Sunday, September 11, 2011

Syria’s Benghazi Moment Looming!

As the international community condemns, and Arab League proposes a plan premised on the Assad’s willingness to take part in an act of auto-suicide, and Syria’s myriad opposition groups remains committed to wrangling over names of nominees to a transitional council, Assad’s troops and militias are preparing for a major military showdown in Homs City and surrounding suburbs. This time, there will be tons of blood. 

Saturday September 10, 2011

12 people were reported killed today in Baba Amr Neighborhood in Homs City as a result of shelling by Assad’s loyalist troops and reported clashes between them and defectors hiding in the neighborhood, 1 more was killed in operations elsewhere in the City, 1 in Namar in Deraa/Hauran Province, and 4 were killed in Idlib Province in the communities of Rami (2), Sabeel and Saraqib (a woman). Meanwhile, Syrian protesters continue to demand international protection and denounce the Arab League Plan designed to let Assad remain in power until 2014.

If the survival of the Christians of the Levant depends on Syria’s minority regime slaughtering Sunnis, then it is not at all clear what foundation they have in the gospel for continuing to call themselves Christians. Or, how many Sunni corpses is a church worth?
"More than 3,000 people have been killed, the majority of them civilians, have been killed in 112 Syrian towns and cities," Radwan Ziadeh, head of the Washington-based Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies in Syria, said. They included 123 aged under 18, he added.

Assad said to be planning major military operation in Homs City and surrounding suburbs

After weeks of mass daily protests and continuing defiance by inhabitants of the inner city of Homs, and a number of suburbs in the larger province, and considering the growing number of defectors seeking shelter in these communities and their growing organizational capacity, Assad and his top army generals and security chiefs are said to be finalizing plans for a major military operation in the restive city and the larger province. Taking into consideration the resiliency of the protest movement in Homs, and that the region has more or less been going through what can only be described as low intensity conflict over the last 8-12 weeks, any military action will involve assault, perhaps even aerial, on densely populated residential communities – a development that will leave thousands of deaths and is bound to trigger a flood of refugees. This is the International Community’s Benghazi Moment in Syria. A bloodbath is about to take place on a mass scale and, this time, it will not happen in slow motion. So, what’s the free world to do?

No, I am not calling for direct military intervention, not yet, and, hopefully, not ever. But I am calling for finally waving that stick in the face of the Assads and being serious about it. For as long as the Assads keep hearing that military intervention scenarios are not being seriously considered, why would they refrain from massacres, seeing that humanity and common decency is not part of their basic motivation in life?

As, the specter of more massacres continue to loom, even advocates of nonviolence like me are bound to realize its limitations in this situation, and more of us would be bound morally to consider alternatives to rid ourselves and our country of fascist rule. Nonviolence works only when dealing with people and powers that have the potential of getting shamed, embarrassed, pressured and made to feel to feel guilty about their actions, people and groups that can be made to appreciate at some point the foolishness and high cost, moral and material, of violent crackdown. I never had pinned any hopes on the Assads in this regard, but I had thought that by now some high level defections will have taken place to give us that little edge needed to keep pushing our philosophy of nonviolence and civil disobedience.

Alas, sectarianism and the paranoia and fear that shape the mindset and worldview of its adherents make them more susceptible to going down the road of nihilistic schemes and fascism-inspired solutions, than the rational road envisioned by advocates of nonviolence. Impunity, narcissism and a particularistic historical narrative and the sense of entitlement it engenders among its peddlers have proven tough nuts to crack in the absence of regular access to mass media to those people who might have had some idea as to how they can be cracked. The intimate and intricate relations that have been woven over the years between members of security apparatuses and the commercial and intellectual elite in the country have so far made this elite impervious to the kind of moral and rational analysis needed to wean it away from the Assads. Finally, the reluctance of the international community to take the lead early on in warning the Assads about the potential consequences of their actions, combined with the negative role played by countries such, Russia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa at the UN, have also hampered our efforts in this regard.

I still believe though that if the Assads can be prevented from perpetrating large-scale massacres, a combination of nonviolent tactics, targeted sanctions, the strain caused by a steady trickle of defections from the armed forces and the ranks of the Baath Party coupled with growing pressure by organized defectors would prove sufficient down the road to topple the Assads and effect a real revolutionary change on the ground. But when large-scale massacres are involved, that scenario becomes moot, and international military intervention, with all the risks involved, becomes necessary. We cannot watch our people getting killed without acting, and while clinging to a philosophy that, no matter how dear, will have obviously reached its limitations in our cultural context at this stage.

If these videos, most from today only, don’t show a low intensity urban conflict, what else is expected?

Tanks shell their way into Baba Amr One of the wounded a 10-year old boy Tanks shell way as well into the neighborhood of Boustan Al-Diwan The aftermath of shelling Also, in Mreijeh (Mouadh Mosque) Karm El-Zeitun received its fair share of shelling and destruction Wadi El-Sayah heavy machinegun fire heard on Friday, tanks shortly followed , Tanks in Bayadeh (Friday) In Bab Dreib, the aftermath of the army incursion on September 7 In Jib Al-Jandali tanks roam the neighborhood on Friday

Targeting protest leaders

This clip shows the body of Ghiyath Matar, an activist from the Damascene suburb of Daraya arrested on September 6, and returned dead on September 10 The fate of Ghiyath friends arrested at the same time, including Yahya Sharbaji, remains unknown. But the current policy adopted by Assad loyalist security officers seems to be premised on liquidating and not just detaining key protest leaders.

This is what Nadim Houry from Human Rights Watch had to say about this incident in an email update:

Today, the body of Ghiyath Mattar, 26, was returned to his family in Daraya, a suburb of Damascus. Ghiyath was a leading activist in Daraya who played a key role in organizing antigovernment protests (his photo is attached). A friend of Ghiyath who saw his upper body today said that there were bruises on the chest, and his face had traces of wounds. Security forces (most likely Air Force intelligence according to friends and relatives) had detained Ghiyath on September 6 with another leading protest organizer in Daraya, Yahya Sharbaji. Given the death in detention of Ghiyath, Human Rights Watch is gravely concerned about the wellbeing of Yahya. It is very important to publicize the case of Yahya in the hope that it provides him with some sort of protection. The friends and family of Yahya are very worried about his fate.

Below are the details as documented by Human Rights Watch so far:

In the early hours of September 6, security forces detained Yahya Sharbaji, a leading non-violent protest organizer in Daraya, and his friend Ghiyath Mattar, from their car while driving to the Damascus suburb of Sehnaya, according to one of Sharbaji's relatives who lives in Sehnaya and saw the security forces' cars chasing them. Sharbaji last called home at 7 a.m., then both men stopped answering their phones within 20 minutes of their departure. Mattar's family later received a phone call from an air force intelligence officer, who said he captured the pair and threatened to harm them.

Sharbaji had been hiding from the security forces since March 15, when security forces seized his ID card, camera, and mobile phone at a sit-in in front of the Ministry of Interior. He set out with Mattar to Sehnaya after he had received a call from his brother Mohammad (known as Ma`en) Sharbaji, at 5 a.m. that day, telling him he had been shot by the security forces after they raided the house and arrested three of his friends. Activists and friends believe that security forces had detained Ma`en and forced him to make the call, a common security force tactic, as he can also not be found. Mattar's body was returned to his family on September 10 after he was tortured to death in detention, according to activists who saw his body.

Arab League Plan & Popular Reactions

This is what the Arab League’s Plan in Syria was designed to do: give Assad a way out, not of Syria, but his internal crisis, by buying him the necessary time to smother the revolution:

Sept. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Arabi said yesterday that he and Syrian President Bashar al- Assad have agreed on a series of measures to apply political reforms in Syria, Al Arabiya television reported.

But, most protest leaders are aware of the dangers involved in the Arab League’s Plan, and rejected in toto, albeit, some suggest merely eliminating any reference to Assad’s staying in power until 2014:

"They criticize us about asking for foreign assistance and foreign protection, but can they blame us? Look at our own Arab leaders and our own politicians, they are on the sidelines. They don't care. They would sell us for cheap," said Lina, a student in Damascus.

More Defections & More Abuse

Lt. Col. Abdurrazzaq Rashid Al-Rahmoun from the Syrian Air Force announces his defection and his joining the ranks of the Free Syrian Army

The fate of Hussain Harmoush, leader of the Free Officers Movement, remains unknown, with some reports claiming he is detained by Turkish intelligence, and others that he was captured or injured and is hiding by Syrian security during a recent operation in Syria. The fate of Adnan Bakour, the Hama Attorney General who defected last week is also unknown.

Meanwhile, this 14-minutes clip shows army troops torturing a protester who was caught with his mobile having videos that prove that participated in demonstrations in M’arrat Al-Nouman City in Idlib Province. The young man was asked why he protested, he said that he was a laborer and could barely find enough to eat. But what really irked the soldiers was that he participated in demonstrations in which people shouted “Curse your soul Hafiz [Al-Assad].” This is what the torture was all about

In Homs City, this young man was arrested on September 3 for 2 hours only then released. This is how he looked when he returned home

This clip from Homs City shows a different kind of abuse, namely substance abuse. Bashar Al-Assad himself and countless reports on state run TV and Dounia TV have been claiming that protesters take hallucinogens and other drugs before taking part in demonstrations, but this clip shows an army regular who is obviously snorting a white substance that does not appear to induce sneezing. Hmmm.

This leaked video, shows soldiers in a cheerful mood in Homs City, 60 Street

Protesters have by now incorporated the demands for international protection into their daily chants in protest communities throughout the country. Some of today’s protesters carried signs and banners decrying the visit of Nabil Al-Arabi, the Arab League Secretary General, AKA the Arab Ostrich.  


A sample of the nerve gas used against protesters Sample of the shell casings used in Bayadeh A funeral , for the teenager Rami Ouroub killed on Friday In Warsheh, locals accuse of pro-Assad militias of targeting the Church of Marilian and destroying the crosses in order to foment strife between local Christian and Muslims in this diverse community where demonstrations have witnesses participation from both communities

Homs City / Nighttime
Protesters in Khaldiyeh address Asma Al-Assad and tell her to give Bashar, because he won’t get it , In Baba Amr, protesters salute a martyr , In Insha’aat protesters demand an intervention by Arab and Muslim armies , Qoussour , Stadium , Wa’er Ghoutah

Martyrs – the body of Khalid Qteish whose body was shot at repeatedly by loyalist militias as it lay on the ground Another Bab Al-Sibaa Wounded (Baba Amr) , ,

Elsewhere in the province, inhabitants of Houleh took to the streets in droves at night So did the inhabitants of Deir Baalbah In Qseir locals take part in a funeral for a Khalid Khourma, a security officer executed by loyalist for refusing to shoot at protesters In Talbisseh, this martyr fell on Friday International Protection is also what the people of Tadmor/Palmyra are demanding Al-Dar Al-Kabirah joins the protest movement (daytime)


In Rami, on those killed today is a teenager Ibleen The bodies of Muhammad Harmoush (brother of Hussain Harmoush, leader of the Free Officers Movement) and Mouhanad Hourieyh killed on Thursday by Assad’s security officers In Kafroumah, the local clinic was ransacked by loyalist army troops

In M’arrat Al-Nouman, protesters draw SOS with their bodies Thousands gather in Jarjanaz ,

Idlib City  “Curse your soul Hafiz” “The people want international protection” “The people want no-fly zone” Kinsafra , Sarmeen


Jassem, army troops making arrests on Friday, and rebuffing attempts by women to free their men Tanks and troops are still omnipresent In Sauran, a little girl, Hadeel, is the latest martyr


Nawa Protesters come under fire and clash with tanks  Protesters in Nawa had come under fire on September 8 as well In Namar, protesters come under fire as well, leaving 1 dead (Fawaz Al-Ammar)



Qadam Assaly Tal an all-women demonstration Hamouriyeh Security officers and pro-Assad militias fill the streets



Hama – Taybat Al-Imam nighttime Ellatamneh Kafar Zita In Hama City, arrests and shootings are still taking place on a daily basis (South Stadium) But at night protests also continue (Hamidiyeh)

Aleppo – Andan

Deir Ezzor – Qouriyeh “You’re not welcome Nabil Al-Arabi [Arab league Secretary]” Deir Ezzor City - Takaya Street