March 29, 2012 - Syria News Blog: A Roundup of Key International Reportage & Commentary

In the News | 29-03-2012

Damascus Accepts UN Peace Plan, Arab Leaders Meet in Baghdad to Discuss Syria Crisis, Death Toll Nears 10,000

On Tuesday, March 27, the Syrian government accepted the peace plan set forth by UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan. The move by Damascus has been met with cautious optimism by some, and deep skepticism by many others as violence continues to shake the country, with reports also emerging of growing clashes along the country's sensitive border with Lebanon. Today, marks the start of a three-day meeting of Arab leaders in Baghdad, Iraq, the focus of which is the crisis in Syria. While attendees have thus far reiterated calls for Damascus to adhere to Annan's peace plan and implement an immediate cease-fire, none have expressed willingness to move beyond harsh words. In just a few days, the much anticipated 'Friends of Syria' summit is set to convene in Istanbul, Turkey. In advance of the meeting, members of Syria's opposition have focused on efforts to unify and expand their ranks, with few clear signs of success. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights now puts the total death toll from the uprising at a staggering 9,734.

News from Inside Syria
On Thursday, March 22, international media reported a surge of military options in the central city of Hama. An estimated 10 civilians died when the bus in which they were riding reportedly came under fire from security forces. Another 13 people allegedly died when a bus heading to a refugee camp in neighboring Turkey came under attack. The nationwide death toll from Thursday alone was 59. 
The following day, an estimated 54 people died amid clashes and security crackdowns in Damasus, Homs, Hama, Idlib, Daraa, and Aleppo. Included among the fatalities were at least three children. Military forces reportedly entered the town of Saraqeb in Idlib on Saturday, allegedly engaging in clashes with armed members of the opposition. The death toll from the day was reported at 45, with a renewal of security operations also reported in the Homs, as the neighborhood of Khaldiyeh came under assault.
On Tuesday, March 27, as international media reported that Damascus had accepted the peace plan proposed by UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan, reports also emerged of an outbreak of fighting in the Lebanon-Syria border region. According to Lebanese officials, the fighting between government forces and armed members of the opposition occurred within Syria's borders, however, a mortar shell reportedly landed some 30 to 40 yard inside Lebanon.
According to a recent statement by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, some 9,734 people have died in Syria since the start of the revolution, including 7,056 civilians. The death toll from today, March 29, has already reached an estimated 26 people. 
On Idlib, Hama, & Deir ez-Zor
"Syrian Troops Stormed Northwestern Town: Activists" - New York Daily News - (Mar. 24)
On Aleppo 
"Armed Group Assassinates Two Colonels in Aleppo, Pilot Kidnapped in Damascus Countryside" - SANA - (Mar. 29)
On Homs
"Assad Visits Baba Amr" - YouTube - Video from the president's visit on Tuesday. 
On clashes along the Syria-Lebanon border
On the Free Syrian Army & armed elements of the uprising  
On the deaths of journalists
"Two Independent Journalists Killed in Syria" - Committee to Protect Journalists - (Mar. 27)
On the destruction of antiquities
On the internal situation in general
"Syria Clashes Resume Despite UN Plan" - Wall Street Journal - (Mar. 24) 
"Syria on the Brink" - Al-Jazeera - (Mar. 25) - video
"Monitors Say Nearly 10,000 Dead in Syrian Uprising" - News Track India - (Mar. 28)
"Refugees Say Neighbor Shoots Neighbor in Syrian Crackdown" - The New York Times - (Mar. 28) 
Human Rights 
Human Rights Watch
HRW accuses Syrian forces of using civilians as human shields 
March 25: "Syrian government forces have endangered local residents by forcing them to march in front of the army during recent arrest operations, troop movements, and attacks on towns and villages in northern Syria. Witnesses from the towns of al-Janoudyah, Kafr Nabl, Kafr Rouma, and Ayn Larouz in the Idlib governorate in northern Syria told Human Rights Watch that they saw the army and pro-government armed men, referred to locally as shabeeha, force people to march in front of the advancing army during the March 2012 offensive to retake control of areas that had fallen into the hands of the opposition. From the circumstances of these incidents, it was clear to the witnesses that the purpose of this was to protect the army from attack. 'By using civilians as human shields, the Syrian army is showing blatant disregard for their safety,' said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. 'The Syrian army should immediately stop this abhorrent practice.'" Source - Human Rights Watch 
Syrian National Council
SNC members focus on unifying in advance of Friends of Syria meeting on April 1
March 28: "Syria’s opposition is trying to mend fences four days before it seeks greater support from 70 countries for its bid to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian National Council met in Istanbul yesterday [March 27] to unite all opposition movements under the organization’s umbrella, said Anas Ayrout, a member of the council. While most agreed, at least five factions postponed participation until the SNC alters its executive committee, said Tariq al-Said, foreign- affairs attache of one such group, the Liberation and Building Bloc. A member of the anti-Assad groups inside Syria said they boycotted the meeting."
"The opposition is seeking agreement before the April 1 summit of the self-described Friends of Syria group of Western and Arab countries following the Assad government’s decision yesterday to support United Nations envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan. Western governments have pressed for greater unity among those opposing Assad, with UK Foreign Secretary William Hague saying last month that his country was providing practical help 'to bring greater unity to the opposition in Syria.'"
"The opposition 'must come forward with a unified position, a vision if you will, of the kind of Syria that they are working to build,' US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday. 'They must be able to clearly demonstrate a commitment to including all Syrians and protecting the rights of all Syrians. And we are going to be pushing them very hard to present such a vision at Istanbul.'"
"Mahmoud Merei, Damascus-based head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said in a telephone interview today that the opposition inside Syria decided to boycott the SNC meeting because it was only invited to endorse the council. 'We were not invited for a dialogue over the future of the opposition,' he said. His group, one of 10 in the National Coordination Committee, objects to foreign military involvement, which the council supports. 'We are the real opposition,' he said."
"The SNC is trying 'to unite under a common set of principles and objectives designed to boost their credibility with the international community,' David Hartwell, Middle East analyst with IHS Global Insight in London, said in an e-mailed note today. 'The notoriously fractious Syrian opposition community has historically found it hard to set aside parochial considerations, and the Istanbul meeting has again laid bare these divisions.'" Source - Bloomberg Business Week
International Politics & Diplomacy 
United Nations
UN Human Rights Council votes 41-3 in favor of resolution condemning Syria violence
March 23: "The UN's top human rights body on Friday sharply condemned Syria's bloody crackdown on opposition groups, and extended the mandate of a UN expert panel tasked with reporting on alleged abuses in the country. The 47-member UN Human Rights Council voted 41 to three in favor of an EU-sponsored resolution that was backed by Arab nations and the United States. China, Russia and Cuba voted against. Two countries abstained and one didn't vote. The resolution condemned 'widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms perpetrated by the Syrian authorities' including summary executions, torture and sexual abuse of detainees and children, and other abuses." 
"It also condemned 'the deliberate destruction of hospitals and clinics, the obstruction and denial of medical assistance to the injured and sick, and the raids and killing of wounded protesters in both public and private hospitals.' Such actions are clear breaches of international law, but in times of conflict they can constitute war crimes."
"The Geneva-based council cited the U.N. expert panel's previous report on Syria, which noted that 'particular individuals, including commanding officers and officials at the highest levels of Government, bear responsibility for crimes against humanity and other gross human rights violations.' The panel, led by Brazilian professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, said last month that it had compiled a confidential list of top-level Syrian officials who could face prosecution over the atrocities. It handed the document to the U.N. human rights office for safekeeping, so that it might be used by Syrian or international prosecutors in future cases against the regime. Syria's ambassador Fayssal al-Hamwi rejected Friday's vote as 'biased.'…The council's decisions aren't legally binding, but they are seen as an important indicator of the international community's stance on human rights issues." Source - San Francisco Chronicle
UN Human Rights Commissioner accuses Syrian government of targeting children
March 28: "Syrian authorities are systematically detaining and torturing children, the United Nations' human rights chief, Navi Pillay, has told the BBC. Ms Pillay said President Bashar al-Assad could end the detentions and stop the killing of civilians immediately, simply by issuing an order. Syria has accepted a peace plan, amid scepticism about its intentions…Navi Pillay, in an interview with the BBC before Syria accepted the plan, said Mr Assad would face justice for the abuses carried out by his security forces. Asked if he bore command responsibility for the abuses, Ms Pillay said: 'That is the legal situation. Factually there is enough evidence pointing to the fact that many of these acts are committed by the security forces [and] must have received the approval or the complicity at the highest level. Because President Assad could simply issue an order to stop the killings and the killings would stop.' Ms Pillay said she believed that the UN Security Council had enough reliable information to warrant referring Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC)." Source - BBC
"Entire Clans and Villages Fleeing Syria, Inquiry Finds" - The New York Times - (Mar. 23) 
Damascus accepts Annan peace plan
March 27: "Syria has accepted a proposal crafted by Kofi Annan that aims to end the bloodshed roiling the country, the envoy's spokesman said Tuesday, in a move cautiously welcomed by Western states. As monitors reported almost 10,000 dead in the year-long uprising, and with at least another 17 people killed on Tuesday, UN-Arab League envoy Annan in Beijing cautioned that implementing his six-point plan is the key to peace. Annan's plan includes calls for a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire and access to all areas affected by the fighting in Syria."
"'The Syrian government has written to the Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan accepting his six-point plan, endorsed by the United Nations Security Council,' Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said in a statement issued in Geneva. 'Mr. Annan views this as an important initial step that could bring an end to the violence and the bloodshed, provide aid to the suffering, and create an environment conducive to a political dialogue that would fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people,' he said."
"The former UN secretary general held talks in Beijing with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who pledged his support for his mediation efforts -- as did Russian President Dmitry Medvedev when Annan visited Moscow over the weekend. China and Russia -- both allies of Syria -- have provoked Western fury by twice blocking UN Security Council resolutions that condemned President Bashar al-Assad's regime. According to Fawzi, Annan has written to President Bashar al-Assad asking Damascus to 'put its (plan's) commitments into immediate effect.' He has also urged the release of people detained over the past year of the Syrian uprising."
"'Mr. Annan has stressed that implementation will be key, not only for the Syrian people, who are caught in the middle of this tragedy, but also for the region and the international community as a whole,' Fawzi said. Western nations gave a cautious welcome to the news, with most envoys saying Syria's actions now will be a test of its attitude to international calls to halt the killings." Source - Naharnet
"Syria Reportedly Accepts Peace Plan" - Storify - An informative audio clip covering Annan's peace plan and the situation more broadly. 
"Syrian Opposition Welcomes UN Peace Plan Progress" - Associated Press - (Mar. 27)
European Union
EU imposes sanctions against Asma al-Assad & family of Syrian president
March 23: "The European Union imposed fresh sanctions Friday on Bashar al-Assad's inner circle as the familiar sounds of gunfire and shelling rang out across Syria.Ratcheting up pressure, the EU froze the assets of al-Assad's wife, Asma, and his mother, sister and sister-in-law, an EU spokesman said. The women, among a dozen Syrians added to the sanctions list, are also banned from travel to EU nations, although London-born Asma al-Assad cannot be barred entry into Britain despite the EU ban." Source - CNN
United States
Syrians in US granted protected immigration status
March 23: "Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Friday granted temporary immigration status to Syrians in the United States, sparing them from having to return home, in a new sign that Washington believes security conditions in Syria are going from bad to worse. Under the measure, Syrians already in the United States will be eligible for temporary protected status, which had previously been given to citizens of seven other countries who could not return home because of violent conflicts or natural disasters. In a statement, Ms. Napolitano said Syrians 'would face serious threats to their personal safety' if they were forced to go back."
"Department of Homeland Security officials estimated that 2,500 to 3,000 Syrians in the United States would be eligible for the status. Most are in the United States legally, officials said. Based on the history of citizens of other countries designated for temporary protection, once the status is granted, officials are generally reluctant to cancel it." Source - The New York Times
Official statement from Secretary Napolitano:
"In light of the deteriorating conditions in Syria, I am announcing that DHS will be designating Syria for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Syrians currently present in the United States. Conditions in Syria have worsened to the point where Syrian nationals already in the United States would face serious threats to their personal safety if they were to return to their home country. Early next week, the Department will publish a notice in the Federal Register that will provide further guidance about TPS eligibility requirements and registration procedures. All applicants must undergo full background checks and while Syrians in the United States are encouraged to apply, they should not submit their applications before the notice is published." Source - US Department of Homeland Security
*The official notice is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register this week. To monitor its status, see here
US senators unveil resolution on Syria calling for safe zones, arming of opposition
March 28: "Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and five like-minded lawmakers unveiled a new resolution on Syria Wednesday that calls for establishing safe zones inside Syria for civilians and support for arming the opposition against the regime of Bashar al Assad. The non-binding resolution stops short of calling for direct US military intervention in Syria, which McCain supports, and is meant to create a consensus on increasing US support for the Syrian opposition that the greatest number of lawmakers can rally around. As of now, the resolution has six sponsors, mostly Republicans. In addition to McCain, they are Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and John Hoeven (R-ND)."
"The resolution expresses that the Senate 'recognizes that the people of Syria have an inherent right to defend themselves against the campaign of violence being conducted by the Assad regime' and 'supports calls by Arab leaders to provide the people of Syria with the means to defend themselves against Bashar al-Assad and his forces, including through the provision of weapons and other material support, and calls on the President to work closely with regional partners to implement these efforts effectively.'"
"The resolution also urges President Barack Obama to work with Middle East countries to develop plans for creating safe havens in Syria, which the senators feel 'would be an important step to save Syrian lives and to help bring an end to Mr. Assad's killing of civilians in Syria,' urges the president to hold Syrian officials accountable for atrocities, and supports the 'Friends of the Syrian People' contact group, which will hold its second meeting Sunday [April 1] in Turkey." Source - Foreign Policy
Russia backs Annan's peace plan
March 25: "Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has offered full support for envoy Kofi Annan's peace mission in Syria, saying it may be the last chance to avoid a 'prolonged and bloody civil war'. The government in Moscow urged Mr Annan to work with both the Syrian government and opposition to end the violence. Mr Annan has been seeking to persuade Russia to take a firmer stance against President Bashar al-Assad's government. He will later go to China which has also usually backed Syria at the UN…Russia may have vetoed two UN Security Council resolutions condemning President Assad, but Moscow fully supports Kofi Annan's peace mission. In his talks with the joint UN and Arab League envoy, President Medvedev will make it clear that Moscow's priority is to secure an immediate ceasefire by all sides in the conflict. The Russians, though, have already warned that peace will not be achievable while the Syrian opposition is receiving weapons and political support from outside." Source - BBC
"Annan Seeks Help for Syria" - The Moscow Times - (Mar. 27)
US reportedly tells Turkey to back down on Syria issue
March 22: "In a previously unreported turn of events, it has now come to light that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in her meeting with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu last month, emphatically dismissed a number of forward leaning options on Syria that the Turkish top diplomat proposed to the Obama administration. What this means is that Washington, which at one point subcontracted its Syria policy to Ankara, has now called the Turks off the regime of Bashar al-Assad."
"According to well-informed Turkish and US sources, during his meeting with Secretary Clinton, Davutoğlu put forward a set of measures, including, among others, creating a buffer zone and/or a humanitarian corridor, as well as organizing and equipping the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The secretary of state responded in no uncertain terms that the Obama administration had no interest in pursuing any of these options. In fact, according to one account, Clinton told her Turkish counterpart no less than three times, 'We are not there.'"
"This conversation fits well with the administration’s message to other regional allies, namely Saudi Arabia, against arming the FSA and pushing Washington’s preferred policy of going through the Russians, in an attempt to reach a 'political solution' to the Syrian crisis...Apparently, the Turks, much like the Saudis, were looking to the first Friends of Syria meeting in Tunis as a possible forum to bypass the Russians and begin a more muscular effort, with US backing. The Saudis found out at the meeting that no such action was forthcoming, and withdrew in frustration, while publicly voicing their preference for arming the Syrian rebels. The Turks got their answer from Secretary Clinton well before the Tunis gathering, and, according to the Turkish sources, were dismayed at the Obama administration’s extraordinary passivity and refusal to lead." 
"The message conveyed to the Turks was the same one made clear to the Saudis. According to one US source, when Davutoğlu ended up asking Clinton where the administration was on the issue, her response simply repeated the mantra about the Arab League initiative and going to the Security Council again for another go at the Russians. In other words, it was more of the same."
