U.S. finalizing plan to boost support for Syrian rebels

(Reuters) – The U.S. government is finalizing a plan to increase training and small-arms shipments for Syrian rebels, two U.S. security sources said on Friday, as Syrian government troops gain momentum following the collapse of U.S.-backed peace talks.  The United States would increase assistance and send the shipments to moderate rebel factions mostly based in Jordan, along Syria’s southern border, the officials familiar with the plan told Reuters.  The additional supplies are likely to be modest and will not include surface-to-air missiles, the officials said, raising questions over the impact in a civil war that has killed an estimated 136,000 people, produced nine million refugees and threatens to destabilize the region.

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Saudi Arabia declares all atheists are terrorists in new law to crack down on political dissidents

Saudi_Arabia_kaabaSaudi Arabia has introduced a series of new laws which define atheists as terrorists, according to a report from Human Rights Watch.In a string of royal decrees and an overarching new piece of legislation to deal with terrorism generally, the Saudi King Abdullah has clamped down on all forms of political dissent and protests that could “harm public order”.The new laws have largely been brought in to combat the growing number of Saudis travelling to take part in the civil war in Syria, who have previously returned with newfound training and ideas about overthrowing the monarchy.

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Saudi Arabia bans energy drinks, outlaws all forms of advertising

Manama: Saudi Arabia has banned the sale of energy drinks at all public education and health facilities.  The ban, announced by the government following its weekly session on Monday, is also imposed on all cafeterias, eateries and food outlets at government establishments and institutions, public and private gyms and fitness and health clubs in the kingdom.  The decision was taken following an interior ministry study of the “adverse effects of energy drinks,” local media said, without naming any of the brands affected.  A news report by the Saudi Press Agency did not explain the reasons for the study or the decision.  All forms of promoting and advertising for energy drinks, be they through print, audio or visual media or otherwise, are outlawed, the cabinet said.

Under the blanket ban, energy drinks companies, agents, distributors and promoters are prohibited from sponsoring any sports, social or cultural event or engaging in any process that leads to promotion, the cabinet said, basing its decision on a study by the interior ministry on the negative effects of the drinks.  No energy drinks should be distributed or given away for free to consumers, regardless of their age.  Energy drinks company owners and importers must have warning labels in both Arabic and English on the cans to caution consumers against what the interior ministry claim are harmful effects, the ban said.

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Egypt tightens grip on mosques to curb Islamist dissent

Cairo: Egypt’s military-installed authorities are tightening their grip on mosques by laying down the theme for the weekly Friday sermons, in the latest move to curb Islamist dissent.  The controversial measure comes as Egypt remains deeply polarised after a government crackdown on supporters of Islamist president Mohammad Mursi, who was deposed by the army last July.  Mursi’s supporters have since capitalised on the weekly prayers to garner backing for their protests calling for his reinstatement.

The authorities accuse Islamist groups, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood to which Mursi belongs, of using mosques to spread their ideology and enrol new recruits across Egypt.  The religious endowments (Waqf) ministry in late 2013 dismissed 55,000 imams (prayer leaders) who did not hail from the state-controlled Al Azhar university, the most prestigious institution in Sunni Islam.

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Global Terrorism and Saudi Arabia: Bandar’s Terror Network

Saudi Arabia has all the vices and none of the virtues of an oil rich state like Venezuela.  The country is governed by a family dictatorship which tolerates no opposition and severely punishes human rights advocates and political dissidents.  Hundreds of billions in oil revenues are controlled by the royal despotism and fuel speculative investments the world over.  The ruling elite relies on the purchase of Western arms and US military bases for protection.  The wealth of productive nations is syphoned to enrich the conspicuous consumption of the Saudi ruling family.  The ruling elite finances the most fanatical, retrograde, misogynist version of Islam, “Wahhabi” a sect of Sunni Islam.  Faced with internal dissent from repressed subjects and religious minorities, the Saudi dictatorship perceives threats and dangers from all sides:  overseas, secular, nationalists and Shia ruling governments; internally, moderate Sunni nationalists, democrats and feminists; within the royalist cliques, traditionalists and modernizers.  In response it has turned toward financing, training and arming an international network of Islamic terrorists who are directed toward attacking, invading and destroying regimes opposed to the Saudi clerical-dictatorial regime.

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Iraq government loses control of Fallujah

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has vowed to eliminate “all terrorist groups” from Anbar province after al-Qaeda-linked fighters gained control of the town of Fallujah.  Maliki, speaking on state television on Saturday, said his government would end “fitna”, or disunity, in the province and would “not back down until we end all terrorist groups and save our people in Anbar”.  His comments came after a senior Iraqi security official told the AFP news agency that the government had lost control of Fallujah to fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).  The police chief of Anbar, Hadi Razeij, later said the centre of Fallujah had fallen completely into the hands of ISIL fighters. “The walls of the city are in the hands of the police force, but the people of Fallujah are the prisoners of ISIL.”  Videos showed ISIL fighters also in control of the main Fallujah highway, and officials and witnesses inside the town told the Reuters news agency that ISIL was in northern and northeastern parts of the town.

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Saudi Arms Shipments to Al Qaeda Rebels Waiting behind Iraq’s Borders with Syria

Tens of vehicles carrying arms shipments from Saudi Arabia failed to cross the Iraqi border into Syria due to the Iraqi army’s ongoing operations in the Western Al-Anbar province which borders Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.  Following the Iraqi Army’s operations against Al-Qaeda forces in Al-Anbar province, the Saudi arms shipments have been stuck behind Iraq’s borders with Syria. The Saudi arms shipments entered Iraq from the Saudi city of Nakheib and via Ar-Ar border crossing.  Nearly 70 2-ton vehicles are waiting for the Iraqi army forces to end its operation and withdraw from the region giving them a chance to cross the border with Syria.   The vehicles are packed with explosives used for suicide attacks as well as anti-armor and anti-aircraft weapons.  Saudi Arabia is still supporting the Al-Qaeda terrorist groups in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.  While Turkey has closed a large part of its borders to terrorists and Jordan has also considered restrictions for the Saudi nationals who intend to sneak into Syria, Iraq’s desert borders where the government does not have a lot of military and security supervision are regarded as the best route for Saudi Arabia’s logistical supports for the terrorists in Syria.  The Iraqi army started military operations in Huran and Al-Abyaz regions in the deserts of Al-Anbar province last week.

Erdogan: Corruption case an attempted coup by judiciary

ANKARA, Turkey, Jan. 4 (UPI) — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday an investigation into corruption in his government is a coup attempt by the judiciary.  ”In this process, there has been a coup attempt by the judiciary in Turkey,” Euronews quoted Erdogan as telling a group of journalists.  ”There has been an attempt to seize the sovereignty from the people and transfer it to the judiciary.”  The corruption investigation has weakened Erdogan, Euronews said. He also suggested that a way could be found to retry military officers convicted of plotting a coup, suggesting he feels he needs help from Turkey’s powerful military, Today’s Zaman reported.  Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said Friday no general amnesty would be granted the officers convicted of the coup attempt. Their supporters accused police and judges Thursday of fabricating evidence.  Erdogan’s Freedom and Justice Party is moderately Islamist. This has put his government at odds with the military, which sees itself as the defender of the secular legacy of Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish state.

‘Day of rage’: Police, protesters clash in Israel at plans to evict 40,000 Bedouins

day of rage

Hundreds gathered in Israel on Saturday to rally against the government’s plans to resettle some 40,000 Bedouins. The proposal has triggered accusations of “discrimination” and “ethnic cleansing” from activist groups, also sparking a protest in the UK.  The demonstrations were organized as part of an international “Day of Rage” against the proposed law which would arrange for Bedouin settlements to be created in southern Israel’s Negev Desert, also known as the Prawer-Begin plan.  The Prawer Plan would see up to 40,000 (according to local media) and up to 70,000 (according to the Guardian) Bedouin removed from their homes in Negev, southern Israel. The plan also provided for the demolition of about 40 villages and confiscation of 70,000 hectares of land.  The Israeli government has said the Bedouins will be re-homed and granted compensation for the move. However, the UK-based charity, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said that the plan heralds “the forced displacement of Palestinians from their homes and land, and systematic discrimination and separation.”

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Al-Qaeda’s brutal tactics in Syria forces out moderates

“I was handcuffed, blindfolded when I was taken to their base. Like the six other detainees with me, we were whipped 70 times every day.”  “We were mostly accused of setting up ‘Sahwa’ – Awakening Councils – against the state.”  Mohammed’s horrific tale of torture from Syria might not sound that unusual if the “state” his captors’ were referring to was the government of President Bashar al-Assad.  But they were from the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), an al-Qaeda affiliate that has become an equally feared force in rebel-held areas.  Mohammed, an engineer in his early 50s who is the father of four children, joined the peaceful protest movement against Mr Assad when the uprising in Syria began in 2011.  When Raqqa province fell under rebel control, he helped set up a local council to provide basic services in the absence of the state.  On 9 July 2013 – the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan – Mohammed and six other members of the council in the border town of Tal Abyad were detained by members of ISIS, who handcuffed and blindfolded them and took them to the city of Raqqa.  Over the next 33 days, Mohammed was tortured on a daily basis by the jihadists

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Hundreds of Turks join Al-Qaeda fighters in Syria

Five hundred Turks have crossed the border into Syria to fight with Al-Qaeda linked jihadists against the government, according to a Turkish interior ministry report.  Turkey’s government, which is fiercely opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, has come under fire for allegedly turning a blind eye to militants and weapons crossing the long border into Syria.  The interior ministry report, published in several Turkish newspapers on Wednesday, said about 500 Turkish citizens had joined the ranks of the Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).  “Some have received training in Al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” the report said, according to Today’s Zaman newspaper.

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Bloodbath at Yemeni wedding after guests are shot dead while dancing to Gangnam Style when reveller ‘tries to fire AK-47 into the air to celebrate’

A wedding in Yemen became a scene of carnage when a reveller dancing to Gangnam Style shot dead at least three people after apparently losing control of his AK-47.  Horrific footage of the incident has emerged showing a group of guests performing the moves to the hit song by South Korean pop star Psy.  Among them is one man waving his assault rifle as he gyrates on the dancefloor while others look on.

Pope says ‘no Middle East without Christians’

AFP – Pope Francis on Thursday said the Catholic Church will not accept a Middle East without Christians, who often find themselves forced to flee areas of conflict and unrest in the region.  “We will not resign ourselves to imagining a Middle East without Christians,” he said after meeting with patriarchs from Syria, Iran and Iraq, before calling for “the universal right to lead a dignified life and freely practise one’s own faith to be respected.”  The political upheaval that has swept the Arab world over the past three years has led to a rise of radical Islam, leaving minority Christians feeling threatened and sometimes forcing them to emigrate.  Francis said he had spoken to the patriarchs about “those who live in the Middle East, often in small flocks, in environments marked by hostility and conflicts” and “the size of the diaspora, which is notably growing.”  He said he was concerned by “the situation of Christians, who suffer in a particularly severe way the consequences of tensions and conflicts in many parts of the Middle East.”  “Syria, Iraq, Egypt and other areas of the Holy Land sometimes overflow with tears,” he said.

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Christian Israeli-Arab wants to build Rio-style Jesus statue near Nazareth

Bishara Shlayan, a Christian Arab from Nazareth, is hoping to build a huge statue of Jesus on Mount Precipice, near his home city.  Shlayan told The Jerusalem Post in an interview that he has already begun fund-raising for the project and that he is getting positive feedback from the Israeli Arab Christian community as well as some Jews.  He sees the statue as being similar to but larger than the huge Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  Shlayan is also looking to found a Christian Arab political party, which he says is still being sorted out, but has settled on the name “Bnei Habrit [Allies of the Covenant], the Christian party of Israel.”  The party would support Israel as a Jewish state and national or army service for Arabs.  “I created the Bnei Habrit party and now I have created the Diglei Habrit [Flags of the Covenant] organization,” in order to carry out the statue project, he said.  Mount Precipice, also known as Mount Kedumim, is believed by some to be the place where the people of Nazareth attempted to push Jesus off the mountain after rejecting him as the messiah. In the end he was able to jump off and disappeared, according to Christian tradition.

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Russia claims $5 billion in helicopter orders at Dubai Air Show

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Nov. 23 (UPI) — Russia’s state-owned arms exporter said Saturday it has new orders worth $5 billion from Arabian Gulf nations for helicopters.  A Rosoboronexport representative made the announcement at the Dubai Air Show in the United Arab Emirates.  The representative said outstanding orders as of Nov. 1 exceeded $38 billion for Russia’s state arms exporter for military-related equipment.  During the five-day biannual air show, the Russian delegation held talks with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, India, Jordan and Algeria, RIA Novosti reported.

Gulf states seek integrated air defence

DUBAI // Arabian Gulf states aim to integrate their air defence systems to meet threats from ballistic and cruise missiles.  “Advances in science and technology have made the world networked and connected,” said Maj Gen Staff Pilot Mohammed bin Sweidan Saeed Al Qamzi, commander of the Air Force and Air Defence.  “We need to be a single force to overcome our common threats and challenges. While the UAE faces no armed conflicts, civil wars or internal instability, we must remain vigilant to deter conflicts that are occurring regionally. We must maintain strong air defence forces to continue protecting our national and regional interests.”

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Iranian warships dock at Saudi port

TEHRAN – Iranian naval ships docked on Saturday in the Saudi port city of Jeddah on a mission to project the Islamic republic’s “power on the open seas,” the Fars news agency reported.  The supply ship Kharg and Shaid Qandi, a destroyer, docked in the Red Sea port in line with orders from Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, it quoted navy commander Admiral Habibollah Sayari as saying. “This mission aims to show the power of the Islamic republic of Iran on the open seas and to confront Iranophobia,” he said, adding that the mission started several days ago and would last 70 to 80 days.  The commander did not give other destinations.  Iran’s navy has been boosting its presence in international waters since last year, deploying vessels in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden on missions to protect Iranian ships from Somali pirates.  Tehran also sent two ships into the Mediterranean for the first time in February 2011 through the Suez Canal.

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Kerry: US won’t allow attacks on Mideast partners

CAIRO —U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday tried to reassure America’s Arab friends that the United States will not allow them to be attacked “from outside,” in an apparent warning to Iran.  He specifically mentioned Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt as nations, alongside unspecified “others,” that the U.S. will defend. Those others likely would include Israel, the strongest U.S. ally in the region.  “The United States will be there for the defense of our friends and our allies,” Kerry told reporters in Cairo. “We will not allow those countries to be attacked from outside. We will stand with them.”  Kerry spoke during the first stop on his trip to the Middle East, Europe and North Africa.  After Egypt, he headed later Sunday to Saudi Arabia, where the biggest rifts with the Obama administration have emerged.

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Yemen’s Slide Into Chaos Risks Militant Haven on Saudi Border

In the impoverished capital of Yemen, tribal militias roam freely and their leaders drive through crowded streets guarded by heavily armed followers.  Security in Sana’a has deteriorated since popular unrest pushed President Ali Abdullah Saleh from office in 2011. Dozens of intelligence and security officials have been assassinated, al-Qaeda continues to attack government targets and Shiite-Muslim Houthi rebels, who are fighting Sunni Islamists in the north, are encamped in the city. Western diplomats who visit do so with greater protection and foreign nationals fear kidnapping more than they did a year ago.  “Yemen is slipping into chaos,” Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, said by phone. “Assassinations of intelligence figures and threats to foreigners are rising.”

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The Incredible Shrinking Buffer

On the eve of a basketball game between the United States and Angola during the 1992 Olympics, a reporter asked NBA superstar Charles Barkley how he felt about the coming matchup. “I don’t know anything about Angola,” Barkley replied, “but Angola’s in trouble.”  Two weeks ago, a Lebanon-based journalist told me that a Salafi Syrian rebel commander gave him a similar response when asked what he thought about the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), the multinational force put in place in May 1974 to preserve the cease-fire between Israel and Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The mere presence of UNDOF, the militant said, would not change his military calculations nor make him more cautious in his fight against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

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