x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Will Assad fall into a trap?

If the Syrian regime blocks or even injures the new UN observers, the move will backfire, an Arabic-language commentator says. Other topics today: hunger strikes in Israeli jails, and gender selection by Arab couples.

Syrian regime will hurt itself if it interferes with the UN-mandated observer mission

Very few people, if any, would bet on the success of the United Nations observers in their current mission in Syria. But even if they fail, the Syrian regime will suffer significantly, commented Abdul Rahman Al Rashed of the London-based newspaper Asharq Al Awsat, in his column yesterday.

Six UN observers landed in Damascus on Sunday as part of a six-pronged peace plan brokered by Kofi Annan, the joint UN and Arab League envoy to Syria.

The plan is intended to help the international community assess the real situation in Syria with a view to bringing to an end 13 months of violence - mostly inflicted by the government of President Bashar Al Assad - and reaching out to the communities that have been most affected.

"The predictable failure of the UN mission might turn out to be the Achilles heel of the Assad regime," the columnist said.

The number of observers will still be small after they are joined by the remaining 244 UN monitors.

But every one of them is familiar with the poor record of the Syrian regime when it comes to facilitating the missions of foreign observers.

The first mission to go to Syria after the violence started was deployed by the Arab League. It lasted a month and failed miserably, in large part because it was led by Lt Gen Mohammed Al Dabi, a Sudanese general closely associated with Omar Bashir, the president of Sudan, who is a firm supporter of the Assad regime in Syria.

Not only that, Gen Al Dabi has been accused of involvement in some of the massacres that the Sudanese territory of Darfur has seen over the years, the columnist said.

The UN mission is a bit different. "It consists of a mixture of UN monitors, led by a Moroccan colonel, and they all have experience as professional observers."

Now, Mr Al Assad's regime, having managed to get away with so many months of violence with relative impunity, has gained a sinister sense of self-confidence and might dare to intimidate or even hurt these monitors. Doing that, on the other hand, might only lead it to its own undoing, the writer said.

"The Syrian regime will then be simply laying a big trap for itself to fall into," he added.

"Standing in the way of monitors will be a grave mistake: these monitors are mandated by UN Security Council resolution No. 2042 … The resolution explicitly says that monitors must be given free access and, more seriously, that 'other steps' would be taken if Damascus fails to comply."

The Assad regime does not lack cunning. It might put the lives of the UN monitors in jeopardy and blame it on the rebels.

"But that won't fly," the columnist said in conclusion. "The international community knows better by now."

Palestinians will go hungry in Israeli jails

About five thousand Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails were set yesterday to start an open-ended hunger strike intended both as a challenge to Israeli authority and a show of support to efforts to reconcile the two main rival Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, according to an editorial in the West Bank-based newspaper Al Quds yesterday.

Palestinian prisoners from both factions, in addition to members of the Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, have signed a document pledging to start the strike on Palestinian Prisoners' Day, which falls on April 17.

"These prisoners, who are suffering from the hardship of imprisonment and the arrogance of their jailers, can see from that vantage point how Israeli occupation thrives amid Palestinian division," the paper said. "And so they have explicitly called for Palestinian division to stop."

Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Fatah in the West Bank fell out in the aftermath of parliamentary elections in 2006, which the former won. All reconciliation efforts have ever since failed to bring them to set up a unity government.

"Pre-emptively, Israeli authorities launched a warning campaign, threatening the strikers with new punitive measures," the paper said. "But we are confident that as long as they stand united … they will be able to overcome this and future challenges."

Arab women may soon become 'extinct'

With the new scientific discovery that enables parents to predetermine the gender of their babies through a laboratorial manipulation of spermatozoa, Arab women might be facing the prospect of going extinct, wrote columnist Jaafar Abbas in a satirical piece for the Bahraini newspaper AkhbarAl Khaleej yesterday.

"The clinics that perform that procedure will soon be bombarded by a huge number of Arab applicants, all desirous of sustaining the ancestral tradition of burying girls alive," he said.

"For Arab men … the fate of a wife who gives birth to girls only is clear: divorce, or accepting to live with a second wife," he added sardonically. "You see, women are guilty of it all and men are completely innocent!"

You may have heard the story, earlier this year, of the man who - helped by his mother - killed his wife because she bore him a baby girl. "Never mind that his mother was a baby girl herself one day," the writer said.

But look at the bright side. Imagine so many Arab men electing to have boys only. Over time, Arab women will become a precious rarity. "You will have poets singing the many beauties of Arab women in their 70s," the writer went on.

So you see, Arab women will win, after all!

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi