Recent News from ACT! for America

November 11, 2001

The financial dispute between an Islamic bank and about 200 families whose mortgages are in limbo, moved to a Toronto courtroom on Thursday.

The homeowners had interest-free mortgages with United Muslim Financial totalling about $32 million.

Since 2005, UM Financial has offered loans and mortgages to people who want to adhere strictly to Islamic (Shariah) law, under which no interest can be charged on a loan.

The court will now decide what to do with those mortgages.

UM Financial was ordered into receivership on Oct. 7.

"At this time our main focus is to work with all stakeholders to ensure that the legal and moral interests of the families affected by this case are protected," said Afroz Kapadia, spokesperson for the group United Muslim Homeowners.

The court-appointed receiver, Grant Thornton Limited, says it is facing challenges getting key documents from Omar Kalair, the head of UM Financial.

The receiver claims UM Financial, "purchased $2.1 million of precious metals (silver and gold) in the weeks leading up to the receivership order" and that "proceeds of approximately $2.1 million were paid to UM Financial's Shariah board."

The receiver also claims "Omar Kalair has failed to disclose the location of assets."

Muhammad Heft — one of the homeowners — sat through the hearing, also convinced UM Financial isn't being upfront.

"In our community we have to have the highest standard of ethics and Shariah banking is not just a document it's a behaviour, it's a communication, it's an organization of a company and I think this one failed miserably," he said.

The lawyer representing Omar Kalair said his client won't be making any statements to the media.



New York Times

JERUSALEM — The Israeli military said on Friday that it had boarded two small boats that were sailing toward Gaza to challenge Israel’s maritime blockade of the Palestinian coastal enclave. There were no immediate reports of violence or injuries.

The boats, one Canadian and the other Irish, were carrying 27 pro-Palestinian activists, journalists and crew members from nine countries. The military had stated that it would prevent the boats from reaching Gaza, which is ruled by the Islamic militant group Hamas.

The Israeli Navy initially notified the vessels that they were en route to an area under blockade and advised them to turn back, or to sail to a port in Egypt or Israel, the military said in a statement.

Shortly after, an Israeli military spokeswoman said the boats had been boarded by naval forces. “The boarding followed numerous calls to the activists,” the spokeswoman, Avital Leibovich, wrote on Twitter, adding that the navy “took every precaution to ensure the safety of activists.”

The military said that the boats would be steered to Ashdod port in Israel where the activists would be handed over to the police and immigration authorities.

The two boats set sail from a Turkish port on Wednesday, four months after the last international flotilla to Gaza was stalled by the Greek authorities who held some vessels in port. Two other vessels, including the Irish boat now headed for Gaza, were damaged at port under mysterious circumstances. The protesters said the boats were sabotaged.

The Israeli authorities view the efforts to break the blockade as provocations designed to embarrass Israel and undermine its security. In May 2010, Israeli commandos raided a large flotilla and fatally shot nine protesters — eight Turkish citizens and an American citizen of Turkish descent — after meeting tough resistance on the deck of a Turkish passenger vessel.

This time there appeared to be little prospect of a violent confrontation. An organizer on the Canadian boat, Ehab Lotayef, a Canadian electrical engineer of Egyptian origin, said in a video message on Wednesday after leaving Turkey that the participants “are not going to challenge Israel physically. We are a peaceful mission that is committed to the safety of the personnel on board” the two vessels, he said.

Mr. Lotayef added that the goal was “to say that the blockade is illegal and inhumane.”

“We would want to see everybody manage to go to Gaza freely from any country in the world,” he added.

Israel says that the maritime blockade of Gaza is in accordance with international law and is essential to prevent weapons smuggling. Its position was backed by the Palmer report, a United Nations review of Israel’s 2010 raid published in September that found the blockade of Gaza to be legal and appropriate.

Fintan Lane, the organizer of the Irish vessel, rejected the Palmer Report, saying in a statement that the “the report itself acknowledges that it was ‘not asked to make determinations of the legal issues’ associated with the blockade,” and that its “legal speculations have been comprehensively repudiated.”

Mr. Palmor of the Israeli Foreign Ministry said “they can reject anything they want,” noting that the Palmer Report was adopted by the United Nations secretary general.

He added that the necessity of the blockade was underlined by the firing of dozens of rockets from Gaza last weekend. The longer-range rockets are imported to Gaza.

The wrangling over the blockade was replicated on social media, where supporters of the two boats seeking to reach Gaza attached the tag #freedomwaters to their updates on Twitter, while the Israeli government labeled its own official updates with #provocatilla.

Israel formally imposed the maritime blockade in early January 2009, during its three-week military offensive against Hamas.

A land blockade has been eased under international pressure since the deadly raid on the Turkish-led flotilla. Goods flow into Gaza across the land crossings with Israel, though exports out of Gaza are still severely restricted for security reasons according to Israel. The Egyptian authorities recently reopened the Rafah crossing, on the Egypt-Gaza border, for passengers, but travel in and out of Gaza is still very limited, including for foreigners.

Hoping to avoid a repeat of last summer’s experience, the organizers of the latest miniflotilla kept their plans secret until they had left Turkey for international waters.


Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel has authorized its military to take all necessary steps to stop rocket fire from Gaza, including a ground operation, an Israeli military official said Tuesday, as Egypt worked on a truce and said Israel had agreed to delay stepping up its response.

The Israeli government decision stopped well short of ordering tanks to roll into Gaza, and it appeared unlikely that would happen, as rocket fire all but stopped over the past day. The official said the decision authorized the military to act in accordance with the severity of Palestinian attacks, meaning that a ground offensive would be ordered only after massive rocket fire.

The Israeli official spoke on condition of anonymity because no statement was made.

Egypt's ambassador to the Palestinian Authority said Tuesday that Egypt obtained an Israeli pledge to hold its fire while efforts were under way to persuade Palestinian militants to stop the rocket barrages.

This is the third case of Egyptian diplomatic involvement with Israel over the last month, after two prisoner exchanges. Israel has been concerned that Egypt's new rulers might toughen their line on Israel in accordance with widespread public dislike of the Jewish state despite a 1979 peace treaty. Egypt's diplomatic activity might calm those concerns.

The sudden spike in violence began when militants in Gaza started firing salvos at Israel late last week, and Israeli retaliated with airstrikes. One Israeli civilian and at least 10 Palestinian militants were killed in the worst violence on that front in months.

The confrontation threatened to spiral into a larger conflict, and Egypt stepped in to try to restore calm.

"In the past few hours, Egypt saved Gaza from severe destruction and succeeded in securing Israeli restraint to give Egyptians time to reach a cease-fire agreement with Palestinian factions," Egypt's ambassador to the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Othman, told The Associated Press Tuesday.

On Monday, Netanyahu warned from the podium of the Israeli parliament that Israel would operate "vigorously and resolutely" against those who would threaten its security.

"A security philosophy cannot rely on defense alone," Netanyahu said. "It must also include offensive capabilities, the very foundation of deterrence."

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel's position has not changed.

The military said there have been no Israeli airstrikes since around midnight Monday. Two rockets were fired from Gaza during that time. The relative calm prevailed through Tuesday afternoon.

The rocket attacks have disrupted life in southern Israel, forcing schools to close. About 1 million Israelis live within range of rockets from Gaza.

The Islamic Jihad faction was behind the initial rocket attacks. On Sunday the militant faction agreed to stop the violence if Israel also did. Rocket fire that drew retaliatory Israeli airstrikes persisted afterward, but it was claimed by a different militant group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Gaza's ruling Hamas group, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in past violence, has not directly been involved in the attacks. Israel holds Hamas responsible for all violence from the territory.

Also Tuesday, Hamas said the Israeli military arrested one of its leaders in the West Bank, Hassan Youssef. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called the move "a dangerous Israeli escalation against Hamas and against one of the symbols of the elected Palestinian legitimacy."

Youssef, a member of the Palestinian parliament, was released from an Israeli prison in August after serving six years.

The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

Hamas has controlled Gaza since taking it over in June 2007 during a civil war with its rival, Fatah. The West Bank is governed by the Palestinian Authority, run by President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, who, unlike Hamas, favors a negotiated settlement with Israel.


Additional reporting by Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy in Cairo and Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City, Gaza Strip.


 By Monday, October 24, 9:51 AM

The Washington Post

DAMASCUS, Syria — U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford has been pulled out of Syria because of concerns for his safety, embassy officials said Monday, citing “credible threats” to the security of the envoy who has led American criticism of Syrian efforts to crush a seven-month-old uprising.

Ford, whose high-profile visits to activists and protests had made him a controversial figure in Syria, returned to the United States at the weekend and will remain there indefinitely until “the situation improves on the ground,” said Haynes Mahoney, the charge d’affaires at the embassy in Damascus.

The departure marks the latest twist in the saga of the relatively low-key envoy, who was thrust into the limelight after he attended demonstrations in Hama in July, infuriating the Syrian authorities.

The Hama protests were subsequently crushed in a brutal assault that prompted President Obama to call for President Bashar al-Assad’s departure in August. Ford has since played a prominent role in pressuring Syrian authorities to ease the crackdown, posting lengthy critiques of their behavior on the U.S. Embassy’s Facebook page and meeting with activists and dissidents.

During one such meeting in September, an activist’s residence was surrounded by an angry crowd that trapped Ford inside for 90 minutes. In July, the embassy was attacked by stone-throwing mobs who broke windows, climbed onto the roof and raised the Syrian flag.

Mahoney said no specific incident had prompted Ford’s abrupt departure on Saturday. But he said the tone of several recent items in the government-controlled Syrian press had raised concerns.

“The threats were really based on stories we saw that were very inciting, and we were concerned for his safety,” Mahoney said. “We hope that the Syrian government will stop this inciting because Ford was doing a very important job on the ground and giving significant support to the Syrian people.”

Mahoney cited one article in the Thawra newspaper that accused Ford of working to provoke a civil war in Syria, and another that accused him of running death squads while serving as a political officer in Iraq. In addition, the private al-Dunya television station, owned by members of Assad’s family, was repeatedly broadcasting pictures of Ford’s face in ways that would make him easily recognizable to many ordinary Syrians, he said.

He stressed that Ford had not been formally recalled, which would signal a rupture in diplomatic relations, and that he would return as soon as it was considered safe for him to do so. The embassy, which has been functioning on a skeleton staff since most nonessential officers were withdrawn earlier in the year, will continue to function, he said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement that Ford’s return to Damascus “will depend on our assessment of Syrian regime-led incitement and the security situation on the ground. We hope that the Syrian regime will end its incitement campaign against Ambassador Ford.”


Staff writer Joby Warrick in Washington contributed to this report.


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