Saturday, April 30, 2011

Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood names leaders of its 'Freedom and Justice Party'

Left to right: Saad el-Katatny, Mohamed Morsy, and Essam el-Erian. (Mohammed Abdel Ghani/Al-Masry al-Youm)

In their first non-clandestine Guidance Bureau meeting in 16 years, the Muslim Brotherhood announced that they will not run for more than 45-50 per cent of the seats in parliament during the upcoming elections.
The group made the announcement in a press conference at their new headquarters in the Muqattam area of Cairo, held at noon Saturday after the group’s two-day Guidance Bureau meeting. Earlier the Muslim Brotherhood had said it would contest 30% of the seats.
The meeting in Moqattam dealt with a number of issues, Brotherhood leaders told the press conference, including the future of their newly formed Freedom and Justice Party. The Brotherhood announced that Mohamed Morsy, the group’s media spokesperson and member of the Guidance Bureau, will be the president of the new party, Essam El-Erian his deputy, and Saad El-Katatny, former head of the Muslim Brotherhood parliamentary bloc, the secretary-general. The three will leave their positions in the Guidance Bureau and will be replaced with new members.
El-Erian, the group’s spokesperson, also confirmed that they will not field any candidates for president and they will not support any Brotherhood members who decide to run for the position. El-Katatny added that the group’s decision is final and stressed that the group has not yet decided which presidential candidate from outside the group they would support.
El-Katatny also revealed to Ahram Online that the Brotherhood's Guidance Bureau will approve the newly formed party's programme and internal regulations. But he said that once the party is launched its decisions will be its own, and not the Brotherhood's, since it will be a separate entity,
 El-Erian added that the party will include members from all walks of Egyptian life, and will include Copts. Morsy also added that the Freedom and Justice Party will be a civil party with an Islamic basis, which fits all the stipulations of Egyptian law and the constitution. He added that the Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamic entity whose mandate includes political work that will be reflected in the work of the political party.

At least 62 killed during Friday of rage throughout Syria

round up of demonstrations in Syria on the 29th of April  2011. Not only vere they nationwide, also the call for the downfall of the regime has become the general theme.

 Syrian security forces killed more than 60 people across Syria during demonstrations, Friday,  demanding the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad. A medical source told Reuters that soldiers in Deraa killed 19 people on Friday when they fired on thousands of protesters descending from nearby villages in a show of solidarity with the southern city where Syria's uprising broke out six weeks ago.
Syrian human rights group Sawasiah said it had the names of a total of 62 people killed during protests in Deraa, Rustun, Latakia, Homs and the town of Qadam, near Damascus. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights gave a similar death toll.
Friday's bloodshed came after demonstrators across the country again defied heavy military deployments, mass arrests and a ruthless crackdown on the biggest popular challenge to 48 years of authoritarian Baath Party rule.
President Barack Obama imposed new sanctions against Syrian figures, including a brother of Assad in charge of troops in Deraa, the first reprisal for Syria's violent crackdown. Obama signed an executive order imposing sanctions on the intelligence agency, Assad's cousin Atif Najib and his brother Maher, who commands the army division which stormed into Deraa on Monday. Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard was also targeted, accused of helping the Syrian crackdown.
"The sanctions that were announced today are intended to show the Syrian government that its behavior and actions are going to be held to account," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters.
Shortly after Obama's move, European Union diplomats said they had reached preliminary agreement to impose an arms embargo on Syria and would "urgently consider further appropriate and targeted measures." These, diplomats said, were understood to mean measures against individuals.

Obama's sanctions, which include asset freezes and bans on U.S. business dealings, build on U.S. measures against Syria in place since 2004, but they may have little impact since Assad's inner circle are thought to hold few U.S. assets.
One official said the White House was "not ready" to call on Assad to step down because Obama and his aides "do not want to get out in front of the Syrian people."
But thousands of Syrians took to the streets across the country after Friday prayers demanding his removal and pledging support for the residents of Deraa.

More demonstrations flared in the central cities of Homs and Hama, Banias on the Mediterranean coast, Qamishly in eastern Syria and Harasta, a Damascus suburb. Damascus saw the biggest protest in the capital so far, with a crowd swelling to 10,000 as it marched toward the main Ummayad Square before being dispersed by security forces firing tear gas, rights campaigners said.
Syrian rights group Sawasiah said this week at least 500 civilians had been killed since the unrest broke out six weeks ago. Authorities dispute that, saying 78 security forces and 70 civilians died in violence they blame on armed groups.

State news agency SANA blamed "armed terrorist groups" for killing eight soldiers near Deraa. It said groups had opened fire on the homes of soldiers in two towns near Deraa and were repelled by guards. SANA said security forces detained 156 members of the group and confiscated 50 motorbikes. But a witness in Deraa said Syrian forces fired live rounds at thousands of villagers who descended on the besieged city.
"They shot at people at the western gate of Deraa in the Yadoda area, almost three km (two miles) from the center of the city," he said.
A rights campaigner in Deraa said on Friday makeshift morgues in the city contained the bodies of 85 people he said had been killed since the army stormed the city, close to Syria's southern border with Jordan on Monday.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Egypt to open Gaza crossing and sending team to help implement reconciliation Fatah-Hamas

Nabil al-Arabi
Egypt's foreign minister said in an interview with Al-Jazeera on Thursday that preparations were underway to open the Rafah border crossing with Gaza on a permanent basis. Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi told Al-Jazeera that within seven to 10 days, steps will be taken in order to alleviate the "blockade and suffering of the Palestinian nation."
The opening of Rafah will allow the flow of people and goods in and out of Gaza without Israeli permission or supervision, which has not been the case up until now.
Before Egypt's uprising and ousting of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak, the border between Egypt and Gaza had been sealed. It has occasionally opened the passage for limited periods.
An Egyptian security source in Cairo said that Egypt will also send a security team to the Gaza Strip to help implement the reconciliation agreement reached by rival Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas.Restructuring and unifying security forces in Hamas-run Gaza is a key condition for the success of the accord, brokered by Egypt on Wednesday to overcome a rift that had stifled a Palestinian drive for independence.
"An Egyptian security delegation will head to Gaza to help settle and organize the internal security situation there, now that the reconciliation agreement is finally in place," the security source, who declined to be identified, told Reuters press Agency. He said the security team would seek to meld the disparate security forces belonging to Palestinian factions in Gaza, but declined to explain how.
The deal provides for the creation of a non-factional professional security which would be subject to scrutiny by the Palestinian legislature. Another security source said the team would consist of specialists from various branches of the Egyptian army. Like in a previous mission that ended in 2007, Egypt's intelligence service will oversee the team's work in Gaza.
Abbas met with the head of Egypt's ruling military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, earlier this month to discuss reconciliation efforts. "This was a very important meeting and it laid out Egypt's role in the coming period as the agreement is carried out," the first security source said.

Syrian Baath members resign in protest against violent supression of demonstrations

 Family fleeing from Syria tro Lebanon.

Some 200 members of Syria's ruling Baath party are reported to have resigned over the violent crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrations.after issuing an angry public statement denouncing the repression.The resignations - mostly from around Deraa - follow those of 30 Baath officials from the coastal city of Baniyas, north-west of Damascus. Diplomats said signs were also emerging of differences within the army where the majority of troops are Sunni Muslims, but most officers belong to Assad's minority Alawite sect.

Shooting was heard in Deraa overnight, where the government this week sent tanks and troops to regain control. On Thursday, witnesses said that water, communications and power in Deraa had been cut off.
Other reports said tanks rolled into Latakia, north of Damascus, on Wednesday night and security forces fired on pro-democracy demonstrators. Furthermore dozens of people have reportedly been arrested in the town of Madaya outside the Syrian capital, Damascus. Residents said tanks rolled into the mountain town early on Thursday morning and that checkpoints had been set up at all entrances into the town.
"We are terrified here and don't understand why this is happening," an eyewitness told Al Jazeera. "There were no plans for protests today and neither had any protests been held in the city in the past two days."
Meanwhile, the UN failed to agree on a statement condemning the crackdown. A draft proposed by France, Britain, Germany and Portugal was opposed by several states within the 15-member Security Council, with Russia insisting events in Syria were not a threat to international peace.

The mayor of the Lebanese border town of al-Buqaya told Reuters that more than 1,500 people - mostly women and children - had crossed over from the town of Tell Kalakh.

Human rights activists in Syria say at least 500 people have died in six weeks of protests against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Protesters have called for Friday to be a Day of Rage throughout the country. They are clearly hoping for a record turnout, though some opposition Facebook postings expect the regime to try to minimise the bloodshed to present a better image as Europe and the West consider sanctions.

Protesters sentenced to death in Bahrain

A Bahraini military court has sentenced four Shia protesters to death and three to life jail terms for the killing of two policemen during demonstrations last month, state media has reported.Thursday's verdicts are the first related to the uprising against the Gulf kingdom's ruling family, which begain in February.
The seven defendants were tried behind closed doors on charges of premeditated murder of government employees, which their lawyers have denied. A Shia opposition official named those sentenced to death as Ali Abdullah Hasan, Qasim Hassan Mattar, Saeed Abdul Jalil Saeed, and Abdul Aziz Abdullah Ibrahim.
He told the AFP news agency that Issa Abdullah Kazem, Sadiq Ali Mahdi, and Hussein Jaafar Abdul Karim were sentenced to life in prison.
Sheikh Ali Salman,  president of Bahrain's Al Wefaq, the largest Shia political group in the country, told Al Jazeera that the punishments did not fit the crime."I believe that these sentences should be revised and the international community must intervene to stop this," he said.
Authorities have detained hundreds since martial law was declared last month to quell dissent. On Wednesday, a Bahraini official said 405 detainees had been referred to military courts while 312 have been released. "Sixty-two criminal cases and 343 misdemeanor cases have been referred to the courts of national safety," , Sheikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa, the head of the Information Affairs Authority, said.

Fatah and Hamas agree on reuniting West Bank and Gaza

The two rival Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas said they reached an agreement Wednesday on reuniting their governments in the West Bank and Gaza. The plan was brokered by Egypt. It calls for the formation of a single caretaker government in the coming days. The government would administer day-to-day business until new presidential and legislative elections are to be held in a year's time.
Abbas and Ismail Haniye in 2007 after a unity government had been formed. Now a new unity government will be formed. Ismail Haniye will be replaceds, as well as his counterpart on the West Bank, Salam Fayyad.  Abbas will remain for the time being. 

"The people want to end the division ... and we say: what you demanded has been achieved today," said Azzam al-Ahmed, the chief Fatah negotiator at a news conference in Cairo with his Hamas counterpart. The two groups signed an initial deal Wednesday.
Rivalries between the two Palestinian factions became serious in 2006 after Hamas won elections in Gaza and the West Bank. Fatah and Hamas formed a short-lived unity government in 2007. However it split after Hamas aborted an attempted coup by Fatah to seize power in Gaza that was pre cooked with the help of the U.S.. The split left Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian Authority, dominated by Fatah, in the West Bank.
The two groups have been negotiating a deal since more than a year, but earlier attempts all failed. Hani Masri, a member of a Palestinian delegation that met with Hamas leaders in Syria and the new leadership in Egypt, said the political upheavals in both countries pushed the two rivals together and "made the agreement possible."
The current agreement still appears shaky. Hamas officials in Gaza said their security forces would retain control over the coastal strip for the time being. Al-Ahmed, the chief Fatah negotiator, said that under the deal, Fatah and Hamas security forces would be unified and "restructured" under "Arab supervision."
The security forces are at the heart of the Palestinian rift.
Under the agreement president Abbas will remain in power for the time being, but the two prime ministers — Salam Fayyad in the West Bank and Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza — are to resign. Al-Ahmed said the sides would need to agree on a new prime minister in the coming days. He added that the new government would consist solely of political independents in order to not anger the international community.

 In an interview with Al-Jazeera English Saree Makdisi raises an intersting point: Unity between Hamas and Fatah concerns only a minority of Palestinians who live in the occupied territories. It´s time that all Palestinians, those in the diaspora and the ones who live in Israel proper, are also involved in the process, he says
The Palestinian unity is not likely to push the peace process forward with Israel refusing to deal with Hamas which it considerers a terrorist orgnization. Also it is not yet clear whether the PA will proceed with its plan to ask the United Nations in the Fall to recognize a Palestinian state within the borders of 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital.
 Israeli prime minister Netanyahu said that the Palestinian Authority must choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas. ´Peace with both is impossible,´ he said in a stamenet, ´because of the Hamas goal of destroying the state of Israel, which it expresses openly´. In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heide Bronke-Fulton called on the future Palestinian government to recognize Israel — something Hamas has steadfastly refused to do.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Some 35 more victims in Deraa, Assad send also troops to Douma

Nightly protest on Tuesday evening in Zabadani (a suburb of Damascus) in solidarity with Deraa. Other protest were hel din HGoms, Latakia, Banias, Gotta, Daraya and some 14 other places, humn rights activits Wissam Tarif reports.

Troops have been deployed overnight in Douma, a suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus.White buses brought in hundreds of soldiers in full combat gear, a witness told Reuters on Wednesday. Pro-democracy protesters have tried to march from the suburb into the centre of the capital in the last two weeks but have been dispersed by security forces.
More than 2,000 security police deployed in Douma on Tuesday, manning checkpoints and checking identity cards to arrest pro-democracy sympathisers, the witness, a former soldier, said. He said he saw several lorries in the streets equipped with heavy machine guns and members ofplainclothes secret police carrying assault rifles. He believed the soldiers to be Republican Guards, among the units most loyal to Bashar al-Assad, the president.
Syrian human rights organisation Sawasiah said security forces have killed up to 35 civilians since they entered the southern city of Deraa at dawn on Monday. Assad had sent the Fourth Mechanised Division, commanded by his brother Maher, into the city. Sawasiah said electricity,water and telecommunications was cut in Deraa and that tanks were firing at residential buildings, with supplies blood at hospitals starting to run low. Late on Tuesday, the state news agency SANA reported the army "continued to chase armed groups and extremists in Deraa who attacked military positions, cut off roads and forced passers-by to stop so they could hit them."

