x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Annan's Syria mission seems doomed

Syrian stalling tactics have drained the hope out of Kofi Annan's mission to Damascus, an Arabic-language commentator says. Other topics today: talks between the Sudans, and a test of strength in Gaza.

Kofi Annan's mission in Syria seems doomed to failure as Al Assad employs stall tactics

The UN envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, received President Bashar Al Assad's response to his proposals; they turned out to need more review and new definitions followed by other clarifications. This means Mr Annan will simply have to wait until the regime is done with its military clampdown on the pro-democracy protests throughout Syria, opined Rajeh El Khouri, a columnist with the Lebanese daily Annahar.

This could explain why the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, warned Mr. Annan not to fall for the manoeuvres Mr Al Assad may try to stall. But, awaiting Mr Al Assad's response, what could Mr Annan do but say: "There are other solutions at the disposal of the international community"?

Withdrawal of military forces, allowing peaceful protests and launching a serious dialogue under the patronage of the Arab League and the UN - these are Mr Annan's three proposals to the Syrian president. But only a few hours after he had left Damascus, the attempts to scuttle his mission had started.

Moscow immediately responded to the first item on the agenda: its foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, stipulated that the withdrawal must be simultaneous for both sides. What's more, Mr Lavrov called for international observers to monitor the withdrawal, which would allow the regime an extended time to practice the military solution until the end, as the formation of a monitoring panel would be a lengthy mission in itself.

"This goes against Mr Lavrov's criticism of Mr Al Assad before the Duma for delaying the reforms. It all seems now like an attempt to maintain the semblance of concord with the Arab nations," said the writer.

On another level, Damascus and Moscow tried to divide Mr Annan's mission in two: its Arab side that calls on Mr Al Assad to step down and transfer power to his deputy, as per the Arab initiative in January, and its international side that is still incapable of adopting the Arab decision, due to the Russian-Chinese veto.

This explains the confusion that surrounded another item, the one which links Mr Annan's mission to the League's decision pressing Mr Al Assad to step down, following Mr Lavrov's meeting with the Arab ministers.

"It was obvious, for along with the military escalation aimed at curbing the opposition, the announcement of a date for parliamentary elections came to confirm that Mr Annan's mission would be nothing more than a tourist trip on the margin of the bloodbaths," opined the writer. "Especially since none of the other solutions he cited are clear."

The Qatari foreign minister said that the Arab League will not go back to square one and spend months in additional talks. Neither the Syrians nor the world can wait any longer. Time is of the essence.

Time is now for talks between Sudans

The rapidly increasing disputes between North and South Sudan threaten to take the situation in both countries to what it was before the Nefasha Peace Accord in 2005 that ended the war between the two warring sides, the Saudi daily Al Watan warnedin its editorial on Thursday.

"Since the Sudanese president stated last month that the atmosphere between his country and South Sudan is closer to war than it is to peace, the pace of verbal assaults and the battle of statements and counterstatements have yet to calm down," said the daily.

The Juba government accuses Khartoum of seeking to bring down the system in the South by supporting southern militias to cause troubles that could eventually exhaust the newly formed state. At the same time, Khartoum claims that Juba is providing logistics support for the northern province's popular movement's militants and to Darfur insurgents to escalate armed clashes in many areas.

"The continuous beating of drums of war by both sides will only jeopardise the great achievements in security and development. An explosion of the situation would be catastrophic this time around in view of the economic bind both countries are in."

North Sudan and South Sudan must work at their differences through a constructive dialogue and the international community must support the efforts.

Gaza attacks tested Hamas and Israel

It is safe to say that Israel's recent aggression on the Gaza Strip was a multifaceted test for both the Israelis and the Palestinians, said the columnist Hussam Kanafani in the Sharjah-based daily Al Khaleej.

"It was a test to gauge the military and political facts of the next confrontation, especially under Hamas's rule and the visible transformation in its performance," he said.

On the Israeli side, the test begins with the Iron Dome. Israeli media focused on its efficiency as a crucial element in countering the Palestinian resistance's missiles, or at least 70 per cent of them. In fact, many Israeli analysts said that the whole purpose of the aggression was to test the dome's success.

The Palestinians, on their side, took it as an opportunity to gauge the balance of power on the ground and the political considerations that ruled the conduct of the various factions of the resistance during the four days of the Israeli escalation.

"The outcome of these days ... was the emergence of a new star in the Palestinian scene, named the Islamic Jihad Movement, as its Al Quds Brigades took it upon themselves to fire the biggest number of missiles onto Israeli colonies adjacent to the strip," the writer added.



* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem