Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, April 24th, 2013
Buffer Zones have become the topic de jour in Washington DC. For some time, the language used in the White House to frame the Syria problem has been that of containment. Here are some of the oft repeated phrases I have been hearing from White House insiders:
- “Keep the violence inside Syria
- “Prepare for Syrian failure”
- “Shore up the neighbors”
- “There are no good guys in Syria”
This gloomy assessment of the prospects for Syria has created a cottage industry of policy proposals from Washington think tanks that appropriate White House language and focus on containment. They present possible plans for limiting the destabilization of the region and for shoring up weaker countries, such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq.
And for building “buffer zones” to ensure that the “Las Vegas rules” apply to Syria: that what takes place in Syria stays in Syria.
Here is Dennis Ross of WINEP on buffer zones: U.S. Policy Toward Syria, Dennis Ross, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, April 11, 2013
….[A] requirement of our policy now is to hedge against the disintegration of Syria. I often say that the Las Vegas rules don’t apply to Syria; what takes place in Syria won’t stay there. Without making the fragmentation of the country a self – fulfilling prophecy, we need a containment strategy. Much of the opposition is highly localized. We need to think about how buffers can be built up at least in southern Syria, along part of the Syrian/Iraqi border and in the north. Investing in local governance — as part of a coherent design with the British, French, Saudis, Emirates, Jordanians, Turks and others — may be a way to hedge against the unknowns of the future and build the stake of those in Syria to stay put and shape their own future. I don’t suggest that devising a containment strategy will be easy, but we have an interest in doing so and many of our allies, particularly those in the Gulf, do as well. And, the Saudis and Emiratis certainly understand this.
Ross proposes a buffer zone along the Jordanian border. He also earges the establishment of buffers along the Turkish border (already created by Patriot Missiles if they are used against Syrian aircraft) and a Kurdish buffer along the Iraq border. But the focus of his attention is the Jordan border and also presumably protecting the Occupied Golan and Israel from possible attacks by al-Qaida or militias with an anti-Israeli animus.
Ross in a recent talk expressed the hope that Saudi Arabia might be willing to fund such a militia which would serve to protect the monarchy in Jordan, a Saudi interest. The US could help train it.
US special forces are already training Syrian rebels in Jordan. And preparations have been made to possible send up to 20,000 if chemical weapons are used by Syria.
David Pollock, also of WINEP, responded to Ross with Syria’s Forgotten Front in the The New York Times on April 16, 2013.
To keep yet another Syrian frontier from spiraling downward, Washington should urge Israel and the mainstream Syrian opposition to focus on keeping Hizballah and jihadist groups away from the border.
As the civil war in Syria rages on, the risk that Israel will be drawn into the fray is rising…. The risk that Israeli retaliation for cross-border fire could spiral into a major skirmish, or even a larger Israeli intervention to set up a buffer zone in Syria, is real. To prevent it, the United States should broker a tacit agreement between Israel and moderate elements of the Syrian opposition.
Israel and the Syrian opposition don’t have much in common, but they do share some important mutual enemies, namely Hezbollah and Iran, both of which are fighting furiously to save Bashar al-Assad’s government.
This convergence of interests provides an opening for America to quietly strike a deal between Israel and the leadership of the Syrian opposition: Israel should agree to refrain from arming proxies inside Syria to protect its border; and the Syrian opposition should work to keep extremist groups like Hezbollah and Jabhat al-Nusra and other affiliates of Al Qaeda far away from the Israeli frontier. This would demonstrate the Syrian opposition’s bona fides to potential Western supporters and dissuade Israel from intervening or arming allies in Syria.
He goes on to argue that if Israel built a buffer zone inside Syria with a proxy force to protect the Golan , it could backfire as “happened in Lebanon, with disastrous long-term consequences, beginning in the late 1970s when Israel invaded southern Lebanon and set up the South Lebanon Army to protect its border before staging a second, larger invasion in 1982. The result was the creation of Hezbollah, with Iranian support, to “liberate” south Lebanon — a threat that remains today.”
The problem with buffer zones is that they could lead to the dismemberment of Syria. What is more, Obama seems to have little taste for such involvement in Syrian. He seems to believe that they would lead to mission creep.
Bill Frelick, the refugee policy director at Human Rights Watch, writes in the New York Times: Blocking Syrian Refugees Isn’t the Way.
The refugee burden that Syria’s neighbors are shouldering is heavy and should not be borne alone. But keeping people fleeing for their lives in buffer zones inside Syrian borders risks trapping rather than protecting them.
Yet this is precisely what President Michel Suleiman of Lebanon proposed on April 4, joining others such as Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey, who made a similar call in November 2011, and Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour of Jordan, who spoke in January of securing “safe havens” inside Syrian territory, saying of potential new refugee flows, “We will stop them and keep them in their country.”
It appears that steps are being taken to create such border zones. The United States is working with Jordanian authorities to train Syrian opposition forces in what may be an attempt to set up a buffer zone on the southern border of Syria for defectors from the army and displaced civilians….
It seems quite clear that all of Syria’s neighbors have an interest in creating buffer zones in Syria, particularly if someone else will pay for them and if the US will help manage them. This is not a solution that will be attractive to either the US or Syria.
News Round Up
How Chemical Weapons Could Change Strategy For Syria, Talk of the Nation
April 23, 2013, 30 min 20 sec
- Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies, University of Oklahoma
- Amy Smithson, senior fellow, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies
On Syria, Jordan Caught Between Hesitant U.S. and Activist GCC
By: Muhammad Muslih | Briefing
In responding to the growing security crisis emanating from Syria, Jordan finds itself caught between the United States and the Gulf Cooperation Council, with the U.S. insisting on restraint in Syria and the GCC pushing hard to tip the military balance against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Jordan’s King Abdullah must negotiate these competing forces to manage what he sees as an imminent threat in Syria.
Syrian Regime Shoring Up Hold on Capital, Coast
By RYAN LUCAS, 2013-04-22
BEIRUT (AP) — After watching much of Syria’s territory slip into rebel hands, President Bashar Assad’s regime is focusing on the basics: shoring up its hold on Damascus and the strip of land connecting the capital with the Mediterranean coast.
In the past week, government troops have overrun villages near the Lebanese border and suburbs of Damascus, including two districts west of the capital where activists say regime forces killed more than 100 people. The advances have improved the regime’s footing in strategic areas that are seen as crucial to its survival.
In many ways, Assad’s government has little choice at this point in the civil war, analysts say. Rebels have captured much of northern and eastern Syria, seizing control of military bases, hydroelectric dams, border crossings and even a provincial capital. Those areas are home to most of the country’s oil fields, and the losses have deprived the regime of badly needed cash and fuel for its war machine.
But those provinces — Raqqa, Hassakeh and Deir el-Zoura — are located hundreds of miles (kilometers) from the capital. Rebel advances there pose no direct threat to the regime’s hold on Damascus — the ultimate prize in the civil war — and any effort to claw back the lost territory would demand manpower and military hardware, neither of which the regime is inclined to invest at the moment.
Instead, it has used its remaining airbases and military outposts in those areas to shell and bomb the territory it has lost in an attempt to forestall the opposition from establishing an interim administration in the rebel-held regions.
“What’s important for the regime is not to leave any buffer zone, or any security zone for the rebels,” said Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese army general who heads the Middle East Center for Studies and Political Research in Beirut.
While keeping the rebels off-balance in the lands it has lost, the regime at the same time has dedicated its resources to Damascus and securing what it widely believed to be Assad’s Plan B — a retreat to the Mediterranean coastal region that is the heartland of his Alawite minority, which views its own survival as being tightly intertwined with that of the regime.
Key to that strategy is control of the corridor running from Damascus to the city of Homs and from there to the coast.
Syrian opposition to establish moderate form of Islamic law
Phil Sands, Apr 18, 2013
ISTANBUL // The main opposition to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad will begin establishing what it calls a moderate form of Islamic law in all rebel-held areas of the country, as part of an effort to prevent chaos and stop hardline interpretations of Islam from becoming entrenched.
The legal code was drawn up by Muslim scholars, judges and top anti-Assad politicians in advance of meetings this week in Istanbul convened by the Syrian National Council (SNC), where transitional justice arrangements are being discussed.
The opposition hopes that an interim government, as yet unformed, will apply a version of the new legal system nationwide, after it goes into effect in areas currently controlled by the insurgents.
Different systems of Sharia now govern pockets of Syrian territory controlled by the rebels. Some are enforced by Jabhat Al Nusra, a militant group affiliated with Al Qaeda, prompting fears that its interpretation of Islamic law is filling the legal vacuum.
Launching the initiative on Monday, Moaz Al Khatib, president of the SNC and himself a widely respected Islamic cleric, appealed for a moderate, fair legal system, which would meet demands for justice and head off the growing influence of extremists.
“I want to talk frankly. When there is injustice, there is a revolution against that injustice. In the same way there should be a revolution in religious thought,” he said.
“The goal of religion is to liberate human beings, all of the prophets came to liberate the people.”
Extremists, including groups such as Al Nusra, one of the most powerful rebel factions, should not be allowed to spread their ideas, Mr Al Khatib said.
“We do not need ignorant people coming to Syria and teaching us the meaning of religion,” he said, chiding members of Al Nusra for trying to enforce an uncompromising version of Islam on a country with traditions of greater religious tolerance.
“Some in Al Nusra have told women they must wear hijab and that is not right, if you want to preach, do it well, you can talk, you cannot command, there is no compulsion in Islam,” he said.
Al-Hayyat In this article the author argues that the “Sunni majority” is a made up Baathi concept. Sunnis do not form a solid block united by similar views. He does a good job in listing the different groups within that “majority”. The whole point of the article is to suggest that offering guarantees to the minorities in Syria is not the Sunnis job because the Sunni community itself is a group of minorities with conflicting views. [Tuesday, April 16, 2013]
Israel Is Choosing Regional Isolation, Not Alliances By Moshe Ma’oz | Haaretz, Apr.18, 2013
Israel has a rare chance to build a U.S.-coordinated alliance with the pragmatic Sunni Muslim states that have emerged from the Arab Spring – but the new coalition’s lack of political will is likely to block this happening.
… Egypt and other new Islamic regimes in the Arab world have continued to support the Saudi/Arab peace initiative, while the Palestinian issue has gained great interest and solidarity among the Muslim masses, notably amongst militant groups. Simultaneously hatred for Israel and for Jews continues to increase among many Arabs and Muslims, because of the continued occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel, especially of East Jerusalem with its Muslim holy shrines.
Consequently it is in Israel’s vital interest to neutralize or decrease this negative sentiment while improving its image and position among moderate/pragmatic Muslim groups and governments. These goals can be achieved by accepting the Arab peace initiative and renewing the peace process with the Palestinians. Such crucial steps are likely to facilitate Israel’s potential alliance with Sunni Muslim states, notably Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf Emirates, vis-à-vis the common hazard emanating from Iran and its allies – Lebanese Hezbollah and the Alawi government in Syria.
Such an alliance must be coordinated by the U.S. with the tacit, gradual participation of Israel – provided Israel makes substantial progress in the peace negotiations with the Palestinians and simultaneously accepts the Arab Peace initiative. Alas, as during his previous government, the Netanyahu’s current cabinet is unlikely to assume such a pragmatic policy.
A significant change may occur only under U.S. pressure and with a reshuffle of the Israeli government, namely replacing Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party with the Labor party (and perhaps also Shas). The chances for this happening are slim; it is far more likely that Israel will continue to aggravate and intensify its regional and international isolation.
Mr Netanyahu, in an exclusive interview with the BBC’s Lyse Doucet, said Israel’s concern was “which rebels and which weapons?”
“The main arms of concern to us are the arms that are already in Syria – these are anti-aircraft weapons, these are chemical weapons and other very, very dangerous weapons that could be game changers,” he said.
“They will change the conditions, the balance of power in the Middle East. They could present a terrorist threat on a worldwide scale. It is definitely our interest to defend ourselves, but we also think it is in the interest of other countries.”
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad retains only a “tenuous hold” on power after two years of armed strife as opposition forces have grown more effective, according to the Pentagon’s top military intelligence official.
Assad’s government “maintains the military advantage — particularly in firepower and air superiority,” and his inner circle “appears to be largely cohesive,” Defense Intelligence Agency Director Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn said in testimony prepared for delivery later today to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Still, the government “continues to struggle with defections, morale problems and an overall inability to decisively defeat the opposition,” Flynn said in the remarks obtained by Bloomberg News. He also said the Syrian military “is likely stretched thin by constant operations.”…
Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., asked Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, who testified with him, if Obama had asked the Pentagon to recommend how to apply “any additional military pressure” on the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad.
“We’ve had national security staff meetings at which we’ve been asked to brief the options, but we haven’t been asked for a recommendation,” Dempsey said.
“We’ve not been asked,” Hagel said. “As I said, I’ve not been asked by the president.”
DEMPSEY: Well, at the time the … we felt like we had a clear enough understanding of the moderate opposition. And we felt as though it was in the long-term interest of Syria as a nation-state that the institutions wouldn’t fail and that the time was proper at that moment to intervene that way. … My military judgment is that now that we have seen the emergence of Al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham notably, and now that we have seen photographs of some of the weapons that is have been flowing into Syria in the hands of those groups, now I am more concerned than I was before.
Regime Breaks Siege of Wadi al-Deif
By Jonathan Dupree, April 18, 2013, ISW
On April 14, 2013, regime forces broke the 6-month siege of the Wadi al-Deif and Hamidiya military compounds outside of Maarat al-Numan, putting the rebel opposition in the area on the defensive and reestablishing overland supply lines to the bases. [i] The regime is now able to redistribute its military forces in the north, particularly its airpower which was tied up running dangerous supply drops to the troops besieged in the two bases, and engage the opposition for control of the Aleppo-Damascus highway. Although this new development will impact military operations in the northern provinces for both sides, it also highlights the military deficiencies that exist among the opposition groups and the continued capabilities of the regime. Although the regime has given up territory to the opposition, it has largely done so by choice to consolidate forces in more strategic locations, and it retains the ability to seize the strategic advantage when the opportunity presents itself……
President Bashar Al Assad warned on Wednesday the West that it will pay a heavy price for its alleged support of Al Qaeda in Syria and said his regime’s defeat is not an option….
Dura-Europos Looted and Vandalized by FSA
Posted by: ProSyriana April 16, 2013
Maamoun Abdul-Karim, director general of antiquities and museums uncovered a dangerous crime against Syria and its history. The systematic looting of Syrian antiquities by Turkish, Lebanese and Iraqi artifacts merchants with the help of FSA groups.
Recently 300 unauthorized digging operations (holes) were discovered in Dura-Europos.
Maamoun Abdul-Karim pointed out that this illegal digging to steal antiquities have also compromised the underground structure of the whole site. 50 similar holes were found in Mari. This is endangering the whole Syrian historical heritage, a heritage that belongs to the whole world not only Syria.
Both sites are being systematically looted and vandalized by the FSA, professional thieves & criminals, and foreign artifacts merchants. FSA threatened the locals with death if they dared interfere.
The Syrian military, whether it admits it or not – and I’m not happy with the replies I got from Syrian officers on the subject last week – work with the shabiha (or “village defenders” as one soldier called them), who are a murderous, largely Alawite rabble who have slaughtered hundreds of Sunni civilians. Maybe the International Court in the Hague will one day name Syrian soldiers responsible for such crimes – be sure they won’t touch the West’s warriors – but it will be impossible for the Syrian army to write the shabiha out of the history of their war against the “terrorists”, “armed groups”, Free Syria Army and al-Qa’ida.
The attempted disconnect has already begun. Syrian troops are fighting at the request of their people to defend their country. The shabiha have nothing to do with them. And I have to say – and no, yet again, I am not comparing Bashar with Hitler or the Syrian conflict with the Second World War – that the German Wehrmacht tried to play the same narrative game in 1944 and 1945 and, then, in a much bigger way, in post-war Europe. The disciplined lads of the Wehrmacht never indulged in war crimes or genocide against the Jews in Russia, Ukraine or the Baltic states or Poland or Yugoslavia. No, it was those damned SS criminals or the Einsatzgruppen or the Ukrainian militia or the Lithuanian paramilitary police or the proto-Nazi Ustashe who besmirched the good name of Germany. Bulls***, of course, though German historians who set out to prove the criminality of the Wehrmacht still face abuse.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his growing fears of weapons falling into the wrong hands in Syria, and stressed “we are prepared to defend ourselves if the need arises.”
REUTERS/Benoit Tessier Western nations have “hard evidence” that chemical weapons have been used at least once by the Syrian army, diplomats told Agence France-Presse. “In one case we have hard evidence,” a western diplomat said. “There are several …
Syrian regime’s air power keeps rebels in check
By BARBARA SURK — Apr. 11
BEIRUT (AP) — President Bashar Assad has exploited his greatest advantage in the Syrian civil war — his air power — to push back rebel advances and prevent the opposition from setting up a rival government in its northern stronghold…..
While the air force is an important tool in Assad’s battle for survival, it’s not his last one, said Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma.
“It’s the 3 million Alawites who believe that they will be ethnically cleansed by the opposition if the rebels overthrow Assad,” Landis said. “It’s because of the fear of those who could come after him that has spread around Syrian minority communities in the past year of the revolution, that many — including Sunnis — continue fighting on the regime’s side.”
In their campaign against the opposition, the Syrians have been using helicopters, MiG jets and trainer aircraft to hit targets daily in the north, the east, the south and in rebel strongholds on the edges of the capital of Damascus.
“The aim of the airstrikes appears to be to terrorize civilians from the air, particularly in the opposition-controlled areas where they would otherwise be fairly safe from any effects of fighting,” Ole Solvang of Human Rights Watch told The Associated Press….
A Sunni-Shiite Showdown in Syria?
By Dale Gavlak | April 15, 2013
……Joshua Landis, who directs the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, sees Syria turning into an arena for a ‘Sunni-Shiite showdown,’ of potentially ‘apocalyptic’ proportions.
“Syria means a lot to Islamists [salafists],” Landis said. “Iraq for them has not been successful. The U.S. is still hunting and killing militants in Afghanistan and Yemen, but Syria presents a completely different possibility where the potential gains for them are real.”
They have their sights set on removing Syria from Iran’s orb of Shiite influence and reasserting Sunni Muslim control over the country.
Moreover, the salafists and the West are seeking the same initial objective in Syria: the fall of the Assad regime. But what is hoped for afterward is radically different. Some believe the West and secular rebels want to see democracy flourish after decades of dictatorial rule, while militants say they will fight for the establishment of an Islamic state governed by ‘sharia’ or Islamic law.
“The fall of Assad would be a tremendous blow to Hezbollah, Iraq and Iran. The stakes are high even for the Sunni Muslims and jihadists,” Landis said.
He said jihadists from Sunni areas of Iraq and as far afield as Chechnya are flocking to Syria to fight. The same can be said for Shiites. Landis points to the upsurge in funerals of Hezbollah, Iraqi and Iranian fighters as one indication of the numbers of foreign Shiite fighters involved in the conflict. “It’s gaining pace,” he said.
A spokesman for the Free Syrian Army rebels, Loay al-Mikdad, claims that Hezbollah has expanded its operations over the past two months, mostly in central Homs province near the Lebanese border, and in Damascus, where Assad’s grip on the capital is weakening and more military defections are feared.
Hezbollah’s role in Syria is crucial, said Torbjorn Soltvedt, at the British risk analysis firm, Maplecroft, because it is more adept at fighting an irregular conflict than the Syrian regime troops trained for conventional warfare.
….Landis said the apex of Shiite power in the region was the Israel-Hezbollah war in July 2006 in which the Lebanese Shiite militant group claimed victory. Then, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was lauded even in Sunni Muslim capitals at the time. Shiites had also consolidated their political hold over Iraq, while Iran faced off with its Gulf Arab neighbors. A “Shiite awakening” was breaking out.
Shiites believed they lived under the heel of Sunni Muslims for far too long — the past 1,400 years — and were marginalized during the Ottoman Empire. But then the 1979 Islamic Revolution erupted in Iran, witnessing Shiite ascent to power.
“They don’t want to go back to the dark corner of the political halls of power, Landis said.
“But now, Sunni Muslims are on the march. They see the potential to compensate for Iraq in a big way,” he said of the Syrian conflict.
Landis also said that Syria’s Alawites and Shiites fear ethnic cleansing, seeing Iraqi Christians and minorities in Eastern Europe suffer that fate. “It’s a battle for survival,” he said.
He believes that we are witnessing a “big sorting out along ethnic and religious lines” in Syria, which could be part of the “painful process of nation-building.”
Islamist-Held Raqqa a Bellwether for Syria’s Rebellion
By: Balint Szlanko | Briefing
One feature sets the Syrian city of Raqqa apart from other towns captured by Syria’s rebels: The Syrian rebellion’s traditional flag — green, white and black with three red stars, representing the moderate views of the original rebel movement — is nowhere to be seen. Instead, a black flag bearing a verse from the Quran flies over Raqqa’s main square — a flag often associated with Sunni Islamist extremists.
CORKER WARNS OF LACK OF CLARITY IN US SYRIA STRATEGY, CALLS FOR POST-ASSAD PLAN AND CONGRESSIONAL CONSULTATION PRIOR TO SIGNIFICANT CHANGES IN US INVOLVEMENT, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) News Release
In Syria, Follow the Money to Find the Roots of the Revolt
by Majid Rafizadeh Apr 8, 2013 – The Daily Beast
Economic liberalization without political reform to spread that wealth triggered the civil war, writes Majid Rafizadeh.
The media have paid a considerable amount of attention to political analyses that focus on the authoritarian, totalitarian, and corruptible character of Bashar al-Assad’s government. However, scarce attention has been given to one of the crucial factors that have contributed to the ongoing revolt against the police-state of Syria and other Arab states. Assad’s neoliberal policies and economic liberalization—without the political reforms to redistribute the wealth—severely exacerbated the inequality between the poor and the rich. In middle-class areas and cities, the separation was especially felt. While a small portion of the crony capitalists, business class, and loyalists to Assad were able to benefit from these policies, the vast majority of the population was disenfranchised. The regime attacked the worker and peasant unions in the country, viewing them as obstacles to the neoliberal policies, by not providing them with funds that they needed to continue to function…..
These policies of Bashar al-Assad were directly intended to transfer the “public asset” into the hands of crony capitalists, privileged networks, and corporations in order to increase the wealth of his inner circle. Unlike his father, Hafez, Bashar also sought to decrease the reliance of the Syrian regime on Russia and Iran by expanding the scope of the sweetening deals that the regime would receive from foreign and other Arab corporations. At this time, the regime’s policies and politico-economic and sociopolitical agenda departed heavily from the original Baath Party’s slogans voicing socialist and Arab nationalistic sentiments and aspirations. These sweeping changes left the Syrian people in a dire state of need and neglect…..
Although Bashar al-Assad appeared to be successful, in that moment, with his method of gradual liberalization, authoritarian upgrading, and readjustment of the economy to the advantage of the few privileged, the neoliberal change failed to correspond and did not go hand in hand with redistribution and political liberalization.
The war of attrition in Syria ground on this week, with all sides locked in a death-grip. In A-Raqqa, our reporter finds the rebels continuing their assault on Division 17, the largest military presence left to the regime in the northeastern part of the country. The Syrian Air Force retaliated by using mortar shells inside nearby A-Raqqa city, hitting civilian residences and the Cultural Center for five days in a row. Meanwhile, the FSA and its allies continued to engage regime forces at the Tabaqah Air Force Base, with no end in sight.
Regime forces are hammering the key Eastern Ghouta town of Outaibah. If they capture it, it would mean a victory that would block the rebels’ supply route to eastern Damascus. Our coverage has strengthened with a new partnership with the Shahed Network, a network of citizen journalists based in and around Damascus. The network provides independent and credible reporting from inside the capital and its suburbs that we translate into English. Arabic speakers can follow their news on the شاهد من قلب الحدث Facebook page.
Also this week, a tape surfaced claiming a merger has taken place between Iraq’s Islamic State of Iraq and Jabhat a-Nusra in Syria. In our conversations with opposition figures inside Syria, we learned that they are privately concerned with the implications and impact for their cause abroad and their future at home. The regime claimed the merger as proof that the opposition is led by terrorists, while a number of dissidents cast doubt on the veracity of the claim, questioning why the head of Jabhat a-Nusra did not show his face in the video, as other jihadist leaders such as Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abul Musab al-Zarqawi have done in the past.
The exiled leader of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood denied Monday widespread accusations by other pro-rebel political factions that the group is seeking to impose its will on other members of the opposition. The rare news conference by Mohamamad …
A Third of Syria’s Housing Damaged or Destroyed by Conflict – A third of Syria’s housing units has been destroyed or damaged by the conflict, according to the United Nations. (Syria Report)
Government to Relocate Plants in “Safe Areas” – Syria report – The Syrian government is planning to relocate state factories to “safe areas” in the country, according to the Minister of Industry.
April 12, 2013 By Ahmed Kwider Shells slammed into a packaging and printing facility in the Outer Damascus town of Spayneh on… Read more
The mid-day news update is provided by Shahed News, a network of vetted Syrian citizen journalists providing independent, accurate and reliable… Read more
April 11, 2013 A dispatch from our reporter in A-Raqqa, who asked to remain anonymous due to concerns for his
Testimony by Elizabeth Jones, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Robert S. Ford, Ambassador to Syria Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Washington, DC, April 11, 2013
In rebel fighter’s personal story, the arc of Syria’s war
By Scott Peterson, Staff writer / April 16, 2013
When The Monitor first met Syrian rebel fighter Abu Omar last July, he was buoyant and determined to bring down the Assad regime. Now his outlook is a bit more grim.
Syrian president lashes out at Jordan
2013-04-17 15:06:56.507 GMT
Cairo (DPA) — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad lashed out at Jordan: “We cannot believe that thousands of insurgents are entering Syria with their weapons, at a time when Jordan was capable of stopping and arresting one person carrying a simple weapon for the Palestinian resistance,”
There was a distinctive sense of national pride in Syria. It flowed from the confidence of a civilization dating back to the times of the earliest alphabets and visible in the country’s wealth of archaeological sites, including some of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It came from the depth of local culture. It stemmed from the music of Syrian Arabic, the elegance of Syrian manners, the finesse of Syrian cuisine and the sincerity of Syrian hospitality. It proceeded from modern geopolitics, too, as Damascus carved out for itself a role bigger and bolder than its scarce resources should have allowed. In particular, and despite tremendous pressure, Damascus stood firm on the Palestinian cause, which Syrians feel more strongly about than anyone, perhaps, except the Palestinians. The regime may have been a conveniently quiescent foe for Israel, but Syria was, on the map of the Arab world, the only state still “resisting.”
