Posted by Ehsani on Monday, October 3rd, 2011
Syria experienced three noteworthy events over the past few days. First, the government has by all accounts taken full control of the restive area of Rastan. Second, the son of the country’s Mufti was shot dead together with a university Professor. Third, the opposition launched a joint National Council.
As many readers are already aware, an earlier version of this note relied on incorrect information from a fake website. As soon as the error was discovered (thank you SASA), a significant portion of the original post was deleted. The current version completes the corrections. My personal apologies to the readers as I fell victim to the tremendous amount of disinformation that I will have to be more aware of in the future.
Regaining Control over Rastan:
In taking full control of Rastan, the government forces reportedly used overwhelming force. Nearly 250 tanks were reportedly sent in. State news agency SANA summarized the situation by announcing that “stability and calm have been restored” in the town. This is a clear statement that the opposition and army deserters have been defeated and that the fighting has stopped. According to activists, nearly 3000 people have been detained in this rebellious town. The Syrian army has been keen to demonstrate that it will not allow any part of the country to become another Benghazi. Seven months into the uprising, the government’s military control over the country has been unmistakable.
The Attack on Mr. Hassoun’s son:
The attack on the Mufti’s son brought back memories of the early 1980’s. Reporter Nir Rosen continues his outstanding work from Syria. In another fine article of his, Mr. Rosen highlights the parallel with 1979 when the Grand Mufti’s son at the time (Mr. Kaftaru) was also assassinated. As it was the case back then, no one has claimed responsibility for the murders.
The Mufti’s full speech after the death of his son was characterized as “moving” by most listeners.
Special Question to Nir Rosen:
Syria Comment asked Mr. Rosen for his personal view on what he sees as the primary motivation of the opposition and how much of the discontent stems from economic versus sectarian issues. Set below is his reply which he agreed to share with SC readers:
“ Good question, and hard to answer briefly. Its hard to talk about a unified opposition, and lets start by saying i’m
only discussing the internal opposition, but their motives have evolved and since its a fluid and popular phenomenon it does not have a clear platform. I dont think they wanted or imagined the downfall of the regime in the beginning, but they sure do now the motives i most often heard were economic, corruption, oppression and
sectarianism it varies according to region and social/economic class many people also turned against the regime once they were confronted by its “wahshiya,” as they said often, in suppressing demonstrations when i asked people they could usually only answer me in general terms, they would say they wanted freedom because of the oppression, but would have trouble elaborating. when pressed they would mention the economy, corruption, specific examples of mukhabarat brutality and violations and finally the unjust distribution of resources and power in favor of alawites (at least in their eyes)”.
The Forming of the Syrian National Council (SNC)
The Syrian National Council was formed on Sunday as an umbrella coalition of opposition figures to the current leadership in Damascus. There will be a general assembly of 190 members who will be elected next month. The council will also have a 29-strong general secretariat representing seven opposition factions. These factions include representatives from the Damascus Declaration group, a pro-democracy network; the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, a banned Islamic political party; various Kurdish factions; the Local Coordination Committees, a group that helps organize and document protests; and other independent and tribal figures.
For now and for security reasons , the organizers disclosed only 72 names of council members. The names of those inside Syria was withheld to protect them. The meeting did not officially elect a President but treated the Istanbul meeting as an “inaugural meeting”.
The SNC’s first principal is a “commitment to topple the regime” and to stay loyal to the “peaceful nature of the revolution” and the “unity of Syria”. A council member reiterated that they are “against any foreign intervention in their country”.
The SNC’s next goal will be to gain international recognition while it continues to exert both diplomatic and economic pressure on the Syrian regime. Indeed, Canada, the Netherlands and Japan already sent diplomats as observers to Istanbul’s press conference.
Fall of Syrian regime a ‘matter of time’: US
Agence France Presse
It is “a matter of time” before the Syrian regime headed by President Bashar al-Assad is ousted from power by a popular uprising, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said on Monday. Speaking in Tel Aviv after meeting his Israeli counterpart, Panetta said Washington and other foreign capitals had “made clear Assad should step down.”
“While he continues to resist, I think it’s very clear that it’s a matter of time before that (exit) in fact happens. When it does, we don’t know,” he said. The Pentagon chief, in a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories on Monday, said Assad’s regime had lost all credibility after a brutal crackdown that has killed at least 2,700 people, according to the United Nations. “Anytime you kill your own people as indiscriminately as they have over these last number of months, it’s pretty clear that they have lost their legitimacy as a government,” Panetta said at a news conference with Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak. Panetta, who served as CIA director until he took over as defence chief in July, pledged the United States and other countries would keep up pressure on the regime to make way for a government more responsive to the needs of its people.
Barak also said the regime’s days were numbered and that Assad’s fall from power would represent a “major blow” to what he called a “radical axis” of militants in the region supported by Iran.
According to US media reports, American officials are increasingly convinced that Assad’s regime will not survive and are bracing for a possibly violent aftermath.
The New York Times has reported that Washington was quietly working with Ankara to plan for a post-Assad scenario that could see Syria’s various ethnic groups battle for control of the country. Despite calling on Assad to step down, the United States has yet to withdraw its ambassador, Robert Ford, instead using him as a conduit to the opposition and Syria’s disparate ethnic and religious groups.
Last Thursday, a crowd of nearly 100 Syrians chanting hostile slogans tried to storm an office in Damascus where Ford had arrived to meet opposition figure Hassan Abdelazim, officials said.
In response, the US government summoned Syrian ambassador Imad Mustapha to the State Department last week and “read the riot act” to him over the incident, a spokeswoman said. Since mid-March, Syria has been shaken by an unprecedented pro-democracy protest movement that the Assad regime has sought to crush using deadly force. More than 2,700 people have been killed in the unrest, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.
Late Sunday, protesters poured onto the streets in a mass show of support for a powerful opposition grouping that was launched in Istanbul, activists said. The Syrian National Council drew “demonstrations of support” in the country’s main protest hubs, including Hama, Homs, Idlib, Daraa, Deir Ezzor and the province of Damas, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The group also said the Syrian army had Sunday “taken complete control” of the central city of Rastan in Homs province, 160 kilometres (100 miles) north of Damascus, where fighting had raged between army deserters and Syrian forces.