SNC Gets New Leader; Insurgency Grows; Foreign Jihadists Flock to Syria; Some Claim Houla Dead are Alawis
Posted by Joshua on Monday, June 11th, 2012
Syrian Forces Shell Cities as Opposition Picks Leader
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR, June 10, 2012, NYTimes
ISTANBUL — Syrian government forces shelled rebel strongholds across the country on Sunday, opponents of the government said, while the main opposition group in exile, the Syrian National Council, chose a new leader….
Abdelbaset Sieda, a Kurdish professor of Arabic and philosophy who promised the organization would be overhauled.
“We will expand and extend the base of the council,” he told reporters at a news conference, “so it will take on its role as an umbrella under which all the opposition will seek shade.”
The Syrian National Council, formed last fall, has been plagued by infighting and has been criticized as ineffective, amounting to little more than a front for the long-exiled Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood with little influence inside the country. Its top post was supposed to rotate every three months, but Bourhan Ghalioun, another exiled academic, held on to it until an outcry over his most recent re-election in May, especially from inside Syria, prompted him to step down.
Council members involved in the process hailed Mr. Sieda’s election as proof that the Syrian opposition was committed to upholding democratic principles and the idea of a “leaderless revolution.” He ran unopposed.
“The ideal leadership of the council is not through one person — because no one is elected and has actual legitimacy,” said Bassma Kodmani, a member of the executive committee. Until such time as there are free elections in Syria, she said, the choice of the president of the council should be made by consensus.
“The revolution does not want to see a big leader, or one individual who leads everything,” Ms. Kodmani said. “Personalization leads to polarization.”
Still, critics both in the wider membership of the council and outside the group said Mr. Sieda had emerged as the consensus choice precisely because he represents no one, either inside Syria or out. Both the Muslim Brotherhood and liberals in the council concluded that he did not pose a threat or provide an advantage to any bloc within the council, they said, but for the same reasons he will have little real authority, and the bickering will continue.
“The Muslim Brotherhood, especially, does not want a strong person, neither someone with political strength nor a strong personality,” said Hasan Kasem, a young liberal activist.
Mr. Sieda, who turns 56 on Tuesday, has lived in Sweden for the past 17 years, and calls himself an independent. As a Kurd, he belongs to a minority that was oppressed for years by the Syrian government. Most Kurdish opposition groups do not take part in the council because it has not promised to back a federal government structure for Syria that would give Kurdish areas some measure of autonomy.
At the news conference, Mr. Sieda defended his long record of opposition to the governments of President Bashar al-Assad and his father, Hafez. To counter criticism of the council, he noted that the executive committee had just added three members with experience running local leadership councils who had fled Syria recently. Answering complaints that not enough humanitarian aid was being sent to areas affected by the conflict, Mr. Sieda said the council would soon distribute $3 million worth of aid inside Syria.
Sunday was the sixth straight day that al-Heffa and neighboring villages were hit with rocket, mortar and tank shelling, opposition groups said. But the official news agency, SANA, gave a different account, saying that “armed terrorist groups” — its label for all opponents of the government — looted and burned public property in al-Heffa and killed residents.
In his first public comments, Abdelbaset Sieda, urged government officials to defect.
In Deraa thousands pledge to Allah, praise Muhammad, threaten Nasrallah | 9 June ’12
Report: Rebels Responsible for Houla Massacre
By John Rosenthal, National Review, June 9, 2012 4:00 A.M.
According to a new report in Germany’s leading daily, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), the Houla massacre was in fact committed by anti-Assad Sunni militants, and the bulk of the victims were member of the Alawi and Shia minorities, which have been largely supportive of Assad. For its account of the massacre, the report cites opponents of Assad, who, however, declined to have their names appear in print out of fear of reprisals from armed opposition groups.
According to the article’s sources, the massacre occurred after rebel forces attacked three army-controlled roadblocks outside of Houla. The roadblocks had been set up to protect nearby Alawi majority villages from attacks by Sunni militias. The rebel attacks provoked a call for reinforcements by the besieged army units. Syrian army and rebel forces are reported to have engaged in battle for some 90 minutes, during which time “dozens of soldiers and rebels” were killed.
“According to eyewitness accounts,” the FAZ report continues,
the massacre occurred during this time. Those killed were almost exclusively from families belonging to Houla’s Alawi and Shia minorities. Over 90% of Houla’s population are Sunnis. Several dozen members of a family were slaughtered, which had converted from Sunni to Shia Islam. Members of the Shomaliya, an Alawi family, were also killed, as was the family of a Sunni member of the Syrian parliament who is regarded as a collaborator. Immediately following the massacre, the perpetrators are supposed to have filmed their victims and then presented them as Sunni victims in videos posted on the internet.
The FAZ report echoes eyewitness accounts collected from refugees from the Houla region by members of the Monastery of St. James in Qara, Syria. According to monastery sources cited by the Dutch Middle East expert Martin Janssen, armed rebels murdered “entire Alawi families” in the village of Taldo in the Houla region.
Already at the beginning of April, Mother Agnès-Mariam de la Croix of the St. James Monastery warned of rebel atrocities’ being repackaged in both Arab and Western media accounts as regime atrocities. She cited the case of a massacre in the Khalidiya neighborhood in Homs. According to an account published in French on the monastery’s website, rebels gathered Christian and Alawi hostages in a building in Khalidiya and blew up the building with dynamite. They then attributed the crime to the regular Syrian army. “Even though this act has been attributed to regular army forces . . . , the evidence and testimony are irrefutable: It was an operation undertaken by armed groups affiliated with the opposition,” Mother Agnès-Mariam wrote.
Survivor says slaughtered Syrian village had been warned not to shelter anti-Assad activists
By David Enders | McClatchy Newspapers
NEAR HAMA, Syria — A massacre that took as many as 80 lives in Qubeir may have had its origins in a warning that government sympathizers issued to the village’s residents against harboring known anti-government activists.
A resident of Qubeir who survived the massacre said Friday that the attack took place shortly after an activist wanted by the government, known as Abu Hassan, went to Qubeir. When an army unit based nearby was notified of Abu Hassan’s presence, it began to shell the village and then sent in six tanks, accompanied by local militiamen, who killed the villagers with gunfire, sticks and knives.
“There had been threats against the village before not to harbor people who are wanted,” said the resident, who used the pseudonym Laith al Hamawy for fear of retaliation from the Syrian government…. Other rebels said the militiamen responsible for the attack came from the nearby Alawite villages of Tuwaim and Tal Sakheen. Qubeir’s residents were Sunni Muslims. In recent weeks, according to Sunni villagers in the area, Alawite militiamen, known as shabiha, have made threats against Sunni villages that have participated in demonstrations against Assad or have sheltered the armed rebels fighting the government….
My home town Talbiseh has been under heavy bombardment and shelling by mortars, missiles,and military aircraft for over three days. About 20 have been killed, many many injured, crops burned, houses destroyed. People including my family are fleeing the town and sleeping in open farms, under trees, in dry irrigation canals.
“Joshua Landis, please explain yourself: “Syrians have abandoned the regime in spirit, even if they have yet to defect in body. Sunni Syrians continue to go to work and turn up in their offices in the morning, but they hate the Assad regime in their hearts. Assad’s army is being taken over by shabiha and security forces manned by Alawites. The massacres leave no doubt about that.” That’s a HUGE paintbrush you use here – with no evidence whatsoever. Would genuinely like to know how you arrived at this conclusion, when most of my information indicates a massive escalation on the part of armed groups provoking confrontation w/ the army and pro-regime civilians, including expulsion, kidnappings, killings. In May there were more Syrian soldiers killed than “civilians.” I place the word civilians in quotes because we know them to also include armed opposition individuals and pro-regime civilians. Looking forward to your response.”
According to the Kuwaiti paper al-Qabas, tens of Kuwaitis have crossed the Turkish boarder with Syria to join the Jihad along side other foreign fighters from Algeria and Saudi Arabia.
عشرات الكويتيين يقاتلون إلى جانب الجيش السوري الحر
مجموعة دون الـ 18عاماً لم يُسمح لها بـ«الجهاد»
علمت القبس ان عشرات المواطنين عبروا الحدود التركية نحو سوريا للمشاركة في عمليات «الجهاد» إلى جانب «الجيش السوري الحر» ضد قوات نظام بشار الأسد.
وقالت مصادر مقربة من المواطنين، الذين يتواجدون حالياً في سوريا، ان مكاتب الجيش السوري الحر تستقبلهم إلى جانب جماعات كبيرة من السعوديين والجزائريين والباكستانيين، ويتم تسليمهم هويات سورية تحسباً لأي طارئ، ومن ثم يتم تسليحهم ويوزعون على فرق في شتى المحافظات. وأكدت المصادر ان عددا من المواطنين لم يُسمح لهم بالدخول لأنهم دون الـ 18 عاماً
S.A. Writes in the Comment Section:
I must admit that I was alarmed at your latest article on SC because it sounded like you have a very clear picture of what’s taking place in Syria right now. I think that you have only presented one side of the story.
I know people who have very clear accounts and even names of people who were killed, kidnapped, murdered and raped by the so-called revolutionaries or ‘rebel armies’. They are targeting Alawites for just being Alawites. There are detailed accounts of people who had relatives’ bodies returned to their families after being mutilated in the worst form. This and the assassination of the Alawite educated elite from prominent families has continued up till now. There are clear accounts of this and of people who know families who have been affected. The style of these attacks is very similar to the assassinations that took place in Syria in the 1980s when the Muslim Brotherhood tried to rebel against the government and were crushed.
Common sense tells us that there is no reason for the government troops to kill women and children from the villages. It is obvious that what’s happening now is a sectarian tit-for-tat war which is similar to what happened in the former Yugoslavia.
People who I have been able to talk to in Syria are very anxious that the ‘rebels’ stop the violence and fighting the government. And also yes what is being done inside Syria is terrorism and nothing less. I know families whose children on school busses barely missed the bombs that were targeting government buildings. Is this killing children on the way to school a tactic to fight for democracy? Friends in Syria ask the question “what is the government supposed to do to protect us from terrorism?” They say that the government has a duty to protect its citizens from terrorist acts.
….The fighting between government troops backed by helicopter gunships and armed groups in the area of Haffa began on Tuesday. Rami Abdul-Rahman, the director of the Observatory, said at least 58 soldiers have been killed and more than 200 wounded in the operation there since it began.
He said the heavy losses indicate the seriousness of the challenge in the mountainous area where “hundreds” of rebels are entrenched. His estimated death toll could not be independently verified.
State-run news agency SANA said “terrorist groups” in Haffa attacked public and private institutions on Saturday and committed “heinous” crimes against civilians, setting fire to the national hospital and forcing people to leave their homes. It said troops killed a number of them and arrested several others, adding it was still pursuing gunmen and working to restore security to the area…..
Alex Thomson says his crew was led to ‘free-fire zone’ as deaths would discredit Bashar al-Assad’s regime. By Ben
The opposition Syrian National Council chose Abdulbaset Sayda (Seated to the right of Ghalioun in photo).
“We are now in the process of repairing the relationship between the SNC and the forces working inside Syria so that we may reach common grounds between us,” he said. “There will be changes in the coming weeks both within the forces inside the SNC and the forces that will hopefully join the group,” he added.
His elevation to the post of SNC chief could be part of an attempt to appeal to Syria’s significant Kurdish minority, which has largely stayed on the sidelines of the uprising. The community is deeply suspicious that Sunni Arabs who dominate the opposition will be no more likely to provide them greater rights than what they have had under Assad’s regime.
Sieda said he was already engaged in talks with the main Kurdish umbrella group, the Kurdish National Council, whose delegates walked out of an SNC gathering in March after the group ignored Kurdish demands it support political decentralization and Kurdish rights in a post-Assad state.
“He is an academic. He’s also well-known, a moderate man. We shouldn’t claim that he has Islamic tendencies or secular tendencies. He has been approved and accepted by everyone,” Abdel Hamid Al Attassi, a member of the SNC, said of Sieda.
A sleeping dragon awakes: Kurds Take Centre Stage in West Asia
By James M. Dorsey
As popular uprisings and post-revolt transitions change the political, economic and social structures of the Middle East, Kurds, the world’s largest nation without a state of their own, are emerging as the force that could spark a redrawing of borders and rewriting of minority rights in West Asia.
As popular uprisings and post-revolt transitions change the political, economic and social structures of the Middle East the struggle for Kurdish rights, including autonomy if not independence, moved center stage in the past week with a Syrian Kurd becoming head of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), Iraqi Kurdistan hosting an international tournament for nations that world soccer body FIFA refuses to recognize, and the hardening of attitudes of Turkish Kurds…..
83 civilian deaths reported after heavy fighting in Syria
Arab News – 10 June, 2012
Bullets and shrapnel shells smashed into homes in the Syrian capital overnight, as troops battled rebels in the streets, in the heaviest fighting yet in Damascus. The violence marked an increased boldness among rebels in taking their fight against the regime of President Bashar Assad to the center of his power.
For nearly 12 hours of fighting that lasted into the early hours Saturday, rebels armed mainly with assault rifles fought Syrian forces. UN observers said rebels fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the local power plant, damaging parts of it and charring six buses, according to video the observers took of the scene.
Assad’s Response to Syria Unrest Leaves His Own Sect Divided
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
BEIRUT, Lebanon — After Jaber Abboud, a baker from Baniyas, Syria, first lashed out publicly at President Bashar al-Assad for failing to promote real change, his neighbors ignored it.
But Mr. Abboud and most of his community are Alawites, the same religious sect as the president. When the popular uprising broke out, many believed that if the Assad family fell, they were doomed. They closed ranks and turned on Mr. Abboud, boycotting his pastry shop and ultimately forcing him to leave town.
“The neighborhood is split — half are dejected and subservient, the rest are beasts,” he said in a telephone interview from nearby Latakia. “It is depressing to go there, it’s like a town full of ghosts, divided, security everywhere.”+
As the Syrian conflict escalates to new levels of sectarian strife, Mr. Assad is leaning ever more heavily on his religious base for support. The Alawite core of the elite security forces is still with him, as are many Syrians from minority groups.
But interviews with a dozen Alawites indicated a complex split even within their ranks. Some Alawites are frustrated that security forces have not yet managed to crush the opposition, while others say that Mr. Assad is risking the future of the Alawites by pushing them to the brink of civil war with Sunni Muslims.
Mr. Assad’s ruling Baath Party professes a secular, pan-Arab socialism, but Sunnis, who make up about 74 percent of the population, have long bridled at what they see as sectarian rule by the Alawites, who are nominally Shiite Muslims and make up only 13 percent of the population.
People like Mr. Abboud say they feel stranded in a no man’s land. Blackballed by their own Alawite community, they find that the Islamists who dominate parts of the armed opposition regard them with murderous suspicion. A few with opposition credentials have been killed.
On the other extreme are Alawites who criticize Mr. Assad as being too soft, saying that his father and predecessor as president, Hafez al-Assad, would have quashed the threat by now.
With Alawite youths dying by the hundreds to defend the government, voices are raised at funerals and elsewhere asking questions like, “Why is the government not doing enough to protect us?” according to the Alawites interviewed.
There were also anti-Assad chants in Alawite neighborhoods like Zahra in Homs, like: “Bashar became a Sunni!” (Mr. Assad’s wife, Asma al-Akhras, comes from a prominent family of Sunni Muslims from Homs.)
Alawite-Sunni tensions reached a new peak after a spate of mass killings, particularly the May 25 Houla massacre of 108 Sunni Muslims, including 49 children. Survivors from Houla and people living near the slaughter last Wednesday in the farming hamlet of Qubeir said the attackers came from Alawite villages. The United Nations said suspicions in Houla were focused on pro-government militiamen known in Arabic as shabiha. Alawites dominate their ranks.
“For the first time, we began to hear directly from our Sunni neighbors that we should leave Damascus and return to our villages,” said Abu Ali, 50, a real estate agent. He said that once the school year ended he expected a flood of such departures out of fear of revenge attacks.
Fear of reprisals has prompted dire warnings from some Alawites that their future is on the line. Afaq Ahmad, a defector from the air force intelligence branch, posted a 10-minute plea on YouTube saying that Alawites have to stop committing collective suicide. He has gained prominence partly because Alawite defectors are rare.
“Does the family of Bashar al-Assad deserve to be the leaders of the Alawites?” Mr. Ahmad asked. “In the face of crimes like this, we cannot stay silent. We should stick to our religious and humanitarian principles because otherwise, history will show no mercy.” ….
All the soldiers at a small military base in a village called Ghanto near Homs defected to the rebel side on Sunday, and that government helicopters bombed the base soon after the soldiers fled.
More than a million need aid in Syria
As refugees stream across the border, Jordan issues appeal for international assistance
David Randall Author Biography , Azar Zaidi, Sunday 10 June 2012
At least 1.5 million people need urgent humanitarian assistance in Syria, aid agencies said yesterday – evidence that the impact of what is now a civil war goes far beyond the probable 10,000 dead reported since the insurgency and protests began.
More and more civilians are fleeing their homes on a daily basis to escape the fighting, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that those caught in the violence find getting medical treatment, and basic food items, increasingly difficult.
An ICRC report stated: “The situation in many parts of Syria is very tense… The number of displaced people has been growing day by day. Many of the displaced have seen their assets looted or destroyed. Many are staying with family members or friends, others in public structures,[which often] lack basic services such as water and electricity.”…
UN Openly Waging War on Syria – (for those who believe that the US is intervening in Syria for regime-change and not humanitarian concerns.)
by Tony Cartalucci
….Western policy makers openly admit that the goal in Syria is not to restore peace and order, but to topple the government, even if it means purposefully, and indefinitely prolonging the violence to do so. Brookings Institution in their March, 2012 Middle East Memo #21 “Assessing Options for Regime Change (.pdf),” openly states that:
“The United States might still arm the opposition even knowing they will probably never have sufficient power, on their own, to dislodge the Asad network. Washington might choose to do so simply in the belief that at least providing an oppressed people with some ability to resist their oppressors is better than doing nothing at all, even if the support provided has little chance of turning defeat into victory. Alternatively, the United States might calculate that it is still worthwhile to pin down the Asad regime and bleed it, keeping a regional adversary weak, while avoiding the costs of direct intervention.” -pages 8-9, Assessing Options for Regime Change, Brookings Institution.
Confirming this, Clifford May of the Neo-Conservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) openly admits that “humanitarian concerns” has nothing to do with the West’s involvement in Syria, and that it is rather a proxy war being fought against Iran, and by extension, Russia. May also clearly states that ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is the objective of Western machinations, not the restoration of order or any sort of brokered ceasefire that ends the killing…..
Inside Syria: Who Arms the Rebels?
In any revolution, getting weapons is a key challenge. Syria’s rebels have found an interesting solution.
As they loaded the store room with new bullets and rocket-propelled grenades, Hamza Fatahallah, an army defector who joined the Free Syrian Army nine months ago, described the transaction that had taken place.
“We have caught many army prisoners,” he said. “We send them back home for a small amount of money on the condition they do not return to the regime. We use the money to buy weapons.”
For the release of this prisoner, Ahmed Haseeba, the group received $500. With this money, Fatahallah said they were able to buy ammunition from their main supplier: Syria’s national army, also known as the enemy.
This strange cycle of exchanging prisoners for weapons has been playing out between rebel forces and President Bashar al-Assad’s army since the beginning of the revolution.
Fatahallah estimated that his village purchased 40 percent of their weapons from the regime. Prisoner exchanges have so far contributed almost $80,000 toward weapons purchases, he said. And they obtain an additional 50 percent of their weapons during battle. The remaining 10 percent are donated and smuggled from outside the country, or are purchased from private merchants, mostly from Iraq.[…]
For the regime, or at least the duplicitous members of it, supplying the enemy is a big business. Government officers also sell Kalashnikov bullets, which typically sold for less than 40 cents before the uprising, for about $4 each, according to Ahmed Al Sheikh, the leader of the armed opposition in Jabal al-Zawiya. He leads about 6,000 men from eight battalions that are collectively known as the Sham Falcons.
Kalashnikovs are bought for about $1,000, he said. Rocket-propelled grenade launchers, complete with a set of four rockets, cost up to $4,000, as does a BKT machine gun.
“These officers sell to us not because they love the revolution but because they love money,” Al Sheikh said of his chain of suppliers. “Their loyalty is to their pockets only, not the regime.”
While most of the sellers are corrupt officers, they said lower ranking soldiers have occasionally stolen supplies from government weapons storage and sold them to the rebel forces.
The Houla Massacre And The Subversion Of The Peace Plan
By Dr. Chandra Muzaffar
Instead of responding positively to some of the democratic changes introduced by the government, the US has been coordinating the supply of weapons to the opposition paid for by states such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia. An article in the Washington Post (16 May 2012) reveals this, and admits that as a result of large shipments of arms, the opposition “overran a government base” and “killed 23 Syrian soldiers” on 14 May. It is significant that this intensification of weapons supply to the opposition had occurred after the ceasefire under the Peace Plan had come into effect on 12 April. In fact, there has been a series of horrifying acts of violence since the ceasefire — devastating bomb attacks in Aleppo and Damascus some associated with Al-Qaeda and Salafist elements— aimed at creating chaos and anarchy. They offer incontrovertible proof that certain governments in the West and in West Asia do not want the Peace Plan to succeed.
Inflation at %31.4 – Syria Report
Syria’s annual inflation rate reached 31.45 percent in April, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.
The Ministry of Economy has reduced the average weight of a cooking gas cylinder to 10 kg but kept its price unchanged, in effect increasing its cost by some 16 percent, as it battles with continuous shortages.
The aggregate balance sheet of Syria’s private sector commercial banks rose 13.4 percent on a quarterly basis in the first three months of this year thanks to a surge in the assets of Syria International Islamic Bank.
Riyad Hijab New Prime Minister (Considered honest)
The Syrian President named on Wednesday June 06 a new prime minister, Riyad Hijab, in replacement of Adel Safar, whose government will have lasted little more than a year.