Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Stonegate Update :: John Rosenthal: Syria: The Salafist Who Launched the Rebellion, and more

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Syria: The Salafist Who Launched the Rebellion

by John Rosenthal
February 29, 2012 at 5:00 am

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"I am al-Qaeda." Al-Qaeda has been at the forefront of the rebellion from the start.

Earlier this month, the French daily Libération published an interview with Sheikh Louay al-Zouabi, a self-avowed Salafist imam from Daraa, Syria, who claims to have issued a fatwa that sparked the uprising against the rule of Bashar al-Assad.

A radical fundamentalist current in Islam, Salafism advocates the emulation of the Salaf: the earliest generations of Muhammad's companions and followers. It is the same form of Islam as that embraced by al-Qaeda, to whose ideas al-Zouabi has elsewhere unabashedly said he adheres.

Asked how the "intifada" in Daraa began, al-Zouabi told Libération:

[It began] with the arrest and torture of a dozen children – the oldest was twelve years old – who had written "The people want to overthrow the government" on the walls. The fathers of the children then wanted to negotiate their release with the security forces. They were told: "If you come back, you are going to be arrested and we are going to make your wives kiss our feet." A female lawyer who wanted to defend the children was put in prison and they shaved her head, which is more unacceptable than killing her. It was this that brought people out onto the streets on March 20.

According to al-Zouabi, security forces fired on the protestors, killing six. It was in response to these events, he says, that he issued his fatwa calling for the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad.

In a separate interview last November with the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, al-Zouabi admitted to having fought in Afghanistan and Bosnia: two of the historical hotspots of jihad. An article in the English-language Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star notes, moreover, that he "lived in Sudan at the same time as former Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden." Bin Laden moved operations from Afghanistan to Sudan after the end of the anti-Soviet jihad, before returning to Afghanistan in 1996.

In conversation with The Daily Star, al-Zouabi not only admitted to "sharing many of al-Qaeda's beliefs," but stated outright, "I am Al-Qaeda except that I am willing to talk [to Christians] and I oppose the killing of innocents." Al-Zouabi says that he opposed the 9/11 attacks, but supported the "resistance" against U.S. forces in Iraq.

Al-Zouabi, who was reportedly in prison in Syria from 1993 to 1998, told Le Nouvel Observateur's Sara Daniel that today he preaches a "new Salafism," which would be tolerant of other faiths. "I changed during the six years that I spent in Bashar's jails," he explained, "I reinterpreted certain verses of the Quran. Today, I no longer consider you an infidel." "Moreover," he added, "notice that I'm not requiring you to wear a veil. I'm just refraining from looking at you, as my God has commanded…."

In his recent interview with Libération, al-Zouabi called for international military support for the anti-Assad forces. "The peaceful movement is finished," he said,

We have the human capacity to fight, but what we lack are arms, materiel, logistical capabilities. And I want to communicate an essential idea to the West: once the revolution has won, we will respect international agreements and we want to have very good relations with the international community.

"And if the West wants to verify what I represent militarily," al-Zouabi vowed, "I'm prepared to carry out military operations in pre-arranged places."

The Obama administration has recently warned of al-Qaeda "infiltration" of Syrian opposition groups, which "may not be aware" of the presence of the extremists among them. But Sheikh Louay al-Zouabi's nonchalant "I am al-Qaeda" and his account of the origins of the anti-Assad rebellion suggest a very different scenario: that al-Qaeda has been at the forefront of the rebellion from the start.

Related Topics: John Rosenthal

Tunisia's New Islamist Police

by Anna Mahjar-Barducci
February 29, 2012 at 4:00 am

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"Women without a veil deserve to burn in hell." — Adel Almi, head of The Centrist Association for Awareness and Reform.

An Islamic militia has been legalized in Tunisia. According to the Tunisian media outlet Kapitalis, the Tunisian Ministry of Interior, lead by Ali Larayedh, chairman of the ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, has given legal status to the "Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice," an Islamic religious police established after the Tunisian Revolution by self-appointed custodians of Islamic virtues. Kapitalis reports, however, that with the legalization, the name of the Committee was changed to the "Centrist Association for Awareness and Reform" to appear less radical to the Tunisian population.

The association is composed of three committees: one focuses on the Sharia ["The Way," or Islamic religious law]; one on religious "science" and the third on juridical matters. The Centrist Association declares that its objective is to call on citizens be righteous and to follow the rule of Sharia.

Before the Association was legalized, the Tunisian media were reporting that it was being formed by Salafists [followers of the extremely conservative form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia], who aggressively intervene in public life by occupying mosques, and verbally and physically attacking women who did not abide by the dress code that they deemed sufficiently modest.

The media outlet Tunisia Live mentions that despite the Association's having changed its name to look moderate, it is highly radical. The head of the association, Adel Almi, was accused of having "attacked" Prof. Ikbal Gharbi, known for her liberal views. Lately, Almi has come under the spotlight after he decided to forbid Prof. Gharbi -- appointed by the government to the post of Director of the religious radio station, Zitouna FM from entering her office. The reason, according to Almi, was that Prof. Gharbi had no religious background, despite her being an eminent professor at the Theological Zitouna University in Tunis.

In reality, Almi objects to a woman being in charge of a religious radio station, and for being known as a reformer with a modernist interpretation of the Qur'an. Further, Prof. Gharbi does not wear the veil and Almi belives – as he said to the Tunisian radio Mosaïque FM - that women without a veil deserve to burn in hell. Members of the association have also been accused of harassing Tunisians on Facebook, asking to fight reformists, as Prof. Gharbi.

Now that the association has been given a legal status, Kapitalis wonders whether Tunisians' individual freedoms are going to be attacked. "Are the members of this new association going to be present in the public streets and question citizens perceived as not being Islamic righteous? Are the members of the association some sort of Saudi religious militia, charged with the task of directing the faithful towards the path of God? Wait and see," writes Kapitalis.

The Tunisian media outlet Investir en Tunisie reminds us that the religious police was created in Saudi Arabia in 1940 to implement Islamic rules and prescriptions, and that nowadays there are still countries with special police forces dedicated to coercing people into observing religious rules. But then Investir en Tunisie asks the central question: "Is this the fate of Tunisia? Is this post-revolutionary Tunisia?"

Related Topics: Anna Mahjar-Barducci


by Mohshin Habib
February 29, 2012 at 3:30 am

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But due to the dominance of Islamic instruction, these courts do not administer true justice.

Salma Akhtar 22, a housewife of district Naogaon in Bangladesh was brutally beaten by her husband on February 24. She was accused of wishing to get more institutional education. After the beating, her husband, Shohag Ali, burned her with kerosene, seriously scorching her over 90% of her skin. She is currently under treatment at the Rajshahi Hospital..

In the last two months alone, 76 cases of assaults by husbands have been published in different local dailies in Bangladesh. This practice does not happen by fits and starts; is in full swing throughout the country -- not only to wives from rural areas; sometimes even educated wives who are university graduates suffer beatings.

According to the "Bangladesh Demographic And Health Survey-2007" by the National Institute of Population Research and Training under Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 60 percent of the women in Bangladesh are victims of spousal violence in the country.

The research table reports that the most widely accepted reasons for wife beating are: disobeying elders 24%; arguing with the husband 22%; going out without permission or having informed one's husband 18%, and neglecting the children 16%. Only 9% percent of women feel that denying sexual intercourse is a reason for a man to beat his wife.

On attitudes toward wife beating, the survey says, 36% of Bangladeshi man age 15-49 agree that at least one of the reasons given is sufficient justification for wife beating.

Although it is not mentioned in the survey, the progressive intellectuals in the country believe that part of this attitude is derived from and inspired by some Quranic verses. A verse (4:34), Surah An-Nisa [the women] of Qur'an says, "Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient to Allah and to their husbands, and guard in the husband's absence what Allah ordered them to guard. As to those women on whose part you see ill conduct, admonish them first, next, refuse to share their beds, and finally, beat them, but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means. Surely Allah is ever most high, most great."

Most of the people in the country strongly believe that the Qur'an is the source and code of life. All the interpretation commonly claim that man are superior to women on account of the qualities with which Allah has gifted the one above the other, because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them.

The formal law on the repression of women is tight in Bangladesh. There have been some amendments; apparently now it is satisfactory to the Women Lawyers Association of Bangladesh. But the laws are not effective. With the direct and indirect help of the U.N., the Bangladesh government has established hundreds of village courts which work on family matters with the help of local representatives. But due to the dominance of Islamic instruction, these courts do not administer true justice. The Imams of the more than 250,000 Mosques in the country are ordering the locals, especially men who are arguing with their wives, to follow the orders given by Allah.

Related Topics: Mohshin Habib

New CHP Road Map Vows More Freedom
And more from the Turkish Press

by AK Group
February 29, 2012 at 3:00 am

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Main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu cemented his victory over the intra-party opposition Monday and announced "a new road map" for his party highlighting "democracy, freedom and human rights," like European social-democrat movements.

"The CHP is drawing a new road map focusing on the problems of the people and the country. We draw our new road map in the context of democracy and freedom," Kılıçdaroğlu said at his party's extraordinary convention.

The convention, which was called by dissidents, led by former Secretary-General Önder Sav and backed tacitly by former Chairman Deniz Baykal, was held after a first convention the previous day that significantly boosted Kılıçdaroğlu's leadership in the restive party.

The gathering was turned into a formality after Kılıçdaroğlu's certain triumph against the dissidents at Monday's convention, and all of the dissidents' proposals were rejected by the majority of the delegates.

After two stormy conventions, the party's old-guard veterans got a slap in the face from the Kılıçdaroğlu administration. The main opposition party will be more comfortable shifting its route to liberal-left and social democrat policies after overcoming its internal squabbles.

"I assure everyone the CHP will be a modern social democrat party. Our main objective is to come to power. We will make efforts for a modern Turkey. This is our way," Kılıçdaroğlu told his party delegates.
Despite Kılıçdaroğlu's emphasis on social democracy, dissidents accused Kılıçdaroğlu of shifting the party to the right wing.

Prominent dissident İsa Gök, who was forced to leave the convention hall amid protests, questioned Kılıçdaroğlu's new plan for the CHP.

"The new road map should be appropriate for the CHP's roots. Otherwise, such an effort makes the party right-wing. Our grassroots are leftist and revolutionist. The CHP should be leftist and anti-imperialist. The CHP should remember its past and its six arrows," Gök said.

Some comments suggested the CHP was at the turning point of a division as rivalries were severe within the party and secession would be foreseeable after these two conventions. However, Kılıçdaroğlu delivered unifying messages in the wake of the stormy conventions. In his thank you speech Kılıçdaroğlu said he does not question the dissidents' commitment to the party.

"I have no doubt about our 362 delegates' [who called the convention] commitment to the CHP, regardless of whether they approved or rejected the proposals. Of course there may be criticisms. I respect all of them. We are a big party," Kılıçdaroğlu said.

Kılıçdaroğlu urged the party members to use their energy to "struggle against the AKP [ruling Justice and Development Party]" instead of intra-party discussions.

Decrying the "anti-democratic practices of the AKP," Kılıçdaroğlu said: "Democracy and freedoms are vanishing under the AKP. There is not a functioning democracy in this country. There is no division of powers; the media is under pressure. We will draw both national and international attention to these points."

Intra-party tension within the CHP is likely to be eased until the party's ordinary convention this fall. The defeated dissidents may pose a new challenge in the chairmanship elections despite their power loss.

Social-Democrat Tenets Top New Statute in CHP

Delegates from the Republican People's Party raised their hands to approve the party's newly amended statute, renewed under Kılıçdaroğlu.

The CHP's amended statute, reflecting the party's new vision under Kılıçdaroğlu, defines the party's primary aim as the advocacy of contemporary social-democrat principles such as human rights, freedoms, labor rights and gender equality.

Under the changes, approved at a stormy convention over the weekend, the old statute's top principle – the "defense of the country's national unity and security" – was moved down in the list. The CHP was defined as a "modern democratic left party based on the principles of human rights and pluralist and inclusive democracy, which believes in gender equality and sees the state as a means of service to ensure the freedoms and prosperity of individuals."
New elements in the party's objectives included "a state based on the rule of law, the separation of powers and impartial judiciary; struggling against all kinds of discrimination and solidarity with people who are subjected to such treatment; and ensuring an environment in which people can co-habitate while preserving their cultural differences, taking into account that these differences constitute richness."

Other prominent changes include reducing the percentage of party delegates who can nominate a chairmanship candidate at election conventions from 20 to 10, and removing a provision requiring them to sign their proposals before the convention board.

