|Southwest Asia News Digest
Syrian Think Tank Features EIR in Feb. 13 Posting
In a Feb. 13 posting, a top Syrian think tank, the semi-official Data and Strategic Studies Center (DASC), featured Arabic translations of two articles from the Feb. 10 EIR: "Iran Showdown Is the Fuse for a Global Monetary Bomb," by Jeffrey Steinberg, and Muriel Mirak-Weissbach's "Shades of Sykes-Picot Accord Are Cast Over Southwest Asia." DASC also published in Arabic an abridged version of EIR's report on the background to the Danish cartoon affair, by Dean Andromidas, Michelle Rasmussen, and Tom Gillesberg.
These items, which have been circulating throughout the Arab world, have created a rush on the LaRouche Arabic-language website. Visits to the website increased sevenfold between Feb. 10 and Feb. 12. Reflections of the articles were visible in editorials and reports in many Arabic newspapers and discussion groups. The links to the articles on DASC are: www.dascsyriapress.net/ar/modules/news/article.php?storyid2901 (Steinberg); and www.dascsyriapress.net/ar/modules/news/article.php?storyid3282 (Mirak-Weissbach)
Hamas Moves Closer To Forming Government
Hamas is moving closer to forming a new Palestinian government. On Feb. 16, regional press reported that Ismail Haniyeh, the number one candidate on the Hamas election list, was named Prime Minister. Haniyeh is considered a pragmatist and has been a liaison between the movement and entities in the West.
Dr. Abed Al-Aziz Duaik, who is considered a moderate, will be sworn in on Feb. 18 as the new Speaker of the Palestinian Parliament.
"Hamas officials are representatives of the Palestinian nation, and Israel must recognize the new reality," Duaik told Israel Radio. He said Israel's efforts to organize an "economic embargo" were undemocratic.
Although Hamas would like a broad coalition government, Haniyeh has yet to form a government. Meanwhile, Fatah, the party of former President Yasser Arafat, and the Palestinian National Authority, since 1993, has, for the first time, signalled that it is willing to form a government with Hamas and has indicated its conditions.
Jibril Rajoub, security advisor to Palestinian President Abu Mazen and leading Fatah member, told the Associated Press that Fatah would be willing to join a Hamas-led government under certain conditions. "The decision of Fatah to participate in any Hamas led government is linked to their acceptance of the signed agreements and all the laws that govern Palestinian society that ensure the freedom of individuals to live in dignity and rule of law," said Rajoub.
Rajoub said it was not necessary for Hamas to officially recognize Israel, since the Palestinian Liberation Organization has not. The latter has only recognized the right of Israel to exist, and Israel has yet to recognize a Palestinian state, since one does not exist. The so-called Quartet of peace mediators, are not asking Hamas to recognize Israel, but to recognize its right to existtwo very different propositions. He was speaking from Cairo where Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is hosting talks between Hamas and other Palestinian factions, including Fatah.
Hamas Delegations To Visit Several Nations
Despite Israel's attempts to diplomatically isolate Hamas, the latter has a very busy diplomatic schedule, with visits to Turkey, Jordan, Russia, and Egypt.
Hamas Politburo chief Khalid Meshall, on Feb. 16, led a delegation to Turkey, where the they met with Turkish Foreign Ministry officials, and members of the ruling Justice and Development Party, which is also an Islamic party. It is not clear whether Meshall will meet Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
Khalil Abu Laila, a Hamas official in Gaza, announced that they have received an invitation to go to Russia, but a date has not been set.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, commenting on any future talks with Hamas, said, "We will work towards Hamas accepting the Quartet's positions. This is not just the Quartet's opinion but also [that of] the majority of nations, including Arab nations." (The Quartet is the grouping of the U.S., UN, EU, and Russia, which drafted the "Road Map" for Palestinian statehood, in 2003.)
