Posted by Joshua on Friday, July 13th, 2012
What happened in Treimseh and just how many have been killed there remains the subject of heated debate. Opposition forces are reporting up to 250 massacred. Others claim that this is propaganda designed to influence the Security Council vote on Syria coming up. Moon Over Alabama blog, headlines: Syria: Insurgents Claim Another UN Meeting “Massacre”.He suggests that the numbers killed are being cooked by the opposition in the hope of generating world condemnation of Syria at the UN. At the center of political debate are the merits of the Kofi Annan plan. Seth Frantzman in the Jerusalem Post headlines his article: Is Annan an accomplice to murder in Syria?. More serious debate is provided by Patrick Seale, who argues for the Annan plan and Jeffrey White, who argues against. Both their articles are copied at the bottom of this post.
Addendum: Guardian (GB): Syria used helicopters and tanks in Tremseh ‘massacre’, confirms UN
Syria used helicopter gunships and other heavy weaponry in the shelling of Tremseh, says General Robert Mood, head of the UN monitoring mission in the country. The head of the UN monitoring mission in Syria has said that helicopters and tanks were …
Separately, two Syrian activists said most of those killed in the Thursday incident were rebels, and that they died in fighting.”At this stage, though we do not yet have the final count, the number of civilians killed by shelling is not more than seven,” said Jaafar, an activist at the anti-regime Sham News Network.
“The rest were members of the [rebel] Free Syrian Army,” he told AFP.
“An army convoy was on its way to the region of Hama when it was attacked by the FSA,” he said. “The army staged a counter-attack with the support of [pro-regime] reinforcements from [nearby] Alawite villages. The FSA resisted for an hour before it was defeated.”
An activist at a media center in Hama also said “a large number of rebels were killed in fighting between the FSA and the regular army.”
AP’s Ben Hubbard provides a grimmer picture of the Massacre. He quotes top officials and activists:
…”It certainly does build strong international support to continue to ramp up the pressure on Assad,” said Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest from aboard Air Force One on the way to Obama campaign events in Virginia.
The head of the U.N. monitoring mission in Syria also singled out government forces for blame, saying they attacked from the air and land in “continuous violence.”
Yet much remains unclear about what happened in Tremseh, such as why Assad’s troops moved against the village and whether all of the dead were civilians. One group said dozens of the dead were rebel fighters….
The new violence is certain to raise questions about whether the international community’s diplomatic efforts to end the crisis remain relevant. Kofi Annan, the international envoy whose peace plan for Syria has been largely ignored by all sides, said he was “shocked and appalled” by the reports of the attack.
He singled out the government for using heavy weaponry in populated areas, something it was supposed to stop doing three months ago.
Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, head of U.N. monitoring mission, told reporters in Damascus that a group of observers about five kilometers (three miles) away during the violence confirmed the use of heavy weapons and attack helicopters….
Another activist, Abu Ghazi al-Hamwi, said local rebels, often called the Free Syrian Army, tried to fight off the army but couldn’t.
“They kept shelling the city and the weapons that the Free Army had were not enough to keep them out,” he said.
He, too, backed away from claims of more than 200 dead, saying late Friday he had been able to confirm 74.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday that more than 150 people were killed in Tremseh and that more than 100 of their names had been compiled. It said dozens of the dead were rebel fighters and that the bodies of about 30 were totally burned. Others were stabbed or gunned down as they fled.
Both Darwish and al-Hamwi suspected that sectarianism motivated the attack. Tremseh is a Sunni Muslim village in an area also home to communities of other sects, including Christians and Alawites, the sect of Assad and many in the army and security forces.
Syria’s Sunni majority is the driving force in the anti-Assad uprising, while most Alawites have stood by the regime.
Both activists said that pro-regime thugs from the nearby Alawite village of Safsafiya entered the village with the army.
Thursday’s killing recalled a massacre in late May in the area of Houla, about 35 kilometers (22 miles) south of Tremseh, where more than 100 people were killed. Activists then also blamed the army and Alawite thugs, while the regime blamed “terrorists” seeking to frame the government.
The heavily armed insurgents lost a battle. How this is supposed to be a “massacre” is beyond me.
U.N. Blames Syria’s Heavy Weapons in Bloody Clash
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR and RICK GLADSTONE, July 13, 2012, NYTimes
BEIRUT, Lebanon — The general leading the suspended United Nations monitoring mission in Syria said on Friday that there had been persistent fighting around the town of Tremseh, where both sides accused the other of massacring villagers a day earlier in what, if confirmed, would be the bloodiest sectarian incident of the uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
At the same time, Kofi Annan, who engineered an unheeded, six-point peace plan for Syria as the special envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League, issued a statement singling out the government in particular for the relentless violence in which scores of people were reported to have died.
Estimates of the tally of the dead in Tremseh, a village in western Syria’s Hama Province, ranged from a government assertion that 50 people were killed, to claims by a resident that 230 bodies had been readied for burial on Friday. Video posted online showed the bloodied corpses of some 15 mostly young men lying dead on the ground. …
Nawaf Fares, formerly Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, was a friend of President Assad and served as governor of Latakia before joining the diplomatic corps. As governor of Latakia, he was well respected for being honest, forceful and having the ear of the President himself. He could get things done and was a force for good, according to several Latakians that I have talked to.
Le Figaro is quoting french foreign minister that Manaf Tlass has entered into negotiations with the opposition.
Former Syria Diplomat: Only Force Can Topple Assad
2012-07-12, By BEN HUBBARD
Beirut (AP) — Syria’s highest ranking diplomat to defect to the opposition has dismissed the main international plan seeking to stop the violence, saying nothing short of President Bashar Assad’s departure is acceptable.
Nawaf Fares, formerly Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, said in an interview Thursday on the Al-Jazeera satellite channel that only force can remove Assad.
Fares announced that he was joining the anti-Assad revolution in a video on Wednesday. He was the second high-level regime official to quit in one week. The other, Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass, has not spoken publically and does not appear to have joined the rebels.
Despite rising international condemnation, Assad’s regime has largely held together. The defections of Fares and Tlass have raised hopes among opposition leaders that others will quit the regime too.
Naasan Agha, former Syrian minister of culture, quoted on the Facebook-page of the Syrian journalist Mousa al Omar on his exchange with Naassan Agha, who is currently in Morocco.
اتصلت بالدكتور والوزير السابق رياض نعسان آغا المتواجد حالياً في الدار البيضاء لأسأله عن انشقاقه ..
فقال: لستُ من أركان النظام لكي أنشق عنه , وقد خرجت منه 2010 وحين قامت الثورة كان لي رأي ضد الحل الامني والحملة العسكرية وحين لم يسمع احد نصيحتي خرجت بهدوء الى الامارات ومازلت على موقفي الرافض لرؤية النظام التي أهلكت البلاد وادخلت سوريا في المجهول ..
سألت د. آغا عن النهاية فقال : لا بد مما ليس منه بُدٌ .. والشاطر يفهم! الاعلامي :موسى العمر
Free Syrian Army fighters, who defected from the regular army, are seen at Mahameel near Idlib, June 18, 2012. Picture taken June 18, 2012. REUTERS/
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis, ANTAKYA, Turkey | Thu Jul 12, 2012
(Reuters) – As one of the Sunni Muslim soldiers who form the bulk of the Syrian army, Lieutenant Adnan Suleibi kept being pushed to the front of units fighting in the rebellious city of Homs.
Alawite personnel – members of the same minority sect as President Bashar al-Assad – remained in the rear. Alawites control the military through their domination of the officer corps and, crucially, direct the Soviet-style intelligence and secret police apparatus entrusted with preventing dissent.
“The Sunnis are cannon fodder and morale has been sapped. There are 75 men left in my brigade out of 250. The rest were killed, injured or deserted,” said Suleibi, a slim 23-year-old in jeans and striped t-shirt…
With influx of refugees, Syrian rebellion reaches deeper into heart of Damascus
By Special Correspondent, July 12 – Wash Post
DAMASCUS — The revolution that has engulfed much of Syria in bloodshed is now encroaching on the capital in ways that challenge long-held assumptions about President Bashar al-Assad’s hold on power even in the city presumed to be his stronghold.
Compared with places such as Homs, Hama and Deir al-Zour, where bombardments and battles are commonplace, Damascus is still relatively calm. No longer, however, can the government boast that the capital is an oasis of tranquility or that a silent majority of its residents are loyal to the regime.
The city now feels pregnant with rage, and ready to explode…..
Holier Than Thou: Rival Clerics in the Syrian Jihad
Aron Lund, Jamestown Terrorism Monitor,
Jihadi theologians and their conflicting views on the Free Syrian Army, Jabhat el-Nosra, etc. … The Syrian conflict is emerging as an extremely attractive recruiting ground for jihadi groups – in February, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the emir of al-Qaida, called upon “every Muslim and every honorable and free person in Turkey, Iraq,…
….With Sunni sectarian perspectives becoming more central to the armed uprising as time passes, most FSA factions are now steeped in religious rhetoric and there are a number of explicitly Islamist groups calling themselves part of the FSA, some of whom use radical jihadi slogans. One such group is the al-Bara bin Malek Brigade, which uses the Salafi-Jihadi flag made famous by al-Qaeda in Iraq and vows to carry out “martyrdom operations.” 
Outside the FSA umbrella, there are other groups which are more radical and more hostile to Western influence over the uprising. These include the Ahrar al-Sham Brigades, a network of Islamist militias spread over several provinces, as well as a Salafist group in Homs called the Ansar Brigade. Others, such as Fath al-Islam, a Syrian-Lebanese-Palestinian group, predate the uprising. There is not, however, a formal al-Qaeda franchise in Syria, after the failed attempt to establish al-Qa’ida fi Bilad al-Sham (”al-Qaeda in the Levant”) in the mid-2000s, though this situation may be about to change (al-Hayat, September 28, 2010).
The Rise of Jabhat al-Nusra
The most prominent Syrian jihadi group, by far, is the Jabhat al-Nusra li-Ahl al-Sham min Mujahedi al-Sham fi Sahat al-Jihad (”The Support Front for the People of the Levant by the Levantine Mujahedin on the Battlefields of Jihad”). Jabhat al-Nusra (as it is known) emerged in early 2012 and has rapidly captured the imagination of jihadi activists and the attention of international news media through spectacular suicide bombings (Shamikh1.info, January 24, 2012).
While non-jihadi Syrian dissidents often accuse Jabhat al-Nusra of being a regime creation, most signs indicate that it may be a spinoff from the al-Qaeda-affiliated ”Islamic State in Iraq” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, March 22). U.S. government sources have repeatedly linked Jabhat al-Nusra to al-Qaeda generally and the Iraqi branch specifically, and the group has a very active branch in the Deir al-Zor region along Syria’s eastern desert border, where tribal smuggling networks have remained active since the Iraq war (McClatchy, February 10; Guardian, March 22; see also Terrorism Monitor, June 1). Jabhat al-Nusra is now seen by the vast majority of international Salafi-Jihadis as ”their” group in Syria, despite the presence of other contenders. It has been actively promoted by the major jihadi web forums, perhaps indicating that trusted sources have vouched for its credibility…..
Abu al-Mundhir al-Shanqiti vs. Abu Basir al-Tartusi….
The Middle East Needs Dialogue not War
by Patrick Seale
Even if President Bashar al-Assad were to quit the scene, the opposition would still have to reach a negotiated compromise with Syria’s powerful officer corps and security services — the backbone of the regime — as well as with representatives of the various minorities, which are an ancient and essential part of Syrian’s social fabric, notes Patrick Seale.
“Dialogue is the strategy of the brave.” This is the striking phrase I heard from the mouth of Norway’s Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Store, one of the wisest of European statesmen, when I attended the Oslo Forum last month, an annual gathering of would-be mediators of the world’s conflicts. Rarely has dialogue been more necessary than in today’s deeply disturbed Middle East.