Battle for Damascus: Regime Fights on Four Fronts
A young Syrian boy holds a bag as he collects plastic and metal items in a garbage dump in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on 17 April 2013. (Photo: AFP -Dimitar Dolkoff)
By: Nasser Charara
Published Wednesday, April 17, 2013
At the Istanbul meeting Moaz Al Khatib, the head of the opposition’s National Coalition, told of a Sharia court that had executed a woman after finding her guilty of adultery. Mr Al Khatib’s point was that the ruling had violated true Islamic law since hudud, the Islamic penal code, cannot be applied during wars or in the absence of a state or ruler.
2013-04-18. The situation in Syria is the gravest it has been since peaceful protests began in March 2011. Civil resistance has been reduced to relief operations and humanitarian assistance, and the efforts of Syria’s democratic forces are now scattered and …Syria’s
Danny Gold Apr 18 2013, the Atlantic[The story of Ras al-Ain on the Turkish border]….
Those still left in the city feel defenseless among the current vacuum of authority. Despite a truce currently in place, the constant presence of heavily armed rebel soldiers from different warring factions does little to assuage their fears. “There are so many battles in this city, I don’t feel safe. There is no one in charge, no government,” Abdulahad says. “I am afraid of anyone with a gun.”Starting in November, roughly four months of fighting devastated the city. The Free Syrian Army, along with Islamist groups like Jabhat Al-Nusra, attacked Assad regime soldiers. After regime soldiers were forced out, the rebel coalition then battled the Kurdish militia known as the Popular Defense Forces (YPG), They fought pitched battles throughout the city streets as the Assad regime continued to send aircrafts on bombing runs.During the last phase of the fighting, in which the FSA fought the YPG, Abdulahad lay trapped in his apartment for 17 days, subsisting on very little water and stale bread. Many residents fled the city, with some activists speculating that 65 percent of the total population had left. In February, Syrian Christian dissident Michel Kilo brokered peace between the factions. Some residents have returned, despite power cuts, water shortages, and the constant presence of various armed fighters…..
U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its first ever report on Syria. USCIRF is concerned by the increasingly sectarian nature of the conflict and how it threatens Syria’s religious diversity and the religious freedoms of religious minorities, including Christians and Alawites. In response, the report provides a range of recommendations for U.S. government activity. For instance, the report recommends the U.S. government make clear to opposition forces and outside powers of the need to protect religious diversity and religious freedoms in a post-Assad Syria.
Syrian rebels seek control over oilfields
By Abigail Fielding-Smith and Roula Khalaf in Istanbul and Joshua Chaffin in Brussel
Syria’s top rebel commander is seeking to create a new military unit to assert authority over oilfields controlled by extremists and other rebels, as lucrative natural resources captured from the regime stoke tension between rival factions.
European Union foreign ministers on Monday lifted an oil embargo against Syria to allow rebels to sell crude to fund their operations. But the move comes amid growing signs of tensions within the rebel camp over control of captured oilfields and other strategic assets.
At the end of 2012, rebels seized oilfields in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor and earlier this year they advanced into resource-rich Hasaka and Raqqa, putting opponents of Syrian president Bashar al Assad in control of much of the country’s oil and a substantial portion of its agriculture. According to activists, however, many of those oilfields are now under the control of Jabhat al-Nusrah, the al-Qaeda-linked rebel group.
- Israeli officials say Syria used chemical weapons, “probably sarin” (VIDEO) – The Washington Post
- U.S. Sees No Hard Evidence of Syrian Chemical Weapons Use – Bloomberg
- Lavrov Urges Caution Over Syria Chemical Weapons Reports, to Avoid the Repetition of the “Iraqi Scenario” – RIA Novosti
- Kerry: Netanyahu Can’t Confirm Syria Chemical Weapons Use — Naharnet
- The Battle for Qusayr Is Key Front in Syria War The Monitor
- Report: Jordan opens skies for IAF drones flying to Syria, “They are also armed and therefore can hit targets anywhere” – JPost | Israel News
- In Jordan, tensions rise between Syrian refugees and host community – The Washington Post
- Iraq makes contingency plans for Syria dam collapse – NOW