Archive for July 9, 2013

July 08, 2013

ISTANBUL (AP) — An Istanbul park that was at the center of weeks of anti-government demonstrations opened for a few hours Monday, but Turkish authorities quickly closed it and fired a water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters heading to the area for a planned rally.

The attack — the second by police on protesters since Saturday — occurred on a main pedestrian road leading to Istanbul’s landmark Taksim Square and adjacent Gezi Par. On Monday afternoon, Gov. Huseyin Avni Mutlu declared Gezi Park reopened to the public, but warned he would not allow it to become a point for more demonstrations. About three hours later, police asked the public to leave the park and closed it.

An Associated Press journalist at the scene said police used shields to push some laggards out of the park, fired tear gas at a few protesters who struck a police shield, and detained a dozen people. Some protesters were seen hurling stones at a police water cannon.

The Istanbul Bar Association said around 30 demonstrators were rounded up, including members of a group opposed to Taksim’s redevelopment who had called Monday’s Gezi protest. The Istanbul Medical Association said several people were injured.

Mutlu said on his Twitter account that the park was shut down again because there were “many calls to turn Gezi Park into an area of unlawful demonstrations and occupation.” Gezi had been cordoned off since June 15, when police forcibly evacuated thousands of environmentalists who occupied it amid widespread protests against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

The park is one of a few green areas in the center of Istanbul. Government plans to redevelop Taksim and build a replica Ottoman-era military barracks at Gezi sparked the protests. But they quickly turned into an outpouring of discontent with Erdogan’s government.

Opponents say Erdogan, who came to power a decade ago, has become increasingly authoritarian — a charge the prime minister rejects and points to the 50 percent support his party received at elections in 2011.

The protests have largely tapered off since June. On Saturday, however, police used tear gas to break up a few thousand demonstrators planning to break through police cordons to enter Gezi. More than 50 people were detained.

The media rights group, Reporters Without Borders, said at least 12 journalists were attacked by police during Saturday’s protest and at least two were in police custody. “We deplore the continuing abuses by police, who are still using tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets, still insulting and beating and journalists,” the group said.

Last month an Istanbul court ruled against the redevelopment plans, but the decision is not final and is expected to be appealed at a higher administrative court. At least four people — three protesters and a police officer — were killed in the widespread protests in June.

Erdogan has dismissed the protests by the mainly middle class, urban and secular-oriented Turks as a foreign-led conspiracy against his government and has held counter rallies to shore up support among his more conservative base.

July 8, 2013

ANKARA, Turkey, July 8 (UPI) — The Turkish government said Monday the attacks on demonstrators in Egypt will likely result in more bloodshed in the country.

The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Monday it “learned with deep sorrow” of the death of more than 50 people during attacks in front of the Cairo headquarters of the Republican Guards, a military unit tasked with defending government institutions.

Egyptian violence escalated since last week’s ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram reports fighting broke out between pro- and anti-Morsi crowds protesting in front of the military headquarters.

The Turkish government said the attack could lead to “extremely serious repercussions” in the country.

“This attack, which violates basic universal values such as the freedom of expression and the freedom of peaceful assembly, is also by nature a provocation which will stoke violence,” the government said.

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo said its offices were closed to the public Monday and regular consular services were suspended for the day. It said the number of protesters occupying Cairo’s central Tahrir Square continued to swell.

The U.S. State Department last week said it was not taking sides in the wake of Morsi’s ouster.

Ankara said it was calling on members of the international community to stand by the Egyptian struggle for democracy.

“Turkey will continue to stand in solidarity with the friendly and brotherly people of Egypt,” it said.

Morsi served 13 months as the first Egyptian president elected by a democratic vote.

Source: United Press International (UPI).


The Guardian

Monday 8 July 2013

In the past 10 days, the security forces became a major instigator of disorder and violence

However the shooting at a Muslim Brotherhood sit-in outside the Republican Guard club in Cairo started – and there are wildly conflicting accounts: the Brotherhood called it “a massacre” shortly after dawn prayers, while the army said it responded to a “terrorist” attack – it is indisputable that 51 people died and more than 300 people were injured in what has become the deadliest single clash since the fall of Hosni Mubarak. According to our body count, more Egyptians have been killed and injured in two weeks of protests than in one year under Mohamed Morsi. The argument that the army had to go in to restore order when it staged its coup has been shown to be fallacious. In the past 10 days, the security forces became a major instigator of disorder and violence. The army also became wholly partisan, handing out orange juice and cold water to one side and firing bullets at the other.

No sooner did the news break than the country’s interim leadership began to shed political cover. Three major players either switched sides or threatened to: the Salafist al-Nour party withdrew from talks about a transitional government; Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, the Islamist leader who left the Muslim Brotherhood last year, called on the interim president to resign; and the country’s most senior Muslim cleric, al-Azhar’s grand imam, Ahmed al-Tayeb, threatened to walk out. His most senior adviser, a respected and non-partisan scholar, publicly rejected the offer to participate in the proposed national reconciliation commission, saying that no conciliation was possible until everybody, who had been arrested – including Morsi – had been freed, and until the killing stopped. He is right. This has to happen before any talks can take place.

The boycott that the sheikh and others announced on Monday means that there is no Islamist force left supporting the military regime’s attempts to set up a transitional government. It may mean that the popular mood remains hostile in large areas of Cairo and other cities to the return of Morsi as president, but the fact remains that the political alliance behind the National Salvation Front and other supporters of the army coup has crumbled. Excluding the Islamists, who constitute a substantial part of the electorate, comes at a high price. The legitimate criticism of Morsi is that he failed to ruled on behalf of all Egyptians. With the current political breakup, the task of unifying the nation has become hugely more difficult after the past 48 hours.

This leaves Egypt swinging like a coach that has smashed through the safety barriers and has come to a halt with its front wheels dangling over the edge of ravine. The Brotherhood, thinking that its numbers will be swollen by the defections, has called for an uprising, adding later that it should remain peaceful. If it saw little reason before Monday morning’s events to make life easier for the military who deposed its president and ordered mass arrests of its senior leadership, it sees even less reason to play ball now. We can only expect the tactic of sit-ins, mass civil disobedience and repeated demonstrations to continue, particularly during Ramadan, which starts on Wednesday.

Two hours after sundown, Muslims gather every night at the mosque for the evening prayer, which becomes a natural magnet for large gatherings. This religious practice naturally favours what has become the Islamist opposition, who will have large numbers in the streets each night, whatever happens. The imminence of Ramadan provided one reason for the timing of the coup, which was expected to establish new facts on the ground before opposition could be organised. The army gambled that the Muslim Brotherhood would go quietly back to prison, and it failed. It now has a major fight on its hands just to keep control of the country.

The army’s claim to be protector of all Egyptians is disintegrating before our eyes. Before it loses its cohesion – and there are reports of unrest in its lower ranks – it should back down, because even worse might follow.

Source: The Guardian.


July 08, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — Journalists for the pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera have been kicked out of a news conference being held by Egypt’s military on the killing of at least 54 people, most of them supporters of Egypt’s ousted president, outside an army facility.

Qatar-based Al-Jazeera was founded by the Gulf nation’s ruling family. The tiny but wealthy country was a strong supporter of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who was toppled by the military on Wednesday.

The station broadcast graphic images of those killed and wounded in the violence Monday outside a military facility. During the news conference, one journalist stood up and demanded Al-Jazeera reporters be excluded from the proceedings.

The Al-Jazeera reporters eventually walked out accompanied by chants of “Out! Out!” from others in the crowd.

July 09, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — More than 50 supporters of Egypt’s ousted president were killed by security forces Monday in one of the deadliest single episodes of violence in more than 2 ½ years of turmoil. The toppled leader’s Muslim Brotherhood called for an uprising, accusing troops of gunning down protesters, while the military blamed armed Islamists for provoking its forces.

The early morning carnage at a sit-in by Islamists outside the Republican Guard headquarters, where ousted President Mohammed Morsi was first held last week, further entrenched the battle lines between the ousted president supporters and his opponents. The uproar weakened the political coalition that backed the military’s removal of the country’s first freely elected leader.

Egypt’s top Muslim cleric, the sheik of Al-Azhar, warned of civil war and took the unusual step of announcing he would seclude himself in his home until the two sides “stop the bloodshed.” The sole Islamist faction that backed Morsi’s removal, the ultraconservative Al-Nour Party, suspended its participation in talks on forming a new leadership for the country. The group is now torn by pressure from many in its base, furious over what they saw as a “massacre” against Islamists.

Both the military and the Brotherhood appeared determined not to back down in the confrontation. The Brotherhood accuses the military of carrying out a coup against democracy, while their opponents say Morsi squandered his 2012 election mandate and was leading the country into a Brotherhood monopoly on power

The military-backed interim president announced a fast-track timetable that would lead to elections for a new parliament within about seven months. Under the plan, two panels would be appointed to made amendments to the Islamist-drafted constitution passed under Morsi. Those changes would be put to a referendum within about four and half months. Parliamentary elections would be held within two months, and once the new parliament convenes it would have a week to set a date for a presidential election.

The swift issuing of the plan reflected a drive to push ahead with a post-Morsi political plan despite Islamist rejection — and is further to further outrage the Brotherhood. The Freedom and Justice party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, called on Egyptians to rise up against the army, which it accused of turning Egypt into “a new Syria.” The new military-backed leadership, meanwhile, was pushing ahead with its post-Morsi political plans, working on a timetable for new presidential elections and a new Cabinet.

“This could be a moment of extremism for both sides” of the equation, Mohammed Mahsoub, a member of the Islamist Wasat Party told Al-Jazeera TV. Immediately, both sides presented their versions of what happened at the protest site, where around 1,000 Morsi supporters had been camped out for days in the streets around a Mosque near the Republican Guard Headquarters. After the violence began around dawn, the two sides battled it out for around three hours.

Protesters and the Brotherhood said it began when troops descended on them and opened fire unprovoked as they finished dawn prayers. “I was in the last row praying. They were firing from the left and right,” said Nashat Mohammed, who had come from southern Egypt to join the sit-in and was wounded in the knee in the mayhem. “We said, ‘Stop, we’re your brothers. They shot at us from every direction.”

Spokesmen for the military and police, however, gave a nationally televised news conference saying gunmen among the protesters sparked the battle. Army Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said police and troops guarding the Republican Guard complex came under “heavy gunfire” at around 4 a.m. and attackers on rooftops opened fire with guns and molotov cocktails. A soldier and two policemen were killed, and 42 in the security forces were wounded, eight critically, he said.

While he said troops had a right to defend the facility, however, Ali did not directly explain how the protester deaths occurred. He expressed condolences but offered no apologies for the deaths. A collection of footage of the clashes provided by the military, aired on Egyptian TV stations, showed protesters on rooftops lobbing projectiles at troops below, including fire bombs and toilet seats. It also showed some armed protesters firing at close range at the troops, but it showed no footage of what the military did. It was also not clear at what time in the fighting the videos were shot. It included aerial views of the clashes.

Several witnesses from outside the protest said the gunfire started when troops appeared to move on the camp. University student Mirna el-Helbawi told The Associated Press that she watched from her 14th floor apartment overlooking the scene, after she heard protesters banging on metal barricades, a common battle cry. El-Helbawi, 21, said she saw troops and police approaching the protesters, who were lined up on the street behind a make-shift wall. The troops fired tear gas, the protesters responded with rocks, she said.

Soon after, she heard the first gunshots and saw the troops initially retreat backward — which she said led her to believe the shots came from the protester side. She saw Morsi supporters firing from rooftops, while the troops were also shooting.

By the end, at least 51 protesters were killed and 435 wounded, most from live ammunition and birdshot, emergency services chief Mohammed Sultan, according to the state news agency. Reeling from scenes of bloodied protesters in hospitals and clinics, many with gaping wounds, some of the country’s politicians tried to push new plans for some sort of reconciliation in the deeply polarized nation.

Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, the most prominent Sunni Muslim institution, demanded that a reconciliation panel with full powers immediately start work and that those detained in recent days be released. Five prominent Brotherhood figures have been jailed since Morsi’s fall, and Morsi himself is held in detention in an unknown location.

