Posted by Joshua on Friday, May 18th, 2012
The SNC is in deep trouble. Burhan Ghalioun has offered to resign as soon as another leader can be chosen, even though he was recently reelected to a new three-month term. The SNC is ripping itself apart. From the beginning, the SNC leadership has been troubled by deep divisions within the Council and accusations that its leaders were not following procedure and were not transparent about money matters. But perhaps most telling is that the SNC established a three month term for its leader at the outset.
Now that the real center of the opposition has shifted from western capitals organizing the international community to impose economic sanctions on Syria to the militias battling the Syrian Army within Syria, the SNC’s role has become more tangential to the elements of the opposition that are doing the heavy lifting.
The SNC played a crucial role in getting sanctions imposed on Damascus. It is unlikely to play such a central role in getting Gulf money and weapons to the fighters in Syria. The uprising entered a new phase after the Russian veto at the UN Security Council.
The Syrian National Council has reelected Burhan Ghalioun of the opposition group in exile.
By Oliver Holmes, Reuters
Ghalioun has the backing of the Gulf States and France, but has been criticized for his inability to unify the opposition. … “It is true that we had a weak performance and we admit that, and that is why we are restructuring now and we hope by this we will have a better performance,” Ghalioun told Reuters shortly before delegates re-elected him….
“It is true that we had a weak performance and we admit that, and that is why we are restructuring now and we hope by this we will have a better performance,” Ghalioun told Reuters shortly before delegates re-elected him…
Even within the SNC, Ghalioun appears to struggle to impose himself as a leader. Inexpressive and somber in contrast to his more gregarious colleagues, he tended to potter about alone, lost in thought, during coffee breaks in Rome while clusters of fellow SNC members chatted animatedly among themselves….
Since emerging at the head of the SNC at its formation last August under the sponsorship of Assad’s Western, Arab and Turkish adversaries, Ghalioun’s image as a secular, liberal leader who could rally support in Western capitals has been dented by accusations from liberal rivals within the opposition who say he is too close to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood….
In particular, those close to Ghalioun feel that the United States and Western powers are less valuable allies than Arab states like Qatar and Saudi Arabia. These would welcome a victory for Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority over Assad’s dominant Alawite minority, which has long been supported by Shi’ite Iran.
“It’s not about the U.S. anymore,” an SNC member close to Ghalioun said in Rome, arguing that President Barack Obama’s campaign for re-election was distracting Washington’s attention. “They are more concerned with elections and can’t help.
“It’s all Saudi and Qatar now.”
Syrian opposition group leader says he’ll resign to stem rifts
May 17, 2012 – LA Times – Alexandra Sandels.
Burhan Ghalioun, the head of Syria’s main government-opposition alliance, announced that he would resign after members accused him of “political and organizational failure”
BEIRUT — The head of Syria’s main government-opposition alliance announced Thursday that he would resign after members accused him of “political and organizational failure” and threatened to withdraw from the group.
Burhan Ghalioun, who was reelected as head of the Syrian National Council on Tuesday despite rifts within the group, said he did not want to be divisive and would step down as soon as a successor was named either through elections or consensus.
“I am announcing my resignation as head of the council,” Ghalioun told the pan-Arab TV station Al-Arabiya.”I call on the Syrian opposition to break the cycle of conflicts and preserve unity.”
The announcement came after the activist group Local Coordination Committees threatened to withdraw from the alliance in a statement accusing Ghalioun of failure and saying the council was drifting away from “the spirit and demands of the Syrian Revolution.”
The council, a group mainly made up of Syrians living in exile, was established as an umbrella group of several organizations with the aim of presenting a united front for Syria’s opposition and an alternative to Syrian President Bashar Assad. But infighting and divisions appear to have left some members disillusioned, and some have left the alliance while citing undemocratic processes.
Rafif Jouejati, a spokeswoman for the Local Coordination Committees, said the group was frustrated with the council’s inability “to move forward” and to effectively represent the people on the ground.
She said that the council needs to undergo some major restructuring, including how key decisions are reached within the bloc. Ghalioun, a secular 67-year-old Sunni Muslim professor at the Sorbonne in Paris, has been accused by some opposition members of trying to monopolize power and having too close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Some activists inside Syria expressed disappointment when his reelection was announced Tuesday. “There is a feeling of frustration regarding Ghalioun’s reelection,” said Talhat, an activist from Tal Kalakh in the province of Homs, over Skype. “There is also a sense that the Muslim Brotherhood is controlling the council, and I have nothing against them but they are acting on their political interests — not in the interest of the country.”
Ghalioun ran against George Sabra, a Christian member of the council viewed by some as a better candidate to calm worries among Syria’s religious minorities, some of which have stood by Assad out of concerns for what the future holds for them if the regime is overthrown
“If you ask me, George Sabra should be elected, ” said an activist reached in the town of Rastan in Homs.”There are accusations that Islamists are controlling the SNC, and George Sabra is a Christian, so it would solve the problem.”
Arab League Refuses to Accept that the SNC Knows What is Best for the Syrian Opposition: http://www.mideastwire.com/
On May 17, the Saudi-owned London-based Al-Hayat daily carried in its paper edition the following report by its correspondent in Cairo Mohammad al-Shazeli: “Arab League Secretary General Doctor Nabil al-Arabi said that the decision that was taken to postpone the Syrian opposition conference in Cairo was not due to any positions taken by the Arab League. Al-Arabi added: “We did not take any sides in favor of a specific Syrian opposition party at the expense of another. The position that is supported by the League is known to all and we have never tried to conceal it…” For his part, Jaber ash-Shoufi, i.e. a member in the Syrian National Council’s secretariat, told Al-Hayat that the Arab League did not cooperate with the council in regard to the meeting that was supposed to be held in Cairo.
“He added: “We had previously reached an agreement with Al-Arabi and his aides, but they have failed to comply by this agreement. Al-Arabi must understand that the Syrian National Council is the main opposition body and if they wish to organize any meeting for the opposition forces, they should firstly cooperate with us. Since this was not the case, we were forced to reject this conference. The Arab League refused to cooperate with us and this drove us to take that position.” He continued: “They did not treat us as the main opposition force and they refused to cooperate with us while insisting on inviting a number of SNC members and not the entire body. They failed to understand that we do not represent ourselves, rather the Syrian people. We are the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people and they cannot treat us the way they did.”
“[He assured:] “They invited a few members, but who said that they have the right to determine who will represent the council? We will determine who must take part in this meeting and we are not saying this because we want to exclude anyone from the conference. Quite the contrary. We are just saying that we know what is best for the opposition. Besides, the meeting was called for in order to form a committee to engage in dialogue with the regime and this is something we reject. Dialogue can start after Bashar al-Assad leaves power and not before that. Only when he leaves and delegates his powers to his deputy, and after his security regime is dismantled will we agree to engage in dialogue…”” – Al-Hayat, United Kingdom
Why Does the Syrian Opposition Remain Fractured? Shane Farell provides a list of major political opposition parties inside and outside of Syria.
SYRIA CONSUMER PRICES RISE 31% IN MARCH YR/YR — SYRIA CONSUMER PRICES RISE 6.7% IN MARCH FROM FEBRUARY
2012-05-16 –INAL ERSAN
Prepare for the Long Haul in Syria Michael Young argues that it is too late for a diplomatic movement.
Syrian Rebels Get Influx of Arms with Gulf Neighbor’s Money, U.S. Coordination
Wash Post – By Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly,
The West and its allies operate outside the Annan Plan…. Syrian rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad have begun receiving significantly more and better weapons in recent weeks, an effort paid for by Persian Gulf nations and coordinated in part by the United States, according to opposition activists and U.S. and foreign officials…. Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood also said it has opened its own supply channel to the rebels, using resources from wealthy private individuals and money from gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, said Mulham al-Drobi, a member of the Brotherhood’s executive committee….
The new supplies reversed months of setbacks for the rebels that forced them to withdraw from their stronghold in the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs and many other areas in Idlib and elsewhere.
