Recent developments in the region until Thursday

GCC security media committee concludes meetings in Dubai

Tensions are going on in Yemen, Syria, Libya

New strategy to combat terrorism in Algeria

International report condemns Israel for firing on Palestinians on Nakba Day

Dubai:

The 3rd meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council security media committee wrapped up proceedings in the UAE city of Dubai on Wednesday, approving a number of recommendations to push forward coordination and cooperation in the fields of information and security awareness in GCC member states.

The recommendations will be referred to the GCC interior ministers during their forthcoming meeting.

The conferees recommended celebrating the international day of civil defense for the year 2012 under the slogan “civil defense and safety of houses.”

Yemen:

Four Yemeni Republican Guards were killed in clashes with anti-regime gunmen in Taez last week, witnesses and tribal sources said, as 79 people were referred to court over a March massacre in the capital.

Fifty Yemeni soldiers were also reported missing around the southern city of Zinjibar, a commander said, accusing top brass of abandoning them to Al-Qaeda.

The fighting in Taez between the Republican Guards and "defenders of the revolution" against President Ali Abdullah Saleh began last Saturday morning and was still continuing in the evening, witnesses said.

The clashes erupted when the Guards tried to enter a new area in the north of Taez, they said. Six houses were also destroyed in the fighting.

Taez has been a centre of protests calling for the departure of Saleh, who has been in power since 1978.

The UN human rights office said that more than 50 people were killed in Yemen's second-largest city in a crackdown on protesters over several days in late May.

Then in early June, a top tribal chief said that armed dissidents had seized control of most of Taez, following clashes with troops loyal to Saleh.

"I consider Taez to have fallen under the control" of the dissidents, Sheikh Hammoud Saeed al-Mikhlafi, the head of the tribal council in Taez, told AFP by telephone.

He said that tribal gunmen have been deployed in the city to "protect the peaceful (anti-regime) demonstrators" after they faced "genocide" by pro-Saleh security forces last week.

Meanwhile, Yemen's official Saba news reported that 79 people have been referred to court for alleged involvement in the March 18 massacre of 52 people in Sanaa near the site of an anti-regime sit in.

"The prosecutor general last week referred 79 accused to court... for killing and wounding a number of citizens in the university area of the capital on March 18, 2011," Saba cited a source in the prosecutor's office as saying.

It did not elaborate on the identities of the suspects or the charges against them.

Witnesses said that on March 18, pro-Saleh "thugs" had sprayed bullets from rooftops around a square at Sanaa University, the centre of demonstrations seeking the end of Saleh's rule.

Many of the victims were shot in the head and more than 120 people were wounded, medics said, in scenes that drew widespread condemnation from Western powers and human rights groups.

Also last week, a Yemeni commander said that 50 soldiers were missing in south Yemen after clashes with Islamist militants.

"We have lost all trace of 50 soldiers after an attack by Al-Qaeda elements enabled them to recapture control of the Al-Wahda stadium" outside Zinjibar, the commander serving with the 25th Mechanised Brigade told AFP on condition of anonymity.

He did not know if the troops had been killed, captured or had deserted in the battle for the stadium which the army recaptured from the militants on Friday.

The commander accused the defense ministry of abandoning the brigade's soldiers to their fate in the face of repeated attacks by militants of the Partisans of Sharia (Islamic Law) movement who seized much of Zinjibar in late May.

The Sanaa government says the militants in Zinjibar are allied with Al-Qaeda, but the opposition accuses it of playing up a jihadist threat in a desperate attempt to keep Saleh in power.

Saleh has been a key US ally in its "war on terror," but has faced mass protests against his rule since January and is currently being treated in neighboring Saudi Arabia for wounds suffered in a bomb attack on his palace.

The ancestral homeland of slain jihadist leader Osama bin Laden, Yemen is the home of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, an affiliate of the global network accused of anti-US plots, including an attempt to blow up a US-bound aircraft on Christmas Day 2009.

Near the main southern city of Aden, troops fired on a vehicle they considered suspect last week, killing a civilian police identified as Nafee Bakchi and wounding four.

Syria:

Security forces killed at least 11 people in Hama Tuesday while residents mobilized to keep Syria's army out, activists said as the United States urged the regime to withdraw from the flashpoint city.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, quoting medical sources, said the casualty toll had risen to 11 dead and more than 35 wounded in Hama, the hub of an anti-regime revolt which has been surrounded by the military.

"Heavy gunfire has been heard in several districts" of the city, it said.

The group said the body of one of those killed was dumped in the Orontes river of Hama, which is famous for its ancient watermills.

The activists, contacted by telephone from Nicosia, said a child was among three people shot dead by security forces on Monday on the outskirts of the city, north of Damascus, that is home to 800,000 people.

"Tanks are now posted at access routes to the city except for the northern entrance," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory.

"Residents have mobilized. They're prepared to die to defend the city if need be rather than allow the army to enter," he told AFP. "Residents have been sleeping on the streets and put up sand barriers and tires to block any assault."

Another activist insisted that Hama, where as many as 500,000 people took to the streets for a demonstration on Friday against President Bashar al-Assad's regime, was putting up a "100 percent peaceful" resistance.

The US State Department urged the Syrian regime to withdraw its forces from Hama and other cities.

"We urge the government of Syria to immediately halt its intimidation and arrest campaign, to pull its security forces back from Hama and other cities, and to allow Syrians to express their opinions freely so that a genuine transition to democracy can take place," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

She added Washington was "very concerned about the ongoing attacks against peaceful demonstrators in Syria."

"The government of Syria claims that it's interested in dialogue at the same time that it is attacking and massing forces in Hama, where demonstrations have been nothing but peaceful."

In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, British Foreign Secretary William Hague emphasized "the importance of the Syrian government taking rapid and concrete action to stop the violence and change the situation."

Hague, who held talks with his Saudi counterpart Prince Saud al-Faisal on hotspots in the Arab world, said "I made clear my view that President Assad's proposals for reform need to be implemented quickly and fully if they are to be of any significance."

In the capital, about 70 serving and former MPs held a meeting Tuesday to discuss the crisis, in the third such gathering in a week.

Meanwhile, pro-democracy activists on their Facebook site, Syrian Revolution 2011, called for a nationwide general strikes on Thursday.

Assad, faced with a revolt since mid-March, sacked the governor of Hama province last Saturday, a day after the massive rally during which security forces kept out of sight.

Since security forces gunned down 48 protesters in the city on June 3, Hama has escaped the clutches of the regime, activists say. The next day, more than 100,000 mourners were reported to have taken part in their funerals.

Hama was the scene of a 1982 blood bath in which an estimated 20,000 people were killed when the army crushed an Islamist revolt against the rule of the president's predecessor and late father, Hafez al-Assad.

In Idlib province, northwest Syria, activists said security forces on Tuesday mounted an assault on the town of Kfar Nubol, the scene of several demonstrations against Assad.

"Tanks have been deployed at crossroads and snipers posted on rooftops of house and government buildings" in the town, said the Syrian Observatory.

It added more than 500 activists and "peaceful demonstrators" had been arrested since last Friday, including lawyer Mussab Barish who was detained in Idlib on Tuesday.

Security forces also arrested Bissan Hamed and three other activists Friday on their way to Lebanon, it said, adding dozens had been rounded up in the Damascus region, including young blogger Omar Asaad and activist Adham al-Qaq.

Assad has decreed two "general" amnesties since the start of the unrest almost four months ago and also lifted a state of emergency that had been in force for five decades.

Rights groups say that more than 1,300 civilians have been killed and 10,000 people arrested by security forces since mid-March.

Egypt:

An official military source denied that explosions took place next to the Maadi Military Hospital in southern Cairo.

“What was heard by residents in Cairo was just a training plane that broke the sound barrier,” the source said in statements.

Several Egyptians residing in the areas of al-Mohandessin, Maadi, Nasr City and Central Cairo have reported to the quick response police after hearing blasts in those areas.

Libya:

Rebels battling Muammar al-Gaddafi pressed ahead on Thursday with day two of a NATO-backed offensive after seizing a desert hamlet south of Tripoli and reported gains in their push along the coast from the east.

Reinforced with weapons from a French arms drop and backed by NATO-led air strikes aimed at destroying Gaddafi's frontline amour, they attacked regime forces in the plains southwest of the capital.

The area targeted by that offensive is seen as strategic as it also features the garrison city of Gharyan, a government stronghold in the Nafusa mountains.

An AFP correspondent embedded with the rebels said there were intense exchanges of artillery, mortar and cannon fire with government troops dug in around Gualish on Wednesday.

NATO listed seven targets where Gaddafi's military equipment had been attacked, including eight armored vehicles and military refueling equipment near the eastern oil town of Brega.

An anti-aircraft gun was also destroyed near Gharyan where, eight armed vehicles were also hit in the Zlitan area.

Meanwhile, insurgents said forces from their western coastal enclave of Misrata had pushed to within a short distance of Zlitan, some 60 kilometers (36 miles) further west, with 20 killed on both sides.

In the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, an official statement said "ten of our martyrs were killed and 59 others wounded" on Wednesday in clashes with Gaddafi loyalists in the push on Zlitan.

Ten Gaddafi fighters were also killed, the statement added, saying others had fled. They abandoned a school used as a weapons depot, and an "enormous amount" of munitions, heavy weapons and military vehicles was captured.

Wing Commander Mike Bracken, the NATO mission's military spokesman, said "anti-Gaddafi forces look to have the initiative and are able to launch successful attacks against pro-Gaddafi forces."

But Gaddafi forces still hold two cities west of Tripoli, Zawiyah and Zuwarah, and are "rearming, regrouping and fighting in places such as Kikla, Misrata and Dafnia," he added via video link from NATO operational headquarters in Naples, Italy.

Tripoli pressed its media offensive with several religious leaders calling for Friday prayers in the capital's Green Square to "beg God to protect Libya against invading crusaders and traitors," a reference to NATO and the rebels.

A pro-Gaddafi demonstration beamed on state television last week prompted a propaganda riposte by thousands of rebel supporters in Benghazi on Wednesday aiming at sapping morale in the capital and boosting that of the rebel fighters.

Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court will not accept Gaddafi's "blackmail" demands to withdraw its arrest warrant before he steps down, an official said.

"It would be blackmail that we would not accept," ICC deputy prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told AFP on the sidelines of a conference in Botswana. "Investigations were made and the findings gave the ICC judges enough evidence to issue a warrant of arrest and that should not be put on the table to negotiate Gaddafi's exit."

On the political front, a senior Chinese diplomat visited Benghazi and met members of the opposition, Chinese state media reported on Thursday, as Beijing showed itself becoming more deeply engaged in the war-torn nation.

Chen Xiaodong, in charge of North African affairs at the foreign ministry, met officials of the opposition's National Transitional Council (NTC), the official Xinhua news agency said.

Chen called for a quick political solution to the four-month-long conflict and urged the rebels to hold talks with officials loyal to Gaddafi, it said.

Until recently, China had maintained its long-standing policy of non-interference and public neutrality on the conflict, calling repeatedly for a peaceful end to the popular uprising.

But it now appears to be getting more involved. Last month, Beijing recognized Libya's opposition as an "important dialogue partner" after talks in the Chinese capital between foreign minister Yang Jiechi and senior rebel leader Mahmoud Jibril.

In addition to the NATO assistance, the West has thrown its diplomatic and financial support behind the NTC, which has been recognized by about 20 countries including Britain, France and the United States.

But alliance member Italy, pressed by the need to cut defense spending, announced on Thursday that it was removing the aircraft carrier Garibaldi, its three fighter jets and 1,000 personnel from the Libyan operation.

The Garibaldi would be replaced by a smaller vessel and by warplanes from military bases, Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said.

And global cultural watchdog Heritage Without Borders cited Libyan witnesses as warning that Gaddafi may have hidden weapons in the Roman ruins of Leptis Magna, a few kilometers (miles) west of Zlitan, expressing fears that fighting might damage the UN-protected World Heritage Site.

Algeria:

Fifteen soldiers, including an officer, have been detained in connection with the accidental killing of a security guard during a sweep against rebels in Algeria's restive Kabylie region, press reports said Tuesday.

The incident occurred on June 23 when Mustapha Dial, a father of four, was hit by a hail of gunfire by soldiers hunting rebels who had just exploded a bomb as a military convoy was passing by in Azazga, 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Algiers, the daily El Watan said.

The bomb attack left one soldier dead and eight injured.

Press reports quoted witnesses as saying that soldiers first injured Dial and later executed him while he was trying to get help.

The army "blunder" in Azazga triggered strong protest from local residents who staged a two-day strike and held a protest rally, reports said.

The Defense Ministry confirmed that the case was a "blunder" and said the soldiers involved were charged and taken into custody pending the end of an investigation and their judgment.

In an editorial, El-Watan said the case marked the first time since Islamic extremism surfaced in Algeria in the 1990's that the military reacted "with such speed and firmness to excesses committed by soldiers against citizens".

Kabylie and other parts of eastern Algeria have increasingly witnessed attacks on security forces by Islamists claiming to be loyal to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the extremist network's north African branch.

Arab League:

Less than two months after being tapped for the position, Nabil Al-Araby has formally become the head of the Arab League, Egyptian state media reported Sunday.

In his first comments since taking over as the alliance's secretary-general, Al-Araby acknowledged that the region's political landscape has changed significantly in recent months.

He touched on a number of hot-button subjects in his interview with the state-run Al-Ahram news agency, including the hostilities in Libya and strife in Syria.

Now that he is the Arab League's secretary-general, Al-Araby, 75, said he plans to order investigations into alleged human rights abuses perpetrated by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi. He also urged Syrian authorities to implement real reforms and transition to democracy.

The former Egyptian foreign minister also weighed in on the plight of Palestinians, saying an independent Palestinian nation ought to be recognized and Israelis should pull out of Palestinian territory.

Al-Araby was elected by Arab League representatives in May, after its then-leader Amr Moussa declared his intention to leave the post in order to run for president of Egypt. That country is in the midst of a major political transition following the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak in February.

A judge on the International Court of Justice between 2001 and 2006, Al-Araby joined the movement to unseat Mubarak's government early this year.

He was one of six ministers sworn in last March by the head of Egypt's military, Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, to join the administration headed by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf. He replaced Ahmed Abul-Gheit, who had been foreign minister since 2004.

Well before that, Al-Araby had established himself as a force in Egyptian as well as international politics.

That includes several roles related to the United Nations, including as Egypt's representative in New York between 1991 and 1999, as well as a stint as the North African country's ambassador to India, according to the official Egyptian State Information Service.

He has spoken to many groups over the years, including at the American Society of International Law, International Peace Institute, the Hague Academy of International Law, Columbia University and Duke University.

Founded in 1945, the Arab League has 22 member states throughout North Africa and the Middle East. The Cairo-based alliance often takes stances, and sometimes takes action, related to issues affecting the region.

Palestine:

It's no secret that Israel is suffering from an identity crisis. The term "Jewish state" once seemed a fairly simple synonym for a nation with a Star of David on its flag.

Now that term sparks all sorts of debates about demography, democracy, and the future of a country where the minority may soon be the majority.

Tzipi Livni stands at the political epicenter of this crisis. She is the head of Kadima, a party that emerged when Ariel Sharon became a few shades too liberal for his fellow Likud members.

Today, centrist Kadima is Israel's largest party, but the complicated electoral system means Livni must sit and watch while Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government runs the country.

For that reason and many others, it's not surprising that Livni is frustrated.

During this talk with Aspen Institute CEO Walter Isaacson, she insists that the Israeli people need to figure out who they really are. Isaacson asks if Israel could come up with a constitution at this stage in the game.

Livni answers yes, but she qualifies her answer: She says that two of the country's most significant groups -- ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israeli Arabs -- would refuse to participate in its writing.

The complicated nature of this answer only underscores the dilemma Livni describes. Unlike the United States, Israel doesn't have a harmonizing mission or creation story. Its Jewish founders saw its purpose in a myriad of different ways -- as an idealistic socialist experiment, as a pragmatic refuge from genocide, as a placeholder nation waiting for the Messiah to resurrect the real Israel.

Add to the mix a growing population of Arabs who, unlike their relatives in the territories, hold full Israeli citizenship, and the prospect of a unifying document becomes very tricky indeed. Here, Livni attempts to explain how a constitution written without input from minorities could still protect their rights as citizens.

Meanwhile, the US House of Representatives on Thursday warned the Palestinians that they risk cuts in US aid if they pursue UN recognition of a future state not defined in direct talks with Israel.

In an overwhelming 406-6 vote, lawmakers backed a symbolic resolution sending a stern message to the Palestinians one week after the US Senate unanimously approved a similar measure.

The bill also urged US President Barack Obama to consider suspending aid to the Palestinian Authority pending a view of a unity deal between president Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction and the radical Islamist movement Hamas.

"Any Palestinian unity government must publicly and formally forswear terrorism, accept Israel's right to exist, and reaffirm previous agreements made with Israel," it says.

Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Democratic House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer crafted the resolution.

The measure reaffirmed US support for a two-state solution that would see "a democratic, Jewish state of Israel and a viable, democratic Palestinian state, living side-by-side in peace, security and mutual recognition."

But it warned of "serious implications for the United States assistance programs for the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority" if they seek UN recognition of a future state not crafted in talks with Israel.

Peace talks ground to a halt in September 2010 when Israel failed to renew a partial freeze on settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.

Since then, the Palestinians have refused to return to talks as long as Israel builds on land they want for a future state.

They are planning to seek recognition of their state within the 1967 lines that preceded the Six-Day War when the UN General Assembly meets in September, despite the opposition of both Israel and the United States.

France has indicated that it might recognize an independent Palestinian state if peace talks are not back on track by September.

Germany, like the United States, is opposed to any unilateral steps and accepts the Israeli position that any progress must be made through negotiations.

The resolution supports Obama's opposition to a Palestinian push at the UN and urges him to announce that Washington will veto any resolution on Palestinian statehood before the UN Security Council unless it is the result of Israel-Palestinian talks.

The planned vote came as envoys from the so-called diplomatic "Quartet" for Middle East peace -- the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States -- were to meet in Washington on July 11.

The United States had hesitated for months over organizing the meeting before securing substantial progress towards a return to negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Jordan:

Jordan on Thursday underlined the need for serious efforts to rescue the peace process and resume peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis, the state- run Petra news agency reported.

The peace talks should lead to the creation of an independent, viable and geographically connected Palestinian state at the borders of 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital, Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said at a meeting with Iceland's Foreign Minister Ossur Skarphedinsson Thursday.

The two sides also stressed on the significance of a meeting to be held by the Quartet next week, especially that it comes at a time the peace process is going through a critical stage.

In the meantime, the Iceland foreign minister stressed his country's support for peacemaking efforts.

He said that Iceland supports the right of Palestinians to gain recognition, especially in light of current developments, calling for lifting the siege imposed on Gaza Strip.