Middle East & Balkans News Brief – 30 July 2011


News Summary

  • Three killed, 15 injured of the Al-Jamahiriya television as a result of a NATO strike;
  • Libyan rebel Abdel Fatah Younis shot dead; According to Gaddafi, Younis was killed by Al-Qaeda;
  • Gunmen launch an attack a terminal on the gas pipeline in Egypt;
  • Islamists demonstrations in Cairo, clashes in Sinai, Egypt
  • One man killed, 500 arrested by security forces in Damascus;
  • Gunmen kill 11 people in Pakistan;
  • Four men wanted for killing statesman Rafik al-Hariri in Lebanon;
  • Iraqi Parliament approves a plan to trim government;
  • 10 wounded and a police officer killed in Iraq’s Dyala;
  • An explosion of Iran’s transmission pipeline to Turkey;
  • Five opposition militants killed in N Yemen

NORTH AFRICA

Tripoli (Libya). Three people were killed and 15 wounded in NATO air strikes on the Libyan television headquarters in the capital early on 30 July, the director of the broadcaster’s English-language service Khaled Basilia of Al-Jamahiriya television said in a statement, cited by AFP. He called the air strike “an act of international terrorism and in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.”

Earlier, NATO in Brussels announced it had carried out precision strikes on three Libyan television transmitters to silence “terror broadcasts” by Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

The strike was “performed by NATO fighter aircraft using state-of-the-art precision guided munitions,” said the statement released by alliance spokesman Colonel Roland Lavoie. “In light of our (UN) mandate to protect civilian lives, we had to act. After due consideration and careful planning to minimize the risks of casualties or long-term damage to television transmission capabilities, NATO performed the strike,” he said.

According to Khaled Basilia, the channel posed no threat to civilians.

Tripoli (Libya). Abdel Fatah Younis, head of Libya’s rebel armed forces, and two of his bodyguards have been killed by gunmen. The death of Younis was announced at a press conference in the rebel capital, Benghazi, by the head of the rebels’ National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul Jalil on 29 July.

Younis was part of the group which staged the 1969 coup that brought Gaddafi to power and was interior minister until February 2011, when he defected to the rebels’ side. Younis was shot before appearing for an interrogation over suspicions his family still had ties to Gaddafi’s regime. The leader of the armed group which shot him dead was arrested by the rebel security forces. Younis was involved in a dispute over the leadership of the rebel forces, with many rebels feeling uneasy about the fact that the military commander had until recently maintained close friendship with Gaddafi.

The National Transitional Council had reportedly pulled Younis from the front line of the conflict amid rumors that he had carried out secret talks with Gaddafi’s government. Younis’ home in Benghazi was guarded by armed forces. Soon after the announcement of his death, three explosions rattled Libya’s capital Tripoli.

Al-Qaeda was behind the assassination of General Abdel Fatah Yunis, chief of Libya’s rebel army, a spokesman for Libyan leader Gaddafi said on 30 July. In his words, by this act, Al-Qaeda wanted to mark out its presence and its influence in this region of eastern Libya controlled by the rebels. Gaddafi’s spokesman stated that the other members of the (rebel) National Transitional Council (NTC) knew about it but could not react because they were terrified of Al-Qaeda.

MIDDLE EAST

Cairo (Egypt). Unidentified gunmen attacked a terminal on the gas pipeline to Israel for the fifth time since February, an Egypt security official told AFP.

Gunmen on motorbikes and cars threw grenades and attempted to storm the terminal at Al-Shulaq in north Sinai but were confronted by armed forces, leading to clashes between both sides. There was no gas in the pipeline since it was blown up on 11 July.

Witnesses said the army confronted the gunmen, who managed to flee. The attack comes a day after clashes in the nearby city of El-Arish that left five people dead.

Cairo (Egypt). Hundreds of thousands of Islamists packed Cairo’s Tahrir Square on 29 July in a show of force that angered secularists as clashes in Sinai between security and apparent Islamists killed three, including a military captain. Islamists from across the country flocked into the central square to defend what they called “Egypt’s Islamic identity” in Egypt’s largest protest since a revolt ousted president Hosni Mubarak in February. Smaller rallies took place elsewhere across the country.

In the northern Sinai town of El-Arish, a peaceful protest earlier gave way to armed clashes between police and roughly 150 masked men in trucks carrying banners that read “There is no God but Allah.” The gunmen stormed through the city and tried to force their way into a police station but were confronted by policemen and soldiers. A military captain and two civilians, one of them a 13-year-old boy, were killed in that incident, which set off a gunfight, the official MENA news agency reported. Twelve police conscripts were wounded, a health ministry official told state television. The rally in Cairo, organised by hardline Salafi groups and the influential Muslim Brotherhood, came as tensions grow between secular activists and the military on the one hand and Islamists on the other.

Damascus (Syria). Security forces shot dead one civilian and arrested more than 500 people in the Qadam district of Damascus, AFP reported citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The authorities also banned public funerals in Qadam district and the young man, recently killed, was quickly buried in the presence of security officials to forestall any demonstrations.

The army put up barricades at all entrances to the area, and heavily armed members of the security forces carried out searches and made arrests as they had reportedly lists of names of people hostile to the regime.

Quetta (Pakistan). At least ten Shiite Muslims and one other man were killed when gunmen opened fire in an apparent sectarian attack in Southwestern Pakistan on 30 July. The shooting took place on the outskirts of Quetta, the capital of oil and gas-rich Baluchistan province, which borders Afghanistan and Iran.

“Gunmen opened fire on a passenger van carrying Shiite Muslims. Ten Shiites and a passer-by were killed and four injured in the attack,” senior police officer Jamil Ahmad Kakar told AFP by telephone. Kakar said the gunmen were standing by the roadside and sprayed bullets at the van when it reached Spiny Road, on the outskirts of Quetta.

Beirut (Lebanon). The U.N.-backed Lebanon tribunal released the names, photographs and details of four men wanted for killing statesman Rafik al-Hariri, saying it had acted in a bid to speed up their arrest, Reuters reported. Lebanon received the indictments and four arrest warrants from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon last month. While the suspects were not named then, Lebanese officials said the accused were members of the Shi’ite militant movement Hezbollah. Hezbollah accuses the tribunal of being a tool of the United States and Israel and denies any link to the 2005 assassination.

Pre-trial judge Daniel Fransen ordered the lifting of confidentiality on the full names, aliases, biographical information, photographs and charges against the individuals named in the indictment, the tribunal said in a statement.

There was no immediate reaction from Hezbollah, but the release of the names was unlikely to help catch the suspects because the men were no longer in the country, an analyst commented. Hilal Khashan, a Lebanon-based political commentator, said that the Lebanese government, which is backed by Hezbollah, was unable to help the tribunal. “The government says they are cooperating with the tribunal but they haven’t found anyone. We know that the four members are not in Lebanon. Hezbollah removed them from the scene to help the government, which can now say it looked for the four but couldn’t find them,” he said. In his view, Hezbollah did this because it would be very embarrassing for the government if the four were on Lebanese territory.

The suspects named were Mustafa Amine Badreddine, a senior Hezbollah figure and brother-in-law of slain Hezbollah commander Imad Moughniyeh, as well as Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Assad Hassan Sabra. Hariri’s assassination plunged Lebanon into a series of political crises, killings and bombings that led to sectarian clashes in May 2008, dragging the country to the brink of civil war.

Baghdad (Iraq). The Iraqi parliament approved a plan put by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to trim the number of his ministers whom were accused of incompetence on 30 July.

“The parliament in its 15th session approved the mechanism of trimming the cabinet by cancelling most of the ministries of state, with the exception of state ministries of woman affairs, parliament affairs and provincial affairs,” Maliki told a news conference after he attended a parliament session which voted over his plan. Maliki’s plan will also cancel or merge some other ministries gradually. It will also reconsider the existence of some independent bodies and their cadres.

Earlier, Maliki made his decision to slash his cabinet after an assessment showed some incompetence during the 100-day period which previously given by Maliki to his ministers to improve the performance of their ministries following large-scale protests across the country, Xinhua reported. The assessment showed that the performance of most of Maliki’s over 40-member cabinet had been between good and medium, but some performed poorly, Maliki earlier said.

Baquba (Iraq) A police officer was killed and ten others wounded in separate attacks in Iraq’s eastern province of Diyala on 30 July, the police said. Gunmen shot dead an officer and wounded a local Awakening Council group member in western the provincial capital city of Baquba, some 65 km northeast of Baghdad, a source from Diyala’s operations command told Xinhua on condition of anonymity. In a separate incident, six people were wounded in a roadside bomb explosion at a marketplace in the town of Qara-Tapa, some 110 km north of Baquba, the source said. In addition, three people were wounded when gunmen opened fire on civilians in Sherwin area, some 50 km east of Baquba, the source added. Diyala province, which stretches from the eastern edges of Baghdad to the Iranian border, has long been a stronghold for Al-Qaeda militants and other insurgent groups since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Tehran (Iran). An explosion took place in Iran’s natural gas transmission pipeline to Turkey on 29 July, Iranian Press TV reported. The explosion, which is said to have taken place near a village around the northwestern town of Maku close to Iran’s border with Turkey, temporarily disrupted gas supplies to Iran’s western neighbor, said the report.

Rescue teams and fire squads have been dispatched to the pipeline and managed to control the ensuing blaze after removing the excess gas in the line, according to the report.

In the meantime, technicians of Iran’s gas company are carrying out pipeline maintenance tasks and repair services to restore the gas flow, said Press TV. Iran exports more than 30 million cubic meters of natural gas to Turkey on t

Sanaa (Yemen).  At least five opposition-backed armed tribesmen were killed in shelling by Republican Guards in Arhab district in northeastern Yemeni capital on 30 July, a security official said, cited by Xinhua agency. Republican Guards shelled missiles and artillery on hideouts of the armed tribesmen in Arhab, who sided with protesters who demanded the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and tried to storm the Republican Guards’ military base, killing five gunmen and injuring several others. The tribesmen’s attempt to occupy the powerful military base on 28 July ignited fierce battles that left 40 soldiers and 35 tribesmen dead after Saleh’s troops managed to kill the infiltrators and drove away the rest of the opposition fighters. The Defence Ministry accused the opposition of plotting to capture Sanaa International Airport and besieging northern entrances of the capital.

Arhab, about 60 km northeast of Sanaa, has witnessed sporadic clashes between Republican Guards and opposition armed tribesmen supported by defected army since late May that left dozens dead and forced hundreds of families to flee the area.

(Middle East & Balkans News, 30 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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