The Middle East Channel

Apparent U.S. Drone Strike Hits Wedding Convoy in Yemen

Air strikes hit a wedding convoy on Thursday in the remote Yemeni town of Radda, an al Qaeda stronghold in the southern al-Bayda province, killing around 13 people and injuring an estimated 22 others. Local residents said the air strikes came from a drone, which appeared to be the second U.S. drone strike within a week. According to one report, local tribal leaders said most of the people killed were suspected al Qaeda linked militants. However there were additional reports of several civilian causalities, and others saying a U.S. drone targeted the wedding convoy after intelligence reports mistakenly identified it as an al Qaeda convoy. According to one anonymous Yemeni national security official, "This was a tragic mistake ... None of the killed was a wanted suspect by the Yemeni government." With the increasing al Qaeda presence in Yemen and growing insecurity, the United States has stepped up its drone campaign targeting militants. However, some critics are saying the strikes and resulting civilian casualties are generating greater sympathy for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and increasing anti-Americanism.

Syria

The United Nations has released a report concluding that chemical weapons were used in five of seven attacks investigated by U.N. experts in Syria, including the well-documented attack on August 21 near Damascus. The report indicates chemical weapons were used in the Syrian areas of Ghouta, Khan al-Assal, Jobar, Saraqeb, and Ashrafiah Sahnaya. The investigators found that sarin gas was likely used in four cases, one on a large scale. The investigation did not determine responsibility for the use of chemical weapons, but found that in two incidents, the weapons affected government soldiers, and in a third, both soldiers and civilians were harmed. The report was compiled by chemical weapons experts and doctors after they conducted interviews and collected samples in Syria. Meanwhile, the United States has altered its account of events after saying that the Islamic Front's seizure of a Free Syrian Army (FSA) headquarters in northern Syria forced FSA commander General Salim Idris to flee the country. The United States said on Thursday it obtained information that Idris was in Turkey throughout the takeover. Idris denies he abandoned his post and claims he is in northern Syria overseeing military operations.

Headlines  

  • Iranian negotiators halted nuclear talks in Vienna after the Obama administration blacklisted about a dozen companies and individuals for violating sanctions on Iran.
  • After U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders Thursday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected a U.S. plan for Israeli troops to remain in a future Palestinian state.
  • An estimated 25 Iraqi terrorism suspects escaped from a Baghdad prison Friday, after killing two security guards, and several of the inmates remain at large. 
  • An explosion, seemingly coming from a car bomb, hit outside a security forces camp in Egypt's Suez Canal city of Ismailia killing one policeman and injuring an estimated 18 people.
  • Israel has shelved a $2 billion plan to resettle 30,000 Bedouins in the Negev desert amid international outcry. 

Arguments and Analysis

'What's next for Bedouin in a post-Prawer Israel?' (Haggai Matar, +972 Magazine)

"Broadly speaking there are three possible outcomes to the end of Prawer. First, and in my mind most likely, the government may completely retreat from its visions of ‘cleansing' the Negev and settle for a continuation of the current state of affairs (with a possibility of yet another committee that could take years to reach any kind of decision). This is definitely better for Bedouin than the Prawer Plan itself, but it still means a life of poverty and fear, demolition orders, court appeals and the occasional destruction of homes -- as is the case in Al-Araqib and now Umm al-Hiran.

The second option is that the extreme hawks in power, rather than the Bedouin and leftists, will take credit for scrapping Prawer, and will try to push forward a new, more radical plan of uprooting with little or no compensation. However, such an initiative might be harder to promote among the more pragmatic people in the government, and would be much harder to explain to the High Court (which would already be aware of concessions made as part of Prawer). One can even imagine the media, now awake to the entire issue, being more critical of such a move.

The third and least likely option is for the government to start a process of dialogue with the Bedouin, review the plans made by local leaders and NGOs and consider recognizing villages and developing the Negev for all its inhabitants. While unrealistic under the current administration, this is what Bedouin and left-wing activists will continue fighting for. Maybe in the future it will not seem as absurd as it does now. After all, just two weeks ago no one would have believed Prawer would be scrapped."

'American and British aid to Syria's rebels: No more, for now' (Pomegranate Blog - Economist)

"The pickle policymakers now find themselves in was nothing short of predictable. For months Syrians, fighters and civilians, have been warning that the moderate rebels were being pushed aside. Gulf countries have sent arms to some rebel -- which ones remains unclear -- and Western backers have sent non-lethal assistance as well as helped to coordinate occasional weapons shipments and training. But the aid has been ill coordinated and too scattered, inconsistent and low-calibred to make a decisive impact. Syrian fighters have not helped themselves, either, by remaining fragmented and increasingly prone to internecine fights. 

The growing strength of extremist rebels has perversely reinforced the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Ryan Crocker, a veteran American diplomat, told the New York Times on December 3rd that 'We need to start talking to the Assad regime again', despite the fact that it has used fighter jets, ballistic missiles and sarin against civilians in order to stay in power. The imbalance of power, coupled with the regime's intransigence and continued backing by Iran and Russia, bodes badly for peace talks in Geneva, scheduled to start on January 22nd. 

American and British officials say non-lethal assistance could flow again once they have determined the circumstances of last week's events. But few Syrians are holding their breath. Most accuse the West of offering too little, too late, abandoning them to a war that gets nastier by the day."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

-/AFP/Getty Images

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