In the coastal city of Baniyas, thousands took to the streets on Tuesday, chanting "freedom, freedom," amid reports that the army had been deployed in the surrounding area.
Sawasiah said that since mid March at least 400 civilians have been killed by security forces.The UN secretary-general has called for an independent inquiry into the deaths of people he has described as peaceful demonstrators. But Syria's UN envoy Bashar Ja'afari said the country is perfectly capable of conducting its own transparent inquiry into the deaths. He told reporters that Assad had instructed the government "to establish a national commission of inquiry and investigation about all the casualties among civilians" and the envoy pledged "full transparency". International pressure on Assad is mounting, with European governments urging Syria to end the violence and the US saying it was studying more targeted sanctions against the country.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Syria sends tanks into city of Deraa

 Syria's army has advanced into the southern city of Deraa, using tanks to support troops amid an intensified effort to curb popular protests. In the US, the Obama administration is considering imposing sanctions on senior Syrian officials to pressure the regime to stop its violent crackdown, Reuters news agency quoted a government official as saying.The official said steps taken could include a freeze on assets and a ban on business dealings in the US, but gave no time-scale for the measures.
According to a UN Security Council diplomat, the UK and other European states are circulating a draft statement condemning the violence in Syria.
Opposition activists said Monday morning's raid on Deraa involved as many as 5,000 soldiers and seven T-55 tanks.Tanks surrounded the Omari mosque in the old city with snipers firing from rooftops, anonymous opposition sources said. The opposition reported than more than 25 people were killed, and their bodies could not be reached because of the fierce gunfire. This claim could not be independently verified.
One activist, Abdullah al-Harriri, told AFP: "The men are firing in all directions and advancing behind the armour which is protecting them."
"Electricity is cut off and telephone communications are virtually impossible." While there are reports of growing strife among Syrian army officers on different levels - with suggestions that some soldiers have changed sides and are now fighting with the people of Deraa - foreign journalists have been prevented from entering the country, making information hard to verify.
Opposition activists have in recent days been describing Deraa as liberated territory, and two members of parliament and a local religious official resigned on Saturday to protest against the killing of demonstrators there.
In the Damascus suburb of Douma, where there have also been big demonstrations, witnesses said authorities had raided the neighbourhood, firing and making sweeping arrests.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Syria seems to have reached point of no return after more than 100 killed in two days

The banner reads: No Baath, no Assad, we want a liberated country'

Security forces and gunmen loyal to Assad have killed at least 112 people over the last two days. They fired at protesters demanding political freedoms and an end to corruption on Friday and on mass funerals for victims a day later. Secret police raided homes near Damascus during the night from Saturday to Sunday, rights campaigners said.
Opposition to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad increased following the bloodiest so far. The demonstrations were also the biggest, since protests erupted in the southern city of Deraa near the border with Jordan over five weeks ago.

Regime change in Syria is becoming inevitable, it seems, after all this bloodshed
Security operatives in plain clothes wielding assault rifles broke into homes in the suburb of Harasta just after midnight on Sunday, arresting activists in the area, known as the Ghouta, or the old garden district of the capital.
Assad lifted an emergency law on Thursday, in place since his Baath Party seized power 48 years ago, in a bid to appease protesters and ease international criticism. Opponents say the crackdown that followed shows the move was hollow.
"Bashar al-Assad, you traitor, you coward. Take your soldiers to the Golan," protesters chanted on Saturday, chiding Assad for turning his forces on his own people instead of recapturing the Golan Heights, where the frontier with Israel has been quiet since a 1974 ceasefire.
International condemnation of Assad has also intensified. Western criticism was initially muted because of lingering hopes that Assad might implement genuine reform and because revolution in Syria could reshape the political map in the Middle East.
U.S. President Barack Obama urged Assad on Friday to stop the "outrageous use of violence to quell protests." British Foreign Secretary William Hague said to deplore the increasing violence. 
The weekend protests stretched from the port city of Latakia to Homs, Hama, Damascus, its suburbs and southern towns. The death toll rose to around 350, with scores of missing since the demonstrations broke out on March 18, rights campaigners said.
Assad has ejected most foreign media from the country during his crackdown on protesters, so independent reports of the violence are difficult to verify.
Demonstrators have been using the Internet to get out pictures of the violence, many of which have been explicit. One video posted on Internet site YouTube showed a crowd marching on Friday near Abbasside square in Damascus, purportedly on Friday, chanting "the people want the overthrow of the regime," before the sound of gunfire was heard.
Demonstrators raised their hands to show that they were unarmed. The fire intensified. One youth fell, with blood spurting from his head and back. His comrades lifted him but dropped his body when the sound of bullets resumed.
In Abada village, 10 kilometers from Damascus, rights campaigners said security forces were preventing people injured in Friday's protests from reaching hospital. A cleric in contact with the town of Nawa near Deraa said residents told him security forces had fired indiscriminately.
In a move unthinkable in Syria just five weeks ago, two Deraa lawmakers in Syria's rubberstamp parliament resigned on Saturday to protest against the killings of protesters.

President Saleh agrees to step down

President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen has agreed to step down under a 30-day transition plan aimed at ending violent unrest over his 32-year rule.Officials in the capital Sanaa confirmed the government had accepted the plan.
Undeer the plan proposed by Saudi Arabia and five other states Saleh will hand over power within a month to his Vice-President, Abdu Rabu Manur Hadi. Also he will appoint an opposition leader to form an interim  governmen that will prepare presidential elections to be held two months later. Furthermore Saleh and his family will be granted immunity from prosecution.

Hundreds of thousands of people attended a rally in support of Mr Saleh in Sanaa on Friday but comparable numbers turned out for demonstrations against him in both the capital and the southern city of Taiz. On Saturday, a general strike called by the opposition caused disruption in Taiz, the port city of Aden and other towns, although apparently it had little effect in the capital.
At least 120 people have died during two months of protests.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

At least 846 killed during Egyptian revolution, Mubarak at least indirectly responsible

'Battle of the Camels'

An Egyptian fact finding committee, consisting of judges, has found that the toll of te 25 January revolutioin was higher than hitherto thought: at least 846 dead, and about 6500 wounded. The report, that was released on Tuesday, confirmed that the police and interior ministry were responsible for organising and carrying out the attacks and accused them of the "excessive" use of force during the mass protests, posting snipers on the roofs, using live ammunition and cars to run over people.
The lead judge on the fact-finding commission said that president Mubarak was at least indirectly responsible for the deaths of the hundreds of protesters. "What is confirmed is that Mubarak's permission" was needed for such a response, said Judge Omar Marwan. "The shooting lasted for several days, and he did not interfere to stop it or hold accountable those who fired live rounds."
"The fatal shots were due to firing bullets at the head and the chest," states the report, which was in part based upon watching more than 800 video registrations. The report concludes that former Interior Minister Habib Adly, who is facing trial on financial corruption charges, was responsible for ordering the shootings.
The report also points the finger at the two sons of the ousted president Hosni Mubarak, Alaa and Gamal Mubarak, former head of the upper house Shura Council Safwat El-Sherif, attorney Mortada Mansour, and business tycoon Ibrahim Kamel as the masterminds of the “Battle of the Camel,” which left several protesters dead and injured on 2 February.
 The report elaborates moreover on illegal detentions; intentionally leaving a security vacuum and opening prisons and the role of the media.
According to the fact-finding committee up until 16 February there are “at least” 846 martyrs in the Egyptian revolution. Twenty-six police officers and policemen and 189 prisoners were killed. Injuries were numbered at 6467 protesters, 263 prisoners and 30 from the armed forces.
Regarding the jailbreaks the report states that the committee watched videos that confirm that several prisons where opened by security forces. However, some prisons were opened by external, unknown forces. Accordingly, the fact-finding committee recommends further investigation on the issue.
As for the government-owned media, the committee admonished the fact that the media blamed the security vacuum, jailbreaks and economic problems on the revolutionaries.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Syrian cabinet passes law lifting state of emergency.

Syria's government passed a draft law on Tuesday to lift 48 years of emergency rule, a concession to unprecedented demands for greater freedom in the country. However, the law only takes affect after presidnet Assad has put his signature to it. State news agency SANA said the cabinet ratified draft legislation, which must still be signed by President Bashar al-Assad.
Protests continued after the announcement, with demonstrators taking to the streets in the city of Banias and opposition leaders said they would not stop until their other demands, including the release of political prisoners, freedom of speech, and a multi-party system, were also met.
The cabinet, which has little power, also passed a law to abolish a special security court which human rights lawyers says violates the rule of law and the right to fair trial. It also passed legislation to "regulate the right of peaceful protest." Permission from the Interior Ministry will be needed to demonstrate in Syria, the news agency said.
One activist dismissed the cabinet decision, saying Assad himself could have lifted emergency law immediately. "The government doesn't need to issue anything ... It's in the hands of the president to lift it," Ammar Qurabi said. "This (announcement) is all just talk. The protests won't stop until all the demands are met or the regime is gone," leading opposition figure Haitham Maleh, an 80-year-old former judge, told Reuters.


YEMEN - Security forces in Yemen have killed at least three people and wounded hundreds more after opening fire on demonstrations in the capital Sanaa and the town of Taiz, ahead of a UN meeting to discuss the cirsis in the country.
In Sanaa, two people were reportedly killed and nearly 100 wounded on Tuesday when riot police stopped protesters marching towards the capital's main Zubeiri street.

In Taiz, south of the capital, at least one person was shot dead and another wounded after police opened fire when protesters burned tyres in the street.
The violence on Tuesday comes ahead of a UN Security Council meeting where members will discusses the political crisis in Yemen for the first time. A UN-diplomat called it 'a sign of the growing attention that Yemen is attracting after Egypt, Tunisia and Libya'.
A Yemeni government delegation arrived in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday for talks with the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) on its proposal for Saleh to transfer power to his deputy.Opposition representatives held similar talks on Sunday in Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, Yemeni lawmakers who split from the ruling General People's Congress party have established a new political group calling for Saleh's resignation, a statement from the bloc said. The new group, named "Justice and Building Bloc", comprises former ministers and members of the parliament who had deserted the GPC in protest over the heavy-handed response by authorities to anti-Saleh demonstrations.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Libyan rebels try to fight off attack on Ajdabiya by Gaddafi's forces

LIBYA - Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi kept up an offensive on the rebels' eastern frontline outpost of Ajdabiyah, while the West again ruled out sending ground troops to help the rebel cause. Some rebels on Saturday made it into the outskirts of Brega, 50 miles to the west, but many others retreated to Ajdabiyah after six were killed by rockets fired by Gaddafi loyalists on the exposed coastal road joining the two towns.  Many fled Ajdabiyah on Sunday as loud explosions boomed across the town.

In Misrata, the last major rebel foothold in western Libya, rebels fought Gaddafi's forces Sunday in close-quarters battles in the city center of  Seventeen people were killed, an NGO worker and an opposition activist said. Rebels fought government forces back from an area around a central produce market, regaining a small sliver of territory, said Rida al-Montasser, a local activist reached by Skype.
He said a hospital report that he received from a doctor, showed 17 people, including rebels, were killed and 74 others were injured. A ship of Doctors without Borders evacuated 100 wounded to Tunsia on Sunday (picture).

Western countries have ruled out sending ground troops, a position reinforced by the British prime minister on Sunday."What we've said is there is no question of invasion or an occupation -- this is not about Britain putting boots on the ground," David Cameron told Sky News in an interview.

Demonstration in Banias (Reuters)
  SYRIA - Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Syria, despite promised reforms by President Bashar al-Assad. Human rights activists said probably as many as 12 people were shot dead at a funeral north of the city of Homs. They gathered the names of eight people: Abdel jalil Deeb, Fadi Sam, Khald al-Wazziri, Kamel el-Yahya, Khaled Abu al-Su'd, Mohammed Bilal al-Saqa, Rami Alkadankji, Bilal Bakur Radwan. Rallies were also reported in Aleppo, Baniyas, Lattakia, Deraa and nearby Suwaida. Some 200 people have been killed and hundreds arrested in weeks of protests.
On Saturday, Mr Assad said he expected the country's 48-year-old emergency law to be lifted by next week.
  Mr Assad told the cabinet a legal commission asked to examine the lifting of the emergency law had come to its conclusions.New security legislation would be introduced in place of the law, he said, adding that the new government should also study ideas for a multi-party system and greater press freedom.

 YEMEN - Yemeni security forces opened fire on anti-government protesters gathered in the capital, Sanaa, on Sunday, eyewitnesses say. Hundreds of thousands took part in the demonstrations to reiterate calls for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. Also many women took part, angry at President Saleh's comments last week that their behaviour was against Islam. Authorities opened fire with live ammunition and tear gas, witnesses said.
Mohammed al-Abahi, the head doctor at the protesters' field hospital, told the Associated Press that at least 30 people were wounded, including two hit by bullets. There were also reports of clashes between demonstrators and security forces in the city of Damar, more to the south, and in which several people were wounded. Protests were also reported in other cities, including Taiz, Aden and al-Hodeida.
Saleh, who has been in power for more than three decades, has said he is willing to hand over power, but only to 'safe hands'. An opposition delegation, led by former Foreign Minister Mohammed Basindwa, is meanwhile in Saudi Arabia for talks with Gulf Arab mediators.

Egyptian court orders dissolution of former ruling party, clears the way to a more democratic parliament

An Egyptian court,  the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC), has ordered that the former ruling party of ex-president Mubarak, the National Democratic Party (NDP) be dissolved and its assets,  be sequestrated.  This includes including its central headquarters in Cairo and about 400 offices all over Egypt. The SAC order came after complaints by among others, Mostafa Bakri, editor of the weekly Al-Osbou, and was supported by SAC legal officers.
According to a report prepared by the SAC legal officers, the NDP violated t articles 4, 8, and 17 of the Political Parties Law enacted in 1977.” These articles state that political parties should call for democratisation and national unity, the NDP, however, opted to monopolise power, instill social disunity, spread political corruption and abuse of rights and freedoms enshrined in the 1971 Constitution.”

The SAC report also emphasised that the NDP disrupted the performance of rival political parties, using the State Security Investigations appartus as a tool to explode political forces from the inside and detain political opponents.Furthermore the NDP’s leaders exploited their positions to accumulate vast fortunes and created an illicit marriage with business tycoons who invaded the party’s ranks. Also the NDP’s senior leaders doubled as government officials and parliamentary heavyweights, thus disrupting the principle of separation among powers and causing the proliferation of favouritism and opportunism. And last njut not least the SAC report indicated that the NDP played a major role in spreading despotic practices and was heavily involved in rigging elections.
Picture from happier days of the NDP leaders. From left to right: Mubarak's son Gamal who groomed ambtions to follow in the footsteps of his father, Safwat el-Sherif, Ahmed Ezz, and Zakariya Azmi, Mubarak's bureau chief. The picture ois from 2007. All of them are in jail right now. 

Th SAC order comes at a moment that Mubarak and his two sons are in custody pending investigations into  allegations of corruption and several other offences, together with all of Mubarak's inner circle, like the presidents of the upper and lower chambers of parliament, Fathi Sorour and Safwat el-Sherif, the chief of Mubarak's office, Zakariya Azmy, and several ministers and party bosses like the former minister of the interior Habib Adly, Ahmed Ezz and others. 

