Thursday, February 7, 2013

“Yeah!”

The battles in Damascus City represent a serious escalation on part of rebel groups. In time, the regime will lose control of certain outlaying neighborhoods, such as Al-Qaboun, Al-Tadamon, Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, Al-Qadam and the Yarmouk Camp, but it will remain entrenched in the center for a while, and will use massive fire power to wreak havoc on rebel-held areas. In short, we are heading towards an Aleppo-style stand-off in Damascus.  

Thursday February 7, 2013

Today’s Death Toll: 161 martyrs (including 13 women, 8 children and 1 martyr under torture). 68 in Hama (most of them were martyred in an explosion in Salamiya Munition Factory), 33 in Damascus and Suburbs, 28 in Homs, 14 in Aleppo, 6 in Daraa and 2 in Raqqa (LCCs).

Points of Random Shelling: 366 points, 8 points were shelled by warplanes, 4 points by barrel bombs, 4 points by Cluster Bombs and 1 points (Eastern Ghouta) by Thermobaric Balloons
Artillery shelling was reported in 149 points, mortar shelling in 117 points and missile shelling in 83 points (LCCs).

Clashes: 169 locations. Successful operations include blocing an attmpt by regime forces to wrest control of Port Said Neighborhood in Damascus City, and asserting full control of Harmala checkpoint in Jobar Suburb. In Raqqa, FSA rebels took control of the Alam checkpoint in Raqqa city (LCCs).

News
Fight Expands in Damascus as Diplomatic Hopes Sink The expanded mayhem, described as some of the worst fighting to afflict Damascus in months, offered further indication that any hope for a diplomatic resolution to the nearly two-year-old conflict has all but evaporated.
Syrian jets bomb Damascus ring road to halt rebel push Warplanes fired rockets at southern parts of the route where rebels have spent the past 36 hours overrunning army positions and road blocks encircling the heart of the city, the site of key state security and intelligence installations.
Islamic Summit Backs Syria Dialogue Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose country is Syria's closest ally in the Middle East, attended the summit and said at a news conference Thursday that he supported dialogue. He added that Egypt, Turkey and Iran were moving toward cooperation on Syria. But he also defended Bashar Assad regime, warning against meddling in the domestic affairs of other countries.
UN Chief Criticized Syria's President The U.N. chief told a group of journalists Thursday that the Syrian crisis didn't start because of terrorism — but he said because Assad continued to kill his own people, terrorist elements are now taking advantage of the turmoil. "He could have stopped this violence a long time ago and this political dialogue could have commenced a long time ago," Ban said. "But he has been continuously killing ... That's why people, out of frustration, out of anger, they have been fighting against their own government." The secretary-general strongly welcomed opposition leader Mouaz al-Khatib's proposal for political talks and expressed hope that Syrian authorities would accept it.
Aid doesn’t reach camp for displaced Syrians just outside Turkey This is Syria’s biggest camp for the internally displaced, and the flimsy tents shelter more than 20,000 people who have nowhere else to go. In its poverty and dire shortages, its poor hygiene and lack of utilities, Atma’s white wave has become a symbol of the plight of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who’ve fled the fighting in their country… “We know about Atma,” said Amanda Pitt, a spokeswoman for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, a little-known U.N. agency. “In order to get to these parts of northern Syria you have to cross the border,” she told McClatchy on Wednesday. “We have to work with the government of Syria in order to cross the border.”
Syria Says 'No Truth' Israel Targeted Convoy Israel has all but confirmed it was behind the Jan. 30 airstrike a few miles (kilometers) from the Syrian capital, Damascus. U.S. officials said the Israelis struck a military research center and a convoy next to it carrying anti-aircraft weapons destined for the Islamic militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Panetta backs Syria rebels arms plan In testimony to Congress, Leon Panetta said he still supported the supply of weapons to rebels fighting forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The plan was proposed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus, then director of the CIA, but reportedly rebuffed by the White House. The US has so far offered only diplomatic backing to Syria's rebels.
Syria Soldiers Dance To Usher In Online Video (VIDEO) A video posted online purportedly shows Syrian soldiers taking a break from the country's civil war by bopping around to American R&B star Usher's hit song "Yeah!"… Near the end of the video, they stop dancing and break into their version of an oft-heard battle chant in the Middle East: "With our souls, our blood, we sacrifice for you Bashar!" as black smoke billows from a building in the background. In a jarring finale, they shoot bursts of automatic gunfire in the air.

Special Reports
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon warns of increasing Islamist forces in Syria, in an interview with DW: On the one hand, it seems as if there is no consensus in the Security Council. On the other, it has become a zero-sum game inside Syria between the opposition and Assad. There is no in-between; both sides are going to fight to the bitter end. This is very bad. Once Assad is gone, and nobody can say when, I'm afraid Syria will fall further into a chaotic situation of sectarian warfare. The danger is that the Islamists - the jihadists who have the weapons on the ground and the financial backing of certain Arab countries - will turn Syria into an extremist Islamist state, or a failed state like Somalia or Mali. In the absence of any international consensus, things could get very bad, especially for the Syrian people, and the situation will also destabilize the region, because what happens in Syria won't stay in Syria. It will spill over into Lebanon and Iraq.
“Thirty-three years ago, I was a staunch advocate of modernising my homeland, Syria, to the degree that my first film was about building a dam: the Euphrates Dam, the source of pride and joy for the Baath Party.” That introduction to the film A Flood in Baath Country leads to a very different story. Life under the Baath Party in Syria was not about modernity, but about a facade that led to these past two years of bloodshed… "Today I regret that mistake I had committed in my youth. The collapse of a dam [Zeyzoun Dam in 2002] and the release of a report that foresees the same fate for the rest of dams that were built during the reign of the Baath Party pushed me back to the location of my first film."

The section on Syria is disturbing. That government’s record of horrific abuses has spilled out into the open since the uprising of 2011 became a civil war, with more Syrians subjected to – and speaking out about – a torture regime that sounds as if it were from another century. According to a 2005 article by the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, quoted in the report, Syria was one of the “most common destinations for rendered suspects.” Government forces, according to the report, held some U.S.-provided detainees in a prison known as “The Grave” for its coffin-sized cells and subjected them to “torture involving a chair frame used to stretch the spine (the ‘German chair’) and beatings.”
From oil shortages to commodities inflation and climbing unemployment, the Syrian economy is essentially bankrupt. Will it change the course of fighting? Not any time soon.

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.


It was pomegranate season when the battle for Wadi Deif began in mid-October. Like so many rebel offensives, the fight for the Syrian military base, just east of the devastated city of Maaret Numan and one of the last major loyalist outposts in the vast northern province of Idlib, soon sputtered for the usual reasons — the rebels’ lack of coordination, lack of ammunition and heavy weapons and the strength of regime reinforcements backed by airpower and artillery…

On Wednesday, the push to take it was forcefully renewed, but unlike previous offensives here and elsewhere that tend to be disorganized, poorly-coordinated actions by a few brigades, this phase of the battle has been carefully planned over many weeks. It is not an isolated fight but part of a wider strategy, codenamed Marakit il Bina il Marsoos, or The Battle of Reinforced Structures, to open all of the remaining fronts in Idlib province at around the same time — Wadi Deif, the Karmid Checkpoint, the Mastoomeh Checkpoint, the Abu Duhoor military airport, and the smaller checkpoints associated with these outposts — before rebels turn their full attention to the regime forces concentrated in Idlib city, the provincial capital, and the city of Jisr al-Shughour, the two key urban areas still in the regime’s firm grip. If the rebels succeed, they will have created the first “liberated” province in Syria, an area completely free of regime forces and a de-facto “safe zone” — without direct international help.

The offensive is overseen by a council of religious clerics, a Sharia court led by Jabhat al-Nusra, the militant group designated a terrorist organization by the U.S but widely respected by rebels for its disciplined fighting prowess. The court has knitted together dozens of groups from across Idlib province, extracting a sworn pledge from each brigade leader that he will work with the other groups under the direction of the court and will not compete with his counterparts for any ghanaim, or spoils of war, from the outposts if they fall.

It’s not the first time Jabhat al-Nusra has taken the organizational lead in a fight in Idlib. In coordination with the Salafist Ahrar al-Sham brigades, it shepherded the final two-week phase in the months-long battle for the strategically important Taftanaz military airport that fell to the rebels in mid-January. The participation of other groups in those final stages of the fight was only at Jabhat’s invitation. Jabhat al-Nusra also established a committee that first itemized and then distributed the war spoils. Still, the sheer scale of Marakit il Bina il Marsoos, its multiple fronts, and the pledges to the Sharia court mark it as a new battlefield experiment the rebels hope will be emulated by others if it is successful.


In Syria, if the rebels were going to achieve a decisive military victory, they would have done so by now. The real options left there are quite narrow. The Alawites, the religious minority loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, are also not likely to achieve a military victory. Even if they were able to defeat the rebels, it would be a temporary lull. Instead, leaders in Damascus could offer amnesty to the rebels to initiate negotiations for a formal cease-fire, which would include international monitoring and peacekeeping troops. That would create the space to begin a slow, deliberate process of formal mediation that addresses all of the major conflict issues. Mediation ought to involve third parties and all the major factions of the opposition. Of peace agreements that have met those conditions, less than five have failed in the last 25 years. 

The goal of prolonged mediation should be a final agreement, built upon previous ones, in which inclusiveness and broad institutional reforms are the goal. Civil war data and current conflict trends predict that the Syrian conflict will end in a negotiated settlement. The only choice is whether it will be soon, leaving Syria largely intact, or later, when even more of the country is in ruins.

Putting the foolishness of the first sentence aside (for no one provided the rebels with the kind of support that could help them achieve military victory), from an academic standpoint, the above assertions make excellent sense, but getting us from here to where such a plan could be implemented, requires much work, including empowering certain rebel groups and neutralizing Assad’s airpower. For so long as Jabhat Al-Nusra and its affiliates are currently in charge of leading offensives in Aleppo, Al-Raqqah, Deir Ezzor and Idlib, among other areas, and so long as Assad remains capable of wreaking havoc on rebel strongholds, no international monitors, no peacekeeping troops, no dialogue and no process are possible. Si vis pacem para bellum. Mr. Panetta seems to have understood this, while President Obama continues to mull things over.

Video Highlights

A leaked video shows pro-Assad soldiers dancing to Usher’s “Yeah!” during a lull in ongoing clashes in the town of Basr Al-Harir in Daraa Province http://youtu.be/bRfTnWhgBW8 The lull was short-lived, clashes soon resumed


Clashes in Damascus City continue: The pounding begins at dawn http://youtu.be/-VPL6DJ9Eg4  Rebels pound a checkpoint in Jobar http://youtu.be/a1V6cR6FDOg Loyalists respond with mortars, tanks and MiGs http://youtu.be/nstKhrepEgE , http://youtu.be/NSEAI4kd83o Loyalists are trying to regain control of the Harmaleh checkpoint along the southern ring highway http://youtu.be/2MbLYVGeH44 But rebels push back and manage to destroy some of the attacking tanks http://youtu.be/DiifnWXp9UI Scenes from yesterday’s battle that allowed rebels to take control of the Harmala Checkpoint http://youtu.be/NPv7wTiQt9k

Pro-Assad militias in action in Qaboun http://youtu.be/sZgXSYms6nw , http://youtu.be/2LS_0QKRXd8 Al-Qadam neighborhood was also pounded http://youtu.be/uMp6FvMz7t0 With more rebels coming to take part in defending it http://youtu.be/NHeHKfTQ3ig Clashes in Al-Qadam train station continue http://youtu.be/fqKpdIcWI0Y The pounding of Eastern Ghoutah with MiGs continues http://youtu.be/_6s8zfaJ-Vo

In the Northeast, the pounding of Deir Ezzor City continues http://youtu.be/WaJ1BiT1aME , http://youtu.be/8O-jUsYp2UM , http://youtu.be/2perpWEJvE8 But rebels try to fight back using improvised missiles http://youtu.be/LlhXYkS16Tc

In Raqqa, major clashes took place in the town of Tabaqa, with helicopter taking part in pounding rebel positions http://youtu.be/7wdJnS55K3w Rebels try to take down the helicopter http://youtu.be/CXjGKcDeiOo Rebels take control of an attacking tank http://youtu.be/ssfa0HCMgIM Sounds of clashes http://youtu.be/Bo3HSJTxf30 Rebels mange to take control of the Alam Checkpoint http://youtu.be/rPYKET9zzmw , http://youtu.be/Dh0A3WlDO6g