Tentative Syria Ceasefire Staves Off Spiraling Violence, Looming Internationalization of Conflict

In the News | 12-04-2012

April 12, 2012 - Syria News Blog: A Roundup of Key International Reportage & Commentary

Today marked the start of Syria's country-wide ceasefire brokered by UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy, Kofi Annan. The ceasefire began at 6am this morning with most reports indicating that it appears to be tentatively holding. The lead-up to the ceasefire has been violent and tense, with numerous reports charging that some 1000 were killed in violence across the country over the course of the last week. The violence crossed a critical threshold on April 9, when shots were fired from Syria into neighboring Turkey resulting in several casualties. The same day, a similar cross-border shooting into Lebanon left a Lebanese reporter dead. The numbers of Syrian refugees continue to swell in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, fueling fears that the crisis is spreading deeper into the region. To that end, Turkish officials, outraged by the cross-border shootings, and concerned about the growing ranks of Syrian refugees in Turkey, are reportedly considering invoking NATO's Article 5 to protect the Turkish border with Syria. At this point, observance of the ceasefire by all sides will be key not only to mitigating the country's internal turmoil, but also intensifying threats to regional security.

The Uprising 
There have been reports of major military operations in the Damascus suburbs of Douma, Saqba, and Arbeen since late last week, irregardless of the deadline for a country-wide ceasefire. Military action has also reportedly been ongoing in Rastan, Homs, and Hama. Partial military withdrawals were reported in some areas including Daraa and Zabandani, but such reports have since come under dispute. The daily death toll from the violence remained unaffected by all related diplomatic maneuverings. On Monday alone, local reports estimated that some 160 people were killed. 
The same day, both Turkey and Lebanon charged that government forces had opened fire across Syria's border with both countries, resulting in a number of casualties. Similar cross-border shootings were again reported on April 11. 
The deadline for the Annan-brokered ceasefire arrived this morning at 6am. Reports regarding the outcome remain inconclusive - with some activists reporting a number of deaths and the eruption of gunfire, and other sources reporting relative calm.The continued presence of tanks and heavy artillery in urban areas across much of the country is undisputed. The Syrian government has stipulated that it reserves the right to respond to any violent attacks in kind. The first true test of the ceasefire will no doubt come tomorrow, when members of the opposition will likely take to the streets en masse. 
On Damascus 
"Syrian Troops Attack Damascus Suburb" - Associated Press - (Apr. 5) 
"Syria Steps Up Offensive Near Damascus" - The Wall Street Journal - (Apr. 6) 
On Hama 
"Activists: 53 Killed in Ongoing Syria Offensives" - Associated Press - (Apr. 7) 
On Idlib & Aleppo
"Syria's Idlib Province Says Violence Worsening" - Los Angeles Times - (Apr. 6) 
On the cross-border shootings 
"Turkey Accuses Syria of Firing Across Border" - The New York Times - (Apr. 9) 
"Tensions Mount As Syria Truce Seems Elusive" - The New York Times - (Apr. 10)
"Fresh Shots from Syria Hit Turkish Camp" - NOW Lebanon - (Apr. 11)
*For more on Turkey's response to the cross-border shootings, see "Security & Regional Stability" below.
TODAY: On status of ceasefire
Annan Peace Plan 
FSA agrees to honor truce
April 6: "The Free Syrian Army (FSA) met a delegation from peace envoy Kofi Annan this week and confirmed that their fighters will stop shooting if President Bashar al-Assad withdraws his tanks and troops to barracks before a ceasefire deadline next Thursday. Colonel Riad al-Asaad, the head of the FSA, told Reuters that representatives of Annan met leaders of the FSA and discussed Annan's plan for a troop withdrawal by April 10 and a ceasefire by April 12. 'Talks were held and the FSA said if the regime commits to the plan and withdraws from the cities and returns to its original barracks then we are committed to the plan,' he said. He refused to say where the meeting was held or to identify the delegations. He said 'It was held this week.'" Source - Reuters
Syrian Foreign Ministry clarifies government stance on ceasefire
April 8: "Foreign and Expatriates Ministry said that Syria agreed to the UN Envoy to Syria Kofi Annan's plan after he affirmed, during his meeting with President Bashar al-Assad, that his mission would be based on respecting Syria's sovereignty and pledged to work to stop all kinds of violence by all sides until disarming the armed groups to spread the state's control over all of its territories and start a comprehensive national dialogue with the Syrian opposition."
"In a statement on Sunday, Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Ministry Spokesman Dr. Makdessi said that Syria has undertaken steps to show good faith concerning Annan's plan and informed him of them, adding that Syria has drawn his attention to the escalation in violence by the armed terrorist groups as it announced agreement to Annan's mission."
"Makdessi added that Annan's speeches at the UN Security Council were interpreted that Syria has pledged to withdraw troops from cities on April 10th, affirming that it is a wrong interpretation, especially that Annan has not offered written guarantees to the Syrian government that the armed groups agreed to stop violence, nor has he offered guarantees that Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey will commit to stop funding and arming terrorist groups."
"The statement stressed that Syria won't repeat what happened during the Arab monitors' mission when it committed to pulling out troops from cities, which the armed groups used for reorganizing and arming their members and took over whole neighborhoods, which prompted the Syrian armed forces to interfere in response to appeals by citizens."
'''The Syrian Arab Republic is ready to continue cooperation with Mr. Annan to implement his plan and will inform him of the undertaken steps in the hope of obtaining the aforementioned guarantees,' the statement concluded." Source - SANA
"Lay Down Your Arms or No Deal, Says Syria" - The National - (Apr. 9) 
Syrian government demands 'written guarantees' from opposition
April 8: "Syria's government wants 'written guarantees' from the opposition before it withdraws its troops from flashpoints in parts of the country. Peace envoy Kofi Annan had not yet supplied agreements in writing from 'armed terrorist groups to stop violence in all its forms', it said. The statement comes two days before a UN-backed deadline for a ceasefire." 
"The leader of the rebel forces has refused to agree to Damascus's demands, the Associated Press reports. Colonel Riad al-Asaad, commander of the rebel Free Syrian Army, said his group did not recognise President Bashar al-Assad's government and therefore would not give guarantees. He told the AP by telephone that rebel soldiers would lay down their arms if the government in Damascus abided by Mr Annan's peace plan." Source - BBC
"Syrian Rebels Reject New Demands" - Al-Jazeera - (Apr. 9) 
Annan terms continuing violence 'unacceptable'
April 8: "International mediator Kofi Annan said on Sunday an 'unacceptable' escalation in violence in Syria violated guarantees made to him and called on Damascus to keep its promises to end the bloodshed. The special envoy for the United Nations and Arab League urged both Syrian forces and opposition fighters to halt all forms of violence by 6 a.m Damascus time (0300 GMT) on April 12, in line with his six-point peace plan agreed on March 27."
"'I am shocked by recent reports of a surge in violence and atrocities in several towns and villages in Syria, resulting in alarming levels of casualties, refugees and displaced persons, in violation of assurances given to me,' Annan said in a statement issued by his Geneva office."
"Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad shelled an area in the rebellious province of Idlib near the border with Turkey on Sunday, killing and injuring dozens of people, opposition activists said. Each side has accused the other of intensifying assaults in the run-up to the truce." Source - Reuters
Syria sets new conditions for ceasefire
April 10: "A proposed Syrian truce failed on Tuesday as government forces broke a cease-fire deadline but the United Nations' peace envoy effectively gave Damascus a two-day grace period until Thursday to comply. Diplomats said the development raised the specter of a deeper regional conflict along sectarian fault lines, with the Persian Gulf states supporting the mostly Sunni opposition and Iran backing the Alawite government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a Shiite offshoot. Syria's Foreign Minister introduced new preconditions to a United Nations endorsed peace plan casting a pall over hopes to resolve the crisis peacefully as Syrian forces continued to shell civilian neighborhoods.  Syria said it had withdrawn forces and it demanded a new precondition to the U.N.-brokered cease-fire that was scheduled to begin early Tuesday, saying it 'must be simultaneous' with the deployment of an international monitoring mission."
"The UN Security Council rejected the condition, which was the second change Syria proposed to the six-point plan it ratified last month calling for it to lay down its arms Tuesday and for the rebels to follow by Thursday. Syria also had asked for the rebels to provide written guarantees to lay down their arms." Source - The Wall Street Journal
Annan calls for end to violence within 48 hours
April 10: "International envoy Kofi Annan urged the Syrian government on Tuesday to withdraw its troops and halt all violence in 48 hours, saying its military operations and new conditions to implement his peace plan are putting a desperately needed ceasefire at risk. In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, obtained by The Associated Press, Annan said President Bashar Assad's government has not pulled troops and heavy military equipment out of cities and towns — as his six-point plan called for by Tuesday. Annan, the joint U.N. and Arab League envoy, said it is essential that the Syrian government 'seize the opportunity to make a fundamental change of course' in its military operations and halt all violence by 6 a.m. local time on April 12, the deadline set in his plan. 'It is essential that the next 48 hours bring visible signs of immediate and indisputable change in the military posture of the government forces throughout the country, as called upon by the six-point plan,' Annan said. In a letter read to council members Tuesday at a closed meeting, Annan said opposition members have indicated that they would observe a ceasefire 'provided Syrian forces withdraw from cities'...
"Annan said in a letter on April 8 that the Syrian government introduced new conditions for full implementation of the plan:
— "Written assurances that armed opposition groups are prepared to cease all violence."
— "Immediate disarmament of armed groups."
— "Commitment by regional countries that they would not finance or arm opposition groups."
Annan said these new 'ex-post facto requirements' were not part of the six-point plan the Assad government agreed to on March 25. 'This puts at risk the cessation of violence in all its forms that is so urgently needed and which must take place on April 12 at 6 a.m.' local time, he said…Annan sent a technical team to Damascus to discuss arrangements for the possible deployment of UN monitors for any cease-fire between Syrian troops and rebel forces. The team has been envisioning a deployment of some 200-250 unarmed monitors. Annan told the Security Council that 'progress on technical issues appeared to have been made but substantive differences emerged' and the team leader was returning to Geneva for consultations." Source - Yahoo
"Statement by the Local Coordination Committees in Syria: The Six-Point Plan"
April 10: "At the outset, the Local Coordination Committees in Syria (LCC) questioned the Syrian regime’s ability to implement Mr. Kofi Annan’s Six-Point Plan, despite our appreciation and support for any political effort that could stop the bloodshed of Syrians, ensure their inherent right to self-expression, and their right to freely and independently choose their form of government. The spokesperson of the Joint Command of the In-Country Free Syrian Army provided an explicit commitment to a cease-fire on the morning of April 10, 2012. Today is the deadline for the regime to commit to a cease-fire and withdraw its troops and military equipment from cities and towns.
"However, the criminal regime’s intentional non-compliance with the Six-Point Plan has been exposed: it has increased its direct military, security and shabiha deployments on the ground; it has increased the number and expansion of military operations in dozens of cities and towns, including the heart of the capital Damascus; the number of martyrs, prisoners, and refugees has risen; the regime has continued to implement such sadistic practices as rape, setting fire to the homes of activists, and indiscriminately bombing cities, towns, and villages with heavy weapons; the regime has also failed to enter into a political discourse and has suppressed the media.
"We in the LCC emphasize the need to implement the Plan’s key points: A specific timetable to deploy professional, neutral international observers who can move about and communicate independently of the Syrian regime’s will or resources, to observe and verify compliance with the Six-Point Plan. A specific timetable to apply all the terms of the Plan, with particular focus on the immediate implementation of measures to assure a cease-fire and the withdrawal of troops from neighborhoods, villages, towns, and cities; the return of displaced persons; the release of political detainees; full disclosure as to the fate of missing persons; a halt to the prosecution of wanted activists; and assurances that Syrians engaged in peaceful demonstration, assembly, or political expression will not be subjected to Syrian regime laws. A deadline to refer the Syrian case to the United Nations Security Council for consideration under Chapter VII of the UN Charter in the event that the regime fails to comply with the terms of the Plan.
"The corrupt criminal regime has used all previous political initiatives to buy time and impose hard realities on the ground by force. The United Nations’ and Arab League’s failure to rein in this regime and put an end to the killing, destruction, arson, and rape, is contributing to the deteriorating humanitarian situation and will likely result in this domestic conflict spilling beyond Syria’s borders." Source - Local Coordination Committees in Syria
Kofi Annan calls on Iran to help resolve Syria crisis
April 11: "Special envoy Kofi Annan said Wednesday in Tehran that Iran could help solve the crisis in Syria, where activists reported fresh violence as a cease-fire deadline approached. Iran is one of Syria's strongest allies, and Annan went there to bolster support for his faltering plan to stop the country's year-old slide toward civil war. 'Iran, given its special relations with Syria, can be part of the solution,"'Annan said during a news conference with Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. 'The geopolitical location of Syria is such that any miscalculation and error can have unimaginable consequences.'" Source - Chicago Sun-Times
International Human Rights Groups 
Human Rights Watch 
"Syria: Extrajudicial Executions - Security Council Sanctions, ICC Referral Needed"
April 9: "Syrian security forces summarily executed over 100 – and possibly many more – civilians and wounded or captured opposition fighters during recent attacks on cities and towns, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The 25-page report, 'In Cold Blood: Summary Executions by Syrian Security Forces and Pro-Government Militias,' documents more than a dozen incidents involving at least 101 victims since late 2011, many of them in March 2012. Human Rights Watch documented the involvement of Syrian forces and pro-government shabeeha militias in summary and extrajudicial executions in the governorates of Idlib and Homs. Government and pro-government forces not only executed opposition fighters they had captured, or who had otherwise stopped fighting and posed no threat, but also civilians who likewise posed no threat to the security forces..."
"Human Rights Watch called on the UN Security Council to ensure that any UN mission mandated to supervise the six-point plan brokered by the UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan would be in a position to document such crimes. This would be best achieved by sending, alongside military observers, properly equipped human rights monitors able to safely and independently interview victims of human rights abuses, while protecting them from retaliation." Source - Human Rights Watch
Security & Regional Stability 
Syrian Refugees
"How Many Refugees From the Assad Regime Are There? Try 500,000"
The following is one estimation of the total number of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons resulting from the current crisis. Note it is an estimation that has not been confirmed.
April 6: "The Assad regime has, according to the United Nations, now killed over 9,000 of its citizens.  How many have fled the country since the revolt against Assad began last year? The answer is 42,000, says the BBC or 50,000, says the U.S. State Department." 
"These figures are ridiculously low.  According to one report, “In Jordan…local officials have put the number of incoming refugees at approximately 90,000, while UNHCR has only registered about nine thousand.” Similarly, UNHCR says “In Turkey, about 17,000 Syrians are registered with the government” and CNN says  “More than 23,000 Syrian refugees now reside in Turkey,” but others report one single refugee camp already holds 22,000.  Indeed 2,350 Syrians fled to Turkey in one day this week."
"Then there is Lebanon, where there are more than 16,000 refugees registered with UNHCR but the totals are almost certainly several multiples of that number. If the figure of 90,000 for Jordan is correct, one can add what must be a similar number for Lebanon and a larger one for Turkey.  There are, probably, a quarter of a million refugees from Syria—and then of course there are the people UNHCR does not count, those who are internally displaced: refugees within their own country.  That number has been estimated at 200,000."
"It’s fair, then, to say that the Assad regime’s attacks against the people of Syria have already displaced nearly a half million people, and perhaps far more.  On February 23rd, Secretary of State Clinton said of the violence in Syria that “World opinion is not going to stand idly by.”  As the numbers of people killed, internally displaced, and forced to flee their country grow by the thousands each week–indeed each day–she may wish to withdraw her statement." Source - Council on Foreign Relations
Flood of Syrian refugees into Turkey
April 5: "More than 1,600 Syrians fled to Turkey in the last two days, pushing the number sheltering on Turkish soil from the fighting in their homeland to more than 20,000, Turkey's disaster and emergency management authority said on Thursday. The increased flow of refugees coincided with reports from activists of increased fighting around the Syrian towns of Idlib and Azaz. The numbers fleeing were the highest since March 15 when around 1,000 Syrians entered Turkey in one day. Since then, around 300 to 400 Syrians have fled each day. Turkish leaders have said a flood of refugees or massacres of civilians by Syrian government troops on its border could force it to act to prevent a humanitarian disaster...The total number in Turkey is now 21,285." - Source - Reuters
Turkey calls upon UN for help with refugee crisis
Friday 6: "Turkey has urged the UN to send officials to its border after several thousand refugees crossed from Syria to escape a bloody government attack with troops and helicopters. Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, called the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, at 2am on Friday to discuss the unprecedented exodus and humanitarian situation. Ban later issued a statement criticising the Syrian government for its latest attacks on civilians and demanded that it keep a pledge to halt all military operations." Source - The Guardian
"Turkey Says 2,800 Flee Syria in One Day" - Today's Zaman - (Apr. 5)
"Syrians Fleeing to Turkey are Stuck in Dreary Limbo" - The Chicago Tribune - (Apr. 8) 
"Syrian Refugees in Turkey" - Jadaliyya - (Apr. 11) 
Syrian refugees in Jordan exceed 90,000
April 10: "With the escalation of bloodshed in Syria since the beginning of this year, more and more Syrians are fleeing their country and crossing — legally and illegally — the southern borders to Jordan. So far, Jordan has received more than 90,000 Syrians, according to officials.
Their increasing numbers have received growing attention from both local and international relief and charity organisations that are working on meeting their humanitarian needs, which range from providing food items, to paying for their accommodation and their children's schooling.
While it is difficult to have a precise figure of Syrians seeking shelter in Jordan, different parties give varying figures."
"Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh announced recently that the number of Syrians who crossed to Jordan, both legally and illegally, has passed 90,000 since the eruption of the violence in Syria more than a year ago. Nearly 7,000 of them registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and two thousand more await registration. Among the Syrians crossing the border, nearly 15,000 "guests" registered with the national Red Crescent Society (IFRC). They live 'in all Jordanian governorates, even in Ma'an, which is some 220km south of Amman,' Mohammad Tarifi, head of public and media relations at IFRC, told Gulf News…"
"Earlier this month, the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) granted Jordan $1 million (Dh3.67 million) to help the country provide schooling for thousands of Syrian children." Source - Gulf News
Cross-border shootings - Turkish security concerns 
Erdogan terms cross-border shootings 'very clear violation of the border' 
April 10: "Shots fired from Syria at a Syrian refugee camp inside Turkey are a "clear violation" of the common border between the two countries, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday. 'It was a very clear violation of the border,' Erdogan told reporters in Beijing, where he is on an official visit. 'Obviously we will take the necessary measures,' he was quoted as saying by the Turkish news agency Anatolia." Source - Hindustan Times
Turkey moves forward with consideration of buffer zone, possible deployment of soldiers to Syria
"Turkish soldiers may establish buffer zones in Syria by the end of the month to protect civilians, Milliyet newspaper reported, citing interviews with unidentified officials. Turkish soldiers could establish protective zones and humanitarian corridors in Syria after April 10 should the number of refugees in Turkey double to about 50,000 from about 25,000 now, the Istanbul-based newspaper said. The decision to enter Syria may be taken on security grounds without the approval of the United Nations, the paper said citing the Turkish officials. US senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman are expected to meet President Abdullah Gul today in Istanbul, and may also travel to refugee camps near Turkey’s border with Syria, Milliyet said. The plans are part of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s vow that Turkey will take additional steps should Syrian President Bashar al-Assad not abide by an April 10 deadline agreed with the United Nations for a cease-fire, Milliyet said." Source - Bloomberg
April 10: "The Turkish PM has warned that Turkey may use military force to set up a buffer zone within Syrian territory if Assad forces Turkey to take that step. His warning came on the heels of Monday's shooting by Syrian forces into a Turkish camp near the border that killed at least two Syrians. The Turkish initiative came after the cease-fire deal hammered out by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan failed to bring any resolution to the bloodshed in Syria, with Assad making new demands from the opposition over the weekend.
"On an official visit to China, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he thought the Security Council should present a new package on Syria at this stage. 'For that to happen, the necessary meetings are going to be held. We will demand that they [UNSC members] take whatever steps they ought to under these circumstances,' he told reporters traveling with him in Beijing. He predicted that Syria would become more isolated.
"Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who accompanied Erdoğan on the visit to China, cut short his trip and returned to Turkey on Tuesday. This was in response to mounting tensions with Syria, after Syrian forces fired across the border at a refugee camp in Turkey on Monday. Davutoğlu also spoke on the phone with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Monday on the eve of Lavrov's meeting in Moscow with visiting Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem.
"Before departing for Turkey, Davutoğlu also spoke with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and his counterparts from three other UN Security Council member nations. Davutoğlu told Clinton that the latest developments on the Turkish-Syrian border were worrying, the Anatolia news agency reported. Erdoğan announced while in China that Davutoğlu may attend the G8 Foreign Ministers meeting to be held in Washington on April 12 to lobby on Syria…Recalling that Turkey hosted the 83-member Friends of Syria group of countries meeting last month, Erdoğan also mentioned that the group can jointly appeal to the UN to stop the violence in Syria. 'By working on these [plans], we will ask the UN to intervene [in the Syrian crisis], because the main responsibility here lies with the UN,' he explained...
"In a change to his planned schedule, Erdoğan decided on Tuesday to fly to Riyadh directly from China to have talks with Saudi officials when his visit to China ends. Turkey and Saudi Arabia, two Sunni heavyweights in the Middle East, have both taken strong positions against Assad and demanded that he leave power. After wrapping up his visit in China, Erdoğan will fly to Saudi Arabia on Thursday to have a meeting with King Abdullah in Riyadh at the end of the week. Erdoğan is expected to press the king about Arab countries taking the lead in coordinated international measures against Assad." Source - Today's Zaman
Turkey considering invoking NATO Article 5 over Syrian cross-border fire
April 11: "In a statement that may be interpreted as the harshest response yet to the escalating 13-month-old Syrian crisis, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for the first time on Wednesday raised the possibility of calling on the NATO military alliance to protect Turkey's border against incursions by Syrian forces. Speaking to reporters travelling with him during his official visit to China, Erdoğan said Turkey may consider invoking NATO's fifth article to protect Turkish national security in the face of increasing tension along the Syrian border. His comments came after four Syrians who fled to Turkey from the violence in Syria were killed by Syrian forces targeting refugees on the Turkish side of the border on Monday.
