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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: New Opposition Coalition Gathers International Support

Israeli military video of the airstrike that killed senior Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jabari

See also Israel-Palestine Opinion: Why Obama's Re-election Offers Renewed Hope for an Agreement
Tuesday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Fighting Escalates Near Damascus and in East

Today's live coverage is closed. Follow the story at Thursday's Israel-Palestine Live Coverage: Day 2 of Operation Pillar of Cloud

2228 GMT: Israel-Palestine. The number of rockets fired at Israel may wind up being in the hundreds (it's too early, but clearly many dozens have already been fired), yet the Israel Defense Forces are confident that their missile defense, Iron Dome, is working:

2220 GMT: Israel-Palestine. AlAkhbar reports:

Below are the names of Palestinians in Gaza who have been killed so far in this latest attack by Israel:

1. Ahmed al-Jaabari - Hamas leader - 52 years old

2. Mohammed al-Hams - 28 years old

3. Mohammed Kusaih - 18 years old

4. Esam Abu Meza - 19 years old

5. Heba al-Mashharawi - 19 years old

6. Renan Yousif Arafat - 3 years old

7. Omar al-Mashharawi - 11 months old

8. Mahmoud Abu Sawaween - 62 years old

The death toll is expected to rise even further.

More than 50 have been injured.

Many of the victims appear to be children:

2209 GMT: Israel-Palestine. Many Palestinians said today's military actions in Gaza had more to do with the upcoming Israeli elections than a Hamas threat to Israel. Considering the source, that's not surprising. In fact, even some analysts have echoed this today, and the thought had crossed most of our minds at least once.

But what is surprising to that the editor of Israel's oldest daily newspaper, Haaretz, also thinks so, and he said so today in an editorial entitled "Israel killed its subcontractor in Gaza":

The assassination of Jabari will go down in history as another showy military action initiated by an outgoing government on the eve of an election.

This is what researcher Prof. Yagil Levy has called "fanning the conflict as an intra-state control strategy:" The external conflict helps a government strengthen its standing domestically because the public unites behind the army, and social and economic problems are edged off the national agenda.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is interested in neutralizing every possible rival, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak is fighting for enough votes to return to the Knesset. A war against Hamas will wipe out the electoral aspirations of the ditherer, Ehud Olmert, whose disciples expected him to announce his candidacy this evening ¬ and it will kick off the agenda the "social and economic issue" that serves the Labor Party headed by MK Shelly Yacimovich.

2200 GMT: Israel-Palestine. The US State Department has released a statement on "Gaza rocket attacks," but makes no mention of Israel's actions today:

We strongly condemn the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel, and we regret the death and injury of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians caused by the ensuing violence. There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel. We call on those responsible to stop these cowardly acts immediately. We support Israel’s right to defend itself, and we encourage Israel to continue to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties.

Hamas claims to have the best interests of the Palestinian people at heart, yet it continues to engage in violence that is counterproductive to the Palestinian cause. Attacking Israel on a near daily basis does nothing to help Palestinians in Gaza or to move the Palestinian people any closer to achieving self determination.

2147 GMT: Israel-Palestine. The security cabinet has authorized IDF to call up reservists and expand the operations in Gaza is necessary. According to Haaretz, Israel is prepared to confront the threats of rockets. The announcement comes as more rockets are reported in Beersheeba:

National Security Minister Avi Dichter in Be'er Sheva: We have no intention to end this round of fighting and suffer more hits in the next. During Operation Cast Lead [the 2008/2009 Gaza war] we didn't have Iron Dome batteries. This time, we do.

2138 GMT: Bahrain. Elsewhere, some good news. Today, Said Yousif Almuhafda, a leading human rights advocate, was released after spending 12 days in prison. He was arrested during an investigation over illegal protesting, an investigation that was extended twice (though he was released early). Here is a picture, taken today, of Said reuniting with his daughters:

2058 GMT: Israel/Palestine. A terrible image - earlier we reported that a 1-year old child was killed, apparently burned in an Israeli air strike in Gaza. Now, a press conference has been held, and a graphic video shows a man holding the body while addressing the press.

We can't verify the video, except to say that it matches the picture we posted earlier (see update 1640 GMT).

2049 GMT: Israel-Egypt. Ahram Online, citing sources at the Cairo International Airport, says the Israeli Ambassador to Egypt, Yaakov Amitai, will leave Cairo at 11:30 pm (2130 GMT).

Amitai, who has been posted in Cairo since December 2011, was summoned by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry to convey it condemnation of the Israeli air raids on Gaza.

2045 GMT: Israel/Palestine. Haaretz posts a video claiming to show Gaza militants unloading a Fajr rocket off of a truck:

2034 GMT: Israel/Palestine. As a friend (in Gaza) of EA's Josh Shahryar just told him, "Any attack on Hamas targets inside Gaza means civilian casualties, too. It's impossible to target JUST Hamas." One look at IDF's map of a site they bombed today gives you a sense of just how true this statement is:

Long-Range Rocket Launch Site in Zeitoun Neighborhood

It's impossible to launch this scale of attacks without killing civilians. As many Palestinian activists have pointed out today, hundreds of civilians have been killed by Israeli strikes in the last few years, but it has been a very long time since any Israeli civilians have been killed. On the other hand, these rockets have been used to attack Israel, and they pose a very real threat to the Israeli people, according to the Israeli government.

Right, wrong, or indifferent, it will cost many Palestinian lives to rid Gaza of the Fajr 5 rockets.

2018 GMT: Israel/Palestine. Terror is the word of the night, terror in both southern Israel and also in Gaza, as Israeli air strikes and naval forces pound many locations across the Gaza strip and Hamas operatives (presumably) fire Grad rockets into Israeli towns. A resident of Gaza reports both:

Tel al-Hawa is in Gaza, and the people in the video appear to be civilians.

Beersheeba is in Israel, and while Iron Dome has repelled perhaps as many as 30 rockets in the town already, clearly some have gotten through.

2005 GMT: Israel/Palestine. And now some tough words from the Israeli IDF responded to by Hamas - on Twitter:

1958 GMT: Israel/Palestine. Meanwhile the Israeli bombs keep falling on Gaza:

And some tragic news about reporters working for the BBC:

1948 GMT: Egypt/Israel Egypt will recall its ambassador to Israel, according to reports on Egyptian state TV, appearing to confirm earlier rumours. The Israeli Ambassador to Egypt is expected to be summoned to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry tomorrow, for what a spokesperson of President Morsi reportedly described as a "strong condemnation message"

Meanwhile, more international maneuvering:

1934 GMT: Israel-Palestine. A reader, Amir, shares two videos in the comments section. This first video reportedly shows the result of Israeli air strikes in Gaza. It is unconfirmed, but matches pictures we've seen:

This next video reportedly shows the Israeli "Iron Dome" air defense system firing at rockets (possibly Grad rockets) in Beersheeba.

YNet news reports that several other grad rockets have hit Beersheeba, and elsewhere. They also share their own video of the Iron Dome defending the city:

At around 8 pm Wednesday, some four hours after Israeli aircraft killed top Hamas commander Ahmed Jabari, terrorists in Gaza fired Grad rockets toward Beersheba. Two rockets landed within city limits. One of the rockets hit the city's center and caused damage to a vehicle and stores, but no injuries were reported. At least 20 rockets were fired toward the city.

The Iron Dome air defense system successfully intercepted 15 rockets that were fired toward south Israel from the Hamas-ruled territory. There were reports of rocket fire on Ofakim and the Bnei Shimon Regional Council as well, but rocket landing sites have yet to be located.

Hamas' initial response included the launching of two rockets toward the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council. Resdents were instructed to remain in secure spaces. At around 8:30 pm two more rocket landings were identified in the Eshkol Regional Council.

1925 GMT: Israel-Palestine. Speaking at a televised press conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his Government is prepared to widen the conflict: "Today we sent a clear message to to Hamas and other terrorist organisations, and if it becomes necessary we are prepared to expand the operation."

1922 GMT: Gaza. Pictures of Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jabari, slain today, with Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit --- held captive from 2006 to 2011 --- and with Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal:

1914 GMT: Gaza. Aftermath of Israeli airstrike that killed Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jabari:

1907 GMT: Qatar-Israel-Palestine The Qatari Foreign Minister has said that the Israeli attacks on Gaza "should not pass without a punishment".

Last month, the Emir of Qatar became the first Arab leader to visit the Gaza Strip since Hamas took control there in 2007.

1857 GMT: Gaza. The warning from West Jerusalem:

1850 GMT: Egypt. Activists have staged a pro-Palestine protest in Talaat Harb Square in Cairo, following today's attacks by Israel in Gaza (video). Reported chants include: "It's not a battle over boundaries, it's a battle of existing", "The Palestinian blood is our blood" and "You coward Arab states".

1847 GMT: Egypt-Israel. Egyptian military sources have confirmed to the Egypt Independent that missiles were launched from the border town of Rafah towards an Israeli settlement.

Earlier reports on Israel station Channel 10 had claimed four missiles struck southern Israel, near the Gaza Strip.

1843 GMT: Israel-Palestine. The Israel Defense Forces have confirmed that the Israeli Navy has fired on Gaza. It describes the targets as "terror sites".

They also tweeted this threat:

1840 GMT: Palestine. As hospitals struggle to cope with today's bloodshed, Al Jazeera English journalist Jamal Elshayyal reports that "Al Shifa hospital in Gaza has declared an open and urgent call for blood donations".

1836 GMT: Israel-Palestine. US Pentagon spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Warren has released a statement affirming support for Israel:

We're monitoring the situation closely. We stand by our Israeli partners in their right to defend themselves against terrorism.

1833 GMT: Egypt-Israel. Yesterday, a member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) said that they were working on a draft law to amend the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, giving Egyptian Armed Forces can gain full control over the Sinai Peninsula.

Osama Suleiman, the FJP's secretary general, told AFP that they will present the draft law to President Morsi, to be reviewed in the next Parliament.

1824 GMT: Israel/Palestine. Palestinian sources are saying that an explosion of a house was not that of Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar but of took place in house of Rashid Abu Shabak, another senior figure in Palestinian security forces.

1820 GMT: Israel/Palestine. There are now several reports that Israeli naval forces are also conducting attacks in Gaza:

1743 GMT: Israel/Palestine. A Hamas spokesperson says it is time to declare war on Israel:

“This assassination is a serious crime, and they crossed the red line,” said Fauzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza. “It’s time to declare war.”

Now we'll have to wait and see if Hamas greatly escalates their military activities against Israel. If not, this event may be a relatively minor blip, another hot spot in what has generally been a cold war for years. If Hamas escalates, however, war is exactly what they will get.

1740 GMT: Palestine/Israel. Palestinian Preisdent Mahmoud Abbas has called for an urgent meeting of the Arab League, according to AlArabiya.

1731 GMT: Israel/Palestine. According to IDF's spokesperson, long-range rockets have been a major focus for today's airstrikes:

At around 17:20, the IDF attacked a cache of Fajr missiles, which have a long range and can reach as far as Kfar Sava.

Beyond several strikes that are likely targeted assassinations, it is unclear what the other targets have been, but it is clear that the strikes have been extensive in scope.

1723 GMT: Israel/Palestine. The IDF has released a video of the first airstrike today, the one that targeted and killed Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jabari (see top of entry).

1707 GMT: Israel/Egypt. More tough talk coming from Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood:

Snap analysis - This campaign against Gaza puts the Middle East in an awkward spot. Clearly, "Arab Spring" was, if nothing else, a referendum on human rights. If leaders like Egypt's Morsi, or others in the region, see that their populous views today's events similarly to events in, say, Syria or Libya, then this could force regional leaders to put significant pressure on Israel.

It's too early to speculate, but to say that the region is highly susceptible to instability at the current moment is an understatement.

1700 GMT: Israel/Palestine. There are literally reports of several explosions in either Gaza city of Rafah coming in every minute. To list or keep track of them all would be impossible. It is now clear that the Israeli strikes inside Gaza do not represent a limited action of targeted assassination campaigns but are part of a much larger military campaign against many targets throughout Gaza.

And Israel has dedicated an impressive amount of its arsenal to the air over Gaza:

We have many other reports that confirm that F16s and drones have been used, though the report of APache helicopters is unconfirmed (but, obviously coming from a very credible source).

1647 GMT: Israel/Palestine. Hareetz reports that the IDF has hit Rafah again, with the IDF claiming that the strike killed "two terrorists" riding on motorcycles.

1640 GMT: Israel-Palestine. According to half a dozen sources, the rate of Israeli airstrikes against Gaza has increased to a frenzy in the last half hour or so:

The pictures of the children have yet to be confirmed, though both are also reported by multiple sources.

1635 GMT: Syria. Security forces have arrested a Red Crescent official and ambulance team leader in Damascus without specifying the reason, according to the Syrian National Council.

Mohammed Raed al-Taweel was reportedly arrested last Thursday at a Red Crescent branch in the Abu Rummaneh district.

1634 GMT: Israel/Palestine. EA's John Horne reports:

Putting aside its political problems, the Palestinian Authority is also facing economic difficulties. Christian Science Monitor reports on a growing crisis of funding:

As a result of a dramatic drop off in foreign donor funding, the authority has been failing to pay on time in recent months its 170,000 employees, whose salaries directly support about a quarter of the West Bank and Gaza Strip population. And sometimes, as happened when October salaries were finally disbursed Sunday, the PA makes only partial salary payments.

The outlook for PA wages in the coming months appears stormy at best. The PA faces a $260 million financing shortfall, a lot more than its monthly wage bill, according to the World Bank. With uncertainty about when and how much employees will be paid rippling through the economy, Palestinian economists, joined by the World Bank, fear social unrest, citing a week long outbreak of protests in September over the rising cost of living and a hike in fuel prices.

1628 GMT: Egypt/Israel. Hareetz reports that "Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood calls on president Mohammed Morsi to reassess relationship with Israel".

Yesterday, the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party released a statement calling Israel a "Zionist occupier" and a "racist state". The statement continued

In the framework of elections that Israel is witnessing is a recent military escalation against occupied Gaza and the occupied Golan Heights.

[We call upon Arab and muslim governments] to stop the Zionist war that is operating under electoral calculations for personal gain far from humanitarian calculations for peace, security and stability.

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood itself also released a statement yesterday, saying:

The killing of tens of our innocent Palestinian brothers is part of a link in a chain of oppression and Judaization that seeks to impose itself on the ground, and that will never materialize with God's will.

1621 GMT: Israel-Palestine. Possible confirmation of another death, which has been rumored all day:

1614 GMT: Israel-Palestine. A source of Matt Sienkiewicz sends this report from Rafah, Gaza.

I'm ok. F16s bombing now.. I saw the blood and ruins of people and their dead bodies...

1608 GMT: Israel-Palestine. Israel's Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said that Israel should overthrow the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, if he continues with his bid for UN recognition of Palestine.

In a draft paper which he circulated to journalists, Lieberman wrote:

A reality in which the United Nations recognises a Palestinian state according to a unilateral process will destroy all Israeli deterrence and completely harm its credibility.

Although this step is not simple, considering the implications that Israel will have to deal with, the only other option in this case would be the toppling of Abbas's government … The other option, of containment or a softer response, would be seen as raising a white flag.

Lieberman, of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, and Prime Minister Netanyahu, of Likud, announced last month that they would be joining forces, to compete the forthcoming general election on a single ticket.

1602 GMT: Israel/Palestine. More worries of an all-out war in Gaza, as the number of wounded increase. The BBC's Jon Donnison reports:

1559 GMT: Israel/Palestine. The IDF tweets:

1556 GMT: Israel/Palestine Describing Gaza as a "forward Iranian base", IDF spokesman Yoav Mordechai claims that Israel has struck 20 underground rocket launchers belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in an airstrike.

1552 GMT: Israel/Palestine. Islamic Jihad responds unsuprisingly strongly to Israel's attacks today. Reuters reports the organisation as saying:

Israel has declared war on Gaza and they will bear the responsibility for the consequences.

1549 GMT: Israel/Syria. Earlier today, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu toured the occupied Golan Heights region. The Jerusalem Post reports that Barak told journalists that nearly all of the Syrian villages along the Israeli border are in the hands of rebels. Barak added that the IDF was closely monitoring "the painful crumbling of the Assad regime".

Since Sunday, Israel has twice fired into Syria, claiming that it is responding to shells which have struck territory in the occupied Golan Heights. On Monday, the IDF claimed it had made "direct hits" on Syrian targets. Barak said today that the IDF is working to stop any Syrian fire crossing the border into Israel, "while making more wide-scale preparations for all developments". He continued:

It's very difficult to estimate what will be in Syria in the future, and we need to be alert and ready here, like in other areas.

We are determined to defend our land and our borders. We made that clear to the other side.

1547 GMT: Israel-Palestine.. Citing Palestinian sources, Hareetz reports that Hamas military wing chief in Rafah, Raed al-Atar, has also been killed in IDF strike.

The Jerusalem Post also reports al-Atar's death, citing Israel Radio.

1537 GMT: Israel-Palestine. Charlotte Alfred, a journalist working for Ma'an News, an independent Palestinian news organization, has sent me the following comment.

