A standoff unfolded between Algerian troops and an estimated 20 militants at the Tigantourine gas plant in In Amenas, Algeria. The militants have taken dozens of hostages, including American, European, and Japanese citizens, as well as many Algerians. The gas field is jointly operated by BP, the Norwegian company Statoil, and Algerian state oil Sonatrach. According to Algerian news, 15 foreigners escaped on Thursday and between 30 and 40 Algerian hostages had been released, mostly female translators. But these reports have not been verified. Mokhtar Belmoktar, a top commander for al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is believed to be leading the attack. Two groups supposedly reporting to him have taken responsibility: the Khaled Abu al-Abbas Brigade and the Signed-in-Blood Battalion. The attackers are demanding an end to French military operations in Mali. Additionally, they are demanding safe passage out of Algeria with the hostages, but the Algerian government has refused to cooperate.
According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 106 people were killed in government raids in Homs this week. The dead had been shot, stabbed, or possibly burned alive, and many houses were set on fire in the impoverished neighborhood of Basatin al-Hasawiya, on the edge of the city. The district saw clashes earlier this week between regime forces and opposition fighters. Meanwhile, three nearly simultaneous car bombings killed at least 22 people and wounded 30, mostly Syrian government soldiers, in Idlib on Wednesday. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, security vehicles, buildings, and a checkpoint had been targeted. Addressing concerns that the Syrian government used chemical weapons in an attack on Homs on December 23, 2012, the U.S. State Department said its investigation shows that the regime did not use chemical weapons, but rather seemingly misused a riot-control gas. On Tuesday, Foreign Policy's "The Cable" blog reported that a diplomatic cable from Turkey provided a "compelling case" that chemical weapons were used, causing several deaths and severe illnesses.
Arguments and Analysis
The Brotherhood's Compassionate Conservatism, (Max Strasser, Cairo Review of Global Affairs)
"Six months into his presidency, Mohammed Morsi
is about to make a public policy decision similar to one that ultimately helped
to bring about his predecessor's downfall. Out of economic necessity, Morsi
will likely sign a deal with the International Monetary Fund. But the incoming
loan will be accompanied by a set of fiscal conditionality that could make the
already precarious president and his Freedom and Justice Party even less
popular. Unless the Muslim Brotherhood manages to find a religious, privatized
...While activists and politicians have good reason to campaign against the IMF based on Egypt's previous experiences with structural adjustment, an infusion of foreign currency is at this point needed to prevent economic catastrophe. Foreign direct investment has shrunk by around 75 percent since January 25, 2011, and tourism revenues declined by around 30 percent. Egypt is facing a full-on balance of payments crisis. Almost 60 percent of the Central Bank's foreign reserves have been spent trying to prop up the pound in the last two years-and with limited success. Late last month, the Central Bank moved to an auction system to slow the devaluation of the pound, which dropped by more than 6 percent since the start of the revolution."
Turning Syria Into Somalia (Hassan Mneimneh, German Marshall Fund)
"However, the most affected of Syria's neighbors is undoubtedly Lebanon. With a patently weak government, perennially afflicted by sectarian divisions, Lebanon has had to tackle an overwhelming influx of Syrian refugees. Its porous borders with Syria have witnessed two-way traffic, with Lebanese fighters joining both sides of the Syrian conflict. It may be merely a matter of time and circumstance before the fighting returns to their homeland. This development may provide Hezbollah with an opportunity to establish direct control over Lebanon, thus balancing out the impact of losing what has been described as its Syrian "back-office." Symbiotically, the al-Nusrah Front - al-Qaeda's Syrian franchise - is slated to take further advantage of the expected chaos.
Whether much of the current Syrian tragedy could have been avoided by more determined actions from the transatlantic alliance has become the subject of historical, rather than practical, import. The Somalization of Syria now seems inevitable. The dire implications of this outcome for the region, however, are a certainty only if the United States and Europe continue their current course of waiting the Syrian crisis out."
--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.