Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Battle for Damascus is afoot, the Battle for Sobriety is not!

Even should Assad lose Damascus, he can still withdraw to coastal strongholds and hunker down for a longtime, while rebels fight over spoils, and Arabs and Kurds battle each other over control of areas in the north and northeast. Without a political process, this crisis will drag on for years.

Thursday November 29, 2012

Today’s Death Toll: 96, including 23 children and 4 women: 51 in Aleppo (most in massacre of Zibdiya and Ansari), 15 in Damascus and Suburbs, 9 in Daraa, 7 in Idlib, 6 in Deir Ezzor, 4 in Hama, 3 in Homs and 1 in Raqqah. Points of Random Shelling: 198. Clashes: 103. In Idlib, rebels downed a helicopter in Binnish and targeted another in Sarmeen. In Homs, they attacked the Military Petrol Station on Homs-Damascus Highway taking many prisoners. In Aleppo, they liberated a missile base as well as the Mintar Airbase. In Deir Ezzor, rebels laid siege to the airport in Mouhassan (LCC).

U.S. weighing whether to arm Syria rebels, ambassador says "The president has never taken arms off the table," Ford told reporters. "But it has to fit within a strategy of leading to a political solution and not where one side seeks to conquer the other militarily. Imagine it this way: How do you convince one side that is losing already to stop fighting when they think their very existence is at threat?" Ford noted that the United States also wants to avoid allowing advanced weapons to fall into the hands of Islamic extremists, who make up a large portion of Syria's insurgents.

Syria "firing mortars to stop refugees:" U.N. aid chief The United Nations humanitarian chief accused Syria on Tuesday of firing mortar bombs near the border with Jordan to prevent refugees from fleeing a civil war that she says is "getting worse day by day".
Twin car bombings ripped through the pro-Assad suburb of Jaramana, killing dozens. Mike Giglio on how both rebels and the government say they didn’t do it.

Special Reports
Under this approach, the United States, United Kingdom and other members of the Friends of Syria, would declare that new contracts with the Assad regime are illegitimate and that our courts should not enforce them if a legitimate successor government in Syria repudiates them. This could deter new loans and investments in Syria's oil or other sectors and send a signal to the Assad regime that the economic pressure will not loosen.
Some eye-catching video shows a disciplined jihadi militia on the move in eastern Syria after ransacking a regime artillery base.
A dark realization is spreading across northern Syria that despite 20 months of violence and recent rebel gains, an end to the war to topple President Bashar Assad is nowhere in sight. As a result, civilians and rebel fighters are digging in, building an infrastructure to secure rebel towns, care for the wounded and escalate the fight against Assad's forces.
A new report reveals that Russia printed and shipped eight planeloads of Syrian currency to Damascus over the summer, providing a critical lifeline to the Assad regime.
According to the documents leaked by Anonymous, Russia has since begun transporting Syria’s patched-up helicopters by air. TIME emailed copies of the documents to the spokesman of Russia’s state arms dealer, Rosoboronexport, who declined to comment on them.
Bashar bashed: After months of slow progress, Bashar Assad’s opponents have the upper hand Meanwhile, the rebels are well aware of what is going on beyond Syria’s borders. “Assad is not going anywhere until the international support for him changes,” says Abu Omar, the commander of a group of Liwa al-Tawhid fighters in Aleppo’s Bab al-Hadid neighbourhood. He points to Mr Assad’s continued backing by Russia and Iran, his main allies, and regrets that America and Britain have refused to arm rebel fighters.
Syria may appear to be a small country, but it is just the type of entagled conflict that can lead to a world catastrophe. It does not take much imagination to see Syria as the Sarajevo of the 21st century, leading to world war.

Following their takeover of the Marj Al-Sultan Airbase south of Damascus, a mere 10 KM from Damascus International Airport, rebels moved in on Tuesday to take over DIA itself. Consequently, Syrian authorities shut down the airport for “routine maintenance.” A day later, internet and cell and landline services were shut down. Is it sabotage? Indeed, the main internet cable feeding into Damascus does run parallel to the highway leading to DIA, but considering the fact that landlines and cellphones were down as well all over Syria Damascus, this is not likely. Is it a sign of panic on part of the regime? I think so. But that does not mean that the endgame is nearing, it’s just the battle of Damascus about to unfold. Slowly, the rebels were encircling Damascus, and the regime might be planning a major offensive to prevent that from happening. Whatever the case maybe at this stage, the battle for Damascus will likely be long and bloody. Let’s not forget here that the better supplied and equipped rebels in Aleppo are still having a hard time liberating the city.

But even should Assad lose Damascus, he can still withdraw to coastal strongholds and hunker down for a longtime, while rebels fight over spoils, and Arabs and Kurds battle each other over control of areas in the north and northeast. Without a political process, this crisis will drag on for years.

But the problem here is that no one seems to want a political process at this stage other than external players will little credibility on the ground: the Russians and Iranians who continue to support the regime and whose vision of a political process is meant to give Assad a lifeline, and the Saudi, Qataris and Turks whose support of the rebels is spotty and continues to be undermined by western, especially American, dithering.

At this stage, buoyed by Russian and Iranian support, Assad will not take a political process seriously, unless he is forced out of Damascus and his backers are thus forced to recalibrate their position. For their part, rebels will keep seeing in a political process an attempt at circumventing their recent successes. Islamists in particular will see a political process as a conspiracy meant to undermine them and their plans for establishing an Islamic state. They will be right of course. Meanwhile, the vision of “victory” espoused by most opposition groups seem to revolve around the belief that rebels will end up “liberating” all of Syria, including Kurdish, Alawite, Druze and Christian majority areas, at which time a political process can be launched and a debate over rights and responsibilities of each national and confessional group can take place. The fact that this vision is nothing short of recipe for a prolonged civil conflict has not dawned upon them yet, and until it does and until they realize that dialogue in the near future will not save the regime but could save the country, the possibility of launching a viable process is nonexistent.

Two technology firms that monitor global Internet traffic report that Syria has been cut off from the Internet. Regular landline phone and cell phones services have been affected as well, Syrian opposition activist Ammar Abdulhamid told me. “Therefore, the possibility of accidental damage can be discounted,” said Abdulhamid. “This is something done intentionally by the regime, and reflects growing desperation on account of the recent advances made by rebels, especially in Damascus.”

The communications blackout may signal that the 20-month-long uprising against Bashar al-Assad has moved to a new and even more violent stage, in what some are calling the battle for Damascus. “With Assad forces now conducting major operations in Damascus,” says Abdulhamid, “they will cover it up as much as possible and create their own version of the truth.” ...

Assad’s desperation, said Abdulhamid, is a product of the rebels’ recent advances. “In the last two weeks, the regime has lost six air bases around Damascus and Aleppo,” Abdulhamid said. “The rebels might not be able to hold all those bases, but they’ve lifted arms from those bases, including the surface to air missiles with which they’ve brought down 9 aircraft in the last two days—5 MiGs, 4 helicopter gunships.”

In effect, the opposition has begun to carve out a small no-fly zone of its own. “The rebels,” says Abulhamid, “are quietly laying siege to Damascus.”

Over the last few days, Assad’s regime has suffered major losses in its clashes with rebels, who have managed to encircle the capital, Damascus, even attacking the International Airport there and forcing a shutdown of its services, said Ammar Abdulhamid, an exiled Syrian pro-democracy activist and fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in an email to the Daily Dot.

“As such, the move could reflect a sign of growing panic in the regime and could be a desperate move to disrupt communications between rebel groups, even though rebels rely for the most part on satellite communications and short wave radio rather than the internet,” Abdulhamid added. …

As was the case during the Egyptian uprising, shutting down the Internet will only embolden people to rebel and disseminate information anyway they can, Abdulhamid said.

“This shutdown could be a sign that the regime is preparing for a major offensive in Damascus and elsewhere, and wants to delay coverage of the event by international press as much as possible,” he added.

“But that does not make much sense really, considering the widespread use of satellite communications. But if the regime is in a panic mode, then not all its steps would be rational at this stage.”

It’s still unclear how the Internet blackout happened—and for what purpose. While Syria’s information minister blamed “terrorists” for the disruption, others suspect that the government is behind the blackout. “I think we can discount the theory that rebels did the damage, because landlines and cellphones were down as well,” said Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian dissident based in the United States and a fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “The regime is behind this, and seems desperate because of the recent advances made by rebels in Damascus and elsewhere—but especially in Damascus.”
“The rebels were quietly laying siege to Damascus. Not in the traditional manner, but by capturing key bases around the city and making travel along the major highways a risky affair,” he added. “I think the regime clearly panicked and it might be trying to undertake some major offensive operations in the area to get the situation under control, before the rebels are more organized and better supplied.”

Rebels and activists blame the car bombings in Jaramana on the regime. Jaramana is a mixed Druze and Christian community, but there are many Sunnis, and Iraqi refugees. The regime has been trying to get more recruits for its militias from their ranks, without much success so far. Targeting these communities des not make much sense from rebel perspective, but makes ample sense from the point of view of the regime. The more fear there is, the greater the support it can get, no matter how tentative, especially as things heat up in the City, and rebels continue to encircle the city. The rebels are actually in a position to lay a protracted siege of the city for the bombardment taking place.

The rising popularity of smartphones and the Syrian government’s sharp limits on the movements of independent journalists have made social media an especially vital source of information about the conflict. The abrupt loss of the technology has caused widespread fear, said Ammar Abdulhamid, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“Not everyone will have access” to news about the conflict, said Abdulhamid, who has close ties to Syria’s opposition. “There will be panic. There will be fear.”

Video Highlights

The pounding of Eastern Ghoutah Region in Damascus continues Inhabitants of Douma evacuate their town gain after another rounds of aerial bombardments In Daraya, several members of the Ziadeh family were killed in aerial bombardment, this is the family of known human rights activists Radwan Ziadeh

Rebels bring down a MiG in Daar Azzah, Aleppo , , The pilot was captured and treated but his wounds were fatal

In Deir Ezzor, MiGs took part in pounding the town Bouleil

Current trend, using more women in pro-Assad militias in checkpoints in Damascus

Kurdish Rebels in Aleppo form their own fighting unit called Azadi

Benefitting from loyalist troops pullout from the region, rebels in Hama come together in a new and larger formation

Rebels in the coastal areas come in a larger formation as well