Syrian rebels accuse government of chemical weapons attack, killing hundreds
Syrian opposition activists accused the government of Bashar al-Assad of launching a chemical weapons attack near the capital Damascus on Wednesday. They say that government forces launched rockets filled with toxic gas against rebel positions in the eastern Ghouta region, killing dozens if not hundreds. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the government’s ...
Syrian opposition activists accused the government of Bashar al-Assad of launching a chemical weapons attack near the capital Damascus on Wednesday. They say that government forces launched rockets filled with toxic gas against rebel positions in the eastern Ghouta region, killing dozens if not hundreds. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the government’s use of toxic gases caused "dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries," while the main opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, reported over 650 deaths. Images and videos have recently surfaced online that reveal dozens of bodies with no clear signs of injuries and show victims exhibiting the physical effects of a chemical attack. The Syrian government has denied usage of chemical weapons, and the state news service, SANA, said that the allegations were "completely baseless" attempts to "divert the special committee for the investigation of chemical weapons from carrying out its mission." The incident came days after the arrival of a UN team charged with inspecting possible chemical weapons usage at Khan al-Assal, and both Britain and France plan to raise the issue at the United Nations Security Council. President Obama has long considered chemical weapons usage a "redline" that could lead to U.S. military action. If confirmed, today’s attack would mark the deadliest chemical weapons attack since Saddam Hussein’s 1988 massacre of nearly 5,000 people in the Kurdish town of Halabja.
Egyptian court orders Mubarak’s release
An Egyptian court ordered the release of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s former leader deposed in the 2011 uprising, on Wednesday after clearing him of corruption charges. Mubarak has already served the maximum amount of pretrial detention time and, according to his lawyer, could be released as early as tomorrow — though he is likely to remain in custody for 48 hours pending an appeal by the prosecution. Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison last year for failing to protect peaceful demonstrators, but an Egyptian court accepted his appeal earlier this year and ordered a retrial.
- Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held a third round of peace talks in Jerusalem on Tuesday, and Israel’s chief negotiator Tzipi Livni declared that Israel would make "dramatic decisions" to advance the talks.
- Iranian President Hassan Rowhani signaled on Tuesday that his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, would lead nuclear negotiations with the West.
- Hamas called on the Egyptian government to reopen the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip.
Arguments & Analysis
‘False Choice on Egypt‘ (The New York Times Editorial Board)
"There is much at stake in the United States relationship with Egypt, including the Israel-Egypt peace treaty (Israel’s priority), counterterrorism cooperation, priority treatment for ships transiting the Suez Canal, overflight rights for planes to and from Afghanistan. But the point to remember is that Egypt benefits from this relationship, too, as do the generals.
President Obama’s muted chastising of the generals and his indecisive reaction to the slaughter does not inspire confidence. Instead of wringing their hands, administration officials should suspend the $1.3 billion in annual American military aid to Egypt — including the delivery of Apache helicopters — until the military puts the country on a peaceful path.
Some say the aid can easily be replaced by the gulf states, but they have often promised aid — for the Palestinians, for instance — and failed to deliver, whereas the United States has reliably provided Egypt with an estimated $60 billion over three decades.
Long term, Egypt cannot subsist on handouts and needs to develop a real economy to provide jobs, education and other opportunities to its people. That is the road to true stability and will require tourism and foreign investment. But that cannot happen in a country in perpetual turmoil with a repressive military intent on obliterating its adversaries. The United States should not be complicitous in this unfolding disaster."
‘Kerry and Indyk in Israeli-Palestinian Talks: Don’t Take Us Seriously‘ (Steven Spiegel, Huffington Post)
"Because the spoilers play such an important role in Mideast diplomacy, mediators should want to be considered as pursuing a hopeless mission. Most observers wonder why Kerry is wasting his time. That’s exactly what he should want. Underestimating mediators is a prize in the Middle East to be treasured. The best way to succeed is to have your effort be taken lightly and make sure secrecy prevails until an agreement has been reached. The Oslo Accords may not have succeeded in the long term, but the deal was only reached in the first place because almost no one knew what was happening in Norway.
Secrecy is not a guarantee of success, but its absence is almost always a guarantee of failure. In 2000, for example, major leaks about both sides’ positions in the Syrian-Israeli talks and later leaks about Israeli-Palestinian talks before Camp David helped to bury both efforts. Those who would conduct negotiations between Arabs and Israelis do not want to be regarded as effective and do not want publicity or leaks before a deal is announced. Most of all, they do not want participants in the talks to share information that suggests in any way that progress is being made. That’s because if word of any achievements becomes public, the opposition will be energized and the bubble of any impending accord will likely collapse.
There is always a temptation among diplomats to talk positively if there is progress, or to provide opinions to reporters, even off the record, that make it appear they are not wasting their time. That is very foolish. Those who lead negotiations should want to be seen as if they are not progressing. Indeed, this element of negotiations is so critical that American officials in the current Israeli-Palestinian talks should vigorously counter any indication of success, accurate or not, that might be leaked. If such a leak occurs, they should immediately produce negative countervailing information. If the leaks are accurate, they should lie in response if necessary."
— Joshua Haber
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