November 3, 2011 - Syria News Blog: A Roundup of International Reportage
In the News | 03-11-2011
The Syrian Revolution
The Syrian government agreed on November 1st to a plan by the Arab League to bring an end to the violence that has shaken Syria for the last 7 months. The League's plan, which calls for the immediate withdrawal of military forces from all residential neighborhoods and the release of all individuals detained since March, has been met with considerable skepticism at home and abroad. Indeed, the estimated 20 deaths that have occurred across the country since the 1st, serve as compelling fodder for skeptics. Meanwhile, following one of the bloodiest Friday's in recent weeks wherein some 40 people died amid crackdowns and clashes, The Sunday Telegraph published an interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in which the President warned that "any problem in Syria will burn the whole region".
Protests & clashes
On October 27, international media reported that Syrian troops were seen embedding mines along Syria's border with Lebanon in an apparent effort to halt the smuggling of weapons into the country. The same day marked the end of the eight-day strike in Daraa. According to foreign reportage, the strike was brought to an end when security forces began forcibly breaking into shops in order to compel shopkeepers to reopen stores.
Mass protests on Friday October 28 came as Syrian demonstrators called for NATO-led international protection in the form of a no-fly zone. The largest of the day's protests were seen in Homs and Hama, where an estimated 40 people were killed in subsequent security crackdowns - making the day one of the most violent in recent weeks. Large protests were staged in Kafr Nabl, a town in Idlib province while explosions and gunfire were reported in Qusayr, a town along Syria's border with Lebanon. Thirteen people were reported in Kufruma, a town in the northwest - a woman and her 12-year-old son among them.
On Saturday, Syrian military forces shelled Homs's Bab Amr district, resulting in the deaths of three people. Raids and arrests were also carried out in the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor. At the same time, reported clashes between the military and armed members of the opposition in Idlib resulted in the deaths of an estimated 10 soldiers and 20 civilians.
On Wednesday, 11 civilians were shot and killed at a roadblock northwest of Homs. The roadblock was outside of Kfar Laha village. The attack was perhaps a reprisal for the killing of nine people killed the day before in Homs, the majority of whom were allegedly members of the Alawi sect of Islam. Tuesday's killings took place after the men forced the victims from the bus in which they were riding. The 11 individuals killed on Wednesday were allegedly Sunnis. If the killings were indeed motivated by sectarian hostilities, they would be among the worst of such killings since the revolution began.
Homs on Thursday saw more violence, as an estimated 12 people were killed in security crackdowns in a number of the city's neighborhoods. Mass protests were also allegedly held in the southern city of Daraa that day, as well as in Idlib and some Damascus suburbs. The deaths and rallies occurred just 24 hours after the Syrian government agreed to a plan advanced by the Arab League, which called for the complete cessation of violence across the country.
President Assad - "Any problem in Syria will burn the whole region."
On Sunday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave his first interview to Western media since before the start of the Syrian revolution. Speaking to Andrew Gilligan of The Sunday Telegraph, President Assad's remarks covered the potential outcome of international meddling in Syria, his views of the Syrian opposition, and the traits that he believes can be attributed to his popularity. President Assad conceded that "many mistakes" had been made in the government's response to the uprising.
Some key excerpts from the interview:
"Syria is the hub now in this region. It is the fault line, and if you play with the ground you will cause an earthquake … Do you want to see another Afghanistan, or tens of Afghanistans? Any problem in Syria will burn the whole region. If the plan is to divide Syria, that is to divide the whole region."
"We have very few police, only the army, who are trained to take on al-Qaeda," he said. "If you sent in your army to the streets, the same thing would happen. Now, we are only fighting terrorists. That's why the fighting is becoming much less."
"We didn't go down the road of stubborn government. Six days after [the protests began] I commenced reform. People were sceptical that the reforms were an opiate for the people, but when we started announcing the reforms, the problems started decreasing. This is when the tide started to turn. This is when people started supporting the government."
“There is a legitimacy according to elections and there is popular legitimacy. If you do not have popular legitimacy, whether you are elected or not you will be removed – look at all the coups we had. The first component of popular legitimacy is your personal life. It is very important how you live. I live a normal life. I drive my own car, we have neighbours, I take my kids to school. That’s why I am popular. It is very important to live this way – that is the Syrian style.”
During an interview over the same weekend with Russian TV channel, Russia Today, President Assad charged that the Syrian opposition is being funded from abroad. To watch the interview click here.
International Politics & Diplomacy
Opposition calls for international intervention
As the stalemate between the opposition and the Syrian government drags on, more members of the Syrian opposition at home and abroad are urging for some form of international intervention. The call for such action, however, is by no means unanimous - indeed, the issue has intensified components of the divide between various members of the opposition and their splinter groups.
Below, are a number of articles exploring the issue from different perspectives:
"The Vision of the Local Coordination Committees on International Protection" - Facebook - The Local Coordination Committees' assessment of the "requirements of any international move" to bring an end to the violence in Syria.
"More Syrians Are Calling for a No-Fly Zone—Should We Take it Seriously?" - The Atlantic - Micah Zenko evaluates what a Western air assault on Syria might achieve and what it likely would not, and why some members of the Syrian opposition are increasingly interested in such an option.
"Foreign Intervention in Syria: No Room for Equivocation" - Al-Akhbar English - The latter portions of this article by Ibrahim al-Amin make a number of points relevant to those considering the pros and cons of endorsing some form of foreign intervention in Syria.
"Foreign Intervention: Debating the Taboo of the Syrian Opposition" - Al-Akhbar English - Ernest Khoury details debate within the myriad branches of the Syrian opposition on the issue of foreign intervention.
Turkey sheltering Syrian antigovernment fighters
Last week, reports emerged indicating that the Turkish government is hosting militant members of the Syrian opposition. According to a report by The New York Times, the commander and tens of members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), are taking shelter in camps set up by the Turkish government. Refuge in Turkey has allegedly enabled FSA members to orchestrate cross-border attacks in Syria.
According to Turkish authorities, however, their relations with the FSA's commander Col. Riad al-As’aad and the 60 to 70 FSA members living in the camps, are humanitarian in nature. Nevertheless, the report noted that the Col. As'saad arrived for The Times interview with heavily armed Turkish military escorts - suggesting support beyond humanitarian concerns. The report comes amid growing speculation that Turkish involvement in Syria's crisis is moving closer to active intervention.
Ban Ki-moon reiterates call for immediate end to violence in Syria
Following one of the most violent Friday's in recent weeks, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Saturday for the immediate end to the violence that has taken hold of Syria since mid-March. Ki-moon said of the Syrian government that it must answer "the calls of the Syrian people for change" with "far-reaching reforms".
Ki-moon's statement was issued from China, stating that "The secretary-general believes the calls of the Syrian people for change must be answered with far-reaching reforms, not repression and violence. He appeals for military operations against civilians to stop at once, and for the release of all political prisoners and those detained in connection to their participation in the popular protests." The statement continued, "He emphasizes that violence is unacceptable and must stop immediately."
Syria agrees to Arab League plan to quell violence, incursions continue
Following meetings on Sunday October 30 in Qatar to discuss efforts to bring an end to the crisis in Syria, the Syrian government announced on Tuesday November 1, that it has reached an agreement with senior Arab League officials "regarding a final document on the situation in Syria".
The main points of the Arab League's proposed plan were as follows: 1) a complete cessation of the violence, irregardless of its origin, so as to protect Syrian civilians; 2) the release of individuals detained since the inception of the revolution; the withdrawal of all military forces from towns and residential areas, and; and the granting of permission to all concerned organizations in the Arab league and international and Arab media, to move within Syria without constraint so as to ascertain the nature of the situation.
The plan then states that "after tangible progress is achieved by the Syrian government in applying the terms of the four preceding points," the League's ministerial committee will contact and consult with the Syrian government and members of the oppositions with the aim of preparing "a conference of national dialogue within two weeks".
The plan reportedly did not specify dates for the withdrawal of military forces nor when the two-week time frame would begin. While the Syrian government wants any resulting dialogue to be held within Syria - a point to which much of the opposition is opposed - the Arab League has recommended that such talks be held in Cairo.
Damascus's acceptance of the proposed plan was met with much skepticism by a broad swath of the opposition and foreign and local political analysts, with many saying that the Syrian government agreed to the plan as a means of buying more time, by pretending to go along with the League's plan.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel seeks stronger UN condemnation of violence in Syria
At a press conference in Berlin, Germany on Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that Germany wants the UN to adopt a firmer line on the Syrian government's use of force against civilians. Merkel's remarks came after a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during which the two leaders agreed on “condemning the human rights violations occurring in Syria”.
In her statement to the press, Merkel said “We are also calling — at least I said for Germany — that we would like to see stronger condemnation by the United Nations.”
IAEA - new suspected uranium enrichment plant discovered
On Tuesday November 1, international media reported that the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has obtained satellite imagery that suggested that a complex in northwestern Syria, match the design plan for a uranium enrichment plant designed by A.Q. Khan and sold to former Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi's government.
The IAEA also announced that it was in possession of correspondence between Syrian government official Mihidin Issa and Khan, indicating that Issa had proposed scientific cooperation between Khan and the Syrian government. The newly discovered complex is in the city of Al-Hasakeh and is currently used as a cotton-spinning plant.
The Syrian government continues to deny all charges that it had been pursuing nuclear weapons.
"Is Syria in Civil War?" - Informed Comment - Middle East expert Juan Cole evaluates claims that Syria is in the midst of civil war, arguing that the country is close to breaking point - but has not yet arrived there. At the article's end, Cole advances J. David Singer's definition of the term (see below) which many seeking to interpret the country's deepening violence will find of use:
“Sustained military combat, primarily internal, resulting in at least 1,000 battle-deaths per year, pitting central government forces against an insurgent force capable of effective resistance, determined by the latter’s ability to inflict upon the government forces at least 5 percent of the fatalities that the insurgents sustain.”
"Colonial Origins of the Syrian Security State" - Al-Akhbar English - Michael Provence and Jamal Wakim chronicle Syria's rise as a security state, attributing the nature of the current system to the structure and contradictions latent within that of the French mandatory rule. Excerpt:
"Liberal language and legal structures characterized French mandatory rule. From the beginning, however, there was an irreducible contradiction between liberal ideals and the imposition of a system of colonial rule by violence or threat of violence. When mandate functionaries encountered resistance from the population, the predictable response was an abandonment of liberal theory and recourse to military suppression, secrecy, and attendant undemocratic practices. Liberal language shrouded illiberal practice and established habits of rule that endured beyond the end of the mandate. The idealism of French liberty and republicanism could not withstand the periodic imperative to employ mass violence against a hostile population."
"Escaping Mumana'a and the US-Saudi Counter-Revolution: Syria, Yemen, and Visions of Democracy" - Jadaliyya - Ahmad Shokr and Anjali Kamat's September interview with scholar Fawwaz Traboulsi. Traboulsi discusses the rural versus urban components of the Syrian revolution, the current government's conception of 'Syrian exceptionalism', members of the opposition outside of Syria, and foreign versus popular legitimacy.
"Syrian Americans in Syria Feel Unfairly Targeted by Sanctions" - Los Angeles Times - Raja Abdulrahim covers the far-reaching effects of US sanctions against Syria and their perhaps unforeseen consequences.
"US Firm Acknowledges Syria Uses Its Gear to Block Web" - The Wall Street Journal - The article offers extensive details on the US firm whose devices are used by the Syrian government to block internet access. According to the report the company, Blue Coat Systems, Inc., shipped the devices to Dubai last year, believing they were destined for use by a department within the Iraqi government. The report details the types of websites blocked by the government, how many times Syrian web users attempted to access such sites, and details regarding the manner in which visits to certain types of sites - such as those run by the opposition - were monitored.
"Syria to Test Turkish-American Partnership" - Hurriyet Daily News - Ilhan Tanir evaluates changing dynamics of US-Turkish relations, particularly with regard to the two countries' respective economic interests. According to Tanir, the US Chamber of Commerce has ranked Turkey among nine foreign markets is views as worthy for expansion. At the same time, the issue of how Turkey responds to the crisis in Syria will no doubt put such relations to the test.
"Why Syria and Iran are Becoming Turkey’s Enemies, Again" - CNN - One of the most read articles on Syria in the last week, Soner Cagaptay, Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, explores how the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is quickly becoming a key player in the "new trilateral power game between Turkey, Iran and Syria" as the security crisis in Syria deepens. Excerpt:
"…the Middle Eastern “PKK circle”: the more people Assad kills, the more hardline Turkey’s policies will become against Syria. This will, in turn, drive Iranian-Syrian action against Turkey through PKK attacks from Iraq. PKK attacks will rise."
Further background reading on members of the opposition:
"Meet Syria's Opposition" - Foreign Policy - Middle East scholar Randa Slim offers up one of the more compressive summaries of the opposition and its key branches, including the Syrian National Council, the National Coordination Committee, the Syrian Revolution General Commission, the Local Coordination Committees, the Higher Council of the Syrian Revolution, the Free Officers Corps, and the Free Syrian Army. The first two, the broadest of them all, are notably divided over issues of dialogue with the current government and the potential role (or lack thereof) of foreign intervention.
"Portrait of a Leader: Burhan Ghalioun" - Jadaliyya - Amal Hanano profiles key leader among the Syrian opposition, Burhan Ghalioun.
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.
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