Posted by Joshua on Thursday, February 24th, 2011
Video of yesterday’s demonstration in front of the Libyan Embassy in Damascus – About 100-150 Syrians demonstrated in solidarity with Libya’s struggle against Qaddafi in front of the Libyan embassy in Damascus. They called for Qaddafi’s downfall.
The demonstrators were chanting “peacefully, peacefully”. One demonstrator wrote to say that a number of the participants were kept from the protest and abused by police in riot gear. “7 young people were captured and violently questioned for a few hours. A girl was beaten badly by the riot police among dozens of young men and women who were only trying to reach the embassy in solidarity with Libyan people. We were chanting peacefully, peacefully but still the police punished us and prevented us from reaching the embassy. ”
Reporters Without Borders has published an article condemning the arrest of a number of young Syrians who keep blogs over the last year: “Wave of arrests of Syrian bloggers.” Arab twitterers are heavily circulating a tweet that claims that the Syrian president has sent “3,500 Palestinians to help Qaddafi against his people.” This has not been reported in the main stream press and does not seem credible, but suggests the volatile mood of the activists.
Meanwhile, al-Watan, a Syrian paper, is reporting an interview with عماد نسب, one of the people involved in the altercation between civilians and police in the Hariqa district that let to a demonstration and the minister of the interior going to calm people down. He claims that the police were impolite but did not hit people.
Sen. Kerry, Syria’s Assad working to renew talks with Israel
U.S. Senator John Kerry and Syrian President Bashar Assad reportedly began drafting an unofficial position paper that would define the principles of negotiations with Israel.
By Barak Ravid
…The first item dealt with a key Syrian demand – that Israel withdraw from the Golan Heights. The wording of this clause was similar to that used during the Israeli-Syrian talks conducted by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: It stated that the basis for the talks would be the principle of land for peace, in accordance with the 1991 Madrid Conference and UN resolutions on the subject.
Kerry also tried to draft a clause to satisfy one of Israel’s key demands – that any peace agreement lead to Syria severing its ties with Iran and Hezbollah.
A European diplomat briefed on the Kerry-Assad talks said that Assad had expressed willingness to discuss “Syria’s strategic positioning and regional security issues” in negotiations with Israel. That formulation is vague, but can be interpreted as reflecting Syrian willingness to discuss its relationship with Iran and Hezbollah. …
The losing fight to prosecute Rafik Hariri’s assassins
By Neil Macdonald CBC News, Feb 22, 2011
…..Former UN investigators have told CBC News the evidence is mostly circumstantial — intricate telecommunications charts that show which phones called which other phones, but fail to actually put the phones in the hands of Hezbollah operatives.
Further, the tribunal, which still operates a small office in Lebanon, concedes that the Lebanese government, meaning Hezbollah, basically knows every move its investigators make before they make it.
Sounds like Hezbollah is winning, in other words. In fact, it’s beginning to sound as if the whole UN effort might have been a waste of time….
and imports in a bid to offset rising food prices and help low-income households, the official press reported. The government slashed the tax on cooking oil by 53.3 percent. It also reduced the tax on animal fats and sugar by 20 and 25 percent respectively. “This decree will certainly bring about a decrease in food prices that will benefit low-income earners,” the official Al-Thawra newspaper said in an article titled “Special attention granted to the basic needs of citizens.”
Import taxes fell from two to one percent. “We expect merchants to reflect its effects on the retail price of food” after a rise in foodstuff prices on global markets, said an official from the chamber of industry quoted in the newspaper. Last week Syria’s national social aid fund started distributing $250 million (184.5 million euros) of financial aid to 420,000 poor families. The UN Development Programme says 14 percent of Syria’s 22 million people live in extreme poverty. DAMASCUS (AFP) – Monday, February 21, 2011 7:10 AM
WSJ [Reg]: Second Suspected Syria Nuclear Site Is Found 2011-02-24
WASHINGTON—A second suspected nuclear installation has been identified in Syria, according to commercial satellite photos, providing new evidence that Damascus may have been pursuing atomic weapons before a 2007 Israeli military strike. The …
Unblocking Syria’s social media
Some wonder if Syria’s decision to allow access to facebook and blog sites is just a new way to track activists.
Jillian York Last Modified: 12 Feb 2011
Christian Science Monitor
Bilal Y. Saab is a PhD candidate at the University of Maryland
College Park, Md. – The resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the ensuing political transition in Cairo has created a wave of uncertainty over the strategic politics of the Middle East, carrying both risks and opportunities for US interests and allies in the region. One potential and less-than-obvious opportunity is to relaunch peace talks between Syria and Israel.
Syria’s poor receive cash aid from government
Feb 20, 2011
Damascus // Thousands of impoverished Syrians began receiving cash payments from a multimillion-dollar aid fund this week, as part of a government effort to tackle persistent high levels of poverty.
The step comes less than a month after heating fuel subsidies for two million public sector employees were unexpectedly raised by 72 per cent. The government had previously been in the process of cutting back subsidies, which it can ill afford to pay because of dwindling oil reserves.
Import duties on various staple foods, including rice, tea, coffee and powdered milk, were also cut this week in a move designed to lessen the impact of rising food prices that have hit ordinary Syrians hard.
Although the social aid fund has been in the pipeline for years, and the cabinet approved an outline of the programme in December, analysts in Syria say its implementation was accelerated after the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, when entrenched rulers were toppled in protests fired, at least in part, by widespread public outrage at growing economic hardship…..
Another economic analyst said that government programmes currently in place would not prevent deepening poverty.
“This year will see the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer,” he said. “We have 10 different socioeconomic classes in this country. One of them is rich, the rest are poor, and the poor are slipping down, down, down.”
Khalid Aboud, the secretary of the Syrian parliament, said, “There’s a gap between the citizens’ needs and the government’s ability to help them,” he said. “The government hopes to increase the salaries of its employees but the big question is how to pay for that. The government doesn’t have enough money to help the poor as much as it would like.”….
Selucid: A wonderful young Syrian doctor blogger:
Being Green, Syrian style: Water
Posted December 24, 2010 by seleucid
Syria has enough renewable water to provide 800 cubic meters for each person annually (A country is considered water scarce once it goes under 1000 cubic meters, which we did five years ago). Of course that is not only water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, showering and such, but also water to irrigate your carbs and veggies. Actually, that’s where 90% of our water quota goes, with 2% to industrialization and 8% to personal use. Right now, Syria uses 25% more than what renewable water can provide, which means ground level water is being depleted at an alarming rate, a blunder that will cost lives in the upcoming decades…..
But read what he has to say about his first month as an intern in a public Syrian hospital. This is good stuff by a talented new voice.
What does the Arab world do when its water runs out?
2011-02-20 Guardian (GB):
Poverty, repression, decades of injustice and mass unemployment have all been cited as causes of the political convulsions in the Middle East and north Africa these last weeks. But a less recognised reason for the turmoil in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, …
“In the future the main geopolitical resource in the Middle East will be water rather than oil. The situation is alarming,” said Swiss foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey last week, as she launched a Swiss and Swedish government-funded report for the EU.
The Blue Peace report examined long-term prospects for seven countries, including Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Israel. Five already suffer major structural shortages, it said, and the amount of water being taken from dwindling sources across the region cannot continue much longer.
“Unless there is a technological breakthrough or a miraculous discovery, the Middle East will not escape a serious [water] shortage,” ….
Is the Food Crisis Real?
Written by John Berthelsen
Monday, 21 February 2011
Or is it another bout of government panic and market manipulation?
What is going on with global food prices? Last week the World Bank, in its Food Price Watch, warned that they have hit dangerous levels that could contribute to “macro vulnerabilities” including political instability.
Some 44 million people in the developing world, where typically half of family budgets go into food purchases, have been pushed into extreme poverty, according to the World Bank’s report. As governments raise interest rates in the effort to keep food price inflation in check, they face the problem of choking off economic growth in the wider economy at a time when the world and the region are still recovering from the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.
But how much of this is real and how much is panic and market manipulation? Two weeks ago, for instance, Indonesia announced it would increase its stockpiles to 2 million tonnes, with Hatta Rajasa, the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, telling reporters that because the rest of the world is increasing its stocks, Indonesia must as well. That calls up images of 2007, when rice-exporting governments locked up their warehouses to the outside world and drove rice prices from US$300 per tonne to US$1,100 in six months before prices collapsed back to about US$550 per tonne when the world came to the realization that there was no rice crisis at all.
There are signs that it might be happening again. Wheat prices are up 74 percent over the last year, corn up 92 percent…..