The disbandment of the NDP and the arrest and prosecution of Mubarak and his allies were key demands of the Youth Coalition of the 25 January Revolution. The dissolution of the NDP is particlaurly important in view of the upcoming elections i the Fall of this year. As it was the NDP still represented an important power in the state with lots of money and therefor influence it was able to buy. Th fact that the party is now out of the way and will not participate in these elections, means that am importrant obstacle on the way to a different and real democratic Egypt has been taken away.   

The SAC order also comes four days after Talaat El-Sadat, the nephew of late President Sadat, was appointed chairman of the NDP. It also comes after several NDP senior leaders, including the party’s secretary-general and leader of the old guard Safwat El-Sherif, Zakaria Azmi, the former chief of presidential staff and assistant secretary-general, and Ahmed Ezz, Gamal Mubarak’s right-hand man, steel magnate and secretary for organisational affairs, were remanded in custody on murder and corruption charges.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bouteflika promises a new constitution

Algerians watch their president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who frail loooking and with a coarse voice, anounces that the constitution will be amended in a 20 minute speech in the 20 o'clock news. (AFP)  

ALGERIA - Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has been in power for 12 years, has promised to amend the constitution to "strengthen democracy".Bouteflika's speech was a response to unrest that broke out in January with strikes, marches and rioting echoing protests elsewhere in the Arab world. Earlier, in February, Bouteflika, who is 74 and not in good health, lifted the country's state of emergency.
The current constitution, adopted in 1996, was introduced to strengthen presidential law and ban religion-based parties following Algeria's murderous war between the military and Islamist militants, in which some 150,000 people were killed.
Bouteflika announced that a commisisson will be formed consisting of experts and active political forces to adopt a new constitution, the newspaper Al-Watan reported. Also he announced that the laws concering the formation of political parties would be revised, as well as the laws concerning the electoral process, in order to make it more 'transparant'.

SYRIA again has witnessed numerous protests for reforms or agains the rule of president Assad  On Friday thousands took to the streets in the capital Damascus. Security used teargas and batons to disperse the demonstration. Thousands of others were reported to have demonstrated in a number of other Syrian cities, including Deraa, Latakia, Baniyas and Qamishli - places where violence has been previously reported.
The protesters called for reforms, while some demanded the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad. The protests, in Damascus and other cities, are believed to be the largest in a month of unrest in which about 200 people have been reported killed.
State media reported that "small demonstrations" had taken place in different parts of the country and security forces did not intervene. Mr Assad has promised to make some concessions while cracking down on dissent. 

JORDAN - Dozens of people have been injured as ultra-conservative Salafist Muslims clashed with pro-government supporters in Jordan's northern city of Zarqa.The police used tear gas to disperse the crowds, a police spokesman said. Six officers were stabbed and 34 others injured in the clashes, he added.
Meanwhile, up to 1,000 people protested in the capital Amman, calling for political and economic reform.
The Salafists have been demonstrating over the past few weeks to demand the release of 90 Islamist prisoners.They include Abu Mohammed al-Maqdessi, the former mentor of slain al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was born in Zarqa.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Some 2.000 women blocked the highway between Baniyas and Tartous in the  north of Syria on Wednesday to protest the arrests of their relatives.  

SYRIA -Dozens of people have been injured in clashes with security forces in the Syrian port of Baniyas, where 13 people were killed on Sunday, residents say. Troops locked down Baniyas and stormed the nearby village of Bayda, they said. Syrian human rights organizations said as many as 350 people had been arrested. One activist put the names of 111 people on Twitter. Also dozens of people had been injured and soldiers were preventing ambulances from getting into the town, residents said. Others said electricity had been cut, the majority of phone lines were down, and essential supplies like bread were in short supply.
 Human Rights Watch said a total of 28 people were killed on Friday when security forces fired on protesters in Deraa, Harasta and Douma, a suburb of Damascus. It also said hundreds of arrests have been taking place across Syria. Sofar about 200 people have died in weeks of protests against repression by President Bashar al-Assad's government.

YEMEN - Troops loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh clashed with those supporting Gen Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who has defected to the opposition.Two soldiers were killed. The clash happened on Wednesday morning at a checkpoint run by the first army division, which supports the opposition. The rival sides exchanged fire with machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades after a car carrying pro-government security personnel reportedly refused to be searched.
In the southern city of Aden, soldiers opened fire as protesters threw stones and set up roadblocks to stop troops patrolling the streets.One person was killed and several others wounded, reports say.
More than 100 people have been killed since the start of the protests on 11 February. The protesters demand democratic and economic reforms, and legal action against Mr Saleh and his sons, who occupy key security and political posts. On Monday, opposition groups rejected outright a proposal by Gulf Arab countries for Mr Saleh to transfer power to his deputy in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Portraits of Ali Saqre were carried during his funeral
BAHRAIN  - Two Bahraini Shia activists who were detained after weeks of anti-government protests have died in police custody. Ali Issa Saqer, 31, died most probably after he was tortured, an observer of Human Rights Watch who saw the body testified. Another detainee, Zakaraya Rashed Hassan, 40, died of sickle cell disease, according to the Bahraini interior ministry. He was the second person that week that allegedly died of sickle cell anaemia. The families of the two dismissed these findings. 
Several Shia activists have complained of being tortured while in custody. More than 25 people died when the authorities used force to put down protests.Rights groups say the government has since detained more than 400 people - including human rights activists, doctors, bloggers and opposition supporters.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Severe sentence for blogger Nabil again raises questions about role of Egyptian army

An  Egyptian military court has sentenced blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad to three years in prison on Monday for a publication on his blog in which he ínsulted the army'. The sentence again underscores the dubious role that the army is playing after it de facto took power in February. 
Maikel Nabil Sanad
The sentence against Maikel Nabil, a 25-year old christian veterinarian from Assiut in Upper Egypt may be, as Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, put it, 'the worst strike against free expression in Egypt since the Mubarak government jailed the first blogger for four years in 2007.' Stork added: 'The sentence is not only severe, but it was imposed by a military tribunal after an unfair trial.'
Maikel Nabil Sanad was arrested on March 28, 2011, at his home in Cairo. The military prosecutor charged him with 'insulting the military establishment,' under article 184 of the penal code, and with 'spreading false information,' a violation of article 102 bis. The military judge had announced on April 6 that he would rule on April 10 after defense lawyers had completed their pleadings. On April 10, Nabil's lawyers were informed that no session would take place on that day and that the judge would rule on April 12.
But when the lawyers went to the court complex on the morning of April 11, they saw on the court roll that the court had already sentenced Nabil the day before. In violation of the Code of Military Justice, the lawyers had not been present.
The sentence still has to be ratified by the chief of the military district. But the chances are slim that he would refuse to put his signature under this scandalous verdict.
The reason for the sentence against Nabil can be found here. It merits to be read. Nabil delivers quite severe criticism of the role the army has been playing in this revolution. Rightly so, as his sentence seems to prove among many others things. 

Human Rights Watch asserts that the military, since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) assumed power on February 11, has arrested at least 200 protesters. Over 150 protesters arrested on March 9 after the military forcibly cleared Tahrir Square of protesters were sentenced to prison terms by military tribunals in Cairo's high-security Tora prison and are still being held.
Again Human Rights Watch: 'Over the past two months, victims of torture by the military and human rights activists who have exposed military abuses have found most Egyptian news media unwilling to cover these issues. Two news conferences by human rights lawyers in which torture victims testified received almost no coverage. Only a limited number of opinion writers in some newspapers and certain TV hosts have been willing to raise the issue. This is robably due to that fact that general Ismail Etman, head of the Morale Affairs Department of the SCAF,  sent a letter to editors of Egyptian newspapers on 22 February telling them "not to publish any articles/news/press releases/complaints/advertising/pictures concerning the armed forces or the leadership of the armed forces, except after consulting the Morale Affairs directorate and the Military Intelligence since these are the competent parties to examine such issues to protect the safety of the nation." Human Rights Watch has seen a photocopy of this letter and confirmed its authenticity.
The process against Maikel Nabil is just one othe reasons why many people question whether the army is truly supporting the revolution, or whether it is in fact more inclined to put the brakes on and keep much of the old structures intact. The bloody incident of last Saturday, for instance, whereby the army arrested 20 army officers who had joined the demonstation on Tahrir and forcibly dispersed the protesters, using live ammunition, was one other event that raised many questions. The 25 January Revolution Youth Coalition, a loose entity consisting of several youth groups, announced the suspension of its talks with the SCAF until the bloody incident on Saturday is investigated.
But in the meantime, the group warned against the deterioration of military-civilian relations at such a critical juncture in Egyptian politics, Al-Masry al-Youm reported. And also others warned that it is too early to conclude that the army want to take things in its own hands. It might just be that it is connservative and undecided how to handle matters best. One of the people saying this  is blogger Sandmonkey. Another one political scientist Hassan Nafae, who thinks it is not bad will that the army acts like it does. 'So far,' he told Al-Masry al-Youm, 'I believe it is due to a lack of vision because the military establishment is a traditional force by definition… It wants to bring about change but within tight limits.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Gaddafi accepts African Union plan for cease fire

 The AU-delegation in front of Gaddafi's tent in Bab Aziziya in Tripoli. Left to right the presidents Amadou Toumani Touré of Mali, Jacob Zuma of South-Africa, Denis Sasso Nguesso of Congo,  Gaddafi, Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania, and Jean Ping, secretary-general of the AU.

A delegation of African leaders said Sunday that the Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, accepted their 'road map' for a cease-fire with rebels. 'We have completed our mission with the brother leader, and the brother leader's delegation has accepted the road map as presented by us,' said South African President Jacob Zuma, who traveled to Tripoli with the prsidents Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania, Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali, Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo-Brazzaville, and Uganda's Foreign Minister Henry Oryem Okello.

Zuma said that the delegation of the African Union will meet with the 'other party' (the rebels) on Monday in Benghazi. He called on NATO to end airstrikes to "give the cease-fire a chance."
The AU deal's main points are:
  • An immediate ceasefire
  • The unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid
  • Protection of foreign nationals
  • A dialogue between the government and rebels on a political settlement
  • The suspension of Nato airstrikes
The talks in Tripoli were hedl against the background of new Nato-strikes. It said its planes destroyed 25 government tanks on Sunday alone, 11 near Ajdabiya, and 14 near Misrata. Consequently in Ajdabiya pro-Gaddafi forces have pushed back rebels in fierce fighting.
A Nato-spokeswoman, Oana Lungescu, welkcomed the intiative, saying that the alliance had 'had always made it clear that there could be no purely military solution to this crisis'
Rebel spokesmen said there could be no truce unless Col Gaddafi stepped down and his forces withdrew.
Spokesman Mustafa Gheriani told Reuters the proposal would be considered, but 'the Libyan people have made it very clear that Gaddafi must step down'. Another spokesman, Shamsiddin Abdulmolah, told AFP that 'the soldiers must return to their barracks. The world has seen these offers of ceasefires before and within 15 minutes Gaddafi starts shooting again,' he said.
The British-based representative of the Libyan opposition leadership, Guma al-Gamaty, has told the BBC that any deal designed to keep Col Gaddafi or his sons in place would not be acceptable.
Ramtane Lamamra of Algeria, the head of the AU's Peace and Security Council, said in Tripoli that the demand to give up power was brought up in Sunday's talks with the Libyan leader. 'There was some discussion on this but I cannot report on this. It has to remain confidential. It's up to the Libyan people to chose their leaders democratically,' he told reporters.

Mr Zuma is now returning to South Africa. His foreign minister and the other AU heads of state are travelling on to Benghazi. But a problem with the AU-mediation is that the rebels don't consider the AU to be impartial. Gaddafi is a former head of the AU and that did not come out of the blue. The 'brother leader' lhas invested lots of  Libyan petrodollars in the AU to buy his popularity there. The BBC in february gave this account of how he bribed his way into the African ranks. Also the rebels haven't proably forgotten that the AU was not in favour of the intervention by outside forces.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Army chases protesters for Tahrir in Cairo, reason still unclear

It is beyon my capacity to conclude from here what was exactly behind the evensts on Tahrir in the early morning of Saturday. The army attacked, so much is sure. But why? Blogger 3arabawy (Hossam Hamalawy) has this video and also the text is his.  

 The Army’s Special Forces, Paratroopers, with the help of Central Security Forces (yes, they are back and the US-made tear gas canisters are back too!) and plainclothes policemen cracked down on Tahrir protesters starting from 3:20am, with tasers, live ammunition. There are reports of injuries. We still don’t know if anyone died yet. (Two did, according to Reuters. And at least 15 were wouded, TP).
Earlier the Military Police tried to enter Tahrir to detain the officers who joined the revolt, but the protesters drove them back and chased away General Hamdi Badeen, the head of the Military Police.

Ahram on line reports: The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has released a statement claiming the attack was targeted against thugs and members of the former-ruling National Democratic Party who they accused of 'conducting sabotage' in the square. Among those blamed for sabotage was Ibrahim Kamel, already accused of plotting the infamous 'camel attack' of 2 February, one of the bloodiest days of Egypt's 18-day revolt. The Council has since issued an order for Kamel's arrest.

But Al Ahram also seems to hint that internal differences of  opinion within the army might have been a reason for what happened: 'Youtube videos were circulating days before Egypt’s “Cleansing Friday", showing army officers calling on their counterparts to join Tahrir Square protests and condemning the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces,' it writes. 

Death toll of Israeli strikes in Gaza stands at 18, with more than 65 injured

 Family and friends gather around the body of Hamas-commander Taysir Abu Sneima in the An Najjar hospital nin Rafah. (AP)

Israel struck at various places in Gaza with air strikes and tank shells Saturday, killing four militants, Palestinian officials said. In all, 18 Gazans have been killed and more than 65 wounded since Israel unleashed the strikes following a Hamas attack on an Israeli school bus Thursday, whereby a 16-year-old boy was wounded.

Early Saturday, an Israeli airstrike struck a car near Rafah in southern Gaza, killing one of Hamas' top commanders, 29-year-old Tayser Abu Sneima, and two of his assistants. Later, Hamas said a tank shell killed another militant near the Jabalya neighborhood in Gaza.
On Friday at least nine Israeli air strikes hit Gaza, while the artillerie wa also active several times. That day nine people were killed. Among them a mother and daughter who wre preparing lunch, at home in Khan Younis, and was as a 55 year old man. Lateron a  fourth - identified as an Al-Qassam Brigades fighter - was killed near Gaza City, and two unidentified men was killed when a shell hit his home east of Gaza City.
A statement from Israel's military acknowledged civilian casualties, saying that the military "regrets that the Hamas terrorist organization chooses to operate from within its civilian population, using it as a 'human shield'."
 Overall, the Palestinian death toll since Thursday includes 11 militants, a Hamas policeman and six civilians.
 Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired more than 15 missiles into Israel Saturday. The rockets reached the vicinity of the Israeli cities of Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beersheba. The military confirmed that its newly deployed Iron Dome defense system knocked some of them down. No Israelis were wounded in the attacks.
Hamas had largely observed a ceasy fire sicne the Cast Lead Campaign of 2008-2009 which killed 1400 people, most of them civilians.
It has still to bcome clear why Israel chose to end the relative calm with a targeted killing, last Sunday, of three militants of Hamas. This was the attack that triggered Hamas to launch the attack on the schoolbus, which was the beginning of the present round of fighting.

