March 22, 2012 - Syria News Blog: A Roundup of Key International Reportage & Commentary

In the News | 21-03-2012

UN Security Council Issues Statement Supporting Annan Peace Plan on Heels of Damascus, Aleppo Bombings

The UN Security Council issued a presidential statement on Wednesday, March 21 in support of Kofi Annan's proposed peace plan for Syria. The non-binding statement calls for a ceasefire, two-hour daily halts to the violence for the provision of humanitarian aid, and Syria-led political dialogue aimed at addressing "the legitimate concerns of the Syrian people". The Russia-backed statement, however, comes only with the threat of the UNSC considering "further measures" in the event of Damascus's noncompliance. Just days earlier, a series of deadly bombings rocked the country's capital and the northern city of Aleppo, a nightmarish start to the second year of the revolution.
 
News from Inside Syria
 
Thursday, March 15, marked the one-year anniversary of the Syrian revolution. Thousands came out in Damascus in a show of support for the Syrian government, while elsewhere, countless others took part in anti-government protests. 
 
Two days later, two bombings in the heart of the capital targeted government buildings as well as a considerable number of residences and offices. One of the bombs was set off in Al Qassaa, a neighborhood just outside of Damascus's Old City. The second bomb was detonated in Kfar Souseh. Twenty-seven people died in the explosions, while an estimated 100 others suffered injuries. 
 
The following day, another bomb rocked the northern city of Aleppo, targeting the Political Security Directorate. Two people were reportedly killed in the explosion while another 30 were injured.
 
A peace march in Damascus on Sunday ended in mass arrests. Clashes also reportedly erupted in Mezze, a district of the capital, with some accounts suggesting that it was the most serious firefight in the city yet.
 
In Deir ez-Zor, government forces moved tanks into residential neighborhoods, driving out members of the opposition. 
 
For more on the events inside Syria, see the following:
 
On Damascus
"Morning Explosions Kill Dozens in Damascus" - Los Angeles Times - (Mar. 17)
"Peace March in Damascus Is Cut Short by Authorities" - The New York Times - (Mar. 19)
"Fierce Fighting in Damascus Signals Rebels Remain Unbowed" - The Christian Science Monitor - (Mar. 19)
"Damascus Sees First Signs of Guerrilla War" - Informed Comment - (Mar. 20)
 
On Aleppo
"Blast Near Syrian Security Building" - The New York Times - (Mar. 18)
 
On Deir ez-Zor and Homs
 
On army desertions
March 15: "About 20,000 Syrian soldiers have deserted from President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in less than a month, according to Turkish intelligence reports cited by a Foreign Ministry official. The desertions are in addition to 40,000 military personnel who left before Feb. 20, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with government rules. The Syrian armed forces have a strength of 295,000 active personnel, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ 2012 Military Balance."
 
“'Elite units have demonstrated loyalty to the Assad regime and ruthlessness in suppressing demonstrators,” according to this month’s report from the London-based IISS. Even so, “a growing number of defections, mostly from junior officers and soldiers have been recorded, raising questions about the army’s cohesiveness.'” Source - Bloomberg Businessweek
 
Human Rights 
 
Human Rights Watch accuses opposition of major abuses
March 19: "Open Letter to the Leaders of the Syrian Opposition Regarding Human Rights Abuses by Armed Opposition Members" - excerpt:
 
"We are writing to express our concern about increasing evidence, as described below, of kidnappings, the use of torture, and executions by armed Syrian opposition members and strongly urge you to work to ensure that all opposition members refrain from engaging in these unlawful practices.  
 
"Human Rights Watch has repeatedly documented and condemned widespread violations by Syrian government security forces and officials, including disappearances, use of torture and forced televised confessions, arbitrary detentions, indiscriminate shelling of neighborhoods, and deaths in custody under torture. Now, in the face of evidence of human rights abuses by armed opposition members, Human Rights Watch calls on the leadership of leading opposition groups including the Syrian National Council (SNC) and its Military Bureau to condemn such practices by the armed opposition and to work to prevent such unlawful practices.  
 
"While the protest movement in Syria was overwhelmingly peaceful until September 2011, since then Human Rights Watch has documented apparent crimes and other abuses committed by armed opposition elements. These crimes and abuses include the kidnapping and detention of security force members, individuals identified as members of government-supported militias (referred to locally as shabeeha), and individuals identified as government allies or supporters. They also include the use of torture and the execution of security force members and civilians. Some of the attacks targeting Shias and Alawites appear to be motivated by sectarianism.
 
"Abuses of this nature, including torture, taking of hostages, and executions by armed opposition members, have also been documented by the UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry in its February 2012 report. In addition to concluding that armed members of the opposition have committed gross human rights abuses, the Commission’s report also references and appends documentation received from the Syrian government indicating that armed opposition members have kidnapped, killed, and disappeared civilians and security force members and displaced civilians. 
 
"We recognize that the perpetrators of these abuses are not always easy to identify nor do they necessarily belong to an organized command structure that follows the orders of the SNC or other opposition groups. Some reports received by Human Rights Watch indicate that in addition to armed groups with political motivations, criminal gangs, sometimes operating in the name of the opposition, may be carrying out some of these crimes.
 
"Following the creation of the SNC Military Bureau on March 1, 2012, to liaise with, unify, and supervise armed opposition groups including the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Human Rights Watch calls on the Bureau to condemn and forbid these abuses in order to achieve its objective of ensuring members of the armed opposition comply with international humanitarian law and to meet its human rights obligations. Human Rights Watch also calls on members of the armed opposition that are not under the operational command of the SNC to desist from committing these rights abuses."
 
To read the text in full, click here.
 
More
"Human Rights Watch Alleges Abuses by Syrian Rebels" - Los Angeles Times - (Mar. 20)
 
International Politics & Diplomacy
 
Netherlands
Dutch embassy in Damascus closes
March 15: "The Netherlands is to close its embassy in Damascus in protest against continued violence committed by the regime of Bashar Assad, Dutch public television NOS reported on Thursday [March 15]. 'The shutdown is an expression of the revulsion we feel in the face of the appalling violence of the Syrian government,' Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said in a statement." Source - News24
 
Gulf States
Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates, close embassies in Damascus
March 16: "Syria’s diplomatic isolation deepened on Friday as four more Persian Gulf states moved to close their Damascus embassies in protest of the violent suppression of a year-old uprising…The Saudi press agency reported late Thursday that four members of the Saudi-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council — Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — had joined Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in announcing the closing of their embassies in Damascus." Source - The New York Times
 
Russia
Russian foreign minister - President Assad "responded incorrectly" from start of revolution
March 20: "Syria's leadership is making 'a lot of mistakes', Russia's foreign minister has said, in a further sign Moscow may be hardening its stance on Damascus. Sergei Lavrov said President Bashar al-Assad's regime had 'responded incorrectly' from the start, when the protests were peaceful. 
 
"'We believe that the Syrian leadership responded incorrectly to the very first manifestations of the peaceful protests,' Mr Lavrov told Kommersant FM radio in a pre-recorded interview.'The Syrian leadership - despite the numerous promises it has made in response to our calls - is making a lot of mistakes. Unfortunately this is why the conflict is so acute.'" Source - BBC
 
More
 
United Nations
Russia back UN Security Council adopts presidential statement supporting Annan peace proposals
March 21: "The UN Security Council on Wednesday adopted a presidential statement demanding that Syria 'immediately' implement a peace plan proposed by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan and giving a veiled warning of international measures. The statement, which has less weight than a formal resolution, says the Council will 'consider further steps as appropriate' if Annan reports that the Damascus government is not cooperating."
 
"Following intense negotiations between the major powers, Russia and China signed up to a Western-drafted text which calls on President Bashar al-Assad to work toward a cessation of hostilities and a democratic transition. The statement gives strong backing to Annan and the six-point plan he put to Assad in talks in Damascus earlier this month. Annan's plan calls for a UN-supervised halt to fighting with the government pulling troops and heavy weapons out of protest cities, a daily two-hour humanitarian pause to hostilities and access to all areas affected by the fighting." 
 
Full text of the UN Security Council Statement adopted Wednesday:
 
"The Security Council recalls its Presidential Statement of 3 August 2011 and its Press Statement of 1 March 2012.
 
"The Security Council expresses its gravest concern at the deteriorating situation in Syria which has resulted in a serious human rights crisis and a deplorable humanitarian situation. The Security Council expresses its profound regret at the death of many thousands of people in Syria.
 
"The Security Council reaffirms its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria, and to the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter.
 
"The Security Council welcomes the appointment of Joint Special Envoy for the United Nations and the League of Arab States, Kofi Annan, following the General Assembly resolution A/RES/66/253 of 16 February 2012 and relevant resolutions of the League of Arab States.
 
"The Security Council expresses its full support for the efforts of the Envoy to bring an immediate end to all violence and human rights violations, secure humanitarian access, and 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 comprehensive political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition.
 
"To this aim, the Security Council fully supports the initial six-point proposal submitted to the Syrian authorities, as outlined by the Envoy to the Security Council on 16 March 2012, to:
 
1) commit to work with the Envoy in an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people, and, to this end, commit to appoint an empowered interlocutor when invited to do so by the Envoy;
 
2) commit to stop the fighting and achieve urgently an effective United Nations supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians and stabilize the country.
 
To this end, the Syrian government should immediately cease troop movements towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centers, and begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centers.
 
As these actions are being taken on the ground, the Syrian government should work with the Envoy to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism.
 
Similar commitments would be sought by the Envoy from the opposition and all relevant elements to stop the fighting and work with him to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism;
 
3) ensure timely provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting, and to this end, as immediate steps, to accept and implement a daily two hour humanitarian pause and to coordinate exact time and modalities of the daily pause through an efficient mechanism, including at local level.
 
4) intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons, including especially vulnerable categories of persons, and persons involved in peaceful political activities, provide without delay through appropriate channels a list of all places in which such persons are being detained, immediately begin organizing access to such locations and through appropriate channels respond promptly to all written requests for information, access or release regarding such persons;
 
5) ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists and a non-discriminatory visa policy for them;
 
6) respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully as legally guaranteed.
 
"The Security Council calls upon the Syrian government and opposition to work in good faith with the Envoy towards a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis and to implement fully and immediately his initial six-point proposal.
 
"The Security Council requests the Envoy to update the Council regularly and in a timely manner on the progress of his mission. In the light of these reports, the Security Council will consider further steps as appropriate."
 
Source - Naharnet
 
More
"Russia Seems To Soften Its Support For Syria" - The New York Times - (Mar. 20)
"Russia Offers to Back Annan's Syria Plan"  - The Moscow Times - (Mar. 21)
"UNSC Agrees to Statement on Syria" - World Bulletin - (Mar. 21)
"UN Chief: Syria Unrest Could Have Global Impact" - The Boston Globe - (Mar. 21)
 
Security & Regional Stability
 
Weapons
Russia content to continue selling arms to Syria
March 14: "Russia insisted yesterday that it would not halt arms shipments to Syria even as evidence mounts that the regime is committing crimes against humanity…The comments by Russia's Deputy Defence Minister, Anatoly Antonov, that existing contracts will be adhered to despite reports of up to 8,000 dead, come as activists prepare to mark a grim year since their call for reform descended into bloodshed…"
 
"Despite this growing evidence that the arms it sells the regime are being used against civilians, Russia remains defiant. 'Russia enjoys good and strong military technical co-operation with Syria, and we see no reason today to reconsider it,' Mr Antonov said yesterday. 'Russian-Syrian military co-operation is perfectly legitimate,' he added. Mr Antonov admitted that Russia has military instructors on the ground in Syria training the Syrian army. 'It's part of our contractual obligations,' said the minister. 'When we supply weapons, we have to provide training.' He denied that Russia had sent special forces to assist in military planning." Source - The Independent
 
More
 
Weapons imports surge  
March 20: "Weapons imports to Syria surged nearly sevenfold over the last decade, according to a new report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute that tracks arms transfers around the globe. The institute estimated that Syria imported $152 million worth of weapons between 2002 and 2006, and that that figure grew to more than $1 billion in the last five years as measured in 1990 dollars."
 
"The increase in weapons imports has overlapped in part with the bloodiest of the so-called Arab Spring uprisings. It is estimated that more than 10,000 people have been killed in the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, including opposition fighters, government forces and civilians."
 
"Much of the weaponry delivered to Syria, such as air defense systems and anti-ship missiles, has no direct use in the clashes with rebels, but could help the regime defend itself against outside intervention, researcher Pieter Wezeman told the Associated Press." 
 
“'They increase the risks involved in and therefore the threshold for foreign military intervention like the NATO operation against the Kadafi regime' in Libya, Wezeman said…"
 
"The vast majority of the weapons headed to Syria have come from Russia, the report finds, an Assad ally that has blocked international action against his regime." Source - Los Angeles Times
 
Political Analysis
 
On one year of revolution, upheaval
"A Year into Uprising, Syrian Protesters Say They Won’t Give Up" - The Washington Post - By Liz Sly. Excerpt: "When ordinary Syrians began taking to the streets last March, at first in small numbers to call for greater freedoms and later in the hundreds of thousands to demand the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad, they had no idea just how hard it would be or how long it would take. Today, a year after the tentative first stirrings of what is becoming the Arab world’s bloodiest and most far-reaching revolt, whole cities are under siege. Residential neighborhoods lie in ruins. More than 8,000 people are dead, tens of thousands have been detained, untold numbers have been tortured, others are missing, and nearly a quarter-million have been displaced from their homes, according to the United Nations…"
 
"For Syrians, No Easy Exit From Conflict" - The New York Times - By Anne Barnard. Excerpt: "Syria is locked in an ominous and violent stalemate: With overwhelming firepower and a willingness to kill, President Bashar al-Assad could hold on to power for months or even years, keeping the opposition from controlling any territory and denying it breathing space to develop a coherent, effective leadership, according to analysts, diplomats and Syrians involved in the uprising. Syrians and regional analysts say sheer force alone is unlikely to eradicate what has become a diffuse and unpredictable insurgency…"
 
"Fast-forward Syria: Three Terrible Scenarios and One Good Option" - Al-Jazeera - By Marwan Bishara. Excerpt: "As the Syrian revolution enters its second year, three scenarios loom on the horizon. However, as they say in Arabic: 'their sweetest is bitter'…"
 
"A Year On" - Walls Blog - By Syrian Hamster. A well-written and unflinching blog post covering the outcomes of the last year of revolution in Syria. Excerpt - Syrian Hamster quotes a friend: "The expansion of popular peaceful action into a new areas  of the homeland which are entering the revolution rather strongly, the return of peaceful protests into areas that have stopped for while under the relentless weight of the regime’s continuing oppression and murder during the first year of our revolution clearly demonstrate that that peaceful and civil action is the foundation of the revolution of dignity and freedom and that armed action, through the successive defection from the regime’s army and the joining of the Free Syrian Army is only complimentary to the popular revolution and not its leader. Whether the world interfered, or remained a spectator, or supported the murderous gang, that gang will undoubtedly fall."
 
On the government's strategy for managing the uprising
"Syria: Regime Reclaiming the Initiative" - Al-Akhbar - By Elie Chalhoub. Excerpt: "Insiders say the Syrian regime is confident it is getting a grip on the crisis, but expects no early end to unrest."
 
"Hopeless Diplomacy: Syrian Regime Resembles Mafia Cartel" - Der Spiegel - Excerpt: "Hopes that diplomacy will force Syrian President Bashar Assad to back down seem misguided, given that his regime resembles a mafia cartel bent on defending its turf by any means. There is no turning back for Assad's clan or the rebels -- both sides know that would spell their doom."
 
"Assad Family Values: How the Son Learned to Quash a Rebellion From His Father" - Foreign Affairs - By Patrick Seale. Another in a string of problematic clips from Seale. Excerpt: "Ever since the Baath Party came to power in Syria in 1963, it has faced a challenge from the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic militants. These Islamists were -- and still are -- bitterly opposed to the Baath Party's secular policies and to the prominence in its leadership of Syria's minorities, notably Alawis, whom extremist Sunnis consider heretics.The smoldering resentment burst into open conflict during the 30-year rule (1970-2000) of Hafez al-Assad, and again during the rule of his son, Bashar, who took over the presidency after his father's death. In February 1982, Hafez al-Assad put down a rebellion in the city of Hama by his Islamist opponents. Three decades later, in February 2012, Bashar al-Assad faced down a rebellion in Homs, a sister city of Hama in the central Syrian plain. Both responded with great brutality to these regime-threatening uprisings, as if aware that they and their community would face no mercy if the Islamists were ever to come to power."
 
On minorities
"Syria's Kurds Undecided Over Future" - BBC - By Tom Little. Excerpt: "Syria's Kurds appear divided and unsure whether to join the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad as they marked the anniversary of bloody clashes between the Kurdish minority and security forces in 2004."
 
"Alawites Trapped Into Supporting Assad Regime" - The Financial Times  - By Roula Khalaf. Excerpt: "If Bashar al-Assad’s forces have been unrelenting in waging war against a largely Sunni Muslim uprising, they are even less forgiving towards one of their own."
 
"Syria’s Activists (II): The Struggle for the Minorities" - Al-Akhbar - By Ernst Khoury. Excerpt: "Religious Minorities in Syria are increasingly seen as a trump card that can sway the uprising one way or another. Opposition activists grapple with the legitimacy of their fears, their effectiveness in sustaining the status quo, and the potential positive role they can play in the uprising."
 
On the opposition, activists
"Wrong Ways to Fight Assad" - The New York Times - "President Bashar al-Assad is so willing to kill his people that he could hold on to power for years. The forces opposing him have won support from the international community starting the moment they began standing up to Mr. Assad, but they can ill afford self-inflicted wounds. Some elements of the opposition now risk jeopardizing their cause and further stoking dangerous sectarian animosities if they adopt brutal and illegal tactics."
 
"Syria's Faceless Voices Risk Their Lives by Speaking Out" - The New York Times - By Max Becherer. The story of Rami Jarrah, aka 'Alexander Page', one of the most well-known of Syria's revolutionaries who began as a protest leader and member of the Local Coordination Committees, and who eventually was forced into exile in Egypt. Jarrah now operates the Syrian Activists News Association.
 
"How a New York City–Based Activist Group Became a Player in Syria" - Time - By Vivienne Walt. "It was the dead of night in the besieged Syrian town of Homs in late February, but lights were still on two floors up in a brick building off Manhattan's Union Square. There, in an office decorated with children's drawings, sat one of the most unlikely players in the yearlong Syrian revolt: Ricken Patel, 35, head of the Internet activist organization Avaaz. The Canadian is no diplomat or elected representative, but he has managed to insert his group into the eye of the storm in the Arab Spring's bloodiest conflict yet. The bookish Patel, with degrees from Oxford and Harvard, has a tendency to talk at length about history and politics, but the weapon he wields is information technology in the hands of several million online activists. Their passion and contributions have enabled Avaaz to organize a steady stream of video footage from inside Syria that has helped form the Western picture of the brutality unfolding on the ground. The network has also smuggled dozens of foreign journalists into the country, including most of those featured in TIME's cover story 'Escape from Syria.'"
 
"Upheaval within the Opposition: Defections, Terrorism, and Preparing for a Phase II Insurgency" - Syria Comment - By Joshua Landis. Among the most controversial reads from the last week. Excerpt: "The Syrian opposition is reshaping itself following its defeat in Homs. A new leadership seems bound to emerge. In all likelihood, in the new phase of the battle the is shaping up to combat the Assad regime, opposition leaders are likely to champion new tactics of militancy and Islamization. The opposition will have to rebuild itself to be more Islamic, militant and sectarian in order to take on the Assad regime."
 
"Syria Opposition Group Is Routed and Divided" - The New York Times - By Anne Barnard. Excerpt: "The main Syrian exile opposition group suffered a serious fracture on Wednesday [March 14] as several prominent members resigned, calling the group autocratic, dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and powerless to help Syrian rebels as government forces, having flushed insurgent strongholds in the north, swept into the rebellious southern city of Dara’a."
 
"Five Syrian Opposition Groups Form New Coalition" - Naharnet - Excerpt: "Five Syrian opposition groups on Saturday [March 17] announced the formation of a new coalition, a sign of how difficult opponents of the Damascus regime find it to cooperate, a year after the start of the protest movement. The five groups, meeting here, said their yet unnamed coalition would act independently from the Syrian National Council (SNC), the main opposition coalition which was set up in August to fight President Bashar Assad's regime."
 
On the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria
"Self Defense" - Majalla - "In an extensive interview with The Majalla the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, Mohammed Riad Al- Shaqfa, insists that compromise with Assad regime is impossible and advocates the arming of opposition fighters."
 
On international intervention, diplomacy & disengagement 
"Saving Syria: Assessing Options for Regime Change"  - The Brookings Institution - By Daniel L. Byman, Michael Doran, Kenneth M. Pollack, and Salman Shaikh. Excerpt: "This memo lays out six options for the United States to consider to achieve Asad’s overthrow, should it choose to do so: removing the regime via diplomacy; coercing the regime via sanctions and diplomatic isolation; arming the Syrian opposition to overthrow the regime; engaging in a Libya-like air campaign to help an opposition army gain victory; invading Syria with US-led forces and toppling the regime directly; and participating in a multilateral, NATO-led effort to oust Asad and rebuild Syria…For each course of action, this memo describes the strategy inherent to the option and what it would entail in practice. It also assesses the option’s advantages and disadvantages."
 
"What Assad Wants in Syria: Unsanctioned International Military Action" - The Brookings Institution - By Salman Shaikh. Excerpt: "The Middle East region has seen too much international military intervention that does not advance the principles of legality, justice, and the promotion of human rights. Now is the time for the international community to act collectively according to such principles. In Syria, it has the ultimate responsibility to protect civilians and to save lives by preventing the most egregious mass violations of human rights in Homs and other towns and cities. Indeed, it is precisely by following these principles that the international community distinguishes itself from the Assad regime."
 
"Advantages of a Syrian War" - The National Interest - By Morton Abramowitz. Abramowitx advocates for waging war in Syria for the purpose of strategic gains over Iran. Excerpt: "Iran likely believes this kind of an American-led attack on Syria will not happen. An attack on Syria, however, could constitute a truly defining moment for the much bigger Iranian nuclear issue. Tehran would find it highly difficult to intervene directly in Syria and would face a humiliating loss and greater isolation in the region. It would be a huge political shock with possibly vast internal repercussions."
 
