Monday, April 30, 2012

Israel ready to swap 63 Egyptian prisoners for its convicted spy

Israel is willing to carry out a prisoner exchange with Egypt, in which 63 Egyptians would be swapped for one Israeli prisoner convicted of spying for Israel, Egypt Independent reported on Sunday.

The deal had previously been delayed due to Egypt’s decision to terminate a long-term gas supply to Israel last week.

Although Egyptian authorities have not yet made a decision on the proposed deal, Israeli political sources in Tel Aviv were quoted by Israel’s state Arabic-language radio station as saying they would go ahead with the deal.

Hunger strike confusion

Earlier this week, some 40 Egyptian inmates in Israeli prisons went on strike after Tel Aviv and Cairo had failed to agree on a prisoner swap, the Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported.

The swap was expected to take place last Wednesday but did not go ahead. Egyptian officials told Ma’an that they were willing to go through with the prisoner exchange and that the termination of a long-term gas supply to Israel had delayed, but not canceled, the deal.

But the Israeli radio station on Sunday reported that only three Egyptian prisoners have gone on hunger strike to demand their release, adding that they are receiving medical treatment in a prison facility in Ramla.

The station added that the Egyptian consul, Sameh Nabil, has requested permission to visit the prisoners.

An Egyptian official had told Ma’an last week that if the swap goes ahead, the prisoners would be released via the Taba crossing under the supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation, was the first to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, a move that prompted the assassination of Egyptian former president Anwar Sadat in 1981.

Egypt military rulers 'vow' cabinet reshuffle

Egypt's ruling military council has promised to reshuffle the cabinet, hours after the Muslim Brotherhood-led parliament suspended sessions to protest the panel's failure to heed repeated calls for the government's dismissal.
Saad el-Katatni, parliament speaker and Muslim brotherhood member, said he received a call from the ruling generals promising to announce a reshuffle within 48 hours.
"It is my responsibility as speaker of the People's Assembly (parliament) to safeguard the chamber's dignity and that of its members"
- Saad el-Katatni, parliamentary speaker
Although the concession fell short of the parliament's demand for a whole new cabinet, the speaker said the call restored parliament's "dignity".
The Muslim Brotherhood-led parliament, which seated three months ago, has been demanding it be allowed to form a cabinet to replace the military-appointed one it accuses of inefficiency.
The ruling generals, who have the power to sack the government, have resisted the calls and hinted at times that they will not allow the Brotherhood to dominate the country.
That resistance has also prompted the suspension of parliament sessions.
El-Katatni, announced the suspension after legislators spoke in a televised session against the cabinet and the ruling generals.
"It is my responsibility as speaker of the People's Assembly (parliament) to safeguard the chamber's dignity and that of its members. There must be a solution to this crisis," el-Katatni told legislators before he adjourned the session until May 6.

Clashes in streets
Anger against the country's military rulers also spilled into the streets where a protester was killed late on Saturday outside the Ministry of Defence.
Protesters clashed for three hours with unidentified assailants supporting the military, throwing rocks, firebombs and glass bottles at each other.

They also reported hearing gunshots.
The clashes took place when the unidentified assailants set upon the protesters. Neither army troops or police attempted to stop the street battle, witnesses said.
Many of those outside the Defence Ministry were supporters of an ultraconservative group angered by his disqualification from running in next month's presidential election.
Security officials said the dead protester was a supporter of Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, who was thrown out of the race because officials ruled his late mother had dual Egyptian-US citizenship in violation of eligibility rules.
Hospital officials said the protester died of a gunshot wound to the head.
Brotherhood verses military
The cabinet is headed by Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri, a holdover from the era of former leader, Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in a popular uprising 14 months ago.
El-Ganzouri, who is in his late 70s, served as prime minister during the 1990s under Mubarak.
The Brotherhood controls just under half the seats in parliament and the row brings into focus the ambiguity of parliament's actual powers at a time when the ruling generals enjoy near absolute executive powers.
The Brotherhood and the military are already at odds over what was widely seen as an attempt by the Brotherhood-led parliament to dominate a 100-member panel that was to draft a new constitution.
A court disbanded the panel and consultations are underway between political parties and the ruling generals over the composition of a new panel.
Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Egypt's military ruler, has hinted in several public comments in recent weeks that the powerful military would not allow the Brotherhood to dominate the country - a response to what is widely seen as the group's hunger for power after 60 years operating illegally and subject to government crackdowns.
The credibility of the Brotherhood was dented when it announced it was fielding a candidate in presidential elections, reversing an earlier decision to stay out of the May 23-24 race.
An expected runoff will be held on June 16-17 and a winner will be announced on June 21.
The military has promised to hand over power by July 1.

Israel starts building wall on Lebanon border

The Israeli army has begun building a wall that will run several kilometres along part of its border with Lebanon, a military spokeswoman has said.
"This construction, which began on Monday, is being carried out in co-ordination with UNIFIL (the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) and the Lebanese army," she said. "The wall is intended to avoid frictions on the border."
Israeli public radio said the wall would be several metres high and was intended to protect the Israeli border town of Metulla from fire coming from the Lebanese side. It is expected to take several weeks to build.
It said the wall would be more than 2km long and 10 metres high.
In an interview with Lebanese daily, Al Akhbar, last month, the Lebanese army said that as the wall would be located beyond the border on the Israeli side, [the army] adopted a position of neither accepting nor rejecting the wall, but deeming it to not be of its concern.
Israel's military announced the project in January, saying it would protect recently-constructed apartment blocks in Metulla from sniper fire coming from the Lebanese border town of Kfar Kila.
Israel and Lebanon are technically at war but military officers from the two sides meet regularly under the auspices of UNIFIL to co-ordinate security along their joint border.
Israel fought a devastating war against Lebanon in 2006, which cost the lives of 1,200 people in Lebanon, mainly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Egypt’s MPs deny existence of sex-after-death law, confirm early marriage draft

Members of the Egyptian parliament responded to the uproar caused by Egyptian and Arab media reports about a new law that would allow a husband to have sex with his dead wife within six hours after her death and denied existence of any such draft.

“This is indecent and nonsense. The whole issue is unacceptable. It is even unacceptable to give any statement to media about this issue,” Islamist MP Mamdouh Ismail told Al Arabiya.

The news about passing the so-called ‘Farewell Intercourse’ law by the country’s Islamist-dominated parliament was first reported by Egyptian state-run al-Ahram newspaper and Egyptian ON TV on Tuesday. It was picked up and analyzed by Al Arabiya English a day later, following which international media picked up the story.
The People’s Assembly Secretary General, Samy Mahran, denied to Al Arabiya the existence of such draft law. “I have never heard of anything in this regard,” he said.

Egyptian MP Hisham Ahmed Hanafi told the London-based Asharq al-Awsat on Saturday that “such reports are completely false and aim mainly to deform the image of the Egyptian parliament.”

Egyptian Islamist MP Ashraf Agour of the Construction and Development Party also denied the reports and said that “the issue has never been discussed in the parliament,” according to Asharq al-Awsat.

However, MP Amin Eskandar of al-Karama Party said that “the general atmosphere in the Egyptian parliament is vulnerable to such kinds of rumors.” He did confirm the presence of a draft law for early marriage that would permit girls to get married at the age of 14 instead of 18.

“These kinds of controversial laws are very dangerous and create a state of fear inside the community,” he said.

Egypt’s al-Ahram had published an opinion piece by columnist Amro Abdul Samea on Tuesday reporting that the National Council for Women (NCW) had appealed to the parliament not to approve the controversial laws of minimum age of marriage and ‘Farewell Intercourse’.

The appeal came in a message sent by NCW chief, Mervat al-Talawi, to the Egyptian People’s Assembly Speaker, Dr. Saad al-Katatni, addressing the woes of Egyptian women.

The message was referring to the two specific laws of legalizing the marriage of girls starting from the age of 14 and permitting a husband to have sex with his dead wife within the six hours following her death.

Despite attempts to contact Abdul Samea, Al Arabiya was not able to get through to him to discuss the contents of the message.

But in his column, Abdul Samea wrote that Talawi’s message included an appeal to parliament to avoid the controversial legislations that rid women of their rights of getting education and employment, under alleged religious interpretations.

A Moroccan cleric, Zamzami Abdul Bari, was the first to address the ‘Farewell Intercourse’ issue in May 2011.

He argued that marriage remains valid even after death adding that a woman also too had the same right to engage in sex with her dead husband.

Meanwhile, the British Daily Mail quoted a source at the Egyptian Embassy in London as saying that Bari’s claims were ‘completely false’ and ‘forbidden in Islam’.

The source was quoted as saying that the proposal, if it even existed, had not reached parliament -- although he admitted the spreading of news of such a draft could be the work of an extremist politician.

Analysts have said the news was a hoax planted by supporters of Hosni Mubarak to defame Egyptian Islamists.
Egyptian prominent journalist and TV anc
hor Jaber al-Qarmouty on Tuesday referred to al-Ahram’s article in his daily show on Egyptian ON TV and criticized the whole notion of “permitting a husband to have sex with his wife after her death under a so-called ‘Farewell Intercourse’ draft law.”

Qarmouty seemed shocked and posed several questions on the issue: “This is very serious. Could the panel that will draft the Egyptian constitution possibly discuss such issues? Did Abdul Samea see by his own eyes the text of the message sent by Talawi to Katatni? This is unbelievable. It is a catastrophe to give the husband such a right! Has the Islamic trend reached that far? Is there really a draft law in this regard? Are there people thinking in this manner?”

Many members of the newly-elected, and majority Islamist parliament, have been accused of launching attacks against women’s rights in the country, especially after the popular uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

They wish to cancel many of the laws that promote women’s rights, arguing that these laws were “aiming to destroy families” and were passed only to please the former first lady of the fallen regime, Suzanne Mubarak, who devoted much of her attention to the issues of granting the women all her rights.

The parliamentary attacks on women’s rights has drawn great criticism from women’s organizations, who dismissed the calls and accused the MPs of wishing to destroy the little gains Egyptian women attained after long years of organized struggle.

Suicide blasts kill 9 in Syrian city of Idlib

Two suicide bombers blew up cars rigged with explosives near a military compound and a hotel in a city in northwestern Syria on Monday, killing at least nine people and wounding nearly 100, state media said.
The blasts, which also tore two large craters in the ground, were the latest setback for troubled United Nations efforts to end Syria's 13-month-old crisis. A team of U.N. observers is already on the ground to salvage a cease-fire that went into effect April 12 but has been widely ignored by both sides. U.N. officials have singled out the regime as the main aggressor in violations of the truce.
Monday's powerful bombs went off in the city of Idlib, an opposition stronghold that government troops recaptured in a military offensive earlier this year.
The state-run news agency SANA said security forces and civilians were among those killed, while state TV said that many of the nearly 100 wounded were civilians. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist network, put the death toll at more than 20 people.
Syria's pro-government al-Ekhbariya TV aired footage of the aftermath from the blasts, showing torn flesh, smashed cars, twisted debris and blood stains on the pavement. The force of the explosions tore the facade off one multistory building, shattered windows in the area and sent debris flying for hundreds of meters (yards). Pro-government websites said five buildings damaged.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks. State media blamed "armed terrorists," a term it uses for rebels trying to topple the government. Activists claimed the regime was behind the bombings to discredit the opposition.
The bombers detonated their explosives near a military compound and near the city's Carlton Hotel, SANA said.
A local activist, who only gave his first name, Ibrahim, for fear of repercussions, said the two sites are several hundred meters apart and that the explosions went off within five minutes of each other after daybreak Monday.
Two members of the U.N. observer team toured the site of the bombings, SANA said. Ibrahim said the observers have been staying at the Carlton, and a pro-government website reported that the hotel sustained some damage.
Earlier Monday, gunmen fired rocket-propelled grenades at the central bank and a police patrol in the capital of Damascus, wounding four officers and causing light damage to the bank, SANA said.
Monday's bombings were the latest in a series of suicide bombings to hit Syria.
An al-Qaida-inspired Islamist group called the Al-Nusra Front to Protect the Levant claimed responsibility Monday for a suicide bombing in downtown Damascus that killed at least 10 people on Friday. The Associated Press could not verify the authenticity of Al-Nusra's statement which was posted on a militant website.
On Sunday, the head of the U.N. observer team, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, appealed to both sides to halt the fighting. "We want to have combined efforts focusing on the welfare of the Syrian people, true cessation of violence in all its forms," he said after his arrival in the Syrian capital. Sixteen monitors are on the ground, but the team is to expand to 300.

Al-Qaida offers to trade UK hostage for cleric

Al-Qaida's North African affiliate Monday offered to free a British hostage if London allows a radical cleric described as a leading figure in the terror group in Europe to leave Britain for another country.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in a statement posted Monday on a militant website said it would release Stephen Malcolm if the cleric Abu Qatada were let go. It warned that the British government would be responsible for the consequences if it follows through on a plan to deport him to Jordan, where he faces trial on terrorism charges.
Authorities in Britain have been trying to expel the Palestinian-Jordanian preacher since 2001, but the European Court of Human Rights ruled he could not be deported to Jordan because of a risk that evidence obtained through torture would be used against him there.
Earlier this month, British authorities detained the cleric once again, and at the time said they were close to deporting him to Jordan.
Abu Qatada, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, has been described in both Spanish and British courts as a leading al-Qaida figure in Europe and a threat to national security. He was first detained in Britain in 2002.
"We offer the British government an initiative to release its citizen Stephen Malcolm .... who is our prisoner, if it allows Sheik Abu Qatada to leave to one of the Arab Spring countries or any other country of his choice where he guarantees his freedom and, rights and dignity," it said.
Elections held in the aftermath of the pro-democracy uprisings that have swept the Middle East in the past year have resulted in Islamist-dominated parliaments in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.
Malcolm was kidnapped along with a Swedish and a Dutch national from a restaurant in Timbuktu, Mali in November. He also holds South African citizenship.
The terror group expressed hope that the British government would deal with the offer with "objectivity, reason and wisdom" but threatened that Britain would be responsible for the consequences if he is handed over to the Jordanian government.
Britain has not commented on the proposal. A British official speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his job said, "We don't engage with terrorists in these matters."
Al-Qaida denied Abu Qatada has any ties to it, but said it was defending him because of allegiances to a "Muslim brother" should come ahead of other ideological concerns.
The group argued that Abu Qatada's case proves that Britain does not protect human rights or justice.
"How come the Sheik was jailed for years merely for exercising his right to express his opinion and beliefs, in words and writing," it said.
The cleric spent six years in jail in Britain, although he has never been charged with any crime. Earlier this month, he was detained again, and British authorities said at the time that they were close to deporting him. Jordan has said it will guarantee Abu Qatada a fair trial and that no evidence obtained through torture could be used in any trial.
The al-Qaida statement alluded to the possibility of torture in Jordan, saying the country has a record "full of unprecedented crimes against Muslim prisoners."
AQIM grew out of armed Islamic groups fighting the Algerian government in the 1990s and eventually expanded its operations. In 2006, the group announced it had joined al-Qaida. They are known to make money by smuggling and kidnapping. Some 50 Europeans and Canadians have been kidnapped and ransomed by the group.

Egypt's ex-jihadists back moderate for presidency

CAIRO (AP) -- A former jihadist group said Monday it will back a moderate Islamist candidate in Egypt's presidential elections next month, dealing a blow to the powerful Muslim Brotherhood.
The announcement from Gamaa Islamiya provides a boost to Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh's chances in the May 23-24 vote. He received a similar endorsement from an influential ultraconservative Salafi group last week.
Senior Gamaa official Assem Abdel-Maged said an internal poll showed that a majority in the group supported Abolfotoh.
"We felt that it is too much for the Muslim Brotherhood to have it all: parliament with its two chambers, the presidency and the Cabinet." he said. "This is harmful to the whole Islamist movement."
The Gamaa's support would likely improve Abolfotoh's showing in the group's strongholds in provinces south of Cairo. It also leaves the Brotherhood, Egypt's largest political group, more isolated as it moves closer to a confrontation with the country's ruling generals.
The Brotherhood won just under half the seats in parliament in recent elections. The more hardline movement of Salafis, who advocate a strict implementation of Islamic Shariah law, won nearly a quarter of parliament seats.
Saad Emara, a lawmaker and a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, expressed worries over splitting the Islamist vote but said that "political calculations" of the Salafis might have prompted them to support a rival "to limit the powers of the Muslim Brotherhood."
The Gamaa was involved in the 1981 assassination Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. The group fought the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak in a bloody insurgency in the 1980s and 1990s, seeking to establish an Islamic state in Egypt before renouncing armed struggle and moving into mainstream politics.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Egypt Salafis back Abol Fotouh for president

Egypt's Islamic party al-Nour has decided to support an ex-Muslim Brotherhood member in next month's presidential election, the party has announced.

The leader of the Nour party, Emad Abdel-Ghafour, said on Saturday that the decision to back Abdel-Moneim Abol Fotouh was designed to allay fears among Egyptians over the growing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, after it swept recent parliamentary and constituent assembly elections.

The decision by al-Nour, which has around 20 per cent of the seats in parliament, could cause problems for official Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi, who risks losing a large section of the Islamist vote to Abol Fotouh.

The second largest party in parliament, bettered only by the Brotherhood in legislative elections early this year, al-Nour is now a formidable force in Egypt's politics.

The May 23 and 24 presidential election will decide who replaces Hosni Mubarak. Other front-runners include the Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi, former Arab League chief Amr Moussa and Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister.

Abol Fotouh, known as a reformer within the Muslim Brotherhood, broke ties with the group last year when he decided to run for president, going against the group's initial decision not to run for the post.
But in a policy U-turn last month, the Brotherhood decided to contest the election. Mursi, the group's candidate, is seen as part of a more conservative wing in the Brotherhood and has been widely criticised for lacking charisma.
Finding support among the Liberal and Islamist camps, Abol Fotouh said last week he was confident he would win in the first round.

ElBaradei launches Constitution Party alongside revolutionary activists and figures

Hundreds gathered at the Journalists' Syndicate on Saturday to meet former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed ElBaradei and attend the official launch of his new party, the Constitution.
Greeted by thunderous applause and lively chants, ElBaradei entered the conference hall, which was drapped in banners bearing his image and the party's name, squeezed between three of the conference organisers, doubling as bodyguards.
Eager to take part in the launching of the already popular party, hundreds shoved and fought to enter, but many were left outside as security quickly locked the syndicate's gates to prevent people from flooding in and stampeding.
Inside, the hall was fully packed with crowds occupying every possible inch, including the stairs.
Several chants referred to ElBaradei as "The captain of the ship."
On stage, ElBaradei sat with several founding members, including prominent legal expert Hossam Eissa, author Alaa El-Aswani, activist Ahmed Harara, talkshow host and activist Gamila Ismail, civil society consultant Hala Shukrallah and ambassador Sayed El-Masry. The figures all represented the camp that, in the March referendum, had pushed for the constitution to first be established before presidential elections. They lost that battle, however, and the country went on a different course than they wished.
A new roadmap was what most of the speakers stressed as the main aim of the new party; one that would guarantee a representative constitution.
Criticizing the current period as "lawless," ElBaradei explained that had the transition period been properly managed, there would have been no need for this party.
The current management of the transition period has left Egypt with a parliament whose legitimacy is in doubt, a frozen constituent assembly and a president that will take his seat with no stated authorities. That's precisely what created the need for this new party, stated ElBaradei.
"The constitution is for all Egyptians, left and right" chanted the audience. "Down with military rule" and "Egypt is a civil state, not a religious state or a military state," they further chanted.
In a highly emotionally-charged atmosphere ElBaradei quickly shifted the talk in order to honour several revolutionary figures.
"We stand to honour the hero, Ahmed Harara, who is here with us today," said El-Baradei as everyone stood to applaud the revolutionary symbol that lost his first eye during the 18-day uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak and his second eye during clashes with police in November.
ElBaradei further honoured the face of the January 25 Revolution and one of its triggers, Khaled Said, the 28-year-old who was killed by police in Alexandria in 2010. Said's mother, who was standing in the centre of the hall, was quickly surrounded by many youth in another show of respect.
"Muslims and Christians one hand" shouted the crowds when ElBaradei mentioned Mina Daniel, who was killed by military tanks in November during a pro-Coptic Christian rights protest.
In his speech, Harara explained: "I decided to become a member of this party hoping to create networks between us and between all the civil society initiatives to achieve the civil, democratic state we aim for."
"The aim of this party is to rebuild the structure that would allow for a better democratic transition, in contrast to the current lawlessness, mistrust, illegitimacy and doubt between the different factions," further stated ElBaradei.
According to prominent lawyer, Eissa, the group believes the constitution should have come first to guarantee the desired democratic transition.
When asked about the presidential elections, Eissa stated the party will not back a candidate, but will leave it up to its members to decide.
In January, ElBaradei withdrew from the presidential race, arguing that there can be no fair elections without democratic structures. In his withdrawal statement, he also condemned the order chosen for Egypt’s transition period (the presidential elections first and then the constitution) and the oppressive methods that were in use, including trying civilians in military courts.
Famous leftist poet, Ahmed Fouad Negm, finally took the stage to recite one of his known revolutionary works. Although he wrote it in the seventies, it was repeatedly sung by many of the youth who participated in the January 25 Revolution. Referring to Negm as a leftist symbol, Eissa further stressed that this party aimed to represent all, right and left, to create a front for Egypt's revolutionary movement.
Although the party has yet to reveal or even formulate any of its missions, it claims it offers a platform for all the different factions of Egyptians. While the speakers did say the party aimed for a better roadmap and a "proper" democratic transition, they did not specify how they would do that.
In her speech, Gamila Ismail, further stressed "this is not ElBaradei's party; this is the party of all Egyptians." 
"Hold your head up high; you are Egyptian" chanted the audience as the speakers prepared to exit the hall.

Saudi closes embassy in Egypt over protests

Saudi Arabia has decided to recall its ambassador to Cairo and close its diplomatic missions in Egypt after protests
outside its embassy over an arrested Egyptian lawyer, state news agency SPA reported.
An official spokesman, quoted by SPA, said on Saturday that the measures were decided in response to demonstrations outside its missions in Egypt and threats following the announcement of the arrest of the Egyptian lawyer in Saudi Arabia.

The protests were "unjustified", the spokesman said, adding that Saudi and Egyptian employees of its diplomatic missions had been threatened.

"Hostile slogans were shouted out and the immunity of the diplomatic representations was violated, contrary to all international regulations," the spokesman said.

Hundreds of Egyptians have rallied outside the Saudi embassy this week to demand the release of Ahmed el-Gezawi, who was detained in Saudi Arabia for allegedly insulting the kingdom's monarch.

Saudi authorities say the lawyer was arrested trying to smuggle anti-anxiety drugs into the kingdom.

Sharp escalation

Saturday's announcement Saturday is a sharp escalation in the case.

The spokesperson said the violence had led to the suspension of diplomatic and consular services for Egyptian workers and Muslim pilgrims headed for Islam's holiest sites, located in western Saudi Arabia.
On Tuesday, hundreds of Egyptians protested outside the embassy demanding the release of an Egyptian human rights activist held by Saudi authorities who claim he possessed banned drugs.
The protesters chanted slogans against the Saudi regime as they called for the "immediate" release of Ahmed Mohammed al-Gizawi, who was arrested on arrival at Jeddah airport on April 17.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, an Egyptian organisation, said Gizawi was detained following a sentence of one year in prison and 20 lashes delivered against him in absentia for criticism of the Saudi government.

Gizawi, whose supporters said he travelled to the Gulf state on pilgrimage, was being targeted for his activism in favour of Egyptian detainees in Saudi prisons, it said.

91 injured after attack on protesters at defence ministry

Abbasyia clashes ap
The head of therapeutic medicine department at the ministry of health Hesham Shiha stated on Sunday that the clashes near the Defence Ministry which started late Saturday night and lasted into the early hours of Sunday has left 91 injured but no deaths.
According to Shiha, the injured were treated at the Demerdash, Hussein, Dar El-Shefa and El-Nozha hospitals. Of the injured, 77 were quickly treated from wounds and left the hospitals shortly after.
However, Mohamed Fatouh, the head of the Association of Tahrir Doctors, which has treated the injured near the site of the clashes, told Ahram Online that his group could confirm that four were killed and at least 70 injured.
AP had reported earlier that one protester was killed during the clashes.
Shortly before midnight on Saturday, unknown assailants had attacked tens of protesters who had been staging a sit-in since late Friday night near the Ministry of Defence headquarters near Abbasiya Square.
The protesters who included many supporters of the recently barred presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail as well as other activists were voicing their opposition to the decision by the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission to disqualify the Salafist preacher from the race for Egypt president which is set for May, and some demanded the military council hand power to a civilian administration.
The attackers used molotov cocktail bombs and cement bricks in their assault on protesters, and gunfire was also heard according to eyewitneses.
Protesters and supporters set up a field hospital to treat tens of injured comrades, and eyewitnesses say many of those treated, or were being transported to a nearby hospital, suffered from wounds caused by gun shots and rocks.
Activists posted pictures on the Facebook social media network showing a number of protesters who were allegedly shot by pellet bullets in the confrontations. They also posted pictures which show Abu-Ismail supporters allegedly arresting a person they described as one of the "thugs" who attacked the sit-in.
Eyewitnesses suggested that hundreds of new protesters later joined the ones under attack in the vicinity of Abbasiya, and the numbers of those resisted the assault reached 2000 in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Presidential hopeful Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh condemned on his official twitter account on Sunday the state's reluctance to protect protesters that were attacked by unknown assailants near the Ministry of Defence late Saturday evening.
"The protection of peaceful demonstrators is a state responsibility…remaining silent regarding the violent dispersion of a sit-in is a crime."

Saudi Arabia: Bin Laden wives not tied to terror

 Saudi Arabia says there is no evidence that Osama bin Laden's wives and family members deported to the kingdom are involved in terrorism.
Sunday's statement indicated Saudi Arabia would agree to host the entire 14-member group, including three wives and children of the late al-Qaida leader. They were deported Friday from Pakistan.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency cites an official source saying there is no evidence of the family's involvement in any "criminal or illegal acts."
One of the widows is Yemeni and the other two are Saudi citizens.
Bin Laden was killed a year ago in a U.S. raid on his compound in Pakistan. Saudi Arabia revoked bin Laden's citizenship in 1994.

Sudan: Arrested foreigners have military history

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) -- Sudan's army spokesman says that three foreigners and a South Sudanese national arrested by authorities in a disputed area on the Sudanese-South Sudanese border had military hardware and an armored vehicle in their possession.
Col. Sawarmi Khalid Saad also said on state television late Saturday that the four - a Briton, Norwegian, South African and South Sudanese - had military backgrounds. The four were arrested in the oil-rich region of Heglig, captured by South Sudanese troops earlier this month. Sudan later said it took the region back.
Saad said the four were carrying out military activities in Heglig, but did not elaborate. Their arrest, he added, supported claims by the Khartoum government that South Sudan used "foreigners" when it captured Heglig.

UN Syria observers visit Homs neighborhood

BEIRUT (AP) -- U.N. observers struggling to shore up a shaky cease-fire in Syria visited an embattled neighborhood in the central city of Homs Sunday, the Syrian state news agency said.SANA said the observers toured the Khaldiyeh district, which has seen heavy government shelling and clashes between Syrian forces and rebels.
The team in Homs is part of an advance team of 15 U.N. monitors in Syria who are trying to salvage a peace plan brokered by special envoy Kofi Annan that aims to end the country's 13-month-old crisis. Under the plan, a cease-fire is supposed to lead to talks between President Bashar Assad and the opposition on a political solution to the conflict that has killed more than 9,000 people.
But the plan has been deeply troubled since the truce began on April 12. The regime has kept up its attacks on opposition strongholds, while rebel fighters continue to ambush security forces. Defying a major truce provision, the Syrian military has failed to withdraw tanks and soldiers from the streets.
Most analysts say the plan has little chance of succeeding, though it could temporarily bring down the level of daily violence.
This has largely been the case in Homs, Syria's third largest city, which has emerged as the heart of the uprising. Regime forced pounded parts of Homs for months before two U.N. monitors moved into an upscale hotel there last week.
Since then, the level of violence has dropped, although gunbattles still frequently break out. An amateur video posted online Saturday showed the observers walking through a heavily damaged neighborhood, where residents collected a body laying in the street and put it in the back of a pickup truck.
No details were immediately available about the U.N. observers' visit Sunday.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has blamed the regime for widespread cease-fire violations - prompting Syria to fire back that his comments were "outrageous" and accusing him of bias.
The spat has further stoked concerns among the Syrian opposition and its Western supporters that Assad is merely playing for time to avoid compliance with a plan that - if fully implemented - would likely sweep him out of office.
Under the peace plan, the U.N. is to deploy as many as 300 truce monitors. One hundred should be in the country by mid-May, and the head of the observer team, Norwegian Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, is to arrive in Damascus on Sunday to assume command, according to the mission's spokesman, Neeraj Singh.
Ban and Annan have cited violations by both sides, but generally portrayed the regime as the main aggressor.
An editorial Saturday in the state-run Tishrin newspaper said Ban has avoided discussing rebel violence in favor of "outrageous" statements against the Syrian government. The editorial said the international community has applied a double standard, ignoring "crimes and terrorist acts" against Syria and thus encouraging more violence, according to excerpts carried by the state-run news agency SANA.
Mass protests against Assad erupted in March 2011, but gradually turned into an insurgency in response to a violent regime crackdown. Assad's regime denies it faces a popular uprising, claiming it is being targeted by a foreign-led terrorist conspiracy.

Al-Qaida in Yemen says it frees captured soldiers

SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Al-Qaida in Yemen said it released on Sunday 73 soldiers captured by its fighters during battles with government forces in the south of the country.
The terror network said in an emailed statement that the release of the soldiers followed mediation efforts by tribal elders and senior clerics. Relatives of some freed prisoners confirmed the release.
The release was likely to bolster the standing of the terror network in Yemen, where its fighters took advantage of more than a year of political turmoil to capture areas in the nearly lawless south. The negotiations went through both tribal and religious channels, suggesting that the al-Qaida network in the south has in some ways been integrated in the area's social fabric.
The soldiers were freed in the city of Jaar in the southern province of Abyan in a ceremony attended by top leaders of the terror network in Yemen, including military leader Qasim al-Rimi. The mediation lasted three days and involved asking Yemen's military to halt attacks on the city, including airstrikes, while the talks were in progress. The soldiers left in trucks and private cars for the nearby port city of Aden.
Jaar has been held by al-Qaida for a year. The province's capital Zinjibar is also under al-Qaida control but government troops fought their way into its center last week.
The released soldiers pledged in writing not to resume fighting al-Qaida militants, the group said.
In a separate development, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh has resigned from his post as head of his one-time ruling Congress Party, paving the way for his successor, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, to take over when the party holds its annual meeting later this year. Abdul-Karim al-Aryani, the party's vice president, will lead the party until then.
Saleh was forced to step down in the face of a yearlong uprising against his authoritarian rule. He handed over power to Hadi in February as part of a U.S.-backed peace deal offered by neighboring Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies.

Anti-military rule protester killed in Egypt

CAIRO (AP) -- Assailants attacked demonstrators gathered outside the Defense Ministry in Egypt's capital to call for an end to military rule with rocks and firebombs, killing one protester and wounding 30, security officials said on Sunday.
They said the clashes broke out late Saturday when the unidentified assailants set upon the protesters, also hurling fireworks and empty glass bottles. Neither army troops or police attempted to stop the three-hour street battle, witnesses said. They also reported hearing gunshots.
The officials said the dead protester was a supporter of ultraconservative politician Hazem Salah Abu Ismail. Many of those outside the ministry were Abu Ismail supporters angered by his disqualification from running in next month's presidential election. He was thrown out of the race because officials ruled his late mother had dual Egyptian-U.S. citizenship in violation of eligibility rules.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Demonstrations in Egypt have frequently been attacked by unidentified assailants, particularly protests which are near or outside the Defense Ministry.
Rights and pro-democracy activists have blamed the attacks on undercover police, petty criminals on the police payroll, plainclothes army soldiers or supporters of the ousted regime of authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak for the attacks.
Mubarak-era generals took over the reins of power when their patron stepped down 14 months ago in the face of a popular uprising. Opposition to their rule has built up over the last year after they were blamed for killing protesters, jailing critics of their rule and putting at least 10,000 civilians on trial before military tribunals. They have also launched a systematic campaign to undermine the youth groups credited with Mubarak's stunning ouster, using the state media to portray them as irresponsible and linked to foreign powers.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lebanese army stops ship carrying arms to Syria: official

The Lebanese army intercepted three containers of weapons on board of a ship intercepted in the Mediterranean which may have been trying to supply Syrian rebels, security sources said on Saturday.

An overnight search uncovered weapons including rocket-propelled grenades and rifles in three freight containers, the sources said.

The Sierra Leone-flagged Lutfallah II had been given permission to dock in the port of Tripoli, an security official said.

It had made a short stopover in the Egyptian port of Alexandria en route from Libya, the official added.

It was stopped and searched in the port of Selaata, 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Beirut, and its captain and crew were handed over to military intelligence officers in Tripoli for further questioning.

Syrian authorities have repeatedly claimed weapons are being smuggled from neighboring countries, including Lebanon, to arm rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad.

Popular uprising asking to end the Assad regime in Syria started in March, 2011.

The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have died since the revolt erupted, while non-government groups put the figure at more than 11,100.

S. Sudan repels attack by Sudan-backed rebels: Spokesman

The South Sudanese army said Saturday that it repelled an attack by rebels backed by neighboring Sudan outside Malakal, capital of the fledgling country’s Upper Nile State.

“It was Sudan-supported militias that attacked SPLA (South Sudan army) positions” around Malakal on Friday, Colonel Philip Aguer told AFP, adding that the South Sudanese army repelled the attack, with an unknown number of casualties.

But the rebels claimed to have surrounded Malakal, saying in a statement: “The magnanimous forces of South Sudan Democratic Army (SSDA) launched Operation Ending Corruption and surrounded Malakal ... and captured its surroundings.”

Aguer said South Sudan’s forces had captured three rebel fighters and one vehicle.

“The SPLA is still chasing them and is observing another group this morning that has entered our territory,” he said, adding that the rebels who attacked Friday were under the command of warlord Johnson Olony and came from Sudan’s White Nile State.
“This is part of the war that Sudan has designed. Sudan is promising that if they capture the oil fields it will share them with the (rebel) forces,” Aguer said.

“They are coming from Khartoum. Since they (Sudan) cannot bomb us, they are arming and sending militias and mercenaries now”, South Sudan government spokesman Barnaba Marial Benjamin added.

On Wednesday, the African Union (AU) ordered Sudan to stop bombing South Sudan, after weeks of fighting on the borders of the new nation’s second oil-producing state, Unity.

The international community has also told both sides to stop funding militias within one another’s territory.

The African Union has given the two neighbors two weeks to return to negotiations, and three months to find a deal on outstanding issues on oil, borders and contested territory following South Sudan’s split from the north in July.

After that, the 54-state body has threatened to decide for its newest member and Sudan, while the U.N. Security Council is mulling sanctions against both cash-strapped nations fighting over oil, to avert a slide back to decades of war.

Government spokesman Benjamin said Khartoum’s forces and allied militias had also been threatening in South Sudan’s Western-Bahr-el-Ghazal state, while Auguer claimed the Lord’s Resistance Army had become involved with Sudan’s support.

The LRA led by warlord Joseph Kony has terrorized parts of Central African Republic, South Sudan, northern Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo for years.

“They have been attacking villages in Raja County, Western-Bahr-el-Ghazal- stopping people from farming and abducting women and children”, Auguer said.

Seven militants killed in Yemen clashes

At least seven militants linked to al Qaeda were killed in clashes in Yemen’s restive south, a regional tribal spokesman said on Saturday, as the impoverished Arab state fights to tame a stubborn insurgency.

Yemen has launched an offensive against Islamist insurgents in the territory who took advantage of the chaos surrounding more than a year of mass protests and fighting that unseated Ali Abdullah Saleh from the presidency.

Ali Aidah, spokesman for an army-allied tribal force, said five militants from Ansar al-Sharia, an al Qaeda-affiliated group, were killed in an ambush by tribesmen in the al-Arkoub area near the southern city of Lawder on Friday night.

Two more militants were killed in an attack by tribesmen in another area outside of Lawder, he said.
Separately, a security official in the southern province of Lahej said a Yemeni intelligence officer, Colonel Yasser Abdul-Qawi, was shot dead by unknown gunmen on Saturday morning while he was walking near the main city hospital.

More than 250 people have been killed since government forces stepped up attacks on the militants whom it accused of assaulting a military camp near Lawdar earlier this month.

Islamist insurgents have already taken control of a number of cities in the southern territory, which is close to key shipping lanes in the Red Sea.

Yemen’s new president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who took office vowing to fight al Qaeda, is also facing challenges from Shi’ite Muslim rebels in the north and secessionists in the south of the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state.

Saudi Arabia recalls ambassador from Egypt, closes embassy in Cairo

Egyptians protest in front of the Saudi Embassy in Cairo Tuesday, calling for the release of Egyptians detained in the kingdom, including lawyer Ahmad al-Gazawi who was arrested on April 17. (AFP)

Saudi Arabia recalls its ambassador from Egypt for consultation and temporarily closed its embassy and consulate in Cairo, Al Arabiya television reported. 

The move by Saudi Arabia followed protests in Egypt against the Kingdom’s detention of an Egyptian human rights lawyer, Ahmad Al Gazawi, arrested on April 17 for allegedly smuggling drugs into the kingdom.

Egyptian media reports, however, said Gazawi was arrested for his stances against Saudi Arabia’s ruling family.

A Saudi embassy statement has said Gazawi has not been convicted or sentenced in any case. Instead they said he was being questioned by authorities after airport officials in Jeddah found more than 20,000 anti-anxiety pills hidden inside his luggage. It also said he was not wearing pilgrims' clothes, which they said indicated he was not making a religious pilgrimage as his family maintains.

The Egyptian demonstrators called for the expulsion of the Saudi ambassador in Cairo.

Anti-Saudi sentiment has flared in recent years following reports of Egyptian nationals being mistreated in the kingdom or experiencing a miscarriage of justice in a Saudi court.

Gazawi flew to Jeddah on his way to perform a minor pilgrimage, called umrah, to Islam’s holy shrines in the Saudi cities of Makkah and Madinah, said Shereen Al Gazawi.

The fact that he was arrested on his way to perform a religious rite further enflamed Egyptian sentiment.

Al-Qaeda ‘essentially gone’ but affiliates remain a threat: U.S. officials

Somali government troops and African Union soldiers take position during fighting in the district of Daynile, south of capital Mogadishu. Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked militants clashed on Friday with African Union and Somali government troops. (Reuters)
A year after the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks is essentially gone but its affiliates remain a threat to America, U.S. counterterrorist officials say.

Core Qaeda’s new leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, still aspires to attack the U.S., but his Pakistan-based group is scrambling to survive, under fire from CIA drone strikes and laying low for fear of another U.S. raid. That has lessened the threat of another complex attack like a nuclear dirty bomb or a biological weapon, the officials say.

However, Qaeda’s loyal offshoots are still dangerous, especially Yemen’s Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. While not yet able to carry out complex attacks inside the U.S., such groups are capable of hitting Western targets overseas and are building armies and expertise while plotting violence, according to senior U.S. counterterrorist officials who briefed reporters Friday.
“Each will seek opportunities to strike Western interests in its operating area, but each group will have different intent and ability to execute those plans,” said Robert Cardillo, a deputy director at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The other officials were authorized to speak only on condition of anonymity.

The shift from a single, deadly group to a more amorphous threat may not seem much of an improvement. But the U.S. believes that the bin Laden raid and continued U.S. counterterrorist action have reduced the chance of a sophisticated, multipronged attack on the U.S. like the attacks of Sept. 11 or the deadly bombings in Madrid in 2004 and in London in 2005.

An attack with weapons of mass destruction - chemical, biological or nuclear - by any Qaeda-related terror group also seems less likely in the coming year, Cardillo said.

Qaeda’s Zawahri has not managed to harness multiple groups into a cohesive force focused on a single, catastrophic attack, officials said.

Qaeda’s key affiliates in Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and North Africa have pledged allegiance to Zawahri but, unimpressed with his leadership, “have not offered the deference they gave bin Laden,” Cardillo said. Zawahri has a reputation as an abrasive manager and a less than charismatic speaker.

That loss of a single, charismatic voice likely means “multiple voices will provide inspiration for the movement,” leading to a bout of soul-searching as to what the splinter groups want to target and why, he added.

“There will be a vigorous debate about local versus global jihad within and among terror organizations,” he said.

‘Lone wolves’

While the danger of an elaborate, large-scale attack had diminished, the threat of so-called "lone wolves" inspired but not directed by Qaeda still present a challenge to counterterrorism efforts, officials said.

Attacks such as the shooting spree last month in France by militant gunman Mohamed Merah and a 2009 homegrown assault at Fort Hood in Texas are difficult to disrupt.

“People like Merah who act on their own, who equip themselves with weapons, who decide to act essentially on their own timing and at their own targets, are truly the most difficult targets we face,” a counterterrorism official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

Sidelined by Arab Spring

Qaeda has also found itself largely sidelined and wrong-footed by the popular uprisings of the Arab spring, with Bin Laden and his “theology” losing popular standing in Arab states, officials said.

However, the upheaval and toppling of regimes has left a vacuum where security services had once aggressively pursued militants.

“The replacement security organs are pretty immature,” the counterterrorism official said.

“That can be a relatively dangerous combination of more extremists on the street and fewer security officials to actually to watch them.”

In Syria, Qaeda hopes to exploit continuing violence to gain a foothold, the official said, adding that Qaeda is “interested in not only affecting the result but in contributing to the fighting.”

The official suggested that Qaeda leaders were seeking to avoid the mass killing of civilians that marked the network’s attacks in Iraq.

Apart from the affiliate in Yemen, other Qaeda offshoots in Iraq, Somalia and Africa’s Sahel region are more focused on local adversaries and shoring up their position, the official said.

The network’s branch in the arid Sahel region of Africa, known as Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, is seeking to take advantage of unrest in Mali after a March coup, fighting in alliance with Tuareg separatist rebels.

In Somalia, Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents have lost “a great deal of their momentum and their popularity,” partly because of military defeats and their refusal to allow outside food aid into territory under their control, the official said.

The officials also noted that every time U.S. counterterrorist forces strike, they must take care to avoid everything from civilian casualties to hitting the wrong target, lest the blowback produce more enemies.

No silver bullet to destroy Qaeda: Panetta

In a related story, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Friday there is “no silver bullet” to completely destroy Qaeda but argued that killing Osama bin Laden helped set the network back.

Panetta spoke to reporters aboard a military plane on his way from Latin America, where he visited Colombia, Brazil and Chile to bolster bilateral military cooperation and regional security ties.

“Having been involved in the operations, even before we did bin Laden, it’s clear that there is no kind of silver bullet here to suddenly being able to destroy Qaeda, and that includes even going after bin Laden,” he said.

“But the way this works is that the more successful we are at taking down those who represent their spiritual and ideological leadership, the greater our ability to weaken their threat to this country and to other countries.”

Syria accuses UN chief of encouraging 'terrorists'

BEIRUT (AP) -- A Syrian state-run newspaper accused U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday of encouraging "terrorist" rebel attacks by focusing his criticism on the government, while other government media reported that the navy foiled an infiltration attempt by gunmen who tried to land on the Syrian coast in rubber boats.
The editorial in Tishrin daily came a day after Ban said Syrian President Bashar Assad's continued crackdown on protests has reached an "intolerable stage." It also followed what the state media said was a suicide attack in Damascus that left 10 dead.
Ban said the U.N. will try to speed up the deployment of up to 300 monitors to Syria. Only 15 are there now.
The Syrian comments were the harshest against the United Nations since a cease-fire brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan was supposed to take effect on April 12 but quickly unraveled. Annan's plan aims to end the country's 13-month crisis by giving space for talks between the two sides, but the U.N. has said the regime has broken many of its truce promises, such as withdrawing forces from towns and cities and continuing to shell opposition strongholds. Rebel fighters have also kept up attacks on Syrian security forces.
The U.N. says more than 9,000 people have been killed since
On Saturday, activists said army defectors clashed briefly with troops in the coastal town of Burj Islam, which is home to the presidential summer palace. They had no immediate word on casualties. Assad was not believed to be in the palace at the time of the fighting.
Tishrin said Ban has avoided discussing rebel violence in favor of "outrageous" statements against the Syrian government. "The continued disregard of the international community and its cover for armed groups' crimes and terrorist acts ... is considered as direct participation in facilitating and carrying out the terrorism to which Syria is subjected," the editorial said. "Such a stance seemingly encourages those groups to go on committing more crimes and terrorist acts."
The Syrian capital was hit by four explosions Friday that left at least 11 people dead and dozens wounded. Assad's government blamed the blasts on "terrorists," the term the government uses to describe opposition forces it says are carrying out a foreign conspiracy.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists around the country, said the clash in Burj Islam lasted about half an hour and the defectors withdrew shortly afterward. Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Observatory, said the clash was close to the presidential palace.
Syria-based activist Mustafa Osso said about 30 soldiers defected and clashed with troops in Burj Islam adding that "intense shooting" lasted about 15 minutes. Osso said it was difficult to get more details because the area is tightly controlled.
The state-run news agency also said military units stationed off the Mediterranean foiled an attempt by "armed groups" to enter the country from the sea earlier Saturday - the first reported rebel infiltration from the sea. SANA said the navy forced the boats to flee, but some Syrian service members were killed or wounded.
Syrian authorities have said in the past that they clashed with rebels trying to cross from neighboring Lebanon or Turkey.
In Lebanon, military prosecutor Saqr Saqr said the army confiscated weapons that were found aboard a ship intercepted off the Lebanese coast. Saqr said an investigation was under way, adding that the 11 crew members were being questioned by Lebanese military police.
The Lebanese army said in a statement that the ship, "Lutfallah II," carried a Sierra Leone flag and had three containers filled with "large amounts of weapons and ammunition" on board. It said the crew members were of different nationalities, including some Arabs, but was not more specific.
The ship reportedly sailed from Libya and stopped in Egypt and the port of Tripoli, Lebanon, en route to Syria. It was taken to the port of Selaata, north of Beirut, where the three containers were placed on Lebanese army flatbed trucks and taken away Saturday morning.