Middle Eastern & International News (5/10/2012)

Turkey hits targets inside Syria after border deaths




Turkey hits targets inside Syria after border deaths

October 3, 2012

Turkish artillery has fired on positions inside Syria after shells from Syria killed five people in a southern Turkish border town.

A woman and her three children were among those killed earlier when the shells, apparently fired by Syrian government forces, hit Akcakale.

Turkey’s response marks the first time it has fired into Syria during the 18-month-long uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Nato ambassadors discussed the crisis.

The military alliance issued a statement saying it “continues to stand by (Nato member) Turkey and demands the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an ally, and urges the Syrian regime to put an end to flagrant violations of international law”.

‘Abominable attack’

Turkey’s territory has been hit by fire from Syria on several occasions since the uprising against President Assad began, but Wednesday’s incident was the most serious.

In a statement, the office of Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “Our armed forces in the border region responded immediately to this abominable attack in line with their rules of engagement.”Targets were struck through artillery fire against places in Syria identified by radar.

“Turkey will never leave unanswered such kinds of provocation by the Syrian regime against our national security.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu contacted UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, the UN’s Syria peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen after the incident.

Mr Ban urged Damascus to respect the territorial sovereignty of its neighbours, saying the cross-border incident “demonstrated how Syria’s conflict is threatening not only the security of the Syrian people but increasingly causing harm to its neighbours”.

Mr Rasmussen told Turkey’s foreign minister that he strongly condemned the incident, a Nato spokeswoman said, and continued to follow developments in the region “closely and with great concern”.

Mr Rasmussen has repeatedly said that Nato has no intention of intervening in Syria but stands ready to defend Turkey if necessary.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “We are outraged that the Syrians have been shooting across their border… and regretful of the loss of life on the Turkish side.”

UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who is in Turkey on a trade and diplomatic visit, said: “We condemn all violence by the Syrian regime and demand that it avoids any repetition of today’s incident on the border with Turkey,” he said.

Akcakale has been fired on several times over the past few weeks.

The BBC’s Jim Muir says Syrian government forces are attempting to cut rebel supply routes by winning back the border crossing at Tall al-Abyad which the rebels seized last month.

Residents have been advised to stay away from the border, and more than 100 schools have been closed in the region because of the violence in neighbouring Syria.

Panic

Turkey’s state-owned Anatolia news agency reported that angry townspeople had marched to the mayor’s office to protest about the deaths on Wednesday.

Town mayor Abdulhakim Ayhan said: “There is anger in our community against Syria,” adding that stray bullets and shells had panicked residents over the past 10 days.

Wednesday’s attack is believed to be only the second time that people have died as a result of violence spilling over the border from Syria into Turkey.

Two Syrian nationals were killed on Turkish soil in April by stray bullets fired from Syria.

In Syria itself, at least 34 people were killed and dozens wounded in a series of bomb explosions in the centre of Syria’s second city, Aleppo, on Wednesday.

The attacks levelled buildings in the city’s main square. A military officers’ club and a hotel being used by the military bore the brunt of the blasts, some of which were carried out by suicide car bombers.

Iranian police clash with protesters over Rial’s collapse

October 3, 2012

 Riot police clashed with demonstrators and foreign exchange dealers in Tehran on Wednesday over the collapse of the Iranian currency, which has lost 40 percent of its value against the dollar in a week, witnesses said.

Police fired tear gas to disperse the demonstrators, angered by the plunge in the value of the rial. Protesters shouted slogans against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying his economic policies had fueled the economic crisis.

The rial has hit record lows against the U.S. dollar almost daily as Western economic sanctions imposed over Iran’s disputed nuclear programme have slashed Iran’s export earnings from oil, undermining the central bank’s ability to support the currency.

Panicking Iranians have scrambled to buy hard currencies, pushing down the rial. With Iran’s official inflation rate at around 25 percent, the currency’s weakness is hurting living standards and threatening jobs.

The government blames speculators for the rial’s collapse and ordered the security services to take action against them.

“Everyone wants to buy dollars and it’s clear there’s a bit of a bank run,” said a Western diplomat based in Tehran.

“Ahmadinejad’s announcement of using police against exchangers and speculators didn’t help at all. Now people are even more worried.”

Close watchers of Iran say the protests pose a threat to Ahmadinejad rather than the government, but his term will end in June when a presidential election is due and he cannot run for a third time in any case.

They expect the government to stop the foreign exchange dealings and pump in money to stabilise the currency and prevent the protests from spreading.

Tehran’s main bazaar, whose merchants played a major role in Iran’s revolution in 1979, was closed on Wednesday, witnesses said. A shopkeeper who sells household goods there told Reuters that the instability of the rial was preventing merchants from quoting accurate prices.

The protests centred around the bazaar and spread, according to the opposition website Kaleme, to Imam Khomeini Square and Ferdowsi Avenue — scene of bloody protests against Ahmadinejad’s re-election in 2009.

Protesters shouted slogans like “Mahmoud the traitor – you’ve ruined the country” and “Don’t fear, don’t fear – we are all together,” the website said.

Iranian authorities currently do not allow Reuters to report from inside the country.  The national currency dived to a record low on Tuesday to 37,500 to the U.S. dollar in the free market, from about 34,200 at the close of business on Monday, foreign exchange traders in Tehran said. On Monday last week, it traded at around 24,600.

Ahmadinejad on Tuesday blamed the crisis on the U.S.-led economic sanctions on Iran and insisted the country could ride out the crisis. He urged Iranians not to change their money for dollars and said security forces should act against 22 “ringleaders” in the currency market.

“VERGE OF COLLAPSE”

The rial’s slide suggested the Western sanctions were having a serious impact. On Sunday, Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said Iran’s economy was “on the verge of collapse”.

Many businessmen and ordinary citizens say the government is at least partly to blame for the currency crisis, and Ahmadinejad has been criticised by enemies in parliament.

The rial has lost about two-thirds of its value since June 2011. Its losses accelerated in the past week after the government launched an “exchange centre” to supply dollars to importers of basic goods; businessmen say the centre failed to meet demand for dollars.

Parliamentary news agency ICANA quoted Mohammad Bayatian, a member of parliament’s industry and mines committee, as saying enough signatures had been collected to call Ahmadinejad to parliament for questioning over the rial’s fall.

University students protested in front of parliament on Monday over a lack of government-subsidised dollars for their studies abroad, the Iranian Labour News Agency reported.

The impact of sanctions on Iran can be seen across the Gulf in Dubai, a major centre of trade with Iran.

At the Dubai Creek, a crowded waterway from which motorised dhows ship goods to Iran, merchants said Iranian business had fallen off dramatically in the last two weeks.

“Everyone is losing; traders from Iran are losing because of the depreciating rial, and we’re losing here because Iranians can’t afford to buy our products any more,” said Ahmed Mohammed Amin, 53, an Iranian trader who has lived in Dubai for 40 years.

Websites providing rates for the rial stopped updating on Tuesday, and Dubai money changers said they were not selling the rial because they had lost contact with their Tehran counterparts.

Russia tells NATO to stay away from Syria

October 2, 2012

 Russia told NATO and world powers on Tuesday they should not seek ways to intervene in Syria’s civil war or set up buffer zones between rebels and government forces.

Moscow further called for restraint between NATO-member Turkey and Syria, where violence along their shared border has strained relations between the former allies.

Tensions have flared since a mortar round fired from inside Syria struck the territory of Turkey. Ankara has threatened to respond if the strike were repeated.

When asked by Interfax if Moscow worried whether the tense border situation could prompt NATO to intervene to defend Turkey, its easternmost member, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov warned against any such step.

“In our contacts with partners in NATO and in the region, we are calling on them not to seek pretexts for carrying out a military scenario or to introduce initiatives such as humanitarian corridors or buffer zones.”

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, one of Assad’s most caustic critics, recently lashed out at Russia for blocking efforts at the U.N. Security Council to exert pressure on Assad and said Moscow’s stance allowed massacres in Syria to continue.

Turkey has floated the idea of setting up “safe zones” inside Syria to protect civilians from the conflict but that would also have to be approved by the Security Council.

Russia and China have vetoed three Security Council resolutions condemning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and have blocked attempts to impose further sanctions on his government or intervene more directly in the conflict.

Ankara has repeatedly complained of artillery and gunfire spilling over the border into Turkey, leading to threats of retaliation.

“We believe both Syrian and Turkish authorities should exercise maximum restraint in this situation, taking into account the rising number of radicals among the Syrian opposition who can intentionally provoke conflicts on the border,” Gatilov was quoted as saying.

The West accuses Russia of supporting Assad in the bloody 18-month conflict and imposing a stalemate in the Security Council as violence in Syria has spiraled.

Moscow says Syrians themselves should decide their fate and says it will veto any Security Council resolution that could serve as a springboard for military intervention.

Russia accuses the West of overstepping its mandate when it set up a no-fly zone in Libya last year, leading to the fall of Muammar Gaddafi to a popular uprising and insurgency.

Western diplomats in Moscow say Russia seems to believe Assad may still successfully cling to power though they see Russia’s dialogue with some Syrian opposition groups as an attempt to secure its interests there if he were overthrown.

Egyptians split over Mursi’s 100 days in office

October 3, 2012

Cairo: President Mohammad Mursi came to power with ambitious plans to solve the country’s woes, but his first 100 days have left Egyptians divided over his achievements so far.

Some say he is off to a good start, others say he has dashed their hopes of tangible change, while still others praise his defiance of the powerful military.

During his electoral campaign, Mursi laid out a detailed 64-point plan to provide quick solutions to the country’s chronic problems in a bid ease the daily struggle of millions of Egyptians within 100 days in office. The issues he listed included traffic, security, rubbish, bread and fuel.

The pledge prompted activists to set up the Mursi Meter website to track the fulfilment of the president’s promises.

With the end of the period just round the corner, the site whose Facebook page garnered more than 100,000 “likes”, said that Mursi, who ran on the ticket of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, had fully achieved four points and started work on 24 others since taking office on June 30.

It said 43 per cent of respondents in an online survey it conducted were satisfied with his achievements. It did not give details of the poll.

Another survey conducted by a cabinet think tank and published in the state-owned Al Ahram daily said 37.2 per cent of Egyptians had not even heard of the 100-day pledge, while 46.2 per cent believe that he will have achieved only parts of his promises.

Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said Mursi will announce “all that has been achieved in his first 100 days in office with full transparency and clarity.”

On the Egyptian street, reviews were mixed.

“Nothing tangible has changed in the first 100 days,” said investment banker Karim Mohammad, as his car rolled slowly in Cairo’s notorious gridlock during his one and half hour daily commute to work.

“The traffic crisis has eased in some areas but it is still the same in others,” he told AFP.

“It will not be resolved in 100 days, it needs a lot more time, Mursi made a mistake by promising to resolve the daily issues in 100 days,” said Mohammad, who voted for Mursi in the second round of presidential elections in June.

As part of his plan, Mursi vowed to rid the streets of the piles of rubbish building up across the country.

“The country could have been managed better than the way Mursi is handling it,” said Ragia Tareq, 22, who works for a dairy company.

She said she still has to walk past garbage on her way to work every day from her home in the working class Imbaba neighbourhood.

“Nothing has changed, except for the security situation, but things are still bad,” she added.

In the past three months, Egypt has experienced increased power cuts that sometimes last for hours, while a fuel and diesel crisis has at times paralysed the country, with mile-long queues forming outside petrol stations. Prices for gas canisters — used in many homes for cooking and heating — have spiked.

Housewife Ilham Mustafa said she buys her gas canisters on the black market for 50 Egyptian pounds (nearly Dh29), a tenfold increase over their official selling price of five Egyptian pounds.

“I buy bread that costs five times more than the government subsidised bread, which Mursi promised to improve because it is not fit for human consumption,” she added.

The Mursi Meter website said the president had failed to address the bread problem and the independent Al Shorouk daily said that five people were killed in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria as they fought to get to the front of the bread queue.

“I don’t see any improvement in any area where he promised reform,” said Mustafa but conceded that “the problems of the past 30 years cannot be resolved in 100 days.”

Fady Girgis, a government employee, said he waits for two hours at a petrol station every time he tries to fill his battered old car with diesel.

“Things have not improved since before the revolution” that toppled president Hosni Mubarak last year.

But Girgis, who took part in the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, said that despite all that, Mursi managed to remove military rule.

“That is one thing to his credit,” he told AFP.

On August 12, Mursi forced the leadership of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces — which oversaw the transition from Mubarak’s rule- into retirement.

Mursi had been involved in a bitter power struggle with the SCAF, which had issued a constitutional document granting the army sweeping powers. That document was later revoked by Mursi.

“Its’ enough that Mursi rid us of the military council, this was not expected at all,” enthused Essam Abdul Hamid, 48, who owns a mobile telephone shop in Cairo.

Abdul Hamid said the rest of the crises facing Mursi “need people to stand together.”

As for Mohammed Said, 65, who owns a small grocery store, Mursi has dashed people’s hopes.

“Nothing has changed,” he said.

Reports: Hizbullah Commander, Several Fighters Killed in Homs

A Hizbullah commander and several fighters have been killed inside Syria, a Lebanese security official told the Associated Press on Tuesday, a development that could stoke already soaring tensions over an alleged role for the Lebanese group in the civil war next door.

Hizbullah has stood by Syrian President Bashar Assad since the uprising began 18 months ago, even after the group supported revolts in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Bahrain. The group says it is backing the Syrian regime because of its support for the anti-Israel resistance movements in Lebanon and Palestine and because it is willing to implement political reforms.

Assad's fall would be a dire scenario for Hizbullah. Any new regime led by Syria's majority Sunni Muslims would likely be far less friendly — or even outright hostile — to Shiite Muslim Hizbullah. Iran remains the group's most important patron, but Syria is a crucial supply route. Without it, Hizbullah will struggle to get money and weapons as easily.

The Syrian uprising has left Assad deeply isolated — making his remaining allies such as Iran and Russia all the more important. At last week's gathering of world leaders at the United Nations, dozens of nations excoriated the Assad regime for its role in a conflict that activists estimate has killed at least 30,000 Syrians.

It was not immediately clear how the alleged Hizbullah militants were killed or whether they had been fighting alongside the Syrian army. But Hizbullah's newspaper al-Intiqad said Hizbullah commander Ali Hussein Nassif, who is also known as Abu Abbas, was killed "while performing his jihadi duties." It did not say when or where he was killed.

A Lebanese security official told AP Nassif was killed in Syria and his body was returned to Lebanon through the Masnaa border crossing on Sunday. Speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, the official said the bodies of several other Hizbullah fighters have been brought back to Lebanon in recent days.

Hizbullah spokesman Ibrahim al-Moussawi on Tuesday confirmed the deaths of the Hizbullah members but said he had no further information on where or how Nassif was killed. He declined further comment.

The Syrian opposition has long accused the group of helping the Syrian leadership crack down on the uprising — a claim the group has repeatedly denied.

Nassif's funeral, which was held in the eastern town of Budai, near Baalbek, was attended by top Hizbullah officials including the head of the Sharia council and the political bureau, an indication of Nassif's high prestige, according to AP.

On Tuesday, Hizbullah's al-Manar TV showed the funerals of at least two other Hizbullah members it said were killed while performing their "jihadi duty." Both funerals were attended by Hizbullah officials and commanders.

The coffins of the dead were draped with Hizbullah's yellow flags and carried by militants in black uniforms and red berets. Hundreds of people marched in the funeral.

Samer al-Homsi, an activist in Syria's central Homs province, which borders Lebanon, said Nassif was killed Saturday when a roadside bomb went off as the car he was in passed just outside the town of Qusayr. He said Nassif and several other people were killed in the blast.

"His job was to coordinate with Syrian security agencies," al-Homsi told AP via Skype.

He added that the rebels detonated the bomb "without knowing" that the target was a Hizbullah official. "We knew he was a Hizbullah official after it was announced by the group in Lebanon," he said. Al-Homsi's account could not be independently verified.


 














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