Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Downward Spiral into Infamy!

Inaction is what often lies at the heart of our greatest catastrophes. But politicians often favor it, because it is easier to justify, and when the time to face the consequences comes, they can always shift the blame. There will be plenty of shifting gymnastics over the next few months and years, as things spiral out of control in Syria.

Thursday March 28, 2013

Today’s Death Toll: 141 martyrs, including 6 women, 4 children and 3 under torture: 51 in Damascus and Suburbs, 12 fell during the pounding of the Faculty of Architecture in Damascus University; 42 in Daraa; 12 in Aleppo; 15 in Homs; 5 in Deir Ezzor; 5 in Idlib; 5 in Hassakeh: 3 in Quneitra; and 3 in Hama (LCCs).

Points of Random Shelling: 278 points. Aerial bombardment by warplanes counted in 18 points. Shelling using Surface-to-Surface missiles recorded in Daeel, Daraa. Explosive barrels used in 5 points. Shelling using cluster bombs recorded in Qarah and Yabroud in Damascus Suburbs. Vacuum bombs recorded in Qusair, Homs. Mortar shelling counted in 103 points. Artillery shelling counted in 91 points. Rocket shelling counted for 60 points on various parts of Syria (LCCs).

Clashes: 126. Successful rebel operations included the complete liberation of the town of Da’el, and targeting loyalist barracks in Khirbet Ghazaleh in Daraa Province. In Damascus, rebels shot down a cargo plane in Damascus International Airport which, they say, was being used by Iranians to funnel weapons to the Assads.  In the town of Skeilabiyeh, Hama Province, rebels pounded the headquarters of a loyalist militia killing several. Similar operations took place in Qamhaneh and Tel Ataman (LCCs).

Syrian Students Killed in Attack on University Cafeteria The main rebel fighting group denied responsibility, asserting that it would never target a school filled with students, and suggested that Mr. Assad’s agents had carried out the attack to inflame passions against the two-year-old rebellion in Syria. The attack at the outdoor cafe, near the civil engineering faculty building, was one of the deadliest to afflict an affluent enclave of Damascus that had been relatively insulated from much of the fighting. An orange-and-yellow awning that had shielded cafe tables was drooped and riddled with holes. Pools of blood congealed on the concrete patio, littered with upended plastic chairs and packs of Gauloises and Winston cigarettes.
American who fought with Al Qaeda against Syria's Assad arrested in Virginia Eric Harroun, 30, who left the Army in 2003 on full disability pay after a truck accident, was charged with conspiring to use a rocket-propelled grenade while fighting with the al-Nusrah Front, an organization also known as Al Qaeda in Iraq. Harroun, who was in Syria or Turkey when he spoke to by Skype, was nabbed shortly after flying in to Dulles International Airport after a voluntary interview with FBI agents, according to a criminal complaint filed Thursday.
Iran, Syria and North Korea Stall Arms Treaty The three countries, often isolated as international pariahs for their arms and human rights records, used their rejection of the treaty to lash out at what they see as their unfair treatment. Achieving consensus among all 193 member states of the United Nations is considered a monumental task, but it was hoped that it would work in this case because so many countries supported the idea of trying to regulate the $70 billion annual industry which causes so much death and destruction around the world.
Syria MP: Insurgents Control Large Parts of Daraa "Syria is no longer going through a crisis. It is plunged in total war. Terrorism has spread in Syria and so has chaos. This is reality, and all Syrians know it," Walid al-Zohbi told parliament in a session broadcast live on state television. "This is also happening in all towns and villages in Daraa province, which is torn from east to west after the army withdrew from many positions," he said. "They may have pulled out for tactical reasons, we don't know. But at any rate, terrorists from al-Nusra Front have taken their place," he added of a jihadist group with roots in Iraq, classed by Washington as "terrorists". Some MPs called out and tried to silence Zohbi, but he refused to be interrupted. "There are people who send reports claiming the Daraa highway has been secured, but it's not true. The area stretching from Khirbet Ghazaleh to the border crossing is under the control of armed groups," Zohbi said.
Turkey foreign ministry denies forcibly deporting Syria refugees Turkey's foreign ministry denied forcibly deporting Syrian refugees from a camp on the border after Wednesday's clashes with Turkish military police, and said about 50-60 had returned to Syria voluntarily. "Some people have returned since last night, the numbers are closer to 50 or 60, and yes some of these may have been involved in the provocations from yesterday but they returned of their own free will," foreign ministry spokesman Levent Gumrukcu said on Thursday.
Officials: Arms Shipments Rise to Syrian Rebels A carefully prepared covert operation is arming rebels, involving Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, with the United States and other Western governments consulting, and all parties hold veto power over where the shipments are directed, according to a senior Arab official whose government is participating. His account was corroborated by a diplomat and two military experts.
Assad Sends Letter to Emerging Powers Seeking Help to End Syrian War In a letter addressed to the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — the so-called BRICS group of developing nations, which convened a summit meeting in Durban, South Africa — Mr. Assad framed his request as a plea for assistance in the fight of good against evil. He depicted the opposition forces as terrorists bent on destroying Syria with help from a conspiracy of hostile Arab and Western countries. “You, with all the huge political, economic and cultural weight you represent that seeks to consolidate peace, security and justice in the troubled world of today, are called upon to exert all possible efforts to end the suffering of the Syrian people,” Mr. Assad said in the letter, as reported by SANA, the official Syria news agency. He called the BRICS group “a just force that seeks to spread peace, security and cooperation among countries away from hegemony, its dictates and oppression which have lasted for decades upon our peoples and nation.”
Syrian opposition coalition opens embassy in Qatar In a diplomatic blow for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Syria's opposition coalition has opened its first embassy - in the Qatari capital Doha.
France says too early to send arms to Syria rebels France and Britain are both pressing for the relaxation of an arms embargo on Syria so that arms can flow to outgunned rebels waging a two-year-old uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The embargo expires on June 1 and both countries say it should be allowed to lapse. But Hollande said that before arms were delivered to Syria, guarantees were needed they would not fall into the hands of Islamist fighters. "We will not do it as long as we cannot be certain that there is complete control of the situation by the opposition," Hollande said during an interview on France 2 television.
Israel sends more medics to border with Syria as more wounded Syrians cross, seek Israeli aid A military official said on Thursday there have been "numerous incidents" in recent months in which Syrians wounded in the fighting in their country arrived at the frontier for first aid from Israeli medics. Eleven of them were taken and treated at Israeli hospitals, including one who died from his wounds on Wednesday. Others returned home after their conditions have improved.
Hungry Aleppo residents rely on charity for food The UN World Food Programme says "humanitarian needs are growing in Syria, with serious bread and fuel shortages across the country". "In some areas, the prices of most essential items have risen by 200 percent, and the Syrian pound has been devalued by around 80 percent," the WFP added. According to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, "2.5 million Syrians inside the country need food assistance".
Chechen commander forms 'Army of Emigrants,' integrates Syrian groups The creation of the Army of the Emigrants and Helpers was announced on March 26 by Kavkaz Center, a propaganda arm of the Islamic Caucasus Emirate, an al Qaeda-linked jihadist group in Russia's Caucasus. "In March 2013, a unit of Mujahideen of Kataeb al Muhajieen, or Brigade of Emigrants, under the command of Abu Omar al Chechen was joined by several brigades of Syrian Mujahideen, including Kataeb Khattab, or the Brigade of Khattab, and Jaish Muhammad, or the Army of Muhammad, after which it was decided to reorganize the structure of Kataeb," Kavkaz Center reported. "As a result, Jaish al Muhajireen wa Ansar, or the Army of Emigrants and Helpers, was created," Kavkaz Center continued.
Russia to block Syrian opposition at UN Russia said Thursday it will strongly oppose any bid to give Syria's UN seat to the rebel coalition fighting President Bashar al-Assad. Russia's UN envoy Vitaly Churkin said recognizing the Syrian National Council would "undercut the standing of the UN." Churkin reaffirmed Russia's condemnation of the Arab League for naming the coalition as the legitimate government and said the League was now playing a "negative" role in the two-year-old Syrian conflict. The Arab League on Tuesday recognized the coalition and diplomats say Arab nations are now planning a campaign to give Syria's place at the 193-member United Nations to the opposition. No formal move is expected however before the new UN General Assembly year starts in September. Russia, Assad's main international backer, is a current member of the General Assembly's credentials committee, which would make a recommendation to the full assembly on Syria's membership. "We will oppose it very strongly, but you know I don't think it is going to happen," Churkin told reporters.

