Belmont Club

I Shot the Sheriff

The Obama administration said it would protest the Syrian invasion of the US embassy and ambassador’s residence in Damascus. “Witnesses said the protesters smashed windows at the embassy and raised a Syrian flag on the compound. They also wrote anti-US graffiti referring to the U.S. ambassador as a “dog,” the witnesses said. The protests were over visits by the U.S. and French ambassadors last week to the opposition stronghold of Hama in central Syria.” The administration said the Syrians had not lived up to their international treaty obligations, and international law was at the front and center of all its efforts in the Middle East.

The Washington Post quoted a source which said, “It was evident that the Syrian government orchestrated it using buses to transport and deliver the protesters”. The White House has so far refrained from calling for an end to the Assad family’s rule “wary of pressing too hard as it tries to wind down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and faces criticism for being part of the coalition battling Moammar Gadhafi in Libya,” according to the AP. The Washington Post added that:

graffiti referring to U.S. ambassador Robert Ford as a “dog” and using expletives against America were scrawled on the embassy walls. The bullet-proof glass at the embassy’s entrance was smashed, and rocks were strewn on the ground. As Syrian security forces dressed in riot gear and flak jackets looked on, three Syrian flags could be seen fluttering from the gates. No American flags were in sight.

Meanwhile, warrants of arrest were issued by a United Nations Tribunal for 4 members of the Hezbollah believed to have participated in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. An UN source said the four were Mustafa Badreddine, Hasan Oneisa, Salim Ayyah and Asad Sabra. Additional indictments are expected against the organizers and planners of the attack, according to the same source.

Interpol has given notice to Lebanon it can go out and serve the warrants. “Security agencies are obliged to carry out the arrest warrants and notify the The Hague based court once suspects have been apprehended, they added.” But Hezbollah had previously declared it would not recognize the warrants and added that they believed Israel had killed Hariri. It implied the international courts would never get a hold of the Hezbollah suspects and might as well try them in absentia.

It is not clear whether the US has any bandwidth to assist the court with Hezbollah considering involvement in Libya and its continued attempts to pursue a Middle East peace process. CBS News reports that “furious” US efforts to restart the talks between Israel and the Palestinians are foundering as neither side appears willing to commit to new discussions.

The Israelis are still fuming over Obama’s speech May 19. The president said new negotiations should use territorial boundaries that existed before the 1967 Mideast war as a starting point, with the sides swapping some territory to account for population shifts and security concerns.

By endorsing what had long been a Palestinian goal as a basis for the talks, Obama upset Israel, which has maintained that all boundaries should be subject to negotiation.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is looking for a concession from the Palestinians, such as an explicit statement that they will recognize Israel as a Jewish state, before entering talks, according to diplomats.

The Palestinians have embraced Obama’s speech and suggested they may drop their absolute demand for a halt to Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem as a condition for returning to negotiations. But they have pressed ahead with their drive for U.N. recognition, which could give them new forums to criticize Israel.

Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post said the Middle East peace process is “still dead” but in the meantime the Palestinian Authority is moving ahead with its plans to obtain UN membership, a recognition that would greatly disadvantage Israel. In the meanwhile, the US and its diplomatic partners will meet to urge the parties to return to direct negotiation. But a Palestinian win at the UN would provoke yet another confrontation between the President and Congress, this time even with members of his own party.

The latest effort was a unanimous vote on a Senate resolution that calls for Obama to lead efforts to block a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state and threatens to “consider restrictions on aid to the Palestinian Authority should it persist in efforts to circumvent direct negotiations by turning to the United Nations or other international bodies.” A similar resolution passed the House yesterday.

Fareed Zakaria at CNN argued that Washington’s policy in the Middle East was now a mass of inconsistencies with one standard applied here and another there. Nowhere is that inconsistency more stark than in the Administration’s attitude towards “international law’. The UN News Centre carried High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay’s condemnation of Leal Garcia’s execution in Texas for the murder of a 16 year old as a “violation of international law”.

“The execution of Mr. Leal García places the US in breach of international law,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who is currently on official mission in Mexico.

“I am very disappointed that neither the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles nor the Governor took steps open to them to prevent this breach of the US obligations under international law from occurring,” she stated.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) “adds that in 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a ruling stating that the US must review and reconsider the cases of 51 Mexican nationals sentenced to death – including the case of Mr. Leal García – as they had not received consular services.” Humberto Leal’s last words, according to news sources were “Viva Mexico! Viva Mexico!”

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