Multiple airstrikes are ongoing across the Gaza Strip. Ahmad al-Jabari is Hamas' most senior military leader. This is the most serious assassination of a Palestinian figure in years. Qassam [the military wing of Hamas] are furious. Just hours earlier [Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh] was expressing defiance that Israel's assassination threats will amount to nothing.

Rockets -- not much reported right now but they will come

1526 GMT: Israel-Palestine. While the bombs and missiles from Israeli airstrikes are only just starting, so too have the military response from Hamas and others in Gaza:

In fact, while initial responses to these strikes have been independent of a central leadership, Hamas has made statements that are tantamount to a declaration of war against Israel:

"The occupation has opened the gates of hell on itself," said a statement from the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, which vowed its militants would "continue the path of resistance."

There are already reports of rocket attacks against Israel - here are the last 3 updates from the IDF's own liveblog, though the last update was about an hour ago:

4:30 PM: A rocket fired from Gaza hits the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council.

6:00 AM: A rocket fired from Gaza hits southern Israel.

2:10 AM: In response to rocket fire from Gaza, the Israeli Air Force targeted a weapon storage facility in the central Gaza Strip, as well as two launching sites in the northern Gaza Strip.

1518 GMT: Israel-Palestine. An Israel Defense Forces spokesman has put out s statement on the assassination of Hamas's head of military operations Ahmed Jabari in central Gaza. Yoav Mordechai said, "The first aim of this operation is to bring back quiet to southern Israel, and the second target is to strike at terror organizations."

Mordechai described Jabari as a man with "a lot of blood on his hands", as he raised the prospect of more operation. Over the past 48 hours, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz reportedly approved a series of steps following border clashes and the exchanges of Israeli airstrikes and rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel.

"All options are open," Mordechai said. "We are very determined to strike at terror organizations."

1516 GMT: Israel/Palestine. Smoke rises above Gaza:

1510 GMT: Israel/Palestine. This assassination was clearly the opening salvo of a significant military campaign, code name "Operation Pillar of Cloud" against Hamas, according to analysts - and now according to Israel itself:

The air strikes are already intensifying:

1451 GMT: Israel/Palestine. More reactions from journalists and Israel/Palestine watchers:

Regardless of the reasons, which are many, or the potential fallout, there appears to be more escalation of violence at this very minute:

1440 GMT: Israel/Palestine. The assassination of Hamas commander Ahmed al-Jabri is huge news, but just yesterday Netanyahu and several other government and military officials suggested that targeted assassinations could begin again:

"Whoever believes they can harm the daily lives of the residents of the south and not pay a heavy price is mistaken. I am responsible for choosing the right time to collect the highest price and so it shall be," Netanyahu said.

Defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential discussions, said the assassination of Hamas leaders is shaping up as the preferred response to the stepped-up rocket fire.

They have the backing of two former military chiefs with experience in the matter.

1427 GMT: Israel/Palestine. A major news alert:

This is breaking news - details to follow.

James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us through to the afternoon.

1405 GMT Syria. Footage of a burning regime tank in the Damascus suburbs today:

1135 GMT Turkey. On its 64th day, Turkish Deputy PM Bulent Arinc called on prisoners on hunger strike to give up. Arinc said: "You are valuable to us… We have respect for the right to life of 75 million citizens [in this country]."

1115 GMTSyria. Blogger Brown Moses notes pictures indicating insurgents have captured SA-16 shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missiles and also have an SA-24 system, the latest generation of Russian-made missile.

0900 GMT Syria. Several reports indicate Turkey is reinforcing its troops near the Kurdish border town of Ain al-Arab (Kobani), as Kurds leave nearby villages.

Supporters of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) fear that Turkey will try to send insurgents of the Free Syrian Army into the area, after regime forces carried out three days of bombing and shelling in ano attempt to retake Ras al-Ain.

Latest reports indicate the regime's aerial bombardment is continuing today.

0855 GMT Iraq. Prashant Rao of AFP reports on continued difficulties for investment in the country:


Excessive red tape, rampant corruption, an unreliable judicial system and still-inadequate security, as well as a poorly trained workforce and a state-dominated economy all continue to plague Iraq, which completed its biggest trade fair in 20 years last week to much domestic acclaim.


The various difficulties of doing business in Iraq cast doubt on efforts to raise $1 trillion (788 billion euros) in investment income over the coming decade that officials say is needed to rebuild its battered economy....

A recent World Bank report listed a litany of problems: a tiny private sector, limited access to loans, an exodus of educated Iraqis, decades of isolation from global trade, destroyed infrastructure, unsteady power and water supplies and a poor transport network.

In addition to securing and stabilising the country, these key challenges must be addressed in order for Iraq to truly fulfil its economic potential,” it noted.


A survey of firms conducted by the bank, which ranks Iraq as the 165th worst country in the world to do business, listed the three biggest obstacles as poor electricity supply, political instability and corruption.

Overall, Iraqi firms lose around 22 percent of their sales to what the World Bank classes as “investment climate weakness,” a greater figure than losses suffered by companies in Yemen, Lebanon, Libya, Egypt, Jordan or Morocco.

0835 GMT Bahrain. An EA correspondent and activists report that Said Yousif, the Acting Vice President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, has been released after almost two weeks in detention.

Yousif was seized early this month as he participated in an opposition protest.

0811 GMT Iraq. A series of car bombs and a roadside explosion have killed at least 20 people.

The deadliest blasts occurred in Kirkuk in northern Iraq, where at least nine people were killed and 39 wounded.

South of Baghdad, in the village of Methatiya, near Hilla, a car bomb exploded in a marketplace, killing at least ten and injuring nine.

In Baghdad, a car bomb targeting an army general's convoy blew up near the Palestine Hotel, killing a guard. General Qassim Nouri, in charge of security at the Baghdad municipality, was unhurt.

0805 GMT Jordan. Protests were held across the country on Tuesday night over price rises of basic goods, with demonstrators burning tyres, smashing traffic lights and blocking roads as riot police used tear gas.

in Amman, thousands of demonstrators filled the circle outside the Ministry of Interior near midnight, chanting, “The people want the fall of the regime." In Dhiban, a town of 15,000 people south of the capital, protesters burned pictures of King Abdullah II. In Salt, demonstrators destroyed two cars outside the Prime Minister’s home, which was empty.

King Abdullah has ordered electoral reforms ahead of a Parliamentary vote in January, after he dissolved Parliament and appointed the fourth Prime Minister in a year, and he established a constitutional court. Critics have rejected the measures as insufficient, given that the King appoints judges and that dozens of activists have been jailed.

Facing a $3 billion deficit, the Government tried to reduce fuel subsidies in September, but withdrew them a day later after thousands took to the streets. Late Tuesday, the Cabinet again announced a drop in subsidies that would result in increases of 14% on petrol and more than 50% in cooking gas.

0615 GMT Syria. Two days after it was announced in Qatar, the opposition Syrian National Coalition received its first international endorsements on Tuesday.

"France recognises the Syrian National Coalition as the only representative of the Syrian people and therefore as the future provisional government of a democratic Syria," President Francois Hollande told a press conference in Paris.

The question of arming the rebels would be considered as soon as the opposition formed a transitional government: "On the question of weapons deliveries, France did not support it as long as it wasn't clear where these weapons went. With the coalition, as soon as it is a legitimate government of Syria, this question will be looked at by France, but also by all countries that recognise this government."

The six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council --- Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Oman --- had already recognised the Coalition. The Arab League also said the Coalition is "the legitimate representative of the Syrian people's aspirations".

In Cairo on Tuesday, Arab League and European Union foreign ministers issued a statement: "The ministers welcomed the formation of the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces. They called on all opposition groups to adhere to the national coalition and on the national coalition to engage with all sections of Syrian society." said a statement issued at the close of the meeting held in Cairo on Tuesday.

Attention may now turn to London on Friday, where the British Government will host an international meeting on aid to the opposition. British Foreign Secretary William Hague called on the new leadership "to demonstrate they are acting on behalf of all Syria's communities. The more progress the coalition makes towards those goals, the greater practical support it will have from the United Kingdom."

Hague made clear that support of the opposition outside the United Nations, rather than efforts within the UN to resolve the crisis, was now the priority: "Our encourage the UN Seucrity Council to take on its responsibilities have been vetoed by Russia and China. In the absence of such progress, we will increase our support to Syrian opposition groups."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius both met the head of the Coalition, Moaz al-Khatib, on Tuesday.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced an additional $30 million of humanitarian aid to Syria, bringing the total to $200 million. She said, "As the Syrian opposition takes these steps and demonstrates its effectiveness in advancing the cause of a unified, democratic, pluralistic Syria, we will be prepared to work with them to deliver assistance to the Syrian people,”

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