MK Avital: Accelerate Falash Mura aliya

Ethiopia bombs Somali airports; troops take border town from Islamic militia.

avital mk 298 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
avital mk 298 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
In the wake of the outbreak of war between Somalia's Council of Islamic Courts and Ethiopia, MK Colette Avital (Labor) on Monday called on the government to accelerate the immigration of the Falash Mura tribe to Israel. Some 10,000 Falash Mura members, most of whom are concentrated in northern Ethiopia, are currently awaiting their immigration to Israel. Avital told the Knesset that the outbreak of war between Ethiopia and the Islamic militia in Somalia put the Falash Mura in "real danger" and she urged the government to fulfill its commitment made in March 2005 to double the rate of the tribe's immigration to 600 people per month, a decision that was not implemented due to budget constraints. Earlier Monday, Ethiopian fighter jets bombed two main airports in Somalia, in the first direct attack on the headquarters of the Islamic movement attempting to wrest power from the internationally recognized government. The Russian-made jets swept low over the capital at midmorning, dropping two bombs on Mogadishu International Airport, which just recently reopened after the Islamic takeover of the city. Shortly afterward, Baledogle Airport, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) outside Mogadishu, was hit, an Islamic soldier said. "We heard the sound of the jets and then they pounded," said Abdi Mudey, a soldier with the Council of Islamic Courts. No reliable casualty reports were immediately available; an Associated Press reporter who arrived shortly after the airstrike in Mogadishu saw one wounded woman being taken away. "The Ethiopian government is bombing non-civilian targets in Somalia in order to disable and prevent the delivery of arms and supplies to the Islamic courts," said Bereket Simon, an adviser to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Several hours after the bombing in Mogadishu, the Islamic council's leader, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, arrived at the airstrip in a small plane. He was believed to have been in Eritrea - Ethiopia's main rival. Ethiopia and the Somali government have long accused the Islamic council of recruiting foreign fighters into its ranks. Earlier Monday, the Somali government started sealing its borders to keep foreign fighters out. Residents living along Somalia's coast have seen hundreds of foreign Islamic radicals entering the country to answer calls by religious leaders to fight a holy war against Ethiopia. Attempts to seal the borders are unlikely to have any major immediate effect militarily, particularly along the coast. Somalia's 1,860-mile (3,000-kilometer) coastline is Africa's longest, and the country has no coast guard or navy. But the closures could have a chilling effect on humanitarian aid reaching a country that is already devastated by conflict. One in five children dies before age 5 from a preventable disease, and the impoverished nation is struggling to recover from eastern Africa's worst flood season in 50 years. The UN World Food Program airlifted tons of food into Somalia on Monday, but had not yet been notified of any border closings, agency spokesman Peter Smerdon said. Meles announced Sunday night that his country was "forced to enter a war" with Somalia's Council of Islamic Courts after the group declared holy war on Ethiopia. It was the first time Ethiopia acknowledged its troops were fighting in support of Somalia's government, even though witnesses were reporting their presence for weeks. Many Somalis are enraged by the idea of Ethiopian involvement here - both countries have fought two wars over their disputed border in the past 45 years. Islamic court leaders have repeatedly said they want to incorporate ethnic Somalis living in eastern Ethiopia, northeastern Kenya and Djibouti into a Greater Somalia. But the Somali government relies on its neighbor's military strength. And Ethiopia, a largely Christian nation, fears the emergence of a neighboring Islamic state. Experts fear the conflict in Somalia could engulf the already volatile Horn of Africa. A recent UN report said 10 countries have been illegally supplying arms and equipment to both sides of the conflict and using Somalia as a proxy battlefield. The Islamic group's often severe interpretation of Islam raises memories of Afghanistan's Taliban regime, which was ousted by a US-led campaign for harboring Osama bin Laden. The US government says four al-Qaida leaders, believed to be behind the 1998 bombing of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, have become leaders in Somalia's Islamic militia. "We will overcome the Ethiopian troops in our land," Abdirahman Janaqow, deputy chairman of the Islamic courts' executive body, said after Monday's bombing there. "Our forces are alert and ready defend our country." Also Monday, Somali troops, backed by Ethiopian soldiers, captured a key border town and residents celebrated as government soldiers headed south in pursuit of fleeing Islamic militiamen, a Somali officer said. Islamic fighters left the town of Belet Weyne, on the Somali-Ethiopian border along the Shabelle river, overnight after Ethiopian fighter jets bombed Islamic positions Sunday, residents said. Col. Abdi Yusuf Ahmed, a Somali government army commander, told the AP that his forces entered Belet Weyne early Monday without a shot fired. He held up his telephone and a reporter could hear street celebrations. "Anyone who has a gun but is not wearing a government uniform will be targeted as a terrorist," said Aden Garase, a government soldier who was put in charge of Belet Weyne early Monday. Heavy artillery and mortar fire continued to echo through the main government town of Baidoa on Monday, said Mohammed Sheik Ali, a resident reached by telephone. Government and Ethiopian troops were attempting to push back Islamic forces just 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Baidoa. Thousands of Somalis have fled their homes as troops loyal to the two-year-old administration fought Islamic fighters who had advanced on Baidoa, about 250 kilometers (140 miles) northwest of Mogadishu. Government officials and Islamic militiamen have said hundreds of people have been killed in clashes since Tuesday, but the claims could not be independently confirmed. Aid groups put the death toll in the dozens. Somalia has not had an effective government since warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, plunging the country into chaos. The government was formed two years ago with the help of the United Nations, but has failed to assert any real control.