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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hamas is not al-Qaida

The New Statesman's interview with Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader, was one of the most significant interviews with the leading figure in a movement that has been demonised and excommunicated by most of the western world and its media. The fact that Meshal realises that his words will be scrutinised by his allies and supporters as closely as his adversaries confirms that he speaks of the official position of Hamas on a number of crucial issues which the pro-Israel propaganda apparatus has managed to manipulate for so long.

Arguably, the most important assertion made in the interview, conducted by Ken Livingstone, is that in which Meshal clearly stated that the Palestinian struggle was anything but a conflict between Muslims and the Jewish people. He insisted that the Palestinians were fighting against the occupier who had dispossessed them of their homes and lands, regardless of religion, creed or race. He also went on to confirm that the concept of coexistence was largely present in the Palestinian psyche, and that genocide, as suffered by Jews in Europe (and which he described as "horrible and criminal") was alien not only to the Palestinians but to the inhabitants of the region as a whole.

His statement that Jews, Muslims and Christians had for centuries lived side by side – implying there was nothing intrinsic to prevent this happening again in the future – is crucial. This mirrors Ismail Haniyeh's response, after he became prime minister in 2006, to the question of whether the Palestinians wished to throw the Jews into the sea: "Does a besieged people that is waiting breathlessly for a ship to come from the sea want to throw the Jews into the ocean? Our conflict is not with the Jews, our problem is with the occupation."

This unequivocal stand is one that ought to be welcomed by Jewish communities around the world. Rather than the fear-mongering tactics of the Israeli media machine, particularly during the Gaza attack earlier this year, warning Jews of imminent attacks against them and their facilities, Meshal was sending a clear message of assurance that the Palestinian struggle was political rather than religious and about real political grievances and not against the Jewish people per se. This comes after Meshal had himself publicly rejected any attack committed anywhere in the world which exploited the premise of the Palestinian struggle.

His comments on democracy were equally enlightening. He explained that since the Palestinian people included the entire political, religious and ideological spectrums, Hamas would abide by the outcome of their vote, respect the rights of different faiths and political views, and refrain from imposing Islamic law against the wishes of the people. This position has been condemned by al-Qaida and the leading Salafi-jihadi theologian Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi who stated that they and Hamas shared "neither ideology nor doctrine".

Meshal's interview was denounced by Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis on grounds that would equally exclude the government from talking to Israel were it not for the double standards applied to Palestine and the Middle East. Indeed, the very fact that Ivan Lewis should be made a minister with responsibility for the Middle East, given his clear bias as a former deputy leader of the Labour Friends of Israel, is a sad indication of how little interest it displays in convincing people of any kind of fairness in its approach to this part of the world.

The British government led the way in proscribing Hamas when the Islamic movement won the majority of seats in the Palestinian parliament in January 2006. More recently it is reported that the British government has been heavily involved in training and supporting the security forces of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which have been accused of imprisoning, torturing and physically abusing members of Hamas and other political factions. While finding time to condemn an interview in a weekly magazine, neither Ivan Lewis nor the British government as a whole has accepted the finding of the authoritative UN report on Gaza authored by a committee led by a South African judge well known for his support for Israel, which condemned Israel for war crimes and possibly even crimes against humanity in Gaza.

A few weeks ago in Oxford, the foreign secretary, David Miliband, spoke promisingly on the Palestinian issue, making clear that al-Qaida and Hamas were quite different. On that he was right. When the Twin Towers were attacked in September 2001, the Palestinian intifada was at its peak and people around the world were gripped by the resolve and tenacity of the Palestinian people. Visiting South Africa at the time, I found most universities had unions supporting the Palestinian struggle and comparing it to their own successful struggle against apartheid.

However, one immediate reaction to the collapse of the towers and the death of almost 3,000 Americans was the mobilisation of the Israeli propaganda machine which claimed that the fight it was engaged in on the streets of Palestinian towns and villages was the same as that which the US and its people had horrifically come face to face with. The message was that Hamas, which was in the forefront of the Palestinian struggle, was one and the same as al-Qaida, and that their persecution of Hamas was simply part of the global war on terror. The radical different policies and methods of Hamas and al-Qaida, not least the refusal of Hamas to take up arms outside Palestine, were dismissed.

