The Syrian Revolution
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Syria’s security crisis intensified this week with clashes between the military and army defectors reported in Idlib, Homs and the southern province of Daraa. Security crackdowns against unarmed elements of the opposition were also reported in numerous cities and towns, including the capital Damascus. In total, over 60 people were killed in the last seven days of violence. Nevertheless, in a statement during official meetings on October 12, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad charged that “Syria has been able to overcome the hardest stage” of the country’s recent tumult, “thanks to its people’s awareness”. Meanwhile, officials from both Russia and China stepped forward this week to urge the Syrian government to push forward with still unimplemented comprehensive reforms.
Protest flash points, security crackdowns, clashes
On Friday October 7, protests in Damascus and the central city of Homs were reportedly dispersed by gunfire, leading to the deaths of an estimated eight people. According to the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human RIghts, Rami Abdel-Rahman, three people were killed in Douma, a Damascus suburb, and four were killed in Bab Sbaa, a district in Homs. Douma has been the scene of serious security crackdowns in recent months and a fourteen-year-old boy was among those killed in Douma on Friday.
According to Syrian activists, protestors were also fired upon by security forces in Deir ez-Zor as well as in the city of Hama. The same sources reported that some protestors burned Russian and Chinese flags, in response to a move by both countries to veto a UN resolution against Syria last week.
Friday was termed “The National Council Represents Me” in a show of solidarity with the opposition’s newly formed Syrian National Council. In Damascus, Riad Seif, a former parliamentarian and now a member of the opposition, was also reportedly beaten in front of a mosque in the neighborhood of Midan. Seif’s injures were severe. Graphic video footage of Seif’s injuries have since spread across the internet.
Meanwhile, during an opposition meeting in a private residence in the northeastern city of Qamishli that day, Mashaal Tammo, 53, a well-known Kurdish opposition leader, member of the newly formed Syria National Council and spokesman for the Kurdish Future Party, was assassinated. His son and another activist, Zahida Rashkilo, were also injured in the attack. The individuals responsible for Tammo’s killing remain unknown.
On Saturday, tens of thousands came out in Qamishli to join the funeral procession for Tammo. According to foreign reportage, the procession evolved into a massive protest and security forces opened fire on the crowds, killing five civilians and injuring numerous others.
It is unclear at this point if Tammo’s murder and the weekend’s security crackdowns will prompt even more members of the country’s Kurdish population to take to the streets. Kurds comprise an estimated 15 percent of the population.
On Sunday, international media reported that there were violent security crackdowns and clashes in a number of cities across the country, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 31 people. Among the fatalities were 17 members of the army and security forces and 14 civilians. The worst of the violence occurred in Bab Sbaa, where according to Local Coordination Committees, electricity and phone services were cut in some places and tank mortars and machine guns were used by security forces against members of the opposition.
The same day, there was an assassination attempt against the deputy director of agriculture in Homs – the latest in a spate of targeted assassinations in the city.
On Wednesday October 12, thousands of pro-government supporters came out to rally in central Damascus in a show of ongoing support for the Syrian government. Government offices were closed around the day to allow people to go out and join the demonstrations. Many members of the opposition maintain that those who rallied were indeed managed by the state while many analysts believe the massive turnout also reflects the complexity of allegiances in Syria and the still strong support for the government among some.
On Thursday October 13, an estimated 20 people were killed in reported clashes between the Syrian military and army deserters. The clashes reportedly occurred in the northern province of Idlib when army loyalists stormed the town of Binish as well as in the southern province of Daraa – where one civilian was also reportedly among the fatalities.
Democratic Alliance for Egypt backs Syrian National Council
On Tuesday October 11, a coalition of Egyptian activists known as the Democratic Alliance for Egypt extended its support to the Syrian opposition’s Syrian National Council. The Council and the Alliance held a meeting in Egypt that day aimed at strengthening relations between the two. According to Sayed el-Badawi, a member of the Alliance, “At the conclusion of the meeting, the 43 parties recognized the Syrian National Council as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”
Just two days earlier, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem had warned that “Syria will take strong measures against any country that recognizes the opposition council formed in Turkey.”
President Assad – “Syria has been able to overcome the hardest stage”
During a meeting with the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) in Lebanon on October 12, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that “Syria has been able to overcome the hardest stage” of the instability “thanks to its people’s awareness and now it is benefiting from what has happened to upgrade the Syrian situation and make Syria, the country that is committed to its principles, Arabism and patriotism, an example to follow in the region”. The President’s remarks were reported by the state-run agency, SANA.
International Politics & Diplomacy
Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoğlu – Turkey “will take all necessary measures” to respond to Syria crisis
During a television interview on Friday October 7, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu stated that the Turkish government believes that the violence used against the Syrian people has reached unacceptable levels and that Turkey, “as Syria’s neighbor” can also take “many steps” to respond to the crisis.
In response to a question as to whether or not Turkey would engage in military action against Syria, Davutoğlu stated, “Of course, when the situation becomes a security threat for us.” The foreign minister continued, “Every domestic crisis in Syria will affect Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Jordan. It affects the whole region. In this regard, there is no other country more important than Syria today. So, when an internal conflict in Syria poses a risk to Turkey, we will take all necessary measures.”
While a number of Turkish media outlets reported that such comments signaled the Turkish government’s intent to go to war with Syria, such interpretations were quickly squashed by the country’s Foreign Ministry.
Russian President Medvedev – if “Syrian leadership is incapable” of implementing reforms, “it will have to go”
On Friday October 7, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to implement reforms or go. In the same statements to the press, Medvedev warned against international meddling the Syria’s current crisis and encouraged the opposition to “disassociate” itself from its more extremist elements.
“We are using our channels and are actively working with the Syrian leadership, we are demanding that the Syrian leadership implement the necessary reforms,” Medvedev said. “If the Syrian leadership is incapable of conducting such reforms, it will have to go, but this decision should be taken not in NATO or certain European countries, it should be taken by the Syrian people and the Syrian leadership,” he continued. “It is no less necessary to demand of the other participants in the Syrian conflict that they dissociate themselves from extremists in the most decisive way,” the president warned.
Russia, along with China, has come under harsh international criticism following the two countries’ decision last week to veto a UN resolution against Syria on the grounds that it contained language that would enable international military intervention in the country.
On the issue of Russia’s veto of the resolution, Medvedev said, “We understand that Syria is not Libya. But the essence of the text that was proposed was a text once again allowing the use of weapons.”
Government of China pushes Damascus for reform
On Tuesday October 11, Chinese foreign minister spokesman Liu Weimin, stated that the Chinese government believes “the Syrian government should move faster to honour its reform pledges and swiftly start to push forward the inclusive political process with the broad participation of all parties in Syria.” The statement marked the first such criticism of Damascus by Chinese.
Harassment of Syrian nationals – Syrian Ambassador to UK summoned by UK Foreign Office, Syrian-born US citizen charged with spying
On Thursday October 13, the UK Foreign Office summoned Syrian Ambassador to the UK, Sami Khiyami, in response to allegations that the Syrian embassy in the UK is intimidating and threatening Syrian nationals living in the UK thought to be engaged in anti-government organizing and rallying. The Foreign Office threatened to expel Khiyami from Britain should substantial evidence in support of the accusations come to light.
According to the Foreign Office, Khiyami was told that the “harassment or intimidation of Syrians in our country [the UK] is unacceptable and will not be tolerated”.
The accusations against the Syrian embassy in the UK are just the latest in a string of similar claims filed by foreign governments against Syrian officials; Syrian officials in at least eight countries – France, Germany, Spain, Sweden the UK, the US and Canada – have been the focus of similar accusations.
Also on Thursday, Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid, a Syrian-born US citizen was charged in federal court in Virginia with spying on anti-Syrian government activists in the US and then sharing their identities with officials in Syrian embassy in Washington. Soueid was arrested on Tuesday October 11 following an FBI investigation.
Economic Development & Trade
EU imposes sanctions against Commercial Bank of Syria
On Thursday October 13, the European Union imposed another round of sanctions against Syria, this time targeting the Commercial Bank of Syria. The total number of Syrian entities that the EU has sanctioned is now 19.
In a statement to the press regarding the move, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton stated that, “Today’s decision is a direct consequence of the appalling and brutal campaign the Syrian regime is waging against its own people.” Ashton continued, “Our measures are not aimed at the Syrian people, but aim to deprive the regime of financial revenues and the support base necessary to maintain the repression.”
Diplomatic cables suggest transfer of funds from Iran, Syria to North Korea
US diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks seem to suggest that the US has uncovered indications that North Korea was receiving funds from Syria and Iran through a bank based in Amman, Jordan, that were allegedly used for the purposes of acquiring nuclear technology from the country.
The bank in Amman, Arab Bank PLC, is among the most respected in the region. The leaked cables do not specify the amount of money said to be transferred through the bank.
“Assad’s Alawites: An Entrenched Community” – Al Jazeera – The third in-depth article by Nir Rosen on the Syrian revolution. This time, Rosen covers members of the country’s Alawi community who support the Syrian government.
“‘We’re building our own Arab democracy’ – Syrian Presidential Aide” – RT – An interview with Syrian presidential media and political adviser Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban on the situation in Syria. Some excerpts from Shaaban’s remarks:
“I believe that October 5th, 2011, when Russia and China blocked the UN resolution, was a historic day. And I hope it will be remembered. The fact that Russia and China used their veto for the good of the people has enabled us to feel, for the first time, that there is a different force in the world, one that stands for justice, neutrality, culture and civilization – and this force stepped onto the international stage to stand equal to Western power. I personally believe that the future belongs to the East, to Russia and China. It is a crucial moment in history, when a new force has emerged to say to the West, “You are wrong.” And the West is definitely wrong, because its leaders share a colonialist attitude, not only regarding Syria, but toward the entire region.”
“…Syria doesn’t have just one opposition, but many opposition movements. Representatives of most these movements were present at joint conferences and a consultation meeting chaired by Mr. Farouk al-Sharaa, while others ignored it. I don’t understand what reforms they want to see without entering dialogue. We share Russia and China’s view that it’s impossible to move forward without dialogue. The path of discussion is the path of reform. The alternative is blood-spilling, civil war and inter-religious clashes. And this isn’t at all what Syrian people need. It’s up to the Syrian opposition to protest against foreign interference. The opposition should participate in dialogue with the goal of reform and building a new, better Syria. It shouldn’t listen to those who would turn it against dialogue with the government.”
“Unrest in Syria and US Sanctions Against the Assad Regime” – Congressional Research Service – A comprehensive report detailing all US sanctions against the Syrian government and key Syrian figures as well as all US congressional legislation in response to the situation in Syria. The report also contains a list of possible policy options for the US government with regard to Syria. The most detailed of such reports publicly available.
“Syria’s ‘Mutilation Mystery’ Deepens” – CNN – More reportage on the mystery surrounding Zainab al-Husni’s reported death. This time, a CNN reporter interviews the girl’s mother, Fatat Malouk, who maintains that the video released by Syrian media of Zainab showing her national ID and charging that she is still alive is no doubt footage of her daughter. However, Malouk believes that it was actually filmed before her death. Malouk maintains that the body of the dismembered girl that she identified in the morgue was that of Zainab.
“Misstep in Turkey’s Neighborly Ties” – Asia Times – Kaveh L Afrasiabi dissects Turkish foreign policy, arguing that Ankara’s “good neighborly approach” is plagued with contradictions, particularly with regard to Syria, that will haunt it down the line. Two excerpts:
“…bypassing the attention of Turkey’s leadership is the simple yet delicate point that a bulk of the Middle East does not subscribe to the Western security approach toward the region and, therefore, as long as Turkey is regarded as part of a Western alliance there will be structural limits to how far it can succeed in shaping the ‘new Middle East’.”
And: “Turkey is bound to lose a great deal of its appeal as conflict mediator in the region if it continues to alienate neighbors like Iran and Syria by pursuit of regime change in Damascus. This is in light of its willingness to host Syrian opposition groups which are now setting up shop in Turkey for a Libya-style transitional government, thus overlooking the major differences between Libya and Syria.”
“US ‘Reset’ With Russia On Edge After Syria Vote” – National Public Radio – Michele Kelemen evaluates tensions between Russia and the US over the Syria issue, as well as the former country’s reasons for standing by the current Syrian government and vetoing a UN resolution against Damascus.
“Iraq, Siding with Iran, Sends Essential aid to Syria’s Assad” – The Washington Post – Jody Warrick covers relations between Iraq and Syria during the Syrian revolution, predictably adopting the oft repeated sentiment in Washington: both countries are ‘Iranian puppets’.
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