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The Middle East Channel

Syrian forces raid coastal village killing at least 50 people

Government forces and pro-regime militias attacked and raided the predominantly Sunni coastal village of Baida in northwestern Syria on Thursday, killing at least 50 people. According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the death toll will likely exceed 100, including women and children. It added that many people appear to have been killed ...

AFP/Getty Images/DIMITAR DILKOFF
AFP/Getty Images/DIMITAR DILKOFF

Government forces and pro-regime militias attacked and raided the predominantly Sunni coastal village of Baida in northwestern Syria on Thursday, killing at least 50 people. According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the death toll will likely exceed 100, including women and children. It added that many people appear to have been killed in summary execution style shootings or stabbings, and some bodies were found burned. Dozens of villagers remain missing. The attack on the village, near the city of Banias, was spurred by an opposition assault on a bus carrying pro-Assad militiamen, shabiha, killing at least six of them and injuring 20. Regime fighters and shabiha retaliated by surrounding Baida and the nearby town of Maqreb, and attacking them with mortar fire, and then storming Baida. The Syrian military seems to have made significant gains in recent weeks, retaking territory in Homs and several Damascus suburbs. Meanwhile, in a news conference on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel became the first top U.S. official to acknowledge that the Obama administration is considering arming the Syrian opposition. He said, "arming the rebels — that’s and option," but continued that the president is looking at all options. U.S., British, French, Russian, and Chinese officials met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Thursday to discuss diplomatic options for ending the conflict in Syria. U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi has expressed an intention to resign over the international deadlock on Syria. According to some diplomats he could step down by the end of May.

Headlines  

  • The United States has redesigned its largest "bunker buster" bomb with the capacity to destroy Iran’s underground Fordow nuclear site, hoping to assure Israel it has the ability to prevent Iranian nuclear weapons development.
  • Google has adopted "Palestine" as the tagline for its Palestinian edition saying, "we are following the lead of the United Nations and other international organizations."
  • Egypt’s birthrate has risen to a 20-year high as Mubarak-era policies lapse.
  • Lebanon ratified the first civil marriage which sets an important precedent, despite criticism. 

Arguments and Analysis

With or Without Us (Fareed Zakaria, Time)

"Those urging the U.S. to intervene in Syria are certain of one thing: If we had intervened sooner, things would be better in that war-torn country. Had the Obama Administration gotten involved earlier, there would be less instability and fewer killings. We would not be seeing, in John McCain’s words of April 28, "atrocities that are on a scale that we have not seen in a long, long time."

In fact, we have seen atrocities much worse than those in Syria very recently, in Iraq under U.S. occupation only few years ago. From 2003 to 2012, despite there being as many as 180,000 American and allied troops in Iraq, somewhere between 150,000 and 300,000 Iraqi civilians died and about 1.5 million fled the country. Jihadi groups flourished in Iraq, and al-Qaeda had a huge presence there. The U.S. was about as actively engaged in Iraq as is possible, and yet more terrible things happened there than in Syria. Why?

The point here is not to make comparisons among atrocities. The situation in Syria is much like that in Iraq–and bears little resemblance to that in Libya–so we can learn a lot from our experience there. Joshua Landis, the leading scholar on Syria, points out that it is the last of the three countries of the Levant where minority regimes have been challenged by the majority. In Lebanon, the Christian elite were displaced through a bloody civil war that started in the 1970s and lasted 15 years. In Iraq in 2003, the U.S. military quickly displaced the Sunni elite, handing the country over to the Shi’ites–but the Sunnis have fought back ferociously for almost a decade. Sectarian killings persist in Iraq to this day."

Recalibrating U.S. policy in Egypt (Thomas Carothers and Nathan J. Brown, The Washington Post)

"After Egypt’s presidential elections last summer, the Obama administration adopted a pragmatic policy toward the new Muslim Brotherhood-led government. The basic message to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was straightforward: Respect Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel and basic democratic norms, and the U.S. government will be a helpful, productive partner. By sincerely putting forward this line, the administration put to rest the long-held Arab suspicion that the United States would never accept Islamist electoral victories.

This approach fit the situation well enough for some months. Morsi showed no signs of questioning the peace treaty with Israel and even worked closely with the United States to end a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence. Domestically, the new government showed an inexperienced (and heavy) hand on many occasions but still seemed to steer the country in a vaguely democratic direction.

Yet in the past five months, Egyptian politics has taken a seriously troubling turn. Egypt is wracked by harsh street protests, an angry impasse and utter distrust between the government and the main opposition parties, massive public disaffection, growing sectarian tension and increasing murmurings of a possible military coup."

Why Maliki Must Go (Nussaibah Younis, The New York Times)

"NOBODY wants another civil war in Iraq, yet events are propelling it in that direction. War can be averted only by a new political understanding among three main groups – Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs and Kurds – but Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has become too divisive to deliver it.

So the United States, together with Iraq’s neighbors, must press Mr. Maliki to resign so he can be replaced with a more conciliatory figure.

Last week, Iraq experienced the most serious escalation of violence since 2006, when it slid into civil war. Now it risks being sucked into a catastrophic vortex of regional violence centered on Syria."

–By Jennifer T. Parker and Mary Casey

 Twitter: @casey_mary

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