Senior Hezbollah Commander Killed in Beirut

Gunmen killed senior Hezbollah commander Hassane Laqees outside his home in the southern Hadath district of Beirut overnight. According to Lebanese security officials, gunmen shot Laqees while he was in his car, in the parking lot under the building where he lived. However, a source close to Hezbollah said the killing was part of a ...

RAMZI HAIDAR/AFP/Getty Images
RAMZI HAIDAR/AFP/Getty Images
RAMZI HAIDAR/AFP/Getty Images

Gunmen killed senior Hezbollah commander Hassane Laqees outside his home in the southern Hadath district of Beirut overnight. According to Lebanese security officials, gunmen shot Laqees while he was in his car, in the parking lot under the building where he lived. However, a source close to Hezbollah said the killing was part of a professional operation, and that Laqees was shot in the head with a silenced gun. Little is known about Laqees, but he is believed to have been close to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and was a weapons manufacturing expert. Additionally, the source said he had participated in fighting in neighboring Syria. A statement from Hezbollah said Laqees had dedicated his life "to the honorable resistance from its first days to his final hours" and additionally mentioned his son had been killed in the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel. Hezbollah has blamed Israel for Laqees's death, however Israel has denied any involvement. In a message on Twitter, a previously unknown group, Ahrar al-Sunna Baalbek brigade, claimed responsibility for the attack, though this has not been verified. The assault has come a day after Nasrallah accused Saudi Arabia of involvement in the November attack on the Iranian Embassy in Beirut.

Gunmen killed senior Hezbollah commander Hassane Laqees outside his home in the southern Hadath district of Beirut overnight. According to Lebanese security officials, gunmen shot Laqees while he was in his car, in the parking lot under the building where he lived. However, a source close to Hezbollah said the killing was part of a professional operation, and that Laqees was shot in the head with a silenced gun. Little is known about Laqees, but he is believed to have been close to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and was a weapons manufacturing expert. Additionally, the source said he had participated in fighting in neighboring Syria. A statement from Hezbollah said Laqees had dedicated his life "to the honorable resistance from its first days to his final hours" and additionally mentioned his son had been killed in the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel. Hezbollah has blamed Israel for Laqees’s death, however Israel has denied any involvement. In a message on Twitter, a previously unknown group, Ahrar al-Sunna Baalbek brigade, claimed responsibility for the attack, though this has not been verified. The assault has come a day after Nasrallah accused Saudi Arabia of involvement in the November attack on the Iranian Embassy in Beirut.

Syria

The United Nations has expressed concern over the worsening humanitarian crisis in Syria. Valerie Amos, U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said that while some progress had been made in gaining access to people in need of assistance, the Syrian government and opposition fighters are still impeding food and medicine deliveries to millions of civilians by blocking convoys from Turkey. Amos noted that within the past month, nine aid convoys had entered Syria. While this is three times as many as had gained access in prior months, she claimed, "this is still far too few to meet the needs of the millions of people." According to the U.N. children’s fund (UNICEF), "The scale of the humanitarian response needed for the looming winter is unprecedented." Meanwhile, a Danish cargo vessel is set to load and transfer Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile to the U.S. Navy ship Cape Ray. Two field deployable hydrolysis systems are currently being installed on the Cape Ray in Norfolk, Virginia, and it should be ready to sail by January 4. The Danish ship carrying the chemical arsenal should depart from the Syrian port of Latakia by the end of the year. In efforts to undercut a growing al Qaeda presence in Syria, the United States and its allies have held talks with key Islamist militias from the Islamic Front, acknowledging their battlefield gains. Additionally, despite U.S. concerns, Saudi Arabia has moved to provide weapons to the Islamist faction, the Army of Islam.

Headlines

  • French investigators have concluded that Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat most likely died of natural causes, contradicting findings from a Swiss study that "moderately" supported he was killed by radiation poisoning.
  • Egyptian interim President Mansour is expected to quickly approve the draft constitution and Prime Minister Beblawi urged citizens to vote in a referendum on the document to be held "within 30 days."

Arguments and Analysis

Protest Is Egypt’s Last Resort‘ (Sahar Aziz and Shahira Abouelleil, International New York Times)

"As Egypt braces for its second attempt at passing a constitution via a public referendum, the timing of the protest law was no coincidence: It was designed to quell anticipated dissent by civil society and youth groups who have been largely excluded from the constitution-drafting process, as they were in 2012.

While the law’s proponents point to similar legislation in Western democracies regulating the time, manner and place of public protests, they overlook the alternative channels available in those societies for expressing dissent. A free press and the ability to criticize government policies without risk of arrest under trumped-up charges are crucial government oversight mechanisms.

No such alternatives exist in Egypt. Under Article 204 of the Egyptian Constitution, recently upheld by the constitutional drafting committee and set to be voted on as part of the public referendum, civilians can be tried in military courts under certain conditions. In a country in which military-owned businesses comprise up to an estimated 40 percent of the Egyptian economy, this effectively could cause the military justice system to displace the civilian justice system. Civilians involved in a dispute with a military officer or an employee of a military-owned gas station, for example, could be tried in a military court."

Hamas Loses Ground‘ (Victor Kotsev, Sada)

"Within one year, the fortunes of the two main Palestinian movements, Fatah and Hamas, have seemingly reversed. Undercut by the ouster of its Muslim Brotherhood ally in Egypt and cut off from much of the world, Hamas is facing a number of threats, both external and internal. As the economic conditions worsen in Gaza and discontent rises on the streets, the militant movement is growing paranoid and finding Gaza increasingly difficult to govern.

A year ago, the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank was in the same situation as Hamas is now. At this point last year, when Israel was withholding tax money and Arab and Western donors were scaling back their support — distracted by the world financial crisis and the Arab Spring and unhappy about PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to restart peace talks with Israel — the backlog of unpaid salaries of civil employees increased, and discontent on the streets skyrocketed. Analysts were warning of ‘a total breakdown in law and order in the West Bank.’ Hamas’s popularity, by contrast, was on the rise
, propelled by events in Egypt and Syria (though the movement had lost the important support of the Syrian regime a few months earlier, at the time the Muslim Brotherhood, closely linked to Hamas, was gaining ground in the civil war and was courted by much of the international community) and basking in the attention of Arab rulers such as the Emir of Qatar, who visited the strip and pledged hundreds of millions of dollars of financial support.

But with the restart of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the ouster of Mohammed Morsi in Egypt, all that changed. Though many Palestinians still distrust Abbas, he is once again regarded as the legitimate face of Palestinian leadership — he is receiving important foreign delegations — and economic tensions in the West Bank have decreased. In the meantime, Hamas’s coffers are empty, most of the tunnels under the Egyptian border it has used as a lifeline have been destroyed, and its few remaining international friends (such as Turkey) are on the defensive. Furthermore, a homegrown popular movement is organizing to challenge Gaza’s rulers while Fatah is also reportedly waiting for an opportunity to pounce on them."

–Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

<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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