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Middle East and North Africa (MENA): News from Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Tunisia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Oman

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  • Zafar Khan
    A word of advice about the Middle East – we’ve reached the ‘tipping point’ with cliches You ve got to be careful when Syria s rebels are perpetually
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 29, 2012
      A word of advice about the Middle East – we’ve reached the ‘tipping point’ with cliches
      You've got to be careful when Syria's rebels are perpetually "closing in"
      ROBERT FISK
      Monday 24 December 2012

      http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/a-word-of-advice-about-the-middle-east--weve-reached-the-tipping-point-with-cliches-8430495.html

      Remember the days when we thought Egypt’s path to democracy was a done deal? Western-trained Mohamed Morsi had invited the people to come and meet him in Hosni Mubarak’s former presidential palace, the old military toffs in the “Supreme Council of the Armed Forces” had been pensioned off and the International Monetary Fund was waiting to bestow some of those cruel deprivations upon Egypt that would ready it for our financial benevolence. How happy the Middle East optimists were by mid-2012.
      Next door, Libya produced a victory for nice, pro-Western secularist Mahmoud Jibril, promising freedom, stability, a new home for the West in one of the Arab world’s most fecund oil producers. It was a place where even US diplomats could wander around virtually unprotected.

      Tunisia may have an Islamist party running its government, but it was a “moderate” administration – in other words, we thought it would do what we wanted – while the Saudis and the Bahraini autocracy, with the purse-lipped support of Messrs Obama and Cameron, quietly suppressed what was left of the Shia uprising which threatened to remind us all that democracy was not really welcome among the wealthiest Arab states. Democracy was for the poor.

      Closing in
      So, too, in Syria. By the spring of last year, the Western commentariat was writing off Bashar al-Assad. He did not deserve “to live on this earth”, according to French Foreign Secretary Laurent Fabius. He must “step down”, “step aside”. His regime had only weeks to go, perhaps only days. This was the “tipping point”.

      Then by summer, when the “tipping point” had come and gone, we were told that Assad was about to use gas “against his own people”. Or that his supplies of chemical weapons might “fall into the wrong hands” (the “right hands” still presumably being Assad’s).

      Syria’s rebels were always “closing in” – on Homs, then Damascus, then Aleppo, then Damascus again. The West supported the rebels. Money and guns aplenty came from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, moral support from Obama, Clinton, the pathetic Hague, Hollande, the whole factory of goodness – until, inevitably, it turned out that the rebels contained rather a lot of Salafists, executioners, sectarian killers and, in one case, a teenage head-chopper who behaved rather like the ruthless regime they were fighting. The factory had to put some of its machinery into reverse. The US still supported the good, secular rebels but now regarded the horrible Salafist rebels as a “terrorist organisation”.

      And poor old Lebanon, needless to say, was about to explode into civil war for the second time in less than 40 years, this time because Syria’s violence was “spilling over” into its neighbour’s territory.

      Wasn’t Lebanon’s sectarian make up the same as Syria’s? Wasn’t the Lebanese Hezbollah an ally of Assad? Weren’t the Sunnis of Lebanon supporting the Syrian rebels? All true. But the Lebanese did not oblige the overpaid “think-tank” bores and journos and “experts” because, assaulted as they were by Syria’s intelligence killers, they were too intelligent and well-educated to return to the midden of 1975-1990. Iran, of course, was about to be bombed because it was – or was not yet – manufacturing nuclear weapons, or might – or could – manufacture nuclear weapons in a month, or a year, or a decade from now.

      Terror
      Obama might not bomb Iran, he didn’t really want to, but – wait for it – “all options” were “on the table”. And so, of course, with Israel, which wanted to bomb Iran because it might, or could, manufacture nuclear weapons or was in the process of doing so, or might have them in six months, or a year, or several years’ time but – again – “all options” were “on the table”. Netanyahu’s “window of opportunity” would last, we were told, until the US presidential election. And so this nonsense continued until... well, until the US presidential election, by which time we were warned again that Iran was producing, or might, or could produce a nuclear weapon.

      Israel also threatened Lebanon because the Hezbollah had thousands of missiles and threatened Gaza because the Palestinians had thousands of missiles. And many were the Israeli journalists – along with their American clones – who prepared their readers for these two wars against “terror”. In the event, Lebanon remained unbombed while a highly unsatisfactory conflict (from Israel’s point of view) broke out between Israel and Hamas which ended when Morsi – the West’s avuncular ally – persuaded the Palestinians to abide by a ceasefire, which Netanyahu then mournfully accepted. He thus boosted the prestige of Khaled Meshal who subsequently announced that Palestine must exist all the way from the River Jordan to the sea. In other words, no more Israel. Just as the soon-to-be resigned Foreign Minister of Israel, Avigdor Lieberman, and his chums had been saying for a very long time that Israel must exist between the sea and the River Jordan.
      In other words, no more Palestine. It was left to the courageous – and very ageing – Israeli Uri Avnery to point out that if both had their wish, only an open grave would exist between the river and the sea.

      A defunct language
      So at year’s end, friendly, cuddly Mohamed Morsi was playing Mubarak and hoovering up any old dictatorial powers available to him while a very dodgy constitution was ram-rodded on to the secular population of the land, whose Muslim and Christian people Morsi had all along promised to serve. In Libya, of course, the US turned out to have more enemies than it thought; the ambassador was murdered by – and the jury must remain out on this despite the obfuscations of Clinton – an al-Qa’ida-type militia.

      Indeed, al-Qa’ida itself – politically bankrupt by the time of Osama bin Laden’s murder by a US military assassination squad in 2011 – was virtually written off by the White House in advance of the Obama re-election. But the ghostly desperadoes of Wahabism acquired that habit so beloved of movie monsters; they began to recreate themselves in different form in different lands. Mali replaced Afghanistan, just as Libya replaced Yemen and just as Syria replaced Iraq.

      A word of advice, therefore, for Middle East potentates, dictators, Western poseurs, television presenters and journos. Do not use the following words or expressions in 2013: moderate, democracy, step down, step aside, tipping point, falling into the wrong hands, closing in, spilling over, options on the table or – terror, terror, terror, terror. Too much to hope for? You bet. We’ll even get another load of cliches from the goodness factory to replace those that have already served their purpose.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


      EGYPT

      Egypt probes alleged incitement to oust Morsi
      Investigation ordered into accusations of treason by opposition leaders as country faces constitutional dispute.
      Last Modified: 28 Dec 2012 06:16

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/12/2012122842320389703.html

      Egypt's chief prosecutor has ordered an investigation into allegations that opposition leaders committed treason by inciting supporters to overthrow President Mohammed Morsi.

      The probe, launched on Thursday, targets opposition leaders Mohammed El-Baradei, a Nobel Peace laureate and former head of the UN nuclear agency, former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, and Hamdeen Sabahi. Both Moussa and Sabahi were presidential candidates who competed against Morsi in the last election.

      The Muslim Brotherhood's website alleged that the opposition leaders were "duping simple Egyptians to rise against legitimacy and were inciting against the president," which constitutes treason.

      The allegation came a day after the president called for a dialogue with the opposition to help solve disputes over a Muslim Brotherhood-backed constitution that was just approved in a referendum.

      The accusations were filed by two lawyers during a political crisis earlier this month over a series of presidential decrees that granted Morsi and the committee drafting the disputed constitution immunity from judicial oversight.

      The opposition decried the investigation as a throwback to Hosni Mubarak's regime, when the law was used to smear and silence opponents.

      Emad Abu Ghazi, secretary-general of the opposition party that El-Baradei heads, said the investigation was "an indication of a tendency toward a police state and the attempt to eliminate political opponents".

      He said that Morsi is dealing with the opposition similarly to Mubarak, the ousted leader who had allegedly jailed his opponents without allowing fair trials.

      Heba Yassin, a spokesperson for the Popular Current coalition led by Sabahi, said that Sabahi faced similar charges under Mubarak and his predecessor.

      "Morsi is confirming that he is following the same policies of Mubarak in repressing his opponents and trying to smear their reputation through false accusations," Yassin said.

      "Also this is evidence of what we had warned about - the judiciary and the prosecutor-general must be independent and not appointed by the president," she said.

      Constitutional crisis

      Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, asked the opposition on Wednesday to join a national dialogue to heal rifts after a month of huge street protests against him and the controversial constitution.

      Some of the protests erupted into deadly violence. On December 5, anti-Morsi demonstrators staging a sit-in outside the presidential palace in Cairo were attacked by Morsi supporters. Fierce clashes ensued that left 10 people dead.

      Even though the constitution passed in a referendum, the opposition has vowed to keep fighting it. They say it prioritises Islamic law in the country, undermines rights of minorities and women, and restricts freedoms.

      Although he reached out to the opposition for reconciliation, Morsi did not offer any concessions in his speech on Wednesday calling for a dialogue.

      On Wednesday Morsi asked his prime minister to carry out a limited reshuffle of his government, without offering any seats to the opposition.

      In an apparent protest against the decision to keep the same prime minister, the country's minister of parliamentary affairs resigned.

      It is the second resignation of a cabinet minister this week and follows a spate of resignations of senior aides and advisers during the constitutional crisis.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Muslim Brotherhood claims charter 'approved'
      Group says Egypt's voters have approved contentious draft constitution, even as opposition levels fraud charges.
      Last Modified: 23 Dec 2012 17:11

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/12/20121222235450446212.html
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      Egypt votes on divisive draft constitution
      Final round of voting is underway on the new Islamist-backed charter that critics claim is polarising the nation.
      Last Modified: 22 Dec 2012 18:43

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/12/2012122261639574403.html
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      Egypt opposition to vote against constitution
      Egypt's presidency announces that vote on the controversial constitutional referendum is to take place over two days.
      Last Modified: 12 Dec 2012 21:05

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/12/2012121294733861274.html
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      SYRIA

      'The people of Aleppo needed someone to drag them into the revolution'
      Abu Ali Sulaibi was one of the first people to take up arms in Aleppo. Now he controls two shattered blocks on the frontline where he lives with his wife, four children and Squirrel the cat
      Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in Aleppo
      guardian.co.uk, Friday 28 December 2012 14.20 GMT

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/dec/28/aleppo-revolution-abu-ali-sulaibi
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      'Chemical weapons were used on Homs': Syria's military police defector tells of nerve gas attack
      General becomes one of the most senior officers to join the rebels
      ALISTAIR DAWBER WEDNESDAY 26 DECEMBER 2012

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/chemical-weapons-were-used-on-homs-syrias-military-police-defector-tells-of-nerve-gas-attack-8431380.html

      The head of Syria’s military police defected to the opposition, accusing the Assad regime of systematic “murder” and claiming that reports of chemical weapons being used against rebels in the restive city of Homs were true.

      Maj-Gen Abdul-Aziz Jassim al-Shallal became one of the highest ranking Syrian military officers to throw their support behind the rebels, accusing forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of turning their weapons on innocent civilians in the now 22-month-long civil war.

      “I declare my defection from the army because of its deviation from its fundamental mission to protect the nation and [its] transformation into gangs of murder and destruction,” he said in a video message posted online, reportedly from the Turkish border.

      He accused the military of “destroying cities and villages and committing massacres against our innocent people who came out to demand freedom.” General Shallal suggested in his message that he had been working with the opposition for some time before he formally defected to the rebel cause.

      He becomes the latest in a string of leading military advisers to abandon the government and join the disparate rebels. But it is his claim that chemical weapons were used in Homs during a deadly attack on Christmas Eve that is likely to be of greater interest to the Syrian opposition and their foreign backers.

      Reports from Homs had suggested that a type of nerve agent was used by the Syrian forces in the attack, a point that General Shallal appeared to verify yesterday. Al Jazeera reported at the time that at least seven people had died after inhaling a poisonous gas “sprayed by government forces in a rebel-held Homs neighbourhood”.

      “We don’t know what this gas is but medics are saying it’s something similar to sarin gas,” Raji Rahmet Rabbou, an activist in Homs, told Al Jazeera.

      It is not clear that the substance used in Homs was banned by international law, even the though the General yesterday specifically referred to a “chemical weapons” attack. Nonetheless, the use of non-conventional weapons is considered a “red line” by some in the international community who have been reluctant to intervene directly.

      The issue of chemical weapons and their security is likely to form the basis of discussions when the UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi visits Moscow on Saturday. Russia has hitherto officially backed the Syrian government, but with recent rebel advances, particularly in Damascus, individual Russian officials have suggested that support for the Assad regime may be waning.

      General Shallal said that he had been working with the opposition for some time and that plans for his formal defection had taken weeks to finalise. He suggested that several more leading officials were either working for the rebels from within the regime or wanted to defect. An unnamed Syrian security source confirmed the defection but played down its significance, the Reuters news agency reported. General Shallal was due to retire soon and joined the uprising to “play hero”, the source is quoted as saying.

      The defection came as reports emerged of women and children being killed in an attack in the northern Raqqa province. An amateur video showed the bodies of eight children and three women. Activists said the attack was in the village of Qahtaniyeh.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Syria military police chief defects to rebels
      Ex-general Abdel Aziz Jassem al-Shallal purportedly joins rebels on YouTube, saying army turned into "murderous gangs".
      Last Modified: 28 Dec 2012 11:17

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/12/2012122614513868810.html
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Thousands of Syrians leave Jordan for the front lines
      TAYLOR LUCK , THE WASHINGTON POST MAFRAQ, JORDAN TUESDAY 25 DECEMBER 2012

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/thousands-of-syrians-leave-jordan-for-the-front-lines-8430996.html

      Encouraged by what they view as fatal setbacks to the Syrian regime, several thousand of an estimated 250,000 Syrian exiles in Jordan have left in recent weeks to join the rebellion in their homeland.

      The exodus has emptied hundreds of the safe houses, apartments and refugee tents that housed Syrians in Mafraq and other northern Jordanian cities, according to Syrian activists and Jordanian officials. Jordanian security officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record, said as many as 8,000 Syrians have crossed the border back into Syria in the past 10 days alone.

      According to Syrian activists in Syria and Jordan, the sudden returns are a response to a call for reinforcements issued in early December by the rebel military council, the main umbrella organization of army defectors locked in a bloody war of attrition against regime forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Activists said the response has been greatest among refugees in Jordan, because pro-Assad militias in Lebanon have prevented similar returns from that country and many Syrians in Turkey were already involved in the fight.

      Syrian rebels said the call for more forces comes as the opposition faces a critical stage in the months-long conflict, with their offensive inching closer to the heart of Damascus, capturing several military bases and fending off counteroffensives on rebel strongholds in Aleppo, the southern city of Daraa and the Damascus countryside.

      "Now, Jordan has become our number one source of manpower," said Abu Hani Darawi, a Free Syrian Army coordinator whose battalions in Daraa have received the bulk of the returnees from Jordan. "We are now entering the final battles for Syria, and we need every able Syrian to join us."

      The call for recruits has sparked a steady stream of voluntary returnees from Jordan's Zaatari refugee camp, near Mafraq. Jordanian officials are facilitating the repatriation of as many as 150 military-aged Syrians every day, according to Interior Ministry statistics. Ahmed Rifai, a 25-year-old camp resident, said FSA gains in Daraa had prompted him and two of his cousins to request repatriation in a bid to join the rebels.

      "We can feel that Bashar's final days are coming," Rifai said. "We want to experience liberation day placing our boots on the neck of the regime, not cowering in a refugee camp."

      In addition to former and would-be fighters, activists said the returnees from Jordan include hundreds of doctors, nurses, lawyers and engineers who aspire to rebuild their homeland even as the conflict continues.

      Abu Muuath Hamad, a 44-year-old paramedic, said he fled the central Syrian town of Douma after the regime persecuted him for offering assistance to suspected protesters. He said he sought refuge in the Jordanian city of Mafraq for six months, spending his time tending to the injuries and the rehabilitation of the hundreds of wounded FSA fighters who have crossed into Jordan for treatment. On Dec. 10, he was repatriated and returned to Douma, where he was appointed as chief field medic by the FSA.

      "Many of us thought we could make a difference from Jordan, but we were just observers like everyone else," Hamad said in a phone interview from Douma. "When the whole world turns its back on your homeland, there is only one thing left to do: Go home."

      But even as they welcome the assistance, Syrian rebels play down the potential of new returnees to turn the war's tide. Many of the exiles have no prior fighting experience. Others are months removed from the front lines and find themselves lagging in the rapidly intensifying urban warfare.

      "Each returnee needs at least two weeks to become acclimated with our current tactics and needs. It might be up to a month before they can really contribute," Darawi said.

      Repeating a long-standing rebel plea, Darawi said more arms, not men, would give the opposition the final advantage over the Assad regime. But while Jordanian border forces largely turn a blind eye to the mass crossings, they continue to restrict the movement of weapons. Returnees are limited to carrying personal firearms and basic medical supplies, not the heavy artillery and surface-to-air missiles FSA officers say they need to topple the regime.

      "We will not prevent Syrians from their right to return, but under no circumstance will we allow arms smuggling through our borders," said a Jordanian military source stationed in the border region.

      Even so, optimism about rebel gains has buoyed Syrians who remain in Jordan. In recent weeks, they have launched a flurry of new coalitions and formed unions for lawyers and civil servants in anticipation of a post-Assad transition phase.

      "Syrians are no longer waiting to see when or if the regime will fall. We are looking at the transition period and what we can do to build a new democratic state," former deputy oil minister Abdo Hussameddin told reporters in the Jordanian capital last week as he announced the formation of the Free National Coalition of Public Sector Workers. "While the regime is destroying homes and buildings, we are focusing on building institutions."

      Recent rebel attacks on the international airport in Damascus and the takeovers of other military airstrips have inspired 150 defected Syrian military pilots in Jordan to form the foundation of what they hope to be the FSA's first air force squadron, said Lt. Col. Abu Abdullah Mohammed. The former pilots say they are set to return once rebels have successfully captured an air base or airport where they can put their skills to use.

      "We had always planned to return to the revolutionary cause should we be called upon," said Mohammed, who, like many of his former Syrian air force peers, remains in the Jordanian border city of Mafraq. "Now it seems that we have to speed up."

      The recent departures represent a small fraction of the Syrian population in Jordan. But they have left a palpable emptiness in the apartment blocks and houses in Mafraq that, mere weeks ago, were crammed with refugees, many of them hosted by Jordanians.

      On a recent day, Jordanian Abdul Rahman Talal, a household appliance importer and a supporter of Syrian revolutionaries, stood in his carpeted living room and furrowed his brow as he pondered a sound he had not heard in more than 20 months: silence.

      Until early December, his home in this border city had served as a safe house for 30 Syrian rebels. Then, suddenly, his guests headed for the front lines back home.

      "After all the bombings and setbacks, I thought this day would never come," said Talal, 42, as he picked up a green-striped Syrian opposition scarf left behind by one of his guests. "I feel like I have lost an entire tribe."
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Air strike on Syria bakery 'kills dozens'
      At least 90 people queuing at a bakery in the town of Halfaya in Hama were killed in the attack, activists say.
      Last Modified: 24 Dec 2012 02:05

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/12/201212231694893146.html
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Syria 'secures chemical weapons stockpile'
      Russia says government in Damascus consolidated its chemical weapons in "one or two" locations amid rebel onslaught.
      Last Modified: 23 Dec 2012 08:37

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/12/201212221532021654.html
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Fighting between Syrian rebels and Palestinians loyal to Assad rages in Damascus refugee camp
      AP TUESDAY 18 DECEMBER 2012

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/fighting-between-syrian-rebels-and-palestinians-loyal-to-assad-rages-in-damascus-refugee-camp-8423317.html

      Fighting between Syrian rebels and an armed group of Palestinians loyal to President Bashar Assad is raging inside a Damascus refugee camp, activists said today.

      The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said heavy battles are under way in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, in southern Damascus.

      The Observatory said the fighting is forcing Palestinian refugees and Syrians who came to Yarmouk to escape violence elsewhere in the country to flee the camp.

      When the revolt against Mr Assad's rule began in March 2011, the half-million-strong Palestinian community in Syria tried to stay on the sidelines.

      As the civil war deepened, most Palestinians backed the rebels, though some groups - such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command - have been fighting on the government side.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Syrian forces surround Palestinian camp
      Troops stationed outside Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus day after air raid killed eight people there.
      Last Modified: 17 Dec 2012 20:06

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/12/2012121717419248502.html
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Syrian jet fires rocket at Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus
      Thousands flee and dozens feared dead after attack on Yarmouk camp as Palestinians in Syria are caught up in civil war
      Martin Chulov
      The Guardian, Sunday 16 December 2012 18.35 GMT

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/dec/16/syrian-rocket-palestinian-refugee-camp
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Syrian Alawites abandon homes
      Shia community, long linked to al-Assad regime, flees as opposition fighters push into its territory.
      Last Modified: 17 Dec 2012 10:15

      http://www.aljazeera.com/video/middleeast/2012/12/2012121751749114473.html

      [VIDEO]
      In Syria, Al Jazeera has visited a village in Idlib province which was once home to the Alawite community.

      They fled when opposition forces pushed into their territory.

      Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr reports from the Idlib Province inside Syria.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Syria: The descent into Holy War
      World View: The world decided to back the rebels last week, but this is no fight between goodies and baddies
      PATRICK COCKBURN
      Sunday 16 December 2012

      http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/syria-the-descent-into-holy-war-8420309.html
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Rebels 'seize Syrian army school' in Aleppo
      Opposition fighters say they have stormed base outside strategic northern city after nearly three weeks of fighting.
      Last Modified: 16 Dec 2012 06:51

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/12/20121215101935468486.html
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Syrians back al-Nusra despite 'terrorist' tag
      Outrage among many Syrians after conservative rebel group lebelled 'terrorist organisation' by US.
      Last Modified: 14 Dec 2012 17:59

      http://www.aljazeera.com/video/middleeast/2012/12/20121214164411696160.html
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Assad troops fired Scud missiles at Syrian rebels, says US
      Nato and US officials say short-range missiles detected looked like Scuds, as Syrian opposition wins international recognition

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/dec/12/assad-troops-fired-scuds-syria
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Syrian refugees seek safety in Sweden
      With about 1,300 refugees arriving every week, there are concerns that resources may become stretched.
      Last Modified: 12 Dec 2012 03:39

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/12/2012121202549408933.html
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      'Friends of Syria' recognise opposition
      Over 100 nations meeting in Morocco officially recognise opposition coalition as "legitimate representative" of Syria.
      Last Modified: 12 Dec 2012 14:55

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/12/201212124541767116.html
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


      IRAQ

      Iraq Sunnis block trade routes in new protest
      Tens of thousands of protesters gather in Anbar province to denounce allegedly sectarian policies of PM Nouri al-Maliki.
      Last Modified: 26 Dec 2012 16:39

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/12/2012122611182506333.html

      [VIDEO]
      Tens of thousands of Sunni Muslims blocked Iraq's main trade route to neighbouring Syria and Jordan in a fourth day of demonstrations against Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

      The massive show of force on Wednesday marks an escalation in protests that erupted last week after troops detained the bodyguards of Sunni Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi, threatening to plunge Iraq deeper into political turmoil.

      "The people want to bring down the regime," chanted thousands of protesters in the Sunni stronghold of Anbar province.

      It was the fourth major protest in less than a week in an area, which was once the heart of the deadly Sunni insurgency that erupted after the US -led invasion in 2003.

      "This sit-in will remain open-ended until the demonstrators' demands are met, and until the injustice against ends," cleric Hamid al-Issawi told The Associated Press at the protest.

      He accused Maliki of trying to create rifts among Sunni and Shia populations.

      "These practices are aimed at drawing the country into a sectarian conflict again by creating crisis and targeting prominent national figures," the cleric said.

      In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera in Doha on Monday, exiled Vice President Tareq al-Hashimi leveled similar accusations against the Maliki government.

      "On the ground, al-Maliki in fact, on a daily basis [is governing in a] sectarian way," Hashimi said.

      "We don't have any option but to advocate and defend ourselves," he said in justifying the ongoing protests by Sunni-backed groups.

      Hashimi is now living in exile in Turkey after being handed multiple death sentences for allegedly running death squads, a charge he dismisses as politically motivated.

      Sectarian tension

      The case is exacerbating tensions with Iraq's Sunnis, who see the detentions as politically motivated.

      Earlier in the week, demonstrators gathered along a highway linking Baghdad with neighbouring Jordan and Syria.

      They held banners demanding that Sunnis' rights be respected and calling for the release of Sunni prisoners in Iraqi jails.

      "We warn the government not to draw the country into sectarian conflict," read one. Another declared: "We are not a minority.''

      Iraq's majority Shia rose to power following the 2003 US -led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated government, although the country's minority Sunni Arabs and Kurds do hold some posts within the government.

      Maliki has defended the arrests of the finance minister's guards as legal and based on warrants issued by judicial authorities.

      He also recently warned against a return to sectarian strife in criticising the responses of prominent Sunni officials to the detentions.

      In a recent statement, the prime minister dismissed the rhetoric as political posturing ahead of provincial elections scheduled for April and warned his opponents not to forget the dark days of sectarian fighting "when we used to collect bodies and chopped heads from the streets".

      The political tensions are rising at a sensitive time. Iraq's ailing President Jalal Talabani is incapacitated following a serious stroke last week and is being treated in a German hospital.

      The 79-year-old president, an ethnic Kurd, is widely seen as a unifying figure with the clout to mediate among the country's ethnic and sectarian groups.

      The discontent, however, extends beyond sectarian lines, according to Iraqi political analyst Sabah al-Mukhtar.

      In an interview with Al Jazeera, al-Mukhtar said Iraqis "are very unhappy with the present regime" citing the breakdown of political dynamics between the Sunnis, Shia and Kurds, as well as lack of infrastructure and basic services.

      "All these issues are making all of the Iraqis want change," al-Mukhtar said. "And don't forget, we have the Arab Spring. The Iraqis are saying, 'If everybody else revolted, why aren't we revolting against a regime, which is anyway imposed on us by an occupying force in 2003?'"
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      More deadly bombings hit Iraq
      Bombs targeting Shia places and police officials across Iraq kill at least 20 people.
      Last Modified: 17 Dec 2012 08:44

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/12/201212178953348181.html

      A series of car bombs near Shia places of worship has killed at least 20 people and injured many, a day after multiple blasts had hit two Iraqi cities killing nine people, a year after US forces departed the country.

      Three gunmen attacked a police checkpoint on the highway west of Tikrit, killing one policeman and wounding three.

      A police patrol then chased the gunmen, who abandoned their car and then detonated explosives in it, killing four more police and wounding two, a police lieutenant colonel told the AFP news agency.

      In the village of Al-Buslaibi, north of Baghdad, a roadside bomb targeting an army patrol killed three soldiers, an army captain said.

      A car bomb exploed in Khaznah, a village near Mosul in north Iraq populated by the small Shabak minority, killed seven people and wounded 12, while two car bombs near a Shia place of worship killed five and wounded 20 in
      the northern flashpoint town of Tuz Khurmatu, police officers and doctors said.

      Monday's violence comes a day after a string of bombings and a shooting which killed 19 people.

      Kurds attacked

      Two car bombs and seven roadside bombs on Sunday targeted two Shia places of worship in Kirkuk, one in the city's north and another in its south, killing a total of five people and wounding 14, a senior police officer told the AFP news agency.

      The attacks occurred around 7:30pm local time (16:30GMT), the officer said. A doctor from Kirkuk general hospital confirmed the toll.

      Earlier on Sunday, a car bomb explosion near a Kurdish party office killed two Kurdish security recruits and wounded five in a disputed city north of the capital, Baghdad.

      Security officials said the blast targeted the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) office in Jalawla some 125km northeast of the capital.

      An officer in the Jalawla police said the bomb exploded at the local headquarters of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan after a number of people seeking to join the Kurdish Peshmerga security forces had gathered.

      Both Arabs and Kurds claim Jalawla, and a local policeman said the violence resulted from the tensions. He did not explain further.

      Ethnically mixed Jalawla is in Diyalah province, and is one of the areas which Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region wants to incorporate, over the strong objections of Baghdad.

      The dispute over territory in northern Iraq is the greatest threat to the country's long-term stability, diplomats and officials say.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


      TUNISIA

      Tunisia aims to ease financial crisis with Ben Ali bling sale
      Cash-strapped government aims to trade Bentleys for buses as it launches £8m sell-off of dictator's 'ill-gotten gains'
      Eileen Byrne in Tunis
      guardian.co.uk, Friday 21 December 2012 12.15 GMT

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/dec/21/tunisia-ben-ali-bling-sale

      Ever wanted to recreate the lifestyle of an authoritarian despot but weren't sure how? Now is your chance. In what is billed as a "sale of ill-gotten gains", Tunisia's finance ministry is seeking to ease its stretched current account by selling off cars, jewellery, furniture, pictures and assorted bling confiscated from the deposed president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his family.

      Heavy security is in place around the Cleopatre exhibition space in Gammarth, a wealthy resort north of Tunis, for the opening on Saturday of a display of sale items including 34 luxury cars – semi-armoured Cadillac limousines, BMWs, Mercedes, two Lamborghini Gallardos, Bentleys, Aston Martins – and some 300 pieces of jewellery. Among the paintings, clothes, furniture and knick-knacks on show, the prevalence of gilded falcons and swallows in flight perhaps betrays the taste of the former first lady Leila Trabelsi, Tunisians speculate.

      Cash dispensers and currency exchange desks stand at the ready. Smaller items will be sold at a fixed price, while anything priced at more than £4,000 will go to the highest bidder. Many pieces come from the Ben Ali family's sumptuous palace with a Mediterranean view at nearby Sidi Dhrif. The residence is itself now topping Tunis estate agents' lists as the authorities seek a wealthy Gulf buyer.

      During the revolution that sparked the Arab spring two years ago, villas in Gammarth abandoned in haste by other members of the Ben Ali circle were looted, but the items on display there now came into public hands through the courts. The bling is just the most colourful part of a sell-off that includes confiscated shareholdings in a bank, two car importers and a cement plant. As Tunisians face up to the fact that their country is rather poorer than Ben Ali had them believe, the authorities have emphasised that the 20m dinars (£8m) they hope to raise from the Gammarth sale will go towards school buses for rural children and new roads.

      The organisers evidently hope to attract not just well-heeled but public-spirited buyers looking for that special gift with a story behind it, but also members of the public ready to pay the 30 dinar entrance ticket to marvel at their former ruler's nouveau-riche excesses.

      Times are hard for many this winter, however. Protests in poorer regions continue to discourage investment, taking unemployment to new highs in some towns and adding weight to arguments that the Islamist-led government lacks economic expertise. A shortage of milk in supermarkets is adding to the sombre public mood; parents of small children solicit tips as to which corner shops are handing out imported milk from under the counter.

      The government has just announced a new finance minister, Elyes Fakhfakh of the centre-left Ettakatol party. His predecessor resigned last summer, claiming that spending on jobseekers' allowances and work schemes, and planned compensation payments to former political prisoners, would be unsustainable.

      The finance ministry also said on Thursday that to make ends meet in 2014 it may have to resort to a $2.5bn (£1.5bn) credit line from the IMF.

      This year's total budget of £10.6bn includes financial help from well-wishers including the World Bank, the EU, Qatar, and neighbouring Libya (which praised the generosity Tunisians showed towards refugees from the war there last year).

      Ben Ali, Trabelsi and the couple's young son begin their third year of exile in Saudi Arabia in January. The Saudi government has declined to extradite them to Tunisia, where they have been convicted in absentia on charges including misuse of state funds. A once-favoured son-in-law, the 31-year-old Sakhr al-Materi (husband of Ben Ali's daughter Nesrine from a previous marriage), was questioned on 14 December at the airport in the Seychelles, after leaving his previous safe haven, Qatar. The Seychelles authorities later said he had left their territory. A Ben Ali brother-in-law and former kingpin of the Tunisian business world, Belhassen Trabelsi, is meanwhile wintering with his family in Canada, where he has applied for political asylum.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Angry crowd hurls stones at Tunisian leaders
      President and parliamentary speaker attacked at event commemorating two years since start of country's revolution.
      Last Modified: 17 Dec 2012 11:53

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/12/20121217113425585914.html

      Angry protesters have hurled rocks at the Tunisian president and parliamentary speaker in Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of the revolution that erupted in the north African country two years ago.

      The incident began after a speech by President Moncef Marzouki in the central Tunisian town, where celebrations are taking place on Monday to mark the anniversary of the revolution.

      Mustapha Ben Jaafar, the parliamentary speaker, was about to address the crowd when the violence began.

