Saturday, July 21, 2012

Syria endgame: who and what will emerge from the ruins?

Bashar al-Assad is finished – that is a given. But 40 years under a corrupt regime that ruled by fear has left a dangerous vacuum

Martin Chulov in Beirut, Saturday 21 July 2012

"The balance of power in Syria was changed forever on Wednesday. Inside a nondescript three-storey building in the heart of a secure zone in Damascus, three security chiefs were dead and a fourth mortally wounded as the Middle East's most ruthless regime was rocked to its core.

The rebel force filming nearby had just detonated a bomb inside the inner sanctum, something that was never supposed to happen in a state rooted in four decades of totalitarian rule and anchored in fear.

Panic was clear in the voices of the emergency responders, whose radio calls were intercepted by the watching rebels. Their frantic alarm, claim the rebels, showed a dimension to revolutionary Syria that did not exist even hours earlier and had never been a trait during the dynastic rule of the Assads.

Even during four embattled days before the bombing, the regime had maintained the appearance of control as a large rebel force advanced on the capital from three directions – the first time such an assault had been launched in 17 months of violence. There is no calm anywhere any more.

Now, with Syria's rigid order ever more vulnerable and its neighbours increasingly alarmed, planning for life after the regime is well under way. That Bashar al-Assad is finished is now a given; far less certain is what will be left of Syria in his wake....."

Al-Jazeera Video: Opposition takes control of Syrian-Turkish border crossing

"The fighting within Syria continues to have an effect on its neighbouring countries.

Notably, in recent days, a number of border crossing have been either targeted or captured by the Syrian oppostion.

One of these key crossings is with a crucial Syrian neighbour, Turkey, where the crossing at Cilvegozu is under rebel control.

Al Jazeera's Andrew Simmons has this report from theTurkish-Syrian border."

Syrians flee fierce fighting in Aleppo

Thousands of residents flee northern city amid bloody clashes between Free Syrian Army fighters and government troops

Luke Harding and Martin Chulov in Beirut and agencies, Saturday 21 July 2012

"Fierce fighting has erupted in Syria's historic northern city of Aleppo, with thousands of residents forced to flee amid bloody clashes between resurgent Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters and government troops.

Activists posted video footage showing locals fleeing Aleppo in cars and minibuses early on Saturday, after the authorities warned they would shell rebel-controlled districts. Most of the fighting was raging in the Salaheddin part of the city, where FSA fighters were massing in large numbers, the activists said......

Israel, the region's most formidable power, meanwhile, announced it would consider military action to prevent Syria's chemical weapons and missiles arsenal from falling into the hands of Hezbollah, Assad's Shia Islamist allies in neighbouring Lebanon.

The defence minister, Ehud Barak, said:"I have instructed the military to increase its intelligence preparations and prepare what is needed so that … (if necessary) … we will be able to consider carrying out an operation.""

Al-Jazeera Video: حديث الثورة - التطورات الميدانية والسياسية في سوريا


"قراءة في المشهد السوري من خلال التطورات الميدانية والسياسية الجارية حاليا .
تقديم : عبد الصمد ناصر
تاريخ البث : 2012/07/20
الضيوف :
نواف الفارس - فايز الدويري- ديفيد شينكر

Israel coined the term "Nakba" and is still implementing it

Ilan Pappe
The Electronic Intifada
20 July 2012

A unilateral — and if possible with at least a tacit Palestinian Authority agreement — scheme for the final demarcation of the 21st century state of Israel. The components of this strategy are a ghettoized Gaza Strip, annexation of Area C of the West Bank (a zone defined by the Oslo agreements, comprising more than 60 percent of the West Bank) to Israel, and the creation of a Palestinian Bantustan in the rest.

It also includes the ghettoization of the Palestinians in the Naqab; the strangulation of the Palestinians in the Galilee by an intensive construction of new Jewish settlements there; and the injection of Jewish population into the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa, Acre, Ramleh and al-Lid (accompanied by the instalment of a new and complex web of roads and highways inside these areas).

Nakba 2012 — in contrast to Nakba 1948 — is done through municipal master-planning, administrative regulations and special police forces. It is incremental and bureaucratic and hence off the radar of a world that anyway does not seem to care much.

But for various reasons this more subtle criminal policy cannot be fully executed in the Naqab. This particular juncture is a chance to expose it worldwide as well as bring home the message that those who invented the term Nakba are still determined to fully implement it."

زلزال مخابراتي بالمنطقة : الموت والعزل يطاردان قادة مخابرات مصر وسوريا والسعودية وإسرائيل

زلزال مخابراتي بالمنطقة : الموت والعزل يطاردان قادة مخابرات مصر وسوريا والسعودية وإسرائيل

وفاة سليمان ومقتل رئيس مخابرات بشار ومدير معلومات الشاباك وعزل رئيس الجهاز في السعودية

سليمان يموت في أمريكا.. وبختيار في دمشق.. وبن عويز في النمسا.. وملك السعودية يعزل شقيقه

بندر بن سلطان "أمير صفقات السلاح" المتهم في قضية اليمامة يرأس الاستخبارات السعودية

في 24 ساعة فقط، تغيرت خريطة المشهد المخابراتي في المنطقة بصورة درامية، حيث اختفت من الساحة شخصيات "تاريخية" لعبت أدواراً رئيسية في بناء خطوط التماس والتعاون والتنافس بطول المنطقة وعرضها، من القاهرة إلى دمشق ومن الرياض إلى تل أبيب.

في صباح آخر أيام شهر شعبان، أمس الخميس، توفي اللواء عمر محمود سليمان الفحام، النائب الأول والأخير للرئيس المخلوع حسني مبارك، ورئيس المخابرات العامة المصرية 18 عاماً متصلة، وأحد المتهمين الكبار في قضايا "التعذيب بالوكالة" لصالح الولايات المتحدة الأمريكية، ومهندس العلاقات بين القاهرة وتل أبيب.

Al-Jazeera Video: Iraq seals border crossings with Syria

Syrian forces and armed groups will be held criminally responsible for civilian deaths

20 July 2012

"....A pattern is emerging of orders being issued to civilians to move out of urban areas, raising fears that the authorities intend to increase the intensity of assault on neighbourhoods they plan to attack,” said Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International.

“The fact that an order has been issued does not mean that the area has actually been cleared, which could result in more and more people coming under attack.”....."

Friday, July 20, 2012

Syria crisis: deaths recorded by UN and Syrian Revolution Martyr Database

(Click on Map to Enlarge)

How many people have died in the Syrian crisis so far?

The Guardian

Get the data

"As the Syria crisis spirals, the last remaining international support for President Assad appears to be melting away.

Exactly how bad have things got? The United Nations reports over 8,700 deaths by the end of February in the updated infographic above - available from Reliefweb - which covers deaths by region.

The Syrian Revolution Martyr Database continues to provide daily updates on deaths. Its total as of 16 July was 19,980, of which it records 93% as being civilians......"

Syria: Assad regime starts to unravel

Damascus sees fierce fighting as Free Syrian Army fighters take control of key suburbs and crossings into Turkey and Iraq

Luke Harding in Beirut and Ian Black, Middle East editor, Friday 20 July 2012

"....In a further sign of regime erosion a Syrian general was reported to have fled to Turkey, bringing the number of fugitive generals there to 22. The rebels also now control a key Kamal/Qaim border crossing with Iraq, after slaughtering the 22 government soldiers tasked with guarding it. Iraqi troops have now sealed the crossing.

The capture of Syria's borders by the opposition was an important moment, analysts said, and showed Syria's 16-month conflict was now a fast-moving guerilla war. Fawwaz Traboulsi, a Beirut-based historian and columnist, said the tactics and strategy of the Free Syrian Army had improved, in contrast to the early days of the uprising.

"It's conducting a war that is very close to a guerrilla war. The FSA can move very easily. It can withdraw. It is taking whole regions and holding them," he said.

With Assad's options narrowing, and a diplomatic solution elusive, Traboulsi was sceptical that Assad would abandon Damascus and go abroad – even if he wished to.

He noted: "Bashar doesn't rule himself. He leads a family in power and a circle of army and security leaders. He can't simply whisk himself out of the country without their knowledge. If he flees the whole thing will collapse."

Others predicted the end was near. "The regime is going through its last days," Abdel Basset Sayda, the leader of the main Syrian opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Council, said in Rome. Michael Young, a columnist with Beirut's Daily Star newspaper, agreed that the regime was disintegrating around the edges. "If you lose the borders you are allowing the creation of safe zones for weapons to come through. The Syrian regime holds the cities. But it doesn't control rural areas. And at night its control over the cities is very iffy. This is a new phenomenon," he observed.

Young added that it was still unclear who was behind Wednesday's bombing. He said there was no evidence for the widespread "conspiracy theory" that the blast may have been an "inside job", adding: "I would say all the versions are in some way decisively wrong."

Majid Arar, who lives closer to the scene of the attack, told the Guardian. "After hearing the news of the generals being killed there was some excitement and some joy, because people are furious [with the regime]. But when the government started bombarding people started to feel very scared. It's joy and at the same time fear for the future. People are now more open to talk about what's going on in the city, even on the telephone. People usually fear that the government is listening but are now more open to talking. Some barriers have been broken.""

Bashar al-Assad: fight or flight?

After high-profile defections and the loss of four key advisers, the Syrian president's options are shrinking, writes Ian Black

Ian Black, Middle East editor, Friday 20 July 2012

" ......Speculation is rife about what Assad will do next. One scenario has him holding on for now but fleeing in the end with Asma and the children. "He saw what happened to Gaddafi," said Zisser. "I would argue that he will try to escape."

Whether the so-called "Dacha option" is still viable depends on whether the ever-loyal Russians will continue to help him if he is forced to step down.

Another possibility is more dramatic. "I think Bashar might fight to the end," said the former government official. "He seems to be more defiant and that makes it less likely he will be able to find an escape route. I don't think he will. Earlier on in the crisis he could have gone to the UAE. But now I doubt whether any Arab country will take him in. He's too toxic."

Joseph Bahout, a Lebanese-French political analyst, said: "It's dangerous to over-psychologise but having said that, Bashar's character is important. If Maher had been killed too he probably would have collapsed. My guess is that he is much shaken but that as long as Maher is still there he may go for a suicidal solution involving massacres and ethnic cleansing. I just don't see these guys negotiating"."

David Is To Be Returned To Italy

A bit of cultural news for a welcome change

After a two year loan to the United States ,
Michelangelo's David is being returned to Italy.

Al-Jazeera Video: Clashes intensify in Damascus as FSA seizes border crossings

"Syrian opposition fighters have taken control of a number of border crossings with Iraq.

It came after Syrian state television announced that regime forces had "cleaned" the al-Midan neighbourhood of "terrorists".

"Our brave army forces have completely cleaned the area of Midan in Damascus of the remaining mercenary terrorists and have reestablished security," the broadcaster said.

Damascus activist Khaled al-Shami, contacted via Skype, said rebels carried out a "tactical" retreat early on Friday to spare civilians further shelling after five days of intense clashes between opposition fighters and regime forces.

The Observatory, in an earlier statement, said "seven tanks and two armed personnel carriers stormed the district" of al-Midan, in southern Damascus.

Clashes were also reported in Kafr Souseh and Al-Hajar Al-Aswad on outskirts of Damascus between Syrian regime forces and rebel fighters."

Al-Jazeera Video: Zeina Khodr on the Syria border developments

"Syrian opposition fighters have taken control of a number of border crossings with Iraq and Turkey.In Masnaa in Lebanon, is Zeina Khodr reports on border developments there."

Al-Jazeera Video: Isil Sariyuce on the Syria border developments

"Syrian opposition fighters have taken control of a number of border crossings with Iraq and Turkey. Al Jazeera's Isil Sariyuce speaks from Turkey's Reyhanli. She says the Free Syrian army is in control of border posts there."

Real News Video : Clinton Reaffirms Backing of Egypt's Military Junta

"As Egypt lurches toward a civilian state, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pays a visit to the country's civilian and military leaders. Clinton avoids blaming military for violent transitional period, despite $1.3 billion dollars in aid to the generals."

Al-Jazeera Video: Syrian refugees make for borders

"The Iraqi government says it has sent aircraft to Syria to evacuate Iraqi citizens; more than a dozen have been killed in recent attacks.

Syrian security forces are preventing their own people from seeking refuge in Iraq.

But as Jane Arraf reports from the Iraqi village of Fishkabour, some Syrians are managing to be smuggled out."

Syrian forces stretched, intelligence chief dies

"(Reuters) - A fourth member of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle died on Friday from a bomb attack this week and his forces fought to recapture border posts and parts of Damascus from rebels who have converged on the capital.

As refugees flooded across Syria's borders and U.N. officials said they had heard banks in Damascus had run out of cash, Russia's envoy to Paris added to a sense Assad's days were numbered by saying he had accepted he would have to leave power.....

Clashes were fiercest overnight in the sprawling Mezzeh district, where rebels appear to be sustaining attacks on many security compounds located there, residents said.....

Up to 30,000 Syrian refugees may have crossed into Lebanon in the past 48 hours to escape the fighting, the UNHCR said, a huge increase in numbers seeking to flee.....


In Damascus, a witness in the central old quarter district of Qanawat said the huge headquarters of the Damascus Province Police was black with smoke and abandoned on Thursday after being torched and looted in a rebel attack.

"Three patrol cars came to the site and were hit by roadside bombs," activist Abu Rateb said by telephone. "I saw three bodies in one car. Others said dozens of security men and shabbiha (pro-Assad militia) lay dead or wounded along Khaled bin al-Walid street, before ambulances took them away."

A resident who toured much of Damascus late on Thursday said the Interior Ministry at the main Marjeh Square had a fraction of its usual contingent of guards still in place....."

Guardian Video: Free Syrian Army take control of border crossing into Turkey

Syrian rebels deface portraits of President Bashar al-Assad and his late father Hafez al-Assad after capturing the border crossing point at at Bab al Hawa. This footage purports to show rebels in control of the crossing point into Turkey as they tear up a large poster of Assad on top of a building, Friday 20 July 2012

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Statement for the Palestinian Protest in Haifa in Solidarity with Syria

From Maysaloon

"دعما للثورة السوريّة ولاجئي مخيّم اليرموك
مظاهرة الخميس 19\7، 19:00، دوار البهائيين، حيفا

"من الشام لفلسطين، شعب واحد مش شعبين!"
"واحد واحد واحد، فلسطيني وسوري واحد!"
دوت هذه الهتافات في سماء مخيّم اليرموك في دمشق أثناء جنازة رمزيّة
مهيبة شيّع فيها لاجئو اليرموك 11 شهيدًا قتلوا برصاص قوّات النظام
السوريّ يوم الجمعة الموافق 13.7.
ولمن المفارقة أنّ النظام الّذي لطالما تشدّق بممانعته واستخدم القضيّة
الفلسطينيّة كشمّاعة لتبرير سحق الشعب السوريّ، لم يتورّع عن إطلاق
النّار على متظاهرين فلسطينيّين سلميّين
خرجوا للتضامن مع القرى والمدن
السوريّة المنكوبة وللمطالبة بالحرّيّة والكرامة لهم ولأخواتهم وإخوانهم
وليست تصريحات الناطق بلسان وزارة الخارجيّة للسوريّة، جهاد مقدسي، أن
الفلسطينيّين في سوريا هم ضيوف وعليهم الرحيل في حال "إساءتهم التصرّف"
إلّا دليلا واحدًا على ازدراء أبواق الأنظمة العربيّة المستبدّة
لم يكن الهجوم على المتظاهرين في اليرموك أوّل مرّة يستهدف فيها النظام
السوريّ الفلسطينيّين في سوريا. فكيف ننسى قصفه بالسفن الحربيّة لمخيّم
الرمل في اللاذقيّة صيف العام الماضي واستهدافه مخيّم اللاجئين في درعا
قبل أسابيع قليلة واعتقالاته التعسّفيّة للناشطات والناشطين الفلسطينيّين
إمّا لمعارضتهم النظام وإمّا لمشاركتهم في إغاثة النازحات والنازحين.
وإنّنا إذ نعلن عن دعمنا للشعب السوريّ وللاجئات واللاجئين الفلسطينيّين
فإنّنا نؤكّد أن آلة النظام القمعيّة لا تميّز بين سوريّ وفلسطينيّ أو
بين عربيّة وكرديّة
أو بين مزارعٍ وصحافيّ.
ولأنّ الوقوف على الحياد في ظل الظلم والاضطهاد هو تواطؤ مع الجلّاد،
سنرفع أصواتنا في حيفا المحتلّة دعمًا للثورة السوريّة المجيدة وحقّ
الشعب السوريّ بتقرير مصيره دون تدخّل أجنبي ومطالبةً بالحرّيّة لجميع
المعتقلات والمعتقلين السياسيّين وتأكيدًا على وقوفنا مع فلسطينيّات
وفلسطينيّي سوريا وتشبّثنا بحقّهم بالعودة إلى فلسطين وتأييدًا لجميع
الانتفاضات ضد الطغيان من سوريا إلى البحرين ومن القطيف إلى السّودان

يوم الخميس 19.7.2012 في تمام الساعة 19:00 عند دوار البهائيين، حيفا
صرخةً واحدة ضد الأنظمة القمعية!

فلسطينيون لأجل ثورة سوريا

Carlos Latuff: The Andrew Lloyd Weber of Cartoonists

Bashar al-Assad has amassed fortune of up to £950m, analysts estimate

Syrian president's assets are thought to be held in Russia, Hong Kong and offshore tax havens to spread risk of seizure, Thursday 19 July 2012

"The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, has amassed up to $1.5bn (£950m) for his family and his close associates, according to analysts, despite moves in London, Switzerland and the US to freeze the assets of his regime.

Many of Assad's assets are held in Russia, Hong Kong and a range of offshore tax havens to spread the risk of seizure, according to London-based business intelligence firm Alaco.

A myriad of companies and trusts are understood to have been deployed to disguise assets that ultimately belong to members of the Syrian regime.

Iain Willis, the head of research at Alaco, said the millions of pounds frozen in UK bank accounts make up just a fraction of the regime's estimated global wealth.

In peacetime, the Assads and their close friends owned around 60% to 70% of the country's assets, from land and factories to energy plants and licences to sell foreign goods. But Assad would find it difficult to liquidate such assets in the event of his regime's collapse....."

Guardian Video: Syria crisis: 'this could be a turning point'

Ian Black and Martin Chulov discuss the implications of the killing of three key figures in Bashar al-Assad's inner circle. The attack has opened a new phase in the conflict and proves the Free Syrian Army is capable of striking at the heart of the regime in Damascus, Thursday 19 July 2012

Delaying the Syrian endgame

There are four compelling arguments for allowing Russia to prevent liberal intervention in Syria.

By Larbi Sadiki

"....A devil's advocate argument sees Russia's role as a silver lining, ominously gaining momentum as Syria is now in the throes of a civil war, an indigenous battle for liberation from authoritarianism.

There are four compelling arguments for letting Russia do what it does best: preventing liberal intervention in Syria.

1. Self-liberation as self-mastery

....In the final scheme of things, Russia's intransigence and objection to intervention in Syria may be unwittingly proving its use: strengthening the Syrian people's resolve to self-liberate and the FSA to operate accordingly, relying on indigenous resources.

Since Islam was brought to Damascus in 635, the city has many times relied on its local resources for liberating itself.

2. Avoiding a repeat of Libya

There are lessons to be learned in Syria from the intervention in Libya. Probably the most important of these lessons is that in the absence of a political programme, effective leadership, civil and civic capacity-building, and a quasi "government-in-waiting", the end of military hostilities are marked by the start of disarray, schisms and internecine fighting.....

Transition in Syria demands a great deal of preparatory work at this crucial stage before the regime collapses. In particular, sectarian pluralism must be converted into democratic capital, thus preventing it from derailing a smooth transition once the Assads are out of the way. One particularly important lesson from Libya is for the Syrian government-in-waiting to develop a vision for transitional justice given the grotesque human rights violations already committed and the potential for revenge by the victims.

3. Indigeneity and the Arab Spring

The Arab Spring has largely been home-grown, especially in Egypt and Tunisia, where it has unfolded with no need for outside intervention. The intervention in Libya is the exception: without NATO's operations, Gaddafi would have prolonged his rule, giving him enough time to commit additional crimes against the Libyan people.

There is no "free lunch" in international politics. So Russia's role in the Syrian crisis without a doubt has downsides. However, one of its unintended outcomes is that the Arab Spring is spared further intervention and meddling by outside powers.

Freedom is never given, and it is better when earned through indigenous resources and energy, which abound in Syria. The cost has so far been high in human lives, and this is very regrettable. It would have, however, been even higher if more potent weapons, including surgical operations, had been used by NATO or UN-mandated forces.....

Russia will know to drop the Assads when the alarm bells of the endgame are sounded. Russia has not done that as quickly as the world wants it to, but that may in the big scheme of things prove to be an opportunity, not just an adversity."

Back from Syria, Reporter David Enders Says Assad Regime Crumbling to "Grassroots Rebellion"

Democracy Now!

"As the battle for Damascus rages on, we’re joined by reporter David Enders, special correspondent for McClatchy, based in Beirut, Lebanon. He has been to Syria four times this year, most recently in June, and is returning there shortly. "The [Syrian] government [is] crumbling under the weight of a massive rebellion. It simply can’t put it down," Enders says. "Without the aid of the international community, Syrians are largely doing it themselves."....."

Syrian Activist in Hiding: "We’re Not Looking for Intervention, We’re Looking for Support"

Democracy Now!

"Syria’s 16-month uprising has entered uncharted territory after Wednesday’s bombing that killed three members of President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle, including his defense secretary, interior minister and brother-in-law. Fighting between government troops and opposition rebels has been reported across Damascus, including locations within sight of the presidential palace. We’re joined from Syria by an activist who requested anonymity to protect her safety. "They’re losing control," she says of the regime. "A lot of people were glad about [the bombing] yesterday, but it just makes us, deep inside, scared. What is the regime going to do next?"....."

Top Ten Implications of the Damascus Bombing

Posted on 07/19/2012 by Juan

The bombing of the Security Headquarters of the Baath government of Syria on Wednesday killed the Minister of Defense, the deputy Minister of Defense, and the Assistant to the vice-president and head of crisis management office Gen Hassan Turkomani. It wounded the Minister of the Interior (i.e. head of the secret police) and a member of the national security council. Some reports said that also wounded was Hafez al-Makhlouf, a cousin of the president on his mother’s side of the family and a key security figure. The Makhloufs, especially Ramy, are the business wing of the al-Assad cartel, and their billionaire ways were among the sources of discontent that provoked the uprising.
What does this bombing mean for Syria and the Middle East?
1. It demonstrates that the rebels have sympathizers in high positions within the regime. The bomb had to have been planted by an insider. This situation reminds me of the American dilemma in Vietnam, where we now know that many high-ranking Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) officers were in fact sympathizers with the Communists and basically double agents.
2. It follows upon this conclusion that the al-Assad regime is unlikely to be able to emulate the Algerian military, which crushed the Islamic Salvation Front in a brutal civil war from 1992 through the early zeroes of the present century. Some 150,000 Algerians are said to have died in the dirty war, with atrocities on both sides. But when the smoke cleared, the junta was still in control, and its favored secular civilians were in office. In all that time, the Muslim fundamentalist opposition never laid a glove on any of the high officials or officers. But the Algerian elite closed ranks against the Islamic Salvation Front, having a cultural set of affinities and a common source of patronage in the state-owned oil and gas sector.
If the rebels in Syria can reach into the Security HQ this way, and assassinate the highest security officials of the regime, that ability does not augur well for Bashar al-Assad’s ability to win the long game, as his counterparts did in Algeria.
3. The targets of the bombing were likely intended to send a message to Syria’s minorities. The minister of defense, Daoud Rajha, was a Christian. The Christian minority, which could be as large as 14% of the population, has been on the fence during the revolution, and some actively support the secular nationalist regime because they fear Muslim fundamentalists will come to power. Rajha’s assassination was intended to warn them to join the revolution or at least get out of its way. Likewise, Assef Shawkat, the deputy minister of defense, was an Allawite Shiite and was married to Bushra, the sister of Bashar al-Assad. If it is true that Hafez Makhlouf was wounded, he was another prominent Allawite. The rebels are largely (with significant exceptions) Sunni Muslims, from the majority community that has not typically held its fair proportion of high office.
4. The rein of terror unleashed by the Allawites on the Sunni rebels, using Ghost Brigade death squads, has backfired big time. Many Sunnis formerly allied with the regime have turned on it, including at the highest levels. The defection of the Sunni Tlass family, who had dominated the ministry of defense and regime business interests for decades, is a straw in the wind here.
5. The rocket-propelled grenades smuggled to the opposition by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as part of their proxy war against Iran, are allowing the rebels occasionally to kill tanks and take down helicopter gunships. The more such weapons they have, and the more sophisticated they are, the more they help level the playing field for the rebels.
6. Defections and desertions of Sunni enlisted men and low-level officers could accelerate in the wake of the bombings, as soldiers become convinced that the regime will eventually fall. They won’t want to risk their lives fighting for a ship that is anyway sinking, and won’t want to risk being seen as war criminals in the aftermath.
7. The economic disruptions in the capital could be decisive. With the rebels now fighting in districts like Midan and Tadamun, the Syrian business classes are not going to be making any money for a while. Since for them, the purpose of the Baath Party is to throw them licenses and government contracts, they will turn on it if it is unable to satisfy their needs.
8. The fall of the Baath regime in Syria would leave Hizbullah high and dry. Its rockets and other weapons, and some of its communications and code-breaking abilities, depended on Syrian help. The leader of the Hizbullah Shiites of south Lebanon (a neighbor of Syria), Hassan Nasrullah, gave a speech Wednesday unapologetically supporting the Baath regime and sending condolences to the families of those killed. If the regime does fall, the new government is likely to have a grudge with Hizbullah for a while. The downside of any weakening of Hizbullah is that it could encourage Israeli expansionism in South Lebanon, as in the 1980s and 1990s (Israel’s leaders have long wanted to steal the water in south Lebanon’s rivers).
9. On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood is a significant force among the rebels, and it likely will play an outsized role in a post-Baath Syria. It has ties to the Muslim fundamentalist party, Hamas, which dominates the Gaza Strip. Hamas could therefore become and more formidable adversary for Israel, if it is supported by both the Egyptian and Syrian branches of the Muslim Brotherhood.
10. Given the proliferation of medium weapons among the rebels, the longer the civil war goes on, the more likely these arms are to flow into Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, enabling small guerrilla groups in those countries to challenge the status quo. If the Baath hangs on for years rather than months, the whole region could see more decades of instability. That is why Jordan just declared martial law and has begun turning back refugees at the Syrian border, why Israel’s security establishment had an urgent meeting Wednesday, and why Syria’s other neighbors are watching developments there with anxiety and suspicion.

Al-Jazeera Video: Battles continue in Damascus after blast

Al-Jazeera Video: Inside Story - Has the Damascus attack broken al-Assad?

"The attack in Damascus has dealt a huge blow to the heart of the Syrian government. It killed the defence minister, his deputy and the interior minister. The national security chief was injured. Following the attack the government has said that it was happy to dialogue. Will the Damascus attack break or embolden the Assad government? Guest: Bassam Imadi, Elias Hanna, Christopher Swift."

Al-Jazeera Video: Nisreen El-Shamayleh on the Syrian crisis

Al-Jazeera Video: Zeina Khodr on the Syrian conflict

"Gun battles have continued in the capital for a fourth straight day. Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr is monitoring the situation from neigbouring Beirut."

The Butcher's Dead-End, by Khalil Bendib

(Click on cartoon to enlarge)

The Noose is Tightening Around the Neck of the Butcher of Damascus, by Emad Hajjaj

Current Al-Jazeera (Arabic) Online Poll

Do you support Western intervention at this stage to decide the situation in Syria?

With over 1,200 responding, 64% said no.

Richard Falk: Pros and cons of Western Palestinian solidarity

Sympathetic Westerners should avoid insisting on their own solutions, and let Palestinians lead instead.

"These comments reflect my reading of a passionate and provocative essay by Linah Alsaafin entitled "How obsession with 'non-violence' harms the Palestinian cause", which was published online in Electronic Intifada on July 11, 2012. The burden of her excellent article is the insistence that it is for the Palestinians, and only the Palestinians, to decide on the forms and nature of their resistance. She writes with high credibility as a recent graduate of Birzeit University who was born in Cardiff, Wales and lived in England and the United States, as well as Palestine.

She persuasively insists that for sympathetic observers and allies to worship at the altar of Palestinian non-violence is to cede to the West the authority to determine what are acceptable and unacceptable forms of Palestinian struggle. This is grotesquely hypocritical considering the degree to which Western militarism is violently unleashed around the planet to maintain structures of oppression and exploitation, more benignly described as "national interests". In effect, the culturally sanctioned political morality of the West is indicative of an opportunistically split personality: nonviolence for your struggle, violence for ours. Well-meaning liberals, by broadcasting such an insidious message, are not to be welcomed as true allies."
(Richard Falk is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.)

Syria crisis: aftermath of Damascus asssassinations - live updates

"In Beirut, Guardian reporter Luke Harding has been talking to influential columnist Rami Khouri, who today described the Assad regime as a "dead duck".

Khouri told him the government in Damascus is likely to survive for "no more than a couple of months", with the Syrian conflict now "speeded up" following yesterday's devastating Damascus bombing: "There is no other direction now than the collapse of the regime. Once the essential confidence of the people holding it up starts to shake the final collapse is very close," he said.

Khouri added that the circumstances of the bombing are murky, amid reports from neighbours that the national security headquarters in the capital where the blast allegedly went off appears undamaged.

"Is it an inside job? Or a palace coup that went wrong? We don't know. The problem is that this regime is very secretive," he said. "What we know is that the ability of this regime to govern has gone."

Assad's only remaining option is to flee the country, Khouri said – pointing out that this option is still eminently viable, since there is currently no international indictment against Syria's president.

"He [Assad] has lost the reform option. He has lost the dialogue option. The violence option has proved futile. His only option now is to get out of the country safely. He could still retire somewhere," he said....."

Syria crisis enters new phase of uncertainty

• White House says Assad is losing control
• UN security council to vote on sanctions
• Assad's wife rumoured to be in Russia

Ian Black, Martin Chulov and agencies, Thursday 19 July 2012

"Syria's uprising has entered uncharted territory after rebels fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad killed three of his top security chiefs in a devastating bomb attack in the heart of Damascus on Wednesday – the single worst loss for the government in 16 months of increasingly bloody struggle.

Mass defections of soldiers and a rampage by pro-regime militiamen were reported in the capital amid a swirl of rumours, including one that Assad's wife, Asma, had fled to Russia and another that troops were being issued with gas masks, raising fears of the use of chemical weapons.

The president's whereabouts was also unclear, with one unconfirmed report that he had been wounded and left Damascus for Latakia on the coast....."

Steve Bell on the Damascus bomb attack

UAE: Human rights lawyers among 13 detained as crackdown intensifies

18 July 2012

"The UAE authorities must immediately an unconditionally release two prominent human rights lawyers arrested in recent days, Amnesty International said.

Dr Mohamed ‘Abdullah al-Roken, a long-time Amnesty International member and a well-known human rights defender and lawyer, was arrested at 1:30 am on Tuesday as he drove to a Dubai police station to report the disappearance five hours earlier of his son Rashid Mohamed al-Roken and son-in-law ‘Abdullah al-Hajeri.

He was one of the defence lawyers in last year’s prominent case of five political activists – known as the ‘UAE 5’ – who were arrested, tried and imprisoned for defaming top UAE government officials.

He is among 13 men – including fellow human rights defender, the lawyer and former head of the UAE Jurists' Association Dr Mohamed al-Mansoori – who have been arrested since 16 July by state security officers (Amn al-Dawla).

“We believe Mohammad al-Roken and Mohammad al-Mansoori to be prisoners of conscience, held solely on account of their defence work as lawyers and other peaceful human rights activities. This is not the first time they have been persecuted for their legitimate human rights work.. They must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Ann Harrison, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.

“The UAE authorities must halt this intensified crackdown on human rights defenders and other activists across the Emirates.”....."

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Coming Soon....

Coming Soon....

Syria crisis: Four members of Assad inner circle killed in Damascus - live updates

The Guardian

• Defence minister and Assad's brother-in-law killed
• Assistant vice president and interior minister also dead
• Russia says 'decisive battle' is under way
• US defense secretary: Syria is 'spiralling out of control'
• Reports of widespread defections dismissed by regime• Read the latest summary

Israel’s Annexation Plan

What Occupation?

By Jonathan Cook

"The recently published report by an Israeli judge concluding that Israel is not in fact occupying the Palestinian territories – despite a well-established international consensus to the contrary – has provoked mostly incredulity or mirth in Israel and abroad....

There is a problem, nonetheless. If Israel takes Area C, it needs someone else responsible for the other 38 per cent of the West Bank – little more than 8 per cent of historic Palestine – to “fill the vacuum”, as Israeli commentators phrased it last week.

The obvious candidate is the Palestinian Authority, the Ramallah government-in-waiting led by Mahmoud Abbas. Its police forces already act as a security contractor for Israel, keeping in check Palestinians in the parts of the West Bank outside Area C. Also, as a recipient of endless international aid, the PA usefully removes the financial burden of the occupation from Israel.

But the PA’s weakness is evident on all fronts: it has lost credibility with ordinary Palestinians, it is impotent in international forums, and it is mired in financial crisis. In the long term, it looks doomed.

For the time being, though, Israel seems keen to keep the PA in place. Last month, for example, it was revealed that Israel had tried – even if unsuccessfully – to bail out the PA by requesting a $100 million loan from the International Monetary Fund on the PA’s behalf.

If the PA refuses to, or cannot, take on these remaining fragments of the West Bank, Israel may simply opt to turn back the clock and once again cultivate weak and isolated local leaders for each Palestinian city..."

Bomber Strikes Syrian Regime in Damascus, Killing Assad’s Defense Minister, Brother-in-Law

Democracy Now!

"A suicide bomber has struck a meeting of top Syrian officials in Damascus, killing Syria’s defense minister and the brother-in-law of President Bashar-al-Assad and dealing a major blow to the Assad regime. The defense minister, General Daoud Rajha, is the most senior government official to be killed since the Syrian uprising began 17 months ago. The bombing comes as the United Nations Security Council is set to vote today on a new measure responding to the crisis in Syria. We’re joined by Patrick Seale, a leading British writer on the Middle East....."

Al-Jazeera Video: Analyst, General Hisham Jaber on the Damascus blast

Al-Jazeera Video: Syrian journalist Thabet Salem on the Damascus blast

Al-Jazeera Video: Inside Story - Syrian conflict: The beginning of the end?

"The streets of Damascus have seen the heaviest fighting since the begining of the Syrian uprising 17 months ago. Since Friday, the capital has seen gunfights and shelling. And according to reports, mortars and helicopter gunships have been used. The fiercest fighting yet has been reported in various parts of the capital between rebel forces and government troops. These are significant developments - but does it mean the conflict is reaching its final decisive phase?"

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Al-Jazeera Video: Independent's Robert Fisk on the Damascus blast

"A suicide bomb blast at the national security headquarters in Rawda district in central Damascus has killed three people in President Bashar Al Assad's inner circle. Robert Fisk, the foreign correspondent for the Independent Newspaper in the UK, speaks from Beirut."

Leading Syrian regime figures killed in Damascus bomb attack

Rebels kill Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law, architect of the 16-month crackdown, and defence minister in Damascus

Ian Black and Martin Chulov, Wednesday 18 July 2012

"Syria's uprising has entered a dramatic new phase after rebels fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad killed the chief architect of the 16-month crackdown and the defence minister in a devastating bomb attack in the heart of Damascus.

Syrian state TV confirmed the death of Assef Shawkat, Assad's brother-in-law and the deputy head of the armed forces, and his closest security adviser, as well as Daud Rajha, the minister of defence and the regime's most senior Christian figure. Several others, including the interior minister, Mohammed Shaar, were wounded.

Explosions were also reported from the headquarters of the army's 4th division in Damascus – the regime's elite unit commanded by Assad's brother Maher.

Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, said a "decisive battle" had begun in Syria....

The attack was a deadly blow to the heart of the regime after two recent high-level defections – by a senior Republican Guard commander and Syria's ambassador to Iraq....

Shawkat, married to Assad's sister Bushra, was one of the most feared figures in the president's inner circle and had won the support of the clan's influential matriarch, Anisa. He was one of three central figures in the regime crackdown, along with Assad himself and his brother Maher. As Syria's overall security chief, he had key input into all military and intelligence operations. He is known to have survived an attempt to poison him in late May when a cook contaminated food that had been prepared for him and key members of the national security ministry.

Abu Hamza of the Free Syrian Army told the Guardian at the time that rebel forces were trying to recruit aides of regime figures to carry out future attacks. "We have had some success with this," he said. "Some have been with us for a long time and have not yet been given orders to move."....

Shawkat had also been a key point-man with Iran and with Hezbollah. Since the uprising started he had chaired key strategy meetings and had driven the regime's uncompromising and aggressive military response to the escalating dissent.....

Pro-regime Syrians appeared shocked by the news. "A lot of pro-Assad people are really panicking," said an opposition activist. "Now they sound really nervous.""

BREAKING: Assef Shawkat is dead

"Hezbollah TV is now saying Assad's brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, is dead.
Reuters says the suicide bomber worked as a bodyguard for President Assad's inner circle

Damascus blast kills Syrian defence minister

General Daoud Rajha is killed in suicide bomb attack on the National Security headquarters in Damascus.


"The Syrian Defence minister has been killed and several other senior security officials wounded when a suicide bomber stroke the National Security building in Damascus during a meeting of Cabinet ministers and senior security officials.

Syria state television said that General Daoud Rajha was killed in Wednesday's suicide bomb attack and that several other participants in a top-level meeting who were wounded in the blast and were to Al-Shami hospital in the capital for treatment.

Al Jazeera's Rula Amin, reporting from Beirut ,said that It had been confirmed that the minister of defence, Daoud Rajha, had been killed, while the minister of interior and the head of the National Security office had been critically wounded.

Activists contacted by telephone reported an increased security presence around a hospital near the site of the reported explosion in northern Damascus, which they said indicated that senior officials had been wounded.

The explosion came as clashes beween the Syrian military and the Free Syrian Army in Damascus entered a fourth straight day....."

Syrian defense minister killed in Damascus explosion: state TV

"(Reuters) - Syrian Defense Minister Daoud Rajha was killed by a bomb which exploded during a meeting of ministers and security officials at a national security building in Damascus on Wednesday, state television said....."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Al-Jazeera Video: Qatif unrest and what lies ahead

"We look at unrest in Qatif, Saudi Arabia, as Shia protests continue to escalate."

Arab instability and US strategy

Washington's assumption that dictatorships breed stability has been fundamentally challenged by the past year's events.

By Joseph Massad

"....The Americans remain committed not to "democracy" but to stability, a strategy identified by US academic and government consultant Samuel P Huntington in his classic academic book of 1968 on the importance of political order and stability in the changing Third World for imperial interests. That democracy is seen as inherently unstable and dictatorship as ensuring stability is no longer a viable course of action for members of the US administration, though they are still undecided on whether this understanding should be abandoned in some countries while maintained in others. Whereas the region continues to lack the democracy for which its people have been fighting for more than a century, despite the "Arab Spring" and the regime changes it elicited, the main achievement of the uprisings has so far been an instability that could end up changing the strategic rules of the game that the United States introduced to the region after World War II. And that is good news for the Arab peoples. "

Clinton in Cairo

What’s the U.S. Up to in Egypt?



"....So what is one to make of the American policy in Egypt and the broader Middle East, especially after the Arab Spring?....

As the Arab Spring was increasingly taking hold across the region since early 2011, the American administration slowly adopted a policy of selectively abandoning its long-term dictator allies in favor of a new realignment in the region. Such managed transition, it is thought by American strategists, would not only preserve America’s long term interests, but would also consolidate its capacity to face the new challenges as enunciated in the U.S. strategic vision of the new global threats.....

Earlier this year, Burns sat with Al-Shater in Cairo where the meeting focused on the group’s position towards the peace treaty with Israel. During the encounter Burns promised the MB leader that the U.S. could help secure from the IMF and the Arab Gulf countries as much as $20 billion if the treaty is honored. Within weeks the MB sent delegations and messages to the U.S. promising the preservation of the status quo.....

Moreover, throughout the dialogue with the MB the U.S. discovered the group to be pragmatic, willing to do business with the West, play by the Western set of rules, adopt a Western style capitalist economic model albeit with some social safety nets, as well as being sensitive to many of the U.S. strategic concerns, especially with regard to the American economic and security needs......

In June, President Obama met with a large group of major American Jewish leaders in the White House. According to DEBKA, an Israeli website close to Israeli intelligence agencies, the president assured the group that “President Morsi would be required to devote a section of his earliest speech on foreign affairs to the specific affirmation of his profound commitment to the peace pact with Israel.” Within hours of being declared president, Morsi gave his assurance that Egypt would honor all its international treaty obligations in a not-so-disguised reference to its treaty with Israel.....

A few days before Clinton was to arrive in Cairo, Morsi visited Saudi Arabia on July 11 in his first foreign trip after becoming president. A week earlier a Saudi academic close to the monarchy wrote an article in the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper titled “What the Gulfies want from Brotherhood’s Morsi?” He asked the Egyptian president to provide public assurances on four major concerns to the Arab Gulf monarchies. They were namely, not to interfere in their internal affairs through the elaborate MB structures in their countries, to side with them against Iran, to favor the relationship with Saudi Arabia and its neighbors over a potential close relationship with Turkey, and most interestingly for Egypt to keep the same distance with regard to the Palestinian factions despite the fact that the Mubarak regime favored Fatah and kept the political and economic pressures on Hamas for years, the same group that shared its Islamic background with the Egyptian president.

Remarkably, within a week Morsi complied with all the Saudi demands and gave several statements addressing their concerns.....

.....In essence, he promised the Saudis that Egypt would give the same consideration to those who cooperate with Israeli intelligence and security apparatuses against the Palestinian resistance and those who are its main targets and victims.....

Danny Ayalon, the Israeli deputy foreign minister, told Israel Radio, “She is bringing a very calming message. By their (the U.S.) reckoning as well, Egypt’s agenda, and certainly President Morsi’s agenda, will be a domestic agenda.” He continued, “There is no change (on Egypt’s commitment to the peace treaty) and I surmise there will not be in the foreseeable future.”

But the real test of Morsi’s policy with regard to American and Israeli dictates might be in fulfilling his campaign promise to lift the siege on Gaza. According to Israeli sources Clinton extracted a promise from him during her recent visit to maintain the blockade......

In short, the strategy is to give the Islamic rising powers a chance to govern as long as they agree to: keep the Americans in, the Chinese and Russians out, the Iranians down, and the Israelis safe....."

Assad will use chemical weapons: top defector

Gaddafi: You Are Next; See You in Hell.

"Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will use chemical weapons against opposition forces and may have already deployed them, Nawaf Fares, the first Syrian ambassador to defect, told the BBC on Monday.

Fares, the most prominent politician to defect since the uprising against Assad began, insisted that the president's days were numbered but warned he would be prepared "to eradicate the entire Syrian people" to remain in power.

When asked by the BBC's Frank Gardner whether that would mean the use of chemical weapons, Fares said: "I am convinced that if Bashar al-Assad's regime is further cornered by the people -- he would use such weapons."

"There is information, unconfirmed information, that chemical weapons have been used in Homs," the former ambassador to Iraq added....."

Al-Jazeera Video: Wounded Syrians flee to Jordan for treatment

"The people in Syria's Homs have fled to neighbouring Jordan to escape months of shelling by government forces.

But many of them, including children, have borne the brunt of violence.

The members of the Jasem Qaddour family suffered severe burns when their house was shelled.

They are now receiving medical attention in the neighbouring country.

Al Jazeera's Nisreen El Shamayleh reports from the capital Amman."

Al-Jazeera Video: لقاء خاص - المنصف المرزوقي.. العلاقات التونسية المصرية

Syrian general, officers flee to Turkey-Turkish official

"(Reuters) - A Syrian brigadier-general and several other defected military officers were among 1,280 Syrians to have fled from Syria to Turkey overnight, a Turkish official said on Tuesday.

The official said the latest defections brought the number of Syrian generals sheltering in Turkey to 18, including a retired general. An undisclosed number of officers also defected with their families, totaling 68 people including family members.

A total of 1,280 refugees crossed over into Turkey's southern Hatay province overnight, bringing the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey to 42,680, the official said......"

Syria fighting rages in capital, Russia pressed

"(Reuters) - Syrian rebels and government troops clashed in central Damascus for a third day in the fiercest fighting inside the capital since the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad erupted last year, but neither side appeared able to deliver a decisive blow.

Government troops also used helicopter gunships and artillery to target rebel fighters in the northern and southern outskirts and rebels said they had killed 70 security forces and pro-Assad militiamen known as shabbiha over the past 24 hours....."

Clashes in Syrian capital revive calls for action against Bashar al-Assad

Regime defector expected to outline leadership bid as deadly wave of clashes sweeps Damascus

Martin Chulov and Julian Borger, Monday 16 July 2012

".....Now, almost 17 months later, an armed opposition is continuing to show signs of being able to hold ground in strategically important areas, a far cry from even three months ago, when rebel groups were focusing on hit-and-run operations.....

The already convoluted and fraught internal politics of the Syrian opposition is likely to take another dramatic turn in the next few days, when Manaf Tlass, a prominent Republican Guard general who defected to Paris earlier this month, is expected to deliver a speech aimed at underlining his claims to a post-Assad leadership position.

"He is going to approach the political, military, and social vision for the future," said a close friend of the Tlass family.

"It will give his impression of all aspects – the FSA (Free Syrian Army), the regime, the regional situation, and the international setting. The speech is under construction and there are a lot of people working on it."

The family friend said that Tlass was consulting foreign governments as well as the opposition Syrian National Council about the speech. He added that in the 10 days since Tlass fled Syria the Assad regime has sent a series of intermediaries to try to lure him and his father, Mustafa Tlass, a former Syrian defence minister, back to Damascus.

"The regime sent messengers from every direction, offering the father a lot of sexy deals, that he was going to be vice-president and offering Manaf the ministry of defence," the friend said, adding that the Damascus government's recent public acknowledgement of Tlass's departure probably reflected its acceptance that he is not coming back.

"We expect that the moment Manaf goes public with his speech they are going to start attacking the family," the friend added......"

Syria crisis: border tribes could finish off Assad regime

The Red Cross's declaration that Syria is in a state of civil war is an important milestone as government control starts to weaken

Julian Borger, Monday 16 July 2012

".....The intensity of fighting in Damascus reached a new high on Monday, with plumes of black smoke rising above the capital and tanks in suburban streets. But the fate of Syria may also be decided in the remoter governorates, away from the camera, where the ground is shifting, perhaps decisively.

Hassan Hassan, a Syrian columnist at UAE-based the National newspaper, described those shifts in his home region along the Iraqi border as a way of explaining the defection last week of the ambassador to Baghdad, Nawaf al-Fares. At the beginning of the revolt last year, Hassan says, Fares armed his clansmen in the region, part of the Egaidat confederation, and organised them against other Sunni tribes who had joined the insurgency.

His position, however, became untenable last month, when the government mounted an offensive on his home town of Deir ez-Zour, allegedly killing 350 people. "The tribes are aware their stance today will affect their reputations for generations to come," Hassan wrote. "As a leader of a prominent tribe, Mr Al Fares's loyalty to the regime is secondary to his loyalty to the tribe and its place in the region. The news of his defection has already been received well by many tribal leaders. The defection of Fares, a longtime loyalist, shows the regime has lost its ability to turn the tribes against each other, and use them to maintain relative calm. It is yet another example of how the regime has become its own enemy,"

The conservative Gulf monarchies, who are determined to bring Assad down and are widely reported to be supplying arms to the Free Syrian Army, have long identified these tribal allegiances as the key to the regime's survival, and have gone about courting them. It is no accident Fares has made his new base in Qatar.

"The regime is desperate – at all levels they know it is dead, it is a matter of time," Fares said on al-Jazeera over the weekend.

The question now is how much time. Fares said the relatives he left behind were not being targeted by military interrogators. But the regime still has fear at its disposal, and that can be a powerful glue."

Guardian Video: Syrian troops clash with rebels in Damascus

On the third day of fighting in Damascus, unverified amateur footage appears to show rebel fighters clashing with government forces' tanks on the streets of the Syrian capital. Video obtained from social media also appears to show one of Syria's major highways blocked by anti-government protesters, Tuesday 17 July 2012

On the 60th anniversary of the coup

By Sharif Abdel Kouddous
Al-Masry Al-Youm
Mon, 16/07/2012

"The inauguration of the country’s first elected president on 30 June was meant to mark the final step in the country’s so-called “transition,” with a long-heralded handover of power from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to a civilian government, complete with an elected parliament and a new constitution.

Instead, a year and a half after the revolution began, astonishingly little has been accomplished with regard to laying down the foundations of a post-Hosni Mubarak state. The popularly elected People’s Assembly was dissolved, and the Shura Council appears to be headed to a similar fate. The Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting the new constitution is facing deep divisions, and an upcoming court case challenging its legitimacy may result in the disbanding of the 100-member body for a second time.

In fact, the presidency is the only significant elected representative office in government, though its powers have been severely curtailed by an 11th-hour constitutional declaration, issued unilaterally by the ruling generals, that carves out SCAF as a fourth branch of government in what has been dubbed the final stage of a constitutional coup.....

The only group that has unwaveringly stood against military rule for much of the transition has been the core of the revolutionary youth through continued street protests, advocacy and guerrilla media campaigns. For their troubles they have been shot at, tear gassed, beaten, arrested, blinded and killed. An entire generation has spent the past year and a half shuttling between hospitals, morgues, police stations and jails in a struggle for which they were insulted and vilified by much of the political elite.

While SCAF appears to be winning the fight, in many ways it finds itself in a weaker position than before the revolution began. There is active opposition to the military’s plans and open discussion and debate over its political and economic privileges. Last month’s power grab can be interpreted as an act of desperation as opposed to hubris. In that sense, the military’s fears augur well for the prospect of change."

Monday, July 16, 2012

Al-Jazeera Video: Rami Khouri speaks to Al Jazeera

"Rami Khouri, director of the Esam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, talks to Al Jazeera about the diplomatic tensions between Syria the international community."

Al-Jazeera Video: Fighting rages in the Syrian capital for a second day

"With reports of blocked highways, snipers and explosions, Monday has shaped up to be another day of intense violence in the Syrian capital of Damascus.

Al Jazeera's James Bays has more."

Blanket Thinkers (Must Read)

by Robin Yassin-Kassab
One of my infantile leftist ex-friends recently referred to the Free Syrian Army as a ‘sectarian gang’. The phrase may well come from Asa’ad Abu Khalil, who seems to have a depressingly large audience, but it could come from any of a large number of blanket thinkers in the ranks of the Western left. I admit that I sometimes indulged in such blanket thinking in the past. For instance, I used to refer to Qatar and Saudi Arabia as ‘US client states’, as if this was all to be said about them. I did so in angry response to the mainstream Western media which referred to pro-Western Arab tyrannies as ‘moderate’; but of course Qatar and Saudi Arabia have their own, competing agendas, and do not always behave as the Americans want them to. This is more true now, in a multipolar world and in the midst of a crippling economic crisis in the West, than it was ten years ago. Chinese workers undertaking oil and engineering projects in the Gulf are one visible sign of this shifting order.
(My talk of ‘infantile leftists’ does not include the entire left of course. Simon Assaf of the Socialist Workers,for instance, understands what’s happening. So does Max Blumenthal. And many others.)
The problem with blanket thinkers is that they are unable to adapt to a rapidly shifting reality. Instead of evidence, principles and analytical tools, they are armed only with ideological blinkers. Many of the current crop became politicised by Palestine and the invasion of Iraq, two cases in which the imperialist baddy is very obviously American. As a result, they read every other situation through the US-imperialist lens.
Qaddafi had opened up Libyan oil fields to Western exploitation, he bought Western weapons, and he tortured rendered suspects for the CIA. Inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, the Libyans rose against the tyranny with incredible courage. When Britain and France, for their own reasons, helped to hasten the end by degrading Qaddafi’s mercenary forces (important but not decisive help – Qaddafi’s fall was effected by a rising in Tripoli and an influx of fighters from the Jebel Nafusa), blanket thinkers very insultingly painted the popular revolution as a foreign plot. Some even retrospectively raised Qaddafi to the rank of anti-imperialist hero. And since the fall of the old regime they’ve done everything they can to paint Libya as a failed state, a site of genocide, a new Iraq. It’s pretty insulting to Iraq as well as to Libya.
The fact that politics and civil society were effectively banned for decades, and the fact that Qaddafi imposed a civil war on his people, traumatising them and causing thousands of young men to take up arms, means that the new Libya faces imense problems. This is not news. Whenever a dictatorship ends violently, all the problems which have been repressed will burst forth. It’s like taking the lid off a steam cooker: all the good and evil in the society, all the intelligence and stupidity that was previously hidden, will spill out. This is not an argument for keeping the dictatorship. Several hundred have been killed in Libya since the fall of Qaddafi, mainly in battles between rival militias. Sometimes this has had a tribal or revenge aspect, but there has been no Iraq-style ethnic cleansing. There is a small separatist movement in the east. Fringe Islamist extremist groups have made a lot of noise. Many of the armed young men are reluctant to give up their arms. But there has been a very successful election. If the new government is able to absorb the militias into a national army and to resolve tribal, regional and other disputes within an accepted political process, Libya can look forward to a much better future. Opinion polls and conversations with Libyans show that an overwhelmingly large majority are happy that Qaddafi has gone and are optimistic about the future. But what does Libyan opinion matter to blanket thinkers?
After 17 months of slaughter in Syria, there is no no-fly zone. The extent of Western and ‘client’ intervention is this: Saudi Arabia and Qatar may be providing a small amount of light weaponry. The Turks may be helping to coordinate the weapons deliveries. The CIA appears to have a few men on the ground watching where the weapons are going and hoping (vainly) to ensure that they’ll never end up in the hands of anti-Zionist militants. On the other side stands a nakedly sectarian regime which considers its people slaves and murders them and destroys their cities with Russian weapons. Imperialist Russia, which has oppressed Muslims in the Caucuses and central Asia, and which bears half the blame for all the Cold War hot wars in Africa, is resupplying the regime with attack helicopters, tank parts and ammunition as the death toll surpasses seventeen thousand. Russia also protects the regime from condemnation at the UN security council. It plays the same role with regards to Syria that the United States plays with Israel. But how do the blanket thinkers see the situation? For them it’s yet another clear cut case of American imperialist aggression against a noble resistance regime, and once again the people are passive tools.
At best they are passive tools. They are also depicted as wild Muslims, bearded and hijabbed, who do not deserve democracy or rights because they are too backward to use them properly. Give them democracy and they’ll vote for the Muslim Brotherhood, and slaughter the Alawis and drive the Christians to Beirut. The blanket thinkers search for evidence of crimes committed by the popular resistance, and when they find them (usually on very flimsy evidence) they use them to smear the entire movement. They demand the resistance negotiate with a regime which has proved again and again that its only strategy is slaughter. They demand that the people remain peaceful as their children are tortured, their women raped, their neighbourhoods levelled. Leftist blanket thinkers do not apply the same criteria to the popular resistance of the Palestinians. It’s Zionists who do that.
To call the Free Syrian Army a sectarian gang is tantamount to calling the Syrian people a sectarian gang. It betrays a willed ignorance of reality. The FSA was formed in response to the sickening violence perpetrated by the Syrian regime, which at this stage is certainly a sectarian gang. Its Alawi military units work with armed Alawi civilians to slaughter Sunnis. This is a disaster for the Alawis and everyone else; it sows the seeds of a potential war which would destroy the country for generations, and it’s one of the first reasons why the regime must go as soon as possible. But the FSA is in reality hundreds of local militias which sometimes cooperate. It consists of defected soldiers (these people are heroes – they fled the army at huge personal risk because they were unable to stomach murdering their people; most soldiers who try to defect are killed before they leave base) and local men who have taken up arms to defend their neighbourhoods. Because the FSA is made of ordinary men, it covers an enormous range of political opinion. Some fighters are disillusioned Baathists, some are secularists, some leftists, some support the Muslim Brotherhood and some are attracted by extremist Wahhabi rhetoric. Some, I’m sure, are criminals, because some of the Syrian people are criminal. Some will be in it in the hopes of financial or sexual profit, because that’s the way people are.
Most are apolitical people, except for the fact that they want to bring down the tyranny. They fight because they have no choice. Of course, there is a huge danger that apolitical people will be easily manipulated by sectarian rhetoric, especially given that their enemy instrumentalises sectarianism. This is certainly a difficult period for revolutions in the Muslim world and internationally. The collapse of leftist thinking and reach, and the shrinking of public debate by dictatorships and consumerism, has left the way open to retrograde forms of religious or nationalist politics. Some of the battle videos labelled ‘Free Syrian Army’ look and sound depressingly similar to jihadist videos from Iraq. But for now it’s mainly a problem of style and ignorance, and it can easily be misinterpreted by an orientalist eye. Most Syrian people are religious, whether we like it or not. But most Syrian people are also aware that a sectarian war would produce no winners. The Allahu Akbar chant expresses a faith which is necessary to overcome the fear of being shot. It doesn’t autmomatically mean ‘Kill the Kuffar’. (But who am I talking to? The Palestinians use religious rhetoric and talk about ‘the Jews’ rather than ‘the Zionists’, and it doesn’t bother the blanket thinkers for a moment).
The longer the necessary fight goes on the more brutalised the people will become, and the more likely that vengeful sectarian voices will dominate. It is the duty of any right-thinking person, leftist or otherwise, to support the oppressed people in their struggle. Anyone who does so, and who respects the Syrians enough to base their comments on knowledge rather than assumption, will have earned the right to offer political advice to the Syrians.
The FSA is inevitably disorganised and outgunned. But it’s a lot more organised than it was a few months ago, and it is liberating territory. It fights with commitment and incredible resilience. Today the battle is in inner Damascus.
And a few days ago it was in the Yarmouk and Palestine refugee camps, which brings me finally to the strange fact that blanket thinkers persist in thinking of the Syrian regime as in some way a threat to Israel. It’s true that Syria helped Hizbullah stand firm, and this is not a small thing. It’s also true that the Syrian regime has massacred Palestinians in Tel Zaatar and other Lebanese camps, that since 1973 the border with the occupied Golan has been quieter than borders with states enjoying peace agreements with Israel, and that Syria has never even tried to shoot at the Israeli planes which have bombed its territory since Bashaar inherited power. But things have become clearer since the uprising began. Rami Makhlouf told the New York Times that Israeli security depended on the Syrian regime’s security.
Paul Woodward at War in Context quotes Reuters on the regime’s recent transportation of chemical weapons:An Israeli official said however the movements reflected an attempt by President Bashar al-Assad to make “arrangements to ensure the weapons do not fall into irresponsible hands”.
“That would support the thinking that this matter has been managed responsibly so far.”
Woodward then comments: So, while the word from Damascus is that “terrorists” armed with “Israeli-made machine guns” conducted the massacre in Tremseh yesterday, the word from Tel Aviv is that Syria’s chemical weapons are nothing to worry about so long as they remain in the responsible hands of the government.
There might be a certain amount of truth in that statement. Still, it’s not exactly the rhetoric one might expect from a representative of an alliance that is supposedly gunning for Assad’s downfall. On the contrary, it reflects the fact that Israel would be much happier to see Assad remain in power.
Here’s a simpler proposition for the blanket thinkers: Hizbullah won victories because it respects its people, because it is of its people. A regime which murders its people and destroys the national infrastructure, which plays with the dynamite of sectarian conflict and puts the whole people’s future in question, would be incapable of winning a victory even if it wanted to.
On Friday tens of thousands protested against regime barbarism in the Palestinian camps of Damascus. Regime forces opened fire, murdering eleven. Many more were dragged from their homes to be tortured in detention. Professional liar and regime spokesman Jihad Maqdisi then described Palestinians as ‘impolite guests,’ outraging Syrians and Palestinians, who are the same people, now more than ever.