World View: Syria's Assad Frees 2,130 Prisoners in Exchange for 48 Iranians

This morning's key headlines from
  • U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi breaks neutrality and rebukes Syria's Assad
  • Tensions between China and Japan over Senkaku/Diaoyu continue to escalate
  • Hamas teaching Hebrew to young Palestinians
  • Syria's Assad frees 2,130 prisoners in exchange for 48 Iranians

U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi breaks neutrality and rebukes Syria's Assad

The nationwide television address given on Sunday by Syria's president Bashar al-Assad was an extraordinary spectacle, calling for opposition fighters to give themselves up and fling themselves on his mercy, and was, according to some commentators, a confirmation of his dangerous state of denial. The U.N. and Arab League envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, who has meticulously maintained a neutral stance up till now, said that the speech was "more sectarian and one-sided" than previous talks and said: 

The time of reforms granted magnanimously from above has passed. People want to have a say in how they are governed and they want to take hold of their own future.

In Syria, in particular, I think that what people are saying is that a family ruling for 40 years is a little bit too long.

So the change has to be real. It has to be real, and I think that President Assad could take the lead in responding to the aspiration of his people rather than resisting it.

This rebuke, calling for the end of the 40-year reign of the al-Assad family, represents a new change of direction for the envoy.

Brahimi, as well as his predecessor Kofi Annan, have accomplished less than nothing in resolving the Syrian conflict. They've made things worse by providing a cover for al-Assad, the Russians and the Chinese to continue his bloody slaughter, while pretending to be negotiating. However, whether a change in direction by Brahimi means a change in direction in Syria remains to be seen. Gulf News (Dubai) and Telegraph (London)

Tensions between China and Japan over Senkaku/Diaoyu continue to escalate

Japan's new government, led by Shinzo Abe, is planning to spend an additional $54.3 billion dollars for military equipment to defend the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands from claims by China. The money will be used to acquire unmanned drones to detect incoming Chinese ships and low-flying aircraft, as well as for missile interceptors and F-15 fighter planes. Chinese surveillance ships have been entering the waters surrounding the islands, prompting protests and confrontations by the Chinese. According to one analyst: 

Now that Abe is in power – he’s known as a hardline nationalist – and now that Xi JinPing is taking the helm of China for the next 10 years, I think he’s looking to put his stake down as someone who is really a strong defender of China. So I think we’re really going to see an entrenched position on both sides and it looks like there is a new normal of wars and increasing [military] expenditures that are likely for the next several years.

China is responding with plans to build 11 new drone bases along China's coastline, and is testing eight new drone models. According to a U.S. analyst, China "could easily match or outpace US spending on unmanned systems." Russia Today

Hamas teaching Hebrew to young Palestinians

The Islamic University in Gaza City, the flagship university of Gaza's Hamas government, is offering a one-year diploma course in Hebrew, to produce qualified teachers to introduce Hebrew studies in Gaza high schools, for the first time since the mid-1990s. There is no shortage of Hebrew speakers in Gaza, especially among older generations, who recall a more peaceful time when Palestinians could freely enter Israel. But since the 2000 uprising, and especially since the Israeli withdrawal in 2005, the Gaza Palestinians and Israelis have been almost entirely isolated from one another. Arabic and Hebrew have many similarities, since they're both Semitic tongues. According to one instructor, "[Hebrew] is the language of our enemies. But it is also the language of our neighbors." AP

Syria's Assad frees 2,130 prisoners in exchange for 48 Iranians

Syria's opposition rebels are accusing president Bashar al-Assad of considering Syrian civilians almost worthless, and at the same time celebrating a major victory, after al-Assad freed over 2,130 prisoners, mostly Syrian civilians, in exchange for just 48 Iranians that have been held by the opposition rebels. The 48 Iranians had been captured by Syrian rebels and held hostage in August, and were accused of being Revolutionary Guards providing military help to the al-Assad regime, which Iran has denied. Since the Syrian conflict began early in 2011, al-Assad's regime has slaughtered 60,000 of his own people, almost all innocent civilians, and has jailed thousands of others. CNN

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