Middle East & Balkans News Brief – 26 July 2011

News Summary

  • Libyan officials have accused NATO of killing at least eight people in an air raid on a food warehouse and medical clinicin Zlitan, east of Tripoli; NATO denies the attack; Russia sends humanitarian aid to Tripoli
  • The trial of 23 relatives of ousted Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi began;
  • Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarak refuses to eat. Many people injured in clashes between Mubarak’s supporters and opponents
  • Homs mourns victims of Syrian security forces. The government passes a multi-party bill in an attempt to calm protests;
  • An Iraqi court sentenced the wives of two al-Qaeda leaders to decades in prison on terrorism-related charges;
  • Iranian state television has denied that a man killed in his Tehran home on 22 July was a nuclear scientist;
  • Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has said the Palestinians’ bid for membership in the United Nations was forced upon them by Israel’s refusal to halt settlement building and end its occupation;


Tripoli (Libya.) Libyan officials have accused NATO of killing at least eight people in an air raid on a food warehouse and medical clinic in Zlitan, east of Tripoli. NATO has denied targeting civilians and say it only hit military facilities in the area. Zlitan is the largest city between opposition-held Misurata and government-controlled Tripoli, and remains in Gaddafi’s control.

“We are, generally, in a stalemate,” Michael Mullen , chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in Washington, cited by Al-Jazeera. Mullen commented NATO has “dramatically reduced his forces” and “additional pressure has been brought”, even if Gaddafi has not been ousted.

“In the long run, I think it’s a strategy that will work … [towards] removal of Gaddafi from power,” Mullen said.

Russia has sent to Libya another batch of humanitarian aid, sources from the information department of the Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations told Itar-Tass. An Il-76 plane took off from Ramenskoye airfield to Tripoli early 26 July to deliver there 36.2 tons of humanitarian cargo – milk preserves, baby food, sugar and rice. This is already the fourth batch of relief for Libya.

Tunis (Tunisia). The trial of 23 relatives of ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi began on 26 July, the official press agency TAP reported. The defendants who were arrested on 14 January, the day Ben Ali fled the country, are accused of attempting to leave the country illegally in possession of large sums of foreign currency.

In July a Tunis court sentenced Ben Ali to 15 years and a half in prison for possession of drugs, arms and archeological artifacts. In June both Ben Ali and his wife were sentenced to 35 years in jail for possession of large sums of cash and jewelry in their Sidi Dhrif palace.

The former president who fled to Saudi Arabia after weeks of protests against his 23 year-old rule also faces legal charges in 180 other cases, including that of deliberate manslaughter which carries the death penalty in Tunisia.


Cairo (Egypt). Egypt’s hospitalised former President Hosni Mubarak, who is due to stand trial next week over the killing of protesters, is weakened because he has refused to eat and is only taking liquids, the official news agency MENA reported.

Dozens of people were injured during clashes between supporters and opponents of ex-President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, which took place here on Friday night, the MENA news agency of Egypt reports. Peaceful meetings of both groups developed first into minor brawls, and then into bloody clashes after the protesters began to throw stones at each other, to turn cars upside down and to set them on fire. The demonstrators, who demanded the release of Mubarak, carried posters urging to stop the trial of the former leader of the country and insisting that “Egypt will be ruined without him.” Their opponents insisted on a severe verdict for the ex-President because of the suppression of popular actions, as well as corruption. Some 2,000 people from both groups took part in the clashes.

Many people in Egypt believe that the situation in the country perceptibly deteriorated after the resignation of Mubarak on 11 February. The national economy is sustaining social and economic upheavals with difficulty, and people complain that their living standards are going down. Crime is on the rise, and people’s individual security is not guaranteed.

Homs (Syria). Thousands of people have taken to the streets of Syria’s flashpoint city of Homs to mourn several protesters reportedly killed by security forces on 22 July, as opposition activists called for fresh strikes across the country. The funeral procession was held a day after a government crackdown on nationwide demonstrations resulted in at least 11 deaths. More than one million demonstrators called for an end to the Baathist party’s 40-year rule across the country, which protest organisers dedicated to showing support for the military besieged city of Homs. Since 23 July, at least 50 people have been killed in Syria’s third largest city as it braces against a heightened government crackdown, aimed at quelling mounting dissent, Syrian activists said, cited by Al-Jazeera. According to residents, security forces, backed by tanks, have shelled many homes and buildings in numerous neighbourhoods and opened fire indiscriminately in the city in the last week. Meanwhile, state TV reported that 30 soldiers were injured during clashes with defected troops in Homs on 22 July.

Syria’s government, under massive pressure to reform or quit, has adopted a draft law allowing for the creation of new political parties alongside the long-ruling Baath party.The multi-party bill approved by the Cabinet late on 23 July follows other concessions Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, has made as part of his efforts to quell more than four months of protests against his government.

Baghdad (Iraq). An Iraqi court sentenced the wives of two slain al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders to decades in prison on terrorism-related charges. It has rekindled the debate over the fate of many women who are reportedly often forced into marrying or raped by members of the group in the country. The two women are sentenced to prison for “abetting terrorism”, Al-Jazeera reported. But they deny the accusations, saying they are among thousands entrapped in a life not of their choice.

Tehran (Iran). Iranian state television has denied that a man killed in his Tehran home on 22 July was a nuclear scientist. Dariush Rezainejad was shot dead by two men on motorbikes as he entered his garage with his wife and child. Iranian newspapers first reported that Rezainejad, 35, was working in the country’s nuclear programme, which would have made him the fourth nuclear scientist to die or go missing in suspicious circumstances.

On 24 July, state television said he was a masters student in electronics at Khajeh University in Tehran and had worked for the defence ministry, though it was unclear in what capacity.

Ali Larijani , the speaker of parliament, denounced the killing in an address to legislators as the work of Zionists and the United States and said it showed Washington’s hostility to Iran. Larijani has previously served as a negotiator with the West on the country’s nuclear programme. Rezainejad’s wife was also wounded and had been taken to a nearby hospital.

Palestine. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas  has said the Palestinians’ bid for membership in the United Nations was forced upon them by Israel’s refusal to halt settlement building and end its occupation. PA will seek recognition as an independent state this September, when the UN holds its General Assembly.

The US has said it will veto any move for recognition in the UN.

Palestinians will seek recognition along a border that predates the 1967 war between Israel and neighbouring countries, including the territory that encompasses the occupied West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been on hold since late September, shortly after Washington relaunched the first direct negotiations between the two sides for nearly two years. The talks ground to a halt when Israel’s partial freeze on settlement construction expired and Netanyahu declined to renew it. The Palestinians say they will not hold talks while Israel builds on land they want for a future state. Netanyahu blames the Palestinians for the deadlock.

(Middle East & Balkans News, 26 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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