The Middle East Channel

Libyan army chief of staff resigns after weekend violence

Libyan Army Chief of Staff Major General Yousef al-Mangoush has resigned after deadly clashes in Benghazi Saturday killed at least 31 people and wounded dozens of others. Clashes broke out when protesters stormed a base belonging to Libya Shield, a pro-government militia organization. The protesters were demanding the disbanding of the militias and that forces ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Libyan Army Chief of Staff Major General Yousef al-Mangoush has resigned after deadly clashes in Benghazi Saturday killed at least 31 people and wounded dozens of others. Clashes broke out when protesters stormed a base belonging to Libya Shield, a pro-government militia organization. The protesters were demanding the disbanding of the militias and that forces submit to the full authority of the Libyan military. In some reports, the protesters were said to be unarmed, but other witnesses said some of the protesters had weapons. It is unclear who fired the first shots, but mainly protesters were killed. Militias have taken on a significant role in efforts to maintain security in Libya since the fall of former President Muammar al-Qaddafi. Mangoush was the militia brigades' chief advocate, and had increasingly come under criticism for failing to exert control over the militias. Before his resignation, he ordered the militia units to vacate their four bases in Benghazi. The militia leaders now appear to be in hiding and by Sunday night several militias had announced their dissolution.

Syria

After taking the last opposition-held village near the strategic town of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border, the Syrian army is reportedly planning a major offensive on rebel strongholds in the northern city of Aleppo. Pro-regime newspaper al-Watan said troops were "deploying heavily in the countryside near Aleppo in preparation for a battle that will be fought inside the city and on its outskirts." A Syrian security source said the advance would start "in the coming hours or days." According to opposition activists, there has not yet been significant troop buildup outside Aleppo, however heavy clashes were reported Sunday in the nearby villages of Nubbul and Zahra. Activists also reported rebel advances at the Mannagh air base, near the border with Turkey. Meanwhile, a roadside bomb struck a van traveling in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley to Syria Monday. On Sunday, a Lebanese man was shot and killed outside the Iranian Embassy, in Lebanon's capital Beirut, protesting Hezbollah's role in the Syrian conflict. Clashes broke out between the anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Option Party, a Shiite led group, and Hezbollah supporters.

Libyan Army Chief of Staff Major General Yousef al-Mangoush has resigned after deadly clashes in Benghazi Saturday killed at least 31 people and wounded dozens of others. Clashes broke out when protesters stormed a base belonging to Libya Shield, a pro-government militia organization. The protesters were demanding the disbanding of the militias and that forces submit to the full authority of the Libyan military. In some reports, the protesters were said to be unarmed, but other witnesses said some of the protesters had weapons. It is unclear who fired the first shots, but mainly protesters were killed. Militias have taken on a significant role in efforts to maintain security in Libya since the fall of former President Muammar al-Qaddafi. Mangoush was the militia brigades’ chief advocate, and had increasingly come under criticism for failing to exert control over the militias. Before his resignation, he ordered the militia units to vacate their four bases in Benghazi. The militia leaders now appear to be in hiding and by Sunday night several militias had announced their dissolution.

Syria

After taking the last opposition-held village near the strategic town of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border, the Syrian army is reportedly planning a major offensive on rebel strongholds in the northern city of Aleppo. Pro-regime newspaper al-Watan said troops were "deploying heavily in the countryside near Aleppo in preparation for a battle that will be fought inside the city and on its outskirts." A Syrian security source said the advance would start "in the coming hours or days." According to opposition activists, there has not yet been significant troop buildup outside Aleppo, however heavy clashes were reported Sunday in the nearby villages of Nubbul and Zahra. Activists also reported rebel advances at the Mannagh air base, near the border with Turkey. Meanwhile, a roadside bomb struck a van traveling in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley to Syria Monday. On Sunday, a Lebanese man was shot and killed outside the Iranian Embassy, in Lebanon’s capital Beirut, protesting Hezbollah’s role in the Syrian conflict. Clashes broke out between the anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Option Party, a Shiite led group, and Hezbollah supporters.

Headlines

  • Three seemingly simultaneous car bombs hit an Iraqi market Monday in the mainly Shiite town of Jidaidat al-Shatt, about 25 miles north of the capital Baghdad, killing an estimated 15 people.
  • Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has ruled against the merger of the militant groups the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s Jabhat al-Nursra in efforts to end infighting.
  • Conservative candidate and former parliament speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel dropped out of Iran’s presidential race but called for a hardline conservative victory.
  • Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visited the Kurdish region Sunday for first time in two years in efforts to bridge a long-running oil and land dispute. 

Arguments and Analysis

Is Qatar guilty of sectarianism in Syria? (Michael Stephens, OpenDemocracy)

"Much has been made of the increasing sectarian dynamic in the Syrian conflict. The entry of Hezbollah to defend Shia in Syria and the use of Shia fighters to aid the Army of Bashar al Assad in taking the town of Qusair has brought this particular angle under the spotlight. Increasingly we are beginning to think of this conflict as an all-out sectarian death match in which Islam’s two sects fight a zero sum game.

Whilst the extent of sectarian motivations held by Syrians themselves is still reasonably up for question, there can be no doubt that external fighters lack the nuance of the vast majority of their coreligionists inside Syria. Hezbollah and Shia fight to defend Shia shrines and villages from being destroyed by Sunni extremists: Sunnis fight to prevent Sunni civilians and towns from being destroyed by an Allawi Iran-backed Army.

Behind these Sunni fighters stand Saudi Arabia, Turkey and of course Qatar. Qatar especially has become increasingly associated as promoters of Sunni interests in the region directly at the expense of Shia, which has caused a rift between itself and its once strong ally, Hezbollah."

Syria’s Strategic Balance at a Tipping Point (Yezid Sayigh, Carnegie)

"The fall of Qusair has serious strategic implications for the ongoing conflict in Syria. Most immediately, it closes off a major route that opposition fighters use to infiltrate and send weapons to the province of Homs-a strategic gateway to the rest of Syria-from nearby northern Lebanon. It additionally helps the regime secure the main roads connecting Homs and Damascus to the coastal region around Tartus and Latakia, which are principal transit corridors for military matériel, fuel, and basic goods being shipped by sea. The rebels will face an uphill struggle to dislodge pro-regime garrisons left in the region around Qusair and rebuild a secure supply and staging area there. The town’s fall moreover frees up experienced combat units to fight elsewhere.

But the real takeaway is that the regime is increasingly well positioned to capitalize on its strengths and secure itself for the long term. Its ability to survive has been grossly underestimated from the outset.

The battle for Qusair was just one part of an ongoing strategic campaign in which the Syrian army has made significant gains. Since early April the army has encircled rebel-held areas to the east and southwest of Damascus, pushed the rebels further away from the heart of the capital itself, and broken through rebel lines to reinforce and resupply besieged garrisons in Wadi Deif near Idlib and around Aleppo. It has also retaken much of the ground recently lost to the rebels in southern Syria around the city of Deraa, in the Golan area, and along the border with Jordan and is fighting for full control of the international highway to Jordan. The army is trying to encircle the northern and southern sides of Aleppo, its strategic prize, in a bid to cut off rebel strongholds prior to taking full control of the city."

–By Jennifer T. Parker and Mary Casey

<p>Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p> Twitter: @casey_mary

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