Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Repeatedly!

Assad has “repeatedly” used chemical weapons, according to Israel, but the U.S. continues to dither. Whatever the reasons, this tendency to dither even when clearly set red lines have been clearly crossed has served to strengthen Assad’s resolve and is one way the U.S. has become complicit in Assad’s crimes. Providing humanitarian aid is not enough to alleviate the culpability and the guilt. Action is needed. A no-fly zone is needed. Many would say that there is no use asking for something when the political will for it is clearly lacking. But then, perhaps if we asked for it “repeatedly,” the political will for it might just materialize. Isn’t that what advocacy is about? Besides, a no-fly zone is part of the solution, we cannot make do without it so we cannot give up on it. How can we “guarantee” anyone’s safety when we have no ability to guarantee ours?

Tuesday April 23, 2013

Death Toll: 136 martyrs, including 7 woman; 9 children and 12 under torture: 53 in Damascus and Suburbs; 28 in Aleppo; 18 in Homs; 13 in Idlib; 13 in Daraa; 4 in Hama; 3 in Raqqa; 3 in Deir Ezzor; and 1 in Banyas (LCC).

News
Syria Used Chemical Arms Repeatedly, Israel Asserts “The regime has increasingly used chemical weapons,” said Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, research commander in the intelligence directorate of the Israeli Defense Forces, echoing assertions made by Britain and France. “The very fact that they have used chemical weapons without any appropriate reaction,” he added, “is a very worrying development, because it might signal that this is legitimate.” General Brun’s statements, made at a security conference here, are the most definitive by an Israeli official to date regarding evidence of possible chemical weapons attacks on March 19 near Aleppo and Damascus. Another military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the evidence had been presented to the Obama administration — which has declared the use of chemicals a “red line” that could prompt American action in Syria — but that Washington has not fully accepted the analysis.
White House: Syria’s use of chemical weapons unclear White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday the administration has made no conclusions on whether or not Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons against civilians.
United States, Russia agree to try to revive Syria plan U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday he and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had agreed to look for ways to revive a Syrian peace plan, but admitted that doing so would be extremely difficult. Kerry, speaking after talks with Lavrov and NATO colleagues in Brussels, also backed away from earlier comments suggesting he was calling for increased NATO contingency planning on Syria. Kerry said he and Lavrov had discussed ways to revive a peace plan agreed in Geneva last June that called for a transitional government. "We are both going to go back, we are going to explore those possibilities, and we are going to talk again about if any of those other avenues could conceivably be pursued," Kerry said. He said that while there might be a difference of opinion between Russia and the United States about when and how Syrian President Bashar al-Assad might leave office, "I don't think there's a difference of opinion that his leaving may either be inevitable or necessary to be able to have a solution." But, he stressed: "I would say to you that's it's a very difficult road ... No one should think there is an easy way to move forward on this."
Obama: US will work to up support for Syria rebels President Barack Obama says the U.S. and Qatar will continue to work on more support for the Syrian opposition in the coming months. His remarks come after Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that the U.S. will double its nonlethal assistance to the opposition. That's an additional $123 million in supplies that could include armored vehicles, body armor and night vision goggles. Obama spoke in the Oval Office alongside the emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani (HAH'-mihd bihn JAH'-sihm ahl THAH'-nee). The Qatari leader is one of several Mideast leaders Obama has invited to the White House following his trip to the region. Obama also says he and the emir spoke about Egypt and Middle East peace. He says both leaders are under no illusions about the difficulties in solving the region's problems.
Anger in Lebanese streets as Syria border fighting rages Long-standing sectarian tensions in Lebanon have been further fuelled this week by heavy clashes in the border region. Lebanese Sunni Muslims support the Sunni-led opposition fighting Assad. Most Lebanese Shi'ite groups support Assad and the Alawite sect to which he belongs, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam which has largely supported the Assad family's four-decade rule. Along the border, pro-Assad forces - including fighters believed to be from Lebanon's powerful Shi'ite guerrilla movement Hezbollah - have made strategic gains in recent days. They appear to be creating a crucial corridor between Assad's seat of power, Damascus, and the Alawite stronghold region along Syria's Mediterranean coast.
Boston reciprocates love to Syria in wake of attacks Thirteen Tufts University students and Somerville, Mass., residents created a sign about peace and safety for the Syrians who had offered condolences to Boston, after the marathon bombings, on a banner dated April 19. "I feel like a lot of people express sympathy when bad things happen in America; often we don't see the same happening from our end to their end," said Tufts junior Yeehui Tan, 22, who organized creating the Boston banner. "This is a step in changing that." The activist group that posted the Syrian sign, Occupied Kafranbel, put the image of the Boston-created banner on their Facebook page Sunday — signaling the message reached Syria. Connection with this group was the goal, Tufts junior SaraMarie Lee Bottaro, 20, said.
False Report of White House Blast Shakes Up Stock Markets A false report of explosions at the White House and injuries to President Barack Obama sent U.S. stocks plunging Tuesday before they recovered quickly. The Associated Press said hackers broke into its Twitter account and wrote: "Breaking: Two explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured." Within minutes, the most widely watched U.S. stock index, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, fell about 130 points, erasing the day's gains. But the Dow regained the losses just as quickly when it became obvious the reports were a hoax. A group called the Syrian Electronic Army is claiming responsibility for the cyber attack. Its claim has not been verified. The group has claimed similar attacks on other news organizations.
Syrians live in fear as kidnappings increase Gunmen loyal to both sides kidnap people - sometimes for political reasons but more often as a money-making criminal enterprise. So most people in Damascus think it is safer to stay at home after dark. It is another way in which the war is destroying Syria's social fabric and it will make putting this country back together a much harder job, whoever wins the war.
Damascus sees EU plan to buy rebel oil as act of aggression The EU will be trading “with the so-called opposition Coalition, which represents no one in Syria,” the letters to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council said. The decision is an act of “complicity in the theft of resources that belong to the Syrian people, represented by the current, legitimate government,” they added. “The European Union is following its political and economic campaign that targets the national economy and the daily bread of Syrian citizens,” the ministry added, referring to EU sanctions on the Assad regime.
Syria rebels, army in fierce battle for Al-Qusair Fierce clashes pitted Syrian rebels against government troops assisted by Hezbollah fighters in several villages near the border with Lebanon Tuesday, as a military source told AFP the army expects to seize Al-Qusair, a rebel stronghold, “within days.” “The army is leading the campaign on the northern and eastern fronts, and Hezbollah is leading the fight on the southern and western fronts,” said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel-Rahman. “The army is advancing in the Al-Qusair region, and the capture of the city is just days away, at most,” the military source said on condition of anonymity. “The aim is to cleanse the region of terrorists in order to guarantee the safe return of residents” who fled fighting in the area, the source added, using the regime term for rebels.
Brahimi tells Security Council: Syria situation hopeless U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi described the situation in Syria as “hopeless” in a recent closed-door briefing to the U.N. Security Council, according to a document leaked Tuesday. He added that dialogue was impossible when all warring parties were confident of victory. During his briefing Friday, the text of which was published by Lebanon’s Elnashra in full Tuesday, Brahimi acknowledged that the growing regional dimensions of the conflict increasingly made it resemble a proxy war.
Syrian bishops in hands of 'Chechens': church sources "The news which we have received is that an armed group... (of) Chechens stopped the car and kidnapped the two bishops while the driver was killed," an official from the Syriac Orthodox diocese who declined to be named said in a statement posted online. Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim, head of Aleppo's Syriac Orthodox diocese and Boulos Yaziji, head of the Greek Orthodox diocese in the same city, were kidnapped on Monday near the Turkish border, the statement said.

