Posted by Joshua on Monday, June 25th, 2012
Several high-ranking Syrian military officers have reportedly defected to Turkey. China is urging calm after Syria’s downing downs Turkish jet, and China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, says he hopes parties will “adhere to diplomacy” as Turkey takes the issue to NATO, insisting that the jet was in international airspace, while Syria claims that the aircraft entered its airspace. During the first days after the Friday downing, Turkey seemed to be soft peddling the downing, but has ratcheted up the pressure. The European Union, which has announced new sanctions against Syria, is unlikely to do more, although the US may have urged Turkey to make a greater issue of the Jet downing.
More journalists are trying to get the story about who is feeding arms to the Syrian opposition, who is paying for them, what conditions are being set for their dispersal, and which militia leaders are being chosen as the “winners” of the opposition beauty contest.
Both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have run stories suggesting that the CIA is getting to decide who the winners are. But this is not supported by Rania Abouzeid in today’s Time story. She tries to get a clearer picture from some of the main arms suppliers. The Saudis seem to be contracting through a Lebanese middle man: does that mean they are trying to link their Syria interests to their Lebanon interests? Are weapons slow to get through to Syria because the US, Turkey and Saudi are arguing over which militias should be the winners? Or are they still busy trying to determine who is who? All questions that are yet un-answered.
Syria formed a new government on June 23 with the appointment of twenty new ministers and the establishment of five new ministries, including one for national reconciliation. No one is really paying attention sa the key posts are unchanged. Riad Farid Hijab, a former agriculture minister and a loyalist member of the ruling Baath Party, has been returned as Prime Minister. He is considered honest by many. But the inclusion of a few leftist opposition members to what is normally a rubber stamp institution will not bring change most insist.
Syria’s Gross Domestic Product will fall by 6.4 percent this year according to the World Bank after having declined by 3.1 percent in 2011.
Jordan seems to have closed the border with Syria – a friend writes: “Someone in Syria just told me that Jordan has closed its border with Syria to avoid taking more refugees. This means Syrians can’t travel to Jordan at all.”
Unemployment in the governorate of Hassakeh, in the northeast of the country, is at 40 percent of the labor force, while more than 42 percent of households have a member of the family outside the country, according to a recent government survey. (Read Syria Report by Jihad Yazigi for more)
General among 33 Syrian soldiers defecting to Turkey
TIME FOR A REALITY CHECK: Bashar al-Assad is Not about to Fall
by John Vedat Kaya (aka Vedat The Turk)
For Syria Comment by a long-time commentator on SC
It is astonishing how so many people on this site and the broader media are predicting a quick end to the Baathist regime in Damascus. It’s as if every news report about the present Syrian conflict strongly hints that days of Bashar al-Assad are coming to an end shortly. What rubbish!
As long time readers of this blog are aware, I have been a vocal critic of the Assad regime and have predicted its inevitably downfall one day. However this does not mean that it will occur anytime soon. Indeed the present Syrian conflict is eerily similar to two previous Middle East wars and both of these past events can tell us a great deal of what Syrians should expect in the future and the time lines involved.
The first is the rule of Saddam Hussein after his defeat in the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Like the present Syrian situation, everyone at the time predicted that Saddam would be quickly deposed of by his people. It was also reported that moral among his officer corp was poor so a coup was inevitable. Worse yet, the pundits proclaimed, how long could he last while his own Sunni tribes suffered under crushing international sanctions? The answer was 13 more years! And even then, he was only defeated after an international coalition of 100,000 troops was sent him to topple him! Something that is highly unlikely in today’s Syrian war.
The second conflict that gives an indication of where the present Syrian war is headed is the Algerian Civil War that began in 1990. In that war a corrupt military regime found itself matched against a highly popular Islamic uprising. Like the present day Syrian uprising, the Algerian Islamists insurgents were initially poorly trained but had outside support and quickly became a militarized force.
Unlike the present day Syrian conflict however, the Algerian Islamist opposition was well organized. Again in this conflict the Islamists were considered to be the inevitable victors because of their broad based support. The military junta was repeatedly pressured by the international community to make concessions and allow the Islamist to take power in one way or another. They never did. Instead they created death squads and horrible atrocities were committed (by both sides). The insurgency was eventually defeated (though they are still active to this day but in a limited capacity).
The point I wish to convey with the above examples is that when it comes to over-throwing a militarized regime whose sole purpose is to insure its survival, the odds are in the favor of the rulers and not the revolutionaries. More importantly the timelines involved are in the multiple years if not decades!
Yes, Assad is a ruthless leader who deserves to be held to account for his actions at the World Court in The Hague. However to somehow assume that his downfall will come quickly or without years of bloodshed is being naive. A better solution would be for those on both sides would be to begin to try and look for some kind of possible negotiated settlement. I realize this is not easy for some Syrians to accept with the current carnage underway. However this conflict, like all other civil wars before it, will only come to an end with a negotiated settlement. It’s time that people on this blog accept this and begin to formulate ideas on how we can achieve this end.
John Vedat Kaya (Aka Vedat The Turk on Syria Comment)
Kofi Annan Can Save Syria, But he needs our help.
By Christopher Hill|Posted Sunday, June 24, 2012 – Slate
Opening the Weapons Tap: Syria’s Rebels Await Fresh and Free Ammo
By: Rania Abouzeid | Time
Allegations of large weapons consignments abound, and TIME tracks down two men believed to be main distributors to gauge the extent of the infusions — and the plight of the ragtag rebel bands desperate for help…
The first large consignment was handed over more than two months ago and was distributed to select groups operating in and around Idlib, Hama, Homs and the outskirts of Damascus. Each area received several hundred rocket-propelled grenade launchers (with 10 grenades per launcher), Kalashnikov rifles, BKC machine guns and ammunition, according to several sources. There have also been two smaller deliveries since the initial consignment. “We weren’t asked what we needed,” says one rebel commander responsible for an area of northern Syria who had been promised supplies, “but we will take whatever we can get.”
In recent weeks, there have been reports, mainly citing Western diplomatic sources, that rebels were receiving weapons supplied by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Almost as many stories — largely based on the testimony of some rebels — have denied this. Meanwhile, both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have reported that CIA officers are on the ground in southern Turkey, helping decide which Syrian opposition fighters receive the arms.
Many of the new weapons are being funneled through a Lebanese intermediary, rebel groups say. The Lebanese politician, who opposes the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and has set up an office in Istanbul, declined to be interviewed. He is the main tap, so to speak, while a handful of Syrians are the distributors. TIME tracked down a man believed to be the main distributor, a 31-year-old who says he commands some 1,500 rebels along the Syrian coast but is not part of the Free Syrian Army — the loosely organized network of military defectors and armed civilians — or any other group like the Muslim Brotherhood. He spoke on condition of complete anonymity and insisted that even his geographical area of operation be withheld from publication.
He was extremely reluctant to speak. He denied that the support was sponsored by foreign governments but admitted that “the weapons that entered recently all went through me.” He said he “distributed weapons to almost all of the provinces” but that “everything that went in was not more than 5,000 rifles, although there were a lot of bullets, 700,000 bullets.” He brushed off questions about new RPGs and denied receiving antitank missiles. “When the sun rises, everybody will see it,” he said.
TIME also found another alleged distributor, one of the four purported representatives of the rebellion in the capital, Damascus, and its outskirts. This man too said the distributors are neither FSA or Muslim Brotherhood. He did say the weapons are from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. “It’s not what you think,” he said from Istanbul, where he has recently based himself after leaving Syria. “It was just small amounts. Bullets, rifles, RPGs, and not in huge numbers. We were promised weapons that could take on a tank, but we haven’t got them yet.”…
the 31-year-old Syrian arms distributor said Turkey’s “red light” on the border had recently turned green, a view shared by his Damascene counterpart. “The Turkish government is closing its eyes,” he said. The goods are ferried across the border on donkeys, as well as physically carried in by the rebels, he and others said. The recent large consignments of weapons are not only new, they are free…
But the new consignment hasn’t yet arrived. … That may be because, says the Damascene distributor, the main batches from the Gulf came with preconditions. “They are saying that there are weapons in depots here (in Turkey) but they won’t release them to us because we are not pledging allegiance to them. They want us to follow Saudi Arabia or a big organization like the Brotherhood. We are refusing this. That’s why the next batch of weapons has been delayed. Either we follow them, and get lots of weapons, or we don’t and die.”…
As’aad still appears to be Turkey’s go-to guy in the FSA, and physical access to the colonel comes only with Turkish permission. It is a political conundrum: the rebels claim that the recent weapons shipments crossed the border with Turkey’s blessing even as Ankara denies it while denouncing the Damascus regime. To admit otherwise may be casus belli..
While As’aad may be cut out of the new weapons transfers, that doesn’t mean other senior FSA defectors aren’t in on the deals. As’aad has often come under friendly fire from members of the opposition who have questioned his effectiveness and his contributions to the struggle against Assad. He has been publicly sidelined by the FSA’s military council in the embattled city of Homs. “Nobody has the right to issue press releases, take decisions or speak about operations in the Free Syrian Army’s name, except for the FSA command inside Syria,” the group’s spokesman, Colonel Qassem Saadeddine, said in a videotaped statement uploaded to YouTube last month. “From now on, all decisions will be taken from inside Syria … Anyone wishing to represent the Syrian people, the free army, or speak in its name, is invited to make their way to the battlefield, to Syria, and wait for the Syrian people to confer legitimacy upon them.”
Syria: Nearly 170 Killed on June 20 in Bloodiest Day Since UN Ceasefire Announced
June 21 (Telegraph) — Clashes in Syria on Thursday killed nearly 170 people, mainly civilians, on the deadliest day since a ceasefire came into force, according to a human rights group.
Ron Paul introduces legislation to prevent the president from supporting the Syrian opposition without congressional approval:
Saudi Arabia plans to fund Syria rebel army
Guardian, Martin Chulov in Beirut, Ewen MacAskill in Washington, John Densky in Idlib province, Friday 22 June
Saudi officials are preparing to pay the salaries of the Free Syria Army as a means of encouraging mass defections from the military and increasing pressure on the Assad regime, the Guardian has learned.
The move, which has been discussed between Riyadh and senior officials in the US and Arab world, is believed to be gaining momentum as a recent flush of weapons sent to rebel forces by Saudi Arabia and Qatar starts to make an impact on battlefields in Syria.
Officials in the Saudi capital embraced the idea when it was put to them by Arab officials in May, according to sources in three Arab states, around the same time that weapons started to flow across the southern Turkish border into the hands of Free Syria Army leaders.
Turkey has also allowed the establishment of a command centre in Istanbul which is co-ordinating supply lines in consultation with FSA leaders inside Syria. The centre is believed to be staffed by up to 22 people, most of them Syrian nationals.
The Guardian witnessed the transfer of weapons in early June near the Turkish frontier. Five men dressed in the style of Gulf Arabs arrived in a police station in the border village of Altima in Syria and finalised a transfer from the Turkish town of Reyhanli of around 50 boxes of rifles and ammunition, as well as a large shipment of medicines.
The men were treated with deference by local FSA leaders and were carrying large bundles of cash. They also received two prisoners held by rebels, who were allegedly members of the pro-regime militia, the Shabiha.
The influx of weapons has reinvigorated the insurrection in northern Syria, which less than six weeks ago was on the verge of being crushed.
The move to pay the guerrilla forces’ salaries is seen as a chance to capitalise on the sense of renewed confidence, as well as provide a strong incentive for soldiers and officers to defect. The value of the Syrian pound has fallen sharply in value since the anti-regime revolt started 16 months ago, leading to a dramatic fall in purchasing power.
The plan centres on paying the FSA in either US dollars or euros, meaning their salaries would be restored to their pre-revolution levels, or possibly increased.
The US senator Joe Lieberman, who is actively supporting the Syrian opposition, discussed the issue of FSA salaries during a recent trip to Lebanon and Saudi Arabia
His spokesman, Whitney Phillips, said: “Senator Lieberman has called for the US to provide robust and comprehensive support to the armed Syrian opposition, in co-ordination with our partners in the Middle East and Europe. He has specifically called for the US to work with our partners to provide the armed Syrian opposition with weapons, training, tactical intelligence, secure communications and other forms of support to change the military balance of power inside Syria.
“Senator Lieberman also supports the idea of ensuring that the armed opposition fighters receive regular and sufficient pay, although he does not believe it is necessary for the United States to provide this funding itself directly.”
US defence secretary Leon Panetta said this week Washington was not playing a direct role in gun-running into northern Syria. “We made a decision not to provide lethal assistance at this point. I know others have made their own decisions.”
Earlier this week the New York Times reported the CIA was operating in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which opposition fighters would get weapons.
Diplomatic sources have told the Guardian two US intelligence officers were in Syria’s third city of Homs between December and early February, trying to establish command and control within rebel ranks.
Interviews with officials in three states reveal the influx of weapons – which includes kalashnikovs, rocket propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles – started in mid-May, when Saudi Arabia and Qatar finally moved on pledges they had made in February and March to arm rebel forces…..
Why the CIA Won’t Relish Its Syria Mission
The agency is being forced to play catch-up in a complex situation of which it has limited knowledge. Turkey’s cooperation may be vital
By Robert B. Baer | June 22, 2012 – Time Magazine
According to the New York Times, the CIA now has people deployed in Turkey trying to sort out which Syrian rebels should be armed, and which shouldn’t. That comes as no real surprise, in light of Syria spinning into worse chaos and violence, and the Obama Administration running out of good options. Isn’t the CIA always called in when nothing else works?
I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that, right now, the last situation the CIA wants to get into is Syria. Like the rest of the world, it knows next to nothing about the Syrian opposition, which is a mare’s nest of secular and religious groups. There is no one predominant figure, which leaves the CIA to sort out competing claims to political leadership and support. And, as these things usually go, it will take a lot of time to sort out the swindlers and the frauds from the real thing. A large number of Syrian exiles are in it for the money, rather than supporting, much less representing the fighters dying on Syria’s battlefields.
It should also be remembered that the CIA has had a long, unhappy history playing Syrian politics. In the 1960s, one of its operatives was accused of trying to foment a coup, and was hanged in Damascus’s central square. After Syria put down the Hama rebellion in February 1982, it found U.S.-made radio equipment in the rubble, and wrongly accused the CIA of having supported the uprising. Both State Department and the CIA came to an informal understanding that the CIA would keep away from the Syrian opposition — and it, in fact, did just that for the following three decades. So right now, the CIA is playing catch-up.
Turning the CIA on Syria is a sign that the Administration has been put in a corner not of its own making. That’s because there are no easy or obvious solutions to the Syrian conflict. When the Arab Spring first reached Syria in March 2011, the Washington’s hope was that Syrian President Bashar Assad would open up Syria to some sort of democracy and defuse dissent. Then, when the power struggle turned violent, the Administration latched on to the hope that a Syrian general would overthrow Bashar.
But what Washington missed was that the minority-led Alawite regime from the beginning was blinded by a siege mentality that didn’t allow for any dissent. Either you’re with us or you’re against us was the mentality. Sacrificing Bashar — no matter how badly he’d botched it — would be tantamount to surrender.
As the military confrontation escalated, the regime decided to hand out weapons to the so-called shabihah — irregular militas made up of Alawites and Christians, set loose on Sunni communities supporting the uprising. The regime never had any illusions it could control such groups, or restrain them from waging pogroms against civilians. But the arithmetic was compelling: There simply weren’t enough loyal units in the army to hold all the territory being contested by the rebels….
Syria rebels divided, at times violent
By BEN HUBBARD | Associated Press
SARJEH, Syria (AP) — Rebel commander Ahmed Eissa al-Sheikh keeps a paper on his desk bearing the names of the dead from his brigade. The first 16 are neatly typed below a Quranic verse extolling martyrdom. The next 14 are handwritten and crammed into the margin, because the paper is full.
Al-Sheikh, an Islamist with a long black beard and gray fatigues, runs the Falcons of Damascus group from the mayor’s office in his village, which his fighters have taken over. The list is a constant reminder of al-Sheikh’s personal score with the Syrian regime: 20 of the dead are his relatives, including three brothers and his 16-year-old son, all killed fighting Syrian forces in the last year.
One of northern Syria’s most powerful and best-armed commanders, Al-Sheikh boasts more than 1,000 fighters, and they don’t shy away from rougher tactics themselves. They have released prisoners in bomb-laden cars and then detonated them at army checkpoints — turning the drivers into unwitting suicide bombers.
