Posted by Joshua on Sunday, August 21st, 2011
Thirty-four demonstrators and civilians were killed this Friday, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Most of the victims in the Homs area. Twelve soldiers were buried on Saturday, and two others killed, according to the Syrian military.
Sunday will be a big day. Assad plans to address the nation on TV. He will speak out against the US and European call for his removal. He will try to reassure his supporters and Syrians that he can right things. Most Syria officials have insisted that the regime will emerge from these trials and protests stronger, wiser and reformed. That argument will convince few today. Some cling to the hope that the President will modify article 8 of the constitution, the article that proclaims the Baath to be the leader of state and society. If the President stays on his present course, the country is poised to descend into uglier violence than we have seen thus far.
The fallout of US and European demands that Assad step down combined with the added sanctions that are to be imposed will be profound. The Syrian regime is boxed in. Turkey and Russia refrained from calling for Assad’s ouster, but they have indicated that they will not defend the Syrian regime for much longer. Assad has allowed a UN group and the Red Cross (ICRC) into the country. The ICRC has been given permission to visit prisons and catalog prisoners.
Economic sanctions will begin to bite in several weeks. Government food and fuel subsidies will likely be cut as government revenues from oil trail off. Syria’s poorest and most vulnerable will likely be the first to feel privation as the wealthy and powerful kick down the pain. The UN estimated that many Iraqis died, most children, as a result of the economic embargo imposed by the international community on the Saddam regime. Here is Wikipedia on the effects of the Iraq sanctions:
Researcher Richard Garfield estimated that “a minimum of 100,000 and a more likely estimate of 227,000 excess deaths among young children from August 1991 through March 1998” from all causes including sanctions. Other estimates have ranged as low as 170,000 children.
UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said that “if the substantial reduction in child mortality throughout Iraq during the 1980s had continued through the 1990s, there would have been half a million fewer deaths of children under-five in the country as a whole during the eight year period 1991 to 1998. As a partial explanation, she pointed to a March statement of the Security Council Panel on Humanitarian Issues which states: “Even if not all suffering in Iraq can be imputed to external factors, especially sanctions, the Iraqi people would not be undergoing such deprivations in the absence of the prolonged measures imposed by the Security Council and the effects of war.”…. House Democratic Whip David Bonior called the economic sanctions against Iraq “infanticide masquerading as policy.”
On May 12, 1996, Madeleine Albright (then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations) appeared on a 60 Minutes segment in which Lesley Stahl asked her “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” and Albright replied “we think the price is worth it.” She later complained that she had been sand-bagged by the question and did not mean it, insisting that Saddam was responsible for the deaths and sanctions, which is, of course, partly true. It is worth mentioning that many US proponents of the invasion of Iraq, argued at the time that military intervention was better than continuing the sanctions, which were inhuman. They served as a slippery slope.
Syrian demonstrators and activists have begun asking for foreign military intervention as the situation becomes more dire. The opposition has been arguing among its various factions about whether to concentrate on developing a military response to the regime. It is not obvious that counting on growing economic hardship and defections to cause the regime to collapse on its own will satisfy the opposition much longer.
The opposition is gathering in Istanbul this Sunday in an effort to find some unity in response to Obama’s demand that President Assad step down.
Media source confirmed DP-News that President Bashar al-Assad will make an interview at Syrian TV which is going to be aired on Sunday. Source said that Syrian Anchor Luna al-Shebl would interview the president at First Syrian Presidential interview ever at a local media agency. President al-Assad is expected to speak about situation in Syria and international pressure at his regime, along with reform program in country which had been announced earlier; according to the same source.
Earlier Rim Haddad, Coordinator at Syrian Information Ministry, said at leaked news online earlier on Friday that President al-Assad is expected to deliver a speech to the nation regarding the recent development at the Syrian incident. President al-Assad delivered three speeches since the beginning of uprising against government in Syria. The first took place at Syrian Parliament, while the second was at chairing a meeting for the new Syrian Cabinet and the last was at Damascus University hall….
The European Union agreed on Friday to broaden sanctions on Syria’s regime and penalize its backers, advancing an international effort to target the regime’s finances, as security forces continued to crack down on protesters. The move came a day …
Syrian opposition to announce “National Council” – Source
By Raghida Bahnam
London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Asharq Al-Awsat has learnt that the Syrian opposition is preparing to announce the establishment of a “National Council”, which will form the nucleus of a future Syrian government, following the ouster of the al-Assad regime.
In a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Syrian political activist Adib Shishakly said that the announcement of the “National Council” will be made from Istanbul on Sunday, 21 August 2011. He also revealed that he will be a member of this “National Council” which will be made up of between 115 and 125 members.
Shishakly confirmed that the “National Council” will represent all of Syrian society, and bring together the different strands of the Syrian opposition. He revealed that the Syrian opposition figures who took part in the Antalya Conference and the National Salvation Congress in Istanbul, will participate in the “National Council”, adding that efforts are also being exerted to include the Syrian opposition who met in Brussels in June.
Shishakly, who is a member of the National Salvation Congress that was held in Istanbul in mid-July, also told Asharq Al-Awsat that coordination is taking place with the Syrian opposition inside Syria to ensure that the “National Council” represents the Syrian people, of all different backgrounds and sectarian affiliation. He said “we formed an internal committee to consult on this issue” adding that “there will be no icons [within the National Council], but rather technocrats and opposition figures that have been chosen in a scientific manner based upon the geographic distribution of the [Syrian] provinces to ensure that all ethnicities and sects are represented.”
The Syrian political activist denied that the announcement of this “National Council” was in any way tied to the EU and Washington’s recent calls for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down from power. Shishakly stressed that the forthcoming opposition conference in Istanbul – where the “National Council” will be announced – will be different than previous opposition conferences, as it will a “unified conference for the Syrian opposition.” He also revealed that invitations had been sent to Syrian opposition figures at home and abroad, and that the formation of a Syrian opposition human rights committee, and media committee, would also be announced during this conference.
Syria dissidents eye unity in Istanbul
Friday, August 19, 2011
Sevil Küçükkoşum, ANKARA- Hürriyet Daily News
Syrian opposition plans to gather in Istanbul on Sunday in order to select a national council among all Syrian opposition committees. Ankara is not contributing to their gatherings but will be watching it closely, according to an official
Members of the Syrian opposition are expected to form a national council Sunday as an alternative to embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a gathering in Istanbul, according to likely participants.
The task of the Syrian national council is to organize opposition parties and formulate “a road map to transform Syria into a democratic system,” Local Coordination Committees of Syria spokesperson Mohammad al-Abdullah told Radio Sawa on Friday. “The [national] council is an attempt to represent the opposition and [show] the aims of the Syrian revolution to the international community.”
The Syrian opposition has already held meetings in Istanbul; the national council that is expected to be elected Sunday would include all committees elected at previous conferences, Omar al-Muqdad, head of the Legislative and Consultative Committee mandated by Syrian opposition group the Conference of Change, told the Hürriyet Daily News on Friday.
There have been a number of discussions on the election of the national council, and the initiative is still being negotiated, Ammar Qurabi, head of Syria’s National Organization for Human Rights, told the Daily News.
More than 40 Syrian “revolution blocs” have forged a coalition to unite their efforts against the Assad regime, according to a statement received Friday by Agence France-Presse. “We announce today the establishment of [the] ‘Syrian Revolution General Commission,’ the result of merging all the signatory Syrian Revolution blocs both inside and outside Syria and those who are invited to join as well in order to have, through this commission, a representation of the revolutionaries all over our beloved Syria,” the statement said.
Members of Syrian opposition to President Bashar al-Assad are expected to meet in Istanbul on Sunday for a meeting intended to elect a national council, according to an opposition member who will take part in the meeting.
Syrian opposition working to unify, get its act together
By CNN Senior State Department Producer Elise Labott
As international pressure against the Bashar al-Assad regime intensifies, the Syrian opposition says it has been taking steps to better organize its efforts..
Both U.S. officials and activists say that although the fledgling opposition has been making impressive efforts to streamline their activities, it has its work cut out for it. They cite little coordination, either among opposition groups inside and outside Syria or within Syria itself. Additionally, they say, the opposition has little, if any, traction with young protesters on the streets.
Elliott Abrams, a former deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration who is now at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that “given the intense oppression by the Assad regime, to ask the opposition to get itself organized and united is unfair.”
عشية مشاركته في مؤتمر المعارضة في تركيا الأحد
تيزيني لـ «الراي»: سيناريو الحرب الأهلية مطروح وأتمنى ألا يكون طلب رحيل الأسد مقدمة لاضطرابات
| بيروت ـ من ريتا فرج |
أبدى المفكر السوري الطيب تيزيني تخوفه من «تحولات خطيرة» في الساعات المقبلة إثر دعوة الولايات المتحدة وأوروبا الرئيس بشار الأسد الى التنحي، مشيراً إلى إحتمال دخول سورية في حرب أهلية.
واذ شدد على الطابع السلمي للحركة الاحتجاجية حتى الآن، لفت الى أن توجه سورية باتجاه النموذج الليبي في حال استعمال الثوار للسلاح «سيؤدي الى كارثة».
تيزيني، الذي تلقى دعوة للمشاركة في المؤتمر الذي تعقده المعارضة يوم غد الأحد في تركيا للاعلان عن مجلس وطني يشكل نواة لحكومة وطنية لمرحلة ما بعد الأسد، رحّب بهذا المؤتمر معلناً تأييده «أي مؤتمر وطني يجمع كافة القوى لاخراج سورية من أزمتها».
«الراي» اتصلت بالمفكر والأكاديمي السوري قبل مشاركته في مؤتمر المجلس الوطني في تركيا وأجرت معه الحوار الآتي
Syria Condemns U.S., Europe Over Calls for Assad to Quit
Friday, August 19, 2011
Aug. 20 (Bloomberg) — Syria condemned the U.S. and Europe over calls for President Bashar al-Assad to relinquish his rule and rejected all interference in the country’s internal affairs.
The allies’ statements reveal the “true face of the conspiracy” against Syria for its role in the Arab-Israeli conflict, according to an editorial today on the website of the government’s al-Thawra newspaper. Removing Syria from the conflict is “a strategic goal for Israel,” according to al- Thawra.
In a coordinated move with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement on Aug. 18, saying Assad should step down and allow Syrians to chart their own political future. The European Union reached an agreement to broaden sanctions against the Syrian regime, including preparing for an embargo on the import of Syrian crude oil into the bloc, according to an e-mailed statement yesterday.
Faced with the most serious threat to his family’s 40-year rule, Assad has deployed tanks, armored vehicles, artillery and helicopters to crush the uprising that began in mid-March after revolts ousted the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt and sparked a conflict in Libya.
Syria rejects any kind of interference in its internal affairs, al-Thawra said in the editorial. The Assad government “will never permit that,” it said.
Firing on Protesters
Security forces fired on protesters today in the Homs governorate and Daraa, Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said in a phone interview from Damascus, the capital.
At least 40 people died yesterday in Damascus, Homs and Daraa, the area where the revolt against Syria’s president began in mid-March, according to the website of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria.
Armed groups killed 12 members of the security forces yesterday in Damascus, Homs and Idlib, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported.
US Says Syrian Opposition Becoming ‘More Cohesive’
2011-08-19 21:16:50.407 GMT
WASHINGTON (AFP)–The Syrian opposition is becoming “more cohesive” and “more
broadly representative” of the country as a whole, a U.S. official said Friday.
The battle to defend al-Assad
By Tariq Alhomayed
It is clear that the battle to defend the Bashar al-Assad regime has begun in our region, led by Iran, however what is interesting is that Tehran – until now – has played all of its cards, except for Hezbollah. We witnessed the Eliat attack, and the movement along the Gaza front, despite Hamas denying its involvement. In addition to this, we can add the statements made by [Iraqi Prime Minister] Nouri al-Maliki and Moqtada al-Sadr, and the escalation carried out by the Shiite opposition in Bahrain; this is precisely what those affiliated to the al-Assad regime threatened following Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz’s address on Syria. However the attempts to ignite the Sinai represent a new development and a grave danger. This is not to mention the intensification of Kurdish attacks against Turkey, which may explain Ankara’s reluctance to take a firm stance against al-Assad until now.
Iran utilizing all of its cards to defend al-Assad – all the while Hezbollah remains noticeably calm – means that Iran is not confident with regards to the resilience of the al-Assad regime, not for external reasons, but rather because of the pressure of the Syrian people. Therefore Iran is today doing the impossible in order to alleviate the pressure on the al-Assad regime, but without risking one of its most important tools in the region, namely Hezbollah. For Iran knows that Israel will not pass up the chance to destroy Hezbollah if it takes action today along the Lebanese front, despite the Israeli eagerness to see the survival of the al-Assad regime, which represents its best line of defense along its Syrian border.
Iran – and also Israel – are both aware that it would be fatal if Hezbollah took action today, for the Lebanese group has lost a lot of popular support, whether in Lebanon or the region, after the game has been exposed. The story is no longer that of there being a moderate camp and a resistance camp, for the sectarian dimensions of the situation have been made clear; for it is Iran and the Shiite ruling elite who are standing with al-Assad today, in addition to those who fall within Iran’s sphere of influence in Iraq, as well as Hezbollah and the Bahraini Shiite opposition. As for those in Gaza – whoever they might be – they are nothing more than cards in the “Abu Adas Axis” [in reference to the Lebanese citizen who appeared in a video allegedly claiming responsibility for the assassination of Rafik Hariri]. Therefore Hezbollah entering the game at this stage would only hasten its destruction. As for the opening of an Egyptian front, this represents a gain for !
Iran on multiple levels, for it harms Egyptian stability, and also represents an opportunity to establish Iranian political influence on Egyptian soil, under the pretext of fighting Israel. Therefore Tehran has been compensated for Hezbollah’s loss of reputation and popularity in the Arab world, for Israeli aggression against Egypt – should this occur – will affect the Arabs far more than it will Hezbollah in Lebanon…..
A French Student Recently returned from Syria Argues that Damascus is boiling with Revolution despite the apparent calm
Quand Damas s’éveillera…
19 août 2011
“Un œil sur la Syrie” est heureux de céder la parole à Emile Dutor. Jeune étudiant récemment rentré de Damas, après quelques mois d’étude de la langue arabe, il souhaite contribuer par son témoignage à la compréhension de ce qui se déroule dans un pays strictement fermé aux journalistes.
Vue de l’extérieur, la révolution syrienne ne semble avoir gagné ni Damas, la capitale du pays, ni même Alep la capitale économique. La propagande du pouvoir présente les troubles comme une rébellion cantonnée aux villes sunnites et aux régions frontalières alors que la majorité des Syriens resterait loyale au régime. Ce récit officiel trouve étrangement un certain écho hors de Syrie. Pour de nombreux observateurs étrangers, la vague révolutionnaire n’a pas encore gagné tout le territoire. La Syrie tremblera nous dit-on, lorsque Damas s’éveillera.
La réalité est tout autre. Les Damascènes sont actifs depuis le début de la contestation, mais la répression particulièrement intense dans la capitale et le maillage sécuritaire de la ville l’obligent à rester dispersée et décentralisée. Il n’y a pas de place Tahrir possible à Damas et la contestation, pourtant bien réelle, reste imperceptible aux yeux étrangers et parfois au Syriens eux-mêmes…..
Syria’s security forces face a moral choice
Globe and Mail, Aug. 19, 2011
Syria’s brutal crackdown on its own people has reached a critical moment. The death rate is rising, with at least 19 more killed on Friday, but so is the level of unrest. Protesters have been emboldened by the international community’s calls for Bashar al-Assad’s resignation. Syria appears to have passed the point where massacres will silence the people. This situation can only end by an awakening within the Syrian security forces.
At the moment, there is no other way for the unrest to end. There is little Western desire for intervention, and the West’s tough new sanctions, though necessary, will not by themselves de-stabilize the regime. The pro-democracy forces have the strength of numbers and the will, but little else.
The security forces can regain a measure of theirs. The rank-and-file enlisted men in the army and many senior officials across the services are not as beholden to Mr. al-Assad as a tiny group of dedicated cronies. Like in Egypt, they may soon tire of killing the innocent. They alone have the power to save the country from further calamity.
Five Things Obama Can (and Should) Do to Topple Assad
David Schenker August 20, 2011 | 12:00 am
Assad resignation would destabilize Syria – Moscow
Published: 19 August, 2011, 16:40
Edited: 19 August, 2011, 22:52
Syrian soldiers hold pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his late father, former president Hafez al-Assad, (L) as they leave the eastern city of Deir Zor following a 10-day military operation on August 16, 2011 (AFP PHOTO / STR)
At least four people have reportedly been killed and dozens injured in Syria after the army opened fire on anti-government protesters. The attack comes after the US and the EU called for Syria’s leader to step down. Russia has not backed the call.
Rights activists reported gunfire in parts of southern Deraa province, the epicenter of the anti-regime protests that erupted on March 15, as well as in the city of Homs and the capital, Damascus. Tens of thousands reportedly took to the streets after Friday prayers to put pressure on President Bashar al-Assad after Western leaders demanded he steps down.
Russia has maintained its stance that President Assad should be given more time – a minimum of one to two months – to implement promised reforms.
Moscow believes President Assad is moving in the right direction and that the Syrian leader has earned trust with his recent actions: releasing political prisoners and repealing the state of emergency imposed in 1963 and which remained and in force for over four decades. President Assad has also opened the way for a multi-party system in Syria.
“The Syrian leadership needs time to implement its reform program. But significant steps towards that have already been taken: the state of emergency has been lifted, the higher court of state security was abolished and a decree allowing citizens to take part in peaceful demonstrations was accepted. Syrians should negotiate, not fight. And the opposition as well as the regime is responsible for making that happen,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said.
Russian experts believe Bashar Assad’s influence in the country will make ousting him impossible without unleashing a bloody conflict. His exit from the scene will only throw the country in chaos, says E. Minchenko, a Russian political expert. “I think Assad still keeps the controls in his hands. Moreover, I would not exclude the possibility of foreign inspiration of the unrest in Syria”, he explained. “If he leaves office, ethnic and religious confrontation will only intensify the crisis”.
Moscow insists that external pressure would only lead to a deterioration in the current situation in Syria and hamper a transition to a more democratic regime. But Russia also says if Assad does not fulfill his promises then the international community will have to act.
Karl Sharro, the author of Karl reMarks blog, belives that the Syrian people should have been given a chance to decide for themselves how to solve the problem.
“In terms of Russia’s position, if you really want to stand aside and let the Syrian people decide it is not a case of Russia asking for more time for President Assad to implement reforms, because, let’s look at the history, and he has had 11 years to implement these reforms and that has not happened. So I think both sides should actually step aside and say let the dynamics on the ground, let the Syrian people decide for themselves what they want to do, and that is crucial.”
James Corbett, editor of an independent news website, says Russia can play a key role in preventing the situation in Syria from repeating what has transpired in Libya.
“It is really important right now how the Russian position in this unfolds, because obviously we are entering an unthinkable time where the idea of military intervention in Syria is on the table,” he said. “Only a major force like Russia seems at this stage to be capable of really preventing a repeat of what we have seen in Libya.”
James Denselow, a Middle East analyst based at Kings College London, says Americans understand that they will not succeed in Syria without Russia’s support.
“I think the Americans will now… really have to work hard to persuade the Russians that they are right on Syria, and that Russia is currently wrong,” he said. “So that is the next important step.”
Pressures in Syria affect Alawites in Lebanon
Zoi Constantine, Aug 21, 2011
TRIPOLI, LEBANON // Pictures of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad stare out from posters while a Syrian flag fluttered nearby.
“We are for you, Abu Hafez” read a banner, referring to a nickname for the Syrian president.
As pressure mounts on the Syrian regime, it is clear whom many support in Jebel Mohsen in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.
This neighbourhood is home to many of the city’s Alawite population – followers of the same offshoot of Shiite Islam as the Al Assad dynasty. The majority of Tripoli’s population of about 500,000 is Sunni. But the city is also home to tens of thousands of Alawites, according to community leaders, although there are no official figures.
One potential flashpoint is around the small enclave of Jebel Mohsen, which sits perched atop a hill surrounded by majority Sunni neighbourhoods, where regular demonstrations against the Assad regime have been taking place.
On Thursday night, sectarian tensions were again heightened, local residents said, when a group from Jebel Mohsen attempted to erect a picture of Mr Al Assad in an area overlooking their Sunni neighbours.
“When I see a picture of Bashar, who killed Muslims, we hate this and we refuse that these pictures should be displayed in Tripoli,” said Sheikh Zakariya Al Masri, a Sunni religious leader who lives nearby. “If everything was normal in Syria then I don’t care, but not under these circumstances.”
Yousef, a 34-year-old from Jebel Mohsen, who works in downtown Tripoli, and did not want to give his surname, called the situation in the community tense.
“Everyone in the Arab world is worried, Lebanese people included,” he said. “Lebanon will be affected if the Assad regime stays or goes … I support Assad to remain because if he goes I think there will be war in Syria between all religions.”
Bashar Assad has one choice: how to exit
August 20, 2011 01:53 AM
By Rami G. Khouri
The Daily Star
President Bashar Assad of Syria has painted himself into a corner from which he has options to determine only one thing: How does he leave office and start a democratic transition in the country?
The past week saw simultaneous and heightened American, Turkish, Arab and United Nations pressure on him to stop using military force against his demonstrating citizens who have challenged his regime across the entire country for five months. Thursday’s demand by leading Western powers that Assad step down immediately seals the imminent collapse of the Damascus regime that was initiated by Syrian citizens and hastened by Arab and Turkish pressure.
Having proved totally insincere in grasping the opportunity to reform in the past 10 years, and incompetent in responding to the domestic challenge he has faced since April, Assad now can only choose the manner of his departure – if he is lucky and is not forced out of office or killed trying to remain there. He might find some instruction in the manners in which three former Soviet-bloc leaders responded when they too faced demands from their people for more rights, dignity and prosperity: Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, Wojciech Jaruzelski in Poland and Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania.
Assad can try to change the system by radically reforming it quickly from the top by his own unilateral decisions and then try to ride out the transformation, as Gorbachev did before he was voted out of office democratically (and is now largely remembered positively around the world). Assad can gradually negotiate a democratic transition with the opposition who have demonstrated against him for months or years, as Jaruzelski realized he had to do in Poland before he ultimately stepped aside in 1990 to allow Solidarity and Lech Walesa to lead the country. Or, he can use brute force to try and stay in power, only to find his regime overthrown by popular demand, and he and his colleagues subjected to severe reprisals. This is what happened to Ceausescu after his government was overthrown in December 1989, and he and his wife were executed following a speedy trial…..
GENEVA (Reuters) – Syria is on the verge of granting access for the first time to its prisons — where thousands of activists and other civilians arrested in pro-democracy protests are believed to be held — the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Friday.
Syria poised to grant access to detainees: ICRC
Fri, Aug 19 2011
By Stephanie Nebehay
In an exclusive interview with Reuters, the head of ICRC’s delegation in Syria, Marianne Gasser, said that the independent humanitarian agency was finalizing details with senior Syrian authorities on its visits to detention centers.
“We are very confident that this access will be granted. The visits could begin shortly,” Gasser said in a telephone interview from the capital Damascus. “We have never had access before.”
ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger, who went to Damascus in June as the unrest grew, won an agreement in principle for the prison visits, marking the start of a high-level dialogue on the sensitive issue, according to Gasser.
The ICRC sought access for years to Syrian prisoners but stepped up its requests when the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad first erupted in March. Gasser attributed recent progress to having gained the confidence of Syrian authorities who have given the humanitarian agency unrestricted access to violence-hit areas in recent weeks.
For prison visits, the ICRC has insisted on its standard terms, including full access to all detention centers, the right to interview detainees in private and make follow-up visits.
In exchange for its access to detainees worldwide from Gaza to Guantanamo, the ICRC’s confidential findings on the treatment of prisoners and their conditions of detention are shared only with detaining authorities.
Forces loyal to Assad opened fire to disperse protests demanding his removal on Friday despite a pledge that he had ended the crackdown on a five-month uprising in which 2,000 people have been killed, activists said.
More than 10,000 have been detained, often in mass arrests, rights groups and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay have said, but the ICRC has no estimate.
“It is very difficult to have figures for the number of people killed, wounded or arrested,” said Gasser, a Swiss who leads a team of 10 foreign aid workers and 20 Syrians working closely with the Syrian Red Crescent.
Bashar Ja’afari (Syria) on Syria – Security Council Media Stakeout
18 August 2011
[English, Arabic and French]
Running time: 00:23:24
Informal comments to the media by H.E. Dr. Bashar Ja’afari, Permanent Representative of the Syrian Arab Republic to the United Nations, on the situation in Syria.
Statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan on the Situation in Syria
August 19, 2011, An uncertain Arab transition, By David Ignatius, Published: August 18
American intelligence analysts, like most U.S. observers, have often referred to the process unfolding in the Middle East as the “Arab Spring,” with its implicit message of democratic birth and freedom. But some senior analysts are said to have argued for a more neutral term, such as “Arab transition” — which conveys the essential truth that nobody can predict just where this upheaval is heading.
The uncertain transition rumbled on last week in Syria: President Bashar al-Assad’s hold on power appeared to weaken, with his military stretched to the breaking point in an attempt to control the protests. On Thursday, President Obama, evidently sensing that the endgame is near, called on Assad to step down.
Syria illustrates the paradox of the Arab transition. The courage of the Syrian people in defying Assad’s tanks is breathtaking. Yet this is a movement without clear leadership or an agenda beyond toppling Assad. It could bend toward the hard-line Sunni fundamentalists who have led the street fighting in Daraa and Homs, or to the sophisticated pro-democracy activists of Damascus. The truth is that nobody can predict the face of a post-Assad Syria.
The Syrian confrontation is already devolving into a regional proxy war. Iran has been rushing assistance to Assad, who is Tehran’s key Arab ally and provides a lifeline to the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. To counter the Iranians, a newly emboldened Saudi Arabia has been pumping money to Sunni fighters in Syria. Damascus is the fault line — for Sunni-Shiite tensions, and for the confrontation between Iran and the United States and Israel.
Despite these uncertainties, Obama is right to demand that Assad must go. Some commentators have chided the White House’s hyper-caution. (Saudi Arabia, hardly a beacon of change, denounced Assad a week ago.) But I think Obama has been wise to move carefully — and avoid the facile embrace of a rebel movement whose trajectory is unknown. America’s goal should be an inclusive democracy that enfranchises the Sunni fighters in the streets, yes, but also protects Alawites, Christians and Druze who fear a bloodbath.
As the Arab transition moves through summer toward fall, it’s a good time to take stock — and to remind ourselves that there won’t be any automatic movement toward prosperity and rule of law. The citizen revolt that began in Tunisia is surely a positive trend — and it’s unstoppable, in any event. But analysts offer some important cautionary points:
The Arab movements for change will probably retard the process of economic reform that was underway in nations such as Egypt. President Hosni Mubarak was an arrogant leader, but over the past decade he did encourage free-market policies that helped boost Egypt’s growth rate over 5 percent. Two architects of those pro-market policies were Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and Trade Minister Rachid Mohamed Rachid. Both have now been charged with corruption. The populist anger is understandable, but it won’t help Egypt get much-needed international investment.
Democracy is likely to disappoint the protesters. They went into the streets to demand a better life — jobs, freedom from the secret police, personal dignity — and they want these rights now. Hopefully, citizens in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen and the rest will soon be able to vote for democratic governments. But struggling democracies often aren’t very good at meeting the basic demands that spawned the revolutions. Asia put economic reform first, with political reform gradually following. The Arabs have decided to go the other direction — with uncertain consequences.
The Arab transition needs to embrace the tolerance of secular societies rather than the intolerance of theocracy. That’s one lesson this generation could learn from the “Arab Renaissance” movements of the last century. The Baath Party and the Nasserites are rightly rejected now, but in celebrating “Arab nationalism” they gave an identity to citizens that was broader than religion, sect or tribe. That spirit of inclusive identity will be essential for a happy Arab future.
Viewing events in the Arab world, President Obama has talked often of being “on the right side of history.” But frankly, that’s an incoherent concept. History doesn’t have a side; it isn’t a straight line that moves inexorably toward progress. Movements that start off calling for liberation often produce the opposite.
What should guide U.S. policy in this time of transition is to be on the right side of America’s own interests and values. Sometimes those two will conflict, requiring difficult choices, but they coincide powerfully in the departure of Syrian President Assad.
Syrian officials have ordered military units to increase patrols near the restive Turkish border in what amounts to a warning to its increasingly irate northern neighbour not to establish a buffer zone inside Syria. Diplomats in Beirut and Ankara …