7/31/2012

Unconfirmed Reports: Prince Bandar Bin Sultan Dies of His Injuries After a Bomb Blast

HAMSAYEH.NET
Syria reportedly eliminated Bandar bin Sultan in retaliation for Damascus bombing



Though not yet announced by the Saudi authorities, the death of Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has been confirmed to Voltaire Network by unofficial sources.

Prince Bandar had just been appointed head of Saudi intelligence on July 24: a promotion which was interpreted as a reward for having organized the attack in Damascus on July 18. The Saudi services, with logistical support from the CIA, had managed to blow up the headquarters of the Syrian National Security during a Crisis Cell meeting: Generals Assef Chaoukat, Daoud Rajha and Hassan Tourkmani were killed instantly. General Amin Hicham Ikhtiar died soon after from his wounds. This operation, called "Damascus Volcano" was the signal for the attack on the capital by a swarm of mercenaries, mainly coming from Jordan.
Prince Bandar was himself the target of a bomb attack on July 26, and subsequently succumbed to his injuries.
A brilliant and cynical personality, Prince Bandar was 63 years old. He was the son of Prince Sultan (irremovable defense minister from 1963 until his death in 2011) and of a slave. Confidant of King Fahd, Bandar was ambassador to Washington throughout his reign (1983-2005). He became close to George H. Bush (then Vice-President of the United States), who regarded him as an "adopted son," prompting the U.S. press to dub him "Bandar Bush". Endowed with an outstanding genius for covert action, he brokered the Al-Yamamah arms deal, managing to divert more than one billion pounds, according to British official sources. He then used this windfall, and many more, to finance the activities of jihadist groups around the world, including Al Qaeda.
In early 2010, Prince Bandar attempted to overthrow King Abdullah to place his own father on the throne. The plot failed and he was banished from the kingdom, but the monarch’s declining health enabled him to return to Saudi Arabia a year later. Since the death of Prince Sultan in October 2011, he had become the de facto leader of the Sudairi clan, the hawkish wing within the royal family.
His death constitutes a serious blow to the whole system of Western covert action in the Muslim world. It took Syria only one week to mount this spectacular reprisal operation.

Iran nuclear crisis: Barack Obama imposes new sanctions

BBC

US President Barack Obama has ordered new economic sanctions against Iran's energy sector and some financial firms.

The move is to stop Iran from setting up payment mechanisms for the purchase of oil to get round existing sanctions.
Mr Obama said the US remained committed to reaching a diplomatic solution on Iran, but that the onus was on Tehran to meet its international obligations.
The sanctions come amid ongoing concern over Iran's nuclear programme, which Tehran denies is to develop weapons.
'Increasing consequences'
Existing sanctions on Iran's oil industry had been expanded "by making sanctionable the purchase or acquisition of Iranian petrochemical products", Mr Obama said in a statement.
Measures would be taken against firms that have dealings with the National Iranian Oil Company, the Naftiran Intertrade Company or the Central Bank of Iran, or that help Iran buy US dollars or precious metals, he added.
The new sanctions also targeted China's Bank of Kunlun and Iraq's Elaf Islamic Bank as institutions that "knowingly enable financial transactions for designated Iranian banks".
The move was a commitment to hold Iran "accountable for its actions", Mr Obama said.
He said the sanctions made it clear that the US would expose any financial institution that assisted "the increasingly desperate Iranian regime" to access the international financial system.
"If the Iranian government continues its defiance, there should be no doubt that the United States and our partners will continue to impose increasing consequences," he added.
Mr Obama has been criticised by Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney for failing to act strongly enough to stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.

7/26/2012

Bahrain’s Prince Salman urges consultation

GULFNEWS
Mutual respect, compassion are key factors for sectarianism-free societies
  • By Habib Toumi, Bureau Chief

Manama: Addressing a gathering of people at a majlis, Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa urged citizens to base their decisions on consultations with each other rather than those imposed from others.
“No-one should make decisions single-mindedly without consulting with the citizens either through traditional gatherings or through existing constitutional institutions,” Prince Salman said. “Social communication and interaction in Bahrain have repeatedly proven their worth and we do encourage people to consolidate regular communication with our brothers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries that represent Bahrain’s strategic depth,” he told a gathering of people at a majlis.
Prince Salman has been visiting majlis in different parts of the country since the start of Ramadan to discuss social, political and economic issues with people who attended them.
Ramadan majlis hold a special significance in Bahrain and are attended by members of the public, politicians, lawmakers, officials, diplomats, the media and social and professional components.
“Sectarianism, elitism and racism, under all their forms, are harmful while mutual respect and compassion between all the segments of the society make coexistence possible. We oppose all forms of single-mindedness and lack of communication and encourage meetings and dialogues between all people in order to reach agreements on all issues,” he said.

Social dimension crucial for reconciliation in Bahrain, academic says

GULFNEWS
 
Bahrainis say that patriotic moves needed to help overcome social, political crisis
  • By Habib Toumi Bureau Chief

Manama: The social dimension is a crucial factor in helping with political and national reconciliation, a Bahraini thinker has said.
Bahrainis have used the evening gatherings in Ramadan to address ways to help push national reconciliation and heal the worst social and political wounds in their modern history.
Debates have shown that while some groups insist on the political dimension as the way forward towards national reconciliation, others say that the social factor is more important within the Bahraini context.
“The social dimension is very important because it could lead to mutual acceptance,” academic Baqer Al Najar has said.
“Once social acceptance is achieved, the political concurrence will follow. The problem is that the events witnessed by Bahrain have caused an almost full rejection of the others, and this means that the social aspect should become the focus of attention and efforts,” Al Najar, a University of Bahrain sociology professor and author of several books, told a Ramadan gathering.
Other countries where people were divided over critical issues used mainly the social aspect to help with their national reconciliations, he said.
“The Irish experience, cited as one of the most successful national reconciliations, is a good example of the significance of the social factor,” he said.
However, Al Najar said that the political aspect should not be undervalued and must remain the factor that will consecrate and reinforce national reconciliation.
“There is a need to achieve a common denominator of solutions that will bolster progress towards reconciliation.”
Al Najar said that he fully supported calls issued by several Bahrainis to use the month of Ramadan to overcome differences, often on sectarian lines, on the events in the country.
‘Good opportunity’
“There is no doubt that Ramadan has a special significance for all people and that it has highly important social and spiritual features. Such moral aspects should be used in a positive way to boost mutual acceptance, openness and reconciliation.”
“There is an usually high level of communication between people across the social and political spectrum and this could be used as a prelude to political reconciliation. The gatherings are a good opportunity to lessen tension and move forward,” he said.
Salah Al Jowdar, a religious figure, said that national reconciliation could be achieved by religious figures and peace-loving Bahrainis.
“We live in a religiously committed society, which gives religious figures a special significance and their words are often heeded, so their responsibility is to use the month of Ramadan to push for mutual acceptance and compassion,” he said.
Bahrainis keen on a peaceful society should move into genuine action for the sake of the nation, he said.
“They should work on promoting a culture of national unity through practical programmes. They should at the same time urge people to shun violence and avoid confrontations,” he said. “The biggest loser of what has happened in Bahrain is the simple citizen. We do need to have a strong voice of reason as the continuation of the crisis will deepen the social wounds and compound economic losses that will badly impact people’s lives,” he said.

Mandela plot: South African convicted of treason

BBCNEWS

The mastermind of a white supremacist plot to kill Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president, has been convicted of treason.

A Pretoria court ruled that Boeremag group leader Mike du Toit was behind the nine bombings in Johannesburg's Soweto township in 2002.
He is the first person to be convicted of treason in South Africa since white minority rule ended in 1994.
Analysts say race relations in South Africa are still tense.
However, white extremist groups like Boeremag, which means Afrikaner Power in Afrikaans, have very little support, they say.
'Blueprint for revolution'
The Pretoria High Court handed down its verdict against Du Toit, a former academic, following a nine-year trial.
Earlier Judge Eben Jordaan said Du Toit had authored a blueprint for revolution intended to evict black people from most of South Africa and to kill anyone who got in the way, the South African Press Association reports.
Witnesses told the court that Boeremag had carried out a spate of bombings in Soweto in 2002, killing one person.
The Boeremag had also planned to stage a coup and assassinate Mr Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison before being elected president in 1994 and acted as a unifying force after decades of white-minority rule.
The group also intended to shoot whites who opposed their vision of a racially pure nation, the witnesses said.
More than 20 other suspects were on trial with Du Toit, but the court has not yet ruled on their fate.
Nearly 200 people gave evidence for the state - including police informants within Boeremag.
Mr Mandela stood down as South Africa's president in 1999 after serving one term, handing over to Thabo Mbeki.

7/24/2012

TWITTER LINK


UN Refugee Agency ‏@Refugees
In #Turkey, number of #Syrian #refugees stands at over 44000. Turkish authorities constructing 2 new camps to increase capacity
@Waad_bh
#Bahrain urged to free prisoners of conscience as appeals approach | Amnesty International http://ow.ly/csaRJ
The Associated Press ‏@AP
Iran warns Arab countries not to intervene in #Syria, threatening them with retaliation if they do: http://apne.ws/Oeax4W -CJ

BAHRAIN:Terror Suspect Arrested


Manama, July 23. (BNA) -- Public Security Chief Major-General Tariq Al Hassan announced on Monday the arrest of Ja’afar Hussain Mohammed Yousif Eid, one of three wanted suspects accused of setting up terror locations at several buildings for the aim of manufacturing highly-explosive materials to be used for terrorist ends.

The Public Security Chief said that the publication of the suspects' photos led to the arrest, adding that the suspect was referred to the Public Prosecution.
He also said that the investigation will continue until the remaining suspects are brought to justice, calling upon the citizens who have information that can lead to the arrest of the run-away ones to call the police hotline ( 80008008)
He also praised the citizens’ keenness to assume their national responsibilities and take part in the efforts to protect the kingdom’s top national interests and preserve its hard-won achievements so as to activate the principle of community partnership and support the security bodies in promoting security and stability across the nation.
WHQ

7/23/2012

Society healing move launched in Bahrain

gulfnews
Campaign to promote tolerance underway in Bahrain
  • By Habib ToumiBureau chief
Manama: Religious leaders in Bahrain have joined a campaign to promote tolerance and reforms and shun sectarianism.
The initiative was launched by a parliamentary bloc that has called on local religious leaders to seize the auspicious occasion of Ramadan to bolster unity in the country.
Several religious figures, politicians, lawmakers, dignitaries and members of the business community responded to the call and signed on Wednesday the Code of Honour to help heal the country that has suffered its worst social crisis in modern times.
“Religious figures from both sects have joined hands to preach a common message of peace to help unite Bahrain during the holy month of Ramadan,” the Bahrain Bloc, made up of independent lawmakers, said.
The signed document will be a commitment by those who sign it to use their efforts and religious position to highlight the importance of rebuilding a better Bahrain, MP Ahmad Al Saati, the head of the Bahrain Bloc, said, adding that those who break the code will be held accountable.
“As we observe today, many religious leaders have misused their platform to spread hatred and violence, causing instability and insecurity among the citizens,” he said. “They should influence and spread love rather than hatred as their commitment of the vocation. Consequently using this document will bring together a coalition of religious leaders as the Code of Honour will help unite them to promote unity among the people of Bahrain.”
According to Saati, religious pulpits should not be used to discuss sectarian issues or politics and all religious figures who sign the document should speak a unified language.
“There is no political agenda behind this initiative that is in response to potential extremism,” he said. “This initiative is a sincere and patriotic effort to rebuild Bahrain once again and not a matter of favouring any side or sect.”
Khalifa Al Dhahrani, the Speaker of the lower chamber, backed up the initiative.
“During these critical times, we need to see one another, exchange smiles and engage in conversations,” he said at the launch ceremony at Beit Al Quran, the museum of the Quran. “Regretfully, there are friends and common people whom I have not seen for a long time. There must be exchanges of greetings on the wonderful occasion of Ramadan and take new steps forward,” he said.
The invitation will be sent to all religious heads in coordination with the Supreme Council of Islamic affairs. The document will also be sent to those who cannot make it to the venue.

Envoy to give Saudi spy agency diplomatic savvy

Riyadh
Bandar has ability to think outside the box, analyst says
  • AFP

The appointment of Saudi Arabia’s longtime envoy to the United States as intelligence chief marks an attempt to give the service a diplomatic edge at a time of turmoil in the region, analysts say.
Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, who served in Washington from 1983 to 2005 and was named intelligence chief on Thursday, has the ability “to think outside the box, overcome obstacles, make decisions and work in an innovative way”, international relations analyst Abdullah Al Shummari told AFP.
He could play a key role in helping the kingdom “re-evaluate its strategies in foreign policy... [as] major geostrategic changes across the Arab world will rearrange the roles of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran in the Middle East,” Al Shummari said.
Saudi Arabia has “an opportunity to regain its leading role” in the region after it “subsided in favour of Iran and Turkey following the September 11, 2001 attacks and the US invasion of Iraq” in 2003, he said.
Abdul Aziz Sager, chairman of the Gulf Research Centre, believes that “the current situation requires greater coordination, not only on a regional level but also internationally”.
The kingdom, which had traditionally focused on maintaining strong ties with Western powers, had in recent years tried to “establish good relations with Russia and exchanged visits on the highest levels”, said Sager.
But relations with Moscow have taken a series of hits since the Arab Spring uprisings swept the region last year, notably over Russia’s support for its longtime ally Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.
While Saudi Arabia has openly called for the arming of rebels fighting Al Assad’s regime, Russia has joined China in repeatedly using its veto to block tough action at the UN Security Council over the 16-month revolt.
The situation “requires someone accustomed to the game of interests” of international powers, Sager said, noting that Prince Bandar had achieved “several” major successes on the world stage over the years.
For instance he managed to convince Russia not to oppose UN resolutions to expel now executed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain’s troops from Kuwait following his invasion of the emirate in 1990.
He “is among the people who best understood US policies and managed to deal well with the decision-makers,” said Anwar Eshki, president of the Saudi-based Middle East Centre for Strategic and Legal Studies.
He “will be able to achieve better understanding between Americans and Arabs” as the Middle East faces persistent upheaval from the Arab Spring uprisings that erupted at the end of 2010, said Eshki, who worked with Bandar in Washington.

Drug-resistant HIV 'on increase' in sub-Saharan Africa

Drug-resistant HIV has been increasing in parts of sub-Saharan Africa over the last decade, according to experts writing in the Lancet.

Studies on 26,000 untreated HIV-positive people in developing countries were reviewed by the team.
They said resistance could build up if people fail to stick to drug regimes, and because monitoring could be poor.
A UK HIV organisation said resistance was a serious problem in Africa where alternative treatments were lacking.
The researchers, from the World Health Organization (WHO) and University College London (UCL) found the most rapid increase in drug resistance occurred in East Africa, at 29% per year. In Southern Africa, it was 14% per year.
There was no change in resistance over time in Latin America and in West and Central Africa.
'Early warning'
Writing in the Lancet, authors Dr Silvia Bertagnolio from the WHO and Dr Ravindra Gupta at UCL said: "Without continued and increased national and international efforts, rising HIV drug resistance could jeopardise a decade-long trend of decreasing HIV/Aids-related illness and death in low- and middle-income countries."
We need further research into the causes of this drug resistance in Africa”: End Quote Deborah Jack National Aids Trust

Dr Gupta told the BBC: "Drug resistance is a consequence of people not taking their medication properly.
"We do expect to see drug resistance, and it's at around 10% in the UK and US. But here, we monitor people regularly and switch people to different drugs if they develop resistance."
He said that quite basic measures could help people to better adhere to drug regimes in developing countries, such as access to food and clean water so they can take their drugs, and monitoring patients as effectively as possible.
The researchers said no changes were needed to the drug regimes, but Dr Gupta said: "This work gives us an early-warning that things could get worse."
Deborah Jack, chief executive of the UK's National Aids Trust (NAT), said: "In the UK we are fortunate that drug resistance is not a serious problem, and if a person has drug resistance there are other combinations of anti-retroviral therapy that we can use to address this.
"Sadly in sub-Saharan Africa fewer treatment options are available. If drug resistance occurs there doesn't tend to be an alternative therapy.
"We need further research into the causes of this drug resistance in Africa, and urgent action to support people daily access to their medication."

BAHRAIN: RAMADAN

Media of Truth | Bahrain

ثورة البحرين بلدة السنابس عَـمليـة أُم الشُـهدَاء زَيـنـب التَـاجِـر 20 7 2012م
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0xAwSErzl8

Media of Truth | Bahrain



احتراق اثنين من المرتزقة في مواجهات ضارية - سترة 23/7/2012
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdoXscNfcWs
شاهد احتراق اثنين من مرتزقة أمن النظام بزجاجات المولوتوف بعد مواجهات ضارية شهدتها جزيرة سترة فجر اليوم الأثنين (23

7/13/2012

Floating Base Gives U.S. New Footing in the Persian Gulf



WASHINGTON — One of the Navy’s oldest transport ships, now converted into one of its newest platforms for warfare, arrived in waters off Bahrain late last week, a major addition to the enlarged presence of American forces in the Persian Gulf designed as a counter to Iran.
The keel for the ship, the Ponce, was cast in 1966, and the vessel, nearing the end of its service, was to have been scrapped. But the Ponce was reborn as a floating forward base for staging important military operations across the region — the latest example of the new American way of war.

The first mission of the reborn Ponce was designed to be low profile and defensive, as an operations hub for mine clearing in the Strait of Hormuz, a counter to threats from Tehran to close the vital commercial waterway. In that role, the Ponce will be a launching pad for helicopters, a home to underwater diver teams and a seaborne service station providing fuel and maintenance for minesweeping ships.
But with the relatively simple addition of a modular barracks on the deck, the Ponce can also be a mobile base for several hundred Special Operations forces to carry out missions like hostage rescue, counterterrorism, reconnaissance, sabotage and direct strikes. Even with the addition of the barracks, there is ample room for helicopters and the small, fast boats favored by commandos.
Allies and friends are important, but they can veto American missions initiated from bases on their territory. The Ponce operates from international waters. Surprise and speed are critical to military success; the Ponce can sail close to areas of conflict. And having the ability to carry out different missions for different branches of the armed services is more valuable than having a weapons platform that does just one thing for one branch of the military.
Iranian leaders see the Ponce differently, of course, and they have lashed out at the American deployments, accusing Washington of mounting a provocative military buildup. (The American reinforcements also include a doubling of minesweepers to eight and the addition of Air Force fighter and attack jets.) An Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander even threatened that his nation would counter the moves by ordering a buildup of missiles that could endanger American warships and allied bases in the region.
The Navy is convinced that the capability provided by the Ponce is essential to future military operations, and it has proposed that Congress continue a four-year, $1.2 billion program to build two new vessels dedicated solely to be what the service terms “afloat forward staging bases.” Allison F. Stiller, the Navy’s deputy assistant secretary for ship programs, said the two ships, now under construction, were the first vessels built specifically for the job, as opposed to warships temporarily assigned the mission.
The first of the new ships should be available by 2015, and the second a year later, if Congress approves the budget requests.
“The afloat forward staging base gives us the ability to deliver this mine countermeasure capability directly to the scene of operations,” said Rear Adm. Kenneth M. Perry, vice commander of the Navy’s mine and antisubmarine warfare command.
Admiral Perry is based in San Diego, but he described the Ponce’s role in a telephone interview from the Navy’s Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain, where he has moved to oversee mine-clearing exercises and, potentially, mine-clearing missions.
For decades, the military has used various warships and service vessels as platforms for staging operations, whether the Pacific island-hopping campaign of World War II or the river campaigns of the Vietnam War. In a more recent and creative example, the Navy emptied the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk of attack jets before the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and turned it over to Special Operations forces for raids against Taliban targets.
The idea of creating a dedicated fleet of floating bases gained traction in the 1990s, as the military retrenched after the collapse of communism and looked for ways to operate independently near contested areas. One idea was to tow giant offshore oil platforms to a conflict zone and lash them together to form an airport large enough for helicopters and even transport planes. It was ultimately dismissed because the platforms would have been too vulnerable to attack and insufficiently mobile.
The design of the floating bases expands on what is called the mobile landing platform, which is used to get Marines and their war-fighting equipment from ship to shore. Those landing platforms are built by General Dynamics Nassco, which is also constructing the new basing ships. To the untrained eye, the vessels look very much like an oil tanker.
To accommodate the many missions of different military branches aboard the floating base, the vessels will be outfitted with a helicopter hangar on the deck and with access portals for small, fast boats. A hospital suite and a water purification facility also are on board.
“It will be a ship that is ‘purpose built’ to have that capability, whereas we have taken Ponce and converted her to provide that capability, or we have taken another ship offline to do the mission,” said Ms. Stiller, the Navy official.
Pentagon and Navy officials note that the decades-old quest for an afloat forward staging base was accelerated, and finally became a reality, owing to pressure from the global combatant commanders — especially from senior officers at Central Command and Special Operations Command.
“Mine countermeasures operations are critical to protecting sea lines of communication by mapping out and neutralizing sea mines,” said Lt. Col. T. G. Taylor, a Central Command spokesman. “Sea mines are indiscriminate to their victims and require a robust countermeasures program to ensure the safety of all maritime vessels.”

Four Iranian Arabs executed, five face death

Men were arrested for alleged terrorist activities
  • afp
 
Nicosia: Human Rights Watch said on Thursday that Iran has hanged four Iranian Arab activists from Khuzestan province on terrorism charges and sentenced to death five others who could soon face the same fate.
“What we are witnessing today in Iran’s Khuzestan province is state-sanctioned killing that, by many accounts, is aimed at silencing voices that are critical of the government’s policies in the region,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at the New York-based HRW.
“Death penalty verdicts produced at breakneck speed without a modicum of due process protections for the accused invites nothing but scepticism about the merits of the government’s case,” she said in a statement.
Following reports on June 17 that four Arab men charged with terrorism-related activities were executed, “Iran’s judiciary should immediately quash execution orders against five other activists” from Iran’s ethnic Arab minority, HRW said.
The five, arrested in February 2011, were named as Hadi Rashedi, 38, Hashem Shaabani, 32, Mohammad Ali Amouri, 34, and brothers Seyed Mokhtar, 25, and Seyed Jaber Alboshokeh, 27.
They were convicted behind closed doors of terrorism-related charges that carry the death penalty for alleged membership of an armed Arab separatist group and taking part in attacks, it said.
“There is little information available about the evidence used against the men except for televised confessions,” said HRW. “The lack of transparency ... is just one more reason why these execution orders should be quashed.”
Khuzestan, bordering Iraq and which is home to between one and two million Iranian Arabs, was rocked by sectarian violence in 2005, since when frequent attacks, protests and arrests have been reported.
HRW says 12 members of the province’s Arab community have been executed since May 2011, including a 16-year-old youth. At least six others have died in detention after having been tortured, according to testimony collected by HRW.

Syrian army shelling 'kills more than 100' in Tremseh

BBCNEWS

More than 100 people are reported to have been killed in the Syrian village of Tremseh, in Hama province.

Opposition activists quoted residents as saying the village was attacked with helicopter gunships and tanks.
Pro-government Shabiha militia later went in on foot and carried out execution-style killings, they said.
According to the opposition Local Coordination Committees, at least 189 people were killed on Thursday in Syria, including 22 in Homs.
The Revolution Leadership Council of Hama told the Reuters news agency that most of the dead in Tremseh were civilians.
Other uncomfirmed reports suggested government troops had been trying to take back the village from opposition hands.

7/12/2012

London 2012 Olympics: Saudi Arabian women to compete

BBCNEWS

Saudi Arabia is to send two female athletes to complete in the London 2012 Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said.
Sarah Attar will compete in the 800m and Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani in the judo competition.
The Saudi authorities lifted a ban on women from the Gulf kingdom competing in the Games last month.
The public participation of women in sport is still fiercely opposed by many Saudi religious conservatives.
IOC President Jacques Rogge said it was "very positive news" and "an encouraging evolution".
"I am pleased to see that our continued dialogue has come to fruition," he said in a statement.
The IOC, keen to ensure "gender balance" at the Games, had been speaking to the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee about the issue.
Speaking from her training base in the US, Sarah Attar said: "It's such a huge honour and I hope that it can really make some big strides for women over there to get more involved in sport."
'Dignity'
The inclusion of the Saudi women means that, for the first time in the history of the Games, there will be a female entrant from every competing nation.
Female athletes from Qatar and Brunei are also due to attend for the first time.
Brunei's Maziah Mahusin will complete in the athletics, while Qatar has entered athletes into the swimming (Nada Arkaji), athletics (Noor al-Malki), table tennis (Aya Magdy) and shooting (Bahiya al-Hamad).
Bahiya al-Hamad is also set to carry the Qatari flag at the opening ceremony, in what she said was a "truly historic moment".
New York-based Human Rights Watch said the inclusion of Saudi women was a step forward.
"It's an important precedent that will create space for women to get rights, and it will be hard for Saudi hardliners to roll back", the organisation's Minky Worden said.
There is almost no public tradition of women participating in sport in Saudi Arabia, and officials have found it difficult to find athletes who could meet the minimum criteria for competing.
Officials have also said that female competitors will need to dress in such a way as "to preserve their dignity".
This is likely to mean loose-fitting garments and a scarf covering the hair but not the face.

7/10/2012

SAUDI: Prince Mohammed bin Saud, Former Saudi Defense Chief, Dies at 78


RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Prince Mohammed bin Saud, a former Saudi defense minister, died on Sunday. He was 78.
The Saudi Press Agency announced his death but gave no other details.
Prince Mohammed was not in line for the Saudi throne but wielded influence as part of a council of royal family members that helps select the heirs to rule the country.
He served as defense minister in the early 1960s and managed to remain an important political figure after his father, King Saud, was forced from the throne in 1964. He was also governor of Al Bahah Province in southwestern Saudi Arabia from 1986 to 2010.
His death came less than a month after the death of Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, the Saudi interior minister.

Emails reveal Al Assad mystery woman in UK

GULFNEWS

Lamis Omar has been studying for a doctorate at Durham
  • Daily Mail
 
London: A key aide of Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad is to be awarded a prestigious degree by one of Britain’s top universities.
Lamis Omar has been studying for a doctorate at Durham, and is likely to receive her PhD in September.
Emails obtained by the WikiLeaks website suggest that Lamis enjoys a close friendship with Al Assad.
Fellow students say she had a large picture of the dictator on the wall of her home in the university grounds.
Last night, officials at Durham University refused to say whether the institution has accepted money from the Al Assad regime in tuition fees.
The emails appear to show that for the past four years, Lamis, who is believed to be in her mid-30s, has been working in Al Assad’s own department, known as the Ministry of Presidential Affairs.
In more than 800 email exchanges between the pair, a picture emerges of a world of poetry and jokes, cocooned away from the bloodshed engulfing Assad’s country.
They appear to have a close friendship, in which he buys her gifts and she repeatedly says that she ‘loves’ him. In the emails she refers to Al Assad, who has been married to British-born Asma, 37, for 12 years, as the ‘sponsor’ of her course.
Tory MP Robert Halfon said: “Ethical questions need to be asked as to why Durham University is providing an education to a member of the [Al] Assad regime.
“Given the murder of thousands of Syrians by the [Al] Assad regime, Durham should reconsider whether it awards this PhD.”
The emails were among a tranche of 2.5 million obtained by Wikileaks, a controversial website that publishes leaked documents. They were apparently written by Syrian officials and politicians, as well as Al Assad himself. The documents, which for the most part are written in English, reveal that Lamis’ official role was to translate Al Assad’s speeches.
At Durham, her PhD thesis was on Shakespeare.
Last night Durham University said: ‘We do not comment on the financial circumstances of individual students. Durham University does not have any formal or active links with the Syrian Government.’
Lamis could not be contacted despite repeated calls.
And a spokeswoman for President Al Assad said she would obtain a response to the allegations. She had not done so by the time we went to press.
A member of the House of Lords charged thousands of pounds to redesign the summer palace of Al Assad, emails obtained by Wikileaks reveal.
Lord Kenilworth was hired to create a luxuriant new garden, including a spectacular water feature, at the Syrian dictator’s country residence near the coastal city of Latakia, the site of fierce fighting between government forces and rebels.
The peer’s work was so highly valued he was invited to a formal meeting with Al Assad s British-born wife Asma. but as violence engulfed the country, the relationship appears to have soured.

Saudi women slam dunk sports taboo

By Rima Maktabi, CNN

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (CNN) -- A group of women basketball players in Saudi Arabia has been defying stereotypes as one of the few female sports teams in the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia practices an austere form of Islam in which women are forbidden from playing sport in public -- as well as driving, or traveling without the permission of a male guardian.
But Jeddah United, which has grown its membership over the past decade from a dozen to 350, mostly children of both genders, works around these restrictions by playing and practicing on a gender-segregated private court.
Conservative clerics in Saudi Arabia have argued there are religious reasons for excluding women from sport. Sheikh Adnan Bahereth, who preaches in the holy city of Mecca, told CNN that form-fitting athletic clothing was immoral, and that women should be veiled and remain at home.
But the female athletes of Jeddah United, based in Saudi Arabia's second-largest city, say that, although sport remains a minority pursuit among women in their country, attitudes are slowly changing.
"Four years ago it was more of a taboo to talk about," said team captain Leena Al Maeena. "Today, there's more acceptance. There's a lot more companies willing to support us. So, I really think as a society we are evolving."
Perhaps the biggest symbol of this shift was Saudi Arabia's announcement last month that it would allow female athletes to compete at the Olympics for the first time at the 2012 Games.
Previously, the kingdom has been one of only three countries -- along with Brunei and Qatar -- that banned women from competing. All have now dropped the policy.
Yet no female athletes have been identified so far to represent Saudi Arabia in London, and if women are sent to compete, they will still face restrictions. Women athletes must have their male guardian's permission and be accompanied by him to all events, wear appropriate Islamic dress, and refrain from mixing with men during the event.
Jeddah United's Hadeer Sadagah, 18, dreams of someday competing at the Olympics, but said: "The society is still not accepting of Saudi women playing sports."
But Al Maeena says attitudes towards female athletes are changing, and much of the reason is growing public awareness of the health benefits of sport.
Basketball helped her overcome post-partum depression following the birth of her first child. "I felt like I needed something to get better," she said. Others in the team had played basketball to help them in their battle with eating and body-image disorders.
"It really helped all these women. They went back to their normal lifestyle," Al Maeena said. "We just looked at it as something not just from an entertainment point of view. It's bigger than that."
While the women still receive criticism from conservatives, it does not deter them from taking to the court.
"We're having fun, we're all girls. We're doing something that's healthy for our bodies and our minds," said 24-year-old Nour Fitiany.
Al Maeena said she hoped the team's example would help encourage public debate about women in sport, and demonstrate to "the opposing segments in society that we're not going against our religious or cultural beliefs."
"At the end of the day, we're all law-abiding citizens who want to develop our youth," she said. "We don't want them to get into smoking and drugs and wasting their time."


