Posted by Joshua on Monday, March 12th, 2012
The big rumor today is that Mustapha and Firas Tlass fled Syria and are in Paris. Mustapha Tlass is ex-Defense Minister. His son is a major businessman and his second son, Manaf, is a current top officer in the Syrian Army, born in 1964.
Both Tlass and opposition members in Paris reject these allegations, claiming, “Syrian regime stalwart and former defence minister Mustafa Tlass has arrived in Paris with one of his sons but they are not defecting, opposition representatives told AFP on Monday.”
The Tlass family has long been one of the highest placed Sunni families of the Assad regime. If there is any truth to the defection story, it would indeed be a blow to the regime. Firas Tlass has been flirting with the opposition since the uprising began. He frequently writes on the Facebook sites of “friends” who are opposition members, congratulating them on their stands. Most people laughed at this sort of thing because the Tlasses are considered to be pillars of the regime and always trying to play all sides.
It should be expected that Sunni defections from the regime will travel up the ranks as the civil war in Syria becomes ever more overtly sectarian in nature. It must be remembered that it took Iraq three years to launch its civil war in earnest. That was after the bombing 2006 of the Askari mosque in Samara’. It takes a long time for people who have lived together in relative harmony for decades to stop associating with each other and put hate in their hearts, but that is what we are seeing. It is what happened in Lebanon and Iraq.
Rumors are rife that Adeeb Mayaleh, the head of the Central Bank, is out or on his way out, and that he has been stripped of his authority. Rumors are also rife, of course, that he defected. I don’t know if any of this is true.
This is a note from a Syrian in Latakia:
Dear Joshua, I am a christian Syrian living abroad. Last month I went back to Syria and spent a week with my parents in Lattakia. Here are some observations.
“The son of my 2nd grade teacher is in prison. He was caught distributing pro opposition fliers. A few days ago, his flat burned down and his 3 kids died in the fire. His wife is in a critical condition.
A relative of my family lawyer, a university student was arrested couple weeks ago in Damascus. She was released the day I arrived.
Another guy from our neighborhood, though known to be pro regime, was picked up by the secret police at the university as he was leaving his mid term exam room. He disappeared for 2 weeks. He was just released…. Some name miss match they explained.
I was stopped at the airport. Was called to Damascus for questioning by an officer in one of the security branches. Without my father’s connections I am sure I would ve not been able to get the travel permission and to leave on time. I still don’t know what they wanted from me.
We hear stories about kidnappings taking place in the eastern part of the country near Deir Ezzor, in Homs and on the outskirts of Damascus in exchange of ransom.
Lattakia is one of the cities the least affected by the events. It’s kept under tight control by a strong pro regime presence. The government is doing all it can to show that it’s business as usual. They do amazing cleaning job after each Friday clashes. As I hang out with some friends at a coffee shop in the afternoon, life seems to go on as usual in the busy streets… but something weird is felt in the air… a thick layer of pessimism and anxiety is hanging over the city… everybody feels that it is boiling and it might explode at any moment. You can’t miss the signs:
My high school has become an army base. The main city square, less than 1000 yards from my parents flat and a center of protests in the early days, is now filled with soldiers and sand bags. “Al Assad soldiers” they proudly painted on the walls.
My friends drove me by the Ramel neighborhood. One of the hot areas in town. Army check points with sand bags control all streets entering the neighborhood. “POLICE” is painted on them. We all know it is the army who controls them and not the police.
Gunmen in civilian clothing are present at all hospital entrances. They are there to arrest wounded protesters seeking treatment.
4×4 trucks with armed men and mounted machine guns pass by every now and then.
Electricity is cut off 6 hours a day, 3 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon. It is setting the rhythm for business hours. – Today Electricity is off 12 hours a day. it’s on and off every 3 hours.
The price for heating fuel has sky rocketed. The price for cooking gas has doubled. It s cold in my parents and my friends flats. It’s been one of the coldest and rainiest winters in Syria. People wear many layers indoors and sleep with thick wool covers- these are still the privileged neighborhoods. I can’t imagine the living conditions in rebelled areas.
I have just come back from a week stay in Syria. I left as the bombing of Homs was about to begin.”
Paul Conroy, the British journalist injured in an attack on the Syrian city of Homs says the situation is not a war, but a “systematic massacre”.
