The Armed Gangs Controversy

The Armed Gangs Controversy

I have taken up the “armed gangs controversy” in my last two posts. In the comment section, Syrians have debated whether the opposition has produced militant elements that are killing Syrian soldiers. A number of analysts, such as Majd Eid, who joined in the debate on France 24 yesterday, continue to argue that there is not a violent side to the uprising. They insist that Syrian soldiers are killing fellow soldiers, not opposition elements. This killing is carried out when security personnel refuse orders to shoot at crowds, they insist. So far, no evidence has surfaced to demonstrate that Syrian military have shot their fellow soldiers for refusing to carry out orders. Most evidence supports government statements that armed opposition elements have been shooting security personnel.

This controversy arose in April during the protests in Banyas, when nine soldiers were killed while traveling down the main highway in two transport vehicles outside of the city. Activists claimed that soldiers in Banyas were executed by fellow soldiers for refusing to shoot at demonstrators. This story turned out to be fictional, but was carried by most of the Western Press and never corrected. I wrote about this controversy on April 14 under the title: Western Press Misled – Who Shot the Nine Soldiers in Banyas? Not Syrian Security Forces. The reason I took an interest in this story is because my wife’s cousin, Lt. Col. Yasir Qash`ur, was one of the nine soldiers killed on April 10. We know him well. We spoke with Yasir’s brother-in-law, Colonel `Uday Ahmad, who was sitting in the back seat of the truck in which Yasir and several of the nine soldiers were killed. `Uday told us that two military trucks were ambushed as they crossed a highway bridge by well armed men who were hiding behind the median of the highway and on the tops of buildings at the edge of the road. They raked the two trucks with automatic fire, killing nine. The incident had nothing to do with soldiers refusing orders. His description of what happened so contradicted the reports I was reading in the press that I began to dig around. Later video footage of the shooting surfaced and was shown on Syrian TV. It corroborated Uday’s story. Western press and analysts did not want to recognize that armed elements were becoming active. They preferred to tell a simple story of good people fighting bad people. There is no doubt that the vast majority of the opposition was peaceful and was being met with deadly government force and snipers. One only wonders why that story could not have been told without also covering the reality – that armed elements, whose agenda was not peaceful, were also playing a role.

In the bloody battles at Jisr ash-Shaghour most of the Western Press again repeated opposition claims that some 100 Syrian soldiers were killed not by opposition elements but by their own colleagues. The Western press insisted that Syrian military elements were killed in the city by fellow soldiers for refusing orders to shoot. Government claims that the soldiers were killed by armed elements who ambushed and overwhelmed them, were dismissed. Today, teh video footage that has surfaced is fairly conclusive in corroborating the original government version of events: the soldiers stationed in the town were overrun by armed and organized opposition.  Here is a video of some of the soldiers before they were killed. The first minute or two of this video shows the soldiers after being shot. This is unedited footage of the bodies before they were carried away on trucks.

In the Hama fighting, the video depicting dead bodies being thrown off a bridge into a river has been the subject of controversy. This video made by comparing Google Earth footage of the bridge to the actual video seems fairly conclusive in proving that the footage is new, is from Hama, and does depict opposition elements throwing the bodies of soldiers from the highway bridge into the `Asi River just north of Hama on the highway to Aleppo.

So what is the meaning of the emergence of armed opposition elements?

A prominent anti-government activist speaking on CNN said it best. Here is the CNN report by Arwa Damon and Nada Husseini of Aug. 2, 2011:

One prominent anti-government activist, who asked not to be named because of the dangers that could arise from the release of the information, told CNN the state TV account was correct. The bodies are those of Syrian secret police killed by Syrian fighters from Iraq who have joined the anti-government fight, said the activist, who gets information about the goings-on in Syria from an extensive network of informants.

That same activist stressed that the antagonists are not representative of the protest movement. Violent fringe elements have appeared during the Syrian tumult. One study last month from the International Crisis Group said some anti-government elements have taken up arms. However, that report said, “the vast majority of casualties have been peaceful protesters, and the vast majority of the violence has been perpetrated by the security services.

The activist said the emergence of this video is a double-edged sword for protesters.

On the one hand, the peaceful demonstrators need to become aware of the existence of fringe elements, he said. This would encourage more people to reject both the regime and these types of attacks and maintain the aims of peaceful protest, he said. At the same time, he added, the incident gives credence to the Syrian government’s assertion that it is targeting “armed gangs.” Such violence, he said, could cause the international community to hesitate in continuing its mounting pressure against the Syrian regime.

Most of the supporters of the revolutionary movement have responded to these videos by asking, “What does anyone expect? Are Syrians to simply wait to be killed? Of course violence will be met by violence. It is natural and the only surprise is that it has been so long in coming.”

This is a compelling argument. The Syrian opposition has been slow to arm in its effort to overthrow the Baathist state. The Free Officers Movement is gathering steam. The most recent video statement by the FOM shows that its membership is growing, although it is still only in the earliest formation. The leader declares that they will defend civilians against the “barbaric actions of the regime and their Shabbiha.” Other armed organizations are taking to the streets but none have officially declared their existence and set out political goals. This will undoubtedly happen in the coming months.

From the outset, this has been a war of videos. This video of a wife saying goodbye to her husband, killed in Hama on Aug 2 is heartbreaking. Such videos act as a call to arms.

The regime will battle to the end and still has much fight in it. The military has many advantageous over the fragmented opposition. It is unlikely that the regime will “collapse,” as some activists suggest or just fade away Ceausescu-like. If it is to be defeated, it will be on the battlefield and by force. It is hard to imagine any other ending. Of course, should both Damascus and Aleppo come out to demonstrate in large numbers, the breakdown of order will be hastened, but the military and Baath Party will not give up. Syria’s divisions are too deep. The fear of revenge and ethnic cleansing will galvanize those who have backed the present order for decades.  Had the Syrian leadership been willing to hand over power peacefully or establish some sort of constitutional convention, it would have done so already.

The poverty and loss of dignity for so many Syrians is a crushing part of Syrian reality. Thirty-two percent of Syrians live on two dollars or less a day. That is a scary figure. It will get much worse as the loss of jobs and economic hardships begin to multiply. Syria is filled with people who have little to lose, who have little education, and few prospects of improving their chances for a better and more dignified life. The potential for violence and lawlessness is large. Most worrying is the lack of leadership among opposition forces.

News Round Up follows

Why Damascus, Aleppo are silent for now
The business elite in these Syrian cities have myriad overlapping interests with the political elite
By Sami Moubayed, Special to Gulf News, August 2, 2011

To date, most residents of Syria’s two main cities, Damascus and Aleppo, have tried to look the other way vis-à-vis the uprising that has broken out in every town and city across the country since mid-March. In these two cities, the markets are still open, banks are still in operation, merchants are still trading, entire families are dining at restaurants, young couples are getting married and, in many cases, enjoying the summer in complete denial of what is happening throughout the rest of Syria. So long as Damascus and Aleppo remain quiet, or neutral at best, the Syrian authorities believe the situation will be under control.

A closer look, however, shows that this argument — although applicable four months ago — is now nothing more than wishful thinking. First, it is wrong to compare Damascus to Aleppo because sympathy with the Syrian uprising is high in the Syrian capital, but low and close to non-existent in Aleppo because of the city’s distance, its relative immunity from the economic crisis (thanks to flourishing business relations with Turkey), and the unique relationship the city has had with President Bashar Al Assad, who has paid it plenty of attention since coming to power in 2000. Additionally, Aleppo paid a terrible price for its support of the Muslim Brotherhood uprising of 1982, and sees how the state is retaliating in other cities today, like Hama and Deir Ezzor. It does not want to suffer a similar fate.

It would be wrong to imagine that residents of the old quarters of Damascus — Shagour, Bab Sharki or Bab Srijeh — would be seen on the streets of the Syrian capital, demonstrating against the regime. This is not French Mandate Damascus, after all, where these quarters are filled with swashbuckling quarter bosses like the ones we see in the popular TV series Bab Al Hara. The reason, basically, is that these quarters in the Old City are now empty; the original residents sold their property years ago, transforming their homes into trendy restaurants and boutique hotels. They collectively moved to the suburbs of Damascus, and today, the original inhabitants of the Syrian capital reside in hotspots like Muadamiyeh, Zabadani, Qaboon, Harasta and Duma. It is the Damascenes then who are demonstrating in these districts, in addition of course, to the original inhabitants of these districts. The sameapplies to Aleppo and its suburbs.

Within the new districts of Damascus and Aleppo, the business elite has been staunchly pro-regime although, ironically, it was the business community of both cities that suffered most from socialism of the Baath Party when it first came to power in 1963. That will likely remain the case for now, due to the weight of their clerics (who are allied to the state), along with the political, social and economic interests of their nobility and business community. In many cases, that nobility is “new money” and rose to power and fame only after the Baathists took over in 1963. The have overlapping interests with the political elite and are often allied to them through business partnerships and marriage, giving them no reason to demonstrate against the existing order.

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Historically speaking, however, both cities can make or break any political movement — but rarely have they been part of anything that threatens stability and their commercial interests. In 1925, for example, rural Syria erupted in revolt against the French Mandate. Damascus very unwillingly joined the revolt of 1925, and when it did, suffered punishment greater than that of all other Syrian cities combined. It was shelled continuously for 48 hours and entire neighborhoods were set ablaze and looted. And Aleppo was not even part of the revolt of 1925. To be fair, although we make reference to the “Aleppo Revolt” in history books, it was the suburbs of Aleppo that revolted against the French. Aleppo itself remained silent. When the revolt calmed in 1927, it was the business elite of both cities that devised the theory of “honorable cooperation” with the government—diplomacy to extract political change, rather than armed revolt.

