x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Reactions varied from optimistic to defeatist after the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, reached a deal last Saturday to avert a US strike against Syria. Other Digest topics: Libya, Ansar Bayt al Maqdis

Reactions varied from optimistic to defeatist after the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, reached a deal last Saturday to avert a US strike against Syria.

The Saudi columnist Abdul Rahman Al Rashed wrote in the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat: “Despite the frustrations, a light looms today at the end of the tunnel, heralding the imminent demise of the Assad regime.”

He deemed that the regime’s chemical attack that left 1,400 Syrian civilians dead last month has indeed accelerated its downfall.

The international bid to rid Mr Al Assad of his chemical arsenal is in practice a move to drive him out of power under the banner of a peaceful solution.

The writer went on to say that it was Moscow, Mr Al Assad’s ally, that proposed to throw him out of power by the end of the year, ahead of the next presidential elections in Syria.

Mr Al Assad’s chemical offensive provoked Washington’s outrage and made it threaten to resort to punitive measures.

Russia seems to have finally given up on Mr Al Assad; hopes that he can win the war have dwindled significantly despite the massive support he has received from Russia, Iran, Hizbollah and some Iraqi factions.

The Arab-French-British alliance supporting the Syrian opposition has stepped up its performance at the political and military levels.

Meanwhile the pan-Arab daily Al Quds Al Arabi was seeing the consequences of the US-Russian deal in a different light.

In its editorial on Monday, the paper said that the deal gives Mr Al Assad a safety line and wards off the threat of a military strike that would have signalled the beginning of the end for his term in power and for his regime.

“The Geneva agreement was bad news for the Syrian opposition that was hoping that the military strike against the regime would tip the balance of war in its favour.

“Instead, the regime was given sufficient time to press ahead with the killings and perhaps wipe out the opposition,” the paper suggested.

The few months that were agreed upon to dispose of the Assad regime’s chemical weapons may not be sufficient. Experts confirm that the process of disposing of such chemical weapons may take between seven and 10 years, since it requires building special infrastructure in Syria as set out in the provisions of the international agreement.

“US moves following the chemical attack focused on the chemical weapons although the victims in that attack make up a mere 2 per cent of all fatalities to date in the Syrian war,” the paper noted.

“What this means is that the US isn’t concerned with Syrian victims, but rather with the strategic weapons that may threaten Israelis in nearby Galilee.”

Foreign businesses and media shun Libya

“Libyans arriving in London – and I have met many of them – have incredible stories to tell about their country, from a capital left with no water or electricity for a whole week to armed militias becoming the actual rulers in light of the government’s deficiency,” wrote Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the recently launched news website Rai Al Youm.

Two years ago, when Nato forces were helping Libyan rebels topple and kill Col Muammar Qaddafi, the country’s dictator of 40 years, British and French corporate executives were “rubbing their hands”, the editor said, in anticipation of the juicy deals they would be able to clinch out of Libya’s multi-bullion dollar oil industry.

“Sure enough, they packed their suitcases and were off to Libya, to get involved in the country’s reconstruction and take advantage of oil revenues estimated at $60 billion a year,” the editor said.

“Today, however, not a single foreign businessman or investor can be found in Libya,” he wrote. “The same is true of all the international satellite news channels, including Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, that have trumpeted day in, day out, the Libyan sensation and the great victory of Nato forces and the rebels.”

It’s as if Libya’s story ends when the oil pumps, now largely controlled by different militias, grind to a stop, he said.

Who makes up this Ansar Bayt Al Maqdis?

It seems no one really knows very much about the group called Ansar Bayt Al Maqdis, wrote Waheed Abdul Majeed in Egypt’s Al Ahram newspaper yesterday.

“I don’t know how much information the security services have on this Ansar Bayt Al Maqdis group, which has played a pivotal role in the wave of violence that escalated in Egypt since the arrest of President Mohammed Morsi. Researchers and experts specialising in violent movements know very little about them, because the group is so new”, the author said.

It is not until mid-2011 that the group became known to the media, by bombing pipelines taking oil from Egypt to Israel, he wrote. This month the group has claimed responsibility for an assassination attempt against the Egyptian interior minister, after conducting the most serious acts of violence in Sinai in recent weeks.

“But the group’s young age does not mean that its members are new to violence,” the author observed. “What little information there is about them confirms that they have emerged, in their majority, from their parent organisation in Sinai, which is Tawheed and Jihad, a group that started operations towards the end of the last century. That is why they have the expertise to conduct important terrorist acts.”

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi