Posted by Joshua on Saturday, June 9th, 2012
The sectarian nature of the end-game is becoming ever more brutal and naked. The massacres at Houla and Mazraat al Kabir reveal the sectarian logic of the regime stripped down to its elemental barbarity. Bashar has nothing left but fear. Hafiz al-Assad build his state on traditional loyalties — family, village, tribe and sect — but he was scrupulous about building alliances to every segment of Syrian society. He exploited the anxiety of age-old historic grievances and religious distrust, but he was vigilant about keeping the hair of Muawiyya extended to all. With one hand he held the gun, but with the other he offered a carrot. Bashar has lost the ability to offer carrots. He has no future to promise, only the gun. The regime is left with only the ugliness and inadequacy of sectarian logic.
The revolutionary forces and the insurgency are rapidly become stronger according to this Wash Post article. They are getting better weapons, gaining experience, finding more support from external funders. Most importantly, however, Syrians have abandoned the regime in spirit, even if they have yet to defect in body. Sunni Syrians continue to go to work and turn up in their offices in the morning, but they hate the Assad regime in their hearts. Assad’s army is being taken over by shabiha and security forces manned by Alawites. The massacres leave no doubt about that. The Shabiha seem able to call in artillery bombardments before sweeping in. They call themselves “Amn al-Assad,” Assad’s Security.
If you can withstand watching brutality, this 16 minute video taken by one of Assad’s security men on an operation in Hammameh outside Idlib, optimizes what is happening in the massacres that are now becoming a daily feature of this struggle. The security men kill 13 local fighters in Hammameh. When the killing is finished and the adrenaline is still pumping through the fighters’ veins, they do what one so often sees in these sorts of videos: the soldiers dehumanize and mock the dead, presumably to reassure themselves that they have done the right thing. They cursing them and pick out the “guilty.” One soldier places his foot on the head of one of the corpses and speaks into the camera saying, “This one is the “mundess,” or interloper. We hear another say, “He is from Turkey.” The soldier speaks to the dead body and taunts him, asking, “What do you think of `Arour now?” `Arour is the Sunni Syrian Imam who appears regularly on Saudi TV to excoriate Alawites. He is most famous for saying that Alawite supporters of Assad will be ground into hamburger meat and fed to the dogs. Opposition demonstrators frequently chanted `Arour’s name, underlining the communal nature of this struggle. The soldiers drag the bodies into a house, presumably to hide them and perhaps to set them on fire, but we do not see that part. The soldiers call out to each other, cursing the dead and joking in what seems like a nervous effort to establish comradery and group affirmation for their grisly deed. They repeatedly intone “hayy Amn al-Assad,” or “Long live Assad’s Security.” They use each others names and photograph each others faces in an obvious sense of invincibility. One can only presume that when the Assad regime falls, as it must, they will become the hunted.
The revolution remains largely leaderless, which in some ways is its strength. For every opponent of the regime killed, several more pop up to take his place. The regime has been sowing dragon’s teeth. The revolution is popping up everywhere now. The heart of Damascus is now involved. When the merchants of Hamadiya – the main souq – go on strike, you know you have lost the conscience and heart of Damascus. The Sunni bourgeoisie has now turned on the regime.
The opposition is a long way from producing the sort of coordination and command that can march on the Presidential Palace, but today, one can imagine the day when it will summon the strength to do it. Alawites cannot rule Syria alone.
A Sunni friend in Aleppo writes four days ago:
Rockets are being fired from Aleppo on the villages north of us as I write this message to you. So far more than 25 and counting – actual rockets.
I asked “Will Assad be in power next year?” He replied:
“I know if I am alive by this time next year and if Bashar is still in power then I will be living outside Syria. If the regime were to prevail, then millions will be dying in his prisons. It will be only a matter of time before they will get to me. I think millions share my fear and they know there is no way back. So if no one steps in to stop him, we will be looking at a massacre after another.”
Syria’s Christians are torn between supporting and opposing the regime. Some believe that the regime must be stopped. They fear that as Sunnis are displaced and chased from their own homes that they will prey upon the weaker Christians, taking their homes and apartments. This is already happening in Homs and Wadi Nasara. (See note below) For this reason they blame Assad and want him stopped. Others remain loyal to the regime, believing that a Sunni victory will cause Christians to lose even more.
