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Lebanon (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Prime Minister Resigns --- What Next?

See also Syria Live Coverage: Fighting in Aleppo and near Damascus
Friday's Israel, Palestine (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Obama Concludes Trip with Netanyahu Meeting

Najib Mikati1935 GMT: Israel and Turkey. Joanna Paraszczuk writes:

Writing on his official Facebook page on Saturday night, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has linked his apology to Turkey, over the killing of nine Turkish citizens by Israeli commandoes in May 2010, to the Syrian crisis.

Netanyahu said he called Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in light of the worsening conflict, particularly the "great danger" that Assad's chemical weapons stores could end up in the hands of "terrorist organizations".

"The fact that the Syria crisis is deteriorating by the minute was a major consideration for me. Syria is crumbling, and its vast and advanced arsenals are beginning to fall into the hands of various elements," he wrote.

The Prime Minister added: "The situation in Syria, which includes the establishment of global Jihad on our border in the Golan Heights, gives rise to major challenges to our security. We are following what is happening there and we are prepared to respond accordingly."

Regarding the rapprochement with Turkey, Netanyahu said that it was important the two countries, both of which shared borders with Syria, could communicate.

US President Obama's visit was a "political opportunity to end the rift" he said.

Netanyahu wrote that the "changing reality around us demands that we constantly reevaluate our relationship with regional countries". Israel had made "a number of attempts" in the past three years to heal the rift with Turkey, he added.

(Cross-posted from Syria Live Coverage)

1825 GMT: Turkey and Palestine. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has announced that he may travel to Gaza and the West Bank in April.

The statement follows Friday's reconciliation between Ankara and West Jerusalem, with Israel’s apology for the killing of nine Turkish citizens on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May 2010.

“I may eventually visit Gaza and the West Bank in April. This visit would take place in the context of a general effort to contribute to the resolution process [of the Palestinian issue],” Erdoğan told reporters.

1755 GMT: Bahrain. Security forces have fired tear gas to prevent protesters from reaching the house of Nabeel Rajab, the imprisoned head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.

Riot police clashed with hundreds of people marching for Rajab, sentenced to two years in prison on charges of backing “illegal” protests.

Authorities also set up roadblocks to keep cars from reaching the house.

1455 GMT: Lebanon. One man has been killed and two others wounded in ongoing fighting in the northern city of Tripoli.

The violence, which started on Thurssday, has continued in the wake of the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

Despite the killing, the flashpoiont areas of Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh -- where residents support opposite sides in the Syrian conflict --- have been relatively calm after separate cease-fire announcements. Shops were open Saturday as residents went about their daily business.

1155 GMT: Palestine. Following President Obama's trip to Israel and Palestine, the US has quietly unblocked almost $500 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority, frozen by Congress for months.

"To date, we have moved $295.7 million in fiscal year 2012 money...and $200 million in fiscal year 2013 assistance," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

Nuland said the Obama Administration also notified Congress in late February that it was seeking a further $200 million to fund US Agency for International Development programmes for the Palestinians.

The Palestinian Authority, which oversees the West Bank, is in the midst of a serious financial crisis and has been unable to pay public sector employees. Israel froze its monthly payment of $100 million in tax revenues in late November after Palestine's successful application for Observer State recognition at the United Nations.

1115 GMT: Oman. Ruler Sultan Qaboos has pardoned all dissidents imprisoned for defaming the leader or taking part in protests, State news agency ONA reports.

Activists claim courts sentenced at least 50 dissidents to jail terms of up to 18 months last year.

Last week a court freed on bail eight activists, part of a group of prisoners who went on hunger strike last month saying they had been sentenced unfairly. The court ordered a re-trial.

1050 GMT: Egypt. Police are guarding the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Mokattam neighborhood of Cairo, after more than 160 people were hurt on Friday in running street battles between Islamists and opposition protesters.

Businesses remain closed, with debris, including burned vehicles, scattered across the area.

Police used tear gas against the protesters as the clashes spilled over elsewhere in the neighborhood. Demonstrators reportedly captured and beat three Brotherhood members and smashed up an ambulance evacuating one injured Brotherhood supporter, detaining him.

0705 GMT: Lebanon. Prime Minister Najib Mikati suddenly resigned on Friday, raising questions --- amid the Syrian crisis, as well as Lebanon's ongoing tensions --- about political and social stability.

The immediate reasons for Mikati's decision were conflicts over Parliamentary elections and the future of the head of Interior Security, Ashraf Rifi. However, there have been deeper-seated tensions during Mikati's 20 months in office, including over the Special Tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, over the security forces, and over the effects of the Syrian situation inside Lebanon --- from refugees to clashes in the northern city of Tripoli.

Joyce Karam has a full --- if perhaps overly optimistic --- summary of the situation: "The resignation...breaks the political deadlock inside Lebanon and could be an opportunity for a broader dialogue that Mikati had called for in his statement."


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