The statute defined the holding of primary elections to select the party's candidates for parliamentary polls as a "priority" method, even though the Party Assembly retained authority to decide whether candidates in a given constituency would be selected through primary elections or directly by the party leadership.

Forty percent of the Treasury assistance the party receives would be allocated to its provincial and district branches. Members of party organs at provincial or district congresses would be elected from open lists, but block-list elections could also be held if the proposal is made by 10 percent of delegates and then approved by simple majority.

In a bid to retain his grip on the restless party, Kılıçdaroğlu kept a provision introduced under his predecessor Deniz Baykal that would allow him to personally determine the make-up of the Central Administration Board, rather than letting the Party Assembly elect its members.

Kılıcdaroglu Increases CHP Clout in Two Consecutive Congresses

The Republican People's Party, or CHP, held two congresses, one on Sunday and one on Monday, as a result of an ongoing battle between the current party administration under the leadership of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and his opponents, divided into supporters of former CHP leader Deniz Baykal and former CHP secretary-general and long-time kingmaker Önder Sav.

The two congresses were a clear affirmation of the general support of the party's delegates for Kılıçdaroğlu, his opponents now also concede. Holding two different congresses two days in a row was confusing for many, even for experienced observers. The necessity -- or oddity -- of holding two congresses dates back a few months, when the intra-party opposition attempted to challenge Kılıçdaroğlu, calling for a congress to change the party's current charter, which was, strangely enough, a remnant of the "ancien régime" under Baykal leadership.

The charter was changed by the previous party administration to make it easier for the central power holders to appoint delegates and Party Council members of their own choice. Kılıçdaroğlu, who came to power last year after Baykal had to step down following a sex-tape scandal featuring him in an extra-marital affair, had promised to change the charter to democratize it, but failed to live up to that promise.

The opposition dared him to change it by calling a charter-focused congress, but the party leadership called its own congress, smartly scheduling it a day before the opposition's announced date. The opposition hoped it would be able to convince the necessary number of party delegates to boycott the party's first congress, which was held on Sunday, but failed to do so. The bylaws in the charter were changed during this first congress, satisfying not all, but most, of the opposition's demands.

Although their demands have been met, the success of the first congress, which rendered the second congress rather pointless, in most ways spells defeat for the opposition. The second congress, held at the Ahmet Taner Kışlalı sports complex in the capital on Monday, was opened by CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu. Neither Baykal nor Sav attended.

One of the key figures in the opposition inside the CHP against Kılıçdaroğlu, Mersin Deputy İsa Gök, mainly viewed as a cantankerous figure by the CHP administration, was thrown out of the hall in the 16th extraordinary congress -- the one on Sunday -- after he claimed that the necessary quorum to hold a party congress hadn't been met. During the second congress, Gök was the second speaker after Kılıçdaroğlu.

He said his attempts to prevent "illegality" was met with a lynching attempt and physical assault at Sunday's congress. He did not, however, announce any specific plans to file a legal challenge against the first congress. He was also critical of the CHP, accusing the party of shifting to the right, but his speech also marked a moment of reconciliation. CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu stayed until the end of Gök's speech and applauded when he was finished.

In his speech, Kılıçdaroğlu thanked the delegates and noted that the CHP will build its future on the lessons learned from the past. He said he was open to criticism, and respected every member of the party.

A former CHP Deputy chairman, Hakkı Süha Okay, a key figure in the CHP inner-party opposition, said he did not believe taking the first congress to court would be the right move.

"We were against the central administration's insistence not to allow the new charter to go into force until the first election congress. When they specified the date of it going into force as March 1, and when this was marked down, this convinced us." Okay said there were only a couple of bylaws that the opposition failed to change, but he didn't think this had the potential to cause further disagreement.

Former CHP central executive committee, or MYK, member Şahin Mengü agreed, saying: "The delegates have given new credit to the current administration until the election in the CHP. This needs to be given an opportunity."

He said the charter has been changed, adding, "I really hope that intra-party democracy will finally be established. I am seeing that the party is moving toward the line of the old Social Democratic People's Party, or SHP." But, he said, he could never align himself ideologically with the current party administration, adding that he believed the media seemed to be extending an extraordinary level of support to Kılıçdaroğlu. He also noted that in the end it was the opposition delegates who garnered enough signatures to push for a charter congress that made the amendments possible.

Mengü and Okay's statements indicate that the opposition has accepted defeat gracefully. The central administration was also not bragging, at least not loudly, but CHP Deputy Chairman Gürsel Tekin, who spoke to journalists after Monday's congress, was not modest about the outcome.

"We are the real CHP. The real CHP is the delegates," he said, adding he was confident that the results of the congress had put a certain end to the discussions inside the CHP. "We all have to respect the decisions our delegates have made these past two days."

At Monday's congress, the delegates voted against changing some of the bylaws that had been rejected at Sunday's congress, which confirmed Kılıçdaroğlu's grip on power within the party for now.

At least one person, the pro-Baykal Berhan Şimşek, the CHP's former İstanbul branch head, was less calm about the result.

"If he has the guts for it, he should go ahead and explain why I wasn't there at the congress," Şimşek said in televised remarks on Monday, speaking of Kılıçdaroğlu, although he failed to share the secret. He said any CHP member would simply sweep the next election congress and defeat Kılıçdaroğlu.

Şimşek said it wasn't working out for the party with Kılıçdaroğlu, and the party should reverse this position "before it is too late." He also claimed the double-congresses would lead to a further schism inside the CHP.

Mıssile System In Turkey on Track

American forces are now manning a new radar defense site in Turkey that could help defend Europe from a potential Iranian ballistic missile attack, United States Army commander Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling in Europe said Sunday.

"We have the forces in place at a radar site in southern Turkey," Hertling said in an interview at Montenegro's main military airport in its capital.

It is the first time a senior U.S. commander has confirmed reports that the NATO defense shield radar has been operational in the past few weeks. The radar is a key element in a planned ballistic missile defense system that would also put other land and sea-based radars and anti-missile interceptors in several European locations over the next decade.

"I can only speak for the ground base air defense units," Hertling said. "But I will tell you that we make constant coordination (with the U.S. Navy and Air Force), and I think we are well on track to conduct missile defense. From an Army perspective, the missile defense plans are going as scheduled."

The deal with Turkey last year to station the sophisticated radar within its territory was hailed by U.S. officials, who said the missile defense shield is designed to counter the Iranian missile threat. Besides the radar in Turkey, the defense shield also will contain interceptor missiles stationed in Romania and Poland, four ballistic missile defense-capable ships in Rota, Spain, and an operational headquarters in Germany.

The X-band radar in Turkey is part of a system designed to intercept short- and medium-range missiles at extremely high altitudes. It is located at a military base near Kürecik, a town about 700 kilometers west of the Iranian border.

NATO Secretary General Ander Fogh Rasmussen said recently Ankara offered to host an early warning radar system to be placed on its soil. Turkey had drawn Iran and Russia's ire by agreeing to host a NATO radar system in the eastern province of Malatya.

4+4+4 System in Education Discussed In MGK

A new government plan to reform Turkey's education system could create a new generation of child brides and child laborers, according to one of Turkey's top business leaders.

"There is a concern that the number of child brides and child laborers will increase" with the new system, said Güler Sabancı, the head of Sabancı Holding's executive committee. "I hope these concerns and discussion will be taken into account. It is at the sub-committee level now. I find this change too early. However, I hope all these discussions will end up in a healthy place."

The government has defended its plans to divide schooling into three tiers of four years each, saying it will increase the number of mandatory years of education from eight to 12, but critics say it will actually reduce the total to four, allowing parents to especially remove female students from school at a young age.

Still, Sabancı hailed the debate surrounding the bill.

"Educational reform is being debated nowadays. As a matter of fact, this is democracy. There is a motion. It is now being debated in sub-committees. There are reactions and concerns," she said.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Ömer Dinçer participated in the National Security Council, or MGK, meeting even though he is not a member of the council. His attendance suggested that the MGK could discuss the education reform bill.

The government's bill would allow the reintroduction of the imam-hatip vocational religious schools after primary education. The bill ended up in a sub-commission late Thursday after a stormy debate at Parliament's Education Commission. The sub-commission is scheduled to take up the draft today.

Foreign Mınıstry Says No Military Shipments From Turkey to Syria

The Turkish Foreign Ministry has dismissed speculation that some Turkish companies are selling weapons materials to President Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria and that Turkish officials are "turning a blind eye" to the practice.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a Turkish diplomat on Tuesday deemed such claims "absurd and baseless," citing Turkey's strong stance against the current regime in Syria and tight border-controls due to a trade embargo on the country.

On Monday, Britain's Times reported, with information from intelligence sources, that Syria is obtaining material from Turkey to use in its weapons industry. One Middle Eastern intelligence source, the daily claimed, said the Turkish government does not openly encourage the trade between Turkey and Syria, but some officials are turning a blind eye to it.

According to the report, three Turkish companies are providing materials and equipment to a Syrian government research institute that develops vehicle armor and ammunition for the Syrian police and army. The institute, Scientific Studies and Research Center, or SSRC, is under United States and European Union sanctions. The daily also reported that the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, or TÜBİTAK, is providing research assistance to the SSRC.

In a written statement Tuesday, TÜBİTAK claimed that a memorandum of cooperation in 2008 with the SSRC has not yet been abolished, but no cooperation took place. SSRC has been subjected to U.S. sanctions since 2005 for its links to Iran and North Korea and for providing arms to the militant Shiite group Hezbollah. The EU also blacklisted the institute in December because of its links with Assad's regime in Syria.

In January, Turkey intercepted four Iranian trucks carrying raw materials used in the making of ballistic missiles. In September, Turkey announced it would increase inspections of cross-border traffic in order to block arms deliveries to Syria, a move that was immediately met by the Syrian regime's suspension of a free-trade agreement between Turkey and Syria dating back to 2006. While Turkey is abiding by UN sanctions, it has also imposed its own sanctions on the Assad regime, including an economic and arms embargo.

Syria Foreign Minister Expects No Turkey Intervention

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem has dismissed the possibility of a military intervention led by Turkey while also promising that the Arab republic would "resist" any invasion.

In an interview Monday with a group of reporters in Damascus, Muallem said Turkey was "suspicious" toward the Syrian government and that he blamed Ankara for being "a part of the plan" against Damascus.

The Syrian government will "resist a military intervention," Muallem said following Sunday's constitutional referendum, adding that he did not believe such military action would come from Turkey.

"Frankly speaking, I do not see this [military intervention from Turkey] happening. I believe there is some wisdom left in Turkey," he said, while also noting Turkey's stance. "[Before we can say anything], Turkey has suspicions. They are part of the plan against Syria. We listen to good advice, but that doesn't mean you [can] put a timetable before us and we fulfill that. We fulfill [reform promises] according to the interest of the Syrian people."

Muallem urged Turkey not to take steps that might lose Syria in the end.

"I don't know what Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu meant by saying 'All options are on the table,' but what does the Turkish public have to gain from intervening in Syrian affairs?" he said. "My advice to Davutoğlu is that he should think twice before losing Syria forever."

Rejection of Humanitarian Corridors

As Western powers debate whether a humanitarian corridor should be established to provide aid to Syrian civilians, Muallem said the corridors would have military presence.

"Humanitarian corridors mean military corridors. You can't have humanitarian corridors without military protection," he said while blaming "insurgents" for the ongoing violence against the civilians.

The Syrian minister also criticized Ankara for hosting armed Syrian dissidents, rejecting the accusation that Syria responded to this policy by supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

"Turkey is hosting the Free Syrian Army and letting them move across the border. This is not good neighborly policy. But we are not treating Turkey similarly. We respect the Adana Protocol, the security agreement we have signed. The rumors that we are supporting the PKK are inaccurate," Muallem said.

Lt. Col. Hussein al-Harmoush, who was captured by the Syrian forces after he defected from the Syrian military and fled to Turkey, was not captured on Turkish soil but in Idlib, the foreign minister said. A Turkish court recently ordered the arrest of an ex-member of the National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, due to suspicions he "sold" al-Harmoush to Syria. The defector reportedly faces execution.

Muallem said he had "no concrete information" about allegations that around 40 Turkish intelligence officers had been captured by Syrian forces. The minister also alleged that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan advised Damascus to engage in dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood when he met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"But we have a history about that party," Muallem said. "Al-Assad has always said we will allow them to return to the country as individuals, but not as a party. This made Erdoğan unhappy."

