Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, January 18th, 2012
The cease fire in Zabadani has collapsed due to government strikes on the city, reports Brian Whitaker of the Guardian. Earlier the BBC announced that the Syrian army ‘agrees to ceasefire in Zabadani’, which had been reported by Radwan Ziadeh in the US. There was some excitement about the cease-fire development when it was first announced because it suggests that the Syrian military is overwhelmed by the spread of conflict to towns on the outskirts of Damascus. It also suggests that regions of Syria were falling out of government control and staying out of government control to create a “Libya like” situation where rebels could operate and organize without remaining on the run.
Opposition members argue that the Free Syrian Army based in Turkey are spearheading and commanding the fight in Zabadani. Nir Rosen, who has recently come out of Syria after a two month stay, argues on al-Jazeera (linked below) that the opposition claim of the existence of a centrally commanded Free Syrian Army is a myth. He claims that the militias that are springing up in different towns are locally commanded and organized and do not take orders from Col. Asaad or his FSA in Turkey. If this is true, it suggests that multiple militias are emerging, which may eventually struggle for command of Syria and take the place of the Syrian Army, unless they can negotiate some agreement on a central command. In the meantime, it is convenient for the opposition to call opposition forces the Free Syrian Army.
Film of the death of of the French journalist near the end of the clip. Friends explain that this film was taken in Homs in an Alawite neighborhood, which was hit by a mortar, killing a number of people on the street and the French journalist. Opposition sources argue the mortar was launched by government operatives in order to make the opposition look bad for killing civilians and to stir up civil war. Government sources blame it on opposition forces who are firing on Alawi districts. They argue that mortars cost only $400 and can be smuggled from Lebanon and Iraq without much trouble. This film clip is proof of how difficult it is to understand what is going on based on YouTube movie clips.
Sky News broadcast this Homs story from a team that visited the Alawi and Christian neighborhoods of Homs. As the reporter explains, the pro-Assad sentiment and reports of torture by opposition members expressed in this story are as one sided, but perhaps as representative, as other reports from opposition neighborhoods, such as the BBC report “Syria Undercover” broadcast a month ago. It is worth noting that Alawis and Christians only make up about 20% of Syria.
No plan to send Arab troops to Syria: League source
CAIRO | Sun Jan 15, 2012
(Reuters) – The Arab League has not received any official request or suggestion that it send Arab troops to Syria, an Arab representative to the Cairo-based League told Reuters on Sunday.
Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, said on Saturday that Arab troops may have to step in to halt the bloodshed in Syria since the start of protests against President Bashar al-Assad in March.
“There is no official suggestion to send Arab troops to Syria at the current time … There has been no Arab or a non-Arab agreement on a military intervention in Syria for the time being,” the representative to the League said.
Why deny Syria is in a civil war?
Posted on January 16, 2012 by Jeremy Pressman
Erica Chenoweth has a concise post arguing that Syria now meets the academic definition of a civil war. Her thoughts beg an interesting follow-up question: if Syria is in a civil war, why isn’t it being called a civil war?
In the United States, one possibility is that the Obama administration prefers a narrative of democratic protest against a brutal regime. A civil war, which means both pro- and anti-regime violence, muddies that narrative. For instance, in late December, a Syrian opposition figure said he told (h/t syriacomment.com) US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about a nascent guerilla movement:
To my surprise, she asked that the defectors lay down their arms. That’s an odd request. Why didn’t they ask the rebels in Libya to lay down their arms? How can they do it if at any moment they can be fired at and murdered? It’s impractical.
If Secretary Clinton is still trying to discourage Syrian opposition violence, then admitting a civil war is underway would not be helpful. (Are Clinton or other US officials afraid that a civil war would be a pathway to sectarian fighting and spreading regional violence?)…..
Syrian MP, Tribal Chief Go into Exile
by Naharnet Newsdesk
A leading MP and an opposition figure who heads Syria’s largest tribe announced they have defected and gone into exile, in interviews broadcast on Monday on Al-Arabiya television.
“I have come to Turkey to activate the opposition. The Syrian revolution is our path. The country’s youth are making the greatest sacrifices for a better future,” Al-Baqqara tribal chief Nawaf al-Bashir told the satellite channel.
Bashir said he had been coerced to appear on state television in Syria to praise the reforms which President Bashar al-Assad says he has launched.
He was a key supporter of the so-called Damascus Declaration which opposition leaders issued in 2005 to press for reform. He says he has been interrogated by the security services more than 75 times.
MP Imad Ghalioun, a member of parliament’s budget committee, said he had chosen Egypt as a base to try to help the opposition achieve “freedom and dignity” for the Syrian people in a future democratic state.
