Regional Watchlists

Regional Updates: May 17, 2013

Latin America

Week’s Top Story: Guatemalan dictator convicted of genocide

Contributor: Kimberly Bennett

On May 10, 2013, a three-judge panel ruled that former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt was guilty of genocide, marking the first time a former leader was convicted of genocide in his own country. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison. Rios Montt was convicted on evidence that he knew of human rights atrocities and did nothing to stop them. The court also revoked Rios Montt’s house arrest, sending him straight to prison. The past several weeks leading up to his conviction left many unsure, as the trial had been annulled and challenged by the defense on multiple grounds, such as arguing that Rios Montt had not been in control of the decisions to kill thousands of victims.

Many doubted that the judiciary, historically unable to handle cases of this magnitude, would sentence Rios Montt. The conviction could still be overturned after likely appeals. Guatemalan courts have only recently started prosecuting human rights violators for crimes committed during the civil war, which lasted from 1960 to 1996. Despite the victory for human rights advocates in Guatemala, the rule of law still remains weak in the country.

Rios Montt led a coup in March 1982, placing himself in power. He ruled until he was overthrown a year later. During his reign, the military launched offensives as part of a brutal counterinsurgency against a leftist uprising in the Mayan lands where the guerrillas were often based. During Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, an estimated 200,000 people died and 45,000 disappeared. In 1996, the war eventually ended as a result of peace accords but not before thousands of people were killed. A United Nations truth commission has concluded that the series of killings constitute genocide because of the systematic effort to eliminate as many members of these groups as possible.

Sources and further reading:

World Politics Review: http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/trend-lines/12953/after-rios-montt-conviction-guatemala-s-judicial-sector-still-needs-support
Panoramas: http://www.panoramas.pitt.edu/content/rios-montt-convicted-genocide
CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/10/world/americas/guatemala-genocide-trial/index.html
The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/mar/19/guatemalan-dictator-jose-fran-rios-montt-trial

Other stories of interest:

Yahoo! News: http://news.yahoo.com/ap-impact-honduran-police-accused-death-squads-235203072.html
New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2013/05/15/world/americas/ap-lt-colombia-ex-lawmaker-convicted.html?ref=americas

Regional Updates: May 3, 2013

Latin America

Week’s Top Story: Danger for Journalists in Latin America

Contributor: Kimberly Bennett

In April 2012, Mexican journalist Regina Martinez was found murdered in her home. A year later, a judge sentenced Jorge Antonio Hernandez Silva to 38 years in prison for homicide and robbery. Martinez, who worked the crime beat for news magazine Proceso for 10 years, was found beaten and strangled to death in her home in Xalapa, Veracruz. Before working for Proceso, she worked for local newspapers, often reporting on drug cartels and political corruption. The court found Martinez a victim of robbery.

Journalists across the country believe Martinez’s death may have been an act of the government, in an attempt to silence reporting by the late journalist. Attacks on journalists have become so common that many Mexican news media have announced that they will no longer cover stories related to drug cartels and narcotrafficking. In response to the growing severity of the issue, Mexico’s congress passed a bill in April 2013 that would allow journalists to request that federal prosecutors and federal judges investigate attacks on them. Moreover, the bill would also make federal intervention mandatory in some cases. It has been sent to the president for his signature.

Violence against journalists is not unheard of in Latin America. Repression is also very strong in some countries. On November 13, 2012, Cuban journalists gathered to discuss issues and challenges that they face in preparation for the March 2013 debates prior to the National Congress of the Cuban Journalists’ Association (UPEC).  Issues that were brought up included: the quality of journalism, the objectivity of the information released, access to institutional information sources, the need to improve news immediacy, greater participation of journalists, and other topics.

Despite these hurdles, Latin American journalists have demonstrated that the profession can often be very useful in investigating crime. Cross-border journalism, or establishing multi-national teams to investigate international topics, is allowing Latin American journalists to investigate issues that span across multiple countries. Cross-border journalism allows journalists to more effectively cover stories on organized crime or environmental issues.

International organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch continue to call for countries to establish procedures to help protect journalists.

Sources and further reading:

Yahoo News: http://news.yahoo.com/mexican-journalists-march-against-attacks-press-182058190.html
Panoramas: http://www.panoramas.pitt.edu/content/attack-press-mexico
Committee to Protect Journalists: http://www.cpj.org/2013/04/cpj-commends-new-mexican-legislation.php
Panoramas: http://www.panoramas.pitt.edu/content/cuban-journalism
Cuban News Agency: http://www.cubanews.ain.cu/2012/1114Cuban-Journalists.htm
Panoramas: http://www.panoramas.pitt.edu/content/latin-american-journalists-collaborate-cover-organized-crime

Other Stories of Interest:

BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-22341119
CNN: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/04/24/world/americas/guatemala-genocide-trial/index.html?hpt=ila_c2

Regional Updates: April 18, 2013

Eurasia

Contributor: Ted Masten

Week’s Top Story:  Russian Arms Sales Boosted in Africa

Russia is the second largest exporter of conventional weapons in the world, behind the United States.  Russia has been predominantly involved in selling weapons in Asia and the Middle East, specifically selling to India, China, Vietnam, and Iraq.  In 2012, Russian arms sales were estimated at $15 billion dollars.  In 2013, a shift in weapons contracts emerged from the Middle East to Africa as Russian contracts to Iraq and Afghanistan ceased.

Weapon sales to Africa by Russia is not a new phenomenon, but the perceived intentions have changed.  During the Soviet Union, weapons sent to African countries like Ethiopia and Burkina Faso were not merely a way for the Soviet Union to profit, but a way for the Soviet Union to counter western interests in Africa.  Now, weapon trade to Africa is a way for Russian businesses “to regain a competitive edge in the global arms trade, and what’s interesting today is that the approach is not ideological but very pragmatic.”[1]  Other analysts view Russia’s increase in arms trade to Africa as a way to influence the region by creating stronger economic links to the diamond and natural resource industries.

The United Nations is concerned by the proliferation of conventional weapons particularly to conflict zones in Africa, where Russian weapons could allow for continuation and escalation of conflict.  In a vote at the beginning of April 2013, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to regulate this $70 billion arms market.  Russia was one of twenty three countries that abstained from the vote.  The UN regulation would affect Russia’s premier weapons exporter, Rosoboronexport, ability to ship to the conflict zones.

 

Sources and Further Reading


[1] Dimitri Bondarenko, Deputy Director of the African Studies Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Latin America

Week’s Top Story: Peru beginning mandatory military draft

Contributor: Kimberly Bennett

Peru’s government has been criticized for opening mandatory military service, which is said to be easily avoidable for the rich. University students and those who can pay a $715 fine are exempted from military service. The poor, who cannot pay the fine or the cost of higher education, will make up the armed forces—a criticism if many military drafts in Latin America. Peru’s armed forces face a shortage of approximately 30,000 people. One of the reasons that the shortage is so high is because Peru’s armed forces pay rate is extremely low—lower than Peru’s minimum wage of $283/month. Many are alleging that the draft is legally sanctioning discrimination against the poor. Moreover, the draft has been further criticized for coming at a time when there has been a small resurgence of violence due to active remnants of the Shining Path revolutionary group.

 

Sources and further reading:
Panoramas: Peru Military Draft
Global Post: Peru Military Draft Fine Criticism
The Pan American Post: Military Draft in Peru

Other stories of interest:
CNN: Guantanamo Inmate Guard Clashes
CNN: Peru Lengthy Imprisonment

 

Middle East

Contributor: Mike Madden

Week’s Top Story: “Deadly blasts strike Iraq before election”

In the days leading up to Iraq’s first provincial elections since the United States withdrew troops in 2011, a series of attacks have terrorized some of Iraq’s busiest cities.  On Monday April 15th, several terrorist attacks killed 27 people and wounded over 100 more.  The set of attacks, coordinated in manner that is a hallmark of al-Qaeda’s Iraq extension, were conducted mostly through car bombs.  Among the cities bombed were Baghdad, Fallujah and Kirkuk.  The attacks continued Wednesday April 17th as three more people were killed and at least sixteen others wounded in another series of attacks.  Among the targets were an Iraqi army convoy, a police station, and a politician’s convoy.

It is believed the attacks are a direct intent to challenge the political legitimacy of Iraq’s young government.  The elections on Saturday are viewed as a major test in the growth and legitimacy of Iraq’s budding democracy.  The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad released a statement on Tuesday. “Such terrorist acts are a cowardly and unacceptable attempt to undermine Iraq’s democracy and a desperate effort to intimidate Iraqis and deter them from participating in the democratic process”, a portion of the statement read.

Sources and Further Reading:                                                                                                 New York Times- Attackers Strike Across Iraq as Elections Approach                             CNN- Deadly blasts strike Iraq before election                                                                    The Guardian- Iraq hit by wave of attacks less than a week before elections

Other News Stories of Interests:                                                                                         New York Times- Window for Palestinian State Is Closing, Kerry Tells Congress            The Guardian- Iran earthquake leaves thousands homeless in neighbouring Pakistan

 

North Africa

Contributor: Bryan Gray

Week’s Top Story: 12 U.N. Personnel Killed in Attack in South Sudan

Rebels in South Sudan killed five U.N. peacekeepers from India and seven civilian U.N. civilians on April 9, 2013. South Sudan blamed the attack on rebels lead by David Yau Yau. The attack occurred in the restive state of Jonglei. U.N. peacekeepers in the area have been targeted before. In December 2012, rebels shot down a U.N. reconnaissance helicopter, killing four Russian crew members and in March 2013, rebels shot and wounded another U.N. peacekeeper. According to a spokesman for the U.N. the attack was a deliberate assault on a civilian convoy by approximately 200 armed men. The attackers eventually withdrew after the 30 peacekeepers assigned to protect the convoy returned fire. Allegations by the South Sudan government accuse Sudan of arming Yau Yau’s rebel group, a claim which Sudan denies. Despite recent agreements between the two nations concerning oil, trade and stationing of troops along their shared border, violent incidents such as Tuesday’s attack continue to cause problems. Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is scheduled to make his first trip to South Sudan since the country gained its statehood in 2011 this week and is expected to discuss areas of further cooperation with his counterpart Salva Kiir.

Sources and Further Reading:                                                                                            Reuters – Sudan’s Bashir Plans First Visit to South Sudan Since Secession                        BBC – Five Indian UN Troops Killed in South Sudan                                                      Yahoo! News – 5 UN Troops, 7 Others Killed in South Sudan

Other News Stories of Interest:                                                                                            Foreign Policy – The Strange Case of the White Jihadist of Timbuktu                                    Reuters – France Wants to Keep 1,000 Soldiers in Mali Permanently                                   Al Jazeera – France begins withdrawing troops from Mali                                                       Reuters – U.N. Considering Deployment of Peacekeepers in Mali on July 1                        Real Clear Defense – U.S. to Arm, Train Somali Forces                                                     Yahoo! News – Death Toll Rises to 35 in Somalia Court Attack

 

Regional Updates: April 12, 2013

Latin America

Contributor: Jessica Hredzak

Week’s Top Story: Venezuela’s Upcoming Election

Following the death of Hugo Chavez on 5 March 2013, two opposing candidates quickly began campaigning in an ad hoc election. Sunday, 14 April 2013 will be the day Venezuela’s special president election will occur. The two leading candidates, Nicolas Maduro and Henrique Capriles lead two very different platforms and split the country for support. Maduro was Chavez’s handpicked heir, and if elected, it is expected that he will lead as an extension of Chavez himself. Although Chavez had a loyal following among the poor, of whom Maduro will certainly inherit, Chavez will also impart on Maduro his failed initiatives, leaving behind economic woes, consistent power outages, outrageous inflation, food and medicine shortages, and or course, widespread crime. Capriles’s campaign exploits the unfulfilled promises Chavez made to his people. He is part of the center-right wing party, Justice First. Though young, he is a seasoned lawyer and politician, who offers hope for change.

As it stands, Maduro seemingly holds a lead in the campaign, however Capriles is quickly closing in on that gap. It is likely to be a close race, though some skeptics do not believe it will be an election free of controversy.

Sources and further reading:                                                                                                  Guardian- Venezuela elections: Chávez ghost looms large over Maduro campaign
CNN- Q&A: Venezuela’s Presidential Election
Huffington Post- Nicolas Maduro’s Lead in Venezuela Election
Panoramas- Post-Chávez Era: Venezuelan Political Transition?

Other news stories of interest:                                                                                            CNN- Guatemala Confronts a Dark Chapter
Reuters- Exclusive: Brazil’s Rousseff to make rare state visit to U.S.

 

Regional Updates: April 5, 2013

Eurasia

Contributor: Ted Masten

Week’s Top Story:  Chechen “Mercenaries” or “Islamic Extremists” Join Forces with Syrian Rebels to Combat Assad Regime.

Reports have come out that Chechens fighters, financed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, have joined forces with Syrian rebels to fight the Assad regime.  The presence of Chechens in Syria supports the idea that some rebel groups are fighting a war to create an Islamic government ruled by Sharia law.   Chechens are historically Muslim people, but within the last 15 years, there has been a shift to Wahhab extremism from spiritual Sufism.  The Second Chechen War was supported by terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda, Islamic fighters from Afghanistan, and Islamic extremists from Saudi Arabia.  Chechnya altered its goal from independence in the first war to the creation of an Islamic emirate out of Islamic republics and provinces in Russia in the second war due to the influence from these groups.

Chechnya’s president Ramzan Kadyrov dismissed Chechens in Syria as mercenaries “fighting for money and not an idea.” Chechen militant leader Abu Omar al-Chechen, however, is reported to have said on a recruitment video on the internet in 2013: “We have missed many chances, but truly today there is a chance to establish an Islamic state on Earth.”  There are around 100 Chechens lead by al-Chechen in Syria at this moment.   Not all Syrian rebel groups are welcoming to their presence.  Leaders of the Free Syrian Army have asked all foreign Islamic fighters to return home.

Russian officials are concerned that Chechen fighters are going to Syria to improve tacit knowledge of bomb making in preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia.  Chechnya is around 400kms from Sochi, and Chechen terrorists have been implicated in multiple terrorist attacks in Russia against rail lines and airports.  The Olympics is a prime target for Islamic terrorist groups operating in the region.

Sources and Further Reading:                                                                                     Forbes- Chechen Volunteer in Syria and the Dangers of Intervention
World Tribune- Gulf States Recruit Chechen Veterans for War Against Syria’s Assad
The Long War Journal- Chechen Commander Forms ‘Army of Emigrants,’ Integrates Syrian Groups
WND- Chechens Practicing for War in Russia
The Jamestown Foundation- Rumors Emerge of Chechen Participation in Syria Fighting
Stratfor- The Caucasus Emirate
Reuters- Putin Orders Russian Security on High Alert Before Olympics

 

Latin America

Contributor: Kimberly Bennett

Week’s Top Story: Mexico’s Drug War Continues to Claim Lives

Following a scathing February 2013 report from Human Rights Watch criticizing Mexico’s military and law enforcement for former President Felipe Calderon’s actions that exacerbated the violence stemming from the Drug War, an outburst of drug cartel violence claimed numerous lives in the border city of Reynosa, Mexico. Because cartel members retrieved and buried their own members’ bodies, officials were unable to determine an official body count—though estimates range from 12 to over 50 dead. Calderon’s government stopped counting deaths resulting from drug violence in September 2011—proof that even the government cannot keep track of the death toll. Civilians have responded to the violence by arming themselves against cartels—heightening violence and the increasing the chances of violent clashes. Human Rights Watch is urging the Mexican government to implement reforms to its law enforcement policies that will reduce the number of victims disappeared and killed as a result of the Drug War.

Sources and further reading:                                                                                          Yahoo! News- Drug War Death Tolls Guess Without Bodies
Panoramas- HRW Criticizes Mexican Government Disappearances
USA Today- Monterrey Mexico Bodies
Human Rights Watch- Mexico’s Disappeared
New York Times- HRW Faults Mexico Over Disappearances

Other news stories of interest:                                                                                       Christian Today- Deep Concern Over Violence in Latin America
The Huffington Post- Border Drug Busts Citizens -Americans and Mexicans

 

Middle East

Contributor: Ira Guberman

Week’s Top Story: President Barack Obama completes successful four-day Middle East trip.

On Saturday, March 24th, President Obama took off from Amman airport, concluding his tour of the Middle East.  The itinerary featured Obama having an extended visit with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an excursion to Ramallah to see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and a brief trip to Jordan where he met with King Abdullah.  Taking into account the President’s inability to increase the prospects for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians during his first term, this trip was a success.

Throughout his trip President Obama assured Israel that the U.S. would stand firm against Iran and ensure that Tehran never gets a nuclear weapon. In Jerusalem, on March 21st, President Obama delivered a well-received speech that asked his young Israeli audience to change their perspective to that of a Palestinian, and to “Look at the world through their eyes.”  He went on to call for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.  Progress was also achieved when President Obama mediated a phone call between Netanyahu and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.  During the conversation Netanyahu expressed his regret to Erdogan for the deadly force used by Israeli commandos during the flotilla incident in 2010. President Obama’s assistance in arranging the phone call proved critical in normalizing relations between the two American allies.  While U.S. officials privately stated that they were pleased with the reconciliation, much work remains to be done in the Middle East.  When asked in Jordan about the likelihood of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, Mr. Obama stated he would try his best, but he “can’t guarantee that that’s going to happen.”

Sources and Further Reading:                                                                                           New York Times – Obama shows Talent for Arm-Twisting, and Raises Hopes on a Peace Effort                                                                                                                               Reuters – Obama plays tourist in Petra at end of Middle East trip                                       BBC – Frank words from Obama in Israel                                                                             Al Jazeera – Mr Obama, on what planet do you live?

Other News Stories of Interest:                                                                                          BBC – Hamas re-elects Khaled Meshaal as political leader                                              The Guardian – Egyptian TV satirist Bassem Youssef bailed after police questioning      New York Times – Double Digit Inflation Worsens in Iran                                                       Al Jazeera – March ‘deadliest month’ in Syria’s war

 

North Africa

Contributor: Bryan Gray

Week’s Top Story: Islamists Attack Timbuktu

Islamic insurgents in Mali assaulted the town of Timbuktu on March 31st. The attack resulted in the deaths of over 20 insurgents, one Malian soldier and five civilians. The strike occurred days after France’s President Francois Hollande set a timetable for the country’s drawdown of its troops from Mali. Hollande’s plan calls for France to halve the number of its soldiers in Mali to 2,000 by July 1st and withdraw an additional 1,000 troops by the end of the year.  As a result of recent defeats at the hands of French and Malian forces, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other Islamist insurgents in the area may be shifting tactics. According to a French counterterrorism official, Islamic groups will likely increase kidnappings, attacks on remote military outposts and suicide attacks.

Sources and Further Reading:                                                                                            Reuters – Mali Troops Hunt for Rebels After Timbuktu Clash
TIME – Jihadi Strike in Timbuktu Reflects Altered Terrorism Threat in Mali
BBC –Mali Conflict: Hollande Sets French Troop Timetable
BBC – Mali Crisis: EU Troops Begin Training Mission

Other News Stories of Interest:                                                                                          CNN – Canadian’s Body Identified as One of Those Killed in Algeria Terrorist Ordeal

 Regional Updates: March 22, 2013

Eurasia

Contributor: Nick Shull

Week’s Top Story:  China Watch: South China Sea Disputes Flare Up again

While Asia watchers have been focusing on Korea and cyber attacks, the South China Sea has found its way back into the news.  On March 25 Vietnam reported that a Chinese boat set a Vietnamese fishing boat on fire near the disputed Paracel Islands.  China denied that it fired on the boat, asserting that it attempted to dissuade the boat first by blowing whistles and flagging it off, and finally firing two flares into the air over it.  China and South Vietnam fought a brief war in 1974 over the Paracels, during which China seized control.  Prior to North Vietnam’s conquest of South Vietnam it supported China’s claims.  Once reunified it reasserted South Vietnam’s claims to the islands.  The US has emphasized the need for the parties to resolve disputes peacefully.  Further south, China conducted an amphibious landing drill on its southern most claims in the Sea near Malaysia.

China has asserted that its claims on the continental shelf entitle it to most of the Islands in the South China Sea.  Most ASEAN nations dispute this claim arguing for a broader distribution of claims.  In 2002 ASEAN and China concluded a code of conduct for disputes but tensions have persisted.  China has preferred negotiations be conducted privately and bilaterally, whereas others have favored international mediation, especially as power disparities grow.  In recent years China invested in developing a maritime power projection capability with carrier and amphibious assault ship programs.   China and the US and its allies have expressed mutual suspicions about each other’s intensions, with ambiguity in the purposes of China’s military build up and the objectives of the US Pivot to Asia.

Sources and Further Reading:                                                                                               BBC- China ‘fired flares’ at Vietnam boat in South China Sea
Xinhua- Chinese Navy says “firing at Vietnamese boat’ fabricated
USA Today- Chinese Navy making waves in South China Sea

Other News Stories of Interest:                                                                                                BBC:  Q&A South China Sea dispute
CIL: 2002 Code of Conduct

 

Latin America

Contributor: Jessica Hredzak

Week’s Top Story: Trial begins for Guatemala’s ex-dictator, Efraín Rios Montt

Guatemala’s 36-year long civil war has been over since 1996 but justice has yet been given to all those who committed war crimes during this brutal battle for power. On March 19, in the world’s first-ever national prosecution of an ex-head-of-state for crimes against humanity, Efraín Rios Montt, Guatemalan dictator from 1982-1983, faces charges of genocide and other crimes against humanity in Guatemala’s national court. His rule saw some of the most brutal atrocities of the civil war. According to the UN-sponsored Historical Clarification Commission in 1999, Montt is accused of sending soldiers into hundreds of Mayan villages to rape, torture, and kill more than 1,700 Mayans in an effort to quell opposition forces through elimination of the indigenous population. Montt evaded these charges for years, because he served in Guatemala’s Congress, where public officials are granted immunity by law. Montt denies the charges, and in his favor, prosecutors cannot directly prove that Montt commanded these atrocities. With time, hundreds of witnesses, and mounting evidence, prosecutors aim to prove that there was an established chain of command for such orders.

Sources and Further Reading:                                                                                          PBS – Timeline: Guatemala’s Brutal Civil War
New York Times –
Ex-Dictator Is Ordered to Trial in Guatemalan War Crimes Case
Panoramas, University of Pittsburgh –
Guatemalan ex-leader trial begins
BBC –
Guatemala ex-ruler Rios Montt on trial for genocide
Reuters – Guatemala tries ex-dictator Rios Montt in landmark case

Other News Stories of Interest:                                                                                            Aljazeera – ‘Executed’ Mexicans displayed on chairs
CNN –
Venezuela cutting off contact with U.S. diplomat, foreign minister says

 

North Africa

Contributor: Allie Dailey

Week’s Top Story: Al-Qaeda Spokesman Announces Beheading of French Hostage

Al-Qaeda’s branch in North Africa claimed this week to have beheaded a French hostage in Mali, however the French Foreign Office has not confirmed the beheading. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) kidnapped the alleged victim, Phillippe Verdon, in November 2011. Verdon is one of six French nationals AQIM claims to have kidnapped. The French government has refused to pay ransoms for the release of the captives including Mr. Verdon and his fellow hostage, Serge Lazarevic. Al-Qaeda claims to have executed Mr. Verdon in response to the French intervention in Mali during the recent rebellion. France currently has more than 4,000 troops on the ground in Mali since the invasion on January 11, 2013.

Sources and Further Reading:                                                                                            BBC News – “Phillippe Verdon: French Mali Hostage ‘Killed by Al-Qaeda’”
Al Jazeera – “French hostage ‘executed’ in Mali”
allAfrica –
“Mali: Al Qaeda in Africa Says It Beheads French Hostage – Agency”
BBC News – “Mali conflict: French troops ‘dismantle al-Qaeda base”

Other News Stories of Interest:                                                                                                Al Jazeera – “Egypt protestors arrested after Cairo clashes”
Al Jazeera – “Sudan offers talks with Southern Rebels”
BBC News – “Gaddafi cousin Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam arrested in Egypt”
Al Jazeera – “Thousands protest unemployment in Algeria”
Al Jazeera – “Tunisians mark politician’s assassination”
BBC News – “Somalia’s capital Mogadishu hit by deadly car bomb”

 

 Middle East

Contributor: Ryan Franzer

Week’s Top Story: Syrian Conflict Intensifies Over Chemical Weapons Claims

The Syrian civil war, which has already seen tens of thousands killed and over a million displaced, took an even darker turn Tuesday when reports surfaced about a possible chemical attack on Khan al-Assal, a small village near Aleppo. A total of 31 people were killed in the attack and over a hundred more were injured, including a mixture of regime soldiers and civilians. Survivors of the attack described smelling a pungent odor and experienced respiratory distress. Western observers have long been concerned about the possibility that Syria’s chemical weapons would play a role in the conflict. President Obama called the use of chemical agents by regime forces, who maintain control over the arsenal, as a “red line” to direct American intervention.

Syria’s state news agency first reported the attack as having been carried out by anti-regime “terrorists”, blaming the opposition. Shortly after the report, rebel commanders claimed that government forces were responsible for the attack. Both sides have since called for an independent investigation into the incident. Others, including the United States and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), have expressed doubt that this was even a chemical weapon attack. Medics in Aleppo believe that victims were exposed to organic pesticides, saying that victims’ symptoms and accounts of the event were inconsistent with chemical weapon exposure. The United Nations announced Thursday that it would investigate the attack to determine the source and type of agent used. Even without definitive answers, many world leaders have acknowledged that this attack changes the conflict, and could lead to stronger international effort to bring the two-year war to a halt.

Sources and Further Reading:                                                                                                 Al Jazeera – Syrians trade blame over ‘chemical attack’
BBC – Calls for inquiry into Syria ‘chemical weapon attack
CNN – U.N. will probe Syria’s chemical weapon claim
The Guardian – Syria attacks involved chemical weapons, rebels and regime claim

Other News Stories of Interest:                                                                                                Al Jazeera – Series of bomb blasts kill scores in Baghdad
BBC – Syria crisis: Mosque bomb ‘kills pro-government cleric’
BBC – Obama urges Palestinians to drop settlement precondition