Wednesday, February 6, 2013

How You Failed Syria!

How you failed Syria, let me count the ways: you abandoned her when her movement for democratic change was nonviolent. You let Assad violate her and kill her children. You turned your back on her children when they rushed to her rescue, and pretended you were unaware. You uttered words of sympathy and encouragement, and sent few blankets and tents to people who were at the mercy of mortars and MiGs, not only the elements. You tied her fortunes to complicated geopolitical agendas that are beyond her control or interest. You let her legitimate aspirations and her all too human and humanitarian needs be the last entry on a long list of objectives. What do you expect of her now? Would tell her she is wrong to hate you? Would you blame her should she implode? Do you really think she would care anymore?

Tuesday February 5, 2013

Today’s Death Toll: 113 martyrs (including 6 women and 11 children): 41 in Aleppo, 41 in Damascus and Suburbs, 9 in Daraa, 4 in Homs, 4 in Idlib, 4 in Raqqa, 3 in Hama, 2 in Deir Ezzor and 1 in Lattakia (LCCs).

Points of Random Shelling: 281 points, 17 points were shelled by warplanes, 1 point by Phosphorus Bombs, 1 point by Thermobaric Bombs and Cluster Bombs and 1 points by barrel bombs. Artillery Shelling was reported in 138 points, mortar shelling in 96 points and missile shelling in 47 points across Syria (LCCs).

Clashes: 131. Successful rebel operations included an aerial raid mounted by a defect pilot against loyalist militias in the village of Safsafiya in Hama. In Aleppo, FSA rebels forced down a helicopter and liberated the Mulhab Barracks in the neighborhood of Khaldiyeh. In Daraa, rebels gained control of a loyalist checkpoint in Daraa Al-Balad (LCCs).

Ahtisaari: Major powers failing Syria Nobel Peace Prize Winner Martti Ahtisaari blames the lack of progress in Syria on the divided UN Security Council. He tells DW that he sees elections - not an interim government - as the best option.
UN warns of deepening humanitarian crisis in Syria “If the violence continues unabated, we could, in the short term, see considerably more than the current four million in need of urgent assistance and more than two million internally displaced in Syria,” the spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Jens Laerke, told a news conference in Geneva. “Organizations are struggling to reach more people, in more places, with more aid, but lack of access is still a major obstacle,” he added.
Disease spreads as Syria casualties and drug shortages grow: WHO "The biggest concern for us is the breakdown of the water and sanitation system and the increasing numbers of water-borne diseases," WHO representative Elisabeth Hoff told a news briefing about the deteriorating health situation on the ground. Hepatitis A, a viral liver disease that can cause explosive epidemics, has been reported in Aleppo, Idlib - where there has been intense fighting - and some crowded shelters for the homeless in the capital, she said by telephone from Damascus. Aid groups have had to start using alternatives to purify water because the import of chlorine gas has been banned over fears it could be misused as a chemical weapon.
Pressure mounts on Assad over Syria opposition’s offer Assad himself has yet to comment on the offer from Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, leader of Syria’s opposition National Coalition, but pro-regime Al-Watan newspaper described it as a political “manoeuvre” that comes two years too late.
Syria opposition ponders course as leader offers talks Sheikh Moaz Alkhatib, the moderate Islamic cleric who leads the 70-member assembly, said he would be ready to meet Assad's ceremonial deputy, Farouq al-Shara, if Assad fulfils conditions including the release of tens of thousands of political prisoners. "The Coalition needs to convene to chart an urgent strategy after the reverberations of the initiative and seize on the momentum it has created, regardless of the reservations of some members," one Coalition official said. While some opposition figures have criticized Alkhatib's offer to talk to Assad's representatives, others say it could expose Assad's proposals for dialogue as hollow.
Islamic summit to urge Syria transition: draft The declaration, due to be issued after a two-day summit of 56-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Cairo starting on Wednesday, does not mention President Bashar al-Assad and pins most of the blame on his government for continued violence… "We strongly condemn the ongoing bloodshed in Syria and underline the Syrian government's primary responsibility for the continued violence and destruction of property," the draft communique said. "We express grave concern over the deteriorating situation the increasing frequency of killing which claims the lives of thousands of unarmed civilians and the perpetration of massacres in towns and villages by the Syrian authorities." It was not clear whether Syria's ally Iran, which is attending the OIC summit, would back the tough wording.
Syria rebels tighten noose around key Idlib city Insurgents have tightened their noose around the city of Jisr al-Shughur, held by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, but refrain for now from staging further attacks, and an eerie calm prevails in surrounding villages.
Palestinian Officials to Try to Secure Syria Camps Ahmed Majdalani said Tuesday that representatives will meet Syrian officials to try to protect Palestinian areas from fighting that has engulfed parts of the capital Damascus. Generations of Palestinian refugees have lived in the crowded Damascus area of Yarmouk since their forefathers fled, or were forced to flee, their homes during the 1948 Mideast war surrounding Israel's founding. Majdalani said they also will try to convince Palestinian factions to stay out of the fighting. The some 500,000 Palestinians in Syria are divided between supporters of rebels and government forces.
Third Iron Dome station in North amid Syria tensions An army spokeswoman said that the anti-rocket systems were continuously in the process of being moved, and did not draw a link to the deployment with any current events… The Army Radio report said that the deployment "does not signal pinpoint information on an expected missile attack on Israel, but in light of the reports of an Israeli attack in Syria [last week], and the threats being heard in Lebanon and Iran, the IDF is not taking any chances."
Syria scales back threats against Israel over airstrike, suggests it won't retaliate Syria's defense minister signaled Monday that his country won't hit back at Israel over an airstrike inside Syria, claiming the Israeli raid was actually in retaliation for his regime's offensive against rebels he called "tools" of the Jewish state. "The Israeli enemy retaliated. When the Israeli enemy saw that its tools are being chased and did not achieve any (of their) goals, they interfered," he responded. "It was a response to our military acts against the armed gangs," al-Freij added. "The heroic Syrian Arab Army, which proved to the world that it is a strong army and a trained army, will not be defeated." In surprisingly candid remarks, al-Freij said that rebels have made Syrian air defenses across the country a focus of their attacks over the past months, attacking some with mortars while attempting to seize others in order to incapacitate them. In response, he said the Syrian leadership decided to station them all in one safe place, leading to "gaps in radar coverage in some areas." "These gaps became known to the armed gangs and the Israelis who undoubtedly coordinated together to target the research center," he said. He suggested the army was overstretched and finding difficulty retaining control over several positions across the country, adding they had to abandon some areas to minimize casualties.