In Damascus, the merchants used to moan and groan whenever political parties, or youth movements, called on them to close down their shops for anti-government protests in the 1950s. Simply put, as far as the businessmen were concerned, all that meant was financial losses. That mentality still prevails in the old bazaars of Damascus and in the new posh and trendy corporate culture that has mushroomed around banks, insurance companies, advertising and media firms all over the Syrian capital.

The silence of both cities, however, won’t last for too long, for three reasons.

1) Unemployment: The moment rising unemployment kicks in, young people will take to the streets in both Damascus and Aleppo, regardless of what city elders tell them. Many young people are already jobless since March, and if the stalemate continues, they could start finding themselves penniless as well. Ramadan, no doubt, will be a turning point for these two cities.

2) Lack of community leaders: Back in the 1980s, for example, community leaders like Ahmad Kaftaro (the Grand Mufti) and Bader Al Din Al Shallah (doyen of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce) used their influence to pacify angry citizens in Damascus when they sympathised with the Brotherhood. People respected them, listened to them, and often carried out their without any questions. When Shallah famously asked shopkeepers to break the Damascus strike of 1982, they immediately answered his call. Today there are no community leaders with similar clout and standing in Damascus and Aleppo because the Baathists have not allowed any such independent leaders to emerge.

3) Demographics: Damascus, more so than Aleppo, is a melting pot for all Syrians. It is packed with people from rural Damascus, Daraa, Homs, Hama, Idlib and rural Idlib. It is those people who are likely to demonstrate in Damascus, rather than the Damascenes themselves, and those people, naturally, do not take their orders from the business community of Damascus.

Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Damascus, Syria

Sheila said:

[Moubayed’s] article is on the money. I am originally from Aleppo and come from a big family. I can assure everyone on this blog that Aleppo is boiling under the calm surface. It is only a matter of time before the city erupts. Mark my word.

Look at the pattern in this revolution: it starts with one stupid act by the regime in one of the villages, the village is up in arms, the surrounding villages come to the rescue and then the central city starts demonstrating.

U.S. Boosts Syria Pressure With Sanctions Plan
By Nicole Gaouette and Victoria Pelham – Aug 2, 2011

The U.S. is stepping up the pressure on Syria, ….“Our goal here is to isolate Assad both politically and deny” the regime revenue, Mark Toner, the State Department’s acting spokesman, said yesterday. “We do plan to move forward with additional sanctions under existing authorities, and we’re exploring the scope of those sanctions,” he said.

Ford, who met with Obama two days ago, told senators at his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill yesterday that backing the forces of change could give the U.S. a chance to reshape the region.

“We have a real opportunity with change in Syria to see both Iranian influence and Hezbollah influence in the region diminish,” said Ford, a career diplomat who has been serving as ambassador under a December 2010 recess appointment by Obama.

Syria is Iran’s chief ally in the region and both support Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shiite Muslim political group that the U.S. considers a terrorist organization. … Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, Senator Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, and Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, introduced the Syria Sanctions Act of 2011 to target the one-third of the country’s revenue that come from oil and gas exports.

U.S. law bans most trade with Syria. The sanctions bill would extend those restrictions to foreign companies. The measure would require the president to block access to U.S. financial institutions, markets and federal contracts for those who do business with the Syrian energy sector.

Companies that falsely claim not to do business with Syria would be subject to a three-year ban on government contracts. …Sanctions with allies that have greater trade ties with Syria would be more effective, Ford said. He added that “Europeans and Canadians have greater investments in Syria’s energy sector” and that conversations about sanctions with those countries are under way.

“The Syrian government’s latest action will help trigger action, frankly,” Ford said of the recent violence and the international outrage it has generated.

Asking for More

The Syrian activists asked Clinton to have the U.S. do more to rally that kind of international pressure on the Assad regime.

Aoun defends Syrian regime’s crackdown August 2, 2011 Change and Reform bloc leader MP Michel Aoun on Tuesday defended Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, saying that security forces have the right to suppress “chaos on the streets.”

“It is clear that the intentions of the [Syria] opposition are not good,” he added following his bloc’s weekly meeting.

Syria opposition leader Seif held at Damascus airport

Syrian security agents briefly detained opposition leader Riad Seif at Damascus airport on Monday and prevented him from traveling to Germany to seek treatment for cancer, opposition sources said.

Killing of Libyan rebel commander strengthens resistance to UN condemnation of Syria

By James M. Dorsey

The failure to identify the perpetrators of last week’s mysterious killing of a senior Libyan rebel military commander threatens to undermine fragile unity among Colonel Moammar Qaddafi’s NATO-backed opponents and complicates Western efforts to secure United Nations condemnation of Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters.

The killing highlights the pitfalls of backing a ragtag armed opposition movement, in which former jihadists together with defectors from Mr. Qaddafi’s forces constitute the primary groups with military experience.

It has also – coupled with allegations that NATO military backing of the rebels violates a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya – made countries like India, China, Russia and Brazil weary of endorsing a council resolution being pushed by the United States and the European Union that would condemn Mr. Assad’s brutal efforts to quell demonstrations in his own country.

Critics like China and Russia, concerned about the spillover effect in their own countries of the Arab revolt that has swept the Middle East and North Africa for the past eight months, worry not only that condemnation of Syria could lead to Western efforts to covertly or overtly topple Mr. Assad but that Libya if repeated in any form or fashion could create a legal precedent for intervention across the globe.

Egyptians Turn Against Liberal Protesters

CAIRO—Mobs of ordinary Egyptians joined with soldiers to drive pro-democracy protesters from their encampment in Tahrir Square here Monday, showing how far the uprising’s early heroes have fallen in the eyes of the public.

Egyptian security forces tear down tents of liberal protesters who had camped in Cario’s Tahrir Square to press military rulers for political reforms.

Six months after young, liberal activists helped lead the popular movement that ousted President Hosni Mubarak, the hard core of these protesters was forcibly dispersed by the troops. Some Egyptians lined the street to applaud the army. Others ganged up on the activists as they retreated from the square that has come to symbolize the Arab Spring.

Squeezed between an assertive military and the country’s resurgent Islamist movement, many Internet-savvy, pro-democracy activists are finding it increasingly hard to remain relevant in a post-revolutionary Egypt that is struggling to overcome an economic crisis and restore law and order.

“The liberal and leftist groups that were at the forefront of the revolution have lost touch with the Egyptian people,” says Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center. “These protesters have alienated much of Egypt. For some time they’ve been deceiving themselves by saying that the silent majority is on their side—but all evidence points to the contrary, and Monday’s events confirm that.”

The Last Stand of Bashar al-Assad?

DOHA, Qatar — As Bashar al-Assad’s shock troops storm cities and towns across Syria, leaving a death toll in the triple digits that has only stoked the fires of rebellion even hotter, Barack Obama’s administration is stepping up measures aimed at fatally weakening the Syrian dictator’s regime.

Critics of the U.S. president’s policy, particularly on the right, have long charged his administration with being soft on Assad. But the United States is now unequivocally committed to his ouster, having lost whatever little faith it had in the Syrian leader’s willingness to reform. “He is illegitimate,” a senior administration official says flatly. “We’ve definitely been very clear that we don’t see Assad in Syria’s future.”


Shaikh also advocates putting together an informal “contact group” of concerned countries — as with Libya — with a core group perhaps consisting of the United States, France, Qatar, and Turkey. But the all-important Turks, who share a border with Syria and have hosted thousands of refugees and several opposition meetings, are still hedging their bets. Sunday’s statement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry called on the Syrian government to “end the operations and resort to political methods, dialogue and peaceful initiatives in order to reach a solution” — options that the protest movement explicitly abandoned several weeks ago.


But few analysts think words will do much to damage the deeply entrenched Syrian regime, and some, like the Century Foundation’s Michael Hanna, worry that Assad could limp on far longer than anyone expects. Nor would multilateral sanctions, even if they do somehow pass the Security Council, have an immediate effect. “It’s unlikely that, short of massive defections within the security services at an elite level, outside pressure is going to change the calculus of the inner circle of the regime,” says Hanna. Instead of being toppled, he cautions, Assad could become another international pariah, like Saddam Hussein or the Burmese junta.

Washington has made its decision, though nobody can say when Assad will go. “He’s on his way out,” says the senior administration official, stressing: “This is about the Syrian people, not about us. They’re the ones that say that they want someone else, and they should be able to choose the government that they want.”

The New Hama Rules By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, August 2, 2011

…. It worked for a long time in Syria, Iraq, Tunisia, etc., until it didn’t. Today, Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, Hafez’s son, is now repeating his father’s mass murdering tactics to quash the new Syrian uprising, again centered in Hama. But, this time, the Syrian people are answering with their own Hama Rules, which are quite remarkable. They say: “We know that every time we walk out the door to protest, you will gun us down, without mercy. But we are not afraid anymore, and we will not be powerless anymore. Now, you leaders will be afraid of us. Those are our Hama Rules.”

This is the struggle today across the Arab world — the new Hama Rules versus the old Hama Rules — “I will make you afraid” versus “We are not afraid anymore.”

Good for the people. It is hard to exaggerate how much these Arab regimes wasted the lives of an entire Arab generation, with their foolish wars with Israel and each other and their fraudulent ideologies that masked their naked power grabs and predatory behavior. Nothing good was possible with these leaders. The big question today, though, is this: Is progress possible without them?

That is, once these regimes are shucked off, can the different Arab communities come together as citizens and write social contracts for how to live together without iron-fisted dictators — can they write a positive set of Hama Rules based not on anyone fearing anyone else, but rather on mutual respect, protection of minority and women’s rights and consensual government?

I think the former foreign minister of Jordan, Marwan Muasher, has the right attitude. “One cannot expect this to be a linear process or to be done overnight,” he said to me. “There were no real political parties, no civil society institutions ready to take over in any of these countries. I do not like to call this the ‘Arab Spring.’ I prefer to call it the ‘Arab Awakening,’ and it is going to play out over the next 10 to 15 years before it settles down. We are going to see all four seasons multiple times. These people are experiencing democracy for the first time. They are going to make mistakes on the political and economic fronts. But I remain optimistic in the long run, because people have stopped feeling powerless.”

New sanctions worry Turkish businessmen

Growing turmoil and violence in Syria have the European Union rolling up its sleeves to play a more active role in solving the problem by imposing asset freezes and travel bans. But economic sanctions by countries including Turkey might leave its business interests in the Arab republic in a tight spot

The prospect of more economic sanctions against increasingly strife-torn Syria have Turkish businessmen worried, leading business figures told the Hürriyet Daily News on Tuesday.

Growing turmoil and violence in Syria have the European Union rolling up its sleeves to play a more active role in solving the problem by imposing asset freezes and travel bans. But economic sanctions by countries including Turkey might leave its business interests in a tight spot.

“Sanctions imposed previously on other countries have not brought many sustainable solutions to problems,” Rona Yırcalı, the board chairman of the Foreign Economic Relations Board, or DEİK, told the Daily News in a phone interview Tuesday, though he noted that there was not yet much information available about the content of possible sanctions.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague is among the top European figures calling for tougher sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government. “The sanctions have to come from both Western nations, Arab countries and regional powers like Turkey,” Hague said in an interview Monday, according to the Associated Press. “The sanctions decision could not be made and applied by only Turkey. If the UN decides to apply sanctions, it is a different thing,” Tolga Uçak, the head of the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s information department told the Daily News on Tuesday. “It is not that easy to unite Arab nations to impose international sanctions against Syria,”

Rızanur Meral, the chairman of Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkey, or TUSKON, told the Daily News. “Arab countries would know that a similar sanction might be imposed on their countries in the future.” According to Meral, the imposition of international sanctions against Syria does not seem possible at this time.

It would be “impossible for Turkey to step back from humanitarian help and sending food and medicine” to Syria, Meral said, adding that other trade items might be discussed according to the context of the sanctions. “It would be hard to control the borders for illegal trade,” he added, noting that Turkey shares its longest border with Syria.

Syrian money rushing to Turkey’s safe harbor

Comments (176)

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151. Syria Turns Bloody: Why the West Is Wary of Intervening in Another Conflict said:

[…] if those specific fears proved to be unfounded, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest a violent component is emerging within the rebellion, and it’s a safe bet that the regime’s brutality will […]

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August 4th, 2011, 1:31 pm


152. mjabali said:

Mr. Off the Wall comment # 80

You said:

“I do not want to get into the sectarian fight between you and samara on one hand and shami on the other. I am not seeing much difference in the language of discourse between the three of you as it remains grounded in ethno-sectarian axioms.

I believe that your arguments for rule of law ring hollow with respect to the Assad dynasty regime. Rule of law both requires and fosters legitimacy, and the regime with Bashar at its head have forfeited any pretense to legitimacy the moment they established illegal and criminal paramilitary units to intimidate and murder their opponents and to incite sectarian hatred. That off course notwithstanding their criminal use of the Syrian Army and law enforcement agencies.

Having a zillion pro-regime chanters and supporters like Samara and others does not change that reality of regime illegitimacy. Even those ruling by majority of votes are subject to impeachment and removal when committing illegal (and in Bashar’s case: war crimes)acts. Those who do not understand that have no clue what democracy and the rule of law are all about.”

First of all, how can you see my argument and that of Mr. Shami to be the same? He calls for a straight up sectarian interpretation of things and I call for the rule of the law that equals all, so how come they are the same?

Are you sure you read my words, or understand them?

As for the Ethno-Sectarian argument that you are trying to dismiss, I say that you are running away from a very important topic that would shape things to come.

AS for the Rule of the Law, you said it “requires” and “fosters” legitimacy, and I say that the Rule of Law does not require any legitimacy because it is what gives legitimacy and legal cover. It does not foster anything because it is the essence of legitimacy.

AS for the para-military you are talking about, I say that these are in your dreams because reality says that al-Assad is no need YET to form any para-military because he has the Military and the Security Forces, which is working now with the army as we have seen.

As for inciting sectarian hatred, you need no para-military (your imaginary unit) to incite this sectarian ghoul. Sectarian hatred is around, alive and well. Look at the Sheikhs of Hatred you watch on Wisal tv and Safa tv, are they para-military? Pointing fingers at this stage is not going to lead us anywhere. It is like running around in circles. What we need now are laws to kill this sectarian hatred and prevent it from cutting Syria apart and causing more Syrian blood to be spilled and save some bodies from being cut or shot in the head with high caliber rounds.

We need cool heads and not irrational folks throwing threats and calling for more violence. WE need a bill of rights to bring about the legitimacy we all want.

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August 4th, 2011, 2:21 pm


153. Khalid Tlass said:

Ofcourse its totally sectarisn. Why else would you target the Mosques of a particular sect. Its as bad as Saddam. And the “international community” won’t move a finger. I remember back in 1991 just after the Gulf Wae, the Iraqi Shi’a in Karbala revolted against the Saddam Ba’athist regime. Several soldiers also defected and an independent State was declared. Saddam gave Karbala the same treatment which Senior gave to Hama in 1982, at the cost of 20,000 lives. At that time, US Military was stationed on Iraqi soil just 50 miles away from Karbala. Not a finger was lifted.

But the people of Hama are not like the people of Karbala, cz they believe in the real God.

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August 4th, 2011, 2:53 pm


154. OFF THE WALL said:

With all its failing, lack of fairness, and screwed up one party monopoly on power, the Syrian constitution would have sufficed to address most of your concerns had it been followed by those who custom wrote it for the party and later changed it for the sake of the Assad family. It was the family and its cronies and its intelligence apparatus who suspended the constitution and only paid attention to it when they needed to change it in 5 minutes to bestow a fake legitimacy on the “reform minded” heir. The laws were there, and abusing them, shoving them on the side, and maintaining a kingdom of fear is what got us to where we are now including the mental, ethical, and intellectual deformation suffered by those who continue to support this criminal regime despite of its continuing crimes and oppression.

If you want to think that I am a follower of arour, a salafi, so that you can project an over simplified, yet erroneous predictive model on my behavior, so be it. It only makes you less aware of your surrounding than you are and reinforce your denial of facts that stare you in the face.

Lo and behold, I haven’t even finished writing and Al-Arabya is broadcasting a report on the guarantees and protections afforded by the Syrian constitutions. So far, it has been less than a minutes and three articles of the constitutions have been constantly violated by your beloved president. May be you should be watching that channel instead of regime propaganda.

No paramilitary ….. Now than one I can hardly take seriously.

Good luck, and I wish you all speedy recovery from the traumatic effects after the removal of Bashar.

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August 4th, 2011, 3:12 pm


155. Sheila said:

Seriously people?????
Do you come from the same Syria I come from?.
Do you believe that this regime will talk to the opposition in good faith?
Where is the opposition? Either dead, in jail or outside the country fleeing death or detention.
Do you have any idea what happened in Syria in the 1980s?
Do you think that those of us who lived through the MB uprising have any trust in this regime?
My father was sitting down with Tawfiq Salha, the man responsible for the killings in Jisr Al Shughour in the 80s. Salha told my father that he announced amnesty in this unfortunate town to all those who would turn in their weapons. He assured my father that every single one of those young men who did so, was executed on the spot.
This is the regime people will talk to?
And what are you going to talk about? how to dismantle this mafia?

Yes. Anyone can see how fruitful that would be.

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August 4th, 2011, 4:04 pm


156. Ya Mara Ghalba said:

Russian journalist Natalia Novikova, emphasis added by me:

Having arrived in Damascus at the beginning of the uprising [four months ago], our film crew attempted to speak to several opposition members who never showed up for interview. People on the streets were throwing themselves at our small camera, furious at the injustice towards their beloved president and heaping praising on Assad’s family. We were amazed at how politicized young people were. They were trying to explain to us why this is the best regime for them and how they would not change a single thing. It is an incredibly beautiful place, Syria, despite the sheer number of portraits of Assad plastered across the magnificent walls of Damascus. We were of course not allowed to travel to the south of the country, where tensions were already high.”

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August 4th, 2011, 4:29 pm


157. beaware said:

04/08/2011 /FRANCE 24
La contestation syrienne est-elle toujours pacifique ?

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August 4th, 2011, 4:45 pm


158. Sheila said:

I just can not believe you made this statement:

“But the people of Hama are not like the people of Karbala, cz they believe in the real God.”.

Really????? So we humans can now decide who the real God is????

I am a Sunni Muslim and I completely resent calling anybody else from a diferent religion or sect a Kafer. A true Sunni Muslim understands that a person is solely responsible for his or her own acts. Please, let us respect each other’s beliefs. The people of Hama are exactly like the people of Karbala, but hopefully, this time around the people will prevail over tyranny.

Regarding this Samara person. I have seen trash and I have seen this. You lady do not in any way, shape or form represent the Alawii community. I have many friends who are Alawii. Some with the regime and some against it, but for sure a different class of people than you. We are trying to carry on a conversation here not a swearing competition.

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August 4th, 2011, 6:09 pm


159. OFF THE WALL said:

Well said Sheila. Well said.

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August 4th, 2011, 6:54 pm


160. Ya Mara Ghalba said:

The Syrian gov’t hasn’t been letting news reporters into Hama. But tonight (Thursday) on Syrian State TV they broadcast some new footage from Hama taken earlier today, which you can see from time 0:28 to time 0:58 at The rest of that video isn’t worth watching I say, except perhaps the cameo from 2:15 to 2:17. Addounia TV was also in Hama today with cameras and what they broadcast tonight you can see from time 3:00 to time 4:30 at What we see in these videos is limited, and relatively tame looking, although that depends on the reference for relative.

SANA 4 Aug 2011 is saying the army’s undertaking in Hama is still in progress. “The Army units are hunting members of the terrorist groups who have dominated the city [of Hama] since 50 days, after the failure of many attempts to conduct dialogue with them as a result of their stubbornness.”

Dominated the city for 50 days? That’s a big exaggeration!

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August 4th, 2011, 7:43 pm


161. Darryl said:

142. 5 DANCING SHLOMOS said:

Dear 5 DANCING SHLOMOS, the reasons you outline should in no way contribute for not having an Arab version of George Washington. But there is something else and no one wants to discuss it.

The reason is simple, Middle Eastern culture breeds control freaks and when people are raised not to ask questions, then you get more freaky control.

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August 4th, 2011, 7:50 pm


162. Aus4Syria said:

Dear OTW & A.S.S.A.D @ #67 & #76,

Your replies still reduce the country’s problems into an overly simple solution: the removal of the President. My proposition to you remains that the problems faced by Syria are too deep to personify in one person (or small group of persons).

The proposition you present to me is not the replacement of one regime with another, better, regime. The opposition is (somewhat) united on the goal of removal of the president, but is completely divided on what type of system is to replace it. The proposition therefore, is replacement of this regime with a power vacuum- leaving it to later to decide what type of Syria will emerge. It is this very power vacuum which will cause a civil war in a sectarian society, an outcome that no one here really wants.

I agree with you that the opposition has many good ideas, but my question to you is which opposition? There are the liberal minded pro-democracy activists, the old guard who have been fighting the system for years, the youth venting at their lack of prospects, the Islamists shouting ‘God is Great’ with every breath, the armed elements looking to control towns and exclude government control, the foreign based disaffected ‘ex-pats’ drumming up support for international intervention, and the list goes on.

I personally agree with a lot of what the liberal minded opposition is asking for. But in a power vacuum following a collapse of a regime it is those with the loftiest ideals who lose out. For comparison, refer to the middle class & socialist movements who ousted the Shah of Iran, who were very quickly sidelined by the religious authorities. Same again in Egypt, read Robert Fisk’s most recent writings about the betrayal of the revolution by the military and the MB combined.

Therefore, the only hope for the country (not the regime, not the president, not minority sects- but the whole country) is a negotiated solution where the opposition embraces the announced reforms and uses them to best advantage.

I repeat that the ball is in the court of the opposition, as reforms cannot work unless the streets are quiet. The idea that “Hama was fine without government control” is disingenuous, because it undermines the territorial integrity of the country. There can be no town outside of government control when talking about reforming that very same government.

I also understand the apprehension and fear associated with moving to the negotiating table. But can I point out that many in the opposition have already done just that, with no apparent issues. Instead of ‘de-legitimising’ them for talking with the regime, you should empower them to lead the opposition. Whilst not inspiring, the recent dialogue was a positive first step which will only get stronger when the movement moves away from the street completely and onto the negotiating table.


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August 4th, 2011, 7:54 pm


163. Aboud said:

“The Army units are hunting members of the terrorist groups who have dominated the city [of Hama] since 50 days”

And yet not one Hamwi has come out to cheer and welcome the Besho brigades for liberating them from these “armed gangs”. You see how your narrative falls apart at the first analysis by critically thinking people, people not bought up on Syrian State TV?

Aus4Syria, I’m afraid you seem to have missed the point entirely. Who in the opposition ranks is mad enough to want a vacuum when junior steps down? The opposition has made it very clear what it wants; junior stepping down, handing power to a transitional government that will prepare the country for elections. Only *then* will people know what kind of systems Syrians want, depending on the president and people they elect.

It is simple, no need for twists and turns.

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August 4th, 2011, 7:56 pm


164. Ya Mara Ghalba said:

Not one Hamwi has come out to cheer and welcome the forces of civilization for liberating Hama from these “armed gangs”, because all the civilized Hamwi’s had left the city to avoid getting caught in crossfire and to avoid the hell of the armed dissident rabble. (See e.g. “Hama, the island of freedom” as it was last week, before the army moved in @ ).

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August 4th, 2011, 8:02 pm


165. Ya Mara Ghalba said:

I’ve noticed I got my links mixed up at post #160. The first link was supposed to be to whose interesting content is from time 0:28 to 0:58. Notice the street at time 0:28 is desolate — no sign of human beings because the non-fighters all left the city. The same happened in Jisr al-Shughour two months ago. The Jisr residents are still slowly trickling back home even now, nearly two months after the events that happened between June 6 and June 12.

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August 4th, 2011, 8:33 pm


166. Tara said:

153 khaled Tlass

I totally disagree with your statement. How do you know the “sunni god” is the real one and the people of Karbala god is not the real one? They believe in the same god you believe in and the same prophet. It surprises me when I hear statements like this. I am Sunni too from an “entrenched” Sunni family with many Sunni “cleriks or sheikhs”. Where did you get that from? And why does god matter in this? Life is life no matter to what “god” it submits to.

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August 4th, 2011, 8:51 pm


167. Sheila said:

To # 162. Aus4Syria,
On paper, you are absolutely correct. The fall of the regime is not going to be pretty, there will be a power vacuum, and there very well might be a group hijacking the revolution. All these concerns are very real, however, the reasons why the real serious opposition is not talking to the regime are:

1- Complete lack of trust. There has been many incidents where those who met with the regime as part of the opposition were jailed or killed. Many had to leave the country because of constant molestation by the Mukhabarat.
2- The main reason why the country is where it is, is because of this regime. The opposition feels that the only way you are going to improve the situation is by removing this cancer.
3- No one in the opposition believes that this regime is willing or capable of change. This president has been in power for 11 years. Where is the change?. If anything, Syria has gone backwards since he took office. Compare Syria to China: how much did China change in the last 11 years? The answer is: a lot. There is also the inability to change, because fist thing would be to tackle corruption. Who is he going to jail? his cousins? his brother? his uncles? his brother-in-law? The moment he starts serious reform, he is in effect dismantling his government. This is not going to happen.

In conclusion, and as much as I totally agree with your assessment of the situation, it is absolutely impossible to rely on this regime to solve the problem, unless Bashar really loves this country and declares that he will step down after free elections and help keep the transition peaceful.

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August 5th, 2011, 7:47 am


168. 5 dancing shlomos said:

161. Darryl , daniel pipes, bernard lewis, thomas friedman elliot abrams.

no. not inherent in the m. e. culture any more than any other culture. imperial, unnatural impositions onto these cultures in the m.e. or so amer, central america, africa, etc bring about dictators.

the control freaks are in tel aviv and dc. so these cultures breed control freaks and violent freaks and thieving freaks and lying freaks.

any “arab g. washington” will face assassination attempts from tel aviv and dc.

h. nusrallah is a great man and they want to kill him.

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August 5th, 2011, 12:18 pm


169. 5 dancing shlomos said:

168. “so these cultures breed control freaks and violent freaks and thieving freaks and lying freaks.” “these cultures” refers to israel/jewry and america.

meanwhile, back in dead end america, a culture and political system all syrians and libyans and iraqis and afgans should avoid like cancers, lying and thieving are the culture.

The Biggest Criminals Are Out of Sight Shop and Shoot America

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August 5th, 2011, 12:51 pm


170. Ann Syla said:

Why Turkey’s Alawite Community Thinks Assad Is the Victim

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August 6th, 2011, 4:38 pm


171. Ann Syla said:

December 13, 2006: WikiLeaks Cables Reveal US Strategy for Regime Change in Syria as Protesters Are Massacred

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August 6th, 2011, 11:21 pm


172. ex-moslem said:

the american goverments have been fighting terror???
the opposition in syria is only another face of terrorism because it only aims to take over the government and start an islamic state that is all it is not about liberty or democracy.

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August 7th, 2011, 7:55 am


173. Ann Syla said:

Syrian opposition admits armed insurgents are operating on fringe of uprising against Assad regime

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August 7th, 2011, 10:33 pm


174. D-Day for Damascus? « The Ugly Truth said:

[…] In understanding what is going on in Syria, the reporting of Joshua Landis, who blogs at “Syria Comment,” is invaluable. Landis is director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, where he is an associate professor, currently living in Syria. While the Western media glosses over reports of violence by the protesters, Landis is in a position to report the actual facts, and he has done so: […]

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August 19th, 2011, 11:02 am


175. article présentant une vision différente des événements | syriafrance said:

[…] In understanding what is going on in Syria, the reporting of Joshua Landis, who blogs at « Syria Comment, » is invaluable. Landis is director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, where he is an associate professor, currently living in Syria. While the Western media glosses over reports of violence by the protesters, Landis is in a position to report the actual facts, and he has done so: […]

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August 23rd, 2011, 9:42 am


176. D-Day per Damasco? « Terracina Social Forum said:

[…] violenza dei manifestanti, Landis è nelle condizioni di poter riferire i fatti, e così li ha riportati: “Questa controversia è nata ad aprile durante le proteste a Banyas, quando nove soldati […]

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August 23rd, 2011, 11:04 am


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