UNSC Resolution on Syria Vetoed as Conflict in Homs Intensifies
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On Saturday, February 4, following several days of intensive negotiations, Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Syria. The vote was held in a rare weekend session, with thirteen member states including France, Britain, and the US voting in favor of the resolution. The vote came as violence in the central city of Homs surged, with unconfirmed casualty reports numbering in the hundreds. Two days later, the US Department of State announced the closure of its embassy in Damascus and the withdrawal of its diplomatic personnel from the country. Six Arab states followed suit on Tuesday, signaling Damascus’s deepening isolation.
The Syrian Revolution
The situation inside Syria
On Friday, February 4, the central city of Homs, the focal point of the country’s current unrest, saw the onslaught of serious security crackdowns as Syrian military forces reportedly moved in on the city to quell what the government termed terrorist activities.
According to some unconfirmed and disputed accounts, some 200 people died in Homs between in the first 24 hours of the violence. Following the initial reports of the death toll, seven Syrian embassies were reportedly attacked in protest against the violence, including those in London, Cairo, and Australia.
Since Friday, the daily death tolls from Homs have been unprecedentedly high, thereby capturing the focus of international and to a lesser degree, local, media. The violence in the city continues at present, with shelling reportedly now stretching well into its sixth day.
The following links represent some of the reportage on the situation in Homs from various perspectives:
“Armed Terrorist Groups Attack Civilians and Law-Enforcement Forces, Authorities Confront Terrorists and Dismantle Explosives” – SANA
“Syrian Siege of Homs is Genocidal, Say Trapped Residents” – The Guardian
“Assad Regime Vows to ‘Hunt’ Down Rebels as Death Toll Rises in Syria” – The Telegraph
“One Morning in Homs” – Jadaliyya
“Syria: Crimes Against Humanity in Homs” – Informed Comment
“Syria’s Bloody Turning Point” – Salon
Human Rights Watch calls for end to violence in Homs
In response to the security crackdowns in Homs, the international rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement today condemning the use of violence against civilians and urging for an immediate end to military operations in the city’s residential neighborhoods. An excerpt from the statement:
“The Syrian government should immediately stop its shelling of residential neighborhoods in the city of Homs, Human Rights Watch said today. Since February 3, 2012, the attacks have killed more than 300 persons in the city, according to Syrian monitoring groups, and wounded hundreds others, including women and children. No adequate medical assistance is available to the victims due to a blockade of the city by government forces and fear of arrest if treated at government-controlled hospitals.”
To read the statement in full, click here.
International Politics & Diplomacy
Jumblatt rules out military intervention in Syria
On February 3 whilst speaking to LBC International, Lebanese Progressive Socialist Party leader MP, Walid Jumblatt, ruled out the possibility of military intervention in Syria and emphasized that a political solution was the only way out of the country’s current crisis.
“You can’t convince the Syrian citizen in Homs or Hama or other places that there are reforms while there is blood shedding. There needs to be a cease-fire and a mechanism that can monitor the cease-fire,” Jumblatt said.
“The least Assad can do is announce he agrees to the political solution and Arab League initiative and announce an end to the violence, release prisoners, order security apparatuses to halt all activities and then launch new elections and the annulment of article 8 of the [Syrian] Constitution,” he continued.
US President Obama calls on Syrian government to halt “campaign of killing and crimes against” Syrian people
On February 4, US President Barack Obama issued an official statement on the situation in the country, urging the UNSC to take a firm stance on Syria. Some excerpts from the statement:
“Thirty years after his father massacred tens of thousands of innocent Syrian men, women, and children in Hama, Bashar al-Assad has demonstrated a similar disdain for human life and dignity. Yesterday the Syrian government murdered hundreds of Syrian citizens, including women and children, in Homs through shelling and other indiscriminate violence, and Syrian forces continue to prevent hundreds of injured civilians from seeking medical help…
“I strongly condemn the Syrian government’s unspeakable assault against the people of Homs and I offer my deepest sympathy to those who have lost loved ones. Assad must halt his campaign of killing and crimes against his own people now. He must step aside and allow a democratic transition to proceed immediately…
“The international community must work to protect the Syrian people from this abhorrent brutality…Earlier this week, our Arab partners called on UN Security Council members to take action to support a political solution to the crisis in Syria and stop Assad’s “killing machine.” The Council now has an opportunity to stand against the Assad regime’s relentless brutality…
“We must work with the Syrian people toward building a brighter future for Syria. A Syria without Assad could be a Syria in which all Syrians are subject to the rule of law and where minorities are able to exercise their legitimate rights and uphold their identities and traditions while acting as fully enfranchised citizens in a unified republic…”
To read the statement in full, see here.
Russia, China veto UN Security Council Resolution, foreign officials express outrage
On Saturday, February 4, China and Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Syria that supported the Arab League’s peace plan for the country. The League’s plan entailed demanding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down from power.
The Council’s session was unusual given that it was held over the weekend. Thirteen of its members, including France, Britain, and the United States, voted in favor of the resolution.
Russia and China’s double-veto came on the heels of several days of intensive negotiations aimed at softening their opposition to the resolution. Of central concern to both countries was the absence of any language in the draft resolution the would preclude international intervention in Syria. Equally contentious was the issue of foreign governments calling for Assad to step down, viewed as a profoundly meddlesome move by two countries known for their noninterventionism.
Saturday’s veto marked the second time in twice as many months that China and Russia blocked a UNSC resolution on Syria.
Of the double-veto, German ambassador to the UN Peter Wittig said, “Today the Security Council has failed to live up to its responsibility.” He continued, “The people in Syria have been let down again.”
Susan Rice, US ambassador to the UN said the US was “disgusted” by the Council’s vote. To read Rice’s remarks in full, click here.
French ambassador Gerard Araud responded to the veto stating that, “It is a sad day for this council, a sad day for Syrians and a sad day for all friends of democracy.”
For more on the ensuing ‘war of words’, see here.
US Embassy in Damascus closes, all diplomatic personnel evacuated
On Monday, February 6, the US Embassy in Damascus announced that it was closing its doors due to the failure of the Syrian government to meets its security requests. The announcement, effective immediately, also reflected the worsening security situation in the country, or what US officials termed the “shadow of instability” that has descended across the country. US Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, along with all the embassy’s staff had left the country by the time the announcement was made.
US Department of State spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, made the following statement on the embassy’s closure (excerpts):
“The United States has suspended operations of our Embassy in Damascus as of February 6. Ambassador Ford and all American personnel have now departed the country.
“The recent surge in violence, including bombings in Damascus on December 23 and January 6, has raised serious concerns that our Embassy is not sufficiently protected from armed attack. We, along with several other diplomatic missions, conveyed our security concerns to the Syrian government but the regime failed to respond adequately.
“Ambassador Ford has left Damascus but he remains the United States Ambassador to Syria…
“…we continue to be gravely concerned by the escalation of violence in Syria caused by the regime’s blatant defiance of its commitments to the action plan it agreed to with the Arab League. The deteriorating security situation that led to the suspension of our diplomatic operations makes clear once more the dangerous path Assad has chosen and the regime’s inability to fully control Syria…”
To read the statement in full, click here.
The closure of the embassy has a direct and serious bearing on what remains of the diplomatic channels between the US and Syria and the safety of US citizens in country. Importantly, however, it also seriously impacts thousands of Syrian nationals seeking visas for work, study, residence, and refuge in the US.
For more on the embassy’s closure, see here.
China considers sending envoys to Syria to broker peace plan
On Tuesday, February 7, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said during a daily press briefing that the Chinese government is contemplating dispatching envoys to Syria in an effort to compel the Syrian government to reign in the country-wide violence. No further details were provided.
The announcement comes as China falls under increasing condemnation for its move just three days earlier to veto the UNSC resolution against Syria.
For more on China’s possible move to send envoys, as well as its worsening relations with a number of states in the region, see here.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visits Damascus, calls for reform
On Tuesday, just days Russia vetoed the UNSC resolution on Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in Damascus, reportedly to urge the Syrian government to move forward with reforms.
That day, Lavrov said that his country wants the Syrian government to resolve the crisis “based on positions set out in the Arab League initiative” – though Syrian officials were quick to clarify that Russia was not supporting the League’s latest initiative, which called for President Assad to step aside and for a broader overhaul of the government.
According to Lavrov, the Syrian government will soon announce the date for a constitutional referendum.
For more on Lavrov’s trip to Damascus and meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, see here.
GCC states pull ambassadors out of Syria, expel Syrian envoys
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates – the six countries that comprise the Gulf Cooperation Council, announced on February 7 that they were recalling their ambassadors from Syria and expelling Syrian envoys from their respective countries.
The move came a day after the US announced that it was closing its embassy in Damascus and withdrawing its diplomatic personnel from the country.
According to the GCC member states, the diplomatic drawdown comes in response to “worsening violence in Syria“.
Turkish government prepping new initiative with foreign governments following vetoed UNSC resolution
According to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey is prepping a new initiative with a number of foreign governments who stand opposed to Syria’s current leadership.
Erdogan termed the failed UNSC resolution against Syria a “fiasco” on Tuesday, and said that “we [the Turkish government] are going to start a new initiative with those countries that stand by the people, not the Syrian government. We are preparing this.”
Erdogan continued, “The process that occurred at the United Nations in relation to Syria is a fiasco for the civilized world.”
No further details on what such preparations entail were provided. According to an unnamed senior Turkish official, Turkey is considering other options “carefully” though it is “too early to say we are headed towards a contact group as with Libya”.
Turkey hosts the Syrian National Council, the most well-known of Syria’s opposition groups.
German government summons Syrian ambassador following arrest of suspected Syrian spies
On Tuesday, February 7, the German government arrested to individuals in Germany thought to be spying on organizations known to be critical of the current Syrian government for Syrian intelligence.
In response to the suspected spying, the German government summoned Syria’s ambassador to Germany in an effort to “signal unambiguously to Syrian officials that any apparent activity against the Syrian opposition in Germany is in no way tolerable and a violation of the law,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters in Berlin.
Economic Development & Trade
Switzerland expands Syrian sanctions list
On Monday, February 6, the government of Switzerland added 34 Syrian interior ministry and military officials to its sanctions and travel ban list.
The Swiss lists now includes 108 names, included among them, Syrian Finance Minister Mohammad al-Jleilati, Economy Minister Nidal Mohammad al-Shaar, and chief of staff, Fahid al-Jassim and his deputy Ibrahim al-Hassan.
Nineteen companies were also added to the list that now includes some 38 entities.
Gulfsands Petroleum halts exploration work in Syria, cites sanctions
On February 3, Gulfsands Petroleum announced that it was ending its oil exploration work in Syria so long as sanctions against Damascus remain in place. The company termed the move as one of both “financial and operational prudence”.
“It is disappointing to be obliged to cease exploration following a recent run of considerable success and with substantial exploration potential still untapped,” an official statement released by the company read.
“The board believes that the situation in Syria will be resolved in due course and that the company will be able to resume profitable operation,” the statement continued.
Further Reading & Viewing
On Aleppo – energy shortages, opposition:
“Aleppo Energy Crisis: Running Out of Patience” – Al-Akhbar – Samah Abdo covers the impact of fuel and petrol shortages and related theft on Aleppo – including the manner in which rampant corruption has exacerbated supply issues.
“Uprising Finally its Syria’s ‘Silk Road’ City” – Reuters – Khaled Yacoub Oweis covers burgeoning unrest in Aleppo, the country’s second largest city, following last Friday’s protests in the city.
“Aleppo, Syria, Long Loyal to the Government, Appears to Waver” – Los Angeles Times – LA Times staff report from Aleppo, interviewing government supporters and protestors and highlighting growing troubles in the suburbs of the country’s economic hub and simultaneous confusion about which ‘side’ to support – that of the government or the opposition.
On the failed UNSC resolution and related diplomacy:
“Cynicism Around Syria: Russia as Smokescreen” – Jadaliyya – An interesting read by Vijay Prashad, covering the Arab League’s monitoring mission and ties between its head, General Mohamed Ahmad al-Dabi, and the government of Qatar, relations between the League and Qatar more broadly and the latter’s strategic maneuvering via the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the region, the most recent failed UNSC resolution on Syria and Russia’s motivations for vetoing it, and the view that the primary impediment to international intervention is Syria’s geostrategic location. Worth reading.
“Theater at the UN Security Council” – Al-Akhbar – As’ad AbuKhalil highlights the US’s feigned ‘outrage’ about the UNSC’s failed Syria resolution, noting that while the US has “sixty vetoes in support of Israeli war crimes”, it “now has an opportunity at the UN to pose as a champion of the Syrian people”. At the same time, AbuKhalil notes that “the Russian and Chinese vetoes had nothing to do with the Syrian people or their welfare. Russia and China simply learned from the case of the UN Security Council resolution on Libya: those two countries may need in the future to repress and kill their own people, and they don’t want to set a precedent for an outside intervention”. AbuKhalil argues that the Syrian people “have been used by the propaganda of both sides. The Syrian regime is now increasingly a pawn in a regional and international game and is increasingly subservient to the agenda of its regional and international allies, just as the Syrian National Council is hostage to its regional and international alliances.”
