Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, September 18th, 2012
Syrian Christians are taking refuge in Tartus. This is what I am told by a Syrian Christian in Beirut. Life is just too expensive in Lebanon for most Syrian refugees. Their friends who fled Aleppo to Beirut are finding excuses to go back — “My neighborhood is secure again,” “I must enroll my kids in school,” “things are getting better.” These are some of the reasons that Syrians are giving as they leave Beirut, but few are buying them. Money. It is all about the money. Life is too expensive in Beirut for most Syrians. Some are choosing to move to Tartus on the Syrian coast, rather than go back to Aleppo. There are a number of reaons it has become a destination of choice for Syrian Christians. It is a hop, skip and jump from north of Lebanon. It is surrounded by Christians in Wadi Nasara and by the Alawite Mountains. Apartments and food are inexpensive. Alawites have already begun to migrate there from Syria’s inland cities in search of security. Yes, the city has a Sunni majority, but the town of 120,00 has not seen communal violence and remains stable. Many Tartusis claim that in their town, one can almost pretend that the country is not at war.
– 2012/09/17نشر فى: اقتصاد
“لا حل إلا الحل السياسي ودونه لا حل اقتصادي ولا حل أمني ولا حل عسكري شامل, وهناك مشروع جديد لإيصال الدعم لمحتاجيه”
Clashes continued throughout Syria on Monday with an estimated 131 people killed by Syrian forces according to the Local Coordination Committees. Shelling by government forces was reported in Homs as well as the predominantly opposition held Damascus district of al-Hajar al-Aswad. The army reported it had taken control of Midan, a statement that was corroborated by a correspondent on the ground.
Fragmented Syrian Opposition Competes with SNC in Jordan
By: Tamer al-Samadi posted on Thursday, Sep 13, 2012
High-level Syrian opposition sources told Al-Hayat that meetings between Syrian opposition forces, which have been taking place in the Jordanian capital of Amman for several days now, seek to unite and establish an overreaching framework to serve as a substitute for the Syrian National Council (SNC). This united front will be headed by the defected Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab, who is currently in Amman.
Yasser Abboud, commander of field operations for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), who is currently in Amman, said that “the opposition meetings in the Jordanian capital that were launched last week are still ongoing.” In an exclusive interview with Al-Hayat, he said, “The ongoing meetings include politicians and military officers who defected from the criminal regime in Syria, in addition to some SNC members, who have personally attended the meetings.” Abboud stressed that the military leaders represent various cities and villages of the Damascus and Daraa governorates, the latter of which borders Jordan.
Abboud explained that the meetings seek to unify the ranks of the political and military opposition, and look into the possibility of establishing a political alternative to the SNC. Abboud, who is the leader of the group that succeeded in smuggling Hijab out of the country and into Jordan, said that “Hijab will be at the head of the new Syrian opposition entity, while defected Brig. Gen. Mohammed al-Hajj will head the FSA military and field leaderships, as well as the military and revolutionary councils. This new military entity, named the National Syrian Army, will be affiliated with the political leadership.
… Abboud spoke of what he called “guarantees” that were demanded by some states to “support the new birth.” However, he did not elaborate in detail. Abboud added that these states had stressed the need “to protect the rights of minorities,” which he considered to be “a demand that does not require any guarantee.”
“We have agreed to the general guidelines of the next phase. However, we are still looking into the details … What matters now is to overthrow the regime as soon as possible. Regarding the upcoming phase, the Syrian public will have the final say in this matter,” he added.
In the same vein, Mohamed Inad, an SNC member and a member of the Supreme Council for the Revolutionary Command, told Al-Hayat that “the meetings in Amman seek to reorganize the ranks of the SNC and to oust some people and leaders who have proved disruptive to the paths of change.
“All of the ongoing meetings are in the best interest of the political and military opposition. We are seeking a realistic vision that would guarantee the ousting of the regime and accelerate steps to declare a transitional government that would include people of high competence and expertise,” he added. Furthermore, Inad said that “the meetings seek to unite the military battalions in Syria, as well as the sources of external funding.”
However, Abdul Salam al-Bitar, the secretary-general of the SNC’s regional office in Jordan, criticized the meetings, saying that they “are run from abroad.” Bitar said that talk of unifying the opposition is a “big lie” which aims to declare an interim government “led by former regime leaders who killed so many Syrian people before they defected from the regime….
CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia opted to stay away from a meeting of four regional powers on the Syrian crisis on Monday, adding to a sense that the forum is unlikely to advance the quest for peace.
Time Magazine– Rania Abouzeid / Idlib province – “Syria’s Secular and Islamist Rebels: Who Are the Saudis and the Qataris Arming?”
The FSA is nominally headed by the Turkey-based Riad al-As’aad. Both As’aad and his chief FSA rival General Mustafa Sheikh are not party to the Istanbul control room which supplies and arms rebels who operate under the FSA banner. The two men each have their own sources of funding, and are independently distributing money and weapons to selected FSA units.
According to sources who have dealt with him, Saudi Arabia’s man in the Istanbul control center is a Lebanese politician named Okab Sakr. He belongs to the Future Movement, the organization of former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, which has a history of enmity with Damascus (Syria was accused of complicity in the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father Rafik). The party has not made Sakr available to TIME, denies his involvement in any weapons deals and insists that Sakr is in Belgium “on leave” from his political duties.
However, Sakr appears to have been in the southern Turkish city of Antakya in late August. A TIME inquiry with an Antakya hotel confirms Sakr was in the area at the time. According to rebel sources who dealt with him, theLebanese politician was there overseeing the distribution of batches of supplies — small consignments of 50,000 Kalashnikov bullets and several dozen rocket-propelled grenades – to at least four different FSA groups in Idlib province as well as larger consignments to other areas including Homs. The FSA sources also say he met with some commanders but not others – a selectivity that led to much chagrin.
That kind of favoritism has caused problems on the ground in many ways. According to FSA sources, prominent activists and members of the Istanbul control room, Sakr was mainly responsible for designating the representatives in Syria’s 14 provinces to whom the Istanbul center would funnel small batches of light weapons — Kalashnikov rifles, BKC machine guns, rocket propelled grenade launchers and ammunition – to reach FSA groups operating in each area. But the 20 or so Syrians selected (some areas like Damascus have more than one representative) to distribute armaments were not all effective. These representatives were “supposed to deliver the support inside but they did not have a presence on the ground, they weren’t known,” says an influential U.S.-based Syrian activist with wide contacts inside Syria who played a role in setting up the Istanbul operations room. “I saw this weak point, so I connected Okab to people I knew were working on the ground, and I wasn’t the only one to do this, others did too because we wanted the room to succeed.”
But the selectivity has bred further favoritism in the distribution of arms. “Those who received goods would distribute them as they wanted. They started sending to people and saying, ‘this is a gift from me to you,’” a member of the control room representing eastern Syria told TIME. Other representatives were blunter, seeking pledges of loyalty from FSA groups inside the country before delivering the goods. To try to alleviate the problem, the provincial representatives were cycled in and out of the room’s operations but the problems remained. “The weapons are all being distributed in secret,” says one fighter inside Syria angrily, “and what is secret will stay unclear.”
The situation is compounded by Qatar’s man — a major who defected from Assad’s army who has not yet responded to TIME’s request for comment. The Qataris want to focus on aiding the regional military councils, FSA groupings within Syria set up earlier this year partly in order to get around the favoritism of the representatives. (There are at least 10 military councilsscattered throughout the country.) Goods would be delivered to a council, and then distributed to the brigades under its umbrella. In practice, it wasn’t quite as easy, or smooth. “We were given lists by brigade leaders of their men, but we stopped believing the numbers,” says a member of the Istanbul room from Syria’s Idlib province. However, the Saudis – via Okab Sakr – appear to only want to support certain groups within the councils, but not others.
“We felt that the sides giving us support weren’t on the same page,” says the control room member from eastern Syria. “They started having side meetings with some groups.” Still, he says, “what is most important is that the guys receive weapons, whether that is via an operations room or directly, we don’t care. Nobody knows the truth from the talk,” he says. “We have been lied to [by the international community] and we have lied to the guys inside, saying weapons would arrive in a week, in 10 days, and months have passed and someareas haven’t received supplies. So, unless I see it, and see it distributed, even I don’t believe it.”
In the town of Bdeeta in Idlib province—which happens to be the hometown of Riad al-As’aad–rebel fighters complain bitterly about the lack of assistance. “We are licking our plates, we beg for salt,” says Abu Mar’iye, who heads the Martyrs of Ibditha group in the tiny town, home to some 2,000 people. “It’s not enough, even the weapons that arrive, it’s like a drop, just enough so the fighting continues, so we can kill each other but not win.”…..
….some FSA groups, like Abu Issa’s Suqoor al-Sham, are also part of wider Islamist networks. It’s largely to maximize the amount of support they can get.…. Abu Issa, Suleiman and Maarouf, along with other high-profile rebel leaders from other provinces, spent much of August shuttling between Syria and Turkey to attend high-level meetings with diplomats and senior Syrian opposition. But U.S. diplomacy has yet to grasp the full complexity of the Syrian crisis. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision to snub the SNC during an August trip to Istanbul was widely viewed as belated recognition by many activists inside Syria that the exiles comprising the body have littlesway or credibility. The fact is, the guys with the guns do, although the State Department denies any direct contact with members of the FSA. (The SNCdoes not have a role in the arming of the rebels inside Syria, though some individual SNC members are in the Istanbul control room, representing theirregions.)
The Obama administration does not deal directly with the armed opposition but it has authorized a non-profit organization, the Syrian Support Group, to fundraise for the FSA. The SSG is comprised of Syrian exiles in the U.S and Canada as well as a former NATO political officer.
Zeidan of the Idlib Military Council doesn’t seem to differentiate between official U.S. policy and that of the SSG. He says he’s been in contact with members of the SSG for months. “I know that they are afraid of something called Al-Qaeda, it’s all a big lie,” said Zeidan. “They talk about Ahrar al-Sham and Suqoor al-Sham. They are conservative Islamists, but they are not extremists. Many of these groups just want support.” He adds, “We are fighting to have a democratic country, not so that we can install people with American or European or Saudi agendas… We want to topple the regime, so whoever offers us help, we will call our units whatever they want as long as they support us. We just want to finish.”
Syrian opposition split and hesitant- FM
Sep 17, 2012 – Voice of Russia
Syria’s opposition has split over choosing a mediator to lead dialogue with the government officials, Russia’s deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told reporters Monday.
He said that the opposition failed to choose a joint candidate, while the government is ready for talks.
The Swedish Institute for International Affairs just published a 44-page study written by Aron Lund on Syrian jihadi movements: “UI Brief 13: Syrian Jihadism”. It’s in English, but a Swedish version is on the way.
Report: Syria tested chemical weapons delivery systems in August
The German weekly Der Spiegel quotes witnesses as saying that Iranian officers were flown in for testing of chemical weapons in Syria’s desert.
By Haaretz | Sep.17, 2012 |
A satellite image of al-Safir, Syria’s main chemical weapons facility, near Aleppo.
Syria tested delivery systems for chemical weapons at the end of August, according to the German weekly Der Spiegel.
The report, which quotes various witnesses, said that the tests took place near a chemical weapons research center at al-Safir, east of Aleppo, and were carried out with the aid of Iranian officers who were flown in for the testing.
According to the report, five or six empty shells capable of delivering poison gas were fired by tanks and aircraft at the site of Diraiham in the desert, near the village of Khanasir. The report said that scientists from Iran and North Korea are said to work in the al-Safir research center, which is Syria’s largest testing site for chemical weapons.
Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that the Syrian government has storied its chemical weapons and materials in some twenty sites around the country.
The report cited unnamed American and Middle Eastern officials, who also said there could be additional sites of which they were unaware.
The officials said their governments believe Syria has several tons of chemical weapons and materials, including weapons-ready sarin gas, and that the most dangerous elements of the arsenal are stored in bunkers.
UK: Syria intervention would need full US backing
AP / September 18, 2012
LONDON (AP) — British Foreign Secretary William Hague says any intervention in Syria would only be possible with the full backing of the United States
Hague told Parliament’s foreign affairs committee on Tuesday that he wasn’t advocating a military intervention, but that the option could not be ruled out amid an escalating crisis.
‘‘It would require intervention on a vastly greater scale than was the case in Libya, with no prospect at the moment of agreement at the U.N. Security Council, and would require the full involvement of the United States,’’ Hague told the committee.
Hague acknowledged he saw ‘‘major disadvantages’’ to an intervention….
Turkey to Provide Egypt $2 Billion in Aid
BY MATT BRADLEY
CAIRO—Turkey will provide a $2 billion aid package to help Egypt finance infrastructure projects and increase its dwindling foreign currency reserves, Egypt’s Minister of Finance said Saturday.
Egyptian financial policy makers have embarked on an aggressive effort over the past several months to solicit foreign assistance and investment in the hopes of mending a gaping budget and foreign currency reserve deficit.
Egypt’s budget deficit in …
Hatay officials look for fleeing Syrian refugees
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News, by Erdem Güneş
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry is looking to coax back upward of thousands of Syrian refugees to temporary camps in the country’s south as they remain unaccounted for elsewhere in Turkey, an official told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday.
“Syrians who crossed the border illegally or escaped from the camps have been invited to come back to the camps by the Foreign Ministry,” Suphi Atan, who has been appointed to coordinate the Syrian camps in southern Turkish cities, said in a phone interview yesterday.
Atan said there were between 5,000 and 10,000 Syrians living in Hatay outside the camps, and there were thousands of others in other cities..
أعلن قائد الجيش السوري الحر لحماية الثورة الإثنين، عن “مكافأة مالية قدرها 25 مليون دولار، لمن يأتي ببشار الأسد حيًا أو ميتًا”.
وفي تصريحات خاصة لوكالة “الأناضول” للأنباء قال قائد الجيش العقيد أحمد حجازي إن “هذا المبلغ سيساهم فيه تجار سوريّون بالداخل والخارج
Syrian rebels experiment with self rule
By: Borzou Daragahi | Financial Times
The leaders of the council governing Souran, a town in rebel-controlled Syria, decide to hold an impromptu meeting right on the footpath along its main street, a gesture of open government that would impress Canada or Sweden.
Jihad in Syria
Executive Summary – Institute for War Studies
This report examines the presence of jihadist groups within Syria, explains where various Syrian rebel groups and foreign elements operating in Syria fall along the spectrum of religious ideology, and considers their aggregate effect upon the Islamification of the Syrian opposition…..
- The U.S. Government has cited concern over arming jihadists as a reason for limiting support to the Syrian opposition. However, U.S. allies are already providing material support to the Syrian opposition, and competing sources of funding threaten Syria’s future stability by enhancing the influence of more radical elements. The confluence of jihadist interest with that of the Gulf states raises the possibility that these states may leverage jihadists for their own strategic purposes, while simultaneously limiting Western influence.
- In order to counter this effect, the U.S. should seek to channel this support in a way that bolsters responsible groups and players while ensuring that Salafi-jihadist organizations such as Jabhat Nusra are unable to hijack the opposition movement. If the U.S. hopes to counter this threat and stem the growing popularity of more radical groups, it must clearly identify secular and moderate Islamist opposition groups and encourage the international community to focus resources in support of those groups alone. Such focused support would increase the influence of moderate opposition groups and undercut the appeal of Salafism in Syria.
The United States must act on Syria By Radwan Ziadeh Monday, September 17 in FP
…. The United States should now provide robust diplomatic support for action to protect civilians, such as the establishment of no-fly zones. The Assad regime has proven time and again that it is entirely willing to indiscriminately bombard its own population centers with artillery and airstrikes. If the United States is unable or unwilling to put its own planes to use protecting innocents, the least it could do is provide diplomatic support to those who are. Regional allies have expressed a willingness to provide air cover for refugee camps situated near international borders — there is no reason for the United States not to support these efforts. Additionally, the United States should, in concert with regional partners, work to increase the supply of defensive weapons to the armed opposition. The Free Syrian Army (FSA), which controls large portions of the country, desperately needs anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons…..
I was born and raised in Daraya with my brothers and sisters. Many of my relatives still live in Daraya, and, following last month’s massacre and the death of my cousin, I fear for their lives. I last spoke to my mother on August 25 and have struggled to contact my family since. The feeling of helplessness that results from searching for the names of dead relatives on casualty lists posted on the internet is indescribable…
The America of the Arab Street
By ED HUSAIN, September 18, 2012, NYTimes
… The liberal protesters who demanded freedom and democracy last year were able to unite and overthrow dictators in Tunisia and Egypt. But their failure to explain what their liberalism stands for has opened the way for a new, Islamist-oriented power elite that capitalizes on old lies and half-truths to twist religion and history to manipulate the masses. …
Arab societies remain deeply religious. In liberal Morocco, 89 percent of the people say that religion is “very important” in their lives, according to a recent Pew poll. Mosques are packed every Friday; religious events promote widespread charity, and believers are encouraged to support candidates who are perceived to be more godly. But there is a deeper problem that goes well beyond the popular appeal of Islamist parties: A cancerous narrative has taken hold of many Arab minds.
In Egypt, 75 percent of Muslims do not believe that Arabs carried out the 9/11 attacks, according to a 2011 Pew poll. Many believe that it was either Israel, the U.S. government, or both. The West is viewed through a hodgepodge of conspiracy theories, half-truths and a selective reading of history.
When I met Muhammad Mahdi Akef, the influential former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, in April 2011, he insisted that Al Qaeda was a figment of the Western imagination. The idea that it doesn’t exist, that the United States attacked itself, is buttressed by preachers in mosques, on satellite television channels and in glossy Arabic books.