Recent developments in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria

Field Marshal Tantawi stresses state’s respect for law as ruling military council denies reports Mubarak to be granted amnesty

Suzanne Mubarak released on bail

Veteran journalist Heikal summoned for testimony

International arrest warrant against Gaddafi, intelligence chief

Libyan opposition rejects Russia’s mediation

Yemen’s mediation efforts falter

Assad says crisis is over as Washington calls for transition to democracy or departure

Egypt's ruling military council on Wednesday dismissed speculation it would pardon former President Hosni Mubarak, who is under investigation for graft and abuse of power, and said it does not interfere in judicial affairs.

Mubarak, 83, is detained in a hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh after officials said he had heart problems. His wife, Suzanne, who also fell ill when ordered detained, was freed on Tuesday after giving up assets but faces a graft probe.

The timing of the illnesses of Mubarak and his wife meant neither joined other officials in jail and has fueled talk they were getting special treatment by the army.

"The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces affirms that there is absolutely no truth in what was published by the media about the council moving to pardon the former president Hosni Mubarak and his family," it said in a communiqué on its Facebook page.

The council "does not intervene in any way in legal matters and particularly in holding to account symbols of the previous regime," it said, adding that legal steps were for the judiciary to handle and such "rumors" were aimed at dividing the nation.

As well as being the commander of the armed forces in his capacity as president, Mubarak was a decorated officer who led the air force during the 1973 war with Israel.

Some analysts say members of the military council, led by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi who served as Mubarak's defense minister for two decades, have been reluctant to humiliate their former leader by putting him behind bars.

But the council has been under public pressure to hold Mubarak and others to account, following a series of mass demonstrations after his ouster on February 11.

Assem el-Gohari, the head of the Illicit Gains Authority set up to investigate official graft under Mubarak, defended the decision to release the former first lady and said she could be detained again if investigators find new evidence of wrongdoing.

He said a decision to detain or release a suspect during an investigation does not prove the person is guilty or innocent.

"This procedure is justice at its highest because it shows that every person can get his rights," Gohari told reporters in Cairo. "What should normally happen is the person gets jailed after he is convicted."

The general prosecutor said in a statement that a medical team, including two army doctors, would reassess Hosni Mubarak's health to see if he could be moved to a prison hospital.

The prosecutor said that as well as assessing Mubarak's health, the medical team would check whether the hospital at Torah prison on the outskirts of Cairo was fit to treat Mubarak.

Mubarak is being probed for abuse of power, embezzlement and for his role in the deaths of protesters during the 18 days of unrest that led to his overthrow. His wife is accused of using her husband's influence for unlawful personal gain.

Both deny the charges.

Due to sudden illnesses, neither spent time in prison for questioning despite being ordered detained. Their two sons, Gamal and Alaa, were moved to jail with other top officials and are being investigated over corruption and other charges.

Both sons and other officials such as the former prime minister, other cabinet members and senior party officials are being held at Torah prison for questioning.

Egyptian authorities released Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, on bail Tuesday after she relinquished assets to the state.

Suzanne Mubarak, 70, gave up bank accounts worth $3.4 million, said Aly Hassan, a spokesman for the department overseeing a corruption probe. Mubarak also signed an affidavit allowing further investigation into her fortunes both in Egypt and abroad, Hassan said.

She also gave up a villa, reported the state-owned Al Ahram newspaper.

Mubarak and her husband, who was ousted from power February 11 after 18 days of uprising, face allegations of illegally acquiring wealth.

Hosni Mubarak is also being investigated for culpability in the deaths of protesters. He remains in detention.

Mohamed Fathalla, a doctor at the Sharm el-Sheikh hospital, said Suzanne Mubarak's blood pressure was extremely high and she should not be detained any more, Al Ahram said.

Her psychological state was also volatile, said Adel Adawy, assistant to the health minister, and she will be treated at Sharm el-Sheikh hospital, the newspaper said.

She was hospitalized after suffering a heart attack last week and was treated in the intensive care unit.

Assem al-Gohary, the assistant justice minister for the Illicit Gains Authority, had ordered her detained for "obtaining illegal wealth using her husband's position and political authority."

A team of investigators from the authority, a separate investigative unit under the Ministry of Justice, had questioned the former president in the same hospital for three hours last Thursday regarding "using his political position as president to acquire illegal wealth."

"Hosni Mubarak was also questioned about his luxury mansion in Sharm el-Sheikh," al-Gohary said. Last month, the former president suffered a heart attack during questioning over possible corruption charges, Egyptian state television reported.

But the head doctor from a Ministry of Justice team assisting with the questioning disputed the diagnosis, saying later that the former leader had heart palpitations and was able to walk with assistance. He was deemed stable enough to allow prosecutors to resume questioning at the hospital, according to Al-Ahram.

Hosni Mubarak has said the state inquiry is aimed at tarnishing his reputation and that of his family.

Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court's prosecutor seeks the arrest of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi for crimes against humanity.

NATO-led aircraft meanwhile launched fresh raids on an outlying suburb of the capital, Tripoli, destroying a radar base, the state news agency JANA and residents said.

ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said warrants were also sought for one of Gaddafi's sons, Seif al-Islam, and intelligence head Abdullah Senussi for crimes against humanity.

'Today, the office of the prosecutor requested the International Criminal Court arrest warrants,' Moreno-Ocampo told a news conference in The Hague, where the court is based.

The Argentine prosecutor said there was evidence 'that Muammar Gaddafi personally ordered attacks on innocent Libyan civilians'.

A panel of ICC judges will now decide whether to accept or reject the prosecutor's application.

Protests against Gaddafi four-decade rule began on February 15 and Moreno-Ocampo said thousands of people had now been killed in the violence and about 750,000 people forced to flee.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague called on the international community to 'fully support' the ICC.

'I welcome this announcement. The human rights situation in western Libya and the behavior of the Gaddafi regime remains of grave concern,' Hague said.

Amnesty International welcomed the move by the ICC prosecutor but said Syria too should be referred to the court for investigation of its iron-fisted crackdown on peaceful protests.

'The request for arrest warrants is a step forward for international justice and accountability in the region,' said Michael Bochenek, the London-based watchdog's director of law and policy.

'However, the international community that came together in such unprecedented agreement to refer Libya to the International Criminal Court cannot allow justice to appear selective.

'By any standard, what is happening in Syria is equal to if not worse than the situation in Libya when the Security Council referred that country to the ICC.'

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the days of the Gaddafi regime were 'numbered' and some Libyan officials were looking for a way for their leader to go into exile.

'Messages have been arriving from the regime's restricted circle,' Frattini said in a Channel 5 television interview.

'Certain (members) have spoken under cover and are beginning to say Gaddafi is looking for an honorable way out,' he added.

Russia said it would hold talks on Tuesday with envoys of the Libyan leader before having a separate meeting with rebel representatives at a later date.

'We have agreed Moscow meetings with representatives of both Tripoli and Benghazi,' the ITAR-TASS news agency quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying.

Russia has refused to accept the rebels as a legitimate power in Libya and still has formal ties with the Gaddafi regime.

On Sunday, Gaddafi-installed prime minister Baghdadi Mahmudi offered a truce to UN special envoy, Abdul-Ilah al-Khatib, in return for an immediate NATO ceasefire.

Mahmudi said after meeting Khatib that Libya wants 'an immediate ceasefire to coincide with a stop to the NATO bombardment and the acceptance of international observers,' JANA reported.

Britain's chief of the defense staff, General David Richards, told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper more military action was needed against the Libyan strongman.

'The vice is closing on Gaddafi, but we need to increase the pressure further through more intense military action,' he said.

On Monday, NATO carried out strikes at a radar station in an outlying suburb of Tripoli, while state news agency JANA quoted a military source as saying 'civilian and military sites' had been targeted in Tajura east of the capital causing 'human and material losses'.

In Cairo, the 22-member Arab League asked the satellite operator Arabsat - which it owns - to stop transmitting Libyan state-owned television channels.

The rebellion against Gaddafi has claimed thousands of lives while seeing much of eastern Libya fall into the hands of insurgents, who have vowed to march on Tripoli and topple him.

In the main eastern city, Benghazi, rebel spokesman Jalal al-Gallal touted the uprising's achievements. 'These three months have been very long,' Gallal told AFP.

'But we managed to secure the eastern areas, free Misrata and the mountainous regions in the west.'

He added: 'Gaddafi isolation is irreversible. And most importantly, we achieved freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of movement.

'Gaddafi biggest mistake was failing to understand how important these were for us.'

On the other hand, Qatar has pulled out of an effort to mediate an end to Yemen's political crisis, blaming the country's embattled president Friday for the impasse and potentially leaving his regime even more isolated among his neighbors.

The development came as anti-government demonstrators rallied in several cities, leading to dozens of injuries, and as seven Yemeni soldiers were reported killed in two ambushes.

Qatar was among six Gulf nations pushing a deal for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down after 32 years in power in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Three months of massive street protests have demanded the autocratic ruler's immediate departure, and a government crackdown has killed about 150 people.

The six nations of the regional alliance known as the Gulf Cooperation Council are worried that Yemen's growing instability could destabilize other parts of the Arabian Peninsula.

Qatar's official news agency said that the GCC secretary-general, Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, was informed of the withdrawal decision on Thursday.

"The government was obliged to take the decision because of the stalling and delays in the signing of the agreement, the escalation of the events, the severe confrontations and the lack of wisdom which contradict the spirit of the initiative," QNA said.

Yemen's official news agency SABA said Friday that Saleh's party accused Qatar of siding with the protesters and welcomed its withdrawal from the talks.

"Yemen is ready to deal with the Gulf initiative without the participation of the (Great) state of Qatar, which is involved in the conspiracy and events taking place not only in Yemen, but in the Arab region in general," said a statement from the ruling National Congress Party. Without elaborating, the statement said, "the state of Qatar has its own agenda and the party which stands behind it is known."

Saleh himself, addressing supporters, called opposition parties "outlaws and killers," telling them: "Stop playing with fire, otherwise, our people in all villages and neighborhoods, supported by the military institution, will not stand idle but will retaliate decisively."

Yemen's National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms responded that the speech "amounts to a call for a civil war in the country."

Meanwhile, a security official said seven soldiers were killed Friday in two separate attacks in the cities of Marib and Shabwa.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to brief the media, said unknown gunmen ambushed an army patrol and killed five soldiers in Marib, a stronghold of Yemen's active al-Qaeda offshoot. Two soldiers were killed in the same way in Shabwa, hometown of radical U.S.-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki whom the United States has put on a kill-or-capture list, accusing him of becoming an active al-Qaeda operative.

After noon prayers Friday — termed "the Friday of Decisiveness" by protesters — anti-government demonstrators rallied in 15 cities, said Abdel-Hadi al-Azazi, a leader of Youth Revolution in Sanaa. Tens of thousands of Saleh supporters gathered at a main square in Sanaa, calling it "Unity Friday."

In the city of Ibb, masked gunmen on rooftops of government buildings and soldiers in vehicles fired on protesters, who set fire to two of the military vehicles, according to activist Ibrahim al-Badani. He said dozens of protesters were injured, 10 critically, in Ibb. Three more were hurt in Taiz, said Ghazi al-Samai, an activist there.

On Thursday, two anti-government protesters were killed by police trying to disperse crowds, witnesses said.

The government has taken unprecedented security measures, using armored vehicles, soldiers and security men to block roads leading to Sanaa, stopping protesters coming in from the capital outskirts. It has placed special units to guard important government institutions.

Saleh called protesters' seizure of some government offices, including the Oil Ministry in Taiz, "an act to sabotage in three months what we have built in 33 years." He added, "He who wants power should come through the ballot box."

In Damascus, Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad says he believes the unrest roiling the country is coming to an end while acknowledging that security services had made mistakes in trying to tame a two-month revolt threatening his regime.

Assad made the assertions in a meeting with a delegation of dignitaries from the Medan district of Damascus, a commercial zone, according to Wednesday's edition of the Arabic-language daily Al-Watan, close to the government.

"President Assad gave assurances that Syria had overcome the crisis it went through and that events (shaking the country) were coming to an end," the private daily quoted him as saying, without specifying when the meeting took place.

Assad also acknowledged wrongdoing on the part of security services, attributing it to lack of training for such circumstances which, he said, are usually handled by police, according to the paper.

It quoted him as telling members of the delegation that 4,000 police officers were currently undergoing training in order to avoid further mistakes.

"The role of the security services is to gather information, analyze it and hand it over to the proper authorities," a member of the delegation quoted the president as saying.

Assad's authoritarian regime has sought to crush the greatest challenge to nearly five decades of rule by his Baath party with a brutal crackdown that has left more than 850 people dead and at least 8,000 arrested, according to rights groups.

Although the opposition has the odds stacked against it, it has pushed forth with pro-democracy protests and, in a defiant move, called for a general nationwide strike on Wednesday that largely went unheeded.

Schools, shops and transport were operating normally in Damascus and other cities but an activist told AFP that a popular district of Aleppo, the second largest city, was affected as was the university campus.

"Only students and staff are being allowed on the campus," activist Moustapha Suleiman told AFP.

He said 2,000 people were also demonstrating in early afternoon in the town of Ifrin, north of Aleppo.

His account could not be independently verified as journalists are not allowed to travel freely in the country to cover the unrest.

The Syrian Revolution 2011, an Internet-based opposition group, had called for the strike in the hope of piling further pressure on the regime.

But several people interviewed in the capital Damascus, which has largely been spared the unrest so far, said no one would dare answer the call.

"Who would dare go on strike and risk losing their business or be targeted by authorities?" said one businessman who requested anonymity.

"If anyone pulls down their store shutters they would immediately be spotted and risk losing their livelihood."

Another merchant said the strike was of little use given that customers had all but dried up since the security forces began violently putting down the protests that broke out two months ago.

The United States and European Union, which have slapped sanctions on members of Assad's inner circle, warned Tuesday that further measures were being considered against the regime.

But Syrian authorities so far have appeared impervious to outside pressure, pushing ahead with a campaign that has consisted of laying siege to restive town by restive town while arresting thousands of protesters and opposition figures.

Some of those released have said they were tortured and others have been forced to sign pledges not to take part in further protests.