Follow the Inside the Middle East team on Twitter: Presenter Rima Maktabi: @rimamaktabi, producer Jon Jensen: @jonjensen, producer Schams Elwazer: @SchamsCNN and writer Tim Hume: @tim_hume

The woman who defied Saudi's driving ban and put it on YouTube

By John D. Sutter, CNN

Oslo, Norway (CNN) -- Growing up in Saudi Arabia, Manal al-Sharif was taught in school that listening to music -- just like driving, showing her face in public or making a decision without consulting her male guardian -- was forbidden and sinful.
She believed so strongly in music's satanic powers that she burned many of her father's and brother's cassette tapes so they couldn't play them anymore.
Then one day in 2001, al-Sharif was about to dub over one of her brother's American tapes with a lecture on Islam when curiosity got the best of her. She let herself listen to a few bars. And the first song to touch her ears helped reroute the course of her life.
It was the Backstreet Boys' "Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely."
"They had been telling us that music was Satan's flute -- was a path to adultery," she said in a recent presentation at the Oslo Freedom Forum, a human rights conference in Norway. "This song sounded so pure, so beautiful, so angelic. It can be anything but evil to me. And that day I realized how lonely I was in the world I isolated myself in."
Al-Sharif, now 33, gained international attention last summer after she uploaded a YouTube video of herself driving in a country where women are banned from doing so. Now she is the face of Saudi Arabia's Women2Drive movement, which plans to hold demonstrations on June 17 calling for women in that Middle Eastern country to be able to do something that's downright banal everywhere else in the world: drive themselves around town in an automobile.
While driving is technically not illegal for women in Saudi Arabia, a religious edict, or fatwa, issued in the early '90s, banned the practice. A statement from the Ministry of Interior backed up the decree.
Al-Sharif's action followed a November 6, 1990, demonstration in which women in Riyadh, the capital, drove without permission. Since her protest, small groups of women periodically have staged what The New York Times termed "random acts of women driving" to stand up for their rights.
Al-Sharif follows in that tradition, but she has caused much more of an uproar.
But, for her, it all started simply.
The divorced mother of one says she likes to make yearly challenges to herself around her birthday, April 25. One year, she went sky diving. In 2011, she wanted to drive. So in May last year, an acquaintance filmed al-Sharif while she drove through the streets of Khobar wearing a black headscarf and sunglasses but not hiding her face. "We want to change the country," she said in the video, according to a translation posted on YouTube. "A woman, during an emergency, what's she going to do? God forbid her husband's with her and he has a heart attack. ..."
"Not all of us live luxurious lives -- are spoiled like queens and have drivers," she said, in reference to the fact that many women have to pay for drivers to get around town.
Al-Sharif's act of defiance did not go unnoticed. The next day, police detained her. She was held for nine days without being charged, she said, and then released after considerable international pressure, much of it coming from the Twitter hashtag #Women2Drive and corresponding pages on Facebook. The next month, on June 17, dozens of women in Saudi Arabia got behind the wheel and drove to protest the ban, according to news reports.
One year later, the Women2Drive campaign is planning to have a second go of it.
The group again is encouraging Saudi women to go out and drive on June 17. Amnesty International has collected thousands of portraits of people who support the movement and plans to send them to the Saudi royal family, said Cristina Finch, the U.S. chapter's policy and advocacy director for women's human rights. And al-Sharif said demonstrations are expected to take place at Saudi embassies around the world.
Al-Sharif is so concerned about her family's safety that she doesn't plan to drive on June 17. "That would endanger my family, not only me."
But the campaign isn't really about driving, she said. Driving, in one sense, is a stand-in for other issues. Women in Saudi Arabia won't be allowed to vote or hold public office until 2015. They can't get married, leave the country, go to school or open bank accounts without permission from a male guardian, who usually is the father or husband. Much of public life is segregated by gender.
Al-Sharif also hopes driving is a starting point -- that it will empower silent women.
"When women break that taboo and they're not afraid to drive that car by herself -- that's it," she said. "Now she has the guts to speak up for herself and take action."
In essence, the Women2Drive campaign is asking women of Saudi Arabia to go through some of the same transformations al-Sharif did.
In addition to her Backstreet Boys moment, al-Sharif has been subject to several dramatic turning points in her life. In a moderate family, she was the Islamic extremist, she said, supporting jihadists of the 1980s, including Osama bin Laden. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, she took a hard look at her beliefs.
"When 9/11 happened, the extremists said it's God's punishment to America for what they're doing to Muslims," she said in her Oslo presentation. "I was confused which side to take. I watched the news that night and I saw this picture -- it was a video of a man throwing himself from one of these (World Trade Center) towers. He was escaping the fire. I remember that night I couldn't sleep. That picture of that man throwing himself was in my head and it was ringing a bell. Something is wrong. There is no religion on Earth (that) can accept such mercilessness, such cruelness. My heroes were nothing but bloody terrorists, and that was the turning point in my life."
Another change occurred after her divorce, which she said happened without her consent. "I didn't even know," she said. "He just went and divorced me. That's it."
After that, she said, she stopped deferring to the men in her life, including her father, who is her current guardian. Instead of "begging" them to allow her to take a job or drive a car, she said she politely tells them that this is the way things will be.
"I reached a point in my life where I'd had enough of men controlling me," she said. "I stopped asking for permission. ... If you change (a Saudi woman's) mind-set -- (if) she's not weak, she doesn't need permission -- the people around her will change."
Her biggest problems now concern her son, who is 6.
"The kids in the school, they harass him and bully him because they know I'm his mom," she said. She tried to explain the situation to him but couldn't find the exact words. "I promise you when you're older you'll be really proud of your mom," she recalls saying.
She keeps files of news clippings and awards in hopes that, when he's older, he will see them and decide she is not the sinful, dangerous woman her critics portray.
"All I did was ask for rights. I didn't attack anyone. I didn't harass anyone. I didn't oppose the system or the country or the authority. All I said is, 'Why can't I drive?' "
Her work life further complicates this situation.
To speak at the human rights conference last month in Norway, al-Sharif said she had to quit her job as a computer scientist at Saudi Aramco, the oil company. Her employer, she said, told her she could not continue to work if she was going to speak up. The company did not respond to a CNN request for an interview.
The only way she could find work at this point, she said, is to leave Saudi Arabia.
But if she does so, she said, she would lose custody of her son.
She doesn't know what she's going to do.
"It's so hard," she said, before backtracking and putting on a stronger face. "It's OK. I'm used to these things. There's always a price to pay."
She doesn't expect change to come quickly in Saudi Arabia. But she hopes that her own story -- one of change and a call for rights -- could be the inspiration for other Saudi women.
"It took me a long, long time to break the chains that's inside me."
She added: "We're just keeping our heads up. We're not giving up."
At the end of the Oslo Freedom Forum, al-Sharif received an award for "creative dissent" -- another accolade she can put in a scrapbook for her son. In her acceptance speech, she humbly said she didn't know what the word "dissent" meant until she heard she had won the prize.
After learning the word's meaning, she said she doesn't think of herself as a dissident. "I find myself someone who is driven by her own struggle," she said.
Then she ended her speech with a metaphor: "The rain begins with a single drop."

Russian Warships Sent on Maneuvers Near Syria


MOSCOW — Russia, which seems intent on positioning itself as an increasingly decisive broker in the Syrian crisis, announced on Tuesday that a flotilla of navy vessels had sailed to the Mediterranean Sea and some would dock in the Syrian port of Tartus. The naval group includes several landing craft with marines.
The voyage and naval maneuvers seemed designed to convey a message that Russian leaders would protect their interests in Syria, Russia’s most important relationship in the Middle East, even as they restrict new shipments of weapons to President Bashar al-Assad’s government until the conflict subsides, as military export officials had announced on Monday.
Word of the navy’s Mediterranean activities came a day before the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, was scheduled to meet with representatives of a visiting delegation of the opposition Syrian National Council, which wants Mr. Assad to step down, adding some further nuance to Russia’s maneuvering.
The council members, already in Moscow, told journalists on Tuesday that they would appeal for the Kremlin’s help in halting the deadly violence that by some estimates has killed as many as 17,000 people in Syria since peaceful protests in March 2011 evolved into an armed conflict that some are calling a civil war.
Members said, though, that they would not ask that Russia grant President Bashar al-Assad asylum, something Russian officials have said they would not do in any case.
The opposition’s visit to Moscow coincided with a flurry of diplomacy by Kofi Annan, the special representative of the United Nations and Arab League to Syria. Mr. Annan visited with President Assad on Monday and with officials in Iran and Iraq on Tuesday as part of an attempt to salvage his peace plan, which was announced more than three months ago but has basically been ignored even though all sides in the conflict say they support it.
Russian military officials have repeatedly hinted at a possible role in Syria for their naval power, diminished but still floating two decades after the Soviet collapse. The ships have been presented as a means either to evacuate Russian citizens or to secure the naval fueling station at Tartus, on the Syrian coast.
Though little more than a floating pier and small barracks, the site is Russia’s only remaining foreign military base outside the former Soviet Union. Any Russian presence on the coast would serve as a tripwire to prevent Western military intervention.
The statement by the Defense Ministry said ships had steamed from ports of the Northern and Black Sea fleets.
They would meet for training exercises in the Mediterranean and Black seas, it said. Taking part, the statement said, would be two Black Sea fleet landing craft that can carry marines, the Nikolai Filchenkov and Tsezar Kunikov.
Russia’s Interfax news agency cited an unnamed military source as saying an escort ship, the Smetlivy, would stop in Tartus, in Syria, for resupplying in three days — though it had presumably just recently left its home port of Sevastopol, in the Black Sea.
The other contingent, sailing from the Arctic Ocean base of Severomorsk, situated in the Murmansk Fjord, will take longer to arrive. That convoy includes three landing craft with marines escorted by an anti-submarine ship, the Admiral Chabanenko, Interfax reported, citing an anonymous military official.
The voyage to the Mediterranean was unrelated to the Syrian conflict, the official said, but the boats laden with marines would stop in Tartus to “stock up on fuel water and food.”
In the diplomacy under way in Moscow, a senior Russian diplomat offered an alternative to Western-supported talks under the format of a group called “Friends of Syria.” That group, which includes the United States , European Union and Arab League members calling for Mr. Assad’s resignation, leaves out Mr. Assad’s only regional ally, the Iranian government.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, said Russia would support regular meetings in Moscow of an “Acting Group” of states with more balance between pro- and anti-Assad governments.
Another senior Russian official, Mikhail Margelov, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the senate, suggested the opposition delegation’s visit was a breakthrough for Russian diplomacy.
“Until now the Russian authorities have not recognized the SNC,” Mr. Margelov said. “So this visit of the Syrian opposition marks the beginning of a dialogue with the real force which today is ready to start settling the conflict.”
Abdelbasset Sida, a senior member of the council, told a news conference the opposition would respect Russian interests in Syria, which range from the Tartus base to pipeline and telecoms businesses, if Mr. Assad were deposed.

7/09/2012

Two die during Saudi Arabia protest at Shia cleric arrest

BBCNEWS

Two men have been killed in Saudi Arabia during a protest against the arrest of a prominent Shia cleric.

Activists said Akbar al-Shakuri and Mohammed al-Filfil were shot by police while attending a demonstration in Qatif, a city in Eastern Province.
The interior ministry said there had been no clashes with police, and that the incident was being investigated.
Earlier, officials had said the cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, was hurt in a car accident as security forces chased him.
The interior ministry said Sheikh Nimr was an "instigator of sedition" and would be interrogated after receiving treatment for a leg injury.
Ten days ago, the cleric said in a speech that he was confident his arrest or killing would be a "motivation" for more widespread demonstrations demanding reforms, an end to sectarian discrimination and the release of political prisoners.
The oil-rich Eastern Province is home to a Shia majority that has long complained of marginalisation at the hands of the Sunni ruling family.
Protests erupted in the region in March 2011 when a popular uprising in neighbouring Bahrain, which has a Shia majority and a Sunni royal family, was crushed with the assistance of Saudi and other Gulf troops.
The interior ministry said that following Sheikh Nimr's arrest on Sunday "a limited number of people" had assembled in al-Awamiya, a town not far from Qatif.
"Gunshots have been overheard in random areas of the town. However, there was no security confrontation whatsoever."
The security forces were later notified by a nearby medical centre that four individuals had been brought in by their relatives, the ministry added.
"Two of them were dead. The other two were slightly injured. Competent authorities initiated investigations into the incident."
Shia activists and websites reported that the two men had been killed when police opened fire to disperse a demonstration on Riyadh street in Qatif, where hundreds of people were photographed marching.

Cleric arrested in Saudi Arabia

Qatif region tense after controversial arrest of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric
  • Reuters
 
Jeddah: A prominent Shiite Muslim cleric wanted for “sedition” was arrested in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province late on Sunday after being shot in the leg by police in an exchange of fire, the Interior Ministry said.
Activists said reports that Shaikh Nimr Al Nimr had been arrested prompted demonstrations in the mostly Shiite Qatif region of the Eastern Province, which has been the focal point of protests alleging discrimination, and where the cleric was seen as a leading radical.
Shiite activists and websites reported that at least two men had been killed in the protests, but there was no independent confirmation of the deaths and a government spokesman was not immediately able to comment on the reports of demonstrations or casualties.
“When the aforementioned person and those with him tried to resist the security men and initiated shooting and crashed into one of the security patrols while trying to escape, he was dealt with in accordance with the situation and responded to in kind and arrested after he was wounded in his thigh,” the state news agency reported, citing Major General Mansour Turki, an Interior Ministry spokesman.
Turki said Nimr, who was accused of sedition, had been taken to hospital.
Tawfiq Al Saif, a Shiite community leader, said reports of the arrest had sparked protests in the village of Awamiya, which is in the Qatif district. An activist in Awamiya said he had witnessed a protest march of thousands of people and that he had seen 20 injured in a clash with riot police.
Al Nimr’s brother said the cleric was detained by police while driving from a farm to his house in Qatif.
“He had been wanted by the Interior Ministry for a couple of months because of his political views. In the past couple of months he has adopted a lot of Shiite issues and expressed his views on them, demanding their rights,” Al Nimr’s brother added.
Al Nimr was previously detained for several days in 2004 and 2006, his brother said.
American diplomats who met Al Nimr in August 2008 described him as a second-tier figure in Saudi Shiite politics, but one who was growing in popularity, according to two contemporary diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.
In January 2008, he gave a sermon calling for the creation of a “righteous opposition front”, said the cables.
The cleric represents a more radical strain among Saudi Shiites, who feel the community’s established leaders have failed to make headway with ending what they see as systematic discrimination.
“The general feeling is that [older leaders] couldn’t deliver what they promised or what the government promised them. Then there was [Al] Nimr who could represent the radical forces — the forces that deny the state has the ability to follow its promises. That’s why a good part of the new generation have listened to him,” said Al Saif.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter and a key US ally, has largely escaped the kind of protests that have toppled four Arab heads of state since last year.

