Egypt’s military council discusses peace process developments with Abbas

Military council amends law on People’s Assembly

G8 pledges $40 billion in aid to Egypt and Tunisia

Egypt accuses Iranian diplomat of spying

Dozens defect from Gaddafi’s army as NATO says Libyan leader’s days are numbered

Head of Egypt's ruling military supreme council Hussein Tantawi held talks with visiting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday to discuss the exerted efforts to support the stalled peace process.

According to state news agency MENA, the two sides discussed the efforts exerted on the regional and international levels to promote the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

Abbas expressed his readiness to kick off the negotiation process with the Israeli side on the basis of U.S. President Barack Obama' speech on May 19 and within the framework of Doha conference resolutions.

The Arab League said on Saturday in the meeting of the Arab peace initiative committee held in Doha and chaired by Qatar that it supports the appeal for an UN recognition of the Palestinian state within the 1967 borders in September. Abbas also attended the meeting.

The two sides also discussed the Egyptian-sponsored inter- Palestinian reconciliation.

Abbas thanked the Egyptian military and the Egyptian government for their permanent support to the Palestinian people and its major role in accomplishing the Palestinian reconciliation between Abbas' Fatah movement and its bitter rival Islamic Hamas movement.

New trends and approaches manifested in the Egyptian foreign diplomacy after Hosni Mubarak's government was toppled.

Egypt eased its relations with Hamas, ruler of the Gaza Stripe, with the results appeared through mediating the reconciliation process successfully between the two Palestinian rival factions Fatah and Hamas.

Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing with the besieged Gaza strip on a daily basis starting from Saturday, allowing the free passage of travelers for the first time in four years, a move that came in line with the Egyptian efforts to end the Palestinian division and fully implement the Palestinian national reconciliation.

Meanwhile, a meeting between the members of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) with the members of the revolutionary youth coalitions kicked off at El-Galaa Theater on Wednesday 1/6/2011.

Major general Ismail Etman, the head of the Armed Forces moral affairs department and a SCAF member, said the meeting aimed to address the major challenges that face the nation and the future vision of the country.

At the outset of the meeting, the attendees observed a one-minute silence for the martyrs fallen during the January 25 Revolution.

Major generals Ismail Etman, Mahmoud Hegazi, Mohammed Assar and Mamdouh Shaheen attended the meeting with about 1200 persons representing coalitions of the January 25 revolution.

Members of the military council asserted that the Armed Forces' task is to protect the borders of Egypt, not to kill its people.

The generals reiterated that the army will not usurp power after the revolution. This is one of the army's constants, they stressed.

Security turbulence and thuggery are main challenges to the January 25 Revolution, especially after 23,000 prisoners armed with weapons and ammunitions managed to break out from jails during the events of the revolution, they said.

But the generals noted that security in Egypt had started to improve lately and it expected it to improve within the next days.

They warned of the challenges of sectarian sedition and attempts to drive a wedge between the army and the council, saying some powers are working to abort the revolution from inside.

Major General Mamdouh Shaheen said the military council will take a decision soon as regards municipal councils nationwide.

About corruption trials, he said the military council does not interfere in the decisions of the prosecution, noting that the keenness to get sufficient compelling evidence against defendants was behind the slow-paced trials, especially as regards illicit gains issues.

"We have a full confidence in the Egyptian judiciary," he said.

No one is above the law even the Armed Forces, Shaheen said.

On the other hand, G8 leaders have promised $20bn (£12bn) of loans and aid to Tunisia and Egypt over the next two years and suggested more will be available if the countries continue on the path to democracy.

David Cameron revealed he had intervened to prevent the package from being presented as more generous than it was in reality, suggesting that some at the G8 had wanted to present it as worth as much $40bn.

"I argued through my officials that we should stick to the lower figure," said the prime minister, warning that if the higher figure had been used, "people go through it, realize that it falls apart, and that is actually very damaging to the whole process, which is why the lower figure is in there."

The $20bn is being provided by multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF and, for the first time, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

Cameron described the money as an investment in success and part of an enduring partnership. "If we get this wrong, if we fail to support these countries, we risk giving oxygen to the extremists who prey on the aspirations and frustrations of young people. If we fail we would see more terrorism, more immigration and more instability coming from Europe's southern borders and that affects us back at home," he said.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France said that in addition to the $20bn of credits, there would be as much again from other sources – $10bn from Gulf Arab states and $10bn in bilateral aid.

