The Middle East Channel

Syrian Refugees Registered in Lebanon Top 1 Million

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.

Headlines

  • 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."

JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Image

The Middle East Channel

Peace Talks Falter as Abbas Signs International Treaties

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry canceled a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas planned for Wednesday in the Palestinian capital of Ramallah after a surprise move by the Palestinian leader to sign 15 international conventions. Abbas signed applications as the "State of Palestine" to join U.N. agencies and ratify international treaties, including the Geneva Conventions. Abbas hopes this will give Palestinians greater leverage against Israel however, he did not move toward joining the International Criminal Court, where the Palestinians could lodge formal complaints against Israeli presence in the West Bank. Meanwhile, on Tuesday Israel reissued tenders for 708 homes in the Jewish settlement of Gilo in East Jerusalem. From a NATO meeting in Brussels, Kerry said, "We urge both sides to show restraint while we work with them." Kerry insisted it is premature to write off Israeli-Palestinian peace talks saying, "There are a lot of possibilities at play." The recent hurdle to negotiations was triggered Saturday when Israel failed to release a final batch of Palestinian prisoners as part of an agreement that led to the resumption of talks in July 2013. Abbas said that Israel's failure to stick to the accord meant he no longer needed to maintain his commitment not to seek membership in international bodies.

Headlines

  • A third explosion has hit outside Cairo University in Egypt about two hours after two bombings in the same location killed a police chief and a civilian.
  • Several attacks in Iraq Tuesday killed eight soldiers as campaigning began for May's general election.
  • Clashes in Yemen's western al-Hadida province killed two soldiers and two al-Qaeda linked militants meanwhile eight people were killed when militants attacked an army complex in Aden.
  • Lebanese troops have expanded operations into the Tripoli neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh in efforts to halt violence conducting raids that sparked Sunni Muslim cleric Omar Bakri Mohammad to flee the area.

Arguments and Analysis

'The Turkish Ballot-Box Revolt That Wasn't' (Sohrab Ahmari, The Wall Street Journal)

"'Politics have become an arena of gladiators and there is no possibility left for an honorable struggle,' wrote Ertugrul Ozkok, a columnist for the liberal, English-language Hurriyet Daily News, ahead of the vote. The Gezi generation, its hopes now crushed and its prospects looking limited, is likely to settle on waging an "honorable struggle" in the streets and on social media. What its members really need to do is to translate liberal politics into a solid agenda with broad appeal. The CHP and other legacy secularist parties may not be up to the task.

The AKP and Mr. Erdogan, meanwhile, would do well to remember that for Turkey to reach the ranks of the world's top-10 economies, as promised on the campaign trail, the country needs the participation and energy of people like Onur Dedeoglu and his compatriots. The Gezi generation is talented and highly employable-and it can also vote with its feet."

'John Kerry's Peace Talks Are Almost Dead. A Preemptive Obituary' (John B. Judis, New Republic)

"As I read the news today, the Doors' song, 'The End,' kept playing in my mind. ‘This is the end ... the end of an elaborate plan.' Maybe it isn't the end of American peace efforts, but it sure looks like it. Abbas was the most moderate leader that the Israelis have ever had to negotiate with, but Netanyahu was not ready to make a deal-his coalition itself was too divided-and the Obama administration was not willing to put the kind of pressure on him that might have led him to act boldly. Kerry deserves credit for initiating the negotiations-I doubt that without him, Obama would have done anything in his second term-but Kerry was largely on his own. There was little sign that Obama was willing to risk the furor that would greet any attempt to press Netanyahu hard to make concessions. So Kerry followed a familiar diplomatic script-shuttling between the sides, interminable discussions between teams of negotiators, frameworks, deadlines-but, sadly and perhaps predictably, it does not look like the play will have a happy ending."

-- Mary Casey

ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images