Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Swap!

Since the beginning of the armed phase of the revolution, Assad never bothered trying to get his own captured soldiers, irrespective of their backgrounds, but, today, he was willing to release over 2,100 prisoners in exchange for 48 Iranian captives. These priorities of his might give us a “hint” as to who is really in charge in Syria at this stage. The demons within are legion, so are the demons without. Snowfall notwithstanding, we are already in the lowest depths of hell, and we’re fighting our way out.

Wednesday January 9, 2013

Today’s Death Toll: 92, (including 9 children and 4 women): 29 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs, 27 martyrs in Aleppo, 14 martyrs in Hama, 7 martyrs in Idlib, 8 martyrs in Homs, 4 martyrs in Daraa and 3 martyrs in Deir Ezzor (LCCs).

Points of Random Shelling: 180: 2 points were shelled by warplanes, Cluster Bombs were used in Taftanaz and Omar Oil Field in Deir Ezzor, 86 points were shelled by artillery (the fiercest was reported in Damascus Suburbs), 51 points by missiles and 42 points by mortars (LCCs).

Clashes: The FSA clashed with regime forces in 77 locations (the fiercest clashes were reported in Damascus Suburbs, Idlib and Aleppo), the FSA stormed several buildings in Taftanaz Military Airport and targeted its main building, the FSA blocked many attempts by the regime forces to storm Daraya and Mouadamiya in Damascus Suburbs and Basr Al-Harir in Daraa (LCCs).

Syria releases 2,130 captives to rebels in exchange for 48 Iranian prisoners “Assad proved he is an Iranian puppet because he agreed to release over 2,000 in return for 48 Iranians,” said Louay Moqdad, a Free Syrian Army spokesman. “He did not care about Syrian officers who are also detained with us.”
Syria opposition welcomes Brahimi comments criticizing Assad Brahimi earlier told the BBC a speech by Assad on Sunday was a "lost opportunity" to end the crisis in Syria and that Assad's initiatives to end the violence were "sectarian and one-sided". He also said the Assad family's more than 40-year rule was "too long".
U.S. Government Assistance to Syria U.S. assistance includes vigorous diplomatic support of the newly formed Syrian Opposition Coalition, humanitarian assistance to help those affected by the conflict, and non-lethal support for local councils and civil society inside Syria.

Special Reports
The Humanitarian Front
The UN warns it cannot feed some 1 million displaced Syrians, many in war zones with few bread supplies. A global response to this humanitarian crisis might help diffuse differences over political solutions.
The rebels’ hope for a quick victory in Aleppo has given way to the reality that there is no end in sight to this war. Though the rebels recently seized the Sheikh Suleiman Air Base and the Infantry School on the outskirts of Aleppo, the regime still controls large swaths of the city itself and regularly shells rebel-held zones. The creation of a new government-in-exile and a unified military command means little to families on the front lines, fervently hoping the next shell will not land in their living room. The new National Coalition offers them neither the necessities or the security they pine for.
In a crowded makeshift camp, tens of thousands of exiles face an ever more dire existence as temperatures plummet. Mike Giglio reports from Syria. Plus, see exclusive photos from Syrian refugee camps.
It is a very cold winter at the Domiz camp in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. It has been raining for hours. The place is muddy and very cold… From a vantage point, the camp looks more like a settlement of tents. Around 30,000 people live in the camp alone. An average of 500 people come in every day, so you can predict that the influx is only growing. The UN refugee agency is stretched. It provides waterproof tents and non-food items. It has different phases to house the refugees after the transit in tents.

Although Turkey and the United States both want Assad to go, the two countries are in different places. For Washington, Syria is a smoldering conflict, and Americans abhor the Assad regime. But Washington fears the unknown after Assad, and is reluctant to get dragged into a war in another Muslim country…. For Ankara, the Syrian conflict is a conflagration next door that needs to be extinguished now. Assad has to go, and fast. Many reasons drive the Turkish calculus. First, there is the uptick in Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) attacks. As soon as Ankara took sides against the Assad regime in August 2011, Damascus retaliated, allowing the Turks' archenemy, the PKK, and its Syrian franchise, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), to operate on its territory again.
The Syrian civil war threatens the country's neighbors. Turkey plans to protect itself with Patriot missiles, but other countries are also worried about the potential collapse of the Syrian state.
Sheik Ahmad Assir’s skyrocketing popularity is threatening to turn some members of Lebanon’s primarily moderate Sunni population more extreme, forcing the country’s long simmering sectarian tensions to a boil. Assir is the most high-profile of Lebanon’s Salafists — an ultra-orthodox branch of Sunni Islam. His status is buoyed by the neighbouring war in Syria, which has devolved into a mostly sectarian fight between Sunnis and Shiites.

The Cultural Front
Sites in Syria dating as far back as Christ as are being leveled at alarming rates.

Update from an aid worker based in Beirut

We still go a couple of days a week to Damascus unless the situation is too bad. Actually it is getting pretty bad also inside Damascus now, they were firing rockets from helicopters right over us last time I was in and the rockets they fire on Daraya and Mu’adamiyah among other places sometimes fly right over us. I saw some of the effects of the carpet bombing of Harasta from the old city – SANA ran a great article about how “Damascus lovers” still go the restaurants in the old city to hang out – they just forgot to mention that the whole town closes down to checkpoints at sunset, that traffic effectively closes down after 7 and they take away young men for the army at the checkpoints, that shooting is heard from places all over the centre when it is dark and there are army snipers on the roofs, and that the shabiha roam the streets of the old city for fear of FSA infiltration. Not exactly the romantic atmosphere for “Damascus lovers”….

Nada Bakos, a former Central Intelligence Agency, has this to say about Al-Nusra’s plans in Syria:

Al-Nusra is using some of the same tactics as al Qaeda in Iraq (e.g., suicide bombings, kidnappings and car bombs), but it appears to be trying to strike a balance Zarqawi was unwilling to make: Not only does it seem to be avoiding alienating—if not antagonizing—the larger population, but it also is providing the people of Syria with a range of goods and services such as food, water and medical care—basic necessities that people need to survive in the best of times, let alone when their country is in the throes of a civil war.

If this becomes a trend, it might signal that al-Nusra aspires to be more like Hezbollah or Hamas, organizations that defy neat categorization based on the range of social, political and military activities they engage in and the resultant legitimacy they have in the eyes of their constituencies…

My read of al-Nusra, however, is that, like Zarqawi, it does not aspire to be a political player and is unlikely to settle for a political role in the new government. Instead, it may aim to play the spoiler for any transitional government and use its resources and political violence to empower and encourage other like-minded extremists. With time and opportunity, al-Nusra could not only add to regional instability in the Middle East, but also rekindle global jihad.

However, information obtained from a variety of local activists in Syria indicates that Al-Nusra is seriously establishing its own political council with representatives in the local government emerging throughout the liberated territories in the north and the northeast. As such, the recommendation made by Bakos to use the “designation of al-Nusra [as a terrorist group] as both a stick and carrot, cajoling and encouraging it to enter into mainstream politics when (or if) the Assad regime falls” sounds like something that the Obama Administration could try soon, considering that “the opportunity for meaningful U.S. intervention might have passed.”

Video Highlights

As snow falls, Syrian families in Damascus wait for the release of their loved ones in accordance with the prisoners swap agreement between rebels and authorities The first few are released ,

Rebels from Jabhat Al-Nusra bring down a helicopter gunship n the town of Alboukamal on the Iraqi borders, and arrest its 6-member crew Meanwhile, an affiliate of Al-Nusra distributes gas cylinders in the village of Shmeitiyeh

Clashes around the military airport in Deir Ezzor continue

Rebels take control of Wadi Obeid oilfield in Raqqah Province

Rebels affiliated with Ahrar Al-Sham attack the military airport at Taftanaz in Idlib Province , Rebels use a confiscated armored vehicles to storm over the airport fence

Intense clashes between FSA rebels and loyalist militias continue in Basr Al-Harir, Daraa ,

FSA rebels in Aleppo continue their siege of the police academy

Snow does not prevent the continuing pounding of restive neighborhoods in Old Homs

Snowfall does not prevent clashes in parts of Damascus City

Children in Al-Zaatari Camp in Jordan try to fix their fallen tent