Saturday, March 23, 2013

Intense clashes at Egypt's Brotherhood HQ

Muslim Brotherhood
A protester who opposes the Muslim Brotherhood throws a burning tyre towards police guarding the Brotherhood headquarters in Cairo, March 22, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

Intense clashes took place on Friday between hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters and opponents near the group's Cairo headquarters.

Police repeatedly fired teargas from the headquarters at anti-Brotherhood protesters throughout the day.
At least 40 people have been injured,and one killed according to a health ministry source as the number is expected to soar. 
Earlier, protesters had already started gathering for 'Friday of Restoring Dignity' demonstrations at the headquarters in the hilly Cairo suburb to demonstrate against the Islamist group.
Brotherhood members and supporters, in return, formed human chains around the building to protect it from any possible attacks.
The call to protest was prompted after Muslim Brotherhood members and guards reportedly attacked a group of anti-Brotherhood protesters and graffiti artists outside the Islamist group's headquarters on Saturday.
Clashes started at Friday noon in Nafura Square, less than a kilometre away from the headquarters, and continued throughout the day into the evening.
Many protesters suffered head injuries, with the injured being carried to ambulances stationed nearby, said Ahram Online's reporter on the ground.
Former presidential candidate Khaled Ali was injured during the clashes and taken to hospital for treatment.
Meanwhile, buses transporting Brotherhood supporters to Mokattam were torched by protesters.
Demonstrators also attacked and smashed microbuses transporting Muslim Brotherhood members on the main road that leads to the headquarters, as some anti-Brotherhood protesters set up check points.
Gunshots sounds was occasionally heard at the scene, although it was unclear which side the shots were coming from or the type of firearm being used. An Ahram Online reporter saw protesters on both sides carrying firearms.
Mokattam residents, for their side, formed ad hoc neighbourhood watch committees to secure their areas in case clashes reach their homes.
Some residents encouraged anti-Brotherhood protesters from nearby buildings, chanting against the Islamist group from their balconies.
In a statement on Thursday, the interior ministry had called on political currents planning to take part in the protests to avoid getting involved in violence, vowing to be unbiased in its treatment of different political sides.
The ministry stressed its responsibility to ensure citizens' security and to protect public property.
The groups that have responded to the call for protest include the Free Egyptians Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the Constitution Party, all three coming under the National Salvation Front opposition group.
Hundreds of 6 April Youth Movement members also protested at the New Cairo home of President Mohamed Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party.
On their internet media outlet, the group stated its objection to the "rule of the Supreme Guide," accusing Morsi of taking orders from the head of the Muslim Brotherhood and slating the group for its failure in governing the country.
Widespread anti-government sentiment has been evident at recurrent protests across Egypt throughout the past few months.
Other Brotherhood offices were attacked in the cities of Alexandria, Mansoura, Mahalla, and Zagazig.

Monday, March 18, 2013


ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Istanbul's police chief says a man suspected of killing a New York City woman in Istanbul was caught in Syria in a joint operation by Syrian rebels and Turkish officials.
Huseyin Capkin contradicted a statement by the interior minister who had said the suspect was detained at the border as he entered Turkey.
Istanbul Governor Avni Mutlu says the suspect has confessed to killing Sarai Sierra, whose body was found in Istanbul on Feb. 2, days after she was reported missing during a solo vacation. Authorities say she died of a blow to the head. 
A video reportedly recorded in Syria, and posted on Hurriyet newspaper's website, shows the purported suspect saying he was under the influence of paint thinner during the incident.
Turkish news reports have described him as a homeless scrap paper collector.


KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan opposition parties, frustrated with the government's lack of progress in making peace with the Taliban, have opened their own channel for negotiations with militant groups in hopes of putting their imprint on a deal to end 11 years of war.
Taliban and opposition leaders confirmed to The Associated Press for the first time that the parties opposed to President Hamid Karzai are talking to the Taliban as well as the group headed by U.S.-declared terrorist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
They are trying to find a political resolution to the Afghan war ahead of two key events in 2014 — the presidential race that will determine Karzai's successor and the final stage of withdrawal of international combat troops from the country. There are fears that the two changes will usher in a new era of instability in Afghanistan.
"We want a solution for Afghanistan ... but every step should be a soft one," said Hamid Gailani, a founding member of the united opposition. "We have to start somewhere."
Two senior Taliban officials, who spoke to the AP, indicated that the group is willing to pursue talks to move the political track forward. One sign of this was that they said they were contemplating replacing their top negotiator because he isn't getting the desired results.
The Taliban broke off formal discussions with the U.S. last year and have steadfastly rejected negotiations with the Karzai government, which they view as a puppet of foreign powers.
Taliban interlocutors around the world have had back-channel discussions and private meetings with various governments. A senior U.S. official said the Taliban are talking to representatives of more than 30 countries, and indirectly with the U.S.
But a lack of transparency surrounded all the discussions and channels makes it difficult to know exactly who's talking with whom.
Karzai demands that any talks be led by his government. Early last year, he said that his administration, the U.S. and the Taliban had held three-way talks aimed at moving toward a political settlement of the war.
The U.S. and the Taliban, however, both deny that such talks took place.
Hekmatyar's group, meanwhile, has held talks with both the Karzai government and the United States.
As the opposition pursues peace with the Taliban, Karzai has launched a new round of verbal attacks on his supposed ally, the United States, which have infuriated some in Washington and confused some of his senior advisers.
In recent weeks, Karzai has accused the U.S. of colluding with the Taliban to keep foreign troops in Afghanistan and has attacked the Taliban for talking to foreigners while killing Afghan civilians at home.
Earlier this month, Karzai accused the West of trying to craft an agreement between the Taliban and his political opponents and vowed to oppose the opening of a Taliban office in Qatar if it was used for talks with anyone other than his government. The U.S. has denied the allegations.
The Afghan president also has stepped up his rhetoric against his political opponents, trying to paint them as American pawns in a grand U.S. scheme to install a government of its liking when the United States and NATO withdraw combat troops by Dec. 31, 2014.
The opposition — united under a single banner called the Council of Cooperation of Political Parties — is meanwhile trying to put its stamp on a post-war Afghanistan.
It says it has reached out to both the Taliban and Hekmatyar, a one-time U.S. ally who is now listed as a terrorist by Washington.
In addition to getting the blessing of Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar, any peace deal would have to be supported by Hekmatyar, who has thousands of fighters and followers, primarily in the north and east.
Omar and Hekmatyar are bitter rivals, but both launch attacks on Afghan government and foreign forces and both have suspended direct talks with the U.S., saying they were going nowhere.
The opposition group is full of political heavyweights.
There are former presidential candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ali Ahmed Jalali — both of whom were said to be Washington's preferred candidates in the last presidential election in 2009. There's also Rashid Dostum, who leads the minority Uzbek ethnic group and Mohammed Mohaqiq, the leader of another minority ethnic group called the Hazaras.
Also in the group is Ahmed Zia Massoud, a former Afghan vice president and the brother of anti-Taliban fighter Ahmed Shah Massoud, the charismatic leader of the ethnic minority Tajiks who died in an al-Qaida suicide attack two days before the Sept. 11 attacks that provoked the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.
A senior official with Hekmatyar, who is familiar with the many negotiating channels of his organization, confirmed that representatives have met with the opposition. He said the talks were nascent, but refused to give additional details.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid denied that the Taliban were talking with the opposition group. But a second Taliban official confirmed that the Taliban has been in contact with opposition members in Kabul.
All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.
Gailani, the opposition member, said his group is in discussions with Taliban interlocutors who are close to Omar.
Hekmatyar has laid out a 15-point plan for Afghanistan's future that calls for a broad-based government, nationwide elections, an interim administration and a series of election reforms.
The Taliban have been less clear about their vision of a future Afghanistan. However, late last year Omar, the one-eyed, reclusive leader, issued a statement in English that seemed unusually conciliatory.
"As to the future political destiny of the country, I would like to repeat that we are neither thinking of monopolizing power nor intend to spark domestic war," Omar said.
"The future political fate of the country must be determined by the Afghans themselves without any interference from big countries and neighbors, and it must be Islamic and Afghan in form," he added.
A senior U.S. official said there have been "no, no, no direct contacts of the U.S. with Taliban since January 2012."
Apparently frustrated by the lack of any progress in talks with the U.S., two Taliban officials told the AP that the movement's governing council was contemplating removing Tayyab Aga — special assistant to Omar during the Taliban's rule — as their lead negotiator because he "could not achieve the expected results."
Mullah Abbas Akhund, the Taliban's health minister, is being tapped as Aga's replacement, according to the two Taliban officials.
Talks with the U.S. were temporarily scuttled in early 2011 by Afghan officials who were worried that the secret, independent talks would undercut Karzai.
They quietly resumed with each side seeking small signs of cooperation, but the Taliban shut down all talks with the United States after it refused to release their colleagues from Guantanamo Bay.

West Bank hunger striker exiled to Gaza

A freed Palestinian prisoner has been given a hero's welcome in the Gaza Strip after ending his hunger strike in an Israeli jail and agreeing to a plea bargain that will confine him to the territory for the next 10 years.
After his release from Israeli custody, Ayman Sharawneh arrived at the Erez Crossing in an ambulance with its siren blaring and red lights flashing as it crossed into Gaza on Sunday evening.
Dozens of Palestinians waved national flags and chanted slogans calling for freedom.
Sharawneh, 53, appeared weak, shaky and shrunken, and was taken to a hospital in Gaza City.
A resident of the West Bank, the former prisoner had been refusing food since last July to protest his incarceration. His lawyer, Jawad Bulous, said Sharawneh accepted the offer of confinement to Gaza, fearing he would be sent to prison for decades in a military court hearing set for Monday.
"The occupation committed two crimes," Sharawneh said, referring to Israel. "Arresting me, and then keeping me away from my family. But in Gaza, I am also with my family," he said, his voice cracking as he spoke from his hospital bed.
Freed and rearrested
Sharawna had been intermittently refusing food for more than seven months.
He was arrested in 2002 and sentenced to 38 years behind bars, but released in October 2011 under terms of a prisoner swap deal.
But he was rearrested three months later and charged with violating the terms of his release, although the evidence against him was kept secret.
His confinement to Gaza means he will be cut off from his family. It is difficult for Palestinians in the West Bank to obtain permission from Israeli military authorities to cross Israel to enter Gaza. The West Bank flanks Israel's east, while Hamas-ruled Gaza borders Israel in the southwest.
Even so, Sharawneh's mother said she was pleased. "It doesn't matter if he goes to Gaza. To be freed is the most important thing," said Zahra Sharawneh. "I hope the people of Gaza greet him and give him the care that he needs."
On February 28, Jaafar Ezzeddine and Tariq Qaadan, ended their three-month hunger strike, pending a hearing on their case. Both have been held without trial since November.
The fourth hunger striker is Samer Issawi, a security prisoner who is currently being held at Kaplan hospital near Tel Aviv after intermittently refusing food for eight months.
Like Sharawna, Issawi was freed under the 2011 swap deal but rearrested last year on charges of violating terms of his release.
Last week, Israeli medics raised the alarm over his state of health, informing the Prisoners' Club, a Ramallah-based NGO, that he had suffered cardiac failure and was at risk of dying after he stopped taking liquids.
About 4,000 Palestinians are in Israeli prisons for crimes ranging from throwing rocks at soldiers to deadly attacks.
West Bank protests demanding their release have repeatedly turned violent in recent weeks.

Strike hits Yemen ahead of national dialogue

Thousands of supporters of separtists in southern Yemen have rallied to protest against a national dialogue starting on Monday, demanding that their region be allowed to secede from the north.
Protesters carrying placards saying "No dialogue under occupation!, Independence is our choice!" demonstrated in the port city of Aden on Sunday evening, waving flags of the formerly independent South Yemen which was united with the north in 1990.
"We are here by the thousands to reject the dialogue as it is an issue of northerners and those southerners who are involved in it do not represent the people," Khaled Junaidi, an activist, told the AFP news agency.
Yemeni authorities deployed police to protect government buildings and foreign consulates in the city.
Activists said protesters also gathered in Moukalla, capital of the southeast Shabwa province.
The protests came after Aden was paralysed by a six-hour general strike staged by hardliners from the Southern Movement who are boycotting the UN-backed dialogue that is to begin in the capital Sanaa on Monday and will last for six months.
More than 500 Yemeni delegates are expected to attend that meeting. 
Calls for secession
Qassem Askar, a leader of a hardline faction in the Southern Movement said his group was mobilising the street to "express our rejection" of the talks.
"Several people have not been informed that they were appointed to represent southerners in the talks and some have withdrawn. Others representing southerners are of northern origins," he told AFP.
Anti-unity songs blared from loudspeakers in Aden as dozens of cars patrolled the city urging residents to participate in the rally on Sunday.
Several anti-dialogue slogans and calls for the secession of the south were smeared on walls of many buildings, in addition to the displaying of flags of the former South Yemen in parts of the city.
The dialogue aims to draft a new constitution and prepare for general elections in February 2014 after a two-year transition led by President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.
The dialogue should take place under a deal that eased former strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh out of office after an 11-month uprising against his 33-year rule.
Most factions have finally agreed to take part after months of negotiations and under UN pressure.
Major challenges
The Southern Movement, headed by Ali Salem al-Baid, South Yemen's former president, seeks independence or at least autonomy for the south.
"We refuse to participate in the dialogue which insults and betrays the programme of the southern revolt," said the head of the Southern Movement Council in Mualla, Hussein Zein.
After North and South Yemen united in 1990, the south broke away in 1994. The secession triggered a short-lived civil war that ended with the region being overrun by northern troops.
In 2007, the Southern Movement emerged as a social protest movement of retired officials and soldiers. But it has gradually grown more radical in its demands.
In addition to Baid's faction, the dialogue is boycotted by the head of the Southern Movement's Supreme Council Hassan Baoum, the most powerful faction of the alliance.
The National Council for the People of the South led by Haidar Abu Bakr al-Attas, who lives in exile in the United Arab Emirates, and the National Democratic Coalition led by Khaled Baharun and Abdulrahman al-Jisri, are also boycotting the talks.
In the far northern highlands, the Houthis - a movement seeking to revive Yemen's Zaidi Shia tradition - fought six wars against Saleh's troops between 2004 and 2010, and are spreading their influence from their base in Saada to neighbouring provinces.
The most powerful units in the army still appear to be split between loyalists of Saleh and his one-time ally and later rival, General Ali Mohssen.
Saleh himself is widely seen to be playing an obstructive role behind the scenes - so much so that he was singled out for a warning in a recent statement from the UN Security Council.

Deadly car bomb rocks Somali capital

At least eight people have been killed by a car bomb claimed by al-Shabab in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, police have said.

Monday's attack targeted Khalif Ahmed Ilig, the Mogadishu security chief, in one of the bloodiest assaults in the war-ravaged capital in recent months.

"We've counted at least eight dead so far. It was a car bomb attack near the National Theatre," said police official Mohamed Duale.

Al Jazeera's Peter Greste confirmed local sources had told him the target was the intelligence chief of the district controlling Mogadishu.
Quoting local sources, our correspondent said "at least six or seven - possibly eight - people have died in this explosion".

