The Syrian Revolution
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This week, protestors in Homs, Daraa and Idlib provinces implemented sweeping strikes on the intensification of security crackdowns against members of the Syrian opposition. The death of former Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi last Friday left many in Syria feeling emboldened to continue taking to the streets. At the same time, the spate of violent attacks against Syrian security and military forces by armed elements of the opposition continued, resulting in a substantial increase in fatalities among government forces. On Monday, the US State Department called back US Ambassador Ford amid concerns of “credible threats to his security”. Two days later, senior officials from the Arab League arrived in Damascus to hold talks on ways to bring an end to the crisis that has overtaken Syria for the last 33 weeks.
Protests, clashes & the death of Moammar Gaddafi
Friday October 21 marked the death of former Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi and members of the Syrian opposition held country-wide rallies in Syria, reportedly bolstered by the historical development in Libya. The Syrian government deployed security and military reinforcements to the central city of Homs as clashes between armed members of the opposition and government forces continued. According to Local Coordination Committees (LCC), there were 19 reported deaths in Homs that day, while three others were reported elsewhere in the country.
International media reported that many Syrian activists were proclaiming Gaddafi’s death a warning to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. One such example came from Raman Kanjo, a Syrian activist based in Homs province, who said of Gaddafi’s death: “We were very happy with the killing of Gaddafi… It’s a message the Syrian president in specific should heed soon, because he’ s digging his own grave.”
Similarly, LCC member Omar Idilbi told journalists, “There is more confidence now in the future of the Syrian revolution, confidence that popular will cannot be crushed. Many of the protesters tonight are saying that what happened to Gaddafi should be a lesson to Arab tyrants.”
At the same time, many members of the opposition expressed concerns that the success of NATO’s military backing of Libyan fighters would leave the international community feeling emboldened to launch similar operations in Syria. As Louay Hussain, a well-known member of the Syrian opposition explained, “I worry that the killing of Gaddafi will make foreign military intervention seem like a good idea.”
There were more protests on Sunday, with activists terming the day “It’s Your Turn” in reference to President Assad and hopes that he would meet a fate similar to that of Gaddafi. Two civilians were reportedly killed by security forces in the village of Al-Madiq in Hama provinces that day. One person was killed by security forces at a checkpoint in Mayadeen in the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor while another two were injured in the same shooting incident.
Reports also indicate that there were security raids that day in Dael and Ibtaa in Daraa province. Shops were closed in a growing number of towns in the province over the course of the last week, as residents carried out the longest running strike in Syria in response to government crackdowns against members of the opposition. Reports indicate that troops were deployed to a number of towns on strike as the government attempted to bring the strike to an end. The response by locals, however, was only to close down more shops – many of which remain closed as of Thursday October 27.
On Monday, foreign reportage indicated that an estimated six people were killed in Houla in Homs province, as members of the armed forces clashed with men believed to be armed defectors. A soldier was reportedly among the dead. Five people were also reportedly killed in the northern province of Idlib, a Syrian soldier and his son among them. The two were killed by a rocket propelled grenade targeting their vehicle.
Seven members of Syria’s security forces were killed when their convoy came under attack in the town of Maaret al-Noman in Idlib province on Tuesday. Numerous others were injured in the attack which, according to local activists, was carried out by armed military deserters. A number of other similar attacks were reported in Idlib province that day – as well as in Homs. No details were available.
Meanwhile, three civilians were killed in central Homs on Tuesday during ongoing security crackdowns.
In response to the deepening of the country’s security crisis and the ongoing use of extreme violence against members of the opposition, the Syrian National Council issued a statement on Tuesday, calling for the “international protection for civilians“. The statement did not specify the form in which such protection should come.
On Wednesday, residents of the city of Homs as well as of its surrounding neighborhoods staged a general strike over the deepening of the government’s security crackdowns against the opposition. At least 19 people were reportedly killed that day, including nine soldiers who died in a grenade attack in Hamrat, a town north of Homs. Four civilians were killed in Homs and its surrounding neighborhoods – among them, an 18-month-old baby.
People in the province of Idlib also reportedly observed the strike on Wednesday, with several protestors killed and related security crackdowns.
In central Damascus, government supporters gathered in the thousands in Umayyad Square, in a show of continued support for President Assad. Many chanted “the people want Bashar al-Assad”.
Two new governors named for Damascus and Idlib governorates
On Sunday October 23, President Assad appointed new governors in both Idlib and Damascus govenorates. Yasser Salman el-Shufi wand Makhluf Makhluf were named as the new governors of Idlib and Damascus provinces, respectively.
Amnesty International report on abuses of suspected dissidents in Syrian hospitals
On Tuesday October 25, Amnesty International released a report, “Health Crisis: Syrian Government Targets the Wounded and Health Workers,” detailing the manner in which the Syrian government is said to target wounded patients in government-run hospitals. According to the report, four such hospitals were investigated, with evidence emerging in support of charges that patients known to be protestors were subject to ill-treatment and torture – some of which was allegedly carried out hospital staff. At the same time, the report indicated that hospital staff thought to be treating members of the opposition, also come under target.
Cilina Nasser, Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa researcher, was quoted in a press release about the report by Amnesty International as stating that, “It is deeply alarming that the Syrian authorities seem to have given the security forces a free rein in hospitals, and that in many cases hospital staff appear to have taken part in torture and ill treatment of the very people they are supposed to care for.”
“Given the scale and seriousness of the injuries being sustained by people across the country, it is disturbing to find that many consider it safer to risk not having major wounds treated rather than going to proper medical facilities,” Nasser continued.
According to government-run news, the Syrian Human Rights Network “denounced” Amnesty’s report on the treatment of suspected dissidents in government hospitals, stating that the organization’s claims “lack credibility and distort facts regarding the situation in Syria“.
To read Amnesty’s report in its entirety, click here.
International Politics & Diplomacy
Exploring Turkey’s role in the formation of the Syrian opposition
Accusations of Turkish influence over the Syrian opposition were abundant in foreign reportage this week. The US also came under fire for its role in encouraging Turkey to help the Syrian opposition organize and become more cohesive. At the same time, a number of reports came out exploring Syria’s Kurdish population and its links to its counterparts in southeastern Turkey.
The following is a sampling of articles on each of these issues: “Turkey’s Hand in the Syrian Opposition,” by Michael Weiss for the The Atlantic; “Syria’s Kurds: Are They About to Join the Uprising Against Assad?” by Piotr Zalewski for TIME, and; “Obama Administration Does it Again! Empowers Largely Islamist Leadership for Syrian Revolution” by Barry Rubin for Global Research in International Affairs.
Coalition of international rights groups calls on UN General Assembly to act on Syria crisis immediately
On Friday October 20, a coalition of 29 international human rights groups issued an appeal to the 193-member UN General Assembly (GA), calling upon the GA to act “immediately” to help bring an end to the violence in Syria. The coalition counts Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch the Palestinian Human Rights Organisation and the International Federation for Human Rights among its members.
The letter to the GA stated that, “It is incumbent upon the General Assembly to take action where the Security Council has failed to do so.” It likewise referred to Resolution 377A of the General Assembly, which stipulates that “if the Security Council, because of lack of unanimity of the permanent members, fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security… the General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately.”
“We believe the time has come for the General Assembly to play its part by making clear the world body will no longer stay silent, while Syrians are the victims of government- orchestrated violence and grave human rights violations,” the coalition letter stated.
Among the coalition’s demands were, the naming of a UN special envoy for Syria and the deployment human rights monitors to Syria.
US Senator John McCain urges US to consider “practical military options” in Syria
On Sunday, US Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), called on the US to consider the possibility of initiating military operations in Syria. In a statement at the World Economic Forum meetings in Jordan, McCain said, “Now that military operations in Libya are ending, there will be renewed focus on what practical military options might be considered to protect civilian lives in Syria.”
McCain continued, “The Assad regime has spilled too much blood to stay in power. Its days are numbered, but it will use those days to murder more of its own people. In this way, there is no moral distinction whatsoever between the case of Syria and that of Libya. The question is, what can be done about it?”
The Senator went on to concede that he does not “see a scenario right now or anytime in the near future where the injection of US or NATO military action would in any way beneficially help the situation” in Syria.
US Ambassador Ford called back to Washington
On Monday October 24, the US Department of State announced that it had called back US Ambassador Ford from his post in Damascus following “credible threats against his personal safety in Syria”.
At the daily press briefing, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland stated that: “Ambassador Ford has been asked to come home for consultations. He has not been withdrawn. He has not been recalled.”
“First of all, we want a chance to consult with him, talk to him about how he sees the situation in Damascus… it’s also the case that the situation there is quite tense and we want to give him a little bit of a break,” Nuland stated.
“Second, as our statement said this morning, we are concerned about a campaign of regime-led incitement targeted personally at Ambassador Ford by the state-run media of the Government of Syria, and we’re concerned about the security situation that that has created…we do expect Ambassador Ford will be returning to Damascus after his consultations are completed,” Nuland continued.
In response to Washington’s decision to call back Ambassador Ford, the Syrian government immediately called back its Ambassador to the US, Imad Moustapha. The Syrian Embassy in Washington has released no information regarding any further actions it might take. The week was therefore dominated by commentary on the “tit-for-tat” diplomacy between the two countries.
Initial press reports indicated that Ford had been recalled from his post – a move that if true, would come as a surprise to many. In recent weeks, as Ford has stepped up meetings with members of the Syrian opposition and defied travel restrictions to travel outside of Damascus, Ford’s popularity and credibility back in Washington have grown considerably. Additionally, in light of 2012 US Presidential elections, some argue that Obama needs to play up his foreign policy and diplomatic gains and strengths; on the domestic front, his approval ratings are low. Removing Ford from Damascus would be construed by some as taking a diplomatic asset out of play. The issue of Ford’s future return to Damascus will be one to watch in the coming days and weeks.
Finally, Ford is not the only foreign ambassador in recent months to come under attack in Syria. According to this report, some 13 other foreign officials have encountered various forms of abuse by Syrian authorities and those who support them, since the start of the revolution on March 15.
Jordan’s King Abdullah – no one “knows how to tackle the Syria issue”
In an interview with CNN on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum meeting along the Dead Sea on Monday October 24, Jordan’s King Abdullah said of the situation in Syria, “I don’t think there’s anybody in the region or outside who knows how to tackle the Syria issue…I’ve spoken to Bashar twice. I have sent the chief of the royal court to see him on several occasions,” the King stated. “Not that we’ve got anything perfect, but you know, national dialogue and outreach — and they’re not really interested in what we have to say. So we’re trying to keep the channels of communication open and watching with great concern how things are going to develop there,” he continued.
China sends special Middle East envoy to Damascus
On Tuesday October 25, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced that it would be sending a special envoy on the Middle East to Syria and Egypt this week. The trip began on Wednesday and is set to continue through Sunday. In Syria the envoy, Wu Sike, will focus on the issue of reform. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in an official statement on Tuesday that, “We [the Chinese Foreign Ministry] believe the Syrian government should deliver on its reform pledges, respond to the people’s appeals and that all parties should, in a constructive manner, actively participate in the political process.”
Hezbollah’s Nasrallah expresses continued support for Syrian government, terms uprising a “bid to oust the regime”
In an interview with Al-Manar Channel on October 26, Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said of the situation in Syria, that the Syrian government has come under attack in recent months for its stance as a member of the resistance against Israel and the US.
At the same time, he reiterated his support for the current Syrian government stating that, “We say it clearly, we don’t want the ouster of the Syrian regime, for the sake of some of the Syrian people, and another regime will not be safe for them.” He continued, “What’s happening in Syria is not a call for reform and change; it’s a bid to oust the regime, the regime who has been fighting US and Israel.”
On the issue of foreign intervention in Syria, Nasrallah stated that “The West would not wage any military war against Syria, because it is neighboring Israel, and they fear this would affect the security of Israel. External interference will not achieve any goal in Syria now because of the majority’s support to the regime.”
Arab League arrives in Damascus to hold talks on Syria crisis
On Wednesday October 26, senior members of the Arab League arrived in Damascus to hold talks with Syrian officials on possible solutions to the crisis in Syria. The visit comes as the end of the fifteen day deadline issued by the League for the Syrian government to implement a ceasefire and initiate national dialogue approaches.
During the League’s last meeting on October 16, officials agreed not to suspend Syria’s membership in the organization – though the possibility of doing so in the future should the government not bring an to its security crackdowns, was left on the table.
The team that arrived in Damascus on Wednesday was led by Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani and the head of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi. During a press conference at the end of the day, Sheik Hamad told reporters that, “What is important for us is that there are no victims from any side in Syria. The fighting should stop and the dialogue should begin between the Syrian brothers so that, God willing, they agree on points that fulfill people demands.”
Many analysts speculate that the prospects for the talks’ success, are quite low. Thus far, the Syrian government has shown no signs of bending under the influence of foreign leaders. More talks are scheduled for early next week. For more commentary on the Arab League’s efforts to respond to the situation in Syria, click here.
French Foreign Minister – the Syrian revolution “will end with the fall of the regime, it is nearly unavoidable”
On Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told France Inter Radio, that the success of Russian and Chinese efforts to block a UN Security Council resolution on Syria, “is a stain on the Security Council” which consequently “said almost nothing about this barbaric repression” currently underway in Syria.
“This will end with the fall of the [Syrian] regime, it is nearly unavoidable, but unfortunately it could take time because the situation is complex, because there is a risk of civil war between Syrian factions, because surrounding Arab countries do not want us to intervene,” Juppe continued.
Juppe’s harsh comments come amid deepening speculation that France would support and indeed push for international military operations in Syria – similar to those carried out in Libya. The success of NATO-led operations in support of Libyan rebels – at least in terms of achieving short-term objectives – has led to concerns that the international community might eventually rally around similar operations against the Syrian government.
Syrian Central Bank considers Russian Ruble for transactions
Syrian Central Bank governor Adib Mayaleh said in an interview with Russia Today on Thursday October 20, that Syria might begin using the Russian Ruble for banking transactions if the EU moves forward with banning the use of Euros in such operations.
According to Mayaleh, the is now posting the exchange rate on its daily bulletin in the Ruble, in addition to the Chinese Yuan. In Mayaleh’s words, “In the nearest future we will agree on parameters for switching to close cooperation with Russian banks and using the ruble for international settlements.”
EU warns Syria of more sanctions
On Sunday October 23 during a European Union summit in Brussels, the 27 members of the EU warned Syria of the possibility that the EU will levy further sanctions against the Syrian government. European officials stated that the EU “will impose further and more comprehensive measures against the regime as long as the repression of the civilian population continues“.
The EU already imposed further sanctions against Syria earlier this month, targeting the Commercial Bank of Syria. In September, the organization has imposed an oil embargo against imports of Syrian crude. The blocking of a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution on Syria by permanent UNSC members Russia and China, however, limits the imposition of broader international sanctions such as those imposed against Iraq in the early 1990s.
Syria-Iraq railway set to begin operations in 2012
On Sunday October 23, the General Establishment of Syrian Railways, George al-Maqabary told Kuwaiti news agency KUNA that the railway project set to link Iraq and Syria is in motion, with operations set to begin in 2012. The railway will enable increased transport of commodities between the two countries, with potential to eventual link southern Europe to the Gulf. The railway is expected to be 150 kilometers long, with trains traveling as fast as 140 kilometers an hour.
Further Reading & Viewing
“UN Nuclear Inspectors to Visit Syria” – The Guardian – IAEA officials are schedule to visit Syria this week to discuss the Deir ez-Zor bombed by Israel in 2007 amid suspicions that the Syrian government was constructing a nuclear reactor. The visit is the first of its kind in three years. The article contains background information on the allegations and evidence.
“Shoot to Kill: ‘West Wants Syria Government Gone for Good’ “- RT – A video of RT‘s recent interview with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem. The interview, carried out in Arabic with English translations, details the Syrian government’s stance on government reforms, international intervention in the country, the Syrian opposition and official claims that the opposition are armed terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda operatives from Iraq. The video runs just over 11 minutes. For a transcript of the interview, click here.
“Death of Qaddafi Revives Opposition, and Hope, in Syria” – The New York Times – Anthony Shadid covers the key issues facing the Syrian opposition, with particular focus on lessons learned from the Libya case.
“Syria’s Resilient Revolt” – Wall Street Journal – Amir Taheri covers the evolution of the Syrian revolution and the opposition’s growing hold on an increasingly broad swath of Syrian society.
“Women’s Mass Protests During the Syrian Revolution: A Preliminary Analysis” – Fellowship of Reconciliation – Mohja Kahf explores the role of Syrian women in the uprising and their evolving approaches to civil disobedience.
“The Long Shadow of Damascus: Syrian Refugees Fear Kidnappers” – TIME – Rania Abouzeid reports on the lives of Syrian refugees in Turkey and allegations that the Turkish government is connected to Syrian efforts to monitor and detain refugees suspected of engaging in anti-government activism.
“Prominent Syrian Activist Flees, Reveals Identity” – NPR – A report on Syrian activist Rami Jarrah who used the alias ‘Alexander Page’ for months in order to discuss and write about the Syria revolution in international media. Another window into the complexity of being an activist in Syria – and the issues encountered by those reporting on the revolution.
“US Probes Syria’s Use of Internet Blocking Equipment” – BBC – Following up on reports issued last week that suggested that the Syrian government is using equipment by a US company called Blue Coat to limit internet accessibility, the US government has announced that it is launching an investigation into the issue.
“Tension Mounts at Lebanon-Syria Border” – Ahram Online – and “Syria’s Uprising Creeps Across Lebanese Border” – Christian Science Monitor – Two articles covering the cross border incursions by Syrian security forces into neighboring Lebanon. The most recent of such incursions occurred last week.
“Syria and America: Relations Unravel” – The Economist – A short piece covering the collapse of relations between the US and Syria, as evidenced by the tit-for-tit withdrawals of both countries’ ambassadors from Damascus and Washington.
“Journalist Describes Captivity in Syria” – The New York Times – A link to an interview with British documentary filmmaker Sean McAllister who was arrested in Damascus last week will secretly filming for a British news channel. McAllister describes his time in detention and the torture he witnessed of other detainees.
Some background reading on members of the opposition. The first three were published in Al-Akhbar’s English edition, the last was published by the blog Syria Comment. Materials include interviews and articles:
“Haitham al-Maleh: Yes to International Intervention in Syria” – Ernest Khoury interviews Haitham al-Maleh. Of particular interest are Maleh’s remarks on his support for UN intervention in Syria.
“Michel Kilo: Syria’s Prudent Dissident” – Basheer al-Baker’s backgrounder on Michel Kilo – one of Syria’s best known members of the opposition and writers. Of interest are Kilo’s views on Christians in the Middle East and their role in shaping its future; members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists, and; sectarian tendencies within Syria.
“Syria’s Manna: On Ghalioun and the Trinity of a Successful Revolt” – Othman Tazghart interviews Syrian activist and member of the opposition, Haytham Manna. Manna speaks about his diminished friendship with Burhan Ghalioun, his views on the Syrian National Council, and the “trinity of a successful revolution”.
“An Interview with Syrian Opposition Activist Louay Hussein” – Camille Otrakji interviews prominent member of the Syrian opposition, Louay Hussein. Hussein discusses his efforts to build a coalition of opposition forces aimed at building a national plan; the possibility of foreign intervention in Syria, and; his expectation of diminished protests and more bloodshed in the coming months.
References made to articles, individuals, organizations or government bodies in this blog do not necessarily reflect or imply an endorsement by The Syria Report. The Syria News Blog is a news service offered by The Syria Report only for the purpose of recapping foreign reportage on matters pertaining to Syria.