Recent developments in the region until November 17:

Concerns about “hunger revolution” in Yemen

Egypt issues code of conduct on fair elections

Lebanon’s Tyre blasts did not target international forces

France condemns Israel over decision to build 800 settlements in East Jerusalem

Relative calm in Libya as clashes subside in south


Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said he intends to step down within 90 days of reaching a transfer of power plan to end the crisis in the country.

"When the Gulf [Cooperation Council] initiative is agreed upon and signed and when a time frame is set for its implementation, and elections take place, the president will leave," Saleh told France 24 in an interview in Sana’a. "The timetable has been decided -- 90 days [following an agreement]."

Saleh told France 24 he gave Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi the power to negotiate a deal with the opposition on forming a transitional government and organizing future presidential elections, the news network reported Monday.

Saleh said he had never "refused to sign" the GCC agreement, but wanted to "read it and work on a mechanism" to implement it.

"I already wanted to leave power in 2006," Saleh said, but "exceptional circumstances" forced him to stay.

"I have been in power for more than 33 years in Yemen," said Saleh, who spent months recuperating in Saudi Arabia from injuries he sustained earlier this year when his residence was bombed. "I've overcome lots of problems, there's been fascinating moments. But as far as I'm concerned anyone that hangs onto power is a madman."

Yemen has been rocked by a popular revolt that began in January and since has degenerated into battles between rival troops and tribesmen. Government troops have responded violently, prompting global leaders to pressure Saleh to step down.

Despite his assurances, several opposition party leaders told Saleh was trying to delay negotiations to preserve his power until a new president is elected.

Yemen’s Vice-President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi warned on Saturday that he feared that a “revolution of the hungry” was about to strike Yemen if nothing was done to resolve the current food crisis immediately.

Hadi, which from the beginning of the uprising has been seen as figure of unity and measure as both the opposition and the ruling regime look upon him favorably, is said to be growing wary of the situation.

After nearly 10 months of fierce opposition to President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen is sinking fast into abject poverty plagued by sky rocketing food prices and rising unemployment.

Several humanitarian agencies such as the UNICEF and the UNDP have rung the alarm bell saying that Yemen was a catastrophe in the making as malnutrition was spreading like wildfire, bringing in its wake diseases and violence.

Already dubbed the “poorest country” of the Arab peninsula, experts agree that Yemen cannot take any more. With its political institutions in tatters, its economy on life support and its social orders shattered to the wind, Yemen is unraveling before the world.

“We fear that a hunger revolution will ensue from the 10-month- long political impasse if the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative is not finalized soon as many civilians without affiliating with any political parties were the most affected in the various aspects of life,” Hadi said.

Several families have admitted that they are only eating bread as even beans had become too much for their shrinking budgets.

Yemeni women have been forced to look for work, resigned to become maids, considering even to make the trip to Saudi Arabia since the Kingdom announced it had opened its visa application to Yemeni women looking to become house workers.

Despite their reticence, many families are forced to overlook their customs and traditions as they cannot bear to see their children suffering from hunger any longer.

In his statement, Hadi also revealed that the opposition and the regime had resolved about 85 percent of their differences, adding that if there was a genuine yearning for peace, all could be sorted quickly.

However since negotiations seem to have reach a deadlock, things are looking bleak for Yemen. v Egypt:

Opponents of Islamists declared a "life and death" battle for Egypt's future as official campaigning began on Wednesday for parliamentary elections seen as vital for restoring stability after eight months of fragile military rule.

The winner could gain the first popular mandate in modern Egyptian history after decades of strongman rulers and secure a decisive role in drafting a new constitution -- the subject of power struggles between Islamists, liberals and the army.

Democracy campaigners fear the new parliament will count for little unless the army submits to civilian rule and a future president who will replace Hosni Mubarak, the president and ex-air force commander ousted in February in an uprising.

"The armed forces are not a state above the state and will not be," said presidential candidate and former U.N. nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei in a statement. "There is a difference between a democratic civilian state that guarantees the rights of man and military tutelage."

Army men have dominated Egypt since a 1952 military coup and control a large swathe of the economy.

With Mubarak gone the military to brass has pledged to yield power to civilians, but many Egyptians suspect it will continue to operate the levers of power even after a new president is elected.

Officials from both Islamist and liberal parties said they walked out of a meeting with the government on Tuesday when Deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Silmi circulated a document proposing principles for the constitution that would allow the army to defy an elected government.

The Muslim Brotherhood, one of Egypt's most influential political groups, demanded Silmi step down and the government resign if it tries to set specific rules for the constitution.

Meeting on Wednesday, a group of presidential candidates demanded that the ruling generals state their true intentions and announce a timetable for handing power to civilians.

"The participants request this document be removed and invite the Egyptian people ... to stand up against it and protect their rights," said Mohamed Saad el-Katatni, secretary-general of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party.

He called for a million-strong march on November 18 if their demand is not met.

Those who back the army's desire for autonomy say it could stop a power grab by Islamists. Opponents say the army is raising the specter of an Islamist coup to keep its privileges.

Mubarak's overthrow allowed Islamist groups with grass-roots support to enter formal politics and shattered the order built around his now disbanded National Democratic Party.

A plethora of smaller secular liberal and left-wing parties remain to oppose the Muslim Brotherhood, whose leaders came late to the uprising against Mubarak but could now benefit most from the freedoms it brought.

The staggered parliamentary elections are due to begin on November 28 and will last until March, with different dates for different chambers and regions of the country.

Some secular parties have put aside major policy differences to join forces against the Islamists under the slogan "Together we will retain our right".

"The battle for parliament is a life or death one. It isn't an electoral battle but a battle for Egypt and history," said Basel Adel of the Free Egyptians, a secular party funded partly by Christian business tycoon Naguib Sawiris.

Days before the official campaign, Free Egyptians put up posters across Cairo offering "A party for all Egyptians," playing on fears that Islamists will sow strife in a country where some 10 percent of the population is Christian.

The Brotherhood, excluded from politics for decades under Mubarak, is now seeking support from mainstream voters. Its Freedom and Justice party put an advert in Egypt's main state newspaper al-Ahram on Wednesday offering "a better tomorrow".

It showed a smiling middle-aged man in a moustache with his wife and young daughter, both of them wearing headscarves.

The campaign is already turning into a clash of ideology rather than policy. Liberals see the Brotherhood's vague manifesto as proof that it secretly wants an Islamic theocracy.

Other parties are also thin on detailed plans for dragging Egypt out of an economic slump and tackling widespread poverty.

Street campaigns by some Islamist parties focus on public morals as the answer to the problems of ordinary Egyptians.

Newspaper al-Masry al-Youm carried images from a meeting of the Salafist al-Nour party in Egypt's second city Alexandria this week that showed party members wrapping sheets and ropes round a well-known statue of bare-breasted mermaids.

The statue was covered with a banner reading: "The Egyptian woman is she who gives her time to her husband and does not forget building her nation".

Nour officials denied they ordered the statues covered.

"These statues have been in the city forever and Salafists have been in Alexandria for decades and not one single incident of vandalism or destruction has taken place" said party spokesman Youssry Hammad.

Many secularists say Islamists who trumpet freedom in public secretly want to subvert it and cancel more elections.

"They want you to be their prisoners," said Refaat el-Saeed, acting head of the leftist Tagammu party. "Stand together and protect your country and your children. If they come to power, they won't leave it."


One day after twin bombings ripped through Lebanon's southern coastal town of Tyre, it remains unclear whether the blasts were a message to liquor vendors or UN peacekeepers in the area.

Officials have denied that the bombings targeted the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), pointing instead to the few remaining alcohol-friendly shops and clubs in conservative southern Lebanon.

Andrea Tenenti, a spokesman for UNIFIL which is tasked with overseeing peace at the Israeli-Lebanese border, said there was "no indication" that the troops were the target.

"There is a large UNIFIL presence in Tyre," Teneti told AFP. "UN staff live there so there were two cars parked in the area. "By chance, there were a couple of staffers staying at the hotel."

The targets of the bombs, which detonated at dawn Wednesday, were a nightclub at the Queen Elissa Hotel, located in a Shiite neighborhood and popular with UNIFIL troops, and a liquor store in the Christian quarters of the city.

The streets around both sites were filled with glass and debris following the bombings, which left holes more than one meter in diameter in the walls of the Queen Elissa and the Katoura alcohol store.

Owners of the Don Edwardo nightclub in the hotel are convinced the international force was yet again targeted.

"This is a message to the UNIFIL troops that for eight years have been coming here and have kept business afloat," said Hussein Muhsen Shaaban, an owner and manager at the club.

"We fear this incident will now have repercussions on business here at the hotel as well as on the tourism sector and shops in the area," added Nadine Farran, a hotel employee.

UNIFIL patrols have been the target of a string of unclaimed roadside bomb attacks in recent years, including two in 2011.

In the worst, three Spanish and three Colombian peacekeepers were killed in June 2007 when a booby-trapped car exploded as their patrol vehicle drove by.

Spain currently commands the 12,000-strong UNIFIL, which was founded in 1978 and was expanded after a devastating 2006 war between Israel and the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

Timur Goksel, formerly a spokesman for the peacekeeping force, said he believes Wednesday's twin bombings were the work of a small group of extremists keen on imposing strict Islamic principles.

"This doesn't look like an organized attack by a major group," said Goksel, now a conflict management instructor at the American University of Beirut. "It could be a few guys who decided they are fundamentalists. My biggest fear in the south has always been... individuals or small tiny groups that decide to take the law into their own hands."

A campaign to rid southern Lebanon -- home to Shiite and Sunni Muslims as well as Christians -- of alcohol runs years back.

Liquor stores in the southern town of Nabatyeh, where the majority of residents are Shiite Muslims, were forced to close their doors in recent months following popular protests demanding the town turn alcohol-free.

Ten years ago, Sidon, a Sunni city on Lebanon's southern coast, was also the target of a string of bombings that forced the shutdown of liquor stores.

Today, many fear Tyre -- highly popular with local and foreign tourists -- could face the same fate.

"We will not be selling alcohol for the coming days, or at least until things calm down and the investigation reveals the truth behind the bombings," said Elie Baradei, owner of the Katoura shop.

"Whoever planted these bombs aims at destroying our city and the tolerance and co-existence that it symbolizes," Tyre mayor George Baradei told AFP. "These are saboteurs who are looking to stir trouble."


France on Wednesday condemned the Israeli decision to issue, in the near future, new invitations to tender for the construction of 800 homes in the settlements of East Jerusalem, notably in Har Homa - a settlement whose continuous expansion constitutes a threat to the territorial continuity of a future Palestinian State.

France wants to reaffirm that settlement activity is illegal under international law and that it constitutes an obstacle on the path toward a just and lasting peace, which notably means that Jerusalem would become the capital of two sovereign and viable States, said a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry.

This announcement is yet another provocation, while the international community is continuing its efforts to re-launch the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the statement said.

"That’s why we urge the Israeli government - which has the power to do so - to reverse this decision as well as those taken over the last few weeks,'''' the statement added.


Three fighters in a militia from Zawiyah, in western Libya, were killed in clashes with rival gunmen from another town, a local official said last week.

Nureddin Nussi said the fighting on Friday pitted Zawiyah fighters against a militia from Wershefana, which lies between that town and Tripoli.

On Saturday, sporadic gunfire was heard in Al-Maya region, 27 kilometers (16 miles) west of the capital, AFP correspondents said.

Fighters from Zawiyah, 15 kilometers from Wershefana, had taken up positions on the coastal road, armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft guns.

Nussi told AFP armed tribesmen from Wershefana had on Thursday set up checkpoints on the road to Zawiyah, blocking off access to residents and making about 15 arrests.

Three Zawiyah fighters were killed when they intervened, he said.

Nussi said the Wershefana fighters were supporters of the ousted regime of Libya's slain leader Muammar Gaddafi and added that local leaders from Zawiyah had opened negotiations to avoid further bloodshed.

"It's a well-organized army which is trying to sow chaos," he said, adding that they used a tank and rocket fire last week.

The official said armed men from Bani Walid, southeast of Tripoli and one of the last holdouts of pro-Gaddafi fighters before their defeat by rebels last month, were trying to join up with the Wershefana gunmen.

"We arrested two of them," he said.

But a member of the Wershefana group said the clashes were for control of a former barracks of Battalion 22, which was led by Gaddafi's son Khamis. "We've held it since the liberation. Now the Zawiyah rebels want to take it."

Tensions between former rebel groups which toppled the Gaddafi regime have raised fears of a new civil war, with Libya's transitional leaders setting the disarmament of militias and formation of a national army as key priorities.