Middle East & Balkans News Brief – 6 July 2011

News Summary


Kabul (Afghanistan). AFP reports that Afghanistan troops had killed 276 Taliban-linked rebels in the past two weeks, as Kabul’s security forces prepare to take over control of parts of the war-torn country from ISAF. In two weeks of operations, the military lost 59 troops, with another 108 injured, said defence ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, who also said that around 240 rebels had been captured.

Afghan security forces are set to start assuming responsibility for seven areas later this month, in a gradual nationwide process scheduled to finish at the end of 2014. This happens amid widespread scepticism of the Afghans’ ability to deal with the insurgency and serious doubts about their training and capability.

Kabul (Afghanistan). A cargo aircraft chartered by ISAF-troops crashed in northern Afghanistan late on Tuesday, but it was not immediately clear if there were any casualties, Afghan provincial officials said on 6 July in an interview with a Reuters reporter. The plane was not an aircraft belonging to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. Abdul Baseer Salangi, the provincial governor of Parwan, said a cargo aircraft chartered by foreign troops had crashed in a mountainous area of Siagerd district. A rescue team had been dispatched to the remote site.

Jerusalem (Israel). Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is scheduled to pay a visit to Romania and Bulgaria, marking the first prime ministerial visit to either of those countries in some 20 years, says Jerusalem Post.While the visit has taken on increased importance in the run-up to the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN in September, diplomatic officials said the visits to Roman and Bulgaria – considered among the most friendly countries toward Israel in the EU – are not only about the PA’s statehood move.
Later today, 6 July, Netanyahu will be meeting  with his Romanian counterpart Emil Boc, as well as President Traian Basescu in Bucharest.

Ankara (Turkey). Turkey said it was hopeful that Western and Arab governments working with Libyan rebels could forge the framework of a political solution by next month to help bring an end to the Libyan conflict, Reuters reported.

“We hope for significant progress towards a political solution before the month of Ramadan,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference after meeting with the Libyan rebel leader. The Muslim fasting month of Ramadan begins in early August.

Davutoglu’s comments came amid a flurry of reports about talks on Muammar Gaddafi ending his 41 years in power in exchange for security guarantees. Earlier on Tuesday, a Libyan government spokesman denied Gaddafi was seeking safe refuge inside or outside the country. Istanbul is set to host a contact group meeting on 15 July, bringing together foreign ministers from Western powers and Arab governments, along with leaders of the Libyan opposition National Transitional Council as part of an international effort to bring stability to a post-Gaddafi Libya. In preparation for that meeting, Davutoglu met with Mahmoud Jebril, leader of the Libyan rebel administration, Abdelilah Al-Khatib, the U.N. secretary-general’s special envoy to Libya, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan.

Ankara (Turkey). Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Wednesday unveiled Turkey’s new cabinet after his Islamist-rooted party won a third straight term in power in the 12 June elections, AFP reports. The line-up included 25 ministers, President Abdullah Gul approved the list.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu retained his post, while Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s chief negotiator in EU accession talks, was appointed to head the newly-established European Union ministry. A newcomer, Ismet Yilmaz, took over the defence ministry from the veteran Vecdi Gonul. Another newcomer, Naim Sahin, was appointed interior minister, while his predecessor Besir Atalay became one of the four deputy prime ministers. The cabinet included only one woman – Fatma Sahin, who was appointed family and social policies minister.

Teheran (Iran). Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has said that Tehran is conferring with like-minded countries to achieve a solution to the crisis in Libya and a number of proposals have been made, Iranian Mehr Agency reports.

Asked if Tehran intends to recognize the Libyan opposition National Transition Council, Salehi answered, “The issue in question is not the intention to recognize revolutionaries or not to recognize, but Iran’s principle in policy is that the legitimate demands of the people, no matter where they live, should be responded to in an appropriate way”.

He went on to say that NATO forces are furnishing the opposition with weapons, which is in contravention of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. The NATO forces are “seeking to exacerbate the situation in this country,” he noted.

Elsewhere in his remarks, the Iranian foreign minister commented on the unrest in Syria, saying that a differentiation should be made between popular uprisings and the movements that are being made in certain countries, such as Syria, with the aim of exploiting the situation unfolding in the Arab world. “In Syria, the majority of people had legitimate demands, and (Syrian President) Mr. Bashar al-Assad has made some promises to satisfy those demands and have so far fulfilled some (of his promises),” he added. He also said that the Islamic Republic of Iran has adopted a clear stance toward the developments playing out in the region.

Hama (Syria). Syrian troops killed at least 22 people in a crackdown on demonstrators in the city of Hama on 5 July, a human rights group was quoted by AFP.

“At least 22 people were killed in Hama and more than 80 wounded, some of them seriously,” Ammar Qurabi of the National Organisation for Human Rights said on 6 July. The wounded are being treated in two hospitals in Hama.

Amnesty International accused the Syrian regime of committing crimes against humanity during a deadly crackdown over a pro-democracy protest in a border town, AFP reported. The London-based human rights group urged the UN to investigate the assault by the security forces and army on Tall Kalakh in May. In another report, Amnesty made allegations of torture, deaths in custody, and arbitrary detention during the security sweep that lasted several days in the town near the Lebanese border.

“The accounts we have heard from witnesses to events in Tall Kalakh paint a deeply disturbing picture of systematic, targeted abuses to crush dissent,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director. Security forces and the army entered the town on 14 May after an anti-government protest, according to the report, which is based on interviews with more than 50 people who were interviewed by Amnesty. The rights group has not been allowed to enter Syria.


Sofia (Bulgaria). Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov is rescuing Bulgaria from some non-existing danger, says Ivan Kostov in a declaration released by the parliamentary group of the right-wing Blue Coalition.

“The prime minister says that he has rescued Bulgaria from the scenario seen in Greece and Portugal,” Kostov said. “It seems that no one has told him that Greece is being rescued from insolvency, because it cannot serve its foreign debt, which is almost 150% of the GDP of the country. Greece is a rich country with developed economy and its companies and banks do not need rescuing,” Kostov commented further.
“Bulgaria has not faced problems with its solvency over the last 13 years. The public debt is less than 15% of the GDP, as the merit for these figures does not go to the prime minister. Thus, the only thing that comes within the powers of Mr Borissov is to rescue us from some non-existing danger,” Ivan Kostov remarked.

Sofia (Bulgaria). Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov is to hold talks with Gunther Krichbaum, chairman of the Bundestag’s Committee on the Affairs of the European Union, the press office of the Bulgarian Interior Ministry informed. The topics that will be tabled for discussion include Bulgaria’s accession in the Schengen area. Minister Tsvetanov’s agenda also includes meeting with Dr Hans-Peter Uhl, MP with Law and Domestic Affairs Committee of the German Bundestag.

Valetta (Malta), Athens (Greece) Nicosia (Cyprus). China is quietly buying up bonds of EU countries, which are in trouble. China is creating its own lobby in these countries to block criticism over violation of human rights and ease the access of its export to the continent, says the European Council on Foreign Relation.  However, according to experts Beijing’s active policy in the continent is incited by its zeal to decrease the dependence on the US Dollar and the US market, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. China’s stakes are in countries such as Malta, Cyprus and Greece, to block the unanimous decision of the EU, which are against its interests.

(Middle East & Balkans News, 6 July 2011)



About Johann Brandstätter

Photojournalist and documentary photographer based in Bulgaria, working mainly in the Balkans and the Middle East. Conflicts & crises, social and environmental issues, defense & military, travel, transportation.
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