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Middle East and North Africa (MENA): News from Syria, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon, Iraq, Tunisia

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  • Zafar Khan
    SYRIA Syria s government urged to unblock internet and mobile access to country Assad regime should remember obligation to protect access to communications,
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2012

      Syria's government urged to unblock internet and mobile access to country
      Assad regime should remember obligation to protect access to communications, says International Telecommunications Union
      Jemima Kiss
      guardian.co.uk, Friday 30 November 2012 18.05 GMT


      Records show Russia printing money for Syria
      There is evidence that Russia has been pumping billions of dollars into Syria.
      Last Modified: 28 Nov 2012 23:31


      Aleppans caught in conflict face dire plight
      Al Jazeera visits one of many families living in squalor and desperation in city besieged by government forces.
      Last Modified: 14 Nov 2012 22:42



      Deadly fighting rages on across Syria
      At least 63 people are reported killed in Tuesday's clashes, including 41 in Damascus.
      Last Modified: 14 Nov 2012 09:45



      Syrian exile: 'My mother is dead. And it was my father who killed her'
      When Loubna Mrie joined the revolution, she incurred the wrath of her father, an Assad loyalist
      Martin Chulov
      guardian.co.uk, Sunday 11 November 2012 18.29 GMT


      When revolution first came to Syria, Loubna Mrie decided she would break new ground to help it succeed.

      Deeply affected by the images of dead protesters across the country, the 21-year-old Alawite – the daughter of a leader of the regime's thuggish Shabiha militia and member of Syria's most privileged minority – left her home in the regime heartland of Latakia and travelled to parts of Syria where death tolls were mounting.

      She soon became a feature at demonstrations and even ventured near the frontlines of the regime's fight with an armed opposition, delivering medicines to wounded rebels and finding homes for fleeing families.

      In August, Mrie appeared in a web video, her face wrapped in the independence flag adopted by the opposition. She was injured at a demonstration in which nine fellow protesters were killed. Every step she took to support those fighting four decades of state control earned the increasing wrath of close relatives. Every move made her more vulnerable.

      Last week the revolution took a toll that not even 19 months of exile and enmity had prepared her for. "I learned that my mother is dead," she said. "And it was my father that killed her."

      Alone in a house in Turkey, Mrie now feels racked with guilt. "My mother was kidnapped immediately after I made the video with the rebels on August 11," she said. "I waited for 10 days. I begged my father to tell me what he knew about it, to let me know. He used to curse me and hang up the phone. Some of my dad's friends told me that she was dead.

      "Last Friday [2 November] one of my friends, someone that I trust, told me that the dead body had been seen. I called [my father] and told him that he killed her. He said OK. He told me that he wished he could do the same to me."

      The Guardian was unable to independently verify Mrie's claim that her mother had been killed.

      Mrie has been told to stay well away from her home village of Jableh and cannot verify for herself that her mother is dead. But she needs no more convincing. "People I trust are telling me that she's gone," she said.

      Early last week, she posted on Facebook a lament to her late mother and to the father that she believes has killed her. The post has drawn widespread sympathy among opposition circles, where Alawite supporters are extremely rare and almost always silent.

      "They hit her because of me. Was it by electricity or a single bullet in her head?" the post asked. "Was she upset at me when they were humiliating her? Did her old age stop them from hurting her?

      "Abu Muntazer [her father] went to his brothers, cheered them up and told them that he washed the shame that his daughter brought to Jebel al-Akrud [the mountains near Latakia where the video was filmed] ...

      "I hate my identity and my passport. I hate your name which will accompany mine. What should I say to my future kids about why I don't have a family? Why isn't there a grave for my mum? Why this double punishment? Why the injustice?"

