Category - MENA

‘Good’ Syrian rebels on run – Saudis ask Putin for help

Syrian refugees - when will war end for them? UNHRC

Syrian refugees – when will war end for them? UNHRC

Will there be any ‘good’ Syrian rebels left to provide credible representation at the January United States – Russia sponsored Geneva II peace conference?

The U.S. favored rebel group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), experienced major setbacks in December.  On the first, the Syrian Arab Army killed a key FSA commander in Daraa Province in southern Syria.  On the eighth,  “the top Western-backed rebel commander in Syria,” General Salim Idris, head of the FSA, fled Syria after an Al Qaeda aligned rebel faction took over FSA weapons warehouses north of Aleppo near the Syria-Turkey border.   On December 15, an Al Qaeda affiliated rebel group killed another FSA regional commander in a town near Aleppo.

General Idris ended up in Doha, Qatar.  The United States is urging him to return to his command in Syria.  Read More

Syria refugees pour into Iraqi Kurdistan in thousands

BBC, August 18

Thousands of refugees from Syria are pouring over the border into Iraqi Kurdistan, the UN refugee agency says.

Up to 10,000 crossed at Peshkhabour on Saturday, bringing the total influx since Thursday to 20,000. The UN says the reasons are not fully clear.

The UN agencies, the Kurdish regional government and NGOs are struggling to cope, correspondents say.

It comes as UN chemical weapons inspectors arrived in Damascus on Sunday on a much-delayed mission.

The team will visit three sites over two weeks, including the northern town of Khan al-Assal which is at the centre of allegations of chemical weapons use.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says this is one of the biggest single waves of refugees it has had to deal with since the uprising against the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.

While the reasons remain unclear, there has been a sharp rise in clashes between Syrian Kurds and anti-government Islamist militants.

The prospects of far greater violence in post-coup Egypt

Muslim Brotherhood and police, Cairo

Muslim Brotherhood and police, Cairo

Army has ousted two president in two years and done so in a manner that has made it fairly popular, at least for a while. The generals are likely to try to restore the old oligarchy with a populist façade and a lot of Saudi money. This popular base is unlikely to last long; not even Riyadh’s money can bring prosperity and employment to the huge number of young people in Egypt – some 50% under twenty-one years of age. Further, its popular base consists of two antithetical groups which are temporarily united in opposing the Muslim Brotherhood: democratic liberals and authoritarian Salafis. The former group may already be rethinking their part in ousting Morsi; it has served to bring the return of the oligarchy and it may lead to protracted violence.
Read More

Diverging Saudi and Israeli strategic interests in post-Morsi Egypt

Egypt’s Army – ready-made for Saudi defense (Wikipedia)

Over the last few years, Saudi Arabia and Israel have been aligned on critical matters. The two powers are engaged in attacking Iran and its nuclear capacity, ousting the Assad government from Syria, and unseating Hizbullah in Lebanon.

So determined are the two countries to stop the Iranian nuclear program that Saudi Arabia would likely allow Israeli F-15s to use its airspace to attack the facilities at Natanz, Fordo, and Parchin.

There have been no public displays of cordiality, of course, and no one has seen anything but a temporary alignment before a return to confrontation, chiefly over the Palestinian question. Each power has sharply different interests in Egypt, which have become more obvious following the recent military coup.
Read More

Some thoughts on the ouster of Mohammed Morsi

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has been ousted from power in Egypt in a military coup. There is an astonishing amount of support for the ouster around the region and around the world as well. Much of Egypt is celebrating. But what will this coup bring in coming months and years?

The provisional government has reached out to the MB, asking them to continue to participate in government. From the MB’s perspective, however, this is likely to be seen as cynical: Yes, you can participate in our democracy, but only on our terms. Meanwhile, reports indicate that many MB leaders are being rounded up.

Having been ousted, in part, by mass demonstrations, the MB will demonstrate its own capacity to put people on the street. The MB still enjoys a large percentage of the population and at present has the most extensive organization in the country. The MB will make this clear in coming weeks.

