M!ddleEasterners Newsblog: 8-15 November
This week saw gains for the Assad regime as they regained territory around Aleppo’s airport, including the strategically important Base 80. In response, several rebel groups have called for a concerted effort to meet the regime’s advance. Further reports indicate that the regime also made gains in the suburbs south of Damascus.
Meanwhile, open divisions continue to characterise the opposition movement. The Syrian National Coalition has agreed to hold talks with the regime, though discussions did see tensions running so high that a promiment members of the coalition slapped another in the face. It seems that the FSA has not relinquished their negative opinion of talks either.
Amongst the rebel groupings, two further events threaten rifts. Ayman al-Zawahiri has once again denounced ISIS for exceeding its authority and claiming authority in Syria, a role which the Al Qaeda continues to insist is Jabhat al-Nusra’s alone. Meanwhile, in the north the Kurdish PYD, on the back of territorial gains made at the expense of ISIS, has declared the formation of an autonomous administration similar to that of the Kurds in Iraq. This news has been greeted negatively by the Syrian National Coalition, and it does not seem that even all of Syria’s Kurdish groups have signed on to the plan.
Two high-profile political trials are playing out against a backdrop of rising tensions between the March 8th and March 14th coalitions. Ali Eid, head of the Arab Democratic Party, has failed to appear in court to face charges of helping a suspect in August’s Tripoli Bombings escape to Syria, despite being ordered to appear. Authorities raided his house, but found it empty. Meanwhile the ex-head of Lebanon’s Higher Relief Committee has been charged with embezzlement, along with his wife and another Lebanese couple. This has occurred against a backdrop of attacks and counter-attacks between the coalitions, including an exchange between Hezbollah Secretary General Nasrallah and ex-Prime Minister Hariri.
Nasrallah made two rare public appearances this week as Shias prepared to observe Ashura. He used his address to reiterate that his fighters would stay in Syria to aid the Assad regime, and in turn protect Lebanon. In his second public appearance he warned of the dangers that would happen if a deal was not reached with Iran over its nuclear capabilities.
Israel has been involving itself in two sets of negotiations this week. Addressing the Iranian negotiations PM Netanyahu has been the voice of restraint, stating that a bad deal could lead to war. He has a taken a comparatively softer approach to the renewed negotiations with the Palestinians, ordering his housing minister to ‘reconsider’ further settlements planned in the West Bank in an attempt to ease tensions, though the resignation of the Palestinian negotiating team would caused some concern.
There has been some political fallout over the controversial return of MK Avigdor Lieberman to the post of Foreign Secretary after being acquitted of charges of fraud and breach of trust, and an enhanced commitment to fight organised crime by Interior Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who proposes to treat them as ‘terrorists’.
Hamas appears to have stepped up its state brutality this week, partly in response to an attempted protest by Tamarod, a demonstration that appears to have failed anyway. Far more serious is the danger posed by the continuing fuel shortage in Gaza, which is not helped by an Egyptian crackdown on smuggling across their border with Gaza through the tunnel network.
Since the abortive attempt to try Mohamed Morsi last week, there have been signs of political progress in Egypt this week. Around half of the new constitution has been finalised, and the state of emergency has been lifted. However, tensions still run high, with the sentencing of 12 pro-Morsi protesters to 17 years in prison leading to protests across Egypt, while Morsi himself continues to denounce the regime