The eyes of the Arab media turn Tuesday to the Syrian city of Hama, which has been heavily bombarded by government forces, despite the presence of international monitors in the country.
“Hama pays for welcoming the monitors with dozens of victims,” reads the headline of liberal daily Al-Hayat, based in London. The daily reports that the city was bombarded one day after UN monitors visited it, suffering at least 40 lives lost in “one of the worst days of violence since the beginning of protests in Syria over a year ago.”
The Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, always harsher in tone in its news reporting on Syria, claims that Syria ignored warnings by international envoy Kofi Annan not to use heavy weapons against civilians and perpetrated a “massacre” in Hama. The photo in the article portrays a protester in the town of Kufrnabil holding a sign with an ironic message: “Breaking: Annan calls on Syrian authorities to stop using heavy weapons. So light weapons are OK…”
Al-Quds Al-Arabi, a hard-line Arab nationalist daily published in London, notes that Switzerland has increased its sanctions against the regime, including the women in Assad’s family. The UN monitors were given a mandate to remain in the country for three months, but a sign held up by a group of young girls in a demonstration featured in Al-Quds Al-Arabi’s photo reads “Three months are enough to solve the Syrian crisis… by eradicating the Syrian people!!!”
Israel and the Egyptian gas
Egypt’s decision to annul its natural gas deal with Israel is the main headline in Al-Quds Al-Arabi, and front-page news in other major Arab papers.
“Gas stoppage sparks tension between Israel and Egypt,” reads the headline of Al-Quds Al-Arabi, with its underline adding that Israeli politician Binyamin Ben Eliezer, a personal friend of Hosni Mubarak, warns against open conflict between the two states.
“Hysteria in Tel Aviv for fear the peace agreement may be canceled,” continues the daily’s sub-header.
Al-Hayat reports that while official Israel described the Egyptian decision as purely commercial, Egyptian government statements have been rather muddled on the matter. It begins its reporting thus:
“The Egyptian government has confused political forces and presidential candidates, who hurried to welcome the decision to stop natural gas exports to Israel, by announcing its willingness to renew export with new prices.”
Abd Al-Bari Atwan, the firebrand editor of Al-Quds Al-Arabi, praises the Egyptian decision, commercial or political.
“Whether the decision of Egypt’s authorities to stop exporting gas to Israel is political or commercial, it is a brave decision that reflects a great change in revolutionary Egypt towards relations with Israel and economic normalization with it,” writes Atwan.
“This decision may be a prelude to canceling the humiliating Camp David Accords or at least amending them to match Egyptian interests.”
Issam Abdullah, a columnist for Saudi-owned news website Elaph comments that the Egyptian decision to cancel the gas agreement “pulls the rug” from under the feet of Egypt’s presidential candidates, many of whom called in their campaign for exactly that.
“Followers of the political streams in Egypt — from the far right to the far left — will find that one thing unites them, despite the deep differences: canceling the peace accords with Israel,” writes Abdullah.
Abdullah adds, however, that renewing the gas deal with Israel is essential for Egypt’s future, limiting the possibility of an extremist future Egyptian president annulling the peace accords.
“Ratifying a new gas agreement with Israel — after raising the price — is essential, because it will close the door on any future president who may lose his senses and cancel the Camp David Accords with Israel. This will bring the country to unpredictable adventures which will benefit other elements in the region.”
Iran attempts to co-opt Iraq
Iranian efforts to pull Iraq under its sway are worrying Arab commentators following a visit by Shiite Iraqi prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki to Iran this week.
“Ahmadinejad to Maliki: with Tehran, Baghdad does not need Washington’s help,” reads the headline of A-Sharq Al-Awsat. The headline of Al-Hayat reads “Al-Maliki returns from Tehran with the support of Khaminei.” The daily adds that now Maliki must deal with new secessionist aspirations by the Kurds in northern Iraq.
Both dailies feature the same photo of Maliki meeting Supreme Iranian leader Ali Khaminei with a portrait of Grand Ayatollah Khumeini on the wall behind them.
A-Sharq Al-Awsat editor Tariq Homayed lambastes Maliki for criticizing Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan for being “sectarian” just prior to leaving for a meeting in Iran.
“Iraq now, with its current government, has become one of the sources of sectarian strife in the region,” writes Homayed. “As a result, today Maliki remains without allies inside Iraq and with no natural ties to his Arab surroundings.”