Greater Middle East

Are you ready for World War 5?

Days after it was reported that Lebanese authorities are barring entry to Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria, The Guardian tells us of the sudden flight of Syria's "well-heeled elite" into Lebanon—predictably meeting no interference from authorities. With nearly 2 million already in refuge beyond Syria's borders according to the UNHCR (up from 1.4 million just four months ago), and hundreds of  thousands more internally displaced, many facing hunger and harsh conditions for well over a year now, it is almost satisfying to see the pain get passed around to the regime's favored lackeys. But the threat of US air-strikes which has sparked this exclusive exodus also looms over Syria's commoners—as we saw in Libya, "smart bombs" and "surgical" targeting still have a habit of wiping out civilians. And yes, there is something utterly perverse about the world sitting and watching, arms folded, as Syria escalates to genocide—as in Darfur. But the threat is very real that US intervention will internationalize the conflict, and set off a regional or even global conflagration...

Egypt: one dead in 'Friday of Martyrs'

An Aug. 23 protest mobilization called by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, dubbed a "Friday of Martyrs," was portrayed as a failure in the Western press  (NYT), the military flooding the streets with armored vehicles, erecting barbed-wire barricades at major intersections—and taking the extraordinary move of ordering prominent mosques closed. But Egypt's Ahram Online reports that there were nonetheless street clashes in several cities—especially in the Nile Delta region north of Cairo. One protester was killed, and 25 injured, at Tanta, in the Delta's Gharbiya governorate. At Mansoura, in neighboring Daqahliya governorate, police used tear-gas as protesters were attackjed by hundreds of residents. Similar clashes were reported at Anshas Al-Raml village in the Delta's Sharqiya governorate, as supporters and opponents of Morsi hurled stones at each other.  

'Black Friday' in Lebanon: air-strikes, terror blasts —and confusion

The Israeli air force struck the compound of a Palestinian militant group in Lebanon Aug. 23—hours after a different organization claimed responsibility for four rockets fired into northern Israel from Lebanese territory, causing some damage but no casualties. Israel's military said, "The pilots reported direct hits to the target." Lebanese media said the target was a position of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), whereas the rocket salvo was claimed by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an Islamist group that similarly claimed rocket fire on Israel in 2009 and 2011. Israeli army spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai actually said the rockets were "launched by the global jihad terror organization"—standard Israeli military lingo for the al-Qaeda network. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened retaliation after the rocket strikes: "Anyone who harms us, or tries to harm us, should know—we will strike them." Yet the retailiation didn't strike "them." (AFP, Lebanon Daily Star, Aug. 23)

Syria chemical attack: rush to judgement

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights posted to its Facebook page Aug. 21 claims, based on witness reports, of a chemical gas attack on the eastern Damascus suburbs. Dozens were reported killed and hundreds injured in the towns of Erbin, Zamalka, Ein Terma and East Ghouta. Al Jazeera puts the death toll at "at least 100," and notes that Syrian authorities dismissed the reports as "baseless." The Syrian National Coalition is apparently putting the toll at 650 lives. The claims coincide with a visit to Syria by a 20-member UN team to investigate three sites where chemical weapons were allegedly used over the past year. Al Jazeera and Russia Today report Moscow's rejection of the claims. The Russian Foreign Ministry said the timing of the claimed attack "makes us think that we are once again dealing with a premeditated provocation." Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich charged that "biased regional media have immediately, as if on command, begun an aggressive information attack, laying all the responsibility on the government."

Egypt: 25 soldiers killed by militants in Sinai

At least 25 Egyptian soldiers were killed by militants in an ambush on two buses in north Sinai on Aug. 19. The soldiers were reportedly executed by militants after being forced to leave the buses, a correspondent for Ma'an News Service said. Three other Egyptian servicemen were injured in the attack. The soldiers were part of a central security unit deployed along the Israel-Egypt border and around Rafah, officials said. It is the deadliest attack on Egypt's armed forces since militants killed 16 soldiers near the Gaza fence last August. On Aug. 15, militants in the Sinai killed seven soldiers in an attack on a checkpoint. Since the military coup that toppled president Mohamed Morsi after massive nationwide protests against his rule, militant groups have launched almost daily attacks on troops and police in Sinai. 

Syria: Nusra Front cleanses Kurds

Up to 20,000 refugees have crossed from Syria into Iraqi Kurdistan in the past three days, apparently fleeing fighting between Kurdish militias of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and Salafist factions led by the Nusra Front. The PYD reportedly drove Salafist forces from the northeastern town of Ras al-Ain, taking control of a border post on the Turkish frontier. But the Salafists are apparenlty launching bloody reprisals, with refugees who have fled to Iraq reporting massacres in Kurdish villages.

Egypt: Revolutionary Socialists statement on crisis

From Egypt's Revolutionary Socialists, Aug. 14, via Jadaliyya:

Down with Military Rule!
Down with al-Sisi, the Leader of the Counter-Revolution!

The bloody dissolution of the sit-ins in al-Nahda Square and Raba'a al-Adawiyya is nothing but a massacre—prepared in advance. It aims to liquidate the Muslim Brotherhood. But, it is also part of a plan to liquidate the Egyptian Revolution and restore the military-police state of the Mubarak regime.

Egypt: Ikhwan unleash rage on Copts

As the death toll from the previous day's operation to clear Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) protest camps in Cairo was estimated as high as 600, Ikhwan supporters on Aug. 15 staged new marches in the capital, where a government building was set alight, as well as in Alexandria, where street clashes were reported. A governorate building was also torched in Giza, while seven soldiers were killed by unknown gunmen near El Arish in the Sinai peninsula. Ikhwan supporters also unleashed their rage on Coptic Christians, with several churches, homes, and Copt-owned businesses attacked throughout the country. Coptic rights group the Maspero Youth Union (MYU) estimated that as many as 36 churches were "completely" devastated by fire across nine governorates, including Minya, Sohag and Assiut. Egyptians on Twitter used #EgyChurch to crowd-source images and reports of attacks on churches. (Ahram Online, Ahram OnlineMiddle East Online, BBC News, Aug. 15; Al Jazeera, Aug. 12)

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