Apparent Collapse of Arab League Peace Deal Amid Continued Violence
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Lingering hopes that the Syrian government would implement the peace deal brokered by the Arab League were shattered by unrelenting violence across the country this week. Over 60 people have been killed in crackdowns and clashes since the deal was agreed upon. An address by head of the Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun to the Syrian nation on the eve of Eid al-Adha, however, has left some speculating that a plausible political face of the opposition has been borne from its divided ranks. Nevertheless, the uprising’s death toll continues to climb, with the United Nations now estimating that over 3,500 Syrians have perished since the start of the revolution in March.
The Syrian Revolution
Protests, clashes & security crackdowns
On Thursday November 3, Syrian military forces waged an incursion in a residential district of Homs, using tanks to shell the neighborhood. Local activists estimated that some 20 people were killed in the assault. The same reports charged that the Homs National Hospital, which is reportedly controlled by security forces, was found to contain the bodies of dozens of men, all having suffered from bullet wounds. None of the reports could be confirmed.
Protests were also reported in Daraa, Idlib and Damascus on Thursday, with clashes between armed elements of the opposition and security forces reported in Idlib. At the same time, government supporters staged massive rallies in Tartous at the behest of Damascus.
The day’s violence ran counter to the alleged agreement between Damascus and the Arab League that required Syrian security and military forces to withdraw from residential areas across all of Syria.
Violence the following day was considerable as thousands of protestors took to the streets in cold, rainy weather, with an estimated 15 dying in security crackdowns in Homs and the suburbs of Damascus.
On Saturday, the eve of Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice), one of the most important of Muslim holidays, was marked by President al-Assad with the release of 553 detainees charged with participating in the country’s political unrest.
An estimated eight people were killed in Homs on Sunday, as tanks continued shelling a number of the city’s residential neighborhoods. Another person was killed in Hama, though no information on the circumstances of the death was reported. Deaths were also reported in Idlib and Damascus provinces.
Twenty-two people were killed on Monday, November 7 during after prayers protests. Some 16 of the fatalities occurred in Homs, when a portion the city was allegedly hit by rockets. Indeed, a number of videos of explosions in the city surfaced on the internet that day, with one in particular depicting a massive explosion. The severity of the violence prompted the Arab League to call an emergency meeting in Cairo, set for the following weekend.
On Tuesday, heavy military operations entered their sixth day in Homs. The following day, military crackdowns continued not only in Homs but Hama as well, resulting in 16 deaths. Activists reported that at least 8 people died in the outskirts of Damascus, in one of the worst incursions in the country’s capital region since the unrest began.
Clashes reportedly erupted on Thursday between army defectors and the Syrian military in Deir ez-Zour, the suburbs of Damascus, Homs and Hama. An eight-year-old girl was among the 21 people subsequently reported dead. While reports continue to emerge of clashes between the military and those who have defected from it, no sources have succeeded in ascertaining how many have defected in total.
Over sixty people have died in Syria since Damascus agreed to the Arab League’s peace plan. This week, the UN raised the Syrian uprising’s death toll to over 3,500.
Syrian Ministry of Interior: Syrians who turn over weapons, to receive amnesty
On Friday November 4, Syria’s Interior Ministry announced that amnesty will be granted to those Syrians who surrender their weapons by Saturday November 12. “The interior Ministry invites those who carry arms, who sold them, distributed them, bought them or financed their purchase and who have not committed any murder to turn themselves in and surrender their weapons to the nearest police station in their district … from Saturday, November 5 to November 12,” the Ministry’s statement said. Those who turn over weapons “will walk free … and receive an amnesty,” the statement read.
Burhan Ghalioun’s “Address to the Syrian Nation”
On Saturday, November 5, Dr. Burhan Ghalioun, head of the Syrian National Council (SNC), gave a televised address from Turkey, terming it “An Address to the Syrian Nation”. The eight-minute speech was generally well-received both at home by many members of the opposition, and overseas.
Ghalioun adopted a presidential air, condemning the manner in which the country has been transformed “into a kingdom where power is inherited, where rights are deprived and where dignity and freedom are beyond reach of its people” and charging that Syrians grew “accustomed to this predicament until we could tolerate it no longer”.
He spoke of Syria’s future constitution, the manner in which it would protect all Syrian minorities, as well as its future “judicial, legislative and executive system which will be held accountable by the people” – thus limiting the power of the government and ensuring that the people “will choose who governs them through the ballot box”.
The speech covered the efforts of the SNC to represent and advance the interests of the country’s revolutionaries and society more broadly.
The overall appeal of the speech left many wondering if Ghalioun would indeed become the political face of the Syrian opposition. For more commentary on it and Ghalioun’s background, click here. Some excerpts:
“In your revolt for freedom, you sacrificed your most precious assets until every home in Syria has experienced the loss a father, the rape of a daughter and the arrest and disappearance of a young man or child. And as the pillars of tyranny shook, your courage, determination and capacity to sacrifice has captured the world’s admiration…”
“From this day onward, Syria is home to freedom and dignity, free of all discrimination, injustice and exclusion. Syria is one nation for a united Syrian people with no reference to majorities and minorities, religion, sect or regional affiliation. It is a country where the principles of citizenship and equality reign and where people are judged on the basis of their capacities to give and sacrifice for the sake of their country…”
“History has taught us that regimes based on corruption, oppression and slavery are bound to fail: all unjust rulers who detain its youth, steal the wealth of the country and kill its people inevitably come to an end…”
“The Syrian National Council is fighting a political battle with you, and on your behalf, at home and abroad. It is your Council, your voice heard by the world to defend your cause…”
“We will continue to mobilize local, regional and international support for our just cause. The regime is still intent on drawing the country into chaos and civil war, but we will resist by uniting until we are victorious…”
To view a video of the speech (in Arabic), click here. For a complete English translation of the speech, click here.
Syrian National Councils seeks diplomatic recognition
In a letter to the Arab League on Tuesday, November 8, the Syrian National Council (SNC) moved to be considered “the legitimate representative of the Syrian revolution and people“. The SNC also urged the League to “take a strong and effective position against the Syrian regime commensurate with the dangerous development of the situation in Syria, especially in… Homs.”
International Committee of the Red Cross seeking increased access to Syrian prisons
In an interview with Reuters last week, Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said that the ICRC is pushing the Syrian government to grant it broader access to the country’s detention centers. While the Syrian government granted the organization access to Damascus central prison in September, it has not allowed the organization to visit any others. Activists charge that some 30,000 people have been detained since the start of the revolution in March.
“I have always made clear, also when I was (there) again in September with President Assad that yes, that this is the test phase, a first phase, but after that we want to go further,” Kellenberger said during an interview last week with Reuters.
The ICRC will be allowed to visit a detention center in Aleppo in the coming weeks, after which the organization will reevaluate its role in Syria. “I would like to see now how the next visit will go, that would be Aleppo, in order to see a little bit if we have understood each other well,” Kellenberger explained. “We will certainly have a thorough examination internally after this first phase on the merits of our visits. I have to say that the first visit has shown still that we need to talk to each other in much more detail” regarding the terms of the visits, he continued.
“We have big concerns. But I mean the fact is we are the only ones who are in a position, who are accepted to do this work,” Kellenberger said. “The big challenge is to try to see these people. I am aware that there will be places where it would be even more urgent that we can go than the places where we go now,” he continued.
Another component of the Arab Leagues recent deal with Damascus, is the release of the country’s thousands of political prisoners – though no timeline for such a move was set forth.
International Politics & DIplomacy
Lebanese PM Mikati confirms kidnapping of Syrian opposition figures in Lebanon
On November 4, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati confirmed in an interview with the BBC’s Arabic service that a number of Syrian opposition members had been kidnapped in Lebanon in previous months. Mikati termed the kidnappings “individual cases”, not common occurrences.
“This happened several months ago, before the formation of the government” in June, Mikati said of the abductions. “There are individual cases, but we cannot generalize and say the entire situation is unstable. Yes, there were some incidents, but of an individual character,” he added.
Regarding the uprising in Syria, Mikati said “we are not partisan, neither for nor against … We have adopted a position of neutrality.” He continued, “Syria is a neighboring country, and we have decided to stay out of it. We want to preserve the unity of Lebanon.”
Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour, however, who represents the Hezbollah-led majority of the Lebanese government, has taken a firm stance in support of the current Syrian government.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – serious risk of Syria descending into armed struggle
On Wednesday, November 9, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, warned that Syria was at risk of falling into armed conflict. During a UN Security Council meeting, Pillay stated that “It happened in Libya; it may happen in Syria. More and more soldiers refuse to become complicit in international crimes and are changing sides.”
“Where basic human rights are trampled and peaceful demands for change met by brutal violence, people are eventually compelled to have recourse to rebellion against tyranny and oppression,” Pillay stated. “There is a serious risk of Syria descending into armed struggle,” he continued.
Commentary on the collapse of the Arab League’s peace deal
The apparent collapse of the Syrian peace agreement brokered by the Arab League, has led to speculation as to the ultimate causes of deal’s failure.
Many political analysts speculate that Syrian officials never intended to implement the terms of the agreement, which called for the withdrawal of security and military forces from cities and residential neighborhoods across the country, the release of all those detained since the start of the revolution, and the initiation of national dialogue. Indeed, some believe that if Damascus actually implemented the peace agreement, it would be setting about the conditions for its eventual demise.
Others, however, charge that the agreement’s collapse is a consequence of the chasm between Syrian military and security apparatuses and the Syrian President, with the former functioning outside of the purview of the latter.
The collapse of the agreement likewise calls the League’s overall efficacy into question, undermining its credibility as a regional force, which since the start of the revolutions in the region, has been increasingly scant. It has stumbled to respond in good time and measure to each of the revolutions that have swept across the Middle East.
The League still has a number of options with regarding to responding to the continued violence. It could move to suspend Syria’s membership, which if little else would lead to Damascus’s further isolation. It could also support a UN Security Council resolution against Syria, demanding an end to the violence and imposing further sanctions against the country. This move, however, opens the doors for international intervention in Syria, which Russia and China would likely continue to oppose. Finally, the League could decide to endorse a plan that would protect Syrian civilians, such as some kind of buffer zone in Syria and managed by Turkey.
While all such moves would help the League salvage perceptions of its relevance as a regional and international player during the region’s most tumultuous times, none are likely to result in the resolution of Syria’s crisis.
For more opinions on perceptions of the League’s relative weakness, click here.
Milan-based firm working with Syrian intelligence agents to develop internet & email surveillance program
The discovery in early October by the tech activist group Telecomix, that technology developed by the American firm Blue Coat Systems, Inc. is being used by the Syrian government to monitor and impede internet access in Syria, has prompted a spate of investigations into similar abuses by the Syrian government of other technologies.
The US-based company NetApp recently shipped computers to Damascus that might constitute a violation of US sanctions.
The surveillance firm Area SpA in Milan, Italy is in the midst of developing a network of servers and probes intended to collect emails and data from web-browsing in Syria, that once installed, will allow the Syrian government to collect essentially any information it wants on internet users in-country. The system is reportedly set to be installed under the direction of Syria’s intelligence agents. It will allow the Syrian government to “intercept, scan and catalog virtually every email that flows through the country”.
The Milan-based company is using technology developed by both European and American companies to develop the surveillance system. According to the system’s preliminary blueprints, technology will come from the California-based firm NetApp, Inc. and Germany’s Utimaco Safeware AG. For more details on the nature of Area SpA’s system, code named Asfador, click here.
A.Q. Khan denies involvement in Syrian nuclear program, alleged secret nuclear site found to be textile plant
Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, aka A.Q. Khan, has denied all allegations of his involvement in Syria’s nuclear program. In an interview with The Business Recorder, Khan stated that any such charges “are totally baseless having no authenticity at all”. The “United States wants to treat Syria the same way it has dealt with Iraq and Libya because these two countries had been supporting Hamas and Hezbollah against Israel,” Khan continued.
Interestingly, according to a spokesperson for the UN’s office in Pakistan, the office has not received “any information regarding the claims [about Khan’s involvement in Syria’s program] in media reports from New York”.
Syrian Ambassador to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, has stated that the data behind the IAEA’s assertion that the Syrian facility bombed by Israel in 2007 had likely housed an undisclosed nuclear reactor, “lacked credibility” and were incongruent with the organization’s prior analyses of the site.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post published an article this week alleging that private researchers investigating the newly discovered allegedly secret nuclear facility in eastern Syria, maintain that the site is currently a textile factory, and has only ever functioned as one.
Further Reading & Viewing
“Syria Undercover” – PBS – Reporter Ramita Navai entered Syria for a number of weeks in September using a tourist visa. She travelled with a number of members of the opposition, filming security raids, rallies, and the manner in which activists organize in secret. Some of the most extensive and contextualized filming on these subjects thus far.
“Seven Months into Protests, Syrian Opposition Still Divided” – Middle East Media Research Institute – Among the most comprehensive backgrounders on the Syrian opposition publicly available. Written by N. Mozes.
“The Syrians Are on Their Own” – The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace – Heiko Wimmem argues that while Syrian activists and foreign diplomats blame Russia and China for the international community’s failure to respond more strongly to the violence in Syria, few acknowledge that “the United States and Europe appear only half-willing [to intervene], and are entirely incapable of anything substantial to stop human rights abuses in Syria, or help the country’s opposition in its struggle against the regime”.
“Dithering in Damascus” – Executive Magazine – The Syria Report’s editor-in-chief Jihad Yazigi covers the crisis of confidence that has swept across the Syrian business community as few of its members believe that the Syrian government has any concept of how best to tackle the country’s growing economic woes.
“Why Syria’s Crisis is Political in Nature” – European Institute of the Mediterranean – Raja AbdulKarim critiques the oft-repeated view that Syria’s economic troubles are the driving force behind the revolution. AbdulKarim maintains that the desire to “reintroduce the values of accountability and responsibility for the people in charge of their daily lives” is at the uprising’s core.
“It’s Simply an Announcement of Death” – Jadaliyya – Syrian writer and lawyer Razan Zeitouneh’s interviews with a number of Syrian activists based in Homs.
“Why Hezbollah Supports the Assad Regime” – Al-Akhbar – Amal Saad-Ghorayeb explores Syria’s strategic significance to Hezbollah as the “linchpin of the resistance front” against Israel and the US. Excerpt:
“Hezbollah’s understanding of freedom as a positive freedom to control one’s destiny and to achieve self-determination, both digresses from and surpasses the liberal preoccupation with the negative freedom from external constraints and hindrances. To be free is not to be left alone but to continually struggle for justice. It is for this reason that Hezbollah is inherently antagonistic to liberal uprisings like Syria’s which focus their efforts on freeing themselves from state control at the expense of the struggle against US and Israeli colonialism.”
“Syria: 30 Years On, Are Sanctions Finally Starting to Pinch?” – The Daily Star – Brooke Anderson covers the impact of recent multilateral sanctions against Syria, offering a chronicle of international sanctions against the government.
“Q&A: The Free Syrian Army” – BBC – A brief backgrounder on the Free Syrian Army covering its estimated size, the known scope of its activities, and its relations with the Syrian National Council.
“Syrian Capital Flight Intensifies” – The Financial Times – Abigail Fielding-Smith covers the smuggling of cash over Syria’s border with Lebanon, as fears of the instability of Syria’s economy worsen.
Two articles in Al-Akhbar English highlighting debate over the nature and likely outcome of the uprising and violence in Syria: “Insane Bloodshed, Not Revolutionary Movement” – Ibrahim al-Amin, editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar, argues that the Syrian revolution has taken on sectarian dimensions, with members of the opposition increasingly organizing with the intent of using violence. Excerpts:
“Over the next couple of weeks, all eyes will be on developments in Syria following the understanding reached between the government and the Arab League on an initiative aimed at fundamentally resolving the crisis. But there are important players who have a different agenda. These can no longer be regarded as small groups that spontaneously took up arms in response to the killing and detention of protesters by the regime. They have acquired the capacity to organize, select their targets, choose who to kill, and carry out their threats…”
“The situation appears to be beyond the capacity of any of the parties concerned – including the regime – to decisively contain or control. All the evidence indicates that the operations mounted by the army and security forces have been fuelling these tensions. People are divided about the regime’s actions. Its opponents see the members of the army and security forces as enemies to be overcome, and they define those foes in terms of their sectarian or regional affiliation rather political loyalty.”
And, “Revolutionary Movement, Not Insane Bloodshed: A Response to Ibrahim al-Amin” – Salama Kayala’s response to Amine’s article. Kayala argues that the peaceful protest movement remains strong, and that any assessment of the opposition’s strength on the street must recall that those who join the demonstrations, do so at great peril. Excerpts:
“The fact that Syrians are not protesting in their millions does not imply that they are anti-reform or that they support the regime. It indicates that the regime is using tremendous violence against the protesters. This has become a war by the state on the people.”
“Participation in protests should not be underestimated in an attempt to portray the current situation as one of a civil war leading to the sectarian division of the country, and where conspirators are gaining control of the movement. There is no doubt that the regime’s use of violence indicates that it is well aware of what restraint would mean.
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.