Syria on Sunday rejected Turkey’s allegations that it was behind two car bombs that killed 46 people in Turkey and wounded dozens more.
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi told a news conference that “No one has the right to make false accusations.” He said that “this is not the behavior of the Syrian government, AP reported.
Zoubi’s comments were the first official Syrian response since Saturday’s bombings in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli, near Syria.
The Syrian minister alleged that Turkey is responsible “for all that happened in Syria and what happened in Turkey yesterday,” but did not explain.
He also launched one of the harshest personal attacks on Turkey’s prime minister by an Syrian official so far, demanding that Recep Tayyip Erdogan “step down as a killer and as a butcher.”
Also on Sunday, Syrian foreign-backed militants released four Filipino UN peacekeepers they abducted last week, a military spokesman in the Philippines said.
The four, seized on Tuesday, were apparently unharmed, but will undergo a medical checkup and stress debriefing, said Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan.
The peacekeepers are part of a UN contingent that patrols a buffer zone between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, a plateau Israel captured from Syria in 1967.
It was the second abduction of Filipino peacekeepers since March, when 21 were held for three days by Syrian terrorists fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The Philippine foreign secretary has said he would recommend withdrawing Filipinos from the peacekeeping contingent in Syria, but the final decision is up to the country’s president.
Nearly 1,000 UN peacekeepers are patrolling the Golan Heights. Other major contributors are India and Austria. Croatia has recently withdrawn its contingent.
The buffer zone between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan had been largely quiet for four decades, but tensions have risen there since the outbreak of the revolt against Assad more than two years ago.
In the latest violence in the capital, Damascus, six mortar shells struck a neighborhood causing damage and casualties, a Syrian official said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to brief reporters.
The mortars hit the predominantly Alawite district of Mazzeh 86 during morning rush hour, he said. Sunday is the first day of the work week in Syria.
9 Suspects Detained Over Turkish Bombings
Authorities detained nine Turkish citizens believed to have links to the Syrian intelligence agency in connection with two car bombs that left 46 people dead in a Turkish border town, officials said on Sunday, as Syria rejected allegations the country was behind the attack.
The bombings marked the biggest incident of cross-border violence since the start of Syria’s bloody civil war and have raised fear of Turkey being pulled deeper into the conflict. Harsh accusations from both sides signaled a sharp escalation of already high tensions between the two former allies, AP reported.
“This incident was carried out by an organization which is in close contact to pro-regime groups in Syria and I say this very clearly, with the Syrian mukhabarat,” said Turkey’s Interior Minister Muammer Guler.
Among the nine people detained overnight was the mastermind of the attack and more were expected, Guler said.
“We have determined that some of them were involved in the planning, in the exploration and in the hiding of the vehicles,” he said.
Saturday’s twin bombings fifteen minutes apart in the Turkish town of Reyhanli, a hub for Syrian refugees and rebels close to Syria, also wounded dozens of people, including 50 who remained hospitalized Sunday.
Guler said authorities had so far identified 35 people who died in the attack and three of them were Syrians.
Turkish authorities determined that the nine were involved through their “testimonies and confessions,” according to Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay. He did not elaborate.
Earlier Sunday in Damascus, Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi rejected Turkey’s charges that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime was behind the bombs.
“Syria didn’t and will never undertake such acts because our values don’t allow us to do this,” al-Zoubi told a news conference.
He accused Turkey of destabilizing the border areas between the two countries.
“The Turkish government had turned the border areas into centers of international terrorism, as it is still facilitating the arrival of arms and explosives, improvised explosive devices, cars, money and murderers to Syria,” he said.
Turkey has firmly sided with the Syrian opposition since the uprising against Assad’s regime erupted in March 2011, hosting its leaders along with rebel commanders and providing refuge to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.
Call for Resign
On Saturday, Turkish protesters called for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to step down following two car bombings in a town near the Syrian border.
Scores of people took to the streets of the town of Reyhanli in Hatay province on after more than 40 people were killed in two car bombings that jolted the town earlier in the day.
The angry demonstrators said the outbreak of violence was due to the Erdogan administration’s anti-Syria policy.
Security was tight in the center of Reyhanli, near the scene of the blasts, with the security forces setting up checkpoints to control entry into and exit from the town, witnesses said.
A similar demonstration was briefly held in Ankara, in which dozens of people marched in the street and chanted slogans criticizing Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
Turkey has been one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s harshest critics and has supported the foreign-backed militants fighting to topple his government.
Turkish opposition parties have censured the Turkish government for its intervention in Syria’s internal affairs.
Last July, the leader of the Republican People’s Party warned the government against dragging the country into the “Middle Eastern quagmire” with its aggressive anti-Syria stance.
Mubarak Talks To Media
In his first comments to the media by since he was detained more than two years ago, Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak said he is dismayed at the country’s state of affairs and particularly the plight of the poor.