The Kingdom of Jordan has also invited a Hamas delegation for the first time since the organization was expelled from the Kingdom in 1999.
"We welcome the visit of a delegation of our brothers the leaders of Hamas in their capacity as Palestinians," Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf Bakheet said.
Meanwhile, Jordan's King Abdullah II had a message delivered to the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, who was in Jordan on Feb. 15, urging the EU and other international donors not to cut aid to the Palestinian National Authority.
"It is important to await the program of the new Palestinian government.... The future of the Middle East peace making depends on that and the Israeli elections next month," Abdullah told Solana.
White House envoys Elliot Abrams of the National Security Council and David Welch of the State Department are due in the region next week for talks on Hamas.
U.S., Israel Plan To Starve Hamas and Palestinians
A Feb. 14 New York Times article by Steven Erlanger, from Jerusalem, leaks discussions between the U.S. and the Israelis to "destabilize the Palestinian government so that the newly elected [Hamas] officials will fail and new elections will be called." Anonymous sources in both countries say the idea is to starve Hamas of funds to discredit them and pave the way for new elections.
Both Israeli and American officials said there is no such plan. But State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, on Feb. 13 openly threatened, "We've made it clear we do not, and will not fund terrorist organizations. Hamas is a terrorist organization."
Meanwhile, plans to squeeze Hamas were discussed in a meeting in the office of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Ha'aretz reported on Feb. 15. Dov Weisglass, who was Ariel Sharon's advisor and contact man with Vice President Dick Cheney, now an advisor to Olmert, used the term "diet" in a proposal to cut aid to the Palestinians. "We must cause them to get good and thinbut not die."
It should be noted that Israel's threat not to work with a Hamas government is a sophistry, since for the last five years, it has not worked with the Fatah-led government, and has, for four years, refused to transfer Palestinian customs duties it collects at its ports on goods destined for the Palestinian Authority.
One factor now is that with Israeli elections coming up in March, Olmert's Kadima Party has to play hardball, since the Hamas victory was a clear example of the failure of their policy of unilateral withdrawal.
Russia Says Dialogue With Hamas Must Not Be Delayed
A statement issued Feb. 11 by the Russian Foreign Ministry stated: "The Russian side is convinced that in the interests of guaranteeing prospects for restoring the process of a Palestinian-Israeli settlement on the basis of the 'road map,' it is necessary not to drag out the beginning of talks with Hamas as an influential force in Palestinian society."
Separately, Interfax news agency quoted Middle East envoy Alexander Kalugin as saying that the Hamas visit to Moscow could come before the end of February.
Aoun, Nasrallah Hold Joint Press Conference in Beirut
In the aftermath of the Feb. 5 Mohammed cartoon riots in Beirut, Lebanon, which left one demonstrator dead and many more injured, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Europe, Kurt Volker, told the press on Feb. 6, "We hold Syria responsible for that."
But, another press conference given by Christian leader, Gen. Michel Aoun and the head of the Shi'ite Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, on the same day, was not so predictable. Not only did they refuse to cast blame on Syria or Iran for the riots, they also said they had formulated a document of understanding on the issue of Hezbollah's disarmament, which is pivotal to the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1559.
"The fate of Hezbollah's arms should be examined within the framework of a national dialogue and a roundtable," Nasrallah said. The accord between the two parties calls for the Lebanese government to take legal measures to claim the territory of Shabaa Farms, for the release of Lebanese held in Israeli prisons, and for "the defense of Lebanon from Israeli threats."
While some reports portrayed this accord as merely an election ploy, with Hezbollah backing Aoun's ambitions to remove President Emile Lahoud and assume the Presidency himself, sources thought that the responses of both leaderswho refused to attack Syria or Iran in the press conferencewas a sign of a determined intervention into the heated region. Aoun had once been courted as a neo-conservative "favorite," in Washington, but has refused to play into the Cheney/neo-con desire to use Lebanon as an excuse to launch war on Syria.