The Middle East Channel

Palestinian President Abbas Swears In Unity Government

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has sworn in a new unity government, agreed upon by rival factions Fatah and Hamas. The government will be headed by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, and includes 17 politically independent ministers, five of them from Gaza. It will be tasked with holding elections within six months. Abbas praised the new government saying, "Today, with the formation of a national consensus government, we announce the end of a Palestinian division that has greatly damaged our national case." However, ahead of the announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged world leaders not to recognize the unity government saying it will strengthen terror not peace.

Syria

Syria will hold its first multicandidate presidential election Tuesday, in which President Bashar al-Assad is expected to win a third seven-year term. The opposition has dismissed the election as a sham, however Assad will likely see his victory as a popular mandate to continue his fight against rebel forces. Assad will face government-approved candidates Hassan al-Nuri and Maher al-Hajjar. Ahead of the election, opposition forces have increased attacks on government-held regions of the northern city of Aleppo, killing and injuring dozens of people over the past three days. Meanwhile, French authorities have arrested four people suspected of recruiting fighters to join the conflict in Syria.

Headlines

Arguments and Analysis

'Sabbahi, Spoiled Ballots, and the Election' (Bel Trew, Middle East Institute)

"But the real story was in the spoiled ballots. Over a million, or around 4 percent, of the voting papers were invalid, the highest number recorded in all of Egypt's seven elections since the January 2011 revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak. Some of these were, of course, accidental violations, though the Egyptian authorities had even relaxed electoral rules and allowed voters to draw hearts or write 'I love you' on their ballots, provided that they ticked a box. In past polls, any excess writing on a ballot would have made it invalid.

The numbers of spoiled ballots this year was high enough not only to beat Sabbahi, but to defeat an organized campaign calling for such ballots in the 2012 elections that voted in Mohamed Morsi."

'The Forgotten Children of Zataari' (Scott Weiner, Muftah)

"The Syrian refugees in Zaatari have fled violence and suffering few outsiders can comprehend. Most come to Zaatari legally, but others pay up to 500 dollars to be trafficked across the Syrian border, out of the crossfire which has turned their homeland into hell on earth. The Zaatari village, home to about 12,000 Jordanians, was underserved even before the influx of refugees began in 2011. Today, residents report a shortage of basic staples. Baby milk and diapers are the top priorities.

Yet, the children in the village are like any other group of kids - boisterous, energetic, and eager. While the international community experiences Syria 'donor fatigue,' the children of Zaatari show a resilience and determination of a far higher caliber."

'A Dangerous Method: Syria, Sy Hersh, and the Art of Mass-crime Revisionism' (Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, Los Angeles Review of Books)

"Five days after Hersh's article went live, a military helicopter dropped a barrel bomb on Kafr Zita. This one carried toxic chlorine instead of the usual TNT. The regime, like Hersh, blamed the Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra. But only the regime has an air force.

In a time of ongoing slaughter, to obfuscate the regime's well-documented responsibility for a war crime does not just aid the regime today, it aids it tomorrow. As long as doubts remain about previous atrocities, there will be hesitancy to assign new blame. Accountability will be deferred."

-- Mary Casey

ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Palestinian President Abbas Appoints Head of Unity Government

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has asked his current prime minister, politically independent academic Rami Hamdallah, to form a "government of national consensus" aimed at uniting rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas. The transitional government would ally Abbas's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), dominated by Fatah, and Hamas, which controls Gaza, in accordance with a unity pact reached in April, which spurred Israel to break off peace negotiations with the Palestinians. The announcement of the full government of independent technocrat ministers was expected Thursday however the parties have failed to agree on Abbas's selection of foreign minister

Syria

The U.N. Security Council is considering a draft resolution that would authorize humanitarian aid deliveries into Syria from Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan without the consent of the Syrian government. The Security Council passed a resolution in February that demanded unhindered humanitarian access, however it has been ignored by the warring parties, according to the United Nations and several NGOs. The new draft text would be under a Chapter 7 mandate, which would be enforceable with military action or sanctions. Syrian regime forces struck several rebel-held districts of the northern city of Aleppo with barrel bombs Thursday. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported 1,963 civilians have been killed by government barrel bombings and other air raids since the beginning of 2014. Meanwhile, fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) killed 15 Kurdish people, including seven children, in an attack on the northern village of Ras al-Ain, according to the Observatory.

Headlines  

  • After months of deadlock, the Chilcot inquiry and the British government have agreed on the "gist" of what would be released of conversations between Blair and Bush over the Iraq war.
  • International observers reported Egypt's presidential election fell short of democratic standards after former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi won an overwhelming victory.
  • Turkey's Constitutional Court declared a government ban on YouTube unconstitutional, paving the way for the lifting of a blockade imposed after the leaking of audio recordings in March.

Arguments and Analysis

'The Crumbling Deal on Syria's Chemical Weapons' (Paul Wolfowitz, The Wall Street Journal)

"Earlier this month on C-Span, National Security Adviser Susan Rice said that, 'with 92.5% of the declared chemical weapons out of the country' we have accomplished more than any 'number of airstrikes that might have been contemplated would have done.' Yet much more important than what's been removed is what's still left, and it seems likely that more remains than just what was declared by Syria last year. For one thing, it appears that the regime is now using chlorine gas as a kind of poor man's chemical weapon even though, as Time reported on May 23, it has made no declaration about its chlorine stocks. Chlorine as such is not a prohibited substance, since it has many civilian uses. But its use as a weapon is prohibited by the Chemical Weapons Convention that Syria joined in 2013.

The possibility that Syria is using chlorine gas is not the most disturbing factor. The experience with Libya demonstrates that there is no reason to be confident that Syria has even declared its entire stockpile of its more lethal weapons, such as sarin."

'The Struggle for Information: Revelations on Mercenaries, Sectarian Agitation, and Demographic Engineering in Bahrain' (Nazgol Kafai and Ala'a Shehabi, Jadaliyaa)

"The need to balance between national security needs and the public's right to information and accountability has been a topic of great discussion since Chelsea Manning leaked U.S. military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks in 2010. The latter incident even culminated in a set of legal principles known as the 'Tshwane Principles' that have been used to defend Snowden's right to asylum and protection. Despite the lack of such legal protections in places like Bahrain, the practice of unauthorized disclosure continues. In Bahrain, disclosures have provided insight into the logistics of the state's divide-and-rule strategy and its instruments of sectarian engineering. It is certain that even greater resources have been devoted to the political economy of cooption over the past few years as the regime attempts to end the revolutionary upheaval. Globally, the logics of the 'national security state' continue to expand, making unlawful disclosures of information increasingly important acts of dissent. They are an important form of resistance that seeks to undermine state control and, as we have seen, can help to change the course of history by challenging and disrupting state legitimacy, an issue at the core of the Arab uprisings. The need for such disclosures of state secrets amplifies the divergence between the interests of a government and its citizen and highlights the breakdown in the social contract between the state and its people. Such knowledge serves to confirm governments' overreach that most people already suspect and inspire campaigns that may stop such acts from happening again. It may also be amplified to help articulate broader narratives of grievance that serve as the basis for progressive social mobilization."

-- Mary Casey

MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images