Posted by Joshua on Monday, May 14th, 2012
As Syria’s rebel militias become more lethal, foreign analysts are trying to determine how Islamic they are, how to unify them, and what role the West can play in guiding Syria toward an outcome favorable to its interests. The Syrian government is exploiting Western concerns that the Syrian militias could turn out to be harmful to Western and Israeli interests. Deborah Amos explains that Damascus is arresting most moderates in an evident attempt to create an “either-or” dilemma for Western governments and Syrians themselves: they must choose either between and Assad dictatorship or divided Islamists. This has been the Assad strategy for 40 years. Liz Sly explains that in fact the Muslim Brotherhood is gaining influence over the revolt. Sharmine Narwani, in contrast to Deborah Amos, highlights the brutal and Islamist characteristics of some of the rebel groups, suggesting that the stark choices Syrians face are not manufactured by the Assad regime, but real. She suggests that the Western press has tried to whitewashed the distasteful realities of Homs’ Farouq Battalion to fit its narrative of brutal regime versus good people.
Foreign Policy Round Up: 23 Syrian soldiers killed in Rastan as divides spark clashes in Lebanon
During overnight clashes in the Syrian city of Rastan, 120 miles north of Damascus in Homs province, at least 30 people were killed, including 23 Syrian soldiers, in what has possibly been one of the deadliest attacks on government troops in the 14-month revolt. The attacks came after a weekend of shelling by Syrian security forces on the opposition-held town during which dozens of people were injured. Additionally over the weekend, Syrian forces raided the Damascus suburb of Qaboun and a Sunni farming village in the province of Hama killing at least five people and torching homes. Meanwhile, in an online video, an obscure Islamist group claimed responsibility for Thursday’s car bombings in Damascus that killed over 55 people. Al-Nusra Front said it orchestrated previous attacks and the group is suspected to have ties to al Qaeda. However, the video has been met with suspicion as it was vague and did not come through the typical channels. The European Union has imposed new sanctions on Syria, in its 15th round of doing so. The Syrian regime claims to be conducting reforms, as it held parliamentary elections last week for which the results are expected to be released on Tuesday. The opposition condemned the elections as “a farce.” Violence appears to be spilling over into neighboring Lebanon in the city of Tripoli. The clashes were sparked by weekend protests demanding the release of a man detained on charges of terrorism. Approximately four people were killed including one soldier in violence believed to be fueled by sectarian tension.
Aron Lund, “Divided They Stand: An overview of Syria’s political opposition factions” FEPS think tank in Brussels just published this long piece by Sweden’s foremost Syrianist. Lund also wrote The Ghosts of Hama
Largely Unseen, Syria Carries Out Arrest Campaign
by Deborah Amos – NPR
Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government has waged a two-pronged campaign against the opposition, critics say. His military continues to fight, while nonviolent activists are being detained in increasing numbers, according to monitoring groups.
President Bashar Assad’s regime has launched a new and sweeping arrest campaign of opposition activists and intellectuals in the past few weeks, according to Western analysts and diplomats.
The growing tally of arrests has gone largely unnoticed, overshadowed by the daily violence that threatens to jeopardize the U.N. peace plan. But in combination, both are undermining the already faint hopes of peace.
“It’s a political decapitation,” says Chris Doyle, director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding. Doyle is monitoring the arrests and believes the regime aims to eliminate negotiating partners from what he calls “the rational opposition.”
An Accelerating Campaign
Most analysts say the campaign began with the arrest of Mazen Darwish, a prominent human rights worker and the director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression. Darwish was jailed in February after a raid on his offices in the capital. Arrests have accelerated in recent weeks in what a U.N. Security Council diplomat terms a new phase in Syria, as the regime winds down an intense military campaign.
According to Syrian activists, the most recent arrests include Mahmud Issa, an opposition lawyer and activist from the coastal city of Tartous. In Damascus, Ahmad Mouaz Al Khatib, a moderate religious leader, was jailed in early May along with Salameh Kaileh, a noted leftist and a political commentator.
Last week, the two sons of Fayez Sara, founder of the Association of Syrian Journalists, were arrested after a 6 a.m. raid on Sara’s house by security police, according to his lawyer. Sara had been part of a “national dialogue” sponsored by the regime last summer in an earlier attempt to open talks with the opposition.
“They are arresting left, right and center,” says a Damascus-based analyst who asked not to be named for his own safety.
Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood is gaining influence over anti-Assad revolt – May 12, 2012
By Liz Sly, Washinton Post
As the Brotherhood starts distributing weapons inside the country, using donations from individual members and from Persian Gulf states including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, it is going to great lengths to ensure that they don’t fall into the hands of extremists, Drobi said.
ISTANBUL — After three decades of persecution that virtually eradicated its presence, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood has resurrected itself to become the dominant group in the fragmented opposition movement pursuing a 14-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Exiled Brotherhood members and their supporters hold the biggest number of seats in the Syrian National Council, the main opposition umbrella group. They control its relief committee, which distributes aid and money to Syrians participating in the revolt.
The Brotherhood is also moving on its own to send funding and weapons to the rebels, who continued to skirmish Saturday with Syrian troops despite a month-old U.N.-brokered cease-fire.
The Brotherhood’s rise is stirring concerns in some neighboring countries and in the wider international community that the fall of the minority Alawite regime in Damascus would be followed by the ascent of a Sunni Islamist government, extending into a volatile region a trend set in Egypt and Tunisia. In those countries, Brotherhood-affiliated parties won the largest number of parliamentary seats in post-revolution elections.
“First, we are a really moderate Islamic movement compared to others worldwide. We are open-minded,” Drobi said. “And I personally do not believe we could dominate politics in Syria even if we wanted to. We don’t have the will, and we don’t have the means.” [...]
Electricity Price Hike Highlights Difficulties of Manufacturers: Syrian manufacturers, along with other business sectors, are increasingly suffering from the deterioration in the political, economic and security environments.
Syrian Pound Stable as Central Bank Devalues Official Rate step-by-step: The Syrian Pound is remaining stable in the local currency market as the Central Bank of Syria gradual pushes its official rate closer to the black market level.
May 14 (PTI) — A senior Israeli military official said that Israel is closely tracking events in Syria, fearing the collapse of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime could see the
Syrian Golan Heights fall to groups like Al-Qaeda. The military official told AFP that such a situation could create a dangerous security vacuum similar to Sinai. “If the Assad regime will fall, the biggest threat is that the northern border, the no-man’s land, can be taken over by groups like Al-Qaeda,” the official in Israel’s northern command said on condition of anonymity.
The fear is that the strategic plateau could slide into a situation similar to that in Sinai, where a wave of lawlessness has left the Egyptian army struggling powerless to rein in militant activity.
Last year, gunmen snuck across the border from the Egyptian territory and carried out attacks in southern Israel that killed eight people. “This could happen if the Assad regime collapses,” the official warned.
Senator John Kerry (D-MA) called on the U.S. to change the dynamic on the ground through the creation of safe zones and lethal aid. Kofi Annan asserted a violent civil war may be on the horizon and the U.S. has continued to prepare alternative measures if the Annan proposal proves ineffective. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) said the U.S. should partner with its allies in order to establish safe zones on the borders of countries neighboring Syria and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) continued to call for the arming of the Syrian rebels. Andrew Exum wrote that military intervention would serve U.S. interests, but remains unlikely. Itamar Rabinovich argued that while inaction is understandable, it very well might lead to the outcome that opponents of intervention want to avoid, while Haitham Maleh wrote that the international community’s response has been at best “poor” and that the Syrians have “felt forgotten.” Salman Shaikh said that the failure of Annan’s plan was because it was produced under the belief that the Assad regime would adhere to it. The Arab World, said Jane Kinnimont, has had a long deficit of democracy, but ironically has had no shortage of elections. Regarding the elections, Shadi Hamid said they were “cosmetic,” Oraib al Rantawi said the elections “were a step in a void.” Bilal Y. Saab said, “Syria is slowly but surely turning into another Iraq.” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said al-Qaeda’s presence in Syria has increased. Ryan Spencer wrote in The Telegraph that the chances of international intervention in Syria are getting more and more remote. Yochi Dreazen wrote in the National Journal that the Obama administration will have to decide to stick to the current diplomatic or consider arming the rebels. David Ignatius wrote that Obama’s believes that part of the opposition “could be worse than Assad” and worries that “a protracted struggle is empowering precisely these people.”
“If the Syrian opposition’s failure to forge a truly inclusive national movement can be traced to one geographic area, then that failure shows up most clearly in Syria’s east. For it is here where the Syrian National Council has been unable to win over influential leaders. And without them, efforts to topple the regime will remain in jeopardy…In many ways, Syria’s east has been forgotten by all sides. An estimated 75 per cent of the region has no presence of regime forces as it mainly consists of agricultural lands and small towns or cities. Many areas had been declared “liberated”; the regime has launched assaults to reclaim areas only when it had a surplus of forces…In their minds, Syria’s east has been neglected by the Baathist regime for decades; the current opposition would do the same if it comes to power. To counter this perception, the SNC must coordinate with groups from the region inside and outside the country, especially in Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, where Al Jazira is well represented.”
Homs Opposition: Al Farouq Battalion is Killing Us
By Sharmine Narwani – Sun, 2012-05-13 19:17- The Sandbox
It is extremely rare to have a direct peephole into events on the ground in Syria. The hard-fought battle over narratives often leaves truth in the dust. But among the cache of recently leaked emails (exclusive to Al Akhbar) from Syrian National Council (SNC) President Burhan Ghalioun’s inbox, comes this gem – important information that further highlights the glaring loophole in UN Envoy Kofi Annan’s demilitarization plans for Syria: rogue fighters.
The email sent to Ghalioun on March 25 summarizes a meeting held by members of various armed opposition groups operating in Homs – chiefly to address the pressing problem of the rogue al-Farouq Battalion.
The email’s author “Abu Majd” claims that 24 different armed groups in Homs started to work together in part because of the behavior of the Farouq Battalion, some of whose members are shown in this video from a few days ago. The problem with al-Farouq, says the email, is:
“Its monopoly over decision-making in its areas, its attempts to subjugate whoever is outside its command by force, and adopting what they call a “big stick policy” in dealing with other fighters.”
Confirming occasional Arab media accounts of fighters turning on each other inside opposition-dominated neighborhoods, Abu Majd accuses the Farouq Battalion of:
Unjustified violence against their adversaries and other anti-regime groups that are not subsumed under the rubric of al-Farouq Battalion resulting in a heavy human toll. For example, al-Farouq’s mild punishment/warning to fighters in Bab al-Sibaa led to the death of five martyrs.
One wonders how these deaths were characterized in the daily “casualty counts” disseminated by Homs activists and reported widely by foreign media.
Painting a picture of a Homs opposition fraught with disputes that have “plagued the revolutionary movement there,” the email illustrates some fundamental differences in the armed groups. On one hand, you have the participants of the meeting recapped in this email, who clearly view themselves as sharing a distinct outlook, and who insist that:
Certain groups within the Syrian opposition and external/regional forces have pushed fighters in Homs to this divided state of affairs…they are aware of the difference between civilian regime loyalists and armed killers…they condemn the few armed men in Homs who have committed violence against civilians in neighborhoods loyal to the regime.
National Jrnl: Decision Time Coming on Syria, 2012-05-11
The Obama administration is nearing a potential decision point on Syria: stick to the current diplomatic approach, which shows no signs of persuading Bashar al-Assad to step aside, or offer assistance to the country’s rebels despite the risks of …
Syria exile opposition, world powers lack leverage
By Oliver Holmes, ROME | Mon May 14, 2012
(Reuters) – When it comes to influencing Syria’s bloody struggle between President Bashar al-Assad and rebels trying to unseat him, the exile opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) seems as helpless an onlooker as world powers groping for a strategy.
The SNC tepidly backed the peace plan U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan agreed with Assad a month ago with the support of the West, China, Russia, the Arab League and almost everyone else.
But Annan’s ceasefire is in tatters and the rest of his six-point deal is mostly confined to the paper it was written on.
U.N. monitors are trickling in, but it is unclear how even the full 300-strong team can halt a budding civil war in Syria, where deadly car bombings present a murky new challenge for the Syrian opposition and its Arab and Western well-wishers alike.
Zuhair Sahloul – a large money-changer – has fled Syria (in Arabic)
هروب رجل الاعمال السوري زهير سحلول الملقب ( بالحجي والمعروف بالسحلول ) يعمل بالصرافة وتحويل العملات وله دور مؤثر في الاقتصاد السوري
السحلول يمتلك مطبعة اسلامية باسم( مطبعة غار حراء ) يستخدمها لطباعة المصاحف وبالكتب الدينية كغطاء لاعماله .. عرف عن السحلول مشاركته لرامي مخلوف ولعدد من المقربين من السلطة
السحلول غادر البلاد وحول ارقام كبيرة من امواله المنقولة وسندات وتحويلات مصرفية كبيرة الى الخارج في اشارة الى بدء تفكك الدائرة الاقتصادية المقربة من النظام وسيشهد الاقتصاد السوري مزيدا من الانهيار الاقتصادي سيتضح خلال الايام القليلة القادمة .
A first group of 25 Circassians from Syria have arrived in the southern Russian republic of Adygea for permanent resettlement in their ancestral homeland, the head of Adygea’s committee on nationality affairs said.
“The Syrian Circassians are coming on the usual terms, the same used with all repatriates,” Asker Shkhalokhov said at the first meeting of the commission to support compatriots in Syria.
“Most of them are renting apartments. The issue of providing land for them to build homes is being examined,” he said.
Nasrallah: Hizbullah Can Hit Every Target In Tel Aviv – May 13, 2012
Hizbullah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said Friday his organization is capable of striking very specific targets in Tel Aviv and in every part of occupied Palestine as well.
“For every building in Dahiyeh, several buildings will be destroyed in Tel Aviv in return. The time when we were displaced and they don’t has gone. The time when our homes were destroyed and theirs remain has gone,” Nasrallah said, adding that the time when “we will stay and they disappear has definitely come.”
Nasrallah also condemned the terrorist attacks that hit Damascus on Thursday. “It’s funny that some accused the Syrian regime of being behind the terrorist attacks. How come a security system sends suicide bombers – if it has suicide bombers – and booby-trapped cars to destroy its intelligence and security centers. It’s illogical.” [...]
Hamas official meets Iran diplomatic, security chiefs
12 May 2012 –
AFP – Hamas foreign minister Mohammed Awad was in Tehran on Saturday for meetings with senior officials including Iran’s top diplomat and a security chief, Iranian media reported.
During his visit, which had been unannounced, Awad met with Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and Saeed Jalili, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, the reports said. “Palestine belongs to the Islamic world and must be freed. Thank God, victory is near,” Jalili said during their encounter.
Awad, for his part, thanked “the Islamic Republic of Iran for its practical support” for the Palestinian cause. “The liberation of Palestine has been promised by Allah, and we must make new initiatives and lead efforts to realise that promise,” he was quoted as saying. [...]
Iran’s foreign minister hailed Francois Hollande’s election as French president, voicing hope it can boost bilateral ties, as he met visiting former French socialist premier Michel Rocard.
Ali Akbar Salehi “welcomed the victory of Francois Hollande and hopes to see a new approach taken between Tehran and Paris in all areas based on mutual respect” during their meeting in Tehran late Friday, the official IRNA news agency reported.
Socialist leader Hollande, who will be inaugurated on Tuesday having defeated Nicolas Sarkozy in a run-off for president on May 6, has distanced himself from Rocard’s visit.
Rocard “is not carrying any message nor has he been vested with any mission” by the French president-elect, a member of his entourage told AFP on Saturday, adding it was a “private visit.”
“The position of Francois Hollande on the Iranian nuclear programme is known,” said the diplomat.
“Iran must comply with its international obligations and abide by the resolutions of the UN Security Council to cease nuclear activities without credible civilian purpose.”
Rocard arrived in Tehran early Saturday on an unofficial three-day visit first planned for April but postponed after the 81-year-old was hospitalised in Stockholm in late March. His visit comes as Iran is preparing for a new round of talks with world powers in Baghdad on May 23 that will focus on the disputed nuclear drive.
Syria Accuses US, Allies of Aiding ‘Terrorists’ on the Ground
by John Glaser, May 12, 2012
Syria accused the U.S. and its allies on Saturday of colluding with al Qaeda-linked militants to target the the government of Bashar al-Assad, as the aftermath of a string of bombings in Damascus and Aleppo by shadowy militant groups.
“Western countries and the United States, which made alliances to wage wars using the pretext of fighting terrorism, are now making alliances with the terrorists which Syria has been facing,” Information Minister Adnan Hasan Mahmoud said.
But the Syrian government’s accusations against the Wes
do have a kernel of truth to them. The U.S. and its allies are in fact sending aid to the opposition, which even they have admitted contains elements of Islamic extremists and militant groups tied to al-Qaeda.
“This terrorist escalation using booby-trapped cars with tons of explosives to target the Syrian people … is a continuation of the bloody terrorist tactic used between armed groups and al Qaeda, along with the international Western countries that support them with weapons and money,” the Assad regime spokesman added. [...]
DAMASCUS, (SANA) – The Central Bank of Syria (CBS) set the price of USD exchange rate against the SYP at 62.92 by purchasing and at SYP 63.30 by selling.
According to the bulletin of foreign currency exchange rate issued by the CBS, the purchase price of Euro reached SYP 81.23 while the selling rate reached SYP 81.80.
Israel has decided to search for oil on the Golan Heights after 20 years of delay due to objections from Syria.