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M!ddleEasterners Newsblog 30 January-5 February

07/02/2013

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi scaled back the imposed curfew and cut short his visit to Europe last week in order to deal with the increasing violence erupting throughout Egypt. Morsi imposed curfews on three Egyptian cities last Sunday, but the restrictions only seemed to further provoke the increasing crowds. The violence at home shortened his European visit, billed as a chance to promote Egypt as a destination for foreign investment. He flew to Berlin but called off a trip to Paris and was due back home after only a few hours in Europe. On Wednesday, while in Berlin, Morsi told reporters that, “Egypt is on its way to achieving sound governance and a state of law in a framework of a modern civilian state which we all aspire to – a civilian state that is not a military state or a theocratic state, but an institutional civilian state.” When asked if he would be willing to form a “government of national salvation”  with the opposition, he answered that the new parliament would be chosen in the next couple of moths and it would be their job to form the new government.

In Egypt on Friday however, at least one protester was shot dead by police while dozens more were wounded outside the Presidential compound in Cairo. Police responded by firing both water cannons and tear gas to disrupt the crowds, but several witnesses said they saw police firing live ammunition. This renewed violence brought the end to the few days of calm after the deadliest week of Morsi’s seven months in power. By Sunday, the death totals of this recent violent uprising which began on the 24th of January, had reached an estimated total of 57. The U.S. has urged the Egyptian government to step in and control the police brutality after an Egyptian man was stripped and beaten by uniformed officers on Monday. The Egyptian culture minister has resigned after the reported incident. Opponents of the regime have criticised the police for their brutality, saying that nothing has changed since Mubarak was ousted. A US State department spokesperson commented on the issue saying, “we urge the government of Egypt to thoroughly, credibly and independently investigate all claims of violence and wrongdoing by security officials and demonstrators and to bring perpetrators to justice.” Despite Egypt’s recent political upheaval, on Sunday the US delivered four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt, a sure example of the continuing military connection between the two countries.

On the opposition front, a statement was released last Saturday by the rebels saying that Morsi, his interior minister and other associates had to be investigated and put on trial for “killings, torture and illegal detentions.” On Monday however, the opposition seemed to be backing away from their previous statement. A spokesperson from the National Salvation Front cleared up the confusion by commenting that, “We are not calling for the overthrow of President Mohamed Mursi right now. We believe he is elected but that doesn’t give him the right to change all the rules of the game.”

On 30 January Israeli warplanes bombed a convoy near Syria’s border with Lebanon. The airstrike was apparently targeting weapons being transported to Hezbollah. Syrian officials also claimed that Israel attacked a military research centre in Jamreya, although several Syrian rebel groups have come forward to take credit for the strike. The strike on the weapons convoy followed with warnings from Israel that it was ready to act to prevent the revolt against President al-Assad, which could possibly lead to members of Hezbollah or other Islamist enemies getting a hold of chemical weapons.

The UN human rights investigators called on Israel last Thursday to halt the planned settlement expansion and to withdraw all of the half a million Jewish settlers form the West Bank. Christine Chanet, the French judge who led the UN inquiry told a news conference that, “Israel must cease settlement activities and provide adequate, prompt and effective remedy to the victims of violations of human rights.” The court ruled that Jewish populations in the occupied territory could amount to war crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. In December, the Palestinians accused Israel in a letter to the United Nations of planning to commit what they said were additional war crimes by expanding Jewish settlements after the Palestinians won de facto UN recognition of statehood, and said Israel must be held accountable. A senior member of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation commented on the news, “This is incredible. We are extremely heartened by this principled and candid assessment of Israeli violations.”

On Saturday however, the Israeli army fired tear gas and used violence to evict Palestinian activists who were setting up a protest camp near a Jewish West Bank village. A police spokesperson confirmed that seven Palestinians were arrested for throwing rocks at army and police authorities. On Monday Israeli police during an overnight raid in the West Bank arrested 20 members of the Palestinian organisation Hamas, three of which are members of parliament. Israel regards Hamas as a terrorist organisation, but has not put forth a comment on why the arrests were made.

Syria protested to the United Nations over the Israeli Airstrike last Wednesday that targeted a weapons convoy. Syrian television was quoted saying, “Syria holds Israel and those who protect it in the Security Council fully responsible for the results of this aggression and affirms its right to defend itself, its land and sovereignty.” The Syrian ministry said that this attack was a direct violation of the 1974 military disengagement agreement which followed their last major war, and demanded the U.N. Security Council condemn Wednesdays attack unequivocally. Lebanon’s militant group Hezbollah condemned the attack, saying it was an attempt to weaken Arab military capabilities. Hezbollah released a statement saying that, “the attack showed that the conflict in Syria, where Assad is confronting an armed uprising, was part of a scheme to destroy Syria and its army and foil its pivotal role in the resistance.”

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met with Syrian opposition leader Mouaz Alkhatib during a European trip to discuss US concerns about the Syrian conflict. Biden met Alkhatib on Saturday in Munich at the annual international security conference. Ben Rhodes, a U.S. deputy national security advisor was quoted saying, “The position of the United States is focused on supporting an end to the Assad regime, which is why we have a significant amount of pressure applied on the Assad regime through sanctions and other means, while at the same time we’re working to bolster a Syrian Opposition Council that we recognise as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.” The United States wants to hash out a plan for the upcoming months with regards to Syria, and also address the stance of regime supporting countries like Russia, ” What we would like to see from other countries, including Russia, is an acknowledgment that Bashar al-Assad must go and that there needs to be a transition within Syria to a new government.”

Syrian opposition officials also met with both the Russia foreign minister and the Iranian foreign minister to discuss the situation is Syria. The opposition leader Mouaz Alkhatib commented on the talks, “Russia has a certain vision but we welcome negotiations to alleviate the crisis and there are lots of details that need to be discussed.” After his discussion with the Iranian minister Alkhatib told reporters, “We agreed we have to find a solution to end the suffering of the Syrian people.”

World leaders seek to raise $1.5 billion dollars for afflicted Syrians, but hopes are not high . The UN humanitarian office commented on the possibility for more aid to Syria, “So far, only a small percentage of the funding for 2013 has been received, limiting the ability of U.N. agencies and their humanitarian partners to reach people who desperately need help,” It turns out although, getting the money is only have the battle, “International aid provided to Syria is not being distributed equitably between government and opposition controlled areas… Areas under government control receive nearly all international aid, while opposition-held zones receive only a tiny share.”

Turkish Prime Minister joined other world leaders in criticising Israel for attacking the Syrian weapons convoy, calling it a act of “state terrorism.” Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted saying, “Those who have been treating Israel like a spoilt child should expect anything from them, at any time.” He also told reporters, “As I say time and again, Israel has a mentality of waging state terrorism. Right now, there is no telling what it might do and where it might do it.”

In Turkey on Friday a far leftist suicide bomber killed a Turkish security guard outside the US embassy in Ankara. The bomber detonated the explosives strapped to his body after entering the embassy guesthouse. Sources say that the bomber was a member of the Revolutionary Peoples Liberation Party Front, an anti- US and anti-NATO group listed as a terrorist organisation. Although the motivation for the attack  was unclear the White House has called it an act of terror.

Dozens were killed on Saturday after a gunman and suicide bomber attacked a police complex in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk. The attack in northern Iraq has killed at least 30 people and wounded and estimated 70 people. The gunman stormed the complex after the suicide bomber detonated a car bomb. No group has come forth and claimed responsibility for the attack.

Tuesday February 4th, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has become the first Iranian president to visit Egypt since the Islamic revolution in 1979. President Ahmadinejad is in Cairo for a summit of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, which is scheduled to begin on Wednesday. Upon arriving he discussed with President Morsi ways to end the violent uprising in Syria and further strengthen relations. Ahmadinejad was quoted saying before leaving Iran, “I will try to pave the ground for developing co-operation between Iran and Egypt… If Tehran and Cairo see more eye-to-eye on regional and international issues, many [issues] will change.”

By ICSR research intern Mildred Conroy