Archive for August, 2013


August 14, 2013

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel released 26 Palestinian inmates, including many convicted in grisly killings, on the eve of long-stalled Mideast peace talks, angering families of those slain by the prisoners, who were welcomed as heroes in the West Bank and Gaza.

Buses carrying the inmates departed the Ayalon prison in central Israel late Tuesday, a nighttime release that was aimed at preventing the spectacle of prisoners flashing victory signs as has happened in the past. Relatives of the victims, many with their hands painted red to symbolize what they say is the blood on the hands of the inmates, held protests throughout the day, and some protesters tried briefly to block the buses from leaving.

The decision to release the men stirred anguish in Israel, where many Israelis view them as terrorists. Most of the prisoners were convicted of killings, including Israeli civilians, soldiers and suspected Palestinian collaborators, while others were involved in attempted murder or kidnapping.

Celebrations erupted in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where thousands of Palestinian well-wishers awaited the buses’ arrival. Palestinians generally view the prisoners as heroes regardless of their acts, arguing they made personal sacrifices in the struggle for independence.

Fireworks lit the sky in Gaza, where rival Hamas and Fatah supporters, including several masked gunmen, celebrated to the beat of drums. Some danced while others flashed victory signs and waved flags of the Palestinian factions. Cars with loudspeakers blasted nationalistic songs.

“Today is a day of joy and happiness. I can’t wait until I hug my beloved son,” said Aicha Abu Setta, the 68-year-old mother of freed prisoner Alla Abu Setta. “I am so excited that he will be free and he will spend his first night among us after more than 20 years,” she said, clutching a picture of her 43-year-old son, who was arrested in 1994, charged, along with his cousin, of killing a soldier.

Palestinians hurled rocks at the Israeli military vehicles escorting the bus convoy as it reached the crossing to the West Bank after 1 a.m. About a thousand people took to the streets of Ramallah in celebration, singing and dancing. The released prisoners were met with hugs from well-wishers. They were greeted by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas personally at the presidential compound and later laid a wreath at the grave of late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. Abbas delivered a short speech congratulating the prisoners and said he will “not rest until they are all released.” There are about 4,500 Palestinians in Israeli jails. “You are just the beginning and the rest will come,” Abbas said.

Tuesday’s release was part of an agreement brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to get Israel and the Palestinians back to the table for peace talks that had been paralyzed since 2008. In all, 104 convicts are to be released in four batches, although their freedom is contingent on progress in peace talks.

Israelis and Palestinians are to launch talks in Jerusalem on Wednesday, following a preparatory round two weeks ago in Washington. Among those released Tuesday was a Palestinian convicted in the 1994 slaying of Isaac Rotenberg, a 69-year-old Holocaust survivor who was attacked with an ax as he was working at a construction site where he was a contractor. Others were convicted in the slayings of Ian Feinberg, an Israeli lawyer killed in a European aid office in Gaza in 1993, and Frederick Rosenfeld, an American slain while hiking in the West Bank in 1989.

Thousands of Palestinians have spent time in Israeli prisons since Israel’s capture of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in 1967. They were jailed on charges ranging from throwing rocks to killing civilians in bombings, shootings and other attacks.

On Monday, Israel’s prison service posted the names online of the first 26 inmates to be released to allow for possible court appeals. Israel’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal by families of those killed by the prisoners earlier Tuesday.

The fate of the prisoners is extremely emotional in Palestinian society. After decades of fighting Israel, many families have had a member imprisoned and the release of prisoners has been a longstanding demand.

Most of the inmates already have served around 20 years, with the longest-held arrested in 1985. Fourteen of the prisoners were released to the Gaza Strip and 12 to the West Bank. Palestinians argue that the 104 prisoners slated for release carried out their acts at a time of conflict, before Israel and the Palestinians struck their first interim peace agreement in 1994. They say Israel should have released them long ago, as part of previous peace talks.

Earlier Tuesday, Israel angered Palestinians when it announced it was moving forward with building nearly 900 new settlement homes in east Jerusalem. The Palestinians had refused to resume negotiations with Israel unless it halted settlement construction in territory it wants for a future state. Israel has refused, insisting that settlements and other core issues be resolved through talks.

After six trips to the region, Kerry managed to persuade Abbas to drop the settlement issue as a condition for negotiations to start. In exchange, Israel agreed to the prisoner release. The Palestinians argue the settlements, now home to more than 500,000 Israelis, are making it increasingly difficult to carve out their state and that continued Israeli construction is a sign of bad faith.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, said Israel’s settlement plans are a slap in the face of the Palestinians and Kerry. “It is not just deliberate sabotage of the talks, but really a destruction of the outcome,” she said.

Ashrawi urged Kerry “to stand up to Israel” and deliver a tough response. Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rejected the Palestinian claim. “The Palestinians know that Israel rejected their demands of a settlement freeze as a precondition to these talks, they cannot say otherwise,” Regev said. “The construction that the Israeli government authorized is all in Jerusalem and the large blocs, in areas that will remain part of Israel in any possible final status agreement and this construction that has been authorized in no way changes the final map of peace.”

Kerry said he spoke with Netanyahu Tuesday morning. “We had a very frank and open discussion on the issue of settlements,” he said. “Let me make it clear. The policy of the United States with respect to all settlements is that they are illegitimate and we oppose settlements taking place anytime.”

The latest construction is to take place in Gilo, an area in east Jerusalem that Israel considers to be a neighborhood of its capital. Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as their capital, is not internationally recognized.

The housing plan, which received initial approval last year, would expand Gilo’s boundaries further toward a Palestinian neighborhood. The plans for 900 housing units in Gilo come in addition to an earlier announcement this week of some 1,200 other settlement homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Associated Press writers Ibrahim Barzak in the Gaza Strip and Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.

2013-08-12

Clashes between Chinese security forces and Muslim Uyghurs on the eve of the Eid al-Fitr festival last week could have been contained if the armed troops did not open fire at random, killing three and wounding about a dozen other civilians, including an innocent four-year-old girl, according to officials and residents.

Ten policemen were also injured in the clashes Wednesday in the restive Xinjiang region’s Aksu prefecture triggered by prayer restrictions imposed ahead of the Eid marking the end of Islam’s holiest month of Ramadan.

The girl, identified as Subhinur Memet, who was injured in the leg, was among 13 people admitted to the Aksu No. 1 People’s Hospital following the clashes in the No. 16 village of Aykol town, which occurred after the authorities prevented residents from one hamlet in the village from going to another to perform the Eid eve prayers.

“When the four year old girl was injured, people became very angry,” Ablet Ghojamniyaz, secretary of the village’s ruling Chinese Communist Party branch, told RFA’s Uyghur Service. “It was difficult to disperse the crowd and they refused to back down.”

As the crowd swelled to about 600 people and with some in the mob hurling stones and bricks at the security forces, the People’s Armed Police arrived and “started to shoot haphazardly,” he said. “But I do not know what happened after that, because I was also running away.”

Ablet Ghojamniyaz, who witnessed the incident, said tensions first erupted when government officials prevented residents from hamlet No. 3 in the No. 16 village from praying at the mosque in hamlet No. 2.

The residents forced their way through to the mosque, prompting Party cadres to call in the police who detained and took away two Uyghurs and returned to take several more into custody, he said.

“When the police herded four Uyghurs into a police car, the people surrounded the vehicle and demanded the reasons for taking them away on the eve of the Eid festival, triggering the clashes.”

“The clashes could have been avoided if the cadres allowed them to pray,” he said.

Tensions inflamed

Ablet Ghojamniyaz said that Aykol police deputy chief Gheni Osman handled the situation deftly and almost persuaded the crowd to disperse after assuring them that he would release the two who were detained earlier.

But Aykol police station chief Wu Guiliang, a Han Chinese, intervened and used harsh words, inflaming tensions, he said.

“When the situation was getting under control, Wu Guiliang arrived, shouting and hitting the people with the rifle butt. Then people started throwing stones and he fired shots in the air and to the ground,” Ablet Ghojamniyaz said. “The people did not back down and chased him [Wu] until he bolted from the scene.”

