Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, January 15th, 2013
Report says Assad residing on warship [This story has been dismissed as having “no basis” by the CIA]
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 14 (UPI) — Syrian President Bashar Assad and his family have been living on a warship, with security provided by Russia, intelligence sources told a Saudi newspaper. …
The circumstances reinforce Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s comment Sunday that Assad’s removal from power is “impossible to implement,” the newspaper said. Assad’s presence on the ship could be a sign of looming negotiations on the conflict in Syria, the report said. “It is necessary to make everybody, including the opposition, which is still categorically denying any dialogue, to sit down at the negotiating table, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty quoted Lavrov as saying during a visit to the Ukraine.
For one Syrian officer, a months-long wait for the chance to defect to Turkey
Carol Morello JAN 12 – Wash Post
Despite a wave of defections of top officers and draining morale, he says Syria’s military remains strong….
“I think it will take more than six months,” said Hassoun, who taught engineering to about 1,000 army cadets at the Assad Military Academy in Aleppo, during an interview at an Antakya cafe. “The regime’s army is strong and well-trained. It has fighter jets and tanks.”
On his way to Turkey, Hassoun said, he met FSA fighters armed only with shotguns. “The regime can do more killing with one airstrike than the FSA can do with many attacks,” he said.
Although his is just one man’s account, Hassoun’s decision to defect, and the dangers it entailed, helps explain why even more officers have not followed suit.
Hassoun said he spent his adult life in the army, entering the Aleppo academy when he was 18.
He said he was optimistic in 2000, when Bashar al-Assad became president. Hassoun hoped that the son of Hafez al-Assad, the late president, would usher in reforms for society and the military….
Worries about a ‘failed state’ in Syria,
by David Ignatius, Washington Post
…State Department reports North Syria descending toward anarchy, Picture of disorganized rebels, greedy arms peddlers and profiteering warlords … This security vacuum in the Aleppo region appears to have helped Jabhat al-Nusra, which is allied with al-Qaeda. The group is benefiting not just from its prowess on the battlefield but from its refusal to engage in looting and other predatory behavior. In its emphasis on crude but egalitarian justice and social services, Jabhat al-Nusra emulates other successful Muslim extremist organizations, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Taliban in Afghanistan. –
–Why civilians are turning from the Free Syrian Army — and into the arms of Islamist groups...In a country where the rule of law is vanishing as the state increasingly recedes, every fighter is policeman and prosecutor. Some have embraced their newfound powers judiciously. Most, however, have abused it. This exploitation of the war has reduced support for nationalist FSA units. Instead, Syrians are increasingly backing Islamists who largely eschew the material spoils of war.
One man who has enriched himself is Ahmad Afash, leader of the Free Syria Brigade from the village of Anadan, just north of Aleppo. At the mention of his name, rebels from neighboring hamlets either curse it or fall silent out of embarrassment. “Afash steals everything from grain to cars,” an FSA fighter says. “He justifies this by saying no one wants to give him money to fund his battalion.”
Rebels lament that men like Afash have taken up arms for spoils and glory rather than a national duty to topple the regime bombarding civilian areas daily. His name has become notorious for the FSA’s excesses, tarnishing its image throughout the province of Aleppo….
Some six months after Syria’s rebels tried to storm the country’s largest city, they can claim the eastern part of Aleppo and perhaps 60 percent overall. In the west, the government army has the remaining 40 percent of the city.
The line dividing these two areas is supposedly the front line in Aleppo’s war. But lately the front has gone cold, as people here say in Arabic.
You can still hear shots. But peering through a tiny little hole in a stone wall separating the two sides, this particular part of government-held Aleppo looks like a no man’s land. There’s a lot of trash, abandoned buildings, a mosque that looks like it’s been abandoned.
The shots are from a government sniper, posted on top of one of those abandoned buildings. Although there’s not much fighting here anymore, government soldiers sometimes try to pick off rebel fighters or civilians who cross from one side to another.
Marwa just crossed the front line. She and her sister sometimes make this perilous crossing twice a day. One day, a sniper almost killed her sister.
Marwa works on the government side but lives on the rebel side. She says life is almost normal on the government side — there’s more electricity and bread. When asked whether she feels like she has a dual personality, she replies, yes, this is the reality….
Right now this cold front line is a lot like the fight for Syria: Both sides think they can win, but neither side is winning, so neither side is going to back down….As one Syrian civilian leader in the city said: If we use logic, it [win] could happen in three months. If we don’t, it could be years.
Rape has become a “significant and disturbing feature” of the war in Syria, one that many refugees cite as their leading reason for fleeing the country, according to a report released Monday by a New York-based humanitarian organization.
More than 50 countries called on the U.N. Security Council to refer the crisis in Syria to the International Criminal Court.
FALLOUT FROM THE FALL OF TAFTANAZ
By Andrew J. Tabler, Jeffrey White, and Aaron Zelin
The latest rebel success, while significant in battlefield terms, has empowered extremist forces and further highlighted Washington’s insufficient support for Syria’s mainstream opposition…..
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE WAR
For the rebels, the airbase capture indicates that major regime positions in the provinces are vulnerable. But it also suggests that better-defended areas — such as Damascus and environs, where regime forces are relatively dense and well supported — will remain a serious challenge…..
The Syrian Islamic Front is a conglomeration of eleven “brigades” outside the FSA. Formed last December, it lacks JN’s coherent structure. Ideologically, the SIF can best be described as a collection of locally focused jihadists with no known connections to al-Qaeda. Three of the brigades took part in the Taftanaz battle: Kataib Ahrar al-Sham (the SIF’s leading unit), Jamaat al-Taliah al-Islamiyah, and Harakat al-Fajr al-Islamiyah. Like JN, the SIF’s goal is to establish an Islamic state based on Salafi interpretations of Islam, but only within Syria proper. The video announcing the group’s creation indicates that its funding comes from the Qatar Charity Organization and Turkey’s Humanitarian Relief Fund (IHH), which supports U.S.-designated terrorist groups such as Hamas….
The Syrian Liberation Front is another grouping of so-called brigades outside the FSA, founded last September. The smallest faction involved in the Taftanaz operation was Liwa Dawoud, one of the eight battalions within Suqur al-Sham, a leading SLF brigade. Ideologically similar to the SIF, the SLF hopes to establish an Islamic state in Syria; its members are a mix of Muslim Brotherhood-type Islamists and Salafists who are less radical than those in the SIF and JN. The SLF is believed to receive funding from the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and wealthy Persian Gulf donors.
Given their demonstrated fighting prowess, these Islamist forces have earned much respect from Syrians. Unlike some FSA groups, which have increasingly been accused of corruption in places such as Aleppo, JN, the SIF, and the SLF are viewed as fair brokers that do not take advantage of the downtrodden. Unless something changes, Islamists are likely to play a significant role in northern Syria following the regime’s departure….
Al-Nusra – 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. Al-Monitor
Jabhat al-Nusra’s Goals Extend Beyond Syria – Al-Hayat (Pan Arab)
At the end of December, in an unprecedented move, Abu Muhammad al-Julani, the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, addressed “the people of Syria and the mujahedeen.”
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 (FSA). Instead, the Islamist group’s leader replaced the term “FSA” with “the brigades and militant groups.”
The speech came in response to the United States designation of Jabhat al-Nusra as a foreign terrorist organization. But it seemed obvious that Julani was speaking from a strong position, warning that “those who sowed the seeds of the revolution will be the ones to reap its fruits.” He also warned his supporters and the people of Syria against attempts to replace the Syrian regime with a Western one.
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. The militant praised those parties that have condemned the US decision to designate it as a terrorist group.
During my visit to Aleppo, I got the impression that Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamist factions were still on the sidelines of the conflict in Aleppo’s countryside. However, inside the city the situation was different, as expected. Jihadist organizations, mainly Jabhat al-Nusra, were well informed and aware of what was taking place at the international and regional levels.
To begin to understand how Jabhat al-Nusra managed to establish itself in this environment, another question must be asked: Is this militant faction merely seasonal, and will it cease to exist when the regime falls — or will it persist to implement a plan that goes far beyond Syria?
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. Jabhat al-Nusra bases its work in Syria on three pillars…..
Jabhat al-Nusra’s New Syria Strategy
By: Mourad Batl al-Sheshani. Translated from Al-Hayat (Pan Arab). al-Monitor
…Julani says, “Day after day, you are getting closer to the people; you have entered their hearts and gained their trust. They saw the sincerity of your work, your great sacrifices, noble behavior, faithfulness and good character. This requires you to be more kind and compassionate towards them. The intense disdain you harbor for the enemies of God must be matched by equally intense love and compassion for the Muslim worshipers of God…Be careful not to tighten the noose around their necks.” He then added, “May your preaching be true and sincere.”
Based on this comparison, it is obvious that the critical situation in Syria has provided a new opportunity for the jihadist-Salafist movement. They had previously suffered from marginalization as a result of the Arab Spring in 2011, when Arab youth discovered that peaceful political action was more advantageous and effective than the violence that jihadists had pursued for decades. However, the violent response to these peaceful demonstrators in 2012 opened the door once again for jihadists to implement their new strategy, and to redevelop the movement in a new form assisted by the conditions on the ground.
Hassan Hassan in the National, Jan 15, 2013
…“A salient feature of Iran’s foreign policy is its ability to build influence where least expected. With the ascent to power of Sunni Islamists throughout the region, and Iran’s support of the military campaign in Syria, many have argued that Iran’s regional standing is in decline.”
“The Brotherhood and adherents of Khomeinism share common Islamic views that make them closer to each other than to their fellow Sunnis or Shiites. The Brotherhood deems rulership a religious “asel”, meaning that one’s faith is not complete without pledging allegiance to an imam – unlike the consensus in mainstream Sunni Islam. This is similar to the concept of velayat-e faqih, which holds that a religious jurist has custodianship over the people.”
“It is important to distinguish between the Brotherhood as an organisation and as an ideology. The former is coherent but the latter is loose. The Brotherhood includes Sunni adherents from a wider religious spectrum, from extreme Salafis to moderate clerics, with conflicting views on sectarian issues. According to people I’ve spoken to, the Brotherhood leadership therefore treads carefully in terms of rapprochement with Iran to avoid alienating sectarian forces inside and outside the organisation, but at the same time quietly promotes it.”
“Any alliance between the Iranian regime and the Brotherhood is likely to be more enduring and sustainable than Iran’s alliance with Baathist Syria, for example.”…
Other similarities include the institution of the “general guide”, and the ability to exercise taqiyya, a form of religious dissimulation to avoid persecution or harm. Both ideologies approve of election as a political mechanism but require the rule of Sharia and oversight by religious people of the population’s choice – which can be described as a clergy-supervised democracy, or constitutional theocracy. Also, the two groups tend to be expansionist….
Iran’s current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has repeatedly praised the organisation and translated some of Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb’s books into Farsi. After the Egyptian uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, more Brotherhood books have been translated into Farsi, including one about the history of the organisation, translated by Ayatollah Hadi Khosrowshahi, the former adviser to Iran’s foreign minister….
Syrian Silent Majority Demands: ‘Transition to Rationality’
By: Geoffrey Aronson for Al-Monitor. posted on January 14
…The Syrian Dialogue Project, an initiative by a group of Syrians from inside and outside Syria, including Nidal Alkhoudari, Nabil Beitinjaneh, Sami Bentinjane, Mazen Bilal and Camille Otrakji. They have constructed a “virtual dialogue” among a cross section of Syrians at home and abroad, and who have not taken up arms for one side or another, in an effort to answer the following questions: What do Syrians believe is important to Syrians today, and how can they best shape their future?….
(CNN) — Sharifa lost her foot when the Syrian jets swooped down and fired missiles at the house. Now the hijab-clad girl sits jaded in a dirty, hardscrabble displaced persons camp near Turkey, growing up fast, confused and far from home. CNN …
Independent: ‘It’s only fit for rats’: Syrian refugees on brink of disaster
2013-01-14 18:57:42.702 GMT
The tattered rug of the floor of Radwan Salim’s tent is still damp after icy water swept through his tent last week. He sought refuge under a shop veranda with his wife and the 16 other members of his extended family living in the plastic-covered …
RUSSIA SAYS UN SECURITY COUNCIL TO HOLD SYRIA TALKS IN JAN: IFX
SWISS ASK COUNCIL TO REFER SYRIA CRIMES TO INT. CRIMINAL COURT
Gary Gambill: Don’t blame America for Syrian strife
Gary Gambill, National Post | Jan 14, 2013
…the claim that jihadists “hijacked” the revolution because ordinary citizens had nowhere else to turn is misleading. Syria had been experiencing a Sunni Islamist revival for years prior to the current uprising. Assad managed to contain it by easing government control over religious expression and sponsoring Islamist causes in Iraq and Palestine. However, there was never any doubt that a precipitous breakdown of state authority would produce a radical Islamist counterforce, particularly in an atmosphere of sustained sectarian polarization and violence. And there was never any doubt that the Sunni Arab Gulf monarchies would actively cultivate this counterforce as a means of gaining equity in Syria’s postwar political order and appeasing jihadists at home….
Syria rebels seize base as envoy holds talksThe capture of Taftanaz air base, after months of sporadic fighting, could help rebels solidify their hold on northern Syria, according to Rami Abdelrahman, head of the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. But Yezid Sayigh, at the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut, said it was not a game-changer, noting that it had taken months for the rebels to overrun a base whose usefulness to the military was already compromised by the clashes around it. “This is a tactical rather than a strategic gain,” he said.
Failure of Syria Talks Signal Conflict May Be Long Struggle“There’s little sign that we’re any closer to any political solution to this crisis,” said Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding. “Because there are divisions in the international community between the United States and Russia, between key regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Iran, there is not a core constituency who are pushing for one single solution to the crisis in Syria.”
Panetta: US Troops Securing Syria’s Chemical Weapons Not an Option in ‘Hostile Atmosphere’Panetta said Thursday that the U.S. is “not working on options that involve boots on the ground.” But he added that ” you always have to keep the possibility that, if there is a peaceful transition and international organizations get involved, that they might ask for assistance in that situation. But in a hostile situation, we’re not planning for that.”
(CNN) — Two captured Syrian military officers are begging President Bashar al-Assad to help free them from rebels. On Tuesday, a video was posted online purportedly showing the two men, who said they were abducted last October by the Free Syrian …
Syria’s Cu;cultural Heritage Casualty of War – Post Global
At once professional and prescient
January 14, 2013 01:49 AM
By Marlin Dick
The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The late Adib Khair was an innovative Syrian television producer, perhaps best known for igniting the Turkish soap opera craze across the Arab Middle East. He was eulogized Sunday as a pioneer, dedicated to bringing professional standards to his country’s industry.The 48-year-old Khair succumbed to a heart attack Saturday during a visit to Beirut and died at Hotel Dieu hospital. His funeral took place the following day in Damascus.