Middle East & Balkans News Brief – 21 July 2011


News Summary

NORTH AFRICA

Tripoli (Libya). Libyan FM Al-Obeidi “Libya welcomes Russian assistance”; Meanwhile, rebels launch an offensive.

Libya will support any Russian assistance in the peaceful mediation of the crisis in the country, Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul Ati al-Obeidi said, cited by RIA Novosti.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and al-Obeidi are holding talks in Moscow on the current situation in Libya, as well as the African Union and UN mediation efforts.

“Libya will welcome any Russian role in the peaceful settlement of the Libyan conflict,” al-Obeidi said. “We proposed finding a solution equally acceptable for all Libyans, including the opposition in Benghazi.”Al-Obeidi also said Libya supported the African Union’s idea on a ceasefire and starting talks between the opposing sides.

Libya’s anti-government fighters are escalating an offensive against Muammar Gaddafi ‘s forces, pushing forward in the east of the country and preparing a fresh attack from the south of the capital, Tripoli, Al-Jazeera reports. Opposition forces said they had chased the bulk of the Libyan leader’s eastern army from the oil town of Brega and surrounded Gaddafi loyalists holed up among oil installations in the northwest of the town.

In the west, rebels said they were awaiting orders from Benghazi, the rebel stronghold in the east, to start a fresh offensive from the Nafusa Mountains southwest of the capital just days before the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, when the hardships of desert fighting are likely to be intensified for those going without food and drink during the daytime.

Around Brega, the rebels’ advance towards the town has been slowed by vast quantities of anti-personnel mines planted by retreating loyalists and the difficulties in attacking an estimated 200 Gaddafi troops fighting from positions near vital oil facilities.

On 19 July, 24 rebel fighters died in one of their bloodiest days since the battle for Brega began almost a week ago, a rebel military source told the AFP news agency.

MIDDLE EAST

Homs (Syria). Death marches in the streets. A Damascus suburb surrounded.

Al-Jazeera quotes human rights activists and residents of Homs reporting about intense gunfire as security forces conduct raids and arrests. Shooting was continuing in different parts of Homs, but especially in the Baab al-Sebaa area, on 21 July. Activists claim that more than 50 people have been killed in the city since the weekend.

“People are telling us some of the injured and people who have been killed are still on the streets. People have not been able to pick them up because there’s so much [gunfire],” Al Jazeera writes.

On 15 July more than one million people turned out across Syria, mainly in the cities of Hama and Deir Ezzor, to protest against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and to demand the release of hundreds of detainees seized at earlier anti-government rallies. Activists say pro-regime gunmen have killed at least 20 people in Homs since 18 July including seven mourners at a funeral. Fierce fighting rocked the city over the weekend, with reports of more than 30 people killed in clashes.

Troops commanded by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brother have surrounded the Damascus suburb of Harasta, Al-Jazeera reports. The move appears to be part of an ongoing crackdown on urban centres that have experienced protests on a daily basis. Harasta suburb’s dozen entrances are sealed off by the fourth division. Water, electricity and phones have been cut.

Spokesperson of the US State Department Fulton is quoted by Freedom radio as saying that the US ambassador as the other diplomats to Syria had the right to leave Damascus in order to visit other areas where the anti-government protests continue. Yesterday Free Europe radio reported that a ban on  the leave of Damascus was imposed on the US and French Ambassadors by the Syrian Foreign Ministry.

Cairo (Egypt). Egypt Calls for Supreme Council’s Fall.

Six months after the popular uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak, protest groups are calling for another million-man demonstration in Tahrir Square on 22 July to reiterate their demands. Confidence in Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) declines as the stability of the situation in the country.

Since 8 July demonstrators have returned en masse to the iconic square – in the hundreds of thousands on certain days – to protest the ruling council’s failure to carry out key revolutionary demands, ISP Agency reports. Protesters demand an immediate halt to the use of force by security forces to disperse demonstrations.  Demonstrators also want to see the speedy prosecution of corrupt former regime officials, especially Mubarak and his close associates, and security personnel implicated in killing protesters. Another demand is a halt to the continued referral of civilians to military tribunals.

Now there is a call for the “fall of the field-marshal” in reference to SCAF head and longstanding defence minister Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi. Protesters, therefore, have also begun calling for the dismissal of the SCAF-appointed transitional government, the replacement of the ruling military council with a civilian council, the removal of all Mubarak-era regional governors, and a “purge” of the judiciary and media of all remnants of the former regime.

Tehran (Iran). Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani:”Israeli interception of Gaza aid ship, a political ignominy’.

