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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Arab League

SYRIA: Assad warns of 'ethnic cleansing' of Palestinians in meeting with Moussa

Moussa and assad

Syrian President Bashar Assad told Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa on Monday that Arab governments need to take "urgent" action to reverse Israel's policy of "ethnic cleansing" in the occupied Palestinian territories, the Syrian Arab News Agency reported.

During a meeting in Damascus, Assad and Moussa reportedly discussed resolutions recently passed by the Arab League in response to continued Israeli settlement building in East Jerusalem as well as a recent Israeli military court rulings that critics say could lead to the expulsion of tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank.

The new orders allow for the expulsion of any individual in the West Bank without the proper permit, but according to the Abu Dhabi-based English Language paper the National, the wording is so vague it could be used against anyone, prompting 10 Israeli human rights groups to write an open letter of protest to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

The meeting in Damascus did not appear to have produced any concrete measures, but rather focused on strengthening existing resolutions.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Syrian President Bashar Assad meets with the Arab League's Amr Moussa. Credit: SANA

LIBYA: Arabs pledge $500 million to Palestinians in East Jerusalem


Arab foreign ministers gathered in the Libyan city of Surt in preparation for Saturday's Arab League summit announced their plan to more than triple aid to Palestinians living in East Jerusalem from $150 million to $500 million in response to the construction of new Israeli settlements, Secretary General Amr Moussa told reporters Friday.

The request for more aid was made by the Palestinian Authority, which would presumably be responsible for distributing the money.

Other proposals included urging the United Nations to condemn Jerusalem settlement construction, a travel ban on Israeli politicians, stronger protections for the Al Aqsa Mosque and other holy sites and official documentation of Palestinian land confiscated by Israel, Al Jazeera reported. Some delegates even suggested taking the "land for peace" proposal endorsed by Arab states in 2002 off the table.

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SUDAN: Tensions and riot police surround independence referendum

SUDAN Riot police are stationed across Khartoum and parents are worried about their protesting sons and daughters as political parties prepare for next year’s election, which may bring southern Sudan closer to winning a referendum on secession.

“I don’t know if my son will return home or not. He is always out protesting,” said Shadia Fadulallah. “We are disappointed by the current situation in the country because we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Things are getting worse.”

Tensions alternately calm and flare between the ruling National Congress Party of President Omar Bashir and the opposition Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. The two sides recently agreed on a formula that would grant the south independence if it won a majority in a 2011 referendum. But protests have erupted. About 50 people were arrested on Monday.

The demonstrations underscore the suspicions harbored by the two parties. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended Sudan’s civil war -- a conflict that killed more than 2 million people -- laid the groundwork for a referendum vote. But the predominately Arab north is not keen on allowing the majority animist and Christian south to break away with the bulk of the nation’s oil reserves.

In southern Sudan, at least 2,000 people have died in tribal clashes since January. Southern officials blame the government in the north for backing certain tribes. The government has denied the accusations. With tribes having plenty of arms and years of animosity, security officials worry about more violence.

“The National Congress Party and SPLM are leading us toward anarchy,” said Khamis Lokamba, a university teacher. “They always disagree, and repeated violations of Comprehensive Peace Agreement have occurred on both sides.” 

-- Alsanosi Ahmed Ibrahim in Khartoum and Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo

Photo: President Omar Bashir. Credit: Associated Press

MIDDLE EAST: Swine flu to limit hajj pilgrimage for elderly and young


To curtail the spread of swine flu, Arab health ministers from across the Middle East have agreed that elderly, young and chronically ill Muslims should be forbidden from traveling to Saudi Arabia for the upcoming hajj and umrah pilgrimages.

The decision came after a meeting of health ministers from Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Jordan in Cairo late Wednesday, which was part of a special session of the Regional Committee for World Health Organization on the H1N1 flu virus. Those banned from making the pilgrimage include anyone over 65 and under 12, as well as pregnant women and the chronically ill. 

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MIDDLE EAST: Daily headlines from Gaza, Israel, Iran in your mailbox

Newsletter_3The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily e-mail newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East and the Muslim world.

It includes stories from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as links to articles about the frictions and encounters between Islam and the West in the United States and Europe.

The newsletter also includes links to the latest Times editorials and opinion pieces about the Middle East, Islam and national security.

You can subscribe by logging in or registering at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates," and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.

— Los Angeles Times staff

EGYPT: Erdogan hailed as hero


By recently walking off the stage after a clash with the Israeli president over the Gaza Strip at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was viewed as a hero among Arabs who accuse their own leaders of not standing up to the Jewish state.

Erdogan was provoked when the moderator interrupted him while he was responding to comments made by Israeli President Shimon Peres, who defended Israel's military incursion into Gaza. Outraged at being cut off, Erdogan gathered his papers and walked out, saying: “And so Davos is over for me from now on.”

He had earlier told Peres: “When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill.”

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EGYPT: The Arab battle over Gaza

Gaza_destruction The bickering and divided — some would say dysfunctional — Arab world will attempt to put aside its differences during an international summit in March to raise money for Gaza Strip reconstruction.

Cairo has called the meeting to rebuild the Palestinian enclave that was battered by an estimated $2 billion in damages from the 22-day Israeli incursion against the militant group Hamas.

