Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, August 29th, 2012
The situation in Syria is deteriorating rapidly as the fighting has intensified in urban areas, which are key to the regime’s survival and to the opposition’s progress. The death rate has spiraled upward as has the flow of refugees out of Syria. Neighboring states are beginning to become overwhelmed by the torrent of human misery that is coming their way. There is no end in sight and the outside world is providing little humanitarian aid. The Assad regime is determined and lethal. It seems ready to pursue a scorched earth policy. Its foreign supporters – Iran and Russia – seem prepared to stick by its side.
Moral among the Syrian opposition remains high despite the pounding it’s fighters have taken in the face of offensives in both Aleppo and Damascus. It has met with renewed support in the international community. France’s President is talking about recognizing a government in exile. Turkey is insisting on a no-fly zone over Syria. And the US has moved an aircraft carrier to the coast, opened a center in Istanbul to help coordinate opposition activities, and allowed a Syrian opposition lobby group to operate in Washington DC. But none of this can make up for the continuing fragmentation and bickering of the opposition. The Economist quoted one Syrian activist to say that perhaps more than 2,000 armed groups were operating on Syrian soil. From the viewpoint of foreign governments that hope to support the opposition, this is an impossible situation. It is also an impossible situation for the Assad military. Although the fragmentation of the opposition troops may make it impossible to destroy the Syrian Army, it also makes it impossible for the Syrian Army to destroy the opposition, which is constantly multiplying.
Foreign powers continue to resist getting directly involved in taking on Assad’s forces, but they are being faced with a much larger humanitarian crises than earlier. Both Turkey and Jordan have been making noises about shutting their borders to every greater waves of refugees. This is a warning to the international community that it must begin planning for greater help and that its inaction may have profound effects on the stability of the region.
Turkey is calling for the establishment of humanitarian “safe zones” as refugee flows from Syria escalate, and the United Nations has warned about increased refugee movement into Jordan and Turkey. About 80,000 people from Syria have settled in Turkey since the start of the uprising in 2011, and the United Nations said it could reach 200,000. As fighting has recently increased, Turkey has started to see larger flows, with an estimated 5,000 refugees a day, a drastic jump from the average 500 per day earlier in the month. Turkey warned it only has space for around 100,000 people, however has built new camps which could bring the number up to 120,000. Western diplomats have expressed interest in establishing a safe zone in Syria, however said it would need to backed by a “no-fly zone,” concerning those who hesitate to participate in a military intervention. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a rare appearance on a television interview on the pro-government Dunya TV. He denounced the premise of establishing humanitarian safe zones in Syria, calling it an “unrealistic idea by hostile countries and the enemies of Syria.” He maintained his soldiers are “doing a heroic job” but said they need more time to end the conflict. Fierce fighting has been reported in Damascus, Aleppo, and in Idlib province.
Assad Draws Shock Troops from Elite Sect in Syria
By Bill Spindle, 28 August 2012, The Wall Street Journal Online
LATAKIA, Syria—Flag-draped coffins depart from the drab military hospital here each morning these days, carrying the dead soldiers of the Syrian regime along winding rural roads to ancestral villages in the surrounding hill country.
All along the way, women come out to the roadside to throw rice and rose petals at the passing caravan. Cheering men shoot machine guns in the air. Children shout, “God! Bashar! Syria!” in homage of President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian nation. They believe their native sons have sacrificed their lives to become “martyrs.”
These are Syria’s Alawites, one of the more peculiar and least-known sects in the Middle East. Here in a country ravaged by civil war, they make up only about 12% of the country’s population of 22.5 million. And yet, as that war intensifies, they are taking on a potentially critical—and controversial—role defending the Assad regime.
Many Alawites characterize themselves as the first and last line of defense for their nation. And they may be right, now that other sectarian groups, including many Sunnis and Kurds, have turned into opposition or pulled from the government orbit.
“The Syrian army is being transformed into an Alawite militia,” said Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma. “As the Sunnis defect, more and more Alawites are being brought in, which is bringing in more of these villagers.”…
“They’re afraid,” said an Alawite activist and government opponent as he looked on. “They don’t know what will happen.”
Bassma Kodmani, spokesperson for the Sryian National Council has resigned. In the resignation letter I received, she wrote: … “The project did not achieve its objectives and did not earn the required credibility and did not maintain the confidence of the people…”
Bloomberg writes: Bassma Kodmani, a prominent voice of the Syrian National Council, resigned from the main political opposition body to President Bashar al-Assad, citing disappointment in the group’s failure to work together more than 17 months after the uprising began.
“I decided to leave the council because of a difference of views over how to move forward and because thought I could be more productive working on the outside,” Kodmani, a Paris-based academic turned revolutionary, said today in a telephone interview.
Without going into details, the former chief spokeswoman for the SNC said that in “general terms, I’ve been disappointed with how the council has worked on several levels.” She said she will work with other groups, mainly in humanitarian relief.
Kodmani said her resignation was unrelated to France’s signal yesterday that it was prepared to confer legitimacy on the SNC, a political umbrella for anti-government factions that includes the Muslim Brotherhood.
Syria’s Mutating Conflict - International Crisis Group
[I have been meaning to push Peter Harling's latest report because his analysis is the best, most in-depth, most balanced, and best written on Syria. He is worth his weight in Gold.]
As fighting rages in Aleppo, the combination of a regime morphing into a formidable militia and an Alawite…
Syria looks for big wheat purchase
By Michael Hogan, HAMBURG | Wed Aug 29, 2012
(Reuters) – Syria has issued a large tender for wheat, a commodity not subject to sanctions, as feeding its people becomes harder in the chaos of civil war.
The United Nations has said Syria faces food shortages as tens of thousands of families leave their homes due to heavy fighting and with the harvest neglected during the conflict.
Syria’s state grains agency issued a new international tender to purchase and import 100,000 metric tons of soft milling wheat, European traders said on Wednesday.
Trade sources said a reluctance among foreign banks, shipowners and grain traders to sell and transport grain to Syria – even though food is not itself subject to sanctions – had forced Damascus into an array of unusually small wheat purchase deals in past months, many arranged by dealers around the Middle East and Asia.
Traders also said Syria was entering the market at a time of high prices, so a purchase will be more expensive than usual….
Syrian army being aided by Iranian forces
Iran confirms Quds force’s presence in Syria with Revolutionary Guards commander saying troops ‘helped prevent more massacres’
Saeed Kamali Dehghan – guardian
Ismail Gha’ani, the deputy head of Iran’s Quds force, the arm of the Revolutionary Guards tasked with overseas operations, said in an interview with the semi-official Isna news agency: “If the Islamic republic was not present in Syria, the massacre of people would have happened on a much larger scale.”
Sattam Sheikhmous still farms wheat on what’s left of his grandfather’s land, shrunk from more than 32,000 acres to less than 5,000 by the Syrian government in 1966. “They said it was a socialist policy, but we believe it was political,” said Sheikhmous, now in his 60s, referring to the government confiscation [...]
The land confiscation took place across the country. But in the predominantly Kurdish province of Hasaka, in Syria’s northeast corner, the resettlement of Arabs from another part of the country in the 1970s created ethnic tensions that could manifest themselves violently when the Syrian government fully relinquishes control of the area, now seen by many as only a matter of time.
“We have to ask them to give us our land back. If they don’t, we have to do whatever we need to do,” said Sheikhmous. “It’s not just our land, it’s Kurdish land. If they don’t leave peacefully, we will use weapons.”
With Syria convulsed by a civil war that shows no signs of ending soon, the country’s Kurdish region, fast against Turkey and Iraq, is surprisingly peaceful, thanks to a maneuver by the government of President Bashar Assad, who first granted the Kurds greater rights last year, then surrendered security to a Kurdish militia this summer. While anti-Assad demonstrations still take place here, there is none of the kind of fighting that has convulsed other parts of Syria….
Syria Defectors Live in Secret Camp
By DALE GAVLAK and JAMAL HALABY Associated Press
MAFRAQ, Jordan August 28, 2012 (AP)
In an isolated stretch of Jordanian desert, a heavily guarded, secret compound houses 1,200 senior police and army officers who defected from nearby Syria.
The men live in trailers with fans but no air conditioning, surrounded by barbed wire, and they pass their days browsing the Internet and watching TV for news of Syria’s civil war, longing to join the fight — but they are largely unable to leave.
The Jordanian military runs the camp near a site formerly used by the U.S. to train some its forces for the war in Iraq, and the defectors are debriefed by intelligence agents. Access to them is tightly restricted for their own protection. They are even separated from their families, who live outside the camp near the northern border city of Mafraq but can get special police permits to visit….
Syrian Opposition Asks U.S. to Introduce No-Fly Zone – 28/08/2012
The Syrian Support Group (SSG) called on the United States for the first time since the 18-month-old uprising to immediately establish a no-fly zone over Syria.
The group, which represents the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Washington, claims that Syria’s ruling authorities intensified use of air strikes to attack cities held by rebels.
The Cable quoted Louay Sakka, co-founder of the SSG, as saying that, “This is right now the time for a no-fly zone to take place.” “We need to stop the fixed-wing and helicopters from attacking. The regime cannot hold ground without air power or heavy artillery,” he added. [...]
The Day After. Supporting a Democratic Transition in Syria
Vision, Principles, Objectives, Challenges, and Recommendations
SWP Comments 2012/C 28, August 2012, 7 Pages
Among the challenges confronted by the Syrian opposition since the start of the Syrian revolution in March 2011 has been the lack of a unified vision for Syria’s future and concrete and detailed planning to respond to the significant challenges that will accompany a post-Assad transition. The absence of a clear vision and detailed plans has reinforced fears among some segments of Syrian society about what the future might hold should the Assad regime collapse. It has also constrained efforts by the international community to support the opposition in its efforts to overthrow the Assad regime. To address this gap, The Day After project provided a framework within which some 45 prominent opposition representatives of varied backgrounds participated in a facilitated process of transition planning. The project has now published a document that provides a comprehensive vision for a post-Assad order, agrees on principles and goals, identifies challenges and risks, and puts forward concrete recommendations in six policy fields crucial for a successful transition. The document also offers recommendations for measures to be taken immediately to put in place the foundations for a successful transition.
Iran Said to Send Troops to Bolster Syria
BEIRUT—Iran is sending commanders from its elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and hundreds of foot soldiers to Syria, according to current and former members of the corps.
The personnel moves come on top of what these people say are Tehran’s stepped-up efforts to aid the military of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with cash and arms. That would indicate that regional capitals are being drawn deeper into Syria’s conflict—and undergird a growing perception among Mr. Assad’s opponents that the regime’s military is increasingly strained.
A commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, appeared to offer Iran’s first open acknowledgment …
France to recognize an Syrian opposition government – 2012-08-28
BEIJING, Aug. 28 (Xinhuanet) — French President Francois Hollande has called on the Syrian opposition to form a provisional government and says France will recognize it once it is formed.
The announcement by Hollande – believed to be the first of its kind – appears to be an attempt to jolt Syria’s deeply fragmented opposition into unity. It has increased diplomatic pressure on the already isolated government of President Bashar-al-Assad.
Sharp increase in refugee flows from Syria
By Liz Sly, AUGUST 26, Washington Post
ANTAKYA, Turkey — A surge in the number of Syrians seeking sanctuary from their country’s soaring violence prompted the Turkish government to halt the flow of refugees at two key border crossings Sunday amid an escalating humanitarian crisis that is swamping Syria’s neighbors and intensifying pressure for international intervention.
The closure left more than 7,000 refugees stranded in olive groves just inside Syria at the two places where most of the Syrians cross, while Turkish officials look for a way to accommodate them at camps that can’t keep pace with the influx.
But with more than 80,000 refugees in Turkey, nearly double the number a month ago, officials warned that the country is rapidly approaching the point at which it will no longer be able to cope. That could trigger a request for support at the United Nations for the creation of some form of internationally protected haven that would enable refugees to remain in Syria.
Turkey has not decided how to address the accelerating refugee flow but is considering asking the United Nations to find a way “to keep those Syrian nationals safe on the Syrian side of the border,” said a government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. “It is becoming a big burden. This could become a big issue, and we have to think about any kind of eventuality.”
The Obama administration remains reluctant to become embroiled in what could prove to be a costly and unstoppable war that would risk engulfing the region, U.S. officials say.
President Obama last week identified the use of chemical weapons by the regime against its opponents as a “red line” that would trigger American intervention. U.S. officials say they are monitoring the evolving situation and are discussing various options, including the imposition of a no-fly zone in northern Syria that would alleviate the burden on Turkey of accommodating the refugees.
But although Turkish officials have been pressuring the United States to move toward some form of intervention because “they don’t want more refugees,” the United States is not convinced that the creation of any form of buffer zone would work to protect refugees or accelerate the demise of the regime, according to a senior U.S. administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Discussions by U.S. contingency planners have focused on a variety of options. They range from what is being called “no-fly lite,” which would provide a haven for refugees but not require outright attacks on military facilities, to a full-scale no-fly zone similar to the one imposed over Libya last year, according to U.S. officials.
The number of refugees being accommodated by Syria’s neighbors has already outstripped the United Nations’ projection of 185,000 by the end of the year, with more than 200,000 registered in Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon as of Friday. The number in Turkey has climbed by 10,000 since Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, warned a week ago that Turkey would press for international action if the figure passed 100,000. The latest arrivals suggest that threshold could be reached within weeks, if not days.
Aleppo archbishop flees to Lebanon, Vatican radio says
August 27, 2012 share
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The Melkite Greek Catholic archbishop of Aleppo has fled to Lebanon and his offices in the war-ravaged city have been looted, Vatican media said on Monday, amid fears over the fate of Christian minorities.
Vatican radio and the missionary news agency Fides said Jean-Clement Jeanbart initially sought refuge with some Franciscan friars in the city on Thursday last week as fighting intensified in Christian quarters of Aleppo.
Within a few hours the archdiocese had been ransacked by “unidentified groups who want to start a religious war and drag the Syrian people into a sectarian conflict,” a source in the local Christian community told Fides.
The doors of the archdiocese had been forced open and several objects like computers stolen, the reports said. Jeanbart has since fled to Lebanon.
The Melkites are an Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with the Vatican.
The reports also said the Maronite archdiocese in Aleppo and the Byzantine Christian museum of Maarrat Nahman in the city had also been damaged.
President Bashar al-Assad’s forces last week regained control of some Christian areas in the city center that had been seized by rebels.
Jeanbart told Vatican radio that he was concerned about the presence of foreign fighters in the country and “organizations to find jihadists.”
“That is why there are fundamentalists coming from Libya, Jordan, Egypt, Afghanistan, Turkey and many other countries,” he said.
Many members of Syria’s Christian clergy have been supportive of Assad, a member of the minority Alawite community, because of concerns that Islamists could take power in the multi-faith country.
Around 7.5 percent of Syria’s 20 million inhabitants are Christian.
A Christian Syrian from Aleppo, who now lives in Chicago, writes
… During the Lebanese civil war and after, I thought about ways to arm the Christians in Aleppo. The Christian areas in Aleppo are mostly connected. Only about 20% live outside said areas.
Christians in the Suleimaniah district used to be wary of their Moslem neighbors in the Baghdad Station district. I remember my mother telling us kids in 1963-64 not to stay too long on the balcony, afraid of Moslem snipers. We did not believe her and nothing happened. Christians later moved into the Baghdad Station district and became the majority there.
The Christians of Aleppo do not fear the Moslems of Aleppo. Armed Moslems from the Aleppo countryside are different and thus are not welcomed by Christians, and by Moslems.
Staying unarmed is dangerous.
‘The Syrian army would like to appear squeaky clean. It isn’t.’ (Robert Fisk, The Independent)
“Of course, all armies want to stay clean. All that gold braid, all those battle honours, all that parade-ground semper fi. Thank God for Our Boys. Trouble is that when they go to war, armies ally themselves to the most unsavoury militias, gunmen, reservists, killers and mass murderers, often local vigilante groups who invariably contaminate the men in smart uniforms and high falutin’ traditions, until the generals and colonels have to re-invent themselves and their history.”
Taking Syria Seriously
Wasif Syed, F. Stephen Larrabee, Aug. 25, 2012
America’s current policy focuses on providing the opposition with non-lethal humanitarian assistance. As a result, an increasingly bloody and protracted civil war is likely…. America’s failure to support the opposition more actively already is provoking resentment among Syria’s population, which will undermine US efforts to influence the post-Assad transition. As one opposition spokesman warned, “America will pay a price for this. America will lose the friendship of the Syrians, and no one will trust them anymore.”….
Parchment of Kashmir: History, Society, and Polity, by Nyla Khan
The Golan predicament: Syrians at crossroads over support for Assad
Julian Phillips, August 29, 2012
“Despite their activity, the anti-regime organizers in the Golan Heights have not attracted mainstream local support for their movement.”
Three evenings a week, Syrian dissidents gather in a borrowed office in the bustling town of Majdal Shams. The diverse attendees – Facebook organizers, graffiti artists, former political prisoners, artists and writers – come together to coordinate a local contribution to the ongoing uprising against Bashar al-Assad. Some nights, they spend hours debating the news, brainstorming protest slogans, and strategizing for weekly demonstrations in a nearby plaza….