Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry met Ahmed al-Jarba, the Syrian National Coalition’s (SNC) newly elected leader, late this afternoon at the United Nations to discuss “political solutions” to the Syrian conflict. Al-Jarba met with French president Francois Hollande in Paris yesterday in an effort to push for military and humanitarian aid. United Nations disarmament chief Angela Kane and Swedish chemical weapons expert Ake Sellstrom left Damascus today after a two-day visit to discuss with Syrian officials the scope of the UN’s upcoming inquiry into the alleged use of chemical weapons in the war. Syrian officials seek to limit the panel’s investigation to the suspected March 19 use of sarin gas in Aleppo, while the UN and U.S. are seeking unrestricted access for the investigators. UN Middle East envoy Robert Serry told the Security Council on Tuesday that the international organization has received thirteen reports of alleged chemical weapons use in Syria.
In Syria, over two thousand people have been killed since Ramadan began on July 10, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today. More than 1,323 of the dead were reportedly fighters. Syrian rebels claimed control of western Aleppo on Tuesday, and government troops killed forty-nine rebel fighters in Adra, a suburb of Damascus, on Sunday.
Egypt. The Egyptian Trade Union Federation today announced that five million workers will protest tomorrow in pro-military demonstrations. During a speech to military graduates yesterday, Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for the Friday demonstrations to provide the military a “mandate” to confront violence and terrorism. “I’m asking you to show the world,” he said. “If violence is sought, or terrorism is sought, the military and the police are authorized to confront this.” The Tamarod movement echoed al-Sisi’s call and voiced its support for the demonstrations, while the Muslim Brotherhood called for counter-demonstrations.
Meanwhile, Qatar on Tuesday called for deposed Egyptian president Mohammad Morsi to be released from military detention, adding its voice to calls by the EU, U.S. and Morsi’s family. Nine people were killed and thirty-three others wounded on Tuesday in clashes between opponents and Islamist supporters of Morsi at a Muslim Brotherhood protest at Cairo University. Morsi supporters have been camped out there since the July 3 coup.
Israel-Palestine. Preliminary peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials are scheduled to begin in Washington on Tuesday, according to the Israeli media. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat are slated to meet in Washington next week in order to get negotiations restarted. Israeli media reports eighty-two Palestinian prisoners would be released by Israel over the next few months as a show of good will. Palestinian officials continue to stress that peace talks will not begin without an affirmation of the 1967 line as the basis for talks. Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry is reportedly building a new team to manage the Israel-Palestine peace talks. Martin Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel, is reportedly likely to be tapped to head the effort. Click here for my take on Secretary Kerry’s efforts to get the parties to the table.
U.S. Foreign Policy
Syria. U.S. plans to arm Syrian rebels may face further Congressional hurdles when funding for the classified program runs out on September 30, U.S. officials said today. President Barack Obama will reportedly move forward with plans to arm the Syrian rebels after working with Congress to overcome concerns. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, testified last week before the Armed Services Committee and wrote an open letter to senators on five potential military options for Syria, including limited strikes and establishing a no-fly zone. “The decision to use force is not one that any of us takes lightly. It is no less than an act of war,” he wrote.
Iran. The U.S. House of Representatives will vote next week on legislation that would severely curtail Iran’s ability to export oil. Legislators aim to toughen sanctions and bring Iranian exports close to zero, which would impact global oil prices and would risk antagonizing China and India, the largest remaining buyers of Iranian crude oil.
Egypt. The Pentagon announced yesterday that President Barack Obama has held up delivery of four F-16 fighter planes to the Egyptian air force. Administration officials said that Obama wanted to send Egypt’s military-led government a signal of Washington’s displeasure with the military’s detention of opposition figures. “We’ve been very clear with the military: we understand this is a difficult situation but we want things to get back on track,” a Pentagon official said. “Trying to break the neck of the Brotherhood is not going to be good for Egypt or for the region.” The decision does not mark a suspension of military assistance to Egypt and will not affect the $1.5 billion in American aid.
While We Were Looking Elsewhere
Tunisia. Mohammad Brahmi, general coordinator of the Popular Movement and member of the National Constituent Assembly, was shot dead this morning outside his home in Ariana. Hours later, thousands of Tunisians protested in front of the Ministry of Interior in Tunis. This is the second killing of an opposition member this year, following that of Chokri Belaid.
Iraq. Militants today ambushed a truck convoy with Iraqi Shiites and killed fourteen drivers in a village outside the northern city of Tuz Khormato, the latest in a series of bold attacks. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda claimed responsibility on Tuesday for deadly attacks on the prisons at Abu Ghraib and Taji. The highly coordinated assaults began Sunday evening and involved mortars, suicide bombers, and an assault force, killing at least twenty-five members of the Iraqi security forces. Iraqi officials said eight hundred prisoners had escaped from Abu Ghraib, of whom four hundred have since been re-captured or killed, and that no prisoners had escaped from Taji. “If Al Qaeda can attack a prison, it means they can do whatever they want whenever they want,” said a lawyer, Meluk Abdil Wahab, 45. July has been the deadliest month of 2013 for Iraq, with the death toll at 626 as of Tuesday.
Lebanon. The European Union will continue working with the Lebanese government even though Hezbollah is part of it, EU Ambassador Angelina Eichhorst said on Tuesday. Lebanese officials had objected to the EU’s Monday designation of Hezbollah’s “military wing” as a terrorist organization. The move places travel restrictions on selected members and will freeze assets associated with the group. Catherine Ashton, the EU’s top foreign policy official, acknowledged that the designation was “partly a political signal.”
Iran. Russian president Vladimir Putin will reportedly meet with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani next month in Tehran to discuss restarting talks on Iran’s nuclear program, Russian and Iranian news media reported today. Putin last visited Iran in 2007.
Qatar. The new emir, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, will continue aiding Syrian rebels until Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is toppled, Syria’s opposition envoy to Doha said yesterday. Qatar recently gave $5 million to the Syrian National Coalition to purchase humanitarian supplies.
This Week in History
This week marks the sixty-first anniversary of the 1952 Egyptian Revolution that removed Egypt’s King Farouk from power. On July 23, 1952, General Muhammad Naguib, Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser and Colonel Anwar Sadat led a coup of the so-called Free Officers against Farouk, whose rule had been criticized for corruption and its defeat in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Three days later after the coup, Farouk formally abdicated the throne in favor of his son, and a Regency Council was appointed. While the revolution was initially aimed at overthrowing Farouk, the movement had more political ambitions and soon moved to abolish the constitutional monarchy and establish a republic. Naguib, the figurehead leader of the coup, assumed the post of prime minister in September 1952 and established the Republic of Egypt in June 1953. Naguib then became the first president of Egypt, and Nasser became deputy prime minister. In 1954, Nasser removed Naguib from power and proclaimed himself prime minister of Egypt. In 1956, Nasser was elected, unopposed, to the presidency. He died in office in 1970.