The Middle East Channel

Russian Foreign Minister arrives in Damascus as attacks continue in Homs

Russian Foreign Minister arrives in Damascus as attacks continue in Homs

Syrian forces have continued the bombardment of Homs, where around 95 people were reportedly killed on Monday. The surge has been concentrated in the Baba Amro district where one activist noted: "There is no electricity and all communication with the neighborhood has been cut." For its part, Syrian state television reported security forces are fighting "terrorists," "tens" of whom were killed in addition to six soldiers. Meanwhile, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Damascus to meet with President Bashar al-Assad to pressure the government to implement democratic reforms. The visit has come after the country joined China in vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at halting Syrian violence that was approved by the council's 13 other members. The United States with western allies including France, Britain, and Germany are looking to alternatives outside of the United Nations, however maintaining they will avoid military intervention. Turkey, which has been highly critical of the Syrian regime, says it will develop a new initiative, and is planning to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the United States on Wednesday. The United States closed its embassy in Syria on Monday and recalled all staff due to increased security concerns.

Headlines  

  • U.S. President Barack Obama signed an order to implement new sanctions passed in December on Iran, targeting its central bank and financial institutions -- and aiming to quell nuclear ambitions.
  • Israel condemned the Hamas and Fatah reconciliation while the U.S. said it is waiting for more details. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said the unity deal must not stop peace talks.
  • Egypt's presidential candidates can start registering in March, one month earlier than expected.
  • Iran's parliament summoned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for questioning over accusations including mismanagement of the economy in the first such summons since 1979.
  • Ministers from Iraq's Sunni-backed Iraqqiya bloc have returned to the cabinet, ending a boycott begun after Prime Minister Maliki issued charges against Vice President Hashemi.

Daily Snapshot

A Syrian pro-government supporter holds up a sign as a convoy carrying Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov heads towards the presidential palace in Damascus on February 7, 2012. Moscow's top diplomat was holding talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after being cheered on his arrival in Damascus by thousands of regime supporters who took to the streets to 'thank' Russia, according to state media, for vetoing along with China a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Assad regime's crackdown on protesters (AFP PHOTO).

Arguments & Analysis

'In Syria, we need to bargain with the devil' (Nicholas Noe, International Herald Tribune)

"For its part, the badly shaken government in Damascus might find this a propitious moment to accept a deal as a way back from the abyss, even if this would most likely mean Mr. Assad's eventual exit in the future. And if Mr. Assad rejects it, such a patently unreasonable move might actually offer the best hope yet of splitting his government and controlling the resulting collapse. Admittedly, the prospects of successfully orchestrating such a deal now are far less promising than they were early last year. But the realization that die-hard elements in Damascus, Beirut and Tehran could unleash great regional destruction should prompt a long overdue discussion about putting forward a credible and comprehensive bargain. Negotiations now, rather than war later, could lead to a far better outcome for all parties -- even if that means Syrians' aspirations for freedom might be met much later than anyone would like."

'Kuwait's troubling election's' (Hussein Ibish, Lebanon NOW)

"The Kuwaiti elections were fascinating, and in a grim way even entertaining. However, they offer little hope for the most vulnerable in the country-the bidoun and also the large numbers of migrant, and especially migrant domestic, workers. Government promises to address the plight of these communities have proven hollow in the past. Nothing in the election results gives any real hope that these urgent moral issues will be seriously addressed in the near future. Kuwaiti society appears more divided than ever, and suspicion, hatred and demagoguery are the order of the day."

'It's time to support the opposition in the Syrian civil war' (Malcolm Rifkind & Shashank Joshi, Financial Times)

"The diplomatic route is now all but exhausted. Having staked so much on a lost cause, Russia will strive to avoid humiliation. On the other side, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are likely to deepen their co-operation with Turkey to bolster the Free Syrian Army and its notional political leadership. Those who oppose this, invoking the troubling experience of international assistance to the anti-Soviet mujahedeen, must ask themselves whether the status quo is any less likely to result in Syria's dangerous disintegration...On each side of Syria there stand two cautionary tales. Lebanon and Iraq, to the west and east respectively, endured civil wars that lasted for years and resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths. Thanks in part to the morally bankrupt policies of Russia and China, there is no guarantee that Syria can avoid this fate. Yet cautiously tightening the screws on Damascus represents our best chance of a tolerable outcome."

The Middle East Channel

Violence in Homs intensifies after blocked resolution on Syria

Violence in Homs intensifies after blocked resolution on Syria

Syrian forces escalated an offensive with fierce shelling on Homs on Monday, killing at least 15 people and allegedly targeting a field hospital in the Baba Amr district. The crackdown, which had severely intensified in Homs between Friday and Saturday, was reported as the deadliest day since the uprisings began last March with over 200 reported dead by activists. Shortly thereafter, the United Nations Security Council brought a resolution on Syria to a vote that was vetoed by Russia and China, on the grounds that it would be picking a side in what could amount to a civil war. President Bashar al-Assad's regime extolled the decision, claiming it will strengthen its pursuit to stomp out the opposition in efforts to "restore what Syrians had enjoyed for decades." International governments that were in support of the resolution were outraged by the veto, fearing Assad will use it as justification for the crackdown, with Human Rights Watch warning Syria not to use the veto "as a green light for even more violence." Russia condemned the reactions as "indecent and bordering on hysteria."

Headlines  

  • Hamas and Fatah agreed to a unity deal with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas set to head the interim government until elections can be held in the West Bank and Gaza.
  • The United States has threatened to suspend $1.3 billion in annual aid after Egypt announced it will try 43 NGO workers, including 19 Americans, on charges of violating foreign funding laws.
  • Egyptian security forces and protesters continue to clash in Cairo, concentrating outside the interior ministry
  • President Obama said the U.S. is working with Israel to prevent Iranian attainment of nuclear weapons; meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu warned his officials to stop "blabbing" about a possible strike.

Daily Snapshot

An Egyptian protester challenges riot policemen outside Cairo's security headquarters on February 6, 2012 during ogoing clashes in the wake of deadly football violence and amid calls by activists for civil disobedience in Egypt (MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images). 

Arguments & Analysis

'Syria is used to the slings and arrows of its friends and enemies' (Robert Fisk, The Independent)

"The battle for survival is a terrible thing and Bashar al-Assad still appears to believe that he can squeeze through his mass of proposed reforms before the disintegration of Syria. No one outside Syria appears to believe he will be successful. But there is one unasked question. Just suppose the regime did survive. Over what kind of Syria would it rule?" 

'Arab Spring economies: unfinished business' (The Economist)

"Many local businessmen hope that new governments can dispel the gloom. Alas, ministers are preoccupied. Egypt, Libya and Tunisia all face fiscal crises. Tackling them is the first order of business for new ministers. Egypt is the worst off. Its foreign-currency reserves have dwindled, from $36 billion to $10 billion in the past year, and an inflation-inducing devaluation is looming. The government is struggling to finance a budget deficit of 10% of GDP. In January the government managed to sell only a third of a planned $580m bond offering, even though it will be paying yields close to 16%." 

'The next fight in Egypt and Tunisia will be among the Islamists' (Jane Kinninmon, Chatham House)

"Ultimately, supporters of democracy in the Arab world should be concerned about any political actors that are intolerant, anti-democratic, violent and sectarian. These worries are neither unique nor specific to Islamist movements. Certainly, recent history provides few promising models of states run by Islamists; the current focus of many Arab Islamists on the so-called "Turkish model" may have less to do with the merits of Turkey itself than with the useful contrast it presents with Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, or Taliban-era Afghanistan. On the other hand, for Islamists, governments like those of Syria, Iraq and Tunisia have earned secularism a bad name. The vague, catch-all term Islamist belies the diversity of movements that seek to draw inspiration, values and legitimacy from Islam. There are enormous differences in thinking both between different Islamist groups, and within them. Crucially, this diversity is likely to increase as a result of the new-found political opening in the Arab world."