Prince Khalid bin Sultan makes field inspection tour of Saudi forces on borders, operations against infiltrators

Prince Khalid: We have confirmed information about contacts, coordination of interests between infiltrators, Al-Qaeda, but we’re going to vanquish them

President Hosni Mubarak: Constructions on borders with Gaza is sovereignty matter, attackers of Egypt have ‘glass houses’

Yemeni army advances in showdown with Houthi rebels

Human Rights Watch: Iran’s suppression of protests “disaster”

Prince Khalid bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, the Assistant Defense and Aviation Minister for Military Affairs, made an inspection tour of the Armed Forces stationed at the Kingdom's border.

In response to reporters questions, Prince Khalid thanked Allah for the blessings, and said 'We are now in a location on the borders, where all strategic mountains in front of you, with the raising of the Saudi flag and the presence of our soldiers.

At the beginning of the events, this area had witnessed roaming of infiltrators. But, now all these vantage points are totally cleared, he added.

'I am talking now from the Saudi border village of Almeresah; the situation is stable and I can now congratulate the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, the Crown Prince and all Saudi people of the Saudi Armed Forces for the overwhelming victories, courage and determination in fighting in slopes of mountains without military vehicles of any sort,' he said.

These brave men, Prince Khalid said, marched carrying rations and heavy weapons on their backs through this mountainous terrain. Yet, they were determined and managed to come, fight and fall martyred with honor and pride.

The number of martyrs was obvious because our men were fighting in the slopes all the way up to the summits and here lies the difficulties, he added.

'Thank to Allah, we have eliminated hundreds of infiltrators,' Prince Khalid said, adding that he always says that one martyr to him and to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques is too many, but this is our duty. 'Everyone is required to protect and uphold their homeland. Surely, when we say we sacrifice our lives for our country, we mean it in every sense of the word.

In a reply to a question about the comparison between the current war with that of Kuwait's liberation war, Prince Khalid said Kuwait Liberation War was a joint operation involving many powers to liberate a neighboring country.

However, this war is a solely unrivaled Saudi operation. The commands together with the Saudi Royal Air, Land and Naval forces had forged coordination for a collective action, and set and defined procedures for handover of target-areas and for everything else. Definitely, the drills they had conducted are meant for such events like today, he added.

As for the development of special mountain forces, Prince Khalid said wars and military exercises always yield valuable lessons to enhance our armed forces. The proud special forces along with all ready paratroopers are there whenever needed.

The upgrade of the armed forces whether special forces, air, land or naval is an ongoing process and receives unlimited support from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques - the Supreme Commander of all armed forces and also receives constant follow-up from the Crown Prince, he added.

With regard to information on the extent of cooperation between Al-Qaeda and the infiltrators, Prince Khalid said 'We have confirmed information from many different bodies that there are contacts, coordination and common interests between them in advocating sabotage, but by the will of Allah, we will defeat them all'.

In response to another question about the number of missing, Prince Khalid said 'I had told you that the number of missing is 26, some or most of them were martyred but we cannot say they were killed unless we received their bodies. Moreover, I have also said it several times and I am saying it now, after liberating all mountainous areas whether in Jabal Dukhan, Al Doud and Al Rumaih, we have received 20 bodies of our martyrs. In other words, the number of 26 missing decreased to 6-missing only as the number of martyred increased to 20 fatalities so far.

Prince Khalid commented on the bravery of the Saudi soldiers by saying that I am not a Judge for the Saudi Armed Forces, but honestly, the Saudi armed forces' tactics from the technical point of view in identifying the infiltrators' weak and strong points in mountainous areas and in addition to the lessons learned and observed in the wars in Yemen in the sixties or even the days of King Abdulaziz and his conquests, or tactics in Afghanistan, with the build-up experiences, we have tried to avoid all the mistakes, thus the losses, as I told you, are considered too many even if the number is few. we have succeeded well and created some of the tactics of our own and only attributed to the Saudi army which will be an added-value for the lessons learned.

With regards the reports on the crash of Saudi Apache during the war, Prince Khalid said that I read such reports but if such a thing did happen, the whole world would be aware of (this).

Frankly speaking, the losses of the armed forces are two Hummers which were taken by the infiltrators and were destroyed with the infiltrators on the next day; two pick-up cruisers of which one was destroyed; one equipment transporter which was destroyed at the same time; and one rescue and evacuation winch; about 13 machine gun 12-caliber which were totally destroyed; and one water trailer which was destroyed at the same time.

On precautions to be undertaken by the Armed Forces, Prince Khalid said the Armed Forces will stay in the area.

As regards establishing a military city in Jazan region, Prince Khalid said 'Yes, we are considering such a city'.

On the issue of support received by the infiltrators from other countries in the field of training, Prince Khalid said that 'We have destroyed all of their training facilities and arms'.

As regards the death of Abdulmalik Al-Houthi, Prince Khalid said that 'We've received unconfirmed information, but I can not confirm this matter unless I receive confirmed information.'

Meanwhile, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Sunday defended the construction of an underground barrier on the border with the Gaza Strip as a matter of national security and sovereignty.

"The works and reinforcements on our eastern border are a matter of Egyptian sovereignty. We do not accept a debate on the issue with anyone," Mubarak said in a speech to mark Police Day.

"It is the right of the Egyptian state, and even its duty, its responsibility. It is the right of every state to control and protect its borders," he added.

Khalid Meshaal, exiled leader of the Palestinian Hamas movement which has controlled Gaza since June 2007, recently called on Egypt to halt construction of the barrier.

"What we do not accept, and will not accept, is that we take our borders lightly, or that our territory is violated or that our soldiers or installations are targeted," Mubarak said.

"We continue with the construction and reinforcements on our border, not to please anyone, but to protect our national security from violations and from terrorist acts such as those in Taba, Sharm el-Sheikh, Dahab and Cairo," he added.

A series of bombings from 2004 to 2006 killed a total of 130 people in Red Sea resorts on the Sinai peninsula and a 2009 bomb attack at a Cairo bazaar killed a French teenager.

Egyptian authorities started building the underground steel barrier in a bid they say to stop the smuggling of goods and weapons into the Gaza Strip via a network of underground tunnels, but officials have remained tightlipped about the details of the construction work.

Egypt has also been more vocal in its pressure on Hamas, which it accuses of refusing a reconciliation agreement with the Palestinian Authority.

Israel has sealed the Gaza Strip off to all but very limited supplies of basic goods ever since the Islamist group seized control in 2007, ousting forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

On January 6, an Egyptian policeman was killed and five people wounded during clashes on the Egypt-Gaza border after Palestinian demonstrations to protest at the construction of the barrier.

Meanwhile, The speaker of Yemen's parliament accused Iran and al-Qaeda of supporting Shiite rebels fighting Yemeni forces along the country's northern border, in an interview published Tuesday. "We used to avoid accusing the Iranian government of directly financing the Houthis," Yehia Ali al-Rai said in an interview with the Saudi daily Okaz.

"Then we realized that the Iranian government had a role, as if it wants to spread its wings over the Arab world," he charged.

Al-Rai said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's January 13 speech blasting Saudi Arabia for its role in the conflict had convinced him that the Iranian government directly supported Houthi rebels fighting along the Saudi-Yemeni border.

Al-Rai said that al-Qaeda militants had moved into Yemen from Saudi Arabia and Iraq while Yemeni security forces were busy battling the Houthi rebels, and that al-Qaeda and the rebels were now acting in concert.

"There are confirmed contacts between al-Qaeda and the Houthis," al-Rai asserted, saying the two groups coordinate their actions, and that al-Qaeda finances and trains the Houthis.

"Those who finance al-Qaeda in Yemen are the same who finance it in Afghanistan and Iraq, and used to finance it in (Saudi Arabia) before they were defeated," the speaker of the Yemeni parliament said.

Al-Rai denied rumors that al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden had found refuge in Yemen. "He will never make Yemen a home," al-Rai said.

On the domestically sensitive question of US involvement in Yemen's battle against al-Qaeda militants, al-Rai said that any US military intervention in the country would take place only with Yemen's consent.

Yemen needs logistical support to help fight al Qaeda but will not allow foreign covert operations against the global militant group on its territory, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi told the BBC.

The government in Sana’a declared open war on al Qaeda this month, stepping up air strikes and security sweeps after a regional arm of the militant group based in Yemen said they were behind a failed December 25 bid to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner.

But in the interview, Qirbi ruled out allowing a U.S. military base on Yemeni soil or covert foreign operations in the country.

"We will undertake it ourselves. Why do we need outside soldiers to fight when we can do the fight ourselves?" said Qirbi in the interview broadcast on Tuesday.

He said the government had mistakenly allowed foreign intervention in 2002, when a U.S. missile strike killed an al Qaeda leader suspected of planning the 2000 suicide bombing of the U.S. warship Cole.

"It proved to be a terrible mistake, and this is why we don't want to repeat it. We have to do it ourselves and anybody who is interested will have to support us," Qirbi said.

U.S. defense and counter-terrorism officials say Washington has been quietly supplying military equipment, intelligence and training to Yemen to destroy suspected al Qaeda hide-outs.

Qirbi rejected any suggestion that the government had allowed al Qaeda to flourish in the country by refusing to confront militants in the past. "Yemen has always tackled al Qaeda. But it doesn't mean because there was a period of no confrontation that it hasn't been battling al Qaeda, because we've been battling it through dialogue and through many different means," he said.

He praised a Saudi program that involves counseling and reintegrating militants into society -- an idea that Yemen pioneered, but now says it lacks the resources to pursue.

Yemen's government has previously talked of dialogue with al Qaeda on condition that militants lay down their weapons first.

On the other hand, the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said that Iran's crackdown on opposition protests following June's disputed presidential election was a "human rights disaster”.

The rights group also said in a report that Iran has staged hundreds of show trials of detained opposition protesters.

Iran has dismissed previous criticisms of its human rights record. It has said that the opposition protests were illegal and have been orchestrated by foreign powers including the United States and Britain to undermine the Islamic Republic.

Iran witnessed its worst internal strife since the Islamic revolution in 1979 when supporters of opposition candidates who lost to hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took to the streets, leading to violent clashes with security forces.

Thousands were detained. Most have been freed but more than 80 were jailed for up to 15 years and five were sentenced to death.

The Human Rights Watch report said the post-election crackdown had turned into "a human rights disaster."

"The Iranian judiciary's show trials of hundreds of demonstrators and dissidents ranks among the most absurd displays of prosecutorial abuse I have witnessed in recent memory," HRW's Middle East Director Joe Stork said at a news conference in Dubai to announce its annual report.

The Human Rights Watch report said many of the detainees had been coerced to confess to vaguely-worded crimes during the trials. Researcher Faraq Sanei said Human Rights Watch had documented 26 such cases of torture or coerced confessions.

Human Rights Watch is shunned by the government and Stork said repeated visa requests had been unsuccessful.

The report said the Iranian government had also targeted the media since the election as well as workers demanding rights.

"Since 2006, authorities have responded harshly to workers, teachers, and women's rights groups who advocate for better working conditions, better wages, benefits, and demands for changes in discriminatory laws," it said.

"In 2009 the authorities arrested union leaders, women activists, and suppressed gatherings of teachers and workers."

Iran has banned Iranians from contacting 60 organizations including the BBC, Human Rights Watch and U.S.-funded broadcasters that Tehran says are suspected of being involved in Western efforts to topple the clerical establishment.

The authorities have signaled they will tolerate no more protests after eight people, including a nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, were killed in fiery demonstrations in December during the Shiite ritual of Ashuraa.