"Falling In and Out of War" - The New York Times - By Bill Keller. Excerpt: "So here we [the US] are, finally, messily winding down the long war in Afghanistan and simultaneously being goaded toward new military ventures against the regimes in Syria and Iran. Being in the question-asking business, I’ve been pondering this: What are the right questions the president should ask — and we as his employers should ask — when deciding whether going to war is (a) justified and (b) worth it? Here are five, plus two caveats, and some thoughts about how all this applies to the wars before us."
 
"Why the US Should Intervene in Syria" - The Washington Post - By Jackson Diehl. Excerpt: "They are three distinguished senators, but their staffers call them the “three amigos” — because they travel abroad together a lot, because they often speak up together and because they not infrequently find themselves standing alone. This month, John McCain, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham are talking about Syria. They are making the case for why the United States should lead an intervention to stop the slaughter being perpetrated by dictator Bashar al-Assad."
 
"What Are Our Military Options in Syria?" - The New Republic - By Michael O'Hanlon. Excerpt: "As the violence worsens in Syria, there are no great options for how to respond. The various Syrian factions and sectarian groups are far too intermingled for a Libya-like operation to work. Assad and his army are still too strong for a simple and small peacekeeping mission to succeed. And if we did invade, the specter of an Iraq-style imbroglio would loom, given Syria’s size and the multitude of nefarious actors there. It’s important, though, to think through the available military options…A punitive naval or air operation to encourage a coup against Assad…A broader Balkans-like campaign to help depose Assad. In this option, air strikes would also target the heavy weapons that the Syrian army is using to shell cities…Creation of a safe zone for Syrian civilians. Safe zones are easier to declare than to enforce—and the Syrian army would surely contest any effort to establish one or more." 
 
"Lack of US-Syria Diplomacy Leads to Dangerous Isolation" - The Huffington Post - By Michael Shank. Excerpt: "On Syria, there is a back-story from which the US should learn, lest it be repeated again. For years, long before the killing by President Bashar al-Assad's government began, the US preferred a policy with Damascus of disengagement. It is unclear why the White House pursued this - with Syria, Iran and others - because it fails to correct the behavior of the intended recipient of US disengagement and fails to keep relational ties current in case bad behavior - like Syria's latest civil war - gets worse."
 
"Syria's Crisis and the Future of R2P" - Foreign Policy - By Zack Beauchamp. Excerpt: "As the brutal crackdown in Syria turns one year old with little sign of a solution on the horizon, skeptics and defenders of invoking the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine can agree: Syria has put the doctrine, which obligates states to be concerned about the welfare of those outside its borders, in crisis."
 
"Preparing for Failure in Syria: How to Stave Off Catastophe" - Foreign Affairs - By Daniel Byman. Excerpt: "If Assad is ousted soon, the Syrian state will not fail automatically or overnight, but planning to prevent that from happening or to mitigate the consequences should begin immediately. This planning should go hand in hand with efforts to oust Assad…The first step would be to create an allied coalition to pressure Iran, Russia, and other friends of Assad…To prevent the opposition from floundering once Assad falls, the allies must work together to build it up. Money and arms should be used as an incentive to push the opposition to unite and work together…Further, the allies should begin immediately to encourage negotiations within opposition ranks to guarantee that Syria has a system of government in place for the transition, as well to preempt one possible source of infighting." 
 
On the suppression of press coverage
"In Syria, Killing the Messenger Hasn't Killed the Message" - Committee to Protect Journalists - By Dahlia El Zein. Excerpt: "Weeks of sporadic protests seeking government reform burst into full-fledged unrest on March 15, 2011, when thousands of demonstrators gathered in four Syrian cities. Within days, authorities had cut off news media access to Daraa, a center of the unrest, beginning a sustained effort to shut down international news coverage of the uprising and the government's increasingly violent crackdown. As the civilian death toll has reached well into the thousands, according to UN figures, the last four months have taken a particularly dark turn for the press. Eight local and international journalists have been killed on duty since November, at least five in circumstances that raise questions about government culpability. Yet one year after the Syrian uprising began, killing the messenger has not silenced the message."
 
On Lebanon, sectarianism, and cross-border tensions with Syria, & Hezbollah
"Lebanon’s Syria Worries" - The Economist - Excerpt: "There is no love lost between Alawite and Sunni quarters of Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city. It lies just half an hour by car from the border with Syria, where violence increasingly pits the sects against each other. Here, bullets have often flown across the road that divides them, the aptly named Syria Street. In February Tripoli’s gun battles left three dead and provoked the army to intervene. Yet now cooler heads seem to be prevailing." 
 
"Hizbollah is Forced to Choose Sides Against its Own Interests" - The National - By Faisal Al Yafai. Excerpt: "With the uprising against the rule of Bashar Al Assad now in its second year, and with the regime responding with brute force, thousands have fled to neighbouring countries. The UN refugee agency estimates 32,000 Syrians have left in the last year, with about 8,000 going to Lebanon. Yet this incipient refugee crisis highlights the convoluted politics of the region. The arrival of Syrians on Lebanese soil poses a serious challenge to Hizbollah, the military-cum-political organisation that supports, and is supported by, the Assad regime."
 
On Turkey and the apparent limits of its regional leadership
"Despite Bold Talk on Syria, Turkey Sees Limits of Its Power" - The New York Times - By Dan Bilefsky. Excerpt: "In the year since the conflict in Syria began, the Turkish government has sought to play a leading role in stemming the crisis, engaging in aggressive diplomacy at the Arab League and, more recently, calling for the establishment of humanitarian corridors in Syria to help protect civilians. Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has likened President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian strongman who plunged his country into an ethnically driven civil war. But for all of its bluster and stated resolve, Turkey has been stymied in its ability to follow through with anything concrete. Officials and analysts say Turkey is extremely wary of engaging in any unilateral military action, mindful of the perils of igniting a sectarian conflict on its own border, alienating public opinion in the Arab world or, worse, inadvertently instigating regional war."
 
On leaked official documents and the publishing of private Assad emails
"The Assad Emails" - The Guardian - "A cache of emails obtained by the Guardian shows correspondence between Syrian president Bashar al- Assad and his wife Asma and their inner circle of family and confidants, as the country slides toward civil war."
 
"Syria’s First Couple and the Banality of E-Mail" - The New York Times - By Robert Mackey. Excerpt: "While the Guardian remains open to the possibility that some of the e-mails intercepted by the activists could be fake, Britain’s former ambassador to Syria confirmed that two messages from him were genuine…If the e-mails are genuine, there are potentially serious revelations in the trove, including what appears to be evidence that the president took advice from Iran on how to handle the crackdown on dissent. Even so, activists, bloggers and journalists scouring the messages published by the Guardian so far have largely focused on the trivial nature of the messages — the links to funny YouTube clips, the songs purchased from iTunes — which seem to reveal that, even in the middle of a bloody campaign to crush a protest movement, the president and his wife are still, at heart, a British-educated doctor who was never supposed to lead his country, and the British-born former investment banker he married."
 
"Assads’ Inbox: On Suggestions for the President’s Speech" - Al-Arabiya - A translation of an attached document sent to President Bashar al-Assad's media adviser on Dec. 31, 2011.
 
"The Ambassador's Daughter" - Foreign Policy - By Colum Lynch. "At the UN Syria's Ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari is the public face of the Syrian regime -- a rigid and unyielding defender of President Bashar al-Assad's year-long crackdown on protesters. But behind the scenes, it was his daughter, Sheherazad Jaafari, who served as the link to the country's beleaguered leader, passing along her father's official notes, advising Assad on press relations, and engaging him in often flirtatious email banter, according to a trove of President Assad's and his wife Asma al-Assad's personal emails, leaked by opposition activists to The Guardian and Al Arabiya."
 
"Assad and the Email Sceptics" - Al-Bab - Excerpt: "As soon as the leaked 'Assad emails' began to appear last week, As'ad AbuKhalil (who blogs as The Angry Arab) announced, very confidently, that they were a hoax. 'It is so lacking in credibility,' he wrote. 'It took me minutes to reach my conclusion. Al-'Alam TV guy is giving advice to Asad directly to his email? ... And the notion that Asma' Al-Asad, knowing that eyes are all on her, resorts to order goods through the internet is not believable.' While leaks should always be viewed with a degree of scepticism, pending confirmation, dismissing them out of hand can be as foolish as blind credulity…"
 
"Al-Jazeera Obtains Secret Syria Files" - Al-Jazeera - "Al Jazeera has gained access to confidential documents prepared for the Syrian president by his intelligence and security chiefs on the conflict raging across the nation. The files provide an insight into President Bashar al-Assad’s strategy to suppress anti-government protests, including the lengths the government went to for protecting its strongholds. The documents, running into hundreds of pages, point to a government desperate to keep control of the capital Damascus and include clear orders to stop protesters from getting into the city. They also revealed detailed security plans for crushing protests in the cities of Aleppo and Idlib."
 
"Leaked Papers Detail Syrian Efforts to Stifle Revolt" - Reuters - By Erika Solomon. Excerpt: "Documents described as leaked from inside Syria's embattled government show it trying to dissuade the president's allies from defecting, as security forces struggle to suppress an increasingly bloody revolt. It was not possible to verify the authenticity of the documents, which Al Jazeera news channel said it posted on its website after obtaining them from a former member of President Bashar al-Assad's government.A document apparently from Prime Minister Adel Safar to the foreign ministry said other Arab countries were trying to convince members of Syria's ruling Baath party to abandon Assad, particularly Gulf Arab states…"
 
Economic Analysis
 
"Entrepreneurs Exploit Economics of Syria Uprising" - Reuters - By Oliver Holmes. Excerpt: "While Syria's economy as a whole has been crippled by violent unrest, there are some people for whom the uprising has created business opportunities…Opportunistic builders, loan sharks and black market importers have all done well from the revolt, Syrians say…Jihad Yazigi, a Damascus-based economist and editor of the English-language Syria Report, said that in the early days of the revolt Syrians saw that inflation would become a threat - the value of the Syrian pound against the dollar has roughly halved since the unrest started. They therefore sought to buy property or build on existing land holdings as an investment…"
 
"SWIFT and Russia: Two Easy Ways to Strengthen Sanctions on Syria" - Now Lebanon - By Michael Weiss. Excerpt: "For an organization with such a fleet acronym, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) sounds as ponderous as an old Soviet bureaucracy. Yet its centrality to digital banking is known by anyone who’s ever attempted to wire money across borders. Currently used by over 10,000 financial organizations in 210 countries, the Brussel-based communications platform has recently been enlisted by the United States and European Union to crack down harder on Iranian firms that have used the system to evade stringent international sanctions. The same measures should now be applied to Syria."
 
"Risky Business in Syria: Damascus and Aleppo Hedge Their Bets" - Al-Akhbar - By Ernest Khoury. Excerpt: "Syria’s biggest cities are feeling the squeeze of sanctions and prolonged instability in the country. Many in the business community are choosing to quietly support both the regime and the opposition, assuring their survival no matter who prevails."
 
"Syrian Currency on Downward Spiral, People Pay the Price" - Al-Akhbar - By Muhammad Shalabi. Excerpt: "Economic and financial sanctions have sent the economy and the Syrian pound into a free fall, and caused increasing inflation. But the regime and it’s entourage aren’t the ones hurting."
 
Photography, Art, Music, & Documentaries
 
"The Syrian Revolution in Metaphor" - Daily Star - "How do you capture the spirit of a revolution? Syrian photographer Jaber Alazmeh has attempted to share what he sees to be the true essence of the Syrian uprising in a series of 16 haunting images titled “Jirah” (Wounds). Rather than exhibit his work in a conventional gallery, the artist has uploaded it to his Behance, Flickr and Facebook pages. This does not seem inappropriate given that the Internet has played such a prominent role in conveying events in Syria over the past year."
 
"My Journey into Syria’s Nightmare" - Reuters - Photography and commentary by Zohra Bensemra. 
 
"Syria: Songs of Defiance" - Al-Jazeera - "An undercover Al Jazeera correspondent takes us inside the lives of Syria's anti-government demonstrators." Unprecedented coverage of protests, violence, and the lives of Syria's revolutionaries. 
 
"Funerals Held for Damascus Bomb Victims - Syria" - Demotix - Photographs by local photographer Carole Alfarah.
 
"#Syria" - OFFENDUM - (Blog) A popular new song by Syrian-American artist, Offendum. 
 
"Inside Syria: Photographs by Rodrigo Abd" - Time - A collection of photographs from Idlib and Homs. 
 
Human Interest, Humanitarian Concerns
 
On medical care
"Secret Field Hospitals are Life Savers for Syrians" - Al-Arabiya - On the central role of clandestine field hospitals in caring for injured revolutionaries.
 
On cross-border marriages, social ties
"Syrian Conflict Raises Walls for Brides Who Cross Border" - The New York Times - By Susanne Gusten. On cross-border marriage between a Turkish and Syrian Kurds, and the manner in which the crisis in Syria has disrupted the ability of families on either side of the border to visit each other.
 
On Iraqi refugees in Syria
"Iraqis in Syria: The Loss of a Last Refuge" - Al-Akhbar - By Serene Assir. Excerpt: "In 2008, Iraqi activist and journalist Hana Ibrahim fled her home in Baghdad to Damascus, taking her two children with her. They had grown up under sanctions and war, and had as such never enjoyed the level of security they found in Syria. But even that has become a thing of the past."
 
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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