The Middle East Channel

Raqqa falls to Syrian rebels while regime soldiers are ambushed in Iraq

Syrian opposition forces have reportedly overtaken most of Raqqa, a northern province. They have captured Hassan Jalili, Raqqa's governor and Baath party secretary general and toppled a statue of the late former President Hafez al-Assad. If verified, this would be a major gain for the opposition, and Governor Jalili would be one of the highest regime official captured since the beginning of the conflict nearly two years ago. However, fighting has continued between opposition fighters and pro-regime forces in some areas in Raqqa as well as at the provincial airport, about 40 miles from the city. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported government airstrikes on two targets in Raqqa. Meanwhile, about 39 Syrian soldiers and eight Iraqis were killed Monday in Iraq in an attack by unidentified gunmen in the western Anbar province, in the most serious spillover yet of the Syrian conflict into a neighboring country. The soldiers were among 65 Syrians who had crossed into Iraq after opposition fighters captured the Yaaroubiyah border post. Iraqi soldiers were transporting them to another border crossing when they were ambushed. Also on Monday, a group of Syrians announced the formation of a provincial council for Aleppo after elections were held on Sunday in Gaziantep, a Turkish city. While small governing bodies have been organized in opposition held territories before, this is the first attempt at establishing a province-wide civilian authority. The first priority for the 29-member Aleppo council will be to restore services such as water, utilities, healthcare, and bread.

Headlines

Arguments and Analysis

Syria's Many Militias: Inside the Chaos of the Anti-Assad Rebellion (Rania Abouzeid, Time Magazine)

Syria‘s rebels have been locked in a bloody war with the regime of President Bashar Assad for nearly two years. But for 27 days after it was formed last December, the Free Syrian Army's Military Command-elected by some 550 rebel delegates and tasked with commanding and controlling the myriad groups on the ground-did not receive so much as a bullet from its Arab and Western supporters. That lack of aid threatened to crush the nascent Military Command's credibility with the fighting men inside Syria.

The body, headed by chief of staff Brigadier General Salim Idris, replaced the Joint Command of the Revolutionary Military Councils (which was formed less than three months prior), and shunted aside the dueling, Turkey-based so-called leaders of the Free Syrian Army, Colonel Riad al-As'aad and General Mustafa al-Sheikh, who were never more than figureheads.

New routes to racism (Haaretz)

"It's clear that the bus segregation is part of a more principled separation between the populations that is expressed in almost every area: In the allocation of areas for residential construction, in the different legal systems, in the unequitable distribution of resources and in discriminatory travel regulations.

Occupied territory is meant to be managed by the occupying state as a temporary trust for the benefit of the local population. There are clear rules aimed at preventing the evolution of a colonial or apartheid regime. The way the State of Israel is managing the territories is a far cry from the way occupied lands are meant to be managed.

Rather than express "concern" for the Palestinians by excluding them from Jewish bus lines, it would behoove the prime minister to immediately put a stop to this racist segregation."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey

AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

The U.S. pledges $250 million in aid to Egypt amid Port Said clashes

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on Sunday in Cairo, promising $250 million in U.S. aid. The commitment came after Morsi pledged to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on economic reform requirements for a $4.8 billion loan deal. The assistance consists of two parts: $190 million towards Egypt's budget to address the country's "extreme needs," according to Kerry and $60 million in grants to support small and midsize businesses. Kerry told Morsi the United States could provide additional funds if Egypt's reaches a deal with the IMF. Leading Egyptian opposition figures criticized the United States for the assistance saying it is supporting a power grab by Morsi and the ruling Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Kerry's visit came amid protests and violence across Egypt. Demonstrators clashed with police Sunday morning in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Additionally, two security forces and three civilians were killed and at least 400 people injured in clashes in Port Said, where hundreds have been protesting the death sentences of 21 people in connection with the 2012 football riots that killed 74 people. 

Syria

Opposition forces overtook most of a police academy in Khan al-Asal, near the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Sunday. After eight days of fierce fighting, over 200 people were killed, including opposition fighters and government forces, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. According to the pro-government media outlet Al-Watan, 115 policemen were killed and 50 wounded. On Monday, government forces, backed by pro-regime militiamen, launched a major offensive on opposition held areas in the central city of Homs. The Observatory said, "this is the worst fighting in months." Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and British Foreign Secretary William Hague have been trading blows after the Sunday Times of London conducted an interview with Assad. Assad called the British government "naïve, confused, unrealistic" and accused it of working to militarize the Syrian conflict. Hague called Assad "delusional" and said that while Britain will not yet send arms to the Syrian opposition, it is not ruling anything out for the future. Additionally, during the interview, Assad said he was "ready to negotiate with anyone, including militants, who surrender their arms." But, he would not "deal with terrorists who are determined to carry weapons."

Headlines

Arguments and Analysis

Syria's Crisis of Transition (Chester Crocker, The National Interest)

 "...Viewed in this light, a negotiated transition settlement is not an alternative to battlefield victory. It is the way to exploit and follow up on military success and the creation of a coherent political opposition. To be sure, negotiations do not always succeed, and their successes are often short-lived. It will be difficult to integrate the various neighbors, the UN-Arab League process and the U.S.-Russian track into a framework that supports talks between the Syrian National Coalition leaders and elements of the state administration. It will be ambitious to devise credible external guarantees or peacekeeping monitors to provide necessary assurances as the transition unfolds.

Clearly, we are not there yet. This is a time for pre-negotiation and ripening the situation diplomatically-through assistance and sanctions pressures, by investing in our knowledge of the parties and by keeping alive a possible framework for negotiation when the time comes. Both the regime and the opposition have serious problems, and neither is in a position to deliver a knockout punch. But things could change quite suddenly. Finding the right moment to accept or solicit Russian support for a transition package will call for skilled statecraft. Such diplomacy entails risks. But diplomatic experience suggests that this way of thinking is more realistic, in the best sense of the term, than the alternatives: letting nature take its course or trying to pick a winner from within the sectarian bouillabaisse and hoping for the best."

To Achieve Mideast Peace, Suspend Disbelief (Dennis Ross, The New York Times)

"THESE are hard times for trying to promote, much less make, peace between Palestinians and Israelis. The rise of political Islam, Syria's civil war and looming implosion, and the Iranian nuclear imbroglio not only dominate the environment, but they also render it forbidding for peacemaking. And while all these factors make Israelis and Palestinians reluctant to take risks for peace, they do not represent the biggest hurdle for ending the conflict. The most fundamental problem between Israelis and Palestinians is the problem of disbelief.

Most Israelis and Palestinians today simply don't believe that peace is possible. I won't rehearse all the reasons both sides have lost faith. Suffice it to say that Israelis feel that their withdrawal from territory (like southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip) has not brought peace or security; instead, it has produced only violence. Why, then, should they repeat the same mistake and subject themselves to far greater, even existential, risk in the West Bank? Meanwhile, Palestinians believe that negotiations from 1993 onward failed to produce independence but instead yielded a huge Israeli settler presence in their midst.

Put simply, neither side believes that the other is committed to a two-state outcome: leaving aside Hamas's explicit rejection of the principle, Israelis are generally convinced that when the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and his Fatah Party speak of two states, they do not mean Palestine and a Jewish state called Israel; they mean a Palestinian state and a binational state."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey

AFP/Getty Images