The Syrian government and rebel forces reportedly agreed to a cease-fire in Homs on Friday, allowing for around 1,000 opposition fighters to withdraw from districts in and around the Old City of Homs. If the deal goes through, Syria's third-largest city will fall under government control just weeks ahead of presidential elections, in which President Bashar al-Assad is expected to win a third term. The agreement calls for a 48-hour truce in the rebel-held areas of Homs, after which fighters will be evacuated to regions north of the city. It has come just days after dozens of people were killed and wounded in explosions in government-held neighbors in the city. Syrian state television reported two car bombs exploded in the Hama province towns of Jibrin and al-Humairi Friday, killing 18 people, including 11 children and injuring 50 others. On Thursday, airstrikes killed at least 33 people at a busy market in the rebel-held district of Hullock in Aleppo, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Meanwhile, the United Nations is looking for a replacement for its special envoy to Syria as Lakhdar Brahimi, frustrated by the failed Geneva peace talks, is expected to resign at the end of May.
- Tunisia's interim parliament passed a new electoral law Thursday paving the way for parliamentary and presidential elections in 2014.
- Turkish prosecutors dismissed a real estate graft case against 60 suspects, including a former minister's son and a construction magnate, one of three corruption inquiries plaguing Erdogan's government.
- Two suicide attacks in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula killed a soldier Friday and a car bomb killed a policeman at a checkpoint in Cairo.
- Suspected Islamist militants attacked a security headquarters in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi Friday killing eight soldiers and police officers.
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to draft a bill promoting Israel's Jewish character in an apparent response to the failure of Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state during peace talks.
Arguments and Analysis
"Herein lies the problem with counting the dead in Syria's civil war: different methods to identifying casualties, different standards, and different agendas can lead to starkly contrasting interpretations of the violence on the ground.
Consider just the conflicting enumerations of fatalities in Syria. SOHR claims to be able to account for 99% of all violence in Syria and provides video or photographic evidence in 70% of its cases. No death gets recorded unless there is an accompanying name. Its 150,000-plus-casualty figure is the one most often cited by the international media and NGO community, even though the number could be well above 220,000, SOHR's director Rami Abdel-Rahman told Lebanon's Daily Star.
By contrast, the Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC) relies on a loose network of a few dozen reporters and activists located abroad and on the ground in Syria. Its data, which is periodically audited, is vastly different from the SOHR's and presents a much more one-sided picture of the violence. VDC claims to be able to document 60% of the instances of violence comprising its data. (Moreover, in light of the escalating number of foreign extremist fighters being killed on the rebel side, it is reportedly going to be doing away with the culturally loaded term ‘martyr')."
'Yemen's Counterterror Offensive Sidesteps Real Problems' (Vivian Salama, Atlantic Council)
"As military operations increase in the southern governorates, as many believe they could, the more productive option for winning hearts and minds is to seek reconciliation. Severe government neglect and dwindling resources, including declining water, soaring unemployment and rapid population growth - issues often at the heart of domestic conflicts - are becoming blurred as the government wages a war against these groups that supposedly represent a radical Islamist position. Resources including electricity, water, and gas are scarce and coming under increasing pressure. Many remote areas from Khawlan to Rada'a to the southern governorate of Abyaan have little-to-no access to healthcare or proper education, fueling further resentment against the state."
AFP PHOTO / BARAA AL-HALABI