Even the most superficial examination exposes these lies. Al-Qaida has four main features: it has called for a "global war on the Crusaders and Jews"; it sees any target anywhere around the world that serves its cause as legitimate; it dismisses democracy as an affront to Islam and a satanic system of rule; and it believes in enforcing Sharia law in all Muslim countries, if not beyond.

As Gideon Levy, a columnist for the popular Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, explains in the New Statesman, Hamas is totally different. In fact, Hamas supports democracy, is the democratically elected majority representative of the Palestinian people and takes up arms solely within Palestine because there is no alternative against an illegal occupying power that confiscates its people's lands and destroys their livelihoods. In similar circumstances, as Israeli leaders have themselves admitted, any people in the world would do the same.

It is high time that we act assertively to resolve the 61-year Palestinian tragedy and end the ongoing crisis. It is time for the British government to stop discrediting itself by blatant double standards and to listen to many, including the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, and to recognise and speak directly to those whom the Palestinian people have chosen to represent them: Hamas.

Meshal: reconciliation accord to be signed next month in Cairo

Hamas Politburo's Head Khaled Meshal has declared that Cairo is crystallizing the final formula of national reconciliation and all the Palestinian groups would be invited to sign the accord next month.
Speaking in a press conference followed his meeting with the Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman in Cairo, Meshal said :"Hamas positively dealt with the Egyptian paper as a suitable ground base for achieving reconciliation".
"Not sending a written reply by Hamas on the Egyptian paper is due to our keenness on coming to Cairo to affirm our stance that supports sealing a reconciliation deal to end Palestinian division", Meshal added.
He appealed to Fatah to open a clean slate to confront occupation, protect Jerusalem and guarantee refugees' right to return.
Hamas Leader called for halting security coordination between Palestinian authority and Israel and returning to resistance choice.
On the other hand, Meshal called on Arab and Islamic states to shoulder their responsibility towards Jerusalem cause, warning against response to the US call for normalization with Israel in exchange for rewards.
In this context, member of Hamas Politburo Mahmod al-Zahhar stressed that positive reply on the Egyptian paper does not mean concession but an actual attempt to heal the rift and to reach a deal.
The attempt to coordinate response of the Palestinian groups in Damascus on the Egyptian paper was failed because number of groups (Popular and Democratic Fronts, and Islamic Jehad Movement) separately sent their replies to the Egyptian leadership.

US urges Israel to probe Gaza

US urges Israel to probe Gaza crimes to boost peace.

* U.S. urges Israel to conduct credible probes of war crimes

* Says confidence-building measure would boost peace process

* UN rights council debates Goldstone report on Gaza crimes

* Goldstone says MidEast impunity has reached "crisis point"

GENEVA, Sept 29 (Reuters) - The United States called on its close ally Israel on Tuesday to conduct credible investigations into allegations of war crimes committed by its forces in Gaza, saying it would help the Middle East peace process.

Michael Posner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, said that Hamas leaders also had a responsibility to investigate crimes and to end what he called its targeting of civilians and use of Palestinian civilians as human shields in the strip.

The U.N. Human Rights Council was holding a one-day debate on a recent report by Richard Goldstone, a South African jurist and former U.N. war crimes prosecutor.

His panel found the Israeli army and Palestinian militants committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity during their December-January war. Israel did not cooperate with the U.N. inquiry and has rejected the report as biased.

"We encourage Israel to utilise appropriate domestic (judicial) review and meaningful accountability mechanisms to investigate and follow-up on credible allegations," Posner said in a speech to the Geneva forum.

"If undertaken properly and fairly, these reviews can serve as important confidence-building measures that will support the larger essential objective which is a shared quest for justice and lasting peace," he said.

The United States joined the Council, set up three years ago, for the first time earlier this year.

Posner reiterated Washington's view that the Council paid "grossly disproportionate attention" to Israel, but said that the U.S. delegation was ready to engage in balanced debate.

Earlier, Goldstone said a lack of accountability for war crimes committed in the Middle East has reached "crisis point", undermining any hope for peace in the region. [ID:nLT514167]


"A culture of impunity in the region has existed for too long," Goldstone told the Council.

"The lack of accountability for war crimes and possible war crimes against humanity has reached a crisis point; the ongoing lack of justice is undermining any hope for a successful peace process and reinforcing an environment that fosters violence."

Israel says its offensive was intended to stop militants firing rockets at Israel. Israeli human rights group B'Tselem says 773 of 1,387 Palestinians killed were civilians. Israel says 709 combatants and 295 civilians were killed. Thirteen Israelis, 10 soldiers and three civilians, died.

Goldstone's report urges the U.N. Security Council to refer the allegations to the International Criminal Court in the Hague if either Israeli or Palestinian authorities fail to investigate and prosecute those suspect of such crimes within six months.

"Our primary recommendation is that Israel and the authorities in Gaza should carry out good-faith, transparent investigations. International courts are courts of last resort, not first resort," he said on Tuesday.

Israel's ambassador Leshno Yaar rejected the report as "shameful" and "one-sided". It was "based on carefully-selected incidents, cherry picked for political effect".

Israel had opened more than 100 investigations, including damage inflicted on U.N. centres and medical facilities in Gaza, 23 of which had resulted in criminal proceedings, he said.

It faced "an enemy that intentionally deploys its forces in densely populated areas, stores its explosives in private homes and launches rockets from crowded school yards and mosques".

Ibrahim Khraishi, ambassador of the Palestinian delegation, urged the Council to adopt the report which he called objective.

"My people will not forgive the international community if the criminals are left without punishment," he said.

By Stephanie Nebehay

Facebook pulls Obama death poll

Facebook Inc. reportedly took down a poll Monday that was launched by a member which asked if President Barack Obama should be killed.

The Associated Press reported that the U.S. Secret Service launched an investigation into the online survey that appeared on the Palo Alto, Calif.-based social networking site that asked whether people thought Obama should be assassinated.

The choices on the poll were no, maybe, yes, and yes if he cuts my health care.

AP said Facebook took down the poll and disabled the application that was used to create it.

"We're working with the U.S. Secret Service, but they'll need to provide any details of their investigation," AP quoted Barry Schnitt, Facebook's spokesman for policy, as saying.

We'll change world again - Brown

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has urged Labour to "change the world again" as he makes his make-or-break speech to the party's annual conference.

He said voters at the election, due to be held by next June, would have the "biggest choice for a generation".

He unveiled a string of policies including in what is being seen as a make-or-break Labour conference speech.

These included more free childcare for poor families paid for by ending tax breaks for better-off families.

In a repeat of last year, wife Sarah delivered a heartfelt tribute to her husband from the conference stage.

She told delegates Mr Brown was "no saint" but they had "been together through some tough times, and some great times, and we will be together forever".

And she added: "I know he loves his country and I know he will always, always put you first."

Tories 'wrong'

Mr Brown set out the differences between Labour and the Conservatives on the economy in an address seen as vital to ending threats to his leadership and lifting party morale.

He said: "Our country confronts the biggest choice for a generation. It's a choice between two parties, yes. But more importantly a choice between two directions for our country."

And in a hard-hitting attack on "right wing" ideology, he told delegates: "The Conservative Party were faced with the economic call of the century and called it wrong."

He vowed to protect the "squeezed middle" of low and middle income earners from global market forces.

"In a crisis what the British people want to know is that their government will not pass them by on the other side but will be on their side," he said.

Before the speech, Downing Street sources said the PM would commit to provide within five years 10 hours of free childcare a week for 250,000 two-year-olds from families "on modest or middle incomes".

The plans would be paid for by scrapping existing tax relief for childcare called the Employer Supported Childcare scheme which can save basic rate taxpayers as much as £962 a year, rising to £1,195 for top rate payers.

The sources refused to say how it defined "middle or modest incomes" and claimed the existing scheme benefited richer families too much saying about a third of the total - went to top rate taxpayers.

Spirits among the Labour delegate in Brighton will not have been boosted on Tuesday morning with the news that an Ipsos Mori survey suggests the Conservatives are on 36%, Labour on 24% and the Liberal Democrats on 25% - the first time since 1982 that this polling firm has recorded Labour in third place.

'Lawless minority'

Mr Brown is continuing the "fight-back" theme of the conference after Business Secretary Lord Mandelson urged the party faithful to be "fighters, not quitters".

On anti-social behaviour the prime minister will tell delegates: "We will not stand by and see the lives of the lawful majority disrupted by the behaviour of the lawless minority.

"Because the decent, hard working majority are getting evermore angry - rightly so - with the minority who who will talk about their rights but never accept their responsibilities."

As part of a wider package of crime measures, he will announce moves to combat "problem families" he will claim are causing misery in communities with fourfold increase in the use of Family Intervention Projects.

These are binding contracts which require parents of children guilty of anti-social behaviour to accept one-to-one support or else lose their benefits.

He will also pledge to force the courts to issue more Drinking Banning Orders - so-called drink Asbos - against anyone convicted of a crime who was under the influence of alcohol at the time.

But Conservative leader David Cameron said the government had made it harder for police to tackle anti-social behaviour.

"They hardly spend any time on the streets," he said. "They spend all their time at their desks, filling in orders from the Home Office.

"We've got to get rid of police paperwork, we've got to get them back on the streets and we've got to make them feel empowered to intervene and clear these people off the streets.

"And [we've got to] make them accountable locally so there are consequences if they don't deliver."

Mr Brown is also thought to be ready to take part in a series of TV debates with David Cameron not just during the general election campaign but before it, the BBC understands.

If the debates took place they would be the first ever televised prime ministerial debates to be held in Britain.

Death Toll Hits 240 in Philippine Flooding

All Maximo Merioles Jr. could think about were his two children. As the floodwaters that had swamped his neighborhood came close to submerging him, he grabbed his two kids, ages 12 and 10, and swam toward another house, clambered up to the third floor, jumped between roofs and climbed down a wall to safety across the street.

Mr. Merioles’s heart sank Saturday as he watched not just the flood but also a raging fire eat up most of the houses in Tatalon, a slum area in Quezon City, one of the cities that make up Greater Manila.

As residents dealt with the aftermath of Tropical Storm Ketsana, the government was facing criticism on two fronts: Did it provide enough warning before the floods, and was it doing enough to help people recover?

To help with the recovery, the government on Monday appealed for international help as the death toll rose to at least 240.

The American Embassy deployed Navy personnel to help out in the rescue and relief operations and also promised $50,000 in immediate disaster aid.

“The system is overwhelmed, local government units are overwhelmed,” Anthony Golez, a spokesman of the National Disaster Coordinating Council, told reporters during a briefing on Monday. “Our assets and people are spread too thinly.”

In Tatalon, unlike the other areas that were ravaged by the storm, what the flood did not destroy, the fire did. Seven residents died in Tatalon, officials said.

Mr. Merioles and the others interviewed in his neighborhood said electrical power remained in their area even as the floodwaters rose above four feet. No one knows exactly how the fire started. “Either you die from the fire or from the flood,” said Mr. Merioles, a stocky electronics repairman.

The tropical storm arrived in the Philippines over the weekend, releasing the largest amount of rainfall in nearly half a century and flooding 80 percent of Greater Manila before moving on to Vietnam, where it has killed at least 23 people, The Associated Press reported Tuesday morning.

Nearly 2 million people in the Manila area were affected, including more than 100,000 who were displaced after the storm dumped 16.7 inches of rain in just 12 hours on Saturday.

In Pasig City, one of the hardest-hit suburbs near the heavily silted and polluted Pasig River, the floodwaters in many communities hardly decreased. “The water is not moving,” a tearful Nene Monfort, 71, told ABS-CBN television in a live interview. She said she and her family, who have been holed up on the second floor of their apartment, could not come down because of the water.

The Health Department warned Monday of a possible spread of infectious diseases, especially in the refugee centers of Manila, which number more than 200.

And as the affected residents tried to rebuild their lives, they were seeking answers as well.

Many, like Rene Anselmo, 57, a retired driver in Tatalon whose three-story house was burned down except for about 5 feet of browned concrete and singed wood, wanted to know “why there was no warning about a flood this big.”

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, the government’s weather bureau, denied in local reports that it had been negligent in warning people, saying it had issued warnings as early as Thursday, even raising storm alert levels the next day.

In an attempt to help deal with the aftermath of the storm, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo decided to open a portion of the grounds of the presidential palace to refugees. “The president has allowed the use of Malacanang itself, her own home, to be a center of relief operations,” said her press secretary, Cerge Remonde. He said the first family would be transferred to another area in the presidential compound.

The government also had declared a “state of calamity” in metropolitan Manila and 25 storm-hit provinces, including many that had not flooded before, allowing officials to use emergency funds for relief and rescue.

Mrs. Arroyo earlier announced that her government would not relent in its efforts to help those hurt by the storm.

Criticism of Mrs. Arroyo’s response could affect the presidential election, which is eight months away. The administration’s candidate is Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, who also leads the National Disaster Coordinating Council.

In the narrow streets of Tatalon, residents spent Monday taking out burned trash, dumping it on the main street outside of the slum, where mounds of black debris had been piled, practically blocking the street. Filthy floodwaters snaked beneath the rubbish.

Zoraya Tera, a 39-year-old homemaker, spent hours scrubbing her floor tiles and cleaning up her burned utensils. “Nothing is left, as you can see, but I am glad that none of my children were hurt,” she said, gesturing at what remained of her home, which had nothing in it except the burned and now rusting galvanized iron roofs.

Congress: Public option day

It's public option day at the Senate Finance Committee. The big mystery: Will Olympia Snowe offer her plan -- a public option trigger -- as an amendment? “The Senate Finance Committee is expected to consider whether the government should offer its own insurance plan for the middle class in competition with private carriers. A public option is the top goal for liberals, but it has no Republican support and moderate Democrats say the Senate will never go along.”

“So Tuesday's debate is expected to pit Democratic liberals against moderates. Although the public plan isn't expected to get a majority of the panel, supporters say at least they'll know where everybody stands.”

The Hill breaks down the Senate Finance Committee mark-up. There are 13 Dems and 10 Republicans. “Apart from Snowe, the GOP is lined up strongly against the legislation. Baucus can afford to lose one Democrat when the final vote comes -- or two if Snowe jumps aboard.”

Schumer’s influence: “Sen. Charles Schumer has revived the prospect of a public insurance option in the Senate’s version of healthcare reform. Whether it ultimately passes may depend on a handful of first-term Democrats who owe their seats, in significant measure, to the support they received from Schumer (D-N.Y.) when he headed the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) in 2006 and 2008.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's health care leadership seems to be in the media's crosshairs of late. Yesterday, it was about how he's relying on the White House to cut the big deals needed to get 60 votes. And today, the New York Times focuses on how he's gotten a Medicaid exception of Nevada in the Finance Committee bill.

The Washington Times has a good analysis of the GOP strategy in the Senate which, surprisingly to some, has meant the party will NOT offer a policy alternative and instead will continue to strategically target the bill on things like, transparency. "But the Republican strategy, so far, doesn't have much to show for it. One of the most substantial Republican arguments - and one that shows signs of resonating with the public - came from Mr. Bunning. It called for the entire bill to be posted online in legislative text for three days before the committee casts its final vote. The Congressional Budget Office would also have to submit a full analysis of the bill - requiring two weeks of work."

The Democratic-leaning group Americans United for Change is running a new TV ad ($25,000 buy in Orlando, Louisville, and DC) targeting health insurer Humana.

by Mark Murray

Iran Offers Eventual Inspection of Nuclear Plant

PARIS — One day after it said it test-fired missiles capable of striking targets 1,250 miles from its soil, Iran said Tuesday it would soon offer a timetable for international inspectors to visit a hitherto secret nuclear enrichment facility, but was not prepared to renounce its nuclear program or debate its “rights” to operate the previously undeclared plant.

The existence of the facility near the holy city of Qum was revealed last Friday by President Obama and the leaders of France and Britain, at the same time as the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency’s announced that Tehran had informed it of the plant’s existence earlier in the week.

Coming only days before the first direct contact between the United States and Iran at international talks in Geneva on Thursday, the disclosure sharply raised tensions between Tehran and Washington, fueling suspicions that Iran is secretly seeking a nuclear weapons capacity — a charge it has long denied.

Alluding to the talks on Thursday, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, told reporters in Tehran on Tuesday: “We are not going to discuss anything related to our nuclear rights, but we can discuss about disarmament, we can discuss about non-proliferation and other general issues.”

“The new site is part of our rights and there is no need to discuss it,” he said, adding Tehran would not abandon its nuclear activities “even for a second,” Reuters reported.Western concerns over the nuclear program and its hostile potential deepened on Monday when Iran said that its Revolutionary Guards had test-fired missiles with sufficient range to strike Israel, parts of Europe and American bases in the Persian Gulf.

“Iranian missiles are able to target any place that threatens Iran,” a senior Revolutionary Guards official, Abdullah Araqi, was quoted as saying by the semiofficial Fars news agency.

The reported tests were of the liquid-fueled Shahab-3 and the solid-fueled Sejil-2 missiles, which can travel up to 1,250 miles. The test-firings recalled a debate among spy agencies in the United States, Germany and Israel over whether Iran planned to build not only a nuclear weapon but also the means to launch it.

Press TV, Iran’s English-language satellite broadcaster, also quoted Mr. Salehi on Tuesday , as saying the government was preparing a “timetable for inspection of its recently-announced nuclear facility.” Mr. Salehi was speaking in an interview late Monday, Press TV said. It did not say when the international weapons inspectors would be permitted to view the plant, which is not yet in operation, according to Iranian accounts.

Mr. Salehi repeated Iranian assurances that the new plant will “produce enriched uranium of up to 5 percent, consistent with its nuclear energy program.” That level of enrichment is far less than required for nuclear weapons.

“Salehi noted that the plant is under construction within the framework of the I.A.E.A. regulations,” Press TV said. It quoted the official as saying, “Iran has taken all the precautionary steps to safeguard its nuclear facilities.”

Mr. Salehi accused Western leaders of politicizing Iran’s nuclear activities but promised that Iran would seek to resolve the dispute over the newly disclosed plant “both politically and technically” with the I.A.E.A. and with the outside powers that deal with the issue — the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.

Mr. Salehi described as “baseless” accusations that Iran was planning to use the hitherto secret plant to make weapons-grade material. According to Press TV, he said it was “against our ethics and religion” to build nuclear weapons.

“It is against our tenets, it is against our religion to produce, use, hold or have nuclear weapons or arsenal, how can we more clearly state our position? Since 1974 we have been saying this,” Mr. Salehi was quoted as saying.

Despite such protestations, the Obama administration is now working to assemble a package of tougher sanctions, which could include a cutoff of investments to the country’s oil and gas industry as well as restrictions on many more Iranian banks, senior administration officials said Sunday.

A spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry said at a news conference Monday that Iran’s missile tests had been planned for some time and were not linked to the nuclear dispute, Press TV reported.

Less than two weeks ago Mr. Obama canceled a plan from the administration of George W. Bush to station a radar facility in the Czech Republic and 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland as part of what had been described as a shield against potential missile attacks from Iran.

The Obama administration now plans to deploy smaller SM-3 interceptors by 2011, first aboard ships and later in Europe, possibly in Poland or the Czech Republic.

The military exercise and escalating tensions with the West coincide with a period of political uncertainty in Iran, in the aftermath of Iran’s disputed June 12 election.

On Monday a protest erupted at Tehran University, the first of the new school year and the first since the demonstrations that had followed the vote, when opponents accused President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of falsifying results.

The Revolutionary Guards were essential to safeguarding the president’s victory and led the violent crackdown after the election that opposition leaders say killed at least 72 people.

The force, which also runs the country’s missile program, remains close to Mr. Ahmadinejad and accountable only to the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Revolutionary Guards, in addition to being part of Iran’s military, has in recent years become one of the largest conglomerates in the country. It has been awarded more than 750 construction, oil and gas contracts and has its own ports.

On Sunday, in a deal that underlined its expanding economic and political power, the Revolutionary Guards purchased just over 50 percent of Iran’s Telecommunication Company in a $7.8 billion deal.

The organization’s political influence has also increased, with many of its members elected to Parliament in 2003 or appointed as cabinet ministers in 2004.

Now, the Revolutionary Guards’ hold on the country’s telecommunications systems will give it further control over land-line, Internet and cellphone services. On election day, the country’s text messaging service was cut off; the cellphone network was disconnected during the unrest that followed. Opposition leaders accused the government of misusing state-run services.

The deal announced Sunday was part of the government’s plan to privatize business sectors. But critics have complained that the government is awarding institutions close to it while the real private sector is excluded. The Revolutionary Guards’ unit involved in the deal competed only with a company affiliated with the Basij, a paramilitary organization that assisted the Revolutionary Guards in putting down the postelection protests.