The Syrian Army continued to pound rebel positions in Aleppo and Damascus as civilians try desperately to evacuate the cities. Unknown Libyans attacked the International Committee of the Red Cross compound in Misrata, the fifth such attack in three months. And Islamist extremists attacked an Egyptian check point on the border to Gaza, killing at least 15 Egyptian officers.
Just another bad weekend in the Middle East.
The al-Assad regime is intent on wiping out the rebels at all costs, and destroying huge parts of their three largest cities is no deterrent to their goal. When this civil war ends, it will take years, if not decades to rebuild Syria. There is very little in this world as outright stupid as a leader who allows himself to be isolated from the reality of his nation by his “advisors” and “counselors.” Bashar al-Assad has allowed those advisors and counselors to drive him to destroying his own country to prevent their loss of power. The only good thing going on right now in Syria is the presence, finally, of outside journalists who are managing to avoid being tracked and attacked by the Syrian army, who can tell the world what is really going on. For too long, the only information sources have been the official government media and the “opposition activists”who have been subject to suspicion and doubt. Now, we can finally see the facts without the propaganda. All of these outside journalists are reporting the same thing – there is no al Qaida presence in the rebellion, there is widespread public support of the rebels and they are only now beginning to receive arms from Turkey.
In Libya, the ICRC has withdrawn its staffs from Misrata and Benghazi following repeated attacks by unknown forces. No group is taking credit for the assaults on Red Cross facilities. At present, there are rumors that any NGO of Western origin is working for either NATO or the CIA, making the situation very dangerous for these aid groups.
The attack this weekend on the ICRC compound in Misrata involved rockets and rocket-propelled grenades. None of the staff were injured, but the compound was severely damaged. Ishfaq Muhamed Khan, head of the ICRC’s delegation in Libya issued the following statement, “Given the circumstances, we are forced to announce, with considerable regret, that we will be suspending all our activities in Misrata and Benghazi and that our delegates in those cities will be temporarily relocated. We are appalled by this latest act and by the deliberate targeting of our staff. They have put their lives at risk to serve the Libyan people both during and after the conflict.” The ICRC has a mandate to provide humanitarian aid in armed conflicts, but the fact that it is a Western organization works against it in many areas.
There is an Arab affiliate of the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, and the intelligent thing in these Muslim countries afflicted with sectarian conflict would be for the ICRC to work through the Red Crescent to provide aid. It is not enough for ICRC spokesman Jean-Yves Clemenzo to say in Geneva that “The ICRC is not involved in political or religious activities of any kind, neither in Libya nor anywhere else.” Facts are never as important as perceptions in situations like this.
Israel has been on high alert on two fronts because of the Arab Spring. They are uneasy about the electoral victories of the Muslim Brotherhood in Eygpt and the civil war in Syria has already resulted in one diversion tactic by the Assad regime months ago at the occupied Golan Heights during which over 20 people died.
On Saturday, Israeli troops wounded a man who approached the border fence with wire cutters. He was taken away by three accomplices. Lieutenant-Colonel Avital Leibovich, Israeli military spokeswoman, dismissed suggestions that he might have been seeking asylum from the civil war. There have apparently been several such attempts at cutting the fence in recent weeks. Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz said in January that preparations were being made in the Golan to deal with Alawite refugees if the al-Assad regime should lose the rebellion, though it is unclear why the Alawites would choose Israel over Lebanon for refuge.
It was the border between Gaza and Egypt however that saw serious violence this weekend. A group of Islamic extremists seized an army tank and attacked an Egyptian police checkpoint station at the Rafah border crossing. Fifteen police officers were reported killed. The Israeli Defence Force and Shin Bet (internal security agency) responded immediately on the Israeli side of the border to prevent the attackers crossing into Gaza.
The Egyptian state news agency reported that the attackers came from Gaza through the smuggling tunnels under the border to carry out the attack. They were reinforced by Jihadis from the Sinai. Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi immediately called a meeting of his military council.
Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group that holds political power in Gaza condemned the attack and shut down the tunnels from the Gaza side, and extended their condolences to the families of the Egyptian officers.
Details of the attack have been released. A group of men drove SUVs into one of the checkpoints near Rafah. They seized the tank to attack the barracks there, killing 15 and wounding 7. The then progressed to the checkpoint at Kerem Shalom, where Egypt, Israel and Gaza intersect, and the vehicles came under fire there. One vehicle exploded during an exchange of fire and the second was destroyed by the Israeli airforce. Israeli residents in communities east of the Gaza Strip have been advised to remain in their homes until the entire area has been swept for terrorists. A pair of men on a motorcycle were shot at earlier, with one dead and the other in custody. Both the Egyptians and Israelis have sealed the border area.
The Sinai peninsula has been attracting jihadis in recent months, since the removal of Hosni Mubarak. Both Hamas in Gaza and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are considered too moderate by the extreme fundamentalist Salafis, who have grown in influence and presence across North Africa since the Tunisian revolution at the start of 2011. The Salafis present the greatest threat to the establishment of new governments in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.