Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Shake!

As world leaders do their version of the Harlem Shake, fighters on the ground do theirs, and theirs seem to be far more spirited, and deadly. A policy on the devolving situation in Syria seems to get outdated by the time it is conceived. Bulletproof vests and night vision goggles in the hands of moderates will not change the dynamics of anything on the ground nor carry you any favor. Alawite and Sunni extremists are now dictating the pace of all developments, and they are not in the mood for conversation.

Wednesday February 27, 2013

Today’s Death Toll: 210 martyrs, including 6 women, 10 children and 5 martyrs under torture: 106 in Aleppo with 72 in Sfeira who were field-executed, 61 in Damascus and Suburbs, 12 in Idlib, 11 in Homs, 8 in Hama, 7 in Daraa, 4 in Deir Ezzor and 1 in Raqqa (LCCs).

Points of Random Shelling: 323 points, including 23 points were shelled using warplanes, 3 points using Scud missiles, the regime’s aircrafts used the explosive barrels in 5 points while cluster bombs were used in 2 points, vacuum bombs were used in two points, phosphorous bombs [Correction: more likely incendiary cluster bombs. Local activists often confuse the two] were used in 1 point. Artillery shelling was reported in 131 points, mortar shelling in 81 points, and rocket shelling in 84 point all around Syria (LCCs).

Clashes: 138. Successful operations by FSA rebels included downing a military jet in Eastern Ghouta region in Damascus Suburbs, and targeting a major pro-Assad militia checkpoint in Kafersousseh Neighborhood in Damascus City. To the South, rebels completed their take-over of border point number 48 along the border with Jordan arresting many soldiers (LCCs).

News
Kerry: U.S. must help counter aid to Syria opposition from extremists The United States is one of about a dozen nations preparing a package of broader financial and practical support for the rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Kerry and other diplomats will frame the new help during meetings with Syrian political opposition leaders Thursday in Rome. The additional aid is expected to stop short of the weapons the rebels have long sought from Western backers.
U.N. Official for Refugees Says Syria Is Near Crisis “We are facing a moment of truth in Syria,” the official, António Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, told the Council at a closed session in remarks that were later published on his agency’s Web site. “The humanitarian situation is dramatic beyond description. The refugee crisis is accelerating at a staggering pace.” Mr. Guterres was one of three senior United Nations officials who briefed the Security Council, painting what some diplomats later described as a chilling description of the fates of civilian victims of the nearly two-year-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Britain can give military support to Syrian rebels after EU changes EU sanctions to allow greater assistance but opponents of Assad say they need more from the international community
Tony Blair calls for UK intervention in Syria crisis In the second part of a wide-ranging interview Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark talks to the former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair about the crisis in Syria, the revolutions across the Middle East, and his role as the Middle East envoy representing the EU, UN, US and Russia. Kirsty begins by asking Mr Blair at what point he realised there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Syrian opposition set to attend Rome talks The Syrian opposition has decided it will attend an international summit in Rome which it initially announced it would boycott. US Secretary of State John Kerry and British Foreign Minister William Hague have successfully convinced Syrian Opposition Council President Moaz Al-Khatib to attend Thursday's talks. The group had previously announced it would boycott the talks because of "the world's silence" over the violence, as Jim Muir reports from Beirut.
Syrians Describe Apparent Missile Strikes on Aleppo The new reports come weeks after experts told The Lede that video of a huge explosion at Aleppo University last month suggested that the campus had been hit by a ballistic missile.
Syria humanitarian crisis worsening day by day, warns Oxfam UN 'worst case' of more than a million Syrian refugees displaced to neighbouring nations could be reached in weeks, says charity
Syria agrees to renew passports of overseas citizens The state-run news service announced that the Interior Ministry had directed that expired passports be renewed for two years “regardless of the reasons that had earlier prevented their renewal, and without obtaining the necessary authorizations.”
Once a curiosity, captured tanks are a growing part of Syrian rebels’ arsenal The rebel use of captured tanks and armored personnel carriers was first noticed last summer, though the engagements then were often short. One battle that this reporter witnessed in June outside the city of Talbiseh south of Kfar Nbouda ended quickly when government helicopters destroyed two armored personnel carriers the rebels had captured and turned on government soldiers. Since then, however, rebels have captured dozens, if not hundreds, of tanks and armored vehicles and have become adept at using them to attack Syrian government positions. The prevalence of rebel armor – in rebel-held areas it’s now common to see tanks and other armored vehicles parked in alleyways and orchards or covered with foliage to camouflage them from airstrikes – belies the common image of the rebels as vastly outgunned by a superior government force.

