Syria: the human cost

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The appalling bloodshed and destruction in Syria continues unabated. According to a UNHCR report of 3 September the number of refugees now exceeds 2 million, almost 1.8 million in the last 12 months. "More than 97 per cent of Syria's refugees are hosted by countries in the immediate surrounding region, placing an overwhelming burden …

Egypt: out of intensive care

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Protests and disturbances continue on a reduced scale (violence of a different nature continues in Sinai). The British ambassador James Watt posted on his blog "I return to my blog after what seems a century at least of absence. But everything before 30 June, for those of us living in Egypt, seems to belong to the …

Syria, Israel, Iran

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A striking feature of recent developments over Syria is that US congressional and public opinion appears not to have been much influenced by an intensive campaign by the Israeli lobby led by AIPAC to make the administration stand by its earlier determination to use force in Syria. This is unprecedented in recent years. Since it appears to reflect …

Lebanon: waiting on Syria

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Of all Syria's neighbours Lebanon is the most painfully affected by the civil war. The massive flow of refugees is putting Lebanese resources under unbearable strain. Violence such as the bombs which killed 42 outside Sunni mosques in the largely Sunni northern city of Tripoli, probably retaliation for a bomb in the largely Shia area of southern …

The Geneva talks

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While fighting continues in Syria the US/Russian talks, about to enter a third day, deal with two related problems. The first is Syria's chemical weapons; President Bashar al-Asad has agreed that they should be disposed of, but the technical, military and political problems are daunting, and disposal while a civil war is in progress is unprecedented. The second …

Gaza and Hamas

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Two Egyptian tanks crossed an initial border fence leading to Gaza for the first time yesterday 12 September, without entering Gaza itself. Yousef Rizqa the political adviser on Hamas to the Egyptian prime minister said that it is unlikely that the Egyptian army would launch a military offensive on the Gaza Strip: “The geographical and historical depth between the two countries precludes such possibility.” How has the situation deteriorated to this point? Events of the last few months have put the population of Gaza under ever more severe pressure. …

Kurdistan: stumbling

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Attempts by the Kurds in Turkey and Syria to link up with the success of the semi-independent Kurdish region in northern in Iraq have suffered two possible setbacks. According to the Istanbul-based Hürriyet Daily News of 11 September the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) announced on 10 September that it was halting the pullout of its militants from Turkey, putting the attempt to find a solution to the decades-long Kurdish problem in jeopardy. In a statement carried by the Fırat news agency, which is known to have close links with …

Palestine: talking

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Very little information has been available about direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian delegations which have been meeting continuously since 29 July. Although the talks were said to be without preconditions it appears that both sides had agreed to leave it to the US to speak publicly about them. Reports suggest that the US representative Martin Indyk was not …

Syria: Drawing the poison

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It will take some time for the various parties concerned to assess the idea which appeared suddenly on the public agenda yesterday 9 September, that the Syrian crisis could be resolved if the Syrian government hands over its chemical weapons for destruction. Is it realistic? Does it solve the problem? First mentioned "rhetorically" by John Kerry in …

Libya: uncertainty

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The Libyan government has been largely unable to deal with a number of serious problems facing it: independent militias, "federalism" amounting to separatism in Cyrenaica, interruption of oil supplies by strikers, power and water cuts, political/tribal assassinations. In a three-minute clip published by the BBC the Libyan writer Ghazi Gheblawi reflects on Libya after the Arab …