News Round Up (Jan 5, 2013)

President Bashar al-Assad to deliver a speech on Sunday. Jean Aziz at Lebanon Pulse on writes about “a new proposal to resolve the crisis in Syria,” and the “roadmap to a solution” that Assad is expected to provide.

Andoni Lubaki/Associated Press A destroyed home in Aleppo, Syria. Some Syrians say they feel trapped by the government and the violence engulfing the country, but are afraid to take sides in the rebellion.

Syria Deeply – January 02, 2013
Q&A with Michel Kilo: Some Hope for a Solution

Michel Kilo is one of Syria’s famous dissidents, a political opponent of President Bashar al Assad. He rose to prominence in the Damascus Spring, a brief flourishing of political freedom and expression in 2000.

Kilo left Syria eight months into the revolution and now lives in Paris with his family. He answered questions from Syria Deeply via Skype. For more on his story we’ve included a link to a video interview about his time in prison, jailed for his prominent political dissent.

SD: Are you officially backing the Syrian National Coalition? What do you see as their strengths and weaknesses?

Kilo: I’m not a member of the Syrian National Coalition, because I think its weakness lies in the exaggerated representation of the Islamic movement. It does not represent the various trends of the opposition forces, especially democracy and secularism.

SD: When you look at the state of the war in Syria, what do you see?

Michel Kilo

Kilo: I see a slow shift in the power relations between the opposition and the regime, with a possibility of many surprise twists. That includes desperate operations [by the Assad regime], such as the use of internationally banned weapons, as it loses control of more Syrian land. Fighting has also arrived in Damascus, encircling the main centers of power.

SD: Do you have any hope for a negotiated solution? What is the best-case scenario?

Kilo: Yes, I have some limited hope of a negotiated solution. Some members of the system have disassociated themselves from the Assad regime and extended their reconciliation to the opposition, accepting a transition to a democratic system.

SD: How do you keep Sunnis and Alawites from fighting each other? Is there any way? Any hope?

Kilo: I do not know how we can prevent sectarian clashes without a national program that brings in all parties. This integrated program does not exist today, since the opposition had missed the opportunity of drafting and implementing it [early on]. Today I think we need a kind of program, that will encourage everyone to collaborate in a joint national project, in order to cut the route to a sectarian conflict or at least reduces the possibility [of it erupting].

SD: Are there members of the current system that you think could and should stay on in a future Syria?

Kilo: Yes, there are people in the system who can play a role in the future of Syria…some of those who are now in power, especially those who are defecting from power and Assad’s family to join the people.

SD: What is holding up the Assad regime today?

Kilo: The resilience of Assad’s military strength comes from Russian, Chinese, and Iranian support and the lack of a critical western position against it. That enables them to play that supporting role without real impediment, with a green light that allows Assad to oppress people and destroy Syria.

SD: Do you think the Assad regime would really use chemical weapons for its political survival?

Kilo: Yes, there is no doubt that he would use all kinds of weapons, including chemical weapons, because he does not respect the lives and rights of human beings. Otherwise he wouldn’t have destroyed his country.

SD: How do you think Assad will exit the picture?

Kilo: My fear is that we will move from a crisis to overthrow the regime to a new crisis, extending civil war and chaos, political and armed. Plus we shouldn’t forget that Syria is destroyed, and much of the people are homeless, hungry, or displaced, and this atmosphere will encourage chaos.

SD: What is your biggest fear in the coming phase in Syria?

Kilo: Assad wants to make a decisive victory over his people, this is the goal of the war waged since nearly two years ago. It excludes all kinds of political solutions that had been offered by the opposition. He fancies that he can still win the war.

SD: What does the international community need to do for Syria?

Kilo: The international community should develop clear, practical and applicable positions to stop the killing in Syria and work on a political solution to the crisis without hesitation. [World powers] have demonstrated their inability to do anything, abandoning their responsibilities under the pretext of a weak opposition and divided Syrian society.

SD: If you could tell US President Obama to make one change on Syria policy, what would it be?

Kilo: I’ll tell him committed to what I said repeatedly, that U.S. policy must be based on respect for human rights for people, everywhere.

SD: Should the international community enforce a no-fly zone over northern Syria? Should the world intervene to take out Assad’s forces from the skies?

Kilo: But I do not think we need it. The Syrian people have proved over the past two years that they can [defend] their homes without external interference and are supported by the minimum of weapons needed for victory. They no longer depend on foreign countries to get their freedom. They believe that Western countries don’t want Assad to leave, and that he’ll stay until he destroys the whole society and what holds it together.

العالم العربي > كانون الثاني/يناير > 2013
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المصير الغريب للعلويين السوريين
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في العام 1903، قام الأب اليسوعي البلجيكي هنري لامنس بزيارة إلى رجل دينٍ نصيريّ مرموق في نواحي أنطاكية -في لواء الإسكندريون الذي ضمّ إلى تركيا – لـ”حمله على الكلام”. على غرار سواه من المستشرقين قبله، كان لديه اهتمام بهذا الشعب ذي الأصول الغامضة، الذي كان متمسّكاً بعقائد دينية متأثرة بالتركيبات القديمة والتأليف بين مذاهب متعارضة، كتقمّص الأرواح أو الإيمان بثالوث (النبيّ محمد، وصهره علي بن ابي طالب وسلمان الفارسيّ، أحد أـصحابه). كما كان يحتفل بطقوسٍ مسيحيّة، ولكن أيضاً يقيم أعياداً ذات مظاهر أكثر وثنيّة. وكان يقوم بزيارات لأولياء محليّين في مزارات، ولم تكن لديهم مساجد. وبما أن أسرار دين النصيريين لا تكشف إلّا لأصحاب المعرفة بينهم، ظلّت تشكّل لغزاً سعى المستشرقون أو الإرساليّون إلى فكّها [1].

Rebellion at Stalemate, Waiting for Undecided Syrians to Make a Move
Published: January 4, 2013, NYTimes

BEIRUT, Lebanon — At his government office in the Syrian capital, Damascus, the civil servant avoids discussing what Syrians call “the situation.” But he quietly ponders his own private endgame, toying with defecting to the rebels, yet clinging to his post, increasingly sure there are no fighters worth joining.

A multilingual former military officer, he says he is among many friends and colleagues who feel trapped: disenchanted with President Bashar al-Assad, disgusted by the violence engulfing Syria and equally afraid of the government and the rebels, with both sides, as he puts it, ready to sacrifice “the innocents.”

Mr. Assad remains in power in part because two years into the uprising, a critical bloc of Syrians remains on the fence. Among them are business owners who drive the economy, bankers who finance it, and the security officials and government employees who hold the keys to the mundane but crucial business of maintaining an authoritarian state. If they abandoned the government or embraced the rebels en masse, they might change the tide. Instead, their uncertainty contributes to the stalemate….

Syria’s Alawites Under Siege
By: Ali Hashem for Al-Monitor. posted on Fri, Jan 4.

…His father interrupted him, saying “Let us cut it short. FSA are the army of the Sunnis and we don’t want the Alawites to rule us anymore! Let them go, we don’t want them here.”

Such rhetoric is getting common among lower-class Sunnis. They feel they were oppressed for the past 40 years, and it’s time to take over.

“Masaken Barzeh” is a middle-class suburb; clashes took place here when the rebels attacked Damascus. Rouba is an Alawite resident who lives with her mother and sister there: “I know not anywhere but here as my home, we don’t know where to go.” She is still at her flat but neighbors had to lie to militants when they asked if she was Alawite, “They came to the building for us, but when all the neighbors denied we are Alawite, they left, but who knows when will they come back,” she added. “The army succeeded this time in pushing them out but they are still around.”

The most dangerous incident was the assassination of Bassam Hussein, an Alawite movie director. He was killed at his place in the mixed neighborhood of Jdeidet Artouz by unknown militants, the incident came to fuel concerns within the ruling minority that an act of sectarian cleansing might be on the way in a country hit by civil war that seem uncontrollable to many.

According to Zaidon Alzoabi, an opposition activist, “The regime holds part of the responsibility for the sectarian incitement….A Syrian official told me, on the basis of anonymity, “The best thing that might happen now is federalism.“ He added, “We can’t live together anymore, hatred is much more than we can bear.”…

The most grisly video so far. (I cannot watch) A Syrian friend writes:

Regime soldier died in Hama. Had cell phone on him. In it, regime guys took videos of atrocities that go beyond the shocking videos we have seen so far. This includes cutting off a penis and stepping on heads and smashing skulls of rebels. …

On December 29, 2012, the oppositionist Islamic website cited “knowledgeable sources” as saying that over 150 field commanders in the Idlib area met and swore allegiance to a top commander in Jabhat Al-Nusra known as Ya’qoub Al-‘Umar.

Nusra Front reportedly leading Syrian rebels’ fight for key Damascus area
By David Enders
McClatchy Newspapers, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013

BEIRUT — An Islamist rebel group that the United States has listed as a terrorist organization has taken the lead in fighting in Damascus, according to residents who’ve recently fled the violence there.

The reports that the Nusra Front, which the Obama administration last month declared to be an affiliate of al Qaida in Iraq, is at the forefront of the fighting in Syria’s capital underscores the deepening sectarianism inside Syria that many analysts feel is likely to thwart new U.N. efforts to promote a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

Residents of the southern Damascus neighborhood of Yarmouk said that fighters from Nusra, whose name in Arabic is Jabhat al Nusra, were at the forefront of a battle that has driven hundreds of thousands of people from the district since Nusra launched its offensive about two weeks ago. Other Islamist rebel groups also are playing a role in the combat, the residents said.

Supporters of rebels fighting to topple the government of President Bashar Assad say that groups like Nusra make up only a small minority of the anti-Assad fighting force. But Nusra increasingly is leading the fighting across Syria, a development that raises the prospects of sectarian bloodletting as rebels move from areas where the population, like the rebels, is predominantly Sunni Muslim to cities and towns where the residents are Shiite Muslim or Alawites, the Shiite sect to which Assad and Syria’s governing elite belong……

The Nusra offensive two weeks ago, however, added new momentum to the battle, driving Yamouk residents to flee and triggering fierce government bombardment in response.

Ahmed said he had dealt with Nusra fighters on a daily basis in Yarmouk and viewed them as more professional than other rebel groups, who’ve been accused of widespread looting in some parts of the country where fuel and food are in short supply.

“They were very honest people,” Ahmed said.

Nidhal, another young activist who fled Yarmouk for Lebanon last week, also said that Nusra had assumed a leading role in the fighting. Like Ahmed, he said he saw little room for pro-democracy activists like himself who first rallied against the Assad government in peaceful protests 22 months ago….

“Yarmouk is going to be like Baba Amr,” Nidhal said, referring to a neighborhood in Homs, Syria’s third largest city, which was devastated as government troops laid siege for months before finally driving rebels out of the area six months ago.

Nidhal said the sectarianism had grown on both sides, with the government increasingly replacing soldiers with pro-government militiamen drawn from the Alawite sect. Civil order in much of Damascus, Nidhal said, had largely broken down, with kidnappings for both ransom and politics now rampant….

FSA Officer: The U.S. Designated Jabhat Al-Nusra A Terrorist Organization In Order To Prevent Assad’s Ouster, Sow Strife Among Rebels

In a December 30, 2012 report, the FSA website ( presented statements by Khaled Al-Hamoud, a lieutenant-colonel in one of its forces, in which he praises the jihad group Jabhat Al-Nusra (JN) and attacks the U.S. Al-Hamoud states that the U.S. wants to establish Sahwa groups in Syria, like those it established in Iraq. He claims further that the U.S. sent intelligence agents to Syria disguised as reporters, and they informed it that JN is the strongest force on the ground, and that it is capable of toppling the Assad regime thanks to the dedication of its men, their faith, their operational capabilities and their thinking and planning abilities. Hence, since America is not interested in the rapid elimination of the Syrian regime, it decided to designate JN a terrorist organization.

A race to the bottom in Syria
By Victor Kotsev- Asia Times

The past few weeks have seen a dramatic shift in reports coming out of Syria. Whereas a month ago the government appeared to be losing the battle on all fronts, the civil war now seems to have entered a new stage – that of a race to the bottom in which victory hinges on endurance rather than strength.

Both the regime and the rebels are facing major challenges which threaten gravely their ability to function, and this explains in part the vastly divergent prognoses of different analysts. Meanwhile, as winter sets in and the death toll climbs (the latest United Nations report sets it at 60,000), civilians are paying the heaviest price.

Many observers continue to insist that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is on its last legs. ..

Syrian rebel leader talks victory and squalor
By Amir Ahmed and Ben Brumfield, CNN, January 5, 2013

  • Rebels go after government airbases one by one in the north
  • Numerous airbases in Idlib make it easy for the government to keep bombing
  • Al-Assad’s troops are cutting off food, medicine, money and ammunition to rebels in Damascus
  • As the death toll mounts, Syria’s opposition still feels abandoned by the world

(CNN) — Opposition fighters are celebrating success in Syria’s north but enduring cruel squalor in and around Damascus, where government forces are cutting off food and medical supplies, a rebel leader said Saturday.

Syrian rebels chipped away at President Bashar al-Assad’s air power in Idlib province Saturday as 800 fighters pummeled Taftanaz airbase for the fourth day with anti-aircraft guns and tanks.

They have taken control of 70% of the heliport, rebel leader Capt. Islam Aloush said from Damascus. Militia members killed the head of the base, he said. “There are still about 30 snipers and a few dozen regime forces, but the fight is closing in on them.”

Al-Assad’s forces use the base mainly to launch copter attacks on nearby towns. Syrian warplanes dropped cluster bombs on Taftanaz in a raid that led to the destruction of several buildings, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said Saturday.

Since the push on Taftanaz began, they have exacted retribution on the nearby city of Binnish, where amateur video posted on the Internet has shown dozens of smoke plumes marking where ordnance has struck.

“The trouble with Idlib is that it has many military airports.” Aloush said his Liwaa Islam militia and other groups want to knock the bases “to minimize the reach of the regime’s warplanes.”

Opposition and government sources have reported that the extremist al-Nusra Front, which the United States has designated as a terrorist group, was taking part in the assault on Taftanaz.

As al-Assad has lost some ground in the far north, he has tried to maintain the reach of his firepower by launching long-range Scud missiles at towns near Turkey’s border…..

Between Syria’s Fronts A Two-Year Travelogue from Hell
By Christoph Reuters, Marcel Mettelsiefen/ DER SPIEGEL

Since unrest began in Syria in the spring of 2011, reporting from the country has been difficult. Former contacts are now dead or can’t be located, and the country lies in ruins. Now, amid harrowing conditions, the balance of power appears to have shifted, with rebels beginning to gain the upper hand….

All armies – the Syrian regime, the FSA and Islamist – are thieves
Rita from Syria 27 December 2012, Open Democracy

….He was surprised to see a picture of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri on the wall of the living room: but the greater shock was to hear the people of the village talking about the figureheads of al-Qaeda in glowing terms as if they were living saints.

Khaled’s village can be any of a number of conservative villages in Syria, but this does not necessarily mean that they support fundamentalist ideas in the mould of al-Qaeda. However, now the people of the village find themselves indebted to Jubhat al-Nusra – an armed group affiliated to al-Qaeda – which led the battle to liberate the village and its surrounding areas from the brutal bombing campaign of the  forces of the Syrian regime.

…..The events of last week in the Bostan al-Qasr neighbourhood of Aleppo, which saw Jubhat al-Nusra fighters attack peaceful protestors, is a scandalous indicator of the infighting between the armed groups – taking them away from the principles of the revolution. Witnesses at the protest told me that Jubhat al-Nusra combatants fired live bullets in the air and attempted to arrest an activist because the protesters were heard shouting “kull jaysh harami, nizami, hurr wa islami” [all armies are thieves: regime, FSA and Islamist’s]. The FSA failed to intervene despite being present at the protest. Social network forums were replete with angry criticism from both sides.

We need a great deal of maturity and awareness to overcome the differences and competing interests in Syria. It has become evident that the armed conflict in no shape or form is directed towards the interests of the Syrian people. We cling to the hope that time will eventually bring forth a genuine Syrian leadership which is able to save the revolution from the paralysis of opportunism.

A Syrian way out of the civil war
By David Ignatius, Published: January 4, Wash Post

To help oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an opposition group has drafted a plan for a transitional justice system that would impose harsh penalties against die-hard members of his inner circle but provide amnesty for most of his Alawite supporters….

As with everything affecting Syria, time is running out before the country collapses into an anarchic failed state. As rebels take control of areas, such as the northern suburbs of Aleppo, some commanders are already taking the law into their own hands. “Some Free Syrian Army are acting more like the shabiha they used to fight,” says one Syrian source.

Kurds Watch

KurdWatch: What exactly are the Kurdish National Council’s substantive conditions for joining the National Alliance?

Faisal Yusuf: Our requirements are the constitutional recognition of the Kurdish people and its identity as well as the guarantee of its legitimate national rights in accordance with international norms and conventions. In addition, in accordance with its share of the total population of Syria, the Kurds should have approximately a fifteen percent share of representation in the Alliance and its committees. All discriminatory practices and decrees affecting the Kurds must be repealed, the victims must be compensated, and the status quo ante must be reinstated. Moreover, Syria should officially be called the »Republic of Syria«, not the »Syrian Arab Republic«. Furthermore, we demand that the Alliance commit itself to supporting all national armed groups, not only the Free Syrian Army. Those are our demands of the National Alliance.

Khaled Mahmoud: A Prisoner in Lebanon Turns Emir in Syria
al-Akhbar By: Radwan Mortada, January 4, 2013

In the same vein, a Salafi sheikh told Al-Akhbar that the majority of young Lebanese men who go to Syria fight for three groups: al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham Brigades, and al-Fajr Brigades. The sheikh said that the three groups had no ties to al-Qaeda, but they nonetheless adopt methods similar to those pursued by the global fundamentalist movement.

The Salafi sheikh, who is close to al-Qaeda, said that in the past, the fighters who came through Turkey would exclusively join al-Nusra Front, while those who came from Lebanon went on to fight in the ranks of Ahrar al-Sham or al-Fajr Brigades.The sheikh pointed out that things have changed today, with al-Nusra Front enjoying a strong presence in Homs and al-Qasir.

This, he said, “began six months ago when al-Nusra Front was endorsed by many who have had a long history of jihad in Afghanistan and Iraq.” It should be noted here that the three fundamentalist militant groups are closer in ideology to the Islamic State of Iraq, which is an organization led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, than al-Qaeda, which is led by Ayman al-Zawahiri.

According to security reports, large quantities of assault rifles were sent from an Arab country into Tripoli’s Bab al-Tabbaneh shortly after clashes with the neighboring Jabal Mohsen. Furthermore, large stocks of ammunition, particularly RPGs and mortar rounds, have also made their way to the area. According to the same reports, these weapons are stored deep in the area’s slums, even inside several mosques.

It is believed that a retired Lebanese army colonel is involved in funding such operations, and personally oversees the distribution of weapons to young fighters.

Tighter Iran Sanctions Hit Factories, Shops

A manager of Bam Shargh Isogam, an Iranian manufacturer of insulation sheets for rooftops, saw trouble ahead when a government official offered advice for surviving the crippling international sanctions: Reduce quality and cut back production. The manufacturer in Delijan, three hours south of Tehran, replaced the high-quality material imported from Europe with domestic material, dismissed more than half its 350 employees, and didn’t pay the remaining workers for four months, managers said. “From the owner to the line worker, no one is safe,” said Bijan, a manager, who asked that his last name not be used. “Our country is facing …

Independent: Syrian regime captures al-Qa’ida chief’s brother on ‘aid mission’
2013-01-04 19:35:38.590 GMT

A Message from Syrian Coalition President
In the name of God, the most Gracious, the most Merciful

World leaders,

Ending the massacre in Syria is the responsibility of the international community. It is not enough that the criminal regime is bombarding citizens by planes, rockets and heavy weapons, but has gone as far as to literally kneading the bread with the flesh and blood of innocent children. It has destroyed the bakeries, Mosques and fuel station, in addition to committing a mass genocide. There is no crime against humanity that this regime has committed.

You are all requested to hold international responsibility: politically and ethically. Meanwhile, we wish all the people of the world, a year full of tolerance, security and peace. May a bloodless dawn rise on us all.

Cairo 04-01-2013
President, Ahmad Mouaz AL KHATIB

Looking Past Assad
Joseph Eid/Agence France-Presse
By VOLKER PERTHES, NYTimes: January 4, 2013

AFTER almost two years of civil war, there are no longer two options for Syria, political or military. Both sides now rely on force.

The opposition activists who try to maintain the originally peaceful character of their uprising are still there, but the armed rebels are calling the shots. Those in the regime who wanted to engage the opposition in some form of dialogue were marginalized early on, when Bashar al-Assad chose to respond to the protests with force.

Eventually there will have to be a political process. But the conditions under which such a process will come about now largely depend on military developments on the ground — plus, to some extent, on the signals and actions of international players.

But if both sides are now using military means for political ends, the ends differ. For the opposition, the military struggle is a means to support the initially civilian uprising. It considers the civilian population, even in regime-controlled territory, as its base, and it aims to depose the regime by gaining military and political ground.

Many government officials are aware that the regime cannot win militarily — Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa said so much in a recent interview. But territorial losses and political setbacks have not made the regime core around Bashar al-Assad and his brother Maher more inclined to negotiate. Power sharing is simply not a concept in the Baathist world view.

Nor does Assad seem any more willing than a year ago to negotiate a safe exit from Syria. His political strategy is to stay, but it is no longer about the whole of Syria. Assad believes he can concentrate on retaining a few strategic areas — Damascus; the coastal mountains, which are mainly inhabited by members of his Alawite minority; the port of Tartus; and the land connections between these areas — while inflicting scorched-earth punishments on rebel-held territory.

Militarily, Assad is now relying almost totally on loyalists from his Alawite sect who dominate the senior officer corps. The mainly Alawite elite battalions and the air force are still largely intact, and supported on the ground by hastily recruited militias — the so-called shabiha — which have been responsible for most of the atrocities against civilians.

With the rising brutality, the war has increasingly turned into a sectarian conflict. Propaganda depicting the Alawites as the enemy has been on the increase among the majority Sunnis, and some extremist groups have targeted Alawites.

As a result, many Alawites are now prepared to fight on Assad’s side not out of conviction, but out of fear that if he falls they and their families will be slaughtered. Without assurances for their future, the elite battalions, air force, intelligence services and shabiha will fight on simply to secure the survival of their community, possibly in an Alawite enclave in the coastal mountains

Certainly the regime is to blame for the destruction of Syria’s social fabric, but this does not help to repair the damage. The more the opposition advances, the more it also becomes responsible for rescuing and rebuilding the state.

The opposition has taken an important step by forming the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. It now has a credible leadership with better contacts to the Local Coordination Committees and other civilian groups inside Syria, and it has made progress toward unifying the diverse forces of the Free Syrian Army and other armed groups under one military command

Parallel with the military struggle, though, the opposition has to present itself as a credible alternative to the regime. Among other things, the Coalition needs to start providing services in liberated areas, particularly by distributing relief aid to residents and refugees.

At the same time, the Free Syrian Army needs to distance itself from extremist forces. Opposition leaders obviously appreciate the fighting power of these groups. Politically, however, the opposition cannot win with forces whose actions and propaganda exacerbate the fears of those Syrians who oppose the regime but fear that its fall will lead to more bloodshed and repression

Thanks to their personal histories, leaders of the Coalition such as Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, Riad Seif and Suhair al-Atassi are well placed to offer a vision of coexistence to those, particularly Alawites, who have so far stuck with the regime. The appointment of an Alawite as ambassador to Paris was a good signal, but it is not enough to reassure the community that it will have a place in a post-Assad Syria.

International actors do have an impact in Syria, even in the opposition. The main means of strengthening those who want to build a democratic and inclusive post-Assad Syria is to unify the flow of money and material support. The better the Coalition and the Free Syrian Army are able to pay their soldiers and dispense the necessary equipment, other militias and groups will submit to their leadership.

This would increase civilian control over the military component of the rebellion, weaken extremist groups and improve chances for a political transition.

Volker Perthes is director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), Berlin.

Open Democracy names Syria Comment “one of our best blogs of 2012”…— Arab Awakening (@openAwakening) January 4, 2013

Arabs are ‘losing faith’ in America: Lessons from Lebanon 1982
Ian Black – guardian

Exhibit A in How an Islamophobic Meme Can Spread Like Wildfire Across the Internet
AlterNet / By Sanam Naraghi Anderlini
The apparently fabricated story of a Saudi cleric issuing a fatwa condoning gang rapes in Syria is an object lesson in the pitfalls of breakneck online journalism.
January 2, 2013 |

Editor’s note: On January 2, AlterNet was one of several outlets that published what turned out to be an article based on a false report. We would like to apologize to our readers for the error.
On January 2nd, the story of a Saudi Sheikh issuing a fatwa that condoned ‘intercourse marriage’ or gang rape in Syria exploded over the internet.
According to various sources, Sheikh Mohammad Al-Arifi had stated that foreign fighters in Syria had the right to engage in short term marriages to satisfy their sexual desires and boost their determination to fight against the Assad regime. Syrian girls and women from age 14 upwards were considered fair game and apparently secured their own place in heaven if they participated in these ‘intercourse marriages’.
By the evening a simple Google search of the words, ‘Saudi Sheikh’ , Syrian, and ‘women’ brought up some 5 million references and at least 3 pages of links to articles spreading the news. Not surprisingly there was immediate online uproar too, though as one commentator put it, much of the discussion was about whether these arranged temporary marriages technically constituted ‘rape’. This in itself is worrying.

There was also skepticism from many quarters about the veracity of the report, particularly among savvy Mideast experts. Rightly so. The story, much like the one a few months ago about Egyptian Islamist MPs proposing laws that permitted sex with a deceased spouse up to 6 hours after his/her death, turned out to be a gross lie. Sheikh Al-Arifi has issued a denial via his Facebook page. Over the next few days, the various websites and media outlets that spread the story will no doubt issue their retractions. But the story also raises many questions. For starters, where did it come from? AlterNet inadvertently picked it up from the overtly anti-Islamic Clarion Fund site. Others pointed to the Iranian regime backed Press TV as the primary source on December 31 2012. But the earliest English language reporting comes on December 29 from an obscure YouTube news site called Eretz Zen, tagged as a YouTube channel by a “secular Syrian opposed to
having [his] country turned into a Taliban-like state.”….

Kurdish Iraq Considers Opening Border for Relief Supplies to Kurdish Syria – Rudaw

Kurdish groups had urged Robert Ford, the US ambassador in Damascus, to encourage and oversee the opening of a border crossing with Iraqi Kurdistan.The Kurdish National Council (KNC), an alliance of Kurdish groups in Syria, late last month officially asked the KRG to open its side of two border crossings with Syrian Kurdistan, saying people were deprived of basic needs and would be forced to evacuate cities without help.

While Kurdish Syrian refugees have flowed into Iraqi Kurdistan, getting food and urgent supplies to the other side has been more complicated.

Reports in recent months had said that armed members of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) — the dominant Kurdish party in Syria but with alleged ties to the Syrian regime — were imposing heavy taxes on food supplies, and that KRG authorities had closed borders in response.

TV Report On Foreign Jihad Fighters In Aleppo, Syria: Volunteers From France And Sweden Explain Why They Joined The Jihad – Memri

العالم العربي > كانون الثاني/يناير > 2013

صابرينا ميرفين



المصير الغريب للعلويين السوريين

ثقل التاريخ وذاكرة الاضطهاد

في العام 1903، قام الأب اليسوعي البلجيكي هنري لامنس بزيارة إلى رجل دينٍ نصيريّ مرموق في نواحي أنطاكية -في لواء الإسكندريون الذي ضمّ إلى تركيا – لـ”حمله على الكلام”. على غرار سواه من المستشرقين قبله، كان لديه اهتمام بهذا الشعب ذي الأصول الغامضة، الذي كان متمسّكاً بعقائد دينية متأثرة بالتركيبات القديمة والتأليف بين مذاهب متعارضة، كتقمّص الأرواح أو الإيمان بثالوث (النبيّ محمد، وصهره علي بن ابي طالب وسلمان الفارسيّ، أحد أـصحابه). كما كان يحتفل بطقوسٍ مسيحيّة، ولكن أيضاً يقيم أعياداً ذات مظاهر أكثر وثنيّة. وكان يقوم بزيارات لأولياء محليّين في مزارات، ولم تكن لديهم مساجد. وبما أن أسرار دين النصيريين لا تكشف إلّا لأصحاب المعرفة بينهم، ظلّت تشكّل لغزاً سعى المستشرقون أو الإرساليّون إلى فكّها [1].

Comments (111)

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101. Husam said:


You say Assad must go, I disagree: He and his inner circle must hang.

Apple_Mini is asking not why there is no replacement, but stating that there is currently no cohesive front (despite claiming the contrary). One Khi’en goes, a dozen will spring up. Yes, his speech was a soap opera, but so are the dozen speeches and tit-for-tat meetings of old school Syrian-expats-wannabes in Turkey and elsewhere. We haven’t grown up. Syrians have a sense of aloofness and entitlement that is hindering real change.

The young are too busy being creative and driving the revolution. They are also too young to be taken seriously end up being marginalized by Khalo, A’mo and Saidati-wa-Sadati and worn out worthless clichés.

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January 6th, 2013, 1:07 pm


102. Husam said:

I have no doubt that the Ba’athis have infiltrated the FSA & other political organizations at the highest level

I said and argued 2 years ago that Syria will be bloodier than Lebanon’s civil war and I have not changed my mind.

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January 6th, 2013, 1:12 pm


103. zoo said:

What about the Palestinians?

While Palestinians “blasts Arab donors” for not honoring their financial commitments to the Resistance

In his speech, Bashar al Assad repeats his support to the resistance:

“Those who placed their bets on weakening Syria to forget Golan and its occupied lands are mistaken…Golan is ours and Palestine is our cause that we won’t give up on…We will remain the supporters of resistance against the one enemy. Resistance is a culture, not individual”

He addressed the “proud Palestinians’ to reaffirm ” Syria is your second home”. The others ” who only consider Syria as a luxury hotel”, let them go to hell.

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January 6th, 2013, 1:13 pm


104. revenire said:

Husam you’re delusional. By saying Assad must hang all you’re doing is killing more Syrians.

You speak for no one but a gaggle of online terrorists jacked up on coffee.

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January 6th, 2013, 1:13 pm


105. zoo said:

#101 Visitor

Thanks, sigh of relief..

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January 6th, 2013, 1:16 pm


106. Visitor said:

Do we have two Revenire(s) on this blog?

See 103.

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January 6th, 2013, 1:19 pm


107. zoo said:

#104 Hussam

In Lebanon it took 15 years and it came back to the same political setup (plus the shared rejection of starting a civil war again)

I hope that Syria won’t end up like that..

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January 6th, 2013, 1:20 pm


108. Uzair8 said:

New post up.

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January 6th, 2013, 1:29 pm


109. Badr said:


James Reynolds
BBC News

The most lasting image from Mr Assad’s appearance may come from the moments after his speech. Dozens of supporters surged towards the president – almost prefiguring the frenzy that might happen if the opposition got to him. The president waved, and struggled to leave the stage. For Syria’s opposition, that is the entire problem.

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January 6th, 2013, 1:40 pm


110. Ghat Al Bird said:

Add to #99.

Saudi prince threw 2.4 billion customizing the world’s largest private jet (HD Photos)
Flying Palace: Prince aerwalide to spend 240 million pounds custom diagrams and some luxury in the cabin of the A380 configuration.
The Daily Mail website reported on December 20, 2012 that Saudi Arabia’s wangziaerwalide · · Talal · aleshate customized Airbus A380 will be delivered before and after new year ‘s, the aircraft worth 240 million pounds (about 2.43 billion yuan), is currently the world’s largest private jet. Designed in accordance with the Prince requested that this aircraft converted into a luxury “Flying Palace”.

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January 6th, 2013, 2:49 pm


111. sam said:

God, Syria, Bashar, and nothing else!!

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January 7th, 2013, 5:20 am


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