“Large shipments have got through,” another opposition figure said. “Some areas are loaded with weapons.”
The effect of the new arms appeared evident in Monday’s clash between opposition and government forces over control of the rebel-held city of Rastan, near Homs. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebel forces who overran a government base had killed 23 Syrian soldiers….
Opposition figures said they have been in direct contact with State Department officials to designate worthy rebel recipients of arms and pinpoint locations for stockpiles, but U.S. officials said that there currently are no military or intelligence personnel on the ground in Syria.
The Pentagon has prepared options for Syria extending all the way to air assaults to destroy the nation’s air defenses. U.S. officials, however, have said that such involvement remains very unlikely. Instead, they said, the United States and others are moving forward toward increased coordination of intelligence and arming for the rebel forces…..
“Various people are hoping that the U.S. will step up its efforts to undermine or confront the Syrian regime,” the gulf official said. “We want them to get rid” of Assad.
Oppressive autocracies with a median population age of 25 to 35 are likeliest to become democracies A YEAR after ousting Hosni Mubarak, Egypt appears poised this week to elect his former minister of foreign affairs, Amr Moussa, as its next …
The Independent reports: In the rolling blue hills and lush olive groves of the north Syrian countryside, a fledgling rebel state is forming, as opponents of Bashar al-Assad’s regime attempt to take control. …Plain-clothes FSA men co-ordinate with short-wave radios, checking the roads ahead are clear and searching passing vehicles for weapons and regime forces.
“The army can’t come to here,” said Abu Mari, an FSA commander, recently returned from 30 years in exile. Driving through the streets of these villages, he receives salutes of recognition. He openly carries a gun, its butt taped with the colours of the new Syrian flag.
At the secret headquarters of the al-Haq brigade, hidden in a cave complex in the mountains, he outlined the plans for a future free zone here, modelled on the area around Benghazi in last year’s Libyan war. “First thing, we make checkpoints,” he explained. “Anyone who is working with the government, we capture him.”
“Idlib is our Benghazi,” agreed the dozen or so men slouched on the Persian carpets and cushions that lined the rocky walls and floor of the cave. A mix of army defectors and local volunteers, they’re part of a brigade of armed men. Their headquarters is equipped with a satellite dish powered by a stolen generator and routed through neighbouring Turkey. There’s satellite television and high-speed wireless internet. But it’s a long way from the Libyan safe haven protected by Nato air strikes, which was the springboard to the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
WSJ [Reg]: Iran Ships Oil On Behalf Of Syria -FT,
An oil tanker belonging to Iran’s state-owned shipping line has been switching flags and using multiple companies to transport crude from Syria to Iran, illustrating how Tehran is helping to sidestep international efforts to choke the finances of Bashar al-Assad, Syrian president….
U.S. in waiting game on Syria
By Elise Labott CNN, 16 May 2012
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Fifteen months into the crisis in Syria, and the Obama administration is, as one U.S. official describes it, in “a holding pattern,” waiting for Russia to abandon its support for President Bashar al-Assad, waiting for sanctions to topple the economy and waiting for an organized Syrian opposition to present a coherent vision for a post-Assad Syria.
As the U.S. waits for what many believe is the inevitable failure of a United Nations-backed plan, American officials say they would rather U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan to pronounce his diplomatic efforts a failure himself.
Senior officials say the international monitors provided for in the current agreement with the Syrian government, however small in number, offer a small buffer against Assad’s forces. Additionally, the U.S. and its allies on the U.N. Security Council want Russia to come to its own conclusion that Assad is not living up to his end of the agreement in ceasing the violence, and the plan is a failure. The concern is should the U.S. push for the next step, it would further alienate Moscow, which is skeptical about efforts to push out Syria’s president. How the plan fails is as important as when it does, Western diplomats said this week.
“You have the politics part of this plan, and you have what is really happening on the ground,” one U.S. official said. “We are going to be in a bit of a holding pattern for a while, debating on whether this has succeeded or failed, and whether it was designed to fail.”
But the U.S. is looking for ways it can further aid the opposition. U.S. officials and congressional sources say the Obama administration has realized that nonlethal communication, currently the bulk of U.S. support for the opposition, is not enough. In recent weeks, the U.S. has broadened its outreach to include Syria’s rebel groups, including the Free Syrian Army.
Sources say the administration is already increasing coordination with Gulf nations working to arm the opposition and is actively debating providing additional military support.
“These guys need space, training and greater capabilities,” one congressional source said. “What is that, where would it be done, who would it be for? Those are the questions the administration is trying to answer, and they need to be moving a lot faster.”
So far, representatives of the rebel groups say the weapons are not coming in any significant numbers.
“The problem is we want weapons but have received nothing so far,” said Free Syrian Army Capt. Riad Ahmed, currently in Istanbbul.
Sen. John McCain R-Arizona, one of the administration’s harshest critics on Syria policy who recently returned from a trip to the Turkish border with Syria, has openly called for arming the opposition and supporting havens for opposition members.
“What they need, first of all, is weapons to defend themselves,” he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “Then we need to talk with our allies about a sanctuary, a place where the government can organize, where we can train and equip these forces so that we can have a fair fight.”
The State Department has also stepped up its efforts to unite Syria’s fractured political opposition. Last week, the State Department invited leaders of the Kurdish National Council, from the relatively quiet eastern part of Syria, to Washington. In meetings with U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford other senior US officials, sources said the possibility was raised of opening another front against al-Assad’s forces to force him to divert resources from the western part of the country.
Sanctions have left Syria’s main revenue sources, tourism and oil exports, “almost completely dried up,” according to David Cohen, the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. “They’re not earning, and on the expenditure side, they’re spending money to try and keep inflation down by subsidizing food and fuel, and they’re spending a lot of money, frankly, pursuing the violence against their own people,” he said last week at an event in Washington. “The combined effect of this is that the economic situation in Syria today is quite perilous.”
In the coming weeks, a working group made up of representatives from various countries will meet in Washington to consider how to increase financial pressure on Damascus, Cohen said.
Earlier this year, the administration concluded that the Syrian National Council, the primary opposition group dealing with the international community, will not be running the country after al-Assad falls. Since then, Ambassador Ford, who has combed the globe to meet with Syrians from all walks of life, has tried to identify Syrians inside the country whom the U.S. can do business with. Members of the country’s various revolutionary councils — the grassroots movements that are coordinating on the ground with the armed opposition — are viewed as more organized and potentially able to help Syria through a transition period.
There is still little coordination between Syrians on the ground and the Syrian National Council, which is still the international face of the opposition. In the coming days, Ford is hoping to convene a meeting of a diverse group of Syrians, including some from inside the country, with the goal of creating a more cohesive opposition that can inspire more confidence from the international community.
“It is preposterous that we are only at this point after 15 months,” another U.S. official lamented.
Once the opposition is sufficiently united, the ball will be in the U.S. court to actively support it. Until now, the Obama administration has been loath to support militarization of the conflict in Syria, fearing it would spark the kind of civil war that sprang out of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Yet last week’s bombing of a Syrian intelligence facility, presumed to be the work of al Qaeda in Iraq, proves those fears have already been realized. Some U.S. officials and diplomats worry how long members of the opposition will be willing to fight a losing battle with the regime without sufficient international support until they turn to al Qaeda, which is more than willing to help them wage jihad.
“By not doing anything,” warns Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “we are contributing to the fact that this is tipping from a civil resistance into a civil insurgency and into a civil war.”
The international community is looking toward the United States for the elusive plan B. But as the presidential election in the United States approaches, diplomats in the region voice frustration about what they perceive as a lack of political will from the Obama administration to orchestrate the next move in Syria.
“In order to say the Annan plan doesn’t have any hope, you have to have a plan to deploy immediately,” one senior Western diplomat said. “If you say it’s dead, people are going to say, ‘What is next?’ There is nothing.”
Nowhere is that sentiment felt more strongly than in Turkey. While the Obama administration has been actively considering support for havens inside Syria, Washington is looking to Ankara to lead the way. Turkish officials, however, say they are looking for the U.S. to provide the leadership first, which they say starts with Washington working more actively to secure Russian support for a U.N. Security Council resolution under Chapter 7, which would provide a legal basis for any military intervention.
Turkish officials say they want international legitimacy for any further action, which only such a U.N. mandate can provide.
“We are prepared to do everything possible in our power to help the Syrian people,” one senior Turkish official said. “But if you are waiting for us to come and say we will do it, we won’t go it alone.”
The U.S. also wants Turkey to make a political decision to allow training and equipping of Syrian opposition on its soil. Ankara has told the U.S. it is prepared to allow weapons to flow across its borders and more actively help the internal Syrian opposition, but only if Washington, too, exercises leadership.
“The Turks are prepared to deliver if the U.S. is with them,” one U.S. official said. “They don’t want to do something and be left holding the bag. They want to be assured of success, and that means American leadership.”
Syria is likely to be a topic of discussion at this weekend’s NATO summit in Chicago. Although the alliance has repeatedly said it has no plans to wade into the Syrian conflict, Turkey has suggested it could invoke Article IV of the NATO Charter, which allows NATO to begin consultations on threats to Turkey, which would pave the way for consultations on how Syria may pose a threat to Turkish security.
In what one attorney calls the first judgment of its kind, U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth recently ordered Iran and Syria to pay $332 million for their role in a 2006 suicide attack in Israel that killed eleven people.bThe family of Daniel …
Prominent Salafi-jihadi cleric Abu Basir Al-Tartousi, who in recent years resided in London, has joined the ranks of the mujahideen in Syria. In a 1:33-minute video posted on his Facebook page, he is seen speaking with a group of men in a forest. The accompanying message, by the page’s administrator, states that the video documents a meeting between Al-Tartousi and “free” jihad fighters inside Syria, but does not specify which jihad group Al-Tartousi has joined. However, in the past the sheikh has expressed support for the Free Syrian Army and criticized Jabhat Al-Nusra. The term “free” could therefore imply that the sheikh has joined the former organization; alternatively, it might imply that his comrades are not affiliated with any group.
In another posting on his Facebook page, Al-Tartousi praises the sound theological doctrine of the mujahideen in Syria. He says:
On May 17, the Palestinian-owned Al-Quds al-Arabi daily carried the following opinion piece by Chief Editor Abdel-Beri Atwan:
“Yesterday, the Eager Lion drill was launched in the Jordanian desert with the participation of more than 11,000 soldiers representing 19 Arab and foreign states. It is considered to be the largest of its kind in at least ten years… A quick look at the nature of this maneuver, the scenario for which it prepares, its timing and location near the Syrian border with Jordan, makes one come out with a quasi-certain impression that it is preparation for military intervention against Syria or Iran, or even both, just as it happened in Iraq and Afghanistan and recently in Libya. What is confirmed is that these military drills do not fall in the context of the preparations to invade Israel and change its regime, in order to sanction it for its violation of the Palestinians’ human rights, its undermining of their dignity, occupation of their lands and pillaging of their wealth, or for its construction of racist walls to suffocate them and their occupied capital Jerusalem with settlements, in order to eliminate its Arab identity.
“It was natural for General Awni al-Adwan, the head of the operations and training commission in the Jordanian armed forces, to deny that these drills carried any message of warning to Syria or any other state. However, General Al-Adwan did not reveal to us why it was staged near the Syrian southern border and not the Jordanian-Palestinian or Jordanian-Saudi border for example?… The Americans want military intervention to change oppressive dictatorial regimes and destroy the Iranian nuclear facilities. For that purpose, they have started forming an Arab military alliance to carry out this task with them and cover its expenses. So, did the Arab states earn guarantees that the alternative will be stability, security, wellbeing, real democratic regimes, an end to the Israeli arrogant practices and the elimination of the restraints imposed on the sanctities?
“The answer is definitely no. The Arab countries are now offering services to America for free, and are paying the price for that later on. Did Saudi Arabia – via Prince Turki al-Faisal – not express regrets over the occupation of Iraq, the toppling of the regime in it, its fall under Iranian influence and the flaw affecting the strategic balance in the region in favor of the Iranian regime? I hope that in twenty years, we will not have remorse when we see a situation we never expected in Libya, and maybe even Syria, although this does not mean that we oppose democratic change in the latter or wish to see the disregarding of its regime’s crimes against the people.” – Al-Quds al-Arabi, United Kingdom
Tunisian Islamists join jihad against Syria’s Assad
By Lin Noueihed
BEN GUERDANE, Tunisia (Reuters) – The first that Tunisian schoolteacher Mokhtar Mars heard of his brother fighting alongside rebels in Syria was a phone call from a foreign number, telling him Houssein was dead.
“We got an anonymous call telling us he had been martyred. Just three words. We tried to call back but there was no answer,” said Mars, 40, sitting on a mattress along a wall of what was his younger brother’s room, bereft of other belongings.
“The last call we got from him in February was from Libya. He said he was there to study … Then all contact was broken. We tried to call the number he used but there was no answer.”
Houssein Mars, 34, is one of at least five Tunisians, all from the southeastern town of Ben Guerdane on the border with Libya, who are believed to have been killed in Syria. Two of their families agreed to be interviewed, as did the family of a sixth man, from the same town, whose fate is not known.
The families either received calls from their sons in Syria or calls from strangers telling them their sons were dead.
Though the families have seen no corpses or proof of the deaths, a video carrying the black flag of al Qaeda has appeared on Facebook eulogizing the five men to a backdrop of Koranic verses and stating they had been killed in Homs, which has seen some of the worst bombardment by Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Syria’s envoy to the United Nations says 26 Arab fighters have been captured and “confessed” to al Qaeda sympathies. Another envoy to the U.N. said 19 of those 26 were Tunisians.
Foreign Islamist fighters appear to be a fringe element only in the conflict between assorted Syrian rebel groups and Assad’s armed forces. But the fate of this one band of Tunisian friends offers some of the hardest evidence yet that Syria could become a magnet for the kind of young Muslim men from around the world who once sought jihad and martyrdom in Iraq or Afghanistan.
One man, who would speak only if he were not named, already sported the long beard and Afghan-style dress that is common among jihadist guerrillas and said he was hoping to get to Syria, even though his wife had just given birth to a daughter.
Aged about 30, the man, who knew at least one of those killed in Syria well said he was ready to follow: “I would like to go to Syria,” he said. “God willing, if it works out.”
Correction: In my last post I copied an article that claimed that Zuhair Sahloul, a large money changer, had left Syria. A relative of Sahloul’s writes:
With reference to the above headline: “Zuhair Sahloul – a large money-changer – has fled Syria”, I would like to draw your kind attention to the fact the Mr. Zuhair Sahloul mentioned here is still in Syria, Damascus. He did not flee the country.The original piece of news was reported by a Facebook page named “Association of free journalists”; and later published in Ayman Abdulnour’s All4syria.comTo tell the whole truth; who left Syria was Zuhair’s brother; Ammar due to some reasons… links that might be linked to the ongoing unrest; but this remains uncertain for the moment.
Considered by some Muslims a heretic sect, this small Levantine minority have survived persecution and the Crusades to rise to the top and take over the Syrian establishment. Alawite practices, which are said to include celebrating Christmas and the …
The string of popular uprisings sweeping the Arab world has been described as social protest movements. The people, who took to the street to protest the dismal economic conditions…
The way the U.S. administration has dealt with the Syrian crisis has been shocking to the Syrian people as well as major democratic powers. All were surprised by the negligent U.S. attitude toward the Syrian regime, which has committed crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity, and the fact that Washington has offered only meager moral support for the Syrian revolution in opposition. This is both contrary to interests of the Syrian people in their democratic transition, and to American strategic and oil interests in the Middle East. …