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by CTuttle

Gaza Update: Delays, Deceit, and Death

4:15 pm in Uncategorized by CTuttle

The Ceasefire was in fact extended for another 24 hrs… Palestinians, Israelis agree on extending Gaza cease-fire, continue talks

Egypt late Monday announced a 24-hour extension in talks between Israel and the Hamas militant group aimed at salvaging a long-term arrangement that would allow reconstruction of the Gaza Strip following a monthlong war that killed more than 2,000 people.

The announcement came just minutes before a temporary truce was set to expire at midnight, averting a resumption of the fighting that has caused devastating damage across Gaza and disrupted life throughout southern Israel.

‘Palestinians and Israelis agreed on extending the cease-fire by 24 hours to continue current negotiations,’ the Egyptian government said in a statement. Palestinian and Israeli officials confirmed they had accepted Egypt’s request for an extension.

A Palestinian negotiator said the sides had exchanged draft proposals for a long-term truce that were to be addressed during the 24-hour extension in talks. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

Today’s Haaretz revealed the explosive politics at play within Bibi’s rabid Cabinet…

Israeli official: Netanyahu tried to hide Egyptian cease-fire proposal from cabinet

Only when Lieberman brought copy to cabinet meeting did PM reluctantly admit its existence.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried last week to hide from cabinet ministers the draft of a cease-fire agreement drawn up by Egypt. A senior Israeli official said that during last Thursday evening’s cabinet meeting, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman confronted Netanyahu, showing him the copy of the Egyptian proposal that he, Lieberman, had received, and demanded an explanation.

The Israeli official said Lieberman surprised Netanyahu with this revelation. This was the first that the other cabinet ministers had heard that Israel had received a draft cease-fire agreement from the Egyptians, and they demanded copies of their own so they could review it.

A stormy atmosphere ensued and Netanyahu found himself on the defensive. The official said Netanyahu told the cabinet members that it was only a proposal, one of many that had been updated again and again in previous days.

‘I didn’t say ‘yes’ to this draft and for now we do not accept it,’ he told the ministers.

To be sure…

Tikun Olam’s Richard Silverstein wrote yesterday about even more Palace intrigue… Avigdor Lieberman Leaked Secret Gaza Military Briefing

Bless Bibi’s piteous heart… Israel lifts Gaza fishing ban as goodwill gesture for cease-fire

Meanwhile, from Ma’an… Touring the devastated industrial zones of Gaza

From the WaPo… Instagram photos from Gaza: A shift from a summer lull to war

Lest you thought the WaPo was getting soft on Gaza, the odious Richard Cohen, quickly quelled that notion… Israel is held to an impossible standard

Sorry, allow me to cleanse your palate, from Electronic Intifada… An open letter to Israel

In wrapping up, Don’t you just feel the Love…?

by CTuttle

MENA Mashup: The I/P, Egypt, Libya, and Turkey

8:30 pm in Uncategorized by CTuttle

Col. Pat Lang penned an excellent retort to Oren’s brazen attempt to whitewash the IDF…

IDF marksman caught on tape in teenagers deaths

They do this kind of thing. The IDF can usually simply deny the event because it is not recorded and they feel free to lie to the world. After all, these are just Palestinians.

I witnessed a similar event in Bethlehem about 15 years ago. Three Palestinian teenagers were killed that day when Israeli troops opened fire with ball ammunition from a sandbagged position at Rachel’s tomb. (It is now permanently fortified) Having tried to administer CPR to one of the boys I can certify that he was shot through the thorax with a rifle. I happened to be on the scene shopping. The boys had been throwing rocks at the soldiers. There were about 15 wounded. They had been hit with super-caliber riot control munitions and had broken bones.

They got caught this time because CNN had a camera crew in this town for Naqba Day “festivities” outside Ofer Prison. The CNN camera man caught an Israeli soldier on the wall of the prison firing what looks like an M-4 carbine at the demonstrators. Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador in Washington claimed yesterday on “Wolf” that no ball (live fire) ammunition was used but the father of the boy hit from in front had a bullet that he said went through his son’s chest, through his backpack and a book inside and was found in the pack. It looked like 5.56 mm. to me. It was not noticeably deformed. That would be the case with steel jacketed military ammunition.

Oren suggested that the Palestinians staged all this to make Israel look bad. pl

Meanwhile, Abu Mazen, continues to undermine the Palestinians… The repercussions of forfeiting international recognition

An interesting development… New unity government to review Hamas laws in Gaza

Israel’s Crimes Against Humanity – A Long History of Corruption

Israel-Palestine: Europe should atone for its sins

Moving along to Egypt and Al-Sisi… Read the rest of this entry →

by CTuttle

MENA Mashup: Egypt, Kerry’s Parapraxis, and Election Updates

4:00 pm in Uncategorized by CTuttle

From the Nation

Egypt Delivers ‘Some of the Biggest Death Sentence Rulings in World History’

In the past five weeks, 1,100 people have been sentenced to death in Egypt. Although a few hundred of these convictions have been commuted, and more are expected to be overturned on appeal, these sham trials signal a troubling turn for Egypt’s judiciary. And it’s not just the death sentences. Democracy Now! correspondent and Nation Institute fellow Sharif Abdel Kouddous ticks off a list of actions that shows a judiciary increasingly aligning itself with Egypt’s rulers: a group of police officers acquitted for the murder of seventeen protesters; Al Jazeera journalists on trial for espionage; a ban on the April 6 Youth movement, which has actively railed against Egypt’s despots since 2008. ‘More than any other time in recent history,’ says Kouddous, ‘the Egyptian judiciary seems to be a willing partner in state repression.’

Naturally… Egypt rejects criticism of Brotherhood mass death sentences

Moving along to Kerry’s Freudian slip…

As Haaretz wrote…

U.S., Jewish groups slam Kerry over ‘apartheid’ comment

AIPAC, ADL criticize remarks by Secretary of State; House majority leader Eric Cantor calls on him to apologize.

Jewish groups slammed Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday over his warning that without a two-state solution, Israel risks becoming an apartheid state.

The pro-Israel lobby AIPAC released a statement saying it was ‘deeply troubled’ by Kerry’s comments. ‘Any suggestion that Israel is, or is at risk of becoming, an apartheid state is offensive and inappropriate. The Jewish state is a shining light for freedom and opportunity in a region plagued by terror, hate and oppression,’ the statement read.

Earlier on Monday, the Daily Beast reported on Kerry’s statements, which he made last Friday at a closed meeting in Washington before senior officials from the U.S., Europe, Russia and Japan.

AIPAC also said that is ‘shares President Obama’s perspective that while there is a political conflict between Israel and the Palestinians that needs to be resolved, the use of the term “apartheid” to characterize Israel is inaccurate and unhelpful.’

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that Kerry was simply expressing his position, which is shared by many others, and that the two-state solution is the only way Israel could remain a Jewish state that lives in peace with the Palestinians. She added that similar positions have been expressed by Israeli leaders such as Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni. Kerry believes Israel ‘is a vibrant democracy with equal right to all it citizens,’ she said…

Needless to say, the AIPAC crew made sure it was a Bipartisan affair…

Kerry declines to say Israel gives ‘equal rights for all citizens’

Last night US Secretary of State John Kerry issued a craven statement climbing down from his comments in a private meeting last Friday that Israel would become an ‘apartheid state’ without a ‘two-state solution.’

Faced with howls of outrage from extreme anti-Palestinian groups, objections from Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer (California) and an outright call for his resignation from Republican Senator Ted Cruz (Texas), the hapless Kerry may have felt he had no choice.

Sen. Barbara Boxer @SenatorBoxer

Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and any linkage between Israel and apartheid is nonsensical and ridiculous.

…Yet with all Kerry’s abject willingness to appease, there is an interesting difference between his final published statement and the comments made on his behalf by State Department spokesperson Jennifer Psaki earlier in the day.

At the usual morning briefing, Psaki said ’the Secretary [Kerry] does not believe and did not state publicly or privately that Israel is an apartheid state, and there’s an important difference there. Israel is obviously a vibrant democracy with equal rights for all of its citizens.’

The press statement Kerry issued later in the day contains similar language: ‘First, Israel is a vibrant democracy and I do not believe, nor have I ever stated, publicly or privately, that Israel is an apartheid state or that it intends to become one.’

But note that while Kerry repeated the claim that Israel is a ‘vibrant democracy,’ he pointedly did not repeat Psaki’s assertion from earlier in the day that Israel provides ‘equal rights for all of its citizens.’

