Posted by Joshua on Sunday, September 9th, 2012
Update: The comment section of Syria Comment is now working again. best, JL
Much of Aleppo has been without water for two days now as a water main was blown up in fighting. People are frightened and panicking as they realize how easily essential amenities may stop. A car bomb exploded in Aleppo’s government-controled Malaab Baladi district on Sunday killing 27 and wounding over 60.
The Syrian magazine, The Economist, passed on the rumor that the government is preparing to automatically reduce salaries in the future to pay for security operations.
Menawhile in Iraq, the Sunni Vice President has been sentenced to death as a wave of deadly bomb blasts hits the country.
A Reporter In Syria Captured Shocking Pictures Of A Tank Blast
Tracey Shelton, GlobalPost| Sep. 7, 2012,
ALEPPO, Syria — Earlier this week, I was filming a feature on life on the Frontlines of Aleppo, Syria. I was camping out with the men of Noor Den al-Zenke battalion, who man a two-block stretch of back streets that now forms the final line between government troops and opposition forces.
…Water supplies to residents in Aleppo were cut after a major water pipe was damaged during intense fighting between government forces and rebels.
Opposition activists say the pipeline was hit as Syrian forces shelled rebel targets, while Syrian officials accuse the rebels of sabotage.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says discussions with Russian leaders about Syria have not been productive.
The top U.S. diplomat was in Russia for a summit of Pacific Rim countries. She said her talks Sunday with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made little progress on how to deal with the Syrian rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad’s autocratic rule.
Clinton said if the differences persist, she is willing to work with “like-minded” states to support the Syrian opposition in its struggles.
Lavrov said unilateral U.S. sanctions against Syria appear more and more extra-territorial and have a direct impact on Russian business interests. He said Moscow has made it clear that this approach is not acceptable.
The stark estrangement between rulers and ruled struck me during a visit last winter to Douma, a largely Sunni Muslim suburb of Damascus. It is one of a ring of overgrown villages, divided from one another and from the old city center by empty spaces that have now revealed their utility as potential security cordons. Taken together these villages house most of the capital’s four million people. At the time Douma was just emerging from the trauma of a three-week government siege designed to flush out what state television insists on calling “terrorists.” The campaign worked, for a while: the then barely armed local self-defense groups loosely known as the Free Syrian Army briefly pulled out of Douma to spare it further punishment. (As has happened nearly everywhere the government then claimed victory; the rebels simply waited, then filtered back.)
As a proud group of local youths showed me holes blasted by tank fire as a show of force, a mosque donations box pilfered by soldiers, and a cemetery with many fresh graves and more gaping open, ready for urgent use, the thought kept nagging that I had seen this all before. It was when they pointed out that every one of Douma’s rooftop water tanks had been punctured by government gunfire that I realized what seemed familiar. The Israeli army had done the same thing during the first Palestinian intifada.
In fact, the entire catalog of collective punishments meted out in Douma suggested the handbook of an army of occupation: cutting power and phone links for days on end, enforcing curfews with snipers, forcing children at gunpoint to paint over graffiti, breaking down doors instead of knocking, administering public beatings, arresting male youths en masse, using masked informants to finger suspects.
Already in February, however, Syria’s revolution had taken far more disturbing turns than either the first, rock-throwing Palestinian intifada or even the second, far more violent one between 2000 and 2005. The gapinggraves in Douma’s cemetery, for example, had been dug in advance not merely because they were likely to be filled soon. Fallen martyrs needed to be buried in haste because Assad’s men held corpses as macabre hostages: only families who agreed to attest in writing that their kin had died at the hands of “terrorists” would be allowed to retrieve their bodies.
Already in February, government shelling had destroyed large parts of Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, rendering a quarter of its 1.2 million inhabitants homeless. The helling was smashing smaller towns to bits, too, such as Zabadani near the Lebanese border in the west, Idlib in the far north, and Deir Ezzor, far to the east in the valley of the Euphrates. The widespread assumption was that Bashar Assad meant to make examples of such places, just as his father had done with Hama. This, in fact, had been his government’s response to every new challenge since the start of the uprising: to commit an act of violence so extreme that its enemies would be cowed, and fence-sitters would think twice.
Heart-rending choices in Syrian war-zone hospital
By Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Sat September 8, 2012
Aleppo, Syria (CNN) — They are so used to seeing blood outside Dar alShifa hospital, the magnet of all suffering in Aleppo, that passersby simply walk over it, oblivious. When they mop out the building’s tiny reception area, the blood runs in small, dirty streams into the gutters. This is a hospital trying to get by day-to-day while lacking the most basic in supplies. It has itself been hit by shelling: two separate attacks have left its right side punctured with gaping holes in what was once the maternity ward.
One afternoon, a rush of the most frail and vulnerable come towards the exhausted doctors; children, some suffering from sheer terror. One is malnourished. They have cuts, bruises — but more often much worse. The government has, the doctors say, closed the main children’s hospital owing to a paperwork issue, so this is where they must come.
Mohamed is aged eight and was hit by shrapnel from regime shelling in his right leg. It shattered his femur. In Europe, surgery would mean he’s playing football again within months, but here a list of precarious challenges form. He remains quiet, brave, patient almost, as the doctors work out what to do.
The tough natural solution they hit on is a stark reminder of how desperate the task is of getting medical care to the wounded here in rebel-held territory. The government hospital has better equipment, and can probably save Mohamed’s leg. So, lifting him on the blankets they use as makeshift stretchers, they take him, bewildered and confused, into a nearby taxi to cross the front lines. His ordeal is far from over. It is perverse to know that only those who hurt him can also heal him…..
Jihadists join Aleppo fight, eye Islamic state, surgeon says
Sat, 8 Sep 2012, Reuters
* French surgeon returns after 2 weeks in Aleppo hospital
* Says French fighters inspired by Toulouse gunman Merah
* Says Turkey flooding parts of border to stop refugees
By John Irish
PARIS, Sept 8 (Reuters) – Foreign Islamists intent on turning Syria into an autocratic theocracy have swollen the ranks of rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad and think they are waging a “holy war”, a French surgeon who treated fighters in Aleppo has said.
Jacques Beres, co-founder of medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, returned from Syria on Friday evening after spending two weeks working clandestinely in a hospital in the besieged northern Syrian city.
In an interview with Reuters in his central Paris apartment on Saturday, the 71-year-old said that contrary to his previous visits to Homs and Idlib earlier this year about 60 percent of those he had treated this time had been rebel fighters and that at least half of them had been non-Syrian.
“It’s really something strange to see. They are directly saying that they aren’t interested in Bashar al-Assad’s fall, but are thinking about how to take power afterwards and set up an Islamic state with sharia law to become part of the world Emirate,” the doctor said.
The foreign jihadists included young Frenchmen who said they were inspired by Mohammed Merah, a self-styled Islamist militant from Toulouse, who killed seven people in March in the name of al-Qaeda.
Assad himself has consistently maintained that the 17-month-old insurgency against him is largely the work of people he refers to as “foreign-backed terrorists” and says his forces are acting to restore stability.
During his previous visits to Syria – in March and May – Beres said he had dismissed suggestions the rebels were dominated by Islamist fighters but he said he had now been forced to reassess the situation.
The doctor’s account corroborates other anecdotal evidence that the struggle against Assad appears to be drawing ever greater numbers of fellow Arabs and other Muslims, many driven by a sense of religious duty to perform jihad (holy war) and a readiness to suffer for Islam.
But while some are professional “jihadists”, veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya or Libya who bring combat and bomb-making skills with them that alarm the Western and Arab governments which have cheered the rebels on, many have little to offer Syrians but their goodwill and prayers.
Beres described treating dozens of such jihadists from other Arab countries, but also at least two young Frenchmen….
Showing his muddied surgical case, shoes and clothes, Beres said that Turkish forces had flooded the Reyhanli border area with water making it difficult for refugees to cross unnoticed.
“We were caught by the Turkish army. It took us 20 hours to cross the border and I was fined $500 for crossing the border illegally. They flooded the border completely so that they can hear who is crossing. Those they do catch they are sending back,” he said.