The 85-year old Mubarak spoke to Al-Watan newspaper after a session of his retrial for his role in the killing of hundreds of protesters during the popular uprising that forced him to step down in 2011. His comments were published on Sunday, a day after he appeared in the dock on a hospital gurney, alongside his two sons. The trial was adjourned for June 8, AP reported.
Mubarak told the newspaper reporter he was “very, very sad” for impoverished Egyptians. He said he was also dismayed by the state of the economy, the industrial cities built during his nearly 30 years in office, and the country’s lack of security.
Mubarak also said that it was too early to judge his elected successor, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi, saying that he has a heavy burden to deal with.
The comments were Mubarak’s first to a reporter since he was ousted, and his first public statements since his captivity.
Mubarak was detained two years ago and put on trial for complicity in the killing of nearly 900 protesters in the first days of the revolt against him. He has since been hospitalized, sentenced to life in prison and then granted a retrial. He is also accused in a number of corruption cases, where prosecutors are investigating his family wealth amid claims he amassed a formidable fortune while in power. His two sons are also on trial on corruption charges.
In his comments, Mubarak also said he feared for the country’s future and its poor should tough economic measures be imposed in order to acquire a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. Egypt’s economy took a hard hit over the last two years as foreign reserves dwindled, foreign investment sharply declined and tourists largely stayed away amid political turmoil.
Human Rights Watch Seeking Fair Trial for Saudi Cleric
Human Rights Watch has called on Saudi Arabia to hold a fair trial for a prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who is an outspoken critic of the Al Saud regime.
The rights organization issued a statement on Saturday calling on Saudi authorities to provide Sheikh Nimr with “immediate access to adequate medical care for gunshot wounds received during his arrest 10 months ago,” Press TV reported.
The rights group also said the Saudi regime should “conduct an immediate bail review (for Sheikh Nimr), as international law requires.”
Sheikh Nimr was attacked, injured and arrested by Saudi security forces en route to his house in the Qatif region of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province on July 8, 2012.
The arrest sparked protests in the oil-rich province. The cleric appeared before court on March 26 for the first time since his arrest. Saudi prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Sheikh Nimr.
Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said on Saturday, “As a court debates whether to kill Nimr al-Nimr and string his corpse to a pole, he is suffering from the gunshot wounds he sustained when security forces arrested him.”
Israeli Regime Downs Own Drone
The Israeli regime has shot down one of its Shoval-type drones over the Mediterranean Sea due to an engine malfunction.
Israeli Ynet news reported that the Shoval-type drone “engaged in routine activity was shot down over the sea due to an engine malfunction on Saturday,” Press TV reported.
The report added that Israeli helicopters have flown over the waters between Tel Aviv and Netanya to find the remains of the unmanned aerial vehicle.
The Tel Aviv regime decided to ground all Shoval drones, one of the largest and most advanced Israeli drones, to launch an “investigation to discover out the reason for the malfunction,” the report stated.
Last year, an Eitan-type drone crashed near Moshav Yesodot in central part of the occupied Palestinian territories as a result of both a human error and a technical malfunction.
Israel has reportedly set up a new office in an unidentified country in the Persian Gulf region following the closure of its missions in Arab states over the past years.
According to Israeli Foreign Ministry’s economic plan for 2013-2014, Tel Aviv has set up 11 new diplomatic missions in different countries since 2010 including an office in a Persian Gulf state, the website of Ha’aretz reported.
Israel’s diplomatic mission in Oman was closed after the Second Intifada in 2000 and Qatar shut down Tel Aviv’s office, which had been opened in 1996, after Israel carried out the Molten Lead operation against the besieged Gaza Strip in 2009.
US-Led Persian Gulf Drill In Phase 2
Navies from over 40 countries led by the US have come together in Bahrain for the second phase of a major military exercise in the Persian Gulf.
The United States and its allies began the first phase of the joint military exercise, the so-called International Mine Countermeasures Exercise, in the Persian Gulf on May 6. The second phase of the drill will kick off on May 13 and will last for two weeks, Press TV reported.
The drill is hosted by the US Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain and includes oil spill response, shipping escort and protecting offshore terminals, in addition to minesweeping and flying drones.
The US naval command in Bahrain said in a statement that the maneuver “is the largest exercise of its kind in the region and will exercise a wide spectrum of defensive operations designed to protect international commerce and trade; mine countermeasures, maritime security operations and maritime infrastructure protection.”
The three-phase drill includes 35 ships, 18 Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) and more than 100 explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) divers, according to the US Navy.
On May 7, Iran’s former Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast warned the US and other foreign forces conducting the military exercise in the Persian Gulf that “any move in the area will be monitored by Iran’s defense forces.”
Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari has also stated that arrogant countries have endangered regional security by conducting various maneuvers in the Persian Gulf.
The naval maneuver is the second US-led military exercise in the region in less than a year.
Over two thousand of protesters rallied in the Israeli capital of Tel Aviv on Saturday night over the proposed tax hikes and benefit cuts, said Israeli Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.