“United States on UN Veto: ‘Disgusting’, ‘Shameful’, ‘Deplorable’, ‘a Travesty’…Really?” – Jadaliyya – Bassam Haddad takes on the US’s recent condemnation of Russia and China’s double-veto on the UN Security Council resolution on Syria highlighting similar moves by the US in the past.
On the choice between backing the current government or the exiled opposition:
“Imperialism, Despotism, and Democracy in Syria” – Al-Jazeera – Joseph Massad argues that the choice between supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and supporting a foreign-backed opposition – aka the choice between ‘fascism’ and ‘imperialism’ – is a false one “designed to block and third and central choice” – that of “supporting home-grown struggles for democratic transformation and social justice that are not financed and controlled by the oil tyrannies of the Gulf and their US imperial master”.
“On Massad: The Failure of the Anti-Imperialist Intellectuals” – Maysaloon – Syrian blogger Maysaloon responds to Massad’s op-ed, arguing that Massad “is out of touch with what is happening in Syria”. Maysaloon continues, “There are good ways to overthrow a dictator and there are bad ways, he seems to say. The bad way is to ask for the West for help, the good way is, well, unclear. Massad tells us that a good anti-imperialist would oppose the dictator AND the West, which is pretty straightforward, but he doesn’t tell us how that is going to help the people of Syria, or how he proposes that they get rid of Assad.” Maysaloon goes on to critique Massad’s underlying assumption that Syrians, and Libyans and Iraqis before them, are “politically unsophisticated enough to recognise the nuances between imperialism and opportunistic opposition groups, home-grown tyranny and the unfathomable third way”.
On the Free Syrian Army and other armed elements of the opposition and their impact on the revolution:
“Wadi Khaled: The Free Syrian Army Base in Lebanon” – Al-Akhbar – Radwan Mortada covers the FSA base in Lebanon. The first of a three-part series.
“The Syrian Crisis and the New Cold War” – Middle East Online – Patrick Seale argues that the growing militarization of elements of the opposition is providing Damascus with the fodder it needs to use all means to manage the unrest. Seale also covers the crisis’ internationalization.
“What the US Needs to Know About the Syrian Rebels” – The Telegraph – Michael Weiss covers armed elements of the Syrian opposition operating independently from the better-known Free Syrian Army.
“Syria Under Siege” – Time – Photographs of Homs by Alessio Romenzi.
“Syria’s Ground Zero” – Foreign Policy – A series of photographs from Homs.
On whether “Assad’s Time is Running Out”
“This Time, Assad Has Overreached” – The New York Times – By Syrian writer Rime Allaf. Excerpt: “It doesn’t matter how much support Bashar al-Assad’s regime still commands, nor does it ultimately matter why his fans still cling on to the illusion of his ability to remain in power… It is a matter of time, and it is unclear how the transition will be achieved, but the majority of Syrians are sure of one thing: we have reached the end of an era.”
“Life After Assad Could Be Worse” – The New York Times – By Ed Husain argues that the majority of Syrians continue to support the country’s president because they prefer “his (flawed) promise of security and stability to the (untested) opposition’s offer of a democracy enveloped in blood. Assad’s appeal is not that he offers freedom, but security.”
“An Iron Grip Shows Signs of Weakening” – The New York Times – Anne-Marie Slaughter argues that while Syria’s “strategic position in the heart of the Middle East, its close ties to Russia and Iran, its complex ethnic and religious composition, its proximity to Israel” are factors that “militate against any intervention on behalf of the Syrian opposition”, they are now “strong arguments for forcing him [President Assad] to step down and give way to a process that is the best hope of a peaceful and relatively stable outcome to the current crisis”.
“Robert Fisk: From Washington This Looks Like Syria’s ‘Benghazi Moment’. But Not from Here” – The Independent – Robert Fisk argues that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad maintains a firm hold on power, showing no signs of being “about to go”. Fisk highlights Iran’s continued backing as well as Lebanon’s refusal to back sanctions, charging that while the US sees President Assad as standing alone, the view from Damascus is the opposite.
“Why Syrians Fight, and Why Their Civil War May be a Long One” – TIME – Tony Karon argues that the “existential struggle against an implacable sectarian foe” is the real force driving the Syrian government’s approach to respond to the current crisis. Accordingly, Karon writes that the resulting conflict is essentially fated to be a long-term one. Also discussed is the possible influence of the 1.5 million Iraqi refugees still living in Syria – a constant reminder of the consequences of sectarian conflict.
On international intervention:
“No Libya Play for the West in Syria” – CNN – Tim Lister adeptly covers growing calls for international intervention in Syria, including the likelihood of a NATO-led campaign (which the author argues will not happen in 2012), to the formation of a ‘coalition of the willing’, to the arming of the Free Syrian Army – a move called for by some US Senators, John McCain among them.
“Might the Turkish Military Intervene in Syria?” – Begin-Sadar Center for Strategic Studies – Dr. Can Kasapoğlu argues that: “without Turkey’s cooperation, any military intervention in Syria would be impossible, as such an operation cannot exclude the second largest land force in NATO” and “the Gulf states…still need a regional guarantor to counterbalance Iran, Syria’s close ally, in military and geostrategic aspects.” Kasapoğlu charges that Turkish military intervention in Syria is probable, though its “preference is not for unilateral action” meaning that it would “seek cooperation from the US and the Gulf states”.
“In Syria, We Need to Bargain With the Devil” – The New York Times – Nicholas Noe argues against the view that a “controlled collapse” of the current government is possible, charging instead that such an assumption is wrong for three reasons: 1) the government still has the firm support of the strongest elements of the military; 2) the violence following any ‘controlled collapse’ would likely be staggering, and; 3) the subsequent refugee and internally displaces persons crises would further destabilize the country and those that border it. Noe argues the more likely scenario is a last-ditch effort from the ‘axis of resistance’ to shore up the current government, resulting in major conflict. Noe proceeds to assert that the solution is for the US to ‘deal with Assad’ by implementing the “realistic” strategy that “retreats from the position of demanding that he step down immediately”, calls for the FSA to put down its weapons and for the the world to relax sanctions, and includes an “American-led effort to broker the return to Syria of the Golan Heights”. Am interesting though arguably ‘unrealistic’ read.
“As Syria’s Assad Pummels Homs, West Reluctantly Weighs Military Option” – Christian Science Monitor – Nicholas Blanford charges that the most recent failed UNSC resolution on Syria, coupled with the country’s steadily deteriorating security situation, are driving international players to consider arming the opposition.
“Don’t Count on a Syria Intervention” – Foreign Policy – Scott Clement argues that at present, “Americans just aren’t interested in getting involved in promoting democracy overseas” and for this reason, the US will be leaving Syrians to their own devices. Clement’s assertions come from a number of informal Foreign Policy polls.
“Syria: The Alternatives Narrow” – The National Review – Conservative writer Elliott Abrams critiques the Obama administration’s response to the situation in Syria charging that “the problem is that Syria is at war, and one side or the other will win that war. It will be the Assad/Russia/Iran/Hezbollah side, or the popular uprising with its European, American, and Arab support”. Unsurprisingly, Abrams argues that the US must ensure that President Assad’s side “loses” through direct or indirect measures – including the arming and training of Syria’s opposition members.
“World Must Aid Syria’s Rebels” – CNN – Shadi Hamid argues that the international community is obliged to “take collective action when a regime wars against its own people”.
“On Syria, Go Back to the United Nations” – CNN – Salman Shaikh responds to the UNSC’s failed resolution on Syria, arguing that the “international community’s efforts must” now focus on “altering the situation on the ground” by returning to the United Nations and seeking “consensus, at least on how to stop the violence”.
“Syrian Opposition Calls for Libya-style Intervention” – ABC – Eleanor Hall interviews Radwan Ziadeh, member of the Syrian National Council, on the state of the revolution, prospects for dialogue, and the SNC’s stance on international intervention.
“Coalition of Syrian Artists: Resistance Liberates the Imagination from Slavery” – MondoWeiss/Le Monde – Eleanor Kilroy translates an article first published in the French paper Le Monde. The article, ‘Délivrons la Syrie pour qu’elle retrouve le droit de vivre et de créer !’ was assembled a by group of Syrian cultural leaders, among them renowned Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat, who argue that Syria’s cultural institutions had lost their legitimacy as a consequence of their silence in the face of the current crisis.
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