Leader Development & Education for Sustained Peace Program: Cross-Cultural, Geopolitical & Regional Education

LDESP Middle East News Update – September 2012



Note: The bimonthly LDESP Iraq News Update has transitioned to the monthly LDESP News Update From the Middle East. The Middle East update will include news coverage from Iran to Egypt. As with all LDESP news briefs, the information contained within the Middle East News update is to increase situational awareness concerning events that may affect your mission. The Middle East update will focus on issues concerning the Gulf and the Levant, including articles central to transatlantic security and stability as well as cultural and economic issues that may impact the region and U.S national interests in the region.

Disclaimer: Articles are taken from established and diverse professional periodicals, news articles, and editorial commentaries from different countries, reflecting a range of political views/biases, that are intended to provide readers with a better understanding of various interests and perspectives regarding the situation in the region. External links may expire at any time depending on the archiving policy of the particular news agency. News summaries may highlight only a portion of an article that is relevant to the readers and may not necessarily be the focus of the entire article or the headline. Opinions expressed in the articles, commentaries and features do not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense, the US Navy, or the LDESP staff.


Iran has displayed a new, all-Iranian-made air defense system that is reportedly an upgrade to an earlier Russian-made mobile model. The system was on show on 21 September during a military parade in Tehran commemorating the start of the Iraq-Iran war 32 years ago. The semi-official Fars news agency says the Raad, or Thunder, is more advanced than its Russian predecessor and is designed to confront fighter jets, cruise missiles, smart bombs, helicopters and drones. The agency says Raad carries missiles with a range of 50 kilometers (30 miles), capable of hitting targets at 22,000 meters (75,000 feet). Iran’s military leaders have said they believe future wars will be air and sea-based and Tehran has sought to upgrade its air defense systems and naval power in anticipation of such a possibility. (…) The four Western powers trying to rein in Iran’s nuclear program accused Tehran on 20 September of shipping arms to Syria in violation of U.N. sanctions and ignoring demands to open key nuclear facilities to U.N. inspectors. (Time, Associated Press)
Iran’s top atomic energy official said in an article published on 20 September that because of foreign espionage, his government had sometimes provided false information to protect its nuclear program, which Western powers and Israel have called a cloak to develop a nuclear weapons capacity. The official, Fereydoon Abbasi, a nuclear scientist who is the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, did not specify the nature of the false information. Nor did he specify when it had been presented or to whom. (…) He talked in mid-September with a correspondent for Al Hayat on the sidelines of a meeting in Vienna of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear monitor of the United Nations, which has repeatedly demanded that Iran provide unfettered access to its inspectors to resolve unanswered questions about the nature of the country’s nuclear work. Iran has defied the I.A.E.A.’s inspection demands as well as resolutions by the United Nations Security Council calling on Iran to halt all uranium enrichment until the agency’s unanswered questions are resolved. (New York Times)
A senior commander in Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard warned that Iran will target U.S. bases in the region in the event of war with Israel, raising the prospect of a broader conflict that would force other countries to get involved, Iranian state television reported on 23 September. The comments by Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, who heads the Guard’s aerospace division, came amid tension over Iran’s nuclear program and Israel’s suggestion that it might unilaterally strike Iranian nuclear facilities to scuttle what the United States and its allies believe are efforts to build a bomb. Tehran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. Hajizadeh said no Israeli attack can happen without the support of its most important ally, the United States, making all U.S. military bases a legitimate target. (…) The Iranian warning appears an attempt to reinforce the potential wider consequences of an attack by Israel. The message is not only intended for Washington, but to its Gulf Arab allies that are fearful of a regional conflict that could disrupt oil shipment and cripple business hubs in places such as Dubai and Qatar’s capital Doha. (…) It also comes during a major show of naval power in the Gulf by U.S.-led forces taking part in military exercises, including mine-sweeping drills. The U.S. Navy claims the manoeuvrs are not directly aimed at Iran, but the West and its regional allies have made clear they would react against attempts by Tehran to carry out threats to try to close critical Gulf oil shipping lanes in retaliation for tighter sanctions. Despite Israeli hints of a military strike, Iran’s military commanders believe Israel is unlikely to take unilateral action against Iran. The Guard’s top commander, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, said that Iran believes the United States won’t attack Iran because its military bases in the Middle East are within the range of Iran’s missiles. Iran has also warned that oil shipments through the strategic Strait of Hormuz will be in jeopardy if a war breaks out between Iran and the United States. Iranian officials had previously threatened to close the waterway, the route for a fifth of the world’s oil, if there is war. (Toronto Star, Associated Press)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei claimed in mid-September that his government isn’t interested in nuclear weapons: “Our motto is nuclear energy for all and nuclear weapons for none,” he said. A better perspective was provided almost simultaneously from the world’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which on 30 August released its latest report on Iran’s nuclear activities. (…) The report shows that Iran continues to expand its capacity for enriching uranium. There are now two new groups of centrifuges installed at Fordow—the hardened site built under a mountain near the holy city of Qom—which signals a doubling of the site’s capacity since May 2012. Iran continues to stockpile uranium enriched to 3.5% and 20% purity—levels for which Iran has no immediate use unless it is planning to make an atomic bomb. (…) The IAEA report also shows that inspectors continue to struggle to get access to the controversial site of Parchin, outside Tehran, where satellite imagery shows that Iran has carried out substantial landscaping and construction activities. (Wall Street Journal)
Tehran has deployed one of its Russian-made submarines in the Persian Gulf, after the US and more than two dozen allies began naval exercises nearby, Iranian state television reported on 18 September. The Taregh-1 joined the Iranian fleet in the southern port of Bandar Abbas after it was overhauled earlier this year, according to the TV report. It is one of three Russian Kilo-class submarines that Iran obtained in the early 1990s. The report also showed the launch of what was said to be the partially completed hull of a destroyer, the Sahand, which the TV said is expected to be ready in the near future. Tehran has tried to build a self-sufficient military programme since 1992 and has several smaller Iranian-built submarines. (…) The announcement came two days after US-led naval exercises started in the Gulf on 16 September. They are the largest such maneuvers aimed at countering sea mines ever to take place in the region. (The Guardian, Associated Press)
Malaysian authorities are looking into claims that a mobile storage depot off Labuan Island is being used by Iran to export its crude oil, thus evading international sanctions. Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency commanding officer for Sabah region, First Admiral N. Kararunathi said he was aware of the news reports claiming that oil tankers laden with Iranian crude oil had been anchored off Labuan. (…) Iranian crude shipped to the area were unloaded at night and stored on hired tankers flying the Panamanian flag to await potential Asian buyers. (…) In early August, another Iranian tanker, Motion, discharged as many as two million barrels of fuel oil on to the Titan Tulshyan in the same area. The two ships were among 58 Iranian-owned vessels blacklisted by Washington in July for assisting in Iran’s oil trade. Iran would like to shift more oil to what is effectively a mobile storage depot off the Labuan coast over the next few months, said an industry source familiar with Iran’s planning. The report quoted people in the industry as saying that Labuan, sheltered from typhoons, was an ideal place to blend or rebrand oil and resell it under the radar of sanctions enforcers in Washington or Brussels. (The Star, Asia News Network)
Syrian rebel fighters on the Turkish border are pushing ahead with a plan to turn territory in Idlib province that has been mostly under their control since early summer into a logistics and training base for fighters across the country. The move, which could draw the regime’s attention back to this swath of northwestern territory, shows how Syria’s rebels are trying to consolidate control over pockets of liberated land along the Turkish border even as war rages farther north in Aleppo. (…) But it also comes as thousands of factions in the armed insurgency against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad compete for international support and local influence on the ground. For months, local fighting groups assumed civilian governance in areas they have wrestled from regime control. Now, rebel fighters say they are intent on proving to world powers they can train fighters and unite disparate rebel groups using this territory as a haven. (Wall Street Journal)
The leaders of the rebel Free Syrian Army said on 22 September that they moved their command center from Turkey to Syria with the aim of uniting rebels and speeding up the fall of President Bashar Assad’s regime. Brig. Gen. Mustafa al-Sheikh, who heads the FSA’s Military Council, told The Associated Press that the group made the move in min-September. He would not say where the new headquarters is located or give other details. The FSA is the most prominent of the rebel groups trying to topple Assad, though its authority over networks of fighters in Syria is limited. Its commanders have been criticized for being based in Turkey while thousands are killed inside Syria. Despite the announcement of the command move, rebels still have to rely on Turkey as a rear base for supplies and reinforcements. In the past few months, rebels have captured wide swaths of Syrian territory bordering Turkey, along with three border crossings, allowing them to ferry supplies and people into Syria. (CBS, Associated Press)
Arab countries proposed on 21 September extending the mandate of U.N. investigators documenting war crimes in Syria and said that more experts were needed for the growing task. A draft resolution submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council by a group of Arab states, backed by Western powers, calls for the investigations to carry on for the next six months. (…) Its current mandate expires at the end of the Council’s three-week session on 28 September by which time the vote on extending the mandate should have take place. (…)The resolution was submitted by Morocco on behalf of Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. (…) The draft resolution strongly condemns crimes by Syrian government forces including “the use of heavy weapons and force against civilians”, massacres, executions, torture and rapes. It also condemns “any human rights abuses by armed opposition groups” fighting to topple Assad. The conflict has uprooted 1.2 million people within Syria and driven nearly 280,000 Syrian refugees abroad to four neighboring countries which need financial support. (Reuters)
Armed opposition groups in Syria have subjected detainees to ill-treatment and torture and committed extrajudicial or summary executions in Aleppo, Latakia, and Idlib, Human Rights Watch said on 17 September following a visit to Aleppo governorate. Torture and extrajudicial or summary executions of detainees in the context of an armed conflict are war crimes, and may constitute crimes against humanity if they are widespread and systematic. Opposition leaders told Human Rights Watch that they will respect human rights and that they have taken measures to curb the abuses, but Human Rights Watch expressed serious concern about statements by some opposition leaders indicating that they tolerate, or even condone, extrajudicial and summary executions. When confronted with evidence of extrajudicial executions, three opposition leaders told Human Rights Watch that those who killed deserved to be killed, and that only the worst criminals were being executed. (Huffington Post)
The Syrian government has carried out indiscriminate air bombardments and artillery strikes on residential areas that do not target opposition fighters or military objectives, and instead appear aimed solely at punishing civilians seen as sympathetic to rebel forces, Amnesty International has said. (…) The Amnesty report included criticism of opposition fighters for alleged violations of human rights, saying both sides have operated in and launched attacks from residential areas, thereby increasing the risk to civilians. But it focused mostly on the conduct of the regime, noting that random bombardments suggested that the aim of the strikes “may be to punish residents of towns and villages which are now under the de-facto control of opposition forces.” The report said unguided bombs dropped from the air and imprecise artillery shells and mortars are now being used daily against residential areas, significantly increasing the number of civilian casualties (The Telegraph)
The website of Qatar-based satellite news network Al Jazeera was apparently hacked on 4 September by Syrian government loyalists for what they said was the television channel’s support for the “armed terrorist groups and spreading lies and fabricated news”. A Syrian flag and statement denouncing Al Jazeera’s “positions against the Syrian people and government” were posted on the Arabic site of the channel in response to its coverage of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad which began in March last year. Al Jazeera took the lead in covering the uprisings across the Arab world, and Qatar, one of the Sunni-led states in the region, publicly backed the predominantly Sunni rebel movement in Syria against Assad’s Alawite-led government. (Reuters)
At one Syrian school, in the Damascus suburbs, students were so scarce that teachers spent most of their time sitting around and drinking tea. On the outskirts of the northern city of Aleppo, the teachers just stayed home. The schools had been transformed into shelters for residents displaced by fighting, and in any case, one teacher said, there were more “more pressing concerns” than school. Other schools had been taken over by rebel fighters, and throughout Syria, more than 2,000 school buildings had been destroyed or damaged in the war. In an attempt to project calm in the midst of relentless violence, Syria’s Education Ministry ordered schools to open in mid-September. Instead of calm, however, the schools reflected what had happened in the rest of the country during the summer: the fighting had grown worse, the routines of daily life more dangerous and education had become one more casualty of the unrest. (The New York Times)
An Islamist militant group based in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has claimed responsibility for a cross-border attack in which an Israeli soldier was killed, calling the raid a response to an online video mocking the prophet Muhammad that triggered protests across the Muslim world. (…) In a statement posted on militant Internet forums on 22 September, a group calling itself Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, or Partisans of Jerusalem, called the deadly raid a “disciplinary attack against those who insulted the beloved Prophet”. (…)The group pledged to carry out another attack to avenge what it said was Israel’s role in the killing of one of its fighters, Ibrahim Aweida, who died in a blast in Sinai last month. According to the group, Aweida led a cross-border attack in August 2011 that left eight Israelis dead on a road north of the Red Sea resort of Eilat. (Washington Post)
An Egyptian court sentenced 14 militant Islamists to death by hanging and four to life imprisonment for attacks on army and police forces in the Sinai Peninsula. The verdicts showed the state’s determination to deal firmly with militant activity in Sinai, which has increased since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. Security forces are mounting operations in the area following the killing 16 Egyptian border guards in August. The men, members of a militant group called Tawheed and Jihad, were charged by the prosecutor with killing three police officers, an army officer and a civilian in attacks carried out in June and July, 2011. Eight of the 14 death sentences were in absentia, court sources said. (…) The prosecutor said that Tawheed and Jihad group was propagating a hardline Islamist view which allows adherents to declare the head of state an infidel and to carry arms against the government. (The Daily Star, Reuters)
On the eve of his first trip to the United States as Egypt’s new Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi said the United States needed to fundamentally change its approach to the Arab world, showing greater respect for its values and helping build a Palestinian state, if it hoped to overcome decades of pent-up anger. (…) He said it was up to Washington to repair relations with the Arab world and to revitalize the alliance with Egypt, long a cornerstone of regional stability. If Washington is asking Egypt to honor its treaty with Israel, he said, Washington should also live up to its own Camp David commitment to Palestinian self-rule. He said the United States must respect the Arab world’s history and culture, even when that conflicts with Western values. And he dismissed criticism from the White House that he did not move fast enough to condemn protesters who recently climbed over the United States Embassy wall and burned the American flag in anger over a video that mocked the Prophet Muhammad. (The New York Times)
Anti-American protests that started in Cairo and spread across the Muslim world have stalled negotiations to provide crucial U.S. economic assistance to Egypt. The violent demonstrations sparked by an anti-Islam video, and Egypt’s initially clumsy response, have temporarily halted talks about a proposed $1 billion in debt relief and how to speed millions in other aid to Egypt, according to several U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the news media. No new aid is likely to be approved for Egypt until after the U.S. presidential election, and talks aimed at breaking a logjam on spending funds already approved are on hold, the officials said. Several U.S. officials said that the delays are expected to be temporary and that there is no major reevaluation of U.S. aid to Egypt. (…) A senior congressional staffer suggested that the course of events will determine the long-term fate of U.S. assistance to Egypt. Other U.S. officials cast the delay as a natural reaction to the violence and a test of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s resolve, but they stressed that the United States is unlikely to set stringent conditions on aid or debt relief. (The Washington Post)
Authorities in Cairo have ordered the arrest of seven US-based Egyptian Coptic Christians for their alleged involvement in an anti-Islam video. The crude production posted on YouTube has sparked violent protests and riots across the Muslim world for its depiction of the Prophet Muhammad. It is unclear who made the film, but it has been linked to an Egyptian Coptic Christian living in the United States. An arrest warrant has also been issued for US Christian pastor Terry Jones. It said international police agency, Interpol, would be notified of the warrants. However, Interpol later denied it had received a request and noted that its constitution forbade it from “undertaking any matter of a predominantly political, military, religious or racial nature”. (BBC)
A proposal by ultraconservative Salafis to give Egypt’s main Islamic institution the final say on whether the law of the land adheres to Islamic laws threatens to bring the already painfully slow process of drafting the new constitution to a grinding halt. The proposal would give the revered Al-Azhar power similar to a supreme court by making it the arbiter of whether a law conforms to the principles of sharia, already cited in the constitution of ousted leader Hosni Mubarak as Egypt’s “main source” of legislation. Opponents say the move would only exacerbate Egypt’s volatile politics and make it harder to heal social tensions in a country where one tenth of the population is Christian. The argument is also diverting energy away from other essential points of law – the balance of power between president and parliament, the influence of the army, defense of personal freedoms and an independent judiciary. (…) Islamist President Mohamed Mursi holds lawmaking power for now, an awkward arrangement that erodes the credibility of his government, elected after Mubarak was overthrown in 2011. Salafis argue that since Article 2 of the old constitution already says “the principles of sharia” are the main foundation of legislation, they merely want to see this idea fully applied, if not by strengthening the role of Azhar, then by changing the wording to make it just “sharia” itself rather than its principles. (Reuters)
The guns are silent and fighters have disappeared from the streets of the north Lebanese city of Tripoli but the battle that flared in mid-August, killing 16 people, is far from over. Unrest in neighboring Syria, where 27,000 people have been killed in a conflict that is becoming increasingly sectarian, is deepening tensions between Tripoli’s Sunni Muslim majority and Alawite minority. (…)Commanders of the rival forces say the fighting is fuelled by politicians channeling money and arms to the two sides, and residents accuse both pro- and anti-Assad forces of stirring up trouble. They say Syria’s allies in Lebanon want to create conflict to relieve pressure on Assad by diverting attention, while Assad’s opponents hope the fighting could weaken Lebanon’s government, which is led by the pro-Assad Shi’ite Hezbollah group and its allies. Allegations of Syria’s role in the tensions were heightened by the arrest of a pro-Assad former Lebanese minister, Michel Samaha, accused of forming “an armed gang” to incite sectarian fighting in northern Lebanon. Two Syrian officials have also been indicted in the same case. On the other side of the showdown, Sunni-led Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, is a leading supporter of Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims and Tripoli residents say hardline Sunni fighters in the city have Saudi backing. (Reuters)
The leader of Lebanon’s Shia movement Hezbollah has appeared in public for the first time since December 2011 to denounce the amateur anti-Islam film which has sparked worldwide protests. (…) In Beirut, Hassan Nasrallah addressed a huge protest in Hezbollah’s stronghold in the south of the city. (…) In contrast to other protests held over in mid-September against the film, including one in north Lebanon which left one person dead, there was no violence at the Hezbollah rally. It is rare for the influential head of the Shia Muslim militant group to appear in public – he usually addresses his supporters via videolink for fear of assassination. (BBC)
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman asked Iran on 17 September for a formal assurance that its Revolutionary Guards, who helped found the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon 30 years ago, have no presence there now, the president’s office said. He made the unusual request in a meeting with Iranian ambassador Ghazanfar Roknabadi, a day after an Iranian commander said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had forces in neighboring Syria supplying non-military aid to President Bashar al-Assad (Reuters)
A military prosecutor in Lebanon has charged six members of a powerful Shia Muslim clan with forming an armed group for terrorist purposes and kidnappings.
In August, the Mekdad clan took dozens of Syrians and a Turkish businessman hostage in Lebanon after a family member was abducted by Syrian rebels. The Mekdads’ hostages were freed in mid-September by the Lebanese army. The hostage-taking heightened fears about Lebanon being pulled into the conflict in Syria, where the majority Sunni community has been at the forefront of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect. The incident began when Syrian rebels detained Hassan Mekdad, claiming he had ties to the Lebanese Shia Islamist group Hezbollah, which is allied to President Assad, and accusing him of entering Syria to fight alongside government forces. The Mekdads denied the allegation. (BBC)
Jordan, a small country with a big budget deficit, has won praise and admiration from the UN and other bodies for its willingness to take in the thousands of refugees that stream across the border every week. But Jordanian officials admit that they are struggling to cope with the influx and that conditions at Zaatari need to improve fast. The camp opened in late July and is now home to more than 30,000 Syrians. Its makeshift alleys are filled with tales of terror from across the border – and bitter complaints about the refugees’ current predicament. The vast majority are housed in simple tents, where they shelter from the fine, brown dust that constantly blows through the camp and settles everywhere. There are two playgrounds for the more than 10,000 children who live there, but, so far at least, no schools and little in the way of entertainment or distraction. (…) Jordan needs at least $700m from the international community to cover the spiraling cost of the refugee crisis. (Financial Times)
Jordan’s king has endorsed a controversial new media law that critics say could severely stifle online expression. The law requires 400 news websites operated by Jordanians to register with the government and obtain licenses. It also gives authorities the power to block and censor the sites, and holds publishers and editors liable for posted comments. An international rights watchdog has deplored the move, saying the legislation would make website managers share the responsibility for posted comments. (The Washington Post, Associate Press)
In an unusual move, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abruptly adjourned a meeting of his security cabinet on 05 September, citing leaks of its classified discussions on the Iranian nuclear program. The move followed a report in Yedioth Ahronot, Israel’s most widely read newspaper, that in the first session of the meeting, disagreement emerged among Israeli intelligence agencies over the point at which Iranian nuclear facilities would be beyond the reach of an Israeli military strike. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has warned that the Iranian program is approaching a “zone of immunity,” wherein its facilities would be protected from bombardment in bunkers deep underground. However, the point at which such potential targets would become impervious to attack remains a subject of debate. According to the Yedioth Ahronot report, representatives of Israel’s intelligence branches presented “opposing positions” on Iran, reflecting “lack of agreement in Israel regarding the stage at which Israel’s ability to strike the Iranian nuclear program loses its effectiveness.” (The Washington Post)
The Israeli military has begun construction of its largest training base ever, moving operations from some of the country’s priciest real estate to the barren sands of southern Israel in a new attempt to realize the long-time dream of making the desert bloom. The $650 million construction project is the military’s biggest in three decades: Beginning in late 2014, 10,000 soldiers will be moved into the new base 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of the city of Beersheba from their current quarters in the country’s Tel Aviv-area heartland. The program is designed to streamline combat support training, now carried out at multiple facilities, by funneling it into a single site.The base will not train combat soldiers, but drivers, paramedics and other troops who would support them at the front. It will not draw operations from the main military headquarters and Defense Ministry in the heart of Tel Aviv. (…)The project is part of a broader move to relocate military facilities to the Negev. The Negev accounts for over half of Israel’s land mass but is home to just 8 percent of its 8 million people. (The Washington Post, Associate Press)
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has called for a unilateral withdrawal from most of the West Bank if peace talks with the Palestinians fail. In an interview with Israel Hayom, Mr Barak proposed uprooting dozens of Jewish settlements, although he said major settlement blocs would be kept. There would also still be a military presence along the border with Jordan. Negotiations on a two-state solution stalled in late 2010 following a dispute over settlement construction. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said he will not resume direct talks until Israel freezes all building work and accepts the ceasefire lines which existed before the 1967 Middle East war as the basis for the borders of a Palestinian state, with agreed modifications. (…) Mr Barak said it would be preferable to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians, but that after four years of deadlock, Israel had to “take practical steps to start a separation”. He told Israel Hayom that his plan for unilateral disengagement would see the dismantling of dozens of isolated settlements, but the retention of the settlement blocs of Etzion, Maale Adumim and Ariel, where 80% to 90% of the settler population lives. “It will be a big achievement if we manage to keep them inside Israel’s permanent borders,” he said. (BBC)
Under court order, Israel on 2 September evacuated one of the largest un­authorized settlement outposts in the West Bank, moving to dismantle what had become a symbol of efforts by Jewish settlers to seize land without government approval. Migron, considered the flagship of about 100 wildcat outposts built by settlers on West Bank hills, was ordered removed by the Israeli Supreme Court because it was built without official permits on land privately owned by Palestinians. After years of legal wrangling and repeated delays by the Israeli government, the hilltop community of about 50 religiously observant families living in mobile homes was emptied with virtually no resistance from the settlers, other than a few holdouts who had to be carried off by police. (The Washington Post)
Palestinian demonstrators fed up with high prices and unpaid salaries shuttered shops, halted traffic with burning tires and clashed with riot police in demonstrations across the West Bank on 11 September, the largest show of popular discontent with the Palestinian Authority in its 18-year existence. The violence showed that the unrest, initially supported by Palestinian leaders in hopes of drawing international attention to the struggling economy, risks backfiring and morphing into a broader movement against the government. The violence was significant because it targeted a symbol of Palestinian self-rule. Most of the rage has been directed toward Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a U.S.-educated economist who oversees the government’s finances. Usually, Palestinians reserve their anger for Israel, which captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and wields overall control of the area. The most heated clashes occurred in Hebron, where hundreds of protesters smashed the windows of a municipality building with rocks. The crowd tried to storm the building but was thwarted by riot police who fired tear gas and beat back some of the demonstrators. Later, protesters tried to attack the police station, prompting a pitched rock-hurling battle between police and demonstrators. (Turkish Weekly, Hurriyet Daily News)
Iraq’s fugitive Sunni vice-president was sentenced on 09 September to death by hanging on charges he masterminded death squads against rivals in a terror trial that has fueled sectarian tensions in the country. Underscoring the instability, insurgents unleashed an onslaught of bombings and shootings across Iraq, killing at least 92 people in one of the deadliest days this year. It’s unlikely that the attacks in 13 cities were all timed to coincide with the afternoon verdict that capped a monthslong case against Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi, a longtime foe of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Still, taken together, the violence and verdict could energize Sunni insurgents bent on returning Iraq to the brink of civil war by targeting Shiites and undermining the government. (…)The politically charged case — which was announced the day after U.S. troops withdrew from the country last December — sparked a government crisis and fueled Sunni Muslim and Kurdish resentment against al-Maliki, whom critics say is monopolizing power. (…) Reaction to the verdict was largely along sectarian lines on the streets of Baghdad. (CBC)
Iraq is seeking to replace its national anthem and flag in a move aimed at providing unifying national symbols and putting decades of conflict and hardship in the country behind it. Mr. Shlah said a new anthem and flag “will be a unifying factor” for Iraqis, who have suffered decades of violence, privation and division. (…)In discussions about the poems, Iraqi Kurds, Turkmen and Assyrians called for verses in their languages to be added, but a compromise was reached whereby the words “Long live Iraq” would be said at the end in various languages. (…)Agreeing on a new flag and anthem carries a good deal of symbolism, both in moving on from the past and requiring Iraqi politicians to reach a consensus – something that has proved elusive on a wide variety of issues. (…)The selection of a new anthem appears to be on track, but choosing a new flag is more problematic, although a previous committee narrowed dozens of designs down to six. (The Globe and Mail)
Iraq reopened its border with Syria on 18 September to receive refugees escaping violence, but refused entry to young men for security reasons, Iraqi officials said. “They [the central government] fear that some of those young men could be members of al Qaeda or the Free Syrian Army,” a local government official in Iraq’s Anbar province said. Al Qaim was closed at the end of August when Syrian forces backed by jets fought rebels for control of an airfield and military base near the Syrian border town of Albu Kamal, within meters of the crossing and on a major supply route from Iraq. (…)Iraq’s government is struggling to overcome its own insurgency and legacy of sectarian violence. Baghdad says it has evidence Sunni Islamist fighters are crossing the porous border to fight against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. (National Post)
A Bahraini civilian court upheld sentences of up to life in prison against leaders of the 2011 pro-democracy uprising, saying that some of them had “intelligence contact” with Lebanon’s Hezbollah. In a decision that could dim prospects for defusing unrest in the small Gulf Arab state, Amnesty International, a London-based human rights group, described the ruling as outrageous. (…) A prosecution official said they were guilty of having “intelligence contact” with Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, seeking to overturn Bahrain’s system of government and violating the constitution. Hezbollah denies involvement in the protests in Bahrain, but is critical of the government’s handling of the unrest. (The Daily Times)
The tiny oil-rich kingdom of Bahrain pledged on 19 September to improve its treatment of political activists, crack down on torture and prevent violence against ethnic and religious communities while accepting the vast majority of the U.N.’s recommendations regarding human rights. Bahrain is now the first country to be subjected to the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council’s reviews of all nations’ records in 2008 and this year. Each time, Bahrain has been subjected to a bright, somewhat harsh spotlight. This time around, the council had issued 176 recommendations for Bahrain. Some of these focused on the government’s response to the unrest that has hit Bahrain since early 2011, calling for fair trials in the wake of arrests and prosecutions of demonstrators and guarantees against the use of torture. Others called for stepped-up cooperation with the U.N. in its attempts to investigate alleged abuses in Bahrain where Shiites have been demanding a greater political voice in the Sunni-ruled country. For 19 months, there has been unrest in Bahrain between Shiite protesters and police, leaving at least 50 people dead in the strategic kingdom, a key American ally that is the base for the U.S. Navy’s 5th fleet. Charges have been filed against some police for allegedly extracting forced confessions from suspected anti-government protesters. (The Daily Star, Associated Press)
Bahrain has criticised Iranian officials over a mistranslation of a speech by Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, which replaced the word “Syria” with “Bahrain” when he listed Arab states that had experienced revolts since last year. The reference was diplomatically sensitive because Iran, a Shi’ite Muslim power and an ally of the Syrian government, has expressed sympathy with a Shi’ite-led democratic protest movement in Bahrain against the ruling Al Khalifa family. The Khalifas, backed by Washington, are Sunni Muslim. Mursi, a Sunni Islamist who was elected president this year, gave the speech in late-August during a meeting in Tehran of the Non-Aligned Movement, a group of 120 mostly developing nations. He did not mention Bahrain, and the Bahraini government lodged a complaint with Iran’s charge d’affaires on 01 September over the mistranslation on Iranian state television and radio. (…)”In a verbal mistake, this translator said ‘Bahrain’ instead of ‘Syria’ and this became a pretext for Western media,” Ezatollah Zarghami was quoted as saying by Mehr news agency. Mursi perturbed his hosts in his speech by describing the government of Syria as “a regime that has lost its legitimacy” and calling for its ouster. His words prompted Syrian delegates to leave the hall. (Reuters)
Tens of thousands of people chanting anti-government slogans and holding up pictures of jailed activists took part on 31 August in Bahrain’s first authorized opposition protest since June. No clashes occurred at the march along a 3-km (2-mile) stretch of a highway west of the capital of Manama. Protesters carried Bahraini flags and held up images of rights activist and protest leader Nabeel Rajab, calling for his release. (…)The rally, under the banner “Democratic Freedom” and organized by opposition groups led by the biggest bloc, al Wefaq, was the first since the interior ministry banned Wefaq-led marches in June, saying these had ended in violence. (…) In response to the unrest, the ruling Sunni Muslim Al Khalifa family has increased parliament’s powers of scrutiny over ministers and say policing is being revamped to conform with international standards. (Reuters)
Saudi Arabia stayed away from a meeting on the Syria crisis convened by regional powers on 17 September, setting back a forum grouping Iran – President Bashar al-Assad’s main Middle East ally – and his leading opponents in the region. The “contact group” of Egypt, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia arose from an initiative by Cairo, whose new president is looking to make his mark with what he has described as a balanced Egyptian foreign policy. Diplomats and Western officials have been skeptical that the group can reach any tangible deal on defusing Syria’s civil war, citing rivalry and mistrust between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Muslim Iran as one significant stumbling block. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have all demanded that Assad step down, while Iran has accused states including Saudi Arabia and Turkey of helping the rebels who are fighting to topple him. (…) Egyptian officials gave conflicting reasons for the absence of Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. They did not say why no one else came in his place. (Reuters)
On 04 September, Saudi Arabia called for aid to help its impoverished neighbour Yemen which needs $11 billion to weather a tough political transition triggered by Arab Spring protests. Oil-rich Saudi Arabia had pledged $3.25 billion in aid at a meeting of Friends of Yemen held in Riyadh in May during which a total of $4 billion were pledged. Yemen’s Planning and International Cooperation Minister, Mohammed al-Saadi, said in late August that his country needs $11 billion in foreign aid. “Our needs are $14 billion. The Yemeni government can cover some part, but there remains a gap of $11 billion,” he said, adding that Saudi Arabia promised to deposit $1 billion in Yemen’s central bank to support its currency. (Ahram)
Twelve fighters were killed in northern Yemen in ongoing clashes between Shiite tribesmen allied with the country’s former leader and ultra-conservative Sunnis, security officials said, as the new president grapples with challenges to his authority. Tensions have long existed between Salafi Islamists, who are Sunni Muslims, and former Hawthi rebels, who are Shiite Muslims. (…)The latest clashes in neighbouring Amran province revealed a new alliance between Hawthis and loyalists of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whom the group fought in a costly six-year war until a cease-fire was reached in early 2010. They also underline the larger regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia for influence in northern Yemen, an impoverished nation on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, at the doorstep of several oil-producing Gulf nations. (The Independent)
A platoon of U.S. Marines sent to Yemen are on a temporary deployment and their only role will be to protect the U.S. Embassy after it was stormed by demonstrators, a senior government official said. The deployment of foreign troops is a politically sensitive issue for Arab governments who fear such a move could provoke a backlash from Islamist militants. The Pentagon said on 14 September that it had sent a platoon of Marines to Yemen after demonstrators stormed the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa in protest over an anti-Muslim film made in the United States. A Yemeni official confirmed about 50 Marines had arrived. (Reuters)
A suicide bomber failed on 22 September in an assassination attempt on a former Islamist in Yemen who helped drive al Qaeda militants out of a southern region this year, a security source and resident said. (…)A former fighter with al Qaeda, Sayed began working with Yemen’s security forces three years ago. The bombing was the fifth attempt on his life. (…) Restoring stability to Yemen has become an international priority due to fears that al Qaeda and other Islamist militants could become entrenched in a country which neighbors oil producer Saudi Arabia and lies on major shipping lanes. (Chicago Tribune)
Yemen’s president replaced security officials and some ministers late on12 September, state media reported, in an apparent move to reduce the influence of former leader Ali Abdullah Saleh following an attempt on the defense minister’s life. A car bomb targeting the motorcade of Defense Minister Major General Muhammad Nasir Ahmad in Sanaa on 11 September killed 12 people and wounded dozens but left him largely unscathed. Yemen has been in turmoil since an uprising against Saleh last year that forced the former president to step down in November under a Gulf power transfer deal in favor of his deputy, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Hadi appointed a new oil and minerals minister, Ahmed Dares, and higher education minister, Hesham Sharaf, state news agency Saba said. He also replaced the heads of military intelligence and national security, both seen as close to Saleh, and appointed two officials to key posts in the president’s office. The new military intelligence chief, Ahmed al-Yafie, was formerly a senior defense ministry official. Incoming national security chief Ali Hassan al-Ahmadi was previously governor of Shabwa province in southern Yemen. Hadi’s new presidential office manager Nasr Taha Mustafa was formerly the chief of the state news agency who turned against Saleh during the 2011 uprising. (…) Tens of thousands of Yemenis marched through Sanaa on 10 September to demand Saleh be tried over corruption and the deaths of protesters. They denounced the US- and Saudi-backed power transfer deal that gave him immunity from prosecution for standing down. (Alakhbar)
Qatar has agreed to deport the son-in-law of ousted Tunisian strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who fled to the Gulf emirate after his father-in-law’s overthrow. “At the request of President Moncef Marzouki… the emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani has issued a decree for the expulsion of Sakhr El Materi,” the spokesman said in a statement. The announcement came as the Tunisian president travelled to Qatar to take part in a conference on the return of goods stolen from the countries touched by last year’s Arab Spring uprisings. Said to be Ben Ali’s favourite son-in-law and long seen as a possible successor, Materi was sentenced in absentia last year to 16 years in prison and fined 97 million dinars ($61 million) for corruption and property fraud. (Ahram, Reuters)
Kuwait’s Interior Ministry said on 19 September it would act firmly against any “unlicensed” protests in the country, a day before a planned demonstration outside parliament. Opposition parliamentarians and activists have called for a rally at Erada Square on 20 September to protest against possible changes to an electoral law which they say could weaken their chances at the next polls. The government has asked Kuwait’s top court to rule on a 2006 law that divides the country into five constituencies, saying the verdict is needed to protect against possible legal challenges to future parliamentary elections. But some opposition figures say this is a bid to abolish the current boundaries and gerrymander victory in elections expected this year or next. The court is due to rule on the government’s petition on 25 September. “Calls for organizing a rally, gathering and sit-in in al-Erada (Square) undermine security and threaten public order,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement, according to state news agency KUNA. The ministry “warned that it would act firmly against such unlicensed gatherings,” KUNA said. The ministry respects citizens’ freedom of expression “provided they refrain from violating laws or carrying out acts against public security and others’ freedom of expression,” KUNA said, adding that penalties included imprisonment and fines. (Reuters)
Kuwait’s highest court declined to approve a government bid to amend electoral boundaries on 25 September, leaving the cabinet without a clear option to break a parliamentary deadlock that has held up crucial economic bills. The ruling is likely to defuse immediate tensions with the increasingly assertive opposition, which had promised to take to the streets if the court ruled in the government’s favor. But it does not solve the problem of how to establish a functioning parliament. In the last assembly, dissolved on a technicality by the Constitutional Court, Islamist and tribal candidates tried to push through Islamist legislation while clashing with the government over finance bills including a major economic development plan. The opposition had said the government’s petition to the court to change the electoral boundaries was an attempt to favor government-friendly candidates in a new election. The court’s latest ruling suggests that a new assembly, whenever it is elected, is likely to have a similar make-up to the last one, and be just as obstructive to the unelected government. Oil-exporter Kuwait, one of the richest countries in the world per capita, has a relatively open political system by Gulf standards, and has avoided the uprisings seen elsewhere in the Arab world. While parliamentary approval is needed for major bills and the budget, the monarchy retains a firm grip on the main government portfolios, and political parties are banned. There was no immediate reaction to the ruling from the government, but Islamists were quick to welcome it. (Chicago Tribune, Reuters)
A government official confirmed that Iranian boats entered Kuwaiti territorial waters and that Kuwait officially complained to Tehran about the issue. “Kuwait acts against any breach to the country’s sovereignty by protesting via diplomatic and legal means”, said Director of the Asia Department in the Foreign Ministry, Ambassador Mohammad Al-Roumi in a recent statement. Meanwhile, Al-Roumi expressed “Kuwait’s extreme concern from Iran’s nuclear program, especially after the announcement of the activation of the Bushehr nuclear reactor”. He urged Tehran on that matter to “cooperate” with the International Atomic Energy Agency and respect UN Security Council resolutions. Al-Roumi also indicated that a date is yet to be determined to hold a meeting for the Kuwait-Iranian joint committee. (Kuwait Times)
Swiss Say Grenades Sent To UAE Ended Up In Syria

An investigation has concluded that Swiss hand grenades exported to the United Arab Emirates found their way to Syria after being given to Jordan, the Swiss government said. Switzerland set up a joint commission in July with the UAE to investigate whether grenades exported to the Gulf nation were sent on to Syria. The move came after a newspaper published a photograph indicating a Swiss-made grenade was found with Syrian rebels. “From there the hand grenades evidently made their way to Syria,” a Swiss government statement said, without elaborating on how or when that might have happened. The UAE assured the Swiss in writing that no other weapons imported from Switzerland were re-exported, the government said. The statement noted that the case pre-dated Switzerland’s introduction in 2006 of tighter rules under which countries both agree not to re-export arms and are explicitly prohibited from transferring them “in the form of gifts, loans or the like.” (Seattle PI)

Lebanon can play a bigger role in strengthening Arab-European economic integration, experts said. (…) Lebanese bankers and financial experts, speaking at the “Euro-Arab Economic Forum: Partnership for Better Economic Complementarily” conference, said the promotion of Arab-European economic ties is key to tackle challenges facing the MENA region. Philippe De Fontaine Vive, vice president of the European Investment Bank, said the bank would soon initiate a program to fund Lebanese small and medium enterprises as well as renewable energy projects through soft loans. Economy Minister Nicolas Nahas argued that deeper economic integration would help generate an added economic value for both the EU and the Arab World, urging European countries to open up their markets and remove technical barriers preventing the flow of Arab agricultural and industrial products to the union. (The Daily Star)
Iran lowered the price of its oil to customers in Asia compared with Saudi Arabian grades for October, bringing down the relative cost of its light grade to the lowest level in more than five years. National Iranian Oil Co. set Iran Light for October at a premium of 10 cents a barrel to Saudi Arabia’s Arab Light, down from 19 cents in September and the smallest spread since June 2007. Iran Heavy will be priced at a 15 cent discount to Saudi’s Arab Medium, down from a 9 cent discount. Forozan will be a 10 cent premium to the medium grade, falling from 12 cents. (Bloomberg)
Members of the Free Syrian Army attacked a Lebanese Army post on 21 September near the northern border with Syria. “For the second time in under a week, a unit from the Free Syrian Army [consisting of] a large number of gunmen entered Lebanese territory overnight via the outskirts of Arsal, where it attacked one of the Lebanese Army’s posts,” the statement said. Following the incident, Army reinforcements were dispatched to the area, while soldiers began pursuing the assailants who escaped toward the mountains as well as some border towns, according to the statement. (…) Tensions have been running high on the 550-kilometer-long Syria-Lebanon border since the uprising began against President Bashar Assad’s government in mid-March of last year. (The Daily Star)
Iran has been using civilian aircraft to fly military personnel and large quantities of weapons across Iraqi airspace to Syria to aid President Bashar al-Assad in his attempt to crush the uprising against his government, according to a Western intelligence report seen by Reuters. In early September, U.S. officials said they were questioning Iraq about Iranian flights in Iraqi airspace suspected of ferrying arms to Assad, a staunch Iranian ally. On 19 September, U.S. Senator John Kerry threatened to review U.S. aid to Baghdad if it does not halt such overflights. Iraq says it does not allow the passage of any weapons through its airspace. But the intelligence report obtained by Reuters says Iranian weapons have been flowing into Syria via Iraq in large quantities. Such transfers, the report says, are organized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Planes are flying from Iran to Syria via Iraq on an almost daily basis, carrying IRGC personnel and tens of tons of weapons to arm the Syrian security forces and militias fighting against the rebels. (…) The intelligence report, which Western diplomats said was credible and consistent with their information, said Iran had cut a deal with Iraq to use its airspace. (Reuters)
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi warned Iran’s foreign minister on 18 September that better relations between the two Mideast heavyweights are being hindered by Tehran’s support for Syria’s regime. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi warned Iran’s foreign minister that better relations between the two Mideast heavyweights are being hindered by Tehran’s support for Syria’s regime. The promise of greater rapprochement with Egypt is part of a package of incentives and efforts by Morsi to lure Iran, Syria’s staunchest regional ally, away from Damascus and find an end to the bloodshed. (…)The Egyptian leader delivered a similar message in person to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran during a meeting in late August. He warned that Iran must end its support for Assad in order to prevent any chance of Western intervention in Syria. (The Seattle Times, Associated Press)
For years, the tunnel economy in the Gaza Strip has flourished. An estimated 1,000 tunnels were burrowed underground, connecting the southern Gaza town of Rafah and the Egyptian–controlled Sinai Peninsula. Everything from new cars (cut up into pieces for shipping) to cigarettes, weapons and drugs came through the tunnels. But after an attack that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula in August, the Egyptian government has closed dozens of tunnels, fearing that some of the attackers may have used them to enter Egypt from Gaza. A delegation of Hamas officials visited Egypt in mid-September to discuss the closure of the tunnels. (…) It is not clear how many tunnels have been demolished so far. Of the approximately 1,000 tunnels, about 225 are considered “primary” conduits. Estimates are that Egypt has demolished between one-third and half of these tunnels. (…) Hamas officials say that if Egypt opens a commercial border, Hamas will make sure there is no violence and no mass-entry into Egypt. (Jerusalem Post)
Egypt and Israel are coordinating on Cairo’s biggest security sweep in decades against fighters in Sinai, an army spokesperson said in the first clear statement on communication between the neighbours. Colonel Ahmed Mohamed Mohamed Ali told a news conference in Cairo on September 15 that (…)”Egypt is coordinating with the Israeli side over the presence of Egyptian armed forces in Sinai. They know this,” he said. “The deployment of the armed forces on all the territory of Sinai is not a violation of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.” An Israeli diplomatic source, who asked not to be identified, confirmed Ali’s comments and told the AP news agency there was a “fluid dialogue between Israel and Egypt”. “The operation will continue until its goals have been achieved … These are not just military goals but also developmental goals for the Sinai,” Ali said. The sweep began after fighters killed 16 border guards on 05 August in the worst attack since Egypt’s 1973 war with Israel. Ali said the operation “will continue until its goals have been achieved … These are not just military goals but also developmental goals for Sinai”. Bedouin tribes in the area have long complained of neglect by the central government. Hundreds of troops with tanks, armoured vehicles and helicopters were sent to Sinai in a joint operation with police to raid hideouts, arrest suspects and seize weapons. The Egyptian military is replacing some of its heavy tanks in Sinai with light armoured vehicles, security sources said. Ali rejected the idea Egypt was pulling out its heavy equipment in response to pressure from Israel. He said the operation was entering a new phase that required different equipment. (Al Jazeera)
Hundreds of international fighters have flocked to Syria to join the war against Bashar al-Assad’ government. Some are fresh-faced idealists driven by hatred for Assad, while some are jihadi veterans from Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan. According to the Guardian, to reach the country, foreign fighters have crossed borders with forged passports and dodge secret services. The fighters have been dispersed among different jihadi organisations, including Ahrar al-Sham (“the Free Men of Syria”) and Jabhat al-Nusra (“the Front for the Aid of the People of the Levant”). These fighters are also secretive, especially when dealing with the Free Syria Army. According to the report, one Syrian, breathing hard, said that he had fired three times at the tank and the RPG didn’t go off. “The problem is not ammunition, it’s experience,” one said. “The rebels are brave but they don’t even know the difference between a Kalashnikov bullet and a sniper bullet. That weakens the morale of the men” (ZeeNews, The Guardian)
Missiles fired by Syrian warplanes hit Lebanese territory on 17 September, in one of the most serious cross-border violations since Syria’s crisis began in 2011, security officials in Beirut and Lebanese state media said. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said four missiles fired by two Syrian jets hit a rugged and remote area on the edge of the Lebanese border town of Arsal. (…) Lebanese President Michel Suleiman ordered an investigation into the border shelling, without openly blaming Syria. The Syrian forces were believed to be chasing rebels in the area, which has been the site of clashes in the past between opposition fighters battling Syrian troops just on the other side of the frontier. Arsal is a predominantly Sunni Muslim town, like the majority of Syria’s opposition that is trying to oust President Bashar Assad from power. Assad belongs to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. (CBS News)
Jordanian King Abdullah accused Israel of interfering with Jordan’s nuclear energy program, in an interview with AFP on 12 September. Jordan has sought to cooperate with other countries in order to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but Israel has been putting pressure on those countries not to comply, Abdullah claimed. As a result of repeated attacks since 2011 on the pipelines leading gas supplies from Egypt to both Jordan and Israel, the desert country, which imports 95% of its energy needs, is seeking alternative energy sources. (…) Addressing concerns from energy experts in Jordan that the nuclear power plant would be unsafe following the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year, the Jordanian King gave assurances that Jordan would build the most secure, latest-generation reactor. (Jerusalem Post)
Ankara: Turkey’s state-run news agency says five people, including two Syrians, are on trial on charges of military espionage and of attempting to kidnap a Syrian army defector. The Anadolu Agency said on 21 September that Turkish prosecutors are demanding a maximum 54 years in prison for each of the defendants accused of passing information to Syria on officers who have fled to Turkey, and of trying to abduct a Syrian army lieutenant at knifepoint. The suspects have not been identified. Five other Turks, including a former intelligence official, are awaiting trial in a separate case for allegedly abducting former Syrian Lt Col Hussain Harmoush and handing him over to Syrian authorities.Turkey is serving as a base for officers and soldiers who have joined the Syrian opposition. (Gulf News)
Syria accused neighboring Turkey of allowing thousands of Muslim extremists to cross into its territory, as the government and opposition said an explosion killed at least seven and cut off a main road leading south from the capital. (…) Turkey serves as headquarters for the leaders of the Free Syrian Army rebels and hosts many meetings of the Syrian National Council opposition group. Relations between Turkey and Syria, once strong allies, have been deteriorating since after the crisis began in 2011. (The Washington Post, Associated Press)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi on September 19, who flew in earlier this day for talks with Syrian officials. Salehi stressed that the solution to the crisis should emanate from the Syrians themselves. (…)Salehi’s visit to Syria has come of his recent visit to Egypt, during which he held meetings with foreign ministers of Turkey and Egypt. Iran, the main regional patron of Syria, is a member of the newly-established quartet committee, which also groups Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt. The formation of the quartet group was called for by the new Islamist Egyptian leader Mohammad Morsi with the aim of handling the Syrian issue in a peaceful way. (…)The meeting, however, was marked with the absence of Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, who also didn’t send a representative to fill his country’s void. Egyptian presidential spokesman Yasser Ali alleged reason of the absence was “health issues” while Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr reportedly said that Faisal’s absence was due to previously arranged engagements. The Saudi kingdom has emerged as fervent-outspoken critic of Assad and a staunch backer to the armed opposition fighters in Syria amid reports that it has been aiding the armed rebels on ground with funds and weapons with the help of Turkey. (Xinhaunet News)
Turkey has accused Syria and Iran of backing Kurdish terrorist attacks on military outposts in the south-east of the country that left 30 dead. (…)With a large ethnic Turkish population residing cheek-by-jowl with the Kurds, northern Syria is pockmarked with potential flashpoints. (…) Syrian rebels fear their uprising has been exploited by the PKK to ship weapons and explosives across the border. (…)Turkish security analysts believe that by unleashing the PKK, Mr Assad has achieved a tactical victory that makes foreign military intervention on behalf of the rebels less feasible. (The Telegraph)
Already host to 80,000 Syrians in refugee camps, Turkey is now seeking to relocate some of the tens of thousands of others living outside the shelters to relieve pressure on local communities and better handle security in its tense border area. Many Syrians who have fled violence in their country are living near the border but outside the dozen camps, either staying with relatives or renting apartments, a large number of them in Antakya, the largest city in Turkey’s southeast Hatay province. The influx since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad began in 2011 has strained municipal resources and tested the ability of the Turkish government to monitor cross-border traffic amid concerns about sectarian tension and militant activity in the region. Up to 40,000 Syrians are living in Turkey outside the shelters, according to some estimates, while the U.N. refugee agency puts the number at up to 60,000. Hundreds of thousands of other Syrians have also fled to neighboring countries, including Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon. Many Turks in Hatay province belong to a minority sect that is linked to the Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam that dominates the Syrian regime and is fighting an insurgency comprised largely of Sunni Muslims. Turkey is concerned that the sectarian tone of the conflict could exacerbate tension in its own communities. (ABC News, Associated Press)
The attacks on 21 September further illustrate how unstable the Sinai region has become, a situation that endangers not only the recent calm between Israel and Gaza, but also the already strained relations between Jerusalem and Cairo. What was once a border of peace is now the Israel Defense Forces’ most raging frontier: The incident on 21 September on the Israel-Egypt border, near Harif Mountain, is the third serious incident in the region in the past three months. The previous incidents included the killing of an Israeli-Arab who was working on the construction of the border fence in June, and the August terrorist attack on both sides of the border at the Kerem-Shalom crossing. The fact that a fence has yet to be erected in the area made it easy to infiltrate Israel. Ironically, it is the construction itself that draws the attention of terrorist organizations, since the workers are relatively exposed. Even with the completion of the construction – the erecting of the fence near the southern city of Eilat is to be concluded by 2013 – these attack attempts are expected to continue. (Haaretz)
Iraq’s Trade Ministry has stopped registering Turkish companies, it said on 13 September, as the neighbors sparred over Ankara’s refusal to send back a fugitive Iraqi vice president who was sentenced to death in absentia. The ministry insisted the move was made for “regulatory and statistics” purposes, but Turkish businesses in Baghdad were worried the decision was taken because of the dispute between the two capitals and a government source told Reuters it was political. Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi can remain in Turkey as long as he needs to, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on 12 September. (…)Iraq is Turkey’s second biggest export market after Germany, with trade volume reaching nearly $12 billion in 2011. (…)The Turkish embassy in Baghdad told Reuters it had been informed that a temporary freeze would be applied to all foreign licensing eventually, but that those from Turkey were being covered first because Turkey is Iraq’s biggest trading partner. (Reuters)
The Obama administration will remove an Iranian militant group formerly allied with Saddam Hussein from the U.S. terrorism list, officials said, describing a move that will infuriate Tehran and end years of high-profile campaigning from the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq. (…)The U.S. had demanded that the MEK’s 3,000 members comply with an Iraqi demand to leave Camp Ashraf as a condition of being removed from the list of foreign terrorist organizations. (…)Most of its members are now in Camp Liberty, a former U.S. base designed as a compromise way-station for the United Nations to speed them out of Iraq peacefully. Several governments are weighing whether to accept them. (Haaretz, Associated Press)
Qatari businessmen plan to invest US$18 billion in Egypt, according to the head of the Egyptian-Qatari Business Council. The Qatari prime minister said the investments, which include $8 billion in Suez and $10 billion in the North Coast, would be complete within five years, according to council head Moharram Helal, an Egyptian. The prime minister’s comments came during a meeting to establish the council in early September, at which its Egyptian members were selected. Ahmed Abu Heshima, vice president of the council, told Al Masry Al-Youm on the sidelines of the meeting that he predicts that the proposed Egyptian-Qatari industrial zone provides about a million jobs. Abu Heshima added that the region will witness the development of intensive energy consuming industries, such as fertilizers, cement, iron and compressed sponge. He called for protecting local industry by imposing high tariffs on similar imported products, while helping investors purchase industrial land. Helal said that Egyptian workers would be the main beneficiaries of the development of Egyptian-Qatari relations, especially since Qatar has abolished an Egyptian quota system, which sets a maximum limit for Egyptians working there. (Egypt Independent)
The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman reiterated in early September that the disputed islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb, and Lesser Tunb, claimed by both Iran and the United Arab Emirates, will remain Iranian forever. “The islands of Abu Musa, the Greater Tunb and the Lesser Tunb are indispensable parts of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s territories and they will remain Iranian forever,” Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast said in a statement on 04 September. Mehman-Parast denied statements made by foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries in their 124th meeting about the islands being occupied by Iran. (…) In the meeting held on 09 September in the Saudi city of Jeddah, GCC officials condemned Iran’s constant intervention in the domestic affairs of Gulf countries and lashed out at Iran’s insistence on “occupying” the three islands which, they argued, belong to the UAE. (Alarabiya)
Israeli officials said on 23 September that they would resist any Egyptian attempts to reopen the military arrangements under the countries’ historic peace deal, despite the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. But following a series of attacks staged by militants in the Sinai, including a raid that killed an Israeli soldier in mid-September, Israel may have no choice but to allow Egypt to beef up its forces in the largely demilitarized border area. The shooting is likely to fuel new Egyptian calls to reopen the peace treaty. In recent years, as shadowy militant groups have grown more active in the Sinai, Egyptian security officials have said they need to be allowed more firepower to bring the area under control. Ansar Jerusalem, a group inspired by al-Qaida that is hostile to both Israel and Egypt, claimed responsibility for the latest attack. (…) Behind the tough Israeli rhetoric, there are already signs of change. Under the agreement, Egypt is limited to light police functions in a roughly 20-mile (30-kilometre) strip of the Sinai next to Israel’s border. In many cases, these forces have been outgunned by militants equipped with heavy weapons, rockets and mortars. (…) Israel welcomed a subsequent crackdown by Egypt, which deployed armoured personnel carriers and attack helicopters to root out militants in the Sinai this summer. But it balked once Egypt sent in tanks, some of which were removed after Israel complained. (Montreal Gazette, Associated Press)
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned Israel on 10 September that keeping its long-standing blockade of Gaza would only condemn the area’s people to lasting poverty and play into the hands of extremists in the Middle East. In a speech to the world body’s Human Rights Council, Ban also blamed what he called “indiscriminate rocket fire” into Israel from Hamas-controlled Gaza and serious rights violations there for “the immense human suffering” of its population. “I urge Israel to lift its harsh restrictions in order to ease the plight of civilians and bring an end to the closure,” the U.N. chief declared in a reference to the blockade which the Israel government argues is a security measure. (…) Israel says its land-and-sea blockade is part of an effort to prevent weaponry and other equipment that could help build an offensive military potential reaching the territory’s Hamas Islamist rulers and other militant groups based there. (…)Peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank have long been stalled with both sides blaming the other. The Palestinians say Israeli settlement activity is a main barrier to meaningful negotiations. (Reuters)
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on 10 September said that Israel will reject Palestinian requests to update the 1994 Paris Protocol, the framework that established economic relations between Israel and the PA, Israel Radio reported. Palestinians have huge debts to Israel, and yet they are operating against it in international organizations, Ayalon said. (…) In early September, PA President Abbas has come under pressure from many Palestinians to cancel the Paris Protocol under the pretext that it imposes severe restrictions on the development of the Palestinian economy. The Paris Protocol set Israeli sea and air ports and border crossings with Jordan and Egypt as paths for Palestinian trade with other countries.The PA’s request came as Palestinians continued to stage protests in various parts of the West Bank against the high cost of living. (Jerusalem Post)

Special News Update: Anti-Islam Film Protests

Thousands of Hezbollah supporters turned out in Hermel on 23 September to take part in the last in a series of protests against an anti-Islam film that was produced in the U.S. “Death to America,” “Israel, enemy of Muslims,” chanted some in the crowd who waved the group’s yellow flags. Many Amal Movement flags could also be seen. The Hermel protest was the fifth in a series of demonstrations called by Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, who made a rare public appearance at a rally against the film in Beirut’s southern suburbs in mid-September and urged supporters to vent their fury over the film. Hezbollah has held protests against the trailer for the movie “Innocence of Muslims” and cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad published by a French satirical magazine across Lebanon – all have been peaceful. But protests in the northern city of Tripoli on Sept. 14 led to clashes with security forces. Two American fast food restaurants occupying the same building were set on fire, with one demonstrator killed. Thousands also protested in the southern town of Bint Jbeil. (Daily Star)
Thousands of people protested against an anti-Islam film on 21 September in Basra in south Iraq, burning American and Israeli flags and carrying pictures of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The protesters marched for more than an hour in central Basra, some carrying large posters of Khamenei, while police and soldiers deployed in the area, an AFP correspondent said. (Middle East Online)
The Yemen-based branch of al Qaeda urged Muslims on 15 September to step up protests and kill U.S. diplomats in Muslim countries over a film denigrating the Prophet Mohammad which it said was another chapter in the “crusader wars” against Islam. Fury about the film, produced in California, swept across the Middle East after Friday prayers, with protesters attacking U.S. embassies. On 11 September – an attack on the U.S. Consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in related violence. (…) Praising the attacks by demonstrators in Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Sudan on U.S. and other Western missions, the AQAP statement said American embassies should be burned and envoys killed. It said defending the Prophet’s honor was a “religious duty”. The group also said Muslims living in the West had an extra duty to be involved in attacks. “They are more capable of doing harm and reaching the enemy is easier for them,” it said. (Reuters)
Hundreds of Saudis demonstrated against an anti-Islam film in a Shiite village in the Eastern Province of the kingdom, which bans any protests, witnesses said on 23 September. (…)Demonstrators in nearby Sihat village of Qatif district burned the Israeli and US flags, also in protest against the film that was produced in the United States. Security forces did not intervene despite a ban on demonstrations. (Ahram)
Bahraini authorities announced on 14 September that it will block and suspend websites showing the anti- Islam film that defames Prophet Mohammed. The announcement by the Bahraini Interior Minister Lieutenant- General Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa came hours after angry protesters took to the streets after the Friday prayers, expressing their anger against the film “Innocence of Muslims.” He also called on the Bahraini people not to contribute in spreading the film. (Turkish Weekly) Iranian Protesters Urge US Apology Over Anti-Islam Movie. Iranian protesters called for the US apology over the production of an anti-Islam movie that insults Muslim’s Prophet Mohammed. A large number of Iranians staged protest rally on 14 September against the film. The protesters in Tehran, chanting anti-US and anti-Israel slogans, swarmed to Enghelab square in central city after the Friday prayers and condemned the production of the film in the United States as an “insult” to Islam. (…) The protesters gathered in front of the Swiss embassy in Tehran which represents the US interests in Iran. On 13 September, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic republic Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed the United States and Israel on the production of an anti-Islam movie. (China Daily)
Demonstrators, furious at a film they say insults the Prophet Mohammad, clashed with police near the U.S. embassy in Cairo on 14 September before a nationwide protest called by the Muslim Brotherhood which propelled Egypt’s Islamist president to power. (…) Cairo protesters threw rocks at police, who threw them back and fired tear gas. A burnt-out car was overturned in the middle of the street leading to the fortified embassy from Tahrir Square, focus of protests that ushered in democracy. Egypt has said the U.S. government, which has condemned the film, should not be blamed for it, but has also urged Washington to take legal action against those insulting religion. President Mohamed Mursi, an Islamist who is Egypt’s first freely elected president, is having to strike a delicate balance, protecting the embassy of a major donor while also showing a robust response to a film that angered Islamists. (Toronto Star)

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