April 19, 2012 – Syria News Blog: A Roundup of Key International Reportage & Commentary
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 admin2012-04-19 15:02:492012-04-19 15:12:31UN-Syria Settle on Terms of UN Monitoring Mission
Syria and the UN reached an agreement today on the terms and framework for UN observers to monitor the country’s troubled ceasefire. An advance group of six such observers has been on the ground in Syria since early this week, however, their mission and overall ability to have an impact on the crisis is already in question. The preliminary agreement signed today is intended to protect Syrian sovereignty whilst paving the way for more observers to enter into and operate across the country. The ceasefire, however, is heavily in question with reports of violence rising daily. This in turn will likely throw the UN monitoring mission and its expansion in jeopardy. According to a report from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights issued on Monday, 11,117 people have been killed over the course of the last 13 months.
News from Inside Syria
The country-wide ceasefire implemented on Thursday, April 12 in accordance with UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan lasted precariously throughout Thursday and to a lesser extent, throughout the following day. Military forces did not withdraw from urban areas – one of the primary requirements of the peace plan. Violence levels did decline markedly, however, causing some to hold on to hopes that peace might return. In the days that followed, however, violent attacks increased, bringing the daily death toll up closer to levels seen in months prior. The government and opposition both blame each other for rising death tolls. Regardless, the ceasefire for all intents and purposes, has arguably collapsed. Over the weekend, the UN agreed to deploy a group of 30 international observers to Syria with the intent of monitoring the status of the ceasefire – the end goal being the deployment of a total of 250 monitors in the future, should conditions on the ground be stable enough to permit. Thus far, only six of the monitors have arrived.
For more reportage and data on the events inside Syria from around the week, see below:
On the ceasefire & UN monitors
*Data on country-wide violence since start of ceasefire on April 12: “Syria Incident Database” – Washington Institute for Near East Policy (Apr. 12 – present)
“Cease-Fire Is Prevailing Across Most of Syria” – The New York Times – (Apr. 12)
“Syria Cease-fire Violations Reported, Including Killings” – Los Angeles Times – (Apr. 13)
“Syrian Forces Clash With Rebels Ahead of UN Monitoring Mission” – Bloomberg Businessweek – (Apr. 15)
“Two Die in Syria Violence after UN Monitors Land” – AFP – (Apr. 16)
“Syria: ‘Assad Does Not Understand Peace’” – BBC – (Apr. 16) – AUDIO CLIP
“Syria Truce Teeters on Rising Clashes” – Wall Street Journal – (Apr. 16)
“Each Side Accuses the Other of Breaking Syrian Cease-Fire” – The New York Times – (Apr. 17)
“Syria Says Wants Only Small, ‘Neutral’ Truce Mission” – Reuters – (Apr. 18)
“UN Monitors Flee Syrian Protest after Gunfire” – AP – (Apr. 18)
TODAY: “Syria-UN Agree on Terms of Monitoring Mission” – Reuters – (Apr. 19)
On violence & protests
“An Officer Assasinated in Damascus Countryside, Another Martyred, 24 Wounded in Explosive Device Blast in Aleppo… Law-enforcement Members Wounded in Blast in Idleb” – SANA – (Apr. 13)
“Hour-long Clash Near Turkey-Syria Border” – Hurriyet Daily News – (Apr. 13)
“Fear and Defiance Amid Syria Ceasefire” – BBC – (Apr. 16)
“Syrian Clashes Leave 24 Dead” – The Australian – (Apr. 17)
“Armed Terrorist Groups Continue Committing Crimes against Citizens and Law-enforcement Forces, Two Officers Martyred” – SANA – (Apr. 17)
“Fresh Reports of Shelling in Syria” – Al-Jazeera – (Apr. 17)
“6 Law Enforcement Members Martyred, 11 Injured in Explosive Device Blast in Idleb” – SANA – (Apr. 18)
“Syrian Army Begins Invasion of Qusair Despite Ceasefire Commitment” – Al-Ayyam – (Apr. 19)
Some official announcements
“Syria Urges Refugees to Return Home” – Reuters – (Apr. 12)
“Interior Ministry: Armed Persons whose Hands Weren’t Tainted to Be Set Free Once They Hand Themselves and Weapons In” – SANA – (Apr. 13)
Syria tribes form council in Istanbul
Syrian tribes unite in İstanbul as border conflicts test cease-fire
April 16: “The representatives of a number of Syria’s Sunni Arab tribes announced the creation of a ‘tribal council’ in İstanbul on Monday, declaring their opposition to the Syrian regime and its 13-month-long crackdown on dissent. The announcement, made at a press conference at İstanbul’s Green Park Pendik Hotel, formalized the Sunni tribes’ longstanding opposition to the minority Alawite regime of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad but included few details about the new council’s size or relations with Syria’s numerous opposition groups…
Ahmed El-Jaburi, who identified himself as a member of the new council, acknowledged that ‘there are disagreements between the Arab [tribes]’ but stressed that ‘they have put their disagreements aside and come together,’ the Cihan news agency reported on Monday.
“Mahmoud al-Mashat, who identified himself as the representative of ‘the Arab tribes,’ said that the opposition would win because ‘our tribes are all across Syria and comprise 40 percent [of the country].'” Source – Today’s Zaman
Syrian minorities meet in Turkey’s Bursa province, focus on unification
April 16: “Syrian minority activists stood united in their opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime on Sunday at the Nahda Network’s summit in Turkey’s Bursa province. The pro-democracy group Young Civilians’ (Genç Siviller) initiative Nahda Network, an online platform on the Middle East, offered Turkish and foreign journalists the opportunity to hear what it is going on in Syria from the Syrian journalists and activists themselves…
“Osama Edward Mousa, a Syriac Christian activist from Syria, said during Sunday’s panel on Syrian minorities there are only two sects in Syria: those who are pro-Assad and those who are anti-Assad. ‘There is no clear division among ethnic and religious groups on either side,’ said Mousa of what he calls exaggerated claims of in-fighting and division among different groups…” Source – Today’s Zaman
Syrian opposition looks to Russia to pressure President Assad
April 17: “Syrian opposition members say they have sensed a shift in Russia’s stance on the conflict in their homeland and voiced hope Tuesday that Moscow will crank up pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. On a visit to Moscow, Haytham Manna, spokesman for the Arab Commission for Human Rights, said Russia has voiced support for democratic changes in Syria and believes the Syrians themselves should determine the country’s future.
