Posted by Joshua on Thursday, June 28th, 2012
Hillary Clinton says that Russia is ready to turn on Assad in what is a potential “turning point” in the conflict. This is the third or fourth time she has insisted that Russia is prepared to discuss a post-Assad Syria and the modalities of regime-change. In the past, these announcements have been premature and designed to shame the Russians into dumping Damascus. Will this time be different? Has Russia concluded that Assad is losing it? Addendum: Since writing this Russia has responded that it rejects an ‘external solution’ for Syria and that Syrians should decide the fate of President Bashar al-Assad.
Syrian authorities continue to insist that they will never turn the country over to the Muslim Brotherhood or form a coalition government with rebels. They are ready to fight to the end to save the country from Islamists – at least that is what they are saying to friends. They seem undaunted by Russian posturing. This all means that we are unlikely to see any big breakthroughs anytime soon. Russian authorities must be getting nervous about Assad’s strategy and staying power – all the same what can they do but try to create avenues for a Syrian soft landing? Damascus is unlikely to take their nudging seriously for some time. The high-powered conference is probably meaningless at this point, as Russia will most likely continue to insist on “loyal opposition” joining in a transitional government packed with Assad loyalists – a non-starter for both Assad and opposition figures.
China has also agreed to encourage the formation of a “transitional government” in a June 30 meeting of World leaders. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia have been excluded from the meeting. This change of strategy among Syria’s allies takes place as frequent bombings and opposition attacks have rocked downtown Damascus, forcing President Assad to announce that Syria has entered into a “real state of war.”
“Not one drop of petrol” has been available in Aleppo for a week now, friends lament. Media sources report that three Iranian gas carriers have sailed to Syria with gas shipments, but that will be a drop in the bucket. All the taxi services have come to a stand-still in Aleppo. Friends say they are willing to pay ten-times the amount of a liter of gas for their car but there just isn’t any. They are stranded in the homes. Those who have moved out to villas in the suburbs are really at a loss because they cannot walk down town or to go shopping. A blue bottle of cooking gas in Damascus goes for 4,000 pounds or about 50 dollars.It is only a matter of time before electricity stops all together and food becomes scarce. Transportation will be disrupted and supplies irregular around the country.
The economic situation in Syria continues to deteriorate as Syrians close to Assad recognize that he is incapable of managing or finding a way out the crises.
The problem is in the details. No one can imagine how a transition would work
Russia Said to Endorse Replacing Assad in Turn Away From Ally
Flavia Krause-Jackson and Indira A.R. Lakshmanan, ©2012 Bloomberg News, June 28, 2012
June 28 (Bloomberg) — Russia has endorsed a detailed United Nations road map for a political transition in Syria, a sign that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has lost the support of a key ally, according to three United Nations diplomats.
Persuading Assad to step aside and forming a transitional government to pave the way for elections will be at the core of a June 30 conference of top diplomats organized by Kofi Annan, the UN’s special envoy on Syria, the officials said. All three asked not to be identified because the talks are private.
The foreign ministers of the five permanent UN Security Council members — China, France, Russia, the U.K., and the U.S. — as well as Turkey, Qatar and Iraq will attend the meeting in Geneva.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday called the conference a potential “turning point” in the conflict that already has claimed more than 10,000 lives.
Annan earlier this week gave the parties to the talks a few days to respond to a set of recommendations entitled “On Guidelines and Principles of a Syrian-led transition.” By late on June 26, the Russians had accepted the paper in full, including language that spells out Assad’s departure, according to the three officials, who all were informed of the decision.
The Annan document, which was reviewed by Bloomberg News, says a transitional government may include members of Assad’s government and opposition and other groups, although not “those whose continued presence and participation would undermine the credibility of the transition and jeopardize stability and reconciliation.”
According to a U.S. official, who was briefed on Annan’s plan, representatives of both the regime and the opposition could veto proposed members of a national unity government. He asked not to be identified in order to discuss the negotiations.
The latest effort to end the 16-month battle between the Alawite-dominated Assad regime and a largely Sunni Muslim uprising comes as Assad said his country is in a state of war. It also follows the Syrian downing of a Turkish military jet and an attack yesterday on Syria’s pro-government television station that killed seven journalists.
Russia has realized that Assad is losing the battle to preserve his grip on power, the UN officials said, and now the government of President Vladimir Putin is seeking a leading role in paving a smooth exit for a longtime Soviet and Russian client and arms customer.
“When Assad went into total war footing, he lost the Russians,” said George Lopez, a former UN sanctions investigator who’s now at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
The Obama administration rejected Russia’s and Annan’s attempt to include Iran in the Geneva talks, and Russia in turn insisted that Saudi Arabia be excluded because the Sunni kingdom has funneled support to the Syrian opposition.
“If other countries don’t want the benefits of Iran’s cooperation, it is up to them,” Iran’s UN Ambassador Mohammed Khazaee told reporters in New York yesterday.
Aware of Putin’s sensitivity on the question of regime change in Syria, the U.S. accepted Russia’s demand that some Assad loyalists must be part of an interim government, according to two of the UN diplomats.
The UN officials also said that all the parties to the talks, as well as other nations such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, are in rare agreement that action is needed to prevent radical Sunni Islamists from filling a power vacuum in Syria.
“We have made it clear to the Russians that the outcome they are most concerned about, which would be a sectarian civil war, is made more likely, not less likely, by the international community’s failure to take a strong position vis-a-vis the Assad regime,” Clinton said yesterday in Helsinki.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a former UN ambassador, will outline his country’s position in a news conference today in Moscow.
Landis answers questions on the Turkish issue:
1. Question: “Will the jet dispute change Turkey’s policy on Syria? Why? What is the primary concern for Turkey on Syria crisis?”
Turkey and Syria are in an undeclared state of war. Turkey is taking charge of the Western and Gulf led effort to carry out regime-change in Syria and strengthen the Syrian opposition.
In all likelihood, Turkey has been probing Syrian airspace for some time. Syria was undoubtedly trying to put a limit to Turkish aggressiveness and show that it has some defensive capability.
Turkey has smartly escalated and shown its own teeth and that it will not be intimidated or deterred by Syria.
2. Turkey is one of the most important mediators between Syria and West. Why will Syria attack the Turkish jet? Did it mean Syria has already lost the patience because Turkey hosts its opposition?
Syria no longer believes that Turkey is a mediator, but a combatant.
3. Many people thought the jet dispute will trigger NATO’s military move to Syria. But after a meet, NATO showed its caution on military intervention. In your opinion, what are NATO’s major concerns now? What will be the decisive factors on NATO decision making process?
Nato and the West believe that the Syrian insurgency is getting stronger and more capable by the month. They do not want to intervene directly and believe that they can change the balance of power in Syria and ultimately win by arming and training the opposition. For the West, the situation is Syria is moving in the right direction. Assad has announced that Syria is in a “real state of war” for the first time. He is beginning to understand what a predicament he is in. The chances of his being able to beat this are diminishing every day. Even he has begun to recognize this.
(CNN) — A day after attackers bombed a pro-government TV station, massive explosions shook the heart of Damascus near the Justice Ministry, the state-run media said.
Two blasts occurred in a parking lot Thursday outside the Palace of Justice, which houses the ministry, Syrian state TV said. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria confirmed the blast and said it occurred in the Marja neighborhood of central Damascus.
At least three people were injured and 20 cars were damaged, state TV said.
On Wednesday, bombers killed at least seven people in the headquarters of al-Ikhbaria, near Damascus, killing three journalists and four security guards, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported. The attackers also ransacked and destroyed studios, the news outlet said.
There have been a flurry of attacks in Syria’s major cities of Damascus and Aleppo in recent months, strikes that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has blamed on terrorists. Opposition groups have said the government itself has been behind such attacks to discredit the anti-regime forces.
In other provinces on Thursday, at least 50 people were killed, the LCC said. They include 22 in the Damascus suburbs and 11 people in Deir Ezzor.
opposition fighters attacked the headquarters of the pro-Assad television channel al-Ikhbariya outside Damascus — as violence once again engulfs the capital. The Syrian Arab News Agency has published images from the attack, which the state-run news outlet says killed several people and destroyed the station’s offices.
The Civil War in the Syrian Opposition: How Long Can the Free Syrian Army Hold Off Its Islamist Rivals?
Tyler Golson in the New Republic
If you want to know where the fourteen month-old Syrian revolution against President Bashar al-Assad is headed, the case of Walid al-Boustani provides a useful rubric. Al-Boustani led an ill-fated “Islamic Emirate of Homs” that lasted only a few weeks. Apparently the locals did not appreciate having an “Emir” who kidnapped and murdered their people while claiming to wage jihad against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. And so in March 2012 a local brigade of the Free Syrian Army executed the Lebanese-born al-Boustani, amidst accusations that the jihadist was not only a traitor to the Syrian revolution but also, in fact, an agent of the Syrian regime.
The incident is part of a larger clash that has mostly gone overlooked in the Western media—namely, the struggle between Syria’s two main armed opposition groups, groups that represent two radically different visions for Syria’s future. In that way, it’s not enough to simply know—as a recent article in the New York Times pointed out—that Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with assistance from the CIA, are funneling arms and cash to certain Syrian rebel groups via intermediaries in Turkey. It’s also important to know that the other rebel groups—those with an Islamist political agenda—that the United States and its allies have decided not to support are distrusted by the Syrian people themselves. Indeed, Washington’s largely hands-off approach to the Syria crisis has so far been greatly assisted by the Syrian public’s broad rejection of the hardcore Islamist rebels. But there’s no telling how much longer America’s strategic interests and the Syrian people’s sympathies will remain in sync.
THE FACTION OF the Syrian opposition that has been the main recipient of foreign arms is the Free Syrian Army (FSA), an umbrella organization headquartered in Turkey and encompassing upwards of a hundred semi-autonomous battalions of defected Syrian soldiers and armed civilians. Though many individual units and fighters loyal to the FSA adopt a conservative Islamic idiom and may express their struggle as “jihad,” the FSA central leadership espouses pluralist, nationalist, and even democratic ideals, reflecting its broad base of support in Syria, as well as the influence of its international sponsors.
The second group (broadly construed) vying for primacy of the Syrian armed opposition is the constellation of independent, hardcore Islamist “kata’ib” (brigades) claiming to wage violent jihad against the infidel Assad regime and its Shia backers, Iran and Hezbollah. The independent jihadist opposition draws from an expanding domestic pool of young men who feel abandoned by the international community and emboldened by the popularity of their radical Islamist cause beyond Syria’s borders and over social media.
The good news is that, Syrians mostly distrust the hardcore Islamists. While much of the public is liable to celebrate any attack against government forces, they remain deeply suspicious of the numerous, independent jihadist groups taking root throughout the country. A public opinion survey conducted by the US Institute of Peace in September 2011 found that only 35 percent of Syrians see religion as an important issue in the anti-government demonstrations, with less than 14 percent preferring religious leaders or parties to lead a post-Assad Syria as compared to 66 percent who viewed “democratically-elected leaders” as the most qualified.
Compounding Syrians’ ideological unease with jihadists is the widespread concern that Islamist groups have either been infiltrated by, or are directly working for the Syrian regime. Western media mostly overlooked the story of Walid al-Boustani, the would-be Emir of Homs, but the video of Boustani’s “trial” and execution by the FSA stirred considerable speculation among Arab audiences, who focused not on Boustani’s specific crimes but rather on his ties to a discredited Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group back in Lebanon, Fatah al-Islam, which is widely believed to be a tool of Syrian intelligence.
It is well-established that the Syrian government in the past facilitated the transit of fighters to Al-Qaeda in Iraq through Syria in order to fight American coalition forces—and some of these battle-hardened jihadists have likely come back to Syria. But the Assad regime’s understanding with Islamic extremists has always been to allow them to attack their common enemy as long as they did not operate within Syria itself…..
Assad Foreign Policy (II): Strategies of Confrontation
By: Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, June 27, 2012 – al-Akhbar
Amal Saad-Ghorayeb places Assad foreign policy in context, particularly – “Syria’s intervention on behalf of right-wing Christian militias in Lebanon in 1976; its war against Palestinian groups in Lebanon in the 1980s; its decision to join the Gulf War coalition against Saddam Hussein in 1991; its reluctance to engage Israel militarily; and its participation in so-called peace negotiations with Israel since 1991.”