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

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  • Zafar Khan
    SYRIA Damascus outskirts rocked by heavy fighting At least 55 people killed in past 24 hours as rebels and government forces clash near Syrian capital,
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 8, 2013

      Damascus outskirts 'rocked by heavy fighting'
      At least 55 people killed in past 24 hours as rebels and government forces clash near Syrian capital, activists report.
      Last Modified: 07 Feb 2013 11:29


      Rebel strongholds around the Syrian capital, Damascus, have been rocked by fighting and heavy shelling for a second straight day as the army launched a major offensive that opposition activists claim killed 55 people in 24 hours.

      Among those killed were five civilians, three of them women, who died when mortars hit the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp on the southern outskirts of the capital, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday.

      The watchdog had reported the launch of an offensive by President Bashar al-Assad's forces on rebel belts on the outskirts of Damascus on Wednesday, while residents reported the heaviest bombardments in months.

      The Observatory reported early on Thursday that at least 19 civilians, 28 rebels and eight soldiers have been killed since the launch of the offensive, which is focused in the southern and eastern outskirts of the capital.

      It said that rebels attacked a security checkpoint between the northeast Qaboon district and Abassid Square near the centre of the capital, sparking fierce fighting.

      Military reinforcements

      "The attack was to relieve the rebels in Daraya," opposition activist Omar Shakir told AFP news agency via Skype, referring to an embattled southwestern suburb of Damascus that has been under continuous army bombardment for months.

      The London-based Observatory reported the arrival on Thursday of new military reinforcements at Daraya, strategic for its location near the sprawling Al-Mazzeh military airbase and key to the army's bid to drive opposition fighters from the capital.

      The opposition watchdog also reported shelling during the night on Jobar district in the east and Tadamun, Assali, Qadam and Al-Hajar al-Aswad in the south, as well as clashes in southern Damascus.

      In the Yarmuk camp, five civilians including three women were killed when mortar rounds fired during fighting in nearby Tadamun district landed among the refugees.

      The opposition network the Syrian Revolution General Council meanwhile reported raids by government forces in the southern district of Midan and the closure of all roads leading to Yarmuk.

      Also on the outskirts of the capital, loyalist troops pounded rebel positions across the east and in the south, the Observatory said, as clashes broke out around a military vehicles depot between Harasta and Irbin to the northeast.

      These areas of Damascus are among the strongest bastions of the rebellion against the government of President al-Assad, which is battling to suppress a nearly two year revolt that has left over 60,000 dead according to the UN.

      The Observatory, which gathers its reports from a large network of activists and medics in civilian and military hospitals on the ground, said that 141 people were killed nationwide on Wednesday: 36 civilians, 39 soldiers and 66 rebels.

      Assad says Israel destabilising Syria
      President's accusation comes as Ehud Barak gives first hint of Israeli involvement in recent air raid outside Damascus.
      Last Modified: 04 Feb 2013 11:47


      Bashar al-Assad has accused Israel of trying to destabilise Syria by attacking a military research base outside Damascus last week, and said his country was able to confront "current threats ... and aggression", according to state media.

      The Syrian president made the remarks on Sunday in a meeting with Saeed Jalili, Iran's national security council secretary, in Damascus. It was Assad's first reported response to the attack.

      According to diplomats, Syrian rebels and security sources, Israeli jets bombed a convoy near the Lebanese border on Wednesday, apparently hitting weapons destined for Hezbollah, the Lebanese armed group backed by Syria and Iran.

      Syria said the target was a military research centre in Jamraya, northwest of Damascus.

      Assad's accusations came as Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, gave the first hint of Israeli involvement in the air attack, during his appearance at the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

      "I cannot add anything to what you have read in the newspapers about what happened in Syria several days ago," he said.

      Barak said: "It's another proof that when we say something we mean it. We say that we don't think that it should be allowable to bring advanced weapon systems into Lebanon, the Hezbollah from Syria, when Assad falls."

      Bodies of at least 65 young men are pulled from river in Syria following 'mass execution'
      Chilling scenes greeted the city of Aleppo as dozens of bodies were dragged from a river and lined up on the bank


      Inside the war for Syria's mountains
      Rebels are occupying Alawite houses in a region known for its tradition of sectarian coexistence in an offensive that looks likely to determine the fate of the country's cosmopolitan heart
      Martin Chulov in Jebel al-Krud
      The Guardian, Monday 28 January 2013 17.21 GMT


      The stone houses were half hidden amid the orchards, their doors kicked in and their walls scorched by flames. Every home in this tiny Alawite hamlet, amid the apple and plum trees, had been ransacked and abandoned.

      "There were three families here until yesterday," said a young woman, a Sunni Muslim, pointing to her neighbours' homes. "Now there's no one left, not one."

