Beirut and Damascus.


Friday, April 16, 2004

Bob Woodward's account of the run-up to the Iraq war is imminent. If it's anything like his last book it'll be a must-read for anyone wishing to understand the behind the scenes story of the Bush presidency.

I expect it to get acres of column inches in the press next week. I've put my order in.

USA Today: Woodward book says Bush secretly ordered Iraq war plan

Assignment Nicosia next Wednesday ahead of Saturday's referendum on the reunification of Cyprus, which is likely to be passed in the Turkish-Cypriot north but rejected in the Greek-Cypriot south, meaning only the southern half of the island will join an enlarged European Union on May 1st.


Returning to my posting about private military companies, Peter Warren Singer, author of a book on the subject, has written a lengthy, extremely comprehensive and very enlightening two-part series on corporate warfare:

Salon Part 1: Warriors for hire in Iraq

Salon Part 2: Outsourcing the War

Prepare for unexpected bouts of severe nausea on both sides of the Atlantic at around 5 o'clock this evening, when President Bush and Tony Blair are due to hold a circle jerk, sorry -- joint news conference, at the White House.

Place your bets please on the number of times the following words are spoken: "special relationship," "unity," "resolute," "sacrifice," "enemy," "the war was a mistake and we are pulling our troops out of Iraq immediately" (OK, maybe not the last one.)

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Reopening yesterday's posting about propaganda by public subscription.

Before you dip into your wallet bear in mind that you're probably wasting your money because no one's going to be watching.

Those dumb Iraqs aren't as stupid as you'd like to think and after decades under Saddam they know what bullshit smells like.

As promised, here's my discussion with Hoder, which will be broadcast on the BBC World Service next Thursday.

The broadcast version will be shorter than the MP3 below (which is 19 minutes long) but I thought Hoder's readers (who are far more numerous than mine) would like to be able to hear the whole thing.

Save it onto your hard drive then listen, enjoy, discuss.

Stuart Hughes/Hossein Derakhshan.mp3 (2.2Mb)

Don't read too much into this report, which has been totally overwritten. We're assessing the situation hour by hour in the light of the latest security advice -- but it's premature at this stage to talk about pulling out....although that could, of course, change at any time if the situation on the ground changes.

Slow on the uptake as always, I start tuning in to Air America Radio just as the station hits a cash crisis (Air America's side of the story is here.)

Blame my decorator -- I've only just been able to reconnect the speakers to my PC because he's been painting the study.

My early impressions weren't favourable, although they weren't helped by the time difference which meant I was tuning in to some of their graveyard shift weekend output. Their environmental issues programme and a show called The Satellite Sisters were uniformly turgid.

Al Franken and Randi Rhodes lifted my opinion of the network somewhat with some lively exchanges and were a refreshing change to both the froth-spewing right-wing talkers and the All-Bran radio of NPR -- good for you, but impossible to digest. Yesterday's reaction to the Bush news conference was pacey and well-aimed.

My untutored Limey ears, though, can only listen to talk-radio from the right or the left in short bursts. After about ten minutes of full-on opinion I feel like I've been battered about the head with a plank of wood and need to put on a Carpenters CD and have a lie down.

With $60m in the coffers Air America can probably weather this particular financial hiccup -- but from the sound of its commercial breaks it's in need of some big money advertisers.

Just back from Bush House, where I recorded a discussion with Hoder for next week's edition of the World Service programme, The Word.

But you won't have to wait for a week and then clamp your crackly old shortwave to your ear to hear it. Oh no. In a clear breach of copyright I'll encode and upload it this evening.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004


"The General Assembly...Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible." (UN General Assembly Resolution 194)

"The Security Council...Affirms that the fulfilment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both the following principles: (i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict." (UN Security Council Resolution 242)

"The Security Council...determines that the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East." (UN Security Council Resolution 446)

"In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949....It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue, as part of any final status agreement, will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than Israel." (President Bush, 14th April 2004)


Time was when governments were prepared to pay to disseminate their propaganda.

Now, though, the poor US taxpayer is being asked to chip in as well.

"News broadcasts in Iraq can be biased, inaccurate and incomplete - to put it mildly," says the Sprit of America website.

It's true -- when I was there Fox News was the only channel we could receive.

Try spouting the press freedom bull to the journalists on Al-Hawza Al-Natiqa....oh, sorry, you can't because there aren't closed the paper down last month.

At least Congress was generous enough to pay for Al Hurra out of its own pocket.


"I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with answer, but it hasn't just put me under the spot here, and maybe I'm not as quick on my feet as I should be." -- President Bush's news conference, 13th April 2004 (Transcript)

Media Guardian: US military 'pressuring' journalists

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The American nets are doing the honourable thing by pooling material from Falluja, thereby putting the safety of their newsgatherers ahead of professional rivalries.

The words of ABC boss Paul Slavin -- "If the competitive instinct drops to third, then so be it" -- demonstrates an admirable awareness of the dangers faced by news crews, be they staff or freelance, who are working in hostile environments.

Of course, dead journalists equal bad PR for the broadcasters involved but, even so, the willingness on this occasion to put the safety of the newsgatherers first should be commended.

I'm keen to expand the videoblogging/streaming video aspects of this site but, given the lack of revenue streams, am balking at the cost of buying in Visual Communicator -- as excellent as it looks -- and the associated hosting.

Any thoughts, anyone?


I've been catching up with some of my contacts in the Middle East and discussing the fact that Hamas still hasn't carried out an attack to avenge the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

After his killing, an associate of Sheikh Yassin warned that "the enemy should expect a response that will turn the ground under his feet to hell," while the Sheikh's successor Abdel Aziz Rantisi said that "the retaliation of this nation, will be of the size of this man." (Source: Haaretz) Yet three weeks on there's -- mercifully -- been no sign of Hamas turning its words into deeds.

There are reports from the Gaza Strip of Hamas organisers going door to door collecting money to carry out a strike against Israel. They're said to have raised many thousands of dollars for the purpose.

There's no doubt that the retaliation will come. The feeling in the Middle East, though, is that the time it is taking in coming is a clear sign of just how weakened Hamas is. It's believed to be having real difficulties in putting together a spectacular terrorist atrocity because so many of its key operatives have been killed or imprisoned.


A laundry manager? He could be -- but I'm not convinced.

A watching brief on my big story for this coming Summer -- the Athens Olympics.

The Times reports that a series of site inspections has concluded that Olympic building projects will not be completed in time for the Games without cutting corners on security and crowd safety.

The Times also has a useful graphic showing which venues are ready -- and which are nowhere near completion.

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman speaks with his usual sanity in his latest NYT op-ed -- his headline, that "a year after the occupation of Iraq began, Mr. Bush and his inner circle seem more divorced from reality than ever."

Monday, April 12, 2004

The Vlog phenomenon gathers pace with Time magazine picking up on the subject.

Jeff Jarvis gets a mention.

My videoblogs from Iran, Cambodia and elsewhere are archived here, here, here and here.

Apologies for the lack of updates -- I've been making the most of the Easter weekend to get my freshly-decorated study into some sort of order. I've also been out stretching my legs, real and artificial, in Richmond Park and catching a couple of films, including the extraordinary Capturing the Friedmans.

It's a breathtaking piece of documentary-making -- unsettling, disturbing and at times almost unwatchable. It reminded me of all the reasons why I never read fiction -- because non-fiction is more compelling and it's grounded in real life. To watch "Capturing the Friedmans" is to watch a middle-class suburban family self destruct in front of the camera.

What's most amazing is the fact that director Andrew Jarecki was originally making a film about New York party clowns and stumbled across the secret past of the Friedmans almost by accident (read his explanation of how the film came about here.)

I won't spoil the film by saying too much about it (there's plenty of background here) but it's a real must see movie.

One other piece of news...I'll be taking part in a discussion about blogging with Persian super-blogger Hoder this Thursday for the BBC World Service programme The Word. We'll be talking about blogging, journalism and censorship -- among other issues.

I'm not sure of the transmission time and date yet...but I'll keep you posted.

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