Both Tunisia and Egypt told the G8 that their declining economies, battered by political instability and loss of tourism, needed urgent help.

"We are truly very satisfied with the very strong, clear and precise statements proffered by all of the G8 nations, and the financial institutions," said the Tunisian finance minister, Jalloul Ayed. "It's very clear that everybody wants to help us."

An IMF report on Thursday said the external financing needs of oil-importing Middle East and north African states would top $160bn over the next three years.

The EBRD said it was now expanding its mandate into north Africa and the Middle East.

It could invest annually up to €2.5bn (£2.2bn) in the region by 2015, with €1bn going to Egypt, the biggest Arab country with a population of some 80 million, EBRD communications director Jonathan Charles said.

"We are looking at what was really driving the Arab spring. This is not just the demand for democracy. It is the demand for a better way of life, a better economy, so we should be looking very practically at what we can do to create jobs," he said.

An Iranian diplomat in Cairo, arrested over spying charges by Egyptian security authorities, was deported on Monday, Egypt's state news agency MENA reported.

The Iranian diplomat, identified as Qassem al-Husseini, worked at the Iranian diplomatic mission in Egypt, and was arrested Saturday in Cairo on suspicion of spying.

He was released by Egyptian Higher State Security Prosecution where he was questioned earlier on Sunday after Egyptian Foreign Ministry confirmed his diplomatic status. He left for Dubai on Monday.

Initial investigation showed that he has been gathering and sending to Tehran the economic, political and military intelligence information of Egypt after the political unrest, in addition to that of other Gulf countries and Yemen, according to MENA.

He was part of a spy network that was trying to recruit agents in Arab Gulf countries, the official Al-Akhbar newspaper reported.

Egypt and Iran have had no normal diplomatic relation since 1979 when Cairo signed the peace treaty with Israel and offered asylum to Iran's deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

After 30 years of strained ties, Egyptian and Iranian officials voiced their hope for normalization and improving long-frozen relations between the two Islamic countries after the anti- government protests ended Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule in Egypt.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil el-Arabi met his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi last week on the sidelines of a ministerial meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement held in Indonesia, and discussed the possibility of exchanging ambassadors with Iran.

Meanwhile, eight high-ranking Libyan army officers appeared in Rome on Monday saying they were part of a group of as many as 120 military officials and soldiers who had defected from Muammar Gaddafi's side in recent days.

The eight officers -- five generals, two colonels and a major -- spoke at a hastily-called news conference organized by the Italian government, which is one of a handful of countries that has recognized the Libyan rebel movement fighting Gaddafi as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.

"What is happening to our people has frightened us," said one officer, who identified himself as General Oun Ali Oun.

Another officer, General Salah Giuma Yahmed, said Gaddafi's army was weakening day by day, with the force reduced to 20 percent of its original capacity.

"Gaddafi's days are numbered," said Yahmed.

Libyan U.N. ambassador Abdurrahman Shalgam, who has also defected from Gaddafi, said all 120 military personnel were outside Libya now but did not say where they were.

Earlier, Al Arabiya television said 120 Libyan officers had arrived in Rome. The Libyan ambassador to Rome, yet another defector, said only the eight present at the news conference were in the Italian capital.

The defectors said they escaped Libya over its western border into Tunisia via crossings controlled by the rebels.

"This will create its own momentum against Gaddafi, increasing the pressure on him," British-based Libyan opposition activist and editor Ashour Shamis said on the defections.

Each defection was the result of a combination of factors, said Noman Benotman, another opposition activist who works as an analyst for Britain's Quilliam Foundation think tank.

But the latest group had been spurred largely by tensions, Benotman said, arising from the appointment of what he called newcomers to senior positions in the security services.

The behavior of these men, many of them relatively youthful Gaddafi loyalists in their mid-30s, had stirred anger and dismay among the army's officer ranks, who regarded their actions as overbearing and brutal, Benotman said.

"The army officers feel they are being watched all the time. They feel uncomfortable because they feel a lack of trust. So at the first chance of defection they took it," he said.

He added that many of the newly appointed senior security officials were Gaddafi relatives.