Syrian President Denies Responsibility for Violence and Political Turmoil, Country Braces for Continued Tumult
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During his first interview with American media since the start of the revolution, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claimed no responsibility for the violence and political turmoil in Syria, reiterating Damascus’s official line. President Assad told ABC‘s Barbara Walters this week that only a “crazy person” would kill his own people and indeed, the violence that has taken hold of Syria must only be attributed to armed gangs and efforts by the Syrian government to quell them. At the same time, Burhan Ghalioun, head of the leading opposition group, the Syrian National Council, made a number of missteps during an interview with the Wall Street Journal, leaving some concerned about the extent of his political acumen. The first week of December was a violent one, with well over 100 people killed amid ongoing turmoil. It came on the heels of the deadliest month thus far in the revolution: over 950 people were reportedly killed across the country during the month of November.
The Syrian Revolution
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an estimated 63 people were killed in violence across the country over the course of last weekend. Some 25 people were killed on Saturday, with most of the deaths occurring during violent clashes between the Syrian military and army defectors in the northwestern city of Idlib. The clashes occurred in the early hours of the morning, with an estimated eight members of the military and security forces killed, as well as three civilians. Deaths on Saturday were also reported in Homs and in the southern province of Daraa.
On Monday, activists reported a spate of violent abductions in Homs, with some reports suggesting that as many as 34 people were kidnapped and killed in the city that day.
The following day, reports emerged that 35 armed Syrian opposition members in Turkey had allegedly attempted to cross into Syria. The men were reportedly engaged by Syrian security forces, resulting in brief clashes before they retreated back into Turkey. However the men, said to be associated with the Free Syrian Army, claim that while the clashes did occur along the border, they did originate from the Turkish side. According to the FSA members, three were injured during the clashes. It is impossible to confirm any of these reports.
On Thursday, December 8, the Local Coordination Committees (LCC) called for the implementation of a countrywide strike beginning the Sunday, in an effort to stifle the Syrian government. The strike is to be called the “Dignity Strike” and is aimed at bringing about the “sudden death to this tyrant regime”. “The Syrian revolution is a dignified one, a revolution where every human being seeks his own decent life and free choice,” the LCC’s statement read.
The same day, a large explosion occurred at an important Syrian pipeline carrying domestically produced oil to Homs. The explosion occurred in the Tal Asour area of Homs province. The Syrian government attributed the explosion to an attack by an armed terrorist group. The pipeline is indeed the primary line into the Homs refinery.
Reports also emerged on Thursday suggesting that unusually large numbers of Syrian military and security forces had surrounded the city of Homs, with many speculating that a massive crackdown would soon follow. No such reports were independently confirmed.
November was reportedly the deadliest month of the Syrian revolution, with an estimated 950 people dying in security crackdowns, clashes, and opposition attacks. Last week, a high level UN official declared Syria to be a in a state of civil war, an assessment derived from the growing number of lethal attacks waged by the opposition against government forces.
Debate over international intervention in support of opposition
During an interview last week of Colonel Riad al-Asaad, commander of the Free Syrian Army, Cecily Hilleary of Middle East Voices, covered a number of key issues, including the overall mission of the FSA, the extent of its supplies and manpower, and the controversial issue of whether or not the group supports international intervention in Syria. The Middle East Voices is part of Voice of America, a US-government financed media outlet. Some excerpts:
Hilleary: What is your mission?
Al-Asaad: As Commander of the Free Syrian Army [FSA], my mission is to protect the protesters and defend Syrian people and cities against violations, the killing of innocent people, and I seek an end to this regime, which is a criminal, brutal regime run by gangsters who are unlawfully ruling Syria.
Hilleary: Do you have enough manpower and weaponry to accomplish this mission?
Al-Asaad: No. The FSA is not equipped with the necessary equipment. However, we are on the ground fighting back, using our strong beliefs, supported by the entire population, and that is enough to enable us to protect our people and topple the regime in a short period of time, God willing.
Hilleary: France and Turkey have been talking about establishing a buffer zone inside the Syrian border with Turkey. How would the creation of such a zone help your mission?
Al-Asaad: It would help a great deal because it would encourage soldiers and officers who want to defect, but are scared to do so due to a lack of protection. They are forced now to continue with the Assad regime, but once a safety buffer zone is created, a lot of soldiers and officers will be encouraged to defect, which would greatly impact the regime’s army, as it would collapse from within.
