Posted by Joshua on Monday, December 17th, 2012
Mazout prices have shot above 100 pounds a liter, as sanctions and violence take their toll on Syria. The pound has dropped in value rising above 90 per dollar again. Farouq al-Sharaa, Syria’s vice president called for a settlement of the uprising that would lead to the formation of a “national unity government with broad powers.” He claimed that neither side could prevail militarily. A series of bombings in Iraq targeting ethnic minorities and Shiite pilgrims, killed 17 and wounded dozens.
A reporter friend, present at the Morocco, Friends of Syria Conference, writes:
As the conference was taking place, I was in touch with a number of anti-government civilians and Free Army fighters who all expressed displeasure with the decision [to declare the Nusra Front a terrorist organization], saying while they might have ideological differences with Al-Nusra, they are happy to fight alongside them as effective fighters making a solid contribution to toppling Assad. I would add that in follow up conversations, this sentiment has even extended to distinct lack of trust towards Americans and derision toward the coalition supposedly representing them – as, in the words of one civilian: “another U.S. plot.”
Syrian jet fires rocket at Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus – Thousands flee and dozens feared dead after attack on Yarmouk camp as Palestinians in Syria are caught up in civil war. At least one rocket from a Syrian air force jet has killed and wounded dozens of Palestinians in the largest refugee camp in Damascus. Palestinians in Syria had enjoyed the protection of the government for much of the past 40 years. However their loyalties have been tested as the civil war has intensified. The large majority of the Palestinian population in Syria is Sunni, as is the opposition movement which is attempting to oust the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, whose Alawite sect is aligned to Shia Islam.
Roughly half of Syria’s Palestinian refugees are thought to remain supportive of the regime, while the other half have grown hostile to it as the 21-month crisis has escalated.
The attack is believed to have occurred after sporadic fighting inside the camp over the past fortnight between rebel units and Palestinian factions loyal to Assad, headed by Ahmed Jibril, a veteran local leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine general committees.
CrossTalk on Sunni-Shia Conflict: House Divided w. Landis, Moufid Jaber, and Alireza Nader
Patrick Cockburn writes that “The victims have not been identified” in reference to beheading posted to YouTube that went viral recently. One of the two Alawite officers to have their heads chopped off has now been identified as Brigadier General Fouad Abdel Rahman – GRAPHIC pic.twitter.com/EqtUXn68. He is from a village named Qarfais near Jable on the coast.
Was there a massacre in the Syrian town of Aqrab?
Alex Thomson, All Channel 4 News blogs
Friday 14 Dec 2012
….We do not say what follows is the truth. But we can say it is the first independently observed story of Aqrab from the first outside journalist to reach this area.
We interviewed three key eye-witnesses in three separate locations. They could not have known either of our sudden arrival, nor did they know the identities of the other two eye-witnesses.
What is striking is that their accounts entirely corroborate each other, to the last detail. And their accounts are further backed up by at least a dozen conversations with other Alawites who had fled from Aqrab….
All three agree – as do the rebels – that rebels attacked Aqrab on Sunday 2 December. Madlyan says: “They had long beards. It was hard to understand what they said. They weren’t dressed like normal Syrians.”
I press her and she is adamant that their Arabic was not from Syria.
The youth Ali told us: “They all had big beards and came in four or five cars, from the direction of al-Houla.”
They all insist, as did everybody else we met, that the rebels from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) corralled around 500 Alawite civilians in a large red-coloured two-storey house belonging to a prominent businessman called Abu Ismail.
They then say they were held – around 500 men, women and children – in this building until the early hours of Tuesday 11 December. Nine days.
In that time they say almost no food was delivered, and women were hitting their own children to try and stop them crying. When it rained, they were holding rags out of the window to soak up and drink the moisture.
Hayat says that the rebels told everybody: “We are your brothers from al-Houla and al-Rastan, your Islamic brothers. We won’t hurt you.”…
At that point, shooting broke out, the rebels firing through the windows and shouting that they had booby-trapped the building. The eye-witnesses say that the shooting died down at about midnight, after which a deal was done. In screaming night-time chaos and intermittent shooting, three vehicles took around 70 of the prisoners to safety in the nearest village a mile away…..
To the beach: Assad prepares for last stand in home town
Uzi Mahnaimi, Tel Aviv
Video: Syrian support for Jubhat al-Nusrah and opposition to Western intervention
by Aljazeera on December 15, 2012
Danger rising that extremists could seize Syria’s chemical weapons
Craig Whitlock and Carol Morello DEC 16 – Wash Post
The Syrian military is losing control of bases, including sites where chemical arms were produced in the past.
Former US Official Urges Military Intervention in Syria
[Fred Hof, a former US State Department official who works on Syria, arrives at the headquarters of the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow, June 8, 2012. (photo by REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov)]
By: Barbara Slavin.
He said the US provision of so-called non-lethal assistance, including communications gear, to the rebels had been significant in preventing the “Syrian revolution from being strangled in the cradle” and that US officials had gained crucial knowledge over the past 20 months.
“I presume that the US government has done all of its due diligence and knows how to do this,” Hof said of his recommendation that weapons now be sent. “I suspect the provision of nonlethal assistance has been a good laboratory for figuring out how to get things into Syria — who’s reliable.”
Later Thursday, at an appearance at the Atlantic Council, Hof said that while he wished diplomatic efforts would end the conflict without US intervention, “guns will likely decide the outcome and those who want to influence and shape the outcome must get into the arena. This is not about messaging; this is about doing.” He also clarified that he meant providing Russian and other former East bloc weapons, not American arms.
No water, power, cash: Syria rebels run broke town
By By KARIN LAUB | Associated Press
Associated Press/Muhammed Muheisen – In this Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, photo, Syrians wait outside a bakery shop to buy beard in Maaret Misreen, near Idlib, Syria. The town is broke, relying on a slowing trickle …more
MAARET MISREEN, Syria (AP) — The anti-regime locals who have thrown together a ramshackle administration to run this northern Syrian town have one main struggle: Finding money to keep their community alive. Like other nearby rebel-held towns, Maaret Misreen is broke.
Many of the town’s 45,000 residents are out of work. There’s no cash to keep water or electricity running, so they come on only sporadically. Prices have skyrocketed. Long lines form at the only working bakery for miles around, creating vulnerable potential targets for airstrikes.
This week, the town’s main mosque preacher, Abdel Rahim Attoun — who now doubles as the town judge — appealed to worshippers to chip in to buy fuel for communal water pumps. He asked each family to donate 200 Syrian pounds, a little under $3, the cost of a large bunch of bananas.
But even that’s too much for many residents, so no one is being forced to donate, said 29-year-old Amer Ahmado, who is an electronics engineer but was picked by the newly formed local council for the job of managing the town’s meager finances.
The situation is repeated across the swath of rebel-controlled territory in northwestern Syria, said Zafer Amoura, a lawyer who represents Maaret Misreen in an emerging provincial council. Communities are now cut off from the national government that helped keep them running, and locals forming impromptu administrations try to meet the needs of daily life amid the civil war.
At the same time, the rebels in charge of Maaret Misreen are preoccupied with the 21-month-old battle against Syrian President Bashar Assad. Some of Assad’s troops are positioned just a few miles away, in the provincial capital of Idlib, while regime warplanes and combat helicopters continue to strike Maaret Misreen and its surroundings.
On a recent afternoon, a helicopter flew above the town’s only working bakery, where a long line had formed, sending some people running for cover. Regime aircraft have targeted breadlines before. A bomb crater outside the Maaret Misreen bakery’s bread distribution window witness bore witness to what residents say was a deadly attack several weeks ago.
Still, many were so eager to keep their place in line that they didn’t budge when they heard the whirring of the helicopter’s rotors.
“People are afraid, but they got used to it,” said Yasser Bajar, a 35-year-old laborer and father of three who last had a paid day of work four months ago. He had been in line since the morning and had just collected his bread when the helicopter appeared overhead, then veered away.
Outside the bakery, rebel fighters acting as policemen enforced an orderly line — women to the left, men to the right — as customers advanced to buy the maximum per person allotment of 24 pieces of flatbread.
Even as they complain about hardship, residents say they don’t want to go back to the old days, before the outbreak of the revolt against Assad in March 2011. Their stomachs were full then, but the regime controlled their lives, they said.
“We just need to get rid of him (Assad) and then get some rest,” said Omar al-Helo, 23, who stopped working as a carpenter months ago for lack of demand and now ekes out a living selling fruit in a small outdoor market.
Maaret Misreen, a 30-minute drive from the Turkish border, is surrounded by vast stretches of olive groves and is the main town providing services for about three dozen hamlets in the area.
The Syrian military didn’t have a presence in town and rebels took control in October 2011, as local regime representatives gradually slipped away, residents said….
In an odd twist, the regime continued for months to pay salaries of civil servants in rebel-held areas, including in Maaret Misreen, where local officials estimate at least one-third of working adults hold government jobs.
One of Maaret Misreen’s 22 garbage collectors said that while some of his colleagues have quit, he and others are still getting paid. However, the regime is starting to clamp down, said Amer Bitar, a 50-year-old former judge.
Civil servants are now required to pick up their salaries in person in Idlib, and many from Maarat Misreen won’t make the trip, fearing arrest as rebel sympathizers at regime checkpoints, Bitar said. Bitar himself quit his job as a criminal court judge in Idlib several months ago for fear of arrest.
Another resident said he still commutes daily to work in a state-run company in Idlib, passing through government checkpoints.
“If someone is not wanted, they leave him alone and don’t say anything,” he said of the regime…..Bitar said foreign aid is the only way out for rebel-run communities if the regime hangs on….
Syria: The Descent into Holy War
World View: The world decided to back the rebels last week, but this is no fight between goodies and baddies
By Patrick Cockburn, December 16, 2012 “The Independent”
I have now been in Damascus for 10 days, and every day I am struck by the fact that the situation in areas of Syria I have visited is wholly different from the picture given to the world both by foreign leaders and by the foreign media. The last time I felt like this was in Baghdad in late 2003, when every Iraqi knew the US-led occupation was proving a disaster just as George W Bush, Tony Blair and much of the foreign media were painting a picture of progress towards stability and democracy under the wise tutelage of Washington and its carefully chosen Iraqi acolytes.
The picture of Syria most common believed abroad is of the rebels closing in on the capital as the Assad government faces defeat in weeks or, at most, a few months. The Secretary General of Nato, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said last week that the regime is “approaching collapse”. The foreign media consensus is that the rebels are making sweeping gains on all fronts and the end may be nigh. But when one reaches Damascus, it is to discover that the best informed Syrians and foreign diplomats say, on the contrary, that the most recent rebel attacks in the capital had been thrown back by a government counteroffensive. They say that the rebel territorial advances, which fuelled speculation abroad that the Syrian government might implode, are partly explained by a new Syrian army strategy to pull back from indefensible outposts and bases and concentrate troops in cities and towns.
At times, Damascus resounds with the boom of artillery fire and the occasional car bomb, but it is not besieged. I drove 160 kilometres north to Homs, Syria’s third largest city with a population of 2.3 million, without difficulty. Homs, once the heart of the uprising, is in the hands of the government, aside from the Old City, which is held by the FSA. Strongholds of the FSA in Damascus have been battered by shellfire and most of their inhabitants have fled to other parts of the capital. The director of the 1,000-bed Tishreen military hospital covering much of southern Syria told me that he received 15 to 20 soldiers wounded every day, of whom about 20 per cent died. This casualty rate indicates sniping, assassinations and small-scale ambushes, but not a fight to the finish.
This does not mean that the government is in a happy position. It has been unable to recapture southern Aleppo or the Old City in Homs. It does not have the troops to garrison permanently parts of Damascus it has retaken. Its overall diplomatic and military position is slowly eroding and the odds against it are lengthening, but it is a long way from total defeat, unless there is direct military intervention by foreign powers, as in Libya or Iraq, and this does not seem likely.
This misperception of the reality on the ground in Syria is fuelled in part by propaganda, but more especially by inaccurate and misleading reporting by the media where bias towards the rebels and against the government is unsurpassed since the height of the Cold War. Exaggerated notions are given of rebel strength and popularity. The Syrian government is partially responsible for this. By excluding all but a few foreign journalists, the regime has created a vacuum of information that is naturally filled by its enemies. In the event, a basically false and propagandistic account of events in Syria has been created by a foreign media credulous in using pro-opposition sources as if they were objective reporting.
The execution video is a case in point. I have not met a Syrian in Damascus who has not seen it. It is having great influence on how Syrians judge their future, but the mainstream media outside Syria has scarcely mentioned it. Some may be repulsed by its casual savagery, but more probably it is not shown because it contradicts so much of what foreign leaders and reporters claim is happening here
Colonel Yusef al-Jader, Free Syrian Army’s `top commander was killed in a major battle for a military academy
AFP , Saturday 15 Dec 2012
A top rebel commander in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo was killed in a major battle for a military academy on Saturday, his brigade said. “It is with pride that Liwa al-Tawhid (brigade) announces the death in combat of the hero martyr, Colonel Yusef al-Jader (Abu Furat),” the brigade said on its Facebook page. Abu Furat was killed during battles pitting troops against rebels trying to “liberate” a major military academy at Muslimiyeh, just north of the embattled city of Aleppo.Abu Furat welcomed and provided cover to several AFP teams covering Syria’s conflict in Aleppo. On Saturday, rebels came close to scoring a significant victory as they captured large parts of the military academy, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. “This is one of the most important military academies in all of Syria,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
Farouk Al-Sharaa in an Al-Akhbar Exclusive: Military solution isn’t the answer
al-Akhbar, December 16, 2012
In his first public statements since July 2011, Syrian Vice-President Farouk al-Sharaa told Al-Akhbar that “with every passing day, the military and political solutions get further away.” Al-Sharaa said, “The way events are heading will lead to an uncomfortable place where things will definitely go from bad to worse.”
Al-Sharaa added, “We must be in the position of defending Syria’s existence. We are not in a battle for the survival of an individual or a regime.”
In the interview that Al-Akhbar will publish on Monday, al-Sharaa said, “The opposition with its different factions, civilian, armed, or ones with external ties, cannot claim to be the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian People, just as the current rule with its ideological army and its confrontation parties lead by the Baath, cannot achieve change without new partners.”
Al-Sharaa called for building confidence between the crisis sides and said, “The solution has to be Syrian, but through a historic settlement, which would include the main regional countries, and the member of UN Security Council. This settlement must include stopping all shapes of violence, and the creation of a national unity government with wide powers.”
About the field situation, al-Sharaa said: “The drop in the number of peaceful protesters led one way or another to the rise in militants.”
The Syrian Vice-President added, “The opposition forces combined cannot decide the battle militarily, meanwhile what the security forces and the army units are doing will not reach a conclusive end.”
Syrian Students Condemn American Led Sanctions that are Escalating Food Prices
Damascus Street Notes – by FRANKLIN LAMB
“We’ve got to understand great-power limitations. There are so many uncontrollable variables at play in Syria and the Middle East,” Hagel said. “You work through the multilateral institutions that are available, the U.N., the Arab league. The last thing you want is an American-led or Western-led invasion into Syria.”
Syria’s Unified Armed Opposition: Internal Divisions, External Ties
By: Nasser Charara – al-Akhbar
In an effort to sideline jihadi Islamists, the US wants to centralize the armed opposition in Syria under a single military command. Will the armed opposition’s internal divisions and foreign backers permit such an endeavor?
Amidst the Syrian opposition’s meetings in Doha and Marrakesh, the finishing touches were placed on an international effort to unite many of Syria’s armed rebel groups under one leadership.
It was clear from the Doha meeting that Washington would not recognize the newly formed opposition National Coalition (NC) until it proved itself capable of forming a united military command for the armed factions operating in Syria.
Washington maintained that the jihadis – which it estimated to constitute a third of the armed groups – would be kept out, while the other two-thirds would be integrated under a central military command that is accountable to the NC.
Sure enough, a supreme military council of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was formed, comprising many of the factions engaged in the armed uprising under the leadership of Salim Idriss. Among those excluded was the hardline Islamist al-Nasra Front, which Washington recently placed on its list of terrorist organizations.
On paper at least, it seems that the opposition succeeded in removing two key obstacles to Western military assistance: the infiltration of al-Qaeda elements, and the wayward and sometimes criminal behavior of some factions due to a lack of accountability and discipline.
Chances of Success
Will Washington’s plan succeed?….
McClatchy story about the humanitarian crisis in Syria. by Roy Gutman
Published Friday, December 14, 2012
The Revolt of Islam in Syria
Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, 14/12
The United States this week became the latest country to recognize the Syrian National Coalition, formed in Qatar a month ago, as the legitimate leadership of the Syrian opposition. The formation of a joint military council aligned with the coalition was also announced in Antalya, Turkey. At the same time, Washington designated Jabhat al-Nusra, the powerful Salafi armed group in Syria, as a terrorist organization.
All of these moves indicate that a coherent US and western policy toward the rebel side in the Syrian civil war is now emerging. This policy is in line with the Obama Administration’s broader regional orientation, and meets with the approval of key EU governments. It is also the preferred direction of Turkey and Qatar, the two countries who led the international response to the Syrian rebellion during the long period that the west preferred not to get directly involved.
The intention is to align with and strengthen Muslim Brotherhood-associated elements, while painting Salafi forces as the sole real Islamist danger. At the same time, secular forces are ignored or brushed aside….A Reuters report on the new joint military council calculated that the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies account for about two thirds of the 263 men who met in Antaliya and formed the new body. Salafi commanders are also there….
The focus on Jabhat al Nusra should not obscure the fact that the better-organized, non-Salafi, home grown, Muslim Brotherhood elements that the US is backing are no less anti-western and no less anti-Jewish…..the force now facing the retreating Assad regime is split between differing brands of Sunni Arab Islamism, some aligned with the west, some directly opposing it, but all holding fast to fundamentally anti-western ideologies….
Adnan Arour: anyone who refuses to have “God is Great” on the Syrian flag is a heretic
Into the Quagmire: Turkey’s Frustrated Syria Policy
Briefing Paper – Chattam House
Christopher Phillips, December 2012
- After a decade of cooperation and closeness with Syria, Turkey’s policy has changed radically as a result of the 2011–12 crisis in Syria. It is now openly calling for the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and actively sponsoring the opposition.
- Since March 2011 Turkey has escalated its policy towards Syria in four stages: trying to persuade Assad to reform; cutting diplomatic ties; supporting regional and international political solutions; and, supporting and aiding Syria’s political and armed opposition. While advocating a fifth stage – direct military intervention against the Assad regime, such as a no-fly zone or humanitarian corridor – Turkey is unwilling to act unilaterally.
- Turkey has already received over 135,000 Syrian refugees, has been bombarded by Assad’s forces and fears the use of chemical weapons. Any further disintegration of the Syrian state could provide a launch pad for Turkish Kurdish separatists and might raise questions about Turkey’s own territorial integrity. Economic concerns have also been raised should the crisis spread into the key market of northern Iraq.
- Turkey has recently proposed talks with Russia, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia to help resolve the Syria crisis. While unlikely to lead anywhere in the foreseeable future, such a multilateral process may be needed to help stabilize Syria and prevent state collapse if and when Assad eventually falls.