Arabic media review

First armed clashes between Jordanian and Syrian armies

Syrian opposition reportedly executes pro-Assad prisoners and the military will continue to manipulate Egypt’s new government, Arab press reports

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Free Syrian Army soldiers sit on a sidewalk at the northern town of Sarmada, August 1, 2012 (photo credit: AP)
Free Syrian Army soldiers sit on a sidewalk at the northern town of Sarmada, August 1, 2012 (photo credit: AP)

Battles raging in Syria’s two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, dominate Arabic language news Thursday, with unsettling photos of terrified bloodied prisoners caught by the Free Syrian Army spread across the front pages.

Qatar-based Al-Jazeera reports armed clashes between the Jordanian and Syrian armies early Thursday morning in the Deraa province of Syria, near the Jordanian city of Ramtha. According to the report, around 1 a.m. a sudden exchange of fire erupted between the two armies, accompanied by a power cut on the Jordanian side. Eyewitnesses in Jordan told the channel they heard ambulance sirens near the border, but could not report any casualties.

The clashes erupted just hours after Jordan’s King Abdullah visited his forces at the border. Al-Jazeera features a photo of the king in full army fatigues debriefing the soldiers. The king is scheduled to meet US Defense Minister Leon Panetta Thursday upon his arrival from Israel.

“Battles intensify in Aleppo and return to Damascus and the Free Syrian Army denies the involvement of al-Qaeda,” reads the headline of London-based daily Al-Hayat. The daily reports that for the first time, fighting has reached the Christian neighborhoods of Damascus Wednesday, following the assassination of a government intelligence officer.

Meanwhile, a Free Syrian Army colonel, Abdul Jabbar Akidi, tells Al-Hayat that no non-Syrians are fighting on the side of the opposition, refuting rumors that al-Qaeda members or other jihadists have entered the country to fight Assad.

A Free Syrian Army colonel, Abdul Jabbar Akidi, tells Al-Hayat that no non-Syrians are fighting on the side of the opposition, refuting rumors that Al-Qaeda members or other Jihadists have entered the country to fight Assad

“Airplanes bomb Aleppo and Assad considers it a fateful battle,” reads the headline of Saudi-owned and staunchly anti-Assad daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat. This is the first time that fighter jets, rather than helicopters, are reported to be used in the fighting. Meanwhile, the daily reports that the establishment of a board of trustees, a mock opposition government based in Cairo and led by veteran oppositionist Haitham Maleh, is tearing apart the opposition.

For the first time, London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi, always slightly skeptical of the opposition, openly attacks the opposition forces in its top headline, claiming that they have been executing government loyalists and thugs (Shabiha) in Aleppo. The daily reports that a video showing summary executions, the authenticity of which could not be verified, was uploaded to YouTube.

“The Syrian regime perpetrated bloodier massacres, and its thugs committed worse executions — there is not doubt about that. But the Free Syrian Army and other opposition factions should set a different — an opposite — moral example to that of the regime,” writes editor-in-chief Abd Al-Bari Atwan.

Dubai-based news channel Al-Arabiya claims, based on American TV reports, that US President Barack Obama has signed a secret order to supply American aid to Syrian rebels. The order would allow the CIA to act immediately on Syria, the channel claims.

A-Sharq Al-Awsat editor-in-chief Tariq Homayed claims Thursday that a photo depicting US President Barack Obama holding a baseball bat during a conversation with the Turkish prime minister was intended to send a clear message to Bashar Assad, a reference to the recommendation made by his predecessor,Theodore Roosevelt, to “speak softly and carry a big stick.”

“What is need from the American administration is actions, not words,” writes Homayed. While Obama’s photo holding the bat reminds of Roosevelt’s saying, his policy on Syria reminds us of another famous American expression: ‘They talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk.'”

Egyptian government sworn in

The swearing-in of the Egyptian government Thursday is being widely covered by the Arab press.

A spokesman for the Salafist Nour party tells A-Sharq Al-Awsat that his party refused to join the new government in protest against President Morsi’s “breaking of promises” regarding the number of ministerial portfolios designated for them.

‘Military commanders’ “long arm” was involved in selecting the influential ministries’

Al-Hayat claims that although the new government of Hisham Kandil is mostly composed of technocrats, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces will continue to control the influential portfolios.

“Military commanders’ ‘long arm’ was involved in selecting the influential ministries,” writes the daily. “Foreign Minister Muhammad Kamal Amr and Finance Minister Mumtaz Sa’id will continue in the new government, and Major General Ahmad Gamal A-Din… who repeatedly attacked the revolution in parliament was chosen as interior minister,” writes the daily.

Meanwhile, the establishment daily Al-Ahram reports Thursday that a number of Egyptian politicians are demanding that the budget of the military, the highest government expenditure, be debated in secret sessions in the parliament. Other Egyptian commentators oppose the debate in parliament, saying the data presented is too secret to be exposed there.

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