Middle East & Balkans News Brief – 19 July 2011


News Summary

NORTH AFRICA

Tripoli (Libya). US Sends message to Gaddafi: Leave Now; Rebels take control of Brega.

U.S. officials met with Libyan government representatives last weekend to deliver the U.S. government’s message that the only way forward in Libya is for the northern African nation’s leader Moammar Gaddafi to leave power, Xinhua informed and continued that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had recently urged to keep dialogue channel between Gaddafi government and the opposition open to find out a political solution to the Libyan crisis.

According to reports by the Associated Press, the meeting, which took place in a third country on 16 July, was attended by four members of Gaddafi’s inner circle and three senior U.S. diplomats, including Jeffrey D. Feltman, the top State Department official in charge of Middle East policy. The U.S. has no plans to meet with Libyan government representatives again.

Libyan rebels said that they retook the eastern oil town of Brega, Al-Jazeera TV reported on 18 July. Libyan officials in Tripoli have made no comment on any fighting in Brega. Brega’s vast oil refinery and storage facilities, if intact, could provide fuel and a much-needed income stream for the rebels.

MIDDLE EAST

Cairo (Egypt). Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces issued a decree to form a supreme committee for elections.

The committee, which will start to work on 18 September, will be headed by chief of the Cairo appeal court Abdel Ahmed Ibrahim, official MENA news agency said. Egypt will elect a new parliament in October or November and then a president. The military council took power on 11 February when former President Hosni Mubarak resigned after 18 days of anti-government protests.

Damascus (Syria). The EU could toughen sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government within days over his crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

The EU has already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on al-Assad and other officials and targeted military-linked companies over the crackdown, in which rights groups say more than 1,400 civilians have been killed since protests began in March, Hyurriet Daily News reported.

“The situation remains very serious and if anything [is] deteriorating,” British Foreign Minister William Hague said before a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

The U.S. indicated last week it was considering new sanctions against the Syrian government. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the position of the U.N. Security Council was critical. “It’s important we keep the pressure up,” she said.

The European Parliament called this month for EU member states to impose more sanctions on Syria and said they should help Turkey and Lebanon set up a humanitarian aid corridor to help refugees fleeing the violence.

Sanaa (Yemen). Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh calls for dialogue; Nine killed as army troops shell al-Qaeda targets in South Yemen’s Abyan province.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in his article “Dialogue is the only solution,” renewed his call for the opposition coalition to engage in conciliation dialogue in order to “stave off unrest and end political stalemate of the country,” Xinhua reported. The President, who is being treated in Saudi Arabia, described his opponents as ” traitors” and called for dialogue, in an article he published Monday on the occasion of the 33rd anniversary of his rule. In the article, which was published by the Yemeni state-run Althawra daily newspaper, Saleh said he “reached power through a democratic way rather than a coup,” blaming his opponents are now trying overthrow his constitutional legitimacy.

Army troops carried out a heavy shelling targeting several al-Qaeda hideouts on 19 July, killing 9 members of the terrorist group and wounding dozens of others in Yemen’s southern volatile province of Abyan, a local army officer told Xinhua.

Meanwhile, a printed statement released by al-Qaeda militants imposed threats to the tribal fighters who offer any collaboration or support to the army forces in the ongoing fighting against the group’s members. The country’s Defense Ministry quoted an army officer as saying that the 25th Mechanized Brigade troops killed a large number of the al-Qaeda militants during the past two-day battles in the center of the Zinjibar city, including a leader called “Abu Sunbul”.

Jerusalem (Israel). Israeli military says it has boarded a Gaza-bound vessel; DELP slammed Israel’s military takeover.

The Israeli navy had stopped a French yacht attempting to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip and threatened to board the vessel if it didn’t change course, Hurryiet Daily News informed. Israel Radio broadcast the military’s radio message to the ship, which notified activists on board that commandos would carry out a “very calm boarding” of the vessel.

The Damascus-based Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) slammed Israel’s boarding of a French ship. “The takeover is a Zionist and racist piracy,” the DFLP said in a statement obtained by Xinhua, adding “no to the Israeli crookedness against the holder of humanitarian torches.”

Aboard the vessel are French, Canadian, Tunisian nationals. All of the other flotilla boats are still detained, two weeks after they had scheduled to sail.

Palestine. PA’s Chairman committed to peace and ready to resume talks with Israel

During a visit to Norway, Chairman of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas said on Monday that he remains committed to the Middle East peace process and is ready to resume negotiations with Israel.

Meanwhile, the decision has been taken to seek UN membership for the state of Palestine, which will be established on the 1967 lines and with East Jerusalem as capital, said Abbas.

“Our people are demanding an immediate solution to the problem which has been with us for the past 60 years. Our people are suffering,” said Abbas, adding that to seek for UN membership is not an alternative to negotiations with Israel.

The United States has so far not given an official response to the Palestinian bid for UN membership without a negotiated settlement with Israel beforehand.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that he would intend to visit Gaza Strip in the near future and the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs works on the visit.

Karachi (Pakistan). An unmanned aircraft of the navy crashed in the port city of Karachi.

TV channels earlier reported that a remote-control aircraft crashed on an oil refinery in Karachi, which caused fire. There was no casualty.

A Pakistan navy spokesman said the drone crashed after a bird hit it in the air over the Korangi area, Xinhua reported.

Pakistan navy has increased monitoring of military installations after militants attacked the navy’s main air station in Karachi in May, and killed 10 navy personnel. The navy uses these aircraft for photography and surveillance.

Tehran (Iran). Iran’s nuclear program is progressing and will be accelerated by installing new centrifuges

Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said that Iran’s peaceful nuclear program is progressing and will be accelerated by installing new centrifuges, Xinhua reported. The issue has been announced to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and they have complete supervision on the Iranian nuclear activities, said the Iranian official.

On Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s “phased” approach proposal to resolve Iran’s nuclear standoff, Mehmanparast said Tehran has not received the proposal from Russia yet. Iran will consider Russia’s proposal upon receiving it, he said.

Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for ” phased” approach to resolve Iran’s nuclear standoff whereby Iran would address international concerns and the questions raised by the IAEA about its nuclear activities in a staged schedule and in return economic sanctions imposed on Iran would be removed in a staged manner over time. The West suspects that Iran’s uranium enrichment may be meant for producing nuclear weapons, which has been denied by Iran with saying its nuclear program is only for peaceful use.

(Middle East & Balkans News, 19 July 2011)

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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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