Special Reports
Many feel trapped between an unloved authority in the form of the 43-year-old Assad dynasty and hungry revolutionaries at the gates, who resent the city's privileged lifestyle.
Not all of the kidnappings in Syria are politically driven. In lawless areas not held by either the government or opposition, kidnappers are increasingly driven by cold cash.
President Obama is leaning toward providing nonlethal military equipment to certain rebels in Syria. Doing so runs moral risks. But doing nothing to stop the violence is also a moral risk. Can the US walk this fine line?
As Obama and the senior members of his national security team consider the memoirs they will inevitably write and the speeches they will invariably give after leaving office, they might reflect now on what they will later say about their greatest regrets. At or near the top of that list will likely be "Syria." So why not do something about it now, before Syria becomes permanently mentioned in historical ignominy alongside Rwanda?
We can and should do more to support the Syrian people and the armed opposition. There are democratically-oriented leaders among its ranks, which we should empower not only against the Assad regime but against the growing threat of radical Islamists in the country.

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.


In its latest editorial, the Washington Post argues for real political and military intervention by the Obama Administration. A policy of toe-dipping will not help at this stage:

If the Obama administration is to lead on Syria, it must commit itself to steps that can bring about the early collapse of the regime and its replacement by a representative and responsible alternative. Only direct political and military intervention on the side of the opposition can make that happen.

Personally, and on the basis of available leaks, I don’t believe that the new policy will mark much of a departure from the current do-nothing policy:

In Washington, activists who have lobbied for US support said the latest promises fell well short of the action needed to topple Assad and ensure moderate rebel groups won the day. Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian dissident, said: “Bulletproof vests and night vision goggles will help you become a more effective fighter, but they will not protect you from MiGs, tanks and Scuds, or enable you to destroy them.”


They control airports, dams and oilfields. They are using confiscated tanks and armored vehicles in their operations, and are in possession of helicopter gunships and MiGs, booty from their recent take-over of Al-Jarrah Airport in Aleppo which they have yet to use. Last weeks, they have reportedly come into the possession of two Scud missiles after taking control of what remains of Al-Kibar nuclear facility, which had been bombed by Israel in 2007. It’s not clear whether they managed to get a launch-pad as well. Islamists affiliated with Jabhat Al-Nusra, the Syrian Islamic Front, and other smaller groupings, are emerging as the dominant force on the ground, and probably make more than half the actual functioning rebel force.

Finding a solution in Syria is no longer about arming moderates, although they do need to be armed to remain relevant, if not just to survive, it’s about adopting a political strategy to bring the different parties to the negotiating table, including the extremists from both sides of the growing sectarian divide.

In the two months since the U.S. designation of Jabhat al-Nusra, the group's fighters took control of one of the Taftanaz air base in Idlib, one of largest government air bases in northern Syria, where they seized tanks, helicopters and ammunition. They also took over the Jarrah airfield outside Aleppo, which gave them access to dozens of warplanes, according to rebels who took part in those battles.

In northern Syria, the Syrian Islamic Front coalition, alongside Jabhat al-Nusra fighters backed by Tunisian, Libyan, Iraqi and Chechen jihadists, continue to score the biggest gains, rebels and U.S. officials said.

The Islamist coalition led the takeover of Syria's largest dam this month, giving them control over the electricity supply to the rebel-held east and north.

Jabhat al-Nusra, with its own fighters and the foreigners it has attracted, is now seen as the most powerful force in these rebel areas, along the Turkish and Iraqi borders…

Western-friendly opposition leaders said their inability to convince the U.S. and others to intervene in the war has discredited them among fighters and the Syrian public, making it hard to take control. Moderate rebels continue to report occasional battlefield gains, but the group is geographically scattered and far from unified, rebels said.

The Islamists' December meeting in Turkey, meanwhile, led to the creation of the Syrian Islamic Front, a group that has become the most effective Islamist military coalition.

The meeting was also aimed at making sure the Western-friendly rebels weren't the only ones with political leaders poised for a post-Assad Syria, coalition members said.

"We have a full political project for a modern Syria," said a political representative for the Syrian Islamic Front, from the group's new headquarters in Istanbul. He said Islamist rule was the right of a country with a majority-Muslim population, but that the rights of minorities would be protected.

The U.S. and others in the Friends of Syria will now have a harder time bolstering moderates, analysts said…

Islamists say the Western concept of a secularist Syrian rebel is misguided, in a Muslim nation. "There is no such thing as a secularist fighting on the ground," said Abu Muhammad, a leader with an Islamist group. "In the next phase, the Syrian people won't just welcome radicals. They'll welcome the devil himself if he'll help in the fight."


David Crane has been playing an amazing role supporting the cause of transitional justice in Syria. He does much quietly and behind the scenes, but his efforts have been instrumental in preparing us for the complexity of the task ahead.

A whole range of groups have accelerated a campaign to gather evidence of war crimes including torture, massacres and indiscriminate killings in the Syrian regime's war against rebels, hoping to find justice if President Bashar Assad falls. Some talk about referring the cases to the International Criminal Court or forming a special tribunal, but many in Syria hope that it's all laid out in the country's own courtrooms….

David M. Crane, a former prosecutor at the Sierra Leone tribunal, which indicted former Liberian President Charles Taylor in 2003, said among the challenges is the multitude of inexperienced activists collecting a flood of evidence in an uncoordinated way.

To help with building a case for a future prosecutor, Crane created an organization called the Syrian Accountability Initiative.

"We have mapped the entire conflict, we have built a crime base and we have actually sample indictments for whoever will get the case, be it a Syrian or international prosecutor," said Crane, an international law professor at Syracuse University in New York state. He said that the information is being shared with the International Criminal Court, the United Nations and the Syrian opposition.

Video Highlights

In Damascus City, the pounding of Jobar Neighborhood by pro-Assad militias using missile launchers http://youtu.be/O2E_bSO2xSA , http://youtu.be/3C8Y7kv4Pkg A sample of the missiles used http://youtu.be/NMVPYbjKcVQ

Meanwhile, in the Yarmouk Camp, Palestinian fighters defect from the ranks of Ahmad Jibril’s loyalist movement to form a pro-rebel unit http://youtu.be/WqY-SNzxXrg

In Idlib, the town of Saraqib came under intense shelling by MiGs and missiles http://youtu.be/fggMFBjACNY Scenes of devastation http://youtu.be/7-OjIJikR9E Incendiary cluster bombs were used, activists still confuse them with white phosphorous bombs http://youtu.be/JVaTsNSx0ro

In Aleppo City, rebels and loyalist clash in the neighborhoods surrounding the Aleppo Citadel http://youtu.be/pzdcbqOqcHQ , http://youtu.be/OGb1Oz_wYOw , http://youtu.be/Eq9hK4UGewQ

The pounding of Jabal Al-Akrad region in North Lattakia continues http://youtu.be/JacpG9aR_-8

The pounding of Deir Ezzor City continues: Al-Hawiqa neighborhood http://youtu.be/Oc9TWg87Nu4 , http://youtu.be/DPcVH4p8Jg8

Syrian activists in Idlib do the Halrem Shake http://youtu.be/T-v0sT2FG3Y