Israel suspended peace talks with the Palestinian Authority (AP) Thursday in response to an announcement Wednesday of a unity agreement between rival Palestinian factions, Fatah, led by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. The move came just days ahead of the April 29 expiration date of U.S. sponsored Israeli and Palestinian negotiations, which were already faltering. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "I will never negotiate with a Palestinian government that is backed by Hamas terrorists." However, he appeared to leave the door open if Abbas "changes his mind." Palestinian officials have said that a unified government shouldn't be a bar to talks, and the United States said it would not yet declare the talks over though President Barack Obama said neither party has shown the political will to take the steps to advance negotiations.
As Syria transfers its final shipments of chemical weapons ahead of an April 27 deadline, British officials have said the government has failed to declare all of the elements in its chemical stockpile. Director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Ahmet Uzumcu is considering launching an investigation, on his own initiative, into claims of chlorine gas attacks in Syria. Russia's foreign ministry said on Friday that accusations that Syrian government forces used "poisonous chemicals continue to be fabricated." Meanwhile, efforts by Britain's metropolitan police to enlist families, particularly Muslim women, to prevent young Muslims from traveling to fight in the Syrian conflict is being met with controversy.
- Iran cut a portion of fuel subsidies Friday sparking a surge in gas prices of up to 75 percent in a move President Rouhani hopes will strengthen the economy.
- Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and Houthi rebels have agreed to talks over the prospect of the group's disarmament.
- Lebanese Speaker Nabih Berri described the first round of the presidential election in the parliament as a "rehearsal" and said next week's session will move to the stage of electing a president.
- Ethiopia's prime minister said its Nile River hydroelectric dam is about 32 percent complete and called for talks urging Egyptian authorities to "avoid unnecessary complaints."
Arguments and Analysis
'For Netanyahu, another excuse to miss an opportunity' (Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel)
"And still, if Netanyahu weren't so busy looking for excuses to not talk to the Palestinians, he would discover a few interesting things about the agreement.
First, Abbas brought Netanyahu and the international community what they were demanding: a government, with no Hamas representatives, made up only of technocrats, without politicians and with Abbas himself at its head. The government is supposed to deal not only with the West Bank, but also with the Gaza Strip.
And maybe that is what is making Netanyahu nervous. If the agreement does go into effect, a government presiding over the Gaza Strip and West Bank is created, and elections are held, Netanyahu could find himself facing a real partner in the person of Abbas. All the "no partner" claims citing the fact that Abbas doesn't rule the Gaza Strip will cease to be relevant."
'#SaveKessab, #Save Aleppo, and Kim Kardashian: Syria's Rashomon Effect' (Elyse Sermerdijian, Jadaliyya)
"While #SaveKessab intended to draw attention to the dramatic depopulation of Kesab and Turkey's role in the event, as a social media campaign, it fell prey to "hoaxes" that typically spread viral on the internet-thinkBonzai Kitten. Making Kardashian the fall girl for misinforming the public about Kessab merely highlighted the way in which celebrities rather than experts are looked to as purveyors of knowledge in an environment of anti-intellectualism. After all, the mainstream media quoted Twitter, Facebook pages of pro-opposition activists, lobbyists, and celebrities in search of the Kessab story which is hardly rigorous journalism.
While the internet has its own ability to produce gullible consumers, history shows there is a reason why such fears are easily stoked within the Armenian community. Images of sectarian murder have spread virally on state and social media paralyzing minority communities into submission to not only the Asad regime but to political interests more broadly. Turkey also got involved in the game-as did opposition activists-to dismiss sectarian concerns that were chalked up to mere hype. There was little effort to acknowledge what the loss of Kessab meant to the Armenian community and why its capture would produce such internet hysteria. The state sought to capitalize on the outrage over Kessab as it launches its campaign against opposition forces in Latakia province. Kessab is yet another manifestation of the Syria conflict's Rashomon effect as each faction works to produce their own reality to gain support amid a hopeless political stalemate."
'IRI Poll: Tunisia's Democratic Success Builds Cautious Optimism and Heightened Expectations' (International Republican Institute)
"With Tunisia's passage of a constitution and formation of an interim government, a majority of Tunisians have reaffirmed they are satisfied with democracy and believe the country's political system is on a democratic path. IRI's survey (PDF) found that 53 percent of Tunisians continue to prefer democracy, even with instability, over a stable authoritarian government.
At the same time, there is a broad perception that their path to democracy is not yet complete. Forty percent said Tunisia is a flawed democracy, and a clear majority (79 percent) believe political parties are not doing enough to address Tunisians' needs."
-- Mary Casey
MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images