The Middle East Channel

Libya's Prime Minister Dismissed After Tanker Escapes

Libya's parliament held a vote of confidence Tuesday to dismiss Prime Minister Ali Zeidan over the failure to prevent an oil tanker from exporting oil from the rebel-controlled Sidra port. Defense Minister Abdullah al-Thinni has been named as Libya's interim prime minister. Despite a travel ban against Zeidan, Malta's prime minister reported that Zeidan had arrived in Malta Tuesday en route to a European country. Libyan authorities seized a North Korea-flagged tanker Monday after it attempted to leave Sidra port, however the tanker escaped the naval blockade overnight. The tanker -- the first vessel to have loaded oil from a rebel-held port since the separatist revolt erupted in July 2013 -- is estimated to have taken on at least 234,000 barrels of crude oil from the rebels. On Monday the parliament ordered an operation to liberate all rebel-held oil terminals. Special forces are expected to deploy within one week. In related news, the U.N. Security Council's Libya sanctions committee reported this week that Libya had become "a primary source of illicit weapons," and that trafficking from Libya was fueling conflict and instability on several continents.

Syria

In a rare public appearance, President Bashar al-Assad visited internally displaced Syrians in the city of Adra Wednesday. Adra, located 12 miles north of Damascus, has been a battleground between rebels and government forces. Syrian state media reported that Assad was "listening to their needs" and that he told them the state would continue to provide for those needs. Meanwhile, Syrian authorities passed a law Wednesday requiring all foreign visitors to obtain a visa prior to travel. Citizens of most Arab states were not required to have a visa prior to this law, and Syria has repeatedly complained of "terrorists" entering the country illegally. Also on Wednesday, an E.U. court upheld sanctions against Assad's sister Bushra al-Assad. Separately, a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency has denied reports that a widely distributed photo of the Yarmouk refugee camp is a fake. The photo, published in newspapers around the world, shows overcrowded lines of Palestinians awaiting food aid in the Syrian camp. 

Headlines

  • The Israeli Knesset has passed a controversial law that will draft ultra-Orthodox men into the army, ending a 65-year exemption from national service. The vote passed despite opposition boycott and protest from the ultra-Orthodox community.
  • Egyptian Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has arrived on his first official visit to the United Arab Emirates to attend joint military exercises. On Sunday Sisi signed a memoranda of understanding with the UAE-based construction firm Arabtec, which has committed to building one million homes across Egypt worth a combined $40 billion.
  • British Prime Minister David Cameron will arrive in Israel Wednesday for his first visit to the country. Cameron, accompanied by two-dozen trade delegates, is expected to make U.K.-Israel trade announcements, in addition to discussing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's peace initiative in meetings with the Knesset and with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
  • Following her recent two-day visit to Tehran, E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is receiving criticism from political conservatives in Iran over her meetings with human rights defenders, including the mother of the blogger Sattar Behesthi who died in policy custody in 2012. Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday that Rouhani had failed to fulfill campaign promises to promote and protect freedoms of expression and opinion.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has issued a statement expressing Israel's regret over the death of a Jordanian judge of Palestinian origin who was shot by Israeli border guards Monday. The shooting incident has stirred diplomatic tension and protests in Jordan calling for the removal of Israel's ambassador.

Arguments and Analysis

'Saudi action puts Muslim Brotherhood in Kuwait on spot' (Elizabeth Dickinson, Al-Monitor)

"After three years of escalating animosity, Saudi Arabia made its own view clear over the weekend, adding the Muslim Brotherhood to its official list of terrorist organizations and laying out strict prohibitions against participation and support. The moves followed a decision, together with the UAE and Bahrain, to withdraw ambassadors from Qatar March 6 over anger at Doha's support for political Islam.

But Riyadh's new rules don't just mark the end of the organization's legal presence in the kingdom. They also raise questions about the future of the Brotherhood in smaller Gulf states such as Kuwait and Bahrain, where offshoots operate openly as registered political and social groups." 

''He Knew That Death Was Coming': Survivors Mourn After A Massacre By Syrian Rebels' (Joshua Hersh, Huffington Post)

"But reporting on the killing of Alawites and other pro-government civilians by rebel forces is nevertheless an uncommon experience. With so much of the conflict covered from TurkeyLebanon and Jordan -- places where the stories of victims predominantly reflect the brutality inflicted by government-affiliated forces -- a tour of Syria's internal strongholds offers a refresher course in the suffering that has befallen citizens on all sides.

A breakdown of deaths on each side is hard to come by, although most accounts indicate that regime forces have caused the majority of civilian deaths in the war. But large numbers have been harmed on all sides; last summer, one monitoring group estimated that as many as 40,000 of those killed have been Alawites, including civilians and members of the security forces.

Even if the raw numbers of dead don't balance out neatly, the feelings of fear, misery and anger among survivors and family members on the government side are just as deep -- as is their gratitude for the army that saved them. The emotions are all the same. The two sides could hardly be further apart."

-- Cortni Kerr

MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

UNICEF: Syria One of the Most Dangerous Places for Children

UNICEF said Monday that Syria was now among the most dangerous places on Earth to be a child, pointing to high child casualty rates, brutalizing and traumatic violence, deteriorated access to education, and health concerns. The number of children suffering in Syria more than doubled in the third year of the conflict, with an estimated 2 million children in need of psychological support or treatment. In addition, approximately 2.8 million Syrian children cannot go to school as a result of ongoing conflict. The United Nations World Food Program also raised an alarm Monday, citing the food crisis facing three of Syria's northeastern provinces. On the other hand, WFP noted modest, increased relief access to some areas, including al-Houle in Homs for first time since May 2013. Meanwhile, a government official said that only 25 prisoners were released by the government in exchange for the 13 Greek Orthodox nuns that were released by Jabhat al-Nursa, contradicting reports that 150 prisoners were to be released.

Headlines

  • Libyan officials reported Monday that they had taken control of the North Korea-flagged oil tanker docked at the rebel-controlled Sidra port, adding that the government would assemble forces to "liberate" all rebel-occupied oil ports in the country. Rebel forces released a contradictory statement Tuesday asserting that the oil tanker had reached international waters overnight, carrying oil.
  • The Israeli Knesset passed the Governance Law, which limits the number of government ministers and raises the minimum electoral threshold for parties to win representation in parliament from 2 to 3.25 percent. The law is one of three in a package deal that includes a law to draft ultra-Orthodox Jews into the military and a law to require a referendum in order to approve withdrawal from Israeli-held territory. The opposition boycotted the vote in protest protesting that the law provides too much power to the government and makes it difficult to overthrow the government.
  • A 15 year-old boy who had been in a coma since being hit in the head by a gas canister during a police crackdown on Turkey's Gezi Park June 2013 protests passed away Tuesday morning. Berkin Elvan is the eighth death related to the Gezi Park protests.
  • The International Monetary Fund has warned Qatar that it is likely to see higher labor costs as a result of the publicity of the working conditions and deaths of migrant workers in the country. Meanwhile, Qatar has applied for a U.S. "preclearance" customs post that could offer advantages to government-owned carriers in the Gulf, angering U.S and European carriers that operate in the region.
  • Three prominent activists of Egypt's 2011 revolution -- jailed in December 2013 for violating Egypt's anti-protest law -- claimed in an court hearing Monday that they have been abused in prison. A lawyer representing Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma, and Mohamed Adel said that the court has refused to refer the three to forensic doctors to investigate their claims.

Arguments and Analysis

'Experts Call on Obama to Promote Bahrain Reform During Visit to Saudi Arabia' (Project on Middle East Democracy)

"As the situation in Bahrain continues to deteriorate, addressing this issue must be an urgent priority. The State Department recently assessed the Bahraini government's progress in implementing the recommendations of the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), and found that only five of its 26 recommendations were fully implemented. The assessment also recognized the Government's failure to investigate claims of torture and cases that resulted in death, to ensure that individuals are no longer charged or detained for exercising their right to free speech, or to foster an environment that promotes dialogue.

Efforts last year to negotiate a political solution collapsed after the process failed to deliver any real progress, key opposition figures were arrested, and human rights violations continued. As you said in 2011, 'The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can't have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail. The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.' That was true then, and remains true today."

'Israel Watches Warily as Hezbollah Gains Battle Skills in Syria' (Isabel Kershner, New York Times)

"'This kind of experience cannot be bought,' said Gabi Siboni, director of the military and strategic affairs program at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Mr. Siboni and other analysts said that Hezbollah's experience in Syria should not be overstated since the group is fighting rebel forces like the Free Syrian Army and jihadist groups, not a modern, regular army. Still, Mr. Siboni said: 'It is an additional factor that we will have to deal with. There is no replacement for experience, and it is not to be scoffed at.'

While the Israeli military used to plan for conventional armored battle -- tanks against tanks -- now its forces train to withstand fighters who have antitank missiles and secret underground hide-outs."

-- Cortni Kerr

Fadi al-Halabi/AFP/Getty Images