Jerry Qin: From War News Radio at Swarthmore College, I’m Jerry Qin.
Nora Bailin: And I’m Nora Bailin. Russia, the United States, and the United Nations have failed to set a date for peace talks concerning the Syrian civil war. Senior diplomats were unable to agree on who should represent the Syrian opposition, as well as what role Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should play in the conference. The delay comes on the heels of a UN report stating that forty percent of the Syrian population has been displaced, with 6,000 people leaving the country every day. UN officials cited the Syrian opposition’s disorganization and lack of preparation for the peace conference as a major cause of the diplomatic delay.
Qin: Two separate bomb attacks occurred in the Syrian cities of Damascus and Suweida this week. In Damascus, a bomb exploded at a train station in Hejaz Square, killing eight individuals and wounding at least fifty. At least 34 people were killed and over 41 were injured in an attack on an Air Force Intelligence headquarters in Suweida. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition monitoring group, the Syrian intelligence branch chief was among the individuals killed. This week’s attacks have raised questions about the likelihood that stability will soon return to the war-torn region. The actions of extreme jihadists groups in the government-controlled Suweida, which has long stayed neutral in the conflict, have cast doubt on the ability of rebels to oust Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Bailin: The United States and other members of the United Nations might be approaching a deal with Iran that could potentially halt Iran’s nuclear program for a six month period. The US, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany, known as the P5-plus-1 countries, have shown willingness to loosen some of the economic sanctions on Iran if the country commits to halting its nuclear program. The deal would mark the first time in decades that the progress of Iran’s nuclear program has been stymied. US officials have announced that Secretary of State John Kerry will fly to Geneva tomorrow to participate in the talks, signaling that a deal might be imminent.
Qin: In the Democratic Republic of Congo this week, M23 rebel group leader Sultani Makenga surrendered. Although it has yet to be officially confirmed, the surrender closely followed announcements both of a ceasefire and of M23’s plans to disarm. Since the start of the M23 insurgency in 2012, fighting between the rebels and the government has displaced at least 100,000 people. The Ugandan government, which has facilitated talks between the rebel group and the Congolese government, has expressed optimism that a peace deal is imminent. Once a peace deal is settled, however, questions of amnesty will need to be addressed. While both the United Nations and the Congolese government have insisted that Makenga not receive full amnesty, it is likely that many other M23 members will.
Bailin: United States Secretary of State John Kerry called for Israel to cut back on its settlement of the disputed territory along the Israeli-Palestinian border earlier this week. Kerry described these settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as, quote, “unhelpful” in brokering peace between Palestine and Israel. Kerry has made many attempts to facilitate peace talks, meeting with both Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In spite of limited progress in the negotiations since their reopening last July, Kerry remains optimistic about achieving peace, stating that, quote, “both leaders…are determined to work towards this goal.”
Qin: A Swiss forensic team released findings this week corroborating the theory that late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was poisoned. According to Al Jazeera, which had exclusive access to the report, the scientists found, quote, “unnaturally high levels of polonium in Arafat’s ribs and pelvis, and in soil stained with his decaying organs”. Though an autopsy was not conducted at the time of Arafat’s death in 2004, his official cause of death was deemed a stroke. Many, however, have speculated that his death was due to an undetected poison. After Arafat’s widow Suha found trace amounts of polonium on her husband’s belongings last year, officials reopened his grave to obtain samples from his body. While the results, quote, “moderately support” that Arafat was poisoned, questions still remain as to whether the radioactive element caused Arafat’s death and, if so, which group was behind the murder.
Bailin: A series of small explosions occurred outside of a Communist Party building in Taiyuan, China this week, killing one person and injuring eight others. Ball bearings found at the scene of the explosions have led authorities to believe that the bombs were homemade. The blasts came in the wake of last week’s suicide car crash in Tiananmen Square, a terrorist attack committed by Muslim militants from the Xinjiang region of western China. Although no information about the perpetrators of the explosions has been released, the event appears similar to past incidents in which angered members of the community targeted local government buildings.
Qin: Greece’s largest public and private sector unions went on a 24-hour general walkout to protest against austerity reforms imposed by foreign lenders this week. About 15,000 protesters also marched to the parliament building in Athens, where foreign lenders were reviewing Greece’s bailout. The strike, composed of school teachers, doctors, and municipal and transport workers, shut down schools and impacted flights. The labor unions have expressed concerns that Greece will impose further wage and pension cuts, public sector job cuts, and privatizations in order to satisfy bailout targets.
Bailin: Mullah Fazlullah, the commander who planned the attack on teenage activist Malala Yousafzai, was appointed the new leader of the Pakistani Taliban this week. His unanimous election by the Taliban’s leadership council, known as the shura, came nearly a week after a U.S. drone strike killed the previous chief, Hakimullah Mehsud. Mehsud, who was believed to have designed the failed bombing in New York’s Times Square in 2010, outraged Pakistani officials with his ruthless methods. Mehsud’s death was a big blow to the Taliban, a day after the Pakistani government started peace talks with the militant group.
Qin: If you want to hear more from War News Radio, visit us online at War News Radio.org. This week’s newscast was written and edited by Caroline Batten, Zoe Cina-Sklar, Amy DiPierro, Sabrina Merold, Sara Morell, Rachel Sassella, Will Sullivan, Tyler Welsh, Chloe Wittenberg, and Henry Zhang. I’m Jerry Qin.
Bailin: And I’m Nora Bailin. Until next time, thanks for listening.