- Latest figures show over 162,000 killed in Syria fighting, as rebel defense minister quits over lack of foreign support
- State Dept. rejects "apparent use of unprovoked violence against" against Turkish mourner-protesters
Israel's left-leaning Haaretz on Monday assessed that Hamas is trying to follow what the outlet described as the "Hezbollah model" as it seeks to maintain influence in the context of a consensus government established with the rival Fatah faction, under which - per a boast from a Hamas source - the organization would "avoid ministerial responsibility for civilian matters [in the Gaza Strip], but... maintain its power as a popular-resistance group." The source went on to specifically brag that "if anyone expects Hamas to hand over its missile network to the [Palestinian Authority], he’s making a big mistake." Analysts had already begun explicitly sketching out how Hamas's ongoing intransigence - the group's leader, Ismail Haniyeh, has been unequivocal that the organization will continue to seek Israel's destruction - risked a number of dynamics either putting an envisioned unity government on a collision course with blackletter American law, or setting up a future Palestinian entity for instability, or both. Permitting Hamas to maintain the equivalent of a heavily armed state-within-a-state - mirroring the situation that Hezbollah has established in Lebanon - would enable the organization to block the consolidation of political power under a central Palestinian government, while still leaving Ramallah both politically and legally responsible for any Hamas provocations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Nentayahu had already emphasized that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would be held responsible for Hamas rocket attacks in the aftermath of a unity agreement. The Israeli leader had declared that while Jerusalem "hope[d] that this pact is dissolved and we can find a way to return to genuine negotiations with a genuine peace," the Jewish state would "only negotiate with a government whose constituent parts are committed to peace."
The American Enterprise Institute's (AEI) Critical Threats Project on Friday conveyed remarks from Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Col. Mohammad Eskandari declaring that the Syrian conflict is an extension of Iran's war with the America, the latest in what has become a series of open boasts by top Iranian military officials declaring that Tehran is using Syria and Lebanon as front lines for proxy battles with the West. Last week Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Iranian Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, told The Guardian that "[w]e have won in Syria... [t]he regime will stay. The Americans have lost it." Two weeks ago Yahya Rahim Safavi, a top aide to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had described southern Lebanon as Iran's "foremost line of defense," declaring that "our strategic depth has now stretched to the Mediterranean coasts and just to the north of Israel." Recent reports have had Iran bribing Afghan refugees to fight on behalf of Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime, supplying chemical weapons to Damascus, and allegedly even providing its Syrian proxies with drones. The Iranians' public military assessments have the potential to reverberate both militarily and politically. Militarily, it is unclear to what degree top Iranian figures have been emboldened by perceived and actual successes in Lebanon. Top IRGC figures have taken to regularly threatening to launch attacks against American naval assets, and a miscalculation that spirals into a conflict is not impossible. Politically, the Obama administration has leaned heavily on the notion that U.S. lawmakers must avoid signaling that new pressure may be imposed on Iran, lest it spoil a 'spirit of Geneva,' the phrase being a reference to where the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA) - under which current negotiations are being conducted - was hammered out. Explicit Iranian threats of mass casualty attacks on U.S. armed forces may be taken as in tension with those claims.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights assessed on Monday that over 162,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict - with thousands more missing, presumably captured or kidnapped by the Bashar al-Assad regime - as divisions within the opposition camp deepened worries that the West was showing insufficient leadership in bolstering rebel forces seeking the regime's overthrow. Al Arabiya reported the same day that Asaad Mustafa, the defense minister in the provisional government established by the opposition, was stepping down to protest insufficient support from abroad. The development was covered with something approaching ill-disguised satisfaction by Iranian outlets. The actual status of the fighting has nonetheless proven difficult to untangle, with conflicting reports emerging from different parts of the country. Reports emerged on Sunday that rebels had captured the northwestern Syrian village of Tel Meleh in the Hama province, and the same day Reuters reported that the head of Syria's Air Defense forces had been killed east of Damascus. Reuters at the same time noted that the regime was making steady advances in consolidating its control over central Syria, noting that "Assad can contemplate a broad sweep of Syria clawed back from rebels who once threatened to drive him out." The wire noted that critical assistance from Iran and the Iranian terror group Hezbollah had allowed the Syrian ruler to "hold or retake a chain of cities which form the north-south backbone of the country, keep his grip on the Mediterranean coast to the west and restore control over the Lebanese border."
State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki on Monday "reject[d] the apparent use of unprovoked violence against [Turkish] demonstrators and protesters and urged accountability," after a weekend in which the death toll of the Soma mining disaster in Turkey rose to over three hundred confirmed victims and - per CNN - "controversy over Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's response to the tragedy refuse[d] to blow over." The outlet described scenes in which police forces turned "tear gas, plastic pellets and a water cannon on protesters," and noted that local authorities had eventually just outright banned protests throughout Soma. Turkey's Zaman outlet described the situation as "a de facto state of emergency in the town." CNN had already late last week described the government's response to the tragedy as "perhaps the strangest crisis management the world has ever seen," with top officials from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) being filmed and photographed assaulting mourner-protesters. A video of Erdogan visibly punching one man while allegedly hurling anti-Semitic slurs went viral - Business Insider unpacked the controversy extensively - as did a photo of top Erdogan advisor Yusuf Yerkel kicking a protester who had been wrestled to the ground by two security officials. Ankara's damage control has at times subsequently veered into the bizarre. Yerkel for instance released a statement announcing that he was taking medical leave for a week because he had hurt his leg kicking the protester.
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