The Middle East Channel

Syrian offensive on Idlib continues amid diplomatic fervor to end violence

Syrian forces continued a military surge in the northern province of Idlib, killing 45 people and forcing 1,000 refugees to flee to Turkey. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the deaths included five army deserters and 23 people who were found with their hands tied behind their backs. The attacks took place while thousands of Syrians gathered in Damascus, on the year anniversary of the pro-democracy revolt, for a pro-government rally in which supporters of President Bashar al-Assad participated, but which others criticized as "fabricated" and "forced." Syria's opposition has called for mass demonstrations on Friday in efforts to push for international action in Syria, calling the day's protests "the Friday for international military intervention." Meanwhile, United Nations and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan will brief the U.N. Security Council today on last weekend's meetings with Assad. According to Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi, "The door of dialogue is still open. We are still engaged with Syrian authorities over Mr. Annan's proposals." The United Nations is set to send a humanitarian mission to Syrian this weekend that will be led by the Syrian government. The group will focus on the most severely afflicted cities of Homs, Hama, and Deraa. The announcement came after 200 human rights and aid groups called on the U.N. Security Council to unite on a resolution to end violence in Syria, specifically targeting Russia and China who have previously blocked action. Elsewhere, the Syrian government is becoming more isolated as the Gulf States announced the closing of their embassies, citing the "Syrian regime's persistence in killing and tormenting the Syrian people."

Headlines  

  • After stalling assistance over a crackdown on NGOs, the United States plans to resume military aid to Egypt despite a new ruling that funding be tied to the provision of basic freedoms.
  • Thousands of Egyptian Ultras and supporters protested a lack of accountability after 75 people were charged for murder and negligence in the February Port Said soccer riots.
  • Security forces and Shiite Muslims clashed in protests across Bahrain on Thursday's anniversary of a government crackdown on the pro-democracy uprising.
  • According to Yemeni officials, a Swiss teacher has been kidnapped and is being held by al Qaeda militants in Shabwa province in southern Yemen.
  • The al Qaeda affiliate, Islamic State of Iraq, took responsibility for a wave of attacks on March 5 that killed 25 police officers in Haditha. 

Arguments & Analysis

'Vladimir Putin, the Syrians have a long memory' (Murhaf Jouejati, The Daily Star)

"With presidential elections behind him, Putin faces less pressure to demonstrate his bravado to his domestic constituency. The hope is that he will shift gears and join the rest of the international community in bringing relief to the Syrian people. The meeting that Russia's foreign minister held with his Arab counterparts last weekend provided such a forum. Even then, however, the long shadow Moscow has cast over future Russian-Syrian relations is there to stay. Syrians have a long memory: They will not forget easily, or soon, that Russia was a willing accomplice in the murder of innocent Syrian civilians." 

'Israel: The Knesset vs. democracy' (Dimi Reider, New York Review of Books)

"Among pending proposals is a bill, already making its way through the Knesset, that would impose a 45 percent income tax on organizations receiving donations from "foreign state entities" but not state sponsorship. This category includes nearly all Israeli civil and human rights organizations, such as Association for Civil Rights Israel, B'tselem, and Physicians for Human Rights, and the proposed tax would effectively cripple their activities. Another bill, already past first reading, is aimed to increase the penalty for defamation from around $12,000 to $80,000, likely to result in a significant chilling effect on Israel's independent press, perhaps most especially on the growing Israeli blogosphere." 

'Morocco's reforms: power to some other people' (The Economist)

"Yet even as the formal opposition has fizzled, an informal one is rising. In the rural areas, where the poorest half of Morocco's 30m people live, discontent periodically boils over. Curfews, water-cannon and arrests have failed to prevent clashes from engulfing two northern towns. Protests over utility prices are acquiring a secessionist edge. A looming drought will only make matters worse. The fiscal situation is also deteriorating. Until now the economy has weathered Europe's doldrums remarkably well. But the previous government drained foreign reserves into salary and subsidy increases, so there is little left to give. The return of thousands of jobless workers from depressed Europe and lawless Libya has further shrunk the cushion."

--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey

AFP/Getty images

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