      The village sloped towards a river that had broken its banks a week before. Plastic bags and bottles hung in the trees, marking the line of the flood that coursed between the soaring cliffs of the nearby valley and then surged onwards, across the fields to Turkey.

      The water reached so far, and so high, that it inundated the orchards. Mud still covered the road, exposing the footprints of the raiders who followed the flood. They were a far more formidable force even than the raging waters.

      Scraped in charcoal on the wall of one house were three words in Arabic: Jabhat al-Nusra.

      Until two months ago, locals in this corner of north-western Syria had not had to contend with the Jabhat al-Nusra organisation. Like much else about the war now crippling the nearby cities of Idlib and Aleppo, it was out of sight and out of mind, a distant bogeyman that posed little threat to this border town.

      Then came a campaign by rebel units pushing south towards cities still controlled by the regime after almost two years of civil war. "That's when we first saw them," a rebel, Mahmoud Darwiche, said of Jabhat al-Nusra, which insurgent leaders simply call al-Qaida.

      "They were good at first, quiet and respectful. Even now, they are still trying to behave. But they will kill any Alawite fighter they capture."

      Until December, the town of Darkoush was roughly divided: the north supported the opposition while the south supported the regime; the frontline was marked by a line of ransacked security buildings.

      Now, it is a staging point for a coming battle in the mountains to the south, a battle that will decide the fate of Syria's cosmopolitan heart.

      Rebel leaders are preparing what they say will be imminent attacks on regime cities. Jabhat al-Nusra is also making plans, with new arrivals to the group turning up on most days over the past few weeks. Some are taking over empty Alawite homes near Darkoush; others are pushing south to frontlines near Latakia.

      Al-Nusra fighters like to see themselves as being everywhere but nowhere. They play willingly to the regime characterisation of them as phantom-like figures who can outmanoeuvre the Syrian military. And they are now more evident than at any time in this war.

      The al-Nusra member the Guardian met had not been expecting strangers. His head swathed in a black turban, and with a Kalashnikov strapped to his chest, he walked slowly down a potholed road towards us before stopping warily several metres away. He scanned us purposefully from head to toe, inhaled deeply, then said: "What's going on?"

      The American-accented English was as much a surprise as finding him there in the first place, living in a house next door to the main rebel outpost in the region, along with 20 or so other members of the group at the vanguard of the fighting.

      Even in Assad's coastal retreat, the war has come and the bombs are dropping
      Bands of rebels, pursued by Syrian air power, are consolidating their position in mountains above the wealthy playground of Latakia – which may become the regime's last redoubt
      Martin Chulov
      The Observer, Sunday 27 January 2013


      Russia says Assad's chances fading
      Prime Minister Medvedev says Syrian president's chances of keeping power are getting "smaller and smaller" as war rages.
      Last Modified: 27 Jan 2013 17:29


      Russia's prime minister has said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had made a "grave," and possibly "fatal" mistake by delaying political reforms and not speaking to members of the country's oppositon sooner.

      "[Assad] should have done everything much faster, attracting part of the moderate opposition, which was ready to sit at the table with him, to his side," Dmitry Medvedev said according to the transcript of an interview with CNN released by his office on Sunday.

      "This was his grave mistake, and possibly a fatal one," Medvedev said.

      Medvedev’s comments are some of the harshest from Syria’s most important ally during the last two years of a civil war that began as an uprising against Assad’s rule.

      Medvedev also said that Assad is losing his grip on power as the war, which has already cost more than 60,000 lives, continues.

      "I think that with every day, every week and every month the chances of his preservation are getting smaller and smaller," Medvedev was quoted as saying.

      "But I repeat, again, this must be decided by the Syrian people. Not Russia, not the United States, not any other country.”

      In the remarks, made to the US-based TV network on the sidelines of the Davos World Economic Forum in Switzerland, Medvedev also placed equal blame for the escalation of the civil war on "the leadership of the country and the irreconcilable opposition".

      'A terrible price'

      While inside Syria, rebels told Al Jazeera they stormed the train station in al-Kadam neighbourhood of Damscus taking weapons and injuring a number of army soldiers.

      They reported fierce clashes with Syrian army troops in the area, including bombardment from government fighter planes.

      While in the northern Idlib province, rebels say they have made gains capturing a government checkpoint seizing tanks, ammunition and armored vehicles

      Sunday’s fighting came as United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos arrived in Syria ahead of a UN aid conference in Kuwait which aims to raise $1.5 billion for millions of people made homeless, hungry and vulnerable by the 22-month-old conflict.

      On Wednesday, Amos said Syrians were "paying a terrible price" for the failure of world powers to resolve the conflict, pointing to 650,000 refugees who have fled the country and the millions affected inside Syria.

      "Four million people need help, two million are internally displaced and 400,000 out of 500,000 Palestinian refugees have been affected," she told the Davos forum in Switzerland.

      The United Nations and aid groups inside Syria, including the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, could not keep pace with the rising number of people in need, she said.

      "We must find ways to reach more people, especially in the areas we are still unable to get to, and where there is ongoing fighting," she said.

      Assad's Lionesses: the female last line in the battle for Syria
      New women recruits will free up soldiers to fight rebels and give regime a psychological boost


      Teaching Quran to escape Syria torture horror
      Unable to witness horrific abuses, intelligence officer flees to hometown to teach Islam to children instead.
      Basma Atassi Last Modified: 21 Jan 2013 09:42


      Planes sent to evacuate Russians from Syria
      Russian government sends two planes to Lebanon for its citizens in Syria, while violence across the country continues.
      Last Modified: 22 Jan 2013 10:07



      Egyptians protest against sexual violence
      Thousands march against increasing instances of sexual harassment of female protesters.
      Last Modified: 07 Feb 2013 00:59


      Thousands of men and women have marched in Egypt against the sexual harrassment of female protesters.

      More than 20 women were sexually assaulted last month during the second anniversary of the so-called "Arab Spring" protests that led to the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, former president.

      But sexual violence is nothing new in Egypt, one study estimates that more than 80 percent of women have experienced it at least once.

      Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel-Hamid reports from Cairo.

      Egypt protests galvanised by video of police beating naked man
      Opponents of Mohamed Morsi say the footage proves that the president has chosen to order a brutal crackdown
      Conal Urquhart and agencies
      guardian.co.uk, Saturday 2 February 2013 13.38 GMT


      A video of a protester being beaten and stripped naked has galvanised protests against the police and government in Egypt.

      Hamada Saber, a middle-aged man, remained in a police hospital on Saturday, the morning after he was shown on television, dragged over naked tarmac and beaten by half a dozen policemen who had pulled him to an armoured vehicle near the presidential palace.

      President Mohamed Morsi's office promised an investigation into the incident, which followed the deadliest wave of bloodshed of his seven-month rule. His opponents say it proves that he has chosen to order a brutal crackdown like that carried out by Hosni Mubarak against the uprising that toppled him in 2011.

      Another protester was shot dead on Friday and more than 100 were injured, many seriously, after running battles between police and demonstrators who attacked the palace with petrol bombs.

      That unrest followed eight days of violence that saw dozens of protesters killed in the Suez Canal city of Port Said and Morsi respond by declaring a curfew and state of emergency there and in two other cities.

      "Stripping naked and dragging an Egyptian is a crime that shows the excessive violence of the security forces and the continuation of its repressive practices - a crime for which the president and his interior minister are responsible," the liberal politician Amr Hamzawy said on Twitter.

      The incident recalled the beating of a woman by riot police on Tahrir Square in December 2011. Images of her being dragged and stomped on - her black abaya cloak torn open to reveal her naked torso and blue bra - became a rallying symbol for the revolution and undermined the interim military rulers who held power between Mubarak's fall and Morsi's rise.

      Morsi has had little opportunity to reform the police and security forces he inherited from Mubarak and the military.

      But the police action against protests this time has been far deadlier than it was even a few months ago, when bigger crowds demonstrated against a new constitution. That suggests to opponents that Morsi has ordered a tougher response.

      Khaled Daoud, a spokesman for the opposition National Front said: "The instructions of the interior minister to use excessive violence in confronting protesters does not seem like surprising behaviour given the clear incitement by prominent figures in the presidency, and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood to which the president belongs, and other parties in solidarity with them."

      Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood accuse the opposition of stoking unrest to further their demands for a national unity government as a way to retake the power they lost at the ballot box.

      In announcing an investigation into the beating of Saber, Morsi's office made clear he was still pointing the blame at the political opponents who have encouraged protests.

      "What has transpired over the past day is not political expression, but rather acts of criminality. The presidency will not tolerate vandalism or attacks on individuals and property. The police have responded to these actions in a restrained manner," Morsi's office said.

      "Doubtless, in the heat of the violence, there can be violations of civil liberties, and the presidency equally will not tolerate such abuses. In one incident, an individual was seen to be dragged and beaten by police. The minister of interior has, appropriately, announced an investigation."

      Egypt army chief warns of 'state collapse'
      Defence minister says ongoing unrest, which has killed more than 50 people, "could lead to grave repercussion".
      Last Modified: 29 Jan 2013 20:59


      Clashes continue for fifth day in Egypt
      Violence in Cairo comes hours after president Mohamed Morsi imposes emergency law in three Suez Canal cities.
      Last Modified: 28 Jan 2013 12:50


      Police have fired tear-gas at protesters in downtown Cairo, just hours after President Mohamed Morsi declared a state of emegency and a curfew in three Suez Canal cities.

      Monday was the fifth consecutive day of street violence in Egypt. There were reports that one person was killed; he was not taking part in the protests, but was hit by a stray gunshot.

      Protests began last week to mark the second anniversary of the revolution that toppled longtime president Hosni Mubarak; nearly 50 people have been killed so far.

      The cabinet, meanwhile, approved a draft law which would allow Morsi to deploy the army on the streets to "participate with the police in preserving security and protecting vital establishments." The law still must be ratified by the upper house of parliament; it would last until after the next legislative elections, tentatively scheduled for April.

      Morsi delivered a televised address on Sunday night and announced the emergency measures in Port Said, Ismailia and Suez. A curfew will take effect on Monday from 9:00pm local time (19:00 GMT) to 6:00am (04:00 GMT); he warned that more action would be taken to stem the violence.

      "I have said I am against any emergency measures but I have said that if I must stop bloodshed and protect the people then I will act," he said.

      He also called for dialogue with leading politicians starting on Monday to resolve the situation.

      Port Said deaths

      Seven people were shot dead and hundreds were injured in Port Said on Sunday during the funerals of at least 30 people killed during clashes in the city on the previous day.

      "Down, down Morsi, down down the regime that killed and tortured us!" people in Port Said chanted as the coffins of those killed on Saturday were carried through the streets.

      In Port Said, Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh said military helicopters that had been overhead during the funeral could also be heard during Morsi's speech.

      "I dont see how these decisions will instil any confidence in the people," Rageh said, referring to the president's decision to impose a state of emergency.

      She said that immediate reaction in Port Said was one of mockery and scepticism with many asking why the three canal cities had been singled out.

      "The people [in Port Said] feel that there was a complete state of collapse especially after riots today, particularly with tear gas being fired into the funerals," she said.

      Protesters defiant

      Several hundred people protested in Ismailia, Suez and Port Said after the announcement.

      Activists in the three cities pledged to defy the curfew in protest at the decision.

      On Sunday night, Morsi’s office issued a statement inviting political supporters and opponents for a national dialogue on Monday at 6:00pm (16:00 GMT) at the presidential palace in Cairo.

      The spokesman for Egypt's main opposition coalition said after Morsi's speech that the move was "expected" and said he wanted more details about an invitation for dialogue with top politicians.

      "Of course we feel the president is missing the real problem on the ground which is his own policies," Dawoud told the Reuters news agency.

      "His call to implement emergency law was an expected move given what is going on, namely thuggery and criminal actions."

      Hamdeen Sabbahi, a leftist politician and opposition leader, said that he would not attend any negotiations "unless the bloodshed stops and the people's demands are met".

      Mohamed ElBaradei, a leader of the NSF, said in a statement on Twitter that the dialogue was "a waste of time".

      Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch in Cairo said a state of emergency reintroduced laws that gave police sweeping powers of arrest "purely because [people] look suspicious".

      "It is a classic knee-jerk reaction to think the emergency law will help bring security," she said. "It gives so much discretion to the Ministry of Interior that it ends up causing more abuse which in turn causes more anger."


      Iraq car bombs target Shia Muslims
      Explosions leave at least 26 people dead at markets in Baghdad and Hilla
      Reuters in Baghdad
      guardian.co.uk, Friday 8 February 2013 08.46 GMT


      At least 26 people have died in a series of car bomb explosions targeting Shia Muslims in markets in Iraq, police and hospital sources say.

      In the Shia district of Kadhimiya in Baghdad, 13 people were killed when a car bomb blew up inside a bird market on Friday, followed by a second blast just 100 metres away, around one minute later.

      A further 13 people were killed in two car bomb explosions at a vegetable market in the Shia city of Hilla, 60 miles south of Baghdad.

      The attacks were the latest in a spate of violence coinciding with growing tensions between Iraq's Sunni, Shia and ethnic Kurdish factions.

      Violence has fallen from the height of intercommunal strife that killed tens of thousands in 2006-2007, but insurgents have continued to carry out at least one high-casualty attack a month since the US withdrawal in December 2011.

      Iraq violence: 'Many dead' in Kirkuk police HQ attack


      At least 16 people have been killed as suicide bombers and gunmen attacked a police HQ in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, medical sources say.

      Officials said militants had tried to seize the compound after a bomb exploded at the gates, but were unsuccessful. A police chief was hurt.

      No group has said it carried out the attack.

      Kirkuk is ethnically mixed, and at the centre of a dispute between Baghdad and the Kurds over oil and land rights.

      Sunni insurgents linked to al-Qaeda have been blamed for much of the recent violence in Iraq.

      However, there has been a relative calm in recent days.

      'Terrifying' explosion
      The attack took place at around 09:15 local time (06:15 GMT) in the centre of Kirkuk.

      "I saw a vehicle stop at the checkpoint at the main entrance, and the police started checking it," eyewitness Kosrat Hassan Karim told the AFP news agency.

      "Suddenly, a loud explosion happened, it was terrifying."

      Two militants reportedly dressed in police uniforms and armed with guns, grenades and suicide vests rushed the main gate of the headquarters after the bomb was detonated.

      One was killed immediately by police. They tried to dismantle the other's suicide vest but were unsuccessful, so they shot him dead, reports said.

      At least 90 people were injured including local police chief Brigadier Sarhad Qader and the press officer of the police directorate, whose conditions are described as critical. Both have been moved to a hospital in Irbil.

      Firefighting chief Brig-Gen Naseh Mohammed put the death toll as high as 30.

      The attack caused massive damage to nearby buildings.

      Traffic in the city centre was stopped, and offices in the area were evacuated.

      With its massive oil reserves, Kirkuk is the most bitterly contested of Iraq's disputed territories.

      It houses a mixture of Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen.

      The Kurds want to incorporate it into their largely autonomous region, while Arabs and Turkmen oppose any change to its current status, ruled directly from Baghdad.

      Correspondents say militants often exploit differences between the Iraqi and Kurdish security forces by launching deadly attacks in the city.

      Two weeks ago at least 10 people were killed in a suicide bomb attack on the offices of the Kurdish Democratic Party in the city.

      Days later, a suicide bomber killed at least 23 people at a Shia mosque in the nearby village of Tuz Khurmato, mainly populated by ethnic Turkmen.


      CIA 'using Saudi base for drone strikes'
      New York Times reveals existence of secret facility used for assassinations in Yemen, including that of Anwar al-Awlaki.
      Last Modified: 07 Feb 2013 00:37


      The CIA conducts lethal drone attacks against targets in Yemen from a base inside Saudi Arabia, according to the New York Times newspaper, including the attack that killed American-born Anwar al-Awlaki.

      The existence of the base has been reported before, but its exact location has been withheld by various news outlets at the request of the Obama administration.

      The base was first used in 2011, the Times reported, to launch the drone strike that killed Awlaki, a key ideologue in Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

      Any operation by US military or intelligence officials inside Saudi Arabia is politically and religiously sensitive. AQAP and other groups have used the kingdom's close relationship with the US to recruit new members, and to stir internal dissent against the Saudi government.

      Disclosure of the base's location comes at a time of heightened scrutiny of US drone operations in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere.

      Brennan's role

      John Brennan, the president's top counterterrorism adviser and a prominent architect of the drone programme, will appear before Congress on Thursday for confirmation hearings. Obama has nominated Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency.

      He will undoubtedly face questions about a leaked Justice Department memo, first reported by NBC News, which authorises the president to kill American citizens who are "senior leaders" of militant groups, even if they have not been directly involved in attacks against the US.

      The White House defended the memo earlier this week.

      "We conduct those strikes because they are necessary to mitigate ongoing actual threats, to stop plots, to prevent future attacks and, again, save American lives," Jay Carney, White House spokesman, said.

      "These strikes are legal, they are ethical, and they are wise."

      'Judicial precedent'

      Among the most controversial of the attacks were the September 2011 killings in Yemen of Awlaki and Samir Khan, another alleged AQAP member. Both were US citizens who had never been charged with a crime.

      "I would point you to the ample judicial precedent for the idea that someone who takes up arms against the United States in a war against the United States is an enemy and therefore could be targeted accordingly," Carney said.

      The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called the document is "profoundly disturbing."

      "According to the white paper, the government has the authority to carry out targeted killings of US citizens without presenting evidence to a judge before the fact or after, and indeed without even acknowledging to the courts or to the public that the authority has been exercised," Jameel Jaffer, ACLU's deputy legal director, wrote on the organisation's website.

      "Without saying so explicitly, the government claims the authority to kill American terrorism suspects in secret."

      NBC said the leaked memo was given to the Senate intelligence and judiciary committees in June, on the condition that it be kept confidential and not discussed publicly.

      Saudi blood money ruling angers activists
      Religious scholar "sentenced to pay blood money to mother after serving short jail term" for daughter's death.
      Last Modified: 04 Feb 2013 10:45


      A Saudi man who raped his five-year-old daughter and tortured her to death has been sentenced to pay "blood money" to the mother after having served a short jail term, according to activists.

      The man, said to be a religious scholar who is also a regular guest on Islamic television networks, confessed to having used cables and a cane to inflict the injuries, activists from the group Women to Drive said in a statement on Saturday.

      Lamia was admitted to hospital on December 25, 2011, with multiple injuries, including a crushed skull, broken ribs and left arm, extensive bruising and burns, the activists said.

      They said the father had doubted his daughter Lama's virginity and had her checked up by a medic.

      She died last October.

      Randa al-Kaleeb, a social worker from the hospital where Lama was admitted, said the girl's back was broken and that she had been raped "everywhere", according to the group.

      The activists said that the judge had ruled the prosecution could only seek "blood money and the time the defendant had served in prison since Lama's death suffices as punishment".

      Three Saudi activists, including Manal al-Sharif, who in 2011 challenged Saudi laws that prevent women from driving, have raised objections to the ruling.

      The ruling is based on national laws that a father cannot be executed for murdering his children, nor can husbands be executed for murdering their wives, activists said.

      Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
      Local reports say public anger over the settlement is growing across Saudi Arabia


      A ‘celebrity’ Saudi preacher accused of raping, torturing and killing his five-year-old daughter has reportedly been released from custody after agreeing to pay ‘blood money’.

      Fayhan al-Ghamdi had been accused of killing his daughter Lama, who suffered multiple injuries including a crushed skull, broken back, broken ribs, a broken left arm and extensive bruising and burns. Social workers say she had also been repeatedly raped and burnt.

      Fayhan al-Ghamdi admitted using a cane and cables to inflict the injuries after doubting his five-year-old daughter’s virginity and taking her to a doctor, according to the campaign group Women to Drive.

      Rather than getting the death penalty or receiving a long prison sentence for the crime, Fayhan al-Ghamdi served only a few months in jail before a judge ruled the prosecution could only seek ‘blood money’.

      Albawaba News reported the judge as saying: "Blood money and the time the defendant had served in prison since Lama's death suffices as punishment."

      Fayhan al-Ghamdi, who regularly appears on television in Saudi Arabia, is said to have agreed to pay £31,000 to Lama’s mother.

      The money is considered compensation under Islamic law, although it is only half the amount that would have been paid had Lama been a boy.

      Despite Saudi Arabia’s famously strict legal system, Women to Drive say fathers cannot be executed for murdering their children in the country. Equally, husbands cannot be executed for murdering their wives.

      Formal objections to the ruling have been raised by three Saudi activists, and the twitter hashtag #AnaLama (which translates as I Am Lama) has been set up.

      Local reports say public anger over the settlement is growing across Saudi Arabia, with authorities planning to set up a 24-hour hotline to take calls about child abuse.


      Tunisia braces for mass protests
      Tens of thousands expected to take to the streets after general strike is called following murder of opposition leader.
      Last Modified: 08 Feb 2013 08:46


      Tunisia faces a general strike with tens of thousands expected to take to the streets after the murder this week of a leftist opposition leader sparked violent clashes with police.

      The General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) called the strike to coincide with the funeral of Shokri Belaid, a lawyer and vocal critic of the ruling Ennahda party who was shot dead outside his home on Wednesday by a lone gunman.

      The strike call from Tunisia's most powerful trade union comes after the murder triggered demonstrations in both the capital, Tunis, and the central mining region of Gafsa, amid a deepening political crisis.

      Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Tunis, said, "There is tension here across the country, we're talking about three major events taking place today: the funeral of assassinated opposition leader Shokria Belaid, the general strike which is likely to paralyse the country and rallies of both anti- and pro-government protesters across the country."

      Belaid will be buried after weekly prayers in the Muslim country, where a long-established secular tradition has been countered by the rise of one of the region's most powerful Islamist parties.

      Secular versus religious

      "The growing rift between religious and secular parties is creating political deadlock," Ahelbarra said. "All the pressing issues like the drafting of a new constitution and setting a final date for the elections are likely to be delayed until a deal is reached.

      "People are concerned that Tunisia could plunge back into violence and anarchy."

      The police and army have been put on alert to prevent any outbreaks of violence and to "deal with any troublemakers", the presidential spokesman Adnan Mancer announced late on Thursday.

      The strike comes on the back of Ennahda rejecting Prime Minister Hamdi Jebali's proposal to dissolve the government and install a cabinet of technocrats in a bid to restore calm after Shokri's assassination.

      "The seculars are concerned, saying that Ennahda should not build an autocratic system, while the party says they have entered a coalition with seculars. But the problem is not everyone here buys into that rhetoric," Ahelbarra reported.

      "They are calling for Ennahda to dissolve the government and install a technocratic system otherwise they will continue to fight."

      Calls for calm

      The US has urged Tunisian leaders to come together to resolve the tensions and called for calm.

      "There's no place for violence in Tunisia's democracy," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters on Thursday.