Special Reports
Syrian artist Tammam Azzam took the twittersphere by storm last week when he posted an image of Gustav Klimt's "The Kiss" superimposed on the facade of a bullet-ridden building in Damascus. The photoshopped image -- which some mistook for an actual street-side mural -- brought the eye of the art world to the artist's war-torn home country.
Former regime strongholds are now being picked clean – and some are underwhelmed by what lies behind the perimeter walls
The Women Under Siege project is live-tracking how sexualized violence is being used in Syria. What's new is the data: information collected through crowdsourcing – reports on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube from inside the country — which is then analyzed by public health researchers at Columbia University. The project's crowdmap keeps an up-to-date tally in visual form: incidents of sexual violence are represented by dots on a map — the larger the dot, the more reports of rape.
In a remarkably short time, the PYD has succeeded in setting up a well-armed military of about 10,00 fighters, known as the Popular Protection Units (or Yekineyen Parastina Gel, or YPG), as well as local, self-organized civilian structures under the label of the “Movement for a Democratic Society” (Tevgera Civaka Demokratik, or TEV-DEM). In theory, the PYD shares power with some 15 other Kurdish parties (who form the Kurdish National Council, or KNC) in the framework of the Kurdish Supreme Council, which was established in July 2012 through the mediation efforts of Massoud Barazani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan and leader of Iraq’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Yet on the ground, the PYD is dismissing its council partners as nothing more than proxies for Barazani himself, whose close relationship with Turkey the PYD deeply mistrusts. Additionally, the PYD has prevented any armed Kurdish presence besides its own loyalist Populist Protection Units; most recently, armed altercations were reported with the Kurdish Union Party in Syria (Yekiti) in the towns of al-Darbasiyah and Qamishli.
For weeks now, the river has brought new bodies almost every night. The corpses arrive without any identification and the hands are generally tied together with plastic strings. The men have all been shot. The week before last, the river carried three bodies on some days, and seven on others. Last Monday there were five, but on Tuesday there were almost 80. There had been heavy rain in the night, the river level had risen, and now corpses were lining the muddy river bank… The dead were students enrolled at the University of Aleppo who had come from other cities to stand exams.
News of the women’s unit, a part-time and volunteer fighting force known as the “Lionesses for National Defence,” made headlines mid-January. A video from the Russia Today Arabic TV shows the soldiers in uniform as they train and chant pro-Assad slogans. They have already been deployed in Homs and carry out security operations and guard checkpoints. The rationale for the women’s unit has been explained by Assad’s need for new recruits and perhaps as a morale-boosting tactic aimed to draw his supporters into a closer community.
Benign neglect, however, hasn’t been so benign. Syria’s humanitarian crisis has reached epic proportions, with more than 60,000 people killed and 2.5 million people displaced. The sense of abandonment and desperation felt by many Syrians has served to strengthen the most radical elements of the rebel forces, some of whom are thought to be aligned with al-Qaeda. Syria’s hemorrhaging will continue to fuel radicalism until there is a change of political leadership in Damascus. In order to expedite this process, the U.S. administration must inhibit Iran’s ability to arm and finance Assad… A greater U.S. role won’t render Syria an American-allied democracy. That possibility, if it ever existed, has long been lost. But continued U.S. inaction risks leaving Syria at the mercy of Iran and Sunni extremists whose intolerance, and hatred of the U.S., dwarfs any concerns they may have for the well- being of Syria and its people. Such an outcome would haunt Syria, the Middle East and the U.S. for years to come.

My new paper, prepared for a briefing in Washington, D.C. that took place on January 15, 2013, is now out and is titled “Syria 2013: Rise of the Warlords.” It should be read in conjunction with my previous briefing “The Shredded Tapestry,” and my recent essay “The Creation of an Unbridgeable Divide.


My friend, Daniel Serwer, from SAIS, refers to my earlier posting on Alkhatib’s and Assad’s “finitiatives,” and expresses certain doubts as to whether Alkhatib’s move will serve to “weaken or strengthen his position,” as opposition leader, noting that “the uncertainty is itself debilitating.” He is right. Alkhatib made quite a gamble, but that’s what real leaders need to do in times of crisis in order to break the stalemate. There are no guarantees of success. But a political move was clearly needed, and I think what Alkhatib started is the right move at this particular time on the political front, even if it failed.

Meanwhile, the Guardian found my endorsement of Alkhatib’s “finitiative” to be surprising, considering my hawkish background and my affiliation with a neocon think tank:

Khatib's call for conditional dialogue with the Syrian government has been backed by unlikely the source - Ammar Abdulhamid a usually hawkish Syrian dissident and blogger. Abdulhamid, fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which is regarded as a NeoCon thinktank, said an armed struggle should continue alongside Khatib's call for talks.

But I am not motivated by ideology. I stared preaching a jasmine revolution long before it became fashionable to do so, but, when people opted for armed struggle, people like me were not in a position to contradict them and dissuade them from doing so: I did not have the standing or the leverage to do this. So, my best option at that stage was to make sure that the rebels had the material and political support they need to win. If you cannot prevent a certain development, you can at least try to guide it or influence it to the best of your ability. The objective is still democratic change in the region, and not only Syria, breaking the Assad regime is simply the beginning of a long process, a generational process.

Video Highlights

Rebels from the Syrian Islamic Front attack a loyalist convoy near the town of Zabadani, Damascus (February 4) using a roadside bomb

Rebels in Eastern Ghoutah, Damascus, attack the Tamico Checkpoint using RPGs Even cows are not safe from random shelling by the regime, as this clip from a farm in the village of Hujairah in Eastern Ghoutah shows A plane overfly the village in preparation for another raid Houses catch fire in Sbeineh

Not too far, in Damascus City, a MiG carry out an aerial raid against Al-Qadam neighborhood ,

Back to the west, and in the town of Daraya, rebels destroy a marauding regime tank But other tanks keep wreaking havoc And the clashes continue

The bodies of loyalist soldiers from the Republic Guard are strewn in a side street in Deir Ezzor City On the outskirts of the city, rebels target loyalist positions with their own heavy artillery

Rebels from Al-Tawhid Brigade in Daraa City storm a loyalist checkpoint

In Aleppo, rebels clash with loyalist troops in Massakin Al-Sabeel , ,