Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, December 7th, 2011
Assad’s ABC Interview with Barbara Walters – The parallel universe.
This interview suggests that President Assad continues to see his fight to be against terrorists and external plots, as he has argued from the beginning. He denied that he is killing his own people and suggested that more Syrian soldiers have been killed than Syrian innocents. Whether he remains convinced of his rectitude, whether his primary motivation is to hang on to power, or whether he is simply frightened of the consequences of yielding authority to his opponents, Assad gave no indication that he is having second thoughts about his position or is ready to yield. One must conclude that Syria’s fight will be a long one.
Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohammed Riad Al-Shaqfa, told ash-Sharq al-Awsat two days ago,”I believe that the al-Assad regime will collapse within the next few months. … the [Syrian] regime’s days are over. It is gasping its final breaths….; he wants to portray himself as being in charge of Syria’s land, sea, and air, but he is a liar, and is not in charge of anything but himself.”
This seems to be wishful thinking. Assad remains in control of the Syrian military, which is strong compared to the opposition. Economic sanctions are beginning to exact a terrible toll on the Syrian people. Most have no heat because mazoot (feul oil) is scarce or non-existent in most regions of Syria. The Syrian pound has fallen below 62 to a dollar from 47. This means that Syrians have lost over 25% of their worth and purchasing power. Price hikes are everywhere and dramatic.
Aleppo’s economy has been hammered by the freezing of trade with Turkey. Many Syrians have made trade with Turkey their livelihood over the past decade. Prices of all Turkish products (cloths in particular) jumped 30-40% overnight in response to the new 30% tariff that has been placed on Turkish goods entering Syria. “They are sawing off the branch they’re sitting on,” Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan told reporters in televised remarks from Istanbul. “These aren’t moves that a country with such a need for cash and a seriously pressured economy should be making.”
Locally produced Syrian goods are much inferior in quality to those imported from Turkey. A number of key Syrian industries have been shuttered due to Turkish competition, so the new tariffs are causing real scarcities in some goods.
Turkey responded today by suspending its free trade accord with Syria. It has slapped a 30% tariff on Syria’s imports and opened 2 additional crossings to Iraq in order to assist efforts by local merchants to bypass Syria in trade with the Gulf and Egypt.
President Bashar al-Assad held his first interview in Damascus with a U.S. reporter since the start of the Syrian uprisings,telling Barbara Walters that he did not order a government crackdown on protesters. Assad said that he had the support of the Syrian people and denied the credibly of the United Nations reports estimating the violent death of more than 4,000 people. He claimed that the majority of people killed since March have been government forces. He admitted that some mistakes had been made, but were undertaken by individuals, claiming that as president he does not “own” the army. The U.S. State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, responded to the interview stating “I find it ludicrous that he is attempting to hide behind some sort of shell game [and] claim that he doesn’t exercise authority in his own country.” Meanwhile the government committee advising on drafting a new constitution announced new provisions that would ban “discrimination between political parties.” However, the amendments further entrench Assad’s rule by legalizing his presidency by lowering age requirements and advancing his military rank to commander in chief of the Syrian military and armed forces.
Assad said: “I’m president. I don’t own the country, so they’re not my forces.” “There’s a difference between having a policy to crack down and between having some mistakes committed by some officials. There is a big difference,” the reporter quoted Assad as saying.
The next day, his spokespeople were denying that he meant what he said: ASSAD REMARKS DIDN’T AIM TO DODGE RESPONSIBILITY: SPOKESMAN. 2011-12-07
Turkey downplays Syrian transit route for Middle East trade
Dec. 7, 2011 (Xinhua) — Turkey’s economy minister
downplayed Syria’s significance as a transit route for Turkish trucks carrying goods to Middle Eastern and Gulf countries. Zafer Caglayan said: “We have three alternative routes through Alexandria, Beirut and Iraq and possibly a fourth through the Suez Canal.”
“We moved yesterday evening to take advantage of these alternatives and all of a sudden the Syrian government decided to let Turkish trucks into the country,” he added. He noted that Syrian customs officials have forced Turkish truck drivers to form long queues keeping them waiting at the border gates with Turkey but on Wednesday trucks were allowed in.
“By-passing Syria is a piece of cake. But we did not to want to choose that path. We want to use Syria as a transit route and allow Syrian economy to make money out of it,” Caglayan said. Syria did not permit the entrance of Turkish trucks at the Babel Hawas Border Gate and began working on their computer systems on December 1, the day when Syrian officials suspended a free trade agreement between Turkey and Syria.
ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY Associated Press= BEIRUT (AP) — Dozens of bodies were dumped in the streets of a Syrian city at the heart of the country’s nearly 9-month-old uprising, a grim sign that sectarian bloodshed is escalating as the country descends … Up to 50 people were killed in Homs on Monday, but details about what happened in Syria’s third-largest city only came to light Tuesday with reports of retaliatory attacks pitting members of the Alawite sect against Sunnis.
The sectarian violence is a dire development in Syria, and one that opposition members say plays directly into the regime’s hands. Since the uprising began, Assad portrayed himself as the lone force who can ward off the radicalism and sectarianism that have bedeviled neighbors in Iraq and Lebanon.
Opposition figures have accused Assad’s minority Alawite regime of trying to stir up trouble with the Sunni majority to blunt enthusiasm for the uprising. …. Thirty-four of the dead were shot execution-style, their bodies dumped in a public square, according to Saleh and others who monitor the violence, including the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Saleh said all were from the predominantly Sunni district of Jabb al-Jandali. He said Alawite gunmen had raided the district after an Alawite was found dead earlier.
A Homs government official confirmed only that 43 bodies were found Monday in Homs. He asked that his name not be published because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
The reports could not be independently confirmed. Syria has banned most foreign journalists and prevents the work of independent media.
With 4,000 people dead across Syria in the uprising, the conflict is no longer just a matter of government forces firing on peaceful protesters looking to topple Assad’s autocratic regime.
The government also has been facing strong resistance from army defectors who have taken refuge in Homs. But sectarian overtones are building as well, because the uprising has unearthed long-simmering grievances that are now exploding into violence.
WSJ: Hamas To Move Base Out Of Syria
2011-12-06, By Joshua Mitnick
Hamas ordered the departure of nearly all its staff at its Damascus headquarters by next week following pressure from Turkey and Qatar, two regional allies trying to isolate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad amid an eight-month crackdown on antiregime protests, according to a Hamas official. The Islamic militant group’s parting of ways with Mr. Assad marks the latest blow to the regime. Damascus has hosted Hamas since the Palestinian group was forced out of Jordan in the late 1990s. Leaving Syria also distances Hamas from Iran, an ally of Mr. Assad that has provided the Palestinian militants with money, training and military hardware.
Over recent months, Tehran has urged Hamas not to relocate, the official said. (This story and related background material will be available on The Wall
Street Journal website, WSJ.com.) Hamas will establish new headquarters in Cairo and Qatar to replace its operations in Syria, the official added. At the same time, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal is scheduled to meet with King Abdullah II of Jordan to discuss upgrading its presence in the kingdom. …
GENEVA (AFP)–The U.S. ambassador to Damascus will return to Syria Tuesday evening, Washington said. “Ambassador Robert Ford has completed his consultations in Washington and is returning to Damascus this evening,” a senior state department official said.
French ambassador returns to Damascus: ministry: “Eric Chevallier returned to his post in Damascus on Monday following the consultations for which he was recalled,” the ministry’s deputy spokesman, Romain Nadal, told AFP
The United States on Tuesday calls for a new regime of tolerance and freedom in Syria as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad battle fighters infiltrating the country.
Clinton: Syria must do more than remove Assad …
From: State Department Press Office
Sent: Tuesday, December 06, 2011 11:17 AM
To: State Department Press Office
Subject: REMARKS – Secretary Clinton – Meeting with Syrian National Council
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
At Meeting with Syrian National Council
December 6, 2011
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, let me begin by saying that it’s an honor to meet with all of you, the president and senior members of the Syrian National Council. I look forward to our discussion and hearing from each of you. I am particularly interested in the work you are doing about how a democratic transition would proceed. Fred Hof, my special coordinator, has told me that you’ve put a lot of work into that paper, and there are many very constructive ideas in it, because obviously, a democratic transition includes more than removing the Asad regime. It means setting Syria on the path of the rule of law and protecting the universal rights of all citizens regardless of sect or ethnicity or gender.
Second, we will discuss the work that the Council is doing to ensure that their plan is to reach out to all minorities, to counter the regime’s divide-and-conquer approach, which pits ethnic and religious groups against one another. The Syrian opposition, as represented here, recognizes that Syria’s minorities have legitimate questions and concerns about their future, and that they need to be assured that Syria will be better off under a regime of tolerance and freedom that provides opportunity and respect and dignity on the basis of the consent rather than on the whims of a dictator.
And we certainly believe that if Syrians unite, they together can succeed in moving their country to that better future. We are well aware that there is a lot of hard work to be done. There are many Syrians in exile who are committed to helping their country make this transition. And there are many Syrians in their homes and neighborhoods and communities who are struggling against the violence and the repression to realize that better future as well.
I think Syrians both in exile and inside Syria are behaving with great courage and commitment and are inspired and motivated by the aspirations of freedom and democracy that are sweeping the Arab world.
So I look forward to hearing from each of you in our time together this afternoon. Thank you very much.
Embargoed Syrian Crude To Flow To India – Shipbrokers
6 December 2011
Dow Jones International News
– Indian refiner HPCL provisionally charters a tanker to take Syrian crude to India, shipbrokers say.
– Exports of Syrian crude have dried up since the imposition of an EU embargo in September.
– Syria has around 150,000bpd of crude to export, most of which traditionally goes to Europe.
Why Iran might be worried by Hillary Clinton’s meeting with Syria exiles – Christian Science Monitor
Howard LaFranchi, Staff writer / December 6, 2011
The subject of the Geneva meeting between Hillary Clinton and Syria exiles was the transition to democracy. But the group’s leader has been warning Iran a post-Assad Syria could be far less friendly….