According to a United Nations study, more than 60,000 people have been killed since Syria's uprising began in March 2011. The previous estimate by the British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights was 45,000. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said, "The number of causalities is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking." The UN estimate includes Syrian soldiers, opposition fighters, or civilians. Adding to the death toll Wednesday was a government strike on a petrol station in the opposition held Damascus suburb of Muleiha. At least 30 civilians were incinerated while waiting in line for the rare chance to fill up their tanks. Activists said rockets were fired at the petrol station from a nearby Syrian air base. Other government strikes were reported in several Damascus suburbs as well as in Homs and Hama. Also on Wednesday, the family of James Foley, an American freelance reporter, announced that he has been missing since he was abducted on November 22 in northwest Syria. Meanwhile, fighting continued into Thursday at Taftanaz air base in the northwestern Idlib province as well as at the Aleppo international airport. However, unverified reports said Syrian forces pushed the opposition fighters out of Taftanaz.
Arguments and Analysis
Egypt: Whose Constitution? (Yasmine El Rashidi, The New York Review of Books)
"One measure of how complicated Egyptian politics has become is that hardly anyone was surprised by the outcome of the constitutional referendum in late December. Amid the largest anti-government protests since the 2011 revolution, and following defections from his own cabinet and supporters, President Mohamed Morsi orchestrated a 64 percent approval vote for a new constitution. It had been hastily drawn up by his political allies and subjected to withering criticism; and that there was low voter turnout and widespread indications of tampering. Nonetheless, the result seemed to show that, for all the millions of Egyptians who have lost patience with the new leadership, there are many others who continue to crave stability, even if the price is another authoritarian government.
What has become clear is that it is impossible to judge what has happened over the past few weeks without also examining the setting in which Mohamed Morsi rose to power: from his starting-point as the "stand-in" candidate of the secretive Muslim Brotherhood (their first choice was the Brotherhood oligarch and financier Khairat El-Shater), to the attempts to undercut his rise by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (who, anticipating a possible Islamist election win, drafted a constitutional annex last June designed to severely undermine the authority of the presidency), to the bloated bureaucracy he inherited that has remained largely stuck in the secular-authoritarian mindset of the fallen regime. It is amid these conflicting forces that Morsi has tried to negotiate his first five months in office-and to carve out new powers of his own."
The settlers' aim: Occupy Israel (Ari Shavit, Haaretz)
"The old occupation was the occupation of Palestine. It started with the military occupation of the West Bank and continued with the settlement occupation of the West Bank, and has reached the point where some 360,000 Israelis live today in the West Bank. At the same time that the smaller occupation of the Gaza Strip failed, the large occupation of the West Bank has done quite well.
In the past it prevented a peace agreement with Jordan, interfered with the interim agreement with the Palestinians and prevented a unilateral withdrawal. The old occupation succeeded in causing a Palestinian state not to be founded, the Land of Israel not to be divided and a single governmental entity to sprawl from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Even though the old occupation was anachronistic and disadvantageous from the very beginning, it showed impressive vitality and achieved most of its goals. This surprising success allowed it to continue on and mount an attack on the democratic Jewish state next to the West Bank.
The new occupation is the occupation of Israel. This time it is not a military and settlement process, but a political process. This time the intention is not to deny the Palestinians their right to self-determination, but to deny Israelis the ability to end the first occupation. After the settlers succeeded in preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state by occupying Judea and Samaria, they are now asking to empty the Israeli state of all its substance by taking control of its political system. "
The Next Chernobyl? (Khosrow B. Semnani and Gary M. Sandquist, The New York Times)
"The showdown over Iran's nuclear program is likely to accelerate in 2013 as sanctions tighten, Israel threatens military strikes, and the centrifuges keep spinning. While most attention will be focused on the two most oft-discussed sites of uranium enrichment - Natanz and Fordow - a third site on the gulf could prove to be this year's most dangerous nuclear wild card.
Tucked between two sleepy coastal fishing villages, the Bushehr nuclear power plant has long been seen as the "acceptable" face of Iran's nuclear program. Built by Russian engineers and monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency, it is already producing electricity, and most nuclear experts agree that it does not merit the same level of concern over weaponization as Iran's other nuclear sites.
Bushehr, however, could turn out to be the most dangerous piece of Iran's nuclear puzzle for another reason: haphazard planning and ongoing technical problems mean it could be the next Chernobyl, igniting a humanitarian disaster and explosive economic damage across the oil-rich region."
--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey
The Middle East Channel offers unique analysis and insights on this diverse and vital region of more than 400 million.