Thursday, March 14, 2013

Free for All!

The world, led by the U.S., waited until the water was muddy, now they want to do something! But most of their taboos remain unchanged: no no-fly zone, no peacekeepers, but some arms to some rebels. That’s a recipe for making things worse. A political process cannot take place without a no-fly zone, so, arming the rebels without imposing a no-fly zone will only lengthen the civil war and make it bloodier by drawing in more and more actors from abroad to join both sides of the Divide. Arming the rebels can help change the realities on the ground in their favor, and that is good, but only a no-fly zone can help jump-start a real political process. That process needs to take place inside the country, because it is not only about dialogue between regime and opposition, but also about internal dialogue within each camp, and about connecting with the grassroots. Should the world wait even longer before grasping the need for this, even a no-fly zone will become moot, because Syria as a viable state will have been made moot.

Wednesday March 13, 2013

Today’s Death Toll: 103 martyrs, including 6 women and 5 children. 38 reported in Damascus and Suburbs, 26 in Aleppo, 15 in Homs, 9 in Daraa, 8 in Hama (including 6 who were slaughtered in Hamamiyat), 4 in Idlib, 2 in Deir Ezzor and 1 in Qunaitera (LCCs).

Points of Random Shelling: 234 points. Aerial bombardments counted in 7 points. Scud bombing counted in 1 point. Shelling using Surface-to-Surface missiles counted for in 1 point. Shelling using cluster bombs was recorded in Kafarsajneh in Idlib. Artillery shelling counted in 95 points. Mortar shelling counted in 87 points. Rocket shelling counted for 41 points (LCCs).

Clashes: 114. Successful rebel operations include taking control over the National Hospital and the Blood Bank in Alboukamal City, Deir Ezzor Province, liberating the Military Housing Checkpoint in Khan Sheikh, Damascus Suburbs invading a loyalist checkpoint in Adra, Damascus Suburbs and liberating 14 checkpoints in Jose village on the Syrian-Lebanese border (LCCs).

Syrian troops and rebels open new battlefront near Damascus (Reuters) - Heavy fighting erupted in an area between Damascus and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Wednesday in what could be a new battlefront between Syrian troops and rebels, opposition sources said. Rebel fighters attacked an army barracks manned by elite Republican Guards and the Fourth Mechanised Division, headed by President Bashar al-Assad's brother Maher, in Khan Sheih, 6 km (4 miles) from the outskirts of Damascus, civilian activists and an opposition military source said. Clashes intensified three days after Sunni Muslim rebels overran a missile squadron in the area, killing 30 soldiers, mostly from Assad's minority Alawite sect, the sources said. The region also hosts a Palestinian refugee camp.
Conflict in Syria creates wave of British jihadists: Over 100 UK Muslims thought to have gone to fight in conflict Syria has replaced Pakistan and Somalia as the preferred front line where Islamist volunteers can experience immediate combat with relatively little official scrutiny, security agencies said. The worrying development has been taking place as extremist groups, some with links to al-Qa’ida, have become the dominant force in the uprising against the Damascus regime.
Syria’s Brotherhood calls for action amid escalating violence “We in the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria declare the week following March 15 a national week of solidarity with the Syrian people and their blessed revolution,” AFP quoted the exiled opposition group as saying. “We call on the heroic Syrian people to bring back to life all aspects of the uprising... inspired by the spirit of real national unity, speaking in one voice,” a statement added
Russia Condemns Talk of Arming Syria Rebels Russia's foreign minister has condemned talk of arming the Syrian opposition, saying it is illegal under international law. Russia's Sergei Lavrov spoke Wednesday in London following a meeting with British Foreign Secretary William Hague. Britain and some other countries have talked of lifting a European Union arms embargo to allow weapons to be sent to opposition forces.
Moscow flies more Russians home from Syria Moscow says it does not plan a mass evacuation of the thousands of Russian living in Syria, but government planes have now flown nearly 300 people to Russia this year to allow them to escape the civil war there. The ministry said the plane had 76 Russians on board as well as 27 citizens of neighboring countries, and that more such flights would be conducted as necessary.
Syria's children: even their first words are now shaped by war - A Save the Children report released today states that children, some 2 million of them, are the 'forgotten victims' of Syria's war. When Sham, born during Syria’s civil war, uttered her first word recently, it conveyed a great deal about how devastated her country is. “Enfijar,” the toddler said. Explosion. “That’s why we left, that’s why we ran,” said Sham’s mother Hamma in an interview with international aid group Save the Children. “My daughter’s first word is 'explosion.' It is a tragedy. We felt constantly as if we were about to die.” Sham (whose name was changed by researchers) is one of nearly 2 million children who have become “forgotten victims” of Syria’s brutal civil war, according to reports released this week by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Save the Children. Though accurate statistics are notoriously difficult to come by in war zones, the two reports together chart a slow march toward crises in education, health, and violence – both conflict-related and sexual – against Syrian children since the conflict began two years ago. 
Child soldiers increasingly recruited in Syria: charity Save the Children said in a report marking two years of violence in Syria that two million children were innocent victims of the bloody conflict that the United Nations says has cost at least 70,000 lives. These children were struggling to find enough food to eat and were therefore under constant risk of malnutrition and disease, said the report, adding many were unable to go to school. Girls were being forced into early marriage in an effort to protect them from the perceived threat of sexual violence. "Children are increasingly being put directly in harm's way as they are being recruited by armed groups and forces," said Save the Children. "There is a growing pattern of armed groups on both sides of the conflict recruiting children under 18 as porters, guards, informers or fighters.
U.S. foreign policy toward Syria is complex, serious and troubling There is no doubt President Bashar al-Assad is a brutal dictator, and that the rebels are trying to remove him from power. But we must also consider that at least some of the rebel groups fighting to oust the tyrant are also radical Islamists.
Al Nusrah Front poised to take over last major city on Euphrates River The Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, al Qaeda in Iraq's affiliate in Syria, may be close to taking control of Deir al Zour, the last major city on the Euphrates River in the west. The al Qaeda group's gains in the city take place just days after jihadists announced the formation of the "Sharia Committee for the Eastern Region" to govern areas under its control. The Al Nusrah Front has seized control of several government installations in Deir al Zour, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that closely track the civil war, reported on its Facebook page.
Saudi youth fighting against Assad regime in Syria: GlobalPost has learned that hundreds of young Saudis are flocking to Syria in a 'holy war' against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. With the tacit approval from the House of Saud, and financial support from wealthy Saudi elites, the young men take up arms in what Saudi clerics have called a “jihad,” or “holy war” against the Assad regime. Based on a month of reporting in the region and in Washington, over a dozen sources have confirmed that wealthy Saudis, as well as the government, are arming some Syrian rebel groups. Saudi and Syrian sources confirm that hundreds of Saudis are joining the rebels, but the government denies any sponsoring role.
Exclusive: Gaza Salafists Take Fight To Syria I managed to reach the house of one of the jihadist Salafist leaders in the Gaza Strip… he explained why the members of the movement had moved to Syria to fight, saying, “They moved to Syria because the jihad door in the Gaza Strip was closed, and the situation was not taken into consideration, contrary to Syria, where it is open to jihad and to fighting the enemy.” He refused to define what he means by enemy, and he noted that after he was locked up more than once in the aftermath of Ibn Taymiya Mosque incident, he sought to live a simple life and to keep his jihad mission and vocation as a member of the Salafist jihad between God and himself… Despite his reluctance to talk or to disclose the number of militants from Gaza in Syria, he ultimately provided some information about their presence and efforts against the regime in Syria, independent of the Free Syrian Army. The militants joined Jabhat al-Nusra, which was formed in 2011 in Syria and was classified by the US as a terrorist organization.
Syria anti-regime protesters demonstrate against Al-Nusra Anti-regime activists took to the streets of rebel-held Mayadeen in eastern Syria on Wednesday for a third straight day to demand that jihadist Al-Nusra Front fighters leave the town, a watchdog said. "For the third day in a row, protests erupted in Mayadeen calling on the Al-Nusra Front to leave the town," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Protests erupted after the Islamist Al-Nusra Front -- blacklisted in December by the United States as a "terrorist" organization -- set up a religious council in the east of Deir Ezzor province, where Mayadeen is situated, to administer affairs in the area.
Syria denies reports of mass conscription The latest rumors fueled fears all men 50 and younger could be drafted to help the government battle a rebellion that has taken a heavy toll on the military.
France's Fabius says Europe must drop Syria arms ban French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius kept up his push on Wednesday for Europe to ditch a ban on supplying arms to Syria, saying stepping up help to the opposition was the only way to end the bloody two-year-old crisis. "We must go further and allow the Syrian people to defend themselves against this bloody regime. It's our duty to help the Coalition, its leaders and the Free Syrian army by all means possible," Fabius wrote in the daily Liberation newspaper.
UN must refer Syria war crimes to ICC: Amnesty "How many more civilians must die before the UN Security Council refers the situation to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court so that there can be accountability for these horrendous crimes?" asked Ann Harrison, Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
UN cuts Golan patrols as Syria war dangers mount The Philippine government said it is reviewing its activities after the 21 troops were held for four days by Syrian rebels. Austria has also raised concerns to the UN, diplomats said. "There is a risk they will all leave. And if they all leave then the mission is in definite crisis," said one senior UN diplomat. "There is a real danger of the total unraveling of the force," added another senior Security Council diplomat. The UN has "decided to restrict the movement of UNDOF," said the UN diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity. "They are no longer doing patrols. They have closed down some of the observation posts." Shots were fired at one observation post after the Filipinos were freed last Saturday, March 9.

Special Reports
Lebanon: Sibling of Syria - With war in Syria threatening to spill over into Lebanon, we examine the two countries' shared history. "For the first time since 1970, when Hafez al-Assad came to power, up until now, Lebanon misses the spirit of the ‘big brother’. The oppressive spirit that also brings our people together. We can’t just wonder how the current situation in Syria would affect life in Lebanon. This is a serious issue. And we need to think more about it," says Nahla Chahal, a researcher and journalist."
How the Muslim Brotherhood Hijacked Syria's Revolution: The shadowy Islamist group that was all but destroyed in the 1980s is ruining the uprising against Bashar al-Assad. No one in Syria expected the anti-regime uprising to last this long or be this deadly, but after around 70,000 dead, 1 million refugees, and two years of unrest, there is still no end in sight. While President Bashar al-Assad's brutal response is mostly to blame, the opposition's chronic failure to form a viable front against the regime has also allowed the conflict to drag on. And there's one anti-Assad group that is largely responsible for this dismal state of affairs: Syria's Muslim Brotherhood. Throughout the Syrian uprising, I have had discussions with opposition figures, activists, and foreign diplomats about how the Brotherhood has built influence within the emerging opposition forces. It has been a dizzying rise for the Islamist movement. It was massacred out of existence in the 1980s after the Baathist regime put down a Brotherhood-led uprising in Hama. Since then, membership in the Brotherhood has been an offense punishable by death in Syria, and the group saw its presence on the ground wither to almost nothing. But since the uprising erupted on March 15, 2011, the Brotherhood has moved adroitly to seize the reins of power of the opposition's political and military factions.
Terrorism and freedom fighting along the Syria-Iraq border: When some rebel groups kill Syrian government soldiers, the US applauds. When others do the killing, it's 'terrorism.' Why? …the killing of Syrian soldiers by rebels is good, right? Well, not exactly. Depending on who does the killing it can be labelled as terrorism or the actions of a people striving to be free… [Nuland] appeared to define terrorism as killing anyone not in the middle of an all-out battle. "We’ve been pretty clear about calling out attacks against folks who are not in the middle of a firefight all the way through this from both sides," she said. By this definition, every drone assassination carried out by the Bush and Obama administrations has been terrorism, as have the frequent tactics of bombing or ambushing insurgents at home, in both Iraq and Afghanistan. That's an absurd definition of terrorism. Usually governments say absurd things when the policy being discussed is filled with contradictions.
Hugh Segal: We must intervene in Syria to protect ourselves Syrian groups that sought liberalization and democracy have been annihilated for want of weapons and money, while the militias the West would never want to see take over Syria have become the best-armed, most effective elements within the rebellion. It is not too late to engage. A coalition composed of Arab and NATO countries could still intervene decisively with a targeted air campaign, reducing Assad’s military capabilities and giving the remnants of pro-democracy forces a fighting chance. Western special forces units could also enter Syria, link up with pro-democracy forces and provide an immediate counter to the superior firepower of the Islamist groups. Turkey, NATO’s only Muslim country, would be the logical leader for this operation (which would also suit U.S. President Barack Obama’s preference for “leading from behind”). What Bosnia, Afghanistan and Libya have taught us is not that interventions fail, but that imperfect and messy results are still better than the alternative of no engagement at all. The same countries that considered an al-Qaeda-controlled Afghanistan an unacceptable risk to the West cannot be blind to the much greater threat that an Islamist, unstable Syria would pose, not just to Israel, but the entire region. This is no longer only about our moral responsibility to protect Syria’s helpless civilians. It’s about protecting our allies, and ultimately, ourselves.
A Battle for Syria, One Court at a Time When members of a fledgling court system in Aleppo, Syria, refused to hand over newly refurbished offices to the head of a Shariah Board last month, four vehicles filled with heavily armed fighters promptly roared through the fence surrounding the five-story concrete building. The fighters, so-called Shariah Board police, knocked down one cleric who objected, then carted off some 20 lawyers and other employees, whacking some with rifle butts, according to four members of an Aleppo lawyers association who spoke with witnesses. More than a simple turf war, the confrontation was part of a secondary battle already playing out across Syria, even with its civil war unresolved. It is the fight over who will shape Syria’s future… “Syria right now is a jungle where everyone is competing to be the power,” said Faraj, a young fighter. In many places, someone who was a baker or a taxi driver now controls hundreds of men and uses them to run one or two villages at his whim, he said. “Another six months of that and people are going to want Assad back because they are fed up.”

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.

Minorities, secularists, moderates and democrats have a right to fear from the rise of Jabhat Al-Nusra and affiliated groups. In recently liberated Raqqah City, members of Nusra circulated a pamphlet that described those who believe democracy as “infidels.” That does not augur well, but it does show to more and more people how dangerous this group is. The aura of saintliness and sanctity is being undermined, and the people are not afraid to tell Al-Nusra what they really think.

The problem is: it’s not just Al-Nusra, there are so many radicals now, and, then, the pro-Assad militias, then foreign fighters on both sides. Turf war is looming, and guns trump words.

Meanwhile, Jabhat Al-Nusra is taking control of the southern parts of the country as well, including the border with Israel:

Tanks operated by rebels from Jabhat Al-Nusra take part in pounding loyalist positions in the town of Saida, Daraa Province , The spokesman, who clearly identify that the tnaks belong to Al-Nusra, was the same one relating the massacre against imprisoned regime loyalists that took place in Al-Jamla region a few days ago, meaning that it was Al-Nusra who was responsible for perpetrating it all along, contrary to what I thought at the time. This also means that it was Al-Nusra who was holding the UN observers. It’s Al-Nusra that is now controlling areas along the border with Israel.

This is how I covered the massacre of Jamla at the time (March 4): After liberating a loyalist checkpoint in the village of Jamlah, rebels executed their prisoners despite heated protestations from some in their ranks The fighters, however, are not affiliated with Jabhat Al-Nusra or any other Jihadi groups, their rhetoric and their adherence to the independence flag indicate that they are the “moderate” Islamists we hear so much about. There are no more moderates in this fight. We have waited too long. “Those who don’t defect, will be killed” The incident took place on March 4.

The same man also shows us the havoc wrought by regime shelling of the town of Kateebah And Khirbet Ghazaleh And Western Ghariyeh And the International Highway connecting Damascus and Amman The significance of this is to note that now it is Jabhat Al-Nusra that is taking control of the southwest parts of Syria, after taking control of much of the East.

(Reuters) - One hot night last summer, Rajaa Taher grabbed a few essentials and fled her home in the Syrian village of Saqarja with her husband and children, escaping across farmlands to Zayta just a few hundred meters away.
Taher, a Shi'ite, said she was threatened by Sunni Muslim rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad in the largely unmarked border region where Syria merges into Lebanon - an old smuggling area where Syrians and Lebanese, Shi'ites and Sunnis once lived together oblivious to national or sectarian boundaries.

Now the border region has become one of many flashpoints in Syria's increasingly violent and sectarian conflict, which threatens more and more to drag in its tiny neighbor Lebanon, where many Sunnis back the revolt and many Shi'ites back Assad, a member of the Alawite offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

If the bloodshed seeps into Lebanon, where sectarian faultlines have been exacerbated by the nearly two years of crisis in Syria, the countryside around Taher's village nestled just north of Lebanon's Bekaa Valley may be one of the gateways for the spread.

The area is of strategic importance for the rebels who would be able to link Homs province in Syria to Sunni areas inside Lebanon for weapons and fighters. It is important for Lebanon's Shi'ite militants Hezbollah to stop the rebels from taking over these Shi'ites villages as they will be a stone's throw away from Hermel, one of the group's strongholds.

Already rebels accuse Hezbollah of sending forces into the area to fight alongside Assad's army - a charge the group denies, although it says there are Hezbollah members living and fighting among the estimated 30,000 Lebanese nationals in two dozen religiously mixed villages but with Shi'ites in the majority just inside Syria.

Taher and other Shi'ite and Alawite villagers tell another story, saying Sunni rebels have intimidated, expelled and killed Shi'ites as they seek to control territory close to Syria's third largest city, Homs.

"We were neighbors. We lived there together for years and years," said the 39-year-old woman, dressed in black like many others displaced from nearby villages.

"Then they sent us a message...that we are Shi'ites and we have no right to own land or a house or anything and we have to leave. They burned the house. They took our cows," she said.

"They took my brother-in-law and we don't know what happened to him. We left the village when they started calling from the mosque speakers for Jihad. We left under bullets," she said tearfully, adding that her nephew was recently killed.

"What do they want from us? We were all one family living together ... Do they hate us just because we are Shi'ites?"

Video Highlights

In a response to the Grand Mufti’s recent call for Jihad, gets a death fatwa from a defected member of the Syrian Sunni religious established, Sheikh Anas Al-Suwaid The sheikh says that if the call for Jihad led to an increase in the number of Shia fighters from Iran, Hezbollah going into Syria, then the blood of the Grand Mufti will be forfeit.

Rebels from Liwa Al-Islam shows a mortar round made in Israel claiming that it has confiscated it from the regular army, and using it to bolster their claim of a secret agreement between Israel and Assad. This is the kind of conspiracy theories now prevalent in rebel circuits Rebels from the same unit take control of the headquarters of the loyalist militias, Jaish Al-Sha’bi, in the town of Adra, Damascus Suburbs, and confiscate the ammunition Jaish Al-Sh’abi is a loyalist militias classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. Treasury Department. The Liwa used its own confiscated tanks to pound the headquarters ,

Loyalist troops from 113th Battalion in Deir Ezzor Province destroyed their stockpile of rockets before giving up the site to rebels

Relief workers from a local volunteer organization, Rawafid, distribute food rations in Deir Ezzor City ,

This fire in Baramkeh Neighborhood in Central Damascus City is the result of rebel pounding of the City by rebels. The rebels were aiming for the military security complex in the neighborhood but missed. Their rockets civilian targets: cars and dwellings , Nearby Fahhameh was also targeted

Meanwhile, regime forces keep pounding rebel stronghold in and around the city of Damascus: Jobar ,

In Daraa City, rebels pound loyalist troops headquarters at the main Post Office  , ,