Your Middle East staff
Last updated: 28 September, 2012

News brief 28 September

The UN General Assembly’s annual meeting has been on everyone’s lips this week. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the Assembly on Thursday and made very few references to the country’s alleged nuclear program after US President Obama’s statement that the US will do everything to prevent Iran from obtaining the bomb. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu also said that Israel would do everything in its power to prevent Iran from crossing “the red line” and become a nuclear power. EU’s foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton also addressed the issue on Thursday.

In relation to nuclear arms, Egypt’s President Morsi made remarks directed at Israel, saying that the Middle East won’t tolerate any country refusing to join the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), especially in combination with making “arbitrary threats”.  Israel was also criticized by Palestinian President Abbas, particularly for its settlements, which Abbas claimed was a sign that Israel rejects a two-state solution.

The ongoing war in Syria was another topic of discussion during the Assembly meeting, with Qatar urging Arab states to militarily intervene in order to stop the violence. This was instantly met with skepticism and analysts deemed it unrealistic with an Arab intervention due to lacking military capabilities, even though countries like Tunisia came out in support of an Arab peacekeeping mission.

Within Syria, battles continue to rage including bombs on the Syrian army’s HQ. Wednesday was the bloodiest day so far with over 300 deaths recorded, and the UNHCR expects over 700,000 refugees by the end of the year. The uprising seems to continue its expansion on all fronts – reports came in this wee of a growing independent press operating underground.

In Iran, the regime further limited freedom of expression by banning the secular newspaper Shargh as well as blocking key Google services.

Internet freedom also became a topic of discussion when a Lebanese court blocked access to the anti-Islam film “The Innocence of Muslims”. Lebanese officials also declared on Monday that the country is ready to start drilling for offshore gas.

In Bahrain, a date was set for the upcoming trial towards human rights activist Nabeel Rajab whilst the case against a man accused for blasphemy started in Egypt.

In Tunisia, civil rights groups were outraged after the rape of a young Tunisian woman by policemen and expressed concern that Islamists were trying to reverse the country’s gender equality.

The violence in Iraq continues with this month’s death toll reaching 200. The past week has seen attacks on both security forces and the prison in Tikrit.

In Yemen, violence escalated as an explosion killed three schoolchildren while  UN’s World Food Programme warned of a looming humanitarian crisis. President Hadi stated that the government would be willing to negotiate with Al-Qaeda if they give up their weapons. 

In Libya, the aftermath of the attacks on the US embassy continued with new Libyan President Mohamed al-Megaryef stating that his country won’t be a burden to the international community while US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta declared the assault to be a planned terrorist attack. Tensions increased in the city of Misrata following the death of Qaddafi’s capturer, who was abducted and tortured by armed men from a rival town.

Saudi Arabia denied access to over 1000 Nigerian women pilgrims earlier in the week. The women were unaccompanied by men and discussions are ongoing between Nigerian and Saudi authorities. King Abdullah announced an expansion of the mosque in Medina, which is set to start after the annual Muslim pilgrimage.