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Middle East and North Africa (MENA): News from Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya

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  • Zafar Khan
    EGYPT Egypt paper publishes Mubarak interview El-Watan newspaper says its reporter broke through security lines to speak to former Egyptian president. Last
    Message 1 of 1 , May 19, 2013

      Egypt paper publishes 'Mubarak interview'
      El-Watan newspaper says its reporter broke through security lines to speak to former Egyptian president.
      Last Modified: 12 May 2013 14:53


      In his first interaction with the media since he was removed from power in February 2011, Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's former leader, has reportedly said President Mohamed Morsi faces a difficult job and it is too early to judge his performance.

      Mubarak made the comments in an interview with the newspaper El-Watan on Saturday.The authenticity of the interview could not be immediately verified.

      "He is a new president who is carrying out weighty missions for the first time, and we shouldn't judge him now," Mubarak said.

      The 85-year-old also said he was concerned about lax security, apparently referring to increased crime, and a rise in activity by armed groups in the Sinai Peninsula.

      El-Watan, which published the interview on Sunday, said its reporter broke through security lines to speak to Mubarak, who is facing a retrial over charges of complicity in the death of protesters killed in the popular uprising that swept him from office.

      Mubarak said: "History will judge and I am still certain that the coming generations will view me fairly."

      The former leader, who was president for almost 30 years, said he was saddened by what he described as the difficult conditions facing the poor and the Egyptian economy.

      Hammered by political instability, the economy is in the doldrums and the government is in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund to secure a bailout loan.

      "This is the secret of my sadness: to see the poor in this condition," said Mubarak, who was toppled by an uprising fuelled in part by economic hardship.

      'Fear for the country'

      Mubarak said he was worried by the prospect of Egypt concluding an agreement with the IMF on a $4.8bn loan seen as vital to supporting the economy. The loan would bring austerity measures that could remove subsidy spending.

      Economists fault the Mubarak-era subsidy government for failing to target state support at the most needy. The Morsi administration says it wants to better direct the subsidies.

      Mubarak said the poor were at the heart of his decision-making, especially when it came to subsidy spending on staples.

      "I fear for the country because of the IMF loan," he said.

      "Its terms are very difficult, and represent a great danger to the Egyptian economy later on. This will then hit the poor citizen, and the low-income bracket," he said.

      With parliamentary elections approaching later this year, the Morsi administration has yet to conclude an IMF deal.

      Egyptian doctors 'ordered to operate on protesters without anaesthetic'
      Exclusive: Leaked presidential report recommends an investigation into the highest echelons of the army leadership
      Patrick Kingsley and Louisa Loveluck in Cairo
      guardian.co.uk, Thursday 11 April 2013 14.31 BST


      Coptic Christians under siege as mob attacks Cairo cathedral
      Alastair Beach sees gunfire exchanged as armed gang descends on funeral of five Christians killed in recent sectarian clashes


      Egypt president condemns sectarian violence
      President Morsi orders probe after at least two people killed in clashes at Cairo headquarters of Coptic Christian pope.
      Last Modified: 08 Apr 2013 09:02


      Ragia Omran: Abused in Egypt
      The human rights activist discusses the rising violence against women in Egypt and why she refuses to stay silent.
      Talk to Al Jazeera Last Modified: 30 Mar 2013 15:10


      Sexual harassment and attacks on women in Egypt were a problem before the January 25 revolution, but in the two years since the Arab Spring came to Cairo, the problem has grown worse.

      Violent assaults - groping, stripping and rapes have become increasingly frequent at the heart of the uprising, Tahrir Square.

      Sexual assault in Egypt, activists say, has become a weapon of war against women. Many have long stayed silent, but not anymore.

      One of those making their voices heard is Ragia Omran, a prominent lawyer, human rights activist, and feminist. She talks to Al Jazeera about the women abused in Egypt, the role of women, and why she refuses to stay silent.

      Egyptian blogger hands himself in after prosecutor orders his arrest
      Activists fear crackdown on opposition as blogger Alaa Abdel-Fattah is accused of instigating violence
      Associated Press in Cairo
      guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 26 March 2013 18.59 GMT


      Bakers become latest victims of Egypt subsidy cuts
      Economists warn that restrictions on bread sales could trigger a 'revolution of the hungry'
      Patrick Kingsley
      guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 19 March 2013 19.17 GMT


      Politically motivated sexual assault: the Egypt story none want to hear
      Fear of appearing Islamophobic is silencing criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood, under whom assaults have increased


      Exodus: Fall of the Jews in Egypt
      New film chronicles the near-extinction of a community with roots stretching back 3,000 years


      From its peak in the aftermath of the Second World War, when the Jews in Egypt numbered around 80,000, the community collapsed. Today there are no more than a few dozen remaining. All are over 50 years old. Most are women who married Muslims or Christians, meaning their children have been raised as non-Jews and that the community will probably die out within a generation.

      Now a documentary chronicling their experiences has been released in Egyptian cinemas. Billed as the first film of this kind to be allowed out on general release, Jews of Egypt presents an account of a community whose 20th-century fortunes, once so buoyant, suddenly came crashing down.

      In the early years of Nasser's nationalist revolution, the Jewish presence in Egypt disintegrated. Rabbi Andrew Baker, an American trying to establish a fund to preserve Egypt's Jewish monuments, said it is possible to question whether there was any future left for Jews in Egypt. He added that the remnants are possessed by a "schizophrenic" outlook on their position in society.

      On one hand they are proud of a legacy that stretches back 3,000 years to the time of Ramses II, but on the other they live a precarious existence in a country weaned on decades of antipathy towards Israel – which has fought four wars with Egypt since 1948. "They know that Jews are associated with Israel," he said. "My sense is they feel it might encourage popular anger if they are too open about their religion."

      It was not always like this. The great Jewish scholar Maimonides was once physician to Saladin, the medieval foe of King Richard the Lionheart. More recently, in the early 20th century, King Fouad recruited two Jewish scions of the famous Qattawi family to be his finance minister and speech writer. His playboy son, Farouk, meanwhile, employed them in a rather less august context; his mistress and his card-table chums were Jewish.

      Anti-Semitic sentiment had been fuelled at times by the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood and a rising tide of nationalism. But after the creation of Israel in 1948, the mood started turning very sour. Following the Suez crisis of 1956, when Israel helped Britain and France invade Egypt to reclaim the Suez Canal and topple Nasser, the government ordered a wave of expulsions. The nation's wealthier Jews had often been implacably opposed to Israel, but about a fifth of the country's Jewry – more than 15,000 refugees – eventually emigrated east to the new Jewish state.

      Today the Jews of Egypt live in a climate of anti-Zionism which often boils over into outright anti-Semitism. "When Israel came to existence, people didn't feel comfortable dealing with Jews," said Egyptian author Ahmed Towfik. "Many mixed the concept of Zionism and Judaism."

      The government has carried out high-profile restoration projects on Egypt's synagogues over the years, yet some among the Egyptian diaspora complain of official ambivalence. Cairo's famous Bassatine cemetery, allotted to Jews in the 9th century, is now partially submerged by sewage.

      Yves Fedida was among the tens of thousands of Egyptian Jews compelled to leave the country during the wave of anti-Zionism that followed the creation of Israel in 1948. As a Jewish schoolboy in Hendon, north London, he sat down at his bedroom desk in the spring of 1959 and began writing a letter. He did not expect a reply – his missive, after all, was addressed to Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egyptian demagogue, Britain's arch-nemesis in the Middle East, and the man responsible for expelling the 14-year-old from his homeland. "I think I addressed it to the Presidential Palace," Mr Fedida told The Independent on Sunday. "Nowadays it would have to go through national security and would take about five years to get there."

      Mr Fedida received a reply from Nasser after just a month. The Egyptian President wrote that with "great pleasure" he was granting him temporary permission to return to Alexandria and see his mother, who had been allowed to stay. The letter, signed in blue ink, ended with the revolutionary autocrat expressing his "best wishes for your happiness, and sincere admiration for your filial sentiment". Mr Fedida was permitted to return for only nine months – yet he was one of the lucky ones. Now 67, he runs a foundation dedicated to preserving Egypt's Jewish heritage. "You say the word Jew now and everybody freezes," he said. "You are automatically a spy or a bloodthirsty conspirator. It's a crazy, crazy situation."

      In Place of War: Egypt's artists after the Arab Spring
      How did Egypt's creative minds respond to the revolution. We ask six artists, and talk to the founder of In Place of War, a project that champions work born out of conflict
      Luke Bainbridge
      The Observer, Sunday 5 May 2013



      Yemen women divided over rights fight
      Women in Aden are torn between the national dialogue and fighting for secession as the best path for winning freedoms.
      Rebecca Murray Last Modified: 20 Apr 2013 15:26


      Aden, Yemen - Before Yemen's unification and the bloody civil war that followed, women in the southern port city of Aden say they were educated professionals with rights not experienced by those in the conservative north.

      Yemen's unification in 1990 curbed those rights. Southern women were laid off from their jobs en masse, and gender discrimination took firm hold when former President Ali Abdullah Saleh's victorious regime rolled into Aden four years later.

      This year, Yemeni women hold a 30 percent quota of the 565 seats in the ongoing National Dialogue talks in Sanaa. Brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states during the 2011 revolution, the talks are intended to address outstanding grievances, including women's rights.

      Female activists hope the conference will pave the way for a new, moderate constitution, and an equitable interpretation of Yemen's penal code and the personal status laws that govern women's lives.

      But Aden's women are split. While some are fixed on achieving this goal through the National Dialogue, others dismiss it as irrelevant, and prioritise their struggle for a separate southern state.

      After British colonialists left in 1967, a Soviet Union-backed socialist government ruled South Yemen. Aden residents talk nostalgically of mixed-sex schools and culture, and proudly reel off professions that had high numbers of women - such as judges, geologists, doctors and business owners - before unification took hold.

      'Even the children are covered'

      "Things have gone backwards for women," explained Sultan Al-Shaibi, Aden's deputy governor. "We had an open-minded mentality. We had grown up with the law under the British, and continued under civil rule," he said. "My mother would wear skirts. Now even the children are covered."

      Roza Ghani, a 40-year-old pilot with Yemenia airlines, is commonly spoken of with awe. Aden-born Ghani co-pilots long-haul commercial flights with two men in the cockpit, because she is not allowed to work alone with one.

      She survived an armed hijacking in 2001, and navigated violent airspace during the start of the 2003 Iraq war. She says she flew the last Yemenia aircraft to land in the besieged Damascus airport earlier this year.

      Ghani credits her father with encouraging her to fly. She worked as an air hostess for a spell, and said people in Sanaa didn't understand the difference between that and her aspirations to be a pilot.

      "All the Yemeni men thought maybe I was weak because I am a woman," she explained. But she said she won them over with her professionalism. "I act appropriately, and I keep socially to myself."

      Gender gap 'world's worst'

      Last year, the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index ranked Yemen's disparities the world's worst in education, health, and economic and political life. Conservative interpretations of Yemen's revised constitution, which calls women "sisters of men", set the tone for gender discrimination.

      Personal status laws governing marriage, divorce and inheritance favour males. The age limit for marriage has been erased, with grave ramifications. Early and forced marriages are linked to a lack of education and careers, poor health and domestic violence.

      And under the penal code, men who commit "honour killings", such as murdering women suspected of adultery, are sentenced to a one-year maximum prison sentence, or a fine.

      For women in Aden, the brutal siege by northern troops in 1994 was a catalyst for the negative change. Activist and writer Huda Al-Attas blames Sheikh Abdul Zindani, a leader of Yemen's Salafist movement, for instigating war crimes then. "He announced a fatwa that basically said killing southerners is halal [permissible under Islamic law] because the communists were behind them."

      Ebthal Badhrais, an Islamic studies teacher, witnessed the deadly decree up close. While her female friends were searching for water during a lull in the battle, they were shot dead by troops who called them non-believers.

      Since then, Badhrais said her school became single-sex and a conservative curriculum was imposed. Her colleagues criticise her for eschewing a black niqab, which fully covers the face, in favour of colorful hijabs and make-up. "They act like I missed my way in Islam."

      But the parents of her students like her teaching, Badhrais said, which makes the job worth it. "Islam is about spirit, soul, behaviour, forgiveness, and respecting others."

      Secession 'the only solution'

      Muna Busharaheel, an art professor, was also shocked by the new regime. Police accosted her and her husband for holding hands on the beach and demanded to see their marriage papers. After a heated argument, the couple was forced to pay a bribe to avoid arrest.

      These three women believe a separate southern state is the only solution to their woes, and that only then will women's rights be achieved. "We think the National Dialogue won't change the country's mentality - it will stay the same towards women," said Badhris. "We don't believe in change because we see the same faces. Yes, they will write a new, good constitution - but they will not implement it. It will just be ink on paper. The people who control the country won't allow real change to happen."

      Hundreds of miles across Yemen in the mountainous north, two National Dialogue members from Aden discussed the challenges.

      Alia Faisal Al-Shaibi of the Yemeni Socialist Party bloc said she had received threats from southern separatists for her participation. "This is their opinion because of their suffering, and because there has been no progress from the government," she acknowledged.

      "Maybe the killers are in the hall to talk with me. But with no dialogue there is no solution," she explained. "After this, maybe we can determine the shape of the country."

      Imam Shaif Al-Khateeb is a strong-willed judge, who presided over criminal and civil cases in Aden before she followed her husband to the capital. There she was barred as a woman from her profession. "The southerners who stayed in the south suffered," she said. "So those in the south want 100 percent separation. Those who accept federalism are in Sanaa."

      Al-Khateeb believes calls for separation are dangerous. "There is no government, no military, no budget - no-one to lead this. The leaders of the south don't have a specific vision."

      Instead, her goal is clear. As part of the talks' independent woman bloc, Al-Khateeb is proud of the 30 percent quota for women. Now they have to work to implement the quota in the government, change the constitution, and amend the personal status laws and penal code.

      "I want to cancel all those laws which discriminate against women," she said.


      Assad insists he will not step down
      In an interview, Syrian leader blames crisis on foreign intervention and warns against fractious opposition.
      Last Modified: 19 May 2013 12:43


      Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he will not resign before elections in 2014 and warned against the opposition, in an interview with an Argentine newspaper.

      Assad also said that he blames foreign intervention for the crisis, and he cautiously welcomed a proposed international peace conference launched by the US and Russia.

      Assad spoke to Clarin and the Argentine state news agency Telam in the frank and lengthy interview in Damascus, released on Saturday, in which he also denied that his government has used chemical weapons against the civilian population.

      His comments come amid a rare joint push by the US and Russia to convene the peace conference in Geneva.

      "We have received the Russian-US approach well and we hope that there will be an international conference to help Syrians overcome the crisis," Clarin quoted Assad as saying.

      "We must be clear ... there is confusion in the world over a political solution and terrorism. They think that a political conference will stop terrorism on the ground. This is unrealistic."

      Conference on Syria

      The meeting's date is yet to be decided, but it aims to bring together members of the regime and the rebels.

      "We do not believe that many Western countries really want a solution in Syria. And we don't think that the forces that support the terrorists want a solution to the crisis," Assad said.

      He discounted the possibility of resigning, saying that his stay in power will be decided by Syrians next year.

      "I don't know if [US Secretary of State John] Kerry or anyone else has received the power of the Syrian people to talk in their name about who should go and who should stay. That will be determined by the Syrian people in the 2014 presidential elections," Assad said. "To resign would be to flee."

      Pressure for action on Syria has mounted with Western intelligence reports that the regime has used chemical weapons on at least two occasions, and as the UN's death toll passed 80,000 after 26 months of war.

      Telam quoted Assad as denying that his government has used chemical weapons against its civilian population, saying that mass casualties could not be hidden if the regime had.

      "The accusations against Syria regarding the use of chemical weapons or my resignation change every day. And it is likely that this is used as a prelude to a war against our country," he said.

      "They said we use chemical weapons against residential areas. If they were used in a city or a suburb with only 10 or 20 victims, would that be credible?"

      Their use, he said, "would mean the death of thousands or tens of thousands of people in a matter of minutes. Who could hide something like that?"

      Assad also questioned the estimates of the number of dead produced by human rights groups, but acknowledged that "thousands of Syrians have died".

      "We shouldn't ignore that many of the dead that they talk about are foreigners who have come to kill the Syrian people," he said, blaming "local terrorism and that coming from abroad" for the violence.

      Qusayr violence

      Clarin said Assad denied that his government was using "fighters from outside of Syria, of other nationalities, and needs no support from any Arab or foreign state.

      "There are Hezbollah people in Iran, in Syria, but they come and go in Syria from long before the crisis," he said.

      In the latest development in Qusayr, which is in Homs province, at least 32 people were killed on Sunday as the Syrian military pounded the rebel-held central town, in an apparent preparation for a ground assault, a watchdog and activists said.

      "We're hearing that the military is getting help from Hezbollah in neighbouring Lebanon, which is a staunch ally of Damascus," said Al Jazeera's Nisreen el-Shamayleh, reporting from Amman.

      "The rebels are calling for more help and weapons to try to face the Syrian government [forces]. It seems like a very heavy offensive, that could turn into a ground assault, according to activists," she said.

      If the military overpowers the rebels in Qusayr, "it's a very strategic win, because Homs is close to Damascus," she said.

      Syria denies link to Turkey car bombs
      Syrian minister denies Turkish claim that groups backing Assad were behind twin blasts that killed at least 46 people.
      Last Modified: 12 May 2013 15:05


      Turkey has accused groups supporting the Syrian regime of carrying out two car bombings that killed at least 46 people and injured dozens in a border town, the interior minister said.

      The blast occurred on Saturday in a crowded area of the small town of Reyhanli in the southern Turkish province of Hatay, just a few kilometres from the main border crossing into Syria.

      The interior minister told Al Jazeera that 55 people had been hospitalised, including seven Syrians. The majority of the victims were Turkish nationals.

      "There is a mood of devastation here," Al Jazeera's Andrew Simmons reported from Reyhahli.

      Bulent Arinc, the deputy prime minister of Turkey, said investigators had established links between an intelligence agency of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the deadly car bombs.

      "We know that the people taking refuge in Hatay have become targets for the Syrian regime," Arinc said in comments broadcast on Turkish television.

      "We think of them as the usual suspects when it comes to planning such a horrific attack."

      Ahmet Davutoglu, the foreign minister, said Turkey reserved the right to take "every kind of measure" after the attacks.

      "The attack has nothing to do with the Syrian refugees in Turkey, it's got everything to do with the Syrian regime," Davutoglu told Turkey's TRT television on Sunday.

      He said those behind the bombings were believed also to have been behind an attack on the Syrian coastal town of Banias a week ago, in which fighters backing Assad were reported to have killed at least 62 people.

      The Syrian information minister, however, denied responsibility for Turkey blasts on Sunday, saying that Turkey was indirectly responsible.

      "Syria did not commit and would never commit such an act because our values would not allow that," Omran al-Zohbi said at a news conference broadcast by state television.

      Attacks condemned

      Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief, and US Secretary of State John Kerry both strongly condemned the bombings.

      Kerry said in a written statement that US stood by its ally, Turkey.

      "This awful news strikes an especially personal note for all of us given how closely we work in partnership with Turkey, and how many times Turkey's been a vital interlocutor at the centre of my work as secretary of state these last three months," Kerry said.

      UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said that Ban "condemns all acts of terrorism and reiterates that no cause or grievance ever justifies the targeting of civilians".

      A third, smaller explosion caused panic in Reyhanli hours after the twin car bombs struck, but NTV quoted Muammer Guler, the interior minister, as saying that it was unrelated and occurred when a car's fuel tank exploded.

      The area has been caught up in violence spilling over from the Syrian side in the past few months.

      Reyhanli is home to many of the more than 300,000 refugees who have sought shelter from the uprising against Assad which erupted in Syria in March 2011.

      The blasts came as Syrian troops fought rebels in a bid to take back a key supply route linking the centre of the country to Aleppo in the north, an activist group said.

      "Fierce battles raged pitting troops against rebels. Regime troops fought to reopen the road linking Hama to Aleppo," Rami Abdul Rahman, the director for the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told the AFP news agency.

      Rebels cut off the road, referred to as the Desert Road, on Thursday. The army had been using it as its main supply route to Aleppo province, large swathes of which are under rebels' control.

      Syrians flee coastal town after 'massacre'
      Thousands of Sunni families leave city of Banias fearing more violence after dozens killed by pro-Assad militias.
      Last Modified: 04 May 2013 20:18


      Attack on Syria village leaves 'dozens dead'
      Opposition activists say regime forces storm coastal village near Baniyas, killing between 50 and 100 people.
      Last Modified: 03 May 2013 12:44


      Syria opposition denounces Hezbollah 'threat'
      Syrian National Coalition accuses Lebanese movement of threatening region's stability after leader backs Assad.
      Last Modified: 01 May 2013 21:53


      They may be fighting for Syria, not Assad. They may also be winning: Robert Fisk reports from inside Syria
      Death stalks the Syrian regime just as it does the rebels. But on the front line of the war, the regime’s army is in no mood to surrender – and claims it doesn’t need chemical weapons


      Syria activists report massacre near Damascus
      More than 80 bodies found in Damascus district after days of fighting as opposition leader again offers his resignation.
      Last Modified: 22 Apr 2013 01:00


      At least 80 people, including women and children, have been killed in Damascus, according to Syrian activists.

      Many were reportedly executed by government forces at a makeshift hospital in the town of Jdeydet al-Fadel, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), the UK-based network, said on Sunday.

      Al Jazeera has been unable to independently verify the report, but has been sent video images of the bodies.

      The report came as the leader of the main Syrian opposition group offered his resignation from the post yet again.

      Moaz al-Khatib, president of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), submitted his resignation, a statement on the organisation's Facebook page announced on Sunday.

      The SNC said it would take up the matter at its next meeting, without providing a date.

      Khatib, a respected Muslim preacher seen as a uniting figure and moderate, tried to quit his post in March, citing frustration over what he called a lack of international support and constraints imposed on the body itself.

      The coalition rejected his resignation then, and he agreed to stay on until his six-month terms ends in May.

      Bodies found

      Claiming that scores of bodies were found in Jdeydet al-Fadel, in the suburbs of Damascus, the SOHR said it was able to document the names of 80 victims and that the death toll might be much higher.

      Opposition fighters pulled out of the town on Saturday because they ran out of ammunition, the SOHR said.

      By Sunday morning, government forces had taken full control of the area.

      The killings reportedly took place during four days of fighting between government forces and anti-regime fighters.


      Many killed in string of Iraq attacks
      At least 16 people killed and 10 policemen kidnapped, following country's deadliest day in months.
      Last Modified: 18 May 2013 21:28


      Violence in Iraq has killed 16 people, including a police officer, his wife and two children, while gunmen kidnapped 10 policemen, officials said.

      Armed men early on Saturday broke into the home of the administrator for the Rashid area, south of Baghdad, killing one of his guards, an interior ministry official said.

      They then moved to the nearby house of Captain Adnan al-Obaidi, a police officer in an anti-terrorism unit, and killed him and his family, the official said.

      Also south of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded in a popular market in Latifiyah city, killing at least one person and wounding at least 15, medical officials said.

      The violence comes a day after more than 70 people were killed in bombings in majority Sunni districts in Baghdad and surrounding areas, in what has been noted as the deadliest day in Iraq in more than eight months.

      Gunmen on Saturday ambushed and kidnapped 10 policemen near Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, a Sunni heartland bordering Syria.

      Also in Ramadi, clashes between security forces and armed tribesmen left two members of the tribe dead. The fighting broke after security forces attempted to arrest Mohammed Khamis Abu Risha, who is wanted in connection with the killing of five soldiers.

      Abu Risha is the nephew of powerful tribal leader Ahmed Abu Risha, who is a key supporter of Sunni anti-government protesters in the western Anbar province and who led the uprising against al-Qaeda in the province from 2007.

      'Responsibility of leaders'

      Elsewhere in Anbar, four state-backed so-called Sahwa fighters were killed in an attack by gunmen on their headquarters on the outskirts of Garma city.

      The Sahwa [awakening] are Sunni Arabs who joined forces with the US military to fight al-Qaeda's Iraq branch at the height of the country's conflict.

      Meanwhile, an imam of a Sunni mosque was shot dead near the main southern port city of Basra, officials said.

      In Mosul, two policemen were killed after an improvised device exploded at a federal police base in the city's south, Al Jazeera's Omar Al Saleh reported.

      A third soldier was killed west of Mosul in a similar attack, which also wounded three soldiers, Al Saleh said.

      Martin Kobler, the UN envoy in Baghdad, called for Iraqi leaders to stop the violence.

      "It is the responsibility of all leaders to stop the bloodshed in this country and to protect their citizens," he said in a statement on Friday.

      In the deadliest attack on Friday, twin bombings near a Sunni mosque in Baquba, north of Baghdad, killed 41 people and injured dozens.

      One bomb exploded as worshippers were departing the Saria mosque while a second went off after people gathered at the scene of the first blast, police said.

      No group claimed responsibility for the attack.

      Adding to the tension are protests by Sunnis against what they say is mistreatment at the hands of the mainly Shia-led government, including random detentions and neglect.

      The protests, which began in December, have largely been peaceful, but the number of attacks rose sharply after a deadly security crackdown on a Sunni protest camp in the country's north on April 23.

      So far in May, more than 300 people have been killed in the violence. The death toll for this year is around 1,500 people.

      PKK fighters arrive in Iraq under peace deal
      First batch of Kurdish fighters withdrawing from Turkey received by their comrades in northern Iraq.
      Last Modified: 15 May 2013 09:30


      Iraqi army losing hold on north to Sunni and Kurdish forces as troops desert



      Deadly car bombing hits Libya's Benghazi
      At least three killed and dozens wounded in explosion in car park of emergency hospital in volatile eastern city.
      Last Modified: 14 May 2013 09:27


      A car bomb has exploded outside a major hospital in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi, killing at least three people and wounding dozens more, according to official sources.

      Witnesses and an official said that the bomb struck the car park of the city's emergency Al-Jala hospital on Monday afternoon.

      Earlier estimates for the dead were as high as 15.

      The AFP news agency said at least 30 people had been wounded.

      Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan said in a statement on Monday that authorities did "not take adequate action" to address the country's fragile security situation.

      He added that those who perpetrated the attack did not want the Libyan revolution to succeed.

      Benghazi was the cradle of the uprising that ended Muammar Gaddafi's 42 years of iron rule in 2011.

      The blast was caused by a car bomb and "caused deaths and injuries", a security official said, without immediately being able to give further details.

      Abdullah Massoud, Libyan deputy interior minister, said the blast caused massive damage in the hospital area.

      It damaged a dozen or more vehicles and shattered the windows of buildings nearby, sending aloft a thick cloud of smoke and flinging dust several blocks away.

      A doctor said three deaths were confirmed including a child, along with 17 injuries.

      "I saw people running and some of them were collecting parts of bodies," a witness who declined to be identified said.

      Hundreds of angry people gathered at the scene, blaming armed groups for the explosion and calling for them to be driven out of Benghazi.

      The post-Gaddafi transitional government based in Tripoli exerts scant authority over much of the country.

      The latest violence comes days after the US and Britain withdrew some staff from their embassies in the Libyan capital, citing security concerns over a flare-up between armed groups and the authorities.

      The fighters, mostly former rebels who helped topple Gaddafi, had surrounded the foreign and justice ministries to press for a vote in the National Assembly barring former officials of his regime from holding government jobs.

      They lifted the siege on Sunday, ending a two-week standoff, days after the vote was passed by the General National Congress and a pledge by Ali Zeidan, the prime minister, to reshuffle the cabinet soon.

      Libya faces growing Islamist threat
      Exclusive: Diplomats warn that militants squeezed out of Mali by western intervention are hitting targets in Tripoli
      Chris Stephen in Tripoli and Afua Hirsch in Timbuktu
      The Guardian, Sunday 28 April 2013 19.06 BST


      Diplomats are warning of growing Islamist violence against western targets in Libya as blowback from the war in Mali, following last week's attack on the French embassy in Tripoli.

      The bomb blast that wrecked much of the embassy is seen as a reprisal by Libyan militants for the decision by Paris the day before to extend its military mission against fellow jihadists in Mali.

      The Guardian has learned that jihadist groups ejected from their Timbuktu stronghold have moved north, crossing the Sahara through Algeria and Niger to Libya, fuelling a growing Islamist insurgency.

      "There are established links between groups in both Mali and Libya – we know there are established routes," said a western diplomat in Tripoli. "There is an anxiety among the political class here that Mali is blowing back on them."

      That anxiety escalated last week after militants detonated a car bomb outside the French embassy, wounding two French guards and a Libyan student, the first such attack on a western target in the Libyan capital since the end of the 2011 Arab spring revolution.

      "The armed groups we are fighting are fleeing to Libya," said Colonel Keba Sangare, commander of Mali's army garrison in Timbuktu. "We have captured Libyans in this region, as well as Algerians, Nigerians, French and other European dual-nationals."

      France sent troops to Mali in January after an uprising in the north started by the ethnic Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA), named for the independent state it hopes to create.

      The impetus for this uprising came from ethnic Tuareg soldiers who had fought alongside Muammar Gaddafi and fled south when his regime fell. They were later augmented by jihadists from Libya and across north Africa, who triggered international condemnation for their destruction of ancient Sufi Muslim shrines in Timbuktu. The fear across the Maghreb is that the French operation that has pushed them out of the northern cities has inadvertently compounded problems elsewhere in north Africa as jihadist units disperse.

      "If you squeeze a balloon in one part, it bulges out in another," said Bill Lawrence, of International Crisis Group, a political consultancy. "There's no question that the French actions in Mali had the effect of squeezing that balloon towards Algeria and Libya."

      Timbuktu residents say there are links between Tuareg militants there and in southern Libya. "There were many Tuaregs in Mali who left during the drought of 1973 – some of them became senior figures in the Libyan army under Gaddafi," said Mahaman Touré, 53. "I personally know a local Tuareg who became a general under Gaddafi and was here with the jihadists. Now they have all gone back to Libya."

      Diplomats say jihadists cross the Sahara to join cadres in Libya's eastern coastal cities of Benghazi and Derna. Police stations in both cities have been hit by bombings in the past few days, part of an insurgency that threatens to undermine the country's fragile new democracy. Chad's president, Idriss Déby, claimed at the weekend that Benghazi was now home to training camps for Chadian rebel fighters.

      "From the perspective of an Islamist, it makes sense," said Dr Berny Sèbe, an expert on the Sahara region from Birmingham University. "If you are in northern Mali, the best thing that you can do is to make your way across Niger and then into southern Libya, where there is no state control."

      Eastern Libya has long been a base for Islamists, who launched an unsuccessful uprising against Gaddafi in the 1990s. Their units reappeared in the uprising two years ago, and while many have integrated with government forces, others are campaigning for a state ruled by clerics rather than secular politicians. Benghazi has become a virtual no-go area for foreigners following attacks on the British, Italian and Tunisian consulates, the fire-bombing of an Egyptian Coptic church and the killing of US ambassador Chris Stevens in September when militants overran the American consulate. The bombing in Tripoli indicates that terrorism has now spread to the capital.

      "Libya suffers this Mali blowback in two ways," said a diplomat in Tripoli. "First there are the fighters arriving here, second there are units carrying out attacks in support of their brothers [in Mali]."

      The result is not only being felt in Libya. In January, units from al-Qaida in the Maghreb, an Algerian-based al-Qaida offshoot, struck the In Amenas gas plant, killing 38 hostages, in what they said was retaliation for the France's Mali offensive.

      Ordinary Libyans are suffering. Watching French police investigators sifting through the mangled wreckage outside the abandoned embassy, neighbour Emad Tillisy, a Tripoli businessman, shook his head. "This is so bad for Libya," he said. "It is the worst message we can send out to the world. We need to have foreigners coming here for business, to build our country, but after this [bombing] they say 'no thanks, have a nice day'."

      Libya's efforts to tackle the militants are restricted by the distrust felt by much of the population for government security units, many of them drawn from former Gaddafi-era formations. Twin rocket attacks on oil and gas pipelines earlier this month south of Benghazi have meanwhile sent a shudder through Libya's oil industry, almost its only export earner.

      Libya has already piled resources into cutting the jihadist flow of men and weapons over its southern border, declaring its entire desert region a "free fire zone" for patrolling jets. In the south-west, work has now finished on a 108-mile trench cut through the desert to deter smugglers crossing into Libya.

      But experts say the Libyans face a herculean task. "To ensure that these borders are completely sealed off is impossible – we are talking about desert areas with mountains and very narrow valleys," said Sèbe.

      Libya's prime minister, Ali Zaidan, has vowed to launch a clear-out of militias in Benghazi, but many wonder if he has enough reliable units for the job.

      In December Washington provided drones and an Orion electronic warfare aircraft to support government units arresting jihadist suspects in Benghazi. It is now delivering border surveillance equipment to Libya and setting up a base for drones in Niger, from where it can monitor both Mali and Libya.

      This policy has its critics, who say experience in Afghanistan and Iraq shows military action works only when coupled with a political process that ensures the grievances of all sections of the population are met, denying militants popular support. "A drone-only approach to intelligence gathering can backfire," said Lawrence. "There's always bad guys who may blow up buildings – the question is what sea are they swimming in? The priority should be the support of a legitimate government that reflects the aspirations of all elements of Libyan society."

      The rise of Islamism in north Africa has spawned a galaxy of competing jihadist organisations, with alliances as fluid as the borders they cross. The units that staged the northern Mali uprising were drawn from both Libyan Tuareg fighters and jihadists, despite the fact that they fought on opposite sides in Libya's civil war. "For me, they are all the same – the Islamists and the MNLA," said Ahamadou Tahir, who was attacked by militants while delivering medical supplies 60 miles north of Timbuktu. "They all have guns and they all want to cause us harm."
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