In Syria, the present fierce struggle is unlikely to yield a decisive outcome. Even if funds and weapons continue to pour in to the rebels, the latter will not be able to defeat the Syrian army on their own. The opposition prays for an external military intervention, but this is not likely to happen. The mood in the United States and Europe is to withdraw from Middle East conflicts not to get sucked into yet another one. In any event, so long as the Syrian opposition remains deeply divided it will have no hope of achieving its goals.
What then are we left with? More of the present bloody stalemate in which many more people will die or be displaced from their homes. Syria will be destroyed to the delight of its enemies — Israel first among them.
Even if President Bashar al-Asad were to quit the scene, the opposition would still have to reach a negotiated compromise with Syria’s powerful officer corps and security services — the backbone of the regime — as well as with representatives of the various minorities, which are an ancient and essential part of Syrian’s social fabric.
Only a dialogue, preceded by a ceasefire honoured by both sides, could save Syria from the catastrophe of a sectarian civil war, in which there would be no winners, only losers. This is what Kofi Annan, the UN-mandated mediator, is trying to achieve. He should be supported not undermined. The deal now being negotiated in Egypt between the Muslim Brothers and the armed forces could provide a model for Syria.
Dangerous tensions in the Gulf could also be fruitfully contained through dialogue. It is reported that Egypt’s President Muhammad Morsi is soon to pay an official visit to the Saudi monarch, King Abdallah, and has also accepted an invitation to visit Iran’s President Ahmadinejad. Imagine what a formidable diplomatic coup it would be for Egypt if President Morsi were to initiate a tripartite strategic dialogue between Cairo, Riyadh and Tehran. Acting together, these three major capitals could resolve many of the region’s conflicts, and put an end to destabilising interventions by outside powers.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia, could, through dialogue and cooperation, draw Iran into the security architecture of the region. That would be a far better recipe for stability and peace than a policy of threats, sanctions and intimidation. [underlining mine, JAW]
In spite of the propaganda emanating from Israel and Washington, there is no evidence that Iran wishes to acquire atomic weapons. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ai Khamenei declared last February that the possession of such weapons would be “pointless, dangerous and a great sin from an intellectual and religious point of view.” He should be taken at his word. Western intelligence agencies have themselves confirmed that, while Iran wishes to master the uranium fuel cycle, it has not embarked on a military nuclear programme.
Nor is there any real evidence that the Gulf region faces a threat from Iran’s alleged “hegemonic ambitions.” I believe too much is made of Iran’s alleged role in stirring up Shia communities in the Gulf and in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. The Islamic Republic is at present in no shape to threaten or dominate anyone. It is simply seeking to survive in the face of a campaign of cyber attacks, assassination and sabotage by the United States and Israel, which is just short of outright war. Crippling sanctions have reduced its oil exports by a million barrels a day; its currency has collapsed; and its hard-pressed population is struggling to cope with 30 percent inflation. Under such intense pressure, Iran may well lash out in frustration, triggering a regional hot war, which would definitely not be to the advantage of the vulnerable Gulf Arabs.
Instead of helping to resolve conflicts by promoting dialogue between the states of the region, the United States is reinforcing its armed forces in the Gulf region. It is reported to be bringing additional F-22 and F/A-18 warplanes to local bases, and is doubling its minesweepers from four to eight. A senior U.S. Defence Department official has explained that this deployment of American power is intended to provide “tangible proof to all of our allies and partners and friends that even as the U.S. pivots towards Asia, we remain vigilant across the Middle East.”
Is this really what the region wants to hear? The militarisation of American foreign policy started during the Cold War in response to what was perceived as a threat from the Soviet Union. Militarisation was then greatly expanded under George W. Bush’s administration. The result was two catastrophic wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have devastated these countries, bankrupted America and gravely damaged its reputation. The American historian William Polk has calculated that the United States has spent at least $2.59 trillion on ‘defence’ in the last five years, a large part of it on weapons, and is planning to spend 5% more in the next five years.
Israel and its neo-con allies in the United States are pushing the Obama administration to bring Iran to its knees, in much the same way as they pushed the Bush Administration to destroy Iraq. The Arabs should not lend their backing to this campaign. The conflicts of the region — and especially the dangerous tensions regarding Iran’s nuclear facilities — would best be settled by dialogue and compromise rather than by military force.
No doubt some Gulf countries fear they would be threatened by Iran if the American protective umbrella were removed. But even if the United States were to withdraw its bases from the region, as some U.S. strategic thinkers advocate, it would retain an ‘over-the-horizon’ naval presence which would surely provide adequate protection.
I have long argued in this column that it is not an Arab interest to make an enemy of Iran. The Gulf States and Iran have many commercial and strategic interests in common, not least the security of their vital region. The clear lesson of the present crises is that local powers should be able to protect themselves or reach a satisfactory accommodation with their non-Arab neighbours by means of dialogue and cooperation.
It is Israel that needs to be persuaded that its current policy of seizing Palestinian territory while seeking to weaken and destabilise its neighbours, is not the best way to ensure its own security. On the contrary, Israel’s long-term survival can only be assured if it normalises its relations with the Arabs, as well as with Iran, by allowing the emergence of a Palestinian state. Only a sincere and sustained dialogue can bring this about. That should be the urgent focus of the international community.
ANNAN’S LATEST SYRIA PLAN IS A BAD DEAL
By Jeffrey White, July 11, 2012, WINEP
UN envoy Kofi Annan’s latest plan to end the violence in Syria — perhaps better labeled the Annan-Assad plan — is a bad one. It extends yet another lifeline to the regime, undercuts the armed opposition’s growing effectiveness, and substitutes diplomatic bustle for progress toward ousting Bashar al-Assad. Like Annan’s previous ineffective ceasefire, the new plan is almost certainly doomed to failure — and the sooner the better.
Developed in consultation with Assad himself, Annan’s latest proposal hinges on building security and stability from the ground up. That is, in areas of intense conflict, it calls for local arrangements to contain the fighting. This plays straight into the regime’s hands, and it is no wonder Assad participated in its formulation. If implemented, local ceasefire arrangements would simply reduce pressure on Assad’s increasingly stretched forces, giving them time to rest and refit, while preserving the regime’s increasingly precarious military position in key provinces in the north (Idlib and Aleppo) and east (Deir al-Zour)…..
Annan’s plan could gain traction internationally, which would suggest a fundamental misunderstanding of both the conflict and the regime. The war in Syria has become a war to decide the fate of the regime, not a prelude to power-sharing agreements or Assad-led political reform….
Lately, however, the regime has been losing control of the military situation, and its position in the distant provinces is crumbling. Therefore, Assad probably regards the new proposal as a way to shore up his defenses, at least temporarily. This makes Annan’s plan a bad deal for the Syrian opposition and all those seeking the regime’s end, but a good deal for Assad.
Syrian Armenians Starting To Take Refuge In Armenia
Jamestown Inst – July 11, 2012 — Volume 9, Issue 131
With fighting continuing to escalate in Syria and no end to the bloodshed on the horizon, a growing number of the country’s ethnic Armenians are looking to take refuge in Armenia. Hundreds of them are believed to have already moved to their ancestral homeland, while thousands of others have applied for Armenian citizenship in apparent preparation for such relocation. The authorities in Yerevan are facing growing calls from domestic opposition and public figures to encourage and assist in that influx.
Currently numbering between 60,000 and 80,000 members, Syria’s Armenian community mainly consists of descendants of survivors of the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the former Ottoman Empire. Like other diaspora communities in the Middle East, they are mostly affluent and well-educated, have had little involvement in the country’s political life and been loyal to the government. The ruling al-Assad family has largely respected their cultural and religious rights ever since it seized power in the country in 1971.
Most Syrian Armenians apparently remain supportive of President Bashar Al-Assad despite his regime’s more than year-long bloody crackdown on anti-government protests that seem to be degenerating into civil war. Many of them are deeply apprehensive about the mainly Sunni Muslim rebels, among them radical Islamists, fighting the regime in Damascus. Some are convinced that Assad’s fall would spell the end of the community (www.armenianow.com, February 13).
Despite being largely concentrated in Syria’s largest and relatively safe city of Aleppo, far away from the main trouble spots in the bloody unrest, the community has already suffered casualties. At least four Armenian soldiers serving in the Syrian army have been reportedly killed in the fighting (www.tert.am, www.hetq.am, June 25). There have also been reports of Armenians kidnapped and held for ransom by unknown militants. An Armenian Catholic priest in Aleppo claimed last month that most of some 2,000 Armenian residents of Homs have fled the troubled city after anti-government “terrorists” looted their homes and burned down the local Armenian church (www.armenialiberty.org, June 13).
With no end to the vicious violence in sight, ethnic Armenians started leaving Syria early this year. Armenia has been their prime destination. There is no official data on how many of them have taken refuge in the South Caucasian state so far. But media reports and anecdotal evidence suggest that there are currently several hundred such refugees. The influx should intensify in the coming months as evidenced by skyrocketing applications for Armenian citizenship filed by Syrian nationals.
According to the Armenian police, there were almost 3,000 such applications last year and about 2,700 of them in the first five months of this year. Only 422 Syrian Armenians applied for an Armenian passport in 2010 (Armenpress, June 29; Haykakan Zhamanak, June 30). Virtually all of those requests are certain to be granted. Armenia allowed dual citizenship in 2006 with the specific aim of bolstering ties with its large worldwide diaspora and encouraging ethnic Armenian immigration. Tens of thousands of diaspora Armenians, including those who were born in Armenia but emigrated following the Soviet collapse, have since become Armenian citizens.
U.S. Said to Ready Additional Iran Sanctions
2012-07-12 By Andrew Cinko
July 12 (Bloomberg) — Sanctions said to target front companies in oil trade.
Syria Faces UN Sanctions Push as Ally Russia Resists
By Flavia Krause-Jackson on July 11, 2012
Syria would face United Nations sanctions under a Security Council resolution drafted by Western powers seeking to overcome Russian resistance to measures that would hasten the fall of President Bashar al-Assad.
The move came after Kofi Annan, the UN’s special envoy to Syria, yesterday asked the UN’s decision-making body via video link from Geneva to “send a message to all that there will be consequences for noncompliance” with his peace efforts.
“Russians remain very skeptical to anything that even slightly creates the chance of military action,” Richard Gowan, associate director for crisis diplomacy and peace operations at the New York University Center on International Cooperation, said in an interview. “Still, I would not rule out a change of course as bad news keeps piling up on the ground.”
The deterioration of the 17-month conflict, daily killings and rising number of reported defections have emboldened the U.S, France and the U.K. to challenge Russia to break with a Soviet-era ally it’s protected from punishment. Annan’s transition plan envisions Assad’s exit within a year’s time.
The latest attempt to hold Assad accountable “includes a clear threat of sanctions if the regime fails in its first step of stopping the use of heavy weapons with a fixed timeline,” Mark Lyall Grant, the U.K.’s UN envoy in New York, said yesterday. “We’ve heard a lot of commitments in the past. They have not been followed through.” …
The Real Housewives of the Syrian Revolution
Behind the lines of the war against Bashar al-Assad.
BY SUHA MAAYEH | JULY 11, 2012 – Foreign Policy
RAMTHA, Jordan — For Aysha, a 28-year-old Syrian refugee in Jordan, her small Nokia cell phone is a lifeline to a loved one on the front lines of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
It’s the only way she can contact her husband, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Layla. They talk almost every day. He has joined the ranks of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), leaving her with their three children and making her one of many “rebel wives” keeping the faith on the other side of the border. It has been two weeks since she last saw him.
Aysha often rode on the back of her husband’s motorcycle before he went off to war, her black niqab flowing behind her as he drove. Now her world is a lot less glamorous. She spends most of her day at home — a box-like three-bedroom rented apartment, dotted with mattresses and featuring only one small window — taking care of her three daughters, mopping floors, and hand-washing the laundry. The apartment was paid for with money scrounged together from local charities, sympathizers, and their Jordanian neighbors, and their daily survival is dependent on this private aid.
The stresses of refugee life, which include hosting her in-laws, have taken their toll on Aysha. She has lost weight since her husband rejoined the front lines — partly due to worry, partly because she doesn’t have enough money to buy food. Sitting on a mattress in her sparsely furnished apartment in this dusty Jordanian border town, she admits she doesn’t know when she’ll see her husband again.
“My fate is with the Free Syrian Army,” she says with resignation.
Rape, assault are weapons of war in Syria: rights group
By Lauren French
WASHINGTON | Wed Jul 11, 2012 6:39pm EDT
(Reuters) – Government forces in Syria are targeting women for rape and assault as the conflict between President Bashar al-Assad and anti-government forces continues to escalate, according to a report released by a human rights group on Wednesday.
Women Under Siege said it had documented 81 instances of sexual assault in Syria since anti-government demonstrations began in March 2011, with most occurring in the rebel stronghold of Homs, a frequent target of attack by government forces.
New Texts Out Now: Akram Khater, Embracing the Divine: Gender, Passion, and Politics in the Christian Middle East
Akram Fouad Khater
Akram Fouad Khater, Embracing the Divine: Gender, Passion, and Politics in the Christian Middle East. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2011.
Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this book?
Akram Khater (AK): This book was partly a happenstance, and came partly out of a keen awareness of a gaping hole in Middle Eastern scholarship. The happenstance is common enough in scholarly research. Tired of the texts I was reading at the Bibliotheque Nationale for my PhD dissertation, I turned to the Arabic card catalog to browse for interesting manuscripts. I stumbled upon one titled Aghrab imra’a fil ‘alam [The Strangest Woman in the World]. With such an unabashedly over the top title, I simply had to order the manuscript, and with that I began my journey into the history of Hindiyya al-’Ujaimi, a visionary Maronite nun of eighteenth-century Aleppo and Lebanon….
Author Jonathan Littell on Syria ‘I’m Fundamentally a Pessimist’ AP Author Jonathan Littell says:
I’m positive that the Syrian revolution was not driven by religious or ethnic concerns in the beginning, but rather by economic and social concerns. This is a true proletarian revolution of the workers and the farmers, an uprising of those for whom life had passed by. But if the situation deteriorates further, it’s possible that precisely what the West fears will come to pass. Jihadists will infiltrate Syria from all directions, to misuse the revolution for their own unacceptable purposes. One more reason not to just look on and wait until we’re tearing our hair and wailing: My God, my God, the Islamists!
SPIEGEL: Haven’t we reached that point already?
Littell: I didn’t meet any religious fanatics in Homs. But the regime is playing the religious and ethnic card to get the non-Sunni minorities on its side, the Alawis, the Ismailis, the Druzes, the Christians. That shows how embattled the regime feels at this point. Yet Assad could have easily defused the revolution in the beginning by initiating social reforms. Initially, the protesters had no intention of toppling him. They wanted equality, not democracy, which is a vague concept to them. Now, though, it’s become a battle of life and death.
SPIEGEL: What will the outcome be?
Littell: The Syrian army and security forces aren’t strong enough to defeat the revolution completely, as can be seen from the growing numbers of deserters. But neither are the rebels strong enough to win without help from outside. The worst thing would be a long war of attrition that would destroy the country entirely. I can image that, as a last resort, Assad and his people would consider dividing the country and withdrawing to an Alawi stronghold. That, though, would amount to a “Lebanonization” of the country, and would mean massive ethnic cleansing….
Littell: It will end badly. I’m fundamentally a pessimist, and I always consider the worst scenario not only possible, but likely.
SPIEGEL: What is your impression of the FSA fighters, whose ranks are increasing from defecting regime soldiers?
Littell: Extraordinarily motivated, decisive, brave, prepared to die. For many of them, deserting the army, which can be a fatal move in and of itself, was an act of immense relief and liberation. Often, the defectors had participated in the repression by following orders to shoot at the demonstrators — whose beliefs they share — and then accumulating a terrible sense of guilt.
SPIEGEL: It seems the rebels are increasingly perpetrating atrocities as well.
Littell: I never experienced that myself, but there are certainly criminal groups operating at the fringes of the FSA, committing blackmail, rape and murder. Still, it is not nearly as systematic as it is on the government’s side.
SPIEGEL: You write that the rebels sometimes execute prisoners.
Littell: They showed me injured prisoners they were treating in an underground clinic. A rebel fighter who ends up in the hands of the government’s troops, on the other hand, will be tortured in every possible way, that’s for certain. I admit, I also saw a member of the regime’s dreaded Shabiha militia, who’d been lynched and whose naked, blood-smeared body, his head smashed in, was put on the back of a truck and paraded through the crowd, with shouts of “Allahu akbar!” It was a triumphal procession of bloody revenge. It depends who the FSA captures — a member of the militia, a sniper who has been picking off civilians, women and children as they walk down the streets, or someone who was simply conscripted into the army.
U.S. officials have said that Syria has begun moving its chemical weapons stockpiles out of storage facilities.
By JULIAN E. BARNES, JAY SOLOMON and ADAM ENTOUS
WASHINGTON—Syria has begun moving parts of its vast arsenal of chemical weapons out of storage facilities, U.S. officials said, in a development that has alarmed many in Washington.
The country’s undeclared stockpiles of sarin nerve agent, mustard gas and cyanide have long worried U.S. officials and their allies in the region, who have watched anxiously amid the conflict in Syria for any change in the status or location of the weapons.
U.S. officials said that Syria has begun moving parts of its vast chemical weapons arsenal out of storage facilities. Julian Barnes has details on The News Hub. (Photo: Reuters)
American officials are divided on the meaning of the latest moves by members of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Some U.S. officials fear Damascus intends to use the weapons against the rebels or civilians, potentially as part of a targeted ethnic cleansing campaign. But other officials said Mr. Assad may be trying to safeguard the material from his opponents or to complicate Western powers’ efforts to track the weapons
Some said that Mr. Assad may not intend to use the weapons, but instead may be moving them as a feint, hoping the threat of a chemical attack could drive Sunnis thought to be sympathetic to the rebels from their homes.
Is Assad dangling WMD bait? - 13 Jul 2012 – War in Context
(Update below.) As much as Bashar al Assad pushes the narrative that he is quelling unrest spawned by foreign agitation, he is also sending a strong message to his challengers. That is, that he has the power to act with impunity confident — that whatever atrocities his forces commit, these actions will never do more [...]
Syria: To oppose, or not to oppose?
Maher Arar -al-Jazeera
Human rights activist Maher Arar is the publisher of Prism Magazine, and first came to public attention after he was rendered by US authorities to Syria, his native country. The opposition movement inside and outside the country must walk a fine line between independence and intervention….
The Golden Runaway
Is the apparent defection of one of Bashar al-Assad’s top generals (and close friend) the beginning of the end for the Syrian regime?
BY DAVID W. LESCH | JULY 12, 2012
In contrast to portrayals of him as part of the president’s “inner sanctum,” he has been excluded from top decision making circles since the early stages of the uprising, when he reportedly wanted the regime to pursue negotiations with the opposition rather than initiate a harsh crackdown…. The fact that the Syrian family most often associated with propping up the Assads has jumped ship is significant in symbolic terms.
Guardian on Tlass: Martin Chulov in Rehanliya, Julian Borger and Kim Willsher in Paris
According to one opposition figure, Tlass’s flight had been in the works for more than a year.
“Manaf had decided to defect very early on in the revolution and got in touch with the FSA to plan ahead. They advised him to stay in place as he would serve them better being on the inside rather than the outside.
“The same instructions had been given to a very large number of acting officers as they fed the Free Syrian Army with operational information and troop movements giving the FSA enough notice about impending attacks to avoid casualties and plan counter attacks,” the opposition figure said….
The Hezbollah men asked Manaf what he thought about Assad’s handling of the situation, according to one Syrian source.
“The response came fast and dry – ‘a donkey’,” said the source.
“Friends no more – Implications of the Tlass and Fares defections from the Syrian regime”, The Middle East expert Aron Lund analyzes the meaning of these defections and their possible future consequences.