Turkey facing questions on Syria policy
Wash Post, By Karin Brulliard
ANTAKYA, Turkey — Turkey, a rising heavyweight in the Muslim world, has led the international campaign to oust the regime in next-door Syria. But as the fighting drags on, Turkey is complaining that the United States and others have left it abandoned on the front line of a conflict that is bleeding across its border…
“Ankara now realizes that it doesn’t have the power to rearrange — forget it in the region, but also not in Syria,” said Gokhan Bacik, director of the Middle East Strategic Research Center at Turkey’s Zirve University. “So Ankara desperately needs American support. But American support is not coming.”
When a U.S. delegation visited late last month, the Turks made the case they had made two weeks earlier to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a senior administration official said: They were overwhelmed with Syrians, and they wanted the United States and others to establish safe areas, protected by a no-fly zone, for them inside Syria. Their limit, the Turks warned, was 100,000 refugees.
Clinton, confronted with emotional Turkish pleas, said that a no-fly zone would require major outside military intervention and that the United States did not believe it would help, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations. But rather than dismiss Turkey’s concerns outright, Clinton called for further bilateral discussions and an “operation and command” structure for the two governments to coordinate their responses to the crisis….
Turkey backtracked on a recent statement that it would close its doors at 100,000 refugees. But Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who is facing growing criticism at home, suggested regret last week over the open-door policy.
“There is an increasing sense in Turkey that, through making such a sacrifice and tackling an enormous issue all by itself, we are leading the international community to complacency and inaction,” he said at the United Nations.
The refugee crisis is swelling as Turkish headlines are dominated by deadly battles in the alpine southeast between security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a separatist insurgency for 28 years. Turkish officials accuse Syria of arming the guerrillas and empowering a PKK offshoot in sections of northeastern Syria along the Turkish border. Last month, Turkish officials blamed the PKK for a bombing that killed nine civilians in the city of Gaziantep.
Turkey is particularly concerned that Syrian missiles could fall into the hands of the PKK, enabling it to attack the helicopters Turkey relies on to fight the insurgents, Bacik said.
Yet even as Turkey condemns Assad, frets about a growing power vacuum in Syria and pleads for international intervention, officials and analysts say the country has no appetite for deploying its military unilaterally to confront Assad or secure a refugee zone.
There is widespread public opposition in Turkey to military action, and analysts say Turkey is wary of jeopardizing its popularity in a region where the legacy of Ottoman rule remains fresh. The Turkish military is ill-prepared for what could be a prolonged, Iraq-style sectarian war, said Henri Barkey, a Turkey expert at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania….
Unspoken Israeli-Saudi alliance targets Iran
The unspoken alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia remains in full force as popular Arab revolts against tyranny transform the region. Heavily invested in the old status quo, Israel and Saudi Arabia (and its GCC partners) are marshaling efforts to lead a counterrevolution to co-opt fledgling democracies in countries such as Egypt that are seeing previously suppressed demands for freedom, accountability, dignity and independence shape a new politics.
Yet the interests of Israel and Saudi Arabia diverge greatly over events in Syria. On the surface, they should equally relish the possibility of Iran’s most important ally crumbling. But only Saudi Arabia, a principal supporter of the political and violent militant factions making up the Syrian opposition, appears determined to destroy the Baathist regime.
Israel stands to lose a great deal in the event that Syria’s Baathist regime falls. The regime has largely ignored Israel’s occupation of its Golan Heights and the thousands of Israeli settlers who inhabit Syrian territory. This has allowed Israel to devote its military resources to other theaters. A post-Baathist order in Syria that sees the rise of an Islamist-oriented regime or the country plunged into years of internecine strife might witness an attempt to recapture the territory based on the model of armed resistance employed by Hezbollah against Israeli forces in southern Lebanon.
In spite of their differences over Syria, however, the course of regional events involving Iran and other matters provide fertile ground for continued strategic cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
the true believers hold out hope of toppling the regime through marches, sit-ins, strikes and campaigns such as boycotting cellphone companies suspected of financing the crackdown. They also aspire to win new support: At the brief Midhat Basha demonstration, participants paired anti-Assad slogans with chants of “Merchants of Damascus, may God protect you,” in an attempt to sway business owners who generally support the regime…
Nadia, an activist, said she abandoned demonstrations when the regime began shelling Damascus, triggering a cycle of violence that she says has extinguished her enthusiasm for a rebel victory.
“I will cry when the regime falls,” she said. “By then, it would not be worth all of the deaths for the sake of toppling it.”
She said she has shifted her focus to more low-profile nonviolent activities, such as helping displaced civilians who have taken shelter in schools.
“The regime believes only in the security solution,” said Abdulrazak, 22, a Damascus-based activist who has also lost faith in the nonviolent route. “If the revolution had continued peacefully, the regime would have annihilated it by now.”…
“We are peaceful, but we support the FSA,” Obaida said. “The FSA is only defending people from the regime’s attacks.”.
EU ministers explore fresh help to Syria opposition
Khaleej Times – 08 September, 2012
EU foreign ministers gather in Cyprus some 100 kilometres from the Syrian coast Friday to explore how to best assist its opposition while defusing a humanitarian crisis looming in Europe’s backyard.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has put Syria top of the agenda for two days of informal talks starting around 0930 GMT, the first meeting of EU foreign ministers since the summer break.
The talks, which will also address deepening worry over Iran’s nuclear programme, come amid increasing concern over mounting violence between the opposition and President Bashar Al Assad’s regime that last month alone sent a record 100,000 people fleeing across the borders.
Turkey, which along with Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon is hosting tens of thousands of refugees, has suggested creating protected safe havens inside Syria for civilians seeking to escape the violence.
But the idea fell on deaf ears at the UN Security Council last week amid concern even among Western governments over the implications of such a controversial military operation.
France is expected instead to urge its partners at Friday’s talks in the classy Cypriot resort of Paphos to find ways to help funnel medicines, cash and other resources to civilians trapped in rebel-held areas.
France and Britain too are agreed on the need to speed up the transition from Assad’s regime in Syria to a new government, French President Francois Hollande said Thursday after talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
‘We must accelerate the political transition (and) help the opposition to form a government,’ said Hollande…
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blew up at the US ambassador last month because he was “at wits’ end” over what he sees as the Obama administration’s lack of clarity on Iran’s nuclear programme, a…
The Arab Spring is dead — and Syria is writing its obituary
A Syrian rebel covers a fellow fighter carrying the body of his brother, killed during a battle in the Saif al-Dawla district of Syria’s northern city of Aleppo, amid heavy street fighting between opposition and government forces on August 29, 2012.
By Richard Engel , NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent
ISTANBUL — I called an old friend the other day, dialing the number somewhat sheepishly. He’s a senior adviser to the Iraq government and I knew what to expect when he answered.
First, he reprimanded me for not calling enough and hardly visiting. I’ve been away too long. You can’t do that, not to your friends. What’s so difficult about calling? he asked.
I apologized, asked about his children, his health, if he’s having success in quitting smoking, and offered the only excuse I could think of: “I’ve been busy with the Arab Spring.”
“The Arab Spring?” he said. “What’s that? There’s no Arab Spring anymore. That’s over. It is now a big struggle for power.”
He may have been acting like an insistent grandmother, but he was right. The Arab Spring is over. The days of the protesters with laptops and BlackBerrys in Tahrir Square are long gone.
Instead, a much bigger struggle is underway, one that goes back centuries that is both a regional battle for dominance and an epic tug of war between Sunnis and Shiites for control of the Middle East and the Prophet Muhammad’s legacy.
The front line is now in Syria, where the United Nations says more than 20,000 people have been killed since pro-democracy protests started in March 2011.
But it goes back, at least in very modern history, at least to Iraq — and America shares a large part of the responsibility for reopening this Pandora’s Box.
Roots in Iraq
A major factor in the rise of the present struggle came when American troops invaded Iraq in 2003, thus pitting Sunnis against their rival Shiites, who many Sunnis think are effectively infidels who turned against Islamic leaders about 1,400 years ago and have been on the wrong side of Allah’s path since then.
For decades, Saddam and his Sunni minority had imposed their will on Iraq, carrying on a 14-century tradition of Sunnis controlling Mesopotamia despite a Shiite majority. Not surprisingly, in most Sunni regions there has little appetite for free U.S.-sponsored elections. They knew they would end up being ruled by their enemies.
And that’s what happened. Essentially, the lasting legacy of America’s involvement in Iraq is an Iranian-allied Shiite government that also happens to be one of the most corrupt on the planet