Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Moroccan News Briefs

Seven Moroccans on aid flotilla

Morocco announced on Tuesday that seven of its nationals had been on board a Gaza-bound aid fleet that was attacked by Israeli forces early Monday morning

The seven Moroccans will be moved to the Jordanian capital of Amman shortly. There are no details on their condition.

On Monday morning, Israeli naval forces attacked the Freedom Flotilla, killing at least nine and wounding dozens. The forces also seized the ships and vessels and prevented the fleet from reaching the Gaza Strip.

Jordan's Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications Nabil Sharif said on Tuesday that the Jordanian embassy in Tel Aviv was taking steps to transfer the activists on board of the ships to the Arab kingdom to travel later to their countries.

Sharif said the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Morocco, Algeria and Pakistan requested Amman to transfer their nationals who were on board of the ships to the kingdom, adding that coordination will continue with other countries whose nationals were among the participants in the flotilla.

Morocco Vigorously Condemns Israel's "Vile" Attack

"The Kingdom of Morocco vigorously condemns the vile attack perpetrated on Monday by Israel against Gaza-bound humanitarian aid ships." - Foreign Minister Taib Fassi Fihri.

"The Kingdom of Morocco, HM the King, and the Moroccan people and government vigorously denounce the vile attack perpetrated Monday morning by the Israeli army against the peace caravan," the Foreign Minister told the press on the sidelines of his participation in the 25th Africa-France summit in Nice.

"At the political, diplomatic and humanitarian levels, this attack is unjustifiable, unacceptable and does not make any sense," he said, recalling the humanitarian aims of the caravan which "was meant to bring support to the blockaded Palestinian brothers in Gaza."

"No pretext can be used to explain this military operation against innocents," Fassi Fihri made it clear, deploring that the attack took place at a time when direct negotiations with the Palestinians have been launched under the aegis of the United States.

British Criminal Jailed in Morocco

On Tuesday, the appeal court of Salé sentenced Ibrahim Lee Murray (pictured left) to 10 years in prison for setting up a criminal gang, armed robbery, kidnapping and forgery.

The court ordered the seizure of the convict's 800 shares in the Lee Inter Immobilier company, the house located in Rabat's Souissi neighbourhood, and other frozen assets for the benefit of the Moroccan State.

Murray is said to have masterminded the £53 million ($77 million) robbery of Kent Securitas depot in Tonbridge, England, in February 2006, then fled to Morocco, where he also has citizenship (Murray’s father is Moroccan). The British authorities requested the extradition of Lee Murray.

However, last June the Moroccan authorities refused to extradite Murray after establishing his Moroccan nationality. Since then detectives have worked closely with their overseas colleagues to ensure Murray did not escape justice.

He has been held in prison since his arrest at a shopping centre several months after the raid and has already served time for drug-related offences.

"I'm pleased that Murray, who played a key role in the conspiracy to kidnap the Dixons and rob the depot, has now been held accountable." - Detective Superintendent Mick Judge

Salé's appeal court confirmed the eight-month sentence handed down by the first instance court against Lee Lamrani Ibrahim Murray and Paul Allan, a British citizen extradited to Britain in May 2007.

They were also fined 10,000 dirhams ($1,223) each and sentenced to jointly pay 303,100 dirhams ($37K) to the Moroccan customs.


US Marines in Fez

For those of us who live in Fez from day today, life in the Fez Medina can see quite ordinary. Here is how it looked to a group of marines on a whirlwind tour. The report was written by Maj. Paul Greenberg, Marine Forces Reserve

One Marine described the store as “a scene out of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

Marines deployed here for exercise African Lion stepped outside their comfort zone May 29 to travel several hundred kilometers by bus to visit the historic Moroccan city of Fes and indulge in the local culture.

A detachment of Marines and sailors from Marine Aerial Refueling Squadron (VMGR) 234, a Marine Forces Reserve unit based in Fort Worth, Texas, is here on a two-week reserve summer deployment in support of this theater security cooperation exercise.

Over the course of about 17 days in country, the Marines are conducting both day and night operations in their KC-130 aircraft with the Royal Moroccan Air Force, performing their primary mission of refueling the Moroccan F-5 jet fighters while in mid-air.

In addition, the squadron is a key logistical arm of the Task Force, moving hundreds of troops around and out of the country.

However, all work and no culture can make a deployment a drab experience to quickly forget.

“This is good for the Marines to learn something about Moroccan history and culture,” said Sgt. Khalid Tament, a Moroccan Gendarme who accompanied the Marines on the tour.

Tament, who is fluent in English, French and Arabic, formed friendships with the Marines in the squadron while working on the Royal Air Base here. He assisted the tour guide and gave the Marines advice on bargaining for the best price for artisan goods in the shops.

“Today, they don’t have to worry about missions,” said Tament. “Today they can relax and be tourists and experience the real Morocco.”

The Marines and sailors spent most of their day in the Fes el Bali Medina, which is one of the oldest in the country. It was constructed in its current configuration in the 9th Century, and remains both a world-renowned tourist attraction and a routine place of commerce for locals.

“When you hear the word ‘Balak!’ that means get out of the way,” instructed Mohammed, the troops’ tour guide. “When you hear that, it means that a donkey cart will be coming through.”

Although the narrow walkways of the medina are off-limits to all vehicle and bicycle traffic, donkeys laden with produce and other goods clopped along the pavement behind their masters.

The Marines heeded the instruction of their guide, and backed against the walls or jumped into doorways to stay out of the way of the animals.

While in the Medina, the Marines had the chance to visit a traditional leather tannery which dates back to the 13th Century. The guide explained the leather tanning process in detail, and handed each of them a sprig of mint. He instructed them to shove the mint into their nostrils to ward off the strong stench of the tanning dyes, which are made primarily from pigeon excrement, limestone and salt.

Next to the tanning vats was a multi-tiered store with a maze of narrow doorways and stairwells. The walls of each room were lined with leather goods. One floor had jackets; another pants; an entire room was filled with handbags and backpacks of indeterminate age and endless variety of design. One Marine described the store as “a scene out of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

Despite the aroma, which ranged from mild to noxious depending on the room’s proximity to the tanning vats, the Marines bargained with the vendors and bought leather jackets, backpacks and various other items.

“It was really interesting,” said Staff Sgt. Seth Cavarretta, a squadron maintenance controller and airframes mechanic. “I really liked walking through the medina, seeing all the windy passages, artisans at work in the shops, the garments, and the spices.”

After several hours of touring the Medina, the troops were overdue for lunch. Their guide took them to a traditional Moroccan restaurant in the medina. They had their choice of couscous, tajine or pastilla.

“Too often, Marines go to foreign countries and only focus on the mission. They get stuck in their workspaces and don’t get out to really experience the culture. This is an important part of their deployment. They only get four days off out of the 25 days that we’re on this mission, and I wanted to make sure they got to see this,” said Maj. Mike Quirk, the VMGR-234 detachment commander.

“This is especially good for the maintenance Marines, who don’t get to deploy a lot,” said Quirk. “They spend most of their time back on the flight line in Fort Worth. So it’s really important that they get out and can experience this type of thing.”

After lunch, the group departed Fes, driving on a country road through lush rolling hills and fields of hay, vegetables, grazing livestock, vineyards and pungent olive groves.

“This looks just like central California,” commented Sgt. David Goldblatt, one of the squadron’s KC-130 loadmasters, who hails from the Golden State.

They passed through the city of Meknes and back into the country again, arriving at the final stop on their tour.

The Marines got out of their mini-buses and entered the site of the ancient Roman city of Volubilis.

These crumbling pillars, walls and columns represent the remains of a bustling city built by the Romans more than 2,100 years ago.

The troops hiked and climbed around the site with the European tourists there, taking photos and reading inscriptions.

“It was pretty amazing that this was the Romans’ western outpost at one time,” said Sgt. Alan McBride, an Active Reserve Marine from Yuma, Ariz., who works in the squadron’s flight operations department. This is McBride’s first overseas deployment in his six years in the Marine Corps.

“I didn’t realize that the Roman Empire stretched this far south,” commented McBride. “This has really been a great trip.”

The troops headed back to Kenitra as the sun set over the horizon.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Maj. Paul Greenberg

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