Arab Regimes Want ‘No-Fly’ Zone Over Gaza, But Silent on Bloodshed in Syria

By Patrick Goodenough | April 11, 2011 | 4:40 AM EDT

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, right, photographed with senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in Cairo on Wednesday, April 6, 2011, says the Arab group wants the Security Council to impose a “no-fly” zone over the Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

( – An Arab League decision on Sunday to urge the U.N. Security Council to enforce a “no-fly” zone over the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip stands in sharp contrast to its silence on the situation in Syria, where rights groups say more than 170 people have been killed in anti-government unrest since mid-March, at least 37 of them since Friday.

The 22-member Arab League made the call at an emergency meeting in Cairo, convened at the request of Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas. According to Syria’s national SANA news agency, the no-fly zone proposal originated from the Syrian delegation to the League.

The appeal came four weeks after the Arab League, in an unprecedented move, asked the international community to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, to protect civilians facing attack by Muammar Gaddafi’s forces. That call, which Syria and Algeria opposed at the time, provided the impetus for the subsequent Security Council resolution and military intervention in Libya led by the U.S., France and Britain.

Syria’s envoy to the Arab League, Yousef Ahmad, told Sunday’s meeting it was strange that the Palestinians’ appeals for help fell on deaf ears while an air embargo was imposed on Libya.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said Arab states rejected “double standard policies towards the Palestinians.” 

Apart from the decision to seek an urgent Security Council meeting to call for a no-fly zone, the League also demanded that the international community prevent Israel from committing “crimes against humanity” and bring “Israeli war criminals” to justice. Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyah, praised the outcome of the meeting.

Violence flared in the Gaza Strip after Hamas terrorists fired a missile across the border at an Israeli school bus on Thursday, critically injuring a teenager. Amid ongoing missile and mortar attacks from Gaza – more than 120 were reported over a 48-hour period – the Israeli military over the weekend said it attacked 11 groups of terrorists immediately after they launched projectiles, as well as 15 other “terror activity sites” including “Hamas outposts, smuggling tunnels and weapons manufacturing and storage facilities.” It also reported targeting “Hamas commanders and operatives.”

Arab media outlets reported that 19 Palestinians were killed. The Palestinian Ma’an news agency said at least six of them were civilians. The Israeli military accused Hamas of continuing to launch attacks from civilian areas.

Among the slain terrorists were two senior leaders of Hamas’ military wing and a man identified as a member of the armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committees, a coalition of non-Hamas armed groups active in Gaza.

Tensions subsided somewhat on Sunday, with a significant drop in the number of rocket attacks and no Israeli air strikes reported.

“If they stop firing on our communities, we will stop firing,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Radio on Sunday. “If they stop firing in general, it will be quiet.”

Forty-four statements, but not one on Syria

In this image taken from television footage, demonstrators march in the southern Syrian flashpoint of Dara'a on Friday, April 8, 2011. (AP Photo)

In Syria, meanwhile, Friday marked the deadliest single day of violence since protests against Syrian President Bashir Assad’s rule began almost a month ago.

The non-governmental group National Organization for Human Rights in Syria said 37 demonstrators were killed – 30 in Dara’a in the south, four in Damascus province, and three in Homs province, which lies to the north-east of the capital.

Another four protestors were reportedly shot dead and 17 others injured on Sunday in Banias, a small coastal city north-west of Damascus.

Many of those killed since the unrest erupted, according to leading human rights groups, died when security forces – or in some cases gunmen in civilian clothing suspected to be security force members – opened fire on unarmed demonstrators 

“Since the first protesters died in Dara’a on 18 March, Amnesty International has recorded the names, via information received from sources including human rights activists and lawyers, of 171 people killed,” the group said on Friday.

“The majority appear to have been killed by live ammunition fired by the security forces.”

The Syrian government and state media have blamed the unrest on instigators from outside the country, accusing “armed groups” of opening fire on protestors and security forces, without elaborating. 

Syrian civilians protesting against the government have received no support from the Arab League, which has called no meeting to discuss the situation.

Also silent on the turmoil in Syria is the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). A search on the Web site of the 56-country bloc of Muslim-majority states finds not one statement referring to the situation in Syria since the violent clampdown began.

Over that same period OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu has issued 44 statements, including eight on the conflict in Libya, six on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, three on the upheaval in Cote d’Ivoire, and three on the burning of a copy of the Qur’an and violent protests in Afghanistan.

On Sunday he accused Israel of “barbaric” aggression and “abominable crimes against the defenseless Palestinian people” in Gaza, and called on world powers to intervene.

Who needs protecting from whom?

As recently reported, some advocates for the Palestinians have been calling for the U.N. to exercise the same doctrine invoked in the Libya crisis – the so-called “responsibility to protect” concept – to intervene against Israel.

Others argue that it is Israel that should be seen as deserving of international support and protection.

“NATO forces have been bombing a foreign country, Libya, in order to prevent murderous attacks on civilians – the same logic behind Israel’s strikes against Gaza terrorists,” journalist Yigal Walt wrote Sunday on the online edition of Israel’s mass-circulation daily Yediot Ahronot.

“In this respect, the Arab League’s call to impose a no-fly zone over Gaza is particularly ludicrous. If the West wishes to adopt the Libya logic in Gaza as well, it will be bombing Hamas, not Israel.”

“Would it be unfair to ask: In the eyes of the International Community, are the good people of Benghazi worth more than the good people Tel Aviv?” Clifford May, president of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote on Thursday.

“Of course, Israelis do not want or need foreign military forces to defend them,” May continued. “They would be immensely grateful, however, were the International Community to recognize that Israelis have a right and an obligation to defend themselves.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow