The Middle East Channel

Yemeni airstrikes kill 43 al Qaeda fighters as militants blow up oil pipeline

Yemen's army killed up to 43 suspected al Qaeda-linked militants during airstrikes in a three-day offensive in the southern provinces of Aden and Abyan. According to the government, forces have reclaimed control of strategic cities that serve as links to the north, including what has become the al Qaeda base in the al-Rahha mountainous region of Lahj. The assault came after two attacks by militant fighters on Yemeni army bases in the area. Al Qaeda has been exploiting instability in Yemen to strengthen its control in the region. According to Mohammed al-Qadhi, a Sanaa-based journalist, "Al-Qaeda [is] using the stalemate in the political process and the continued division of army and security forces...to expand their activities in different southern provinces." Meanwhile, the al Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Sharia claimed responsibility for bombing an oil pipeline in southern Yemen on Monday. It was the second such attack in what the group said would be "a chain of attacks" in retaliation for a U.S. drone strike that killed five militants on Friday. President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi, who recently replaced Ali Abdullah Saleh, has been more cooperative with the United States and more active than his predecessor in the offensive against al Qaeda.

Syria

In a brief from United Nations and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan in front of the U.N. Security Council, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed to withdraw heavy weapons and troops from populated areas by April 10. According to U.S. envoy to the United Nations Susan Rice, Annan said he had received commitment from Assad that he would begin the withdrawal immediately. However, Syrian official Bashar Jaafar said that the "the Syrian government is committed but we are expect Mr. Kofi Annan and some parties in the Security Council also to get the same kind of commitments from the [opposition]." At the same time, however, clashes continued in the center of Homs and according to the opposition, troops and tanks are moving into rebel-dominated areas. As such, and because of prior empty statements by the Syrian government, Security Council members have met the withdrawal agreement with suspicion, including Annan who requested a contingency plan of a United Nations observer mission, which would likely get rejected by Russia and China. Meanwhile, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, is meeting with Syrian officials Tuesday to push for greater access to detainees and people who are sick, wounded, or displaced. He is additionally calling for a daily two-hour halt to fighting to allow for Red Cross access. According to the United Nations more than 9,000 people have been killed in the over year-long conflict.

Headlines  

  • The Red Cross has begun delivering fuel to the Gaza Strip which will maintain 13 hospitals for 10 days, after the territory's only plant closed eight days ago.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu asked Defense Minister Barak to delay the evacuation of settlers from a West Bank home in Hebron to allow time for pursuit of legal options.
  • Libyan militia leaders turn to politics furthering concerns over national fragmentation.

Arguments & Analysis

'Crisis in Zion Square' (Daniel Levy, The Atlantic)

"If Israelis are to make hard choices, re-think their policies, acknowledge that the occupation carries costs, and even just remember that a Green Line exists, then disincentives may need to come into play. Is that not a pro-Israel position? That it is better for the country's long-term survival to hold it to certain standards of international law than to maintain the status quo of impunity. Beinart's two specific policy suggestions -- to exclude settlement goods from the Israel-U.S. free trade agreement, and to end the tax-deductible status of gifts to settler charities -- would be reasonable, good starting points. The EU-Israel Association Agreement already denies free trade benefits to settlement products. Still, Zionist BDS alone is unlikely to change Israeli policy. Boycotting settlement products and donations would probably have a negligible impact on Israel's economy. And...the sad reality is that there is no Green Line when it comes to the Israeli economy."

'Egypt's spring break' (Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera English)

"It's not clear how the presidential campaign will evolve following al-Shater's nomination or who will make it to the second round to face him. Be that as it may, the Brotherhood has taken a risky gamble. If they lose, the Brotherhood's political standing would be terribly undermined, even shattered. If they win, they will be accused of monopolising power like the previous Mubarak led National Democratic Party (NDP). When I asked al-Shater about such comparisons, which I had heard in Tahrir Square, he dismissed them as unfounded creations of the remnants of the NDP. However, already the Brotherhood's insistence to take control of the Constitutional Assembly has led to a major fiasco with basically all but the organised Islamists remaining on board. The Muslim Brotherhood's attempt to lead on all fronts, including the presidency, is alienating many Egyptians and creating a political mess in the process. Their on-and-off conflict and complicity with SCAF has also created confusion, bitterness and lack of progress in the country with many accusing both sides of advancing their interests at the expense of the revolution and the Egyptian people."

--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey

AFP/Getty images

The Middle East Channel

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood faces criticism over presidential nominee

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood announced Saturday the nomination of the group's deputy chairman and chief financier, Khairat al-Shater, as its candidate for May's presidential elections. The decision was a departure from the organization's pledge not to field a candidate as a way to allay fears of monopolizing power and has thus been highly criticized by liberals and the military council -- and has caused rifts within the Muslim Brotherhood itself, seeing three leaders resign in the decision's aftermath. Shater, an accomplished engineer and business man, spent about 12 years in prison under the regime of ousted President of Hosni Mubarak for charges including "reviving" the banned Muslim Brotherhood, terrorism, and money laundering. The Muslim Brotherhood's deputy leader, Mamoud Hussein, said the group reversed its decision to field a candidate just days before the close of nominations to counter "attempts to abort the revolution" and to ensure a transition from military to civilian rule.

Syria

In a meeting on Sunday in Istanbul, the "Friends of Syria" recognized the Syrian National Council as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and agreed to send millions of dollars in assistance and equipment to the Syrian opposition. The United States joined Britain and several Arab countries in a move closer to direct intervention in Syria, with the United States agreeing to send communications equipment to the oppposition while Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states committed to establishing a multi-million dollar fund to pay opposition fighters in order to encourage defection. There remains no consensus on providing arms for the opposition. However, the decision shows a growing belief that despite President Bashar al-Assad's agreement to United Nations and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan, the mediation efforts are failing to end violence. Government troops meanwhile raided the southern town of Dael, and clashes continued in Idlib province and Aleppo on Monday as Annan prepared to brief the United Nations Security Council on progress in peace efforts.

Headlines  

  • Hana Shalabi, a Palestinian detainee who had been on a hunger strike for 44 days in protest for being imprisoned by Israel and held without charge, was temporarily deported to Gaza.
  • Iraqi ministries released figures showing March as having the lowest death toll, at 112, since the U.S. invasion in 2003.
  • Yemen's army killed six al-Qaeda suspects after deadly clashes between soldiers and militants in the south over the weekend.

Arguments & Analysis

‘Political imaginaries in Saudi Arabia: Revolutionaries without a revolution' (Rosie Bsheer, Jadaliyya)

"The regime's firm stance against all calls for change does not bode well for those who aim to work within the system, no matter how corrupt it is. Despite lessons from the Arab uprisings, the ruling family insists on presenting itself as invincible and refuses to hold officials accountable for egregious human rights violations committed in the last year. Even citizens outside Qatif who have in the last year believed King Abdullah's seductive reform package are coming to realize the futility of such empty promises. Yet the regime knows that it has every reason to feel invincible. Life, after all, takes on an eerie normalcy only fifteen minutes outside revolutionary Qatif. In Dammam and al-Khobar, the Eastern Province's other main cities, Qatif and its politics seem a lifetime away. As do other acts of protest that, given Saudi repression, constitute milestones but nonetheless serve little by way of compelling the Saudi regime to attend to any of Saudi citizens' demands."

‘Tales from Café Tahrir: Syria's greater revolution' (Sarah Mousa, Al Jazeera English)

"The question of pro-regime sects, such as the Alawites, is a more problematic one than that of more dormant groups such as the Kurds. The politicisation of Alawites in particular has made them a symbol of disdain among the population, leaving little opportunity for Alawites opposed to the government to voice their views. Alawites have come to be known as the privileged, the informers and the thugs of the country. The threat of retribution against them, following the revolution, means that the circle of regime supporters will remain unified. It is important for the Syrian opposition to reassure members of this sect and to make an effort to protect dissident Alawites."

‘China and Syria: A question of responsibility' (Kerry Brown & Cassidy Hazelbaker, Open Democracy)

"Beijing knows what is happening in Syria is untenable - and the comments of official spokespersons as Kofi Annan arrived in China to garner support for his UN mission may indicate a slight adjustment of its view, if no guarantee of a change. But so far, it can't articulate an active but non-interventionist policy. At present, then, China's position - however it is explained and however logical it can look - lays it open to accusations of expediency and moral bankruptcy. China rejects the role of stakeholder crafted for it from outside. But this still presents it with the challenge of finding the moral courage and strategic intelligence to develop a persuasive stance of its own when international crises arise. Syria remains an opportunity as well as a challenge for China. The world is waiting."

--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey

AFP/Getty images