Morning Report: December 16, 2004

Debka: Bush, Sharon compromise on settlements. According to the latest Debka bulletin: 'Bush administration has quietly dropped its demand for removal of dozens of illegal West Bank outposts, asked EU and Abbas for silence on issue. Sharon’s argument has been accepted that his government cannot tackle both outpost removals and pullout from Gaza Strip and northern West Bank at the same time - for lack of manpower resources and popular backing.' (Debka)

New bin Laden audio tape appears. CNN reports that 'A new audiotape purportedly from Osama bin Laden and referencing the December 6 attack on the American consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, appeared on Arabic Web sites Thursday. The voice on the tape says instability in Saudi Arabia is due to the regime there and not the action of the jihadis. "While the struggle in Saudi Arabia appears to be internal, it is part of the struggle between believers and non-believers" of Islam, the speaker said.' The CNN article links the tapes to the recent terror attack on the US Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: 'A Saudi militant group with ties to al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the December 6 attack in Jeddah, posting its claim on several Islamist Web sites often used by militants. Five consular employees -- four local staff members and a contract guard -- were killed. Four other local staff members were wounded. Saudi forces killed three of the gunmen and captured two others, both of whom were wounded, the Saudi Interior Ministry said. One of gunmen later died.' A breaking report from Fox announces: 'The CIA has "high confidence" that the voice on a new audiotape praising anti-U.S. attacks belongs to terror mastermind Usama bin Laden'. The MSNBC report adds: 'Also Thursday on the same Web site, an audiotape surfaced that was purportedly a recording of the sounds of the consulate attack transmitted via the attackers’ mobile phones. Sirens, machine gun fire and shouts of "God is Great!” can be heard. At the end, a man recites Quranic verses and then says: “Humiliation for America the infidel and its allies!”' (various)

Saudi police thwart protest. A scheduled protest by the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia was blocked on Thursday by police in riot gear, according to news reports. The CBC says that 'Calls from an exiled dissident for demonstrations against the Saudi royal family were met with an overwhelming police presence Thursday, with protesters being chased through the streets of the port city of Jidda and others arrested in the Saudi capital. There were reports of scores of arrests in Jidda and Riyadh but officials refused to confirm or deny those reports, saying a statement would be released soon. London-based dissident Saad al-Fagih, head of the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia, had called via his TV and radio stations and on his website for simultaneous anti-monarchy protests in Riyadh and the eastern seaport of Jidda. Al-Fagih could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday. ' (CBC, Arab.de)