Bahrain’s highest court on Monday upheld jail terms issued against nine medics convicted for their role in last year’s pro-democracy uprising, state news agency BNA reported, a decision that could further fuel unrest in the Gulf Arab state.
The controversial case has drawn international criticism of the US-backed Gulf Arab kingdom, which has been in turmoil since the protests erupted in February last year.
BNA quoted Attorney General Abdul-Rahman al-Sayed as saying that Bahrain’s Court of Cassation rejected all appeals presented by the defendants and confirmed the previous rulings of prison terms ranging between one month to five years.
In June, the appeals court sentenced Ali al-Ekry, former senior surgeon at the Salmaniya hospital in Manama, to five years in jail.
Al-Ekri was found guilty of “possession and concealment of white weaponry (non-firearms) to serve a terrorist purpose, and for illegal assembly,” the statement said.
“We did not get a fair trial…We think we are a card being used by the regime to negotiate with the opposition,” he told Reuters by telephone from Manama.
Ibrahim Damastani, who received a three-year jail term, was found guilty of “possession of a white weapon and illegal assembly.”
The remaining seven medics, who were convicted of lesser crimes, including illegal assembly and inciting hatred, were given sentences of between one month and one year.
This was the final verdict and no other appeals will be heard. All nine medics have been free on bail since September last year.
The medics were first charged and convicted by a quasi military court specially formed in the aftermath of the government’s brutal crackdown of the anti-government protests in March 2011.
Many initially received much harsher sentences of up to 15 years.
Only the two medics who remain at large, Ali Hassan al-Sadadi and Qassim Imran, still face 15-year prison terms since neither appealed the original verdicts. They are believed to be in hiding or to have left the country.
The doctors were released last year after an outcry over allegations of torture during detention.
Mohammed al-Maskati, head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, said Monday’s verdict was final with no recourse for further appeal but there might be still a chance for a pardon by the king.
The medics’ case highlights the schism in Bahraini society over the protest movement and political reform.
The doctors and nurses say they were victimized for treating protesters and helping bring world attention to deaths caused by security forces.
Washington and rights groups have criticized the June ruling, with Amnesty International saying it was a “dark day for justice.”
The verdicts follow an earlier trial at a military court in September, 2011 which sentenced 20 medics to prison terms of between five and 15 years on charges including theft of medical equipment, occupying a hospital and incitement to topple the state.
The ruling Al Khalifa family used martial law and help of Saudi-led Gulf troops, to put down last year’s uprising. Thousands were arrested and military trials were instituted during the martial law period.
Washington has called on its ally to talk to the opposition, but unrest continues. Protesters and police clash almost daily.
Seventeen-year-old Ali Hussein Nemat was killed during clashes with police on Friday.
At least 80 people have been killed and thousands detained since the uprising began, according to media sources and human rights organizations.
(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)
An Irish parliamentary committee on trade relations has come out in unanimous support of a ban on imports from illegal Israeli settlements, The Irish Times reported Wednesday.
The committee is about to write to the deputy head of government and the Foreign Affairs Minister Eamonn Gilmore to call for the implementation of the national ban.
A ban on Irish imports from illegal Israeli settlements is a significant step toward answering Palestinian civil society’s call for a global boycott of Israeli occupation. The call, issued in 2005, calls on individuals and groups to boycott products, companies and institutions that support the violation of Palestinian rights in Palestine.
The boycott movement also seeks to push groups to divest from corporations complicit in the repression of Palestinians, and to encourage states to place economic sanctions on Israel for discriminatory policy-making.
Israel has long history of subjugating indigenous Palestinians, starting with the creation of the state in 1948, when the few thousand Palestinians who were not expelled from their homeland were placed under nearly 20 years of military rule. Palestinians in territories occupied by Israel after 1967 remain under stifling and often lethal martial law.
A rapidly growing list of groups have heeded the call to boycott, including some major European labor unions and world-renowned artists. Several student unions in North America in recent months have voted in favor of having their universities divest from companies operating in Palestinian occupied territories. One French multinational, Veolia, is currently in financial dire straits after having lost large European contracts over illegal operations in the territories.
One Irish lawmaker, Senator Jim Walsh, suggested that Ireland completely implement the call to boycott. “In the background, we shouldn’t rule out banning all Israeli products,” said Walsh.
Another politician, Eric Byrne, urged the government to champion an EU-wide ban during Ireland’s presidency in the union next year.
“This new Irish parliamentary move should become a model to be emulated by all European lawmakers who claim to care about human rights and international law,” said founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, Omar Barghouti.
Palestine’s boycott movement takes its cue from the South African campaign to boycott, divestment, and sanction the apartheid regime, which collapsed under the strain of economic and diplomatic pressures in 1994.
- Israel ‘Pillaging’ Palestinian Resources (ipsnews.net)
- EU states urged to label all West Bank produce separately (irishtimes.com)
- United Church of Canada defends decision to boycott Israeli products (presstv.com)
The European Commission on Friday announced an extra 100 million euros in aid for water, sanitation, and refugees in the Occupied Palestinian territories.
There will also be an extra package of support to Palestinians living in the so-called Area C, which is under direct Israeli authority but where it is currently almost impossible for Palestinians and international donors to obtain building permits.
After the Israeli demolition there of community buildings and infrastructure such as rainwater cisterns, the EU’s new funding will provide training to build new infrastructure.
Additional funding for the United Nations refugee agency for Palestinians (UNWRA) will provide support on education, health, relief and social services for Palestine refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
The new funds brings European Union aid to the Palestinians this year to 200 million euros.
Israel has in the past angered European donors after destroying several costly, high-profile infrastructure projects in the Occupied Territories.
- Report: Israel urges US, EU to send funds to Ramallah (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- EU Missions Condemn Continuous Settlers Attacks against Palestinians (windowintopalestine.blogspot.com)
- Letters: The EU, Israel and occupied territories (guardian.co.uk)
A Tunisian man who died on Monday in hospital in Tunis was tortured in a police station, his lawyer said, while the government confirmed he had died of a concussion.
The death of Abd Raouf Kammassi was the first of its kind to be reported in the North African country since the overthrow of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his dictatorial regime last year.
“Abd Raouf Kammassi died today at Charles Nicole Hospital due to being hit with a sharp object on his head by security forces during his interrogation in a police station,” lawyer Abd Elhak Triki told Reuters.
The Interior Ministry confirmed in a statement that Kammassi had died of a concussion. It said an investigating judge had ordered four security agents to stop interrogating him.
“Abd Raouf Kammassi died under torture in Sidi Hussein police station after his arrest on charges of theft,” Radhia Nasroui, President of the Association Against Torture, told Reuters.
The previous government had long faced criticism of torturing prisoners, but the first such death after the revolution could embarrass the new government led by the Islamist party Al-Nahda, which has pledged to respect human rights and ensure proper treatment of prisoners.
Al-Nahda’s democratic credentials have come under intense scrutiny in recent months, with the Islamists accused of censoring free press, using violence against protesters, and curtailing women’s rights.
- Tunisia: Al-Nahda’s Failures Lead Sidi Bouzid to Rise Again (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Mossad in the Maghreb: Stepping Up its Game (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Egypt’s new prime minister, appointed in the summer, said Sunday his government was finalizing a package of economic reforms to boost tax revenue and cut consumer subsidies and that he would present a draft to the president next week.
Hisham Kandil told Reuters in an interview the government planned to direct energy subsidies more effectively, issuing coupons or smart cards to the poor for butane cooking gas by mid-October and cutting subsidies on 95-octane gasoline in coming months.
“We want to increase our revenue. To do so we need to look at our taxation system so it covers more people, not necessarily that we tax more. But it would be better to tax more people,” he said. “We’ll try to get them into the formal economy, and we will do that very soon.”
Egypt last month requested a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the post-revolutionary country trudges through economic dire straits.
During 18 months of political turmoil since the overthrow of autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak, successive Egyptian governments negotiated with the IMF to secure emergency funding.
The Muslim Brotherhood, from which the current president hails, was originally skeptical of the IMF loan, which it feared would undermine Egypt’s sovereignty by keeping it indebted to the IMF.
Dozens of Egyptians took to the streets to protest the move which they said was antithetical to a revolution that aimed to unshackle the chains of foreign intervention.
Tunisia – For the past three months, the Arab Maghreb countries have been witnessing a growing number of controversies and scandals concerning cells linked to Israeli espionage activities.
It began when an informants network was dismantled in Mauritania early this year. Then Mossad made the headlines in Algeria and Morocco in a string of reports, rumors, and hoaxes.
Finally, a new scandal reverberated across Tunisia last week involving a wide network of Mossad operations, including espionage centers using the country as a base to spy across the Maghreb region.
Abderraouf al-Ayadi, head of the Wafa Movement which split from the Rally for the Republic (RPR), caused a huge stir last week when he revealed that Mossad has stepped up its activities in post-revolutionary Tunisia.
He said that these activities were being conducted under the “cover of European and US NGOs that claim to be charitable, humanitarian, or cultural.”
This echoes earlier statements by the head of the Tunisian Workers Party (formerly POCT), Hamma al-Hammami, about “Israeli spy networks operating in post-revolution Tunisia that took advantage of the state of chaos and lawlessness that swept the country following president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s escape.”
The information revealed by Ayadi and Hammami coincided with a February report by the Yafa Center for Studies and Research focusing on Mossad activities in the Maghreb. The report said that the agency began concentrating its operations in Tunisia following the PLO’s exit from Beirut and relocation to Tunis in 1982.
Interest in the region declined after the signing of the Oslo accords, until the Tunisian revolution brought it back.
The report spoke about the post-Oslo Tunisian-Israeli rapprochement which became public with the establishment of a bureau for economic cooperation in 1996.
The relationship included a secret item about the “establishment of a system for security coordination between the Mossad and Tunisia by Shalom Cohen, a Tunisian Jew working in the North Africa section of the Israeli Mossad. In the same year, he became the director of the Israeli interest bureau in Tunisia.”
According to the report, Cohen used his diplomatic cover to build a “Mossad network” based in the capital Tunis, with branches in Sousse and Djerba.
The Yafa center information is consistent with that which Ayadi said he had received from a high-ranking Tunisian security source who reported the surveillance of a secret Mossad network “of around 300 agents” distributed over the three spying bases.
The first base was in the capital and run by a certain Nachman Jalboagh. It focused on Algeria by collecting information, monitoring targets, and recruiting agents.
The second is in Sousse and run by Doron Pierre. Its operations were primarily inside Tunisia, especially the monitoring the remaining Palestinians in Tunisia, Salafi movements, and groups opposing peace with Israel.
The third is in Djerba, run by Nurit Tsur, and focuses on Libya. It also acts to protect the Jewish sect in Tunisia, which is concentrated on the island, and collects information about Jewish archaeological sites and landmarks in Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya.
Tunisian authorities have remained silent despite the uproar caused by the revelations. The government has yet to take any public action concerning the issue.
Speaking to al-Maghreb newspaper, interior minister Ali al-Arid said “the statements concerning 300 Mossad spies in Tunisia, working under the cover of cultural NGOs and travel agencies, are unfounded and completely irresponsible.”
“They are intended to disturb the work of security agencies that toil night and day to protect Tunisia. Anyone who has information about the issue should contact the security agencies so they can confirm it,” he added.
Tunisian anti-normalization activists believe that the interior minister’s statements contradict information broadcast on official Israeli television in the first days of the Tunisian revolution.
Mossad had boasted about “a special operation in Tunisia, under the cover of European companies, to evacuate a group of Israelis who were visiting Djerba, the site of the oldest synagogue in the world, al-Ghariba temple.”
Tunisian activists suggest that “Mossad activities and crimes are not new in Tunisia. The most famous was the bombing of the Hammam al-Shat suburb in the autumn of 1985. It targeted the offices of late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat. The Mossad also carried out numerous assassinations in Tunisia, including that of the mastermind behind the first intifada, Abu Jihad, in 1988.”
Following the Oslo agreement, nationalist and leftist currents, as well as anti-normalization associations accused Ben Ali of “facilitating Mossad operations and activities in Tunisia.”
This was highlighted in a documentary broadcast by Tunisian television following the revolution called “The State of Corruption.” The film exposed the significant role that Ben Ali played in setting the scene for the accords.
Following Oslo, the former dictator opened an Israeli economic cooperation bureau in Tunis. The office initiated its activities by contacting several Tunisian intellectuals and journalists to lure them into normalization activities. The majority refused to be involved.
The bureau was later closed due to popular pressure following the 2002 Israeli assault on the West Bank and the consequent siege of Yasser Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah.
The alarm sounded by Ayadi and Hammami is based on evidence and information corroborated by rights activist Ahmed al-Kahlawi, president of the Tunisian Association for Fighting Normalization and Supporting the Arab Resistance (TAFNSAR).
Kahlawi said that “several foreign organizations active in post-revolution Tunisia, such as Freedom House, play a major role in propagating the culture of normalization under the pretext of defending human rights.”
He also laid bare the schemes of an organization called “AMIDEAST, which teaches English under the supervision of the US embassy. It entices students to give up their animosity towards Israel and promotes programs that claim to call for peace and dialogue between cultures, but in reality it aims to foster normalization.”
“With the fall of Ben Ali, Israel lost a strong strategic ally in North Africa,” Kahlawi explained. He indicated that most Zionist leaders admit this openly, including Benjamin Netanyahu and Silvan Shalom, who is of Tunisian origins (born in the city of Qabis).
Ben Ali had officially welcomed Shalom in 2005 in a meeting that was not covered by the Tunisian media, coinciding with the World Summit for the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis.
Kahlawi said the latest revelations about Mossad’s role in Tunisia should be further grounds for the constituent assembly to ratify chapter 27 of the proposed constitution, related to crimes of normalization and prosecuting collaboration with the Zionist state.
He added that “al-Nahda had rejected the criminalization of normalization, with a demagogic argument contending that the Tunisian constitution will last longer than the Israeli state, which will inevitably perish!”
Most Tunisian anti-normalization activists suspect the real reason behind al-Nahda eschewing the criminalization of normalization to be “pressure from the US on the ruling troika, and specifically on the movement, to prevent the ratification of chapter 27, which had been proposed by anti-normalization associations.”
- Tunisia: Al-Nahda’s Failures Lead Sidi Bouzid to Rise Again (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- “Arab Spring” back to the beginning? (english.ruvr.ru)
Chinese investment, including in industrial and technological projects, is the primary focus of Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi’s visit to Beijing starting Tuesday, state media and officials said.
Mursi leaves for China late Monday on his first visit outside the Arab world since becoming president in June. He will then head to Tehran for the Non-Aligned Movement summit on Thursday.
The visit aims to “attract Chinese investment in Egypt,” presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said.
Cairo and Beijing are to sign agreements for seven major projects, including a power station in Upper Egypt, a desalination plant, industrial bakeries and Internet development, according to assistant planning minister Nabil Abdel Hamid.
Egypt will also propose development of a high-speed train line between Cairo and Alexandria, Hamid told state daily Al-Ahram.
Coinciding with Mursi’s visit, a joint business forum will be held in Beijing attended by some 80 Egyptian business leaders, the investment ministry announced.
Egypt’s imports from China in 2011 reached $7.5 billion, versus exports valued at $1.5 billion, as trade between the two countries rose to a total of $9 billion, according to official figures.
Ousted former president Hosni Mubarak had already made trade with China a priority, as volume rose from $610 million in 1998 to $6.2 billion 10 years later.
Egypt hosted the 2009 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, or FOCAC, in its resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, where China pledged $10 billion in concessional loans and enhanced trade to African states.
Mursi faces tough economic challenges in the wake of the uprising which forced Mubarak from power last year, and severely affected foreign investment.
On his way back from China, the Islamist president will attend the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran on Thursday, when he will pass the movement’s presidency from Egypt to Iran.
It will be the first visit by an Egyptian head of state since the two countries severed diplomatic relations more than 30 years ago, although Mursi downplayed the issue of possible resumption of diplomatic relations.
Iran cut ties with Egypt in 1980 after the Islamic revolution in protest against the 1979 peace accords between Egypt and Israel.