Hilleary: Are Shi’a, Sunni and Alawites represented among your ranks? Some media reports have…
Al-Asaad: Not at all. We reject sectarianism, as we have suffered from it under this regime for 40 years of injustice and oppression that used a sectarian approach. As for us, we reject such an approach and we are open to all people and allow all factions to join the FSA, with no discrimination whatsoever between Alawites, Druze, Christians and even Kurds. We invite all to join this Free Army, so that it can be a real national army that is really protecting the country and allowing every Syrian citizen the right to live in a secure country, within their beloved homeland.
It is not a civil war. It is rather a war by the regime against its own people.
Hilleary: If the FSA were to succeed in its mission of overthrowing President Assad, it may be perceived by many as another military coup. Is the FSA or yourself making a bid for power?
Al-Asaad: No. It will never be a military coup. We support the Syrian National Council [SNC], which represents the Syrian people. We are not seeking a military coup -I assure you we are not. So far, we are not interfering in politics. We rejection factionalism and we do not indulge in politics. The Free Syrian Army was formed on non-partisan, non-political grounds. It is the country’s army, for all Syrians, with just one mission: to protect the homeland and its citizens. The Free Syrian Army isn’t involved in politics now and won’t be in the future.
Hilleary: Today, we hear that the United Nations has, for the first time, referred to the crisis in Syria as a “civil war.” Do you agree with that assessment?
Al-Asaad: No. It is not a civil war. It is rather a war by the regime against its own people. It is a gangster’s campaign against the Syrian people. Ironically, the regime perceives the Syrians as slaves. That is why this criminal gang is launching a war against a helpless people.
Hilleary: If you had a chance to deliver a personal message to the U.S. President, what would you tell him?
Al-Asaad: I urge President Obama to stand by the Syrian people, who have been dealt with unjustly. Syrians are being killed, raped, subjected to theft. They are losing their homes. Syrians deserve the same rights to freedom that American people enjoy, so I call on President Obama to really support the Syrian people quickly – until this regime falls. The entire Syrian population has already decided that this regime should leave.
To read the interview in full, click here.
Syrian opposition blogger Razan Ghazzawi arrested
On Sunday December 4, well-known Syrian blogger, Razan Ghazzawi, was arrested in Syria while traveling to a conference in Jordan on media freedom in the Middle East. According to Razan’s colleagues at the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, she was detained by immigration officers upon arriving at the country’s border with Jordan.
Unlike the vast majority of anti-government activists in Syria, Razan did not use a pseudonym to protect her identity. She posted regularly on her blog and on Twitter, covering the revolution.
In an interview with The Times two months prior, Razan said, “some of my friends think it’s ‘brave’ of me to publish news in my real name on Twitter and Facebook.” However, she continued, “the regime is tracking activists on the ground. The regime doesn’t care about online activists. That’s why no one knocked on my door for the past six months. My online activism doesn’t threaten them as much as those organizing the protests.”
To view Razan’s Twitter page, click here. To view her blog, click here. More reading on Razan: “Why Syria’s Arrested Blogger, Razan Ghazzawi, Is One of My Heroes,” Jillian C. York for The Guardian.
Controversial remarks by Syrian National Council’s head Burhan Ghalioun
On December 2, the Wall Street Journal ran an interview with head of the Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, that arguably undermined international perceptions of Ghalioun’s political acumen. Of central concern were certain remarks that highlighted the SNC’s undemocratic origins and Ghalioun’s apparent failure to heed that reality upon commenting on a number of key issues facing the opposition and the Syria’s future more broadly.
From terming Syria’s relationship with Iran “abnormal” and announcing that Syria would shift its relations with its oldest ally quite considerably if the opposition succeeded in bringing down the government, to announcing that the new Syria would depend on the West to regain Golan Heights, to hinging his conception of the how the country’s post-Assad future would play out on the continued functioning of government institutions and infrastructure, to noting that the SNC receives most of its funding from Syrian businessmen, Ghalioun provided fodder for those looking to demonstrate that SNC is not yet representative of the broader Syrian public. Some excerpts from the interview:
WSJ: How is the SNC funding its operations?
Mr. Ghalioun: Up until now, the council has been funded by donations from generous Syrian businessmen. We have been promised help from several Arab states. We are open to receiving donations. Among them are the Libyans for example. They don’t have the liquidity now but they have pledged. Even counting donations inside Syria, around 90% are from businessmen.
WSJ: How might a corridor or buffer zone be enforced without a Security Council resolution? Will all scenarios entail foreign intervention?
Mr. Ghalioun: We say it is imperative to use forceful measures to force the regime to respect human rights. But this doesn’t mean military intervention to topple the regime. This is different than the organized military intervention that happened in Iraq for regime change. We count on Syrians to bring down the Syrian regime. We want the international community to stop the oppression of the Syrian people.
WSJ: You met this week with the leadership of the Free Syrian Army. Have you decided to endorse the dissident army and what is cooperation like between the groups?
Mr. Ghalioun: We went there for two objectives; to coordinate its plans with the council to fulfill the council’s strategy and the strategy of the peaceful revolution. We told them we want them to focus their operations on the protection of civilians and not to perform offensive attacks on the military. We told them offensive operations can lead to two armies in the country and push us to civil war.. But defending innocent civilians is a duty of these defected soldiers.
Our second objective was to help the army to organize all the forces carrying arms in cities and neighborhoods to avert the potential of armed elements that we don’t have control over. We do not want, after the fall of the regime in Syria, armed militias outside the control of the state. They assured us that they will implement our agreement and abide by our request not to launch any offensive operation. They also assured us what happened recently [alleged attacks on state forces] may have been different groups. We will investigate this…
WSJ: How was the Syrian National Council formed and could it widen its base?
Mr. Ghalioun: The council was formed as a coalition between seven different political entities. These entities presented names of different people that would represent them. The representation in this way does not in fact adequately represent women and some minorities. We strive now, and we discussed in our last meeting, to open up the council to new political forces and personalities to improve the participation of minorities and of females.
We are aware of the importance of minorities, even beyond proportionately, to ease their fears. We believe they should even be overrepresented in the SNC so they are assured they are partners in the future life of Syria.…
WSJ: The council’s leadership is assigned for three months terms. When does the current term end and who will lead a transitional government?
Mr. Ghalioun: To respect democratic principles, the president has a three months term, and it can be extended. My term began in October for three months. Extension is something that will be discussed—it’s a possibility.
The transitional government will be formed by the SNC and it will also include others from the opposition, technocrats, and military leaders who don’t have blood on their hands. A transitional period of a year is needed to assure parties can prepare and organize, and also draft a new election law.
It should be clear that the regime and the state are separate. We don’t want the state to collapse. We want to make use of the different agencies of the state and make them function. A national reconciliation committee will be formed during this period. Intelligence and security services will also be brought under control. There will be the release of all political prisoners. And prosecution will start for those who were committed and involved in crimes against humanity in Syria. They will be brought to justice.
WSJ: Syria currently has a strategic relationship with Iran and Hezbollah. How would a new Syrian government position itself vis-à-vis these governments? What would relations be like?
Mr. Ghalioun: The current relationship between Syria and Iran is abnormal. It is unprecedented in Syria’s foreign policy history…Our relations with Iran will be revisited as any of the countries in the region, based on the exchange of economic and diplomatic interests, in the context of improving stability in the region and not that of a special relationship. There will be no special relationship with Iran…
WSJ: Is there a sense on how the support of Hamas and Hezbollah would change?
Mr. Ghalioun: Our relationship with Lebanon will be of cooperation, and mutual recognition and exchange of interests and seeking with the Lebanese to improve stability in the region. As our relations with Iran change, so too will our relationship with Hezbollah. Hezbollah after the fall of the Syrian regime will not be the same. Lebanon should not be used as it was used in the Assad era as an arena to settle political scores…
WSJ: Would there still be a major priority on reclaiming the Golan Heights?
Mr. Ghalioun: We hope that the political and geopolitical conditions will be more conducive to reclaiming the Golan through measures of negotiation. The Golan is a real indicator of Syria’s sovereignty and stability; there is no doubt it will be returned. We are banking on our special relationship with the Europeans and western powers in helping us in reclaiming the Golan as fast as possible.
WSJ: What is your view of the U.S. role on Syria?
Mr. Ghalioun: Only recently we started to see countries realize they are very late and have to support change. The Americans aren’t far removed from what happens. They are participating in creating Western, European, Arab, and Turkish public opinion. I believe they are choosing a back seat strategy of cooperation. This is a good strategy, and I think Syrians want international cooperation and cooperation among the Arab states and the international community to guarantee the stability and sovereignty of their nation. We want Arabs to have the first role.
To read the interview in its entirety (a significant portion of it was cut out of the abbreviated version above), click here.
President Assad interviewed by Barbara Walters – “How can I feel remorseful if I try to protect the Syrian people?”
On December 7, American journalist Barbara Walters of ABC travelled to Damascus to conduct the American media’s first official interview with President Assad since the start of the revolution in March. Unsurprisingly, President Assad maintained the official line from Damascus, attributing the country-wide violence to armed gangs and efforts to control them, disputing charges of using violence indiscriminately against unarmed civilian populations, and questioning the legitimacy of the United Nations. Assad also denied having any responsibility for the country’s current crisis, in particular, charging that he never issued orders to use force against civilians and indeed has no control over the military; he does not ‘own the country’. Some excerpts from interview:
Walters: Not long ago you were widely seen as a fresh pragmatic leader, a doctor whose life was in healing people, now sir, much of the world regards you as a dictator and a tyrant. What do you say to that?
Assad: What’s important how the Syrian people look at you, not how you look at yourself. So I don’t have to look at myself. This is… second, it’s about the system. You have a dictator and you have dictatorship, there’s a big difference between the two, dictatorship is about the system, we never said we are democratic country, but we’re not the same, we– we are moving forward in, in reforms, especially during the last nine month, so I think we are moving forward, it takes a long time, it takes a lot of maturity to be full fledge democratic country, but we are moving that, that direction, for me as a person, whatever I do should be based on the will of the people, because you need popular legitimacy and this is against dictatorship for person.
Walters: But you talk about the support of your people. You did have the support of your people, and then began these demonstrations, which I will discuss in more detail and crackdowns, and you have people now who don’t want you to lead. You don’t have the support of your people…
Assad: You always have people that don’t want you to be in that position, that’s self-evident, that’s normal, you cannot say that having the support of the people. All the people support you means something absolute. You’re talking about the majority, and people are against you, they’re not majority, when they are majority you don’t have to stay in that position.
Walters: But you have people who are against you who are protesting every day. It started with people marching with olive branches and with their children asking for more freedom, for freedom of press, for freedom of expression, and much of the country now, sir, is not supporting you, that’s what these, that’s what your crisis is about.
Assad: Yeah. That’s why we had the reform started quickly, after the very beginning that you described as simple, so we didn’t take the role, we didn’t play the role of stubborn government, they say they need more freedom. We right away had new party laws, new media law, new election law, new local administration law, and we are revising our constitution now.
Walters: You have seen, I am certain, the pictures of Egypt from the President Mubarak in jail, pictures of, uh, in Libya of Moammar Gadhafi killed, are you afraid that you might be next?
Assad: No, I am afraid that the people won’t support me, Syrian people… If you don’t have the support of the people you cannot be in this position.
Walters: You feel the majority of the people in this country support you?
Assad: I say the majority are in the middle and the majority are not against — to be precise.
Walters: The cartoonist who was critical of you, I have seen his pictures, his hands were broken, he was beaten.
Assad: Many people criticize me, did they kill all of them, who killed who, most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government not the vice versa.
Walters: Well in the beginning these protests, the women were marching with children carrying olive branches nobody at that point was asking for you to step down. It has escalated. Do you think that your forces cracked down too hard?
Assad: They are not my forces, they are military forces belong to the government.
Walters: OK, but you are the government.
Assad: I don’t own them. I am president. I don’t own the country, so they are not my forces.
Walters: No, but you have to give the order?
Assad: No, no, no. We have, in the constitution, in the law, the mission of the institution to protect the people to stand against any chaos or any terrorists, that their job, according to the constitution to their– to the law of the institution.
Walters: The crackdown was without your permission?
Assad: Would you mind, what do you mean by crackdown?
Walters: The, the reaction to the people, the some of the murders some of the things that happened?
Assad: No, there is a difference between having policy to crack down and between having some mistakes committed by some officials, there is a big difference. For example, when you talk about policy it’s like what happened in Guantanamo when you have policy of torture for example we don’t have such a policy to crack down or to torture people, you have mistakes committed by some people or we heard we have some allegations about mistakes, that is why we have a special committee to investigate what happened and then we can tell according to the evidences we have mistakes or not. But as a policy, no.
Walters: Have there been mistakes made in this crackdown, yes?
Assad: Yes, for one reason because we don’t, when you don’t prepare yourself for new situation you are going to make mistakes.
Walters: Last week an independent United Nations Commission who interviewed more than two hundred and twenty five people issued a report what it said was that your government committed crimes against humanity and they went on torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence against protesters including against children, what do you say to them, I mean what I am saying again and again is that protesters were, were beaten, things happened to them, um, do you acknowledge that, do you acknowledge what the U.N. said?
Assad: Very simply I would say send us the documents and the concrete evidences that you have and we will see if that is true or not, you have not offered allegations now.
Walters: Did the U.N. not send you these documents?
Assad: Nothing at all…They should send us the documents, as long as we don’t see the documents and the evidences we cannot say yes that’s normal, we cannot say just because the United Nations who said that the United Nations is a credible institution first of all.
Walters: You do not think the United Nations is a credible organization?
Assad: No, for one reason, they haven’t implemented, they never implemented any of the resolutions that related to the Arab world for example the Palestinians to the Syrian land why don’t they, if they talk about human rights what about the Palestinians suffering in the occupied territory, what about my land is my people that live their land because it’s occupied by Israel, of course not.
Walters: You describe your country now as a stable country?
Assad: In most of the areas, yes. We have trouble we have turbulence but not, not to the extent that you have a divided army. If you have divided army you are going to have real war. You don’t have war, you have– instability is different from war.
Walters: You do not feel now that you are at the brink of a civil war?
Assad: No. No, not because of our policy because of the history of this society.
Walters: How do you hope that you will be remembered?
Assad: By doing the best I can, can for, for this country. Whether you agree, or whether the people agree or don’t, don’t agree, but at– at the end, I was not a puppet. I care a lot about being independent president for independent Syria. And do my best, according to my convictions. That’s the most important thing. At the end, even if they disagree with you, they will respect you.
Walters: Dealing with the protest– with the protesters. What is the misconception, if there is any? …
Assad: OK, we don’t kill our people, nobody kill. No government in the world kill its people, unless it’s led by crazy person. For me, as president, I became president because of the public support. It’s impossible for anyone, in this state, to give order to kill people.
Walters: Are you remorseful? …
Assad: No, a regret– you regret when you do– when you do mistakes, when you commit a mistake. I always try to protect my people. How can I feel remorseful if I try to protect the Syrian people?
To read the entire interview, click here. To watch a video of segments of the interview, click here. For an interesting read on the manner in which Walters and her accompanying correspondents were treated whilst in Syria, click here.
International Politics & Diplomacy
US Vice President – “The problem right now is Assad”
On Friday, December 2 during his sixteenth trip to Iraq, US Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. made a number of remarks on the situation in Syria. In particular, Biden stated that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is the principal threat to Syria’s security. “The problem right now is Assad,” Mr. Biden said during a subsequent interview. “Could something emerge that is more disruptive regionally? I don’t think so, but it could.”
Jordan – “no possibility” of its support for buffer zone
On Saturday, December 3, Jordanian Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications, Rakan Majali, told The Jordan Times that the situation along his country’s border with Syria remained “normal” and that while some displaced Syrians are indeed seeking refuge in Jordan, their numbers remain quite small. To that end, Majali stated that the situation in Syria is by no means approaching a “humanitarian crisis” that would demand Western intervention.
On the issue of establishing a ‘buffer zone’ or ‘humanitarian corridor’ inside Syria to allow humanitarian aid to reach the country’s worst effected populations, Majali said that there is “no possibility” that Amman would condone such a plan.
“We will not support any action – economic sanctions, buffer zone or otherwise – that is against the interest of the Jordanian people or the Syrian people,” Majali said on Saturday.
“We will continue to offer emergency medical support for Syrian civilians, but that is where our support ends,” Majali stated. “We support Syria’s sovereign right to prevent smuggling and we are taking actions to maintain security along the border region,” he added.
Syria accepts Arab League observer force with conditions, League puts new demands under study
On Monday, December 5, international media reported that the Syrian government had agreed to allow an Arab mission of civilian and military observers into the country. However, Damascus’s acceptance of the mission was linked to the fulfillment of a number of conditions, among them, the removal of economic sanctions against Syria. The conditions were as follows:
1) “The Syrian government would like the signing of the protocol between the League and the [Syrian government] to take place in Damascus based on the Arab Action plan that was agreed on in Doha on 30/10/2011.
2) “All decisions made by the League’s council in the absence of Syria, including the suspension of Syria’s membership and the issuing of sanctions by the ministerial committee and the ministerial councils against Syria, will be considered null at the time of the signing of the protocol between the two parties.
3) “Following the signing of the protocol, the Secretary General of the League will notify the UN Secretary General in a written letter that includes the agreement and the positive results that have been reached, and will ask him [the UN Secretary General] to distribute the letter to the president and members of the Security Council and the member states as an official document.”
Translations of the conditions were taken from Al-Akhbar English. Click here to view the original source.
Further, Damascus requested that the abovementioned conditions be met in conjunction with its previously submitted list of amendments to the monitoring mission. Select of those amendments are listed below:
“An independent mission is to be formed, composed of Arab military and civilian personnel nominated by Arab states and organizations involved in human rights and the provision of protection to civilians, to be sent to the Syrian Arab Republic. It will be known as the Arab League Monitoring Mission and operate within its framework. It is assigned with monitoring implementation of the Arab plan for resolving the Syrian crisis and providing protection to Syrian civilians.”
“An independent Mission is to be formed, composed of Arab military and civilian personnel nominated by Arab states, to be sent to the Syrian Arab Republic. It will be known as the Arab League Monitoring Mission and operate within its framework. It is assigned with monitoring implementation of the clauses of the Arab plan for resolving the current crisis in Syria. The Syrian side will be provided with a list comprising the names, status, ranks and nationalities of the Mission’s members.”
“The Mission will start work immediately after Syria signs this Protocol. It will initially dispatch a delegation consisting of the Head of the Mission and an adequate number of monitors (between 30 and 50), supported by an appropriate number of administrative staff and sufficient security personnel to provide personal protection to members of the Mission.”
“The Mission will start work immediately after Syria signs this Protocol. It will initially dispatch a delegation consisting of the Head of the Mission and an adequate number of monitors, supported by an appropriate number of administrative staff.”
Clause II – Subclause
“The number of monitors will be determined by the Head of the Mission, in consultation with the Secretary-General, in accordance with his assessment of the Mission’s requirements to perform its task of monitoring the Syrian government’s compliance with its commitments to protecting civilians in the fullest manner. The Secretary-General may call on technical assistance and observers from Arab, Islamic and friendly states in carrying out the tasks assigned to the Mission.”
“The number of monitors will be determined by the Head of the Mission, in consultation with the Secretary-General and in coordination with Syria, in accordance with his assessment of the Mission’s requirements in performing its task of monitoring the Syrian government’s compliance with its commitments in the fullest manner. The Secretary-General may call on technical assistance and observers from Arab states in carrying out the tasks assigned to the Mission.”
Clause III, Subclause 3
“To verify the release of those detained due to the current events.”
“To verify the phased release of those detained due to the current events who were not involved in crimes of murder or acts of sabotage.”
Clause III, Subclause 4
“To confirm the withdrawal and evacuation of military and armed forces from cities and residential areas which witnessed, or are witnessing, demonstrations and protests.”
“To confirm the withdrawal and evacuation of military and armed forces from cities and residential areas.”
Clause III, Subclause 7
“The Mission will have full freedom of movement, and the freedom to make whatever visits or contacts it considers appropriate, in relation to matters pertaining to its tasks and modus operandi with regard to the provision of protection for civilians.”
“The Mission will have full freedom of movement, and the freedom to make whatever visits or contacts it considers appropriate, in relation to matters pertaining to its tasks and modus operandi, in coordination with the Syrian side.”
Clause IV, Subclause 2
“Access and freedom of movement will be granted to all members of the Mission to all parts of the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic at the times specified by the Mission.”
“Access and freedom of movement will be granted to all members of the Mission in coordination with the Syrian side.”
Clause IV, Subclause 5
“To guarantee that no person, or member of their family, will be punished, harassed or compromised — in any form whatsoever — as a result of having contact with the Mission or providing it with testimony or information.”
“To guarantee that no person will be punished or subjected to pressure — in any form whatsoever — as a result of having contact with the Mission or providing it with testimony or information.”
Damascus also requested the following to amendments:
1.“This protocol is valid for two months from the date of signature, renewable with the consent of both sides”
2. “The Syrian government will not incur any financial costs as a result of the Mission performing its task.”
This translation of the amendments was also taken from Al-Akhbar English. Click here to view the original.
According to the general secretary of the Arab League, Nabil al-Araby, he received a letter on Monday from Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem of Syria that detailed the new conditions. Damascus’s demands are reportedly under study at present. The League had aimed to send some 500 observers to the country.
Commenting on the letter from Moallem, Araby stated that, “The conditions contained new elements that we have not heard before.” Araby likewise stated that even if Syria agrees to allow the observer force into the country, the League’s punitive measure would not automatically be revoked. “These sanctions are in force until another decision is adopted by the Arab foreign ministers,” he explained.
A few days later, Araby termed the League’s sanctions against Syria as “temporary,” noting that they would be lifted as soon as Syria signed the protocol to allow the observer force into the country. “The ball is in the Syrian court. They can come and sign at any time, perhaps 24 hours after that, there will be the observers there. It’s up to them,” Arabi said. “They want to stop the economic sanctions, they sign.”
Finally, given Damascus’s track record, there is little reason to believe that it would allow observers into the country’s hotspots – if it indeed ever permitted their entry.
The Arab League imposed sanctions against Syria on November 27, just a few weeks after suspending its membership in protest of Damascus’s use of violence against civilians.
Nasrallah reiterates support for Assad in rare public address
On December 6, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah made an unusual public address, during which he reiterated Hezbollah’s continued support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“There are some who don’t want civil peace or stability and want to destroy Syria. There are some who want to make up for their defeat in Iraq and their inevitable loss in any change in the situation in Syria for the benefit of Israel,” Nasrallah said.
“The so-called Syrian National Council, formed in Istanbul, has a leader, a university professor by the name of Burhan Ghalioun who said a few days ago that he wants to cut ties with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas if they [Syrian opposition] were able to change the regime and take over power in Syria … they are trying to present their credentials to the Americans and the Israelis,” he added.
US State Department on Ambassador Ford, the Syrian National Council, and Assad’s interview with President Assad
On December 6, US Ambassador Ford returned to Damascus after being called back to Washington for several weeks. According to US State Department spokesman Mark Toner, Ford will “continue the same kind of work he did previously, which is delivering our [the State Department’s] message of support for the Syrian people, and trying to provide reliable reporting on the situation on the ground, and engaging as best he can, given the limitations, with the full spectrum of Syrian society, on how to both end the bloodshed and begin a democratic transition”.
Toner also stated that the US government believes that “the presence of Ambassador Ford sends a message that we’re not going to turn away, we’re going to keep him there, we’re going to keep pushing for monitors on the ground, for that democratic transition that we’ve called for.”
On the issue of US relations with the Syrian National Council, Toner said, “we believe the Syrian National Council is a leading and legitimate representative of the Syrian opposition, of those Syrians who are seeking this kind of peaceful democratic transition, and we’re going to continue our outreach to them as well as to other opposition figures.”
Regarding Barbara Walter’s interview with President Assad and the Syrian President’s remark that he is not in charge of the military, Toner said the following: “I find it ludicrous that he is attempting to hide behind some sort of shell game but also some sort of claim that he doesn’t exercise authority in his own country. He has had opportunities in the past to end the violence. We can go through the litany. First, it was the Arab League, Turkey, other countries, other organizations, the UN have called on him to stop the violence, have offered him plans to end the violence. He’s rejected all of them, usually through a long, convoluted process where he plays for time. There’s just no indication that he’s doing anything other than cracking down in the most brutal fashion on a peaceful opposition movement.”
To read Toner’s remark in full, click here.
Clinton meets with Syrian National Council, encourages inclusion of minorities in opposition
On Tuesday, December 6, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met in Geneva, Switzerland with members of the Syrian National Council. The meeting was a signal to the SNC of the US government’s deepening engagement with the Syrian opposition.
The meeting ran nearly two hours, during which the members reportedly informed Clinton of their plans for a post-Assad Syria. According to US officials, Clinton stressed that the SNC needs to expand its base to include more minorities.
“Obviously, a democratic transition is more than removing the Assad regime,” she reportedly said. “It means setting Syria on the path of the rule of law and protecting the universal rights of all citizens regardless of sect or ethnicity or gender“. Clinton urged the members to counter the Syrian government’s “divide and conquer approach, which pits ethnic groups against one another”.
The visit marked Clinton’s second meeting with members of the Syrian opposition.
US Republican presidential candidates call for covert operations against Syrian government
On Wednesday, US Republican presidential candidates made a number of remarks calling for “covert” operations against both Syria and Iran during a meeting of Republican party activists. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich said US policy toward Syria should be to “replace” President Assad and “do everything we can, indirectly and covertly — but without American forces — to help” the opposition bring down the current Syrian government.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said of the Syria issue, “We should also have covert and overt activities to encourage voices of dissent within the country. Ultimately regime change is what’s going to be necessary in that setting.”
Hamas denies reports that it will relocate headquarters outside Damascus
On Wednesday, December 7, the Wall Street Journal ran an article claiming that Hamas had ordered the majority of its staff in its Damascus headquarters to leave the country following extensive pressure from both Qatar and Turkey. According to the report, the two countries were intending to step up Syria’s international isolation. The report also stated that the organization will would set up new offices in Egypt and Qatar.
The following day, however, Al-Nakhbar ran an article stating that Hamas adamantly denies that it intends to relocate its offices outside of Syria. “There is no such matter, this is not true,” an unnamed Hamas official told al-Akhbar.
Economic Development & Trade
Syria cuts trade agreement with Turkey, imposes tariff on Turkish goods
Late last week, the Syrian government announced that it was suspending its trade agreement with Turkey in retaliation against Ankara for its move to impose sanctions against Damascus. The decision by Damascus cuts of bilateral trade between the two countries and according to Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan, “the Syrian government punishes its own people, industrialists, exporters and entrepreneurs,” by making such a move.
Damascus also imposed a 30 percent tariff on all Turkish goods, as well as taxes on all Turkish cars coming in and out of Syria.
The trade pact was signed back in 2004 following extension negotiations and marked a considerable thaw in relations between the two countries. In 2010, Turkey exported a total of USD 1.8 billion in goods to Syria, while Turkish imports from Syria in the same year totaled USD 663 million – amounting to about 0.3 percent of all Turkish imports.
“Suspending the agreement means … Syria will be exposed to economic problems more, as it already suffers from procurement issues,” Caglayan stated.
Jordan requests exclusion from Arab League sanctions against Syria, League cuts flights by 50 percent – not entirely
On Monday, December 5, Jordan announced that it had submitted a request to the Arab League to be excluded from the implementation of the League’s sanctions against Syria.
According to Jordanian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammad Kayed, “We asked the Arab League’s technical committee, during its meeting in Doha on Saturday to exclude Jordan’s trade and aviation sectors from the sanctions,” Kayed said.
Kayed added that the League’s technical committee, also lowered the number of flights that would travel to Syria by 50 percent, rather than halting them entirely.
“The Miqati Government in Lebanon – Continued Subjugation to the Syrian Patron: Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 763” – Middle East Media Research Institute – E. Picali covers the positions on the Syrian revolution of the Lebanese government under Prime Minister Najib al-Miqati; elements of the Lebanese press, and; members of the Lebanese Druze and Christian communities. A well-researched backgrounder.
“The Plot Thickens: Ghalyoun’s Ill-Conceived Statements in the WSJ Interview” – Jadaliyya – Bassam Haddad tears apart Syrian National Council head Burhan Ghalioun’s remarks during his recent Wall Street Journal interview, accusing Ghalioun of “political immaturity”.
“Why Russia is Backing Syria” – The Guardian – David Hearst offers up an interpretation of Russia’s stance on Syria that runs counter to popular conceptions, arguing that while Russia’s economic ties to Syria and its current government are significant, its fears of Syrian civil war and its impact on Dagestan are more compelling.
“Implications of Military Intervention in Syria” – Strategic Research and Communications Centre – Jeffrey White evaluates the risks of waging a military intervention in Syria, setting forth a list of key issues that would need to be factored in to such a move – among them, “assessing capabilities” of government forces; “determining means” or deciding the form intervention should, and; “assessing risk”. White goes on to use Libya as a cautionary example of how intervention can run askew from initial intentions, and yet breezes over his own concerns to note that “waiting for complete clarity before deciding to intervene can lead to paralysis”.
“This Damn Weather” – Anders Birger Blog – Photojournalist Anders Birger’s recent captures from the Old City, Damascus.
Two reads about Syrian minorities in the opposition:
“Q&A: Syria’s Daring Actress” – Al Jazeera – An interview with Fadwa Soliman, an Alawi actress from Aleppo, who joined anti-government protests in Homs a number of months ago and was subsequently forced into hiding. Soliman was among the first Syrian celebrities to openly rebuke the current government.
“Syrian Alawite Protestor Speaks Out” – Institute for War & Peace Reporting – Salam Hafes interviews an Alawi member of the Syrian Revolution General Council, one of the political groups representing members of the Syrian opposition. Issues covered include the government’s position that it is the ‘defender of minorities’, estimations of the number of Alawis who have joined the opposition, and burgeoning sectarian conflict in central 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.