Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009
Syria has had its best year of rainfall in nearly eight years, farmers in the Coastal Mountains have been saying joyfully. In the Jazirah area, Syria’s bread basket, the rain has not been as plentiful, although it has been better than the previous three years which were terrible, I am told.
Syria’s GDP Rose by 7% in 2008 From the Syria Report by Jihad Yazigi
Syria’s real Gross Domestic Product rose by 7 percent in 2008 while the inflation rate stood at 5.4 percent, according to preliminary data from the Central Bureau of Statistics. Read
Economy: Drought Hits Hard on Syria’s North-East
The drought affecting Syria’s north-eastern region is leading to dramatic economic, human and social consequences, according to a joint FAO/WFP assessment mission conducted in May.
160 Syrian villages deserted ‘due to climate change’ By Talal El-Atrache
DAMASCUS (AFP) — Some 160 villages in northern Syria were deserted by their residents in 2007 and 2008 because of climate change, according to a study released on Tuesday.
The report drawn up by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) warns of potential armed conflict for control of water resources in the Middle East.
“The 2007/8 drought caused significant hardship in rural areas of Syria. In the northeast of the country, a reported 160 villages have been entirely abandoned and the inhabitants have had to move to urban areas,” it said….
The report says climate change could affect farm productivity in Syria, where agriculture represents 23 percent of gross domestic product and employs 30 percent of the economically active population.
“Some 13 percent of agricultural land was downgraded between 1980 and 2006 because of… urban expansion and agricultural, industrial and tourism activities,” Fayez Asrafy, a desertification expert, told AFP.
“Rainfall shrank by 10 millimetres (a year) between 1956 and 2006 while temperatures rose by (an average) 0.5 degrees Celsius, though below the worldwide average of 0.6 degrees,” Syrian meteorologist Khales Mawed said.
The IISD predicts even modest global warming would lead to a 30-percent drop in water in the Euphrates, which runs through Turkey, Syria and Iraq, while the Dead Sea would shrink in volume by 80 percent by the end of the century.
One-third of Syrians Live in “informal” Housing, Study Finds
Damascus (dpa) — More than 35 per cent of Syrians live in “informal,” often ramshackle houses, a new Syrian study has found. This arrangement poses a threat to the ecology of Syria and is an impediment to the development of the country, the government’s Commission for Family Affairs concluded in its study, the results of which were published in Syria’s state daily Tishreen on Sunday.
Respondents told the commission that rising commodity prices, medical expenses, debt and taxes were the most serious problems they faced, and that they would need at least another 5,000 Syrian pounds (106 dollars) a month to make ends meet. A typical Syrian household includes six people, living on an average of 15,000 Syrian pounds (318 US dollars) a month, the study found, though in some areas, such as the northeastern Syrian city of Dair al-Zur, the average is higher, with as many
as 10 people living under one roof.
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, is to travel to the region next week, a State Department official said Tuesday.
“He is planning to travel to the region next week,” the official said. “At this point I can’t be more specific on travel itinerary.”
In mid-May, Syrian Ambassador Imad Mustapha, speaking on the US-funded, Arabic-language television station Al-Hurra, said “Mitchell and his team sent their passports to us today for obtaining visas to visit Syria.”
But at the time, State Department spokesman Robert Wood stopped short of confirming a Syria visit….
“Senator Mitchell has not yet decided upon a trip to Syria,” Wood said….
Mitchell’s expected trip raises US engagement a notch.
US Congress Tries to Undermine Obama’s Efforts to Stop Settlements
Politico via Friday Lunch Club
“As President Barack Obama prepares to depart for his first trip to the Arab world, the administration’s escalating pressure on Israel to freeze all growth of its settlements on Palestinian land has begun to stir concern among Israel’s numerous allies in both parties on Capitol Hill.
“My concern is that we are applying pressure to the wrong party in this dispute,” said Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.). “I think it would serve America’s interest better if we were pressuring the Iranians to eliminate the potential of a nuclear threat from Iran, and less time pressuring our allies and the only democracy in the Middle East to stop the natural growth of their settlements.”
“When Congress gets back into session the administration is going to hear from many more members than just me,” she said. ….
But even a key defender of Obama’s Mideast policy, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), is seeking to narrow the administration’s definition of “settlement” to take pressure off Obama. And the unusual criticism by congressional Democrats of the popular president is a sign that it may take more than a transformative presidential election to change the domestic politics of Israel…. “
MJ Rosenberg writes: “Check out this interview from Yediot Achronoth. And, unconstrained by official responsibility, he actually says what he thinks. This interview will not make him more popular in Israel but it will confirm the view here that few, if any, in this country understand the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-American scenes better than Indyk.”….
“Yes,” he said, “it could have been done differently. The joint strategy, ours and yours, was Syria first. At the Shepherdstown conference of January 2000, when we missed the chance to reach an
agreement with the Syrians, Arafat experienced a turnabout. Until then, he was afraid of being left behind. After the failure with the Syrians, Barak and Clinton—as President Bush rightfully said—courted Arafat desperately. Had there been an agreement with Syria, the equation would
have been different.
“I write in the book that for seven years, Hafez Assad was interested in the process, not the outcome, but before his death he underwent a change: he wanted to reach a deal. The fact is that over the years, he refused to send a senior figure to direct negotiations with Israel. Prior to his death, he sent his foreign minister Farouk Ashara to the talks.
“When Ashara came to Washington to negotiate with Barak, we dealt with the question why he did not shake his hand and why he condemned Israel in his speech, and ignored the most important thing he said: it is a dispute over borders, not an existential conflict. The Syrians were prepared for a series of compromises. People who read my book say that Barak did not have the courage to complete an agreement with the Syrians. Barak is a courageous man, there is no argument about that. The problem was the timing. The moment to finalize an agreement with Assad was between December 1999 and February 2000. Had Barak risen to the occasion at the right moment, it would have changed everything.”
You were recently in Damascus, we said, as the guest of Foreign Minister Walid Muallem. With what insight did you return from there? “There is greater flexibility than in the past in Syria,” he said. “Not on territory—it would be a mistake to think that they have changed their position. They will not cede a single centimeter of territory. But if Israel recognizes Syria’s sovereignty over the entire Golan, they will be willing to talk about what remains, including Israeli
communities under Syrian sovereignty.”…
Why didn’t Rabin complete the agreement with Syria, we asked.
“In October 1995,” he said, “a few weeks before the assassination, Rabin was in Washington. He said that he had to halt the negotiations with the Syrians, because he stood before elections. He doubted his ability to achieve a majority for withdrawal from the Golan. Rabin didn’t believe, but Netanyahu believed. His first intervention in politics here was an attempt to prevent, by means of the Senate, the stationing of US forces in the Golan—an important part of the agreement. “Netanyahu would come to me when I was ambassador, and question me about what was happening with the Golan. Why are you so concerned, I asked. Because if Rabin reaches an agreement on the Golan, he will win by a large majority, he said.
“That is why I say that Netanyahu will reach an agreement with Syria. The left wing will be with him because of the agreement, and as a right wing leader he will enjoy the support of the right wing.
“Netanyahu negotiated with Assad. Once again, behind our backs. He made more progress than Rabin and Peres. Assad calculated—like his son now—that Netanyahu could pass an agreement that the left wing would find it difficult to pass. That is the irony of the Middle East.”
Syria Looks to Iraq for an Economic Boost Wall Street Journal
….Syrian officials also have said that a railway line from the coastal city of Tartous to Umm Qasr port in southern Iraq is opening this month. The railway promises a faster and cheaper route to the Mediterranean for regional goods typically shipped through the Suez Canal.
Syria’s economic ties with Iraq were stronger in the past. Syrian exports to Iraq in 2007 were valued at $641 million, compared with about $2 billion before the U.S. invasion in 2003, according to official Iraqi figures…..
Damascus says it thinks it can use its ports on the Mediterranean to build an important trade route between Iraq and Europe. Iraq’s population of 28 million promises a booming market for Syrian and other foreign goods.
Baghdad and Damascus already have agreed to reopen the Kirkuk-Banias oil pipeline, which extends from oil fields in northern Iraq to the Syrian port of Banias.
The two countries also have held discussions about building a natural-gas pipeline from Iraq’s Western Akkas fields to Syria, which could be an attractive transit point for gas-starved Arab and European markets.
N. Korea to mass-produce Syria-provided missile By The Associated Press
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
SEOUL, June 2 (Kyodo) — North Korea has apparently agreed to mass-produce a small, Russian-designed missile that it recently obtained from Syria, according to a Western diplomatic source.
The missile in question is the Kornet anti-tank guided missile developed by KBP Instrument Design Bureau, a Russian government-backed defense contractor based in Tula, Russia, said the source, who closely monitors Syrian-North Korean affairs…. Japan and the United States… have pressed the U.N. Security Council to incorporate a complete ban on weapons exports in sanctions to be taken in response to the North’s second underground nuclear test conducted last week….
Iraq Oil Report: Kurds from Syria eye KRG 2009-06-01
Iraq’s Kurdish Region is becoming a favoured destination for an increasing number of Syrian Kurds deprived of nationality rights by authorities in Damascus. More than one thousand Syrian Kurds now survive in dire conditions in Moqoble camp, a…
Syria’s Kilo pledges to continue struggle Middle East on Line.
Syrian media workers say Journalists’ Union that should represent them is used to restrict them.
DAMASCUS – A few hours after his release from prison, Michel Kilo, a prominent Syrian intellectual and journalist, sat among his family and friends telling stories about his daily life while he was incarcerated.
Appearing in high spirits, Kilo – who spent three years in jail for “threatening national sentiment” and “inciting sectarian strife” – spoke jokingly about one cellmate who cooked better than all the women he had known. ….
In recent months the March 14 Forces and the Hizbullah-led opposition have been arguing over the makeup of the post-elections government. The March 14 Forces reject the principle of the “obstructing third,” which Hizbullah obtained at the Doha summit following its violent May 7, 2008 takeover of Beirut. They characterize it as a dishonorable invention, which was meant to be a temporary solution, and which was imposed by force of arms. Moreover, they state that it paralyzes government activity, and that they will never again give a right of veto to the opposition.
The Hizbullah-led opposition, on the other hand, is demanding that the principle of the “obstructing third” be retained in the next government. In fact, its spokesmen have stated that even if Hizbullah wins, it will be willing to grant this right to the opposition led by the March 14 Forces.(9)
In a May 15, 2009 speech, which was aimed against the March 14 Forces, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah set out the Forces’ two options. The first option was that following the elections, a government would be assembled in which the opposition would have the right of veto, no matter which camp ended up in the opposition. The second option was to hold the elections using a different method: proportional representation elections in which all Lebanon will be a single electoral zone.(10) In such a case, the Hizbullah-led opposition would obviously win, because today Shi’ites comprise the country’s largest ethnic group. In effect, the options with which Nasrallah presented the Lebanese were either a government in which the Hizbullah camp has the right of veto, or a change in the electoral system that will produce a government in which the Hizbullah camp has a majority.