Then, the situation spiraled out of control as four-year-old Subhinur was shot in the melee by the local police station personnel and as three other Uyghurs, including a woman, succumbed to bullet wounds on the spot after being hit by People’s Armed Police and SWAT teams.

Subhinur’s aunt, identified only as Ayimqiz, said her niece is recovering from her leg injuries.

“I went to see her at the hospital and she is bit better now,” said Ayimqiz, the older sister of Subhinur’s father, and chief of the No.16 village’s women’s union.

Subhinur’s father has been detained, along with scores of others following the clashes.

In fact, No. 2 hamlet chief Ehet Mahmut said, “All the youths in my area have been detained” for questioning, without giving any specific number.

Only one of the three killed has been identified—Gopur Dawut, 27.

One of four injured woman, identified as Patem Turdi, 40, was shot while looking for her 15-year-old son, according to Ablet Ghojamniyaz.

Recent violence

Uyghurs in Xinjiang say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness, blaming their hardships partly on a massive influx of Han Chinese into the region.

Xinjiang has seen a string of violent incidents since June 26, leaving at least 64 dead in total, as the region marked the anniversary last month of July 5, 2009 clashes in the regional capital Urumqi between the minority Uyghurs and majority Han Chinese.

The rioting left some 200 people dead and 1,700 injured, according to official media reports.

Source: Radio Free Asia.

Link: http://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/shooting-08122013193025.html.

August 12, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — The military commander of Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group visited rebels in the coastal province that is President Bashar Assad’s ancestral homeland following recent opposition advances in the area, a spokeswoman said Monday.

Over the past week, rebel fighters in Latakia province have swept through a string of villages that are populated by members of Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. The advances have not shifted the strategic balance in the area, but they did embarrass the regime in a region that has been under tight government control since the Syrian revolt began more than two years ago.

Assad’s forces have launched a counteroffensive to try to dislodge the rebels, and activists say fighting is raging over several villages in the mountainous region. In a video posted on the opposition Syrian National Coalition’s Facebook page, rebel military chief Gen. Salim Idris walks with a small group of fighters through hilly terrain. Dressed in civilian clothes with a shoulder holster and a pistol, Idris tells them that he visited the front to see the “important achievements and great victories that were made by our brother rebels in the coast.”

“We are here to confirm that the command is fully coordinating with the coastal command,” he said. Coalition spokeswoman Sarah Karkour said the visit to Latakia took place Sunday. She did not specify whether he went to the newly captured territory.

Idris is the leader of the Coalition’s Supreme Military Council, a loose umbrella group of more secular-minded opposition brigades that serves as the main conduit for Western aid to rebels fighting to oust the Assad regime. He has little more than nominal control, however, over the hundreds of rebel factions that make up the constellation of opposition forces on the ground.

The most effective and efficient rebel groups — the Islamic extremist factions — don’t even recognize Idris’ authority. In recent months, there have been a rising number of clashes between al-Qaida-linked factions and more moderate opposition brigades. The infighting has undermined the opposition’s overall effort to topple the Assad regime.

Despite their ideological differences, Islamic extremist groups and more secular-minded rebels also frequently coordinate their efforts when its suits them and there is a mutual benefit. That has been the case in Latakia, activists say, where more moderate rebel groups fighting alongside al-Qaida-linked jihadi factions, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, captured 11 Alawite villages last week.

The offensive forced residents of the villages to flee their homes and left at least 60 civilians dead, activists say. Another 400 civilians, mostly Alawites, are missing and are presumed to be in rebel custody in the area, according to activists who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The gains in Latakia by anti-Assad fighters have provided a small boost to the opposition after weeks of government victories in central Syria and around the capital, Damascus.

August 13, 2013

BRUKIN, West Bank (AP) — Mustafa al-Haj expected to die in an Israeli prison for killing an American-born settler hiking in the West Bank in 1989. Now lights decorate his home to celebrate the planned release of the 45-year-old and more than 100 other Palestinian convicts in a deal that revived Mideast peace talks.

While the Palestinians are joyful, the decision to free the inmates has stirred anger in Israel where victims’ families say it is an insult to their loved ones. Israel published the names of 26 men, including al-Haj, to be freed before the first round of talks Wednesday. In all, 104 prisoners have been slated for release in four tranches over a period of nine months that the U.S. has set aside for negotiations. But their freedom is contingent on progress in the talks.

The Israelis have granted early release to Palestinian prisoners in the past, including in swaps. The upcoming round, however, has sparked particularly high-pitched debate because it was linked to resuming talks and many of those to be freed were involved in deadly attacks.

Gila Molcho said the release of one of three men involved in the stabbing death of her brother in 1993 was opening old wounds. Her brother, Ian Feinberg, was killed in the European aid office in Gaza City where he was working as a lawyer.

“My brother’s blood is being sold for nothing, as a gesture,” Molcho said. “On a very personal level, there is pain.” Palestinians argue that those slated for release were acting during a time of conflict, before the two sides struck their first interim peace agreement in 1994, and that Israel should have freed them in previous rounds of negotiations.

“We used violence and the Israelis used violence,” said Kadoura Fares, who heads an advocacy group for prisoners and, like many of those to be released, is a member of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement.

Fares noted that the number of Palestinians, including civilians, who were killed by Israeli troops in wars and uprisings over the past two decades far outstrips the number of Israelis killed in Palestinian attacks.

In the first and second Palestinian uprisings, more than 1,200 Israelis and just under 5,000 Palestinians were killed. The two sides are now making their third major attempt since 2000 to agree on the terms of the Palestinian state alongside Israel. The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in 1967, but are willing to make some adjustments.

The last round of substantive talks was held in 2008, but a dispute over settlements kept the two sides away from the table until now. The Palestinians are entering Wednesday’s talks with renewed distrust, after Israel promoted Jewish settlements on war-won lands the Palestinians want for their state in three major announcements over the course of a week.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Marie Harf praised Israel’s decision to release prisoners as a “positive step.” She said the Obama administration also raised serious concerns about the latest settlement plans with the Israeli government.

Abbas had insisted on a construction freeze in settlements, deemed illegal by most of the international community, before going back to negotiations. However, U.S. mediators failed to get Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to comply and Abbas relented.

As compensation, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry brokered the prisoner release and, according to Abbas aides, assured the Palestinians that the U.S. views Israel’s pre-1967 lines as a starting point for border talks, even if Netanyahu does not.

Kerry said Monday in Bogota that he didn’t think the settlements issue would create a large bump in the road to the talks, which are set to resume on Wednesday. “As the world, I hope knows, the U.S. views the settlements as illegitimate and we have communicated that policy very clearly to Israel,” he said.

“I think that what this underscores, actually, is the importance of getting to the table and getting to the table quickly and resolving the questions with respect to settlements, which are best resolved by solving the problems of security and borders. Once you have security and borders solved, you have resolved the question of settlements.”

Abbas is returning to talks amid widespread skepticism among Palestinians, but the prisoner release — an emotional consensus issue — could make up for that. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have spent time in Israeli prisons since 1967, on charges ranging from throwing stones and membership in outlawed organizations to involvement in attacks. Palestinians tend to view prisoners as heroes, regardless of their acts, arguing they made personal sacrifices in the struggle for independence.

In Israel, many consider those involved in the killings as terrorists, and some of the attacks are engraved in the nation’s collective memory. This includes the death of Amnon Pomerantz, a 46-year-old Israeli reserve sergeant who in 1990 made a wrong turn and ended up driving into Gaza’s Bureij refugee camp with his car marked by yellow Israeli license plates.

Pomerantz was stoned and tried to drive away in a panic, but his car rammed into a donkey cart and injured two youngsters. This was followed by another barrage of stones and gasoline-soaked rags that set his car on fire. Pomerantz burned to death.

Another victim is Isaac Rotenberg, who survived the Nazi death camp of Sobibor, fought alongside partisans and made it to Israel after World War II. In 1994, at age 69, the contractor was killed with an ax from behind while at a construction site, his son Pini said, adding he finds it difficult to fathom that one of his father’s killers is going free.

“It’s painful to pay such a heavy price just as a concession for talks,” he said. In the summer of 1989, al-Haj — who made the first list of those to be released — was with two friends when they encountered 48-year-old Frederick Rosenfeld, during a West Bank hike, chatted with him and even posed for pictures before stabbing him to death.

Rosenfeld had immigrated to Israel from Washington, D.C. in the late 1960s and eventually moved to the Jewish settlement of Ariel, near the West Bank town of Brukin. In Brukin, al-Haj’s family did not want to speak in detail about Rosenfeld as they decorated his West Bank home with chains of lights ahead of his anticipated homecoming.

“I wish he hadn’t killed that man and that he hadn’t gone to jail for those long years, but this is God’s will,” Hamza al-Haj, 55, said of his younger brother. “This was a war time, in which people kill each other. You can’t define one as a criminal and one as a victim.”

Hamza said his brother was an activist in the first Palestinian uprising, which lasted for six years and ended with a historic accord of mutual recognition between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993.

The family now hopes Mustafa, who earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in a correspondence course, can start a family and find a job. In Gaza’s Bureij refugee camp, Fatima Nashabat, 48, said she is counting the hours until the release of her husband, Mohammed, 52, who has spent 23 years in prison as an accessory in the killing of Pomerantz, the reserve soldier.

“Last night, when they said he will be in the first group, our house turned into a big dance floor,” said the mother of four. “We were cheering and singing.”

Laub reported in Jericho, West Bank. Associated Press writers Ian Deitch and Max J. Rosenthal in Jerusalem, Ibrahim Barzak in the Bureij refugee camp in Gaza, and Deb Riechmann in Bogota contributed to this report.

August 09, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Gunmen ambushed a van Friday carrying a Turkish Airlines crew in the Lebanese capital, kidnapping a pilot and a co-pilot in an attack that appeared linked to the ongoing civil war in neighboring Syria.

Six gunmen stopped the vehicle on an old airport road in Beirut, abducting the two Turkish nationals and letting the rest of the crew go, officials said. The van was travelling between Rafik Hariri International Airport and a Beirut hotel when the ambush took place, said the Lebanese officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Lebanon’s state news agency said a group called the Zuwaar al-Imam Rida claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. The group, which was previously unknown, said in a statement carried by the National News Agency that the pilots “will only be released when the Lebanese hostages in Syria return.”

The civil war in neighboring Syria has deeply divided the Lebanese. The Syrian rebels, who are backed by Turkey, have been holding nine Lebanese Shiites hostage since last year. There have been other kidnappings on both sides since the war began.

A representative for the Lebanese hostages’ families said that there was “no relationship between the kidnapping of Turkish pilots and case of Lebanese hostages in Syria,” the NNA reported. However, Sheik Abbas Zougheib of the Higher Shiite Councils said if the abduction “is to settle the question of Lebanese abducted in Syria, we support it,” according to the news service.

The Turkish crew had landed a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul early Friday morning, the Lebanese officials told The Associated Press. Authorities were investigating and the road where the kidnapping occurred has been closed off with several police checkpoints, the officials said.

The NNA reported earlier that the driver of the van was being questioned and that eight gunmen were involved in the abduction. The difference in the number of the attackers in the report and the Lebanese officials’ account could not immediately be explained.

In Turkey, Foreign Ministry spokesman Levent Gumrukcu confirmed the kidnapping. He said the rest of the crew was still in Beirut but were leaving to return to Turkey on Friday evening. “We don’t know who did this and for what purpose,” Gumrukcu said. He said the Turkish government was in close contact with Lebanese officials over the abduction.

Turkey supports the Sunni Muslim rebels fighting to topple the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which is dominated by Alawites, an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam. A spokesman for Turkish Airlines Ali Genc identified the two pilots as Murat Akpinar and Murat Agca. Genc did not offer any other information.

The Lebanese are deeply divided over Syria’s civil war, with Shiites largely supporting the regime in Damascus and Sunnis backing the rebels. Both Sunni militants, and fighters from Lebanon’s dominant Shiite Hezbollah group, have been fighting on opposite sides in the conflict.

The conflict in Syria that has claimed more than 100,000 lives since it erupted in March 2011. The fighting frequently has spilled into Lebanon.

Associated Press writers Desmond Butler in Istanbul and Ryan Lucas in Beirut contributed to this report.

August 22, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian court ordered Wednesday the release of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, but it is not yet clear if the ailing ex-leader will walk free after over two years in detention, officials said.

Here are some key events in the rule, downfall and criminal trial of the former Egyptian President: May 4, 1928 — Mubarak is born in Kafr El-Meselha in the Nile Delta province of Monofiya. March 13, 1950 — Mubarak graduates from air academy as a pilot and an officer.

April 1975 — Mubarak becomes vice president of Egypt, serving under President Anwar Sadat. Oct. 14, 1981 — Mubarak takes office after militants assassinate Sadat during a military parade. Mubarak, Sadat’s vice president, escaped with a minor hand injury. His security forces are empowered by new emergency laws giving police broad powers of arrest and go after Islamists. He also promises Egypt will stick to its 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

1992 — Militants launch an uprising aimed at overthrowing Mubarak’s government and setting up an Islamic state. Gunmen attack police, assassinate politicians and target foreign tourists, a key source of revenue.

June 1995 — Militants attempt to assassinate Mubarak as he visits Ethiopia. 1997 — Mubarak crushes the militant movement through the arrests of thousands as police are accused of torture. 2008 — Riots erupt over soaring bread prices amid grain shortages. Mubarak responds by firing up military ovens to help quell discontent.

2005 — Mubarak allows the first ever multi-candidate presidential election, which he won easily over 10 other candidates amid charges of voter fraud and intimidation. 2010 — Parliamentary elections are widely deplored as rigged. The Muslim Brotherhood, which had dozens of its members in parliament as independents, responds by withdrawing its candidates from a second round of voting.

Jan. 25, 2011 — Thousands of anti-government protesters clash with police in Cairo during a Tunisia-inspired demonstration to demand the president’s ouster. The day marked the start of Arab Spring in Egypt.

Feb. 11 — After 18 days of massive protests against his rule, Mubarak is forced to resign. A council of military generals takes over Egypt’s government. Mubarak is airlifted out of Cairo and stays in his private villa in the Red Sea town of Sharm el-Sheikh. He is later questioned for the first time by prosecutors.

April 13 — Authorities detain Mubarak for investigation of corruption, abuse of power and killings of hundreds of protesters. He later is ordered to stand trial on charges of corruption and conspiracy in the deadly shooting of nearly 900 protesters.

Aug. 3 — Mubarak’s trial opens in Cairo. From a gurney in the defendant’s cage, Mubarak denies all charges against him. Millions across the Middle East watch, transfixed by the sight of the former strongman behind prison cage bars. He becomes the first and only Arab leader to face trial by his own people.

June 2, 2012 — Mubarak, now 84, is found guilty of failing to stop the killings and sentenced to life in prison. He is ferried by helicopter to Tora prison in Cairo. He does not spend time in a prison cell and is kept in the prison hospital, which was upgraded to accommodate his health conditions.

January 2013 — Investigators interrogate Mubarak over gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars he allegedly received from the country’s flagship state-owned newspaper as a show of loyalty while he was in power.

Jan. 13 — Appeals court overturns Mubarak’s life sentence in protester killings as the presiding judge says the prosecution’s case lacked concrete evidence and failed to prove the protesters were killed by the police.

Jan. 16 — Mubarak and his family agree to pay back 18 million Egyptian pounds ($3 million) for gifts they received from the state newspaper Al-Ahram. April — A new investigation begins into accusations Mubarak and his family embezzled state funds designated for the maintenance and upkeep of presidential palaces.

April 13 — Mubarak’s retrial for alleged complicity in the killing of protesters begins. The judge recuses himself and does not specify the reasons behind his decision. A new judge takes over and the trial resumes a month later.

Aug. 19 — A criminal court orders Mubarak’s release pending trial in the case regarding the misuse of funds for presidential palaces. The case involves his two sons who were ordered kept in custody. He has already previously been ordered released pending his retrial in the killings of protesters. A petition by his lawyer requesting his release in a third case for gifts from the state newspaper is under review.

Aug. 21 — A court orders Mubarak’s release pending the trial of gifts from the newspaper.

August 21, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian court ordered Wednesday the release of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, but it is not yet clear if the ailing ex-leader will walk free after over two years in detention, officials said.

Prosecutors may appeal the order, which comes following a hearing on charges against Mubarak of accepting gifts from a state-owned newspaper, the last case that has kept him in detention. It is not known if they will file they appeal.

The possibility of Mubarak going free is likely to fuel the unrest already roiling the country after the autocratic leader’s successor, Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, was removed in a military coup last month.

Top prison official Mostafa Baz told the private CBC TV station that his offices will ask the prosecutors Thursday if Mubarak is wanted in other cases. If not, he would be set free. The hearing was held in Tora prison, where Mubarak, 85, has been held for most of his detention since April 2011. Officials cited security concerns as the reason for holding it in the sprawling, tightly secured facility.

Mubarak is now on trial for the killing of protesters during the 2011 uprising against him and other charges. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison last year for failing to stop the killing of some 900 protesters in Egypt’s 2011 uprising. His sentence was overturned on appeal and he is now being retried, along with his security chief and six top police commanders. His trial resumes later this month.

He is facing a number of other corruption charges, but no other trial dates have been set. The court officials spoke anonymously because they are not authorized to speak to the media. Rights lawyer and judicial expert Nasser Amin said procedurally Mubarak should have been released since his sentence was overturned, but that the political circumstances may delay letting him go.

“His release will cause chaos,” he said. “It will be used by Islamists as proof of the return of the old regime.” Egyptian authorities have continued their crackdown on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, arresting the group’s supreme leader and other senior figures and sending them to trial.

20 August 2013

The Muslim Brotherhood announced Mahmoud Ezzat as its temporary leader on Tuesday following the arrest of its Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie.

The Brotherhood said in a statement on its Freedom and Justice Party’s website that the decision is in accordance with Article (2) of its code which states that the first deputy replaces the supreme guide when he is unavailable.

Security forces arrested Badie from an apartment in Nasr City earlier for investigations into allegations that he incited violence earlier this year.

Source: allAfrica.

Link: http://allafrica.com/stories/201308201055.html.

August 21, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — The military says Tamer Abdel-Raouf sped through a military checkpoint, ignoring soldiers’ warning shots. A colleague who was with him in the car says he obeyed the soldiers’ orders to turn back, but they opened fire anyway as he was making a U-turn.

The result was the same: The reporter for the flagship Egyptian daily Al-Ahram on Monday became the fifth journalist to die as the media are swept up in the bloodshed roiling Egypt. Television and radio stations air patriotic songs while a slew of talk show hosts glorify the military that seized power and denounce the Islamist government it overthrew.

It’s a sharp turnaround from the challenges these same journalists faced under President Mohammed Morsi’s rule, when reporters were sued by Islamist lawyers for “insulting the president.” After his ouster, his Muslim Brothehrood group openly blacklisted 50 of those media personalities.

Now journalists are facing deadlier perils. A week ago Mick Deane of the British TV broadcaster Sky News and two Egyptian journalists were fatally shot while covering the violent breakup of protest camps in Cairo. Other foreign journalists are also feeling the pressure, complaining that security forces fail to respect the exemption that allows them on the streets after nighttime curfew.

The tense media landscape is increasingly mirroring the venomous atmosphere, where people are fractured along political lines. “The whole media scene has been extremely polarized and it’s a reflection of the polarization in society,” said Rasha Abdulla, a media professor at the American University in Cairo.

TV presenters have sung the national anthem on TV and openly cried tears of joy when Morsi was ousted seven weeks ago. Meanwhile, Morsi’s Brotherhood group has waged its own media campaign online and through its spokesmen on social media websites after channels sympathetic to the group were shuttered last month.

In one, a spokesman posted a picture of dead Syrian children online, claiming they were Egyptian kids killed by police. In clashes that the Health Ministry said killed around 80 people, the Brotherhood’s emails to reporters initially claimed 200 were killed. At another point it claimed the overall death toll was more than triple what the Health Ministry was reporting.

The discrepancies come from both sides, as the death of reporter Abdel-Raouf demonstrates. A statement by the army said that he sped through a checkpoint after curfew and soldiers fired warning shots.

However, Hamed al-Barbari of Al-Gomhuria newspaper told the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists that the two, riding in the car together, were turned back by soldiers at the checkpoint. He said the soldiers then fired at the car as they were making a U-turn, shooting Abdel-Raouf in the head.

Abdel-Raouf had been critical of Morsi’s ouster on Facebook and other social media, though the CPJ said there was no evidence that he was targeted for his views. Western journalists have come under attack from angry citizens. CPJ reported that during violent protests Saturday, Annabell Van Den Berghe, a freelance journalist with the Belgian public broadcaster VRT, and crew were confronted by people who accused them of being American spies and said Western media were biased. They beat a crew member but did not harm the journalists.

The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network, particularly its channel dedicated to live coverage of events in Egypt, has been the only major Arabic-language outlet for the Muslim Brotherhood’s views. Its Cairo office was raided by security forces last week and two of its journalists detained.

A number of its presenters quit around the time of Morsi’s ouster, saying the station had misled viewers. The network counters that it is covering all events in Egypt with “balance and integrity” Three Turkish journalists, Metin Turan and Heba Zakaria were arrested over the weekend and Tahir Osman Hamde was reported arrested on Tuesday. It’s not clear whether any have been released.

Senior Egyptian officials have taken to critiquing the foreign media. The State Information Service released a statement saying some media outlets are “falling short of describing events of June 30 as an expression of popular will.”

Meeting foreign journalists recently, interim Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy expressed his frustration. “You have a problem of your profession frankly,” he said, saying the limited space to report complex issues makes the journalists “very superficial in what you are doing.” ”And frankly,” he added, “many of you have covered the news incorrectly and unfairly.”

Adel Iskandar, author of “Egypt in Flux: Essays on an Unfinished Revolution,” said that under the rule of autocratic President Hosni Mubarak, “The military was untouchable and invisible” and that “the media, both state and private, were obedient because they were censored.

“Now they are willfully on the bandwagon.” Under Mubarak, bloggers were targeted as well. Mostly liberal, leftist and secular protesters active on Twitter and Facebook were beaten and arrested during subsequent rallies against the military rulers who temporarily took over after he was toppled. Similarly, online administrators of Brotherhood websites and online activists sympathetic to the group are now being arrested, shot at and even killed by security forces at anti-government protests.

Noha Radwan, a scholar of Arabic literature at University of California at Davis, follows events in her native Egypt closely, and says the media is actually driving polarization in the country. “For the past three weeks media sources on the ground, whether they are the governmental or the independent channels. have been working the public into nothing short of a mass hysteria,” she wrote, blaming both the state media and Islamists.

“Every media source in Egypt is lying, spreading hearsay, and dismissing reports that do not serve their agendas. The result is a frenzied and divided population that is proving uncharacteristically callous to the bloodshed among one group or the other.”

Iskandar said that while Egypt may not be in a state of actual war, the battle lines have been drawn in the media Egypt, he said, “is in a state of media and rhetorical war.”

August 16, 2013

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Hundreds of Hamas supporters rallied on Friday at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound in protest against Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief who ousted Egypt’s Islamist president Mohammed Morsi.

Some 600 people affiliated with the Palestinian Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip held the demonstration after Friday prayers, an AFP correspondent said.

They also conducted a special prayer for the hundreds of Morsi supporters killed on Wednesday when security forces dispersed Cairo protest camps set up by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

The demonstrators, who held posters commemorating the dead, called Sisi an “American collaborator” who served Israel and chanted that Morsi was still Egypt’s president.

Some compared Sisi to Hitler, who they said “killed Jews for his people,” while the Egyptian army chief “killed his people for the Jews”.

Other Islamist movements also took part in the demonstration, with Israeli police not intervening.

A large rally in support of Morsi was being planned by the northern faction of the Israeli Islamic Movement for Saturday afternoon.

Source: The Daily Star.

Link: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2013/Aug-16/227561-hamas-supporters-rally-against-sisi-in-jerusalem.ashx.