Hassan Salad, who witnessed the attack, said: "Many have been killed, some of them were in a minibus that was hit by the blast. This is a disaster, there is smoke and dead bodies thrown all around."
Fighters' threat
The anti-government fighters have vowed to topple President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who took office last year after being chosen by the country's new parliament.
While al-Shabab in recent months has been on the back foot in Somalia, having lost a string of key towns to a 17,000-strong African Union force fighting alongside Somali soldiers, the group remains a potent threat.
Large rural areas remain under its control and the group's fighters have carried out a series of guerrilla attacks in areas supposed to be under government control.
On Sunday al-Shabab retook the southern town of Hudur - the capital of Bakool region - after Ethiopian troops pulled out of the town.
The recapture of Hudur marks a sharp turnaround for al-Shabab as the first territorial victory for several months.
Mogadishu has been rocked by several small attacks - including both car bombs and suicide attackers - in recent months.
The last suicide attack in Mogadishu in September last year killed 18 people in a restaurant. 


Mideast Egypt
CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian vigilantes beat two men accused of stealing a motorized rickshaw on Sunday and then hung them by their feet while some in a watching crowd chanted "kill them!" Both men died, security officials said.
The killings come a week after the attorney general's office encouraged civilians to arrest lawbreakers and hand them over to police. They are emblematic of the chaos sweeping Egypt and a security breakdown of frightening proportions.
It was one of the most extreme cases of vigilantism in two years of sharply deteriorating security following the 2011 uprising. Gruesome photos circulated quickly on Facebook and other social media outlets, showing images taken by people in the crowd of thousands who watched and recorded the lynchings on cell phone cameras.
The killings were in the town of Samanod, about 55 miles (90 kilometers) north of Cairo in the Nile Delta province of Gharbiya.
Mamdouh al-Muneer, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood group in the Gharbiya governorate, told The Associated Press that the lynchings followed a spate of rapes in the area. He said there have been a number of incidents in the past several months of girls being abducted while leaving school.
"Unfortunately, the police are completely out of the picture in Gharbiya. They are not comfortable with their position, with the president or with their role after the uprising," he said.
The Brotherhood is the country's dominant political group.
Egypt is currently mired in another wave of protests, clashes and unrest that have plagued the country since the ouster of authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak in the pro-democracy uprising two years ago.
This wave of unrest has also engulfed the nation's police force. Thousands of officers and low-ranking policemen have broken ranks, staging protests and waging strikes against what they say is the politicization of the force by President Mohammed Morsi, who came from the Muslim Brotherhood, and his interior minister.
The state-run newspaper Ahram reported on its website that the events in Samanod began when the two men were dragged in the street after being caught "red-handed" trying to steal a motorized rickshaw. Witnesses said they were also accused of kidnapping a girl inside the rickshaw, but that she escaped unharmed.
A witness said they were beaten but still alive before they were strung up from the rafters of an open-air bus station. Both were stripped down to their underwear.
Photographs from the scene show one of the bodies hanging with deep, bloody lacerations covering his back. From the front, one of the men's face is completely covered in blood. Other shots showed both hanging by their feet, bruised, cut and bleeding.
A photographer who witnessed the scene told the AP that some in the crowd threatened to kill him if he took pictures of the lynchings with his professional camera.
He said that women and children were in the crowd of about 3,000 watching the lynchings, some from their balconies overlooking the scene, and some chanted in support "kill them!"
Afterward, residents took their bodies and dumped them on the doorstep of a nearby police station, according to witnesses.
Other photographs show the men lying on the ground dead in their underwear, with ropes around their feet.
Their bodies are covered in dirt, bruises, blood and lacerations as a group of men gathered around them. One man in the angry crowd grasped a knife in one fist and another held up a bloodied wooden stick.
Security officials said some in the crowd tried to help free the two men but were pushed back by others.
The bodies were later taken to the morgue for identification, according to security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Residents also threatened to lynch another two men accused of involvement in attacks on girls.
Witnesses said they were bracing for possible blood feuds between residents of Samanod, where the attack took place, and the nearby village of Mahallahit Ziyad, where the two men killed were from.
Ahram reported that police could not reach the site of the hangings because angry microbus drivers had cut off all the major roads of the nearby city of Mahalla to protest a shortage of diesel fuel, one of Egypt's many crises. Earlier in the day, residents there also burned tires and set up roadblock along a main train track to protest the fuel shortages.
"The lack of security has created a sense of terror here," one witness said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. "The entire area is shut down because of protests against the fuel shortages."
Citizens have grown bolder in taking matters into their own hands following the 2011 uprising. The country's once powerful and feared police force was left weakened after the revolt.
Thousands of policemen are now on strike to demand better working conditions and they also refuse to confront widespread protests against President Morsi's leadership.
Some of the striking police officers allege that Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood is attempting to control them. The Brotherhood denies that.
Al-Muneer, the Brotherhood spokesman in Gharbiya, accused some policemen of hoping for a collapse of security to pave the way for the old regime to return to power. That same accusation has been leveled at the police repeatedly, both in the midst of the uprising and the aftermath.
He said the Brotherhood fully rejects the killings and said citizens should have arrested the two but then handed them over to police.
The attorney general's call for citizen arrests a week ago was prompted by the police strike and deteriorating security. Opponents of his call fear that this is a prelude to the substitution of police by militias, including those belonging to other Islamist groups allied with Morsi and the Islamic fundamentalist Brotherhood.
Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, who oversees the country's police, met with officers and low-ranking policemen to hear their demands on Sunday.
Two days earlier, Morsi attended traditional Islamic prayers at a Cairo-based camp for riot police. He praised the force despite public criticism over their violent response to anti-government demonstrations.
Morsi is facing an onslaught of challenges, from the police strikes to an increasing number of violent sexual attacks on women to mounting diesel shortages that have crippled daily life for millions in Egypt.
And although vigilante killings are not frequent in Egypt, there have been similar attacks in the past two years.
In 2012 in northern Sharqiya province, police said relatives of a man who was killed when muggers tried to steal his car lynched one of the thieves. They then burned his body while it hung from a light pole.
Another case that year was in the Nile Delta province of Mansoura, where relatives of a victim took justice into their own hands and lynched two suspected killers.
Anger at Morsi was on display again Sunday, when protesters took their demands to the Brotherhood's doorstep. Hundreds clashed with police who fired tear gas at the crowd outside of the Islamist group's Cairo headquarters.
The crowd was responding to an assault on journalists, who claimed they were attacked by Brotherhood members Saturday evening during coverage of a meeting.
The journalists said that after a group of activists sprayed anti-Brotherhood graffiti on the ground outside the group's Cairo headquarters, the Brotherhood guards attacked with sticks and chains.
Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan said in a statement that guards outside the building were provoked and insulted by the activists and journalists.
Many of the group's offices were attacked across the country in December during violent protests over the drafting of the constitution.
Dozens of journalists rallied outside their syndicate in the capital Cairo against the incident.
Diaa Rashwan, the newly elected head of the syndicate who replaced a figure considered by most journalists as pro-Brotherhood, said he would file a lawsuit against the Brotherhood spokesman for suggesting that journalists had incited the violence.
The opposition party Al-Dustor, led by Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, blamed the Brotherhood's leadership for allegedly encouraging "militias" loyal to the group to join the fight.
There were clashes on Saturday during protests against Morsi and the Brotherhood during the president's trip to the impoverished governorate of Sohag. The presidency on Sunday denied that opposition protesters had tried to storm the hall where Morsi had been speaking, despite video that showed the attempt.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Brotherhood cites media 'exaggeration' over alleged HQ attacks

The General Secretary of the Muslim Brotherhood Mahmoud Hussein blamed the media for exaggerating the attacks on protesters at the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters on Saturday.

Dozens protested against Badie and the Brotherhood, with some spraying graffiti in the vicinity.Violence broke out on Saturday after a meeting between Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal at the building in the Mokattam district of Cairo.
Hussein told Ahram Online on Sunday that no attacks had taken place directly outside the headquarters, but only in a nearby area.
In response to videos and pictures circulating online showing journalists and protesters attacked after drawing graffiti criticising the Brotherhood, Hussein attempted to clarify that there were “provocative measures taken by the protesters.” 
Shortly after the incident on Saturday night, Brotherhood spokesperson Mahmoud Ghozlan had also stated that some journalists and photographers had been involved in “provocative” acts alongside protesters. 
A number of demonstrators swore at Brotherhood “youth” deployed at the group’s headquarters, he added.
Cairo Security chief Osama Samir said Sunday afternoon that fifteen people carrying Molotovs were arrested for involvement in Saturday’s attacks, and that five policemen had also been injured. Two vehicles were also burned, one of which was a security vehicle.

KSA could face Arab spring-like spark of violence: Saudi Cleric

One of Saudi Arabia's leading clerics has delivered a rare warning to the government that it could face "the spark of violence" if concerns over detainees, poor services and corruption are not addressed.

Any signs of public opposition to the government are closely watched in the world's top oil exporter and there have been increasingly frequent small demonstrations in recent months by the families of people held as suspected Islamist militants.The conservative Islamic kingdom avoided any major unrest among its Sunni Muslim majority during Arab Spring revolts elsewhere after King Abdullah pledged $110 billion in social spending and the powerful clergy backed a ban on protests.
Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, a conservative who was imprisoned from 1994-99 for agitating for political change and has 2.4 million followers on Twitter, expressed his concerns in an open letter on the social media site.
He described a mood of stagnation which he said was caused by a lack of housing, unemployment, poverty, corruption, weak health and education systems, the plight of the detainees and the absence of any prospect of political reform.
"If revolutions are suppressed they turn into armed action, and if they are ignored they expand and spread. The solution is in wise decisions and in being timely to avert any spark of violence," he wrote.
The issue of the detainees has brought some Saudi Islamists and liberals to make common cause against what they see as a punitive approach to state security in Washington's closest Gulf ally.
A week ago two prominent human rights activists were jailed after years of campaigning about the issue.
The Interior Ministry's security spokesman had two days earlier warned that activists were using the internet to rouse up street protests by spreading "false information".
Most demonstrations on the issue of detainees have involved only a few dozen people, but in late February 161 protesters were arrested in Bureidah in the central Qassim Province.
Awdah wrote that Saudis "like people around the world" would not "always be silent about forfeiting all or part" of their rights, before adding "when someone loses hope, you should expect anything from him".
Saudi authorities tolerate little public dissent and the official Wahhabi school of Islam discourages political involvement.

Bashar released Al-Qaeda prisoners to cover his crimes: SNC ex-spokesperson

Bassma Kodmani
Bassma Kodmani, ex-spokeswoman for the Syrian National Council (SNC) . (Photo: Reuters)

The former spokesperson of the Syrian National Council (SNC), Basma Kodmani, has alleged that President Bashar Al-Assad released Al-Qaeda jihadists from jail to tarnish the reputation of rebels fighting against the regime in the 23-month conflict.

Kodmani made reference to Al-Nusra Front, Islamic extremists who have an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam. Militants of Al-Nusra have become a formidable fighting force in the anti-Assad war, though little is known about them.“Al-Assad sought to manipulate the reality of the revolutionists; the regime had to justify all his humanitarian crimes committed during the last two years," Kodmani said as Damascus marks the second anniversary of the bloody uprising.
“They achieved considerable military successes against Al-Assad troops through suicide operations, but they deny affiliations with Al-Qaeda. This issue remains debatable,” she noted.
Kodmani argued that the existence of Al-Nusra-type political movements in Syria signifies a threat to future democracy in the country. “But this is not a justification for the maintenance of Al-Assad and his collaborators," she added.
Kodmani’s statements come days after a comment by current SNC leader Ahmed Moaz Al-Khatib on the inclusion of Islamists within the ranks of fighting rebels. "A lot of people, particularly the media, pay more attention to the length of fighters' beards (an allusion to jihadists) than to the shedding of children's blood and regime bombardments," he said.
Kodmani, the SNC former spokeswomen, described most of the rebels as people who came from different socio-political backgrounds, deciding to “sacrifice their lives for the sake of Syria”.
“Al-Assad forced them into military confrontations. Thus, they cannot go back home until the battle ends, and this is why they are in need of military support,” she added.
Democracy in Syria?
The uprising that started in January 2011 as a wave of peaceful protests against President Bashar Al-Assad's regime turned into a year-long bloodbath and near civil war, with over 60,000 dead, according to UN estimates.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA), Al-Assad's opponents, took up arms in response to the unending crackdown by regime forces.
The military has responded with destructive assaults on opposition areas, using tanks, helicopters and heavy artillery to destroy neighbourhoods in various cities.
Surprisingly, Kodmani rejected the notion that Syria is in state of civil war, claiming that the fight is only against government troops.
“People are not fighting against each other, but against a despotic regime that endeavours to abort their call for democracy and freedom. Some 90 percent of the people wants Al-Assad to leave, and this cannot be called a civil war,” she claimed.
When asked about the reason behind her resignation from the post of SNC spokesperson, Kodmani accused the opposition body of failing to act as the “political umbrella” of the fighting rebels.
“When fighting erupted, the SNC had to provide rebels with political backing, which did not happen due to the absence of coordination between both sides. Hence, I decided to work from outside the body.”
On the other hand, Kodmani states that the ruling regime has proven its readiness to reach the “highest levels of criminality,” which raises her fears of the “reproduction” of another model of authoritarianism in Syria in the future.
“No hope for democracy in Syria without the stepping down of Al-Assad; I think that a Yemeni-inspired model of transition could end the deteriorating political and humanitarian situation,” Kodmani said.
Kodmani additionally slammed the “weak role” practiced by the Arab world in solving the mounting refugee crisis — in particular distributing refugees among hosting Arab states.
The UN’s refugee agency announced 6 March that the number of Syrians who have fled their homeland hit one million since fighting broke out two years ago.
The agency previously had estimated that numbers would reach 1.1 million by June, being chiefly located in states neighbouring Syria, such as Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, but including North African states.
Outside interference
Kodmani accused Al-Assad’s regime of counting on regional and international allies for economic, military and political assistance against “his people.”
“Lebanon’s Hizbullah, Iran, Russia and China are Al-Assad’s friends, and they are to be largely blamed for what we reached until now,” she said.
Russia and China, Al-Assad's staunchest international allies, vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions last year threatening sanctions against the Syrian regime. The latest Russia-China veto deepened an acrimonious battle in the UN Security Council over who is to blame for the failure of world powers to get international action to halt the two-year Syrian conflict.
US Secretary of State John Kerry began talks with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in early March aimed at bridging differences over Syria after voicing confidence that the two could find "common ground" despite different opinions on the 23-month civil war. No concrete results were reached.
Syrian officials had told Moscow that the authorities in Damascus were ready to talk to armed rebels, the first time a senior official of the Assad regime had made such a proposal. But the rebel Free Syrian Army's chief of staff Selim Idriss said that before any dialogue could begin, Assad's regime must fall, among other pre-conditions.
Washington has recently toned down its criticism of Moscow's intransigence over Syria.
In late February, US President Barack Obama said Washington would provide food and medical supplies to the FSA, marking the first time that the US had publicly committed itself to sending non-military aid to the armed factions that are battling Al-Assad’s troops. Nevertheless, the nature of the assistance reflects Obama’s caution about getting involved in the Syrian crisis.
Kodmani highlighted the conflict of interests taking place between pro-Al-Assad states on the one hand and the United States and Europe on the other.
“No one seems interested in solving the Syrian crisis; each actor cares only about satisfying his interests in the Middle East no matter what the consequences are," Kodmani stressed.

Hamas denies role in the Rafah attack on Egyptian soldiers

Badie & Meshaal
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie, listens during a meeting with members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012 (Photo: AP) Egypt, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012 (Photo:AP)

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said on Saturday that Palestinians would never forget the "sacrifices" made by Egypt for the Palestinian cause.

Media controversy has been growing recently about who killed 16 Egyptian border guards near Rafah in the Sinai Peninsula last year, following recent anonymous leaks that blamed perpetrators from Gaza.
"The security, stability and political strength [of Egypt] positively reflect on the whole Arab world, and no one will accept interrupting those elements," Haniyeh told El-Sayed El-Badawi, head of Egyptian opposition liberal Wafd Party in a phone conversation reported by Egypt's state-run news agency MENA.
Al-Ahram Al-Arabi, a state-run Egyptian weekly magazine, sparked controversy on Thursday by claiming three Hamas members were responsible for the operation.
The alleged perpetrators were Ayman Nofal, a leading figure in Hamas's military wing, the Qassam Brigades, who escaped from an Egyptian prison during the January 25 Revolution; Mohamed Ibrahim Abu-Shamala, also known as Abu Khalil; and Raed Attar, who lead the team that captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in June 2006.
The magazine claimed security officials had confirmed the information, adding the attack was carried out in response to the Egyptian military's decision to destroy tunnels linking Egypt and Gaza, a lifeline for people in the besieged enclave.
Other Egyptian tabloids, and some newspapers in the Gulf, also circulated reports accusing Hamas members of orchestrating the attack.
Evidence shows 40 Hamas members carried out the Rafah attacks, claimed an anonymous military source quoted by Egypt's Al-Shorouk newspaper on Sunday.
The Egyptian armed forces issued a report last year saying the perpetrators of the attack had entered Egypt from Gaza without specifying their nationalities or political affiliations.
At the time, MENA quoted an anonymous Egyptian security official claiming the attackers were Islamists who infiltrated Egypt from the Gaza Strip via tunnels and were joined by Islamists from Al-Halal Mountain and Al-Mahdia in eastern Sinai.
Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, has vehemently denied any involvement in the attack on Egyptian soldiers, and has deployed its security forces to monitor the Gaza-Egypt border.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal on Saturday at the group's main headquarters in Cairo's Mokattam to discuss various issues of mutual concern.
According to a statement published on the Muslim Brotherhood’s official Facebook page, the meeting tackled several issues, including Palestinian hunger strikers in Israeli prisons, the situation in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the future of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.
“Meshaal confirmed that Hamas along with the Palestinian people respects the interests and security of Egypt,” read the statement, adding that the Hamas government does not intend to interfere in any of Egypt’s internal affairs as “Egypt represents strong support for the Palestinian cause in the past, present and future.”
According to the statement, Meshaal told Badie that he is in touch with the Egypt authorities, including the presidency and the general intelligence service, to coordinate in serving Egypt’s national security.
There have also been reports in both the Egyptian and the Israeli media over the past few weeks that three training camps are operating in northern Sinai, associated with Al-Qaeda linked Egyptian group Ansar Al-Jihad, as well as other Islamist groups, Jund Muhammad, Jund Al-Islam, Tawhid and the Gaza-based Al- Jihad.
These accusations were denied by Hamas as well.
"If this was true, the security bodies would have called and asked for information about them, but this did not happen," MENA quoted Mahmoud Al-Zahar, a Gaza-based senior Hamas leader, as saying.
 "Relations between Hamas and Egypt are better than ever before," Al-ZAhar said.
Al-Zahar added he was surprised by accusations against Hamas in the Egyptian media, which he said were obtained from anonymous sources and were unfounded.
He also said that he expects "the campaigns against Hamas" to continue until the Egyptian parliamentary elections take place, and that they will increase in severity during the elections.
In support of Hamas's denial of any involvement in the attack on the Egyptian soldiers, El-Sayed El-Badawi reportedly told Haniyeh that "media accusations" Hamas was responsible for the attack signify "part of the internal political struggles" in Egypt.
Al-Zahar told MENA that President Morsi's government does not prioritise supporting Hamas over Egyptian national interests, and those who believed so were mistaken.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

UK hints at bypassing Syria arms embargo

British Prime Minister David Cameron has said that it could break with a European Union arms embargo on Syria to allow the flow of weapons to anti-government rebels battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"I hope that we can persuade our European partners, if and when a further change becomes necessary, they will agree with us," Cameron told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday.  
"But if we can't, then it's not out of the question we might have to do things in our own way. It's possible," he added.
The arms embargo is part of a package of EU sanctions on Syria that currently roll over every three months, with the last extension achieved with the agreement of all 27 EU members on March 1.
Without unanimous agreement between all EU members to either renew or amend the ban in three months' time, the embargo becomes void.
Britain pushed for and won an agreement to amend the embargo to allow the supply of non-lethal equipment such as body armour and armoured vehicles to rebels, but warned that in future it might act alone.
Balance of power
Also on Tuesday, France hinted that it would push to get a European Union arms embargo on Syria lifted, saying the balance of power in the country had to change so President Bashar al-Assad understood he could not win by military force.
"France is thinking - although it is a European decision - of going further in lifting the embargo," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told a parliamentary committee.
"You will ask me is that not contradictory with finding a political solution, but we don't think so," he said.
"If we want President Bashar al Assad to shift then he must be made to understand that he cannot win through military force. There is a new balance of power that has to be created."
Fabius also said that Paris was working with Russia and the United States to create a list of Syrian officials that would be acceptable to begin negotiations with the Syrian opposition.
"We worked together on an idea... of a list of Syrian officials who would be acceptable to Syria's opposition National Coalition," he said.
Fabius said Syria's opposition chief Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib had said in a "very brazen manner" that he was willing to negotiate with some regime officials but not President Assad.
"We have discussed this with the Russians and the Amercans... There have been exchanges to seek a political solution," he said.

Tunisian man dies after self-immolation

A Tunisian cigarette vendor who set himself ablaze in a busy street of the capital Tunis a day earlier has died under hospital care, a medical official has said.
Twenty-seven-year-old Adel Khadri died at 0430 GMT on Wednesday as a result of severe burns, Imed Toiuibi, the director of the Ben Arous Burns Centre, told the AFP news agency.
"This is a young man who sells cigarettes because of unemployment," Khadri shouted before immolating himself on Habib Bourguiba avenue.
Security forces and bystanders tried to extinguish the flames before the man was rushed to hospital, witnesses said.
Officials said Khadri hails from an extremely poor family in Jendouba in northwestern Tunisia.
Interior ministry spokesman Khaled Tarrouche attributed Khadri's desperate action to his economic situation.
"He is unemployed and came to Tunis a few months ago. He was very fragile, psychologically broken, and that is why he set himself on fire."
In December 2010, street vendor Bouazizi died of his injuries after setting himself alight on December 17, 2010 in the town of Sidi Bouzid after a policewoman confiscated his fruit cart.
Bouazizi's fate sparked protests that ended with the overthrow of autocratic President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and inspired rebellions elsewhere in the Middle East.

Israeli troops kill Palestinian in West Bank

Israeli forces say they only use live fire in situations considered life-threatening [Reuters]

Israeli troops have killed a Palestinian and injured at least eight others during clashes in a flashpoint district of the occupied West Bank.

Twenty two-year-old Mahmoud AlTiti was killed after Israeli forces broke into a camp in Fuwar near the city of Hebron on Tuesday, and opened fire on a group of Palestinians who were throwing stones.

The hospital where AlTiti died said that he was shot by some kind of an explosive bullet to the head.

An Israeli military spokeswoman, citing the results of an initial investigation, said the troops had been attacked with fire-bombs on a nearby road and pursued the assailants into Fuwar, where they encountered the stone-throwers.

"Those that were in need of medical attention were evacuated to a (Palestinian) hospital where one of the suspects died," she said, adding that the Israeli military was conducting an inquiry into the incident.

Palestinians have complained in recent weeks of the use of live fire by Israeli forces, who say they only use live fire in situations considered life-threatening.

According to Palestinian officials, Titi was the sixth Palestinian killed by Israeli fire in clashes in the Occupied West Bank since the beginning of this year.

The incident has stoked tensions ahead of a visit by US President Barack Obama next week that has been billed as a bid to encourage new peacemaking.

Obama is expected to fly in on March 20 for separate talks with Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and, in the West Bank, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinian frustration at the stalled diplomacy has been fanned by Israel's expansion of West Bank settlements.

They have also taken to the streets to protest against Israel's jailing of thousands of their countrymen.

Egypt's president Morsi to attend Arab League Summit

morsi 1

Egypt President Mohamed Morsi will attend the 24th Arab League Summit, expected to take place in Doha, Qatar on 26 and 27 of March.
Morsi received an invitation on Tuesday hand-written by prince of Qatar Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, and delivered by Qatar's ambassador to Cairo Saif Bin Moqadam Al-Boenain. 
According to Al-Ahram Arabic-language news website, Morsi said that he is looking forward to what can be achieved at the summit noting how critical and challenging a period for it is for the region.
Qatar has been a prominent source of foreign aid to Egypt since the January 25 Revolution in 2011.
Qatar's finance minister Youssef Kamal told Reuters on Monday that his country has given Egypt 5 billion dollars to date but does not plan to give anymore presently.

Statements conflict over fate of Egypt's Hisham Qandil govt

Recent statements issued by the presidency, government and Ghad Al-Thawra Party head Ayman Nour have conflicted as to whether or not Egypt's current cabinet would be replaced – a longstanding opposition demand – in the short-term future.

On Sunday, a presidential source was quoted as saying that President Mohamed Morsi "doesn't mind" the appointment of a new cabinet, as long as it "enjoyed consensus" and received guarantees from the opposition that Egypt's turbulent political situation would stabilise once new ministers were sworn into office.Nour, who has recently played the role of mediator between the presidency and the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) umbrella group, said on Tuesday that he expected Egypt's current political impasse to be resolved "within days," going on to voice expectations that the current government of Prime Minister Hisham Qandil would be replaced imminently.
However, cabinet spokesman Alaa El-Hadidi on Tuesday stated that the dismissal – or even reshuffle – of the Qandil government was "not on the table," asserting that the president was a "major supporter" of the current cabinet.
Egypt has suffered political deadlock since the second anniversary of the 25 January 2011 revolution, which was followed by a series of violent protests and clashes throughout the country.
The NSF, for its part, has vowed to boycott upcoming parliamentary polls – along with all talks with the presidency – until Morsi meets a raft of preconditions. These include the replacement of the government, the dismissal of the Morsi-appointed prosecutor-general, and the launch of credible investigations into recent political violence.
Demands for the dismissal of the current government have been supported by the Salafist Nour Party, Egypt's second largest Islamist party after the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
The FJP, meanwhile, from which President Morsi hails, continues to voice reluctance about replacing the cabinet before parliamentary elections are held.
A former irrigation minister, Qandil was the first prime minister to be appointed by President Morsi. While he is not formally affiliated to any political party, Qandil is said to have sympathies with the Muslim Brotherhood.