Prospects for Syria Truce Narrow as Violence Spikes Before April 10 Deadline for Military Withdrawal
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Representatives from over 60 countries met for the ‘Friends of Syria’ conference in Istanbul on April 1 and agreed to channel millions of dollars into Syria in support of the country’s opposition. At the same time and in a highly controversial move, conference attendees proclaimed the Syrian National Council “a legitimate representative of all Syrians”. On Monday, UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan announced that the Syrian government had officially agreed to a complete military withdrawal from the country’s urban areas by April 10. The following day, however, violent military incursions and security crackdowns continued in full force across the country – driving foreign officials to call Damascus’s commitment to the peace plan into question. At the same time, a surge of international reportage suggests that Syrian revolutionaries are increasingly disillusioned by the relative inaction of the international community and the ongoing security crackdowns, with calls from among their ranks for weaponry increasing daily. The death toll from the last ten days of violence has already surpassed 700.
News from Inside Syria
Though the Syrian government has accepted UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan for the country, violence continues to rage across a broad swath of the country. According to Syrian officials, military forces will withdraw from cities and residential areas by the April 10 deadline, but will first seek to eliminate lingering security threats. Security raids and military incursions carried on in Homs, Daraa, Idlib, and Hama. The country was also shaken by bombs in Aleppo and Damascus. For reportage on the ongoing violence and tumult, which indeed spiked quite considerably in the lad week, see the following from sources in and outside of Syria.
On the general internal situation
“Fighting Rages in Syria as Activists Urge Protests” – AFP – (Mar. 30)
“Clashes Kill Dozens More in Syria” – Sky News – (Apr. 2)
“Gunmen Caught in Damascus and Daraa Countryside, Terrorist Killed in Clash with Authorities in Deir Ezzor” – SANA – (Apr. 2)
“Fighting Rages as Syria Bolsters Assault on Rebel Bastions Despite Peace Plan” – Al-Arabiya – (Apr. 3)
“Authorities Foil Terrorist Group Infiltration Attempt from Turkey, 103 persons give themselves up to Authorities” – SANA – (Apr. 3)
“Syrian Military Kills Civilians in Reprisals, ‘Executes Own Troops,’ Defectors Say” – McClatchy – (Apr. 3)
“Syria: Fierce Clashes as Regime Forces Abandon Truce” – The Telegraph – (Apr. 4)
On Aleppo & Damascus
“Four Explosive Devices Dismantled in Aleppo” – SANA – (Mar. 30)
“Rebels are Resilient in Damascus Suburb” – The National – (Mar. 30)
“Damascus on Edge as Syria’s Strife Encroaches on Capital” – The Guardian – (Apr. 1)
“Syria: Bomb in Damascus as Annan Briefs UN” – The Telegraph – (Apr. 2)
“Syria Eyewitness Dispatch: ‘I Watched as Assad’s Tanks Rolled in to Destroy a Rebel Town’” – The Telegraph – (Mar. 31)
On the armed opposition
“Syrian Rebels Form Local Command Structure” – Al-Akhbar – (Mar. 30)
“Outgunned Syria Rebels Turn to Homemade Bombs” – Los Angeles Times – (Apr. 1)
“Foreign Fighters Join Syrian Rebels” – Spiegel – (Mar. 30)
“Free Syrian Army Has the World’s Support But No Weapons or Ammo” – The Daily Beast – (Apr. 4)
On the capture of citizen journalists
“Citizen Journalist in Syria Is Captured and Tortured, Activists Say” – The New York Times – (Apr. 1)
On humanitarian aid
“Red Cross Calls for Daily Cease-fires in Syria” – Al-Arabiya – (Apr. 3)
On Syrian antiquities
“Directorate-General for Antiquities and Museums: World Heritage Sites in Syria Suffered Attacks by Terrorists” – SANA – (Apr. 2)
International Politics & Diplomacy
Annan demands ‘immediate’ ceasefire
March 30: “Kofi Annan, the joint UN-Arab League envoy, expects Syrian government forces to implement an immediate ceasefire as part of a peace plan to halt more than a year of violence, his spokesman has said. ‘We expect him to implement this plan immediately. Clearly we have not seen a cessation of hostilities on the ground. This is our great concern,’ Ahmad Fawzi, the spokesman, told a news briefing in Geneva on Friday. Fawzi added that the ‘deadline is now’ for Syrian forces to cease all violence and said the government in Damascus should make a gesture of good faith by implementing the ceasefire first.” Source – Al-Jazeera
Syria needs time to ready for safe military withdrawal
March 31: “Syria has said a year-long revolt against President Bashar al-Assad is now over, but that it would retain its right to use its forces to “maintain security” before withdrawing from cities in line with a UN-backed peace plan. Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told Syria TV that United Nations-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan had acknowledged the government’s right to respond to armed violence. Makdissi said that handling this was a Syrian matter. He said Syria would cooperate with the United Nations to ‘remove any excuses’ for further international pressure. ‘The battle to topple the state is over. Our goal now is to ensure stability and create a perspective for reform and development in Syria while preventing others from sabotaging the path of reform,’ Makdissi told the state news channel late on Friday. He said Syria’s conditions on its acceptance of Annan’s proposals included recognition of the government’s sovereignty and its right to security. ‘The other requirement is not to harm Syrian stability … When security can be maintained for civilians, the army will leave. It is not waiting for Kofi Annan to leave, this is a Syrian matter.’ Source – The Chicago Tribune
April 1: “Syria is committed to ‘positively cooperate’ with the UN Envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, reiterated Dr. Jihad Maqdisi, Foreign and Expatriates Ministry Spokesman, asserting that the basics for Syria in dealing with Mr. Annan’s mission or others lie in preserving the sovereignty of Syria as well as in the non breaching to Syria’s national security and stability, and in the logical and symmetrical implementation- of Annan’s 6-point Plan.”
“Interviewed by the Syrian Satellite TV yesterday evening, Maqdisi declared that a protocol is to be signed as to organize the issue of observers to reach to the pacification: ‘Syria is soon to receive a negotiating technical team –for talks- between Syria and the United Nations regarding mechanisms of implementation,’ said Dr. Maqdisi.”
“‘Syria calls on the world to help it instead of exerting pressures on it. Syria does welcome the objective of any initiative if its aim were to assist Syria in achieving the reforms and stabilizing the country,’ added the Foreign and Expatriates Ministry Spokesman. Maqdisi asserted that the battle as to down the State in Syria failed and that the battle for stabilization and upgrading the renewed Syria started on the way of development and reforms. Dr. Maqdisi urged Mr. Annan to tour the countries which finance, host and encourage the opposition.”
“The presence of the illegitimate armed elements within the opposition components is clearly documented internationally and legally and is acknowledged by the latest report issued by Arab Observers Mission, outlined Maqdisi. ‘The presence of the Syrian Arab Army in Syrian Cities is for defensive purposes as to protect the civilians, of whom large numbers are taken as hostages to strike against the stability of the country. Once peace and security prevail, the Army is to pull out.’ said Dr. Maqdisi.
“‘The withdrawal of armed appearances would take place once any zone is returned to normal life, and once citizens are able to send their children to schools, restore their normal life, and NOT for allowing the citizens to be taken as hostages, and for power centers to be exploded, people to be killed in the streets, and for arming to be increased,’ added Maqdisi recalling the past experience with armed groups which tried to control entire zones once the Army pulled out.” Source – SANA
“Syria Says Revolt Over, Assad Foes Keep Up Pressure” – Reuters – (Mar. 31)
“Syria Rejects Annan Peace Proposal” – UKPA – (Mar. 31)
“Dr. Jihad Maqdisi: Syria Committed to Positively Cooperate with Kofi Annan” – SANA – (Apr. 1)
“Syria: Repression Continues Despite Annan Plan Hopes” – Amnesty International – (Apr. 3)
Syria reportedly accepts April 10 deadline for ending military ops
April 3: “UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan told the UN Security Council on Monday that Syria has accepted an April 10 deadline for ending military operations, with the opposition under pressure to cease fighting within 48 hours of that, envoys said.”
“‘Mr. Annan reported that the Syrian Foreign Minister sent him a letter yesterday in which he said that the Syrian military will begin immediately and by April 10 will complete the cessation of all forward deployment and use of heavy weapons and will complete its withdrawal from population centers,’ US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told reporters. Speaking after Annan addressed a closed-door meeting of the 15-nation council via video link, Rice added that Annan’s deputy Nasser al-Kidwa also had constructive exchanges with the opposition.”
“But Western diplomats including Rice expressed skepticism about the credibility of Syria, which has repeatedly promised to end attacks but has pressed ahead with a year-long assault on anti-government activists that has brought the country to the brink of civil war. ‘We have seen over the course of the last many months, promises made and promises broken. We have seen commitments to end the violence followed by massive intensification of violence. So the United States for one would look at these commitments and say yet again that the proof is in the actions, not in the words and past experience would lead us to be skeptical and to worry that over the next several days that rather than a diminution of the violence we might yet again see an escalation of the violence,’ said Rice.”
“Syria’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja’afari confirmed that Damascus accepted the April 10 deadline but said the government wants the opposition on board. ‘The Syrian government is committed but we are expecting Mr. Kofi Annan and some parties in the Security Council also to get the same kind of commitments from the (opposition),’ he told reporters. ‘A plan wouldn’t be successful unless everybody is committed to it.” Source – Al-Arabiya
“Syria Agrees to Troop Withdrawal, Annan Says” – The New York Times – (Apr. 2)
‘Friends of Syria’
During ‘Friends of Syria’ summit, states agree to fund Syrian revolutionaries
April 1: “The United States and more than 60 other countries moved closer on Sunday to direct intervention in the fighting in Syria, with Arab nations pledging $100 million to pay opposition fighters and the Obama administration agreeing to send communications equipment to help rebels organize and evade Syria’s military, according to participants gathered here.”
“The moves reflected a growing consensus, at least among those who met here this weekend under the rubric ‘Friends of Syria,’ that mediation efforts by the United Nations peace envoy, Kofi Annan, were failing to halt the violence in Syria and that more forceful action was needed. With Russia and China blocking measures that could open the way for military action by the United Nations, the countries lined up against the government of President Bashar al-Assad have sought to bolster Syria’s beleaguered opposition through means that seemed to stretch the definition of humanitarian assistance.”
“The offer to provide salaries and communications equipment to rebel fighters known as the Free Syrian Army — with the hopes that the money might encourage government soldiers to defect, officials said — is bringing the loose Friends of Syria coalition to the edge of a proxy war against Mr. Assad’s government and its international supporters, principally Iran and Russia. Direct assistance to the rebel fighters, even as Mr. Assad’s loyalists press on with a brutal crackdown, risked worsening a conflict that has already led to about 9,000 deaths and could plunge Syria into a protracted civil war…”
“The question of arming the rebels — as countries like Saudi Arabia and some members of Congress have called for — remain divisive because of the uncertainty of who exactly would receive them. Paying salaries to fighters blurs the line between lethal and nonlethal support. Molham Al Drobi, a member of the Syrian National Council, said that the opposition had pledges of $176 million in humanitarian assistance and $100 million in salaries over three months for the fighters inside Syria. He said some money was already flowing into the fighters, including $500,000 last week through ‘a mechanism that I cannot disclose now.’…”
“Mrs. Clinton announced an additional $12 million in humanitarian assistance for international organizations aiding the Syrians, bringing the American total so far to $25 million, according to the State Department. She also confirmed for the first time that the United States was providing satellite communications equipment to help those inside Syria ‘organize, evade attacks by the regime,’ and stay in contact with the outside world…The countries providing most of the money for salaries — Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — have long been the fiercest opponents of Mr. Assad’s rule, reflecting the sectarian split in the Arab world between Sunnis and Shiites…”
“Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the host of Sunday’s meeting, called on the United Nations Security Council to act in the wake of the failure of Mr. Annan’s efforts, saying Syria’s government was using the initiative to buy time. ‘If the Security Council hesitates, there will be no option left except to support the legitimate right of the Syrian people to defend themselves.’…Mr. Erdogan emphasized that Turkey had no intention of interfering in Syria, once a close ally, but that the world could not stand idly by as the opposition withered in a lopsided confrontation with the government’s modern weaponry…A final statement from Sunday’s meeting called on Mr. Annan to ‘determine a timeline’ for the next steps in Syria…” Source – The New York Times
“Turkey Summit Promises Clash Over Syria” – The Wall Street Journal – (Mar. 31)
“Syria Blasts International Conference on Crisis” – The Times Union – (Apr. 1)
“Syria Warned by Hillary Clinton to Implement Kofi Annan Peace Plan” – The Guardian – (Apr. 1)
“Syrian Opposition Leader Urges Arming of Rebels” – Naharnet – (Apr. 1)
Transcript of Remarks by Hillary Rodham Clinton, US Secretary of State at Friends of Syria Conference – United States Department of State – (Apr. 1) (complete transcript)
“US Joins Effort to Equip and Pay Rebels in Syria” – The New York Times – (Apr. 1)
“Al-Assad Must Go, But Is He Going?” – Hurriyet Daily News – (Apr. 2)
Chairman’s Conclusions: Second Conference of the Group of Friends of the Syrian People – Full text of conference conclusions:
1. The Second Conference of the Group of Friends of the Syrian People (“the Friends’ Group”) was held in Istanbul on 1 April 2012.
2. The Friends’ Group welcomed the growing interest and participation of the countries which totaled 82 at this meeting including the representatives from the United Nations, The League of Arab States, The European Union, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the African Union.
3. Recalling the conclusions of the first meeting in Tunisia, the Friends’ Group reaffirmed its determination to support the just cause of the Syrian people. The Friends Group underlined that the future of Syria must be determined by the Syrian people and that it will stand firmly by them until their rightful and legitimate aspirations are fulfilled. In this context, the Friends Group underscored its firm and strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, political unity and territorial integrity of Syria.
4. The Syrian National Council presented a report to the Friends Group, regarding the situation on the ground in Syria. As explicitly stated in this report, the situation on the ground is grave. The Syrian regime’s widespread and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms continue unabated. Thousands of Syrians, including women and children, have perished. Tens of thousands have been arbitrarily detained and maltreated. Many have been forced to abandon their homes and have become displaced persons. Whole towns and neighborhoods have been destroyed. The regime has failed its people in every respect. The atrocities committed by the regime amount in some cases to crimes against humanity, as the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry has stated. The regime has also continued to deceive the international community and tried to manipulate its efforts. The Syrian regime must immediately put an end to all these practices, stop all attacks against the Syrian people and fully comply with its obligations under international law.
5. As it declared at its first meeting on 24 February 2012 in Tunisia, the Friends’ Group reiterated its full support for the initiative of the League of Arab States to facilitate a Syrian-led political transition leading to a civil, democratic, pluralistic, independent and free state; one which respects people’s rights regardless of ethnicity, belief or gender; one which determines its own future based on the collective will of its people.
6. The Friends’ Group, in this vein, re-emphasized the importance of the full implementation by the Syrian regime of relevant UN, Arab League and OIC resolutions and declarations and of the six-point plan of the Joint Special Envoy (JSE) Kofi Annan which was endorsed by the UN Security Council in its Presidential Statement of 21 March 2012 and the Arab League at its 29 March Summit. The Friend’s Group welcomed the efforts of Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan and expressed its support to the full implementation of his mandate as stated in the UN General Assembly Resolution 66/253 of 16 February 2012 and the Arab League Resolution 7444 of 22 January 2012 and 7446 of 12 February 2012. The Friends’ Group urge all parties to fully engage with them.
7. However, the Friends’ Group stressed its deep regret of the continuation of the actions of the Syrian regime, despite its announcement of acceptance of the six point plan of JSE Kofi Annan. Since the announcement of acceptance on 27 March, violence by the regime has not ceased and since that date, many have lost their lives. Against the background of numerous previous failures to fulfill its promises, this emerges as a fresh example of the insincerity of the regime. Therefore, the regime will be judged by its deeds rather than its promises. The window of opportunity for the regime to implement its commitments to Joint Special Envoy Annan is not open-ended. The Friends’ Group called upon the Joint Special Envoy to determine a timeline for next steps, including a return to the UN Security Council, if the killing continues. The Group appeals to all members to bear their responsibility. In the meantime, the Friends’ Group will continue to work on additional appropriate measures with a view to the protection of the Syrian people.
8. The Friends’ Group very much welcomed the National Covenant announced during the Opposition Conference in Istanbul which was held on 26-27 March 2012 in coordination with the Arab League as articulated in the Chairman’s Conclusions of the Tunisia meeting. The Covenant laid out for the first time the foundations of the new Syria. The Group expressed full support to the opposition’s common vision in the Covenant of a free and democratic Syria which clearly states that all citizens of Syria will enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms irrespective of their affiliations, ethnicity, belief or gender. The Group welcomes the commitment of the Syrian opposition, as articulated in the National Covenant, to a political and economic transition that is peaceful, orderly and stable; a process reflecting the initiative of the League of Arab States. During the political transition, it is essential that Syrian institutions be preserved and reformed. The new Syria will be a constitutional democracy where the rule of law is upheld and all citizens are equal before the law.
9. The Friends’ Group also wholeheartedly welcomed the Final Communiqué of the above-mentioned Opposition Conference in which the participants committed themselves to work together to put in place an all-embracing and re-structured opposition platform in order to advance their common vision for the new Syria. The Friends’ Group applauded the role of the Syrian National Council and others in making this result possible.
10. In view of the above, the Friends’ Group recognized the Syrian National Council as a legitimate representative of all Syrians and the umbrella organization under which Syrian opposition groups are gathering. The Friends’ Group also stated its support to the activities of the Syrian National Council towards a democratic Syria and noted the Council as the leading interlocutor of the opposition with the international community.
11. The Friends’ Group appealed to responsible citizens of Syria not to be a part of the atrocities committed by the regime. It called particularly on those serving in the armed forces, security agencies and other government offices not to obey unlawful orders targeting the Syrian people.
12. The Friends’ Group expressed its admiration for the many thousands of protesters who, in the face of the atrocities committed by the regime amounting to tyranny and oppression, continue to take to the streets to demonstrate peacefully for a free and democratic Syria. The Group expressed its support for legitimate measures taken by the Syrian population to protect themselves.
13. The Friends’ Group strongly urged all the members of the international community to take all necessary measures to deprive the regime of the means it is using to oppress the Syrian people. In this regard, prevention of the regime’s access to arms is at the foremost.
14. The Friends’ Group took note of the suspension of the diplomatic activities and recalling of the Ambassadors of various countries in Damascus since the Tunisia meeting and decided to take further appropriate measures in this direction.
15. The Friends’ Group strongly condemned the ongoing human rights violations, which are massive, systematic and widespread. It noted with grave concern the two reports of the international and independent Commission of Inquiry mandated by the UN Human Rights Council, implicating members of the Syrian security forces in atrocities committed against the Syrian people. The Friends’ Group made clear that the monitoring of the human rights situation by the International Independent Commission of Inquiry must be continued and evidence of international crimes and other gross violations must be systematically collected to facilitate the process of holding the perpetrators of such acts accountable. It welcomed the decision of the Human Rights Council on 23 March to extend the mandate of the International Independent Commission of Inquiry.
16. The Friends’ Group agreed to develop a multilateral initiative to support international and Syrian efforts to document, analyze and store evidence of serious violations of human rights in order to deter such conduct and lay the foundation for future accountability.
17. The Friends’ Group committed to render all possible assistance, both technical advice and direct support, to a Syrian-led political process that is peaceful, orderly and stable. In this respect, the Group also committed to continue and increase, as a matter of urgency, its assistance, including funding and financial support, to meet the needs of the Syrian people.
18. The Friends’ Group also decided to set up a Sanctions Working Group, in order to achieve greater effectiveness in the enforcement of the restrictive measures already put in force by states or international organizations including the measures stipulated in the Chairman’s Conclusions of the first meeting of the Friends’ Group. France will chair the first meeting of the working group in April along with other members of the Friends’ Group.
19. The situation in Syria has negative impact on the economic activities in the region. For example, difficulties on transportation routes constitute a major problem. The Friends’ Group recognized these difficulties and agreed to take all necessary measures to minimize the negative effects in neighboring countries and to facilitate alternative routes.
20. Being cognizant of the challenges on the path towards political and economic transition of Syria, the Friends’ Group committed itself to support Syria economically in the next period in order to ensure that new Syria stands on its feet in financial and economic terms.
21. In this vein, the Friends’ Group endorsed the mandate for the Working Group on Economic Recovery and Development which aims to be a central forum of the international community for planning and coordination of assistance to the economic recovery and development of Syria. To this end, the working group will work closely with designated representatives of the Syrian opposition. The working group will be co-chaired by Germany and the United Arab Emirates and will be open to all Friends of the Syrian People.
22. The Friends’ Group expressed its grave concern about the worsening humanitarian situation in Syria. It reiterated its call on all parties to allow free and unimpeded access by humanitarian agencies to deliver essential relief goods and services to those most affected by the violence, including the treatment of the wounded. It expressed its support for calls for a daily two hour humanitarian pause in fighting to allow the delivery of aid.
23. The Group expressed deep concern at the tens of thousands of Syrians who had to flee to neighboring countries and hundreds of thousands of displaced persons inside Syria. It acknowledged the serious and growing burden on Syria’s neighbors in hosting Syrians fleeing violence by the regime. The Friends’ Group reiterated its commitment to provide support and assistance to the neighbors of Syria and others in handling the repercussions of the crisis.
24. The Friends’ Group reiterated its commitment to distinguish clearly between the humanitarian response and the ongoing political negotiations. It welcomed the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinators’ efforts to gain humanitarian access, plan the response to identified needs, and establish predictable funding mechanisms, in particular the UN Emergency Response Fund for Syria. Members of the Friends’ Group committed to continuing to provide funds to meet humanitarian needs in support of the Syrian people.
25. The Group reiterated its continued support to the efforts of the United Nations to coordinate the humanitarian response. It noted with satisfaction the conclusions of the first meeting of the Syrian Humanitarian Forum, held on 8 March 2012 at Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator. It recognized the value of convening such an inclusive Forum to share information and develop a common approach to the humanitarian response.
26.The Friends’ Group also expressed its firm support to the work of the Syria Humanitarian Forum and to the mission of Mrs. Valerie Amos, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator and welcomed the efforts of other agency and organizations, notably the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Group took note of the UN-OIC humanitarian assessment mission dispatched to Syria.
27. The Friends’ Group expressed their thanks and appreciation to Turkey for hosting the Second Conference of the Group of Friends of the Syrian People. The Group agreed to hold its next meeting in France.
Source – Hurriyet Daily News
Iraq cautions against arming Syrian fighters
April 1: “Iraq on Sunday warned Arab countries against supplying weapons and financial support to rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying such moves risked escalating the conflict. ‘We want to extinguish the fire by draining the sources of force, we want to find a peaceful solution to the crisis,’ Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told reporters at a press conference. ‘We reject any arming of the opposition, we reject attempts to bring down the regime by force, because it will leave a wider crisis in the region,’ he added. Maliki made the appeal as foreign ministers from around 70 countries including the United States and leading European and Gulf powers met in Istanbul to try to agree how best to support the Syrian opposition. Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government has adopted a more moderate position on Syria than Sunni Gulf neighbors Qatar and Saudi Arabia which have advocated supplying arms to the Syrian rebels. If Assad were to lose power, Iraqi Shi’ite leaders are worried their own country’s fragile sectarian balance among Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurds could be unsettled, especially if a hardline Sunni regime replaced the Assad government. Both Iraq and Syria have close ties to Shi’ite power Iran, which is caught in a regional power struggle for more influence with Sunni Arab Gulf countries…” Source – Reuters
“Iraq tiptoes away from Assad” – The National – (Mar. 30)
“Al-Maliki Reiterates Rejection of Interference in the Syrian Internal Affairs” – SANA – (Apr. 2)
“Iraq Slams Saudis, Qataris for Plans to Arm Syrian Rebels” – Informed Comment – (Apr. 2)
Russia: ‘Friends of Syria’ conference contradicts goal of peace
April 2: “Russia said on Monday that the “Friends of Syria” meeting in Istanbul at the weekend contradicted the objective of reaching a peaceful settlement that could end more than a year of bloodshed. ‘The promises and intentions to deliver direct military and logistical support to the armed… opposition that were voiced in Istanbul unquestionably contradict the goals of a peaceful settlement to the civil conflict in Syria,’ the foreign ministry said in a statement…Russia abstained from attending the conference and said Monday that it had turned out to be as ‘one-sided’ as Moscow had feared. ‘Unfortunately, the meeting in Istanbul was as one-sided’ as previous such gatherings, the foreign ministry statement said. ‘Its list of participants did not include either the Syrian government or many of the influential groups of the Syrian political opposition,’ it said. Russia also reaffirmed its support for Annan’s initiative and said it would continue ‘trying to achieve an immediate ceasefire and an end to violence from all sides’.” Source – Agence France Presse
UK to double aid to Syrian revolutionaries
March 29: “The UK is to double its non-military aid to opponents of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, Foreign Secretary William Hague has said. He said the extra £500,000 will help groups both inside and outside Syria. Mr Hague used his annual Mansion House speech in the City of London to urge President Assad to accept he has no hope of political survival…Mr Hague told his audience, including dozens of foreign ambassadors in London, that the UK will give opposition groups extra help worth £500,000. It will include more training for activists and citizen journalists to help them get their stories out of Syria, and possibly secure phones to make the co-ordination of protest safer. Civil society groups will also be given more assistance gathering evidence of atrocities for possible future trials.” Source – BBC
Clinton meets with Saudi King on Syria crisis
March 30: “US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Saudi Arabia’s king and foreign minister in Riyadh on Friday to discuss the Syria conflict against a backdrop of tension with Iran and oil policy differences.
