The Middle East Channel

Explosion near Damascus triggers large blackouts for Syria

Explosion near Damascus triggers large blackouts for Syria

Much of Syria was hit by a power cut late Wednesday following a blast near Damascus’s international airport. Syria’s electricity minister said, "A terrorist attack on a gas pipeline that feeds a power station in the south has led to a power outage." According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, rebel fighters fired on a gas pipeline near the airport causing an explosion. Residents and activists reported seeing a large fire, though it is unclear if there have been any casualties. Damascus and southern Syria have seen several blackouts since fighting erupted in 2011, and many rebel-held regions of the country have been without electricity for months. Meanwhile, the Syrian government is expected to deliver its disarmament plan by Thursday to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), in accordance with the U.S. and Russian-led deal for the elimination of Syria’s chemical arsenal. Additionally, Syrian authorities have released an estimated 61 female prisoners in the past two days in part of a three-way prisoner exchange. On October 18, two Turkish pilots who were abducted in Lebanon in August were released, and Syrian rebels freed nine Lebanese men. The release of additional detainees is expected, however that has not been confirmed.

Headlines

  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday to discuss Israeli and Palestinian peace talks and Iran.
  • Egypt’s Islamists have called for mass protests on November 4 as deposed President Mohamed Morsi stands trial on charges of "inciting the killing and torture of protesters."
  • Tunisia’s opposition has called for more protests demanding the resignation of the Islamist-led government with postponed talks possible for Friday.
  • Gunmen have reportedly shot and killed a Libyan air force colonel in Benghazi, the latest in a series of assassinations in the eastern city blamed on militias.
  • Clashes in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli have continued into a fourth day killing at least six people and wounding 50 others.

Arguments and Analysis

‘Obama’s Uncertain Path Amid Syria Bloodshed‘ (Mark Mazzetti, Robert Worth, and Michael Gordon, The New York Times)

"A senior White House official said that one reason the president had decided to get Congressional approval was his fear that alienating lawmakers might undermine their support on other tough foreign policy issues, most notably Iran. In early July, Mr. Obama had asked Ms. Rice, who had succeeded Mr. Donilon as national security adviser, to undertake a review of American policy in the Middle East and North Africa, and to make Syria part of a broader strategy involving both Iran and the Middle East peace process.

Two days after his announcement that he would go to Congress for approval of a strike, Mr. Obama met in the Oval Office with Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the two Republicans who are the Senate’s most outspoken advocates of military intervention in Syria. Mr. Obama agreed with the senators that American efforts to arm the rebels had been slow, but told them that the first group of 50 Syrian rebels — trained by the C.I.A. in Jordan — would soon cross into Syria, according to sources familiar with the meeting.

The goal was for that group to train larger numbers of rebels in Syria — expanding the impact of the limited C.I.A. training effort in Jordan. But Mr. Obama acknowledged that having the C.I.A. carry out the training covertly had slowed the pace of the program and suggested that he was considering expanding the program and carrying it out publicly, an allusion to having the Pentagon take over."

‘Algeria: Bouteflika strikes back‘ (Hicham Yezza, Open Democracy)

"Since the turn of the year, the question of whether Abdelaziz Bouteflika — in power since 1999 and already the country’s longest-serving president — would run for a fourth consecutive term has been the central preoccupation of the political class. As the weeks went by, signs that the President’s grip on power was open to challenges seemed to proliferate. A corruption scandal involving the country’s State Oil company, Sonatrach, featured as its chief villain Chekib Khelil, a former energy minister and close Bouteflika ally. For weeks, the nation was gripped by sordid tales of greed and incompetence. The extensive coverage, as well as the judicial case itself, was seen by many as part of a campaign to weaken the president and his camp by rivals within the country’s power system.

Serious health issues seemed to make the president’s position even more precarious. On April 27, Bouteflika suffered what official reports confirmed was a mini stroke, and was immediately flown to receive treatment at the Val-de-Grace hospital in Paris. For the following eight weeks, speculation over the extent and seriousness of his condition, further intensified by the quasi-silence from official media, dominated conversations, both off and online. On June 11, in a clear attempt to stem the debilitating tide of rumour and counter-rumour, footage was released of him receiving a visit from the Prime Minister, Abdelmalek Sellal, and the army chief, Ahmed Gaid Saleh. These images were generally considered far from reassuring, but a month later, on July 16, official state media announced the president’s return to Algiers. Many predicted an imminent curtain call, declaring the president a spent force and dismissing prospects of a fourth term as an impossibility.

Instead, the three months since his comeback have witnessed a spectacular turn of events. In the past few weeks, Bouteflika has overseen a series of unprecedented changes at the heart of the country’s ruling apparatus, whose scale and unceremonious brutality took the most seasoned of observers by surprise."

–Mary Casey & Joshua Haber