Posted by Joshua on Friday, October 31st, 2008
What’s going on with the New York Times ridiculous report on the protest? See the article: “As if on cue…”?. … Things seem to be cooling down in Cham now, after yesterday’s protest.
Frederick Deknatel is right about Graham Bowley’s NYTimes coverage of the Syrian protests. Browley, who must be in New York, dismisses the demonstration as “stage-managed.” I suppose he is trying to suggest that Syrians are not upset by the US incursion and extra-judicial assassination on their territory. Bowley who watched the demo on BBC TV and came to that conclusion. Of course demonstrations in Syria are organized by the government, but to suggest that people are not upset when one has not interviewed anyone there to see if they are angry is well….. not good journalism. Where was the NYTime’s Robert Worth who is based in Lebanon? He is always excellent and does his homework.
Syria Comment’s own Alex gets a shout out in Haaretz, even if Yoav Stern incorrectly associates him with the Syrian government. Alex runs a computer company in Montreal. He has no links to the government in Syria.
Olmert intends to resume indirect talks with Syria
By Barak Ravid and Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondents
…. Meanwhile, a Syrian commentator living in the West, Camille Alexandre Otrakji, said he believed the proposal raised by President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to negotiate based on the Arab peace initiative could be dangerous. In a blog on a public affairs Web site focusing on Syria, Otrakji wrote that the initiative could “…probably be another cycle of chaos, violence, war threats followed by a sequence of flipping peace tracks.” Otrakji does not represent the official Syrian position, but his comments are apparently close to that position.
[Landis Analysis] when Syria’s democratic opposition activists need the world’s sympathy and attention, as word of their sentencing comes out, the Bush administration has diverted attention with its attack on Syria. The treatment of democracy activists over the last two years has been lamentable. Most depressingly, the US attack allows the Syrian government to cast its persecution of the opposition as necessary in the face of foreign aggression and national crisis. It reminds Syrians that they could become Iraqis, which the government exploits to round up its opponents and accuse them of “weakening national sentiment”. US military tactics and the terrible conditions in Iraq undermine America’s traditional and worthy call for democratic rights.
RIGHTS: Bush’s “Freedom Agenda” Stumbles in Syria
By Ali Gharib and Zainab Mineeia
WASHINGTON, Oct 31 (IPS) – With media and diplomatic attention focused on the international incident ignited by a U.S. cross-border raid from Iraq into Syrian territory last weekend, the Syrian government quietly handed down 30-month prison terms to a group of democracy activists on Wednesday.Few took notice, although Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to immediately overturn the convictions and order the release of prisoners arrested during a crackdown on the Damascus Declaration movement in late 2007 and early 2008.Forty activists who participated in a Damascus Declaration forum had been detained, although most were later released. In a 20-minute sentencing session, the 12 who were prosecuted and convicted were given stiff prison terms for allegedly attempting to promote gradual political change in the country.“In a transparent bid to silence its critics, the government is jailing democracy activists for simply attending a meeting,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW. “The trial was a mere cover to legitimise the government’s repression of opposition groups and peaceful critics.”
But the best cover for the Syrian regime may have come from the U.S., Syria expert and Oklahoma University professor Joshua Landis told IPS.
“The world is not concentrating on this; the world is concentrating on America’s violation of Syrian territory,” Landis told IPS, noting that even some of the U.S.’s allies have condemned the raid.
“America would normally be putting out a statement,” he said, “but no one cares about these guys because the world is focused on [the recent raid]. Everyone is focused on this international issue that America created.”
“These 12 democracy promoters are going to disappear into jail because there is chaos at the border. It punctuates the failure of the Freedom Agenda,” Landis added. …
Every Middle Eastern society is so fearful of the chaos and insecurity that could be visited upon them with the collapse of their government that they cling to their dictatorial regimes,” Landis told IPS. “It’s relegitimised dictatorship.”
I discuss this same problem in this show on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman:
If anyone needs reminding of the sad state of President Bush’s democracy agenda, watch this horrifying video: Iraqi Prostitutes – Syria – YouTube: It is a shame that there are not special forces to protect these women.
