U.S. officials have stated they believe that the Syrian government has used chemicals weapons, which may bring into question President Barack Obama's "red line" on Syria. In a letter to congressional leaders on Thursday, the White House stated that U.S. intelligence agencies assessed "with varying degrees of confidence" that the regime of Bashar al-Assad had used the chemical agent sarin gas on a small scale. Several officials went further to say that the intelligence agencies expressed medium to high confidence of their assessment. According to officials, the assessment was based on tests from soil samples and blood drawn from people who had been injured in the attacks in March near Aleppo and Damascus. The White House, however, is treading cautiously and said that "given the stakes involved" it would need "credible and corroborated facts" before Obama would take action. During his visit to Jerusalem last month, Obama said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a "game changer" for U.S. involvement. U.S. administration officials said that the Pentagon has prepared a variety of options intended to secure chemical weapons stockpiles. A White House official said, "all options are on the table in terms of our response." The United States is joining Israel, France, and Britain in suggesting that the Assad regime has deployed chemical weapons. British Prime Minister David Cameron said there is "limited but growing evidence" that government forces have used chemical weapons, adding that "It is extremely serious, this is a war crime."
- The Israeli military reported Thursday it shot down a drone off its northern coast near the border with Lebanon, bringing suspicions upon Hezbollah, which has denied responsibility.
- Iraqi soldiers have retaken the Sunni town of Suleiman Beg after gunmen retreated; meanwhile a roadside bomb killed four people outside a Sunni mosque in southern Baghdad, in four days of escalated violence.
- After nearly three decades of fighting, which has caused the deaths of about 40,000 people, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has said it will withdraw from Turkey beginning May 8.
- Jerusalem's district court ruled Thursday that women could not be arrested for praying at the Western Wall wearing prayer shawls, a practice Orthodox Jews say is reserved for men.
- Egypt's Pope Tawdros II, in his first interview since eight people were killed earlier this month in Muslim and Christian sectarian violence, said the Muslim Brotherhood led government is neglecting Christians.
Arguments and Analysis
Algeria's big secret (Borzou Daraghi, Gulf News)
"Algerian intellectuals like to spin a narrative in the smokey cafés of the graciously rotting capital. In hushed tones, they tell of the bright, ambitious elites who left the coastal cities for the densely forested mountains to fight against the French occupiers in the 1950s. But the commanders rebuffed the clever young men, dispatching them instead to Paris, Lyon or Lille to finish their studies and prepare for the day when the French would head home and they would run the country.
In Europe, they were recruited into one of several secretive Algerian exile groups that connived against each other and fought bloody internecine wars. Once the French left, the young men returned home trained not to run the country but to build the sophisticated security networks that run Algeria's foreign and domestic affairs and, critics say, prevent it from making progress.
"In Algeria, power likes to hide," says a political scientist in Algiers. "The military and security forces have come to the conviction that they have to work in a hidden way, that they have to practise power but never in the light, and they try to resolve all domestic and international problems using secret services rather than going through public institutions."
The intellectuals' story of the origins of the old men who run Algeria goes some way towards explaining the intensity with which the country's murky elite remain absorbed in their own power games. It also explains why such a wealthy and vast country is unable to break from its history, build on its energy revenues and take a leadership role in the region."
Like Israel, Palestinians must also learn the lessons of South Africa (Gideon Levy, Haaretz)
"PRETORIA - Not only Israelis but Palestinians, too, must learn the lessons of South Africa. The struggle of the black population focused on one issue: universal vote. Nelson Mandela's demand for "one person, one vote" was more than a slogan, it was a strategic goal. It became reality on April 27th, 19 years ago, when the first multiracial elections were held. Ever since, democracy has been safeguarded, elections are held regularly and the new constitution is upheld and guides this state, despite its hardships and complexities.
... Of no less importance was the dissidents' unity. The Palestinians, so far, have failed on that score. But the most important factor in South Africa's success was the agreed-upon goal - one person, one vote. It is about time the Palestinians adopt this goal. It is time for them to understand that the two-state dream is becoming impossible. That the occupation is stronger than them, that the settlements are already too large and that the Palestinian state, even if established, will be no more than a group of Bantustans separated by the "settlement blocs" that grew to monstrous proportions and have won consensus approval from Israelis and the international community.
It is time, dear Palestinians, to change strategy. Not to fight the occupation or the settlements; they're here to stay. It is time to follow the South African example and demand one basic right: one person, one vote. "
--By Jennifer T. Parker and Mary Casey