Turkish Parliamentary Delegation Meets Bosnian Foreıgn Mınıster

Turkish Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee delegation met Bosnia-Herzegovina's Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija in Sarajevo on Monday.

The delegation's head, Volkan Bozkir, said Bosnia was very important for Turkey, adding that there was a potential for further development of the economic relations between the two countries.

Noting that Turkey supported Bosnia-Herzegovina's membership to NATO and the European Union, Bozkir said that Turkey was ready to share its experiences with Bosnia regarding EU membership process.

Bozkir said that the target was to exceed half million dollars in bilateral trade volume, adding that Turkey was willing to double its current investments, which was $81 million, in Bosnia.

Abbas Coming to Turkey

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was set to arrive in Turkey Monday night and hold talks with Turkish political leaders Tuesday following a deadlock in reconciliation meetings between Hamas and Fatah in Cairo on Feb. 22.

Abbas will meet President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.

"The reconciliation process of Palestinian groups and the 'International Conference for the Defense of Occupied Jerusalem,' [held in Doha over the weekend], will be at top of the agenda," diplomatic sources told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Abbas and his rival Hamas leader, Khaled Mashaal, gathered last week in Egypt to implement the terms of a reconciliation deal they signed in Cairo in May, which called for an interim government and general elections within a year. However, Abbas and Mashaal postponed talks on forming a unified government "because Hamas continues to prevent the election committee from registering voters in Gaza," according to a Fatah official.

Some elements of the Doha Declaration were met with opposition from Gaza-based members of Hamas, as well as from Abbas' government. As a second topic of the discussions, the outcome of the International Conference for the Defence of Occupied Jerusalem was discussed.

Report: Turkey Imposes Restrictions on Israeli Cargo Planes

Turkey has introduced restrictions on Israeli cargo planes carrying "dangerous materials," according to a report published in the Israeli daily, Haaretz.

El Al Israeli Airlines and CAL Cargo Air Lines flights will be affected and most cargo flights in and out of Israel will be subject to new restrictions as any flight carrying batteries and even perfume, which are flammable and require special storage procedures, are categorized as "dangerous materials," according to Haaretz.

From now on, Turkey is requiring that it be notified about flights of this type at least 10 days in advance, so it may review whether or not to approve them. The new move will cause substantial financial difficulty for Israeli airlines, as most Israeli flights, and all those flying to the Far East, regularly use Turkish airspace and are now being forced to use longer routes that circumvent Turkey, the report said.

It added that El Al and CAL have already contacted the Civil Aviation Administration of Israel, asking authorities to respond to the Turkish move with similar restrictions on Turkish flights.

Turkey has downgraded its diplomatic relations and suspended military ties with Israel amid a crisis over the Israeli killing of eight Turks and one Turkish-American on an aid ship that was trying to breach the Israeli blockade of Gaza in May 2010. Ankara says ties will not return to normal unless Israel formally apologizes for the killings, compensates the families and lifts the blockade on Gaza.

Turkey Denies Claims of Restricting Israeli Flights

The Turkish foreign ministry has denied claims that Turkey imposed tighter regulations on Israeli cargo flights entering its airspace Monday.

"The Haaretz story does not reflect the truth. Under our national legislation, the diplomatic representation of the country in question should ask in advance for a diplomatic permission for civilian planes carrying dangerous cargo," a Turkish Foreign Ministry official said.

"Contrary to Haaretz's claims, this is not a new rule designed specially for Israel and has been applied to all countries for a long time. The rule has been repeatedly cited in international publications [Aeronautical Information Publication of Turkey] and in repeated announcements that our ministry has made to foreign diplomatic missions in Ankara," the official said.

Erdogan Set to Visit Germany in First Post-Op Overseas Trip

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is scheduled to visit Germany in mid-March in what will be his first overseas trip since undergoing surgery on Feb. 12.

The prime minister, who has already returned to Ankara for work after resting for several weeks, plans to return to his former routine starting in March. Erdoğan is set to make his first visit to Mardin on March 8 for the occasion of International Women's Day with his wife, Emine.

On March 17, Erdoğan will go to the German city of Bochum to attend the Der Steiger award ceremony and accept an award on international leadership, which is granted annually to individuals notable for their achievements in such areas as politics, media, sports and environment. In addition to Erdoğan, Queen Silvia of Sweden and former German President Horst Köhler will be honored at the event.

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