Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Sarin Call!

Once you’ve used all weapons in your arsenal, to no avail, and considering that you have been reassured over and over again of the fecklessness of international leaders and their red lines, the Sarin Call becomes too hard to resist. Has Assad finally succumbed? Has he really crossed Obama’s red line? Would it really make any difference if he had? Is there anybody out there?

Monday December 24, 2012

Today’s Death Toll: 156, including 21 children and 4 women: 60 in Damascus and Suburbs, 28 in Homs including 15 in Talbisseh, 29 in Aleppo, 19 in Hama including a family of refugees originally from Yabroud in Damascus Suburbs, 5 in Raqqa, 5 in Daraa, 5 in Idlib, and 4 in Deir Ezzor. Points of Random Shelling: 263. Clashes: 109. In Raqqa, rebels clashed with regime forces and managed to take control of Sadcop Gas Factory in the northern parts of the province. In Damascus Ciy, rebels stormed a shabbiha checkpoint at 30 Street near Yarmouk Camp. In Hama, and in the town of Mourek, rebels destroyed several tanks and military vehicles belonging to the regime. Finally, in Deir Ezzor, rebels took control of the headquarters of the Brigade 113 (LCC).

'Sarin-like gas' kills 7 in Homs Opposition activists tell Al-Jazeera poisonous gas sprayed by Assad's forces in Homs neighborhood; German weekly says elite Israeli, American, French units operating deep in Syria to take control of chemical arms arsenals.
Here's What The 'Agent-15' Chemical Weapon Probably Used In Syria Does To People Reports that chemical weapons were used this weekend in Syria were effectively confirmed today after doctors at the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) interviewed witnesses and victims of the attack. Doctors at SAMS describe a "probable" use of what chemical specialists refer to as "Agent-15," or 3-Quinuclidinyl Benzilate, or what NATO calls "BZ." They classified their report as "probable" because the higher classification of "confirmed" would require laboratory testing.
As Special Envoy Meets Syria’s Assad, Russia Signals New Pessimism one member of Syria’s political opposition who said he had spoken with Mr. Brahimi’s aides said the envoy had advocated a plan for a negotiated solution first proposed in June. The opposition member, Mohamed Sarmini, said the proposal would temporarily leave Mr. Assad in power but curb his authority and create a transitional government that would theoretically remove Mr. Assad from power later — an arrangement that some members of the opposition had previously rejected as inadequate… Ruslan R. Aliyev, an analyst with the Center for the Analysis of Strategy and Technologies, a defense research group based in Moscow, said renewed discussion of evacuations by Russia’s Foreign Ministry reflected what he described as Moscow’s deeply pessimistic prognosis for the region.
Kuwait to host Syria donor meeting in late January The United Nations appealed on December 19 for $1.5 billion to help save the lives of millions of Syrians suffering what it termed a dramatically deteriorating humanitarian situation. It is seeking $519.6 million to help 4 million people within Syria and $1 billion to meet the needs of up to 1 million Syrian refugees in five other countries until July 2013.
Russia says Syria is acting to secure its chemical weapons Lavrov told the Russia Today (RT) television channel that recent signs that parts of Syria's chemical arsenal were being moved - a development that alarmed Western governments - was an effort by the government to make the weapons more secure. "Our information is ... that the latest reports about some movement of the chemical weapons was related to steps undertaken by the government to concentrate the chemical stuff ... at two sites, to make sure it is absolutely protected," he said.

