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Thursday, February 14, 2013
Excerpts: Israeli security delegation/ Egypt officials met. Egyptian shortages strain. New U.N. peace plan for Syria. Syria rebellion intensifies. Syria jihadist group Ahrar Al Sham key player in north. Hamas delegation visits Bulgaria 14 February 2013

Excerpts: Israeli security delegation/ Egypt officials met. Egyptian
shortages strain. New U.N. peace plan for Syria. Syria rebellion
intensifies. Syria jihadist group Ahrar Al Sham key player in north.Hamas
delegation visits Bulgaria 14 February 2013

+++SOURCE: The Syria Report 14 Feb.’13:”Syria Raises Prices, Eases Import
Measures in Bid to Reduce Shortages of Medicines”
SUBJECT: Syrian medical shortages
TEXT:The Syrian government is raising the price of medicines and
facilitating import procedures in order to ease the shortages of
pharmaceutical products.

+++SOURCE: The Syria Report 14 Feb. ’13:”Car Sales in Damascus Declined 86
Percent over Lower Income, Higher Import Costs “
SUBJECT: Syria new car sales drop 86%

The market for new cars in Damascus dropped dramatically last year according
to the city’s transport directorate

Israeli security delegation/ Egypt officials met.
+++SOURCE: Egypt Independent via Egypt Daily News 14 Feb.’13:”Israeli
delegation in Cairo to discuss Palestine, Sinai security”,Hassan Shalabi
· SUBJECT: Israeli security delegation/ Egypt officials meet

FULL TEXT:An Israeli security delegation arrived Thursday[14 Feb.] in Cairo
for a quick round of talks with Egyptian officials.

According to anonymous sources from Cairo International Airport, the
four-person delegation is set to discuss disrupted Israeli-Palestinian peace
negotiations, the security situation in Sinai and recent Israeli air strikes
on Syrian targets with the head of Egypt’s National Security Agency.

None of the Israeli delegation were identified, nor was the location of the
talks.

Sources say the Israeli group will leave the capital Thursday[14 Feb.]
evening.

Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm

+++SOURCE: Saudi Gazette 14 Feb.’13:”Shortage of diesel fuel pushes
Egyptians to the brink”,Reuters

SUBJECT: Egyptian shortages strain.

QUOTE:”The situation appears near breakdown with growing shortages”

EXCERPTS:CAIRO . . .
Diesel supplies are drying up as a cash-strapped government struggles to cap
a mounting bill for subsidies it has promised the IMF it will reform to
secure an elusive $4.8 billion loan desperately needed to keep a sagging
economy afloat.

The situation appears near breakdown with growing shortages, unsustainable
subsidies and foreign exchange reserves running out, raising the risk that
fuel bottlenecks lead to food shortages and pose a risk to political
stability.

Foreign reserves are down below $15 billion, less than three months’
imports, despite deposits from Qatar and Turkey. The Egyptian pound has lost
8 percent of its value this year and a black market has emerged for hard
currency.

The nation’s strategic reserve of diesel fuel is down to three days’ supply,
the official MENA news agency quoted a government official as saying last
week. Bakeries that use diesel to make staple subsidized bread have been
told to keep 10 days’ fuel supply but not all have the capacity.

The Muslim Brotherhood-led government of President Mohamed Morsi this week
postponed for up to three months a rationing system for subsidized fuel due
to start in April in what looks like an attempt to avoid upsetting voters
before parliamentary elections due that month.

But reforms cannot be delayed for long, economists say. . . .

+++SOURCE:Naharnet (Lebanon) 14 Feb.’13:”Reports: New SAyria Peace Plan
Circulated in U.N., Agence France Presse

SUBJECT: New U.N. peace plan for Syria.

QUOTE:”creation of a 140- member senate body tasked with leading the
dialogue proccess between the regime and the opposition”

FULL TEXT:A new peace plan for Syria, involving the creation of a senate to
oversee a power transition, is currently making the rounds in the United
Nations, Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported.

The daily reported that it had obtained a copy of the plan aimed at ending
Syria's 23-month conflict, saying that it had been drafted "under U.N.
supervision".

Members of the Syria-based opposition that is tolerated by the regime of
President Bashar Assad took part in the drafting of the plan, the paper
added.

The draft does not elaborate on Assad's fate, though the West and opposition
groups calling for his fall have said any talks should lead to his
departure.

The plan foresees the creation of a 140-member senate body tasked with
leading the dialogue process between the regime and the opposition during a
transitional phase, said Asharq al-Awsat.

"This senate will be the core of (Syria's) Second Republic," said the
London-based newspaper.

While 102 senate members would be elected "under the U.N.'s strict
supervision, the remaining 38 would be appointed by the regime, the
opposition and religious institutions.

The plan also says Faruq al-Sharaa, Syria's vice president, should head the
senate.

Within a month of the enactment of this plan "there would be an immediate
ceasefire and (loyalist) troops would start withdrawing from the cities",
said the daily.

After the establishment of a proposed senate, a committee would be set up to
prepare for elections under U.N. supervision, Asharq al-Awsat added.

Syria's armed uprising flared after Assad's forces launched a bloody
crackdown on peaceful democracy protests that erupted in March 2011,
inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings.

The U.N. says nearly 70,000 people have been killed

+++SOURCE: Naharnet (Lebanon) 24 Feb.’13:Rebels Seize Syria Town on Iraq
Border,Shoot Down Two Warplanes in Idlib, Agence France Presse
SUBJECT : Syria rebellion intensifies.

QUOTE: “ ‘The army will do all it can to take back rebel controlled
territory’ “

FULL TEXT:Syrian rebels from the Islamist al-Nusra Front on Thursday[14Feb.]
seized the town of Shadadeh in the oil-rich northeastern province of Hasake,
on the border with Iraq, a monitoring group said.

"After three days of fierce battles against the army, al-Nusra Front
fighters have seized control of Shadadeh," said the Syrian Observatory for
Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists, doctors and lawyers
for its reporting.

Fighting and car bomb attacks by the jihadists left more than 100 troops
dead in three days, during which 30 al-Nusra Front fighters also died, five
of whom were from Kuwait, said the Observatory.

"Dozens of employees" working for the state oil company were also killed in
the rebel assault on the town, said the watchdog, without elaborating.

Further west, pro-regime media on Thursday[14 Feb] admitted the army's loss
to Islamist fighters of Base 80, a strategic army complex tasked with
securing the nearby Aleppo international airport and military airports in
the area.

"The army is preparing to retake control of Base 80," al-Watan daily said,
adding that "hundreds of armed men" were killed in fighting over the
complex.

The Syrian rebels also shot down two military warplanes over the
northwestern province of Idlib, said a monitoring group on Thursday[14
Feb.].

Both jets were hit with fire from heavy machineguns while the air force was
carrying out a series of raids in the area, much of which is under the
control of the rebels, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Elsewhere in the strife-torn country, the army made its own military
advance, seizing a key district in the central city of Homs after several
weeks of fierce fighting, said the Observatory.

"The army has entered Jobar in western Homs, and rebel fighters have
withdrawn from the district," said the group's director Rami Abdel Rahman.

The victory comes a week after the army took control of Kafraya, also in
southwestern Homs.

Activist refer to Homs city as "the capital of the revolution" and several
of its districts have been suffocated by a siege for some eight months.

On January 19, the army launched an all-out bid to secure the route linking
Damascus to the coast, which runs through western Homs but has so far failed
to take complete control.

In violence elsewhere in Homs province, the air force bombarded "for the
10th day in a row" the ancient city of Palmyra, activist Mohammed al-Khatib
told Agence France Presse via the Internet.

Warplanes also raided the nearby town of Rastan, which has been out of the
control of the army for at least a year, said the Observatory.

"Homs province is strategic to the regime because it is the largest in the
country and because it links Damascus to the coast," said Abu Rawan, a
Rastan-based activists.

"The army will do all it can to take back rebel-controlled territory," he
added

+++SOURCE: Jordan Times 14 Feb.’13: Ahrar Al Sham jihadists emerge from
shadows in North Syria”, Agence France

SUBJECT:Syria jihadist group Ahrar Al Sham key player in north.

QUOTE:Jihadist group Ahrar Al Sham . . . .key player in northern Syria,
playing up its nationalist roots and more moderate form of Islam”

FULL TEXT: ATME, Syria — Jihadist group Ahrar Al Sham is emerging from the
shadows of the larger rebel outfit Al Nusra Front as key player in northern
Syria, playing up its nationalist roots and more moderate form of Islam.

Fighters from the group, whose name means in Arabic the “Free Men of Syria”,
are mainly to be found on the battlefields in the northern provinces of
Idlib, Aleppo and central Hama alongside some 30 other jihadist
organisations.

For a long time it was eclipsed by the hardline Al Nusra Front which has
claimed responsibility for the majority of deadly suicide bombings in Syria’s
nearly two-year conflict and is blacklisted by Washington as a terror
outfit.

But in recent months, Ahrar Al Sham has begun unleashing its fighters across
the battlefronts, especially in Idlib where they played a leading role in
advances around the city of Jisr Al Shughur, an AFP reporter said.

Its fighters are also on the frontlines of the battles around the city of
Idlib and further south in Maarat Al Numan.

Their victories have been trumpeted on the Internet and, rebel sources
claim, have been accomplished thanks to financial backing from Arab Gulf
countries.

At the end of December, Ahrar Al Sham announced the creation of an Islamic
front grouping a dozen of other organisations including Ansar Al Sham, Liwa
Al Haq and Jamaat Al Taliaa.

On January 31 several other groups announced on a statement posted on the
Internet that they had joined forces with Ahrar Al Sham to form a broader
coalition dubbed “Harakat Ahrar Al Sham Al Islamiyya” (The Islamic Movement
of Ahrar Al Sham).

Although some Arab jihadists fight amongst their ranks, most of Ahrar Al
Sham’s fighters are Syrian nationals while the group’s founders, according
to a source close to it, were former political prisoners released in an
amnesty.

“The founders of the movement are all former political prisoners who were
detained in the infamous Sednaya Prison near Damascus,” the source said.

“For years they lived and suffered together in jail [but] were set free as
part of an amnesty ordered by the regime in May 2011.”

The group appears to be well-structured although the names of their
commanders are not in the public domain. However, a fighter known as Abu
Anas is the leader for battlegrounds in northern Syria.

One of Ahrar Al Sham’s strengths is that it has deep roots in northern
rebel-held territory, where unlike the shadowy Al Nusra Front, its men enjoy
grassroots support because some are from the villages and cities of the
region.

The group’s approach to Islam is less rigid than the position of Al Nusra
Front — which Washington says has links to Al Qaeda in Iraq — with group
leaders insisting they oppose “fanaticism”.

Ahrar Al Sham supports the creation of an Islamic state in Syria but one
that is based on Sharia, Islamic law, that would guarantee the rights of
minorities including Christians.

“Their rhetoric is loaded with Islamic references but... deep down their
goal is to restore the sovereignty of the Syrian people and do away with
dictatorship,” said Jean-Pierre Filiu, an expert on jihadist movements.

On the ground, Ahrar Al Sham fight sometimes alongside the mainstream rebel
Free Syrian Army and Al Nusra, joining in attacks on regime military
targets — but apparently refrain from taking part in suicide bombings.

Like other jihadists their fighters wear black turbans and their beards
long, and fly a white flag with an eagle soaring over the name of the group
on their checkpoints

+++SOURCE: Jordan Times 14 Feb.’13:”Jordan MPs in groundbreaking Bulgaria
visit”, Agence France Presse
SUBJECT: Hamas delegation visits Bulgaria
QUOTE:” Hamas 3 MPs arrived in Bulgaria Wednesday( 13 Feb.)in a
groundbreaking visit to a EU member state”
FULL TEXT:GAZA CITY — A Hamas parliamentary delegation of three MPs arrived
in Bulgaria on Wednesday[13 Ffeb.] in a groundbreaking visit to a European
Union member state, a delegate told AFP.

“We arrived today in Bulgaria on our first official visit and we will meet
state officials, MPs from the ruling party and the opposition to discuss
cooperation and explain the Palestinian cause,” MP Ismail Al Ashkar said by
phone from Sofia.

The EU lists Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, as a terrorist
organisation.

Members of the militant group last year visited non EU-member Switzerland to
attend a hearing by a committee of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, drawing
harsh criticism from Israel, with then-foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman
calling the IPU invite “an example of international hypocrisy”.

Ashkar said the trip to Bulgaria came in response to an invitation from
cultural institutions which had set up several meetings as well as lectures
at universities.

“There will be similar visits to foreign countries soon,” he added, without
giving further details.

The Hamas trip comes in the wake of a February 5 announcement by Sofia that
the Lebanese Hizbollah — like Hamas an enemy of Israel with strong ties to
Iran — was behind a July bombing in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli
tourists and their local driver

==========
Sue Lerner - Associate, IMRA

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