MonitorsPublished on May 27, 2013
Two rockets exploded in a district in the southern part of Beirut, wounding five people. While the perpetrators of the attack unknown, Syrian rebels have vowed to retaliate against Hezbollah's fighters assisting President Bashar Al-Assad's forces in Syria.
Beirut's southern suburbs attacked
< class="text1" align="justify">Lebanon

Two rockets exploded in a district in the southern part of Beirut, wounding five people. While the perpetrators of the attack unknown, Syrian rebels have vowed to retaliate against Hezbollah's fighters assisting President Bashar Al-Assad's forces in Syria. Just a day before the attack, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, reiterated his commitment to fighting in Syria's conflict against Islamic radicals who pose a danger to Lebanon. He also pledged that his forces would not allow Syrian rebels to control areas near the Lebanese border.

Hezbollah could not deny its involvement in the Syrian war after dozens of its fighters killed in Syrian border town Qusayr, were buried in large funerals in Lebanon. Nasrallah has also pledged that he would 'turn the tide of the conflict in Assad's favour, and stay as long as necessary to do so'.

The battle in Qusayr that has raged for seven days, also fuelled sectarian tension within Lebanon. Tripoli has suffered sporadic violence ever since the Sunni Muslim led-uprising against President Al-Assad broke out in March 2011. However, the violence has flared and at least 23 people were killed in fighting between Sunni and Alawite residents of the northern port city of Tripoli.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Al Jazeera, May 26, 2013; May 24, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Riyadh could boost alliance through defence deal

The Turkish defence industry is expecting contracts for new generation battle tanks from the Sunni bloc of countries as the Syrian civil war continues. The Sunni bloc, led by Saudi Arabia, is opposed to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's regime and are likely to turn to Ankara for weapons. Turkey's 'political solidarity' with some of the Gulf states over the Syrian crisis 'could turn into new business opportunities for Turkish defence companies', said an executive from a Turkish armoured vehicles manufacturer.

Saudi Arabia was Turkey's third largest defence industry customer in 2012, with Bahrain just a notch above. United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain together constituted a quarter of Turkey's defence exports valued at US $101 million, US $ 99 million and US $ 91 million, respectively.

According to a western military attaché in Ankara, 'adding a defence industry dimension to their ties would augment the Turkish-Saudi alliance against Iran'.

Even though Otokar, the manufacturer of the Altay tanks, faces competition from French manufacturer Leclerc, the Altay is expected to meet Saudi requirements better.

This speculation comes in light of Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz's visit to Ankara where he met with President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on May 22. At the meeting, Ankara and Riyadh agreed 'on the urgent need to stop bloodshed in Syria' and 'that our efforts for peace there should be coordinated'.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Hurriyet Daily News, May 24, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Turkish Government and opposition argue over liberalising oil sector

Turkish government introduces a new petroleum law that would liberalise the sector considerably. The draft of the new law will be debated in the Turkish Parliament next week. The opposition groups are displeased with the law, which they believe will weaken the state-run Turkish Petroleum Company (TPAO).

Selami Incedalci, general manager of the General Directorate of Petroleum Affairs, defends the law saying it will facilitate the TPAO in acquiring 'many more licenses for oil and gas exploration and drilling'. The new draft extends the exploration powers of TPAO. 'Under the existing law, TPAO could have 180 licenses at most. Now this limitation will be removed. TPAO could have hundreds of licenses if it wants', Mr. Incedalci said.

However, according to opposition groups, 'TPAO will compete in the future tenders like other companies, and lose its privileges as a state-run company if the draft is accepted. TPAO had already lost its refinery and station networks due to the privatizations in previous years and could now only fulfil exploration and operating activities. This will most probably make it much less competitive abroad'.

The opposition does agree that the petroleum law, adopted in 1954, is outdated and needs revision.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Hurriyet Daily News, May 24, 2013

Israel - Palestine
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Kerry pushes Israel-Palestine peace talks

US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Israeli and Palestinian officials separately in a bid to revive a two-year-old peace process. After meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr. Kerry said that there is 'considerable scepticism' about the resumption of peace talks.

According to a senior US State Department Official, Mr. Kerry and Prime Minister Netanhayu discussed 'ways to advance peace, Kerry's ideas for an economic plan to boost Palestinian growth and the "escalating violence" in neighbouring Syria's civil war'.

The peace talks had broken down in late 2010 over the issue of Jewish settlements in Occupied West Bank. This unresolved issue is further complicated by the right-wing new Israeli government, which includes members who openly oppose a two-state solution. Tzipi Livni, Israel's justice minister and senior peace negotiator spoke about 'ideological differences' within the government said that, 'the lack of talk only serves the interests of those who think that each passing day allows them to build a new house'. She also added that this was not the position of the majority of Israel's population.

The Unites States has also expressed concern through Mr. Kerry about Israel's four newly planned illegal settlements. Israel, however, disputes the issue of illegality and distinguishes between about 120 government-authorized settlements and dozens of outposts built by settlers without official sanction.

Apart from illegal settlements, the issues to be resolved include the fate of Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem and a border between Israel and Palestine.

British Secretary of State William Hague, who met with President Peres, said that the 'Kerry Initiative' could lead to a breakthrough. However, in a separate interview, Mr Hague conveyed that Israel was losing support in Britain and other European countries due to settlement activities.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Jordan Times, May 23, 2013; Jerusalem Post, May 25, 2013; Palestine Chronicle, May 24, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Jordan wants involvement in Israel-Palestine talks

Jordan's Prime Minister Mr. Abdullah Ensour said that Jordan wants larger involvement in the negotiations regarding the long-standing Israel-Palestine conflict. He clarified that the Kingdom's participation must not be viewed as interference. Amman seeks a role in the peace talks in order to protect its interests, including the rights of the Palestinian refugee community in Jordan.

Speaking about relations with other Gulf states, he acknowledged that Jordan and Qatar had developed differences over the resolution of the Syrian crisis. He also said that relations with Egypt had improved and talk to build a pipeline Iraq, Jordan and Egypt were underway.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Al Jazeera, May 19, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">World Bank, UAE commit assistance to Jordan

The World Bank (WB) announced a 'special package' of US $150 million, in order to assist Jordan with the economic burden of hosting half a million refugees. Inger Andersen, WB vice president for the Middle East and North Africa, accompanied by Minister of Planning and Tourism Ibrahim Saif visited Mafraq and the Zaatari Refugee Camp, 80km northeast of Amman. Ms. Anderson acknowledged that the Syrian crisis is putting enormous pressure on Jordan's infrastructure and this pressure will mount as number of refugees is expected to increase to 1.2 million by the end of 2013.

She also said that the package will 'take the shape of a programme of emergency support to help the Jordanian authorities finance public service expenditures associated with the influx of refugees from Syria'. 'The World Bank's contribution is part of our broader programme of engagement with Jordan in which we are helping build resilience to the current and future impacts of the regional crisis while supporting the country's ongoing economic reform programme'.

The United Arab Emirates also reiterated their commitment to assisting refugees in the Kingdom. UAE International Cooperation Minister Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi visited the Emirati-Jordanian Mreijeb Al Fhoud Refugee Camp and said that the camp was a testament to Jordanian-Emirati cooperation in standing by the Syrian people. The Jordanian-Emirati camp is operated by the UAE Red Crescent Society, with support of international relief agencies. The Mreijeb Al Fhoud camp is currently home to 2,921 Syrian refugees, mainly women and children, with the number of the children standing at 1,035, according to the UAE officials.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Jordan Times, May 23, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Tunisia cracks down on Salafist group

Tunisian security forces clashed with supporters of Salafist group Ansar al-Sharia in the Ettadhamen suburb of Tunis. The violence erupted as the Ansar al-Sharia movement's meeting was declared illegal by the government for not obtaining proper legal permissions. Rising to the Salafi group's defence, the Ettahrir Party described the crackdown as 'war-like'. Ridha Bel Haj, spokesperson of the Ettahrir Party, referred to the police actions a demonstration of power and condemned the use of the word 'terrorism' for the Ansar al-Sharia. Prime Minister Ali Laraayedh denounced the movement as 'related to and submerged in terrorism'. He also said that 'the state must implement laws to restrict such organisations and movements'.

The Ettakatol Party, a member of the ruling coalition, and the opposition al-Joumhouri Party, both issued statements in support of the governments actions. Both statements reiterated that the government must deal with extremist organisations that threaten the stability of society. It is important to mention that the Ettahrir Party, which calls for an Islamic Caliphate, was formerly outlawed but gained recognition under Ennahda Party led government.

'The government has, however, hardened its position towards the group in recent months, after the moderate Islamist party Ennahda was strongly criticised for being too lenient and failing to prevent a wave of violence around the country'.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Tunisia-live, May 20, 2013; Al Jazeera, May 20, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Presidential elections: Rafsanjanki banned

Former Iranian President Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was banned from contesting the upcoming June 14 Presidential elections. The head of his elections campaign office, Es'haq Jahangairi confirmed that he will not appeal against this decision. According to international political analyst, Alireza Nader, 'Rafsanjani was disqualified because Ayatollah Khamenei the supreme leader sees him as a challenge and so he does not want anybody of his standing to run in the election'.

Referring to the Guardian Council's decision to bar presidential advisor Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad said he would ask the Supreme Leader to intervene and reverse the Guardian Council's decision. President Ahmedinejad referred to the ban as 'an act of oppression'.

After a 10 day vetting process, the Guardian Council, a 12-member body consisting of six law experts and six religious jurists, approved the candidacy of eight political figures. These include, Hassan Rohani, Director of Strategic Research Centre of the Expediency Council, Mohsen Rezaei, Secretary of Expediency Council, Saeed Jalili, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, former telecommunications Minister Mohammad Gharazi, MP Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati and former Vice-President Mohammad Reza Aref.Mr. Aref is considered to be the only reformist in the list.

All the approved candidates are believed to be establishment friendly as opposed to Rafsanjani and Mashaei.

Moreover, female candidates have been excluded from the process. According to Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, a member of the election watchdog, law does not approve women's candidature.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Tehran Times, May 22, 2013; Al Jazeera, May 22, 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Sinai hostage crisis ends

Six Egyptian policemen and a border guard abducted on the Sinai Peninsula have been released. They were released by their captors in the desert south of Rafah, near the border with Israel. The kidnapping took place while the men were traveling between the North Sinai towns El-Arish and Rafah. Following the release, the Rafah crossing with Gaza, which was closed shortly after the abduction, has been reopened.

There has been a surge of attacks on police personnel and soldiers in the sparsely populated peninsula ever since the uprising that overthrew former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

According to head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, Mohamed Saad El-Katatni, 'the successful release of the kidnapped personnel confirms our confidence in the presidency, the Egyptian military establishment and the security forces'.

Members of the opposition parties noted that there is need to address grievances of people of Sinai, which has been neglected and marginalised by the Egyptian government. These grievances are the result of the "security apparatus' heavy-handed approach to the local population and the on-going destruction of the Gaza-Egypt tunnel network - Gaza's only economic lifeline since 2006". The peninsula must, therefore, be purged of all militant Islamist groups before it can be developed properly. The abduction had allegedly been carried out by Sinai based militant group Tawhid wal-Jihad, in retaliation of the torture of an Islamist militant by the police in 2011.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Al Ahram, May 22, 2013; Al Jazeera, May 23, 2013

(This monitor is prepared by Kanji Gupta, Research Assistant, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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