Friday, March 22, 2013

Do the Right Thing!

Who used chemical weapons? Was it even a chemical attack? Who committed this or that massacre, this or that assassination? It’s becoming increasingly difficult to answer these questions with certainty. Yes, when the world was busy not looking, or gazing with disbelief, feigned or sincere, things have gotten that murky in Syria. In general terms, we can still say with certainty that the regime is responsible for the bulk of it, but, when it comes to specific incidents, we simply cannot be that certain anymore. In an ultimate sense, the Assad camp will have to bear the moral, and legal, responsibility for putting us on the path towards this hell, but that’s for the history books. And there will always be controversy in this regard as well. Still, what we need to focus on today is the responsibility for stopping this mayhem and putting us on the path towards recovery. Here, U.S. and western leaders cannot but be involved. In fact, they have to lead. Without a no-fly zone, support to the rebels, and a political process, there could be no peace. No matter how murky things get and how deep the quagmire, the tools needed to help us out of it remain the same. Denial is not a virtue.

Thursday March 21, 2013

Today’s Death Toll: 181, including 10 women, 7 children and 4 under torture: 90 in Damascus and Suburbs including 42 in Iman Mosque bombing in the Mazraa Neighborhood, 35 in Homs, 15 in Aleppo, 13 in Idlib, 12 in Hama, 11 in Daraa, 2 in Hassakeh, 2 in Raqqa, and 1 in Deir Ezzor (LCCs).

Points of Random Shelling: 362. Warplanes shelling 29 points. Scud missiles 4 points. Surface-to-surface missiles 5 points. Shelling with explosive barrels 10 points. Cluster bombs strikes 6 points. Artillery shelling was reported at 115 points. Mortar shelling 117 points. Missile shelling 80 points (LCCs).

Clashes: 125. Successful rebel operations include shelling of Damascus International Airport, and targeting the Informatics Department in the Abbasid Square in Damascus City. In Raqqa province, rebels targeted the military airport near Tabqa with homemade rockets. Liberations of several key loyalist checkpoint and outposts in Daraa province in the towns of Hraak, Nawa and Daraa City (LCCs).

News
Damascus mosque blast kills 42 including senior Syrian imam State television and anti-government activists earlier had reported 15 dead. The television said a "terrorist suicide blast" hit the Iman Mosque in central Damascus, and Mohammed al-Buti, imam of the ancient Ummayyad Mosque, was among the dead. "The death toll from the suicide bombing of the Iman Mosque in Damascus is 42 martyrs and 84 wounded," the health ministry said later in a statement.
Official: 'Something went down' in Syria, but it was short of chemical weaponsnow analysts are "leaning hard away" from the notion that Syria used chemical weapons against its own people, a U.S. military official directly familiar with the preliminary analysis told CNN. here are "multiple indicators" for this emerging conclusion, an administration official said. That official told CNN "there are strong indications now that chemical weapons were not used by the regime in recent days." The official would not detail the indicators but said it points to the preliminary U.S. conclusion that "weaponized chemical agents" were not used. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, were not authorized to publicly release details of the intelligence analysis.
U.N. to Investigate Chemical Weapons Accusations in Syria Mr. Ban said the investigation would begin “as soon as practically possible,” with various agencies of the world body developing a plan on how to proceed. He called on all sides in Syria’s two-year-old civil war to allow “unfettered” access to the United Nations team.
Democrats and Republicans unite around calls for more aggressive Syria policy As concerns grow about the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria, the debate is shifting rapidly on Capitol Hill as top Democrats and Republicans urge President Barack Obama to do more to support the Syrian opposition -- even through military intervention. The latest example came late Thursday, when House Foreign Affairs ranking Democrat Eliot Engel (D-NY) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) introduced a new bill calling on the Obama administration to arm the Syrian rebels. Called the "Free Syria Act of 2013," the legislation calls for increased humanitarian and economic assistance to the Syrian opposition as well as arms, training, and intelligence support to vetted rebel groups that share Western values.
Syria rebels take towns near ceasefire line with Israel "We have been attacking government positions as the army has been shelling civilians, and plan to take more towns," said Abu Essam Taseel, from the media office of the "Martyrs of Yarmouk", a rebel brigade operating in the area. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group monitoring the conflict in Syria, said rebels had taken several towns near the Golan plateau, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed.
U.N. leader: Syrian civil war threatens cease-fire with Israel The development poses the most serious challenge to date to the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement, which set the terms for a strained, but stable, stalemate between Israel and Syria following the Yom Kippur War. For decades, it has helped to guarantee relative calm between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights.
Obama should ask Jordan to take more Syria refugees: rights groups Jordan has given refuge to more than 360,000 Syrians but "routinely and unlawfully" denies entry to many, Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School's International Human Rights Clinic said in a statement. Palestinians who lived in Syria are regularly turned back by Jordanian border guards, the groups said, as are single Syrian men and refugees who arrive without identity cards.
Syria: Heavy fighting in Aleppo plagues lives of hundreds of thousands "There are tens of thousands of displaced people in the governorate with no income and no savings who depend on assistance to survive," said Marianne Gasser, head of the ICRC delegation in Syria, upon her return from the governorate. "Apart from the pressing humanitarian needs, several roads, hospitals, schools, other public facilities and world heritage sites have been damaged. Essential public services such as the distribution of power and water have also been disrupted as a result of the heavy fighting that has plagued the governorate over the past nine months."
Syria's president makes rare public appearance SANA quoted al-Assad as saying: "Today Syria as a whole is wounded... there is no one that didn't lose one of his or her relatives, a brother, father or a mother," before insisting that the country is involved in "a battle of will and steadfastness," calling on the audience to remain strong to protect others. It was the second public outing for the normally camera-shy al-Assad family in less than a week, after months out of the limelight: Asma al-Assad was spotted at a "Mother's Rally" at the Damascus Opera House last weekend, scotching rumors she had fled the country for Russia, the UK or Jordan.

Special Reports
Two years into Syria's civil war, no end in sight "I am not optimistic. I think the regime will never finish off the revolution and in the same way it is very, very, very difficult for the revolutionaries to finish off the regime," he said… "The Syrian political uprising has mutated into carnage, into a nightmare, into a bloodbath," said Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics and Political Science. "If the conflict is prolonged, as many of us fear, I fear that the nation as a whole is at stake."
Tony Badran: The end of Syria On its current trajectory, Syria is headed toward geographical fragmentation. As the security situation deteriorates and Washington persists in its refusal to lead, neighboring states will begin to carve out effective buffer zones inside the country. Once that process is complete, Syria will become a unitary state in name only.
From Istanbul with Dismay: Meetings with the Syrian Opposition Although concerns about sectarian tensions and extremist forces are real and completely legitimate, they are not a cause for inaction. In fact, further inaction -- meaning, according to the Syrians I met, the continued policy of supplying nonlethal assistance -- will only exacerbate existing problems and allow for other external forces to gain more influence on the ground. The United States is involved in this conflict, deliberately or not. Despite the direst of circumstances inside Syria, the people still evince a glimmer of hope for the democratic future of their country. It is not too late for the United States to meaningfully change the course of this conflict -- but not likely to be achieved simply by the provision of food sealed with a stamp reading “Made in United States of America.”
Yossi Alpher: As Syria descends into chaos: challenges to Israel (PDF) Syria’s evolving collapse, and with it perhaps the collapse of Lebanon as well, is liable to confront Israel with significant military and political challenges. Military challenges range from Salafi border terrorism to attacks using strategic weaponry, whether in the hands of non-state actors or in a Samson-like scenario executed by a dying regime. Another fast-approaching development could conceivably place a residual Iranian-Hizbullah-Alawite entity directly to Israel’s north.
Syria Is Already More Violent Than Iraq: And its destruction will define the Middle East for years to come. While the challenge of providing for Iraqi refugees was daunting, the Syrian case is, if anything, more so. Syrians are scattered between a number of neighboring countries -- Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan -- and the United Nations estimates that it only has 30 percent of the necessary funds to provide for refugees for the first half of 2013. The plight of Syrians displaced within their country is even worse: The vast majority of aid money does not reach rebel-held areas, held up by red tape at the U.N. relief agencies in charge of aid distribution.

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.

Video Highlights

This video shows the immediate aftermath of the explosion that killed the loyalist Imam Al-Bouti in the Iman Mosque in Damascus City http://youtu.be/mplDzfchi2Y

In Daraya, Damascus Suburbs, rebels have to fight to take back each apartment from loyalist snipers http://youtu.be/axGzYOofUow Tanks keep making their deadly rounds http://youtu.be/TgFOU-XpUdc , http://youtu.be/Zfl1j3KI7jI But the pounding of the city with rockets continues http://youtu.be/ybWCGmUPHy8 , http://youtu.be/hzfCXFaZnQI and on the nearby town of Moadamiyah http://youtu.be/zz46DfPIa0Y , http://youtu.be/yoniEHUdL3Y

Rebels in Barzeh, Damascus City, target a local security headquarters http://youtu.be/-LTuiMYPLj4

Meanwhile, the aerial bombardment of Eastern Ghoutah Region in Damascus Suburbs continues: Kafar Batna http://youtu.be/d_R78poTQok Sbeineh http://youtu.be/1lAmNvx-XCo

Scenes of chaos after the pounding of the Sukkari neighborhood in Aleppo city on March 20 http://youtu.be/0m2Pn9LIUPU Four buildings collapsed http://youtu.be/6H2-fORJNXs Despite the level of destruction, a child is saved http://youtu.be/Yu15cpS_RTc

Scenes of chaos after an aerial attack on the town of Talbisseh, Homs province http://youtu.be/_rPHiMih8IQ , http://youtu.be/A0-m_Qs0mCQ The initial explosion http://youtu.be/Nlu-PgwwPRM , http://youtu.be/-9yBPIoL5f0 The destruction http://youtu.be/Uvb6_PZpZpg

Homs city, scenes from the liberation of Al-Qarabees neighborhood http://youtu.be/CJVHrcz_zGs Meanwhile, the aerial pounding of rebel strongholds continues: Khaldiyeh http://youtu.be/YLFhlubzjKM , http://youtu.be/vL4xG0RWhX4

Rebels from the Syrian Islamic Front destroy a loyalist outpost in North Latakia http://youtu.be/7TZGTH2LQx4

Rebels capture of van transporting loyalist militias near the city of Hama. The fate of the prisoners remains unknown http://youtu.be/iv89eIXwz-g