Bahrain human rights activist Nabeel Rajab imprisoned

BBCNEWS

A prominent Bahraini human rights activist has been sentenced to three months in jail over comments on social networking websites, his lawyer says.

Nabeel Rajab was arrested last month after prosecutors received complaints that he had libelled residents of the town of Muharraq on Twitter.
He was reportedly taken from his home by masked police after being sentenced.
The case was one of several against Mr Rajab, who has helped organise pro-democracy protests in the Gulf kingdom.
The president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and deputy secretary general of the International Federation for Human Rights has also been a fierce critic of the state's violent crackdown on dissent.
'Political discussion'
Mr Rajab was detained for three weeks in June while prosecutors investigated complaints that he had "talked on social networks about the people of Muharraq in a way that questioned their patriotism and insulted them".
He wrote on Twitter, where he has more than 155,000 followers, that Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa should step down, and that Muharraq residents had only welcomed him during a visit because he had offered them subsidies.
Human Rights Watch said it had received information indicating that many of those who had filed complaints were former police and military officers.
It also argued that Mr Rajab's comments concerned political discussion and were therefore clearly protected under his right to free speech.
But on Monday a court found Mr Rajab guilty of libel under the Bahraini penal code and sentenced him to three months in prison. His lawyer had said the most severe penalty in libel cases was usually a fine.
Mr Rajab was also detained in May for accusing the interior ministry of failing to investigate attacks by pro-government gangs on the country's Shia majority community, which has complained of discrimination and led the protest movement against the Sunni royal family, the Al Khalifa.
The Bahraini authorities have accused Mr Rajab separately of inciting "illegal rallies and marches online by using social networking websites".

7/08/2012

Clinton: With more defections, Syrian regime's 'days are numbered'

By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday that "the days are numbered" for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
"There is no doubt that the opposition is getting more effective in their defense of themselves and in going on the offense against the Syrian military and the Syrian government's militias," Clinton said during a press conference in Tokyo on Sunday.
And with a recent increase in defections from the al-Assad regime, "the sand is running out of the hourglass," Clinton said.
"The sooner there can be an end to the violence and a beginning of a political transition process, not only will fewer people die, but there's a chance to save the Syrian state from a catastrophic assault that would be very dangerous not only to Syria but to the region," she said.
Clinton, speaking at a Tokyo conference on Afghanistan, acknowledged that a peace plan brokered by U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan has thus far failed to stymie the bloodbath in Syria that has continued for 16 months. Annan arrived in Damascus on Sunday for talks with al-Assad, according to his spokesman.
But the violence raged on Sunday, as at least 43 people were killed across the country, said the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a network of opposition activists. The dead included seven children and a woman, the opposition said.
Meanwhile, the Syrian military said exercises were under way after beginning Saturday. Live-fire operations were conducted "using missiles launched from the sea and coast, helicopters and missile boats, simulating a scenario of repelling a sudden attack from the sea," according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA).
The military exercises will involve land, sea and air forces, SANA said, "in order to test the combat readiness of the Syrian Arab Army and inspect its ability to carry out its duties in circumstances similar to possible combat conditions."
Asked to respond to Clinton's comments on Syria, Sen. John McCain of Arizona said, "I appreciate the remarks of the secretary of state. I admire her greatly. But the fact is, the United States has played no leadership role ... the United States of America performance so far has been shameful and disgraceful."
He said President Barack Obama "should be speaking out for the people of Syria. Second of all, we should get arms to them so that we can balance the forces. It is not a fair fight."
McCain said he believes al-Assad someday will go, but "my question to the secretary of state and the president of the United States is, how many more have to die before we take action to help these people with other nations?"
Despite the escalating chaos in Syria that led to the suspension of monitoring activities, the United Nations can continue to play a crucial role in the embattled country, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in a report to be presented to the Security Council.
An advance copy of the report, which is circulating among Security Council members, was obtained by CNN ahead of a Wednesday briefing on Syria to the council by Annan.
The document admits the efforts to implement Annan's peace plan -- which includes a cease-fire and take measures to protect human rights -- have not worked.
In some places, the levels of violence are even higher today than they were before an initial cease-fire attempt, the report says.
"The situation has deterioriated significantly, and has become more militarized," Ban told journalists at the Japan National Press Club referring to Syria, according to the U.N.
The 300-strong U.N. team in Syria, whose mission is to observe and help implement the plan, has been unable to do its work as envisioned because of the current conditions, the document states.
Last month, the United Nations announced that it was pulling back its unarmed monitors because of escalating violence. Opposition groups slammed the international body for the suspension of its work.
Ban essentially put three options on the table: withdrawing the U.N. team; increasing its size or adding armed protection for them; or retooling the mission of the current team.
Ban elaborated the most on the idea to shift the strategy of the current U.N. team.
The team could retain its military observer capability and continue its fact-finding work, but with a limited scope in light of the violence in Syria, the report says.
In this scenario, the U.N. mission would move its personnel from the field back to Damascus, where it would focus on pushing forward the six-point plan to the Syrian government and the opposition.
"From a central hub in Damascus, the civilian component would continue liaison and dialogue with opposition and Government representatives in the provinces as security conditions allow," Ban writes.
Whatever the decision on the mission, "the international community's continued responsibility to Syria is a moral and political obligation," Gen. Robert Mood, commander of the U.N. mission to Syria, said in an open letter to the Syrian people Sunday. "We cannot and will not turn our eyes and ears away from your plight and will continue to work together, with you, to find new paths to political dialogue and peaceful resolution to the crisis."
The United Nations has said more than 10,000 people have been killed since the Syrian crisis began in March 2011. What started as peaceful protests against the regime spiraled into a bloody government crackdown and armed uprising.
One opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said last week that more than 16,700 have been killed, including more than 11,000 civilians.
CNN cannot independently verify government and opposition claims of casualties because access to Syria by international journalists has been severely restricted.

Saudi Arabia's Princess Sara claims asylum in the UK

She was Saudi Arabia’s “Barbie” princess; the pampered granddaughter of the Kingdom’s founder and daughter of one of his most powerful and favoured sons.
Princess Sara bint Talal bin Abdulaziz, however, is claiming political asylum in the UK over fears for her safety back home.
The claim, the first ever made by such a senior member of the ruling family’s inner circle, will embarrass the Saudi dynasty and threatens a diplomatic row.
Princess Sara, 38, accuses senior Saudi officials of plotting to kidnap her and smuggle her back to Riyadh, having subjected her to a “well orchestrated and malicious campaign of persecution”.
She currently occupies a suite and several rooms in a five-star London hotel with her four children and two dogs, guarded by a private security team.
“I am very scared right now,” she told The Sunday Telegraph at a secret location. “They know I can’t go back now. There is a threat. That’s a slap in the face of the Kingdom.
“I’ve been physically abused. I’ve been mentally abused. My assets have been frozen. They’ve accused me of being in opposition [to them] with Iran, they haven’t left anything. I’ve been crucified in every way.”
On Friday, Princess Sara’s lawyers notified the Home Office of her intention to seek asylum. Ministers must assess the truth of the allegations and decide whether to offer her a safe haven – a diplomatic dilemma because Saudi authorities want her to return.
Princess Sara has lived in the UK since 2007 after she fell out with her 80-year-old father, Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud, known as The Red Prince.
She says of her relationship with him: “Everything goes back to a certain aspect that I don’t discuss in public. Something happened with my father and he didn’t take it lightly. He retaliated against me and wanted to crush me. I had been his closest; I had been his favourite. It shook my world.”
While living first in the Cotswolds, then in London she won custody of her children. She has had a continuing inheritance battle with her older brother, Prince Turki bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud, over their dead mother’s £325 million fortune, made up of cash, jewels and property in Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Egypt and Lebanon.
She claims she was cut off from her inheritance. Saudi officials have asked her to return to Riyadh to argue her case, rather than air her grievances abroad.
Her asylum claim offers an insight into the tensions within the Saudi royal family. With the current king ill, Princess Sara was supported by her uncle, the Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz al Saud, a rival of her father’s. But last month he died, leaving her exposed and seemingly prompting her push for asylum.
She grew up in a Riyadh palace with untold riches at her disposal. Asked if she was ferried everywhere by Rolls-Royce, she replied: “I hate Rolls-Royces, I love Aston Martins,” before adding: “Actually I am very grounded.”
Her grandfather was King Abdulaziz, the founder of the Saudi state. Her father, a radical and a reformer, was exiled briefly in the 1960s but returned to the fold, and her mother, who died of cancer in 2008, was Prince Talal’s third wife. Among her 14 brothers and sisters is Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who runs the country’s sovereign wealth fund and is one of the richest men in the world.
“They called me the little Barbie as I was like this cute little girl who had everything,” recalled Princess Sara of her childhood. “But my British nanny brought me up in a very strict manner.
“My branch of the family was always different from the rest of Al Saud – open, controversial and diverse. We celebrate Christmas.”
She studied at the King Saud University in Riyadh, and married a royal cousin while still young. She was divorced in her twenties.
She worked with her father as he travelled in his role as an ambassador to Unicef, visiting refugee camps where she was instilled, she says, with a need to address injustice. “I just had a feeling my roles as a princess and a society lady and a reformer contradicted each other,” she said. “As a princess you have more obligations you have to take seriously.
“It is not privilege. It is work, work, work. I would say I associate myself with Princess Anne [except] maybe different looks.”
Wearing a V-neck sweater, leggings and running shoes, Princess Sara dresses like any Westerner and refuses to wear a veil. Her nails are bright red and her hair is in a plait because she has not had time to wash it before an interview that has taken many days – and several false starts – to organise.
Two years after she moved to the UK her passport expired, and the Saudi embassy refused to issue a new one. She is threatened with deportation because her visa has also run out. A mystery backer gives her a regular income.
“I would like the king to send an envoy to solve all these problems and give me guarantees,” she said, adding that she had nothing but respect for the monarch.
A previous attempt to entice her home was a disaster: as she met a Saudi official at the Dorchester Hotel in February last year, her security detail became convinced of a possible kidnapping risk. Their surveillance notes will be handed to the Home Office.
She will further argue that she has been subjected “to a litany of serious crimes, including threats, assault, an attempted kidnapping and the attempted abduction of my children”. The motives, she believes, are political.
Princess Sara believes forces, acting independently of the king, her father and close family, are behind the alleged criminal acts.
She claims that she was assaulted outside the Saudi embassy by an official who tried to grab her arm. The police were not called because the princess was trying to avoid a scandal.
She has become the victim of a internet smear campaign questioning her mental stability and connecting her to the Saudi opposition and Hizbollah – allegations she denies. She wants to fight back. “I am not brave at all,” she said, “I just see a cause. I know what is right and what is wrong. I have to stick to it. I want my rights and my dignity back.”
Yet she does not wish to challenge King Abdullah’s authority, nor that of Sharia. “I am a threat because I am a reformer from within. My way is the modern Islamic way,” she said.
A Saudi princess has caused problems for Anglo-Saudi relations before. In 1980, the British ambassador was expelled and export orders cancelled after ITV broadcast Death of a Princess about the execution of a princess for adultery.
Princess Sara is trying to bring up her four teenage children in a “strict but loving environment”. During the interview, one son sent her a text message asking what film they should watch that evening. She is trying to lead, she says, a normal life. The circumstances, however, are exceptional.
A Saudi embassy diplomat said: “The embassy has been involved in settling her visa issue and residency issue in the UK. We have tried to settle this issue. This matter is of a personal nature so there is only so much the government can do. It’s not a political matter.”

UAE women prove competency in military

GULFNEWS
Khawla Bint Al Azwar Military School is the Gulf region’s first military college for women
  • WAM
 
Abu Dhabi: The UAE’s supreme leadership has given great attention to UAE women so as to empower them to be on an equal footing with their male counterparts in all fields, including military, said Lieutenant Colonel Afra Saeed Al Falasi, Commander of Khawla Bint Al Azwar Military School.
She made her remarks in a speech to the “Dira’ Al Watan” magazine, Nation Shield, the journal of the Armed Forces.
Lt. Col. Al Falasi said Emirati women proved their competence and capability of working in all fields, including military, thus deserving the trust bestowed upon them by the supreme leadership.
Speaking about Khawla Bint Al Azwar Military School as the Gulf region’s first military college for women, Al Falasi said: “Since 1991, women have also played a role in the defence of the nation, when the Khawla Bint al Azwar Military School was founded in line with the directives of the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan to prepare young women for careers in the military.”
The most significant accomplishment towards gender equality in the UAE, and even the region, is most visible through women’s participation in the military. Pursuant the 1991 Gulf War, Emirati women expressed a desire for preparation in defending their country. Subsequently, the Gulf region’s first military college for women – the Khawla bint Al Azwar Training College was established along with women’s corps within the Armed Forces. Females are granted the same training and responsibilities as their male counterparts, and also play a major role in humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping operations to countries in need, she added.
Al Falasi praised the efforts and support extended by President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyah, as well as Her Highness Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, Chairperson of the UAE General Women’s Union.
She noted that the Khawla Bint Al Azwar Military School (KBAS) realizes the interest the UAE leadership takes in the role UAE females can play in serving and defending the UAE’s interests as well as in the UAE’s contributions to the protection of international peace around the world and providing humanitarian aid to countries in times of crises and disasters.

BAHRAIN: ‘Floating base’ deploys to Gulf: US Navy


Amphibious ship equipped with helicopter landing deck and space for troops
  • AFP
Washington: An ageing American naval ship converted into a “floating base” has arrived off the coast of Bahrain to support counter-mine operations in the Gulf, the US Navy said Friday.
The deployment of the USS Ponce marks the latest in a gradual build-up of American forces in the region since tensions spiked with Iran in December over its nuclear programme, with Tehran threatening to possibly close the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
Equipped with a helicopter landing deck and space for troops, the amphibious transport ship, in service since 1971, can support an array of missions as a “forward staging base” involving special forces, countermine operations or repair work for warships, officials said.
The Ponce “provides us with an enhanced capability to conduct maritime security operations, and gives us greater flexibility to support a wide range of contingencies with our regional parters,” said Vice Admiral John Miller, commander of naval forces in the Middle East.
The ship, which has a crew of 150 civilians and 55 sailors, departed Norfolk, Virginia on June 1 and arrived in Bahrain on Thursday, officials said.
Apart from the Ponce, the Navy has deployed two aircraft carriers to the region - the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS Enterprise - and doubled its mine sweeper fleet in the area from four to eight ships on June 23.
Four MH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters also were deployed in March to back up counter-mine efforts and the US Air Force in April moved radar-evading F-22 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates.
The increased US military presence - including the mine sweepers - is meant to send a clear message to Iran over its threats to mine the narrow Strait of Hormuz, through which about a fifth of the world’s traded oil passes.