The Middle East Channel

Breakdown in Deal Keeps Syrian Rebels Trapped in Homs

Syrian government forces have retaken control over the Old City of Homs as a breakdown in a deal for the withdrawal of opposition fighter has left about 270 rebels stuck in the city. In the deal struck between opposition fighters and government forces, over 1,200 rebels as well as civilians were to be evacuated while rebel forces agreed to release about 70 hostages and allow aid deliveries into the northern Shiite towns of Nubul and Zahraa. According to Syrian officials, an aid convoy has been blocked from entering the towns. They said the remaining rebels would only be allowed to leave Homs after aid has reached the areas. Meanwhile, Sigrid Kaag, head of the join United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons operation for the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons, said the remaining eight percent of the regime's stockpile is at a government airfield near Damascus, but cannot be transferred yet because rebel forces control the local roads. The nearly 100 tons of remaining chemical substances declared by the regime reportedly contain the precursors to produce the lethal sarin nerve gas.


  • The United States agreed to continuing investing in the Iron Dome meanwhile Israel is seeking increased military assistance ahead of the 2017 expiration of a 10-year $30 billion defense aid deal.
  • Gunmen assassinated Ibrahim Senussi, Libya's head of intelligence for the country's eastern sector, on Thursday as he was driving in Benghazi.
  • The United States closed its embassy in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa on Thursday citing recent attacks meanwhile an American journalist was deported without explanation.
  • Egypt's ministry of tourism has launched a new advertising campaign as the loss of travelers amidst the political turmoil has taken a severe toll on the economy.

Arguments and Analysis

'Flight of Icarus? The PYD's Precarious Rise in Syria' (International Crisis Group)

"With the Syrian regime and opposition locked in a see-saw battle, Kurdish forces have consolidated control over large portions of the country's north. Their principal players, the Democratic Union Party (Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat, PYD) and its armed wing, the People's Protection Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel, YPG), now dominate three large, non-contiguous enclaves of Kurdish-majority territory along the Turkish border, over which the PYD proclaimed in November 2013 the transitional administration of Rojava (Western Kurdistan). Kurdish governance is unprecedented in Syria and for the PYD, an offshoot of the Turkish Kurdish insurgent movement PKK, from which it draws ideological, organisational and military support. But it is unclear whether this is a first step toward stability and the Kurdish aspiration for national recognition, or merely a respite while the civil war focuses elsewhere. The PYD alone will not determine the fate of Syria's north, but it could greatly increase its chances by broadening its popular appeal and cooperating with other local forces."

'The Consequences of NATO's Good War in Libya' (Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, War on the Rocks)

"Rapid as Qaddafi's fall was, the intervention is widely regarded as a success, as no allied lives were lost, and the price tag stood at just $1.1 billion. But though the mission was superb in its execution, it was more problematic than is commonly acknowledged. The intervention produced significant ripples, and in fact, one rationale for intervention advanced at the time was that doing so would have second-order consequences: As several commentators noted, there was a real feeling at the time that the changes sweeping the region might be reversed if Qaddafi's advance on Benghazi weren't stopped.

Though the desire to see the spread of democracy and the fall of dictators is noble, decisions of state should be judged by results rather than intent. NATO's intervention came when there had already been wrenching changes in the region, and there were further revolutionary rumblings. The choice to intervene represented not just a decision to stop Qaddafi's advance on Benghazi, but also to speed up the pace of change. This made it more difficult subsequently for the United States to secure its interests, and to influence events in the region in a way that could save further lives. The intervention in Libya left behind a country beset by instability, and has had a destabilizing effect on Libya's neighbors. Taking these consequences into account, it is not clear that lives were saved on the whole by NATO's intervention."

'Taking sides in Egypt's troubled revolution: but which?' (Haifaa G. Khalafallah, Open Democracy)

"Revolutions or coups seeking to change modern Egypt, whether in 1919 or 1952, never challenged the familiar patterns of power relations, that is to say, their political culture.  

The triumph of a home grown, new political discourse is the real and most significant Egyptian revolution that took place early in 2011. Unexpected and leaderless, Tahrir Square became its central point, where many of its advocates first appeared as a group. Ever since, Tahrir also served as the address of the significant shifts that this vision brings. 

After their initial shock at the success of the Tahrir demonstrators, the subscribers to Egypt's old narrative of power recovered ground and began to reassert the authority of the familiar ways of running their country. A war between the old and new ways became inevitable. That summarises the story of Egypt today, where daily battles continue to rage in its streets, workplaces, media, prisons, and even in its morgues."

-- Mary Casey


The Middle East Channel

Syrian Rebels Bomb Aleppo Hotel

A large explosion in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo destroyed a hotel used as a military base by government forces. Fighters from the opposition Islamic Front reportedly dug a tunnel and detonated a huge bomb underneath the Carlton Citadel Hotel on Thursday, leveling the hotel and damaging other buildings near the city's medieval citadel. The Islamic Front claimed 50 soldiers from President Bashar al-Assad's forces were killed in the explosion, however the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 14 security forces were killed. Meanwhile, more rebel fighters are leaving the city of Homs Thursday in the second day of an evacuation deal, and the Syrian army is expected to move in to the formerly rebel-held areas later in the day. Opposition Syrian National Coalition President Ahmad Jarba is meeting with officials in Washington, where he said he will ask the Obama administration to provide antiaircraft missiles and will work to assure officials that the weapons will not fall into the hands of extremist groups. However, the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, part of the Free Syrian Army, has reportedly collaborated with al Qaeda linked al-Nusra Front to fight government forces in Syria's southwestern Quneitra province. A member of Jarba's delegation in the United States has denied the collaboration.


  • A Saudi court has sentenced blogger Raif Badawi to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for "insulting Islam" and founding the website the "Liberal Saudi Network."
  • An Israeli and an Egyptian company are working to finalize a gas deal, though the Egyptian cabinet said it had not authorized gas imports from Israel.
  • The Hamas government executed two men Wednesday, without seeking approval from the Palestinian Authority president, on charges of collaborating with Israel.
  • The U.N. Human Rights Council is urging Qatar to reform its labor laws and abolish a sponsorship system ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

Arguments and Analysis

'When jihadists learn how to help' (Aaron Y. Zelin, The Washington Post)

"What makes ASL stand out compared to all of the other groups, though, is that it has internationalized its dawa campaign to areas that are not part of its considered traditional constituency within the borders of Libya to a few other countries. ASL has conducted a number of campaigns to help the people of "Bilad al-Sham," Gaza, and Sudan. This illustrates that ASL is not just rhetorically talking about assisting the umma (Muslim community), but actually acting on it and trying to show that while its home base is indeed in Libya, the "imagined" umma is just as much a part of this constituency, since borders are irrelevant from its perspective. This is highlighted by the name of ASL's overseas dawa efforts: ‘The Convoy Campaign of Goodness To Our People in ‘X-location.'"

'Ronald Reagan's Benghazi' (Jane Mayer, The New Yorker)

"There were more than enough opportunities to lay blame for the horrific losses at high U.S. officials' feet. But unlike today's Congress, congressmen did not talk of impeaching Ronald Reagan, who was then President, nor were any subpoenas sent to cabinet members. This was true even though then, as now, the opposition party controlled the majority in the House. Tip O'Neill, the Democratic Speaker of the House, was no pushover. He, like today's opposition leaders in the House, demanded an investigation-but a real one, and only one. Instead of playing it for political points, a House committee undertook a serious investigation into what went wrong at the barracks in Beirut. Two months later, it issued a report finding "very serious errors in judgment" by officers on the ground, as well as responsibility up through the military chain of command, and called for better security measures against terrorism in U.S. government installations throughout the world.

In other words, Congress actually undertook a useful investigation and made helpful recommendations. The report's findings, by the way, were bipartisan. (The Pentagon, too, launched an investigation, issuing a report that was widely accepted by both parties.)"

-- Mary Casey

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