A friend from Wadi Nasara (The Christian Valley and Marmarita region just north of Lebanon and south of Homs) writes:
My wife is from a village in the Christian heartland of Syria, and her family is telling her and her sisters, the Syrian Army is pounding Aal’Hosn, the Crusader Castle, not far from their village, and also displaced Sunni’s have rented properties in a village not far from her’s called Mar Marita and are refusing to continue to pay rent or leave the village, and it’s creating tension among the villagers and the Sunni’s who moved in. I read your FP article and I understand your points, however, the killing needs to be stopped and although you make valid points for non-intervention, there are ways the world can slow down Assad’s killing machine, without getting involved with boots on the ground or Iraqi style…
this is rapidly evolving into a very clear sectarian war, in that the Alawite villages that surround certain Sunni villages, are taking revenge on the loved ones they have lost who were fighting for Assad….
My wife thinks unless something happens soon to stop Assad, and calm the nerves of the people who are clearly on high edge, the tit for tat vengeful killings will escalate, and soon it will envelope the Christians, as the Sunni’s are starting to quietly / not so quietly raise the rhetoric that the Christian silence is not so deafening to them, anymore…..
Like I said the other day, people renting homes to Sunni’s are now finding out they not only won’t leave, but now, it looks like a great many are not willing to continue to pay rent, telling the Christians, “if you want your money, go get it from your government”……wow…..how long does anyone think THAT, in itself, is going to last, before it explodes…?
A Christian from Marmarita in the Wadi Nasara (Christian Valley region just south of the Alawite mountains and north of Lebanon.)
…Over 40 young men (including a couple of doctors) from the Wadi area, we’re killed by the bearded men who are eager to give us democracy. In a few of these killing, they decapitated the bodies and severed limbs. In one occasion, they gave the body back to the family but kept the head and put it on top of a hill. They stood about a couple hundred feet and challenged anyone to come pick it up. Finally a guy drove his pickup truck in high speed and picked up the head under fire.Here is another one: at one point, Crac de Chevaliers became a multinational hub of Afghani, Libyans and Lebanese bearded men. The Afghanis were actually non-threatening. But the two Arab groups had an argument as to which sheikh should rule the castle. There was a Libyan sheikh and a Lebanese one. A fire fight erupted, and a few martyrs died. Now the castle was finally cleaned up by the army. It turned out that the Lebanese sheikh was actually wanted in Lebanon for commuting several murders. He was caught alive. … This is the sad truth. The good news is that the security situation is steadily improving. The hope is that the refugees will return to their homes and start the rebuilding process…..Most of them settled in Tartous, Latakia, Aleppo or Damascus. My sister made new friends from Homs, who only had their clothes and left everything behind. A few who are well to do rented shops and started their businesses (or clinics) there.Another story: my first cousin’s sister in law fled her house in bustan al deewan because of daily harassment by the militants from Baba Amr and al-khalideeah. A few weeks after she left, she called her own home number. A guy answers the phone. She asked who he is. He gave a name. She asked “what are you doing here”. He said he lives there. She told him “but this is my house”. He said “the priest of the local church gave it to me”.The militants constantly drive through the area, and either fire shots in the air, or show their weapons. They have essentially settled in the empty houses. They only leave when the government forces kick them out, only to return later when the cat is away from the rat.Churches are demolished inside. Anything of value is stolen. Things of little value are thrown on the street and destroyed.A distant relative of mine (in his seventies) was shot in his leg. When his family tried to take him to a hospital, the long-bearded men didn’t allow them to touch him. He bled to death. He was from marmarita living in Homs.
DOHA | Wed Jun 6, 2012
Reuters) – Syrian businessmen living abroad have created a $300 million fund to support rebels fighting forces of President Bashar al-Assad, opposition activists said on Wednesday.
“This fund has been established to support all components of the revolution in Syria, and to establish a strong relationship with businessmen inside and outside Syria and to protect civilians,” Wael Merza, secretary general of the opposition Syrian National Council, told reporters in the Qatari capital.
Assad named a Baath Party stalwart to form a new government on Wednesday, signaling no political concessions to Syria’s 15-month-old uprising.
Merza said that half of the $300 million had already been spent, some of which were contributions to the rebel Free Syrian Army.
“The majority of support given (to the rebels) will be on the technical side,” Merza said. “It’s also logistical support to our people on the ground.”
“Yes, we supported the Free (Syrian) Army to protect civilians,” said Mustafa Sabbagh, president newly-formed Syrian Business Forum of businessmen in exile.
The fund will be based in Doha, Merza said
Merza said Russia’s call for an international meeting was “an acceptable move in the right direction.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for a broad international meeting on the crisis in Syria with the aim of reviving former United Nations chief Kofi Annan’s peace plan, but made clear he believed Assad’s opponents were responsible for its failure so far.
The Annan plan calls for a negotiated end to the Syrian crisis after a ceasefire that has yet to take hold. Merza hinted at strong financial support from oil-rich Gulf Arab states for the new fund. “We are going to see distinct support of this fund from neighbors in a very clear manner, in a matter of weeks. We expect Qatar to play a major role,” he said.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal called on the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday to put Annan’s plan under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter, a measure that could authorize the use of force.
In northern Syria, rebels now control many towns and villages
By DAVID ENDERS, McClatchy Newspapers
QALAAT AL-MUDIQ, Syria — It’s been two months since anyone has seen a police officer in this central Syrian city
Though the Syrian military occupies an ancient citadel overlooking Qalaat al-Mudiq, it’s reached a truce with the Free Syrian Army rebel groups that control the city below. Residents and rebel leaders say the last time military forces attempted to enter the city was in March, but a pair of successful ambushes pushed them back to their base. The military doesn’t enter, shoot at or shell the town anymore, even though a rebel sniper recently killed a soldier who’d stood exposed too long in the citadel.
The Free Syrian Army, the moniker taken by most of the loosely organized militias that have taken up arms against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, kicked the police out of the city in September. The army tried to install a pair of police officers in the local station later, but the officers were promptly abducted by the rebels when the army withdrew. They were later released to their families after their families paid a ransom.
Amid a torrent of news coverage focused on massacres and sanctions, a major change in the Syrian political landscape has gone largely unremarked: All across northern and central Syria, in an area known as the al-Ghab Plain, a growing number of villages and towns effectively are outside government control.
In an area that stretches from the mountains around Jisr al-Shughour in the north to the town of Salhab in the south, and east to the highway that links the cities of Hama and Idlib, rebels administer justice and provide local services, including the distribution of cooking gas and food. A U.N. cease-fire that was supposed to begin in April has never really taken effect, but in these safe havens, rebel fighters and sympathizers live largely outside Syrian military intervention. Syrian troops who patrol nearby do so in armored vehicles because of the threat of roadside bombs and ambushes.
The safe space has allowed rebels to stockpile and manufacture weapons and hold prisoners. It also provides a base from which the rebels move into other parts of the country that until now have been relatively quiet.
That dynamic was on display as recently as Tuesday, when fighting broke out in al-Haffa, a town near the city of Latakia on the Mediterranean Coast. Latakia remains a government stronghold, but rebels have pushed out of their areas to challenge the government in villages around the city. Twenty-two government soldiers were reported killed in the al-Haffa fighting, and rebels who fought there before withdrawing to the al-Ghab area said they had freed prisoners, abducted police officers and bulldozed the local police station and secret police offices before withdrawing under an intense attack from helicopter gunships.
“The army only controls the area directly under their tanks,” said Mohanned al-Masri, a member of Ahrar al-Sham, one of the groups based in the al-Ghab Plain and the primary supplier of rebel fighters at al-Haffa. “Here, the regime has already fallen.”
Ahrar al-Sham also is manufacturing rockets in the area. “We are perfecting the accuracy now,” said Khalid al-Amin, the leader of Ahrar al-Sham in Qalaat al-Mudiq.
In this town, the array of rebel forces is on display – as are the differences among them.
Ahrar al-Sham draws its members from followers of a conservative strain of Islam known as Salafism; its followers see themselves as fighting in part for the right to preach their doctrine and the fall of a government that jailed them for doing so.
Another group, Suqor al-Ghab, the largest in Qalaat al-Mudiq, claims to be aligned with the largely secular Free Syrian Army leadership in Turkey. On Monday, its forces here were overseeing the distribution of cooking gas, which is in short supply across the country because of sanctions against Assad’s government.
The ironies of the ongoing war are also on display.
“I am still drawing my government check as a teacher,” said Mousab al-Hamadee, an anti-government activist here, smiling. The Syrian government continues to provide services such as electricity and water without interruption.
“Things are going on as usual, except that it became hard for Alawites to come to work,” said Amin, the Ahrar al-Sham leader, referring to members of the Shiite Muslim sect that also includes Assad. Ahrar al-Sham members, as Salafis, follow Sunni Islam. Amind said Alawites now fear retaliation from Sunnis for the support in Alawite villages for pro-government militiamen known locally as Shabiha.
On the outskirts of Qalaat al-Mudiq, fighters from Ahrar al-Sham lazily manned a checkpoint on the main road north to the city of Jisr al-Shughour, whose outskirts are also outside of government control. Rebels who’d crossed the Turkish border en route to Jisr al-Shughour last week said that the army is entirely absent from the area. The army holds the center of Idlib, the largest city in northwestern Syria, but the edges of the city and the surrounding areas belong to the rebels.
To the west of the checkpoint, nestled in the foothills of Latakia Mountain, the Free Syrian Army’s control becomes more tenuous, as the Sunni-dominated area gives way to a string of villages populated largely by Alawites. Al-Ramleh, a Sunni village to the west of here, had been largely emptied after the killings of a woman and four of her children by pro-government militiamen two weeks ago. Some months before, the nearby village of Tamana had suffered a similar fate, after a raid by the military and pro-government militiamen.
Nonetheless, the rebels feel the momentum is strongly in their favor. They say they are getting better weapons, including armor-piercing rocket-propelled grenade rounds, as the volume of arms being smuggled into Syria from Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey appears to have grown. Groups of fighters in the area are also building bombs and stockpiling small mortar rounds.
Amin said that Ahrar al-Sham and the other rebel groups are making plans soon to rid the city of the army’s presence. The cease-fire with the army would end in mid-June, he said, when the wheat crop had been harvested.
“There will be a big war,” he said.
Syria peace plan not working, U.N. envoy Kofi Annan says
Kofi Annan tells the United Nations that Syria is headed toward civil war. Diplomats consider involving Iran in negotiations with Bashar Assad’s government.
By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2012
….”We cannot allow mass killing to become part of everyday reality in Syria,” Annan said. …
Annan said that unless the fighting is halted, “all Syrians will lose.”….
U.S. and British officials have balked at any inclusion of Tehran, a staunch ally of Assad and the regional nemesis of the West. But Russia has backed the idea of an expanded meeting of nations that have influence with various factions in the 15-month-old uprising.
The forum being pushed by Moscow would include the five permanent members of the Security Council — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and Syrian neighbors Turkey and Iran.
At the General Assembly on Thursday, Russia and China reiterated their support for the Annan peace plan but also reaffirmed their opposition to any solution involving military intervention in Syria or forced “regime change,” though both nations have said Assad’s survival is not a precondition if the Syrian people choose otherwise. The two powers have twice vetoed Security Council resolutions that condemned Assad’s crackdown on dissent and could have led to sanctions or other action against his government.
The United States and its allies, meantime, say Assad’s departure is a necessary outcome of any peace plan. The Obama administration is trying to persuade Russia to get aboard a plan similar to what happened in Yemen, where President Ali Abdullah Saleh was eased out of power and replaced by his former deputy after a year of protests.
The State Department’s special representative on Syria, Fred Hof, was in Moscow on Thursday for talks with the Russians, the department said. There was no immediate word of the outcome of those talks.
In Istanbul, Turkey, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made it clear that the Annan plan — with its call for a cease-fire and withdrawal of government troops and heavy weapons from populated areas — is only one part of what Washington and its allies seek. In addition, Assad “must transfer power and depart Syria” and an “interim representative government must be established through negotiation,” Clinton said.
“The time has come for the international community to unite around a plan for post-Assad Syria,” Clinton said after meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
Although the Annan blueprint has widespread backing, the forced departure of Assad seemed to remain a red line for Russia and China…..
U.N. monitors shot at in Syria, Annan plan crumbles
8 Jun 2012
Reuters reports: U.N. monitors came under fire in Syria on Thursday while trying to investigate reports of a new massacre that raised the pressure on world powers struggling to halt the carnage and save a peace plan from collapse. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described as “unspeakable barbarity” the reported killing of at least 78 villagers [...]
Russia has said it would support President Bashar al-Assad leaving power, but maintained that it can only be as part of a negotiated political settlement. However, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said the Yemen model, in which the 33-year dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, transitioned from power wouldn’t work in Syria because the opposition doesn’t have the political desire to negotiate, he claimed. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for a broader international meeting including Turkey and Iran to work to assist in furthering the peace process. After expelling several foreign diplomats on Tuesday, the Syrian government agreed to allow increased humanitarian assistance to reach one million people. Meanwhile over 60 people were reported killed on Tuesday, including 26 government forces, in clashes across the country. The coastal province of Latakia has seen two days of the fiercest attacks since the beginning of the uprising last year, with tank, gunship, and helicopter fire.
WHY A SYRIAN CIVIL WAR WOULD BE A DISASTER FOR U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY
By Robert Satloff of WINEP, June 7, 2012
….If Syria descends into the chaos of all-out civil war, it’s not only Syrians who will lose out, as Annan suggests. Very clear American interests are also at stake.
Consider the many plausible scenarios that could yet transpire. They include:
* Syrian army units responsible for the control of the regime’s substantial chemical and biological weapons stocks leave their posts, either through defection, mutiny, attack from insurgents or orders from superiors to fight elsewhere, and these weapons of mass destruction go rogue.
* Syria lashes out at Turkey’s hosting of anti-Assad rebels by offering aid and comfort to a rejuvenated PKK insurgency against Ankara, reigniting a hellish Kurdish terrorist campaign that has claimed more than 30,000 Turkish lives over the past 30 years.
* Syria pushes hundreds of thousands of hapless Palestinians still living in government-controlled refugee camps over the Jordanian, Lebanese and even Israeli borders as a way to regionalize the conflict and undermine the stability of neighboring states.
* Syrian soldiers, Alawi thugs and their Hizbollah allies take their anti-Sunni crusade to the Sunnis of Lebanon, reigniting a fifteen-year conflict that sucked regional proxies — and U.S. Marines — into its vortex.
* Thousands of jihadists descend on Syria to fight the apostate Alawite regime, transforming this large Eastern Mediterranean country into the global nexus of violent Islamist terrorists.
None of this is fantasy. The threat of loose chemical and biological weapons tops the agenda of American and Israeli military planners.
swift and decisive action to hasten Assad’s departure is the best way to immunize against this set of terrifying outcomes. While Assad may unleash some of his fury in the face of assertive international action, chances are more likely that a clear display of resolve in support of the opposition is the key ingredient to fracturing his surprisingly resilient governing coalition and bringing the regime tumbling down.
Such resolve could include a mix of cyberwarfare, to interfere with Syrian government communications efforts; unmanned drones, to target key installations and weapons depots; air power, to establish and defend safe zones; and a manned element based in neighboring states, to execute a train and equip mission to support rebel forces. At the same time, it is essential that the United States, teamed with Arab, Turkish and other allies, inject urgency and energy into the task of upgrading the cohesion and message of the Syrian political opposition, so that there is a clear answer to the important question of what comes in the wake of Assad’s demise.
Even with all-out effort, a dose of realism is warranted. Syria is going to be a mess for years to come; a peaceful, inclusive, representative Syria anytime soon — one hesitates even to use the word “democratic” — is a fantasy. In a post-Assad world, inter-ethnic reconciliation will be an uphill battle, and the inclusion of some Islamists in a successor government is — regrettably, in my view — a necessary fact of Syrian life. Still, policymaking is often accepting bad outcomes when the alternatives are worse, especially when the worse outcomes have the potential to wreak havoc on American interests.
Russia to Talk Syria Transition With U.S. in Shift From Assad
2012-06-06, By Flavia Krause-Jackson and Henry Meyer
June 6 (Bloomberg) — As Syria slides toward civil war, Russia is signaling that it no longer views President Bashar al-Assad’s position as tenable and is working with the U.S. to seek an orderly transition A U.S. delegation headed by Fred Hof, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s special adviser on Syria, is scheduled to meet with Russian counterparts June 8 in Moscow. They will try to forge a common approach to moving Assad aside — or even out of the country — with a goal of replacing him with someone acceptable to both sides in the conflict, according to two U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Under newly elected Russian President Vladimir Putin, an evolution from support for Russia’s main Mideast ally could break a diplomatic deadlock. Russia’s threatened veto in the United Nation’s Security Council has hobbled 15 months of international efforts to pressure the Assad regime with sanctions and other measures as the conflict deteriorated from peaceful protests into an armed conflict with sectarian undercurrents.
“In Moscow, they understand now that there is no chance of maintaining the status quo, they are looking at the question of a change of regime,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, an analyst with the Moscow-based Council on Foreign and Defense Policy. “The only thing that Russia can do is to try and keep some influence in Syria. A managed change of regime is the only option now.”
While the Russian government for the first time sees a change of government in Syria as possible via a series of steps, it remains adamant that the outcome not be imposed from outside, according to a Russian official not authorized to speak publicly on this matter.
ISTANBUL Kofi Annan is tinkering with a radical idea for reviving his moribund peace plan for Syria — a road map for political transition there that would be negotiated through a “contact group” that could include, among other nations, Russia …
What’s intriguing about Annan’s new approach is that it could give Russia and Iran, the two key supporters of Assad’s survival, some motivation to remove him from power, and also some leverage to protect their interests in a post-Assad Syria. This would also make the plan controversial, with Israel and Saudi Arabia asking why the United Nations would give the mullahs in Tehran a share of the diplomatic action….
To break the deadlock, Annan would create his contact group, composed of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States), plus Saudi Arabia and perhaps Qatar to represent the Arab League, and Turkey and Iran. The idea is to bring together the countries with most influence on the situation.
This unwieldy group would then draft a transition plan and take it to Assad and the Syrian opposition. This road map would call for a presidential election to choose Assad’s successor, plus a parliamentary ballot and a new constitution — with a timeline for achieving these milestones.
Assad would presumably depart for Russia, which is said to have offered him exile; the Syrian dictator is rumored to have transferred $6 billion in Syrian reserves to Moscow already. Under this scenario, Assad presumably could avoid international prosecution for war crimes. Iran is also said to have offered exile to Assad and his family.
To contain the bloodletting that would follow Assad’s ouster, Annan is said to favor a detailed plan for reforming the security forces, similar to reforms in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism.
The Russians’ participation could help stabilize Syria during the transition, because they might get buy-in from the Syrian military, many of whose senior officers are Russian-trained. As Syria’s main weapons supplier, Moscow has, over many decades, developed and cultivated contacts throughout the regime power structure.
Would Russia or Iran support this unconventional proposal? It’s impossible to know. …
Damascus merchants put up shutters in challenge to Assad
Tuesday, 05 June 2012
Many Damascus merchants have closed their stores for a week in protest against the massacre of more than 100 people in Houla. (Reuters)
By REUTERS, DAMASCUS
In the biggest act of civil disobedience by Damascus merchants in Syria’s 15-month-old uprising, many stores have been closed for a week in protest against the massacre of more than 100 people in Houla on May 25.
The closures have affected districts all across the capital, from the Old City market to opposition areas where 70 percent of stores appeared shut despite what shopkeepers said were attacks and threats by security forces to force them to reopen.
“We want to participate in the strike but at the same time we are afraid of the reaction of the security police,” said Mohammed, who owns a clothes shop in the traditional al-Hamidiya souk – a long, covered walkway that cuts through the Old City.
Widespread closures in the capital, a stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad, represent a major challenge to the Syrian leader and Mohammed said security forces had broken open his locked shop door a few days ago to intimidate him.
Posted: 05 Jun 2012 10:55 AM PDT
The Telegraph reports: The door to Dr Mousab Azzawi’s clinic, on the Mediterranean coast of Syria, was always open to anyone who needed help. But, operating in the heartland of the feared Shabiha militia, there were some patients the doctor would have preferred not to treat. “They were like monsters,” said Dr Azzawi, who worked [...]
Initially the Shabiha were a mafia clan, making money through racketeering. Selma, the Alawite with Shabiha family, said her cousins were “filthy rich” through smuggling in diesel, milk and electronics. “Anything to Lebanon that is cheaper in Syria, and whatever is needed in Syria from Lebanon,” she said.
The ruling Assad family turned a blind eye to their criminal behaviour and violent methods. In return, the Shabiha became the Assads’ fiercely loyal defenders and enforcers.
“They are fuelled by this belief that they are fighting for their survival,” said Dr Azzawi. “Assad tells them that they must defend the government or else they will be destroyed; it’s kill, or be killed.”
Dr Azzawi, who now runs the Syrian Network for Human Rights from London, showed The Sunday Telegraph a video of the Shabiha in action.
An enormous man, identified on the video as Areen al-Assad – a member of the president’s family clan – posed with his gun, grinned from the steering wheel of his car, and flexed his muscles. His huge bicep bulged with a tattoo of the president’s face.
At the end of the video, the posturing Shabiha militants proclaim: “Bashar, do not be sad: you have men who drink blood.”
“It is their motto,” explained Dr Azzawi, who said that many of the men were recruited from bodybuilding clubs and encouraged to take steroids. “They are treated like animals, and manipulated by their bosses to carry out these murders. They are unstoppable.”
Intervention in Syria: Reconciling Moral Premises and Realistic OutcomesBy Eva Bellin and Peter Krause
Iran has serious strategic interests in the survival of the Assad regime and so is unlikely to be persuaded to abandon it. But Iran’s capacity to sustain the regime is limited given its own economic difficulties. By contrast, China’s economic interests in Syria are not substantial; its support for the Assad regime stems primarily from irritation at U.S. moves in East Asia, along with a perceived stake in defending the principle that external forces ought not to intervene to settle the course of domestic conflicts. If it were isolated from Russian backing, China’s stance could be budged. The key obstacle to choking the Syrian regime is Russian support, and here close attention to Russia’s key concerns suggest the means for separating it from Assad. Russia has stood by the Assad regime for three reasons: to uphold the principle of “non-interference” in domestic insurgencies; to protect Russia’s economic and military interests in Syria (control of Tartous; a market for Russian arms; the extension of Russian naval power in the region); and to assert Russia’s standing as a great power in world affairs (even if that is measured simply by its ability to stick it in the eye of the United States).
If the international community wants to choke off Russian support, it has to take Russia’s interests seriously and show Russia, as Steve Walt has suggested, that regime change in Syria will not compromise Russia’s core interests. To the contrary, Russia needs to be persuaded that continuing to subsidize the Assad regime is much more dangerous for Russia, since prolonged civil war might very well lead to a collapse of the state and create a political vacuum in Syria that would not serve Russia’s foreign policy interests. Not only might Russia be persuaded to give up opposing regime change in Syria; it might be encouraged to take the lead in overseeing such regime change—and even might be permitted to take credit for that outcome. By shepherding the process and taking ownership of regime change in Syria, Russia could protect its core economic and military interests and confirm its standing as a major power shaping world affairs. To this end, negotiations with the Syrian opposition could perhaps take place in Russia—or, if that is not possible, at least under Russian sponsorship….
A turning point in Lebanon
The open invitation Syria once had to dictate its will in the country has ended, much to the dismay of Hizbullah
By Sami Moubayed | June 5, 2012, Gulf News
Lebanese President Michel Sulaiman’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia, his meeting with King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz and his lunch with Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal speaks volumes about how Lebanon is struggling to escape Syrian tutelage at a time when pro-Syrian Lebanese parties are aggressively trying to drag Lebanon into Syria’s current mess. Had Syrian officials got their way, then this meeting would have never happened at a time when Syrian-Saudi relations are at an all-time low. Syrian officialdom, no doubt, would have preferred that the Lebanese President visit Damascus instead to hammer out the recent crisis in Lebanon — as customarily done since 1975.
The luncheon hosted by the Saudi minister, which was attended by ex-prime minister Sa’ad Hariri, was also a source of alarm for the Syrians, and of course, so was Prime Minister Najeeb Mikati’s visit to Istanbul where he discussed the Lebanon file with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The declared objective of the Lebanese-Saudi Summit was to prepare for the National Dialogue Conference that Sulaiman had called for at Baabda Palace, which is due to kick off on June 11. This is aimed at preventing Lebanon from sinking into sectarian strife after deadly fighting took place in Tripoli between the Jabal Mohsen neighbourhood, which is pro-Syrian regime, and the Sunni Bab Al Tabbaneh neighbourhood, which supports the Syrian revolt. From Saudi Arabia, Sulaiman headed to Kuwait, another Gulf country that has turned against the Syrian regime over the past year, with the aim of convincing its leaders to revoke their travel warning to Lebanon, ahead of the summer season that is reliant on Gulf tourists.
Coinciding with the Lebanese president’s efforts was a speech by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, on the 23rd anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, delivered at the Unesco Palace. Earlier last week, Nasrallah had shown rather striking moderation, thanking his political opponent Hariri — rather than bashing him as Hezbollah has customarily done — while calling on his followers to refrain from street violence after the abduction of 11 Lebanese hostages, all Shiite pilgrims, in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. On Friday, however, Nasrallah addressed the captors — without identifying them — saying military action was an option if a peaceful solution was not found for the crisis. The National Dialogue, which was called for by Saudi Arabia, was accepted by Hezbollah, and Nasrallah even went a step further, hoping that no party would boycott it. Then came the clashes on Saturday, between pro-Syrian and anti-Syrian Lebanese, which left at least 15 people dead and which threatened to bring all reconciliation attempts back to square one.
All of this means something remarkable is happening in Lebanon and it plays out in favour of the Lebanese, if invested in wisely. The open invitation Syria once had to dictate its will on Lebanon has apparently come to an end, much to the dismay of Hezbollah and its allies. What then will the Lebanese discuss at the National Dialogue Conference and to what extent — if any — does Syria want this conference to succeed if it won’t have a final say on its outcome? The list of “high-priority topics” is long indeed. They have the hostages to deal with, the security situation in Tripoli, the distance from Syria that the international community is imposing on the Lebanese state, the future of the Najeeb Mikati cabinet, Lebanon’s controversial electoral law and, of course, the issue of Hezbollah’s arms.
An estimated 60 to 70 per cent of the country’s public posts are vacant, leading to a near paralysis of the state, as most of these appointments have to abide by the delicate rules of sectarianism and political affiliations between Hariri’s March 14 and Hezbollah’s March 8 Coalition. In the past, Syria used its influence in Lebanon to make sure that Hezbollah’s arms were not mentioned at any Lebanese round-table talks, but today it no longer has the leverage to make things happen at will in Lebanon. No dialogue would be complete if Hezbollah’s arms are not on the table, and no reconciliation is possible in Lebanon if these arms remain autonomous from the Lebanese state, regardless of what Syria and Iran want for Lebanon.
This is a golden opportunity for Lebanese political figures to sit down and solve their problem just like the Palestinians did in early 2011, when they invested in the reality that both Egypt and Syria — the traditional patrons of Hamas and Fatah respectively— were too busy to meddle and obstruct the internal politics of the Palestinians. The real problem for the Palestinians was Syria and Egypt, not Fatah and Hamas. As a result, freed from outside Arab pressure, the Palestinians struck a historic deal, and the Lebanese can (if they pull the right strings) do the same next week at Baabda. Lebanon deserves a better future, no doubt, and that can only happen if and when its politicians start acting as Lebanese statesmen, rather than proxies or stooges for the Saudis, Iranians and Syrians.
Sami Moubayed is a Syrian historian, university professor, and editor-in-chief of ‘Forward’ magazine.
Syria – the murder of tolerance
Eliot Benman in Your Middle East, June 4, 2012
The Al-Assad regime chooses to hold the highest contempt for a society that they themselves created, rather than trying genuinely to better that society. They willfully ignore the correlation between political, economic, and cultural oppression and the development of religious conservatism and radicalism, to their own benefit – or downfall. …. a sense of abandonment among the opposition has made Syria fertile ground for extremist ideologies.
Meanwhile, after egging on protesters and militants with empty rhetoric and sanctions, the so-called Friends of Syria continue pursuing flawed diplomatic solutions while trying to determine the merits of international intervention in its various potential forms. Policymakers must realize that in the time it takes them to ponder – the length of an electoral season perhaps – the Syrian regime’s brutality is creating a whole new generation of religious extremists.
When Syria becomes a hotbed of Islamist terrorism and radicals begin pouring from this once beautiful country into the rest of the region and beyond, Westerners will stand morally outraged at the ensuing atrocities and ask the inane question “why do they hate us?”
The answer on many lips will be “because they hate our freedom”, but the correct answer is: we failed to uphold theirs.