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.
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
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