As Consortium News described it… Kerry Grovels over Israeli ‘Apartheid’

Talk is cheap, Folks…! Israel Approved 14,000 New Settlement Units, Demolished 500 Palestinian Structures During Talks

A great TRNN clip on the Palestinian Unity bid…

Some more Electronic Intifada… Asked about Kerry, Tutu says Israel “mirror image” of apartheid

Meanwhile… Israel holding 9 Palestinian legislators without charge or trial

Looking at Iraq’s elections…

Read the rest of this entry →

by CTuttle

MENA Mashup: Egypt, I/P, Syria, and Yemen

6:00 pm in Uncategorized by CTuttle

Here we go again…! From the CSM…

Did Syria use chlorine gas against rebels in Kfar Zeit?

The US State Department says there are indications that a toxic chemical, probably chlorine, was used against opposition forces in Syria earlier in April.

The United States has indications that a toxic chemical, probably chlorine, was used in Syria this month and is examining whether the Syrian government was responsible, the U.S. State Department said on Monday.

‘We have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical’ in the town of Kfar Zeita, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, referring to a rebel-held area.

‘We are examining allegations that the government was responsible,’ she told a regular news briefing. ‘Obviously there needs to be an investigation of what’s happened here.’

Syrian opposition activists reported that helicopters dropped chlorine gas on a Kfar Zeit on April 11 and 12. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told ABC television’s This Week on April 13 that the attack was ‘unsubstantiated.’

Psaki said chlorine was not one of the priority one or two chemicals Syria declared to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) under a Russian-U.S. agreement for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.

Psaki said the United States was still trying to determine the facts.

‘We take all allegations of the use of chemicals in combat use very seriously,’ she said. ‘We’ll work with the OPCW, who is obviously overseeing the implementation, and determine if any violation occurred.’

Even Hollande piles on…France backs claims that Syrian forces have used chemical weapons recently

Meanwhile, in Syria…

So while everybody agrees that Assad is secure in his position and the Syrians move forward with their planned elections… The UN slams Syria…

Top UN officials warn against Syrian presidential elections

Top United Nations officials have cautioned that Syria’s newly announced presidential elections have a risk of undermining efforts to achieve a political solution to the country’s three-year-old conflict, a UN spokesman said here on Monday.

‘The secretary-general and the Joint Special Representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, have repeatedly warned that the holding of elections in the current circumstances, amid the ongoing conflict and massive displacement, will damage the political process and hamper the prospects for a political solution that the country so urgently needs,’ Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon, told reporters at a daily briefing.

‘Such elections are incompatible with the letter and spirit of the Geneva Communique,’ Dujarric said in reference to an action plan adopted in June 2012 during the first international conference on the Syrian conflict, calling for a political transition in the country.

Ironically, neither Assad, nor the SNC(or whatever version) had ever agreed to the Geneva Communique, even when it was first drawn up…! Here’s a great RT clip on the foreign intervention… Young Blood: Teenage Europeans joining jihad in war-torn Syria

Now, reflecting back…

An Eyewitness to the Syrian Rebellion: Father Frans in His Own Words

…Father Frans was murdered under still unclarified circumstances in the embattled Syrian city of Homs earlier this month.

Opposition sources have blamed the Syrian government for his death. But it is widely believed that Father Frans was killed by hard-line Islamist members of one of the rebel factions that have taken control of his Bustan al-Diwan neighborhood in Homs.

The texts of Father Frans, who had lived in Syria since 1966, provide an eyewitness account of the origins of the anti-Assad rebellion and the gradual hardening of the front between opposing rebel and government forces in Homs.

In many respects, the Father’s observations contrast sharply with what has become the standard view of the rebellion in Western media.

Perhaps most notably, whereas the rebellion is typically held to have been sparked by the violent repression of peaceful protests, according to Father Frans, the ‘protest movement’ contained an armed and violent element ‘from the start’ and the violent opposition quickly gained the ascendancy over the peaceful opposition.

Thus, in a letter published in January 2012 on the Dutch-Flemish Mediawerkgroep Syrië website, Father Frans wrote:

‘From the start, the protest movements were not purely peaceful. From the start I saw armed demonstrators marching along in the protests, who began to shoot at the police first. Very often the violence of the security forces has been a reaction to the brutal violence of the armed rebels.’

In the same letter, Father Frans insisted that what was occurring in Syria could not be described as a “popular uprising,” since the majority of Syrians do not support the opposition and ‘certainly not’ its armed component.

Moving along… Lebanon is holding their Presidential elections tomorrow…

Read the rest of this entry →

by CTuttle

MENA Mashup: The I/P Peace Farce, Iran, and Libya

5:30 pm in Uncategorized by CTuttle

Let the gnashing and rending of garments start in earnest…

UN accepts Palestinian treaty applications

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon says Palestinian applications to join 13 international conventions have been accepted.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has verified that the Palestinian applications to join 13 international conventions were ‘in due and proper form’ and have been accepted.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters on Thursday that Ban informed all 193 UN member states of his acceptance.

After Israel failed to carry out a planned prisoner release a few days after the end of a March deadline, the Palestinians retaliated by signing letters of accession to 15 international conventions. Thirteen were deposited at the UN, one in Geneva, and one in the Netherlands.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN ambassador, said on Tuesday that Palestine will officially become a state party to 13 of the 15 conventions on May 2 – and is ready with more applications to join UN agencies, conventions and treaties depending on Israel’s actions.

Col. Lang sums it up best…

Israel offers deal to rescue peace talks’ The Telegraph

And BTW, part of the deal has to be that we release Pollard.

This is all very interesting,. The Lilliputian state of Israel, armed to the teeth and dependent on the United States seeks to dictate terms to the US for a renewal of ‘negotiations’ over a possible peace between said Lilliput and the Palestinian community. The US is not really an interested party. The US is seeking to broker someone else’s deal. So, why are we willing to bargain with Israel over this?

We deserve to be treated this way. Our situation is somewhat analogous to that of parents who are dominated and bullied by children who have learned that they have nothing to fear from such parents. pl

To be sure…The Folly of the Pollard Ploy

Interestingly, even the ‘Old Guard’ FP Neolib/Ziocons, like Zbig, Lee Hamilton, Frank Carlucci, Thomas Pickering and others, are saying… Halt Peace Talks Until Israel Complies With International Law It’s time for the secretary of state to insist on America’s position on Middle East peace. *ouch*

And, speaking of our Major League Losers Players…

Now, here’s Betrayus and Dagan, recently dispensing nonsense at Harvard… Former CIA and Mossad Directors Discuss Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East Situation

Looking at recent actions in the I/P…

Israel sanctions Palestinians in new blow to peace

Israeli and Palestinian officials held fresh US-mediated talks Thursday, but the crisis-hit peace process was dealt a new blow as Israel unveiled sanctions against the Palestinians.

Israel, which collects about 80 million euros ($111 million) in taxes on behalf of the Palestinian Authority — two-thirds of its revenues — has decided to freeze the transfer of that money, an official said.

Israel was also suspending its participation with the Palestinians in developing a gas field off the Gaza Strip and putting a cap on Palestinian deposits in its banks, the Israeli official said, asking not to be named.

However, the official said ‘discussions under the aegis of the United States to overcome the talks crisis will continue.’

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat lashed out at the move, calling it an act of ‘Israeli hijacking and the theft of the Palestinian people’s money.’

The decision is a ‘violation of international law and norms by Israel’ in revenge for the Palestinians’ move to join a raft of international treaties as a state, Erakat told AFP

Naturally, that is a bad move on Israel’s part… Fatah leader: Israeli sanctions will lead to collapse of PA

In which, I’m sure Hamas wouldn’t mind the favor… Hamas to PA: End cooperation with Israel

Btw, Bibi has yet another huge migraine… Bennett: Bayit Yehudi will leave government if prisoners freed And, ever more grotesque Bennett… Israeli minister calls for annexing West Bank

Now, let’s remember that it is the rabid Settlers, that are the root problem… Rioting settlers, Israeli security forces clash in West Bank

Meanwhile… Bedouin homes in the Negev demolished for the 68th time

Israel to confiscate Palestinian land to build sewage plant

Moving along to Iran…

Read the rest of this entry →

by CTuttle

MENA Mashup: Assad, Erdogan, and Gates

7:00 pm in Uncategorized by CTuttle

As the Syrian delegation checked into Montreux earlier…

Syria FM says Assad’s status ‘red line’

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al- Moallem said Tuesday that subjects related to the status of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are ‘red lines’ and can’t be ‘touched,’ the state-run SANA news agency reported.

Al-Moallem made the remarks upon his arriving to Geneva, Switzerland Tuesday evening, heading a Syrian official delegation to participate in the Geneva II peace conference, which will open on Wednesday in Montreux.

The minister’s remarks came apparently to make the Syrian government’s stance clear ahead of the conference, hinting that the government’s delegation to Geneva will not accept talks about Assad’s departure.

The Syrian government repeatedly said that it wasn’t going to Geneva to hand over the power, but to negotiate with the opposition to find a solution to the crisis.

It also said that the peace talks must focus on combating terrorism in Syria, while the opposition wants the conference to lead to the formation of a transitional government without any role for al-Assad.

Syria wants the Geneva II conference to be successful as a first step to launch a Syrian-Syrian dialogue on their territories, al-Moallem said in Geneva.

The goal of Geneva II is to achieve a political solution to the conflict through a comprehensive agreement between the government and the opposition for the full implementation of the Geneva communique, adopted after the Geneva I conference in 2012.

The communique, which has been endorsed by the UN Security Council, lays out key steps to end the violence.

Funny how the Syrian delegation ran into probs en route to Montreux…

…The crisis over Syria is set to deepen after recent claims of photographic evidence of torture under Assad’s regime. The photos have been reviewed by a team of international prosecutors who said there was evidence of systematic abuse and murder involving 11,000 detainees.

It is likely to increase demands for Assad to step down and face an international war crimes trial.

And the Syrian delegation’s plane was held up when a Greek firm in Athens refused to refuel it, citing an EU trade embargo.

Now, I smell a rat about that ‘Photographic Evidence’…! How convenient that a defector should just happen to release all those gruesome photos on the eve of Geneva II, and, did you also notice how fast(and many!) MSM outlets rushed to publish them…?

Let’s remember that last rush to judgement in Syria…

Human Rights Watch’s Syria Dilemma

Which brings me to Erdogan’s recent rich hypocrisy…

Read the rest of this entry →

by CTuttle

MENA Mashup: Al Qaeda, Egypt, False Flags, and Hasbara

7:15 pm in Uncategorized by CTuttle

(Part 2) (I enjoyed seeing Paul cite an FDL article!)

The U.S. needs to withdraw militarily from the Middle East. I’ve made this argument over the course of several years. I think that the projection of American power comes at great environmental and human cost. I think we prop up regimes that are bad for the region, including the Saudis, the Bahrainis, now the Egyptian military, and others. I think this antagonistic relationship with Iran has been counterproductive on so many levels, from the perspective of the energy, but also from human rights and from suffering in the region, almost constant war.

-Toby C. Jones, associate professor of history at Rutgers University and author of Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia

I couldn’t agree more with Toby…!

Now, it’s always refreshing to see a MSM outlet shine some sort of light on our perfidy…

New analysis of rocket used in Syria chemical attack undercuts U.S. claims

A team of security and arms experts, meeting this week in Washington to discuss the matter, has concluded that the range of the rocket that delivered sarin in the largest attack that night was too short for the device to have been fired from the Syrian government positions where the Obama administration insists they originated.

However, b @ MOA takes McClatchy to task…

Missile Experts: White House Made False Claims Over Syrian WMD Use

…The short version of this whole story is this: The scientific facts are clear and the White House version of the WMD story is definitely false. These facts are not new but where known when the White House claims were made. Obama (and Kerry) deliberately lied about the WMD attack in Syria to wage an open war against the Syrian government and people. Threatened with a possible conflict with the Russian fleet and a possible impeachment Obama caved in. But he has not yet given up on his aim of regime change and of destroying Syria and its people.

It is time for Congress to investigate who prepared, on who’s order, the false claims about chemical weapon use in Syria and to draw consequences.

Speaking of the White House… White House releases summary of six-month Iran nuclear plan

I must say, despite the obvious Neocon Bias, I concur…

Obama has ‘No Sense’ of Military Strategy

A top British defense adviser has called President Barack Obama “chronically incapable” of implementing a successful military strategy in Syria and Afghanistan, and has “no sense of what he wants to do in the world.”

Sir Hew Strachan, a member of the United Kingdom’s Chief of the Defense Staff’s Strategic Advisory Panel, told The Daily Beast Wednesday that Obama’s handling of the Syrian crisis was “crazy” and, as the publication put it, perhaps “the most egregious example of a fundamental collapse in military planning that began in the aftermath of 9/11.”

“If anything it’s gone backwards instead of forwards. Obama seems to be almost chronically incapable of doing this,” Strachan said. “[Former President George W.] Bush may have had totally fanciful political objectives in terms of trying to fight a global War on Terror, which was inherently astrategic, but at least he had a clear sense of what he wanted to do in the world.

Obama has no sense of what he wants to do in the world,” he added.

*ouch*

Here’s another great look-see at our misbegotten FP…

To be sure, Kerry is truly tone-deaf… Geneva-2 to establish Syria’s transitional governing body: Kerry

Moving along to Egypt’s recent referendum…

Read the rest of this entry →

by CTuttle

MENA Mashup: Arab Spring, Iran, P5+1, and Syria

9:30 pm in Uncategorized by CTuttle

So the ball is now in the P5+1′s court(s)…

Iran says differences over implementing nuclear deal solved: negotiator

Differences between Iran and the world powers over implementing an interim nuclear deal have been solved, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi said Friday.

“Nuclear talks ended in Geneva (on Friday) and agreement reached on the remaining issues,” Araqchi was quoted as saying by Press TV.

“Announcement will be made in the next few days if parties agree to do so,” he added.

Iran and the European Union (EU) held a meeting in Geneva on Thursday and Friday to discuss remaining issues pertaining to the implementation of the interim nuclear deal clinched between Tehran and the major world powers in November.

I wonder how David Cameron will respond to the new proposals, and this…

UK, US were ‘malign’ force in Iran: Straw

Former foreign secretary Jack Straw said Friday that Britain and the United States had been a “malign force” in Iran in the past, after a relationship-building visit to Tehran. {…}

In an interview with BBC radio, Straw said his group had been well received by the government of President Hassan Rouhani and reported “considerable optimism there” about a rapprochement with the West.

“There is a very, very long history to this, to poor relations between Iran on the one hand and US and UK on the other,” Straw said.

“If you were an Iranian, just an ordinary Iranian, you could be forgiven for thinking that over the decades the US and the UK have been a very malign force — and indeed we have been.

“We organised together a coup d’etat to remove a democratically elected president in my lifetime in Iran, we played a very, very bad and undermining hand as popular support for the Shah flowed away in the late 1970s,” he said, referring to the coup that overthrew Mohammad Mossadegh, who was in fact prime minister.

Straw continued: “And then for example the West supported Saddam Hussein in a war which he provoked and for which Iran was the victim.”

Earlier, as the negotiators headed into the conference rooms in Geneva… Iran’s Khamenei says nuclear talks show U.S. enmity

Underscoring Khamenei’s charges, AIPAC, and the Chickenhawks were busy at it… Support for Iran sanctions bill nears filibuster-proof majority

Moving along to Syria…

While Iran is excluded from the Geneva II talks, the FSA still can’t get it together…

Opposition groups say they share goals, but no agreement for talks

Several factions of the Syrian opposition, meeting together for the first time, called Friday for a new coalition but did not reach agreement on who should attend peace talks later this month, or whether they would attend at all.

With less than a fortnight to go until the first direct talks between the opposition and President Bashar Assad’s government – set for Jan. 22 in Switzerland and called “Geneva II” – Western backers have struggled to unify rebel groups.

The main opposition body in exile, the National Coalition, has been plagued by bickering. It postponed a decision on whether to attend Geneva II until next week after nearly a quarter of its 121 members threatened to resign following the re-election of its Saudi-backed leader, Ahmad al-Jarba.

Meanwhile, we just keep sticking our thumb in the proverbial dam…

U.S. trys to prevent spillover of Syrian crisis to Lebanon

In a communique by the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Spence expressed the United States’ commitment to the “Lebanese army and preventing spillover from the Syrian conflict into Lebanon.”

He underscored the strength of the U.S.-Lebanese defense relationship and the United States’ support for Lebanon in the context of regional developments.

The statement pointed that Spence also discussed with the Lebanese officials the U.S. support for the Lebanese army through ongoing security cooperation programs.

Spence held talks during his trip with various political and military leaders, including President Michel Suleiman, Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji and Army Chief of Staff Major General Walid Salman.

U.S. assistance to the Lebanese army and Internal Security Forces, totaling more than one billion U.S. dollars since 2005, has strengthened the capacity of Lebanon’s security forces and supported their missions of securing Lebanon’s borders and defending the sovereignty and independence of the state.

Today, the dynamic duo of Hillary & Flynt Leverett asked the burning question…

Is Obama Trying to Resolve or Prolong the Conflict in Syria?

Suppose a great power declares that it supports a peace process aimed at finding a political solution to a terrible, ongoing conflict. Then suppose that this great power makes such declarations after it has already proclaimed its strong interest in the defeat of one of the main parties to said conflict. And then suppose that this great power insists on preconditions for a peace process—preconditions effectively boiling down to a demand for pre-emptive surrender by the party whose defeat the great power has already identified as its major goal—which render such a process impossible. Is it not reasonable to conclude that the great power in question is (how to put this gently) lying about its purported support for peace?

That, in a nutshell, is the Obama administration’s posture toward the ongoing conflict in Syria…

In wrapping up, here’s two excellent discussions on the MENA and Empire…