Archive for July 24, 2013


2013-07-23

SANAA – Yemeni authorities on Tuesday released a journalist who had been detained for three years on charges of promoting Al-Qaeda, the state news agency Saba reported.

Investigative journalist Abdul Ilah Haydar Shae was arrested on August 16, 2010 on charges of links to Al-Qaeda and sentenced the following years to five years in prison.

Saba said in a text message he had been freed “after he spent three years in prison for working with Al-Qaeda.”

But Shae will remain under house arrest for two years in line with an earlier court ruling, it said.

He was pardoned by President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, it added.

Shae was arrested after reporting US involvement in a deadly air raid against Al-Qaeda in southern Yemen, according to rights groups that had been calling for his release.

Last year, Amnesty International said that Shae had alleged US involvement in a December 2009 missile attack on Al-Majalah in Abyan province of southern Yemen, noting the strike killed 41 local residents, mostly women and children, and 14 Al-Qaeda suspects.

Former Yemeni strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh had issued an order for his release in February 2011 but rights groups said it was never carried out due to US pressure.

In January 2011, a special court convicted Shae, 34, of “working in the media for the benefit of Al-Qaeda, taking pictures of security buildings, embassies and foreign interests in Sanaa, and inciting Al-Qaeda to attack them.”

Shae was close to slain US-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi.

Washington says Awlaqi, killed in a US drone strike in Yemen in September 2011, was linked to a failed 2009 attack on a US-bound airliner, who was killed on September 30 in an air strike in Yemen.

Shae, who was employed by Saba, said in July 2010 that security agents had kidnapped and beaten him.

An expert on terrorism, Shae is considered one of Yemen’s most knowledgeable journalists on Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — the network’s local affiliate.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=60306.

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2013-07-22

ISTANBUL – A Turkish court on Monday overturned a judgment suspending the redevelopment of Istanbul’s Gezi Park, the issue that sparked huge anti-government protests last month.

The regional administrative court reversed a May 31 decision by an Istanbul court to halt redevelopment work at the park, press agency Dogan reported.

But it is unclear whether the decision means work will resume at the park, because another Istanbul court ruled in June in a separate case that there should be no redevelopment because of a lack of public consultation.

Protesters said they were confident the controversial plans to raze the park and reconstruct an Ottoman-era military barracks on the site would not go forward.

“This order is unlawful. You can’t even hammer a nail in the park because… (of the) Istanbul First Administration Court decision on the suspension of all construction efforts in the area,” said lawyer Can Atalay, a noted opponent of the proposed development.

“This removal has no judicial effect. You need a construction plan to construct something in the first place. That plan is cancelled now,” Atalay told news website Bianet.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted government backs the redevelopment of the park.

Turkish police on May 31 violently dispersed hundreds of ecological activists who had gathered to protest the destruction of the park’s 600 trees.

Anger over the authorities’ heavy-handed response erupted into nationwide protests against the government and Erdogan, who many protesters accused of turning authoritarian and seeking to “Islamize” Turkish society.

According to police estimates, some 2.5 million people took to the streets in nearly 80 cities for three weeks to demand his resignation.

Five people were killed and more than 8,000 injured in the civil unrest.

Erdogan said on June 14 that his government will respect the courts’ final decision on the park.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=60279.

2013-07-23

BEIRUT – Syrian Kurds made rapid advances in the north of the country Tuesday, expelling jihadists from several villages, as a gulf of mistrust between Arabs and Kurds grew, a watchdog and activists said.

Tuesday’s fighting hit several villages including Yabseh, Kandal and Jalbeh, which lie in the northern province of Raqa on Syria’s border with Turkey and are home to a mixture of ethnic and religious communities, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

It also reported that the Kurds expelled the jihadists from Kur Hassu, Atwan, Sarej and Khirbet Alu villages in the same area, which lies near the majority Kurdish town of Cobany.

In Hasake to the east, Kurdish-jihadist fighting went into the seventh consecutive day in the Jal Agha area and other villages in the majority Kurdish province, the Observatory added.

The latest battles come a week after fighters loyal to the Committees for the Protection of the Kurdish People (YPG) expelled the jihadist Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) from the strategic Kurdish town of Ras al-Ain in Hasake province.

Ever since, fighting has spread from Hasakeh in northeastern Syria to several hotspots in Raqa province in the north.

At least 70, most of them jihadists, have been killed in eight consecutive days of Kurdish-jihadist fighting, said the Observatory.

“What we are seeing is the spreading of fighting between Kurds and jihadists westwards, across areas that are home to both Arab and Kurdish communities,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Though the fighting is between jihadists and organized Kurdish forces, there is “a growing gulf between Kurdish and Arab residents of these areas,” Abdel Rahman said.

“The battle is morphing from a fight between the YPG and the jihadists to a struggle between Kurds and Arabs as a whole.”

Prior to the outbreak of the 2011 revolt against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, the Kurds suffered for decades from marginalization and oppression at the hands of the Syrian regime.

When the revolt erupted, one of the first measures taken by Assad was to grant the Syrian nationality to Kurds who had up until then been deprived of this right.

Then, starting mid-2012, Assad’s forces withdrew from Kurdish regions which now are run by local Kurdish councils.

The Kurds, who represent about 15 percent of the Syrian population, have since walked a fine line, trying to avoid antagonizing either the regime or the rebels.

But as abuses by jihadist groups in areas that have fallen out of Assad’s control mounted, the Kurds announced they would seek a temporary autonomous state and establish a constitution.

The speedy developments have brought to the surface a deep-seated mistrust that has been heightened by the Syrian opposition’s failure to adequately represent Kurdish groups, activists say.

“There hasn’t been real trust at the political level since the start” of the revolt, Syrian Kurdish activist Havidar said via the Internet.

“We (Kurds) all stood by the revolution but unfortunately the Syrian opposition… has played games with the Kurds… and marginalized them,” Havidar said.

As a consequence, “there is a very obvious divide now” between Kurds and Arabs, he said.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=60293.

2013-07-22

BEIRUT – Syria’s rebels on Monday seized the strategic town of Khan al-Assal, a regime bastion in the northern province of Aleppo, a monitoring group said.

They also took two villages located southeast of Aleppo, as they advanced towards cutting off the army’s supply route to Syria’s second city.

Khan al-Assal was the last regime bastion in the west of Aleppo province, which lies on the Turkish border, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The town lies on a road linking the province to the western part of Aleppo city where rebels have stepped up their bids to break a year-long stalemate and take control of areas still in regime hands.

Large swathes of northern and eastern Syria are in rebel control, while much of central and southern Syria is squarely held by regime forces.

“Opposition fighters have taken control of the town of Khan al-Assal, which is strategically located in the west of Aleppo province,” said the Britain-based Observatory.

The rebel Ninth Division, which is deployed in the western part of Aleppo city, also announced it had captured Khan al-Assal in an online video.

“We the leadership of the Ninth Division announce that the town of Khan al-Assal has been completely liberated,” a rebel commander said in a video posted on YouTube.

The Observatory said clashes also raged on the southern outskirts of Khan al-Assal.

The rebels had tried for several months to advance on Khan al-Assal.

The town’s biggest battle took place in March, when the rebels took control of the police academy and temporarily seized several other positions.

The eight-day battle killed 200 rebels and government forces.

Both sides also traded accusations that chemical weapons were used in Khan al-Assal and killed around 30 people, according to toll released in March by the Observatory and the regime.

The rebels also seized on Monday the villages of Obeida and Hajireh southeast of Aleppo city, the Observatory said.

The takeover comes amid a rebel attempt to cut off the army’s main supply route linking Hama in central Syria to Aleppo in the north.

Meanwhile in Damascus, the loyalist air force staged two strikes against the eastern district of Jobar, home to sizeable pockets of resistance to the army, the Observatory said.

It also reported violence in southern Damascus and said the entrance to the Yarmuk Palestinian camp had been closed, a day after an army assault on rebel positions in the district.

Monday’s violence comes a day after at least 232 people were killed across Syria, said the Observatory, adding the toll was one of the highest in the 28-month conflict.

Some 100,000 people have been killed in Syria’s war since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad erupted in March 2011, according to Observatory figures.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=60275.

July 23, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — Clashes between supporters and opponents of the country’s ousted president before dawn on Tuesday near the main campus of Cairo University left six dead, a senior medical official said.

Khaled el-Khateeb, who heads the Health Ministry’s emergency and intensive care department, said the six died close to the site of a sit-in by supporters of Mohammed Morsi, ousted by the military on July 3 after a year in office.

The ouster of Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, followed massive street protests by millions of Egyptians demanding that the Islamist president step down. His supporters are calling for his reinstatement and insist they will not join the military-backed political process until then.

The latest clashes capped a day marred by violence in several parts of the country. In the town of Qalioub north of Cairo, three people were killed Monday in clashes between supporters and opponents of Morsi. Backers of the two sides also fought near the site of the main sit-in by Morsi supporters in an eastern Cairo district and in the central Tahrir square, birthplace of the 2011 uprising that toppled the regime of Morsi’s authoritarian predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.

More than 80 people were injured on Monday, according to el-Khateeb. Morsi’s family denounced the military in a Monday news conference, accusing it of “kidnapping” him, and European diplomats urged that he be released after being held incommunicado for nearly three weeks since his ouster.

The fate of Morsi, who has been held without charge, has become a focus of the political battle between Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and the new military-backed government. The Brotherhood has tried to use his detention to rally the country to its side, hoping to restore its badly damaged popularity. The interim government, in turn, appears in part to be using it to pressure his supporters into backing down from their protests demanding his reinstatement.

So far, however, the outcry over Morsi’s detention seems to have gained little traction beyond the president’s supporters, without bringing significantly greater numbers to its ongoing rallies around the country.

In a toughly worded statement Monday, the Brotherhood laid out a plan for resolving the crisis that was little changed from what Morsi proposed in his final days in office. It said Morsi must first be reinstated along with the now-dissolved upper house of parliament and the suspended constitution, followed by new parliamentary elections that would start a process for amending the constitution, and then a “national dialogue” could be held.

It denounced those behind Morsi’s ouster as “putschists” and accused “coup commanders, with foreign support” of overthrowing “all the hopes in a democratic system.” Interim President Adly Mansour repeated calls for reconciliation in a nationally televised speech late Monday. “We … want to turn a new page in the nation’s book,” he said. “No contempt, no hatred, no divisions and no collisions.” His speech marked the 61st anniversary of a military coup that toppled the monarchy and ushered the start of decades of de facto military rule.

July 23, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group on Tuesday welcomed an EU decision to place the military wing of Hezbollah on the bloc’s terror list as a “step in the right direction,” and called for the Lebanese militant group’s leaders to be put on trial for their role in the Syrian civil war.

Hezbollah, a staunch ally of the Syrian regime, has sent its fighters to bolster President Bashar Assad’s forces in their assault on rebel-held areas in Syria. The group was instrumental in helping government forces seize the strategic town of Qusair near the Lebanese border last month, and its members are believed to be fighting alongside regime forces in the central province of Homs.

The Shiite group’s role is highly divisive in Lebanon and has outraged the overwhelmingly Sunni rebels fighting in Syria to topple Assad. The EU’s 28 foreign ministers placed Hezbollah’s military wing on its terror list on Monday after prolonged diplomatic pressure from the U.S. and Israel, which consider the group a terrorist organization.

Some European countries had pushed for EU action, citing a terrorist attack in Bulgaria’s Black Sea resort of Burgas last year that killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian. Hezbollah’s military wing was accused of involvement, an allegation it denied. In March, a criminal court in Cyprus found a Hezbollah member guilty of helping to plan attacks on Israelis on the Mediterranean island.

But several EU nations have pointed to Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria as further reason for the move. The Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition umbrella group, hailed the EU decision but stressed the need for European countries to take “concrete steps that would contribute to stopping the militia’s involvement in Syria.”

“We call for Hezbollah leaders to be put on trial for the terrorist crimes they committed on Syrian territory,” the SNC said in a statement. It did not say where they should face trial, and the prospects of senior Hezbollah figures ever appearing in a courtroom to answer for the Iranian-backed group’s role in Syria appear dim.

Iran, meanwhile, said the European Union’s decision was “strange” and “uncalculated” and said it serves Israel’s interests. Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araghchi told a news conference in Tehran Tuesday that the designation won’t change Hezbollah’s “popular and justice-seeking identity.”

In Syria, an al-Qaida-linked group warned civilians to stay off a road linking central Syria with the northern province of Aleppo, declaring it a military zone, as the rebels try to cut one of the regime’s main routes for supplying its forces in the north, activists said Tuesday.

The warning comes a day after rebels went on the offensive in Syria’s north, seizing three villages in the province where a military stalemate has been in place since last summer. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Aleppo Media Center said that Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, is threatening to target any vehicle using the road starting Wednesday. A copy of the warning was posted online.

The regime uses the route to ferry supplies to its forces in the north because the rebels already have severed the main north-south highway that connects Damascus with the embattled city of Aleppo, where regime forces have battled rebels in vicious street fighting for a year. The desert road was paved and opened by regime forces earlier this year.

The statement, which was stamped with the Nusra Front emblem, said the Syrian military “opened this road to civilian cars and trucks when in fact it is a military road.” “There are daily clashes and military operations there. Holy warriors have booby-trapped the road,” it said, instructing civilians not to use the road and claiming that the army will be using them as “human shields to cover its movements.”

If the rebels succeed in cutting the road, it will be a major blow to the regime, making it more difficult to bring in military reinforcements as well as other supplies to Aleppo province, most of which is under rebel control.

July 23, 2013

BAGHDAD (AP) — Al-Qaida’s arm in Iraq has claimed responsibility for deadly raids on prisons on the outskirts of Baghdad this week that set free hundreds of prisoners, including some of its followers.

The statement issued in the name of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was posted on an online jihadist forum Tuesday. The group dubbed the prison assault operation that began late Sunday “Conquering the Tyrants,” and says it involved 12 car bombs and help from prisoners who had managed to obtain weapons on the inside.

It claims to have freed hundreds of prisoners, including more than 500 mujahideen, or holy fighters. Iraqi officials have said the raids killed dozens and set free more than 500 inmates.