The Middle East Channel

Syrian Government and Opposition Trade Blame Over Gas Attacks

The Syrian government and opposition are trading blame over two alleged gas attacks on Friday and Saturday in the rebel-held Hama province village of Kafr Zeita. Syrian opposition activists have posted video, which they say provides evidence that regime forces used chemical weapons. Both the opposition and the government said that chlorine gas had been used, however, Syrian State TV blamed al-Nusra Front for the attacks. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said reports of a gas attack were so far "unsubstantiated" but continued that the United States would work to establish what had happened. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported that Syria transferred another shipment of chemical weapons to the port of Latakia on Sunday. With the latest delivery, Syria has handed over slightly more than 65 percent of its chemical agents for destruction. Meanwhile, pro-government forces have seized control of two villages near the border with Lebanon -- Sarkha and the historic Christian village of Maaloula. The gains came after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claimed the crisis had hit a "turning point" and his forces were winning the conflict.


  • Libya's newly appointed interim Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani said he will resign over an attack against him and his family and "to protect the interests of the country."
  • Libya has begun the trial of dozens of ex-Qaddafi officials as well as his sons, Sail al-Islam and Saadi, who did not appear in the courtroom.
  • Responding to the U.S. move to block Iran's selected U.N. envoy, an Iranian official said Tehran would "pursue the matter via legal mechanisms."
  • A series of bombings in Iraq Sunday killed an estimated 20 people mainly in the city of Mosul and near Kirkuk.

Arguments and Analysis

'Syria's Lost Generation' (Khaled Hosseini, The New York Times)

"I am a father of two children. I cannot imagine what it would do to them, to see such grisly things. Yet that is happening every day in Syria. A whole generation of children, witness to the unfolding catastrophe, is unable to attend school, their lives shaped by violence, grief and displacement.

At some point this year, Syria will overtake my native country, Afghanistan, as the world's largest refugee-producing state. There are now 2.5 million refugees from Syria, 1.2 million of them children. Two-thirds of Syrian refugee children, and nearly three million children inside the country, are out of school.

They face a broken future. Syria is on the verge of losing a generation. This is perhaps the most dooming consequence of this terrible war."

'Tartus in the Present Crisis: A Mirror of the Syrian Regime' (Kheder Khaddour, Jadaliyya)

"Tartus has not experienced fighting or attacks during the current conflict. Behind its image of a quiet, pro-regime city, however, lies a more complicated situation with social and spatial disconnects. Unwritten rules are common, as is suspicion-mainly of newcomers and displaced people. Relations between the latter groups and the city's long-time inhabitants (Tartusis) are primarily a modus vivendi, punctuated by genuine moments of sharing. Rather than a novelty, however, this mélange of interests echoes the way the Syrian state and society have functioned for many years. Nevertheless, numerous changes have taken place in contemporary Tartus. Paramount among them is an increased affirmation of religion for purposes of group cohesion."

'The decline of Iran's Blogestan' (Fred Petrossian, Arash Abadpour, and Mahsa Alimardani, The Washington Post)

"State intervention, from filtering to repression, is a big part of the story. The Iranian regime introduced a wide mix of repressive techniques, from domain and keyword "blacklists" to deep packet inspection, bandwidth throttling  and filtering of virtual private networks (VPNs). Many bloggers cite personal reasons for abandoning their efforts. They noted the most important reasons for starting a blog as "saying things that cannot be said in public" and "sharing news not covered by mass media," while the key reasons for no longer blogging are "fear of censorship" and "too many blogs filtered." But the fading of Blogestan does not mean that online engagement has disappeared: One crucial reason for the decline of blogging has been the increase in time spent on other social media platforms."

-- Mary Casey

Nigel Treblin/Getty Images

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.


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.


  • 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