Posted by Joshua on Friday, June 1st, 2012
U.N. Monitors in Syria Report New Massacre
By: Patrick J. McDonnell | Los Angeles Times
United Nations monitors in Syria reported a new massacre Wednesday as diplomats at U.N. headquarters in New York scrambled to revive the faltering peace plan devised by special envoy Kofi Annan.
On Friday, Syrian activists blamed a pro-government militia for executing factory workers in Homs province a day earlier, while a pro-government Facebook page accused the rebel Free Syrian Army of carrying out the attack.
Syrian rebel group says it kidnapped 11 Lebanese, Fox News
Juan Cole writes:
The UN is debating whether to withdraw its observers from Syria, given that there is no point in deploying observers if they are just going to witness the violence.
The BBC has obtained satellite photographs of the central Syrian town of Houla at the time of its siege by Syrian artillery. Analysts confirm that the Syrian positions are consistent with their being in control of the scene.
There are increasing calls for international intervention in Syria after this weekend’s massacre in Houla, where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces murdered more than 100 civilians. Obstacles to intervention remain, however, especially concern that the opposition to Assad’s regime is dominated by religious fundamentalists. Until recently, for example, the Syrian National Council, a group of exiled opponents of the regime, was led by Burhan Ghalioun, whose unwillingness to counter the Muslim Brotherhood was widely viewed in the West as a troubling sign of Islamist influence.But a confidential survey of opposition activists living in Syria reveals that Islamists are only a minority among them. Domestic opponents of Assad, the survey indicates, look to Turkey as a model for Syrian governance — and even widely admire the United States.Pechter Polls, which conducts opinion surveys in tough spots in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, completed the Syria opposition poll in December 2011. Respondents were contacted over a secure Skype connection by someone they could trust — all native Syrians — who asked them to fill out a short questionnaire anonymously in Arabic. Interviewers were selected from different social and political groups to ensure that respondents reflected a rough cross-section of overall opposition attitudes. To ensure confidentiality, the online survey could be accessed only through a series of proxy servers, bypassing the regime-controlled Internet.Given the survey’s unusual security requirements, respondents were selected by a referral (or “controlled snowball”) technique, rather than in a purely random fashion. To be as representative as possible, the survey employed five different starting points for independent referral chains, all operating from different locations. The resulting sample consisted of 186 individuals in Syria identified as either opposition activists themselves (two-thirds of the total) or in contact with the opposition.What do these “inside” opposition supporters believe? Only about one-third expressed a favorable opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood. Almost half voiced a negative view, and the remainder were neutral. On this question, no significant differences emerged across regions.
Most of the survey’s questions asked, “On a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 means the most negative and 7 the most positive, how would you rate your opinion of X?” Answers of 1 to 3 were considered negative, 4 as neutral, and 5 to 7 as positive.While many respondents supported religious values in public life, only a small fraction strongly favored Shariah law, clerical influence in government, or heavy emphasis on Islamic education. A large majority (73%) said it was “important for the new Syrian government to protect the rights of Christians.” Only 20% said that religious leaders have a great influence on their political views.This broad rejection of Islamic fundamentalism was also reflected in the respondents’ views on government. The poll asked each respondent what country he or she would “like to see Syria emulate politically,” and which countries the respondent “would like to see Syria emulate economically.” The poll listed 12 countries, each with a scale of 1 to 7. Just 5% had even a mildly positive view of Saudi Arabia as a political model. In contrast, 82% gave Turkey a favorable rating as both a political and economic model (including over 40% extremely favorable). The U.S. earned 69% favorable ratings as a political model, with France, Germany and Britain close behind. Tunisia rated only 37% and Egypt 22%.Iran was rated lowest of any country included in the survey, including Russia and China: Not even 2% of respondents had positive views of Iran as a political model. Fully 90% expressed an unfavorable view of Hezbollah, including 78% with the most negative possible attitude.One of the surprises in the results is the scope of the opposition’s network inside Damascus, despite their difficulties in demonstrating publicly. One-third of the respondents, whether activists or sympathizers, said they live in the Syrian capital. (To protect their privacy, the survey did not ask for more precise identification.)This “inside” opposition is well-educated, with just over half identifying as college graduates. The ratio of male to female respondents was approximately 3 to 1, and 86% were Sunni Arab.Perhaps unsurprisingly, they were ambivalent about Syrian Kurdish demands for “political decentralization” (like autonomy). Views of “Kurdish parties” were evenly divided among negative, neutral and positive. (Such feelings are evidently mutual: In the six months since the survey was completed, Syrian Kurdish organizations have increasingly decided to go their own way, separate from the other opposition groups.)Based on a statistical analysis of the survey, most secularists among the respondents prefer weak central government, presumably as a way to safeguard their personal freedoms. On the other hand, the one-third of respondents who support the Muslim Brotherhood also tend to have a favorable view of Hamas, despite the latter movement’s previous association with the Assad regime.The survey demonstrates that the core of the Syrian opposition inside the country is not made up of the Muslim Brotherhood or other fundamentalist forces, and certainly not of al Qaeda or other jihadi organizations. To be sure, a revolution started by secularists could pave the way for Islamists to win elections, as has occurred in Egypt. But the Syrian opposition is solidly favorable to the U.S. and overwhelmingly negative toward both Hezbollah and Iran.David Pollock is the Kaufman fellow at The Washington Institute and a consultant to Pechter Polls.
European voices go silent on Syria – Wash Post
… Asked Thursday whether he could envision a situation in which the United States would take military action in Syria without U.N. authorization, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said, “No, I cannot envision that because, look, as secretary of defense, my greatest responsibility is to make sure when we deploy our men and women in uniform and put them at risk, we not only know what the mission is, but we have the kind of support we need to accomplish that mission.”Speaking in Denmark, a key member of last year’s campaign against Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton acknowledged Thursday that on Syria, “we’re nowhere near putting together any type of coalition other than to alleviate the suffering.”
Clinton said the United States has been cautious for many reasons. Unlike in Libya, there is no unified opposition against Assad, and those fighting his rule don’t control significant territory. The Syrian military is much stronger than Gaddafi’s. The Arab League has not called for military intervention, as it did in Libya. And the prospect of a sectarian civil war that could engulf the region is also worrying….
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned that the crisis in Syria could “descend into a full-fledged conflict” unless the international community supports Kofi Annan’s peace plan and an independent investigation into the slaughter of more than 100 civilians in Houla last week, which she said “may amount to crimes against humanity.”
Haaretz: Note to Syria interventionists: Be careful what you wish for
By Chemi Shalev | Jun.01,
Half-baked US initiatives could push the Alawites over the edge, along with their ballistic missiles and chemical weapons…… The slaughter of innocent women and children at Houla has elicited calls for American intervention in the ongoing Sunni uprising in Syria. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has urged that the US arm the rebels, while Senators John McCain …
It is the potentially lethal mix of those two elements – the centuries old blood feud between the Alawite minority and the Sunni majority and the Syrian regime’s arsenal of surface to surface missiles and weapons of mass destruction – that should give pause to anyone advocating military intervention, especially if it’s just for the sake of “doing something”. Because that “something” could set off a chain reaction that might have far worse consequences than another round of massacres, as harsh as that may sound – especially, though not exclusively, for Israel.
The Syrian conflict may have been sparked by the Arab Spring, but by now it has very little to do with it. The standoff between the Alawi-dominated regime and the exclusively Sunni opposition is not a part of some Facebook revolt or Twitter rebellion and is no longer, if it ever was, an insurrection of democracy-seeking civilians against an oppressive autocratic regime. This is now a sectarian blood feud, an age-old vendetta, another bloody chapter in an ongoing conflict between a pilloried, outcast and persecuted sect that 40 years ago, after a millennium of persecution and degradation, ingeniously succeeded in seizing power and turning the tables on its historical oppressors….
Syria is to the Middle East as the Balkans were to Europe a hundred years ago – a powder keg that needs just one superfluous match to ignite the entire region. Although the desire to take action against the murderous Assad regime is understandable, the “shot heard around the world,” in this case, could be a half-baked intervention that sounds the alarm and lights up the panic buttons in the Presidential Palace in Damascus. Even in a go-for-broke presidential campaign, that nightmare possibility should give pause to headline-seeking politicians, especially those who claim to have Israel’s best interests at heart.
Why Syria feels abandoned
By Donatella Rovera, May 30, Wash Post
Donatella Rovera is Amnesty International’s senior adviser on crisis response and has reported from numerous conflict zones on human rights violations since 1991. She has traveled inside Syria several times over the past two months.
In village after village in the Jabal al-Zawiya region of Syria, northwest of the central city of Hama, the scene was the same: burned-down houses and grieving families who described atrocities by Syrian soldiers — relatives of all ages dragged away and shot, their bodies often set on fire, making them literally part of the military’s “scorched earth” policy.
I spoke to people who are terrified of leaving their homes…..
…rebels see this moment as an opportunity to rearm, regroup and prepare for what they regard as the inevitable escalation of fighting once the cease-fire, violated by both sides, is declared dead.
In the wake of Friday’s massacre of more than 100 civilians, many of them children, in Houla, some rebels are asking whether that time has come. In a video posted online Saturday, Free Syrian Army spokesman Col. Qassim Saad Eddine said it was no longer possible to comply with the peace plan.
“The battle is coming, and it will be bigger and will take longer,” said one defector, former army Sgt. Basil Idriss, who now heads a militia in Qusair. Many rebels escaping the battered Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs fled to Qusair, less than 20 miles away. “Annan’s plan will fall apart. It may fall apart tomorrow or next week, or it may take longer.”
Massive bombings in the capital and elsewhere have raised the specter of Al Qaeda involvement either in the rebel ranks or in independent cells in the country. But in the gardens and fields surrounding Qusair, the rebels insist they are on their own, making bombs, gathering weapons and scoping out army checkpoints and tank positions.
Occasionally people still ask, “Where is America?” or “Where is NATO?” but increasingly it comes off as rhetorical. “We only have God” has become a common refrain.
“We grew sick of the political solutions a long time ago,” said Maj. Ibrahim “Abu Al-Noor” Mutawi, another defector, who heads the Al Mughawir militia, one of several in Qusair. “We didn’t see anything to hold on to in this political path.”….
…Though the militias say they are refraining from offensive action, they also say they have begun sending groups of fighters to the capital to carry out small operations: attacking buses carrying members of the shabiha militia or security force vehicles, or even conducting assassinations.
“The final battle is going to be in Damascus, just like it was in Tripoli,” in Libya, Jumaa said.
In an online video posted last week a Free Syrian Army militia operating in Damascus and its suburbs claimed responsibility for assassinating six high-ranking security and government officials, including the director of general security and the defense minister. The claims were denied by the interior minister, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ibrahim Shaar, who was among those the rebels claimed to have killed.
Some say thousands of fighters have been sent to Damascus to prepare for the end of the peace plan; others say the number is more modest. In any case, it signals the uprising is likely to become bloodier.
“The minute Annan, that dog, says there is no cease-fire and I have nothing to do with Syria, we’re going to light the capital on fire,” said Fidaa Aamir, a member of the Soldiers of the Merciful militia in Qusair, who each night leads residents in chants and song.
“We’ve already poured the oil on Assad,” said another man puffing on a hookah. “Now we’re just waiting to light the fuse.”
Syria: truth, lies and realpolitik – 30 May 2012
US is heaping new pressure on Russia over Syria
By BRADLEY KLAPPER, Associated Press
COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The U.S. is heaping new pressure on Russia to change course and support international action in Syria, warning that intransigence by Moscow may lead to open civil war that could spill across the Middle East with devastating effects.
Speaking on Russia’s doorstep in Denmark, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton derided the Russian government for continuing to support Syrian President Bashar Assad, even after last week’s massacre of more than 100 people in the town of Houla. In pointed remarks Thursday, she said Russia’s position “is going to help contribute to a civil war” and rejected Russian officials’ insistence that their stance actually is helping to ease the crisis….
“The Russians keep telling us they want to do everything they can to avoid a civil war because they believe that the violence would be catastrophic,” Clinton said, noting that they are “vociferous in their claim that they are providing a stabilizing influence.”
“I reject that,” she said, complaining that in fact Russia is propping up Assad as his government continues a brutal, 15-month crackdown on dissent in which some 13,000 people have died.
A day earlier, White House Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough said the U.S. is lobbying Russia to distance itself from its ally Syria and to apply pressure on Assad to leave office. A negotiated exit similar to one the U.S. helped broker for Yemen’s longtime leader is one possibility, McDonough said, but he offered little optimism that the arguments are gaining traction.
Russian Church Is a Strong Voice Opposing Intervention in Syria
By ELLEN BARRY, May 31, 2012
MOSCOW — ….It is clear by now that Russia’s government has dug in against outside intervention in Syria, its longtime partner and last firm foothold in the Middle East. Less well known is the position taken by the Russian Orthodox Church, which fears that Christian minorities, many of them Orthodox, will be swept away by a wave of Islamic fundamentalism unleashed by the Arab Spring…..
Usama Matar, an optometrist who has lived in Russia since 1983, said he did not harbor any illusions about Russia’s motives for defending Syrian Christians like himself, whom he called “small coins in a big game.” But he said there were few international players taking notice of Eastern Christians at all.
“The West is pursuing its own interests; they are indifferent to our fate,” he said. “I am not justifying the Assad regime — it is dictatorial, we know this, it is despotic, I understand. But these guys, they don’t even hide their intention to build an Islamic state and their methods of battle, where they just execute people on the streets. That’s the opposition, not just the authorities. And we are between two fires.”