Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Up in the Air!

Recognition and no weapons make Al-Nusra, and her terrorist counterparts on Assad’s side (al-Jaish Al-Sha’bi and the Shabbiha), the only game on the ground. Meanwhile, up in the air over Washington, Marrakesh, Cairo and Istanbul, some irrelevant actors are engaged in idle banter.

Monday December 11, 2012

Today’s Death Toll: 165 (not including the victims of Aqrab massacre still being counted): 61 in Damascus and Suburbs (including 31 unidentified bodies in Damascus City and Ein Tarma), 39 in Aleppo, 22 in Hama, 16 in Idlib, 12 in Deir Ezzor, 9 in Homs, 5 in Daraa, and 1 in Lattakia. Points of Random Shelling: 236. Clashes: 124 Rebels destroyed 27 tanks (mostly in Aleppo), liberated the Christian-majority town of Jadeeda in Idlib Province, captured an ammunition car from Amouda Junction checkpoint near Jisr Ashoughour, Idlib, and gained control of 2 checkpoints in the towns of Rankous and Harasta in Damascus Suburbs (LCC).

U.S. Recognizes Syria's Main Rebel Group Tuesday's move came as senior U.S. officials warned that Syria's civil conflict threatens to degenerate into a battle between al Qaeda-backed militias and Iranian militants and their proxies, a risk that has created new urgency for the U.S. and allies to accelerate a political transition.
Big powers meet as Syria rebels move closer to Assad Major powers are set to give Syria's opposition full political recognition on Wednesday but not the weapons that rebel fighters need to counter President Bashar al-Assad's superior firepower as they gain ground across the country.

Special Reports
On the verge of formally recognizing a rebel coalition as representing the Syrian people, the US designated the al-Nusra Front as a terrorist organization that is an arm of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
The 21-month-old battle to bring down President Bashar Assad has already forced some 3 million Syrians from their homes, according to a new estimate, and cold, wet winter weather is making life increasingly unbearable for the displaced.
The nearly two-year conflict in Syria has taken tens of thousands of lives, destroyed entire neighbourhoods and sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing. But more quietly, it has also eaten away at the country’s healthcare system.
It is easier to get used to outgoing fire when very little comes back in the opposite direction.
The fervour born in March 2011 for democratic reforms still runs high, but the initial peaceful protests against Assad's regime have been overtaken by the government forces' brutal crackdown. Backed by the country's Sunni Muslim majority against Assad, whose Alawite faith stems from Shiite Islam, the rebels launched the battle with arms smuggled into Syria, collected by defectors or bought from corrupt army officers. Now nearly 21 months into the revolt, the insurgents control large swathes of rural territory as well as a number of medium-sized towns, say AFP correspondents on the ground.
Frustration mounted for months as the United States sat on the sidelines, and peaked this week when it blacklisted the Nusra Front, one of the uprising’s most effective fighting forces, calling it a terrorist organization. The move was aimed at isolating the group, which according to Iraqi and American officials has operational ties to Al Qaeda’s franchise in Iraq. But interviews with a wide range of Syrian rebels and activists show that for now, the blacklisting has appeared to produce the opposite. It has united a broad spectrum of the opposition — from Islamist fighters to liberal and nonviolent activists who fervently oppose them — in anger and exasperation with the United States.
Some of what wounded soldiers say in a military hospital about their determination to fight can be written off as bravado unlikely to be put to the test. Others may be parroting the government line about the rebels being sectarian killers out of an innate sense of caution. But others appear to believe the government’s portrayal of the enemy is essentially correct and are willing to go on fighting for the moment, even as the odds mount against success.
A third force has emerged in Syria's civil war in the form of Jabhat al-Nusra, Islamist militants who have claimed responsibility for some of the conflict's most deadly bomb attacks. US officials on Monday labelled the group a terrorist organisation.
Cunliffe did her Ph.D research on monitoring Syrian archaeological sites with satellite imagery. When fighting turned fierce in Syria, she began to consult imagery much closer to the ground – videos and photos posted by concerned Syrian citizens. Sites were being damaged and also looted.
Millions of dollars worth of humanitarian aid to be moved rapidly into the most deprived areas, says Syrian National Coalition
It is the desperate moment when we discover that this empire, which had seemed to us the sum of all wonders, is an endless, formless ruin, that corruption's gangrene has spread too far to be healed by our scepter, that the triumph over enemy sovereigns has made us the heirs of their long undoing.
The Obama administration slapped a terrorist designation on Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra -- but only managed to spark an anti-U.S. backlash among anti-Assad groups.

Syria Deeply

Up in the Air

While President Obama’s interview with ABC did not exactly come as a response to my call made yesterday that he should “justify” himself to the Syrian people, the fact that he chose to recognize the National Coalition himself and not do it through Secretary Clinton might indicates that there are those in the Administration who understand the need for striking a positive note with the Syrian people at this stage. Still, the move might be too little too late.

Irrespective of how things will develop in the future, the U.S. now has very few friends in Syria. While America was busy with her elections, the wrong forces were filling up the void left by her absence with their lies, their conspiracy theories and their Jihadis. When Jihadis couldn’t fit, a lie or a conspiracy theory did. The net result – a pervasive sentiment that says: America doesn’t really care about us and her interests are not necessarily commensurate with ours, so there is no reason for us to trust her.

Still, America’s best bet at this stage is to keep supporting the Coalition she just recognized, and has helped form. It’s no less dysfunctional and Islamist-dominated than its predecessor, but it’s the only game in town at this stage, and will remain so until developments on the ground make it obsolete, which they eventually will.

More importantly, the U.S. should work more closely with the new military command recently established by rebels in Antalya, Turkey. Most rebel groups recognize the authority of this new council, and should it be enabled to deliver on their expectations, it will become more legitimate, more relevant and more capable of directing operations on the ground.

Meanwhile, Al-Nusra and its myriad affiliates and sympathizers on the ground is emerging as a third force, that will complicate everyone’s calculations. But don’t expect rebels to clash with Jihadis anytime soon. Whether the U.S. likes it or not, barring some unforeseen development, the two forces will continue their ongoing cooperation against Assad, at least until he is pushed out of Damascus. Then, mayhem will unfold, because by now, the dynamics favoring it are too strong.

Down in the Trenches

Clashes between rebels and pro-Assad militias in the village of Aqrab in Hama province set the scene for a macabre incident of mass murder/suicide.

After days of sporadic fighting, pro-Assad militias managed to capture parts of the village but were quickly besieged by rebels from the nearby town of Houla. But the militiamen used the local women and children as hostages. The twist: both the militiamen and the hostages were Alawites. The siege has gone on for ten days, the militiamen hoarded all food supplies sharing little with their hostages, and refusing them to allow them to leave.

On Tuesday, a group of local dignitaries, including a local Sunni sheikh, tried to negotiate a surrender, offering themselves as replacements, but, as clashes continued outside, the militia leaders went on a suicidal/homicidal rampage, killing the negotiators, the hostages and themselves, using hand grenades, guns and blowing up the gas tanks. But the final blow came as a result of shelling that hit the homes in which the militiamen were sheltered. The shelling itself was blamed on the regime forces that have been targeting the town for weeks.

And so, the first major massacre of its kind against Alawite civilians, with an initial death toll estimated at 200, most of whom Alawites, has been perpetrated not by Sunnis rebels, but by Alawites militias. 

This is, at least, the version of events given by Um Ayham and other an Alawite survivors rescued by the rebels. At the end of her testimony, in which she identifies by name many of her former captors, who hailed from the town of Jbeileh, she begs the rebels “not to betray and kill us.” She also thanks the rebels for helping them and treating their wounded. The rebels promise her protection. Their spokesman invite the red cross and representatives of international community to come and listen to her testimony, among others, because the rebels, he said, will surely be accused of the crime, and there will be future massacres perpetrated against rebel communities in retaliation. http://youtu.be/SKYylLUmDvI

Initial reports had indicated that deaths in Aqrab were the result of random shelling that hit a group of homes used by locals Alawites as shelter. Many had blamed the shelling on pro-regime forces that have been targeting the village for weeks. Al-Arabiya TV had covered the development as it happened, and interviewed people from the scene via Skype. Um Ayham was not the only eye-witness blaming the pro-Assad militias (shabbiha) for the shelling and the massacre http://youtu.be/eY-c1trFuFE

One thing is clear, and whatever future inquiries reveal: the ultimate victims in any violent conflict are the women and children who will eventually be betrayed even by those claiming to protect them.

Still the whole development brings forward another possibility that we have previously failed to consider: the Masada Scenario? Should further inquiries support the narrative related by Um Ayham and other Aqrab survivors, Masada might be an option that some Assad supporters at least might be willing to embrace. Or, will a more accurate description here be the Jim Jones Option? Be that as it may, we now have another bleak scenario to consider.

An injured Alawite teenager says that the pro-Assad militias told their hostages before they killed them that they are doing so to prevent them from falling into the hands of the rebels. Near the end of this particular clip, a local activist says that now the regime has an excuse to send his MiGs against their town, and he appeals for help from the international community saying 80,000 people are now in danger http://youtu.be/z13yU2NqrjM More testimonies http://youtu.be/QQX-MTv3QwY

Video Highlights

After ambushing a regime convoy near the Damascus International Airport, a rebel group in Damascus made an interesting discovery: they found boxes stuffed with chemical weapons suits http://youtu.be/XyKSc0jDPTw

Scenes from the clashes in Beit Sahem, Damascus, on the Airport Highway http://youtu.be/Z5iisNeHjOY

Missile launchers stationed at Mazzeh Military Airport keep lobbing missiles at rebel positions outside Damascus City, especially the suburb of Daraya http://youtu.be/xn-VD2-cQ7U

Scenes from the clashes in Deir Baalbah, Homs http://youtu.be/kw7MTucZ9Cc

Leaked video shows pro-Assad militias pounding the town of Qusair on the border with Lebanon with missile launchers http://youtu.be/kEg7EO6c6WM

Bread-production in Aleppo City has reverted to primitive techniques that cannot meet the growing demand. Despite the proximity to the Turkish borders and the control rebels have over supply routes, famine conditions prevail in the City http://youtu.be/3NTgotsxCgo

MiGs keep pounding the Moazafeen neighborhood in Deir Ezzor City http://youtu.be/Ayiou03JkdY setting many buildings on fire http://youtu.be/ayYRHw2NbfE , http://youtu.be/nexeT4Aq0ac