Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Caabu briefing on the situation in Palestine, Syria and Egypt

Situation in Palestine, Syria and Egypt
28 October 2013

Negotiations between Israel and the PLO are continuing with an agreed media blackout. They started under US mediation on 14 August with a nine-month timeframe. US Secretary of State John Kerry, remains involved holding a seven-hour meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Rome earlier this month

Israel has approved a release of a further 26 Palestinian prisoners adding to the 26 it released in August. These releases are part of the agreed confidence building measures.

Settlements have been continuing to expand. Israel media reports are full of speculation of a further settlement announcement to join the Palestinian prisoner release. There were 1,708 housing starts in January-June this year, compared with 995 during the same period in 2012.

The EU is coming under extreme pressure to modify its guidelines preventing EU states from cooperating, transferring funds, giving scholarships or research grants to bodies from inside settlements. Israel has warned it might pull out of the Horizon 2020 programme if these are not modified. The EU argues that settlements are illegal and that this is a longstanding policy.

There are continued concerns about Israeli treatment of child detainees. As of 30 September 2013, 179 Palestinian children were detained in Israeli facilities, 52% of whom were held inside Israel, in violation of IV Geneva Convention.

Caabu’s report on this issue can be read here.

Can the government reassure the house that there will be no dilution of EU guidelines regarding EU funding to settlements?

What assessment has the government made of the treatment of Palestinian children in detention and what plans does it have to follow up on the FCO commissioned report into this issue?

The closure of Gaza has tightened since the events in Egypt in July. The Egyptian military has destroyed or closed many of the tunnels that have been supplying Gaza. It is also restricted movement in and out of Gaza through the Rafah crossing

Israel has forbidden the import of all forms of construction materials into the Gaza Strip following the discovery of a 1.8- kilometre-long tunnel running from Gaza into Israel.

In addition, Israel denied entry to a delegation of 6 MEPs who were attempting to assess the humanitarian situation inside Gaza.

What assessment has the government made of Israeli and Egyptian policies towards Gaza and their role in the blockade?

Has the government made any representations to the Israeli government about its refusal to allow entry of elected politicians into Gaza?

Situation on the ground

The Asad regime and those opposing it continue to fight but with neither side able to defeat the other. Both sides suffer from internal divisions.

A major change in the last 3 months has been the increased power of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an Al Qaida affiliated group. It is engaging in a process of controlling directly territories and has clashed with other rebel forces. However, it has lost ground to Kurdish groups in the northeast, who largely control Syria’s oil-bearing region.

Chemical Weapons

The Syrian government has submitted its report on its Chemical Weapons programme 3 days ahead of schedule according to the OPCW. Syria has declared 23 sites, although the US had believed there were 45. Weapons inspectors have been able to visit 21 out of 23 sites. The inspectors had completed the destruction of equipment needed for mixing and filling weapons.
Political process and Geneva II

The Friends of Syria group spawned the ‘London 11’ meeting in the British capital on 22 October. This was yet another conference to try to sort out a political process to resolve the Syria crisis. A date for the Geneva II conference has yet to be set but has been slated for some time to be at the end of November. The UN-Arab League envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, has been shuttling across the region including to Syria to reach an agreement on the conference.

The 11 Foreign Ministers highlighted the need to get the Syrian National Coalition to the Geneva II Conference. This coalition is nervous of reactions amongst fighting groups on the ground. Its general assembly will meet on 1 November to decide. The main constituent group, the Syria National Council, dominated by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, already announced it would not be attending. The broader based coalition stated in its founding charter that it would not negotiate with the Assad regime, and indeed not even with the Russians. In January, its then leader Muazz Al-Khatib, issued a personal statement that he would be prepared to negotiate with the Assad regime but despite being popular amongst ordinary Syrians inside Syria, it was rejected by the coalition and he gave up his role.

Humanitarian issues

The humanitarian catastrophe continues with winter sure to cause additional hardship. The United Nations has issued its largest appeal in its history – an appeal for $5bn for Syria. The appeal remains only 54% funded.

Despite the UN Security Council statement of 2 October, the issue of access remains a huge problem. UN agencies are trying to gain access to deliver aid across Syria. However, the UN cannot access 2.5 million Syrians in besieged or hard to reach areas, many for over a year. All sides have denied access to certain areas. 3,000 people were evacuated from Moadamiyah in south Damascus on 13th October, but there are still thousands without assistance, literally starving.

Syrian bureaucracy does not help access. There is a wait for over 100 visas (62 for UN staff and 39 for INGOs). As yet, only 15 INGOs are permitted to work inside Syria.

Inside Syria the situation is at its most acute. There are well over 6.5m Syrians in need, (likely to rise to 10 million by end of the year) - half are children. There are over 5m internally displaced Syrians (a figure that has doubled since the beginning of 2013). According to the UN, around 60% of hospitals, 38 % of health centres, 90% of ambulances and 70% of pharmaceutical plants have been affected by the crisis.

Communicable diseases have been spreading. The WHO believes that 22 Syrians have now contracted polio, which is highly infectious. It is the first outbreak in Syria in 14 years. Due to the crisis, UNICEF estimates that there are now 500,000 Syrian children who have not been vaccinated against the disease.

There is an ongoing refugee crisis with over 2 million refugees, a number that is being added to at a rate of 5-7,000 a day. By the end of the year, the UN believes there may be as many as 3.5 million refugees. Approximately 1 in 4 people in Lebanon are Syrian. Jordan’s Syrian population is up to 10 per cent (probably higher).

The impact on neighbouring countries has been huge. 13 people have been killed in clashes in Lebanon over the last week. Other countries, including EU states, should assist also by accepting larger numbers of Syrian refugees.

UK aid to Syria stands at £500 million.

Can the government update the house on progress towards a second conference at Geneva?

What is the assessment of the chances of the UN raising the $5bn needed for Syria, how might this be done and what plans are in place should this figure not be reached?

What support has the UK government given to civil society inside Syria?

What considerations has the government made to allow Syrian refugees to come to Britain?

There remains a deep and massive polarisation between the two camps – the army and its supporters against the Muslim Brotherhood. This is hampering constructive dialogue between parties and perpetuating violence. These tensions deteriorated following the bulldozing of a protest camp at Rabaa al-Adawiya in Cairo on 14 August when hundreds were killed.

With the return of universities in September there have been clashes between pro-Muslim Brotherhood students and their rivals.

The Islamist insurgency in Sinai continues. The interim government considers both these insurgents and the Muslim Brotherhood to be ‘terrorists’.

Former President Morsi will be put on trial on 4 November. More clashes are expected on that date.

What assessment has the government made of the timetable for a return to democratic rule?

What efforts has the government made to secure the release of Muslim Brotherhood leaders?

Will the government be sending officials to monitor the trial of former President Morsi?

What representations have been made the new Egyptian authorities about the closure of media outlets?

What is the assessment of the government about the security situation on the Sinai and its possible impact on the Suez canal?

Chris Doyle
Advancing Arab-British Relations
1 Gough Square, London, EC4A 3DE
Tel: +44 20 7832 1321 Fax: +44 207832 1329
Skype: caabu

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