Special Reports
In Syria, the Rebels Have Begun to Fight Among Themselves “The problem is that they have forgotten that we are all fighting Bashar,” Abu Mansour said of the Jabhat. “They want an Islamic emirate. They say that they are Islamists and we are apostates, but we will not accept that they have any sway or authority over us or others. May God heal Abu Azzam, that is the main thing, but in every province now, we will fight them.”
Video: Agony in Aleppo: a city abandoned by the world? In the first of a Channel 4 News series charting Syria's descent in the face of civil war, German filmmaker Marcel Mettelsiefen's spends several weeks in Aleppo witnessing a civilian population isolated and under siege.
The Arab League Actually Does Something: Once a laughingstock, the Arab world’s political body is closing ranks against Bashar al-Assad. The declaration "affirms every state's right, according to its desire, to present all kinds of measures for self-defense, including military ones, to support the steadfastness of the Syrian people and the Free Army."
A new Syria must have U.S. support Yet absent a nonsectarian government in Syria, one dedicated to protecting vulnerable populations and serving as an alternative to Assad, the likelihood of state failure and sectarian chaos in Syria will continue to grow. As hard as the challenges are now, they could soon become unmanageable. A credible alternative to Assad is desperately needed. It will not happen without U.S. encouragement and support.
Elliot Abrams: Syria’s European Jihadis The facts are pretty clear: There are hundreds and hundreds of European Muslims now fighting in Syria. When I met recently in Washington with the top civil servant in one of Europe’s foreign ministries, this was his greatest fear: What will they do when they come “home,” their fighting skills now honed through months of combat alongside other jihadis from Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and many other countries?
We hate to break it to the Administration's Boswells, but Mr. Obama has owned the Syria debacle from Day One of the uprising, and even before it. The President came to office determined to improve relations with the Syrian dictator. That effort was unofficially led by then-Senator John Kerry, who once praised Mr. Assad as a man who had been "very generous with me." It took five months for the Administration to call for Mr. Assad to go, though it has since done nothing to make that happen… Nobody is arguing for American boots on the ground, but the sooner Mr. Assad falls the easier it will be to prevent the various nightmare scenarios that are becoming more likely. Among those scenarios: the disintegration of the Syrian state into warring ethnic enclaves; revenge killings amounting to genocide against Mr. Assad's Allawite sect; the spillover of war into Lebanon, Jordan or Iraq; the further empowerment of al Nusra and similar jihadists; the seizure by parties unknown of Syria's chemical weapons stocks; or the breakout of a pan-regional Shiite-Sunni conflict. Mr. Obama may imagine that his only foreign policy problems are those he chooses to touch. If he were Prime Minister of New Zealand, that might be true. But that's not how the world works. Sooner or later the world's biggest problems always land on an American President's desk. The catastrophe in Syria is unfolding on his watch, and history will judge him not merely on how he acts, but on how he has refused to act.

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.

Quickly Noted

* When Syrian MPs feel free to speak out on such critical issues as the security of the country, and when they are willing to say that the country is witnessing a civil war and that the army seems incapable of prevailing, then, yes, the end is nigh.

* Yes, there are hundreds of European Jihadis now fighting in Syria, and heavens only know what they will do upon their return home. Most would probably resume their erstwhile lives, but there will always those few who would turn completely to the darkside. Why is anyone surprised? Why couldn’t European leaders foresee the easily foreseeable? And how long do they think they can protect their countries and societies from the impact of mayhem unfolding in Syria? The price if inaction will hunt us all. The Onion’s mock-editorial by Bashar Al-Assad drives the point home.

Video Highlights

Speech of opposition leader Mouaz Al-Khatib at the recent Arab Summit in Doha, with English subtitles

Rebels down a civilian plane as it attempted to land in Damascus International Airport claiming that it was carrying weapons from Iran to the regime. The plane crashed and burnt and the ensuing fire damaged other planes on the tarmac

Rebels storm the Microbus station at the Abbasid Square at the outskirts of Damascus City. The station serves as the main public transport hub connecting Damascus and central and northern parts of the country ,

In the town of Al-Otaibeh, Eastern Ghoutah, rebels consolidate their hold on the town by pounding the last of the loyalist militias positions

To the West, loyalist pounding of the town of Zabadani intensifies ,

This leaked video shows pro-Assad militia members torturing a captive from Daraa Province who remains defiant

Chechen and Syrian Jihadis in Aleppo Province form a new fighting brigade, Jaish Al-Muhajireen wa Al-Ansar (Army of Migrants and Supporters) More on this development here.

In order to dispel rumors of his death, Syrian TV showed Bashar Al-Assad holding a meeting with a group of ministers in what seems to be an underground bunker due to the lack of any windows Rumors of his assassination persist nonetheless, as people believe this to be old clips. Some activists produced this video clip claiming that it shows that the website of the loyalist Addounia TV briefly published a report then removed it claiming that Assad was transported to Russia for treatment The video could be faked of course. But this is where the conversation on social media is at.

Russian TV airs a reportage about the Shia militia, Abul Fadel Abbas, made up of Iraqis, Lebanese and Syrian recruits fighting rebels in the southern neighborhoods of Damascus City under the guise of protecting Shia shrines. Naturally, the reporters describe rebels as terrorists and portrays the militia in heroic terms