Noah Bonsey on the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front; Nick Heras on how Islamic Militias emulate Hamas and Hizbullah

[Landis comment] The Syrian Islamic Liberation Front or Jabhat Tahrir Suwriya al-Islamiya is the main fighting force of the Islamic militias that are not Salafist. The Supreme Military Command, which announced itself on December 7, 2013 at the time that the Syrian Opposition Coalition was established in Doha, is an empty vessel. If the West wants to explore “centrist” militias to support, these are they. I hope that Sam Heller or Pieter Van Ostaeyen will translate some other their literature for us so that we can get a better feel for their ambitions and ideological commitments.

Noah Bonsey, who co-authored the ICG report on Salafi militants with Peter Harling, sends this note on Liwa al-Tawhid and my post: Syria’s Islamic Front Militias and How They Think about Minorities. He writes:

You noted that Liwa al-Towhid leader Abdul Qader Saleh is included near the top of the Supreme Military Command (SMC) hierarchy. This is true of course, but I have seen little indication over the last six weeks that this body amounts to anything beyond ink on paper.

I think it’s worth noting that Liwa al-Towhid’s more meaningful affiliation would appear to be its membership in “Syria’s Islamic Liberation Front” (Jabhat Tahrir Souria al-Islamiya), which it joined a few weeks ago. In addition to an assortment of small factions, this alliance includes Tajammu’ Ansar al-Islam (a powerful coalition in the Damascus suburbs), Saqour al-Sham (Idlib), and Kata’ib al-Farouq (originally Homs, now with affiliates throughout the country)—each of which is among the most active players in its respective area of operations.

Unlike the SMC, Tahrir Souria has a coordinated media campaign (see this link and this link), and its components refer to it as a provider of funds and a coordinator of local revolutionary police forces.

Many of Tahrir Souria’s leading commanders were included within the official SMC hierarchy, but it seems notable that their groups publicly identify with Tahrir Souria and not with the Supreme Military Command. It is likely that once expected external support for the SMC failed to materialize, the SMC’s components had little incentive to merge their existing networks, much less cede authority to the nascent hierarchy.

It is also notable that Tahrir Souria remains distinct from the Islamic Front (though their component factions do occasionally conduct joint operations). If we are to generalize a bit, the sum of Tahrir Souria’s material indicates a more pragmatic, ambiguously Islamist bent than that of the strictly Salafi Islamic Front.

I agree that at this point, Tahrir Syria are about as “centrist” as things get within the current militant spectrum. But I don’t want to overstate their relative moderation. There are Salafi factions within Tahrir Souria–most notably Liwa’ al-Islam, which is a key component of the Tajammu’ Ansar al-Islam Damascus coalition.

Yet if we consider the coalition as a whole, its ideological center is indeed somewhere to the left of Salafi–though where, exactly, is of course hard to pinpoint. Al-Farouq, Liwa al-Towhid and Saqour al-Sham can all be relied upon to shift their ideological tone depending on the intended audience. Thus at the end of the day, we are left with the common denominators of “Islamist” and, I would argue, “pragmatic.”

Best, Noah Bonsey

Nick Heras writes: Islamic Militias in Syria Appeal to the People by Providing Services, security and doing Good Works

It is great to see how much high quality work is being done to understand the incipient state of the philosophy of Islamic rule in modern Syria, from Sa’id Hawwa to Jabhat Nusra and the Syrian Islamic Front. We’ve been reading reports about different groups (Tawhid and Nusra in Aleppo Province, al-Farouq in Homs, Nusra and the Mujahideen Shura Council in Mayadin and near Deir ez Zor) seeking to establish some semblance of an Islamic state, and doing so with varying degrees of commitment to providing social services, security, and rule of law in the areas they control directly.

As it pertains to the most (in)famous groups such as al-Nusra and the Syrian Islamic Front, the future direction of their ideological development and potential civil authority inside of Syria will not only be determined by their fighting spirit, or ideological commitment for establishing a Caliphate or Islamic state in Syria. It is more likely to be determined by how they are able to appeal to a broader constituency of Syrians (albeit this constituency is most likely to be Sunni Muslims) in a highly incipient, or competitive, environment of social upheaval caused by war, internal displacement, targeted foreign assistance by various international actors such as the Gulf Arabs, Turkey, or the West, and their relative position and how wide-ranging their geographical presence is inside of Syria vis-a-vis competing opposition groups.

At the moment, there is no widely contiguous rebel-controlled region of Syria with a defined capital and a system of civil governance; there are pockets of opposition control and the beginning of collaborative networks of support such as the SIF, al-Nusra,Kata’ib Tawheed, and the Military Councils and the Local Coordinating Committees.The Islamist networks such as the Syrian Islamic Front and al-Nusra are clearly working towards building constituencies and incipient authority, and doing so along a model of incipient authority during war time that more closely resembles Hezbollah, HAMAS, the Sadrists, and Asa’ib al-Haq than al-Qaeda in Iraq. SIF, for example, is “comprehensive” and is building an Islamic society through “organizational” work with a “gradual, controlled approach.” The al-Nusra Front is more ambiguous, but some of its own commanders are realizing that they need to make statements such as was stated to Martin Chulov of the Guardian (UK) on January 17: “There were mistakes made in Iraq. Killing people on camera, being so visibly connected to sectarian fighting. These things cannot be repeated. We need the community and they need us.”

Syrian movements such as the SIF and al-Nusra, are already following in the footsteps of a HAMAS or Hezbollah, and seem to realize that there is a lot of appeal for a social organization that attends to the needs of people in a time of war by providing security (fighting al-Assad and policing rebel-controlled neighborhoods), administering social services (baking and distributing bread, supplying medicine), providing a semblance of rule of law (sharia courts, consultative structures based on shura, actual members of the organization for civilians to petition to, fighting corruption and promoting transparency), and fostering civil society (Islamic schools, active call for da’wa). They may never support secularism or the political rights of sectarian minorities in post-Assad state (especially for Shi’a, Ismailis, and Alawites), but these organizations are learning that the only means to their end is to hope for a “Hezbollah scenario” in Syria: legitimacy on the ground as a political, security, social, and economic authority for a clearly defined and numerous constituency of Syrians.

The Syrian Islamic Front: A New Extremist Force, February 4, 2013
by Aaron Y. Zelin,  WINEP

Another prominent Salafist militia has emerged in Syria, further complicating Washington’s efforts to find rebel factions that align with U.S. interests…. Read it all here

A Friend in Aleppo

The quarter where my house is in Aleppo has been without electricity for 20 days straight. The in-laws of my sister live nearby. They are still there. They decided to go to the electric utility office in person to complain. They were told that the electric post for their area was damaged and in need of repair. In order to get it fixed, residents needed to get together and raise SYP 15k or $150 per household. If they got the number up to SYP 4 million, then the post could get fixed. Needless to say, the coordination and ability to raise $150 from each household were beyond the abilities of the people of the quarter and they didn’t even try. Today they are close to their 30th day without electricity.

Khatib’s Offer of Hope

Khatib’s offer of talks with Assad’s government offered a ray of hope to many Syrians, not least of all the minorities. They believe, whether rightly or wrongly, that they are fighting for their lives. It is true that Assad has convinced the minorities that he stands between them and destruction. Khatib’s sensible offer helped undermine the terrible fear of many that this struggle is existential and will continue until one side has eliminated the other. To many Syrians who feel that they are mere pawns caught between two clashing giants, Khatib’s offer provided some hope of a kinder and saner future for Syria.

News Round Up follows

Damascus, the capital of Syria, has seen the worst violence in weeks as opposition fighters launched a major offensive. According to an activist, clashes erupted in the districts of Jobar, Zamalka, al-Zablatani, and parts of Qaboun, as well as the ring road. Damascus authorities have closed down the main Abbasid Square and the Fares al-Khoury thoroughfare. Fighting was also reported in the central province of Homs.


Najib Mikati discussed the impact on his state of the nearly 230,000 Syrian refugees. “The situation has reached dangerous levels that Lebanon cannot handle alone,” he said, “It is now necessary that Lebanon receives urgent aid so that it can handle the accumulating burden.”

Mikati has appealed to the UN and the international donor community for $180 million dollars per year — $370 million to date –to reimburse Beirut for its refugee-related budgetary outlays. Meanwhile, UNHCR reports that it is providing services to about one quarter of the refugees at a cost of $36 million. Last month, Washington announced it would provide $29 million in humanitarian support to Lebanon. Syrian refugees now constitute about seven percent of the population of the southern camp of Ein Hilwa.

Intervene in Syria -by Roger  Cohen – New York Times

…..This sounds good but will not fly. I agree with Brahimi that there is no military solution. Syria, with its mosaic of faiths and ethnicities, requires political compromise to survive. That is the endgame. But this does not mean there is no military action that can advance the desired political result by bolstering the armed capacity of the Syrian opposition, leveling the military playing field, and hastening the departure of Assad essential for the birth of a new Syria. Assad the Alawite will not go until the balance of power is decisively against him.

The United States does not want to get dragged into another intractable Middle Eastern conflict. Americans are tired of war. My colleagues Michael Gordon and Mark Landler have revealed how Obama blocked an attempt last summer by Hillary Clinton to train and supply weapons to selected Syrian rebel groups…..

Syria’s Regime Change Challenge
Interviewee: Ed Husain, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor, February 5, 2013

…In the long term, it’s inevitable that President Bashar al-Assad will fall in one way or another. He can’t hold onto power while most governments and people in the region and most actors in the international community are piled against him. The power balance inside Syria, due to the the sectarianism, the presence of al-Qaeda fighters, the support Syria gets from Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, and, to some extent, even Iraq, will probably allow Assad to hold on to power in the short term. But in the long term, he cannot remain in power with an ongoing domestic military resistance, sectarian distrust, a hostile region, and global isolation pitted against him. The shocking development this past weekend of Moaz Al-Khatib, the new head of the opposition Syrian National Council, reaching out to talk to the Assad regime via the Russians and Iranians, Assad’s closest allies, is an indication that the opposition leader now realizes that Assad cannot be defeated on the battlefield at this juncture, as many originally thought possible…..

Syrian rebel raids expose secrets of once-feared military
Martin Chulov in Aleppo

Former regime strongholds are now being picked clean – and some are underwhelmed by what lies behind the perimeter walls….

Israel and Assad raise stakes on Syria
By Roula Khalaf — Risk of regional contagion grows

Der Spiegel: The Fight for Survival in Damascus
2013-02-04 By Susanne Koelbl

“We’re almost finished with them,” says the general. He has a broad jaw, and his gray hair encircles his head like a thick garland. From the roof of a military building behind Umayyad Square in Damascus, the general would be able to see columns of …

There are hardly any “terrorists” left in Daraya, claims the general, although there are still a few “pockets” here and there. The “terrorists,” he says, are hiding in basements “like rats,” building tunnels or in the canals. “That’s the pathetic condition they are in,” he says.

The general’s name is engraved in large letters on a shiny metal nameplate on the oak door, and yet he insists that his name not be printed. No one here — members of the military, the intelligence services or the Syrian security apparatus — says anything on the record.

The rebels have come dangerously close to the Damascus old town, and the general’s days could possibly soon be numbered. The Syrian civil war has been raging for 23 months and has claimed more than 60,000 lives. The rebels are fighting their way forward, but at a torturously slow pace and with many setbacks, repeatedly engaging the Syrian army in grueling battles. Assad’s military is holding its ground primarily in the cities, but the regime no longer controls vast rural areas in between, which are now often zones of lawlessness. The rebels have cut off many supply routes, and in some outposts the soldiers don’t have enough to eat and are forced to use their bullets sparingly….

There is a neighborhood in the western part of Damascus called Mezze 86, inhabited almost exclusively by Alawites. Mezze 86 is the home of modest regime profiteers, the home of hangers-on. Residents work for the economics ministry, the police or the army.

As civil servants, they earn between 10,000 and 30,000 Syrian pounds a month, or €100 to €300 ($135 to $400). Most built their small concrete houses 20 years ago, and posters of Bashar Assad hang on every corner. Assad, an ophthalmologist by profession who received only very superficial military training, apparently tried to look frightening when he was photographed for the posters, wearing dark sunglasses and a general’s uniform, and with a grim expression on his face.

The first car bomb exploded in Mezze 86 in early October. On Nov. 5, a large explosion ripped away an entire row of shops, killing at least 11 people and wounding dozens more.

Hassan Khudir’s little house isn’t far from the site of the bombing. A civil servant in the transportation ministry, he is wearing a corduroy jacket and tie, even at home in his small living room. But as an Alawite, he senses that his orderly old life is over. Khudir, his wife and their four children must fear the revenge of the rebels. “We will all die if there is no reconciliation,” he says.

But the rebels in Damascus are also in mortal danger, like the three young female students in the back room of a Damascus café. They are wearing white hijabs to cover their hair and neck, and they are unwilling to remove their long coats. They are traditional Muslim women, they say. They arrive with two young men.

‘Grapes of My Country’

All five work for Enab Baladi, an underground newspaper and website from the rebel stronghold Daraya, only 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from Mezze 86. “Enab Baladi” means “grapes of my country,” a name that is meant to invoke the sweet grapes that once grew in the gardens of Daraya.

The authors of Enab Baladi have documented the destruction that has been visited on Daraya since the army identified the suburb as a terrorist stronghold in the summer. They write, photograph and shoot videos, documenting fighter jets as their drop their deadly loads over Daraya, tanks rumbling through the district and shooting indiscriminately into buildings, and how the army went from house to house on Aug. 25, 2012, dragging supporters of the rebellion and lining them up against walls. Hundreds were shot to death on that day, say the founders of Enab Baladi.

Almost 5,000 people were killed in Syria in January alone, according to new figures reported by the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The dismal figures – which come amid a growing refugee crisis in the border camps which are overrun with people fleeing the conflict – underlined the urgent need to find some form of diplomatic breakthrough.

Syrian Opposition to Open NY, Washington Offices
2013-02-05  , By EDITH M. LEDERER

United Nations (AP) — U.N. diplomats say that Syrian opposition’s coalition is planning to open offices soon in New York and Washington. Najib Ghadbian, an associate professor of political science and Middle East studies at the University of Arkansas, will head both offices of the National Alliance and commute between the two cities, the diplomats said Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity because the decision hasn’t been announced publicly. The coalition’s presence in the U.S. capital and near the United Nations is expected to raise its profile in the United States and internationally, the diplomats said. Born in a Damascus suburb in 1962, Ghadbian holds a doctorate from the City University of New York, has written several books, and is a founding member of the Democratic Network in the Arab World.

Clinton: Syrian rebels getting ‘messages’ from Pakistan region known as Qaeda haven
by Max Fisher – Wash Post

About halfway down a New York Times’ story on Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, the paper reports a disturbing new detail about the Syrian opposition. According to Clinton, rebels in Syria have been receiving “messages” from a part of Pakistan where al-Qaeda’s core leaders are believed to be hiding out:

She added: “Having said all that, [Syrian leader Bashar] Assad is still killing. The opposition is increasingly being represented by Al Qaeda extremist elements.” She also said that the opposition was getting messages from the ungoverned areas in Pakistan where some of the Qaeda leadership was believed to be hiding — a development she called “deeply distressing.”

It’s no secret that, during the course of the now two-year conflict in Syria, some very nasty rebel groups have emerged there. Some of those groups profess extreme and violent ideologies; one prominent rebel group, Jabhat al-Nusra, is reportedly linked to al-Qaeda’s Iraq-based branch.

But direct communication between Syrian rebels and the core al-Qaeda leadership holed up in Pakistan would be potentially far more significant for two reasons.

First, this would suggest that some rebels have already aligned themselves with al-Qaeda’s global jihad movement, which they could pursue in all sorts of awful ways if and when the civil war ends. That bodes very poorly for post-Assad Syria, with groups like al-Nusra a potential threat to more than just Syrians.

Second, it’s a bad sign because, after several bruising years for al-Qaeda, the group could renew its reach through a potential Syrian proxy. The Washington Post’s Greg Miller and Joby Warrick reported this weekend on why U.S. counterterrorism officials are so worried about Jabhat al-Nusra’s links to al-Qaeda:…..

In Munich, diplomats despair over Syria civil war

The 22-month-long civil war in Syria dominated the agenda at the Munich Security Conference. Top diplomats could agree on one point: There’s little chance that the conflict will end any time soon.…

At the moment, the international community has blocked itself in the Security Council. And by failing to act, the world is indirectly supporting the regime, according to Moaz al-Khatib, the head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition.

Indeed, Damascus’ scorched-earth campaign continues undisturbed: 60,000 Syrians have died in the conflict; 40 percent of the country’s infrastructure has been destroyed; more than three million houses are now uninhabitable. Thousands of Syrians are currently languishing in jails, and targeted attacks against civilians continue. Long lines of people waiting in front of bakeries have been cut down by mortars from regime troops. Even school children have been targeted by the regime.

Despite all of that, Khatib is seeking dialogue with the Assad regime, under the condition that all political prisoners are released. That could be a first step toward a political solution. But Khatib warned that if the regime does not take his offer, then the Syrian civil war would have an increasingly negative effect on the entire region.

“We Syrians love life,” Khatib said. “But we are not afraid of death.”…

Feeling of helplessness

A feeling of helplessness overshadowed the Munich Security Conference. Out of desperation, new proposals were made that are also highly problematic. Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, said that if Russia uses its veto again in the Security Council, then the body could be bypassed.…

US Senator John McCain made an unconventional proposal. Disregarding all previous assurances that the NATO Patriot rocket batteries in Turkey were defensive in character, McCain proposed using these weapon systems to shoot down Syrian warplanes. The senator said that the batteries have a range that reaches to Aleppo. He suggested that the Patriot rockets be used to set up a safe zone and win back the trust of the Syrian people.

After Assad, Chaos?
By RAMZY MARDINI February 3, 2013
Op-Ed Contributor NYTimes

AS the Syrian revolution approaches another anniversary, Syria’s political opposition is showing signs of failure. Without a new approach, especially from America, the lack of a credible opposition will render a political settlement unreachable, making it harder to set Syria on the course toward a stable future.

Hoping for a more representative body than the Istanbul-based Syrian National Council, President Obama and other world leaders recognized, in December, a new opposition coalition formed in Doha, Qatar. But that 71-member coalition, which includes many S.N.C. members, isn’t willing to negotiate with the Syrian government, nor is it remotely prepared to assume power. It is facing the prospect of defections and, worse, disintegration. Narrow interests are taking precedence; Islamists are overpowering secularists; exiles are eclipsing insiders; and very few members seem to have credibility on the ground back home.

Some observers argue that if President Bashar al-Assad dies or leaves Syria, the opposition will be able to lead a somewhat smooth transition, as was initially the case in Libya after the fall of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. But given Syria’s demographics and divisions, violence is unlikely to subside during a transition, especially without a popularly backed interim government able to control armed groups.

Libya has six million people, who live mainly along the coastline of a country larger than Alaska. Syria has one-tenth the area of Libya with four times as many people, who are divided along sectarian lines and surrounded by regional powers vying for influence. Syria has also been mired in a far longer and bloodier civil war. Fear and revenge are more likely to play a major role in post-Assad Syria than post-Qaddafi Libya. Indeed, Syria is more likely to look like Iraq.

“The U.S. is empowering the Ahmad Chalabis of Syria,” argued one prominent dissident, referring to the Iraqi expatriate who presented himself, before the 2003 American invasion, as a leader with the political legitimacy to take over from Saddam Hussein. Many of Syria’s opposition leaders are acting like Chalabists: frustrating practical negotiations out of opportunism rather than principle, in the hopes of securing the spoils that will come when the Assad regime falls.

The coalition’s president, Sheik Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, has emerged as a symbolic figurehead. A former imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Mr. Khatib lacks the experience to play the jarring game of opposition politics. And Riad Seif, a key American ally and longstanding dissident in Syria, is being marginalized. Both leaders have been sidelined by the expatriate businessman Mustafa Sabbagh, whose moneyed Syrian Business Forum is suspected of being a Qatari front group. Mr. Sabbagh is virtually unknown to most Syrians because he has long been based outside Syria and lacks the respect of veteran dissidents.

Syria’s minorities are also underrepresented. Syria’s Kurdish parties have not joined the coalition, and only three Christians are members. Two represent the Assyrians, but have spent decades in Europe; the other, the S.N.C.’s president, George Sabra, is viewed first and foremost as a communist. The majority of Syria’s 2.5 million Christians, who are ethnic Syriacs, aren’t represented at all. Bassam Ishak, a prominent Syriac, was barred from joining it. Mr. Ishak’s résumé didn’t include loyalty to the S.N.C., which has practically become a prerequisite for membership.

Only three women are members of the coalition. In December, Rima Flihan, who fled Syria in 2011, was removed as the head of the media committee. Her replacement was an S.N.C. member who lived outside Syria his entire adult life.

To make matters worse, the coalition’s bylaws are littered with provisions that emanate from the S.N.C., including one that prohibits negotiations with the Assad regime’s upper echelons — leaving peace efforts devoid of a critical ingredient. The recent signal by Mr. Khatib that he was willing to negotiate was promptly declared his personal opinion, revealing the coalition’s refusal to pursue reconciliation.

Early mistakes in transitions tend to have enduring effects. But the solution is not to form more umbrella groups, adding layers of vested interests that favor competition over cooperation.

The United States must make recognition of the opposition strictly conditional on the coalition being genuinely representative of the Syrian people, with clear punishment for noncompliance. And contact between the American government and opposition leaders must not be limited to the ambassador and his staffers; Americans often seem oblivious to the power that personal relationships can have across the Arab world. Finally, America must empower secular, moderate and independent political forces that promote compromise and moderation.

The best hope for Syria’s future is a political settlement, not armed victory. But without a truly representative opposition, that hope will remain elusive.

Ramzy Mardini is a Middle East analyst at the Jamestown Foundation and a former State Department official.

Syrian troops have aimed ballistic missiles on Tel Aviv

Four ballistic missiles “Scud” is aimed at Tel Aviv Syrian armed forces. As informs “Interfax” referring to the Iranian media, this measure was taken in response to the air strikes inflicted by the Israeli Air Force research center near Damascus.

Israel launched a missile attack on Syrian territory on January 31. According to representatives of the United States, to attack a convoy, transports air defense missile systems designed for movement “Hezbollah.”

Syrian authorities have said that the blow was dealt to the research center in the suburbs of Damascus, and called it a “blatant violation of Syrian sovereignty in the airspace.” Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdel Karim said that Damascus considers the “answer that will surprise surprise.” He also said that he could not predict when it will be taken retaliatory measures, informing that the answer will be to prepare “appropriate authorities.”

Syria’s Secular Revolution Lives On
Islamist radicals may be gaining strength, but the spirit that sparked this uprising survives in the unlikeliest of places.

…the worrying growth of jihadi and Salafi groups — but these forces are not the only players emerging in the new Syria. The secular and nationalist spirit that initially sparked the Syrian revolution is also still alive and well. Many grassroots activists and religious leaders are working to forge a country that is built on secular principles, against sectarian revenge, and supportive of equal rights for all its citizens. Even some of the sharia courts that have sprung up to administer justice in areas the Syrian government has abandoned contain surprising, nonsectarian trends.

Whether such a movement can survive as the uprising drags on is not yet clear. For the time being, however, these figures embody the sliver of hope that Syria may avoid an all-out sectarian war.

Grassroots movements

Among the best-known nonviolent protest movements on the ground is Tajammu’ Nabd, or the Pulse Gathering for Civil Youth, which defines its purpose as to “fight the regime and fight sectarianism.” It is led by Yamen Hussein, an Alawite originally from Homs, who joined the revolution in its earliest days. The relatively small, youth-led movement has served as a vehicle to empower minorities — especially Alawites, the bulk of whom have been hostile to the revolution.

With bases in secular strongholds like Yabrud, Salamiyah, Zabadani, and Homs, Nabd activists have taken on small but unique projects. On Christmas, its activists dressed up as Santa Clauses and gave gifts to the Christians of Homs. In protests throughout the country, Nabd sends minority and secular activists to hold up signs that read: “In Syria there are two sects: the sect of freedom and the sect of the oppressors,” and “Before you call for sectarian revenge, remember that you trembled when you witnessed the massacre.”

“A small proportion of the signs and chants in protests in parts of Syria are growing more radical and sectarian, so we want to be the counterforce and present our movement on the ground,” Hussein told me. “But the hardest work will come after we overthrow the regime, where we will try to keep our country from being torn apart.”…

The National Bloc attempts to bring together 100 of Syria’s most prominent, pro-revolution public leaders — including tribal chiefs, intellectuals, religious clerics, and scientists — to advance a message of national unity and reconciliation. The idea is that such elites can use their standing in Syrian society to push the country away from radicalism and revenge. The bloc advocates a return to Syria’s 1950 constitution as a starting point for the post-Assad period.

Husseini is looking over the horizon to the post-Assad transition to expand the bloc’s role. “There is too much fighting now, too much blood. It is hard to talk to battle-hardened fighters and tell them a message at this time,” he said.

Sharia courts

Impromptu courts established to dispense Islamic law might seem a prime vehicle for advancing radical ideas, but sometimes in Syria, they do just the opposite. In two sharia courts — one at the Bab al-Salameh border crossing and the other in the northern province of Idlib — these bodies are an antidote to the idea of collective sectarian revenge.

“There is no crime in Islam called being an Alawite,” Sheikh Abu Jamal, head of the sharia and law division of Idlib Council, told me. “As religious leaders we have the important role of being against vigilante justice, and we have spoken out against many of the youths taking matters into their own hands. Most people listen to us.”

Abu Jamal said that the purpose of sharia courts is to make sure that no one is punished without a trial. In his court, the accused is innocent until proven guilty; both a human rights activist and Islamic cleric are witnesses at the trial to advise and object to irregularities; and each accused is offered the right to a lawyer.

Still, the sharia courts are plagued with problems. Not all such courts are created equal, and the protections Abu Jamal offers may not be present elsewhere. There is no appeals process, and the system of choosing and electing judges is biased toward revolutionary justice. At the same time, however, the courts’ role in supporting due process and rule of law has acted as a counterweight to sectarian vigilantism in this transitional period.

Militant groups 

Some militant groups are also hostile to the growing radicalization of their anti-Assad brethren. In the northern town of Azaz, I met Capt. Bewar Mustafa, head of the Kurdish Salah al-Din Brigade, which largely fights in Aleppo. “We believe in democracy, equal rights for all, and representation,” he told me. “This is automatically against sectarianism. We are the Free Syrian Army for all Syrians, not just for one group, and the Kurds in this are a moderating force.”…

What I found most surprising was how many secularists and activists from minority backgrounds defended the jihadists. Ali al-Meer, a Shiite doctor and spokesman for the Local Coordination Committee of Salamiyah, a city whose majority is Ismaili, summed it up. “Look, I am Shiite, but these Salafis are helping us. Ahrar al-Sham is fighting the regime and delivering aid even to Shiite areas, even if we don’t see eye to eye on many things.”

One Alawite woman who wished to remain anonymous cast a more defiant tone: “I don’t understand why the United States calls Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist, while Bashar al-Assad is the only terrorist in Syria.”

Syria’s revolution began peacefully, and hopeful anecdotes of national unity are still evident on the ground. As the conflict drags on, however, the anti-sectarian forces are slowing losing ground to the radicals — but still remain Syria’s last, best hope for avoiding a sectarian civil war….

Israeli Strike Into Syria Said to Damage Research Site

The weapons research center has been the target of sanctions because of intelligence suggesting that it was the training site for engineers who worked on chemical and biological weaponry.

Al-Nusra Front: Seeking a Lebanese Base in Ain al-Hilweh | Al Akhbar English

Mashable: How Skype Is Helping Topple a Dictator in Syria

The toolbox of the average rebel fighting in Syria is full of things you have probably never touched: an AK-47, grenades, sniper rifle. But it also has something you might use every day: Microsoft Skype. Skype is the go-to social network for …

Kuwait, ‘the back office of logistical support’ for Syria’s rebels
Elizabeth Dickinson, Feb 5, 2013

…This country of 2.6 million people has emerged as a central fund-raising hub for direct financial support to insurgents fighting the Assad regime and for humanitarian aid to rebel-controlled areas, which are said to encompass slightly more than half of the country.

The exact amount of lethal and non-lethal aid channeled through Kuwait to Syria since mid-2011 is difficult to determine, but humanitarian assistance alone is believed to run into the tens of millions of dollars.

Syria’s Fate Hinges on Whom It Hates Most: Sadjadpour and Maksad
By Karim Sadjadpour and Firas Maksad

Feb. 6 (Bloomberg) — As Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad clings mercilessly to power, hopes that his regime will be replaced by a stable, tolerant democracy are being dwarfed by fears of prolonged sectarian strife and Islamist radicalism. The outcome will hinge in part on a simple question: Whom do Syria’s diverse rebels hate more, the U.S. or Iran?

Syria opposition ponders course as leader offers talks
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis,AMMAN | Tue Feb 5, 2013

(Reuters) – Members of the opposition Syrian National Coalition have called for an emergency meeting to discuss a controversial proposal by its head to negotiate with President Bashar al-Assad’s government, opposition sources said.

Bombing the Syrian Reactor: The Untold Story
February 06, 2013 Commentary

’60 Fighters of the Syrian Regime’ in Port Sudan Hospital
2013-02-06 05:31:55.618 GMT

Feb. 6, 2013 (All Africa Global Media) — Sources from the city of Port Sudan, capital of the Red Sea state, assert that 60 Syrian fighters supporting the Assad regime were admitted at a local military hospital on Tuesday. Some of them are “badly wounded”, they told Radio Dabanga. There are conflicting accounts concerning how the Syrian group arrived at the hospital. Some witnesses claim the troops flew from Damascus to Khartoum and from there to Port Sudan. Others are suggesting to Radio Dabanga they were transferred with a frigate to Port Sudan from a Russian offshore navy hospital based in Syria.

