Syrian security forces have stepped up attacks in several parts of the country ahead of the April 10 scheduled troop withdrawal agreed to by President Bashar al Assad. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the "sources of violence are proliferating" and the conflict is worsening despite the Syrian government's claim that it has begun pulling out troops from Idlib, Zabadani, and Daraa. Activists reported tank fire in Homs, Rastan, and the Damascus suburb of Douma. Heavy shelling in the northwestern Idlib province has sparked an intense flow of refugees into Turkey with over 2,300 people fleeing just on Thursday. The total number of refugees since the uprising began last year is believed to be over 42,000, and the United Nations estimates more than 9,000 people have been killed. The U.N. Security Council issued a statement calling on both the regime and the opposition to halt all violence by April 12 and threatened to take "further steps" if Syria does not adhere to Kofi Annan's six-point plan.
- Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan has chastised Iran for proposing that nuclear talks be held in Damascus or Baghdad, saying it is not "sincere" and that talks are unlikely to happen.
- Two suicide bombers with suspected al Qaeda links died in the southern Yemeni city of Aden when their bomb exploded prior to reaching their target, believed to be a political security building.
- An International Crisis Court lawyer said that Saif al-Islam, son of killed former leader Muammar al-Qaddafi, "has been physically attacked" while being detained in Libya.
- The impending disqualification of ultra-conservative Abu Ismail from the Egyptian presidential elections is expected to give a boost to Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Khairat al-Shater.
Arguments & Analysis
'Egypt's presidential race: Battle of the beards' (The Economist)
"Until recently, Western diplomats expected the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's Islamist mainstream, to stay politely out of the race and pave the way for a secular president. Now some see it as the only way to stop Mr Abu Ismail's rise. They positively sighed with relief when the Brotherhood's number two, Khairat al-Shater, a 62-year-old self-made millionaire, backtracked on a previous pledge and entered the race. On paper he should fare well: the Brotherhood took almost twice as many seats-close to 47%-as the Salafists in the parliamentary elections that ended in January. Yet the announcement surprised many as a risky gamble. Fear that a secret society such as the Brotherhood might capture the presidency as well as parliament could boost rival candidates, among them Amr Moussa, the former Secretary General of the Arab League, who led in early polls, and Abdel Moneim Abolfotoh, a former senior Brother who was expelled for choosing to vie for the presidency without permission from the Brotherhood's leadership."
'Houses divided: the splintering of Bahrain's political camps' (Laurence Louer, Sada -- Carnegie Endowment for Int'l Peace)
"Though present before the protests of the past year, the extent of the current fragmentation is unprecedented in Bahrain's recent history and deeply complicates negotiations for a solution to the current stalemate. In the unlikely case that dialogue between the regime hardliners and al-Wefaq were to achieve anything tangible, both camps will be hard pressed to sell it to multiplicity of subgroups that have sprouted up."
'Loyalty to Syrian President could isolate Hezbollah' (Anne Barnard, New York Times)
"Deprived of Hamas's political cover, Hezbollah has been accused of sectarian hatred, and has been its target as well. Syrian rebels have burned the Hezbollah flag, claimed that its snipers are killing civilians in Syria, and named their brigades after historic warriors who defeated Shiites in Islam's early schismatic battles. Early on, some analysts thought that if a Sunni government would arise in Damascus it might support Hezbollah against Israel. But now, says Michael Wahid Hanna of the Century Foundation, Hezbollah may have missed a chance to hedge its bets."
--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey