Developments in Arab region in a week:

Yemen clashes continue as opposition rejects dialogue with President Saleh in UAE

Syria’s new parties law met with rejection by opposition

Diplomatic efforts to try stop Libya war, convince Gaddafi to step down

Iran reaffirms respect for Bahrain’s sovereignty


Yemen's opposition dismissed on Monday a government plan for talks aimed at easing unrest after months of mass protests demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh's overthrow, saying it had not even heard of any such "roadmap" for peace.

Vice President Abd-Rabbu Hadi Mansour, who is acting president while Saleh remains in a Saudi Arabian hospital after an assassination attempt, said on Sunday that a road map would be launched within a week.

Government spokesman Tareq al-Shami told Reuters the plan would center on talks with the opposition. "The roadmap is based on all sides gathering at the dialogue table and discussing all the issues," he said.

But the opposition repeated its refusal to talk to the government until Saleh signs a transition plan brokered by Gulf Arab states which the 69-year-old president has backed out of signing three times.

"We knew nothing about the idea of a road map. There is no such thing, and we have decided not to enter any dialogue until the Gulf initiative is signed or power is transferred to the vice president," said Mohammed Basindwa, a leader in Yemen's opposition coalition.

Saleh is trying to cling to power after 33 years in office despite a bomb attack in June that severely wounded him and forced him to seek treatment in Riyadh. He has frustrated opposition hopes that he would concede defeat, instead vowing to return to Yemen and lead a national dialogue.

The United States and Saudi Arabia, both targets of foiled attacks by al-Qaeda's Yemen-based wing, have warily watched unrest rise as Yemen remains mired in political deadlock. They worry the turmoil gives more room to al-Qaeda to operate.

But Yemen's wealthy Gulf Arab neighbors and Washington have so far been unwilling or unable to force Saleh into a transition plan. Some have welcomed the proposals for dialogue, but the political opposition and protesters in the street have vowed to resist, insisting on Saleh's overthrow amid growing chaos.

Separately, Yemeni state media identified the suicide bomber in a truck attack that killed nine soldiers on Sunday as Turki Saad al-Shahrani, a Saudi named on a list of dozens of al Qaeda-linked militants wanted in neighboring Saudi Arabia.

In the south, tribesmen on Monday said they routed militants from parts of the capital of the flashpoint Abyan province.

Zinjibar lies east of a key shipping channel where some 3 million barrels of oil pass daily, and is one of several areas in Abyan seized by militants in recent months.

The tribes began backing a military operation to recapture Zinjibar in recent weeks, after accusing the army of being ineffective.

A tribal source said fierce clashes on Monday sent many militants fleeing north to Lawdar, where they were repelled again. Six militants were wounded and four others captured, he said.

Some 90,000 civilians have fled Abyan to escape violence as the army and tribesmen confront militants the government says have links to al-Qaeda.

Meanwhile, an army brigade in Abyan, whose base has been attacked by militants since neighboring Zinjibar was seized in May, sent a plea to the military for more provisions.

The besieged 25th brigade had called on Sana’a earlier this month to send reinforcements, who have since broken part of a militants' blockade around the base. An officer said despite the dwindling supplies, the troops had not given up their fight.

"Our food supplies are starting to run out. We need more provisions; we only have a small amount left," said an officer. "But we are steadfast against the militants."


Demonstrations were held overnight in a number of Syrian cities and towns as Syrians continue to demand the ouster of the regime.

This comes as the Syrian opposition rejected a law passed by the government to allow for the first time the formation of political parties, arguing that the regime of the ruling Baath Party lacks credibility.

The protests were reported in the cities of Hama, Homs and Deir al-Zour.

In addition, demonstrations were carried out in some towns around Damascus and Idleb. In the meantime, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the security forces have arrested a number of people in Damascus following a demonstration to oust the regime.

Meanwhile, Lebanese source were quoted as saying on Tuesday that Lebanon may ban all foreigners from demonstrating in the country.

This comes after clashes between Syrians who oppose the regime and its loyalists.

Syria's government had endorsed a draft law that it says will allow the formation of political parties alongside President Bashar al-Assad's ruling Baath Party, part of a series of promised reforms that the opposition has dismissed as largely symbolic.

The development came as security forces detained dozens of people in the capital Damascus and several other cities in search for anti-government protesters and regime opponents, activists said Monday.

The National Organization for Human Rights in Syria said a seven-year-old child, a boxing champion and a writer were among those arrested.

The multiparty bill, approved by the Cabinet late Sunday, follows other concessions Assad has made as part of his efforts to quell more than four months of protests against his regime.

He has coupled his pledges of reform with a deadly crackdown on protesters that activists say has killed at least 1,600 people.

The revolt has only grown more defiant in the face of the government response, and protesters have shifted their demands from political change to the outright downfall of the regime.

The draft law, which still needs parliamentary approval, would allow for the establishment of any political party which is not based on religious or tribal lines, or discriminates due to ethnicity, gender or race, the state-run news agency said.

Assad's ruling Baath Party, which calls for "unity, freedom and socialism," has held a monopoly over political life in Syria for decades.

A key demand of the protest movement is the abolishment of Article 8 in the Syrian constitution which states that the Baath Party is the leader of the state and society.

Lawmaker Mohammad Habash told The Associated Press on Monday that the bill still needs to be endorsed by parliament and will likely be presented for debate at the next session on August 7.

He said the bill in itself was positive but that some articles of the constitution must be amended first, including article 8.

Assad, who inherited power in 2000 after the death of his father, President Hafez Assad, has made a series of overtures to try to ease the growing outrage.

He lifted the decades-old emergency laws that gave the regime a free hand to arrest people without charge, granted Syrian nationality to thousands of Kurds — a long-ostracized minority — and issued several pardons.

But the concessions failed to sap the momentum of the protest movement, which dismissed them as either symbolic or far too late.

As a first step, the protesters are demanding an immediate end to the security crackdown and the release of thousands of people who have been detained in recent months.

The government, however, has shown no signs of letting up in its efforts to crush the uprising.

On Monday, security forces tightened their siege of neighborhoods in central Syria's city of Homs, sending military reinforcements and cutting mobile and land lines in the Khaldieh and Bayada districts, activists said.

The heavy deployment of troops and army vehicles sparked concerns of renewed military operations.

An activist in Homs said there were fears of a large scale military operation to try and force an end to the unrest there before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins next week, during which protests are expected to gain momentum.

The activist spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Ammar Qurabi, who heads the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria, said among those arrested in Homs was one of Syria's boxing champions, 26-year-old Mahmoud Kaadi, who was picked up while training. Seven-year-old Naim Qteifan was detained three days ago in the southern town of Daraa, Qurabi also said in a statement.

The Local Coordination Committees, which monitors and helps organize anti-government protests in Syria, also reported a "massive wave of raids and arrests" in the Hajar Aswad district of Damascus.

On Sunday, Syrian troops stormed a northwestern village and made sweeping arrests in the region and in the capital Damascus.

Also Sunday, the president replaced the governor for the eastern oil-rich province of Deir el-Zour, which has seen intense protests calling for the downfall of the regime. Since the uprising began, Assad has removed several governors in tense provinces.

Political upheaval in Syria, hit by months of opposition protests, is weighing heavily on neighboring Lebanon where it risks sparking inter-religious clashes, a U.N. official warned Thursday.

“There is a great worry in Lebanon about this,” said U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams, who raised the potential for “confessional clashes in Lebanon.”

“What comes after [in Syria] worries in Lebanon,” he said.

Activists say the Syrian government’s crackdown against opposition protests has left more than 1,400 civilians dead since mid-March. Thousands more have been jailed.

Ties between Syria and Lebanon are complicated by a lengthy and bloody Syrian occupation of its neighbor, where Damascus has exerted huge political influence. Syria only withdrew its troops from Lebanon in 2005 after three decades of military and political domination.

Williams stressed, however, that the situation remained calm along the U.N. line separating Lebanon from Israel.

“Remarkably, despite tensions and despite some incidents, that resolution has held very well,” he said, referring to a U.N. resolution that ended hostilities between the Lebanese group Hezbollah and Israel. “While the cessation of hostilities has held well, there is no movement toward a cease-fire.”

Williams said the time was right for “a dialogue, a process to discuss the questions of arms, not only Hezbollah.”

Western powers frequently accuse Syria of arming Hezbollah militants despite U.N. resolutions banning such traffic.


It's been more than four months since NATO launched an attack on Muammar Gaddafi's forces in Libya. Since then, opposition forces have gained ground with help from NATO airstrikes, but Gaddafi's military is holding firm so far.

President Obama and other leaders have called on Gaddafi to leave, but he's clearly not listening. Now, the conflict in Libya has turned into a complicated waiting game.

The goal of the U.S. and NATO-launched attacks has been to prevent Gaddafi’s forces from waging war on the Libyan people by destroying his weapons, equipment, and military command and control centers. And if Gaddafi himself happened to be caught up in one of these airstrikes, so be it.

But after four months, some on Capitol Hill are starting to lose patience.

"I mean, he is hanging on, and I've often said that the sooner he is removed, [the] quicker this gets resolved," says Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

"Harsh words, I know," Rogers says, "but the longer this stalemate goes, then you have people selling weapons caches for cash. You have chemical stockpiles that look pretty tempting. There's a lot of buyers on the black market for that stuff."

Anthony Cordesman, with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says the clock has been working against NATO forces.

"When you let something fester this long and you have an extremely weak rebel force, Gaddafi’s forces have time to adapt," Cordesman says. "They use different weapons; they become far less visible targets; they start relying on land mines; they have more time in which to try to divide the people and intimidate."

There's a standoff with NATO and the rebel force on one side, and an unyielding Gaddafi on the other. The Obama administration is looking for ways to tip the scales.

One U.S. official is pushing for the U.S. to use clandestine action to target Gaddafi. The CIA has operatives on the ground in Libya, but so far U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence operation say their role is limited to gathering intelligence about Gaddafi’s forces.

Those same U.S. officials say morale within the regime's military is slipping. There's been a steady stream of defections of officers and troops.

Rogers says those defections haven't been enough to push Gaddafi out.

"He is still firmly in charge and firmly in control of the military apparatus — [so] the rebels are having a hard time engaging," Rogers says.

The other way to break the stalemate is to give the rebels the weapons they need to win decisively, but that's controversial.

According to one U.S. official, opposition leaders have asked the U.S. for tanks, artillery and heavy machine guns. So far, the U.S. has said no.

Still, even without that help, the Libyan rebels have kept up the fight.

According to one U.S. official, the rebels struck a key blow to Gaddafi a couple of weeks ago when they severed a major fuel pipeline that feeds a regime refinery in Zawiya, about 30 miles outside Tripoli.

That's a big part of the NATO strategy: Bleed Gaddafi of money and resources until he surrenders. The problem is that the Libyan people — the same people NATO is trying to protect — suffer too. There are food shortages in Tripoli, and long lines for fuel.

The CIA estimates that before the current crisis, a third of the Libyan population was living at the poverty level. Cordesman says the past few months have made things even worse.

"Nobody has enough momentum to stop this from becoming what it already is: an agonizing, drawn-out process doing immense economic damage to the Libyan people, in which no one can be certain of the outcome," he says.

In other words, the NATO operation meant to prevent one kind of humanitarian crisis may be contributing to another.


Bahrain’s king approved parliamentary reforms after the suppression of pro-democracy protests, granting more powers of scrutiny for the elected lower house but preserving the dominance of an upper house appointed by the royal elite.

King Hamad bin Isa was addressing a state-appointed body called the National Dialogue, set up to address popular grievances after martial law was rescinded in May, after it presented its final proposals on reforms.

They fell far short of what opposition groups and protesters demanded in February and March, when the unrest was crushed.

The country’s largest Shiite opposition group, Wefaq, walked out of the dialogue last week, calling it “theatre”.

“We have ordered the executive and legislative authorities to take the necessary measures to approve the agreements,” the king said in a speech shown on state television.

He also ordered a pay rise for civilian and military government employees — a move reminiscent of Saudi Arabia’s move earlier this year disbursing huge handouts to key sectors of society in a bid to prevent a popular revolt like those that have shaken other authoritarian Arab states this year.

Bahrain’s Sunni Muslim rulers called in troops from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states in March to help quell protests dominated by the majority Shiite community. The government said the unrest was sectarian and backed by non-Arab Shiite power Iran. Bahraini Shiites denied this.

A summary of the National Dialogue’s proposals include a greater degree of oversight of government by the elected lower house but the key dispute over balance of power between different parliamentary chambers was not resolved.

“They did not agree on whether the Shura Council (upper house) should be granted the same powers as the parliament, and whether the responsibility for lawmaking and oversight should be restricted to the elected chamber,” the summary sent to Reuters by the National Dialogue body said. “Delegates did not reach consensus on a number of further suggestions, such as limiting the term for ministers and head of government or a fixed quota for women in parliament.”

The appointed upper house has just as many seats as the elected lower house and dominates the legislative process.

Wefaq spokesman Khalil al-Marzouq said the final proposals vindicated his group’s decision to boycott. It did not attend the ceremony with the king.

“The reason we pulled out is because of this. The upper house should only be there for consultation,” he said, attacking state media fanfare over reforms which he said left a large swath of Bahrainis cold.

Bahrain has tried to address international criticism, including from Washington, of a harsh security crackdown that followed the breakup of the protests involving detention, military trials, sackings and some deaths in custody.

“Participants recognized the importance of resolving the issues surrounding redundancies during the recent unrest,” the summary said. “They recommended looking at international best practices in finding solutions to overcome sectarian divides and support the healing process after the recent crisis.”

Bahrain, home port to the US Fifth Fleet, is seen as a fault line for tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as the leader of Sunni Islam.

The International Crisis Group think-tank issued a bleak report saying a re-eruption of civil unrest was possible at any time in Bahrain with hardliners among Sunnis, Shiites and the ruling elite preparing for any more conflict.

“There is reason to fear that Bahrain is heading for prolonged political stalemate, enforced by a heavy security presence backed by foreign troops and punctuated by protests when circumstance permits,” the ICG said.

Some Sunni Muslim community leaders say they regard the ruling Al Khalifa dynasty as a bulwark against domination by Shiites and fear lifting royal control over parliament.

The summary said the prime minister, appointed by King Hamad bin Isa, would have to secure the approval of parliament for members of his government.

Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman, in his post for 40 years, is regarded as a leading hawk within the ruling family who opposes concessions to the opposition.

“If MPs disapprove they can vote to reject the entire government. Parliament will also have the power to reject the government’s four-year work plan,” it said. “These reforms guarantee that the government’s composition and work plan will reflect the will of the people.”

It also said cabinet ministers would have to attend some parliament sessions and face questioning in the open chamber rather than within the framework of committees.

“Overall, these decisions reinforce the parliament’s powers of scrutiny over the activities of the government,” it said.

There was no agreement on allowing opposition groups to call themselves political parties. The term “party” is seen by the authorities as the terminology of a system in which elected groups can form governments.


Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari demanded on Wednesday that Iran stop shelling positions of Kurdish rebels inside Iraq, saying it damages ties between the neighboring countries.

"We again demand that the Iranian government stop its continuing shelling" of the separatist Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) "because this is not constructive for Iraq-Iranian relations and damages ties," he told reporters.

"The shelling has continued (off-and-on) for five years, but this time the duration has been longer than previous instances," he added.

He said shelling was "random" and damaged farmland in the rural region.

On July 16, Iranian troops launched a major offensive against PJAK bases, losing at least eight Revolutionary Guards, including a senior officer, in clashes on the border.

In Tehran, state-run media reported Wednesday that Revolutionary Guards had killed more than 50 PJAK rebels since beginning the assault, and will continue the operation until Iraq deploys forces along the frontier to prevent cross-border attacks by PJAK rebels.

PJAK spokesman Sherzad Kamankar told AFP renewed clashes had taken place early Wednesday, and that his fighters had prevented a new Iranian incursion.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Monday the fighting has displaced hundreds of villagers in the border regions of northern Iraq.

The autonomous regional government in Iraqi Kurdistan has demanded that Iran respect the border after a Guards commander said Iranian forces had taken "full control" of three PJAK camps inside Iraq.

Some 200 protesters converged Tuesday outside the Iranian consulate in, capital of the Kurdistan region, demanding Tehran stop the shelling, said Mayor Abdelwahed Kawani.

Meanwhile, Fian Suleiman, head of the Women's Council of Kurdistan said that if the shelling did not stop within 72 hours her group would call for a ban on Iranian trade, boycott Iranian goods and call for a closing of the border crossing.

Her group is aligned with the Kurdistan Democratic Party of the regional president, Massoud Barzani.

Iran is one of Iraq's major trade partners, with a large volume of imports coming through the Kurdistan region.

Fighting between Iranian military forces and Kurdish separatists has displaced hundreds of villagers in the border regions of northern Iraq, the Red Cross said on Monday.

In addition, Iranian shelling killed two villagers and wounded two others before dawn in Sidakan district, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Arbil, said Ismail Maqsud, head of the city's Souran hospital.

Iran launched a major offensive last week against rebel Kurdish bases in Iraq in which eight of its own elite Revolutionary Guards were killed. The separatist Party of Free Life of Kurdistan, or PJAK, said it had lost two fighters.

"The International Committee of the Red Cross has provided humanitarian assistance to over 800 internally displaced people in northern Iraq, all of whom have been driven from their homes by the recent shelling in the mountains of Qandil," along the border, the ICRC said in a statement.

"Having left behind all their belongings, the majority of these people are now living under makeshift shelters, tents, or sharing crowded houses with relatives and friends, while a few families could afford renting very basic accommodation," it said.

Meanwhile, the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration said Sunday it was involved in relief efforts in the area, providing basic needs such as beds, plastic furniture and water purification kits.

"Ongoing fighting between Iranian military forces and Iraqi Kurdish separatists has led to the displacement of hundreds of families," the IOM's Iraq mission said.

"The families had been forced to abandon their homes and move to a camp several miles (kilometers) away after numerous artillery strikes on the village. One villager was reported wounded by the strikes, which damaged several homes and the local school," it said in a statement.

PJAK rebels operate out of bases in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, and have been involved in deadly clashes with Iranian troops for many years.

The regional government in Iraqi Kurdistan has demanded Iran respect the border after a Revolutionary Guards commander said Iranian forces had taken "full control" of three PJAK camps inside Iraq.

In Tehran, the commander of the Guards' ground forces, Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour, demanded Baghdad and the Kurdish regional authorities prevent the rebels from attacking Iran from Iraqi territory.

Iranian forces have repeatedly shelled border districts of Iraq's Kurdish region, targeting PJAK bases.


Lebanon’s Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud said Thursday that the country has lost most of its tourists this year due to the unrest in Syria.

He told Radio Free Lebanon that Lebanon has lost most of its tourists due to the unrest in Syria.

Speaking to Radio Free Lebanon, he said that Lebanon lost tens of thousands of tourists from neighboring countries because of restrictions on land travel through Syria , while Western tourists (who only account for less than 10 percent of arrivals) increased by around 12 percent.

The tourism minister said a committee would look for ways to improve services for tourists.

On June 17, the ministry announced that visitors from the Gulf Cooperation Council would no longer require entry visas.

Last year, Lebanon hosted approximately one million visitors, surpassing its pre-war record from 1974. This year has seen a sharp drop in foreign arrivals, with onset of popular uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa.

A reduction in Middle East Airlines fares would encourage tourism in Lebanon, Abboud said.

Speaking at a lunch in Faraya held in honor of a CNN delegation visiting Lebanon, Abboud said the Cabinet is working to promote Lebanon’s tourism, adding that a reduction in MEA ticket prices would be one way of doing so, according to the NNA.

Abboud told the group, which included Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, that an upcoming Cabinet session would be dedicated to boosting tourism.

According to the NNA, CNN reporter Richard Quest, who is currently in the country to produce a report on Beirut, said during the dinner that Lebanon was one of the world's top tourist attractions.