Friday, December 28, 2012

Stale Fate!

It seems that the gambit run by Russia and the U.S. calls for beating down both sides of the ongoing conflict into accepting an arrangement that neither of them can honor. Assad’s Camp cannot stop its crackdown, as this will allow for a return of the nonviolent protest movement, a move that will further delegitimize Assad while energizing the opposition and allowing for the moderates to make a comeback. This is much more suicidal to the Assad Camp than the crackdown which, due to its violent character, solicits radicalization and extremism from the other side, thus creating the necessary conditions that can facilitate the establishment of an Alawite enclave down the road. There is an innate assumption that goes to the heart of the Geneva Accord that Al-Ibrahimi and the Russians are pushing that is blatantly wrong, and assumes the kind of rational thinking on part of Assad and his supporters that has always been missing. They seem to think that the violence of the last two years has made Assad and his supporters more open somehow to accepting a compromise solution. In truth, with so much blood on their hands, the Assadists could not be any more radical and unwilling to compromise than they are at the moment. As for rebels and opposition politicians, and though, the Accord does in theory play in their favor as it will most assuredly pave the way for Assad’s departure, none of them has the moral gravitas and authority, not to mention, the necessary political skills, to make that argument and bring the others on board. Also, opposition members realize that without serious international support, their efforts to restructure the army and security apparatuses as part of unity government will go nowhere. But how can the opposition trust that the international community will come through for them, when it has proven to be such a fickle ally for the last 21 months? As such, the stalemate in Syria will continue, and while our fate may not have been completely sealed, it continues to be stalled and staled.

Thursday December 27, 2012

Today’s Death Toll: 197, including 9 children and 7 women: 103 in Damascus and suburbs including 50 in Brad on the Daraa-Damascus Highway and 7 executed in Sidi Miqdad, 26 in Idlib including 4 in Ariha and 8 in Jisr Alshoghour, 22 in Aleppo including 4 in Sha’ar neighborhood, 15 in Homs including 2 in Hama, 11 in Deir Ezzor including 7 in Mayadin, 11 in Hama, 4 in Daraa, 2 in Raqqa, 1 in Latakia killed under torture, 1 from Qunaitra martyred in Damascus, and one from Hassaka also martyred in Damascus. Points of Random Shelling: 287. Clashes: 152. In Hama, rebels downed a fighter jet in Zain Al-Abidin Mountains and obstructed another in Mourek, they also took control of the Thermal plants in the Christian-majority town of Mhardeh which had been turned by regime loyalists into a military barrack. In Aleppo, rebels took control of the Qantari Highway connecting Aleppo and Hassakeh provinces. In Idlib, rebels liberated Al-Yaqubiya City completely and destroyed the check point between Yaqubiya and Tal Zahab. In Damascus, the airbase at Jabadin was liberated. In Daraa, rebels blocked several attempts by regime loyalists to storm the town of Basr Al-Harir, destroying a number of tanks and armored vehicles (LCCs)

Local activists also loyalist militias seem to have forced rebels in the Suburb of Deir Baalbah in Homs City to make a “tactical withdrawal,” allowing them to lay a more firm siege of the restive neighborhoods in the city. This development could pave the way for further intensification of the ongoing assault on Homs City over the coming few weeks.

UN envoy calls for interim Syria government Lakhdar Brahimi urges "real change" in Damascus and for transitional leaders with full power until elections are held.
Russia says time running out for Syria peace deal Lavrov called for robust efforts to hammer out a solution based on an agreement reached by world powers in Geneva in June that called for a political transition. "Considering what is going on in Syria, the chances of reaching such a solution ... are decreasing. But there is still a chance and we must fight for it," Interfax quoted Lavrov as saying in an interview. "The alternative to a peaceful solution is bloody chaos. The longer it continues, the broader its scale and the worse (it will be) for everyone."
West Wary Over Syria's Chemical Stockpiles Joseph Holliday, former army intelligence officer and now senior analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, said he could see President Assad using chemical weapons against his people. “Clearly, the chances of that happening increase as the Assad regime nears end game,” said Holliday.  “Right now our deterrence, our ‘red line’ is based really on the psychology of Bashar al-Assad at this point -- that he won’t, he wouldn’t dare to use them because that would mean committing suicide.  But if at some point in the future, if the rebel gains continue, and he’s backed into a corner, Bashar may decide that he’s dead either way and the risks of miscalculation increase.”
New jihadist group emerges in Syria Jund al Sham (Soldiers of the Levant), a new Salafi jihadist group in Syria, announced its formation in the Syrian city of Homs on Dec. 23, in a statement published on the group's Facebook page, according to the SITE Intelligence Group... The group's emir is identified as Abu Suleiman al Muhajir; his nom de guerre -- Muhajir, or 'immigrant' -- indicates he may be a foreigner. His real identity is unknown... The name 'Jund al Sham' is not new to the Levant, which includes Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories. Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the slain emir of al Qaeda in Iraq, is said to have established a group called Jund al Sham in the late 1990s. That group was made up of Jordanians, Syrians, and Lebanese, and was trained in a camp in Herat. Zarqawi purportedly received seed money from Osama bin Laden to establish the camp.
Israeli PM: Damascus using arms banned by int'l conventions “Everyone today sees what is happening in Syria,” the prime minister said. “The Syrian air force is bombing the country’s citizens. They are killing and injuring hundreds each day. They don’t desist from using any means, including weapons that are forbidden under international treaties. Israel is following these developments in Syria, and will do everything against that – or any – threat.”

Special Reports
Healthcare crisis could mean life or death for many desperate Syrians left without drugs or doctors, hospitals or health centres
Since the outbreak of the uprising 21 months ago, there have been reports of antiquities being stolen from sites that previously were well guarded. But now, according to a man involved in the trade, it is becoming more systematic. “It’s very similar to Iraq,” he said. In both countries, he explained, the looting became “more organised” as time went by.
It has become evident that the armed conflict in no shape or form is directed towards the interests of the Syrian people. We cling to the hope that time will eventually bring forth a genuine Syrian leadership which is able to save the revolution from the paralysis of opportunism.
Looting, feuds and divided loyalties threaten to destroy unity of fighters as war enters new phase… It wasn't the government that killed the Syrian rebel commander Abu Jameel. It was the fight for his loot. The motive for his murder lay in a great warehouse in Aleppo which his unit had captured a week before. The building had been full of rolled steel, which was seized by the fighters as spoils of war.
Now in its sixth month, the battle for Aleppo has become the contest for Syria in a microcosm, exposing the weakness of both sides, while highlighting anew the perils and costs of the country’s bitter civil war. It has underlined the rebels’ difficulties in organizing a coherent campaign; their paucity of infantry weapons heavier than machine guns; and some of their fighters’ participation in the same human rights abuses for which they condemn the government, including the summary killing of prisoners. It has also left rebels vulnerable to allegations of corruption, including the theft of much needed food and other aid.
Today, the administration is assisting some rebel groups with communications but other responsibilities – the provision of weapons for example – have been outsourced to Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Those three nations agree that Assad must go. But they want him replaced by Islamists of some stripe, and so it is Islamist groups that they have been backing with what amounts to Washington’s tacit approval. As a result, Islamists have become dominant on the battlefield and within the newly established Syrian National Coalition of Revolution and Opposition Forces (SNCROF) that Obama recently said he will recognize. Meanwhile, lacking money and weapons, moderate groups have been left in the lurch. Is it too late to begin assisting them now? Once again the answer is both yes and no: Yes, it’s too late to make them the driving force of the Syrian Revolution. But providing support would be consistent with both America’s values and interests.
Semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan and the central Iraqi government are on a collision course as the Kurds increasingly side with the Syrian opposition and Baghdad stands by the Assad regime.
A Sunni victory in Damascus will necessarily mean a shift in the regional sectarian balance of power. Sunnis in Iraq have also revived the idea of seeking autonomous arrangements like the KRG, something they had violently supressed earlier. What is at stake is the 1916 Sykes-Picot Anglo-French-drawn regional boundaries. Having “lost” Syria, Iran’s natural reaction will be to double down in Iraq, where it already has a great deal of influence. It will want Iraq to provide strategic depth. It is even conceivable that Tehran will create a Shi‘a analogue of the Brezhnev Doctrine—once a government is Shi‘a, it stays Shi‘a, even if we have to send expeditionary forces to keep it that way. Will the neighbors stand idly by if this were to occur?
Turkey is now one of Assad’s fiercest opponents. “The Turks want us to be more active against the regime in Syria,” says Qubad Talabani, a prominent Kurdish politician. “We said, ‘Fine, come out for Kurdish rights in Syria.’” Given Turkey’s troubled handling of the Kurdish question within its own borders, that isn’t likely… “I won’t fight for Assad or against Assad,” says Shanki, “but I will lay down my life for Kurdistan.” The group of men surrounding him all murmur – and some shout – in agreement.
Gokhan Bacik, an associate professor of political science and directer of the Middle East Strategic Research Center at Zirve University in Gaziantep, Turkey, has been watching the struggles of Syria’s opposition groups. He pays special attention to as many as 17 groups of ethnic Kurds who look to Turkey or Iraqi Kurdistan for support and governing models. Bacik says all of Syria’s moderate opposition groups attended the meetings vowing to defeat President Bashar al-Assad, but beyond that many of the activists have conflicting agendas. Bacik concludes that while Turkey favors the Muslin Brotherhood (Ikhwan), some Kurds in Syria may prefer links to Massoud Barzani’s Iraqi Kurdistan.  Out of these political choices, Bacik says a kind of federalism is likely to emerge from a post-Assad Syria — not exactly a federal state, but something that offers autonomy to at least two regions: the Kurdish northeast and an enclave of Alawites along the western coast near the Mediterranean.
Groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra have been allowed to establish not just a presence but also a foothold. If the civilian councils and other governance structures emerging in the liberated regions can be sufficiently funded, they can provide policing and relief services to stabilize their communities. But without support from the United States and other allies, well-funded extremist groups can continue to recruit fighters from a population that would otherwise ignore them.

Note: an expert who reviewed the videos from yesterday concluded that the bombs used were incendiary cluster bombs not white phosphorous bombs. Assad might be saving his white phosphorous for a more rainy day.

Video Highlights

The town of Mourek in Hama comes under shelling by cluster bombs ,

The pounding of historic town of Crack de Chevaliers continues As rebels and loyalists clash around the city

The pounding of Deir Baalbah Suburb intensifies as loyalist forces have reportedly creep in , and residents sneak out

The pounding of the rebel-held town of Salma in northern Latakia by explosive barrels dropped from helicopter gunships intensifies , Nearby Jabal Al-Akrad was also targeted

In Aleppo, local rebels use confiscated cannons to pound the headquarters of a loyalist police academy , , Rebels then move in to take control of the academy ,

Many children were wounded during the bombing of the town of Masraba in Damascus The nearby towns of Eastern Ghoutah were targeted as well: Saqba Hamouriyeh