Archive for August, 2012

Syrian rebels advance in town along Iraqi border

August 23, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian rebels waged fierce battles with regime troops in a town along the Iraqi border on Thursday, capturing a string of security posts and the local police headquarters despite heavy government shelling and airstrikes by warplanes, activists said.

Taking full control of al-Bukamal, located in the eastern oil-rich province of Deir el-Zour and across the border from the Iraqi town of Qaim, would expand the rebel foothold along the frontier with Iraq. The border crossing point has been in rebel hands since last month, although government troops have remained in control of much of the town, activists say.

The opposition already controls a wide swath of territory along the border with Turkey in the north as well as pockets along the frontier with Jordan to the south and Lebanon to the west, which has proven key in ferrying people and material into and out of the country.

Rebels have been fighting troops for days in al-Bukamal, but over the past few hours have taken over several checkpoints, the main police station and the local command of the Political Security Directorate, one of Syria’s powerful intelligence agencies, according to Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

He added that government troops are still control of the border crossing point leading to Iraq. “There is an attempt to take full control al-Bukamal,” Abdul-Rahman said. The Local Coordination Committees activist group said warplanes bombed al-Bukamal, but Abdul-Rahman said the jets were flying over the town and struck nearby areas, not the town itself.

Abu-Omar al-Deery, an activist in the provincial capital of Deir el-Zour, said by telephone that there are “fierce battles” in al-Bukamal and that “the Free Syrian Army is trying to liberate and clean the city.”

There was no immediate word on casualties. The main battle fronts in the past month have been in the capital, Damascus, as well as the northern city of Aleppo, where regime forces have struggled to stamp out a rebel offensive that began last month and succeeded in capturing several neighborhoods in the city of 3 million people.

In a report released Thursday, the human rights group Amnesty International said artillery and mortar fire and airstrikes by government forces in Aleppo are killing mostly civilians, including children. It said air and artillery strikes against residential neighborhoods are indiscriminate attacks that seriously endanger civilians.

Amnesty said that during a 10-day fact-finding visit to Aleppo city in the first half of August, Amnesty investigated some 30 attacks in which more than 80 civilians, who were not directly participating in hostilities, were killed and many more were injured.

Amnesty said that among the dead were 10 members of one family, seven of them children. Their home was destroyed in two airstrikes on Aug. 6. It said bodies of mostly young men, most of them handcuffed and shot in the head, have been frequently found near the local headquarters of the powerful Air Force Intelligence, which is in a government-controlled area.

Activists say more than 20,000 people have been killed since Syria’s crisis erupted in March last year. The uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime began with largely peaceful protests but has since morphed into a civil war that has spread to almost all areas of the country.

In the Damascus suburb of Daraya, the Local Coordination Committees activist group said government shelling killed a mother and her five children. It said the six were members of al-Sheik family and had fled from their hometown of Maadamiyeh to escape the violence.

An amateur video showed the five children draped in which shrouds with their faces showing during the funeral. The body of the mother was all covered.

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Low turnout at Saudi municipal polls, monitors say

Sep 29, 2011

Riyadh – Saudis went to the polls Thursday to elect municipal councils amid a low turnout, according to local monitors.

‘The voter turnout has so far been weak because Thursday is an official holiday in the kingdom,’ said one monitor. Kateb al-Shamri, another Saudi monitor, however, expected the turnout to increase later in the day.

‘It takes around five minutes to cast one’s ballot because organization inside polling stations are good,’ he said. ‘There will be a strong turnout in the afternoon.’

Polling booths opened across the country at 0800 local time (0500 GMT) and were due to close at 1700.

Thursday’s elections, the only ones in the oil-rich kingdom, are the last to be held without women voters.

Municipal elections this year are only the second in the conservative kingdom’s history. The first were held in 2005.

Around 5,000 candidates are running for 1,056 seats at 285 councils across the kingdom, the spokesman for the electoral commission, Jadeeh bin Nahar, said on Wednesday. They are being monitored by some 500 Saudi lawyers and activists.

On Sunday, Saudi King Abdullah decided to allow women to run for the next municipal elections and be appointed as members of parliament.

Source: Monsters and Critics.
Link: http://news.monstersandcritics.com/middleeast/news/article_1665822.php/Low-turnout-at-Saudi-municipal-polls-monitors-say.

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Bahrain continues detaining females

Wed Sep 28, 2011

The Saudi-backed Bahraini regime admits that its security forces are still holding 20 women in detention for holding a protest against the Al Khalifa monarchy in Manama, Press TV reports.

Those still in the regime’s detention are among the 45 females, who came under arrest in the capital on Saturday for chanting slogans against the ruling regime in a shopping mall.

The protest had been formed against recent controversial parliamentary by-elections, which, according to Bahraini government’s own website, were shunned by over 80 percent of the legitimate voters.

Amnesty International on Monday said the females — who included seven minors — had been tortured and denied legal representation.

“They were apprehended without arrest orders, interrogated without lawyers present and some of them reportedly tortured or otherwise ill-treated,” the group said.

Meanwhile, Bahrain’s Military Prosecutor-General Yussef Fleilfal announced on Monday that the sheikhdom’s military court had sentenced another 32 people to 15 years in prison for participating in pro-democracy demonstrations earlier this year.

Bahrainis have been holding peaceful anti-government rallies since mid-February, demanding an end to the Al Khalifa’s over-40-year-long rule over the Persian Gulf island.

Scores of people have been killed and hundreds more arrested in a brutal Manama-ordered and Riyadh-backed crackdown in the country, which hosts a huge American military installation for the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf.

Source: PressTV.
Link: http://www.presstv.com/detail/201552.html.

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Bahrain to imprison 32 women, girls

Tue Sep 27, 2011

The Bahrain regime has sentenced 32 women and girls, who were arrested for protesting against the recent parliamentary by-elections in the Persian Gulf kingdom, to 15 years in jail.

These Bahraini protesters, including seven minors aged between 12 and 15, were arrested on Friday, one day before the by-elections — boycotted by the opposition — to replace 18 lawmakers who resigned from the parliament in protest to the crackdown on anti-government demonstrators.

According to Amnesty International (AI) the women were tortured in detention and they have been denied access to their lawyers and families.

AI says the girls remain in custody despite a Bahraini juvenile court order for their release.

On Monday, Bahrain’s Military Prosecutor-General Yussef Fleilfal announced that the kingdom’s military court had sentenced another 32 people to 15 years in prison for taking part in anti-government protests earlier this year.

Bahrainis have been holding anti-government rallies since mid-February, demanding an end to the Al Khalifa dynasty’s 40-year rule.

Scores of people have been killed and hundreds of others have been arrested in a brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters in Bahrain, which is home to a huge American military installation for the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf.

Source: PressTV.
Link: http://www.presstv.com/detail/201431.html.

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Qatar seeks MJ-60R Seahawks

Sept. 27, 2011

WASHINGTON, Sept. 27 (UPI) — Qatar is seeking six MH-60R Seahawk multi-mission helicopters from the United States in a deal worth an estimated $750 million.

The deal would also include 13 T-700 GE 401C engines, communication equipment, support equipment, spare and repair parts, tools and test equipment, technical data and publications, personnel training and training equipment, U.S. government and contractor engineering, technical, and logistics support services and other related elements of logistics support.

The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency told Congress the buy, under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program, would improve Qatar’s capability to meet current and future anti-surface warfare threats.

The MH-60R helicopters would supplement and eventually replace the Qatar air force’s aging maritime patrol helicopters.

The prime contractors would be Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. in Stratford, Conn., Lockheed Martin in Owego, N.Y., and General Electric in Lynn, Mass.

Implementation of this proposed sale would require the assignment of 10 contractor representatives to Qatar on an intermittent basis over the life of the case to support delivery of the MH-60R helicopters and provide support and equipment familiarization.

Source: United Press International (UPI).
Link: http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Security-Industry/2011/09/27/Qatar-seeks-MJ-60R-Seahawks/UPI-35701317119852/.

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Egypt president to visit Iran, a first in decades

August 18, 2012

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi will attend a summit in Iran later this month, a presidential official said on Saturday, the first such trip for an Egyptian leader since relations with Tehran deteriorated decades ago.

The visit could mark a thaw between the two countries after years of enmity, especially since Egypt signed its 1979 peace treaty with Israel and Iran underwent its Islamic revolution. Under Morsi’s predecessor Hosni Mubarak, Egypt, predominantly Sunni Muslim, sided with Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-dominated Arab states in trying to isolate Shiite-led Iran.

Until now, contacts have been channeled through interest sections, a low-level form of diplomatic representation. In May last year, Egypt, which was ruled by an interim military council, expelled a junior Iranian diplomat on suspicion he tried to set up spy rings in Egypt and the Gulf countries.

It’s too early to assess the implications of the visit or to what extent the Arab world’s most populous country may normalize relations with Tehran, but analysts believe it will bring Egypt back to the regional political stage. The visit is in line with popular sentiment since Mubarak’s ouster in an uprising last year for Cairo to craft a foreign policy independent of Western or oil Gulf countries’ agendas.

“This really signals the first response to a popular demand and a way to increase the margin of maneuver for Egyptian foreign policy in the region,” said political scientist Mustafa Kamel el-Sayyed. “Morsi’s visits … show that Egypt’s foreign policy is active again in the region.”

“This is a way also to tell Gulf countries that Egypt is not going to simply abide by their wishes and accept an inferior position,” he added. The official said that Morsi will visit Tehran on Aug. 30 on his way back from China to attend the Non-Aligned Movement Summit, where Egypt will transfer the movement’s rotating leadership to Iran. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not yet authorized to make the announcement.

The trip is no surprise — it came days after Morsi included Iran, a strong ally of Syrian Bashar Assad, in a proposal for a contact group to mediate an end to Syria’s escalating civil war. The proposal for the group, which includes Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, was made at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit in Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca.

