The Syrian Revolution
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Violence across the country took a marked turn for the worse this week, with over 80 people killed in security crackdowns and violent attacks across the country in just seven days. International reportage suggests a shift in the violence, perhaps moving beyond security crackdowns by government forces to include a spike in violent attacks against members of the military and security forces. The continued media blackout leaves the nature and scope of the violence a challenge to ascertain. At the same time, the EU moved forward with the implementation of its oil embargo against Syrian crude on Saturday, the French Foreign Minister termed the actions of the Syrian government as “crimes against humanity,” and US Ambassador Ford issued another Facebook note stating that, “given the extent of the government’s brutality, neither the Syrian protest movement nor the international community will believe that this Syrian leadership desires or is capable of the deep, genuine and credible reforms that the Syrian people demand.”
Protests, security crackdowns
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, on Thursday September 1 security forces opened fire on protestors in Homs on Thursday killing four – including an eleven-year-old child.
The following day, countrywide protests were held with the day termed “Death Rather Than Humiliation“. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, security crackdowns results in the deaths of 21 people – nine of whom were killed in Damascus, nine in Homs, and three in Deir ez-Zor. A 16-year-old girl and an elderly woman were among those killed. Some foreign media also reported that 15 protestors undergoing treatment for injuries sustained during security crackdowns, were forcibly removed by security forces from two hospitals in Damascus suburbs.
In Maaret Naaman, a suburb of Damascus, activists alleged that those entering the mosques to pray were forced to give their names at the doors to be checked against a list of suspects. Arrests were also reportedly carried out during prayers.
Foreign media reported that two people were killed in the northwestern town of Maarrat on Saturday as tanks and buses carrying security forces moved in to the area.
Sunday ushered in further severe violence as another eight people were killed by security forces in the province of Idlib, while according to state-run media, six soldiers and three civilians were reportedly shot and killed during an ambush on a military bus near Hama. SANA reported that the killings were carried out by armed terrorist groups wielding machine guns. Another person was killed in a suburb of Damascus.
At the same time, foreign media report that broad scale security offensives were carried out in Hama and Idlib, allegedly in an effort to find Hama attorney general Adnan Bakkour, who days earlier had tenured his resignation via a video statement that likewise details alleged government crimes against Syrian civilians. According to activists, tanks and military forces were deployed in an effort to intimidate locals into divulging information about Bakkour’s whereabouts.
Military operations were also reportedly carried out in Homs as well as in Deir ez-Zor on Sunday.
On Monday, Syrian military forces carried out raids in a number of towns and cities leading to an estimated six deaths – three in Homs, one in the eastern border town of Talk Khalakh, and another in the northern region of Idlib. At the same time, foreign media reported that some 330 Syrians fled across the border into Turkey with one group allegedly coming under fire by Syrian security forces, resulting in the death of one. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the man who was killed was shot by a sniper.
Violence deepened on Wednesday, with a number of international sources reporting that between 28 and 34 people were killed in security crackdowns and violence across the country – including in Homs where upwards of nine people were reportedly killed according to foreign media. State media reported that eight law enforcement personnel were killed.
11 security force members and four civilians were also injured when an explosion allegedly went off in a military bus in the town of Naeima near Daraa on Wednesday. According to state media, the blast was set off by trained terrorists.
Attorney General Adnan Bakkour
Hama attorney general Adnan Bakkour issued a second video on September 1, denying charges by the Syrian government that he tendered his resignation under threat of violence. Instead according to Bakkour, he said that he had issued his statement of resignation freely and that all accusations against him by the government and allegations of his kidnapping were “untrue and utterly false“. He went on to state that, “The regime’s thugs attempted to kidnap me today from Hama but they failed. I am under the protection of the rebels and the people.”
International Committee of the Red Cross holds meetings with Syrian president, officials & tours Syrian prison
Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), also arrived in Damascus for a two-day trip to hold talks with President Assad as well as Prime Minister Adel Safar and Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid al-Moallem. Kellenberger held similar meetings with Syrian officials in June with the intent of broadening the ICRC’s access to the country’s hotspots. The weekend’s meeting was intended to review related progress.
On Monday, an ICRC delegation was granted access to a key prison in Damascus for the first time since the start of the revolution in March. The prison, located in the Damascus suburb of Adra, primarily houses criminals, not political dissidents. Nevertheless, the move was viewed favorably by the organization.
International Politics & Diplomacy
France, Britain, Turkey, United States call for UN action
During a meeting in conjunction with a Paris summit on the situation in Libya, high level officials from France, Britain, Turkey and the United States also met to discuss the possibilities for increased international action in response to the Syrian government’s violent crackdown against Syrian civilians. In attendance at the meeting were, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and British Foreign Minister William Hague.
In an official statement following the meeting, Clinton stated that, “Syria must be allowed to move forward, those who have joined us in this call must now translate our rhetoric into concrete actions to escalate the pressure on Assad and those around him, including strong new sanctions targeting Syria’s energy sector to deny the regime the revenues that fund its campaign of violence.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron also made a statement to the press regarding the international response to the crisis in Syria that day, expressing concern over the inability of the United Nations to adopt a firm response and stating that “Of course it’s frustrating that we can’t get a stronger resolution on Syria. I’d like us to get that. I think what’s happening in Syria is appalling. I think the world needs to stand up and speak clearly about this.” Cameron went on to state that, “we need tougher sanctions, more travel bans, more asset freezes, a clear message that the regime and what it is doing is unacceptable.”
