Sheik Abdul-Aziz bin Mubarak al-Khalifa, a Government spokesman and member of the Royal Family, struggles to justify the regime's action in an interview on Britain's Channel 4
See also Bahrain Special: The Body of Salah Abbas Habib --- Burns, Broken Bones, & Riddled With Birdshot br>
Syria Wired: The Latest from Social Media and EA's Readers br>
Turkey Live Coverage (23 April): The Kurdish Issue, Iraq, and the Region br>
Monday's Bahrain, Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Failure Beyond the Grand Prix
2210 GMT: The spokesperson for Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, has released the following statement on Bahrain, raising specific concerns over the continued detention of Abdulhadi AlKhawaja:
The Secretary-General remains concerned about the situation in Bahrain, particularly with regard to the continuing clashes between security forces and protesters which have resulted in more casualties. He reiterates his appeal to all sides for utmost restraint and an immediate end to the violence.
The Secretary-General also calls on the Bahraini authorities to fully respect the fundamental human rights of the Bahraini people, including due process concerning all detainees.
In this regard, he is concerned about the situation of Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who remains on a hunger strike in detention. The Secretary-General once again urges the Bahraini authorities to resolve Mr. Al-Khawaja’s case based on due process and humanitarian considerations without any further delay.
1928 GMT: In Syria, the Local Coordinating Committee in Zabadani, another suburb of Damascus that has suffered greatly at the hands of the Syrian regime, released a statement today suggesting that UN monitors are not protecting civilians, and those who do speak to them are doing so at great personal risk - probably to no avail:
Monday, April 23, and met with opposition activists. The meeting lasted 10 minutes.
Upon their arrival, only three of the monitors emerged from the UN vehicle: the head of the mission, an Indian; a Brazilian monitor; and a third, a Moroccan, Col. Ahmad Hamishi. The rest of the observers remained in the vehicle.
When we requested that Col. Hamishi receive the lists of detainees, some of whom had been detained for 8 months, and lists of local martyrs and their causes of death, he refused, explaining that it was not part of his mission.
After that, we asked him to take possession of our activists' Google Earth satellite images of the map of Zabadany. The images show clearly where heavy military equipment is stationed in the city, and where tanks and artillery equipment are deployed; this equipment has a range of approximately 45 kilometers. Col. Hamishi refused to accept the images, providing no reason for his refusal.
When we informed him that we had risked our lives to meet him, and were ready to accompany him so that he could see with his own eyes the widespread military checkpoints, he refused, saying he did not have the time.
As he walked to his car to leave, after fewer than 10 minutes with us, one of our activists pointed to a house in which a wall had been destroyed during Assad forces' bombing. Col. Hamishi informed us that he did not believe that the damage was the effect of shelling, and that his position was justified by the fact that the house had not completely burned down.
When the mother of a missing person approached to request that he return her son, he refused to listen to her, and informed her that he did not know Arabic.
After that, the UN observers' delegation met with a regime delegation made up of Intelligence agents and shabiha. The regime representatives informed the UN observers that there was no military or tank deployment in the city - even though they would have had to pass through checkpoints to reach the area where the opposition activists were gathered.
It is important to note that the Syrian Intelligence agents listed the names of the activists who met with the UN delegation, and listed those activists as armed and dangerous criminals who must be prosecuted and executed.
Samira Rajab, a Shi'ite Arab nationalist who says the Shi'ite-dominated opposition will open Bahrain to Iranian influence, said she would promote reform and free speech and denied that state media ignores the opposition.
"They are always invited to talk on Bahrain TV but it is they who reject taking part because they want to say that they are being shut out," Rajab told Reuters, adding she would work with the government's Information Affairs Authority chief. Both have cabinet positions as ministers.
So who is Samira Rajab? According to activists, she is a Saddam Hussein supporter who is known to spout anti-Israeli rhetoric, and she is a well-known sectarian. Mohammed Haider Ghuloum reports on his blog:
Sameera Rajab in a famous editorial eulogizing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein after his execution in Baghdad. She has been a consistent supporter of the al-Khalifa regime and a mouthpiece for some years now. Rajab replaces Shaikha Mai al-Khalifa who had a ‘breakdown’ last week and left the puppet so-called ‘rump minority parliament’ in tears. Mai al-Khalifa opined that there are no men in the parliament controlled by her family: she was right on that one.
Other activists have also picked up on this narrative:
1845 GMT: Al Jazeera shows satellite images and speaks to military analysts who discuss the strategic importance of the fall of Idlib, a key city that was once nearly completely occupied by the Free Syrian Army:
12 martyrs in Homs, 7 martyrs in Damascus Suburbs (most of them in Douma as a result of the heavy shelling on the city), 3 martyrs in Damascus, 3 martyrs in Idlib, 2 martyrs in Halfaya in Hama, 1 martyr in Daraa, 1 martyr in Aleppo, and 1 martyr in Bokamal.
1816 GMT: According to the Local Coordinating Committees of Syria, 6 people have been killed so far in Douma, just northwest of Damascus, however that number may rise. The LCCS has written a letter to the UN, demanding the immediate intervention of the UN monitors in order to stop the shelling, as the situation continues to decay. This report was published less than 15 minutes ago:
What is happening now is that we have a tragic situation and sustained shelling, which has signficantly increased since the morning hours, and which increased in intensity and force as of 4:00 pm, with an average of four shells per minute. Dozens of wounded and martyrs have been reported during the past 3 hours. A large number of them are still under rubble and most homes in the city have been subjected to shelling and destruction. More than 30 tanks are now shelling the city.
The videos below, sent to us by contacts, show the extent of the damage by the afternoon:
Looking at a map, it is hard to imagine this level of violence this close to the capital, especially since there are UN monitors on the ground. Douma is only 6-7 miles from the center of Damascus, and is perhaps the most important suburban hub in the area. To give those who are familiar with Washington, DC, an idea of how dramatic these videos are, imagine a major suburb, like Silver Spring or Bethesda, Maryland, or Arlington, Virginia, on fire, being shelled by the military.
While it is possible, there was no indication of any Free Syrian Army action that could have triggered this kind of attack.
1735 GMT: Smoke rising from the Damascus suburb of Douma today, allegedly because of shelling by the Syrian military:
A tank opens fire, then gunshots in the direction of the cameramen, in Douma:
Meanwhile, a demonstration at Aleppo University challenging the regime:
And a loud rally in Harak in Daraa Province:
1725 GMT: A march in Bahrain today in support of detained hunger striker Abdulhadi Alkhawaja on Day 75 of his hunger strike:
Witnesses have claimed that police have used tear gas and water cannon to disperse hundreds of protesters in one of the rallies. The demonstrators were trying to reach Pearl Roundabout, the focal point of the uprising last year.
1713 GMT: Activist Maryam Alkhawaja brings news of more regime pressure on "human rights defender" Nabeel Rajab and attorneys, for example, over statements about last weekend's death, allegedly at the hands of security forces, of Salah Abbas Habib:
1553 GMT: The family of political activist Abdulhadi AlKhawaja, who has been on hunger strike for more than 70 days, fears that every time the government blocks their ability to speak with Abdulhadi, the worst has happened:
1515 GMT: The Coalition of Free Damascenes for Peaceful Change (CFDPC), an organization of Syrian activists who report on conditions in and around the Syrian capital, shares these videos reportedly taken today in Douma. The important suburb just northwest of the capital has been host to some extremely impressive protests over the last week (and, really, the last 13 months) and was stormed by regime forces today:
1505 GMT: A prominent Bahraini activist living in Sweden, Sayed Mohamed, has spoken to the minister of the Swedish Foreign Affairs office, Carl Bildt. Sayed Mohamed sent EA this email transcript of their exchange at the Stockholm internet Freedom for Global Development:
[Sayed Mohamed asked the Foreign Minister] to take a stronger stance towards the Bahraini-Swedish citizen ( Mohamed Habib Almuqadad, who has so far been sentenced to 97 years of imprisonment), as the Danish Foreign Minister has put great effort in an attempt to get the Bahraini-Danish citizen Abdulhadi Alkhwaja released and bring him back to Denmark.
FM minister respond was that: “we have taken strong stances in the beginning and his case was transferred from the military tribunal to a civilian tribunal.”
Sayed has further asked the Foreign Minister to stop arming the two dictator regimes, Bahrain and Saudi, and [because of] the fact that the Saudis have sent their troops across to Bahrain to suppress the popular uprising and the troops and are still present in Bahrain, [Sayed] also criticized him for the Swedish government's double standard policy towards Bahrain and Syria.
The Foreign Minister's response was “this is different” with no further comment!!!
7 martyrs died in Homs, 3 in Damascus, 2 martyrs in Damascus Suburbs (KafarBatna and Douma), 2 in Hama (Halfaya), and one martyr each in Daraa, Aleppo and Bokamal.
Also, according to some sources the UN monitors have returned to Hama, where yesterday at least 50 people were killed. A video claims to show women speaking to the monitors in Aerbeen, a neighborhood in northern Hama that saw the majority of yesterday's violence.
According to activists, residents of Hama spoke to the UN observers on Sunday, sparking the widespread reprisal attacks yesterday.
1422 GMT: One of the most complicated countries in the Middle East is arguably Yemen, a country in the midst of an uprising, an internal political struggle, and a war on Al-Qaeda. These stories, however, rarely stay separate.
Today, a senior Al Qaeda member, Mohammed al Umda, was killed in a US drone strike in central Yemen. Also, Yemeni forces recaptured the city in Zinjibar, held by Al Qaeda operatives since last May. At the same time, the director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Robert Mueller, is in Yemen to strategize the war on militants, as the Obama administration continues to ramp up its efforts in the country.
All of this is happening as the people in the street continue to rally in demand of reforms (and a better economy), and Yemen's new leader, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, has struggled to navigate the post-Saleh political landscape, as spelled out by Kareem Fahim of the New York Times
The latest troubles started after Mr. Hadi's most far-reaching confrontation with the old guard. In a decision announced on a weekend, Mr. Hadi said he was replacing or reassigning about 20 top military commanders and the governors of four provinces, a purge that included several of Mr. Saleh's loyalists. The former president's half-brother, Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar, who commanded the air force and has refused to leave, was accused of shutting down the airport in protest. He and other officials denied he was responsible.
"Hadi is playing a balancing game," said April Longley Alley, a Yemen-based analyst for the International Crisis Group. "He went after the Saleh side, because militarily, they were more powerful."
No matter what happens, there remain two realities across much of Yemen - protests in the streets and hunger in the bellies, as Yemen's political, economic, security, and ecological problems have caused widespread famine, and child starvation.
These protests took part in Sanaa on Monday:
1405 GMT: If you're on Twitter today, or you're reading any other Middle-East centric websites, you've probably already read, or at least heard about, the article that Mona Eltahawy published on Foreign Policy entitled "Why Do They Hate Us," "They referring to Arab men and "Us" referring to women.
The response has been heated, on both sides. Eltahawy clearly wrote was on the minds of some women, but there has been (at least) an equal amount of push back. Eltahawy has been called anti-Islamic, prone to generalization, a radical feminist, a Zionist... the list goes on. The Guardian has already collected a few of the heated responses today on their live-blog.
We won't respond at length here, but it's definitely worth the read - With Mona Eltahawy's calendar filling up quickly, you'll probably want to read it before she is interviewed it on your favorite talk-show, newspaper, or blog.
1355 GMT: The video below was reportedly taken in Al Harak, a town northwest of Daraa. While it is often the site of regime raids (and very defiant, surprisingly large anti-government protests) today it appears that it was raided by regime tanks. According to the LCCS, the regime has set up checkpoints and is firing into the town.
This is just another sign of how the Assad military is not in withdrawal, but rather is on the move. Since the UN's deadline for troop withdrawal, every day has seen a shifting landscape of reports of violence, raids, and civilian casualties. While some areas (like Homs) are attacked nearly every day, elsewhere the Assad military is moving from town to town, indicating that the military presence throughout the Syria countryside is widespread, not isolated.
In fact, very little has changed since the alleged implementation of the Kofi Annan peace plan - though the day to day patterns of violence are constantly in motion, they were often in motion before the peace plan was supposed to take place. It is hard to see how the regime, or those observing it, can say with a straight face that things have gotten better. In fact, many activists report that things have gotten worse.
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for taking us through to the afternoon.
1305 GMT: The office of Catherine Ashton, the European Union's High Representative for foreign affairs has issued a statement of concern about detained human rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, now on Day 75 of his hunger strike:
The High Representative is very worried by the postponement of the hearing of Mr Abdulhadi Al Khawaja until 30 April.
As stated in her Declaration on behalf of the EU on 17 April, she is deeply concerned about the deteriorating health of Mr Al Khawaja, who has been on hunger strike since the beginning of February. She notes that the postponement of Mr Al Khawaja’s judicial case by one week makes these concerns even more serious.
The High Representative once again urges the Bahraini authorities to find a rapid, pragmatic humanitarian solution to Mr. Al Khawaja’s case, as a matter of absolute urgency.
1245 GMT: Activist Rami Jarrar reports on the detention of a prominent Syrian writer:
Salameh Keleh is a member of the Syrian Writers Association which declared its stance against the ongoing killings of civilians #Syria— Alexander Page (@AlexanderPageSY) April 24, 2012
Both men defied the order, and troops supporting al-Ahmar surrounded Sanaa's airport and threatened to shoot down planes, forcing its closure for one day.
The airport was reopened after international and regional powers voiced support for Hadi.
A ministerial committee approved Bruchin and Rechelim, in the north, and Sansana, near Hebron in the south, with a total of about 830 residents.
The Palestinian Authority strongly condemned the decision. "Every single settlement built on Palestinian land is illegal," chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said.
Claimed footage of heavy fire in the area:
1122 GMT: Syrian State news agency SANA reports this morning's bomb (see 0905), placed under a car, near Marjah Square in central Damascus injured the driver. It gives no further information.
SANA also reports that "an armed terrorist group" assassinated a retired Lieutenant Colonel and his brother in Jedaydet al-Fadel in Damascus Province.
1028 GMT: Interpol has rejected the Egyptian regime's demand for the arrest of 15 foreigners --- 12 US citizens, two Lebanese and one Jordanian --- linked to non-governmental organisations in the country.
Cairo has cracked down on foreign-supported NGOs since December, raiding offices and putting 43 people on trial.
State media reported on Monday that Egypt has refused to license eight US civil groups, including the election-monitoring Carter Centre.
1022 GMT: Al Jazeera English reports the network of field clinics in Syria, set up for injured insurgents and civilians --- who can be detained on suspicion of helping the opposition --- fearful of going to public hospitals:
0905 GMT: Syrian State TV is reporting that a car bomb has exploded in Marjeh Square in central Damascus, injuring three people.
An Iranian website is claiming the bomb targeted the Iranian Cultural Attache's office.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said three regime intelligence officers were killed in the Damascus suburb of Barzeh.
State news agency SANA claims "armed terrorist groups" have carried out a series of assassinations, including a doctor and a Lieutenant Colonel in Daraa Province and a Colonel and Warrant Officer in Hama Province.
The approval, before the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission issues the final list of eligible presidential candidates on 26 April, could lead to the elimination of former Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq from the ballot.
0900 GMT: Jordanian authorities have arrested journalist Jamal Muhataseb, owner of Gerasa News and chief editor of the Marra weekly newspaper, who published that the Royal Court abused its power by protecting a former Cabinet Minister from indictment.
Muhataseb also faces charges of disseminating "anti-regime sentiment".
Jordan's Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists condemned the arrest."The state security court should not look into issues related to press and publication. We call for the immediate release of Muhtaseb. His detention violates press freedom," said the head of the Jordanian Press Association Tareq Momani.
The boy's lawyer was informed on Monday that the Juvenile Court does not allow defendants to lodge an appeal.
The US Sunni strategy in the Gulf enables Bahrain’s ruling al-Khalifa dynasty’s continued repression of its citizens; pits the US against pro-democracy forces in the region; and aligns Washington with Riyadh’s counter-revolution sectarian policies. The strategy is shortsighted, undermines US standing in the region and is destined to fail.
The strategy is based on the false assumption that the Sunni world is monolithic and that Shia Arab communities all turn to Iran for theological guidance and political support. In reality, Sunni Muslims have diverse cultural, political and social goals and are not preoccupied, as some Gulf rulers are, with anti-Shia or anti-Iran rhetoric and policies. Meanwhile, Bahraini and Saudi Shia do not consider Iran their point of reference.
Invented in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, the Sunni strategy was presented to the west as a defence plan against Iran. Unfortunately, Washington bought this bogus claim lock, stock and barrel for misconceived regional security considerations.
Benkirane said on Sunday, after his government's plan to reform State television was criticised by figures close to the palace, "The Arab Spring is not over yet. It (the Arab Spring) is still wandering about and may feel like coming back."
The Prime Minister continued, "In this country, even the monarchy itself needs citizens who seek reform ....Kings are not always surrounded by the right kind of people, they can actually be surrounded by foes who become the first to desert them."
0653 GMT: Another passage from the article by John Yates (see 0525 GMT), the former Assistant Chief of London's police now overseeing Bahrain's forces, as he tries to explain that criticism of the regime is unwarranted:
The death over the weekend of Salah Abbas al-Qattan, an anti-government protester, is also a powerful reminder of the tragic consequences of the unrest. However, the determination of the police chief to establish how Salah died and the level of resources now being applied to the investigation is testament to the new resolve to fix things.
One notes --- given that Salah's body was burned, his bones were broken, and he was riddled with birdshot (see separate feature) --- Yates' implicit blame of his fate on protesters, rather than the police who pursued and allegedly shot and beat him.
0647 GMT: Al Jazeera English highlights Yemenis, nicknamed Akhdam (servant), who remain a marginalised caste despite recent political changes --- they are often confined to living in slums and working in menial jobs.
0637 GMT: The Washington Post notes the challenge to Israel's practice of "administrative detention" from prisoners who are on hunger strike.
Under administrative detention, a Palestinian can be held indefinitely without charge. The imprisonment is based on secret intelligence withheld from detainees and their attorneys.
The longest strike has been 66 days by Khader Adnan, a member of Islamic Jihad, who ended the fast after he was guaranteed release. He returned home last week. Of the thousands of Palestinians who have been held over the decades, about 320 --- almost 50% more than one year ago --- are currently detained.
An Israeli security official maintains the practice is used only in cases in which the detainee presents a “clear and imminent danger,” and when divulging evidence could expose informants or intelligence-gathering methods: “We’re fully aware of the problem, but there is no other option. We can’t trust this information going outside, even to a person’s lawyer.”
0633 GMT: Maan News Agency claims, from "network security experts", that the Palestinian Authority has instructed Internet providers to block access to eight news websites whose reporting is critical of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas.
The outlets were rendered unavailable to many Internet users in the West Bank after technicians at the Palestinian Telecommunications Company tweaked a US-developed software called Squid to return error pages.
0525 GMT: We open Bahrain coverage by noting the attempts of regime officials to justify their detentions and use of force over the Grand Prix weekend and even to explain that all is well
John Yates, the former Assistant Chief of London's police tapped by the monarchy to oversee Bahrain's forces, is given space in the Daily Telegraph:
So, the Grand Prix in Bahrain is over. The teams have packed up and the circus has moved on. They have a left a small nation feeling bewildered. Bewildered at the level of ignorance about what is really happening here, at the level of animosity and bile, at the media bias. And bewildered that so many in the UK, a long-standing friend and ally for two centuries, could so readily swallow everything opposition groups and activists were saying.
I do not mean to trivialise the situation in Bahrain. There remain difficulties, all of which require political solutions. But this is not Syria.
The abiding image I have of the Grand Prix last weekend was of thousands of people enjoying themselves at the post‑event parties. Yet the media reports in Britain told a different story. Headlines suggested that the country was in flames and that there was a serious safety risk to the Formula One teams.
Putting out the line of a regime carrying out reforms, Yates plays with the important statistics --- "thirty-five people died during the unrest last year, and some of those deaths were at the hands of the security forces" (activists claim --- and the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry's report supports --- that all but a few of the victims were slain by police and that the number is now 85) --- and concludes, "I am bewildered by the level of criticism aimed at a nation that has acknowledged its mistakes, but has plans in place to put things right."
Not all the regime efforts have fared well, however. Sheik Abdul-Aziz bin Mubarak al-Khalifa, a Government spokesman and member of the Royal Family, is taken to task by Jon Snow of Britain's Channel 4 as he tries to explain that "all drama aside", there are no problems and all journalists were allowed to operate freely.
Snow's reply, in the context of a Channel 4 team and Bahraini activists who were seized on Sunday night, "That's absolute nonsense.....This was an abnormal event." (See video at top of entry.)
0515 GMT: Addressing the United Nations Security Council on Monday, the head of the UN's political affairs, Lynn Pascoe, said, ""The cessation of armed violence [in Syria] remains incomplete."
Amid the day's development, "incomplete" verges on the bureaucratically insensitive. Activists said 80 people had died across the country, including 50 in Hama. Some of those activists argued that the residents of Syria's fourth-largest city were being punished because they had dared host UN monitors on Syria.
An advance team of several observers arrived last week, and the mission will grow to 300 over forthcoming weeks. Meanwhile, Pascoe put out the aspiration, "Too many lives have been lost, human rights violations are still perpetrated with impunity. It is our hope that the deployment of observers will help to stop the killing and consolidate the calm."