Syria Is Not Iraq
By Shadi Hamid – Atlantic

Why the legacy of the Iraq War keeps President Obama from doing the right thing in Syria.

Rebels train Syrian teens to become ‘killing machines’
6 February 2013 – al-Arabiyya

Bashar, aged 16, was signed up for training by his brothers. “I want to avenge the death of my father,” a rebel Free Syrian Army fighter, he said. With families willing to bring their boys forward for training, Abdel Razzaq’s academy does not need to go into forced recruitment.

UNICEF child protection coordinator Jean-Nicolas Beuze told AFP that, “unlike other conflicts, there is no active recruitment of children. The youth come spontaneously, encouraged by their families.”

Comments (360)

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351. zoo said:

Was the sex scandal of Petraeus arranged by the Syrian Mokhabarat and was Hillary’s concussion the result of poisoned food prepared by a Syrian Mokhabarat cook so as to fail the Pentagon plan?

White House defends decision not to arm Syrian rebels

Washington, Feb 8:

The White House on Friday said it had been motivated by considerations of shielding Syrian civilians, Israelis and its own security, when President Barack Obama nixed an administration plan to arm Syrian rebels.

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said during a congressional hearing yesterday that he backed plans to arm and train vetted rebel groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, in an initiative also supported by former secretary of state Hillary
The New York Times today reported that the Petraeus scheme failed to come to fruition partly because its author resigned over a sex scandal and Clinton missed many of her final weeks on the job with a concussion that kept her for a while in hospital.
But White House spokesman Jay Carney argued today that the problem in Syria was not a lack of weapons, hinting that rebels were getting sufficient supplies from other regional powers and Assad was getting help from outsiders like Iran.

Carney said that the US priority was to ensure that weapons provided by Americans did not end up in the wrong hands to create more danger for “the US, the Syrian people or for Israel“.

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February 9th, 2013, 8:07 am


352. zoo said:

The Iraqi Economy’s Huge Potential


Takema Sakamoto, Chief Representative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Iraq Office.

Based on its rich natural resources and huge market potential, Iraq’s economic prospects seem promising.

Iraq remains an important player in the global economy. Both in terms of its contribution to world energy markets and its role in the Middle East, the international community has a vested interest in seeing Iraq succeed. While the country faces significant challenges, these obstacles must be tackled collectively, with support from the international community, to build a brighter future for Iraq and the world.

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February 9th, 2013, 8:12 am


353. zoo said:

A book to read selected by the Jury of the Cairo Book fair

“The fair closed with what some people saw as a symbolic slap to the Muslim Brotherhood, when the judging panel of the Cairo International Book fair awards gave the best political book award to Brotherhood insider, Tharwat El-Kherebawy for his book “Secret of the Temple”, where he reveals many secrets the Brotherhood had long sought to hide.”,-Cairo-Intl-Book-Fair-.aspx

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February 9th, 2013, 8:25 am


354. Juergen said:


name me an painter, and sculpturer, an writer who stayed all his life in Syria who received world wide fame. All the acclaimed artists who have stayed and which are used by the regime made their deals, and many had to write silly poems about the legacy of Baath and its supreme leaders, others had to paint the President more than any other subject. Those with great talent and who are famous have left Syria.

Schami spoke in general that such regimes like Syria wont bring up big artists, because artists need freedom. The visits of the holy couple to a few opera house performances and sculpture symposiums doesnt make them art aficinados, nor does Syria have an vibrant artist scene, there was if ever an commercial art scene to provide some members of the ruling business mafia some art they can hang over their sofas in their houses. See in an open society any artist could become famous, in Assad Syria only the one who made compromises, who gave art as an gift to the state, one who has enough wasta. If you call that an vibrant and open art scene,then you may have reached grounds of which you may not be so familiar with.

Btw Schami is still Syrian,Syria is one of the few countries from which one can not leave its nationality.

Here is an great radio report by BBC, with Joshua comments.

“The government of President Assad of Syria is under threat. So too is the secretive Shia sect known as the Alawis – or Alawites – to which he and many of the governing party and security officials belong. Hostility towards the minority Alawi population is such that one leading commentator predicts they are likely to be the victims of the world’s next genocide.”

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February 9th, 2013, 8:30 am


355. Juergen said:


name me an painter, and sculpturer, an writer who stayed all his life in Syria who received world wide fame. All the acclaimed artists who have stayed and which are used by the regime made their deals, and many had to write silly poems about the legacy of Baath and its supreme leaders, others had to paint the President more than any other subject. Those with great talent and who are famous have left Syria.

Schami spoke in general that such regimes like Syria wont bring up big artists, because artists need freedom. The visits of the holy couple to a few opera house performances and sculpture symposiums doesnt make them art aficinados, nor does Syria have an vibrant artist scene, there was if ever an commercial art scene to provide some members of the ruling business mafia some art they can hang over their sofas in their houses. See in an open society any artist could become famous, in Assad Syria only the one who made compromises, who gave art as an gift to the state, one who has enough wasta. If you call that an vibrant and open art scene,then you may have reached grounds of which you may not be so familiar with.

Btw Schami is still Syrian,Syria is one of the few countries from which one can not leave its nationality.

Here is an great radio report by BBC, with Joshua comments.

“The government of President Assad of Syria is under threat. So too is the secretive Shia sect known as the Alawis – or Alawites – to which he and many of the governing party and security officials belong. Hostility towards the minority Alawi population is such that one leading commentator predicts they are likely to be the victims of the world’s next genocide.”

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February 9th, 2013, 8:41 am


356. Juergen said:

Rupert Neudeck, founder of the charity organization Cap Anamur and Green Helmets talks about his visit to Aleppo

“The Syrian people are probably the most abandoned people on earth”

“There is a withdrawal movement of the regime, which is probably up to 90 and 95 percent. We have witnessed a deserter here, who had deserted from the nearby military airport, who reported the fact that virtually all soldiers fed up and just full of fear, that they Assad as deserters after so long in the regime, the army of that they do not dare to go out.”

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February 9th, 2013, 9:30 am


357. zoo said:


“name me an painter, and sculpturer, an writer who stayed all his life in “any arab country’ who received world wide fame.

The world of Art is totally neglected in the Arab world. It has nothing to do with the Assad’s regime. It has to do with the priorities of these countries.

There are amazing artists in Syria, actors, script writers, in cinema and painting that are only known in Syria or in the Arab world by Arabs.
They have excelled mostly on TV series that are not easily exportable items.
Serials made by Syrians like “King Faruk”, “Asmahan”, “Queen Nazli” “Bad Al Hara” were huge artisic and popular successes.

Just to name a few director working in Syria: Hatem Ali, Abdellatif Abdelhamid, Omar Amiralay ( who died at 66 in his home in Damascus)

As far as his false generalization than ‘big artists’ can only come from ‘open’ society, I guess Schami considers Iran an ‘open’ society in view of the renowned ‘big’ artists it produces ?
Iran has a strong international presence due to the perpetuation by the Islamic government of the international structures established by the Shah as well as the rich iranians ’emigres’, attached to their culture. Unfortunately this is not the case in any Arab country. Therefore Syria artists remain unknown in the West.

By the way how many urdu or vietnamese speaking artists are known worldwide?

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February 9th, 2013, 9:42 am


358. revenire said:

Homeland Security should be called because a Syrian singer is performing in America Juergen? Was that a joke?

Mohamed Rafeh was a Syrian artist. He was murdered by the terrorists.

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February 9th, 2013, 9:49 am


359. Divided Syrian opposition ponders leader’s offer of talks with Assad said:

[…] that this struggle is existential and will continue until one side has eliminated the other,” wrote Joshua Landis on the Syria Comment blog. “To many Syrians who feel that they are mere pawns caught between […]

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February 9th, 2013, 12:31 pm


360. Syrialover said:


I want to respond to your comment on internal Syrian writers and artists.

I agree with your point about the regime’s domination of Syrian popular culture and censorship and restrictions on artists, writers and film makers.

But you have been a bit unfair in dismissing those who spent their lives in Syria, suggesting any one who is any good has left Syria.

Not true. I see that some excellent writers from inside Syria, Nihad Sirees, Khaled Khalifa and Yassin al-haj Saleh, for example – who are all courageous critics of the regime – are now suddenly starting to get international recognition. Do a search and you’ll see.

It’s true that to earn a living or get exposure many creative and talented Syrians compromised or accepted work from the authorities. The government for decades has been the biggest customer, patron and decider in Syrian public culture.

It’s also true that a lot of mediocre material and 4th-rate artists and their work got promoted.

But Syria still has many very good local writers, artists, performers and makers of TV dramas and films. And a number owe the development and showcasing of their talent to the government’s support of the TV drama industry.

Other barriers to wider fame include the small size of the local commercial and culturally-aware market for art and literature in the Middle East, restricted travel, income opportunities and outlets available to most Syrian creative artists, and also language (translations of Arab literature or subtitles on TV dramas are sadly scarce).

I think the world will learn about more about the good Syrian artists and writers in the future as the barriers come down.

Another fact of life is that most performing artists long for an audience, it’s what drives the blood through their veins. And if they have to choose between starvation in obscurity or performing for an audience of bastards and thugs, most will choose the second option.

And here’s another thing. In America, a lot of brilliant TV drams started coming suddenly from the HBO channel. It stunned and delighted audiences who’d only seen the garbage churned out by the big TV networks and Hollywood.

So where had all these brilliant American screenwriters, actors, directors etc been hiding all these years? They had actually been out there earning a living doing the horrible trash on mainstream commercial TV and Hollywood – the only work on offer. Then suddenly, HBO offered them chance to show what they were actually capable of.

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February 9th, 2013, 7:39 pm


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