- Egypt requests $4.8bn IMF loan (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Hardline Salafis attacked a peaceful pro-Palestine protest on Friday evening in the Tunisian city of Gabes.
Hundreds of people were marching in support of the Palestinian demand for statehood on the occasion of International Quds Day but were attacked, witnesses said.
In a telephone interview with UPI a protester said that about 30 people affiliated with the hardline Salafi movement “attacked participants in the march with sticks and batons on the pretext that they are Shia, and not allowed to display their beliefs in the town of Abu Lubaba Ansari.”
The witness, who requested anonymity, said that clashes between Salafis and the participants in the rally continued for more than an hour in the absence of security forces – resulting in a number of injuries.
The witness added that Salafis attacked participants with sticks and stones, and also burnt the Palestinian flag and hoisted black banners reading “there is no god but Allah.”
They also chanted slogans, including: “There is no god but Allah, and Shias are the enemies of God,” and others calling for the killing of Shias.
Tunisia has witnessed a number of aggressive moves moves by the Salafi movement in the past week.
On Thursday night the closing ceremony of the second session of the al-Aqsa festival in the city of Bizerte was interrupted by attacks in which five people were injured.
The festival was attended by Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese resistance figure formerly detained in Israel.
Militant Salafis stormed the concert hall and threatened the audience with swords and sticks on the pretext that Kuntar is Shia, despite him coming from a Druze background.
Extremist demonstrations in the name of Islam have become an increasing trend in Tunisia and security forces have been accused of turning a blind eye to such attacks.
A Syria-based reporter for Iran’s Arabic language television network Al-Alam has been abducted by rebels in the central Syrian city of Homs, the channel said on its website on Tuesday.
The journalist, named as Ahmad Sattouf, was taken by “armed terrorist groups” as he returned to his home in Homs, Al-Alam said.
The channel did not say when exactly Sattouf was abducted, but said he had been missing for “several days.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights separately said that Sattouf, a Syrian, had been abducted overnight Saturday-Sunday.
Al-Alam said that “the rebels also attacked and ransacked” its office in Homs.
Several foreign and Syrian journalists have been targeted in the conflict in Syria.
The head of the UN observer mission in Syria on Monday condemned attacks on the media.
A domestic news chief for Syria’s state new agency SANA was said to have been murdered by rebels outside his home near the capital on Saturday, and an al-Qaeda linked group has claimed responsibility for the murder early this month of a presenter on state television.
Three Syrian state TV journalists were also reportedly abducted by rebels on Friday as they accompanied government troops close to the capital, and last week a bomb attack on state television headquarters wounded several people.
Lebanese Army Intelligence successfully managed to arrest Rmeileh network, consisting of four members, following the arrest in Sidon of a Palestinian from Gaza, Al-Akhbar newspaper reported on Tuesday.
There is information that a fifth member was also arrested. Estimates do not rule out that this cell may constitute other members. As Safir daily reported that the number of suspects with links to the network has reached five and the army intelligence is seeking to seize a sixth.
It is noteworthy that this network included Lebanese Christians, Muslims and Palestinians.
Initial investigation showed that the cell was plotting to bring down a United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) chopper with a rocket at the Shouf town of Rmeileh’s landing field which is used by the Interim forces operating in the South for logistics, the newspaper said.
In a communique issued on Saturday, the army command said that the military intelligence arrested three men in Rmeileh after Israeli-made equipment was found in their possession.
The army raided the residences of the suspects and seized 1,211 detonators, several electric-detonators, Israeli-made devices used to ignite mines, Russian and American-made anti-personnel mines, Israeli-made mortar shells, 21 hand grenades, weapons and other equipment, reports said.
- Israel’s warplanes strike south Lebanon (occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com)
Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court on Tuesday froze a decree issued by President Mohamed Mursi reinstating the Islamist-led parliament, a judicial source said.
The decision is expected to raise tensions between Mursi, the top court and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) which handed over power to the new president at the end of June.
“The court ordered the freeze of the president’s decree,” the source said.
On Sunday, just eight days after taking office, Mursi, a former member of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, ordered the lower house to reconvene.
