Works on King Abdullah center for training of women in occupied Palestinian territories start

Europe welcomes Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ decision on women’s membership in Shura and municipal councils

EU, U.S. slam Sino-Russian veto against Syrian sanctions draft in UN Security Council

Syrian opposition forms unity council, calls for international protection, recognition

The Saudi Arabian government this week pledged US$1.59 million for the establishment of a new technical and vocational training centre for underprivileged Palestinian women living in the occupied West Bank.

In accordance with a Royal Decree by King Abdullah Bin Abulaziz Al Saud, the funds were committed by the Saudi Committee for the Relief of the Palestinian People.

The Project, to be implemented by UN-HABITAT Special Human Settlements Program for the Palestinian People, will include the construction and furnishing of the centre, and help identify and develop income-generating projects and training programs.

The Municipality of Al Khalil (Hebron) contributed USD 150,000. Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz, the Saudi Minister of Interior and the committee's General Supervisor, has sought to speed up implementation of the project to alleviate the suffering of the affected Palestinian people.

The new centre will be the second project financed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as part of a portfolio of activities being implemented within the framework of the UN-HABITAT/Special Human Settlements Program for the Palestinian People.

The other project is the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz City for Charity Housing-Al Khalil / Establishment of a Housing and Income Generating Program for Poor Women in Al Khalil at a total cost of US$ 6.3 million.

Dr. Sa'id Al-Orabi Al-Harthi, Advisor to the Minister of Interior and Chairman of the Saudi Committee for the Relief of the Palestinian People said that the Saudi Committee has been implementing about 40 relief and humanitarian programs and projects in the Palestinian territories at a total cost equivalent to USD 200 million.

Meanwhile, the spokesperson of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission, Catherine Ashton, issued a statement on Monday in response to the move by Saudi King Abdullah on women’s political participation.

“The High Representative welcomes the announcement by His Majesty King Abdullah that Saudi women will be eligible from next year to take part in the Shura Consultative Council, and will be able to vote and run for office in the 2015 municipal elections.”

She further expressed the need for Saudi authorities “to continue on the path towards equality between women and men in political, social and economic life.”

The move towards political reform in Saudi Arabia has been set back by the sentencing of a Saudi woman in Jeddah on Tuesday, condemned to 10 lashes for breaking the 1990 ban on driving, passed by the Ministry of Interior.

Meanwhile, European countries criticized Russia and China on Wednesday for vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution that threatened sanctions against Syria if it didn't halt its crackdown on civilians.

Turkey's prime minister said his nation and others would respond by imposing more sanctions of their own against Syria.

Russia and China on Tuesday vetoed what would have been the first legally binding Security Council resolution against Syria since President Bashar Assad's military began using tanks and soldiers to attack pro-democracy protesters in mid-March. The U.N. estimates the crackdown has led to more than 2,700 deaths.

Russia and China both said they oppose the crackdown but that sanctions wouldn't help resolve the crisis. The U.N. vote was 9-2 with four abstentions — India, South Africa, Brazil and Lebanon.

On Wednesday, Germany, France, Britain, Denmark and the EU joined Turkey in denouncing the veto, with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe sounding outraged.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon regrets that the council couldn't reach agreement and hopes it will be able to overcome its divisions "and find a collective way to address the situation," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

"The secretary-general believes that the violence in Syria is unacceptable," Nesirky said. "He believes we have a moral obligation to prevent further bloodshed and help the people of Syria out of this dangerous crisis."

Juppe denounced Assad as a "dictator who is massacring his people" and vowed support for Syrians trying to overthrow the head of the former French colony. Juppe's strongly worded English-language statement was highly unusual.

The EU and the U.S. have imposed several rounds of sanctions against Assad and his regime, including a ban on the import of Syrian oil. Most of Syria's oil exports had gone to Europe. Now Damascus is forced to look for buyers in the east.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan used a speech in South Africa on Wednesday to say that Turkey and other nations would press ahead with sanctions.

"Turkey and either some or all of the European Union nations, and who knows which others, will take steps," the state-run Anatolia news agency quoted Erdogan as saying. "It won't stop our sanctions."

Germany sharply criticized the veto by Russia and China, with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle saying it was a "really sad day for international law and for human rights, too."

Westerwelle said Western nations would maintain pressure on Assad and that European countries are preparing an eighth package of sanctions against Syria.

At the U.N. on Tuesday, the European sponsors of the resolution tried to avoid a veto by watering down the language on sanctions three times, to the point where the word "sanctions" was taken out entirely. But that failed.

"We have absolutely no understanding for the fact the U.N. Security Council was unable to agree in New York, even on a very much weakened statement," Westerwelle said in Berlin.

"We will — not just in Europe, but also with our partners — not only keep up the pressure on the Assad regime, but increase it further if the killing and violence against peaceful demonstrators continues," he said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague told a rally of his governing Conservative Party in that Beijing and Moscow were wrong to oppose the proposed resolution.

"The decision of Russia and China to veto this resolution and to side with a brutal regime rather than the people of Syria is deeply mistaken," Hague said in England.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said through her spokesman that the bloc would now work to increase international pressure on Assad's regime.

Denmark's new foreign minister, Villy Soevndahl, said: "The Assad regime's assault on civilians and brutal violation of basic human rights is utterly unacceptable."

He said the international community must find a way to speak in a single voice to maintain pressure on Assad and his government.

Turkey already has imposed an arms embargo on Syria, and Erdogan is expected to announce new sanctions on the neighbor country later this week when he visits camps near the border where some 7,500 Syrians have sought refuge from Assad's brutal crackdown.

"Out of necessity our package of sanctions will come into effect," Erdogan said. He did not provide details, but Turkish leaders have said that the measures would punish Syria's leadership, not its people.

Turkey is an important trade partner for Syria, and Erdogan had cultivated a close friendship with Assad. But Turkish leaders have grown increasingly frustrated with Damascus over its refusal to halt the crackdown on the opposition protests.

The military has announced eight days of exercises in Hatay province, which borders Syria, starting Wednesday, to test the armed forces' mobilization capability and communication among various state organizations. The military has described the drills as routine, but analysts said they were intended to increase pressure on Syria.

The Obama administration stepped up its criticism of China and Russia on Wednesday for vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Syria for its brutal crackdown on pro-reform protesters, and presumably for selling more arms to Bashar Assad's government despite violence that has killed nearly 3,000 people since March.

Describing the two governments as unable to stand with peaceful protesters for "even one day in one city," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton advanced two days of angry U.S. criticism at its fellow U.N. Security Council members.

Without mentioning either by name, she suggested they were continuing to sell military equipment to Syria and that they also had blood on their hands for the violence.

"Those countries that continue to send weapons to the Assad regime that are turned against innocent men, women and even children, should look hard at what they are doing," Clinton told reporters in the Dominican Republic, where she was attending a regional economic conference. "Those nations are standing on the wrong side of history. They are protecting the wrong side in this dispute. And the Syrian people are not likely to forget that, and nor should they."

China and Russia killed what Clinton called a resolution that "represented the bare minimum that the international community should have said in response to the months of violence that the Assad regime has inflicted on the Syrian people." She said the defeat means the Security Council has failed in its responsibility to maintain international peace and defend civilians.

The statement would have condemned abuses by Assad's government, without imposing any international sanctions.

With the resolution effectively dead, Clinton declined to say what other routes the administration and its European allies might pursue to pressure Assad's regime to end its crackdown and begin a political transition, as President Barack Obama has demanded.

"The countries that chose to veto the resolution will have to offer their own explanations to the Syrian people, and to all others who are fighting for freedom and human rights around the world," Clinton said. "We note the frightening distinction between those Syrians who stand peacefully for change every day in cities across their country, and those countries that would not stand with them on even one day in one city yesterday."

The remarks echoed those of U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, who said immediately after Tuesday's vote that the "the courageous people of Syria can now clearly see who on this council supports their yearning for liberty and human rights — and who does not."

"Those who oppose this resolution and give cover to a brutal regime will have to answer to the Syrian people — and, indeed, to people across the region who are pursuing the same universal aspirations," she said.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that while the Syrian government might be pleased with the result, Syrian opposition figures were outraged. She said she had seen a "gruesome cartoon" on one opposition website that depicted two oil spigots labeled "China" and "Russia" with blood dripping from them.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, the Syrian government denied reports, including one from Amnesty International, that its overseas embassies were harassing and intimidating Syrian expatriates who have sided with the opposition. Syria's embassy in Washington denounced the allegations were "lies and distortions."

"These preposterous allegations claim that the embassy is involved in targeting or intimidating Syrian expatriates in the U.S., which is absolutely untrue," it said in a statement. "This is an outrageous travesty of truth. Promoted and proclaimed by vicious circles. It comes within the framework of an extensive campaign to instigate hatred and incite animosity. The purpose is simply to undermine any engagement process aiming to solve the crisis in Syria."

At the State Department, Nuland said that it had referred complaints it had received from Syrians in the U.S. to the FBI, which is investigating.

"We remain concerned about this extremely unethical practice of the Syrian government," she said.

Syrian opposition leaders meeting Sunday in Turkey formally created the Syrian National Council, bringing together most of the disparate groups seeking to unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The unification of Syria’s largely leaderless opposition movement is almost certain to improve coordination with the international community, whose backing could add crucial momentum to the seven-month uprising. Until now, Western leaders have been unable or unwilling to provide the kind of support that could help the opposition overthrow Assad, the Washington Post reports.

Western diplomats have frequently identified the lack of a unified opposition movement as one of the Syrian uprising’s biggest obstacles. Without a coherent opposition or any clear sense of who or what would replace Assad, world powers and many ordinary Syrians have been reluctant to throw their weight behind efforts to unseat him, fearful of a power vacuum in the strategically located nation.

The council includes the Local Coordination Committees, which has organized most of the protests across the country; the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood; and Kurdish groups; among others, the Associated Press reports.

Almost half the members are from inside the country, according to the Washington Post, overcoming a key concern that the council would rely to heavily on exiles.