The world’s main superpower and its top oil exporter have been strategic allies since the 1940s, but discord over how to respond to Arab popular uprisings strained relations last year…Although the two states have mended the rift, differences persist on regional policy and how to tackle high oil prices…Backed by Western countries, Saudi Arabia has spearheaded Arab efforts to press Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is allied with Iran, to end his bloody suppression of a year-old uprising and step aside. The Saudis now want to see stronger action against Assad, including the arming of rebels, something the United States is reluctant to do for fear of being drawn into a messy civil war…Underpinning Clinton’s talks in Riyadh is a wider context of the impact of last year’s Arab uprisings on a regional struggle between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Muslim Iran.” Source – Reuters
“US Urges Saudis to Support Diplomacy to End Bloodshed” – The Guardian – (Mar. 30)
US House intel leaders opposed to arming Syrian opposition
April 1: “House intelligence leaders said on Sunday that arming Syrian rebels remains unwise because they are unknown actors and Syria’s regime continues to be backed by Iran and Russia. ‘I think we both agree that’s probably a bad idea,’ said Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, appearing on CNN’s State of the Union. Appearing with Ranking Member C.A. ‘Dutch’ Ruppersberger, D-Md., he argued for greater international diplomatic pressure rather than ‘sending in arms and hoping for the best…We think that there are other things that we can do that we haven’t quite engaged in yet, and that probably need to happen,’ Rogers said, including engaging the Arab League so the United States could take a ‘support role.’ Rogers said President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime appears unmoved by Washington’s pleading, but cautioned against weapons falling into the hands of ‘bad actors there. We don’t really see Assad’s inner-circle crumbling,’ Rogers said. ‘They believe that they’re winning.’ Said Ruppersberger: ‘The United States can’t be sheriff for the whole world.'” Source – The National Journal
Iran will defend Syria
March 30: “Iran will defend the regime of its regional ally Syria due to its anti-Israeli stance, supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told the visiting Turkish prime minister on Thursday. ‘Iran will defend Syria because of its support for the anti-Zionist regime resistance,’ Khamenei said as he received Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the northeastern holy city of Mashhad, state television reported. The supreme leader of the Islamic republic also reiterated Tehran’s staunch rejection of foreign intervention in Syria, where he said reforms should be implemented. ‘We are strongly opposed to any interference by foreign forces in the internal affairs of Syria… the reforms which have begun there should continue,’ Khamenei said…But Khamenei warned against any US-led initiative to resolve the conflict in Syria saying Iran would ‘strongly oppose’ such a plan.” Source – India TV News
Turkey warns against trusting Syrian government
March 31: Turkey on Friday [March 30] cautioned against accepting ‘new promises’ from President Bashar al-Assad and called for tougher international action to protect Syrian civilians, ahead of a 60-nation meeting in Istanbul that promises to air two clashing international visions on how to end the country’s conflict. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the latest international diplomatic proposal to stanch Syria’s bloody crisis—a six-point plan presented by veteran diplomat Kofi Annan—is a ‘step forward… Annan’s initiative is a beginning, not an endgame,’ Mr. Davutoglu said in an interview Friday. ‘We hope the Annan mission will be successful. But if it isn’t, there should be concrete measures.'” Source – The Wall Street Journal
Erdoğan urges for free elections in Syria
March 31: “The solution to the current conflict in Syria between government forces and the opposition is holding free elections, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Friday, on his return flight from Iran, where he has been visiting since Tuesday. ‘We talked about Syria with Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. We don’t differ in our approach toward Syria. He also wants the deaths to end,’ Erdoğan said. ‘A ballot box should be placed in front of the Syrian people with the correct time and conditions. Whoever the people want to see at the helm, they will be accepted. The question of who will succeed President Bashar al-Assad is moot. Whoever the people of Syria want will be in office.’ He said Iran might succeed in convincing Bashar to hold elections within six months, and Turkey can talk to the opposition. Erdoğan said the elections should be fair, transparent and open to international monitoring. ‘If necessary, OSCE or regional countries can send observers. If Assad displays a positive approach, we will wait patiently, but the deaths must come to an end as quickly as possible.’
“The prime minister also noted that he was optimistic that a settlement in Syria will be reached soon. ‘The two important developments are the idea of elections and that there is a united consensus against an intervention from outside. There can’t be a second Libya syndrome,’ he told the journalists on the plane. He said there shouldn’t be any military intervention in Syria without a UN resolution.” Source – Today’s Zaman
Norwegian to head UN’s team in Syria
April 4: “Major General Robert Mood of Norway has been selected to lead the United Nations’ support team for UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan in Syria. His duties will include preparations for a UN observation force in Syria that’s currently under evaluation by the UN Security Council. Major General Robert has lengthy experience from earlier UN operations, and is a former inspector general of the Norwegian army. Mood, who’s originally from Kragerø on Norway’s southern coast, will lead a team of military experts that’s expected to soon travel to Damascus for talks with both sides in the violent conflict between the Syrian regime and opposition forces. The team will evaluate the situation on the ground and the prospects for deploying an unarmed force of international observers. The goal is to end all forms of armed violence, secure humanitarian aid and support political reforms. The embattled Syrian regime recently accepted Annan’s six-point plan for Syria, including a withdrawal of Syrian military from populated areas by next Tuesday. Now the regime is expected to abide by its agreement.” Source – Views and News from Norway
IPU conference focuses on Syria crisis
April 4: “The Syrian crisis has overshadowed the ongoing Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) conference here in the Ugandan capital Kampala with parliamentarians referring to the crisis as an emergency issue that must be debated. Egypt, France, Canada and Britain are among the countries that pushed that the Syrian crisis be put as an emergency on the agenda of the summit that has attracted over 2,000 delegates from over 150 member states. Edward Ssekandi, Uganda’s vice president, on Monday urged the delegates to come up with a declaration and resolution on the Syrian violence that has according to UN figures left more than 9, 000 people dead since March last year.
“‘I am glad to note that the tragedy that is facing our brothers and sisters in Syria is high on items of the order paper that IPU is to debate. I look forward to a Kampala declaration and resolution that provide a solution to this human debacle,’ Ssekandi told the delegates from Africa, North America, South America, Europe, Middle East and Asia…”
“IPU president Abdel Wahad Radi in his report to the Governing Council of the IPU said that the violence in Syria has reached unbearable situation and must be put to an end…The conference is discussing the political, economic and social situation in the world under the theme ‘Parliaments and people: bridging the gap.'” Source – China Radio International
EU forces terminate heating fuel supply to Syria
April 2: “European Union sanctions have forced Syria’s sole supplier of heating fuel to halt deliveries, making it hard for Syrians to cook and heat their homes and potentially widening opposition to the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The EU had for humanitarian reasons allowed Greek company Naftomar to continue supplying Syria in winter with liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), used for heating and cooking, but the bloc has now blacklisted the Syrian company that handled the imports. ‘LPG deliveries to Syria have stopped because of sanctions,’ said a director at Naftomar, who asked not to be named.”
“Most major oil firms had already severed ties with Syria for fear of defying EU measures or being linked to a bloody crackdown in which thousands have died. Critics had said that Naftomar, by delivering the fuel, worth at least $55 million each month during the winter, might have been helping to extend Assad’s rule. Naftomar defended its position on the grounds its fuel may have been preventing an even worse humanitarian crisis in Syria. Political allies Russia and Venezuela have continued to provide Syria with shipments of refined products such as gasoil, which can be used to fuel army tanks. Imports of LPG, which hinged on Naftomar, are seen as peaceful because they play a vital role in regions with limited infrastructure for piping gas.”
“‘We understand the lack of LPG makes it difficult for the populace, including the part that is involved in protests against the government, to continue to cook and to keep themselves warm,’ Naftomar’s director continued. The EU has a clause allowing firms to continue deliveries for humanitarian reasons, but exemptions can only be granted by national government authorities. Naftomar does not expect to be granted an exemption because it does not directly distribute the LPG it delivers to the Syrian population. The distribution process is handled by the state firm now on the EU blacklist.” Source – Reuters
Security & Regional Stability
Saudis endeavoring to channel weapons to Syrian rebel fighters
March 29: “Saudi Arabia has pressed Jordan to open its border with Syria to allow weapons to reach rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, officials from both countries say, a move that could buoy Syria’s opposition and harden the conflict in the country and across the region. In a March 12 meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah asked his Jordanian counterpart to permit weapons shipments into Syria in exchange for economic assistance to Jordan, these officials say. Jordan hasn’t yet agreed, they said. Source – The Wall Street Journal
On Annan’s peace plan
“Syria: The Evil Results of Doing Good” – Al-Jazeera – By Robert Grenier. Excerpt: “Kofi Annan is a good man. We know that. We have all watched him for years. Where there is conflict and misunderstanding, whether among individuals, groups, or nations, he seeks conciliation. When two parties are in armed conflict, he does not take sides; instead, he tries to make peace. But we also know that his instincts, however noble, have sometimes served him badly…Annan was a logical choice for the UN and the Arab League to serve as their joint envoy to Syria…He is, after all, a professional peacemaker…But does anyone honestly think that the Syrian regime, committed as it is to a programme of violent intimidation and collective punishment, will provide ‘full humanitarian access’, or a daily ‘humanitarian pause’ for those whom it suspects of aiding its adversaries? What are the chances that the tender Mr Assad will release detainees who may promptly rejoin the struggle against him, or that he will permit foreign journalists to freely document his atrocities? Who would want to bet his life, or the lives of those dear to him, that Bashar and his generals will honour a ceasefire, or engage in good faith in a ‘political dialogue’ with those who are challenging their power? Pursuing such ‘solutions’ is worse than feckless, for it forestalls other, potentially effective actions. By permitting the Syrian regime added time, it is morally equivalent to aiding and abetting Bashar al-Assad.”
“Will Annan Save Assad?” – The New York Times – By Aaron David Miller. Excerpt: “Earlier this week, the Syrian government accepted a peace plan proposed by Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general. Mr. Annan’s six-point initiative to resolve the crisis in Syria calls for a ‘political process’ to address the Syrian people’s aspirations, a cessation of fighting and troop movements, quicker release of political prisoners, and allowing humanitarian aid, access for journalists and greater freedom of assembly. Although it is well intentioned, Mr. Annan’s plan won’t end the crisis; it will make it worse. The plan is an ill-timed lifeline to a murderous regime that will exploit Mr. Annan’s diplomacy to buy time, to reload and to divide the opposition and the international community. In the end, everyone except the Assad family will be weaker for having pursued it.”
“Syria’s Rebels Must Say ‘Yes’ to a Managed Transition” – The Daily Star – By David Ignatius. Excerpt: “Maybe it’s time for Syrian revolutionaries to take ‘yes’ for an answer from Syrian President Bashar Assad and back a U.N.-sponsored ‘managed transition’ of power there, rather than rolling on toward a civil war that will bring more death and destruction for the region…Yes, I recognize that moderate diplomatic solutions like these are for wimps. The gung-ho gang has been advocating supplying arms to the Syrian opposition, setting up no-fly zones and other versions of a military solution. Morally, it’s hard to dispute the justice of the opposition’s cause; the problem is that these military solutions will get a lot more innocent civilians killed, and destroy the delicate balance of the Syrian state.”
“Why Syria’s Assad is Still in Power” – Reuters – By Ian Bremmer. Excerpt: “…Bashar al-Assad, continues to tease the world’s diplomats by claiming to want peace for his people, yet he cracks down with unfettered abandon on their protests against his oppressive regime. Having just agreed to yet another peace plan, a troop withdrawal by Apr. 10, it’s clear he’ll find some way around his latest bargain, as he always has. What’s even more shocking is that the peace deal, negotiated by Kofi Annan, did not even call for Assad to leave power, which to outside eyes seems like a precondition for any sort of success. And the absence of the demand that Assad go is squarely due to the US’s refusal to back it up with the sort of severe consequences it used to dole out: military strikes, preemptive wars and overwhelming use of force. For the US, at least for now, those days are over. And Washington won’t make foreign policy promises it can’t or doesn’t intend to keep.”
“UN Peacekeeping Department Prepares Syria Monitoring Mission” – Foreign Policy – By Colum Lynch. Excerpt: “As Kofi Annan pursues a cease-fire to end the violence in Syria, the UN’s peacekeeping department has been developing plans for a mission of about 250 unarmed, international observers to monitor the peace and hopefully to buy some time for political talks to forge a lasting settlement. But what can UN monitors achieve in a country like Syria, where a recent experiment involving roughly 150 poorly equipped, ill-trained Arab League monitors ended in failure? Observers say there are few precedents for the deployment of UN observers in the middle of an internal conflict, particularly one like Syria where the armed opposition does not operate under a single chain of command.”
“Analysis: Success of Annan Peace Plan for Syria Hinges on Russia” – Reuters – By Louis Charbonneau.
