Israeli Arab Party Fails to Condemn Assad's Gas Attack in Syria, Slams U.S. Strikes

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Arab-Israeli parliament members and candidates join hands after the announcement of the Joint Arab List in upcoming elections, February 2, 2015.
Arab-Israeli Knesset members and candidates join hands after the announcement of the Joint Arab List in upcoming elections, February 2, 2015.Credit: Reuters

The rift in Arab society around the Syrian war is not new. Every time it provides new headlines and horrific photos, the argument flares up with an exchange of verbal blows between supporters of the Syrian regime and supporters of the opposition, with its multiple hues. Such disputes have repeatedly prevented the Joint Arab List and the Arab Monitoring Committee from issuing a unified declaration relating to events in Syria.

This dispute was highlighted again last week, first in the wake of the deadly chemical attack in the Idlib area, attributed to the Assad regime, followed by Friday’s attack by the U.S. on targets in Syria.

Haaretz has learned that following the chemical attack, there was an attempt to publish a condemnation in the name of the Joint Arab List, but that opposition by the Hadash party, one of its members, prevented its publication.

There was no statement after the U.S. strikes, with activists and senior officials in the parties making up the Joint Arab List issuing separate announcements, some condemning it and others refraining from taking a clear stand.

Over the weekend, there was a Hadash conference in Shfar’am, an Israeli Arab city in northern Israel. Party president Mohammad Barakeh condemned the U.S. attack. Barakeh, who also heads the Monitoring Committee, found it difficult to issue a statement in the name of the committee, which serves as an umbrella organization for political movements in the Arab sector. 

Barakeh reacted to the chemical attack on his Facebook page: “One cannot remain neutral when seeing the children and infant victims. I’m for life and their right to live – the solution in Syria must be a diplomatic one, getting rid of ISIS terror and whoever supports it, maintaining the unity of Syria as a country and nation with all its constituent components.”

The general secretary of the Communist Party, Adel Amer, was more forceful in his approach: “We in the Communist Party and Hadash condemn any killing of babies or of men and women in the Syrian war, particularly when non-conventional weapons are used, but we ask who stands to gain in this situation. Now it’s clearer than before that the terrorist organizations are on the run, leading them to commit crimes with unprecedented brutality. The American attack is an attempt to extricate these organizations, which are supported by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel, from their predicament.”

The southern branch of the Islamic movement had a completely opposite stance regarding the attack in Idlib, but it too condemned the U.S. attack: “This isn’t the first time the regime has used chemical weapons without being brought to justice by the international community. The regime’s head should be removed and its leader brought to the International Court as a war criminal,” its statement said. 

The vice chairman of the southern branch of the Islamic Movement, Dr Mansour Abbas, denounced the American attack, writing: “We condemn this intervention as we do the Russian one. We call for a diplomatic solution which will return Syria to the Syrian people and for bringing war criminals, mainly the regime, to justice.”

The chairman of the Ta’al party, MK Ahmed Tibi, sharply criticized both the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition during a speech at the Knesset, saying that war crimes have been committed for years by both sides. He added that the chemical attack would be a stain of all humanity. Tibi also condemned the American attack. “The U.S. cannot act like a global policeman and we oppose any aggression and external intervention of whatever nature” said Tibi in conversation with Haaretz.

The chairman of Balad, MK Jamal Zahalka, also issued a condemnation of the Idlib attack and asked that those responsible be brought to justice, without specifically indicating who was responsible. This led to internal criticism within Balad, in which there is no unified stand around events in Syria. In an article published by journalist Rami Mansour on the Balad website, he attacked Zahalka and Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh for not issuing a specific condemnation of the massacre in Idlib or of the Syrian regime as the one responsible for these crimes.

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