The Middle East Channel

U.N. monitors in Syria caught in violent clashes

Six U.N. monitors came under fire while touring Khan Sheikhoun in northern Idlib province on Tuesday. Three U.N. vehicles were reportedly hit by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) but none of the monitors were injured. Opposition fighter Major Sami al-Kurdi said, "They are now with the Free Army which is protecting them." A U.N. patrol was ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Six U.N. monitors came under fire while touring Khan Sheikhoun in northern Idlib province on Tuesday. Three U.N. vehicles were reportedly hit by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) but none of the monitors were injured. Opposition fighter Major Sami al-Kurdi said, "They are now with the Free Army which is protecting them." A U.N. patrol was sent to pick up the observers on Wednesday. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the fighting began when government forces fired on a funeral procession for a man killed two days prior by government troops in Hama. Estimates range between 21 and 66 people killed and dozens wounded in the attack. There are currently 212 U.N. observers in Syria tasked with monitoring the implementation of international envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan. However, a ceasefire instituted on April 12 did not hold. Meanwhile, results from the May 7 parliamentary elections show the ruling Baath party and its allies won nearly all of the seats in the People’s Assembly. An independent candidate won at least a single seat.


  • Mohammed Rashid, former financial advisor to the late Palestinian Authority President Yasir Arafat, is being sought on embezzlement charges.
  • A BBC Arabic investigation discovered many cases of mentally disabled children being abused in Jordan’s private care homes; eight of 54 institutions are facing recent allegations of abuse.
  • A Palestinian cabinet with seven new ministers under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad will be sworn in Wednesday after the last body resigned in February 2011.
  • Algeria’s National Liberation Front took the most seats in parliamentary elections and women will be more represented.  
  • India agreed to reduce oil imports from Iran by 11 percent after pressure from the United States ahead of legislation that will impose sanctions on countries buying oil from Iran.

Arguments and Analysis 

‘How To Defuse Iran’s Nuclear Threat’ (James Dobbins, Dalia Dassa Kaye, Alireza Nader, Frederic Wehrey, Rand Corporation)

"The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran has stoked tensions around the world. We argue that diplomacy and economic sanctions are better suited than military action to prevent the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran, that Israeli security will be best served by military restraint combined with greater U.S.-Israeli cooperation, and that the Iranian people offer the surest hope for a future Iran that is more amenable to U.S. interests. An Israeli or American attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would make it more, not less, likely that the Iranian regime would decide to produce and deploy nuclear weapons. Such an attack would also make it more, not less, difficult to contain Iranian influence. It is, after all, not Iranian aggression that its neighbors principally fear, but Iranian subversion. It is Iran’s ability to appeal to potentially dissident elements within neighboring societies – to the Shia populations of Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the Persian Gulf states, and to the more radical elements within Palestinian society – that is of most concern to these states. It is Iran’s appeal throughout the Islamic Middle East as a bastion of anti-American and anti-Zionist activity that most disturbs other regional regimes. This is true even of Israel, whose principal vulnerability is not to Iranian military pressure but to attacks by Iranian-supported Hamas and Hezbollah."

‘Syrian rebels get influx of arms with gulf neighbors’ money, U.S. coordination’ (Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly, The Washington Post)

"Syrian rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad have begun receiving significantly more and better weapons in recent weeks, an effort paid for by Persian Gulf nations and coordinated in part by the United States, according to opposition activists and U.S. and foreign officials. Obama administration officials emphasized that the United States is neither supplying nor funding the lethal material, which includes antitank weaponry. Instead, they said, the administration has expanded contacts with opposition military forces to provide the gulf nations with assessments of rebel credibility and command-and-control infrastructure."

‘Algeria’s Islamists Crushed in First Arab Spring Elections’ (David B. Ottaway, Woodrow Wilson Center)

"Algeria’s first elections since the beginning of the Arab Spring have resulted in the unexpectedly crushing defeat of moderate Islamist parties, leaving this country the notable exception to the general trend of an Islamic rise to power across North Africa from Egypt to Morocco. The results were a shock to most Algerians, particularly Islamists who had expected to win a plurality of seats in the new National People’s Assembly and even possibly the post of prime minister. Instead, the two main pro-government secular parties increased their hold over the assembly substantially, winning 288 seats, or 62 percent of the total, in Thursday’s elections. The vote was supposed to mark the first step in the rejuvenation of an ossified political system; to provide greater democracy with 21 new parties and increased Islamic participation. But the lopsided results may well convince Algeria’s moderate Islamists that cooperation with the government is no longer worth the political cost and outright opposition the only alternative."

‘Why Israel’s New Moderate Coalition Will Have Even Worse Relations With Obama’ (Aluf Benn, The New Republic)

"Netanyahu’s relationship with Obama revolves around two issues: Iran and the West Bank. Netanyahu would like to see Iran’s nuclear facilities destroyed and the West Bank settlements grow. Obama wants to curb Iran’s nuclear program peacefully, and do away with the settlements. In the past three years, they failed to reach a deal on "Natanz for Itamar," under which the United States would bomb Iran and Israel would remove the thorniest settlements in areas slated for a viable Palestinian state. Instead, a kind of balance of terror evolved. Netanyahu did away with the settlement freeze imposed by Obama, while also heeding Obama’s call to avoid hitting Iran…Mofaz strengthens the moderate camp, but just like Barak, he is simply not strong enough to challenge Netanyahu on policy. Having not even been given a ministry to call his own, Mofaz’s only option to influence foreign policy is by leveraging public opinion. But since he hardly has any popular following, he has hardly any hope at all of challenging Netanyahu’s popularity or political command. Israeli unity governments usually start with high hopes, but one of the partners always comes away aggrieved. The current one will probably be no exception, with Mofaz the most likely one to end up as spurned lover."

–By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey 

 Twitter: @casey_mary
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