Excerpt: “The success or failure of Kofi Annan’s peace plan for Syria will depend largely on how willing Russia is to keep sustained pressure on a government that Moscow is determined to protect from Western calls for ‘regime change.'”
On ‘Friends of Syria’ and diplomacy
“Waning Support for Diplomatic Solution on Syria” – Deutsche Welle – Excerpt: “The Syria conference in Istanbul has yielded two crucial results: Support for a diplomatic solution is waning – and some of the states in the region are willing to put a lot of cash on the table to support the uprising…Rather than being resolved quickly, the crisis in Syria appears likely to heat up in the coming months.”
“Passivity and Incoherence on Syria” – Now Lebanon – By Tony Badran. Excerpt: “Has the Obama administration abandoned its previously stated policy of regime change in Syria? Following the trajectory of Washington’s diplomatic choices, now culminating in the enthusiastic endorsement of Kofi Annan’s six point plan, it certainly seems so…Various statements coming from administration officials about the policy objective in Syria have contributed to the speculation about this reversal. Whenever the administration discussed its desired outcome in Syria, it spoke of a ‘democratic transition.’ What, exactly, that implied was not always explained… There is a clear disconnect in the administration’s posture. When the US declares a policy of regime change in Syria, this cannot be a mere suggestion or nothing more than an ‘opinion.’ Regional allies who have staked out forward leaning positions against Assad expect the US to follow through on its declared policy and ensure it is achieved.”
“Syria’s Cover for Murder” – The Washington Post – By Editorial Board. Excerpt: “It’s now been 10 days since the UN Security Council endorsed a six-point plan for Syria created by former secretary general Kofi Annan, and the Obama administration’s ambassador described it as ‘the best way to put an end to the violence, facilitate much-needed humanitarian assistance and advance a Syrian-led political transition.’ During that time, according to the London-based Strategic Research and Communication Centre, 624 more Syrians have been reported killed, including 58 women and 45 children…The Obama administration’s de facto choice to tolerate the survival of a regime that is Iran’s chief ally in the Middle East and the sponsor of Hamas and Hezbollah might have many motivations. But neither the will to prevent mass murder nor the pursuit of U.S. strategic interests could be among them.”
“Saving Lives in Syria” – Los Angeles Times – Excerpt: “Bashar Assad has reneged on similar commitments. The Western and Arab nations that have pushed for political change in Syria can continue to pursue that objective, but the urgent imperative is an end to the killing.”
On government supporters
“In Syria, Some Assad Loyalists Waver” – The New York Times – A post from a young writer in Syria. Excerpt: “For the past several months I’ve seen my neighbor Um Sowsan at least a couple of times each week. We have a friendly, if not particularly intimate, relationship. Occasionally she offers me a ride to the shop in her car, or shouts down at me from her window…I know she is Christian, co-operates a small business with her husband, and supports the Assad regime with a stoic, fanatical loyalty. And throughout the past year of revolution in Syria…she has exuded the relentless cheer so common to Assad’s defenders. For months she has recounted the same narrative, strikingly similar to the one advanced on state television: there was a minor terrorist problem in Homs, led by foreign, possibly Israeli-backed saboteurs, but the government has everything under control. However, a couple of weeks ago, as we exchanged the usual morning greetings, she asked me how I was. ‘Fine,’ I said, without much consideration. ‘And you?’ ‘Existing,’ she responded. She wasn’t great, or good, or even okay. She was ‘existing.’…My neighbor’s shift in attitude is representative of a recent wave of doubt that has convulsed those communities traditionally most committed to Assad, those of religious minorities, the middle-class, Damascus, and even the urban elite. They may not be flocking en masse to join the Free Syrian Army, but they are asking new questions, expressing doubts, admitting discontent, reflecting, criticizing, and even daring to imagine alternatives to the status quo in a way that would have seemed impossible only six months ago.”
On the opposition, its shortcomings, & struggles
“The ‘Sheik’ of Syria’s Rebellion Ponders its Obstacles” – Los Angeles Times – Recommended. By Alexandra Sandels. Excerpt: “Yassin Haj Saleh sees outdated thinking and a lack of unity among the opposition factions as hindering the overthrow of President Bashar Assad…”
“Syrian Opposition Must Prove It Can Handle Foreign Funds” – Al-Monitor – By Barbara Slavin. Excerpt: “In the aftermath of its latest meeting with international supporters, the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) faces a crucial test: whether it can spend millions of dollars in foreign aid efficiently and without corruption.”
“Splintered Syrian Opposition Extends Assad’s Reign” – Milliyet/Al-Monitor – By Mehmet Ali Birand. Translated by Timur Goksel. Summary: “The true reason for this delay [in the collapse of the government] is the fragmented nature of the Syrian opposition. They cannot even communicate properly with each other. Instead, they persist with the ‘Let it be tiny, but let it be mine’ mindset. The political opposition is something else. They all have a different Syria in mind, which naturally threatens some of the major sectarian groups in the country. For example, the Kurds and especially the Christians, unsure of what kind of regime will follow Assad, do not want to fully support the opposition. They ask what will happen if a radically religious Syria emerges. How will they cope with losing the advantages they gain from today’s secular system?…”
“The Burial Brigade of Homs: An Executioner for Syria’s Rebels Tells His Story” – Spiegel – By Ulrike Putz. Excerpt: “Human Rights Watch has condemned abuses committed by Syrian rebels in their stronghold of Homs. But one member of a rebel “burial brigade” who has executed four men by slitting their throats defended his work in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE. “If we don’t do it, nobody will hold these perpetrators to account,” he said.”
“Mideast Expert: Syria Faces Iraq-style Insurgency” – The Examiner – By Michael Hughes. Excerpt: “Syria is descending into a factional civil war which has taken on the contours of the insurgency the U.S. fought in Iraq for ten years, according to Professor Joshua Landis, Director of Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma…The Syrian people must go through the process of building a nation on their own, Landis asserted, as opposed to having some regime dropped in by foreign powers. The Syrians should look at places like Turkey for examples of how to erect a stable country from the ground up. The Syrians need a George Washington-type who can win long hard-fought battles and unify disparate interests while forging a genuine national identity.”
On the use of technology by the opposition
“iPhone Documentary Takes on Syria: Is This the Future of Journalism?” – Mashable – By Sonia Paul. Excerpt: “An anonymous undercover reporter for Al Jazeera has captured the Syrian uprising in a first-of-its-kind-documentary — recorded on an iPhone. The 25 minute documentary, ‘Syria: Songs of Defiance,’ aired on Al Jazeera’s show People & Power earlier this month…Syrian activists have been uploading YouTube videos of protests and sending out phone calls to media outlets for more than a year now, understanding what exactly has been happening in the country from citizen journalism alone has proved difficult. That’s why the reporter’s use of his iPhone is a huge feat — though an incredibly dangerous one. Here are four reasons why it was essential for the reporter to go undercover and use a mobile device…”
On international sanctions
“Sanctions and Assad Work to Deepen Syria’s Isolation” – The National – By Jasmine Roman. Excerpt: “One of the propaganda campaigns of the Assad government tries to convince Syrians that they don’t need the rest of the world, and they can survive with the austerity policies that are engulfing the country. People are left trapped, a constant reminder that they are the ones who suffer because of the strengthening sanctions…But whether the closures were based on security reasons, or were designed to exert more political pressure on the regime, the result was that Syrians have been further isolated…”
“Syrians Survive on Bread as Prices Skyrocket” – AFP – By Rim Haddad. Excerpt: “Ordinary citizens of Damascus say they cannot afford to buy fruit and vegetables as they feel the pinch of soaring inflation fuelled by international sanctions on Syria over its regime’s crackdown on dissent. Outraged by its failure to halt the year-long violence, which the United Nations says has killed more than 9,000 people, Western and Arab states have slapped a wide range of punitive measures on Syria. Rounds of sanctions targeting Syria’s banking system and oil exports have dealt a heavy blow to foreign exchange earnings and stoked the inflation rate, which official data says reached 15 percent between June and December.”
Photography, Videos, Audio Clips, & Illustrations
“A Secret Plot in Syria: An Illustrated Guide to the 1949 Coup—Possibly CIA-Assisted—That Plunged the Country into Decades of Political Turmoil” – Slate – By Andy Warner.
“Photo Essay: Inside Syria’s Secret Hospitals” – The National – Story Nick March. Photographs by Natasha Fillion.
“Living with Snipers: Photographs Show Bleak Details of Daily Life in Homs” – France 24 – Excerpt: “Most images coming out of Homs these days show relentless shelling, sniper fire, horrible wounds, and corpses. However, one resident braved the snipers to take photographs showing daily life in Homs – a daily life that’s far from normal.”
“Children Swept Up Into Syria’s Violence” – NPR – Summary: “The United Nations says President Bashar Assad’s forces have killed more than 9,000 people during the year-long popular revolt. Now, the plight of Syria’s children has captured attention. Host Scott Simon talks with Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, who is one of the most prominent voices calling for their protection.”
“Brilliant Cartoonist Plans Syria Return” – CNN – On Syria’s world-renowned cartoonist, Ali Ferzat.
“Syria’s Year of Chaos: Photos of a Slow-Motion Civil War” – Time – An exceptional collection of images from the past year of revolutionary tumult in Syria.
“CNN Exclusive: Paul Conroy Escapes Homs” – CNN – Video footage of journalist Paul Conroy’s escape from Homs and related commentary.
Human Interest, Humanitarian Concerns
“Syrian Refugees: In Their Own Words” – The Guardian – Interviews by Constanze Letsch in Turkey and Phoebe Greenwood in Jordan. Excerpt: “Thousands of Syrians have escaped the violence and persecution that followed the Arab spring. In camps along the border, refugees talk about the dangers they face and what it means to leave their homes behind.”
On Syria’s revolutionaries & those who aid them
“The Syrian Schoolboys Who Sparked a Revolution” – The National – By Amal Hanano. A moving read on the events and individuals that sparked the revolution. Excerpt: “When the uprisings started to spread across Tunisia and Egypt, a few underground activists began discussing how to bring the Arab Spring to Syria…While the activists discussed hypotheticals, Bashir and his young school friends seized the day. On February 16, 2011, they painted the popular revolutionary chants they had seen on satellite television…Nayef, a Year 8 student, was arrested by security forces the day after. After being tortured, he confessed and reluctantly surrendered the names of his co-conspirators. With this information in hand, the police went from home to home, threatening their parents to turn in their sons. The boys would give themselves up a few days later, after being assured that no harm would come to them. And then they disappeared. Their parents tried in vain to find out what had happened to their sons…According to their parents, Atef Najeeb, the branch chief and a cousin of Bashar Al Assad, met with them and told the men to forget their children; to go and make new ones…The men returned home, defeated, humiliated and simmering with rage. Soon afterwards, Khaled Masalmeh, an attorney and human rights activist, told the underground movement in Daraa that a protest was being planned in Damascus by an opposition group on March 15…The revolution that emerged from the school wall sometimes feels like it’s hitting that physical barrier over and over again, because beyond the toppled walls of fear are walls of grief and brutality. Walls that a young revolution was not prepared to destroy; walls which the regime has spent four decades constructing. Even so, the Syrian people keep tearing those walls down.”
“UAE’s Aid Smuggling Network Helps Syrians” – The National – By Paul Muir. Excerpt: “According to a recent United Nations estimate, more than 8,500 people have died since the Syrian crisis began last year, and most of the dead were civilians. Farouk believes that the international humanitarian response has been unable to keep pace with the grim reality of daily life and the relentless killings in Syria. ‘Bringing aid into Syria is officially illegal,’ he says, explaining why he and many other fellow countrymen and women across the UAE began, around 10 months ago, to raise funds and collect aid to smuggle into the country…Lorries loaded with donated food, blankets, medical supplies, clothing, mobile phones and almost anything else they can lay their hands on, now depart from the UAE every five to 10 days. From there they travel through Saudi Arabia to Jordan and then across the border into Syria. And that’s where it gets tricky…”
“Young Syrian Activists Put Life on Hold in Revolt” – Bloomberg Businessweek – By Ben Hubbard.
“Last year, Khalid was a 19-year-old Syrian university student whose modest dreams were to land a job and earn enough to marry his girlfriend — not simple tasks given Syria’s weak economy and his lack of connections to the ruling elite. Since then, he’s become a fugitive activist in the fight to topple President Bashar Assad. Khalid said he has been tortured by security forces and hasn’t spoken to his loved ones in months for fear he’ll endanger their lives. Young people like Khalid have manned the front lines in the uprisings across the Arab world, organizing protests, documenting violence and taking up arms against government troops. Analysts say youth frustration has proven to be a potent force in an area where some 60 percent of people are under 25 — making it one of the world’s youngest regions…”
“Syrian Rebels in Turkey Keep Spirits and Hopes Up as They Wait for Tide to Turn” – The Guardian – By Constanze Letsch. Excerpt: “Routed by a brutal conflict and driven from their country, Syrians in Turkey might be expected to be a desperate bunch. But in the border camps and hospitals, defiance far outweighs despair…”
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