February 16, 2012 - Syria News Blog: A Roundup of Key International Reportage and Commentary

In the News | 16-02-2012

UN General Assembly to Vote Today on New Syria Resolution, Turkey and Arab League Initiate Planning for Humanitarian Corridor

Today, the UN General Assembly is scheduled to vote on a resolution strongly condemning the violence in Syria. The vote will be held in the afternoon, just hours after UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon accused Damascus of committing crimes against humanity during the crackdown against the opposition. In the central city of Homs, the military incursion continues as government forces continue to fight areas that it charges are overrun with terrorists. In the background, the international community continues to debate how to respond to the crisis, with the Arab League and Turkey now pushing for the establishment of a humanitarian corridor. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has promised to hold a referendum on the country's new constitution in two weeks, eventually leading to country-wide elections. Meanwhile, the crisis continues to deepen; violence begets violence.
 
News from Inside Syria
 
Aleppo bombing
On Friday, February 10, the country's second largest city of Aleppo saw the explosion of two bombs targeting military and security forces. An estimated 28 people were killed in the explosions while another 235 were reportedly injured. The Syrian government attributed the attacks to Al Qaeda - as did some members of the US government. Initially, some media reported that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was responsible for the violence, though such reports were soon discredited. At present, no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. More:
 
 
Homs incursion, crackdown in Zabadani, 'liberated territory' in Idlib
Broad-scale security crackdowns continued in the central city of Homs throughout this week, as the Syrian military continued to carry out attacks against a number of the city's neighborhoods, Baba Amr, chief among them. The shelling reportedly let up only briefly on Saturday and resumed the following day even as officials from the Arab League met to discuss possible solutions to Syria's political and security crisis. At present, a massive fire burns in Homs after an oil pipeline was set on fire on February 15. More:
 
"Homs: Syria's Epicenter Of Revolution, Reprisal" - Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty
"Like Father, Like Son" - The New York Times
 
Zabadani, a town along the country's border with Lebanon, also reportedly faced continuous shelling this week. More:
 
 
International press report that some areas of the northern province of Idlib are now 'liberated' territories, with protests held in the open and strong pockets of resistance thwarting security crackdowns. More:
 
 
Syrian general killed
On Saturday, three gunmen killed a Syrian general in Damascus. The general, Dr. Issa al-Khouli, was a strong government supporter and his death marked the first such killing in the country's capital. More:
 
Syrian president promises referendum on new constitution
On Wednesday, February 15, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad promised to hold a referendum on the country's new constitution in two weeks, leading to country-wide elections within three months. The text of the new constitution, as well as proposed elections, sparked considerable controversy. More:
 
Additional reading on the overall situation
"The Crisis in Syria" - Center for Strategic & International Studies 
"Hurting Stalemate in Syria" - Carnegie Endowment for Peace
 
International Politics & Diplomacy
 
Gulf Cooperation Council 
GCC considers recognizing Syrian Transition Council 
On Sunday, February 12, the Gulf Cooperation Council convened a meeting in Cairo to discuss the possibility of formally recognizing the Syrian Transition Council as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Source - Ahram
 
The Arab League
Arab League establishes 'Friends of Syria' contact group, considers expanded joint UN observer mission
On Sunday, February 12, the Arab League met in Cairo to discuss possible solutions to the crisis in Syria. A "Friends of Syria" contact group was established during the meeting and is set to hold its first meeting in Tunisia on February 24. League officials also discussed the possibility of reviving and expanding the observer mission in Syria and called for the UN Security Council to deploy a peacekeeping mission to the country - a proposal immediately shot down by Damascus. 
 
Additionally, the Sudanese general, General Mohammed al-Dabi, who headed up the Arab League's monitoring mission in Syria resigned at the start of the League's meeting. Dabi has been replaced by Jordanian ex-Foreign Minister Abdul-Illah al-Khatib. More:
 
 
Europe 
Britain to aid investigation of war crimes, crimes against humanity in Syria
British MP Foreign Secretary William Hague announced over the weekend that the UK will support further EU sanctions against Syria as well as a renewal of efforts at the UN to approve a resolution on the crisis. At the same time, Hague announced that the UK will be "sending British experts to the region in the coming days and weeks to help gather evidence and document human rights violations, working with NGOs already carrying out such work". Source - The Telegraph
 
France has no plans to close embassy in Syria
On Monday, February 13, the French foreign ministry said it does not have any plans to close its embassy in Syria. Source - NASDAQ
 
The United States
White House says there is "no question that" current Syrian government will "come to an end"
On February 12, US President Barack Obama's chief of staff told Fox News Sunday, "the brutality of the Assad regime is unacceptable and has to end…there is no question that this regime will come to an end. The only question is when." Source - AP.
 
US releases alleged satellite images of deployment of Syrian artillery, some accuse Washington of lying
On Friday, February 10, the US Department of State released a series of satellite images said to depict the deployment of artillery in Syria to be used against residential areas. Some charge the images do not actually depict any such deployment. More:
 
"A Note from Ambassador Ford" - Facebook - US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford's note on the satellite images.
 
The United Nations
Saudi Arabia issues new draft resolution on Syria to UN General Assembly
On Friday, February 10, Saudi Arabia reportedly presented a draft resolution to the UN General Assembly backing the Arab League's peace plan for Syria. Source - Reuters
 
Full text of the draft resolution: 
 
The General Assembly,
Recalling its resolution 66/176 of 19 December 2011, as well as Human Rights Council resolutions S/16-1, S/17-1 and S/18-1,
Expressing grave concern at the deterioration of the situation in Syria, in particular the ongoing human rights violations and use of violence by the Syrian authorities against its population,
Reaffirming the role of regional and subregional organizations in the maintenance of international peace and security as set out in Chapter VIII of the Charter,
Reaffirming its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria, and to the principles of the Charter,
Reaffirming that all Member states of the United Nations should refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State or act in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations,
Welcoming the engagement of the Secretary-General and all diplomatic efforts aimed at ending the crisis,
1.     Commends the League of Arab States for its efforts in promoting a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis, and welcomes in this regards the League of Arab States' Action Plan of 2 November 2011 and its subsequent decisions, including its decision of 22 January 2012
2.     Strongly condemns the continued widespread and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities, such as the use of force against civilians, arbitrary executions, killing and persecution of protestors, human rights defenders, and journalists, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, interference with access to medical treatment, torture, sexual violence, and ill-treatment, including against children;
3.     Calls upon the Syrian government to immediately put an end to all human rights violations and attacks against civilians, protect its population, fully comply with its obligations under applicable international law and fully implement Human Rights Council resolutions S-16/1, S-17/1, S-18/1 and its resolution 66/176, including by cooperating fully with the independent international commission of inquiry;
4.     Condemns all violence, irrespective of where it comes from, and calls upon all parties in Syria, including armed groups,  to immediately stop all violence or reprisals in accordance with the League of Arab States' initiative;
5. Stressing again the importance to ensure accountability and the need to end impunity and hold to account those responsible for human rights violations, including those that may amount to crimes against humanity,
6.     Demands that the Syrian government, in accordance with the Plan of Action of the League of Arab States of 2 November 2011 and its decision of 22 January 2012, without delay:
(a)   cease all violence and protect its population;
(b)   release all persons detained arbitrarily due to the recent incidents;
(c)    withdraw all Syrian military and armed forces from cities and towns, and return them to their original home barracks;
(d)   guarantee the freedom of peaceful demonstrations;
(e)   allow full and unhindered access and movement for all relevant League of Arab States' institutions and Arab and international media in all parts of Syria to determine the truth about the situation on the ground and monitor the incidents taking place; and
(f)    allow full and unhindered access to the League of Arab States' observer mission;
7.     Fully supports the League of Arab States' 22 January 2012 decision to facilitate a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system, in which citizens are equal regardless of their affiliations or ethnicities or beliefs, including through commencing a serious political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition under the League of Arab States' auspices, in accordance with the timetable set out by the League of Arab States;
8.     Calls upon the Syrian authorities to cooperate fully with the League of Arab States' observer mission, in accordance with the League of Arabs States' Protocol of 19 December 2011;
9. Calls upon all Member States to provide support to the Arab League initiative, as requested;
10.   Calls upon the Syrian authorities to allow safe and unhindered access for humanitarian assistance in order to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid to persons in need of assistance;
11.   Requests/Invites the Secretary-General to provide support to the efforts of the League of Arab States, including its observer mission, both through good offices aimed at promoting a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis, including through the appointment of a Special Envoy, as well as through technical and material assistance;
12.   Requests the Secretary-General to report on the implementation of this resolution, in consultation with the League of Arab States, within 15 days of its adoption.
 
Source - Foreign Policy.
 
UN General Assembly scheduled a vote on Syria resolution today as Ban ki-Moon accuses Damascus of committing crimes against humanity
The UN General Assembly is scheduled to vote on the new Syria resolution today, Thursday, February 16. Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon accused Damascus of committing crimes against humanity.More:
 
 
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says Syrian officials should be prosecuted in ICC
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Friday, February 10, that Syrian officials should be brought before the International Criminal Court to be tried for ordering crimes against humanity. Source - Reuters
 
For the full text of Pillay's remarks to the UN, click here. Recommended reading. 
 
Turkey
Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoğlu - President Assad like Milosevic not Gorbachev
On February 10, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said during an address at George Washington University that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is more like the late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and not former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Source - Today's Zaman.
 
Turkey to help Arab League develop plan for humanitarian corridor
According to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey will begin working with the Arab League on a plan to establish a humanitarian corridor inside Syria. The move is supported by France. Source - Hurriyet Daily News.
 
Saudi Arabia
Saudi King criticizes Russia, China double-veto of UN Security Council resolution
"The king of Saudi Arabia inserted himself directly into the Syria crisis on Friday [February 10] castigating Russia and China for vetoing a United Nations Security Council resolution over the weekend aimed at ending the Syrian government's deadly repression of a nearly year-old uprising." Source - The New York Times
 
Russia
Russia may back new UN Security Resolution on Syria
"Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday [February 15] said Moscow may support a projected UN Security Council resolution stipulating that peacekeepers will be deployed to Syria, but only under certain conditions." Source - Ria Novosti.
 
Technology
 
Syrian government using technology made in Ireland to filter text messages
"The Syrian government has ordered blocks on text messages when they contain politically sensitive terms such as “revolution” or “demonstration”…Syriatel Mobile Telecom SA, the country’s largest mobile- phone operator, conducts the blocking with equipment from Cellusys Ltd., a privately-held company based in Dublin". Source - Bloomberg.
 
Security
 
Iraq
Iraqi deputy interior minister says insurgents, weapons moving into Syria from Iraq
According to Iraqi deputy interior minister Adnan al-Assadi, weapons and Iraqi fighters are moving into Syria from Iraq. According to Assadi, the smuggling of weapons into Syria has become significant enough to cause a spike in prices in Mosul. More: 
 
 
Al-Qaeda
Al-Qaeda leader Zawahri backs Syrian revolt
On Sunday during a video recording posted on the internet, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, expressed support for the Syrian revolution. "Wounded Syria still bleeds day after day, while the butcher, son of the butcher Bashar bin Hafiz (Hafez al-Assad), is not deterred to stop," Zawahri said. "Continue your revolt and anger, don't accept anything else apart from independent, respectful governments," he continued. More: 
 
 
Political Analysis 
 
On a political solution to the crisis
 
"How To Get Rid of Assad By Engaging Him" - The New Republic - Larry Diamond argues for a political, not a military, solution in Syria, maintaining that "the goal should be to induce the Assad regime to accept a negotiated exit and transition…or to fracture the regime over time and peel away its pillars of support."
 
"We Can't Stop the Bloodshed in Syria without Talking to Assad" - The Guardian - Nicholas Noe argues that the US should begin serious negotiations with the current Syrian government, noting that the country is headed on a path toward violent civil war and international military intervention is largely off the table. "No one in the US, in Europe, in Turkey or in the region is willing to engage in the kind of massive, pre-emptive intervention that might – might – preclude the aforementioned scenarios, especially since such a move would probably entail its own disastrous consequences. As a result, the responsible course forward – both morally and strategically – is to begin seriously exploring negotiations with the Assad regime. This means first dispensing with the idea that Assad has gone too far to bargain with." 
 
"Syria: What Can Be Done?" - The Guardian - "Five commentators discuss the merits of five ways in which the outside world could respond to Syria's crisis."
 
"Why Libya Isn’t a Model for Syria" - The New Republic - Barak Barfi argues against using Libya as the model for international intervention in Syria. 
 
On a military solution to the crisis  - including the establishment of a humanitarian corridor 
 
"The Obama Administration's Syrian Double Standard" - The Huffington Post - Amb. Marc Ginsbergm Former US Ambassador to Morocco, writes a scathing critique of the Obama Administration's approach to responding to the crisis in Syria and puts forth a number of recommendations, including formally recognizing the Syrian National Council, supporting an international indictment of the current government at the International Criminal Court, and working with Turkey to declare a humanitarian zone. 
 
"It's Time to Arm the Syrian Opposition" - The New Republic - An op-ed by the Fletcher School's Daniel Drezner.
 
"The Case for Organizing a Military Force From Muslim Countries to Intervene in Syria" - The New Republic - Soner Cagaptay argues that military intervention to "terminate the Assad regime is the only way to end the Middle East's bloodiest humanitarian tragedy in decades".
 
"Arab Revolutions: How to Set Syria Free" - The Economist - "Getting rid of Bashar Assad requires a united opposition, the creation of a safe haven and Western resolve."
 
"Syria is Not Iraq. And It Is Not Always Wrong to Intervene" - The Guardian - Jonathan Freedland argues that the 2003 US invasion of Iraq "has tainted the idea of liberal interventionism," however, the "people of Homs should not suffer because of that". 
 
"Can We Help Syria without Making Things Worse?" - Brookings - Daniel L. Byman argues for arming and training the Syrian opposition whilst also developing a plan for the country's presumed post-Assad political future. 
 
"Slaughter: Turkey Must Act on Syria" - CNN - Anne-Marie Slaughter argues for Turkish military intervention in Syria. 
 
"Break the Stalemate! A Blueprint For a Military Intervention in Syria" - The New Republic - Michael Weiss offers up a plan for intervention in Syria, asserting that "the worst fears of what might happen following an intervention have already come to pass and only threaten to grow worse with continued inaction".
 
Criticisms of proposed military solutions
 
"Save Us from the Liberal Hawks: Syria's a tragedy. But it's not our problem." - Foreign Policy - David Rieff's comprehensive argument against military intervention in Syria. 
 
"The 'Arm the FSA' Bandwagon" - Foreign Policy - Marc Lynch criticizes the growing number of calls for arming the Free Syrian Army.
 
"What Does Intervention in Syria Look Like?" - Council on Foreign Relations - Ed Husain critiques calls for military intervention in Syria, noting that the US would be required to heavily support any such intervention (indeed the US provided some 75 percent of the reconnaissance data, intelligence, and refueling planes used for NATO operations in Libya) - and according to Husain, the US "is not up to the job".
 
"The Order of Battle Problem" - Abu Muqawama - (Blog) A biting critique of Daniel Drezner's charge that the international community must arm the Syrian opposition to help 'level the playing field'. Worth reading. 
 
On the violence
 
"Why You Shouldn’t Question What You Know is True" - UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office - Former British Ambassador to Syria, Simon Collis, argues that the nature and extent of the violence and crimes in Syria cannot be ignored or disputed and that it is "time for the world to speak with one voice to condemn the violations of the Assad regime and support the Arab League’s efforts to bring a peaceful, Syrian-led solution" to the crisis. 
 
On the opposition
 
"Syria's Splintered Opposition: Who Is Running the War Against the Regime?" - TIME - Rania Abouzeid covers the Syrian opposition with particular emphasis on the Free Syrian Army.
 
"The Real Opposition in Syria is Not the Syrian National Council or Free Syrian Army" - Syria Comment - Idaf, who was recently in Syria working with Syrian opposition members, covers what he terms the country's 'real opposition' - huge numbers of activists with shifting (or absent) affiliations and growing political maturity. 
 
"Syria's Divided Opposition Is Key To Assad's Power" - The Huffington Post - Elizabeth Kennedy and Jamal Halaby cover divisions within the Syrian opposition and the manner in which those divisions fortify the position of the current government. 
 
"Syrian Opposition Seeks to Wipe the Assad Name Off the Map — via Google" - The Washington Post - "On Google Maps, revolutionaries in Syria are removing President Bashar al-Assad’s name from landmarks named for him and replacing it with those of rebel leaders".
 
Two articles from Nir Rosen
"Q&A: Nir Rosen on Syria's Armed Opposition" - Al-Jazeera - According to Rosen, who just recently returned from Syria, "there is no central leadership to the armed resistance" in the country.
 
"Q&A: Nir Rosen on Syria's Protest Movement" - Al-Jazeera - Rosen discusses the nature and aims of the opposition. 
 
On China, Russia, Turkey and Iran
 
"Analysis: China Wrestles with Role in Syria and Beyond" - The Chicago Tribune - Sui-Lee Wee and Chris Buckley covers China's struggle to respond to the crisis in Syria. 
 
"Turkey and Iran Diverge over Syria" - Associated Press - Christopher Torchia covers tensions between Iran and Turkey with regard to Syria. A good backgrounder. 
 
"The Enablers" - The New York Times - "China, Russia and India see themselves as global leaders. So why have they been enabling two dangerous regimes, Syria and Iran, to continue on destructive paths?" 
 
"China's Position on Syria" - Carnegie Endowment for Peace - Yezid Sayigh covers China's strategy with regard to Syria, arguing that it reflects its "growing disquiet at what it sees as a US policy intended to deny it access to Middle East energy sources". Sayigh states that for China, "staying neutral will become increasingly more difficult as the situation in Syria deteriorates over the coming weeks and months".
 
"Why Pressuring Russia and China Is the Key to Ousting Assad" - The New Republic - Suzanne Nossel charges that "for human rights proponents, last weekend’s double veto by Russia and China of the latest UN Security Council resolution on Syria marked a sharp political defeat. But it also signaled a potent moral victory: That Russia and China stood alone…This sea-change, while too late to save the over 5,000 Syrians who have already lost their lives, may be the force that pries away Assad’s last vestiges of support and ends his onslaught on the Syrian people."
 
On imperialism
 
"Syria and ‘The Great Game’" - The Silent Majority - (Blog) A post by Amira Mohsen Galal (aka @Arabista on Twitter) on the "strategic rivalry and conflict between the British Empire and the Russian Empire for supremacy in Central Asia" - which according to the author, has been revived and is now a battle "dominated by two players: the Anglo Saxon ‘West’ and Russian ‘East’" - with the Syria as the current battle ground. 
 
On the impact of the revolution on neighboring countries
 
"Clashes in Tripoli, Lebanon over Syria Unrest" - BBC - "At least one person has been killed in the Lebanese city of Tripoli in clashes between supporters and opponents of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, security officials say." 
 
"As Syria Bleeds, Neighbors Brace for Refugees" - Reuters - Erika Solomon covers the growing numbers of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
 
"Is Syria's Unrest Spilling Over into Lebanon?" - Al-Jazeera - More coverage of recent clashes in Lebanon over support for the Syrian revolution. 
 
Photoessay
"The Syrian Civil War: Photographs by Alessio Romenzi" - TIME - A photoessay covering the Free Syrian Army. 
 
Human Interest, Humanitarian Concerns
 
"Syria Refugees Reveal Horrors of Homs" - Al-Arabiya - Interviews with Syrian refugees on living condition inside Homs. 
 
"Syria: Medicine Used as Weapon of Persecution" - Medecins Sans Frontiers - "The Syrian regime is conducting a campaign of unrelenting repression against people wounded in demonstrations and the medical workers trying to treat them".
 
"While You Were Sleeping, Again" - Jadaliyya - Amal Hanano writes of the bombardment of Homs.  
 
"Syria: 'True Freedom is Without Fear'" - The Guardian - Martin Chulov covers life in present-day Homs. 
 
"US Says Signs Growing that Syrian Elite Want Out" - Associated Press - "The Obama administration says it is seeing growing signs that the Syrian elite, including people close to President Bashar Assad, are increasingly worried and beginning to prepare exit plans."
 
"Syria is Beginning to Look a Lot Like Iraq" - Global Post - Hugh Macleod and Annasofie Flamand cover the country's deepening security woes. 
 
"Life in Syria Unbearable, Say Refugees in Jordan" - Khaleej Times - Coverage of Syrian refugees in Jordan and their accounts of the situation inside Syria. 
 
"A Syrian in Brooklyn Opts to Return Home Amid Violent Crackdown" - WNYC - Marine Olivesi chronicles the life of Wassim Sabbagh, a Syrian activist who left the US to join the revolution in Syria - and found himself stuck in a refugee camp in Turkey.
 
References made to articles, individuals, organizations or government bodies in this blog do not necessarily reflect or imply an endorsement by The Syria Report. The Syria News Blog is a news service offered by The Syria Report only for the purpose of recapping foreign reportage on matters pertaining to Syria.
Written by: Evelyn Aissa
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