The number of Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon officially topped 1 million Thursday in what the United Nations called a "devastating milestone." With a population of about 4 million, this constitutes about a quarter of Lebanon's resident population and has made it so that Lebanon now has the highest concentration of refugees per capita in the world. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said, "The influx of a million refugees would be massive in any country. For Lebanon, a small nation beset by internal difficulties, the impact is staggering." The surge of refugees has put a strain on Lebanon's health and education sectors, as well as water, sanitation, and utility services. An estimated 2,500 Syrians flee to Lebanon each day. Others seek refugee in Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, and elsewhere constituting over 2.6 million people. Another 6.5 million people have been displaced within Syria. Meanwhile, the Syria has written a letter to the United Nations claiming that rebel groups are planning to conduct a gas attack in an opposition-held are near Damascus in or to blame it on government forces. Bashar Jaafari, Syrian envoy to the United Nations, wrote in the letter that authorities had intercepted rebel communications indicating a gas attack will take place and showing a man distributing gas masks in Jobar. On Thursday, several mortar shells hit the Syrian capital of Damascus as well as the suburb of Harasta killing at least six people.
- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Israeli and Palestinian leaders Wednesday continuing to push talks as negotiators met in Jerusalem.
- Twitter remained blocked in Turkey on Thursday despite the Constitutional Court's ruling that the ban was "illegal" and "arbitrary" and violated freedom of expression.
- The U.S. State Department has raised serious concerns over Iran's nomination of Hamid Aboutalebi, who is connected with the 1979 hostage crisis, as its envoy to the United Nations.
- Israel's foreign ministry workers committee and the Treasury signed a labor agreement Wednesday evening ended the Foreign Ministry's 11-day strike.
- Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has responded to an announced British inquiry into the group saying it will take the government to court if it attempts to restrict its activities in Britain.
Arguments and Analysis
'America has resettled 121 of Syria's 2m refugees. We must do better - now' (Eleanor Acer, Human Rights First)
"As the crisis enters its fourth year, the scale of suffering in Syria is tremendous; so, too, is its impact on the region. More than 6.5 million people have been displaced within Syria and more than 2.6 million have fled the country in search of refuge. The UN Refugee Agency expects this number to rise to more than 4 million by the end of this year. More than 587,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Jordan, more than 649,000 have fled to Turkey, and nearly 1 million have fled to Lebanon, where Syrian refugees now constitute a quarter of the fragile country's population.
In his testimony before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council and former United Nations Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, noted: ‘If we do not act now to protect the region's future, the fallout from this conflict will be felt for generations.'
This is already apparent. Despite their generosity, Syria's neighbouring states are struggling to provide basic needs to refugees, some of whom are living in squalor. And the sheer scale of the humanitarian crisis also threatens the stability of the region, including that of key US allies like Jordan.
And yet, so far, the American response has been wanting. With more than $1.7bn in aid so far, it is the single largest donor to the Syria humanitarian response, but the United States resettled a mere 36 Syrian refugees in 2013. As of February 2014, the US has resettled only 25 more. That's a total of 121 since 2011, out of over 2 million refugees.
If the country with the largest resettlement program in the world doesn't step up, who will?"
'Erdogan's next moves' (Gonul Tol, The Washington Post)
"Yet the most significant factor behind the AKP's strong standing in local elections is the economy. Corruption is prevalent in Turkey, but voters tend to punish politicians for corruption only when the economy is perceived to be doing poorly. After a volatile 1990s, the AKP has presided over steady high growth and modest inflation. Despite the slowdown in economic growth over the past year, Turkish voters seem to credit the government for the economic development and relative stability that have marked the nearly 12 years of its rule.
Regardless of the factors behind the AKP victory, the win could have broad implications for Turkey's turbulent political landscape. Erdogan is likely to interpret the result as a popular seal of approval, and will assert his authority even more strongly in a power struggle continuing into this summer's presidential election and next year's parliamentary elections. After being targeted by Gulen supporters within the judiciary and the police force, Erdogan's first move will be to root out Gulenists within the state and target businesses and civil society organizations close to the movement. That Gulenists allegedly posted a recording on YouTube of a secret meeting of security officials about possible intervention in Syria right before the elections has given such action new urgency."
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