No Conditions on Syrian Dialogue

Article Summary
Al-Monitor’s coverage and analysis of the demonstrations in the West Bank, the role of Hezbollah in Syria, and the urgency of starting negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition without conditions.

Palestinian Protests

The evolution of the plight of Palestinian prisoners as a trend for renewed protests in the West Bank, has been covered extensively in Al-Monitor.

Thousands of Palestinian prisoners began a one-day hunger strike Sunday [Feb. 24] to acknowledge an inmate's death following days of protests throughout the West Bank in support of four prisoners on prolonged hunger strikes.

Daoud Kuttab , in a Feb. 14 article, wrote that the case of "Prisoner X" (revealed to be Ben Zygier, a dual Australian-Israeli citizen, whose case has become a spy story which Laura Rozen has covered) has been an opportunity to draw attention to Palestinian prisoners demanding more humane treatment and a halt to detentions without charge or trial. 

Kuttab pointed out the heroic status that Samer Issawi has taken on during his now six-month hunger strike (interrupted only by his being clinically fed by Israelis). His appearance in court went viral and songs are sung in praise of him.

Shlomi Eldar interviewed Khader Adnan, a leader among activists in support of prisoner rights and the originator of the hunger strikes among prisoners, and Shirin Issawi, Samer’s sister, about Issawi’s case and the trend to challenge detention without charges.  Eldar noted that “The Israeli media should be covering this, but it all but ignores Issawi’s hunger strike and its implications for the Palestinian Authority.” 

Lena Odgaard reported this week from Ramallah that Issawi being denied bail on Feb. 19 sparked determination by Issawi’s lawyers and supporters to fight the Israeli practice of detention without charges. 

The plight of prisoners is a wide reaching one among Palestinians and puts pressure on the Palestinian Authority, which receives some of the blame for the frustration over lack of progress on the issue.  Linah Alsaafin wrote this week of a Palestinian mother who has had seven sons in detention all at once and her home demolished twice by Israeli forces.

In three articles published Sunday [Feb. 24]:

• Shlomi Eldar further writes: “The fate of the hunger strikers in Israeli prisons is now the most volatile issue of all for the Palestinian people, regardless of their political affiliation. It is also the one issue that unites them.” 

• Daoud Kuttab observes: “Palestinian protests in support of Issawi and his other hunger striking colleagues received an emotional surge when it was revealed that a prisoner [Arafat Jaradat] died Saturday in Israeli custody.”

• Dahlia Hatuqa reports that the death of Jaradat has heightened fears of a third intifada.

Hezbollah and Syria

The clashes between Hezbollah and the Syrian opposition forces along the Lebanon-Syria border signaled the intensification of the regional, sectarian dimension of the war in Syria and its threat to Lebanon.

Ali Hashem reported for Al-Monitor on the Feb. 18 statement by the opposition Syrian National Council accusing Hezbollah, under the auspices of the Syrian army, of attacking three villages in the Al-Qusair region of Syria along the Lebanese border. Al-Qusair has a majority Lebanese population. Hashem reported that three Hezbollah and 12 Syrian opposition fighters died in the clashes.  A Lebanese security source told Al-Monitor that Hezbollah is seeking to defend Shiite shrines in Damascus and secure its transportation route for strategic weaponry, noting the Israeli attack on Jan. 31.

Nasser Chararah added in his report that Hezbollah’s decision to intervene in Syria resulted first from long-standing social and family links between the Hermel region of Lebanon and the 14 Lebanese Shiite villages inside Syria, which Hezbollah felt an obligation to protect. Second, Hezbollah leaders consider the Al-Qusayr region as vital to its security interests because it is adjacent to the Hermel-Baalbek areas and serves as a key based for support and logistics.   This area has also been the scene of increased activity by the Sunni fundamentalist wing of the Syrian opposition.

Syrian Dialogue

In an exclusive interview, a senior Syrian official told Al-Monitor’s Jean Aziz that President Bashar al-Assad's government remains open to dialogue with the opposition but cannot accept any preconditions, including who can represent the Syrian government in the negotiations. The Syrian official recounted that Assad has designated Ali Haidar, minister of national reconciliation, as the point of contact. 

The Syrian official said that consideration is also given to whether the opposition interlocutor in a negotiation represents the forces on the ground in Syria.  Assad’s government can make and enforce decisions on its side, but who does the opposition speak for, the Syrian official asked.

The complexities of such negotiations are underscored by the terrorist bombing in Damascus on Feb. 21 which killed 53 an injured more than 200. The bombing was criticized by the SNC, and the Free Syrian Army denied responsibility. The bombing may therefore be considered a sign that the Syrian opposition is diverse and includes terrorist elements not in control of its civilian leadership.

The Al-Monitor interview with the Syrian official preceded the decision of the Syrian National Council on Feb. 22 to decline to participate in the “Friends of Syria” conference in Rome next month and refused invitations from both Moscow and Washington to further efforts toward a negotiated outcome.

No government, including that of Assad, will agree to its removal as both a condition for negotiations and as the objective of those negotiations. There is a need for creative diplomacy and compromise to begin a negotiation on a cease-fire, which is long overdue. The urgency of a cease-fire leading to a negotiated outcome is greater than ever. The terrorist bombing in Damascus, the continued destruction of Aleppo, a death toll of 70,000 and rising, the spread of the conflict to Lebanon and elsewhere, and the increasing role of terrorist elements in the Syrian opposition well outside the control of its civilian leadership are all evidence that Syria faces a bleak future, as The Economist reported in its current feature “The Death of a Country.”

Found in: west bank, protests, palestinian, israel, hezbollah in lebanon, hezbollah

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