Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Blaze kills Saudi Arabia wedding guests

At least 25 people have been killed by electric shock in a wedding in eastern Saudi Arabia, civil defence officials and local media say.
Celebratory gunfire brought down an electric cable at a house in Ain Badr village where the wedding was held on Tuesday night, Abdullah Khashman, an Eastern Province official, said.
Thirty others were injured in the incident near Abqaiq, a centre of the Saudi energy industry.
Some Saudi media reports said the blaze erupted inside a tent, killing at least 23 women and children. The kingdom's conservative codes require genders to be separated at most public events, including weddings.
The media cited civil defence officials as saying that celebratory gunfire brought down a power line that touched off the fire.
However, Reuters news agency quoted Khashman as saying: "At the wedding, the cable fell on a metal door and the 23 people who died were all electrocuted."
The victims were reportedly trying to escape through the door, the only exit from the courtyard, when they were killed.
All those killed were from the same tribe, Khashman said.
Saudi Arabia last month banned the shooting of firearms at weddings, a popular tradition in tribal areas of the country.
Prince Mohammed bin Fahd, Eastern Province's governor, ordered an investigation into the incident, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.
In July 1999, 76 people died in a similar incident in the Eastern Province.
Forty-three women and children were killed at a wedding in neighbouring Kuwait in 2009 when a fire engulfed a tent.
The ex-wife of the groom said she started the fire to avenge her former husband's "bad treatment" of her.

Only president can annul peace treaty with Israel: Egypt court

A Cairo administrative court on Tuesday threw out a lawsuit calling for the abrogation of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel on grounds that the issue constituted a 'matter of sovereignty' that could only be decided by the president of the republic.  

Members of Egypt's Revolutionary Youth Union had filed the lawsuit against President Mohamed Morsi, Prime Minister Hisham Qandil and Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr to demand the cancellation of the 1978 peace treaty.
The plaintiffs argued that the limited Egyptian military presence in the Sinai Peninsula stipulated by in the treaty had led to the emergence of militant groups in Sinai that threatened the country’s national security.
Last month, presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said Egypt's peace treaty with Israel did not require modification at the present time, stressing that Egypt had the ability to maintain control over the Sinai Peninsula and restore security on its territory.
Ali's statement came amid intense public scrutiny of Egypt's ongoing battle against militants in Sinai after unknown assailants killed 16 Egyptian border guards in August near the border with the Gaza Strip.
The attack prompted Egypt's armed forces to launch an extensive military campaign in the area.
The Camp David Peace Treaty tightly limits the presence of Egyptian troops and artillery throughout much of the peninsula.
Following last year's 25 January uprising, several prominent Egyptian groups and figures demanded that Egypt-Israel relations be revised.

Egypt military dismisses rumours of Israeli F-35 overflights

The Egyptian military has released a statement on Tuesday vehemently denying reports that Israeli military planes on Monday had trespassed on Egyptian airspace as "lies and disinformation."

"There are instigators who spread disinformation and lies that six Israeli F-35 planes entered Egyptian airspace," said military spokesman Colonel Mohamed Ahmed Ali.
At dawn Monday, many Cairo residents were awakened by military planes flying over the skies of the capital, in some cases breaking the sound barrier. Other governorates – including Alexandria, Beni Suef and Damietta – were also affected.
The military promptly released a statement saying that the aircraft that had broken the sound barrier over Cairo had belonged to the Egyptian Air Force and had merely been testing the country’s air-defence systems.
However, a number of subsequent reports to emerge online claimed that six Israeli F-35 fighters had invaded Egyptian airspace.
The Egyptian military responded by saying that the advanced F-35s were not even in use yet by the US Air Force, and would not be available to Israel's air force before 2016.
Ali stressed that the Egyptian Armed Forces generally do not conduct military exercises on public holidays. Sometimes, however, they do hold "unplanned exercises," he added, to test the competence of Egypt's air force.
"The exercises that took place at dawn were meant to take the Air Force by surprise and test its ability to secure Egyptian airspace and respond to emergency situations," the spokesman said.
On Monday night, the anonymous 'Officers for the Revolution' Facebook page, allegedly run by pro-revolution army officers, released a different version of the story. They claimed that six Israeli F-15 military planes had entered Egyptian airspace in order to "display Israeli military superiority and its control over the area."
The officers' movement went on to accuse the Egyptian military of propagating lies and "trying to convince the Egyptian people that what happened was simply aerial military exercises by the Egyptian armed forces and take advantage of the fact that the people don't know the rules of military exercises."
They then claimed that, according to military regulations, exercises cannot be performed during public holidays unless Egyptian airspace has actually been breached.

The officers also said that, according to Egyptian regulations, military exercises are not permitted before 6am, meaning that the planes – which appeared over Cairo's skies at dawn – had not belonged to the Egyptian Air Force.

They added that regulations also banned military planes from flying low or breaking the sound barrier over residential areas.
The movement went on to compare the Monday incident to an alleged Israeli air strike last week on an arms factory in Sudan.
"What happened in Egyptian airspace is no different to what happened in Sudanese airspace, where several factories were destroyed," the officers' statement read. "Israel knows every tiny detail about the Egyptian Air Force, because it has dealt with the same system since the 1973 war."

Residents of Egypt's Sinai to be allowed to own local land: PM

Residents of Egyptian Sinai will finally enjoy the right to own land in the peninsula after Prime Minister Hisham Qandil issued a decision laying out purchase procedures for would-be local landowners, Egypt's official news agency MENA reported on Monday.

Qandil stated that all those applying to purchase land plots in Sinai must have two documents: proof that they do not have a second nationality, and a certificate confirming that both parents are Egyptian.
The prime minister added that both Egyptian individuals and corporations would be eligible to own Sinai land, noting that purchases would be done through public bids.
Foreign corporations eying investment projects in Sinai, meanwhile, will be granted contracts on a usufruct basis, Qandil said.
During the era of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, Sinai-based Egyptians and Bedouin tribesmen had campaigned for the amendment of existing laws banning them from land ownership in Sinai for ostensible "security" reasons since Egypt regained the peninsula from Israel in 1981.
According to Qandil, the move will serve to boost development in Sinai by encouraging local investors who will be offered generous facilities and easy-to-meet terms and conditions.
600,000 Egyptian Bedouins live in Sinai and have complained for many years that the central government neglects provision of basic health, education and other services to local residents.

Egypt's president to attend Coptic Pope enthronement: Bishop Pachomios

The enthronement of the Egypt's new Coptic pope will be held on 18 November, Bishop Pachomios, the acting patriarch, told Al-Ahram Arabic news website, Monday night.

A verbal invitation to attend the inauguration was sent to President Mohamed Morsi, Bishop Pachomios confirmed.

"[Morsi has] shown interest in what is taking place within the Church and promised that time permitting, he would attend the inaugural ceremony or visit later."
The interim pope further expressed his contentment with the papal elections that took place on 29 October, thanking God for listening to the prayers of the Copts.
"The altar lottery will be held on 4 November, after the Holy Mass," he said.

The 'altar lottery' is the final stage of the selection process. A blindfolded child will randomly select the name of the church's next pope from a clear box containing the names of the three papal candidates on three slips of paper.
The final three nominees, as elected by over 2000 chosen Coptic electors on Monday, are Bishop Raphael, Father Raphael Ava Mina, and Bishop Tawadros.

Military airport transformed into torture cells in Syria: activists

The Syrian regime has transformed a military airport in Hama city into one of the country's most-feared prisons, where detainees are crammed into hangars and deadly torture is rife, activists, watchdogs and former inmates said.

Known as the site of a 1982 uprising which was crushed amid tens of thousands of deaths by President Bashar al-Assad's father and predecessor Hafez, Hama has also suffered in Syria's current uprising.

Activists in Hama took part in the modern uprising that broke out in March last year but following an almost six-week siege in the summer of 2011, the army and security forces took full control of the city.

Open dissent has since been nearly impossible, with detentions carried out almost daily by the security forces, monitors and activists said.
Those detained are often sent to Hama military airport, which is not only sending warplanes on air raids but also being used as a prison by the feared Air Force Intelligence service.

“The airport is known for being the place where the worst human rights abuses of all the detention centers are committed against detainees,” a Hama-based activist who identified himself as Abu Ghazi told AFP via Skype.

“Detainees are tortured wherever they are taken, whether it's a security branch or a makeshift detention center in a hospital,” said Abu Ghazi.
“But the airport is terrifying. People pay bribes just to be transferred from there to other detention centers.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a watchdog that has documented rights violations in Syria since 2006, said the airport has become notorious “for the ugliest forms of torture and murder of detainees.”

“After the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in March last year, the authorities began to kill demonstrators and launch a frenzied crackdown against anyone suspected of participating in the uprising,” it said in a statement this week.
With so many suspected activists detained and its prisons overflowing, the regime resorted to using a range of public facilities across the country for detentions, from football stadiums to schools, activists and monitors say.

The Britain-based Observatory said it has documented at least 700 cases nationwide in which detainees have been tortured to death and many others in which torture led to permanent disability.

Hama military airport has gained the worst reputation of all among these unofficial prisons, according to Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

“Thousands of prisoners, young and old, have suffered the most brutal forms of torture and murder, unchecked by any sense of morality or accountability. Since it is not an official prison, there are no records kept of detainees,” he said.

“Sometimes more than 500 detainees are crammed inside one aircraft hangar, which can reach above 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer and has led to the deaths of many people with heart disease or breathing issues.”

The Observatory said the bodies of those who died were left for days among the prisoners, who had no access to toilets and were forced to defecate in the hangar.

The Observatory relies on a countrywide network of activists, lawyers and medics in civilian and military hospitals.
In an account of his time at the airport, activist Mourad al-Hamwi, who was held for 75 days from early July, described horrific conditions.

“We were 57 detainees in a dungeon only four-by-three-meter wide. When I arrived I had to squeeze myself into the forest of legs in the cell,” he said in the account provided to AFP.
“The smell of blood mixed with festering mildew and sweat was suffocating. The lice, cockroaches and insects found an excellent environment there,” 25-year-old Hamwi said.

The detainees ranged from pre-teens to elderly men, some half-dressed, some naked, and all of them covered in bruises.

“One man said he was arrested because of a mix-up in names. Another told me sarcastically he was charged with possessing 'weapons'.”

During his time in detention, Hamwi said at least 40 people were tortured to death.

“One of them, Jihad Saleh, had his hands bound to his feet behind his back and was left lying on his stomach without food. He starved to death in the corridor outside my cell.”

Another man was being held in a cell along with his family, including four children.

“They broke his leg when he confessed he was a rebel. He choked with tears as he told me he was prepared to sacrifice one of his sons to save the rest of his family,” said Hamwi.

“What is happening to Syrian detainees is hidden from the eyes and ears of the world. We have no one else but God.”

UN's Syria envoy seeks China's 'active role'

Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League envoy, has expressed hope, after holding talks in Beijing with Yang Jiechi, Chinese foreign minister, that China will play an active role in helping end the violence in Syria.
Speaking in the Chinese capital on Wednesday, Brahimi said he hoped "China can play an active role in solving the events in Syria" without elaborating further.
For his part, Yang urged the world community to support Brahimi's mediation efforts, and to support a "political transition".
"The international community should fully co-operate with and support envoy Brahimi's mediation efforts with a more intense sense of urgency and responsibility," Xinhua state news agency cited Yang as telling the envoy.
"China believes that the situation in Syria is worsening by the day ... The only realistic way out is to resolve the
Syria issue through political channels." 

China, an ally of Syria, has exercised its veto along with Russia in the UN Security Council to block resolutions aimed at putting more pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
According to the Chinese foreign ministry's website, Yang met an Assad envoy in August and an opposition delegation the next month, both times stressing the need for dialogue.
He cautioned the opposition about outside forces directing any political transition, while he told Assad's envoy that both sides in the conflict should work with international mediation efforts.
Brahimi, who succeeded former UN chief Kofi Annan after he quit over what he called a lack of international support, is due to present new proposals for resolving the conflict to the UN Security Council next month.
His two-day visit to China came after he met Russia's foreign minister in Moscow and described the conflict as going from bad to worse.
Renewed clashes
Nineteen months after protests against the Assad regime erupted last year, clashes between rebels and the regular army are raging in many parts of Syria.
The opposition says more than 32,000 people have been killed. Hundreds of thousands have fled to neighbouring countries.
Activists reported fighting and air raids in eastern suburbs of the capital, Damascus, on Wednesday.
Fierce clashes were also reported in the northwestern province of Idlib, where opposition fighters attacked highway military checkpoints and battles raged over the rebel-held town of Maaret al-Numan and the Wadi Daif army base.
Separately, Syria's state news agency said an "armed terrorist group" assassinated a high-ranking air force general on Tuesday.
Major-General Abdullah Mahmoud al-Khalidi was shot while getting out of his car in the Rukn al-Din neighbourhood in Damascus, the report said.
Rebels claimed responsibility for the killing

Settlers build two new West Bank outposts

Two new Jewish settlement outposts have been created in the West Bank in the first such development since 2005, Israel’s Peace Now settlement watchdog said on Wednesday. 

According to the watchdog, an outpost called Nahalei Tal has been set up northwest of Ramallah, and another called Tzufim North has been set up near the Tzufim settlement near the northern town of Qalqilya.