His fighters say the cash comes from Syrian expatriates and other Arabs. He was heard on the phone thanking a group in Bahrain.
“God willing, Syria will not bow to anyone but Allah after the regime falls,” he said.
When Syria shot down an Israeli-upgraded Turkish fighter jet it was delivering a message that the air force, despite the defection of a senior pilot a day earlier, was still in control and a force to be reckoned with. The incident has also made air …
Syrians Now Willing To Talk, But No Names, Please
by Deborah Amos
In Damascus, Syrians now openly speak their minds, but often won’t offer a name for the record.
The “wall of fear” is crumbling even in the capital, where the security police have the heaviest presence. Syrians have lived under surveillance and emergency law for years, but after 15 months of anti-government protest and a brutal response by the regime, the killings have changed people.
“Now, I believe that most of the Syrians feel in their bones that the regime is over and it’s only a matter of time,” said one veteran activist, “There are wide areas that aren’t under the control of the regime, and Syrians are learning to speak for themselves.”
The capital is still under heavy control, however, with military checkpoints on the highway into the city and patrols in the heart of Damascus after dark. The sound of shooting and explosions in the suburbs, the poor neighborhoods of Douma and Qudsaya, now reach the wealthy neighborhoods of the city.
“Now, things are too graphic. You can hear the bombs here in Damascus,” says a musician turned activist. “I had a friend who said, ‘It’s not happening,’ but they can go to their balconies and look east. It’s not a secret any more.”
A Desire To Talk
The impulse to speak out is getting stronger, especially among the young.
Shortly after I interviewed two 18-year-old high school seniors on the street, they called the number on the business card I gave them.
“Meet us at the Hamedeyah market tomorrow at 11 a.m.,” one says quickly, referring to a Damascus landmark. He says he’s on a pay phone that can’t be traced.
The two could be arrested for talking to an American reporter, but they are excited to share the details of the fighting in their neighborhood. They say the Free Syrian Army, the rebels opposing the government, is getting stronger. It tastes like, but we want it,” says one of the teens, who says he learned about democracy from American television shows on YouTube…..
A Syrian soldier looks on as shooting takes place in the Damascus suburb of Douma last month. Sporadic fighting has been breaking out in and around the capital Damascus in recent weeks.
A Syrian soldier looks on as shooting takes place in the Damascus suburb of Douma last month. Sporadic fighting has been breaking out in and around the capital Damascus in recent weeks.
….Lately, he says, some of them are speaking out against the regime, too.
“It is enough, they should go.” It is a sentiment he says he hears more often now. “They say, ‘If you can’t control it, so you should go.’”
International envoy Kofi Annan and the major powers have launched a final drive to find a diplomatic solution to the Syria crisis while preparing sanctions and emergency plans for UN observers in the conflict-stricken state.
Annan wants to get Russia, President Bashar al-Assad’s last major ally, and the United States, which has called for the Syrian leader to step down, and other key nations behind an effort to bring Assad into talks, diplomats and officials said.
The UN-Arab League envoy hopes to unveil his new plan at a meeting in Geneva on June 30, according to UN diplomats.
Annan held talks with Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague in London on Thursday and Hague said it was “urgent” to hold a Syria meeting soon.
UN leader Ban Ki-moon discussed Syria on the sidelines of a UN summit in Brazil with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose country also has influence on Assad, and China’s Premier Wen Jiabao, a UN spokesman said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who spoke with Annan on Wednesday, said the envoy is working on a “political transition roadmap” for Syria, where activists say 15 months of conflict have left more than 15,000 people dead.
Annan would be making a proposal to Russia, Turkey and other interested groups “to try to get them to agree on this roadmap” and to put pressure on Assad and the Syrian opposition, Clinton told reporters.
Syria shot Turkish plane without warning, Ankara says
by News Sources 06.23.2012 – thanks to War in Context
Hürriyet Daily News reports: The Turkish government has refuted a statement from the Syrian Foreign Ministry that said Damascus acted in self-defense in shooting down a Turkish warplane on June 22, Turkish sources told the Hürriyet Daily News today. “We have necessary information showing that the Turkish plane was shot at without any warning,” an [...]
Most Turks Oppose Taking Sides in Syrian Conflict – June 21, 2012
…An opinion poll by the Ankara Social Research Center published this month has found that more than two-thirds of those polled opposed any intervention by Turkey in Syria. The poll also revealed that a majority, even those who support the Turkish prime minister’s party, believed Ankara should not take sides in the conflict. In a shopping plaza in central Istanbul, those poll numbers are echoed:…
Lavrov Says Assad’s Fate Must Be Decided in Vote, Interfax Says
2012-06-22, By Paul Abelsky
June 22 (Bloomberg) — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the fate of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad should be determined in “absolutely free and fair” elections, Interfax reported.
Lavrov, who held two-hour talks today with his Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Muallem, at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, urged the country’s leadership to comply with the terms of a peace plan brokered by envoy Kofi Annan, the news service said, citing an interview broadcast on state-run Rossiya 24 television. Russia won’t make excuses to the U.S. for selling weapons to Syria, Lavrov was cited as saying.
Some rebels wonder if Syrian troops’ poor use of tanks, helicopters is intentional
By Austin Tice | McClatchy Newspapers, Friday, June 22, 2012
NEAR HOMS, Syria — The Syrian military, whose advantage in heavy equipment has been emphasized repeatedly by critics of the government of President Bashar Assad, rarely uses its tanks and helicopters effectively in combat against rebel forces, a shortcoming so consistent that it raises the question of whether some pilots and troops may be intentionally missing when they target rebel positions.
Weeks of observation of Syrian military operations while traveling with rebel forces leave the impression that the Syrian army is unfamiliar with modern military tactics. It rarely engages rebel forces directly and appears instead to rely on poorly aimed and random fire to intimidate its opponents. Helicopters observed in northern and central portions of the country fly at an altitude that prevents their effective tactical employment.
Newly Revealed Emir Of ‘Abdallah ‘Azzam Brigades Expresses Opposition To Bombings In Syria’s Cities – MEMRI
Majid bin Muhammad Al-Majid
On June 20, 2012, the Al-Qaeda media company Al-Fajr released a new audio message by the ‘Abdallah ‘Azzam Brigades (AAB), an Al-Qaeda affiliate in the Syria-Lebanon region that was recently designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. In the message, the group reveals for the first time that its emir is Majid bin Muhammad Al-Majid, a Saudi national who is on the Saudi Interior Ministry’s list of the 85 most wanted terrorists. It is important to note two things about this message: First, it was posted on the Al-Fida’ jihadi forum, which is run by Al-Fajr, but was not posted on the Shumoukh Al-Islam jihadi forum, which has posted previous AAB communiqués. Second, in it, Al-Majid expresses his opposition to the bombings in Syrian cities. This stance is interesting since it is at odds with the operations by the other jihadi group, Jabhat Al-Nusra, which has taken responsibility for a series of highly visible and highly publicized bombings in major Syrian cities, and which has demonstrated rather unusual advances in its military and propaganda-related capabilities since it first emerged on the Syrian jihadi scene in January 2012. By the same token, it is also interesting that Jabhat Al-Nusra’s communiqués have been posted only on the Shumoukh Al-Islam forum, not on Al-Fida’.
Room For Debate: Would Russia Help Oust Assad?
By: Several Writers | International Herald Tribune
Putin’s Mission in Israel
By: Andrei Kozhinov | The Moscow Times
A mysterious ancient building in Syria, described as a ‘landscape for the dead’ could be as old as 10,000 years ago – far older than the Great Pyramid. But scientists have been unable to explore the ruins, unearthed in 2009, because of the conflict …
Syria: The International Travesty, by Alon Ben-Meir
It is time to stop engaging in illusions and shameful hypocrisy and adopt a realistic framework to end the Syrian killing machine. The Alawaite-dominated regime has, for decades, subjugated its people to subhuman conditions, denying them basic human rights while letting them be consumed by poverty. The international community must rise up to its moral obligations to halt the bloodshed. The failure to do so will precipitate the loss of credibility of Western powers in the region while submitting to the whims of Russia and Iran and plunge Syria into a full-fledged civil war.