News from Iran, Israel and Syria

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on August 23, 2011

IRAN – Iran Sentences Hikers From U.S. to Eight Years

BEIRUT—Iran’s judiciary confirmed Sunday that it sentenced detained American hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal to eight years in prison on charges of illegally entering the country and espionage.

Bauer and Fattal, both 28, were arrested in July 2009 in Iran near the border with Iraq, along with another American, Sarah Shourd. Ms. Shourd was released on bail in September 2010 and is in the U.S. …

Ms. Shourd, 32, who posted $500,000 in bail, could still be tried in absentia, Mr. Dowlatabadi said, and her case remains open.

Shane Bauer (left) and Josh Fattal (center) with their translator in court in Tehran, Feb. 2011.

Bauer and Fattal each were sentenced to three years for illegally entering Iran and five years for spying for the U.S.

The three Americans deny the charges, saying they were hiking along the mountains of northern Iraq with a local guide and weren’t aware of crossing the border into Iran. …

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday she was “deeply disappointed” with the eight-year sentence and that the U.S. would continue to call and work for their immediate release.

“It is time for them to return home and be reunited with their families,” Ms. Clinton’s statement said. …

The families [of the two men] had hoped the men would be released during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, and pardons are often granted as a gesture of goodwill and forgiveness. …

ISRAEL – Gaza Militants Renew Rocket Fire Despite Truce

JERUSALEM – Palestinian militants in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip launched rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel [Sunday and] Monday, despite an unofficial truce meant to defuse escalating exchanges of rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes.

Around midday, a group that had held out from joining the cease-fire announced it would comply. Even so, Palestinians launched two rockets into Israel a few hours later…. They caused no injuries but damaged property and set a fire to a field.

The latest round of violence began [Thursday, Aug. 18] with a deadly attack on Israelis near the Egypt-Israel border when gunmen [from] Gaza crossed into southern Israel through the Egyptian desert and ambushed vehicles, killing eight people. Six were civilians and two were members of Israeli security forces responding to the incursion.

That touched off deadly Israeli airstrikes and heavy Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza. Palestinians pummeled southern Israel with about 70 rockets Saturday night, killing 1 Israeli and wounding several others.

About 15 Palestinians, most of them gunmen, were killed in Israeli airstrikes.

“Most of those who dispatched the terrorists to carry out the attacks are now under the ground,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Channel 2 TV Monday evening.

A Hamas official said Monday that militant groups in Gaza agreed to the truce to end three days of clashes between Israel and Gaza militants. Hamas security personnel would enforce the Egypt-brokered agreement, he said.

The Popular Resistance Committees had refrained from joining the cease-fire because an Israeli airstrike on Thursday killed several of its senior members, whom Israel accused of directing the border ambush, another Hamas official said Monday. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak for the other group.

On Monday afternoon, the PRC told a news conference it would join the truce as well, but a few hours later released a statement taking responsibility for firing the latest rockets salvo, breaching the cease-fire.

The Israeli government says it was not involved in cease-fire talks, but Israeli President Shimon Peres, touring a city hit hard by rocket fire over the weekend said, “If they will cease fire, there will be a cease-fire.”

SYRIA – Syrians say Assad rule will crumble like Gadhafi’s

Syrian President Bashar Assad

BEIRUT – Thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets across Syria Monday after a televised appearance by President Bashar Assad, shouting for him to step down and chanting “Gadhafi is gone, now it’s your turn Bashar!”

Security forces opened fire in the central city of Homs, killing at least one person, a witness said. Crowds there and in several other cities were angered by Assad’s remarks on TV and taunted him with warnings that his regime would be the next to unravel, as Moammar Gadhafi’s 42-year rule was crumbling under a rebel advance in Libya.

Human rights groups say more than 2,000 people have been killed in the government’s crackdown on a five-month-old uprising. The regime has unleashed tanks and snipers in an attempt to stamp out the revolt.

In a now-familiar refrain, Assad on Sunday promised imminent reforms — including parliamentary elections by February — but insisted the unrest was being driven by armed gangs and Islamic militants, not true reform seekers.

He also said he was not worried about security in his country and warned against any Libya-style foreign military intervention. His remarks appeared designed to portray confidence as the regime comes under blistering international condemnation.

On Monday, Syria’s state-run news agency said Assad formed a committee to pave the way for the formation of political groups other than his Baath party, which has held a monopoly in Syria for decades.

The opposition rejected Assad’s remarks, saying they have lost confidence in his promises of reform while his forces open fire on peaceful protesters.

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at and on August 22nd.)


IRAN - The three American hikers who were captured by Iranian soldiers in July 2009 are Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd.  Shourd was released on bail in Sept. 2010 and is in the U.S.

