Greater Middle East
A teenage boy was killed in clashes with police at a Shi'ite village near Bahrain's capital Manama on Feb. 14, as hundreds took to the streets to mark the second anniversary of the uprising in the Sunni-ruled kingdom. The youth was hit by shotgun fire in the village of Dia, Bahrain's major Shiite opposition bloc al-Wefaq announced on Twitter. Strikes and protests to commemorate the uprising were called by clandestine online groups such as the February 14 Revolution Youth Coalition. Security forces used tear-gas to prevent protesters from marching on the former Pearl Square, where activists camped for a month before being forcefully driven out in March 2011 (after which authorities demolished its iconic monument and changed the plaza's name). The two years of unrest in Bahrain have left at least 80 dead.
Recent reports (LAT, Jan. 19) have militia forces of the Kurdish National Council battling jihadist rebels of the Nusra Front for control of villages along Syria’s northeast border with Turkey. The jihadists seem to be alarmingly well-armed, using tanks and artillery to attack Kurdish positions and civilian neighborhoods in Ras Ayn village. There is a growing sense that the Islamization of the rebels is solidifying an alliance between the secular-minded Kurds and the Damascus regime—with much fear about the role of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the separatist group in Turkey which is on the US Foreign Terrorist Organizations list.
A Lebanese judge on Feb. 4 issued an arrest warrant for a top Syrian intelligence official and his aide for alleged involvement in a bombing plot in Lebanon. Brigadier General Ali Mamlouk is accused of being involved in plotting a series of bomb attacks with former Lebanese information minister Michel Samaha. Samaha, who was branded a global terrorist by the US Department of the Treasury, was arrested in August for allegedly plotting to incite violence in Lebanon with the aid of Mamlouk and Syria. In October Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan, a top Lebanese counter-Syrian intelligence official, was killed by a car bomb in Beirut believed to be in connection to his networks discovery of Samaha and Mamlouk's bomb plot.
An Egyptian court on Jan. 29 upheld the in absentia death sentences of seven Coptic Christians and an American preacher on charges stemming from the amateur anti-Muslim "film" Innocence of Muslims, which sparked violent protests in the Middle East last year. A criminal court in Cairo sentenced the convicted defendants in November, pending the final verdict just announced. The death sentences are primarily symbolic, as all of the defendants live outside of Egypt. The eight defendants include Mark Basseley Youssef, the California man who produced the film, as well as Florida pastor Terry Jones, who aroused controversy last year by publicly burning a Koran. The film depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud and a womanizer. The court found the defendants guilty of subverting national unity, spreading false information and insulting Islam, charges that carry the death penalty.
Fathi Shihab-Eddim, a senior aide to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi responsible for appointing the editors of all state-run newspapers, marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day in his own charming way. Fox News of course trumpeted his comments with undisguised glee: "The myth of the Holocaust is an industry that America invented. US intelligence agencies in cooperation with their counterparts in allied nations during World War II created [the Holocaust] to destroy the image of their opponents in Germany, and to justify war and massive destruction against military and civilian facilities of the Axis powers, and especially to hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the atomic bomb." The standard right-wing, Islamohpbic and Zionist websites waste no time in jumping all over it: Answering Muslims, Breitbart, Homeland Security Newswire, Human Events, Washington Times, Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Algemeiner (mysteriously misplacing the date of the comments by three years), etc. The usual leftist and anti-Zionist sites, meanwhile, are completely silent. What is wrong with this picture? Quite a lot.
Israeli warplanes carried out an air-strike overnight on Syrian territory near the border with Lebanon. Unnamed US and "regional" (presumably Israeli) officials said the target was a weapons convoy with a shipment that included Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles bound for Hezbollah, which would be strategically "game-changing" in the hands of the militant group. Damascus called the strikes an act of "Israeli arrogance and aggression" that raised the risks that the two-year-old civil conflict in Syria could spread beyond the country's borders. The regime said a research facility in the Damascus suburbs had been hit, and denied that a convoy had been the target. The attack comes days after Israel expressed concerns that Damascus' stockpile of chemical weapons could fall into the hands of Hezbollah. Israel had no official statement on the air-strikes.
Police clashed with protesters in Cairo Jan. 24, eve of the the second anniversary of the uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak. Demonstraors calling for the fall of President Mohamed Morsi tried to dismantle a concrete security barrier that blocked a street leading to Tahrir Square, focal point of protest movement that broke out on Jan. 25, 2010 and led to Mubarak's resignation 18 days later. The walls were erected last year to protect government buildings in the area. The National Salvation Front opposition bloc has called for rallies "in all the Tahrir Squares of the country." (Middle East Online, Jan. 24)