Thursday, May 31, 2012

Abandoned!

Symbolic gestures cannot save us from real slaughter. Words of sympathy do not shield us from mortar rounds. Sanctions do not stop marauding gangs of thugs and killers. In Syria, our sense of abandonment is as areal as the war being waged against us.  

Wednesday May 30, 2012

Death toll: 39.

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What the Hell Should We Do About Syria? FP asked five smart observers to offer their solutions for the quagmire in Damascus.

Obama & the Russians


the Syrian revolution is as much about ending an apartheid-patronage system as it is about creating democratic state, yet Russia relies for its own commercial and military interests on preserving the former. Syrian dissident Ammar Abdulhamid, freshly returned from Moscow, smartly observes:

What the “regime” means to the Russians is Alawite control of security and military apparatuses. If regime survival under this formula is not possible, than the powers-that-be in Russia would not be too opposed to the fragmentation of Syria so long as coastal areas remain under Alawite control, which is the likely outcome in this case. To ensure getting their desired outcome, the Russians will continue propping up the regime by supplying it with arms, which they claim are not meant to be used against protesters but against future western intervention, and by continuing to be a stumbling block in the way of any meaningful UN-led action or condemnation.

So Russia will, in the end, accept nothing less than the balkanization of Syria. So much for the insistence of countless Security Council statements that the country’s “sovereignty” and “territorial integrity” be preserved.

The administration hopes that it is possible to appeal to the better angels of Moscow’s nature and that Houla compels them to change their position on Assad. Instead, the Russians are sending more arms to the regime. It’s hardly surprising, then, the Russians won’t even admit that Assad is behind the massacre. Russian deputy U.N. ambassador Alexander Pankin “rejected the idea that the evidence clearly showed Damascus was guilty.” ... Moscow is simply playing the spoiler and thereby enjoying the sort of international prestige that it has not been afforded since the end of the Cold War. The Russians are not going to engineer a coup against Assad, or in any way work to resolve the issue, because it is precisely the conflict that has given them influence in Syria—the conflict, that is, and Obama, who for no good reason has handed Moscow the reins.

Video Highlights

In Houla, pounding by pro-Assad troops resumes after departure of UN monitors leaving many dead and wounded: treating the injured http://youtu.be/jBPjhJnjuMs , http://youtu.be/7evsmN41-YQ Martyrs http://youtu.be/eb5D7Z3XzQo Crops catch fire http://youtu.be/C3pWlKx9d9I The pounding http://youtu.be/2AUE2io4tbw , http://youtu.be/2AUE2io4tbw The gunfire http://youtu.be/PnsxuLJ1vp8 , http://youtu.be/vsjp5WIJ9ko Locals running away from town across the fields http://youtu.be/Z3Z7mCYuphM Earlier in the day, UN monitors visited some of the local houses where entire families were slaughtered http://youtu.be/c1txS0LPPq8

Assad officials keep insisting that no condemnation should be made until their investigation of the events is concluded, but their methods of investigations, which involve random pounding of the town, are a bit… unorthodox.

Some of those Russians anti-aircraft missiles, not intended for use in the current crackdown, if we go by the assertions of Russian officials, get used in the pounding of the Old Homs neighborhoods, setting entire buildings on fire: Hamidiyeh http://youtu.be/OmeexzSs1aE Local activist is almost killed while filming http://youtu.be/JZI-C-1zY9g Bab Al-Sibaa: pulling the bodies of the dead from the streets while under fire from snipers http://youtu.be/AK1i4jnG1sg Khaldiyeh http://youtu.be/3275Rb8nrbg The pounding http://youtu.be/P5YE7A8Lygk , http://youtu.be/QurkSJrrnj0 , http://youtu.be/wMmOHpVkubA , http://youtu.be/wBc0IAGqrvY , http://youtu.be/qJB6FoVLrZo

In Rastan, the pounding resumes at night http://youtu.be/RKW7NuJb8TQ

In Idlib Province, chopper fires rockets on the village of Mar Shammareen http://youtu.be/5Y8ZBI32QMs

In Anadan, Aleppo Province, chopper fires rockets on the town http://youtu.be/pVhC15D8Fm0

In Damascus, the pounding of the town of Douma continues http://youtu.be/pnZqu73h5ps

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Requiem for the Living!

If world leaders believe that they have the luxury to turn their collective back on Syria and wring their collective hands, it will not be the first time people failed to see how their own houses were vulnerable to the fire they were doing nothing to combat. Humanity has made a habit of dancing in her own funeral. What we need today, more than ever, is a requiem for the living for the dead are already at peace.

Tuesday May 29, 2012

Death toll: 61, mostly in Homs, Aleppo and Deir Ezzor provinces.

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All of the attention being devoted to such dead-end diplomatic initiatives is simply indicative of the fundamental lack of seriousness in Washington regarding events in Syria. President Obama may have created an Atrocities Prevention Board, but he is doing nothing serious to prevent the ongoing atrocities in Syria.

Video Highlights

In the village of Sijer in Deir Ezzor Province in the northeast, locals find dozens of unidentified bodies with their hands tied behind their backs left by pro-Assad militias, the victims of summary executions: http://youtu.be/DxTvF7g6dFU

In Homs City, the pounding of old neighborhoods continues: Bab Sibaa http://youtu.be/MCwjNVtmdXo , http://youtu.be/2cW6ncspAqs Hamidiyeh: human remains scattered all over the streets http://youtu.be/6cBGQDOhrsA

The nearby town of Qusayr along the Lebanese borders continues to be heavily bombarded as well http://youtu.be/HlZsd8NsY1Y , http://youtu.be/UB9zX4__qUQ , http://youtu.be/cr7oXDLqseE Treating the injured http://youtu.be/ymvoDziNsQ8 , http://youtu.be/LStUj9mZros Martyrs http://youtu.be/WKECEkDAGx4 , http://youtu.be/2VD63bHzm1M

In the town of Rastan, Homs Province, and after weeks of pounding, many neighborhoods lie in ruins http://youtu.be/rwL8n1g0-7E

In Aleppo Province, the battle for the town of Al-Atareb continues, but for now the local resistance retains control http://youtu.be/In_FZ5-4Nyk Scenes from the battle: local resistance laying siege to an official building where loyalist forces took refuge http://youtu.be/Q40u6RodIo8 , http://youtu.be/ZZzYa0miY_4 , http://youtu.be/1q1pSImGdYQ The wounded http://youtu.be/JIpWMxlAY9M Martyrs http://youtu.be/KNgVAdYSq_c

In Damascus, the town of Douma comes under fire at night http://youtu.be/t94bUwJgKpM and has come under fire earlier in the day as well http://youtu.be/ALsbNkqPT0w

Leaked videos shows loyalist troops firing at civilian neighborhoods in the town of Da’el in Daraa Province http://youtu.be/TbHscxDBwD8


Enter the Merchants!

With the Damascene Merchant Elite throwing its support behind the revolution, the Massacre of Houla has become a watershed moment in the history of the Syrian Revolution, even as its impact on global consciousness remains uncertain.


The Russia Guilt

In response to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s assertion that rebels share the blame for the Houla Massacre, it’s worth reminding that Russia shares even more of the blame in this regard. After all, they have been arming Assad and shielding him politically since the beginning of the revolution. The blood that was shed in Houla and is still being shed all across the country is on their hand. The assertions made by Russian officials to the effect that the arms they are sending to Syria are not the kind that can be used in the crackdown are worthless in the absence of any verification. In reality, with their every act and breath so far, Russian officials, to their eternal shame, insist on being part of the problem in Syria, rather than the solution.

Video Highlights

Damascus goes on strike http://youtu.be/D_57ksWjG3M , http://youtu.be/CR3qPio1QcA , http://youtu.be/wiBjY547uyE , http://youtu.be/aQWk8CDHfmM The strike was observed in main commercial districts of Hamidiyeh, Hariqah, Bahsah and Halbouni as well as protest hubs of Kafar Sousseh, Qaboun, Barzeh, Assaly, Midan and elsewhere.  

Damascus offers another child martyr (Tadamon Suburb) http://youtu.be/nooC0b3la2M Hama City as well http://youtu.be/21ncUZ95fXk

The pounding of old neighborhoods in Homs City resumes: Khaldiyeh http://youtu.be/TE_Om_J_XE0 , http://youtu.be/wFwVbhwpQOc , http://youtu.be/lwO_q-PuKTI , http://youtu.be/4Fqfnd8vEPY with deadly consequences http://youtu.be/hXIBBn1KDnM , http://youtu.be/RWakKur0954 , http://youtu.be/fIaurFd71Qw Hamidiyeh http://youtu.be/-hEu0QtWVeg Bassel Shihadeh, an activist from Damascus, Christian, dies in Homs City as he was taking part in documenting the atrocities of pro-Assad militias http://youtu.be/5VMOypEjkC4  

The pounding of the town of Al-Atareb in Aleppo Province, leaves scores wounded http://youtu.be/DRPkd_FB224 , http://youtu.be/-2QCtazzOSU , http://youtu.be/5HtBdJnV7EE

Protesters in New York rally in front of the house of Assad’s UN envoy and force him to call the police http://youtu.be/gvz-vGEjws0

By Syrian Cartoonist, Ali Ferzat

Monday, May 28, 2012

Obama & The Russians!

So long as Russia remains adamant at watering down any UN resolution dealing with Syria, it should be clear to all that she cannot be part of any solution.

Sunday May 27, 2012

Death toll: 51, including 25 in Hama City, 9 in Damascus City (Midan, Naher Eisheh and Assaly), 5 in Damascus suburbs (Yalda, Daraya, Douma and Ein Mneen), 6 in Homs city, 4 in Idlib and 2 in Daraa.

UN Monitors in Syria put the number of victims of Houla Massacre at 116 dead and over 300 wounded.

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The fact is, despite restrictions on media and aid organizations operating in Syria, the world knows what is happening there, it just doesn't know what to do about it. Will the Houla killings change anything, or will they be just another bloody footnote in a conflict that has killed an unknown number of people? The U.N. stopped counting Syria's dead months ago. NATO has repeatedly said it has no plans to intervene in the conflict. The U.N. secretary general has admitted that "at this time, we don't have any Plan B" for Syria. It's hardly reassuring given that Plan A, the six-point Annan initiative, is barely viable.

Schemes & Massacres


That this is indeed the essence of Obama’s Administration’s approach on Syria has been quite apparent for months now. That’s why when I finally had a chance to go to Moscow and meet with some of Russia’s policy people, I took it. The trip, which took place between May 18 and 25,  gave me an opportunity to know for myself how hard of a challenge changing Russia’s position will be, especially considering how attached to the status quo its leadership seems to be.

Now, and after spending a week there, and while I wouldn’t necessarily judge the differences between U.S. and Russia’s positions over Syria as unbridgeable, let’s just say that there are quite a few circles that need to be squared first before agreement is reached. The Russians are not attached to Assad, but they are attached to the regime and their base in Tartous. What the “regime” means to the Russians is Alawite control of security and military apparatuses. If regime survival under this formula is not possible, than the powers-that-be in Russia would not be too opposed to the fragmentation of Syria so long as coastal areas remain under Alawite control, which is the likely outcome in this case. To ensure getting their desired outcome, the Russians will continue propping up the regime by supplying it with arms, which they claim are not meant to be used against protesters but against future western intervention, and by continuing to be a stumbling block in the way of any meaningful UN-led action or condemnation.

Still, believe it or not, that is not even the real problem. After all, and as the NY Times report indicates, and considering their growing disaffection with Syria’s fractious opposition, the Obama Administration is indeed seeking a deal that eases Assad’s way out but keeps the regime pretty much intact. But who can sell this plan to the revolutionaries? That’s the real question and the real problem. The off-switch to this revolution, if it exists, lies squarely in the hands of young protest leaders scattered throughout the country, and the arrangement sought by Obama and the Russians is simply too cynical to satisfy them. The protest, the crackdown, the defiance, the reprisals, and the massacres all will continue even with the Assads out of the picture so long as what gets put in place after his departure continues to lack popular legitimacy. And popular legitimacy cannot be given to a regime that is still dominated by military and security apparatuses that are still dominated in their turn by Alawite generals and officers. Pure and simple.

In other words, if the Obama Administration is pinning its hopes on squaring circles in order to reach an agreement with Russia on a deal that will be dead on arrival as far as most Syrians are concerned, then, Syria’s fate as a country has already been sealed. She will be no more. Russian policymakers insist that this is an acceptable outcome as far as they are concerned, but how about American officials? Is the dissolution of Syria as a state acceptable for them as well?

But then, perhaps Senator McCain is right in his assessment of President Obama’s policy at this stage.  Perhaps, all that U.S. officials want to achieve at this stage is to kick this bucket until after the elections, without considering the serious consequences of further delays.

Be that as it may the massacre in Houla indicates clearly that we are quickly running out of time. Just consider the following facts:

There have been high level assassinations among the ranks of the Assad security establishment; its victims might have included Assad’s own brother-in-law and one of the chief architects of the crackdown so far. We still cannot be sure of that, but Assad’s failure to attend the opening session of the Parliament as per protocol and his continued silence at this stage lends some credence to claims in this regard. Some speculate that the massacres in Houla came as a reprisal for these assassinations. Not that the Assads have ever needed any justification for perpetrating their brand of terror beyond the challenge to their legitimacy.

Meanwhile, the town of Eizaz in Aleppo Province continues to be pounded in retaliation for the kidnapping of 14 Hezbollah operatives who happened to be in the area. Hezbollah media outlets claim that the 14 were pilgrims returning from Iran, sources close to the kidnappers say interrogations prove that these were Hezbollah operative and that one of them is a nephew of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Indirect negotiations have been taken place over the last couple of days, but they have so far led to naught due to continued pounding by pro-Assad militias.

Today, the pounding of Hama City and the new massacre that was perpetrated there underscores the complete failure and irrelevance of Annan’s Mission.

So, what we have now is a situation that is quickly spiraling out of control, and the Obama Administration might need to adjust its timetable accordingly. Time is not on the side of stability and reason in this conflict. Elements of the Old Regime might need to be preserved, but the U.S. needs to avoid the miscalculations of Russian officials: instability in Syria will be product of regime survival not regime change. Bringing Syrian protesters to endorse, no matter how reluctantly, any deal that allows for Assad’s departure has to include serious assurances that the upcoming change will be far-reaching and not simply decorative, otherwise nothing will be accomplished.

Note: It should be borne in mind that locals in Houla made clear from the beginning that most victims of the infamous massacre were slaughtered by pro-Assad militias who stormed into town after it was pounded by regular troops. For Russian officials to use this fact to deflect blame from the regime is grotesque. For the UN resolution to fail to name pro-Assad militias as culprits paves the ground for further acts of genocide.

Video Highlights

Sweden’s children try to draw attention to the massacres in Syria in their own way http://youtu.be/zyMqHWAh-2c

Hama City:

A new massacre took place in the city today due to the pounding http://youtu.be/kyFMiwZofls , http://youtu.be/T5sc2IsxjHo , http://youtu.be/G1gsYoGBjCw , http://youtu.be/yknYRA8ryZE of Janoub Al-Malaab, Mashaa Al-Fouroussiyeh and Al-Hadir Neighborhoods. Tanks roll in http://youtu.be/YTeFLMorKuA Homes catch fire http://youtu.be/HH5gpZoLQpk


Damascus:

Pro-Assad militias open fire against protesters in Midan District http://youtu.be/hTVlR4tzai8 It’s militias likes these who perpetrated the massacres in Houla. Rescuing the wounded http://youtu.be/tYXzfzizdKg , http://youtu.be/eSLt6pTS2PI , http://youtu.be/2mqQyKCzHbs A martyr http://youtu.be/G_-Zkp9T3rk

A similar scene unfolds in the nearby neighborhood of Naher Eisheh http://youtu.be/HqLgWtUtvKA Rescuing a wounded http://youtu.be/368FO1gXjas , http://youtu.be/qP5TWjuuvUE

Moadamiya Suburb comes under fire at night http://youtu.be/MNkpotBuLfU

Homs

Houla: four more bodies of children discovered http://youtu.be/veTMbZH_0VU Families take advantage of the presence of UN monitors to leave town http://youtu.be/v5hVRN4854Q And another ghost town is created http://youtu.be/0OfxX9CFXp0

Idlib

The town of Khan Shaikhoon comes under renewed pounding http://youtu.be/_uG2qtLKNso , http://youtu.be/b0O0bKQ8vD4 , http://youtu.be/4fmtM7rcAfY One of the loyalist checkpoints laying siege to the town http://youtu.be/i3SM2AKjalA