The speaker of Iran’s Parliament has said that the interception of a Gaza-bound French motor yacht by Israeli naval forces was a “political ignominy on the record of the fake Zionist regime,” Mehr Agency reported. The Israeli navy had boarded the French yacht on 19 July and began towing it to shore after an uneventful takeover.

“This action, after a series of diplomatic brokering with the aim of preventing the movement of Gaza-bound aid ships, is a political ignominy on the record of the fake Zionist regime,” Larijani said in an address to the Parliament. He also criticized the United State and other Western countries for approving of “the act of piracy” and said this action does not show their strength but reveals their deep anxiety about ongoing developments in the Middle East and North Africa.

Sanaa (Yemen). Al-Qaeda lures kids with cartoons.

Yemen-based Al-Qaeda sympathizers are in the midst of producing a children’s cartoon to recruit young Muslim viewers to join their cause and take up arms against the West, according to intelligence experts monitoring militant websites, Hurriyet Daily News reports.

The British thinktank Quilliam, which aims to combat extremism, found out about the propaganda film on the password-protected Arabic-language al-Shumukh online forum Sunday. According to Quilliam, Abu al-Laith al-Yemin, a contributor to the website, wrote about the project that he is working on with several associates to teach children aboutAl Qaeda’s history and encourage them to engage in terrorist activity, Reuters informed.

This is not the first time terrorist organizations have used children’s cartoons to promote violence in recent years. Hamas, the main Islamist movement in the Palestinian territories, ran a television series called “Exceptionals” in 2008 which showed puppets stabbing President George W. Bush for America’s involvement in Israel and the Middle East.

Kabul (Afghanistan). Two British citizens detained under suspicions that they have fought on the side of the Taliban.

Two Brits have been detained in Afghanistan, British Ministry of Defense (MoD) confirmed on 21 July amid reports saying they were suspected of fighting for the Taliban, Xinhua Agency reports.

“We can confirm that British forces have detained two individuals in Afghanistan who claim to be British nationals,” a MoD official said, declining to comment further on the issue.

British Foreign Office gave the same statement, saying the embassy is providing assistance.

Syria (Damascus). Does Bashar Al-Assad take time for more maneuvering by pledging election-law legislative changes?

Russia’s RIA Novosti cites a Lebanese newspaper reporting that the Syrian President is ready to initiate changes in election legislation that would allow multiple candidates to run for president for the first time since 1963. In an upcoming televised address to the nation, the fourth since the popular uprising began in Syria four months ago, Assad is expected to propose cancellation of Article 8 of the Constitution, which stipulates that the ruling Baas party is the sole ruling authority in the country, the Al Dyiar newspaper wrote. The move will allow candidates from opposition parties to run for president as opposed to the current practice of having only a candidate from the Baas party, namely Assad, on the voting ballot.

Human rights groups say more than 1,350 protestors have been killed by security forces since the uprising began in March. Official reports, which blame “armed terrorists” for the violence, put the death toll at 340 police and servicemen.

BALKANS

Athens (Greece). Temporary Default for Greece? Greek President Carolos Papoulias: “Europe is in danger”

“I hope the Europeans can understand that Europe is in danger, that they cannot stifle Europe’s historic role, and to take a decision that supports Europe’s weakest,” Greek President Papoulias said during a meeting with Maltese parliament speaker Michael Frendo, AFP reported.

The European Central Bank is willing to let Greece slip into temporary default as part of a crisis response that would involve a bond buyback but no new tax on banks, EU sources are quoted by Greek Ekathimerini newspaper. The Greek daily wrote that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy crafted a common position on a second Greek bailout in late night talks in Berlin with ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet, sources in both governments said.

Eurozone leaders gathered on 21 July for an emergency summit, racing for a deal on new aid to Greece to prevent the crisis from spreading to other larger economies within the block, Xinhua reported. German Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed that she was looking forward to a constructive summit. Earlier Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy reached a deal on the new aid program to Athens after seven-hours of discussion. But details of the deal were kept secret so as not to annoy other eurozone leaders at the summit.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte insisted that the private sector will be involved in the new bailout package after he arrived for the talks. There are several options considered by the leaders, but President of the Eurogroup Jean-Claude Juncker downplayed the possibility of a new levy on the banking sector. Another option circulated before the summit includes a debt buyback guaranteed by collateral from the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), and financed by a new EFSF loan. The leaders are also expected to discuss cutting interest rates of the loans to Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

On the eve of the summit, President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso appealed to leaders of the 17-member group to agree on a comprehensive package of measures to prevent spill-over of the crisis to Spain and Italy.

(Middle East & Balkans News, 21 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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