Israeli soldiers returned fire into Syria on Tuesday in response to shots that reportedly damaged a military vehicle in the third cross-border shooting this week in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights. There were no injuries reported. An Israeli spokesperson said, the shots "most likely were stray bullets, we don't know if it was intentional." However, soon after, the Syrian military released a statement saying, "Our armed forces have destroyed an Israeli vehicle with everything that it had in it. The vehicle had crossed the cease-fire line." This was the first time the Syrian regime admitted to firing at Israeli forces in the Golan since the beginning of the Syrian conflict. On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reasserted his concerns about Israeli security as the conflict in Syria flares, stressing the potential of Israeli airstrikes to prevent Hezbollah or other militant groups from getting advanced weapons. Israeli has allegedly carried out three airstrikes in Syrian territory this year in order to stop weapons transfers to Hezbollah. Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary William Hague insinuated he will veto the renewal of the European Union arms embargo on Syria if member states prevent moves to allow weapons transfers to opposition fighters. There is disagreement within Britain over arms transfers, but lapse of the embargo would allow for possible weapons deliveries in the future. According to The Guardian, the decision in April by the EU to lift its oil sanctions on Syria has led to increased internal clashes between opposition groups and has strengthened jihadist groups. As infighting has risen over oil, water, and agricultural land, pressure on the Syrian government has eased. The Islamist opposition faction al-Nusra Front has reportedly taken control of most of the oil wells in Deir al-Zour province and has struck deals with regime forces to guarantee the transfer of crude to the Mediterranean coast.
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A series of car bombings have hit the Iraqi cities of Baghdad and Basra on Monday, killing an estimated 48 people. No group has taken responsibility for the attacks which targeted several Shiite districts of the Iraqi capital as well as the oil-rich predominantly Shiite city of Basra, in southeastern Iraq. Bombs exploded at a restaurant and bus stop in Basra, and were followed by about nine car bombs in Baghdad. In a separate incident, 10 police officers were reported killed Sunday at a police station in Anbar Province and additionally, the bodies of five police officers who had been kidnapped were found. About 150 people have been killed across Iraq in the past week in the worst sectarian tensions seen since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in December 2011.
Fierce fighting continued into Monday between Syrian troops, backed by Hezbollah fighters, and opposition forces over the strategic town of Qusayr. Qusayr, about 18 miles southwest of Homs, links Damascus to government strongholds on the Mediterranean coast, and is also an important supply route for opposition forces and link to fighters from Lebanon, just 6 miles away. Clashes have been ongoing for weeks around Qusayr and government forces launched a major offensive Sunday, making significant advances. Syrian state news agency reported that the government had control of most of the town on Monday, but opposition activists denied reports the town had been overtaken. The fighting has brought the militant Lebanese group Hezbollah to the forefront, and underscores concerns of a spreading regional conflict. Between 30 and 40 Hezbollah fighters were reportedly killed in Qusayr on Sunday. The battle for Qusayr has been sited by government loyalists and opposition activists as a turning point, that according to one activist could, "decide the fate of the regime and the revolution."
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Russia has sent advanced antiship cruise missiles to Syria, according to anonymous U.S. officials. The Yakhonts, which have an advanced radar, underscore the continued support of Russia for the Syrian regime, giving the government the capacity to stave off international efforts to reinforce the Syrian opposition by sea. The shipment comes as the United States and Russia are planning an international conference aimed at bringing together the Syrian government and opposition. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he had brought up U.S. concerns over Russian arms supplies to Syria during his recent visit. He said, "I think we've made it crystal clear we would prefer that Russia was not supplying assistance." On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, "We have not hidden that we supply weapons to Syria under signed contracts, without violating any international agreements, or our own legislation." Russia has increased its presence in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, sending about a dozen warships near its naval base in Syria's port city of Tartus. According to a senior U.S. defense official, "It is a show of force." U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met with Russian leaders on Friday to discuss the crisis in Syria. Ban, alongside Lavrov, said that a peace conference "should be held as soon as possible." Lavrov said that Syrian delegations have not yet been decided so an official date for the conference has not been set; however the meeting is expected to take place in Geneva during the first half of June. Syrian's main opposition group is expected to decide next week on whether it will participate in the conference, and Russia's push for Iran to be included in the meeting could add further complications. Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met in Washington with U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday. The two leaders differed on many points on how to deal with the Syrian crisis, but agreed that President Bashar al-Assad must leave power. Erdogan is looking for international action on Syria, at least with the implementation of a no-fly zone, while Obama, reluctant to involve the United States in another war, ruled out unilateral U.S. military action.
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"You are not going to war against the youth, but against the religion of Allah." The statement, which appeared Sunday night on the Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST) Facebook page, was attributed to Abu Iyadh al-Tunisi, AST's emir and the founder of the al Qaeda-linked Tunisian Islamic Combatant Group (TICG). Coming after Tunisian authorities suppressed AST preaching events in multiple cities, the text is part of an escalating war of words and deeds between AST, Tunisian security forces, and the Islamist Ennahda-led government over the past several months, compounded by the September 14, 2012 assault on the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. Al-Tunisi's statement also threatened, in subtle but unmistakable tones, a jihad against Tunisian authorities.
The risk of open conflict may have become even more likely Wednesday after Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi announced that AST's annual conference in the city of Kairouan, scheduled for Sunday, would not be allowed to take place, though an AST spokesman vowed Thursday that the event would go forward. But the immediate spark came when Tunisian security forces began striking homemade landmines in the rugged region around Jebel Chaambi near the country's western border with Algeria.
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A series of bombings across Iraq Wednesday evening killed at least 34 people. Within an hour in the capital Baghdad, 11 explosions, mostly car bombings, killed 23 people and wounded over 100 others, mostly in Shiite districts. Sadr City was hit the worst with three bombs, two of which exploded in busy markets, but attacks were also reported in Kadhimiya, Husseiniya, Mashtal, Baghdad al-Jadida, Saidiya, and Zafaraniya. Additionally, bombings in the northern ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk killed an estimated 10 people. A car bomb exploded near a government building, followed by another car bomb an hour later in the same area. On Thursday, four additional bombs killed at least 12 people in Shiite districts of Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul. No group has taken responsibility for the attacks. There has been a surge in sectarian violence in Iraq since the army raided a Sunni anti-government protest camp near the northern town of Hawija last month, killing an estimated 50 people.
The United Nations General Assembly passed a nonbinding resolution on Wednesday condemning Syrian government forces, praising the opposition, and calling for a political solution to end the war in Syria. The vote, however, showed a decline in support for the opposition since a resolution passed in August 2012 -- with 107 votes in favor compared to 133 in the previous vote and a drastic increase in abstentions. Many diplomats expressed increasing concerns over the rise in the presence of Islamist extremists in the conflict. There was also a sentiment that the resolution would not help to convince the Syrian government and opposition to participate in peace talks recently proposed by the United States and Russia. At the beginning of the session, President of the U.N. General Assembly Vuk Jeremic stated, "At least 80,000 have perished since the start of the hostilities, with most of the casualties believed to be civilians." Meanwhile, a BBC correspondent has reported evidence of a chemical attack last month in the northern town of Saraqeb. Eyewitnesses claimed that government helicopters dropped at least two devices containing poisonous gas on April 29. Additionally, doctors at the local hospital said they admitted eight people suffering from breathing problems. The BBC reported it has received videos that seem to support these claims, but is not able to independently verify them. In other news, a video posted on Thursday showed opposition al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front fighters executing 11 Syrian soldiers they accused of committing "massacres."
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As Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits Washington this week, he will prod the White House to increase its support for the Syrian opposition and will likely encourage President Barack Obama to consider enforcing a no-fly zone. The powerful prime minister has been a forceful advocate for multi-lateral intervention in Syria, arguing that the international community has a collective responsibility to help oust President Bashar al-Assad and bring the conflict to an end.
Erdogan's request will almost certainly take on a more urgent tone after tragic bombings in Reyhanli -- a refugee filled town on the Syrian border -- killed nearly 50 people. Despite Erdogan's close relationship with Obama, Turkey's requests are not likely to gain much traction with the White House. And, in fact, the meeting is likely to focus more on U.S. requests of Turkey, rather than the other way around.
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The United Nations General Assembly is expected to approve an Arab-backed draft resolution on Syria in a vote on Wednesday. The draft resolution condemns the Syrian government and accepts the Syrian National Coalition as a party to a potential political transition. The draft resolution is opposed by Russia, a strong ally of the Syrian regime, and is not expected to win as many votes as an August 2012 resolution, which passed with 133 countries in favor. A senior western diplomat said that the Islamist factor has added complications and it is not as clear to countries now that the opposition is the winning side. According to another senior diplomat, this draft resolution is stronger than the earlier one, and Russia has complained that it is unbalanced. The draft resolution condemns violence from all sides, and demands that the Syrian government allow for a U.N. inquiry into chemical weapons allegations. Unlike U.N. Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding and cannot be enforced. However, the three Western-backed Security Council resolutions aimed at pressuring the Assad regime have been vetoed by Russia and China. The United States and Russia have been planning for an international conference on Syria they hope to hold in June. Speaking from Sweden on Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said "progress is being made" on bringing together representatives from the Syrian government and opposition. According to Kerry, Assad's regime has given Russia a list of officials that would attend the potential talks. Meanwhile, Syria's Internet is reportedly down for the second time in two weeks. According to Syrian residents and the U.S.-based Internet monitoring company Renesys Corp., Syria went offline at 10:00 a.m. local time Wednesday. Syria's state news agency, SANA, said there were technical problems and maintenance teams were working on the issue.
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Egypt's politics since the 2011 revolution has consistently combined bare-knuckled combat with abstruse legal maneuvering, as if WWE wrestlers were attempting to operate parts of their contest within the framework of a Japanese tea ceremony. There are four major differences. First, wrestling matches and tea ceremonies last minutes and hours, but Egypt's legal-political battles began decades ago and show no hint of dénouement. Second, the Egyptian struggles are completely unscripted and unpredictable. Third, they matter. Fourth, their participants are focused not only on the moment but also steeped historical antecedents of today's struggles -- it is impossible, for instance, to hear a discussion of the judiciary that does not refer to an infamous judicial purge in 1969.
In order to assist befuddled observers of Egyptian politics, we have assembled this brief guide explaining the current state of play.
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