Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Regulation Massacre!

Just another “regulation” massacre took place in Syria on Thursday. No chemical weapons were used. No red lines were crossed. The whole episode was written in blood using only guns and knives, as was the case in most previous massacres. In a sense, the whole thing was too mundane an occurrence to merit any notice really – just a brief interlude in an ongoing ethnic cleansing campaign, an ongoing act of folly, observed by all, making us all complicit to varying degrees of shame.

Friday May 3, 2013

Death Toll: 139 martyrs, including several women and children as well as 2 martyrs under torture: 37 were reported in Damascus and its Suburb; 35 in Banyas (in Al-Bayda Massacre); 22 in Aleppo;15 in Homs; 13 in Hama; 7 in Daraa; 3 in Deir Ezzor; 4 in Idlib; 2 in Lattakia and 1 martyr in Hasaka. Pro-Asasd militias perpetrated a massacre in the village of Bayda in Banyas killing more than 200 residents as per latest counts. Victims, including many women and children, were butchered and burnt (LCC).

News
Images of Sabra and Shatila in Banias Activists say fighting broke out in Bayda early Thursday and that at least six government troops were killed. Syrian forces backed by Alawite gunmen known as shabbiha from the surrounding area returned in the afternoon and stormed the village, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The gunmen torched homes and used knives, guns and blunt objects to kill people in the streets, the group said. It added that it had documented the names of at least 50 dead in Bayda, but that dozens of villagers were still missing and the death toll could rise up to 100. Amateur video showed the bodies of at least seven men and boys lying in pools of blood on the pavement in front of a house as women wept around them.

Administration Includes Military Strikes in Possible Syrian Options …by attacking Mr. Assad’s main delivery systems, the officials say, they would curtail his ability to transport those weapons any significant distance. “This wouldn’t stop him from using it on a village, or just releasing it on the ground, or handing something to Hezbollah,” said one European official who has been involved in the conversations. “But it would limit the damage greatly.” The topic was alluded to on Thursday, when Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met with his British counterpart and talked about “the need for new options” if Mr. Assad uses his chemical arsenal, the officials said. But while the military has been developing and refining options for the White House for months, the discussion appears to have taken a new turn, officials say, as they struggle to determine whether the suspected use of sarin gas near Aleppo and Damascus last month was a prelude to greater use of such weapons.

Obama foresees no US troops in Syria Mr Obama told reporters in Costa Rica on Friday that as a commander-in-chief he could rule nothing out "because circumstances change". But he added he did not foresee a scenario in which "American boots on the ground in Syria" would be good for either America or Syria. He also said he had already consulted with Middle Eastern leaders and they agreed with him. Mr Obama reiterated that there was evidence that chemical weapons had been used in Syria, but that "we don't know when, where or how". He stressed that if strong evidence was found it would be "a game changer for us" because "there is a possibility that it (weapons) lands in the hands of organisations like Hezbollah" in neighbouring Lebanon.

Sources: U.S. believes Israel has conducted an airstrike into Syria U.S. and Western intelligence agencies are reviewing classified data showing Israel most likely conducted a strike in the Thursday-Friday time frame, according to both officials. This is the same time frame that the U.S. collected additional data showing Israel was flying a high number of warplanes over Lebanon. One official said the United States had limited information so far and could not yet confirm those are the specific warplanes that conducted a strike. Based on initial indications, the U.S. does not believe Israeli warplanes entered Syrian airspace to conduct the strikes. Both officials said there is no reason to believe Israel struck at a chemical weapons storage facilities. The Israelis have long said they would strike at any targets that prove to be the transfer of any kinds of weapons to Hezbollah or other terrorist groups, as well as at any effort to smuggle Syrian weapons into Lebanon that could threaten Israel.

American journalist held in Syria believed to be in detention center The family and employer of James Foley, a U.S. journalist missing in Syria since November, say they now believe he is being held by the Syrian government in a detention center near the capital, Damascus. That conclusion follows a five-month investigation by Foley's family and his employer, GlobalPost, and was announced on Friday in an article posted on the news organization's website. "With a very high degree of confidence, we now believe that Jim was most likely abducted by a pro-regime militia group and subsequently turned over to Syrian government forces," GlobalPost CEO and President Philip Balboni said, according to the article.

Investigative Reports
Outwitting Sanctions, Syria Buys Dell PCs The disclosure of the computer sales is the latest example of how the Syrian government has managed to acquire technology, some of which is used to censor Internet activity and track opponents of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. According to internal company e-mails, cash transfer statements, sales receipts and shipping documents, the computer equipment was sold by BDL Gulf, which is based in Saudi Arabia and is a large distributor of computer equipment in the Middle East. It is an authorized dealer for Dell in the Middle East and Africa, and is also a reseller for other computer brands, including Samsung and Acer. BDL sold the equipment to Anas Hasoon Trading, a Damascus-based company with contracts to provide computers to the Syrian government, according to billings records and e-mail exchanges between the companies.

Syria’s War Has Once-Quiet Border Area in Israel on Alert Many increasingly see no possible positive outcome of their neighbor’s bloody conflict, no clear solution for securing their interests in the meanwhile. Israel’s military leadership now views southern Syria as an “ungoverned area” that poses imminent danger. “This is the new reality of the Golan Heights,” Brig. Gen. Gal Hirsch, an active reservist who is deputy commander of a unit focused on long-range operations in enemy territory, said as he stood near the Merkava tank positioned here. “Inside the bush, we have units that are ready to jump and open fire. You can see here tanks, you can see forces — and there are many things you cannot see.”

Taking sides in Syria is hard choice for Israel The state is prosecuting an Arab Israeli who briefly joined the rebel forces fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad. Arrested after his return to Israel, Hikmat Massarwa, a 29-year-old baker, is accused of unlawful military training, having contacts with foreign agents and traveling to a hostile state. The trial hinges on the unanswered question of who, if anyone, Israel favors in the war and if the rebels will turn out to be friends or enemies. The prosecutor in Lod is trying to depict Massarwa as having aligned himself with foes of Israel, but Judge Avraham Yaakov is struggling for clarity. "There's no legal guidance regarding the rebel groups fighting in Syria," he told a recent hearing. Matters were simpler during the decades of unchallenged Assad family rule.

Fleeing Syria, Refugees Arrive to a Different Kind of Hell in Greece Thousands of Syrians are seeking refuge in Greece, but the country's economic and asylum problems make for an unwelcome new home… Most refugees don't have a government-issued pink card - the document they need to stay in the country legally for a few months. Without it, many are arrested and thrown into detention centers where they are given little food, no clean clothing, or bed linen. They have no soap to wash themselves, no opportunity to call family or friends. They are beaten. When released after six to 18 months, they must leave the country; but having fled their own, most don't have authorization, and trying to leave Greece without papers is also illegal. They can't stay in Greece; they can't leave.

Analyses & Op-Eds
DANIEL C. KURTZER: Obama Can’t Go It Alone in Syria Constructing an international coalition of willing states — especially Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar — is the only strategically wise option for the United States. Without such a coalition, intervention won’t work. And without such a coalition, America must reject unilateral military intervention in Syria.

Slouching Toward Damascus In Syria's implosion, Secretary of State John Kerry already faces a defining task. How hard is he prepared to push against Obama's weary realism?

Is Assad Winning? The Syrian regime’s information campaign is part of a larger war against Western interests. Assad knows that keeping the White House on the sidelines and preventing it from tipping the balance of power against him on the battlefield with money, arms, and the coherent command structure that would follow cash and weapons, is a large part of his struggle. Assad’s information operations then are largely keyed to American sensibilities, playing not only on the Obama administration’s misgivings, but also the fears and concerns of the American public. In this instance, Assad’s intended takeaway is simply this: why would Americans want to support in Syria the same people who bombed an American city? Don’t Americans recognize that since I’m fighting the same people, I’m essentially an American ally.

Saudis Try to Quell Jihadists … the Syria conflict is exposing rifts and contradictions within the kingdom over its tradition of aiding beleaguered foreign Muslims. "There are tensions…between some elite decision makers over how best to deal with the Syrian issue," said Michael Stephens, a regional researcher at the British Royal United Services Institute think tank in Qatar. "It is clear some princes favor an activist approach that involves increased support for Islamist groups in Syria, while other princes remain concerned over the…undermining of Saudi's internal security." Syrian rebels and Arab officials say Saudi Arabia has shipped arms and aid to the Syrian opposition, though the Saudi government hasn't confirmed or denied such reports. But top Saudi government officials and religious leaders are ordering its citizens to stay home, telling them instead to send money and prayers to Syria's rebels.

Samar Yazbek: The Syrian revolution has changed me as a writer I left Syria in mid-June 2011, having been discredited, persecuted, threatened and arrested. A year would pass before my return. I travelled between various towns and cities, speaking about the revolution, conscious of the regime's prowess in manipulating the media, and its success in duping the world into believing that this was a war brought about by Sunni Islamists. I met with intellectuals, politicians and diplomats. They had little idea of what was going on. Most wanted to believe the story that it was a Salafist revolt. Their response was always that the minority groups in Syria were under threat – that the Christians and the Alawites would be in danger from the Sunni jihadis. This was not true; it was a monster they had created to scare themselves. What I saw on the ground told a very different story.

Widespread Middle East Fears that Syrian Violence Will Spread - No Love for Assad, Yet No Support for Arming the Rebels … a new survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted before news emerged of alleged use of chemical agents by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, found little regional support for Western or Arab countries sending arms and military supplies to anti-government groups in Syria. And there is even greater opposition among American and European publics to such indirect Syrian involvement by their governments.

Firas Maksad: The abduction of Bishop Bob And the uncertain fate of Syria’s minorities Syria’s rebels, and those who support them, also have an important role to play in promoting communal coexistence. It is difficult for a Druze from southern Syria, or an Alawite from the coastal mountains, to join rebel ranks when the uprising is morphing from a national struggle for freedom, to one increasingly dominated by radical Islamists espousing sharia law. In such a conflict, there is no space for diverse religious groups or moderate Muslims. Instead, they will remain beholden to the relative safety of Assad rule.

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

“The United States should act in Syria in the way that it believes will best serve American interests and most effectively respond to Syria's horrific violence, not because it feels it must enforce an ill-advised red line.”

When you read the above advice just bear in mind that the one giving it was up until the beginning of the revolution was advocating engaging Assad because he believed he was a reformer, and that he was popular and beloved by his people. It’s indeed bewildering how the same set of scholars and experts who, at one point, advocated engagement are now advocating caution. In both instances Assad had more to gain than the United States, and notions of human rights went by the wayside.

If the “Syrian nightmare” has indeed destroyed the “the spirit of fun, hope, and positive change of the early Arab uprisings,” such experts and their precious advice bear much of the blame.

Video Highlights

The Bayda Massacre

This gruesome video was taken and leaked by the perpetrators of the Bayda massacre as part of their campaign to terrorize the local population. It was initially posted on a variety of loyalist sites http://youtu.be/MgWsyS0aT5Q

The following videos were made by local activists and residents.

This teenage girl was killed in her own bedroom, crouching near her bed to hid herself. Her mother and younger sibling can be seen in a different corner http://youtu.be/a0MfawjizLA Entire families were wiped out http://youtu.be/ygeTLIgY_2U A local lawyer and her 5 children were killed http://youtu.be/1zaAOWdoC58 People were killed in their homes http://youtu.be/y1jmmJD6bP0 Some corpses were torched http://youtu.be/V5hC7U3LIc4 , http://youtu.be/3Z9AxECO3RE

Other videos

Food aid delivered by the SOC to the people of Hama Province http://youtu.be/pALbsYzHrVo

The aerial pounding of Eastern Ghoutah, Damascus, continues http://youtu.be/rldOdvMz6e0  And the pounding by heavy artillery and tanks from the top of Mount Qasayoun http://youtu.be/TXcDr0Kg_98