x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

The Friends of Syria will send messages

A meeting in Tunisia will express solidarity with the people and will criticise the regime, an Arabic-language columnist says. Today's other topics: Hamas and Yemen.

When the Friends of Syria meet in Tunisia, look for messages to the regime, and to the people

The Syrian people need more than the statements of support that have been given so far, said columnist Othman Mirghani in the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat.

The Damascus regime has proved its willingness to fight and kill to hold on to power. No amount of diplomatic boycott or economic sanctions seems to deter it, especially while regional and international allies are ready to support it.

"In fact, the regime is drawing some encouragement from the division in positions on all levels towards the crisis," the writer said. "Internally, the opposition is anything but united. It lacks the required coordination for this situation and suffers from internal conflicts and competition."

All the while, the people continue to pay a steep price with the escalation of authority-led violence. In addition, a sizeable part of the Syrian people still supports the regime.

On another level, sectarian factors are controlling the regional response to the bloodshed in Syria. Some Arab countries are explicitly supporting the regime on various pretexts of rejection of foreign interference, fear of civil war and even fear for Arab regional security.

Internationally, despite a few optimistic interpretations of the Russian and Chinese diplomatic rounds and statements justifying the use of their veto power to foil the Arab initiative in Syria recently, there has been no evidence revealing that these countries would go back on their positions. Both insist on an internal settlement.

Considering this complicated reality, what can be expected from the Friends of Syria meeting in Tunis this Friday?

"Direct military intervention is off the table," Mr Mirghani wrote. "Beyond the Chinese and Russian opposition to it, the majority of western states, from the US to the UK, also reject this option."

The more likely option then is indirect military intervention through provision of support to the Syrian opposition. Such a step isn't necessarily safe; it could push the situation into a civil war and nothing guarantees that it would succeed in tipping the balance of power.

Reliance on economic and diplomatic boycotts alone will not suffice to shake the Syrian regime and bring a quick solution. What is required is a blend of more severe sanctions, support to the opposition and humanitarian aid. The possibility of a political solution must be kept under consideration too, under Arab and international supervision.

"These are the challenges that the Friends of Syria meeting will face. Its messages must be clear and strong: one of deterrence to the Syrian regime and another to the Syrian people assuring them that the world will not turn a blind eye to their continuing suffering."

Divisions threaten Hamas in Gaza

The Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas is going through a tumultuous internal crisis, the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi said in its editorial.

The disagreement began against the backdrop of the recent Doha agreement between the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, representing Fatah, and Khalid Meshaal, the head of Hamas's political bureau.

Disputes within the political bureau are not new. They began months, even years, before the Doha accord. It was clear that the harmony between Mr Meshaal and members of the bureau in Gaza - especially Mahmoud Al Zahar, Hamas' strongman there - was all but lost.

Leaked reports suggest deep schisms over strategic issues such as the political settlement and the relationship with Iran.

Mr Meshaal infuriated Hamas hardliners by hinting at support for peaceful resistance, which brings him closer to Mr Abbas.

The divisions are said to have reached the military wing of Hamas, where one side seems to support Mr Meshaal and the other Mr Al Zahar.

These are issues to be discussed at the bureau's meeting in Cairo in the coming days. "Now more than any time before, Hamas needs solidarity and union. The Israeli threats to invade Gaza are growing fiercer every day and the entire region is on the verge of a war that may redefine its geographic and demographic borders," concluded the paper.

Yemen's election could not be derailed

Bloody attempts to obstruct the presidential elections in Yemen couldn't keep the people from participating in this event, the UAE-based newspaper Al Bayan said in an editorial, calling the vote the culmination of an entire year's revolution.

"Violent attempts to hinder the peaceful transition of power revealed premeditated intent," said the paper. "Those who attacked polling stations with hand grenades weren't objecting to certain policies, but to the very existence of a state."

There have been actors in Yemen that once opposed former president Ali Abdullah Saleh's hijacking of power, and unity between north and south. But Tuesday's elections marked the departure of Mr Saleh as a southerner acceded to the presidency. So those actors no longer have any grounds for rejecting the political process and unity.

Resorting to violence brought to light the separatist intentions that many still harbour, regardless of the rare political transformation that is taking place in this tribal and highly armed country.

"It is clear that there are a few who are saddened by Yemen's course towards stability. They wagered on an insoluble dilemma that would serve their interests, but Mr Saleh's acquiescence to the GCC-backed deal dispelled their fantasies."

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk