The Middle East Channel

Twin Car Bombs Hit the Syrian City of Homs

Two car bombs exploded in the Syrian city of Homs Wednesday killing 25 people and wounding 107 others, according to Syrian state news agency SANA. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 21, but said it was expected to rise. The explosions, about 30 minutes apart, hit the government-controlled residential district of Karm al-Loz causing heavy damage. Meanwhile, the United States and Turkey are investigating new accusations of the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons. The opposition Syrian National Coalition has accused the Assad regime of conducting chemical attacks at least four times in recent months, mainly in the suburbs of Damascus. A U.S. State Department official said they couldn't confirm these reports but "take all allegations of chemical weapons use seriously and are looking into it."

Headlines

  • Talks between Iran and world powers wrapped up Wednesday with "intensive work" remaining, though Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tehran would not halt nuclear activities.
  • Turkish authorities have maintained a ban on YouTube despite a court ruling that it violated human rights.
  • Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the U.S. denial of a visa for Tehran's selected U.N. envoy, Hamid Aboutalebi, would be "unacceptable."
  • Israeli archaeologists have found a 3,300-year-old sarcophagus believed to hold a Canaanite official in the service of Egypt.
  • Three Al Jazeera journalists have returned to court Thursday a day after Egyptian authorities arrested a freelance reporter, who had worked for Al Jazeera, for allegedly inciting violence.

Arguments and Analysis

'American anti-tank weapons appear in Syrian rebel hands' (Charles Lister, The Huffington Post)

"In three videos (one, two, three) published on YouTube on 1 and 5 April, members of moderate Syrian rebel group Harakat Hazm were shown operating American-manufactured BGM-71 TOW anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs). All three videos - two show missiles being fired and the third shows several missiles on the back of a pick-up truck - were filmed in and around the town of Heesh in the northern governorate of Idlib. This marked the first time such weapons have been seen in Syria since the eruption of conflict in the country three years ago.

At first glance, this appears to be an extremely significant development. However, some level of care must be taken at this stage in terms of drawing conclusions as to what this means. More videos showing BGM-71 TOWs being used in Syria - and preferably in the hands of additional rebel groups or in other areas of the country - will be necessary for this to represent a potential state-based program of providing valuable weaponry to moderate rebels. However, for now, this possibility appears more likely than not and the arrival in some form or another of such new weapons seems worthy of some investigation."

'Corruption in Construction: Egypt's Failing Infrastructure' (Amira Mikhail, Atlantic Council)

"The collapse of buildings across Egypt is a problematic phenomenon on several fronts. Most obviously, it endangers the lives, properties and homes, and well-being of the Egyptian public. The devastation of losing one's home, not to mention the loss of human life alone, should translate into the implementation of building regulations and a more strict and urgent move towards construction reform. As laid out in Article 46 of the country's new constitution, all Egyptians have a right to ‘live in a healthy, sound and balanced environment,' with protection of this right being a ‘national duty.' The overarching failure to enforce building laws and regulations, and to enforce maintenance ordinances directly endangers civilians lives and property, two fundamental rights set forth in Articles 2 and 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that state: ‘everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.'"

-- Mary Casey

STR/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Netanyahu Orders Pull Back in Contact with Palestinians

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday ordered a halt to high-level contact with the Palestinian Authority on non-security related issues. However, lead peace negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni as well as defense and security officials would be allowed to continue to engage with the Palestinians, and "low-level" cooperation would be permitted. According to a senior Israeli official, the move was in response to a Palestinian bid to join 15 international conventions. Netanyahu's order came a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that Israel's announcement of 700 new settlement apartments in East Jerusalem led to the breakdown of Israeli and Palestinian peace talks, though he noted both sides had taken measures to obstruct progress. According to Palestinian government spokesman Ihab Bsaiso, contacts between top Israeli and Palestinian officials are already rare, so the move won't affect Palestinian "daily life or government business."

Syria

The Syrian army, backed by Hezbollah fighters, recaptured the town of Rankous near the border with Lebanon on Wednesday. The gain was part of an offensive by President Bashar al-Assad's forces to clear rebels from the strategic Qalamoun region and consolidate control over an opposition supply line from Lebanon. After Rankous, the last remaining rebel-held town in the area is Zabandani. Meanwhile, Iran delivered 30,000 tons of food supplies to Syria on Tuesday in efforts to assist the government in dealing with food shortages, which have been compounded by a recent drought.

Headlines

  • The United States has informed Iran that its choice of U.N. envoy, Hamid Aboutalebi, is "not viable" because of his alleged role in the 1979 hostage crisis.
  • Iran and world powers worked to bridge "significant gaps" as talks over Iran's contested nuclear program continued on Wednesday.
  • A series of car bombings hit mainly Shiite neighborhoods of Iraq's capital killing at least 16 people on the anniversary of the 2003 fall of Baghdad to U.S. forces.

Arguments and Analysis

'More Israelis living in poverty on eve of Passover' (Daniel Ben Simon, Al-Monitor)

"This year's Passover celebration has been tainted by recently publicized findings showing that hundreds of thousands will be hard-pressed to celebrate Passover with their families, because they are unable to finance the holiday meal.

In December 2013, Latet published an Alternative Poverty Report revealing an alarming, gut-wrenching social reality. The shock factor increases when reading about the children who happen to be born in underprivileged families. It seems that 37% of children in poor families rely on bread and various spreads for their main nourishment. Out of 532,000 families suffering from nutritional insecurity, 60% reported that they were forced to reduce the composition of their children's meals due to economic distress. What's more, 46% of the parents reported that sometimes their children did not eat for an entire day, due to a lack of food at home, while 9% of the children were forced to steal food and 12% were forced to collect food from the floor or from the garbage."

'Turkey: Orientalists' Delight' (Steven A. Cook, Council on Foreign Relations)

"Turkey is no different from other countries, of course: Check out the way the rest of the world portrays Americans. But in some discrete ways Turkey seems particularly susceptible to clichés and misrepresentation. One is geography, which leads to endless imagery of the country as "a bridge between East and West" (like fingernails on a chalkboard), another is religion and the fact that 99.8 percent of Turks are Muslims, which is always excellent fodder for discussions of the country's "perennial kulturkampf between secularists and Islamists." I have never understood why people writing in English tend to choose the German instead of just "culture war" nor why all pious Muslims are categorized in these tales as Islamists. Then there is the fact that Turkey is the inheritor of a great empire with a fascinating history and some seriously stunning architecture. I mean, who would take a first look at the "city of 1,000 minarets" without their oriental juices flowing? Bring on the kebap, water pipe, and harem."

-- Mary Casey

Kobi Gideon / GPO via Getty Images