Iranians and Syrians released in Damascus
Arabic media review

Iranians and Syrians released in Damascus

Abbas and Mashaal talk the talk in Cairo, but will they walk the walk?

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

In this photo provided by the Turkish Islamic aid group IHH, the group's chairman, Bulent Yildirim right, speaks with freed Syrian prisoners in Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 (photo credit: AP/IHH)
In this photo provided by the Turkish Islamic aid group IHH, the group's chairman, Bulent Yildirim right, speaks with freed Syrian prisoners in Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 (photo credit: AP/IHH)

A prisoner swap between Syria’s government and opposition, releasing 48 Iranians held by the Free Syrian Army, leads the news in many Arab dailies on Thursday.

Displaying a photo of the released prisoners being greeted by Iranian clerics in a Damascus hotel Wednesday, Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat reports that the Iranians, who were captured some six months ago, have been exchanged for 2,126 Syrian civilians arrested by the Assad regime.

Four Turkish citizens were also released as part of the deal, mediated by the Turkish Islamic relief organization IHH (of Mavi Marmara notoriety). Iran’s Fars News agency reported that the men were “Turkish pilots,” a claim denied by the Turkish foreign ministry.

Meanwhile, Arab dailies are quoting an unusually harsh statement by international envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, who said that Syrians wish to end the rule of the Assad family. Brahimi’s statement leads the London-based Al-Hayat‘s Syria coverage, alongside a photo of Syrian women released from prison as part of the swap.

Al-Hayat quotes a senior American diplomat, whom it does not name, as defending the American decision to brand the opposition Nusra Front a terror organization. According to the official, by intimidating the Alawite minority in Syria regarding the day after President Bashar Assad’s fall, the Nusra Front achieves the exact opposite of what the US wishes to achieve, namely to reassure minorities in Syria that they will be safe in any political deal.

Al-Hayat columnist Abdul Wahhab Badrakhan claims that the West failed the Syrian opposition when it officially recognized the opposition coalition but did not back up that support militarily.

‘It is shameful for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to blame the authorities in Ramallah and Gaza for not doing a thing for these [refugees] while not directing one word of blame toward Israel’

“What is needed is to confront the regime with an organized scenario for its downfall. No international intervention (Russian or Iranian) will suffice for its rescue, and there is no alternative for the regime’s survival. The only way to salvage the regime is to devise a plan to deport Assad and the 100-200 murderers to a safe haven with an international guarantee not to pursue and prosecute them,” writes Badrakhan, noting that the possibility of amnesty narrows the more the killing continues.

Abdul Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of Al-Quds Al-Arabi, bemoans the discrimination against Palestinian refugees in the Syrian conflict as compared to Syrians fleeing the fighting.

“When they [other Arab refugees] flee to neighboring Arab countries… they find open borders. The same is true for over two million Iraqis who fled to Syria and Jordan at the height of the sectarian violence in 2007… but the Palestinian encounters barriers and closed borders in most cases. Generous hosting Lebanon is the exception in the last wave of Palestinian flight from Syria.”

Atwan then goes on to accuse the UN of exempting Israel from responsibility for the Palestinian plight.

“It infuriates and angers us to hear voices in the West demanding that Arab states, and even the Hamas government in Gaza, absorb these [refugees] but not demanding the same of Israel, which stands behind the crime of deporting these refugees over sixty years ago,” writes Atwan.

“It is shameful for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to blame the authorities in Ramallah and Gaza for not doing a thing for these [refugees] while not directing one word of blame toward Israel.”

High hopes following Abbas-Mashaal meeting

A meeting in Cairo Wednesday between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal is being widely covered by Arab press.

Al-Hayat displays a photo of the two men smiling and warmly holding hands. The daily reports that Abbas is also scheduled to meet with Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Shalah in Cairo.

The editorial of Al-Quds Al-Arabi on Thursday accuses both sides of wasting time, arguing that reconciliation is already materializing on the ground, notably when Fatah and Hamas were each recently allowed to celebrate independence in territories held by the rival movement.

“We want misters Abbas and Mashaal to engage themselves in reinvigorating the Palestinian issue in the Arab and international arenas through a well-devised strategy,” writes the editor. “They must stop wasting time; their own time and the time of the Egyptian leadership, with routine meetings that contribute nothing to this issue.”

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