Land Day protests sparked clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians attempting to participate in a "Global march to Jerusalem." Israel tightened security measures ahead of the day during which Palestinians annually commemorate the deaths of six Arabs who were killed in 1976 when protesting land appropriation. Several protesters were killed last year, including Lebanese and Syrians as they tried to cross their borders into Israel. Israel closed checkpoints for 24 hours in anticipation of the march, and only men with Israeli identity cards are being allowed into Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque for Friday prayers. Violence erupted also at the Qalandiya checkpoint in the outskirts of East Jerusalem where Palestinians threw rocks at Israeli soldiers who responded with stun grenades and tear gas. There were additional reports of violence in Bethlehem and the Gaza strip. Demonstrations are expected to gain strength after Friday prayers.
United Nations and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has demanded that the Syrian government implement a ceasefire and his peace plan immediately. President Bashar al-Assad accepted Annan's six-pronged peace plan on Tuesday, but according to activists, violence has continued across Syria, particularly with gunfights and shelling in the northwestern Idlib province and the city of Homs. According to Ahmed Fawzi, Annan's spokesman, Annan called for the regime to halt violence first in a "gesture of good faith" but also appealed to the opposition forces to "lay down their arms and start talking." Meanwhile, Iran is providing a vessel for Syria to ship oil to China helping to circumvent international sanctions. The Syrians plan to sell oil directly to China's state-owned Zhuhai Zhenroung Crop, which is a company also under U.S. sanctions. The crude oil is worth about $84 million and could provide a financial spark to Syria which has become increasingly isolated, especially after the European Union imposed further sanctions last week. At the same time, Britain has pledged to double its assistance for "non-lethal support" to the Syrian opposition. In further diplomatic efforts to end violence, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit Saudi Arabia for discussions on Friday, the "Friends of Syria" coalition which includes U.S. and Arab governments will meet in Istanbul on Sunday, and Annan is planning for a trip to Iran.
- France conducted raids on 19 suspected radical Islamists in a crackdown after last week's string of shootings by Mohammad Merah killed three children, a rabbi, and three paratroopers.
- Hard line Islamist Hazem Salah Abu Ismail is emerging as a frontrunner in the Egyptian presidential election race.
- Palestinian detainee Hana Shalabi has ended a 43-day hunger strike protesting her imprisonment by Israelis who are holding her without formal charges after a deal for her exile to Gaza.
Argumens & Analysis
'A new season of Palestinian protest challenges both Israel and Abbas' (Tony Karon, Time)
"The Authority had been established in early 1994 to serve as an interim administrative structure of Palestinian self-governance, on the assumption that the Oslo Process would within six years create a Palestinian state. Two decades later, Palestinian statehood remains as elusive as ever, which makes the PA an institution of the status quo - it offers a form of (authoritarian) self-governance, largely funded by Western and Arab powers, whose day-to-day functioning is designed to maintain Israel's security, while Israel's sovereign control of the West Bank continues...PA security forces maintains intimate cooperation with their Israeli peers in order to protect Israel from Palestinian militants. Absent any movement towards Palestinian statehood, in other words, the PA can't avoid becoming seen as an extension of the occupation."
'Among Syria's neighbors, the fear of destabilization is high' (Hamid Alkifaey, The Daily Star)
"The new Syria -- presumably Sunni-dominated -- will certainly host and nurture an Iraqi opposition, especially one with similar political and sectarian leanings. With Iran increasing its influence in Iraq, and Syria newly fighting back against Tehran's efforts to undermine its regime using Iran's influence in Iraq, the latter will be a certain loser since it is able neither to hold back Iran nor to counter a possible Saudi-backed fundamentalist Syrian regime that is also supporting an Iraqi fundamentalist and nationalist opposition. This is a recipe for long-term instability in Iraq. Is this scenario inevitable? Certainly not. But it's the nightmare scenario for Iraq and Iran, among others."
--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey