Middle East & Balkans News Brief – 28 July 2011


News Summary

  • The opposition in Libya launches its largest attack against Gaddafi;
  • Taliban forces kill a regional police chief in Afghanistan;
  • 12 killed and 28 wounded after two explosions in Iraq; Iraq to come to a decision soon on the presence of US troops;
  • Children’s camp attacked in Gaza;
  • Police raids the home of a former influential Fatah member;
  • US is to oppose Palestine’s application to the UN;
  • Possible asset freeze as a measure against Syria;
  • A general will be the oil minister of Iran;
  • Kuwait and Iraq quarrel over a port construction project

NORTH AFRICA

Tripoli (Libya). Libyan opposition fighters in the western mountains have launched attacks on several government-controlled towns, hoping to push out loyalist troops and open a route to the border, Al-Jazeera reported. The attacks began around dawn on 28 July, as rebels descended from around the towns of Nalut and Jadu in an attempt to expel forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi from the Nafusa Mountain foothills. By midday local time, rebels had taken and lost the town of al-Jawsh and reached the outskirts of Ghazaya, a significant base for Gaddafi’s troops near the Tunisian border. One rebel was killed and several were injured, while 18 loyalist troops were captured, according to opposition sources.

Despite hitting al-Jawsh with artillery fire and attempting to clear out Gaddafi’s troops, some regime forces apparently remained in town, while others fired Grad rockets after the rebels entered. Farther west, Ghazaya had been bombard by rebel tanks and “long-range guns” throughout Wednesday night in preparation for the attack, an opposition source said. Rebels claimed to have seized the nearby town of Takut. Many trucks carrying hundreds of fighters were involved in the operation at al-Jawsh. It appeared to be the largest attack by opposition fighters in the Nafusa Mountains since the conflict began.

MIDDLE EAST

Kabul (Afghanistan). Taliban fighters have killed the chief of police in the town of Lashkar Gah in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, RIA Novosti cites a statement of the governor’s press secretary. Two armed men attacked police chief Mardja Khadji Nur Aliand his son as they returned home late on 27 July from a mosque.

The Taliban also attacked the home of the provincial police chief in Logar Province early on 28 July, press secretary Din Mohamed Dervish said. The regional head of the people’s national council, Abdul Wali Wakhil, was in the house during the attack, Dervish said.

“The attackers fired rocket-propelled grenades at the house and a gun battle broke out with the security guards,” a source said.

Baghdad (Iraq). At least 12 people have been killed and 28 more wounded after two bombs exploded in the Iraqi city of Tikrit, as police and soldiers were collecting their salaries at a local bank, according to a police official quoted by Al-Jazeera. A car bomb exploded outside the Rafidain state-run bank in the centre of Tikrit and a suicide bomber blew himself up as emergency workers arrived on the scene, police said on 28 July.

“We have 12 people killed and 28 more wounded,” said Raed Ibrahim, head of the provincial health department. “Ambulances and civilian cars are still bringing in the wounded.” It was not known how many policemen were among the dead and wounded.

Tikrit, the home town of Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s deposed ruler, is located 130km north of Baghdad. Television footage of the blast showed a huge white mushroom cloud over the two-story bank, followed by thick black smoke, Associated Press reported. A car parked nearby was on fire, and firefighters struggled to douse the flames. Iraqi security forces have sealed off the area. Tikrit is dominated by Sunni Muslims and suspected Sunni fighters tied to al-Qaeda have carried out frequent attacks in the town this year.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said the political leaders may come to an agreement soon on the presence of U.S. troops beyond the end of 2011 deadline, Maliki’s office said in a statement on 28 July.

“The leaders of the political blocs may come to an agreement on a decision in this respect (U.S. troops presence) in their upcoming meeting,” the statement quoted Maliki as saying during a phone call with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden late on 27 July.

Tehran (Iran). Iran’s president has nominated Brigadier General Rostam Ghasemi, a senior commander in the Revolutionary Guard, as the country’s next oil minister. Ghasemi is the head of Khatam al-Anbia, an engineering firm with a number of high-profile contracts in Iran’s oil and gas sector. He is also subject to United States sanctions, and is one of six Revolutionary Guard commanders placed under European Union sanctions last year. The sanctions bar him from travelling in the EU, which would seemingly make it impossible for Ghasemi to attend OPEC’s quarterly summits in Vienna.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, sacked the former oil minister in May, and in June he appointed Mohammad Aliabadi, a close ally, as the caretaker oil minister. Aliabadi has little experience in the oil sector – he was previously a sports official – and he has been dogged in the past by allegations of corruption.