      "It won't resolve the issues that Tunisians face, and it's not an appropriate response to murder. It's only going to bring more violence."

      As the protests intensified, four Tunisian opposition groups, including the Popular Front, of which the Belaid's Democratic Patriots is a component, announced they were pulling out of the national assembly.

      Moncef Marzouki, the Tunisian president, cut short a visit to France and said he would fight those who opposed the political transition in his country.

      The assassination comes as Tunisia is struggling to maintain stability and revive its economy after its longtime leader was overthrown in an uprising two years ago.

      No one has claimed responsibility for the killing of Belaid, who had accused authorities of not doing enough to stop violence by ultraconservatives who have targeted mausoleums, art exhibits and other things seen as out of keeping with their strict interpretation of Islam.

      Tunisia PM to form new government
      Hamadi Jebali dissolves Islamist-led government after massive protests erupt in wake of murder of opposition leader.
      Last Modified: 07 Feb 2013 09:35


      Tunisia's prime minister has said that he will dissolve the Islamist-led government and form a national unity administration, following the killing of prominent secular opposition leader Shokri Belaid in front of his home.

      Hamadi Jebali announced during a speech to the nation on Wednesday that he will form a cabinet of technocrats to run the country until elections are held.

      "After the failure of negotiations between parties on a cabinet reshuffle, I decided to form a small technocrat government," Jebali said.

      He said the ministers would not run for office but elections would subsequently be held as soon as possible.

      An official source told Reuters news agency earlier on that Jebali's decision was a personal one taken in the interests of the country.

      Belaid, leader of the left-leaning Democratic Patriots party, was killed on Wednesday as he was leaving his home.

      He was transported to a hospital in the suburbs of Tunis where he died of his wounds, his brother confirmed.

      Following news of Belaid's death, violence and protests broke out on the streets of Tunis.

      Al Jazeera's Ahmed Janabi in Tunis reported violent clashes between Belaid's supporters and police along the main Habib Borguiba Avenue, with the police using tear gas and batons to disperse the protesters and making numerous arrests.

      Earlier, crowds of mourners, chanting "the people want the fall of the regime", crowded around an ambulance carrying Belaid's body.

      As the protests intensified, four Tunisian opposition groups, including the Popular Front, of which the Democratic Patriots is a component, announced they were pulling out of the national assembly.

      Critical of Islamists

      Belaid had been critical of Tunisia's leadership, especially the Islamist party Ennahda that dominates the government.

      He had accused authorities of not doing enough to stop violence by ultraconservatives who have targeted mausoleums, art exhibits and other things seen as out of keeping with their strict interpretation of Islam.

      Samir Dilou, a government spokesperson, called Belaid's killing an "odious crime".

      Moncef Marzouki, the Tunisian president, said he would fight those who opposed the political transition in his country after the death of Belaid.

      Marzouki, who cut short a visit to France on Wednesday, told legislators at the European Parliament in Strasbourg to applause: "We will continue to fight the enemies of the revolution."

      Marzouki also cancelled a visit to Egypt scheduled for Thursday after the killing, which brought thousands of protesters onto the streets outside the Interior Ministry.

      Chanting for the fall of the Ennahda-led government, demonstrators shouted "Shame, shame Shokri died", "Where is the government?", and "The government should fall".

      Omar bin Ali, a member of the Tunisian Trade Unions, was present at the demonstration site and said “the Islamists were responsible for Belaid's death".

      "This is what they have been calling for in mosques," bin Ali told Al Jazeera.

      Ruling out the possibility of external factors, he said "Tunisia is a friend of all nations. It is hard to think of anyone from abroad to do this to us," adding that "the people want the whole government out as they proved to be useless".

      Ongoing instability

      The assassination comes as Tunisia is struggling to maintain stability and revive its economy after its longtime dictator was overthrown in an uprising two years ago.

      Mohammed Jmour, another opposition leader, criticised the government in a press conference on Wednesday for failing to protect Belaid against stated threats.

      “Threats of plunging into a whirlpool of violence that can be caused by a number of bodies, the state, the revolution guarding committees and armed groups," Jmour said.

      "Only yesterday, a number of questions were raised ... and Shokri repeatedly emphasised this particular issue. He personally had felt threats to his safety."

      The Tunisian revolution set off revolts across the Arab world and unleashed new social and religious tensions.

      Ennahda won 42 percent of seats in the first post-Arab uprising elections in October 2011 and formed a government in coalition with two secular parties, Marzouki's Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol.

      However, the government has faced many protests over economic hardship.


      Iran's Srebrenica: How Ayatollah Khomeini sanctioned the deaths of 20,000 'enemies of the state'
      A tribunal at The Hague publishes a report illustrating the regime's crimes against humanity


      The horrors visited on tens of thousands of Iranians in the years after the Islamic revolution were spelled out as the Iran Tribunal published its final judgment. Described as “a great achievement... a miracle,” by one of the survivors, the Tribunal found that during the 1980s the Islamic Republic was guilty of the murder of between 15,000 and 20,000 political prisoners.

      Inspired by the Russell Tribunal set up by Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre to investigate American war crimes during the Vietnam war, the Tribunal, sitting in The Hague, set about documenting and publishing the crimes against humanity committed by the Islamic regime that have been referred to as Iran’s Srebrenica after the massacre by Ratko Mladic’s Bosnian Serb forces on Muslims during the Balkan wars. British QC Sir Geoffrey Nice, a member of the Tribunal’s Steering Committee, told The Independent: “There are a number of such tribunals around the world, but what is particularly striking about this one is that it was started and seen to fruition not by lawyers but by the Iranian diaspora itself, by people who had themselves been tortured.”

      It was in 1981 that Iran’s new Islamic government, with Ayatollah Khomeini as its figurehead, rounded on the leftists and others who had come together with the Islamists to bring down the autocratic rule of the Shah two years earlier and gave them two choices: convert or be liquidated.

      Mrs Shekoufeh Sakhi, today writing a PhD thesis in Political Philosophy at the University of Toronto, told the Tribunal how she had been forced to sit blindfolded and motionless in a sort of coffin from dawn to late at night while her jailers bombarded her with Islamist propaganda and recordings of the “confessions” of fellow-prisoners who had been broken by the torture. Sir Geoffrey Nice described her as “a quite inspirational figure”.

      “In the 1980s the Islamic Republic of Iran went about arresting, imprisoning and executing thousands upon thousands of Iranian citizens because their beliefs and political engagements conflicted with the regime,” the judges wrote. “The religious fervour of these crimes makes them even more shocking: for instance, a woman’s rape was frequently the last act that preceded her execution in Iran, as under the ‘Sharia’ law guidelines, the execution of a virgin female is non-permissible.”

      As Mrs Sakhi explained, there was nothing haphazard or unconsidered about the regime’s long reign of terror. As a left-wing 14-year-old in Tehran she had taken part in the uprising against the Shah alongside the Islamists, but by 1982 things had changed. “Iran was now at war with Iraq, and now the mood of the regime was, ‘if you’re not with us you’re against us.’ Revolutionaries like me came to be seen as counter-revolutionaries and fifth columnists. They rallied their base support against us and divided the country in two.”

      In June 1981 there was a wave of arrests and summary executions. Ms Shekoufeh went underground but the following February the Revolutionary Guards arrested her. “It was amazing and bewildering,” she recalled. “Those who had been in jail during the Shah’s time said this was much worse. The big difference was that they weren’t going after big organisations – my organisation had already fallen apart – but were collecting everybody who had the motivation to be ‘different’. The jail was so full of high school students you could hardly move. The project was mass conversion.” The executions had been a way of softening up the youth for conversion.

      Those like Shekoufeh who proved stubborn were given the “coffin” treatment – nine months of sensory deprivation and complete immobility. “It was a horrible psychological torture,” she said. “You couldn’t move, talk, cough, sneeze, if you did they’d beat you up. There were constant sermons and Islamic teaching classes through the loudspeakers. The whole point was to empty the person of their own identity, making you an empty shell then filling you up with their garbage. After two or three months I felt I was losing my mind, losing control of my sense of reality. A lot of people had nervous breakdowns.”

      Sir Geoffrey Nice commented, “The Tribunal is a very major thing. The most important thing is that people can say what happened, they can put it on the record. Now the UN could be pressed to have their own commission of enquiry.” Iran’s government was invited to the Tribunal but neither replied nor took part.

      Ayatollah rejects US talks

      Iran’s supreme leader has strongly rejected proposals for direct talks with the United States, effectively quashing suggestions for a one-on-one dialogue on the nuclear standoff and potentially other issues.

      The statement posted on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s website echoes previous remarks opposing bilateral talks with Washington in parallel with stop-and-start nuclear negotiations with world powers, including the US, which are scheduled to resume later this month.

      But the latest comments marked Khamenei’s first reaction since the idea of direct talks received a high-profile boost earlier this week from US Vice President Joe Biden during a security summit in Munich attended by Iran’s foreign minister.

      Khamenei’s statement also could spill over into the negotiations in Kazakhstan later this month between Iran and a six-nation group comprising the permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany. His apparent references to US sanctions - saying Washington was “holding a gun” to Iran - suggests Iranian envoys will likely stick to demands for relief from the economic pressures before considering any nuclear concessions.

      The US this week further tightened sanctions on the Islamic Republic, which have already cut Iran’s oil revenue by 45 per cent. AP
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