Syria opposition leaders set upon in Cairo

Al-Jazeera reports:

Syrian opposition members who were due to meet the Arab League secretary-general have been escorted away from the League’s offices in Cairo after being set upon by protesters.

The four-man delegation of the Syrian National Co-ordination Committee (SNCC), which was made up of members of the Syrian opposition from within Syria, had arrived at the offices earlier on Wednesday, but were greeted by demonstrators who threw eggs at them.

Some minor scuffles broke out but no injuries have been reported.

Hassan Abdel Azim, the opposition member heading the SNCC, managed to get inside the Arab League headquarters, and is currently meeting with Nabil al-Araby, the Arab League secretary-general.

The SNCC is a rival to the broad-based Syrian National Council group.

Al Jazeera’s correspondent, Jane Arraf, said Wednesday’s incident was an indication of how divided the Syrian opposition is.

She said: “The protesters, many of which are Syrian exiles, are saying that these people meeting at the Arab League are agents of the Syrian government, calling them traitors.

Arraf added that the protesters are “the ones who want action, military action, targeted sanctions, a no-fly zone, the removal of Bashar al-Assad [the Syrian president], and this is not what these opposition members are asking for.”

Earlier in the day, Thabet Salem, a Syrian journalist and author spoke to Al Jazeera about the divisions plaguing the Syrian opposition.

“First of all the opposition themselves are divided,” Salem said, between those who want foreign intervention to stop the bloodshed, and those who are against foreign intervention.

“The Syrian case is not similar to that of Libya,” Salem said, explaining that the Arab League has not been seen as exerting the same amount of pressure as it did during the case of Libya.

He said “the impression [in Syria] is that the Arab League is incapable and not serious enough to force the regime to stop what’s going on.”

Similar protests were held outside the Arab League’s offices last week when they met to draw up a proposal dealing with Syria.

The league’s plan, which was signed by the Syrian government on November 2, called for an end to violence, the release of those detained, the withdrawal of the army from urban areas and free movement for observers and the media, as well as talks between the regime and the opposition.

Syria has been widely criticised for continuing its crackdown on protesters in the week since the plan was signed.

Meanwhile activists have told Al Jazeera that eight people have been killed across Syria; two in Hama, two in Bukamal Deir Ezzor, two in Deraa, one in Homs, and one in Damascus.


September 13, 2011 – News Review

Besieged Bani Walid Residents Told to Flee, Al-Jazeera

“Libyan rebels battling the remnants of Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in his remaining stronghold of Bani Walid have given residents there two days to leave before a threatened assault.

The warning came on Tuesday amid fears for the fate of civilians trapped in the last redoubts of Gaddafi, dislodged from power and now on the run after 42 years as leader of the oil-rich nation.

“I think only 10 per cent of the people are Gaddafi supporters. They are fanatics. And the rest are waiting to be liberated. We have given them two more days to leave the city,” Abumuslim Abdu, a fighter with the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC), told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday.”

Syria Activists Call for Day of Anger over Medvedev Stance, The Daily Star (Beirut)

“The latest violence comes after pro-democracy activists called for a “day of anger” Tuesday in protest at Russia’s backing for President Bashar Assad, whose regime has waged a deadly six-month crackdown on protesters.

“Do not support the killers. Do not kill the Syrians with your position,” activists urged Russia in a posting on The Syrian Revolution 2011, a Facebook page that has been the engine for the revolt.

They wrote that a “day of anger” against Russia would be held Tuesday.”

Suleiman Leaves Court After Testifying in Mubarak Case, Al-Masry Al-Youm

“Suleiman is the most prominent official from Mubarak’s regime to be questioned by the prosecution since the trial began in August. According to some Egyptian news reports, Suleiman’s statements during investigations in April confirmed Mubarak’s involvement in the protester deaths.

The state-run newpaper Al-Akhbar reported on 26 May that Suleiman claimed during interrogations that Mubarak was completely aware of every shot fired at protesters in Tahrir Square. However, other news reports reported that Suleiman had not heard the former president ordering protesters be killed.”

Libya’s New Leader Calls for Unity and Moderation, The Guardian

“He said Islamic sharia law should be the main source of legislation but added: “We will not accept any extremist ideology, on the right or the left. We are a Muslim people, for a moderate Islam, and will stay on this road.”

Jalil also emphasised that women had played an important part in the revolution and would continue to do so.  “Women will be ambassadors,” he said to cheers from women and girls in the crowd waving flags. “Women will be ministers.” Many of the women were dressed in the red, black and green of the revolution.”

Video from Al-Jazeera

September 9, 2011 – News Review

Syrians appeal for international protection, Al-Jazeera

“Syrians have taken to the streets for another Friday of protests, calling for international help to stop the security crackdown by Bashar al-Assad’s government.  Large protests called “Friday for International Protection” were reported in cities including Qamishli in the northeast, Homs and Hama in the centre of the country, and Deir al-Zor in the east.

Activists and rights group say at least 2,200 people, most of them civilians, have been killed since the uprising began in mid-March.  Al Jazeera’s Omar al Saleh, reporting from Ramtha on the Jordan-Syria border, said the calls vary from the execution of Assad to international protection.”

Anti-military rally in Tahrir swell to tens of thousands as more march around Cairo, Al-Masry Al-Youm

“Around 30,000 protesters gathered in Tahrir Square Friday to protest the ruling military council’s performance and their numbers continued to rise into the late afternoon for the demonstration dubbed “Correcting the Path of the Revolution.”  Some of those present since midday prayers were discouraged that turnout was lower than organizers had hoped for, however the crowd was steadily swelling and was expected to reach 50,000 before the demonstration’s scheduled 6 pm end time.

“It is the first Friday after Ramadan, and summertime. I believe that the number will increase in the coming demonstrations,” said political activist and blogger Ahmed Gharbeia.

Several marches feeding into Tahrir from around Cairo have been adding a steady stream of protesters. One group came from the Israeli Embassy in Dokki, while the April 6 Youth Movement also came from Mohandiseen with at least 500 supporters.  Islamist groups were, as expected, not present in the square. April 6, secular revolutionary groups, as well as the football fans known as Ahly and Zamalek “Ultras” led most of the chants.”

Russia seeks Syrian detente, The Daily Star (Beirut)

“Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday that some Syrians protesting against Bashar Assad’s regime are “terrorists” and that the world should urge both sides to refrain from violence, as opposition groups made their first direct calls for foreign intervention in the country to halt the violence.

In an interview with the France-based news channel Euronews, Medvedev admitted the Syrian authorities had been guilty of using “disproportionate force” against protesters, but called the country a “friend” of Russia.

“It’s true that we recognize that there are problems in Syria. We’re aware of the disproportionate use of force, and of a large number of victims, and it’s something we disapprove of,” he said, according to a transcript provided by the network.”

Search for Tripoli prison massacre victims seeks to heal old wounds, The Guardian

“An excavation of mass graves began on Friday in search of the 1,200 victims of a Libyan prison massacre, in an attempt to close the most infamous chapter of Muammar Gaddafi‘s bloody four-decade rule.

Diggers found multiple bodies in a single grave – one of 38 graves at a cemetery in Tripoli. It is believed the remains had been moved there from the notorious Abu Salim jail, scene of the killing of inmates in 1996.

More than 1,000 bodies are still thought to be within the grounds of the prison. Excavations there have been delayed as officials await the arrival of experts and equipment for DNA testing. Digging is expected to begin in a week.”

Arab news outlets cover day five of Mubarak trial in Cairo

In addition to providing a live blog of the trial, Al-Jazeera reports that today two members of the Central Security Forces testified against former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, alleging that his leadership, including former interior minister Habib el-Adly,  called for Egyptian forces to fire on citizens during the 18 day uprisings.

Meanwhile, Al-Masry Al-Youm’s coverage notes that citizens who were arrested on Monday during riots outside of Mubarak’s trial will not have their cases heard until September 15 in an attempt to give prosecutors more time to review documents.  “The prosecution accused the suspects of causing damages outside the [police] academy and injuring 17 people, 15 of whom were policemen,” according to Al-Masry Al-Youm.

From Beirut, the Daily Star highlights the latest development in the trial: today’s call for Field Marshall Mohammad Hussein Tantawi, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Sami Enan, Mubarak’s former intelligence chief and Vice President Omar Suleiman, and Interior Minister Mansour al-Essawy to testify behind closed doors about Mubarak’s involvement in the death of protesters.

Gulf News reports that a team of Kuwaiti lawyers seeking to provide counsel for Mubarak have returned to their country with hopes to come back to Egypt if the trial once again becomes public.

September 7, 2011 – News Review

France’s Alain Juppe: Syria committing ‘grave crimes,’ BBC News

“France’s Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has accused the Syrian government of carrying out ‘crimes against humanity.’  Speaking in Moscow, he said Syria could face further sanctions if it did not change course. Activists say Syrian forces are continuing their crackdown on protests and have killed seven more people in a new assault on the city of Homs.  More than 2,200 people have died in five months of protest against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.  “The way [Syria has] suppressed the popular protests is unacceptable,” said Mr Juppe, according to the French AFP news agency.”

Mubarak trial witness held for perjury, Al-Jazeera

“A key witness in the trial of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was detained after being charged with perjury for dramatically changing his evidence.  The move on Wednesday came after Captain Mohammed Abdel-Hakim, in charge of ammunition for a Cairo security regiment, denied he had any knowledge that police were armed or given orders to shoot protesters during the anti-Mubarak uprising.

Abdel-Hakim was released shortly after the hearing adjourned.  Lawyers for the families of dead protesters accused him of changing his earlier statements to prosecutors in which he said he had been given orders to open fire, and the judge ordered him arrested. Abdel-Hakim had told investigators he issued hundreds of bullets to each of his soldiers.  Prosecutors say four earlier witnesses also changed their stories, though none have been charged.”

Gadhafi tracked heading south: Libyan official, The Daily Star – Beirut

“Moammar Gadhafi was last tracked heading for Libya’s southern border, the man leading the hunt told Reuters, though Burkina Faso again denied on Wednesday any plan to offer the deposed leader refuge.  After the arrival in neighboring Niger of dozens of Libyan vehicles, including some which may be carrying gold and cash, the United States said the convoy included aides to Gadhafi and urged authorities in Niger to hold any war crimes suspects.

Niger has denied Gadhafi is in the poor, landlocked former French colony. But a French military source has told Reuters that he and his son Saif al-Islam may have planned to rendezvous with the convoy in the Sahara, possibly via Algeria, before heading for Burkina Faso, which in the past had offered refuge.  Hisham Buhagiar, who coordinates efforts by Libya’s interim government to find the ousted strongman, said he had evidence he may have been near the southern village of Ghwat, some 300 km (200 miles) north of the border with Niger, three days ago.”

Libya: The real war starts now, Asia Times Online

“To see where this thing is going, one has to look at the desert. The immense southern Libyan desert was not conquered by NATO.

The TNC has no access to virtually all of Libya’s water and a lot of oil.  Gaddafi has a chance of “working the desert”, of negotiating with a number of tribes, to buy or consolidate their allegiance and organize a sustained guerrilla war.  Algeria is involved in a vicious fight against al-Qaeda in the Maghreb. Algeria’s vast, porous, 1,000 kilometer-long border with Libya remains open. Gaddafi can easily base his guerrillas in the southern desert with a safe haven in Algeria – or even in Niger. The TNC is already terrified of this possibility.

NATO’s “humanitarian” operation has unleashed at least 30,000 bombs over Libya over these past few months. It’s safe to say that many thousands of Libyans have been killed by the bombing. The bombing never stops; soon NATO may be targeting some of those – civilians or not – it was in theory “protecting” until a few days ago. “

Update: Trial of Hosni Mubarak

The trial of Hosni Mubarak and Habib al-Adli continues in Cairo for the second day in a row amidst chaos caused by protestors both for and against the former president.   Numerous scuffles have occurred outside the courtroom, including those prompted by fans of the al-Ahly Sports Club, an Egyptian national football team.  Al-Ahly fans, called the Ultras Ahlawy, chanted anti-Mubarak protests at police while throwing bottles after an Egyptian Cup match.

Though cameras are barred from the courtroom, journalists are reporting minute-by-minute accounts of the proceedings.  For example, the Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm provides a live feed here, while Al-Jazeera’s Cairo correspondent has provided an overview of the latest information via video:

Check back with this blog for the most up to date information on Mubarak’s trial.


September 6, 2011 – News Review

Turkey suspends military ties with Israel, The Guardian

“Turkey ratcheted up its diplomatic offensive against Israel on Tuesday by announcing it was suspending defence industry ties and threatening further sanctions after Israel’s refusal to apologise for the deaths of nine activists on board the Mavi Marmara 14 months ago.

The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he was considering a trip to Gaza, where he would be assured of a hero’s welcome. He repeated a warning that Turkish naval vessels would step up activity in the eastern Mediterranean.”

Seven die as Yemen airstrike targets wrong mosque, The National U.A.E.

“At least seven civilians were killed and three others wounded yesterday in a botched air strike against suspected Al Qaeda-linked militants that targeted the wrong mosque in the southern province of Abyan, Yemeni officials said.

The mosque is located in central Jaar, a city that has been under the control of Ansar Al Sharia militants since May. The mistake caused anger with residents in a part of the country the government has been unable to control for months.”

Top Arab diplomat flies to Syria with ultimatum for Assad, Al-Masry Al-Youm

“Arab League chief Nabil al-Araby flies to Damascus on Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to resolve Syria’s political crisis amid mounting criticism of the Arab governments for failing to end a bloody government crackdown on protesters demanding democratic reforms in Syria.

Last week the League’s Council asked Araby to convey to Assad an Arab plan to resolving the country’s six-month old crisis.  Araby told reporters Tuesday that his discussions with President Bashar al-Assad and Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallam will focus on diplomatic efforts to end the turmoil in Syria.”

Libyan commander demands apology over MI6 and CIA plot, The Guardian

“One of Libya’s senior rebel commanders has demanded an apology from the British and American governments following the discovery of secret documents which show MI6 and the CIA were involved in a plot that led to his capture and torture.  Abdul Hakim Belhaj, the security commander in Tripoli, told the Guardian he was considering suing over the episode, which raises further damaging questions over Britain’s knowledge of the rendition and ill-treatment of prisoners.

One document found in a treasure trove of abandoned papers shows a senior MI6 officer boasting to the Libyans about how British intelligence led to Belhaj being captured on 6 March 2004.  Then a leading dissident member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), Belhaj was seized in Bangkok and handed over to the CIA, who he alleges tortured him and injected him with truth serum before flying him back to Tripoli for interrogation.”