Kuwait City (Kuwait). Kuwait announced that it was” determined to go ahead with” the construction of a port which neighboring Iraq said would affect its shipping lanes.

Kuwaiti government spokesman Ali Al-Rashid said the Gulf emirate “won’t be intimidated by any remarks,” referring to those from Baghdad, which called the construction of the Mubarak Al-Kabir port on Kuwait’s Boubyan island to be suspended.

“The port, estimated to cost around 1.1 billion U.S. dollars, was on Kuwait’s territory and would not affect Iraq’s shipping routes,” the Kuwaiti government spokesperson said.

Iraqi government official Ali Al-Dabbagh commented in turn that the port project should be put on hold until Baghdad was assured its shipping lanes and navigation would not be affected.

Gaza Strip. Masked men have attacked and vandalised a UN facility being used to stage summer camps for children in the Gaza Strip, the American Free Press news agency says.

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) condemned 28 July’s incident,characterising it as “an attack on the children of Gaza as much as on the United Nations”.

The attack came a day before Palestinian children attending UNRWA camps were to attempt to set a world record for the largest number of children flying kites at one location. Nevertheless, the record attempt would go on as planned and urged local authorities to investigate the incident. Gaza is governed by the Palestinian group Hamas.

The camp was attacked twice before, when masked men with guns set fire to facilities and equipment last year. Those attacks were blamed on religious extremists opposed to boys and girls playing together.

UNRWA’s Summer Games programme hosts roughly 250,000 children in the Gaza Strip during six weeks of summer holidays.

Palestine. Reports say Palestinian police forces have raided the home of Mohammed Dahlan, a former influential member of the Fatah party. The American Free Press news agency reported quoting witnesses in the Tirah neighbourhood of Ramallah, in the West Bank, that a number of police officers surrounded Dahlan’s home on Thursday, before forcing their way in and arresting several of his bodyguards. Reports indicate that police seized weapons, files, computers and two bulletproof cars from his house.

Last month, Dahlan – a former internal security minister for the Palestinian Authority (PA) – was expelled from Fatah over allegations of financial corruption and murder. Fatah is headed by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.

A Fatah court rejected his appeal against the expulsion on 27 July. Additionally, the Fatah Central Committee (FCC) said it would refer his case to the attorney general and the anti-corruption commission. Last month, the FCC backed a decision to allow the committee investigating Dahlan’s affairs to also look into those of his friends and associates.

In the 1990s, Dahlan led security forces in Gaza, where he clamped down on Hamas and other Islamist movements for their refusal to recognise the PA’s legitimacy.

Palestine. The US is to oppose Palestine’s application to the UN for full membership status when the body’s General Assembly convenes in September, Al-Jazeera reported.

Rosemary DiCarlo, the US deputy ambassador to the UN, said that the US would not support “unilateral action” by the Palestinians at the UN.

DiCarlo was speaking at the final, regular UN Security Council discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

At least 11 people have been killed when Syrian forces backed by tanks stormed a town near the capital Damascus, Syrian human rights campaigners said.

Damascus (Syria). The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in Britain, said four tanks and a bulldozer entered Kanaker, 30km southwest of Damascus, on 27 July while 14 other tanks surrounded the town in the latest crackdown on protests against President Bashar al-Assad. Residents threw stones and set fire to tyres in an effort to block the advance of the troops, Al-Jazeera reported. Military intelligence agents also arrested 300 people in the town and took them away in 11 buses. There was no immediate comment from the Syrian authorities who have expelled most foreign journalists from the country, making it difficult to verify witness accounts of events and official statements.

The crackdown came as two organisations in France threatened to file legal complaints  against al-Assad and other members of the ruling Baath party in a bid to push the French government to investigate whether they own any assets in France. Sherpa and Transparency International France said in a statement on 26 July that they want the government to make public all of its findings. The statement came as the European Union considers stepping up sanctions on the Syrian government over its brutal crackdown on a four-month-old uprising.

More than 1,600 civilians have been killed and about 20,000 others imprisoned by Syrian security forces in the clamp down on nationwide protests since March, according to rights groups.

BALKANS

News from the Balkan countries and Turkey are now mainly included in our news clipping service “Unbiased Observers“.

(Middle East & Balkans News, 28 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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