El-Tayeb’s announcement he was going into seclusion was a symbolic but dramatic stance — a figure seen as a moral compass by many Egyptians expressing his disgust with all sides in the events. Egypt’s Coptic popes have at times gone into seclusion to protest acts against the Christian community, but the sheik of Al-Azhar has never done so.

Struggling whether to fully bolt from the new leadership, the ultraconservative Al-Nour Party denounced what it called incitement against fellow Islamists. Speaking to Al-Jazeera TV, the party’s chief Younes Makhyoun raised the possibility of calling a referendum on Morsi as a compromise measure.

There were multiple calls for an independent investigation into the bloodshed as a way to establish the truth and move forward. The military-backed interim president, Adly Mansour, ordered a judicial inquiry into the killings. Significantly, the statement from his office echoed the military’s version of events, saying the killings followed an attempt to storm the Republican Guard’s headquarters.

The escalating chaos could further complicate Egypt’s relations with Washington and other Western allies, which had supported Morsi as the country’s first freely elected leader and now are reassessing policies toward the military-backed group that forced him out.

Still, the White House said Monday that cutting off the more than $1 billion in annual aid to Egypt was not in the U.S.’s best interests, though it was reviewing whether the military’s moves constitute a coup — which would force such a measure under U.S. law.

But Egypt’s new leadership appeared to be pushing ahead with the “road map” the military set up for the post-Morsi political system. Along with the timetable for elections, negotiations have been ongoing over appointing a prime minister, who will hold the main powers in governing the country. Talks have been stalled by Al-Nour Party vetos of candidates from liberal and secular factions — but if the party drops out, those factions may push through a candidate.

At the same time, the military was pushing hard to isolate Islamists from public support, depicting their protests as rife with gunmen and weapons. Ali said the sit-in outside the Guard headquarters had “abandoned peacefulness.” Ali also pointed to other incidents of Islamist violence after Morsi’s toppling on Wednesday, including coordinated, deadly attacks by extremists on military installations in the Sinai Peninsula.

Prosecutors in Cairo also ordered the closure of the Brotherhood party’s headquarters amid investigations into a cache of weapons found there, according to the official Middle East News Agency. During the wave of protests last week that led to Morsi’s removal, Brotherhood supporters used guns in several instances to defend their offices when opponents marched on them — or outright attacked them.

Islamists, meanwhile, depicted the military as willing to wipe them out by force of arms. Outside hospitals and clinics near Monday’s violence, Morsi supporters waved the bloodied shirts of the dead or wounded.

“The only thing the military understands is force and they are trying to force people into submission,” said Marwan Mosaad, speaking at a field hospital run by Morsi’s supporters. “It is a struggle of wills and no one can predict anything.”

Abu Ubaida Mahmoud, a religion student from Al-Azhar University, said he had been praying when the sit-in’s security teams began banging on metal barricades in warning. He then saw troops coming out of the Guard complex.

“The number of troops that came from inside was stunning,” said Mahmoud, who was wounded in the hand. It was “as if they were firing at an enemy,” said another protester, Ahmed Youssef. A fire raged from an apartment in a building overlooking the clashes. Images showed men throwing spears from atop nearby building rooftops. Other protesters were lobbing fire bombs at the troops. It was not clear at what stage in the melee the footage was filmed. Security officers were showing cameras bullet casings, and troops were carrying injured colleagues.

By the afternoon, the sit-in site was cleared along with blockades that had been set up on roads. The site of the early morning clashes, a strip of road about a kilometer long (about half a mile), was covered with rocks, shattered glass, shoes, clothes, prayer rugs and personal photographs.

A big Morsi banner remained hoisted in front of the Republican Guards’ building. On the ground below it, graffiti read: “Where are our votes?”

Associated Press correspondent Paul Schemm contributed to this report.

Mon, 08/07/2013

Egypt Independent

The Salafi Nour Party announced its complete withdrawal from politics and decision to abstain from participating in the implementation of a roadmap announced by Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s following clashes that broke out in eastern Cairo this morning.

Thirty five supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsy were killed in the massacre, according to sources from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Nour Party head Younis Makhyoun said on his Facebook page on Monday that, in response to the “Republican Guards House massacre,” his party has decided to completely withdraw from the political scene and from partaking in putting in place a roadmap announced by Sisi.

Makhyoun added that the party has also decided to stop collaborating with President Adly Mansour. He said that the party will issue a statement to clarify its position in the next few hours.

Nader Bakkar, the party’s assistant head of media affairs, said that the group has decided to withdraw from all negotiations in a preliminary response to the alleged massacre.

On Twitter, Bakkar added that the party will not remain silent about the “Republican Guards House massacre.”

“We wanted to stop bloodshed, but rivers of blood are being spilled,” he said.

Source: Egypt Independent.


July 08, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — Secular and liberal factions trying to install one of their own as Egypt’s new prime minister collided into strong resistance Sunday from the sole Islamist faction that backed the military’s ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, reflecting the difficulties in building a broad coalition behind a new leadership.

As wrangling continued over the prime minister spot, giant rallies by the movements that pushed out Morsi took on a sharply nationalist tone, pervaded with posters of the military’s chief and denunciations of the United States and President Barack Obama for they see as their backing of the Islamist leader.

The show of strength in the streets was aimed at fending off a determined campaign by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which brought out its own supporters Sunday in large protests. Warning that the military is turning Egypt into a “totalitarian state,” Brotherhood officials vowed to stay on the streets to reverse what they call a coup against democracy and restore Egypt’s first freely elected president to office.

Military warplanes swooped over the anti-Morsi crowd filling Cairo’s Tahrir Square, drawing a heart shape and an Egyptian flag in the sky with colored smoke. Large banners read “Obama, hands off, a message to the USA. Obama supports the terrorists of 911” with a picture of Obama with an Islamists’ beard.

Throughout Morsi’s year in office, many of his opponents accused the United States of backing his administration. Washington often underlined that it was dealing with Morsi as the country’s elected leader.

Before the wave of anti-Morsi protests began on June 30, U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson said in a speech that she was “deeply skeptical” protests would be fruitful. She defended U.S. relations with Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood as necessary because the group is part of the democratically elected government.

Since Morsi’s removal Wednesday, Washington has tread carefully, expressing concern without outright calling the army’s move a coup or denouncing Morsi’s ouster. On Saturday, the White House said in a statement that it rejects “false claims propagated by some in Egypt that we are working with specific political parties or movements to dictate how Egypt’s transition should proceed,” saying it is committed to Egyptians’ aspirations for democracy.

The widespread appearance of anti-American slogans in Tahrir had a double-edged message: painting the Brotherhood as a tool of Washington and pushing back against U.S. concerns over the military’s moves.

Obama “must know that this is a popular revolution,” said Shawki Ibrahim, a 37-year-old in Tahrir with a portrait of army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi dangling from his neck. “The United States should support the people’s will and not the interest of a person or a group seeking only their own interest,” he said.

The appointment of a prime minister is the key next step in building a post-Morsi leadership. The prime minister is to hold far greater powers in running the country than the interim president — Adly Mansour, a senior judge who was sworn into the post earlier.

The bloc of secular, leftist and liberal factions that led the giant wave of protests against Morsi last week are now the main grouping in a loose collection of movements trying to fill out leadership posts. They are pushing for one of their own as prime minister to have a strong voice in shaping the country.

But also among them is a main party of the ultraconservative Islamist movement known as Salafis — al-Nour — which turned against Morsi months ago and backed the military’s ouster of him. On Saturday, al-Nour blocked the appointment of the most prominent liberal figure, Mohamed ElBaradei, as prime minister, who is deeply distrusted by the Islamist movement as too secular.

On Sunday, the secular-liberal bloc offered a compromise candidate — Ziad Bahaa-Eldin, a prominent financial expert and an ally of ElBaradei. The interim president’s spokesman Ahmed al-Musalamani, told Egypt’s ONTV that Bahaa-Eldin was the leading candidate, with ElBaradei positioned to be named vice president.

But al-Nour again appeared prepared to block it. “Our position is that the prime minister should not belong to a specific faction … We want a technocrat,” al-Nour Party chief Younes Makhyoun told The Associated Press. He pointed to Bahaa-Eldin’s membership in the National Salvation Front, the main umbrella group of liberal parties that was Morsi’s main opposition.

