Middle East & Balkans News Brief – 27 July 2011


News Summary

  • Libya far from resolution of conflict, says UN special envoy to Libya Abdul Al Khatib
  • Britain unfreezes $150M of Libyan oil assets to help the Transitional Council and sends back Gaddafi diplomats
  • Nine new Iranian ministers join the government
  • Israel arrests 7 demonstrators in the West Bank; Israeli Defense Ministry declares illegal the Gaza Strip-based militant group Jund Ansar Allah (Soldiers of the Followers of Allah)
  • Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarak on starvation; Egyptians split on their future
  • The mayor of Kandahar killed
  • Saudi Arabia has given $1B to boost Jordan’s economy
  • Palestinian Authority cash-strapped
  • Three French soldiers wounded in Lebanon
  • 23 close associates of ousted Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali faced the court

NORTH AFRICA

Tripoli (Libya). Opposing sides in the Libyan conflict are far from reaching a political compromise but they say ready to discuss the possible solutions with the United Nations, UN special envoy to Libya Abdul Al Khatib said, cited by Russia’s RIA Novosti. Former Jordanian foreign minister held talks on 25 and 26 July both with the government of Muammar Gaddafi and opposition leaders during his two-day trip to the oil-rich African country, which has been caught in a grip of a severe political crisis since mid-February.

“It is clear from the discussions in Tripoli today and in Benghazi yesterday, with representatives of the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC), that both sides remain far apart on reaching agreement on a political solution,” UN press service quoted Al Khatib as saying.

The Libyan authorities continue to reject calls for Gaddafi’s ouster and oppose NATO bombing of their country, while the opposition forces demand that the longtime dictator step down unconditionally and be tried for his anti-democracy policies.

Al Khatib indicated, though, that both sides expressed willingness “to continue to engage with the United Nations in the search for a solution to the crisis.” An international military operation “to protect civilians” in Libya began on March 19 following a UN resolution and has been extended until September.

On 26 July, NATO accused the pro-Gaddafi forces of occupying and using civilian facilities for military purposes in Libya, and thus make them valid targets for NATO’s airstrike campaign. ” Gaddafi forces are increasingly occupying facilities, which once for civilian purposes,” said Colonel Roland Lavoie, spokesman for NATO’s Libya operation.

These sites include former stables, agricultural facilities, commercial and industrial warehouses, factories, basic food processing plants, added Lavoie.

Tripoli (Libya). Britain has officially recognised Libya’s main opposition group as the country’s legitimate government, and expelled all diplomats belonging to Muammar Gaddafi’s government.

William Hague, the UK foreign secretary, said on 27 July that Britain was unfreezing £91M ($150M) of Libyan oil assets to help the National Transitional Council, which the country now recognises as “the sole governmental authority in Libya”.

“We will deal with the National Transitional Council on the same basis as other governments around the world,” Hague said.

“In line with this decision, we summoned the Libyan charge d’affaires here to the foreign office this morning and informed him that he and other regime diplomats from the Gaddafi regime must now leave the United Kingdom.

Tunis (Tunisia). Twentythree allies of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the toppled Tunisian leader, have appeared before a court in the capital Tunis for trying to flee the country last January with illegally obtained foreign currency, Al-Jazeera reported. Among those in court on 26 July were Ali Seriati, Ben Ali’s former security chief, and Imed Trabelsi, the nephew of the deposed leader’s wife, Leila Trabelsi. Imed Trabelsi was one of the most reviled men from the former ruling clan while Seriati headed Ben Ali’s feared presidential guard which supervised all other security agencies.

In all, 35 people are facing charges but only 23 associates of Ben Ali arrested in January appeared before the court on 26 July. Fourteen handcuffed men and nine women, wearing white full-length robes, entered the tiny courtroom that was packed with journalists and lawyers. The 23 were arrested and found to be in possession of a large sum in foreign currency as they tried to flee the country on 14 January, the day Ben Ali and his wife fled into exile in Saudi Arabia after a popular revolt.

MIDDLE EAST

Tehran (Iran). Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad nominated four candidates to receive the Iranian Majlis (parliament) vote of confidence before running four ministries, the state TV reported. In a letter to the Majlis on 27 July, Ahmadinejad named Mohammad Abbasi, Abdolreza Sheikholeslami, Mehdi Qazanfari and Rostam Qasemi respectively for the posts of ministers in the Ministry of Sports and Youth, Ministry of Cooperative, Labor and Social Welfare, Ministry of Industries, Mines and Trade as well as Ministry of Oil, the Iranian Press TV reported.

On 29 June, Iranian lawmakers approved the merger of three ministries of Welfare and Social Security, Labor and Social Affairs as well as Cooperative into the new Ministry of Cooperative, Labor and Social Welfare, said the report. According to the report, the Majlis also passed a bill to merge the ministries of Industries and Mines and Commerce into the new Ministry of Industries, Mines and Trade.

Jerusalem (Israel). The Israeli army arrested seven demonstrators on 27 July, including five Palestinians and two foreigners, during a protest in the city of Bethlehem, according to Xinhua Agency. Eyewitnesses as well as Palestinian security sources said that dozens of Palestinians demonstrated in the village of al-Walaja near Bethlehem against bulldozing farms in the area. They said an Israeli army force came to the scene, where heavy confrontations erupted in the area. The soldiers beat up the demonstrators and detained seven people, including two foreign peace activists.

Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak officially declared Gaza Strip-based militant group Jund Ansar Allah (Soldiers of the Followers of Allah) an illegal organization, according to a press release issued 26 July by his bureau. Barak used what Israel calls “emergency regulations” to brand the group illegal.

“Jund Ansar Allah is a radical Islamic group that adheres to a Salafi-Jidahist ideology at the core of world Jihad groups, mainly al-Qaida,” read the statement, cited by Xinhua.

The group had planned and carried out “severe strikes” inside Israel, including the killing of a Jewish cab driver in November 2009. Some of its members also fought alongside other Jihadist groups operating in the Middle East and elsewhere, according to the minister.

Jund Ansar Allah was founded in southern Gaza in November 2008 as an armed group, and claimed since then to have enlisted some 500 members to its ranks, including foreign mercenaries. The group has strongly criticized rival Islamist group, Hamas, the rulers of the coastal enclave, for what they claim is its lax enforcement of the Islamic law. The group’s leader Abdel Latif Mussa was killed in August 2009 in a major battle against Hamas that ended with 24 people killed and more than 120 wounded. Hamas officials said Mussa had blown himself up with an explosive-laden vest.

Cairo (Egypt). Egypt’s Deputy Health Minister Abdel-Hamid Abazza said Mubarak was severely depressed, but his condition was stable, official MENA news agency reported.

“He completely refuses to eat and just has some juice, so he has lost a lot weight and becomes weak,” he said.

Doctors will decide in the next few hours whether he should be fed by a tube, said Assem Azzam, deputy head of the Sharm el- Sheikh International Hospital. Mubarak is set to stand trial on 3 August, along with ex-interior minister Habib El-Adli and six of his assistants, announced Judge Adel Gomaa on Monday. Mubarak and Adli face the same charges.

Six months on from the Egyptian revolution, cracks are appearing among the groups and forces that came together to oust the government of Hosni Mubarak, Al -Jazeera comments. With parliamentary elections due at the end of the year, recurrent street clashes have been a stark reminder of the deep differences over Egypt’s democratic future. For 18 days Egyptians stood united in their aim to topple Mubarak’s presidency. Cracks are appearing between groups, each with their own vision of what the new Egypt should look like.

Kabul (Afghanistan). The mayor of Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar city has been killed in a suicide bombing, a provincial official is quoted saying by Al-Jazeera. Ghulam Haidar Hameedi was killed when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a corridor near Hamidi’s office, Zalmay Ayoubi, the spokesperson for the Kandahar governor, said on 27 July.

“It appears the bomber was carrying the bomb in his turban,” Ayoubi said.

Abdul Razaq, the Kandahar police chief, said Hameedi was meeting some elders from a district of Kandahar when one of them got close to the target and detonated a bomb hidden in his turban. Bismullah Afghan Mal, a member of the upper house of parliament from Kandahar, also confirmed Hameedi’s death.

Claiming responsibility for the attack, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, the Taliban spokesperson, told the Associated Press news agency that Hameedi had ordered the destruction of homes that city officials claimed had been illegally constructed. Ahmadi said the Taliban killed him to avenge the deaths of two children who they allege were killed during the demolition work. Afghanistan’s Taliban has been involved in the many prominent assassinations in the recent past, and Hameedi’s killing is the third assassination of a major political figure in the last one month.

Riyadh (Saudi Arabia). Saudi Arabia has given Jordan $1B to help support its economy. The resource-poor nation is expected to receive a series of leg-ups from its regional partner in the coming months – including oil grants.

Palestine. The Palestinian Authority (PA) may not be able to pay employees their salaries for the next two months because of a shortage in foreign aid, Salam Fayyad, the prime minister, has said, quoted by Al-Jazeera. There is a “shortage of external financing” though PA’s fiscal position at present is better than it was two or three years ago. The PA has so far received $331M of $970M pledged by international donors in 2011. The UAE, Oman and Algeria are among countries that have made donations.  The PA relies on budget support to pay salaries to 150,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and monthly allowances to another 75,000 people.

“Just within the last couple of days, Saudi Arabia said that they will be sending $30M in response to the most recent appeals,” he said.

Fayyad detailed contributions for 2011 which showed that Saudi Arabia, which paid $146m last year and $241M in 2009 had yet to pay anything this year.

Beirut (Lebanon). Three French soldiers serving with the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon were wounded in a roadside bomb attack in the southern city of Sidon, security officials said. An AFP news agency correspondent at the scene said the soldiers sustained wounds to their face and hands. The wounded were taken to hospital, one of them in serious condition with burns to the face and shrapnel in one eye, a statement from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said. An army spokesman said the bomb was placed on the side of the road and was triggered as the peacekeepers’ vehicle – a troop carrier – drove by.

(Middle East & Balkans News, 27 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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