Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April 1996, pgs. 30-35
Issues In The News
Compiled by Shawn L. Twing
Bahrain Expels Iranian Diplomat:
Bahrain expelled an Iranian diplomat on Feb. 1 after accusing Tehran of fomenting political unrest and violence in the GCC member state over the past 14 months. Iran responded by expelling a second secretary at the Bahraini embassy in Tehran because of alleged "activities incompatible with diplomatic norms."
Kuwait Celebrates Fifth Anniversary of Liberation:
On Feb. 25 Kuwait celebrated the fifth anniversary of its liberation from Iraqi forces during the 1990-91 Gulf war. At the national holiday celebrations, government officials called attention to the disappearance of more than 600 Kuwaiti residents, including women and children, seized during the Iraqi occupation. The Iraqi government has said it has released all Kuwaiti prisoners. The United States and several Arab countries have called on Iraq to do more to return or account for the missing Kuwaitis.
U.S. Military Forces Hold Exercises in Kuwait:
U.S. Marines and sailors held maneuvers in Kuwait beginning on Feb. 2 to demonstrate what the U.S. Embassy there called "the United States' commitment to security and stability in the Gulf." Some 3,900 U.S. military personnel took part in the exercises that coordinated desert land warfare with close air support. Kuwaiti troops did not participate in the maneuvers.
Kuwait Pledges to Eliminate Deficit:
Kuwaiti Finance Minister Nasser Al Roudhan announced on Jan. 25 his government's intention to reduce Kuwait's budget deficit. Al Roudhan told Al-Qabbas newspaper that "The government will submit to the parliament over the next few days two plans to eliminate the deficit, a temporary one and a five-year plan." The temporary plan has been enacted previously in fiscal years 1994-95 and 1995-96 in order to reduce the budget deficit by 250 million dinars ($836 million). The long-term plan was rejected when it was submitted to the Kuwaiti parliament's finance and economic committee last October because it did not provide enough details. Al Roudhan added that the government's temporary deficit-cutting measures had been so successful that they doubled their expected savings during the last two years.
Kuwaiti Official Acknowledges Israel:
Kuwaiti Minister of Information Sheikh Saud Nasser Al Sabah stated that Kuwait's "relations with Israel are a fait accompli," in an interview published in a leading Gulf magazine and reprinted in Israel's Ha'aretz Hebrew daily. Al Sabah, a member of Kuwait's ruling family and Kuwait's ambassador in Washington during the Gulf war, added that "The empty words that spoke of throwing Israel into the sea no longer exist. Israel is a reality." He cautioned, however, that a peace agreement between the two countries depends on a successful outcome of Israel's peace negotiations with Syria and Lebanon.
Oman Plans $4 billion Gas Projects:
Oman is planning $4 billion in natural gas projects in an attempt to diversify its economy and reduce its dependence on petroleum-related income, Omani officials announced on Feb. 12. The $4 billion, which does not include a $6 billion natural gas liquification facility to be completed by the year 2000, will be invested in a petrochemical complex, production of ammonia and urea and an aluminum smelter. Ali Al Salidi, director of industry at the Omani Ministry of Commerce and Industry told Agence France Presse that "Total investment in the industrial sector is projected to reach $14.46 billion by the year 2020." He estimated that the petrochemical complex alone will cost $800 million, which will come from public and private investment.
Oil Income Rises in 1995:
Oman's petroleum revenues increased by 6 percent in 1995 due in part to an increase in worldwide crude oil prices and increased exports to Japan, which purchases one-third of Oman's export total. Oil revenues grew from $3.4 billion in 1994 to $3.6 billion in 1995. Although Oman is not a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, it produces approximately 850,000 barrels per day (bpd). Japanese oil imports from Oman stabilized at around 257,000 bpd in 1995, making it Oman's top petroleum export market, followed by South Korea (145,000 bpd) and China (87,000 bpd).
Qatar Plans Stock Exchange:
Qatar plans to open an official stock exchange in 1996, according to a Feb. 10 announcement by Yousuf Hussein Kamal, Qatar's undersecretary at the Ministry of Finance, Economy and Commerce. Kamal told reporters that "To achieve the best results, a team of young Qatari technocrats is working on the preparations of a bourse and we hope it will start functioning officially by the end of the year." Qatar plans eventually to link its bourse with others in Gulf Cooperation Council states,Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain,but intends to keep it functionally independent. The planned stock exchange will be overseen by a board of directors from the Ministry of Finance, Economics and Commerce, Qatar's central bank, and companies listed on the exchange.
Government Foils Apparent Coup Attempt:
Qatari security officials announced in February that they had prevented an attempt to overthrow Sheikh Hamid bin Khalifa Al Thani, who replaced his father, Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamid Al Thani, as Emir of Qatar in a bloodless coup in June 1995. More than 100 people were arrested in the apparent coup attempt and several others fled to neighboring Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, according to diplomats in the region cited in the Washington Times. To show their support for Qatar's security, the United States and France moved up joint military exercises scheduled in Qatar from April to March.
King Fahd Resumes Leadership:
King Fahd resumed leadership of Saudi Arabia on Feb. 21 after turning over the role for health reasons to his half-brother, Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, on Jan. 1. After a month-and-a-half of rest and recuperation, King Fahd announced in a letter to Prince Abdullah that he would resume the everyday duties of leading the Kingdom, and thanked the crown prince for his "sincere efforts when [he] undertook the duties of the state."
New Finance Minister Named:
Dr. Ibrahim Abdul Aziz Al Assaf became Saudi Arabia's new minister of finance and national economy on Jan. 29 when he replaced Dr. Abdul Aziz Al Khuwaiter in that position. Dr. Al-Assaf, who received his doctoral degree in economics in 1982 from Colorado State University, was appointed a deputy governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency in July 1995, and a minister of state on Oct. 19, 1995. At least 16 members of Saudi Arabia's cabinet hold BA, MA or Ph.D. degrees from American universities.
Kingdom Hosts 3.5 million Worshippers for Ramadan Celebrations:
Saudi Arabia hosted some 3.5 million worshippers in Mecca and Medina making umrah (small pilgrimage) during this year's observance of the holy month of Ramadan when Muslims fast and abstain from sensual pleasures from dawn to dusk in a month-long celebration of individual and collective piety. Despite the completion of the largest expansion of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, which can accommodate more than 2 million worshippers simultaneously, at times thousands of worshippers had to say their prayers on the terraces outside the vast mosque because of this year's record turnout.
Saudi Arabia and Germany to Sign Investment Agreement:
The governments of Saudi Arabia and Germany announced on Jan. 28 that they will sign an agreement this year for the protection of mutual investments. The agreement, the first such accord Saudi Arabia has concluded with any country, provides incentives and ensures security for Germans investing in Saudi Arabia. It will be signed at the April Saudi-German Joint Economic Commission meeting. German ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dr. Rudolf Rapke told the Arab News that "This agreement will give a push to German investors to come to Saudi Arabia," and "will enlarge the framework for further cooperation, especially in terms of trade and investments." Ambassador Rapke said the total number of German-Saudi joint ventures is 70, with an estimated worth of $33 billion.
Saudi Aramco Remains World's Largest Oil Company:
Saudi Aramco was named the world's largest oil company for the second year in a row by Petroleum Intelligence Weekly based on the volume of Aramco's petroleum and natural gas reserves, oil and gas production, refining capacity and sales of refined petroleum products. The company, which produces approximately 2 million barrels per day of refined petroleum, also has expanded its international presence with joint ventures with the United States, South Korea and the Philippines.
Crown Prince Abdullah Meets With King Hussein:
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, deputy premier and commander of the National Guard, and Prince Sultan, second deputy premier and minister of defense and aviation, met with Jordan's King Hussein in Mecca on Feb. 11 when the Jordanian monarch arrived to perform umrah. King Hussein was greeted on arrival by Mecca governor Prince Majed bin Abdul Aziz and Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak returned to Cairo the same day after performing umrah and holding talks with Crown Prince Abdullah.
United Arab Emirates
Dubai Opens New Free-Trade Zone:
Dubai ruler Sheikh Maktoum ibn Rashid Al Maktoum announced on Feb. 5 the creation of a second free-trade zone to be set up in Dubai's international airport. The first facility was established several years ago at the Jebal Ali port and has been a major economic success. UAE officials did not offer a time frame for the free-trade zone becoming operational.
U.S. and UAE Will Coproduce Ships:
Companies from the United States and the United Arab Emirates announced on Jan. 27 plans for the largest ship-building joint venture in the Middle East's history. The Abu Dhabi Shipbuilding Company (ADSC), 40 percent of which is owned by the U.S. company Newport News Shipbuilders, announced that it had collected $9.8 million from its WRMEA, December 1995 public offering of stock in the joint venture. Newport News originally bid for the multi-billion project to outfit the UAE navy with frigates as it expands its military forces. The decision to form the joint venture and its associated price offsets was a product of those negotiations. ADSC will be based in Musdaffah port near Abu Dhabi. Initial production will include repairing and building small ships before expanding into medium-sized ships, oil rigs, naval support vessels and warships.
Parliament Seeks Constitution to Ensure Unity:
The Federal National Council (FNC), the UAE's appointed parliament, announced on Feb. 16 that it is seeking to establish a permanent constitution that will ensure the unity of the seven sheikhdoms that make up the country, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Fujairah, Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah and Umm Al Quwain. A statement released by the FNC said that "A revision of the interim constitution has become a pressing national demand" because of the success of the UAE's federal system. The merger of the seven emirates has lasted for more than 24 years and support for a revised, permanent constitution is widespread.
Khaleej Times on the Internet:
The UAE English-language daily newspaper Khaleej Times announced in February the creation of a home page on the Internet. The Internet website, which features editorial, business and local news, can be accessed on the World Wide Web at the following address:http://www.careweb.com/khaleej. Technical assistance for accessing the home page can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].
The Fertile Crescent
UNRWA Sets Up Headquarters in Amman:
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) announced on Feb. 16 that it will move its headquarters from Vienna to Amman and Gaza on June 15, according to a spokesman for the Palestinian refugee assistance agency. UNRWA employs more than 100 people in Vienna and will base its social services, education and health departments in Amman.
Jordan May Resume Importing Saudi Petroleum:
Jordanian trade officials met with their counterparts in Saudi Arabia in March to discuss commercial contacts between the two countries, particularly Jordan's desire to buy oil and natural gas from Saudi Arabia. The meeting was hosted in Amman by Jordanian Finance Minister Marwan Awad. Among the items discussed were financial arrangements for repaying Jordan's debt to Saudi Arabia and the possibility of reopening an oil pipeline between the two countries that was closed shortly after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Jordan currently meets its petroleum requirements, approximately 70,000 barrels per day, by importing Iraqi oil.
Lebanon Ready for Peace Talks with Israel:
Lebanese President Elias Hrawi announced on Jan. 25 his country's readiness to resume peace talks with Israel based on United Nations Security Council Resolution 425, which calls for total and unconditional Israeli withdrawal from Lebanese territory. Hrawi said that "Lebanon has completed its files for negotiations on the liberation of our land in the south and the Bekaa Valley." He added that "The army and Lebanon's own forces are ready to impose sovereignty and security on [Lebanon's] international frontiers."
Trading Resumes on Beirut Stock Exchange:
Trading resumed on the recently rebuilt Beirut stock exchange on Jan. 22 after 13 years of closure. Three of the 42 companies listed on the stock exchange before it was closed in 1983 began trading shares again,the Societé Des Ciments Libanais, Societé Des Ciments Blancs and Eternit Sal. The president of the Beirut bourse, Gaby Sehnawi, estimated that the exchange will handle approximately $3 billion during the next year of its operation.
Palestinians in Lebanon Urged to Give Up Arms:
Palestine Liberation Organization official Mahmud Abbas urged Palestinians living in Lebanon to turn in their weapons to Lebanese authorities, according to a Jan. 24 interview published in the London-based Al Hayat newspaper. Abbas, better known by his nom de guerre Abu Mazen, urged "Palestinian activists living in Lebanon [to] either hand in their weapons to the Lebanese Army and stay [in Lebanon] or head back to the self-rule state." He added that the PLO and the Palestinian National Authority would like the estimated 350,000 Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon to return to self-rule areas, saying, "We respect Lebanon's sovereignty, especially at this time when Lebanon is seeking an end to the Israeli occupation of southern and eastern Lebanon."
Hezbollah Offers Prisoner Exchange:
The Iranian-supported Shi'i opposition organization Hezbollah offered on Feb. 23 to exchange 19 prisoners of war from the Israeli-supported South Lebanon Army for hundreds of its own members held by the SLA militia. During an Eid al-Fitr amnesty, Hezbollah released three former SLA soldiers and three days later the SLA released 32. When asked during a press conference about returning bodies of Israeli soldiers killed in Lebanon, Hezbollah secretary-general Sheikh Hussein Nasrallah argued that the issue should be left "for an exchange involving Lebanese and Palestinians detained inside Israeli jails." He denied having any information about Ron Arad, an Israeli airman who has been missing since his plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986 and who some believe is still alive either in Lebanon or in Iran.
Syria Lauds U.S. Peace Efforts:
Syria's official press commended on Feb. 7 U.S. efforts to broker a peace agreement between Syria and Israel, but accused Israel of trying to stall the negotiations by calling for early elections. The comments came in response to U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher's announcement in Israel that peace talks would continue on Feb. 26 regardless of Israeli elections. Christopher's comments came after meetings with Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad, Foreign Minister Farook Al Charaa, and a message from U.S. President Bill Clinton affirming his "personal interest" in fostering peace between Syria and Israel.
Lebanon, Syria Discuss Peace Talks:
Lebanese and Syrian officials met in Damascus on Jan. 27 to discuss Syrian-Israeli peace negotiations and bilateral cooperation. Lebanese officials attending the fourth annual meeting of the Lebanese-Syrian Higher Council, a body created in 1991 to foster "brotherhood, coordination and cooperation" between the two countries, included President Elias Hrawi, Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Foreign Minister Fares Bweiz and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Michel El Murr. Aside from regional peace issues, officials also discussed several trade agreements and measures to promote mutual economic investments in both countries.
Turkey, Greece in Row Over Aegean Island:
Tension between Greece and Turkey flared anew in January and February over a disputed island in the Aegean Sea called Imia by the Greeks and Kardak by the Turks. Allegations of naval attacks by each of the countries led to a full-blown diplomatic row that ignited a new round of tension between the two countries, both of which are NATO members. Tensions peaked on Feb. 22 when Greece announced that it would not agree to a $485 million European Union aid package to Turkey, a move which blocked the aid, which requires the consent of all 15 EU members to be ratified. Territorial boundaries have been sources of serious dispute between the two countries, especially for lucrative oil drilling rights in the Aegean Sea.
Turkey Calls on Syria for Peace Talks:
Turkish President Suleyman Demirel called on Syria to stop supporting rebel Kurds in Turkey and to resolve disputes over water from the Euphrates River during a Feb. 24 message to Gulf states and Egypt from Ankara. Demirel asked Syria to "give up using terror as an instrument of foreign policy and seek a solution to its problems with Turkey in a way fitting to good neighborly and brotherly ties." The reference to Syrian-supported terrorism concerns Kurdish rebels thought to be training in bases in Leb-
anon's Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley, chief among them Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The 11-year-old battle between the PKK and Turkey has cost an estimated 18,500 lives. One week prior to Demirel's statement, Syrian and Iraqi officials held negotiations that led to a concerted international campaign by the two countries to force Turkey to share more water from the Euphrates River.
U.S. Settles Airbus Claims:
The United States government has agreed to compensate family members of the victims of the 1988 accidental downing of an Iranian commercial airliner by a U.S. warship, according to a Feb. 22 announcement by U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns. On July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes, believing it was under attack from an Iranian warplane, shot down the civilian aircraft killing 290 people on board, 248 of whom were Iranians. Since then, the case has been before the International Court of Justice and an Iran-U.S. tribunal. According to the agreement, the United States paid $300,000 for each wage-earning family member killed in the attack, $150,000 for each non-wage-earning family member, and $30 million for the cost of the aircraft. Burns said that no money was paid to the Iranian government, but Iran's official news agency said that $131.8 million was given to compensate for economic losses related to the accidental attack. The U.S. earlier compensated families of non-Iranian victims of the crash.
Iranian Government Accused of Assassinations Abroad:
National Council of Resistance of Iran President Massoud Rajavi cabled Turkish President Suleyman Demirel on Feb. 21 to protest the murder of two National Council members in Turkey. Zahra Rajabi and Abdol Ali Moradi were killed on Feb. 20, allegedly by members of Iran's VEVAK intelligence organization or their proxies in Turkey. Tehran did not confirm its involvement in the incident but agents of Iran's intelligence and security apparatus have been accused of numerous assassinations of political opponents in Middle Eastern and European countries during the past decade-and-a-half.
Iran Supports Nuclear Test Ban Treaty:
Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati announced in Geneva on Feb. 22 Iran's support for a complete ban on all nuclear weapons testing. During a meeting of the 38-member Conference on Disarmament, Velayati said that "All necessary elemental ingredients for the CTBT [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] are now at our disposal," and that "the majority of differences, as we are all aware, are of a political nature." Velayati declared Iran's position on the test ban treaty saying that he supported "achievement of an agreement for total elimination of all nuclear weapons at the earliest possible date." The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty calls for a global moratorium on nuclear weapons testing, but it faces strong opposition from the world's declared nuclear powers: the United States, Britain, China, Russia and France.
Citibank Opens First Branch in Israel:
William Rodam, deputy chairman of Citibank's board of directors, announced on Feb. 5 the opening of Citibank's first branch in Israel. At a Tel Aviv press conference Rodam said that Citibank decided to open a branch in Israel because of the country's "fertile economy," the recent decline of inflation and the stabilization of markets in the region resulting from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He said Citibank's Tel Aviv branch will help finance regional projects and Israel's export dealings with clients in Eastern Europe and Asia.
Israel Tests Arrow-2 Missile:
Israel conducted a test-flight on Feb. 20 of the Arrow-2 anti-tactical ballistic missile as part of ongoing tests of the largely U.S.-funded weapons system designed to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles. The test-missile was launched from the Palmahim military base on a 50-second flight to examine the weapon's optical seeker, the device used to track ballistic missiles in flight. Moshe Keret, director general of the Arrow's primary contractor, Lod-based Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), said that "All the goals we set were achieved, and thus we advanced another step toward an operational system." Earlier this year U.S. Secretary of Defense William J. Perry pledged an additional $200 million from the Pentagon for the Arrow system, even though the United States has no plans to purchase the Arrow ATBM for use by U.S. forces.
Israeli Company Wins $500 million Contract in Turkmenistan:
The Israeli holding company Merhav announced in March that it had successfully completed negotiations with Turkmenistan for a $500 million renovation of Turkmenistan's national oil refinery in Turkemenbashi on the Caspian Sea. Merhav senior vice president Gideon Weinstein said that the project was important for its size as well as for its significance to Israel's relations with Islamic countries. Weinstein added that Merhav "may be able to take part in the development of [Turkmenistan's] gas market," noting that the company has the third largest natural gas reserves in the world.
Aloni Resigns From Politics:
Israel's Minister of Science, Technology and Communications Shulamit Aloni announced on Feb. 19 that she will not seek re-election but will leave politics, possibly to head a new Jewish studies institute. Aloni, a member and former chairperson of the dovish Meretz Party, announced her plans less than a week before Environment Minister Yossi Sarid was elected as Meretz's new chair.
IDF Appoints First Imam:
The Israel Defense Forces and Israel's Religious Affairs Ministry appointed the first-ever Muslim imam in the Israeli military to provide religious services to Muslim soldiers serving in the IDF's northern command. The IDF is looking for another imam to serve in its southern command.
Israeli Diplomat Expelled from Russia:
An unnamed Israeli was expelled from Moscow in February after the Russian government accused the diplomat of spying for Israel's Mossad intelligence organization. Russian officials arrested the Israeli after the December arrest of a Russian citizen who had been receiving large sums of money in exchange for classified documents.
PLO Will Write New Charter:
The Palestine Liberation Organization decided during a two-day meeting of its Executive Committee in February to write a new charter rather than rewrite the current charter's references to the destruction of Israel. PLO spokesman Yasser Abed Rabbo said that Executive Committee members "discussed drawing up a new charter in the light of the new political realities rather than support Israel's demands." The new document will refer to an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and will recognize Israel's right to exist. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Eli Dayan rejected the idea of a new charter, saying, "Arafat must revoke the relevant articles referring to the destruction of Israel and not simply write a new charter."
Trial Urged for Killers of Islamic Jihad Activists:
Some 3,000 supporters of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad called on Yasser Arafat to arrest and try Palestine National Authority security personnel who killed two Islamic Jihad members during a Feb. 3 shoot-out in Gaza. Gaza Islamic Jihad leader Nafez Azzam told the crowd gathered in the Jabaliya refugee camp on Feb. 9 that "the murderers must be brought to justice." The crowd responded with chants that "It won't be revenge for the Islamic Jihad but for all the Palestinian people." The two Jihad activists, Ayman Razania and Amar El Harash, were killed by PNA policemen in the Shatti refugee camp near Gaza City.
USAID Gives Sewer Equipment to Gazans:
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) gave Palestinian authorities in Gaza $650,000 worth of water drainage equipment to help the city solve flooding problems due to its dismal sewage system. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk presented the equipment to Gaza City Mayor Oun Al Shawa on Feb. 15 as part of a $40 million U.S. aid package promised to the Gaza City municipality.
Palestinians Protest Wall in Bethlehem:
Hundreds of Palestinians, most of them school students, protested the Israeli government's decision to build a wall 6 feet high around the tomb of Rachel in Bethlehem, in violation of the Oslo accords. Some 400 demonstrators chanted "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great") as they marched in front of dozens of Israeli soldiers guarding the tomb. The Oslo accords called for the erection of an Israeli-controlled checkpoint at the site considered sacred by Jews. In a statement to Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij complained that agreements between the PLO and the Israeli government did not allow for the construction of the cement wall, which interferes with traffic to and from Bethlehem, and he asked that it be removed immediately.
AI Urges Respect for Human Rights:
Pierre Sane, secretary-general of the London-based human rights group Amnesty International, met with PNA President Yasser Arafat in Gaza City on Feb. 8 to urge the PNA to promote respect for human rights. During the two-hour meeting, Sane cautioned Arafat that the transition period from Israeli occupation to Palestinian self-rule was important for establishing precedents concerning respect for human rights. During a press conference following the meeting Sane told journalists that "We have insisted that it is time for the authority to be vigilant on every human rights violation." The meeting followed a Feb. 5 accusation by Amnesty International that both the Palestinian National Authority and the Israeli government are violating human rights in the West Bank and Gaza through mass arrests and torture during interrogations. Amnesty officials were particularly critical of the Israeli Supreme Court's decision to uphold legalized torture under the guise of "moderate physical pressure," authorized during interrogations of detained Palestinians.
The Nile Valley
Israeli Officials Visit Egypt for Gas Project:
Israeli officials traveled to Cairo in February for a three-day negotiating session concerning the price of natural gas flowing from Egypt to Israel in a joint "peace pipeline." Israeli spokeswoman Orly Wejcenberg said that the purpose of the delegation was to renegotiate the "exaggerated price" of $2.10 per cubic meter of gas delivered from the Nile River delta to Israel. One week prior to the meeting Israeli officials solicited public bids to build a pipeline to transport Egyptian natural gas from the Egyptian-Israeli border to the northern port of Haifa.
Egyptian Parliament Revokes Immunity for Six MPs:
Egypt's parliament revoked the immunity from prosecution of six of its members on Jan. 28 after they were investigated for crimes including murder and defrauding banks. Parliament's Constitutional Committee lifted the immunity so that investigations could continue against Ahmad Fuad Abaza in connection with the killing of three people in the district of Abu Hamada in the northern Nile delta. Five other deputies are under investigation for exerting influence to obtain loans totalling 379 million Egyptian pounds ($111 million) without proper collateral from two Egyptian banks.
U.S. Shuts Down Embassy in Khartoum:
The United States closed down its embassy in Khartoum on Feb. 7 and will conduct diplomatic affairs with Sudan through an office in Nairobi, according to State Department spokesperson Glyn Davies. State Department officials announced on Jan. 31 that they were recalling the embassy's 25 staff members because of threats resulting from U.S. support of a U.N. resolution condemning Sudan for supporting terrorism and demanding that it hand over three suspects in the failed June 26, 1995 assassination attempt against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Addas Ababa, Ethiopia. The U.S. ambassador to Sudan returned to Washington before leaving for Nairobi where he and his staff will be based indefinitely.
GIA Threatens Algerian Oil Workers:
The Armed Islamic Group (GIA), the most militant and violent faction of Algeria's Islamist opposition, warned on Feb. 14 that it would kill employees of Algeria's national hydrocarbon firm Sonatrach and the distributing company Naftal if they did not stop working immediately. In a bulletin published in the Arabic daily Al Hayat, the GIA said that the two companies are working with "infidels" and association with them, or any companies who do business with them, is grounds for murder. The warnings came after Sonatrach signed a $3 billion deal with British Petroleum and a $900 million deal with French Total and Spanish Repsol groups. GIA members have killed foreign oil workers before and thousands currently work under military protection in oil facilities in the southern Sahara. An estimated 95 percent of Algeria's foreign income comes from oil and natural gas sales.
Chemical Weapons Plant Near Completion:
U.S. and German intelligence officials announced in February that Libya is nearing completion of the world's largest underground chemical weapons facility 40 miles south of Tripoli. The subterranean complex, which covers six square miles under a hollowed-out mountain, is expected to be completed in 1997 or 1998. U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) sources said that the site already stores Libya's estimated 100 tons of chemical weapons and will be able to produce several tons more each day when it becomes operational.
Flood Kills 25:
Flooding in Morocco in January and February killed at least 25 people, destroyed an estimated 7,200 homes and did more than $55 million worth of damage to the country's infrastructure, according to officials from Morocco's Ministry of Interior. Approximately 130,000 hectares of agricultural land also were flooded, killing thousands of livestock.
Kabul Will Pay $15.3 million to Pakistan for Embassy:
Pakistani officials announced on Feb. 1 that the government of Afghanistan agreed to pay $15.3 million in compensation for the destruction of Pakistan's embassy in Kabul last September. One embassy employee was killed and 25 were injured, including Pakistani Ambassador Qazi Humayun, when a mob ransacked the embassy and set it afire on Sept. 6, 1995. Pakistan demanded an unconditional apology from Afghanistan and at least $14 million in damages. Afghanistan expressed its "deep regrets" for the incident when it announced that it would compensate Pakistan, events which a Pakistani foreign office spokesman said marked "an important development in the relations between the two countries."
CIA Labels Subcontinent "Top Security Threat":
CIA Director John Deutch said during a Feb. 22 meeting of the U.S. Senate's Select Intelligence Committee that the potential for a conflict between India and Pakistan "presents the greatest threat to world security." Deutch argued that "since each of these nations possesses nuclear capability every effort must be made to support our U.S. policy makers who are seeking to avoid military confrontation" between the two countries. Relations between India and Pakistan further deteriorated recently when both countries exchanged artillery fire along the disputed border in Kashmir. Deutch added that "We are especially concerned about Pakistani efforts, some in cooperation with China, to acquire additional nuclear technology," a reference to recent allegations that China has sold sensitive nuclear weapons materials to Pakistan illegally.
Two Sudanese Arrested for Egyptian Embassy Bombing:
Federal agents in Islamabad arrested two Sudanese men suspected of helping bomb the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan on Nov. 19 of last year. The two men, Syed Ahmad and Bashir Bahar Qadim, were arrested in January in Faisalabad, 240 kilometers south of Islamabad. The two suspects had been working in the northwest frontier province according to a Pakistani spokesman, who said that "It was luck that they were identified." Also arrested in connection with the attack was Ahmed Khadr, a Canadian citizen of Egyptian origin who has been on a hunger strike protesting his arrest for "aiding and abetting terrorists."
Britain Expels Pakistani Embassy Employee:
Britain ordered an employee of the Pakistani embassy in London expelled on Feb. 12 after accusing him of trying to obtain equipment for Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. Pakistani officials in Islamabad denied that the employee, Saleem Muhammad, was involved in any such activity, saying that locally recruited (non-diplomatic) personnel only perform mundane duties.
Pakistan and Canada Sign $2 billion Worth of Agreements:
Representatives from Canada meeting with Pakistani officials in Islamabad in January signed contracts for 19 public and private sector projects in Pakistan with an estimated worth of $2 billion. The projects include a $500 million mass transit system in Karachi, construction of three power plants, and the recovery of an oil well for Pakistan's state-owned oil and natural gas company. Canadian Prime Minister Jean ChrÅ½tien's meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto marked the first such visit by a Canadian prime minister to Pakistan since 1971. Other agreements between the two countries include a hydroelectric plant, a dehydration plant, telecommunications projects and an oil-powered power plant to be built near Lahore. Bhutto took the opportunity to mention India's missile development and nuclear weapons programs, saying, "We will work with Canada to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in our region." She added that "the regime of non-proliferation must be equitable and non-discriminatory."
New Prime Minister Named:
Dzhamshed Karimov was replaced as Tajikistan's prime minister in February by Yakhyo Azimov, a 49-year-old carpet factory owner from northern Tajikistan. Karimov had been in office since 1994. He offered to step down if it would help stabilize the former Soviet republic, which has an estimated population of 5.7 million people. Also stepping down was Makhmadsayid Ubaidullayev, the former head of the country's internal security and defense ministries. Azimov promised to increase the pace of economic reforms in the desperately poor Central Asian country.
The United States
Lebanon Travel Ban Extended:
The United States extended by six months its 10-year travel ban on Lebanon because of the potential danger posed to American citizens traveling there. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Robert Pelletreau said during a Feb. 27 meeting with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that "Lebanon remains a safe haven for armed, organized groups with a demonstrated history of terrorist attacks against Americans." Opponents of the travel ban, including Peter Tanous, chairman of the American Task Force for Lebanon's legislative council, believe that this will be the last extension of the travel ban. He told the Washington Times that testimony against the ban, which came from U.S. businessmen shut out of Lebanon's lucrative markets and Lebanese American radio personality Casey Kasem, "was the strongest it's ever been and the most convincing."