A French military operation in Mali and a possible American intervention in that troubled African country lead the news in Arab media Sunday.
“Washington studies aerial intervention in Mali and a French lieutenant is the first casualty,” reads the headline of Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat. The daily reports the first fatality in an operation carried out by the French on the border between Islamist-controlled northern Mali and the central-government-controlled south. A helicopter pilot was killed when his aircraft was targeted by Islamist rebels.
Al-Hayat, a London-based daily, reports that France has experienced a “sad day” Saturday following news of the downed helicopter and the death of the pilot. France’s military Operation Wild Cat is meant to uproot al-Qaeda from northern Mali, reports the daily.
Arab media ties the fatality in Mali to another botched French operation on Saturday in Somalia, aimed at releasing a hostage held in the country since 2009. The hostage was reported “missing; presumed killed” by the French government, and at least one French commando was also killed in the operation.
Dubai-based news channel Al-Arabiya reports that the UK will provide logistical support to the French forces fighting in Mali. British Prime Minister David Cameron issued a statement on Saturday promising help in quickly transporting French soldiers and equipment to Mali. The statement stressed that no British soldiers will take part in fighting on the ground.
Turkey appoints ‘guardian’ for Syria
A-Sharq Al-Awsat leads its news with a reports that Turkey has appointed a new “guardian” for Syria, Faysal Yilmaz.
The daily reports that Yilmaz will oversee the situation of Syrian refugees in Turkey and in Syrian territories liberated by the Free Syrian Army (FSA). According to A-Sharq Al-Awsat, some opposition members disapprove of the nomination, saying it reminds them of the patronage over minorities by the Ottoman empire.
Yilmaz told A-Sharq Al-Awsat that his role is purely humanitarian, consisting of sending aid — not weapons — into Syria. The daily displays a photo of a Syrian refugee family standing next to its tent in Lebanon’s Beqaa valley, surrounded in snow. The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon has leaped to 200,000 seeking aid, in addition to 250,000 who are living in Lebanon but not requesting aid, the daily reports.
Al-Jazeera reports that an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers will take place on Sunday to discuss ways of aiding the rising numbers of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Meanwhile, in a new indication of infighting between factions of the Syrian opposition, London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi reports the killing last Wednesday of Tha’er Waqas, a commander in the opposition’s Al-Farouq Battalion, near the Turkish Border.
Waqas was reportedly assassinated by the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front in response to the killing last September of an Islamist warlord, Firas Al-Absi, known as Abu-Muhammad A-Shami.
“Syrians want blankets, not missiles,” reads the headline of an op-ed by columnist Abdul Rahman Rahshed in A-Sharq Al-Awsat Sunday.
“Now we have lowered our expectations,” writes Rashed. ” We are only asking for bread and firewood to save millions from death of hunger and cold. At first we called for international intervention to deter the Assad forces and security agencies and stop the annihilation. Then we began demanding Stinger missiles to thwart the airplanes which have been bombarding the cities and burying people alive.”
Daily: Peres admitted that Israel killed Arafat
Al-Quds Al-Arabi leads its news with a report that Israeli President Shimon Peres acknowledged for the first time Israel’s responsibility for assassinating Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
The daily quotes Israel Radio referring to an interview Peres gave to The New York Times. In the interview, journalist Ronen Bergman asks Peres: “You didn’t think that Arafat should be assassinated,” to which Peres answers: “No, I thought it was possible to do business with him.”
“This is the first admission by a senior Israeli official of the assassination of Yasser Arafat,” reads the article.