#Syria, The free people of Morocco gathered yesterday in front of the Moroccan Parliament to denounce the ongoing massacres in Syria and to denounce the SHAMEFUL International community silence also.
God bless you Morocco!
#Syria, The free people of Morocco gathered yesterday in front of the Moroccan Parliament to denounce the ongoing massacres in Syria and to denounce the SHAMEFUL International community silence also.
God bless you Morocco!
Photo: REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
At least three children were among the dead in the eastern Tariq al-Bab district of the city, they added.
The increase in violence in Aleppo has led to growing numbers of Syrian civilians fleeing fighting, bringing the total to nearly 150,000 refugees registered in four neighbouring countries since the conflict began, the United Nations said on Friday.
The total includes 50,227 recorded in Turkey, where more than 6,000 Syrians arrived this week alone, it said.
“There certainly in the past week has been a sharp increase in the numbers arriving in Turkey, and there many of the people are coming from Aleppo and surrounding villages,” Adrian Edwards, spokesman of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news briefing.
“Now if you look at other areas, I think that the situation is more of a steady and continued increase, but where fighting happens we tend to see the consequences,” he said.
Syrian forces have pushed rebels back from a strategic district of Aleppo, but skirmishes continued and the United Nations said the conflict engulfing Syria would have no winner.
As of Thursday night, there were 45,869 Syrian refugees registered in Jordan, 36,841 in Lebanon and 13,730 in Iraq - which has also seen the return of 23,228 Iraqis from Syria since July 18, according to the Geneva-based agency.
“In several countries we know there to be substantial refugee numbers who have not yet registered,” Edwards said.
Some Syrian refugees have also turned up in other countries including Algeria, Egypt and Morocco, and Evros, the Greek region that borders Turkey, he said, adding that the numbers were “really tiny” compared to the flows to Syria’s neighbours.
06/08/2012 - #Syria - Morocco , Rabat - People at the parlement building, in support of the Syrian people!
In Syria’s conflict, one side stridently argues that President Bashar al-Assad is under siege by agents of Gulf Arab states and the West. Opposition fighters, they say, are al Qaeda-allied terrorists and Israeli intelligence operatives. They characterize recent reports of Assad-regime massacres in the cities of Homs and Idlib as “a hysterical terrorist media campaign.”
As the other side sees it, President Assad is “a monster.” His regime, they say, is out to massacre the country’s Sunni majority.
These polar views define not only the Assad regime and those who oppose it: They are also the two starkly competing narratives being broadcast across the region by Arabic-language television news channels. These dueling accounts of Syria’s conflict are open proxies, observers say, for the political agendas of their backers.
“All you have is propaganda and counterpropaganda,” says Marwan Kraidy, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communication and an Arab media expert. “The number of channels is staggering, and the intensity of the sectarian hate and rhetoric is scary.”
Satellite TV remains the most accessible medium for the Arab world’s masses. In areas where Internet penetration is sparse, news and views of the broader world come largely from the free stations picked up by dishes that are ubiquitous on rooftops from Baghdad’s slums to the remotest village in Morocco.
These stations broadly reinforce a regional narrative that pits Iran, which sees itself as the leader of the region’s Shiite Muslims and supports Mr. Assad, against Gulf Arab states led by Saudi Arabia, a center of Sunni Islam that is fully behind the opposition. The media battle is galvanizing populations across the region along sectarian lines and further fueling fears that a local conflict will metastasize into a regional one.
The region’s two main news channels—Al-Arabiya, which is based in Dubai and owned by Saudis, and al-Jazeera, which is owned and run out of Qatar—feature multisided discussions on Syria. But they can also often project the determination by oil-rich Sunni Gulf Arab states to cripple Iran and its Shiite allies, analysts say.
Several Salafi channels in tightly controlled Saudi Arabia have appeared to seize on Syria to escalate their case against Iran and Shiites in general, analysts add. Salafis are ultraconservative Sunnis whose interpretations of Islam overlap with those of al Qaeda.
“There will be slaughter and killing in every Arab country if the Syrian revolution is extinguished,” said a news anchor this month on the Saudi-based Safa channel, adding that “Shiites are worse than Jews.”
A caption on the screen read: “Sunnis are one blood.”
Meanwhile, a range of channels friendly to the regime in Damascus—including Syrian state TV, Iranian broadcasters and Beiruit-based Al-Manar TV, owned by the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah—have echoed Mr. Assad’s characterization that international coverage of Syria is a “media onslaught.” They say they are battling an immense conspiracy waged by enemies in the Arab world, Israel and the West.
Anwar-2, an Iranian-funded channel that broadcasts to Iraq’s Shiite majority, regularly speaks about Saudi Arabia’s “extermination war against Shiites” and has called on Shiites in the region to mobilize against the Syrian opposition.
The media battle was evident as the Syrian government mounted 26 days of attacks against the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs. Channels opposed to the Syrian regime—a group that is significantly larger, and deeper-pocketed, than the pro-Assad channels—played up news the Syrian army was closing in for a final assault on Baba Amr. They reported massacres, rape, aerial bombardment and destruction of homes and mosques by the regime, not only in Homs but in several other Syrian hot spots.
Pro-Assad channels played down, or didn’t report, the siege and bombardment of Baba Amr. But once government soldiers took control of the neighborhood from opposition fighters, the same channels were let into the district before relief agencies to broadcast scenes of devastation and sing the Syrian army’s praises.
“This is what the Gulf-financed crows of death wrought,” said an announcer on Syria’s Addounia, believed to be controlled by Mr. Assad’s maternal relatives, the Makhloufs. The channel ran nightly reports about massacres allegedly committed by opposition fighters, as well as bomb-making factories, arms depots and torture chambers said to belong to them.
Syria is all but closed to the Western press. Two Western journalists, who were among a knot of reporters who reported on what they characterized as a regime offensive that indiscriminately targeted civilians in Homs, were killed there in an attack that wounded several others.
As Sunni-backed channels convey agitation, fear-mongering and a “particular personal vendetta” against the Assad regime, the mirror-image narratives presented by the pro-Assad channels become all the more credible, said As’ad AbuKhalil, professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. For these channels, he said, “the lie doesn’t have to be good.”
Syria’s Minister of Information Adnan Mahmoud said last week that state TV was covering events objectively and described recent successes in turning public opinion around.
An Al-Arabiya spokesman stressed his channel’s independence, saying perceptions that its coverage favors Syria’s opposition could be fueled by the fact that opposition members have made themselves more available than have regime figures. An al-Jazeera representative cited the Syrian regime’s boycott of the channel and restrictions on media operating in the field.
“There is not an editorial policy that chooses one side against another—the viewer is smart enough,” said Mostefa Souag, managing director of al-Jazeera’s flagship Arabic news channel.
A Saudi TV journalist said that while mainstream Arabic news channels’ Syria coverage was sensational, it is no match to the pro-regime channels. But Salafi channels have nonetheless generated hatred that has in the end served the Syrian regime and its allies in Iran and Lebanon, by allowing them to rally their own constituencies in defense, according to Jamal al-Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who is launching a TV channel this year funded by a member of what is seen as a moderate wing of the Saudi ruling family.
“They are part of the war of our Sunni fundamentalists with Shiite fundamentalists,” he said of the Salafi stations. He added: “It doesn’t help our confrontation with Iran.”
In several cases, the TV channels have become platforms for calls for action, which observers fear will fuel more violence in a region already rived by it. In addition to years of sectarian strife in Iraq, there have been episodes of sectarian clashes in Lebanon and most recently in Bahrain, where the Shiite majority is demonstrating against a Saudi-backed Sunni monarchy.
Earlier this month, Qatar-based Sunni cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi issued a series of Syria-related fatwahs, or religious edicts, live on al-Jazeera, which has at least 35 million viewers across the world. He said jihad, or holy war, was mandatory there. “Elimination” of those collaborating with Mr. Assad’s crackdown on the opposition, including informants, was permissible, he said.
“When we engage in this rhetoric whereby the other side is only good when dead,” said the University of Pennsylvania’s Mr. Kraidy, “we are setting the region up for a lot of trouble.”
Corrections & Amplifications
In the photo, the pro-Assad Lebanese journalist is on the right. The caption had incorrectly identified him as on the left.
PARIS (Reuters) - France cannot accept a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria that would assign responsibility for the violence equally to the Syrian government and its opponents, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said on Friday.
The five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Morocco met behind closed doors on Tuesday to discuss a U.S.-drafted resolution urging an end to the Syrian government’s crackdown on protesters.
Russia’s response to the new text hinges on whether it believes the text puts enough pressure on the Syrian opposition. Moscow and China have blocked two resolutions, backed by Arab countries and the West, that blamed President Bashar al-Assad’s forces for the violence.
“Our objective is a real resolution,” Valero told reporters. “We do not want a resolution that sends the wrong message because there is no equivalence between the savage repression that Bashar al-Assad’s clan has perpetuated for months and the legitimate desire of the Syrian people for the respect of their rights.
It remains unclear whether the U.S. draft resolution has any chance of success in the 15-nation council, which has been deadlocked over Syria’s military operations against pro-democracy protesters for almost a year.
The U.S. draft, obtained by Reuters, demands “unhindered humanitarian access” and “condemns the continued widespread, systematic, and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities and demands that the Syrian government immediately put an end to such violations.”
Valero said Paris wanted a resolution that firmly placed the responsibility for the violence on the Syrian security forces, allowed humanitarian access, promoted a political transition and ensured there would be no impunity for those who repressed the Syrian people.
Foreign Minister Alain Juppe will go to New York on Sunday to attend a Security Council ministerial meeting that will discuss the Arab Spring, and is also due to hold talks on Syria.
Syria’s territorial integrity must be preserved in order to avoid an “Iraqi scenario”, according to Rafik Abdessalem, the Tunisian foreign minister.
“The Syrian National Council and other opposition groups will be represented at the Tunis meeting,” Mr Abdessalem said on Monday following a meeting of foreign ministers from Mediterranean region states in Rome.
“There has been enough killing. There must be radical political change,” Mr Abdessalem said after meeting with his counterparts from Algeria, France, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Portugal and Spain.
Mr Abdessalem said participants at the Rome meeting of the so-called “5+5” states had agreed on the need to defend Syria’s territorial unity: “We don’t want an Iraqi scenario … We have to preserve the integrity of Syria.”
“I don’t think any Arab country is going to ask for military intervention (in Syria). European countries don’t want it either,” he said.
Referring to the “Friends of Syria” conference on Friday, he added: “We believe that on the 24th of this month, we shall send a strong message to the Syrian government.”
Giulio Terzi, the Italian foreign minister, said of the meeting: “It has to be inclusive. Of course the opposition has to be present.”
Mr Abdessalem had said in Tunis on Friday that the SNC, the largest opposition group in strife-ridden Syria, would not be officially represented at the conference.
UNITED NATIONS — Security Council ambassadors reached a wobbly consensus on Thursday backing an Arab League plan for political change in, after they dropped a specific reference to President Bashar al-Assad’s ceding of power.
The resolution’s passage is far from assured, and it still must be approved by the governments of the 15 member states, including Russia, which rejected a previous resolution in October.
In hopes of persuading the Russians and other skeptics, Western and Arab ambassadors also jettisoned calls for a voluntary arms embargo and sanctions.
Although diplomats acknowledged that those changes diluted the pressure being brought to bear on Damascus, they said they wanted to concentrate on supporting the Arab League in pushing Syria toward democratic transition.
It was unclear whether the changes would be enough to persuade Russia, Syria’s ally and its major weapons supplier, to back the resolution. But the ambassadors said they planned to send the resolution overnight to their governments to see if they would move it toward a vote.
“What the Arab League is seeking from the Security Council is strong support, and that is what we concluded,” Mohammed Loulichki, the permanent representative of Morocco, which drafted the resolution, said in a brief interview. “In the negotiations, of course, we could not translate all the elements, but they are well known by everybody.”
Emerging grimly from four hours of negotiations, the ambassadors all repeated the same line, which some acknowledged they had agreed to tell the news media. They avoided saying they had reached an agreement, instead emphasizing that there was a consensus document that they were sending to their governments for approval.
“There are some still-complicated issues that our capitals will have to deliberate on and provide each of us with instructions on,” said Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador.
Over the past two days, the toughest arguments have surrounded a paragraph that defines the Council’s support for political change in Syria.
The draft being sent to the various capitals, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, said that the Council “fully supports” the Arab League plan. Three clauses that endorsed specific aspects of the plan — including that Mr. Assad delegate his authority to his vice president to speed a transition to democracy — were removed.
But Arab and Western diplomats said the essential idea remained, even if it was not spelled out. In addition, the words “Syrian-led” were inserted to denote that outsiders should not interfere in the political transition.
The arguments about that paragraph went back and forth all afternoon, with Ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin of Russia describing the negotiations as a “roller coaster.”
Asked if Russia could live with the “fully supports” language, Mr. Churkin sidestepped the question. “The end result is that we do have a text which we are going to report to our capitals, and we will see what the outcome will be,” he told reporters. “I will be happy if we have a process that will be successful.”
Russia had vowed to veto any resolution that supported removing the Assad government or that might lead to outside military intervention.
The Arab League plan calls for Mr. Assad to delegate his authority to his vice president, paving the way for a national unity government formed with the opposition within two weeks that would lead to a new constitution and new elections.
Diplomats said overcoming that apparent contradiction required a certain constructive ambiguity, without leaving the resolution open to wide interpretation.
The disagreements on Thursday centered on whether the Council was actually endorsing the political transition sought by the Arab League, or whether it was merely agreeing to support the Arab League’s work in carrying out the plan. The wording had to bolster the League’s efforts in seeking a democratic transition without seeming to demand that the government be removed, the diplomats said.
“I hope people will not interpret it in a different way,” Mr. Loulichki said, meaning anything other than support for the League’s plan.
The agreement reached was nothing if not fragile. Winning over Russia was a key step because it is one of the five permanent members of the Council with veto power, but other envoys, like those of India and South Africa, were not present when the consensus was reached.
“Nobody is really sure it is going to hold,” said one diplomat involved in the negotiations. “It is right on the margin.”
The Council has failed to pass any resolution regarding the situation in Syria since March, when the government in Damascus began the violent suppression of protests against Mr. Assad’s rule. Russia and China vetoed the last such attempt in October, even after United Nations ambassadors had reached an agreement.
The new resolution condemns the violence on both sides, but it also would adopt wholesale the steps to end the spiraling bloodshed that the Arab League has been demanding since November. Those steps include ending all violence; releasing detained protesters, who are believed to number in the thousands; withdrawing all Syrian forces from civilian areas; and guaranteeing the right to peaceful demonstrations.
While the Assad government had previously agreed to these measures, it has virtually ignored them, and whether their repetition in a Security Council resolution will stem the escalating violence is uncertain.
This afternoon (1 February) Council members will continue negotiations, at permanent representative level, on a Syria draft resolution introduced by Morocco last Friday. (Russia also circulated a revision of its December draft resolution on 30 January.) The Moroccan draft resolution condemns the human rights violations committed by the Syrian authorities and all violence committed in the country. It also supports the Arab League decision of 22 January. Although there a number of areas that have not been agreed yet, it appears that some Council members are hoping to put it to a vote in the coming days.
The key issue dividing the Council remains the political transition process as defined by the Arab League. Some members are concerned that this could be interpreted as a call for regime change in Syria. (The Arab League plan calls for power to be delegated to the Syrian vice president, who would oversee the political transition process, including the formation of a national unity government which would work towards elections within a specified timeframe.)
Other issues that have not been resolved include calling on member states to halt the flow of arms into Syria and encouraging them to adopt similar measures to those of the Arab League, including bilateral sanctions. Members also have not been able to agree on a follow-up mechanism for reporting back to the Council. Another area that still needs agreement is consensus language to reflect the commonly shared principle of no military intervention. Russia has said that the text needs to more explicitly rule out military intervention. There is also a lack of agreement on including language on the threat of further measures if Syria does not comply with the resolution.
Yesterday, (31 January) the Council was briefed by the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi, and the Prime Minister of Qatar, Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who heads the Arab League ministerial committee on Syria. Both al-Arabi and al-Thani made an explicit call for the Council to adopt a resolution supporting the Arab League plan for peaceful settlement of the crisis. They also both made it clear that they were not seeking military intervention. (Council members Germany, Guatemala, France, Morocco, Portugal, the UK and the US were all represented at ministerial level at yesterday’s meeting.)
It appears that some Council members would like to make it clear that this draft resolution would come under Chapter VI (which covers pacific settlement of disputes) and not Chapter VII (which could evoke the use of force among other enforcement measures). Al-Arabi in his statement evoked Article 52 of the UN Charter (which comes under Chapter VIII on regional organisations): “The Security Council shall encourage the development of pacific settlement of local disputes through such regional arrangements or by such regional agencies either on the initiative of the states concerned or by reference from the Security Council.”
Statements from Council members at yesterday’s debate indicate that all Council members are willing to continue negotiations and appear to want some sort of Council outcome. While all members expressed support for the Arab League plan, five Council members (China, India, Pakistan, South Africa and Russia) appear uncertain about endorsing an action plan which in their view may be a first step towards regime change.
Russia has been clear that while it condemns the violence in Syria it will not support any imposed solution which has a prejudged outcome - such as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stepping down - in domestic political processes. China has firmly opposed the use of force to resolve the Syrian situation and is as firmly opposed to “forcibly pushing” for regime change. It also indicated that it would be cautious on the issue of sanctions which it sees as further complicating the Syrian situation. India has said that the solution to the Syrian crisis cannot come from the outside and that it must be through a “Syrian-led and Syrian-owned” political solution. It has also emphasised the importance of the Council speaking with a unanimous voice. South Africa welcomed the regional engagement by the Arab League and indicated that it would like to see the Arab League plan more fully expressed in the draft resolution. Pakistan also indicated its desire for the draft resolution to more explicitly reflect no regime change or military intervention.
There seems to be at least ten Council members that are supportive of the current Morocco draft. In order to get consensus and avoid a veto, the resolution may have to be watered down by excluding support for the Arab League plan for political transition. These members and the Arab League will then have to decide if, for the sake of unanimity, they are willing to simply send a political signal to Damascus. The alternative would be a resolution with greater impact but one that would risk another possible veto. (On 4 October 2011, China and Russia vetoed a draft resolution—sponsored by France, Germany, Portugal and the UK—that condemned the Syrian crackdown on protestors. Brazil, India, Lebanon and South Africa abstained.)
It seems currently the co-sponsors for the resolution include seven Council members (Colombia, France, Germany, Morocco, Portugal, UK, US) and the following key regional countries: Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and UAE. It seems that these co-sponsors consider that the only credible path for a peaceful, political solution to the crisis is through endorsing the Arab League plan and that by not doing so the Council is undermining what the Arab League has been able to achieve so far.
Morocco, the only Arab country currently sitting on the UN Security Council, vowed Wednesday to push for a consensus resolution on the deadly crisis in Syria.
“We are committed with all our partners to achieving a consensus on this resolution,” Foreign Minister Youssef Amrani was quoted as saying by the official MAP news agency.
Western powers and the Arab League are demanding immediate Security Council action to stop the bloodshed in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad’s repression of pro-democracy protests has killed some 6,000 people since March.
“What is important today is to stop the violence and support the Arab plan which will allow us to stabilize the country,” Amrani said.
The Arab League plan, which envisages Assad transferring power to his deputy and the formation of a national unity government within two months, has been rejected by Syria.
Russia, which has staunchly supported Assad in recent years, has warned however it would use its veto in the Security Council against any resolution it deems “unacceptable.”
Watch video here.
UN body to debate draft resolution supporting Arab League plan, which calls for President Assad to relinquish power.
The United Nations Security Council is expected to discuss the violent unrest in Syria during a closed-door session, the French mission to the UN says.
Diplomats will discuss possible next-steps to be taken during the session on Friday, and will probably debate a draft resolution to be presented by Morocco, UN diplomats said on condition of anonymity.
The draft resolution supports the Arab League’s call for Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, to transfer power to his deputy and set up a transition unity government to hold elections in the next two months.
“They [Morocco] are planning to circulate a draft resolution that represents the view of the vast majority of countries on
the Security Council,” a diplomat said.
The 15-member Security Council could vote as early as next week on the new draft resolution, which diplomats from the United Kingdom and France are crafting in consultation with Qatar, Morocco, the United States, Germany and Portugal, envoys said.
Richard Murphy, a former US ambassador to Syria, told Al Jazeera that if the Arab League’s proposal was backed by most Arab states, it would send “a very powerful message”.
“If there is a unified Arab position, this will be a very powerful message in New York for the security council powers to consider. If this turns into a revival of the old Cold War fights between Russia and the United States, then the people in Syria … are going to suffer. It need not happen that way,” he said.
The draft resolution calls for “a political transition” in Syria, but does not mention sanctions against Damascus, according to a copy of the document obtained by the Reuters news agency.
The draft’s supporters hope for a vote by next week, but will have to convince Russia and China, both permanent members of the body who used their veto powers to kill an earlier proposal.
The current draft resolution will replace one moved by Russia last month.
“There’s going to be a lot of negotiation back and forth,” Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler reported from the UN.
“Based on what this is saying, [the Russian delegation] will have issues with several [sections], one in particular: a line that says voluntary prevention of any arms transfer into Syria. We know that Russia has had problems with that in the past, and also some of the wording of that Arab League document that came out on Sunday.”
Nabil ElAraby, the secretary-general of the Arab League, and Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, the prime minister of Qatar and the head of the bloc’s Syria committee, are expected to brief the council on the situation in Syria and the League’s proposals early next week.
Elaraby and Hamad are expected to depart for New York, where the UN headquarters is located, on Saturday, and to hold meetings with officials starting on Monday.
Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut, said endorsement from the UN would “embolden” activists inside Syria.
“[The Arab League] is hoping that there will be a vote later in the week,” she said.
She also said that Russia, a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, wants dialogue, a peaceful resolution to Syria’s crisis and is opposed to any military intervention, such as that which occurred in Libya.
Assad and his government have fiercely rejected the Arab League proposal, accusing the regional bloc of being part of a “conspiracy” against Syria.
The Arab League has been pushing for a Security Council resolution to end the Syrian government’s violent crackdown on protesters, which has killed thousands of people since demonstrations calling for reform began in March.
Hamad told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that elevating the Syria issue to the UN was “the only option”.
Elaraby’s latest announcement on Syria came after Gulf Arab observers, deployed to Syria as part of a previous Arab League initiative, began to pull out on Wednesday after their governments said they were “certain the bloodshed and killing of innocents would continue”.
“The departure of the GCC [Gulf Co-operation Council] countries will not have an impact on the mission’s work. We are all professionals here and we can do the job,” Hamad said.
In other Syria-related developments, Navi Pillay, the UN human rights chief, said on Wednesday that the UN could not keep track of the death toll in Syria’s crackdown on dissent that has already cost more than 5,400 lives.
On Thursday, violence between armed pro- and anti-Assad forces continued.
“The toll for [Thursday] has risen to 34 civilians killed by the security forces in several regions of Syria, mostly in Homs,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based opposition group, said.
Seven deserters and eight regular soldiers died in clashes, SOHR said, among them a colonel killed in Homs, a protest hub in central Syria.
The SOHR said the army launched an offensive on Thursday evening in the Karm al-Zeitoun district of Homs, killing 26 civilians, including nine children, and wounding dozens.
And in the city of Hama, also in central Syria, where the army launched a major assault on Tuesday, four civilians were killed, including a 58-year-old woman shot dead by snipers, the SOHR said.
Elsewhere in Syria, one civilian reportedly died in the northwestern province of Idlib, and two others were killed in the suburbs of Damascus, activists said.
In the southern province of Deraa, cradle of the uprising, a teenager was killed when security forces fired indiscriminately on a student demonstration in the town of Nawa, the SOHR said.
Just north of Damascus, security forces attacked Douma, another flashpoint town that activists say was in the hands of army defectors last week before a withdrawal.
“Violent clashes pitted security forces against groups of deserters at the Misraba bridge near the town of Douma, which was rocked by strong explosions,” the SOHR said.
It said more than 200 arrests were made in the town during the assault, although there was no independent confirmation of the reports as foreign media are restricted in their coverage of Syria’s unrest which erupted in mid-March.
DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Britain and France joined forces with Arab allies on Wednesday to push the U.N. Security Council to back an Arab League call for Syrian President , Bashar al-Assad to step aside, setting the stage for a showdown with Syria’s ally Russia.
“The U.N. Security Council must support the Arab League’s courageous decisions which are trying to end the repression and violence in Syria and find a solution to the political crisis,” French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.
The Security Council could vote as early as next week on a new draft resolution, which delegates from Britain and France are crafting in consultation with Qatar, Morocco, the United States, Germany and Portugalenvoys said. The new resolution replaces a Russian draft Western diplomats said was too weak.
U.S. President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address on Tuesday that Assad would “soon discover that the forces of change can’t be reversed.”
It remains unclear whether Russia - which together with China vetoed a European-drafted resolution in October that condemned Syria and threatened it with sanctions over its 10-month crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators - is prepared to once again to block council action on Syria.
“We hope Russia won’t use its veto against the Arab League, which is what it would be this time,” a U.N. envoy said. “They’ll put up a fight. There will be negotiations. We’ll see.”
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country remained opposed to sanctions on Syria and reiterated its opposition to military intervention. But the Western-Arab draft, obtained by Reuters, calls for neither military action nor sanctions, but for the council to support the Arab League.
The head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in the northern town of Idlib was shot and killed on Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said, in an attack which Damascus blamed on “terrorists.”
State news agency SANA also said a priest was killed by “terrorists” while helping a wounded person in the city of Hama.
The government says it is fighting foreign-backed Islamist “terrorists” who have killed 2,000 soldiers and police. SANA said 30 more were buried in the last two days.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said seven other people were killed on Wednesday. One was killed by soldiers surrounding the Bab Qabli district of Hama and a woman died after a shell landed on her house near the town of Qusair, 10 km (6 miles) from the Lebanese border, it said.
It also reported clashes between army deserters and state soldiers in the rebellious province of Idlib that disabled three armoured vehicles and killed or wounded six soldiers.
The revolt in Syria was inspired by other uprisings that have toppled three autocratic Arab leaders over the past year and the bloodletting has battered Assad’s standing in the world.
The Arab League has suspended Syria’s membership.
Russia, one of Syria’s few allies, continues to sell weapons to Damascus, which European and U.S. officials have criticized. Iran, at loggerheads with Western powers over its disputed nuclear ambitions, is also a strong ally of Assad.
GULF ARAB MONITORS LEAVE SYRIA
More than 50 Arab League observers from Gulf Arab states left Syria on Wednesday after their governments said they were certain “the bloodshed and killing of innocents would continue.”
Their colleagues in Damascus, about 120 strong, pledged to continue the monitoring mission, now extended until February 23, to verify Syria’s compliance with an earlier Arab peace plan.
“The departure of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries will not have an impact on the mission’s work. We are all professionals here and we can do the job,” said a senior Arab monitor, who asked not to be named.
“We need more monitors of course and more will come soon to replace those who left,” the monitor said.
Syrian opposition groups have accused the observer mission, which began on December 26, of giving Assad diplomatic cover to pursue a crackdown on protesters and rebels in which more than 5,000 people have been killed since March, by a U.N. tally.
Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby and Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who heads the League’s committee on Syria, wrote jointly to U.N. chief Ban, setting out their plan for a political solution in Syria and requesting a chance to brief the Security Council soon.
British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters in New York that the Arab League briefing could take place as early as Monday. Council diplomats said a vote on the new draft resolution could follow shortly thereafter.
The new draft resolution says the Security Council “supports … the League of Arab States’ initiative … to facilitate a political transition leading to a democratic, plural political system … including through the transfer of power from the President and transparent and free elections.”
It falls short of making compliance with the Arab plan legally binding. But it does ask U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report to the council every 15 days on Syria’s compliance with the resolution, which would formally put it on the Security Council’s agenda.
Russia has repeatedly said it does not want Syria to become another Libya, where Moscow contends that NATO misused a Security Council mandate to protect civilians as a vehicle for “regime change.”
But Western diplomats said that Russia might find it difficult to use its veto against a resolution that is simply intended to provide support for the Arab League initiative.
(Additional reporting by Edmund Blair and Ayman Samir in Cairo, John Irish in Paris, Dominic Evans in Beirut and Louis Charbonneau in New York; Writing by Alistair Lyon and Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Robert Woodward and Xavier Briand)
* Arab League voted to suspend Syria
* Diplomats say range of sanctions being considered
* France calls for humanitarian zone to protect civilians
By Ayman Samir and Dina Zayed
CAIRO, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Arab foreign ministers gathered in Cairo on Thursday to discuss imposing sanctions on Syria for failing to implement an Arab League plan to end a crackdown on protests against President Bashar al-Assad.
The League, which for decades has spurned ordering action against a member state, has suspended Syria and threatened unspecified sanctions for ignoring the deal it had signed up to.
Syria has turned its tanks and troops on civilian protesters, as well as on armed insurgents challenging Assad’s 11-year rule. The United Nations says more than 3,500 people have been killed.
“Syria has not offered anything to move the situation forward,” said a senior Arab diplomat at the League, adding that it was considering what kind of sanctions to impose.
“The position of the Arab states is almost unified. We all agree … that the situation does not lead to civil war and that no foreign intervention takes place,” he said.
The Nov. 12 agreement to suspend Syria was backed by 18 of the pan-Arab organisation’s 22 members. Lebanon, where Syria for many years had a military presence, and Yemen, battling its own uprising, opposed it. Iraq, whose Shi’ite-led government is wary of offending Syria’s main ally Iran, abstained.
Arab ministers were meeting in a Cairo suburb instead of the League’s headquarters in Tahrir Square, occupied by protesters after days of clashes with police in nearby streets.
Khaled al-Habasi, an adviser to Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, said the body was “working on uniting the Syrian opposition on a vision regarding the future of Syria during the transitional period” and drawing up sanctions.
Earlier this month, the League asked Syrian opposition groups to submit their ideas for a transition of power ahead of a planned bigger conference on Syria’s future.
“There are many ideas and suggestions for sanctions that can be imposed on the Syrian regime,” said one Arab government representative at the League, who asked not to be identified.
These included imposing a travel ban on Syrian officials, freezing bank transfers or funds in Arab states related to Assad’s government and stopping Arab projects in Syria, he said.
The decision to draft economic sanctions was taken at a meeting on Nov. 16 in Morocco, stepping up pressure on the Arab state. Damascus agreed to the Arab plan on Nov. 2, but the crackdown continued and Syria requested amendments to a plan to send Arab monitors to assess events at first-hand.
France called on Wednesday for a “secured zone to protect civilians” in Syria, the first time a major Western power has suggested international intervention on the ground.
After the uprising erupted in Libya, the League suspended Tripoli and also called for a no-fly zone that paved the way for a U.N. Security Council resolution and NATO air strikes.
Arabs have shown no appetite so far for following a similar route with Syria, which neighbours Israel and lies on the faultlines of several interlocking conflicts in the Middle East. (Additional reporting by Marwa Awad; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Alistair Lyon and Janet Lawrence)
When Syrian President Hafez al-Assad crushed a revolt in 1982, killing at least 10,000 people, the Arab League failed to act. A generation later, amid another government crackdown, the group has turned on his son, Bashar.
Arab League foreign ministers plan to meet tomorrow at the group’s Cairo headquarters to discuss imposing sanctions on Syria. The league had set a Nov. 19 deadline for the government to comply with an Arab peace plan.
The Arab Spring uprisings have unnerved and threatened regimes throughout the region, shaking up status quo institutions such as the Arab League. The league’s suspension of a founding member, Syria, was the boldest action by the 21- nation club since its condemnation of Muammar Qaddafi’s crackdown paved the way for the United Nations resolution in March authorizing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombing campaign.
“It’s a measure of the extent to which things have gone wrong,” Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center, said in an interview. “These guys were friends. I think they are extremely disappointed, and at some point there was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Images of government attacks on unarmed protesters and of torture-scarred bodies in cities like Homs, Syria’s third largest, are being viewed in homes across the region. Whether motivated by outrage, by concern for self preservation or by both, Arab kings and prime ministers aren’t turning a blind eye, as had been the case in the past.
The league’s actions “demonstrate that, as a result of the Arab Spring, governments have to be more responsive and that doing nothing is no longer an option,” said Robert Danin of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
A survey of opinion in five Arab countries found the public lined up most nine-to-one behind the Syrian rebels, according to Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland at College Park, who directed the October polling in Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
The same poll suggests that the Arab public would prefer a regional leaders to act, with 46 percent of respondents saying foreign intervention in Libya was “the wrong thing to do.”
The Arab League was created in 1945, the same year as the United Nations, as the decline of colonial powers after World War II and creation of the state of Israel fanned the rise of Arab nationalism.
Yet in its 66-year history, a body that sought to bring Arab nations closer became known as a “club of tyrants,” according to Danin. It was hopelessly divided when dealing with one of is own, such as in 1990, when just 12 out of 20 members condemned Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.
There are also shades of realpolitik at play, with Arab nations having different practical motivations for taking action on Syria. Qatar is establishing itself as a foreign-policy titan punching above its size. Saudi Arabia benefits from isolating Shiite Muslim Iran — Syria is its main Arab ally and conduit to arming the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon — and wants to distract attention from human-rights abuses in the neighboring Bahrain, a Sunni ally.
“There are maneuvers within the league,” said Scott Lucas, a Middle East expert at the University of Birmingham in England and founder of website EA Worldview. From the Saudi standpoint: “If everyone focuses on Syria, then Bahrain is forgotten.”
Bahrain is among League members that may be vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy. It voted to suspend Syria and Libya yet has drawn criticism itself from human rights groups for its crackdown on the mainly Shiite protesters earlier this year.
While acting against Libya may have been relatively easy for the League, given Qaddafi had few fans among member states after an alleged 2004 assassination plot against Saudi Arabia’s ruler, Assad is another story.
At least 3,500 people have died in Syria and thousand arrested since protests started mid-March, and Human Rights Watch on Nov. 11 accused the regime of “crimes against humanity,” including torture and unlawful killings, in Homs.
The “ineptitude” of the United Nations has also prompted the Arab League to step up, according to Shaikh, a former special assistant to the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.
Russia, which sells arms to Syria, and China, which buys its oil, delivered a rare double veto not seen since 2008 to block a Oct. 4 UN Security Council resolution that called for Assad to halt the crackdown. With the UN’s most powerful body paralyzed, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the Arab League has taken “a very significant step” in threatening to impose sanctions for the first time.
“We, as the United States, have imposed very strong sanctions on the Syrian regime as have plenty of other states, now the Arab League is about to follow suit,” she told reporters in New York on Nov. 18.
The U.S. sanctions target top officials; Syria’s largest mobile phone operator, Syriatel; and the Commercial Bank of Syria. The European Union has blacklisted 74 people including senior military and intelligence officials and EU companies are forbidden from doing business with 19 firms and groups.
“It was absolutely clear that the Europeans and the U.S. were going to be unable to do more,” Shaikh said. “They needed the Arabs to take ownership.”
That means questioning the league’s traditional foundation of non-intervention in the domestic conduct of members.
Article VIII of the group’s charter states that members “shall respect the systems of government established in the other member-states and regard them as exclusive concerns of those states” and that each “shall pledge to abstain from any action calculated to change established systems of government.”
“It didn’t act on the massacres in Syria in the 1980s, or Algeria in the 1990s,” said Omar Ashour, a lecturer in the politics of the modern Arab world at the University of Exeter in the U.K. “Sometimes, there wasn’t even a statement to condemn these acts.”
Still, the Arab League is under new leadership. Nabil El- Arabi, who took as Secretary-General of the Arab League from Amre Moussa in July, has described the league as “impotent” and has called on reform.
Creating a formal mechanism to compel members’ to comply with its resolutions may also have to be considered, including economic sanctions which haven’t been imposed before.
The revolt against Assad’s rule has begun to squeeze the economy. Turkey, a neighbor and key trade partner, says it will “strongly support” whatever the Arab League decides and yesterday Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan followed King Abdullah of Jordan in saying Assad should step down.
— Editors: Terry Atlas, Steven Komarow
THE city of Homs, the third-biggest in Syria, is close to civil war. Sitting astride a sectarian fault-line between the city’s mainly Sunni centre and an area to the north-west dominated by members of the Alawite faith, a minority Muslim sect whose followers form the core of Bashar Assad’s regime, it is now the hub of the conflict. In the past fortnight, more than 100 people in the city are reported to have been killed. The security forces are struggling to regain control.
Between Homs and Idlib in the north-west, Mr Assad’s men, despite an increasing proliferation of checkpoints, are facing tougher opposition than ever before. After months of mainly peaceful protests, Hama, Syria’s fourth city, to the north of Homs, is becoming more violent too. Across the country, the scale of bloodshed has increased, as a growing number of defectors from the army, along with civilians who have been acquiring weapons in greater numbers, have joined the fray. On November 16th army defectors attacked an intelligence base in a Damascus suburb. The nationwide death rate in the past fortnight may, say human-rights monitors, have doubled, with nearly 400 people perishing so far this month.
Thanks to military conscription, most male Syrians have a basic knowledge of firearms. Many young men who were in university a few months ago are now toting guns. “The number of defectors involved is unclear,” says an activist in Homs. “But we’re seeing street fighting.”
On the eastern side of the country, in Deir ez-Zor, the regime is “lucky if it goes a day without losing a handful of security men,” says a resident. In Deraa, on Syria’s southern rim, where the revolt first erupted in March, clashes between loyal soldiers and defectors have become common. “We don’t want a war,” says a local sheikh. “But it seems inevitable.”
Though central Damascus and Aleppo, the second city, have yet to witness violence on the scale of Homs and Hama, dissent is growing there too. Most notably, big businessmen who had hitherto sided with the regime have been taking their assets abroad and vacillating in their support for Mr Assad, whose family have long cultivated an effective culture of crony capitalism. Even among Christians and Alawites, whose communities each make up around a tenth of the populace and who have feared Mr Assad’s replacement by a Sunni and perhaps Islamist regime, loyalty to him may be less assured than before.
The government still manages to orchestrate big rallies in support of the regime in Damascus and Aleppo, but many of those who attend do so under duress; universities and public institutions are closed to ensure that people have no excuse to stay away. Several people who broke off into anti-regime displays were shot dead on November 13th.
Even as Mr Assad struggles to contain the waves of protest, the diplomatic tide is running sharply against him. On November 2nd he accepted a set of proposals laid out by the 22-country Arab League, including a promise to withdraw his security forces from the cities, to release political prisoners (said to number between 10,000 and 20,000), to let in some 500 diplomatic monitors along with the foreign media that had hitherto been barred, and to engage the opposition in talks that would lead eventually to multiparty elections. Mr Assad freed several hundred prisoners but entirely flouted the rest of the deal, thereby prompting the league, on November 12th, to suspend Syria from membership. Four days later, in Morocco, the league said it would impose sanctions if Mr Assad did not relent within three days.
These are devastating blows to Mr Assad and his regime. He must have been stunned by the near-unanimity of the vote on November 12th. Only little Lebanon, which is still in Syria’s shadow, and turbulent Yemen voted to keep him in. And Lebanon’s support may be increasingly tepid. Its government faces internal pressure from an influential banking sector that fears Western sanctions as well as from a reinvigorated anti-Syrian opposition. Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist faction long headquartered in Damascus, has also quietly distanced itself from Mr Assad.
Algeria and Sudan, usually on the side of repression, voted against him. Shia-led Iraq, an important neighbour to the east, which has feared the onset of a Sunni regime to replace Mr Assad’s Alawites, abstained. Jordan’s King Abdullah, another influential neighbour, who had hitherto been cautiously neutral, bluntly called for Mr Assad to go. Saudi Arabia, the beefiest member of the six-country Gulf Co-operation Council, long ago turned against him.
Of the other regional heavyweights, Turkey, the neighbour with the biggest punch, has been fiercest in calling for Syria’s regime to reform or die. Its government hosts the main political opposition, the Syrian National Council (SNC), and harbours the leaders of the Free Syrian Army, a burgeoning group of defecting soldiers. More recently Turkey has threatened to cut off electricity to northern Syria.
Tensions between Syria’s internal and external opposition inevitably persist, though the SNC is doing quite well in maintaining a broad front that includes a strong component of Muslim Brothers as well as secular liberals. Some council members may be drawing premature hope from Libya’s experience, in the unwise expectation that the West and the UN may impose a no-fly zone over Syria and invoke a “responsibility to protect” civilians. Despite the Arab League’s increasingly robust demands that Mr Assad should engage in a proper dialogue, he still seems unlikely to do so. But his room for manoeuvre is a lot more limited than it was even a month ago.
from the print edition | Middle East and Africa