Syria’s Protest Movement
https://syria-report.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Logo-20-2.jpg 0 0 admin https://syria-report.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Logo-20-2.jpg admin2011-06-08 20:18:512011-09-20 13:28:02June 8, 2011 – Syria in the News: A Roundup of International Reportage
Protests across Syria on Friday June 3 were among the most violent thus far in the country’s near 12 weeks of revolutionary unrest. The death toll from Friday sits at over 80, with between 40 and 60 people killed in the central city of Hama alone. In a foreboding development, violence worsened in the days that followed, as the northern city of Jisr al-Shughour became the scene of an alleged massacre of police and military forces – with estimates suggesting that more than 120 were killed in the city on Monday. To date, over 1,300 Syrians have died in the country’s turmoil since March 15. Protracted conflict in Syria has undoubtedly begun and as grim videos and accounts of the last week of unrest seep across the internet and out into the international media, contradictory accounts of the nature – and perpetrators – of the violence only prompt more dismay, outrage and confusion across the country.
Protest flash points
On Thursday June 2, Homs and the nearby towns of Talbiseh, Rastan and Deir Maaleh, remained besieged by military forces. International media also reported further unrest in the province of Daraa. In Rastan, shelling allegedly damaged a number of mosques as well as a cemetery, the town bakery and numerous homes. International reports indicated that 23 people died. In total, over 70 people were reportedly killed in Rastan over the course of last week. The same reports also suggest further violence in Hirak, a town in the south, with another 13 reported dead and an estimated 50 arrested. In Da’al, a town not far from Hirak, military operations allegedly lead to the deaths of three people.
On Friday, in advance of anticipated protests, internet services were cut across the country. Beginning at approximately 7am, an estimated two-thirds of all Syrian networks were unreachable. According the Renesys, in the course of only 30 minutes, routes to 40 of Syria’s 59 networks were removed from the global routing table – thus affecting SyriaTel’s 3G mobile data networks, as well a numerous of the country’s ISPs including iNet, RunNet and Sawa. Even Damascus’s city government page was down. There were only a few government-owned networks that ran, including that of the ministry of oil. To view Google’s transparency report for Syria’s internet activity, click here.
After prayers, thousands took to the streets, marking the start of one of the most violent days of the unrest thus far – with over 80 people reportedly killed. International reportage also strongly suggested that protestors came out in the largest numbers yet – with an alleged 50,000 taking to the streets in Hama and large rallies in Homs and Dael. The day was termed ‘Children’s Friday‘ in honor of the 72 children killed in the unrest since March.
According to the same reports, security forces are alleged to have opened fire against the massive crowds in Hama, killing between 30 and 60. At the start of the rally, protestors allegedly burned the Baath Party headquarters. According to international reports, the exact catalyst for the shootings, is unclear.
There were also reports of fatalities in Homs, Rastan (where seven reportedly died) and Damascus suburbs. Protestors across the country displayed pictures of the young boy Hamza Ali al-Khatib, who some allege, was tortured to death whilst in police custody in Daraa.
In Daraa, hundreds reportedly took to the streets chanting, “No dialogue with killers!” Dael allegedly saw 5,000 protestors take to the streets. There were further demonstrations in Deir ez-Zor, Idlib, Madaya and Zabadani in the west, as well as the Damascus district of Barzeh, among numerous other locales. For video footage of the day’s rallies, see here.
Local media reported that a total of four members of Syrian security and military forces were killed on Friday. The deaths occurred in Barzeh, Rastan and Talbiseh. The Syrian government continues to attribute the violence to armed groups and terrorists.
Some activists have emphasized the significance of protestors gathering in Hama, a former stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood that in 1982, was effectively obliterated by Syrian military. They suggest that the massive numbers seen in Hama, are meant to signal the Muslim Brotherhood’s interest in upping the intensity of the unrest. At this point, however, all such reports are speculative.
On Saturday, international reports indicate that thousands in Hama participated in funerals for those killed in Friday’s unrest. According to Rami Abdel-Rahman, president of the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, over 100,000 joined the funeral processions. International media also reported that tanks were sent to the southern entrance of Hama.
Protests in the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour that day reportedly resulted in the deaths of another six people. Some reports suggest that the military used helicopters to shoot at the town’s protestors.
On Sunday, violence continued in the governorate of Idlib with 28 killed Jisr al-Shughour and ten killed in the neighboring village of Khan Sheikhoun. International media reported that machine gun-mounted armored cars and helicopter gunships were used by the military in Jisr al-Shughour. State media report that four policemen were killed in the town and another twenty injured in violence on Sunday. According to local media, armed groups were responsible for the violence and “used various types of weapons in their attack, seized arms from the police stations and blew up the post building in the city”.
Army forces in the coastal city of Baniyas as well as in Hama, also began pulling out of both cities on Sunday. According to international reports, thousands again came out in Hama to participate in further funeral processions for those killed on Friday. Across much of the city, stores were allegedly closed in a general strike. Hama is Syria’s fourth largest city, with a population of an estimated 800,000. On Sunday, a local doctor and activist reported that leaked information from the local governorate office indicated that 72 people were killed in the unrest in Hama on Friday, over 350 injured and another 90 missing. The reports could not be confirmed by the reporting media.
Rastan and Talbiseh also remained under siege on Sunday, with large numbers of alleged dissidents reportedly arrested on Saturday and Sunday. Deir ez-Zor allegedly saw its biggest protests yet, with some reports suggesting that 60,000 took to the streets to demonstrate. Protestors set fire to two Baath Party buildings and some residents reportedly picked up rifles to shoot back at security forces. Many were angry as a young 14-year-old boy, Moath al-Rakkad, was shot and killed during protests there on Friday. International media also alleged that protestors in Deir ez-Zor have been trying to topple a statue of former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad for over a week while a number of other similar statues in the area have been destroyed.
Monday saw a significant worsening of violence, when local and international reports alleged that over 120 Syrian military forces were killed in an assault in Jisr al-Shughour. According to state media, on Monday “armed groups barricading themselves in some areas” ambushed security and police forces en route to the city, killing 28 and injuring numerous others. The forces were apparently responding to “a call for help from civilians who were terrorized and fled their homes towards police and security stations.” Eight post office guards were also reportedly killed by “armed gangs using gas cylinder bombs” while another 37 officers were reportedly killed when a security post was attacked. State media reported that “the groups committed a real massacre…they mutilated some bodies and threw others in the Orontes River”. The armed groups allegedly used “medium-sized weapons, machine-guns, hand grenades and rocket-propelled grenades”. In total, local media reported that over 120 members of Syria’s police and security forces were killed in the “intense clashes”. The government has since released graphic photographs of those security forces killed in the violence.
Reportage on the events in Jisr al-Shughour exemplifies the difficulty associated with ascertaining the facts about the crisis in Syria. While state media reported the events as described above, international media reported that some residents of Jisr al-Shughour were fiercely denying the government’s reports. In a number of instances, BBC interviews with locals contradicted Syrian state media. One resident reported, “We don’t have any kind of weapons. The soldiers were coming our way, then they were shot in the back by some Syrian security elements. All the dead were shot in the back or in the back of their heads.” Of the events in Jisr al-Shughour, activist Wissam Tarif, director of rights group Insan, stated “There is no armed conflict. Those are peaceful protestors. The only armed part in this uprising is the state.”
Yet, another resident of the besieged city stated that, “Some people in some areas have taken up arms. The situation is grave, what is happening is an armed rebellion. I oppose violence from whatever side it comes from.” In contrast, another activist reported that, “The security forces and Shabiha…are already storming houses and trying to steal things and to rape women. We know for sure that most of the people in the street believe in the peaceful protest. We are trying to get ourselves more into forming an entity that can defend the revolution.” And finally, in another account, a resident of the city said, “There are army soldiers who gave themselves up to the civilians and the army killed them. I swear to God, that we are civilians… there are no terrorists in Jisr al-Shughour. For the source of such accounts and more of them, see here.
