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M!ddleEasterners Newsblog 6 – 14 February

19/02/2013

Egypt

February 5th – the anniversary of the overthrow of Mubarak – saw protesters demanding the resignation of President Morsi as they clashed with police outside the presidential palace. Police responded by firing tear gas and water cannons from inside the compound. The compound has increased its security since the number of protests have risen by raising the walls and adding barbed wire. Security has also been heightened for opposition leaders after threats by a hard line cleric called for their deaths. President Morsi condemned the threats but stood by his earlier assertion that the  country’s liberal opposition was creating unrest, “It is strange that some [in Egypt] advocate political violence and incite it while others, who claim to speak in the name of religion, allow ‘killing’ on the basis of political differences, which is terrorism itself.”

A Cairo court has ordered the government to block access to YouTube for at least a month for allowing an anti-Islamic video to be posted. Judge Tawfiq described the video as “offensive to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.” Google, YouTube’s parents company declined to take the video down after requests were made last year, but did restrict access to it in certain countries, including Egypt, Libya and Indonesia.

Former Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik has said that he suspects that this is the end of the line for President Morsi and his government. The former PM commented on the present government, “You can’t bring a group from nothing to suddenly running a country of 90 million people with a lot of problems and a sensitive geographical location.” He claims that Egyptians reject the regime as a whole because it has been a failure, “They do not reject the regime from nothing, they reject it as a result of the actions that have taken place over the last seven months … It has not been a success.”

Syria

Leaders of Muslim nations meeting at in Cairo,called for a negotiated end to the civil war.  In his address, President Morsi commented, “Egypt is extremely keen on bringing an end to the Syrian crisis in the quickest time possible in order to save the bloodshed of the Syrian people and to preserve its land. The ruling government in Syria must revert to history and learn its lesson: the people are the ones who remain and those who put their own interests ahead of their people, are bound to go.” He also urged all members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to support the Syrian opposition’s efforts to promote change in their country.

Two suicide car bombings targeting a military intelligence headquarters in Palmyra killed approximately 19 people. It was reported that rebel fighters attacked the building soon after the blasts went off, causing a shootout in which 8 civilians were wounded. Activist Abu al-Hassan witnessed it, “The first car bomb struck at around six in the morning. The second one, which caused the larger explosion, broke through into the compound 10 minutes later.” Heavy fighting also erupted in Damascus, as rebel forces launched an attack on government forces, breaking the stalemate. Captain Islam Alloush of the Liwa al-Islam rebel unit stated that, “the objective is to take out the sniper positions and fortifications that form part of the regime’s defence line on Damascus, not to advance too quickly without having the proper support.” Government forces in Damascus responded by bombarding the Damascus ring road with jets. Warplanes launched rockets at the southern parts of the roads where rebels were advancing closer to Damascus.

At least 14 were killed and many more wounded following a car bomb explosion near the border with Turkey. The Cilvegozu border gate is one of the main crossings for Syrian refugees. The car exploded while it was driving through a stretch of no-man’s land between the two countries.  Bulent Arinc, deputy Prime Minister, said the Turkish government was investigating all possible causes for the blast.

Syrian rebels seized the countries largest  hydro-electric dam on the Euphrates River. Abu Ziad Teif, an opposition activist reported that “the dam was protected by an artillery battery and many intelligence units. The rebels moved on them in a lightning offensive yesterday, overrunning their positions and capturing scores of personnel.” He said that it wasn’t clear if the opposition would be able to keep the dam in operation or whether the employees still have their jobs. The 12th rebels also successfully captured a military air base in Northern Syria. The al-Jarrah airfield base in Aleppo housed fighter jets that are now in the hands of Syrian opposition forces. A video was posted online by the opposition showing several of the jets and many rounds of ammunition. The video according to the Associated Press appeared genuine.

After talks with the head of the Arab League in Cairo, Syrian National Coalition leader, Moaz Alkhatib commented that talks to end the 22 month civil war were still open. Alkhatib told reporters “the regime has not given a clear answer so far, clearly, frankly, that it accepts leaving to spare destruction and blood.” No meetings have been scheduled as of now and no contact has been made between the two battling parties.

US Pentagon leaders told Congress that they supported the earlier recommendation to arm the Syrian opposition. So far the US government has limited its aid to strictly non-lethal support. The Times reported that the plan to arm the opposition was turned down by the Obama administration over the concern that the arms could fall into the wrong hands. The UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay repeated her original call for the council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court. Pillay told the council that the death toll in Syria is, “probably now approaching 70,000.” She furthered her complaint saying “the lack of consensus on Syria and the resulting inaction has been disastrous and civilians on all sides have paid the price… We will be judged against the tragedy that has unfolded before our eyes.

Israel

Israel gave a final approval to 90 settlements to be constructed in the West Bank, further driving a wedge between Israeli /American relations. The settlements are planned to be built in Beit El, a major Jewish settlement north of Jerusalem. Issues surrounding the settlement expansion have been a major point of friction between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu . Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Abbas, said in response that, “the Palestinian position is clear. There can be no negotiation while settlement continues.”  Most countries recognise that Israel’s settlements in the West bank are illegal, although Israel disputes this, referencing historic links to the region.

Palestinians in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have started registering to vote. There is although, no date set yet for the legislative or presidential ballot because of political blocs still arguing over reconciliation. Hundreds of Palestinians lined up to register, although many of them were less then hopeful that there would be a change in the near future, “there is very little hope. It is a bit like Satan’s hope to go to Heaven,” said 56-year-old Naeem Doghmosh.