Arab League likely to extend Syria mission despite criticism
Two senior officials from the Arab League said the group will likely extend its monitoring mission in Syria. The mandate for the month-long mission officially expired on Thursday. The Arab League is expected to decide on an extension when the organization meets with the head of the mission, Sudanese General Mohammed al-Dabi, on Sunday to discuss the observers' report. Human Rights Watch's Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson, said the full report should be made public, saying "Only a transparent assessment of the monitoring mission can determine whether the monitors should stay in the country." The NGO sent an open letter to the Arab Foreign Ministers Council pushing for the Arab League to "address concerns that the monitoring mission is being manipulated by the Syrian authorities" and to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court. Arab League representatives said the group will probably continue the mission because it isn't the right time for "escalation" and the international community is reluctant to intervene. Meanwhile, the head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, is heading a delegation to Cairo to meet with the Arab League to push them to "transfer the file on Syria to the U.N. Security Council with a view to securing a decision to establish a buffer zone and a no-fly zone." The Security Council has been split over a course of action with Russia and China strictly opposing a military intervention. The European Union is set to meet on Monday to discuss increasing sanctions. International sanctions on oil exports are reported to have cost Syria $2 billion since they were imposed in September.
- U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, is scheduled to hold closed talks with Israeli officials focusing on Iran's nuclear program.
- Yemen's government amended a draft law to limit immunity for associates of outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh to "political cases," though the proposal is still being challenged by activists.
- Low-level radioactive material was reported from a controversial site where Egypt plans to construct the country's first nuclear power plant.
- Hamas has called for the end of Israeli-Palestinian talks after Israel's arrest of Abdel Aziz Dweik, a Hamas member and speaker of the inactive Palestinian parliament.
- At least 230 people in the northeastern Iranian city of Neyshabour have been injured by an earthquake, with no deaths reported.
About 1,000 supporters of firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr wave their national colours, along with a Bahraini flag (C-L) during a parade in the holy city of Najaf on January 19, 2012, taking credit for last month's US pullout. The black-clad loyalists gathered in Najaf's Martyrs' Square cemetery to commemorate the memory of their fallen comrades in clashes with the US military, which completed its withdrawal on December 18 (QASSEM ZEIN/AFP/Getty Images).
Arguments & Analysis
'Are we sliding toward war with Iran?' (Kenneth Pollack, The New Republic)
"It's important to try to see the world from Tehran's perspective. What the Iranians see is a concerted, undeclared war being waged against them by a coalition of the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and some European states...They are under cyber attack like the Stuxnet virus. Someone is killing their nuclear scientists in the streets of Tehran and blowing up their missile facilities. The United States and Europeans have ratcheted up their contacts with the Iranian opposition. The Iranians believe that foreign elements are also making contact with dissident groups like the Kurds, the Baluch, and the Arabs in Khuzestan. The United States has ratcheted up its efforts to broadcast into Iran to undermine the regime's control over information. Washington is building up the military capabilities of states in the Gulf Cooperation Council. The Saudis are funding proxies to fight against Iran's proxies from Bahrain to Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen. And the Americans and Europeans are waging economic warfare in the form of increasingly crippling sanctions."
'What a difference a year makes' (Sarah A. Topol, New York Times)
"Almost a year after Mubarak ceded power to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (S.C.A.F.), the revolutionaries now say that the generals, whose intentions had seemed honorable at first, are abusing their position. Meanwhile, the youth are no longer seen as heroes for speaking truth to power. They have been left out in the cold; the revolution has stalled. Egyptians now favor stability over more radical change, leaving Toma and her allies unfortunately lonely in their continued efforts to dismantle this authoritarian state."
'Is Hamas mellowing?' (Nathan Brown, Carnegie Endowment for Int'l Peace)
"While Hamas's destination is still very much uncertain, the motivation of its leaders for embarking on this path is much clearer. They seek to position the movement regionally to be able to take full advantage of the changes in Egypt and the rise of Islamists more generally-as well as to cope with the disintegration of the Syrian regime that has hosted them for so long. Reconciliation also offers the possibility of reemerging in the West Bank where much of the movement has been forced-sometimes quite harshly-into hibernation since 2007."