Syria’s First High Ranking Defection or a Forced Confession? The Taped Resignation of Hama Attorney General
Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, August 31st, 2011
Three Provocative Videos make the rounds today. Again It is hard to know what is true. I leave it to readers to assess them.
- A video clip purportedly recorded by Attorney General of Hama City shows him reading a resignation letter in protest of government atrocities against Hamwi civilians. حماة_استقالة.المحامي الاول عدنان محمد البكور 31/8/2001 The opposition distributed this video on Wednesday to argue that the Attorney general was not kidnapped but defected. Sana had written on Monday that the Attorney General had been kidnapped by 7 gunmen on his way to work.
The BBC report on this is circumspect. It explains, “In a video statement, Hama governorate attorney-general Adnan Bakkour said he had evidence of more than 70 executions and hundreds of cases of torture. It is not clear when he was filmed…. In his statement, which was posted online on Wednesday, he said he was resigning because of the “al-Assad regime and his gangs”….
Reuter’s Khalid Oweis is not circumspect. He writes: “Attorney general of Syria’s Hama defects.” Oweis quotes Attorney General Bakour: “What Syrian television is broadcasting about me being kidnapped by armed groups is totally false. I am in the protection of rebel inhabitants and in good health, today, Wednesday, 31 August. I will give live statements once I leave Syria soon,” he said.
Syrian government sources claim that he was forced to read a statement in front of the camera. Hama Governor Anas al-Naem said in a statement to SANA:
“The Attorney General has been forced by his kidnappers to give false information in the framework of the media camping goals, this indicates that those channels became partners in the crimes perpetrated by the armed terrorist groups against innocents in Syria,” .
- A video of government troops, purportedly burnt following an attack on their offices in Hama by the Muslim Brotherhood. It has been suggested that this was a reason for the attack on Hama. Graphic. It is hard to verify the timing of such a video.
- A video of the young man who featured so prominently in the Youtube film of massacre of soldiers at Jisr ash-Shaghour. He has been caught and tells his story. Again, hard to know how accurate such a “confession” is, when torture is common.
The New York Times’ Nada Bakri reports that “Syrian security forces conducted house-to-house raids in the central city of Hama on Wednesday, hunting for activists involved in the country’s uprising, residents and activists said.” Perhaps they are looking for the Attorney General?
French 24 – Debate – Watch the second part, here
Does the Opposition need unity?
Who does it represent?
- Joshua Landis
- Jonathan Paris (London)
- Shevan, Syrian Kurdish activist;
- Fouad AL OBAID, Columnist, Kuwait times;
Here is a list of the 94 members of the Transition Council led by Bourhan Ghalioun
looks like eu has agreed on the embargo after all the arguments. it seems that it will become effective tomorrow and will offer a temporary exception till november 15 (italy’s issue)
EU Set To Broaden Syria Sanctions, Impose Oil Embargo By
2011-08-29, By Laurence Norman, DOW JONES NEWSWIRES
BRUSSELS (Dow Jones)–The European Union is set to move ahead with an oil embargo on Syria but is likely to leave a possible ban on European investment in the Syrian energy sector for a future round of measures, E.U. diplomats said Monday. Dow Jones Newswires reported last week that the oil embargo was on track to be approved, as was a change broadening the legal basis of the current sanctions against the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government to people who support or benefit from the regime. Until now, an asset freeze and travel ban could be placed only on those who ordered, helped with or carried out Syria’s violent crackdown on protestors.
Syrian Activists: Tanks, Troops Raid Hama, Make Arrests, 3 August 2011
Syrian rights activists and residents say government tanks and troops have entered the central city of Hama, making arrests in a renewed crackdown on the hotbed of opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.
The activists and residents say gunfire was heard in Hama on Wednesday, as tanks and military vehicles drove into the city. They say hundreds of Syrian security forces also emerged from buses parked on the city’s outskirts and entered on foot, searching for activists involved in a five-month pro-democracy uprising.
Syrian security forces withdrew from Hama earlier this month following a weeklong siege of the city, which has seen some of the country’s biggest protests demanding an end to Assad’s 11-year autocratic rule.
Syrian Forces Turn Focus to Activists
By NADA BAKRI, NYTImes
Syrian security forces conducted house-to-house raids in the central city of Hama on Wednesday, hunting for activists involved in the country’s uprising, residents and activists said….
Syrian businessmen fear slow economic death
By an FT reporter in Damascus
With fresh European Union sanctions against Syria looming, anxiety among the country’s powerful business elite is growing.
Sanctions targeting Syrian oil exports may be announced by Brussels as early as Friday, and businessmen fear it will be just the start of a wider process to isolate the country economically.
The US, which has fewer economic links with Damascus, has already announced wide-ranging sanctions against the Syrian regime.
Western diplomats in the Syrian capital say broader sanctions in the pipeline will target individuals and businesses deemed supporters of the regime, while there is also talk of banning European countries from investing in Syria.
Syrian businessmen say that could spell disaster for their businesses and the Syrian economy, already on its knees after five months of protests and violence.
“The effect of sanctions will be dramatic,” says one leading business figure in Damascus. “Business is already basically zero; this is just going to mean a slow death for the economy.”
Another person in the business services sector agrees, arguing that relations with Syria’s biggest trading partner are crucial. “[Syrian allies] Russia and China are no substitute for the EU,” he says. “Losing it will be disastrous.”
Many businesses are already feeling the impact of international isolation. Dollar transactions into and out of the country stopped last week, with the regime blaming tighter US sanctions.
That has made it almost impossible for import and export companies to pay suppliers and invoice customers overseas, businessmen complain. Wealthy merchant families who in recent years have secured licences to distribute foreign cars and clothing fear losing their livelihoods.
Foreign banks are also becoming uneasy about doing business as an indirect result of sanctions, with several closing accounts of Syrian residents, according to diplomats.
But while the government is keen to focus anger towards the US and Europe, at least some of the blame among businessmen is being laid at the regime’s door.
“The regime has sacrificed the economy for its own survival,” complains the leading Damascus businessman.
No member of the business elite has publicly denounced the regime. But while the elite is regarded as a crucial pillar of support for Bashar al-Assad, the president, there are signs it is becoming increasingly sympathetic to the protesters’ cause.
Ausama Monajed, a Syrian opposition figure and activist now based abroad, says some businessmen in the capital are even providing financial assistance to the protest movement.
“Millions of Syrian pounds are coming from these people,” he claims. “If a protesting community needs something, the money gets to them very quickly.”
Activists such as Mr Monajed are hoping to press more businessmen to turn their backs on the Assad clique, particularly as sanctions take hold.
Despite the economic strain, the willingness of the business elite to defect is unclear.
Many owe their fortunes almost entirely to the regime, and know that its demise will spell the end of their own business empires.
Rami Makhlouf, Syria’s most powerful businessman and the president’s cousin, is accused by his critics of using his family connections to secure his commercial empire.
Many other business figures are former security, military or party officials who have also used connections to advance their business interests.
“Those who have made their money through corruption or because their fathers are former generals will probably stay with Assad until the end,” admits Mr Monajed.
But there is a bigger question over how long the government can depend on the wider business class, particularly the merchant families in Damascus and Aleppo who may have less to lose from regime change, despite being traditional Assad supporters.
Steven Heydemann, a Syria analyst from the US Institute of Peace in Washington, says the traditional Sunni merchant families are more likely to turn against Assad as a result of a decade of economic liberalisation that has benefited regime favourites such as Mr Makhlouf at their expense.
“In the last 10 years there has been a very clear narrowing of the circle of corruption around Rami Makhlouf and other regime insiders, and that has alienated the larger Sunni elite,” he says. “That can have very powerful effects.
“In Tunisia the regime lost the support of its key business allies because the Ben Ali family monopolised the wealth. Assad could have made the same mistake.”
He is not surprised that no businessmen have publicly denounced the regime. “It’s a survival strategy,” he says. “So long as the fate of the regime is uncertain, they are hedging their bets.”
“The Evolution of Kurdish Politics in Syria,” in Merip, By Christian Sinclair
Syrian dissident: Peace with Israel possible, Wednesday, August 31, 2011
A Syrian Kurdish opposition leader has told the Jerusalem Post that peace between Israel and Syria would be possible in a post-Assad era.
“We have a new vision for Syria – a federal Syria, a just Syria – not an Arab republic – that is inclusive, whether you’re Kurd or Arab, Christian or Muslim,” said Sherkoh Abbas, president of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria (KNAS).
He said a country as homogeneous as Syria is best suited to a federal model, in which areas with high minority populations enjoy certain powers not wielded by the national government.
The new Syria that Abbas envisions would be at peace with all of its neighbors, including Israel.
“Many Syrian religious and tribal leaders who are now part of the Syrian Democracy Council have no problem recognizing Israel and making peace,” he said. “They want to focus on Syria, and they have problems replacing one dictator with another – whether that’s Islamists or another group.”
Abbas dismissed the notion that because Assad has kept the Syrian-Israeli border largely quiet during his reign, the Syrian president is somehow a force for regional stability.
“Look at Hamas and Hezbollah.
Is Israel more stable today, or its borders more secure?” he said. Syria is a major sponsor and arms supplier for both radical groups, and a close ally of Iran.
“The only people who benefit from this regime staying in power are Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and other organizations that promote terrorism. Everyone else will win by removing this regime,” he said.
Of all Syrians, he said, Kurds are among the most favorably inclined to Israel. “Kurds in general have absolutely no problem with Israel. Israelis don’t kill us; they don’t take our land or oppress us. Why would we have a problem?” he said. “As for Kurdish religious leaders, they often say that the Koran says Israel belongs to the Jews, who are God’s chosen people, so why we should fight them? Even atheists say why should we fight the fight of Arab nationalism, which uses Islam to serve its own needs? We don’t want to fight – Jews are God’s people as well.”
SARKOZY SAYS SYRIA’S ASSAD IS `BEYOND REPAIR’, 2011-08-31 By GREGORY VISCUSI
Aug. 31 (Bloomberg) — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “can’t expect protection from his own people” and France will do everything “legally possible” to seek his ouster, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said. Speaking to French Ambassadors at their annual meeting in Paris, Sarkozy said he regrets that the Security Council still hasn’t imposed sanctions on Syria.
Russia opposes West-drafted UN resolution on Syria: diplomat
MOSCOW, Aug. 29 (Xinhua) — Russia stands against a West-drafted UN resolution on Syria, said Russian ambassador to the United Nations Vitali Churkin on Monday.
“The draft resolution on Syria is completely non-objective and it envisages pressure on the Syrian authorities only,” Churkin told the Russia Today television channel.
“We are afraid that the resolution could push the most radical Syrian opposition forces to more active operations to topple the government. Just because of that, we categorically do not accept the aims our Western colleagues try to attain with that resolution. We offer the alternative,” the Russian diplomat said.
He stressed that the draft resolution does not contain a single word about political dialogue between the Syrian opposition and the government.
“The UN Security Council should not stay aside but it must act in a positive way,” Churkin stressed.
Also on Monday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent a message to his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad, via his envoy Mikhail Bogdanov, announced the Kremlin.
Medvedev urged Assad “to stop immediately and completely” any violence from either side.
The Kremlin also stressed that the opposition should not dodge participation in a dialogue proposed by the authorities, saying dialogue is the only way to the restoration of social order and a democratic transformation of Syria.
The West’s four military options in Syria by Michael E. O’Hanlon Special to CNN
He runs through America’s military options on Syria. As he says, “it is worth surveying the tools at our disposal to contemplate what might come next – if not immediately, then perhaps down the road.”
BEIRUT—Iran’s steadfast support for Syria’s regime has rapidly eroded Tehran’s credibility among Arabs, leaving the country with a foreign-policy dilemma as popular uprisings mount across the region. Supporting President Bashar al-Assad will …
Turkey, Syria Approaching Diplomatic Rift, 08/30/11, VOA
Turkey’s prime minister and its president have announced they have lost confidence in the Syrian leadership, while the foreign minister warned that Ankara will side with the Syrian protesters against Damascus if forced to choose. The statements are seen as a possible final diplomatic breaking point between the former close allies.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul, in an interview over the weekend, described the government gestures in Syria as too little, too late as the Syrian crackdown against opposition continues. That message was followed up by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a TV address to the nation Sunday in which he strongly attacked Damascus.
He said a government cannot survive by force or brutality or by shooting and killing unarmed people taking to the streets. He said the only solution is to silence arms immediately and listen to the demands of the people. Mr. Erdogan said the world saw the end of those who did not choose this way in Tunisia and in Egypt, and now observes with sorrow what is being lived in Libya.
Weekly Standard: A ‘Model’ Nation for Syria?
by Lee Smith
A national flag hangs on a statue of Syria’s late president Hafez Assad at the entrance of the city of Homs on Aug. 30, 2011. Rights activists reported widespread anti-regime protests across Syria.
A national flag hangs on a statue of Syria’s late president Hafez Assad at the entrance of the city of Homs on Aug. 30, 2011. Rights activists reported widespread anti-regime protests across Syria.
Earlier today, Syrian security forces arrested the brother of a Syrian opposition leader in exile, Radwan Ziadeh, who is now a George Washington University visiting scholar. 37-year-old Yassin Ziadeh was at a demonstration after prayers (for the Eid al-Fitr holiday), Radwan told me on the phone. “The security forces attacked the demonstrators,” says Radwan. “[Yassin] was running away and got swept up by Syrian air force security”—which is historically one of the regime’s most active security branches, in large part because former president Hafez Assad,…
Sanctions, as I’ve argued before, may not be enough to accomplish the goal the Obama administration has now set for itself—for Assad to leave power. And yet it seems the Syrian opposition is more willing to entertain the possibility of armed assistance than the White House has let on.
…..”We demand international community to intervene for the protection of the Syrian people from genocide.”
In other words, the Syrian opposition has taken note of what worked for the Libyan rebels—how they got the international community on their side, and how that pushed Gadhafi to the brink. …
U.S. Sanctions Syrian Foreign Minister Muallim and Assad Adviser Buthaina Shaaban, Wall Street Journal
UNITED NATIONS, August 30 — Amid a Security Council split between dueling Syria resolutions introduced by Russia supported by China, versus the Council’s four European members and the US, a side fight about which draft first went “into blue,” and thus could be called for a vote first, has been joined.
Russia on Friday stepped up UN Security Council hostilities over Syria by proposing a resolution without sanctions to rival a Europe-US call to directly target President Bashar al-Assad. Russia’s ambassador Vitaly Churkin accused the Western allies of “stirring up the opposition” in Syria with their call for an assets freeze on Assad and his entourage and an arms embargo against Damascus.
Sinking the Mavi Marmara – 30 Aug 2011
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says the Israeli murder of nine activists aboard the Mavi Marmara was in accordance with international law
The release of the findings of the UN panel of inquiry into the May 2010 Israeli attack on the Turkish Mavi Marmara, part of the Freedom Flotilla endeavoring to deliver aid to besieged Gaza, was recently delayed for the fourth time since the originally scheduled release date over three months ago….
Ankara censures Israel for its attacks on Gaza, but does not hesitate to bomb the Kurdish PKK movement in much the same manner. Perhaps some UAVs will help them warm up to Jerusalem. By Zvi Bar’el, Haaretz
CFR: Syria: How To Avoid Civil War, And What To Ask Ambassador Ford., 2011-08-04 by Elliott Abrams
I’ve recently written two articles on Syria. In The Wall Street Journal, I discussed what actions might be taken to help avoid sectarian conflict. The longer the current violence continues the …
Analysis: EU oil jolt may not be enough to rock Assad
by Dominic Evans
BEIRUT | Mon Aug 29, 2011
(Reuters) – Oil sanctions which the European Union is expected to impose on Damascus for repressing protests would be a significant blow to Syria’s economy but it may take more than that to hasten the end of President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
Five months of protest and government reprisals have undoubtedly inflicted economic damage. Even before the likely EU embargo on Syrian crude exports, tourism, trade, manufacturing and foreign investment have all collapsed, reversing a decade of steady growth, starting to drain the country’s financial reserves and forcing many Syrians out of work.
One industrialist said some were losing patience with the worsening economic outlook.
Yet the wealthy business classes in Damascus and Aleppo have so far remained loyal to Assad and months of high global prices for Syria’s oil exports mean his government still has substantial foreign exchange reserves to fall back on.
EU diplomats confirmed on Friday plans to sanction imports of Syrian oil, saying the embargo could be imposed this week. The loss of European oil sales will interrupt a crucial flow of foreign currency and force Syria to offer its oil more cheaply to new customers further afield.
Syria produces around 385,000 barrels per day of oil, exporting around 150,000 bpd, most of which goes to Europe.
“Syria will have to sell oil at a more discounted price,” said Eurasia Group analyst Ayham Kamel. “It’s important, though it’s not going to bankrupt the regime.”…
Achy said trade with Syria’s neighbors had fallen off, probably around 30 to 40 percent. The collapse in investment and tourism meant that oil and remittances from Syrians working abroad were the only sources of income holding up so far.
Indications were that the government had already halted investment spending in infrastructure, schools and hospitals to focus on more immediate needs, he said. Any interruption to its $2.5 billion a year oil exports “will have an immediate impact on current spending as well … this means probably the government will not be able to pay civil servants.”
“Thirty percent of the labor force is in the public sector and this means the economy will feel the effect because these people also consume, pay rent, buy food and clothes,” he said.
That kind of disruption would be likely to fuel more dissent against Assad, and Achy said the financial cost of unrest could ultimately bring down his rule. But Ayham of Eurasia Group said it was unlikely the immediate impact would be so severe, and that only a broader EU trade embargo would really squeeze Syria. “(EU oil sanctions) are not going to be a significant impediment in terms of financial constraints on the regime in terms of hard currency,” he said….
Syria Spent USD 2 Billion Defending Currency – Syria Report
Syria has spent USD 2 billion since mid-March defending its national currency, according to Adib Mayaleh, the governor of the Central Bank, who denied rumours of Iranian help to support his country’s economy….
Economy Syrian President Enacts Decentralisation Law
On August 23, the Syrian President issued a decree granting more powers and duties to regional councils in a move aimed at encouraging decentralisation.
“A plan by the American-Zionism axis aimed at creating a sectarian war in Syria is defeated,” Amirabdollahian was quoted as saying. TEHRAN – Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said the US and Israel plot to trigger a sectarian war in Syria has failed, the local satellite Press TV reported on Monday.
He called on “the people of Syria (to) pursue their legitimate demands through democratic way and believe in the reforms plan of (President) Bashar al-Assad,” said the report.
The Syrian nation is proud of its “presence in the front line of resistance and support of the oppressed people of Palestine,” he added.
On Saturday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi warned against “dire consequences of change in Syria’s government.”
Guardian (GB): Syrian businessmen signal revulsion with President Assad’s regime, 2011-08-28, Nour Ali guardian.co.uk
A Syrian in Istanbul registers his protest against President Assad of Syria. Dozens of Syrians living in Turkey demonstrated.
A Jonathan Guyer cartoon about Ali Farzat
National Co-ordinating Body in Syria:
This body condemns the Syrian authorities who have prevented three national figures of democracy in Syria from travelling. Michel Kilo, Louay Hussein, and Fayez Sara Member are members of the organisation’s Executive and were stopped during their way on an overland crossing to Lebanon on the pretext of this being dangerous for them. The Co-ordinating Body states that this flies in the face of transparency and reform, and it is illegal, and calls for these practices to stop.
Professors Michel Kilo, Louay Hussein, Fayez Sarah have been prevented from traveling
Syria lifts censorship
Aug 28, 2011 17:58 Moscow Time
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has approved a law which abolishes censorship and lifts restrictions on spreading foreign media in his country.
Washington – An Obama administration official says estimates of the death toll in Libya after more than two months of violence could reach as high as 30 000.
Assad: Strong but Encircled and Vulnerable
by Rami G. Khouri Released: 31 Aug 2011
BEIRUT — The signs are not good for the Syrian government and regime headed by President Bashar Assad and his tight knit network of family members, security agencies, Baath Party members and business associates that dominate the country. In the past week, a steady stream of incidents and signals all add up to strengthen the trend that has pertained for several months now: The regime is increasingly isolated at home and abroad, but remains bunkered down and ready to fight to the end. The exact nature of that end scenario is not clear, but seems imminent now, especially in view of just the past week’s events…..
Many, including myself, have argued for months that the Syrian government is strong in its immediate moorings and support bases, and enjoys legitimacy among many Syrians. The problem that Assad and his system now face is that he has wasted much of that support and legitimacy, and is now ‘strong’ in a very different and much more vulnerable manner. ….
Syria is likely to — and is able to — persist in this mode for months, until either the pressures against it subside or its own ability to resist cracks. Neither of these is imminent today, but one of them will happen as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow. If the Syrian regime can break its isolation from the encircling forces that now pen it in, it might have a chance to orchestrate a gradual change to a more open and liberal system of governance. The likelihood of that happening is now zero.
How Saudi Arabia can contain Iran – and other benefits from Syria’s turmoil
Saudi Arabia is facing its biggest foreign policy obstacle (and opportunity) yet – one whose outcome matters deeply to the US. How the kingdom handles Syrian turmoil will determine its leadership standing in the region and its containment of Iran.
By Bilal Y. Saab IN CSMonitor
All of a sudden, Saudi Arabia finds itself facing a historic opportunity to greatly enhance its strategic position in the Middle East and perhaps even assume an undisputed leadership role in Arab politics.
And this is hardly just an internal Saudi matter.
The regional status of the kingdom is a matter of some importance to the United States and its policies in the Middle East. Given the (still solid) strategic alliance between the US and Saudi Arabia, it goes without saying that a more influential and assertive Riyadh helps Washington achieve its overall foreign policy goals in the region, most urgent of which is checking Iran’s power and preventing it from becoming a nuclear power state.
So what is this new Saudi opportunity all about? It starts in Syria