Violence in Syria has continued without interruption, in spite of a deal between Damascus and the Arab League reached several weeks ago. Under the agreement, President Bashar Al-Assad was to halt the military crackdown against an uprising that, according to the latest United Nations figures, has so far claimed more than 5,000 lives. The Arab-brokered plan called not only for Syria to end the violence, but to withdraw military troops and equipment from towns and residential districts across Syria. Assad also agreed to release all those detained during the uprising and allow the Arab League and foreign media to enter Syria and report freely on the situation. Middle East Voices is launching an effort to gather and highlight the most compelling and, in some cases, disturbing clips. Eyewitnesses or anyone in contact with sources on the ground are encouraged to submit images and video documenting events. Please send information and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. To see our coverage for November 2011, click here.
Friday, December 30, 2011- Friday of the March to Freedom
Today we saw nearly unprecedented numbers of Syrians to march on city centers after midday prayers. The video above shows thousands of protesters converging on the center of Yabroud, a suburb of Damascus. Similiar scenes played out in city after city across the country, in response to a call to action by activists.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says as many as 250,000 gathered in 74 different locations in Idlib province–30,000 in Saraqeb alone, chanting against the regime. In Douma, as many as 70,000 staged a sit-in in full view of Arab monitors. Activists say Syrian security forces used guns, “nail bombs” and stun grenades to disperse protesters. The Local Coordination Committees report more than 30 are dead.
At the same time, the Syrian News Agency reports large, spontaneous gatherings of Syrians supporting regime efforts at reform and protesting foreign intervention in Syrian affairs.
The Reuters news agency reports that an Arab League monitor took up a loudspeaker to clarify the mission’s goal to an angry crowd gathered outside of a Douma mosque:
Our goal is to observe…it is not to remove the president, our aim is to return Syria to peace and security.
He did admit that “there is blood being shed”.
There is little doubt that the presence of Arab monitors has reinvigorated the protest movement. Today’s demonstrations are expected to send a strong message to the observer team. Earlier this week, mission head General Mustafa al-Dabi generated controversy and skepticism after he told news agencies that the situation in Syria, in his eyes, was “reassuring so far.”
Mustafa Dabi is a veteran Sudanese military intelligence officer who formerly served under Sudan’s President Omar al Bashir. The latter is now wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Darfur.
December 23, 2011 – “Friday of the Protocol of Death”
The Syrian news agency SANA reports that two “terrorist attacks” carrying the “blueprints of al-Qaeda” today targeted State Security buildings in Damascus, killing many soldiers and civilians. The announcement, consisting of only a few lines, was accompanied by a long series of extraordinarily graphic photos of the victims.
In a separate article, SANA quotes Lebanese Member of Parliament Walid Sukariyeh, saying the suicide bombings come “in the service of the Zio-American project”:
…the US Administration has now turned to implementing in Syria the same scheme it used in Afghanistan and Iraq, through directing al-Qaeda and its Takfiri agents into killing civilians…
London’s Guardian newspaper is carrying an editorial questioning the timing of the suicide attack:
Arab League observers had barely started work in Damascus when the message that their hosts most wanted them to hear was delivered with unmistakable force…But any sorrow for the victims must surely be mitigated by the fact that the incidents fit straight into the official narrative: anti-regime activists weren’t peaceful protesters wanting reform after all, and talk of peaceful change was always a veneer for the stalking horse of al-Qaida.
Local Coordination Committee spokesperson Rafif Jouejati tells us that the Syrian opposition believes the bombings were part of an Assad plot to divert from ongoing shelling and shooting still taking place across Syria. The LCC has reports 12 dead in Homs, Hama and Douma.
On Facebook, the Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Centre writes:
Welcome to the Friday of the Protocol of Death – this is the name protesters have given to the much delayed Arab League plan which has lost all credibility inside Syria…
Meanwhile, the violence continues in Syria.
Thursday, December 22, 2011 – Advance Team of Observers Arrive
A video distress call in English from Idlib
Eleven Arab League officials–among them financial, administrative and legal experts, arrived in Syria today. They are tasked with paving the way for official observers whose job will be to monitor Syria’s compliance with the Arab League peace plan. Their visit comes after two days of intense fighting in Idlib province which left as many as 250 civilians dead.
Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby says Syria will be held responsible for the safety of the mission. He has also expressed hopes today that there will be no violence in areas visited by the team. He also says monitors should only need a week to determine whether Syria is complying with the peace plan. The Syrian News Agency SANA reportsthat the Assad regime has sent a letter to the UN General Assembly, Security Council and Human Rights Council, complaining that recent reports by these entities are “politicized, non-professional, selective and non-objective.” The letter reportedly accuses UN report authors of turning a “blind eye” to human rights violations perpetrated by terrorist groups, as well as to money, weapons and other support that has been donated to “sabotage Syria and kill people.”
In a flagrant violation of the right to life…Syrian citizens have been terrified, forced to flee their houses, killed and mutilated to divide the country into sectarian regions. Don’t they deserve to get attention?
Syria said today that more than 2,000 members of its security forces have been killed since the uprisings began in March. The British-based Avaaz rights group says it has evidence that more than 6,237 civilians and security forces have been killed in Syria, 617 of them by torture. The group says at least 400 of them were children. This number is significantly higher than UN estimates of 5,000 dead. Avaaz says each death has been confirmedby three independent sources, including family members and/or the imam who presided over the funeral procession.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011 – “Not Genocide Yet, but a Massacre of Genocidal Proportions…”
So reports Local Coordination Committees spokesperson Rafif Jouejati, who tells VOA that scores of Syrian men, women and children have been shot dead over the past 48 hours in what is being billed on Twitter as a “Christmas Massacre” by Syrian forces. The few videos that are circulating in support of these alleged atrocities are too gruesome to feature here.
It is difficult to verify the actual death toll, as reports are scattered. Jouejati says her organization has documented 250 civilian deaths since Monday. In addition, there are reports that as many as 70 military defectors have been executed by Syrian forces in Idlib province. The White House today said it is “deeply disturbed” by these reports. In a statement, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney warned Assad that the violence must stop: “We urge Syria’s few remaining supporters in the international community to warn Damascus that if the Arab League initiative is once again not fully implemented, the international community will take additional steps to pressure the Assad regime to stop its crackdown.” Analysts are suggesting that this may be a last ditch effort by the Syrian regime to squash the opposition before the first wave of international observers arrive tomorrow. France today slammedthe Assad regime for what Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero called an “unprecedented massacre.” He urged Russia to move faster toward an agreement on a Security Council resolution:
Everything must be put in motion to end this murderous spiral into which Bashar al-Assad is dragging his people, deeper each day.
The opposition Syrian National Council issued this statement, calling for:
- An emergency meeting of the Arab League to condemn the bloody massacres committed by the Assad regime and to cooperate with the United Nations in taking the necessary measures to protect Syrian civilians.
- An emergency U.N. Security Council session to discuss the regime’s massacres in Zawyiyeh mountain, Idlib, and Homs, in particular; issue international condemnation thereof; declare the cities and towns being brutally attacked “safe zones” that enjoy international protection; and force the regime’s forces to withdraw from said areas.
- A declaration that Zawiyeh mountain, Idlib, and Homs are disaster areas exposed to large-scale genocide and displacement operations by the Syrian regime’s militias; we urge the International Red Crescent and other relief organizations to intervene directly and provide urgent humanitarian assistance.
The Syrian News Agency makes no mention of the offensive, but reports the deaths of six army and police officers, killed while “performing their national duty in Idlib and Homs.” Meanwhile, video purportedly from Homs, shows demonstrators pledging that their rebellion will continue no matter whether international observers arrive or not. This video, apparently shot in Idlib, seems to show an activist hide-out raided by pro-Assad “gangs,” as they are being referred to by the voice in the clip. Also today, SANA reportsthat Syria’s Minister of Presidential Affairs went to the North Korean Embassy in Damascus, where he offered Syria’s condolences on the death of the country’s leader Kim Jong Il.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011 – GCC to Assad: Stop the Killing Machine!
An Arab League official told media today that an advance team of Arab observers will travel to Syria Thursday. The team will be led by Sameer Seif el-Yazal, the League’s Assistant Secretary-General. The Syrian news agency SANA reports that the League has appointed Sudanese Lt. General Mustafa Ahmad Mustafa al-Dabi to head the main observer mission. Meanwhile, Gulf Ministers today urgedSyria to “immediately halt its killing machine, put an end to bloodshed, lift all signs of armed conflict and release prisoners, as a first step towards implementing the Arab peace plan. Saudi Foreign Minister Price Saud al-Faisal made the statement at the end of a two-day high level meeting in Riyadh:
If there is goodwill when the protocol was signed, then these steps must be immediately taken in order to implement the remaining steps of the protocol.
Meanwhile, Syria continued its military crackdown on protesters. This video appears to show tanks deployed in Hama. Activists report 11 civilians were killed today. This video purports to show members of the Free Syrian Army in Deir Ez-Zor destroying Syrian military machinery: In other news, Syria’s President today issued a new retroactive law for 2011, setting the penalty of 15 years’ hard labor for arms smugglers and a life sentence of hard labor for anyone who smuggled weapons with the intention of either selling them or committing “terrorist acts.” In some cases, the law applies the death penalty.
Monday, December 19, 2011 – Analysts Ask, ‘So What’s the Catch?’
Syria today agreed to allow Arab League observers into the country to monitor the crackdown on anti-government protesters. Faisal al-Mekdad, Syria’s deputy foreign minister, signed an agreement in Cairo that will offer rights and aid groups one month’s access to Syria. Arab League head Nabil Elarabi says he expects the mission to begin within the next three days. Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said today that the decision to sign the protocol was Syria’s own decision, based on the interests of the Syrian people. However, analysts are skeptical. Syrian National Council head Burhan Ghallioun says he believes Syria is only buying time in order to ward off possible intervention by the UN Security Council. Salman Sheikh, who heads the Brookings Institute’s Doha Center, told VOA that if Bashar al-Assad were serious about ending the violence, he would have done so already. He also expressed concern that if Syrian soldiers continue to defect, this might give the regime a pretext to use greater force, especially in Homs. We are hearing that as many as 70 military deserters were gunned down along the Turkish border. Activists say 25 civilians were killed today, including two children. Syrian news reports that 9 soldiers were buried today. Also today, the U.N. General Assembly gave overwhelmingly approval to a resolution that condemns what it describes as “grave and systematic human rights violations” that have occurred during the nine-month insurrection. The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn human rights violations by the Assad regime. The resolution, which is non-binding, calls on Syrian authorities to implement the Arab League peace plan – that is, withdrawing troops and equipment from the streets, releasing political prisoners and allowing international observers into the country. Today’s New York Times published an article on the ways in which Syrian protesters are using humor and creativity to express their demands for change. The article highlights a 15-part video series called “Top Goon: Diaries of a Little Dictator.” In this episode, below, “Beeshu” Assad is plagued by nightmares:
Sunday, December 18, 2011 – Possible Breakthrough on Horizon?
Video (above) shows military and shabiha entering the Saqba neighborhood of Damascus
Today witnessed an escalation in armed clashes in Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports an army officer was among six Syrian soldiers killed in the town of Qusair in Homs; the Local Coordination Committees say 20 civilians are dead; and the Syrian news agency SANA reportsthat seven army and security personnel were buried today:
The families of the martyrs expressed pride in the martyrdom of their sons, hoping that the blood of martyrs will further strengthen Syria and foil the schemes and conspiracies hatched against it.
Meanwhile, the Arab League has suggested that the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, may be on the verge of agreeing to the Arab initiative to end the violence and allow observers into Syria. Both Qatar Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani and Oman Foreign Minister Youssef bin Alawi told reporters today they are optimistic. The League has been working for weeks to convince Assad to accept its plan. In late November, Arab ministers imposed a bloc of sanctions against Damascus. Assad later said het would allow a mission, but with a number of conditions–chief among them, the removal of the sanctions. If no progress is made by tomorrow, Alawi says the League will meet again Wednesday to ” take decisions.” He did not offer any further details.
Saturday, December 17, 2011 – Arabs consider a Peace Plan of their Own
Qatar’s Prime Minister says the Arab League will meet Wednesday to consider drafting their own cease-fire plan to the UN Security Council. Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani Hamad said Arab ministers would prefer to see Arab resolutions adopted over those proposed by other nations: “We are not talking about military action,” al Thani said, “but we will ask the Security Council to adopt the Arab initiative.’ Five member states held an emergency meeting in Doha today after a meeting of the full 22-member League postponed an emergency meeting in Cairo, originally scheduled for today. Meanwhile, Iraq’s National Security Adviser Falah al-Fayadh is in Damascus to pitch a separate Iraqi proposal to end the violence. Al Jazeera reports al-Fayyad will attempt to convince Syria and its opposition to meet in Iraq to discuss ending Ba’ath party rule, reworking the constitution and holding free and fair elections. The SANA news agency reportsSyrian President Bashar al-Assad expressed his appreciation to al-Fayadh for the “genuine efforts exerted by some Arab countries to help Syria overcome its crisis.” Activists on Twitter report as many as 24 have been killed in Syria today.
Friday, December 16, 2011 – Arab League Backing Down, while Russia Shifting Stance?
Today, as the above video from Damascus shows, larger numbers of protesters took to the streets after prayers today than we have seen in many months. Syrian activists say as many as 200 thousand participated in demonstrations today in response to news that the Arab League has postponed a meeting that had been scheduled for tomorrow (Saturday). They also report that as many as 22 people were shot dead by security forces across the country. Today’s protests came a day after Russia pitched new language for a UN Security Council resolution that is significantly more critical of the Assad regime than previous versions. The draft calls for an end to all violence but does not call for sanctions. France is reportedly less-than-thrilled with the proposal. Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told reporters that the Russians haven’t gone far enough.
It is particularly unacceptable to put the Syrian regime’s repression on the same level as the Syrian people’s resistance.
The Syria news agency SANA reportsthat the Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu today rejected any foreign interference in the Syrian internal affairs. He was speaking to the Turkish Anadolu News Agency during a visit to Libya:
What we shouldn’t do is the matter of the foreign intervention. Intervention will not help solve Syria’s problem. This thing was proved in Libya and in Iraq in 2003.
SANA also downplayedtoday’s protests, characterizing them as “gatherings” that later dispersed. SANA also reports that no one was killed across Syria today.
Thursday, December 15, 2011 – Russia Toughening its Stance?
In a surprise move today, Russia presented new language for a UN security council that criticized Damascus more harshly than we’ve seen before. As before, the new draft language condemns violence by both sides and rules out foreign intervention. But in a major shift of tone, Russia referred to the “disproportionate use of force by the Syrian authorities”. It also called on the Syrian authorities to end its suppression of those exercising their right to freedom of speech and assembly. Syria officially entered its 10th month of protests today. The Local Coordination Committees report that 5,216 Syrians have died over the past nine months. Meanwhile, Canada has urged its citizens to leave Syria immediately, saying the Assad regime “has lost all legitimacy, and its abhorrent behavior will not be tolerated.”
Wednesday, December 14, 2011 – Time Running Out
The Washington Post is reporting what appears to be a shift in Israeli policy toward Syria. Defense Minister Ehud Barak told a Postreporter he believes the downfall of Bashar Al-Assad is “inevitable.” It might take weeks, he said, but certainly not months or years. Barak spoke by phone before flying to Washington for meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other US officials.
The Assad family, through their own behavior, have lost their last drop of legitimacy and put themselves beyond the point of no return with their brutal slaughter of their own people. He has ceased to be something relevant.
Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations, also had strong words about Syria today. At a news conference in New York, Ban noted that Syrian security forces today reportedly shot dead civilians, cut power lines and conducted raids and arrests. This “cannot go on,” he said:
In the name of humanity, it is time for the international community to act.
According to the Local Coordination Committees, 37 people died in Syria today–among them, 3 women and a child. The Syrian news agency reports 7 army and other security forces were buried today. Meanwhile, cuts in power and shortages of food and other supplies continue to plague cities across Syria. In Homs, the shortage of heating material has led citizens to cut down trees, as we see in this video submitted by the Facebook group, Syrian Days of Rage:
Tuesday, December 13, 2011 – The Insurgency Expands
Each new day in Syria witnesses more defections than the day before: This video is said to show an RPG attack by the Free Syrian Army on a tank in Homs. Agence France Presse reports that Army defectors attacked a Syrian security patrol today, killing seven soldiers. The attack reportedly came as revenge for an earlier raid that killed 11. The Syrian Arab News Agency reportsthat 17 soldiers were buried today, victims of attacks by “armed terrorists” in Homs, Daraa, Idlib and Damascus. Today, activists report as many as 36 dead and 376 in the month of December alone. Yesterday, the UN Rights Chief raised the death toll in Syria to 5,000, a thousand more than she estimated just ten days ago. The figure, she says, includes unarmed civilians, defectors and soldiers shot for refusing to shoot at civilians. Damascus says it has lost more than 1,100 army and other security forces. Pillay says she believes Syria’s actions could amount to crimes against humanity, and once again asked for the UN Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. She also warned that an attack on Homs could happen any time. Despite fears of an invasion, Homsis gathered in the various neighborhoods tonight to demonstrate. Meanwhile, the Telegraph reportsthat Syrian refugees have been pouring into Libya by the thousands over the past weeks, seeking shelter.
Monday, December 12, 2011 – Homs Holds Its Breath
Citizens of Homs are braced for the worst today. Last week, the Syrian military tightened up its siege of Homs, bringing in more tanks and armored vehicles. Friday, the Syrian government warned protesters and defecting members of the military in that city to surrender weapons by tonight or face attack. At the same time, defectors and soldiers continued clashes today, feeding fears of all-out civil war. By 1600 UTC, the Local Coordination Committees reported 18 dead across the country. Meanwhile, voter turnout is low in municipal elections which are being held as part of reforms promised by the Syrian regime. Nearly 43,000 candidates are making a bid for nearly 17,590 seats in the country’s 1,337 administrative units. Video submitted by activists shows closed shops in Homs, parts of which witnesses are calling a “war zone”: In other news, Syria says it was not involved in an attack Friday that wounded five UNFIL French peacekeepers in southern Lebanon. Today’s statement by Dr. Jihad Makdissi followed accusations French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe made Sunday:
It seems that the French Foreign Minister is now adopting conspiracy theories, which he accuses others of doing.
Sunday, December 11, 2011 – Syrians Stay Home
Activists called for a general strike today in opposition to the Syrian regime’s crackdown. They also called on people to boycott municipal elections scheduled for Monday. Syrian military reportedly burned down a factory near Aleppo after workers failed to show up for work. Meanwhile, government troops clashed with army defectors in Daraa. Several people were injured and three tanks set afire. At least 18 people were reported dead across the country. And the city of Homs is fearful the government is planning a full-scale invasion of that city, which is now reportedly encircled by tanks. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe saidtoday he believes Syria is behind attacks on French troops in Lebanon this past week. Five French peacekeepers were wounded after a roadside bomb exploded in southern Lebanon on Friday. It was the third attack this year on United Nations forces deployed to that region.
Saturday, December 10, 2011 – Putting the Squeeze on Assad
Turkey, which shares a 560-mile border with Syria, says that while it doesn’t want to interfere in events in Syria, if Ankara perceives any effect on its own security, it won’t hesitate to act. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was vague on details when he issued that warning yesterday:
If a government that is fighting its own people and creating refugees, is putting not only their own security at risk but also that of Turkey, then we have a responsibility and the authority to say to them: ‘Enough!’
Former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal, attending a conference in Vienna yesterday said the Arab League is “not going to sit back and allow the continued massacre of the Syrian people,” and that further sanctions may be forthcoming. He confirmed that the League has attempted to negotiate a power transfer deal similar to that which Saudi Arabia helped broker in Yemen:
Getting Bashar al-Assad to sign on a deal has been the difficulty. The Arab League, the world community… has offered Bashar al-Assad an opportunity to undertake a way out, if you like. He has refused and it is a pity because it means more bloodshed.”
Meanwhile, there is continued fallout over statements the Syrian president made during this week’s televised interview with the American television network, ABC (to read the entire, 8-page unedited transcript of that interview, click here). In that interview, al-Assad brushed off the recent United Nations Report on Syria, which accuses his regime of “gross human rights violations,” including torture , rape and murder of adults and children. He also said that the UN had not provided him with a copy of the report.
Walters: You do not think the United Nations is a credible organization? Assad: No, for one reason, they haven’t implemented, they never implemented any of the resolutions that related to the Arab world for example the Palestinians to the Syrian land why don’t they, if they talk about human rights what about the Palestinians suffering in the occupied territory, what about my land is my people that live their land because it’s occupied by Israel, of course not… Walters: You do, you do not think the United Nations is credible?…You have an ambassador to the United Nations. Assad: Yeah, it’s a game we play. It doesn’t mean you believe in it.
UN Rights Chief Navi Pillay dismissedhis statement, but said it further illustrated the need for more transparency:
I think it is very important he does [allow UN observers into Syria], though, especially if he is under the impression that the U.N. and the information it provides is not credible. It is very important we go there, then, and check his side of the story.
In the same interview with ABC television, al-Assad told interviewer Barbara Walters that he had given no orders to kill:
Walters: Well, in the beginning these protests, the women were marching with children carrying olive branches nobody at that point was asking for you to step down. It has escalated. Do you think that your forces cracked down too hard? Assad: They are not my forces, they are military forces belong to the government. Walters: OK, but you are the government. Assad: I don’t own them. I am president. I don’t own the country, so they are not my forces. Walters: No, but you have to give the order? Assad: No, no, no. We have, in the constitution, in the law, the mission of the institution to protect the people to stand against any chaos or any terrorists, that their job, according to the constitution to their– to the law of the institution.
However, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon told Al Jazeerathat he holds al-Assad responsible for the violence in Syria.
He is the leader, and has a very important responsibility to protect the lives of his own people, therefore I would urge him again to stop immediately killing his people.
Friday, December 9, 2011 – Voices from All Sides
Burhan Ghalioun, who heads the opposition Syrian National Council, told Reuters that he has asked the Free Syrian Army to hold back operations, out of concerns that FSA attacks on Syrian forces could spark civil war and limit actions only to protecting demonstrators. Reuters reports that FSA commander Riad al-Asaad agreed, but characterized his operations as “defensive.” In an interviewwith Middle East Voices last week, al-Asaad stated his mission emphatically:
…To protect the protesters and defend Syrian people and cities against violations, the killing of innocent people, and I seek an end to this regime, which is a criminal, brutal regime run by gangsters who are unlawfully ruling Syria.
In recent weeks, opposition rebels have attacked security forces, a Syrian military convoy and an Air Force intelligence center outside Damascus. They have reportedly also killed six Air Force pilots. Meanwhile, Syrians who support the Assad regime are becoming more vocal. Twitter follower @Sate3 sent a link to a video created by Journeyman Pictures, entitled “Assad Supporters,” which, for copyright reasons, we cannot embed in this posting. Still, we would urge readers to take the time to view this excellent series of interviews with citizens on the streets of Damascus, who, while perhaps not completely content with the policies of the Assad regime, oppose what they believe to be the alternative: Islamism. To view, click here. VOA Middle East hosted a podcast debate on the pros and cons of the regime of Bashar al-Assad, which has generated a lively debate on the comments page, after one of the debate participants, Dr. Ali Mohamed, felt he was unfairly edited. Check out the debate hereand share your thoughts on whether you feel Dr. Mohamed was treated unfairly. Finally, Syrian activists report 40 civilians were killed across Syria today.
Thursday, December 8, 2011 – From Spring’s Warmth to the Chill of Winter
This video, shared by the Facebook group “Syrian Revolution 2011″ today, reportedly shows a woman from Homs living under extreme circumstances since her husband was detained. While we cannot verify the identity or location of the woman – or rule out the possibility that the video might be staged – as the Syrian Spring moves into winter, we are hearing reports of a growing humanitarian crisis in some cities in Syria: Meanwhile, the Local Coordination Committees (LCC) report that some cities could fairly be labeled “disaster areas.” Continuous seiges and shelling, arrests, shootings and the displacement of refugees have led to shortages in basic food, medical supplies and other household essentials, as well as heating and cooking fuel. Even where supplies are available, prices are often prohibitive. For example, the LCC says where a home propane tank once cost 275 Syrian pounds, it would now sell for three times that much. A single candle once cost two pounds. Today, if available, it would cost 10 to 15 pounds. The LCC and other aid groups report that they are able to solicit aid donations, but the process of getting aid to those in need is often difficult, especially in crisis zones such as Homs. Demonstrations continued across Syria today. There are reports that communications have been cut throughout Idlib province. Activists say at least thirteen are dead in Homs and Idlib. In other news, a major crude oil transfer pipeline carrying oil to a Homs refinery appears to have been blown up today. No deaths were reported and it is not yet known who might have been behind the blast. The state-run SANA news agency reports the explosion occurred after “an armed terrorist group opened fire” on the pipeline, causing a huge fire. Clouds of thick black smoke enveloped the city and nearby countryside. Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reports that following a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels today, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said NATO has no intention of intervening in Syria, despite growing calls by the opposition for help in creating buffer and no-fly zones. Rasmussen avoided responding directly to a question on whether or not NATO would intervene should Turkey and Syria become embroiled in a military conflict, a situation which could compel Ankara to request the support of other alliance members.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011 – “False Allegations and Distortion of Reality”
In an exclusive interview with American television that aired today, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad dismissed reports by activists and opposition groups of gross abuses by his regime in its crackdown on protesters. The Syrian President broke his silence to U.S. media in an interview with the American television network ABC, which aired in portions over the day today and was widely tweeted. In the approximately three and-a-half-minute excerpt first released this morning, interviewer Barbara Walters tells Assad that she has seen “awful pictures of what happened” in Syria. The transcript of this segment follows: Walters: Why was this such a brutal crackdown? Assad: What happened? Walters: Well, I’ll give you some examples. A 13-year old who was arrested in April. A month later, his body was returned to his family bearing scars of torture. A famous cartoonist who you know who was critical of you, badly beaten. His arms were broken. A singer, famous singer, who wrote a popular song calling for your ouster. He was found with his throat cut. You have seen these pictures, have you not? Assad: No, but I– Walters: Is this new to you? Assad: No, no, no, it’s not news, I met with his father, the father of that child, and he said he wasn’t tortured. Walters: Do you feel guilty? Assad: I did my best to protect the people, so you cannot feel guilty when you do your best. You feel sorry for the life that has been lost, but you don’t feel guilty when you don’t kill people. Walters: Do you think that your forces cracked down too hard? Assad: They are not my forces. They are–military forces belong to the government. Walters: OK, but you– Assad: I don’t own them. I am president. I don’t own the country, so they’re not my forces Walters: No, but you have to give the order. Assad: No, no, no. Walters: Not by your command? Assad: No, no, no. We don’t have–nobody–no one’s command. There was no command to kill or be brutal. Walters: People went from houses to houses. Children were arrested. I saw those pictures. Assad: Yeah, but how did you verify those pictures? You have, so, it’s–that’s why you are talking about false allegations and distortion of reality. We don’t kill our people. Nobody kill, no government in the world kill its own people kill its people unless it’s led by crazy person. Walters: Last week, an independent United Nations commission issued a report. What it said is was that your government committed “crimes against humanity.” And they went on: “Torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence against protesters, including against children.” Do you acknowledge that? Do you acknowledge what the UN said? Assad: Very simply, I would say, send out the documents and the concrete evidences that you have, and we’ll see if that’s true or no. Walters: Did the UN not send you these documents? Assad: Nothing at all. As long as we don’t see the documents and the evidences, we cannot say yes. That’s normal. We cannot say just because the United Nations, who said the United Nations is a credible institution? Walters: You do not think that the United Nations is a credible organization? Assad: No. Walters: You have an ambassador to the United Nations. Assad: Yeah. It’s a game you play. But it doesn’t mean you believe in it. Walters: You have seen, I’m sure, the pictures of Egypt’s President Mubarak in jail, pictures of Moammar Gadhafi killed. Are you afraid that you might be next? Assad: No. Only thing that you could be afraid of as president, to lose the support of your people. That’s the only thing you should be afraid of. Not to be in jail or things like this. Walters: Do you feel now that you still have the support of your people? Assad: If you don’t have the support of the people you cannot be in this position. Because Syria is not easy, is very difficult country if you don’t have the public support. View the excerpt of the interview on ABC/Yahoo News.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011 – Bodies in the Streets
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that 50 Syrians have died in the past 24 hours; thirty-four bodies alone were found dumped in a public square in Homs last night and that another 50 are dead today, one of the deadliest days since the start of the uprisings. They also report that army defectors killed four pro-Assad security personnel in the southern province of Daraa. In other news, US State Department says Ambassador Robert Ford will return to the country tonight, after a one month absence from Damascus. He was called back to Washington after receiving death threats for having met with opposition leaders and expressing support for the protesters. At the same time, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is meeting with seven exiled Syrian dissidents in Geneva today to express support for the opposition. Meanwhile in Lebanon today, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah spoke out against the United States, accusing it of trying to destroy Syria and expressing support for the Syrian regime’s plans for reform:
“We say yes to dealing with the phenomena of corruption, yes to all the reforms that were accepted by the Syrian leadership and that were called for by the Syrian people. But there are some people who do not want reforms, security and stability in Syria, and neither civil peace nor dialogue. There are people who want to destroy Syria to make up for their defeat in Iraq, and Syria is a partner in defeating the Americans in Iraq.
Monday, December 5, 2011 – Negotiations and Counter Negotiations
Syrian media report that Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem sent a message today to Arab League Secretary General Nabeel Al-Arabi, saying Syria is willing to admit international observers and stop the crackdown, as per the plan discussed in Doha in late October. However, Syria sets certain conditions: It asks Ministers to drop all sanctions and agree to the caveats and amendments that the League earlier rejected. These would include changing the language so that it does not refer to government violence. Syria would also insist that the document be signed in Syria. Khattar Abou Diab, a political scientist at the University of Paris, told VOA’s Edward Yeranian he is skeptical–that Damascus has been playing a lengthy game of “cat-and-mouse” with the Arab League–and that this latest development could simply amount to another “delaying tactic.” Meanwhile, we read that Syria’s cabinet yesterday voted to end its free trade partnership with Turkey. Syria will now impose a 30% on the value of all Turkish goods imported into to Syria, which the government says will be allocated for construction in developing villages. Syria will take SYP 80 per liter of fuel in Turkish cars leaving Syria for Turkey–this amount, reportsSANA, amounts to the difference in fuel prices between the two countries. Syria will also implement a transit fee on all Turkish trucks, calculated by weight and distance traveled, and the fee will be assessed in Euros. The Local Coordination Committees (LCC) report the arrest of human rights activist Mohammad Kheir al-Wazir, a member of the Syrian National Council. This follows news that Syrian blogger Razan Ghazzawi, pictured, was arrested yesterday at the Syrian-Jordanian border. Ghazzawi was reportedly en route to a workshop on press freedom taking place in Amman, on behalf of the Syrian Center for Media and Free Expression. The LCC also report that demonstrations and violence continued across the country today, reporting a total of 17 dead, the majority of them in Homs.
Sunday, December 4, 2011 – Father Paolo Speaks Out
Thirty years ago, an Italian Jesuit priest, Father Paolo dall’Oglio, traveled to Syria to found a monastic community at the ancient Deir Mar Musa al-Habachi–”Monastery of Moses the Abyssinian,” near Nabak, some 80 kilometers north of Damascus. Dall’Oglio and other monks and nuns there have worked to promote Christian-Islamic understanding. This week, it was confirmed that the Syrian government plans to expel dall’Oglio from Syria because of his pro-revolution stance. In reaction, some Syrian activists designated today as the “Sunday of Syria is your Home, Paolo.” Yesterday, Father Dall’Oglio released this video message of peace and political reconciliation (for English subtitles, press “CC”)
Democracy is not only fair elections, democracy is a shared mentality which affirms the fact that the social sphere is not the place for competition and conflict, rather, it is a space for everyone to express himself…
Saturday, December 3, 2011 – Losses on Both Sides
We are hearing that the nature of the violence in Syria has shifted away from attacks on protesters to fighting between defectors and armed opposition and Syrian forces. At least 23 people are said to have been killed today in fighting which was particularly bad in Idlib. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, rebels clashed with pro-regime troops near provincial headquarters. Fifteen died in that fighting – among them, 3 civilians, 7 pro-regime soldiers and/or security troops and five rebels. This short video clip was submitted to us by activists who say it shows helmeted security forces positioned on rooftops in Homs: Separate video purportedly shows the body of 70-year-old Homs resident Murad Al Hassan, who, say activists, was shot dead by sniper fire in Homs today. Because that video may be disturbing to some readers, we will link to it on YouTube. And this very brief video clip appears to show residents of the Bab Amr neighborhood of Homs fleeing burning buildings. The Syrian news agency SANA reports that 13 army and security forces were buried in Damascus today, having been shot during clashes in the countryside. In related news, Arab League ministers met in Doha today to discuss sanctions they imposed against Syria last Sunday. League Deputy Secretary General Ahmed bin Hilli told Agence France Pressethat minister are still in contact with the Assad regime over the issue of observers, saying that the door on such communications “remains ajar.”
Friday, December 2, 2011 – “Friday of the Buffer Zone”
Today, protesters gathered in cities and towns across Syria, calling for the creating of an international zone of protection for civilian refugees and military defectors, which they say will hasten the fall of the Bashar al-Assad regime by allowing opposition forces a place to organize and centralize operations. By this writing (1800 UTC), the Local Coordination Committees report 13 dead, mainly in Homs and Idlib.
Last July, the popular singer was kidnapped by unknown men while walking to work in central Hama. Early the next day, his body was found floating in the Orontes River. His throat had been removed. We also talked to head of the Free Syria Army, Colonel Riad al-Assad.
Thursday, December 1, 2011 – UN Official Speaks of ‘Civil War’ in Syria – Isolation Continues
The U.S. Treasury today announced new sanctions against Syria, blocking the assets of – or any trade with – Muhammad Makhluf and Aus Aslan (Makhluf is President Assad’s maternal uncle and the father of telecoms magnate Rami Makhluf; Aslan is a Syrian Army general commanding the 4th armored division). Americans are also prohibited from conducting any business with Syria’s Military Housing Establishment and Real Estate Bank. Also today, European ministers tightenedtheir own financial and energy sanctions. Ministers called on Assad to step down and open the door to democracy, warning that through its violent crackdown on protesters, Syria is treading “a very dangerous path of violence, sectarian clashes and militarization.” According to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay – who spoke in Geneva today – Syria has already reached that point of no return:
I have said that as soon as there were more and more defectors threatening to take up arms, I said this in August before the Security Council, there was going to be a civil war. At the moment that’s how I am characterizing this.
The Commissioner also raised the death toll in Syria to 4,000. Video we’ve received from Syria seems to confirm that military defections in in the country are are increasing every day – in this video, a seemingly unprecedented number of armed defectors purportedly announce the formation of a new brigade in Idlib. The Local Coordination Committees report that 23 died in Syria today, among them 2 children and a woman.
Cecily Hilleary, one of our senior reporters, curates our Syria Watch feature with materials from such sources as the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Syrian News Agency SANA and a variety of others. She also routinely reaches out to entities of the Syrian government.