Posted by Joshua on Friday, November 16th, 2012
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is urging the Syrian opposition to unite as France pushes for arming the opposition. Lavrov met with Arab foreign ministers on Wednesday in Saudi Arabia stressing the unification of Syrian opposition groups and calling for the establishment of a team to negotiate with President Bashar al-Assad’s government. Syrian opposition groups formed an umbrella coalition on Sunday in what Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad criticized as a “declaration of war.” France said it will discuss arms supplies to the Syrian opposition with its European partners. While French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he was wary of injecting more weapons into the war torn country, the government is looking for a relaxation of a European Union arms embargo which has made it difficult for “defensive arms” to reach opposition fighters.
- Turkey recognized the Syrian opposition’s new coalition as “the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”
- Protests against King Abdullah II and rising gas prices continued in Jordan for a third night.
- The Pentagon estimated that it would need 75,000 troops to seize Syria’s chemical weapons.
This Friday is named “Support the National Coalition Friday”
The group posts numerous videos of demonstrations “in support of the National Coalition” (the new anti-regime coalition) it says have taken place today in various parts of the country. The name of today’s protests is “Support of the National Coalition Friday”, according to the LCCS.
The new leader of Syria’s opposition has a history of statements that are anti-Semitic, outrageous, and sometimes downright bizarre.
BY MOHANAD HAGE ALI | NOVEMBER 14, 2012 – Foreign Policy
Summary by Joshua Landis: Mohanad Hage Ali goes through Khatib’s speeches and website to show that he calls Shiites “rawafid” or rejectors because they reject the first three caliphs of the “Rashidun,” or rightly guided Caliiphs, which Sunnis hold up as marking the “Golden Age”of Islam. This is a common accusation against Shiites, which is used by Wahhabis in Arabia to call Shiites unbelievers and conspirators who have entered Islam to destroy it from within. We have no evidence to believe that Syria’s new leader in exile would go so far as to call Shiites unbelievers because they are rawafid, but he does criticizing Shiites’ for their ability to “establish lies and follow them.” By using the word “rawafid” to describe Shiites, he will not make friends among Shiites. He will also encourage Syria’s Alawites to believe Assad’s propaganda that the opposition is intolerant and sectarian, wishing harm on Alawites because of their religious beliefs and not merely because of their political misdeeds and willingness of many to support the Assad regime even as it carries out brutal crimes against fellow Syrians. It will give liberal Westerners cause to worry about religious tolerance in the Syria they are helping to build. Khatib also has made anti-Jewish statements. He writes that one of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s positive legacies was “terrifying the Jews.” Washington’s liberal establishment will find no comfort in this as they make the case for providing Khatib and his group with legitimacy and weapons. All the same, Sheikh Khatib has made many expressions of religious tolerance.
One of these is this statement to a crowd near Damascus soon after the Syrian uprising began last year: “My brothers, we lived all our lives, Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, and Druze, as a one-hearted community. And with us lived our dear brothers [Christians] who follow Jesus, peace be upon him. We should adhere to this bond between us and protect it at all times.”
To Alawites he said: “I say to you that Alawites are closer to me than many other people I know,” he said Sunday after being elected president of the National Coalition for Revolutionary Forces and the Syrian Opposition. “When we talk about freedom, we mean freedom for every single person in this country.”]
The battle over ecumenical statements of tolerance comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with religious dialogue in Damascus. Many of Syria’s religious leaders who are most associated with ecumenical dialogue are those who were also closest to the regime. They are accused of being creatures of the Assad regime, for Assad did a lot of arm twisting to get “friendly shiekhs” to make ecumenical pronouncements that would make Alawites and other religious minorities feel accepted and equal. They were also meant to help legitimize the regime, which claimed to be a defender of secularism and religious tolerance. Two of these shaikhs recruited by the state were the Grand Mufti Ahmed Kuftaro and his successor Shaykh Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun.
Sheikh Kuftaro announced during the sixties that Abu Nur was commemorating the birth of Christ and he invited leaders from the Syrian and Lebanese Christian communities. An uproar naturally ensued, but left no doubt who ecumenical dialogue’s strongest supporter was. A later comment on the nature of Jesus perhaps summarized Sheikh Ahmed’s views most succinctly: “If a Muslim does not acknowledge Sayyidna Isa (Jesus), then his Islam is for naught”
Sheikh Hassoun sparked controversy on 19 January 2010 when he commented, “If the Prophet Muhammad had asked me to deem Christians or Jews heretics, I would have deemed Muhammad himself a heretic,” and, “[i]f Muhammad had ordered me to kill people, I would have told him, ‘You are not a Prophet.’” In a later clarification, Hassoun stated that his initial statement had actually been, “If our Prophet Muhammad had ordered me to disbelieve in Moses and Jesus…”
Provoking an outcry amongst many orthodox Muslims, news of the incident reached the English-speaking world primarily after the prominent Muslim scholar Shaykh Muhammad al-Ya’qoubi‘s public condemnation of the mufti. During his Friday sermon of 22 January at Masjid al-Hasan in Damascus, Ya’qoubi decried Hassoun’s indiscretion, imputing disbelief to his words, and demanded that the mufti resign. Ya’qoubi’s comments led to his own immediate dismissal from the pulpit.
Hassoun is vocal in his opinion that states should be ruled on a civil rather than religious basis, believing that secularism is not synonymous with atheism, a sentiment that holds great sway in Syria’s religiously diverse society.
“I don’t believe in religious wars nor in holy wars. The killing of another human is not a holy deed. I never saw religion bid me to kill anyone. My religion has commanded me to try to reach out to people to bring them to a state of peace,” he declares, adding that it is important to teach people, especially the young, to have respect for all sacred teachings. “The Crusades as well the Islamic conquests were to serve political interests and had nothing to do with religion.”
But when the US debated whether to invade Syria after the beginning of the uprising, Hassoun extolled martyrdom operations. In a public address which aired on Syria News TV and was posted on the Internet on October 9, 2011 (as translated by MEMRI), Hassoun threatened to activate suicide bombers in Europe and the United States if Syria is attacked, stating that “The moment the first missile hits Syria, all the sons and daughters of Lebanon and Syria will set out to become martyrdom-seekers in Europe and on Palestinian soil. I say to all of Europe and to the US: We will prepare martyrdom-seekers who are already among you, if you bomb Syria or Lebanon.” He further added that “Do not think that the people who will commit martyrdom in France, Britain, or the US, will be Arabs and Muslims. They will be a new Jules Jammal or a new Muhammad Al-Durrah. They will all be like the righteous [of the past].”
Having studied the different faiths in the world, Dr Ahmad Badr says, religions do not conflict as they all invite to one essential value, which is the sacredness of the divine and the inherent dignity of the individual.
But the problem, he says, is that followers do not really comprehend the religion they adhere to and that some political leaders exploit religious sentiment and “light the fire to promote discord and enmity” between the followers of different faiths to advance their own special interest. “Don’t ask me about the Arab lands. I am so saddened by what they are doing in those places. I don’t complain about the enemies,” he says.
He often repeated that he belonged to all strands of Islam, including Shiite: “I am Sunni in practice, Shiite in allegiance. My roots are Salafi, and my purity is Sufi.” This, he said, is the type of international Muslim he is trying to mold: “There is no contradiction in being both Sunni and Shiite. That’s how one’s Islam becomes complete.” “Praying in a church or a synagogue is like praying in a mosque. They’re all houses of God.”
The tolerance controversy is very important to the future of Syria because it goes to the heart of the unresolved question of religion and its rightful role in politics. So long as the major opposition parties and militias are not clear about the role of religion in Syria’s future state, many Syrians will remain concerned.
Tony Karon writes: Syria’s new opposition leadership structure announced in Qatar on Sunday could mark a turning point in the stalemated 20-month old rebellion against the Assad regime. But it could just as easily prove to be another chimerical Western attempt to stand up a friendly regime for an Arab country in transition. That’s because [...]
Syria economy: Quick View – Inflation rises to almost 40% in August
2012-11-14, Nov. 13 (Economist Intelligence Unit)
Statistics has issued data for the consumer price index in August, showing that year-on-year inflation has risen to 39.5%.
The rise follows a stabilisation in price growth at 36.1% in June and July, mainly owing to seasonal factors. The average inflation rate for the first eight months of the year is about 30%, according to the official data.
There are significant regional variations, with Aleppo, which first became affected by large-scale violence during the summer of 2012, showing a year-on-year inflation rate of 48.8%, compared with 34.7% in Damascus. The overall August inflation rate corresponds closely with the rise in prices for food and beverages, which has a 42% weighting in the index. The overall food and beverages index rose by 39.5% year on year, and the index in Aleppo climbed by 47%. Prices of bread and flour showed a 70% year-on-year increase in Aleppo, compared with 41% for the country as a whole.
The highest rate of increase in the index is for housing, utilities and fuel, which have a total weighting of 22%. Overall, this sub-index rose by 55% year on year, while in Aleppo it rose by 64%. Prices for fuel in Aleppo rose by 120% year on year. The intensification of the military conflict since August, particularly in Aleppo, is likely to have resulted in further sharp increases in prices. The onset of winter, which will push up demand for scarce fuel, will also be a driver of higher inflation. An additional factor has been the recent fall in the value of the Syrian pound on the black market. After stabilising at around S£70:US$1 between April and October, the rate has slipped in November and is currently quoted at close to S£80:US$1.
Syria’s new opposition coalition still has its old problems
Uniting anti-Assad factions is a real achievement. But a strategy based on western intervention will only prolong Syria’s agony
Patrick Seale, The Guardian, Wed 14 Nov 2012
The Syrian opposition has a new leadership – the Syrian National Coalition. This umbrella group was formed in Doha on Sunday under pressure from Qatar, its main financial backer, and Turkey – the country that first gave the opposition house room – as well as from the United States and other western countries eager to see President Bashar al-Assad toppled.
….The west cannot pay lip service to the notion of a ceasefire while arming the rebels. What the international community should be doing is imposing a ceasefire on both sides while pressing them to come to the table to negotiate a peaceful transition – even if this means negotiating with Bashar al-Assad himself. To demand his departure as a precondition for talks is unrealistic. As he told Russian television the other day: “I am a Syrian … I will live in Syria and die in Syria.” All sides should heed the wise advice from Norway’s foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Store: “Dialogue is the strategy of the brave.”
CNN: After the election, a new push on Syria
(CNN) — The United States and its allies are gearing up for a new push to unify the Syrian opposition and topple President Bashar al-Assad. They are looking to exploit battlefield gains by the rebels and change the trajectory of the conflict before …
(CNN) — Not long after Syrian dissidents united in hopes of gaining global credibility, the Syrian government slammed the new coalition, saying any effort to topple President Bashar al-Assad will be futile. “There is no power in this entire world
A SPIEGEL reader recently wrote in to question the veracity of two striking photos the magazine …
ALEPPO, Syria — Videos posted to the internet have played a key propaganda role in Syria’s bloody civil war. The footage typically shows brutal attacks, beatings and mass executions. Many clips show rows of dead women and children. But are these …
SYRIA’S INTERNAL WAR TURNS AGAINST THE REGIME
By Jeffrey White – WINEP
As the Assad regime’s increasingly precarious military situation becomes irreversible, outside assistance could help deter Damascus from extreme escalation.
After almost twenty months, Syria’s internal war appears to be approaching a decisive stage. Since early October, rebel forces have been on the offensive in key theaters, while regime forces are stretched thin, increasingly on the defensive, and giving ground. The conflict is evolving from a war of attrition (with the two sides primarily exchanging casualties) to a war of positions, with rebel forces seizing checkpoints, reducing the regime presence in the provinces, interdicting roads, and pressuring key regime strongholds and facilities. Barring a major change in Bashar al-Assad’s approach or massive intervention by Hizballah and Iran, the regime’s military situation will likely continue to deteriorate, perhaps dramatically, in the weeks ahead.
The rebels may not yet have a unified political structure, military command, or national strategy for their war against the regime, but the cumulative effects of their operations are significant and mounting. Furthermore, they hold the military initiative in key areas of the country.
Rebel operations support several major objectives. First, they inflict increasing losses on regime personnel and equipment, including tanks, combat vehicles, and aircraft. Based on daily casualty reporting from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, regime forces averaged nearly 50 personnel killed per day in October, up from 35 in September. And in the first eleven days of November, the average rose to 53. To this toll must be added wounded and captured personnel as well as defectors. Meanwhile, reported clashes between rebel and regime units averaged some 25 per day last month, up from 18 in September; the total October tally of 764 was the highest monthly number since the war began.
Second, the rebels are reducing the regime’s presence and influence (especially in rural areas, but also in major urban areas) by seizing positions or forcing the government to abandon them under pressure. Even in areas where the regime is relatively strong, the rebels are contesting its control
Third, rebel forces are interdicting key lines of communication, especially in Idlib and Aleppo provinces, but also increasingly in Raqqa province. This activity hinders the regime’s ability to move forces to threatened areas and ties them up in protection of LOCs. This in turn contributes to the isolation of regime positions in disputed areas, including artillery fire bases and airfields. While the rebels still have difficulty overrunning major regime positions, they are able to invest and harass them, limiting their utility and forcing the regime to defend them.
Fourth, the rebels are attacking regime positions and facilities to acquire weapons and ammunition. Every position they take provides some of each, sometimes in large quantities. Favorite targets are checkpoints and air defense facilities.
Collectively, rebel operations maintain pressure on the regime on multiple fronts. This may not be part of a grand strategy, but the sum of such operations has a similar effect. Fighting in many places spreads regime forces thin, denying them the ability to concentrate numbers for major offensives.
REGIME STRATEGY AND OPERATIONS….
An Syrian-American writes:
The Free Syrian Army invasion of Ras Al-Ayn is threatening to tear up the ethnic fabric in the Hasakeh Province where Arab Sunni, Christians, and Sunni Kurds lived peacefully since WWI. Not one FSA fighter is from Ras Al-Ayn. Not one FSA fighter knows the significance of Ras Al-Ayn. It was in Ras Al-Ayn in 1915-16 that the Turkish hordes from the north perfected the art of massacring Christians. It was reported that tens of thousands of Armenians and Syriacs perished in Ras Al-Ayn in 1916. Why
did the FSA fighters have to follow south on the footsteps of the Turkish hordes? Don’t they know that they are telling the world that they are walking in the shadows of 1915? Is there no intelligent officer in the FSA? Who is planning these reckless attacks? Iraq backed out of a $4.2 billion arms deal with Russia, citing possible corruption among Iraqi officials.
From Syria Report
The volume of freight in Tartous Port declined some 27 percent in the first ten months of the year, according to estimates from the Ministry of Transport.
The Syrian Government has issued a tender for the construction of a 350 MW power plant in the coastal area.
Les Alaouites et la crise politique en Syrie
Article publié le 07/03/2012
Par Fabrice Balanche, Les Cles du Moyen-Orient
« Les Alaouites au cercueil et les Chrétiens à Beyrouth », ce slogan scandé dans les manifestations contre le régime de Bachar el-Assad au printemps 2011 fait polémique. Les principaux courants de l’opposition syrienne affirment que les auteurs de ce slogan seraient des membres des services de renseignement, infiltrés dans les manifestations. Selon eux, le but du régime serait de montrer le sectarisme de l’opposition dominé par des salafistes, de faire peur aux minorités et à tous ceux qui souhaitent vivre dans une Syrie laïque. S’agit-il effectivement d’une manipulation du régime ou bien d’un dérapage d’une partie de l’opposition ? La poursuite des événements ces derniers mois a montré le risque d’une guerre civile communautaire, opposant les sunnites aux Alaouites, avec comme victime collatérale les chrétiens, à l’échelle de la ville de Homs. Des dizaines de milliers d’Alaouites et de chrétiens ont abandonné Homs pour se réfugier dans la région côtière, où ils sont dominants, pour échapper aux attaques dont ils étaient quotidiennement victimes. Cela rappelle le mouvement qui eut lieu lors de la révolte des Frères musulmans, entre 1979 et 1982, où des milliers d’Alaouites fuirent Alep pour trouver refuge à Lattaquié…..
GCC, Russia fail to reach agreement on Syria
Nov. 14, 2012 (Xinhua) — The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and Russia failed to reach an agreement regarding the Syrian crisis, Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said Wednesday night, according to Saudi News Agency. “We have a point of view and our friends in Russia have a
different one, but we agreed to continue our talks,” he said at the end of a strategic dialogue between the GCC and Russia at the level of foreign minister in Riyadh.
Turkey’s Kurdish options
by Hugh Pope*, 11 November 2012
Amid the many challenges thrown up for Turkey by the worsening civil war in Syria is the way it adds fuel to the flames of Ankara’s domestic conflict with insurgents of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Clashes have worsened dramatically in Turkey’s southeast over the past year. A PKK-affiliated group is now dominant in Kurdish areas along northern Syria’s Turkish borders. And Turkey is accusing Syria of resuming its previous support for the banned group, listed as a terrorist organization.
But it is important for Turkey to face the fact that the Syrian connection is merely a symptom of its most important internal problem. A US Patriot missile shield along the Turkey-Syria border, as suggested by the Turkish government this week, is not going to be much help against the PKK. The real test for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is to find a way to use the current turmoil to perform a U-turn to escape from the failed PKK/Kurdish policies of his government in the past 18 months.