Resolute Syrian President to Use ‘Iron Fist’, Debate Over International Intervention Propels Disunity Among Opposition
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On Tuesday, January 10 during an address at Damascus University, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad highlighted ongoing government reforms and vowed to continue the government’s fight against terrorism and international conspirators. For its part, the Arab League observer mission in Syria has already been deemed a failure; violence has heavily intensified with over 400 killed since the first of its members arrived in country two weeks ago. At the same time, fuel and heating oil shortages, as well as a growing dearth of affordable food stuffs, are posing serious challenges to nearly all.
The Syrian Revolution
Bombing in Midan
On Friday, January 6th, a bomb reportedly killed 26 people and injured another 63 when it exploded in Midan, in central Damascus. In response to the killings, Syrian Interior Minister Ibrahim al-Shaar, stated that “We will strike back with an iron fist at anyone tempted to tamper with the security of the country or its citizens.”
For Syrian state media’s reportage on the bombing, click here. For more foreign reportage, click here.
Syrian National Council seeking “partial no-fly zone”
During an interview with the BBC in his apartment in Paris, France last week, SNC chairman Burhan Ghalioun, stated that his organization is seeking a “partial no-fly zone”.
“We’re asking them [foreign governments] to assess every possible option to create and enforce a safe area in Syria and to stop the atrocities being committed in Syrian towns”, Ghalioun said.
“We are seeking a partial no-fly zone: covering a limited area, just over one piece of territory. We don’t want the complete destruction of Syria’s air defences,” he continued.
According to Ghalioun, the SNC wants to “distinguish between the regime and the state in Syria. There will not be chaos like in Libya. We still have powerful military institutions that we want to preserve.”
Ghalioun went on to state that, “We [the SNC] don’t want international intervention to replace the Syrian revolution. We want it to support the Syrian revolution.”
Early this week, the SNC decided to extend Ghalioun’s stint as the chairman of the group by an additional month. The position was originally set to span three months, but the absence of an effective election mechanism prompted the group to postpone choosing a new leader.
Debate over the issue of international intervention has been a central factor in the opposition’s continued disunity.
President Assad Addresses the nation, attributes crisis to terrorists and international conspiracy
On Tuesday, January 10, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad delivered a lengthy public address at Damascus University. The address, totaling over 15,000 words, covered a range of domestic and international issues, from the country’s security situation, to the role of foreign governments in Syria’s current crisis.
President Assad reiterated his stated commitment to implementing reforms and highlighted those that have already been enacted. He stated that the country’s new constitution will be put to referendum and expressed support for including national opposition and all political forces in the government. He also emphasized the importance of “fighting terrorism with an iron fist” as he continues to charge that the current crisis is the result of terrorist activities. Some excerpts:
“…I acquire a position with the support of the people; and when I leave it, it will be with the will of this people. This is final, and regardless of what you heard, I always based my external policy in all our positions on public support and public will.”
“There was repeated talk about the good intention of many from within Syria and the outside world. Why did we not allow the media to enter Syria? In fact, during the first month or month and a half of the crisis, Arab and foreign media networks were completely free to move inside Syria. However, all the media fabrications, and the whole political and media campaign against Syria, were built on that phase of forging and distortion…That is why we took a decision not to close the door to all media networks, but to be selective in the access given to them in order to control the quality of the information or the falsification which goes beyond the borders.”
“…why did not the Arabs stand with Syria rather than standing against Syria? I ask a question: when did they stand with Syria?!”
“The Arab League mirrors our current miserable situation. If it has failed in over six decades in taking a position in the Arab interest, why are we surprised today if the general context is the same…”
“…based on our genuine Arab character, and our desire to restore the original idea of the Arab League, in which we are supported by some sisterly countries keen on making the Arab League a truly collective and Arab body, we haven’t closed the doors to any solution or proposal; and we shall never close the door to any Arab endeavor as long as it respects our sovereignty, the independence of our decision and the unity of our people.”
If we want to talk about the internal situation – and I think it is the issue over which all Syrians’ concerns are focused – we should identify issues clearly…
Today, we are dealing with two aspects of internal reform: the first is political reform and the second is fighting terrorism which has spread recently to different parts of Syria.”
“If we carry out the reforms, will terrorists stop? Does this mean that the terrorists who are killing and destroying are keen on the political parties law, the local administration elections or things of that kind? They are not. Terrorists don’t care. Reform will not prevent terrorists from being terrorists.”
“The greatest part of the Syrian people want reform, and they have not come out, haven’t broken the law, haven’t killed. This is the largest part of the Syrian people, it is the part which wants reform. For us, reform is the natural context. That is why we announced a phased reform in the year 2000. …At that time there were no pressures in this regard. Pressure was different, in a different direction. No one was talking about internal reform. We proposed it because we thought of it as a natural context not a forced one.”
“If we start from the current crisis, reform will be abrupt and tied to its current circumstances which are temporary. What about future decades? Things will be different. We have to connect what is before the crisis with what is after it regardless of it and then base our work on the reform process.”
“The first law we passed was lifting the state of emergency…”
“Concerning the political parties, the political parties law has been issued. Some parties have applied and have been given licenses. The first license was given to the first party a few weeks ago; and I believe that yesterday or today there is a second party on the way which met all the condition…”
“The local administration law has been passed and elections have been held…”
“As for the media law, I think the government has completed last week the preparation of executive instructions and have become ready for implementation.”
“The important law is the law of fighting corruption. It is the only law which has been delayed for several months. The first reason is related to the fact that this law is very important and has many aspects…”
“The other pillar in reform is the Constitution. The decree that provides for establishing a committee to draft the constitution was issued. This committee was given a deadline of four months and I think that it has become in its final stages.”
“…there should be a referendum because the Constitution is not the state’s Constitution; it is an issue related to every Syrian citizen. …The referendum on the Constitution could be done at the beginning of March.”
“There was a question about dialogue. We launched the dialogue in July, and we were supposed to start with the extensive dialogue and then move to the central dialogue. However, different forces exerted pressure to reverse the process and we agreed and finished the first phase of the dialogue without the contribution of all the opposition forces. Only part of them participated in the dialogue which was a very fruitful dialogue with a wide participation from the different institutions in the governorates.”
“What is taking place in Syria is part of what has been planned for the region for tens of years, as the dream of partition is still haunting the grandchildren of Sykes–Picot…And one thing we will never allow them to achieve is defeating Syria as it means defeating steadfastness and resistance and it also means the fall of the whole region to the hands of great powers.”
“Our utmost priority now, which is unparalleled by any other priority, is the restoration of the security we have enjoyed for decades, and which has characterized our country, not only in the region but throughout the world. This will only happen by striking these murderous terrorists hard. There is no compromise with terrorism, no compromise with those who use arms to cause chaos and division, no compromise with those who terrorize civilians, no compromise with those who conspire with foreigners against their country and against their people.”
To read President Assad’s speech in full, click here.
The day after his speech, the President made a public address in central Damascus. To view photographs from the event, click here.
For foreign reportage on the President’s addresses, see the following:
“Syria’s Bashar al-Assad Chooses the Qaddafi Model” – The Atlantic
“Hillary Clinton Calls President Assad’s Speech ‘Chillingly Cynical‘ – The Telegraph
“Assad’s Speech: Rhetoric of Arrogance and Insensitivity” – Al Akhbar
“Delusions of a Trapped Tyrant” – Sydney Morning Herald
Human Rights Watch reports civilians under fire for approaching Arab League observers
According to a statement released by the international rights group, Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday, January 11, Syrian security forces opened fire on a group of peaceful protesters in Jisr al-Shughur as they attempted to approach members of the Arab League observer force.
According to the statement by HRW, “the Arab League should urgently condemn the Syrian security forces for shooting peaceful protesters who were attempting to reach its observers”. The statement continued, “such incidents, and the ever rising death toll, clearly demonstrate that the presence of Arab League observers has done little to compel the Syrian authorities to stop their crimes. As President Assad derides the Arab League in his speeches, his troops are making a mockery of its observers’ mission on the ground.”
The statement likewise contains testimony from a number of the Syrian civilians who reportedly came under fire.
To read the statement in full, click here.
Nine Syrian civilians and French journalist killed in grenade attack
On Wednesday, January 11, nine Syrian civilians as well as a French TV cameraman, where killed during a grenade attack at a pro-government rally in the central city of Homs. The cameraman, Gilles Jacquier, 43, is the first foreign journalist to have been killed amid the country’s security crisis. Four Syrian journalists have died since March 2011 whilst covering the unrest.
The Syrian government attributed the attack to terrorists.
International Politics & Diplomacy
Arab League observer mission under heavy scrutiny
On January 5 during a meeting with UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon, Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani admitted that the Arab League observer mission in Syria had made mistakes.
“This is the first experience for us. I said we have to evaluate what sorts of mistakes we have (made). There is no doubt for me. I can see there are mistakes, but we went there not to stop the killing, but to monitor,” he said.
Sheik Hamad met with ki-Moon in order to secure UN help for the League’s mission. “We are coming here for technical help and to see the experience the U.N. has, because this is the first time the Arab League is involved in sending monitors, and there are some mistakes,” he said.
Members of the Syrian opposition have heavily criticized the Arab League’s monitor force, asserting that it has been consistently mislead by the Syrian government.
On Monday, following a meeting in Cairo, Arab League officials agreed to allow the observer mission to continue its work, despite widespread criticisms of its overall efficacy and purpose.
The League issued a statement after the meeting highlighting six points: 1) the Syrian government must comply with its agreements; 2) the Syrian government must bring an end to the violence; 3) the League continues to affirm the work of the observer mission, which relies on cooperation from the Syrian government; 4) the League will talk with the UN Secretary General regarding UN assistance for the mission; 5) the mission is to deliver a report on its work on January 19, and; 6) the League calls on the Syrian opposition to intensify efforts to develop a vision for the country’s next phase.
On Tuesday, pro-government demonstrators reportedly attacked members of the observer mission in Lattakia and Deir ez-Zor. The League responded by stating that the Syrian government had failed in its responsibility to protect mission members. Eleven members of the mission were injured, though not severely, during the attack.
“Failing to provide adequate protection in Latakia and other areas where the mission is deployed is considered a serious violation by the government of its commitments,” read an official statement by the League.
The following day, Anwar Malek, an Arab League observer resigned from the mission, along with a number of other observers, telling international media that it was a “farce”. In a statement to Al Jazeera, Malek said the following:
“The mission was a farce and the observers have been fooled, the regime orchestrated it and fabricated most of what we saw, to stop the Arab League from taking action against the regime. What I saw was a humanitarian disaster, the regime is not just committing one war crime, but a series of crimes against its people. The regime didn’t meet any of our requests, in fact they were trying to deceive us and steer us away from what was really happening towards insignificant things, they didn’t withdraw their tanks from the streets they just hid them and then redeployed them after we left.The snipers are everywhere shooting at civilians people are being kidnapped, prisoners are being tortured and no one has been released. Those who are supposedly freed…were actually people who had been randomly grabbed off the streets…Therefore, I’ve decided to withdraw from this mission.”
US Embassy further reduces staff, Ambassador Ford acknowledges problem of terrorist attacks
On Tuesday, January 10, the US State Department announced that it was reducing its staff at the US Embassy in Damascus, effective immediately. The move was attributed to the “deteriorating security situation“. The embassy is also now closed to the public. The US Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, remains in his post.
On Thursday, January 5, Ambassador Ford posted a new Facebook note on the situation in Syria in response to a number of comments made on the US Embassy’s Facebook page. An excerpt:
“Indeed there are terrorists attacking people in Syria. I’m the American ambassador and I just acknowledged it; in fact we’ve acknowledged and condemned violence all along. We strongly condemned the December 23 suicide car bomb attacks. But the question is what started all this violence and how to stop it? … Many of us cautioned Syrian officials here last spring, long before we had incidents of violence across the country, that the government’s repression would weaken moderates and help extremists.”
To read the note in full, click here.
UN Ambassador – Syrian government has increased violence
On Wednesday, January 11, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told reports after a UN Security Council meeting that the Syrian government had increased its use of violence against Syrian civilians since the arrival of the Arab League monitors in the country on December 22.
“The under-secretary-general noted that in the days since the Arab League monitoring mission has been on the ground, in fact an estimated 400 additional people have been killed, an average of 40 a day, a rate much higher than was the case even before their deployment,” Rice said.
“That is a clear indication that the government of Syria, rather than using the opportunity … to end the violence and fulfill all of its commitments [to the Arab League], is instead stepping up the violence,” she continued.
On intensifying economic woes and food and oil shortages:
“Syrians Face More Economic Hardship as Unrest Spreads” – Reuters – Suleiman al-Khalidi covers pervasive power cuts and oil shortages, as well as steep rises in the cost of food and unemployment levels.
“Syria Battles Food Security Issues” – Wall Street Journal – Neena Rai covers the impact of the European oil embargo and the country’s security crisis on food supplies.
On the Arab League’s observer mission:
“Observing the Observers” – Foreign Policy – Syrian writer Amal Hanano covers the failings of the Arab League’s mission in Syria. Excerpt:
“‘Observe’ is a banal word sucked of accountability, responsibility, action — a fitting way to describe an Arab League mission. Monitoring abuses of power is a function one would not expect from the Arab League, which, let’s face it, represents mostly dictatorships and absolute monarchies that have less-than-stellar human rights records. But observing Syria is an activity we have all become complicit in — observing the meetings, agreements, conferences, opposition groups forming and reforming, while Syrians are killed every day. We debate the conspiracies, the Western/Israeli/American/Saudi/Sunni alliance versus the Eastern/Russian/Iranian/Shiite one, with Palestine strung taut in between. These discussions, devoid of action, build a cruel barrier between ruthless international power games and innocent people who are being played. This is why the Syrian people suspiciously view the Arab League as a protector of the regime and by extension its brutality.”
On military intervention, perceptions of the alternative posed by the opposition:
“The Case Against Military Intervention in Syria” – Al Jazeera – A well-informed article by Marwa Daoudy covering the likely repercussions of foreign intervention in Syria and the merits of continued peaceful resistance and civil disobedience.
“What it Will Take to Intervene in Syria” – Foreign Affairs – Another assessment of the likely outcome of foreign military intervention in Syria, this time by Michael Weiss. Weaknesses within the Syrian opposition are also covered.
“America and the Solitude of the Syrians” – Wall Street Journal – Fouad Ajami argues that the Obama Administration has concluded that the current Syrian government is favorable to whatever would follow it. Excerpt:
“The U.S. response has been similarly shameful. From the outset of the Syrian rebellion, the Obama administration has shown remarkable timidity…at the highest levels of the administration—the president, the secretary of state—the animating drive toward Syria is one of paralyzing caution. Deep down, the Obama administration seems to subscribe to the belief that Assad’s tyranny is preferable to the alternative held out by the opposition. With no faith in freedom’s possibilities and power, U.S. diplomacy has operated on the unstated assumption that the regime is likely to ride out the storm.”
On Syrian minorities and the revolution:
“Assad: Friend or Foe of the Kurds?“- The National – Phil Sands covers the manner in which President Assad has attempted to address Kurdish grievances and deter the onset of large-scale unrest in the country’s Kurdish regions.
“Syria’s Kurds Mistrust Government and Opposition: Activists” – Reuters – Jon Hemming covers skepticism among Syrian Kurds over the opposition, the Turkish government’s support for Islamist elements of the opposition, and the Syrian government.
“Those Who Fear Change in Syria” – Hurst Blog – Journalist Stephen Starr covers minority concerns regarding the outcome of the revolution.
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.