      Syrian refugee crisis hits new high as 11,000 flee in single day
      Turkey and Jordan say they are close to being overwhelmed by numbers fleeing conflict, as UN and charities plead for help
      Martin Chulov in Beirut
      guardian.co.uk, Friday 9 November 2012 17.38 GMT


      The Case of the Swedish weapons in Syria
      How did warning flares from a small town near Gothenburg find their way into the weaponry of the anti-Assad resistance?
      Sunday 4 November 2012


      Syria conflict: rebel 'war crime' caught on video - Friday 2 November 2012
      • Video purports to shows rebels executing Assad forces
      • Rebels expect showdown with jihadis in Aleppo
      • Authorities in Kuwait warn opposition of crackdown
      Matthew Weaver
      guardian.co.uk, Friday 2 November 2012 16.30 GMT


      The plight of Syria's Christians: 'We left Homs because they were trying to kill us'
      In the civil war, they have tried to stay neutral. But despite this, many are now facing persecution and death


      Syrian Rebels 'Execute' Government Soldiers
      A video appearing to show Syrian opposition fighters killing troops at a checkpoint in Idlib province prompts war crimes claims.


      Syria airstrikes leave Eid truce in tatters
      Reports of violence, including heavy shelling and car bombs, appear to show that both sides have violated ceasefire.
      Last Modified: 27 Oct 2012 20:41


      Exclusive: How Syria's rebel fighters were sold exploding rifles – by a mystery Briton named ‘Emile’
      Opponents of Bashar al-Assad suspect they have been duped by a double agent posing as an arms dealer



      Kuwait votes for parliament amid boycott calls
      1 December 2012 Last updated at 07:30


      Kuwaitis are casting their votes for the second time this year as they head to the polls to choose a new parliament amid growing unrest.

      On the eve of the election, tens of thousands of protesters in Kuwait City called for a boycott over changes made to the voting rules last month.

      Opposition MPs say the amendment manipulates the ballot in favour of pro-government candidates.

      Kuwait has had months of confrontations between the opposition and government.

      Polling stations in the affluent Rumaithiya district of the capital appeared busy on Saturday morning, despite the calls for a boycott, the BBC's Shaimaa Khalil reports from Kuwait City.

      However, the AFP news agency reported a far thinner turnout at a polling station in Salwa, 15km (10 miles) south of Kuwait City.

      Defiant mood
      The main opposition grievance is a 19 October decree ordered by the emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Sabah, whose family dominates Kuwait's government.

      The crisis was sparked in June, when the Constitutional Court annulled parliamentary elections held in February, in which the Islamist-led opposition made significant gains. The court also reinstated the previous assembly, allied to the ruling family.

      After months of protests, Kuwait's emir ordered the dissolution of that parliament and announced new elections.

      The emir's decree last month cut the number of candidates a voter can elect from four to one, saying it would ensure a fairer representation of people in the parliament.

      But critics of the amendment say it gives the government greater influence over the outcome of the ballot.

      Opposition MPs say the changes breaches the Gulf state's constitution. As a result they decided not to participate in the election.

      Friday's protesters were angry at what they say is a unilateral decision by the emir to skew the election, which will not create a parliament representing the people, our correspondent reports.

      This level of political polarisation is unusual in Kuwait, which has traditionally had a more unified political scene, she adds.

      Carrying banners reading "absolute power corrupts", demonstrators marched through Kuwait City chanting, "we are boycotting" and "the people want to bring down the decree".

      The rally was led by former Islamist MPs, by liberals and by young people, our correspondent says, adding that the mood was jubilant but defiant.

      Unlike recent unauthorised protests, which ended in clashes between protesters and police, authorities had issued a permit for Friday's peaceful march.

      Former MP Falah Al Sawagh told our correspondent the rally was not just about an electoral law, but about a long-term plan for real reform in Kuwait. "This is just the beginning," he said.

      Demonstrator Rana Abdel Razak said the march would continue even after the election was held.

      "We want real democracy, having elections doesn't mean we have democracy," she added.

      Kuwait's parliament has the most powers of any elected body in the Gulf and opposition MPs openly criticise the ruling Sabah family.

      However, the Sabahs retain full control over key government and executive posts.

      The emir has dissolved parliament four times since 2006.

      Kuwait voters pick new parliament with opposition groups holding boycott


      Kuwait releases royals detained over tweets
      Two members of ruling Al-Sabah family were arrested after writing tweets sympathetic to opposition groups.
      Last Modified: 10 Nov 2012 15:19



      Bahrain police break up nightly rallies
      Several demonstrators detained as clashes continue until dawn
      AFPPublished: 12:40 December 1, 2012


      Manama: Bahraini police fired tear gas and stun bombs to break up protests overnight in predominantly Shiite villages around Manama, leading to arrests and injuries, witnesses said on Saturday.
      The protesters took to the streets in response to a call by the February 14 Youth Coalition for rallies against a blockade imposed on the Shiite locality of Mahazza, near the capital, since November 7.
      “The blockade will not make us afraid,” chanted the protesters, in reference to King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa.
      The protesters, some of whom wore masks, waved the Bahraini flag and pictures of prisoners.

      Police fired tear gas and sound bombs as the protests got unruly, leading to some injuries, according to the witnesses who did not specify the number of casualties.
      Police detained several demonstrators, and the skirmishes continued until dawn on Saturday, according to the witnesses.
      The United States last week expressed concern about the situation in Bahrain, one year after an inquiry report was issued on the unrest, saying the country needed to put more of its recommendations into effect.

      Bahrain Congratulates the Palestinian People
      12 : 27 AM - 01/12/2012


      By Amira Asad


      It’s been 21 months since the small desert island nation of Bahrain began its Arab Spring-inspired uprising. Since declaring its independence in 1971, Bahrain’s constitutional monarchy has had one prime minister, Khalidah ibn Sulman Al Khalifah, who is also the uncle of the current king and the brother of the last one. Unlike states which have been transformed by protests and revolution like Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, the Bahrain government—which is controlled by a Sunni minority and often accused of oppressing Shiites—hasn’t come close to toppling. Demonstrations in Bahrain petered out quickly last year after Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations lent the regime some troops to use in a violent crackdown against dissidents. The turmoil in other Middle Eastern countries has taken international media attention away from the human rights violations in Bahrain, but that doesn’t make the situation there any less appalling.

      Last November, the Bahraini government admitted to “instances of excessive force and mistreatment of detainees.” A few days after that admission, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry—which was led by human rights expert M. Cherif Bassiouni and commissioned by King Hamad to investigate the violence—released 26 reform recommendations that the king promised to implement.

      One year later and only three of those recommendations have been carried out, according to a report from the Project on Middle East Democracy. Just last month, Bahrain completely banned protesting, and a few weeks ago 31 people connected to the opposition had their citizenships revoked. To find out more about this mostly ignored crisis, I spoke with Maryam al-Khawaja, the acting president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the daughter of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, the cofounder of the organization who was sentenced to life in prison by a military court in June 2011.

      VICE: Hi Maryam. How do you think human rights have changed one year after the BICI report?
      Maryam al-Khawaja: It’s gotten worse. There have been five cases of people getting arrested for tweeting. Someone was imprisoned for two months for defaming the king on Twitter. There are constant attacks against people who speak out and criticize the government.

      Haven’t there been some cases where the police were put on trial for using excessive force against protestors?
      The very few cases that have been brought to court were all lower rank police officers. There were several cases where police officers were acquitted or found innocent in cases where they were charged in extrajudicial killings. There was only one case where an officer was found guilty—he shot someone at point-blank range and only received seven years in prison. He hasn’t been arrested or served the time despite being sentenced. If you look at the higher-level officials who should have been held accountable, most of them have held their positions or even been promoted.

      Although protesting was recently banned, it seems like small demonstrations happen everyday. Unfortunately, they often end in a clash with the police. Has police interaction with protestors changed at all since the BICI report?
      According to the cases we have been able to document since the report was released, the security forces have continued to use excessive force against peaceful protesters. A lot of injuries documented were people being hit in their backs with pellets, which indicates that they were shot at while running away. We are still looking at cases of torture and arbitrary arrests. In some cases, it has gotten worse: Right after the BICI reports came out, we documented cases where riot police started carrying knives and would cut up protesters when they caught them. Kids would be caught and cut up and told to tell their friends that’s what happens if they participate in protests or hang out in the streets. This is something that didn’t happen before the BICI, so there's been an escalation.

      Do you know why those people had their citizenships revoked earlier this month?
      First of all, this isn’t the first time the Bahraini regime has revoked people’s citizenships. They did this in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. This time, there were people on that list who hadn’t spoken out publically against the government since the revolution started. It seems very strange that the people who are known for being part of the opposition were more or less left off the list. I think that there were two messages the government was trying to send. First, because a large number of people on the list are Ajam [of Persian descent], this is a message to the Ajam that if you criticize the government, they can revoke your citizenship. I think the other thing is that they wanted to create a situation where everyone in Bahrain thinks they could be on the next list. Immediately after the list came out, people in the government took to their Twitters and started spreading rumors that there will be a second and a third list. They sent direct threats to
      certain people, for example my colleagues, my sister, and myself. They created a situation where suddenly everyone felt like they were targeted. If they had just targeted people well known for their opposition then other people would feel like, “Well I’m not in that specific group,” or “I’m not well known so I’m not going to be targeted.”

      At the Oslo Freedom Forum last year you said, “Anyone who speaks out, defends human rights, and says that we want human rights or freedom is seen as a terrorist or having a pro-Iranian agenda.” Could you explain what you meant?
      What the Bahraini regime does really well is play the labeling game. They’ll take whatever is perceived as being an international threat at that point, and then give the opposition in Bahrain that label because they feel that’s one way to get international support or at least not get criticized for the crackdown. They used to say that everyone who was in the opposition was a communist, and after that they were all Iranian agents and now they are all terrorists and Iranian agents. So by splitting the Sunni and Shiites in Bahrain—making it seem like they are split and this is a sectarian strike and not a demand for democracy and human rights, it’s easier to frame the situation as being a result of Iranian influence. It is much easier in the international media to frame a “Shiite uprising,” as they like to call it, than a Bahraini uprising.

      The treatment towards Shiite people in Bahrain has been described as “apartheid-like,” would you agree with that?
      There are some unwritten laws—there are areas in Bahrain where Shiites are not allowed to live. There are certain jobs Shiites aren’t allowed to work. All Bahrainis have to take a mandatory religion class in school where they are taught that if you are a Shiite, you aren’t a real Muslim and that you are going to hell for it—you even have to write this in exams sometimes. There is definitely discrimination against the Shiites. The reason we don’t use the term apartheid is because we will get discredited by the international community, but if you look at the situation on the ground that’s definitely something that can be said.


      Hezbollah warns Israel against attacks
      Hassan Nasrallah says thousands of rockets will rain down on Israel in retaliation for any attacks on Lebanon.
      Last Modified: 26 Nov 2012 05:29



      Scores killed in Iraq blasts
      Shia worshippers and security forces targeted in bombings that killed 48 and injured many more across four provinces.
      Last Modified: 30 Nov 2012 09:00


      A string of bombings in Iraq have killed at least 48 people and left more than 100 others wounded.

      In the deadliest attack on Thursday, more than 33 people were killed and about 90 others injured in explosions in the southern city of Hilla, near tents set up for Shia pilgrims. A roadside bomb was followed by a car bomb targeting emergency response teams.

      Twisted and charred vehicles were left outside damaged stores as shopkeepers collected their strewn merchandise from the bloodstained pavement in the Shia-majority city.

