Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Hit or Miss, and does it make a difference?

The Syrian opposition has finally gifted us a PM: Mr. Ghassan Hitto, a U.S. citizen and an IT guy who was openly supported by the Muslim Brotherhood, among other groups and figures. Let’s hope Mr. Hitto does not prove a major “misso” as he goes about forming his cabinet. Opposition figures assure us that the provisional government will operate in liberated areas, but that will be unwise. Without a no-fly zone, the provisional government will be surely targeted by Scuds and MiGs, their presence will bring more havoc to whatever community is chosen as a host. The wiser course will be to send representatives to all major liberated centers to take part in the emerging local councils and supervise local elections.  

Monday March 18, 2013

Today’s Death Toll: 128, including 15 women and 18 children: 46 reported in Damascus and Suburbs, 36 in Aleppo (most in Marjeh neighborhood), 19 in Homs, 8 in Daraa, 6 in Deir Ezzor, 5 in Idlib, 3 in Hama, 2 in Sweida, 2 in Lattakia, and 1 in Hassakeh (LCCs).

Points of Random Shelling: 409. Aerial bombardment counted in 23 points. Scud bombing counted in 5 points. Shelling using Surface-to-Surface missiles counted for in 4 points. Explosive barrels were used in 5 points. Shelling using cluster bombs was recorded in Khirbit Ghazaleh in Daraa. Vacuum bombs were recorded in Idlib. Artillery shelling counted in 136 points. Mortar shelling counted in 135 points. Rocket shelling counted for 99 points (LCCs).

Clashes: 182. Successful rebel operations include downing 3 warplanes in Idlib, targeting Tishreen Palace, the Damascus International Airport, the Conferences Place and the Security Quadrangle in Damascus City. Rebels also repelled an attempt at storming Barzeh Neighborhood and targeted security headquarters in central Damascus. In Damascus Suburbs, rebels took control over the headquarters of the 16th Regiment in located East of Utaybeh and clashed with Hezbollah fighers in the Suburb of Sayida Zeinab. In Deir Ezzor, rebels took control of the major Gas station supplying the 137th loyalist brigade. In Homs, they regained control of the Bayada neighborhood (LCCs).

Syrian Opposition Elects a U.S. Citizen as Prime Minister After a prolonged day of maneuvering and voting on Monday that lasted into the early-morning hours, representatives of the opposition coalition, meeting in Istanbul, chose Ghassan Hitto, 50, a former information technology executive, who emigrated from Syria many years ago and until recently had lived in Texas. Mr. Hitto was heavily involved in volunteer efforts to help Syrians whose lives had been upended by the uprising against Mr. Assad.
Syria Warplanes Hit Lebanon for First Time A brief dispatch by the news agency said that “warplanes affiliated with the Syrian Air Force” attacked the Wadi al-Khayl Valley area, near the Lebanese border town of Arsal, without specifying whether they had caused casualties or damage. The mountainous area is known for its porous border. It is considered a haven for Syrian insurgents, and the civilian population there largely opposes President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
Top general urges caution on Syria options, rebels "About six months ago, we had a very opaque understanding of the opposition and now I would say it's even more opaque," said General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff. Dempsey, who is President Barack Obama's top uniformed military adviser, said he would also advise extreme caution when deliberating any military options in Syria - saying the conflict posed "the most complex set of issues that anyone could ever conceive, literally." "I don't think at this point I can see a military option that would create an understandable outcome," Dempsey told the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. "And until I do, it would be my advice to proceed cautiously."
Surrounded by children, Syria's first lady makes rare appearance "The regime is trying to telegraph that it's business as usual and she is a way to do that," said Andrew Tabler, an American expert on Syria who once lived in the country and interacted with the first family. "Not only is this a sign that she's standing by her man, but that the core of the regime is not cracking." "This stunt shouldn't disguise the fact that the regime is firing missiles in Damascus at their own population," Tabler added. "The photos are a gesture of confidence that the international community will not crush them and that (the Assads) will be able to keep hold of some level of control of the country."
The 'Oldest City In Human History' Is On The Verge Of Being Ravaged By War "It will become difficult for the regime to claim to govern Syria if the opposition breaks into downtown Damascus," Joseph Holliday of Institute for the Study of War concludes in a recent analysis of the regime’s military strategy over the last two years. "Assad is more likely to destroy Damascus than to abandon it to the opposition."
A Chinese jihadist in Syria? In the YouTube video below, entitled "A message of victory to the people of China from the Mujahidin Brigade Front," a Chinese man talks about his conversion to Islam. He introduces himself as Yusuf (the subtitles say Bo Wang) and says that he studied in Libya and helped the Libyans fight their "revolutionary" war. "Now I'm in Syria," he says, as a song that imagines global Islamic dominion plays in the background… The purpose of the video -- posted by a YouTube user who reposts jihadist videos -- seems to be to allow Bo (if that's his real name) to threaten China about the cost of its support for Bashar al-Assad's government. "As a Chinese Muslim, I'd like to deeply apologize" to the Syrian people "in utter misery from the flames of war," he says. "Also," he continues, "I am representing all of the Muslims in warning the Chinese government to immediately stop all forms of aid to Bashar, including selling arms to them, including economic aid." Otherwise, after the victory of the Syrian revolution, "all Islamic countries will join together to implement economic sanctions on China," he adds. It seems like an odd threat, not to mention an impossible one. One wonders why he didn't threaten a good old-fashioned terrorist attack.

Special Reports
Richard Cohen: Does Obama have a plan for Syria? Blowback is now a given. There is no sure way to avoid it, only to contain it. That can be done only by swiftly arming the moderates and pressing for as quick an end to the war as possible. Obama, as president of the United States, is in a position to save lives and avoid a regional calamity. His dithering has only made matters worse. Give the man an umbrella: He’s becoming a latter-day Neville Chamberlain.
Nicholas Burns: Syria is melting away: Obama has no good options, but doing nothing can’t be the answer … if Washington does not join Europe, Turkey, and the Arabs in supplying more decisive military aid to the rebels, it will leave us with the unpalatable option of trying once again to negotiate with a cynical Russian government for a political deal that might end up favoring Assad.
Disarming the Good Guys: Europe figures out its Syrian arms embargo has only helped Assad. Arming the rebels is riskier now that the jihadists are so prominent, but it's still better than the alternative of a victory for Mr. Assad and his patrons in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. At least without an embargo, France and Britain can start arming some of the good guys.
Syria conflict: from peaceful protest to civil war Two years ago, no-one thought that Syrian citizens would take to the street, shouting out loud calling for freedom and change. The heavy sense of dictatorship and memories of the 1980s made Syrians think the wave of change in the region would never come to their country. But it did happen. At first, people were surprised, but above all shocked that their government would fire on peaceful protesters in Deraa. Every day, the death toll increased and in reaction more people took to the street.

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

Correction: In the previous update I noted that activists caught “a major explosion on camera. They believe it’s caused by a Scud missile.” I also noted that “It’s not clear where the explosion happened,” because I had my doubts about the video. Well, a friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, just confirmed my doubts by pointing out that the explosion here http://youtu.be/QGMPtxlwuGk happened in Libya http://youtu.be/SjBI7pvIEn4. Sometimes activists exchange videos on social media that prove to be from somewhere else or downright fabricated, I am not always I am not always in a good position to judge on these particular videos, but if the videos become too widespread, I feel obligated to note them.

This newly uploaded video shows scenes from the crackdown on the protesters in Daraa City that took place on March 18, 2011 http://youtu.be/fmhEZjnAPk4

An aerial raid on Baba Amr Neighborhood in Homs City leaves many dead and many house in flames http://youtu.be/Q2D8Bn9dUso , http://youtu.be/nREWH9WI81w Elsewhere in the neighborhood, the clashes continue http://youtu.be/6NfK2nT1XV4

Rebels target Damascus International Airport with their own missile launchers http://youtu.be/3EhZmUkawP0

The site of a car bomb attack in Sitti Zeinab, Damascus City http://youtu.be/GLAfLZK9O5U Clashes in nearby suburb of Bahdaliyeh http://youtu.be/mPsv9R5p9Do

Syrian activists on social media are exchanging this video allegedly showing Iraqi Shiite militias, Liwa Abu Al-Fadel, sending troops to fight against rebels in Syria http://youtu.be/N7KlM7IfpS4 Though the video cannot be authenticated on my end, activists have for months been claiming that Shiite militias from Iraq have been taking active part in the fight against rebels especially, in Deir Ezzor, Homs, Hama and Damascus.

The dead bodies seen here belong to pro-Assad militias in the town of Mayadeen, Deir Ezzor Province, who have been killed by Islamist rebels currently consolidating their hold over the town http://youtu.be/m3_BsB_ZRaA In the nearby town of Aboullayl, pollution resulting from oil fires is causing health problems for the local population http://youtu.be/swAFSCi8lAU The nearby town of Shuhayl, redubbed Al-Nusra by Islamist rebels who took control of it, is being targeted by rockets http://youtu.be/1oLtx2Z1j7w

Battles between rebels and loyalists intensify in Deir Ezzor City: fighters from Jabhat Al-Nusra blow up a security headquarters in the neighborhood of Huwaiqah http://youtu.be/olzR4QZKDsg

Activists claim that this video shows Islamist Sunni rebels forcing a Shia watchman to destroy the minaret of a local Shia school (Husainiyeh) http://youtu.be/zPm1ySN--iQ This does not seem to be a historical building, however, as such this could be one of the new schools that were built in Syria under the rule of Bashar Al-Assad with Iranian funding. It’s not clear, however, where in Syria the incident took place. The video could also be taken from Iraq and recycled here as part of the ongoing Salafi propaganda.