Latakia will become Focus of Alawi-Sunni Contest; Scorched Earth; Hama in Flames; 27% of US Public Say…
Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, December 18th, 2012
Vote on new poll, displayed in left hand column of Syria Comment: “Will Assad have lost Damascus by June 1, 2013?”
In Hama, all the battalions and brigades of the city’s countryside are now participating in the battle for liberation, according the the Hama Revolutionists Command Council, including those from Kafranbooda, Kernaz, Kafarzeita, Helfaya, Tayebt al-Imam, Qal’at al-Madeeq, al-Ghab Plain, al-Latamne and Khattab. Government helicopters and artillery are bombarding rebel held towns.
Scorched Earth Policy
“Will Damascus be destroyed?” a friend asked. The regime increasingly seems to be pursuing a scorched earth policy. Assad will dig in to retain Damascus as rebels try to take the city, leading to its destruction, much as happened in Aleppo. Assad may believe that Damascus must be reduced to rubble before he abandons it, otherwise the rebels will have gained a goose capable of laying the proverbial golden egg. He cannot abandon to the rebels anything that produces money or is able to sustain a large population. If he does, defeat of his army becomes more likely. Because Alawis fear they may be destroyed, they are likely to weaken their opponents in every way possible, even if it means pursuing a scorched earth policy. Fortunately, Syrians are not known for executing plans or policies in any systematic way.
Latakia will surely become the focal-point of the Sunni-Alawi contest for power. It is hard to imagine that there will not be ethnic cleansing. At least %60 of the city’s inhabitants are Sunni, but it is the capital of the predominately Alawi coastal region. Today it is calm, but the storm is gathering.
Latakia is a key port for the Syrian Hinterland and Aleppo. It is necessary for exporting the farm and industrial output of the city and its hinterland. The port of Alexandretta used to be the main port for Aleppo, but it was replaced by Latakia once the Turks took Antioch and Alexandretta in 1938. For this reason, Sunnis will need to make a drive for it. They will also understand that it is the key to any future Alawite enclave and must be denied to Assad and his army.
The Alawites see Latakia to be essential to their future in Syria. It is the political capital of the Alawite region. Qurdaha, the Assads’ hometown, is a village of Latakia, dependent on it in every way. Latakia is the home of most of the Shabiha elites as well as leading Alawite families.
It is the political capital of the Alawite coastal region and thus essential to the future of the coastal region that the Alawites will fall back on. It was the capital of the Alawite State under the French Mandate and remains psychologically central to the Alawite community, which is based along the coast.
Syrian rebels cut off Bashar al-Assad’s escape route
By Ruth Sherlock, Latakia province, 17 Dec 2012, Telegraph
Abu Yassin, resident in one of the dozens of Sunni villages in Jebel Akrad drove his vehicle, the only one on the road, passed the carcases of burnt out tanks, abandoned government checkpoints and row upon row of empty villages….
It is here; in this mountainous Mediterranean coastline of Syria’s Latakia province that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may well hope to make his last stand….
Slipping across the border from Turkey insurgents have waged an, largely unreported, war. Inching forward, village by village and town by town the rebels now hold the two large mountain ranges of Jebel Akrad and Jebel Turkman that make up most of the north of the province.
As they moved forward, Alawite families have hastily grabbed their possession and fled.
An abandoned kitchen in Salma village situated in the Latakia Province (Warren Allott)
“We have six Alawite villages under our control now, but there are no Alawites left here. They believe that if Bashar al-Assad goes, they will all be killed so they all fled to areas the regime controls,” said Abu Yassin.
Those Alawite villages visited by the Daily Telegraph now stand abandoned and desolate. Many showed signs there had been a hasty exit. Front doors were left swinging open on their hinges, personal possessions – shoes, clothes, books were trailed on the floor. Bullet holes and shelling damage dented outer walls and many shops looked as they though they had been set on fire.
Most of the Alawite families fled to Latakia, Tartous or to the nearby ‘Alawite Mountain,’ the place that is also Bashar al-Assad’s home of al-Qardaha. From across Syria too, Alawite families who fear they will become the victims of sectarian attacks – whether they support the government or not – have begun building homes in these high retreats.
But even these are now within the rebel’s sights. Lying less than two miles away the ‘Alawite Mountain’ is clearly visible from the front line town of Salma. Government helicopters and jets bombard the town day and night, and near continuous shelling has reduced most of the buildings to rubble and potholed the roads. But they have been unable to stop the rebel advance, and soon, it seems there may be nowhere for the President to go.
“We are planning to take the Alawite Mountain and move on Latakia. If we allow the Alawite state to be a fact on the ground then all the minority groups will say ‘we want our state’ and the country will be torn apart,” said Abu Taher, a rebel commander in Salma….
An elderly couple, both over 80, Mr and Mrs Ahmed Barakat refused to leave when the rebels came to their rural Alawite village of Ain al-Ashara. Led by local man Sheikh Ayman Othman, rebels had promised villagers they wouldn’t be harmed. But when later Sheikh Othman was killed in battle, a second more sectarian minded militia stormed the village and the villager’s lives became a living nightmare:
“They stole everything: They took all the cars and broke into all of our homes. After that residents said they thought they would be killed so they fled to Latakia,” said Mr Barakat.
As he spoke fat tears rolled down Mrs Barakat’s cheeks: “Three months ago they came and arrested my son. He had not done anything wrong.
“A man came back and demanded ransom money of 1.5 million Syrian pounds [approx £13,000]. They gave me three days to get the money, or else, they said, they would kill my son. I begged and borrowed from my friends and family. When he came again, at night, he took the money but they haven’t returned our son.”…
“I am sure there will be massacres of Alawites and bad revenge killings when we reach Latakia. The Syrian regime made us enemies over the past two years.
“I and the other Sheikhs are trying to stop this. But we are not sure that we will succeed”.
Could the West buy Assad’s Plan B?
HUSSEIN IBISH, December 18, 2012
….There’s almost no chance the regime of Bashar al-Assad can survive, as even its Russian sponsors are beginning to publicly admit. The de facto resurrection of some version of the Alawite mini-state of the 1920s and 30s seemed a deeply implausible option at the outset of the conflict. But as the government has enforced the logic of sectarian and communal massacre, atrocities and fanaticism, prospects for such an outcome are no longer so far-fetched.
If such an arrangement could preserve Russia’s military base in Tartous and other interests, it could well get Moscow’s support. If the Syrian conflict continues to degenerate into ever-deeper bestiality, the idea might even be sold to the West as the only way to avoid Balkan-style communal slaughter and save the Alawite community from revenge massacres.
However, there is still a Sunni majority in Latakia, which would surely be the de facto capital of such a mini-state. This demographic reality was one of the key reasons why, unlike Lebanon, the Alawite mini-state wasn’t able to achieve independence under the French mandate, and was reincorporated into Syria in the 1930s.
This means that if the current Alawite power structure does resort to trying to impose such a Plan B, it will almost certainly involve significant atrocities and communal cleansing, particularly in Latakia and its surroundings.
Rebel fighters claim they have taken full control of the Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Damascus as Syrian forces surround Palestinian camp.
Fuel shortage blocks aid support in Syria, UN warns. Russia sent warships to the Mediterranean to prepare a potential evacuation of its citizens from Syria, a Russian news agency said on Tuesday, a sign President Bashar al-Assad’s key ally is worried about rebel advances that now threaten even the capital. David Cameron said there a “strategic imperative to act” because “Syria is attracting and empowering a new cohort of al-Qaeda-linked extremists”.
Who knew that you could find our who is Googling you: White House Googles Kerry’s Record on Iran.
NBC reporter, Mr. Engel, was freed by Islamist rebels after being taken from captors at a road block. Initially, it was said that the captors have not been identified but, but Mr. Engel says that his captors were clearly shabbiha loyal to the regime, who wanted to use them for a hostage trade. ”They made us choose which one of us would be shot first. When we refused, there were mock shootings. They pretended to shoot him several times,” he said, referring to producer Gazi Balkeez. Hearing a gun fired while blindfolded “can be a very traumatic experience,” he said.
Public Says U.S. Does Not Have Responsibility to Act in Syria
As fighting in Syria rages on between government forces and anti-government groups, the public continues to say that the U.S. does not have a responsibility to do something about the fighting there. And there continues to be substantial opposition to sending arms to anti-government forces in Syria.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Dec. 5-9 among 1,503 adults, also finds little change in the public’s sympathies in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians: 50% say they sympathize more with Israel while just 10% sympathize more with the Palestinians.
Only about quarter of Americans (27%) say the U.S. has a responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria; more than twice as many (63%) say it does not. These views are virtually unchanged from March.
Comparable majorities of Republicans (66%) , Democrats (61%) and independents (65%) say the U.S. does not have a responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria, and all partisan groups also oppose arming anti-government groups.
Those who have heard a lot about the situation in Syria offer modestly more support for U.S. involvement than those who have heard less (35% vs. 22%), but still, on balance, say the U.S. does not have a responsibility to get involved.
Opinions about the United States’ responsibility to act in Syria are similar to views about obligation to act in Libya, before the U.S. and its allies launched airstrikes against Moammar Gadhafi’s forces. In March 2011, just 27% said the U.S. had a responsibility to do something about the fighting in Libya — the same percentage that says that about Syria today. Higher percentages said the U.S. had a responsibility to do something about the fighting in Darfur in 2006 (51%) and fighting between Serbs and Bosnians in Kosovo in 1999.
There has long been little public interest in the conflict in Syria. In a separate survey conducted last week (Dec. 6-9), just 19% say they are paying very close attention to political violence in Syria, while 28% say they are following this story fairly closely. About half (52%) are paying little or no attention to developments there.
Turkey Can’t Afford Over-Involvement in Syria
Turkey’s Western-backed interventions in Syria could affect its security
Mohammed Ayoob, YaleGlobal, 17 December 2012
Turkey could threaten its prosperity with excessive entanglement in Syria’s civil war, warns international relations professor Mohammed Ayoob. The fall of the Assad regime in Syria could result in sectarian divide and anarchy spilling across Turkey’s borders as well as alienation of Iran, the country’s major energy supplier. Countries like Saudi Arabia and the US that support regime change in Syria may step back from the fray, and Turkey and possibly other neighbors in the region, too, would suffer most from regional instability. ….In the final analysis, Turkey’s improved relations with the West in 2012, including the American decision to deploy two Patriot missile batteries to Turkey’s border with Syria, are unlikely to compensate for problems Turkey faces to its east – problems likely to become more acute in 2013 if Ankara does not rapidly reevaluate its policy. With the Syrian stalemate unlikely to be broken in the immediate future, Turkey could anticipate low-intensity warfare with the Syrian regime for a considerable period, thus draining its resources and upsetting economic prospects in the long run.If the Assad regime falls, Turkey could face partition of Syria into several ethnic and sectarian-based statelets, including a Kurdish one on Turkey’s borders that could stoke Kurdish irredentism in the country. Such an outcome would likely include a continuing civil war of horrific proportions among sectarian and ethnic groups much as has happened in Afghanistan since the Soviet withdrawal and the fall of the communist regime.
Ankara should rethink its policy… as time goes on, it will become difficult to pull away from the Syrian quagmire.There is attendant danger that, in this event, foreign backers of the Syrian opposition, especially the United States and Saudi Arabia, would pull out and leave Syria to its fate as happened with Afghanistan in the 1990s. These powers have their own agendas related more to weakening Iran than democracy promotion in Syria, objectives achieved with the fall of Assad regardless of what happens to the Syrian people….
“Sectarianism and civil conflict in Tripoli, Lebanon,” by Nick Heras.
Tripoli’s restive Sunni neighborhood and Jebel Mohsen is the new training ground of an aspiring generation of Lebanese Salafist fighters looking to emulate the model of their Syrian compatriots….Tensions on both sides of the firing-line, Alawite and Sunni, are inflamed by each community’s increasing sense that this battle, for control of Tripoli, is an existential conflict that they both must engage in. … Alawites, numbering 60,000 in a city of almost half a million potential Sunni enemies, and surrounded on all sides by neighborhoods that they are locked in seemingly interminable combat with, identify more strongly with the Alawite-led Syrian government than ever before. As the Syrian Civil War has progressed, and expressions of sectarian hatred and bloodshed between Sunni opposition forces and Alawites has increased, the Lebanese Alawite community of Jebel Mohsen has become even more convinced that it is resisting its potential annihilation at the hands of committed Tripolian Salafist fighters…..
The battle between Tripoli’s restive Sunni neighborhood and Jebel Mohsen is the new training ground of an aspiring generation of Lebanese Salafist fighters looking to emulate the model of their Syrian compatriots. A constant presence of armed Syrian opposition members, and their families, in these Sunni front-line neighborhoods and the constant inspiration they provide Tripoli’s Sunni fighters.
Local Salafist fronts, such as the “Martyr Commander Khodr al-Masri Brigades,” named after a slain Bab al-Tabbaneh sectarian fighter and now local folk hero, are examples of the developing neighborhood fighting groups being built.
Learning from the example of the armed opposition groups in Syria, Sunni fighting organizations such as the Khodr al-Masri Brigades are beginning to post videos on YouTube. …. This ultimately includes developing a highly-motivated, battle-tested, and committed fighting force that could in time confront the Shi’a parties of Hezbollah and AMAL, and their political allies inside of Lebanon. …
KURDWATCH, December 9, 2012—On November 9, 2012, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) took over numerous institutions in the city of ad‑Darbasiyah from the Syrian regime [further information]. According to the most recent information, this also included the Air Force Intelligence Service building, city hall, the court of arbitration, and the electric and water utilities. There is no police presence in the cities of ʿAmudah, ad‑Darbasiyah, and al‑Malikiya (Dêrik) anymore. Government employees who do not work in security continue to perform their duties and their salaries are still paid from Damascus. However, their work is controlled by the PYD. Thus, for example, a PYD cadre was delegated to city hall in ad‑Darbasiyah. The PYD flag has been raised in front of the institutions that have been taken over.An activist reported to KurdWatch that following the takeover of the Military Intelligence Service building in ad‑Darbasiyah, PYD members burned documents that remained there. Members of other security services had done this themselves before leaving their buildings.
KURDWATCH, December 1, 2012—After armed Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups marched into the majority Kurdish city of Raʾs al‑ʿAin (Serê Kaniyê) on November 8, 2012 [further information], the Syrian regime ceded control of several predominantly Kurdish cities to the Democratic Union Party (PYD). On November 9, and 10, 2012, Syrian security forces in ad‑Darbasiyah withdrew from the buildings belonging to the Political Security Directorate, the Military Intelligence Service, the State Security Service, and the police; they also gave the PYD control of the border crossing to Turkey. In Tall Tamr,… In ʿAmudah, …. in al‑Malikiyah (Dêrik), ….. The government had already withdrawn from several institutions in the latter two cities in the summer of 2012
Activists mourn ‘model’ FSA officer
December 18, 2012 12:53 AM
By Marlin Dick
The Daily Star
Abu Furat, second from left, flanked by FSA fighters.
BEIRUT: Syrian rebels seized another government military facility in Aleppo over the weekend, but lost a charismatic field commander in the process.
Col. Youssef Jader, aka Abu Furat, was a defected army officer who fought with the Tawhid Brigade of the Free Syrian Army.
A native of the town of Jarablous, northeast of Aleppo, he spent most of his military career in Latakia before taking part in Tawhid’s prominent role in fighting regime forces in the north.
….. Another video makes plain Abu Furat’s desire to avoid sectarian bloodletting. In a noisy room, he greets an Alawite defector who is off camera, presumably to protect his identity.
Abu Furat addresses Syrian President Bashar Assad, accusing him of “dragging” his Alawite sect into a war and forcing them to hate Sunnis.
“But in spite of you, we will coexist,” he says defiantly. He adds that after having lived for 22 years in the Latakia region, he knows many Alawites who are poor, and “good people,” meaning they have not benefited from the Assad regime’s grip on power.
He addresses the “Alawites living in the mountains” of the coast, as someone who has lived with them.
“And you know me,” he adds, pointing at his chest. “I’ve drunk mate with you,” he says, referring to a South American tea that is heavily consumed in parts of rural Syria, and particularly by the Alawites.
Abu Furat stresses that the uprising doesn’t mean that the Alawites are being targeted as a sect.
“We’re partners in this nation,” he says, praising the example of Sheikh Saleh al-Ali, an Alawite rebel chief from the 1920s who rejected both French colonial rule and a separate Alawite state.
Abu Furat says the regime left officers like him with two choices: “Kill, or kill.” Officers were not allowed to resign their posts in protest at being asked to violently suppress street demonstrations, and were thus forced to choose between killing for the regime, and killing in self-defense. He says he was ordered, as a tank commander, to shell the Sunni-majority town of Haffeh in rural Latakia.
Asked about the feelings of military personnel who are shooting or shelling civilians, Abu Furat mentions an acquaintance “named S. – because he hasn’t defected yet.”
He says the man would cry after firing his artillery piece, and argues that not everyone who is fighting for the regime should be blamed for his acts.
“They’re being told that [the rebels are] Afghanis, Pakistanis,” he says.
The video concludes with a light tone. Abu Furat tells the story of a friend who decided to count every time state television claimed that government troops had destroyed a Russian Dushka heavy machine gun supposedly belonging to the rebels.
It turned out the rebels had, according to the regime, the absurd figure of 32,000 such pieces of heavy equipment, causing Abu Furat to grin mischievously. “Damn you, you’re such a liar.”
War is raging in Aleppo but in a classroom 40km away, there are grounds for hope
Luke Harding – Guardian, December 17, 2012
I had come in search of families displaced by Syria’s war. But when I entered Qabbasin secondary school I was surprised to discover lessons were going on. Two months ago head Nasar Mamar decided to reopen.
There was fighting going on down the road in Aleppo. But Qabbasin, some 40km away, was comparatively safe – safe, if you ignored the regime jets flying overhead. “We need Syria to be an educated country. We should not be afraid,” Mamar explained, taking me on a tour of his classrooms.
Downstairs I found 30 boys in the middle of an English lesson. Written on the blackboard was some useful vocabulary: “library” and “explorer”, and examples of the present continuous tense – “I am eating. I am reading” – with a neat translation in Arabic. Their teacher was 30-year-old Abu Hassan. Hassan said he had fled from Aleppo. He was now working as an unsalaried volunteer. “I want to teach. It’s my job,” he said.
Hassan was melancholic when I asked him about the destruction of Aleppo – “my lovely city”, as he put it. Much of it is now a smouldering ruin: the medieval souks dating back to the 14th century part-destroyed; the old citadel the frontline between embattled government troops, the Free Syrian Army and jihadist militias.
Syria’s war reached Aleppo nearly six months ago. Since then the city’s cosmopolitan charm has been snuffed out; it is a place of hunger, cold, misery and death from the sky, he said.
I asked Hassan whom he thought was responsible for his Syria’s collapse, moral and social. He thought for a moment, then replied: “For me, all of us. All of us have wrong actions. I wish everything would be back how it was.” Hassan said he was an English graduate from Aleppo University. He declined to give me his full family name. “I’d rather not,” he said. I left Hassan’s classroom – lit only by a weak winter sun – urging the boys to study hard….
Qabbasin has a mixed population of Arabs and Kurds, and despite tensions elsewhere is a model of inter-ethnic co-operation. Mamar, the head, is a Kurd; most of his staff are Arabs; the headteacher at the girls’ school next door is a Turkman….