The fate of Gaza has widened the split in the Arab world between U.S. allies, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and countries and political organizations, including Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon, that are linked to the anti-Western influence of Iran.

Cairo and Riyadh boycotted an emergency summit in Qatar last month, arguing that it threatened Arab unity by further polarizing Middle East politics.

The crux is Hamas.

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KUWAIT: Arab rift over Gaza hard to heal


Arab divisions, which have hardened since the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip, resurfaced at the Kuwait summit.

Arab governments failed today to develop a common position over the situation in Gaza, but hopes for reconciliation arose after King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia criticized Arab divisions and called for unity. “We have transcended the phase of differences and opened the door for Arab fraternity and unity to every Arab.” 

Shortly after, Egyptian, Saudi, Qatari and Syrian leaders sat for lunch together, which some media celebrated as a sign of a possible rapprochement  between the U.S. allies who refuse to throw their full support behind Hamas, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia on one hand, and Iranian allies in the region,  namely Syria, on the other.

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EGYPT: Biting criticism of Doha summit

Khaled_mashaal The Egyptian state-owned media have pursued their ruthless campaign against Qatar, which hosted an Arab summit Friday despite the boycott of many Arab countries.

On Saturday, the semi-official press dismissed the Qatar-sponsored summit as "opportunistic" and "a failure." The attendance of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad elicited further criticism. The front page of Akhbar El-Youm newspaper shrugged off the summit as "Persian" rather than "Arab."

Since Israel launched its military offensive in Gaza Strip, Qatar has been calling for an extraordinary Arab summit to hammer out a united Arab position on the conflict. In the meantime, Qatar-financed news channel Al Jazeera spearheaded a campaign criticizing Egypt for declining to throw its full support behind Hamas and open its borders fully to Gazans. 

Eventually, Egypt and its partner Saudi Arabia decided not to attend.

The conflict exposed the rift between U.S. allies in the region, led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and U.S. opponents, led by Syria, Iran and Islamist groups that seek to consolidate an alliance to counter the Israeli power.

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EGYPT: Be careful of what you broadcast

Cairo_sat_dishes Egypt is using a new media law to prosecute the owner of a satellite TV company for his role in broadcasting violent anti-government street protests. The law, passed by the Arab League in February, is the latest attempt by regimes in the region to silence independent satellite channels.

Charges have been filed against Nader Gohar, owner of the Cairo News Co., which provides links and equipment to Al Jazeera, BBC and other international networks. Police raided Cairo News in April after Al Jazeera broadcast images of riot police battling with protesters in Mahalla, a Nile Delta town where 27,000 textile workers have been protesting inflation and low salaries.

Gohar is expected to be tried later this month for broadcasting without permission. His company has been shut down and he faces fines and up to one year in prison. Human Rights Watch has called the charges part of a campaign by the government of President Hosni Mubarak to “stifle freedom of the press.”

The Arab League law, sponsored Saudi Arabia and Egypt, pressures channels from broadcasting transmissions that “negatively affect social peace, national unity, public order and public morals” or “defame leaders, or national and religious symbols [of other Arab states].”

—Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo

Photo: Cairo's rooftops are a sea of TV satellite dishes. (BBC)

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LEBANON: Qatar emerges as diplomatic powerhouse

Pity Amr Moussa.

HamadFor months the dour Arab League secretary-general shuttled between his Cairo home and the Lebanese capital in a futile attempt to get Lebanese factions to talk, only to walk away in abject failure.

Then along came a smiling Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, foreign minister and prime minister of Qatar.

In a space of hours, he appears to have done what neither Moussa nor French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner (who also spent many fruitless weeks trying to solve the Lebanese mess) have  been able to do: get these guys locked in a room together to hammer out some kind of agreement.

During the news conference announcing a new deal between fighting Lebanese factions, Sheik Hamad spoke gently but firmly to the whole country, as if they were adults who must take charge of their own country:

The Lebanese people will have to help us. As Lebanese, you have to accept that this is your wound. You will have to heal it. … All the Arabs are with you, but you have to exert your own efforts. You as Lebanese have to decide to end this crisis.

Sheik Hamad also said: “Everyone knows that there is no winner in this.”

Except for maybe the sheik himself, who emerged as a diplomatic rock star.

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IRAN: Conflict with Arabs over islands heats up

Arab leaders at last weekend's summit in Damascus voiced claims over three disputed Persian Gulf Islands that both Iran and the United Arab Emirates consider part of their property. Iran was predictably outraged by the claim.

Khatami_2Though it was a minor footnote to an Arab League Summit marred by nearly a dozen no-shows and a murky outcome, it remains a sore spot for Iranians, who took the matter up with the United Nations.

The decades-old islands dispute also became fodder for the main Friday prayer sermon in Tehran today.

"The final declaration of the Arab Summit showed they have been entrapped by the U.S.," prayer leader Ahmad Khatami told worshippers. "Three islands in the Persian Gulf forever belong to Iran and the Persian Gulf remains Persian for good, and nobody can deny it."

Khatami is a conservative not to be confused with the reformist former president Mohammad Khatami.

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