      Security forces swiftly evacuated the two men to the regional government headquarters, the AFP news agency reported.

      The protesters invaded the square where the head of state had been addressing the crowd, shouting "the people want the fall of the government".

      Growing anger

      The police held back, after violent clashes over the past few months, which have often followed attempts to disperse protesters angry over the government's failure to improve living conditions in the poor region.

      Clashes and strikes have multiplied across Tunisia in the run-up to the second anniversary of the start of Tunisia's revolution.

      When the president took to the podium on Monday, many in the crowd of around 5,000 started shouting "Get out! Get out!" - one of the rallying cries of the revolution that toppled the regime of former dictator Zine El Abedine Ben Ali.

      Marzouki promised economic progress within six months to the people of Sidi Bouzid, where poverty and unemployment were key factors behind the uprising that began there on December 17, 2010, after Muhammad Bouazizi a street vendor set himself on fire in protest at police harassment.

      "I understand this legitimate anger. But the government has diagnosed the problem. In six months, a stable government will be in place and will provide the remedy to heal the country's problems," said the president, who was jeered by the crowd.

      "For the first time, we have a government which is not stealing from the people," he said.

      Marzouki had been heckled earlier in the morning, when he visited the grave of Bouazizi.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


      YEMEN

      Yemen's government tries to cover up death of civilians by US drones
      SUDARSAN RAGHAVAN , THE WASHINGTON POST DHAMAR, YEMEN TUESDAY 25 DECEMBER 2012

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/yemens-government-tries-to-cover-up-death-of-civilians-by-us-drones-8430990.html

      A rickety Toyota truck packed with 14 people rumbled down a desert road from the town of Radda, Yemen, which al-Qaida militants once controlled. Suddenly a missile hurtled from the sky and flipped the vehicle over.

      Chaos. Flames. Corpses. Then, a second missile struck.

      Within seconds, 11 of the passengers were dead, including a woman and her 7-year-old daughter. A 12-year-old boy also perished that day, and another man later died from his wounds.

      The Yemeni government initially said that those killed were al-Qaida militants and that its own Soviet-era jets carried out the Sept. 2 attack. But survivors, tribal leaders and Yemeni officials would later say that it was an American assault and that the victims were all civilians who lived in a village near Radda. U.S. officials last week acknowledged for the first time that it was an American strike.

      "Their bodies were burning," recalled Sultan Ahmed Mohammed, 27, who was riding on the hood of the truck and flew headfirst into a sandy expanse. "How could this happen? None of us were al-Qaida."

      More than three months later, the incident offers a window on the Yemeni government's efforts to conceal Washington's mistakes and the unintended consequences of civilian deaths in American air assaults. In this case, the deaths have bolstered the popularity of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the terror network's Yemen affiliate, which has tried to stage attacks on U.S. soil several times.

      Furious tribesmen tried to take the bodies to the gates of the presidential residence, forcing the government into the rare position of withdrawing its claim that militants had been killed. The apparent target, Yemeni officials and tribal leaders said, was a senior regional al-Qaida leader, Abdelrauf al-Dahab, who was thought to be in a car traveling on the same road.

      U.S. airstrikes have killed numerous civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other parts of the world, and those governments have spoken against the attacks. But in Yemen, the government has often tried to hide civilian casualties from the public. It continues to insist in local media reports that its own aging jets attacked the truck.

      Meanwhile, the Obama administration has kept silent publicly, neither confirming nor denying any involvement, a standard practice with most U.S. airstrikes in its clandestine war against terrorism in this strategic Middle Eastern country.

      In response to questions, U.S. officials in Washington, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said it was a Defense Department aircraft, either a drone or a fixed-wing warplane, that fired on the truck. The Pentagon declined to comment on the incident, as did senior U.S. officials in Yemen and senior counterterrorism officials in Washington.

      Since the attack, militants in the tribal areas surrounding Radda have gained more recruits and supporters in their war against the Yemeni government and its key backer, the United States. The two survivors and relatives of six victims, interviewed separately and speaking to a Western journalist about the incident for the first time, expressed willingness to support or even fight alongside AQAP.

      "Our entire village is angry at the government and the Americans," Mohammed said. "If the Americans are responsible, I would have no choice but to sympathize with al-Qaida because al-Qaida is fighting America."

      Public outrage is also growing as calls for accountability, transparency and compensation go unanswered amid allegations by human rights activists and lawmakers that the government is trying to cover up the attack to protect its relationship with Washington. Even senior Yemeni officials said they fear that the backlash could undermine their authority.

      "If we are ignored and neglected, I would try to take my revenge. I would even hijack an army pickup, drive it back to my village and hold the soldiers in it hostages," said Nasser Mabkhoot Mohammed Al-Sabooly, the truck's driver, 45, who suffered burns and bruises. "I would fight along al-Qaida's side against whoever was behind this attack."

      After Osama bin Laden's death last year, Yemen emerged as a key battlefield in the Obama administration's war against Islamist militancy. AQAP members are among those on a clandestine "kill list" created by the administration to hunt down terrorism suspects. It is a lethal campaign, mostly fueled by unmanned drones, but it also includes fixed-wing aircraft and cruise missiles fired from the sea.

      This year, there have been at least 38 U.S. airstrikes in Yemen, according to the Long War Journal, a nonprofit website that tracks American drone attacks. That is significantly more than in any year since 2009, when President Barack Obama is thought to have ordered the first drone attack.

      The Radda attack was one of the deadliest since a U.S. airstrike in December 2009 killed dozens of civilians, including women and children, in the mountainous region of al-Majala in southern Yemen. After that attack, many tribesmen in that area became radicalized and joined AQAP.

      "The people are against the indiscriminate use of the drones," said Yemeni Foreign Minister Abubaker al-Qirbi. "They want better management of drones. And more important, they want to have some transparency as far as what's going on — from everybody."

      The concern over civilian casualties has grown louder since the spring, when the White House broadened its definition of militants who can be targeted in Yemen to include those who may not be well-known.

      "We don't attack in populated areas," said an Obama administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of discussing the U.S. airstrikes here. "We don't go after people in dwellings where we don't know who everyone is. We work very hard to minimize the collateral damage.

      "Having said all that, like any programs managed and operated by human beings, mistakes happen. We are not perfect."

      The rise in U.S. attacks came as AQAP and other extremists seized large swaths of southern Yemen last year, taking advantage of the political chaos of the country's populist Arab Spring revolution. Before that, AQAP orchestrated failed attempts to send parcel bombs on cargo planes to Chicago in 2010 and to bomb a Detroit-bound U.S. airliner the previous year.

      In January, AQAP-linked militants briefly seized Radda, placing them only 100 miles south of the capital, Sanaa. But they left after the government, agreeing to their demands, released several extremists from prison. By the summer, the radicals had also been pushed from towns in southern Yemen after a U.S.-backed military offensive initiated by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who took office early this year after the country's autocratic leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh, stepped down after 33 years in power.

      But today, al-Qaida-linked extremists are still in and around Radda, as well as in other parts of Yemen, staging attacks on government and military officials.

      In recent months, villagers in Sabool, about 10 miles from Radda, said they have heard U.S. drones fly over the area as many as three or four times a day. Some described them as "little white planes."

      "It burns my blood every time I see or hear the airplanes," said Ali Ali Ahmed Mukhbil, 40, a farmer. "All they have accomplished is destruction and fear among the people."

      On that September morning, his brother Masood stepped into the Toyota truck in Sabool. It was filled with villagers heading to Radda to sell khat, a leafy narcotic chewed by most Yemeni males. After they sold their produce, they headed back in the afternoon.

      Nasser Ahmed Abdurabu Rubaih, a 26-year-old khat farmer, was working in the valley when he heard the explosions. He ran to the site and, like others, threw sand into the burning vehicle to douse the flames. As he sifted through the charred bodies lying on the road, he recognized his brother, Abdullah, from his clothes.

      "I lost my mind," Rubaih recalled.

      Mukhbil's brother Masood was also dead.

      Some witnesses said that they saw three planes in the sky, two black and one white, and that the black ones were Yemeni jets. But both missiles struck the moving vehicle directly, and the terrain surrounding the truck was not scorched — hallmarks of a precision strike from a sophisticated American aircraft.

      "If you say it wasn't a U.S. drone, nobody will believe you," said Abdel-Karim al-Iryani, a former Yemeni prime minister and senior adviser to Hadi. "A Yemeni pilot to be able to hit a specific vehicle that's moving? Impossible."

      The Yemeni government publicly apologized for the attack and sent 101 guns to tribal leaders in the area as a symbolic gesture, which in Yemeni culture is an admission of guilt. But a government inquiry into the strike appears to be stalled, human rights activists and lawmakers said.

      For the past three months, lawmakers have unsuccessfully demanded that senior government officials reveal who was responsible for the attack.

      Washington played a crucial role in ousting Saleh and installing Hadi, a former defense minister. The United States also provides hundreds of millions of dollars to the military and security forces in counterterrorism assistance. U.S. officials regard Hadi as an even stauncher counterterrorism ally than Saleh.

      "The government is trying to kill the case," said Abdul Rahman Berman, the executive director of HOOD, a local human rights group. "The government wants to protect its relations with the U.S."

      After the 2009 strike in al-Majala, the Yemeni government also took responsibility for the assault. "We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours," Saleh told Gen. David Petraeus, who was then the head of U.S. Central Command, according to a U.S. Embassy e-mail leaked by WikiLeaks.

      Three weeks after the Radda attack, Hadi visited Washington and praised the accuracy of the U.S. drone strikes campaign in an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters, as well as publicly. "They pinpoint the target and have zero margin of error, if you know what target you're aiming at," he told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

      The day after the attack, tribesmen affiliated with al-Qaida blocked the roads around Radda and stormed government buildings. They set up a large tent and held a gathering to denounce the government and the United States. Fliers handed out around town read: "See what the government has done? That's why we are fighting. . . . They are the agents of America and the enemy of Islam. . . . They fight whoever says 'Allah is my God,' according to America's instructions."

      At the funeral, some mourners chanted "America is a killer," said Mohamed Al Ahmadi, a human rights activist who attended.

      A few days later, at a gathering, relatives of the victims urged Yemeni officials to be careful about the intelligence they provided to the Americans. "Do not rush to kill innocent people," declared Mohammed Mukhbil Al Sabooly, a village elder, in testimony that was videotaped. "If such attacks continue, they will make us completely lose our trust in the existence of a state."

      On extremist websites and Facebook pages, grisly pictures of the attack's aftermath, with bodies tossed like rag dolls on the road, have been posted, coupled with condemnations of the government and the United States. In Sabool and Radda, youths have vowed to join al-Qaida to fight the United States.

      "The drone war is failing," Berman said. "If the Americans kill 10, al-Qaida will recruit 100."

      AQAP sent emissaries to Sabool to offer compensation to the victims' relatives, seeking to fill the void left by the government, which has provided no compensation for the survivors and the families of those killed. Some relatives have already joined AQAP since the attack, said Hamoud Mohamed Al Ammari, the security chief of Radda.

      Others are considering.

      "If there's no compensation from the government, we will accept the compensation from al-Qaida," Rubaih said. "If I am sure the Americans are the ones who killed my brother, I will join al-Qaida and fight against America."

      ---

      Greg Miller in Washington and Ali Almujahed in Sanaa, Yemen, contributed to this report.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Yemen sacks Saleh’s military cronies
      Friday 21 December 2012
      Last Update 20 December 2012 7:43 pm

      http://www.arabnews.com/yemen-sacks-saleh%E2%80%99s-military-cronies

      SANAA: President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi has dramatically restructured Yemen’s military to curb the influence of those linked to toppled strongman Abdullah Ali Saleh.
      In a series of decisions announced late on Wednesday, Hadi scrapped the elite Republican Guard commanded by Saleh’s oldest son Ahmed and removed Saleh’s nephew, Yehya, from his powerful post as deputy chief of central security.
      Hadi took over the reins of power in Yemen less than a year ago, after veteran strongman Saleh stepped down under a power transition agreement mediated by the Gulf Cooperation Council, following a year-long uprising against his rule.
      “Restructuring the army is a must,” GCC chief Abdulatif Al-Zayani told Hadi in a phone call, congratulating him on the steps “tied to implementing the Gulf initiative... and UN Security Council resolutions,” Saba state news agency said.
      Zayani stressed “the support of GCC states for those decisions,” it reported.
      With the restructuring of the military and elimination of the powerful Republican Guard, Yemen’s army now consists of three main branches: ground forces, navy and the air force.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Yemen's president shakes up the army
      President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi issues series of decrees replacing and removing ousted Ali Abdullah Saleh's loyalists.
      Last Modified: 20 Dec 2012 07:03

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/12/2012122053621353659.html
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


      SAUDI ARABIA

      'Olden Days' in Saudi Arabia
      ELSA FRANCO AL GHASLAN
      Friday 23 November 2012
      Last Update 24 November 2012 7:26 am

      http://www.arabnews.com/saudi-arabia/olden-days-saudi-arabia

      These memories are the testimonial of an experience that has been deeply lived by a Western woman who started her adventure in Saudi Arabia many years ago with enthusiasm and optimism. The kind of life she has experienced here has been interesting and highly enriching. She did her best to accept and accommodate Saudi traditions and ways for years. She believed she could do it, she was determined to succeed, and she did.
      She arrived in Saudi Arabia from a major European city in the early 1970’s when the country was totally different from what you now know, from what you are used to seeing every day. You now go shopping in huge beautiful malls while back then the downtown was tiny and consisted of only a few traditional “souqs” with little stalls arranged on unpaved little alleys. When you now drive around you see high elegant glass and steel buildings; back then most buildings were small and most houses were made of mud, crowded along dirt roads.
      It was another “city”, it was another “lifestyle.” Things were very different. They were much simpler, though: connections were easier, gatherings less formal, communications more “personal”, goals and needs less demanding.
      I found it intriguing to walk with such woman along “Memory Lane”, while she remembered “Saudi” things, people and situations from her own Western perspective.

      PART I
      Today I happened to find an old photograph of mine while I was rearranging a cupboard.
      I stood still, with the picture in my hand and memories just started flooding back into my mind. I saw myself at the beginning of a successful career as a lawyer. I was young, pretty, full of hopes and plans when I met Saud, the Saudi student who was going to change my life. I now objectively ask myself how could I have decided to drastically change my life, forgetting my dreams, my high expectations.
      How could I have plunged myself into such a daring and uncertain future?
      My father never showed me his disappointment in my choice, but I believe he felt some. My family never made me feel that they did not approve of my decision to marry Saud. I will always be grateful to them for this freedom they granted me. I believe that parents should always leave their children free to make their own choices, even if they disapprove of them.
      Now I know, I can feel deep inside the perplexity my relatives and friends must have felt the night of my wedding party. “Is it possible, is it sensible for a young girl, belonging to a very good family, wealthy, admired, to abandon everything in order to go and live in an unknown country?” I myself, in spite of my studies and my cultural background, hardly knew the existence of Saudi Arabia. I remember telling Saud, when I first met him, “Saudi Arabia? Oh yes, of course! By the way, what’s its capital? I can’t remember right now....... Riyadh? Yes, naturally, how could I forget?” Actually, I had never heard of it before. I doubt many people had back then, years before the oil boom.
      From the few things he told me, I realized that it was a sort of old-fashioned country, with very strict traditions and religious rules. But young people tend to underestimate the reality of certain situations. Sometimes they even pretend not to understand their meaning. They do not want to see things as they really are, they prefer to see them the way they want them to be. When they make a decision following what their hearts tell them, they are convinced and fulfilled. Sometimes they are right, other times they are not. I was young and full of sincere enthusiasm. Yes, I was young, sincere, eager and enthusiastic. I was determined to make a great success out of my life in my new adopted country. I was willing to succeed, willing to cope, no matter the many challenges I was certainly going to face.

      To be continued next month
      (Memories of the early 1970’s narrated
      to me by a Western woman)

      elsafranco.algh@...
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      ‘Olden Days’ in Saudi Arabia
      ELSA FRANCO AL GHASLAN
      Friday 21 December 2012
      Last Update 22 December 2012 2:58 pm

      http://www.arabnews.com/lifestyle/%E2%80%98olden-days%E2%80%99-saudi-arabia

      I see myself when I first arrived in Riyadh. I was excited because now, after a short stay in Jeddah, the cosmopolitan city on the Red Sea, my real married life was starting. I entered our apartment. It was spacious and rather dirty. It had no furniture and there was dust everywhere. The next morning, I wore my beautiful new housedress and went into the bathroom. I rolled up the sleeves and started cleaning the basin. It was literally covered with insects. A few dead cockroaches were lying on the floor. I carefully avoided looking at them. I had never seen any in my life and they actually made me squirm. I started to sing at the top of my voice, convincing myself that everything was normal......... “This is the way it is in Saudi Arabia,” I told myself. I felt I was a pioneer facing a thrilling adventure. I was ready to accept everything willingly. At that time the plumbing facilities were rather primitive, to say the least. But we had water,
      electricity and air conditioning.
      I can’t help smiling remembering those huge “desert coolers,” as they were called, extremely noisy and eternally dripping water from their straw-lined sides.
      This positive attitude of mine made me able to succeed in adjusting myself to Saudi society very quickly. In those days, there were very few Western women married to Saudis and they were regarded with curiosity and sometimes with suspicion. From the start, I adapted to and accepted the customs and traditions of Saudi Arabia well. For many years I was considered to be a good example of how a foreign woman should behave when she comes to live in Saudi Arabia. I was proud of my success.
      Little by little, I started to realize that other foreign wives were criticized for not having adapted to Saudi society Why? First of all, these women from the very beginning refused to make any great personal sacrifices, or to give up any of their own cultural traditions in order to please their sometimes demanding in-laws. They did not give in to any persuasion to change in order to be more acceptable, to “fit in.” People talked about them constantly, but only behind their backs, though. In a way, their husbands’ families were intimidated by these strong women and, rather ironically, they would treat them kindly and respectfully.
      I was lucky because my new relatives accepted me willingly from the very beginning and this helped me to lay the foundation of my new self. Perhaps I would not have made any steps forward on my life path, had I lived in a more “normal” society, like the one I had been accustomed to since birth.
      Being here in Saudi Arabia enabled me to also meet a few exceptional women who showed me additional possibilities of being. They helped me to become aware of different perspectives from which to look at situations and circumstances. They have been my dearest friends, the intellectual one, the passionate one, the caring one and the loving one. Their words and their presence by my side brought me to rethink my feelings and the events of my life.
      Today, I know it has been worthwhile living in Saudi Arabia for so long. Now I finally know what my true nature is because, beside knowing “who” I am, I also know “what” I can be. Under other circumstances, I probably would not have had the chance to find out.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


      OMAN

      Omanis vote in municipal elections
      Activists say the poll in the Gulf state is a sign of progress, but take a "wait and see" attitude until results are in.
      Last Modified: 23 Dec 2012 01:42

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/12/201212231657710943.html

      Hoping for jobs and democratic change, voters in Oman have cast ballots in their first municipal election.

      The poll on Saturday is a sign of modest reform in response to protests inspired by the Arab Spring.

      The small Gulf oil producer, ruled since 1970 by Sultan Qaboos, sits opposite Iran on the Strait of Hormuz, the conduit for nearly a fifth of globally traded petroleum.

      Its only other elections are for the Shura Council, a body that has some limited legislative powers.

      Increased democracy was a main demand of protesters in Omani cities during the Arab uprisings last year, along with jobs and an end to cor<br/><br/>(Message over 64 KB, truncated)
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