His move highlighted the power struggle between the president and the Supreme Constitutional Court which last month said certain articles in the law governing the parliament elections were invalid, annulling the lower house.
The judicial source added: “The court ordered that its previous ruling (invalidating the elections and annulling the lower house) be implemented.”
The latest announcement came hours only after the dissolved parliament convened on Tuesday in defiance of the powerful SCAF and the judiciary.
“We are gathered today to review the court rulings, the ruling of the Supreme Constitutional Court,” which ordered the house invalid, speaker Saad al-Katatni said.
“I want to stress, we are not contradicting the ruling, but looking at a mechanism for the implementation of the ruling of the respected court. There is no other agenda today,” he added.
SCAF, which ruled Egypt after dictator Hosni Mubarak was ousted in last year’s popular uprising, dissolved the house and took legislative control using a document granting it supreme powers.
On Monday, the Supreme Constitutional Court rejected Mursi’s decree, saying that all of its rulings were binding.
“All the rulings and decisions of the Supreme Constitutional Court are final and not subject to appeal…and are binding for all state institutions,” it said.
And the military echoed it with a statement late on Monday saying the constitution and the law must be upheld.
- Egyptian parliament dissolution “binding” (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Egypt People’s Assemby refers own fate back to the Judiciary (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Special envoy Kofi Annan and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met on Monday and agreed to initiate another ceasefire plan between the government and the opposition. The following is an account of what was said at the meeting.
The meeting between Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and the international envoy to Syria Kofi Annan on Monday began with the usual pleasantries. They were joined by the [Head of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria] General Robert Mood and Annan’s political advisor Martin Griffith.
The international envoy began by indicating that he had followed the recent media appearances by the Syrian president, from the German television to the Turkish Cumhuriyet newspaper.
“It seems, Mr. President, that you are intensifying your media appearances in this period,” he remarked.
“This is true for two reasons. First, I am someone who prefers action and then words. Second, we noticed an extensive blackout of the facts in addition to the distortion and misrepresentation of many matters. So I saw it as my duty to speak,” Assad replied, smiling.
Annan understood. He replied saying he completely understands the difference between the events on the ground and the prevailing image that reflects the imagined scenarios of several agendas and impressions.
Annan then turned to the officially prepared statement: “Mr. President, I felt it was my duty following the conference we held in Geneva and a few days before my briefing the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on July 20 and 21, to come to you, meet with you, and present what we have achieved and what should be followed-up,” Annan said.
It was obvious from the introduction that Annan deliberately left out Friday’s opposition “Friends of the Syrian People” Paris conference and the escalation in rhetoric during and after that meeting.
He even went further, seizing the opportunity of his and the UN’s repeated commitment to his six-point peace initiative to stress to the Syrian president that the outcome of the Geneva convention was out of concern for this initiative, and nothing else.
“No doubt, Mr. President, you know that what happened in Geneva is different from some of the interpretations and explanations, which sought to add issues that had nothing to do with the conference or distorted its decisions,” he added. Annan’s remarkable position seems identical to the Russian stance on Western perspectives that followed the meeting.
Annan then spoke about the situation on the ground and the international monitoring mission in Syria. He pointed out the tragic situation in some regions and the need to practically achieve the essence of his mission, namely the second point concerning cessation of violence.
Assad responded by saying he is fully aware and responsive to the situation. He then presented his guest with a brief presentation of his mission since 12 April 2012. He explained how the ceasefire was reached and respected by the official armed forces for 24 hours, before it was broken by the armed insurgents, as noted in the international observers’ reports. While Assad was explaining, chief observer Mood nodded in agreement several times.
Annan listened to his host’s message, concluding that the truth of the matter confirms the need to work on a ceasefire, since the volatile situation began to spill outside Syria. Then he named Lebanon as a worrying arena for the repercussions of the Syrian situation.
“Let us try again and put a specific mechanism for a ceasefire starting from one of the more volatile regions, then move to the next,” Annan suggested. Again, Assad was completely responsive.
“We are a state, a government, and official authorities. Therefore, if you agree with us and we gave our word to abide by the ceasefire, we will be responsible for this and you can refer to us for implementation. But who will you negotiate with on the other side?” Assad asked his guests.
Annan replied, aided by Mood. They explained that the international observers, during their mission, were able to conduct a semi-comprehensive survey of armed groups active in those areas.
“We now know the main groups at least and we know those who are responsible for them. It is true that they do not have a unified command or clear structure. But we know the key people. Therefore we believe we could work with them step by step,” they said.
In this context, it was clear that the international officials had classified the side opposing the Syrian regime as an “armed opposition.” This was later indicated in Annan’s official press release.
On this point, Annan was reminded that the insurgents were the ones who aborted several similar attempts, especially in Homs.
“Some time ago, your observers witnessed attempts by some fighters to leave al-Khalidiya neighborhood in Homs to surrender themselves and their weapons. But other fighters stopped them from doing so. Your observers also witnessed how armed fighters blocked the attempt to rescue some of the residents trapped in al-Dayyan and al-Hamidiya neighborhoods in Homs,” they were told. This was confirmed by Griffith who had observed these events.
The international officials did not deny their hosts’ words. “Nevertheless, due to the current situation, let us try again. Our observers will reach an agreement with the armed groups in any area where we choose to work. In return, we want you to make a goodwill gesture at any of the mutually agreed starting points. Your gesture would be for a unilateral ceasefire from your side, a short time before the mutual deadline. Even if it is for four hours, for example,” Annan suggested.
Here, Annan was reminded that the ceasefire proposed in his six-point initiative is related to putting an end to the arming, financing, and weapons smuggling. Annan was listening to this sensitive point without reacting, until he was interrupted by a direct question.
“What do you think of what the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said two days ago [Sunday], when she called on the armed groups to launch an assault on the government’s forces? Is such a position consistent with the substance of your mission?” Annan was asked.
After a few seconds of silence, he replied saying, “Of course not. These are dangerous words. But let us try. Let us agree on this mechanism and proceed to try to implement it on the ground, step by step.”
As for the possible time-frame for such an operation, the two sides discussed several ideas, opinions, and suggestions. They concluded by agreeing on a preliminary deadline of three months, beginning from the first step to be implemented in the plan. In the meantime, both sides will work on releasing a joint statement of progress, once every two weeks.
Annan moved from the situation on the field to discuss the question of a national dialogue between the government and the opposition. “If we moved ahead in resolving the security issue and reached the dialogue phase, can you name your representative in this process to negotiate with the opposition, as a sort of liaison officer to follow the second part of the UN’s mission?” he asked.
Assad smiled and immediately replied, “We had decided on this before you asked us. Since the formation of the current government, we named someone to be in charge of the issue. He will be our representative in this process. He is the National Reconciliation Minister Dr. Ali Haidar.”
Annan inquired about Haidar and was told by Assad that he had been chosen for several reasons. “First, he is not from the loyalist camp. He is actually from the opposition. He is also the head of a party known for its honesty in Syria and abroad. Third, he was hurt during the bloody events. His son was killed by the insurgents but he ignored his wound and accepted the mission towards a genuine national reconciliation,” Assad said.
Annan acknowledged Assad’s explanation, but added that “we would have preferred if you named someone who is close to you and who would be in direct contact with you to follow-up on the dialogue process.”
Assad smiled again, saying that “Dr. Haidar and I sat next to each other all through my university years when I studied ophthalmology. Do you need someone closer than this?”
“In any case,” he continued, “I think your problem will be on the other side, not ours. Will you be able to name someone who represents the opposition?” Annan could not hold his laughter. He seconded Assad’s words and added, “I completely understand this difficulty. I saw them at the last conference in Cairo.”
The formal meeting concluded, but there was still time for some closing remarks. Getting ready to leave, Annan asked his host, “How long do you think this crisis will continue?”
“As long as the [...] regime funds it,” Assad replied. But Annan was not surprised by the answer. “Do you think they are behind all the funding?” he inquired.
“They are behind many things that happen in our region. They believe they will be able to lead the whole Arab world today and in the future,” Assad said.
The international envoy concluded by remarking, “But it seems to me that they lack the population needed for such an ambition.” This made everyone laugh.