Read More

Russia turns its attention to Syria – and the rest of the Middle East as well

Shortly after Vladimir Putin and Secretary of State John Kerry agreed to seek a negotiated settlement to the Syrian civil war, the Russian president bolstered his support for the embattled Assad government. He announced an impending transfer of anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles to the Syrian military. It was a bold move that signals Putin’s intent to restore his country’s influence in the world, which, to the former KGB officer, had been gravely damaged by the fall of communism in 1991. The move also demonstrates considerable strategic vision.
Read More

Israeli warplanes fly over Lebanon

Guardian, By Harriet Sherwood

Israeli warplanes flew over Lebanon again on Friday, two days after air strikes targeted a convoy of arms or a weapons research base inside Syrian territory.

Andrea Tenenti, a spokesman for the UN forces in Lebanon, Unifil, confirmed that Israeli forces had continued to violate Lebanese airspace, but said this was routine. “On Tuesday [ahead of the air strikes] there were a high number of violations, but since then it has not been unusual,” he told the Guardian.

Under UN security council resolution 1701, passed following the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, Israeli planes are forbidden from flying over Lebanon.

Israel has maintained silence over Wednesday’s bombing, despite a statement from the Syrian regime that a “scientific research centre” between Damascus and the Lebanese border had been hit. Reports described the centre as a large military complex with training and communications facilities. Western diplomatic and security sources said Israel’s target was a convoy of trucks carrying Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles from Syria to the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon.

Concern about possible retaliatory action was fuelled by comments made by an Iranian legislator. “Damascus retaliation against the illegal move of the Zionist regime is a right of the Syrian people,” said Mohammad Hassan Asafari. If the Syrian regime failed to deliver a “proper response”, Israel would not hesitate to carry out further attacks, he added.

The Israeli foreign ministry declined to comment on reports that its embassies and missions worldwide had been placed on a heightened security alert, and the Israeli Defence Forces declined to say whether leave had been cancelled for troops based in northern Israel and the Golan Heights.

Many Israeli analysts thought that the chances of immediate retaliation were low, with some suggesting that any response was more likely to be targeted at Israeli assets or citizens abroad rather than rocket attacks or other military action aimed at Israel itself.

More at the link

Mass protests planned in Egypt after deadly week

NBC News (via Reuters), By Tom Perry and Yusri Mohamed

Opponents of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi planned mass demonstrations on Friday, raising the prospect of more bloodshed despite a pledge by politicians to back off after the deadliest week of his seven months in office.

Protests marking the second anniversary of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak have killed nearly 60 people since January 25, prompting the head of the army to warn this week that the state was on the verge of collapse.

The country’s most influential Islamic scholar hauled in rival political leaders for crisis talks on Thursday and persuaded them to sign up to a charter disavowing violence and committing to dialogue as the only way to end the crisis.

But barely had those talks at a medieval university ended, when Morsi’s foes called for new nationwide protests, including a march on the presidential palace in Cairo, which his followers see as a provocative assault on a symbol of his legitimacy.

More at the link

Sunni Iraq And Syria

map - syria iraq

Patrick Markey has a Reuters Analysis piece today that deals with something I’ve alluded to in the past – that Iraq is headed for another eruptive episode in its ongoing civil war and it is a tossup whether the ignition point will be Kurds vs Baghdad, Kurds vs Sunnis or Sunnis vs Baghdad/Shiites. Markey has a detailed look at the latter as protests, bombings and armed confrontations build on a sense of marginalization, with Iraqi leader Nour al-Maliki using de-Baathification laws, accusations against Sunni leaders and Shiite fear to boldter his rule.

Already protests are becoming volatile. Iraqi troops shot five people in clashes in Falluja on Friday, illustrating the room for miscalculation with sectarian hardliners and Islamist insurgents trying to steer unrest into crisis.

ust outside Ramadi, Sunni men sleep in tents and pray along a blockaded highway, wrapping themselves in old three-star Iraqi national flags, chanting slogans and waving migwars, the wooden mace that Iraqis used to fight the British in the 1920s.

Defiant banners hung on tents call out: “No to Maliki’s Justice” and “I will not leave until I get dignity”.

In fiery speeches from clerics and tribal leaders, talk of reforms mixes with calls to topple the Shi’ite-led government and the more radical demand to split away an autonomous Sunni region in Anbar province along Iraq’s western flank.

“This is just the culmination of years of injustice against us,” said Munim al-Mindeel, a farmer sitting outside a tent decorated with anti-government banners. “Of course this was bound to happen. All pressure brings explosions in the end.”

… The Iraqi Islamic Party, part of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been a prime mover in a drive to create a Sunni entity along the border with Syria, by force if needed, senior Sunni sources say.

…Al Qaeda’s local wing, Islamic State of Iraq, is also regrouping in the deserts of Anbar, and sending some fighters to join Syria’s rebels, Iraqi security officials acknowledge.

While moderates called for calm after Friday’s deadly clashes, in Falluja, small groups of protesters waved the black jihadist banner of al Qaeda. The group had claimed a suicide bombing that killed a top Falluja lawmaker days earlier.

Then there’s the civil war just across the border in Syria.

After any Syrian collapse, Iraqi Shi’ite officials see Islamist fighters turning their weapons back on Baghdad. Their worst case scenario is a Sunni population in revolt against Baghdad and becoming a magnet for jihadists.

“Everyone is asking where are we heading, no one knows,” said one influential Shi’ite leader. “Our biggest fear is that the regime in Syria collapses, then an Iraqi Sunni region will be announced next day, and fighting will erupt.”

The most effective rebel force in Syria is the Al-Nusra Front, designated a terror group by the U.S. and strongly affiliated with Al Qaeda. One of the reasons the Front is so effective is that it had a cadre of fighters who’d learned their craft in Iraq. This has been a chapter from the book of unintended consequences – another chapter being Mali.

Middle East News Thread

(Check comments in Middle East News Thread daily for updates)


Gunfire Scatters Mourners at Egypt’s Port Said Funerals

Thousands of mourners marched on Sunday in the Egyptian canal city of Port Said at the funeral of people killed in clashes triggered by death sentences on supporters of a local football team.

Bodies wrapped in white shrouds were carried in open coffins by a sea of mourners along the city’s main avenue.

A brief burst of gunfire sent mourners running in several directions amid chaotic scenes before calm was restored.

“Our city is being hit by the interior ministry!” and “Down with Brotherhood rule!” chanted the crowd.

On Saturday, 31 people were killed in the canal city in clashes with police after a Cairo court handed down death sentences on 21 supporters of Port Said’s Al-Masry football club

Egypt’s Port Said bleeds, but for what reason?

Egyptian youths, police clash in fourth day of violence

No end to violent protests in Egypt

Update: Security forces fire tear gas into Tahrir

Brotherhood leader urges for emergency powers amid Egypt-wide clashes

Health Ministry: 40 killed, 1,139 injured in nationwide violence

Brotherhood youth say tight structure is the key to its success

Syria Rebels, Troops Clash Near Damascus Train Station

Syrian Observatory: Death Toll more than 50,000

Minister: Syria to Ease Return of Opposition for Dialogue

UN humanitarian chief in Syria for talks

Another Russian volte-face: Assad made grave error over reforms

Israel vows Syria strike at any sign of chemical arms transfer

As Syria totters, Israel places Iron Dome near Haifa

Israel denies West Bank deal for refugees fleeing Syria

Israeli forces detain 4 in West Bank

Clashes break out at new protest village in Jenin

Minister: Prisoners threaten mass hunger strike action

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — The Palestinian Authority Minister of Prisoner Affairs warned Saturday that detainees in Israeli jails may launch mass hunger strike action if their conditions do not improve.

Racism Row Brews in Israeli Football

Israel leader seeks wide coalition to face threats

Netanyahu links Holocaust lessons to Iranian threat

Tzipi Livni: Qatar Funded Netanyahu Campaign

Abbas: New Israeli government, same talking points

Qatari fuel for Gaza halted due to Egypt unrest

Reconciliation committees hold remote meeting

Palestinians adopt state symbols as they wrestle with budgetary blues

Gaza university introduces dress code for women

Iranian workers demand South Korea ‘return’ funds

Tunisia government reshuffle talks come to nothing

Top UN team in Yemen to push national reconciliation

UAE to try 94 over plot to seize power – agency

NATO sets up defense system in Turkey


Middle East News –  Experts: Arab Spring is ‘Qaeda Spring’

Al Arabiya – Is that the Egypt we dreamt of?

Asharq Alawsat – Fears grow that Libiya is incubator of turmoil

Al Jazeera – The perils of identity politics in Tunisia

(Image: Naharnet)