      An eatery full of labourers and municipal workers having breakfast were hit by the explosions.

      Hilla is on the route for Shia pilgrims on their way to Karbala, one of the holiest cities for the Shia sect.

      Karbala blast

      Just hours earlier, a car bomb killed at least six people and left more than a dozen wounded near a shrine in Karbala.

      A police spokesman said security forces closed off all roads leading to the old city, where al-Hussein, Prophet Muhammad's grandson is buried, and were searching for a second car bomb.

      Millions of pilgrims flock to Karbala each year to mark al-Hussein's death during Ashoura, which peaked on November 25 this year.

      Pilgrims also walk from across Iraq to Karbala during the 40-day mourning period that follows Ashoura.

      Thursday's attacks marked the second wave of bombings against Shias this week after three car bombs exploded near their places of worship in Baghdad on Tuesday, killing 12 people and wounding 50.

      Elsewhere in the country, two bombs targeted security forces in Fallujah and near Mosul.

      East of Mosul city, a car bomb killed two, including a police officer, near a police checkpoint. Another two civilians were wounded in the blast.

      In central Fallujah, a suicide bomber walked up to a bank and killed three army soldiers when he detonated his explosive vest. Another eight were wounded in a line of soldiers queued up to receive their monthly salaries at the time of the attack.

      An off-duty police officer was killed in Diyala province when a bomb attached to his car exploded on Thursday morning.

      In Baghdad, police sealed off the Green Zone and areas leading to it after dismantling a bomb, Al Jazeera's Jane Arraf, reporting from the city, said.

      The "wide variety of targets" on Thursday, said our correspondent, were meant to be a sign "to show that Iraqi security cannot keep their people safe".


      Tunisia's president calls for new cabinet
      Anger continues to spill on the streets of the north African state as President Moncef Marzouki calls for new cabinet.
      Last Modified: 01 Dec 2012 06:08


      Tunisia's President Moncef Marzouki has asked the nation's Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali to appoint a new cabinet as protests over economic harship contine to sweep the streets of the north African state.

      In a televised national address on Friday, President Moncef Marzouki said that the country's coalition government had not "met the expectations of the people" and asked that a new one, smaller and specialised to deal with the unrest, be formed.

      The current government has about 80 members.

      The Tunisian president's ability to bring change is minimal. The prime minister is the determining force in the power structure. Marzouki, from the centre-left Congress for the Republic, has clashed with Ennahdha's Jebali, in the past.

      He said new elections should be held "as soon as possible," before next summer. Calling the violence "unacceptable," Marzouki said there should be a commission of enquiry.

      "The government must be changed to have a competent technocrat cabinet and not one based on political factions," Marzouki said.

      "If the clashes continue and the government's response is not adequate, there will be chaos and a dead-end," he added.

      "Tunisia today has an opportunity that it must not miss to be a model because the world is watching us and we mustn't disappoint," Marzouki said.

      There was no immediate comment from the prime minister's office.

      Friday also saw the fourth day of protests, leaving more than 300 people injured including at least 17 blinded by birdshot, according to medical sources.

      Angry protesters vented their frustration at security forces, calling for their government to fulfill the promises of the country's revolution.

      Forces responded by firing tear gas canisters to disperse crowds.

      Several Tunisian radio stations said the army had moved into Siliana. An official close to Ennahdha, the centre-right Islamist party of the prime minister, said the army will replace police in Siliani. The official was not authorised to speak publicly and asked not to be named. No official announcement was made, but eye witnesses corroborated the information, saying that several army trucks and other vehicles moved in.

      The president expressed concern that the unrest in Siliana could spread to other regions in Tunisia's long marginalised interior, where the lack of development and high unemployment helped trigger begin what became a nationwide uprising that toppled Zine El Abidine Ben Al, the former auotcrat, in January 2011.

      UN human rights officials have criticised the security forces for using excessive force which echo the clashes of harsh policing under Ben Ali.
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