Posted by Matthew Barber on Thursday, March 14th, 2013
Activists take to streets of rebel-held Mayadeen in eastern Syria for third straight day to demand that Al-Nusra Front fighters leave town.
Protests erupted after the Islamist Al-Nusra Front… set up a religious council in
the east of Deir Ezzor province, where Mayadeen is situated, to administer
affairs in the area.
NPR – An interesting interview with an Al-Nusra fighter; his naiveté is both quaint and disturbing – via Conrad
Jabhat Al-Nusra’s Goals Extend Beyond Syria – As the Syrian war intensifies, Hussein Jemmo examines the reasons behind the rise of al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, and argues that the battle for Syria is only one step in a wider regional strategy for this group.
…The speech suggested that the militant front has become the main force in the fight against the Syrian regime, with no mention of the Free Syrian Army… The speech indicates that the FSA is being subsumed. After having been the leading military entity in the Syrian revolution, the FSA has been pushed to the sidelines compared to Jabhat al-Nusra… In Aleppo’s countryside, a member of Jabhat al-Nusra showed me a booklet entitled “Regional War Strategy in Syria.” The booklet represents a serious vision by an al-Qaeda analyst. It is available on the internet and helps explain the carefully planned beginnings of jihadism in Syria. According to the study, “The title of the next battle of Damascus will be ‘survival of the smartest,'” and explains how the jihadist environment began to emerge in Syria.
Events surrounding the takeover of Raqqa are still hazy. A number of reports refer to Jabhat al-Nusra as having taken over the city, or even to other groups such as Harakat Ahrar al-Sham and the Brigade of Huthaya bin al-Yaman. But these reports don’t mention the group Jabhat al-Wahdet al-Tahrir al-Islamiyya who identified themselves as such in the video in which they are holding the muhafiz and head of Raqqa’s Ba’ath party. Consistent with the observation that the “emir” of this group may be from Deir ez-Zor is the alleged participation of refugees who had previously fled Deir ez-Zor for al-Raqqa in the city’s takeover (still unconfirmed). Also unclear is who among / how much of the local population wanted this shift of support (from regime to opposition) to occur, and who was opposed to it. The battle of narratives (“Raqqa is liberated” vs. “Raqqa has been seized by outsiders”) is in full swing. –MTB
The fall of ar-Raqqa to Jihadism ~ Jabhat an-Nusra & Harakat Ahrar as-Sham by pietervanostaeyen – March 7
On March 4 2013 the city of ar-Raqqa was conquered by Syrian rebels. What is remarkable about this conquest is that the city fell to Jihadist troops. The (secular) Free Syrian Army hardly had any role in the battle for and conquest of the al-Assad stronghold.
Although this news is widely spread amongst specialists inquiring and reporting on Jihadism in Syria, the traditional media seem to be ignoring this fact. In this blogpost I will try to point out the significance of the Jihadist groups in conquering this city.
The above blogger believes that:
[The] significance of Al-Raqqah’s fall to Ahrar al-Sham & Jabhat al-Nusra cannot be emphasised enough. Its position on Highway 4 between Aleppo to the W and Deir ez Zour to the SE makes it of critical strategic value. Deir ez Zour already dominated by Islamist rebel groups, especially members of Syrian Islamic Front’s Jaish al-Tawhid and of Jabhat al-Nusra. Linking Deir ez Zour & Al-Raqqah – with Iraqi border to the east, unites two Islamist rebel fronts and puts them in a very strong position to converge on Aleppo if necessary
Whereas in How Important is the Rebel Takeover of Raqqa it’s asserted that:
…how important is Raqqa in the broader fight against the Assad regime? The answer: not much. The taking of Raqqa, a city of about 250,000 people and now home to hundreds of thousands more internally displaced persons, and with little economic or military value, is just the latest in a wave of rebel victories across the north… The Syria conflict will be won or lost around a small patch of real estate in western Damascus – the areas that host several presidential palaces, the military’s fourth division and Republican Guard, not Raqqa or anywhere else… In the halls of regime power in Damascus few tears will be shed for, what it sees, a backwater desert outpost.
Videos posted online from Raqqa have shown government workers and troops lying dead in the streets, gun shot wounds in their heads. One video shows three bodies who it is claimed were executed for being “dogs of military intelligence”.
Rights groups have reported summary executions of regime officials and troops following the capture of other areas.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Sunday that at least 14 people have been killed in government airstrikes on the northern Syria city of Raqqa.
The armed opposition has dragged the Syrian army into yet another battle that will lead to yet more destruction and bloodshed. With this, Raqqa city, where the situation had been calm for two years, has joined the tragic flow of incidents in Syria.
Contrary to expectations, Raqqa — controversially — did not initially join the “Syrian revolution.” When the incidents first broke out, diffident protesters took to the streets, but they soon stopped. The city’s movements remained peaceful until the end of last year. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad even prayed in one of Raqqa’s mosques during Eid al-Adha last June.
The agreement with the Free Syrian Army leaders in the Kurdish regions, and the heavy blow that was dealt to the militants and Jabhat al-Nusra in Aleppo triggered quick action to achieve another victory. There was also news about militants coming from Iraq, and they paved the way for the battle of Raqqa city by taking over its suburbs without any real resistance. They then tightened their grip on al-Tabqa city and its areas of strategic importance, such as the Euphrates Dam. All of these steps were leading up to a large-scale offensive on the city, which started with a blockade on its central prison and ended with frequent incursions from different entrances to the city.
Free e-book from Al Mesbar Studies & Research Center and the Foreign Policy Research Institute: The West and the Muslim Brotherhood after the Arab Spring
Good BBC documentary: A History Of Syria With Dan Snow
“The conflict in Syria can only be understood by knowing the history of Syria”
Syrian Christians Dream Of Life Without Assad Or Radical Islamists The story of Deir Ezzor’s Christians: attacked by the regime, helped by the FSA, scared of the Islamists…
Abu Ibrahim says he and his family are the only Christians left in Syria’s devastated city of Deir Ezzor, and he is terrified Muslim extremists could make their already difficult life hell. Yet every Sunday, he and the family peacefully hold prayers…
Mortar bombs struck a Christian neighborhood and a football stadium at game time in Damascus Monday, killing six civilians and wounding at least 24 in what appeared to be an escalating campaign by rebels to sow fear in the Syrian capital…
In the latest attacks, four mortars bombs hit Bab Sharqi, a predominantly Christian area known for its old churches. One fell in a park, two near an ice cream shop and a fourth hit a house nearby.
The Muslim commander of the local rebel garrison appears to be trying to allay any fears among the roughly 2,500 Christian residents who have stayed in the village since the fighting in January, saying he won’t impinge on anyone’s rights…
“I am not convinced that these people want freedom and democracy,” said Fadi, a Christian civil engineer from Damascus, voicing a common view that the rebels are led by extremists. “I sympathized with them at the start, but after all the destruction, killing and kidnapping, I prefer Bashar Assad.”
One child was killed and 9 others wounded when a bomb shell hit their school bus in Damascus.
Syrian Jihad and Jihad for Syria
Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun’s jihad against the jihadists: Syria’s top Sunni cleric appeals to Syrian youth to join the military. The feelings of Syria’s Sunnis are divided regarding this regime-linked figure; he has some influence but many Sunnis view him as a tool of the establishment.
One of the pillars of President Bashar Assad’s leadership is secularism, but nearly two years into a fight which it says is spearheaded by hardline Islamist terrorists, Damascus has decided to employ its enemy’s tactic: jihad. The highest official Sunni Muslim body in Syria, closely linked to the government, issued a religious decree on Sunday calling on Syrians to join the military, which it called both “a national and a religious duty”.
Rais Suleimanov, head of the Kazan-based Volga Center for Regional and Ethno-Religious Studies, said he got this number from Russian militants themselves, who he said have “no interest in exaggerating it.” He said the militants come from CIS countries including Ukraine and from different regions of Russia, among them Tatarstan and the volatile North Caucasus, where Russian law enforcement is battling an intractable insurgency of separatist Islamist militants.
In one documented case, a Saudi judge encouraged young anti-government protesters to fight in Syria rather than face punishment at home. Mohammed al-Talq, 22, was arrested and found guilty of participating in a demonstration in the north-central Saudi city of Buraidah.
After giving 19 young men suspended sentences, the judge called the defendants into his private chambers and gave them a long lecture about the need to fight Shiite Muslims in Syria, according to Mohammed’s father, Abdurrahman al-Talq.
“You should save all your energy and fight against the real enemy, the Shia, and not fight inside Saudi Arabia,” said the father, quoting the judge. “The judge gave them a reason to go to Syria.”
Within weeks, 11 of the 19 protesters left to join the rebels…
Saudi authorities have a strategic goal in Syria, he said. “Their ultimate policy is to have a regime change similar to what happened in Yemen, where they lose the head of state and substitute it with one more friendly to the Saudis,” al-Qahtani said.
West training Syrian rebels in Jordan Exclusive: UK and French instructors involved in US-led effort to strengthen secular elements in Syria’s opposition, say sources Julian Borger and Nick Hopkins, guardian, Friday 8 March 2013
Western training of Syrian rebels is under way in Jordan in an effort to strengthen secular elements in the opposition as a bulwark against Islamic extremism, and to begin building security forces to maintain order in the event of Bashar al-Assad’s fall.
Jordanian security sources say the training effort is led by the US, but involves British and French instructors.
The UK Ministry of Defence denied any British soldiers were providing direct military training to the rebels, though a small number of personnel, including special forces teams, have been in the country training the Jordanian military.
But the Guardian has been told that UK intelligence teams are giving the rebels logistical and other advice in some form.
British officials have made it clear that they believe new EU rules have now given the UK the green light to start providing military training for rebel fighters with the aim of containing the spread of chaos and extremism in areas outside the Syrian regime’s control.
According to European and Jordanian sources the western training in Jordan has been going on since last year and is focused on senior Syrian army officers who defected….
“What has happened of late is that there has been a tactical shift,” said Julien Barnes-Dacey, a Middle East expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations thinktank. “Islamist forces have been gaining steam in the north and Jordan is keen to avoid that in the south. Having been very hands-off, they now see that they have to do something in the south.”
He added: “There is a feeling that Jordan simply can’t handle a huge new influx of refugees so the idea would be to create a safe zone inside Syria. For them it’s a no-win scenario. Everything they had been seeking to avoid has come to pass.”
For western and Saudi backers of the opposition, Jordan has become a preferable option through which to channel aid than Turkey. Ankara has been criticised for allowing extremist groups, such as the al-Nusra Front, become dominant on the northern front while it focused on what it sees as the growing threat of Kurdish secessionism.
“The Americans now trust us more than the Turks, because with the Turks everything is about gaining leverage for action against the Kurds,” said a Jordanian source familiar with official thinking in Amman….
Syrian rebels have said that in the past few months there had been a relaxation of the previously strict US rules on what kinds of weapons were allowed across the border, and that portable anti-aircraft missiles had been released from Turkish warehouses where they had been impounded.
Matt Schroeder, who tracks the spread of such weapons for the Federation of American Scientists, said the recent appearance of modern, sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles in the hands of such fragmented rebel groups was deeply troubling in view of their capacity to bring down civilian airlines…
The Islamic State of Iraq, a militant jihadist group affiliated with Al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for a massacre of nine Iraqi guards and 48 Syrian soldiers who sought respite in Iraq from Syria’s civil war. The massacre is considered one the conflict’s most deadly episodes of cross-border fighting. The U.S. has condemned this attack as an act of “terrorism” because it claims some of the Syrian troops sought medical treatment in Iraq. Meanwhile, Syria’s grand mufti, Sheik Ahmad Badr al-Deen Hassoun, has issued a religious degree urging Syrian parents to enlist their children in the Syrian Army. The grand mufti is a Sunni and also closely linked to the Assad regime. His degree is significant for two reasons: it appeared to call for jihad; and it suggests the Assad regime lacks a sufficient supply of soldiers, prompting concerns that Assad may enforce compulsory service into the armed forces. This speculation is corroborated by reports that the Syrian government is recruiting and training Syrian women to become soldiers in a force named the “Lionesses for National Defense.” A video posted to Russia Today’s Arabic channel shows women marching in army fatigues, carrying Kalashnikov rifles, chanting slogans in support of the Syrian regime. Their duties consist largely of checkpoint control.
River of Death
The regime tries to outdo itself in the production of horror
Why did the bodies of 110 men suddenly wash up in the river running through Aleppo city six weeks ago? A Guardian investigation found out.
It is already one of the defining images of the Syrian civil war: a line of bodies at neatly spaced intervals lying on a river bed in the heart of Syria’s second city Aleppo. All 110 victims have been shot in the head, their hands bound with plastic ties behind their back.
It’s a picture that raises so many questions: who were these men? How did they die? Why? What does their story tell us about the wretched disintegration of Syria? A Guardian investigation has established a grisly narrative behind the worst – and most visible – massacre to have taken place here…
There are no women on the grisly slideshow of dead men that is replayed in melancholy slow motion every time a relative arrives. Nor are there more than a handful of males aged over 30. Most of the dead dragged from Aleppo’s Queiq River were men of working age.
Another thread strongly unites the fate of the river massacre victims; each of them had either been in the west of the city, or had been trying to get there. They had to pass though checkpoints run by the Syrian army, or their proxy militia, the Shabiha. The process involved handing over identification papers that detailed in which area of the city the holder of the papers lived…
Two other men who had been arrested at regime checkpoints and later freed were also interviewed. Both alleged that mass killings had taken place in the security prisons in which they had been held. They identified the prisons as Air Force intelligence and Military Security — two of the most infamous state security facilities in Syria.
“If they took you to the park, you were finished,” said one of the men, who had been freed in mid-January. “We all knew that. It is a miracle that I am standing here talking to you.”
The man, in his early 20s, refused to be identified even back in the relative safety of the east of the city. Nowadays, he spends his mornings on the banks of the river, waiting for more bodies to float down.
The concrete ledge from where the bodies were recovered is now covered by waters which, on 29 January, had receded leaving the sodden remains exposed, blood oozing from single bullet wounds to each of their shattered skulls…
“Before I left the prison, they took 30 people from isolation cells and killed them.”
Abdel Rezzaq said he was being held in Block 4, within earshot of the solitary confinement cells and the area where he alleges the prisoners were taken, then executed. “They handcuffed them and blindfolded them and they were torturing them till they died.”
“They poured acid on them. The smell was very strong and we were suffocating from it. Then we heard gunshots. The next day they put me and some of the others in front of men with guns, but they didn’t shoot at us. They freed me later that day.”
“I heard women screaming. They were pouring alcohol on us and cursing us. Only God got us out of there, no-one gets out alive. And only god knows what happened to the rest of the people who were in there. I will fight for this cause because I want the whole world to see what is happening.”
“I was there for a month,” he said. “Then one night they took us to an area outside, it was near a park and I thought that was it. I was preparing for death by praying and they started shooting along a wall where they had lined people up. There were about four guys next to me, to my right, and they stopped shooting. I heard one officer say ‘let them go’. And here I am. I will stay waiting for these bodies for the rest of the war. I cannot believe I am here.”
Aleppo’s river of death By Donatella Rovera
Aleppo’s Kweik river, keeps washing up the bodies of men and boys who have been shot in the head at close range. Some have their hands tied behind their backs, some have marks suggesting torture. Virtually every day this past week I have been getting early morning phone calls informing me of more bodies in the river – two on Sunday, four on Monday, seven on Tuesday, three on Wednesday… All eventually float to the same spot in the Bustan al-Qasr district of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, under the control of opposition forces but just a few hundred meters downstream from an area held by government troops. It is too dangerous to try to recover the bodies at the point where they first appear – it’s too close to the government-controlled zone and right in the line of their sniper fire. Instead, local volunteers wait for the bodies to float another 300 meters or so downstream where they can be retrieved more safely. On March 3, I arrived just as two corpses had been recovered from the river. On the face of one, something had been written with a blue marker. I had to look closely because the writing was pale and partially erased by the water and mud – the body was floating face-down when it was found. On the forehead was written “al-Assad ” and on the left cheek “Surya;” the writing on the right check and the chin could not be deciphered. People thought the two illegible words might have been “u bas” – as in the pro-regime refrain: “al-Assad, Surya, u bas” ([President] al-Assad, Syria and that’s it).
Syrian Women’s Day, March 8, 2013 by Aida Dalati
Between the years 1174 to 1260AD Ayyubid royal women banned together with Damascene daughters of the local Ulamaa (scholars) and built learning centers Madrassas for the Damascus and Aleppo youth, and Zawiahs-hospices for the terminal ill.
Some of the women’s work includes, Safwat-al-Mulk’s Peacock cupola (Qubbat al-Tawawis) built by the Seljuk widow of Taj al Dawleh, a spacious mosque and Sufi hospice located near the entrance of the Straight Street which I pass by every time I go to see my upholsterer. Also Princess Zummurud Khatoun’s Madrasat Khatuniyya the fifth madrassa-school built in Damascus and Princess Dayfa Khatoun’s Madrasat al Firdouse in Aleppo.
The title of “Khatoun” in Ayyubid Seljuk refers to Queen, princess, lady or noble woman.
In a span of these 85 years before Hulako the Mongol occupied Damascus, studies have found that out of the 147 persons who participated in building, 21 were women. Out of 69 Madrassas 15 were by built by women, (23% of the total) as were 6 (21%) out of the 29 Sufi hospices. In Aleppo 5 out of the 20 (25%) Khanqahs-Ribats (hospices) were also built by women. I find this to be a most delightful and empowering piece of history.
Chapter 19 Ayyubid Royalty in Damascus, Damascus Renaissance, Aida Dalati By Aida Dalati, to be published by Amazon, Photos available upon request
Arab revolutions have made women worse off (Moha Ennaji, The Daily Star)
“Though women across the Middle East participated actively in the Arab Spring protests that began in late 2010, they remain second-class citizens, even where popular uprisings managed to topple autocratic regimes. Indeed, the Islamist governments now in power in several countries seem more determined than the despots that they replaced to keep women out of politics. In conducting interviews with women in the region, I am struck by their pessimism. They fear the loss of their rights. They see economic disintegration all around them, raising the possibility of a further increase in violence. As social bonds fray, they feel increasingly vulnerable. More than once, I heard them express the view that things were better before the revolutions.
Female representation in parliaments and Cabinets after the Arab Spring has been either absent or meager, and women activists fear Islamist parties will implement reactionary policies that discriminate on the basis of gender. In Egypt, for example, the Freedom and Justice Party, which dominates parliament, claims that a woman cannot become president. Egyptian women were heavily represented in the protests that brought down President Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011, but they have been largely excluded from any official decision-making role ever since.”
Hezbollah and Lebanon
While the Iraq-Syria border was witnessing the first armed confrontation pitting Sunni jihadists against Iraqi and Syrian soldiers, leaving scores of people dead, a wide stretch of border between Lebanon and Syria was the scene of direct and unprecedented contact between Shiite Hezbollah militants and Sunni jihadists belonging to Jabhat al-Nusra. This new and serious development is likely to have serious repercussions in the coming weeks. There are several theories about how this situation came to pass.
A Divided Society: The Impact of the Syrian Crisis on Lebanon Terrorism Monitor Volume: 11 Issue: 5, March 8, 2013 By: Nicholas A. Heras
…As Lebanon moves towards planned Parliamentary elections in June, the question of Lebanon’s role in the Syrian crisis will present a difficult political choice for certain communities, particularly the Christians. Lebanon’s Christian community is generally split between support for pro and anti-Assad political parties, but in an environment where the fear of a rising militant Salafist presence amongst Christians is growing, tenuous political allegiances may be switched to support parties, particularly the Free Patriotic Movement, that are aligned with what is widely seen in Lebanon as the greatest guarantee against Sunni militancy in Lebanon, Hezbollah.
On Thursday, the leader of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, Mohammed Raad, said Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour was right to call for an end to the suspension observed by all Arab states.
“His statements accurately reflect Lebanon’s official stance on Syria.” Raad told Beirut news media of the call to reinstate Syria, which was suspended from the Cairo-based league in 2011.
The Syrian National Coalition, the coalition of opposition forces which is supported by a number of countries including the US, UK and France, has also postponed a meeting to form a provisional government until March 20.
FSA fighters being instructed in the use of the ex-Yugoslav M79 anti-tank rocket launcher (YouTube)
The New York Times reported last week that “Saudi Arabia has financed a large purchase of infantry weapons from Croatia and quietly funneled them to antigovernment fighters in Syria.” The effort was reportedly known to the US, but nothing was said for or against it so that it might proceed under the radar of a European Union arms embargo on Syria….
Iraq-Syria Overland Supply Routes: Syria By Joseph Holliday – ISW
…Assad’s withdrawal from northeastern Syria, combined with rebel gains along the Euphrates River, has reduced possible overland supply routes between Baghdad and Damascus to the Al Walid-At Tanf border crossing point. The recent ambush also demonstrates the capacity and willingness of militants on the Iraqi side of the border to disrupt this route. The Iraqi and Syrian governments appear well situated to maintain control of this last overland supply route, but if this route closes, the Assad regime will have to rely on air and sea resupply routes in order to continue its campaign against the opposition in Syria.
Assad’s withdrawal from northeastern Syria, combined with rebel gains along the Euphrates River, has reduced possible overland supply routes between Baghdad and Damascus to the Al Walid-At Tanf border crossing point. The recent ambush also demonstrates the capacity and willingness of militants on the Iraqi side of the border to disrupt this route. The Iraqi and Syrian governments appear well situated to maintain control of this last overland supply route, but if this route closes, the Assad regime will have to rely on air and sea resupply routes in order to continue its campaign against the opposition in Syria.
Syria opposition to pick interim PM next week [this week, i.e. yesterday]
The Istanbul meeting – to be held on March 12 and 13 – was called after former Prime Minister Riad Hijab, the highest-ranking civilian defector from Assad’s government, withdrew his candidacy, several coalition members said on Thursday. Hijab had run into opposition from Islamists and liberals in the coalition for his past ties with Syria’s ruling hierarchy…
Coalition sources said the Syrian National Council, a large Muslim Brotherhood-influenced bloc within the 71-member coalition, had chosen three candidates for prime minister.
They are Salem al-Muslet, a tribal figure from northeastern Syria who worked at think-tanks in the Gulf; Osama al-Qadi, a US-educated economist who heads an opposition taskforce drawing up plans for post-conflict economic recovery; and veteran opposition campaigner Burhan Ghalioun, a professor from Homs and previous president of the Syrian National Council.
Asaad Mustafa, a former agriculture minister during the 30-year rule of Assad’s father, the late President Hafez al-Assad, is also in the running, the sources said. Muslet and Ghalioun, however, are members of the coalition, whose rules state that only non-members can join the provisional government.
The Syrian opposition has cancelled a meeting to elect an interim government for the second time in less than two weeks amid continuing internal divisions.
The meeting, scheduled for this week after an earlier cancellation on March 2, is now scheduled to take place in Istanbul on March 20…
The main task of the interim government would be to improve everyday life in areas of Syria where the insurgents have driven out government troops, the SNC source said. The interim government would also be based in “liberated” regions of the country…
Politics, Aid, Economics
Washington Post – Syria Woos BRICS in India
During her three-day visit to India, senior Syrian minister Bouthaina Shaaban asked New Delhi to take the lead in drafting a strong statement in support of Syria, when the five nations — comprised of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — meet at a conference later this month.
“We want India, Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa to make a very strong decision to support a political solution in Syria, to support the right of the Syrian people to decide a future for themselves,” Shaaban, the political and media advisor to Assad, told reporters in New Delhi on Friday. Last year, the BRICS nations called for an end to the rhetoric of military action against Syria.
India has until now walked the tightrope between the United States and Syria. It voted in favor of sanctions, but later abstained from another vote in the United Nations General Assembly, saying it opposed acts that aimed at change of regime in Syria.
On Wednesday, India’s foreign office expressed its “deep concern on the security situation in Syria” and said that the Geneva Communique, which had called for respecting Syria’s sovereignty, must form the basis for a solution.
On Friday, Shaaban also urged reporters to use the term “international community” with caution.
“The BRICS is also a big part of the international community, so please stop using the term when you are referring to Western forces,” Shaaban said. Then she added, “It is very difficult to counter Western narrative.”
The shadowy Islamist group that was all but destroyed in the 1980s is ruining the uprising against Bashar al-Assad.
No one in Syria expected the anti-regime uprising to last this long or be this deadly, but after around 70,000 dead, 1 million refugees, and two years of unrest, there is still no end in sight. While President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal response is mostly to blame, the opposition’s chronic failure to form a viable front against the regime has also allowed the conflict to drag on. And there’s one anti-Assad group that is largely responsible for this dismal state of affairs: Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood.
“Yesterday I did not make anything to eat as there was no electricity for the entire day,” says Umm Fadi, a resident of Artuz district near Damascus that has been caught up in the fighting between rebels and regime forces.
Like most Syrians, the mother of four faces a shortage of oil and gas and has to resort to cooking on a wood fire or, when there is power, an electric stove.
“A gas cylinder costs 3,500 (Syrian) pounds (49 dollars) and there is no oil… we have to wait for two or three hours patiently just to buy bread,” she says with a sigh. — Fear is palpable —
But when it comes to violence near the capital, her fear is palpable. “The worst is yet to come,” she says.
From the balcony of her home near Abbasid square on the edge of Damascus, she can see clouds of black smoke.
“The rebels are at Jobar, two kilometres (just over a mile) away,” she says.
“We hear gunfire and explosions all through the day and they are coming closer. People are hiding in their homes.”
Says Syrian Opposition Leader.” Cengiz Çandar talks with Sheikh Moaz al-Khatib, leader of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, about the roles and interests of the United States, Russia and Iran in Syria and his efforts to arrive at a solution to the crisis.
Syria’s descent into state failure now seems unchecked and inevitable….As the bodies pile higher while terrified, traumatized children go homeless and flee for safety with their parents, one must ask how long the United States can stay on its present policy course. Those who argue that you can’t lose a proxy war you don’t fight will, in the fullness of time, be proven wrong. Yet even if they are right, is there nothing to be said for using some of the tools at our disposal to neutralize those whose sense of invulnerability emboldens their savagery? Syria can be saved when self-doubt in the West gives way to something more worthy.
Violence aside, economics alone can fragment Syria
March 07, 2013
By Dominic Evans, The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Economic devastation is tearing Syria apart, perhaps irreparably, if fighting rages for another two years, according to a former minister now working on a U.N.-backed reconstruction plan.
Abdullah al-Dardari said the damage wrought by the violence would already cost up to $80 billion, an impossible bill for a government which would soon be unable to pay state wages, let alone fund a nationwide program of rebuilding.
As millions of Syrians are driven deeper into poverty and the ability of President Bashar Assad’s regime to provide basic services erodes, the forces pushing Syria toward disintegration will grow stronger, he said.
“Economics alone can fragment Syria if we go on like this,” said Dardari, who served as Assad’s deputy premier for economic affairs for six years until shortly after the uprising against the president erupted in March 2011.
Now working as an economist at the United Nations in Beirut, he heads a team devising a post-conflict plan – trying to bring Syrians from all sides of the crisis together to chart an inclusive political, economic and social reconstruction agenda.
A United Nations vehicle crossed from Syria into Israel on the Golan Heights.
By RICK GLADSTONE and ALAN COWELL
Published: March 6, 2013
…20 peacekeepers were detained near an observation post that had been evacuated over the past weekend after what she called “heavy combat in proximity” in the southern part of the area they control. The peacekeepers, in a convoy of trucks, had returned to investigate damage to the post when they were taken by about 30 armed rebels.
Ms. Guerrero said that the peacekeeping mission was “dispatching a team to assess the situation and attempt a resolution,” and that the Syrian authorities had been asked to help. ….A video uploaded on YouTube by a group that identified itself as the Martyrs of Yarmouk claimed responsibility on Wednesday and said the peacekeepers would be held until Syrian government forces withdrew from the area around Al Jamlah, the site of the weekend clashes. The video does not show any of the captives, but United Nations vehicles are visible.
A speaker in the video warns in Arabic: “If the withdrawal does not take place within 24 hours, we will deal with those guys like war prisoners. And praise to God.”
The threat underscored the widening risk that the Syria conflict is destabilizing the Middle East, and raised new concerns about the agendas of some Syrian insurgent groups, just as Western nations, including the United States, were grappling over whether to arm them…
Syrian Insurgents Say Aid Isn’t Getting Where It Needs to Go
By KRISTEN McTIGHE
Published: March 6, 2013
Koert Debeuf, a Belgian who works in Cairo as a representative of centrist parties in the European Parliament, says he was smuggled from Turkey into Syria by rebel commanders in January to study conditions in the rebel-held territories. But when he asked the commanders to show him the Azaz refugee camp in northern Aleppo Province, he said he had the impression that they felt ashamed.
“We need to take a leap of faith,” Mr. Debeuf said. “Of course things will go wrong, but what we are doing now, is going very, very wrong, and we are only making two people stronger: Assad and Jabhat al-Nusra.”
In Parts of Syria, Lack of Assistance ‘Is a Catastrophe’
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, March 8, 2013
SAWRAN, Syria — The United States and other international donors are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on humanitarian aid for Syrians afflicted by the civil war. But here in the rebel-controlled north, where the deprivation is most acute, that money has bought mostly anger and resentment: the vast majority of aid is going to territory controlled by President Bashar al-Assad, and the small amount reaching opposition-held areas is all but invisible.
Rebels argue that the humanitarian assistance is in effect helping Mr. Assad survive the war of attrition. “Aid is a weapon,” said Omar Baylasani, a rebel commander from Idlib, speaking during a visit to a Turkish border town. “Food supply is the winning card in the hands of the regime.” …
The article of the last post contained a video depicting the destruction of a shrine, referred to as an “Alawite Mazaar.” Alawis, Shi’ites, and Sunnis with a Sufi orientation all visit shrines built on or containing the tombs of reputedly holy individuals. In actuality, this could be a shrine frequented by Sunni Sufis or Sunnis influenced by Sufism, similar in appearance to the Alawi shrines. Sufi tendencies are often conflated with Shi’i practices by fundamentalist Sunnis and together opposed as “innovation,” “paganism,” or “associating something not-God with God”—in other words, directing devotion toward someone other than God. In Syria, various Muslims sects (as well as Christians) will often frequent the same holy sites together. The title of the video refers to the structure as a “pagan shrine,” an accusation that could be levied against a Shi’ite or Alawi shrine, but may just as easily be directed at any Saint-venerating Sufi-oriented sacred place. It is not specifically indicated that it is an Alawi shrine, as noted by readers. –MTB