Al-Nour faces considerable pressure from its followers not to be seen as backing down to secular movements. Brotherhood officials claim some al-Nour members have already joined its pro-Morsi protests. When al-Nour broke with Morsi months ago, it caused a split among its ranks, with some members forming a new party that remained with the president.

Al-Nour was clearly concerned about appearing to side with the military against fellow Islamists at a time when Morsi and five other prominent Brotherhood figures have been put in detention and Islamist television stations have been put off the air.

Speaking on Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr TV, Makhyoun warned that if the interim president throws out the Islamist-drafted constitution and appoints a panel to write a new one, the party will break with the military-backed “road map” for a transition. So far, the constitution has only been suspended and the talk has been of just amending disputed articles.

On Sunday, the Dawaa Salafia, a body of clerics allied to al-Nour, said the new leadership must be inclusive of Islamists, and it criticized the heavy hand against the Brotherhood. “No one should rejoice for undermining the freedom of others even if they are political rivals because repression is harmful for all,” it said in a statement on its website.

“The police and the army should not discriminate between citizens based on their political color. Worse than this is to discriminate against anyone because of their Islamic disposition,” it said. The liberal and secular factions want to maintain al-Nour support to show they have a powerful Islamist voice on their side. Al-Nour won a quarter of the seats in parliament in 2011-2012 elections.

But they were infuriated by its blocking of ElBaradei, with some insisting it should not have veto power over the post. The youth activist group Tamarod accused al-Nour of “blackmail” and arm-twisting.”

That raises the possibility they could eventually ignore al-Nour’s demands and force through a candidate of their own. That would risk al-Nour breaking away, further solidifying Egypt’s divide into Islamist and non-Islamist camps.

The prime minister will also likely have strong influence on the process of writing a new constitution. That’s a major concern of al-Nour, which pushed hard for the Islamic character of the charter pushed through under Morsi’s administration, which was suspended after his ouster.

Walid el-Masry, of Tamarod, said al-Nour is using the ElBaradei issue to press liberals on the constitution, worried about changes to the Islamist-drafted charter. “They are afraid about the articles that concern the state’s Islamic identity,” he said, adding that the liberals assured Salafis that they won’t touch these articles.

The Islamists have denounced the removal of Morsi as an army coup against democracy. Their opponents have argued the president had squandered his electoral mandate and that the Brotherhood was putting Egypt on an undemocratic path.

Pro-Morsi rallies turned out in several places around Cairo on Sunday, centered outside the Rabaah al-Adawiya Mosque where tens of thousands massed. The Brotherhood has so far staunchly rejected any cooperation with the emerging military-backed leadership, saying Morsi must return to its posts. But in a statement late Sunday, it hinted at the possibility of listening to other initiatives — as long as they entailed the president’s reinstatement.

“Despite great bitterness, we are ready to accept the initiatives of loyal friends who call for the complete return of legitimacy, including president, constitution and (parliament),” it said. Senior Brotherhood member Saad Emara said there was no possibility for any negotiations with the new leadership after “all betrayed us,” and following the military’s clampdown on the group.

“We are not regressing to a Mubarak era but to … a totalitarian regime,” he told AP. “Anything other than protest is suicide.” A Brotherhood spokesman, Gehad el-Haddad, said the military is not giving any positive signals for the group to be willing to talk, pointing to the arrests of the leadership figures and shutdowns of media.

“They are trying to terrorize us,” he said. Outside Rabaa al-Adawiya, Brotherhood supporters waved flags as young men wearing makeshift helmets jogged in place and did calisthenics, as part of security teams the group says are to defend its rallies from attack.

One man raised a poster in Arabic and English: “Where is my president? Where is Morsi?” “Do we not deserve democracy, aren’t we worth anything?” said an emotional Alaa el-Saim, a retired army engineer in a broad-brimmed hat to protect from the sun. He pointed to the shooting by troops on Friday of pro-Morsi protesters. “It’s the first time I’ve seen that, the army shoots at us with weapons they bought with the taxes I paid.”

Khaled Galal, a young bearded man in a skull cap, called the army’s actions the “rape of legitimacy.” “Muslims aren’t allowed democracy, and when we pick up weapons to defend it we get called terrorists,” he said.

AP correspondents Paul Schemm and Tony G. Gabriel contributed to this report

July 07, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Shells smashed into a central prison in the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo, killing prisoners, a rights group said Sunday, part of a long battle for control of the ancient city.

The explosions killed six prisoners, said the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which communicates with a network of activists on the ground. The explosives hit on Friday night, the Observatory said. It was not clear who fired the shells.

The Observatory reported about 70 soldiers and fighters were killed on Sunday, as well as 40 civilians, in fighting across Syria. The U.N. estimates some 93,000 people have been killed in the civil war.

With government forces stepping up offensives, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood called on the U.S. and Europe to send arms. “Providing the Free Syrian Army and the revolutionary rebels with appropriate arms is more urgent now than at any time in the past,” the movement wrote on social media sites. “We feel cheated and disappointed because the U.S. and Europe have backed out from arming the FSA,” it said.

Last month the U.S. decided in principle to provide some weapons to rebel forces, though Western countries are concerned they might land in the hands of extremist Sunni Muslims fighting with the rebels.

The forces include an al-Qaida-linked group which has been fighting for weeks to seize control of the prison in Aleppo, besieging it. The Observatory estimated some 120 prisoners have died in the jail since April from fighting, illness and executions.

Syria’s state run news agency SANA said “a number” of rebels were killed in the shelling but did not give an exact number. Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, is near the border with Turkey. Many of its ancient monuments and its marketplace, once a magnet for tourists, have been destroyed in fighting.

Rebels and government forces also clashed near the Shiite towns of Nubul and Zahra in Aleppo province, the Observatory and pro-rebel activists reported. The towns have been besieged since at least May by hard-line Sunni rebels seeking to dislodge their enemies.

The Observatory said fighting killed three regime troops, including one foreigner, code for a fighter from the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah. Rebels claim that Assad’s forces and Hezbollah fighters are in the two towns. A hard-line Sunni brigade warned last week it would punish Shiites for harboring the forces, suggesting the towns’ populations of some 40,000 Shiites could be targeted.

The fighting underscores the growing sectarian nature of the two-year uprising against Assad’s regime. It began as peaceful protests but turned into an armed rebellion after a brutal government crackdown. It has since taken on regional dimensions, with Hezbollah fighters joining Assad’s forces. Foreign Sunni fighters have joined predominantly Sunni Syrian rebels who are formed in bands ranging from secular to hard-line Islamists.

At home, Assad draws support largely from Syria’s minorities, including fellow Alawites — followers of an offshoot of Shiite Islam — as well as Christians, Shiites and Sunnis who fear the hard-line rebels.

In recent weeks, Assad’s forces, bolstered by Hezbollah fighters, have pushed back to seize rebel-held areas in several parts of Syria. In the central Syrian city of Homs, Assad’s forces fired mortar shells from a stronghold of buildings on the edge of the rebel-held area of Khaldiyeh, trying to flush out fighters, said two activists.

Explosions could be heard as they spoke via Skype. The shells were exploding in the densely-built area surrounding the 13th-century mosque of Khalid Ibn al-Walid, famous for its nine domes and two minarets, said a Homs-based activist identified as Nedal. He said parts of the wall surrounding the historic complex were blown away. Other parts were damaged in previous rounds of fighting.

Khaldiyeh-based activist Abu Bilal said fighters were low on weapons. He said the international community, despite promises to arm rebels, had left them hanging in Homs. “They have sold Homs to the enemy,” he complained.

The U.N. warns the some 4,500 residents in besieged, rebel-held areas of Homs face a humanitarian catastrophe. On Friday, the divided U.N. Security Council failed to approve a statement calling on the Syrian government to allow immediate access to trapped civilians there. Russia, Syria’s closest ally, demanded that the statement should also call for immediate access to the towns of Nubul and Zahra.

July 07, 2013

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — A radical Muslim preacher described as a key al-Qaida operative in Europe rejected terrorism charges Sunday linked to alleged plots targeting Americans and Israelis in Jordan, his lawyer said, hours after Britain deported him to bring an end to a decade-long legal saga over his extradition.