During the summit, Morsi exchanged handshakes and kisses with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in their first meeting since Morsi assumed his post as Egypt’s first elected president. The idea was welcomed by Iran’s state-run Press TV, and a leading member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said that Tehran’s acceptance of the proposal was a sign Egypt was beginning to regain some of the diplomatic and strategic clout it once held in the region.

After the fall of Egypt’s longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak in last year’s popular revolt, officials have expressed no desire to maintain Mubarak’s staunch anti-Iranian stance. Last July, former Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Elaraby, who also heads the Arab League, delivered a conciliatory message to the Islamic Republic, saying “Iran is not an enemy.” He also noted that post-Mubarak Egypt would seek to open a new page with every country in the world, including Iran.

Tensions have not been absent however in contacts with Iran’s clerical state since Egypt’s uprising. When a delegation of politicians and youth activists made a visit to Iran last year, one Egyptian pro-democracy activist, Mustafa el-Nagger, said his Iranian hosts claimed the revolt sweeping the Arab world was part of an “Islamic awakening.” He responded with a different interpretation: the anti-Mubarak uprising was “not a religious revolution, but a human evolution.”

Any normalization between the two countries would have to be based on careful calculations. Majority Sunni Egypt has its own suspicions of Iran on both religious and political grounds. The country’s ultraconservative Salafis and even the moderate consider Shiites heretics and enemies.

Since splitting from their Sunni brethren in the 7th century over who should replace the Prophet Muhammad as Muslim ruler, Shiites have developed distinct concepts of Islamic law and practices. They account for some 160 million of the Islamic world’s population of 1.3 billion people, and make up some 90 percent of Iran’s population, over 60 percent of Iraq’s, and around 50 percent of the people living in the arc of territory from Lebanon to India.

In 2006, Mubarak angered Shiite leaders by saying Shiites across the Middle East were more loyal to Iran than to their own countries. His view was shared by other Arab leaders and officials, including Jordan’s King Abdullah II who warned of a Shiite crescent forming in the region.

“The old regime used to turn any of his rivals to a ghost. We don’t want to do like Mubarak and exaggerate of the fear of Iran,” said Mahmoud Ezzat, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Morsi was the leader of its political arm.

“But at the same time, we should not take the Iranians’ ambitions lightly. As much as they don’t want us to interfere in their business, we don’t want them to interfere in our business,” he said, mentioning his group’s opposition to Iran’s “grand project to spread Shiite faith.”

While nearly three decades of Mubarak rule left Egyptians inundated with state-spun scenarios of Iranian plots aiming to destabilize the country, many sympathize with Iran’s Islamic revolution and consider Tehran’s defiance of the United States a model to follow. Others seek a foreign policy at the very least more independent of Washington.

A new understanding with Iran would be a big shake-up for a region that has been split between Tehran’s camp — which includes Syria and Islamic militias Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza — and a U.S.-backed group led by Saudi Arabia and rich Gulf nations.

To add another level of complexity, there is also the fact that Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules the Palestinian enclave in the Gaza strip to the frustration of neighboring Israel, is a historical offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, the dominant force in Egyptian politics since Morsi’s election.

Aware of the Gulf states’ anxieties over the rise of political Islam in post-Mubarak Egypt, Morsi has focused on courting Saudi Arabia. He visited it twice, once just after he won the presidency, and a second time during the Islamic summit. In an attempt to assuage fears of the Arab uprisings by oil monarchs, he vowed that Egypt does not want to “export its revolution”. He has also asserted commitment to the security of Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies, a thinly veiled reference to the tension between them and Iran.

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Fresh protests held in Bahrain

Mon Sep 26, 2011

Fresh anti-regime protests have been held in several villages in Bahrain despite the country’s heavy-handed crackdown on people, Press TV reports.

Bahraini regime forces clashed with the protesters in several villages including Dair, Sitra, Nuwaidarat and Muqaba on Sunday night.

Witnesses said on Monday that protesters also created massive traffic jams in the capital Manama, ignoring threats of confiscating driver’s licenses and barring protesters from driving for up to four years.

Hundreds of Bahrainis flooded the roads with their cars during the morning commute on Monday.

The Bahraini opposition had organized the gathering, which was named the “the Second Dignity Blockade.”

Meanwhile, Bahraini clerics have condemned the massive arrests and the disrespectful treatment of Bahraini women by regime forces over the past few days.

The protests intensified after the opposition boycotted last week’s parliamentary elections. Less than one in five Bahrainis reportedly participated in the country’s by-elections.

The Al Khalifa regime held the polls to fill 18 seats abandoned by members of the largest opposition party, al-Wefaq.

Al-Wefaq said that the 40-member parliament has lost its legitimacy and that it does not represent the will of the Bahraini people.

Bahrainis have been holding anti-government rallies since mid-February, demanding an end to the Al Khalifa dynasty.

Source: PressTV.
Link: http://www.presstv.com/detail/201217.html.

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