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16.07.2012 Headlines

Spokesperson’s Morning Headlines For Monday, 16 July 2012

By United Nations
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SYRIA: Syrian troops and rebels clashed inside the tightly controlled capital Monday for the second day in what activists called some of the worst fighting since the country's crisis began 16 months ago. (AP) Syrian troops backed by armoured vehicles entered the district of Midan in central Damascus on Monday to drive out rebels who have secured a foothold at a striking distance from major state installations, neighbourhood activists said. (Reuters)

Syria's 16-month bloodbath crossed an important symbolic threshold Sunday as the international Red Cross formally declared the conflict a civil war, a status with implications for potential war crimes prosecutions. (AP) "We are now talking about a non-international armed conflict in the country," ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said. (Al Jazeera)

Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon head for Russia and China on Monday to press the two UN Security Council doubters to back tougher action against President Bashar al-Assad to halt the slaughter in Syria. The visits by the UN-Arab League envoy and the UN leader come at a crucial new stage in the conflict. The Security Council has until Friday to renew the UN mission in Syria but is divided over Western calls to add sanctions. (AFP)

The Joint Special Envoy, Kofi Annan, is expected to increase international pressure on Russia to do more to help end the bloodshed in Syria following accusations by the Syrian opposition that Moscow is prolonging the conflict by propping up President Bashar Assad. (Moscow Times)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said Western attempts to get Moscow to discuss sanctions against Syria contain "elements of blackmail". Mr Lavrov said the West had threatened to end a UN observer mission if Russia opposed its draft resolution. (BBC) His comments are likely to dim Western diplomats' hopes that Moscow is trying to find a face-saving way to drop its support for Assad and accept that he should have no role in a transition. (Reuters)

Iran is ready to host talks between the Syrian government and opposition groups, the Iranian foreign minister was quoted as saying on Sunday, but members of the opposition quickly rejected the offer. (Reuters)

Jihad Makdissi, spokesman for Syria's Foreign Ministry denied accusations by Kofi Annan that Syria used heavy weapons or helicopters in clashes in the village of Tremseh last week, saying Annan's comments about the fighting, which activists called a massacre, were "rushed". (Syrian TV) The village of Tremseh was the subject of a "military operation" rather than a massacre, a Syrian government spokesman said on Sunday, even as the country's allies acted to boost their role in diplomatic efforts to resolve 16 months of conflict. (dpa)

Nawaf Fares, Syria's ambassador in Baghdad who defected to Qatar told Al Jazeera the Syrian regime is dead. (Al Jazeera)The most senior Syrian diplomat to defect and publicly embrace his country's uprising is calling for a foreign military intervention to topple President Bashar al-Assad. He also accused the Damascus regime of collaborating with al Qaeda militants against opponents both in Syria and in neighboring Iraq. (CNN)

ISRAEL/PALESTINE: Israel allowed 40 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to visit relatives held in Israeli jails on Monday, the first such visits in five years, implementing a deal reached in May that ended a prisoners' hunger strike, families and officials said. (Reuters) Israeli prison services spokeswoman Sivan Weizman confirmed that the visit was completed "without incident," and that such trips were now expected to resume on a regular basis, with the next one scheduled in two weeks' time. (AFP)

About a hundred protesters clashed with police near the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on Sunday, in a rally summoned following the self-immolation of a Haifa resident during a protest marking one year since the onset of social unrest in Israel. (Haaretz)

The Israeli government has quietly agreed to grant subsidies to build more than 500 new homes in the West Bank, backtracking from a promise earlier this year to deny these incentives to the settlements, The Associated Press has learned. (AP)

Israeli officials are weighing punitive measures against a local UN office for allegedly supporting and building illegal structures for Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank, as well as publishing reports that they believe disseminate faulty data, according to diplomatic sources. They are considering confiscating equipment as well as restricting the movement of Palestinian employees of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories. (Jerusalem Post)

ISRAEL/U.S.: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held top-level talks on Monday with Israeli leaders expected to focus on changes sweeping the Middle East, as well as Iran and the stalled peace process. (AFP) Calling this “a time of uncertainty but also of opportunity” in the Middle East, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Monday that Israel and the United States must “think together, act together” and be “smart, creative and courageous.” (NYT) It is the first visit by the secretary of state to Israel in the last two years. (Israel Radio)

U.A.E./IRAN: The United Arab Emirates on Sunday inaugurated a much-anticipated overland oil pipeline that bypasses the Strait of Hormuz, giving the OPEC member insurance against Iranian threats to block the strategic waterway. (AP)

Iran renewed threats on Sunday to close the Strait of Hormuz unless sanctions against it were revoked, though it remains unclear how Tehran could shut down the vital oil shipping channel given the significant American military presence there. (Reuters) Gen. Hasan Firouzabadi, chairman of Iran's Joint Chiefs of Staff said any decision to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz rests in the hands of the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (Press TV, Iran)

EGYPT/U.S.: The head of Egypt's military took a tough line Sunday on the Muslim Brotherhood, warning that he won't let the fundamentalist group dominate the country, only hours after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged him to work with Egypt's elected Islamist leaders. (AP)

Clinton's visit to Egypt underscored the difficulty Washington faces in trying to wield its influence amid the country's stormy post-Hosni Mubarak power struggles. (AP) U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Egypt's military should follow through on commitments to ensure a successful transition to freely-elected civilian rule. (VOA)

Egypt's new president holds the key to blockaded Gaza, but he is signaling that he won't rush to help the territory's Hamas rulers by striking a border deal with them, even though they are fellow members of the region's Muslim Brotherhood. (AP)

The proof of defective short and long-term planning on the part of the Muslim Brotherhood has been evident in its failure to identify a new government that will implement its Renaissance Project. This failure implies that the Brotherhood has not done its homework. It has laid out its project without answering the basic question of who will implement it, writes Ahmed El Tonsi. (Al-Ahram Weekly, Cairo, op-ed)

The revolution has to maintain its unity and the generals have also to see the writing on the wall. Rather than issuing dark statements about not allowing " a certain group" – ie, the Muslim Brotherhood – to dominate the country, as it did on Sunday, Scaf should now take a strategic decision. (The Guardian, London, ed.)

MOROCCO: Morocco's Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane was reelected leader of the ruling Party of Justice and Development on Sunday at the PJD's first conference since the moderate Islamists won November polls. (AFP)

A.U. SUMMIT: A South African politician has become the first female leader of the African Union (AU), ending months of bitter deadlock at the continental body. (Guardian, London) Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a veteran of the fight against apartheid who has served in the cabinet of every South African president since Nelson Mandela, now takes the top African Union job. (AFP)

Failure by the African Union (AU) to resolve a bruising leadership contest between candidates from rival English- and French- speaking blocs would divide the continental body and undermine its credibility in the world, the AU's new chairman, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said last night. (Pretoria News, South Africa)

D.R. CONGO: The presidents of Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda on Sunday threw their weight behind a regional pact to eliminate armed rebels in eastern Congo, signing the document and holding rare face to face talks. Along with other leaders from the Great Lakes region, Congo's Joseph Kabila and Rwanda's Paul Kagame put their signatures to an accord that foresees the creation of an international military force to take on multiple insurgencies in the eastern Congolese provinces of North and South Kivu. (Reuters)

Rwandan President Paul Kagame told AFP both sides had agreed "in principle" to accept the force. (AFP)

According to a declaration seen by Reuters news agency, they agreed to "work with the AU and the UN for an immediate establishment of a neutral international force to eradicate" armed groups in eastern DR Congo. (BBC)

EQUATORIAL GUINEA/U.N.E.S.C.O.: Rights groups on Monday denounced UNESCO's plans to award a science prize financed by Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema as "shameful" and "utterly irresponsible". (AFP)

MALI: Mali rebels who seized the north of the country in April declared yesterday that they had dropped demands for a separate state after the rebellion was hijacked by al-Qaeda-linked Islamists now holding sway in the north. (The Times, South Africa)

At its summit this weekend, the African Union confirmed that the crisis in Mali is one of the biggest challenges of the region, and decided on a political and military strategy to help the civil government in South Mali back to power in the North. To help restore what used to be one of the more stable democracies of the continent, the union is calling for a mandate from the Security Council, who encourages the initiative but will not support a military operation until the union comes up with a detailed plan. (Dagsavisen, Oslo)

SOUTH SUDAN/SUDAN: Save the Children has warned of an escalating refugee crisis in the border region between Sudan and South Sudan. The charity said that fighting along the disputed border had led to a huge influx of refugees, with about 2,000 children arriving at crowded camps in South Sudan every day. (BBC)

Presidents Omar al-Bashir and Salva Kiir met, on Saturday in Addis Ababa, to discuss unresolved issues between the two countries for the first time since the clashes over Heglig in April last year. (All Africa Online)

South Sudan on Sunday suggested it may resume oil production and export it through neighboring Sudan if a "fair deal" is reached during the ongoing talks, as Khartoum accepted the appointment of Juba´s Ambassador to Sudan. (Sudan Tribune)

Former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair is set to become to an advisor to South Sudan government as part of an agreement between his charity, the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI) and the new country's leadership. (Sudan Tribune)

PAKISTAN: Pakistani Taliban attacked an office of the security force's intelligence agency in the country's northwest on Monday, taking several hostages before police stormed the building and ended the siege, police said. (AP)

CHINA: A big fleet of Chinese fishing vessels arrived at the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea on Sunday, state media said, amid tensions with its neighbours over rival claims to the area. (AFP)

CHINA/JAPAN: Japan's ambassador to China returned to Beijing on Monday after Tokyo summoned him over the weekend to discuss the escalating tension over a group of islands that both countries claim. (Reuters)

D.P.R.K.: North Korean general Ri Yong-ho, the head of the army, has been completely relieved of all duty for "health reasons", although there are doubts as to the real motivation of his removal. (Corriere della Sera, Milan) With Monday's development, some analysts say, one thing at least is clear: Mr. Kim is wielding his family's favorite tool of control — using and discarding the senior officials around him like pawns on a chess board. (NYT)

INDONESIA: Indonesia's president is disappointed ASEAN diplomats failed to sign a communique together for the first time in the bloc's 45-year history. The foreign ministers of the 10-nation Association of the South East Asian Nations met last week in Cambodia and could not reach common ground on how to handle territorial disputes in the South China Sea. (AP)

JAPAN: Tens of thousands of people rallied at a Tokyo park Monday demanding that Japan abandon nuclear power as the country prepares to restart another reactor shut down after last year's tsunami-generated meltdown at the Fukushima power plant. (AP)

Extraordinarily heavy rains have left hundreds of people cut off and at least 28 dead on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, local authorities said Monday, and more storms could be on their way. (CNN)

TIMOR-LESTE: Police in East Timor say protesters angry that their party was shut out of the incoming government have thrown stones at officers, burned or destroyed 58 cars and damaged some houses. (AP) The Australian Foreign Ministry said it had received reports that one person had been killed and two injured in post-election violence. (dpa)

CYPRUS: Six Cypriot officials, including two ex-ministers, pleaded not guilty on Monday to manslaughter charges in connection with a deadly munitions blast last year. (AFP)

GERMANY: German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she will run again in the 2013 elections. (Diário de Notícias, Lisbon)

ITALY: Silvio Berlusconi has given the clearest indication yet that he is returning to active politics and will seek re-election as Italian prime minister for the fourth time in 2013. (Guardian, London)

SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Friday evening that the entire region had undergone a significant transformation. He added that the region had an important role not only for Europe, but for the whole world. (RTS, Serbia)

“I emphasize the importance of this region not only for Europe but for the whole world,” he said. He added that the region has suffered great trials, but there have been signs of progress. He said that the UN has committed to assist the region in the long run. (Slovenia Press Agency)

F.Y.R.O.M.: Ban Ki-Moon will visit Skopje on July 25, as part of his tour in Western Balkans, the first of a UN Secretary General in the region since 1991. The leadership of FYROM will seize this opportunity to present to the Secretary General its position on the pending naming issue. (To Vima, Athens)

SERBIA/KOSOVO: Mr Ban Ki Moon will become the first United Nations (UN) leader to visit Kosovo since its declaration of independence when he tours Balkan countries after an urgent visit to China next week. (AFP)

UN chief Ban Ki-moon moved to allay Serb fears that a visit to Kosovo during a tour of the Balkans implied endorsement of Pristina's declaration of independence, in comments published Sunday. (AFP)

“My visit to Kosovo is going on in the wider context of my visit to the region,” he said. “Also, it is organized in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1244.” (Politika, Serbia)

SERBIA: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says that the Serbian people should be proud of the fact that its outgoing FM Vuk Jeremić will preside over the UNGA. In talks with correspondents from the territories of the former Yugoslavia prior to his visit to the region, including Serbia, Ban said that up to now he had cooperated closely with Jeremić and that he was one of the foreign ministers of the UN member states with whom he had conferred most often. (Beta News Agency, Serbia)

SLOVENIA: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has indicated that one of the reasons he is visiting Slovenia next week at the outset of his first tour of the former Yugoslavia is good cooperation with the country so far. Slovenia is also the only country on his tour that the secretary general has visited before. (Slovenia Press Agency)

I.C.T.Y.: Former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic is back in court for his genocide trial at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal after recovering from a health scare that saw him rushed to the hospital last week. (AP)

PIRACY: Sea piracy worldwide fell by 54 percent in the first half of 2012, led by a dramatic drop in Somali piracy, an international maritime watchdog said Monday. (AP)

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