Syria, Egypt, Turkey and Israel Latest Developments
War Is Marching to Damascus - Patrick Cockburn (Independent-UK)
Damascus feels like a city expecting the worst to happen and seeing no way to avoid it.
Christians are fearful and are all too aware of what happened to their co-religionists in Iraq after 2003.
The present Syrian government may be trying to stir up sectarian strife in order to ensure that the minorities - Alawite, Christian, Druze and Kurd - remain on its side. But it did not invent these communal differences.
One diplomat long resident in Damascus said the YouTube pictures posted by the opposition are "deceptive." "When they show anti-government demonstrations, the activists always edit out the bit where the crowd shouts 'death to the Alawites!'"
Weapons from Saudi Arabia are now reported to be reaching the insurgents.
Iraqi officials say that al-Qaeda fighters in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, notorious for massacring Shia villagers and travelers, have headed back to Syria.
Turkish Pianist Charged with Insulting Muslim Values (Reuters-Chicago Tribune)
Fazil Say, an internationally acclaimed Turkish classical pianist, is to stand trial on charges of insulting Muslim religious values in comments posted on Twitter, an Istanbul court ruled on Friday.
The pianist had quoted a well-known poem by the 11th century Persian poet Omar Khayyam that ridiculed the hypocrisy of people who pretend to be pious.
The case shows how the tide has turned in Turkey since Prime Minister Erdogan was imprisoned in 1998 for reciting a poem that a court ruled was an incitement to religious hatred.
Erdogan, who served six months in jail, read a poem with the verse: " The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers."
- U.S. May "Ratchet Up the Pressure" on Iran - Dan Williams
The U.S. is conferring with Israel about new sanctions planned against Iran should international negotiations this month fail to curb its nuclear program. "If we don't get a breakthrough in Moscow there is no question we will continue to ratchet up the pressure," David Cohen, U.S. Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, told Ha'aretz on Monday during a visit to Israel.
"We have today and over the past years had very close cooperation with the Israeli government across a range of our sanctions programs," he said. "They are creative. They are supportive and we will continue to consult with the Israelis." (Reuters)
- Egypt's Hosni Mubarak Gets Life Sentence - Jeffrey Fleishman and Amro Hassan
Toppled President Hosni Mubarak was given a life sentence Saturday for complicity in the deaths of hundreds of protesters. Yet his generals are still in charge and one of his loyalists may become the next president. Six top police officials were acquitted of murder charges, and Mubarak and his two sons were found not guilty of financial corruption charges.
Presiding Judge Ahmed Refaat said the prosecution's confusing evidence failed to prove that Mubarak ordered the killings, but the judge blamed him for not stopping the bloodshed. He ordered Mubarak and former Interior Minister Habib Adli to prison for the remainder of their lives for the killings of demonstrators from Jan. 25 to Feb. 11, 2011. Mubarak listened stone-faced behind dark sunglasses. (Los Angeles Times)
See also Mubarak Will Face Retrial If Muslim Brotherhood Is Elected - Daniel Siryoti
Following Mubarak's sentencing to life in prison on Saturday, tens of thousands of Egyptians flooded into Tahrir Square in Cairo demanding Mubarak's execution. Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohammed Morsi told the Egyptian media, "This criminal deserves the death penalty.... With Allah's help, when we will be in power, we will replace the prosecutor and the judges and conduct a retrial to achieve a more appropriate sentence for Mubarak and his fellow criminals." (Israel Hayom)
- Syrian-Linked Clashes in Lebanon Kill 15 - Nazih Siddiq
Lebanese troops deployed in the city of Tripoli on Sunday after 15 people were killed in clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, local medics said. The mainly Sunni Muslim protests against Assad have polarized Tripoli, where a small community of Alawites have frequently clashed with majority Sunni Muslims who support the uprising. (Reuters)
- Elected Officials Join NYC's Israel Parade - Karen Matthews
Thousands of Israel boosters waved blue and white flags as they marched up Fifth Avenue on Sunday for the annual Celebrate Israel parade. Elected officials included New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and Sen. Charles Schumer. Formerly called the Salute to Israel Parade, the event celebrates the birth of the Jewish state in 1948. It draws students from yeshivas and Jewish day schools around the northeast as well as members of Jewish groups and synagogues. (AP)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
- Israel Air Force Strikes Back at Five Terror Targets in Gaza
The IAF carried out a number of airstrikes Saturday night against three weapons production sites and two tunnels used by terrorists in Gaza. The airstrikes appeared to be in retaliation for the shooting of St.-Sgt. Netanel Moshiashvili on Friday by a Palestinian gunman who had infiltrated Israel from Gaza. A week earlier, a Palestinian sniper in the same area shot and wounded two IDF soldiers. (Jerusalem Post)
- Where Did the PA's Money Go? - Barry Rubin
A reader asks: "Can you please explain to me why 20 years after Oslo and billions in dollars in foreign aid, the Palestinian Authority still has not built modern hospitals?" Good question. Short answer: Swiss bank accounts. In other words, a huge amount of the money has been stolen. The personal wealth of PA "president" Mahmoud Abbas is estimated at $100 million. Add onto that millions of dollars for a large number of PA and Fatah senior officials and you get the idea.
PA leaders have received more aid money per person than anyone else in history and yet the results have been remarkably unimpressive. The leaders have looted the money and used it as political pay-offs to buy patronage, paying off the huge security forces that guard the PA and provide jobs for its supporters and benefits for political supporters. Luxury apartments are going up but not hospitals, schools and infrastructure improvements.
Giving money to the PA supposedly supports the cause of peace, even though the PA isn't negotiating for peace. At least the funding keeps things relatively quiet. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- I Saw Massacre of Children, Says Defecting Syrian Air Force Officer - Martin Chulov
Major Jihad Raslan, a Syrian military officer, has described how he defected to opposition forces after witnessing hundreds of pro-regime militiamen carry out the massacre of more than 100 civilians, among them 49 children and at least 20 women, in the town of Houla one week ago. He had been in Houla on leave when the town was shelled, then invaded by a civilian militia known as the Shabiha, in the worst single atrocity of the Syrian uprising.
Raslan said he was in his house when several hundred men whom he knew to be Shabiha members rode into town in cars, army trucks and on motorbikes. "It was very obvious who they were....I saw what they did with my own eyes." "Those victims who were slaughtered are people that I knew well," Raslan said. "These children I knew well, personally. I ate with their families....It was a brutal act by the regime against people who were with the revolution."
He said defections had increased sharply in the days following the massacre and he claimed to know of five defectors who were shot dead. (Observer-UK)
See also The Shabiha: Inside Assad's Death Squads - Harriet Alexander, and Ruth Sherlock
Dr. Mousab Azzawi described members of the Shabiha militia he treated in his clinic in Latakia: "They were like monsters. They had huge muscles, big bellies, big beards. They were all very tall and frightening, and took steroids to pump up their bodies." "I had to talk to them like children, because the Shabiha likes people with low intelligence. But that is what makes them so terrifying - the combination of brute strength and blind allegiance to the regime."
"Even before the revolution, any time there was unrest they would go out into the streets and stop it for the government," said Selma, an Alawite, to which almost all of the Shabiha belong. "They would just break people's arms and legs." Initially the Shabiha were a mafia clan, making money through racketeering. The ruling Assad family turned a blind eye to their criminal behavior and violent methods. In return, the Shabiha became the Assads' enforcers. (Telegraph-UK)
- Glorifying Terror - Editorial
Delegitimizing terrorism is a prerequisite for coexistence - a symbolic prelude to actually fighting terrorism, the barest minimum we rightfully expect of peace partners. Israel delivered 91 corpses of Arab terrorists to the Palestinian Authority last week as part of a "confidence-building" measure. The PA held a "national rally" in Ramallah's Mukata presidential compound to pay tribute to the "martyred heroes," another example of the PA's lurid adulation of those who set out to inflict as many casualties on Jews as they could.
The eerie propaganda spectacle mounted by the PA over the killers' corpses raises many troubling questions. Why is Israel always the one obliged to make "goodwill gestures?" Why does Abbas need to be bribed to negotiate? Most of a ll, why does the PA celebrate and glorify those whose crimes constitute the absolute antithesis to peace? (Jerusalem Post)
See also Israel Returns 91 Palestinian Bodies; Military Ceremony Held - Kevin Flower and Kareem Khadder
The remains of 79 Palestinians were delivered to Ramallah in the West Bank, where PA President Mahmoud Abbas presided over an official military ceremony. The The remaining 12 bodies went to Gaza. The caskets, wrapped with the Palestinian flag, were carried by the Palestinian presidential guard; 21-gun salutes were fired. Abbas laid a wreath on the caskets, and a formal prayer was given by the former mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein. The ceremony was broadcast on Palestinian television. (CNN)
See also No Peace Until Palestinians Stop Glorification of Terror - Arsen Ostrovsky (Huffington Post)
The Real "Spring" Is Not Arab - Emanuele Ottolenghi (Times of Israel)
- The most remarkable and potentially disruptive development of 18 months of uprisings is the return of ethnic, tribal and religious identities to the political stage as a challenge to the notion of a uniform Arab world.
- The truth is that the Arab world is an artificial concoction, the child of European colonialism and Arab nationalism. When, after World War I, France and Great Britain carved out the Ottoman Empire into protectorates, they largely ignored the principle of peoples' self-determination.
- Once in power, Arab nationalists disregarded the rights of non-Arab minorities. They discriminated, persecuted, and often expelled minorities. Those who remained often suffered forceful Arabization.
- Many of the European revolutions associated with the word "spring" were about national self-determination - national uprisings against multi-ethnic empires that, through authoritarian rule, trampled both individual rights and national identities.
- With the fall of Arab tyrannical rule, something similar is now happening in the Arab regional order.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.