The Syrian Revolution
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Violence deepened markedly in Syria this week, with clashes between the Syrian armed forces and its defectors igniting in Homs, Daraa, Idlib and Deir ez-Zor. Aiming for a semblance of relevance to Syria’s growing woes, the Arab League issued a deadline on October 16 giving the Syrian government 15 days to implement a ceasefire – lest its membership be suspended. The following day, however, ushered in some of the worst violence the country has seen since March 15 – with well over 40 people killed in clashes in a number of locations. At the same time, cross-border raids by Syrian security forces moving into Lebanon and a spate of violent attacks by armed elements of the opposition, are steadily eroding any lingering hopes that Syria’s troubles will be resolved in the absence of protracted conflict – and within the country’s own borders.
Protest flash points, security crackdowns, clashes
On Friday October 14, tens of thousands of Syrians rallied in demonstrations across the country. At the same time, clashes erupted between members of the Syrian military and those who had defected from it. In Binish, a town in the northern province of Idlib, soldiers and deserters engaged in gun battles leading to the deaths of an estimated 10.
In the southern province of Daraa, similar clashes in the town of Haara resulted in the deaths of six soldiers and two army defectors.
In the city of Homs, one soldier was reported killed during clashes. In total, activists report that an estimated 20 people died in Friday’s violence.
The following day, a funeral procession in the Damascus suburb of Midan for a young man killed amid crackdowns the day before, ended violence when security forces reportedly used live ammunition against the crowds. One person died while another five were wounded. The funeral was being held for 14-year-old Ibrahim al-Shayban.
Violence in Homs continued on Saturday with three deaths reported by Local Coordination Committees when troops in armored vehicles allegedly opened fire in a number of neighborhoods.
On Sunday, four civilians were reportedly killed in Homs when security forces opened fire on a demonstrations near the home of Mansur al-Arassi, an activist currently in detention. Another two people were killed in the neighborhood of Khaldiyeh, when attackers shot weapons from a vehicle. A total of 39 people were injured during both incidents.
The same day, security forces in the northern town of Khan Sheikhun opened fire on demonstrators, killing two. Another person was killed in Zabadani in Damascus province as some 25 people were arrested, three women among them.
Security forces also reportedly used live ammunition against people participating in a funeral procession in Deir ez-Zor for activist Ziad al-Obeidi. Obeidi was killed the day before following his discovery by security forces after being in hiding since mid-August.
Monday October 17, saw another surge in violence when an estimated 30 civilians as well as 12 members of the Syrian army were killed amid clashes in Homs. The day’s death toll was among the highest reported in the city since the revolution began. According to city residents, the clashes began in the early hours of the morning, following the deployment of tanks to a number of neighborhoods suspected of harboring army defectors.
According to the Local Coordination Committees (LCC), a further eight civilians were killed in violence elsewhere around the country on Monday. There were also reports that army defectors wages an assault on the Syrian army checkpoint in Qusair, a town near the country’s border with Lebanon. The attack resulted in the deaths of seven soldiers. Another four members of the army were killed when a bomb exploded in a car they were driving in the town of Ihsam in the north.
Foreign media report that Syrian activists blame many of the recent and more violent attacks against the Syrian army on the Free Syrian Army, a band of military defectors who are pushing for an armed rebellion.
Activists and residents in the city of Homs blame the city’s staggering death toll in part on the near impossibility of bringing the wounded to hospitals for treatment. Many charge that security forces do not allow ambulances to move in or out of besieged areas.
At the same time, there is an abundance of reportage suggesting that suspected dissidents are killed by security forces whilst seeking treatment in hospitals. Doctors and healthcare workers likewise report that they come under target for aiding the wounded. To that end, the LCC claims that in the last month, some 25 pharmacists and doctors have been detained on charges of treating wounded members of the opposition.
Avaaz, a international human rights groups likewise charges that some 57 patients have been detained by security forces whilst in hospitals in Lattakia and Homs. Members of the Red Crescent have also fallen under attack, with one dying in a shooting incident just one month back.
On Tuesday, violent security crackdowns were reported in the the town of Herak in the southern province of Daraa, with five people reportedly shot and killed during demonstrations against the arrest of Sheik Wajih Kaddah, a local cleric.
Another person was reportedly killed in the town of Qusair while security forces carried out the largest of such operations since the revolution began in neighborhoods surrounding the capital Damascus, closing off roads and erecting new security checkpoints. Two people were killed in Damascus suburbs that day.
At the same time, international media reported that a Syrian intelligence officer was killed by a sniper in Idlib, a province on the country’s border with Turkey, fueling concerns that armed resistance to the current government is indeed deepening.
In a particularly troubling development, Syrian military forces also reportedly dispatched soldiers into the Lebanese town of Masharee al-Qaa on Tuesday to pursue eight soldiers who had reportedly defected from the army.
Wednesday ushered in more violence, with reports suggesting that some 17 civilians and seven soldiers were killed that day. Eight of the deaths occurred in Homs amid ongoing security crackdowns and in some places, battles. Another eight people were killed in Qusair – among them, a woman and three teenage girls. The woman was killed by a stray bullet, the girls, by a rocket-propelled grenade that hit their home. Another person was reportedly killed in Idlib during a raid by security forces.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported serious clashes between the military and army defectors in Jussiyeh, a town near Qusair. Reports of casualties are highly conflictual.
The Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights puts the Syrian revolution’s current death toll at 3,482 people, including 212 children and 99 women. A further 4,232 people have been wounded, while some 191 people were killed by torture whilst in detention.
Inflows of weapons, armed insurrection, self defense
Since the start of the Syrian revolution in March of this year, international and local media have reported that the flow of weapons into the country has steadily increased. The cost of weapons in neighboring Lebanon, for example, has risen markedly, with dealers reporting that a used kalashnikov assault rile has jumped from USD 800 to USD 1500. Weapons dealers also tell journalists that the cost of a grenade has increased from USD 5 to USD 10 while the cost of shotguns, usually originating from Turkey, has gone from USD 200 to USD 500.
The Syrian government accuses groups in Lebanon allied with former Lebanese President Saad Hariri, of channeling both weapons and cash into Syria in support of an armed insurrection.
Two weekends ago, members of the Lebanese army captured a van headed to Syria filled with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns. Claims that the opposition receives funding and weaponry from militants across the border are as plausible as the assertion that weapons sales are increasing as Syrians seek to defend themselves against violent military incursions and security crackdowns.
International Politics & Diplomacy
US Ambassador Ford – denial of possible civil war in Syria reminds him of Iraq in 2004
During a teleconference with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on Friday October 14, US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford warned that while the Syrian opposition remain largely unarmed, the violence that is overtaking parts of the country and denials by Syrians that the country could fall into civil war, are reminders of Iraq before the onslaught of sectarian conflict there in 2004. At the time, Ford was then serving as a political counselor to the US Embassy in Baghdad.
Ford went on to assert that the growing violence across the country, is in part the product of a growing number of army defections, likewise noting that it is not possible to confirm the extent to which such defections are taking place. “The Syrian security forces are still very strong, and there is not an armed opposition that is capable of overthrowing the Syrian government,” Ford said.
The ambassador went on to comment on the country’s worsening economic woes, stating that while “business is just terrible,” the opposition has yet to make significant inroads with the Syrian business community.
Canadian government upgrades warning on Syria, urges citizens to leave immediately
On Friday October 14, the Canadian Foreign Affairs Department upgraded its warning on Syria, urging any Canadian citizens currently in Syria to leave as soon as possible. The warning read:
“Canadians in Syria should leave now by commercial means while these are still available. Canadians who remain in the country despite this warning should be aware that the Government of Canada’s ability to provide consular assistance may be extremely limited due to restrictions imposed by the Syrian Government.”
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay accuses Syrian government of “ruthless repression and killings”
On Saturday October 15, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, issued a statement accusing the Syrian government of “ruthless repression and killings”. “Since the start of the uprising in Syria, the government has consistently used excessive force to crush peaceful protests. Sniping from rooftops and indiscriminate use of force against peaceful protesters – including the use of live ammunition and the shelling of residential neighborhoods — have become routine occurrences in Syrian cities,” Pillay’s statement read.
Pillay went on to urge the international community to “take protective action in a collective and decisive manner, before the continued ruthless repression and killings drive the country into a full-blown civil war“.
UN Secretary General on violence in Syria – “killing must stop”
At a press conference in Bern, Switzerland on Monday October 17, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said of the ongoing violence in Syria, “This killing must stop. Immediately.” Ki-moon also urged the Syrian government to allow a UN team into the country to carry out investigations of the more than 3,000 deaths that have occurred since the revolution began on March 15.
India, Brazil, South Africa under fire for inaction on Syria issue
Following the failure of the UN Security Council (UNSC) to pass a resolution on Syria, India, Brazil, and South Africa (IBSA) – each of which currently have non-permanent seats on the UNSC – have each been on the receiving-end of harsh international criticism for their shared decision to abstain from voting on a stronger UN response to the situation in Syria.
In the most recent round of criticism, Nadim Houry, Deputy Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch said, “IBSA leaders shouldn’t sit by and watch as Syria implodes. Their efforts at private dialogue have achieved nothing, and hundreds more Syrians have died in the meantime.”
“By abstaining, India, Brazil, and South Africa have failed the Syrian people and emboldened the Syrian government in its path of violence against them,” Houry continued. “Their proclaimed distrust of the Western motives shouldn’t blind them into siding with an abusive government. Syria’s current behavior repudiates the very democratic ideals to which IBSA countries are committed.” He went on, “The IBSA countries should not be the last to wake up to the severity of the crisis facing the Syrian people.”
Arab League holds emergency meeting on Syria, declines to suspend Syrian membership, calls for ceasefire
On Sunday October 16, the 22-member Arab League held an emergency meeting in Cairo to discuss the situation in Syria and the possibility of suspending Syria’s membership in the League. Called for by a number of Gulf states, the meeting also reportedly intended to pressure the Syrian government to bring an end to its use of force against Syrian civilians.
The League reportedly met in the absence of Syria’s representative to the organization. Meetings ran well into the evening. The group did not reach a decision to suspend Syria’s membership as it did not gain support from the minimum two-thirds of its membership. A 15-day deadline for the Syrian government to enact a ceasefire was imposed, however, with members also calling for renewed national dialogue.
According to League members, if the ceasefire and dialogue do not come to fruition within 15 days, the body will again hold another emergency meeting at which time, members might vote to move forward with the suspension of Syria’s membership.
Yemen, Algeria, Sudan and Lebanon were among the countries who stood in opposition to Syria’s suspension from the League.
Suspension from the Arab League is a rare occurrence. While such a move would likely have minimal impact on the course of events in Syria, it would add to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s deepening isolation.
In response to the League’s move, Al-Thawra, a government-owned Syrian daily lambasted the organization on Wednesday, stating, “It is no longer surprising to see the Arab League, which is supposed to be concerned with joint Arab action, turn into an instrument of injustice aimed at destabilizing Syria.” The paper continued, “Following years of inaction, the Arab League has now become a tool of destabilization, and is acting against Arab interests.” The paper likewise accused the Arab League of being held “hostage to powers following the agenda of aggressors like the United States, Israel and their European allies”.
Asma al-Assad under renewed scrutiny
This week, international press revisited the controversies raised in part by the February 25, 2011 article in Vogue magazine,”Asthma al-Assad: A Rose of the Desert”, on the wife of the Syrian president. The article, met with impressive levels of outrage by the general international public, covered the First Lady’s fashion sense and aesthetics, and charitable works, among other airy topics. Indeed, the article was so poorly received in light of Syria’s broader social and political issues, that it was subsequently removed from the magazine’s website (to read it reposted elsewhere, click here). The grave crackdowns against Syrian civilians that have been unflinchingly carried out in the many months that have since passed, have led many to revisit the topic of the country’s First Lady. The following are two such examples, one from major media, another from the blogosphere:
“So, What Do You Think of Your Husband’s Brutal Crackdown, Mrs Assad?” in The Independent, and; “Some Thoughts on Syria’s ‘First Lady‘” on The Syrian Pulse.
Further Reading, Viewing & Listening
“Burhan Ghalioun: No to International Intervention or Dialogue with the Regime” – Al-Akhbar – Burhan Ghalioun, a key member of the Syrian opposition and a well regarded figure in the Syrian National Council (SNC), spoke to Ernest Khoury about international intervention in Syria, talk of his assuming a leadership role in a post-Assad Syria, engagement with the current Syrian government, bringing minorities into the opposition, and international recognition of the SNC.
“We [the Syrian National Council] are only prepared to negotiate with those elements in the regime that do not have blood on their hands over one single issue: how to transfer power, dismantle the existing regime, and begin a transition to democracy in Syria.”
“The SNC is a vehicle for liberation that represents the people who are in revolt, and not a parliament. We did not use sectarian criteria to select the 230 members of the General Assembly, the 29 members of the General Secretariat, and the seven members of the SNC‚Äôs Executive Board. We view our people as one, while taking religious and ethnic differences into account.”
“The SNC founding statement spells out its rejection of military intervention, and affirms our commitment to Syrian sovereignty and independence. The SNC is opposed to foreign military intervention whether that happens via a NATO mandate or some other way.”
“We stress the need for the revolution to remain peaceful. That is its greatest strength, and it must retain it to achieve victory and maintain its profoundly popular nature…For our part we are not counting on deserters from the Syrian army, but on the possibility of major political rifts occurring within the regime once internal and external pressures peak.”
“Hezbollah’s hostility to the rights of the Syrian people and its contempt for their sacrifices is unacceptable and unjustifiable by any standards. The Syrian people are not and will not be opposed to the resistance. Syria has territory of its own that is occupied by Israel. That said, the future democratic Syria’s relations with any resistance movements will depend on their willingness to coordinate with the Syrian government.”
“Inside Homs, Besieged Centre of Syrian Resistance” – BBB – Journalist Sue Lloyd-Robert secretly filmed life amid the recent turmoil in the central city of Homs, carrying out interviews with residents and activists – video coverage that stands relatively alone for its access to the country’s most besieged city.
“Syrians, Not The Regime, Feel The Sting Of Sanctions” – National Public Radio – An audio clip by NPR covering the impact of international sanctions against Syria on the Syrian people. While the international community touts its efforts to punish Syrian officials and institutions responsible for the crackdowns against civilians, the report suggests that the sanctions are having the strongest impact on ordinary citizens.
“NPR’s Deborah Amos: Egypt Can Learn from Syria” – The Global Post – Veteran journalist Deborah Amos ‘grades’ Syrian and Egyptian revolutionaries, granting members of the Syrian opposition ‘high scores’ for their efforts to build civil society in advance of any possible collapse of the Syrian government – and ‘low scores’ for internal squabbling. An interesting perspective on the Syrian opposition for Amos’s personal interpretations of who they are, what they represent and how they engage in activism.
“Syria Uses US Technology in Cyber Crackdown” – Mother Jones – Telecomix, a group of tech activists, came forward this week with evidence that the Syrian government is using technology developed by the American company, Blue Coat Systems, to monitor and block access to the internet.
“Violence Sharpens Syrian Conflict” – The Wall Street Journal – Nour Malas covers charges that Syria is sliding into civil war as the “stalemate between protesters and regime security forces, is increasingly breaking into armed clashes that activists and diplomats worry could escalate beyond a point of no return”. Also covered are concerns that the opposition might formally take up arms, and the issue of divides within the opposition. Central to Malas’s article, are fears that the rising death toll and realities of the deaths of family members and friends, will drive more and more people to take up arms against those who have, or indeed aim, to attack them.
“Syria Holds Former VP Incommunicado, Daughter Says” – Associated Press – Reportage released this week suggests that former Syrian Vice President Shibli al-Aisamy, who was kidnapped in May 2011 whilst visiting Lebanon, is likely being held in Syrian detention, raising further questions of linkages between members of Lebanese and Syrian security forces.
“Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Still Face Peril” – The New York Times – Josh Wood covers the security issues faced by Syrian refugees living in Lebanon – cheif among them, linkages between the Lebanese and Syrian governments thus reportedly enabling members of security forces in both countries to kidnap and in some cases kill suspected Syrian dissidents in Lebanon with impunity.
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