Analysis: Syria’s Assad seen ignoring Gadhafi’s fate


The chilling spectacle of Muammar Gadhafi’s brutal end last month and the capture of his son Saif Islam this week, far from deterring Bashar Assad, seem to have energized him into redoubling his efforts to crush Syria’s eight-month rebellion.

As the Arab League intensified Assad’s isolation by suspending Syria’s membership, defecting soldiers in the Free Syrian Army carried out their boldest attacks so far at Deraa in the south and on an Air Force intelligence base near Damascus.

Unconfirmed reports said the rebels also fired rockets at a headquarters of the ruling Ba’ath party in Damascus, until now firmly locked down by the regime’s security apparatus.

The country of 22 million, convulsed this year by a civil uprising like those that brought down dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, now appears to be on the brink of a Libya-style armed insurgency, with arms flowing in from Lebanon, Jordan and from soldiers who have deserted with their weapons.

Most observers believe Assad will fight it out, playing on fears of a sectarian war between minorities and the Sunni majority if the country’s complex ethno-sectarian mosaic unravels, and that neither western powers nor Arab neighbors would risk military intervention to prevent it.

Arab leaders and Syrian opposition figures, with growing support from the Arab League, are now lobbying for a “Contact Group” for Syria, led by Britain and France, to help prepare for a transition in the belief that Assad’s days are numbered and preparations to deal with the fall-out are now essential.

“I think we’ve entered into a new phase. I don’t know if it’s the final phase but it is significant because of two things: on the ground there is a more militarized environment, and in the diplomatic sphere, a more determined effort which includes Arab cover,” Salman Shaikh, Director of the Brookings Doha Center, told Reuters.

As Assad expands his military onslaught, which might soon include the use of air power, Arab leaders want the group to consider contingency plans for no fly zones and safe havens near the Turkish and Jordanian borders to protect civilians.

“The Assads are finished and the dam could burst as soon as next year,” one senior Arab diplomat said. “The Arabs have acted because they know he cannot survive.”

There is now, moreover, an Arab, international and Turkish coalition that has proven to be effective in Libya and will be effective with Syria, according to Salman Shaikh.

“If you look at the core countries that are driving this: France, Turkey, Qatar and the U.S. This disengagement and attempt at isolating Syria, particularly by these countries, is very significant and I think will have, in the longer run (and it is a long run game) a debilitating effect on the regime,” Shaikh said.

The Arab League said it would follow through with its decision to suspend Syria, establish contacts with the opposition and examine how the Arab bloc and the United Nations can protect civilians from military attack.

“An international consensus is emerging with the exception of Russia that Syria is to blame for the violence,” said Fawaz Gerges, Professor of Middle Eastern Politics at the London School of Economics.

But the 46-year-old Assad looks set to tough it out. “The conflict will continue and the pressure to subjugate Syria will continue. Syria will not bow down,” Assad told the Sunday Times.

Most analysts said Assad, who can depend on the loyalty only of two elite Alawaite units – the Fourth Armoured Division and the Republican Guard – cannot maintain current military operations without cracks emerging in the armed forces.

TAKING A GAMBLE

They say Assad is taking a gamble because of his growing deployment of regular units whose rank and file are Sunnis.

“If you have to move these people around, they are going to get tired … They are going to crack,” the Arab diplomat said.

Assad, who inherited power from his father Hafez Assad 2000, is a member of the minority Alawite community, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam that amounts to about 12 percent of the population and dominates the state, the army and the security services in the majority Sunni Muslim country.

The 260-member Syrian National Council, which is leading the opposition against the Assads’ 41-year rule, said a conference will take place in Egypt under the auspices of the Arab League, to bring together political factions and independent figures to plan the transition and set rules for a democratic system.

“The opposition is more mature now. It is ready to agree on a common vision,” said SNC spokeswoman Bassma Kodmani.

There are many scenarios that could see Assad brought down; none of them neat and orderly.

Some see an Alawite who is part of the community’s hierarchy – but not the regime’s inner circle – moving to oust Assad and his family and, in the interest of the Alawites and other minorities such as the Christians and Druze, to embark on an orderly transition toward a new democratic Syria.

“I think efforts to try and pressure the Alawite security core by slapping sanctions, asset freezes and travel bans with the promise of putting them on a list for the International Criminal Court in the future is a good thing, that should concentrate their minds,” Shaikh added.

Observers say there are some prominent Alawite figures who could play a role in a post-Assad Syria while defecting military officers could also be at the forefront.

Related to that, there are groups within the opposition working on a strategic 10-year transition plan.

It involves some sort of a national unity government, which comprises major blocs and is as inclusive as possible and could last for a couple of years. This would set the stage for parliamentary elections and a new constitution.

As opposition plans start to crystallize with increased external support, Assad is trying to present himself as the only shield against a slide into chaos, Iraq-style sectarian carnage, and the triumph of hardline Islamists from the Sunni majority.

While the struggle still looks unequal, Assad has already lost the political battle in cities such as Homs, Hama or in the Idlib and Deraa areas, where he has only been able to maintain control through overstretched military units.

Many Syrians have defied the military crackdown to keep up demands for change, despite bloodshed which the United Nations says has cost 3,500 lives—as well as those of 1,100 soldiers and police, according to the government.

Aside from the human, military and political cost, Assad faces U.S. and European sanctions against Syria’s oil exports and an economic collapse that is crippling his government.

MILITARY MEANS

But nobody believes sanctions alone can bring down Assad.

“I am not suggesting that there’s going to be some orderly disintegration of the regime. It is likely that there will be a continued militarization and the regime will be ousted through military means, with the assistance perhaps of Turkey and other Arab states – perhaps with buffer zones in both Jordan and Turkey which would be focused on protecting civilians and offering a safe haven for those launching attacks,” Shaikh said.

The big powers are more united in their campaign to subdue Assad, while ruling out military intervention.

“A military intervention is not likely and the NATO example of Libya is not applicable to Syria. Where would they hit? Gadhafi had military bases entrenched across the country. Any attack on Syria would have reverberations and reactions in neighboring countries,” said Middle East expert Jamil Mroue.

Armed with a U.N. Security Council mandate to protect civilians, Western powers provided air support to Libyan rebels who toppled Gadhafi, but are not inclined to repeat the feat in Syria, in a far trickier arena of the Middle East.

Russia, which believes NATO stretched the U.N. mandate on Libya to embrace regime-change, firmly opposes any resolution against Syria, where it has its only permanent Mediterranean port facilities at Tartous.

Assad’s own specter-waving has reinforced the fears of Syria’s neighbors – Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey – about the possibly seismic consequences of a power shift in a nation on the faultlines of several Middle Eastern conflicts.

Instability in Syria, an ally of Shi’ite Iran and Hezbollah, could spread to volatile Lebanon or Iraq.

Israel relies on Assad to stabilize their common border, and fears his fall could herald less predictable rulers.

Undeniably, too, Assad still retains substantial support within his own Alawite minority, parts of the business elite, Christians and others who fear that Islamist radicals might come to the fore, and, crucially, army and security force commanders.

“The Syrian regime is not isolated internally as many would like to believe. It retains a strong social base of support in major centers like Damascus, Aleppo and Latakia where 60 percent of the population live,” Gerges said.

“There is a real danger that Syria has already descended into a prolonged conflict no one knows its outcome internally and regionally. I don’t see a way out for the Assad regime. Assad has no exit strategy. This is a fight to the bitter end for the family, the clan, with the mentality: either I am going to be killed or I kill my enemy,” Gerges said.

There are those who believe that Assad’s last real ally, Iran, will help him financially.

“Iran will not give up on Bashar. It is a matter of survival for them too,” said Mroue. “Iran believes that targeting Syria is a first step in clipping the wings of the Islamic Republic. The same goes for Hezbollah.”

Yet some observers note that the Iranians, struggling with U.N. sanctions and economic problems of their own, are already making tentative contact with the Syrian opposition.

Editing by Giles Elgood

Israel rushes airliner defenses as Libya leaks SAMs


Israel has accelerated the installation of anti-missile defenses on its airliners, a security official said on Friday, seeing an enhanced risk of attack by militants using looted Libyan arms.

Jets flown by El Al and two other Israeli carriers are being equipped with a locally made system known as C-Music that uses a laser to “blind” heat-seeking missiles, the official said, giving a 2013 target for fitting most of the fleet.

As a stop-gap, Israel is adapting air force counter-measures for use aboard civilian planes, said the official, who declined to elaborate on the technologies involved, or to be identified.

“We have long been aware of the threat and were ahead of the rest of the world in preparing for it. Libya has meant government orders to step things up even further,” the official said, citing intelligence assessments that chaos during the North African nation’s uprising against Muammar Gaddafi allowed trafficking of Libyan shoulder-fired missiles to Palestinians and al Qaeda-linked groups in the Egyptian Sinai.

Israel began deploying another system, “Flight Guard,” on El Al after al Qaeda tried to shoot down a planeload of Israeli tourists in Kenya in 2002. Flight Guard’s use of diversionary flares set off safety concerns abroad and the Israelis turned to C-Music, manufactured by Elbit Systems Ltd..

According to the Israeli official, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is covering the $1 million to $1.5 million that it costs to fit C-Music to each plane.

The bathtub-sized pods, built into the planes’ bodies, increase drag in flight, meaning “a few million (dollars) a year” in extra fuel expenses, the official said, adding that this, too, would be borne by the government.

Israel’s main international gateway, Ben-Gurion Airport, is 10 km (6 miles) from the West Bank where, along with the Islamist-ruled Gaza Strip, Palestinians want a state.

The Israeli official said he had no information indicating the presence of anti-aircraft missiles in the West Bank—unlike in Gaza, which has seen an influx of smuggled weaponry from Egypt since Israel withdrew settlers and soldiers in 2005.

The official said Netanyahu had, in closed-door discussions, described C-Music as a way to help reassure the Israeli public about security should the government one day give disputed land to the Palestinians under a peace agreement.

Asked for confirmation, Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev, quoted him as saying that “in any possible peace deal there have to be effective security arrangements that can deal with a range of security threats, including shoulder-fired missiles.”

Israel also wants to protect traffic to its small airport in the Red Sea resort of Eilat, which abuts Jordan and Egypt, where Islamist militants have operated in the past. Armed infiltrators killed eight Israelis on the Egyptian border on August 18.

Editing by Alistair Lyon

The Muslim world is out of control


The Muslim world is out of control. And that’s a good thing.

The control of ruthless dictators has declined markedly in less than a single year. Two brutal despots, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, are gone for good, and while it will take time for the citizens of these two states to clean up the mess left them by their erstwhile leaders, they are moving in the right direction. Others, like King Abdullah in Jordan and King Mohammad VI in Morocco, are voluntarily beginning to transfer power, incrementally to be sure, to parliaments.

The old guard running the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is failing to keep discipline among young members who are creating new break-off parties, and as of this writing the Islamist Tunisian Renaissance Party (called Hizb al-Nahda in Arabic) is negotiating with secular parties to try to form a coalition government as a result of its winning 41 percent of the vote in a fair and democratic election. Veteran Islamist popular preachers such as Yusuf Qaradawi, who used to control the media for the Muslim religious right, are swiftly losing ground to savvy young Muslim televangelists. And leaders in Al-Azhar, the bastion of the Muslim old guard in Egypt, are hoping the new government that will be formed in elections a month from now will have a secular bent that protects the rights of all minorities, including Christians.

Whatever happened to the static, unchanging, ever-rigid iceberg of Islamic backwardness?

The answer is that we weren’t paying attention. All the while that we were assuming Muslims were hopelessly stuck, they were, in fact, changing. We weren’t paying attention because it was we who were stuck in the false assumption about Islam that actually has never been true — that Islam is backward and unable to change with the times.

Never have I been more struck by the positive lack of control in the Muslim world than last week in Qatar at two conferences, the 18th Conference of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences, and the ninth annual conference of the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue (DICID). Muslim participants represented virtually the entire Muslim world, from Bangladesh to Bosnia, and from Yemen and Somalia to Norway and Sweden. The Interfaith Dialogue conference was particularly interesting because of this year’s theme of new social media and how to use it for enhancing understanding and better relations among religious communities. Not only did we experience plenary sessions and Q-and-A before an international audience of hundreds, we also had the opportunity to take workshops on the latest in the social media trade, including how to avoid its pitfalls and harmful use. And all this in an Arab Muslim state.

What particularly struck me was the openness of discourse among the participants. Not only Muslims and Christians, but a minyan of rabbis representing literally all Jewish religious movements engaged fully in the program, from delivering keynote presentations to chairing panels and even drafting the final summary conference declaration.

Islam always has honored the monotheistic religions of Judaism and Christianity, even when it has not had a consistent record of honoring those religions’ practitioners. But Islam has had a history of real trouble with polytheistic religious traditions. And yet, in a plenary session attended by the entire assembly, a Muslim religious scholar who directs an institute of Islamic studies at one of the most prominent Islamic seminaries in India called for future conferences to include non-monotheistic religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and others. This would have been impossible even a few years ago.

This year’s conference was far less controlled than the earliest Doha conferences on interfaith dialogue, which excluded Jews. Since those early days, Jews from the Diaspora and from Israel have been invited and have participated, though during periods when relations between Israel and the Arab world deteriorate enough, Israelis are not invited — which is unfortunate because inviting them nevertheless would be a great step forward. OK, there is still government meddling in religious affairs, but they are light-years ahead of where they were only a short while ago, and forward-looking projects like DICID are leading the way.

The Arab Spring has given a huge push to the sea change in the Middle East and North Africa, but the region is a very big ship, and it takes a long time for a turn of the helm to move such a large vessel to a different course. That new course is one in which the old autocratic forms of leadership will lose influence and power as the culture of the region continues to move toward democracy. We need to keep in mind that it will not happen in any way that we can expect or anticipate. Still, we will see real change in our own lifetimes, something that I could hardly have hoped for even a year ago. That’s because people have been pushing the rudder for many years. The molasses seas of dictatorships have, until recently, blocked any significant turn.

Let’s not let our old assumptions remain stuck in the muck of stale thinking. Democracy is a political system that varies from state to state. Christian Democrats control the government of democratic Germany. Not secular Democrats, but Christian Democrats. And in democratic Israel, the National Religious Party and Shas have made themselves indispensable to virtually every government. So, too, will we see Muslim democrats controlling the governments of some Arab democratic political systems. That in and of itself is not cause for alarm. We need to judge by deed and not by name.

The Muslim world is not nearly so simple as we’ve been accustomed to thinking.

Gadhafi and the Jews


Now it can be told: For the last decade or so, the Jews had secret back channels to Muammar Gadhafi.

What led the pro-Israel community into a careful relationship with Gadhafi 10 years ago were considerations of U.S. national interests, Israel’s security needs and the claims of Libyan Jews.

After his overthrow by Libyan rebels and his killing last week, the conclusion among many pro-Israel figures in America is that it was worth it, despite the Libyan strongman’s erratic behavior and his ignoble downfall.

The reason: Gadhafi’s shift away from state terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks eliminated a funder and organizer of threats to Israeli and U.S. interests.

Gadhafi’s overtures to the pro-Israel community began in 2002, when a leader of the Libyan Jewish community in exile, David Gerbi, returned to Libya to bring an elderly aunt to Italy, where he and his family now live. His aunt, Rina Debach, is believed to be the last Jew to have lived in Libya.

Through interlocutors, Gerbi said, “Gadhafi asked me if I could help to normalize the relationship between Libya and the United States.”

Gadhafi’s motives were clear, according to Gerbi: Saddam Hussein was in the U.S. sights at the time, and Gadhafi, who already was tentatively reaching out to the West through Britain, did not want to be next on the list.

Gadhafi agreed to end his nascent weapons of mass destruction programs and to a payout in the billions of dollars to families of victims of the terrorist attack that brought down a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.

Gerbi, who still hopes to re-establish a Jewish presence in Libya, immediately launched a tour of the United States in hopes of rallying support for bringing Libya into the pro-Western fold. He met with pro-Israel groups and lawmakers.

“There were extensive discussions about what would be appropriate and not appropriate,” recalled Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish community’s foreign policy umbrella group. In the end, “We didn’t want to stand in the way of Libyan Jews having the opportunity to visit.”

Especially notable was the fervor with which the late U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), a Holocaust survivor who then was the senior Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, embraced the cause. Lantos, with the blessing of a George W. Bush administration seeking to contain radical Islamist influence, visited Libya five times.

“I am rational enough to recognize that we must accept ‘yes’ for an answer,” Lantos told the Forward newspaper in 2004 following his first visit. “Gadhafi’s record speaks for itself — it’s an abominable record — but the current actions also speak for themselves. He has now made a 180-degree turn.”

Steve Rosen, now a consultant to a number of groups on Middle East issues, was at the time the director of foreign policy for AIPAC. He said the pro-Israel community decided not to stand in the way of U.S. rapprochement with Libya because of the relief it would offer Israel.

Rosen and Alan Makovsky, a staffer for Lantos, were surprised when, around 2002 — the same time that Gerbi was making the case for Libya in New York and Washington — Gadhafi’s son Seif al-Islam sought them out at a conference on the Middle East in England.

“He kept finding ways to bring us into the dialogue,” Rosen recalled. “He considered us influential in Washington, because we were pro-Israel.”

Rosen took the younger Gadhafi’s case to the Israelis, who gave AIPAC a green light not to oppose Libya’s overtures — but they also counseled caution.

“Most of them raised an eyebrow, saying you can’t trust Gadhafi, but the idea of a rogue state becoming moderate appealed to them,” Rosen said.

That view seemingly was vindicated when Libya destroyed its weapons of mass destruction under U.S. supervision.

“Israel and its friends are nothing if not pragmatic,” Rosen said. “There are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies.”

AIPAC would not comment on the affair. Keith Weissman, Rosen’s deputy at the time, confirmed the account, recalling his own trip to England, at Seif al-Islam Gadhafi’s invitation, in 2003.

“The Israelis liked it, because there was one less guy with a lot of money to spend on bad things,” Weissman said.

Congress removed Libya from the 1990s Iran-Libya sanctions act, and Western oil companies returned to the country.

Most Jewish groups chose not to respond to invitations to visit Libya, noting that while Gadhafi had removed himself as a threat to others, he was still dangerous to his own people.

“Nobody was fooled, everybody knew what Gadhafi was,” said Hoenlein, who, like Rosen, had turned down invitations to visit Libya.

However, Gadhafi’s promises of restitution to Libya’s Jewish exiles — driven out two years before he took power in 1969 — came to naught.

Gerbi, a psychologist invited to Libya in 2007 to assist in Libyan hospitals, suddenly was thrown out of the country, and the items and money he had brought to refurbish synagogues was confiscated.

Much hope now rests on the provisional government that has replaced Gadhafi. Gerbi advocates caution. At the revolutionaries’ invitation, since May he has spent weeks on and off in Libya assisting its people overcome post-traumatic stress.

Yet at Rosh Hashanah, when Gerbi attempted to reopen a shuttered, neglected synagogue in Tripoli, he was met with a virulently anti-Semitic Facebook-organized campaign. Protesters outside the synagogue held up signs proclaiming what Gadhafi had once promised: no Jews in Libya.

Is Assad next?


Bashar Assad must have felt a chill when he saw the pictures of Muamar GadHafi’s final moments and knowing that Syrian crowds were chanting, “Assad is next.”

There are differences between the uprisings in Libya and Syria, but the outcome will be the same: one more tyrant dumped on the dung heap of history.  The only question facing Assad is whether Assad goes vertically or horizontally.

While he contemplates his fate and the death toll passes 3,000, Assad’s international isolation grows.  International sanctions are taking a heavy toll, despite his Chinese and Russian enablers blocking stronger measures by the United Nations.

U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford, the bête noire of the Assad regime, said, “There is not an armed opposition capable” of defeating Assad’s security forces, but that does not make him secure.  Support is crumbling around the country, even in his army.

Ford had to be evacuated from Damascus this week in the face of “credible threats” against him by the regime, the State Department revealed.  He had been the target of an incitement campaign and repeated incidents of intimidation as a result of his high profile visits to conflict sites and his harsh criticism of the regime’s violent attacks on unarmed protesters.

The vast majority of the protests are peaceful but the rising violence around the country coupled with the regime’s deliberate provocation of ethnic and religious friction could spark civil war, Ford told a group of journalists and foreign policy professionals at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy by Skype from Damascus shortly before he was forced to leave.  Civil war is not inevitable, he added, but the possibility cannot be ignored.

Syria expert Andrew Tabler called for a two-pronged approach.  International opponents of the regime should begin working with dissidents to train them in civil disobedience, particularly general strikes, while helping the opposition “develop a plan for post-Assad Syria.”

Tabler, who has spent years working in Syria and is now at the Washington Institute, said U.S. policy should focus on regime change and assemble a “Friends of Syria” group of international and regional countries to coordinate pressure on the regime outside of the United Nations framework because of Russian and Chinese support for Assad.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II told CNN no one has a clue what to do about Syria, and even if they did Assad is “not interested” in taking advice from anyone, including him.

Marc Ginsburg, former ambassador to Morocco, said the success of the U.S. and NATO in removing Gadhafi may bring pressure from Syrian demonstrators for similar help.

Some in the Syrian resistance have called for armed rebellion and NATO intervention in the wake of Gadhafi’s downfall, but the young activists who sparked the uprising have successfully maintained the largely non-violent nature of the demonstrations.

Ford said some armed gangs linked to Islamic militant groups may be contributing to the violence for their own ends.  But no one is buying the regime’s consistent insistence that the unrest is caused by a “Western, American and Zionist conspiracy.”

The economy is in deep trouble and bound to get worse. Consumption is down, business is hurting and the economy is contracting.

A rapidly growing population facing rapidly shrinking opportunities for jobs while demanding greater freedom makes up the backbone of the protest movement, Tabler said.

The Syrian National Council was formed in Turkey last month an attempt to bring together opposition leaders and present an alternative to the Assad regime. There is widespread concern about the disproportionate influence of Islamists, particularly the Moslem Brotherhood, within the Council, at the expense of Kurds, Druze, Christians and other minorities.  Another concern is influence of the Islamist government of Turkey, which seeks to spread its foothold across the old Ottoman Empire.

Meanwhile, Assad is spreading tentacles abroad into Lebanon, Turkey and even into the United States.

Syrian troops have crossed into Lebanon to capture or kill Syrian dissidents and defecting soldiers, according to the State Department, which called on the Lebanese government to do a better job policing its borders and protecting those fleeing Assad’s “violence and brutality.”

Similarly, Syrians fleeing across the Turkish border have been pursued by Assad’s soldiers, and the Turkish government has warned of reprisals.

A Virginia man was recently arrested by the FBI and charged with heading a network collecting information on peaceful anti-Assad protesters for use by the intelligence services to intimidate, arrest, torture and even kill family members in order to silence critics in exile.

The toll of tyrants, dictators and terror kingpins has grown dramatically during the Obama years, most notably Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Walaki and Muammar Gadhafi.

Is Bashar Assad next?  Inshallah.

He won’t be missed, but what is most important is what will come next in a troubled, turbulent Syria.

UN rights office urges inquiry into Gadhafi death


The United Nations human rights office called on Friday for a full investigation into the death of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi and voiced concerns that he may have been executed.

Images filmed on mobile phones before and after Gadhafi’s death showed him wounded and bloodied but clearly alive after his capture in his hometown of Sirte on Thursday, and then dead amidst a jostling crowd of anti-Gadhafi fighters.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty about what happened exactly. There seem to be four or five different versions of how he died,” U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told Reuters Television in an interview.

“If you take these two videos together, they are rather disturbing because you see someone who has been captured alive and then you see the same person dead.

“We are not in a position to say what has happened at this point but we feel that it is very important that this is clarified, that there is some sort of serious investigation into what happened and what caused his death,” he said.

Asked whether the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay was concerned Gadhafi may have been executed while in captivity, Colville replied: “It has to be one possibility when you look at these two videos. So that’s something that an investigation needs to look into.”

Gadhafi’s body lay in an old meat store on Friday as arguments swirled over his burial and the circumstances of his death.

With a bullet wound visible through the familiar curly hair, the corpse shown to Reuters in Misrata bore other marks of the violent end to a violent life that was being broadcast to the world in snatches of grainy, gory cellphone video.

A television station based in Syria that supported Gadhafi said on Friday that the slain Libyan leader’s wife had asked for a U.N. investigation into his death.

Colville said it was is a fundamental principle of international law that people accused of serious crimes should be tried if possible. The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants in June for Gadhafi, his son Saif al-Islam and their intelligence chief for crimes against humanity.

“Summary executions are strictly illegal under any circumstances. It’s different if someone is killed in combat. There was a civil war taking place in Libya. So if the person died as part of combat, that is a different issue and that is normally acceptable under the circumstances,” he said.

“But if something else has happened, if someone is captured and then deliberately killed, then that is a very serious matter,” he said.

Libya’s interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril said Gadhafi was killed in a “crossfire” while being brought to hospital after his capture. A doctor who examined Gadhafi’s body said he had been fatally wounded by a bullet in his intestines.

But a senior interim ruling National Transitional Council source told Reuters Gadhafi was killed by his captors: “While he was being taken away, they beat him and then they killed him,” the source said. “He might have been resisting.”

In one of the videos that emerged, Gadhafi is hauled by his hair from the hood of a truck. Someone shouts: “Keep him alive!”

Gadhafi disappears from view and shots ring out.

An international commission of inquiry, launched by the U.N. Human Rights Council, is already investigating killings, torture and other crimes in Libya.

Colville said he expected that the team, now headed by former ICC President Philippe Kirsch, would look into the circumstances of Gadhafi’s death and make recommendations about the need for either a full national or international probe.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Roger Atwood

Gadhafi killed as Libya’s revolt claims hometown


Former Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi died of wounds suffered on Thursday as fighters battling to complete an eight-month-old uprising against his rule overran his hometown Sirte, Libya’s interim rulers said.

His killing, which came swiftly after his capture near Sirte, is the most dramatic single development in the Arab Spring revolts that have unseated rulers in Egypt and Tunisia and threatened the grip on power of the leaders of Syria and Yemen.

“He (Gadhafi) was also hit in his head,” National Transitional Council official Abdel Majid Mlegta told Reuters. “There was a lot of firing against his group and he died.”

Mlegta told Reuters earlier that Gadhafi, who was in his late 60s, was captured and wounded in both legs at dawn on Thursday as he tried to flee in a convoy which NATO warplanes attacked. He said he had been taken away by an ambulance.

There was no independent confirmation of his remarks.

An anti-Gadhafi fighter said Gadhafi had been found hiding in a hole in the ground and had said “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot” to the men who grabbed him.

His capture followed within minutes of the fall of Sirte, a development that extinguished the last significant resistance by forces loyal to the deposed leader.

The capture of Sirte and the death of Gadhafi means Libya’s ruling NTC should now begin the task of forging a new democratic system which it had said it would get under way after the city, built as a showpiece for Gadhafi’s rule, had fallen.

Gadhafi, wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of ordering the killing of civilians, was toppled by rebel forces on August 23 after 42 years of one-man rule over the oil-producing North African state.

NTC fighters hoisted the red, black and green national flag above a large utilities building in the center of a newly-captured Sirte neighborhood and celebratory gunfire broke out among their ecstatic and relieved comrades.

Hundreds of NTC troops had surrounded the Mediterranean coastal town for weeks in a chaotic struggle that killed and wounded scores of the besieging forces and an unknown number of defenders.

NTC fighters said there were a large number of corpses inside the last redoubts of the Gadhafi troops. It was not immediately possible to verify that information.

Writing by Jon Hemming and William Maclean; Editing by Mark Heinrich

German Chancellor: Libya can make fresh start after Gadhafi death


German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday that Libya was now free to make a fresh start and begin peaceful democratic reforms after the death of Muammar Gaddafi.

“This brings to an end a bloody war that Gaddafi waged against his own people. The path is now finally clear for a fresh political start, in peace. Germany is relieved and very happy about this,” Merkel said in a statement.

She said Libya should now carry out political reforms to “ensure the achievements of the Arab Spring cannot be undone.”

Reporting by Stephen Brown and Alexandra Hudson

Obama respond to Gadhafi death


[UPDATE] President Barack Obama said on Thursday the United States would be a partner to Libya following the death of Muammar Gadhafi and said the NATO mission in the North African country would “soon come to an end.”

