Syria

David Gardner

Patrick Seale, journalist and scholar, Middle East commentator and impassioned Syria expert, died last week after succumbing to brain cancer. He was 83.

Best known as the biographer of Hafez al-Assad, the late dictator of Syria, and as a foreign correspondent, first for Reuters news agency and then as the Middle East correspondent for the Observer, Seale was also at different times an art dealer, a literary agent and in 1999 an intermediary in ultimately vain efforts to secure a peace treaty between Syria and Israel. Read more

♦ Thousands of young Muslims are being radicalised through social networks and propelled towards violence in Syria.

Latvia‘s ‘second class’ Russian residents are arguing for better rights, making many locals nervous amid the Crimea crisis.

Ukraine‘s ‘Kamikaze’ economy minister has one of the world’s toughest public administration jobs as he battles to deliver on unrealistic expectations.

♦ The rise of a US oligarchy amid widening inequality is threatening democracy, with both parties up for rent to wealthy lobbyists.

♦ ECB arch hawk Jens Weidmann often finds himself in a minority of one. But the appeal of being the person who is convinced everyone else is wrong seems to have waned. Read more

 Read more

The Syrian armed forces that took control of the Homs province town of Deir Balbi in 2012 wanted to show the locals they meant business and avoid attacks by approaching rebel units. So they forced children out of their homes, and allegedly placed them as human shields between their tanks and soldiers to dissuade the rebels from attacking.

The incident is described in a harrowing report issued by Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, chronicling the devastating effects of the Syrian civil war on the country’s children, and adds fresh urgency to efforts to end the war. At least 10,000 children have died as casualties or combatants of war or under torture in Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s prisons, the report estimates. Read more

By Toby Luckhurst

  • The Sochi Olympics will only temporarily distract from Russia’s increasing economic problems, writes Kathrin Hille.
  • Figure skater Johnny Weir talks about the Russian obsession with skating and their attitudes towards homosexuality.
  • Journalists are arriving in Sochi for the start of the Winter Olympics to find their accommodation is still being built.
  • A New York Times interactive map series on the spread of violence in the Caucasus.
  • Egyptian actress Soheir al-Babli has called for “a man as strong as Hitler” to assert authority over the turbulent country.
  • Dr Hisham A Hellyer salutes the journalists in Egypt who are trying to hold power to account in a country that is increasingly hostile to their work.
  • Fatima Khan is determined to learn the facts behind the death of her son, Dr Abbas Khan, in a Syrian prison.
  • A UN report released on Monday details the abuses children are enduring in the ongoing conflict in Syria.
  • Vanity Fair examines the relationship between Wendi Deng, ex-wife of Rupert Murdoch, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

 Read more

By Toby Luckhurst

  • John Kay’s open letter to Bill Gates restates his argument that the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor.
  • Scarlett Johansson is at the centre of a growing storm surrounding a Soda Stream manufacturing plant in the occupied West Bank.
  • Borzou Daragahi reports on Egyptians’ zealous show of support for the military.
  • Syria’s Islamist rebels have gained control of the country’s oil and are selling fuel to the Assad regime in exchange for protection from air strikes.
  • Jan Cienski reports from Lviv – home to stalwarts of anti-Yanukovich sentiment and Ukrainian nationalism.
  • Upbeat duck accepts premature lameness, writes Edward Luce on Obama’s State of the Union speech.
  • Football stadia are at the forefront of the Chinese push for economic and political influence in Africa.

 Read more

By Toby Luckhurst

  • New “blockbuster” drugs provide hope for a cure to Hepatitis C – an illness which now kills more in the UK than HIV.
  • Neil Buckley explores the tent city that has sprung up in Kiev’s Independence Square to house, feed, and protect the anti-government protesters.
  • Al Jazeera journalist Abdullah Elshamy has begun a hunger strike to protest his detention without charge at the hands of Egypt’s military regime.
  • The New York Times reports on life without government in Lebanon.
  • Syrian government officials are facing anger from Syrians in Switzerland – the first time the regime has engaged with those directly suffering from the conflict.

 Read more

Gideon Rachman

Simply by coming to the World Economic Forum, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran is sending a message. He is the first Iranian president to have spoken in Davos for a decade. In a public speech at the forum and in private meetings with journalists, the president has sought to present a smiling and conciliatory face.

Certainly his personal style is a marked contrast to that of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, his predecessor. While Ahmadi-Nejad was all staring eyes and confrontation, Rouhani has a ready laugh and listens carefully to questions. Read more

By Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive Save the Children

The world has a habit of kicking off while Davis convenes and in past years I’ve been dismayed at the way the formal agenda carried on seemingly obliviously, for example when the so called Arab Spring began. Granted there’s been plenty of advance warning, but this year the Syria crisis is firmly on the agenda. From off the record discussions about the peace talks, to simulations of what it’s like to be a Syrian refugee, to press briefings on the need for humanitarian access. A startling combination of aid agencies and global financiers such as George Soros are collaborating to get attention to the impact on ordinary Syrian families caught up in the fighting, and call for aid to be allowed through and an end to the targeting of schools, hospitals and highly populated areas.

By Toby Luckhurst
  • Roula Khalaf muses on the lionising of broker Jordan Belfort in Martin Scorsese’s film, The Wolf of Wall Street.
  • Syrians have little hope for the talks in Geneva between the Assad regime and opposition forces, writes Borzou Daragahi.
  • Aboud Dandachi, a Sunni activist from Homs, describes life in the port of Tartous, an Assad stronghold.
  • The Catholic Church in Slovenia is in crisis after the “commercial misadventures” of clergy has placed the church in Maribor at risk of repossession.

 Read more