DAMASCUS, March 9 (Xinhua) –Syria’s minister of finance attributed the depreciation of the Syrian pound to speculative traders’ manipulation in the black market, the state-run SANA news agency reported on Friday.
“The decline in the Syrian pound over the past two days was not caused by supply and demand issues. Rather, it was caused by speculative traders’ manipulation in the black market. These traders were after brisk and outrageous profits,” Mohammad Julailati was quoted by SANA as saying.
“Those manipulators are enemies of our people,” said the minister, charging that some Arab TVs have used the currency depreciation to deceive the Syrian people that the nation’s economy is in a bad shape.
In the past few days, the U.S. dollar was gaining value against the Syrian pound every passing hour and reached above 100 pounds in the black market on Wednesday, according to Julailati.
However, the central bank intervened on Thursday by officially announcing the exchange rate of the U.S. dollars at 80 Syrian pounds, forcing the black market to sell the dollars at the same rate, the minister said.
Since the eruption of unrest in Syria in March 2011, people have been rushing to change their Syrian pounds into U.S. dollars or gold to protect their wealth against the instability, bearing in mind what had happened in neighboring Lebanon after the eruption of civil war in 1975.
The intervention waiting game: a window for a new opposition?
11 March 2012 / NOAH BLASER , İSTANBUL – Zaman
As the international community remains hesitant about military intervention and Syria’s largest political opposition group remains divided, the likelihood for a new opposition leadership to develop amidst the country’s strengthening rebels may be growing.
“As the military opposition in Syria grows, a central leadership could emerge from the battlefield,” said Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies and associate professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “If it can begin to coordinate the military resistance effectively, it might gain recognition as the Syrian opposition’s legitimate leadership,” he said in a Wednesday interview with Today’s Zaman.
Landis’ words come as the US, European, Arab and Turkish “Friends of Syria” alliance remains hesitant about military intervention or channeling arms to opposition groups, leaving Syria’s rebels to face Damascus’ military without outside aid for the foreseeable future….
One of the biggest unknowns in Syria has been whether or not the country’s fragmentary opposition, represented by the umbrella of opposition groups known as the Syrian National Council (SNC) will be able to pull together a coherent political and military opposition with a firmly established leader. So far, the SNC has remained fractured and doubts have grown about the leadership of Burhan Ghalioun, the group’s present leader. The SNC’s relationship with Syria’s armed opposition has also been tenuous, with rebel leaders criticizing the group for failing to provide them with money and arms.
“If Turkey and the international community see that the military and political opposition matures into a more unified, cohesive group, they will be more willing to help,” said Orhan. “That isn’t the situation right now.”
A new leadership on the ground?
With the influence of outside powers and opposition groups at a minimum, the question of opposition leadership may be left to Syria’s rebel forces. According to Landis: “If the conflict is left in the hands of local forces, the leadership question is going to be settled on the battlefield. A successful commander might emerge as the Washington or Atatürk of the resistance, and possibly of a new Syria.”
Presently, the country’s loosely coordinated group of anti-regime militias, known collectively as the Free Syrian Army (FSA), act independently. The present leadership of the FSA, headed by the defected Col. Riad al-Asaad from the Turkish border province of Hatay, has largely been ineffective at coordinating the FSA’s patchwork forces, while the unofficial center of the country’s opposition, the devastated city of Homs, was lost to the rebels this month as security forces pressed resistance hot spots across the country.
But as the brutality of Damascus’ crackdown has grown, defections to the FSA have sharply increased, with senior rebel leaders claiming that a record number of 50 officers — allegedly among them six brigadier-generals and four colonels — defected to the ranks of the anti-regime FSA last week. The number of low-level defections is also reportedly rising, with scores of newly posted online videos showing small bands of soldiers proclaiming their own revolutionary brigades.
Rising defections, says Landis, are only one sign that the regime is losing its grip in the country. The economy has been hard hit by sanctions, with the Syrian pound losing 90 percent of its value in recent months. Meanwhile, the use of indiscriminate violence in majority Sunni areas, says Landis, has succeeded in turning much of the country against the minority Alawite regime. “I don’t see Homs as a lethal blow. More and more Syrians are coming to the understanding that it has no future. Syrians are hungry and cold,” he stated.
While other analysts have speculated that the opposition will nevertheless remain a mild nuisance to the Syrian military, Landis says Damascus will be gradually less and less able to keep up with a growing insurgency. “Even if there are several different, uncoordinated militia groups, they are going to attack in a classic guerrilla strategy. Insurgent improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and snipers are going to snap the military’s morale pretty quickly and, if it can’t move on the highway because of IEDs, whole chunks of the country will fall out of its control.”
Last week, a Pentagon report stated that IED usage by the opposition has more than doubled since December. If such tactics do win Syria’s militias independent territory, it might allow room for them to meet and coordinate the resistance under a single leadership.
Managing the opposition from abroad?
As questions abound regarding the ambitions of Syria’s militias and Western fears grow about al-Qaeda’s potential influence on the resistance, the anti-Assad “Friends of Syria” alliance may wish to exert its own influence over the opposition through arms transfers, argues Steven Heydemann of the United States Peace Institute.
Heydemann, who told Today’s Zaman that peaceful political opposition groups like the SNC have been sidelined by the military opposition, believes that outside powers would be wise to stem the potential rise of a strictly military leadership by channeling arms to the opposition through the SNC. “The issue here is managing the militarization of the opposition. If we allow armed groups to form their own leadership without any command and control flowing back to civilians, we will see the proliferation a ‘guys with guns’ form of leadership,” Heydemann said. “Instead, the ‘Friends of Syria’ group could use arms to strengthen the SNC’s relationship with the Free Syrian Army. If the SNC could offer militias badly needed arms and supplies, I suspect that the odds are fairly high that they could reach a deal.”
However, the probability of such assistance seems slim in the foreseeable future. “We really don’t know who [the opposition] is that would be armed,” US Secretary of Sate Hillary Clinton told the press last month as she noted al-Qaeda and Hamas’ recent endorsement of the FSA….
The broader point may be that outside powers now have little control over the course of the conflict and the opposition that fights it. “The US and other ‘Friends of Syria’ nations won’t be able to hand the keys of the government to an opposition of their choosing when the conflict is over. They’ve raised the rhetorical bar against Assad, but there’s not much else they can do,” Landis said.
Fresh Fighting in Syria, Assad Backs ‘Honest’ Peace
by Edward Yeranian | Cairo March 10, 2012 – VOA
….Joshua Landis, who is head of the Middle East Studies program at the University of Oklahoma, says the Assad regime thinks it is winning the battle against the opposition, and that both sides’ unwillingness to compromise paves the way for a bleak future in Syria.
“This is a zero-sum game. There isn’t a compromise that can come out of this that I can see. Once Assad steps aside, the entire edifice of the regime is going to crumble. … There’s very little that can take the place of the Syrian Army or the Syrian government, and that has people wringing their hands in Syria. They don’t see a way out of going down a very dark tunnel, which is in the direction of what happened in Iraq or what happened in Lebanon during the darkest period of the civil war,” he said.
Landis foresees a growing cascade of defections from the upper echelons of the Syrian regime, but argues that President Assad’s Alawite allies are not likely to desert him. “They understand,” Landis says, “that they need to hang together or be hanged apart.” He also paints a somber picture of an increasingly sectarian conflict: “It takes a long time for people who’ve lived together in relative harmony for decades to stop associating with each other and put hate in their hearts, but that’s what we’re going to see.”
Video: Syrian forces launch massive assault on Idlib – al-Jazeera – Youtube: 11 Mar 2012
Legislation from POMED
The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee approved “The Syrian Freedom Support Act”, H.R. 2106, introduced by Committee Chairwoman lleana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY). The bill imposes new sanctions on Syrian energy and financial sectors.
Syria’s Bashar al-Assad firmly in control, U.S. intelligence officials say
By Greg Miller and Karen DeYoung, Friday, March 9, 7:15 PM
A year into the uprising in Syria, senior U.S. intelligence officials described the nation’s president, Bashar al-Assad, on Friday as firmly in control and increasingly willing to unleash one of the region’s most potent militaries on badly overmatched opposition groups.
The officials also said Assad’s inner circle is “remaining steadfast,” with little indication that senior figures in the regime are inclined to peel off, despite efforts by the Obama administration and its allies to use sanctions and other measures to create a wave of defections that would undermine Assad.
Assad “is very much in charge,” said a senior U.S. intelligence official responsible for tracking the conflict, adding that Assad and his inner circle seem convinced that the rebellion is being driven by external foes and that they are equipped to withstand all but a large-scale military intervention.
“That leadership is going to fight very hard,” the official said. Over the long term, “the odds are against them,” he said, “but they are going to fight very hard.”
The comments, provided by three intelligence officials on the condition of anonymity to share candid assessments, were the most detailed to date by U.S. analysts on the status of the uprising, which began last March.
The officials said the regime’s tactics have taken a more aggressive turn, and newly declassified satellite images released Friday show what officials described as “indiscriminate” artillery damage to schools, mosques and other facilities in the beleaguered city of Homs in recent weeks.
Overall, they described Syria as a formidable military power, with 330,000 active-duty soldiers, surveillance drones supplied by Iran and a dense network of air defense installations that would make it difficult for the United States or other powers to establish a no-fly zone.
“This is an army that was built for a land war with the Israelis,” said a second senior U.S. intelligence official. After the regime hesitated to attack civilian population centers earlier in the conflict, its “restraint . . . has been lifted,” the official said.
Syrian forces continued their month-long shelling of the opposition stronghold of Homs, in the west-central part of the country, on Friday, according to news reports. Thousands demonstrated in other parts of the country in anticipation of the scheduled arrival of Kofi Annan, the special envoy of the United Nations and Arab League, in Damascus on Saturday. He is expected to meet with Assad.
U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, who visited Homs this week, said she was “devastated” by what she saw in the ravaged city. “There are no people left,” she said.
Amos, speaking in Turkey after visiting refugee camps along the Syrian border, said the Assad government had agreed to a “limited assessment” of humanitarian needs but had refused “unhindered” access for aid organizations and “asked for more time” to consider U.N. proposals for extended assistance for civilians.
In Washington, the intelligence officials cited a number of factors protecting the regime from collapse. Not least among them is the level of motivation in an inner circle convinced that yielding power will mean death or life imprisonment.
U.S. intelligence has also detected an escalation in lethal support from Syria’s closest ally, Iran. Officials said that Iran had previously been supplying mainly training and equipment to suppress opposition forces but has recently begun sending small arms and sophisticated equipment for monitoring and penetrating rebel groups.
Iran has shared equipment and expertise developed during its efforts to put down its own internal rebellion in 2009. Syria also has a small fleet of unarmed drones that appear to have been supplied by Iran before the uprising began, the officials said.
They portrayed the political opposition to Assad as disorganized and hobbled by a lack of experienced leadership. The officials described efforts to unify and attract a broader following among Syria’s minority groups — another objective of U.S. policy — as having limited success. The Syrian National Council, dominated by exiles who are mainly Sunni Muslims, has been trying to attract Christians, Druze and Kurds away from Assad.
Fears that the opposition will oppress minorities or worse have been regularly stoked by the regime, which is dominated by Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
The intelligence officials also echoed concerns expressed by U.S. military leaders in congressional testimony this week about providing weapons to the armed elements of the opposition. They are equipped mainly with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, giving them little firepower compared with Assad’s formidable forces.
An estimated 10,000 to 20,000 soldiers have defected and form the bulk of the Free Syrian Army. It is organized loosely, without effective command and control, and it has few links to the political opposition, according to U.S. intelligence accounts.
Protecting those forces would be a daunting task. One of the officials said that Syria’s air defenses include hundreds of surface-to-air missile sites and thousands of antiaircraft artillery installations.
Describing the dimensions of the challenge, this official said that Syria, barely one-tenth the size of Libya, has an army four times as big with five times the air defense assets, most of it supplied by Russia.
So far, the officials said, the bloodiest attacks against the regime appear to have been carried out by al-Qaeda elements seeking to slip unannounced into opposition groups that do not seem eager to have any affiliation with the terrorist network.
The U.S. officials said that al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq has reversed the flow of a pipeline that once carried fighters and weapons through Syria to battle U.S. forces at the height of the Iraq war.
“That network is still there,” said the first U.S. intelligence official, who acknowledged that the size and composition of the al-Qaeda presence in Syria is unclear. Some al-Qaeda members may be Syrian, others Iraqis.
The officials said their judgment that AQI — as the Iraq affiliate is known — was behind vehicle bombings that killed dozens of people in Damascus and Aleppo in December and January is based more on the nature of the attacks than independent evidence of al-Qaeda involvement.
The greatest damage done so far to Assad’s regime has been economic, intelligence officials said. Sanctions imposed by the United States and the Arab League, as well as European curbs on importation of oil, have caused spikes in unemployment, fuel prices and budget deficits in Damascus.
Over the long term, the officials said, economic hardships may be the most effective tool for unseating Assad. Still, the first U.S. intelligence official said, “to this point, we have not seen that having an effect on the regime’s ability to prosecute the war.”
Brian Stoddart, March 11, 2012
Syrians were focus of NYPD surveillance
Saturday, March 10, 2012
BY HANNAN ADELY
Muslims of Syrian descent were the targets of surveillance by the New York Police Department — to the surprise of members of that community who said their ancestors have been here for generations and they consider themselves “Americanized.”
The report was the latest in a series of revelations that the NYPD had done extensive surveillance on Muslims in New York and New Jersey, including mosques, student groups and businesses. The surveillance has sparked an outcry from Muslim groups and civil rights advocates who charge the department was monitoring people based on religion and without any link to criminal activity.
On Friday, The Associated Press reported the NYPD compiled a report that listed “locations of concern” including businesses owned by Syrian Muslims in New York City.
The NYPD report points out that the largest concentrations of Syrian Muslims were in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn and in Paterson. The U.S. Census Bureau counted 295 people of Syrian ancestry in Paterson in the 2005-09 American Community Survey.
Mazen Tinawi of Wayne said Syrians generally do not live together in neighborhoods as do other newer immigrants from Arabic-speaking countries and have fanned out across the region and the U.S.
“It’s surprising to me that we’re talking about this,” he said. “We don’t live in a community. We’re very Americanized.”
Tinawi said he felt the same loyalty to the U.S. as do other Americans.
“I will not allow anyone to harm my neighbor and my children or anybody,” he said.
The NYPD’s report notes that the majority of Syrians that police officers met were second or third generation.
A widening rift between the NYPD and federal law enforcement seemed to intensify this week when Michael Ward, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Newark division, criticized New York police spying during a press conference, saying it has compromised trusted sources in the Muslim community. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called reports of NYPD surveillance in New Jersey “disturbing” during a Senate subcommittee hearing.
New York’s mayor and police commissioner have steadfastly defended the secret surveillance on New Jersey college campuses and in Newark and Paterson as legal and constitutional.
Syrians immigrated in large numbers to the region in the late 1800s and early 1900s and many of them came to Paterson, drawn by its thriving silk industry, said Matthew Jaber Stiffler, a researcher at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Mich.
The museum is documenting the experiences of early Syrian immigrants in the region in an exhibit called “Little Syria” that is scheduled to open in New York this fall. The “Little Syria” refers to the thriving Syrian neighborhood in lower Manhattan from the late 19th century through the mid-20th century.
The earliest Syrian immigrants were mostly Christian. Muslims started to arrive in the 1920s and 1930s, Stiffler said.
Some Americans may have Syrian ancestry that’s just a quarter or an eighth of their total heritage, Stiffler said.
“It’s a diverse community and some have been here for decades and decades,” he said.
Tinawi noted that Syrians had not been tied to terrorist acts. “I think all Muslims feel the same,” he said. “We are good Americans and we respect the law.
The report about Syrians instructs police to focus only on Muslims and not on the large population of Syrian Jews. No mention is made of Christians, who make up a large number of Syrian-Americans.
Jamal Laham, a Syrian immigrant from Garfield, said it was unfair for the NYPD to single out only Muslims. “Why do you want to go after me just because I was born a Muslim?” he said.
Sami Moubayed, “If Annan were to walk out on the Syria Mission, who would care?” on the front page of www.mideastviews.com
By Jessica Donati & Emma Farge Oil traders arranging millions of dollars worth of fuel shipments to Syria sit in the office of a little-known firm in Greece. The fuel, liquid petroleum gas for cooking and domestic heating, is not covered by …
The first wine from Syria is about to be released onto the UK market
Monday 12 March 2012
by Adam Lechmere
Domaine Bargylus, near the town of Lattaquie, or Latakia, in the north-west of the country, is a 12ha vineyard planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.Bargylus is a part of an enterprise started in 2003 by the Lebanese-Syrian Saadé family, which bought land in Syria, and also in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, in order to make wine ‘which has everything to do with the land’.
Saadé businesses include marine and land transport, wine, tourism, property development and finance. Although the Romans made wine here 2000 years ago, this is now the only commercial winery in Syria, Sandro Saadé, who with his brother Karim directs the company, said. ‘It is the only recognised wine produced to international standards.’