Syrian Pound Plummets, Fears of Grave Poverty Spike, UN Aid Chief Arrives in Syria and Proclaims Homs ‘Devastated’
https://syria-report.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/Logo-20-2.png 0 0 admin https://syria-report.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/Logo-20-2.png admin2012-03-08 19:49:052012-03-08 20:38:34March 8, 2012 – Syria News Blog: A Roundup of Key International Reportage and Commentary
Following a 27-day broad-scale military assault on the Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr, armed members of the Syrian opposition declared a ‘tactical retreat’ from the area on March 1. Syrian military forces regained control of the neighborhood, though it was not until nearly a week later that the Syrian Red Crescent was permitted entry to deliver aid. A number of foreign embassies closed their doors in Syria this week in response to the country’s still worsening security crisis and widespread UN and international claims that Syrian forces are committing crimes against humanity in the response to the opposition. Early this week, the Syrian government granted UN aid chief Valerie Amos a visa to the country with her arrival in Damascus on Wednesday viewed as a primer for that of UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan. Annan is set to arrive in Syria on Saturday, March 10 to help broker a peace plan. Critically, the Syrian pound plunged to a new low of 105 to the US dollar today, fueling the country’s growing economic crisis and fears among many Syrians of a collapse into grave poverty.
News from Inside Syria
On Thursday, March 1, following months of putting up a resistance to the Syrian military, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) declared that it was conducting a ‘tactical retreat’ from the besieged Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr. The retreat came some 27 days into a full-fledged military assault on neighborhood that left hundreds dead.
Perhaps embolden by its relative success in defeating those in the city militarily allied with the opposition, the government then initiated a number of serious incursions in surrounding villages and towns, also known for being opposition strongholds. Included among them were Tall Kalakh, Qusair, and Rastan. Foreign sources have also reported that those members of the FSA who had fled Tall Kalakh had sought refuge in these towns. The nationwide death toll from related violence on Sunday, March 4 was estimated at over 50 people. Today, Thursday, March 8, the death toll exceed some 60 people – 47 of whom reportedly died amid ongoing violence in Homs.
Syrian refugees, numbering in the thousands, have also poured into neighboring Lebanon this week. At the same time, the death toll continues to surge with new estimates putting the total at around 8,500 – a figure likely inaccurately low. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the current death toll includes 6,195 civilians, 1,835 soldiers and police, and 428 armed members of the opposition. Source – AFP
For more on the difficulty of producing a reliable death toll from the conflict, see:
“Challenge of Estimating Victims in Syrian Conflict” – New Scientist – (Feb. 28)
On Homs & surrounding villages
“Syrian Forces Overwhelm Stronghold of Rebels in Homs” – The New York Times – (Mar. 1)
“Rebels Make ‘Tactical’ Retreat from Baba Amr in Homs” – France 24 – (Mar. 1)
“Syria Rebels Leave Besieged Baba Amr District of Homs” – CNN – (Mar. 1)
“Crushing Homs” – The New York Times – (Mar. 2)
“Syria Army in Complete Control of Homs Area as Rebels Leave” – San Francisco Chronicle – (Mar. 2)
“Security and Safety Restored to Baba Amro Neighborhood in Homs, Locals Relate Details on Crimes Committed by Terrorists” – SANA – (Mar. 3)
“Syrian Town Struggles Under Siege, Awaits Attack” – Reuters – (Mar. 3)
“Syria Rebels Plead for Ammunition” – The Wall Street Journal – (Mar. 3)
“Syria Army Shelling Homs and Nearby Villages, Opposition Says” – Los Angeles Times – (Mar. 4)
“Authorities Start Removing Debris Left by Terrorists in Homs” – SANA – (Mar. 5)
“Syrians Fleeing Homs Accuse Troops of Atrocities” – BBC – (Mar. 5)
“Families of Baba Amro Return Home, Authorities Discover Weapons’ Factory” – SANA – (Mar. 6)
“Syria Faces Outrage; ‘Smell of Death’ in Homs” – Reuters – (Mar. 6)
“More Violence in Syria as Forces Scramble to Scrub Signs of Assault on Homs” – The New York Times – (Mar. 6)
“Opposition: 39 Killed in Syria as Regime Attacks Escape Route to Lebanon” – CNN – (Mar. 7)
“Weapons, Ammunition, Computers, Advanced Communication Devices and Fake Passports Seized in Homs” – SANA – (Mar. 7)
“More Syrians Die; Diplomatic Efforts Ongoing” – CNN – (Mar. 8)
“Syrian Rebels Fight Back in Idlib” – Reuters – (Mar. 3)
“Captain Martyred, 11 Police Academy Students Abducted, Authorities Arrest Terrorists, Gunmen Turn Themselves In” – SANA – (Mar. 7)
“Huge Crowds of Syrians Gather in Damascus and Hasaka in Support of Reforms” – SANA – (Mar. 7)
“Containing Discontent in Syria’s Capital” – Al-Akhbar – (Mar. 6)
“Is Aleppo Slipping out of Government Control?” – Syria Comment – (Mar. 6)
“Armed Terrorist Group Kidnaps Businessman in Aleppo, Body of Kidnapped Doctor Found” – SANA – (Mar. 6)
“Terrorist Confesses to Assassinating Businessmen, Destroying Properties in Aleppo” – SANA – (Mar. 7)
“Suicide Bomber Detonates Car in Daraa, Three Citizens Killed” – SANA – (Mar. 4)
“Syrian Forces Step Up Assault on Nation’s South” – CBS News – (Mar. 6)
On the out-flux of Syrian refugees
“Lebanon Expects Influx of Refugees From Syria” – The New York Times – (Mar. 4)
“Syria Extends Crackdown, Refugees Flee” – Reuters – (Mar. 5)
“Syrians Flee to Lebanon Amid Homs Atrocity Claims” – BBC – (Mar. 6)
“Thousands Flee Syria Violence” – Al-Jazeera – (Mar. 6)
“Under Cover of the Night, Syrians Cross Into Safety” – The New York Times – (Mar. 6)
March 3: “Syria smoldered on Saturday as soldiers executed dozens of defectors in Idlib province and shelling persisted in the besieged city of Homs, activists told CNN. More than 40 soldiers trying to defect from an army unit in Idlib province were executed by government troops, according to activists from the town of Binnish, the opposition Syrian Network for Human Rights, and the Local Coordination Committees of Syria. The incident occurred at the Abu Athuhoor Military Airport when 50 soldiers attempted to defect, the network said. A captain loyal to the regime got wind of the plan and thwarted it, telling soldiers he would join them, but then informing a brigadier general about the attempt, the network said. The group said 44 were executed; their bodies were dumped in a lake. Six escaped, the network said.” Source – CNN
March 6: “A high-ranking army officer announced his defection from Syria’s military in a YouTube video on Tuesday and said he joined rebel forces in objection to shelling of his hometown in the crackdown on an 11-month revolt against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.”
“Adnan Qassem Farzat said in the video he felt compelled to desert the military because the intensified bombardment of rebel-held areas “are not the values of the Syrian army.” The authenticity of the video could not be verified.”
“If confirmed, Farzat would be the second brigadier general to defect – the highest rank of officers to abandon Assad’s forces, most of whom have remained loyal to the president, fighting what he says are foreign-backed terrorists. Brigadier general is the fifth-highest rank in the Syrian army.” Source – Reuters
March 7: “Syria’s deputy oil minister, Abdo Hussameldin, announced his resignation on a YouTube video. Abdo Hussameldin, Syria’s deputy oil minister, has announced his defection in a video posted by activists on YouTube. If confirmed, Hussameldin would become one of the highest ranking civilian official to abandon President Bashar al-Assad since the uprising against his rule erupted a year ago.”
