UN observers arrive in the Damascus suburb of Douma today
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Tuesday's Syria, Bahrain (and Beyond) Live Coverage: 80 Dead As UN Says Ceasefire "Incomplete"
2245 GMT: The US State Department has issued a statement expressing their deep concerns about the "increase in violence in Bahrain". This follows a renewal of their travel alert to Americans traveling to Bahrain, released earlier in the day. The State Department has been noticeably quiet on Bahrain in the past fortnight, following the US Ambassador's visits to the Defense Minister and Prime Minister on April 10th and 11th. Indeed, with the exception of a question on Friday about safety at the F1, Bahrain hasn't merited a mention in the recent daily State Department Press Briefings, despite the noticeable escalation in violence, suppression and regime intransigence.
The statement goes on to "urge the [Bahrain] government to consider urgently all available options to resolve the case of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja". With serious concerns about the current condition of AlKhawaja, who has been cut off from his family, his lawyer and the Danish Ambassador, this specific call by the State Department is a strong indication that they are very worried about the possibility of his death and the consequence that could have for the situation in Bahrain. However, with AlKhawaja now on day 77 of his hunger strike, such a call from the State Department may very well be too little too late.
The statement reads in full:
We are deeply concerned about the increase in violence in Bahrain, including the recent death of a protester, as well as the explosion last night that injured four policemen, two critically. We welcome the Ministry of Interior’s investigation into these incidents and look forward to seeing appropriate action taken to hold those responsible for these acts of violence to account.
We condemn the use of violence in all its forms – whether against peaceful demonstrators or police and government institutions – and urge all parties to reject such actions. Violent acts are counterproductive to efforts to rebuild trust and pursue meaningful reconciliation in Bahrain. We call on the Government of Bahrain to permit peaceful protest and to exercise maximum restraint in maintaining order, just as we call on all those demonstrating to do so peacefully.
As a longstanding partner, we continue to urge the Government of Bahrain to fully implement the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, including the need to commute the sentences of those charged with offenses involving peaceful political expression and to review all sentences rendered in State of National Safety Courts in a way that ensures the fundamental principles of a fair trial are respected. Specifically, we urge the government to consider urgently all available options to resolve the case of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja. We also renew our call for the government, opposition parties, and all segments of Bahraini society to engage in a genuine dialogue leading to meaningful reforms that address the legitimate aspirations of all Bahrainis.
1830 GMT: Mohamed AlJishi, lawyer for Abdulhadi AlKhawaja, updates on the severity of the situation. The MOI tweet earlier, claiming that AlKhawaja was "in good heath [and] in hospital receiving full medical care", is according to AlJishi lacking "evidence as all facts do not show that". As well denying AlKhawaja's family access to him, AlJishi adds that authorities have also cut "all connection" with himself "as well as denying the Danish Ambassador access". He contined:
& each gov bodies claims they don't hv authority 2 provide us with infos reg Al Khawaja including BDF hospital & jail admin.#Bahrain— Mohamed Al Jishi (@Mohamed_AlJishi) April 25, 2012
1745 GMT: The BBC reports on comments made by Alain Juppe, the French Foreign Minister, concerning future actions toward Syria which raised the possibility of force should a mission of UN monitors fail:
"We cannot allow the [Damascus] regime to defy us," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.
Violence has continued despite a plan by international envoy Kofi Annan calling on Damascus to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from cities.
Mr Juppe said 300 UN monitors should be deployed in Syria within two weeks.
If the peace plan fails, he added, "we would have to move to a new stage with a Chapter Seven resolution" - which allows for action that could be backed by force - "to stop this tragedy".
1720 GMT: Earlier today, Bahrain human rights activist Maryam AlKhawaja spoke to the European Parliament about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Bahrain. She began her comments by noting the wider regional struggle for human rights in the Gulf, arguing that the "West" needs to start dealing with Gulf states in terms of populations not monarchies.
1710 GMT: The current condition and location of Abdulhadi AlKhawaja remains in question. Concerned activists and individuals on Twitter are using the hashtag #WhereIsKhawaja to raise awareness. Whilst the family still have not received any contact from authorities, the Ministry of Information responded to the reports on Twitter, however their claim that a man on the 77nd day of a hunger strike is in "good health" is questionable:
Abdulhadi Al Khawaja is in good health despite rumors. He is in hospital receiving full medical care #Bahrain— Ministry of Interior (@moi_bahrain) April 25, 2012
AlKhawaja's daughter Zainab is also being held by Bahraini authorities following her arrest last week. Amnesty International have just released the following statement calling for her immediate release:
Bahraini activist Zainab Al-Khawaja was arrested on 21 April for protesting against the detention of her father, who has been on hunger strike for over two months. Amnesty International is calling for her immediate and unconditional release.
1528 GMT: NPR's Ahmed al Omran shares this video:
The arrival of observers in Douma is good news for the residents of the city, as the area has been under heavy bombardment since yesterday afternoon. In fact, yesterday the situation was so dire that the Local Coordinating Committees of Syria asked the United Nations to send observers to Douma as quickly as possible in order to avert further bloodshed.
1426 GMT: Previously, we had written about Bahrain's new information minister, Samira Rajab. Ms. Rajab has a reputation of being a sectarian, and a big fan of Saddam Hussein's, an odd choice (well, perhaps not really) for a regime trying to improve its international and domestic image.
Well, the Christian Science Monitor has a comprehensive write-up of the controversy:
How strange? The public-image manager for a key US ally is a fan of Saddam Hussein, who was deposed by US troops and executed by the Iraqi government in 2006, and has frequently attacked the US role in the region.
How much of a fan? Ms. Rajab wrote after Hussein's execution that he was a "martyr" and a "freedom fighter" who had defied "Anglo-American arrogance." She characterized the US war in Iraq as the work of "crusaders" and praised Hussein's past efforts to obtain a nuclear weapon.
In May 2007, then US Ambassador to Bahrain William Monroe, wrote in a confidential cable released by Wikileaks that Rajab was the "driving force" behind a three-day conference in the Bahraini capital that had ended up focusing on the grievances of Sunni Arab and Baathist Iraqis.
What was meant to be a pan-Arab nationalist conference ended up focusing on figures then resisting the rise of the Shiite-dominated government in Iraq, and the sectarian overtones of the talk created a minor local controversy.
The article goes on to say that one of the speakers at the event was encouraging building closer ties with Al Qaeda. CSM also points out that Ms. Rajab once stated that the 9/11 attacks were a "fabricated operation."
Consider the article, written by Dan Murphy, an EA Must-Read.
1409 GMT: The Guardian finds this video showing UN monitors talking to civilians (in English) in Homs:
Two UN monitors in Homs have been filmed confirming that they will be based in the city and that more will be arriving in the coming weeks.
Speaking to activists in the city today, one of unnamed observers said in English: "We are two now and more in the future". He added: "Our task here is to build a mechanism for observation."
Explaining the mission to an activist the monitor appealed for patience. He talked for trying to "build trust" in "small steps".
Blue-helmeted monitors were also filmed meeting leaders of the Free Syrian Army in Homs.
1402 GMT: A cargo ship suspected of carrying illegal weapons to Syria has been cleared by Turkish officials to travel to Syria, and then on to Montenegro. According to the AP, Turkish officials said that only civilian goods were found on board.
1337 GMT: The very presence of international observers can endanger those who speak with them, leaving many activists wondering whether the UN monitors are worth the risks. On Monday, 50 people were killed in Hama after security forces raided and shelled several neighborhoods. However, activists claim that those attacks were retaliation for residents speaking with observers on Sunday.
The security situation in the city is getting worse in conjunction with the arrival of the observers: A delegation of international observers of the city this morning suddenly and stationed at the yard of the old mosque. When people knew of their arrival, they began to try to reach to the team's place but indiscriminate fire was opened from the barriers to prevent people to talk to the team. This led to the injury of a citizen by security forces, and observers moved to the southern neighborhood after the shooting calmed a bit. However, it is still difficult for the people and activists to meet with observers because of the intensity of security barriers in the southern neighborhood.
Also, there are reports about the departure of the observers but was not able to confirm it due to the difficult security situation.
1332 GMT: James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for holding down the fort this morning.
Kofi Annan is concerned about the situation in Syria. He should be. After another day of escalated violence, particularly in the suburbs of Damascus, the LCCS, a network of activists working to document the uprising, and Assad's crimes, reports that 18 people have been killed by regime forces already today:
Six Martyrs in Idlib, four martyrs in Harasta and Douma in Damascus Suburbs, two martyrs in Aleppo, two martyrs in Hama, two martyrs in Daraa, one martyr in Deir Ezzor and one martyr in Rastan in Homs.
So far we are missing the dramatic headlines that the last two days have held, however, activists still claim the regime is once again guilty of relatively widespread violence.
1227 GMT: Activists claim Syrian security forces shot dead four civilians travelling on a bus at a roadblock near Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib Province on Wednesday. They added that five more people, including a child, had died in violence in Harasta, Douma, Deir ez Zor Province, and Rastan.
A shell strikes in Douma today:
1220 GMT: Ahead of June elections, Libya's National Transitional Council has approved laws banning political parties that have a religious, tribal or regional platform or that receive any foreign funding.
The Libya Herald speculates on the effect on the more than 50 parties formed since the fall of the Qaddafi regime. It believes it is "unlikely" to affect the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party, which claims it is open to both Brotherhood members and non-Brotherhood members alike. However, there may be questions over the Nation Party of Abdul-Hakim Belhaj, the leader of the Tripoli Military Council, and the Reform and Development party set up by religious leaders in Benghazi.
The National Federal Bloc party which has declared Cyrenaica in eastern Libya as aself-autonomous region could also be blocked.
1155 GMT: Concern about detained human rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, on Day 76 of his hunger strike, is growing:
#Bahrain Iam waiting since 8.30 and no call.BDF, MIO where is my husband.I am ready for any news. Please tell me. Don't keep me in the dark.— Khadija Almousawi (@tublani2010) April 25, 2012
1140 GMT: Claimed footage of Syrian troops on the streets of the Damaascus suburb of Douma, following regime shelling of the area:
MPs have revealed facts and data confirming the involvement of ex US Political Affairs Officer in Bahrain, Ludovic Hood, with a Lebanese Hezbollah cell in last year’s regretful events. They unveiled that Hood, who was summoned home after his connection was exposed, played a coordinating role to train groups of radical opposition members outside Bahrain on ways of toppling the regime. They revealed that the training sessions focused on ways of dealing with the various media channels and security men.
They said that Hood had vast relations with radical opposition figures including Nabil Rajab and that he used to meet them at US embassy headquarters. “Hood was keen on ensuring the radical opposition’s commitment not to raise Hezbollah flags or pictures of Iranian clergymen so as to win US support to overthrow the regime.” MPs unveiled. They also revealed that the professional past of Hood, who hails from a well-known Israeli family and has a dual Israeli-US citizenship, had been shrouded in mystery before his arrival to Bahrain.
Hood also played a role in coordinating between the US administration and the four political societies. Judging by his publications, Hood was in support of joining a wide group of Middle East countries and landing an agreement with pro-Wilayat Al-Faqih [the Iranian system of clerical supremacy] groups. Neither the US embassy nor State Department denied Hood’s suspicious activities and dubious circumstances surrounding his departure from Manama in 2011.
Hood was withdrawn soon after regime outlets criticised his activities last spring --- his transgressions including the US Embassy's offer of doughnuts to protesters.
1010 GMT: There has been heated discussion of US-based journalist Mona Eltahawy's article on gender relations in the Arab world, "Why Do They Hate Us?", and, just as significantly, the sensational framing of it in Foreign Policy's photograph and headline. A notable response from activist Mona Kareem:
If western publications, including Foreign Policy, are interested in focusing a spotlight on so-called “Arab feminism", then similar chances should be given to other Arab women. A variety of media outlets have included the stories of different women from the Arab world after the uprising, yet they rarely give them chances to speak about their experiences and to express their opinions.
Women like Manal Al-Sharif, Rasha Azab and Samira Ibrahim are not less “feminist” than other prominent female figures in the world. The veiled Bahraini protester Zainab Alkhawaja, for example, can speak well of the women’s struggle as she protests alone in the street and gets arrested for the sake of her detained father. He is Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, the prominent Bahraini-Danish human rights activists who has been on a hunger strike in prison for 76 days. He, I am sure, does not hate her.
The monolithic representation of women in the region, illustrated by an over-sexualized image of splattered black paint over a nude body, however, does nothing to rectify the position of women in any society.
Eltahawy entirely neglects the socioeconomic roots of gender inequality, the rise of authoritarian regimes in a post-colonialist context, the remnants of dehumanization and oppression from colonialism, the systematic exclusion of women from the political system or those who are used as convenient tools for the regime. There is more to gender inequality than just “hate.” Arab women such as Leila Ahmed, Lila Abu-Lughod, Saba Mahmood, among others, have proven this fact time and time again.
0858 GMT: The Speaker of Syria's Parliament, Mahmoud Al Abrash, has assured that the Ba'ath Party will maintain power in forthcoming elections for the legislature: “It is mathematically impossible for any other party to win....[The opposition] will have to wait for five to 10 years.”
More than 4000 candidates are expected to vie for 250 seats, of which 170 will be limited to parties and 80 to "independents". Currently, the Ba'ath Party leads a Progressive Front, which has 127 of the seats, and is solidly backed by "independents".
0853 GMT: Saudi Arabian officials have denied reports that detained Egyptian lawyer Ahmed El-Gizawi was sentenced to one year in prison and 20 lashes for "defaming" Saudi King Abdullah during a recent pilgramage.
Instead Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to Egypt, Ahmed Abdel-Aziz Qattan, El-Gizawi was arrested for possession of more than 21,000 pills of the anti-depressant drug Xanax.
Earlier on Tuesday, hundreds of Egyptian protesters staged angry demonstrations outside Saudi Arabia's Embassy in Cairo to demand the detained lawyer's release, along with scores of other Egyptian nationals in Saudi prisons.
0609 GMT: In Bahrain, activists are claiming that police closed the village of Duraz overnight, raiding houses and making arrests.
Bahraini officials claimed, "A terrorist...bombing targeted policemen in the Diraz area and led to the injury of three policemen, two of them seriously."
0505 GMT: Tuesday's news from Syria was marked by the reports and images of a regime assault upon Douma, an eastern suburb of the capital Damascus. As armoured vehicles and troops moved through parts of the suburb, other areas were hit by heavy fire.
As 38 people died across the country, the United Nations issued another statement of concern, this time through envoy Kofi Annan: "The situation in Syria continues to be unacceptable. The Syria authorities must implement their commitments in full, and a cessation of violation in all its forms must be respected by all parties." .
Annan made no reference to Douma; however, he said he was "particularly alarmed by reports that government troops entered Hama yesterday after observers departed, firing automatic weapons and killing a significant number of people."
According to the Local Co-ordination Committees of Syria, 50 civilians died in Hama on Monday.
Annan continued, "If confirmed, this is totally unacceptable and reprehensible. Two observers have been stationed in Hama today."
On Tuesday, the UN's head of peacekeeping Herve Ladsous told the Security Council on Tuesday that it will take a month to deploy 100 unarmed military observers in Syria. However, US Ambassador Susan Rice claimed, citing Ladsous, that Damascus is blocking monitors from a group of Western and Arab countries. She said Syrian authorities "stated that they will not accept UNSMIS staff members from any nations that are members of Friends of Democratic Syria", the international group that has held two meetings to discuss the political situation and make recommendations.http://t.co/2VlJRCtT