Recent developments in the region until December 8:

Saudi Defense Minister Prince Salman signs agreement on Prince Salman University in Kharj, visits palace of founding king

Saudi Arabia calls for end to bloodshed in Syria

U.S. vice president renews campaign of accusations against Syrian regime, Assad refutes allegations

Government announced in Yemen

Ganzouri government in Egypt sworn in before Field Marshal Tantawi


Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, Minister of Defense, paid this week a visit to Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz University in Kharj Governorate, during which he opened the first phase of the University City and laid the foundation stone for the building of the university administration and support deanships.

Upon arrival at the venue, he was received by Governor of Al-Kharj, Prince Abdulrahman bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz; Acting Minister of Higher Education Dr. Mutlab bin Abdullah Al-Nafeesah; Rector of King Saud University Dr. Abdullah bin Abdurrahman Al-Othman; Rector of Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz University Dr. Abdulrahman bin Mohammed Al-Asemi; and Deputy Minister of Higher Education Dr Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Seif.

Then, Prince Salman witnessed the ceremony for signing a cooperation and strategic partnership agreement between Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA)and Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz University which was signed by SCTA President, Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, and the University's Rector.

At the end of the visit, Prince Salman expressed in a visitors' register his admiration of this scientific edifice and its achievements over two years.


The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has expressed concern on continuing violence in Syria and the increase in number of martyrs due to bloody incidents there.

In a speech before the extraordinary meeting of the Human Rights Council on Syria, Dr. Abdulwahab Attar, Saudi Arabia's ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations, drew the attention to the call by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz on the Syrian leadership to promptly stop violence and enter into instant reforms and urged the Syrian authorities to stop human rights abuse and achieve the aspirations of the Syrian people in reform and progress.

Attar also said the Kingdom has repeatedly underscored the importance of abiding by the resolutions of the Arab League and other initiatives aiming at defusing the crisis.

The best that could come out of this meeting is to support the Arab League initiative to stop bloodshed in Syria, he added.

The Arab League sought Iraq's help on Thursday in persuading Syria to allow observers on its soil as part of efforts to end unrest, as activists called for a civil disobedience campaign against the regime.

A defiant President Bashar al-Assad meanwhile vowed that Syria would "not change its positions" in the face of any pressure, a day after drawing a stinging US rebuke for denying he had ordered a deadly crackdown on protesters.

On the ground, activists said security forces killed 12 people Thursday as they pushed their months-long crackdown against regime opponents in the protest hubs of Homs and Idlib.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told a joint news conference in Baghdad with Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi that Iraq would try to convince Syria to accept an Arab peace deal and the deployment of monitors.

"We will exert efforts and discuss with the Syrian government how to remove all the obstacles facing this initiative," said Zebari.

Arabi added: "The ball is in the Syrian court."

Iraq has close trade ties with Syria and has refused to enforce the sweeping sanctions against Damascus approved by the Arab League on November 27 over the Syrian government's deadly crackdown on protests.

The Arab League wants Syria to allow a group of observers in the country to monitor the situation on the ground.

Burhan Ghalioun, who heads the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said Assad's conditional acceptance of observers does not amount to meaningful progress, in an interview published Thursday in Brazil's Estado de Sao Paulo daily.

"The president (Assad) is viewed as a murderer by the majority of the Syrian people and any negotiation for a democratic transition requires Assad relinquishing power" Ghalioun said.

At the United Nations on Thursday, Britain, France and Germany said the UN's human rights chief Navi Pillay should brief the Security Council on the Assad regime's relentless assault on protesters, diplomats said.

The UN says at least 4,000 people -- mostly civilians -- have been killed in the crackdown since anti-regime protests erupted in mid-March.

Last month the Arab bloc suspended Syria's membership and hit the Damascus regime with crippling trade and diplomatic sanctions, warning of further measures unless it signs a protocol allowing in an observer mission.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said the monitors would be allowed to enter the country under certain conditions, according to the text of a letter to Arabi published by Syrian newspapers.

If Syria observers into the country all the Arab bloc's sanctions would become "null and void", the letter said.

Assad said he would not be swayed by pressure, the official SANA news agency reported on Thursday.

"Syria is strong, thanks to its people and the support of friends," he told a delegation of Lebanese Druze clerics in Damascus.

An Arab League ministerial team is due to meet on Saturday in Qatar to discuss the next move, according to an Arab diplomat.

Assad said in an interview with ABC News broadcast on Wednesday that no government would kill its people "unless it's led by a crazy person" and said he did not "own" the security forces carrying out the violence.

His remarks -- coming after a bloody weekend which saw more than 100 people reportedly killed across Syria -- fuelled a stinging rebuke from Washington.

"It either says that he's completely lost any power that he had within Syria, that he's simply a tool or that he's completely disconnected with reality," said US State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

In Thursday's violence, Syrian forces killed 10 civilians in the central city of Homs and two others in the northwestern province of Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

A woman was among those killed in Homs, a main hub for dissent that has been besieged for more than two months, with security forces using sniper fire and "arbitrary" shelling, said the Britain-based group.

The Local Coordination Committees activist network appealed for citizens to mobilize for a "dignity strike" to begin Sunday "which will lead to the sudden death of this tyrant regime".

It urged citizens to start with sit-ins at work and the closure of shops and universities, before the shutdown of transportation networks and a general public sector strike.

SANA said, meanwhile, that "an armed terrorist group targeted in a sabotage operation the pipeline of Tal al-Shor, west of Homs."

The Observatory also reported the explosion of "an oil pipeline in Homs which transports crude to the city's refinery from eastern Syria" but gave no cause for the blast.

Syria's president denied he ordered the deadly crackdown on a nearly 9-month-old uprising in his country, claiming he is not in charge of the troops behind the assault.

Speaking to ABC's Barbara Walters in a rare interview that aired Wednesday, President Bashar Assad maintained he did not give any commands "to kill or be brutal."

"They're not my forces," Assad responded when asked if Syrian troops had cracked down too hard on protesters. "They are military forces (who) belong to the government. I don't own them. I'm president. I don't own the country."

He said some Syrian troops may have behaved badly, but they faced punishment.

In his role as president, Assad is the commander of Syria's armed forces.

The U.N. estimates more than 4,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began in March, many of them civilians and unarmed protesters demanding Assad's ouster.

"Who said the United Nations is a credible institution?" Assad said, when Walters asked him about allegations of widespread violence and torture.

"We don't kill our people," said Assad, a 46-year-old, British-trained eye doctor. "No government in the world (kills) its people unless it is led by a crazy person."

Since the uprising began nearly nine months ago, Assad and his closest advisers have sealed off the country to outsiders while clinging to the allegation that foreign extremists are behind the uprising, not true reform-seekers aiming to open the authoritarian political system.

But the United Nations and others dismiss the government's claims, and blame the regime for widespread killings, rape and torture.

Witnesses and activists inside Syria describe brutal repression, with government forces firing on unarmed protesters and terrifying, house-to-house raids in which families are dragged from their homes in the night.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Assad was trying to shirk responsibility.

"I find it ludicrous that he is attempting to hide behind some sort of shell game but also some sort of claim that he doesn't exercise authority in his own country," Toner said.

Murhaf Jouejati, a Syria expert at George Washington University, said Assad's stonewalling is part of a long tradition for dictators who refuse to accept responsibility.

He pointed to Assad's uncle, Rifaat, believed to be a driving force behind the 1982 massacre of thousands in the city of Hama, one of the darkest moments in the modern Middle East.

"Bashar Assad said he is not responsible, and we heard his uncle Rifaat Assad say he was not responsible for Hama. So after 41 years the Assad family is not responsible for anything," Jouejati said. "If he is not responsible then we don't know what he is doing in the presidency."

In the early days of the uprising, Assad offered some promises of reform — but at the same time he unleashed the military to crush the protests with tanks and snipers.

The relentless bloodshed has pushed many once-peaceful protesters to take up arms. Army dissidents who sided with the protests have also grown bolder, fighting back against regime forces and even attacking military bases and raising fears of a civil war.

Still, Assad insisted he still had the support of Syrians, and said he was not afraid of meeting the fate of other leaders deposed during the Arab Spring.

"The only thing that you could be afraid of as president (is) to lose the support of your people," he said.

"If you don't have the support of the people you cannot be in this position," he said. "Syria is not easy ... it is a very difficult country to govern if you don't have the public support."

Assad laughed slightly when asked if he felt guilty about the bloodshed.

"I did my best to protect the people," he said. "You cannot feel guilty when you do your best ... you do not feel guilty when you don't kill people. You feel sorry for the lives that have been lost but you don't feel guilty."


Bahrain says staff at its airport have detonated a suspect package sent from Britain via Dubai, the week after a blast near the British embassy.

The parcel was originally thought to contain explosives but on examination, the ministry of interior said it contained only bomb-making materials.

Officials in Bahrain have told the BBC they believe the device was a dummy to "test their defenses".

The UK Foreign Office says it is aware of the reports and is checking them.

Meanwhile, riot police in the capital Manama fired tear gas and rubber bullets at hundreds of protesters trying to reach a key landmark.

The Shiite-majority protesters - who are demanding more rights from Bahrain's Sunni rulers - were trying to reach Pearl Square, the centre of demonstrations which erupted earlier this year.

They began marching after ceremonies commemorating the death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson Hussein, in 680AD, a key event in the Shiite faith.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says UK counter-terrorism police are working with the Bahraini authorities to investigate the device.

After detonating the package, Bahrain's ministry of interior said on its Twitter account: "Correction: after examining package at lab it turns the materials used aren't explosives, but contained tools used to make explosives".

On Sunday, Bahrain said an explosion outside the British embassy in the capital Manama was caused by a bomb placed under a vehicle nearby. It blew the wheel off a van and damaged other vehicles nearby.

British diplomats were not thought to be the target, our correspondent says.

Last week, the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that a senior police officer who resigned from the Metropolitan Police earlier this year was going to Bahrain to help reform the police there.


Yemen's vice president issued a decree on Wednesday to set up a national unity government to prepare for elections, as fighting raged on the streets of the capital Sana’a.

The announcement by vice-President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi paves the way for a unity government to be sworn in as part of a plan to end months of protests against outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In the latest threat to a transition away from Saleh's 33-year rule, government forces traded artillery fire with tribal foes in Sana’a, witnesses said.

One person was killed and more than a dozen were injured, according to the office of a tribal leader and Saleh opponent whose compound came under fire.

Under a Gulf-brokered power transfer plan signed in Saudi Arabia last month, Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC) party agreed to divide cabinet posts with its opponents in a coalition government headed by an opposition leader.

Mohammed Basindwa, a former foreign minister, was nominated to head the new government by opposition parties.

The GPC retained the key portfolios of defense and foreign affairs, while opposition parties received the interior and finance ministries.

Basindwa told Reuters the swearing in would take place on Saturday.

Apart from preparing for the presidential election, set for February 21, 2012, the new government faces numerous challenges, such as restoring security, providing vital services disrupted by 10 months of mass protests and combating rising separatist sentiment in the south.

"I think the government is going to find it very difficult to be able to function and govern the whole of the united country properly. It remains to be seen how the street will react to this new government and the south also in particular," said Ghanem Nuseibeh, an analyst and founder of the Cornerstone Global Associates consultancy.

The government must also deal with Islamist militants who have exploited the protests to strengthen their southern foothold.

Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia and the United States that a slide toward more chaos after the uprising against Saleh would embolden Yemen's al-Qaeda wing, against which Washington has waged a campaign of drone strikes.

Fighting raged in Sana’a on Wednesday near government buildings and the compound of tribal leader Sadeq al-Ahmar, an arch-rival of Saleh. His office said one person had been killed and 13 injured in shelling by government forces on the al-Hasaba district.

Witnesses said shells had fallen on government buildings including the headquarters of state radio and the prime minister's offices as government forces fought Ahmar's men in their al-Hasaba stronghold.

"Militants and army soldiers have been fighting near the Interior Ministry since dawn. They're using machineguns and RPGs," Abdulrahman, a Sana’a resident, said by phone as gunfire reverberated in the background.

"We are trapped in our homes and can't get out," he said. Residents of Sana’a said the streets were nearly empty in the affected districts.

The capital saw open warfare in May between Saleh's forces and those of Ahmar, a leader of the powerful Hashed tribal confederation, after Saleh pulled out of signing the transition deal backed by the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Last month Saleh bowed to international pressure and street protests demanding an end to chronic poverty, rampant corruption and lack of economic opportunity, and handed his powers to Hadi.

But the deal is threatened by fighting between Saleh's allies and enemies. In Taiz, 200 km (120 miles) south of Sana’a, the clashes have left at least 20 dead and led the United Nations to demand that government forces stop shooting protesters.

As fighting continued with al Qaeda-linked Islamists in the south, nine militants and four soldiers were killed on Wednesday outside the city of Zinjibar, centre of a province where the militants have seized swathes of territory, a local official said.

In Yemen's north, new fighting flared up on Wednesday between Shiite Muslim rebels, whom Saleh's forces attempted to crush with Saudi help in 2009, and Sunni Muslim Salafi Islamists, a Salafi spokesman said.

The Salafis, who espouse a puritanical creed influential in neighboring Saudi Arabia, have said at least 25 people were killed late last month in attacks by Shiite Houthi fighters on a Salafi-run religious school in Saada province on the Saudi border.

The Houthis effectively control the province and are deeply suspicious of the Salafis, who deem Shiites heretics. They accuse the Salafis of attempting to build military camps near the border.


The Muslim Brotherhood's political party said Wednesday it had won a majority of the seats up for grabs in Egypt's run-off elections, which would give it at least 40 percent of the seats in parliament decided thus far.

The Freedom and Justice Party said in a statement that it won 36 of the 56 seats awarded to individual candidates in voting which concluded on Tuesday.

The Islamist group already won almost 37 percent of the vote in earlier polling, which awarded seats according to party lists.

The Brotherhood's political arm and other Islamist blocs have so far dominated the first election since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in February, with liberal parties trailing.

The ultraconservative Al-Nour Party has come in second after the Muslim Brotherhood, winning nearly a quarter of the ballots cast in the late November vote for party lists.

Al-Nour, comprised of followers of the Islamic Salafi trend, adheres to strict religious observance and believes Islamic laws, or Shariah, should be the basis of the Egyptian state.

Al-Nour party spokesman Yousseri Hammad told The Associated Press on Wednesday that his group won at least five additional seats in runoffs. Votes are still being counted.

Some Islamists, however, faced a tough battle in Cairo.

Candidate Mostafa al-Naggar of the newly-formed liberal Justice Party said he won against a Muslim Brotherhood candidate in the run-off vote.

The Brotherhood meanwhile said that one of their candidates had beaten a particularly controversial Al-Nour candidate, Abdel-Monem el-Shahat, in the northern coastal city of Alexandria.

El-Shahat caused a stir during the run-up to the vote by saying the novels of Egypt's Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, read widely in Egyptian schools, are "all prostitution."

Both the Muslim Brotherhood and various Salafi groups have long offered social and medical services to millions of impoverished Egyptians, winning them political backing. Most of the parties formed after the downfall of Mubarak lack name recognition and thus have less clout, especially in rural areas.

The voting for the 498-member elected parliament is staggered over three stages, with two-thirds of the country yet to cast ballots.

Meanwhile, an interim government led by a prime minister appointed by the military is scheduled to be sworn in on Wednesday. It will likely only govern Egypt until elections for both houses of parliament conclude in March.

Kamal el-Ganzouri was named to the premiership last month after the previous interim administration resigned in the wake of violent clashes between protesters and police.

His appointment was supposed to meet public demand for a more empowered government, which could deal with lawlessness and instability, social unrest and a battered economy.

However, military rulers will retain power over the armed forces and the judiciary.


Israel has approved construction of a new Jewish enclave in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood of annexed east Jerusalem, state-owned Channel One TV reported Wednesday.

The channel said the 14-home project, to be named Maale David, was approved late Wednesday by the Jerusalem city council's planning committee and was likely to spark fresh international condemnation of Israel's settlements policy.

It is to be sited in the Arab neighborhood of Ras al-Amud, near an existing Jewish settlement of 1,000 people, the report said.

"By this decision the committee is throwing oil on the flames... encouraging the settlers (and) their very explosive and problematic presence in this neighborhood," Yudith Oppenheimer, of Israeli NGO Ir Amim which lobbies for co-existence in Jerusalem, told the channel.

"We condemn this Israeli step very strongly," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told AFP, adding a call for international support for a Palestinian appeal to the UN Security Council to intervene against the settlement.

Earlier this week, the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization decided to seek a Security Council meeting on the issue, Erekat said.

"The Palestinian leadership has decided ... to go urgently to the Security Council to stop these settlement plans, which aim to prevent the implementation of the two-state solution," he said.

"We took the decision to begin preparing a Security Council resolution to stop these practices," he added. He said "consultations" with the council would begin immediately.

Last month, the Israeli housing ministry invited tenders for the construction of more than 800 new homes in Har Homa and Pisgat Zeev, two settlement neighborhoods in occupied and annexed east Jerusalem, as part of a response to a successful Palestinian bid to join UNESCO.

On November 1, Israel's inner cabinet decided to speed up construction of homes for Jews in Arab east Jerusalem and in other nearby settlements to punish the Palestinians for joining the UN agency a day earlier.

The initiative brought protest from the Palestinians and statements of concern from the international community.

Israeli construction of settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank remains one of the thorniest issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, scuppering direct negotiations that began in September 2010 and ground to a halt shortly afterwards when a 10-month Israeli settlement freeze ended.

In May this year, the speaker of Israel's parliament and two ministers attended the dedication of a previous batch of Jewish settler homes at Ras al-Amud, on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, overlooking the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound and close to the centre of east Jerusalem.

The international community has repeatedly called on Israel to stop new building projects in east Jerusalem, which it captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and annexed shortly afterwards.


The 35th Conference of Arab Police and Security Commanders was opened in Beirut this week. The two-day conference is organized by the General Secretariat of the Council of Arab Interior Ministers.

The Kingdom's delegation to the conference was headed by Assistant Director General of Public Security for Planning and Development Affairs Maj. Gen. Saleh bin Mohammed Al-Shehri.

The conference will discuss the relation between security and citizenship services in addition to creating a stable security environment that contributes to the economic and human development of Arab countries.

The opening ceremony was attended by Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali bin Saeed Awadh Asiri and a number of Arab security and police commanders.


A U.S. official tells CBS News that there is "high confidence" that a captured American aircraft shown on Iranian television is, in fact, one of this country's most sophisticated spy planes.

The Pentagon declined to comment, but the American official says analysis of the video confirms the RQ-170 unmanned drone was captured. Exactly how that happened is still being analyzed.

CBS News correspondent Bob Orr reports that the aircraft presented as the unmanned U.S. surveillance drone appeared to be nearly intact, though the undercarriage was obscured by propaganda banners draped below the wings.

The message on the left proclaimed, "America cannot do any harm to us." And on the right, against a background of American flags and skulls, the message read: "We have trampled on America."

U.S. officials - still studying the video - are convinced the aircraft is the stealth drone reported lost over the weekend. But, the Pentagon declined comment, with spokesman George Little citing intelligence concerns.

"We did have a UAV go missing, but when it comes to sensitive reconnaissance missions, we call them sensitive for a reason," Little said.

Military officials originally said controllers lost contact with an RQ-170 drone as it flew over Western Afghanistan. However, sources say the spy plane was actually on an intelligence-gathering mission deep inside Iran.

The stealth drones, capable of sending back real-time streaming video, have been used for several years to monitor Iran's nuclear sites and search for other covert operations.

U.S. officials have denied Iran's shifting claims that the drone was either shot down or commandeered by a cyber attack.

But, the displayed aircraft showed no signs of a crash impact, meaning it came down in a relatively flat, controlled descent.

U.S. officials cannot explain how the plane landed apparently undamaged.

Iran now says it will exploit its propaganda prize by reverse engineering the classified systems and sensors. But weapons expert Joseph Cirincione says that may prove difficult.

"You can get dimensions, you can get chemical composition, but it's very hard to duplicate the performance of the parts you're trying to reverse engineer," Cirincione says.

Still, the U.S. is clearly concerned secrets could be compromised. Sources say officials considered launching a mission to either recover or destroy the downed drone, but ultimately concluded there was no workable option.

While getting much out of the downed plane will be difficult, the Iranians can glean details about the aircraft's mechanisms and sensors, and, worse perhaps, share that with Russia or China.