Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, August 14th, 2012
Haaretz: Report: Assad’s brother ‘fighting for his life,’ month after losing both legs in Damascus bomb attack
2012-08-14 – Haartz – By Avi Issacharoff
Report: Assad’s brother ‘fighting for his life,’ month after Damascus bomb attack Russian deputy foreign minister tells Saudi newspaper that Maher Assad, commander of the Fourth Armored Division, lost both his legs in an attack last July; in an attack last July; report adds Bashar Assad signals he is willing to give up power….Quoting Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov, the newspaper reported that Maher Assad’s condition “is very serious and he is fighting for his life.”
Free Syria Army takes Police Station in Aleppo – Says it was Headquarters of the shabiha of al Bari of Aleppo.
Some keep stating that the Alawites are heading to the coast to establish their state. Most of these people want to see the bond broken between the Alawites and the Sunni Arab supporters. If given a choice between the Syrian Army and the Free Syrian Army, about 30 percent of the Sunni Arabs will support the Syrian Army. The rumors about the Alawite state is to cause the 30 percent to break the bond and change sides, or to shrink it to say 10 percent.
I believe that the Alawites have made up their mind to stay and fight in Syria (Plan A) or take with them a part of the Sunni areas east of the mountains (Plan B). The Alawites will not want to face a full Sunni hostile interior if they can secure to their side some of the Sunni. Not to forget the Sunni in the coast cities. This so called Alawite state, if it happens, will be more than 40 percent Sunni (ala Lebanon).
No one mentions these days that the Alawites succeeded in securing two deputies in the Lebanese Parliament after the 1989 Taif Agreement. They put their foot in the door. I think this is their Plan C, to try to accomplish what was denied them in 1936, an inclusion into Lebanon. Sometimes I think this is their Plan A.
Plan D, if there is a Plan D, will be to have an Alawite State including only the mixed coast cities.
Plan E, if we go beyond Plan D, a pure Alawite State, is not considered by anyone with brains.
Syria’s Ex-Prime Minister Riyad Farid Hijab made his first public appearance since his defection to Jordan last week. At a televised news conference in Amman, Hijab said the regime of Bashar al-Assad is falling, stating, “The Syrian regime only controls 30 percent of Syria’s territory. It has collapsed militarily, economically, and morally.” Meanwhile, new clashes were reported in Damascus and Aleppo, a day after opposition fighters downed a government fighter jet, raising questions over whether the opposition has the capability of challenging the regime’s control of the sky. Conversely, the Syrian government insists a technical failure caused the jet to crash. The United States, Britain, and France have changed their policy on assisting the opposition shifting from a focus on the Syrian National Council (SNC) toward building direct links with separate internal opposition groups. The western countries are concerned over the SNC’s inability to unite the opposition and fear funds have been diverted toward extremist Islamic groups.
Hundreds of manufacturing plants located in the industrial cities of Aleppo and Deir-ez-Zor have stopped functioning because of the rising insecurity leading to potentially severe shortages of products in the local market including medicines.(Syria Report)
August 14, 2012
Syria’s embattled regime laid plans to use Russian banks as part of an emergency effort to sidestep American and European sanctions on oil and financial transactions, according to Syrian government documents and correspondence reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
The documents offer an inside look at how a shrinking group of regime loyalists is working to prop up Bashar al-Assad’s government. Over the past several weeks, senior Syrian officials have held a series of meetings to discuss how to conduct business after being cut off from most Western banking institutions and trade, the documents indicate. The documents, which span a …
A peaceful post-Assad order is probable
Rami Khoury, Daily Star
For months now, speculation by analysts, diplomats, scholars and journalists about the nature of the post-Bashar Assad transition in Syria has been as dynamic as the events on the ground. But with one big difference: Most analyses of events on the ground rely on facts; but discussion of how events will [...]
Syria: Some in opposition fear rebels miscalculated in Aleppo -
LA Times ALEPPO, Syria
In million-dollar apartments in a neighborhood of the city as yet unscathed, the battle for Aleppo plays out daily on flat-screen TVs. Amid imported sofas and abstract art, the revolution doesn’t seem so close…. From the balcony, which on this night let in a little cool summer breeze, his family can occasionally see smoke rising above other Aleppo neighborhoods that are under attack by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.
The father is solidly opposed to Assad, but he fears the prospect of rebels who have filtered in from the suburbs seizing his neighborhood as they try to take Syria’s largest city and commercial hub.
“What [the rebels] did was wrong, coming in and forcing all these civilians to flee and live in schools. You came to protect civilians, but now you’re hurting them?” said the father, one of the city’s merchants. “It’s wrong what they did.”
As the fighting intensifies in a city once regarded as immune to the violence racking much of Syria, some opposition activists are concerned that those who have taken up arms against Assad have made a serious miscalculation here. They fear that the offensive is creating a humanitarian crisis they are ill-equipped to handle and turning many of those affected against the rebels.
“The military campaign for Aleppo came too, too early,” said Marcell Shehwaro, a dentistry graduate and a prominent activist. “Because people here didn’t see the government violence that would make them believe the Free Syrian Army was needed.”
Even now, weeks into the battle for Aleppo, the traffic of everyday routines still snarls roundabouts in safer parts of the city. Syria’s national flag still flies freely here, and the walls are devoid of antigovernment graffiti that festoon rebel-held areas.
Pricey restaurants in nice neighborhoods open — expectantly — every night.
Abdulaziz “Abu Jumuah” Salameh, who heads a coalition of dozens of militias called the Al Tawheed Brigade, acknowledged that the city may not have wanted the rebel offensive to begin so soon. But that didn’t matter: The revolution has its own timing.
“Other provinces finished their revolution, and Aleppo hadn’t started yet,” he said, speaking from his headquarters in Tal Rifaat, a town north of the city. “You could wait 100 years, and Aleppo still won’t be ready.”
Even as rebels continue to stream into Aleppo, there is bitter disagreement over whether they can win over its residents….
Robert G. Rabil, August 14, 2012, National Interest
Notwithstanding the destruction and staggering loss of life as the raging battle for Syria’s commercial capital of Aleppo continues, the battle for both the regime and the opposition has taken on a multidimensional strategic aspect. The battle for Aleppo confirms that the first phase of the Syrian civil war has ended, and the battle for consolidating sectarian cantonization has begun. And it has initiated a process with far-reaching implications for Syria and the region.The descent of the Free Syrian Army on Aleppo is tactically and strategically motivated. The opposition has succeeded in taking the battle against the regime to the country’s commercial hub, a city that not long ago was a bastion of support for the regime. Moreover, timing the battle for Aleppo on the heels of the deadly strike against the regime’s senior echelons in the capital’s national-security headquarters undoubtedly is meant to tear down the regime’s psychological power over its loyalists and supporters.Strategically, however, the battle is about reconnecting Aleppo and its environs to its historic hinterland in Turkey, much as Homs and Hama had been historically connected to Northern Lebanon. This reconnection enhances the influence of Turkey over the opposition, represented mainly by the Syrian National Council, and provides the Free Syrian Army with a strategic route for receiving armaments from Ankara. Heavy weaponry from Turkey reportedly has already begun to be transported to the rebels in Aleppo, signifying that the attack on the city was no less a Turkish than a rebel decision.The move against Aleppo also has been taken with two objectives in mind for the Turks and the rebels. Seizing Aleppo, besides pushing back or forcing the regime’s forces into submission, affords the Turkish government a say over the future of the Kurdish Qamishli area in northeast Syria and helps to prevent irredentist stirrings in the Turkish Hatay province in which a significant number of minorities reside. Given that the Kurds of Qamishli have refused to join the Syrian National Council yet claim opposition to the regime, Turkey has grown concerned about a future autonomous Kurdish enclave along its border.Moreover, Aleppo’s environs and some of its neighborhoods include a significant number of minorities, especially Kurds. Ankara is jittery about the Kurds’ ambivalent political position and allegiance, which could create serious implications for Turkey’s domestic and regional policies. Not only have the Kurds refused to join the Syrian National Council; reportedly a significant number of them belong to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party. The party has a close relationship with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has resumed its militant campaign against Turkish authorities. As a result, Ankara has been on the lookout for any outside meddling in the affairs of minorities in the Hatay province.This strategic maneuver by the Turks, however, has been affected by two misgivings, prolonging the battle for Aleppo at the expense of a great loss in property and lives as well as creating circumstances under which unintended consequences could alter the makeup of power within the opposition. Turkey has supported the Muslim Brotherhood within the Syrian National Council and has exerted significant influence over the decisions and movements of the Free Syrian Army, whose main bases are located in Turkey and alongside the Syrian-Turkish border.Despite this support and influence, Turkey has failed to help the opposition formulate a political vision with a military strategy. The fight against the regime in Aleppo, among other places, has been done on an ad hoc basis. The decision-making process and movements of the Free Syrian Army are either constrained by the Turkish government or hampered by unilateral actions of the various groups associated with the rebels. This has given the regime some breathing room as it capitalizes on the tactical and strategic discord among the opposition. In addition, based on interviews I conducted recently with Syrians who fled to Lebanon, Assad still enjoys some popular support in both Damascus and Aleppo. This partly has convinced the regime to dig in and augment its rhetoric that it is battling terrorists.Aleppo has emerged as a focal point for geostrategic domestic and regional considerations. The regime can ill afford to lose this strategically located commercial city, which could lay open the road to Idlib and then Latakia, the capital of Alawi heartland. Moreover, the regime recognizes that losing the city may compel anxious minorities to join the opposition, and it could therefore lose whatever remains of its popular base of support….
Treasury Lifts Sanctions Against Defected Syrian Prime Minister 8/14/2012 Page Content WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of the Treasury today is lifting sanctions against former Prime Minister of Syria Riyad Hijab who recently severed his ties …
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has said Turkey would not be opposed to a possible autonomous Kurdish region in Syria following the fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, if all groups in the country can agree on it.
Davutoğlu’s comments came as he spoke to reporters aboard a plane carrying a Turkish delegation to Myanmar on Thursday. Stating that Turkey is not against the improvement of Kurds’ rights in Syria, the foreign minister recalled that he had met with leaders of the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the Kurdish National Council (KNC) during a visit he paid to Arbil.
“I told them, the leader of the SNC chairs the council as a Syrian Kurd. And you [KNC] are sitting here as Syrian Kurds. Sit down and come to terms. What we oppose is the threat of terrorism and the possibility of one of you claiming possession of somewhere. Elections should be held in Syria; a parliament should be formed that includes Kurds, Turkmens and Arabs. You can come together and say we will grant autonomy [to the Kurds]. This is up to you. We would not oppose that,” Davutoğlu said.
Turkey announced it strongly opposes the presence of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Syria’s northern cities along the Turkish border following the withdrawal of Assad’s forces from predominantly Kurdish-populated areas to fight opposition forces in Damascus and Aleppo. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan earlier warned that Turkey will intervene if “terrorist formations” emerge along its border.
KINGS make war, but wars also make kings. A year ago, when Syrian government troops first tried to enter Jebel Zawiya, a region south-west of Aleppo where rugged hills enfold 33 villages, a handyman called Jamal Marouf gathered seven men and set off to fight the intruders. Now he claims to command 7,000 fighters, whose reach stretches over much of rural Idleb province, from Turkey’s border to Hama in the south. Perhaps to match their growing ambition, Mr Marouf’s “Martyrs of Jebel Zawiya” recently changed their brigade’s name to “Martyrs of Syria”.
The Sunni farmers who grow olives, figs and cherries have long resented the rule of the Assads and their Alawite co-religionists. Since the uprising took off a year ago, the Syrian army has wreaked havoc in Jebel Zawiya, as elsewhere in Sunni-populated regions. But the growing cost of fighting the tenacious rebels, combined with the need to reinforce strained government troops in Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city that is now locked in a furious battle, has pushed the army out of the area. Last month it quit, leaving just a few isolated outposts from which it lobs shells into rebellious villages.
Unlike other parts of the country where civilian committees work alongside rebel groups, here it is the men with the guns who plainly run the show with scant civilian input. Mr Marouf, one of the two biggest strongmen in Idleb, pays his men the equivalent of $60 a month, runs a prison in his village and is setting up a court.
About 20 minutes’ drive down the road, Ali Bakran is the up-and-coming leader of another rebel unit called the Qisas (Retaliation) Brigade. His is a much smaller outfit. His skinnier young men hang out in a graffiti-covered town hall, where bookcases serve as shelves for storing improvised bombs. Mr Bakran runs a tight ship. He displays sheets with details of every man in his unit, including names of family members, the number of each kind of weapon, and a thumb print. “When Assad goes, I want to be first to put down my gun and go back to my normal life,” says Ibrahim, who fiddles with a walkie-talkie as a 17-year-old boy puts an AK-47 over his shoulder, and rebels roar past in cars blaring anti-Assad songs.
Other rebel groups sound less pacific. In Serjeh, a village perched on a hill overlooking olive trees rooted in earth the colour of terracotta, the bulky, uniformed men of Suqur al-Sham (Falcons of Syria) strike a sterner tone. The jihadists’ black standard hangs in the office of Abu Issa, the group’s burly leader, whose piercing blue eyes match a large blue stone set in his ring. Some say his rebel band is one of the biggest in the country. “People want to join us because we have enough weapons, good fighters and are on the right path,” he says. “We want an Islamic state.”
None of these groups gives its allegiance to the Free Syrian Army, the rebels’ would-be umbrella that has its headquarters in Turkey. But they are working together for the moment. Jebel Zawiya’s main commanders meet every ten days or so, and talk to their comrades in other regions. Concerted attacks on army checkpoints have been working well, and the groups are co-operating in laying mines on roads used by the army to reach their villages. On August 7th the rebels from various groups rushed off together to blow up tanks and fire at troops moving along the motorway from the coast to join the battle for Aleppo. The men of Jebel Zawiya have turned stretches of this road, as well as the main Aleppo-Damascus highway, into a lethal gauntlet for Mr Assad’s forces.
But rebel harmony may not last. Ideologies differ. Many of Mr Issa’s Islamists are the sons of men killed or imprisoned during the uprising against Hafez Assad, father of the current president, in the 1980s. They are well organised and well funded. Rich traders give them cash, whereas groups such as Mr Bakran’s are short of ammunition, relying on the booty they may pick up when they attack army checkpoints.
Most locals seem genuinely to back the rebels, but the fighters’ tactics worry some people. At a disused school that serves as a makeshift prison, detainees under Mr Marouf’s control look in fair shape. A frightened 24-year-old student was picked up at a checkpoint in the nearby town of Marat Numan because his father is a general in the army. When asked his crime, a prison guard rubs his fingers together to signify cash. Mr Marouf concedes that prisoners are often hostages that can be swapped for his men held by the regime. In the end, the strongest man’s word is the law.
Struggling to define the Syrian opposition
By Elise Labott – CNN
In the weeks before he defected from Syria, then-Prime Minister Riad Hijab put feelers out to contacts in the United States and other governments.
In addition to ensuring his family got out of the country, Hijab wanted guarantees that he would not be persecuted for his role in the government of President Bashar al-Assad, U.S. officials say.
“He wanted assurances from the opposition that a post-Assad Syria will take into account all Syrians, including minorities, and there will not be revenge attacks on those who at one time supported the regime,” one administration official said. The official described Washington’s role as that of a “middleman.”
The United States was able to produce a chorus of voices from the Syrian opposition promising that Syrians planning for a post-Assad transition are committed to ensuring human rights for all Syrians, including minorities. But that’s far from a guarantee for Hijab or for any defector.
Herein lies the problem with Syrian opposition. Although American officials have sought to broaden its outreach within the Syrian opposition, Washington hasn’t been able to identify a group of Syrians inside the country that U.S. officials believe will be calling the shots the day after the regime falls.
There is a grassroots political opposition with viable political structures on the ground in Syria. Revolutionary councils and Local Coordinating Committees (LCC) are organizing civil resistance and coordinating with the country’s armed opposition.
In some areas, the opposition serves as de-facto local governments by providing services to the Syrian people. Yet more than two years into the conflict, there is precious little harmonization between these groups and the Syrian National Council, the primary organization interfacing with the international community, which is made up of expats and which is roundly criticized inside the country as a bunch of dilettantes….
Officials say don’t see the shape of American assistance changing anytime soon.
“The whole idea of doing anything more is not on the table,” one senior official told me of the possibility of military aid. “Our sole job as of now is to plan for the day after.”
In Turkey this past weekend, CNN’s Ivan Watson reported that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Syrian opposition activists, asking them about those still inside the country.
“She wanted to know who the U.S. should give money to, and who they should not give money to,” one activist told Watson…..
Officials now say the United States wants a “soft landing” that keeps institutions intact.
“We want the bloodshed to end but it needs to end apace with political developments,” another official said. “So when Assad goes, there is not more bloodshed.”
The University of Oklahoma’s Josh Landis, who runs the blog “Syria Comment,” warns that U.S. reluctance to arm the opposition puts it at a disadvantage in helping shape the post-al-Assad climate.
Landis points to a climate where complete lack of unity within the opposition has helped al-Assad take advantage of the civil war to live another day. Reports currently suggest as many as one hundred militias or more are operating throughout Syria, rarely coordinating among each other, similar to the civil war in Lebanon in the 1980s.
If Syria is left in ruins after a protracted sectarian conflict, Landis predicts the idea of Syria rising out of the ashes with expatriates imposing rule of law will seem very farfetched.
“Ultimately the ones who win this will be the guys with the guns,” Landis predicts. “They will have the power and will make Syria in their own image. They aren’t going to fly in a bunch of doctors and lawyers and engineers in to tell them how to share the wealth.”
Secretary of State Clinton has used the frustration with the opposition as one of the biggest reasons for not providing it more support.
By helping to better connect its disparate actors, Washington would lose its best excuse not to wade further into the conflict in Syria. But in doing so, it would find its most credible candidates for not only ending the conflict, but undertaking a transition once they do.
A senior Syrian army officer who has defected to the opposition has told Sky News he believes most of his fellow high-ranking soldiers would also leave if they could. The unnamed Lieutenant Colonel, who is now in an Free Syrian Army (FSA) safe house …
ASSAD’S SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY
By Aaron Y. Zelin, Pravda Slovakia, August 14, 2012
While most individuals involved in the rebellion are Syrian, foreign fighters now have a very real presence that should worry both the regime and the opposition.
When the Syrian uprising first began, one of President Bashar al-Assad’s justifications for his harsh crackdowns against protesters and, later, armed elements was because he considered them foreign terrorists. At the time, this claim was ludicrous. The overwhelming majority of individuals were Syrians looking to shake off the yoke of Bashar and his father Hafiz’s decades-long Baathist dictatorship.
While most individuals involved with the current rebellion are still Syrian, foreign fighters now have a very real presence that should worry not only the Assad regime but also Syrians in the opposition. Most foreign fighters go abroad to defend their fellow Muslim brethren from being slaughtered. Once in the area of battle, though, many come into closer contact with hardline jihadis as well as fighters from other countries and are exposed to new ideas. Therefore, portions of foreign fighters are not fighting to help establish a future state for Syrian nationals. Rather, they hope to annex it to be part of their grander aims of establishing emirates that will eventually lead to a reestablished Caliphate, however fanciful this project might be.
At this point, on-the-ground media coverage in English, French, Arabic, German, and other languages reports between 800-2,000 foreigners currently in Syria, accounting for less than 10% of the fighters. Most have come since the beginning of the year: a large contingent comes from the states surrounding Syria: Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan, while a smaller North African contingent hails from Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria. The presence of Westerners at this point has been minimal.
These individuals are linking up with not only the Free Syrian Army (FSA) but also jihadi organizations. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades and Fatah al-Isla, both of them Lebanese jihadi organizations fighting under the banner of the al-Khilafah Brigade in Syria, have entered the fray. So too have less-established, but growing organizations like Jabhat al-Nusrah, believed to be the strongest jihadi actor in Syria, as well as Ahrar ash-Sham. Another group, Liwa al-Ummah, comprising 90 percent Syrian fighters, is led by the Irish-Libyan Mahdi al-Harati, previously a commander in the Tripoli Brigade that helped topple the Qadhafi regime a year ago in Libya.
What is problematic with all of this is….
Syria: Prospects for Intervention
Chatham House, August 2012
…With little or no prospect for a negotiated end to the civil conflict in Syria, the discussion focused on the prospects for foreign intervention across a range of options, taking into account the current diplomatic stalemate, existing lines of support to conflicting parties, and alternative international approaches that may emerge as the situation deteriorates.
- Foreign intervention is already occurring, semi-covertly, in the form of weapons supply and training to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), logistical and communications support, and non-military actions such as sanctions, together with diplomatic support (if not full recognition) for opposition groups such as the Syrian National Council (SNC).
- The choice is no longer one of intervention versus non-intervention, but rather between maintaining or increasing existing levels of external intervention and allowing the conflict to drift. Intervention is occurring at a number of levels and there is a need for the international community to consider carefully both the consequences of the ongoing semi-covert intervention and the possible consequences of more overt military intervention.
- The decision over whether to escalate intervention should rest on a thorough examination of the ‘balance of consequences’ and on other relevant factors including the constraints of international law. The costs and risks of different forms of intervention also have to be weighed against the risks and costs of non-intervention.
- The most likely options for scaled-up intervention are the supply of more and heavier arms to the FSA and an intensification of covert action; punitive air strikes triggered by a major crisis such as a massacre in Aleppo; and an intensification of externally imposed sanctions. The risks associated with the first two scenarios are high and the benefits are not easily quantifiable in view of the inevitable unforeseen consequences.Read Paper >
Syria’s Coming Sectarian Crack-UpAssad’s forces will retreat to the north, and an Iranian-backed Alawite canton will be born.
BY MICHAEL DORAN
The Obama administration has been decrying the spread of sectarianism in war-torn Syria and calling for the preservation of state institutions there. A “managed transition” is the new mantra in Washington. This isn’t a policy but a prayer. Syrian state institutions are inherently sectarian, and they are crumbling before our eyes.
Syria is like Humpty Dumpty. Made up of four or five diverse regions glued together after World War I, the country is an accident of great-power politics. Like neighboring Lebanon, it has now dissolved into its constituent parts. The Free Syrian Army isn’t a unified force but rather a …
Syrian opposition prepares for transition
By Borzou Daragahi in Beirut – LA Times
Syria’s opposition has already laid the groundwork to take control of security and administration after what they consider will be the inevitable collapse of Bashar al-Assad’s rule, according to a dozen activists gathered for a training workshop abroad.
The transition plans are flawed and murky, admit the activists, who fear a fall could trigger reprisal attacks against the Alawites who serve the regime
“It will be chaos for a while,” said Moataz, an activist from Damascus. But discussions and planning about the postwar period are a major concern for opponents of the Syrian regime, the activists said in a lengthy group interview in Beirut.