"Not surprisingly, following the meeting, the Turkish foreign ministry pulled back, stating that direct intervention 'is not on our agenda at the moment.'" Source - Now Lebanon
Turkey closes embassy in Damascus
March 26: "Turkey closed its embassy in Syria today, and announced it was suspending all activities in the capital, Damascus, due to deteriorating security conditions there. Turkey is not the first to shutter its embassy; the United States and several European and Arab nations have shut down operations as well. But the closure by Turkey – a key regional player and, until last year, a close ally of Syria – is likely to put increased pressure on the Syrian government. It could also boost opposition groups. While the capital has remained relatively calm during much of Syria’s uprising over the past year, in the last week it has seen several car bombings and major gun battles. ;Activities at the Turkish embassy have been suspended from this morning,' said one Turkish official speaking anonymously to Al Jazeera…News of the closure comes as the US and Turkey announced that they will increase the amount of “non-lethal” aid they give to opposition groups inside Syria. The aid will include items such as communications equipment and medical supplies, reports The New York Times. American officials have already confirmed that they have begun supplying members of the rebel Free Syria Army with communications equipment and other aid. The new agreement will formalize assistance and lay the groundwork for increased support. Officials have said that no weapons will be sent at this time." Source - The Christian Science Monitor
Government of Norway closes embassy in Damascus
March 26: "Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said his country has closed its embassy until further notice, but that a Norwegian diplomat will continue to work in Syria through the Danish embassy. The diplomat will 'uphold contacts with political actors and report about the development' in Syria, he said." Source - Fox News
Arab League
Arab leaders meet in Baghdad, Syria at top of agenda
March 28: "Arab foreign ministers on Wednesday called for a UN-backed peace plan for Syria to be put into action after President Bashar al-Assad agreed to the proposal that urges an end to violence but does not demand the Syrian leader step down. Arab leaders in Baghdad for an Arab League summit were expected to endorse the six-point proposal from UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan, which seeks a ceasefire and political dialogue in what Iraq called a 'last chance' for Syria."
"Annan's proposal calls for the withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from population centres, humanitarian assistance, the release of prisoners and free movement and access for journalists. But it does not hinge on Assad leaving office. Arab states backed away from their initial proposal demanding that Assad step down after Russia and China vetoed UN draft resolutions condemning him."
"'Syria's accepting the plan is a very important step,' Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told Reuters in Baghdad. 'This is the last chance for Syria and it must be implemented on the ground.' The Annan proposal is the latest attempt to broker an end to more than a year of violence in Syria after Assad sent troops into cities to try to crush rebels seeking to end his 12-year rule. Zebari said the League would not accept foreign intervention in Syria. But Damascus responded that it would reject any initiatives made at the summit relating to Syria, according to the Lebanese TV channel al-Manar…"
"Sunni powers Saudi Arabia and Qatar have led the push to isolate Syria, but other non-Gulf Arab states such as Algeria, Egypt and Iraq's Shi'ite-led government urge more caution, fearing that toppling Assad could spark sectarian violence. 'The priority is to end the violence in Syria,' said United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Qarqash in Baghdad. 'We support Annan's proposal.' Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the League would try to agree on how to implement the Annan plan, including possible talks with Assad's opponents, but gave no details." Source - Reuters
"Arab Leaders Gather for Meeting in Baghdad" - The New York Times - (Mar. 29)
BRICS summit calls for dialogue in Syria
March 29: "The world's biggest emerging powers on Thursday [March 29] said dialogue was the only answer to the crises in Syria and Iran, seeking to buttress their economic heft with a unified diplomatic clout. At their fourth summit, the leaders of the BRICS countries -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- also pushed for the creation of a new joint development bank as a counterpoint to Western-backed aid lenders. 'We agreed that a lasting solution in Syria and Iran can only be found through dialogue,' Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a closing statement at the one-day summit in New Delhi. A summit declaration warned of the 'disastrous consequences' of allowing the Iran standoff to escalate into conflict and stressed that the bloodshed in Syria could only be resolved by 'peaceful means.' The declaration also voiced the bloc's united support for a Syrian peace process promoted by international envoy Kofi Annan." Source - Times of India
Security & Regional Stability
Iran charged with aiding Syrian government in crackdown against opposition
March 24: "Iran is providing a broad array of assistance to Syrian President Bashar Assad to help him suppress anti-government protests, from high-tech surveillance technology to guns and ammunition, US and European security officials say. Tehran's technical assistance to Assad's security forces includes electronic surveillance systems, technology designed to disrupt efforts by protesters to communicate via social media, and Iranian-made drone aircraft for overhead surveillance, the officials said. They discussed intelligence matters on condition of anonymity. 'Over the past year, Iran has provided security assistance to Damascus to help shore up Assad. Tehran during the last couple of months has been aiding the Syrian regime with lethal assistance - including rifles, ammunition, and other military equipment -- to help it put down the opposition,' a US official said. 'Iran has provided Damascus (with) monitoring tools to help the regime suppress the opposition. It has also shared techniques on Internet surveillance and disruption,' the official continued. He added that Iran had also provided Assad's government with 'unarmed drones that Damascus is using along with its own technology to monitor opposition forces.'" Source - MSNBC
Economic Development & Trade
Turkish Airlines to stop flights to and from Syria
March 27: "A Turkish Airlines official says the company will suspend ticket sales Sunday [April 1], but that flights to and from Damascus and Aleppo, Syria, will continue for a while for passengers who already have tickets. The official spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because he was not authorized to make statements on behalf of the company. The announcement came a day after Turkey closed its embassy in Damascus and withdrew the ambassador, further isolating Syria. Source - Bloomberg Business Week
Political Commentary
On projecting the outcome of the revolution
"Syria’s Assad Retains Power as Foes Try Guerrilla Tactics" - Business Week - By Flavia Krause-Jackson. Excerpt: "Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s days may not be as numbered as world leaders thought they were when anti-regime protests started to escalate around the nation a year ago. Today [March 23], US and other intelligence agencies and private experts in Europe and the Mideast are predicting that Assad will cling to power while battling what is evolving into guerrilla warfare. The Syrian leader has won the first round of the fight by forcing rebels from their urban strongholds, intelligence officials said. Though he may be unable to crush the opposition, Assad may last at least until 2013, according to regional experts such as Joshua Landis, director of the Middle East Studies program at the University of Oklahoma in Norman."
"Syria: Who Would Take Over After al-Assad?" - CNN - By Holly Yan. Excerpt: "For 12 bloody, horrific months, Syrian dissidents and many world leaders have dreamt of one outcome for the Syrian crisis: the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad. But who would take over the embattled country remains a mystery -- one that could be fueling the bloodshed that has already killed thousands…"
"The Great Syrian Divide" - Council on Foreign Relations -  Bernard Gwertzman interviews Joshua Landis, Director, Center for Middle East Studies, Associate Professor, University of Oklahoma. Excerpt from introduction: "The chances for the just-passed UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to the civil war in Syria being successful are "very slight," says Joshua Landis, a leading Syria expert. Landis says that President Bashar al-Assad's regime believes 'that time is on their side and that they're going to win this struggle,' while the opposition believes that the Assad regime is 'hanging by a thread.' Landis says there is a widening split within the opposition, and that it is 'in a state of chaos right now.' The Syrian National Council, led by westernized Syrians, which succeeded in getting sanctions imposed on the Assad regime, failed to get Western military intervention. But it does not trust the more militant Islamists who are actually in combat within Syria, and are refusing to provide them with money and weapons."
"Is Annan's Syria Cease-fire Worth the Paper It's Printed On?" - Foreign Policy - By Colum Lynch. Excerpt: "Kofi Annan today announced a rare breakthrough in his efforts to halt the bloodshed in Syria, saying that President Bashar al-Assad had endorsed his six-point diplomatic plan calling for an immediate cease-fire, access for international aid workers, and the start of political talks leading to a multiparty democracy. But there was a sense among observers that we've been here before…"
"Patrick Cockburn: The Attempt to Topple President Assad has Failed" - The Independent - By Patrick Cockburn. Excerpt: "The year-long effort to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad and his government has failed. Two or three months ago, it seemed to come close to succeeding, as insurgents took over enclaves in cities such as Homs and Deir el-Zour. There was talk of no-fly zones and foreign military intervention. Severe economic sanctions were slapped on Syria's already faltering economy. Every day brought news of fresh pressure on Assad and the momentum seemed to build inexorably for a change of rule in Damascus. It has not happened. Syria will not be like Libya. The latest international action has been an EU ban on Assad's wife, Asma, and his mother travelling to EU countries (though, as a UK citizen, Asma can still travel to Britain). As damp squibs go, this is of the dampest. The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, claims this increases the pressure on the Syrian government but, on the contrary, it relieves it. Curtailing Asma's shopping trips to Paris or Rome, supposing she ever intended to go there, shows the extent to which the US, EU and their allies in the Middle East are running out of options when it comes to dealing with Damascus."
"Assad Defies Expectations, May Hold Out for Years" - Milliyet-Al-Monitor - By Mehmet Ali Birand. Translated by Al-Monitor. Excerpt: "Bashar al-Assad and his regime have survived beyond many analysts’ initial predictions due to the fractured nature of the opposition and increasing support from Syrian minorities. Turkey is the key to resolving this crisis, argues Mehmet Ali Birand, but no matter what path it chooses the consequences may be severe."
On minorities
"The Tragedy of Religious Freedom in Syria" - The Chicago Tribune - By Elizabeth Shakman Hurd. Excerpt: "There is fear in some quarters that should the Assad regime fall, non-Muslim (and possibly non-Sunni Muslim) Syrians will suffer from a lack of religious freedom. USA Today reports that 'Christians in Syria, where Muslims have risen up against President Bashar Assad, have been subjected to murder, rape and kidnappings in Damascus and rebellious towns, according to Christian rights groups.' The momentum builds, as persecution of Christians takes on a life of its own and may, in some cases, come to define the conflict on the ground. The logic of this story is clear: The result of overthrowing Assad will be Christian persecution. What we need, in this view, is religious freedom. The problem is that the Syrian revolutionaries are not 'Muslims rising up against Assad.' This is the regime's narrative, and is not supported by the reality in the streets of Syria's towns and cities…This is not a sectarian conflict pitting Sunnis against Alawites and their Shiite allies in Iran and Lebanon. To portray it as one hardens lines of religious difference and makes sectarian violence more likely."
"Syrian Kurdish Cards" - Middle East Research and Information Project - By Denise Natali. Excerpt: "Upheaval in Syria has given Kurdish groups new opportunities to advance their nationalist agendas while serving as proxies for neighboring states. In Turkey, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK has taken advantage of the rift between the regime of Bashar al-Asad and the Turkish government by turning to the former to help it launch its armed operations. In Iraq, after some delay, Kurdish elites have entered Syrian opposition politics as well, highlighting the ironies and internal tensions of their own position. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is keen to persuade Turkey, its key regional patron, that it can contain the PKK elements based in Iraqi territory and moderate Syrian Kurdish demands, while also assuring its Kurdish brethren that it will support their claims. And in Syria itself, Kurds have created the Kurdish National Council in parallel to the main opposition body, the Syrian National Council (SNC) -- a reaction to the possibility that the SNC will morph into a successor regime led by Muslim Brothers under Turkish influence. Whether or not the Asad regime falls, these cross-border power plays reinforce the increasing regionalization of the Kurdish problem and its destabilizing potential."
"Syrian Circassians Under Pressure from Both the Government and Opposition" - Jamestown - By Valery Dzutsev. Excerpt: "Circassian plans for rescuing their compatriots in Syria seem to be gradually acquiring substance as Moscow shows tentative signs of a willingness to accept Syrian Circassian refugees…The plight of the Syrian Circassians has received relatively little attention in the Russian media, which probably indicates that official Moscow is still weighing the pluses and minuses of repatriating them. In any case, Moscow will try to make Circassian repatriation as limited as possible, while capitalizing on it in a propaganda campaign…according to the Syrian Circassians, their population in Syria is 55,000-60,000. There are also an estimated 30,000 ethnic Russian citizens in Syria, mostly women who married Syrian men and their descendants…" 
On international intervention - or lack thereof 
"Syria Is The Balkans All Over Again" - NPR/New Republic - By Radwan Ziadeh. Excerpt: "As the international community continues to debate high-minded principles of national sovereignty, Syria continues its downward spiral into unmitigated chaos. The bitter truth is that the longer this situation continues, the deeper the scars will be once the nation has been freed of Bashar Assad. Increasingly, crimes against humanity are being committed by both sides, as the Free Syria Army struggles to incorporate and maintain control over its armed rebel brigades. But as harrowing as the details of the current situation are, the basic principles at stake are very clear. Indeed, the United States, and other countries in the West, ought to reflect on the Syrian conflict's strong resemblance to the situation in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. That would clarify, if the events on the ground have not already, that the international community has a responsibility to intervene. More than that, it would underscore that the main source of regret, years from now, will be that it delayed so long in doing so."
"US policy on Syria: A Bad Joke Told at the Syrian People's Expense" - The Telegraph - By Michael Weiss. Excerpt: "Despite the lamest attempts by so-called international community to argue otherwise, the Syrian revolution has not resigned itself to the notion that Assad’s downfall is 'inevitable'…Street-to-street fighting persists in Deir Ba’albeh, and tanks are being blown up in al-Khadiyeh. And the Independence flag has just been unfurled in Damascus. All of which would count as good news but for the fact that Barack Obama is the first US president to set a policy of regime change for a rogue state only to then rescind it once he realised what it meant. His endorsement of Kofi Annan’s reconciliation protocol - the rebels and the regime must lay down their weapons and start 'negotiating' – amounts to lowering the priority of the conflict, if not its outright betrayal of Syrian self-determination."
"Not Supporting the Opposition 'Within Syria' Is Supporting Assad" - The Washington Institute for Near East Policy - By Andrew J. Tabler and David Pollock. Excerpt: "Failure to support the opposition "within Syria" -- armed and unarmed -- would allow Assad to stay in power for much longer. During their March 25 meeting, President Obama and Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed that part of the agenda of the April 1 'Friends of Syria' summit in Istanbul will concern 'nonlethal assistance' to the opposition 'within Syria.' This indicates that the administration is beginning to accept a 'tragic truth': without much greater U.S. support for the opposition on the ground, Bashar al-Assad's regime will certainly massacre many more civilians all over Syria, and Assad himself will almost certainly remain in power for the foreseeable future."
"How Did al-Assad Intimidate Them?" - Asharq Alawsat - By Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed. Excerpt: "This great deception, namely that protecting the al-Assad regime protects Syria as a whole, as well as regional stability, is being propagated whilst the reality is the complete opposite. Over the past ten years, Damascus has played the role of the saboteur in our region…It is a delusion to believe that backing al-Assad will prevent the outbreak of a civil war because the Syrian regime will remain besieged, whilst rebel groups will grow stronger and continue to attack the regime in the coming years…Therefore defending the Syrian regime and believing that its presence will guarantee regional stability is nothing more than a delusion. It was not a guarantor of regional stability in the past, nor will it be in the future. Moreover, failing to take any action against al-Assad – who is massacring his own people – in the belief that this will prevent the outbreak of a civil war will, ironically, guarantees the outbreak of said war." 
On Turkey's strategy vis-a-vis Syria
"Turkey Edges Nearer to Buffer Zone for Syrians" - Today's Zaman - Excerpt: "Events are pushing Turkey ever closer to setting up a buffer zone in Syria to protect civilians. Turkish officials have long been hesitant about the idea, even while the UN reported that thousands of Syrians were being killed as President Bashar Assad's forces crush dissent. But on Monday [March 26], a Turkish official indicated that a surge of refugees from Syria might compel Turkey, preferably with international backing, to establish a buffer zone on Syrian soil to guarantee the security of its own southern border as well as the welfare of civilians fleeing violence."
"Turkey Should Have Thought Twice on Syria: Analysts" - Al-Arabiya - Excerpt: "Turkey may have acted too fast when it took its tough stance against Damascus, expecting a rapid fall for the regime, some observers have argued ahead of a 'Friends of Syria' conference in Istanbul. Now, a number of commentators in Turkey are suggesting it might be time to think again…Those other options circulating in Ankara as well as Western and Arab capitals, run from humanitarian corridors, to a buffer zone in Syria to accommodate refugees, or even direct assistance to rebels."
"Turkey Must Play a Role In Shaping a New Syria" - Haberturk/Al-Monitor - By Muharrem Sarikaya. Translated by Timur Goksel. Excerpt: "At the end of each winter in Ankara, the number of diplomatic receptions held in the capital skyrockets. This year, the main topic at these gatherings is Syria. None of the influential diplomats I have spoken to believe that the Syrian regime will collapse anytime soon. The forecasts of those who know Damascus well, and who have served there in the past, are that if the pressure on Bashar al-Assad continues at its present level, his government will survive for two more years…"
"Turkey Eyes Syrian Crisis Through Lens of Kurdish Stability" - The National - By Maria Fantappie. Excerpt: "Turkey appears to be keeping all options open for intervening in Syria - even arming the opposition. But Ankara's failure to monitor the development of the Kurdish issue in Syria, and Bashar Al Assad's struggle for power, have left room for others to instil their agendas there. In Syria's Kurdish-populated areas, the Turkish Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK, is expanding its military front against Turkey. Leaders in Iraqi Kurdistan are stretching their political influence and campaigning for the establishment of a Kurdish region in Syria. The PKK and Iraqi Kurdish agendas in Syria could open a Pandora's box of the Kurdish issue in Turkey, furthering Kurdish demands for autonomy and bolstering armed struggle. Turkey is in a state of alarm. It is using all means to influence the situation in Syria to avoid a domestic crisis of its own."
"Turkey Wants Iran to Stop Supporting Al Assad" - The National - By Michael Theodoulou. Excerpt: "Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, travels to Tehran today where he will press a sceptical Iran to stop supporting the Al Assad government in Syria. Mr Erdogan will try to persuade Tehran that the United States is committed to a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis and that Israeli threats of military action are not a bluff, analysts and diplomats said. It is a tricky balancing act for the Turkish premier. While cajoling Iran on the nuclear and Syrian issues, he will assure his hosts that Turkey is keen to expand mutually beneficial trade relations and keep diplomatic ties cordial…"
On the opposition
"Ousting Syria’s Assad Through a ‘Soft Landing’" - The Washington Post - By David Ignatius. Excerpt: "Maybe it’s time for Syrian revolutionaries to take 'yes' for an answer from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and back a UN-sponsored 'managed transition' of power there, rather than rolling on toward a civil war that will bring more death and destruction for the region. The Assad government announced Tuesday that it was ready to accept a peace plan proposed by U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan. The Syrian announcement in Beijing followed endorsement of the plan by China and Russia. The proposal has many weaknesses, but it could open the way toward a 'soft landing' in Syria that would remove Assad without shattering the stability of the country."
"The Tides of Battle in Syria" - The Washington Institute for Near East Policy - By Jeffrey White. Excerpt: "The Free Syria Army remains in the fight and should be sustained and armed to maintain military pressure on the regime. The progress of the Syrian regime's offensive against Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces that began in late January 2012 has left many with the impression that the regime is winning the war, that the armed opposition is headed for defeat. But the reality of this war, like most wars, is that the tides of battle shift, with one side or the other enjoying the advantage at different times. In January, FSA formations appeared to have the advantage in many locations, with the regime appearing on the defensive. Now, seemingly, the regime has the advantage, with FSA formations in 'retreat' on all fronts. Nevertheless, the FSA has not been 'defeated' or 'routed,' and the regime has not won. Expectations that the FSA can meet the regime's army in open battle and win are misplaced, unrealistic, and inconsistent with the way the FSA has fought the war. The FSA is an emerging force, not one that has sprung whole and fully capable from the instant of the rebellion. It has significant weaknesses -- but it is growing more capable and is resilient. The FSA has changed the nature of the conflict in Syria and, given appropriate assistance, it can become an increasingly important part of a political, economic, and military strategy to defeat the regime."
"Syrian Rebels Caught Embellishing on Tape" - The Daily Beast - Excerpt: "A new documentary provides an intimate look at Syria’s video activists—and reveals how they staged a report to appear more dramatic."
On the French mandate
"The Troubles in Syria: Spawned by French Divide and Rule" - Middle East Policy Council - By Ayse Tekdal Fildis. A lengthy article on relevant history. Excerpt: "The political arrangements imposed by the French under the mandate went wrong from the start. The policy of division was integral to the original French approach to the mandate. France was there for her own strategic, economic and ideological purposes. The French made very few attempts to promote or expedite the formal independence of either Syria or Lebanon. Rather, they haggled for decades over the terms of an independence treaty and eventually had to be forced by the British to evacuate without a treaty in 1946. They did little to train indigenous officials with the subsidiary charges and imposed an artificial and unrealistic division between the different components of Syria and Lebanon. They failed to give Syria proper instruction in responsible self-government. The numerous divisions and re-divisions of Syria over a quarter century obstructed the development of a unified administrative elite. The outcome was that Syria emerged after 1945 as a unitary state with very little experience of unity. A fundamental social and political reconstruction that might, in the longer term, have generated a democratic and stable society was not part of the French plan. The process of political radicalization was initiated during the era of the French mandate, the legacy of which was almost a guarantee of Syria's political instability."
On the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria
"What the Brotherhood Did in Syria?" - Arab News - By Tariq Alhomayed. Excerpt: "The 'national covenant' document presented by the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, which calls for a civil state after the ouster of Bashar Assad, the rights of minorities and women, and a guarantee that democracy in Syria is not exploited by the majority over the minority, is not only a major event in Syria, but it is also evidence of a revolution inside the Brotherhood itself, where a large rock has now been thrown into stagnant Brotherhood water across the region."
On Palestinians in Syria
"Palestinians in Syria Divided Over Uprising" - Al-Hayat/Al-Monitor - By Nabil Kassir. Translated by: Sahar Ghoussoub. Excerpt: "Throughout the crisis that has tormented the Syrian regime, Palestinian factions have been divided over whether to support or oppose the protests. Each faction has decided which position to take based on its relations with the regime. Some Palestinians have supported the regime and others have called upon the refugees not to take part in the protests. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC) remains at the head of the pro-regime forces. The PFLP-GC has deployed all of its available capacities in support of the regime, unaware that such actions would ignite strife between the Syrian people and their Palestinian guests, some of whom have announced on many occasions their unequivocal support for the Syrian Revolution…"
On Syrians seeking refuge in Lebanon
"Lebanon Should Welcome Refugees From Syria" - As-Safir/Al-Monitor - By Edmund Saab. Translated by Naria Tanoukhi. Excerpt: "The policy of 'distancing itself' from the Syrian crisis seems to have relieved the Lebanese government, because it gives many excuses to be idle, inefficient, and even irresponsible…Whatever the position of some Lebanese segments toward the Syrian regime, they can only sympathize with the victims, who, in the end, are their neighbors…Here arises the importance of rejecting the idea of Lebanon distancing itself from the Syrian crisis in order to prevent dangers to the Syrian people, and not to pit Syrians against one another, whether in the name of politics or religion. All the Lebanese people, both Muslim and Christian, must embrace those who have escaped the hell of murder, bombardment, and destruction without discrimination over faith or religion. This is because the Syrian people never hesitated to help and embrace the Lebanese of all sects and walks of life during the years of hardship between 1975 and 1990. In the war of July 2006, those who escaped its hell were fully welcomed by the Syrians..."
Economic Commentary 
On the role of business in fortifying the government
"The Syrian Regime's Business Backbone" - Jadaliyya - By Bassam Haddad. Excerpt: "No single factor is the secret to understanding the causes of the [Syrian] uprising or its prospects. There is, however, one basic, stubborn truth: The regime has thus far remained unitary and cohesive, while the society is heterogeneous and, to some degree, divided. Naturally, the regime has worked hard over decades to reproduce and exacerbate the divisions, whether of sect and ethnicity, class or region. The regime has meanwhile labored to bolster the unity at the top, building an army and security services whose fates are intertwined with that of the regime. But what is consistently missing from analysis of Syria is another such stratagem: Beginning in the 1970s, the regime has forged networks of capital that bind elite business actors to state officials as the latter, and their offspring, venture into the commercial realm. These ties have paid dividends in times of crisis, both in the past and in the present."
On the state of the economy
"Economic Tests Loom for Damascus" - Al-Akhbar - By Nicolas Nassif. Excerpt: "The presidential statement issued by the UN Security Council last Wednesday strengthened the Syrian regime’s conviction that it has passed the critical phase of the attempt to depose it. As Damascus sees it, the statement did more than propose a solution to the crisis that would be agreed to by the regime and its opponents. It also identified a main feature of that solution, namely that it should be brought about under, and through, Bashar Assad…The Regime feels it has regained the initiative in its confrontation with the foreign adversaries seeking to overthrow it.Yet they, too, speak of a new phase in their struggle against the regime which believes it has successfully waged two rounds: political and military…The regime is now bracing for two other rounds, namely the tests facing the country’s economy and its internal security. The economic test stems from Western sanctions and the Arab boycott of Syria…The regime is counting on being able to sustain the economy at an expected minimum level. It believes that Syria enjoys the relative advantages of already being on an economic war and austerity footing, and – especially – of not being indebted…"
"The Resilience of the Syrian Economy after One Year of Revolution" - Carnegie Middle East Center - By Ibrahim Saif. Excerpt: "From an economic standpoint, the past year is widely considered to have been the worst that Syria has faced in decades…Despite the significant devaluation of the lira, until now, on a superficial level, the economy has shown itself to be resilient. This is in large part because the Syrian economy relies heavily on domestic production, which is not terribly sensitive to the devaluation and deterioration of the lira...The precipitous decline in economic activity has been accompanied by a siphoning off of a great many resources to meet the needs of the army and other security forces. This is being done at the expense of other segments of society that are already enduring a twofold hardship: first, a reduction in the real income as a result of the inflationary pressure, and second, a decline in state-provided subsidies for a number of commodities. The effect has been a veritable explosion of long-buried social tensions, manifested in the form of competition over the limited supply of available resources…" 
Human Interest, Humanitarian Concerns
On rape
"Syrian Uprising: Imam Tells Rape Victims They Deserve to Be Honored" - The Washington Post - By Elizabeth Flock. Excerpt: "In a video address, [Syrian] Sheikh Adnan Aeraour…encourages victims of rape to accept offers of marriage: 'I am telling you, and I hope you are listening, these girls and women whose chastity was attacked should be honored. I am giving you a religious ruling, a fatwa... Every girl or woman who got raped, this is an honor and like a medal. People will ask to marry them, and will love them. People from the revolution and others... I hope she is not sad... She will have great rewards from God.'"
"New Tool Helps US Group Track Sex Crimes in Syria" - Reuters - By Susan Heavey. Excerpt: A US women's group is using new crowd-sourcing techniques to track rape and other sexual violence across Syria in one of the first efforts to monitor assaults against women during military conflict in real-time. The effort by the Women's Media Center aims to shed light on such assaults and provide possible evidence to prosecute future human rights violations and war crimes. The group launched its website on Wednesday and said it was working with multiple Syrian activists whom it did not identify."
On Syrian-Americans 
"Syrian-Americans Are Uniting" - NPR/New Republic - By Nick Robins-Early. Excerpt: "Among the greatest fears sparked by the ongoing conflict in Syria is that the country will soon be irreconcilably divided, with sectarian groups implacably pitted against one another in an open civil war. Indeed, there's no doubting that the Syrian population comprises various ethnic and religious groups, each with its own grievances. But at a rally attended by hundreds of Syrian immigrants last Saturday, I heard a very different message about the Syrian-American community…"
On life in Damascus
"Syria's Capital is Calm Despite Revolt, but Life has Changed" - Los Angeles Times - Excerpt: "Fear of the government persists in Damascus, Syria, but people are not afraid to talk openly about the yearlong revolt anymore…cracks in the facade have become more obvious by the day. Shortages are chronic. Along some streets and roads, colorful gallon-size jugs for fuel are lined up; the wait for a refill is a long one. Daily electricity outages last several hours in the heart of the capital, and as long as 12 hours daily in the suburbs. More and more residents say they stay home at night because of the precarious security situation. With international sanctions mounting, the economy is in shambles, business owners say. The old market, the souk, once a bustling tourist magnet, is largely deserted. A shop owner shows a logbook filled with blank pages and says the economy is not 'bad — it's nil.'"
On Asma al-Assad
In Defense of Asma al-Assad” - Syria Comment - Written by 'Cicerco'. Excerpt: "The EU has issued the 13th round of sanctions against Syria since the eruption of violence in the country almost one year ago. The latest target the First Lady of Syria, Asma Al Assad by freezing her assets and banning her from travel in EU countries. This is a senseless act against a person who is not part of the Syrian government, about of whom The French ambassador to Syria, Eric Chevallier, said a mere year ago, 'She managed to get people to consider the possibilities of a country that’s modernizing itself, that stands for a tolerant secularism in a powder-keg region, with extremists and radicals pushing in from all sides'."
"Asma and Complicated Syria" - Walls Blog - A biting response to the above post "In Defense of Asma al-Assad". 
"Asma al-Assad, Syria's Marie Antoinette" - The Washington Post - By Annie Groer. "'When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping' has long been the mantra of hard-core fashionistas. But one of the most appalling practitioners of acquisition therapy is Asma al-Assad, the 36-year-old wife of Syrian President — and instigator of a bloody crackdown on protesters — Bashar al-Assad…"
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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