Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Oh Mr. Postman, Give me a sign!

Chemical Weapons might be the poor man’s nuclear missiles, but mixing these chemicals and mounting them on a rocket then launching it successfully still requires a certain level of expertise that rebel groups in the country do not seem to have. Moreover, before the Aleppo attack was reported, activists in Damascus made similar claims and produced similar videos regarding an attack on the town of Al-Otaybeh in Eastern Ghoutah. Considering the timing of the Aleppo attack, if confirmed, less than 24 hours after the opposition selected a PM, and considering the drive by France and the UK to arm rebels and the current military setbacks the regime is facing in showdowns all over the country, the regime seems to be desperate enough to seek comfort in chemistry.

Tuesday March 19, 2013

Today’s Death Toll: 131, including 6 women, 9 children and 3 under torture: 46 in Damascus and Suburbs, 41 in Aleppo, 13 in Deir Ezzor, 8 in Hama, 7 in Idlib, 5 in Daraa, 4 in Raqqa, 3 in Homs, 2 in Lattakia, and 1 in Quneitra (LCCs).

Points of Random Shelling: 354. Aerial bombardments by warplanes counted in 15 points. Scud bombing counted in 6 points. Shelling using Surface-to-Surface missiles counted for in 8 points, most targeting Deir Ezzor. Explosive barrels were used in 9 points. Shelling using cluster bombs was recorded in Tabaqah in Raqqa. Artillery shelling counted in 127 points. Mortar shelling counted in 98 points. Rocket shelling counted for 97 points (LCCs).

Clashes: 132. Successful rebel operation include targeting Army Command Headquarters and the Ministry of Defense in Damascus, the Military Airport of Raqqa, and the Military Security Center in the town of Kubajib in Deir Ezzor city (which was also hit by regime’s warplanes by mistake). In Kubajib, also destroyed a loyalist convoy (LCCs).

Activists allege another attack in Damascus: Second Chemical Attack in Damascus

Top Democrat endorses Syria no-fly zone Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) endorsed Tuesday the idea of establishing a no-fly zone inside Syria and attacking the air defenses and air power of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad… Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Tuesday called for the United States to put boots on the ground in Syria to secure chemical weapons sites, in light of new allegations that chemical weapons were used in Aleppo province.
U.S. Commander: Contingency plans under way for Syria "The Syrian situation continues to become worse and worse and worse," Adm. James Stavridis, the commander of U.S. European Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "No end in sight to a vicious civil war." Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, said the Syrian people "face a new level of ruthlessness from the Assad regime, which is raining Scud missiles down on residential neighborhoods, destroying hospitals and schools, and sending its thugs rampaging through the streets to terrorize their fellow citizens. The carnage is appalling." Ford's comments came in prepared testimony for Wednesday's House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. The Associated Press obtained a copy of his statement.
Syrian Opposition Pledges Rule of Law in Rebel-Held Areas Speaking yesterday after opposition delegates elected him to the premier’s post during a meeting in Istanbul, Hitto said his nascent administration would begin to govern from inside the country, appealed for members of the armed forces to lay down their arms and promised that there would be no dialogue with Assad. The opposition should take the Syrian government’s seat at the United Nations and the Arab League and have control over the country’s embassies, he said.
FDD Praises Senators Casey and Rubio for New Syria Legislation If passed, the Syria Democratic Transition Act of 2013 will require the U.S. to support the establishment of a new government in Damascus that is committed to pluralism, democracy, and peace. It will also mean strengthening those within the Syrian opposition who are pursuing this goal. "Economic warfare against the Assad regime, its overseas assets, and those foreign persons who provide the regime a financial lifeline are a crucial part of an overall strategy to overthrow the regime and support Syria's moderate opposition forces ,” said Mark Dubowitz, FDD Executive Director who leads the Foundation’s projects on sanctions and nonproliferation.
British charities launch first joint Syria appeal Four British charities have publicly admitted for the first time that they are operating inside Syria on the eve of a major appeal for the stricken Middle Eastern nation which is being launched tomorrow by the Disaster Emergency Committee. It is the first time a joint appeal has been launched for Syria following two years of fighting which has killed more than 70,000 people and forced an estimated three million from their homes. Staff with Islamic Relief, Save the Children, Christian Aid and CAFOD are all taking extraordinary risks delivering aid directly to those affected by the on-going war as well as those who have managed to find sanctuary in neighbouring countries.
Reports of Syrian jet fire into Lebanon called 'significant escalation' The French Foreign Ministry in Lebanon issued a statement condemning the attacks. "The aerial bombing carried out today by the armed forces of the Syrian regime on Lebanese territory, in the region of Ersal, is a new and serious violation of Lebanon's sovereignty," the statement said. "France strongly condemns this escalation and reiterates its commitment to Lebanon's sovereignty and the inviolability of its borders."

Special Reports
 Islamic law comes to rebel-held Syria Building on the reputation they have earned in recent months as the rebellion’s most accomplished fighters, Islamist units are seeking to assert their authority over civilian life, imposing Islamic codes and punishments and administering day-to-day matters such as divorce, marriage and vehicle licensing. Numerous Islamist groups are involved, representing a wide spectrum of views. But, increasingly, the dominant role is falling to Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as al-Nusra Front. The group has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States for suspected ties to al-Qaeda but is widely respected by many ordinary Syrians for its battlefield prowess and the assistance it has provided to needy civilians.

A friend brought to my attention this new service launched by NY Times to monitor developments in Syria: Watching Syria’s War Videos and images of the continuing conflict in Syria. The site is edited by Liam Stack known for his balanced reporting. I found the site very useful and in some ways reminiscent of Lara Setrakian’s Syria Deeply.

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.

Many people in Syria and across the world continue to wonder why the Syrian uprising took such a violent turn, despite the bravery and selflessness of so many of the early protest leaders. Indeed, the development seems to have come as a result of a sophisticated strategy implemented by the Assad regime from the outset. Understanding this strategy, rather than lamenting the situation, as so many nonviolence advocates and theoreticians continue to do, might help prevent its replication elsewhere. (Keep reading, a longer version can be accessed here)

My colleague Joshua Landis published an interesting debate on the nature of the Free Syrian Army on his blog Syria Comment. Both Koert and Aron provides interesting peaks into the world of rebels affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, and both make excellent points. However, I have to say that, in general, I tend to agree more with Aron’s analysis. Albeit Koert’s analysis seems to capture the dynamics in parts of Aleppo more accurately. We also have to bear in mind that groups like Jabhat Al-Nusra and its affiliates do not consider themselves members of the FSA. So do many of the groups affiliated with the Syrian Islamic Front. In other words, even at its best, the FSA cannot be seen as being able to include all major fighting groups on the scene. At this stage, it’s one of several loosely organized armies active on the scene.  (Lund’s paper can be downloaded here)

Video Highlights

State TV claims that “terrorists” launched a chemical attack on Khan Al-Assal While Israel confirms the attack, Dr. Jean-Pascal Zanders, European Union Institute for Security Studies questions whether the images we see reflect a chemical attack:

·         There are no images of the site of the attack; just of some affected people. These people do not show outward symptoms of a CW attack. Definitely not mustard; definitely not a nerve agent.
·         There are far too many people, including non-medical staff, around the affected persons. Apart from a surgical mask, nobody wears any protective garment or gas masks. If there would have been a CW attack with one of the agents known (or believed) to be in Syria’s arsenal, then most of the people present would have been fatally or seriously contaminated.
·         I am deeply sceptical of allegations that the insurgents would have resorted to CW. There would have far greater propaganda benefits if they were to demonstrate to the world that they had overrun one of the storage or production facilities. In addition, insurgent spokespersons were very quick to deny the government allegation.
·         Regarding a case of a transfer to (and, hence, use by) surrogates of the Syrian government, I have already expressed my views on such a scenario.
·         Present-day battlefields are extremely toxic. Many materials may be propelled into the air and inhaled by bystanders. If some (toxic) chemical container were hit by a shell, then bystanders could be badly affected, as we have seen in a variety of recent internal conflicts (former Yugoslavia; Sri Lanka; Iraq; etc.). Bhopal reminds us of the large-scale effects of an industrial accident. Any investigation of the allegation must first exclude plausible alternative explanations.

Meanwhile, rebels provide these videos as evidence of chemical weapons use in the town of Otaybeh in Eastern Ghoutah region, Damascus suburbs. The attacks preceded those in Aleppo and took place in rebel strongholds , , , , , Site of the pounding Doctor claims that all patients had respiratory problems postulating that some phosphate based compound was used Three were reportedly killed.

Activists in Baba Amr Neighborhood in Homs City make similar claims

Rebels in Deir Ezzor blow up a regime convoy heading towards the town of Kubajib Then attack the survivors In the town of Kubajib itself, activists claim that a regime’s warplane bombed the headquarters of the local military security branch seemingly by mistake

Battles are really heating up in the southern parts of Syria, especially in the Daraa Province. This reflects the fact that rebels have received more advanced weapons, and the plan seems to liberate the province and help lay siege to Damascus City. It will still take a few more weeks of pressure before this can be achieved, barring setbacks.

In Daraa City, clashes between loyalists and rebels intensify ,

In Damascus City, regime uses missile launchers stations at the Mazzeh Military Airport to target rebel strongholds to the west Neighborhoods to the south are also targeted