- 3 Syrian tanks crossed into the demilitarized zone in the Golan Heights today, the first such breach in 40 years. Israel’s immediate response was to register disapproval with the UN, which may indicate they don’t view this as a pressing or threatening issue just yet. No indication has been given as to Syria’s motivation for the incident. The effects of the Syrian civil war have been felt in Israel of late, as misfired shells have detonated within their borders. source
— Middle East expert Augustus Richard Norton of Boston University • Referring to a planned ceasefire between the Syrian government and rebel forces, scheduled to begin on April 10, which is unlikely to ever become a reality. On Sunday, President Bashar al-Assad demanded that opposition groups provide written guarantees that they would lay down arms first, a demand that was promptly rejected by rebels. In the final hours before the ceasefire was to begin, government forces began shelling cities and towns across the country, killing well over 100 people, and leaving little doubt that the fighting will continue. The fighting also spilled over into neighboring Turkey, where two refugees and a Turkish translator were wounded by stray gunfire. source (via • follow)
More than a few times in Beirut, a week before the Syrian uprising began, I saw kids running around the streets with rather realistic looking guns. It’s disturbing no matter where or what the context is.
This week, Beirut achieved an underwhelming milestone: after 140 days, Sunni billionaire Najib Mikati finally managed to form a government. This may not seem like much, compared to the paroxysms of political change which have toppled dictators and shaken the foundations of the Middle East’s most entrenched authoritarian regimes. Traditionally one of the region’s most politically turbulent countries, Lebanon has seemed positively serene by comparison to its neighbors. There has yet to be a replay of the seas of chanting protesters and billowing flags in the streets of Beirut which followed the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
[…] The direction of the new government could profoundly re-shape Lebanon’s relationship with America and the international community, just as it will play an important role in determining the fate of the Syrian opposition to the Assad regime.
The international media and many Lebanese politicians have rushed to portray the new cabinet as being dominated by Syria and Iran because of the preponderance of March 8 figures in key ministries. In response, Prime Minister Mikati has insisted that he has no intention of threatening Lebanon’s relationship with the West, and that he is not a fig leaf for a “Hezbollah government.” For the time being, the Obama administration has opted to wait and judge the government “by its actions,” but there have already been calls by a few U.S. lawmakers to cut Washington’s aid and adopt a hard-line stance toward the new government in Beirut.
The claim that Mikati’s government will actually be controlled by Hezbollah is an oversimplification, but there is no question that this new cabinet marks a watershed in Lebanese politics. As per its usual custom, Hezbollah only opted to accept two relatively insignificant portfolios out of a total of 30, while its allies (with whom it does not always see eye-to-eye) occupy the important ministries of defense, justice, telecommunications, labor, etc. It should be noted that the very fact that Mikati was chosen as prime minister rather than a more divisive “pro-Syrian” figure suggested from the very beginning that the March 8 coalition was wary of letting this government be painted as being “Made in Damascus and Tehran.” Mikati’s international stature, strong ties to Saudi Arabia, and his possession of a (rather tenuous) cabinet veto will likely be sufficient to calm fears that he can be steamrolled by the parliamentary majority, at least in the short term.