“This marks the end of a long and painful chapter for the people of Libya who now have the opportunity to determine their own destiny in a new and democratic Libya,” he told reporters in the White House Rose Garden.

Obama also said the death of Gadhafi, as reported by Libyan authorities, was significant in the Arab world where protests have provoked the fall of long-standing dictators. “The rule of an iron fist inevitably comes to an end,” he said.

[Oct. 20, 11 am] President Barack Obama will say publicly on Thursday that he believes deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi is likely dead, an administration official said.

“In his remarks, the president will cite the fact that Libyan officials have announced Gadhafi’s death. We have also received similar reports through diplomatic channels and have confidence in this reporting,” a White House official said.

[Oct. 20, 9:50 am] U.S. officials on Thursday scrambled to check reports that deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi had died after being captured near his hometown of Sirte following months of civil war.

Gadhafi was wounded in the head and legs as he tried to flee in a convoy that came under attack from NATO warplanes at dawn, a senior official with Libya’s National Transitional Council told Reuters.

A senior Obama administration official said the U.S. was working to confirm the reports.

“We’re working on it,” the official said.

Gadhafi’s death followed months of NATO military action in Libya that began over a government crackdown against pro-democracy protesters inspired by protests in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt that ended in the overthrow of long-standing autocratic leaders.

The United States led the initial air strikes on Gadhafi’s forces but quickly handed the lead over to NATO, while taking a secondary role to Britain and France.

The NATO bombing campaign helped Libya’s rebels take power.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday became the most senior U.S. official to visit Tripoli since Gadhafi’s four-decade rule ended in August.

Clinton hailed “Libya’s victory.” But her visit was marked by tight security in a sign of worries that the country’s new rulers have yet to establish full control over the country.

Gadhafi was wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of ordering the killing of civilians.

He was believed to be hiding deep in Libya’s Sahara desert. His wife, two sons and a daughter fled to neighboring Algeria shortly after Tripoli fell to rebel forces in August.

Reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Alister Bull, Jeff Mason, Laura MacInnis and David Morgan; Editing by Vicki Allen

Obama: Gadhafi death is warning to iron-fist rulers


[UPDATE] See video below.

President Barack Obama hailed Muammar Gadhafi’s death as a warning to authoritarian leaders across the Middle East that iron-fisted rule “inevitably comes to an end” and as vindication for his cautious U.S. strategy on Libya.

Obama joined U.S. politicians and ordinary Americans in welcoming the demise of Gadhafi, who was for decades regarded as a nemesis of American presidents, and he also sought to claim some of the credit for the Libyan strongman’s downfall.

“This marks the end of a long and painful chapter for the people of Libya who now have the opportunity to determine their own destiny in a new and democratic Libya,” Obama told reporters in the White House Rose Garden.

Obama made clear that he considered Gadhafi’s death a vindication of his “leading from behind” strategy that had drawn criticism at home for casting the United States in a support role in the NATO air assault in Libya.

Story continues after the jump.

“Without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground, we have achieved our objectives,” Obama said in a televised statement to Americans already weary of long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The U.S. reaction reflected a tortured history with Gadhafi, viewed in the United States as a villain for his government’s links to the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Scotland and a 1986 disco bombing in Berlin that targeted U.S. troops.

Obama also touted Gadhafi’s death as a warning to other authoritarian rulers in Middle East where revolts have already upended longtime leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.

Washington is pressing for further sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over his harsh crackdown on democracy protests.

“For the region, today’s events prove once more that the rule of an iron fist inevitably comes to an end,” Obama said.

Obama said the United States would be a partner to Libya’s interim government and urged a swift transition to democratic elections, but he made no specific promises of aid.

Relatives of American victims of the flight blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland by Libyan agents 23 years ago said justice was served with Gadhafi’s death as he fled his home town and final bastion. [ID:nL5E7LJ3ZE]

“I hope he’s in hell with Hitler,” said Kathy Tedeschi, whose first husband Bill Daniels was among the 270 people killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

Additional reporting by Caren Bohan, Tabassum Zakaria, John Whitesides, Michelle Nichols; Editing by Doina Chiacu

Don’t confuse Assad and Gadhafi


Think kiwis and kumquats. While it is true that they are both fruits, the similarities between them end right about there. So, too, the similarities between Libya and Syria.

There are no significant parallels that can be extrapolated from the overthrow in Libya to the unrest and potential for overthrow in Syria.

Yes, each country was ruled by a thugocracy. And each country has been run by a despot who is representative of only a very small segment of the population. Bashar Assad of Syria is an Alawite while the majority of the country is Sunni, and Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi is from the tribe of Gadhaffiyah — one of the 140 tribes that compose Libya.

And that’s where the parallels end.

It’s the differences between the countries that are more glaring than their similarities. That’s what makes it almost ludicrous to even think about applying the lessons learned from Libya to the events that are still unfolding in Syria.

The first and most important difference between Libya and Syria is weaponry. The opposition in Syria has almost no weapons; the opposition in Libya is well armed. They are not well trained and their weapons are not of the highest caliber, but compared to the paltry supply the Syrians have, the Libyans boast impressive firepower.

The second and almost as important difference is military intelligence. The opposition in Libya benefited from the aid of British and French special forces and intelligence operatives and from intelligence gathering provided them by the United States, France and England. The opposition in Syria is on its own. In addition to having no weapons and training, they have no friends lending them military support or feeding them crucial intelligence.

While the world cheered on Libyan opposition forces, Syria’s opposition forces have few friends, no leverage and no power. They are cannon fodder for the Syrian military.

Col. Muammar Gadhafi was almost universally disdained — his rhetoric, his female bodyguards, his total disregard for human life, his active participation in acts of terror. Over the years, Gadhafi successfully offended and alienated so many people, not only in the West and but also in the Arabic world, that even Arabs wanted to oust him. He also considered himself to be an African rather than an Arab, and that also greatly upset his Arab-leader colleagues.

In the West there was a wall-to-wall coalition supporting the ousting of Gadhafi. That support spread to significant parts of the Arab leadership. Even the Arab League called for the fall of the Libyan dictator.

Assad, on the other hand, is a gentlemanly despot: educated, a physician, forced to obey his father’s orders and take up the mantle of thugocracy after the death of his brother. The beginnings of the uprising against Assad were almost totally ignored by the world media.

There has yet to be any orchestrated international protest or public outcry censoring or criticizing Assad. There are no Syrian groups in exile pushing for their freedom or lobbying for their cause on the airwaves. In contrast, there was an almost constant barrage of Libyans in exile begging for international assistance and keeping their cause alive in the media.

President Obama did just recently call for Assad to step down, but the United States still maintains diplomatic representation in Syria. The U.S. ambassador to Syria has not been recalled and neither have the ambassadors from most European countries, with the exception of Italy. And only a couple of Arab states followed Saudi Arabia’s lead when they yanked their ambassadors. The Arab League has just asked Syria to stop killing innocents, which is hardly an indictment of the heinous acts Assad is perpetrating and pales in comparison to the way in which they vilified Gadhafi.

The Arab League ousted Gadhafi and seated the Libyan opposition in his place.

The 140 different tribes in Libya are each fighting for autonomy. While there are family and tribal linkages in Syria, the greatest divisive force in that country is the religious divide. Sunnis constitute 74 percent, the overwhelming majority of the Syrian population; then come the Shiites at 12 percent; and then Assad and his fellow Alawites, a break-off from Shiia tradition, at 9 percent. Although Assad’s Alawite may be the minority religious tribe in Syria, they comprise a very significant and loyal part of the army.

There are only two viable ways for the Syrian revolt to succeed. The opposition needs either international intervention or for Sunni elements within the army to defect and join their cause. There are no other alternatives.

Unfortunately for the Syrian opposition, those are both long shots. Given the current international economic crunch, it is too risky for the West to take on another mission like the one they engaged in with Libya. Do not expect a no-fly zone in Syria like the one in Libya. And unless there is a serious incentive and worthwhile push, there will be no defections from the Syrian army.

Gadhafi has gone underground and may not turn up again. Assad remains in power, and he is not about to leave Damascus anytime soon. He is reaping the fruits of his and of his father’s brutal labor.

Micah D. Halpern is a columnist and a social and political commentator. His latest book is “Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder” (Thomas Nelson).

Syrian protesters chant “Bye Gadhafi, Bashar next”


Syrian protesters chanted “Bye, bye Gadhafi, Bashar your turn is coming” overnight, but President Bashar al-Assad showed few signs of cracking after months of demonstrations and his forces raided an eastern tribal region again on Thursday.

The new chant, inspired by the apparent collapse of Muammar Gadhafi’s rule in Libya, was filmed by residents in the Damascus suburb of Duma after prayers on Wednesday.

But in eastern Syria, tanks and armored vehicles entered Shuhail, a town southeast of the provincial capital of Deir al-Zor, where daily protests have taken place against Assad’s rule since the start of the fasting month of Ramadan, they said.

“Initial reports by residents describe tens of tanks firing randomly as they stormed the town at dawn. Shuhail has been very active in protests and the regime is using overwhelming force to frighten the people,” a local activist said.

Since Ramadan began on August 1, tanks have entered the cities of Hama, scene of a 1982 massacre by the military, Deir al-Zor and Latakia on the Mediterranean coast, trying to crush dissent after months of street protests.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), an activist group based in Britain, said 11 civilians had been killed across Syria on Wednesday, including seven in the province of Homs.

State news agency SANA said “armed terrorist groups” killed eight soldiers when they ambushed two military vehicles near the towns of Rastan and Telbiseh.

Syria has expelled most independent journalists, making it difficult to verify accounts on the ground from authorities and activists.

Prominent cartoonist and Assad critic Ali Ferzat was beaten up in Damascus by a group of armed men and then dumped in the street, an opposition activist group said. SOHR said Ferzat was taken to hospital with bruises to his face and hands.

Ferzat, whose cartoons often mock repression and injustice in the Arab world, has criticized Assad’s repression of protests. He told Al Arabiya television three weeks ago: “For the first time there is a genuine and free revolution in Syria.”

EU OIL SANCTIONS POSSIBLE

The defeat of Gadhafi may encourage Western nations to step up moves against Assad. He has pursued parallel policies of strengthening ties with Iran and Shi’ite Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah while seeking peace talks with Israel and accepting European and U.S. overtures that were key in rehabilitating him on the international stage.

European Union diplomats said on Wednesday the bloc’s governments were likely to impose an embargo on imports of Syrian oil by the end of next week, although new sanctions may be less stringent than those imposed by Washington.

Syria exports over a third of its 385,000 barrels of daily crude oil output to Europe, mainly the Netherlands, Italy, France and Spain.

A disruption would cut off a major source of foreign currency that helps to finance the security apparatus, and restrict funds at Assad’s disposal to reward loyalists and continue a crackdown in which the United Nations says 2,200 people have been killed.

In a sign the prospect of sanctions was already having an effect, traders said French oil major Total had not lifted a cargo of naphtha from Syria’s Banias refinery which it had bought in a tender.

Arab League ministers will meet in Cairo on Saturday to discuss Syria. An official said they would discuss imposing a time frame for Assad to enact reforms.

But they would also call on “all parties to end the conflict,” the official said, in an apparent acceptance of Syria’s argument it faces armed opponents.

In an interview with state television this week, Assad said the unrest “has shifted toward armed acts.” Authorities blame the violence on “armed terrorist groups,” who they say have killed an unspecified number of civilians and 500 soldiers and police.

“NO THREAT”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said it was up to the Syrian authorities and people to find a way out of the unrest.

“The hope of the West is to attack Syria they way they intervened in Libya but the people and the government in Syria should sit down together and reach an understanding on reforms,” he told al-Manar television channel.

“The people should have the right to elections, freedom and justice (so) they should set the timeline about it (together).”

Human Rights Watch said in a new report the vast majority of civilian deaths documented by Syrian human rights groups “have occurred in circumstances in which there was no threat to Syrian forces.”

“President al-Assad has said he is pursuing a battle against ‘terrorist groups’ and ‘armed gangs,’ and Syrian authorities have claimed that they have ‘exercised maximum restraint while trying to control the situation’. Neither claim is true,” the report said.

It said Syrian forces had killed at least 49 people since Assad told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on August 17 military and police operations had stopped, adding that on August 22 in Homs, Syrian forces “fired on a crowd of peaceful protesters shortly after a U.N. humanitarian assessment team left the area, killing four.”

The official state news agency quoted Assad as telling clerics during a Ramadan “iftar” meal on Wednesday the West was pressuring Syria “to sell out, which will not happen because the Syrian people have chosen to have an independent will.”

Editing by Dominic Evans and Sophie Hares

Rebels seize rifles from armory in Gaddafi compound


Hundreds of rebel fighters on Tuesday looted an armory in part of the compound of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi that they had overrun, seizing new sniper rifles in plastic cases, a Reuters witness said.

One fighter, in jubilant mood, shouted “It is over, Gadhafi is finished!” Another, carrying a looted television set to an entrance to the sprawling compound in the capital city, placed it on the ground and yelled “This is for the Libyan people!”

Fighting was still under way elsewhere in the compound, and some pro-Gadhafi snipers were still firing at the advancing rebels, the witness said.

Reporting by Peter Graff, editing by Tim Pearce

Pentagon: Rebels control most of Tripoli, Gadhafi in Libya


Libyan rebels appeared to be in control of most of Tripoli, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, adding that it was sticking to its assessment that leader Muammar Gadhafi had not left the country.

Calling the situation fluid, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said that Gadhafi’s forces remained dangerous even though their command capabilities had been diminished by major rebel advances into the heart of the capital and NATO air strikes.

The United States, which is providing Predator drones and other air capabilities to the NATO mission, sharply stepped up the tempo of its air strikes on Libya over the past week and a half, according to Pentagon data.

“It’s still very fluid, there’s still fighting going on,” Lapan said. “While we believe that opposition forces control a large part of the country, Libya and Tripoli in particular are still very dangerous places.”

Asked specifically about Tripoli, Lapan said the situation was too fluid to put a precise percentage on how much of the city was under rebel control. Rebel leaders say 80 percent of the Libyan capital is now controlled by forces opposed to Gadhafi.

“Majority (control of Tripoli) is safe but I wouldn’t get beyond that,” he said.

The United States was monitoring Libya’s chemical weapons sites, Lapan said, amid concern in Congress that those and other Libyan weapons could fall into the wrong hands.

Lapan said he was aware of a total of two Scud missile launches by Gadhafi forces. A U.S. official told Reuters that neither caused any injuries or deaths.

“Regime forces are going to use whatever means they have to continue to inflict damage on their opponents and on the civilian population,” he said.

The Pentagon said on Monday that it believed Gadhafi had not left the country, a position Lapan reaffirmed on Tuesday, saying: “Nothing’s changed.”

Still, he did not offer any more precise assessment about Gadhafi’s potential whereabouts.

Gadhafi’s son and presumed heir Saif al-Islam told a crowd that his father was well and still in Tripoli, confounding reports of his capture.

Asked whether the Pentagon was surprised by the emergence of Gadhafi’s son, whom the rebels had initially said was in their hands, Lapan said: “We’ve seen conflicting reports. Again it goes back to a very fluid situation … We continue to see conflicting reports about the whereabouts certain individuals.”

Editing by Philip Barbara

U.N. chief: Gadhafi forces must end fighting in Libya


U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday called on forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi to stop fighting and allow a peaceful transition of power in the oil-producing North African state.

“It is crucial now for the conflict to end with no further loss of life and retribution,” he said. “I welcome the assurances given by the chairman of the National Transitional Council … that extreme care would be taken to protect people and public institutions and to maintain law and order.”

“I call on Colonel Gadhafi’s forces to cease violence immediately and make way for a smooth transition,” he said.

Speaking to reporters, Ban said he intended to convene an urgent meeting later this week of the heads of regional and international organizations like the African Union, Arab League and European Union to discuss the situation in Libya.

He said that his special envoy on post-conflict planning for Libya, Ian Martin, and the U.N. envoy for Libya, Abdel Elah al-Khatib, would travel to Doha soon to meet with the leadership of Libya’s rebel National Transitional Council.

“The United Nations stands ready to extend all possible assistance to the Libyan people,” Ban said.

He added that all U.N. member states are obligated to comply with decisions of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which has issued arrest warrants for Gadhafi, his son Saif al-Islam and his intelligence chief on suspicion of crimes against humanity and other war crimes.

The Libyan rebels, who say they have captured Saif al-Islam and two other Gadhafi sons, have indicated they might want to try the trio in Libya instead of handing them over the ICC.

“The international community has a duty, all the member states of the United Nations, … to fully comply with the decisions of the ICC,” he said.

Reporting by Louis Charbonneau, editing by Eric Beech

Obama urges Gadhafi loyalists to lay down arms


President Barack Obama urged Muammar Gadhafi on Monday to end the bloodshed in Libya as pockets of his loyalist forces engaged in fierce fighting against advancing rebels.

Reminding the United States that Gadhafi had “murdered scores of American citizens,” Obama interrupted his vacation to herald Gadhafi’s fall and urged him to limit the killing.

“Although it is clear Gadhafi’s rule is over, he still has the opportunity to reduce bloodshed by explicitly relinquishing power to the people of Libya and calling for those forces that continue to fight to lay down their arms,” Obama said.

While rebels hunted for Gadhafi in Tripoli, some forces loyal to the autocratic leader were resisting.

“This is not over yet,” Obama warned in a statement from the farm where his family is vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts.

Vowing the United States would be a “friend and partner” to help the emergence of a democratic Libya, Obama also cautioned rebels against exacting revenge for Gadhafi’s brutal rule.

“True justice will not come from reprisals and violence. It will come from reconciliation and a Libya that allows its citizens to determine their own destiny,” Obama said.

Analysts see risks that Islamic militants with links to Al Qaeda may take advantage of instability after the crumbling of Gadhafi’s control over the country and gain a strong footing in the oil-producing nation.

Obama made plain that the United States would oppose any group within the loose coalition of rebels that has fought Gadhafi from imposing its power over other parts of Libyan society.

Libya: Gadhafi’s son killed in NATO airstrike on Tripoli compound


Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi escaped a NATO missile strike in Tripoli, but his youngest son and three grandchildren under the age of 12 were killed, a government spokesman said.

The strike, which came hours after Gadhafi called for a cease-fire and negotiations in what rebels called a publicity stunt, marked an escalation of international efforts to prevent the Libyan regime from regaining momentum.

Rebels honked horns and chanted “Allahu Akbar” or “God is great” while speeding through the western city of Misrata, which Gadhafi’s forces have besieged and subjected to random shelling for two months, killing hundreds. Fireworks were set off in front of the central Hikma hospital, causing a brief panic that the light would draw fire from Gadhafi’s forces.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

International Criminal Court: Gadhafi planned civilian killings


The International Criminal Court has evidence Muammar Gadhafi’s government planned to put down protests by killing civilians before the uprising in Libya broke out, the ICC’s prosecutor said on Tuesday.

The peaceful protests that erupted on Feb. 15 descended into civil war as Gadhafi’s forces first fired on demonstrators, then violently put down the uprisings that followed in the west, leaving the east and the third city of Misrata in rebel hands.

NATO-led air power is now holding the balance in Libya, preventing Gadhafi’s forces overrunning the seven-week old revolt, but unable for now to hand the rebels outright victory.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Gilad: Israel faces isolation ‘no less severe than war’


The chief of Israel’s diplomatic-security bureau warned this week that Israel faced an isolation “no less severe than war” should the United Nations recognize Palestine as an independent state this September.

In remarks carried by Channel 10, General (res.) Amos Gilad said behind doors that the Palestinian Authority leadership was organizing an “international assault against Israel”.

The Palestinians have warned that if peace talks with Israel do not resume by the deadline set for December, they will ask the UN general assembly to recognize their sovereign state.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Obama: Gadhafi "needs to go" [VIDEO]


United States President Barack Obama said on Monday that the U.S. policy on Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi is that he “needs to go.”

Speaking at a news conference with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, Obama said the military objective in Libya is to guard civilians from attacks by Gadhafi, not oust him from power.

Obama also added that the U.S. expects to transfer the lead military role in Libya to other allies in a matter of days.

Video courtesy of AP.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Libya declares cease-fire in wake of UN vote to intervene [VIDEO]


Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa annouces a cease-fire.

Libya declared a ceasefire in the country and will comply with a United Nations resolution passed overnight, Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa said on Friday. The conciliatory message was in sharp contrast to comments made by Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi just before the UN vote, in which he said that forces loyal to him would mercilessly attack rebels.

“We decided on an immediate ceasefire and on an immediate stop to all military operations,” he told reporters. “(Libya) takes great interest in protecting civilians,” he said, adding that the country would also protect all foreigners and foreign assets in Libya.

The UN Security Council, meeting in a emergency session on Thursday, passed a resolution endorsing a no-fly zone to halt government troops now around 100 kilometers from Benghazi. It also authorized “all necessary measures” – code for military action – to protect civilians against Gadhafi’s forces.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

U.S. warns Libya over possible military action [VIDEO]


United States President Barak Obama condemned embattled Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi Friday, warning that the U.S. will take military action if Gadhafi does not comply with the terms iterated in the UN Security Council resolution passed Thursday.

