News Round Up (18 Feb 2013)

Peter Harling via ft:

There is a dual process of consolidation,” he said. “The opposition is consolidating in the north and east, and the regime is consolidating in central Syria and the coast and mountains.”

Even the loss of new swaths of territory and oilfields is unlikely to be a fatal blow to the regime however, argues Mr Harling. “This regime is bleeding from so many cuts,” he said, “it presumably will adjust, as always.”

Colonel Riad al-Asaad – Free  Syrian Army preparing for “final battle” for Damascus
13/07/2012, By Caroline Akoum, Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat –

In light of the noticeable development in the Free Syrian Army [FSA]’s military operations, not to mention the escalated pace of defections from the regular army’s forces, the FSA has announced that it is gearing up to take the fight to the al-Assad regime in Damascus. Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, FSA commander Colonel Riad al-Asaad revealed that “preparations for the battle of Damascus are underway and are in full swing, particularly as this operation – which will be the final and decisive confrontation with the regime – requires special preparations and arrangements”. He added “this has led to the battle being postponed so far; however once it starts it will be resolved quickly, within a matter of weeks.”

European Foreign Ministers Reject Arming Syrian Rebels
Nick Ottens, February 18, 2013

Carl Bildt and William Hague, the foreign ministers of Sweden and the United Kingdom, talk with the European Union’s foreign policy chief Baroness Catherine Ashton in Brussels, December 13, 2010 (The Council of the European Union)

European Union foreign ministers agreed on Monday to keep sanctions against Syria in place for another three months, including an arms embargo that prevents them from arming the opposition in the country to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

A European official told the Associated Press anonymously that the United Kingdom had urged a change in the sanctions regime to allow weapons to be supplied to the rebels. Ahead of their meeting in Brussels, however, several European foreign ministers said that shipping more arms into Syria would be a mistake.

Besides the arms embargo, the European Union prohibits the import of Syrian oil and has enacted financial sanctions against various individuals and companies with ties to Assad’s regime.

Western powers have been reluctant to intervene in the civil war that has raged in Syria for nearly two years for fear of emboldening Sunni Islamists who comprise the backbone of the rebellion…..

As the Americans fail to do anything meaningful about Syria it´s the Europeans that have to act:
Kristin Helberg

Video: Syria’s shifting strategic balance – Inside Syria – Aljazeera
with Elias Hanna, Joshua Landis and Khalid Salih, Opposition spokesman in Istanbul

حوار حول دور السلفيين والاسلاميين في الثورة السورية

A leader of one of Syria’s Salafi militias – Sheikh Lu’ay – explains their strength, strategy and politics. He explains that little unity exists among the opposition on the ground and challenges the news anchor to name one militia that takes orders from Idris or anyone else. He insists that the revolution is a popular revolution and that the Salafis will take orders from the people and post-war government, whatever its shape if it is a true expression of the people’s will.

Around 40,000 flee heavy fighting in east Syria: U.N.
GENEVA | Fri Feb 15, 2013 (Reuters) –

An estimated 40,000 people have fled a town in eastern Syria after three days of heavy fighting between government troops and rebels, the United Nations food agency said.

Rebels seized al-Shaddadeh in Syria’s oil-producing east on Thursday after the clashes which killed 30 of their fighters and 100 Syrian government troops, a violence monitoring group told Reuters.

“A WFP (World Food Programme) team visited the area and estimated that around 40,000 people have fled al-Shaddadeh to al-Hasakah city (the regional capital),” the U.N. agency told journalists in Geneva on Friday.

Northeastern Syria was hit by four years of drought before the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad started nearly two years ago, resulting in high rates of malnutrition among children, WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said.

“The fighting and displacement only aggravates the misery of these people,” she said, adding the agency had sent extra rations to the area this week. Taking Shaddadeh brings the rebels closer to the provincial capital Hasakah, 45 km (30 miles) to the north in the surrounding Hasakah province…

ISW Outlines Syrian Army Capabilities

Washington, D.C. – Current estimates of Syrian opposition strength have generated confidence that the Assad regime will be defeated militarily. This assessment cannot be made without also estimating the real fighting power of the Syrian regime.

The regime’s military strength rests on many factors, such as the loyalty of troops, the status of equipment, and the number of casualties sustained. These variables have no meaning, however, if not compared to a valid baseline.

The Syrian Army: Doctrinal Order of Battle, written by ISW Senior Syria Analyst Joseph Holliday, establishes the composition of the Syrian Army, provides insight into the historical roles of particular units, and assesses the doctrinal order of battle of the Syrian Army as it existed in 2011. The report contains a graphic order of battle as well as doctrinal orientation maps.

Understanding the composition, history, and doctrinal order of battle of the Syrian Army is necessary to explain how the Assad regime prosecuted counterinsurgency operations in 2011-2012.

This report precedes the Institute for the Study of War’s upcoming report, The Assad Regime: From Counterinsurgency to Civil War, which will examine the ways in which Assad has deployed his forces in the ongoing campaign against Syria’s opposition.

post for comment this new Arabiya story claiming Druze clerics are switching sides and this Washington Post article from last week claiming shift in Druze community to opposition.  I’m in the midst of writing an article on the Druze for FPRI (your Shishakli piece invaluable) and I’m VERY VERY skeptical of the above claims.  I see the jabal gravitating toward a Kurd-like autonomy at best (and even this is a ways off), certainly not swinging into the rebel camp.  I keep checking your blog to see if I’m missing something!

Letter from a friend in Aleppo

We seriously need to go out today before tomorrow for the sake of the children not for me and Rxxxx. Things in Aleppo in particular are getting worse day after day and I don’t think it will hold on forever. It will fall soon as I see it. Rania is very depressed and under trauma, she does not sleep, she keeps crying, she needs psychological consultation but in our case it does not exist. She is so worried about the Fxxx and Jxxx, the same for me. Today a bomb falls on Fxxxx’s faculty — the faculty of science — and there is a sniper somewhere who is shooting people. He is of course at home safe but I asked not to go any more even if he looses his year. I don’t know how we can go out anywhere and what to do. Beirut for us is impossible to financially survive, it is a very expensive country plus the humiliation Syrians are experiencing. To Tartous we know no body there. To Damascus is not better at all. The airport is closed and almost falling down in the hands of the insurgents. We are in a prison, no electricity, no water, and no hope things will get better. It is a false vision. We thought sometime to go to Egypt but it is not easy also what to do there. Our only hope is a miracle from God. Pray for us

The West should give the Free Syrian Army food and anti-aircraft defences, one EU parliament official says after visiting the war torn country…..


The main conclusion of my journey is that the West is listening too much to Assad.

He warned us that the rebellion could lead to sectarian war, terrorists, an Islamic state, the disintegration of Syria.

There was a grain of truth in his warning. But for a long time, it was pure propaganda. Now, as the months go by, Assad’s own actions are making it into a reality. Meanwhile, the fact the West heeded his warning and hesitated to get involved, made the problems look bigger than they are, helped Assad to propagate his self-fulfilling prophecy.

The fact we do not support the FSA has created space for Jabhat Al Nusra and the PKK. The fact that we do not give humanitarian aid is weakening the FSA and helping Assad. The fact that we do not give support to the civil councils makes space for sectarian violence.

One year ago, Syrian opposition member Fawaz Tello told the the Liberal group in the European Parliament: “Assad is going to fall, no doubt. The question is if Europe wants to be on the right side of history in order to limit the killings and play a role in the reconstruction afterwards?”

Today this question remains poignant.

We can still play a role, limit the casualties and help to build a secular/non-sectarian Syria. The task is not even that difficult.

We should give humanitarian aid directly to the liberated areas and we should give anti-aircraft defences to the FSA. It is the only way to support the right people in this conflict and to help non-combatant Syrians to survive.

Obama is right to resist the Syria hawks
By Edward Luce

The president’s lack of diplomatic creativity, rather than his sense of caution, is his real Achilles heel

In the coming weeks, pressure on Barack Obama to do something about Syria will intensify. Neoconservatives on the right and liberal interventionists on the left argue that the president’s inaction is making the US look impotent and callous. He does not even follow the lead of others, they say, let alone lead from behind as he did on Libya. He just sits cynically on his hands while the slaughter escalates – at the cost of 70,000 lives and counting.

That narrative will only grow stronger as the Syrian faultlines become more sectarian. But it is unlikely to prompt a change of course since it misreads the kind of president Mr Obama has become. In his State of the Union speech last week, Mr Obama devoted barely half a sentence to Syria and only a sentence to Iran. But he dwelt at length on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan…..

Foreign POlicy

Fierce clashes have been reported as opposition forces work to overtake Aleppo international airport. Fighting has been occurring at the airfield for weeks and on Wednesday opposition fighters took control of most of the “Brigade 80″ military base protecting it. According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, regime warplanes have bombarded rebel positions near the airport with airstrikes. If opposition fighters overtake the airport, it will be a major setback for the regime, cutting off supply lines to Aleppo. Beginning his term as U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry said he will utilize his past relationship with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a strategy to get the ruler to leave power. Kerry said he understands the “calculations” that drive Assad and believes there are methods that can change them. He said, “Right now President Assad doesn’t think he’s losing — and the opposition thinks it’s winning.” Additionally he reaffirmed that the U.S. administration is seeking a political solution to the Syrian conflict rather than arming opposition forces. Meanwhile, U.N. special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi’s deputy Mokhtar Lamani traveled to the country for the first visit of the team in months, meeting with the leader of the opposition Revolutionary Military Council as well as civilian and Christian leaders. They all expressed support for the recent initiative by the head of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, Moaz al-Khatib, to hold direct talks with the government.

Shopping Option C for Syria
Arming the rebels is not a Goldilocks idea, it’s just wrong.

Last week’s revelations that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey had supported a proposal by then CIA Director David Petraeus and outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to arm moderate Syrian rebels have galvanized the Syria policy debate. The Syria policy community, which for the most part these days yearns for more aggressive American action, is outraged that the White House overruled this plan. But the real story is that, for once, the inter-agency process actually worked: It vetted and discarded a scheme which rigorous analysis concluded wouldn’t work…..

Syrians Freed in Abductions That Stoked Fears of More Strife

The recent kidnappings of more than 140 have demonstrated not only the high level of insecurity in the area, but also the determination of residents to defuse tensions….BEIRUT, Lebanon — The tit-for-tat kidnappings of more than 140 people have provoked fears of expanded sectarian conflict in Syria’s northern Idlib Province in recent days, but one set of hostages was released in good condition on Saturday after negotiations between residents of two of the affected villages, according to a rebel commander.

For Rebels, a Treacherous Road to Damascus
by Mike Giglio Feb 16, 2013

Syria’s opposition forces are amassing for a third attempt to control the capital. But Assad loyalist strongholds and natural advantages in the surrounding mountains, can they take it?

… The rebels have the momentum. And in their current Damascus offensive, according to analysts such as James Miller of EA WorldView, the opposition appears to be better organized than in the past and far better armed. But Assad still has two big advantages on his side as he fights to keep control of the capital, according to several experts tracking the conflict. Neighborhoods that house Assad’s most loyal supporters surround strategically critical points of interest, such as military installations and government institutions, mainly in the northwest. And in a city pressed against mountains, Assad also holds the key positions above. “The rebels don’t have a cohesive route into the center of the capital, because there are these enclaves of Assad support—and they’re protected by the military, the police, and also local militias,” Miller says. “And the regime holds all the high ground.”

The Damascus neighborhoods that remain bastions of Assad support are predominately Alawite—the offshoot of Shiite Islam that forms only 10 percent of the population in the majority Sunni country but makes up the backbone of Assad’s government. A recent report by the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, D.C., describes two such neighborhoods that help encircle the city’s heart in the west. One, Qudssaya, is known as the Lion’s Den because of its high density of Assad supporters, the report notes. Another, Mazzeh 86, is an “Alawite slum and the point of origin for many pro-regime militias.” Further in from Mazzeh 86, Mazzeh (sans the 86) is a wealthier concentration of Assad supporters, including many families of Alawite officers from the military’s senior ranks….

….On the other side of the city, Miller adds, a similar containment strategy is likely under way in Jobar, which the rebels might use as a gateway into the center from their strongholds in the east. The government has been targeting the neighborhood with intense bombing from its warplanes. But unlike suburbs such as Duma and Daraya, as The New York Times noted this week, Jobar is actually considered part of the main city.

The biggest advantage for government forces in Damascus might be measured in height. Firas Abi Ali, the acting head of MENA forecasting at IHS Exclusive Analysis, a risk-consultancy firm in London, points out that the government is dug in well with tanks and heavy artillery on Mount Qasioun, the mountain that looms large over Damascus. “It allows whoever’s sitting there to overlook the rest of the city and target the city with observed fire—which means that if your first shell doesn’t hit your target, then the second and third shell will,” Abi Ali says. “They’ve got the high ground, and the weapons on the high ground, and the rebels don’t have the ability to deal with that. And they’re not going to for quite some time.”

LA Times [Reg]: Iranian military general reportedly assassinated in Syria

BEIRUT — A high-ranking member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps was assassinated this week while traveling from Syria to neighboring Lebanon, the Iranian press reported Thursday, in the strongest indication to date that senior Iranian military …

Israeli Air Attack in Syria Killed IRG General
by Richard Silverstein on February 17, 2013

Free Syrian Army sources revealed several days ago that an Iranian general, Hassan Shateri (also known as Hussam Hush Nawis) was killed in Syria recently.  First reports made it appear he might’ve been killed by the FSA.  Iran, however, said that he was killed by Israel.  But since it didn’t add any further information, I couldn’t figure out how Israel would’ve done so.

Now, I’ve put the pieces together with the help of my own intuition, a Ynetnews report, and an Israeli source.  Israel killed Shateri two weeks ago in an air attack on an Iranian arms convoy that was carrying advanced weaponry through Syria, making its way to Lebanon.  Shateri, in fact, was responsible for the Iranian reconstruction project of rebuilding southern Lebanon after the 2006 war.  He even had a diplomatic position, which would mean that not only did Israel invade Syrian sovereignty in killing him, it also killed an Iranian diplomat.  There may be those who scoff at the notion that an IRG general may be a diplomat.  But there are many military attaches who serve in embassies around the world, yet enemies of these nations don’t generally go around offing them.  Israel holds that special distinction…..

Christians Squeezed Out by Violent Struggle in North Syria
By SUSANNE GÜSTEN, February 13, 2013

MIDYAT, TURKEY — The bright voices of children at play echoed off the ancient walls of Mor Hanonyo last week, breaking centuries of stillness in this 1,600-year-old Syriac Orthodox monastery outside Mardin in southeastern Turkey. Little boys skipped around the monastery courtyard zipped up in quilted winter jackets, while their elders huddled indoors and lamented the violence and mayhem that have forced them to flee their homes in Syria.

One mother told of the abduction of a neighbor’s child, held for ransom by rebel fighters in her hometown of Al-Hasakah, which prompted her family to seek safety for their three young sons across the border in Turkey. A young man demonstrated how he was hung by his arms, robbed and beaten by rebels, “just for being a Christian.”

Violence against Christians is escalating in the governorate of Al-Hasakah in northeastern Syria, which is home to tens of thousands of Syriac Christians, the refugees said.

The region, known locally as the Jazeera, encompasses the districts of Ras al-Ain, Qamishli and Malikiyah. With government forces, Arab rebels of the Free Syrian Army and Kurdish fighters locked in a three-way struggle for control, the area’s Christian population has found itself caught in the middle.

While fighting is sporadic, the region has succumbed to lawlessness, and Christians have become the target of armed rebel gangs, Father Gabriel Akyuz, the metropolitan vicar of Mardin, said in an interview in Mardin last week.

“The gangs are kidnapping people and holding them to ransom. They are perpetrating great injustices. That is why Syriacs are fleeing,” he said.

Several hundred Christian refugees have arrived in Turkey in recent weeks, with tens of thousands poised to follow if the region, currently held by the Kurdish, should fall to Arab militias, according to refugees, church officials and representatives of Syriac organizations interviewed in southeastern Turkey last week.

Bypassing Turkish refugee camps on the border, fleeing Christians have headed for the monasteries and towns of Mardin and Midyat in Tur Abdin, an ancient region in southeastern Turkey, less than 50 kilometers, or 30 miles, from the Syrian border that is the historical heartland of the Syriac Orthodox Church.

“They are afraid to stay in the camps. They feel safer with their own people,” said Father Joseph, a Syriac monk looking after four families and several single refugees in Mor Hanonyo.

“We are fleeing from the rebels, and the camps are full of rebels,” said the mother of the three little boys, a schoolteacher who did not want to be named for fear of rebel reprisals against relatives at home….While the Kurds remained in control of the Jazeera, most Syriacs would stay put, said one young man, who gave his name only as Gabriel. But if the region should fall to Islamist Arab rebels, “then not any Christian people will stay there,” he said.

Yusuf Turker, the administrator of the monastery, said Syriacs on both sides of the border were anxiously following the struggle between Kurds and Arab militias over the region.

“If Ras al-Ain falls and the militias overrun the region, God forbid, then 40,000 or 50,000 Christians will come over the border in one rush,” he said….“If we Syriacs keep on running, where will we end up?” Mr. Turker said. “It is time for us to make a stand.”

The Syriac federation hopes that it can persuade Turkey to grant citizenship to Christian refugees from Syria, enabling them to settle in Tur Abdin.

It says the road to naturalization in Turkey should be easy for Syriac Syrians, most of whom are descended from earlier generations of refugees from Tur Abdin who fled Turkish persecution and a local famine in the first half of the 20th century. They settled in what was then the French mandate of Syria, leading to the establishment of the Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese of Jazeera and Euphrates in Al-Hasakah, where it remains to this day.

“Most of the refugees’ ancestors are still on record here in Turkey, so they could be naturalized on those grounds: That is what they told us,”…Hannibal, a 36-year-old pathologist who fled Syria when his life was threatened by rebels, was not smiling as he talked: “As Christians in the Middle East, we live in misery and suffer many difficulties. We want nothing more than to emigrate to other places.”

BBC: Lasting scars of Syria’s assault on Baba Amr

One year ago this month, the Syrian army launched one of the most intense assaults of the conflict, with the bombardment of the Baba Amr district of Homs. The operation was meant to crush the rebel Free Syrian Army there, but thousands of civilians …

Syria: The Growing Power Of Jihadist Groups

Sky’s Stuart Ramsay meets an increasingly influential group which says jihad is spreading and will not stop at Syria.

The number of Jihadist groups flooding into Syria two years after the start of the uprising is threatening to eclipse the power of mainstream opposition groups as well as the authority of the Free Syrian Army.

One of the increasingly influential groups, Jabah al Haq (The Front for Justice), told Sky News that Jihad is spreading across North Africa and the Middle East and will not stop at Syria but will include Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and even Israel….

CNN: Syrian official: ‘We have already won’

Damascus, Syria (CNN) — As both sides in Syria’s bloody civil war claimed advances, one high-ranking member of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime expressed confidence in ultimate victory. Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Maqdad, in an …

Hackers Expose U.S. False Flag to Frame Syria – February 13, 2013 – American Free Press
• Mercenary emails indicate U.S. may have proposed “false flag” chemical attack

Hacked emails from a British mercenary company were posted online, leading to claims Washington was backing a dirty war against Syria in which a chemical attack on Syria could be blamed on the Syrian regime, thereby strengthening the case for immediate intervention on the part of the United States military.

British mercenary company, Britam Defence, has since admitted it was hacked but claimed the hacker, who posted his online name as “JAsIrX,” had maliciously and cleverly used hacked material to generate forgeries to destroy the company’s reputation and make it look like it was involved in shocking behavior.

According to a spokesman for the company, it was really a “risk management firm” and not a mercenary company like those hired by the U.S. Defense Department to carry out military operations in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, the sheer volume of hacked documents from Britam demonstrates that the UK firm has a hand in more than just paper-pushing. It is clearly a company with tentacles that reach into all parts of the military-industrial complex in the UK and overseas.

One of the hacked emails that has resulted in the most embarrassment for the U.S. government concerned Syria. The email reads as follows:

Phil, we’ve got a new offer. It’s about Syria again. Qataris propose an attractive deal and swear that the idea is approved in Washington. We’ll have to deliver a CW to Homs, a Soviet origin g-shell [sic] from Libya similar to those that Assad should have. They want us to deploy our Ukrainian personnel that should speak Russian and make a video record. Frankly, I don’t think it is a good idea but the sums proposed are enormous. Your opinion?

Kind regards, David

The “Phil” referred to in the email is purported to be Philip Doughy, Britam’s founder. The “David” is the director of development, David Goulding. The “CW” in the email refers to Chemical Weapon and the “g-shell” implies a gas-warfare-type shell.

The company claims the email was a forgery. Nevertheless, its release coincided with warnings by Israel and the Obama White House that Syrian leader Bashar al Assad was liable to use his chemical weapons on the Arab revolutionaries and Islamist militias trying to overthrow his government. Israel has insisted it reserves the right to attack Syria’s chemical sites and the issue has encouraged neocons to argue it is time for the U.S. and its allies to get more directly involved in overthrowing Assad. Russia has insisted Assad has given it an assurance he will not use chemical weapons on his people.

In all, 423 megabytes of zip files were hacked from Britam. Aside from the one on Syria, there were others related to Iran that have caused considerable controversy.

For example, one file folder contained outlines of plans for varying types of military actions to be undertaken as part of an attack on Iran. The topics listed in the files were under headings such as “Fix enemy forces and lure them to the killing zones.” Another had the title, “Move from their garrisons to occupy AA at Grid (1556) (IAW Movement Order).” The IAW stands for “in agreement with.”

The hacker, who posted the files, said he hacked Britam’s website after discovering it was on a Malaysian server and that its files indicated it had plans for the invasion of Syria and Iran. He described it as a private military company. To prove his case, he also released copies of emails and files with titles such as “WMM Baghdad 5” and “Iran issue” with the date, 24-01-2013.

One file contained a listing of many of Britam’s clients, including Halliburton with which it has an ongoing $16M contract for what it terms “risk assessment, planning and close protection of personnel” in oilfields in parts of Iraq. A similar contract worth $11M is with BP. […]

Jabhat Al-Nusra Communiqué Describes Group’s Takeover Of Al-Shadadah, In Hasaka Province

In a February 15, 2013 communiqué, the Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihad group Jabhat Al-Nusra describes its takeover of the city of Al-Shadadah in Syria’s Hasaka province. The communiqué was released by the organization’s media company, Al-Manara Al-Baida, and posted on the jihadi website Shumoukh Al-Islam. The following are its main points. The organization states that “the lions of Jabhat Al-Nusra” are making daily gains in their war against the tyrant Bashar Al-Assad and his troops, and that its forces in the east of the country have managed to liberate Al-Shadadah completely after launching a comprehensive attack on it and on all the checkpoints and military posts surrounding it.

Al-Qaeda Flag, Sign Reading ‘The Islamic Emirate’ Hung On Display In Tripoli, Lebanon

On February 8, 2013, the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar reported that in Al-Najma Square in Tripoli, Lebanon, an Al-Qaeda flag was hung on display where there had previously been a picture of former Lebanese president S’ad Al-Hariri.

…Reactions from residents were mixed. One Sunni woman who lost family members in the attack said she hoped that the Assad regime was behind the bombing. Many Ismailis and Sunnis, irrespective of their commitment to the revolution, said that the city—which is around two-thirds Ismaili, with the remaining population mostly Sunni with some Alawites—should stand united so that the social fabric of the community doesn’t fray. The Salamiyeh Local Coordination Committee condemned Nusra’s “cowardly attack which is against the revolution” and said the “heinous crime is not justified,” but also held the regime responsible for the violence.

Despite this spirit, tensions are increasing. “A huge fight broke out at a funeral for one of the martyrs because many blamed the regime while others said the terrorists of Nusra had finally come to get us,” according to an architecture student who lives in Salamiyeh.

Since most of the people killed were pro-regime Shabiha, mourners used the funerals to stage pro-regime rallies. The funeral of one young child, Milad Hamoudi, held up flags of the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party which backs the regime….

Spate of kidnappings raises specter of sectarian strife in Syria
By Associated Press, Updated: Saturday, February 16

In Syria, Old Damascus now a quiet, shrunken core
By Rasha Elass, Los Angeles Times

Old Damascus remains largely separated from the violence in the suburbs, but its once-bustling art and tourism scenes have contracted, its streets now filled with armed security men.

Syria Deeply

Our reporting this week went Behind the Lens in Idlib with photojournalist Nicole Tung, after a look at Facebook Diplomacy and Terrorist Chants in Binnish in our Social Media Buzz. We interviewed a Syrian soldier who told us that “Tomorrow, I’m Defecting From Assad’s Army,” and zoomed in on how the Salamiyeh Bombings Struck the Heart of Syria’s Peaceful Revolt. As part of our weekly interview series with reporters covering the crisis, we went One-on-One with Clarissa Ward. A snapshot of refugee life showed how Syria’s Kurds Battle Squalor and Indifference in Iraq.

In community op-eds we featured a take on The Biggest Hurdles Facing Post-Assad Syria and perspectives from Anne Richard, Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration at the U.S. State Department. She weighed in on The State of Aid for Syria.

Wrapping up the week we held a Google Hangout with Ambassador Edward Djerejian, the former US envoy to Syria and Israel. He joined us for a thoughtful digital dialogue, rich with historical perspective.

Sharmine Narwani: Unreliable data can incite and escalate a conflict – the latest UN-sponsored figure of 60,000 should not be reported as fact, Friday 15 February 2013

….Casualty counts during modern wars have become a highly politicised business. On one hand, they can help alert the outside world to the scale of violence and suffering, and the risks of conflict spreading both within a country’s borders and beyond them. On the other, as in Syria, Iraq, Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere, death tolls have routinely been manipulated, inflated or downplayed – a tool for the advancement of political interests.

As if to underline the point, Libya’s new government recently announced that death tolls had been exaggerated during the 2011 Libyan civil war; that there had been around 5,000 deaths on either side – a long way from the reported tens of thousands of casualties that set the scene for Nato’s “humanitarian” intervention, or the 30-50,000 deaths claimed by opponents of this intervention.

While physically present in Iraq, the US and British governments were unable to provide estimates of the numbers of deaths unleashed by their own invasion, yet in Syria, the same governments frequently quote detailed figures, despite lacking essential access.

Syria’s death toll leapt from 45,000 to 60,000 earlier this year, a figure gathered by a UN-sponsored project to integrate data from seven separate lists. The new numbers are routinely cited by politicians and media as fact, and used to call for foreign intervention in the conflict…..

Counting the Dead in Syria
By Armin Rosen in Atlantic

The death count in Syria’s ongoing civil war was revised upwards on Tuesday. Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, now says that the toll is “probably now approaching 70,000,” an increase of 10,000 from the end of November, when a U.N.-commissioned report found 60,000 individual instances in which a name, date and location of death could be determined. The data set from that report suggested that the true number of dead in the Syria conflict was even higher than that, and one of the report’s authors told The Atlantic that the figure was “a very conservative under-count.” Pillay’s 70,000 number has some relationship to two unknown figures: the number of deaths that can be estimated given currently available information, and the actual number of deaths in the conflict, a total which might not be known for several years (if it is ever conclusively known at all). Both of these numbers are higher than 70,000. Perhaps they’re even much higher.

Yahya Hawwa, voice of the Syrian revolution – Guardian by Omar Shahid

Seventeen members of his family have been arrested, but Yahya Hawwa still sings – and Syrian protesters have made his voice their own. Omar Shahid talks to the irrepressible voice of a revolution

Comments (128)

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101. Citizen said:
Kuwaiti newspaper “Alsiasa” in its issue of 16/2/13 led names 39 Kuwaities killed in Syria.
According to the newspaper, these young men have found the true path of jihad to travel to Syria, and dying there.
She also encouraged the young men in the country to follow their example.
According to the author, only the February killing 10 people, of which only near Damascus – 9.

Is it possible to call the smart people who go to another country to die for some unknown reason? That’s sure once again that the busy person stupid sheep.

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February 19th, 2013, 4:56 am


102. Citizen said:

February 18 crew IA “ANNA-News” again went to Darayya. There is still fighting. House by house, block by block, the Syrian army is advancing. Today we were allowed to go to the armor on the BMP-controlled territory – so not to worry because of sniper fire.
For seven months the terrorists completely destroyed the city. Western countries are willing to give money to their taxpayers psevdosiriyskoy opposition to war and destruction. And if they are ready to return and rebuild what their subordinates are destroyed?
Overview of action Syrian Arab army in the battle against terrorists

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February 19th, 2013, 5:04 am


103. MarigoldRan said:

Oh. They’re still fighting in Daraya. Didn’t the regime launch the offensive 2 months ago?

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February 19th, 2013, 5:12 am


104. Citizen said:
Syria is fighting against terrorism, the EU contemplating new sanctions
However, the people of Syria shows how it relates to the terrorists. In Aleppo February 15 a mass demonstration in support of the citizens of Syrian army and against the presence of militants in some areas of the city. Residents took to the streets and chanted slogans in support of the armed forces and the country’s legitimate president. The next day people retaliated for this civic and human position, and a sniper killed a child of one of the families that took part in the demonstration.

Here are these that the insurgents who kill children and not regretting even his comrades in arms, when it comes to the division of property, and the EU wants to support, introducing new sanctions against Syria … It remains only to rehabilitate Breivik – in fact, because, like, too, has its own political program was, so, too, “rebel” …

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February 19th, 2013, 6:16 am


105. Shexmus Amed said:

“The fact we do not support the FSA has created space for Jabhat Al Nusra and the PKK.”

Mentioning the PKK and the Jabhat al-Nusra in the same breath is a cruel joke, if not propaganda and misinformation.

There is no PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) in Syria. There is PYD (Democratic Union Party), which belongs to the same umbrella organisation that the PKK belongs to, the KCK (Kurdistan Communities Union). That means the PYD and the PKK are affiliated but they are not one and the same thing. Radical islamists and their allies deliberately say the PKK instead of PYD because they want to demonise the PYD because of its connections with the PKK, which has secular Marxist origins.

The most organised Kurdish armed groups in Syria is the YPG (People’s Defence Units) which, although it was born among the PYD supporters, has declared its loyalty to Kurdish Supreme Committee. KSC was established under the aegis of Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani in July 2012, and it has members both from the PYD and the Kurdish National Council, which itself belongs to Syrian National Council.

Those who follow Kurdish media will note that the YPG have repeatedly said that it takes its orders from the Kurdish Supreme Committee, not from the PYD. Indeed, in battles to repel the jihadist gang incursion from Turkey into Serekaniye (Ras al-Ain), several Kurdish fighters who were martyred by the mercenary jihadist gangs paid by Turkey belonged to parties other than the PYD. Also, the Kurdish National Council condemned the attacks on Serekaniye and supported the YPG defending the town.

Jabhat al-Nusra was among those mercenary gangs who attacked Serekaniye. They were defeated by the YPG there, were expelled from 90 percent of the town and are now suing for peace.

Those who wrongly claim the PKK is in Syria should also admit that the PKK defeated al-Qaeda, which in Syria goes under the name, Jabhat al-Nusra.

Kurdish people will never allow the nihilistic savagery, death, destruction, rape and pillage of the Syrian war come anywhere near Kurdish territories.

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February 19th, 2013, 6:48 am


106. mjabali said:



Dude you have nothing to say so you slurred an answer filled with personal insults. Most likely you are drunk still.

Sp you would rather listening to a lunatic with no education instead of listening to a super educated person. What a freaking fool you are!

Then you said that Sunni Fanaticism is better than Shia fanaticism or Assad Fanaticism: hey freak…they are all the same: Fanaticism is bad all across no matter what is your religious leaning. Shia Fanaticism is the same as Sunni Fanaticism, or Assad Fanaticism: they are all bad.

Insulting me will get you nowhere, on the contrary, it shows the limitation of your argument.

The argument is about Egypt, and not about me. Come up with some facts.

As for the Egyptians: I will say it again: Most of them are lost and therefore they resort to religion. Want to argue about this?

AS for me and religion: you miss again. I do not attack it enough. I hate the role of religion in the Middle East. This seems like a problem for you. Good let it be like that. Maybe you will have the guts once and stand up to the destruction this religion is causing.

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February 19th, 2013, 6:54 am


107. Akbar Palace said:

Darryl and Visitor discuss Akbar Palace(oy):

43. darryl said:

My Dear Visitor, now that you have become pals with Akbar Palace and asking all sorts of questions; perhaps you should ask a very important question like:

Does Akbar Palace or any of his relatives or Jewish friends believe that Uzair (who ever this character might be) is the son of Allah as the Quraan proclaims in Surat Al-Tobah?

57. darryl said:

“54. Visitor said:

Akbar Palace is a good Jew. I do not think he believes any human being is the son of God the way some believe it with regards to some historical figures.”

Dear Visitor, you are not angry with me after all . I did not say he was not a good Jewish person. However, Surat Al-Tobah speaks against the Jewish people by saying ” Qalet Al-Yahood Uzair ibn Allah Wa Qalet Al-Nasara Al-MasiH ibn Allah”.


Thank you for the vote of confidence. I sometimes find it difficult to make an opinion of the participants here unless they are pro-regime, which, in that case, makes it easy for me not to like the person.

As I’ve said before, getting rid of Assad (and any other despot for that matter) is a WIN-WIN for the people of the region. The reasons are obvious. I have no problem with organized religion, unless, of course, someone justifies another person as being “less than human”. I am not familiar with the Koran, but the Torah/Old Testament can include many opinions and examples that don’t fit with today’s society. There are many examples, and I won’t present them here. Suffice to say, I tend to learn from the stories, but I don’t take everything literally. For example, when G-d created the world in 6 days, a “day” may have a different meaning (and so forth).

I believe Jews and Arabs can live together. I believe Jews and Arabs are inherently good people, and that only hate and fear lead us astray. And I believe freedom is a basic human right.

I am a “conservative” Jew, which means among my people here in the US, I am in the MINORITY. I never liked Obama, I liked GWB, and I think you have to get tough with “leaders” like Assad, AHmadinejad, Nasrallah, Meshaal, etc. I appreciate moderate arab leaders like King Hussein, although I am not a fan of monarchs, because this isn’t democracy. I have no problem with the Muslim Brotherhood unless they aren’t democratic and do not promote freedom. They need to be held accountable for demonizing non-muslims.

Hope that makes things clear for you and Darryl.

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February 19th, 2013, 6:57 am


108. Mjabali said:

Syrian Hamster:

The non-Salafi Syrians should take the lead.

These guys with the black flags, black turbans, black leather jackets, and the Michael Jackson fingerless gloves are no good for the Syrians.

Salafism is spreading all over the Middle East and North Africa. Read about how many Salafi missionary went to Tunisia for example and how many non Salafi establishments they took over.

Salafism has lots of money and therefore it is beating the other forms of Sunni Islam.

Salafism is taking over wherever the Muslims live and Syria is no exception. Some of the Syrians in the cities are fighting it, but it is obvious that Salafism has taken over most of the Syrian countryside.

al-Assads are partly to blame for this. They let this happen. They never encouraged the emergence of any alternative. The Petro Dollar financed this fiasco.

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February 19th, 2013, 7:05 am


109. Mjabali said:

Mr. shexmos Amed

You said:

“Kurdish people will never allow the nihilistic savagery, death, destruction, rape and pillage of the Syrian war come anywhere near Kurdish territories.”

So what do you say to the news that al-Nusra with the help of some Kurdish elements rounded up the Alawi workers of the oil fields and executed them: the number of the dead people, if true, is in the hundreds.

This seems like a war crime to me. Do you have any information about this?

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February 19th, 2013, 7:11 am


110. Observer said:

I am heartened that Majbali and Syrian Hamster are posting again.

More diversity and wider views are always welcome.

It is now a black and white struggle in the minds of the protagonists.

The regime considers those that rebelled as disloyal and therefore can use SCUDS on them. Example: Rev calling for chemical weapons use on the population.

The other side has declared the regime apostate and therefore justifies its massacre en masse.

Del Ponte wants the ICC to take the matter; Russia today thinks it will not be helpful. I wonder why? The extremist ideology and behavior that Majbali bemoans and the criminal regime will BOTH be brought to justice.

Why is Russia refusing or hinting that it will refuse this move? It will claim that it will harden the regime hard liners. Harden them further? How much further? Chemical weapons further? This is the logic of a blackmailed person asking that he should not provoke the thug lest he kills the hostages.

I say bring them both to the ICC and shame Russia into a veto. After all, the Syrian people do not count in Putin’s calculation.

The news today with the use of SCUD missiles indicates that the airplanes are not flying as easily.

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February 19th, 2013, 7:46 am


111. Citizen said:

لكل قوم هناك بالوعة ! وصف الشيخ موس صحيح بالمطلق !

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February 19th, 2013, 7:49 am


112. apple_mini said:

As soon as the rebels lost its ability to organize attacks to Damascus from Darraya, then the regime has achieved its military goal. Darraya was no longer a base for the rebels in January. The following mop-up operations have been going on in Darraya for a while.

The regime withdrew main forces in Darraya. Some of those forces diverted to the north and some of them went back to the main bases in the northwest of Damascus.

If anyone is interested, they should read an interview of Ala’a Albasha by Mona Mahmood. That fighter is from brigade Saif AlSham Damascus. The tone of the fighter is quite pessimistic. He actually shows willingness to accept political solution. Apparently the heat on the battle ground is pretty high.

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February 19th, 2013, 7:53 am


113. majedkhaldoun said:

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February 19th, 2013, 8:16 am


114. apple_mini said:

#104 This is the first time I heard about your alleged massacre of those oil field workers. It is quite disturbing. I’d like to know more details if I could.

Interestingly, the regime deliberately withholds those kind of sectarian incidents and killings. My guess is that the regime knows sectarian conflict is extremely detrimental. The more you talk about, the more people will think about it. And bang, it will get even worse.

Most Syrians reject sectarianism. Historically, the diversity of different kind of people with different religions and heritage is one of the most striking beauty of Syria.

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February 19th, 2013, 8:33 am


115. majedkhaldoun said:

Tishrin presidential palace are under attack by FSA,now

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February 19th, 2013, 8:52 am


116. Visitor said:

The Majoussi in Iraq are busy practicing what they know best: assassination which the perfected since the dawn of history,

Great Alexander’s father (king Philip) was killed by a Majoussi, the first such political assassination in history, prompting Alexander to invade them and destroy them in their own turf. Caliph Omar was killed by a Majoussi who is now worshiped in Mullah-stan as a ‘mullah’. These guys are so coward they cannot face you face to face. But I tell you they are so full of bullsh*t, if you do not know them, you will think they are the ”super duper’ Darth Vaders.

Deception and تقية is the name of their game.

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February 19th, 2013, 8:53 am


117. mjabali said:

Visitor the thumbs up slow…المهرج

Dude do you live under a rock?

In this month alone there were at least 20 car bombs targeting Shia in Iraq by your Salafi lunatics. Car bombs in markets, car bombs targeting Shia pilgrims, car bombs targeting Shia establishments, and car bombs targeting Iraqi government installations.

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February 19th, 2013, 9:05 am


118. majedkhaldoun said:

Europe is divided about arming the rebels, this will encourage Qatar and KSA to arm the rebels, and this is better, we don’t want aid from the west.
Russia and Iran and HA supporting Assad militarily and financially,no one should complain that the Gulf states are helping the rebels.

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February 19th, 2013, 9:07 am


119. mjabali said:


Syrian Hamster is a true Syrian to me. He understands the true feelings of Syrians. You can feel it in his writings. He never called for violence or sectarian lunacy. He gets nothing from me but respect any time. People like him should be encouraged to lead the way.

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February 19th, 2013, 9:08 am


120. zoo said:

Except for the UK, European countries are unanimous: No arms to rebels.
The UN urges the opposition to reject al Nusra and other islamists if it wants help.

BRUSSELS, Feb. 19 (UPI) — European governments rejected a British push to modify a European Union arms embargo on Syria to permit weapons shipments to Syrian rebel forces.

A separate report issued Monday in Geneva by a U.N. commission said the umbrella Syrian National Coalition was getting dangerously involved with extremist Islamist fighters, drawn into the conflict because they see it as a Sunni jihad against President Bashar Assad’s rule. This regime is technically secular but is dominated by Alawites, a branch of Shiite Islam.

The extremists joining the coalition include fighters from Libya, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt, the commission said.

The commission urged the coalition to separate itself from the extremist groups. This would make it easier for Europe, the United States and others to provide aid, it said.

Read more:

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February 19th, 2013, 9:22 am


121. Mjabali said:


Here is a link to articles about events in the oil fields in the East of Syria.



Here is a video to the attack on oil field of al-Ghuna.

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February 19th, 2013, 9:40 am


122. zoo said:

Muslim Brotherhood “Drowning”: Ex-presidential Adviser

By Ahmed Imbabi

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat yesterday, former Egyptian presidential adviser Dr. Khaled Alam El-Din revealed that the “Muslim Brotherhood are drowning” in terms of their administration of the state. The ultra-conservative Alam El-Din, who is a member of the Salafi Nour Party, was fired from his position as presidential adviser on environmental affairs by Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi amid allegations of abuse of office.

Speaking following his controversial dismissal, Dr. Alam El-Din said, “We tried to help them (the Brotherhood) but they refused, we then proposed that they form a government by themselves so that they solely bear responsibility and they also refused this.”

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February 19th, 2013, 9:42 am


123. Tara said:

From the Guardian

A Syrian official says two mortars have exploded near one of President Bashar al-Assad’s palaces in the capital Damascus, AP reports.

The official said the rounds struck Tuesday near the southern wall of the Tishreen palace, in the capital’s northwestern Muhajireen district, but caused only material damages.

No casualties were reported and it was unclear whether Assad was in the palace. He has two others in the city.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to brief the media.

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February 19th, 2013, 9:50 am


124. revenire said:

Entire convoy of rats destroyed:

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February 19th, 2013, 9:59 am


125. revenire said:

Syrian Air Force drops some “cheese” on the rats:

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February 19th, 2013, 10:02 am


126. revenire said:

Dr. Assad I salute you.

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February 19th, 2013, 10:03 am


127. Visitor said:

The feeble attempts of so-called secuhlarists in the Arab world to continually hijack the will of the people has become well known even to little kids. al-Jabali of Tunisia announces his failure to execute a bloodless coup under the guise of forming a so-called government of technocrats effectively robbing the people of choices they made in the recent polls,

In fact, rumours are multiplying that purport that the assassination of Bal3’eid was in fact staged by none other the so-called secuhlarists in Tunisia with involvement from the Algerian government to create a quid pro quo and force a bloodless coup on the Tunisians.

The Tunisians however proved that they are awake.

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February 19th, 2013, 10:04 am


128. ghufran said:

is this how armed rebels will liberate Damascus?
قال مصدر رسمي سوري أن مسلحين استهدفوا المشفى الفرنسي ومدرسة المعونة الخاصة بمنطقة القصاع في دمشق بقذيفتي هاون ما أدى إلى وقوع أضرار مادية وإلحاق أضرار كبيرة في عدد من السيارات المركونة في المكان دون وقوع ضحايا.
وأفاد المصدر أن قذيفة هاون سقطت على المشفى الفرنسي وأدت إلى أضرار مادية في مبنى المشفى في حين سقطت قذيفة ثانية على مدرسة المعونة الخاصة أسفرت عن أضرار في مبنى المدرسة وعدد من السيارات الخاصة.
وحسب مصادر أهلية فقد سقطت قذيفة واحدة داخل المشفى والثانية على باب الإسعاف واقتصرت الأضرار على الماديات.
كما سقطت قذيفة هاون قرب مطعم حارتنا وفندق الزيتونة في حي باب توما تسببت بأضرار مادية فقط، حسب ما أفادت ذات المصادر

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February 19th, 2013, 10:53 pm


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