Arab developments in a week:

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques discusses with Qatari Prime Minister regional, international developments

Sultan Qaboos holds talks with UAE, Qatari leaders on recent developments

Lebanon defends maritime rights against Israel

Hariri says plan being prepared to nudge out government

Gaddafi’s departure is main theme of contacts as Libyan leader makes overtures to Israel

Egypt’s military council asserts respect for freedom of opinion, keenness on rule of law

Saudi Arabia:

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud received at his palace Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor Al Thani and the accompanying delegation.

The Qatari official conveyed the greetings of Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. In turn, the King sent his greetings to the Emir.

During the audience, they discussed the developments at regional and international arenas in addition to prospects of cooperation between the two countries.

The audience was attended by Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, Chief of General Intelligence; Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Advisor to the King; and Qatari Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Ali bin Abdullah Al Mahmoud.

Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior, received at his office the visiting Qatari Prime Minister and the accompanying delegation.

During the audience, they discussed issues of mutual concern to the two countries and the latest developments at regional and international arenas.

Sultanate of Oman:

His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said returned on Thursday from Doha after five-day private visits to the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

During the visits, His Majesty held talks with UAE President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and Qatar Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, on strengthening the mutual cooperation and bilateral relations.

His Majesty was received upon his return at the Royal Airport by HH Sayyid Fahd Bin Mahmoud Al Said, Deputy Prime Minister for the Council of Ministers, HH Sayyid Asa’ad Bin Tariq Al Said, HH Sayyid Haitham Bin Tariq Al Said, HE Sayyid Hamoud Bin Faisal Al Busaidi, Minister of Interior, HE Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdullah Al Hinai, Minister of Justice, HE Lt-General Hassan Bin Mohsin Al Shraiqi, Inspector-General of Police and Customs, Commanders of the Sultan’s Armed Forces and Chargé d’Affaires of the Qatari Embassy to the Sultanate.

His Majesty has sent a cable of greetings to UAE President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan while crossing the UAE airspace on his way home. In his cable, His Majesty expressed his sincere greetings along with his best wishes of good health, happiness and a long life to Sheikh Khalifa praying to Almighty to grant him success to achieve further progress to the Emirati brotherly people under his wise leadership.

Earlier, His Majesty left Doha after a three-day private visit.

Hamad Al Thani led the farewell ceremony for His Majesty the Sultan at Doha International Airport.

His Majesty was seen off by Sheikh Abdullah Bin Hamad Al Thani, Son of Emir of Qatar, Abdullah Bin Khalifa Al Attiyah, Minister of the State (Head of the Mission of Honor accompanying His Majesty the Sultan) during the visit, HE Mohammed Bin Nasser Al Wahaibi, the Sultanate’s Ambassador to Qatar, Qatari ambassador to the Sultanate and members of the Sultanate’s embassy in Qatar.

During the visit, His Majesty was accompanied by an official delegation comprising HE Sayyid Khalid Bin Hilal Al Busaidi, Minister of the Diwan of Royal Court, HE Gen. Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Numani, Royal Office Minister, HE Yousuf Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah, Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs, HE Darwish Bin Ismail Al Balushi, Minister Responsible for Financial Affairs, HE Mohammed Bin Al Zubair, Adviser to His Majesty the Sultan for Economic Planning Affairs, HE Dr Mohammed Bin Hamad Al Rumhy, Oil and Gas Minister, HE Sheikh Sa’ad Bin Mohammed Al Mardhouf Al Sa’adi, Commerce and Industry Minister and HE Mohammed Bin Nasser Al Wahaibi, the Sultanate’s Ambassador to Qatar.

His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said has sent a cable of thanks and appreciations to the Qatar emir.

In his cable, His Majesty the Sultan expressed his utmost thanks and appreciation to Hamad Al Thani for the warm welcome and generous hospitality.

His Majesty affirmed that the meeting with Qatar emir reflected the deep strong fraternal relations binding the Qatari and Omani people and the keenness to consolidating and supporting them in all spheres to serve the common interests of the two countries.

His Majesty wished Hamad Al Thani good health and happiness and the Qatari people further progress and prosperity under his wise leadership.


Lebanon's president on Monday warned Israel against "unilateral decisions" in the demarcation of a shared maritime border, as a feud over offshore gas reserves between the two states deepens.

"President Michel Sleiman warns against any unilateral decisions Israel may take on maritime borders which would be a breach of international law, as is Israel's habit," Sleiman's office said in a statement.

Sleiman also said the issue would be up for talks at the first meeting of Lebanon's new government, which last Thursday won a vote of confidence in parliament.

While Prime Minister Najib Mikati's government is dominated by Shiite militant group Hezbollah, the last Western-backed Lebanese government had taken a similar stand in the growing conflict over offshore gas reserves.

Israel's cabinet on Sunday approved a map of the country's proposed maritime borders with Lebanon to be submitted for a UN opinion.

The proposed map lays out maritime borders that conflict significantly with those suggested by Lebanon in its own submission to the United Nations.

Lebanon's Energy Minister Gebran Bassil said Beirut will not give up its maritime rights and accused Israel of "violations of (Lebanese) waters, territory and airspace, and today our oil rights."

Israel for months has been moving to develop several large offshore natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean, some shared with Cyprus, that it hopes could help it to become an energy exporter.

But its development plans have stirred controversy with Lebanon, which argues the gas fields lie inside its territorial waters.

Israel does not have officially demarcated maritime borders with Lebanon, and the two nations remain technically at war.

Meanwhile, the opposition March 14 movement can bring down the government and its Hezbollah allies, the former Lebanese prime minister said.

Hezbollah helped bring down the government of Saad Hariri while he was on a state visit to Washington in January.

Hezbollah was frustrated with Hariri's support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, a U.N.-backed panel investigating the 2005 assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. V Four members of Hezbollah were implicated by the tribunal in the 2005 slaying.

The March 8 alliance, which includes members of Hezbollah, helped usher in a new government under Najib Mikati.

Saad Hariri in his first statement in months said Lebanon would fall if Hezbollah doesn't cooperate with the tribunal.

"If Hezbollah did not cooperate with the tribunal, then Lebanon would pay the price," he was quoted by The Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon as saying.

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah rejected the tribunal as an Israeli ploy meant to discredit his Shiite movement.

Hariri said his allies in the March 14 alliance would eventually bring down the Mikati government.

"There will be a strong opposition. I don't think the government will last until the (2013) elections," he was quoted as saying. "With complete frankness, we can bring down the government."

Hariri on Tuesday defended a UN-backed court that has indicted Hezbollah members in the 2005 murder of his father against "misleading accusations" by the Shiite group.

"After the indictment was issued, I decided it was time for me to speak, to rectify... (Hezbollah leader) Hassan Nasrallah's misleading accusations that the tribunal is Israeli, that its indictment was formed even before the investigation," Hariri said in an interview with local television from Paris via video link.

"Even if Hassan Nasrallah holds 300 press conferences, that will not alter the indictment in any way," added the former premier in his first public statement since March. "There are people accused (of the assassination) who must now be represented before court."

The Netherlands-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon has indicted four members of Iranian-backed Hezbollah in the 2005 assassination of Hariri's father.

Among those indicted by the tribunal for the February 14, 2005 bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others in Beirut is Mustafa Badreddine, brother-in-law of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh, assassinated three years ago in Damascus.

Nasrallah, leader of the Shiite militant group, has said he would never hand over the four, adding the tribunal was heading for a trial in absentia.

Nasrallah has repeatedly dismissed the tribunal as a US-Israeli conspiracy against his armed party.

The indictment comes at a delicate time for Hezbollah, as its ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faces an unprecedented domestic uprising against his rule.

The Hariri murder sparked a wave of massive protests in Lebanon in 2005 which, combined with international pressure, forced Syria to withdraw its troops from the country, ending a 29-year deployment.

Syria was widely suspected of having a hand in Hariri's murder but has denied any involvement.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon opened its doors in 2009 and is the first international court with jurisdiction to try an act of terrorism.


The volatile situation in Libya will be the first item on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's packed agenda during her latest around-the-world diplomatic tour.

Clinton departed Washington on Thursday for Turkey, where she will attend a meeting in Istanbul of senior officials from the more than 40 nations supporting NATO's operation to protect Libyan civilians.

The fourth meeting of foreign ministers from the so-called Contact Group on Libya will be looking not only at stepping up pressure on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to leave power, but also boosting support to the cash-starved opposition Transitional National Council.

Clinton has participated in two previous Contact Group meetings at which the countries represented, including the U.S., have moved to formalize ties with the council and provide it with financial and other assistance. The Obama administration has delivered humanitarian aid and has been working for weeks with Congress to free up some of more than $30 billion in frozen Gaddafi regime assets in U.S. banks to support the council. But, much to the council's disappointment, Washington has not yet recognized the group as Libya's legitimate government.

Friday's Contact Group meeting comes as U.S. officials say pressure appears to be building against Gaddafi's regime after months of apparent stalemate between his forces and rebels.

While the battle is far from won, the officials point to three key indicators: dwindling fuel supplies, a cash crisis and reports of low morale among regime troops.

That assessment came as French authorities said Libyan emissaries are seeking sanctuary for Gaddafi, who has survived sustained bombing by NATO war planes and U.S. armed drones since mid-March.

Clinton has steered clear of discussing intelligence reports from the ground or what she may be bringing to the table in Istanbul, but said Wednesday that she believed that Gaddafi’s days in power "are numbered."

She also said Gaddafi associates were sending mixed messages about whether he would be willing to step down.

"We are still getting contradictory signals from Col. Gaddafi’s camp," she told reporters at a joint news conference with visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. "He has yet to meet the red lines that are set by the international community to cease violence against his people, withdraw his forces and step down from power.

"So although neither of us can predict to you the exact day or hour that Gaddafi will leave power, we do understand and agree that his days are numbered," Clinton said. "We will continue to work closely with our international partners, including Russia, to increase the pressure on him and his regime, and we will keep looking for a way to achieve a cease-fire, end the military action, give the Libyan people a chance to plot their own way forward."

After the focus on Libya at the Contact Group, Clinton will meet Saturday with Turkish officials for talks that are expected to concentrate on Middle East peace efforts, Turkey's strained relations with Israel, Iran, and the brutal crackdown on pro-reform demonstrators in Syria. Clinton will also attend an event in Istanbul aimed at promoting religious tolerance with the head of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference, which represents Muslim interests.

From Turkey, Clinton travels to Greece for talks on Sunday that are likely to be dominated by that country's financial crisis and Greek relations with Turkey and its neighbors in the Balkans.

She will then head further east, to India, to resume the U.S-India Strategic Dialogue. That will probably focus on counterterrorism, particularly after Wednesday's bombings in Mumbai, and India's role in promoting stability in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Clinton said Wednesday that she would not be deterred from visiting India by the latest attacks.

"I believe it is more important than ever that we stand with India, deepen our partnership and reaffirm our commitment to the shared struggle against terrorism," she said.

While in India, Clinton will become the first secretary of state to visit the southeastern port city of Chennai, where she will deliver a speech on U.S.-Indian relations and India's role as a leader in South Asia. Chennai is home to numerous and growing U.S. investments.

In May, Ford Motor Co. said it would spend $72 million to expand an engine plant in the city to support sales and export growth and help the company build more fuel-efficient engines for India and other markets.

After India, Clinton will move to Indonesia for a Southeast Asian regional security conference on the resort island of Bali.

In addition to meetings with Pacific Rim foreign ministers, she plans to address developments in the South China Sea, where the U.S. has expressed concerns about increasing Chinese belligerence, the Obama administration's engagement policy with the military leaders in Myanmar and efforts to get North Korea back to nuclear disarmament talks.

Clinton will also visit Hong Kong to deliver a major speech on the administration's promotion of U.S. companies overseas and the need for foreign countries to abandon protectionist policies.

She will then make a brief trip to southern mainland China and return to the United States on July 25.

Meanwhile, a Libyan business delegation loyal to embattled ruler Muammar Gaddafi has traveled to Israel and held meetings with senior Israeli politicians.

It was not immediately clear why the pro-Gaddafi delegation visited Israel but according to Israeli sources, the Libyans traveled to Israel in a bid to repair the tarnished image of their nation and ruler.

The Libyan delegation of four businessmen has reportedly met with Israel's opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who had expressed support for anti-Gaddafi protesters when a popular uprising began against his rule.

According to Israel Channel 2 News, the Libyans gave Livni a CD containing a personal recorded message from Gaddafi.

They also met with Kadima lawmaker Meir Sheetrit and Jews of Libyan origin in Netanya.

The Libyan delegation's visit has caused a dispute between Israeli interior ministry and foreign ministry with each blaming the other for granting visas to the Libyans.

The Libyan delegation obtained visas from the Israeli embassy in Paris after gaining approval from Israeli security services.

Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports suggest that the embattled Libyan ruler might seek asylum in Israel.

Israel's Channel 2 News last year interviewed two Israeli Jewish women of Libyan origin who claimed to be relatives of Gaddafi.

"The story goes that Gaddafi's grandmother, herself a Jewess, was married to a Jewish man at first. But he treated her badly, so she ran away and married a Muslim sheikh. Their child was the mother of Gaddafi", said Rachel Saada, who claimed to be a distant relative of Gaddafi.

Should their story be true, which would make Gaddafi a Jewish, then Israel would be obligated by its own laws to grant him asylum.

Libya has been the scene of intense fighting between government troops and revolutionary forces since mid-February.

Tripoli and some western provinces remain under Gaddafi's control while the revolutionaries hold Benghazi, most of the east and several western cities.

The deadly conflict has left thousands of people dead and many others wounded.

Revolutionary forces want an end to Gaddafi's decades-long rule.


Egypt's ruling military council sought to placate an angry protest movement on Wednesday by announcing the sacking of hundreds of police officers and a delay of parliamentary elections.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces -- which took power when president Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February -- has been struggling to contain nationwide protests denouncing the army's handling of the transition.

Hundreds have been camping out in Cairo's Tahrir Square -- the epicenter of protests that toppled Mubarak -- and in the canal city of Suez to demand political change.

Among protesters' key demands are the sacking and trial of all police officers accused of torture or killing protesters and a reform of the interior ministry.

Anger over routine police torture was a driving force behind the January 25 uprising, during which clashes with security forces and Mubarak loyalists left 846 people dead and more than 6,000 injured.

On Wednesday, Interior Minister Mansour al-Essawy announced the sacking of hundreds of senior police officers in "the biggest reshuffle in the police force's history."

He told reporters that 505 generals and 164 commissioned officers would lose their jobs, which includes those currently on trial for killing protesters during the uprising.

The reshuffle would also seem some officers retire early, some relocated and others promoted, and the hiring of hundreds of new recruits.

He said the move "would pump new blood into the ministry which would ... adhere to the goals and principles of the January 25 revolution."

The military council also said parliamentary elections scheduled for September have been delayed for up to two months.

"It has been decided to hold elections for the People's Assembly and the Shura Council next October or November," MENA state news agency quoted the official as saying, in reference to the lower and upper houses of parliament.

The army had clearly set out a timetable for parliamentary elections in September, followed by the drafting of a constitution and a date then set for presidential elections.

But a debate on whether to delay the elections had been underway for months, with some calling for them to be postponed in order to give new groups more time to organize.

Early polls were expected to play into the hands of the well-entrenched Muslim Brotherhood, as parties born after the uprising struggle to recruit members.

Some groups had also expressed concern that holding elections first would result in the Islamist group having too much influence over the writing of the constitution.

On the other hand, others want to push ahead with elections to have the ruling military council -- which they see as an extension of the old regime -- out of power as soon as possible.

Wednesday's measures received a lukewarm reaction from Cairo's Tahrir Square, where protesters are adamant about pursuing sit-ins until the rest of the revolt's central demands -- including an end to military trials of civilians -- are met.

"It's just theatre," said Hussein Abdulaziz, 38. "What's important is not to delay the elections; it's to have a new constitution first."

"These announcements are not sufficient," said Naguib Said, 31, who believes "the priority is to have trials for the murderers of the martyrs."

But some welcomed the move as a step forward.

"If the sackings in the police force actually take place, that's good news. Let's hope it will continue," said Mai Khaled, 31.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said he was unaware of the delay but voiced understanding for the difficulties in organizing the elections.

"It's important that these elections move forward in as free and fair a manner as possible," he said. "If that indeed entails a delay, that's something we would have to look at. But it's important that they remain on track."