Welcome to Middle East Live.
Here’s a roundup of the latest developments:
• One person has been killed in demonstrations on the second anniversary of the 14 February uprising that was crushed after it demanded democratic reforms. The Interior Ministry said that the police operations room had been notified by Salmaniya Hospital that one person had been “brought in with injuries, but it turned out he had later died”. The ministry added that rioters had blocked a number of roads in the island kingdom and security forces were seeking to restore order.
• Amnesty International has made a new call for the Bahraini authorities to release political prisoners, lift restrictions on freedom of expression, and prosecute those responsible for human rights abuses in the security forces. Its Middle East and North Africa deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:
The government of Bahrain cannot carry on imprisoning people simply because it can’t take criticism.It’s time that people detained simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression be released and for the harassment of other activists to desist.
• Political dialogue in Bahrain will be nothing more than a PR exercise unless genuine democratic reform results from the exercise, argues Ali Aswad a former member of the Bahrain parliament. He says the government’s commitment to the initiative is half-hearted:
It has said its role is to be a moderator between the political societies, and that it will implement any agreed consensus. This is no different to the parliament we engaged with between 2006 and 2011, which turned out to be ineffective in creating any change, or even holding the government to account.
This attitude – that Bahrain’s problems exist primarily between its own people – is an attempt to deflect responsibility away from the government and to play up the false idea that this conflict is sectarian. The fact that half the opposition delegates who attended the first dialogue session were Sunnis shoots this argument to pieces.
The elitist attitude of a government that can absolve itself of responsibility for a crisis of its making goes to the very heart of the people’s demands. Bahrain needs an elected government that reflects the popular will. A government of the people, rather than one that sees itself as being above the people and chooses to implement or ignore whatever it deems appropriate.
It wants a constitutional monarchy with an elected prime minister to replace King Hamad’s uncle – in the job for an extraordinary 42 years. Equally threatening for the Al Khalifa dynasty, it is demanding a redrawing of gerrymandered constituency boundaries and equal access to government jobs for Shias, who face discrimination that sometimes borders on apartheid. State media has whipped up anti-Shia prejudice.
Wefaq also insists that the results of the dialogue be put to a referendum rather than be submitted to the king for approval – a crucial difference. Under pressure from the west Hamad did appoint a commission of enquiry into the 2011 events but he has yet to implement key recommendations.
Sheikh Ali Salman, Wefaq’s leader, fears the government is trying to buy time. “Everyone is convinced that mistakes were made during the uprising,” he told me in a recent interview. “Even the hardliners want to find another way. But they are only prepared to make cosmetic changes.”
• Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib is due to visit Moscow in the coming days amid speculation that he could meet senior figures from the Assad regime during the trip, RIA Novosti reports. Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that Khatib, the leader of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces will visit within the next two to three weeks and Moscow was ready to provide a venue for a meeting between Syrian government and opposition envoys.
• The UN’s Mokhtar Lamani, the deputy of international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, has held talks with the head of the rebel Revolutionary Military Council to the north of Damascus, the BBC reports. He also met civilian and Christian leaders in the town of Yabroud, with all expressing support for a recent opposition peace initiative, it says.
• President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have bombarded the south-east of Damascus with air strikes and artillery to try to and dislodge rebel fighters who have gained a foothold in the Syrian capital, opposition activists told Reuters. A Middle East diplomat following the military situation described battles in and around Damascus as a “major engagement”, with fighting going back and forth between the two sides. “The opposition is hitting Damascus from a multiple of directions and the regime is trying to stop it,” he said.
• At least one senior Iranian official was reported killed in an attack while driving from Syria to Lebanon on Wednesday, in separate and at times conflicting reports that drew attention to suspicions of Iran’s role in the Syrian civil war, according to the New York Times.
The widening accusations that Iran and its allies have been actively fighting alongside the Syrian government, as well as the Israeli air strike, have heightened fears that Syria’s war will spill across borders to become a truly regional conflict.