An estimated 32 Shiite pilgrims were killed in bombings in Iraq on Thursday. One of the bombs killed up to 28 people and wounded 60 others close to a bus stop in the town of Musayyib. The bombings were seemingly targeting pilgrims returning from Karbala at the end of a Shiite festival of Arbaeen. Additionally, a roadside bomb in southeast Baghdad exploded, killing four people and wounding 15 in a passing minibus carrying Shiite pilgrims. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Sectarian tensions have increased in Iraq in the past weeks as Sunnis protest against the Shiite dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Demonstrators are accusing Maliki of attempting to monopolize power and marginalize Sunni political representatives before provincial elections scheduled for spring. Protests were sparked by a raid last month on the home and office of Sunni Finance Minister Rafie al-Issawi, and the arrest of 10 bodyguards. In attempts to quell protests, the Iraqi government released 11 female prisoners and two teenagers on Thursday.
A car bombing killed at least 11 people and injured 40 at a crowded petrol station in the Barzeh al-Balad district of Damascus on Thursday. The bombing hit as people were waiting in line for fuel, which has been increasingly scarce since the uprisings began in Syria in March 2011. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which was the second on a petrol station in Damascus this week. Opposition forces have continued fighting for a third day for the Taftanaz air base, on the road linking Damascus to Aleppo, which is reportedly still under the control of government forces. Meanwhile, U.S. troops arrived in Turkey in part of a NATO mission to protect the border with Syria. The troops will man the recently deployed NATO Patriot missile batteries. In Lebanon, Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah called for Lebanon to take a more active role in working toward a political solution to the conflict in Syria. Additionally, he urged the government to open up its border to Syrian refugees. Lebanon said it will keep the border open, but will request additional aid from Arab states and the international community.
- Hamas has allowed the first Fatah rally in Gaza since 2007, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas predicted unification of the two movements.
- Gunmen have abducted the chief of Benghazi's criminal investigations unit, Captian Abdel-Salam al-Mahdawi, who took the position after the former police chief was killed in November.
- Ibrahim al-Dharahi, holding Israeli and Yemeni identity cards, has been charged with spying for Israel after his arrest three weeks ago in the city of Taiz.
Arguments and Analysis
No Settlement In Damascus (Bilal Y. Saab and Andrew J. Tabler, Foreign Affairs)
"Any negotiated settlement would have to produce two key collective goods for Syrians: security and political power. Simply calling on the Sunnis and Alawites to give up their guns won't work. But providing a credible security alternative and helping develop an all-inclusive governing coalition could. The larger the post-Assad governing coalition, moreover, the more Alawites and Sunnis would be interested in sustaining the peace. But a difficult question would remain: If there is no agreement on giving the UN a peacekeeping role, what kind of credible international or regional force would be required to ensure security? History suggests that third parties rarely remain involved in post-civil war peacekeeping roles for long. In addition, they can be less than effective, and the experience of Kosovo bears that out.
These possible outcomes -- a negotiated settlement and a rebel military victory in Syria -- both have flaws. So far, regional powers have worked toward the latter, choosing sides in the conflict and trying to help their side win. If regional powers change course, opting seriously for negotiations to stop the bloodshed and build peace, the diplomatic challenge will be enormous. At this late date, such an attempt would be a long shot at best -- and would likely prolong the Syria conflict instead of finishing it off."
Colonial Deadlock or Confederation for Israel/Palestine? (Oren Yiftachel, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore)
"At the beginning of 2013 the Israeli-Palestinian scene is once again confusing. On the one hand, Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, have announced in recent times their agreement to the principle of "two states for two peoples." Even the hard-line Hamas has occasionally expressed support for the Arab Peace Initiative, implying a two state future. The UN General Assembly's overwhelming support in November 2012 of the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders was another encouraging sign for peace and the end of Israeli colonial rule of Palestine.
On the other hand, concrete and political factors have been working precisely in the opposite direction. Israel has continued its suffocating siege of Hamas' Gaza, and in response to Palestinian shelling of Israel's southern regions, Israel recently (again) caused widespread destruction during Operation "Column of Defense." This was answered with renewed hardening of Hamas statements, with leader Khaled Mash'al during his December 2012 visit to Gaza calling again to destroy the state of Israel and "liberate the entire Palestine, from River to Sea." In parallel, and after a short lull during 2010, Israel has continued to settle Jews in large numbers in the occupied Palestinian West Bank and has built dozens of new "outpost" settlements, further slicing the already fragmented Palestinian Territory. Following the UN decision, Israel announced it will build more than a thousand housing units east of Jerusalem, permanently dividing the West Bank into two parts so as to prevent the establishment of a continuous state."
--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey
AFP/Getty Images/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE