The assassination attempt on Syrian Prime Minister Wael Al-Halqi in Damascus dominates the front pages of Arab newspapers on Tuesday, as new reports emerge of the regime’s use of chemical weapons.

Al-Jazeera, a Qatar-based news outlet, reports that two civilians were killed as a result of an aerial attack by regime forces on the town of Saraqib in the northern province of Idlib Monday. The channel broadcasts footage of civilians suffocating, amid claims that the aircraft dropped sacks containing “strange materials.”

“Who will decide whether chemical weapons were indeed used?” muses an Al-Jazeera reporter.

Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat alludes in its headline to a previous attack on Damascus’s security district that killed high-ranking officials last July.

The daily, which displays a photo of workers sweeping up debris around the bombed-out car used in the attack, reports at least 12 victims, including the prime minister’s personal bodyguard.

A spokesman for the Free Syrian Army in Damascus, Zein A-Din A-Shami, told the London-based daily that “the Free Syrian Army was clearly not behind the attack,” which “does not serve its interest.”

London-based daily Al-Hayat reports that while no opposition group claimed responsibility for the attack, “some accused the regime of planning it.”

Quoting Russian news sources, Al-Hayat also reports that a surface-to-air missile was launched on Monday toward a civilian Russian aircraft flying over Syrian airspace with 200 passengers.

Almost all of the op-eds in A-Sharq Al-Awsat on Tuesday are dedicated to aspects of the Syrian crisis.

In one of them, titled “The chemical stage,” columnist Ali Ibrahim claims to understand the American reluctance to attack Syria for use of chemical weapons after the failed invasion of Iraq under the similar pretext of “weapons of mass destruction.”

“If one may compare the Iraqi and Syrian cases, the comparison confirms the lack of a plan or strategy for the day after the [leader’s] fall. We have witnessed anarchy and the collapse of institutions, which Iraq paid a high price for,” writes Ibrahim.

“In the Syrian case, it also seems as though there is no plan or clear vision for dealing with the crisis, which is growing increasingly complicated. The [Assad] regime has succeeded in giving it a sectarian nature.”

Meanwhile, London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi reports that Hezbollah has declared a state of high alert in preparation for an Israeli attack, as rebel forces in Damascus draw closer to the presidential palace.

The daily claims that Hezbollah’s mobilization follows a private meeting between its secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov.

Sources close to Hezbollah tell the daily that Hezbollah “does not want to be taken by surprise” in the event of an Israeli attack on Lebanon.

Rafsanjani on Israel

Statements by former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani are being reported in different ways by Arab media Tuesday.

“Rafsanjani: We are not at war with Israel; and if the Arabs fight it, we will support them,” reads the headline in the Dubai-based outlet Al-Arabiya, the emphasis being on Iran’s reluctance to confront the Jewish state.

Meanwhile, Al-Hayat focuses on Rafsanjani’s criticism of the current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“[Rafsanjani] waged a fierce attack on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, claiming that his country ‘does not have a policy of war with Israel,'” reads the article.

Rafsanjani adds that while Ahmadinejad continues to denounce the conduct of previous governments, he avoids criticizing Iran’s conduct during its war with Iraq (1980-1988) since at that time the president was Ali Khamenei, who currently serves as the country’s supreme leader.

Asked whether he intends to run again in the upcoming elections this June, Rafsanjani didn’t deny that he is considering the idea, but noted that “there is no need for a man approaching the age of 80 to run for office,” Al-Hayat reports. 


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