Special Reports
With Sunni villages sheltering Syrian rebel fighters and Shiite villages shipping Hezbollah fighters across the border, northern Lebanon is now just another frontline in Syria's war.
Bassel immediately caught my attention -- not because he was the leader of the group but because he was quiet and thoughtful and not partial to the braggadocio one so often encounters in rebel leaders.
In Syria, the real blood of civilians was mixed with real bread in Halfiya, the day before Christmas Eve, according to opposition activists. They say the civilians were bombed by a government warplane as they were queuing at a bakery, killing some 90 of them. With the country still traumatised by bloodshed, there will be no Christmas celebrations in Syria for the second year in a row.
But despite all the hardships people try to lead a normal life and support each other. We have Christians and Muslims living here. Yabrood is a historical city, in fact, it the home of the oldest church in Syria.
In Washington, Istanbul and elsewhere, opposition activists and their supporters are establishing databases and drafting the outlines of an interim structure to govern Syria until something more permanent can take its place. But even those who have been working on the plans doubt they will serve as more than suggestions in a post-Assad atmosphere that they predict will be characterized at best by conflict and chaos. At worst, they see a sectarian bloodbath and a possible takeover by extremists fighting on the side of rebel military forces.
Inside Syria, Sunni rebels are threatening to kill Russian speakers, starting with Anhar Kochneva, a Ukrainian journalist kidnapped last month. In two weeks, a Russian naval task force is to reach Syrian waters to be ready to help in the possible evacuation of Russians.
Guardian understands that US intelligence officials helped Jihad Makdissi to flee, though details of journey are unknown.
Under international law, it's a war crime to target civilians in a war zone. That hasn't halted the tactic in Syria, where hundreds of civilians have died in attacks such as one Sunday at a bakery in Halfaya in a rebel stronghold.
In the latest phase of Syria's civil war, civilians have become the targets.

How Mr. Assad might respond to Mr. Brahimi’s entreaty depends on his psychology, shaped by a strong sense of mission inherited from his iron-fisted father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad; his closest advisers, whom supporters describe as a hard-line politburo of his father’s gray-haired security men; and Mr. Assad’s assessment, known only to himself, about what awaits him if he stays — victory, or death at the hands of his people.

This is my take on Assad’s psychology: When cornered, a psychopath like Assad can only dash towards the precipice and plunge right in, dragging with him all those still grappling to his coattails, and whoever and whatever he is willfully pulling down along for the descent into hell. This is pure psychopathy, not bravery, nor even foolhardiness. So, he will cling on to Damascus to the bitter end. It’s the people around him who might be contemplating an Alawite enclave as Plan B. Personally, he has no such plan, not unless he was forced to “choose” it by his own enablers from within his loyalist base.

Mr. Assad was long believed to take advice from his mother; his brother Maher, who heads the army’s feared Fourth Division; his brother-in-law Asef Shawkat; and his cousins, the Makhloufs.

But his mother is believed to have fled Syria in recent weeks. Mr. Shawkat, the deputy defense minister, was killed in a bombing in July. The Makhloufs are believed to be spiriting money out of the country. Maher has been reported to have lost a leg in the bombing, but still to be commanding troops.

Turkish, Russian, Syrian and Lebanese analysts agree: Mr. Assad’s main advisers are now his father’s hard-liners and the leaders of the shabiha militias that have carried out attacks on government opponents.

If there ever existed moderates in the government who might cajole Mr. Assad to hand power to a successor who could preserve the Syrian state, that option now appears increasingly remote.

Decision-making in Assad circles has always been a family affair. In times of crises, the circle expands to include few trusted, and needed, mostly Alawite figures from the security apparatuses and the army. As such, we are talking about a group of men with a worldview that predisposes them to mistrusting and demonizing the entire world. There is no room for reason here. Logic is circular, and all diplomacy is meant to gain time while violence is unleashed to ensure victory, because that is the only acceptable outcome. If and when the “semi-rational” decision to withdraw to coastal areas is made, this will not signify a backing down from the fight, but an entrenchment meant to keep the fight going.

The only people who can defeat this small circle of Alawite men and foil their plans is the Alawites themselves, but to get the Alawite community to this point, the facts on the grounds has to change drastically in military terms, and the opposition has to come up with an enticing vision for the future of Syria that gives a role to the Alawites that is perceptibly bigger than what their demographic size would normally entail. The Alawites need a deal, and not only reassurances and guarantees regarding their basic rights. They need more than the basics, because, in psychological terms, they have had more than the basics for decades now. (In material terms, except for the corrupt elite, Alawites are as downtrodden as all other groups in Syria). Moreover, because they have learned to distrust the Sunnis in particular at such a deep and innate level, on the basis of a centuries-long experience, manipulating power was, to the Alawite, their only existential safeguard. So, for the Sunnis to insist on challenging this very control, when the Alawites themselves are convinced that the only real benefit that they ever derived communally from having this control is to ensure their safety, has ominous connotations for them and does not inspire trust. 

If Assad worship is endemic in certain clans close to his family, it’s only skin-deep for the majority of the Alawites, who recognize that he and his henchmen are indeed corrupt. But the innate and universal distrust of the Sunnis trumps this recognition. That is why the majority of Alawite opposition members could not stand for a complete rejection of the system and opted for a gradual approach, supported in this by many Christians, Druse and secular Sunnis. It is this group that is looking for a deal as well as a structured transition plan in order to jump on the bandwagon of regime change.

This is what the Sunni-dominated opposition has failed to understand so far, or understand yet refuse to accept. Because within its ranks it, too, it has elements and groups that are playing a zero-sum game, mostly prominently among them the Muslim Brotherhood whose members represent the ultimate victims of the Assads, and who, therefore, ended up incorporating much of the ethos that made the Assads tick. But, by now, the growing sectarianism among the grassroots has strengthened the hand of the Sunni zero-sumers in this regard. A winner-takes-it-all mentality is exactly why the situation will continue to devolve, and is exactly the kind of situation that the Obama Administration should have foreseen. The signs were plentiful, and the writing on the wall was all too legible.

Video Highlights

More videos showing the attack by regime forces in Homs City yesterday, December 23, that seems to have involved Agent 15 http://youtu.be/kuYSYOtbqlI , http://youtu.be/3QhghFuK8lE Frustrated local activist here says: “this is happening because of a green light from the America” http://youtu.be/ENXXON59XUg Assad’s forces have once again stepped up their attacks on rebel neighborhoods in Homs City. Most inhabitants have already left, but few thousands remain, including armed rebels, making taking control of the neighborhoods impossible. If Assad is following a script for the creation of an Alawite-majority enclave in coastal areas, then it is of paramount importance that his troops wrest control of Homs City due to its strategic location and its role as a transport hub connecting different parts of the country together. Control over Homs City allows Assad to partition Syria into de facto several enclaves, thus weakening his opponents. But, for now, the importance of this move comes to prevent rebels from encircling Damascus and besieging Assad there. 

But it is not only Homs City that is being targeted, it is the nearby town of Talbisseh as well http://youtu.be/MkE9DOMVYc4 , http://youtu.be/iWQtuFXEvds And Rastan http://youtu.be/UDQ3pMgETNY

It’s the battlefront in Central Syria that is heating up again. And so…

In Hama, the battle for taking control of the town of Mourek continues http://youtu.be/XJeh6WAg5y0 , http://youtu.be/q2HjCFXLP4M Many civilians are caught in the crossfire http://youtu.be/T5Tn9EYV43o , http://youtu.be/4L6_aCjEu3g , http://youtu.be/UTv5QkiYXDk

Not that, there is any letdown in the fighting and its intensity elsewhere. Clashes and shelling continue to take place throughout Syria, from Daraa and Damascus in the South, to Idlib and Aleppo in the north, to Raqqa and Deir Ezzor in the northeast.

Tal Rif’aat, Aleppo: fighter jets take part in the pounding http://youtu.be/RgG7sUSC8qE

Ain Terma, Damascus: fighter jets keep up their raids http://youtu.be/Jwa4UBFsdWA And Jisreen as well http://youtu.be/U9kiWQWjUj8 And Kafar Batna http://youtu.be/Ek1LCKcCJEw

Hraak, Daraa gets pounded by mortars http://youtu.be/0_GC8iXLU0k

Rebels and Loyalists clash in Deir Ezzor City http://youtu.be/DzsoKDRqgJs

The Assassination of Bashar Al-Assad: a short movie that pauses an interesting what-if scenario produced by a number of Syrian activists abroad http://youtu.be/qQr5OxRFdxg