Fear of Civil War Mounts in Syria as Crisis Deepens
By ANTHONY SHADID
BEIRUT, Lebanon — The failure of an Arab League mission to stanch violence in Syria, an international community with little leverage and a government as defiant as its opposition is in disarray have left Syria descending into a protracted, chaotic and perhaps unnegotiable conflict.
The opposition speaks less of prospects for the fall of President Bashar al-Assad and more about a civil war that some argue has already begun, with the government losing control over some regions and its authority ebbing in the suburbs of the capital and parts of major cities like Homs and Hama. Even the capital, Damascus, which had remained calm for months, has been carved up with checkpoints and its residents have been frightened by the sounds of gunfire.
The deepening stalemate underlines the extent to which events are slipping out of control. In a town about a half-hour drive from Damascus, the police station was recently burned down and in retaliation electricity and water were cut off, diplomats say. For a time, residents drew water in buckets from a well. Some people are too afraid to drive major highways at night.
In Homs, a city that a Lebanese politician called “the Stalingrad of the Syrian revolution,” reports have grown of sectarian cleansing of once-mixed neighborhoods, where some roads have become borders too dangerous for taxis to cross. In a suggestion that reflected the sense of desperation, the emir of Qatar said in an interview with CBS, an excerpt of which was released Saturday, that Arab troops should intervene in Syria to “stop the killing.”
“There’s absolutely no sign of light,” said a Western diplomat in Damascus, a city once so calm it was called Syria’s Green Zone. “If anything, it’s darker than ever. And I don’t know where it’s going to end. I can’t tell you. I don’t think anyone can.”
Ian Black reports: Sipping tea in a smoky Damascus cafe, Adnan and his wife, Rima, look ordinary enough: an unobtrusive, thirtysomething couple winding down at the end of the working day in one of the tensest cities in the world. But like much else in the Syrian capital, they are not what they first seem: […]
Resolute Syrian President to Use ‘Iron Fist’, Debate Over International Intervention Propels Disunity Among Opposition
On Tuesday, January 10 during an address at Damascus University, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad highlighted ongoing government reforms and vowed to continue the government’s fight against terrorism and international conspirators. For its part, the Arab League observer mission in Syria has already been deemed a failure; violence has heavily intensified with over 400 killed since the first of its members arrived in country two weeks ago. At the same time, fuel and heating oil shortages, as well as a growing dearth of affordable food stuffs, are posing serious challenges to nearly all.
Videos: Patrick Seale and Nir Rosen on Syria Thanks to War in Context
Syrian opposition row over foreign military action nixes unity effort
By Ashish Kumar Sen
The Washington Times, Friday, January 6, 2012
Pro-Syrian regime protesters shout slogans and hold portraits of Syrian President Bashar Assad during a demonstration Jan. 4, 2012, in Damascus, Syria, to show solidarity for Assad. (Associated Press)Pro-Syrian regime protesters shout slogans and hold portraits of Syrian President Bashar Assad during a demonstration Jan. 4, 2012, in Damascus, Syria, to show solidarity for Assad. (Associated Press)
Efforts by the U.S. and the Arab League to work with a unified Syrian opposition have been stymied, mostly due to two opposition groups’ disagreement on foreign military action to oust President Bashar Assad.
A weeks-long effort to build a coalition between Syria’s two main opposition groups — the Syrian National Council and the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria (NCB) — collapsed this week after it was reported that the groups had agreed to reject foreign intervention.
News of the deal caused an uproar in the Syrian National Council’s ranks, and the leadership quickly accused the NCB of passing off as a final agreement what they had considered talking points for an Arab League-sponsored opposition conference later this month.
A fractured opposition complicates international engagement and casts doubt about a post-Assad government.
The Syrian National Council supports international intervention, and in a meeting on Tuesday, its executive committee officially rejected the purported agreement with the NCB.
“We didn’t want to be on record saying we are against foreign intervention. We are for foreign intervention, but we don’t want to exchange a bad regime for an occupier,” said George Jabboure Netto, an Syrian National Council member.
It would be up to the U.N. Security Council to decide what intervention, including airstrikes, is required, he said. “We are not going to dictate how they should go about this.”
SNC and FSA Agree on Activating Coordination Mechanism
A delegation from the Syrian National Council (SNC) met with the leadership of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) on Thursday, January 12, 2012. The goal of the meeting was to increase the level of coordination and activate mechanisms of communications between them. The delegation, headed by Dr. Burhan Ghalioun, extensively discussed the situation on the ground and the organizational capacity of the FSA with Colonel Riad Al-Asa’ad and his deputy Malek Kurdi. Included in the discussion was an assessment of needs including reorganization and restructuring of FSA units. The parties agreed to formulate a detailed plan, to include the reorganization of FSA units and brigades, and the creation of a format to accommodate within FSA ranks additional officers and soldiers, especially senior military officials, who side with the revolution.
“Is Al-Qaeda Infiltrating Syria Through Lebanon’s Beka’a Valley?”
by Nick Heras for Jamestown
Syria politics: Pride before a fall?
January 10th 2012, FROM THE ECONOMIST INTELLIGENCE UNIT
The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, has delivered his fifth speech since the popular uprising against his regime erupted in March 2011. Many of the themes were familiar—blaming the crisis on foreign conspiracies and Islamist terrorists, and offering promises of reform—and Mr Assad reiterated his resolve to crush the uprising by force. There was also a note of satisfaction that his regime has managed to check the efforts of some Arab League member states to press actively for UN Security Council intervention. However, this respite may not last.
The last time Mr Assad made a public appearance was on August 1st when he made a speech to mark army day. Since then Syria’s internal conflict has become steadily more violent and the regime has faced increasingly determined pressure from the EU, Turkey and, most recently, the Arab League. The death toll among Syrian civilians is now thought to exceed 6,000; the regime claims that more than 2,000 members of its security forces have been killed. There have also been two bomb attacks in Damascus that the government has tried to blame on al-Qaida, but which the opposition claims to have been staged by the regime in order to validate its narrative about external terrorist threats. The EU and Turkey have imposed economic sanctions, which have had a severe impact on the regime’s finances, and the Arab League, having suspended Syria’s membership, threatened to impose its own sanctions, until the government agreed terms for the dispatch of Arab monitors tasked with overseeing a reduction in regime violence against unarmed protesters…….
Another positive development from Mr Assad’s perspective has been the discord in the ranks of some of his opponents. The Syrian National Council (SNC) has tried to project itself as the most representative force among the opposition, having drawn together many of its strands, including the Muslim Brotherhood, exiled liberal intellectuals, Kurdish groups and activists from the underground local co-ordinating committees (LCCs) operating within Syria. However, another opposition group, the National Co-ordinating Body (NCB), some of whose activists remain in full view inside Syria, has become a thorn in the side of the SNC. Representatives of the two groups met in Cairo at the start of January, and news emerged suggesting that they had agreed on a common platform, including a rejection of international intervention and an agreement to negotiate with regime elements not directly implicated in violence. The SNC quickly denied that any such agreement had been reached and that the NCB had leaked a discussion document; the NCB denied this, and accused the SNC of backtracking. The NCB’s external leader, Haitham Mannaa, has derided his rivals as being a toxic mixture of Islamists and neo-conservatives, and has insisted that Syria’s future should remain an exclusively Arab concern. Bourhan Ghalioun, the chairman of the SNC, said that Mr Assad’s speech had made it abundantly clear that the regime had no intention of complying with the Arab League’s demands, and that the only way forward was to fully engage the international community in affording protection to the Syrian civilian population. According to the LCCs more than 30 people were killed by regime security forces on the day of Mr Assad’s speech, the majority of them in the north-eastern city of Deir al-Zor.
Mr Assad devoted much of the latter part of his speech to describing the progress that he had made with political reforms. He ticked off the law passed to lift the state of emergency, a political parties law (which he said had now resulted in the first new parties being licensed), a new election law, a media law and the staging of local elections in early December. He said that he had intended to pass an anti-corruption law, but that it had been delayed to allow for more study and consultation. The next major step would be to hold a referendum in early March to approve a new constitution drawn up by a committee appointed last year. Two to three months after the constitution is approved, there would be a general election for a new parliament—the mandate of the previous parliament ran out in April; the assembly has since reconvened on a provisional basis. Mr Assad sought to present these reforms as advancing with significant popular participation, thereby branding the entire opposition movement as being beyond the political pale. His reform project would look more credible if he could co-opt some elements of the opposition to become involved, but there is so far little sign that the regime will manage to pull this off. Even Mr Mannaa of the NCB still professes that his group’s objective is to bring down the Assad regime.
Points of weakness
For all his bravado, Mr Assad’s regime continues to survive only because of its brutal use of force and thanks to some residual support that it enjoys from Russia, China, a handful of Arab states, Iran and Venezuela (which has recently provided some shipments of petroleum products). The documenting of incidents by opposition groups and the dissemination of videos to media organisations has acted as a constraint on the regime, meaning that it has not been possible to raze whole areas to the ground along the lines of the subjugation of Hama in 1982. However, the accumulation of evidence that the regime has being carrying out a systematic campaign of gross abuses of human rights means that there is no chance of the Assad regime returning to some semblance of business as usual. Sanctions can only become stiffer. Whether through incremental foreign intervention or an internal collapse, or a combination of the two, it is probable that the Assad regime will eventually be brought down.
(Translated by Max Weiss.) Samar Yazbek on the Syrian Revolt is a Syrian writer and journalist. In August 2011 she wrote in these pages about her experience of being detained after a demonstration. She is one of the Beirut 39 authors.