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Syria: For the record. President al-Asad announced parliamentary elections will be held on 7 May.

Comment: Despite the violence, Asad is undeterred from following the political reform plan he outlined last year, which will include multi-party elections.

The Syrian Opposition. Former judge, attorney and prominent opposition figure Haithem al-Maleh withdrew from the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) because of the party's lack of transparency, clarity and organization, al-Maleh said on 13 March. Al-Maleh added that the group has not been successful in arming the rebels.

Comment: al-Maleh is a long time, well-respected critic of the Asad's and known as a human rights activist and member of Amnesty International. He has served two terms in prison for his political activism, as a prisoner of conscience, most recently between 2009 and 2011. He was released last March under one of President Asad's amnesty decrees, one for political prisoners over 70 years of age.

Al Maleh once predicted that Asad will face the same fate as Qadhafi, but apparently the Syrian National Council will not be the instrument of his justice.

The details of al-Maleh's split with the SNC are not readily available, but his statement contains serious charges that imply he found the council acting in some ways like the Syrian government. His comments about a lack of clarity and organization suggest fundamental shortcomings, plus unwillingness to accept counsel from one of the oldest and most respected foes of the Asad family.

This is the first high-level defection from the SNC.

Syria-Russia: Russia has no intention of curtailing military cooperation with Syria. Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said Russia will abide by existing contracts to deliver weapons to Syria.

Comment: The Russians continue to back the government in power. They support a peace plan, but it requires the opposition to stop shooting as well as the government.

Israel- Palestinians in the Gaza Strip: After four days of Israeli air strikes and Palestinian rocket fire into southern Israel, news services reported an exchange of offers for a ceasefire. At least two rockets were fired today. More than 300 have been fired thus far.

Comment: News coverage is confusing and difficult to follow. The New York Times published that Hamas was letting Palestinian Islamic Jihad shoot rockets into Israel. Islamic Jihad is not part of Hamas; Hamas has seldom had the ability or will to restrain Islamic Jihad.

The BBC accurately reported that the apparent first strike in this round of exchanges was an Israeli attack last Friday, 9 March, that killed the secretary-general of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC). The Israelis contend the PRC leader was planning a bombing attack, and the air strike was preventive.

The PRC is separate from Islamic Jihad and Hamas and responds to direction from neither. It is implacably hostile to Israel, having broken away from other Palestinian groups because they were too conciliatory.

The timing of the Israeli air strike during the Prime Minister's visit to the US suggests it was aimed at reinforcing his message that Israel is surrounded by unpredictable, deadly enemies. On the other hand, Israel is believed to have the intelligence and capability to take out Palestinian leaders in the Gaza Strip virtually at will. The attacked was timed to convey multiple political messages.

The Israeli's report that the PRC is inspired and financed by Lebanese Hezbollah, and is, thus, another of Iran's proxy terrorist groups. The PRC and Hezbollah flags have a similar symbol. Thus, the Israeli air attack last Friday also seems partly directed at Iran. Iran is shown to be unable to protect its proxies.

The PRC's most common tactics are bomb attacks, not rocket attacks. Islamic Jihad and Hamas fire rockets, but Hamas has kept a low profile in this round of exchanges. The obvious inference is that two of the most vicious and anti-Israel groups are cooperating in the rocket fires and that relations with Hamas are strained. Hamas announced its support for the Syrian opposition, but Islamic Jihad and the PRC have refused to abandon the al-Asad regime

Still the Israeli's fired the first shot and they knew to expect retaliation. They appear to have counted on it so that they could showcase the Iron Dome anti-rocket system, which seems to have had more than 50% success in protecting Israeli towns from Palestinian rockets. It is all part of the mystique of invincibility and omniscience.

Israel's Chief of Staff is threatening ground operations, but that term covers everything from commando raids to conventional military operations. Conventional military incursions seem highly unlikely, having gone poorly during the three-week incursion in 2008 and 2009.

Hamas has shown no commitment to this fight, which explains its actions to try to broker a ceasefire. A ceasefire is inevitable, if only from depletion of Palestinian rocket inventories that probably have become difficult to replenish.

End of NightWatch.

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