#Syria, the banner of monotheism arrested a lieutenant of al-Assad
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
AMMAN (Reuters) - Security forces in Syria have arrested a filmmaker and an actor who helped people made homeless or jobless by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, their friends said on Friday, part of an apparent crackdown on the country’s secular intelligentsia.
Arwa Nairabiya - who founded the “Damascus Dox Box” documentary film festival - was arrested at Damascus airport on Thursday evening before boarding a plane to Cairo, fellow filmmakers and relatives said.
Secret police agents also raided the home of Mohammad Omar Oso, an actor who had starred in several popular television series, and took him to an unknown destination, the Damascus Media Centre activists’ group said in a statement.
Thirty-five year-old Nairabiya was part of a new generation of Syrian filmmakers who had defied a state ban on independent film production even before the revolt against Assad began 17 months ago.
“It seems it is a crime to establish an independent cinema movement in Syria,” said fellow Syrian director Ahmad Malas, in a video statement recorded at an undisclosed location outside Syria. “We call for freedom for Arwa Nairabiya, actor, producer and graduate of the Syrian Higher Cinema Institute who is always smiling.”
One of Nairabiya’s friends, speaking from Damascus on condition of anonymity, said he feared for his safety. “We pray that Arwa gets off lightly. The regime has been brutal toward Syria’s intellectuals,” the friend said.
The Syrian state has a Soviet-like monopoly on cinema and television production. The establishment shunned Oso, who is also in his 30s, when he refused to join the state-controlled actors’ guild and sign statements declaring support for Assad at the start of the revolt, his friends said.
Nairabiya has championed the cause of human rights and freedom of expression in the face of state attempts to control culture through institutions that monopolize teaching of art, film and dance to support the personality cult of Assad.
ARTISTIC EXPRESSION REPRESSED
Syrian security forces, who have arrested tens of thousands of people since the uprising began, do not comment on detentions, which human rights groups say are arbitrary.
Assad has claimed to have introduced what he regards as far-reaching political reforms in response to pro-democracy street demonstrations, yet strict state restrictions on freedom of speech and artistic expression have remained in place.
Three months ago, Assad’s forces shot dead Bassel Shehadeh, another young filmmaker who had abandoned a Fulbright scholarship in the United States to document a military crackdown on the central city of Homs.
In another incident, authorities blamed “treacherous hands” for the killing earlier this month of director Bassem Mohiedine in a Damascus suburb rocked by clashes between the military and rebels. No one has claimed responsibility for his death.
In a third case, the relatives of sculptor Wael Qastoum said he died last month after being tortured in a Damascus prison.
Qastoum, a Christian from Homs, had spoken out against state repression, said a relative who asked not to be named.
Other leading cultural figures have been badly beaten. Secret police agents last year assaulted Ali Farzat, the country’s best known cartoonist, and broke both of his hands.
Witnesses said pro-Assad militiamen, known as shabbiha (ghosts) beat novelist Khaled Khalifa earlier this year after he attended a funeral for Rabih Ghaza, an activist who was found shot and stuffed in the trunk of his car near a security branch in Damascus.
Many of the new generation of filmmakers have been inspired by French-educated Syrian director Omar Amiralay, who made international award-winning films that chronicled what he regarded as Syria’s demise under the Assad family’s rule.
Amiralay died of natural causes at age 66 one month before the uprising broke out, having famously warned Assad that Syria “is marching steadfastly on its hooves to its own demise, after being betrayed by its rulers.”
(Editing by Andrew Osborn and Todd Eastham)
* Team reports abuses by both sides since ceasefire took hold
* Shelling and arrests by Syrian forces; executions by rebels
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, April 16 (Reuters) - U.N. human rights investigators said on Monday they had received reports of shelling and arrests by Syrian forces since the ceasefire, as well as executions of some soldiers captured by rebels, although the level of violence generally was lower.
The team led by Brazilian expert Paulo Pinheiro said it hoped the truce brokered by international mediator Kofi Annan last week would hold and help put an end to gross human rights violations that it has documented over the past six months.
In a statement, it also voiced concern at what it called the “deteriorating humanitarian situation” in Syria where tens of thousands of civilians fled escalating fighting in the run-up to the fragile ceasefire that took effect last week.
It acknowledged generally lower levels of violence in some areas, but was seriously concerned over accounts of a number of incidents since the truce.
These included “the shelling of the Khaldieh neighbourhood and other districts in Homs by government forces and the use of heavy weaponry, such as machineguns in other areas, including Idlib and some suburbs of Damascus.
“The commission is also concerned by reports of new arrests, especially in Hama and Aleppo,” it said.
The team, which reports to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, has not been allowed into Syria, but has interviewed refugees and gathered testimony in neighbouring countries.
“The Commission also continued to receive reports of human rights abuses committed by anti-government armed groups engaged in fighting against the Syrian army during and after the ceasefire, including extra-judicial killings of soldiers captured during armed confrontations,” it said.
A handful of soldiers in blue caps put a tentative United Nations presence at the heart of the Syrian crisis on Monday, predicting success for their mission to stabilise a shaky four-day-old ceasefire even as shells continued to fall.
In their last report issued on Feb. 23, the U.N. investigators said that they had evidence that Syrian forces had committed crimes against humanity including murder, abductions and torture under orders from the “highest level” of army and government officials.
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Activists said on Saturday that two neighborhoods in the Syrian city of Homs were shelled overnight, as thestruggled to iron out the details about the rapid deployment of international observers.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were no immediate reports of casualties from the shelling in Homs. The report came after Syrians by the thousands marched through the streets of cities and towns across the country on Friday, testing the tenuous cease-fire.
There were scattered reports of deaths and arrests linked to the demonstrations, which had been dubbed “A Revolution for All Syrians” by local organizers nationwide.
Participants admitted to feeling somewhat tentative, sticking to back streets to avoid the security forces, snipers and tanks that were used to suppress the peaceful protest movement and that remained deployed around many central squares and major crossroads.
But the marches were big and exuberant enough to remind demonstrators of the mass rallies that started in March 2011 to demand the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad.
“We remembered the old days when we would protest in large numbers, when the whole city would protest,” said Fares, an activist in Zabadani, near Damascus, reached via Skype.
In Zabadani, as in many places, residents described a heavy police presence around mosques — the weekly Friday Prayer sermons have provided the kickoff for mass demonstrations since the beginning. “We didn’t gather in one point, we kept moving,” Fares said, with a lookout posted near security headquarters to raise the alarm when patrol vehicles moved onto the streets. “We wanted to show the world that we are adhering to our demands.” He asked to be identified by only his first name to avoid government reprisals.
A video uploaded onto You Tube said to have been filmed in downtown Hama showed an extensive mob clapping their hands overhead in unison while chanting “Oh God, let our victory be fast!” Another from Homs was more pointed with the crowd yelling “We want your head, Bashar!” among other slogans. Women and children appeared in some videos — they had all but disappeared under the onslaught that has left at least 9,000 dead by the United Nations’ count.
’s official news media reported mass demonstrations across the country in support of Mr. Assad.
The security forces were aggressive in some places, passive in others, a patchwork difficult to gauge from afar, as were the demonstrations themselves. Multiple checkpoints around Damascus were used to prevent public transportation from entering the downtown area, and security vehicles with Kalashnikov barrels protruding from windows slowly circulated in many areas.
Security officers in one such vehicle shouted at a group of worshipers emerging from a mosque to hurry home. In the suburb of Maadamiah, as the funeral of a protester shot dead on Thursday began to turn into a mass protest, security forces blocked the route to the cemetery and shot toward protesters to disperse them, said Usama, an activist reached by telephone, who also used one name for safety reasons.
Activists around the country reported that some demonstrators had been tear-gassed and others had been beaten, and there were a few reports of renewed shelling. But the violence was far less than in recent months, when scores were reported killed daily under the pounding of heavy weaponry.
Both the lack of international news media representatives circulating across the country and the presence of security forces on the streets contradicted the six-point peace plan negotiated by Kofi Annan, the special envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported eight people killed after the demonstrations started. In addition, a lieutenant was killed and 24 other officers and a few civilians were wounded when a roadside bomb destroyed a bus in Aleppo, according to state-run news media. It also accused “armed terrorist groups” — its shorthand for all opposition — with the assassination of a local Baath Party official near the southern town of Dara’a and the shooting death of a brigadier general overnight near Damascus.
Given that all 15 members of the United Nations Security Council had endorsed Mr. Annan’s six-point plan, including the deployment of United Nations monitors, the resolution authorizing the mission had been expected to pass easily.
But, the Assad government’s most important defender, objected to an operative paragraph that would give the monitors a free hand in conducting their work, granting them abilities like unhindered access to any place in the country and the right to interview anyone without government interference, according to Security Council diplomats. They also disagreed with language about human rights.
Overall, the Russians proposed a shortened resolution that just placed the initial monitors on the ground. But other, mostly Western nations thought sending them without delineating specific authority was a mistake, one diplomat said.
Vitaly I. Churkin, the Russian ambassador, told reporters outside the Security Council that the American-European version still needed a lot of work, but he remained hopeful about a rapid vote. Pending consultations with Moscow overnight, it was unclear how quickly the differences could be resolved. Negotiations going paragraph by paragraph started Friday afternoon and no vote was expected until at least Saturday, diplomats said.
An advance team of up to 30 observers, drawn from various United Nationsor observer missions in the region, was due to be sent as soon as the Security Council approved it, said Ahmad Fawzi, Mr. Annan’s spokesman. The full mission would reach 250 observers he said, and as is common on such missions, Syria would have ultimate approval over the nationalities involved.
Mr. Fawzi described the cease-fire as “relatively respected.”
Valerie Amos, the top United Nations official on humanitarian aid, said at least one million people were in need of such help in Syria — the rapid provision of that is also part of the peace plan.
But foreign leaders continued to express profound doubts about how long it might hold. In Paris, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France told a television interviewer, “I do not believe in Bashar al-Assad’s sincerity, nor, unfortunately, in the cease-fire.”
Mr. Sarkozy, who is fighting for a second term in elections starting later this month, said the deployment of United Nations observers was important “so that at the very least we know what is happening,” and he urged the creation of humanitarian corridors to enable “those unfortunates who are being massacred by a dictator” to flee.
Hala Droubi contributed reporting from Beirut, Alan Cowell from London, and an employee from The New York Times from Damascus, Syria.
The sound of the caterpillar tracks could be felt as much as heard, a deep rumble that sent a rattle through windows and a tremble of fear through the guts.
Then we saw them. Huge Soviet-made T72s, accompanied by troop carriers driving slowly into town, extra plates welded onto the sides to deflect rocket-propelled grenades. It was just after 9.30am, and the tanks were coming to Saraqeb.
“Light the tyres!”
The rebels of the Free Syrian Army in Saraqeb, a farming town of 30,000 in northern Syria, are better organised than many in the surrounding Idlib province. Squaring themselves away into formation around the central marketplace, they poured petrol on to truck tyres and lit them sending plumes of thick black smoke into the air, obscuring the sun and - hopefully - the tank gunners’ visibility.
I had been smuggled into Saraqeb last weekend by a local guerrilla unit, keen to show the world that despite playing along with international efforts to broker a ceasefire, President Bashar al-Assad was continuing to use all-out force to crush his opponents. While he agreed last week to a six-point peace plan brokered by the veteran diplomat, Kofi Annan, what I saw for myself suggests the Syrian leader intends anything but.Still the tanks came, driving into town one after another. The troop carriers stopped to take up holding positions, while the T72s turned in pairs to face towards the centre.
As Syrian army snipers deployed to Saraqeb’s high buildings to provide covering fire, the rebel fighters around me took up positions on street corners and pavements.
Their pick-up trucks screeched to a halt, bringing reinforcements, rocket-propelled grenades and improvised bombs built from gas bottles and steel pipes which are placed against kerbs and disguised with cardboard. Then came the click-clack of 200 Kalashnikovs being loaded, a few unaimed rounds loosed off in anger.
For five tense minutes, nothing happened.
Then the T72s began to advance toward the market square, the shriek of their tracks reverberating up the street as white smoke belched from their engines. Together with several dozen rebels, I watched from 100 yards away as the gun turrets swept first left, then right, scanning the side alleys for threats. For now, their 125mm cannon remained silent.
Chanting the rebel cry of “God is great”, one fighter shouldered his RPG launcher, aimed down the tube and fired. The rocket flew straight and true, catching the lead T72 just to the left of the driver’s porthole. A cheer went up, the rebels punching the air in celebration. Yet no-one had noticed the rocket had not exploded, but merely shattered into a hundred useless pieces of metal.
And that was when the tanks opened fire.
The first shells punched into nearby buildings, producing a shockwave of sound and a sea of grey dirt and dust that rolled up the road like a tsunami. Fist-size pieces of hot shrapnel sliced through the air, decapitating one fighter instantly.
His rifle clattered against a wall as his friends dragged his headless torso from the line of fire. The body was bloodless, cauterized. Another rebel caught a piece of shell in his leg, a deep femoral bleed that left a crimson trail across the road.
“RPGs! Get more RPGs up here!” shouted one game fighter, to little avail. With no real chain of command, the rebels use as much energy arguing amongst themselves as they do fighting the enemy. As panicky bickering ensued, a woman ushered her terrified children out of the door.
“Please don’t shoot from here,” she begged the rebels. “My mother is very old and cannot move - if you shoot at them here they will destroy our house.”
“We will use our bombs to stop them, I promise,” replied a fighter. But home-made bombs do little against a battle tank. As the T72s began shooting at the base of buildings to make them collapse Muktar Nassar, a young man in white robes, ran up with another RPG, one of the few with a functioning warhead.
Clearly terrified at being just 50 yards from a T72, he briefly got the perfect firing angle to hit the tank’s more vulnerable side armour, only to be forced to run for cover again as the tank behind his target fired again.
“No good, it’s no good” Muktar muttered as we retreated, showered again in dust. Up above, sniper rounds peppered the mosque minarets. The fighting was brutally one-sided. As a show of force it was absolute.
By 3pm the rebels knew it was over, retreating to cover to smoke cigarettes, leaving the tanks to roam and shell as they pleased. In the space of just a few hours, Saraqeb had been broken. Then it was everyone for themselves. Some families remained in their homes, hoping for the best, others threw belongings into cars and headed out of town.
The guerrillas, meanwhile, staged their own chaotic withdrawal, driving cars at 100mph down small country roads to villages beyond range of the shells, while an army helicopter circled overhead. If the tanks hadn’t killed the rebels, their driving may have finished the job.
“What could we do against that?” lamented Abdul Karali, a student whose family live in Saraqeb. “We’re not soldiers, we have no training and few weapons.”
Seven were killed in the fighting that day and 28 wounded. Next morning, Sunday, an attempted rebel counter-attack ended in retreat, the fighters stranding themselves between two tank positions, 500 metres of open ground and a footbridge in full view of government machine guns.
The uprising in Syria is turning into a hit-and-run guerilla war, with the rebels disrupting government forces any way they can. But without money, training or anti-tank weapons, they have little bite. Until the big city businessmen from Damascus and Aleppo commit to the fight, Syria’s revolution is a working man’s uprising of limited means.
Farmers and students in the countryside sell their belongings to raise the $2,000 required for an AK-47 smuggled from Iraq and to pay $4 for each round of ammunition. But bullets are as much use as a catapult against a T72.
“Until the big cities help us we will scrape along for ways to fight this revolution,” said Hussein al-Brahim, an activist from Saraqeb. “But Aleppo businessmen don’t want to get involved. They cannot be anti-Assad because he gave them everything.”
For those on the receiving end, the smoke and chaos that engulfed Saraqeb last weekend disguised the well-drilled military procedure that was under way. It has been honed during sieges of other rebel hotspots, from Homs and Deraa to Idlib city and other towns across the province. The tanks go in first, shelling rebel positions and driving them out. The next day, there is random shellfire to soften the target. Then, once every rebel - and foreign journalist - has left, the ground forces go in. This way, there are few witnesses to what happens next.
The accounts of atrocities committed when Syrian ground forces move are impossible to verify, but the numbers hurt and arrested are unquestionably high.
Using information stored on laptops, army intelligence officers detain all manner of people. Bad-mouthing the regime? Arrested. Seen at a protest? Arrested. Got an internet connection? Arrested. The list goes on.
“The shabiha (pro-government militia) came to my house and took my children,” said Fatoum Haj Housin, a resident of the town Sarmin, five miles north-west of Saraqeb, which had been attacked a few days earlier.
“They took all three of them. They were young men in the army but they defected in January. The militia shot them in the head and burned their bodies in front of me in our courtyard. In the name of God, bring me a Kalashnikov and I will kill Assad myself!”
There was still scorching and ash in front of her house - and much evidence elsewhere in Sarmin of destruction by ground forces. The field hospital had been torched, walls and houses sprayed with AK47 fire and the mosque smashed by three shells.
When the tanks leave the city centres and the ground forces come in, this is what happens - with nobody from the outside to see.
Yet for every person killed the rebels’ resolve seems to grow day by day.
“We can never go back now,” said Feras Mulheen, a student from Saraqeb who had just seen his house destroyed by the tanks. “There’s nothing to go back to. We either win or we die trying. There’s nothing in between.”
* John Cantlie is an independent photojournalist
(New York) – Human Rights Watch issued the following statement on March 23, 2012, concerning the Russian Foreign Ministry’s use of a Human Rights Watch statement to support a one-sided position on Syria:
In its March 22, 2012 statement, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its “deep concern” over human rights violations committed by armed groups affiliated with the Syrian opposition, extensively citing an open letter on this issue published by Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch also learned that Russian diplomats used the open letter in informal Security Council discussions on March 22 in an attempt to equate the violence by both sides.
Russia’s attention to concerns expressed in the letter to the Syrian opposition is a positive development. Human Rights Watch is committed to objective documentation and exposing abuses by all sides in Syria. The selective use of the findings, however, causes serious concern.
Since the beginning of the protests in Syria, Human Rights Watch has produced over 60 publications, including three extensive reports, on human rights violations by Syrian government forces. These publications contain detailed documentation of widespread and systematic abuses, including killings of peaceful protesters, shelling of residential neighborhoods, large-scale arbitrary detention and torture, “disappearances,” executions, denial of medical assistance, and looting.
Human Rights Watch concluded that that some of these violations constitute crimes against humanity and repeatedly called for an end to abuses and accountability for the perpetrators. Human Rights Watch presented the findings directly to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, urging Russia to use its strong bilateral relations with the Syrian government as well as its weight in the international arena to put an end to government abuses.
None of these findings have been ever acknowledged by Russian officials.
Instead, despite overwhelming evidence of egregious crimes committed by the Syrian security forces, Russia provides diplomatic and military support to Bashar al-Assad’s government and has repeatedly blocked international action aimed at stopping the violations and bringing those responsible for these crimes to justice.
Abuses by opposition fighters are also not an argument for the international community, including Russia, to wash its hands of the Syria crisis, on the grounds that it is too complicated. On the contrary, they are an argument for intensifying pressure on the Syrian government to stop its abuses.
Russia should not pick and choose. If it relies on Human Rights Watch’s findings to support its condemnation of abuses by the Syrian opposition, it should pay equal attention to the extensive documentation of violations by government forces and support international efforts to stop those violations.
Rémi Ochlik, a French photographer who died alongside Marie Colvin in Homs. Photograph: Lucas Dolega/AP
The Observer, Sunday 26 February 2012
The media centre in the Homs suburb of Baba Amr is nothing more than a family house. Once it had four storeys and a satellite dish on the roof. Reporters, photographers and cameramen had been forced to move there after their previous bolthole came under attack.
Two weeks ago, the top of the house was reduced to rubble during a visit by a CNN television crew, who had placed their own dishes there to broadcast live footage. The assault continued until the dishes were knocked down.
If other evidence were needed that the building had been targeted, before the attack last week that led to the deaths of the Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin and the French photographer Rémi Ochlik, it was supplied by another of the group that travelled to Homs with them, Jean-Pierre Perrin, who described how the building’s own dish had been peppered with sniper rounds.
Even after their deaths, the regime has continued to attack Colvin and Ochlik. Footage was shown on state television on Saturday of their bodies, accusing them of being “spies.”
The regime of Bashar al-Assad has learned the lessons of the Arab spring when it comes to dealing with the media – both citizen journalists and international outlets. As the Committee to Protect Journalists noted in a 2011 report, the regime quickly “enforced an effective media blackout” as soon as the protests began last March.
It banned, arrested and expelled international journalists and detained local reporters who tried to cover the protests.
It disabled mobile phones, landlines, electricity, and the internet in cities where the protests broke out, and used violence to extract the passwords of social media sites from journalists, allowing the Syrian electronic army, a pro-government online group, to hack the sites and post pro-regime comments. “In April,” the report continues, “al-Jazeera suspended its Damascus bureau after several of its journalists were harassed and received threats.
Three days after the brutal assault of the famed cartoonist Ali Ferzat in August, the government passed a new media law that ‘banned’ the imprisonment of journalists and allowed greater freedom of expression. It followed this by jailing several journalists. In November, cameraman Ferzat Jarban was the first journalist to be killed in Syria in connection with his work since the committee began keeping detailed records in 1992.
If Jarban was the first, he has not been the last. Gilles Jacquier, a French cameraman, was killed in Homs in January, while on a government sponsored press trip, a killing first blamed on opposition fighters but later blamed on the regime by two Swiss colleagues who accused the soldiers accompanying them of leading them into an “elaborate trap”.
The regime went further. Those who had entered the country before, such as Anthony Shadid of the New York Times – who collapsed and died in Syria a few days before Colvin’s death – were denounced on Syrian state television as “spies”, while those visiting Homs illegally were warned that they would be killed by the regime.
Last week, all the evidence now suggests that the regime delivered on its promise, targeting not just the latest group of foreign reporters to visit Homs but also Rami al-Sayyed, a citizen journalist whose video link to Baba Amr had kept news of events in the city in the forefront of the world’s attention.
The war in Syria has become not simply a conflict between a brutal regime and those who want to see it fall, but a war on information itself: a calculated desire to destroy the fractured opposition’s centres and erase all knowledge of what happened.
On Friday the difficulties of reporting from Homs were reinforced in a series of tweets by Javier Espinosa of the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, who survived uninjured in the attack that killed and injured four colleagues, including Colvin, last week. He described drones flying overhead guiding the bombing of the suburb, saying: “I would love to interview who is launching the mortars right now. What he thinks when he is sending tons of shrapnel to kill people.”
Asked to describe the drone, Espinosa said it was too dangerous to “get my head from where I am hiding”.
Assad’s war on the media, like that on his people, is unlikely to be successful in the long run. Journalists may have been pushed out of Syria, but it seems certain they will return yet more determined to tell the world what is happening.
As for the regime, Assad’s ferocious tactics may be making short-term gains but in the long term the outcome is most likely to be the fall of his regime, the Chatham House thinktank said in the Political Outlook for Syria, a report last week. The question now is not if but when. And also in what circumstances.
As the “Friends of Syria” meeting ended in disarray in Tunis on Friday, it was not with suggestions about how to bring the violence to an end but amid threats from two key regional actors – Saudi Arabia and Qatar – who said that they supported military escalation against Assad. In doing so they have raised the terrifying spectre of a proxy war with Shia Iran, Assad’s remaining regional ally, now that even Hamas has formally backed the uprising.
The remarks of the two countries – including a Saudi statement, before its delegation walked out of the conference, that arming the opposition was an “excellent idea” – came only hours after the disclosure by rebel sources that they were already receiving foreign arms and equipment.
The Saudi threat to arm the opposition has come amid increasing rhetoric from the US – including the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s description of Russia’s blocking tactics as “despicable”. In a subtle shift in policy, US officials, quoted by the Washington Post, said that “steps toward arming the opposition were likely to become a reality the [US] would not oppose if the Syrian leader does not yield.”
The Saudi intervention on Friday should not, perhaps, have been surprising. The day before, in a telephone call, King Abdullah told the Russian president Dmitri Medvedev in the bluntest terms that discussion on the issue was “useless”, and criticised Russia for not co-ordinating with Arab states before vetoing a UN security council resolution. All of which appears to confirm the view of some regional analysts that Saudi Arabia decided some time ago that intervention was inevitable.
Another challenge facing the regime is not direct intervention by neighbours but an ever-growing isolation. The regime has been told that it is no longer welcome at the next Arab league summit in Baghdad. The move by Hamas, which for long kept its political bureau in Damascus, meant that there was now no Sunni group or government allied with the regime.
Russia too – despite its objection to intervention and its veto – in recent days has shown increasing frustration, calling for a ceasefire, although it has continued to supply weapons.
Few even among the closest observers of Syria have any certainty, however, of the endgame. The Chatham House report lists a menu of potential scenarios, from the survival of a deeply “embattled and unpopular” regime for several years, to a coup of Alawite officers against the Assad family, to various kinds of collapse that include a Yemen-style implosion.
And if the authors are cautious about predicting an outcome, they are deeply sceptical too about the opposition Syrian National Council. Britain and other governments recognised the council in Tunis on Friday as a “legitimate representative” of the Syrian people.
But the authors describe the group as “not necessarily representative of Syrians” and report concern that “it has focused excessively on wooing international support rather than building domestic strength”. Overall, the message is clear, reinforced by the fallout from Tunis: the outcome in Syria is unpredictable and likely to be extremely messy.
None of this will bring comfort to civilians trapped in Syria by the fighting, or the two injured journalists, Paul Conroy of the Sunday Times and Frenchwoman Edith Bouvier, as they await evacuation from Homs.
While the Red Cross evacuated a small number of wounded women and children from the city on Friday, and was in negotiations on Saturday to bring out more, the attacks continued as the military took its bombardment of rebel-held Baba Amr into a fourth week.
Nadir al-Husseini, an opposition activist in the city, described desperate conditions in Baba Amr. “It would be good if they [the Red Cross] could bring in some aid. But even if they brought us some medical supplies how much would it really help?” he told the Reuters news agency. “We have hundreds of wounded people crammed into houses all around the neighbourhood. People are dying from lack of blood because we just don’t have the capability of treating everyone. I don’t think any amount they could bring in would really help.”
The description of conditions in Baba Amr, which has been hit by Russian-made 240mm mortars – the world’s largest – came as others in the city condemned the Tunis meeting.
“They [world leaders] are still giving opportunities to this man who is killing us and has already killed thousands of people,” said Husseini. “I’ve completely lost faith in everyone but God. But in spite of that, I know we will continue this uprising. We’ll die trying before we give up,” he said. “The shelling is just like it was yesterday. We have had 22 days of this. The women and children are all hiding in basements.”
“No one would dare try to flee the neighbourhood, that is instant death. You’d have to get past snipers and soldiers. Then there is a trench that surrounds our neighbourhood and a few others. Then you have to go past more troops.”
For now the suffering of Homs continues without an end in sight.
Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik died in Homs last week, bringing the death toll of journalists in Syria this year alone to six.
In 2011 at least 66 journalists were killed around the world as a result of their work, a 16% rise on the previous year, with 17 deaths among reporters covering the Arab spring uprisings. Ten deaths in Pakistan marked the heaviest loss in a single country. Libya claimed five lives, including award-winning British photojournalist Tim Hetherington, and al-Jazeera cameraman Ali Hassan al-Jaber.
Putin’s Russia is an increasingly dangerous place for journalists with extreme limits on freedom of expression. Forty-nine have died since 1992, including Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya, shot dead in 2006.
The most deadly country for journalists in the past 10 years has been Iraq, where 151 have been killed since 1992. Coming a bloody second is the Philippines, where 72 have been murdered. Covering human rights as a journalist is more deadly than covering crime, war or corruption.
Street protests in other countries such as Greece, Belarus, Uganda, Chile and the US were responsible for a surge in arrests, from 535 in 2010 to 1,044 in 2011, according to Reporters Without Borders.
Ethiopia was criticised last year for jailing two Swedish journalists covering the insurgency on its border with Somalia. The country is causing increasing international concern with its harsh policies towards its own press.
Nine online journalists were killed for their work in 2011, including Mexican reporter MarÍa Elizabeth MacÍas Castro, whose decapitated body was found near Nuevo Laredo, with a note stating she had been murdered for reporting on social media websites. Mexico has at least 11 journalists reported missing, feared dead.
Source : Committee to Protect Journalists
*PLEASE SHARE & RT* | Homs, #Syria: Schools are now places of shelter after resident homes were randomly shelled and destroyed in Rastan 18/2/2012
“A tour made in one of Al Rastan schools. This is the first family: “We are a family of six members. What happened to you?
The first family: The army bombarded our neighborhood with 4 or 5 missiles. More than 100 people were killed. The wounded people’s situation is terrible.
Speaker: “How are you managing with food supplies?”
-“The young men here are supporting us with every mean they can”
Speaker: “Do you have any arrested family members?”
- “We have 3 cousins who are arrested”
Speaker: “Do you know with which kind of weapons you were bombarded?”
The second family: we are 15 members, most of us are children. Buildings collapsed in our neighborhoods. The weapons which kill the Syrian people are Russian made. We have close relatives who are arrested. They said the assad issued amnesty. The only amnesty was for his thugs. We demand the Arab and international countries to support the Free Syrian Army.
We demand that the Free Syrian Army would be supported.
Third family: a missile hit our house. We are a family of 6 members. The humanitarian situation in Al Rastan is terrible. The missile hit the water tank. They are bombarding us with heavy artillery. We ran away from our house looking like this.”
Speaker: “why don’t you give the president a chance for reforms?”
-“Give him a chance!? All the Syrian people will be killed by then. Assad is bombarding us with Russian weapons”
Speaker: “What do you think of Russia and Russian government? “
“We demand Russia to stop supporting the Syrian regime. We appeal to the Russian people to not to vote for the current Russian government”
Speaker: “what do you think of the Free Syrian Army, do you consider them as vandalisers? “
“The Free Syrian Army is our protector, without them we would have been slaughtered”
In this Feb. 15, 2012 citizen journalism image provided by the Local Coordination Committees in Syria and accessed on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, flames leap the air from a car and building bombed by the Syrian government forces shelling, in Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs province, central Syria. (AP Photo/Local Coordination Committees in Syria) BEIRUT - U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accused the Syrian regime of potential crimes against humanity Thursday as activists reported fresh violence in Daraa, the city where the uprising against President Bashar Assad erupted 11 months ago. Speaking to reporters in Vienna, Ban demanded the Syrian regime stop using indiscriminate force against civilians caught up in fighting between government troops and Assad’s opponents. “We see neighborhoods shelled indiscriminately, hospitals used as torture centers, children as young as 10 years old chained and abused,” Ban told reporters in Vienna. “We see almost a certain crime against humanity.” Syrian activists said government forces attacked Daraa on Thursday, carrying out arrests and shooting randomly in the city seen as the birthplace of the uprising. The push into Daraa, located near the Jordanian border some 80 miles south of Damascus, follows sieges on the rebellious cities of Homs and Hama and appears to be part of an effort by the regime to extinguish major pockets of dissent. The U.N. General Assembly scheduled a vote for Thursday on an Arab-sponsored resolution strongly condemning human rights violations by the Syrian regime and backing an Arab League plan aimed at ending the conflict. Assembly spokeswoman Nihal Saad said Wednesday that the vote will take place Thursday afternoon. There are no vetoes in the 193-member world body and U.N. diplomats said the resolution, which already has 60 co-sponsors, is virtually certain to be approved. “Although the U.N.’s 193 member General Assembly has no power to enforce a resolution, the importance of the demands on Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad to withdraw his armed forces from cities, stop the violence, and to begin a political transition to democracy, has the impact of bolstering the Arab-led effort to resolve the crisis, and isolates Russia and China for blocking Security Council action to send a peacekeeping force,” CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pam Falk reports. On Wednesday, Assad ordered a Feb. 26 referendum on a new constitution that would create a multiparty system in Syria, which has been ruled by the same family dynasty for 40 years. Such a change would have been unheard of a year ago, and Assad’s regime is touting the new constitution as the centerpiece of reforms aimed at calming Syria’s upheaval. But after almost a year of bloodshed, with well over 5,400 dead in the regime’s crackdown on protesters and rebels, Assad’s opponents say the referendum and other promises of reform are not enough and that the country’s strongman must go. Assad’s call for a referendum also raises the question of how a nationwide vote could be held at a time when many areas see daily battles between Syrian troops and rebel soldiers. The U.S. dismissed the referendum move as an empty gesture. Assad “knows what he needs to do if he really cares about his people,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington on Wednesday. “The violence just needs to come to an end, and he needs to get out of the way so we can have a democratic transition.”
In this Feb. 15, 2012 citizen journalism image provided by the Local Coordination Committees in Syria and accessed on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, flames leap the air from a car and building bombed by the Syrian government forces shelling, in Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs province, central Syria. (AP Photo/Local Coordination Committees in Syria)
BEIRUT - U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accused the Syrian regime of potential crimes against humanity Thursday as activists reported fresh violence in Daraa, the city where the uprising against President Bashar Assad erupted 11 months ago.
Speaking to reporters in Vienna, Ban demanded the Syrian regime stop using indiscriminate force against civilians caught up in fighting between government troops and Assad’s opponents.
“We see neighborhoods shelled indiscriminately, hospitals used as torture centers, children as young as 10 years old chained and abused,” Ban told reporters in Vienna. “We see almost a certain crime against humanity.”
Syrian activists said government forces attacked Daraa on Thursday, carrying out arrests and shooting randomly in the city seen as the birthplace of the uprising.
The push into Daraa, located near the Jordanian border some 80 miles south of Damascus, follows sieges on the rebellious cities of Homs and Hama and appears to be part of an effort by the regime to extinguish major pockets of dissent.
The U.N. General Assembly scheduled a vote for Thursday on an Arab-sponsored resolution strongly condemning human rights violations by the Syrian regime and backing an Arab League plan aimed at ending the conflict.
Assembly spokeswoman Nihal Saad said Wednesday that the vote will take place Thursday afternoon. There are no vetoes in the 193-member world body and U.N. diplomats said the resolution, which already has 60 co-sponsors, is virtually certain to be approved.
“Although the U.N.’s 193 member General Assembly has no power to enforce a resolution, the importance of the demands on Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad to withdraw his armed forces from cities, stop the violence, and to begin a political transition to democracy, has the impact of bolstering the Arab-led effort to resolve the crisis, and isolates Russia and China for blocking Security Council action to send a peacekeeping force,” CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pam Falk reports.
On Wednesday, Assad ordered a Feb. 26 referendum on a new constitution that would create a multiparty system in Syria, which has been ruled by the same family dynasty for 40 years. Such a change would have been unheard of a year ago, and Assad’s regime is touting the new constitution as the centerpiece of reforms aimed at calming Syria’s upheaval.
But after almost a year of bloodshed, with well over 5,400 dead in the regime’s crackdown on protesters and rebels, Assad’s opponents say the referendum and other promises of reform are not enough and that the country’s strongman must go.
Assad’s call for a referendum also raises the question of how a nationwide vote could be held at a time when many areas see daily battles between Syrian troops and rebel soldiers.
The U.S. dismissed the referendum move as an empty gesture.
Assad “knows what he needs to do if he really cares about his people,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington on Wednesday. “The violence just needs to come to an end, and he needs to get out of the way so we can have a democratic transition.”
13/02/12 Great first hand account of a protest not to be …
8:10 pmI get out of the bus. The demonstration will take
place after about 300 meters.My friend and I
are walking and scanning the area, we passed half
of the way and we didn't see anything suspicious.
After that, I started to notice Shabbiha in the area
in addtion of security forces, everything went terribly.We walked into a bystreet, we were like birds in a trap,
I've seen them in my eyes.
It was canceled, that is obvious, the problem is:
Can we stop the others from erupting
the demonstratin? We went into a mini-shop,
bought two pieces of cake (to camouflage).
While we were walking, two Shabbiha were face-to-face
with us, and they left us. They wanted to catch
the biggest number they can.
A Mercides police car stoped near me.
We entered another shop, it takes place in opposite
the place of demonstrating, I thought it was imposible
that someone will cheer to start it, well, I was wrong.
Three seconds after we entered the shop,
it was started. At first, no one joined him,
the trap was obvious for those who scanned the area.
However, those who came from the western area
didn't notice it. Few joined, then the number was about 30.
I get out of the shop to see, and to try to warn,
but it was too late. When I saw them I couldn't
stay at my place, I crossed the street and
standed between them.Few seconds after, we have heard
an electric stick sound. Then they attacked us.
The piece of cake was still in my hand,
crossed the street again. The shop's door was closed.
Suddenly, a security agent standed in front of me
and pointed his Klachikov to me
while they were arresting other people.
He looked at me carefully, I raised my hands up
(the cake still with me). He was nervous,that's obvious.
I was afraid. However I was calm, so calm.
He saw legs moving, so he asked me
angrily and nervously to open the shop.
It was a kid's legs. Four kids, an old-man
and my friend were into the shop. Was he schocked?
I don't know.Then he looked at me, and told me to enter
the shop and to close it. My hands were benumbed,
and guess what? While we were hearing gun-fire,
the old-man (seller) asked us to leave!
In the god sake! We started to buy some stuff
so he shut-up. Then, a man opened the shop
and the gunfire was stopped.
We left the shop, took a Taxi and left the area.
It is 9 a.m. in the morning in Harasta, one of the suburbs of Damascus, and there is loud banging at the door. It is only a few seconds until the door opens up and I face the dreaded Syrian security forces, whose atrocities I have been listening to, documenting and reporting on while I have been in Syria.
Harasta is only a 15-minute drive from Damascus’ city center and was in the hands of the Free Syrian Army militias in previous days. During the night of Jan. 25, heavy clashes between the Syrian regime and the free army lasted the whole night until the dawn when the sound of the muezzin’s voice calling the faithful for morning prayers blended with the continuing sound of Kalashnikovs shooting. Only when we saw the regime soldiers at the doorstep did we realize who had won the fight.
Mohammad Abood, 23, whom I met over the Internet and asked to stay at his house for a couple of days for reasons that have nothing to do with my undercover journalism, is now at the door, getting a heavy beating from the soldiers who trade turns insulting him. One shabiha, who appears to be the leader of the four-to-five squad of soldiers, is directing them to search the house, while giving other orders and questioning me at the same time.
The two-bedroom apartment is turned upside down by the soldiers, but for the time being, they seem undecided what to do with me, though they dutifully confiscated all my personal belongings, including my computer, camera, phone and whatever they deemed necessary into plastic bags. The belongings were never returned.
Now we are in the narrow streets of Harasta but not alone. Every corner has a few soldiers guarding the city as if they are an occupying army in a foreign land. A few other groups of arrested Harasta residents coming from the muddy, steep streets appear to share the same faith as we do. After a couple-minute walk to a larger road, I see a few other arrested groups joining us to be taken to one of the security complexes in the city, knowing that the worst yet to come.
In only 14 days, in a half-dozen suburbs of Damascus, I have seen the viciousness of the security forces every single day in different forms and shapes. I have witnessed unarmed protesters being attacked twice, one of which was a funeral crowd who were joyfully praising their “martyr” on Jan. 21 in the city of Douma. After I arrived in this city on Jan. 19 to leave the next night, my plans had to change because the Syrian Army would be laying siege in eastern Ghouta for the next four days.
In central Damascus, I saw individuals getting arrested in broad daylight for no apparent reason.
And finally I was arrested, along with over a thousand people in a single morning in Harasta, in which I witnessed scores of old and young locals receiving their first heavy whippings in the front yard of the Harasta Police Hospital. Surely what awaited them in the coming days and weeks will be the most horrifying.
I talked with a much respected local doctor who had been jailed twice and tortured since the Syrian revolution began just because he insisted on treating wounded protestors who came to his hospital.
Doctors are prohibited from carrying any kind of first-aid kit under this evil regime, and if found, even mere pain killers in their cars constitute a crime warranting arrest because it shows their intention of helping injured people in some other place.
The horror stories I have heard from scores of local people were beyond any imagination.
When Col. Moammar Gadhafi said he would do house-to-house raids to hunt down the rebels like rats, the international community moved immediately to stop the pending slaughter, invoking the much-discussed “right to protect” civilians in Libya.
The Syrian regime’s regular and irregular forces search houses every single day for months, one of which I was also victim of. The regime sends dozens of its tanks into the streets, hits the cities with mortar shells and terrifies its people day in, day out.
This regime deserves to be demolished.
Bashar al-Assad’s army is close to a collapse that could plunge the Middle East into a “nuclear reaction”, its most senior defector has told The Sunday Telegraph.
8:00AM GMT 05 Feb 2012
In his first full-length newspaper interview, General Mustafa al-Sheikh, who has taken refuge in Turkey, gave an apocalyptic insider’s view of the state of the regime – despite its attempt to reassert control this weekend.
He said only a third of the army was at combat readiness due to defections or absenteeism, while remaining troops were demoralised, most of its Sunni officers had fled, been arrested, or sidelined, and its equipment was degraded.
“The situation is now very dangerous and threatens to explode across the whole region, like a nuclear reaction,” he said.
The failure of President Assad to keep a tight grip even on the towns and suburbs around Damascus, some of which have driven out the army for periods in recent weeks, has led to a reassessment of his forces’ unity.
When Gen Sheikh fled over the border from his town in the north of the country in the second half of November, he thought the army could hold out against a vastly outnumbered opposition for a year or more. Now, he said, attacks by the rebels’ Free Syrian Army were escalating as the rank and file withered away due to lack of belief in the cause.
The Assads’ increasing reliance on loyalists from their own Alawite minority meant Sunni officers had fled, were under house arrest or at best marginalised and distrusted.
“The army will collapse during February,” he said. “The reasons are the shortage of Syrian army personnel, which even before March 15 last year did not exceed 65 per cent. The proportion of equipment that was combat ready did not exceed that, due to a shortage of spare parts.
“The Syrian army combat readiness I would put at 40 per cent for hardware and 32 per cent for personnel.
“They are sending in elements from the Shabiha (militia) and the Alawite sect to compensate, but this army is unable to continue more than a month. Some elements of the army are reaching out to the FSA to help them to defect.”
Gen Sheikh is not an impartial observer. He is negotiating with the Syrian National Council and the FSA over his future role in the offensive against President Assad. Even now, few analysts or diplomats would agree with his view, believing that the regime, though weakened, has the resilience to cling on to power for months, if not years.
“That the government’s days are numbered can no longer be in serious doubt, but just how many it has left remains an open question,” Yezid Sayigh, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment, wrote this week . “The regime cannot win, but it certainly can resist and prolong the conflict.”
Gen Sheikh said he had battled with his conscience before fleeing, mindful of his 37 years’ service and of possible retribution against his extended family. He said the final straw had been a sexual assault by soldiers who took turns to attack a young bride at a village near the town of Hama. He believes the army has become a ‘crazy killing machine’, and that without a solution within a fortnight, “the whole region will flare up”.
“The region is strained to the limits because of the role of Iran,” he said. “The Syrian regime has helped transform it into a base for Iranian conspiracies.”
He said that some of the possible solutions – buffer zones, humanitarian corridors – were no longer relevant, even in the unlikely event of United Nations security council backing.
“There is no time,” he said. “There is a serious acceleration under way due to the collapse of the army and the security system.
“We want very urgent intervention, outside of the security council due to the Russian veto. We want a coalition similar to what happened in Kosovo and the Ivory Coast.”