  • The three Americans are anti-war, social justice and Palestine Solidarity Movement activists.
  • They had been living and active in the Middle East, and were on holiday in Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region of Iraq free from the sectarian struggle that dominates much of Iraq.
  • They had been advised of the suitability of the region for a holiday by friends who had been there and through Internet research; and were recommended the Ahmed Awa waterfall, a popular Kurdish tourist destination, by a number of local people whilst they were in Sulaymaniyah.
  • After visiting the waterfall, they continued walking within what they believed to be Iraqi Kurdistan, up to and including the time they were detained by Iranian border guards. (from wikipedia)

ISRAEL - Details of the Palestinian attacks on Israeli citizens on Friday, August 19th
(read the entire article at

  • The attack began shortly after noon [on Friday] in southern Israel with gunfire at a civilian bus heading toward the Red Sea resort city of Eilat, currently at the height of the tourist season.
  • The gunmen had crossed the border [into Israel] and set up an ambush along a 300-yard strip, armed with automatic weapons, grenades and suicide bomb belts, according to the military.
  • "We heard a shot and saw a window explode. I didn't really understand what was happening at first," passenger Idan Kaner told Israel's Channel 2 TV. "After another shot, there was chaos in the bus and everyone jumped on everyone else."
  • Within an hour, gunmen had riddled another passing bus and two cars with bullets and rigged a roadside bomb that detonated under an army jeep rushing to the scene. At the same time, mortar gunners in Gaza opened fire at soldiers along the Gaza-Israel border fence.
  • TV video showed the first bus with its windows shattered. Its seats were stained with blood and luggage littered the aisle.
  • The Israeli dead included six civilians and one soldier...
  • Israeli soldiers eventually killed five attackers, the military said, and defense officials said three of the bodies were wired with explosives. It was not clear how many militants were involved.
  • Egyptian security and Interior Ministry officials said a gunfight erupted on the border, and three Egyptians were killed, one police officer and two soldiers. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters, said the gunfire erupted while Israelis were chasing militants trying to re-enter Sinai. It was not clear if the gunfire at the Egyptians came from Israeli troops or militants. The Israeli military had no comment.
  • Hours later, militants who had apparently gone undetected attacked again, and a member of an elite police counter-terrorism unit was killed, the eighth Israeli fatality, according to Chief Inspector Alex Kagalsky, a spokesman for the Israel police.
  • Israel said the attackers had come from Gaza and made their way into neighboring Sinai and from there into Israel.
  • "Today we all witnessed an attempt to step up terror by attacking from Sinai. If anyone thinks Israel will live with that, he is mistaken," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said late Thursday. "If the terror organizations think they can strike at our civilians without a response, they will find that Israel will exact a price — a very heavy price."
  • The Israeli military said the attacks had been executed by a Hamas-linked group known as the Popular Resistance Committees, and that their objective had been to kidnap civilians or soldiers. The group was involved in the capture of an Israeli soldier, Sgt. Gilad Schalit, who has been held captive in Gaza for more than five years.
  • An Israeli airstrike on Gaza killed five members of the group, including its commander, as well as the 3-year-old child of one of the militants, according to Hamas security officials.
  • A spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, Abu Mujahid, would not comment on its alleged complicity. He threatened retaliation for the deaths of the group's members.
  • Though it seemed clear the gunmen had come through Egyptian territory, Gen. Khaled Fouda, the governor of the southern Sinai district, said no shooting had come from the Egyptian side.


  • Syria is officially a parliamentary republic, but is really an authoritarian government where the power is in the hands of the President of Syria, his family, the ruling Ba'ath Party, and the Alawi sect. The two presidents who have been in power since 1963 — the late Hafiz al-Asad followed by his son Bashar al-Asad — were approved in elections where there were no other candidates. (from wikipedia)
  • Bashar Assad became president on his father's death in 2000. Despite his pledges to liberalize [the government] he continues to restrict civil liberties and hold onto power by force, and human rights groups name Syria among the world's 20 most repressive countries today, citing thousands of political prisoners, restrictions on freedom of expression and association, and a state of emergency in place since 1963.
  • Assad, like his father, has nurtured strong ties with Iran and the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, while continuing to host Palestinian terrorist groups in Damascus.
  • He also maintained Syria's decades-old policy of political and military interference in Lebanon, and his regime was suspected of high-level involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. (from
  • Syria has been on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism since the list's inception in 1979.
  • In May 2004, the Bush administration, pursuant to the provisions of the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act, imposed sanctions on Syria which banned nearly all exports to Syria except food and medicine.
  • Since 2009, the Obama administration has attempted to engage with Syria to find areas of mutual interest, reduce regional tensions, and promote Middle East peace. These efforts have included congressional and executive meetings with senior Syrian officials, including President Assad, and the return of a U.S. Ambassador to Damascus.  (from the U.S. State Department's website at
  • Read about political conditions in Syria at: