Posted by Joshua on Friday, July 6th, 2007
I am headed to the Mountains of Syria for a week and will not be posting anything to SC until I return. I will also be visiting friends in Aleppo. I hope others on the blog will pick up the slack and keep things lively with a few new posts.
Enrique Iglesias wows fans in Syria: A friend went to see Enrique Iglesias in down town Damascus and said it was a blast. People rocked out. Tickets were expensive – from $20-$100, but customers were satisfied.
The Qaa-Jousseh crossing in the northeast was reopened to traffic in both directions around 2 p.m., a senior Lebanese security official said. Syria had said the June 20 closure, which came as Lebanon's army clashed with militants in a Palestinian refugee camp near the northern city of Tripoli, was a precautionary security measure.
The Ministry of Agriculture says agriculture was hit by drought during the winter, followed by recent flooding, leaving many crops un-harvestable this month.
The poor yield has drawn attention to the country's agricultural sector and the need to intensify agricultural reform, especially as weather conditions may become more erratic with the threat posed by global warming.
"According to some reports, the effects of this weather will negatively impact agricultural production by 20 percent," Haitham al-Ashkar of the National Agricultural Policy Centre (NAPC), a government-affiliated agricultural body, told IRIN. "It's not a disaster yet, but it's a bad situation."
Wheat output is predicted to fall to 4.7 million metric tonnes (mt) in 2007 compared to an expected yield of 5.3 million mt, and down on 4.9 million mt in 2006, according to official figures.
Barley is expected to fall to 965,000 mt from 1.2 million mt last year. The summer cotton harvest – which endured a poor 2006 when production fell to 686,000 mt from 1 million mt in 2005 – is also expected to perform badly.
For the Syrian economy, in which the agricultural sector directly employs up to 30 per cent of the population, the setback has been considerable.
However, while the sector-wide decreases are significant, analysts are playing down the immediate prospects of a crisis.
"I don't think the impact is as significant as we may think. The wheat crop is lower but not dramatically lower," said Jihad Yaziji, a Damascus-based economist. "Syria is one of the very few countries in the Arab world that is still self-sufficient in most agricultural products and which is a net exporter."
Despite the poor 2007 output, Syria will maintain sufficiency in most key strategic crops, except barley. Domestic wheat demand stands at around 3.8 million mt per year, a figure that will be met despite the shortfall. The main loser will be Syria's export revenues, especially the important cash-crop cotton.
The poor harvest has drawn attention to Syria's heavily subsidised agro-sector and technologically out-dated agricultural techniques.
"Government subsidies make it easier to develop the sector, but there are some negative effects like the inefficient use of resources," said al-Ashkar, pointing to the need for crop rotation and the inefficient use of water.
By Yuval Azoulay and Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondents Syria is unwilling to accept Israel's claims that the maneuvers of its
forces on the Golan Heights are for training purposes only, an analyst on Syrian radio said Wednesday. ;Since Olmert said specifically that he is unwilling to enter into a dialogue with Syria, and senior American officials reiterate the same statements, we are unable to believe his lies," the analyst said.
He repeated the official Syrian position that Israel is not a country
interested in peace and is the source of regional instability. The editor in chief of the official daily Al-Thawra wrote Wednesday that Syria is expecting Israel to attack it at any time and warned that Israel would make a mistake if it did so.
The Israel Defense Forces this week carried out one of the largest infantry exercises of recent years in the Golan Heights region, training for conflict with Syria and Hezbollah.
Supplies were air-dropped, tanks provided covering fire and infantry forces trained in nonconventional warfare and countering anti-tank missile attacks.
"We are training for every possible scenario. Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas in the Gaza Strip and terror organizations in the West Bank," an officer says.
The IDF said the exercise was not intended to signal any attack on Syria, a statement Damascus did not accept.
The IDF is trying to correct shortcomings discovered during the Second Lebanon War, a battalion commander said. The Golani brigade lost 20 fighters in the last war.
The exercise's goal is to prepare both mentally and actively for any future challenge. "Last year we were less trained, we lacked resoluteness and decisiveness. With regard to mental preparation the problem lay in the sharp transition from routine to warfare," he said.
A senior officer says that over the past year the exercises for reserve troops have increased dramatically. "The exercises are more structured. Each unit carries out specific exercises according to its goals and aims. Our emergency supplies have been renewed, there is a multi-year plan for weapons and personal equipment. Everything is based on the assumption that a reserve soldier's preparation should be similar to that of a regular soldier," he says.
IDF officers are convinced that the army has learned many lessons from the last war and that the threats to which the forces had been exposed have been dealt with, especially the threat of Hezbollah's advanced anti-tank missiles. They believe Syria's army has limited capabilities and its air force is far inferior to Israel's. Therefore, a new war would resemble last year's fighting in Lebanon – commando combat in difficult terrain with large areas controlled by anti-tank units.
In recent months the Golan Heights has become one of the IDF's main exercise areas. At times this requires closing off roads. Infantry troops and rows of tanks, armored personnel carriers and jeeps raise clouds of dust in grazing fields and the air is filled with low-flying helicopters and echoes of explosions.
"This is the first time they let us practice with live fire," says a reserve soldier from the central region, after completing a two-week exercise in the Golan last month. It's like a medicine student who practiced only on a plastic doll and needs to feel the real thing. We've exercised attacks, fired from rocket launchers. But as for the Syrian threat, I did not feel like the commanders knew something that hasn't been written about in the newspapers," he said.
Another reserve soldier, who completed an exercise at the Ze'elim base, reported a significant improvement in the quality of weapons and equipment. He said this was the first serious exercise he had taken part in since 2001. "This time we felt we were really training," he said.
|Wednesday, 4 July, 2007 @ 11:11 PM
Beirut – Only an agreement among outside powers can resolve a paralyzing political struggle between Lebanon's parliament-backed government and Hezbollah, allied to Syria and Iran, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said on Wednesday.
"We have to wait for regional circumstances to be favorable for an independent Lebanon," Jumblatt ( pictured right) , a prominent supporter of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government.
Asked about prospects for a conference of rival Lebanese politicians in Paris next week, he said:
"If the French, with their contacts with the Iranians, can fix up a Lebanese dialogue in Paris, and somewhere behind the scenes the regional actors agree to stabilize Lebanon, why not?"
France hopes the meeting will promote renewed dialogue between the bitterly divided Lebanese camps and pave the way for agreement on a new president, due to be elected later this year.
But the 57-year-old politician gave no hint of optimism during an interview at his home in Beirut, accusing Syria, Iran and their Shi'ite Hezbollah allies of fomenting chaos in Lebanon
July 3, 2007
The Approaching Prisoner Exchange By FRANKLIN LAMB
From Nobles News Online
وزير الخارجيه الدانماركي "بير ستيغ مولر" وصل عصر أمس الي دمشق في زياره مفاجئه يلتقي خلالها عدد من المسوءولين السوريين
Charting the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood
Der Spiegel (Germany)
July 3, 2007 The recent putsch in the Gaza Strip by Hamas is shedding light on an organization exercising considerable influence on the entire Arab world — the Muslim Brotherhood. As both a social movement and a militant Islamist political outfit, its power stretches from the Atlantic coast to the Indian Ocean.