Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
This week on War News Radio, an update on the United Nations resolution on Syria, an attack on a mall in Kenya, an earthquake in Pakistan, and more.
Sara Morell: From War News Radio at Swarthmore College, I’m Sara Morell.
Joelle Hageboutros: And I’m Joelle Hageboutros. This week, the five major members of the United Nations Security Council — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States — accepted a resolution requiring Syria to give up its chemical weapons. Officials said, quote, “The text will not threaten the use of force for a failure to comply.” This resolution was not composed under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which would have allowed the Security Council to enforce the resolution with economic sanctions or military force.
The final draft of the resolution also did not hold Syria accountable for the chemical weapons attack in August. At the same time, diplomats said, quote, “the final draft does express the Security Council’s ‘strong conviction’ that those found responsible for chemical weapons use in the Syrian conflict should be held accountable.” The final version of the resolution will be examined by the full 15-member Security Council later on in the week.
Morell: Thirteen Syrian rebel groups, including the prominent Al Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusrah Front, formed an alliance earlier this week. In a statement released by the group, the recently united forces expressed their shared opposition to the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, which was responsible for electing interim president Ahmad Saleh Touma. The alliance has yet to make clear its stance toward another prominent Western-supported organization: the Supreme Military Council. Led by General Salim Idriss, the council has historically received mixed support from rebel factions. While the groups receiving weapons and aid from the Council have backed its policies, others have criticized the Council’s ties to the United States. Western news agencies have expressed concern that the formation of the alliance complicates United States influence in the region.
Hageboutros: In the wake of his decision not to intervene directly in the Syrian civil war, United States President Barack Obama gave a speech in front of the United Nations General Assembly outlining America’s position in the international sphere. In the speech, he affirmed America’s intent to defend key policies in the region, including counterterrorism efforts and actions to secure the flow of fossil fuels. However, he also emphasized that America would not pursue military action in affairs unrelated to its core interests, citing past failures at such efforts and specifically refuting the notion of an American “empire.”
Barack Obama: The United States has a hard-earned humility when it comes to our ability to determine events inside other countries. The notion of American empire may be useful propaganda, but it isn’t borne out by America’s current policy or public opinion.
Hageboutros: For the near future, Obama identified the Iranian nuclear program and a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the two issues on which American foreign policy in the Middle East will be primarily focused.
Morell: In his second major speech this week at the United Nations, Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani showed his willingness to negotiate over the Iranian nuclear dispute. Speaking to the General Assembly, he said that Iran has, quote “nothing to hide” and called for “mutual respect” from Washington. Rouhani underlined that Iran has no interest in gaining nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction. In a speech at a special conference about disarmament, Rouhani also supported the elimination of nuclear weapons in general, and suggested that Israel sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in order to foster greater peace in the Middle East. United States Secretary of State John Kerry, however, remains skeptical of Rouhani’s speech and told reporters that he would withhold his opinion until assured of Iran’s sincerity.
Hageboutros: Earlier this week, a group of militants began an almost-four day siege of the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya that killed 67 people and left 175 wounded. Using military-grade weapons potentially stockpiled in the mall prior to the attack, the terrorist assailants allegedly separated hostages by religion and allowed only Muslims to leave unharmed. Al-Shabab, the extremist Islamic group that claimed responsibility for the attack, said that 137 hostages were killed, but these figures have yet to be confirmed. Once the fighting came to an end, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta declared three days of mourning for the victims.
Morell: However, conflict continued in Kenya even after the mall siege drew to a close. Approximately five people were killed in two other attacks by militants potentially linked to Al-Shabab near the Somali border later in the week. As the violence persists, agencies from Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States have entered Kenya to aid in investigations of the mall attack, and an international arrest warrant has been issued for Samantha Lewthwaite, a presumed suspect.
Hageboutros: Iraq experienced another string of violent incidents this week in which dozens of people across the country were killed. The bloodiest attack occurred outside of a local council building in the northern town of Hawija, where numerous car bombings and a firefight left 13 dead and 21 injured. Sectarian violence also plagued Baghdad, as gunmen broke into the house of an Iraqi public servant and killed him, along with his wife, mother-in-law, and three children. In addition, explosive devices were detonated in Baghdad and Mosul, killing eight and wounding dozens more. In another attack in Taji, militants ambushed off-duty soldiers, leaving two dead and three injured.
Morell: Two suicide bombers killed more than 80 people in a historic church in Peshawar, Pakistan this week. More than 600 people were said to be inside the church at the time of the bombings. The Pakistani wing of the Taliban, known as Jundullah, claimed responsibility for the bombings. They pledged to continue attacking non-Muslim groups until the United States stops using drones to target Taliban leaders. Following the attack, Christian individuals staged protests across Peshawar to demand greater government protection for minority groups. Christians make up a very small minority in Pakistan and often live in extreme poverty. Many in the community cite a long history of discrimination, but they highlight the recent church attack as an especially organized assault on their religious group.
Hageboutros: Pakistan was also hit by a 7.7-magnitude earthquake near the southwestern province of Balochistan earlier this week. At least 357 people have died and hundreds more have been injured. Relief groups expect that the death toll will continue to rise. Aid efforts in the sparsely populated and impoverished territory, however, have been disrupted by attacks on rescue teams by insurgents in the area, along with poor infrastructure and lack of medical supplies. The tremor was the largest and deadliest to strike Pakistan since a 2005 earthquake in Kashmir killed over 74,000 people.
Morell: A peaceful protest in Athens turned violent as protesters attacked riot police with fire bombs, rocks, and bottles. In response, the police released tear gas and stun grenades on the crowds. The protest was held in front of the headquarters of the political party, Golden Dawn following the murder of the anti-Fascist singer, Pavlos Fyssas, by a Golden Dawn supporter. Golden Dawn is a far-right party that has risen in popularity as a result of Greece’s financial crisis. Reports of police inaction during Fyssas’s murder have forced the Greek Prime Minister to look into the alleged links between the police and Golden Dawn. Greece’s Supreme Court and anti-terrorist squad have been ordered to investigate Golden Dawn’s activities, including this incident, as well as clashes with members of Greece’s Communist Party.
Hageboutros: At least 29 people were killed in Sudan this week during protests over fuel subsidy cuts. After the government announced that it would nearly double the price of gasoline in an attempt to raise government revenue, protesters took to the streets of central Khartoum and Wad Madani to speak out against the sudden policy shift. As initially peaceful protests turned violent, demonstrators began to destroy gas stations, cars, and buildings, and the police fired tear gas and rubber bullets on the crowds of rioters. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir justified the hike in fuel prices as a necessary step toward economic recovery, but protesters have argued that the austerity measure will disproportionately impact impoverished populations.
Morell: If you want to hear more from War News Radio, visit us online at War News Radio.o-r-g. This week’s newscast was written and edited by Nora Bailin, Amy DiPierro, Nehmat Kaur, Sabrina Merold, Dylan Okabe-Jawdat, Jerry Qin, Sadie Rittman, Collin Smith, Nithya Swaminathan, Tyler Welsh, and Chloe Wittenberg.
Hageboutros: Until next time, thanks for listening.