“‘I Abdo Hussameldin, deputy oil and mineral wealth minister in Syria, announce my defection from the regime, resignation from my position and withdrawal from the Baath Party. I join the revolution of this dignified people,'” Hussameldin said in a YouTube video…”
“Hussameldin denounced Russia and China for backing the regime saying they were not ‘friends of the Syrian people but partners in the killing of the Syrian people’.”
“He said he had served in the Syrian government for 33 years and did not wish to end his life ‘serving a criminal regime’.” Source – Al-Jazeera
“We Are Making Way Too Much of Syrian Oil Ministry Defection” – Audioboo – An interview with Syrian writer and commentator, Rime Allaf.
Syrian president vows to “crush foreign plots”
During a meeting with a delegation of Ukrainian officials in Damascus on March 6, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reportedly said that, “The Syrian people, who have in the past managed to crush foreign plots … have again proven their capacity to defend the nation and to build a new Syria through their determination to pursue reforms along with the fight against foreign-backed terrorism.” President Assad continued, “Any country draws its strength from the backing of its people.” Source – The Telegraph
“President Bashar al-Assad: Power of Every State Lies in Popular Support” – SANA – (Mar. 7)
“Syria’s Assad Determined to Keep Fighting” – Associated Press – (Mar. 7)
International Committee of the Red Cross – Syrian Red Crescent
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) tried for several days this and last week to gain access to Baba Amr, responding to widespread claims of a growing humanitarian disaster in the area, but was repeated denied access on grounds of alleged security issues. Aid did not reach Baba Amr until March 7.
“Syria Blocks Red Cross Aid to Rebel Enclave in Homs” – The New York Times – (Mar. 2)
“Syrian Troops Shell Homs Area, Red Cross Blocked” – USA Today – (Mar. 2)
“Aid Trucks Turned Away from Syrian Neighborhood Amid Reports of Executions” – CNN – (Mar. 3)
“Syria: Red Cross Pushes to Enter Homs” – Time – (Mar. 4)
“Red Cross Hopes to Enter Baba Amro as Syria Boils” – Reuters – (Mar. 4)
“Syria Crisis: Red Cross Still Seeking to Enter Baba Amr” – BBC – (Mar. 5)
“Syrian Red Crescent Enters Baba Amr” – Al-Akhbar – (Mar. 7)
The Syrian National Council
SNC announces formation of military bureau, immediately met with uproar
On March 1, the Syrian National Council, the most internationally known manifestation of the opposition, announced that it would be forming a military bureau.
“The recent developments of the political and security situation in Syria and the regime’s rejection of all Arab and international initiatives for a political solution and a peaceful transfer of power and its killing machine which aims to crush and suppress the democratic Revolution and commit heinous massacres against Syrian women, children and the youth, a new found reality has been formed in which citizens are forced to bear arms in self-defense. Moreover, the regime’s use of the military forces to terrorize and kill innocent civilians has led to the defection of soldiers and officers who refuse to fire at civilians…”
“In light of the rapid developments on the ground, and in realizing the utmost importance of organizing the growing armed resistance along with the need to strengthen the capacity of the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA), the Syrian National Council (SNC) has established a Military Bureau composed of military and civilian personnel. The Military Bureau will track the armed opposition groups, organize and unify their ranks under one central command, defining their defense missions while placing them under the political supervision of the SNC, and coordinating their activities in accordance with the overall strategy of the Revolution. The SNC will work on providing the FSA with all the support it needs to completely fulfill its defense responsibilities, including securing necessary protection for civilians, and tending to the Revolutionaries defending Syrians against the criminal regime. Bureau members will seek assistance from appropriate sources, including experts.” Source – Syrian National Council
More reading, commentary on the SNC’s apparently ill-fated move:
“Syria Opposition Chiefs at Odds Over Military Body” – Reuters – (Mar. 1)
“Syria’s Nonviolent Opposition Aligns with Armed Groups” – The Christian Science Monitor – (Mar. 1)
“Formation of SNC Military Council Causes Uproar among Fighters in Syria and Turkey” – Syria Comment – (Mar. 1)
International Politics & Diplomacy
UN Secretary General reiterates need for concerted international effort resolve conflict in Syria
March 2: “UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today underlined the need for concerted action to end the crisis in Syria, lamenting that the international community has thus far failed in its responsibility to stop the bloodshed in the country, where he said the Government was waging an atrocious assault against its own people. In fact, the actions, indeed, the inaction, of the international community seems to have encouraged the Syrian authorities in their brutal suppression of its citizens, Mr. Ban said as he reported to the General Assembly on the implementation of its 16 February resolution on Syria.” Source – UN News Centre
UN has video footage depicting torture in Syrian hospitals
March 6: “The United Nations has footage similar to a video aired by Britain’s Channel 4 television station purporting to show Syrian patients being tortured in hospital, U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said on Tuesday.”
“‘The High Commissioner was sent this footage by Channel 4 yesterday. In fact we have some similar footage,’ Colville, spokesman for U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, said.
“‘It may even be the same footage which was sent to the commission of inquiry on Syria,’ Colville told a news briefing. ‘The pictures are truly shocking…'”
“Channel 4 said it could not independently verify the video, but Colville said independent investigators reporting to the U.N. Human Rights Council had received similar images and testimony.” Source – Reuters
“Images of Alleged Torture in Syrian Hospitals, Shocking‚ UN Rights Office” – UN News Centre – (Mar. 6)
“Syrian Torture Increasingly Serious, UN Investigator” – Reuters – (Mar. 6)
“Syria’s Assad Determined to Keep Fighting” – Associated Press – (Mar. 6)
US proposes new UNSC Syria resolution
March 6: “Key UN Security Council members began discussing a possible new resolution Tuesday that demands an end to the violence in Syria, first by government forces and then by opposition fighters, in hopes of overcoming opposition from Russia and China…”
“The new draft resolution, proposed by the United States and obtained by The Associated Press, tries to take a more balanced approach in an effort to get Russia and China on board, but it was unclear if the new language would be sufficient to satisfy them.”
“It was discussed behind closed doors by the five permanent council members — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — along with Morocco, the Arab representative on the council.”
“US Ambassador Susan Rice appeared downbeat as she left the meeting, telling reporters: ‘I don’t think you should expect anything specific.'”
“In a statement later, Rice said the discussions focused on ‘whether there is any possibility of reaching agreement around a potential text that would demand an end to the violence in Syria and demand immediate humanitarian access.'”
“Her statement made clear that Western supporters of a UN resolution don’t want to formally introduce the U.S. draft if it’s going to face a third veto.” Source – The Washington Post
“Russia Says US Draft on Syria Needs More Balance” – Reuters – (Mar. 5)
UN humanitarian chief granted visa to Syria, arrives in Damascus for three-day visit
March 5: “The UN’s humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, is to start a three-day visit to Syria on Wednesday. Syria had previously blocked repeated request by Amos to visit the country, but appears to have backed down after the intervention of Russia.” Source – The Guardian
United Nations-Arab League special envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, to travel to Damascus
March 3: “The United Nations-Arab League special envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, will travel to Damascus on Saturday for what would be his first visit since he was appointed to the post last month…Syria will receive him on March 10.” Source – Euronews
“Syria Permits UN Visits, but Escalates Its Attacks” – The New York Times – (Mar. 5)
“Syria Activists Dismiss UN Baba Amr Visit as ‘a Distraction’” – The Guardian – (Mar. 7)
“Syrian District Baba Amr “Pretty Devastated” – UN Aid Chief” – ABS-CBN News – (Mar. 8)
“Annan Urges End to Syria Violence” – Reuters – (Mar. 8)
Britain & France close embassies in Syria
March 1: Britain – “Britain’s foreign secretary says the U.K. is closing its embassy in Syria and withdrawing all diplomatic staff amid a worsening security situation in the country. William Hague said Thursday [March 1] that he judged ‘that the deterioration of the security situation in Damascus puts our embassy staff and premises at risk.'”
“Britain had previously reduced the number of staff at the premises, meaning less than 10 people were working there before Hague’s announcement.” Source – Time.
March 6: France – “France is to close its Damascus embassy on Tuesday [Mar. 6], the foreign ministry said, after President Nicolas Sarkozy announced the move to protest the Syrian regime’s bloody crackdown on demonstrators. ‘The closure of the French embassy is planned for today,’ French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told journalists.
“‘Ambassador Eric Chevallier leaves today or tomorrow morning,’ he said, adding that discussions were underway to decide which country would represent French interests in Syria.” Source – Business Recorder
European governments debate removing Syrian envoys
March 6: “European governments are discussing whether to expel Syrian ambassadors from their respective countries in response to an intensifying crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad on a revolt against his rule, a French official said on Tuesday.”
“France’s ambassador to Damascus is returning to Paris on Tuesday after closing the embassy following President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to cut its diplomatic presence in Syria.”
“Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said Syria’s ambassador to France had not been asked to leave yet, but talks were taking place to remove Syrian envoys from other European capitals.” Source – Reuters
More on embassy closures in Damascus
“Factbox – Diplomats in Syria” – Reuters – “Details on the status of selected embassies in Syria in reaction to the crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad, which the United Nations said has killed at least 7,500 people.”
Turkish prime minister calls for humanitarian corridors in Syria
“The Turkish prime minister called Tuesday [March 6] for the immediate opening of paths to provide humanitarian aid in neighboring Syria and condemned the regime for its heavy-handed treatment of dissidents, according to news reports.
Syria’s army is butchering its own people, pointing its guns at the masses, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told lawmakers from his party in Ankara, the capital, Bloomberg News reported. Source – Los Angeles Times
Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is opposed to the creation of humanitarian corridors, instead calling for periods of ceasefires. Source – Al-Akhbar
Two days later, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said “Turkey is against the intervention by any force which is from outside the region,” during a press conference in Tunis. “Such an intervention could be subject to exploitation,” he continued without elaborating further. Source – The Daily Star
Canada closes embassy in Damascus, broadens sanctions
March 5: “Canada is closing its embassy in Syria and has pulled diplomats out of the country because of escalating violence in the “deteriorating” nation, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Monday. Along with the move comes further sanctions against Syria, which Baird announced at a meeting with Sheikh Abdullah bin Al Nahyan, the foreign affairs minister for the United Arab Emirates. This is the sixth round of sanctions imposed upon Syrian President Assad.
“‘Canada has maintained its diplomatic presence in Syria — despite the risks — to monitor developments on the ground and to deliver tough and frank messages to the Syrian authorities. These messages will continue to be delivered directly through the Syrian embassy here in Ottawa and through our other international forums,’ Baird said in a statement released Monday.
“‘We continue to reiterate: Assad must go. Change will happen. Syrians will have their day—and Canada stands with the Syrian people in their push for a better, brighter future.'”
“The measures against Syria include a complete ban on the provision or acquisition of financial or other related services, as well as sanctions on the Syrian central bank and seven high-ranking Syrian officials implicated in the violence.” Source – Global Vedmonton
“Canada Closes Embassy in Syria, Imposes Sanctions“ – Reuters – (Mar. 5)
US Senator John McCain calls for US-led airstrikes on Syria
“Republican Sen. John McCain said [on March 5] the United States should lead a military air assault on government forces in Syria, arguing the Obama administration’s continued efforts at diplomacy and sanctions against the Assad regime are ‘starting to look more like a hope than strategy.’ The influential GOP senator becomes the highest ranking member of Congress to call directly for U.S.-led airstrikes to support the Syrian Free Army and other opposition sources battling President Bashar al-Assad’s military attacks on civilians.”
“‘The president must state unequivocally that under no circumstances will Assad be allowed to finish what he has started, that there is no future in which Assad and his lieutenants will remain in control of Syria, and that the United States is prepared to use the full weight of our airpower to make it so,’ McCain said in a speech Monday in the Senate. ‘The Syrian people deserve to succeed, and shame on us if we fail to help them.'” Source – Los Angeles Times
US Ambassador rebukes claims of misrepresentation of satellite imagery
March 5: US Ambassador Ford – “On February 9 here on Facebook, we began using declassified images that illustrate the disproportionate nature of the Assad regime’s violence against the people and his willingness to attack civilian targets. Additionally, the Syrian government has put up multiple obstacles in front of reputable, independent international aid organizations like the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) or UN aid organizations to provide emergency medical and humanitarian assistance to Syrian civilians in Homs and other cities under attack. I noted in our remarks to the Senate on February 28 that, “Emergency assistance is desperately needed, but the regime is doing everything it can to prevent aid from reaching those who need it most. It is attacking aid workers, doctors, and journalists reporting on the suffering.” The first image above clearly shows the Syrian army’s equipment ringing the city of Homs. I want to be clear to those bloggers who said that this firing position is a normal military base with the artillery deployed normally. We know that these guns are aimed at Homs and that they are firing at Homs. Armed opposition groups do not have artillery.” Source – Facebook
US President discusses support for Syrian opposition, humanitarian aid
At a White House press conference on March 6, by US President Barack Obama, the president made a number of remarks on the situation in Syria. Excerpt: “With respect to Syria, what’s happening in Syria is heartbreaking and outrageous, and what you’ve seen is the international community mobilize against the Assad regime. And it’s not a question of when Assad leaves — or if Assad leaves — it’s a question of when. He has lost the legitimacy of his people. And the actions that he’s now taking against his own people is inexcusable, and the world community has said so in a more or less unified voice.”
“On the other hand, for us to take military action unilaterally, as some have suggested, or to think that somehow there is some simple solution, I think is a mistake. What happened in Libya was we mobilized the international community, had a U.N. Security Council mandate, had the full cooperation of the region, Arab states, and we knew that we could execute very effectively in a relatively short period of time. This is a much more complicated situation.
“So what we’ve done is to work with key Arab states, key international partners — Hillary Clinton was in Tunisia — to come together and to mobilize and plan how do we support the opposition; how do we provide humanitarian assistance; how do we continue the political isolation; how do we continue the economic isolation. And we are going to continue to work on this project with other countries. And it is my belief that, ultimately, this dictator will fall, as dictators in the past have fallen.
“But the notion that the way to solve every one of these problems is to deploy our military, that hasn’t been true in the past and it won’t be true now. We’ve got to think through what we do through the lens of what’s going to be effective, but also what’s critical for U.S. security interests.” Source – The White House
To review a press briefing on March 2 by White House press secretary Jay Carney also on the Syria issue, see here.
Hearings on Syria before US Senate Armed Services Committee
US Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis testified on Tuesday March 6, in Washington before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The top U.S. commander in the Middle East told senators Tuesday that the advanced air defense weapons Russia has provided to Syria’s regime would make it difficult to establish a no-fly zone there as part of an effort to help the rebellion. Marine Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, declined to detail any military options the Pentagon has developed for action against the regime. But he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it would take a significant military commitment to create even safe havens in Syria where aid could be delivered, as Sen. John McCain suggested Monday [March 5].” Source – The Washington Post
Spence Ackerman of Wired offered up an opposing assessment of Mattis’ testimony, however, instead charging that that while Mattis “didn’t come out and endorse U.S. intervention in Syria…he did everything short of it, playing up the opportunity for the US to bloody the nose of an Iranian proxy. Mattis told a Senate panel that knocking off dictator Bashar Assad would represent the biggest strategic setback for Iran in 25 years.” Source – Wired
To view an archived webcast of Mattis’ testimony, see here.
The following day, March 7, the Armed Services Committee held another session on Syria, this time featuring US Secretary of Defense, Leon E. Panetta, and General Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“The Syrian regime will fall, and the United States will help to speed that day through political and diplomatic efforts, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee…Though now is not the time for U.S. military boots on the ground in Syria, Panetta said, the United States will continue to evaluate the situation there. Syrian President Bashar Assad must stop his attacks on his own people, the secretary said, as Syrians try to follow in the footsteps of other Arab nations that have overthrown despots in the past year. Assad’s forces are indiscriminately murdering those opposed to the regime. ‘He must step aside and allow a democratic transition to proceed immediately,’ Panetta said…” Source – US Department of Defense.
To view an archived broadcast of the testimonies of both Panetta and Dempsey, see here.
More news on US aid to Syria, debate over arming of opposition, military intervention
“Obama Administration Moves to Aid Syrian Opposition” – Foreign Policy – (Mar. 6)
“Obama: Syria’s Assad “Will Fall,” But No Air Strikes” – Reuters – (Mar. 6)
“Speaker Says Air Strikes Against Syria Premature” – Associated Press – (Mar. 6)
“McCain calls for Airstrikes on Syria” – CNN – (Mar. 6)
“McCain: Bomb Syria; But Iraq and Russia Oppose Intervention” – Informed Comment – (Mar. 6)
Syrian opposition has right to arm itself
March 4: “Saudi Arabia said that Syrians have a right to take up arms to defend themselves against the regime and accused the Damascus government of ‘imposing itself by force’ on Sunday, as concerns mounted over a humanitarian crisis there. In a rare televised news conference, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the kingdom welcomed international efforts to broker a ceasefire in Syria but added that they have ‘failed to stop the massacres…Is there something greater than the right to defend oneself and to defend human rights?’ he asked, adding that the Syrian people want to defend themselves. ‘The regime is not wanted by the people. The regime is insisting on imposing itself by force on the Syrian people.'”
“Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been discussing sending military aid to the Syrian opposition, but the US and others have not advocated arming the rebels, in part out of fear it would create an even more bloody and prolonged conflict.” Source – MSNBC
Russia & China
China issues 6-point plan for resolving Syria crisis
“Chinese Foreign Ministry on Sunday issued a six-point statement for the political resolution on Syria issue. ‘China follows closely the developments of the situation in Syria, firmly maintains that the current crisis should be resolved through political dialogue in a peaceful and appropriate manner, and has made unremitting efforts to this end’, a leading Chinese Foreign Ministry official said in the statement in anonymity.”
“According to the official, for realizing a political settlement of the Syrian issue at an early date, China advocates and appeals for the following:
1. “The Syrian Government and all parties concerned should immediately, fully and unconditionally cease all acts of violence, particularly violence against innocent civilians. Various factions in Syria should express political aspirations through non-violent means.
2. “The Syrian Government and various factions should bear in mind the long-term and fundamental interests of their country and people, immediately launch an inclusive political dialogue with no preconditions attached or outcome predetermined through impartial mediation of the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations (UN) and the Arab League (AL), agree on a comprehensive and detailed road-map and timetable for reform through consultation and implement them as soon as possible with a view to restoring national stability and public order.
3. “China supports the UN’ s leading role in coordinating humanitarian relief efforts. China maintains that under the precondition of respecting Syria’s sovereignty, the UN or an impartial body acceptable to all parties should make an objective and comprehensive assessment of the humanitarian situation in Syria, ensure the delivery and distribution of humanitarian aid. China is ready to provide humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people. We oppose anyone interfering in Syria’ s internal affairs under the pretext of “humanitarian” issues.
4. “Relevant parties of the international community should earnestly respect the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Syria and the right of the Syrian people to independently choose their political system and development path, create conditions and provide necessary and constructive assistance for the various political factions of Syria to launch dialogue, and respect the outcome of dialogue. China does not approve of armed interference or pushing for “regime change” in Syria, and believes that use or threat of sanctions does not help to resolve this issue appropriately.
5. “China welcomes the appointment of the Joint Special Envoy on the Syrian crisis by the UN and the AL and supports him in playing a constructive role in bringing about the political resolution of the crisis. China supports the active efforts made by the Arab states and the AL to promote a political solution to the crisis.
6. “Members of the Security Council should strictly abide by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and the basic norms governing international relations. As a permanent member of the Security Council, China is ready to earnestly fulfill its responsibilities, engage in equal-footed, patient and full consultation with other parties on the political solution to the Syrian crisis in an effort to safeguard the unity of the Security Council.” Source – China.org
Russia and China decry violence in Syria, dispatch diplomats to Damascus
March 6: “Russia and China decried the violence in Syria and dispatched diplomats to the region this week, raising the possibility of a diplomatic breakthrough that could end their opposition to United Nations Security Council action critical of the Assad regime…”
“The conflict has claimed more than 7,500 lives, according to the UN. The U.S. is drafting a new resolution after Russia and China vetoed Security Council measures in October and February. Russia opposes the U.S. proposal because it is a slightly modified version of the draft that was vetoed last month, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said in a posting on his Twitter Inc. account…”
“In a March 4 six-point statement about a political resolution on the Syria issue, the Chinese Foreign Ministry pointedly distanced itself from the Assad government, noting the regime’s violence against civilians. China called itself a friend of the Arab people, and urged an end to all acts of violence, particularly violence against innocent civilians…”
“The ministry announced a two-day visit to Damascus, starting today [March 6] by China’s former ambassador to Syria to discuss its statement. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will conduct his own diplomacy March 10, traveling to Cairo to meet with the Arab League, which authored the resolution calling for Assad to step down. Yesterday [March 5], Lavrov urged Assad to end the bloodshed.” Source – Bloomberg
The following day, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem expressed support for Chinese efforts to help restore peace to Syria. Source – SANA
Russian president says asylum for Syrian president ‘not discussed’
March 7: “Russian leader Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Moscow isn’t discussing granting political asylum to Syrian President Bashar Assad, shooting down rumors that such an offer is on the table as a way to end the Syrian regime’s deadly crackdown on opposition protesters.”
“Russia has protected Assad from U.N. sanctions over the crackdown and accused the West of fueling the conflict by backing the Syrian opposition… Putin, who is currently prime minister but regained the presidency in an election Sunday, said ‘we aren’t even discussing the issue’ of granting asylum to Assad.” Source – Associated Press
Russia charges Libya of training Syrian rebels
March 7: “Russia accused Libya during a U.N. Security Council meeting on Wednesday of running a training center for Syrian rebels and arming the fighters in their battle to overthrow the country’s President Bashar al-Assad.”
“‘We have received information that in Libya, with the support of the authorities, there is a special training center for the Syrian revolutionaries and people are sent to Syria to attack the legal government,’ Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, told the U.N. Security Council.”
“This is completely unacceptable … This activity is undermining stability in the Middle East,” said Churkin, who also questioned whether “the export of revolution” was “turning into the export of terrorism.” Source – Reuters
Egyptian Foreign Minister warns against arming Syrian opposition
March 7: “Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr has warned that arming rebel fighters in Syria would lead to a civil war, his ministry said on Wednesday. Arming the ill-equipped rebels would ‘lead to an escalation in the military conflict and spark a civil war in Syria’, Amr said, according to a statement issued by his ministry.” Source – Al-Akhbar
Security & Regional Stability
International Atomic Energy Agency
Syria tells UN of “delicate situation” regarding request for cooperation with IAEA
March 5: “Syria has asked the UN nuclear watchdog for understanding of the country’s ‘delicate situation’ in response to requests for Syrian cooperation with an investigation into suspected illicit nuclear activity, agency chief Yukiya Amano said on Monday.”
“The Syrian comments cited by Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, were an apparent reference to President Bashar al-Assad’s campaign to stamp out a popular uprising, in which over 7,500 people have died by a U.N. count.”
“In a speech to a quarterly meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation governing board, Amano made clear that no progress had been made in the UN agency’s almost four-year-old investigation regarding Syria.” Source – Reuters
More related analysis
“Fearful of a Nuclear Iran? The Real WMD Nightmare is Syria” – The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists – By Charles P. Blair. Excerpt: “Syria has one of the largest and most sophisticated chemical weapons programs in the world and may also possess offensive biological weapons. Longstanding terrorist groups and newly arrived Al Qaeda-affiliated fighters from Iraq have been active in Syria during that country’s recent insurgency. The United States and regional powers — including Saudi Arabia and Iran — need to start planning now to keep Syria’s WMD out of terrorist hands if the Assad regime falls.”
Economic Development & Trade
China pulls workers out of Syria
March 7: “China is bringing workers home from Syria, its commerce minister said on Wednesday, in an apparent attempt to avoid a repeat of last year’s eleventh-hour rescue of Chinese nationals from Libya when violence engulfed that country. Only about 100 Chinese workers will be left behind to guard work camps and equipment, the minister, Chen Deming, said. He did not give figures for the total number of Chinese citizens or projects in Syria…”
“China sent an envoy to Damascus this week, even as closed-door meetings were held at the United Nations to discuss a U.S.-drafted resolution urging an end to the Syrian government’s increasingly lethal crackdown on a year-long revolt.” Source – Reuters
Syrian pound plunges to the 103 range against the dollar, fears of economic crisis intensify
March 8: “The exchange rate of the Syrian Pound has reportedly plunged to the 103 range against the dollar at mid-day Wednesday, March 7th, 2012 in Damascus. This is a loss of over 100% since the beginning of the uprising. Over the last month, the pound has begun to weaken significantly which has received little attention. The 100 mark is an important psychological barrier.”
“Syrian businessmen are taking large losses. Most rely on account receivables when they sell their goods. This means that traders who have sold goods over the last half year in Syrian pounds are taking heavy losses when they are paid back…”
“The Central Bank had continually threatened that it would punish black market speculators by intervening in support of the Syrian currency, but it has not actually done this over the last few months. People have come to understand that Central Bank threats are empty. Hence the currency is collapsing. The Central Bank has not committed its reserves to defend the pound.”
“Most of the savings of Syrians were in Syrian pounds because the Central Bank offered high interest rates compared to the more liquid currencies which were offering rates near zero. Syrians placed confidence in the pound because it had been stable for many years. The public has been hit hard by the decline of the pound. Most Syrians are losing their life savings. Many have neglected to move out of Syrian pounds because it is against the law and because they calculated that the political climate might improve.” Source – Joshua Landis / Jadaliyya
“Syrian Pound Falls to New Record Lows – Exchange Dealers” – Reuters – (Mar. 6)
Venezuela ships more fuel to Syria amid continued violence
March 6: “Venezuela is readying a third shipment of diesel to the government of Syria even as President Bashar al-Assad intensifies a crackdown against protesters, said a Venezuelan lawmaker on Monday. Last month, Venezuela’s government confirmed it had sent at least two shipments of fuel to Syria, potentially undermining Western sanctions as a rare supplier to the increasingly isolated Assad regime. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, who is in Cuba recovering from surgery to remove a cancerous tumor, has been a vociferous supporter of Syria as part of a self-styled international ‘anti-imperialist’ alliance. Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA shipped cargo in February aboard the Negra Hipolita vessel after the same tanker carried a first shipment in November…The PDVSA shipments appeared to be carried out under a 2010 agreement between the two nations in which Venezuela provides diesel in exchange for food and commodities such as olive oil. It is not clear if PDVSA is negotiating directly with Syria’s state oil firm Sytrol, which has been blacklisted by the United Sates and the European Union even though there is no blanket embargo on supplying fuel to Syria due to humanitarian concerns.” Source – Reuters
“Arab Uprisings: The Syria Crisis” – Project on Middle East Political Science – A comprehensive backgrounder on the Syrian revolution.
“Syria: Inevitable Descent into Civil War?” – The International Institute for Strategic Studies – Excerpt: “Nearly a year into its uprising, Syria’s descent into civil war seems unstoppable. The regime of Bashar al-Assad is pursuing a relentless security campaign that is unlikely to deliver the outright victory that he seeks. As popular mobilisation continues unabated, rebel groups are mounting self-defence operations and challenging the security forces, though their effort has not been coordinated or powerful enough to weaken the regime decisively. Meanwhile, the stalling of international diplomacy is causing some countries to consider more direct involvement but there remains widespread reluctance to intervene.
“Is the Wind Turning in Favor of Assad?” – Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs Blog – By Jacques Neriah. Excerpt: “The Baba Amro district of Homs may now become the turning point in the year-long bloody battle between opposition forces and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. The district became the symbol of resistance after government troops surrounded it with tanks and artillery and shelled it intensively for weeks, killing and wounding civilians and destroying most of its buildings. The withdrawal of the rebels under pressure from government troops on March 1 marked the turning point.”
“Syria: Abundance of Images but Absolute Lack of Frame of Thought” – Sawt al-Niswa – By Nayrouz Abu Hatom. Excerpt: “The waves of revolutions in the Arab world have challenged so many assumptions, opinions, political streams and even political structural relations around the world, on macro and micro levels. Some link the revolutions to the same point of origin, some think they are product of global processes and others think they are informed by local political, economic, religious tensions. The different revolutions that multiplied through specific fertile fields did not produce as much political tensions and radicalizations as did the ongoing Syrian protest against the rule of its dictator. The case of Syria, like other Arab states, is complicated. Yet, one simplicity of analysis floats on the surface of many political streams. The simplicity of binary thinking, that is a product of long terms imperial and colonial discourses imposed on this region (and others), has been internalized and reproduced by many of the Arab intellectuals to this day.”
On non-intervention and merits of diplomacy in forging peace
“Now or Never: A Negotiated Transition for Syria” – International Crisis Group – Briefing. Excerpt: “One year into the Syrian uprising, the level of death and destruction is reaching new heights. Yet, outside actors – whether regime allies or opponents – remain wedded to behaviour that risks making an appalling situation worse. Growing international polarisation simultaneously gives the regime political space to maintain an approach – a mix of limited reforms and escalating repression – that in the longer run is doomed to fail; guarantees the opposition’s full militarisation, which could trigger all-out civil war; and heightens odds of a regional proxy war that might well precipitate a dangerous conflagration. Kofi Annan’s appointment as joint UN/Arab League Special Envoy arguably offers a chance to rescue fading prospects for a negotiated transition. It must not be squandered. For that, Russia and others must understand that, short of rapidly reviving a credible political track, only an intensifying military one will remain, with dire consequences for all.”
“How Not to Intervene in Syria” – Foreign Policy – By Aaron David Miller. Excerpt: “The Syrian uprising is a blood-soaked tragedy playing out on a big stage, in full view of the international community. A brutal, repressive regime willfully and indiscriminately kills its own people in a desperate — and so far successful — effort to stay in power…The fecklessness and powerlessness of the United States, and the international community writ large, only becomes more evident as the horrors mount…Given the complexity of the problem, other pressing priorities, our [US] interests, and the potential costs of an intervention, the administration is doing what it can. Chances are the longer the killing goes on, the more likely we be will dragged into doing more. But the notion that we should intercede quickly with some dramatic, ill-advised, poorly thought through idea of kill zones or safe havens without thinking through the consequences of what protecting those areas would entail is a prescription for disaster.”
On international intervention
“Syria and the World’s Troubling Inconsistency on Intervention” – The Atlantic – By Joshua Foust. Excerpt: “On Wednesday [February 29] morning, the Syrian army announced its intention to “clean” the rebel-held city of Homs, specifically the Baba Amr neighborhood. The sterility of the language to describe a massive offensive that will surely kill scores if not hundreds of civilians, is reminiscent of another dry term for mass slaughter: ethnic cleansing. The UN recently estimated that more than 7,500 civilians have been killed in the last 11 months of bloodshed in Syria, and is continuing at well over 100 per day. It is a stark, shattering number that has prompted renewed cries for the international community to do something — anything — to end the bloodshed. There are several reasons why a direct military intervention would be a terrible idea: start with the opposition by Russia and China (which would make intervening a rejection of UN legitimacy) and end with the challenges of directly arming the Free Syrian Army rebel group. But there’s a bigger question to ask the chorus of demands that the West “do something”: why Syria? Why now?”
“Syria and the Limits of Diplomacy” – The Atlantic – By Steven A. Cook. Excerpt: “It is important to recognize…that in the context of incentives and disincentives that Assad confronts, pushing the same or similar diplomatic buttons is unlikely to advance the laudable goal of pushing Assad from power. It might make outsiders feel better, but it is unlikely to change the situation on the ground. For all the talk about how Syria is not Libya, they are similar in an important respect: Assad, like Qadhafi before him, perceives an existential threat to himself and the regime. As a result, international meetings intended to censure Damascus, demonstrate international outrage, and reinforce rhetorical support for Syrians under fire are likely to do very little without concomitant credible threats or the even use of force.”
“Time for Assad to Go” – The Washington Institute for Near East Policy – By Dennis Ross. Excerpt: “The Assad regime has declared war on its own citizens, with the death toll rising into the thousands. Whether in Homs or Hama or Daraa or Idlib or other cities and villages, the Syrian civilian population faces indiscriminate fire from the tanks, artillery, mortars and heavy machine guns of the Syrian security forces…In truth, if Syria is to be spared a destructive and destabilizing civil war, the only hope is to accelerate the departure of Bashar Assad….Several actions will be needed: First, it is necessary to keep the pressure on the Russians to change their posture…Second, it is time to raise the status of the Syrian National Council (SNC), the formal Syrian opposition…Third, it is necessary to reach out to the Alawite community that makes up 12% of the Syrian population but represents the backbone of the security establishment…Last, more must be done to play on Assad’s fears. Sanctions and isolation alone won’t make him leave….Creating humanitarian corridors or safe areas for civilians, though difficult to implement, needs to be on the table and developed as a real possibility…But there is help short of arms that could alter the realities on the ground, such as blocking the communications of Assad’s forces and facilitating those of the Free Syrian Army.”
“Why the World Must Prepare to Arm Syria’s Rebels” – The Atlantic – By David Rohde. Excerpt: “Despite widespread rumors, no organized effort is under way to arm rebel fighters. The opposition “Free Syrian Army” remains a poorly equipped and loosely organized militia unable to stop a Syrian army still loyal to Assad. At the same time, a sectarian conflict between Assad’s ruling Allawite minority and Syria’s Sunni majority is intensifying….If the bloodletting intensifies in the weeks ahead, Washington should allow Arab countries to give the rebels limited amounts of military equipment…Some analysts warn that arming the rebels could spread and intensify the conflict, but a sectarian war is already underway, foreign intervention is unlikely and military pressure must be brought to bear on Assad.”
“It’s Time to Use American Airpower in Syria” – The New Republic – By US Senator John McCain. Excerpt: “To be sure, there are legitimate questions about the efficacy of military options in Syria, and equally legitimate concerns about their risks and uncertainties. It is understandable that the Administration is reluctant to move beyond diplomacy and sanctions. Unfortunately, this policy is increasingly disconnected from the dire conditions on the ground in Syria, which has become a full-blown state of armed conflict…In addition to the moral and humanitarian interests at stake in Syria, what is just as compelling, if not more so, are the strategic and geopolitical interests. Put simply, the United States has a clear national security interest in stopping the violence in Syria and forcing Assad to leave power.”
“Indirect Intervention in Syria: Crafting an Effective Response to the Crisis” – The Washington Institute for Near East Policy – By Jeffrey White. Excerpt: “Indirect intervention in Syria is less sure to succeed than direct intervention, but it may be more doable, giving the people the time and help they need to liberate themselves. Direct international military intervention could have a decisive impact on the situation in Syria, as it did in Libya, but such an option has seemingly been ruled out by the United States and the international community for a variety of reasons…Indirect intervention — that is, the provision of military and political assistance to the regime’s armed and unarmed opponents — offers an alternative option that could yield success with less risk and cost.”
“Arm Syria’s Rebels” – The New York Times – By Roger Cohen. Excerpt: “Here are some home truths about Syria. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Nobody can put this genie back in a bottle. This is the mother of all proxy fights. The remorseless Assad regime is finished, when it dies being the only question.”
On the impact of international intervention in Libya on responding to Syria
“What the Libyan Intervention May Have Cost Us” – The New Republic – By Efraim Halevy. Excerpt: “Just a year has gone by since the Arab Spring first hit Libya, and celebrations of Libya’s liberation from its despicable dictator aren’t exactly making headlines. Indeed, has there been much to glorify? There is little semblance of a central government, and intertribal fighting shows no signs of abatement. Are the Libyan people better off now than they were before France and Britain, with the United States “leading from behind,” rushed to the rescue of the 2011 revolution? It’s time to take a painful assessment of the Libyan intervention‚ not least because it may have limited our options for dealing with both the butchery in Syria and the looming Iranian nuclear threat.”
Comparing Syria to Bosnia circa 1995
“Is Homs an Echo of What Happened in Srebrenica?” – The Independent – By Robert Fisk. Excerpt: “…if all Syria has lost 8,000 souls in a year, Homs’s sacrifice must be far smaller. But then the UN statistics do not appear to include the thousands of Syrian army casualties. Government soldiers were also killed in Homs. As they were in Hama. Not many Serbs in Srebrenica…There are other parallels, of course, between Srebrenica and Homs. In Srebrenica, the local Muslim commander, Naser Oric, mysteriously rescued before the Serb onslaught, had been killing Serb civilians around the town since 1990. In Homs, the armed defenders had indulged in sectarian killings of their own. NGOs retreated from Baba Amr during the siege with terrible stories of “Free Syria Army” soldiers boasting of cutting their opponents’ throats. In Srebrenica, Serbs claimed they were fighting “Islamist terrorists”, a favourite claim of Messrs Karadzic and Mladic, and this is exactly whom the Syrian Baathists claimed to be fighting in Homs.”
“Why Delayed Intervention in Syria Could Cause Radicalization” – The Washington Institute for Near East Policy – By Soner Cagaptay. Excerpt: “A new argument against intervention in Syria is that since the opposition consists of radical Islamist elements, the United States and other countries should shy away from supporting the rebellion against the Bashar al-Assad regime for fear that they might empower Islamists. I recently visited Turkey, stopping in cities near the Syrian border such as Antakya and Gaziantep. During this trip, I talked to people who are in daily contact with Syrians, including professors at Zirve University in Gaziantep, an international school that has Syrian students, and American journalists who had just returned from Syria. I did not find any evidence that Islamists run the uprising, yet I left Turkey thinking that delayed intervention against the al-Assad regime could surely lead to building Islamist resentment towards al-Assad to the point of empowering radicals in Syria.”
“Is Syria Starting to Resemble Bosnia?” – Al-Arabiya – By Awad Hamad Alfayyad. Excerpt: “Nearly one year after the uprising began in Syria, observers and analysts fear that the situation may lead to the country becoming the new Bosnia. In 1992, Sarajevo was subject to the most violent bloody attack waged by Serbians wanting to impose their control over Muslims. A similar scenario is occurring in Homs which has been the scene of a fierce battle for more than a month where live bullets, tanks and heavy artillery have been used.”
On the opposition – the Syrian National Council and foreign elements among armed opposition
“Syria Intervention Is Unlikely Until the Opposition Unifies” – The Atlantic – By Sara Sorcher. Excerpt: “If the rebels want outside help, they’ll have to learn from Libya. Senate Armed Services ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., on Wednesday pressed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey to strike President Bashar al-Assad’s ground forces and provide the Syrian opposition with weapons to overthrow the longtime leader. If you’re wondering exactly who these rebels are, you’re not alone. For a little-noticed but compelling case as to why the U.S. won’t intervene in Syria as it did in Libya, look no further than the evolution of their respective rebel movements. To gain international support for their uprising against the late Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan rebels did things the Washington way, crisscrossing the globe and presenting written plans for democratic transition. As long as the Syrian opposition remains fragmented without a cohesive message, American lawmakers and officials are likely to remain skeptical of getting involved.”
“The End of Taking the Syrian Revolution at Face Value” – Jadaliyya – By Bassam Haddad. Excerpt: “Those interested in a revolution that would be considered a significant step forward from the existing Syrian regime, might want to take pause as they steadfastly support some of its main anchors. In particular, months after its establishment, the Syrian National Council (SNC) has failed in providing the leadership, autonomy, and consensus necessary to battle the Syrian regime. This much is no longer a controversial remark, even among some of the ranks of the SNC. But there is more that can and should be systematically discussed, not just to point out the divisiveness and counterproductive alliances associated with the SNC, but precisely to understand how might a robust opposition lead this overdue uprising against decades of tyranny.”
“Foreign Jihadists Fighting in Syria Battlefields” – Your Middle East – By Marc Bastian. Excerpt: “Foreign Sunni jihadists are fighting alongside Syrian rebels who have taken on President Bashar al-Assad, but their numbers are hard to assess and almost certainly small, insurgents and analysts say.”
“Syria Armed Opposition an Irritation Not a Threat, Says Research Institute” – Bloomberg – By Francis Harris. Excerpt: “Syria’s armed opposition is an irritation rather than a threat to the survival of President Bashar al-Assad‚Äôs government, according to the International Institute of Strategic Studies. The lightly armed rebels of the Free Syrian Army cannot control the country’s largest centers of population, and assisting them from abroad would be very difficult, according to the 54 year-old London-based research institute.”
“Syria’s Rebels Feel Abandoned by West” – The Financial Times – By Michael Peel. Excerpt: “The Syrian army watchtower seemed to taunt the rebel fighters who could only gaze at it on Wednesday from across the valley in Turkey. Driven out of the Syrian village of Ain al-Baida by president Bashar al-Assad’s forces last Friday, the dozen or so opposition force members gathered in a Turkish farm building seemed besieged and bereft. ‘Today we are very pessimistic,’ said a fighter named Mohammed, his T-shirt bulging at the stomach from the dressing on a bullet wound.’Because yesterday [President Barack] Obama said there was no way the US would intervene.'”
“Opposition to the Syrian Opposition: Against the Syrian National Council” – Jadaliyya – By As`ad Abukhalil. “The opposition to the Syrian National Council (SNC) can be predicated on several factors, primarily relating to matters of credibility, consistency, and honesty…But the SNC is not the entire Syrian opposition…For some reason (or for several reasons, and one of them is Zionist) people in the West, including in the progressive academic community, are very reluctant to criticize the SNC or even the Ikhwan…The SNC and its allies have allowed the Syrian cause to become an agenda in the foreign policies of such reactionary regimes as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, and Bahrain.”
On Russia-Syria relations
“Analysis – For Putin, Dumping Ally Assad May Be Step Too Far” – Reuters – By William Maclean. Excerpt: “Analysts say Russia is the one outside power that could determine whether the March 10 mission by the joint U.N.-Arab League special envoy prevents a fragmented global response from degenerating into a violent scramble for regional supremacy…skeptics note that the Russian government has billions of dollars worth of contracts for Russian arms and point to Moscow’s veto of a resolution last month against Damascus in the U.N. Security Council. But since imposing the veto, Russia has said it is open to further efforts to use Security Council influence to halt the violence and has also stepped up efforts to engage with Arab states, indicating it wants a strong hand in diplomacy on Syria.”
“Make Vladimir Putin Reassess in Syria” – The Daily Star – By Michael Young. Excerpt: “The Obama administration wants President Bashar Assad to leave office. He massacres his population. Washington refuses to arm Syrian rebels. Iran and Russia send weapons to Assad’s killers. This is the dispiriting equation with which Syrians are living today. Whether Obama likes it or not, the only way to put the Assad regime on the defensive is to devise a plan that includes both military and political components…The ultimate objective would be to negate Assad’s military superiority and compel Russia to alter its stance.”
“Russia Should Move to Save Syria” – Carnegie Middle East Center – By Paul Salem. Excerpt: “Moscow holds key cards in the complex Syrian crisis. Russia should move beyond saving the doomed regime to save the country itself from civil war and devastation. It can use its influence to bring about a political transition that leads to a stable and democratic Syria. And in so doing Russia will maintain its good relations with Syria and boost its standing and influence in the Middle East.”
“What Russia Taught Syria: When You Destroy a City, Make Sure No One — Not Even the Story — Gets Out Alive” – Foreign Policy – By Robert Young Pelton. Excerpt: “It’s impossible to know whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — a longtime ally of Russia — studied the success of the last Chechen war before launching his own assault on the restive city of Homs. However, his Russian military advisors surely know the tactics well. The crackdown in Homs carries a grim echo of Grozny, both in its use of signals intelligence to track down and silence the regime’s enemies and in its bloody determination to obliterate any opposition, including Western journalists.”
“Syria Alawite Activists Caught in the Middle” – Al-Jazeera – By Nir Rosen. Excerpt: “Despite fears of sectarianism if the regime falls, some in the Alawite minority are speaking out against Assad.”
On Syrian officials and figures
“‘The Enforcer’ Who Heads Syria’s Dreaded Army Division” – France 24 – By Leela Jacinto. “Ever since the crackdown on the Syrian uprising began last year, opposition supporters have maintained that the real power is in the hands of Maher al-Assad, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s dreaded younger brother. As the commander of the Syrian Army’s elite Fourth Armoured Division and Republican Guard, Maher – the enforcer of the government’s brutal military assault – was personally responsible for crushing protests in the southern Syrian city of Deraa, earning himself the nickname the butcher of Deraa.”
“Meet Syria’s Wealthiest and Most Elusive Man” – CNN – By Tim Lister and Jamie Crawford. Excerpt: “Imagine controlling Syria’s equivalent of Verizon, its duty-free stores, a chunk of its oil industry, a TV network and its choicest property developments. Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of President Bashar al Assad, did – and maybe still does. He is by all accounts the richest man in Syria, worth some $5 billion before the Syrian economy entered what U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford calls its ‘sharp downward spiral.'”
On ‘Friends of Syria’
“Friends of Syria: Obama, Clinton, the Saudi King, All Pusillanimous, One Worse Than the Other” – The New Republic – By Martin Peretz. Excerpt: “All of us seeing the terrible pictures coming out of Syria and Homs recently recognize that it is absolutely imperative for the international community to rally in sending a clear message to President Assad that it is time for a transition. Terrible pictures, recently, absolutely imperative, international community, rally, clear message, time for a transition! These are the words of a trimmer. And trimming like this in these circumstances is also pusillanimous.”
On the International Criminal Court
“Can the ICC take on Syria?” – Foreign Policy – By Marc Lynch. Excerpt: “The most common objection to the ICC recommendation was that a referral was impossible without UN Security Council agreement which would not be forthcoming. The argument is straightforward. Syria is not a state party to the ICC. The Court therefore has no jurisdication to indict its citizens without referral from the Security Council…First, there actually is a legal argument for involving the ICC even if the Security Council stays blocked, which rests on the fact that Syria, unlike Libya, is a signatory to the Treaty of Rome even if it has not acceded to the Court…Put simply, the Russian and Chinese veto is not simply an unalterable fact of nature which must be accepted…there is very high-level, intense and growing attention both publicly and inside international institutions to Syrian human rights abuses and atrocities which most agree meet the criteria which would merit investigation.”
On impact of crisis on neighboring countries
“Effects of Instability Spill Over to Syria’s Neighbors” – The New York Times – By Josh Wood. “As the bloody conflict in Syria enters its second year, it is inflicting economic stresses and uncertainties on the country’s neighbors. In Lebanon and Jordan, which have absorbed thousands of Syrian refugees and where the extent of the spillover from the crisis remains unclear, uneasiness about the future has taken a heavy toll on business confidence.”
On the construction industry
“Stored Value in Troubled Times” – Executive Magazine – By Jihad Yazigi. Excerpt: “The unrest gripping Syria may have created havoc on the economy, but there is one industry that has benefitted from the turmoil, the real estate sector. Within days of the beginning of the protests last March, frantic construction activity began across most of the country’s informal areas. Syrians seized on a relaxation of strict construction rules and a general weakening of state control to rush and build in areas and lands normally out of their reach. The government, facing countrywide protests and with no appetite for causing further discontent by clamping down on small scale developers, kept its eyes closed. One year later, there are up to half a million new housing units that are believed to have been built, leading to a temporary surge in the price of building materials and labor, and a change in the landscape of many suburban and rural areas. Although in the last few weeks construction activity has largely returned to normal, this temporary boom has shed light on the importance of the real estate sector in the Syrian economy and society.”
On evaluating the allegiances of Syrian elites
“US Tracks Syrian Elite’s Money Transfers, But Picture Remains Murky” – The Washington Post – By Greg Miller. Excerpt: “Searching for any sign of splintering in Syria’s ruling class, the United States has tracked what it suspects is the transfer of millions of dollars in foreign accounts by elites with ties to President Bashar al-Assad. But the flow of money is murky. US intelligence officials said they cannot estimate the total amount and are still trying to assess what the transfers mean: Is Assad’s inner circle starting to fray, or are wealthy Syrians simply hedging their bets? The struggle to make sense of the money transfers underscores the degree to which many aspects of the uprising in Syria remain opaque to outside observers — including US spy agencies — a year after internal efforts to oust Assad began.”
Photography, Satellite Images, Documentaries, & Graphics
“Satellite Images From Syria” – The New York Times – Satellite imagery of the cities of Homs and Hama in Syria as provided by Amnesty International.
“Douma: A Suppressed Revolt” – Al-Akhbar – Photoessay by Haytham al-Moussawi.
“Escape from Syria” – Time – Photographs by William Daniels.
“Home Away From Homs: Syrians Fleeing the Violence Have Been Left Stranded in the No-Man’s Land of Refugee Camps” – Foreign Policy – Photoessay by Justin Vela.
“Syria: The People Awake” – Al-Jazeera – Video. “The story of the first year of an uprising and a response so brutal it has brought a country to the edge of disaster.”
“Chronologie: Une Année de Répression en Syrie” – Le Monde – Shocking chart depicting the death toll from violence across the country, beginning one year ago. (In French)
Human Interest, Humanitarian Concerns
On Syrian refugees
“Syrian Refugees in Turkey: Song of the One-Legged Revolutionary” – Time – By Piotr Zalewski. Excerpt: “‘People want freedom, Bashar leave… Freedom is beautiful, Bashar go to the moon, we need freedom,; the man sings feebly, in a teenager’s untrained voice, trying to keep rhythm with his arms, one covered in bandages, the other connected to a drip. He is a munshid al-thawra, a singer of the revolution, he says, and this is his favorite song, the one he would usually bellow to the swelling crowds during the protests back home. Home, till now, had been a village near Hama in Syria. Today, it is a hospital bed in Antakya, across the border in Turkey.”
“Syrian Children in Tripoli: Paying the Price of Politics” – Al-Akhbar – By Serene Assir. Excerpt: “In Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli, where hundreds of Syrian families have taken refuge after being displaced from their hometowns and cities, children pay the highest price for ongoing violence in their country.”
On access to medical care, critical aid
“Doctor Compares Syria Horror to Chechnya” – CNN – “Dr. Jacques Beres, describes horrors he witnessed working at makeshift Syrian field hospitals.”
On the opposition
“Ill-armed Syrian Rebels Wage Unequal Struggle” – Reuters – By Alexander Dziadosz. Excerpt:
“The computer engineer from Homs had hoped to work in Dubai after his military service. Make some money, marry his fiancee. Carve out a comfortable life in Syria’s slowly liberalising economy. His dreams and those of thousands of other young Syrians collapsed when the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, 46, broke out a year ago.”
On the foreign reporters inside Syria
“The Heroic Myth and the Uncomfortable Truth of War Reporting” – The Independent – By Robert Fisk. Excerpt: “It took a lot of courage to get into Homs; Sky News, then the BBC, then a few brave men and women who went to tell the world of the city’s anguish and, in at least two cases, suffered themselves. I could only reflect this week, however, how well we got to know the name of the indomitable and wounded British photographer Paul Conroy, and yet how little we know about the 13 Syrian volunteers who were apparently killed by snipers and shellfire while rescuing him. No fault of Conroy, of course. But I wonder if we know the names of these martyrs ‚Äì or whether we intend to discover their names?”
“Bearing Witness in Syria: A Correspondent’s Last Days” – The New York Times – By Tyler Hicks. Hicks covers his last trip into Syria with Anthony Shadid, during which Shadid, a world-renowned, unparalleled journalist, died.
“French Journalists Return Home After 9 Days Trapped in Syria” – The New York Times – By Maia De La Baume. Excerpt: “After escaping from the central Syrian city of Homs, where for nine days they were trapped in the besieged neighborhood of Baba Amr, two French journalists returned to France on Friday evening…I want to pay homage to the courage of Edith Bouvier and the chivalrous spirit of her companion in misfortune, William Daniels, Mr. Sarkozy told reporters. Ms. Bouvier was seriously injured in Homs, and Mr. Sarkozy paid tribute to Mr. Daniels, who he said never abandoned Edith.”
“How I Escaped from Homs as Syrian Forces Closed In” – The Guardian – By Javier Espinosa. Excerpt: “I joined a motley procession of injured fighters and journalists fleeing the city on the day 64 people died trying the same thing.”
“Five Years in Damascus: How My Syrian Adventure Became a Nightmare” – Foreign Policy – By Stephen Starr. Worth reading. Excerpt: “Working as an editor at the state-run Syria Times newspaper in 2007 and 2008 would see me immersed in Arab literature, politics, debate, and news — or so I thought. I was naive…In Damascus, at least, laptops flourished in Western-style cafes. The $4 coffee arrived in 2010, and then iPhones and Cinnabon bakeries. Syria’s rapid modernization spurred massive migration to urban centers, while in the countryside to the northeast, hundreds of thousands of farmers fled starvation from a devastating drought. Then the uprising began, and everything changed. In Damascus, disbelief was followed by fear and then dejection as the protests spread throughout the country. January brought a sense of siege. Hundreds of concrete barriers appeared around security and military facilities, deepening the sense of fear and foreboding. Men queued overnight for heating fuel, already inflated in price, and returned home empty-handed the following morning to cold wives and children.”
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