The U.S. president called on Gadhafi to implement a complete cease-fire immediately, saying that this means “all attacks against civilians must stop. Gadhafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi; pull them back from Adjadbiya, Misrata and Zawiyah.”

He also called on the Libyan leader to reestablish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas and allow humanitarian assistance to reach the people of Libya.

Video courtesy of PBS NewsHour.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

U.S.: Gadhafi could return to ‘terrorism and violent extremism’


The United States is concerned that Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi could return to terrorism and violent extremism if he succeeds in the battle against insurgents, Undersecretary of State William Burns said on Thursday.

“If Gadhafi is successful, you also face a number of other considerable risks as well,” Burns told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. These included “the danger of him returning to terrorism and violent extremism,” he said, adding that there was “a real danger of increasing violence and turmoil” in the Middle East.

Burns’ statement comes as the situation in Libya appears to continue to deteriorate, with Gadhafi forces appearing to be closing in on rebel-held strongholds.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

UN Security Council authorizes no-fly zone over Libya


The UN Security Council voted on Thursday to authorize a no-fly zone over Libya and “all necessary measures” – code for military action – to protect civilians against leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.

Ten of the council’s 15 member states voted in favor of the resolution, with Russia, China and Germany the five that abstained. There were no votes against the resolution, which was co-sponsored by France, Britain, Lebanon and the United States.

France had tried to garner enough support Thursday for a unanimous vote on the no-fly zone, however in the end five abstained.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Pro-Gadhafi forces reportedly strike Zawiyah in bid to regain control


Libyan government forces on Monday struck at rebels in the east of the country and were reported attacking a town near Tripoli, as concern grew over civilian suffering and a growing refugee exodus.

The United Nations said more than one million people fleeing Libya and inside the country needed humanitarian aid, and conditions in rebel-held Misrata town were particularly worrying following attacks on it by forces loyal to Muammar Gadhafi.

Offering a potential olive branch to rebels seeking to end Gaddafi’s long rule, one of his associates appealed to opposition chiefs for dialogue, in a sign the ageing autocrat may be ready to compromise with the unprecedented revolt.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Obama: Those around Gadhafi “will be held accountable” [VIDEO]


U.S. President Barack Obama warned Monday that the U.S. and its NATO allies were still considering military options to stop what he called “unacceptable” violence perpetrated by supporters of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi.

Obama spoke as Libyan warplanes launched multiple airstrikes on opposition fighters in the second day of a harsh government crackdown to thwart rebels advancing on Gadhafi’s stronghold in Tripoli.

“I want to send a very clear message to those who are around Colonel Gadhafi,” Obama told reporters, alongside Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who is in
Washington for meetings.

Video courtesy of ITN News.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

At least 30 killed in Libya as Gadhafi forces fight to take back rebel-held town


The Libyan army staged a prolonged artillery barrage on the city of Zawiyah, west of Tripoli, on Thursday, with residents saying more than 30 people have been killed.

“There has been heavy shelling of Zawiyah by (Muammar) Gadhafi’s forces and we are hearing of many casualties,” Mustafa Gheriani, a spokesman for the rebel February 17th Coalition, said.

An improvised force of rebels has been pushed back to the central square in Zawiyah, 50 km west of Tripoli, where about 2,000 of them are getting ready to make a last stand, a rebel spokesman said.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Gadhafi vows to triumph over his enemies


Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi on Friday vowed defiantly to triumph over his enemies, urging his supporters in Tripoli’s Green Square to protect Libya and its petroleum interests.

In a show of strength that he still had control over the capital Gadhafi addressed cheering supporters from the old city ramparts looking over Green Square, Gadhafi, wearing a winter jacket and a hunter’s cap that covered his ears, and said “Get ready to fight for Libya, get ready to fight for dignity, get ready to fight for petroleum.”

The Libyan leader, who has lost swathes of his country to rebels, said: “Respond to them, put them to shame” and “we can triumph over the enemies.”

Read more at Haaretz.com.

AJC: Suspend Libya from U.N. Human Rights Council


The American Jewish Committee called on the United Nations General Assembly to suspend Libya’s membership in the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“The Gadhafi regime’s widespread use of brutal force against protestors makes a mockery of the U.N. Human Rights Council,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris said in a statement released Monday.

“The world must not stand by while hundreds of people are being systematically killed, and many more brutalized and threatened as Gadhafi seeks to hold to the power he seized nearly 42 years ago.”

Hundreds are reported dead in protests calling for an end to Gadhafi’s 41-year reign; Gadhafi took power in a 1969 coup. Anti-government protests began Monday for the first time in Libya’s capital, Tripoli. Media reported that pro-Gadhafi supporters and security forces were firing into crowds of demonstrators and government buildings were set on fire.

Libya was elected to a three-year term on the Human Rights Council in May 2010. It received 155 votes from the 192-member U.N. General Assembly.

AJC is urging the General Assembly to gather immediately in New York to take up the suspension of Libya’s membership in the Council in a special session.

According to the 2006 U.N. General Assembly resolution creating the Council, “the General Assembly, by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting, may suspend the rights of membership in the Council of a member of the Council that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights.”

The U.N. Security Council was set to convene Tuesday in New York to hold a consultation on the unrest in Libya.

U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon said Monday night that the Libyan violence was a “serious violation of international law,” is “unacceptable” and “must stop immediately.”

The uprising in Libya has come at a time when Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi seemed willing to address some of the former Libyan Jewish community’s grievances.

In an interview published Monday in the Jerusalem Post, Raphael Luzon, chairman of the Jewish Libyan Diaspora in Britain, said he had met twice with Gadhafi, who said he was willing to give a proper burial to Jews buried in common graves and to come to a settlement over Jewish money left in the country. Gadhafi also approved a meeting between Jews and Muslims in Tripoli, Luzon told the newspaper.

There were about 25,000 Jews in Libya in the 1930s. Today there are no Jews left in Libya, the last moving to Italy in 2003.

Luzon told the Post that he is in touch with people in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city and the scene of deadly violence during four days of protests, and that the situation was worse than it appeared in the press and on television. News reports Monday night said that city residents with the help of a defecting army unit had taken over the city.

Unconfirmed rumors Monday night said that Gadhafi had fled to Venezuela, which Libyan officials denied.

Gadhafi’s son Saif al-Islam went on state television late Sunday saying that his father remained in power and that the government would fight until “the last man, the last woman, and the last bullet” to stay in power.

Gadhafi last week called on Palestinians to mass on Israel’s borders until their demands are met. “Fleets of boats should take Palestinians … and wait by the Palestinian shores until the problem is resolved. This is a time of popular revolutions,” Gaddafi said in a speech Feb 14 on state television.

UN chief calls Gadhafi to demand immediate end to violence in Libya


United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Libyan President Moammer Ghadafi on Monday and urged to respect the basic freedoms and rights of his people, amid the bloody unrest that has swept the country over the last seven days.

Ban held an extensive phone conversation with Gadhafi to discuss the deteriorating situation in Libya, where some 332 people have reportedly died in clashes with forces loyal to the long-time leader.

The secretary-general expressed to Gadhafi “deep concern at the escalating scale of violence and emphasized that it must stop immediately”, Ban’s office said in a statement following the discussion.” He reiterated his call for respect for basic freedoms and human rights, including peaceful assembly and information.”

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