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Saturday
Jan122013

Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Insurgents Advance While Brahimi Stalls

See also Egypt Feature: An Alternative Justice System in the Sinai
Syria 1st-Hand: The 11-Year-Old Fighting with the Insurgents
Friday's Syria Live Coverage: The End of the Brahimi Mission?
Friday's Bahrain (and Beyond) Live Coverage: An Activist Tries to Re-Enter the Kingdom


1729 GMT: Palestine. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked the Supreme Court to remove an injunction against his order to the military to overrun the new village of Bab al-Shams, on Palestinian territory near East Jerusalem.

Activists pitched tents to launch the new village on Friday. It is in the E1 area, where the Israeli Government is supporting the construction of new Jewish settlements.

Netanyahu ordered that the area be considered a "closed military zone", with all access cut off "to prevent gatherings".

1723 GMT: Syria. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees said today that there are more than 195,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, with many not yet registered with the agency.

“Around 1,500 refugees are being registered daily,” according to the UNHCR’s latest weekly report.

1710 GMT: Egypt. The office of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has denied that Morsi's senior aide Essam El-Haddad recently met Major General Qassem Suleimani, the commander of Iran's elite Quds Force.

El Haddad said in an official statement Friday, issued through the Egyptian Embassy in London, that Mr Suleimani never entered Egypt: “We are concerned that a respectable news outlet such as The Times [of London] would fail to uphold basic journalistic standards. The Times chose not to solicit a reaction from the [Egyptian] Presidency, Dr El-Haddad’s office or the Foreign Ministry."

(Cross-posted from Iran Live Coverage)

1700 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees report 93 people killed today, including 44 in Damascus and its suburbs and 21 in Aleppo Province.

1630 GMT: Egypt. The opposition National Salvation Front have demanded 11 "guarantees" for fair Parliamentary elections, expected in the spring.

The Front called for "neutral government" to prepare for the polls, saying a fair ballot cannot be guaranteed under the Morsi Administration.

The bloc also called for "full judicial supervision" and monitoring by local and foreign non-governmental groups.

Other conditions include holding the vote over two days, banning the use of houses of worship for electoral campaigns and "the mixing of politics and religion in any form", limiting expenditure on electoral campaigns, and setting a minimum requirement of 1/3 women candidates.

1620 GMT: Syria. The Iranian Ambassador to Damascus has denied Friday's reports of an assassination attempt on officials from Iran, Russia, and the Lebanese organisation Hezbollah.

“Such rumours are lies and lack authenticity and have been spread by ill-wishers only to affect the important achievement of the release of 48 Iranian hostages in Syria,” Mohammad Reza Raouf-Sheibani said.

The unconfirmed reports claimed that a bomb had hit a convoy near the Presidential Palace.

(Cross-posted from Iran Live Coverage)

1536 GMT: Mali. French warplanes have struck Islamist insurgents near the town of Konna and destroyed a command centre, Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

The minister said a French helicopter had been downed on Friday, with the pilot dying of his wounds ase he was being evacuated to safety.

The Ansar Dine movement, which have taken over territory in northern Mali over the past nine months, have been pressing a major base of the Malian army.

"The threat is a terrorist state at the doorstep of France and Europe," said Le Drian. He said fighting involved hundreds of French troops, protecting the capital Bamako, and overnight airstrikes on three insurgent targets.

A military official said the fighters had been driven out of Konna but the city, which was captured by Ansar Dine earlier this week, was not yet under Government control.

Sanda Abou Mohamed, a spokesman for Ansar Dine, claimed, "The terrorist French military bombed Konna. The hospitals are now filled with the injured --- women, children and the elderly are the main victims. It's impossible to know how many have been killed, but the number is huge. Only five of those killed were our fighters. The rest are all innocent civilians."

Meanwhile, the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) has authorised the immediate deployment of troops to Mali "in light of the urgency of the situation".

ECOWAS did not say how many troops would be sent to Mali or when they would arrive. It also did not specify which countries from the 15-nation bloc would be providing the forces.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has issued a statement, “I am deeply concerned about the recent rebel advances in Mali, which extend the reach of terrorist groups and threaten the stability of the country and the wider region. I welcome the military assistance France has provided to the Malian Government, at their request, to halt this advance.

1531 GMT: Bahrain. Thousands of protesters have marched near Manama, challenging the upholding of lengthy prison sentences for 13 prominent activists by an appeals court.

"We will not resign ourselves to it" and "we will not forget the prisoners", shouted demonstrators amid a heavy security presence, as they carried photos of the political detainees.

On Monday, the Court of Cassation --- in a final upheld --- upheld sentences from five years to life in prison against the 13, including human rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, Haq Party leader Hassan Mushaimaa, and political activist Ibrahim Sharif.

Twenty men were convicted, seven in absentia, by a military tribunal in June 2011 on charges that included "setting up terror groups to topple the regime".

1454 GMT: Turkey. EA's Ali Yenidunya reports that the crackdown on Kurdish activists continues, despite the Government talk's with Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK insurgency --- seven members of the Kurdish coalition KCK have been arrested on charges of involvement in a "terrorist" organisation.

1444 GMT: Israel and Palestine. Ruth Michaelson of Radio France International reports from the new Palestinian village of Bab al-Shams, which Israeli troops are threatening to overrun:

A photo from the village:

Amazing organisation here at #BabAlShams: satellite, tv, a committee building and they're building a library- even though about 7 degrees

— Ruth Michaelson (@_Ms_R) January 12, 2013 ">

1433 GMT: Israel and Palestine. The Israeli military has issued evacuation orders to activists who established the new village of Bab al-Shams (Gate of the Sun) on Friday.

The village is on Palestinian territory in the E1 area of East Jerusalem, where the Israeli Government has announced plans for construction of Jewish settlements.

The military's order indicates they will remove activists, more than 25 tents, and a medical centre by force. Israeli forces have prevented access to the village by people from neighbouring areas since Friday. They also blocked leading Palestinian officials such as the Palestine Liberation Organizaiton's Hanan Ashrawi and Palestinian Authority Mminister of Social Affairs Majida al-Masri.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said during a meeting Saturday that the Bab al-Shams protest movement is attempting to save the two-state solution, at a time when Israel is determined to build settlements and undermine the principle.

Ashrawi praised the activists for their "highly creative and legitimate non-violent tool" to protect Palestinian land: "What is happening at Bab al-Shams is a reminder of the apartheid regime that Israel has imposed for the exclusive use of land for Jewish Israeli settlers all over Palestine."

1423 GMT: Syria. Back from a Saturday break to find the claim of a regime official that Syrian troops have captured most of the Damascus suburb of Darayya and will secure the area in the next few days.

The official said the army is battling small pockets of insurgents in Darayya, following weeks of attacks by the Syrian military.

Regime warplanes have also bombarded suburbs to the east of the capital, according to activists.

1221 GMT: Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on France to "immediately" clarify the killing of three Kurdish activists in Paris on Thursday, asking French President Francois Hollande to explain why he was meeting with one of the victims.

Erdogan said in televised remarks. "The French head of state must explain immediately to the French, Turkish and world public why...he is in communication with these terrorists."

Hollande had said the murder of Sakine Cansiz --- a co-founder of the Kurdish insurgency PKK --- Fidan Dogan, and Leyla Soylemez was "terrible", adding that he knew one of the Kurdish women and that she "regularly met us".

0838 GMT: Iraq. AFP summarises Friday's protests, part of the continuing challenge to the al-Maliki Government, in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq.

Largely-Sunni demonstrations, escalating since last month, are fuelled by claims of discrimination and repression of the religious minority.

Counter-demonstrations were held in predominantly Shia areas of southern Iraq calling for authorities to resist demands to reform anti-terror laws or consider a wide-ranging prisoner release.

0628 GMT: Syria. State news agency SANA, which had declared in a two-sentence report on Thursday that a "terrorist group" had been repelled at the Taftanaz airbase, does not refer at all to yesterday's developments in its summary article, "0605 GMT: Syria. " target="_blank" title="http://www.sana-syria.com/eng/337/2013/01/11/461309.htm">Crackdown on Terrorists Continues".

However, Iranian State news agency Press TV offers an explanation from "Syria government sources":

The militants entered the base after government troops left it according to an army evacuation order a few days ago and that all important military equipment deployed there as well as officers, pilots and soldiers were evacuated before the arrival of militants.

It is believed that the Syrian army has left behind only useless military equipment and weapons.

0625 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees report 101 people killed on Friday, including 13 children and eight women. The organisation maintains that 40 of the dead were in a mass killing in Nahiya Al-Houl in Hasakeh Province.

The LCC said there were 285 protests across Syria, including 63 in Deir Ez Zor Province, 57 in Hama Province, and 46 in Aleppo Province. The dominant theme was criticism of the condition in which Syrian refugees are living in camps such as Zaatari in Jordan.

0605 GMT: Syria. On Thursday, we opened our Live Coverage, "Insurgents Capture Key Regime Airbase". Yesterday, our starting headline was "The End of the Brahimi Mission?".

This morning the two stories stand in notable juxtaposition to each other. After a series of videos documenting the takeover of the Taftanaz airbase, mainstream media finally agreed that the insurgents had seized the last significant regime military position west of Aleppo.

Meanwhile, United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was issuing a perfunctory, downbeat statement after his meeting in Geneva with high-level Russian and American officials. He put out the standard call for a political solution but, responding to a reporter's question, added, "If you are asking whether there is a solution around the corner, I'm not sure that is the case."

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