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Deaths as Israeli Forces Storm Gaza Aid Ship

As reported on BBC

More than 10 people have been killed after Israeli commandos stormed a convoy of ships carrying aid to the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army says. Armed forces boarded the largest vessel overnight, clashing with some of the 500 people on board. It happened about 40 miles (64 km) out to sea, in international waters.

Israel says its soldiers were shot at and attacked with weapons; the activists say Israeli troops came on board shooting. The activists were attempting to defy a blockade imposed by Israel after the Islamist movement Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007. There has been widespread condemnation of the violence, with several countries summoning the Israeli ambassadors serving there.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was “shocked by reports of killings and injuries” and called for a “full investigation” into what happened.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is in Canada, has cancelled a scheduled visit to Washington on Tuesday to return to Israel, officials said.

Earlier, he expressed his “full backing” for the military involved in the raid, his office said. The White House said the US “deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained” in the storming of the aid ship.

A spokesman said US officials were “currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy”.

‘Guns and knives’The six-ship flotilla, carrying 10,000 tonnes of aid, left the coast of Cyprus on Sunday and had been due to arrive in Gaza on Monday. Israel had repeatedly said the boats would not be allowed to reach Gaza.

Israel says its soldiers boarded the lead ship in the early hours but were attacked with axes, knives, bars and at least two guns.

“Unfortunately this group were dead-set on confrontation,” Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told the BBC.

“Live fire was used against our forces. They initiated the violence, that’s 100% clear,” he said.

Organisers of the flotilla said at least 30 people were wounded in the incident. Israel says 10 of its soldiers were injured, one seriously. A leader of Israel’s Islamic Movement, Raed Salah, who was on board, was among those hurt.

Audrey Bomse, a spokesperson for the Free Gaza Movement, which is behind the convoy, told the BBC Israel’s actions were disproportionate.

“We were not going to pose any violent resistance. The only resistance that there might be would be passive resistance such as physically blocking the steering room, or blocking the engine room downstairs, so that they couldn’t get taken over. But that was just symbolic resistance.”

The footage showed a number of people, apparently injured, lying on the ground. A woman was seen holding a blood-stained stretcher.

Al-Jazeera TV reported from the same ship that Israeli navy forces had opened fire and boarded the vessel, wounding the captain. The Al-Jazeera broadcast ended with a voice shouting in Hebrew, saying: “Everybody shut up!” Israel’s deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said his country “regrets any loss of life and did everything to avoid this outcome”.

He accused the convoy of a “premeditated and outrageous provocation”, describing the flotilla as an “armada of hate”. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned Israel’s actions, saying it had committed a massacre, while Hamas said Israel had committed a “great crime and a huge violation of international law”.

Turkey, whose nationals comprised the majority of those on board, accused Israel of “targeting innocent civilians”. “We strongly denounce Israel’s inhumane interception,” it said, warning of “irreparable consequences” to the two countries’ relations

She said there was “absolutely no evidence of live fire”. Israel is towing the boats to the port of Ashdod and says it will deport the passengers from there.

Turkish TV pictures taken on board the Turkish ship leading the flotilla appeared to show Israeli soldiers fighting to control passengers.

The footage showed a number of people, apparently injured, lying on the ground. A woman was seen holding a blood-stained stretcher.

Israel’s deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said his country “regrets any loss of life and did everything to avoid this outcome”. He accused the convoy of a “premeditated and outrageous provocation”, describing the flotilla as an “armada of hate”.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned Israel’s actions, saying it had committed a massacre, while Hamas said Israel had committed a “great crime and a huge violation of international law”.

“We strongly denounce Israel’s inhumane interception,” it said, warning of “irreparable consequences” to the two countries’ relations. Turkey was Israel’s closest Muslim ally but relations have deteriorated over the past few years.

In Turkey, thousands of protesters demonstrated against Israel in Istanbul, while several countries have summoned Israeli ambassadors to seek an explanation as to what happened.

Greece has withdrawn from joint military exercises with Israel in protest at the raid on the flotilla. Israel had repeatedly said it would stop the boats, calling the campaign a “provocation intended to delegitimise Israel”.

Israel says it allows about 15,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid into Gaza every week. But the UN says this is less than a quarter of what is needed.