Jordan first submitted an extradition request to U.K. authorities for the militant cleric known as Abu Qatada in 2001, but it was blocked in British and European courts over human rights concerns. Last month, Britain and Jordan ratified a treaty on torture aimed at easing those worries, paving the way for the 53-year-old preacher’s deportation.

Abu Qatada arrived at Amman’s civilian airport early Sunday on board a British aircraft and was immediately whisked away by heavily armed anti-terrorism police for questioning at a nearby courthouse. Police sealed off the area as the convoy drove against traffic to the court building, just across the street from the airport. Armed policemen kept a crush of journalists at bay.

After nearly two hours of questioning, Jordanian prosecutors charged Abu Qatada with conspiring to carry out terror attacks in Jordan twice — once in 1999 for a foiled plot against the American school in Amman and another time in 2000 for allegedly targeting Israeli and American tourists and Western diplomats during new year celebrations.

In both cases, Abu Qatada was convicted in absentia years ago and sentenced to life in prison. With his return, those sentences have been suspended and he will receive a new trial. Abu Qatada’s lawyer, Tayseer Thiab, said his client “told military prosecutors that he is not guilty of terrorism and rejected the charges against him.”

Jordanian authorities ordered Abu Qatada held for 15 days pending further questioning, according to one of the prosecutors. He said the cleric will be held at Muwaqar I, a prison in Amman’s southeastern industrial suburb of Sahab. The military district attorney banned the publication of the prosecutors’ names.

Thiab said he will try to free his client on bail Monday. Outside the courthouse, Abu Qatada’s father, Mahmoud, told the Associated press that his “son is innocent and I hope the court will set him free.”

The cleric’s younger brother, Ibrahim, said he and his father met with Abu Qatada for 15 minutes in the prosecutor’s office and that his brother “looked well and in high spirits.” He said the three prayed together and that the cleric “kissed my dad’s hands and feet when he saw him.” He told them British and Jordanian authorities had not used hand cuffs.

“How do you think I felt seeing my brother after 22 years?” Ibrahim said. “Look at my eyes and you’ll know the answer.” Abu Qatada, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, has been described in courts in Britain and Spain as a senior al-Qaida figure in Europe who had close ties to the late Osama bin Laden.

Britain accused him of links with Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States over the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and with shoe bomber Richard Reid. Audio recordings of some of the cleric’s sermons were found in an apartment in Hamburg, Germany, used by some of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

Abu Qatada arrived in Britain on a forged passport in 1993 after fleeing a Jordanian government crackdown on militants. He was granted asylum in the U.K. a year later, but he eventually wore out his welcome because of his suspected militant activities, which allegedly included raising funds to finance terror plots in Jordan.

British authorities first tried to deport Abu Qatada in 2001, then detained him a year later under anti-terrorism laws, which at the time allowed suspected terrorists to be jailed without charge. Though he was released in 2005 when the unpopular law was overturned, the cleric was kept under close surveillance and detained in various ways.

He most recently was being held at London’s Belmarsh prison after breaching a bail condition in March which restricted the use of mobile phones and communication devices. In London, British Home Secretary Theresa May announced Abu Qatada’s departure Sunday in a statement, and expressed confidence that the U.K. public would welcome the end to the saga.

“This dangerous man has now been removed from our shores to face the courts in his own country,” she said. British Prime Minister David Cameron expressed his “delight” at Abu Qatada’s deportation, which he called “a priority” for his government.

Britain’s original efforts to deport Abu Qatada were blocked by courts over concerns that evidence obtained under torture could be used against him. After years of successfully fighting the numerous attempts to expel him from the U.K., Abu Qatada recently indicated he would voluntarily return to Jordan if it and Britain ratified a treaty on torture.

That treaty — which explicitly bans the use of evidence “where there are serious and credible allegations that a statement from a person has been obtained by torture or ill-treatment” — was ratified by Britain and Jordan last month, clearing the final hurdle for his deportation.

Jordanian Information Minister Mohammed Momani said the kingdom “is keen on credibility and transparency” in handling Abu Qatada’s case. He also said the cleric’s deportation “sends a message to all fugitives that they will face justice in Jordan.”

Associated Press writer Cassandra Vinograd in London contributed to this report.