Report

Diplomats Discuss Measures to Restore Ceasefire in Syria

A multilateral ministerial-level meeting of the International Syria Support Group in Vienna made some progress on how the partial ceasefire in the country could be restored and expanded yesterday, but made little progress overall. Measures to reinforce the truce include bypassing besieging forces with airdrops of humanitarian aid if they do not allow access by ...

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A multilateral ministerial-level meeting of the International Syria Support Group in Vienna made some progress on how the partial ceasefire in the country could be restored and expanded yesterday, but made little progress overall. Measures to reinforce the truce include bypassing besieging forces with airdrops of humanitarian aid if they do not allow access by June 1, and possibly removing some groups from the protected category of the ceasefire for violations. The goal, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stressed, is to expand the ceasefire nationally, and he and others warned of the prospect of escalation in the absence of the truce. “The choice about intensifying the military support is entirely with the Bashar regime. If they do not respond to the treaties of the international community then we will have to see what else can be done,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said.

The diplomats failed to arrive at a date for when peace talks between the warring parties might resume. That might take place when there is “some kind of concrete outcome” from the decisions made Tuesday, U.S. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said. Rebel groups expressed skepticism about the Vienna meeting, noting the importance of a political transition. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed Tuesday that Russia does not support Assad as much as it does the fight against terrorism and that “Today, we don’t see any more real and efficient force than the Syrian army…Everybody acknowledged that Assad’s regime is the lesser evil for them than if we compare it with increasing chaos if there is no political process.” Kerry expressed his frustration with the unwillingness of some delegations to compromise. “Those involved in this conflict with competing agendas are going to have to prioritize peace,” he said.

Another Series of Bombings in Baghdad as Islamic State Continues Week of Attacks

Another series of bombings conducted by the Islamic State killed at least 46 people in Baghdad yesterday, and possibly more than 70 people according to some reports. The deadliest blast was in the Shia neighborhood of Sadr City, which was previously targeted last week. A second car bomb in the area was found and defused, according to police. Two bombs also went off in Baghdad’s al-Shaab neighborhood, and another at a market in Nahiyet al-Rashid. Sadrists have responded to the recent violence by calling on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to fire the minister of interior. The Sadrist movement’s recent political activism in support of creating a non-sectarian cabinet has received pushback from other Shia groups that some observers are concerned could turn violent. U.S. military officials say they will continue to keep pressure on the Islamic State-occupied territory, and the Iraqi military has reportedly told U.S. officials that they do not need additional U.S. troops deployed to the country beyond the 3,500 already there.

Headlines

  • Yemen’s internationally-recognized government walked out of peace talks with Houthi rebels in Kuwait yesterday, justifying the action by saying the Houthis have demonstrated “contempt” for the talks and are not implementing a U.N. Security Council resolution to deescalate the conflict and negotiate a solution.

 

  • The Islamic State has publicly executed approximately 50 people over the past year in Sirte, Libya, according to the dozens of interviews with residents conducted by Human Rights Watch, and other have been assassinated by the group in drive-by shootings; crimes of those executed include collaborating with the Islamic State’s enemies, practicing Christianity, and witchcraft.

 

  • Over the past six months, 700 Jordanian citizens (out of a pilot program that is slated to grow to 1,500) have been granted permits to work hospitality jobs in hotels in Eilat, Israel; initial responses to the program have been positive, the Washington Post reports.

 

  • The U.S. Senate voted in favor of a law, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, that would allow families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue the Saudi government for damages, a move that the Saudi government has warned could prompt it to shift its U.S. dollar assets in ways that could be damaging to the U.S. economy; the bill will now move to the House of Representatives for consideration.

 

  • A German court banned the public recitation of all but six lines of a satirical defamatory poem first performed by a late-night comedian that accuses Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of committing lewd acts; it is technically illegal in Germany to “insult organs or representatives of foreign states,” but the law is rarely enforced.

Arguments and Analysis

The Unraveling of Lebanon’s Taif Agreement: Limits of Sect-Based Power Sharing” (Joseph Bahout, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

“As the war in Syria has continued, sectarian cleavages in Lebanon have started to shift increasingly from an interest-based orientation to an identity-based orientation, and from one that is political to one that is much more symbolic. In other words, the mechanisms of political identification have taken on a more existential dimension, characterized by a zero-sum approach to politics that is incompatible with the more traditional means of pursuing interests, such as power games, negotiations, and other forms of transactions. The fear factor has come to supersede everything. Both levels were never mutually exclusive, intermingling with and reinforcing one another. However, while intersectarian competition was originally oriented toward political grievances and revolved around issues of prerogatives, representation, power sharing, governance, and a say in decisionmaking, and while mobilization was made in a political, although very sectarian, context, the struggle has taken on a religious coloring, with individuals and groups defining themselves as endangered communities. The violence in Syria, with its unbearable images and stories of political-sectarian aggression, has led to a vicious cycle of attacks and retaliation. As a consequence there has been an ever-greater resort to religious zeal and identification, encouraged by radicals providing funding. In their efforts to mobilize and recruit, parties on all sides of the sectarian divide in Syria have instrumentalized religious symbols and discourse. Apocalyptic legends have been revived, generating more extremism.”

 

Transitional Justice in Egypt: A Challenge and an Opportunity” (Catherine Turner, Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy)

“Finally, transitional justice is itself an externalised framework. There are benefits to this, in that it provides an objective language within which demands for justice can be made. It provides clear benchmarks against which progress can be measured, and lends legitimacy to the demands of campaigners. However, external frameworks cannot supplant the need for genuine national dialogue on the purpose of transition and the nature of justice being sought. If transitional justice is to be meaningful, there needs to be consensus on the direction of transition — on what Egypt is transitioning from, and where it wishes to transition to. This requires an honest national debate on the nature of the state and the protection of individual and collective rights and interests within it. This is the third challenge for transitional justice in Egypt. If transitional justice is to be effective, and not simply viewed as a partisan project that is being used instrumentally either by the government or by human rights organisations, then a high degree of national ownership will be required. All transitions require a delicate negotiation. Externalised frameworks of transitional justice can provide a language in which to negotiate. It can lend legitimacy to calls for justice, and it can help to raise support for those demands. It cannot, however, replace genuine national dialogue on what the priorities of a transitional justice process should be.”

-J. Dana Stuster

LEONHARD FOEGER/AFP/Getty Images

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