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Outrage in India As Mumbai Attacks Terrorist Leader Set to Be Freed By Pakistani Courts

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a lower court’s decision to free the leader of Lashkar e Taiba (LeT), a militant group that is blamed by India for masterminding  and orchestrating the November 2008 Mumbai attacks in India that killed 166 people.

Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the leader of the terrorist group had been placed under house arrest. However, he was released a year ago by the provincial Lahore High Court due to the fact that there was insufficient evidence against Hafiz and other members of the group. The only evidence against him and the group was the confession of Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kassab, the lone person charged with attacks in India, who was given a death sentence earlier this month. Pakistan’s government appealed the decision of the Lahore High cCourt to the Supreme Court which upheld the lower court’s decision.

Lawyers for the government of Pakistan had requested that India extradite Kassab so that he could give testimony in Pakistani courts against Saeed and the militant group. However, India understandably did not hand over Kassab for fear that the sole surviving perpetrator of the Mumbai attacks could end up in a Pakistani court that sets him free. Sadly, this now happens to be the case as the masterminds of the attacks and leader of an already banned terrorist group, Hafiz Saeed, is set to be freed soon.

This obviously is very disappointing news to India to say the least. It would be the equivalent of letting the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, have a long and high profile trial in New York, only to be set free for lack of evidence and or a weak case by the prosecution. The families of the victims would not stomach such a travesty and neither would the American people. In this same manner, the families of the Mumbai attacks are very upset by this decision by Pakistan the Supreme Court to release Saeed will now surelyonly serve to stall peace talks between India and Pakistan that were slowly progressing at the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meeting in Bhutan in April of this year.

At a time when the world’s attention is on Pakistan and Pakistanis for being associated with terrorism due to the attempt to bomb Times Square by Faisal Shahzad, the country and its courts have shot themselves in the foot by allowing to set free a known terrorist leader of a group that is not only attacking India and trying to provoke a war between the two countries, but is believed to be behind many attacks inside Pakistan also killing many innocent people.

If the shoe was on the other foot and the attackers came from India and killed 166 Pakistanis in a busy shopping area, while simultaneously attacking a major hotel, railway station and other locations throughout any of Pakistan’s major cities, then trust me, there would be demand for blood by Pakistani citizens and militias would have formed with or without the government’s blessings, and theywould have retaliated against the Indians. The Indian government and the Indian people are showing great resolve and patience with Pakistan and all along hoping that it truly becomes 100 percent committed to fighting and rooting out terrorism and terrorist groups within its borders as it is touted to be.

But as Tuesday’s decision by the Supreme Court illustrates, Pakistan’s government has a mixed record when fighting extremist groups within the country. As mentioned in previous articles on this site, the government of Pakistan and the army have supported and helped organize some of these militant groups like Lashkar e Taiba in order for the Pakistan army to have a guerrilla outfit as an ally in the event of a war with India. That is why there is reluctance by some inside the military and ISI to fully disband Saeed’s group, believed to be one of the largest and well funded militant groups in Pakistan. The government of Pakistan needs to realize that it cannot talk out of both sides of its mouth. It cannot present itself as one of the biggest allies of the US in the War on Terror, while at the same time not deal effectively with militant groups that are hostile to India.

We at Pakistanis for Peace are outraged that Hafiz Saeed, a known terrorist leader is set to be free from Pakistani courts. Our group and website Pakistanis for Peace was founded immediately after the Mumbai attacks in 2008 by concerned Pakistani Americans in response to the cowardly terrorist attacks by individuals who snuck in from Pakistan to cause one of the biggest terrorist incidents to ever hit India. These attacks certainly became their 9-11. 

To now have the leader of this terrorist group be set free by Pakistani courts only serves to strengthen the claims of opponents of Pakistan that it is not doing enough in the fight against terrorism. Certainly the families of the 166 dead Indian nationals deserve justice and better outcome than what transpired in Pakistan’s Supreme Court this week. One should make no mistake, only a just and lasting peace with India will ever lead to a prosperous Pakistan and the sooner there is an earnest effort to stop ALL militant and terrorist groups operating within inside the country by Pakistan, the sooner the two sides can sit across from each other at the peace table.

The Facebook Creed? Racism’s Bad, Bashing Religion Is Good

By Tommy De Seno for FoxNews.com

Recently, in a column for the Fox Forum called “Muhammad Cartoons vs. Piss Christ” I compared the insult Muslims feel when they see a drawing of Muhammad to the hurt Christians felt when an artist photographed a crucifix in a jar of urine, called it “Piss Christ” and received a tax-funded monetary award from the National Endowment of the Arts.

The point I tried to make is that just because the First Amendment allows you to say something doesn’t mean you should say it. Freedom comes with responsibility, which includes tactfulness when discussing the revered symbols of another’s religion.

Sure you are free to hurl insults – but remember the purpose of criticism is persuasion, and no one has ever been persuaded by first being insulted. Criticism can be made of Islam and Christianity without denigrating either’s most sacred symbols.

As Americans we should fight like hell for the right to draw a picture of Muhammad, but then choose not to.

This issue is hot today because some folks short on good criticism and long on juvenile insult declared May 20 “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.” I wonder why they didn’t include “Everyone Piss On a Crucifix Day,” too? That they didn’t do just that, suggests that this is not a pro-First Amendment movement, but a purely an anti-Muslim movement.

So here’s my question: Why does Facebook allow a page whose purpose is to spread hate for a religion? After all, Facebook used to ban activity for no other reason than the author was home-schooled (and that’s some weird priorities right there).

A Facebook spokesperson defended the company’s decision to not ban the “Draw Muhammad” page to FoxNews.com earlier this week:

“Groups that express an opinion on a state, institution, or set of beliefs — even if that opinion is outrageous or offensive to some — do not by themselves violate our policies.”  

But compare that to this quote from an interview with a Facebook spokesman last year with Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper. Things were different when the topic was not anti-religion pages, but about pages that include racism:

“However, there is no place for content that is threatening, abusive, hateful, or racially or ethnically objectionable on the site and Facebook will remove any such content that violates our Terms of Use when it is reported… We have already removed a number of groups that violated these terms and we are continuing to be vigilant, immediately removing further postings when we become aware of them.”  

I see the Facebook matrix: “Racism is bad, but bashing religion is good.”

Facebook also said this to FoxNews.com about the “Draw Muhammad” page:

“When a group created to express an opinion devolves into threats or hate speech, we will remove the threatening or hateful comments and may even remove the group itself.” 

Hey Facebook – have you seen the two pages today? They are both a cesspool of hateful anti-religious commentary, devoid of useful criticism and swimming with the worst of distance-induced Internet hatred and nastiness.

If these pages don’t violate Facebook’s rules against hate speech, you can’t violate them.

Both pages have been taken over by anti-religious zealots whose purpose is to stir up anger for the sake of eliciting an even angrier response – all heat and no light. The folks posting the hate have the advantage of hiding whatever it is they hold sacred, so that no one can employ their own tactics against them. Cowards.

Both pages are filled with drawings, manipulated photos and commentary showing all religious leaders in acts of bestiality, pedophilia and outrages claims to calamities in history that religion couldn’t possibly be held accountable for.

Even if you’ve read hateful speech, you’ve still probably never read such blind, ignorant rage as is existent on these pages. Both pages should be taken down immediately, but they won’t be.

Facebook has obliterated civilized discourse.

Pakistan Seeks Resolution of India Water Dispute

By Tom Wright for The Wall Street Journal

Pakistan told India it wants to begin formal arbitration proceedings over an Indian dam project in Kashmir, threatening to heighten tensions ahead of high-level bilateral talks. Pakistan says India’s planned hydropower dam on the Kishanganga River would violate a 50-year-old water-sharing treaty between the two neighbors by diverting water Pakistan needs for agriculture and power generation.

India denies its project would violate the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty. It has received Pakistan’s request for arbitration and is examining it, an Indian official said. Water disputes have become a growing point of controversy between the rivals in recent months, and could become an impediment as they seek to re-establish diplomatic ties. India cut off dialogue with Pakistan after the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, but has shown an interest in restarting talks if Pakistan cracks down on terrorists on its soil.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani met last month at a regional summit and agreed to move forward with dialogue. The countries’ chief foreign-policy bureaucrats will meet in late June to prepare an agenda for mid-July, when their external affairs ministers are expected to meet in Islamabad. In previous rounds of diplomacy, India and Pakistan have discussed issues ranging from trade to the fate of Kashmir, the disputed territory that is two-thirds controlled by India and over which the countries have fought two of their three wars. India has said it is open to discussing all issues in the current talks, though shutting down terrorist groups and getting Pakistan to more aggressively prosecute Mumbai suspects are its core objectives.

 India has said river-sharing disputes should be settled through the 1960 treaty, rather than in the bilateral talks. The accord split six Himalayan rivers between the countries, with the three Western ones going to Pakistan, the three Eastern ones to India, and each side retaining the right to the other side’s resources for uses such as run-of-river hydropower and irrigation. Under the treaty, the countries nominate commissioners who share data and try to resolve problems as they arise. If the commissioners can’t agree, they can seek a World Bank-appointed expert to intervene, which happened in 2005 when Pakistan objected to another big dam.

India was told to make minor changes to its design. Jamaat Ali Shah, Pakistan’s Indus waters commissioner, said the country is now seeking formal arbitration proceedings—a treaty mechanism that neither side has used before—because it feels India is stalling on the Kishanganga dispute. Pakistan on Wednesday named two members that would sit on a seven-person arbitration panel. Under the treaty, India has 30 days to name its own two members, and the countries are supposed to jointly name the three other participants. If they can’t agree, the World Bank would step in to name them.

Pakistani farmers and Islamist groups have staged protests against India’s 330-megawatt hydroelectric project on the Kishanganga, which is a tributary to one of the rivers Pakistan was allotted under the treaty. Water availability in Pakistan has fallen 70% since the early 1950s to 1,500 cubic meters per capita, according to a report last year by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. India says Pakistan’s poor water management is responsible for the water shortages it is experiencing in some regions.

Pakistani Muslim Rocks Against Extremism

By Richard Allen Greene for CNN

Salman Ahmad is a devout Pakistani Muslim on jihad — but his holy war is a rock ‘n’ roll battle against intolerance, he says. He’s the frontman of the band Junoon. He’s sold 30 million albums. And he says music is a powerful weapon against extremism. “My own personal narrative tells me that arts and culture is mightier than the sword,” he told CNN during a tour of the United Kingdom Thursday.

Ahmad, who was born in Pakistan and grew up in New York, has set himself an ambitious goal — not only fighting Muslims’ own misconceptions about their religion, but reclaiming the very word “jihad” from extremists.

It’s come to mean violent holy war of the kind waged by al Qaeda and the Taliban. But Ahmad says that’s not its true meaning”There has been a sinister case of identity theft where the extremists have hijacked not only language but culture,” he said. “Jihad means to strive, to overcome your ego, to work for social justice and peace.” That may be why his new book and album are called “Rock & Roll Jihad.”

He insists his long-haired, guitar-driven rock music is entirely compatible with Islam.

“Anybody who says that music is un-Islamic is a poser,” he said. “Muslims have expressed their faith, their lives, their hopes, through music, through poetry, for 1,400 years.”

His own music is a fusion of the wildly disparate influences he grew up with, he said. “I was a 13-year-old from Pakistan (when I) arrived in a suburban cocoon like New York,” he recalled. “My exposure to rock-and-roll was watching Led Zeppelin in Madison Square Garden.” Frontman Jimmy Page “had a two-headed guitar and dragons painted on his pants, and I said: ‘That’s what I want to do with the rest of my life.'”

“My music takes equal inspiration from classic rock like Led Zeppelin and the Beatles and also Sufi poetry,” he said, citing a mystical Muslim tradition. “We are in the same tradition of musicians who are sending out a message of love, a message of joy. “And while he may seem like a trailblazer — and be one — he said he is not alone. South Indian Muslim composer A.R. Rahman won an Academy Award for best song for “Slumdog Millionaire’s” anthemic “Jai Ho,” Ahmad observed. And Ahmad’s mentor, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, performed with Peter Gabriel and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. “He said to me, “The Quran promotes cultural diversity, so why not play with rockers?'”

Ahmad’s done some high-profile collaborations of his own, including recording a song with American rocker Melissa Etheridge. “I saw him perform at the concert and was amazed by his vocal and guitar abilities. Here was this traditional Eastern sound that was rocking hard at the same time,” Etheridge writes in the introduction to Ahmad’s new book. They traded ideas, resulting in the song “Ring The Bells.”

She remembers listening to some tunes he recorded to kick off their collaboration: “I found in one track a haunting guitar part that I kept playing over and over until finally the words started to come. ‘Whose God is God? Whose light is light? Whose law is wrong? Whose might is right?'” The message is resonating, Ahmad said.

He has played rock concerts in the disputed territory of Kashmir, with “thousands of kids braving death threats going to hear concerts,” he said.

“It’s a way for people to vent their emotions. Junoon’s sold over 30 million albums,” he said. “That music wasn’t bought by a fringe. That’s a mainstream majority.”

Ex-president Musharraf Vows Return to Pakistan Politics

As reported on Cnn

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf plans to return to Pakistan and to re-enter politics, he told CNN Thursday.

Musharraf declined to commit to seeking a particular office, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that “the question… of whether I am running for president or prime minister will be seen later.”

But he strongly implied he wants to be prime minister.

“We run a parliamentary system there” Musharraf told Blitzer. “So you have to — your party has to win in the election. Then only do you decide to run.”

“Basically, you are heading the party, you are running for the prime ministership,” he said. “Because in Pakistan, the chief executive is the prime minister, not the president.”

Musharraf, who resigned as president under pressure in 2008 and left the country about a year ago, said he’s unsure about the exact timing of his return.

“It is related to the elections in Pakistan,” he said. “I am very sure of one thing, that whether it’s end-term elections or midterm elections, I will be there before those elections.”

Midterm elections could come next year, Musharraf said.

Musharraf also said that security concerns were shaping his decision on when to announce his return.

“Maybe my wife and my family (are) more worried than I am,” he said Thursday. “But there are security issues which one needs to take into consideration. And that is why I’m not laying down any dates for my return.”

“But,” he added, “I do intend launching and declaring my intentions formally sooner rather than later.”

The former Pakistani president took issue with a United Nations report released last month that said Musharraf’s government failed to protect former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto before her 2007 assassination.

“It was me who warned her about the threat to her,” Musharraf said. “It was I who stopped her from going to that venue once before, to which a lot of political aspersions were cast on me that her movements are being restricted. But she decided to go again.”

“All the security, wherever possible… by the police was provided to her,” he said.

Asked if he would do anything differently if he could relive the experience, Musharraf said, “I think the same would have been done.”

Musharraf also criticized the reported use of unmanned aircraft by the U.S. against militants in Pakistan, saying the “indiscriminate use of the drones… is having a negative impact in the public because of the collateral damage.”

He said the attacks could be radicalizing Pakistanis and referred to Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American charged with the failed Times Square bombing. “I wonder whether this Faisal Shahzad incident… has he been affected by indiscriminate bombing by the drones,” he said.

Musharraf also expressed support for the Pakistani government’s decision to block access to Facebook this week in response to an online group calling on people to draw the Prophet Mohammed.

“You cannot have photographs of the Prophet Mohammed — leave aside going for cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed,” Musharraf said. “It’s most unfortunate. We must understand, these are sensitive issues. And for the sake of independence of media, liberty of speech, we cannot hurt sensitivities of millions of people.”

Pakistan Blocks Facebook Over Contest to Draw Prophet Muhammad

By Farhan Sharif and Paul Tighe for Bloomberg Businessweek

Pakistan blocked a section of Facebook Inc., the world’s largest social-networking service, citing plans for a “blasphemous” competition inviting users to draw caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Lahore High Court imposed the ban until May 31 and asked Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry to protest to the international community over the competition, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan said on its website yesterday.

Pakistan needs an effective plan to prevent anti-Islam elements “hurting the sentiments of Muslims,” APP cited religious affairs minister Saeed Kazmi, as saying in Islamabad. Protesters gathered in Karachi holding banners and shouting slogans against Facebook yesterday and people circulated text messages asking users of the site in Pakistan to support the ban.

Cartoons depicting Muhammad in a Danish newspaper in 2005, provoked protests by Muslim communities around the world including Pakistan, home to the world’s second-largest Muslim population after Indonesia. Depictions of the prophet are considered blasphemous by Muslims.

A Facebook user set up a page called “Draw Mohammed Day,” allegedly inviting people to send in their caricatures of the Muslim prophet by today, Agence France-Presse reported.

Kazmi called on Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to organize a meeting of Muslim countries and create a united policy for dealing with anti-Islamic moves, APP reported.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Regulatory Authority imposed the ban after the high court ruling.

“We were instructed by the Ministry of Information Technology to block a link,” Khurram Mehran, spokesman for the Pakistan Telecommunication Regulatory Authority, said by telephone from Islamabad yesterday.

The cartoons of the prophet printed in Danish newspapers in 2005 included one of him with a bomb in his turban and accompanied an article on freedom of speech and self-censorship in the media.

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