At least 23 killed during widespread protests in Syria

 Protest in Deraa (AFP)

At least 23 people have been killed in Syria on Friday during protests against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad. According to sources the victims fell in the southern city of Deraa. Others talked about the possiblity that more people were killed in this city, while it is unknown whether people were killed at protests . which took place elsewhere ij many place troughout the country. 
In the east, thousands of ethnic Kurds demonstrated for reform despite the president's offer this week to ease rules which bar many Kurds from citizenship, activists said. Other rallies were held from the Mediterranean port of Latakia to Albu Kamal on the Iraqi border. Places were demonstrations took place were Banias, Tartous, Douma, Tel, Hama, al-Salamia east of Hama, Homs, the Damascus suburb of Harasta and the Kfar Souseh district of Damascus
In Deraa, where demonstrations first broke out in March, residents said security forces fired on thousands of protesters, who set fire to a building belonging to the ruling Baath Party and smashed a statue of the president's brother, Basil. At least 23 people were killed and 120 wounded.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Egyptian protesters return to Tahrir in the old numbers

Last week’s “Save the Revolution” day saw tens of thousands gather in Tahrir Square, Al Ahram on line tells us, but this Friday it is considerably more, as the picture shows. Last week the Muslim Brotherhood was absent, this week they participate. But that is not the only, nor even the main reason that so many came, I suspect.
Last week was a sort of  a rehearsal after some weeks during which there was no protest. This Friday it seems to be the real thing again. The committee which called for this weeks protest said the focus would be on demands: for the arrest and prosecution of  Mubarak and his family members, who ‎are under house arrest in Sharm El-Sheikh, as well as Mubarak's inner circle. People like Fathi ‎Sorour (former speaker of the parliament), Safwat El-Sherif (speaker of the Shura Council, party leader and former minister), and Zakaria Azmi (the manager of Mubarak's office).
 Tahrir Square 8 April 2011 (Photo Lilian Wagdy)

Apart from that students from Cairo University are expected to come, with demands for the replacement of the managemnet of the university, as well as textile workers from Shebin El-Kom and El-Mahalla. Trade unionists and workers have decided to meet in Tahrir Square on Friday to demand the removal of the Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions (EFTU), the return of privatised companies to the public sector, a minimum monthly wage of LE1,200 and the trial of the corrupt Mubarak gang, by which they, apart from Mubarak and his inner circle have also have in mind the former minister of investment Mahmoud Mohieldin, the former minister of manpower and emigration Aisha Abdel Hady and Said El-Gohary, general-secretary of the textile and yarn union – a branch of the corrupt, state-controlled EFTU.
 Shortly before the Friday prayer began. (Photo Mohammd Hamama).

Several hundreds (maybe some thousands) marched from Tahrir to the Israeli embassy at the other side of the Nile to protest the attacks on Gaza and to demand the closure of the embassy. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Gulf countries have worked out a plan for president Saleh of Yemen to step down

Reuters reports that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has coined a plan for Yemeni president Ali Abdallah Saleh to step down and hand over power to an interim council of tribal and political leaders who would help appoint a national unity government ahead of elections. The proposal would also see Saleh hand over power to a vice-president. Current incumbent Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has said he does not want such a role, which suggests Saleh would appoint a new vice-president.The proposal would also give Saleh and his family, immunity from prosecution for corruption. The Gulf proposal for talks in Riyadh was presented to Saleh and a coalition of opposition parties this week, according to Reuters. It came after the United States and the Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia finally seem to have given up their backing of  Saleh.

The Dutch government on Tuesday announced that it has suspended “a major portion of its aid to governmental institutions in Yemen,” according to their embassy in Sana’a, the Yemen Times reported
The measure concerns all aid to organizations that are connected to the government. The embassy explained that the measure will suspend EUR 14.7 million of the total EUR 23.7 million budgeted by the Netherlands for Yemen in 2011. However, emergency aid and assistance channeled through civil society organizations will continue as usual. The suspension comes as a reaction against the “Yemeni government’s continuing violence against demonstrators.”

Meanwhile mass  protests against Saleh's 32 year old rule continue. The Yemen Post said that on Wednesday more than 600.000 people took part a peaceful demonstration Yemen's southern province of Taiz. The protesters condemned the use of force against peaceful demonstrators in all Yemen's province and they accused the governor of Taiz, Hamod Al-Sofi, and the head of security Abdullah Qairan for the massacres against protesters in Taiz over the last three days.  This week dozens of people have been reported killed in clashes in Taiz, Hodeida, the capital Sana’a.and across the nation, with hundreds injured and exposed to tear gas. Tens of thousands of women and children participated in the march in Taiz in an effort by protesters to convince security forces that they want peaceful change.
Al-Jazeera English had the following video:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Israel behind attack on car near Port Sudan?

Sudan's Foreign Minister Ali Karti on Wednesday accused Israel of carrying out an attack on Tuesday near Port Sudan that killed two people and said Khartoum reserved the right to react to the aggression.
"This is absolutely an Israeli attack," he told reporters.
He said Israel undertook the attack in order scupper Sudan's chances of being removed from a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
One of the two people killed in the strike was a Sudanese citizen who had no ties to Islamists or the government, he said.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor declined to comment on the accusation.
The car, said to be a Hyundai Sonata, was hit about 15km (nine miles) south of Port Sudan on Tuesday. Sudanese officials have offered different versions on how the strike was carried out. Police say a missile struck the car near the port city, but a state government official blamed a bombing by a foreign aircraft that flew in from the Red Sea.
In 2009 an unknown aircraft attacked a convoy of suspected arms smugglers on a remote road in the east, which some reports said may have been carried out by Israel to stop weapons bound for Gaza. Some 119 peoplewere killed in the raid.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Kidnapped Gaza engineer Abu Sisi now accused of being a balllistics expert

 Engineer Dirar Abu Sisi in the courtroom, handcuffed and between policemen. (Ma´an) 

Dirar Abu Sisi, the engineer of Gaza´s only power plant, who was snatched from an Ukrainian train in february,  was finally indicted on Monday in an Israeli court in Beer Sheba. The numerous question marks which hang over his kidnapping remain, however, now that the gag order over his ´arrest´ is partially lifted. One could even say that the indictement itself adds a number of new questions to the old ones.
For instance, the indictment does not mention anything about the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit,  about whom Abu Sisi was questioned at length, as he said himself, and as was also mentioned by Israel´s prime minister Netanyahu in a radio interview. Instead it paints a picture of Abu Sisi as a weapons expert and Hamas-militant. A secret militant that is, as nobody of his family, friends, or collegues ever saw a glimpse of a different Abu Ssisi than the one who lived for his family and for his work as an engineer of the power plant.
In the indictment Abu Sisi is nverthless accused of belonging to a militant group (Hamas) and of hundreds of counts of attempted murder and making rockets. It says  that ´Abu Sisi is accused of nine charges regarding activity in a terrorist organization, hundreds of counts of attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder and arms production offenses´. 

The story may have become even more mysterious, as the Israeli secret services now contend that Abu Sisi who did his PhD in electrical engineering in Ukraine, in fact enrolled in this Ukrainian PhD program in order ly to study ballistics. His PhD advisor was Constantine Petrovich, the Israeli agencies say, a supposed expert in the development of SCUD rockets.As the indictement says (translation from the Hebrew by Deena Shunra):
 He intended] to take part in lessons and academic activity relating to ballistic weaponry and of having obtained extensive knowledge in the field of developing missiles and mechanisms for the control, propulsion, and stabilization of them.
 Also it says that Abu Sisi  was enrolled in the service of Hamas by two of its military experts, Nizar Rayan and Salah Shehadeh, who in the meantime both have been killed by Israel, so that nobody can ask them any questions anymore. (Rayan was killed during the ´Cast Lead´ campaign of 2009, and Salah Shehadeh  in 2004 by the nightly dropping of a 1000 pound bomb on his flat, that also took the lives of 14 others  - nine of them children).
Abu Sisi, after apparently having become Hamas´ ballistic number one, at least according to the Mossad and Shin Bet, took part in programs to improve the quality of several types of missiles. (I follow here the text on Richard Silverstein´s blog Tikun Olam, Silverstein being  somewhat of an expert in cases like this one:  
The Accused did this [ran the Gaza power plant] within the framework of his membership of a committee headed by senior Hamas activists Muhammad Dief, which dealt in the development and improvement of various types of missiles and mortars, including the Qassem, Yassine, Albattar, Abu Rassine, and Albana.

Abu Sisi would have developped the Yassine anti-tank missile which would be capable of damaging Israeli armored personnel carriers, fins to stabilize the Al Battar missile and he would have transferred knowledge about Russian rocket  research and development to Hamas.
He developed the idea of establishing a military academy that would train the officers and commanding ranks in the Hamas for their functionality under warfare and took upon himself the task of establishing and managing the military academy…
 The idea of this academy being born after Israel´s Cast Lead operation of 2008-2009 and sprung out of the conclusion that Hamas´s  forces performed rather poorly against the Israeli´s at that time.

The strange thing about all these ´facts´, however, is that neither Abu Sisi´s sister who lives in Gaza, nor his brother who lives in Holland, or his wife Veronica who lives in Ukraine, or his closest collegues at the power plant (who were interviewed by Channel 10 in Israel) knew anything of  the possibility that Abu Sisi might have known anything about weapons in general or more specifically about ballistics, nor that he was ¨politically involved, let alone a member of Hamas. It also remains strange that someone who is involved in weapons building and training programs in Gaza, makes a trip to Ukraine to prepare his application for Ukrainian citizenship. It does not seem to make sense.

However, Ma´an reports that his Israeli lawyer, Smadar Ben-Natan, told journalists that her client had confessed to ´certain things´.  She said she could not elaborate, because of court-imposed restrictions. She added that these confessions were made ´under very heavy duress which I would characterize as torture´.

Abu Sisi's family meanwhile told Ma'an that Dirar was abducted because he had been able to engineer a switch in fuel source for the Gaza Power Plant. At the close of 2010, the Gaza Strip halted its import of Israeli industrial diesel, and initiated a trial run using purified fuel brought in through the smuggling tunnels from Egypt.
Abu Sisi's sister Suzanne said ´Israel was provoked because my brother was able to operate the plant without fuel from their pumps, Israel tries to lay siege to us in every way, but they cannot lay siege to our brains and our creativity´´.
Suzanne said her brother was ´not linked in any way to any political faction, he was working as the head of the operations of the plant before Hamas came to power, and he continues his work as a university professor´.

And again: Israel approves the building of 942 new homes in Gilo in East Jerusalem

 Gilo, seen from Bethlehem.

Israel continues its building program in East-Jerusalem. AFP reports that the Jerusalem city council on Monday approved the construction of 942 new homes in Gilo, a settlement neighbourhood opposite the West bank towns of Bethlehem and Beit Jala.
The municipality says the project is an addition to an earlier tranche of more than 900 new homes in Gilo approved in November 2009. At the time Washington expressed ´dismay´ over the move. This time the decision was taken a day ahead of  a meeting at the White House between Israeli president Shimon Peres and US president Barack Obama.
Israel has a nose for timing in cases like this.  In March 2010  the interior ministry announced a plan to build 1,600 settler homes in Ramat Shlomo, an Orthodox neighbourhood also in East Jerusalem. That announcement coincided with a a visit of US Vice President Joe Biden to Israel. It provoked a fierce American reaction at the time, and soured the relations with Washington for several months.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Arab Spring round up

YEMEN:  US stopped support of president Saleh
America is behind the scenes mounting its pressure on the yemeni president Ali Abdllah Saleh to go.The New York Times on Monday said Washington had 'quietly shifted positions' and 'concluded that he is unlikely to bring about the required reforms and must be eased out of office.'
The Obama administration has not so far made a public statement urging Saleh to stand aside.

Sources close to talks have said Washington had given Saleh an ultimatum last week to agree on a deal negotiated by the U.S. ambassador in Sanaa to ensure a peaceful exit and transition of power, otherwise it would publicly call on him to step down.
In the meantime the toll of the ungoing demonstrations is rising. Police and armed men in civilian clothes opened fire on demonstrators in the cities of Taiz and Hudaida on Monday. In Taiz, in the south west, police shot protesters trying to storm the provincial government building, killing at least 15 people and wounding 30, hospital sources said. In the Red Sea port of Hodeida, police and armed men in civilian clothes fired live rounds and teargas at hundreds of demonstrators marching on a presidential palace and some 250 people were wounded, another medical source said.

LIBYA. Rebels again on their way to Brega
Rebels pushed towards Brega on Monday in an attempt to win back territory lost to forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. As their forces advanced on Brega, there were again signs that Gaddafi wants a negotiated end to the figfhting. A senior Libyan envoy, deputy foreign minister, Abdul Ati al-Obeidi, was on Sunday in Greece, where he told the Greek prime minister that Col Gaddafi wants the fighting to end and open a dialogue with the international community. On Monday Obeidi is in Malta en Turkey.
A rebel spokesman said the Transitional national Council (TNC) would not accept any transition in Libya without Gaddafi and his sons leaving power. 'Gaddafi and his sons have to leave before any diplomatic negotiations can take place,' spokesman Shamseddin Abdulmelah said in Benghazi.

Meanwhile, evidence has emerged of the scale of the fighting in Misrata, the only city in the west still controlled by the rebels. A Turkish humanitarian ship carrying more than 250 injured people from Misrata arrived in Benghazi on Sunday. Doctors on board the ship, Ankara, said many people had extremely serious injuries. A BBC-correspondent said everyone had stories of the ever worsening conditions in Misrata. They told him that much of the city had no water or electricity and no-one was safe from shelling or sniper-fire. Doctors on board say medical care conditions Misrata were inadequate, and that more than 200 people have been killed and hundreds more wounded. Misrata has been under siege by forces loyal to Col Gaddafi for several weeks.

SYRIA New prime minister and dozens of arrests
Adel SWafar
Syrian president Bashar Assad issued a decree on Sunday designating Adel Safar to form the new government, SANA, the official news agency reported. Adel Safar, 58, and member of the ruling Baath Party's central committee, was heavily criticised for his handling of Syria's recent drought crisis.  He is expected to unveil his new cabinet in two or three days. Meanwhile Syrian security forces arrested dozens of people - mostly in Deraa and Douma, apparently in the aftermath of th demonstrations of Friday, during which at least 16 people were killed. Eight human rights groups issued a statement, quoted by AFP news agency, in which they said 46 people had been arrested.