As the deadline for a ceasefire between government and opposition forces in Syria draws nearer, the Arab media are reporting both sides of the Syrian story.
The opposition’s Free Syrian army leader Qassem Saad A-Din announced that his forces are committed to putting down their arms on April 10 as promised to Kofi Annan, international envoy to Syria, the Qatar-based news channel Al-Jazeera reports.
But a similar commitment was less clear from the government’s side, as Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jamal Maqdisi introduced a new condition Sunday. The London-based daily Al-Hayat reports that the government is now demanding a written commitment from the “terrorist gangs” that they will hand over their weapons to the government all across Syria. The government also demands a written commitment from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to stop arming and funding the opposition.
“Assad refuses to withdraw his forces after the stay, and uses Mig airplanes,” reads the headline of Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat. The article is accompanied by a photo taken from an opposition website depicting a thick plume of black smoke rising from the Al-Qusur neighborhood of Homs.
Al-Hayat columnist Abdullah Iskandar doubts that Annan’s deadline will bring an end to government violence against opposition forces.
“This is not due to the opposition’s refusal … to speak to the current Syrian administration … but because of this administration’s interpretation of the [current] stage. It is convinced that it does not need to deliver any concessions not delivered in the past, and that the military solution that it adopted since the start of the opposition movement is the best solution.”
Meanwhile, Saudi-owned news website Elaph reports that Syrian refugees are becoming a growing burden on neighboring countries. The Elaph reporter notes how difficult it is to obtain an exact number of Syrian refugees, with estimates ranging from 9,000 (the number registered with the UN) to 90,000 displaced citizens.
Turkey has borne the main brunt of the refugee wave coming from Syria. But Lebanon, which received some 16,000 refugees, fears for the future of its gentle demographic balance. Elaph reports that some pro-Syrian politicians in Lebanon are calling the refugees criminals and terrorists and calling for their deportation.
Iran and its nuclear ambitions
It is unclear whether Turkey will be hosting the next round of talks on Iran’s nuclear program, Al-Hayat reports Monday.
An editorial in the Arab nationalist daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, however, claims that Israel is preparing an imminent attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities. The editor focuses on recent statements by Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu about the possibility of confrontation.
“We cannot rule out the possibility of this being psychological warfare, but at the same time it is clear that Israel harbors animosity towards Iran and the region in general. So when Barak rules out the effectiveness of sanctions … we should expect an attack on Iran before the end of this year.”
Saddam’s deputy returns to the screen to warn against Iran
Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, Saddam Hussein’s deputy, appeared on screen Sunday for the first time since 2003 to warn the world against Iranian intervention in Iraq, the Arab media reports widely on Monday.
Evoking ancient Arab fears of Persian expansionism, Al-Douri warned in the short video clip against “the Persian project in Iraq.”
Al-Jazeera reminds its readers that Al-Douri is No. 6 on the American list of 55 wanted Iraqi officials. A senior member of Saddam’s Baath, Al-Douri remains in hiding with a 10-million-dollar bounty on his head.
Meanwhile, Elaph reports Monday that nine years after the American invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein, sectarian divides remain the biggest concern for Iraqis. The article claims Iraqi politicians take advantage of sectarian cleavages in society for their own political benefit.
Mahmoud Abbas meets Italian PM
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas took advantage of an official visit of Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti to send a number of political messages to Israel, which are reported in the Palestinian media Monday.
The headline of PA mouthpiece Al-Ayyam includes Abbas’s promise that the Palestinians will continue to seek recognition as a state in the United Nations. Abbas told Monti that the UN bid is not a unilateral move and does not preclude returning to negotiations with Israel. Al-Hayat Al-Jadidah, another official PA daily, leads with a rather bland quote from Monti’s speech, whereby Italy is “committed to a just and lasting peace based on the two state solution.”
“When will the Palestinian Spring emerge?” asks Al-Ayyam columnist Talal Okal Monday. He writes that the return of American envoy David Hill to the region “does not bear any news of a change in Israeli-Palestinian relations.” Coming in an official PA daily, this position reflects the Abbas government’s low expectations that American involvement in the peace process will yield results.