Monday, January 28, 2013

He Speaks, But Will He Act!

President Obama just regained his voice on things Syrian. Now we wait for him to acquire some willpower to act. True, contemplating intervention is never easy, and the U.S. is not meant to be the keepers of world order, but with great power comes great responsibility, there is no avoiding that, and what is unfolding in Syria today is a great humanitarian disaster that needs to be mitigated. The U.S. cannot turn its back on that indefinitely. At one point, it will be called upon to act. Its failure to do so earlier only served to make the task more complex, dangerous and thankless. The fact that a nonviolent protest movement was allowed to turn into an armed insurrection paving the way for civil war only increases the culpability of international leaders, including President Obama, and turns intervention, as complex and hazardous as it is bound to be, into an even greater moral must. I can only hope President Obama sees the light soon.

Sunday January 27, 2013

Today’s Death Toll: 106 martyrs including 5 women, 11 children, and 3 who were tortured to death: 41 fell in Damascus and suburbs, 18 in Homs, 16 in Aleppo, 10 in Daraa, 9 in Idlib, 7 in Hama, 2 in Hasakeh, 2 in Deir Ezzor and 1 in Latakia (LCCs).

Points of Random Shelling: 337 points were shelled by regime forces, including 21 points that were shelled using warplanes, 4 points using phosphorous bombs, 3 points using vacuum bombs, 2 points using cluster bombs, 116 points using artillery shelling, 94 points using mortal shelling, and 85 points using missiles (LCCs).

Clashes: The Free Syrian Army clashed with regime forces in 141 points. Operations included freeing of dozens of detainees from the Military Security branch in the areas of ‘Assas in Damascus Suburbs and targeting the Security branch in Harasta with mortars. Also, the Air Force Headquarters in Sahnaya were struck and a number of tanks were destroyed in the heart of Damascus. FSA rebels also targeted shabiha militias stationed on the outskirts of the city in Deir Ezzor. In Homs, FSA rebels stormed the Political Security intelligence branch in Deir Baalbeh District. In Daraa, rebels repelled a loyalist attack on the town of Basr Al-Harir (LCCs).

Obama says struggling over whether to intervene in Syria "In a situation like Syria, I have to ask: can we make a difference in that situation?" Obama said in an interview with The New Republic published on the magazine's website… "And how do I weigh tens of thousands who've been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo?" he said…. "We do nobody a service when we leap before we look, where we ... take on things without having thought through all the consequences of it," Obama told CBS. "We are not going to be able to control every aspect of every transition and transformation" in conflicts around the world, he said. "Sometimes they're going to go sideways."

Israel Girds For Attacks As Syria Falls Apart At least one Iron Dome missile defense battery was deployed Sunday in northern Israel amid reports of intense security consultations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding Syria and the possibility of chemical weapons falling into the hands of Islamist rebels or being transferred to the militant group Hezbollah.
Palestinians fleeing Syria are double refugees Syria provided tens of thousands of Palestinians with a livable sanctuary after what they refer to as the Nakba or catastrophe of 1948. Over the decades they built a city from the original tents in Damascus’s Yarmouk camp, which until recently housed about 150,000 people. When anti-regime protests broke out in 2011, even those sympathetic to the opposition in Yarmouk were wary, conscious of their guest status. Late last year however, the war came to them. “It’s the Nakba of Yarmouk,” says Um Mazen.
Mined area in Syria border promises oil “This region has considerable natural and cultural heritage as well as areas to be used for energy. There are resources for oil and natural gas production. A method for exploiting the cleared terrain regarding all finds will be elaborated on and announced to the public,” Karahocagil said, adding that mine clearance falls under the jurisdiction of the National Defense Ministry.

Special Reports
Ammar Abdulhamid: Syria's civil war is now strongly characterised by militias identifying along sectarian lines. The growing divide between Sunnis and Alawites has profound implications for Syria, and the Middle East.
Hundreds of women took to the streets of Banias early on in the uprising, demanding the release of thousands of men who had been rounded up by security forces loyal to the regime. Activist Nadja Mansour told NOW that women back then led many of the peaceful movements. But as the violence increased, peaceful activities decreased, and the role of women also diminished.
Daily life in the suburbs of Damascus is getting harder, writes Bill Neely, as the bitter and bloody battle for control of the Syrian capital grinds on.
There is also a sectarian reason why the Assad regime backs the PKK, according to Othman. Most of the PKK’s leadership hails from a rarified minority: Alawite Kurds. Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK’s founder who is now in Turkish prison, is an Alawite from Maabatli, a town from which most of Syria’s Alawite Kurds, perhaps 200,000, hail. Kurds make up more than 10% of Syria’s 23 million citizens, and the vast majority of them adhere to a moderate version of Sunni Islam.
… regime officers are afraid that their platoons of conscripts could desert at the first opportunity, while the rebels are too low on weapons and ammunition to forge ahead. The result is a stalemate which has made life impossible for the Kurdish civilians who used to live in the 60 villages in the area, in the northern reaches of Latakia province. Almost all have left, moving farther north toward the Turkish border where they feel safer. For now, they are crammed into small houses left vacant by better-off Syrians near the border and who are now waiting out the war in Turkey. But more arrive each day, putting a strain on both lodgings and charity.

The Meltdown

The Islamist-Kurdish Divide

New fronts in Syria’s civil war are now emerging. The first pits Islamist rebels against Syria’s Kurdish population. The current flashpoint is the Kurdish-majority town of Ras Al-Ain/Sere Kanye, currently under attack by over 1,500 Islamist fighters belonging to 16 different groups. Rebels are using tanks and RPGs in their assault and are showing the same kind of disregard to civilian populations that pro-Assad militias tend to show.

Meanwhile, the town is being defended by an assortment of Kurdish fighting units led by the YPG (Kurdish local defense committees which are ideologically lined to PKK). But other Kurdish groups are now involved, with Kurds fearing that the current attack comes as part of an Islamist/Arab strategy to take over and/or isolate all Kurdish-majority towns in the northeast. The fighting is fierce, Arab tribal are involved, and certain tribal members of the Syrian National Council seem involved in directing the fight against the Kurds, including ranking member Ahmad Hamad Al-Assad Al-Milhem. The fighting has been ongoing for ten days now, with over 150 dead on both sides. Turkish involvement is not clear, but protection afforded to the wounded from Islamist rebel groups when treated in Turkish hospitals indicate sympathies with Islamists. Many 

Islamists rebels bury one of their own, as sounds of clashes can be heard in the background

The Secular-Islamist Divide

A second front that is also developing slowly is one that pits Islamists fighters, including members of Jabhat Al-Nusra, against secular activists.  Recent developments in the town of Saraqib, Idlib Province, give an accurate ideas as to what is involved at this stage.

Jihadists and Secular Activists Clash in Syria: “The dispute in Saraqib began when a group of masked men raided two organizations run by local activists, a new cultural club and a social work office, the activists said. At the second office, where Danish journalists and two visiting female Syrian activists were staying, the men seized fliers advocating nonviolence and ordered the group to leave town by sunrise, according to activists and one of the journalists, a filmmaker. The masked men were angry, the witnesses said, in part because the visiting Syrian activists were not covering their hair in accordance with the practice of many pious Muslims. The men also declared that they preferred foreign journalists entering the country to be men.”

On Friday, secular activists marked their rejection of the tactics of Jabhat Al-Nusra in their city, chanting “the Syrian people are one,” “God, Syria, Freedom and nothing more,” and hosting banners asserting the “civic” nature of the city irrespective of the number of guns now in it, and rejecting the presence of “masked men” in their midst


Meanwhile, criticism of Jabhat Al-Nusra’s tactics continues to mark a widening divide between secular and Islamist groups. Jabhat Al-Nusra has just adopted a suicide attack against a pro-Assad militia headquarters that took place in Salamiyeh, Hama, on January 21. The attack was controversial because it generated many civilian casualties as well, and on account of the highly mixed character of the City, where Christians, Alawites, Ismailites and Sunnis live. The announcement by Jabhat Al-Nusra was received with much naysaying on part of secular activists writing on their Facebook posts and on their blogs, and is bound to increasing tension between secular pro-democracy activists and Islamists rebels on the ground in many flashpoints across the country, but especially in so-called liberated areas.


Bearing all these divides in mind, and the one I just pointed out in my recent article in openDemocracy, the one that goes to the heart of the current situation, the dire predictions of Christian Caryl that the international community’s failure to act so far has set the scene for more killing to come in the near future seem quite logical…

“Because the fateful wheel of atrocity and reprisal, so familiar from past civil wars, is gathering momentum. It could hardly be any different, considering the scale of the killing so far. The Assad regime bears full responsibility for launching the carnage. But it does not bear sole responsibility for all the crimes that have been committed, and it will not bear sole responsibility for the crimes that are yet to come.”

The real long-term impact of this is something Lara Setrakian of Syria Deeply seems to get:

We have lost Syria -- we've lost the good faith of its people and lost the opportunity to stem its decline. Everyone, everywhere we've reached has said the same thing: Stop the bleeding. This message speaks to wounds we cannot see and stories we can hardly fathom. But they will shape the Middle East for generations to come.

Video Highlights

The battle for control over Idlib City’s Central Prison as seen from the point of view of a rebel unit affiliated with Suqur Al-Sham

Rebels in Deir Ezzor City use a confiscated tank in an attack on a loyalist checkpoint ,

A rebel attack against a loyalist headquarters in Mseifrah, Daraa ,

The pounding of rebel suburbs in Homs City continues: Jobar

Aerial bombardment of rebel suburbs in Damascus continues: Arbeen Al-Qadam , Saqba

Rebels in Sheikh Saad Suburb in Aleppo City capture a number of key locations , , ,