Farrah Hassen writes an excellent backgrounder to US – Syrian relations since 2000. “A bumpy ride for the US over Syria,” in Asia Times.
Sybella Wilkes, UNHCR’s spokesperson in Syria writes this note:
I’m just back from the Iraqi borders where the poor Palestinians are recovering from heavy rainfall and flooding. Life is agony on these border camps. They can’t go forwards, they can’t go back. My story should be out later today.
I realize you have other pressing issues on Syria at the moment(!), but I am doing my best to keep the Palestinians on everyone’s radars.
Best wishes, Sybella
Here is her story:
AL TANF, Iraq-Syria Border, October 30 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency has rushed assistance to hundreds of Palestinian refugees stuck in camps on the Iraq-Syria border after heavy rain and flooding caused chaos and misery.
Rainstorms on Tuesday night left tents inundated with water and sewage, possessions soaked and electricity supplies cut at Al Tanf, a settlement housing almost 800 people in the narrow no man’s land between Iraq and Syria. The small mosque was damaged by fire, but there were no human casualties
“This is the closest to hell I can imagine,” said Mutassem Hayatla, a UNHCR field officer who stayed in the camp during the downpour. “With no electricity, the camp was full of the sound of crying, terrified children. We did our best, but it was a blessing when the night was over.”
Nine-year-old Aya said she was terrified. “The lights were all off, there was water everywhere. My mother was crying. She is pregnant and the baby will come soon. Please get us out before my brother is born. I am scared he will die if we have to live here after she delivers.”
The situation was even worse in Al Waleed, a nearby camp hosting more than 1,400 refugees just inside Iraq, where more than 100 families were left homeless after their tents were destroyed in the storm. UNHCR was rushing supplies on Wednesday to both sites, but it was taking longer to get to Al Waleed due to security considerations.
The UNHCR office in Damascus sent new tents, plastic sheeting, blankets and mattresses to Al Tanf on Wednesday, while refugee agency staff on the ground in Al Waleed were waiting for supplies to arrive in Iraq. The worst affected families and elderly Palestinians were moved to the camp school and a clinic.
When the UNHCR aid convoy arrived in Al Tanf on Wednesday morning, residents were recovering their soaked belongings amid the incessant downpour. Trucks thundered past on the Baghdad-Damascus highway which runs beside the camp, throwing up waves of water onto the nearest tents.
Many of the worst affected had moved in with families whose tents had been spared the worst of the damage and pollution caused by the floodwaters. The storm could hardly have come at a worse time, with winter approaching. “We sleep with seven blankets,” said Nadia, a mother of three children, including a severely handicapped child. “Now that everything is wet, I don’t know how we are going to stay warm.”
UNHCR staff in Al Waleed said it had become a muddy quagmire, while flash floods had swept away scores of tents. The sewage system had also overflown in the camp and people were falling ill. “We are already inundated with refugee patients complaining about cold and flu,” said a Palestinian refugee doctor.
The flooding is just one more chapter in the ordeal suffered by the Palestinians in Al Tanf and Al Waleed since fleeing their homes in Baghdad to escape threats, kidnapping and violence. They have endured sandstorms, snow in the winter and soaring temperatures in the summer. In Al Tanf, two children have been killed by passing trucks and there have been a couple of major fires.
Some of the refugees have lived at Al Tanf for three years, barred from entering any of the countries neighbouring Iraq. “We cannot go forwards, nor back. We have a road on one side that threatens our children’s lives daily, a high wall on the other; in front and behind we have two impenetrable borders,” explained Abu Ziyad, a member of the Al Tanf refugee committee.
“Our only hope is resettlement. For the sake of our children, our wives, our elderly, we beg you, please get us out of here,” he pleaded.
UNHCR on Thursday reiterated its appeal to the international community to provide resettlement places for Palestinians from Iraq, with no other option currently available for the refugees. “We urge more countries to open their doors to resettle the Palestinian refugees and bring their precarious situation to an end,” said Daniel Endres, UNHCR’s representative in Iraq.
By Sybella Wilkes in Al Tanf, Iraq-Syria border