Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The White House Riddler!

President Obama is right: the United States has given more than any other country to help mitigate the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Syria. For that he deserves our gratitude. But what he remains unwilling to consider, it seems, is that the United States has several options, not to mention a moral obligation, to actually stop this disaster in track before it mushrooms into a regional meltdown. This will be the biggest humanitarian aid package of all. His reiterated commitment to Assad’s removal and to supporting the transition to democratic rule is laudable, but his failure to explain how this could be accomplished and what the U.S. intends to do to achieve this 18-month old objective continues to puzzle.

Tuesday January 29, 2013

Today’s Death Toll: 228 martyrs (including 13 children and 7 women): 118 in Aleppo (80 of them in Bustan Al-Qasr), 37 in Damascus and Sububs, 25 in Daraa, 23 in Homs, 11 in Hama, 7 in Idlib and 7 in Deir Ezzor (LCCs).

Points of Random Shelling: 424 points: 14 points were shelled by warplanes, 4 points by Thermobaric Bombs, 3 points by Cluster Bombs and 1 point by Phosphorus Bombs. The mortar shelling was reported in 187 points, the artillery shelling in 145 points and the missile shelling in 70 points (LCCs).

Clashes: FSA rebels clashed with regime forces and its Shabiha in 142 locations. Successful operations included downing a warplane and destroying a loyalist military convoy in Sfeira in Aleppo, liberating Political Security Department in Deir Ezzor City and freeing all detainees and taking control of the Idlib Central Prison (LCCs).

News
Dozens of People Are Reported Bound and Shot in Syria Muddied and waterlogged bodies of scores of people, most of them men in their 20s and 30s, have been found in a suburb of Syria’s contested northern city of Aleppo, activists and insurgent fighters reported Tuesday. Videos posted by opponents of President Bashar al-Assad seemed to show that many had been shot in the back of the head while their hands were bound.
Obama Delivers Video Message to Syria as Death Toll Rises “He’s clearly trying to show and tell the people of the Arab world the U.S. is very involved in delivering assistance to Syria,” Danin said. “It may not be lethal, it may not be military, but he went out of his way to point out the U.S. is the single largest contributor of assistance. ‘‘He’s also trying to beat back criticism,’’ Danin said. ‘‘He’s trying to get in front of the story rather than have the story be ‘The United States is standing by while Syrians suffer.’’’
Hillary Clinton: US set up credible opposition in Syria The outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US has played an indispensable role in working to establish a credible opposition coalition in Syria.
Syria "breaking up before everyone's eyes:" envoy tells U.N. U.N.-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi warned the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may be able to cling to power for now but the country is "breaking up before everyone's eyes," diplomats told Reuters. Brahimi appealed to the 15-nation council to overcome its deadlock and take action to help put an end to the Syrian civil war. However, it was not clear whether his latest report - one of his bleakest since his appointment last year - would persuade Russia to agree to support concrete U.N. steps to try to halt the bloodshed.
Palestinian commander who once tried to challenge Arafat dies in Damascus, aged 86 Maragha rebelled against Arafat in 1982, after Israel invaded southern Lebanon and bombed the capital, Beirut, pushing out Palestinian fighters. Arafat and much of the Palestinian leadership fled to establish a base in Tunisia. Other fighters fled to Algeria and Yemen. Maragha wanted Arafat to hold military commanders accountable for fleeing from the fighting. He argued against leaving Beirut, wanting to stay as close as possible to Israel's borders. A year later, he established a rival group, called "Fatah Uprising." The group received the backing of the Assad regime in Syria, which sought to weaken Arafat. He ultimately left to Damascus, where he joined the Syria-allied Palestinian National Alliance, a group that rejected negotiations with Israel.
Former US Official: Syria Faces Unclear Future Brent Scowcroft views the two-year Syrian uprising as much more complex than the Arab Spring uprising in Libya. "In Libya, you could see the alternatives if you throw out [Moammar] Ghadafi," Scowcroft said in an interview with VOA. "[In] Syria, the alternatives are not so clear."
UN Seeks Major Aid Boost For Syrian `Catastrophe' The urgency for a dramatic increase in international relief funds for Syria - seeking total pledges of $1.5 billion - will be the central message Wednesday in Kuwait from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other leaders such as Jordan's King Abdullah II, whose nation is struggling with more than 320,000 refugees and more arriving every day. The meeting also seeks to reorient some of the political calculations among Western nations and allies supporting the Syrian rebels. With the civil war nearing its two-year mark and no end in sight, U.N. officials and others are pressing governments to recognize the potential long-term humanitarian burdens and spread resources and support to both the Syrian opposition and the millions of people caught in the conflict.

Special Reports
Syrians are fleeing in record numbers to neighboring countries, and the injured can’t rely on Syrian hospitals because they have often been targeted by the regime’s fighter jets. Targeting civilians, or hospitals, is a war crime under international law. “In Syria, hospitals are sometimes targeted with rockets and shelling and any doctor that they catch treating casualties they immediately execute him and they tell Syrians those are terrorists and you are helping terrorists,” says Yasir Alsyed, the manager of the rehab center.
Although sanctions have forced Iran to cut back dramatically on its shipping traffic, some Iranian-linked vessels continue to slip through the net. For a brazen example, take the case of an Iranian-flagged oil tanker named the Tour 2, currently off Cyprus, which earlier this month paid a call at the Syrian port of Tartous. The Tour 2 is not on the U.S. sanctions list, though if sanctions are to be the U.S. tool of choice for dealing with Syria and Iran, the Tour 2 comes with a record that should transfix any dedicated sanctions enforcer. Over the past year, it has made at least three circuits between U.S.-sanctioned Iran and U.S.-sanctioned Syria, calling at Syria last March, July and just this month. These trips appear to be part of Iran’s effort to bolster Syria’s regime against the uprising in which more than 60,000 people so far have died. While Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has abetted the Assad regime in the killing, Iranian-controlled tankers have helped the Syrian regime defy U.S. and European Union embargoes on its oil sales by sending ships to pick up Syrian crude, for onward sale that benefits Iran’s embattled ally, President Bashar Assad. The Tour 2 has been one of these ships.
Aleppo's present belies a much richer past. It's Syria's largest city, and one of the world's oldest continually inhabited urban areas. Over the centuries, it has served as a major crossroads for trade and commerce. At The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., there is moving evidence of an earlier, more peaceful time in that now-beleaguered Syrian hub: photographs of 19th century women in gold-trimmed velvet jackets, flowing pants and, on their heads, finely woven skull caps. One such small and brimless cap, made in 1800, is on display at the museum.
America’s fears of heavily armed jihadists overrunning the country is already coming to pass, Azm says—a result, in his opinion, of the lack of international support for more moderate and organized rebel factions. “No one supported them,” he says. “Then you had these Islamist groups come in, and they had weapons, and they had guns, and they had money—and people started to drift toward them. And they’re on the loose now anyway.”


As the Syrian Tragedy continues to unfold, it is proven much more of a serious challenge to lawmakers all over the world than many of us had expected. It is denuding us all, and revealing weaknesses not just in the structure of decision-making in the UN, but also in several important countries around the world, including the United States, as we can deduce from this article by Bennett Ramberg:

Congress should reconvene the hearings begun last session. This time, however, it must press for details about the administration’s assumptions about intervening or not. In addition, all the hearings should be public – not secret, as the administration prefers. This will give the American people confidence in the decision-making. Among the broad questions the hearings should explore:

          Why should Syria’s use of chemical weapons be more concerning than the conventional arms that have killed many tens of thousands and wounded countless others?
          Have policymakers exaggerated chemical weapons’ effectiveness to kill, injure and terrorize?
          Given concerns that terrorists could get hold of these weapons, what challenges would they confront to transport and detonate the toxic material in and out of Syria?
          Why can’t Syria’s neighbors, Turkey, Jordan and Israel – all substantial military powers in the region – deal with this challenge?
          How many and what kinds of U.S. forces would operations require –with and without allies – to lock down the Syrian chemical arsenal? Would air power be enough? Would boots on the ground be required to secure secret sites? Could rebel militias serve this purpose?
          If the United States intervenes, what is the game plan and exit strategy to prevent another quagmire?

Congress should mold its findings into a joint House and Senate resolution – still plausible on national security issues even as legislators divide on budgetary matters – unblemished by executive branch drum-beating or quaking.

If Congress does this, it won’t just be addressing the Syrian challenge. It will finally begin to right the imbalance of power between the executive and lawmakers that for too long has dominated American war deciding.

This will begin to fulfill what the War Powers Resolution intended – to “insure that the collective judgment of both the Congress and the president will apply to the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities.”


