The Middle East has experienced the worst storm to hit the region in 10 years, according to meteorological officials. After days of heavy rains and high winds, the region has been covered in snow taking at least eight lives, causing millions of dollars in damage, and leaving parts of Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian territories without power, and paralyzing the Turkish city of Istanbul. The heavy rains damaged crops, properties, and electricity infrastructure in Lebanon. Rare snowfall closed roads throughout the region, and flooding caused several deaths. Strong winds and rain disrupted operations at Egypt's Suez Canal and forced the closure of several ports. More than 500 Palestinians in the West Bank have been injured and over 400 homes have been flooded. The severe conditions have hit vulnerable populations in war torn Syria particularly hard as well as the conflict's refugees, specifically the 50,000 living in the Zaatari tent camp in northern Jordan.
Syrian opposition fighters have reportedly overtaken the Taftanaz airbase in Idlib province after weeks of fighting. The jihadi groups al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, and the Islamic Vanguard led the opposition forces. Taftanaz is the largest airbase to be seized by the opposition since the beginning of the uprising. Helicopters based there have been used in government air campaigns. However, the military had removed all of its functioning helicopters and government fighter jets have reportedly been bombing the base in apparent efforts to destroy it. Meanwhile, the U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria Lahkdar Brahimi is in Geneva meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns and Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov to discuss a political solution to the nearing two-year conflict in Syria. According to a U.S. official, the talks would focus on "creating the conditions to advance a political solution -- specifically a transitional governing body" as was proposed by the Action Group for Syria in June. However, there continues to exist a wide divide between the positions of the United States and Russia, with the United States asserting that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down while Russia insists that his resignation not be a precondition for negotiations, and that Assad cannot be pushed from power by external forces.
Articles & Analysis
"Iranian elections, just don't mention the ‘f' word" (Saeed Kamali Dehghan, Guardian)
"In September, as public debate over the impact of international sanctions on Iran's economy escalated, Rafsanjani said holding "free elections" would bring the country out of its current stalemate and avert threats of war that have been looming over the Islamic republic.
‘Holding elections that are free, transparent and in compliance with the constitution will solve a big part of the country's problems,' he said. His comments have been echoed by other leading figures including the former reformist president Mohammad Khatami who have previously said that ‘free elections' would prevent international threats facing Iran.
In what is believed to be a response to remarks made by the likes of Rafanjani and Khatami, Khamenei said this week: ‘They should not discourage the nation, they should not insist on saying that elections are not free.'
He warned the public against making ‘general recommendations' that would ‘serve the purpose of the enemy,' adding: ‘We've held more than 30 elections since the  Islamic revolution, which one was not free? In which country you can see elections freer than those held in Iran?'
Following the address, his representative in the Revolutionary Guards, Ali Saeedi, said the elite military force had ‘a responsibility to engineer a rational and logical elections.' That triggered an immediate response by many Iranians on social networking websites who interpreted it as a sign of the guards' interference in the upcoming elections."
"Back to the Road Map?" (Dov Weisglass, Ynet)
"The Israeli-Palestinian horizon is getting so dark there is almost no hope left. The complete diplomatic stalemate, the deteriorating economic situation, the weakening of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas' growing power (to some extent as a result of intentional Israeli activity) - all of these have brought the Palestinians back to the streets and intensified the rioting and acts of violence.
In describing the impending crisis, former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin said in a recent interview that ‘the air is filled with gas fumes.' The Palestinian security forces are battling the rioters, but seemingly with less resolve. Perhaps the fact that Israel has frozen the tax revenues that are used to pay their salaries contributed to this. Meanwhile, Hamas is mocking the PA over its failures on the road to peace and is calling for a third intifada.
must resume negotiations in an effort to try and prevent the expected rioting,
but due to the face that the chances of achieving a permanent agreement are
slim (at best) in light of the positions of the current Israeli government and
the PA's weakness, perhaps we should revisit the principles of the ‘Road Map'
for peace and try to implement them."
SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images
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