Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Aleppo assault a ‘nail in Assad’s coffin:’ Panetta


U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad late on Sunday that the assault on his own population in Aleppo would be a nail in his coffin.

Syrian troops said they had recaptured a district of Syria’s largest city Aleppo, after heavy fighting against rebels who remain in control of swathes of the commercial hub despite being pushed out of the capital Damascus.

The past two weeks have seen forces of President Bashar al-Assad struggle as never before to maintain their grip on the country after a major rebel advance into the two main cities and a July 18 explosion that killed four top security officials.

“It’s pretty clear that Aleppo is another tragic example of the kind of indiscriminate violence that the Assad regime has committed against its own people,” Panetta told reporters on a military plane en route to Tunisia.

“And in many ways, if they continue this kind of tragic attack on their own people in Aleppo, I think ultimately it will be a nail in Assad’s coffin,” he said, according to AFP.

“He’s just assuring that the Assad regime will come to an end by virtue of the kind of violence they're committing against their own people.”

According to Panetta, Assad has “lost all legitimacy, and the more violence he engages in, the more he makes the case that the regime is coming to an end.”

It’s no longer a question of whether the regime will fall, “it’s when,” he added.

More than 20,000 people have been killed, including 14,000 civilians, since the uprising against Assad’s rule erupted in March 2011, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“The United States and the international community have made very clear that this is intolerable, and have brought diplomatic and economic pressure on Syria to stop this kind of violence, to have Assad step down and to transition to a democratic form of government,” Panetta said.

Obama, waging a tough domestic battle ahead of the Nov. 6 election, has demanded that Assad stand down and offered logistical support to the opposition, but his administration has ruled out using force.

International efforts to squeeze Assad by isolating his regime and seeking sanctions against his inner circle have been frustrated by Russian and Chinese opposition at the U.N. Security Council.

Panetta said the United States was paying particular attention to securing Syria’s chemical and biological weapon sites, especially by maintaining “close cooperation with countries in the region.”

His trip to Tunisia is the first stop of an international tour that will also take him to Egypt, Israel and Jordan.

His Middle East trip has a security agenda, including new concerns about Syrian chemical weapons, along with election-season political stakes.

Death toll mounts as fighting rages

Meanwhile, fighting raged on the second day of a fierce government offensive, as the United Nations said 200,000 civilians had fled and many were trapped after Assad deployed tanks and attack helicopters to try to dislodge the rebels.

The Syrian opposition said government forces were preparing to carry out “massacres” and pleaded the international community to provide heavy weapons to enable rebels to meet the regime onslaught.

Elsewhere in Syria, as many as 163 people have been killed by the fire of Syrian forces across the country on Sunday, Syrian activists said. At least 30 people were killed by Syrian troops in a new massacre in al-Sheikh Meskeen in Deraa, according to activists.

Government forces have succeeded in imposing their grip on Damascus but rebel fighters gained control of parts of Aleppo, a city of 2.5 million people, where Reuters journalists have toured neighborhoods dotted with Free Syrian Army checkpoints flying black and white Islamist banners.

Fighting for the past several days has focused on the Salaheddine district in the southwest of Aleppo, where government troops have been backed by helicopter gunships.

Rebel fighters, patrolling opposition districts in flat-bed trucks flying green-white-and-black “independence” flags, said they were holding off Assad’s forces in Salaheddine. However, the government said it had pushed them out.

“Complete control of Salaheddine has been (won back) from those mercenary gunmen,” an unidentified military officer told Syrian state television late on Sunday. “In a few days safety and security will return to the city of Aleppo.”

Reuters journalists in the city were not able to approach the district after nightfall on Sunday to verify whether rebels had been pushed out. The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human rights said fighting was continuing there.
The government also declared victory on Sunday in the battle for the capital, which the rebels assaulted in force two weeks ago but have been repulsed in unprecedented fighting.

“Today I tell you, Syria is stronger ... In less than a week they were defeated (in Damascus) and the battle failed,” Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on a visit to Iran, Assad’s main ally in the region.

“So they moved on to Aleppo and I assure you, their plots will fail.”

Assad’s ruling structure draws strongly on his Alawite minority sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, while his opposition is drawn largely from the Sunni Muslim majority, backed by Sunni leaders who rule nearly all other Arab states.

That has raised fears the 16-month conflict could spread across the Middle East, where a sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shiites has been at the root of violence in Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and elsewhere.

Shiite Iran demonstrated its firm support for Assad by hosting his foreign minister. At a joint news conference with Moualem, Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi rebuked the West and Arab states for holding the “illusion” that Assad could be easily be replaced in a managed transition.

The battle for Aleppo is a decisive test of the government’s ability to put down the revolt after the July 18 explosion killed four of its top security officials and wrecked the Assad family’s image of untouchable might.

It has committed huge military resources to Aleppo after losing control of outlying rural areas and some border crossings with Turkey and Iraq.

Yemeni gunmen vacate Interior Ministry after protest


Yemeni tribesmen agreed on Monday to vacate the Interior Ministry after storming it the day before in a protest for jobs, an official said - an incident that highlighted the ongoing turmoil in a country where al- Qaeda militancy has alarmed world powers.

In a further sign of instability in the Arabian Peninsula country, a security official survived an assassination attempt when a bomb placed under his vehicle was detonated remotely in the southern port city of Aden.

Yemen is struggling to establish order following the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in February after a year of protests against his rule.

An Interior Ministry source said it had persuaded the 100 tribesmen, seen as loyal to former President Saleh, to vacate the ministry, in the capital, Sanaa. The tribesmen were demanding to be enlisted in the police force.

“The president (Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi) formed a committee to negotiate,” the source said.
“They were persuaded to end the occupation in return for a promise to respond to their demands.”

In Aden, Colonel Taha Hussein al-Sobaihi was rushed to hospital after the failed assassination - the second attempt on his life in one year.

Yemeni authorities were also hunting the abductors of an Italian embassy security officer, a member of the Carabinieri police, kidnapped near his embassy in Sanaa on Sunday.

In March, the Saudi deputy consul in Aden, Abdallah al-Khalidi, was kidnapped by a-lQaeda-linked militants who demanded the release of women detainees from Saudi prisons.

During the uprising that toppled Saleh, militants associated with al-Qaeda strengthened their position in areas of south and east Yemen, further testing central government control in a country riven with tribalism and regionalism.
Tribesmen often kidnap foreigners and bomb oil and gas pipelines as a way to press demands on authorities.

Yemen delivered its first oil shipment from the Maarib pipeline to its Aden refinery on Monday, after a nine-month halt caused by tribal attacks that left Yemen relying on imports and Saudi fuel donations, a refinery official told Reuters.

Yemen’s location next to leading oil exporter Saudi Arabia and astride key world shipping routes has heightened regional and Western concern over the security situation.

The disorder has alarmed the United States, a backer of Saleh who has sought to ensure that his successor makes fighting al-Qaeda his priority.

Yemen now ranks alongside Pakistan and Afghanistan for U.S. policymakers concerned with the spread of al-Qaeda networks.

Sudan bombs kill three in Blue Nile: rebels


Sudanese aerial bombing killed three civilians and wounded 21 in Blue Nile state bordering South Sudan, rebels said on Monday, four days before a U.N. deadline for the Sudan’s to make peace.

The air strikes on Friday and Saturday left three people dead and 11 wounded in Ora-Balila while four others were hurt in Magaf, said Arnu Ngutulu Lodi, spokesman for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N).

Six other people were wounded and more than two dozen head of cattle killed in a bombing at Wadaka Nellei, he added in a statement.

Access to Blue Nile is severely restricted, making independent verification of the claims difficult.

Sudan’s army spokesman could not be reached for comment.

The United Nations, in its weekly humanitarian bulletin, said it had earlier received reports of Sudanese aerial bombing on July 22 in Blue Nile but there were no indications of casualties.
About 200,000 refugees have fled from a worsening humanitarian situation in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states since fighting between government and rebel forces began in June last year, the U.N. says.

Ethnic insurgents of the SPLM-N fought alongside southern rebels during Sudan’s 22-year civil war, which ended in a 2005 peace deal and South Sudan’s independence in July last year.

Sudan accuses South Sudan of supporting the SPLM-N, a charge which foreign analysts believe despite denials by the government in Juba, which in turn alleges Khartoum backs insurgents south of its borders.

Both sides must end the practice, the U.N. said in a May Security Council resolution which ordered a ceasefire and gave Sudan and South Sudan until August 2 to settle critical issues after fighting along their undemarcated border.

African Union-led peace talks have been taking place in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa but no comprehensive accord is expected by the deadline.

Although the U.N. has warned of possible sanctions if its resolution is not complied with, diplomats said the Security Council will probably hold back from ordering immediate action.

The resolution also strongly urged SPLM-N and the Sudanese government to accept a United Nations, Arab League and AU plan for humanitarian aid to South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

But the rebels and government have traded accusations over the issue.

Lodi said the latest bombing is part of attempts “to thwart all efforts to reach an agreement” on humanitarian intervention.

Government negotiators on Friday said they had gone to Addis Ababa to discuss the aid plan with SPLM-N but there was “no progress”.

Four sentenced to death for Iran’s biggest bank fraud


An Iranian court has sentenced four people to death for their roles in a billion-dollar banking fraud scandal that forced bank executives out of their jobs and tainted the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, state media reported on Monday.

The sentences came at the end of a trial of 39 suspects that started in February. The magnitude of the scandal was estimated at $2.6 billion when it came to light in September last year.

“We are typing their sentences now and according to the sentence that was issued, four of the accused in this case were sentenced to death,” judiciary spokesman Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei told the IRNA state news agency.

Mohseni Ejeie said two other of the suspects were sentenced to life in prison and the remaining received terms behind bars of up to 25 years after also being found guilty of corruption.
The identities of those convicted were not made public. They have 20 days from the date of the verdict to lodge any appeal.

The scandal revolved around a private group that amassed trillions of rials in loans from half a dozen Iranian banks through what were said to be forged or illegally procured letters of credit to buy several state companies up for privatization.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last year denied accusations from some critical media outlets that his office had any links to the fraud.

The affair for several weeks fuelled political infighting between Ahmadinejad’s government and ultra-conservative factions of the regime dominating parliament and the courts.

Economy and Finance Minister Shamseddin Hosseini last November scraped through an attempt by the parliament to have him fired.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani then stepped in to calm the row and order an end to public quarrelling seen as undermining the country’s interests.

U.N. mission chief’s convoy attacked in Syria: Ban Ki-moon


The convoy of Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, head of the U.N. observer mission in Syria, was attacked over the weekend and only the vehicles’ armor prevented injuries, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday.

“Yesterday the convoy of General Gaye was attacked by armed attacks,” Ban told reporters in New York, according to a transcript of his remarks issued by the U.N. press office. “Fortunately there were no injuries.”

He gave no further details about the attack, though U.N. officials said on condition of anonymity that the convoy of five vehicles was hit with small arms fire in Talibisa, some 17 km (10.5 miles) from Homs. The officials said it was an opposition-held area.
Ban said that more than a dozen U.N. armored vehicles have been attacked and destroyed since the mission began deploying in Syria over three months ago.

“It’s quite fortunate that nobody got injured by these attacks,” Ban said. “It was only because of these armored vehicles which protected our mission.”

Gaye told a press conference in Damascus that he had been on his first field visit since his arrival one week ago to take charge of the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS).

He did not mention the shooting incident but told reporters: “During my visit to Homs, I was personally able to witness heavy shelling, from artillery and mortars, ongoing in the neighborhoods of the city.”

Although the mission suspended most of its monitoring work last month due to the increasing violence in the 16-month conflict, it continues to carry out limited activities. The mission’s 90-day mandate was renewed on July 20 for 30 days.

Ban made a new plea for President Bashar al-Assad to halt the “violent measures” of his forces in Homs and the city of Aleppo, which is the target of a major new assault.

“We are deeply concerned that they are using all sorts, all kinds of heavy equipment, including military airplanes and attack helicopters and heavy weaponry. This is an unacceptable situation,” Ban said. “The situation is getting worse and worse.”


Ban said that he convened a crisis meeting of senior U.N. officials on Syria on Monday, adding that the group would continue to meet regularly to discuss the conflict.

He repeated his previous demand that the Syrian government pledge not to use chemical weapons under any circumstances.

He was responding to reports that Syria said it would only use chemical weapons if it was attacked by foreign powers.

Egypt court move suspends constitution row


The struggle over Egypt’s new constitution was temporarily suspended on Monday when a court deferred until late September the next step in a legal row that had threatened the dissolution of the body writing it.

The adjournment of a battle that has overshadowed one of the main components of Egypt’s transition to democracy after the Arab Spring uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak could give the current constitutional assembly time to complete its work.

That would give a boost to Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, who have a big say in the body, and also may stave off any move by the influential military to form a new assembly.

Plaintiffs opposed to what they see as the Islamists’ overwhelming influence in the 100-person constitutional assembly had brought the case demanding the body be dissolved on the grounds it had been formed illegally.

Held earlier this month, the last session in the case led to both a courtroom brawl and a new lawsuit filed by the Islamists to demand the removal of the judge on the grounds he was biased. It is that case which a court adjourned until Sept. 24, postponing further any discussion of the original case.

“It will be considered a sort of victory for the Muslim Brotherhood. It allows the assembly time to complete its task of returning a draft constitution,” Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid, a professor of political science at Cairo University, said.

“I think this gives the assembly sufficient time.”

Race against time

Worried that the body could be dissolved, the constitutional assembly has been meeting daily in an apparent race against time. Their draft will define crucial questions such as the powers of the president and parliament and the role of the still-influential military establishment.

It also will set out the role of Islam in Egypt’s system of government, a major area of concern for liberals. Their concerns have been amplified by the Brotherhood’s success in the presidential election, won by Mohammed Mursi.

Abou Elela Mady, a politician who is a member of the body, said: “It is expected that the assembly will continue with success.” Asked whether it would be able to finish its work by Sept. 24, he told Reuters: “God willing, we will try”.

The completion of the new constitution is a crucial milestone in a new transition to civilian rule as laid out in a decree issued by the military leadership on the eve of Mursi’s election win. The decree states that completion of the new constitution is the precursor to new parliamentary elections, until when the military will exercise legislative power.

The Muslim Brotherhood-led parliament that emerged from the last legislative elections, held from November to February, was dissolved on grounds that the election rules were unconstitutional - a move disputed by the Islamists.

Though Monday’s decision appears to clear the way for the constitutional assembly to continue its work, the body will likely face more challenges ahead: the generals have the right to oppose any of the articles in the new document.

And the case against the assembly is unlikely to disappear. One of the plaintiff’s lawyers pledged to continue his battle.

Shahata Mohamed Shahata, one of the lawyers, said he would ask the judiciary to refer the entire case to a new court, undermining the Islamists’ claim of bias on the part of the current judge. “We will continue,” he told Reuters.

But al-Sayyid, the Cairo University professor, said preserving the existing assembly could be in the interests of too many players, including the military council, which he said may struggle to form a new one were the body to be dissolved.

Syrian top diplomat in London resigns: British foreign office


The Syrian chargĂ© d’affaires in London, Khaled al-Ayoubi, has resigned, the British Foreign Office said on Monday.

‘Mr. al-Ayoubi has told us that he is no longer willing to represent a regime that has committed such violent and oppressive acts against its own people, and is therefore unable to continue in his position,’ the Foreign Office said in a statement.

Al-Ayoubi was the most senior Syrian diplomat serving in London, it added.
Britain expelled the previous Syrian charge d’affaires, Ghassan Dalla, and two other diplomats in May. Syria had earlier withdrawn its ambassador from London.

The Foreign Office said Ayoubi was not speaking to the media and asked for his privacy to be respected.

It said he joined the Syrian diplomatic service in 2001, and that his first posting was in Greece as consul from 2003 to 2008.

A Foreign Office spokesman would not confirm Ayoubi’s current whereabouts or say whether he was now seeking asylum in Britain.

Defections are becoming a growing problem for Assad’s regime, which has launched a bloody crackdown on a revolt in which more than 20,000 people have died since March 2011, according to activists.

Syria closed its embassy in Australia on Monday amid reports that some of its staff were seeking asylum.

Mayer Dabbagh, Syria’s honorary consul in Sydney, confirmed the closure but declined to say why the embassy had shut or what had become of its staff.

Also on Monday a diplomatic source said that another brigadier general had defected from Syria’s army to join the ranks of opposition fighters, pushing the total number of rebel generals based in Turkey to 28.

Senior Syrian officers have been crossing over into Turkey to link up with rebel forces on a near daily basis in recent months, often accompanied by rank-and-file troops, to join the ranks of the Free Syrian Army.

There have been a number of defections by diplomats too.

Sources said last week that Syria’s charge d’affairs in Cyprus, Lamia Hariri, and her husband Abdel Latif al-Dabbagh, the ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, had both defected.

Nawaf Fares, Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, left for Qatar earlier in July month after publicly renouncing his post.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Morocco activists outraged over Israeli dates imported for Ramadan


A group of Moroccan activists voiced their objections over the way Israeli dates have invaded local markets and became part of Ramadan meals in what they termed as a call for normalization with the Jewish state.

Activists called upon vendors to boycott all Israeli products and expose those who export them and demanded that the Islamist government issues a law that criminalizes all actions that promote normalization.

Several types of dates have recently invaded Moroccan local markets in packages that have the addresses and phone numbers of the factories that produced them in Israel.
Human rights activist Khaled al-Soufiyani, coordinator of the National Action Group for Solidarity with Palestine and Iraq, complained of the insensitivity of allowing Israeli dates to be sold in Moroccan markets.

“Buying and consuming those dates are an insult to the feelings of Moroccans, most of whom reject normalization with Israel, and a support of Israeli occupation,” he said.

Soufiyani added that trading in Israeli dates and eating them in Ramadan also belittle the Palestinian struggle and make the blood they spill in vain.

Israeli dates, which reach Morocco via Europe, compete with dates imported from Tunisia, Algeria, the UAE, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. Those dates are imported under the pretext that the current supply is not enough for local consumption especially with the high demand in the holy month of Ramadan.

Ahmed al-Raysouni, supervisor of the Islamic Jurisprudence Complex in Jeddah, has issued an earlier fatwa prohibiting dealing with dates imported from Israel.

“It is prohibited to sell, buy, import or export dates from Israel,” Raysouni said.

Mohamed Banjelon Andalusi, head of the Moroccan Association for Solidarity with the Palestinian Struggle, expressed his outrage at the spread of Israeli dates in Moroccan markets.

“In the past, Israeli dates used to enter Moroccan markets under fake names for camouflage, but now it is done in the most blatant manner,” he said.

For Andalusi, having the names of Israeli factories on date packages is indicative of increasing tendency for normalization with the Jewish state on the part of the Moroccan government.

Andalusi added that his association had sent earlier a letter to the government calling for the criminalization of all sorts of normalization including trade.

“We have not received a response and what is happening on the ground shows that our demands are being totally overlooked,” he said.

Pakistan suspends NATO supply route over security


Pakistan has temporarily stopped NATO supply trucks crossing its northwestern border into Afghanistan over security concerns due to fears of Islamist attacks, officials said Thursday.

Gunmen on Tuesday attacked a convoy of NATO supply trucks, killing a driver, in the town of Jamrud on the outskirts of the main northwestern city Peshawar.

“Movement of NATO vehicles has been temporarily suspended since Wednesday evening to beef up security,” a paramilitary official told AFP.
“We have launched a search operation in the hills surrounding Jamrud,” the official added.

Local administration official Bakhtiar Khan confirmed the supply route had been suspended due to “security reasons”.

“Intelligence officials have informed the authority that attacks may occur on NATO vehicles this week and in the light of this a security plan is being chalked out,” Khan told AFP.

He said the NATO route would “resume very soon,” but that until then trucks carrying supplies for the 130,000-strong U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan had been told not to approach the border.

Erdogan warns Turkey could strike PKK fighters inside Syria


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the Syrian  regime has allotted five provinces to the PKK. (Reuters)
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Syria of letting Turkey’s Kurdish rebels operate inside the north of the country and warned that Ankara would not hesitate to strike against them.

“In the north, it (President Bashar al-Assad’s regime) has allotted five provinces to the Kurds, to the terrorist organization,” Erdogan told Turkish television late Wednesday, referring to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).

Asked if Ankara would strike fleeing rebels after an attack on Turkish soil, Erdogan said “That’s not even a matter of discussion, it is a given. That is the objective, that is what must be done.”
“That is what we have been doing and will continue to do in Iraq,” he said during a program aired on Kanal 24.

“If we occasionally launch arial strikes against terrorist areas it’s because these are measures taken because of defense needs.”

Turkey regularly bombs suspected Kurdish rebel hideouts in northern Iraq.

The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and by much of the international community, took up arms in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives.

Relations between Turkey and Syria have steadily soured since the start of the uprising against Assad’s rule in Syria in March 2011, with Erdogan criticizing the regime’s crackdown against the revolt.

Meanwhile, a Kurdish commander of a Syrian rebel unit -- holed up in a Turkish safe-house -- pledged to help Turkey in hitting the Kurdish militant group that has long been the arch-nemesis of Ankara, the PKK, if Ankara provided his fighters with help in their fight against the Syrian regime.

“I wish we could get some armed support from Turkey,” said Ubed Muse, speaking to AFP during a break from the bloody battles in which he has led a band of 45 rebels near Aleppo, Syria’s second city.

“If we -- Kurds and Arabs -- join ranks, and are able to get military support from Turkey, we can fight not only the regime but also the PKK,” said Muse, sitting in the secret flat in Turkey’s central Antakya province.

Around him, pictures of fighters killed or wounded in the conflict hang on the walls along with cartoons mocking Assad and a rebel Free Syrian Army slogan that proclaims: “We will never stop till victory.”

“We are in need of weapons,” Muse said, repeating a common concern of the insurgents, thousands of whom have been based in Turkey.

“With armed support from Turkey, we can hit PKK bases inside Syria because we all know about their whereabouts and which regions they control.”

The question of Kurdish ambitions in Syria has been a top concern of late for Turkey, which has long battled the PKK and its campaign for a Kurdistan homeland that would span parts of Turkey, Iraq and Syria.

The PKK first took up arms in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives. It has since been listed as a terrorist group by much of the world community.

In northern Iraq, Kurds have carved out a semi-autonomous region since the U.S. invasion of 2003, and fears are on the rise in Turkey that the same could happen on their doorstep in northern Syria.

Turkish newspapers have published with alarm pictures of Kurdish flags fluttering from buildings in northern Syria and reported that parts of the region had fallen into the hands of the PKK or its Syrian branch, the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

The head of the opposition Syrian National Council said this week that Syrian forces had “entrusted” the northern region to the PKK or the PYD and then withdrawn.

Turkey’s top security, military and political officials held talks Wednesday about the activities of Kurdish rebels in Syria.

“The latest developments in Syria, the activities of the terrorist separatist group in our country and in neighboring countries, were discussed at the meeting,” Erdogan’s office said.

Turkish officials have frequently accused Syria of aiding the PKK, saying recent attacks targeting Turkish security forces were carried out by rebels infiltrating from Syria.

When Turkey recently massed troops along the Syrian border after the Damascus regime shot down one of its fighter-jets, some Turkish media speculated that this also meant to send a signal to Kurdish rebels.

The Kurdish question has long played a role in tricky relations between Turkey and Syria, where Kurds make up less than 10 percent of the population and have long complained of discrimination and repression.

The neighbors came to the brink of a war in the 1990s over Syria harboring the PKK’s leader Abdullah Ocalan at the time.

Relations warmed after Erdogan’s moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party took power in Turkey in 2003.

But ties have plummeted again since the start of Syria’s uprising in March last year, which Assad’s increasingly isolated regime has sought to crush with massive military force.

Many Kurds joined the anti-regime protests in Syria; others have reportedly fought alongside regime forces.

In the Turkish safe-house, a defected Syrian army colonel joined the conversation after completing his prayers.

He dismissed fears that Syrian Kurds are motivated by the desire for an independent state, arguing that people from different ethnic groups are united in their desire to get rid of Assad.

“There is a political game going on outside, as if Kurds, Alawites and Turkmens each want separate entities,” said the defector, who wished to remain anonymous.

“This is not true. 95 percent of Syrians want a united flag and a united state.”

Syrian opposition chiefs seek unity in Qatar talks


Defected Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass, one of the most senior figures to defect from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, is urging all opposition forces to unite. (Reuters)
Syrian opposition factions are gathering in Qatar to seek agreement on leadership for a transitional administration that could step in as a stopgap government if rebel forces topple Bashar Assad’s regime.

Thursday’s planned meeting in Doha marks the most comprehensive bid to bring together various Syrian opposition groups and show world leaders a credible alternative to Assad.

The Syrian National Council has acted as the international face of the revolution, but it’s been unable to unite all dozens of disparate rebel factions under one banner.
Among the potential guiding forces for a transitional team is Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass, one of the most senior figures to defect from Assad’s regime. He is urging all opposition forces to unite.

Qatar is a leading backer of the Syrian rebels.

Arabs call for U.N. resolution

Meanwhile, Arab nations announced plans on Wednesday to go to the U.N. General Assembly and seek approval of a resolution calling for a political transition and establishment of a democratic government in Syria following the Security Council’s failure to address the escalating crisis.

Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi and Qatari diplomat Abdulrahman al-Hamadi announced plans to seek action by the 193-member world body, where there are no vetoes, during a Security Council debate on the Middle East.

Last week, Russia and China again vetoed a Western-backed Security Council resolution aimed at pressuring Assad’s government to stop the violence by threatening sanctions if he didn’t withdraw heavy weapons from populated areas within 10 days.

“The Arab states have decided to head to the General Assembly over the situation in Syria,” al-Mouallimi told the council.

Al-Hamadi said the Syrian government’s threat to use chemical and biological weapons, and other threats to the region, “have made us feel even further regret with the inability of the Security Council to deal with the Syrian crisis in an effective manner.”

Therefore, he said, “the Arab group in New York is going to the General Assembly of the United Nations to deal with the serious threat represented by the Syrian crisis.”

The push for action in the General Assembly followed an appeal earlier Wednesday by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for the world to unite in its response to Syria’s civil war and do all it can to stop what he called the slaughter taking place there.

Syria downplays envoys’ defection

Syria’s regime confirmed on Thursday the defection of three diplomats, but downplayed its importance and indirectly accused Qatar of encouraging “national division.”

The foreign ministry confirmed the defections of Lamia Hariri, charge d’affaires in Cyprus, her husband Abdel Latif al-Dabbagh, ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, and Mohammed Tahsin al-Fakir, security attache in Oman.

“These ministry employees chose to abandon their diplomatic posts and go to a certain Arab capital, which is funding and encouraging these type of staff defections,” the ministry said, referring to Qatar, where the diplomats have reportedly fled.

The ministry said Hariri was “merely a diplomat at the embassy in Cyprus, temporarily charged with a caretaker role pending the appointment of a charge d’affaires or ambassador.”

It added that her husband, the Syrian ambassador to UAE was “no longer at his post as of June 4.”

Fakir, the ministry said, “had no diplomatic or security function and was simply an administrative employee whose mission had expired in May and who was scheduled to retire.”

The White House on Wednesday called the defections evidence that Assad’s days are “numbered.”

Iran, Israel trade blame over Bulgaria attack


Iran's UN envoy has accused Israel of plotting and carrying out a suicide bomb attack on a bus in Bulgaria a week ago in which five Israeli tourists were killed.
"It's amazing that just a few minutes after the terrorist attack, Israeli officials announced that Iran was behind it," Iran's UN Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee told a UN Security Council debate on the Middle East on Wednesday.
A suicide bomber blew up the bus in a car park at Burgas airport, a popular gateway for tourists visiting Bulgaria's Black Sea coast, killing himself, the Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian bus driver and wounding more than 30 people.
Israel has accused Iran and the Lebanese Islamist group Hezbollah of the bombing. Iran has denied the accusations.
"We have never and will not engage in such a despicable attempt on ... innocent people.
"Such terrorist operation could only be planned and carried out by the same regime whose short history is full of state terrorism operations and assassinations aimed implicating others for narrow political gains," Khazaee said.

He said he could provide many examples showing that Israel "killed its own citizens and innocent Jewish people during the last couple of decades in order to blame others."
"Iran is a victim of such operations and the assassinations of Iran's nuclear scientists are fresh cases in our mind," he said.
Tehran claims Israel's Mossad spy agency has been behind the slayings of at least five nuclear scientists since 2010, as well as other clandestine operations such as planting powerful computer viruses.
Israel's UN Ambassador Haim Waxman said Iran's fingerprints were all over the bomb attack in Bulgaria, as well as dozens of other plots in recent months around the world.
"These comments are appalling, but not surprising from the same government that says the 9/11 attack was a conspiracy theory and denies the Holocaust," Waxman said in a statement.
"The time has come for the world to put an end to this campaign of terror, once and for all," Waxman said.
Waxman also blamed Iran and Hezbollah for terrorist attacks and attempted attacks in recent months in India, Azerbaijan, Thailand, Kenya, Turkey and Cyprus that targeted Israelis.
Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boiko Borisov said on Tuesday that a sophisticated group of conspirators was involved in the bombing. He did not give any nationalities of those believed to be responsible.

CIA ‘overlooked’ documents related to bin Laden movie


The CIA “inadvertently overlooked”  documents related to an upcoming movie based on the hunt for Osama bin Laden. (Reuters)
The Central Intelligence Agency said it “inadvertently overlooked” documents related to an upcoming movie about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, now titled “Zero Dark Thirty,” CNN reported on Wednesday.

According to the report, the CIA had failed to hand over the documents, which were related to the agency’s assistance to filmmakers creating the movie, as part of a lawsuit filed against the CIA and the Department of Defense.

A court document revealed the oversight in the lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch, “which is seeking information about how much the CIA and Pentagon disclosed about the raid by cooperating with filmmakers,” CNN reported.
“The CIA discovered a 4- to 5-inch stack of records,” the filing by the government’s attorney, Marcia Berman told CNN.

“From its initial review of the documents, the CIA has determined that the newly discovered documents are responsive to plaintiff’s request but contain some duplicates of produced records,” Berman added.

Judicial Watch said the documents, which consist of 30 files (primarily e-mails), were supposed to be handed over two months ago under a federal court order.

“The documents showed, for example, that a defense official offered the filmmakers access to a planner from SEAL Team 6, the super-secret Special Operations unit that successfully executed the high-stakes raid in Pakistan last year,” CNN reported, adding that it is not clear if any such access eventually took place.

U.S. Marine Corps Colonel Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said in August last year that the Defense Department is cooperating with filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal as they work on a motion picture about the raid that killed bin Laden.

The two, who collaborated on the Oscar-winning Iraq war movie “The Hurt Locker,” had reportedly been developing the bin Laden film even before the al-Qaeda leader was killed on May 2011 in a raid on a compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.

The CIA documents reportedly include a transcript from a meeting, on July 14 of last year, in which “Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers told Bigelow and Boal that the defense department would offer up a plum interview,” CNN reported.

“This new ‘discovery’ and resulting delay stinks to high heaven - maybe an independent criminal leak investigation can look into this issue, too,” Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, told CNN.

The government has asked the court for an extension until August 24 to properly review the documents but Judicial Watch is objecting to the request.

“They are suggesting that many are duplicative, so even less reason,” not to turn them over sooner,” he said.

In August last year, the U.S. administration dismissed concerns that classified information has been divulged to assist moviemakers producing a film about the U.S. special forces raid that killed bin Laden.

Republican Peter King, Chairman of the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, had called for an investigation into contacts between the administration and the filmmakers. King questioned whether special operations methods had been compromised.

“The claims are ridiculous,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told a White House briefing in August 2011.

“We do not discuss classified information. And I would hope that as we face the continued threat from terrorism, the House Committee on Homeland Security would have more important topics to discuss than a movie,” Carney added.

According to a Reuters report also in August 2011, the film, focusing on one of President Barack Obama’s key successes in office, is due to be released in October 2012, less than a month before the election in which the Democrat is seeking a second term.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

PAKISTAN REFUSES TO REOPEN PRESIDENTIAL GRAFT CASE


ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan's government told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that it will not reopen an old corruption case against the president, defying a judicial order that has brought down one prime minister and threatens his replacement.
The crisis has roiled Pakistan's political system for months, distracting attention from what many Pakistanis believe are more pressing problems, such as the country's ailing economy and fight against the Taliban.
The dispute centers on a graft case against President Asif Ali Zardari dating back to the late 1990s in Swiss court, a time when he became known as "Mr. 10 percent" for his reputation of demanding kickbacks on government contracts.
The Pakistani Supreme Court has demanded the government write a letter to Swiss authorities asking them to reopen the case. The government has refused, saying Zardari enjoys immunity from prosecution while in office.
The court convicted former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani of contempt and ousted him from office in June for refusing to write the letter. The ruling Pakistan People's Party rallied support to elect a new premier, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, and has remained defiant.
Pakistan's attorney general, Irfan Qadir, appeared before the court Wednesday and told the judges that Ashraf also refused to reopen the case because of the president's immunity.
"Your order is not implementable," said Qadir.
He accused the lead judge, Asif Saeed Khosa, of being biased against the president and said he should recuse himself from the proceedings — a demand rejected by Khosa.
Many government supporters have accused the Supreme Court of relentlessly pursuing the case because of bad blood between Zardari and Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.
Khosa demanded the new prime minister write the letter to the Swiss, but also seemed to soften the court's stance, saying the judges would respect the president's immunity if the government obeyed their order.
He also gave the government more time to come up with a solution. Wednesday was the initial deadline for the government to say whether it would fulfill the court's order, but Khosa adjourned the hearing until Aug. 8.
The judge's somewhat softer stance could be a reaction to criticism of the court for threatening to bring down the first civilian government poised to finish its five-year term in the country's history. Past governments were toppled by direct or indirect intervention by the country's powerful army, often with help of the judiciary. The current government's term ends in early 2013.
It's unclear whether the judge's comments will alter the government's stance. Zardari has said in the past that his government would never write the letter.
"I will make a genuine and serious effort to solve this issue," said Qadir.
The case against Zardari relates to kickbacks he and his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, allegedly received from Swiss companies when Bhutto was in power in the 1990s. They were found guilty in absentia in Swiss court in 2003.
Zardari appealed, but Swiss prosecutors dropped the case after the Pakistani parliament passed an ordinance giving the president and others immunity from old corruption cases that many agreed were politically motivated.
The bill was decried by many in Pakistan, who saw it as an attempt to subvert the law. The Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 2009 and ordered the government to write a letter to Swiss authorities requesting they reopen the case.
Also Wednesday, militants coming from Afghanistan armed with assault rifles attacked a paramilitary checkpoint in northwest Pakistan, wounding two soldiers, officials said.
The attack occurred in Dalasa village in the Kurram tribal area, said Rasheed Khan, a local government official.
At least 20 militants were involved in the attack, Pakistani military officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The militants escaped across the border after the attack, and the Pakistani army fired artillery in retaliation, said Khan.
The Afghan government said Sunday that four civilians died when hundreds of shells and rockets fired from Pakistan hit homes along frontier areas where insurgents have staged cross-border attacks.
The government did not openly blame the Pakistani military for the artillery barrage, but they have done so in the past.
Both countries criticize each other for not doing enough to stop cross-border attacks by militants.

IRAN'S LEADER SAYS SANCTIONS WON'T CHANGE POLICY


TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's Supreme Leader says Western-led sanctions and pressure will not force Iran to change its policies, voicing confidence that the country can beat the latest moves to block its vital oil and banking industries.
In remarks broadcast on state TV Wednesday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says some countries partaking in the U.S.-led sanctions will not continue them over the long term because of economic drawbacks.
The latest European Union sanctions against Iran's vital oil industry came into effect on July 1, three days after the U.S. tightened sanctions that prohibit international banks from completing oil transactions with Iranian banks. The moves further complicate Iran's ability to conduct trade abroad.
Economic experts say the sanctions have driven up the cost of imports to Iran by 20 to 30 percent.

TURKEY BLOCKS TRUCK ROUTE INTO SYRIA


BEIRUT (AP) — Turkey sealed its border with Syria to trucks on Wednesday, cutting off a vital supply line to the embattled nation as fighting stretched into its fifth day in the commercial capital of Aleppo.
Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan said deteriorating security was behind the closure.
"We have serious concerns over the safety of Turkish trucks regarding their entry and return from Syria," Caglayan said, noting that there had already been a 87 percent drop in trucks traveling to Syria this year.
Turkey was an ally of neighboring Syria before the uprising against authoritarian President Bashar Assad began 16 months ago. But it has turned into a harsh critic and its territory along the of the 566-mile (911-kilometer) border is used as a staging ground for the rebel army as well as a haven for thousands of refugees fleeing violence that activists say has killed 19,000 people so far.
Northern Syria, especially the province of Idlib, has been a steady scene of heavy fighting between Syrian forces and the rebels and large swathes of the countryside are under rebel control. Rebels, for their part, generally move their weapons and material over the border through clandestine smuggler routes.
Caglayan told reporters Turkish trucks would not be allowed to into Syria, though no restrictions were being imposed on trucks going the other way. The sealing will deprive Syria of a common route for imports. Dozens of Turkish trucks were either looted or torched when the rebels captured the border crossing of Bab al-Hawa last week. Turkish truck drivers have also been caught in the cross fire or been the target of attacks during the civil war.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed confidence at rebel advances, saying that they were taking more and more territory.
"It will eventually result in a safe haven inside Syria, which will then provide a base for further actions by the opposition," she said Tuesday, urging the opposition to develop institutions and protect the rights of all Syrians.
The ability of the Libyan rebels to create a liberated area in the east of the country was key in their successful battle that ousted Moammar Gadhafi last year. However Syrian rebels' hold over territory is tenuous. They do not have any major urban areas under their control — and are not backed by NATO's air force the way the Libyans were.
The main battle in the country is currently just 40 miles (60 kilometers) from the Turkish border in the commercial hub of Aleppo, Syria's largest city, which was attacked on Saturday by an alliance of rebel forces. They infiltrated sympathetic neighborhoods in the north and south and then have been gradually moving toward the historic old city at the center, a U.N. world heritage site.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported more than two dozen people killed in fighting yesterday in Aleppo and large numbers of people fleeing the southern neighborhood of Sukkari Wednesday morning.
Activist video from Wednesday showed a burning police station in the southern neighborhood of al-Kelassa, while gunfire could be heard ringing out in the background. The Associated Press cannot independently confirm events portrayed in such videos posted online.
A major assault on Damascus last week was eventually crushed with attack helicopters and heavy weapons that devastated neighborhoods sympathetic to the rebels. Shelling was followed up with door to door searches that were still going on by Wednesday to flush out remaining rebel sympathizers.
Starting Tuesday, activists and local residents in Aleppo reported Syrian forces began using similar heavy weapons, including attack helicopters, to crush the rebel advance.
While government forces are stretched thin by fighting taking place across the country in cities like Homs, Hama, Deir el-Zour, Daraa and in Idlib province, they can defeat any single rebel assault by concentrating their forces. Aleppo and Damascus are the two largest cities and are key to the regime's survival.
There have been signs of fraying, however, in the elites of the regime. On Tuesday, a top military commander and close friend of Assad confirmed his defection. Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass, son of a former defense minister, said in a video broadcast on Al-Arabiya TV that Syrians must work together to build a new country.
"Our duty today as Syrians is to unify for one goal, and that is to make our country free and democratic," he said.
It was his first public appearance since he left Syria earlier this month. French officials later confirmed that he was in France.
A new commander for the 300-member UN observer force, Lt. Gen. Babacar Gaye arrived late Tuesday in Damascus along with the U.N. official in charge of peacekeeping operations to hold a series of meetings to assess the prospects for a U.N. peace plan that is being widely ignored.

AL-QAIDA CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR IRAQ KILLINGS


BAGHDAD (AP) — An al-Qaida affiliate group in Iraq has claimed responsibility for Monday's wave of attacks that killed 115 people across the country and wounded hundreds others.
In a statement posted Wednesday on a militant website, the Islamic State of Iraq said the "blessed foray" marked the beginning of a campaign it calls "Breaking the Walls," announced last week by the local insurgency's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Al-Baghdadi said that his network's aim was to rebuild tribal alliances in order to make a comeback in Sunni areas from which it had retreated in 2007-2008.
The assaults, which mainly targeted security forces, made Monday the deadliest day in Iraq since May 10, 2010, when a string of nationwide attacks killed at least 119 people.

Iranian general warns ‘Arab outcasts’ against supporting Syrian revolutionaries


General Masoud Jazayeri, deputy chief of staff of the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards, warned Arab countries of funding or arming Syrian revolutionaries, while stressing the Islamic Republic’s support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

“Syria’s allies will not allow Bashar al-Assad’s regime to be toppled and will deal fatal blows to the enemies of Damascus,” Jazayeri told the Sepah News website, affiliated to the Guards.

Those allies, he added, have not yet interfered in the Syrian crisis but when they do, they will avenge all parties that fight against the Syrian regime particularly those he described as “Arab outcast.”

Jazayeri’s statements come in response to earlier calls by Arab foreign ministers to arm the Syrian opposition.
Jazayeri described the countries that support the Free Syrian Army as the “great Devil’s front” and argued that Zionist and Western agendas are behind the Syrian uprising, stressing that both the government and the people of Syria are capable of foiling those conspiracies.

For Jazayeri, Americans and Europeans have failed in trying to topple the Syrian regime and the same applies to Arabs that oppose President Bashar al-Assad.

“All those are not capable of doing anything except spread terrorism and wage media wards.”

Jazayeri lashed out at Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey for supporting the Syrian revolution.

“They are all terrorists and I am warning them of the retaliation of the Syrian people.”

Jazateri also warned the Syrian people of falling prey to false media reports that implicate the Syrian regime.

The Iranian regime has declared its solidarity with the Arab people in their demand for freedom and called the revolution that took place in several countries in the region an “Islamic awakening.” Syria, however, is the only exception and its protests were dubbed the “fake version” of Arab revolutions by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. 

Syria’s ambassador to the UAE defects, joins his defected wife in Qatar: sources


Syria’s ambassador to the UAE has defected from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to leave to Qatar, sources told Al Arabiya on Wednesday.

Abdelatif al-Dabbagh joined his wife, Lamya al-Hariri, who is also a defected Syrian ambassador to Cyprus, in Qatar.

Reuters also reported Syrian National Council’s members as saying that Dabbagh has defected on Wednesday.
“The ambassador (Abdelatif al-Dabbagh) is now in Qatar,” SNC spokesman Mohammad Sarmini told Reuters by telephone, referring to the ambassador to the UAE.

Meanwhile, a high-level source told AFP, that Hariri has defected but there was no confirmation that Dabbagh did.

Hariri, a Sunni Muslim from the southern province of Deraa, the birthplace of the 16-month-old uprising, is the niece of Syrian Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa, whose role is ceremonial in a power structure dominated by Assad’s Alawite minority sect.

If Dabbagh has defected, he will be the third ambassador to do so after his wife’s defection on Tuesday. Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf Fares, was the first ambassador to defect. Fares called on Syrian soldiers to follow his lead and turn their guns on the Damascus leadership.

Fares, who is a Sunni tribal figure from eastern Syria, defected to Qatar through Jordan two weeks ago, according to diplomatic sources.

Assad’s regime is under pressure as defection has been on the rise. Defection of brigadier General, Munaf Talas, on Tuesday was a big blow to the regime as he was close to Assad’s inner circle.

Lavrov accuses U.S.

In a related story, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the United States on Wednesday of justifying terrorism against the Syrian government and berated Western nations he said had not condemned attacks that killed top members of President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle.

Referring to what he said were comments by U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland indicating such attacks were not surprising given the Syrian government’s conduct, Lavrov said, “this is a direct justification of terrorism.”

He also criticized the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, saying she had argued that the attacks in Damascus meant the U.N. Security Council had to agree a sanctions resolution against Syria last week that Russia later vetoed.

“In other words, to say it in plain Russian, this means ‘we (the United States) will continue to support such terrorist acts for as long as the U.N. Security Council has not done what we want’,” Lavrov said.

Russia has repeatedly rejected accusations Moscow is backing Assad’s regime in the crisis, claiming it has an even-handed approach while rebuking the West for siding with the rebels

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Spate of deadly attacks across Iraq


A series of gun and bomb attacks has wracked Iraq for the second straight day, with unidentified gunmen targeting a military base and car bombs exploding in Baghdad, Kirkuk and elsewhere.
More than 100 people are reported to have been killed and 180 injured in at least 19 separate explosions and attacks on Monday morning, officials said.
At least 15 Iraqi soldiers were killed and four others injured after gunmen attacked a military base in Salah Din province, an army official told Al Jazeera.
The attack took place early on Monday morning, while the soldiers were still asleep, in a base east of Dhuluiyah township, about 90km north of Baghdad. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
A car bomb in the city of Taji, north of Baghdad, targeted a residential compound. Initial reports suggested that more than 18 people had been killed and dozens wounded. That attack involved a secondary explosion, which targeted rescue personnel who had rushed to the scene.
In the northern oil town of Kirkuk, police were targeted by four synchronised car bombs, killing five people, including three civilians. Nineteen people were injured in those blasts.
Baghdad bombings
In Baghdad, car bombs targeted an interior ministry office that issues ID cards to residents of the city's mainly Shia Sadr City neighbourhood. At least 16 people were killed in that attack.
"It was a thunderous explosion," said Mohammed Munim, 35, who was working at the office.
"The only thing I remember was the smoke and fire, which was everywhere," he added from his bed in the emergency room at Sadr City hospital.
In Baghdad's eastern Hussainiyah neighbourhood, police sources told Al Jazeera that a parked car bomb killed at least three people and injured another 31 on Monday.

In the eastern town of Muqdadiyah, near Baquba, two civilians were killed and 13 injured after a motorcycle bomb went off on a main street.
In the city of Tuz Khurmatu, 140km north of Baghdad, a car bomb targeted a local market, killing at least one person and wounding three others. A separate explosion in that city killed one person and wounded 35 others.
South of the capital, in Mahmoudiya, a series of three bombs targeted civilians. Initial reports from police said that the death toll in that attack was at least 10, with as many as 38 wounded.
Meanwhile, two members of a tribal coalition aimed at maintaining security were killed by unidentified gunmen in central Samarra city, 120km north of Baghdad.
In Dujail, 75km north of the capital, a bomb went off near a Shia mosque, killing a woman and injuring four others.
In the town of Ba'aaj, near Mosul, two policemen were killed when a suicide bomber targeted a police station, while in a separate explosion west of Mosul, a car bomb killed three army soldiers and wounded six civilians.
In Diwaniyah province, 180km south of Baghdad, an improvised explosive device attack hit a vegetable market, killing three people and injuring at least 20 others.
In central Balad township, about 80km north of Baghdad, a parked car exploded outside the home of a local political leader, Al Radhee Mohammed. That blast did not result in any casualties. A second car explosion, apparently targeting labourers, also went off in Balad on Monday morning, but there was no immediate confirmation of casualties.
Police say they had identified a third bomb in the same area and had the situation under control.
'Military and Shia targeted'
Al Jazeera's Jane Arraf, reporting from Erbil, said that initial figures were difficult to verify.
"The death tolls are varying wildly [but] they appear to be attacks, as has been the pattern, on military targets as well as Shia communities."
Monday's attacks are the worst since June 13, when a series of explosions killed 84 people. The fresh wave of killings comes just a day after a spate of bombings across the country killed at least 20 people and wounded 88 others.
"It is certainly a sign that despite all gains made against al-Qaeda in Iraq ... they are still out there," reported Al Jazeera's Arraf, adding that the group had recently warned that it was commencing "a new stage" in its campaign.
The Islamic State of Iraq, a group closely aligned with al-Qaeda in Iraq, warned in an audio message posted on jihadist forums that it would begin targeting judges and prosecutors as it renewed its campaign to free members who are currently being held in prison.
"We are starting a new stage," said the voice on the message, purportedly that of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has been leader of the Islamic State of Iraq since May 2010.
"The first priority in this is releasing Muslim prisoners everywhere, and chasing and eliminating judges and investigators and their guards."
It was not possible to verify whether the voice was that of Baghdadi. Al-Qaeda in Iraq is regarded by Iraqi officials as significantly weaker than at the peak of its strength in 2006 and 2007, but it is still capable of launching spectacular mass-casualty attacks.
Al Jazeera's Arraf said that the attacks have "sparked fears that security forces will not be able to handle what appears to many people to be a resurgence of al-Qaeda" in the absence of US troops, who pulled out of the country at the end of last year.

Egypt eases Palestinian border restrictions



Egypt is allowing freer temporary entry for Palestinians into the country through the Rafah border crossing in an unprecedented move to ease long-imposed travel restrictions, particularly on Gazans - however, not everyone agrees the measures will go far enough.
Until now, any Palestinian under 40 was escorted by security agents to or from the Gaza border to ensure they spent no time on Egyptian territory. Palestinians saw the practice as a humiliation, especially since it often meant detention at the border or airport for up to three days, often in small rooms alongside criminals, as they waited for an escort.
"Imagine yourself locked in a small room in the basement of the airport, not allowed to smoke, eat or go to the bathroom except after approval from a security official," said Youssef Ramadan, a 36-year old merchant from Gaza who often travels to China through Egypt. "Humiliation is not the word. It is a nightmare."

He spent 36 hours in such conditions on his way back from China in May.

"It's time to end this and forever. It makes no sense to travel all over the world then Egypt, an Arab country, treats you like an animal."

The new measures end the procedure and allow Palestinians to cross through Egypt on their own arrangements, allowing them to stay in the country for up to 72 hours to do so. The measures came into effect early on Monday, and took many security agencies by surprise because it came before a formal announcement was made.
'For security reasons'
Border restrictions at Rafah have caused more than pain and humiliation, however. Palestinians have died waiting to cross the border for medical reasons.
In July 2006, four Palestinians died while awaiting re-entry into Gaza on the Egyptian side of the border crossing. The crossing was closed for weeks following the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit; two of the victims caught in the collective punishment were a 19-year-old woman and a 1.5-year-old infant.
The young woman, Mona Ismail, was returning from an operation in a Cairo hospital. She died as a result of a severe deterioration of her medical condition as she waited to cross. The infant, Hamze Abu Taleb, died of heat stroke.
Since then, the Rafah border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt has been closed on a regular basis - except for occasional, limited openings that meet only a small percentage of the travel needs of residents of the territory.
Attempts by Gazans to realise their right to freedom of movement and access to medical treatment, work, educational opportunities and family have been consistently thwarted by border security.
The crossing from Gaza to Egypt is a nightmarish process for most. Security procedures turn what should be a 30-minute journey into a test of patience and will - even family members seeking to reunite and those in need of medical treatment face a long, laborious process.
Egyptian authorities say strict security measures are necessary at Rafah because the country does not want to allow in any Hamas-related Gazans.
But not all Gazans are Hamas. According to Maher Abu Sabha, the director of the border crossing, the number of Gazans on waiting lists to leave the territory is over 20,000. Even with the eased restrictions, those on the list will likely have to wait for months before being allowed to cross
In addition to that, the eased restrictions are not stable and the border could be re-closed at any time. It also does not mean that Palestinians can cross the border whenever they want; they must give a reason that justifies their crossing.
Eased restrictions?
Egyptian security sources have said that entry is allowed only for Palestinians seeking medical attention, students, Gazans who have permission to stay in Egypt, Gazans seeking to travel abroad and foreigners who want to leave Gaza.
Medical patients who do receive permission to travel to Egypt for treatment may not be able to make the long journey, and they are often not allowed or put on a long waiting list to seek treatment in the West Bank or Jerusalem.
For Gazans wanting to reconnect with family in the West Bank, the eased border restrictions to Egypt do not help. They are still not allowed to travel into the other half of their country.
 
Economically, the 'freer' border does not help the Gaza Strip because the ability to import or export remains severely limited. On top of that, the types of construction materials allowed into the territory remain subject to 'security' concerns. Even humanitarian aid does not regularly enter through the Rafah border.
The decision has caused confusion among the security agencies in Egypt - and appeared to bring some resistance. Some officers at the airport refused to implement the measures, an airport official said, in a sign of how deeply some in the security forces view the Palestinians as a potential threat.

Even as some officials initially denied any easing, airport officials said seven Gazans were allowed into Egypt by dawn on Monday without the usual restrictions.

The changes appeared to be a gesture to the Palestinians after separate meetings last week between Egypt's new president, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and the leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, whose group controls Gaza.

Egypt's powerful security agencies have monopolised policy-making toward the Palestinians for years, generally working closely with Israel and taking a tough line for fear of Hamas and the spread of militancy. But security forces have been shaken since the fall last year of Hosni Mubarak - and now particularly with the election of an Islamist as his successor. The initial reaction from some officials could reflect fear the president was moving into their usual spheres of power.