Despite the fact they have been set up without the required permits, both are already connected to the electricity grid and the water board, indicating clear backing from the Israeli authorities, Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran said in a statement.

“As opposed to the sporadic outposts that are created by the hilltop youth and evacuated every few weeks by the security forces, it is evident that the two new outposts are highly supported by the authorities,” she said.

“They include mobile homes, infrastructure, electricity, water and roads (and even air conditioning),” she said, indicating that the watchdog had complained to the Israeli Civil Administration which is responsible for planning issues.

“It is apparent that at this stage there is no intention to evacuate the outposts,” Ofran said, indicating it was the first time unauthorized outposts had been set up since 2005.

The Israeli government distinguishes between settlements built with all the required permits, and unauthorized outposts, which are set up without them.

But the international community considers all settlements built in the West Bank and east Jerusalem to be illegal because they are built on territory Israel occupied during the 1967 Six Day War.

Ofran charged that by allowing the establishment of more unauthorized settlement outposts, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was making “a mockery of the rule of law.”

“After the government rewarded the lawbreakers that built on private Palestinian lands in Migron and Ulpana with alternative homes and other benefits, the government continues to make a mockery of the rule of law and allow a radical minority to establish new outposts, which create facts on the ground that harm the possibility of an agreement with the Palestinians,” she said.

Migron and Ulpana are two outposts which were evacuated by the Israeli government following a Supreme Court ruling, with the residents rehoused in other settlements.

Iran temporarily put nuclear bomb ambitions on hold: Israel’s defense ministe

Iran averted a showdown over its nuclear program by putting a third of its medium-enriched uranium to civilian use, but the respite may be short-lived, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Tuesday.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph while on a visit to London, Barak said it was “probable” that a tipping point in Israel’s standoff with Iran over its nuclear program would have been reached before the U.S. presidential election next month had Iran not diverted the fuel in August.

The decision put back any immediate plans Iran had for acquiring a nuclear bomb, but Barak told the British newspaper the “moment of truth” had only been delayed by “eight to 10 months.”
Israel has engaged in much sabre-rattling over Iran’s nuclear program in recent months, with several politicians proposing a preemptive military strike to avoid any possibility of Tehran acquiring an atomic weapon.

Barak explained that Tehran had amassed 189 kilograms (417 pounds) of 20-percent pure uranium -- a key step in the development of weapons-grade material -- but that 38 percent of this was converted into fuel rods for a civilian research reactor.

In comments published on the Telegraph’s website, Barak argued there were three possible reasons for this.

“One is the public discourse about a possible Israeli or American operation deterred them from trying to come closer,” he reasoned.

“It could probably be a diplomatic gambit that they have launched in order to avoid this issue culminating before the American election, just to gain some time.”

“It could be a way of telling the International Atomic Energy Agency ‘oh we comply with our commitments’,” he added, according to AFP.

Several rounds of negotiations between world powers and Tehran have failed to produce much progress on increasing the transparency of Tehran’s nuclear program, which the West suspects is a front for developing nuclear weapons.

Tehran denies the charge and insists it has a right to enrich uranium -- despite four rounds of U.N. sanctions over its refusal to cooperate with nuclear agency inspectors.

Analysts say Iran already has enough low-enriched uranium for several nuclear bombs if it were refined to a high degree, but may still be a few years away from being able to assemble a missile if it decided to go down that path.

Western diplomats say Iran appears to have nearly finished installing centrifuges at an underground nuclear plant, potentially boosting its capacity to make weapons-grade uranium if it chose to do so.

Iran and the United States have recently both denied reaching a deal for one-on-one nuclear talks, as The New York Times had reported -- even though the White House said it was open to such dialogue.

Barak said he doubted that sanctions and diplomacy would resolve the crisis and predicted Israel would probably face a decision over whether to launch strikes in 2013.

He insisted that Israel had the right to act alone and that a preemptive strike would be less risky than waiting until Iran had acquired a nuclear weapon.


BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian warplanes pounded opposition strongholds around Damascus and in the north Wednesday, as President Bashar Assad's forces intensified airstrikes against rebels seeking to topple him, activists said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which gathers reports from a network of activists on the ground, said government jets carried out five strikes in the eastern Ghouta district, a rebel stronghold close to the capital.
Three airstrikes also hit the rebel-held city of Maaret al-Numan that straddles a key supply route from Damascus to Aleppo, Syria largest city and a main front in the civil war. Maaret al-Numan has been under constant bombardment since it fell to the rebels on Oct. 10.
No casualties were reported in Wednesday's strikes, the Observatory said. However, at least 185 people were killed nationwide in airstrikes and artillery shelling the day before, pushing the total death toll from the relentless fighting in Syria to over 36,000 since March 2011, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, the activist group's president.
At least 47 soldiers were also killed Tuesday, according to the Observatory.
Syria's crisis began as a peaceful uprising against Assad's regime inspired by the Arab Spring but quickly morphed into a bloody civil war.
The international community remains at a loss about how to stop the war and a U.N.-proposed truce last week for a major Muslim holiday failed to take hold. More than 500 people were killed in fighting during what was supposed to be a four-day cease-fire ending Monday.
In China, the U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, met Wednesday with China's foreign minister to solicit Beijing's support for international efforts to stop the bloodshed.
The U.S. and other Western and Arab nations have called on Assad to step down, while Russia, China and Iran continue to back him.
In the past weeks, the regime has intensified airstrikes on rebel positions and strongholds. Activists speculate that the government's heavy reliance on air power reflects its inability to roll back rebel gains, especially in the north of the country near the border with Turkey, where rebels have control of swathes of territory.
"The Syrian regime can't do anything on the ground, and that's why they use air strikes," Abdul-Rahman said.
The international community's failure to push for an even modest truce raised fears of a prolonged conflict in Syria that could drag in its neighbors such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
Turkey's support for the Syrian rebel movement has been a particular point of tension between the former allies. Turkey has reinforced its border and fired into Syria on several occasions recently in response to shells that have landed from Syria inside Turkish territory.
Syria's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdessi, accused Turkey of having "destructive policies" against Damascus and claimed the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, was "targeting the security and stability" of Syria.
Makdessi was referring to Tuesday's comments by Davutoglu who expressed "great sadness" that the holiday cease-fire had failed and said his government was done talking to Assad's regime.
The spokesman insisted it was the unwillingness of Turkey and Gulf states to cease supporting the rebels that doomed the truce, the state-run SANA news agency reported late Tuesday.
Damascus views the rebels as terrorists and accuses them of being foot soldiers in a foreign plot to destroy Syria.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

UAE denounces EU human rights criticism

The United Arab Emirates on Saturday denounced a European Union resolution which criticized the human rights situation in the Gulf country, saying it made unfounded accusations against it.

The resolution was “biased and prejudiced (and) throws accusations haphazardly without substantiating the facts,” Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash said in a statement.

He said that the UAE, one of the most liberal countries of the Gulf, “represents a society of people of over 200 different nationalities who co-exist in an atmosphere of openness and tolerance.”

The EU Parliament on Friday issued a resolution criticizing the human rights situation in the Emirates, highlighting the repression of political prisoners and the exploitation of migrant workers.

The resolution was “unfair, which impacted its credibility,” Gargash said, and “adopted unsubstantiated accusations by groups and organizations that made it a top priority to tarnish UAE’s reputation.”

He added that it “purposely overlooks the milestones made by the UAE and endorsed by the relevant international organizations, particularly in the areas of foreign labor, comprehensive social care and women’s empowerment.”

The EU resolution condemned “harassment,” “restrictions on freedom of expression” and “illegal imprisonment” suffered by pro-democracy activists in the UAE, and demanded the “unconditional release of prisoners of conscience,” which it says number 64.

It also demanded the UAE implement reforms to put an end to abuses suffered by migrant workers, especially women.

Gargash said the UAE had “not been summoned to this discussion,” which it requested in vain to be deferred in order to have a chance to express its points of view.

The UAE, which escaped the sweeping upheaval of the Arab Spring popular protests that overthrew several Middle Eastern and North African dictators last year, said in July it dismantled a group plotting against state security, from among 60 Islamists it had detained.

Saudi King urges U.N. action against religious insults

Saudi King Abdullah on Saturday demanded a U.N. resolution condemning insults on monotheistic religions after a low-budget film produced in the U.S. sparked deadly protests last month.

“I demand a U.N. resolution that condemns any country or group that insults religions and prophets,” he said during a meeting at his palace with religious figures and heads of hajj delegations in the Mina valley where pilgrims were performing final rituals of hajj.

“It is our duty and that of every Muslim to protect Islam and defend the prophets.”

A low-budget film produced in the U.S., Innocence of Muslims, triggered a wave of deadly anti-American violence last month across the Muslim world targeting US symbols ranging from embassies and schools to fast food chains.

Saudi Arabia had threatened to block YouTube in the kingdom if Google did not respond to a request to deny access to the video footage of the film. YouTube then extended its restrictions on the video to Saudi Arabia.

The king also called on Saturday for the “unity of the Islamic nation (and) rejecting division to face the nation’s enemies” as he urged for dialogue among Muslims.

“Dialogue strengthens moderation and ends reasons of conflict and extremism,” he said.

“The interconfessional dialogue center which we had announced in Mecca does not necessarily mean reaching agreements on the matters of belief, but it aims at reaching solutions to divisions and implementing co-existence among sects,” he added.

The Saudi monarch proposed in August setting up a center for dialogue between Muslim confessions in Riyadh.

Egypt says Israeli settlement expansion jeopardizes region’s security

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said Israeli settlement activities on occupied Palestinian territories jeopardize security and stability in the region, Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reported on Saturday.

The Foreign Ministry also urged the Jewish state to halt its announced building of new 800 housing units and government premises in Palestinian territories.

Israeli expansion in Eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank “is a clear threat to the two-state solution, which the international community agreed to achieve,” read a statement by the foreign ministry.

“Egypt outlines that the attempts to separate Eastern Jerusalem from its surrounding Palestinian territories in the West Bank, and the endeavors to Judaize it create insurmountable obstacles on the way to just and comprehensive peace between both Palestinian and Israeli sides,” the statement added.

The ministry said that the Egyptian Ambassador in Tel Aviv Atef Salem has communicated the message to the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

On Thursday, the Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur, Richard Falk, said that around 600,000 Israeli citizens had already transferred in Palestinian territories and that an estimate of 200,000 had settled in East Jerusalem.

Falk also urged the international community to boycott 13 companies benefiting from business with Israeli settlements.

‘Egypt to stand by the Palestinians’

Meanwhile, Islamists criticized Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi for re-opening the Egyptian embassy in Israel. But during Mursi’s Eid al-Adha speech on Wednesday, he said that “without declaring war against anyone,” Egypt would do its best to support Palestinian in their struggle against Israeli occupation.

“We will never accept any assault or siege on the Palestinian people. Egypt provides Palestine with all its needs such as food and clothing,” the Cairo-based Ahram Online quoted Mursi as saying.

“The blood of Palestinians is our blood, their life is our life and their pains are our pains. However, supporting Palestine does not mean that we will declare war against anybody,” he added in reference to Israel. Mursi did not name Israel directly, thereby maintaining the same pattern he has followed in his speeches since his inauguration as Egypt president, Ahram said.

Egypt, the first Arab country to recognize Israel, is trying to balance between its peace agreement with the Jewish state and its pro-Palestinian stance. On Thursday, it helped to negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and armed Palestinian groups in Gaza.

Millions of Muslim pilgrims stone devil for second day

Millions of Muslim pilgrims from all over the world, grouped by nationality, stoned the devil in Saudi Arabia's Mina valley on Saturday, as the hajj reached its final stages.

After stoning three walls symbolizing Satan in a rejection of sin and temptation, male pilgrims changed out of the seamless terrycloth robes of pilgrimage and shaved their heads, as a sign of renewal. Women - and those men who prefer not to undergo a complete shave - had a lock of hair clipped.
Pilgrims stoning the Satan at Jamrah. (AFP)
Pilgrims stoning the Satan at Jamrah. (AFP)
Security forces were heavily deployed in the stoning area and first aid teams remained on high alert around the three adjacent pillars representing Satan.

Men, women and children from 189 countries moved easily from one pillar to the next shouting "Allahu Akbar (God is the greatest)" as they hurled pebbles at the stone walls.

They walked in groups carrying their national flags so no members would get lost in the massive crowds.

As many prayed after and during the stoning, others were taking pictures on their mobile phones of themselves next to the pillars.

The photographing was criticized by members of the security forces who said through loudspeakers: "How are you people stoning Satan and taking pictures with him at the same time?"
Muslim pilgrims throw pebbles at pillars during the devil-stoning ritual in Mina near the holy city of Mecca. (AFP)
Muslim pilgrims throw pebbles at pillars during the devil-stoning ritual in Mina near the holy city of Mecca. (AFP)
Though pilgrims will repeat the stoning ritual for at least two more days, they could now call themselves "hajjis," referring to those who have done the pilgrimage.

Malik Evangelatos, from Ukiah, Calif., said the experience felt "wonderful, satisfying and humbling," according to AP.

Evangelatos, who converted to Islam six years ago, said the simple pilgrim's garment that he had worn the past few days helped him "see the bigger picture in life and go back changed, happy and appreciative." For him, the hajj brought a chance to be truly equal regardless of ethnicity or race.

"It has probably been the highlight of my life outside of getting married and having a baby," he said. "You feel an emotional release. It is something that is not recreated anywhere else in the world."

The ritual, which takes place in the kingdom's usually-deserted Mina valley and comes to life only during the annual hajj pilgrimage, began on Friday with the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday as the faithful began by stoning the largest pillar, Jamrat al-Aqaba.

Mina used to be the most dangerous phase of the hajj and the most problematic for the Saudi authorities, marred by deadly stampedes in the past as well as by fires in tent camps.

In the past few years, however, tents have been fire-proofed and gas canisters and cooking are now banned.

The stoning area has also been expanded to avoid overcrowding.

The Saudi authorities have built a five-level structure around the three stoning sites, allowing for a smooth flow of pilgrims who are only permitted to move in one direction throughout the area to prevent congestion.

The ritual is an emulation of Abraham's stoning of the devil at the three spots where it is said Satan tried to dissuade the biblical patriarch from obeying God's order to sacrifice his son, Ishmael.

According to the authorities, 168,000 police officers and civil defense personnel were mobilized for this year's hajj. For the stoning, they organized specific times of day for groups of pilgrims to perform the ritual.

Over three million registered pilgrims are taking part in the rituals which will be over on Monday. Many pilgrims, however, conclude the pilgrimage on Sunday.


CAIRO (AP) -- Satellite images of the aftermath of an explosion at a Sudanese weapons factory this past week suggest the site was hit in an airstrike, a U.S. monitoring group said Saturday.
The Sudanese government has accused Israel of bombing its Yarmouk military complex in Khartoum, killing two people and leaving the factory in ruins.
The images released by the Satellite Sentinel Project to The Associated Press on Saturday showed six 52-foot (16-meter) wide craters near the epicenter of Wednesday's explosion at the compound.
Military experts consulted by the project found the craters to be "consistent with large impact craters created by air-delivered munitions, Satellite Sentinel Project spokesman Jonathan Hutson told the AP.
The target may have been around 40 shipping containers seen at the site in earlier images. The group said the craters center on the area where the containers had been stacked. It did not comment on the allegations of Israeli involvement or who might be behind the strikes.
Jonah Leff, who monitors Sudan for the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey and was not connected to the project, reviewed the images on Saturday and agreed with the group's assessment.
Israeli officials have neither confirmed nor denied striking the site. Instead, they accused Sudan of playing a role in an Iranian-backed network of arms shipments to Hamas and Hezbollah. Israel believes Sudan is a key transit point in the circuitous route that weapons take to the Islamic militant groups in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.
Sudan was a major hub for al-Qaida militants and remains a transit for weapon smugglers and African migrant traffickers. Israeli officials believe arms that originate in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas go through Sudan before crossing Egypt's lawless Sinai desert and into Gaza through underground tunnels.
The Satellite Sentinel Project is a partnership between the Enough Project, a Washington-based anti-genocide advocacy group and DigitalGlobe, which operates three commercial satellites and provides geospatial analysis. The project was founded last year with support from actor George Clooney, and in the past has used satellite images to monitor the destruction of villages by Sudanese troops in the country's multiple war zones.
Opened in 1996, Yarmouk is one of two known state-owned weapons manufacturing plants in the Sudanese capital. Sudan prided itself in having a way to produce its own ammunition and weapons despite United Nations and U.S. sanctions.
The satellite images indicate that the Yarmouk facility includes an oil storage facility, a military depot and an ammunition plant.
The monitoring group said the images indicate that the blast "destroyed two buildings and heavily damaged at least 21 others," adding that there was no indication of fire damage at the fuel depot inside the military complex.
The group said it could not be certain the containers, seen in images taken Oct. 12, were still there when explosion took place. But the effects of the blast suggested a "highly volatile cargo" was at the epicenter of the explosion.
"If the explosions resulted from a rocket or missile attack against material stored in the shipping containers, then it was an effective surgical strike that totally destroyed any container" that was at the location, the project said.
Yarmouk is located in a densely populated residential area of the city approximately 11 kilometers (seven miles) southwest of the Khartoum International Airport.
Wednesday's explosion sent exploding ammunition flying into homes in the neighborhood adjacent to the factory, causing panic among residents. Sudanese officials said some people suffered from smoke inhalation.
A man who lives near the factory said that from inside their house, he and his brother heard a load roar of what they believed was a plane just before the boom of the explosion sounded from the factory.
In the aftermath of Wednesday's explosion, Sudanese officials said the government has the right to respond to what the information minister said was a "flagrant attack" by Israel on Sudan's sovereignty and right to strengthen its military capabilities.
In a Friday speech marking Eid al Adha, Islam's biggest holiday, Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir called Israel "short-sighted," according to comments published by the Egyptian state-owned paper Al Ahram. The president likened the incident to the 1998 bombing by American cruise missiles of a Khartoum pharmaceutical factory suspected of links to al-Qaida.
Some Israeli commentators suggested that if Israel did indeed carry out an airstrike causing Wednesday's blast, it might have been a trial run of sorts for an operation in Iran. Both countries are roughly 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) away from Israel, and an air operation would require careful planning and in-flight refueling.


BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraqi insurgents unleashed a string of bombings and other attacks primarily targeting the country's Shiite community on Saturday, leaving at least 40 dead in a challenge to government efforts to promote a sense of stability by preventing attacks during a major Muslim holiday.
The bloodshed appeared to be the worst in Iraq since Sept. 9, when insurgents launched a wave of bombings and other attacks that left at least 92 dead in one of the country's bloodiest days this year.
The attacks underscored the difficulties facing the country's leadership as it struggles to keep its citizens safe. Authorities had increased security in hopes of preventing attacks during the four-day Eid al-Adha celebrations, when people are off work and families gather in public places.
The deadliest attacks struck in the evening in the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City. Police said a car packed with explosives blew up near a market, killing 12 people and wounding 27. Half an hour later, a second car bomb went off in one of Sadr city's bus stations, killing 10 and injuring 31.
Earlier in the day, a bomb exploded near playground equipment that had been set up for the holiday in a market on the capital's outskirts in the eastern neighborhood of Bawiya. Police officials said eight people were killed, including four children. Another 24 people, including children, were wounded, they added.
"Nobody expected this explosion because our neighborhood has been living in peace, away from the violence hitting the rest of the capital," said Bassem Mohammed, a 35-year-old father of three in the neighborhood who was startled by the blast.
"We feel sad for the children who thought that they would spend a happy time during Eid, but instead ended up getting killed or hurt."
Elsewhere, a bomb attached to a bus carrying Iranian Shiite pilgrims killed five people and wounded nine, according to police. The bomb, hidden on the underside of the bus, detonated as the pilgrims were heading to a Shiite shrine in Baghdad to mark the holiday.
Authorities have said they planned to increase the number of checkpoints, shut some roads and deploy extra personnel during the holiday period.
They are also relying more on undercover intelligence agents, said Lt. Col. Saad Maan Ibrahim, a spokesman for the interior ministry. He emphasized that both bombings took place on the edge of the capital rather than in densely populated areas.
"The terrorists apparently weren't able to get to the heart of the city. So they chose to attack soft targets on the outskirts," he said.
In the northern city of Mosul, gunmen broke into the houses of two Shabak families, killing a boy and his parents in one and a mother and daughter in the other, according to police. A bomb exploded near the house of another Shabak family, wounding six family members.
Shabaks are ethnically Turkomen and Shiite by religion. Most Shabaks were driven out of Mosul by Sunni militants during the sectarian fighting a few years ago.
In Tuz Khormato, about 210 kilometers (130 miles) north of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded near in a neighborhood with a Turkomen Shiite majority. Mayor Shalal Abdoul said 11 people were wounded, including three children.
Medics in nearby hospitals confirmed the casualties. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Eid al-Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice, is a major Muslim holiday that commemorates what Muslims believe was the Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail, the Biblical Ishmael, as a test of his faith from God. Christians and Jews believe another of Abraham's sons, Isaac, was the one almost sacrificed.
The holiday, which began Friday, marks the end of the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims worldwide typically slaughter lambs and other animals to commemorate the holiday, sharing some of the meat with the poor.
Violence has ebbed across Iraq, but insurgents frequently attack security forces and civilians in an attempt to undermine the country's Shiite-led government.
Holidays are a particular time of concern for security forces. A wave of attacks shortly before another Muslim holiday in August, Eid al-Fitr, killed more than 90 people in one of the deadliest days in Iraq this year.


ISLAMABAD (AP) -- Pakistan has increased efforts to reach out to some of its biggest enemies in Afghanistan, a significant policy shift that could prove crucial to U.S.-backed efforts to strike a peace deal in the neighboring country.
The target of the diplomatic push has mainly been non-Pashtun political leaders who have been at odds with Pakistan for years because of the country's historical support for the Afghan Taliban, a Pashtun movement.
Many of the leaders fought against the Taliban when the fundamentalist Islamic group seized control of Afghanistan in the 1990s with Pakistan's help, and have accused Islamabad of maintaining support for the insurgents following the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 - allegations denied by the government.
Many experts agree that Pakistan continues to see the Taliban as an ally, albeit a shaky one, in countering the influence of archenemy India in Afghanistan. But they also say Islamabad no longer believes the insurgents can take over the country or wants them to, a common misperception in the West.
"A Taliban victory on the other side of the border would give a huge boost to domestic militants fighting the Pakistani state," said Zahid Hussain, a journalist who has written extensively about Islamabad's war against the Pakistani Taliban.
Pakistan is also worried that unrest in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of most foreign troops in 2014 could provide the Pakistani Taliban with greater space to establish sanctuaries across the border.
The Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are allies but have focused on different enemies. The Afghan Taliban battle local and foreign forces in Afghanistan, while the Pakistani Taliban mainly wage war against Islamabad.
These concerns have led Pakistan to the conclusion that a peace agreement that includes all Afghan groups is in its best interests, and contact with its traditional foes among the non-Pashtuns is necessary to achieve that goal, said Moeed Yusuf, South Asia adviser for the United States Institute of Peace.
"I think the fundamental point here is that there is a serious realization among some people who matter in Pakistan that they can't continue to put all their eggs in the Taliban basket because it is too shaky," said Yusuf. "This is a major shift, and a shift that I think everybody should welcome."
The outreach comes as Pakistan, Afghanistan and the U.S. have stepped up efforts to breathe new life into the Taliban peace process, which has been hamstrung by distrust among all the parties involved.
The U.S. and Pakistan recently set up working groups to identify which Taliban leaders would be open to reconciliation and to ensure those holed up on Pakistani territory would be able to travel to the site of talks. Pakistan and Afghanistan have been in discussions to revive a joint commission set up to discuss the peace process.
Pakistan is seen as key to a peace deal because of its ties with the Taliban, and there is hope that Islamabad's increased engagement with non-Pashtuns in Afghanistan will facilitate the process.
"I think one of Pakistan's realizations is that if you want to play a bigger role to reconcile all these groups, you need to reach out to every group," said Rahimullah Yousufzai, a Pakistani journalist and expert on the Taliban. "They will be pushing the Taliban to share power with all these people, but it won't be easy because the Taliban aren't known to share power and the U.S. doesn't want to give them a major share."
Islamabad's historical support for the Taliban and other Pashtuns in Afghanistan, who make up about 40 percent of the population of 190 million, is partly rooted in the sizable number of Pashtuns who live in Pakistan. The ethnic group has always been seen as the best bet for furthering Pakistan's interests in the country.
Pakistan first advertised its overtures to non-Pashtuns in Afghanistan in February when Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar met with a range of ethnic Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara leaders during a visit to Kabul. Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf followed suit in July when he traveled to Afghanistan and invited the group to the opening of the new Pakistani Embassy in Kabul.
There have also been less publicized contacts by Pakistan's ambassador to Kabul, Mohammad Sadiq, and the country's army and intelligence service, according to Pakistani and Afghan officials.
Khar said the policy shift had been in the works for a while but was like a steering a large ship in a new direction.
"You're not able to do it immediately," said the foreign minister.
Pakistan's powerful army is the true arbiter of the country's Afghan policy, but experts expressed doubt that the Foreign Ministry would have pushed ahead without the support of the generals, who have historically had the closest relationship to the Taliban.
One key Afghan leader who has met with the Pakistanis, Abdullah Abdullah, said he appreciated the country's recent attempt to reach out because it was done publicly. The influential politician, who was runner-up to Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the 2009 election, said Pakistani intelligence officials contacted him in previous years, but he refused to speak with them because he did not believe communication should be carried out in secret.
"I see a lot of good in reaching out, in engagement, in dialogue," said Abdullah, who is half Pashtun but draws much of his support from the Tajik community.
The outreach has rattled the Taliban, who have warned Pakistani officials that they can't trust the non-Pashtuns, Yousufzai said.
Pakistan will have to overcome significant distrust among the non-Pashtuns. The government has old ties to some of the leaders, who worked with Pakistan in the 1980s to push the Soviets out of Afghanistan, but Islamabad's subsequent support for the Taliban created a huge amount of bad blood.
Despite that, the Pakistanis are hopeful.
"The Pakistani side's view of Afghan negotiations is that you kill on one day and kiss on the next, so while this will be very tough, they think that it's not entirely out of the realm of possibility that they may actually get somewhere," said Yusuf, the South Asia analyst.


BEIRUT (AP) -- A Syrian warplane flattened a three-story building, suspected rebels detonated a deadly car bomb and both sides traded gunfire in several hotspots across the country Saturday, activists said, leaving a U.N.-backed holiday truce in tatters on its second day.
The unraveling of the cease-fire marked the latest setback to ending Syria's civil war through diplomacy. Foreign military intervention is unlikely, raising the grim prospect of a drawn-out war of attrition between President Bashar Assad and those trying to topple him.
The proposed four-day truce during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha had been a long shot from the start since international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi failed to get solid commitments from all combatants. Fighting dropped off in the first hours of the cease-fire Friday, but by the end of the day, activists said 151 people had been killed in bombings and shootings, a standard daily toll in Syria.
On Saturday, the first regime airstrike since the start of the truce reduced a three-story building in the Arbeen suburb of the capital, Damascus to rubble, killing at least eight men, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which compiles reports from activists.
In the remote eastern town of Deir el-Zour, assailants detonated a car bomb near a military police compound, then opened fire at those rushing to the scene, killing a total of eight people and causing extensive damage, the Observatory said. Syrian media denied there were casualties. The attack bore the hallmarks of Jabhat al-Nusra, a radical rebel-allied Islamic group that has rejected the cease-fire.
The Syrian air force also bombed rebel positions Saturday during a fierce battle for control over the main road linking Aleppo, Syria's largest city, with the capital, activists said. Earlier this month, rebels seized Maaret al-Numan, a town along the highway and besieged a nearby military base, disrupting regime supplies to embattled Aleppo. The Syrian air force has responded with sustained bombing raids on area villages.
By late Saturday, at least 76 people had been killed across Syria, including 20 Syrian soldiers, activists said. The Observatory reported deadly regime shelling and sniper attacks in several locations, while Syrian state-media said rebels ambushed a number of military positions.
Military analyst Joe Holliday said neither side has an incentive to halt fighting, noting that rebels have disrupted regime supply routes to the northern provinces of Aleppo and Idlib. "The regime can't accept the current military status quo without a fight and the rebels have no reason to since they believe they have the momentum," said Holliday, a researcher at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington.
Brahimi's spokesman declined comment Saturday on the apparent failure of his initiative. It's not clear what Brahimi's next move could be, since the international community is divided over the Syria conflict that erupted 19 months ago.
Assad allies Russia and China have shielded the regime against harsher U.N. Security Council sanctions, while the rebels' foreign backers have shied away from military intervention.
The U.S., meanwhile, is averse to sending strategic weapons to help the rebels break the battlefield stalemate, fearing they will fall into the hands of militant Islamists, who are increasingly active in rebel ranks. The al-Qaida-inspired Jabhat al-Nusra, for example, is believed to be on the front lines in Aleppo and near Maaret al-Numan.
When Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League envoy, first floated the idea of a holiday truce, he did not say what his long-term plan was. Even a temporary reduction in violence during such a truce would not have been a springboard for talks between Assad and the opposition on ending the war. Syria's opposition says it will only negotiate if Assad resigns, a step the Syrian leader has refused to take.
Some said Brahimi's initiative allowed a paralyzed international community to show briefly that it was doing something to try to end the war that has claimed more than 35,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands.
Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center said the truce at least "provides the illusion of movement, that something is being done, that the international community is still trying to find a solution."
The U.S. said Friday that both sides have violated the holiday cease-fire, but singled out the regime. In the previous attempted truce six months ago, the Syrian military violated key provisions, such as withdrawing troops from urban centers, and was widely held responsible for the collapse of the cease-fire.
Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi on Saturday accused the U.S. of being one-sided. He said Syria remains committed to halting military operations. He said all cease-fire violations were the result of attacks, most of them carried out by organizations that originally rejected the truce, an apparent reference to Jabhat al-Nusra. The spokesman said Syria has sent messages to the U.N. Security Council concerning the violations.
Syrian state media accused the rebels of breaking the truce from the start.
One of the deadliest attacks Friday was a car bomb attack in a residential area of Damascus.
The state-run news agency SANA on Saturday quoted the director of Damascus Hospital, Dr. Adib Mahmoud, as saying the hospital received 15 dead civilians, including eight children, and 92 wounded, among them 65 children. Activists had put the death toll at 11.
Also Saturday, Lebanese broadcaster LBC TV said journalist Fidaa Itani, one of its employees covering Syria's civil war, was detained by the rebels and is being held in the town of Azaz near the Turkish border.
The station quoted a local rebel leader in Azaz, Abu Ibrahim, as saying that rebels suspected Itani after he filmed many videos of rebels operations in Aleppo. Itani's Lebanese cellphone was closed when The Associated Press tried to reach him.
The area also was the site of the May kidnapping of 11 Shiite Lebanese pilgrims who were on their way home from Iran. Two have been released while rebels say they will hold the others until Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group, apologizes to the Syrian people for supporting Assad.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Egypt won’t amend Israel treaty unilaterally: Carter

Egypt’s President Mohammed Mursi has “suggestions” for a change to his country’s peace treaty with Israel, but will not implement them unilaterally, U.S. former president Jimmy Carter said on Tuesday.

“I have talked with President Mursi about the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt... and he has assured me that it would be honored by Egypt,” Carter said in Cairo.

“He has suggestions for change, he told me this, and he understands also that any change in the treaty has to be approved by both sides. If it is done unilaterally by Egypt or Israel, the treaty would be destroyed.”
Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979 at the White House witnessed by Carter, who was then president of the United States.

The Jewish state has watched with concern, however, as Islamists were catapulted to the forefront of Egyptian politics since a popular uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak last year.

Mursi, a long-time member of the Muslim Brotherhood, has repeatedly said he would respect international treaties signed by Cairo.

But the Brotherhood has also said there is room to revise the accords, without objecting to them in principle.


ALEPPO, Syria (AP) -- The rumble of engines in the sky immediately set the Aleppo neighborhood below on edge. Men peeked from shops anxiously at the Syrian warplane circling slowly overhead. Housewives emerged on balconies to gauge whether they were about to be hit. But the kids hanging out on the street were unfazed. One kept dribbling his basketball.
Finally, the jet struck. Engines revving louder, it dove and unleashed a burst of heavy machine-gunfire into a nearby part of the city. It soared back up under a hail of rebel anti-aircraft fire, then swooped back down for a second strafing run.
The women on the balconies broke into tears, fearing for the children in the street. But the boys just pointed at the jet, shouting "God is great" in challenge. "God send you to hell, Bashar," one boy yelled as the jet flew away.
With death lurking around every corner, the survival instincts of Aleppo's population are being stretched to the limit every day as the battle between Syria's rebels and the regime of President Bashar Assad for the country's largest city stretches through its fourth destructive month. Residents in the rebel-held neighborhoods suffering the war's brunt tell tales of lives filled with fear over the war in their streets, along with an ingenuity and resilience in trying to keep their shattered families going.
And while residents of the rebel-held areas express their hatred of Assad's regime and their dream of seeing him go, they also voice their worries over the rebels and the destruction that their offensive has brought to their city. Graffiti on the shutter of a closed store declares the population's sense of resignation: "God, you are all we've got."
Since the rebels launched their assault in July to drive government forces from Aleppo, the two sides have fought to a stalemate. Each holds about half the city of 3 million people and neither is able to deal the other a decisive blow. While government-held areas have seen some fighting from occasional rebel forays, the opposition districts are hit daily by artillery, mortars, sniper fire and airstrikes. Hundreds of civilians have been randomly killed by shells or mortars while waiting in bread lines, shopping for food or in their homes.
Rebels drive the dusty streets at breakneck speed, ferrying the wounded to a field hospital. Thoroughfares packed with cars one moment abruptly empty out- a sign that up ahead a sniper is active.
Men methodically scavenge in the city's heaps of garbage, many of which smolder from unsuccessful attempts to completely burn them. Entire city blocks are eerily deserted, the mounds of debris from the apartment buildings a testimony to bombardments that drove residents to flee. Grim-faced families piling up belongings onto a pickup truck or a taxi to ferry them to a new home and a new life away from danger are a common sight.
Signs around the city advertise basements for rent, where many families crowd for relative safety.
Bab el-Sheaar Square, located near one of the city's many front lines, shows the destruction to the once vibrant life that distinguished Aleppo, Syria's capital of commerce.
Oblivious to the rattle of machine-gun fire and the whistle of mortar rounds landing only 100 or 200 meters away, a 12-year-old boy bicycled across the square, heading home from a visit to his cousins just as the shelling picked up. "I am not afraid," the boy, Younis, declared. "I only fear God."
Another boy, 14-year-old Ahmed, pushed his cart selling sahlab, a hot, milky drink with nuts. With few people in the square, he wasn't finding many customers.
"I want to live, that's it," he said. "I have younger siblings and they need to eat too." He and other residents refused to give their last names or asked that names not be used for fear of retaliation from the regime.
The owner of a household goods store near the square was looking to salvage his business.
"I am renting a new store in an area under government control," he declared as he cleaned his shelves of blenders, juice makers and water boilers that an employee loaded onto a car. "No one likes to see this destruction, but no one wants the regime to stay either."
Corrugated-iron store shutters litter the square, blasted off in the fighting. Electrical cables dangle from damaged buildings. Air conditioners hang off their hinges, waiting to take a fatal plunge to the street below. Bullet-riddled shop signs paint a picture of what was once available: "Al-Zein frozen goods. All types of Arabic ice cream" and "Al-Moayed's cheeses and milk. Natural flavors, perfect quality and nutritional value."
A poster torn to the ground advertises South Korean mobile phones that come in pink and sky blue, proclaiming, "Add a spark to your life. Your first love."
Standing in the relative safety beneath the large overpass running through the square, a group of men discussed the war's impact on their city, from the frequent and lengthy power and water cuts to the steep rise in the price of basic goods like bread, fuel and sugar.
As the men denounced Assad's regime, 46-year-old agricultural engineer Abdul-Jalil, listened quietly. Then he followed an AP reporter into a side street.
"If you have time, I want to tell you my version of what is going on," he said in a conspiratorial tone.
"I don't support the regime, but I am crying rivers of blood for my country," he began. He described what he called the unruliness of the rebels. The fighters damage people's homes by knocking down walls to make passages they can move through without exposing themselves to snipers. They steal electrical cables and furniture.
He said rebels had forced him from his home to use as a base - and that they had done the same to others. He now lives elsewhere with his in-laws.
One of his sons is an army soldier based in Damascus, and Ali had to spend a small fortune by the family's standards - 3,500 liras, or about $50 at black market rates - to fly him home to Aleppo to see his family, he said. Coming by road would have risked being abducted or worse at rebel checkpoints.
"I have not had a single day of work since July," he lamented. His family lives off the debts he collects from farmers he supplied with irrigation pipes on credit.
"What we have now is destruction and theft. Maybe, it is divine punishment for not observing the teachings of our faith," said Abdul-Jalil, a Muslim.
Amid the carnage, there are refreshing signs of cheer.
In his salon, barber Bashar Khatab chatted happily with his customers and joked as he negotiated the price with a mother who brought her two small boys for a haircut. "You come now and you wait a few minutes for your turn," he joked to one client. "Before all this started, your wait could be two hours."
When the man in his chair asked for his hair to be washed, Khatab led him to an outside sink used by the neighboring grocer because the water was out in his salon.
"You will never forget this haircut," he told the man with a laugh. "Where else in the world can you get a haircut and then have your hair washed in a grocer's sink?"
With his ginger red hair fashionably spiked up and wearing trendy jeans and a T-shirt, the 35-year-old father of three daughters even claimed to find the thud of artillery shells and the crackle of gunfire soothing.
"They help me go to sleep at night. Even my girls now are not bothered. They used to be scared. Not anymore."
Others find comfort in unusual places. Ali, a father of two boys aged 4 and 18 months, draws his happiness from his birds.
The 33-year-old Ali has moved with his family to a basement after an airstrike in July partially damaged his small apartment. He can no longer commute to the factory where he worked because of the fighting. So he is on the sidewalk near Bab el-Shearr trying to sell his 14 canaries.
Passers-by ridicule him for trying to sell birds when most of them are struggling to make ends meet. But Ali, in a tracksuit and plastic flip-flops, is not discouraged. Birds have been a hobby since childhood and he seems as happy talking about them as selling them. He boasts his canaries give passing children something pleasant to look at and he answers their questions about the birds' original habitat, mating habits and food preferences.
"They ask me hundred questions and then they leave without buying, of course," he says without a hint of bitterness. "It's like a free lecture on birds."
"That bird in a cage by himself is a promising male," he explains enthusiastically. "He is alone to eat a lot and grow stronger. When he is ready, I will introduce a female to his cage so they can marry and start a family."
His last sale was a week ago.
So, how does he survive? Ali balks at saying the truth directly- that he lives off the charity of relatives and friends.
"Do you want me to beg on the streets? Let us just say that kind people don't forget me or my family," he said, sighing as his eyes welled up.