The Middle East Channel

Israel Imposes Sanctions on Palestinian Authority

Israel has imposed sanctions against the Palestinian Authority (PA) adding a new hurdle to peace talks. An anonymous Israeli official announced that the government would suspend the monthly transfer of tax revenue it collects on the behalf of the PA, approximately $100 million per month, which is about two-thirds of the PA's budget. It will instead use the money to offset Palestinian debts to Israeli utility companies. The official said the move was "in response to the decision of the Palestinians to apply to United Nations treaties." On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon accepted the Palestinian request to join 13 international conventions. In 2012, Israel similarly withheld tax transfers to the PA after President Mahmoud Abbas gained non-member observer status at the United Nations. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held a new round of talks Thursday and U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, "The gaps are narrowing," though she noted speculation about a deal is premature.

Syria

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said time is running out for Syria to delivery its chemical weapons stockpile for destruction. The Syrian government has committed to transfer almost all of its remaining chemical weapons and precursors to the port of Latakia by April 13, and to make its final delivery by April 27. Only about 54 percent of the full chemical stockpile has been loaded onto the two Scandinavian freighters docked at the Syrian port. The U.S. ship, the Cape Ray, is awaiting its mission to neutralize 560 tons of Syria's most dangerous chemical substances by a June 30 deadline. Meanwhile, Syrian opposition sources have reported a number of chemical attacks since January, however the OPCW said it has not been requested to investigate these new claims.

Headlines

  • The U.S. Congress has passed a bill that would block Hamid Aboutalebi, Iran's choice for its new U.N. envoy, from entering the country.
  • Three Al Jazeera journaliara have denounced Egypt's trial against them a "joke" after prosecutors presented footage from other networks which had "nothing to do with" the case.
  • Kuwait has ordered a news blackout on an investigation into reports of a video that allegedly shows former senior officials plotting to overthrow the government.
  • Turkey's constitutional court on Friday overturned sections of a contentious bill that would have given the government greater control over the judiciary.

Arguments and Analysis

'Fighting Hepatitis C in Egypt' (Maria Golia, Middle East Institute)

"HCV is currently high on the public agenda owing to the televised February 23, 2014 presentation by an army spokesperson of a device called C-Fast that uses the body's  "electromagnetic pulse" to detect HCV, and another invention, the Complete Cure Device (CCD), which purportedly eliminates the virus altogether. Members of the international scientific community have greeted both C-Fast, a spin-off of bomb detection technology, and CCD with skepticism. Major General Dr. Ibrahim Abdul Atti, the head of the research team that invented CCD, has yet to publish the research leading to the alleged cure. The promise of C-Fast and CCD's availability in military hospitals nationwide as of June 30 (the first anniversary of the army-backed ouster of President Mohamed Morsi) has nonetheless raised the hopes of many underprivileged Egyptians.

Late last year, a promising new HCV drug called Sovaldi was approved in the United States, coincidentally patented by Alexandria-born Raymond Schinazi, whose Jewish family was exiled during the Nasserist 1960s. Although a full 12-week course of treatment costs $84,000, Gilead, the California pharmaceutical company producing the drug, will make it available in Egypt at a 99 percent reduction ($900)."


'Encountering peace: If Palestine can't exist without Israeli agreement, agree now and move forward' (Gershon Baskin, The Jerusalem Post)

"The Palestinian Authority's fiscal stability is already on the verge of collapse - a little push and it could easily go over the edge.

How will Israel deal with a bankrupt PA? With Israel still in control and the PA unable to pay its bills, who will provide for basic needs such as education, health and welfare? What will Israel do when the PA can no longer pay the salaries of its security forces? What will Israel do when the Palestinian security officers say to themselves "why am I still protecting Israel's occupation of my people?" The only effective "retaliation" that Israel can implement that will serve its own interests is to support Palestinian actions which strengthen its ability to be an independent state, living in peace next to Israel. Drop the ridiculous demand that they recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people - we don't need their intervention in a subject which is not even defined among Israel's citizens. Encourage their economy and the building of state institutions. Encourage the Palestinians to sign onto international conventions and treaties, especially those such as the first 15 they've already signed onto, which obligate them to respect human rights, rights of diplomats, prevent torture in their prisons, etc."

'Seeing the women in revolutionary Syria' (Razan Ghazzawi, Open Democracy

"In the mainstream coverage of Syrian women today, one cannot help but get the impression that women must either have been ‘raped,' ‘sexually abused,' or ‘displaced.' The necessity to document all sort of violations committed against citizens, is unquestionable. The lack of similar effort, however, in portraying women in Syria on the ground as active participants in the revolution as writers, human rights lawyers, doctors, teachers and politicians, when they are heavily engaged in such activities, is indeed perverse, especially when this constructed image of Syrian women hasn't changed one iota over the past three years."

-- Mary Casey

GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images

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