What makes these points particularly important is that they are made by someone who used to be the Obama Administration’s point man on Syria just until the end of last year:

Indeed, the United States’ recognition of the Syrian Opposition Coalition in December 2012 as “the legitimate representative of the Syrian people” would be meaningless without the implicit understanding that those who legitimately represent 22.5 million Syrians have the right to constitute a government. And yet, were such a government to establish itself on liberated Syrian territory, would the United States recognize it as the Syrian government? Would it help to defend that government against the Assad regime’s likely efforts to strangle it in the cradle? Would it enter into a security assistance relationship with the new Syrian government? Would it organize an international effort to fund the new government at levels that would enable it to meet the humanitarian, essential services, and law-and-order needs of its constituents? These questions must be answered—and answered definitively—before the Syrian Opposition Coalition can reasonably undertake the establishment of such a government…

The possibility of the Syrian opposition forming an alternative government offers the Obama administration a choice it does not welcome: either reconsider its basic strategy or tell the opposition (and our allies and friends) not to count on the United States to do the things that would give a new government the chance to succeed.  The former could be wrenching, as key administration officials see Syria as a beckoning morass: the mother of all distractions for a second Obama term dedicated to accomplishing an ambitious agenda at home and creating a sustainable and stable security architecture in Asia. Yet the latter could be disastrous; given enough rope Assad will take Syria straight to the gallows, and the consequences of that hanging will be felt by 22.5 million Syrians and all of their neighbors for decades to come.  Will the United States be able to avert its glance as the tsunami of Syrian state failure washes refugees, terrorists, and weapons of mass destruction over the region?

The Syrian revolution is not America’s to win or lose. The American Revolution was not France’s to win or lose. Yet without the support of France, American independence could have been deferred indefinitely and disastrously. Without American support, the uprising of Syrians against a regime willing to assault their dignity and take their lives in addition to picking their pockets, might have died an early death. Yet now a point of decision has arrived. For the Syrian opposition to form a government offering all Syrians a credible and convincing alternative to the Assad-Makhluf family clique, the United States will have to step up its game. Reluctance to do so is understandable. Failure to do so could be disastrous.

Video Highlights

Video of President Obama’s message to the Syrian people http://youtu.be/15Ldu9dZKHY

Videos from the massacre at Boustan Al-Qasr, Aleppo City: activists found dozens of bodies of people who seem to have been summarily executed by pro-Assad militias – The moment of discovery http://youtu.be/mlOSRzKNhZI Pulling the bodies from the river banks http://youtu.be/2inMpA_h6lY , http://youtu.be/O-YtyxA3zxo Collecting the bodies http://youtu.be/KuOTQxd84VQ , http://youtu.be/O4y8gQV4DO8 Angry Locals http://youtu.be/YqyccUDdlCo , http://youtu.be/1mCSVNbijRs Impromptu funeral for one of the over 80 victims http://youtu.be/NDTgCMEV-Mg Bodies lined up in rows http://youtu.be/AfqHEQQuuGs

The Massacre in pictures.

Rebels in Sfeirah, Aleppo, repel an attack on their town by loyalist militias http://youtu.be/YNoRW9RLVHQ destroying a number of vehicles http://youtu.be/AfqHEQQuuGs

Hundreds of defected soldiers arrive in Idlib http://youtu.be/pHn0aqLHWIU

Video produced by the Islamist Ahrar Al-Sham Brigades showing their participation in the liberation of the Central Prison of Idlib http://youtu.be/iI_j-u_PTrc A tour of the compound http://youtu.be/_-Gtr9EY9N8

In Deir Ezzor City, rebels take over the local branch of the political security and free the prisoners http://youtu.be/ZJvRIH4FuKc , http://youtu.be/u--S4nilBAs , http://youtu.be/v3ELTMnBj7E , http://youtu.be/APYr5JZiBtY , http://youtu.be/fYWayv25WLk The dead in here are pro-Assad militias who were killed during the operations http://youtu.be/HWPwHtPn950 And the clashes continue: Destroying a tank http://youtu.be/IPpDIF2j-zE , http://youtu.be/UGMnfRBfkiA Rebels take control of a tank http://youtu.be/zBVoVrhWR9I

Rebels have managed to confiscate some formidable rockets from certain regime storage facilities, especially in Aleppo, but they don’t have any launchers http://youtu.be/7wtVi0KN4yw  

A Russian journalist is hit by a sniper and rescued and treated by locals http://youtu.be/VDN0qkJGVPg

Rebels in Karnaz, Hama, use improvised rockets to attack loyalist positions http://youtu.be/vRYV5Girsk0 As the clashes continue http://youtu.be/G_fbsagHnDk and the aerial bombardment http://youtu.be/B12BxJOtptE Regime forces respond with tanks http://youtu.be/-HQ6QIr6t00 , http://youtu.be/pHnQsBn4Pgc

In Damascus, the pounding of the town of Daraya continues http://youtu.be/2TW8BVtaIQU , http://youtu.be/zWws2H9tplA , http://youtu.be/XvCZa8eUa_U