Posted by Joshua on Saturday, March 15th, 2008
"Germany resumes isolation policy toward the Syrian regime" (Translation and note thanks to MSK)
"Deutschland wird nach den Worten Merkels auch an der gegenwärtigen Isolation Syriens festhalten. Alle Gespräche mit Syrien seien bislang sehr enttäuschend verlaufen. Syrien werde seiner Verantwortung bei der Wahl eines neuen Präsidenten im Libanon nicht gerecht, sagte Merkel. Außerdem habe Syrien bis zum heutigen Tag das Nachbarland nicht diplomatisch anerkannt. Deshalb solle in der gegenwärtigen Phase allein EU-Chefdiplomat Javier Solana Gespräche mit der syrischen Regierung führen. Kehre Syrien auf den Weg der Rationalität zurück, seien die Türen wieder offen, sagte Merkel."
(Germany will, in Merkel's [German chancellor, i.e. prime minister] words, stick to the current isolation of Syria. All talks held with Syria so far have been very disappointing. Syria is not living up to its responsibility in the election of a new president in Lebanon, Merkel said. Also, Syria has until the present day not diplomatically recognized the neighboring country. Therefore shall in the current phase only EU chief diplomat Javier Solana hold talks with the Syrian government. Should Syria return to the path of rationality, the doors will be open again, said Merkel.)
The Bush administration is calling on its pals leading the so-called moderate Arab states to isolate Syria by boycotting the summit. The State Department spokesman Sean McCormack was quoted in an AFP article:
In contemplating whether or not they attend a meeting in Syria, it certainly bears keeping in mind what Syria's role (has been) to this point in not allowing a Lebanese electoral process to move forward.
“Report: Syria wants ‘public’ peace talks with Israel
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondent and Reuters
Syria has recently relayed a message to Israel conveying the county’s interest in peace talks with Israel, but on the condition that talks will be held openly and not under fire, Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reported Saturday.
According to the report, Damascus passed the message on to Israel via Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
According to the newspaper report, the Syrians demand a series of conditions in that message that must be fulfilled before it will commence a peace process, the first of which is the condition that talks will not be held “under fire.” The Syrians explained that by “under fire” they do not mean an armed conflict between Israel and Syria, but rather the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Another Syrian condition is that the talks be held publicly, and accompanied by Israeli gestures to assure the Syrians that they are ready to withdraw from all “occupied Arab territories,” Al-Akhbar reported.
A third condition, according to the report, is that Israel hold simultaneous diplomatic talks with Lebanon and the Palestinians alongside peace talks with Syria.
However, “knowledgeable” sources told Al-Akhbar that Damascus estimates that the United States isn’t interested in Israel holding talks with Syria, and will act to prevent such talks from taking place.
Sources: Israel warned Syria it could pay price for any Hezbollah attack
In contrast to the Syrian peace overtures, Israel has recently conveyed a stern message to Damascus, also via a third party, stating that it would hold Damascus accountable for any Hezbollah attacks, Israeli and European sources said on Friday.
New batch of immigrants tracked arriving from Syria
By Jean Christou – LARNACA, Cyprus
44 Syrians and two Lebanese, were picked up in the early hours after crossing from the north and walking for two hours into Oroklini, police said. Another group of immigrants was also being sought by police. They had all come by boat at different times from Syria.
U.S. Daily, ca – Mar 13, 2008
The Syrian Media Centre, an independent body that tracks curbs on media, said at least 153 Internet sites are blocked in Syria….Security officials ordered Internet cafe owners this week to take down the names and identification cards of their clients as well as the times they come and leave, Mazen Darwich, head of the Syrian Media Centre, told Reuters. The records are to be presented regularly to the authorities, who targeted bloggers and Internet writers in recent months as part of a renewed campaign against dissent. These steps are designed to terrorize Internet users and spread fear and self censorship in violation of the right to privacy and free expression," Darwich said. "The government has been methodical in extending the scope of its iron censorship," he said. There was no comment from the government. Officials had said Internet controls were needed to guard against what they described as attempts to spread sectarian divisions and "penetration by Israel."
Naji writes in the comment section:
Sadly, this is the trend these days and a sign of our ugly times… I was travelling around Europe last summer, and everywhere I went (Italy, France,…and even in Switzerland), you now have to register your passport when you use an internet cafe… new anti-terrosim regulations and all that…!!
تمكنت جمعية أهلية سورية من اختراق ممنوعات رسمية أميركية بإقامتها حفلاً خاصاً لجمع التبرعات في واشطن رغم صعوبة جمع التبرعات لجهة سورية بشكل علني داخل أميركا!
In Lebanon, a 'Revolution' Gone Sour
Friday, Mar. 14, 2008 By NICHOLAS BLANFORD/BEIRUT
Many Lebanese have grown tired of the unrelenting crisis of political gridlock, sporadic assassinations, bombings and street violence, as well as a worsening economy. Fed up with ceaseless bickering of politicians from the March 14 bloc and the pro-Syrian opposition, led by the militant Shi'ite Hizballah movement, Lebanese are emigrating in droves to the wealthy, job-rich Gulf or further afield.
Robert Fisk: Silenced by the men in white socks
The Damascus Spring has presaged no golden summer for Syria
Saturday, 15 March 2008
Shut them up. Accuse them. Imprison them. Stop them talking. Why is it that this seems to have become a symbol of the Arab – or Muslim – world? Yes I know about our Western reputation for free speech; from the Roman Empire to the Spanish inquisition, from Henry VIII to Robespierre, from Mussolini and Stalin to Hitler, even – on a pitiable scale – to Mr Anthony Blair. But it's getting hard to avoid the Middle East.
When Egyptian women cry "Enough!", they are sexually abused by Mubarak's cops. When Algerians demand to know which policemen killed their relatives, they are arrested for ignoring the regime's amnesty. When Benazir Bhutto is murdered in Rawalpindi, a cloak of silence falls over the world's imams. Pontificating about the assassination in Pakistan, Shaikh es-Sayed, who runs one of Canada's biggest mosques, expressed his condolences to "families of beloved brothers and sisters who died in the incident [sic]". Asked why he didn't mention Bhutto's name, he replied: "Why? This is not a political arena. This is about religion. That's politics." Well, it certainly is in Syria. George Bush – along with M. Sarkozy – has been berating Damascus for its lack of democracy and its human rights abuses and its supposed desire to gobble up Lebanon and "Palestine" and even Cyprus. But I always feel that Syria had a raw deal these past 90 years.
First came the one-armed General Henri Gouraud, who tore Lebanon off from Syria in 1920 and gave it to the pro-French Christians. Then Paris handed the Syrian coastal city of Alexandretta to the Turks in 1939 – sending survivors of the 1915 Armenian genocide into exile for a second time – in the hope that Turkey would join the Allies against Hitler. (The Turks obliged – in 1945!) Then in the Six Day War, Syria lost the Golan Heights – subsequently annexed by Israel. Far from being expansionist, Syria seems to get robbed of land every two decades.
On the death of Hafez al-Assad in 2000 – it's extraordinary how, like Sharon now that he is comatose, we come to like these old rogues once they've departed – we were told there was to be a "Damascus Spring". I always thought this a bit dodgy. I'd experienced the Lebanon Spring and read about the Ukraine Spring and I'm old enough to remember the Prague Spring, which ended in tears and tanks. And sure enough, the Damascus Spring presaged no golden summer for Syria.
Instead, we've gone back to the midnight knock and the clanging of the cell door. Why – oh why – must this be so? Why did the Syrian secret police have to arrest Dr Ahmed Thoma, Dr Yasser el-Aiti, Jabr al-Shufi, Fayez Sara, Ali al-Abdulla and Rashed Sattouf in December, only days after they – along with 163 other brave Syrians – had attended a meeting of the Damascus Declaration for Democratic Change? The delegates had elected Dr Fida al-Hurani head of their organisation. She, too, was arrested, and her husband, Dr Gazi Alayan, a Palestinian who had lived in Syria for 18 years, deported to Jordan.
The net spread wider, as they say in police reports. The renowned Syrian artist Talal Abu Dana was arrested up in Aleppo, his studio trashed and his paintings destroyed. Then on 18 February, Kamel al-Moyel from the lovely hill town of Zabadani, on the steam train route from Damascus, was picked up by the boys in white socks. A point of explanation here. Almost all Middle East Moukhabarat men – perhaps because a clothing emporium has won a concession for the region's secret policemen – wear white socks. The only ones who don't are the Israeli variety, who wear old baseball hats.
Needless to say, the Syrian prisoners were not ignored by their regime. A certain Dr Shuabi, who runs a certain Data and Strategic Studies Centre in Damascus, appeared on al-Jazeera to denounce the detainees for "dealing with foreign powers". Dr al-Hurani suffered from angina and was briefly sent to hospital before being returned to the Duma jail. But when the prisoners were at last brought to the Palace of Justice, Ali al-Abdulla appeared to have bruises on his body. Judge Mohamed al-Saa'our – the third investigative judge in Damascus, appointed by the ministry of interior – presided over the case at which the detainees were accused of "spreading false information", forming a secret organisation to overthrow the regime, and for inciting "sectarian and racist tendencies". The hearing, as they say, continues.
But why? Well, back on 4 December, George Bush met at the White House – the rendezvous was initially kept secret – the former Syrian MP Mamoun al-Homsi (who currently lives, dangerously perhaps, in Beirut) with Amar Abdulhamid, a member of a think thank run by a former Israeli lobbyist, and Djengizkhan Hasso, a Kurdish opposition activist. Nine days later, an official "source" leaked the meeting to the press. Which is about the time the Syrian Moukhabarat decided to pounce. So whose idea was the meeting? Was it, perhaps, supposed – once it became public – to provoke the Syrian cops into action?
The Damascus newspaper Tichrine – the Syrian equivalent of Private Eye's Rev Blair newsletter – demanded to know why Washington was showing such concern for human rights in Syria. Was not the American-supported blockade of one and a half million Gaza Palestinians a violation of the rights of man? Had not the Arabs seen all too clearly Washington's concern for the rights of man in Abu Ghraib and Guanatanamo? All true. But why on earth feed America's propaganda machine (Syria as the centre of Hamas/ Hiz-bollah/Islamic Jihad terror, etc) with weekly arrests of middle-aged academics and even, it transpires, the vice-dean of the Islamic studies faculty at Damascus University?
Of course, you won't find Israel or the United States engaged in this kind of thing. Absolutely not. Why, just two months ago, the Canadian foreign minister, Maxime Bernier, discovered that a confidential document sent to Canadian diplomats included a list of countries in which prisoners risked being tortured – and the names of America and Israel were on the list! Merde! Fortunately for us all, M. Bernier knew how to deal with such pernicious lies. The document, he announced, "wrongly includes some of our closest allies. It doesn't represent the opinion or the policy of the (Canadian) government". Even though, of course, the list is correct.
But M. Bernier managed to avoid and close down the truth, just as Mr Mubarak does in Cairo and President Bouteflika does in Algiers and just as the good Shaikh es-Sayed did in Toronto. Syria, according to Haitham al-Maleh, a former Syrian judge, claims there are now almost 3,000 political prisoners in Syria. But how many, I wonder, are there in Algeria? Or in Egypt? Or in the hands – secret or otherwise – of the United States? Shut them up. Lock them up. Silence.
The State Department's human rights bureau added Syria and dropped China from the department's "worst offenders" list. Al Kamen of the Washington Post writes:
Communist China was taken off that list and moved up to become one of those "authoritarian countries that are undergoing economic reform [and] have experienced rapid social change but have not undertaken democratic political reform and continue to deny their citizens basic human rights and fundamental freedoms."
This probably stunned imprisoned and harassed human rights activists and people walking anywhere near Tiananmen Square.
On a wholly unrelated matter, don't forget to sign up for your tickets to the Olympic Games, beginning Aug. 8 in Beijing. President Bush will be there.
Meanwhile in Iraq, 24,000 prisoners are being held in American run prisons without charges.
The Lebanon Forces leader Samir Geagea held talks at the White House with Hadley and Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs John Hannah to discuss the U.S. government's support for the Saniora government, including military and economic aid. The erstwhile militia leader was welcomed as a champion of the freedom agenda and proponent of Lebanon's commitment to its constitution and the rule of law. No mention was made of his convictions for the assassinations of Former Prime Minister Rashid Karami, National Liberal Party leader Dany Chamoun and his family, and former LF member Elias Al Zayek. He was also accused of attempting to kill Minister Michel Murr. He was given four life sentences in a trial Amnesty International criticized, citing that it was politically motivated, unjust and done under Syrian interference. He served 11 years before being pardoned following the March 14th victory in 2005.
Hürriyet, Turkey – Mar 13, 2008
Turkey, Iraq and Syria decided to form a ‘water institution’ to end the related problems in the region. The decision to form such institution was made …
The fight for Lebanon's freedom
Washington Times, DC – Mar 13, 2008
By Farid Ghadry and Sami El-Khoury
The leadership of "March 14," to the dismay of many Lebanese Americans, who have worked hard for U.S. help, refused to exercise its constitutional right to ignore Hezbollah and Syria and elect a new president for Lebanon.
"March 14," from the start, took on a conciliatory tone with Hezbollah, yielding to many of its demands under the auspices of consensus-building and avoiding confrontation. That was by far their biggest blunder. With the exception of Samir Geagea, the vocal Christian leader, the organization has been unable to develop a cohesive strategy against Hezbollah terror. As an example, some in the leadership excluded other potent anti-Hezbollah players from their inner circle, which relieved them of greater options. One such Lebanese politician is Ahmad al-Assaad, a maverick Shi'ite with a notable history in Lebanese politics who was, and still is, willing to play spoiler to Hezbollah's grand schemes. Mr. Assaad visited Washington lately and his message was powerful enough to get the attention of many in the Bush administration.
But unlike Mr. Assaad's message of logic, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who also visited Washington several times in the past year, could not resist the occasion to shore up privately and publicly the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (SMB) and the former vice president of Syria, Abdul Halim Khaddam, a much-disliked figure inside Syria, at the behest of a scheme concocted in Saudi Arabia by Bandar Bin Sultan,….
Farid Ghadry is president of the Reform Party of Syria. Sami El-Khoury, who served as consul to the Lebanese Embassy in Ecuador, is president of the World Maronite Union.
Roland D. McKay of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor is pushing this interesting conference