On Tuesday, Al Jazeera ran a report that called into question the government’s account of what happened in Jisr al-Shughour. The report featured a statement by a man who called himself Syrian Army First Lt. Abdul Razaq Tlass, who announced that he had defected from the military and was encouraging other men to do the same. Tlass claimed that “I joined the army to protect the people…and after what we saw in of crimes in Daraa and all of Daraa and all of Syria I am not able to stay in the Arab Syrian army. I have witnessed the violations against the people of Daraa and the heroes and the rebels who were just protecting themselves and were fearing for their land and their children.” Some allege that members of the Syrian military might be defecting from the army and joining the protest movement. Such concerns are increasingly put forth by international media, accompanied by eyewitness accounts.
As more videos are leaked onto the internet, confusion over the nature of the violence across the country deepens. Some videos show men in military uniform planting ammunition on the bodies of men who died from severe gunshot wounds (example – warning, this is very graphic and disturbing – this video from Daraa apparently filmed a number of weeks ago). Others show Syrian women and children in Jisr al-Shughour giving enraged accounts of military violence against unarmed protestors in the city. At the same time, others have posted videos allegedly indicating that Syrian security forces are being killed by armed gangs and terrorists (example – warning, this is graphic and also contains inappropriate language – this video of dead security forces in Jisr al-Shughour being picked over by armed men). As long as international media (and often times, local media) are banned from accessing the country’s flash points, it will remain impossible to ascertain the truth.
Meanwhile, in response to the massive reported fatalities among the country’s security forces, Interior Minister Major-General Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar stated the following, “In the past few days, Syria has witnessed armed and concentrated attacks targeting state institutions, public and private buildings, police stations and security centers in various areas. The latest of these attacks has taken place in Jisr al-Shughour, where armed terrorist groups burnt and demolished a number of institutions, using weapons, bullets and hand grenades in their attacks on the personnel; civilians and army members. Stemming from the state’s responsibility in protecting the lives of citizens; civilians and army members alike, and protecting state institutions owned by the people, we will react with strictness and power and according to law.” The Minister’s statement was interpreted by many as indicating that the government intends to react with grave force against any unrestful elements within the city.
Unsurprisingly, international reports now indicate that the city of Jisr al-Shughour has effectively emptied out as residents flee what all anticipate will be further violence; dozens of tanks and thousands of members of the country’s elite military forces now reportedly surround the city. Hundreds of residents have also headed across the border into Turkey, prompting increased concerns about the country’s security crisis seeping into neighboring lands.
Opposition outside Syria
On Friday June 3, the Conference for Change in Syria, organized by members of the country’s opposition and held in Antalya, Turkey, issued a lengthy declaration that included the following text:
“Today, Syria is witnessing the most difficult and painful days; however, it is also witnessing the birth of a new dawn of freedom quenched by the blood and sacrifice of the Syrian youth demonstrating peacefully in the ground. This puts the burden of urgent action on the shoulders of all Syrians, living all over the world, to work along side their brothers and sisters in and outside Syria to build a new future for their country. … participants agreed to the following:
1- Participants are committed to the demands of the Syrian people in calling on the Syrian president to step down, in demanding the toppling of the regime, and in supporting the great, peaceful revolution of the Syrian people towards freedom and dignity.
2- Participants call on president Bashar al-Assad to resign immediately from all of his duties and positions and to hand over authority to his vice-president in accordance with constitutional procedures until the election of a transitional council which will draft and implement a new Syrian constitution that shall call for free and transparent parliamentary and presidential elections within a period not to exceed one year from the resignation of president Bashar al-Assad.
3- Participants assert their continuous support of the Syrian revolution until it achieves its objectives while emphasizing peace, patriotism, the unity of Syrian soil, the unequivocal rejection of foreign military intervention and national unity of Syrian revolution – one that does not represent any partisan direction nor does it target any particular group of Syrian society.
4- Participants affirm that the Syrian people are of many ethnicities, Arab, Kurd, Caldean, Assyrian, Syriac, Turkmen, Chechen, Armenian and others. The conference establishes the legitimate and equal rights of all under a new Syrian constitution based on national unity, civil state and a pluralistic, parliamentary, and democratic regime.
5- Participants commit to exert all efforts towards achieving a democratic future of Syria which respects human rights and protects freedom for all Syrians, including the freedom of belief, expression and practice of religion, under a civil state based on the separation of legislative, judicial and executive powers, while adopting democracy and the ballot box as the sole medium of governance.
6- Participants are committed to the hard and serious missions of ensuring economic prosperity, scientific and cultural advancements under the umbrella of justice, peace and security.
7- Participants call on all Arabs, the Organisation of Islamic Conference, the Arab League and the International Community to take legal and ethical responsibility in order to stop the violation of human rights and crimes against humanity committed against unarmed civilians, and to support the ambition of the Syrian people of freedom and democracy.”
For the full statement, see here.
Michael Wiess recently ran a controversial ‘backgrounder’ on Syria’s opposition for Slate Magazine. Weiss’s piece sheds light on the views held by those who believe that there is little reason to fear the motives of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood – and have faith in the motives of those organizing outside Syria. On the other hand, Fadwa al-Fatem offers up a different take on the opposition, placing more emphasis on the significance and legitimacy of those inside Syria who are taking to the streets and considering for the first time ever, the possibilities for their collective future.
In a particularly bizarre and still unexplained development, reports emerged on Tuesday June 7 Syria’s Ambassador to France, Lamia Shakkour had allegedly resigned from her position in protest against the violent management of the country’s protest movement. The confusion began when a woman who identified herself as Shakkour announced her resignation from her post during a telephone interview with news channel France 24. The woman specifically cited her opposition to the Syrian government’s treatment of the protest movement, saying “I can no longer continue to support the cycle of extreme violence against unarmed civilians…I recognize the legitimacy of the people’s demands for more democracy and freedom.” According to the television station, it had called the same number it has used to talk to her a number of different occasions. Later, Reuters also indicated that it had received an email from the Syrian Embassy in Paris website that confirmed the resignation.
However, Syrian news agencies immediately denied the resignation and on Wednesday, the Ambassador appeared on another French news station, BFM TV, to adamantly deny that she had resigned. Shakkour maintains that she was a victim of “identity fraud.” France 24 is now conducting an investigation into the incident.
On Monday, a Syrian-American blogger, who allegedly lives in Damascus and goes by the name of Amina Abdallah, was reportedly abducted by armed men in Damascus. Abdallah writes the well-known blog, A Gay Girl in Damascus. Within 24 hours of her disappearance, international reports emerged that called into question both her identity and the content of her blog. It seems according Andy Carvin, a senior strategist for National Public Radio (NPR – national radio in the US), that a number of people believe that Amina does not actually exist. Carvin followed related leads and discovered that no one had ever actually met Amina in person – their interactions with her were limited to email exchanges and Skype. Further research suggested that some of the content of her blog was fictitious. At this time, Carvin is exploring related leads. For his detailed take on the situation, see here.
Government reforms, efforts to mitigate tensions
On June 5, President Bashar al-Assad issued a decree granting temporary state employees who have been working for over two years (and in some cases, over four years), permanent employee status. The move is one of many by the government, to offer short-term fixes for the country’s growing economic crisis. Many are increasingly frustrated by all such efforts, however, noting that while reforms are pushed through, violence against those participating in the unrest continues.
“In Damascus, Uprising Against Regime Brings Fundamental Changes” – Los Angeles Times – the Syrian protest movement, for many, has unleashed a newfound sense of freedom. The article is based on an interview with an activist in the country’s capital.
“Syrians Stare into the Abyss” – Maysaloon (blog) – a troubling post on the country’s prospects for avoiding further bloodshed. Maysaloon is a well-respected often political blog, written by a Syrian.
“Syria: Inside Bashar Assad’s Dungeons” – TIME – Journalist Khaled Sid Mohan’s account of his time in prison in Damascus.
“In Syria: ‘City of Ghost’ Waits for Government Forces to Attack” – NPR – an account by an activist in Jisr Al-Shughour of the situation in the besieged northern city.
“What Diplomatic Options Still Exist for Syria?” – NPR – another bit from NPR, this time an audio segment exploring accusations of mutiny within the army in Jisr al-Shughour as well as the ongoing struggle among international powers to respond to the crisis.
“Syrian Violence Tests US: Effort to Court Assad Crumbles Amid Crackdown; Sen. Kerry’s Secret Mission” – Wall Street Journal – a good summary of Washington’s recent diplomatic engagements with Damascus. While US Senator John Kerry forged improved ties with President Assad, Syria’s alleged duplicity on the matter of Hezbollah and Hamas threw such gestures into question. Kerry’s frequent visits to Damascus were brought to an end in the winter of 2011 following Damascus’s failure to help stabilize Lebanon – and no one in Washington anticipated the arrival of the ‘Arab Spring’ in Syria.
“In Syria, the Death of Tourism” – Washington Post – the latest in a long line of international reports on the impact of the unrest on Syria’s economy and tourism industry.
“After Golan Clashes, is Israel Rethinking the Assad (or Palestine) File?” – Foreign Policy – an interesting assessment of how’s Israel’s perceptions of the crisis in Syria likely changed following Sunday’s violence at the Israel/Syria disengagement line.
Politics & Diplomacy
In a press conference on June 7, US State Department spokesman Mark Toner made the following statements on the issue of US Ambassador Ford’s engagement with officials in Syria: “…he’s had requests in to meet with the Syrian government – I think I mentioned this last week – and those requests have been deferred, denied…But he continues to meet with a wide range of actors within Syria, and again, it helps provide us with a better picture of what’s going on there.”
Regarding whether or not the Syrian government had granted the Ambassador access to Syrian officials, Toner conceded that the Ambassador has not been permitted to meet with them. Regarding President Assad, Toner said, “It’s pretty clear that while he’s talked a great game about reform from the time he came into power, he delivered very little, if nothing, and continues to do so, and meets the demands of legitimate protests or legitimate demands of these protests, rather, with a brutal crackdown and repression. We continue – our focus remains on garnering international pressure and bearing it down on his regime through sanctions and through other ways and means, and we’re looking at other ways and means to do so, to put pressure on him.”
Extreme violence in Syria over the course of the last six days has prompted both Britain and France to push harder for a UN resolution in condemnation of the violence. On Monday, the Foreign Minister of France Alain Juppe said that, “In Syria, the process of reform is dead, and we think that Bashar has lost his legitimacy to rule the country.” On the matter of passing a UN resolution on the violence, Juppe said that Russia “will veto any resolution … even if it’s a mild one.” He went on to state that, “We think it would be possible to get 11 votes in favor of the resolution…Maybe if [Russia] see[s] that there are 11 votes in favor … they will change their minds. It is a risk to take, and we are willing to take it.”
Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary William Hague made a similar statement on Tuesday to the British parliament, indicating that “President Assad is losing legitimacy and should reform or step aside… We are working to persuade other countries that the Security Council has a responsibility to speak out”. He went on to explain that the draft UN resolution calls upon the government of Syria “to meet their people’s legitimate demands, release all prisoners of conscience, lift restrictions on the media and Internet and cooperate with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights”.
The crisis in Syria has becoming an acute problem for Turkey. The violence in the northern city of Jisr al-Shughour has prompted hundreds of Syrian’s to flee across the border to Turkey. Meanwhile, many hundreds of others have congregated on the Syrian side of the border. In a statement on Wednesday June 8, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan pledged that Turkey will not “close its doors” to Syrian refugees.
Meanwhile over the weekend, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said the following whilst meeting with Egyptian pro-democracy activists: “I would like to remind rulers in Muslim Arab countries of the necessity of being realistic, of perceiving the world better and of seeing that there is already no place for authoritarian regimes in the Islamic world.” He went on to state, “Everyone is aware that I am speaking about countries such as Syria and Libya.”
On June 2, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov advised against US and European efforts to encourage Syrian protestors, by suggesting the possibility of international military support for their efforts. Lavrov stated that, “It is not in the interests of anyone to send messages to the opposition in Syria or elsewhere that if you reject all reasonable offers we will come and help you as we did in Libya. It’s a very dangerous position. Lavrov went on to state that, “First of all, the situation doesn’t present a threat to international peace and security. Second, Syria is a very important country in the Middle East and destabilizing Syria would have repercussions far beyond its borders.” The cut lead to a worsening of both fear and anger across the country. At present, Russia remains the principle impediment to current international efforts to issue an UN resolution against the violence in Syria.
On Tuesday June 7, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a statement at a news conference in Tehran, condemning US efforts to meddle in Syria’s internal affairs. Mr. Ahmadinejad said, “I condemn the meddling of the US and its allies in Syrian affairs….Syria is on the front line of the resistance. I believe the nation and government of Syria are resolving their issues and there is no need for the meddling of others. Unfortunately some regional governments are (meddling) in line with America. I advise them against this. Because as soon as the US interests are achieved, America will go after them and will confront them. We stand by all the revolutionary nations and governments. We believe that the Syrians are themselves capable of managing their own affairs.”
Vannina Maestracci, spokeswoman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said of the Secretary General on Friday June 3, that he “is deeply troubled by the continued serious violations of human rights, including disturbing reports of the deaths of children under torture, live ammunition and shelling…violent repression by security and military forces must end immediately for a genuine and inclusive dialogue to take place and lead to the comprehensive reforms and change called for by the Syrian people.”
Just the day before, two UN special advisers issued statements expressing concern about “systematic and deliberate attacks” by the government against civilians in Syria. Edward Luck, a UN special adviser on the ‘responsibility to protect’ and Francis Deng, a UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide, said in a joint statement that they were “gravely concerned at the increasing loss of life in Syria [caused by] continued violent suppression of anti-government protests. We are particularly alarmed at the apparently systematic and deliberate attacks by police, military, and other security forces against unarmed civilians taking part in the last two months of protests.The deployment of armed forces and the use of live fire, tanks and artillery in response to peaceful protests, and the targeting of residential areas where protests have taken place, are unacceptable under any circumstance. In addition to the deaths of protestors, there have also been reports of mass arrests, arbitrary detentions, disappearances and other serious human rights violations in the towns where protests have taken place.” The joint statement called for “an independent, thorough, and objective investigation into all alleged violations of international human rights law.”
June 5, Naksa Day (or ‘setback’ day) marks the anniversary of the 1967 Middle East War, during which in the course of just six days, Israel defeated the military forces of Jordan, Syria and Egypt and left more than 250,000 Palestinians and over 100,000 Syrians refugees. It captured the Gaza Strip from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria and East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan.
On Sunday, hundreds of Palestinian refugees sought to breach the Israeli border of the Golan Heights, sparking Israeli troops to open fire on the demonstrators. Twenty-three people were subsequently killed with another 350 injured. International media ran wild with accusations against the Syrian government, as many analysts assert that it allowed the protestors to reach the border knowing full well that resulting violence would distract from the country’s current turmoil.
On Monday, Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak, made a related statement asserting that, “We have no choice, we have to defend our border and Assad, in my opinion will fall in the end…I think he will fall, he’s lost his legitimacy, he may be able to stabilize for another six or nine months, he will be very weakened.” Specifically, on the violence at the Israel border of the Golan Heights Barak stated, “It may be something that the Syrians are encouraging, it may be that they are pleased with it, they may think it distracts attention.”
On Tuesday, Syrian state media reported that more protestors intend to rally at the border, thus prompting a worsening of tensions between the two countries.
On June 1, Syria’s Public Establishment for Electricity Generation and Transmission opened up bids for the design and building of an outdoor substation in the coastal city of Lattakia. Bids will be accepted for the 18-month contract until August 2, 2011. In November of last year, the Syrian government passed a law allowing both private local and foreign investors to generate and distribute electricity across the country. The law, however, is still waiting on executive approval. According to the Syrian Ministry of Electricity, Syria’s power exports increased by 70 percent to 1.05 terawatt-hours in 2010. Domestic output increased by 7.2 percent to 46.4 terawatt-hours.
The following day, Gulfsands Petroleum Plc (GPX) dropped more than it has in over two years following an announcement that it has suspended its work at an exploration site, Abu Ghazal-1, in Syria. No commercial quantities of oil were discovered at the site. The drop was its biggest since October 15, 2008.