Deraa: The Government Takes off its Gloves: 15 Killed

The government is cracking down on the people of Deraa. The gloves are off. 15 killed.

Deraa is very poor and Islamic – it optimizes everything that troubles Syria – a failed economy, the population explosion, a bad governor and overbearing security forces. It is an explosive brew. Even if the government can contain violence to Deraa for the time-being, protests will spread. The wall of fear has broken. Apathy of the young has turned to anger. Youtube, Aljazeera and cellphones have changed the game and given the people a powerful weapon to fight authority. The country is under intense pressure and ready to explode. There is too much unemployment and too little freedom.

We saw the first direct sectarian slogans yesterday among the opposition that until now has stuck to a moderate message of dismantling emergency law, promulgating a new party law, and winning freedom. But on Thursday, the demonstrators abandoned their gentler slogans and chanted: “No Iran. No Hizbullah. We want a Muslim who fears God.”

لا ايران ولا حزب الله بدنا مسلم يخاف الله
See the video on Youtube

This slogan invokes the Muslim Brotherhood complaint of the 1970s and 1980s, when extremists called for an end to Alawite rule and accused Syria’s Alawites of being unbelievers and non-Arabs or Chrypto-Iranians – “Shu’ubiyyun,” – a term originally applied to non-Arab Muslims, mainly Persians, who resisted Arab claims to be the prime inheritors of the prophet. It was used by the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1970s to discredit the Syrian regime and by Saddam Hussein against Iraqi Shiites. Saddam demanded that Iraqi Shi‘ites abandon their shu‘ubi tendencies and reverence for Iranian religious leaders and embrace an authentically Arab Islam. By claiming that “We want a Muslim who fears in God” and “No Iran.”

The use of this slogan by protesters reawakened all the old fears of the regime. The government in taking the Omari mosque in Deraa and placing the claimed cache of captured arms on display – is hitting back and accusing the opposition of being driven by al-Qaida and the Taliban who take orders from America.

Addendum: (Wednesday evening March 23) Several people have written to correct me on interpreting this phrase and the level of sectarianism:

1. The correct translation is “No Iran. No Hizbullah. We want a Muslim who is afraid of God.” Someone who is said to be “afraid of God” in the wider context of Syrian society means someone who is virtuous and morally righteous, not necessarily religious. This phrase is quite often used in marriage context, i.e “I would like to find my daughter a young man who is afraid of God”. The underlying logic behind this meaning stems from the belief that anyone who fears God, will not be able to commit the sins that evoke his wrath, hence will always be morally righteous. On a related note, there is widespread support across a vast swathe of Syrian society for any sort of movement which can bring about much needed political reform and basic freedoms, but whether there will be the same level of support for a revolution or an uprising is a different matter. Many wealthier urbanites are at best apathetic and would prefer stability to freedom, which may explain why the uprising have been largely a rural affair thus far.

2. Sir, They are looking after a trusted Muslim human being who fears God and willing to protect them from the killers !! They meant a SYRIAN ruler that disallows the killing of his own unarmed civilian because of his fear of God , and It has nothing to do with the long gone MB…

3.What is shocking Josh is that you say the demos turned sectarian because in one demo you heard some people Chanting sectarian slogans. This is ridiculous. It is obvious that there is sectarianism in Syria and you are going to hear that type of slogans from time to time. But what is obvious is that the vast majority of the slogans are actually NOT sectarian. You are very good at communication and you know very well the impact of your blog. It is a pity you do not make more serious efforts at portraying a picture as close as possible to the truth.

Farouk al Sharaa, the Vice President, has made the strategy clear. He stated:

وفي سؤال عن الموقف من امتداد التيار الإسلامي السياسي في ضوء التطورات الإقليمية أكد الشرع «نحن لسنا أعداء التيار الإسلامي العاقل المنفتح العروبي الذي يفهم جذوره الحقيقية، أما القاعدة وطالبان والجهات الأخرى التي تتلقى تعليماتها من أميركا
وتدعي أنها ضدها فهذه مرفوضة».

As for the question about our position on the spread of Islamic political currents in the light of regional development, Sharaa stated, “We are not opposed to the Islamic currents that are rational and broadminded which understand their true roots, but as for al-Qaida and the Taliban which take their instructions from America, and pretend that they are against it, they are condemnable.”

The gloves are coming off on both sides and things will become much more sectarian and violent.

The government will stress its slogan of the last 30 years: “Stability and Security.” Implicite will be the question: “Do Syrians want to become like Iraq? Do they want their country to be torn by civil war and religious strife?”

The opposition says that Syria is different from Lebanon and Iraq and will not crumble along religious or regional lines. They insist the regime is offering the Syrian people a false choice between chaos and dictatorship. They argue that allegations of Islamism and religious intolerance are invented. They insist the government will destabilize Syria to make it’s predictions come true.

Video of Syrian mukhabarat making arrests in Daraa

In war, truth is the first casualty. Or as Sun Tzu’s wrote, “All warfare is based on deception”.

Key to a successful revolution in Syria must be the splitting of Syria’s elite. This is made up of the Alawis officers, who dominate the security forces and military, and the great Sunni merchant and industrial families, who dominate the economy as well as Syria’s moral and cultural universe.  If the Alawi and Sunni elites stick together, it is difficult to imagine how widespread but scattered popular revolts can overturn the state.

News Summary Follows:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011 زياد حيدر  – الوطن

فاروق الشرع يتحدث عن اتخاذ قرارات مريحة قريباً
23/03/2011
قال نائب رئيس الجمهورية فاروق الشرع: إن لدى «السلطة والناس هاجس إصلاح واحداً» في الوقت الحالي، في الوقت الذي أكد فيه مصدر مسؤول أن قرارات مريحة للمواطن ستصدر قريباً وأن مسائل كثيرة قيد الدراسة في الوقت الحالي
وفي سؤال عن الموقف من امتداد التيار الإسلامي السياسي في ضوء التطورات الإقليمية أكد الشرع «نحن لسنا أعداء التيار الإسلامي العاقل المنفتح العروبي الذي يفهم جذوره الحقيقية، أما القاعدة وطالبان والجهات الأخرى التي تتلقى تعليماتها من أميركا
وتدعي أنها ضدها فهذه مرفوضة».

Syrian forces kill 6 in mosque attack: residents
Reuters
Protesters gather near the Omari Mosque in the southern old city of Deraa Reuters
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis Khaled Yacoub Oweis – 1 hr 57 mins ago

DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Syrian forces killed at least six people on Wednesday in an attack on a mosque in the southern city of Deraa, site of unprecedented protests challenging President Bashar al-Assad’s Baathist rule, residents said.

Assad, a close ally of Iran, key player in neighboring Lebanon and supporter of militant groups opposed to Israel, has dismissed rising demands for fundamental reform in Syria where his Baath Party has held a monopoly on power for 48 years.

Those killed included Ali Ghassab al-Mahamid, a doctor from a prominent Deraa family who went to the Omari mosque in the city’s old quarter to help victims of the attack, which occurred just after midnight, said the residents, declining to be named.

YouTube footage showed what purported to be the street in front of the mosque before the attack, with the sound of gunfire audible and a person inside the mosque grounds yelling: “Brother don’t shoot. This country is big enough for me and you.”

Before security forces attacked the mosque, the focal point of the Deraa protests, electricity was cut off and telephone services were severed. Cries of “Allah Akbar (God is the greatest)” erupted across neighborhoods as the shooting began.

“Syrian authorities think they can kill non-violent democratic protesters with impunity,” exiled Syrian rights defender Haitham al-Manna told BBC television from Paris.

An official Syrian statement said: “Outside parties are transmitting lies about the situation in Deraa,” blaming what it described as armed gangs for the violence.

The statement said doctor Mahamid, who was killed while he was in an ambulance that had arrived at the scene to rescue the injured, was “assaulted by an armed gang.”

“Security forces confronted the armed gang near the Omari mosque, shooting several of its members and arresting others. A member of the security forces was killed,” the statement said.

It said the armed gang “stocked weapons and ammunition in the mosque and kidnapped children and used them as human shields.” State television showed guns, grenades and ammunition it said were found in the mosque, but activists said the protest was peaceful and there had been no weapons.

The attack brought to 10 the number of civilians killed by Syrian forces during six days of demonstrations for political freedoms and an end to corruption in the country of 20 million.

Based on reports from Syrian human rights organizations and relatives, Amnesty Internationalhas compiled the names of 93 people who were arrested between 8 and 23 March in Damascus, Aleppo, Banias, Dera’a, Douma, Hama, Homs, Latakia, Ma’aratan Nu’man and al-Malkiyah and remain detained in unknown locations. The real number of those arrested is likely to be considerably higher. According to one Syrian human rights organization, around 300 people had been arrested in Dera’a in the five days before last night’s attack.

Government statement

العصابات المسلحة في درعا قامت بتخزين أسلحة و ذخيرة داخل الجامع العمري و استخدمت أطفالا اختطفتهم من أهاليهم كدروع بشرية
The armed gangs in Daraa stored weapons and ammunition inside the Omari mosque and they used children whom they kidnapped from their parents as human shields.

Jerusalem Post: For all his faults, Assad is the devil we know, 2011-03-23

Since the Yom Kippur War of 1973, one of the strongest arguments some Israelis make against withdrawing from the Golan Heights and making peace with Syria is basically, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Of all of Israel’s borders including, the so-called peaceful ones with Jordan and Egypt, the border with Syria has always been the quietest. Yes, Israel fought a major war there in 1973, but since then, the border has been peaceful, with only a rare terror or criminal infiltration.

As Israel watches the ongoing demonstrations in Syria against President Bashar Assad, its greatest concern for the moment is the uncertainty that change in Syria would bring to the region. Israel has gotten used to Assad and he is almost predictable. A new regime, led by a new actor, would likely be unpredictable and when considering the large arsenal of long-range Scud missiles Syria has stockpiled over the years and the accompanying chemical warheads, Israel needs to be considered.

In recent weeks, since the ongoing upheaval began in the Middle East, starting with Tunisia and Egypt and carrying on to Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and now Syria, Israel has found itself in a new reality in which uncertainty prevails. Who will take over in Egypt as the new president and what will happen to the peace treaty? What will happen in Bahrain, and will Iran continue to solidify its grip over the Gulf states? With regards to Syria, the Israeli defense establishment cannot say that the writing was not on the wall.

It is no secret that Syria is in an economic crisis, lacking basic resources such as water, oil and produce. Assad has for years rejected opportunities to do business with the West – particularly Europe – and with runaway inflation and high unemployment he is now paying the price. But when Israel looks at Syria it also sees the possible development of a new enemy, far more radical and extreme than the Assad they are familiar with.

Haaretz: IDF: Syria may provoke Israel to distract from domestic unrest
2011-03-23

The Israel Defense Forces is readying for the possibility that Syria might create a provocation along the northern border to divert attention from the growing protests against President Bashar Assad’s regime. Nevertheless, the defense establishment …

Protesters march in south Syria for fifth day
By Khaled al-Hariri

DERAA, Syria, March 22 (Reuters) – Hundreds of people marched in southern Syria for a fifth straight day on Tuesday, protesting against the government of President Bashar al-Assad and shouting “Freedom, freedom. Peaceful, peaceful.” Protesters gathered near the Old Omari mosque in Deraa and in the nearby town of Nawa in the strategic Hauran plateau, close to the border with Jordan, catching a wave of Arab unrest that has toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.

“We want bread, but also freedom,” said a resident of Deraa, where wheat yields fell by a quarter last year due to a drought that has hit the rest of the country of 20 million people. Security forces killed four protesters when the demonstrations erupted in Deraa on Friday, and an 11-year-old child died after inhaling tear gas. ….

PBS News: News Wrap: At Least 7 Killed in Syria as Army Deploys to Stop Unrest

Protest Spreads in Syria Despite Firing of Governor of Restive Southern Province
2011-03-22, By Associated Press

Protest Spreads in Syria Despite Firing of Governor of Restive Southern Province

March 22 (Washington Post) — DAMASCUS, Syria — Protests spread in southern Syria Tuesday as hundreds of people marched to demand reforms in a previously peaceful village, witnesses and activists said.
Troops and protesters faced off in a nearby city outside a mosque where demonstrators have taken shelter.

The government sought to contain the first serious intrusion of the Arab world’s political unrest by firing the governor of the southern province of Daraa, where security forces killed seven protesters in the main city of Daraa over the weekend.

The governor’s dismissal failed to quell popular anger and the protests reached the village of Nawa, where hundreds of people marched demanding reforms, an activist told The AssociatedPress.

Smaller protests have been held in Jasim and Inkhil, near Daraa, and other Syrian cities including the capital, Damascus, and the Kurdish city of Qamishli.

Fear barrier crumbles in Syrian “kingdom of silence”
22 March 2011
Reuters News, By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

DAMASCUS, March 22 (Reuters) – The preacher of the Saladin Mosque was reflecting on the joys of Mother’s Day, his sermon straying far from dramatic protests now gripping Syria, when a young man jumped up to the pulpit and grabbed the microphone.

“Why are you talking about this in these circumstances? Tell us about the political situation!” shouted the youth, before secret police arrested him and hurried him away.

The scene at the mosque in the lower income Damascus district of Ruknaldin, recounted to Reuters by worshippers who witnessed it on Friday, was striking in a country where pliant citizens have endured government-dictated sermons for decades. In Damascus, as in the provinces, a barrier of fear which had blocked dissent is breaking down. Uprisings across the Arab world have not stopped at the door of one of its most hardline administrations.

For the first time, placards other than those glorifying Syria’s ruling elite and the “historic achievements” of the Baath Party are being raised in the towns of the strategic Hauran plain south of Damascus. A single word is etched on them — “Freedom”…..

Economist: The Arab Awakening Reaches Syria

There are signs the crisis in Deraa could be solved. A group of prominent locals has presented a list of demands to the government. These include the end to emergency law and the dismantling of the local security office, but not the removal of Mr Assad. Friday’s protesters had different motives in different parts of the country. In other areas, such as quiet Damascus, many disbelieve the news leaking out or prefer to turn a blind eye. Some activists want to pull back, viewing the situation as a dangerously unarticulated barrage of anger. Dormant opposition figures are complicating matters by trying to enter the fray. …

In Daraa today: Youtube, Shouting freedom freedom and turning the secret service vehicle upside down.

Standing up to the west isn’t enough to save Assad
2011-03-21…..

David Hirst in the Guardian: Standing up to the west isn’t enough to save Assad

There is a growing feeling that it could escalate into something much bigger and more decisive, with the regime’s own reactions – now consisting of the usual brute force with a novel, nervous admixture of conciliation – constituting the key factor as to whether it does or not.

A note from a Syrian friend visiting Damascus over the weekend

I took a day trip from Beirut to Damascus, had lunch and dinner there and just got back to Beirut. I will rush you some quick observations as I am a bit tired and haven’t yet caught up with the 2M+ email I got since I was gone.

– My overall impression: I am a bit concerned but not worried at all.

When I left Beirut, I was expecting the worse. Since I can only travel as a US citizen, I was bit concerned that with a last name of Atassi (with the stupid Atassi declaration that included all Atassis inside and outside Syria without my consent), the worries of some strangers coming to Syria as agitators, that I might be subjected to some not so easy time.

Nothing. It was the smoothest trip I ever had. The border guards were the most courteous, no-question-asked officers I have ever seen.

* There were no patrols, troop movements, security check points, or anything, I repeat, anything that might tell me there is a crises in Syria anywhere. Absolutely positively everything looked normal and very calm. This is from the Syrian Borders to the Mazze, to the Four Seasons Hotel.

* Along the Mazzeh autostrad, traffic was busy, coffee shops and restaurants were busy, and buses were full of people. Life couldn’t look more normal. It was the Damascus I knew.

* At the end of the Mazzeh Autostrad, I was expecting to see people with families chillaxing on the grassy areas, like they always do during the summer. They were actually there, chillaxing, may with arjile and children were playing.

* Unlike what I read in some reports before I left today, the Government did not give the people two days off to sort through the issues of Daraa. So let me get you the scoop on this. The 21st of March, Mother’d Day has always bee an official holiday in Syria since the days of the father. So Monday is off. They gave the people, Sunday (today) off to make it a long weekend (with the weekend in Syria being Friday and Saturday.) By the way, today’s off is what we call in the US administrative leave (Ijazeh Idarieh) – meaning employees will have to take today off and will be deducted from their annual leave time.

* The Four Seasons Hotel was full of people, but not packed as in the summer days. Being a Holiday and tomorrow being Mother’s Day, many people did nt venture outside to party as they usually do, I was told.

* I asked the local about the latest events. No one is worried my all had the attitude of why-are-you surprised. I was shocked. Everyone I talked to seems to have been expecting this Daraa events all along. The reason? I did not know that the Daraa issue was festering for a while now – even before Egypt. Apparently many Wahhabis have infiltrated the city – especially from Jordan and have been preaching hatred against the Alawites (here we go again, Alawites vs a group of Syrians) and in the last month or so there have been some arrests, beating, and you-know-what-they-do when they catch these salafis.

* So people in Damascus (and only those I talked to) wish that the government finally crush them once and for all. One friend told me (not sure how true) that Bashar got the told-you-so from some senior intelligence officers when he insisted early on to treat the Salafis with utmost caring under the circumstances. Apparently they wanted to deal with them in their usual ways and he overruled them. Not sure how true this is, but it is what I heard.

* So I asked about the demonstration in Damascus and Banyas and elsewhere. Apparently few are concerned with those and they considered them “no big deal” مو كتير مهمين.

So, life is normal and the Syrians I met with did not seem to be concerned that things will get worse. I did hear, though, and repeatedly that Bashar needs to change. ANd in fact, I did her exactly what Mouris said earlier that Bashar needs to announce term limit, and that he will not run for re-election, and that he needs to rescind the emergency law, allow other parties to participate and he needs to let loosen teh terrible laws against the private market.

Whether Bashar will head the advice or not is unknown. But all of the people I talked to seem to think this this is not as big as we think.

WIKILEAKS- thanks to FLC
S E C R E T TEL AVIV 003079

SUBJECT: ISRAEL FM LIVNI SAYS ISRAEL DISAPPROVES OF CURRENT DRAFT OF UN RESOLUTION

3. (S) With media representatives present, FM Livni opened the meeting by cautioning everyone not to believe what the newspapers write: “Israel is not satisfied with the draft UN resolution (1559) as it stands.” After the media reps departed the room, Livni reiterated to the Assistant Secretary that Israel — like Lebanon — does not approve of the current draft of the resolution. Over the next hour and a half, FM Livni made repeated, impassioned appeals to the Assistant Secretary not to allow the draft UN resolution to address the long-standing Shebaa Farms territorial dispute. First, she argued that Shebaa Farms is a territorial dispute between Lebanon and Syria. As such, Israel has no right to be involved in it, and does not wish to have it placed on its bilateral agenda with Lebanon. She argued that IF/IF Shebaa Farms were returned to Lebanon in any kind of post-conflict resolution — and Israel were implicated in the return — then Syria might attack Israel, arguing that Israel had no right to hand the territory over to Lebanon. 4. (S) FM Livni also returned to what she said were the GOI’s initial objections to addressing the Shebaa Farms issue in the first place — that return of any disputed territory as part of a resolution to the current conflict would be tantamount to rewarding aggression. Hizballah, she claimed, would grow stronger,… Asking for five minutes to lay out the Israeli position on Shebaa Farms, Livni continued: “In past discussions between Israel and the U.S., it was clear that Shebaa Farms would be the end of a process — full implementation of (UNSCR) 1559. Now, it is being put as something to start with! I am so fed up with weak leaders who want to get something good without implementing their deals.” She wondered aloud what would happen next — perhaps Hizballah would press for return of the West Bank? Pounding the table, Livni said, “Surely the U.S. and other Western governments are not naive enough to believe Hizballah’s statements that it exists because of Shebaa Farms. Iran is the reason why Hizballah exists. Iran, Syria, the Palestinians and Hamas are watching us. We will be sending the wrong message. They will see that they get something by killing Israelis. I do not care about Siniora’s ‘blah blah’ about how this is something for him. If Shebaa Farms are returned to Lebanon, Hizballah will merely take up another cause. It exists solely to advocate for and execute the destruction of Israel….” One could, she said, imagine a scenario in which Shebaa Farms were returned, and then the weak Siniora government decides not to take action on any of its “obligations,” including complete execution of UNSCR 1559. 6. (S) Livni stressed that prior to the outbreak of the fighting, there was a series of UNSCRs that concerned Lebanon: 425 (Israel’s withdrawal behind a UN-mandated line), 1559 (disarmament of militias) and 1680 (calling on Syria to delimit its borders with Lebanon). Accepting Assistant Secretary Welch’s clarification that expectations laid out in 1559 were not “obligations” set on Lebanon’s government, Livni nonetheless argued that .. Shebaa Farms will be dealt with only after 1559 is fully implemented.”….

9. (S) The Assistant Secretary shared with Livni the results of his August 4-5 meetings in Lebanon Specifically, he told FM Livni that: — Berri sees himself as able to represent Shia interests, and is willing, but does not feel obligated, to do so. He is providing considerable help to PM Siniora, who relies upon him to keep the Shia in line with the GOL. Berri indicated his willingness to be an intermediary to Hizballah … — Jumblat claimed that the IDF is not making much headway against Hizballah and needs to keep up pressure on the group. All of the Assistant Secretary’s interlocutors understood that it is helpful to have Hizballah “militarily pressured.”… — Like the Israelis, the Lebanese are not happy with the lead role France has appointed itself in organizing the MNF. — All said that they cannot ask for or approve a multinational force under a Chapter 7 mandate, but can accept one if it is imposed on Lebanon. They are planning for the deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) immediately upon withdrawal of the IDF — even if the MNF is not yet in place. Berri implied that Hizballah would agree, and volunteered to personally lead a vanguard of 10,000-15,000 troops into the south. …. PM Siniora and wants the bulk of Muslim MNF troops to be Sunni. — All accept that there should be no arms in the area of operations except those held by the LAF and MNF. .. — All agreed that Iran and Syria want to continue the fight.

Costa Coffee Closes Most Outlets in Syria: Costa Coffee, a global chain of cafés, has closed most of its outlets in Damascus, citing operational losses.

U.S. Reacts to Fear of Iran’s Rising Clout

White House Eyes Islamist State While Strategizing in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria; But Its Approach Could Backfire
WASHINGTON—White House concerns that Iran’s hand is being strengthened by recent events in the Middle East is central to its response to the turmoil, say U.S., European, and Arab officials.

President Barack Obama’s decision last week to use military force against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s forces was made in part by his administration’s fear that Western inaction could further embolden Tehran, these officials say.

Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia and Iran’s Shiite government are locked in a battle for regional influence.

U.S. military planners are also concerned Iran could benefit from an overthrow of the monarchy in Bahrain, home to U.S. naval operations that help control the Persian Gulf’s oil flow.

In Yemen, too, Washington’s closest Arab allies, in particular Saudi Arabia, are worried the potential overthrow of President Ali Abdullah Saleh could strengthen Iran in the region.

Riyadh briefly invaded Yemen last year to contain a rebel movement, known as the Houthis, which shares Tehran’s Shiite faith and Arab states allege has received funding and arms from Iran.

“Everything the U.S. is doing to respond in the Middle East is colored by how this could hurt or help Iran,” said a European official who has met with senior U.S. officials in recent weeks. “This might be an overreaction, but it’s how people are viewing things.”

Many Middle East analysts warn that Washington’s Iran strategy could backfire. Tehran and its allies have been saying the Obama administration’s varying approach to each uprising in the region is hypocritical, in particular its lukewarm condemnation of the Bahrain government’s recent crackdown on a largely Shiite protest movement.

An overthrow of Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy would likely produce a government more aligned with Tehran’s interests.

“I ask some in the Arab and Islamic worlds: Why have you remained mum over the tyranny against our people in Bahrain,” Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah party and a close Iran ally, said on Saturday. “Is it only because they are Shiites?”

Iran’s leadership has sought to cast the Middle East’s democratic wave as one that targets pro-American governments. But the turmoil has also rekindled a protest movement in Iran—the antithesis of a pro-U.S. government—that flared in 2009 following allegations that national elections were rigged. The White House has sought to cast Tehran as hypocritical—urging on protests in Arab nations, but suppressing them at home.

Over the weekend, Mr. Obama offered his strongest rhetorical support yet for Iran’s youthful opposition movement.

“So far, the Iranian government has responded by demonstrating that it cares more about preserving its own power than respecting the rights of the Iranian people,” Mr. Obama said in a video message that was beamed into Iran and translated into Persian to commemorate Nowruz, the Persian New Year. “These choices do not demonstrate strength, they show fear.”

The U.S. Treasury Department last month for the first time imposed sanctions on Iranian officials solely for their alleged role in human-rights abuses and for playing a role in the crackdown on political dissidents.

The Obama administration is pushing the United Nations’ Human Rights Council in Geneva to censure Iran for its alleged abuses and establish the first U.N. human rights investigator for the Islamic republic in a decade.

Another front in the U.S.’s Middle East approach is Syria, which has been engulfed by political protests in recent days. The Obama administration has aggressively sought to split Syrian President Bashar al-Assad away from his longstanding alliance with Tehran. And it has sought to rekindle peace talks between Syria and Israel over the disputed Golan Heights territory, so far with little luck.

U.S. officials said they are now closely tracking a growing protest movement that has focused on the southern Syrian city of Deraa, which is now viewed as the greatest political challenge to Mr. Assad’s 11-year rule. Human rights-groups said at least half a dozen activists have been killed since Friday. And U.S. officials, while cautious in predicting Mr. Assad will fall, believe the protests could force the 46-year-old leader to limit his cooperation with Tehran.

On Sunday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem broke with Iran and formally supported Saudi Arabia’s role in quelling the unrest in Bahrain. Riyadh is seen as the principal Arab power capable of providing Syria with crucial economic and political support if Syria’s protest movement swells.

The Persian Gulf remains the most important flash point in the proxy battle between the U.S. and Iran. “We do expect Iran will attempt to take advantage of events for its own purposes,” said Ben Rhodes, U.S. deputy national-security adviser for strategic communications. “Iran has a long history of attempting to meddle in the affairs of other countries.”

The Obama administration has faced criticism for not more forcefully condemning the move by Bahrain’s ruling Khalifa family and Saudi Arabia to deploy troops against largely Shiite protestors.

Saudi Arabia’s monarchs have told the U.S. they won’t accept a new government in Bahrain that could fall under Iran’s sway.

On Monday, Bahrain’s foreign minister threatened to cut ties with Lebanon over the Hezbollah leader’s criticism of the recent military operations. And Bahrain’s leaders have intensified their claims that Iran is trying to topple their government.

“Iran’s behavior and contacts with some nations and organization about the international affairs of the Kingdom of Bahrain is a clear intervention,” Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa told reporters Friday. “I’d like to remind all of you of the incident that had taken place in Iran last year or even before that,” referring to the 2009 protests.

Demands of the Deraa Leaders includes:
Release of those imprisoned, replacement of the Governor and security, investigation and punishment of those who shot demonstrators, end emergency law, free market in land sales, without intelligence oversight.

Comments (126)


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101. Ghat Al Bird said:

More or urgent problems for Syria?

Avigdor Lieberman wants Syria and Iran bombed.

Iran and Syria pose a greater security threat than Libya and the West should treat those countries in the same way as it has Muammar Gadhafi’s government, Israel’s foreign minister said on Thursday.

In a brief interview with Reuters after meeting his French counterpart, Alain Juppe, Avigdor Lieberman also said a recent upsurge of violence on the Gaza border and Wednesday’s bomb attack in Jerusalem were “incitement” by the Palestinians.

Western warplanes hit Libyan tanks during a fifth night of air strikes as they enforced a UN resolution aimed at stopping Gadhafi’s counter-offensive against rebels seeking an end to his rule.

Lieberman did not explicitly call for military action against Syria and Iran, but he said: “I think that the same principles, activities the Western world (has taken) in Libya … I hope to see those regarding the Iranian regime and the Syrian regime.”

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

March 24th, 2011, 12:06 pm

 

102. AIG said:

Updates at the NY times:
http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/24/latest-updates-on-libyan-war-and-mideast-protests/#20000-march-in-syria-witnesses-say

In my opinion, if the demonstrations stay localized to Deraa, Assad has a good chance of controlling them. Apparently there are no demonstrations outside the city so far which is in the regimes favor.

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March 24th, 2011, 12:12 pm

 

103. norman said:

http://www.alarabiya.net/live/index.php

The new proposals seem to be very good,
May GOD Save Syria .

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March 24th, 2011, 12:29 pm

 

104. jad said:

WOWOWOWOOWOWWOWOWOWO
OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
THE EMERGENCY LAW will be off!!!
THE POLITICAL PARTIES will start!!!
THE FREE PRESS….
and all of this will happen immediately!!!
EXCELLENT EXCELLENT EXCELLENT
🙂

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March 24th, 2011, 12:36 pm

 

105. Akbar Palace said:

I Hate Israel More than You Do NewZ

The only thing I can infer from your response is that it does not disgust or even bother you when Israelis kill Arabs, or when they oppress, dispossess, demolish their houses, uproot their trees, or humiliate them, but you expect Syrians to express their disgust about the dead and injured.

Ziad,

I never said that. I said the loss of life on both sides saddens me, especially when they are non-combatants.

That being said, I believe Israel has MORE of a right to defend herself from missiles and mortars than NATO does against Gad-fly. Moreover, Israel has the right to return fire from where it eminates. Here’s an article describing the issue.

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2008639518_gaza17.html

I don’t know to what extent Israelis “oppress, dispossess, demolish their houses, uproot their trees, or humiliate them”, especially now that the PA is responsible for Palestinians under them. Israeli Arabs have the same rights as Jewish Israelis, and so anything illegal according to Israeli law should be prosecuted. As I’ve stated many times, although living as an Arab in Israel isn’t perfect, it is better than most Arab countries, including Syria. That notion, apparently, falls on deaf ears as witnessed on this blog.

Some pro-Arab; pro-peace Israeli organizations:

http://peace.mennolink.org/articles/israelpeacegroups.html

I expressed my utter disgust in one message, but obviously that was not enough to you. How often do expect me to repeat it, every 30 minutes? I have work to do beyond posting comments, and your opinion is not relevant to me.

Your “disgust” at the Assad regime is duly noted. You needn’t repeat it unless you want to. If my opinion doesn’t matter to you, I won’t lose sleep over it. As I said, I’m just a pro-Israel observer.

As Shai reminded you; you always compare what is bad about the Arabs with what is good about Israel, and think you are making a sensible argument.

Maybe. I sometimes feel I’m the lone defender of Israel’s POV on this blog. Who else is?

If you add what is ugly about Israel to your recipe, the picture will look differently.

Israel sucks!! Happy now?

It is very evident that you view Arabs as much inferior kind to your own race.

I believe all men are created equal. I believe Jews have created their state due to “the lack thereof”. I believe all human have the right to live in peace and safety and afforded basic human rights such as freedom of speech, religion, media, and the right to assemble. Among others.

This is Antisemitism of the worst kind. You are not alone in this, many Israelis and Israel’s friends have this attribute. I suspect that this is above all a sign of insecurity.

I apologize if I have given you the impression that Israelis, in any way, are “better” than anyone else. They are not. Perhaps I show a sense of pride that my people’s state is something that is working relatively well considering the neighborhood.

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March 24th, 2011, 12:37 pm

 

106. Ziad said:

From AlWatan

أصدرت القيادة القطرية لحزب البعث قرارات هامة ، بين أهمها قرار بتحسين الوضع المعاشي عبر رفع الرواتب سيعلن عنه قريبا، و وضع آلية جديدة لمكافحة الفساد، كما وضع دراسة لإنهاء العمل بقانون الطوارئ بالسرعة القصوى، وإصدار قانون جديد للإعلام ومشروع قانون للأحزاب ، وصدر قرار ايضا بتعزيز سلطة القضاء ومنع الاعتقال التعسفي كما تعديل القانون 49 القاضي بالعمل بإجراءات بيع الأراضي الحدودية وهو أحد أبرز مطالب أهالي درعا في احتجاجات الأحد الماضي. كما شكلت القيادة لجنة منها للتحقيق في أحداث درعا ومحاسبة المسؤولين والمقصرين، وقالت المصادر أنه سيتم الإفراج عن مجموعة كبيرة من المعتقلين ممن ثبتت براءتهم من أعمال الشغب الأخيرة

If they follow through they are smart. If not they deserve to perish.

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March 24th, 2011, 12:37 pm

 

107. Solitarius said:

Surprising and excellent move! who expected all of these at the same time? i think just acknowledging that there exists an issue with Emerg Law and having parties is a big step.. Implementation is key now

anybody has a video of that press release or a link?

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March 24th, 2011, 12:42 pm

 

108. majedkhaldoon said:

Buthaina Shaaban did not say anything about releasing prisoners, there was only promises to study to discuss emergency law.
this come extremely short of what the people want.
Her explanation why Deraa was the reason for the begining of revolution seems to be satisfactory.
there was nothing about guarranteeing transparancy in the investigation.

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March 24th, 2011, 12:46 pm

 

109. jad said:

Solitarius
You can watch it online from Norman link

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March 24th, 2011, 12:46 pm

 

110. Ziad said:

AP

“I don’t know to what extent Israelis “oppress, dispossess, demolish their houses, uproot their trees, or humiliate them”, especially now that the PA is responsible for Palestinians under them. Israeli Arabs have the same rights as Jewish Israelis, and so anything illegal according to Israeli law should be prosecuted.”

You live on Alpha Centauri.

“I believe Israel has MORE of a right to defend herself from missiles and mortars than NATO does against Gad-fly.”

I believe that Palestinians have the right to fight their oppressors, occupiers, jailers and thieves by the only weapons they got.

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March 24th, 2011, 12:50 pm

 

111. Majhool said:

Encouraging but could be a maneuver, plus what about political prisoners. Time will tell

SHA’BAN performance was pretty good.

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March 24th, 2011, 12:50 pm

 

112. jad said:

Whatever the government do they are going to be short for many and for those people who are just looking for violence and chaos.
AL ARABIYA IS STILL SPEWING THE SAME NEGATIVE OPINIONS..

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March 24th, 2011, 12:53 pm

 

113. Nour said:

Great news. I hope the implementation is sincere and swift. This is exactly what we were all asking for.

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March 24th, 2011, 12:56 pm

 

114. Nour said:

You’re right Jad. Some people actually are going to be very upset. This was an extremely smart move by the regime because it will uncover the true face of those supposedly supporting freedom and democracy.

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March 24th, 2011, 1:00 pm

 

115. SOURI said:

My biggest fear now is that the regime may try to contain the situation by giving more concessions to the Islamists. The regime has a very bad record in this regard; since 1982, the regime has always favored concession to confrontation with the Islamists.

Any political concessions now will be a huge gain for the Islamists. If the regime has no other choice but giving political concessions, then it should at least try to take something in exchange from the Islamists.

There are only two domains in which the Islamists can be seriously hurt if they lose influence:

-religious education in schools.
-the family and marriage law.

Can the regime take anything from the Islamists in these two domains? I don’t think so, because it would make things only worse and infuriate those Islamists who are still calm now.

The regime must choose between giving free concessions to the Islamists and between going to a bloodier and larger confrontation with them. What will the regime choose? If the regime is really looking for the long-term interest of Syria and the Allawi community, they must choose confrontation now when there is still a chance of winning.

The Baath must pull itself together and fight this war against the bloody Islamists. Free concessions mean suicide.

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March 24th, 2011, 1:06 pm

 

116. norman said:

Opposition leaders refused the government initiatives.
They want to destroy Syria,

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March 24th, 2011, 1:20 pm

 

117. Averroes said:

Majhool,

I am really glad you are agreeing to give them a chance. Anyone who says there has been “nothing” done in the last 11 years is not being fair.

They’ve now made an official declaration that they will have to stick to. This is good.

We may have had our differences in the past, but I would buy you and Shami lunch any time if we can turn the page and start working together for Syria.

I’ll buy you lunch with no commitments 🙂

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March 24th, 2011, 1:23 pm

 

118. Averroes said:

Norman,

What are they saying? any links?

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March 24th, 2011, 1:29 pm

 

119. Badr said:

Professor Landis,

I was planning to quote you on something I read earlier, and ask you about it, but you’ve erased it from your main post. I’m sorry to miss the opportunity. 😉

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March 24th, 2011, 1:46 pm

 

120. norman said:

It was news flash on AL Arabia

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March 24th, 2011, 1:46 pm

 

121. Amir in Tel Aviv said:

This recent maneuver reminds me of the DDR (former East Germany) the night that a state minister announced that it was OK to travel to West Berlin. 2 and a half weeks later there was no DDR.

If lifting of the emergency law and allowing political parties is the right thing to do (I agree), then why do it after 100 deaths in Daraa, and not before? Today, Do you trust the Asad junta more than you trusted them yesterday ?
.

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March 24th, 2011, 2:00 pm

 

122. Majhool said:

AVERROES

Thank you for the offer. One day we will lose our fake names and will have lunch, maybe a dinner. After all, i want to make sure that your bill be to the north of $50 per person, hehe

I don’t give a damn who is in power as long checks and balances are put in balance to curb abuse and corruption.

Alex could testify that i have been fearful of what’s to come (several years ago) and that all along i wanted reforms.

Friday prayers would have been detrimental to the regime so I salute their quickness to act.

All said, don’t mistaken the continuous demands for chaos. I still want

Prisoners to be released
Equality in the Armed forces and security apparatus including presidential guard
change the constitution ( Eliminate the monopoly of Baath)
Parliament to choose president in multi-candidate elections.

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March 24th, 2011, 2:18 pm

 

123. Ziadsoury said:

Norman,
How long should we give the committees to come up with answers? When will these committees be formed?

Notice Buthaina promised to form committees to LOOK into removing the emergency law. It took 24 hours to put the law in place. Why not announce that it will be lifted by the end of the month. I am sure the regime has been looking at it for the last 2 months. All these are smoke screens designed to calm people down. They already lifted the emergency law in Algeria. It took them a couple of months. They announced a date and delivered on it.

In 2005 the regime made similar promises about forming political parties. What happened? Six years later we still have a monopoly on power by one obsolete party.

Why not free all political prisoners? How about the massacres in the past few days? If the president did not order the firing, who did? Any accountability or justice on behaves of the people that lost their lives?

Do not blame the people that are suffering. They want dignity and they offered them a bribe instead.

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March 24th, 2011, 3:08 pm

 

124. norman said:

Ziadsouri,
TAWEL BALECK,
The opposition should show grace and accept and be complementary and give them a months or two in their announcement to see result, then wait and see .if they are genuine they will move fast .You can test them as they are testing you .investigation in what happen in Daraa is needed.and expected ,

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March 24th, 2011, 3:40 pm

 

125. cprincess said:

“I don’t know to what extent Israelis “oppress, dispossess, demolish their houses, uproot their trees, or humiliate them”, especially now that the PA is responsible for Palestinians under them. Israeli Arabs have the same rights as Jewish Israelis, and so anything illegal according to Israeli law should be prosecuted. As I’ve stated many times, although living as an Arab in Israel isn’t perfect, it is better than most Arab countries, including Syria. That notion, apparently, falls on deaf ears as witnessed on this blog”
”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””
Yes -whilst I agree that living as an Israeli arab is better than living in the majority of arab countries to say that the Palestinians are no longer humiliated and mistreated by the Israeli government is not true….
If seeing a Palestinian families home being demolished or another settlers development being built is not mistreatment and humiliation then what is?
However ,I feel we are getting away from the issue here because this has absolutely nothing to do with what is happening in Syria right now….
It is unfortunate that consistently arab governments will use the same old tired argument-blame the zionists for everything and my view is that if arab governments care soooo much about the Palestinians then come and help them.
In the meantime-stop blaming ‘outsiders’ and give the people what they want….

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March 24th, 2011, 3:53 pm

 

126. Shai said:

Akbar,

“Israel has been relatively safe while BB has been in office…”

Really? Funny when Kadima is in office, and tens and hundreds of missiles rain down on Sderot, Ashkelon, and Ashdod, you’re the first to blame the PM. In fact, Netanyahu HIMSELF was first to blame the PM’s at the time (Sharon and Olmert).

Even today you refuse to blame “our leader” for our situation, and instead suddenly adopt a new phrase – “relatively safe” – which is of course quite convenient since it fits essentially ALL situations past, present, and future.

But be honest – if some liberal leftist was in power at this very moment, wouldn’t you go on and on blaming him (or her) for all the missiles being launched at Israel right now? And, to remind you, Bibi’s been in power now for 2 years. Why aren’t you yelling at him to go blow Gaza to high heaven? Or to build a thousand more units in the West Bank for each Grad that lands on Ashdod? Come on, is it really that difficult for you to blame Bibi for anything, or do you still need “The Left” (the nonexistent Left) to throw the responsibility on?

Actually, in that sense, you DO sound like a Syrian official trying to blame Al Qaeda for what is happening in Syria. (I made it easier for you – “The Israeli Left” = “Al Qaeda”)

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March 24th, 2011, 4:05 pm

 

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