Newsblog: 9-15 July
The French and US embassies in Syria were stormed by pro-Assad loyalists this past weekend, defacing and damaging property. The violence was in protest to the recent visit of US Ambassador Robert Ford (whose residence was also attacked in the protests) to the city of Hama, which has recently been a focal point of violent crackdowns on those demanding the departure of President Assad. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded that Syria meet their international obligations and protect foreign mission staff and property in Syria.
Tuesday morning saw the assassination of the highly controversial Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half-brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The killer was Ahmed Karzai’s personal bodyguard who had worked with him for over eight years. The Taliban claimed they were behind the assassination, though this has been disputed. The problems only intensified when a senior Afghan cleric was one of four killed (along with 12 others injured) in a suicide bombing at a funeral service for Karzai being held in Kandahar. President Karzai was not in attendance.
The Israeli parliament passed a law this week that will punish any Israeli individual or organisation who protests the building of settlements in the West Bank. The law, deemed anti-democratic and a violation of free speech by civil rights groups in Israel, was passed by a 47-36 vote. The law would be based on those who engage in a “geographically based boycott” and who could be sued for damages if economic, academic or cultural damage could be expected from such a boycott. There is a plan to challenge this law in Israel’s High Court.
In a less common story for conflict-ridden Libya, two Libyan diplomats affiliated with General Muammar Gadhafi’s regime visited Israel in an attempt to “change Libya’s image.” The two, who apparently were not issued visas by the Israeli interior minister, met with senior members of the Israeli Knesset, including Tzipni Livni. Their visit was not urged out of political considerations, Kadima MK Meir Sheetrit said, but were instead meant to promote business in the country.
Seven Estonian cyclists who were kidnapped in Lebanon over four months ago on a trip across the country have been released in good health. The release was facilitated by the French Embassy as Estonia does not have diplomatic representation in Lebanon. It was not known if a ransom was paid. A previously unknown group called Haraket Al-Nahda Wal-Islah, or Movement for Renewal and Reform was said to be responsible for their kidnapping. Kidnappings have become extremely uncommon in Lebanon since the end of the civil war in 1990.
As the Arab Spring continues to unfold throughout the Middle East, two significant Friday protests were held this week in Syria and Egypt, while a rarer protest occurred in Jordan. Tahrir Square held thousands as citizens pushed for swifter implementation of reforms and trials for ousted President Mubarak and his aides. This week though, protests were not attended by the Muslim Brotherhood who stated that the authorities needed time to implement the changes demanded by the mass protests last week.
Syria has launched its largest protests so far with hundreds of thousands turning out around the country to demand the end of President Assad’s rule. 12 civilians were killed across four locations in the country (including the capital Damascus) by Syrian Security Forces, who were responding to the crowds with live ammunition and tear gas. President Assad has also begun to use irregular militia shabbihaforces from his Alawite minority sect, as well as regular police and military forces to quell the continuous protests.
“Reform of the regime” was demanded in Amman, Jordan as hundreds marched downtown in the capital. The protestors were met by police with batons, but no significant incidences occurred. Protests have been prevented recently by Security Forces in the country, but King Abdullah, who is responsible for appointing the cabinet, has not personally prevented public protests as of yet.
Some of the most violent clashes seen in years between police and nationalist youth erupted in Northern Ireland this week after the July 12th parade, a day Protestants have historically celebrated as the victory of Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II in 1688. Up to 200 masked youth protested the parade and threw petrol bombs and bricks at police, injuring 22 officers. The Ulster Volunteer Force, a loyalist paramilitary group, claimed to orchestrate the violence. The event brought to mind the continued threat of the IRA throughout Northern Ireland and begs the question, “Why are there still groups so resistant to peace in Northern Ireland?”
A new initiative entitled ‘Jihad Against violence’ (JAV) from the British Muslim consultancy Inspire is set to tackle what they believe to be the two largest problems facing the Muslim population in the UK: gender inequality and extremism. The group insists it is time to bring Muslim women leaders in to help tackle these issues, particularly violence. In the UK, Muslim women, they claim, have the poorest health and are the least economically active compared to men and women of other faiths, which further emphasises the importance of their involvement tackling gender equality and condemn extremism.
Australia will be hosting the ‘Quintet’ meeting of the Attorney Generals of the UK, the US, Canada and New Zealand July 14 – 15 to deal with pressing issues of mutual concern. These are set to include national security, counter-terrorism, countering violent extremism, organised crime and legal cooperation. Australia plans to share their experience with their Combating Violent Extremism (CVE) program with the attorney generals, which has focussed on building community resilience to radicalisation and extremist views.