M!ddleEasterners Newsblog 23-30 May
As the fighting rages on in Syria, hopes of a diplomatic solution being reached to end the two-year conflict at next month’s peace conference look set to fail. Fighting has ensued heavily for the last couple of days in the strategic town of Qusair between rebels and regime forces aided by the presence of Hezbollah fighters, opposition activists have said. Qusair has been argued to be the main tunnel of supplies to insurgents and has recently been the focus of strategic gain for forces loyal to President Assad. Qusair provides a significant link between the capital Damascus and the coastal regions said to be Assad’s heartland as well as providing a barrier between northern and southern areas held in rebel control. Reports of killings have surfaced from another Syrian village of Baida, a Sunni town surrounded by predominately Alawite villages loyal to Assad, where bodies were found dead in ‘mass killings’ as the counteroffensive against rebel-held areas engulfs the Mediterranean coast. The attack on Baida was said to be the result of an attack on a vehicle carrying pro-Assad forces.
The seemingly strengthened position in the renewed offensive by Assad’s forces come in light of the peace conference to be hosted by the US and Russia in Geneva next month. British Foreign Sectary William Hague has called on EU states to renew their stance on arming the rebels as the current EU sanctions are set to expire with Britain and France being the loudest advocators in support of rebel armament and Russia a resounding no. This week on a visit to Syria to meet rebels fighting Assad, Senator John McCain renewed calls to intervene in Syria militarily. The peace conference is attempting to bring together the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and President Assad for talks that will result in a negotiated outcome. Concerns over the use of chemical weapons and Scud missiles directed at civilians, with both sides blaming the other; there are now over 80,000 reported dead and over a million displaced Syrian refugees so calls for an end to the conflict appear more vital than ever. A British doctor has taken up headlines after the hospital he was working in was shelled killing him and a few others. Dr. Isa AbdurRahman, a graduate of Imperial College London, had been working in makeshift hospitals aiding injured Syrian civilians. A charity page has been set up in his name to raise funds to build a hospital in Homs, one of the worst hit towns during the 26 month conflict.
Lebanon’s fears of another civil war spewing from the conflict in neighbouring Syria have been raised as Hezbollah’s role in the conflict appears to be even more obvious. Unverified gunmen reportedly attacked and killed 3 Lebanese soldiers near the town of Arsal in the Bekaa Valley as reports emerged of Hezbollah fighters aiding Assad’s forces for the capturing of the town Qusair from rebel-control. Rockets were reportedly fired into Beirut’s outer suburbs in Shiyyah, injuring four Syrian labourers, following a speech by Hezbollah leader Nasrallah honouring the anniversary of the 2000 Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon. It is not clear who the perpetrators behind the rocket fire were but comes amidst warnings from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) against Hezbollah’s interference within the country. Lebanon remains largely divided in either supporting the Assad regime, namely the Shiite populace, or supporting the rebels, namely the Sunni population. Tripoli has also seen violence in recent days as supporters of Assad clashed with opposition amidst protests. Hezbollah’s growing internal affairs within Syria is providing a platform in attempts at renewing its credibility amongst its followers and/or supporters at a time where less people are siding with the group resulting from Hezbollah’s support for the Syrian regime. For Hezbollah, Assad’s continued seat in power is pivotal for its arms supply and support for its stance of resistance against Israel.
It has been reported that Syrian forces have attacked the Lebanese border town of Arsal in an attempt to eradicate Syrian rebels operating from inside. Both France and the US have condemned the attack as infringing upon the sovereign right of Lebanon.
Israel, like Lebanon, is also preparing itself for the worse if Assad falls and the country falls into the hands of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Concerns are mainly due to advanced weaponry, many of it sent by Russia in aiding the Syrian regime, falling into the hands of Hezbollah or rebels affiliated with Al-Qaeda which could result in attacks directed at Israel by either Hezbollah or Iran. Israel has already faced gunfire from Syria in the Golan Heights in clashes between the Syrian National Army and the Israeli military where an Israeli vehicle was targeted after it crossing the ceasefire line in an act viewed as defying Syrian sovereignty. Syria has accused Israel of siding with the rebels by attacking Syrian targets; the most recent were the airstrikes directed near Damascus airport which were supposedly destined for Hezbollah. A rocket was also reportedly fired at northern Israel yesterday from Lebanon not long after a similar attack on the resort city of Eilat was fired from the Egyptian Sinai peninsula resulting in no casualties.
Focus has also been shifted to the peace process by comments from British Foreign Secretary William Hague warning of failure if the efforts by US Sectary of State John Kerry were not matched by Israeli and Palestinian compromises in negotiations. Hague warned of a distancing from any credible Palestinian state and a two-state solution. Thus far, John Kerry has not succeeded despite visits to Ramallah and Jerusalem in the last two months.
Israel’s chief negotiator Tzipi Livni has also commented on the lacking partner for peace, stating that Mahmood Abbas’s lack of credibility in the West Bank, having failed to call for elections for several years, and the unrelinquished Hamas in Gaza in refusing to recognise Israel’s right to exist, entails no purpose in signing an agreement until a credible partner is serious to do so. Mahmood Abbas’s sanctioning of talks with Hamas is a move viewed as strengthening Hamas which Israel opposed, Livni called for the International community to pressurise the Fatah movement from doing so. However Israeli President Shimon Peres took a more optimistic route stating that it was still possible for a peace treaty to be signed through compromise and negotiations. Meanwhile Mahmood Abbas called for the end of the Israeli occupation which by doing so will allow security and peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Written by ICSR Research Intern Yasmina Allouche