“‘The representatives of the Russian government aren’t inclined to support the idea of preservation of the dictatorial regime,’ Manna told a news conference. ‘They are talking about the need for continuing democratic changes, and it’s very important for us.’ Abdul-Aziz al-Kheir, a spokesman for the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria, said Russia’s position has been changing over the past two months and ‘particularly fast over the past two weeks.’ Members of the Syrian opposition said they hoped Russia will apply its power to persuade Assad to observe UN and Arab league envoy Kofi Annan’s cease-fire plan to end 13 months of violence in Syria. ‘Russia has all the necessary levers to apply pressure on Assad’s government and help Annan’s mission,’ Manna said. Hassan Abdul-Azim, the head of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change who is leading the delegation, said Moscow’s support is essential for the success of Annan’s mission. ‘That is the last chance to end the fratricidal massacre and create preconditions for the transfer to a democratic form of government,’ he said.
“Manna said that while the opposition was encouraged by the talks in Moscow, differences remain. Russia continues to be strongly critical of Assad opponents using force, Manna said, while the opposition views it as a legitimate response to the violence on the part of the regime. He said that the opposition delegation also sought to assuage Russia’s concerns about the rise of Islamism in Syria and prospects of continuing violence in the country in case of regime change.” Source – Yahoo
Syrian National Council emails leaked
April 18: “Starting today, Al-Akhbar will be publishing a series of documents that electronic activists managed to obtain after hacking into the email account of Syrian National Council president Burhan Ghalioun. After the supporters of the Syrian opposition recently leaked emails allegedly belonging to Syrian president Bashar Assad and his wife, hackers from the other side took over the account of the president of the Syrian National Council (SNC) Burhan Ghalioun and obtained most of its content. Some of the documents, received by Al-Akhbar, shed light on what happens behind the scenes among the SNC members, the council’s international relations, and how it manages its finances. The emails are also an indicator as to how the council sees itself and its different components. Today Al-Akhbar publishes three of the leaked documents in its possession. The first is from a US diplomat that shows the level of coordination between the two sides…” See Al-Akhbar to read emails – too lengthy to repost.
“On the Hacking of Burhan Ghalioun’s Email” – Nuffsilence’s Posterous – (Apr. 18) – Blog
International Politics & Diplomacy
UN votes to deploy Syria monitors
April 14: “Russia and China joined the rest of the UN Security Council on Saturday to authorize deployment of up to 30 unarmed observers to monitor Syria’s fragile ceasefire as activists reported more deaths in the country and renewed shelling of Homs. The resolution by the 15-nation Security Council is the first it has approved since the anti-government uprising in Syria began 13 months ago. Moscow and Beijing twice vetoed council resolutions condemning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s assault on protesters opposed to his rule that has killed thousands of civilians…
“UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a statement released after a meeting in Geneva said the Syrian government had the prime responsibility to stop the violence and withdraw its forces from urban areas in line with Annan’s peace plan. ‘The Secretary-General reiterated that it is the government of Syria which has the primary responsibility to stop the violence and withdraw its forces,’ the statement said.
“Syria’s close ally and arms supplier Moscow was satisfied with the final draft of the resolution, though Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin made clear that there were limits to the kind of UN action Moscow could support. ‘Out of respect for the sovereignty of Syria we have cautioned against destructive attempts at external interference or imposing any kind of illusory fixes,’ he said…
“Before agreeing to support what was originally a US-drafted text, Russia had demanded the US and European delegations dilute it so that it would not ‘demand’ that Syria comply with the resolution. The approved resolution uses softer language so that it ‘calls upon’ Syria to implement it. Churkin also demanded that the council urge the opposition as well as the Syrian government to change its behavior.
“The approved resolution has the council ‘condemning the widespread violations of human rights by the Syrian authorities, as well as any human rights abuses by armed groups, recalling that those responsible shall be held accountable.’ It calls on ‘all parties, including the opposition, immediately to cease all armed violence in all its forms.’ The text also includes a vague warning to Damascus, saying the council would ‘assess the implementation of this resolution and to consider further steps as appropriate.'” Source – Reuters
Qatar & Italy
According to Qatar, Syria Peace Plan Has 3% Chance of Success
April 16: “A UN-Arab League peace plan for Syria has only a three percent chance of working, the emir of Qatar said on a visit to Rome Monday, as a UN-backed ceasefire was marred by ongoing violence. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani told a press conference that the chances for success ‘are no higher than three percent’, and that the Syrian people should not be supported through peaceful means but ‘with arms’. Qatar has taken a hawkish stance in favor of the year-old rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“Prime Minister Mario Monti, who stressed the ‘close collaboration’ between Italy and Qatar on the topic of Syria, said Rome was willing to send in observers to help oversee a truce aimed at ending 13 months of bloodshed.” Source – Naharnet
US Senator McCain “moved” by Syria crisis, calls for military intervention
April 17: “US Senator John McCain (R-AZ) spoke with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in a live interview about the broken ceasefire in Syria. He said that he feels the United States has the support of other nations in the Gulf region to lead a military intervention to stop the violence against Syrian civilians by the regime. McCain’s comments included moving remarks about his experience visiting refugee camps for Syrians fleeing the war zones: ‘I went to the refugee camps. I heard the stories, the murder, the torture, the rapes. I wish that every American could have a chance to be moved as I was and I’m a pretty tough guy. This has got to be brought to a stop. We can do that. And everybody will give you reasons why we can’t. I know America can with other nations,’ McCain said.” Source – CNN
Clinton warns President Assad against failure of peace plan
April 18: “US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of tougher measures if he squanders his ‘last chance’ by failing to implement the Kofi Annan peace plan. ‘It is obviously quite concerning’ that, while UN observers are starting to deploy in Syria, the ‘guns of the Assad regime are once again firing in Homs, Idlib and elsewhere’, Clinton told reporters in Brussels. ‘We are at a crucial turning point,’ the chief US diplomat said on the eve of a high-level meeting in Paris designed to consider further pressure on Assad. Either the international community succeeds in ‘pushing forward’ Annan’s six-point plan or ‘we see Assad squandering his last chance before additional measures have to be considered’, Clinton said. She talked of increased sanctions but declined to answer a question on whether it was fine for other countries to arm the rebels — a stand taken by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Speaking after talks with NATO foreign and defence ministers in Brussels, Clinton simply said the United States ‘is not providing lethal arms’ to the opposition and is instead sending communications equipment and other non-lethal aid to them. France said that 14 foreign ministers, including Clinton, would attend a meeting on Syria in Paris on Thursday to send a ‘strong’ message to Assad’s regime to implement the Annan plan. Clinton said she looked forward to her consultations in Paris.” Source – AFP
Russia blames ‘external forces’ for collapsing ceasefire
April 17: “A day after United Nations monitors arrived in Syria, Russia said on Tuesday that a fragile cease-fire was under threat from ‘external forces’ supporting antigovernment fighters and that activist reports of attacks by Syrian forces were a response, Russian news agencies reported.
“Speaking ahead of a meeting with an opposition delegation in Moscow, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said the cease-fire, brokered by a special envoy, Kofi Annan, had provided a lull in more than 13 months of violence, but that it was being undermined by antigovernment fighters with assistance from unspecified outside nations. ‘There are those who want Kofi Annan’s plan to fail,’ Mr. Lavrov said without elaborating…
“’There are countries, there are external forces, that are not interested in the success of the current Security Council efforts, that are trying to replace the Security Council with informal formats such as the ‘Friends of Syria’ group,’ he was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying, in reference to a grouping of dozens of Arab and Western countries, including the United States.” Source – The New York Times
Russia reportedly halts Syrian arms supplies
April 18: “Russia halted deliveries of light arms to Syria to avoid exacerbating a conflict between government forces and opposition groups, said a person close to the Defense Ministry in Moscow. Prime Minister and President-elect Vladimir Putin’s government ended supplies of weapons including anti-tank missiles and grenade-launchers after reports in January of a Russian shipment of ammunition to Syria provoked criticism from the US, the person said by phone today, declining to be identified because the information is confidential. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said then that Russian arms shipments to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime were of ‘grave concern.’
“Russia has contracts with Syria to deliver ammunition, pistols, sub-machine guns, machine guns, anti-tank missiles and rocket-propelled grenades valued at between $250 million and $400 million, according to the Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a research group in Moscow that advises the Defense Ministry…
“Russia in total has about $3.5 billion of arms contracts with Syria, according to Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies data. The orders include Yakhont anti-ship cruise missiles, MiG-29 fighter jets and Pantsir air-defense systems. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has rejected US criticism of arms deliveries to Syria, saying Russia wasn’t acting illegally or influencing the outcome of the conflict.” Source – Bloomberg
EU considers more sanctions against Syria
April 18: “The European Union is working on a new set of sanctions against Syria, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said. ‘We are all absolutely appalled by the horrendous levels of violence that have been witnessed in Syria,’ Ashton told EU lawmakers during their plenary session in Strasbourg on Tuesday. ‘The violence has abated, but it’s not enough. We’re working on a new set of sanctions and restrictive measures.’ The EU will continue pressing the Syrian regime with sanctions ‘for as long as repressions continue,’ she said. Ashton did not elaborate which additional sanctions were being discussed.” Source – Ria Novosti
Economic Development & Trade
Sanctions against Syria halve foreign currency reserves
April 17: “Western sanctions on Syria have almost halved its foreign currency reserves and reduced oil production by 30 percent, costing Bashar al-Assad’s government 400 million euros ($520 million) a month in revenue, French diplomatic sources said. Officials from almost sixty countries, including the European Union and the Arab League, meet in Paris on Tuesday to discuss the efficiency of sanctions imposed on Syria to raise pressure on Assad to comply with a UN-backed peace plan.
“‘We haven’t got a perfect measurement instrument to tell us when the regime will no longer be able to function, but we are seeing an extremely strong decline in foreign reserves. About half,’ one French diplomatic source said. Foreign reserves were estimated at $17 billion before the unrest broke out more than a year ago.
“The European Union and United States have led the response to Syria’s violence with a broad range of sanctions, which include a ban on Syrian oil imports to Europe and measures against the Syrian central bank. Prior to EU sanctions Damascus sold 90 percent of its oil to Europe and with that market closed Syrian production has now fallen 30 percent. Sources estimate lost revenues at about 400 million euros a month, or a total $2 billion since November. ‘With the deteriorating economy there is a hyperinflationary context, sharp collapse of the currency and a fall in revenues. That pressure will eventually be felt,’ said a second source.” Source – Reuters
Syria reportedly selling gold reserves
April 18: “Syria is trying to sell gold reserves to raise revenue as Western and Arab sanctions targeting its central bank and oil exports begin to bite, diplomats and traders said. Western sanctions have halved Syria’s foreign exchange reserves from about $17 billion, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Tuesday after a meeting with about 60 nations aimed at coordinating measures against President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
“‘Syria is selling its gold at rock bottom prices,’ said a Western diplomatic source, declining to say where it was being sold. A second diplomatic source confirmed the information, adding that Damascus was looking to offload everything it could to raise cash, including currency reserves. On Feb. 27, the European Union agreed more sanctions including prohibiting trade in gold and other precious metals with Syrian state institutions, including the central bank. Two gold traders in the United Arab Emirates said the Syrian government had been offering gold at a discount, with one saying it was making offers at about 15 percent below the market price. The trader said Damascus was selling small volumes of around 20-30 kilos which were easier to offload, with offers being made through private accounts set up with free email providers. Another trader said deals as of yet had not gone through in Dubai because the Emirati authorities were blocking unauthorised trades and few potential buyers were willing to take the risk of these deals…
“The World Gold Council estimates Syria had about 25.8 metric tonnes of gold as of February 2012, representing about 7.1 percent of its total reserves. At Wednesday’s spot prices, Syria’s total gold reserves are worth around $1.36 billion. Around $33.8 billion worth of gold is cleared through London on a daily basis. Syria has not published economic statistics since May 2011, making it impossible to verify gold figures or forex reserves.” Source – Reuters
General commentary on the revolution
“Any Given Friday: How a Battle Over a Facebook Page Became a War for the Soul of the Syrian Revolution” – Foreign Policy – Recommended. By Amal Hanano. Excerpt: “Syrians’ practice of naming the Fridays of the revolution was inspired by their Yemeni counterparts, who did the same thing during their revolution. The first Fridays were named by the Revolution page’s administrators, and reflected the popular aspects and crucial demands of the revolution: Friday of Dignity, Friday of the Martyrs, Friday of Freedom for Detainees, etc. The names grew to have such influence on the street that the various opposition groups decided everyone should have a say in naming each Friday…In the last two weeks, the need for active voices of nonviolent resistance was apparent in efforts both inside and outside Syria…In the beginning, no one thought Syria faced an endless list of Fridays ahead, but now, 57 Fridays in, it may be time to rethink the practice of naming the weekly day of revolt. The concept, once powerful and unifying, has grown tired and divisive. The Friday with a perfect name, ‘A Revolution for all Syrians,’ marked a rare moment of rewinding the past and perhaps capturing a glimpse of what may have been if we had not grown passive. It’s a moment worth holding on to for a while. Let every Friday be a day dedicated to the Syrian’s people fight for freedom and dignity. And let each one be called, simply, Friday.”
“Assad’s End” – Al-Ayyam – By Shakeeb Al-Jabri. Excerpt: “Dissent in Syria is at an all-time high and still rising. The regime lacks the funds it needs to buy back the people’s trust. It is unlikely that the sanctions imposed on Syria will be lifted soon or soon enough to rectify the situation. The amount of help the regime is receiving from its allies is not clear but it has so far failed to stabilize the economy. Assad will need much more to rebuild what he destroyed and stifle dissent…The UN-brokered ceasefire took effect on April 12, yet the regime’s military machine continues to grind on in every province in Syria. It continues to demonstrate complete intolerance to any dissent. This fatal equation has locked the country in a war of attrition. The more Assad kills, the more dissent is spread. The wider the dissent, the more Assad kills…Assad is on a path with only one logical end. His. The army, like civilians, require services to function properly. Soldiers are already being sent on missions without rations. As they become more dependent on the revolution councils they will defect in larger numbers. Assad will lose his only card.”
“Who Broke Syria? Bashar al-Assad Did. But the International Community and the Media Made Things Worse” – Foreign Policy – Recommended. By James Harkin. Excerpt: “Less than a week into a U.N.-brokered ceasefire in Syria, the arrangement is already looking pretty shaky. The Syrian government has promised to pull its army back from major cities, but now seems to be reneging on that deal. But rather than castigating its motives, perhaps it might be a good time now to take a fresh look what exactly has been accomplished by the internationalization of the Syrian ‘problem.'”
“Syrian Activists to Rebels: Give Us Our Revolution Back” – Christian Science Monitor – By Gert van Langendonck. Excerpt: “Many of the activists who began the uprising in Syria more than a year ago feel their peaceful push for change has been hijacked by the rebel Free Syrian Army. They’re meeting in Cairo today. Syrian activist Mohamed Alloush has fled his native country for Lebanon, but it wasn’t President Bashar al-Assad’s regime that drove him away. It was the rebels of the Free Syrian Army who ran him out of his hometown of Homs…Alloush is part of the movement of young revolutionaries who began the protests against the Assad regime in March last year in the wake of similar uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. They feel sidelined by the violent turn the conflict in Syria has taken since the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was formed last summer. An armed group comprised mainly of former Army soldiers who defected from the regime, it is also reportedly cooperating with Sunni jihadis from abroad and many brigades have adopted an increasingly sectarian tone.”
“Syria: The Popular Revolution the World Does Not Want” – New Socialist – By Khalil Habash. Excerpt: “The dynamics of the Syrian revolution is still misunderstood by many people, especially from components of the radical left in Europe, not to mention Latin America. The focus of the latter on the SNC and its alliance with Western governments such as France and the United States and reactionary regimes of the region like Saudi Arabia prevent them from taking into account the Syrian people’s struggle for democracy, social justice and true independence, which implies a struggle against an authoritarian regime. This regime is neither ‘anti-imperialist’ nor ‘socialist’ nor ‘secular’ as some claim. In addition, the SNC has become, actually, more of an ‘information media center’ than a group operating inside the country and playing a role in the popular mobilization. The lack of information about the real forces acting on the field is screaming out: coordination committees, some of which are clearly marked on the left. Progressive political forces are represented in the coalition Watan, encompassing 17 leftist parties playing a very important role in the mobilization on the ground far from the media coverage. There is a long tradition of Syrian leftist forces and currents. We must not neglect them. They range from communists to Marxists of various currents, to nationalists. Similarly, convictions of imperialist interventions of Western governments, in addition to Turkey and reactionary regimes of the Gulf – wanting to place their pawns, to contain the process of anti-dictatorial revolution, and to co-opt some of the political forces – do not make sense if they are not accompanied by a condemnation, without any conditions, of the Russian and Iranian regimes that are supporting Assad’s rule. They participate actually, directly, in the repression by sending military equipment and “human resources” to assist the Syrian security forces in their criminal works. Moreover, we must not forget the nature of these regimes and how they treat and oppress ‘their’ own people…”
“Former Syrian General Akil Hashem on the Uprising in Syria: Without Intervention, No End in Sight” – Foreign Affairs – By Akil Hashem. Excerpt: “Q: One of the main reasons given by Western powers for their reluctance to intervene in Syria is the power of Syria’s military and air defenses. As a former brigadier general, what is your assessment? A: I cannot believe that the United States, Britain, and France, with all of their intelligence capabilities, do not realize that the Syrian military is weak, largely thanks to rampant corruption. It’s one thing to have equipment and weapons, but it’s another thing to have the leadership to deploy them. And the leadership of the Syrian military is particularly decrepit. It starts with junior officers who ask soldiers to buy them cigarettes and then refuse to pay them back and goes all the way up to division commanders who divert army matériel to build their castles, villas, and mansions, ordering soldiers to construct them without compensation.”
On the ceasefire, the UN, & diplomacy
“The UN Is Observing a War Zone, Not a Ceasefire in Syria” – The Atlantic – By John Hudson. Excerpt: “The UN observer mission in Syria began its work in the country Monday, but according to accounts on the ground, the envoy is looking at a war zone, not a ceasefire…Though Ban called the current ceasefire “very fragile,” video footage and first-hand accounts reveal that depiction to be a rather severe euphemism.”
“Syrian Ceasefire Leads to New Challenges” – BBC – By Jim Muir. Excerpt: “Tough though it has been, getting agreement on the ceasefire in Syria is the easy bit compared with what comes next…Just shoring up the ceasefire and preventing a major eruption of fighting across the board will in itself be a huge challenge…with many violations reported by both sides in many places apart from Homs, it is clear that the truce could collapse completely unless reinforced by implementation of the six-point Annan plan and the deployment of observers, whose presence, the UN hopes, may help deter or inhibit acts of violence. At this point, the key question could be: in whose interest is a ceasefire that holds on the basis of implementing all points of the Annan plan?…”
“Analysis: Syria’s Assad Unbowed by Annan Plan” – ABC News – By Karin Laub. Excerpt: “The UN insists a fragile truce it brokered in Syria is holding, even though regime forces have been hammering the rebellious city of Homs with artillery for days. It’s a sign of the leeway the international community seems willing to give President Bashar Assad in hopes of forcing him into the next stage of special envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan — talks with opponents who demand his removal. Assad has made it brutally clear that he won’t step aside, trying to snuff out a 13-month uprising with tank fire and mass arrests. Even though he ostensibly accepted Annan’s plan, he’s likely to wriggle out of it since he seems largely insulated from pressure…Some even argue the Annan plan has actually allowed Assad to strengthen his hold on the country of 22 million.”
“The United Nations Today: A Case Study in Failure” – The American Interest – By Walter Russell Mead. Excerpt: “The United Nations is being flouted and ignored more often than usual these days — and the consequences are, as usual, nil. In Syria, arriving UN ceasefire monitors are greeted with artillery barrages. The reality is that the UN today is less prestigious and influential than it was in the 1940s and 1950s…The picture of course is not all bleak. While most UN peacekeeping operations seem to be corruptly run and poorly managed, they do help tamp down on the violence in some of the places where blue helmets are deployed. And when the great powers really do want to do something together, the UN framework is a useful one for joint action. I don’t favor abolishing the UN, but unless it figures out how to reform and restructure itself, it will continue to diminish as a force in international life…”
“UN plan Offers Brief Window of Opportunity in Syria” – McClatchy – By Trudy Rubin. Excerpt: “After months of watching Syrian artillery pound residential neighborhoods, courtesy of gritty video on YouTube, we should understand the basics: Bashar al-Assad won’t willingly end his family’s 40-year dictatorial reign…But the Annan plan’s slim prospects shouldn’t lull anyone into thinking hard choices can be avoided for much longer. The cease-fire will fail, and the fighting will go on…What is to be done? Washington, its NATO allies, and the Arab League should use the current, brief lull to focus on two crucial efforts: First, undertake a full-court press to awaken Russian leaders to the imminent danger Assad presents to Moscow…NATO and Arab leaders must also urge the Syrian opposition to agree on a clear, and inclusive road map for unifying the country. The fastest way to force Assad out would be to win over a broader swathe of Syrians – including Christians, businessmen, and respected Sunni leaders.”
“EU Goes Silent On Assad Departure” – Wall Street Journal – By Laurence Norman. Excerpt: “Last August, to considerable fanfare, Washington and Brussels made a joint declaration on Syria. Enough was enough, they said. The rising death toll, continued repression and broken reform promises of President Bashar al-Assad meant he had spurned his last chance to change course. The official policy of the U.S. administration and EU member states was that Mr. Assad must now go. For months after, hardly a week went by without EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton condemning the violence in Syria and calling for Mr. Assad to step aside…Yet in recent weeks, Brussels has grown quieter on Assad’s role in Syria’s political future. And in a speech to the European Parliament Tuesday, Mrs. Ashton seemed to revert to the pre-August 2011 language. There was no call for Assad to go. Instead, the ceasefire plan of former UN chief was ‘an opportunity for the regime to change course” and it was up to Mr. Assad to “match his words with deeds’.
“Obama Administration Searches for a ‘Plan B’ in Syria” – Foreign Policy – By Josh Rogin. Excerpt: “The White House is unhappy with the options it’s been given on Syria and is searching for a new strategy for removing President Bashar al-Assad…The new push includes adjustments in personnel handling the portfolio. Before March, National Security Council Director Steve Simon headed up the internal interagency process. Now, multiple officials confirm that NSC Senior Director for Strategy Derek Chollet has been added to the leadership of the Syria policy team and has been coordinating the interagency process for several weeks. Simon, Assistant Secretary of State Jeff Feltman, State Dept. Special Advisor Fred Hof, and Ambassador Robert Ford are still very active on the Syria portfolio…New options are now being considered internally, including another discussion of setting up buffer zones inside Syria, one administration official confirmed. The administration has also authorized direct contact with the internal Syrian opposition, including the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and at least one State Department official has met with the FSA’s nominal leaders in Turkey.”
On sectarianism in Syria
“On the Perils of Sectarianism in Syria” – Ceasefire Magazine – Recommended. By Robin Yassin-Kassab. Excerpt: “Rather than eternally agitating for a Western military intervention that will probably never come, the Syrian National Council would do better to address Alawis and Christians specifically and repeatedly, to name the crimes committed against them in the past, and to welcome the migration of Alawis and others to the urban centres in the Ba‘athist years as a redress of historical wrongs. And anti-Sunni prejudice should also be addressed. Those Syrians who believe that a chant of ‘Allahu akbar’ is inevitably a call for Sunni supremacy, for instance, should be encouraged to confront their assumptions. Saudi-backed Salafists are already talking about sect. Important sections of Sunni society in Lebanon and Iraq understand the Syrian tragedy in sectarian terms. Western journalists very often overemphasise the salience of sect. Why then do pro-revolution leftists, liberals and secularists tend to ignore the issue, and to leave the field to more retrograde voices? People are being killed. There isn’t any more time to waste on taboos.”
“Syrian Unity Must be Protected From Dangers of Lebanonization” – As-Safir/Al-Monitor – By Talal Salman. Translated by Naria Tanoukhi. Excerpt: “The Syrian crisis has destroyed what Syria had built up over decades: its role as a political reference and its identity as a beacon of stability in a turbulent region, writes Talal Salman. It seems to be succumbing to the poison arrows of ‘Lebanonization,’ whereby foreign powers with no interest in Syria’s future incite the flames of violence.”
“Syria: First Round of a Ceasefire” – Al-Akhbar – By Nicolas Nassif. Excerpt: “The Syrian crisis is reaching a point similar to what Lebanon witnessed in the first few months of its long civil war. The period known as the “two-year war” included numerous Arab and international initiatives…Syria today is close to Lebanon in the mid 1970s. The first round of the Syrian troubles are based on several indicators…1- Neither the regime nor the opposition – and neither the Arabs nor the West – want to openly disrupt or block…Kofi Annan’s mission to Syria…2- The ceasefire will remain brittle if it is not coupled with a political settlement between the two sides of the conflict…3- Although both sides of the conflict were forced into a ceasefire, the regime found Annan’s plan to be closer to its interests since it recognized that Assad will stay in power.”
Bios & interviews – government & opposition members
“The Syrian Marco Polo” – NOW Lebanon – By Makram Rabah. Excerpt: “…while the general public was busy following up on the content of Bashar and Asma al-Assad’s somewhat corny emails, including the famous picture of a half-naked young lady, people seemed to have missed an equally sinister show of callousness by Bashar’s ambassador, the infamous Imad Moustapha. While Assad’s emails and that of his family, it can be argued, are of a private nature and that even a ruthless dictator is entitled to a sense of privacy, the same cannot be said about Moustapha’s blogging activities…Moustapha, the Syrian Marco Polo, reports about his fascination with Beijing and how his new residence is in the fanciest part of the city. Furthermore, adding insult to injury, around the same time the Baba Amr butchery was being perpetrated by Assad’s cronies, Moustapha found it appropriate to post a fairly long entry about the joys of learning the Chinese language and calligraphy…To be realistic, nobody expected Moustapha to jump ship and join the ranks of the Syrian opposition, but at least what was expected of the self-styled intellectual-turned-explorer was to be less egocentric and perhaps call for an immediate cessation of the violence and a return to the rule of law.”
“Syrian Rebels’ Man in DC” – Salon – By Jordan Michael Smith. Excerpt: “Radwan Ziadeh has been the loudest advocate in Washington for an intervention to oust al-Assad…Ziadeh has become a crucial figure for those hoping to establish a new Syrian order. In October 2011 he formed the Syrian National Council (SNC), ‘to unite the opposition and establish an inclusive organization that would include different groups.’ It is now the main umbrella group for exiles and opposition groups. Ziadeh has met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, influential senators like John McCain and Joe Lieberman, and members of President Obama’s National Security Council. A senior fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a Washington-based Muslim think tank, he writes for publications like Foreign Policy and The New Republic, passionately urging the international community to save his people from their own government. And yet, the gap between Ziadeh’s pleas and America’s interests reveal the limitations of those hoping the United States can act as a savior on the international stage…”
“Syria’s Revolution: An Interview with Ammar Abdulhamid” – PJ Media – “The leading voice of the opposition talks to PJ Media about the state of the conflict. Ammar Abdulhamid has been the most articulate and credible voice of the Syrian opposition and the movement to overthrow the current regime. Barry Rubin interviewed him to get a clearer view on what’s going on in Syria and on what the future prospects are for the bloody conflict…Q: What do you think is likely to happen in Syria? A: Irrespective of my wishes, the inability of the Obama administration to move quickly on this matter has allowed for the situation to turn into a proxy war involving all major regional players as well as Russia and China. This is going to be a longer-term struggle and the humanitarian cost will be too high. I will keep up my activities meant to support the local resistance and empower the more pragmatic and representative elements to emerge as the true leaders of Syria down the road, but this will not be an easy task.”
“Kurds Remain on the Sideline of Syria’s Uprising” – The New York Times – By J. Michael Kennedy. Excerpt: “The Kurds of Syria, long oppressed by the government of President Bashar al-Assad, are largely staying out of the fighting that has gone on for more than a year in their country, hedging their bets as they watch to see who will gain the upper hand.”
“No Fans Of Assad, Syria’s Kurds Distrust Uprising” – NPR – Excerpt: “Syria’s Kurds, who have long complained of discrimination under President Bashar Assad, would seem a natural fit to join the revolt against his rule. Instead, they are growing increasingly distrustful of an opposition they see as no more likely to grant them their rights. Kurdish parties angrily pulled out of a recent conference aimed at unifying the opposition ranks after participants ignored their demands for more rights and recognition in a post-Assad Syria…”
“Alawites for Assad: Why the Syrian Sect Backs the Regime” – Foreign Affairs – By Leon Goldsmith. Excerpt: “Since the start of the revolt in Syria, the country’s Alawites have been instrumental in maintaining President Bashar al-Assad’s hold on power. A sect of Shia Islam, the Alawites comprise roughly 13 percent of the population and form the bulk of Syria’s key military units, intelligence services, and ultra-loyalist militias, called shabiha (“ghosts” in Arabic). As the uprising in Syria drags on, there are signs that some Alawites are beginning to move away from the regime. But most continue to fight for Assad — largely out of fear that the Sunni community will seek revenge for past and present atrocities not only against him but also against Alawites as a group. This sense of vulnerability feeding Alawite loyalty is rooted in the sect’s history.”
“Are Syrian Alawites and Turkish Alevis the Same?” – CNN – By Soner Cagaptay. Excerpt: “…Alevis are not Alawite. Despite semantically similar names – -both Alawites and Alevis derive their names from their reverence for Ali, a close relative of the Muslim prophet Mohammed – Alevis and Alawites represent different strains of Islam. Alevis are not Alawites, just as Protestants are not protestors. Furthermore, the Alawites are Arabs and the Alevis are Turks. Even Alevi populations among the Kurds and Balkan Muslims pray in Turkish, testifying to the essentially Turkish nature of Alevism. The Arab Alawites are a part of a syncretic and highly secretive offshoot of Islam, thought to be open only to men and, in this case, an initiated few. The esoteric Alawite faith is considered by some to be close to Shiism. Recently, the Alawite identity has evolved; following the Islamic Revolution, Iran reached out to the Alawites, disseminating propaganda suggesting that they are really Shiites, in the hopes of justifying Shiite Iranian support for the Alawite-backed regime in Damascus. The Alevi faith, on the other hand, is a relatively unstructured interpretation of Islam, open to both genders and, historically, even to non-Muslims…”
“Syria’s 31 Percenters: How Bashar al-Asad Built Minority Alliances and Countered Minority Foes” – Global Research in International Affairs – By Phillip Smyth. Excerpt: “Bashar al-Asad has specifically tailored his approach to numerous minority groups, based on their utility to his regime and on how he could best keep them within his fold. Working to appeal to, oppress, or pit minorities against each other and against the majority has been of extreme benefit for the regime. Engaging coreligionists and coethics abroad has also created a far more complicated and dynamic relationship within these minority communities. These further complications have only added to the influence Asad has been able to wield within Syria…”
“The New Power in the Middle East: Syria’s Fate Will Be Determined By Turkey” – Spiegel – By Maximilian Popp. Excerpt: Europe and the United States are delaying action in the Syria conflict — yielding the field to Turkey. Prime Minister Erdogan is presenting himself as a crisis manager, organizing aid for refugees and threatening to invoke NATO’s mutual defense clause. By doing so, Ankara is cementing its status as a major regional power in the Middle East…the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also pursuing its own interests in the conflict: Syria is an important trading partner. Kurds live in both Turkey and Syria. The unrest poses a threat to stability in a region in which a latent danger already persists through the confrontations between the Turkish military and the Kurdistan Workers Movement (PKK) terrorist organization. Finally, the Syrian refugees create a humanitarian challenge for Turkey that the country is no longer truly capable of shouldering on its own.
Indeed, it isn’t altruism alone driving Erdogan to push for Syrian dictator Assad’s fall. Nor is it a result of the ‘solidarity with our Muslim brothers in Syria,’ as media aligned with the government in Ankara are fond of reporting. Still, even Erdogan’s detractors have acknowledged his efforts to tackle the chaos.”
“Will Syria’s Sectarian Divisions Spill Over into Turkey?” – The New Republic – By Soner Cagaptay. Excerpt: “Observers of the growing humanitarian crisis in Syria are increasingly worried that the conflict will turn into sectarian struggle, and with good reason: the Assad regime has enjoyed overwhelming support among Syria’s minority Alawite population, while the country’s Sunni majority is leading the anti-Assad rebellion. But the conflict poses another risk. It may stir sectarian tensions in Turkey, which could, in turn, complicate any international intervention against Assad’s regime.
“The major sticking point is the Alevi group, a syncretic and highly secularized Muslim offshoot based in Turkey that has often defined itself as a minority persecuted by the country’s Sunni majority. Should the conflict in Syria turn Sunni on Alawite, Turkish Alevis may find themselves empathizing with the minority Alawites in Syria and, by extension, with the Assad regime. More than that: they could actively oppose any intervention organized by their own government.
Some of this is rooted in contemporary Turkish politics. Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has moved away from its hardline Islamist roots and made inroads across most sectors of Turkish society, has, thus far, failed to win much support from the Alevis, who constitute 10 to 15 percent of Turkey’s 75 million citizens. Unlike the AKP, the Alevis tend to align with the secularist views of Turkey’s founder, Kemal Ataturk, favoring a strict separation of religion and politics. And sectarian conflict in the 1970s, including attacks by Sunnis on Alevi communities, has left behind a legacy of distrust between Alevis and Sunnis. Relations have improved recently, but should Ankara intervene in Syria against the Assad regime, some in the Turkish Alevi community might be inclined to view this as a new ‘Sunni attack’ against a fellow minority. That likelihood is further bolstered by many Turkish Alevis’ belief that they actually are the same as the Alawites, though they are not ethnically or religiously related (the Alawites are Arabs and the Alevis are Turks). It is not uncommon to meet Alevis who, due to a lack of religious education, assume that Alawite is just another name for Alevi.”
“What’s Goin’ on at the Turkish-Syrian Border?” – Asia Times – By Pepe Escobar. Excerpt: “There is a video that could be loosely translated as ‘Terrorist Turkish border opening fire on the Syrian side’ that pretty accurately sums up what’s going on at the ultra-volatile geopolitical hotspot of the moment. The voice over says, ‘This is the Syria-Turkey border, and this is an operation of the Free Syrian Army [FSA] … The Gate [that would be the Syrian side of the border, housing the Gate checkpoint] is going to be seized.’ What this means is that Turkey is sheltering the FSA right on the border, only a few meters – and not kilometers – away from Syrian territory. Way beyond hosting a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) command and control center in Iskenderun…”
On Gulf intervention
“Could the Gulf States Intervene in Syria?” – Washington Institute for Near East Policy – By Michael Knights. Excerpt: “The participation of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in the Libyan conflict demonstrated the Gulf Cooperation Council’s activism and capability. In recent months, therefore, speculation has focused on possible GCC intervention in the Syrian civil war. On February 27, Qatari prime minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told the Friends of Syria conference in Tunis that ‘we should do whatever is necessary to help [Syrian oppositionists], including giving them weapons to defend themselves.’ On March 31, Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal echoed this statement: ‘The arming of the [Syrian] opposition is a duty.’ What capabilities, then, would the Gulf states bring in terms of support to armed proxies? And what would be the risks related to their intervention?…”
“Gulf Promises of Syria Aid Still Unmet, Highlighting Difficulty of Supporting Rebellion” – The Washington Post – Excerpt: “Two weeks after their bold promise, Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Arab Gulf states have yet to start distributing money from a multimillion-dollar fund designed to prop up Syria’s rebels and entice defections from President Bashar Assad’s army, Syrian opposition members and international officials say…But the fund’s implementation is already beset by problems — basically, how to get the money there and how to make sure it gets to the right people. There’s no way to monitor where the money goes as the country veers toward civil war. Because the rebels hold no territory and struggle even to maintain communications among inside and outside Syria, there is no clear way to deliver the money.”
“Hizbollah’s Position on the Syrian Uprising: Julian Assange Interview with Hasan Nasrallah” – Jadaliyya – “In this interview, Julian Assange asks Hasan Nasrallah, Secretary-General of Hizbollah, about the organization’s goals and strategies vis-a-vis Lebanon, Palestine, and the Israeli government, as well as the current uprising, regime response, and international mobilization in Syria. The interview is the first installament in a ten-episode series entitled The World Tomorrow, broadcast on Russia Today, hosted by Julian Assange, and featuring interviews with “iconoclasts, visionaries, and power insiders.”
Culture, History, Art, & Science
“My People Love Me” – Guernica Magazine – Recommended. By Bruce Wallace. “Through YouTube and Vimeo, these artists give their fellow Syrians a voice…[there has been] an outpouring of video artistic responses to the ongoing violence in Syria. These videos add another dimension to what some call the ‘YouTube Revolution,’ a reference to the fact that, with traditional media largely blocked from the country, much of our visual knowledge of the events comes by way of sites like YouTube and Vimeo…The point here isn’t just to highlight the Assad regime’s brutalities and contradictions…it was also about giving some agency back to Syrian people…”
“Syrian Uprising Takes Toll on Scientific Community” – SciDev Net – By Zeki Al Droubi. Excerpt: “The civil unrest that erupted in Syria in March last year has left the country’s scientific community in turmoil, researchers say. Heavy cuts have been made to research budgets, and work at the majority of Syria’s universities and research centres has ground to a halt.”
“Syrian Unrest Imperils Archeological Ruins” – CRI English – Excerpt: “Mindful of what happened in neighboring Iraq during the 2003 war when museums were pillaged and monuments damaged, Syrian archeologists have sounded the alarm that the prolonged and escalated unrest in Syria is imperiling its cultural ruins. Syria, once a regional trade center, has been a mecca for archaeologists from all over the world for its many prehistoric, Greek, Byzantine and Islamic heritages. It is also home to some of the world’s most imposing Crusader fortresses, such as the famed Krak des Chevaliers. However, with the conflicts between government forces and the opposition ongoing across the country, archaeologists warned of risks that the archaeological treasures may be destroyed or looted. “
“The Victims of Assad” – TIME – Photographs by Peter Hapak.
“The 100 Most Influential People in the World: Ali Ferzat” – TIME – “There’s something about cartoons. They really get under the skin. Tyrants often don’t get the jokes, but their people do. So when the iron fist comes down, it often comes down on cartoonists. Ali Ferzat, 60, spent years drawing insightful cartoons, mostly staying between the prescribed lines of Syria’s state-sanctioned media. But confronted with the regime’s increasing brutality, he embraced the democracy movement and turned his lampoons on President Bashar Assad directly. Masked men from the regime soon came for Ferzat. They beat him brutally, making a point of breaking both his hands to stop his cartoons. Ferzat wasn’t intimidated. His hands have healed and are back to cartooning — drawing sharp, vivid pictures and wry observations on his people’s plight. In the end, the joke is on the regime. It thought it could silence Ferzat and break his will by breaking his hands. Instead it created a powerful symbol who draws cartoons the whole world is now reading. Talk about a great punch line.”
“Double Take ‘Toons: Deadline? What Deadline?” – NPR – “A cease fire in Syria went into effect Thursday afternoon, and a shaky peace prevails. Graeme MacKay and Jaume ‘Kap’ Capdevila question whether Syria’s president Bashar Assad will continue to honor his pledge to stop hostilities.”
Human Interest & Humanitarian Concerns
“Hardtalk: Paul Conroy – Photographer” – BBC – “From Syria, to Sri Lanka, to Russia, there are journalists ready to put themselves in harm’s way to shine a light on some of the darkest corners of conflict, crime and corruption. What makes them do it? And what difference do they make? Stephen Sackur speaks to British photo journalist Paul Conroy who was wounded in the Syrian army’s bombardment of the city of Homs last February which killed his Sunday Times colleague Marie Colvin. When, if ever, is telling the story worth risking your life?”
“East Midlands-based Syrian Doctor Aids Beleaguered Colleagues” – BBC – Excerpt: “A Leicester-based Syrian doctor has been using email and online video to help doctors treating victims of the fighting in the country.”
“Pregnant Women Flee Syria” – The Daily Beast – By Sophia Jones. Excerpt: “With ongoing insecurity and fighting in Syria, and the closure of hospitals there, many pregnant women have chosen to flee across the border to Turkey, even if it’s a perilous journey…”
“Syrian Free Army Rebels Choose Outlaw Life” – Stuff – Excerpt: “Frontier fighters in the year-long revolt against President Bashar al-Assad are quietly securing posts on Syria’s border with Turkey, where they can pass supplies and also fight Syrian troops who get too close to home. Underfed and under-armed against a massive army, their biggest comfort – that home is so near – is also their main source of suffering…These rebels are the locals’ open secret. Turkish border patrols on the hilltops and farmers ploughing nearby fields somehow just seem to miss seeing scrawny, bedraggled young men like Said sneaking along mountain passes with large packs…Nearby Syrian villagers play ignorant when their sons disappear. Some fighters…have faked their deaths and are now hiding just a few kilometres away, carving out rebel posts all along the border.”
“JORDAN: Civil Society at Heart of Syrian Refugee Response” – IRIN News – Excerpt: “Community-based organizations have arguably played the largest role in helping thousands of Syrian refugees pouring into neighbouring Jordan. Until recently, the response had been fairly ad-hoc, or as one aid worker put it, ‘a mess’, with various players on the ground and many Syrians simultaneously registering and getting assistance from various organizations. But these civil society organizations are increasingly trying to coordinate, and despite the relative chaos, they have shone in recent months, especially as the first point of contact for many Syrian refugees arriving in Jordan.”
“Syrian Refugees in Libya Compare Notes on Twin Uprisings” – TIME – By Abigail Hauslohner. Excerpt: “Syrian refugees have fled to Libya in the thousands in recent months, although no official figures are available. In the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, Yahya al-Jamal, who helps run the Union of Syrian Revolutionaries there, a humanitarian outreach group, says he registered more than 700 new Syrian families in March alone. Most of them fled the southern Syrian cities of Homs and Hama as the Assad regime shelled and shot at civilian areas where residents had staged protests and the rebel Free Syrian Army had found strongholds. But those who have made the long trek to Libya say that the North African state — currently going through its own tumultuous transition since the revolution that toppled the 42-year regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi last year — has been far more welcoming than most…”
“Defectors Recount Tales of Conflict; ‘Blood on My Hands’” – Wall Street Journal – By Maria Abi-Habib. Excerpt: “Sitting among family in this Jordanian town on the Syrian border, an ex-army intelligence officer recounted how he worked against rebel forces by intimidating family members to prevent military defections. Now he’s a defector…The intelligence officer said he worked tirelessly to crush the uprising in western Homs for five months, finally being granted two days of leave in July. He returned to his home in southern Deraa but it was riddled with bullets. His brother had been arrested under the charge of ‘protesting’ and his cousin killed by bullets fired by Syrian troops while demonstrating, he and his family members said in interviews. The officer then realized he hadn’t been fighting terrorists, but his own people, he said.”
“Casualty of War: On the Run from Syria’s Cycle of Violence” – The Age – By Ruth Pollard. Excerpt: “Khaled’s is a complicated, painful story, told by a thoughtful young man wise beyond his years who has unpacked the psychology of this brutal battle of Syrian against Syrian a thousand times over. Many incidents, small and large, pushed the 25-year-old university graduate to defect from the army that stands accused of killing at least 9000 Syrians since the country’s uprising began 13 months ago. But it was the deadly aftermath of an overheard radio exchange that convinced him to trust what his head and his heart had been saying from the beginning. ‘I heard my commander talking to his leader on the radio – a spy had told him there was going to be a demonstration on that day, held in an auditorium so that the army could not see them.’ He was told, ‘Shoot them all, they are all armed.’ Khaled, who says he was not with the soldiers who followed those orders, saw the video broadcast on the internet and on news channels that night. The battalion had fired up to six mortar rounds and one landed in the crowded auditorium, killing 14 people, he said…’They were just kids,’ he says quietly. ‘They were not hurting anyone.'”
“Letter to Asthma al-Assad” – The Guardian – “The wives of the British and German ambassadors to the United Nations have produced a video urging Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s wife to demand that her husband stop the violence in their country. Huberta von Voss-Wittig, wife of Germany’s UN ambassador Peter Wittig, and Sheila Lyall Grant, wife of Britain’s UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, said in a letter accompanying the video that Asma Assad’s ‘public voice is needed’.
“The Public Shaming of Asma al-Assad” – Foreign Policy – By Colum Lynch. Excerpt: “Dear Asma, remember those heady times before the Arab Spring, when we pinned our hopes on the ‘rose of the desert,’ your ability to work your liberalizing magic, and the dream that you could turn your autocratic husband into a democrat? Those days are over. Europe’s elites have completed the total ostracism of Syria’s stylish British-born first lady, Asma al-Assad, banning her from stepping foot in most European capitals or shopping in Europe’s finest department stores. Last month, the European Union added her name to a list of President Bashar al-Assad cronies subjected to a travel ban and asset freeze. And now, the wives of Britain’s and Germany’s UN ambassadors have produced a new YouTube video letter scolding Asma for her obsession with fashion and image at a time when her husband’s government is launching a bloody crackdown on protesters…”
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