The Middle East Channel

Fighting continues in Damascus as opposition forces capture Syria’s largest dam

Fighting continues in Damascus as opposition forces capture Syria’s largest dam

Fighting continued in Damascus on Monday with no response from President Bashar al-Assad to the opposition’s offer for talks. The Syrian army has reportedly sent reinforcements to the Jobar district of the capital, east of the city center, where opposition forces were said to have overtaken the landmark Abassiyeen Square. The government deployed tanks and fighter jets struck the district over the weekend. According to an opposition activist, regime forces have continued to remain strongly rooted in the city center, but opposition fighters have pushed farther into the capital than they have since July 2012, when they temporarily held a southern neighborhood. Additionally, opposition forces captured Syria’s largest dam Monday, the al-Furat dam in the northeastern province of Raqqa, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The organization’s director Abdel Rahman said, "This is the biggest economic loss for the regime since the start of the revolution." Meanwhile, the opposition Syrian National Coalition’s leader Moaz al-Khatib made a statement on his Facebook page in which he wrote that the Assad regime had "lost a chance to engage in a dialogue" to end the nearing two year conflict. Khatib had made an offer for talks with the government, but the government did not issue an official response. On Friday, Syria’s Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi said the government was open to holding talks, but without preconditions. Khatib had called for the release of 160,000 political prisoners, beginning with women whom he pushed to be released by Sunday.

Headlines

  • Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki’s secular CPR party has decided to stay in the government for another week for further discussions, reversing a decision to withdraw.
  • Iranian authorities have arrested two daughters of opposition Green Movement leader and previous presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has been under house arrest for nearly two years.
  • Shelling killed six people and wounded over 50 others in an Iraqi camp, formerly the U.S. military base Camp Liberty, housing Iranian exiles from the militant group, Mujahedeen Khalq (M.E.K.).
  • Israel gave final approval Sunday for the construction of 90 new West Bank homes in the Beit El settlement near Ramallah, and building could begin within days.

Arguments and Analysis

Saudi Money Shaping U.S. Research (Susan Schmidt, The National Interest)

"Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves are expected to run dry in fifty years. This prospect has encouraged the Saudis to go shopping for cutting-edge science that can secure the kingdom’s future-at elite American research universities.

…Many American universities and their scientists, lured by research grants of as much as $25 million, have jumped at the chance to partner with KAUST. Some of those scientists do research at their universities here and spend a small part of their time in Saudi Arabia creating "mirror" labs.

The arrangement with KAUST raises novel and largely unaddressed issues for American universities. With the United States determined to become energy self-sufficient, what are the ramifications of having scientists at top university labs-many of them recipients of U.S. government research dollars-devoting their efforts to energy pursuits selected by Saudi Arabia?"

Creeping radicalisation has led to Tunisia’s current crisis (Anne Wolf, The National)

"The first political assassination in Tunisia following its revolution more than two years ago has severely shaken the image of a country hitherto hailed as a model for democratic transition in the Arab world. Chokri Belaid, the head of the leftist opposition Unified Democratic Nationalist party, was assassinated on February 6 by four bullets in the head and chest outside his home in Tunis, by a man on a motorcycle whose identity is still unknown

…Yet, what makes this cowardly and cruel assassination for many a direct challenge to the legitimacy of Ennahda – whose leaders are currently discussing the possibility of redistributing power within the government – is Belaid’s outspoken criticism of the ruling Islamists, as well as his vocal suspicion that some of its members, in particular those belonging to the League for the Protection of the Revolution, were behind some of the recent resurgence of violence in Tunisia."

–By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey