The UN General Assembly's yearly get-together is a time for high-flying international diplomacy between world leaders. The General Debate, in particular, allows all world leaders who participate in the United Nations to deliver a public address to the General Assembly. As such, it has been used as a highly-visible platform by many countries' representatives to push their views.
This year's debate theme was "Adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations by peaceful means," which seems a little tongue-in-cheek given the current situation in parts of the Middle East and Africa.
As BBC Arabic reported that Somali and African forces were closing in on the final al-Shabab stronghold of Kismayo, Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Ali gave his remarks at the Assembly, saying that there was no place in Somalia for the "few ideological extremists" in the Islamist group's ranks.
Barack Obama's appearance at the UN was brief, which some say was to avoid tough discussions with other world leaders on Iran and Syria. He honored Libyan Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in an attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi, and condemned the American-made film that criticized Islam's Prophet Muhammad and sparked anti-US riots across the Muslim world. Meanwhile, Libya's new president, Mohamed Yousek al-Magariaf, apologized for the attacks, and apologized to the world on behalf of Libya for Muammar Gaddafi's decades-long rule.
With regard to Syria, world leaders condemned the violence across the board, but their approaches to end the conflict varied greatly. According to IBA News, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Jordan's King Abdullah II both called for Bashar al-Assad to step down, saying that the Syrian president's ouster is vital to the success of peace efforts.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad supported the Syrian regime, and criticized the efforts by the Western world to interfere in what he sees as an internal conflict. Ahmadinejad, in his last speech to the Assembly as a world leader, also spoke of his belief in the imminent arrival of Jesus Christ and the twelfth imam, Imam al-Mahdi, whom Shiites believe will come at the end times with the prophet Jesus to help humanity. The United States and Israel were both absent from the General Assembly Hall when he gave his remarks.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also addressed the United Nations with a long-anticipated bid to join the UN General Assembly as an observer. The Palestinian Authority previously asked the UN for full member status last year, but had been rejected by the Security Council, which has the Israel ally, the United States, as a permanent member with veto power. Press TV reports that Abbas also lambasted Israel for its "ethnic cleansing" of Palestinians, as well as the ongoing occupation of Palestinian land. A UN report that came at the beginning of the week and before the General Assembly meeting echoed similar statements-- that Israel must do more to halt the abuse of Palestinian rights.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stole the show by using a prop, which has not been done in the General Assembly since the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi pulled out a copy of the UN Charter and threw it in the air in 2009. Netanyahu used a picture of a cartoon bomb and drew a red line through it to illustrate how far Iran has come in enriching uranium, and how the United Nations must draw a red line for the country before it acquires enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear bomb. Press TV analysts expressed concern over Netanyahu's mental health following this incident.
Outside of the Assembly Hall, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Rahmin Mehmanparast captured the attention of the American channel Fox News after he was attacked by a group of "about 100" Iranian dissident protestors on a New York City sidewalk. He managed to flag down an NYPD police car, but according to Dubai TV, the cops appeared "uninterested."
Image: Benjamin Netanyahu draws a red line on a bomb illustration at the UN General Assembly, September 27, 2012. Press TV / United Nations
The Syrian city of Aleppo, known in Arabic as Halab, has been suffering from intense fighting between regime forces and the Free Syrian Army since July. The onslaught has been referred to as "The Battle of Aleppo" by various news outlets, and even "the mother of all battles" by some. This northeastern city is the most populous in Syria, and is of key economic and strategic importance in the fight between the rebels and the regime.
Let's take a look at this week's developments in Syria, paying particular attention to the situation in Aleppo, as well as the recent breakthroughs regarding the Syrian conflict in the United Nations and other countries.
Tuesday, July 31
Syria's Aleppo under heavy fire; 40 regime soldiers killed in fighting
BBC Arabic -The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 40 members of the Syrian army were killed at a police station in Aleppo as part of a number of attacks on police and intelligence stations in the area. In addition, the Free Syrian Army took control of the strategic Adnan checkpoint only a few kilometers away from the city of Aleppo, which allows them to link the city to Turkey. The Salaheddine (or Salah ed-Din) neighborhood is thought to be the focal point of the struggle. Taking control of the city would be considered a strategic gain, and a decisive factor in the power balance between the two sides.
Meanwhile, renewed fighting also broke out in Damascus, notably in the neighborhoods of al-Tadamon and the Yarmouk camp, which is home to the largest Palestinian refugee community in Syria.
Wednesday, August 1
Free Syrian Army claims advances in Aleppo as Turkey conducts military drills at border
Future TV - Over one hundred people were killed by al-Assad's brigades, while the Free Syrian Army expanded its control over the countryside of Aleppo. It also waged an attack on several security headquarters in the governorate, and killed Zain Berri, the leader of what is known as the Shabehat al-Berri, a criminal group that killed dozens of anti-regime protestors in Aleppo. This resulted in retaliatory attacks by the shabeha on a number of the Free Army's centers in Aleppo.
Two kilometers away from the Syrian border, the Turkish army conducted a military drill in the Mardin Governorate, after Turkey warned of military intervention to protect Syrian refugees if al-Assad's brigades attack them.
In Damascus, al-Assad's brigades raided a number of neighborhoods amid resistance by the Free Army in al-Qadam and Tadamon, while the Yarmouk camp was subject to tank and mortar shelling, with fears of being stormed.
Thursday, August 2
UN warns that three million Syrians need food aid as Annan quits Syria peace envoy
New TV - International envoy Kofi Annan resigned from his position as a mediator for the United Nations and the Arab League in Syria as the battle in Aleppo intensified. Gunmen seized three police stations, while videos said to have been taken in the Salaheddine neighborhood showed a number of dead bodies. Also, the nearby Menagh Military Airport was attacked by the Free Syrian Army with heavy weaponry, including tanks they had seized.
According to United Nations figures, three million Syrians are in need of food in light of the current crisis. Also, 200,000 residents have deserted Aleppo since the fighting began; a number of them have fled to Idlib Province, particularly to the neighboring town of Dana, which is under the control of the Free Army. However, living conditions there are difficult because of the large influx of people, and reports of shelling that targets bakeries.
Friday, August 3
UN General Assembly adopts Syria resolution
BBC Arabic - A large majority of the UN General Assembly backed a resolution on Syria condemning the government's use of heavy weapons, and criticized the UN Security Council's inability to take action in the face of the ongoing crisis in the country. Ban Ki-moon says that he views the conflict in Syria as a test for the principles of the United Nations, comparing the current international stance to his helpless position before the massacres in Yugoslavia.
The Russian and Syrian ambassadors to the UN objected to the condemnation, with Syrian Ambassador Bashar al-Ja'afari noting that "foreign interference" is helping to push the Syrian people's demands down the Syrian government's list of priorities.
Obama authorizes secret US support of Syrian rebels
Press TV - US President Barack Obama has reportedly signed a secret order, approved earlier this year, authorizing more support for the Syrian rebels in fighting President Bashar al-Assad's forces. The order broadly permits the CIA and other US agencies to aid them against the Syrian army. A US government source also confirmed that Washington is collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies.
Image: A boy plays with an AK-47 rifle owned by his father in Azaz, some 47 km (29 miles) north of Aleppo August 3, 2012: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic
Al-Assad's regime suffers major blow as blast kills top Syrian officials
New TV - A severe blow to security in the heart of the Syrian capital Damascus led to the death of the chairman of Syria's "crisis cell," General Hassan Turkmani, Defense Minister Dawoud Rajiha, and his aid Assef Shawkat, the Syrian president's brother-in-law. In addition, top military and security officials were injured. According to reports, one of the security leaders' guards was wearing an explosive belt, and he blew himself up inside the hall as a meeting of the group, also known as "Syria's Generals," was taking place. An opposition group called "Liwa al-Islam Brigades" claimed responsibility on its Facebook page. Syrian leadership hurried to avoid the consequences of these deaths by appointing Brigadier Fahad Jassim al-Freij as the new defense minister.
Russia and China veto Western-backed UN resolution on Syria for the third time
New TV - Russia and China blocked the West-backed resolution on Syria for the third time at the UN Security Council in defense of the Syrian regime. The American, French, and British ambassadors to the UN condemned the move, with US ambassador Susan Rice calling it shameful for the council not to seek a solution to Syria's crisis. In response, Syrian ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari accused the council of failing to support a political solution and of restricting the Annan plan, adding that those who "sympathized with the terrorists and gunmen" should host them in their own countries.
Early elections loom as Kadima quits Israeli ruling coalition
Dubai TV - Israel's Kadima party withdrew from the Israeli government coalition amid disagreement over a new alternative to the current draft law, a move that may lead to early parliamentary elections in Israel, most likely in February. Kadima's main goals in the coalition were to revive the peace process with the Palestinians, and to expand the draft law to include ultra-Orthodox Jews. However, experts say that the Likud party is bowing more and more to pressure from the Israeli right and far-right, and if Israel is heading towards early elections, Netanyahu has a better chance to win with their support, while Kadima head Shaul Mofaz seeks to secure a secular stance.