France “will do all that is legally possible” to help Syrian people
AFP reported on September 1 that during his annual address to his country’s diplomats, French President Nicolas Sarkozy stated that, “The regime in Damascus wrongly believes it is safe from its own people. What the Syrian president has done is irreparable. France, with its partners, will do all that is legally possible in order to help the Syrian people achieve their aspirations for freedom and democracy… the Syrian regime is mistaken to think that the people support it.”
UNESCO chief – “torture and detention will never convince the people of Syria that might is right”
On Thursday September 1, Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) issued a statement indicating that she is “alarmed at continuing reports of detention and physical abuse against journalists [in Syria]” and that, “Torture and detention will never convince the people of Syria that might is right. It is essential for the future of the country and its people that the authorities respect freedom of expression and listen to what their critics have to say.”
EU oil embargo, sanctions
EU foreign ministers also met in Poland on Friday September 2 and officially agreed to ban the purchase, import and transport of oil and all other Syrian petroleum products. Syria exports approximately 150,000 barrels of oil per day, some 95 percent of which ends up in Europe. According to EU trade spokesman John Clancy, Syria brought in an estimated USD 4.3 billion in 2010 via oil sales to the EU.
The following day, the EU officially implemented the oil embargo as well as its latest round of sanctions against individuals and entities in the most critical international move thus far to isolate the Syrian government.
At a press conference in Poland on Saturday, EU foreign polecat chief Catherine Ashton said that the new sanctions and embargo “are targeted to try and deprive the regime of its financial revenues“.
Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Total SA of France and MOL Nyrt of Hungary are among the oil companies with the biggest business in Syrian oil. The embargo is immediately in place for all parties except for Italy, which has until November 15 of this year to sort out its Syrian contracts.
In response to the EU’s formal implementation of the embargo and further sanctions, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that the sanctions would “lead to nothing good” noting that “We [the Russian government officials] are against unilateral sanctions” and that the move “ruins the partnership approach to any crisis”.
Iranian official – “supporting the Syrian rulers at any cost…not right”
On Thursday September 1, a member of the Iranian parliament’s national security commission, Ahmad Avaei, commented in an interview with Fars News Agency that the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s opposition to Israel and ongoing support for Hezbollah was insufficient reasons to continue supporting the current Syrian government amid violence against Syrian civilians. Avaei stated that, “The fact is that supporting the Syrian rulers at any cost was not right, as those who staged the protests were Muslims, and their protests were legitimate. Unfortunately, the Syrian leadership has realized too late the necessity of entering the reform process and should have done that much earlier to avoid the current crisis.”
Avaei is only the second key Iranian official to publicly criticize the current Syrian government since the start of the Syrian revolution in March.
Organisation of Islamic Cooperation – Syrian officials promised change but “so far nothing of that sort has happened”
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu issued a statement regarding the Syrian government’s response to the revolution on Saturday September 3, stating that “We were promised by top Syrian officials that the security situation would improve, but so far nothing of that sort has happened… Even al-Moallem promised that the security situation would improve but it did not. We were also told that some hidden hands were agitating sentiments against Syria. Regrettably, we have not seen any improvement so far. The situation is worsening.”
Ihsanoglu went on to assert that, “There is no intention on the part of the members to freeze Syria’s membership in the organization at the moment. The political will toward this end is not available now, because all the members are still making individual efforts toward a peaceful solution.”
Arab League – Elaraby granted official visit
Nabil Elaraby, chief of the Arab League made a statement at a press conference at the League’s Cairo-based headquarters on Sunday indicating that the Syrian government had granted him an official visit. Though the meeting was initially scheduled for Wednesday September 7, Syrian officials reportedly postponed the visit until Saturday, September 10.
US Ambassador Ford – Facebook note to Syrians on the international meddling, Syrian government’s use of force against them
On Tuesday September 6, US Ambassador Ford posted a Facebook note addressing claims of foreign meddling in Syrian affairs and the Syrian government’s ongoing and indeed intensifying use of force against the Syrian opposition. An abbreviated version of the text is below – to read it in full, follow this link.
