Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008
Serene Taleb-Agha [email@example.com] has begun a "a list for English-speaking residents of Syria, in particular expatriates from America, Britain, Canada, Australia, South Africa, etc. Dual nationals are welcome. We are here to network and share our experiences living in Syria." Here is the group:http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Anglos-In-Syria/
Hugh Macleod writes: "I wrote an analysis for San Fran Chron on the attack on the US embassy vehicle and how there appears to be a new strand of political violence emerging in Lebanon, that seems more the work of Al-Qaeda style fundies than hit squads taking out anti-Syrian figures . .
The attack on a U.S. embassy vehicle that killed four people last week represents a dangerous widening of political violence that includes international targets, and shows how al Qaeda-inspired extremists are attempting to push the politically deadlocked country toward civil war, some analysts say.….."Al Qaeda is now unleashed in Lebanon and they are here to stay," said Ahmad Moussali, professor of political science and Islamic studies at the American University of Beirut. "Al Qaeda thrives in civil war and chaos. International players should be very careful in Lebanon."….Just last month Gen. Francois Haj, the man tapped to take over Suleiman's role as army chief and head of operations against Fatah Islam, was assassinated by a car bomb. It was the first attack on a high ranking army officer in decades.
Meanwhile, U.N. peacekeepers in southern Lebanon have also been threatened and attacked by Sunni militants.
In a statement aired on Dec. 29, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden criticized Hezbollah for agreeing to the deployment of the U.N. Interim Forces in Lebanon following the end of the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah fighters in 2006. Bin Laden said the U.N. soldiers were on a mission to "protect the Jews."
Some analysts said bin Laden's message could have been interpreted as a rallying call by Sunni militants.
"Bin Laden's threats represent a kind of edict, guidelines which are adapted by groups that identify themselves with al Qaeda," said Amal Saad Ghorayeb, an expert on Hezbollah at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.
Ghorayeb compared the attack on the U.S. embassy vehicle to the Jan. 8 roadside bomb that exploded when two U.N. soldiers drove through Rmaileh, 21 miles south of Beirut, close to the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp, a hotbed for Sunni Islamist groups.
"Both were very clumsily planned and were not high value targets. It was an assassination attempt but not along the lines of previous assassinations," said Ghorayeb, referring to a string of well-planned assassinations of anti-Syrian figures in Lebanon since the 2005 killing by an explosion of former prime minister, Rafik Hariri. "It could well be an al Qaeda-inspired attack. There has been a resurgence of sorts. Fatah Islam were always clumsy."
BAGHDAD (AFP) — Syria and Saudi Arabia have reduced the flow of foreign insurgents crossing their borders to fight in Iraq, a US military spokesman said on Sunday.
"Syria and Saudi Arabia have taken a number of steps to reduce the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq," US military spokesman Rear Admiral Gregory Smith told a press conference in Baghdad.
"In early 2007, 110 foreigners were coming into Iraq from Syria every month. That is now reduced to 40 to 50."
Syria has introduced roadblocks and border patrols in a bid to crack down on fighters trying to cross into the war-ravaged country, while Saudi Arabia has tightened requirements for people applying for visas to Syria, Smith said.
90 percent of foreign fighters entering Iraq during the one-year period ending in August came via Syria, a greater proportion than previously believed.
More North Africans were foreign terrorists than previously assessed." Although Saudi Arabia was by far the most common country of origin of foreign fighters, with about 40 percent of the total, a surprising share — 19 percent — came from Libya. Overall, about 40 percent were North African.
Based on information solicited in the longer Islamic State of Iraq forms, the Syrian role in the traffic appeared more that of entrepreneur than ideological partner and seemed to be a source of concern and suspicion for al-Qaeda in Iraq. Entrants were asked for names and descriptions of Syrians they had come into contact with, and were asked how they were treated. Many responded that the Syrians had demanded exorbitant sums of money, often exactly the amount the entrants were carrying.
A Syrian rights activist urged couples who live together outside of wedlock – cohabiting – to sign a contract stipulating the rights of both parties.
The prevalence of this living arrangement – found mostly in the capital Damascus – was brought into the open after the state-owned newspaper Al-Thawra ran a story about cohabiting couples in 2006. Ali told AlArabiya.net that the law does not prohibit sexual relationships between unmarried couples — as long as both are adult and single — and can thus be legally recognized.
Hizbullah's leader said on Saturday his party had the remains of Israeli soldiers killed in Lebanon during the 2006 war, saying the dead were left behind "in our villages and fields." "Your army left behind the remains of soldiers in our villages and fields," Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said, addressing the Israeli people during a speech to tens of thousands of Shiites taking part in commemorations marking Ashura.
"They [Israeli army] were so weak on the field that they left behind remains not of one, two or three but a large number of your soldiers," Nasrallah added. "One body is almost complete," Nasrallah said. "What did the [Israeli] army say to the family of these soldiers and what remains did they give them?"
The Hizbullah leader's comments sparked outrage in Israel, which prides itself on doing everything to recover the remains of its soldiers from fields of battle and has in the past freed prisoners in exchange for remains of soldiers and civilians.
Israeli ministers on Sunday cursed Nasrallah as a "sewer rat" for boasting that his group had Israeli body parts. "Nasrallah has crossed all possible boundaries of inhumanity," Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's centrist Kadima party said ahead of a weekly Cabinet meeting.
"When [Arab League Secretary General Amr] Moussa came to see me before going to Damascus and asked me if I have any message for [Syrian President] Bashar Assad, I told him just tell him to reconcile with Saudi Arabia," Berri told The Daily Star in an exclusive interview Saturday.
He added that the rift was "Syria's mistake," the result of comments made by Syrian Vice President Farouk Sharaa, which soured relations. Hopes are high that the upcoming Arab summit in March in Damascus will serve as an ideal platform for a Saudi-Syrian reconciliation.
Berri said that "only the 10+10+10" equal distribution of Cabinet posts between the majority. The plan calls for neither majority nor opposition having the power to hinder the government or monopolize power and gives the president the swing vote in Cabinet as the arbiter.
He said the ruling coalition supported a 14+10+6 formula of seats. Berri said that "only the 10+10+10" equal distribution of Cabinet posts between the majority, the opposition and the president in a new government would meet with the requirements of the three-point Arab plan. The plan calls for neither majority nor opposition having the power to hinder the government or monopolize power and gives the president the swing vote in Cabinet as the arbiter.
The speaker said that the American strategic interests lie in ensuring Israel's security and the continued flow of oil, while everything else is "just details."
Hizbullah's Al-Manar television station said one million people had turned out for the Ashura commemoration, in the Sfeir neighborhood of Beirut's southern suburbs.
The Hizbullah leader has rarely made public appearances since the 2006 war. His last public appearance was at the opening of a book fair in May in the southern suburbs of Beirut.
He also appeared at a massive victory rally in the southern suburbs in September 2006. He told the cheering crowds that his group was ready for a new conflict with Israel. "If Israel launches a new war against Lebanon, we promise them a war that will change the face of the entire region," Nasrallah said. – AFP
Among its defects, the most potentially damaging is that Hizbullah threatens the Lebanese Shiite community by seeking to impose its exclusivist version of Shiite history. Shiites have left their imprint on Lebanon's history ever since the Middle Ages, albeit with varying degrees of political involvement. To presume that Lebanese Shiite history only really began when Hizbullah was established is unfair first and foremost to the Shiite community itself.
It is incorrect to say that Shiites were excluded from Lebanese political life.
A friend who attended this conference sent the following summation:
Analyses of the 9/6/07 Israeli strike on a Syrian facility near the Euphrates
Hosted by the Center for National Policy, 1/23/08
David Albright, Institute for Science and International Security
- The Israelis believe they hit a nuclear reactor
- Finding nuclear reactors through satellite imaging is very difficult; it is impossible to find nuclear weapons production facilities
- Syria did not obtain plutonium from North Korea or any other country, but probably received nuclear assistance
- The alleged Syrian nuclear reactor was not very developed; there is no Syrian fuel fabrication plant or processing plant
- By attacking Israel showed no confidence in the international community's ability to control countries' nuclear activities
- There is now a new building on the site; it is probably a warehouse, but it might have been constructed in order to cover up excavation of the remains of the previous building
- It is unlikely that the new building is nuclear given the speed with which it was constructed
Robin Wright, Washington Post
- Originally thought that the facility was a Lebanon-bound Iranian arms cache for Hezbollah
- North Koreans were on the ground at the site and the Israelis attacked at night to avoid collateral damage
- The U.S. and Israel shared intelligence before the bombing
- Syria didn't invite the IAEA to inspect the site after the bombing, which makes their innocence suspect
- After looking at satellite photos from 2001, it is confirmed that construction began under Hafez Al-Assad
- The secret was held so closely that some of the Assad family members didn't know about the facility
- In 35 years of reporting, she has never seen a mystery like this
Bonus fact: The Makhloof family (Bashar's mother's family) owns the Dunkin' Donuts franchise in Syria.
Conn Hallinan: Desert Mirage: What Was the Bombing of Syria Really About? Desert Mirage. By CONN HALLINAN. So what was that Sept. 6 Israeli bombing of Syria all about?
President George W. Bush hasn’t accomplished much on his voyage to the Middle East, but he did take the time to inflict another wound on the entire U.S. intelligence community—and on the credibility of anything he might ever again say about the world.
In the latest Newsweek, Michael Hirsh reports that, during a private conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Bush “all but disowned” the agencies’ Dec. 3 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. A “senior administration official who accompanied Bush” on the trip confided to Hirsh that Bush “told the Israelis that he can’t control what the intelligence community says, but that [the NIE’s] conclusions don’t reflect his own views.” [complete article]
"A Russian advantage that Syria would do well to exploit," By Vitaly Naumkin
Russia's approach to a Syrian-Israeli peace process is very much a function of developments in Russo-Syrian relations. Since the beginning of the 21st century, Russo-Syrian ties have been making good headway in quite a number of fields. Certainly, the traditional character of historical ties between Moscow and Damascus is playing a role. But one should also not ignore the pragmatism inherent in President Vladimir Putin's foreign-policy course, and in particular the promotion of interests of Russian companies in world markets, the Middle East included.
Moscow's decision, taken in early 2005, to write off $9.782 billion or 73 percent of Syria's $13.4 billion debt, the remaining $3.62 billion to be paid off in installments, was a great boost for the development of cooperation.
Naturally, Russo-Syrian relations are not based on economic interests alone, but also security interests. On the one hand, religious extremism and terrorism are significant threats in the region for Russia. Consequently, Moscow is building cooperation with the United States and other global and regional actors. Incidentally, the secular regime in Syria is a reliable partner in this regard.
On the other hand, the way the US is operating in the region, particularly in Iraq, often only provokes fresh outbursts of terrorist activity that require that Moscow follow its own balanced course. In addition, the crisis in the system of arms control, US reliance on forceful means of resolving conflicts and other crisis phenomena in the framework of international relations demand from Russia at least a partial restoration of its military potential lost in the 1990s. In this connection, the possibilities Syria can offer, to Russian ships stationed in the Mediterranean for example, are a weighty argument in favor of developing relations with Damascus.
This in no way implies that Moscow regards everything Syria is doing with unqualified approval. …
Senior officials at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the umbrella organization that coordinates the U.S.’s 16 spy agencies and that oversaw the report, say payback wasn’t a factor. They defend the report as a righting of the ship after the Iraq intelligence failures.
Hundreds of officials were involved and thousands of documents were drawn upon in this report, according to the DNI, making it impossible for any official to overly sway it. Intelligence sources were vetted and questioned in ways they weren’t ahead of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Thomas Fingar, 62 years old, is one of the lead architects of the Iran report. A veteran State Department official, Mr. Fingar helped lead the office that argued in 2002 that evidence of Iraq’s nuclear program was faulty. He is now a senior official at the DNI.
Of the backlash against the report, Mr. Fingar says, “A lot of it is just nonsense. The idea that this thing was written by a bunch of nonprofessional renegades or refugees is just silly.” [complete article]
Lebanon Delays $7 Billion Sale of Phone Companies
By Massoud A. Derhally
Jan. 22 (Bloomberg) — Lebanon's government postponed the auction of two mobile-phone companies, at which it hoped to raise $7 billion, because of a political stalemate over the election of a president, said Minister of Telecommunications Marwan Hamadeh.
“We had committed ourselves to this February, but we will not take a decision before a new president and a new government takes over,'' Hamadeh said in an interview from Beirut today. The ruling coalition has agreed to a delay of three months.
The government, which will retain a third of the shares in the two companies, MTC Touch and Alfa, plans to use revenue from the sale to repay part of its debt. Revenue from telecommunications accounts for about 40 percent of the state's income, Hamadeh said.
A few months ago, I met with one of the organizers of Damascus-Capital of Arab Culture 2008. She wanted my advise on what can be done to promote Damascus. I made several suggestions, including honoring 365-Syrians in 2008. I advised against one thing, however, saying: “Don’t try to promote Damascus as a beautiful city. It is no longer beautiful. Say that it is magical. Say that it is historical. Say that it is great—but it is no longer beautiful!”
God proved me wrong today. Damascus under snow was AMAZING. I have been through winters in London, Paris, Berlin, Cairo, and Beirut. Each of these cities is magical in its own way, and I am no fool. I know that we are not as majestic or organized as London, nor are we clean and proper like Berlin, or charming and romantic like Paris. But from where I stand today, Damascus is more beautiful than “all of the above.”
The Damascenes have not seen so much snow in years. The snow exposed the beauty of Damascus; it covered all the distortions on the streets, the damage done to roads, buildings, and monuments. It almost erased the ugliness of bad planning, and the destruction left behind by mediocre architects.
What I saw today was Damascus 1950—my Damascus. We witnessed its remains in the 1980s both first hand, through bedtime stories from our elders, and via the magical poetry of Nizar Qabbani. We must not forget that there is a rising number of young Syrians around who simply, don’t know ‘that’ Damascus.
I just came back from a cold and enchanting walk in Salhiyah. It reminded me of London. I saw the statue of Yusuf al-Azma, the martyr of Damascus, covered with snow. I saw children in utter joy, with heavy clothing, building a snowman near the Central Bank. They were laughing like crazy. I heard the voice of Fayruz coming out of shops that managed to remain open, despite the blizzard. The Damascenes are rediscovering Fayruz, as she is about to perform at the Opera House on January 28—her first performance, in nearly 30-years. Other Syrians were listening to Um Kalthoum playing on Damascus Radio. She was singing Ruba’yat al-Khayyam, an eternal classic; another reminder of a bygone era.
Fayrouz, Damascus, Um Kalthoum, snow, and roasted chestnuts from one of the peddlers of Damascus. …………..