The Middle East Channel

Gas Explosion Kills Nine People in Qatar Restaurant

An apparent gas explosion in a Turkish restaurant in Qatar's capital of Doha killed nine people Thursday. Thirty-two others were wounded, three of them critically. Initial reports indicate that a burst gas cylinder was likely to blame for the blast at the Istanbul Restaurant, which is adjacent to a gas station near Doha's Landmark Mall. It is not yet clear if the explosion was accidental. The interior ministry said it will hold a press conference to offer more information about the incident.

Syria

The U.S. State Department has accused the Syrian government of retaliating against the opposition's delegates to the Geneva peace talks by arresting their relatives. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said, "The United States is outraged by reports that the Assad regime has arrested family members of the Syrian Opposition Coalition delegation to the Geneva II peace talks, designated delegates as terrorists and seized delegates' assets." She continued calling on the government to immediately release those who had been "unfairly arrested." Meanwhile, the Syrian government has agreed to a new timetable to remove its chemical weapons arsenal by April after failing to meet a February 5 deadline. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported on Wednesday that Syria had delivered a significant shipment of mustard gas to the port of Latakia to be exported and destroyed. Ahmet Uzumcu, director general of the OPCW, said the step was "encouraging" but that "Much work nonetheless remains to be done."

Headlines  

  • Amnesty International has released a report accusing Israel of using excessive violence in the West Bank meanwhile Israeli forces killed a wanted Palestinian man who barricaded himself in his home.
  • Turkey's science watchdog has come under an inquiry over leaked audio recordings as Prime Minister Erdogan is targeted by a second recording, giving his son business advice.
  • The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency planned a report in 2013 on Iran that might have revealed more information on its suspected nuclear weapons program, but held off as international relations with Tehran thawed.
  • U.S. President Obama plans to press Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, during his visit to the White House Monday, to agree to a framework for a conclusive round of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
  • The U.N. Security Council has approved a resolution authorizing sanctions on anyone in Yemen who acts to derail the country's political transition or commits human rights violations. 

Arguments and Analysis

'Yemen: Conflict Alert' (International Crisis Group)

"To date, President Abdo Robo Mansour Hadi has chosen, shrewdly, to remain neutral and to avoid military action that almost certainly would complicate the situation and worsen the violence. He instead has supported presidential committees that belatedly have negotiated ceasefires, first in Dammaj and more recently in Arhab and Hashid (in Amran governorate). However, these are tenuous and by their nature limited. A comprehensive peace requires that each side realise some key demands: for the Huthis, the right to peacefully propagate their religious ideas, mobilise supporters and engage in political activity; for their opponents, that Huthis relinquish heavy weapons to the state and advance their agenda only through peaceful party politics. 

Both sets of demands are desirable in and of themselves and conform to the results of the national dialogue. Yet, achieving them will be far from simple: it will require the design of and commitment to a plan of action and an oversight mechanism that are linked to political power sharing and security sector reform at the national level."

'What really happened on the day more than 900 people died in Egypt' (Louisa Loveluck, Global Post)

"The events of Aug. 14, 2013 ruptured Egypt's post-revolutionary politics. They marked the end for prospects of reconciliation between the embattled and intransigent Muslim Brotherhood and the increasingly repressive military-backed authorities that pushed Morsi from power.

The Egyptian authorities have yet to establish a public record of what occurred that day. The prosecutor's office has not prosecuted a single member of the security services for excessive and unjustified use of lethal force."

--Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

STR/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Hezbollah Vows to Respond to Air Strike on Lebanese-Syrian Border

In a statement on Al Manar television Wednesday, Hezbollah said it will respond to an Israeli air strike on Monday night that hit near the Bekaa Valley village of Janta on the Syria-Lebanese border. The Lebanese Shiite militant group said, "The new aggression is a blatant assault on Lebanon and its sovereignty and its territory" and continued that it would choose the appropriate time and manner in which to respond. Israel has not confirmed the strike, however an anonymous senior Israeli security official told Time Magazine that Israeli warplanes struck a convoy transporting surface-to-surface missiles from Syria into Lebanon in efforts to prevent the weapons from reaching Hezbollah. Hezbollah's statement noted material damage but denied reports that the air strike targeted artillery or rocket bases or caused any casualties. Security sources reported two trucks transporting missiles and a missile launcher were hit, and that four members of Hezbollah were killed. Additionally, Lebanese security sources said they believed any strike that occurred hit Syrian territory, however, Hezbollah's statement suggested the attack may have taken place on Lebanese soil. While sources have reported at least six Israeli attacks on Syria in 2013, if confirmed, this would be the first case of an Israeli air strike on Lebanese territory since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011.

Syria

Syrian troops have killed 175 rebels in an ambush in the Eastern Ghouta region of the capital of Damascus, according to state news agency SANA. The attack was seemingly the most severe against opposition fighters in months and reportedly mainly targeted fighters from the Islamist groups al-Nusra Front and Liwa al-Islam. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 70 fighters were killed in the ambush, though noted the number could be much higher. It also mentioned that Hezbollah fighters carried out the attack along with government forces. The leader of al Qaeda linked al-Nusra Front Abu Mohammed al-Golani has delivered an ultimatum to rival faction the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to accept arbitration to end infighting within five days or it would be expelled from Syria "and even from Iraq." The warning has come two days after the killing of al Qaeda envoy and Ahrar al-Sham commander Abu Khalid al-Suri in an attack blamed on ISIL. Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the world has failed Syria, and that the crisis has become a "threat to all." He stated a robust international strategy and the withdrawal of all foreign fighters was necessary to end the conflict.

Headlines

  • An Egyptian court has tried in absentia 26 people and sentenced all but one to death over allegations of forming a terrorist group with the aim of attacking the Suez Canal.
  • Turkey's President Abdullah Gul approved a law Wednesday that would increase government control over the judiciary in a move seen by critics as part of a response to a recent corruption inquiry.
  • Egypt's army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will stay on as defense minister quelling expectations that he is about to announce a presidential bid as Prime Minister Ibrahim Melhlib said he will name a new government within days.
  • Jordanian lawmakers have called for the cancellation of a peace treaty with Israel and riots have erupted in Jerusalem over a Knesset debate on expanding Israeli control over religious sites.

Arguments and Analysis

'Another Election in Libya?' (Tarek Megerisi, Sada)

"The Constitutional Declaration drafted by Libya's National Transitional Council was a small document destined to have a big significance. For within its text -- notably articles 17 through 30 -- lay the vision and framework for the political system that would support the transition. However, this structure has since proved incapable of supporting the weight of Libya's transitional problems. Its mandate -- to produce a constitutional authority by February 7, 2014 -- lies in tatters, and a constitutional assembly is still being formed as the country splits on different visions for the country's future. The Constitutional Declaration clearly provided for the General National Congress (GNC) as the country's ultimate authority. However, other than a provision to appoint a transitional executive authority and article 26's subordination of this executive to the "instructions and directions" of the GNC, the Constitutional Declaration failed to provide any direct responsibilities for either body, nor any clear delineation of power. And the increasingly likely GNC re-election alone is unlikely to address this issue.

The GNC exploited the lack of a clear division of powers to exert its influence over the transitional government from the beginning, evidenced through the debacle of former Prime Minister Mustafa Abu-Shagour's brief tenure. GNC members undermined the very figure they had elected, using their powers to force him out when it became clear his cabinet would not be a mere reflection of the contemporary power groups in the GNC -- as indeed these various groups were demanding. Moreover, conflicts between parliamentary groups, the office of the president, and the various ministries consistently undermined important initiatives ranging from security development to local government reform.  Meanwhile, political groups continuously sought to brand political initiatives and solutions as their own in order to cultivate the image that they are the decisive group in Libyan politics and thus have a right to rule. These attempts to dominate the political scene are the result of the lack of clear responsibilities assigned to different bodies -- be they parliamentary committees, plenary sessions, the executive, or the judiciary. The absence of a clear division of power caused confusion, which facilitated this inter-factional competition that worsened as time went on."

'Looting Along Syria's Borders Prevents Already Scarce Aid From Getting Delivered' (Sophia Jones, Huffington Post)

"Truck drivers waiting along the border, some of whom have traveled more than a month to get here, say the most common good transported to Syria right now is food. They speculate that about half of all the goods consist of humanitarian aid coming from NGOs and aid groups all over the world. The other half, they say, are goods for trading with businessmen across the border: cars, electronics, heavy machinery, building materials. Syrians waiting to cross from Turkey -- on some days, dozens, on others, thousands -- also carry supplies, such as medicine for family members or money for weaponry.

Rumors abound as to who is responsible for the looting. Some Syrians and Turks along the border say extremist rebels are robbing trucks in order to gain control of refugee camps (where aid means power), while others say more moderate rebel groups are capitalizing on a desperate situation. Many, like Ameen, say the refugees themselves are stealing, hungry and desperate for aid that is not evenly distributed. Then there are whispers of Turkish businessmen turned war profiteers, crossing the border to try their hand at black market trade."

--Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

Spencer Platt/Getty Images