“…Some of the people who write on this page complain that the U.S. is “helping terrorists” in Syria. We support the right of Syrians to protest peacefully. Peaceful protesters are not “terrorists,” and after all the evidence accumulated over the past six months, no one except the Syrian government and its supporters believes that the peaceful protesters here are…
“The United Nations, which was finally allowed to send an assessment team here, instead has directly assigned responsibility for the violence in Syria to the Syrian government. The Arab League has assigned responsibility for the violence to the Syrian government. The European Union and its member states have done so. The governments of Canada, Japan and Saudi Arabia have done so. The Turkish government has done so. Don’t like or trust the United States – fine – look at what other organizations and countries are saying…
“Some Syrian security service members have been killed. Some want the United States to acknowledge it; well, I’m the American ambassador, and I just did. But the number of security service members killed is far, far lower than the number of unarmed civilians killed. No one in the international community accepts the justification from the Syrian government that those security service members’ deaths justify the daily killings, beatings, extrajudicial detentions, torture and harassment of unarmed civilian protesters…
“…given the extent of the government’s brutality, neither the Syrian protest movement nor the international community will believe that this Syrian leadership desires or is capable of the deep, genuine and credible reforms that the Syrian people demand. This isn’t about Western military intervention. This isn’t about oil …This isn’t about Israel or the West wanting to dominate the Arab world …This is about basic political freedoms from the United Nations’ Human Rights Charter – signed by Syria, don’t forget – which calls for freedom of speech and freedom of peaceful assembly. And the United States wholly supports Syrians’ rights to exercise those freedoms.”
French Foreign Minister: Syrian government committing crimes against humanity
On Wednesday September 7, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe stated while at a joint press conference in Moscow following a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, that the “Syrian regime has committed crimes against humanity.” Juppe went on to state that “We believe that this country must be sent a strong signal that the continuation of these actions is unacceptable.” Juppe also urged for Russian support of a UN Security Council resolution against Syria, explaining that, “I hope Russia will back us in the Security Council even if our positions do not yet fully agree.” Russia continues in its opposition to any such UN resolution, pointing to the recent Libya case as an example of how such moves are exploited by international actors.
“How Not to Prolong the Syrian Agony” – Foreign Policy – Peter Harling, Iraq-Syria-Lebanon project director of the International Crisis Group, cautions international actors against implementing broad scale economic sanctions against Syria and racing to form and back an opposition coalition, noting that compulsive action will only prolong the Syrian crisis. Harling puts forth a list of key questions, the answers for which he believes the international community must push Syrian dissidents to answer: “How to ensure that the collapse of the regime not provoke or lead to the simultaneous collapse of the weak state?; How to deal with a military that has not stepped up to its task as a national army?; How to maintain security with an inept and corrupt police force?; How to ensure the well-being of the Allawite community, without which Syria cannot be soundly rebuilt?, and; What will be needed to kick-start economic recovery?”
“A Lifetime of Resistance in Syria” – The Nation – Sharif Abdel Kouddous writes about Haitham al-Maleh, an 81-year-old Syrian human rights lawyer who has engaged in decades-long resistance to government repression in Syria.
“The Arab Spring: Anatomy of a Tipping Point” – Al Jazeera – Scholars Leila Hudson and Matt Flannes put forth an excellent analysis of the “second wave of the Arab spring” in which both Libya and Syria appear poised to overthrow their respective governments amid deepening violence. The authors breakdown the implications of international intervention in both, using Crane Brinton’s take on the key components of modern revolution – including the role of outside actors – as their guide.
“Will Syria Follow Libya?” – Council on Foreign Relations – An interview with Edward C. Luck exploring the likelihood the of international community rallying around foreign military intervention in Syria, using the Libya case as a basis of comparison.
“Escaping Mumana’a and the US-Saudi Counter-Revolution: Syria, Yemen, and Visions of Democracy – Interview with Fawwaz Travoulsi” – Jadaliyya – Ahmad Shokr and Anjali Kamat interview Fawwaz Traboulsi on the Syrian revolution, how Traboulsi characterizes Syrian protestors and the government’s response to them, and the direction in which the revolution is heading.
“Iran and Syria: America’s Middle East Pundits Get it Wrong (again)” – The Race for Iran – Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett offer up a view of the Syrian revolution from Iran that calls the prevailing sentiment in Washington – that the collapse of the Syrian government would be a fatal blow to the Islamic Republic – into question.
“Syria’s Opposition: Transition and Division” – Al Jazeera – Though Al Jazeera’s news coverage of the situation in Syria is not without troubles, this backgrounder is useful for those looking for an overview of the Syrian opposition and the issues that have hindered its cohesiveness.
Syrian chemical weapons still under control of government
On Tuesday August 30, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland stated that the US government believes that the Syrian government remains in control of its chemical weapons stockpiles – following Israeli reports that there is reason to believe that they could be seized by members of the Syrian opposition.
Specifically, Nuland stated that “We have long called on the Syrian government to give up its chemical weapons arsenal and to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which it has not yet done. That said, we do believe that Syria’s chemical stockpile remains under government control and that there is no change in the lockdown status of those weapons.”
According to the US government, Syria has stockpiles of mustard gas as well as VX and Sarin gas.
Syrian government reneges on promises to IAEA
On Friday September 2, international media reported that the Syrian government had reneged on its promise to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to promptly put forth more information that would challenge the IAEA’s assessment that it had attempted to build a plutonium-producing reactor at a site in the desert that was later bombed by Israeli warplanes. The government has now pushed back the date by which it will provide such information to October.
According to two diplomats who requested that they remain anonymous, UN nuclear chief Yukiya Amano will reportedly inform the board of the IAEA during its next meeting on September 12, that he has failed in his efforts to make progress on the Syria case.
The Syrian government continues to deny all charges of its alleged efforts to produce enriched uranium.