News Summary: February 3-10
Russia quickly followed up its veto of last weekend’s UN Security Council vote on the Arab league resolution calling for President Bashar Al-Assad’s resignation with a show of support for the regime. It sent Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service to Syria this week. Regime forces have been pounding rebel stronghold Homs for several days and have reportedly killed hundreds, however, the Russian envoys were greeted in Damascus by thousands of cheering Assad supporters.
Following the defeat of the UNSC resolution, (China also vetoed it, the 13 other members voted yes) the United States withdrew their ambassador from Damascus and the British government followed suit shortly afterwards. Turkey also announced it would expel the Syrian ambassador from Ankara. With the option of UN-approved action now closed to the Arab League and the West, efforts are underway to diplomatically isolate the Assad regime. However, it is unclear whether further intervention, such as arming the embryonic Free Syrian Army or establishing ‘humanitarian corridors’ is a constructive move.
Violence continues in Egypt after post-football game riots last week killed 74 people. Late last week thousands of protesters clashed with police outside the interior ministry in Cairo. Fans have blamed the authorities for allowing the killings to happen and some have accused police of directly inciting the riots. The military council has also drawn fire this week from the US government and international NGOs after it announced it would try 43 individuals (including 19 Americans) on charges of receiving illegal foreign funding and setting up organisations without permission from the Egyptian government. Among the groups charged are the National Democratic Institute, the International Center for Journalists, Freedom House and the International Republican Institute whose country director, Sam LaHood, is the son of current US Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood.
Hamas and the Palestinian Authority reached a deal this week to reconcile and form a unity government in preparation for elections in the West Bank and Gaza. Originally planned for later this spring (this was announced last May, alongside plans for the unity government) elections are likely to be postponed given that he two sides have only now reached an agreement. After talks in Qatar the two sides have agreed to form a government, with the full membership to be announced imminently, that will end four years of separate governments for the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the news by saying that “Hamas and peace do not go hand in hand” and that the PA must choose between a treaty with Hamas or “peace with Israel”. The Palestinian Authority also risks international aid being cut off as Hamas is designated by some Western governments, notably the US, as being a terrorist organisation and therefore prohibited from receiving monetary support.