“'NATO has a responsibility to protect Turkish borders,' said Erdoğan, signaling that Turkey may officially ask NATO members to apply Article 5 of the NATO Charter, which says that an attack on any member shall be considered to be an attack on all, if the situation in Syria becomes a serious enough threat to Turkish national security...
"Erdoğan stated that Turkey would closely follow the developments in Syria. 'Turkey’s sensitivities are clear on the Syrian issue. We will follow the Syrian situation closely at the United Nations,' he said." Source - Today's Zaman
"Syria's Violence Without Borders" - Foreign Policy - (Apr. 9) 
"Shifting Toward Close Combat with Syria" - Hurriyet Daily News - (Apr. 10)
"1998 Adana Accord as Turkey’s Gateway to Syria" - Arab Saga Blogspot - (Apr. 10) 
Saudi Arabia 
Saudis deny arming Syrian opposition
April 10: "Saudi Arabia has never given 'one single arm' to Syrian opposition fighters, a senior Saudi told Al Arabiya, responding to calls by the Syrian government for the kingdom, Qatar and Turkey to refrain from arming the opposition. 'The Kingdom does not work in the shadow; it works within legitimate frameworks and not unilaterally. Saudi Arabia is keen on taking steps within the Gulf Cooperation Council or the Arab League,' said the source who asked to remain anonymous. 'Everyone has to understand that the crisis is not a Saudi-Syria crisis; it is important that everyone understands this.'"
"In a joint conference with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said it was a 'duty' to arm the Syrian opposition and help them defend themselves against the daily bloody crackdown by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. 'The arming of the opposition is a duty, I think, because it cannot defend itself except with weapons,' Faisal said during a joint news conference with Clinton."
"The Saudi source said there is a difference between calling for the opposition to be armed so that it can protect civilians and actually arming them. Saudi Arabia calls for arming members of the Syrian Free Army, but it never gave them weapons, the source said." Source - Al-Arabiya
International Politics & Diplomacy 
United States
"A Message from Ambassador Ford"
April 6: "On April 5, the United Nations Security Council unanimously issued a Presidential Statement supporting the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and League of Arab States Kofi Annan’s six-point proposal.  This proposal call for an immediate end to all violence and human rights violations, securing humanitarian access and facilitating a Syrian-led political transition leading to a democratic, plural political system, in which citizens are equal regardless of their affiliations, ethnicities or beliefs, including through commencing a comprehensive political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition. It also calls upon the Syrian government to remove its troops, including the Shabiha, and heavy weapons from their locations around cities no later than April 10, 2012. The Asad regime committed itself to this proposal on March 25, 2012."  
"The United States and the Friends of Syria are closely monitoring whether these required actions are occurring or not.  We have seen media reports from the Asad regime that it has started to remove soldiers and equipment away from Syrian cities and civilian areas.  We are providing some images to illustrate our conclusions at this point." 
"We know from our satellites that there are some locales where the Syrian government did remove some forces, such as Da’el in Daraa province and Taftanaz in Idlib, following several days of assaults against the towns. In the case of Taftanaz , the Syrian government simply moved some armored vehicles out of Taftanaz to the nearby town of Zirdana. In some other places, such as Homs and Zabadani, the Syrian government kept artillery units near residential areas where they could again fire upon them." 
"According to media reports and Syrian activists, on April 5 and April 6 Syrian forces used artillery against residential areas in Zabadani and Homs and Aazaz in Idlib, and there were arrest sweeps in other locations, including suburbs of Damascus.  And we understand there has been a big increase in the numbers of Syrians seeking refuge in Turkey because of military operations in their neighborhoods.  This is not the reduction in offensive Syrian government security operations that all agree must be the first step for the Annan initiative to succeed."  
"International journalists are unable to legally enter the country to independently verify such reports.  If the Asad regime is keeping its promises based on the Annan proposal, it should allow international journalists to freely enter the country to verify.  In their absence, US and other governments have other means, including the satellites that took these images, of verifying the regime's compliance or lack thereof.  The regime and the Syrian people should know that we are watching.  The regime cannot hide the truth.  We strongly urge the Asad regime to allow the UN compliance team, an effective and independent means of verification, to have full and unfettered access throughout Syria to investigate the regime’s compliance.
Source - US Embassy Damascus - Facebook - See the source for all corresponding satellite imagery.*
More on US satellite imagery 
"No Claims of Ignorance Please" - iWatch News - By R. Jeffrey Smith. Excerpt: "In 2012, the public picture of what’s happening in Syria — where 9,000 people have been killed so far, according to the UN — literally looks different, due to an unusual agreement brokered by White House aides between the intelligence community and the State Department. For more than a month, US intelligence analysts have been declassifying satellite photos depicting the movement of Syrian armor and the destruction of Syrian villages so the department’s Human Rights Bureau can plaster them on its website. The photos do not depict atrocities, but they convincingly show the massing of Syrian armor and some of the damage caused by the shelling that government forces have made a hallmark of their military campaign against the rebellion. Several display damage to a mosque, school, medical clinic and other buildings in Homs…"
US Senators meet with Free Syrian Army
April 10: "Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) are on a surprise trip to the Turkish-Syrian border to meet with leaders of the Free Syria Army and visit Syrian refugees, who have been under attack by Syrian government forces. The senators' trip was not associated with the efforts of UN envoy Kofi Annan, whose cease-fire agreement seems to have failed to stop the violence. McCain and Lieberman said in a statement that Syrian President Bashar al Assad has violated the terms of Anann's cease-fire and that the only practical way forward is to arm the Syrian opposition.
"'We respect Mr. Annan's desire to find an end to the killing in Syria. Unfortunately, Bashar al-Assad does not share this goal. That fact has been clear to many of us for months, but it should now be undeniable for everyone,' the senators said. 'Indeed, reports indicate that Assad has used the time provided by the recent diplomatic initiative to kill up to 1,000 additional men, women, and children in Syria. And just yesterday, Syrian forces fired across the border with Turkey, killing and wounding people in a refugee camp on Turkish territory.'
"McCain and Lieberman were in Hatay province Tuesday and met with the leaders of the Free Syrian Army, General Mustafa al-Sheikh and Colonel Riad al-Asaad. They also toured a refugee camp and met Syrians who had recently arrived from across the border. They are the first members of Congress to meet the FSA leaders and to visit the border, and the senior-most US officials to do so." Source - Foreign Policy
France terms Syria's claim of adherence to peace plan 'flagrant lie'
April 10: "France said on Tuesday that Syria was not implementing a UN and Arab League-backed peace plan after Damascus said it had started pulling troops out of certain provinces. The Syrian claim was 'a new expression of a flagrant and unacceptable lie' that 'shows a degree of impunity against which the international community absolutely must act,' foreign ministry spokesperson Bernard Valero said. Valero said the issue would be discussed at the UN Security Council in New York and by foreign ministers of the Group of Eight (G8) major economies when they meet this week in Washington." Source - NOW Lebanon
United Kingdom
Statement by UK Foreign Secretary on Syria violence, ceasefire
April 10: "On 1 April the Assad regime made a firm commitment to UN/Arab League Envoy Kofi Annan to cease troop movements towards population centres; stop the use of heavy weapons; withdraw forces from urban areas in Syria by April 10th and to start a political transition. Since then, the regime has used this deadline as a cover for intensified military efforts to crush Syria’s opposition. They have ruthlessly subjected whole communities to an inhumane campaign of shelling, forced expulsions and executions. They have attempted to attach unacceptable eleventh-hour conditions to a ceasefire agreement as a pretext for continuing the violence. And the regime has violated the sovereignty of Turkey and Lebanon, firing over Syria’s borders at people desperately seeking to find refuge from the regime’s onslaught.
“There is no evidence so far that the Assad regime has any intention of adhering to any agreement it makes. This morning I discussed the situation with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and later today I will have discussions with Kofi Annan about the way forward. We continue to support Kofi Annan’s efforts to implement the plan he set out. But if this process fails Britain is ready to return to the UN Security Council to call again for a united international response to this clear threat to international peace and security.
“We will be ready to intensify our support for the Syrian Opposition, and to support others seeking to do the same. And we will begin the process of seeking the referral by the Security Council of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.
“President Assad and his closest cronies should be under no doubt that they will be held to account for their actions. All those with influence over the Syrian leadership, including Russia, have a duty to back efforts to stop the violence and to isolate a regime which is as doomed as it is dangerous to the Syrian people.” Source - UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office
Political Commentary
Evaluating the way forward
"An Arab War-Crimes Court for Syria" - The New York Times - By Aryeh Neier. Excerpt: "Syria is not a party to the treaty for the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and Russia and China would most likely use their veto power to block any United Nations Security Council effort to refer the case to the court. To overcome such obstructionism, another innovation is required: an Arab League tribunal to deal with the crimes against humanity that are taking place in Syria. Such a tribunal could have Arab judges, Arab prosecutors, Arab investigators and Arab defense attorneys and conduct its proceedings in Arabic. The Arab League could give it jurisdiction over crimes against humanity and war crimes as the treaty for the International Criminal Court defines them. And such a court should have jurisdiction over all crimes, including those committed by rebels. It is essential to uphold the principle that, no matter the justice of the cause or the crimes committed by one’s opponents, all must be held to the same standards."
"The Options in Syria" - Foreign Policy - By Bruce Jones. Excerpt: "The April 10 deadline for Syrian forces to withdraw from major cities set by Kofi Annan, the United Nations and Arab League special envoy for Syria, appears to have come and gone with little change on the ground. Thursday's deadline for a complete ceasefire looks set to pass as well. For now, Annan rightly insists the plan is still on the table. But Syria's last best chance for a diplomatic solution is dying…if diplomacy irrevocably fails in the next few days, then no one can credibly argue that all other options were not exhausted before more forceful measures are used. What might those measures be? …" 
"To Stop the Killing, Deal With Assad" - The New York Times - By Asli U. Bali and Aziz F. Rana. Excerpt: "In the wake of the recent Friends of Syria conference, the United States and Middle Eastern powers that include Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are stepping up aid to armed resistance groups in Syria. Under American leadership, the conference pledged $100 million to provide salary payments to rebel fighters. Whatever the humanitarian intentions, this strategy, along with discussions of 'safe zones' and 'nonlethal aid,' is misguided at best, and counterproductive at worst. For all the talk about safeguarding civilians, the proposals are far more likely to escalate violence than to reduce civilian casualties…Ultimately, the best way to reduce violence is to pursue negotiations for a political transition that would include rather than explicitly threaten the Assad government. Given the mortal fears of communities on each side of the conflict, the first goal has to be making clear that all groups have a future in a new Syria."
On intervention & projections of the outcome of the revolution
"The Weight of Syria's Violence Will Inevitably Topple Assad" - The National - By Hassan Hassan. "What constitutes "victory" in this context? As long as the Baathist regime faces a serious challenge to its rule, it can never win…It is not enough for Mr Al Assad to simply survive. He must stay in power, restore calm and then rule unchallenged as he once did. And that is not possible. Nearly 10,000 people have been killed - that is, thousands of families had a member who has been killed. Tens of thousands have been displaced or become refugees in other countries. More than 40,000 people have been jailed, many of whom have been tortured. And every day, more Syrians are openly defying the regime through activism inside the country and abroad. Toppling the Baathist regime has simply become a just cause."
"A Ticking Clock on Syria" - Los Angeles Times - By Doyle McManus. "…there's one big difference between the situation in Bosnia and that in Syria: This time, the clock is moving faster. Although the Obama administration still hopes to avoid military intervention in Syria and is publicly backing a UN effort to broker a cease-fire this week, it has also stepped deliberately onto a slippery slope that is likely to lead to more intervention. Unlike with Bosnia, where the United States and its allies initially sought to be neutral in a civil war, this time the US has already chosen a side: It has called on Syria's dictator, Bashar Assad, to step down, and it has embraced the opposition Syrian National Council…Eventually…the question of military intervention will change from if to when."
"White House to Syrian Rebels: You're On Your Own" - US News - By John T. Bennett. Excerpt: "The Obama administration has made clear in closed-door meetings that it will not take additional measures to aid Syrian rebels, even as Bashir al-Assad escalates an already bloody civil conflict…"
Assessing Annan's strategy 
"Syria Needs Jaw-Jaw, Not More War-War" - Financial Times - By Mark Malloch-Brown. Excerpt: "Mr Annan…has been criticised for not making Mr Assad’s departure an explicit condition of his proposals. However, whether with Saddam Hussein in Iraq, or Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, he has seen that if a demand for a dictator to step down is a pre-condition for negotiations, this makes diplomacy impossible. What leader signs his political death warrant before the bargaining starts? However, once around a negotiating table, an opposition in a situation such as Syria can move the agenda to that point because even a government’s supporters will recognise their interest will be better served by the departure of a leader with this much blood on his hands."
"It's Time to Add Syria to Kofi Annan's Long List of Failures" - The New Republic - By Jonathan Schanzer and Claudia Rosett. Excerpt: "It should have raised red flags when both Syria and Russia approved of Kofi Annan’s February 23 appointment as the United Nations-Arab League Joint Special Envoy (JSE) to Syria…Certainly the Ghana-born Annan comes loaded with credentials: former UN secretary general, winner of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, and recipient of a host of other awards, positions, and honorary degrees. But a closer look at Annan’s record reveals that he has often exacerbated crises, rather than solving them. We can now add Syria to this list..."
"President Assad’s Latest Bluff" - The New York Times - By the NYT Editorial Board. Excerpt: "The international community’s latest attempt to stop President Bashar al-Assad’s reign of terror in Syria is failing. Instead of abiding by a commitment to a cease-fire negotiated with the United Nations, he has kept his killing machine rolling, raising the death toll to an estimated 9,000 Syrians in the year since the start of the uprising.The events of the past few days should compel the United Nations Security Council to take tough and unified action against Mr. Assad and his forces. That means that Russia and China, which previously vetoed substantive council resolutions, must stop protecting his brutal regime."
"Kofi Annan's 'Last Chance' Syria Plan is Going to End in Humiliation and Bloodshed" - The Telegraph - By Michael Weiss. Excerpt: "Six am, April the 12th – this Thursday – is the deadline that Kofi Annan has given for a full cessation of all violence in Syria. That would make 6:15am a fine time for him to resign as UN special envoy and do the world a favour by acknowledging that his diplomatic mission has been a failure in a career that now stands defined by them…" 
"Why Did Anyone Believe Bashar al-Assad’s Promises of a Ceasefire to Begin With?" - The New Republic - By Radwan Ziadeh. Excerpt: "The only real surprise about the six-point peace plan for Syria put forward by United Nations envoy Kofi Annan is why it took until yesterday, the eve of its proposed ceasefire, for the world to declare it a failure. Reacting to the latest violence throughout Syria on Monday, US State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Washington is 'not hopeful' that Tuesday would see a cessation of hostilities. But any such hope was naïve to begin with."
"Abandon Annan" - NOW Lebanon - By Hanin Ghaddar. Excerpt: "We don’t have to wait to see if Annan’s plan is going to work or not; the regime has sent a number of clear messages in the past few days. Assad will not stop his killing machine. Nor will the Syrian people stop protesting. The international community has exhausted all diplomatic efforts, and something needs to be done quickly."
On civil disobedience & nonviolent opposition
"Syria's Peaceful Protesters March On" - Global Post - Excerpt: "Outside Syria, the story of the uprising has become the bombs and bullets, the armed insurgents against the ruthless regime, the fractious exiled opposition and the endless merry-go-round of dead-end diplomacy. But as night falls across the northeast suburbs of Damascus, Samir, Abu Rami and Mona prepare to do what they’ve been doing since the start: protesting peacefully for freedom…" 
"Syria: Activist Rima Dali Arrested in Damascus for Calling for End to Killing" - Global Voices Online - By Leila Nachawati Rego. Excerpt: “'Stop the killing. We want to build a Syria for all Syrians.' These were the words on the banner that Rima Dali held in front of the Syrian Parliament in Damascus on Sunday, April 8. Activists say she was arrested right after that. The following video shows Rima bravely holding the banner in front of cars while a group of women applaude her gesture."
"Syria: The Virtue of Civil Disobedience" - Al-Jazeera - By Donatella Della Ratta. Excerpt: "Something is happening in Syria, away from the media spotlight. Last March 27, when Damascus woke up, the independence flag - symbol of the Syrian revolution -  was raised in different districts, from Berzeh to Mezzeh, from school walls to bridges. Civil disobedience groups had successfully managed to coordinate the biggest anti-regime protests conducted simultaneously in different parts of the Syrian capital…many people - who at the beginning would stay at home - are now helping the non-violent activists, providing logistical support, coordination, even actively joining the civil disobedience. Incidents of burning tyres blocking traffic in the middle of roads have been mushrooming in the past months, especially in Damascus…"
"Syrian Exiles Produce Content for Internet Radio" - Storify/National Public Radio - Syrian exiles establish internet radio stations and broadcast around the day about events inside Syria. Most reports are generated by citizen journalists. For original National Public Radio report, click here.
On internal & regional sectarianism, fears of extremism  & radicalisation 
BBC World Service on Syria & Regional Sectarian Dynamics - BBC - Reportage by Barbara Plett. Exceptional coverage of complex regional sectarian dynamics and the manner in which they are influenced by the crisis in Syria. Recommended. 
"Syria Unrest Widens Sunni-Shiite Divide" - AFP/Ahram Online  - Excerpt "How to respond to the violence in Syria has split the Arab world. Influential Sunni-ruled Gulf states Saudi Arabia and Qatar want to arm the Syrian rebels and Shiite-majority Iraq opposes the move. The Middle East is seeing 'tension and regional escalation' - part of it between Iran and Gulf Arab states - 'and another part sectarian, and they are intertwined with each other,' said Paul Salem, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center. 'The situation in Syria is fueling the Arab division,' Salem said…"
"In One of Turkey's Most Religiously Diverse Provinces, Close Ties with Syria Fuel Support for Assad Regime" - Public Radio International - Excerpt: "In Turkey, the civil strife in Syria has meant refugees streaming across the border. In mostly-Muslim Turkey, most Turks are staunchly on the side of the Sunni Muslims trying to overthrow Assad rule. But in Hatay province, a former Syrian province and one of the most diverse provinces in the country, more people support Assad, perhaps than anywhere outside of Syria…"
"Turkey's Shiites Fear Contagion" - The Wall Street Journal - By Ayla Albayrak and Joe Parkinson. Excerpt: "The events [in Syria] have raised concern that Syria's sectarian conflict could drive a wedge between Turkey's Sunni majority and the country's Shiite sects. As record numbers of Syrian refugees have poured into Turkey in recent days, fleeing attacks from pro-government forces ahead of Tuesday's United Nations-backed cease-fire deadline, the spectre of sectarian tensions also has stoked fears that this border city could see a replay of the violence that left hundreds dead in the region in the aftermath of a 1980 military coup."
"Syrian Opposition Wary of Jihadist Push" - The Financial Times - By Abigail Fielding-Smith, Roula Khalaf, and Michael Peel. Excerpt: As Syria’s crisis has shifted from peaceful demonstrations to unseat Bashar al-Assad to a more militarised conflict involving thousands of low-ranking defected soldiers and ordinary men who have taken up arms, it has raised the enthusiasm of jihadis for what they see as a potentially new battlefront."
"Secrets from Jisr Al-Shughour: Was this Syria's Point of no Return?" - Majalla - By Andrea Gliotti. Excerpt: "Eleven months ago, the Syrian opposition resorted to armed resistance whilst it endeavored to preserve its peaceful image. This was an attempt to gain international support and contradict the narrative of President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, which focused on the threat of armed insurgency. Unfortunately, the result has been counterproductive, as it has tarnished the opposition’s credibility and nurtured doubts in those who view the opposition as a nebulous movement. At the same time, it would be unfair to criticize the opposition exclusively. It could be said that the main responsibility for the increased militarization and sectarian trends of violence lies with the regime’s brutality. What happened in Jisr Al-Shughour?"
"Syria’s Phase of Radicalisation" - International Crisis Group - Recommended. Excerpt: "Full and timely implementation of Annan’s plan almost surely was never in the cards. But that is not a reason to give up on diplomacy in general or the Annan mission in particular. The priority at this stage must be to prevent the conflict’s further, dangerous and irreversible deterioration. In the absence of a realistic, workable alternative, the best chance to achieve that is still to build on aspects of the envoy’s initiative and achieve broad international consensus around a detailed roadmap. One of the more disturbing aspects of the recent escalation is that it has not elicited a dramatic response from any key player, making it likely that things will only get worse. The regime has long been locked in a vicious cycle, heightening repression in response to the radicalisation of the popular movement that regime repression was instrumental in bringing about in the first place. The opposition is deeply polarised, between those who harbour the largely illusory hope that the regime will abandon its elusive quest for a “security solution” and those who – by calling to arm rebels on the ground and lobbying for international military intervention – essentially aspire to a 'security solution' of their own…As the crossing of ever more alarming thresholds suggests, this is not a static stalemate but a conflict in perpetual motion and moving in ever more dangerous ways. Whether regime elements or armed opposition groups are to blame for any particular bomb attack or civilian massacre is an essentially futile debate. The fact is that the regime’s behaviour has fuelled extremists on both sides and, by allowing the country’s slide into chaos, provided them space to move in and operate. Its security services are likely to do everything in their power to tarnish and vilify the opposition – and the opposition to do whatever it can to avenge the unbearable violence to which it has been subjected. As a result, conditions have been created in which extreme forms of violence may well become routine. In turn, this will further empower the most radical elements on all sides, justifying the worst forms of regime brutality and prompting appalling retaliation in response. Should such trends continue, the conflict’s current death toll – already in the thousands – likely will appear modest in hindsight."
On Syrian and Turkish Kurds, government strategy, & inclusion in the opposition
"How Bashar Assad Has Come Between the Kurds of Turkey and Syria" - TIME - By Piotr Zalewski. Excerpt: "To most residents of Nusaybin [Turkey], the organization [PKK] is a champion of Kurdish rights, a symbol of resistance to decades of assimilationist politics and oppression at the hands of the Turkish state. However, to many of their cousins across the border, the group, whatever its record in Turkey, has become something else — one of the Assad regime's allies, if not an actual agent in the repression of antiregime sentiment among the Kurds of Syria…the PKK and Damascus, united by their hostility toward Turkey, have been engaged in 'tactical cooperation.' The PKK, according to the report, has helped the regime put down protests in Kurdish areas of Syria by 'silencing other anti-regime opposition groups through violence'…The PYD, the PKK's Syrian offshoot, has vehemently denied reports of collusion with Assad." 
"How Kurdish PKK Militants Are Exploiting the Crisis in Syria to Achieve Regional Autonomy" - Jamestown - By Emrullah Uslu. Excerpt: "Instability in Syria has rapidly altered the regional geopolitics of the PKK. Syria’s Alawite regime initially hoped that the PKK would keep the Kurdish region calm, enabling the regime to turn its attention exclusively to the Sunni Arab opposition without a repeat of the Kurdish unrest of 2004 and 2005 in the Syrian district of al-Qamishli. Talks between the regime and the opposition failed and President Assad began seeking an authority to keep the Kurds under control. Under these circumstances the PKK emerged as a viable option…"
"Syrian National Council Writes New Document Inclusive of Kurds" - Al-Hayat/Al-Monitor - By Farouk Hajji Mustafa. Translated by Sami-Joe Abboud. Excerpt: "Syrian Kurdish representatives walked out of the recent 'Friends of Syria' conference in Istanbul feeling 'marginalized and excluded.' The SNC responded by drafting a new document which makes significantly more room for local autonomy and acknowledges Kurdish identity — an important step, writes Farouk Hajji Mustafa."
On Palestinians - instability in Lebanon, oppression in Syria
"Syria War Triggers Rifts in Palestinian Camps in Lebanon" - The New York Times - By Josh Wood. Excerpt: "As Syria’s yearlong conflict has heightened tensions in neighboring Lebanon between groups loyal or hostile to the Syrian regime, discord and factional infighting in Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps have added to the country’s instability."
"Not In My Name: The Syrian Uprising Through Palestinian Eyes" - Dima's Leaves - By Budour Hassan. Recommended. Excerpt: "Palestinians have been struggling for over six decades against an expansionist settler-colonial military occupation erected upon physical and psychological walls, separation fences, and military checkpoints, maintained by the lethal combination of the military-industrial complex and deeply-entrenched institutional racism that penetrates the whole of society. Syrians are fighting a fascist, totalitarian ruling elite that has turned Syria into a private property of the Assad clan and their beneficiaries. That elite class, under Assad's dominating influence, has acted exactly like an occupation force with a similar lack of legitimacy….However, despite these aforementioned differences, the wound of Syrians and Palestinians is one; our demands are the same – dignity, freedom and justice – and we both have to fight our battle on our own as the world stands by meekly." 
On Syria's Muslim Brotherhood
"Syrian Muslim Brotherhood: We Will Establish a Democratic, Civil, Egalitarian State once Assad Is Ousted" - The Middle East Media Research Institute - Summary: "On March 25, 2012, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) published a document titled 'A Pledge and Charter by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood,' which details the movement's views regarding the character of post-Assad Syria. In the document, the movement committed to strive for a modern civil state with a civil constitution and a parliamentary republican regime, chosen in free elections; a state that practices civil, religious, denominational, and gender equality and in which every citizen has the right to reach the highest positions; and a state based on dialogue, partnership, commitment to human rights, and combating terrorism, which will become a source of regional stability."
"The Muslim Brotherhood" - Syria Comment - Joshua Landis comments on the above MB document, and publishes a number of questions from his readers on his previous analysis of the MB's statement. 
On arming the opposition 
"Gulf States Warned Against Arming Syria Rebels" - The Guardian - By Ian Black and Julian Borger. Excerpt: "Fears that the wealthy Gulf states are preparing to implement a decision to equip the armed opposition to Assad have prompted warnings about the danger of exacerbating violence that has already cost 10,000 dead in the last year…"
"A Syrian Rebel commander Bemoans Lack of International Aid" - McClatchy - Excerpt: "After spending six and a half months in northern Syria commanding a ragtag local resistance force, whose small arms and homemade bombs are no match for the army's tanks, artillery and militia, Abdullah Awdeh crossed the border into Turkey late last month in search of aid…"
"The Free Syrian Army: A Military Assessment" - Washington Institute for Near East Policy - Video featuring presentations by Jeffrey White and Andrew Exum.
"Syria Rebels 'Rebound' - But Will Arming Them Spark Civil Slaughter?" - aol Defense - By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. Excerpt: "Libya or Iraq -- which path will Syria follow? The rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army have weathered a brutal crackdown and begun a rebound against the regime. Now the question is whether or not to arm them. Some analysts argue it's the only way to keep up the pressure on the government of Bashar al-Assad until it cracks, like Muammar Gaddhafi's did in Libya. Others fear that further escalation by the overwhelmingly Sunni rebels will frighten Alawites, Christians, and other minorities into rallying behind the Alawite Assad, sending Syria towards a sectarian war of massacres like Iraq's…" 
On members of the opposition
"George Sabra: A Man for All Seasons?" - Syria In Transition - By Malik Al-Abdeh. Excerpt: "George Sabra is being increasingly touted as a future leader of the Syrian opposition, and potentially, of Syria itself. In this interview, I get to meet the real George Sabra, the fiery left-wing politician who has gained the confidence of diplomats and activists alike…" 
On Syrian media
"Syria Media Still Voice of Regime, Remains Complicit in Oppression" - Al-Hayat/Al-Monitor - By Abdelrahman Matar. Translated by Sahar Ghoussoub. Excerpt: "The Syrian media, in all its components, constitutes an integral part of the crisis. First, it was a means for the regime to oppress Syrian citizens. Then it became a powerful tool with which the regime could undermine the uprising. The media did not work for the Syrian nation — it was merely a weapon in the hands of the authorities."
On Hezbollah 
"Loyalty to Syrian President Could Isolate Hezbollah" - The New York Times - By Anne Barnard. Excerpt: "Mr. Nasrallah’s [Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah] decision to maintain his critical alliance with Syria has risked Hezbollah’s standing and its attempts to build pan-Islamic ties in Lebanon and the wider Arab world. Though Hezbollah’s base in Lebanon remains strong, it runs an increasing risk of finding itself isolated, possibly caught up in a sectarian war between its patron, Iran, the region’s Shiite power, and Saudi Arabia, a protector of Sunni interests in the Middle East." 
"Hezbollah's Support Strengthens Syrian Resistance, Not Assad" - An-Nahar/Al-Monitor - By Abdel Wahab Badrakhan. Translated by Naria Tanoukhi. Excerpt: "Despite Hezbollah's attempts to weaken the Syrian opposition by claiming victory for the regime of Bashar al-Assad, Abdel Wahab Badrakhan argues that it has achieved the opposite. Hassan Nasrallah’s unpopular stance of placing Iran’s and Assad’s interests above the suffering of the Syrian people is actually aiding his political rivals in Lebanon."
On Israel 
"Syria’s Revolution and Israeli Fears" - Al-Arabiya - By Abdul Rahman al-Rashed. Excerpt: "President Bashar al-Assad was not mistaken when he sent his cousin, and one of the closest people to him, to the US in May 2011, two months after Syrian revolution erupted. Rami Makhlouf’s mission was to deliver a message warning that revolution is also a threat to neighboring Israel. Its security will be in danger if the Assad’s regime falls… Assad Junior knows that Syria is the second most important country, after Egypt, in terms of security in Israeli considerations. He is also aware that winning the enemy, Israel, to his side will provide him with a significant cover and political support during this crisis. While Americans are enthusiastic about besieging Iran, they are only offering minor support to the Syrian revolution, even though the uprising will do American government the biggest favor by bringing down Assad’s regime, Iran’s main alley." 
On Saudi Arabia
"Saudi Arabia's Syrian Jihad" - Asia Times - By Joshua Jacobs. Excerpt: "The Saudis and their Gulf allies spearheaded an effort to create a formalized pay structure for the Free Syrian Army and privately ruminated on the possibility of setting up official supply conduits to forces fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad…The danger of course is that while Saudi Arabia embarks on its jihad to topple Assad, it will get free reign in picking the winners and losers amongst the opposition. This will have the effect of distorting the movement by strengthening ideologically allied Islamist groups at the expense of moderates and secularists...If the Western powers, Turkey included, voluntarily stand aside and let Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies unilaterally control the process of arming the opposition, then they might find themselves appalled at the result." 
"This Week at War: Syria as Prologue" - Small Wars Journal - Robert Haddick discusses "how Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting a proxy war in Syria" - a conflict that "will be their most intense yet, and not their last". 
On Russia
"Annan’s Plan Should Be Regime Change" - The Daily Star - By Michael Young. Excerpt: "There is no doubt…that Russia is the key to a changeover in Syria, and that once Assad loses Russian backing the game will be up for him. That’s why Annan would be better off focusing on how to persuade Moscow that Syria’s current regime is quite simply unsustainable, and that Russia could have an important role to play in a new Syria…The single workable strategy for Annan is to explicitly push for regime change in Syria, and to convince Russia that there is no substitute. The Russians must sense that it’s time for Plan B in Damascus. Their guy is not gaining. He has to keep killing just to avoid being killed."
Comparing violence in Syria to historic events
"Opinion: Bosnia's Lesson for Syrian Slaughter" - CNN - By Christiane Amanpour. Recommended. Excerpt: "Objectivity means giving all sides a fair hearing. It does not mean drawing a false moral equivalence. In this case [Bosnia] there is no one-hand-or-the other. And anyone who seeks to hide under that calumny is not just a liar, but an accessory, in this case to genocide…No country, no crisis, is the same. Of course Syria is not Bosnia, nor is it Libya, but in Syria today a heavily armed military is besieging and slaughtering ordinary civilians and outgunned rebels too as the state tries to crush an uprising…The lesson of Bosnia is that our democratic and free world which seeks to uphold the highest values bestowed on humankind, could no longer watch as ordinary civilians were butchered.It's a lesson that took too long to implement, and the peace is not perfect, but at least the killing stopped."
"In Syria, a Deir Yassin Every Day" - NOW Lebanon - By Alex Rowell. Excerpt: "Some of the more than 100 Palestinians killed on April 9th, 1948 – a number that makes for an eerie comparison with the daily death tolls in Syria today…"
Economic Commentary
On internal support for the Syrian government
"Economic Interests Give Assad Loyalists Stubborn Resilience" - The National - By Bessma Momani. Excerpt: "As the year-long crisis in Syria continues, we should not be surprised that President Bashar Al Assad's rule is still firmly intact…Despite the death of nearly 10,000 civilians, the arrest of more than 20,000 and the exodus of up to 100,000, the unfortunate truth is that this…regime has internal support…For many in Damascus and Aleppo, life before the conflict was brighter, easier and more prosperous under the younger Assad. These urban elites are older and from prominent Syrian families of all sectarian stripes…"
Human Interest, Humanitarian Concerns
On torture, charges of crimes against humanity 
"Syria Children's Torture By Security Forces Revealed" - Global Post - By Hugh Macleod and Annasofie Flamand. Excerpt: "In a regime whose systematic and widespread torture has shocked even hardened human rights researchers, Syrian children have been singled out for abuse, with hundreds reportedly tortured over the past year by the men fighting to keep President Bashar al-Assad and his family in power. 'The level of torture is not comparable to any other conflict I've worked on,' said Anna Neistat, associate director for Program and Emergencies at Human Rights Watch, who has worked for more than a decade in crises from Chechnya to Zimbabwe to Sri Lanka. 'There are a disproportionate number of children trapped in this system. Children are tortured alongside adults and are even subject to more brutal torture as interrogators believe children could crack faster and give them names.'" 
"Syria Eyewitness: Beaten and Burnt… A Family's Tale of Torture" - The Independent - By Loveday Morris. Excerpt: "It was Friday 23 March when Ahmed and his wife Maha, in her late seventies, and their 44-year-old son Yousef were taken from their home and tortured at the hands of President Bashar al-Assad's soldiers. Ahmed was at the mosque when he heard his house in the Bab Sbaa district of Homs had been shelled and rushed home with his son to pull his wife from the rubble. But his relief that she had escaped relatively unscathed soon faded…" 
"Survivors Tell of Bloody Aftermath to Fight in Taftanaz, Syria" - McClatchy - Excerpt: "Wounded Syrians being treated in hospitals here are providing detailed accounts of a bloody battle for the town of Taftanaz in northern Syria earlier this week that left the town devastated and scores of residents and an unknown number of soldiers dead. Syrian troops loyal to President Bashar Assad succeeded in gaining control of the town center after two hours of fierce combat, then summarily executed captives and burned bodies, according to the accounts. At least 82 people died, though it was unclear from the survivors how many of those were noncombatants and how many were anti-Assad fighters."
"In Rare Interviews, Syrian Ex-soldiers Talk of Killing Civilians" - McClatchy - Excerpt: "Former Syrian soldiers who've escaped to northern Iraq are telling grisly stories of how their units executed unarmed civilians for demonstrating against the Assad regime and staged mass reprisals when residents shot back, on one occasion lining up and shooting 30 defenseless civilians."
"Defectors Offer Insider's View Of Syrian Army" - National Public Radio - By Kelly McEvers. Excerpt: "Not all soldiers who leave the army, however, decide to join these rebels. Those who simply escape the army altogether offer a rare glimpse into a military they say is committing unspeakable atrocities and a rebel force that's fighting back with its own brutality."
On historical sites, culture
"Culture Under Fire" - The New York Times - By Irina Bokova. Excerpt: "Culture lies on the front line of conflicts across the world. Timbuktu has fallen into the hands of Tuareg rebel forces and shots have been fired around the city’s grand mosque, a Unesco World Heritage Site. This follows on the heels of the shelling of the city of Apamea in Syria. The citadel of Madiq and the ancient villages in the north of Syria, all of which are Unesco World Heritage Sites, could become collateral damage…"
History: Syrians on the Titantic
"From Syria to the Middle of the Ocean" - The Montreal Gazette - By Don Butler. A report on the Syrians who traveled on the Titantic, all of whom hailed from the small village of Kafr Mishki - a town in Lebanon once a part of Syria. 
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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