Middle East Briefs: Authorities in Bahrain ban all protests after clashes with police

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Bahrain on Tuesday banned all protests and gatherings to ensure “security is maintained” after a spate of clashes between Shiite-led demonstrators and security forces in the Sunni-ruled country.

The Persian Gulf state, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, has been shaken by unrest since its forces in March last year crushed a series of popular protests led by members of its Shiite Muslim majority demanding greater rights and an end to what they said was discrimination against them by the Sunni royal family.

The crackdown, which drew strong criticism from international rights groups, was followed by a three-month state of emergency declared by King Hamad during which protests also were banned.

In a statement carried by the official BNA news agency, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa said the latest ban was aimed at safeguarding “civil peace.”

Sheikh Rashid stressed opposition protests led by the Shiite movement Al-Wefaq had been marred by “acts of sabotage” and that the demonstrators had threatened national security by calling “for the overthrow of the government.”

The Bahraini authorities had rejected an Al-Wefaq request for a rally on Sunday evening at Akar, a village near the capital Manama where a bomb fatally wounded a policeman on Oct. 18.

The opposition movement then organized a demonstration, in agreement with the authorities, and when people took to the streets, they chanted “Down with Hamad” in reference to the Bahraini king.

ISRAEL

Israel slams report on settlement goods

JERUSALEM — Israel on Tuesday reacted angrily to a report by several nongovernmental groups that accused the European Union of implicitly supporting Jewish settlements by doing business with them, even though the settlements are illegal under international law.

The report recommended that governments ensure all settlement products are clearly marked, that they discourage firms from trading with or investing in settlements, and that they work toward an EU-wide ban on imports from settlers.

Titled “Trading Away Peace: How Europe Helps Sustain Illegal Israeli Settlements,” the report was put together by 22 groups that work in the Palestinian territories, including Christian Aid and the International Federation for Human Rights.

“It is a report based on half-truths, on untruths and on unsubstantiated facts with a political agenda which is poorly hidden behind conflicting recommendations,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told Agence France-Presse.

World Bank figures show that the European Union currently imports $300 million worth of settlement goods every year, compared with just $19.4 million of Palestinian goods.

But Mr. Palmor said it is “intellectually dishonest” to directly compare the exports of an “economy like Israel with those of the Palestinians, which are not exactly at the same level. “

The main settlement products exported to Europe are grapes, citrus fruits, herbs and wine, as well as Ahava cosmetics, plastic garden chairs made by Keter, and SodaStream carbonated drink products.

GAZA STRIP

Bahraini prince to visit Gaza on Thursday

GAZA CITY — A Bahraini prince on Thursday will make a rare trip to the Gaza Strip to open two U.N. Relief and Works Agency schools, sources close to the agency and to Gaza’s Hamas government said.

“Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa will come on Thursday to open two schools in Gaza City which have been funded by the Bahrain Royal Charity Organization,” a source close to UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, said Tuesday.

The visit was confirmed by Hamas sources who said the Bahraini prince, who is chairman of the Royal Charity Organization, also would meet with Gazan Prime Minister Ismail Haniya.

Mr. Haniya visited Bahrain earlier this year as part of a regional tour that also took him to Qatar, Kuwait and Iran.

The prince’s trip to Gaza comes a week after a top-level visit by Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani in what was the first visit by a head of state since Hamas seized the territory in 2007, ousting forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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