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

LDESP Middle East News Update – October 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 declared support on 17 October for the new Syria peace envoy’s cease-fire proposal, joining Turkey in a rare moment of accord between two of the regional powers backing opposite sides in the 19-month conflict that has pitted the Syrian government against an array of armed opponents. (…) On 15 October, Mr. Brahimi proposed a cease-fire during the three-day Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha, which begins 26 October, hoping that a religious reprieve universally respected by Muslims could be the basis not only for a pause in the fighting but perhaps the beginnings of a dialogue in Syria. (…) Both Turkey and Iran publicly endorsed Mr. Brahimi’s effort. (…) Those endorsements were significant because Iran is the most influential regional supporter of Mr. Assad’s, while Turkey supports Mr. Assad’s armed adversaries, is host to more than 100,000 Syrian refugees and has repeatedly called on Mr. Assad to resign. (…) Turkey also has banned Syrian aircraft, moved armed forces close to its 550-mile border with Syria and engaged Syrian gunners in sporadic cross-border shelling, raising fears that the conflict in Syria could turn into a regional war. (New York Times)
The U.N. refugee agency said 18 October that the number of Syrian refugees who have fled their country’s civil war and found shelter in Egypt has now topped 150,000. (…) The director of UNHCR in Egypt, Mohamed Dayri, said that despite the growing number of refugees in Egypt, only 4,800 Syrians has registered with the agency in Cairo. He called on Egyptian authorities to help UNHCR deal with the “rising emergency” of Syrian refugees here. A U.N. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media, suggested Syria’s neighbors who have taken in refugees — Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan — are “reaching (the) saturation point,” prompting an influx into Egypt, where the cost of living is cheaper. Egypt does not share a border with Syria, but the Egyptian government allows Syrians to enter without a visa. (…) Dayri said senior U.N. officials met with the Egyptian officials in Cairo to discuss the growing number of Syrian refugees in the country. He said that the U.N. is urging Egypt to maintain an “open door policy” not only for Syrians, but also for Palestinian refugees in Syria who also are fleeing the civil war. (Washington Post, Associated Press)
Security official tells Egyptian paper that Interior Ministry instructed to give citizenship to all Palestinians with Egyptian mothers. Some 50,000 Palestinians, most of them from the Gaza Strip, have been granted Egyptian citizenship over the past few months, an Egyptian security official revealed on 11 October. (…) The official, who was not identified, told the Egyptian newspaper El-Watan that the instructions came from the country’s High Administrative Court in May. The official pointed out that the number of Palestinians who have received Egyptian citizenship increased dramatically after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. Egypt now occupies second place – after Jordan – in granting citizenship to Palestinians. The court decision paved the way for thousands of Palestinians, particularly those living in the Gaza Strip, to apply for and receive Egyptian passports. (Jerusalem Post)
The United States and Dubai are negotiating an end to the desert emirate’s Iranian oil imports to head off the threat of US President Obama sanctioning a trade that has riled Gulf Arab oil producers, industry sources and diplomats said. (…) Dubai is still buying the oil while US officials encourage the Dubai-government-owned Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC) to find another source of supply. (…) Iran’s condensate sales are its biggest source of income after crude and refined products, with Dubai its biggest buyer ahead of Asian buyers including China. ENOC refines the condensate at Dubai’s Jebel Ali refinery to provide the city’s 2 million mainly expatriate, often wealthy, residents with cheap subsidized fuel at 1.72 dirhams, 47 cents a liter. (…) Dubai’s condensate imports from Iran are up nearly 20 percent from 2011, according to estimates by some market analysts, with ENOC continuing to bring in Iranian supply in barter deals. (…) Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter and a significant condensate seller, has complained that ENOC’s trade undermines sanctions against its OPEC rival Iran (…) Thoughts of raising fuel prices in the UAE were swept away by the Arab spring, despite the fact that non-emiratis make up 89 percent of Dubai’s population and are beneficiaries of subsidies that squeeze state coffers. Because Dubai’s small oil fields produce far less crude than it needs to meet demand, Iranian condensate is an attractive feedstock for its 120,000 barrel per day (bpd) Jebel Ali refinery. (Jerusalem Post)
Iran on 9 October warned the United Arab Emirates it could cut diplomatic relations between the two countries if the Arab nation keeps repeating claims to three Gulf islands that are controlled by Tehran. (…) The comments marked the first time that Iran has threatened to cut ties with the UAE. In the past, Tehran has said it was willing to discuss the case on the bilateral level — though it never said relinquishing the islands was an option. In an apparent attempt to water down the threat to cut ties, an unnamed Foreign Ministry official claimed Mehmanparast was misquoted, blaming media outlets — though the quote was carried on official Iranian state news media. Iran is a top trading partner of Dubai, with the Islamic Republic importing annually $10 billion worth of goods on average in recent years. (Washington Post)
Bahrain summoned Iran’s charge d’affaires on 15 October in protest at “interference” by Tehran in the internal affairs of the Gulf kingdom, the foreign ministry said. (…) Undersecretary Hamad al-Amer told Iran’s envoy that his country’s “conduct incites sedition and sectarianism” in Shiite-majority Bahrain which is ruled by the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty, it said. (…) The protest followed a meeting between Iran’s representative and the spiritual leader of the Shiite opposition, Ayatollah Issa Qassem. The main Shiite opposition, Al-Wefaq, said in a statement that the meeting between Islami and Qassem took place in response to a Bahraini request for mediation. (…) Shiite-majority Iran has supported protests by Bahrain’s Shiites against the Saudi-backed Sunni monarchy, sparking a diplomatic crisis not only with the small kingdom but also with the area’s economic powerhouse. Bahrain came under strong criticism from international rights groups over last year’s crackdown on protests. (AFP)
The bodies of the three armed militants killed while allegedly trying to infiltrate the Israeli border from Egypt on 21 September have been transferred to an Ismailiya hospital amid tight security measures, according to a medical source from Al-Arish Public Hospital. The bodies were taken to Ismailia in a bid to avert any likely violent attack on the hospital where the bodies are, added the source. The firefight started when three armed militants attempted to enter Israel from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing one Israeli soldier and injuring another in the process. (Ahram)
The morning after the Israeli Air Force shot down an unidentified drone in the Negev Desert, the Lebanese government said that four Israeli warplanes spent an hour on 7 October illegally circling in its airspace. The Israeli Defense Forces refused to confirm or deny the report from the Lebanese Army, which said the planes entered above the village of Kfar Kila at 1010 hrs and left above Naqoura an hour later. Such flyovers are not unusual and prompt regular complaints from Lebanon to the United Nations, but this incident caused a stir because of the drone shot down the day before, which many in Israel suspect was sent by Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group. (New York Times)
The leader of Lebanese Shia militant movement Hezbollah has said that his group was behind the launch of a drone shot down over Israel. (…) Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah told the movement’s al-Manar television network that the drone was made in Iran and had flown over “sensitive sites” in Israel. Israeli fighter planes shot down the drone north of the Negev desert after it entered from the Mediterranean. (…) The drone, which did not carry any explosives, was destroyed over a largely uninhabited area. It flew some 35 miles (55km) inland before being shot down. On at least three occasions unmanned aircraft operated by Hezbollah have been detected over Israeli territory. (…) The Israeli military said the aircraft had been detected by ground-based defense systems. Israeli jets flew alongside it before shooting it down. (BBC)
Residents of Arsal, a Sunni Muslim town of 40,000, say they have strong motives to help those trying to topple Syria’s regime: they themselves were harassed and abused by it during three decades of de facto Syrian control of Lebanon. But in siding with the rebels, many of them fellow Sunnis, Arsal is also deepening rifts with its Shiite Muslim neighbors in the Bekaa Valley that runs along Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria. Large areas of the scenic valley are controlled by Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite militia that is supporting and – according to the U.S. and the Syrian opposition – also fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. (Huffington Post)
As the civil war in Syria continues, evidence is accumulating that Hezbollah, the militant Lebanese Shiite party, is helping Syrian government forces on the ground across the border in their fight against the rebel Free Syrian Army. Syrian activists and rebels, and opponents of Hezbollah in Lebanon, have long accused the Islamist party of taking a direct role in the Syrian conflict, but until recently, evidence was thin. Recently, however, a spate of funerals in the Bekaa Valley for Hezbollah members — including a military commander — killed while performing “jihad duties” has provided firmer signs that the organization is sending men to fight in Syria. Free Syrian Army fighters in towns around the city of Qusayr, just across the border from Lebanon, say that Hezbollah is reinforcing government troops engaged in a hard-fought offensive in the area. In early October, the Free Syrian Army, saying that it had captured 13 Hezbollah fighters near Qusayr, threatened to strike Hezbollah strongholds in south Beirut. The rebels said the recent Hezbollah funerals were for men killed in Syria. Free Syrian Army rebels also say that Hezbollah has for several weeks been launching Katyusha and Grad rockets at Syrian targets from territory that it controls in the northeastern Bekaa Valley. (New York Times)
The United States has sent military troops to the Jordan-Syria border to help bolster Jordan’s military capabilities in the event that the violence in Syria spreads, according to defense secretary Leon Panetta. Speaking at a NATO conference of defense ministers in Brussels, Panetta said the US has been working with Jordan to monitor chemical and biological weapons sites in Syria and also to help Jordan deal with refugees moving across the border. However, the revelation of US military personnel being deployed so close to the Syrian conflict suggests an escalation in the US military involvement, even as Washington pushes back on any suggestion of a direct intervention in Syria. It also follows several days of shelling between Turkey and Syria, an indication that the civil war could spill across Syria’s borders and become a regional conflict. (The Guardian)
Qatar is to spend $254m (£157m) rebuilding Gaza, the biggest injection of reconstruction aid for the Palestinian enclave since it was devastated in an Israeli military offensive in 2008. (…) The Qatari ambassador Mohammed al-Amadi said cooperation had been arranged with Israel and Egypt to admit building materials and heavy machinery to Gaza, which is under a partial blockade, and work would begin in early 2012. The first project will be construction of a highway that will run the length of the Mediterranean coastal strip. The projects are of sufficient scale to transform Gaza and the lives of its 1.6 million people, 28% of whom are unemployed. Economists said thousands of jobs would be created by local contractors who have won tenders to do the work and smaller businesses that will supply and service them. Hamas welcomed the announcement as proof that Gaza had emerged from isolation. (The Guardian)
Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani said on 15 October that his country was committed to helping Lebanon and supporting it in all circumstances, a statement by Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s press office said. (…) The statement said that the two leaders signed six pending cooperation agreements and said that a joint meeting for the Lebanese-Qatari supreme committee would be held in Doha early 2013. (The Daily Star)
Saudi Arabia says it is “insulted” by a parliamentary inquiry into how the UK deals with the country and Bahrain. Saudi officials have told the BBC they are now “re-evaluating their country’s historic relations with Britain” and that “all options will be looked at”. While they stopped short of cancelling ongoing trade deals, the move reflects growing Saudi resentment at the West’s reaction to the Arab Spring. The Foreign Office said Saudi Arabia remained a close friend and an ally. The Sunni-majority kingdom suspects the hand of Iran behind much of the unrest in its own Shia population and that of Bahrain. Bahrain’s opposition movement has always denied any Iranian government role in its activities. (…) In September, the British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) announced it would be opening a wide-ranging review into the UK’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – two key Gulf Arab partners. (BBC)
New ambassadors from Egypt and Jordan, the only two Arab countries to have a peace treaty with Israel, formally took up their posts on 17 October, both highlighting a desire for good relations. Egypt’s Atef Salem presented his credentials to President Shimon Peres, bringing a message of reassurance from the government of President Mohamed Morsi, whose roots are in the Muslim Brotherhood. (…) Jordan’s new envoy, career diplomat Walid Obeidat, also presented his credentials to Peres, filling a position that had been vacant since mid-2010. (France 24)
The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies have sought to destabilize the neighboring kingdom of Jordan by manipulating peaceful demonstrations there and turning them into deadly violence, leaked files obtained by Al Arabiya show. The leaks came amid rising political tensions in Jordan, with a decision by King Abdullah to dissolve the parliament and call for early elections, thereby sparking mass protests in the capital Amman. The files reveal that the Syrian regime, joined by Russia and Iran, are involved in arming Jordanian demonstrators in order to “ease the pressure on the Syrian government” and to export the crisis in Syria to the Jordanian Kingdom. The documents were obtained with the assistance of members of the Syrian opposition who refused to elaborate on how they laid hand on the documents. Al Arabiya reported that it has verified and authenticated hundreds of these documents and that it has decided to disclose the ones with substantial news value and political relevance. (Al Arabiya)
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on 16 October he had suggested to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad three-way talks including Egypt on the Syria crisis, given the apparent Saudi objection to Iranian involvement in a current quartet. Egypt formed that group with Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, but the latter stayed away from a meeting hosted by Cairo in September. (…) Speaking to reporters on his return to Ankara from Baku, where he held talks with Ahmadinejad at an Economic Cooperation Organization summit, Erdogan offered various options for countries to get involved in future Syria talks. (…) “We proposed a three-way system here. This system could be a trio of Turkey-Egypt-Iran,” the state-run Anatolian news agency reported Erdogan as saying. “A second system could by Turkey-Russia-Iran. A third system could be Turkey-Egypt-Saudi Arabia.” Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have publicly supported the Syrian rebels while Iran has been the staunchest regional ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, complicating any consensual approach among the four to defusing Syria’s civil war. (Reuters)
A high level Egyptian security delegation left for Syria on 1 October in a rare visit, Cairo airport officials said. The delegation’s mission was not immediately clear. Yasser Ali, who is spokesman for President Mohammed Morsi, denied the report. A senior security official said he had no knowledge about the delegation, but stopped short of an outright denial of the report. The previously unannounced trip comes as Egypt leads a four-nation regional initiative trying to broker a solution to Syria’s civil war. It is not known if the visit is related. The airport officials said the delegation will be in Syria for two days. All officials spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to address the media. Morsi, who came to office in June in the aftermath of the 2011 ousting of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising, is an outspoken critic of Syria’s President Bashar. (Ahram)
Iraq urges the Kurdish autonomy to approve the deployment of troops on the border with Turkey to prevent the Turkish troops’ entering Iraq, as well as to stop air strikes on the country against the militants of Kurdistan Workers’ Party, head of the Iraqi parliamentary security committee Iskander Witwit told Trend on 17 October. (…) Bad relations between Baghdad and the Kurdish autonomy hamper the central government to take more serious steps to prevent Turkish troops to conduct military operations in northern Iraq, he said. Witwit said that the Iraqi parliament is considering the issue of cancelling the agreement about the presence of Turkish troops in Iraq signed earlier between Turkey and Iraq. He added that the agreement is wrong as it threatens Iraq’s sovereignty. Witwit added that many members of the Iraqi Parliament support the cancellation of the agreement between Turkey and Iraq, allowing Turkish troops to carry out air strikes in northern Iraq. (…) A military operation, to be conducted by Turkey in northern Iraq against militants of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party is fully consistent with international law, a source in the Turkish government told Trend earlier. (Turkish Weekly)
Scores of Iraqi Shi’ite militants are fighting in Syria, often alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s troops, and pledging loyalty to Iran’s supreme Shi’ite religious leader, according to militia fighters and politicians in Iraq. Iraqi Shi’ite militia involvement in Syria’s conflict exposes how rapidly the crisis has spiraled into a proxy war between Assad’s main ally Shi’ite Iran and the Sunni Arab Gulf states supporting mostly Sunni rebels fighting the president. (…) For Iraqi Shias who follow Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the uprising in Syria threatens Shi’ite influence and Iraqis fighting there say they see a duty to help Assad because of their loyalty to the Islamic Republic’s highest authority. Among them are defectors and former fighters from anti-U.S Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army, the Iran-backed Badr group and Asaib al-Haq and Kata’ib Hezbollah, militias who once waged a bloody war on American troops, Shi’ite militants and Iraqi politicians say. (…) Syria’s upheaval is a political nightmare for Iraq’s Shiite led government, which believes a messy fall of Assad would fracture Syria along sectarian lines and yield a hostile, hardline Sunni Muslim regime that could stir up Iraq’s own combustible Sunni-Shi’ite communal mix. Iraq says it has a policy of non-interference in Syria – but stays close to Tehran’s position by refusing to endorse Western and Arab League demands for the removal of Assad, whose Alawite minority faith is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam. (Reuters)
An Islamist militant group fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria said in a video posted online on 30 September it had captured five Yemeni army officers sent by their government to help quell the Syrian uprising. (…) The video by Al Nusra Front showed clips of five men in civilian clothes asking the Yemeni government to stop supporting the Assad regime. The authenticity of the recording could not immediately be verified. One of the men identified himself as Mohammed Abdo Hezam al-Meleiky and said the Yemeni government had sent him and his colleagues to Damascus to help Assad’s forces in the civil war raging across the country. (…) The men’s identity cards were shown in the online video, along with pictures of them in military uniform. The Al Nursa Front has previously claimed attacks on Syrian government targets. (Reuters)
Oil producers in the Middle East and North Africa plan to invest $740 billion on energy projects in the next five years, led by Saudi Arabia, according to Arab Petroleum Investments Corp. High oil prices will allow them to resume projects that were delayed at the height of the financial crisis, the inter- governmental energy lender said. Saudi Arabia tops the list with committed investments of $165 billion, mostly generated by Saudi Arabian Oil Co. and Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC); followed by the U.A.E. that plans to invest $107 billion in the period. (…) Countries in the region can finance projects on their own as long as the basket of OPEC crudes stays at more than $100 a barrel (Bloomberg)
Iraq could become the world’s second-largest oil exporter within two decades and double its output by 2020, a major study has found. The International Energy Agency said Iraq can overtake Russia for exports and be responsible for nearly half of all anticipated growth in global output. But the country’s government must overcome internal disputes over oil rights with the autonomous Kurdish region in the north and increase current investment from $9bn (£5.6bn) in 2011 to $25bn a year on average for the rest of the decade, the authors warned. (…) Decades of conflict have left Iraq’s oil and energy sector in disarray, but Baghdad has recently signed a series of contracts with BP and Royal Dutch Shell, among others, to raise production levels. In 2012, output passed 3m barrels per day (bpd) for the first time in 30 years and the country, which has the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves, overtook Iran to become the second biggest producer in the OPEC cartel. The report said Iraq can hit 6.1m bpd by 2020 and 8.3m bpd in 2035 mainly in and around Basra in the south. (…) One beneficiary of the surge in oil flows from Iraq, the IEA said, will be China. The agency forecast that by 2020, 80% of Iraq’s oil will go to Asia. The report also focused on Iraq’s internal energy needs and revealed that it needs 70% more power generation capacity to meet current demands and avoid rolling blackouts which continue to affect the country. (Guardian)
Lebanon’s hospitality sector has begun to dismiss employees following a sharp decline in business, a leading hotelier said. (…) Seasonal employment of part-time workers, who are hired to accommodate extra business in high tourism seasons during holidays and the summer, were cut down by more than 70 percent from numbers employed since 2009 in the last few years. (…) Compared to 2010, when Lebanon’s tourism sector performed much better, the number of tourists was 33.87 percent lower, the report showed. The number of tourists in 2012 was lower by 140,106 and 505,483 than in 2011 and 2010 respectively. (…) Meanwhile, the Ernst & Young Middle East hotel benchmark survey showed that Beirut’s top-end hotels saw a sharp 14-percent decline in occupancy in July. Room yields suffered from a 44-percent decline in the same month, the report added. Nevertheless, aggregate numbers for the first seven months of the 2012 show that occupancy increased by 7 percent compared to the same period in 2011. Room yields were also up by 6.6 percent, the report showed. Lebanon’s Hotels Association has before dismissed the survey as unrepresentative for not including hotels outside the capital and focusing only on a small selection of high-end hotels.
Jordanian economic circles welcomed Kuwait’s recent $250 million transfer to the Central Bank of Jordan; the first installment of $1.25 billion grant the Gulf country has pledged the kingdom. Suleiman al-Hafez, Jordan’s finance minister, announced on 5 October that Kuwait transferred $250 million to Jordan as part of the aid Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) leaders promised Jordan at the end of 2011. (…) Financial expert Murad Adel said that the Kuwaiti grant is timely because the Central Bank of Jordan’s foreign reserves declined to $6.6 billion in July. The grant will play a role in reviving the country’s economic growth rate, which has dropped to 3%, he added. (Al Shorfa)
Jordan and Qatar, on 27 September, signed a framework memo to regulate the disbursement of the Gulf country’s $1.25 billion grant to the Kingdom and discussed projects suggested to be funded under the donation. (…) Hassan and the Qatari minister examined projects of priority that will be carried out under the Qatari grant. (…) The planning minister said 60 per cent of the schemes to be funded by the grant fall under local community development, while 15 per cent will be spent on energy projects, 10 per cent on transport and 15 per cent on education and health and other development fields. (…) During his meeting with the Qatari minister, Tarawneh voiced his appreciation for Qatar, not only for supporting the Kingdom, but also for extending a helping hand in alleviating the burden caused by hosting Syrian refugees in Jordan. (Al Bawaba)
American and British Airways said 8 October that Qatar Airways would join their Oneworld alliance, giving them access to one of the world’s fastest-growing airlines and a modern hub in Doha, the capital of Qatar. The announcement came just hours after Air France-KLM revealed a commercial partnership with Etihad Airways, based in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. And in September, Emirates of Dubai, the biggest of the Persian Gulf’s vibrant carriers, announced a wide-ranging combination with Qantas Airlines of Australia. (…) These deals are just the latest in a flurry of global partnerships in recent months. The three big airline coalitions — Star Alliance, SkyTeam and Oneworld — have been busy courting new members in China, Latin America and the Middle East as air travel becomes more global and major business markets expand well beyond the traditional routes between the United States and Europe. The alliances offer passengers — particularly frequent fliers and business travelers — more destinations, easier connections and the ability to transfer frequent-flier miles among airlines. It also gives them access to business lounges at more airports across the world as well as speedier check-in and boarding. (New York Times)
Levant (Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Israel/Palestine)
Cairo Administrative Court said on 16 October that it will give its final verdict on the constitutionality of Egypt’s constitution-drafting body on 23 October. Several lawsuits had been filed challenging the constitutionality of the Constituent Assembly and the mechanism for choosing its members, after the High Constitutional Court declared in June that the law which regulated the election of the People’s Assembly — Egypt’s lower house of parliament — was unconstitutional, leading the then-ruling military council to dissolve the legislative body. Because the People’s Assembly had appointed the hundred members of the Constituent Assembly, the legitimacy of the assembly itself came into question. (…) According to the Constitutional Declaration issued by President Mohamed Morsi in August, if, for any reason, the current panel is not able to draft the constitution he will select a new body that represents all social strata, to achieve the task. The hundred members will be directly appointed by the president and will then have to draft a new national charter in three months. The current Constituent Assembly faces the same criticism from liberal and leftist observers as its dissolved predecessor, namely that it is dominated by Islamist parties and is not representative of the country’s social and political diversity. (Ahram)
Egypt’s public prosecutor has ordered an investigation into violence that broke out on 12 October between Islamist and liberal demonstrators, including accusations against top-ranking officials in the Muslim Brotherhood, the state news agency said. Opponents and supporters of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi threw stones, bottles and petrol bombs, and some fought hand-to-hand on 12 October, a sign of tensions between rival groups trying to shape the new Egypt after the fall of Hosni Mubarak. Liberals and leftists accused members of the Muslim Brotherhood of attacking them in an attempt to crush protests against Mursi, whose opponents say has failed to deliver on promises for his first 100 days in office. (…) Many of the thousands who gathered in Tahrir Square were also angry at a court ruling that acquitted former officials charged with ordering a camel-and-horseback attack on protesters in the uprising that ousted Mubarak in 2011. (Al Arabiya)
On 15 October, Egypt launched an investigation of the country’s former military rulers for their alleged role in the killing of protesters during their nearly 17 months in power, an unprecedented civilian probe into the affairs of an army that has traditionally shielded itself from outside scrutiny. International and local rights groups have pressed Egypt’s newly elected president to hold to account the council of military officers who ruled the country from the February 2011 overthrow of Hosni Mubarak to this summer. At least 120 protesters died in clashes with security forces and soldiers during this time. (…) Some lawyers have questioned whether civilian investigators will be able to take key steps like summoning the generals for questioning. (…) Egyptians have filed over 100 complaints with the country’s prosecutors against the military rulers, including Tantawi, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Sami Anan, and other generals who sat on SCAF. (Washington Post, Associated Press)
An Egyptian court has acquitted 24 loyalists of deposed president Hosni Mubarak who had been accused of organizing an attack in which assailants on horses and camels charged into crowds of anti-regime protesters in 2011. The 24 were found innocent on charges of manslaughter and attempted murder on 11 October. (…) Despite the list of known victims, the judge said he trusted the testimony of a general who was a member of the council that ruled Egypt during the transition, who said that no one was killed in the square during the battle. (…) Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer whose centre was involved in the case, said some evidence presented to the court was not taken into consideration and other evidence was tampered with. Some witnesses in the case changed their testimony from what they had given earlier to investigators, Eid said, blaming pressure from still powerful ex-regime loyalists. (…) Almost none of the officials and policemen brought to trial for the deaths have been found guilty. Most were released for lack of evidence and poor investigation. Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison for failing to stop the violence. (…) Lawyers and activists have questioned the impartiality of the investigations into the killings, which were conducted in the days following the uprising by Mubarak-era officials who still held their posts and by police officers embittered by the protests. (Al Jazeera)
Three Egyptians accused of killing a man while he was walking with his fiancée were sentenced to 15 years in jail on 25 September for forming an Islamist vigilante group to enforce their hard-line ideas. (…) In a separate case, Egypt’s public prosecutor referred three Muslims to a criminal court after they were accused of insulting Christianity and desecrating a copy of the Bible. (…) The case made front page news; exacerbating the fears of many Egyptians that fundamentalists emboldened by the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power will seek to impose their strict customs on society. (Reuters)
Coptic Christian families have fled their homes in a town in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, fearing for their lives after receiving death threats from suspected Islamic militants, a local priest said. (…) An Egyptian intelligence official confirmed that a number of Coptic families had fled Rafah because of a militant threat. Another security official denied the reports and said that no Christians were forced to leave. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief the media. It was not exactly clear how many Christians have left the town, but Sobhi said that the number of Copts in Rafah had dwindled from 14 families to two since the uprising that pushed longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak from power in February 2011. (Huffington Post)
A prominent Lebanese security official is among the dead in a car bombing in the capital Beirut that has killed at least eight people and wounded up to 80 others. Wissam al-Hassan was the brain behind uncovering a recent bomb plot that led to the arrest of Michel Samaha, a Lebanese politician close to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who has been accused of trying to help smuggle explosives into Lebanon. (…) “The exact details of how this explosion killed Wissam al-Hassan are still unclear,” Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from Beirut, said. “Wissam al Hassan is a very high profile figure in Lebanon, he was one of the most prominent security chiefs for the March 14 alliance,” she said. “He played a key role in pursuing the killers of Rafiq Hariri, and one of his most recent achievements is the capturing and arrest of Michel Samaha.” “He is a very controversial figure for the March 8 alliance. He was a key figure in supporting the armed opposition in Syria, and March 14 is going to take this explosion much more seriously,” our correspondent said. The explosion did not appear to target any political figure in Lebanon’s divided community but it occurred at a time of heightened tension between Lebanese factions on opposite sides of the conflict in neighboring Syria. (Al Jazeera)
Schools and public agencies across the country staged strikes over delay on salary increases crippled Lebanon, but the government remained committed to its stance. Prime Minister Najib Mikati, however, warned that repeated strikes would take their toll on Lebanon’s economy and insisted it was impossible that salary increase be paid in one go. (…) Many schools and government agencies across Lebanon staged strikes on 18 October to protest a government delay in implementing salary increases. (…) The daylong strike came in response to a call by the Union Coordination Committee, a coalition of private and public schools and the public sector, in protest at the government’s failure to send the salary scale draft law to Parliament for approval. (…) Activity at government departments in the Bekaa was semi-normal as only around 10 percent of public servants abided by the strike. (…) The UCC has said it refuses to finance the salary increases through taxes that affect ordinary citizens, claiming the increment could be easily funded if the Cabinet cut waste, combated corruption and improved tax collection, most notably from Beirut Port. (Daily Star)
At least three people were killed on 3 October in a series of explosions in a rural stronghold of the militant group Hezbollah in eastern Lebanon, according to news reports. The cause of the blasts in the Bekaa Valley was not immediately clear. Some media reports suggested that the explosions occurred in a weapons depot of Hezbollah, which maintains a vast but largely hidden arsenal. There was no immediate comment from Hezbollah, which is labeled a terrorist group by the United States but is a legal and dominant force in Lebanese politics. The official Lebanese news agency said three people were killed and three wounded in the explosions. The news agency reported three separate blasts in a mountainous area south of the regional center of Baalbek. The zone is infamous as a center of arms and drug smuggling and kidnapping-for-ransom gangs. Some reports put the death toll as high as nine, but that remained unconfirmed. Security officials reportedly cordoned off the isolated area and prevented journalists from approaching the blast sites. (Los Angeles Times)
Hezbollah’s increasingly visible support for President Bashar al-Assad and its latest military challenge to Israel has put the militant group on a collision course with domestic opponents who accuse it of dragging Lebanon towards regional conflict. While still denying it has sent forces to Syria to fight alongside soldiers trying to crush a 19-month-old uprising against Assad, Hezbollah has held a number of public funerals in October for fighters killed performing “jihadi duties”. Security sources said the men were killed on Syrian territory. Hezbollah’s political opponents, who have for months accused it of aiding Assad’s forces, have rushed to condemn the group and warned its involvement in Syria could ignite sectarian tension within Lebanon where religious factions fought a 1975-1990 civil war. (…) In a defiant speech on 11 October, Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said the Shi’ite group was not reinforcing its ally in Damascus. But his comments suggested that Hezbollah fighters may have been fighting in border regions of the poorly defined frontier. (…) Hezbollah is not the only force in Lebanon to be drawn into Syria’s conflict. (…) Arms and fighters have been smuggled across the border to support Syrian rebels, mainly from Sunni Muslim areas in the eastern Bekaa Valley and northern Akkar province. (Reuters)
Thousands of Jordanians have attended a protest demanding political reforms in Amman, hours after King Abdullah called early parliamentary elections. The Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, the Islamic Action Front, called for broader political representation and a more democratic parliament. People at the protest chanted: “The people want to reform the regime. On 5 October, the king dissolved parliament and called early elections, though he did not specify a date. He has said he wants polls to be held by the end of 2012. (…) A counter-rally, in support of King Abdullah, which organizers had predicted would attract 200,000 supporters, was cancelled late on 05 October in order to prevent clashes between the two groups. (…) Opposition parties demanded that 50% of seats be allocated to party lists, but the new electoral law gave them just 17 seats, or 12%. They also complained that the new law would strengthen supporters of the king by allowing members of the security forces to vote for the first time, and allocating three more seats for women from Bedouin districts. This, they argued, would continue to marginalize Jordanians of Palestinian origin – which make up 60% of the population but have little political power – in favor of those descended from Jordan’s original Bedouin inhabitants – whose tribes dominate the government and security forces and are the bedrock of the Hashemite monarchy. (BBC)
Jordan’s King Abdullah II has warned of the ‘‘dangerous repercussions’’ from the Syrian conflict on countries across the Middle East. A royal palace statement said Abdullah’s warning came in a closed-door meeting with visiting Moroccan King Mohammed VI on 18 October. The Moroccan leader arrived in Jordan on 17 October for a three-day state visit. Abdullah and other officials have expressed fears in the past that violence may spread to the 210,000-strong Syrian refugee community the kingdom hosts. Jordan is also worried that Syria’s chemical weapons may fall into the hands of militants if the regime there falls. Abdullah also said that hosting the refugees has strained Jordan’s health care, water and electricity sectors, according to the statement. He called for international contributions to enable Jordan to continue providing services to the refugees (ABC news, Associate Press)
The Jordanian former mentor of slain Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has gone on hunger strike to demand authorities move him to another prison, a Salafist leader said on 18 October. (…) Abu Sayyaf said 40 other Salafist inmates in Mafraq “plan to go on hunger strike to support the demand of Maqdessi,” who was sentenced to five years in jail in 2011 for recruiting people in Jordan to join the Taliban in Afghanistan. In 1992, Jordanian-born Zarqawi met Maqdessi and later joined his Sunni militant group, Jaish Mohammed (Mohammed’s Army). They were detained in Jordan for five years for membership of an outlawed Islamist organization but freed under a general amnesty in 1999. The two later fell out over “ideological differences” and aides said Maqdessi repeatedly denounced Zarqawi, who was killed in a US air strike northeast of Baghdad in 2006. (AFP)
Some Syrian rebel factions have obtained advanced portable antiaircraft weapons, according to rebels and regional officials, a development that could alter the Syrian war’s trajectory and fan U.S. concerns that such weapons could end up in the hands of anti-Western Islamist militias. (…) On 17 October, fighters said they downed a military helicopter in the town of Maarat al-Nouman, in the northern Idlib province, one of at least four helicopters and jets they say they have brought down across Syria in October. (…) Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have delivered arms and funds to rebel groups in Syria in a covert alliance since this spring. Further behind the scenes, the U.S. and European countries have provided logistics and intelligence aid. (…) Most of the shoulder-fired missiles in rebel arsenals have come from Libya, smuggled into the country through the Turkish border without the official blessing of regional states or their Western backers, several rebel coordinators said. Other shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles, which these rebels identified as Russian-made Strela systems, have been supplied by militant Palestinian factions now supporting the Syrian uprising and smuggled in through the Lebanese border, they said. Syrian military defectors also say they have been able to buy some SA-7’s—a Russian-designed Manpad—from regime forces since the summer. (Wall Street Journal)
The Syrian government has moved some of its chemical weapons to safety as it battles rebel forces, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says. He said there was intelligence that there had been “limited movement” to secure the chemicals, but that “the major sites still remain in place”. Syria has admitted to having a large stockpile of chemical weapons. US President Barack Obama has warned Damascus it would be held accountable if it uses them. Mr. Panetta told a news conference at the Pentagon on 28 September: “We continue to have a concern about the security of the CBW (chemical and biological weapons) sites.” But he said the major sites “still remain secured by the Syrian military.” (…) Syria, which has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, is believed to possess mustard gas and sarin, a highly toxic nerve agent. The CIA has said those weapons “can be delivered by aircraft, ballistic missile, and artillery rockets”. (BBC)
The Syrian military has used cluster bombs against civilians throughout the country in recent months, a human rights group charged. Many of the cluster strikes were near the city of Maarat Numan in Idlib province, where Free Syrian Army rebels launched an offensive to free the city of government checkpoints, Human Rights Watch said in its report. The city is strategically situated along the main highway that connects the major cities of Aleppo and Damascus, the capital. Towns in several other provinces, including on the outskirts of Damascus, were also hit with the cluster bombs, the international organization said. It did not have figures for how many people were killed in these attacks. Cluster munitions explode in the air, sending dozens or more smaller bombs over a large area. But the smaller bombs often don’t explode on initial impact, leaving the munitions to act like landmines and explode when handled, the group said. More than 100 countries have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans the use of cluster munitions and requires clearance of contaminated areas and assistance to victims. Syria is not a party to the convention. (Los Angeles Times)
Violence in Syria has killed at least 33 082 people, most of them civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said on 13 October. (…) At least 23,630 civilians have been killed, along with 8,211 soldiers and 1 241 army defectors who joined the insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad. The Observatory’s civilian toll also includes non-military defectors who took up arms against the regime. (…) His group’s tallies do not count the many unidentified victims of the bloody conflict, nor do they include thousands of people missing and thought to be in detention. (…) The Observatory relies on a network of activists, lawyers and medics on the ground inside Syria for its information. (IOL News)
Human rights groups working in Syria say at least 28,000 people have disappeared after being abducted by soldiers or militia. They say they have the names of 18,000 people missing since anti-government protests and know of another 10,000 cases. (…) It intends to give the UN Human Rights Council a dossier for investigation. The Syrian government has so far not commented on the claims but has in the past strenuously denied reports of human rights abuses. (…) The BBC’s James Reynolds, close to the Syrian border in Turkey, says it is often hard to establish real disappearance figures until a conflict is over, but the scale of the figures is an indication of the severity of the conflict in Syria. (BBC)
The international mediator on Syria will go to Damascus to try to broker a brief ceasefire in the war between President Bashar al-Assad’s government and rebels during the Islamic Eid al-Adha festival. Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League envoy, told reporters on 18 October after meeting Jordan’s foreign minister that a respite in hostilities could build confidence and helps bring about a longer truce in the 19-month-old conflict. (…) A previous ceasefire in April collapsed after just a few days, with each side blaming the other. Mediator Kofi Annan resigned his post in frustration. (…) The truce would be self-imposed with no monitoring. (…) The Syrian government guardedly welcomed the proposal but said any initiative must be respected by both sides. Turkey, one of Assad’s harshest critics, and Iran, one of his strongest allies, both backed the plan, in rare display of agreement. (…) Brahimi said opposition figures had told him any ceasefire by Assad’s forces would be reciprocated immediately. (Reuters)
US military forces have begun arriving in Israel to take part in the largest joint missile defense exercise of its kind, which will begin late October. One thousand American soldiers will arrive on Israeli territory and a further 2,000 US troops in Europe and the United States will take part via remote defense computing systems. An equal number of Israeli soldiers will be involved. During the drill, named Austere Challenge 12, Israeli air defense systems, such as the Iron Dome anti-rocket shield and Arrow 2 anti-ballistic missile batteries, will be deployed, as well as US and Israeli Patriot batteries. American naval ships carrying the Aegis combat system, which can intercept missiles, will take part, and at least one US Navy ship will dock at Haifa. The IDF and the US military’s European Command will set up missile defense batteries across Israel. Most of the drill will involve computer simulations of incoming rockets, though in the last stage, a Patriot will be fired at a mock enemy projectile. (…) US Air Force Lt.-Gen. Craig Franklin – the senior American officer in Israel for the exercise – said Washington will be spending $30 million on the drill. Nuriel said Israel would be spending the same amount. (Jerusalem Post)
Hamas vowed 18 October to abduct more Israeli soldiers and hold them as bargaining chips for militants in Israeli jails, on the anniversary of the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. (…) The comments came as Hamas marked one year since the prisoner swap which saw Israel free 1,027 jailed Palestinians in two stages, in return for Shalit, an Israeli soldier held largely incommunicado in the Gaza Strip for over five years. (…) Senior Hamas official Saleh Al-Aruri has also announced that some 18 prisoners who were transferred to Gaza after their release in the prisoner swap deal will soon return to their homes in the West Bank. Senior Hamas official Saleh Al-Aruri has also announced that some 18 prisoners who were transferred to Gaza after their release in the prisoner swap deal will soon return to their homes in the West Bank. Senior Hamas official Saleh Al-Aruri has also announced that some 18 prisoners who were transferred to Gaza after their release in the prisoner swap deal will soon return to their homes in the West Bank. (Haaretz)
Israel killed three Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip on 14 October, a day after two men identified as the most senior al Qaeda affiliates in the enclave died in an Israeli air strike as they rode a motorcycle. In southern Gaza, a Palestinian gunman was killed and another wounded near the border with Egypt’s Sinai desert, hospital officials said. The Israeli military said the two, also targeted while on a motorcycle, had been planning to fire rockets into Israel. A second air strike in central Gaza killed two more Palestinian militants and wounded two others. An Israeli military spokeswoman said the attack targeted a rocket launching squad. Sources in the ultra-conservative Salafi Islamist movement said the two militants killed on 13 October, Hisham al-Saedni and Ashraf al-Sabah, were leaders, respectively, of the Tawhid wa-Jihad and Ansar Al-Sunna groups. (Reuters)
The Israeli military meticulously calculated the number of calories Gaza’s residents would need to consume to avoid malnutrition during a sweeping blockade imposed on the Palestinian territory between 2007 and mid-2010, according to a document the Defense Ministry released under a court order and that was made public on 17 October. (…) The Israeli military insisted that it never used the 2008 guidelines to restrict the flow of food to Gaza. But critics disputed that, saying the calculations appear to have guided limits imposed on food imports at the time. They said the document provides further evidence that Israel used food as a weapon to put pressure on Hamas, the violently anti-Israel militant group that seized Gaza by force in mid-2007. (…) Israel maintained the blockade was necessary to weaken Hamas, but critics accused the government of targeting Gaza’s more than 1.5 million people in its ultimately unsuccessful effort to achieve that goal. Hamas remains firmly in control of the territory. Israel’s military spokesman Maj. Guy Inbar said the mathematical formula was devised as a safeguard to identify food needs and avoid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. (The Washington Post, Associated Press)
Some 2,000 Bedouin from the Negev town of Bir Hadaj staged a demonstration on 18 October outside of the government offices in Be’er Sheva, demanding the state rescind its plan to demolish homes in their community. The demonstrators accused the state of trampling on their right as citizens by enacting the plan to destroy their homes in the village, which has been recognized by Israel as a legitimate sector in the Abu Basma Regional Council. The main entrances at the court and government offices were blocked by a large police force during the demonstration. Protesters raised placards demanding that the government halt its “abuse” of Bedouins in the Negev, shouting: “Yes to recognition! No to destruction!” (Haaretz)
Israel’s Parliament set a 22 January date for a national election and opinion polls predict an easy win for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in balloting expected to focus on his tough policies on Iran’s nuclear program and economics. Lawmakers approved the measure by a vote of 100 to nil after a more than eight-hour debate, dissolving parliament, or ending its term of office, effective immediately and months ahead of schedule. Israeli elections had been expected in October 2013, but it is common for governments to break up before their terms expire over disagreements about budgets, policy on religion or the nation’s conflicts with Arab and other neighbors. Opinion polls have indicated an easy election victory for the right-wing Likud party’s leader Netanyahu, who is likely to head a coalition that includes nationalist and religious parties. In a combative speech to parliament ahead of three requisite votes held to disband the body, Netanyahu urged lawmakers to back the 22 January date approved by his cabinet after he said difficulties agreeing a 2013 budget with coalition partners had meant such a vote was necessary. Kicking off his re-election campaign, Netanyahu focused in his speech on tough measures he had taken to improve security for Israelis, such as building a fence along the border with Egypt’s Sinai, and deploying a missile shield against rockets fired from Gaza. (Reuters)
When local elections open on 20 October, Palestinians across the West Bank will exercise their right to vote for the first time in six years. Here in this city, the poll will carry even more significance: A long 37 years have passed since residents last cast ballots for their municipal council. But there is scant sign of Arab Spring-era democratic fever. Though banners featuring candidates’ solemn faces hang over bustling intersections in Hebron and about 100 other districts, no vote will take place in about 250 others. In those, open seats were contested by too few candidates or only one party. Even in more competitive spots such as Hebron, where six party lists are vying for 15 council seats, most analysts predict an easy win for Fatah, the secular party that has dominated in the West Bank. Its main rival, the Islamist party and militant movement Hamas, is boycotting the vote. (…) The political scene has been divided since 2006, when Hamas swept to victory in parliamentary elections in the West Bank and Gaza. After a brief battle, Hamas wrested control of the Gaza Strip, the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority assumed power in the West Bank and the Palestinian parliament essentially went dark. Repeated pledges to reconcile — a move widely viewed as crucial to winning an independent Palestinian state — have gone nowhere. (Washington Post)
Russia announced on 9 October it has signed $4.2 billion in arms deals with Iraq, making it the largest weapons supplier to the Middle East country after the United States. The deals, disclosed in a Russian government document issued at a meeting between Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, give Russia a big boost at a time when the future of its arms sales to Libya and Syria is uncertain. (…) The contracts were signed during visits to Russia by Iraq’s acting defense chief in April, July and August, the document showed. It gave no further details and the state agency in charge of the weapons trade could not be immediately reached. The Russian newspaper Vedomosti reported in late September that contracts worth $4.3 billion were being agreed ahead of Maliki’s visit. It said they included deals for 30 Mi-28NE combat helicopters and 42 Pantsir-S1 mobile rocket launchers. (…) The contracts comprised the third biggest package of deals for Russian arms sales since the 1991 Soviet collapse, after a $7.5 billion agreement with Algeria in 2006 and a $6 billion sale to Venezuela in 2009. (Reuters)
Iraq has signed a new contract to buy its second set of 18 F-16 fighters from the United States, part of a deal to purchase 36 of the jets to rebuild its air force, Iraq’s acting defense minister said on 18 October. (…) Duliami said Iraq was also talking with U.S. officials about buying air defense systems and Apache helicopters. A U.S. embassy spokesman in Baghdad said the U.S. government had presented Iraq with a letter of acceptance for the second set of fighters and were awaiting confirmation of agreement. (…) Washington has signed around $12 billion in recent arms deals with the Iraqi government to build up its armed forces. Baghdad, which has also signed military contracts with Russia and the Czech Republic in early October, says it will not be able to defend its airspace until 2020. The new U.S. deal and the purchase Czech jets come as Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki faces pressure from Washington to prevent Iran transporting arms through Iraqi airspace to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (Chicago Tribune, Reuters)
The Iraqi government abruptly announced the appointment of a new central-bank chief to succeed Sinan al-Shabibi, a respected and politically independent technocrat who has held the position for more than nine years. Mr. Shabibi, who is currently out of the country, and more than a dozen other officials at the institution are being investigated for alleged improprieties involving capital requirements for local banks and foreign-currency auctions overseen by the central bank, said a government spokesman and a member of the parliamentary committee investigating the charges. (…) The manner of Mr. Shabibi’s dismissal was viewed by many as another move by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to consolidate his powers. (…) But Haitham al-Jubouri, a lawmaker from Mr. Maliki’s coalition and member of the committee that has been investigating the central bank’s activities for months, defended the move. Mr. Jubouri said his committee was troubled by the central bank’s contradictory and inconsistent rulings regarding capital requirements for local financial institutions. The committee also uncovered alleged fraud and money laundering in the central bank’s auctions to sell foreign currency to Iraqi importers, according to Mr. Jubouri. (Wall Street Journal)
Iraq stopped and searched a Syria-bound Iranian cargo plane for weapons on 2 October, but allowed it to continue as no prohibited items were found, Iraqi officials said. Washington has been pressuring Baghdad to ensure that all Iranian planes flying through its airspace are ordered to land and checked for weapons. This is the first time Iraqi officials have said that they have done so. (…) A high-ranking Iraqi official told AFP that the aircraft was bound for Damascus from Tehran. (…) Meanwhile, a diplomat at the Iranian embassy confirmed Iraqi authorities had ordered an Iranian cargo plane to land at Baghdad airport and searched the aircraft, which belongs to Iran Air. (AFP News)
Iraq plans to spend up to $1.6 billion on solar and wind power stations over the next three years to add 400 megawatts to the national grid to help curb daily blackouts, an official from the ministry of electricity said on 15 October. (…) The dilapidated national grid supplies only a few hours of power a day, leaving Iraqis to swelter in the summer months, when temperatures can top 50 degrees Celsius. (…) Solar energy is rare in Iraq, expect for lighting on some of its main streets. The ministry has plans to reach 22 gigawatts of power generation capacity to meet demand in 2016 by upgrading and building new power projects to solve the chronic shortages. (…) In the long term, the aim is for solar and wind energy to account for 2 percent of power generation volume. (Reuters)
Coordinated bombings shattered Shia neighbourhoods and struck at Iraqi security forces on 1 October, killing at least 26 in attacks that one official described as a rallying call by al-Qaida just days after dozens of militants escaped from prison. (…) Police said the wave of explosions stretched from the restive but oil-rich city of Kirkuk in the north to the southern Shia town of Kut, wounding at least 94 people. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but bombings are a hallmark of al-Qaida in Iraq, the Sunni insurgency that has been struggling for years to goad Shia militias back towards civil war. (…) The attacks struck the town of Taji, a former al-Qaida stronghold just north of Baghdad. Police said three explosive-rigged cars in a Shia neighbourhood went off within minutes of each other, killing eight and wounding 28 in back-to-back blasts. (The Guardian)

Iran developed a new class of drones, able to conduct reconnaissance and bombardment missions, a top Iranian military official said on 14 October, hours after Tehran’s defense minister lauded Hezbollah for sending an unmanned aircraft into Israeli airspace. (…) Iranian Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahid applauded Hezbollah’s efforts against Israel, saying it proved Iran’s military capabilities. Vahidi said Iran believed Hezbollah had the right to launch the drone into Israeli airspace since Israel’s warplanes repeatedly violate Lebanese airspace (…) Iran has said the incursion exposed the weakness of Israeli air defense (…) Speaking later in the day, the commander of Iran’s Khatam al-Anbiya Air Defense Base Brigadier General Farzad Esmaili told Iranian media that Iranian exporters have developed and built a new drone, capable of undertaking both reconnaissance and attack missions. According to Esmaili, the new craft, called Haazem, was produced in three short, mid and long range models, adding that the drone could be equipped with missiles and used for aerial bombardments. (Haaretz)
Millions of lives are at risk in Iran because western economic sanctions are hitting the importing of medicines and hospital equipment, the country’s top medical charity has warned. Fatemeh Hashemi, head of the Charity Foundation for Special Diseases, a non-government organization supporting six million patients in Iran, has complained about a serious shortage of medicines for a number of diseases such as haemophilia, multiple sclerosis and cancer. (…) In early October, Ban had warned the UN in a report that humanitarian operations in Iran were being harmed because of sanctions. (…) Western sanctions targeting sectors from banking to trade and energy are aimed at forcing Iran’s leaders to comply with their international obligations on nuclear activities. (The Guardian)
Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards on 18 October rejected reported allegations from Western intelligence sources that it plans to damage an oil tanker in the Gulf to create an environmental disaster. In its report, Spiegel said the top-secret plan codenamed “Dirty Water” was aimed at blocking the oil-rich Gulf to shipping and forcing Western countries to become involved in a huge clean-up operation. (…) The Guards believed this in turn would prompt Western nations to suspend sanctions imposed over Iran’s nuclear program which have started to hit the economy hard. (…) The plan developed by the head of the Guards, General Mohammad Ali Jafari, and Admiral Ali Fadavi, head of the force’s navy division, would also “punish” Arab states for their support of the West and Israel. A clean-up operation could only take place with Iranian technical help, requiring a temporary lifting of sanctions, the plan says, according to Spiegel. (Al Arabiya, AFP)
Iranian hackers renewed a campaign of cyber attacks against U.S. banks in mid-October, targeting Capital One Financial Corp. and BB&T Corp. and openly defying U.S. warnings to halt, U.S. officials and others involved in the investigation into the attacks said. (…) The attacks, which disrupted the banks’ websites, showed the ability of the Iranian group to sustain its cyber assault on the nation’s largest banks. (…) U.S. officials said the attacks against banks, and others against Middle Eastern energy companies, were sponsored by the Iranian government and approved at high levels as part of a low-grade cyber war that officials warned could lead to retaliation. Unclear is at what point attacks on individual banks constitute an assault on the overall financial system that would call for a forceful response from the U.S. military, which has formed a “Cyber Command” to help defend government computers and critical civilian networks. (Wall Street Journal)
Iran’s oil supply, which has fallen to the lowest in more than two decades, is unexpectedly continuing to decline due to Western sanctions, in a further strain to the country’s financial resources. In a report on 12 October, the International Energy Agency estimated Iranian supply fell by 220,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 2.63 million bpd in September. (…) The drop in Iranian supply is supporting oil prices and hurting Tehran’s oil revenues, deepening hardship for a population deprived of basic imports and adding pressure on the government over its nuclear programme. (…) The European Union banned Iranian crude from 1 July and other countries have cut purchases in response to tighter U.S. sanctions. The EU ban prevents EU insurance firms from covering Iran’s exports, hindering imports by some non-EU buyers. (…) Iranian exports slipped to 860,000 bpd in September the IEA, an adviser to 28 industrialized countries, said in the report, a new low. (Reuters)
Iran’s state grains agency GTC has discreetly snapped up around 1 million metric tons of milling wheat, mostly from the European Union, traders said on 27 September, showing increased ability to import food despite financial sanctions. (…) Iran has in the past exported wheat but Western sanctions aimed at its disputed nuclear program coincided with a bad harvest, forcing the country to quietly enter global markets and make substantial wheat purchases to feed its large population. While sanctions don’t target food shipments, they make it difficult for importers to obtain letters of credit or conduct international transfers of funds through banks. (…) Iranian wheat imports are usually handled by the private sector but the state has had to step in and help with purchasing since the disruption to trade financing. Origins of the grain bought for shipment in October, November and December also included Russian and Australian grain. (Reuters)
The U.S. State Department on 28 September formally removed the Iranian dissident group Mujahadin-e Khalq from its official list of terrorist organizations, but underscored serious concerns about the group which is seeking to recast itself as an Iranian opposition force. (…) Iran blamed the MEK, which it called “a terrorist sect,” for accosting a senior Iranian diplomat in New York and condemned the U.S. decision remove the group from the terrorism list. (…) Officials said that Clinton had decided to remove the MEK from the terrorism list, but the formal announcement was made only after appropriate notification of Congress. The U.S. decision comes after years of intense lobbying by the MEK, which had seen many of its members stranded in Iraq as the group fell out of Baghdad’s favor after Saddam Hussein’s downfall in 2003. (…) The United States had repeatedly said its decision on the MEK’s terrorist designation hinged partly on the group’s remaining members leaving Camp Ashraf, an Iraqi base where they had lived for decades, and moving to a former U.S. military base in Baghdad from which they were expected to be resettled overseas. Officials said that the final large group of dissidents had moved from Camp Ashraf to the new location, ending a long standoff with Iraqi authorities. (Reuters)
The killing of Khalid al-Labad and the two teens marks an escalation in Saudi Arabia’s worst civil unrest in years. The sectarian uprising in the kingdom’s oil heartland has been an often-overlooked front in the wave of revolts remaking the Middle East. But it has become increasingly violent, and the implications for the region are vast at a time when Saudi Arabia and Iran are jockeying hard for supremacy. Saudi officials assert that the protesters are nothing more than Iranian puppets bent on destabilizing the Saudi economy — a charge the demonstrators vehemently deny. Shiites, who form a majority in Iran, have long been treated as second-class citizens by the ruling Sunni elite in Saudi Arabia. They account for about 10 percent of the country’s 28 million people and are concentrated here in the Eastern Province’s industrial center, sandwiched between the vast Arabian desert and the glistening Persian Gulf. The death toll here — 14 civilians and two police officers since the beginning of last year — is small compared with those in recent rebellions in other Arab countries, especially the civil war in Syria. And, unlike elsewhere, protesters here are not demanding the overthrow of their government. They want long-denied basic rights: equal access to jobs, religious freedom, the release of political prisoners. But in a nation where even peaceful protests have long been banned, the clashes between police and demonstrators have become a big concern for King Abdullah and his ruling family. (Washington Post)
The head of Saudi Arabia’s religious police has said there is a pressing need to employ more women in the force. Speaking to the official Saudi Gazette newspaper, Abdul Latif Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh said he hoped a recruitment drive would take place soon. (…) Correspondents say the introduction of women could be a sign of the king’s cautiously reformist agenda. In early October, Mr al-Sheikh announced that he would curb the powers of the religious police, known as the “mutawa”. He himself was appointed in January to deal with growing public anger about excessive behaviour by the force. Recently, a mobile phone clip of a religious policeman ordering a young woman to leave a mall because of her make-up went viral on the internet. There is no indication that the introduction of women into the religious police would necessarily make the rules any less strict, but it would boost the presence of women in public life. The sanctioned duties of the mutawa, officially known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, include preventing women driving, enforcing modest dress codes, policing bans on public entertainment and making sure all businesses close for prayers five times a day. Although Saudi Arabia remains a deeply conservative country, King Abdallah has recently introduced some cautious political and social reforms. (BBC)
The Saudi interior ministry warned on 11 October that it would deal “firmly” with demonstrations calling for the release of prisoners. (…)  It said in a statement that participants had been “taking videos which they use on certain media and on the Internet to falsify the facts and sow discord.” The ministry urged respect for judicial procedures and for Saudis “not to take part in gatherings or marches,” warning that security forces would deal “firmly” with offenders. In September, dozens of Saudis held a two-day protest at a prison north of Riyadh to demand the release of their relatives, most of them political prisoners detained without charge, protesters and activists said. The protest was a rare occurrence in the kingdom which bans demonstrations. (…) According to the non-governmental Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), the kingdom is currently holding some 30,000 political prisoners. (The Daily Star)
A Bahraini policeman has died of his injuries following a bombing at an anti-government protest on 18 October, the interior ministry has said. A statement said the “terrorist” attack happened during clashes in al-Akr, a village about 20km south of the capital, Manama. Another policeman was injured by the blast at the demonstration, organized by the 14 February Youth Coalition. (…) Those who took to the streets of al-Akr, a predominantly Shia village, on 18 October chanted “The people want to topple the regime” and “Down Hamad”, referring to the king, according to the AFP news agency. An Information Affairs Authority statement said police officers had been on patrol at an eastern entrance to al-Akr at the time of the bombing. (…) An investigation has begun to find those behind the attack.
Five Bahraini policemen were injured in clashes with protesters on 5 October at a memorial service in a Manama suburb held for a young demonstrator who died in custody, a government statement said. (…) The clashes followed a confrontation that erupted at a memorial service held in the Manama suburb of Jad Hafs for a young Bahraini who died in custody on 2 October. (…) The Bahraini was jailed for his participation in the February 2011 anti-government uprising and died in custody after he was hospitalized for treatment of a hereditary disease. (…) The courts have merged Rajab’s three separate cases of “incitement and illegal assembly” into one single appeal. Rajab led anti-government protests following a crackdown on Shiite-led demonstrations against the Sunni Al-Khalifa regime in March 2011.
Qatar is spending massively to modernize its capital ahead of the 2022 World Cup, leading conservative Qataris to worry about how this will affect the Islamic nature of the Gulf state. Trucks can be seen speeding around Doha’s business district, carrying building materials for the $150 billion makeover that will give the city a new metro, airport, seaport and roads. In the busy years leading up to the soccer tournament, Doha will see an influx of foreign companies, professionals and workers. With them will come a fresh flood of foreign cultures and lifestyles, and that is causing concern. (…) Though led by a ruling family viewed as highly progressive by Gulf standards, the fact remains that most Qataris are very conservative. Most practice Wahhabism, the austere form of Islam also practiced in Saudi Arabia. (Reuters)
Several protesters were hurt and others detained when protesters clashed with security forces outside Kuwait’s parliament building, reports say. At least 5,000 people took part in the demonstration on 15 October. (…) The opposition fears the government will try to alter legislation before upcoming parliamentary elections. The emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Sabah, dissolved the National Assembly in early October after the emirate’s highest court rejected a government appeal aimed at changing electoral boundaries. The government said it wanted to safeguard the outcome of future polls; critics said it planned to alter the boundaries to its advantage. (…) Thousands of Kuwaitis defied a request by the authorities not to participate in the anti-government demonstration in Kuwait City. (BBC)
The cabinet of OPEC member Kuwait has approved the 2012/2013 budget projecting a shortfall of 7.3 billion dinars ($26 billion), mainly through calculating oil income at a very conservative price. Kuwait, which says it sits on 10 percent of global crude reserves, has projected a budget deficit every year for the past 13 fiscal years but has annually ended up with a healthy surplus, accumulating around $250 billion. The budget, which started on 1 April, will be issued by an Emir decree because parliament was dissolved on 7 October. (…) The budget projects revenues at 13.9 billion dinars ($47.7 billion), an increase of 3.7 percent from 2011’s estimated income but less than half of actual record income of 30.2 billion dinars ($107.5 billion). (…) Despite abundant cashflow, development has been stalled due to a chronic political crisis that has seen parliament dissolved on six occasions and the cabinet resign nine times since mid-2006. The Gulf state adopts a cradle-to-grave welfare policy where a majority of citizens are employed by the government, receive handsome salaries, pay no taxes and receive services at low charges or for free. (AFP)

Suicide bombers wearing army fatigues stormed into an army barracks in southern Yemen on 19 October, killing 11 soldiers in a dawn assault, Yemeni officials said.The attack highlights the challenges faced by the country’s new leadership as it struggles to bring security to the impoverished Arab nation in the face of continued al-Qaeda strikes despite U.S.-backed efforts to drive it from the country. The attack on the coastal military base in Abyan province comes a day after suspected U.S. drone strikes killed at least seven al-Qaida-linked militants in the same area. It also follows a recent visit to Abyan by Yemen’s Defense Minister Gen. Mohammed Nasser Ahmed, which was meant to highlight the military’s strength in a province where the group controlled entire cities and towns in 2011. (Huffington Post)
Masked gunmen shot dead a Yemeni man who worked in the security office of the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa on 11 October, in an attack a Yemeni security source said appeared to be the work of al Qaeda. (…)The attackers, on a motorcycle, opened fire on Qassem Aqlan – who headed an embassy security investigation team – near his house in the center of Yemen’s capital. Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and other militant groups strengthened their grip on parts of the country during an uprising that ousted veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh. (…) Aqlan, who was in his 50s and had worked at the embassy for more than a decade, was responsible for coordinating security information between the U.S. Embassy and the Yemeni authorities. (Reuters)
A Yemeni jet fighter crashed immediately after takeoff during a training mission on15 October, killing its pilot, Yemen’s Defense Ministry said. The ministry’s online newspaper said the Russian-made MiG-21 aircraft crashed inside al-Annad air base in the southern province of Lahj due to technical failure. It said the jet’s pilot, Col. Atiq al-Akhali, was killed and a trainee was injured. Ansar al-Shariah, a group affiliated to al-Qaida in Yemen, had named al-Akhali and 11 other pilots in a hit list, promising to pay anyone who killed them a reward of around $5,000. The list, which was circulated on militant websites in June 2011, came as the Yemeni Air Force was carrying out aerial strikes against al-Qaida militants in the south. The group had seized control of large swaths of territory in southern Yemen during 2011’s turmoil against the country’s longtime authoritarian leader. (The Washington Post)

Yemen’s security forces have detained a U.S. citizen suspected of having links to al-Qaida, a Yemeni official said on 10 October. (…) The man was carrying two U.S. passports and a German one, and had been shuffling from one mosque to another in the nearby eastern city of Marib before moving on to Shabwa, according to the official. (…) The Yemeni official said security forces transferred the man to the capital, Sanaa, where he was being questioned by intelligence officers. He added that the suspect told officials he had been “spreading religious awareness” in Saudi Arabia before moving to Yemen few months ago. (The Washington Post)

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