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Wednesday 28 December 2011

Syria, Egypt and Middle East unrest - live updates

Syria, Egypt and Middle East unrest - live updates

• Arab League observers resume mission in Homs
• Activists denounce 'whitewash' as Dabi criticisms mount
• Hosni Mubarak wheeled back into court as trial resumes
• Peres urges calm amid rising tensions in Israel
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Syrian tank driving through the city of Homs
Syrian tank driving through the city of Homs during a visit from Arab League observers. Photograph: -/AFP
10.38am: A team of four observers is currently touring various districts in Homs as protesters gear up for a second day of huge demonstrations, according to the AP.
The willingness to go out into the streets again comes despite a large security presence in the city, the report adds. One resident, speaking over the phone, said:
I can see riot police with shields and batons on main streets and intersections, they are everywhere.
The desire to show the Arab League observers exactly how strong the protest movement is appears not to be unique to Homs.
This video, from the Local Co-Ordination Committee's Facebook page, apparently shows a demonstration being held in the north-eastern town of Amuda. The LCC says the "sit-in" comes while "waiting [for] the Arab League's observers".
10.17am: This grab from Egyptian state television shows the once mighty Hosni Mubarak being wheeled into a Cairo court covered in a green blanket on a hospital gurney.
Mubarak The former dictator has been charged with complicity in the deaths of nearly 840 protesters in the crackdown against the revolution. AP reported that he was brought from a helicopter and taken to an ambulance for a short ride to the court.
Next in line of witnesses whose testimony was demanded by both the prosecution and the defense is chief of staff Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Anan, the second-highest ranking official in the ruling military council.
Also on trial with Mubarak and facing the same charges are his former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly and six senior former security officials.
Mubarak and his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, also face corruption charges.
The prosecution's case depends heavily on accounts of members of the former president's inner circle including ex-spy chief Omar Suleiman, who was appointed vice president by Mubarak during the uprising.
Al Masry Al Youm reports that dozens of victims' relatives rallied outside the court, calling for retribution and hoisting posters of their deceased.
The families called for faster prosecution of those accused of killing demonstrators as well as the removal of Adly-era officials from the Interior Ministry.
A smaller group also gathered at the academy to express solidarity with the former president and tout his innocence. The academy has beefed up security to prevent clashes between demonstrators.
9.51am: The international community will "consider other means to protect Syrian civilians" if the regime of Bashar al-Assad continues to "resist and disregard" an Arab League peace plan, the US has warned.
Washington condemned the escalation in violence ahead of the observers' arrival in Syria, said state department spaokesman Mark C Toner, adding:
The [Arab League] monitors should have unfettered access to protestors and to areas most severely affected by the regime's crackdown. They bear a heavy responsibility in trying to protect Syrian civilians from the depredations of a murderous regime.
The next steps that the United States and the international community take will consider the extent of genuine cooperation from Syrian authorities with the Arab League monitoring mission, and the government's degree of compliance with the other elements of the Arab League initiative.
If the Syrian regime continues to resist and disregard Arab League efforts, the international community will consider other means to protect Syrian civilians.
9.32am: There is a clear division among Arab League states as to how best to proceed with Syria, AP reports.
While its members agree Assad must go, they are divided on how and are wary that an escalation in the crisis might bring international intervention. As a result, the observer mission was their best compromise.
On the one side, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and their Gulf Arab allies favour Arab sanctions on the regime and referring the issue to the U.N. Security Council for action, the report says.
On the other, Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon and Algeria are eager to give the Arab peace plan a chance.

The Egypt-led camp, the officials [who spoke to AP] said, hopes that enough troops and weapons will be pulled out from Syrian cities to prompt Syrians to take to the streets in large numbers, putting Assad under the kind of pressure that forced Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali out of office this year.
9.15am: Only one day in and already questions are being asked of the Arab League's month-long observer mission in Syria.
Human Rights Watch, the New York-based organisation, is accusing the Syrian authorities of hiding "perhaps hundreds" of detainees from the Arab observers as they tour flashpoint areas such as Homs.
It says it has spoken to witnesses who have told them that, in the days leading up to the monitors' arrival, prisoners were transfered to military bases which remain off-limits to the observers. Calling on the Arab League to "insist on full access to all Syrian sites used for detention," HRW quoted its Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson as saying:

Syria's subterfuge makes it essential for the Arab League to draw clear lines regarding access to detainees, and be willing to speak out when those lines are crossed.
9.00am: Good morning and welcome to Middle East live.
We'll be focusing today on the Arab League's observer mission in Syria, and on the resumption of Hosni Mubarak's trial in Cairo.


Arab League observers are resuming their monitoring work in the city of Homs a day after tens of thousands of people turned out to welcome their arrival.The head of the delegation, Sudanese General Mustafa Dabi, told Reuters he believed the situation in the restive city to be "reassuring so far". Activists however said the regime had not stopped its assault on civilian protesters, accusing it of opening fire on protesters and killing several people in Homs yesterday.
Dabi's role as chief observer is drawing criticism from activists who say his chequered past leaves him unqualified to be a standard-bearer for human rights. Dabi is a former head of military intelligence under the regime of President Omar al-Bashir. Omer Ismail, a Sudanese analyst for the Enough Project, a Washington-based organisation focused on genocide and crimes against humanity, told the Guardian:

When he served as Sudan's former head of military intelligence … alleged war crimes including genocide were committed on his watch.
Instead of heading a team entrusted with a probe of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by Syria, the general should be investigated by the ICC for evidence of similar crimes in Sudan.


Hosni Mubarak, the onetime dictator, has been wheeled back into a Cairo courtroom as his trial on charges of killing protesters and abuse of power resumes. The trial, which has been suspended for several months, is fascinating Egyptians and the Arab world. Mubarak, 83, could face the death penalty if convicted.
Forced "virginity tests" on female detainees have been ruled illegal after a court ordered an end to the practice. Hundreds of activists were in a Cairo courtroom to hear a judge say the army could not use the 'test' on women held in military prisons in a case filed by Samira Ibrahim, one of seven women subjected to the practice after being arrested in Tahrir Square during a protest earlier this year.

Israel and Palestinian territories

Israel's president has urged "the entire nation" to support the battle "to save the majority from the hands of a small minority" amid rising tensions between the country's secular and religious Jews on one side, and extremist ultra-orthodox groups on the other. As thousands of Israelis gathered in the town of Beit Shemesh for a protest following an attack on an eight-year-old girl for dressing "immodestly", Simon Peres told the country:

We are fighting for the soul of the nation and the essence of the state.

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