x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Baniyas slaughter shows what Al Assad plans

The mass killing at Baniyas is part of ethnic cleansing, or worse, to set up an Alawite enclave, a columnist argues. Other topics: Palestine and Iraq.

The massacre at Baniyas is just one in a series as the Assad regime pursues ethnic cleansing

Coastal areas in Syria were the scenes of two successive massacres of civilians last week in what was widely seen as part of a government-led campaign of sectarian cleansing, columnist Abdulrahman Al Rashed noted in the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

According to activists, 72 people were killed in the all-Sunni town of Al Bayda on Thursday. And at least 77 were killed in Baniyas the following day.

Baniyas is a coastal town with a population of just 50,000 people, a sectarian blend of Sunnis, Alawites and Christians.

Since the start of the anti-Assad revolution in Syria more than two years ago, Baniyas has been in the spotlight.

Its people were among the first to rise up in protest against the government, and the regime punished these people by segmenting the town and its neighbourhoods through intensified security checkpoints, the columnist pointed out.

Hence, he went on to say, most of the people of Baniyas had been practically under house arrest for the past two years of conflict.

"It isn't unnatural, in light of the tensions, that the town became a setting for sectarian demarcations," he wrote, especially since there are Alawites there.

The area is an extension of the president's sectarian area. This is significant: it was even reported that Mr Al Assad plans to establish an Alawite state in the mountainous area reaching to the coast," observed the writer.

If these reports of plans for an Alawite enclave prove to be true, they news from Baniyas can mean only that Mr Al Assad has plans for large-scale genocide or displacement to get rid of all of the area's Sunni inhabitants.

In fact, the atrocious massacres on Thursday and Friday did indeed drive out hundreds of families. The brutality with which the massacres were executed suggests that their ultimate aim is to terrorise people and encourage migration.

"The Baniyas and Al Bayda attacks were purely sectarian-driven. They confirm the regime's scheme to establish an independent state in the area," the writer asserted.

Tensions are not new in this area. For 30 years Baniyas inhabitants have been subjected to sectarian policies that drove both sides, the Sunnis and the Alawites, to live in a state of silent isolation and tension, the people of each camp siding vehemently with its respective sect.

"Thus, it was easy for the regime to stoke the coals of sedition to ignite the battle and cleanse the areas of villagers and towns inhabitants that have been living there, generation after generation, for centuries," noted the writer.

In view of the world's silence towards the atrocities in Syria, the Assad regime presses ahead with its plans undeterred, he concluded.

New proposal hurts Palestinian cause

An Arab League delegation visited Washington last week and submitted a revised and "softened" Middle East peace plan, one that would allow land swaps between Israelis and Palestinians in any future deal, said the London-based newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi in its editorial.

In his customary fashion the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, rejected the proposals. As always, his strategy is to push Arabs and Palestinians into offering concessions, and then to turn them down and ask for more, the editorial said.

"What is most alarming about these Arab proposals, or concessions, is that the Palestinian side, both in Gaza and the West Bank, wasn't consulted on them. This explains why Hamas denounced the initiative in a statement."

During talks with the former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, the Palestinian Authority never agreed on the percentage of land that could be swapped, especially because the proposals that were submitted at the time served only Israeli interests.

Israel would interpret the Arab League's consent over the land-swap principle as an acceptance of modification of the 1967 lines.

"We don't understand why the Arab League made such cheap concessions to Israel. It is indeed painful to watch the Palestinian liberation quest sink so low with a powerless authority that can no longer defend it," the paper concluded.

Cooperation needed for Iraq's stability

Until when will the state of turmoil continue in Iraq? This questioned was asked by the columnist Dr Shamlan Yussuf Al Issa, in the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper Al Ittihad.

It was once expected that Iraq would become a model for democracy and that its new leaders would seek to rebuild it and reconstruct its constitutional institutions.

"What happened in Iraq following the US withdrawal is living proof of the failure of Arab leaders and people to establish democracy," Al Issa said.

"Iraq, once a united nation, is being internally dismantled and shredded by different power-hungry factions and parties."

Sectarianism and religious partisanship, coupled with a lack of flexibility, have led to a dangerous deadlock that perpetuates sectarian violence.

In the absence of reforms and in light of widespread unemployment, there are growing fears that the internal Iraqi struggle may morph into a wider regional conflict.

If the Iraqi government is serious about finding a solution to its thorny issues, it would be best-advised to begin by revising the justice and equality law, which the Sunnis regard as discriminatory. The Sunnis, for their part, must cooperate with the government.

* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem