Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, May 30th, 2012
Few Good Options Remain To End Syrian Attacks – May 29, 2012
Talk of the Nation
Guests: Rami Khouri, editor-at-large, Daily Star
Joshua Landis, director, Center for Middle East Studies, University of Oklahoma
The U.S. joined Britain, Germany, and other Western countries in expelling senior diplomats from Syria in response to the weekend assault that killed more than 100 civilians. Syria’s government denies any responsibility for the attacks, the latest in a year-long struggle for control of the country.
Thirteen countries have expelled top Syrian diplomats in efforts to pressure President Bashar al-Assad to halt over 14 months of violence. The expulsions have come after international envoy, Kofi Annan, met with Assad in Damascus, appealing to him to end violence. The countries, including the United States and Turkey, are protesting the killings of 108 people in the villages of Houla, near Homs, on Friday. According to Syrian Arab News Agency, SANA, Assad stated “armed terrorist groups escalated their terrorist acts noticeably as of late in various areas across Syria.” In contrast, the head of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping, Herve Ladsous, said that evidence was strong that the government carried out the attack because some victims were killed by heavy artillery, resources only possessed by the Syrian regime. Russia and China have continued to stand by Syria. Russia issued a statement that the U.N. Security Council should not forward new measures to resolve the conflict, and said it would block any form of military intervention. China said it also opposed a military intervention, as well as a regime change by force. The United Nations Human Rights Council has scheduled a special session for Friday to address Friday’s massacre.
Free Syrian Army Warns President Assad that he will have only until Friday noon to carry out the UN plan before he must face the consequences.
30 مايو 2012 – 10:53 PM : سيريا بوليتيك
العقيد المنشق قاسم سعيد الدين
قال الجيش السوري الحر أنه سيمنح الرئيس السوري بشار الأسد مهلة 48 ساعة للالتزام بخطة مبعوث الأمم المتحدة والجامعة العربية كوفي أنان، وإلا سيواجه العواقب. وجاء هذا التهديد الأربعاء على لسان العقيد المنشق قاسم سعيد الدين، وتم توزيعه على موقع “يوتويب”.
(CNN) – A witness to the brutal massacre in the Syrian town of Houla which left more than 100 people dead, many of them women and children, says he fears the killing will continue unless the international community takes action.
“We are human beings, not animals,” Mahmoud Al Houli told CNN by telephone. “I would like to call for the international community and the U.N. to save our souls, to help us find a solution. We only want freedom.” He said conditions in Houla were “desperate,” with medical supplies and food running low, and a build-up of military personnel in the area leaving residents dreading a second wave of attacks.
“We are very afraid that there will be another massacre,” Al Houli added. “Military reinforcements have been brought in, and artillery, and we are afraid that the massacre will happen again.” On Tuesday, a United Nations official said it was “clear” that Syrian government forces were involved in the slaughter last Friday, which he said was “an abominable crime.”
Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. human rights office, said the majority of victims died as a result of “summary executions” in which “armed men… went house to house, killing men, women and children.”
As the U.S. and Others Toss Syria’s Envoys, Is Moscow Changing Its Mind About Assad?
By Rania Abouzeid / Beirut Tuesday, May 29, 2012 – Time
Some observers say that the Houla massacre over the weekend, which left more than a hundred Syrians dead, including at least 32 children, may have prompted a shift in Russia’s stance…
So, Russia doesn’t support the Syrian government, yet it doesn’t want regime change but rather the implementation of a plan that effectively demands that Assad dismantle his own regime. Is that a shift in its policy?
No, says Professor Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma who edits the prominent blog “Syria Comment.” “Russia has a long history of saying that they’re not stuck on Assad, they’re critical of the regime, they don’t like the killing, that this has to be done in a peaceful way, a peaceful transition of power,” Landis says. “But under it all what they’re saying is they want to see a credible opposition that can take power peacefully before they’re willing to change their policy.”…
Shaikh thinks Russia’s higher profile, particularly in the Middle East, is not something to crow about, because it’s being viewed “in negative terms.” It should be mindful of its wider interests in the region, he says, particularly its ties to Gulf powerhouses Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who vehemently oppose Assad.
Harling disagrees. “They’ve lost so much in this part of the world that they’re free, there’s nothing to lose,” he says. For his part, Landis says Russia’s Syria policy dovetails with its regional interests. “Russia’s wider interests, to me, are pushing back at the Americans, preserving Iran and Syria outside of U.S control and showing their friends that they can stand by them,” he says.
Ultimately, Russia’s political cover may help the Syrian regime stay in power for a little longer, but that may be all given that it has alienated wide swathes of its population. “I’m not sure this regime can survive,” Harling says, “with or without Russian support.”
The Syria Dilemma
by Philip Gourevitch June 4, 2012
In April of 1993, President Bill Clinton and Elie Wiesel presided over the dedication of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Washington, D.C. Wiesel spoke first. He asked, “What have we learned?,”…
….A few days earlier, at the G8 summit at Camp David, Obama had reiterated his call for Assad to relinquish power, but the Russians continue to regard the Syrian President as he represents himself, as a force of stability. Mikhail Margelov, speaking for Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, said, “One cannot avoid a question: if Assad goes, who will replace him?” The hawks have no answer, nor, for that matter, does anybody else, including the main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, a coalition of seven infighting factions—ranging from Christians to Kurds to the Muslim Brotherhood—composed almost entirely of exiles, whose only consistent demand is for international military intervention. The Free Syrian Army, an equally unlikely group, shares that goal, but has lately turned against the S.N.C., which now purports to be forming its own military wing.
As a rule, Obama has avoided any rigid foreign-policy doctrine, preferring to indicate broad principles and then respond to crises case by case. By contrast, the absolutist rhetoric of moral certainty that the Holocaust museum inspires allows no room for political judgment; or even for acknowledging the political nature of the crises in which atrocities arise. Nonetheless, at the museum, Obama announced the creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board, to be run out of the White House, with the aim of coördinating the government’s response to outrages around the world. It is essentially a technocratic instrument of statecraft. Still, Obama seemed to recognize the awkwardness of such an initiative at a time when Assad remains in power, and the Taliban stands poised to reclaim swaths of Afghanistan. “There will be senseless deaths that aren’t prevented,” he said. “There will be stories of pain and hardship that test our hopes and try our conscience.” That, perhaps, is what we have learned. ♦
U.S. Hopes Assad Can Be Eased Out With Russia’s Aid
By HELENE COOPER and MARK LANDLER, May 26, 2012
WASHINGTON — In a new effort to halt more than a year of bloodshed in Syria, President Obama will push for the departure of President Bashar al-Assad under a proposal modeled on the transition in another strife-torn Arab country, Yemen.
The plan calls for a negotiated political settlement that would satisfy Syrian opposition groups but that could leave remnants of Mr. Assad’s government in place. Its goal is the kind of transition under way in Yemen, where after months of violent unrest, President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to step down and hand control to his vice president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, in a deal arranged by Yemen’s Arab neighbors. Mr. Hadi, though later elected in an uncontested vote, is viewed as a transitional leader.
The success of the plan hinges on Russia, one of Mr. Assad’s staunchest allies, which has strongly opposed his removal.
After the Houla massacre, it’s clear that the outside funding of the anti-Assad rebels is undermining efforts to end the conflict
Friday’s savage clashes at Houla, a village in the Syrian province of Homs, have aroused international indignation against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. It is the latest grisly episode in what is quickly developing into a sectarian civil war.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, makes no bones of her wish to overthrow the Syrian regime. She issued a statement saying: “The US will work with the international community to intensify our pressure on Assad and his cronies, whose rule by murder and fear must come to an end.” The UK government is to seek an urgent meeting of the UN security council.
Engineered by Kofi Annan – the UN and Arab League mediator – the ceasefire of 12 April is now in tatters. His peace plan called on both sides to put down their guns as a necessary preliminary to ‘”Syria-led” political negotiations. But the opposition – of which the most formidable element is the Muslim Brothers – is waging an urban guerrilla war backed by outside powers. This wing of the opposition does not want to negotiate with Bashar al-Assad: it wants to topple him.
The Gulf states have pledged $100m to the opposition, to enable it to pay its fighters and buy arms. The US has no intention of getting involved in a war in Syria itself, but it is said to be co-ordinating the flow of weapons and intelligence to the rebels. Although it says it supports the Annan plan, it is unashamedly undermining it by helping to arm the rebels. This is the central contradiction in US policy.
The only way to prevent a full-scale civil war in Syria – which would destroy the country, as happened in Iraq, and could destabilise the whole Levant – is to demilitarise the conflict and bring maximum pressure on both sides to negotiate. This is what Annan wants, but he is being undermined. He is due in Damascus this weekend in a forlorn bid to save his plan.
UN monitors counted 85 bodies at Houla. The opposition has blamed the regime for the slaughter, while the regime has put the blame on “terrorists” – that is to say, on its armed opponents, stiffened by Islamist jihadis, some of them linked to al-Qaida, who have been flowing into Syria from Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. These jihadis are thought to be responsible for about a dozen terrorist acts, the worst of which, in Damascus on 10 May, killed 55 people and wounded close to 400.
Major-General Robert Mood, the Norwegian head of the UN observer mission, has been cautious in pointing the finger of blame for Friday’s Houla killings: “Whatever I learned on the ground in Syria … is that I should not jump to conclusions.” Probably, the truth is that the two sides share the responsibility.
The strategy of the armed opposition is to seek to trigger a foreign armed intervention by staging lethal clashes and blaming the resulting carnage on the regime. It knows that, left to itself, its chance of winning is slim. For its part, the regime’s brutality can be explained, if not condoned, by the fact that it believes it is fighting for its life – not only against local opponents but also against an external conspiracy led by the United States (egged on by Israel) and including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Britain and France.
The regime’s strategy is to prevent – at all costs – its armed opponents from seizing and holding territory inside the country, as this might give foreign powers a base from which to operate. As soon as it identifies pockets of armed opponents, it sends in its troops to crush them. That it often uses disproportionate force is not in doubt: this is all too predictable when a conventional army faces hit-and-run opponents. Trapped between opposing forces, civilians inevitably pay the price.
while the Houla attack was unusual in the number killed, it was standard operating procedure for Assad’s forces. The regime has essentially reverted to its preceasefire behavior, and the several hundred UN monitors on the ground are little more than a speed bump for violence against the people.
The regime has continued military operations throughout much of the country during the so-called ceasefire, though with special emphasis on the traditionally restive provinces of Idlib, Aleppo, Hama, Homs, Deraa, Rif Dimashq, and Deir al-Zour. Its tactics have included the following:
* Attempts to eliminate areas of rebel control (e.g., Rastan and parts of Idlib and Aleppo provinces) and destroy Free Syrian Army (FSA) formations there.
* Attempts to isolate centers of opposition/resistance by cutting essential services (water, power, and communications), severing road access, establishing fire bases from which to bombard these areas, and other methods.
* Bombardment of civilian areas, including Rastan, Hama, Homs, Khan Sheikon, Jisr al-Shughour, and multiple parts of Aleppo, Rif Dimashq, and Deraa provinces.
* Attempts to choke off smuggling routes and illegal crossing points along the border with Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, producing clashes with FSA elements and smugglers as well as incidents of cross-border fire.
* Efforts to reassert control of contested areas through large deployments of regular, irregular (shabbiha), and security forces (intelligence, police) and the establishment of fixed and mobile checkpoints.
Jeb Koogler and Noah Bonsey – the views of Syrian activists on the issue of international intervention: I have been tracking the social media discussion on this issue for a number of months, mostly through the Syrian Revolution Facebook page. I’m not aware that much has been written on this subject previously (at least, not anything with any data attached to it!), so I think you’ll find it of interest.
Ghufran writes in the comment section:
As more details become available,the picture of a civil war in Homs starts to emerge. I knew there are holes in the story about Houla,the facts that are undeniable are:
1. There are, and continue to be, a strong presence of anti regime forces in Houla
2. Shelling did take place in Houla
3. More than 90 civilians were killed,some by using knives,not bombs or bullets
4. Two villages nearby,with alawi majority ,were attacked,close to 30 civilians were killed and two entire families were exterminated in cold blood.
Death in Syria is now the great equator,nobody is immune and no side can claim innocence, I have doubts that those who were unjustly killed will see justice served.
There is a civil war in Homs,denying that does not make this fact goes away,thinking that in a civil war you have saints on one side and devils on the other is a form of denial.
The Islamic Republic admits its forces are aiding Assad’s troops in crackdown in pro-democracy protesters; UN’s tally of fatalities in Syrian uprising is at 13,000 Dudi Cohen Published: 05.27.12, 18:11 / Israel …
The Caucus: Romney Faults Obama After Syria Crackdown
2012-05-27 By THE NEW YORK TIMES
May 27 (New York Times) — Mitt Romney on Sunday faulted the Obama administration for its policy on Syria in the wake of a brutal crackdown in the city of Haoula that killed scores of civilians, saying the president has failed to be assertive enough in confronting the Assad government.
Black humor, from Damascus to Homs
By James Harkin
Samar Yazbeks diary of the syrian revolution will be published in english by July. I just read her book in an german translation and I must say that hardly anything moved me like this memoir. I highly suggest to read this book. The English title will be “A women in the crossfire, diaries of the Syrian revolution” Here are some excerpts in Jadaliyya and Guardian
Syria using rape as weapon against opposition women and men
Security forces in Syria are using rape against both men and women as a tool to spread fear among the opposition, victims and human rights groups have told the Daily Telegraph.
By Ruth Sherlock, Ramtha, 29 May 2012
In the jails and interrogation centres of secret police, prisoners have been brutalised, either at the hands of officers, or more often with a bottle or other utensil. “In detention facilities rape is clearly used as a form of torture to humiliate and degrade people, and to bring back the wall of fear,” said Nadim Khoury, Deputy Director for the Middle East at Human Rights Watch.
Treasury Sanctions Syria International Islamic Bank, 2012-05-30
By John Hughes
May 30 (Bloomberg) — Treasury acts to prevent Syria International Islamic Bank from helping as other banks evade U.S. sanctions, agency says in statement.
* Bank “surreptitiously facilitated” financing worth almost $150m from 2011 to 2012 on behalf of Commercial Bank of Syria, which is subject to sanctions
* Action closes off ‘key evasion route’ for Assad
Unclear if Houla massacre a Syria turning point, experts say – May 29, 2012 | LA Times
SteelGuru: Syria Thriving on Russian Coal – 2012-05-30
Reuters reported that International sanctions have failed to halt trade in Russian coal at Syrian ports, with buyers switching to the euro from the dollar in deals facilitated by the Syrian state bank and black-market players. Mr Tarik Al-Akkari Al …
‘Syria: The blood of future massacres is on Russia’s hands’ (David Ignatius, The Washington Post)
“The answer to the Syrian tragedy isn’t complicated: It’s a political transition, starting now, from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to a government of national unity that includes the opposition but also retains the basic structure of the Syrian state…So why doesn’t it happen? The answer is that Russian President Vladimir Putin is playing a cynical game of power politics, delaying the transition that he nominally supports. He gives lip service to U.N. diplomacy as an alternative to war, but does nothing to advance it. So the question shouldn’t be how to turn up the heat on Assad, but rather, how to turn up the heat on Putin. Washington needs to be more persuasive with Moscow, but the heavy lifting here will be done by America’s partners in the region-Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, India-whose friendship or, at least, tolerance is important to Putin’s vision of Russian restoration.”
How About a Plan C for Syria ? - May 30, 2012 ⋅ By Marc Ginsberg
Bashar al-Assad will get away with it. He got away with Deraa. He got away with Homs. And he’ll get away with Houla. So will the armed opposition to the regime, along with al-Qa’ida and any other outfits joining in Syria’s tragedy. Yes, this may be the critical moment, the “tipping point” of horror,…