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Rebels in Syria claim control of resources

BEIRUT — Islamist rebels and extremist groups have seized control of most of Syria’s oil and gas resources, a rare generator of cash in the country’s war-battered economy, and are now using the proceeds to underwrite their fights against one another as well as President Bashar Assad, U.S. officials say.

While the oil and gas fields are in serious decline, control of them has bolstered the fortunes of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, and the Nusra Front, both of which are offshoots of al-Qaida. ISIL is even selling fuel to the Assad government, lending weight to allegations by opposition leaders that it is secretly working with Damascus to weaken the other rebel groups and discourage international support for their cause.

Although there is no clear evidence of direct tactical coordination between ISIL and Assad, U.S. officials say that his government has facilitated the group’s rise not only by purchasing its oil but by exempting some of its headquarters from the airstrikes that have tormented other rebel groups.

The Nusra Front and other groups are providing fuel to the government, too, in exchange for electricity and relief from airstrikes, according to opposition activists in Syria’s oil regions.

The scramble for Syria’s oil is described by analysts as a war within the broader civil war, one that is turning what was once an essential source of income for Syria into a driving force in a conflict that is tearing the country apart.

“Syria is an oil country and has resources, but in the past they were all stolen by the regime,” said Abu Nizar, an anti-government activist in Deir el-Zour. “Now they are being stolen by those who are profiting from the revolution.”

—Ben Hubbard, Clifford Krauss and Eric Schmitt,

Palestinian leader says he can accept Israeli military in West B

TEL AVIV, Israel — President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority said in an interview shown Tuesday that he could accept an Israeli military presence in the West Bank for a three-year transition period as part of a peace deal. But Abbas said “whoever proposes 10 or 15 years for a transition” was not serious about an agreement.

The question of who should be responsible for security, particularly in the Jordan Valley, and for how long, has been central in the U.S.-brokered peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians that started last summer.

Israel has long insisted that it could depend only on its own soldiers, not an international force, with some leaders suggesting that they might stay for 40 years or more. Palestinian officials have said they could not tolerate even a single Israeli soldier patrolling their future state, although they have acknowledged that some transition period would most likely be required.

“We say that a transition period not exceed three years, during which Israel will withdraw gradually,” Abbas said in a videotaped interview shown at an Israeli security conference here, in his most specific recent public comments on the subject. “We are willing to allow a third party to take Israel’s place during and after a withdrawal in order to soothe our concerns and Israel’s.” He suggested NATO as “the suitable party.”

A spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel declined to respond to Abbas’ comments, and Netanyahu himself did not directly address them in his own speech Tuesday night at the conference, sponsored by the Institute for National Security Studies. But the prime minister said that “the Palestinian state must be demilitarized,” and that any deal would require “security arrangements that are embedded in the hands of Israel so we will be able to secure ourselves and protect ourselves.”

—Jodi Rudoren, The New York Times