The Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) is calling on the government to ban the niqab, a traditional dress for Muslim women, citing security reasons, the Xinhua news agency reported today.The BBS, which also includes prominent Buddhist monks among its membership, demanded that the government ban the covering headdress insisting that recent events proved it was a threat to security. The BBS has also held massive rallies around the country to ban cattle slaughter and demand that Buddhism be given prominence in the country. “We believe that most people will not talk about this issue because it is religiously sensitive. However, it is an important issue and we will take this up with top government officials in order to protect the people of this country,”BBS head Galagodaatthe Gnanasara Thero told the media. The reasoning provided by the BBS is that a recent underworld member was arrested in Colombo while he was disguised as a Muslim woman wearing the enveloping garment. The BBS organization is accused of inciting and organizing violence against Muslims in the country and has been criticized by moderate Buddhist organizations and leading Buddhist monks in the country.In February, the Muslim community bowing to intense pressure from the BBS decided to withdraw issuing Halaal certification for local products.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has denounced Israel’s decisions to move forward with new constructions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, urging Israel to halt and reverse such decisions in the interest of peace and a just final status agreement.“The Secretary-General strongly criticizes the decision by Israeli authorities to advance plans to build some 560 housing units in the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim, as well as the advancement of plans to build 240 housing units in a number of settlements in occupied East Jerusalem,” Mr. Ban’s spokesperson said in a statement. “This raises legitimate questions about Israel’s long-term intentions, which are compounded by continuing statements of some Israeli ministers calling for the annexation of the West Bank,” the spokesperson added.The decisions followed the release last week of the report by the so-call Middle East Quartet – the Russian Federation, the United States, the European Union and the UN – that provides recommendations to address impediments to the two-state solution.The report, among other things, urges Israel to stop its settlement policy and Palestine to end incitement to violence.“The Secretary-General is deeply disappointed that this announcement comes only four days after the Middle East Quartet called on Israel to cease its policy of settlement construction and expansion,” Mr. Ban’s spokesperson said.Also today, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) confirmed that the Israeli authorities demolished two homes in Qalandia Refugee Camp in the occupied West Bank in the middle of last night.“Punitive home demolitions are a form of collective punishment which are illegal under international law,” said UNRWA Spokesperson Chris Gunness. “They inflict distress and suffering on those who have not committed the action which led to the demolition and they often endanger people and property in the vicinity.”Palestinians and Israelis have, understandably, reached a point where many on both sides have lost faith in the other’s commitment to a future of two states living side-by-side in peace, security and mutual recognition“UNRWA condemns punitive demolitions and reminds Israel, the occupying power, that under international humanitarian law it has an obligation to protect the occupied people and provide services,” the spokesperson added.In an opinion piece shared with the media yesterday, titled “Two-state solution slipping away! Do not miss the opportunity to reverse the negative trends,” Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, noted that Palestinian frustration after half a century of occupation and dozens of failed peace efforts “cannot be wished away.”It cannot be vanquished by aggressive security measures, continued illegal settlement activities in the occupied West Bank, arrests or punitive home demolitions, he added.“Palestinians and Israelis have, understandably, reached a point where many on both sides have lost faith in the other’s commitment to a future of two states living side-by-side in peace, security and mutual recognition,” he continued.“At the end of the day, the sad reality for peoples on both sides of the conflict is that the things which they hold most dear – statehood [for Palestinians] and security [for Israelis] – are slipping further away.”