A Syrian army defector reveals that the security police are in charge, and soldiers are defecting, an Arabic-language paper reports. Other opinion comment deals with famine in Somalia, settlemetns in the West Bank, and justice in Egypt
Police run Syria, defector says
Ahmed Khalaf, an officer who recently defected from the special forces of the Syrian army, told the pan-Arab Asharq Al Awsat newspaper yesterday that national security chiefs "are the ones who are effectively in control in Syria".
Lieutenant Khalaf, who served in the Syrian army for 10 years, said the military itself is "completely" subject to the security apparatus, adding that Syrian prisons are filled with hundreds of army officers who refused to open fire on civilians.
Lt Khalaf, who asked Asharq Al Awsat not to indicate the place where the interview took place, stated that about 4,500 soldiers have defected in Damascus alone so far.
"Other officers and myself have received orders … to execute mass murder operations in Deraa, without sparing the lives of women and children," Lt Khalaf was quoted as saying.
"The orders were very clear … the battalion commander ordered us to kill everybody [in Deraa], including women. And when one of the officers raised an objection, the commander scolded him saying that women will be the first ones to point the guerrillas to your whereabouts."
Lt Khalaf reportedly told troops under his command not to fire at civilians, which was reason enough, he said, for higher-ups to issue an instruction to eliminate him. He managed to flee Syrian territories in time.
More will die unless world acts on Somalia
It seems that the international community has got used to waiting for crises to turn into catastrophes before deciding to take action, the Emirati newspaper Al Bayan stated in its editorial on Friday.
"After the worst humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa in decades, the situation in Somalia has indeed reached a calamitous stage. In the past three months, 29,000 Somali children have perished, while one million others are facing the same fate, as the scale of the famine is increasing," the newspaper said.
International organisations are being slow when they should be most prompt.
Blaming the security situation in Somali territories to justify inaction is not acceptable, because time costs lives in this case.
"Hundreds of thousands of Africans, most of whom are children, will be dying every month," the newspaper said, if international relief efforts remain this timid.
The current crisis in Somalia is not transient; it is not just a matter of seasonal drought that will naturally fix itself.
Rather, this crisis is just one result of the international community's decades-long neglect of this part of the world.
"Superpowers have grown to deal with this region as a security zone in which some outlaws ought to be neutralised … Other than that, it is to be left alone, mired in its own mess."
As usual, Israel will scoff at everyone
As the world is busy watching the developments of the Arab Spring and the US debt crisis, Israel has once again readied blueprints for thousands of residential units to be built on occupied territories in Jerusalem, the Ramallah-based newspaper Al Quds said in its editorial yesterday.
The current talk about backstage efforts meant to revive the defunct peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis is just froth, the paper said. It is just an attempt to create a false reality parallel to the unadorned facts-on-the-ground truth, which is the sound of bulldozers munching on more Palestinian land and disfiguring Jerusalem as Arabs and Muslims know it.
"This dismal picture reconfirms one thing: Israel is not after peace. As is its wont, Israel is not only ridiculing its supposed Palestinian partner in the peace process, it is also mocking the Arab-Muslim world and the wider international community," Al Quds added.
Sure, regional and international reactions denouncing Tel Aviv's latest settlement plans were quick to come. But, so what? Weak as it is, Israel's argument that it suffers from a housing crisis will unduly eclipse all denunciations. Not because the argument is solid, but because the condemnations are essentially ceremonial.
Even the Quartet (US, EU, Russia and UN), which is supposed to be the guarantor of the peace process, is out of words, and ideas.
But can we try an incumbent president?
"The most precious achievement of the Egyptian revolution is not that an ousted president is being tried, it is that the people will one day be able to prosecute an incumbent president without having to revolt and lose blood on the street," commented Saeed Shuaib, a columnist with the Egyptian daily Al Wafd.
The trial of the ousted president Hosni Mubarak is a big accomplishment; there is no question about it. This is the first time Egyptians have brought a former president to justice, the writer said. But "former presidents" have been a rarity in Egypt, anyway.
The first Egyptian president after King Farouk's ouster, Mohammed Naguib, was forced out of office by the Free Officers led by Gamal Abdul Nasser. Anwar Al Sadat succeeded Nasser after his death, before being assassinated himself. So Mr Mubarak is the first "former president" in Egypt to be questioned by a prosecutor and brought to court.
"But this is only the beginning of a long road called freedom," the writer said.
"Let's not be dazzled by joy now that Mr Mubarak and his sons are in jail … What is more important is to work together to reserve the legal and constitutional right to try any president while he is still in office."
* Digest compiled by Achraf A El Bahi