CORRECTION - 15/11/2012 Al Boukamal, Deir Ezzor, #Syria: FSA brought down a HELICOPTER near Hazam. It was shelling the city.
More people are killed when Syrian aircraft and artillery attack several cities and citizens make a run for the Turkish border.
(AGI) Damascus - At least 440 people have been killed in Syria today, 310 of whom, including women and children, in Daraya.
Most of today’s casualties were reported in Daraya, a suburb south-west of Damascus, where the Syrian army carried out door-to-door raids after bombing the area from above. It was denounced by the anti-Assad activists of the Local Coordination Committees (www.lcssyria.org), according to which 40 people were killed in Aleppo, 28 in Deir Ezzor, 24 in Idlib, 15 in Daraa, 8 in Hama and 5 in Homs. The activists said today’s death toll was the highest since the uprising started 17 months ago. .
Aug 24, 2012 4:45 AM EDT
Syria’s 18 month-long conflict is deepening sectarian divisions, breeding more and more openly Islamist Sunni rebels talking about the rebellion ushering in Sharia law—and raising the prospect of an ungovernable post-war nation.
While the international media focuses on whether al Qaeda has latched onto the escalating Syrian conflict, opposition activists and human-rights observers are less alarmed than the Pentagon about the trickle of foreign fighters arriving in the war-torn country than about the home-grown hardening of sectarian attitudes among Syrians and the adoption by rebels of more muscular Islamist views.
Syrian rebels pray at a military base north of Aleppo July 24, 2012. (EPA / Landov)
They worry that the prolonged strife and blood-letting is disfiguring the rebellion, turning what started out as a more secular effort to oust President Bashar al-Assad and his minority Alawite-led government into a sectarian confrontation between Sunnis and religious minorities that could render Syria so fractured it is ungovernable as a single state.
“The conflict has become more sectarian and more Islamic,” says Ole Solvang of Human Rights Watch. “It was a lot more secular a year ago.” He says he’s noticed in the last 12 months more fighters sporting beards and more wearing headbands proclaiming, “There is no God but God, and Mohammed is His Messenger.” Fighters are becoming radicalized and talking openly of the rebellion ushering in an Islamist state based on Sharia law. When asked whether they are fighting for democracy or Islam many are now emphasizing the latter.
Above all, hatred for Assad’s minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam that some Sunnis reject as not being Islamic at all, is growing, adding to a toxic mix of Islamism and sectarianism that’s already leaching poison beyond Syria’s borders into neighboring Lebanon. On August 15, gunmen from a Lebanese Shia clan abducted more than 20 Syrian Sunnis in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon in response to the kidnapping of a clansman by rebels in the Syrian capital of Damascus. And earlier this week, a dozen were killed and scores more injured when fighting erupted in the Lebanese city of Tripoli involving the Alawites and Sunni Muslims.
Radwan Abu-Alsha, a commander with the Tawheed brigade in Aleppo, is not unusual in rejecting brusquely the idea that there can ever be reconciliation between Sunni rebels and Alawites, whom he says butchered his wife and children last March in Homs. “Alawites were my friends and neighbors, but no one should ask me to live side-by-side with them again,” he told The Daily Beast. Along with several Tawheed colleagues who nodded vigorously in agreement, he stressed the responsibility of the Alawites in the pro-Assad Shabiha militia for many of the worst excesses in Homs this winter and spring and elsewhere in the country.
Many Sunnis have worked closely with the regime since Hafez al-Assad established it 40 years ago. Sunnis who have benefited from it in terms of power and wealth continue to fight to preserve it. But the 18 month-long conflict is exacerbating Syria’s sectarian divisions, testing the loyalty of senior Sunni members to breaking point and prompting an increasing number to defect.
“Hundreds of years ago we lived next door to each other and in peace. Assad is exploiting sectarian divisions.”—Sunni mosque leader
Last week, the most senior defector since the uprising against the government began, Riad Hijab, the country’s former prime minister, urged Syrian troops and officials to join the rebellion, labeling Assad the “enemy of God.” Some Syrians interpreted this as a coded message suggesting that, as an Alawite, Assad is not a true Muslim.
On August 19, Assad appeared to respond to the charge by making a rare public appearance to pray at the Hamad mosque in Damascus at the start of Eid al-Fitr, a three-day holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. It was the first time he’d been seen in public since July’s bombing in Damascus in which top security and defense aides were killed.
Like his father, Bashar has sought to obscure the regime’s Alawite roots, but he appears to be hedging his bets now, praying at a Sunni mosque one day but using the Alawite-dominated Shabiha to raise the sectarian temperature by carrying out atrocities such as the massacre in May in Houla in which 108 Sunnis died. Syria observers believe this is part of a last-ditch effort by the regime to divert the conflict into a sectarian war and to make it less about Assad. And it appears to be working.
“In order to survive, Assad and his Alawite generals will struggle to turn Syria into Lebanon—a fractured nation, where no one community can rule,” argues Syria expert Joshua Landis of the University of Oklahoma on his blog, Syria Comment. He terms this Assad’s Lebanon option.
The Assad regime is stoking the fear among the country’s minorities, from Assad’s Alawite sect—15 percent of Syria’s 22.5 million population—to Christians and Druze, that a rebel victory will trigger Sunni triumphalism and unleash a religious cleansing.
And some increasingly Islamist rebel forces are falling into Assad’s trap, forcing out Christians from their homes in Homs and other towns, including 9,000 Christians from the western Syrian city of Qusayr, following an ultimatum by a local rebel commander. Christian refugees from the Syrian town of Kusair claim that radical Islamists who had joined the fight against the Assad regime have murdered many of their relatives.
Gregorios III Laham, the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Damascus, says it isn’t foreign jihadists who are doing this. Talking to Sky News, he said they were local Muslims “moving into peaceful Christian areas.” He said he fears Christians could be forced out of the country after the civil war, as happened in neighboring Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, where 600,000 fled, many going to Syria.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, two senior Sunni mosque leaders in the rebel-held town of Al Bab insisted post-Assad Syria should be run according to Sharia law, but that minorities should not be afraid. “Islamic law accepts other religions. The majority of Syrians are Sunni Muslims and so they want Sharia law,” says Abdulbaset Kuredy. “We only fight people who carry weapons and those who don’t, have nothing to fear.”
He says, though, that Alawites are not Muslims, as they don’t apply “our teachings.” Is he afraid that the civil war will become more sectarian? “Hundreds of years ago we lived next door to each other and in peace. Assad is exploiting sectarian divisions,” he says.
Opposition activist “Tony” al-Taieb, who works with the Free Syrian Army-linked military council in Aleppo, says it is not surprising that religion is playing a more prominent role and that sectarian feelings are growing. “People are suffering and experiencing terrible things and it is natural for attitudes to harden as this goes on,” he says. He blames Western nations partly for the increasing sectarianism, arguing that the rebels feel neglected by the U.S. and European nations, which should be doing more actively to help rebels finish Assad. “There are more risks for the West from hanging back than intervening,” he adds.
18/08/2012 #Syria: Marines Colonel Muhammad Mokhbat defected and joined the FSA - the joint Military command of the Syrian revolution.
17/08/2012 #Syria: Inside the Free Syrian Army: A trip to the front lines - Fast Forward
Michael Weiss, research director for the Henry Jackson Society, describes his travels with Syrian rebels from the refugee camps of Turkey to the battlegrounds of Aleppo in this interview with Reuters columnist David Rohde. (August 16, 2012)
17/08/2012 Salaheddin, Aleppo, #Syria: FSA prevents a regime personnel carrier from entering the area
17/08/2012 #Syria: Syrian rebels say Obama is all talk: journalist – Fast Forward
Syrians rebels do not understand why President Obama helped opposition fighters in Libya but won’t back their efforts to overthrow the Assad regime after more than a year of uprising, says journalist Michael Weiss, who recently returned from the front lines there.
Shi’ite masked gunmen from the Meqdad clan, gather at the Meqdad family’s association headquarters in the southern suburbs in Beirut, August 15, 2012. (REUTERS/Khalil Hassan)
BEIRUT: Despite repeated Arab and international warnings over a fallout of the 17-month uprising in Syria spreading to Lebanon, the Syrian turmoil has spilled over into the politically divided country, threatening to plunge it into total chaos, analysts and political sources said Thursday.
“The spillover of the Syrian uprising has reached Lebanon,” Hilal Khashan, professor of political sciences at the American University of Beirut, told The Daily Star. “Lebanon is poised for heightened insecurity that falls short of a civil war, mainly as a result of the spillover of the Syrian unrest, into the country.”
Wednesday’s mass kidnappings of over two dozen Syrians, a Turkish national and a Saudi citizen by a local Lebanese clan in retaliation for the abduction of one of its kinsmen by Syrian rebels as well as the blocking of Beirut airport road and the Beirut-Damascus highway at the Masnaa border crossing with burning tires by rival protesters have revived memories of the chaos and anarchy that reigned during the 1975-90 Civil War when rival militias held sway at the expense of state authority.
During the Civil War years, lawlessness and insecurity prevailed, especially in the capital Beirut, where foreign citizens of various nationalities were kidnapped by militant groups.
In response to security threats, five Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain, have urged their citizens to leave Lebanon immediately after the Meqdad Shiite clan kidnapped more than 20 Syrians in Beirut and initially threatened to seize more Arab nationals in retaliation for the abduction of Hassan Meqdad by Syrian rebels.
The mass kidnappings of Syrians, directly linked to the turmoil in Syria, cast further doubts over Lebanon’s ability to weather the storm in its eastern neighbor Syria.
“What happened today is a clear indication that we are [on] the brink of major chaos in Lebanon,” a senior political source told The Daily Star Thursday.
“The storm in Syria has reached Lebanon now and there is no going back,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
However, Khashan said he did not believe that Lebanon was drifting into total chaos following the wave of kidnappings and the appearance of masked gunmen on TV.
“The kidnappings were a tension relief exercise. Hezbollah controlled the Shiites. There is no logical reason for them [Hezbollah] to allow the situation to go out of the control,” Khashan said. “Level headedness will prevail.”
“What happened yesterday was an expression of anger and frustration. The sight on TV of the Free Syrian Army displaying Hassan Meqdad, whom the FSA accused of being a Hezbollah member, with bruises on his face, angered many Hezbollah supporters. The kidnappings were [designed] to vent their spleen,” he added.
However, Future MP Ahmad Fatfat had a different opinion. “What happened was a total collapse of the state and a flagrant inability of the Army and security forces to do their job in repulsing any attack, even an internal attack, on Lebanese sovereignty,” Fatfat told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.
“The attack and kidnappings that took place in Beirut and a number of areas meant that the state was absent. This takes us to a civil war,” he added.
Khashan said that there was no regional or international decision to rekindle civil war in Lebanon. “Iran and Arab Gulf states do not want a civil war in Lebanon,” he said.
A similar view was echoed by political analyst Talal Atrissi.
“I don’t think Lebanon is facing the threat of a civil war following the wave of kidnappings,” Atrissi, an expert on Iran and Middle East affairs, told The Daily Star. “There is no internal, regional or international decision for the security situation to spin out of control. Priority is now for Syria. Therefore, no civil war in Lebanon,” he said. “Regional and international powers are still supporting Lebanon’s stability and security.”
Atrissi said the root cause of the current tension in Lebanon was the kidnapping by Syrian rebels of 11 Lebanese pilgrims in May and Meqdad last week.
“Before the spate of kidnappings, tension with Syria was confined to border incidents,” he said.
Politicians and analysts have long held the view that Lebanon’s security and stability are intertwined with Syria’s security and stability.
Violence in Syria has often spilled over into Lebanon, jolting the country’s already fragile security situation, with cross-border shootings, shelling by the Syrian army, tit-for-tat kidnappings and sectarian clashes. Several Lebanese have been killed and wounded by Syrian gunfire in a series of deadly incidents on the Lebanese-Syrian border in recent months.
But the latest spate of kidnappings has fueled fears that the unrest in Syria could further destabilize Lebanon, which has struggled for decades with wars, sectarian strife and a weak political system.
The split between the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance and the opposition March 14 coalition over the Syrian crisis has raised fears of the turmoil in Syria spilling over to Lebanon.
The U.S. has also expressed consternation. “Our concern in Lebanon, first and foremost, has been the spillover from the Syrian conflict and the fact that the sectarian tensions in Syria are potentially being replicated in Lebanon,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington.
The government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati has adopted a policy to dissociate Lebanon from the repercussions of the unrest in Syria.
Mikati condemned the kidnappings, but his government seemed largely powerless to act. “This brings us back to the days of the painful war, a page that Lebanese citizens have been trying to turn,” he said of the 1975-90 Civil War when Western hostages were seized by armed groups.
Implicitly admitting his government’s inability to act, Mikati called for the formation of an extraordinary government to cope with what he termed the “difficult and extraordinary” situation through which the country was passing.
“This is a battle for Lebanon’s survival. We have to protect Lebanon with all the strength we have.” Mikati told reporters before a Cabinet session at Beiteddine Palace. “We are living in the storm. Therefore, we have to close ranks to face problems and crises.”
Atrissi blamed the Mikati government for weakening state authority and preventing the Army from imposing law and order. “Political and sectarian interests inside the government are preventing the Army from imposing security and state authority,” he said.
Khashan, the AUB professor, said Lebanon is “a soft state.”
“Security has long been based on consensus. The state cannot impose security on the people. Security is achieved through negotiations and compromise,” he said. “The Lebanese state is not authoritative. Rather, it is a soft state.”
Khashan said that instability in Lebanon served the cause of both the Syrian regime and the rebel Free Syrian Army for different reasons and motives.
“The Syrian regime wants to destabilize Lebanon in order to export its problems to the region. Lebanon is the weakest link in the region,” Khashan said. “Likewise, the Free Syrian Army believes that instability in Lebanon will invite Western intervention in both Syria and Lebanon,” he added.
The Meqdad clan, which hails from east Lebanon’s Bekaa region, said Wednesday it kidnapped over 30 men it said were members or supporters of the FSA in retaliation for the abduction of one of its kinsmen.
Maher Meqdad, who said his family fields an armed wing, told The Daily Star Wednesday that his clan had taken matters into its own hands as the Lebanese government had taken no steps to free Hassan Meqdad.
“We will do it ourselves, and we have what you can call a regulated army to do the job,” he said. He added that his family was acting according to the “eye for an eye” principle, and no longer needs the government’s intervention.
15/08/2012 #Syria: Monitoring Syrian Human Rights Abuses Via Satellite
The ongoing battle in Aleppo between Assad regime troops and the Syrian Free Army has left civilians caught in the crossfire. Margaret Warner talks to Amnesty International’s Scott Edwards and American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Susan Wolfinbarger on how satellites are documenting human rights abuse in Syria.
15/08/2012 Washing away the blood in #Syria
With the acrid stench of disinfectant in the air, a woman, expressionless and intent on finishing this daily task as quickly as possible, sluices the last puddle of diluted blood off the hospital steps and onto the sidewalk.
For her this is routine. The pale faces of medical staff who for the past hour had been grimacing with intense concentration and inner frustration were close behind her.
“You cannot show our faces on television - you can’t reveal what we are doing here,” one doctor told me.
Two children under five years of age were dead and another - barely alive - had been sent to Turkey in a battered old car. Seven adults were seriously wounded. The hysteria of wailing relatives and children was now gone. The uncomfortable silence was deafening.
The stark reality echoing now in my mind as I write this a week later is that it was nothing unusual - it just happened to be caught on our camera.
For months we have known about the medics wanting their work to be kept secret for fear they will be targeted in the same way that a rebel fighter could expect.
It had been one snapshot in the chain of daily trauma, the aftermath of what we all hear referred to as “indiscriminate shelling”. The shells from long-range artillery had landed on a village near al-Atarib this time.
A two-year-old boy was lying lifeless on one of two beds in the tiny, ill-equipped emergency room.
The doctors had moved on to another patient after at least ten minutes of CPR, the hand pumped respirator now at work elsewhere.
The toddler’s mother was being restrained in the other bed as a nurse applied bandages to her face. On the floor were injured men and women being checked over in some sort of triage process. And outside this claustrophobic mayhem on the reception room floor, another young child took his final breath.
I have no doubt that no one crammed into those 60 minutes of excruciating attempts to save lives could be described as a revolutionary. They were all civilians. And nobody wanted to talk about freedom or human rights.
There was just a question barked in my direction: “Where is the help that the outside world keeps promising?” Or words to that effect.
‘Guns, not medicine’
Earlier that day, the same question was put to me by a brigadier-general who defected five months ago from his post as head of intelligence for a region that included Aleppo city.
But the question was aimed in a different direction. He wanted more guns, bigger ones. And much more ammunition.
No mention of humanitarian assistance.
Was he a true revolutionary? Well, he says he is now. But a year ago, he was actively at work trying to crush the uprising.
Where do the civilians stand in all of this?
Certainly the majority of the masses who have fled Aleppo and many of those who remain there would not candidly have numbered themselves as actively supporting the uprising months ago.
Top of wish list
Guns, heavier weaponry, bullets, shells and rockets are at the top of the wish list for those fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Second comes medical personnel, field hospitals, medicine and equipment.
Some of the latter we know have been getting into Syria, mostly through the smuggling routes on Syria’s borders.
Primarily, those routes run through Turkey. It’s a trickle of support, not a surge, though.
My line of thought fast forwards to Istanbul, and coverage of Hillary Clinton’s Saturday visit that packed in separate talks with the Turkish foreign minister, the prime minister, the president, a selection of refugees, activists, prominent opposition members in exile and the Syrian National Council.
One headline to emerge from those meetings was that Turkey and the US had “agreed to accelerate preparations for the fall of the Syrian president”.
The setting up of a bilateral team to help the opposition while trying to work out which part of a splintered political spread of people could be onside. Or, better still, have some semblance of unity.
Also, providing aid to fleeing refugees and planning contingencies for worst-case scenarios that include a chemical weapons attack.
Questions put at the obligatory joint news conference raised the idea of a no-fly zone - not for the first time.
It wasn’t ruled out by Clinton, who more than made up for any perceived differences with her NATO ally by repeated gushing thanks for Turkey’s costly operation to provide an undeclared safe haven for more than 55,000 registered refugees and the Free Syrian Army.
Plus an assurance that the US would stand by Turkey in its fight with the PKK, the Kurdish Workers’ Party, to ensure it would get no foothold in Northern Syria.
And there was, of course, the announcement of another $5.5 million in humanitarian aid.
Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, also said a no-fly zone was still on the table, despite the knowledge that Russia and China would be likely to veto any such move.
Clinton said it was going to require more in-depth analysis by the joint working group. It being an election year in the United States, it is unlikely that any unilateral action will be taken. ”Contingency”, “operational planning” and “co-ordination” were the buzz words on Sunday.
Before leaving Istanbul to the surreal feeling of London in Olympic euphoria, my mind went back to the hospital. Political reality is hard to describe to those bereaved or maimed by a war for which initially they had no vested interest.
I called it a snapshot in a chain of daily trauma. It’s probably more aptly described as a perpetual horror story that, for now, has no end. And it’s playing out every day all over Syria, much of it unseen by media.
The images of the doctors’ pale faces and the children who died take an indelible place in a collage of memory from war zones I have worked in over the past three decades.
Usually, that recurring universal question, where is the help from outside, is eventually answered by meaningful humanitarian aid, with or without military intervention.
For Syria, it’s much more complicated.
And I’m pretty sure that when I return there again soon, I will still stumble to placate or calm the next questioner even more than the last time.
The UN is unable to make a move as long as Russian and Chinese objections continue to exist, and the states that want Assad out of power are engaged in talk of an endgame that doesn’t appear to have been worked out.
And the cleaner in the hospital will still be going through her daily routine of washing away the bloodshed.