Egypt urges US to play ‘active’ Mideast peace role

A handout picture provided by the Palestinian Authority's press office (PPO) shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas in Cairo on Saturday. (AFP PHOTO / PPO / THAER GHANAIM)
Updated 29 April 2017
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Egypt urges US to play ‘active’ Mideast peace role

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on Saturday urged the United States to help restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, a statement from the presidency said.
The statement came after El-Sisi met Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas who will meet US President Donald Trump in Washington on Wednesday for talks on reviving the stagnated Middle East peace process.
El-Sisi said it was “important that the United States returns to play an active role in efforts to resume negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel,” the statement said.
The two “agreed that the two-state solution is the only way to bring stability to the region,” it added.
El-Sisi said a 2002 Arab peace initiative should be the basis for a comprehensive solution.
The Saudi-led initiative offered normalized relations with Israel in exchange for resolving the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
When Abbas meets Trump on Wednesday it will be the first encounter between the two men, but will follow a series of US contacts with the Palestinian leader.
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have repeatedly run aground despite periodic US efforts to revive them, most recently by former secretary of state John Kerry.
But Abbas, who met in Ramallah recently with CIA chief Mike Pompeo and Trump’s special representative Jason Greenblatt, has said Trump is “seriously considering a solution to the Palestinian issue.”
Shortly after taking office, Trump alarmed Palestinians by calling into question his administration’s support for a two-state solution, a bedrock of US policy.
But he has since warned Israel against “unrestrained” building of settler homes in the occupied West Bank.


Daraa province: cradle of Syrian revolt

Updated 57 sec ago
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Daraa province: cradle of Syrian revolt

PARIS: Syria’s southern province of Daraa, which could be the regime’s next target after its bloody reprisal of Eastern Ghouta, is the birthplace of the uprising which erupted in 2011.
This agricultural region lies south of Damascus and also shares borders with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
In early March 2011 more than a dozen Daraa youths, influenced by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, scribbled slogans hostile to President Bashar Assad on the wall of their school.
The regime reacted brutally, jailing them, and according to activists, torturing the boys.
The repression sparked an unprecedented uprising.
On March 15, in the wake of the Arab Spring, the first demonstrations for “a Syria free of tyranny ... a Syria without corruption or theft or monopoly of wealth” erupted in Damascus.
Back in the province’s main town, which has the same name, demonstrators attacked symbols of the regime, before the protest movement spilled over into neighboring towns.
On March 23 security forces killed at least 100 people, according to activists and witnesses.
Assad fired the unpopular town governor and local intelligence chief, but did not manage to calm the situation.
On April 26 the regime sent in the army as it sought to stamp out pockets of resistance.
The Daraa protest movement was crushed at the end of a 10-day military operation in which hundreds were arrested.
Human Rights Watch denounced “crimes against humanity,” pointing to systematic killings, beatings and torture.
Daraa province is one of the last centers of rebel forces in Syria, after they lost vast swathes of territory to the regime.
It is divided up between different opposition groups that control nearly 70 percent of it. The Daesh group and the regime retain a lesser presence.
Daraa town, the regional capital, is mainly in the hands of pro-government forces.
The province has regularly been the scene of fighting between regime forces and insurgents.
In 2016 loyalist forces, backed by Russian air power and fighters from the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah, retook Sheikh Miskin, a strategic crossroads from the north to Damascus and to regime-held Sweida in the east.
They then seized Atman village, a key location in the province.
In July 2017 a cease-fire came into force in Daraa as well as in the southern provinces of Quneitra and Sweida, brokered by Russia, Jordan and the US.
These three provinces are also among a series of “de-escalation zones” established by Russia and Iran, allies of the regime, and rebel-backer Turkey.
In the first months of the protests the demonstrators in Daraa denounced the economic policy of the government.
This included the telecoms company Syriatel, in which a cousin of Assad has a majority stake. Anti-corruption slogans were chanted in neighboring towns.
Daraa, a Sunni Muslim town which counted 75,000 inhabitants before the conflict began, had fallen into poverty, worsened by a years-long drought which prompted a rural exodus.
The province’s ancient city of Bosra Al-Sham was capital of the Roman province of Arabia and an important staging post on the old caravan route to Makkah.
Famous for its Roman theater and its paleochristian ruins, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In March 2015, rebels drove pro-regime forces out of Bosra’s Shiite neighborhoods.