The Middle East Channel

French shooting suspect jumps to his death

Mohammed Merah, the 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian origin suspected of killing three paratroopers and three Jewish students and a rabbi, died on Thursday in Toulouse, France. According to French Interior Minister Claude Gueant, Merah jumped from a balcony firing "with extreme violence" as security forces stormed the apartment in which he had barricaded himself for over 30 hours, surrounded by 300 policemen. After negotiations on Wednesday the suspect had said he would turn himself in, but had gone back on the pledge and cut off communication. However, during the conversations, he confessed to the killings, saying they were to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children, as well as to protest France's role in the war in Afghanistan and last year's banning of Muslim women wearing face veils. He said he was a member of al Qaeda and was trained in the Waziristan region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins, Merah shot and wounded two police officers during the raid before coming to his death. 

Syria

On Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a statement supporting the U.N. and Arab League envoy and former Secretary General Kofi Annan's peace plan on Syria. Russia and China, who have blocked resolutions in the past, agreed to this non-binding statement, which lacks the authority of a Security Council resolution. The statement expressed the council's "full support" for Annan's peace efforts and appealed to the Syrian regime and opposition "to work in good faith with the envoy towards a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis." Despite the U.N. pressure to end violence, fighting across Syria continues. The Syrian opposition claimed heavy shelling and tanks in the Arbaeen neighborhood of the city of Hama, where dozens of people were reportedly killed by Syrian army attacks in the past two days. Clashes also continue in the Damascus suburbs of Harasta and Irbin, where regime helicopters and artillery fired on defectors who had previously incited an attack. The United Nations believes that more than 8,000 people have died in the year-long uprising in Syria.

Headlines

  • Bahrain's justice minister said the trials of 20 health workers who treated injured protesters during last year's uprisings will proceed.
  • Violent clashes continued for a second day between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants on the southeast border with Iraq, resulting in the deaths of seven Kurds.
  • Three Filipino sailors were kidnapped in Yemen by Islamist militants wishing for the exchange of one of their tribe's prisoners.

Arguments & Analysis

'Assad family values' (Patrick Seale, Open Democracy)

"The regime's victory at Homs has opened a new phase in the crisis, in which negotiations, presided over by Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general, might now be given a chance. Annan has been mandated by both the Arab League and the United Nations to bring about a ceasefire and create the conditions for a dialogue between the regime and its opponents. He has condemned the arming of the opposition and declared that his immediate goal is to stop the killing. Although the regime's onslaught continues and armed rebels refuse to put down their guns, there is yet a slim chance that Annan may succeed. In both camps there are men who now realize that there can be no military solution to the crisis -- either in Syria or in Iran."

'Turkey vs. Iran' (Mustafa Aykol, Foreign Affairs)

"The clash between Turkey and Iran has been more than just rhetorical. Tehran has been Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's biggest supporter, whereas Ankara has come to condemn the regime's "barbarism" and put its weight behind the opposition, hosting the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army, the rebel government and army in exile. In Iraq, Iran is a patron of the Shias; Turkey is, at least in the eyes of many in the Middle East, the political and economic benefactor of the Sunnis and the Kurds. And the two countries have had tensions over the missile shield that NATO deployed in Turkey in September 2011. The Turkish government insists that the missile shield was not developed as a protection against Iran. Nevertheless, in December, an Iranian political official warned that his country would attack Turkey if the United States or Israel attacked Iran." 

'Saudi Arabia and Syria: logic of dictators' (Madawi al-Rasheed, Open Democracy)

"The Syrian uprising is therefore an opportunity for the Saudis to kill two birds with one stone. The more the Saudi Sunni majority feel agitated by delayed reforms, economic problems, and increasing repression and arrests, the more the Saudi government wants to absorb these challenges through aggressive regional politics against an external "Shi'a Safavid enemy" and its local Arab allies. The underreported Shi'a revolt in Qatif, in the oil-rich eastern province, started in March 2011 and continues to pose a serious challenge. The regime attributes Shi'a agitations to Iranian support. The battle between security forces and local Qatif Shi'a has at the time of writing led to seven deaths and hundreds of arrests. From a Suadi regime perspective, getting rid of Bashar al-Assad can only erode Iranian influence both in the Arab Mediterranean region and in the Gulf itself."

--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey

AFP/Getty images

The Middle East Channel

French police have surrounded the suspect in Jewish school shooting

French authorities have corned the suspected gunman in Monday's killing of three children and a rabbi outside a Jewish school in Toulouse, France. The police identified the suspect as Mohammed Merah, a 24-year-old Muslim citizen of France of Algeria descent. About 300 police officers have cordoned off an apartment building where they traced Merah. The suspect has been participating in negotiations with the police and said he will turn himself in this afternoon. He told negotiators that he belonged to al Qaeda and that the attack was conducted in retaliation for the killing of Palestinian children and French military intervention abroad. Authorities also suspect Maher for two other attacks in which three soldiers were killed.

Syria

Syrian opposition activists reported that Syrian forces advanced on the Damascus suburbs of Harasta and Irbin using tanks, artillery, and anti-aircraft guns in a violent offensive on renewed Free Syrian Army attacks on regime forces. Additionally, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, mortar fire continued for a second day in the Khalidiya district of Homs, after the deaths of 14 people on Tuesday. The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the escalating violence an "extremely dangerous crisis" and said that international diplomats could not predict "how events will unfold" in Syria. Russia, a traditional ally of Syria that has blocked U.N. resolutions and international efforts to quell Syrian violence, came out with harsh criticism on the Syrian regime on Tuesday. In a radio broadcast, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, "We believe the Syrian leadership reacted wrongly to the first appearance of peaceful protests and...is making very many mistakes." However, Lavrov maintained opposition to western calls for Bashar al-Assad to resign, saying it is "unrealistic."

Headlines  

  • The United States has exempted Japan and 10 EU countries from sanctions for buying oil from Iran, but has not included major importers -- China, India, and South Korea.
  • An al Qaeda affiliate claimed responsibility for Tuesday's wave of bombings in Iraq that killed about 50 people, intending to disrupt security plans for next week's Arab League summit.
  • The Jerusalem based human rights group B'Tselem reported that the number of civilians killed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rose sharply in 2011.

Arguments & Analysis

'Syrian Kurdish cards' (Denise Natali, Middle East Report online)

"Upheaval in Syria has given Kurdish groups new opportunities to advance their nationalist agendas while serving as proxies for neighboring states. In Turkey, the Kurdistan Workers' Party or PKK has taken advantage of the rift between the regime of Bashar al-Asad and the Turkish government by turning to the former to help it launch its armed operations. In Iraq, after some delay, Kurdish elites have entered Syrian opposition politics as well, highlighting the ironies and internal tensions of their own position. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is keen to persuade Turkey, its key regional patron, that it can contain the PKK elements based in Iraqi territory and moderate Syrian Kurdish demands, while also assuring its Kurdish brethren that it will support their claims. And in Syria itself, Kurds have created the Kurdish National Council in parallel to the main opposition body, the Syrian National Council (SNC) -- a reaction to the possibility that the SNC will morph into a successor regime led by Muslim Brothers under Turkish influence. Whether or not the Asad regime falls, these cross-border power plays reinforce the increasing regionalization of the Kurdish problem and its destabilizing potential."

'The only option Iran' (Carl Bildt & Erkki Tuomioja, International Herald Tribune)

"A military attack against Iran risks igniting a period of confrontation across the region with consequences that no one can fully predict. The turmoil could end up producing several nuclear-armed states in what is probably the most volatile area of the world. And there could be war both with and within the Muslim world. The argument is not only about giving diplomacy a chance. It is about recognizing that diplomacy is the only alternative for those seeking a lasting and sustainable solution to the Iran nuclear issue and peace in the region. The other options are recipes for war and in all probability a nuclear-armed Iran."

''Liberal Zionism': A contradiction in terms' (Yousef Munayyer, Zion Square -- The Daily Beast)

"The fact that Beinart's call for a boycott of Israeli settlement products is on the Op-Ed pages of The New York Times is indicative of a changing discourse-and this is a good thing. Nonetheless, the discourse clearly has a long way to go. "Liberal Zionists" may find safety and comfort in putting off confronting the irreconcilability of liberalism and Zionism for another generation, but they aren't doing the Palestinians or themselves any favors."

--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey

AFP/Getty images