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June 20, 2011

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UN Probe Chief: Assad Ordered Hariri Killed - Roee Nahmias (Ynet News)
    German Judge Detlev Mehlis, who was in charge of an investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, says the Syrian regime ordered his assassination.
    In an interview with a German radio station, Mehlis said Syrian President Bashar Assad "ordered Hariri killed" because he feared the premier was cooperating with France and the U.S. to overturn the Syrian regime and disarm Hizbullah.
    He said witness testimonies gathered by his commission indicate that "the structure of the Syrian regime does not allow such a crime to be carried out without explicit orders from Assad."

Syria: They Came at Dawn, and Killed in Cold Blood - Kim Sengupta (Independent-UK)
    The raid by the secret police - the Mukhabarat - and the Shabbiha militia had come at dawn. The killings had been cold-blooded and quick, three men shot dead as, barely awake, they tried desperately to get away.
    "They were working from a list. But they made mistakes. One of them was the wrong person. They did not even have the right name of the man they killed," said Qais al-Baidi, a Syrian resident of Idlib province.
    "But none of them deserved this. They were not terrorists. They had just taken part in some demonstrations."
    See also Syrian Refugees Describe Horrors of Assad Crackdown - Hasnain Kazim (Der Spiegel-Germany)
    L. and his wife had kept telling themselves that their home village of Zaini was safe and the violence would not reach them. "But then they arrived in their military jeeps. They jumped out and killed the neighbors. The entire family," says L.
    See also Six Killed at Anti-Syria Rally in Lebanon (AFP-Telegraph-UK)
    Six people were killed and several injured on Friday in clashes between Sunnis and Alawites after protests against Syria's regime in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.

Hamas: Palestinian Unity Government Must Not Cooperate with Israel on Security (Maan News-PA)
    Speaking at the Islamic University in Gaza City, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Saturday a proposed unity government should not threaten the resistance.
    Of central importance, he said, was the forming of national security departments that do not cooperate with Israel. "Protecting the resistance weapon" should be a priority, he added.

NATO: Gaddafi Using Human Shields (AP-CBS News)
    NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu Saturday accused Muammar Gaddafi of using human shields, saying the Libyan leader is "brutally attacking" his people and using mosques and children's parks as shields for his military operations.
    In addition, rebels have previously accused Gaddafi of storing weapons in places like the ancient Roman ruins at Leptis Magna.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Violent Clashes as Thousands Protest in Cities Across Syria - Hwaida Saad and Liam Stack
    Thousands of protesters poured into the streets in the suburbs of Damascus, Syria, and in three of the country’s five largest cities on Friday. Activists said at least 19 people were killed and dozens wounded. Security forces fired on protesters in Homs, while police and protesters fought in Deir al-Zour. Thousands demonstrated in Kiswa, south of Damascus, where demonstrators carried banners that read, "Leave!" and "The people want the fall of the regime."  (New York Times)
  • U.S. Pushes to Try Syria Regime - Jay Solomon
    The Obama administration is gathering information on alleged human-rights abuses by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's security forces for possible referral to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, senior U.S. officials said Friday. The U.S. is also exploring ways to more directly target Syria's oil and gas revenue. "Assad is pushing his country on the path of being a pariah state," said a senior U.S. official Friday. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Medvedev Rules Out UN Resolution Condemning Syria - Charles Clover
    Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, has left little room for compromise on the question of outside intervention in Syria, complaining in an interview with the Financial Times that Russia had been all but tricked into supporting last March’s UN resolution on Libya. He said the broad way in which the Western allies interpreted March’s Resolution 1973 had turned it into "a scrap of paper to cover up a pointless military operation" and practically ruled out supporting any resolution on Syria, no matter how vague. "I would not like a Syrian resolution to be pulled off in a similar manner [to Libya]."  (Financial Times-UK)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israeli Defense Minister Rejects Palestinian Demand for Settlement Freeze
    Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in an interview with France 24 on Friday, said he believes there is probably more than a 50-50 chance that Israel and the Palestinians will return to the negotiating table before September. In the meantime, he said, Israel cannot stop construction in existing settlements. "There is no real way to announce an end of construction. There's half a million people living there. They need a new kindergarten every week."
        European governments, Barak added, should tell the Palestinians: "Now you must come to grips with reality," regarding their demand for a settlement freeze. "It's about taking responsibility."
        "If we have a breakthrough, it will delineate a border. If there's a building that [ends up] on the Palestinian side of a mutually agreed border, why should they care - they will get it." Likewise, "If it ends up on the Israeli side of a mutually agreed upon border, why should they care. It's on our side anyhow." Settlements, he insisted, are "not the real issue when coming to negotiations."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • IDF Holds Drill Simulating Mass Missile Attacks across Israel
    The Israel Defense Forces began a nation-wide Home Front defense drill on Sunday to prepare security forces for possible missile attacks at targets across the country. Municipalities, government offices, schools and kindergartens are to practice evacuating their buildings. Rescue services will also practice the evacuation of a geriatric hospital and of a factory housing hazardous materials.
        Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai told Israel Radio that Israel's "power of deterrence" would make anyone think twice before launching an attack against it, but the country "must be prepared also for difficult scenarios" in which hundreds of missiles strike Israel at the same time. (Ha'aretz)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Syria's Nightmare - Editorial
    With thousands of Syrians being slaughtered, jailed or forced to flee their country, President Obama and other leaders need to find better ways to punish and isolate President Bashar al-Assad and his cronies. Mr. Obama should make clear that the Syrian strongman has lost all legitimacy.
        Washington needs to mount an all-out campaign to pass a tough UN Security Council resolution condemning Syria and imposing sanctions. There is talk in Washington about pushing the top consumers of Syrian oil - Germany, Italy, France and the Netherlands - to stop buying it. Experts say the exports are small enough that a suspension would have little effect on world oil prices but a big impact on Damascus. (New York Times)
  • Why Is Obama So Tough on Israel and Timid on Syria? - Jackson Diehl
    One of the hallmarks of the Arab Spring has been the emergence of a new and more modest American foreign policy. The Obama administration has insisted on not taking the lead in promoting democratic change. Yet on a Middle Eastern front that has remained mostly quiet in 2011 - the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - the position of the U.S. is: a) it possesses a detailed solution; b) action must be taken immediately; and c) it doesn't matter whether the people concerned - Israelis and Palestinians - are agreeable or ready.
        Obama has spoken in public on Syria just twice since its massacres began three months ago. But he chose to spell out U.S. terms for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without the agreement of Israel's prime minister, on the eve of meeting him at the White House and with only a few hours' notice - arguably the most high-handed presidential act in U.S.-Israeli relations since the Eisenhower administration.
        What’s extraordinary about Obama’s initiative is not its details, which don’t differ meaningfully from the ideas of several of Netanyahu’s predecessors as prime minister. It is, rather, its superpower chutzpah - the brazen disregard for the views and political posture of this Israeli government, and the fecklessness and disarray of the current Palestinian leadership. Never mind, goes the implicit Euro-American line: We will make this happen. (Washington Post)
  • Hizbullah's Veneration of Iranian Leader Ali Khamenei - Shimon Shapira
    Iranian leader Ali Khamenei is much more esteemed in Lebanon than in Iran. The total veneration of Khamenei highlights one of the important attributes of the Imam in the Shiite faith, which views him as an infallible figure who is clairvoyant and makes correct decisions.
        At a conference in Beirut on June 6, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah described Khamenei's special status in Hizbullah as the one who has dictated the Shiite movement's strategic steps in Lebanon at the crucial moments of its history. Hashem Safieddin, Nasrallah's designated successor, noted: "Without the direct, minute by minute, command and supervision of Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, Hizbullah would not have achieved its great victory against Zionism and America" in the Second Lebanon War. Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira is a senior research associate at the Jerusalem Center. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

Can Bashar Assad Survive the Storm? - Jacques Neriah (Jerusalem Post)

  • Unlike the 1982 rebellion, unrest and demonstrations this time are widespread and not limited to two towns and a specific sector of the population. The opposition is not limited to Islamic fundamentalists (although the regime is trying to create a picture according to which Syria is under a combined attack by al-Qaeda and its associates – with Israeli backing and involvement, of course).
  • Bashar Assad knows his time is limited. The Western powers may be slow to react, but when they do, their intent is very clear: to limit his powers and end his repressive methods, with a regime change if needed.
  • Russia's delaying role in the UN Security Council has given the Syrian regime time to cope with its domestic problems in the hope that by the time the West organizes, Syria would again be disciplined, and revolts a part of history.

    The writer is a former diplomatic adviser to the late Yitzhak Rabin.
    See also Will the Assad Regime Survive? - Ron Ben-Yishai (Ynet News)
  • The thousands of refugees pouring into Syria, the YouTube videos showing mass demonstrations, and even the angry condemnations and international sanctions do not necessarily attest to the Assad regime's imminent collapse.
  • The opposite may be true as the opposition appears to be unable to coalesce the mass demonstrations and sporadic armed rebellions across Syria into an all-out popular uprising. After more than three months of upheaval, nowhere in Syria have we seen a critical mass of motivated protestors that would topple the violent regime (as was the case in Egypt and Tunisia).
  • The Assad regime has been able to secure its objectives thus far because it has managed to maintain loyalty, obedience, and operational capabilities among its main power sources: The army, security arms, Alawite sect and the business community.
  • Members of all sects serve in the army and have been trained to obey, even if these are Sunnis or Kurds who secretly despise the regime. They also know that security officers operating alongside them, and even low-ranking officers within their units, will not hesitate to shoot them in the back should they refuse orders.

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