News Round Up (15 May 2011)

Anthony Shadid and Joshua Landis in 10 minute radio clip on Syria – NPR

Syrian Sources say there was no shelling in Homs by tanks or anything else, as was reported in the press.

From a trusted friend in Syria:

Was in Homs again yesterday. We saw no evidence of shelling anywhere and most of the town was normal. One neighborhood, Bab Amr was blocked off and deserted. Was also in Aleppo and I think the story of thousands of students at the university was also exagerrated. More like 100. People there told me Aleppo is really normal and very few demonstrations have happened.

Golan: – Syrians crossing into the Golan – Mundasiin?

From NYTimes: In the Golan Heights, about 100 Palestinians living in Syria breached a border fence and crowded into the village of Majdal Shams, waving Palestinian flags. Troops fired on the crowd, killing four people. The border unrest could represent a new phase in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

LA Times [Reg]: SYRIA: Videos show large student protest in Aleppo, the second largest city, 2011-05-12

Anthony Shadid in NYTimes – in Homs, and residents reported that… after a day of shelling and gunfire, and sporadic shots heard before dawn, the area was relatively quiet, a resident there, Abu Haydar, said by telephone.

One of the few Western journalists who has been able to get in to Syria to see the protests there and the crackdown by the regime of President Bashar Assad says he was “surprised at how much support President Assad himself still has.”

Martin Fletcher, associate editor at The Times of London, spoke with All Things Considered host Robert Siegel earlier today.

Fletcher just left Syria after six days there (during which he posed as a tourist; more on that below) and says that while the outside world has gotten the impression that most Syrians are rising up against Assad, he came away thinking things are more complicated.

“People hate the people around [Assad],” Fletcher said, “for their corruption; for their brutality.” But many of the Syrians he met, still believe that the president is something of a reformer and they “like the way he stands up to the United States and Israel.”

Others, Fletcher added, buy into the idea that if Assad were to step down then sectarian violence might flare. That’s a theory that Syrian writer Yassin Haj Saleh told Robert earlier this week is nothing more than “blackmail” coming from the Assad regime.

As for how he was able to do his work while in Syria, Fletcher said he left behind many of journalism’s modern tools — particularly his laptop. He took a new cellphone with no phone numbers programmed into it so that authorities couldn’t search it for contacts. And he wrote his reports in long-hand, before dictating them over the phone to his newsroom back in London….

Authorities and protesters split on whether Syrian rebellion is over
Phil Sands in Syria reports for the National

…….. Many Syrians – arguably the overwhelming majority, although reliably canvassing public opinion is impossible – believe Mr Assad should be given time and space to deliver on his promises.

His opponents insist, however, that the president is either unwilling or unable to bring about real political change to the autocratic system of government established four decades ago by his father and predecessor as president, Hafez al Assad.

Mr Amin, the former government official, insisted that the younger Assad can still be an agent of reform and that the outbreak of demonstrations had shown Syria’s elite they can no longer do business as they have done for the past 40 years. “After this crisis, the authorities understand that now they need to be serious about reforms, political and economic, that they must do it and do it now,” he said. “There will be big changes. The leadership understands the problems on the ground.”

That view, however, was brushed aside by an adviser to the government who said he saw little sign the increased freedoms and equality of opportunity demanded by Syrians would materialise .

“They are still living from Friday to Friday. It’s crisis management. There is no long-term strategy,” he said. “I don’t see them having the map that shows the way out of this.”

While anecdotally there is protest fatigue among many Syrians, the young activists playing a key role in the uprising have not been deterred by arrests, beatings and other acts of intimidation.

One dissident released by the security services after being arrested for the first time and jailed for more than two weeks said: “They made me sign a promise that I would not go to another protest, but of course I will.”

He said he had been beaten by his interrogators every day and had shared a cell with dozens of other activists and ordinary people gobbled up in mass arbitrary arrests.

“After that, I’m less afraid than before,” he said. “There is still fear, but not so much as there was. The protests are not finished, the military solution hasn’t stopped this.

“It will stop when we can walk freely in the street without the security coming and arresting us for no reason. It will stop when I’m allowed to live my life.”

Khaddam to Israeli Channel2: “NATO & Turkish forces will finish off the Assad regime in weeks!”

Residents fleeing Syrian town tell of arrests, terror Washington Post

WSJ [Reg]: Syria’s Sluggish Economy Adds to Regime’s Troubles, 2011-05-16

DAMASCUS—The Syrian government, stuck in a stalemate with protesters, also is facing the longer-term challenge of keeping the country’s already creaky economy from collapsing. As in Egypt and Tunisia, economic woes played a part in the protests …

Erdogan on Charlie Rose: A friend writes:

Watching Erdogan on Charlie Rose now. He said: “I’ve sat beside Bashar in the passenger seat several times while he drove his car in Damascus and around Syria. We used to get out of the car often in the streets and I know for a fact that the Syrian people love him. I saw this first hand”.. “we are talking to the Syrian government and to the Syrian opposition”… “I asked president Bashar to deliver the reforms he his doing today a year ago. Syria was late”…”I wish Syria stability and safety but this is in the hands of the Syrian people”

Inside Story – Turkey’s changing tunes on Syria

U.S., EU prod nuclear agency over Syria, 2011-05-15

WASHINGTON, May 15 (UPI) — The secretive nuclear program in violence-wracked Syria should be investigated further by international regulators, the United States and European Union say.

The allies have been lobbying the International Atomic Energy Agency to step up pressure on Damascus to disclose its nuclear history and plans, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

The renewed push would place more pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been battling anti-government protesters for three months and is resisting calls to step down.

“We’re looking to increasingly isolate Assad,” said a European official who asked not to be identified…..

Syria: Britain Pushes for Sanctions for Bashar Al-Assad
2011-05-12, Bruno Waterfield

May 12 (Telegraph) — Britain has proposed that President Bashar al-Assad and four of his inner circle be added to a Brussels travel ban and asset freeze list as EU warned the “net was tightening” around the Syrian leader. Britain and France were angered last week after EU divisions prevented the Syrian president being added to a list of 13 officials targeted with sanctions, but such differences now appear to have been overcome. “It will only be a matter of days until he is added,” one official said.

الرئيس يوعز ببدء التنصل من دور رامي مخلوف الاقتصادي بعد التنصل من تصريحاته السياسية

– 2011/05/14نشر فى: غير مصنف
مراسل المحليات: كلنا شركاء

نقل موقع داماس بوست الالكتروني عمن أسماه (عضو بارز في غرفة تجارة دمشق) نفيه لقيام رجل أعمال سوري (رامي مخلوف) بإنقاذ الليرة السورية التي تهاوت أمام ارتفاع سعر الدولار غير المسبوق منذ أيام.
وقال العضو البارز في الغرفة، بحسب تقديم داماس بوست له، بأن من أنقذ الليرة السورية هو سياسات البنك المركزي لاغير، ولا علاقة لأي رجل أعمال سوري بالأمر… وأضاف عضو الغرفة مستطرداً، ومؤكداً العكس: “لو تدخلوا كما أشيع في الآونة الأخيرة لكان لموقفهم أثر سلبي واضح ، لأن الدولة اليوم قادرة أكثر من أي وقت مضى على حماية الليرة السورية”.

Syria Press Release:

Today Dr Sami Khiyami, Syria’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom, issued the following statement:
“Her Excellency Mrs Al-Assad and her three children are not in the UK. The First Lady is in Damascus, focusing on internal issues including her programme of empowerment of the Syrian people. Her children are also in Damascus and, contrary to these ill-intended rumours, only hold a Syrian passport.”

Clinton: “The US to increase the pressure on Syria”

(Reuters)- “… “We are going to hold the Syrian government accountable,” she said after meeting the Danish foreign minister. “The United States along with Denmark and other colleagues are going to look for ways to increase the pressure.”…”

Germany, European Partners Summon Syrian Ambassadors, Threaten More Sanctions
By Associated Press

May 11 (Washington Post) — BERLIN Germany says several European countries are summoning Syrian ambassadors and threatening new sanctions targeting the countrys leadership if it doesnt halt the repression of protesters.

What Regime Change in Syria Would Mean
Paul R. Pillar, March 29, 2011

Accelerating unrest in Syria, with the regime scrambling to find some combination of concession and repression to stay in power, has regime change juices in the United States flowing. The Washington Post editorial page says “it is time to recognize that Syria’s ruler is an unredeemable thug—and that the incipient domestic uprising offers a potentially precious opportunity.” Elliott Abrams declares that with regimes “falling like dominoes” in the Middle East, “Syria is next.” He issues a clarion call to rid the world of the “murderous clan” and “bloody regime” of Bashar al-Assad…..

The talking up of the idea of toppling Assad exhibits some of the same shortcomings, however, as earlier agitation for changes of regime elsewhere. There is underestimation of how much worthwhile business could be conducted with the incumbent regime, however distasteful it may be. There is overestimation of how much the policies of the country in question are specific to the incumbent regime, and thus overestimation as well of how much change in those policies would ensue from a change of regime. There is also a general failure to think much about who or what would replace the current regime. ….

BBC: Inside Syria’s ‘windowless basements’, 2011-05-11

Syria authorities have banned foreign journalists from entering the country, but Times’ chief foreign correspondent Martin Fletcher attempted to enter the country as a tourist. He was arrested by the authorities, taken to a windowless basement … – No Sectarian Rifts

The activists insist that theirs is not a sectarian agenda, despite the regime’s attempts to portray them as Islamists. There is real cross-sectarian support for the protests, they say. They have a good case: represented among the activists working in the flat is the full cross-section of Syrian society — Sunni Muslim, Alawite, Druze, and Christian. The group even helped to disseminate a popular chant that has helped to minimize sectarian rifts: “One, One, The Syrian People, We are One.”

Hassan, a younger activist hailing from Lattakia, is unimpressed at suggestions the Alawite minority is on the regime’s side just because they are tied by religion to the ruling Assad family. “In the end, we are all Syrian. This regime is not Alawite, it’s Al-Assad’s regime, his private club and mafia. Even Alawites don’t like it”. And so he finds himself, an Alawite, fighting an uprising against an Alawite regime.

Note from Kenan MD MRCS MSc ORTH – Syrian in England:

I do not believe that there is no alternative for Assad rule, Syria is stronger than one person and it will endure this hardship but I do not think he will. in the eyes of so many people the regime which killed so many (more than 800) has lost its legitimacy. Syria is just like any other country have structural issues, and I compare the problem of jihadist fundamentalist with the west problem of racism and fascism which grew under dictatorships but is kept in check in real democracy which-for the first time ever- we have a realistic chance it will emerge. Do not be taken yourself by the regime tactics of scaremongering well illustrated by Rami Makhlouf interview with the New York Times. After more than 50 years Rule of Baathist we have more sectarianism and fundamentalism than we ever had and letting this squashed with no legitimate answer to the blood spilled will only seed the sectarian war we are all worried about. We should not give the Syrian regime any comfort that his siege and counter misinformation is working, because it will not work in this new information age. The issue of killed military personnel is interesting, there have been many credible reports about soldiers being killed for refusing to fire on protestors or joining them. There are many Videos confirming this including one showing people in Deraa giving medical support to wounded soldiers. I have not seen a single credible evidence produced by the government of the alleged Salafis they are fighting.

Report: Syrian Troops Shelling Residential Areas
By ZEINA KARAM 2011-05-11

BEIRUT (AP) — The Syrian army shelled residential areas in central Syria on Wednesday, a sharp escalation in the government’s attempts to crush a popular revolt against President Bashar Assad’s rule, according to activists and witnesses.

Heavy gunfire was heard as at least three residential neighborhoods were hit by tank fire in the besieged city of Homs, which has experienced some of the largest anti-government demonstrations in recent weeks. “There were loud explosions and gunfire from automatic rifles throughout the night and until this morning,” a frightened resident told The Associated Press by telephone. “The area is totally besieged. We are being shelled.”

Activists in Damascus who were in touch with residents also reported shelling in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city and home to one of its two oil refineries. The witnesses and activists, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals, said the shelling was targeting the Bab Sbaa, Bab Amr and Jouret el Aris neighborhoods. The eyewitness said several people who fled Bab Sbaa through fields told him the area was badly damaged and that the shelling seemed indiscriminate. Syrian authorities are determined to crush the uprising,…

AlexRodriguez writes:

Khaled Meshaal, exiled Hamas leader based from Damascus, calls the Arab spring beautiful (9:00) and that freedom and democracy is needed in Syria (10:35) during his interview with France 24 in Cairo at the sidelines of the recent reconciliation ceremony with Fatah.

Syria’s regional role offers a way out
By Sami Moubayed

DAMASCUS – There are two views about how to deal with the snowballing crisis that is emerging between Damascus and the international community. One says that strained relations with both the United States and Europe are not as bad as they seems – claiming that Syria has been here before. Another argument goes that Damascus cannot live in isolation, having worked very hard at repairing damaged relations with Paris and Washington.

Yassin Haj Saleh’s last article, in al-Hayat, in Arabic

Kilo’s, here and here


The Syrian Studies Association announces the publication of the latest issue of the Syrian Studies Association Newsletter, XVI: 1 (Spring 2011) at:

Click on TABLE OF CONTENTS to access the issue and/or individual articles.

This thematic focus of this issue is on the Kurds of Syria. A “state of the art” article by

  • Prof. Jordi Tejel is the definitive word as of now on the study of the Kurds in Syria including a review of the history of the scholarship since the beginning of the French mandate and a 6-page bibliography.
  • Dr. Robert Lowe offers insights on the challenges and opportunities facing scholars of the Kurds of Syria;
  • Eva Savelsberg and Siamend Hajo provide an assessment of Bashar al-Asad’s reign for relations between Kurds and the Syrian state; and
  • Prof. Paolo Pinto explains the social, political, and cultural significance of Sufism among Kurds in Syria.

Two book reviews, one of

  • Prof. Tejel’s *Syria’s Kurds: History, Politics, and Society* (2009) and one of a book in Turkish on Syria’s undocumented Kurds, round out coverage of this topic.

In addition, there are reviews of books on Syrian Jewry during the Tanzimat period; European images of Damascus from the mid-19th and early 20th centuries; Syrian migrant workers in Lebanon; the economics of the early Islamic period in Syria; and on Syrian-Iranian relations during the 1980s as well as a letter from the Association’s president and news of the association.

The SSA is an international association organized to encourage and promote research and scholarly understanding of Syria in all periods and in all academic disciplines.

Geoffrey Robertson, a former U.N. judge and author of Crimes Against Humanity – How to prosecute Syria for Crimes

Document reveals Israel stripped 140,000 Palestinians of residency rights.

(Reuters) – Turkish security forces killed at least 12 Kurdish militants

after they were spotted crossing the border from Iraq, the military said on Saturday, while a soldier was killed by a mine blast.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas were killed during operations Friday and early Saturday in the southeast province of Sirnak, the military statement said.

The soldier died in Hakkari, another insurgency-plagued province bordering both Iran and Iraq, state-run Antaolian news agency said. Some PKK fighters operate from bases in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq.

The PKK ended a six-month ceasefire in February and there have been fears of rising violence before a parliamentary election on June 12 that is expected to result in a comfortable third successive victory for Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party.

<b>Jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan has threatened “war” unless the government enters talks after the election to end a separatist conflict that has dragged on for 27 years, killing more than 40,000 people.</b>

The PKK last week claimed responsibility for an ambush that killed a police officer and wounded another in the northern Black Sea province of Kastamonu after an election rally by Erdogan, and two more police were killed this week.

The PKK says police have been attacked in retaliation for operations and arrests in the southeast. Erdogan has accused the militants of being behind several petrol bomb attacks on the offices of his AK Party.

Erdogan Says Assad Must Take Immediate Steps to Democracy
2011-05-12  By Benjamin Harvey

May 12 (Bloomberg) — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad can’t deny his people’s “indispensible requests for peace and democracy.”

Assad should take immediate democratic steps as the momentum toward democracy in the Middle East is “irreversible,” Erdogan said in an interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose in Ankara aired today. Turkey views the situation in Syria as almost “like a domestic affair” because of the 800-kilometer (500-mile) border and close relations between the two countries, Erdogan said.

Assad is “a good friend of mine,” and the two have had “long conversations” about changing the election system, permitting the formation of political parties and releasing political prisoners in Syria, Erdogan said.

Marwan writes:

Mr JOSHUA LANDIS About two months later I sent you email and the days proved what I said. I read your essay  What Will a Post Assad Syria Look Like?  and I have some notes:

The first note about Syrian army , I want to tell you about some thing until now Syria Special Forces and Syrian elite units  never have interfered  or entered in the cities and if it happened it occurred into limited range, so when you speak  about split this is very unlikely  because if these units didn’t split I thing special forces and elite units won’t be split and this idea made by Media and there isn’t  real reasons to this splite because I know Syrian army  and how the army discipline.

I think  you know our army ideological army and our army not army for parades. Second  note. our economy very stable and strong so I  astonished when you speak about  the government won’t be able to pay wages. Third note . in my opinion  Syria and Syrian people  have passed the critical situation “civil  war”  and this is the most important  issue in this  crisis. With my best regards


I found your article uncharacteristically pessimistic. Despite my own apprehensions I am cautiously optimistic that events in Syria will not spiral out of control nor descend into chaos or civil war. You might be most pessimistic when the news is at its worst as am I. We need to step back and look at the whole flawed picture.

The Assad regime is certainly responsible for much of the deterioration, especially with the restriction of outside news media, ruthless tactics of suppression (even with the existence of armed elements bent on vitiating the nature flow of the a small but genuine populist movement) and poor PR, especially with the disastrous Rami Makkhlouf interview. However, when take the macro view, there seem to be fewer and fewer protesters as time passes. This is directly opposite what happened in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, even though this is an not apples to apples comparison.

Syrians, as you know, instinctively eschew chaos and pandemonium. I think this will allow Bashar more time in which if he is realistic and serious about meeting the people’s legitimate demands and not just trying to preserve the family dynasty, we may have a much better outcome than any of us could have imagined. If that is wishful thinking, than I am still an idealist and the scenario you laid out will prove me wrong.

Susan D.

Dear Joshua,

The emails from Syria Comment with the headlines you run are shocking me these days. You seem to have taken a “line” in the choice of headlines and in your comments, which is quite contrary to everyone I spoke to in Damascus over Easter (Sunnis, Alawis), and people I have spoken to in Australia from the Lebanese and Syrian community….

I fear for the future of Syria and its people but you seem to be blase about it and trust the protesters as if you could equate them with the protesters in Cairo, or those anti-war protesters in Europe pre-Iraq war.

What about the resignations of Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya reporters? What about the call from Qaradawi, what about the Salafists, what about the weapons and money found, what about the soldiers killed, what about Khadam, Bandar bin-Sultan, Hariri, and their hand in things. What about the US long-term plan to destabilize Syria? What about Israel’s use of agents in Syria and Lebanon and its plans? What about the collapse of a country and the possible killings of tens of thousands of people?? What about secular Syria??….

Robert B. Zoellick, World Bank:

Jobs, Jobs, and More Jobs

Legitimate institutions and empowered citizens can make a big difference. But citizens still need jobs.

In the Middle East, regimes have tried to keep a lid on rising unemployment with a mix of political repression, public sector jobs, and subsidies on food, fuel and other necessities.

These measures bought time, but little else.

Expensive and inefficient, they have fed nepotism not need; cronyism not competitiveness; corruption not capitalism.

The International Labor Organization estimates that the unemployment rate for 15 to 24 year olds in the Middle East is 25 percent. Our survey of 1,500 youth found that the self declared or perceived jobless rate was even higher, at 35 to 40 percent. Young women in Egypt and Jordan confront unemployment of 40 percent.

The direct opportunity cost of youth unemployment in the Arab world is estimated at up to $50 billion a year.

Governments in the Middle East now face huge expectations from their young populations – they want jobs now. Inaction poses risks. So will the wrong actions.

Policy reform will be as important as money.

Comments (310)

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301. Souri333 (formerly Souri) said:

The way Qatar and its emir are being attacked on Rami Makhlouf’s TV is really stupid and unwise.

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May 18th, 2011, 2:22 pm


302. JAD said:

Adding Adel Safar and Farouq Alshar’ is stupid, what did they do to be sanctioned?

Who are the other three guys on ‘GOD’s list and how influential are they?
علي حبيب محمود
عبد الفتاح قدسيه
محمد ديب زيتون

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May 18th, 2011, 2:38 pm


303. Souri333 (formerly Souri) said:


Excuse me, but this analysis that we keep reading in Western articles is nonsense. Assad is not going to accept to be “contained” like Saddam was. He is not going to accept to be weakened or isolated. He is going to set the region on fire. He can do it.

A third intifada will be a good start. This will greatly disrupt American plans in the region. America’s allies will become much weaker in fornt of Iran and Syria.

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May 18th, 2011, 2:42 pm


304. atassi said:

حمص : زنغا زنغا دار دار طار الكرسي يا بشار
New Homsi slogan ‬

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May 18th, 2011, 2:53 pm


305. Shai said:

Just putting in a quick comment…

It is wishful thinking to expect any state in the region to become a democracy overnight (even the only true democratic elections that have taken place, amongst the Palestinians, didn’t lead to a democracy.)

While no legitimacy can be given to killing demonstrators, pushing the Assad regime too far into a corner could lead to even less-desired consequences, such as war. If Assad feels that he is now attacked also from the outside, he may try to regain popular support by “proving” that America (and Israel) are now trying to humiliate the Syrian nation, and that Syria and the Syrian people must fight to regain the respect they deserve.

Assad could claim that it is now no longer about freedom and reform, but also about Syria’s place amongst the nations. And if The West is not only NOT helping Syria regain its territory back, but now aims to humiliate it, that the only option left is for Syria to take the initiative and force a new reality. “Even if ‘we’ (all Syrians) cannot win this war, we will prove that we are worthy of respect. And we will fight for it…”

It might be Assad’s last avenue – to force Syrians to rally behind him. Only war against Israel (and the expected Israeli retribution upon Syria and its chief allies) could unite all Syrians.

The U.S. should carefully consider the potential consequences of a “small” regional war, that could quickly deteriorate into something far worse. An all-out war that includes Israel, Syria, Iran, HA, Hamas, and perhaps others, could easily lead to a new global energy crisis, and may plunge world economies into long depression. We do not have a proven record in our ability to “control” or “localize” conflict in our region.

Even though it isn’t easy, the Obama Administration should try to play out some of these scenarios, and make sure that it doesn’t push Assad too far against the wall. Syria is not Libya.

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May 18th, 2011, 2:54 pm


306. Akbar Palace said:

When 40 Years becomes “overnight” NewZ

It is wishful thinking to expect any state in the region to become a democracy overnight (even the only true democratic elections that have taken place, amongst the Palestinians, didn’t lead to a democracy.)*


You forgot the asterisk:

*except Israel

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May 18th, 2011, 3:06 pm


307. Shai said:


The keyword you missed is “become”.

Israel did not “become” a democracy, it was born that way. And if you consider that Jews have an automatic Right-of-Return, while non-Jews do not, then you must admit it is an “interesting democracy”.

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May 18th, 2011, 3:11 pm


308. Souri333 (formerly Souri) said:

Israel is an aggressive expansionist racist-segregation state. It is much worse than the former apartheid.

Syria is greatly more democratic than Israel. There is very little discrimination against minorities in Syria. I don’t know how a sane person can even compare Israel to Syria. Israel has cleansed Palestine of many of its native inhabitants and enslaved the rest. What a democracy.

Israel CAN become a democracy if every native Palestinian is given exactly the same rights as the Jewish settlers, including of course the right of return.

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May 18th, 2011, 3:22 pm


309. Souri333 (formerly Souri) said:

Great news:

It is sad that Syria won’t be able to capitalize on it to buy some advanced weapons because of the current crisis.

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May 18th, 2011, 3:39 pm


310. Mina said:

Sury 302,
I was speaking of the containment of Iran. And for Iraq, it is the same bargain as offered by the neocons ten years ago: let us do whatever we want in Iraq (including Scientologists, Protestant sects, oil, …) and we will deliver the Palestinian state.
Maybe the same guys are still working in the same offices? What a democracy!

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May 18th, 2011, 4:19 pm


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