Posted by Joshua on Monday, July 20th, 2009
and don’t miss the obligatory debate over whether Asma or Rania is the fairest princess of them all at Kabobfest.
Syria softens stance on hosting Hariri
Phil Sands, July 19. 2009, National
DAMASCUS // Syria is ready to host Saad Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister-designate, a man not long ago considered persona non grata in Damascus and viewed as one of Syria’s central opponents in the Middle East.
“The doors to Damascus are open to all Lebanese and if Saad al Hariri becomes prime minister he is welcome here,” said Umran al Zaubie, a Syrian lawyer and political analyst with close ties to the government. “Syria will never close the door, despite all of the lies that were told and all of the allegations that were made against her…….
…..Damascus has always denied any role in the death of Rafik Hariri, insisting it was the victim of a political vendetta, and in recent months the case against Syria has weakened significantly.
A UN special prosecutor investigating the assassination once claimed that the inner circle of the Syrian regime appeared to be involved in the killing, an assertion that was undermined after a UN court ordered the release of four main suspects in April for lack of evidence. Other suspects have had their testimony discredited.
As Syria has grown increasingly confident that the Hariri tribunal will not find against it, Saad Hariri has also begun to tone down criticism of Damascus, and has said that he will stand by the outcome of the investigation into his father’s death, whatever the findings. It is a far cry from 2005.
“Traditionally the first visit by a new Lebanese prime minister or president is to Syria,” said Mazen Bilal, a Syrian journalist and political commentator. “There is no longer any political problem preventing Saad Hariri coming to Damascus, now that he says the assassination of his father is in the hands of the UN tribunal and it has found nothing against Syria.
“If Saad Hariri does come to Syria, it will show there has been a real political settlement in Lebanon. If he doesn’t come then it will show there has not been a real settlement.”
JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Sunday an American call to hold off on a planned Jewish housing development in East Jerusalem, saying Israel’s sovereignty over the disputed city could not be challenged. (NYTimes)
Former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman …told Foreign Policy, “From the American side, Washington has repeatedly misunderstood or been deluded about the Saudis on issues connected with Iran and Israel. The notion that somehow or other the Saudis will turn a blind eye to an Israeli strike on Iran — it does not compute.” Freeman also said Riyadh would reject the idea that an Israeli halt in settlement building “would bring forward some gesture from the Arabs.”….
Gause said….Their line on this is, ‘We have done that already and gotten nothing. We did that in 2002 with the Abdullah peace plan and renewed it in 2007, and got the entire Arab league to sign on. Now why do more? We did that and got nothing.’”……
Aluf Benn in Haaretz,: All the reports emanating from Washington indicate that Obama will not issue a detailed peace plan any time soon.
Obama meets the Lobby
By Stephan Walt, Foreign Policy, July 16, 2009
The failed Lebanon war of 2006 and the brutal onslaught against Gaza earlier this year have also raised concerns that Israel has lost its moral and strategic compass. You know a country is in trouble when it routinely attacks respected human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, or when a group of its own soldiers releases damning personal testimony about their own misconduct in Gaza. (The courage and candor of these Israeli dissidents remains a redeeming feature of Israel’s otherwise troubled democracy). And you know the hardliners in the lobby are getting desperate when they have to hire a professional spinmeister to come up with Orwellian talking points defending the occupation, such as the bizarre claim that removing illegal settlers from the West Bank would be a form of “ethnic cleansing.” (For more on the latter shenanigans, see Richard Silverstein’s valuable commentary here, here, and here.)
Third, it is also clear that the hard-line leadership remains trapped in old-think on a lot of these issues. For example, ADL head Abraham Foxman complained before the meeting that “What troubles me most is a lack of consultation and the need [for the administration] to do things publicly. There’s a [U.S.-Israel] relationship of 60 years and all of a sudden they’re treating Israel like everyone else. I find that disturbing.”
Israel: UN learned of Hezbollah arms cache months ago
UNIFIL learned a few months ago about the cache of Katyusha rockets that exploded in the southern Lebanese village of Hirbet Salim last Tuesday, a government source in Jerusalem said. The source said UNIFIL had precise information about the cache and a number of other installations where Hezbollah is storing rockets, but that UNIFIL had done nothing.
A discussion is scheduled in the UN Security Council for late August on renewing UNIFIL’s mandate in southern Lebanon; Israel hopes last week’s explosion will show the need to strengthen UNIFIL. Israel believes that UNIFIL could sharpen its rules of engagement and act more forcefully with the Lebanese army in southern Lebanese villages. (…) Haaretz
Inquiry on 1994 Blast at Argentina Jewish Center Gets New Life
By ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO, July 17, 2009, NYTimes
BUENOS AIRES — In the 15 years since the bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Aid Association here, the deadliest terrorist attack in this country’s history, the case has become a symbol of the failings of Argentina’s judicial system.
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Despite all the international attention, despite investigative help from Israel and the United States, no one has been convicted for the July 18, 1994, bombing of the community center, in which 85 people died and more than 300 were injured.
Obama, Foxman and Israel’s purpose
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, July 16, 2009
The summit that never was
The Syrians are hoping for an end to their four years of estrangement from the Saudis.
ByBassel Oudat in Al-Ahram
Unconfirmed reports published in Syria and Lebanon spoke of a possible visit to Syria by Saudi King Abdullah, perhaps for a mini-summit with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, one that Saad Al-Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister-designate, may attend. As it turned out, neither Syria nor Saudi Arabia confirmed the reports, and the Saudi monarch has yet to show up in Damascus.
Syrian presidential adviser Bothayna Suleiman said that no date has been decided for such a visit, adding that the Saudi king is welcome in Syria at any time. She noted that Syrian-Saudi relations are “relations between two brotherly countries, related to all Arab concerns, and cannot be confined to the Lebanese dossier alone.” She further stated that there is no “Lebanese complex” impeding relations between the two countries.
According to Syrian sources, Saudi Arabia has named a new ambassador to Damascus, following 16 months in which the post remained vacant. The new ambassador is Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz Al-Ayfan, a man known to be close to King Abdullah.
Saudi Arabia withdrew its last ambassador to Damascus, Ahmed Al-Qahtani, in March 2008. It named him envoy to Qatar in a move many saw as the start of a possible long- term diplomatic estrangement.
….Syrian-Saudi differences cast a shadow over the region. At one point, the Saudis were said to have asked some Arab countries to stay away from the Damascus summit of March 2007.
Syrian semi-official media became particularly critical of Saudi Arabia, breaking with the reconciliatory tone they maintained for four decades under late President Hafez Al-Assad. Despite his numerous differences with the Saudis, the late president never involved the media in the dispute.
Syrian-Saudi reconciliation efforts began in earnest last January, with Qatar, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia meeting on the sidelines of the economic summit in Kuwait. That was followed by a meeting in Riyadh in March between Saudi King Abdullah, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, Kuwaiti Emir Jabir Al-Sabbah, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
In February, Saudi Chief of Intelligence Prince Moqren bin Abdel-Aziz visited Syria, bringing a verbal message from the Saudi King. The visit was a surprise to observers who failed to see the strategic and long-term implications of the four-way reconciliation session in Kuwait. A week later, the Syrian foreign minister took a message back from Al-Assad to King Abdullah.
Nothing has been disclosed about the content of the exchanges apart from the usual statement that the two leaders were exchanging views over “developments in the region and the need for Arab solidarity in the face of challenges.” It is a stock phrase that the Syrian media uses whenever President Al-Assad receives Arab officials. News about the Syrian president is usually written by his press officers and appears in the media without change.
Early this month, Prince Abdel-Aziz bin Abdullah, a personal envoy of the Saudi king, and Saudi Culture Minister Abdel-Aziz Khoja visited Damascus. Prince Abdel-Aziz was the highest level official from the Saudi royal family to visit Syria in years. Syria didn’t disclose the aim of the visit, but there has been speculation that the prince was preparing for a summit between the Saudi and Syrian leaders in Damascus.
Although the summit never came to pass, an official Syrian source told me that “apart from the conflict between the two countries in recent years, which has taken on a personal dimension involving the two leaders, the relations between Saudi Arabia and Syria need to be urgently improved for the sake of the region and its future.”
Fayez Ezzeddin, a leading figure in Syria’s ruling Baath Party, said that “Syria is maintaining an open door policy towards Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, and the Saudis can use this to build strong ties with the Syrians.” He added that the Syrians are acting out of the belief that the two countries share similar concerns and a common future, and that the regional situation now calls for the cooperation of all Arabs. Recently, he said, Saudi Arabia has reviewed its policy towards Syria and realised that “quarrelling was useless and that it was wrong to turn its back on Syria.”….
Many, however, suspect that the Syrian-Saudi rapprochement is little more than lip service. ….
For now, however, it seems that Syrian-Saudi tensions are being defused. The two countries acknowledge their differences, but go on talking. And few would be surprised if President Al-Assad and King Abdullah were to meet face to face before the summer is over.
This is a joke,
“We are reminding [the Syrians] of the natural links that we share,” said a Saudi royal adviser. “We have presented a way for them to get out of the hole that they have dug for themselves” with their alliance with Iran, the adviser said. It Is Syria that is bringing KSA back to the Arab fold and away from the Israeli-Western connection.”
Opening to Tourism, Syria Flaunts Hidden Treasures
2009-07-17 00:25: By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Iranian pilgrims pray beside Arabs at the 8th-century Umayyad Mosque, one of Islam’s grandest sites. Down a nearby alley, European tourists watch restoration work at an Ottoman-era palace being converted into a hotel. ‘I’ve not …
But Syria’s modern history has been dominated by its struggle with Israel and Soviet-style policies since the Baath Party’s 1963 coup that reduced it to an economic backwater.
The United States imposed sanctions on Syria in 2004 and the government faces two United Nations investigations, although tensions have eased in recent months and Washington said in June it would appoint an ambassador to Damascus after a four-year hiatus.
“The business environment in Syria is still poorer than its neighbors, but this is a virgin market and the fact that so many investors are coming shows that the risk is worth taking,” said Jihad Yazigi, editor of the Syria Report online newsletter.
Only in the past decade has Syria eased restrictions on foreign exchange and banking and allowed companies to transfer profits abroad. But it remains among the world’s hardest places to do business, according to World Economic Forum study.
Courts lack safeguards against political interference and the workforce lacks language skills and training. Yet the risks have not put off investors from the oil-exporting Gulf.
Qatari Diyar, a real estate company owned by the Qatar Investment Authority, is building a $350 million resort on the Mediterranean coast. Kuwait’s Kharafi group is building a 361-room hotel in Damascus. Global hotel brands including Movenpick, Kempinski and Holiday Inn also plan developments…..
“Syria needs to do more preservation. I was in Lebanon and the level of indiscriminate construction made me never want to go back,” said Swiss tourist Roland Diethelm, who was having a drink on a hotel terrace overlooking the ruins at Palmyra.
Repeated wars have left scars on Syria’s neighbor Lebanon but those tourists who do make the journey often combine it with a short drive to Damascus.
Construction across Syria has been chaotic but investors are taking increasing care to preserve the character of Old Damascus and Aleppo, realizing that this is what many Europeans crave…..