Investigative Reports
Bashar's War: For the Syrian regime's faithful mouthpieces, victory is always around the corner. In a conflict where new media -- both pro- and anti-regime -- have helped shape events on the ground, the traditional Syrian state media feel robotic and derivative. The print media coverage consists largely of rewritten SANA news releases, while Radio Damascus's call-in shows -- and their suspiciously articulate participants -- sound like playacting. The one bright spot is Syria's official television: If you can detach from the content of the coverage, the reports are frequently so acid and sarcastic that they're hilarious.
‘We don’t want them in our revolution’: Syria rebels decry Al-Qaeda interlopers With the Syrian revolution faltering and secular rebel groups disintegrating amid infighting and civilian abuses, it is the jihadists who have benefitted most. Syrians believe these groups have hijacked a secular revolution. “We don’t want them here,” shouted Ahmad Fartawi, 35, when queried about the organization. “We don’t want them in our revolution. These people don’t help our cause,” the computer peripherals salesman explained bitterly while biting into a falafel sandwich.
Jennifer Rubin: Running out of excuses on Syria The appropriate House and Senate oversight committees should get senior officials under oath and have them explain why the administration, unlike the French, British and Israelis, won’t acknowledge the use of chemical weapons and whether the president simply is refusing to acknowledge the obvious for fear of having to act. As for the White House press corps, once again they are demonstrating an utter lack of interest in pressing the White House on important issues. It’s time for them and for Congress to do their job; the president sure isn’t.
The Syrian Revolution and Future of Minorities (PDF) In a nutshell, there is no fear for Syria’s minorities, but as the Syrian saying goes, “he who does not go to the market shall neither buy nor sell”. It is futile therefore to talk about a better and more secure future for the next generations, or commit to democracy and citizenship rights, if all sectors of the population do not take part in making change possible or help in the demolition and reconstruction process. Extricating ourselves from the present situation does not happen by safeguarding the status quo, but by tearing it down. Likewise, a neutral, fearful or hesitant position on the part of Syria’s minorities, and allowing themselves to be swayed by provocative and exaggerated claims against the revolution, will only lengthen the birth process, bring more pain and suffering and distort the revolution’s future and its dreams of a dignified and fee nation.

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.

Don’t Rush to Judgment

Things are seldom what they appear to be in Syria. This has been true long before the Revolution, and is increasingly true now, hence the need for careful examination and constant review of available evidence.  

We actually don’t know yet who is behind the kidnapping of the two Christian Archbishops in Syria. Archbishop Ibrahim had turned increasingly critical of late of the government stances on the revolution and her violent tactics. The Assads have very limited tolerance for overtly critical clergymen in their midst.

Not long ago, one of Assad’s top supporters within the Sunni religious establishment, Sheikh Ramadan Al-Bouti, was killed in an incident at first described as a suicide bombing attack that left 90 dead. But a video that emerged few weeks later, whose validity was finally confirmed by Syrian State TV, told a different story, supporting claims that the loyalist Sunni cleric was actually assassinated by his own body guards, and that the whole scene was later staged, poorly, to back government claims of suicide bombing attack. Though, we cannot to date be sure of the exact reason for which the regime chose the dispense of their servile cleric, it exploited quite well to send different messages to the international community, to its supporters, and to that critical segment of the population still clinging to silence and irrelevance. All in all, the death of Al-Bouti was useful, and perhaps that’s in itself is sufficient explanation.

So, could the regime be behind the kidnappings of the two archbishops? Of course, it could. But so could any myriad of actors at this stage, especially when you take under consideration the possibility raised by church officials that a group of Chechen fighters is behind the kidnappings. And, if these reports are indeed true, whose interests could these Chechens be serving: Al-Qaeda’s or the FSB’s?

Today Syria is not just host to rebels and loyalist militias, we now have mercenary groups, made up of foreign and domestic elements, willing to sell their services to the highest bidder. In the northeast, Jabhat Al-Nusra itself is selling oil to the regime, then, using the funds to provide goods to the local population as part of its heart and minds campaign. The regime is funding the rebellion, the rebels are enabling the crackdown.   

Moreover, all different sorts of security agencies now have their agents in the field and are funding their own little fighting groups on both sides, implementing agendas that seem to reflect calculations not necessarily related to the current goings-on in Syria.

As for the Assad, and even though I, like so many others, tend to refer to him as if he is still in charge, in reality, he is NOT. He is just a tool at this stage wielded by a military-security complex run by people whose ultimate loyalty now is to Iran, Russia and themselves. No one represents or speaks for Syria, or any of her ethnic communities. All Syrians are now fodder in a complex proxy-war.

As for my comments yesterday trying to explain Assad’s take on American policy towards him, it’s important to note, that irrespective of what the reality is, and what I personally believe, this is what Assad himself seems to think, as he explained in his own words. As a descendant of a dynasty that profited from the shifts and contradictions of American foreign policy, I can understand how he came to believe what he believes about America. Directly and indirectly, and often unintentionally, the U.S. contributed to the way Assad thinks and behaves today, which makes the U.S. complicit in what is taking place in Syria at this stage. The U.S. needs to understand that and takes responsibility for it. The U.S. is far from blameless in this, and the hand wringing by American officials is quite hypocritical.

Video Highlights

Rebels in Aleppo claim these corpses belong to Iranian militias operating in the village of Nabol http://youtu.be/xnG3uoImruc

Fighter jets continue their raid against rebel strongholds around Damascus: Zamalka http://youtu.be/EIj9JdnNvQ8 Al-Qadam http://youtu.be/rHlrhTIG9-c Jobar http://youtu.be/TvN_2qCnu2I Moadamiyeh http://youtu.be/TS8zEj2pguU Daraya http://youtu.be/eSBRLMZMSJc

Rebels in Mayadeen, Deir Ezzor Province, pound the military airport with homemade rockets http://youtu.be/bCQ1ZO1qnk0 Meanwhile, Deir Ezzor City comes under heavy pounding http://youtu.be/A75I7zhO69Y

The village of Bashiriyeh, Idlib Province, comes under heavy pounding http://youtu.be/VforzTFS-gg , http://youtu.be/1vZssGtK3QM , http://youtu.be/AiR1UupatxM