Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, January 9th, 2013
Syria mixed chemicals at two storage sites at the end of November 2012 and filled dozens of bombs, likely with sarin nerve gas, and loaded them onto vehicles near air bases according to anonymous U.S. military, intelligence, and diplomatic officials. A public warning by President Obama, and private messages from Russia, Iraq, Turkey, and possibly Jordan coerced Syria to stop the chemical and bomb preparation. However, officials say the weapons are still in storage near Syrian air bases, and could be deployed in between two and six hours for use by President Bashar al-Assad. Meanwhile, on Tuesday the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) said it is unable to provide assistance to 1 million Syrians who are going hungry due to the 22-month-long conflict. According to spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs, the agency aims to help 1.5 million of the 2.5 million Syrians in need. It is not able to reach all the people requiring help because of continued fighting and the lack of access to the port of Tartus, where it had to remove its staff. The program also had to pull its staff from offices in Homs, Aleppo, and Qamisly. Additionally, the U.N. refugee agency said the number of refugees fleeing the fighting increased by nearly 100,000 in the past month. On Tuesday, a riot reportedly broke out in the Zaatari Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. Refugees attacked aid workers after the first winter storm in the camp caused torrential rains and winds that swept away tents. Nearly 50,000 people are housed in the Zaatari camp and they are becoming increasingly frustrated with conditions that one person called “worse than living in Syria.”
Insight: Aleppo misery eats at Syrian rebel support
By Yara Bayoumy | Reuters
ALEPPO, Syria (Reuters) – At a crowded market stall in Syria, a middle-aged couple, well dressed, shuffle over to press a folded note, furtively, into the hand of a foreign reporter.
It is the kind of silent cry for help against a reign of fear that has been familiar to journalists visiting Syria over the past two years. Only this is not the Damascus of President Bashar al-Assad but rebel-held Aleppo; the note laments misrule under the revolution and hopes Assad can defeat its “terrorism”.
“We used to live in peace and security until this malicious revolution reached us and the Free Syrian Army started taking bread by force,” the unidentified couple wrote. “We ask God to help the regime fight the Free Syrian Army and terrorism – we are with the sovereignty of President Bashar al-Assad forever.”
While they might not be all they seemed – agents of Assad’s beleaguered security apparatus want to blacken the rebels’ name – their sentiments are far from rare in Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city and once vibrant hub of trade and industry, whose diverse urban communities now face hardship and chaos at the hands of motley bands of fighters recruited from surrounding rural areas.
As government forces fight on in parts of Aleppo, in large areas that have been under rebel control for six months or more complaints are getting louder about indiscipline among the fighters, looting and a general lack of security and necessities like running water, bread and electricity in districts that have been pounded by tanks and hit by Assad’s air force….
“There has been a lot of corruption in the Free Syrian Army’s battalions – stealing, oppressing the people – because there are parasites that have entered the Free Syrian Army,” said Abu Ahmed, an engineer who heads a 35-man unit of the Tawheed Brigade, reckoned to be the largest in Aleppo province.
Abu Ahmed, who comes from a small town on the Turkish border and like many in Syria would be identified only by the familiar form of his name, estimated that most people in Aleppo, a city of over two million, were lukewarm at best to a 21-month-old uprising that is dominated by the Sunni Muslim rural poor.
“They don’t have a revolutionary mindset,” he said, putting support for Assad at 70 percent among an urban population that includes many ethnic Kurds, Christians and members of Assad’s Alawite minority. But he also acknowledged that looting and other abuses had cost the incoming rebels much initial goodwill.
“The Free Syrian Army has lost its popular support,” said Abu Ahmed, who said the Tawheed Brigade was now diversifying from fighting to talking on civic roles, including efforts to restore electricity supplies and deal with bread shortages. His own wife was setting up a school after months without classes.
Hunger and insecurity are key themes wherever Aleppines gather this winter. Outside a busy bakery in one rebel-held neighborhood men complained of having to stand in line for hours in the hope of bread, and of feeling the need to arm themselves for their own protection on the streets of the city.
Schools are being stripped of desks and chairs for firewood….
Grim Prospects for the Middle East in 2013
by Patrick Seale
01 Jan 2013
The coming year is unlikely to be a happy one for the tormented Middle East. Although some dictators have fallen and many Arabs are now demanding their rights, there is no escaping the fact that the balance sheet of the past two years remains profoundly negative. In no country of the Arab Spring is there as yet any convincing sign of peace and reconciliation, of good governance, of a better standard of living for ordinary people, of an enhanced sense of citizenship, let alone of genuine democracy.
Some countries have suffered more than others. In Syria, the cries and tears of the martyred population — the tens of thousands killed, the hundreds of thousands wounded, maimed, starving and displaced — weigh heavily on the conscience of the world. Yet there is no end to the agony. To quote UN envoy Lakhdar al-Brahimi, Syria is in danger of descending into hell, if it is not there already.
Individual Arab countries are not the only casualties. The Arab political order has been dealt massive blows, and remains in great disarray. What does this mean? It means that the ability of Arab states to work effectively together has been greatly reduced. They find it difficult to affirm their independence from predatory foreign powers or defend Arab causes in the international arena. The Arab voice today carries little weight.
Some Arab countries have acquired great wealth, but it is no exaggeration to say that the Arabs as a whole — seen as a block of like-minded people sharing a language, a history and a system of beliefs — are not in much better shape than they were more than sixty years ago when Arab Palestine was lost to the Zionists in 1947-48, and when the Arab world was comprehensively defeated by Israel in 1967.
Why do I hold these pessimistic views? Look at the evidence….
In December, Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov noted that “the Syrian government is losing control of an ever widening portion of the country.” From the moment he spoke, the tempo of statements predicting the imminent collapse of the Syrian regime in some European capitals and around Washington’s Beltway reached a giddying peak. This is wishful thinking: it is premature to assume that the days of the regime are numbered and folly to assume that the fight for Syria will end with the fall of the regime.The Obama administration has lost its opportunity to shape the future of a post-Assad Syria. Therefore, it should formulate a policy along the lines of what Dimitri K. Simes and Paul J. Saunders have perceptively recommended : seek a negotiated settlement with the help of Russia to end the fighting.The Alawi-dominated Assad regime has lost both legitimacy and control over large swaths of Syrian territories. Conversely, the Syrian opposition has made strides in putting the regime on the defensive, while at the same time growing more powerful and bold. Nevertheless, this military shift in favor of the opposition does not spell the imminent collapse of the regime.The Syrian war has become bigger than the battle for Syria. The conflict has taken on interrelated sectarian, religious and regional dimensions that Syrians themselves cannot resolve on their own. Syria today faces a stark choice between resolving the conflict on terms acceptable to Russian and regional powers or plunging deeper into sectarian bloodshed—irrespective of whether or not President Assad is in power….The EndgameSyrian national coexistence has not been the only victim of this rabid sectarianization and Islamization of the conflict. Washington’s current and future influence in Syria has been no less affected. The more the conflict has Islamized, the more influence Washington has lost with Syrian opposition groups. The reaction from Syrian opposition groups to Washington’s designation of the Islamist opposition organization Jabhat al-Nusra as a “foreign terrorist organization” demonstrated Washington’s weakened influence. Not only did the Muslim Brotherhood and the recently U.S.-recognized Syrian National Coalition oppose and condemn Washington’s decision, but most notably, non-Islamist members of the opposition joined the chorus criticizing Washington. Shortly thereafter, on December 22, 2012, eleven Islamist battalions declared the creation of the Syrian Islamic Front, with the objective of overthrowing the Assad regime….Moreover, the regime, despite its efforts to keep fighting in most provinces and especially in the country’s major urban cities, is apparently redrawing the borders of its Alawi stronghold to include the areas in the provinces of Idlib, Hama, and Homs (in which sizable Shi’a, Ismaili and Christian minorities reside). Already, a significant number of minorities from different parts of the country have moved to these areas, including Latakia and Tartous. The regime has worked hard to make these areas safe havens….
Jabhat al-Nusra: Jabhat al-Nusra li-ahl al-Sham min Mujahedi al-Sham fi Sahat al-Jihad.
A Strategic Briefing by the Quillam Foundation
With regard to a post-Assad strategy, JN are aware that a new phase of the conflict will begin as soon as the Assad regime falls. Their strategy for this period seems to have two parts:
- To galvanise all the jihadist forces under one umbrella to create a ‘jihadists vs. the rest’ situation. Although information on the advancement of this plan is lacking, a foreign fighter source seemed to think this was inevitable.
- To accept a possible influx of new fighters from Iraq. After processing all the available data, it appears that this new era of fighting will see JN adopt the Iraqi code of conduct from 2005, resulting in a surge in violence.
Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) has around 5000 official members, with another few thousand prospective members and independent jihadists fighting with them.
There is a strong presence of Arab fighters in JN, from many different countries. This is especially true in Reef Halab (the Aleppo countryside), in towns such as Medinat al-Bab and Jarabliss. Eastern neighbourhoods of Aleppo such as al-Sha’ar, Tariq al-Bab and Maysir also have considerable numbers of foreign fighters, as does Reef Idlib. At the beginning of the conflict, North Africans made up a large portion of the foreign fighters in Syria, but in recent months, large numbers of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) residents have joined the ranks of JN….
There is no truth in the notion that JN is an elaborate scheme developed by the Syrian government to frighten the international community into supporting the Assad regime over al-Qaeda. We have heard from their rivals, however, that the group has possibly been infiltrated by the Syrian security services, the mukhabarat. The secretive nature of the group does not help their case in this regard – the lack of transparency about their membership and operations makes it easy for rumours of mukhabarat involvement in their actions to catch hold. In 2003, the mukhabarat gathered significant intelligence about jihadists in Syria as they facilitated trips to Iraq to wage jihad against the foreign intervention. This provided the key for the mukhabarat to infiltrate JN, as the information gathered on key jihadists at this time can now be used to connect with JN leaders.
Another event which aids these rumours is the release of approximately 200 jihadist prisoners from Saidnaya prison in 2011, confirmed to us by an Arab jihadist source. These prisoners were arrested during the Iraq war for suspected involvement with al-Qaeda. Although this looks like cooperation between the Assad regime and JN, the reasons behind this move seem to be more complex, with the regime releasing these jihadist prisoners in order to create conflict amongst opposition groups and hoping to justify a violent crackdown on rebels by presenting them to the international community as al Qaeda-led. These two issues are shadowy enough for JN to be exploited by their enemies and spread mistrust of the group, although it seems likely that the mukhabarat infiltration is no more extensive in JN than in Syria’s other jihadist groups.
Wayne White – Syrian Crisis: Carnage to Intensify – Lobe Log, Jan 4
CNN: Morsy: Try al-Assad for war crimes, 2013-01-06
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy wants Syrian President Bashar al-Assad tried for war crimes, he told CNN on Sunday in an exclusive interview.
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.”…
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….
China criticizes new U.S. sanctions on Iran
Tehran Times – 06 January, 2013
China has censured the United States for the imposition of new sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing on Friday that her country “has consistently opposed” sanctions against Iran over its peaceful nuclear energy program.
She renewed China’s call for the resumption of talks between Iran and the P5+1 group — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany — about Tehran’s nuclear program.
“We have always seen negotiations and cooperation as the best way to solve the Iranian nuclear issue,” Hua said.
The new sanctions are included in the $ 633-billion military bill for 2013, which U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law on Wednesday night.
“Every Place Is Khalidiya” A trip to a Damascus grave as shelling started in Homs: http://long.fm/Wkd6mt (by Jennifer Mackenzie,
When we look at the group of protesters that sparked the revolutionary upheaval in the MENA region, we learn that many of them were women. Their participation in the squares, in online fora and behind the war front is impressive. However, their role in the outcome of these political transitions does not reflect their involvement and contribution in any way. How did this happen, and what to do now?
Kawa Hassan and Rula Asad assess the position of women in the so-called Arab Spring, with a special focus on Syria. Their article is published in Idee, the magazine of the Mr. Hans van Mierlo Stichting, the scientific bureau of Dutch political party D66. This special edition is devoted to civic activism in the Arab world.
Kawa Hassan is Knowledge Officer at the Knowledge Programme Civil Society in West Asia. Rula Asad is an independent Syrian journalist and women’s rights activist. She is a partner of Hivos.
(WASHINGTON) – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), former Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee and now serving as Chairman of the Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee, made the following statement regarding Sunday’s address by Syrian …
Any actions by the Obama Administration regarding Syria, however, must be taken cautiously. The recent designation of a Syrian rebel group as a terrorist organization with ties to al-Qaeda by the Administration means the U.S. must take the necessary precautions to conduct proper oversight and due diligence regarding this delicate situation.
“In order to end the ruthless killing and destruction, Assad must step down. The U.S. and responsible nations should advocate for a peaceful democratic transition in Syria to promote stability in the Middle East and support our ally Israel as she faces a growing threat of extremist elements stemming from this conflict. As recent experience has shown, we must not replace one dictator with another nor create a situation that will only further destabilize an already inflamed region.”
Swaida: resistance in quiet part of Syria
January 08, 2013
By Marlin Dick, The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The Druze-majority province of Swaida in southern Syria has been one of the calmest regions in the country during nearly two years of popular insurrection, but the last month has seen an upswing in pro-opposition activity.
The number of Druze and Christian opposition “martyrs” from Swaida, both civilian and military, is tiny when compared to the tens of thousands of people who have perished across the country, supporting the argument that the anti-regime forces haven’t attracted wide support from minority (non-Sunni Muslim) communities.
But the regime has yet to put out the fires that have been smoldering in the Swaida region, whether in the provincial capital or the more than a dozen surrounding towns and villages.
A series of demonstrations took place in December, ranging from silent sit-ins and small nighttime gatherings to larger rallies and confrontations with regime forces. Pro-uprising social media mourned the deaths of several people from the province, hailing them as evidence that minorities are part of the opposition ranks.
One was 22-year-old Nasser Beshara, a Christian from the village of Kharaba. He was killed in the next-door province of Hawran, where he had been fighting for more than a year in the ranks of a Free Syrian Army rebel unit.
He was fatally wounded on Christmas Day and died before reaching a field hospital in Jordan, where he was eulogized as a “martyr” of the uprising.
Videos posted on YouTube detailed Beshara’s treatment in the field hospital, his funeral and burial. As the coffin is carried to a graveyard, the clip shows a number of men lean in to stroke Beshara’s beard to signal that they consider him a martyr and gain his blessing, despite the fact that he happens to be from another faith.
Days later, in the village of Qraya, two Druze cousins – Bassel and Khaldoun Shqair – were shot to death in an olive grove in an attack opposition media said was carried out by the shabbiha, or pro-regime militia.
Hisham Bustani: Jordan – a failed uprising and a re-emerging regime
“Up to now, the regime has been successful in absorbing the movement and fragmenting it”
January 8, 2013 – Lund University – Your Middle East