US navy kills fisherman after firing at boat off coast of UAE
Press TV - A US warship opened fire on a fishing boat in the Persian Gulf on Monday. US officials say the small motorboat ignored repeated warnings to halt its approach before the navy vessel opened fire, but survivors of the attack said they received no warning, and that their boat attempted to avoid any contact with the ship. India calls the killing and injuring of its nationals by the US navy "unfortunate." Indian Minister for External Affairs S.M. Krishna says that India is in contact with the US and the UAE regarding the incident.
International community remains silent on ethnic cleansing in Myanmar
Al Jazeera - Amnesty International has accused Myanmar's authorities and Buddhist groups in the state of Rakhine of raping, killing, and ethnically cleansing members of the Muslim Rohingya minority, classified by the United Nations as the world's most persecuted race. The Rohingyas say they account for around 5 million people, with the UN indicating that over 800,000 Muslims live in Myanmar. Many have fled nearby locations, but some countries have turned them away, notably Bangladesh, which has decided not to allow them enter the country in fear of what it called serious environmental and social problems. But even worse is that there is local and international silence on the issue. Western countries that have lifted their economic sanctions on Myanmar after it entered a "democratic transformation," leading many to view the country as an investment paradise.
Egyptian President-Elect takes oath in Tahrir Square
New TV - Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi took an oath before the Egyptian people in Tahrir Square, and vowed to respect the constitution and the law. In the evening, he took an oath to begin his term under the eyes of the Military Council; and away from formalities and the usual protocol, the Egyptian president-elect chose to address his opponents before his supporters. He went to Tahrir Square, which is packed with Egyptians denouncing military rule. Morsi began his presidential term from al-Azhar al-Sharif Mosque, where he performed Friday prayers amongst thousands of Egyptians. The holy mosque was packed with Egyptians who welcomed him in their own way. Al-Azhar’s courtyard held a demonstration giving their allegiance to the president-elect, on a Friday that Egyptians named "The Friday of Handing over Power."
Saudi women launch campaign to defy driving ban
BBC Arabic - The "My Right to Dignity" campaign, in which many Saudi women are active, continues to promote "The Friday of Women Driving". It is an attempt to urge the women in the kingdom, and those in solidarity with them, to drive in the streets of the kingdom today, in order to push for a lift of the driving ban imposed on them. It is a ban among many others, social and political, that are imposed on Saudi women. Advocates for women's driving rights insist that the key to the car may be the key to change in the kingdom.
Sudanese opposition fails to sign post-Bashir political charter
Dubai TV - International condemnation did not prevent Khartoum's government from waging a new arrest campaign targeting Sudanese opposition parties, especially since they started a new movement under the banner of "toppling the regime." But the meeting that was held to sign two proposed charters to manage the country during the transitional period following the regime's collapse, was postponed until next week after they failed to reach an agreement.
UN warns of rising sectarian killings in Syria as gunmen attack pro-Assad TV channel
BBC Arabic - Emad Sara, Director of the news channel Al-Ekhbariya, denounced the attack on the channel. He said the opposition has no desire to convey the opinions of others. He said "Three of our journalists were martyred, and of course, their only crime was conveying words; words that you all know well, words of truth, words that express the other point of view. They conveyed the message of their freedoms in their own way. As such, they were targeted". Human rights investigators in the United Nations released a report today that says the violence in Syria is spiraling out of control. According to the report, the Syrian government is using combat helicopters and artillery to shell residential neighborhoods. It points to the increasing number of sectarian attacks. The report adds that a number of Syrian regions have descended into civil war since the UN-backed ceasefire this past April.
Yemenis take to streets of Sanaa in a massive car rally
Al-Alam - The streets of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, witnessed demonstrations that were the first of their kind, in the form of a procession of cars. Protestors chanted slogans demanding the ouster and trial of those loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, stressing the importance of continuing to mobilize the revolutionaries. Revolutionary youths say that it symbolizes the beginning of a new revolutionary mobilization with the aim of protecting the revolution through various methods.
Image: Egypt's Islamist President-elect Mohamed Mursi (R) delivers a speech while surrounded by his body guards in Cairo's Tahrir Square, June 29, 2012. Mursi took an informal oath of office on Friday before tens of thousands of supporters in Cairo's Tahrir Square, in a slap at the generals trying to limit his power. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh