Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, September 5th, 2012
Record Number Of Syrians Fled Country In August
Listen to the Story on NPR Radio, All Things Considered [4 min 33 sec]
Activist groups are reporting that more than 5,000 people died in Syria in the month of August. Along with the death toll, the number of Syrians fleeing their country is also on the rise. Melissa Block talks to Joshua Landis about the bigger picture in Syria and what happens next…
LANDIS: The Syrian army remains very strong. Even though it’s losing ground, it has strong backing in Iran and Russia, and its got a command and control, which is what the opposition – although it has numbers, the opposition, and it has a lot of international support, it does not have good command and control. And it doesn’t have the kind of weaponry that the Syrian army has.
BLOCK: How resilient would you say the Syrian army is? How much can it take?
LANDIS: It can take a lot. This is the problem, is that the Syrian army is transforming itself. As the Sunni Arabs defect from the army, and increasingly, the Sunni elements in the army are not trusted, the army has been remaking itself as an Alawite militia, increasingly. And we’re seeing this war devolve into a civil war between Alawites, the Shiite heterodox group – 12 percent of Syrians – and the Syrian Sunni Arabs who are 70 percent of the population roughly. And that’s why things are becoming increasingly more brutal, but it’s also why the Syrian army will not likely give up.
If they were to give up, the leadership in the army will be killed. And many Alawites believe that they would be marginalized in society as the Sunni Arabs take over. So they’re fighting a very brutal war, and it’s hard to see how this comes to an end anytime soon…..
Syrian Children Offer Glimpse of a Future of Reprisals
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, September 3, 2012, New York Times
ZAATARI, Jordan — Like all the small children in the desert refugee camp here, Ibtisam, 11, is eager to go home to the toys, bicycles, books, cartoons and classmates she left behind in Syria.
But not if that means living with Alawites, members of the same minority offshoot of Shiite Islam as Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. “I hate the Alawites and the Shiites,” Ibtisam said as a crowd of children and adults nodded in agreement. “We are going to kill them with our knives, just like they killed us.” ….
“We hear it all the time from the kids, but also from the parents — that this is not political at all, and not a call for democracy, but is about people fed up and angry at rule by a minority, the Alawites,” said Saba al-Mobaslat, director for Jordan of the nonprofit group Save the Children, which provides toys to refugee children and tries to teach them understanding. “There is a concern that this is a whole generation that is being brought up to hate, that can’t see the other’s side.”
The roots of the animosity toward the Alawites from members of Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority, who make up about 75 percent of the population, run deep into history. During the 19th-century Ottoman Empire, the two groups lived in separate communities, and the Sunni majority so thoroughly marginalized Alawites that they were not even allowed to testify in court until after World War I.
Then, in a pattern repeated across the region, said Joshua Landis, a Syria scholar at the University of Oklahoma, French colonialists collaborated with the Alawite minority to control the conquered Syrian population — as colonialists did with Christians in Lebanon, Jews in Palestine and Sunni Muslims in Iraq. The French brought Alawites into the colony’s military to help control the Sunnis. And after Syria’s independence from France, the military eventually took control of the country, putting Alawites in top government positions, much to the resentment of the Sunni majority.
“Now the Alawites believe — possibly correctly — that the Sunnis are going to try to kill them, and that is why the Alawite Army now is killing Sunnis in this beastly way,” Professor Landis said. “The Alawites feel justified in brutality because they fear what may be in store for them if they lay down their guns.”
“I don’t see any way out of that,” he said, “except to say that we are in for a long, difficult ride, and you pray that the Syrians are going to get over this somehow.”….
Inside Syria’s Fracturing Rebellion
Sarah Birke and Katie Paul, August 30, 2012 | New Republic
JEBEL ZAWIYA, SYRIA—The unglamorous municipal building, on which black daubs evince graffiti wars between the regime (“Bashar Assad or the country burns!”) and the opposition (“Leave, oh Bashar!”) did not look fit for a king. But it was immediately obvious when the man in the pressed green khakis strode in that we were in the presence of a leader. Men who had been sitting around in the room chatting fell silent. The leather chair behind the desk was seamlessly vacated. A bulky companion, who appeared to be a bodyguard, took the chair nearest the door; the American-made weapon laid across his knees stood out against the Kalashnikovs we had seen slung over shoulders for the last few days.
We had sat waiting for two hours in Serjeh, a village perched on a ridge in the mountainous Jebel Zawiya region of Syria’s northwestern Idleb province, and were about to give up hope when Ahmed Abu Issa, the head of Saqour al-Sham (the “Sham Falcons”; Sham refers both to Damascus and Greater Syria) appeared. The 40-year-old cut a striking figure, with his bushel of thick hair and grey eyes that betrayed no emotion; a holster was strapped across broad shoulders and he trailed a waft of cologne. The enormous turquoise rock adorning his right ring finger was conspicuously displayed as he clamped his hands on the table.
As head of a group of some 4,000 or so fighters that operates out of Serjeh, Abu Issa is one of the most influential men in the province—and he knows it. Within two minutes of our arrival, intelligence networks had clicked into action, as a gun-toting teenager rode up to inquire as to the nature of our visit. Elsewhere around his territory, he runs three field hospitals, a court based on sharia law, and a prison. (He refused to show us the prison, though YouTube footage later revealed a less savory side of his outfit: some captives have been sent off in booby-trapped cars to be blown apart at army checkpoints.) His immediate motivations are the same, he tells us, as that of other rebel groups: the ouster of Assad. But in the longer-term he wants an Islamist state: “Not as the West understands it: one not too far to the left, and not too far to the right.”
The source of his authority derives neither from military prowess nor local prominence, but rather from a peculiar collection of personal attributes. Abu Issa has charisma by the bucketload: a spellbinding way of orating in flawless formal Arabic and, when addressing issues he deems unpleasant, one side of his upper lip momentarily curls up into a snarl. Rebel fighters have flocked to his side, he says, because of the “rectitude” of his vision and because “Syrians need someone to lead them.” Like many men in his brigade, he is also driven by personal scores to settle with the Assad family. His father was killed in the notorious Tadmor jail in the 1980s; he too spent time in prison in 2003 because the regime didn’t much like his sharia studies nor his “voluntary work” mediating disputes between local families. Sixteen relatives have perished in the current conflict, including two brothers and his sixteen-year-old son (after which he donned a more overtly religious tone.)
Money and weapons help draw followers as much as personal authority, of course. Asked how a small-town religious scholar is able to amass the military might to challenge the army, he is coy. “Need,” he says, with a sly smile, “is the mother of invention.” In fact, swashbuckling performances in videos have made Saquor al-Sham a name on forums outside the country and with it income from private Gulfi backers. Serjeh was something of this year’s Ramadan rebel financier hotspot.
This support leaves him better placed than most rebel groups. It also allows him to dismiss with the flap of a hand the floundering myriad opposition institutions—the Free Syrian Army, Syrian National Council, Muslim Brotherhood—who might want to have a say over his plans. Despite this independence, Abu Issa says he will not fight to impose his vision on Syria: “The political field is a market: you offer your goods and I offer mine,” he told us. “People will come to me because mine are clean.” But the spirit of cooperation many only extend so far: should there be any attempt to “force me to close my store,” he says, then “the sword will be the judgment.”….
the men in Jabal Zawiya offer an insight into the evolving power structures in Syria as Bashar al-Assad’s regime contracts. The groups are currently bound together by a common aim to rid the country of Assad and strive not to act like his regime, but the seeds of struggles are being planted—aided by the brewing geopolitical reckoning. Rather than build the united country once imagined by protesters, rebel warlords are each taking their own bit of land and implementing their own vision—though militarily coordination continues. ….
ISTANBUL—The Turkish government, which is spearheading efforts to force Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power, is facing public skepticism over its Syria policy as the civil war next door increasingly spills across the border.
Developments in recent weeks have magnified Turks’ unease over Syria’s 18-month uprising.
More than 82,000 Syrians have now sought refuge in Turkey, at a cost of around $300 million to the Turkish government, Ankara said Tuesday, as Turkish border towns that relied on trade with Syria have seen economic activity wither and unemployment rise. Turkish television is showing footage of the country’s nationals, which have been …
Iran Supplying Syrian Military via Iraqi Airspace
By MICHAEL R. GORDON, September 4, 2012
WASHINGTON — Iran has resumed shipping military equipment to Syria over Iraqi airspace in a new effort to bolster the embattled government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, according to senior American officials.
The Obama administration pressed Iraq to shut down the air corridor that Iran had been using earlier this year, raising the issue with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq. But as Syrian rebels gained ground and Mr. Assad’s government was rocked by a bombing that killed several high officials, Iran doubled down in supporting the Syrian leader. The flights started up again in July and, to the frustration of American officials, have continued ever since. ….
Assad assures Red Cross on aid operations
The Peninsula – 05 September, 2012
Syrian President Bashar Al Assad promised yesterday to allow the Red Cross to expand its humanitarian operations in his country which is gripped by a 17-month insurgency that forced more than 100,000 people to flee last month alone….
Some 100,000 refugees fled Syria during August making it by far the highest monthly total since hostilities began, the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday.
The tide in people fleeing the civil war, a figure that includes both refugees who are registered and those awaiting registration with the Geneva-based U.N. refugee agency, underscores the intensifying violence between the regime of Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, and the armed anti-government groups.
The August total represents more than 40 percent of the 234,368 Syrian refugees who, as of the last count on September 2, had fled for surrounding countries since the uprising began 17 months ago.
The Making of a Syrian Rebel: The Saga of Abboud Barri
His callousness is more pronounced than most, but the story of Abboud Barri reflects the universal struggle to preserve humanity in the face of the exigencies of war
By Rania Abouzeid / Jabal al-Zawya | September 4, 2012 | 1
Free Syrian Army soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint in the northern town of Ariha, on the outskirts of Idlib, Syria, Sunday, June 10, 2012
Abboud Barri jiggles the dog tags as if they belonged to animals being raised in a puppy mill. “I have a lot of these,” Barri says. “Any buyers?” He is joking. The tags belong to human beings, soldiers of the hated Assad regime now held captive or killed by Barri, a local commander of one of the franchise groups of the rebel Free Syrian Army. Unlike some other militia leaders, Barri says he isn’t interested in ransoming his captives from their families. He says he keeps the ID tags so that those families know “to look for them in hell.”
He keeps the eight military-issued dog tags in the right pocket of his sand-colored desert camouflage cargo pants; they are war booty from his unit’s recent assault on a loyalist checkpoint in Kfranbel in Idlib province….
The fighter was extremely troubled as he recalled the incident. “See this blood,” he said pointing to a patch on the knees of his jeans, “it’s Alawite blood.” He held his head in his hands, asking God for forgiveness. “What are we becoming?” he said. There was no way to verify his account….
CAIRO—American diplomats are closing in on an agreement to dole out $1 billion in debt relief to Egypt, part of a gilded-charm offensive that Washington hopes will help shore up the country’s economy and prevent its new Islamist leadership from drifting beyond America’s foreign-policy orbit.
A team of senior State Department economic officials have spent the past week in Egypt’s capital completing the terms of an aid package that President Barack Obama first announced last year after Egypt’s pro-democracy uprising rattled the country’s once-promising economic future.
The money has since sat in policy limbo as Egyptian and American diplomats disagreed
The Muslim Brotherhood has established its own militia inside Syria as the country’s rebels fracture between radical Islamists and their rivals, commanders and gun-runners have told The Daily Telegraph.
Who Will Govern Syrian Kurdistan?
By Giorgio Cafiero, August 31, 2012
Last month, as the Free Syrian Army took over areas of the Syrian-Turkish border, a power vacuum emerged in northeastern Syria. It was not the Free Syrian Army that filled the vacuum, but instead the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), the most heavily armed Kurdish faction in Syria. In early August, the Wall Street Journal reported that “Kurdish political parties and paramilitary groups have almost completely usurped the Syrian state apparatus,” taking over municipal buildings and vital infrastructure, providing security, and controlling the distribution of resources.
Egypt President Slams Syria in Iran
TEHRAN, Iran—Egypt’s new president described the Syrian regime as “oppressive” and called for it to transfer power to a democratic system during a visit to Syria’s key regional ally Iran on Thursday.
President Mohammed Morsi’s visit to Iran is the first by an Egyptian leader to the Islamic Republic in decades. It represents a major thaw in relations between the two regional powerhouses following Mr. Morsi’s election win in June in the aftermath of the country’s 2011 uprising. But the two countries remain deeply divided over the situation in Syria.
Tehran cut ties with Egypt following Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution. …
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — A Bosnian woman who fled Syria says the war in the Arab country is worse than the fighting in her homeland 20 years ago. A group of 35 Bosnians landed at the Sarajevo airport Thursday, flying in from Istanbul …
Reuters reports: France plans to channel aid to rebel-held parts of Syria so that these “liberated zones” can administer themselves and staunch an outflow of refugees, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
He said France and Turkey had identified areas in the north and south that had escaped President Bashar al-Assad’s control, creating a chance for local communities to govern themselves without feeling they had to flee to neighboring countries.
“Maybe in these liberated zones Syrians who want to flee the regime will find refuge which in turn makes it less necessary to cross the border whether in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan or Iraq,” Fabius said after a U.N. Security Council meeting in New York on Thursday.
However, civilians in rebel-held parts of Syria have suffered frequent deadly air strikes from Assad’s forces.
It was not clear how Fabius’s promise to allocate much of its future 5 million euros ($6.25 million) aid for Syria to these areas would protect civilians and deter them from fleeing.
The Associated Press reports: Turkey appealed to a reluctant U.N. Security Council Thursday for a safe haven for thousands of Syrians facing a “humanitarian disaster” as Britain and France said they would rule out no options — including a no-fly zone — to aid residents fleeing an escalating civil war.
But Turkish leaders held out little hope for the endorsement of a deeply divided council that has been paralyzed on taking action to stop the 18-month uprising that has killed more than 20,000 people.
“How long are we going to sit and watch while an entire generation is being wiped out by random bombardment and deliberate mass targeting?” asked Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. “Let’s not forget that if we do not act against such a crime against humanity happening in front of our eyes, we become accomplices to the crime.”
Davutoglu, whose country is hosting more than 80,000 Syrian refugees, said he came to the council with hope that its members would take “long overdue steps” to help suffering people and establish camps inside Syria for those forced to flee their homes.
“Apparently, I was wrong about my expectations,” he told the council. “This meeting will not even end with a presidential or press statement, let alone a robust resolution.”
The path to the council’s agreement on a safe zone for Syrians is fraught with obstacles, headed by the reluctance of Russia and China, Syria’s most important allies. They have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions in the Security Council seeking to pressure President Bashar Assad’s government with the threat of sanctions.