“Syria’s Long Civil War” by Glenn Robinson

Glenn Robinson, “Syria’s Long Civil War“, Current History, Dec. 2012
Here is an excerpt – (Read the whole thing – it is well written and argued)

Syria’s troubles go well beyond warring ethnic and confessional groups, to the fact that Syria as a political entity—as a nation—hardly exists. To be sure, the country’s two major cities, Damascus and Aleppo, have very long histories and strong localized identities. However, until the twentieth century, Syria was never a country unto itself. During the half millennium when it was part of the Ottoman Empire, Syria was not even constituted as a single administrative district within the empire, but was split among several districts. The invention of modern Syria following the First World War was based largely on agreements between the French and the British. Syria was not unique in this. Indeed, the modern borders of scores of countries in the developing world were based more on the interests of the colonial powers than on any historical or geographic reality. What was different about Syria was that both the French colonial power and the ruling Arabs in Damascus worked to deny the construction of a modern Syrian national identity…………….

Logically, the current round of Syria’s civil war must end in one of four ways: regime victory, opposition victory, stalemate with no end, or stalemate leading to a political  resolution. The first two outcomes are the worst for all parties, and the last is the best plausible outcome. But for the better options to be plausible, both sides must believe they can actually lose the civil war. This is key. Without an acknowledgment of possible defeat, neither the regime nor the opposition will accept a grand bargain in which  compromise is central………..

The United States and its allies are wise to resist direct military involvement in Syria in the form of invasion, an air campaign, or a “no-fly zone” (which would quickly lead to direct military engagement). Likewise, Washington has been smart to resist providing advanced military hardware, such as anti-aircraft missiles, to an opposition with significant elements that would just as easily turn these weapons against American targets.

That said, the flow of funds and small arms to the opposition from various parties has been an important source of balancing in the civil war, preventing the regime thus far from winning outright. However, the turn toward a Chechnya strategy of using airpower to destroy urban pockets of rebellion does threaten the opposition with outright defeat and should be countered in smart ways. The West was sometimes criticized for adopting a Machiavellian posture during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war by hoping that neither side won outright, but such criticism was not warranted.

A clear victory for either side would have been a disaster for the region and the world. The same approach is warranted in Syria: working to prevent either side from winning a total victory so that both sides will be more inclined to reach a compromise. To accomplish this, the United States and its allies must consider the use of unconventional warfare techniques undertaken directly by very small numbers of allied forces, not indigenous Syrian ones. For example, Turkish special forces, working secretly with their American ally, could surreptitiously shoot down a handful of Syrian jets that are attacking Syrian cities. That alone might ground the Syrian Air Force entirely;….

Such a balancing approach might get us to the best plausible outcome—a negotiated solution— and it would likely prevent either of the two worst outcomes. It is not pretty, but it might actually work.

(Read all of Glen Robinson, “Syria’s Long Civil War”

Comments (137)

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101. zoo said:


You say:
“So, the most reliable sources for you to stop bleating are:

Dedicated Syria page of NowLebanon”

Now I understand why you are living in a fantasy world…

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December 1st, 2012, 9:08 pm


102. Visitor said:

Bleating Ewe at the Zoo bleated,

“Now I understand why you are living in a fantasy world…”

Obviously you understand zilch!!! But there is no surprise here!!!

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December 1st, 2012, 9:22 pm


103. zoo said:

Egypt: The longest constitution in the world so that no voter can read it before the referendum…..

Now Egyptians must fight
Morsi’s bid to impose Shariah


For starters, a good constitution is supposed to be short and vague; the Egyptian draft is neither. Anxious to provide “precise limits” to the executive power, the draft has become the longest constitution in the world. It has 234 articles, some divided into several subsections.

The result is the creation of countless loopholes that Egypt’s rulers, steeped in a culture of despotism, could exploit to their advantage while providing lawyers with a permanent feast of suits and counter-suits.

Compared to the constitution in force in the Mubarak era, the draft is a step backward. True, Mubarak and the despots before him cared little about what any constitution said — but that doesn’t justify an attempt at imposing a constitution that, legally speaking, could put Egypt back to medieval times.

Next, the democrats tried to fight Morsi in the streets rather than through institutions, or whichever part of them was still functioning. Last week, they announced a new boycott, this time of the process of writing a constitution.

If they continue sulking and boycotting, the draft will be put to referendum without them and approved by a massive majority in a low-turnout vote.

Rather than sulking and walking away, Egyptian democrats should come back and fight.

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December 1st, 2012, 9:32 pm


104. Sami said:

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December 1st, 2012, 9:44 pm


105. zoo said:

Flow of Arms to Syria Through Iraq Persists, to U.S. Dismay

Published: December 1, 2012 34 Comments

WASHINGTON — The American effort to stem the flow of Iranian arms to Syria has faltered because of Iraq’s reluctance to inspect aircraft carrying the weapons through its airspace, American officials say.

The shipments have persisted at a critical time for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who has come under increasing military pressure from rebel fighters. The air corridor over Iraq has emerged as a main supply route for weapons, including rockets, antitank missiles, rocket-propelled grenade and mortars.

Iran has an enormous stake in Syria, which is its staunchest Arab ally and has also provided a channel for Iran’s support to the Lebanese Islamist movement Hezbollah.

To the disappointment of the Obama administration, American efforts to persuade the Iraqis to randomly inspect the flights have been largely unsuccessful.

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December 1st, 2012, 9:51 pm


106. zoo said:

In Damascus, Tense Anticipation of Strongest Push Yet by Rebels

Published: December 1, 2012

A quiet tension prevailed downtown, but security checkpoints were proliferating and there were reports that President Bashar al-Assad was preparing loyal divisions to defend the city, the capital and heart of his power.

Military analysts warned that it was impossible to know whether a decisive battle for Damascus was beginning, especially as Syrians lost access to the Internet for 53 hours, limiting the flow of information, before it was restored Saturday. But they said that a government fight to defend its core could be the fiercest and most destructive phase yet of the 20-month conflict.

“We’re waiting for the big battle to begin,” said Emile Hokayem, an analyst based in Bahrain for the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

For decades, the Assad family has settled loyal military families, many from its minority Alawite sect, in the western outskirts of Damascus, where the presidential palace sits on a plateau overlooking the city. The current fighting suggested that the government was trying to insulate those areas, along with the city center and airport, from the semicircle of urban sprawl curving from northeast to southwest, where rebels have strengthened their position in recent days, overrunning a string of small bases.

Analysts say that Mr. Assad, knowing that losing Damascus could be a decisive blow, has been conserving his best and most loyal troops and much of his artillery for a battle there.

“We’re not yet at a point where the regime is in total panic mode and can no longer make rational — however nasty — decisions about military strategy,” Mr. Hokayem said. “He has to decide which cities around Damascus to destroy and which cities to keep in hand.”

Rebel success is counted not just in territory, Mr. Hokayem said, but also in the cost to civilians and whether rebels can provide security and services without provoking heavy attacks.

Mr. Hokayem said rebels around Damascus might avoid the mistakes of Aleppo, where the fighters were mainly civilians from the nearby countryside, who lacked a coordinated military and political strategy.

Better-organized units of army defectors in southern Syria and Jordan have been training to attack Damascus, he said.

“Damascus is an opportunity for the rebels to show that they can get their act together better,” he said. “I’m not saying they might not mess it up.”

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December 1st, 2012, 9:55 pm


107. Dolly Buster said:

Hey Ewe, can you reduce this reposting of News, and explain your position instead?
Why do you support the red communists over freedom?

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December 1st, 2012, 9:59 pm


108. zoo said:

Because I prefer red to green

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December 1st, 2012, 10:04 pm


109. MarigoldRan said:


There is no step 9. After ste p 8, the guerillas win. The regime is gone. You don’t agree? That’s ok. We’ll see who is right in the end.


I thought the siege of Damascus was supposed to start next year. Compared to the future, this is just a probing attack. Once the FSA can attack Damascus from the north as well, that’s when the real battle of Damascus will begin.


Are you seriously advocating the use of chemical weapons? Are you suicidal?

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December 1st, 2012, 10:08 pm


110. MarigoldRan said:


You do realize that according to myth, Cassandra’s predictions were ALWAYS right?

The problem wasn’t with her predictions. The problem was with her listeners, who never believed her even though she was always right in the end.

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December 1st, 2012, 10:25 pm


111. Altair said:

An interesting point is that Robinson takes the view that the civil really started in 1976. Most observers haven’t really referred to the period from 1976-82 as a civil war, or as a first phase in an ongoing one, but in the bigger historical view, it may be correct.

If it is, the intervention in Lebanon was a huge strategic mistake for Asad the father and still has repercussions for Syria today. In 1973-74 (because of the October War) he was considered by many as a hero, in 1976, as a traitor. Why did he intervene?

The argument I most heard was that he did so to keep the Israelis from having an excuse to do so. But the fact is, they did anyway in 1978, and again on a bigger scale in 1982 and hit Syrian forces in the process. What was the tacit deal with Asad’s Syria and the US (which approved the intervention) and the Israelis in 1976?

Some kind of deal was made, and a historian who found out what it was with documentation would do a great service to history to reveal it. It seems that the intervention later affected US/Western indifference when Hafiz crushed the rebellion in Hamah.

It’s significant today because we don’t know what the outside actors are really doing behind the scenes. But we do know is that they are doing something. Deception is the name of the game, and public postures screen real policies.

What seems clear is that the US and by extension Western policy establishment doesn’t want an outright opposition victory. If it did they would support it more forcefully with indirect military support. The direct kind could serve to delegitimize the opposition; that’s how bad the reputation of the US is thanks to its total support of highly unjust Israeli policies (something Robinson might believe but may not want to mention out of his own interest).

In fact I would take it further back, and I have to point out that the article contains at least one factual error: the first Alawi president was NOT in 1966 but in 1971 after the Hafiz’s coup in 1970 and it was Hafiz himself. The one who lost all power was Salah Jadid, considered more radical than Hafiz and less pragmatic. There is the further story of the virtual gift of the Jolan (I spell purposely with a J) to the Israelis in 1967

But is it possible that Hafiz ascended precisely because of his cooperation with the West? For example, his failure to give air support to the Syrian military which was challenging Jordan after Black September in 1970?

So, it’s a lot more complicated that one might think. I mention all those past events to point to what may be happening now. The regional and international actors are all there, once again. All are playing their strategic games, once again, this time with unprecedented suffering in Syria (in 1982 it was mostly Hamah: now it’s the whole country).

Syria (historical Syria, which includes Palestine) has the misfortune of being one of the most strategic countries in the world…it always has been. The sooner Syrians realize that they have to compensate for that strategic value by uniting the themselves, the better. It is a daunting task, but Syria’s survival (in its current smaller form or otherwise) may hang in the balance.

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December 1st, 2012, 10:28 pm


112. MarigoldRan said:

Syria will never unite. Not after this war. The scars are too deep.

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December 1st, 2012, 10:32 pm


113. Altair said:

But it must. The scars will only deepen if Syria becomes a bunch of disjointed small states (or non-states) all answering to foreign powers. In this case, idealism is the only practical policy (ironically, in a way).

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December 1st, 2012, 10:46 pm


114. MarigoldRan said:


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December 1st, 2012, 11:02 pm


115. Syrialover said:

The Egyptian fiasco is a useful warning for Syrians how inept, destructive and useless the MB are when they get near power.

And listen, Syrians, to loud warning bells about how the MB go about brazenly STEALING power from those who fought hardest for change.

Morsi’s government in Egypt is NOT a revolutionary government. In fact, it has been against the goals of the revolution from day one. And its record shows it collaborating with the old regime and protecting it from revolutionary justice.

The MB are parasites who cheat their way into power, clambering over the backs of others after dodging any heavy lifting in the revolution.

And are busy trying to do EXACTLY that today in the Syrian Coalition, although they have very small representation inside Syria.

Read this Egyptian human rights activist powerfully laying out the facts about the MB:


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December 1st, 2012, 11:02 pm


116. Majedkhaldoun said:

You pointed to several issues,but the end is what I want to discuss.
Uniting Syria: With diverse ethnic composition of Syria,unity will be favoring the majority,The Alawis in a united Syria must relinquish power, in Divided Syria,it will be a temporary situation,where Syria without the coast will not survive,so they either has to fight the Alawi state, or to unite with another state , if they fight the Alawi state it will be uneven fight,where this state will be without oil gas electricity generators,but with backward roads,and will truly will be an isolated state they can not depend on Iran because Turkey may interfere,the geography will make defending such a state will be impossible,.
the point I am saying that Syria can not survive but united.

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December 1st, 2012, 11:24 pm


117. Syrialover said:

The MB mischief against Syria is taking place in expat circles OUTSIDE Syria this very moment, with the MB persisting with stupid, selfish grabbing and shoving within the Coalition.

So Syrians outside Syria need to stop sleeping through this emerging disaster and urgently do what they can to prevent it. This MB issue is a threat to Syria’s future NOW. Don’t face cleaning up the mess later instead of rebuilding Syria.

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December 1st, 2012, 11:24 pm


118. majedkhaldoun said:

In Egypt there is rivalry between an elected president,who gained legitimacy,and a constitutional court whose members were appointed,by the overthrown president and not elected members, (elected by the people), Mursi must argue against the legitimacy of such constitutional court.

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December 1st, 2012, 11:31 pm


119. ALI said:

“This MB issue is a threat to Syria’s future NOW”

100% agree, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do but we need your support.

I’m really happy that you decided to open up your eyes and see the good from bad.

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December 1st, 2012, 11:35 pm


120. Johannes de Silentio said:

112. Syrialover

“stupid, selfish grabbing and shoving”

Sounds like about half the people on Syria Comment…

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December 1st, 2012, 11:36 pm


121. ALI said:

عليت الراية يا حافظ
و ببنيت المجد يا حافظ
تسلم للشعب تسلم للشعب يا حافظ

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December 1st, 2012, 11:37 pm


122. MarigoldRan said:


I don’t like the MB either. But they are better than the regime.

And those songs about Assad: do people still sing them in public nowadays? I can understand why you might support the regime, but almost everyone else thinks it’s evil.

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December 1st, 2012, 11:38 pm


123. majedkhaldoun said:

The constitutional court(cc) in Egypt can not impeach the president, this is a privilage only of the people assembly,cc already recognised Mursi as a legitimate president.

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December 1st, 2012, 11:45 pm


124. majedkhaldoun said:

The battle of Damascus will be a peaceful battle, just lay SEIGE arround Damascus,he can not survive for longer than three months

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December 1st, 2012, 11:50 pm


125. ALI said:

MarigoldRan :

Please don’t forget what MB did in 1980s, they destroyed the country and killed thousands on innocent civilians till the late president Hafiz decided to take the hard option and responded to the mayday call from people of Hama to cleanse the gang of MB.

I agree these are stupid songs but I must remind everybody of that era when Syria was put on the map as a big player by a big man.

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December 1st, 2012, 11:51 pm


126. Tara said:


I can just picture you trying to sleep in a dark quite room in your house where everyone else is sound asleep and suddenly..,bursting out with a loud Mnhebak song.

The mnhebak thing is a pathetically funny phenomena.

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December 1st, 2012, 11:52 pm


127. ALI said:

“The battle of Damascus will be a peaceful battle, just lay SEIGE arround Damascus,he can not survive for longer than three month”

Totally disagree, keep in mind if these Jihadists keep poking the Arab Syrian Army then they will get what they’re asking for, they’ll die with the first breath.

In order to avoid any unnecessarily causalities, I support deploying international peace troops to keep the capital marginalized so people can get on with their lives. but it should be with the following conditions:

1. Syria selects the nationalities of participate with soldiers.
2. To be only deployed around Damascus
3. The troops will be responsible that no unofficial militant presence is allowed in Damascus and around it.

the question will the Jihadists accept the sound of reason?

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December 2nd, 2012, 12:01 am


128. Visitor said:

Altair said,

“Some kind of deal was made, and a historian who found out what it was with documentation would do a great service to history to reveal it. It seems that the intervention later affected US/Western indifference when Hafiz crushed the rebellion in Hamah.”

Well read this…


“Jimmy Carter (1924 – ) Before visiting Syria…..”

Does that answer your inquiry?

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December 2nd, 2012, 12:04 am


129. ALI said:

Lady Tara:

“everyone else is sound asleep and suddenly..,bursting out with a loud Mnhebak song”

Almost got it right, I keep the speakers on pretty much most of the times to remind our Syrian neighbors (two Sunni families) of our country. They hate talking politics with us but thanks God they did not show any symptoms of being anti regime. Such people are authentic Syrians.

“The mnhebak thing is a pathetically funny phenomena”

Yeah true 🙂 we used to love these songs in Syria especially when driving in a tinted car with high volume in Lattakia during the the love and peace festival at the blue beach. People from all around Syria used to come to that festival and always cheered and sang these songs.

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December 2nd, 2012, 12:07 am


130. MarigoldRan said:

No, Assad massacred 20000 people and set up the seeds for a greater and more destructive war.

If international peacekeepers are deployed, they must be deployed everywhere. What you’re suggesting is for international peacekeepers to protect only you and your regime. An understandable, but selfish and completely unreasonable request.

And Ali, about your most recent comment, only the rich and the well-off did that. For the poor it was a dreary grind with no hope for the future.

If a country cares only for its wealthy, the country will head to disaster.

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December 2nd, 2012, 12:11 am


131. Tara said:


Ask your dad if he knows Abu Sbeih and what happened to him when you get a chance.

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December 2nd, 2012, 12:12 am


132. ALI said:

Lady Tara:

do you mean “ابو صبيح”? is he a countryside singer?

What’s the significance behind this name, please tell me.

I would not be able to reach my father before Tue.

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December 2nd, 2012, 1:09 am


133. ALI said:

MarigoldRan :

“No, Assad massacred 20000 people and set up the seeds for a greater and more destructive war. ”

There’s no single documented evidence of this claim, I could claim the same and it’s my word against your word. All these imaginary stories don’t belong to reality most of these narrators are MB memebrs so I can’t see them as a credible source.

“If a country cares only for its wealthy, the country will head to disaster.”

Well said, I could not agree more.
Unfortunately, the Syrian regime didn’t care about countryside and rural areas even for his own people. Please take a ride through the Alawi mountains and see how back-warded are these towns(deya3). This is a stark evidence that Alawis didn’t suck the resources of the countries to their own benefits.

PS: If you really want to take the drive across these towns, I’d recommend to get a local tour guide or at least put many posters of Hafiz and a long antenna on top of your car, otherwise Shebiha of elkalb (the dog) Hilal Assad would confiscate your car and maybe hurt you.

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December 2nd, 2012, 1:17 am


134. Syrialover said:

ALI #121

Don’t worry about lack of detailed public information on what happened at Hama in 1982.

It will all come out. Once the Assad spell of fear is broken army people of the time will start to talk, mass graves will be forensically excavated, records released and so on. Some believe chemical weapons were involved.

I’m hoping it all happens in time for Rifaat Assad be forced to cash in his Mayfair mansion and other treasures to pay millions in legal fees to battle war crimes tribunals and extradition orders. And then finish his days in the worst cell in Tadmor.

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December 2nd, 2012, 2:01 am


135. Syrialover said:


Any theories why the now seemingly fake revolutionary leadership of Egypt and Tunisia are not acknowledging the Syrian Coalition?

The contstitutional arguments in Egypt are circular. The point is that the MB seem to be stupidly tipping Egypt into prolonged chaos and a backward slide.

It’s a competence and worthiness issue. They have spent decades sunk in machinations and tactics and playing games, but they now have to DELIVER for real. They will destroy all hopes and dreams for the Egyptian people if they dont ditch the amateur act and start working rationally and fairly with the country’s best and brightest human resources.

The lessons for Syria are massive, even before any post-Assad system is born.

First, unlike their brothers in Egypt the MB in Syria have never had any significant support base, and 30+ years of exile means it’s now even fainter. Yet they are elbowing their way to far more seats at the Coalition table than other more recent, relevant and representative groups.

And second, the MB’s manipulations behind the scenes to get a free ride on the back of Syrians who are doing the main work of the revolution is sinister, dishonest and dangerous to Syria.

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December 2nd, 2012, 2:43 am


136. SANDRO LOEWE said:

As said by ALTAIR the criminal president of Syria Mr. Bashar Al Qaeda could have been a part of the Great Mafia Ruling The World, but he has been exposed by his mistakes and now nobody in the West can defend him in public. Although I also believe there are many who still prefer Assad to any other sollution (US and Israel mainly).

The fact that Assad acted so confident, that his wife was promoted to be the ugly sister of Rania, and many other clues could only be explained by two reasons:

1- Assad trusts in the permanent support of the great powers.

2- Assad is crazy and Vogue too.

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December 2nd, 2012, 5:43 am


137. Rafayel said:

A very informative article, but author’s conclusion is absolute rubbish. What author doesn’t seem to realize that opposition might not win but it simply can’t lose. Sunnis (and I am speaking broadly here) are not and will not under any circumstances will continue to accept Alawite dominance. However, many fighters regime will kill there are many many more that will replace them. What we are seeing is a a spigot that that has been turned all the way. Sunni world will continue supplying men for as long as it takes. Unlike chechnya which saw some influx of sunni fighters from outside, Syria could be awash in them anytime. There are no good outcomes in this situation, however you look at it, West and Western values will be losers.

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December 5th, 2012, 3:03 pm


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